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Title: The Adventures of an Ugly Girl
Author: Corbett, Elizabeth Burgoyne
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



   VOL. XI., NO. 10.   NOVEMBER 18, 1893.   Subscription Price, $1.50

                           THE ADVENTURES OF
                              AN UGLY GIRL


                                   BY
                          MRS. GEORGE CORBETT

        Author of “When the Sea gives up its Dead,” “Adventures
             of a Stowaway,” “A Sailor’s Life,” “The Child
            of the Wreck,” “The Mystery of Fellsmere,” “Tom
        Penn’s Derelict,” “Adventures of an Amateur Detective,”
                 “Secrets of a Private Enquiry Office,”
            “The Missing Note,” “New Amazonia,” “Adventures
                    of a Lady Detective,” etc., etc.


                          Issued Semi-Monthly.
     Entered at the Post-Office at New York as second-class matter.
        PETER FENELON COLLIER, PUBLISHER, 523 W. 13TH ST., N.Y.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



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                     New York Depot, 365 Canal St.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             THE ADVENTURES
                                   OF
                              AN UGLY GIRL

                                   BY
                          MRS. GEORGE CORBETT

      Author of “When the Sea gives up its Dead,” “Adventures of a
      Stowaway” “A Sailor’s Life,” “The Child of the Wreck,” “The
       Mystery of Fellsmere,” “Tom Penn’s Derelict,” “Adventures
        of an Amateur Detective,” “Secrets of a Private Enquiry
        Office,” “The Missing Note,” “New Amazonia,” “Adventures
                    of a Lady Detective,” etc., etc.

                                -------

              Specially written for “Once a Week Library”

                                -------


       Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1898 by
                         PETER FENELON COLLIER,
       In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



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that ends well; all who have Coughs, Colds and Throat Troubles are made
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                                -------

          Prepared by SCOTT & BOWNE, N. Y. Druggists sell it.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



                           THE ADVENTURES OF
                             AN UGLY GIRL.

                               ----------



                               CHAPTER I.
                       “As ithers see us.”—BURNS.


“COME, Dora! I shall never be ready, if you don’t make haste. They will
be here in ten minutes, and my hair is not half so nice as it ought to
be, thanks to your carelessness.”

“You are very good to ignore my own claims to attention so utterly. I
have been helping you this half-hour and have barely time enough left to
change my frock. To make my own hair presentable is impossible now.”

“Why, what does it matter how your hair is dressed, or what sort of a
gown you put on? You may just as well spare your pains, for
unfortunately nothing that you can do seems to mitigate your ugliness.
I’m sure I cannot think where you get it. You are—”

But, somehow, I did not feel inclined to wait for the end of Belle’s
encouraging lecture. Perhaps it was because I was so often treated to my
beautiful elder sister’s homilies that they had lost the spark of
novelty and had acquired a chestnuty flavor. Perhaps I failed to
recognize any generosity in her persistent efforts to nip such latent
buds of vanity as from time to time tried to thrust their poor little
heads above the chill crust of ridicule and contumely. Perhaps I was
really as bad-tempered as I was said to be. Anyhow, my behavior could
not claim to be either quiet or elegant as I stormily quitted Belle’s
room, slamming the door behind me with such violence as to elicit from
my more well-bred sister a little shriek of affected dismay. So far from
feeling sorry that I had given Belle’s nerves a shock, I wished
viciously that her fingers had been jammed in the doorway, or that
something equally disastrous had occurred to take off the edge of her
conceit and self-satisfaction. In the corridor I met my brother Jerry,
of whom I was devotedly fond. But, although he had evidently some
interesting remark to make, I did not stop to speak to him, but hurried
noisily to my own room, where I locked myself in, and threw myself on
the bed, to give way to a storm of sobs and tears.

“And all for what?” it may be asked. “Surely a spiteful remark from one
sister to another is hardly worth all this display of feeling.” Ah,
well, perhaps _one_ such remark now and then might be treated with the
cool contempt which spiteful utterances deserve. But does the reader
know what it is to be perpetually and persistently snubbed from one
year’s end to the other? Does he realize how hard it must be for a
sensitive and love-craving girl to be reminded that she is ugly and
unattractive? Not reminded once in a way either, but pretty nearly every
day of her life. Or does any one doubt how the heart must needs ache to
see all the love and flattery of friends and relations alike showered
upon a being whom you know to be empty-headed and frivolous, while
everybody seems to regard your plain exterior as sufficient reason why
you should be snubbed and neglected?

If the reader has ever had any of these experiences, he will the more
readily understand my inability to restrain my tears on the especial
occasion just mentioned. For it really was a very especial occasion, and
I had been more anxious to look well at this particular moment than I
ever remembered to have been in my life. I had hoped that Belle, just
for once in a way, would take a little interest in my personal
appearance, and that she would help me to create as good an impression
as possible upon the newcomer whose advent I had both dreaded and longed
for.

But Belle was too self-engrossed, and too firmly convinced of my
hopeless unpresentability, to give the slightest thought either to me or
to my feelings. Nay, she had even claimed so much of my time in the task
of enhancing her own beauty, that, as we have seen, I had only a few
minutes left for myself, and even this morsel of time was not utilized
by me, as things turned out.

The fact is, I was anxious and overwrought, and Belle’s unkind speeches
had multiplied all day until they had utterly broken my composure. “Can
it really be true,” I wondered in abject misery, “that nothing I can
either do or wear will help to mitigate the first feeling of repulsion
which my new mother must necessarily experience at the sight of my
ugliness?”

The question was of very vital import to me, for I longed for the advent
of at least one sympathetic woman in the house; and when I heard that my
father, now three years a widower, was about to marry again, I hoped,
with a fervor that was nearly akin to agony, that his second wife would
be the friend I so sorely needed. True, she would be my stepmother, and
she would naturally assume the direction of the household affairs, at
once placing the daughters of the house in a subordinate position. This
being the case, I believe it would have been more orthodox to have
railed against the new invasion, and to have followed the prevailing
social custom of resolving to make life miserable for the woman who had
presumed to step into my mother’s place. But I always was terribly
unorthodox in many things, and, considerably to my father’s surprise, I
expressed my enthusiastic delight at the prospect of having a stepmother
to reign over me.

He need not have been surprised, if he had ever taken the trouble to
understand me. But he was wrapped up in Belle’s charms, and never looked
at me without regretting either my ugliness or my temper, which all in
the house, except dear little Jerry, pronounced unbearable. And yet I
can truthfully say, that if I had experienced anything approaching to
just treatment, I should have been infinitely sweeter-tempered than my
much-bepraised sister, than whom none could have been more unfeeling to
the motherless girl whose heart ached for a little love. I generally did
Belle’s bidding, for she always contrived to make things unpleasant for
me if I rebelled against her authority. But to Lady Elizabeth Courtney I
felt ready to yield the most devoted service and obedience, if only she
would love me just a little in return; and I had anxiously revolved
every means of creating a favorable impression upon her. I meant to have
taken considerable pains with my toilet, and to have welcomed the
home-coming bride with radiant smiles.

And this was how my good resolves had ended. Just when—after working
hard all day to see that everything was conducive to a warm and
comfortable home-coming—I had begun to hurry through my toilet, I was
summoned to Belle’s aid, with the result that instead of giving my
stepmother a smiling welcome I was up in my own room, with a face red
and swollen with weeping, and a heart full of angry feeling, when she
arrived. Presently I heard a carriage approaching, and at the same
instant Jerry knocked vigorously at my bedroom door.

“Be quick and come down, Dorrie,” he cried, in an eager, excited voice.
“Papa and Lady Elizabeth are nearly here, and I want you to run down the
avenue with me to meet them.”

“I’m not coming,” I answered, with a sob that was audible to Jerry and
provoked him to quick wrath.

“I knew she would!” he exclaimed. “That horrid Belle’s been at her
tricks again and said something nasty. But don’t let her have the best
of you like that. Don’t you know that you promised to go with me to meet
them, and if you don’t come they won’t believe you are glad about it.”

“I can’t help it, Jerry,” was my mournful reply. “I look so hideous just
now that I could not possibly face a stranger. Run off quickly yourself.
Say that I have a headache or something of the sort, and that I shall
try to sleep it off. Run now, there’s a dear boy.”

And forthwith Jerry, whose real name, by-the-by, is Gerald Mortimer
Courtney, ran along the corridor, down the wide, shallow stairs, across
the tiled hall, and into the open air, just as the carriage containing
the newly married pair drove into the large graveled space in which the
chestnut avenue terminated. In spite of my discomfiture and
unpresentable appearance, I possessed my due share of curiosity, and
hastily jumped to my feet, crossed the room, and looked through the
window at the prancing horses and elegant equipage which bore the
newcomers. As soon as the carriage stopped, a liveried footman descended
and opened the door with a flourish. By the time he had let the steps
down, Belle and Jerry were at the carriage door, and I saw Mr. and Lady
Elizabeth Courtney get out and exchange smiles and kisses with my sister
and brother, while I, poor pariah, looked on with hungry eyes and an
aching heart, and bewailed my luck in seeming ill-natured and
inhospitable, after all my efforts to prove the contrary.

Lady Elizabeth, I must explain, had had some love passages with my
father a long time ago. But their youthful desires had been taught to
bow to the demands of fortune and position. Lady Elizabeth was the
daughter of an earl, and could aspire to more material comforts than
could have been provided for her by the penniless younger son of a
country squire. True, the earl had no money, and what little land was
still left him was mortgaged up to the hilt. But he had many friends who
possessed sufficient influence to pitchfork his four sons into
government sinecures. He had a cousin also, the Duchess of Lyndene, who
chaperoned his handsome, clever daughter through two whole seasons, and
eventually resigned her charge into the care of Samuel Chisholm,
Esquire, once upon a time a shoeblack, now the proud possessor of twenty
thousand a year, all made by the judicious advertisement of his prize
patent blacking.

Upon the whole, the earl’s daughter was supposed to have done tolerably
well for herself, and as her husband’s fortune steadily increased there
was every reason for her to feel satisfied. Even the incumbrance which
she had been compelled to take with the fortune was not especially
disagreeable to her, for Mr. Chisholm was a very clever man, whose
mental and social equipments kept pace with his fortunes, and, in spite
of his low origin and antecedents, he was as courtly and well-bred as
Lady Elizabeth’s nobly-born brothers. The pair therefore lived
harmoniously enough together, at least to outward seeming, for many
years. Then Mr. Chisholm died somewhat suddenly, and his will was read
in due course.

It was during that important ceremony that the unexpectedly bereaved
widow first felt real resentment against her late husband. For though he
had died a millionaire, he had only willed his wife a life interest of
five thousand a year, which was quite a paltry income compared with the
princely revenue she had expected to be hers. To her father a like
fortune was bequeathed, in addition to a sum of thirty thousand pounds
wherewith to redeem his impoverished estate. The widow’s brothers each
received a gift of five thousand pounds, and to the widow herself was
willed all the personal property of the deceased.

All the rest of his vast fortune was divided among a swarm of poor
relations, whose existence Lady Elizabeth had never acknowledged, but
who no doubt showered blessings on the memory of the dead man who had
thus befriended his own flesh and blood. The Earl of Greatlands, too,
declared himself delighted with his son-in-law’s generosity. But his
daughter did not hesitate to say that she had been treated shamefully,
and at once proclaimed her intention of resigning the tenancy of the
costly London establishment, which it would be a farce to attempt to
keep up on five thousand a year. She retired to a pretty place in the
country, declining to reside with her father, who, elated by his
unwonted prosperity, was actually talking of taking a young wife to
comfort his old age.

My father had, meanwhile, married my mother, whose memory I adore, for
she loved me passionately, and while she lived I was never humiliated,
as was perpetually the case after her death, which occurred some three
years before my story opens. I do not remember hearing how my father
came across Lady Elizabeth again, but I believe that their early
attachment soon reasserted itself, and though he was much the poorer of
the two, and encumbered with three children, the match was soon
arranged.

Although Lady Elizabeth had been dissatisfied with her widow’s portion
she was very much richer than we were, and her coming to Courtney Grange
was likely to be a very important event to the previous humble
inhabitants thereof. In addition to the Grange, which had been my
maternal grandfather’s property, my father had just six hundred a year,
derived partly from what his father had left him, partly from my
mother’s small fortune. Our establishment consisted of two servants, in
addition to the family. Their names were John and Martha Page. They had
never seen any other service but that of my father and grandfather, and
had lived seventeen years under the same roof before it entered their
heads to amalgamate their interests by marrying. They were quite used to
the constant scraping and economizing which we were compelled to
practice, and did not look upon the arrival of a new mistress as an
unmixed blessing, even though she was bringing a good income with her.

As for Belle, she was quite wild with delight at the gorgeous prospect
which opened itself before her mental vision. London seasons,
presentations at court, halcyon days of brilliant pleasure, and a swarm
of dukes and earls sighing for the honor of her hand. These were some of
the glowing visions in which she indulged.

“And I mean to get into Lady Elizabeth’s good graces, whether I like her
or not,” she informed me. “She can do so much for me if _she_ likes, and
I can be amiability itself when _I_ like. Besides, my looks will win her
over at once. She will soon see what credit I can do to pretty gowns. As
for you, you’ll be lucky if she tolerates you at all. I’m sure it’s a
shame that our family’s reputation for beauty should suffer as it does
through you.” And so on, _ad libitum_.

Of course, I was not surprised to see her warm, gushing welcome of my
father and his wife, nor to note the glance of surprised admiration
which the latter cast upon Belle and Gerald, for they were really both
very beautiful, and both tall and well-grown, with lovely golden hair,
rich deep blue eyes, and an exquisite complexion, united to perfect
features.

Lady Elizabeth, too, I was sorry to see, was a tall, handsome woman, who
by no means looked her forty years. When I say that I was sorry to
observe this, it must not be imagined that I grudged her her good looks.
But I had had a vague notion that if she were comparatively plain she
would the more easily sympathize with my troubles, into which no one in
the house except Jerry seemed able to enter. Now my hopes in that
direction were upset, and I already knew instinctively that my own
absence was being commented upon. I saw my father, the very picture of
masculine comeliness, glance up at my window with an angry frown, and I
knew almost as well as if I had been present what Belle and Jerry were
saying about me.

After all, I thought, I had been very foolish to let Belle’s ill-nature
and my own ill-temper spoil my resolve to make Lady Elizabeth’s
home-coming as pleasant as possible. Apart from looks, my remaining
upstairs would have already made me lose ground with my stepmother. Was
it too late, I wondered, to rectify my error, and make my appearance
before dinner was served? Answering the question in the negative, I
resolved to complete my toilet as quickly as possible, and get over the
ordeal of the first meeting without further loss of time.

So I began operations at once, wondering, while I brushed my hair, how
it was that I was so different to Jerry and Belle. I pulled faces at my
own ugly reflection in the glass, but as that only seemed to make
matters worse, I desisted. But I could not banish the discontent which
enhanced my ugliness, and made it almost perfect in its own way. Why was
I so short and dumpy? I asked myself vainly. And why was my hair so
black, and lank, and scanty? And how was it that my complexion was more
like Thames mud than anything else? And why was my face covered with
freckles? These freckles I always felt to be an especial aggravation of
nature; for whoever heard of freckles on a dark, sallow skin? And then,
how did it happen that my eyes were of a pale watery-brown hue, while I
had hardly got either eyelashes or eyebrows that were visible? And why,
oh, why! had my nose got that exasperating habit of looking skyward?

Even as I asked these questions of myself, I felt how hopeless it was to
attempt to answer them. So I abandoned them and tried to console myself
with the reflection that my mouth was well-shaped and that I had
splendid teeth. But then my great red hands obtruded themselves upon my
notice, and blotted out all consciousness of my redeeming features. I
took considerable pains with my hair, and put on my best dress. Alas!
the latter was of a curious brown shade which somehow only seemed to
enhance my ugliness. Belle was dressed in a dainty pink cambric; but I
was never allowed such a luxury, as it was considered that I was too
untidy, and too plain, and altogether too unsuitable to indulge in
pretty things. Besides, we had to be economical, and as I could never
hope to captivate a lover, no matter how I was dressed, it would have
been a shame to waste money upon my futile adornment. So Belle argued,
and I had hitherto had no choice but to bow to her arguments.

I was at last ready to go downstairs, when once more Jerry came to look
me up.

“Oh, you’re donned up, are you?” he remarked. “And, upon my word, you’re
looking quite spry.”

But I was not to be soothed by such negative flattery as this, and
sternly asked Jerry what he meant by “looking quite spry.”

“Why, spry, you know, spry means—at least, I mean—that you look as if
you were going to a prayer meeting; that is, you look so prim, and tidy,
and straight. But, Dorrie, dear, I like you far better as you were this
morning, and as you generally are. You look real jolly then.”

Saying this, Jerry kissed me warmly, and I forthwith resigned myself to
the hopelessness of attempting to improve my appearance. This morning I
had worn an old lilac print that had originally been made for Belle. It
was faded with much washing, and possessed sundry little adornments in
the way of frayed edges and sleeves out at elbows. Truly, Belle had been
right, after all, and it was sheer folly on my part to rebel against
fate, since neither coaxing nor rebelling seemed to propitiate her.
Seeing, therefore, how stern and uncompromising she was with me, I
resolved to take less notice of her in future, and had no sooner made
the resolve than I began to feel peaceful and self-possessed. What if
the gift of beauty was denied me, had I not many other blessings to be
thankful for? In all my seventeen years of life I had never had anything
but the most robust health, and if my school record was anything to go
by, I possessed a much more valuable property in the way of brains than
Belle did. These should outweigh my physical defects, and prove my
passport to the world’s good graces.

I dare say Jerry was rather surprised to see me suddenly straighten
myself up, and assume a much more cheerful expression.

“What is Lady Elizabeth like?” I asked.

“Looks?”

“No, ways.”

“Well, I take her to be rather a brick, do you know. She was as pleasant
and as much at home with Belle and me as if she had lived here all her
life and had just been off for a holiday. She thinks we are just like
pa, and that is high praise, I should fancy.”

“Very high praise, Jerry. I wonder what she’ll say about me. But it
doesn’t matter. Is dinner nearly served?”

“Yes; but John was grumbling because you hadn’t helped to see that the
table was all right, as you had promised to do.”

“Oh! Poor John. It was a shame of me to forget all about him. I’ll hurry
down now and see what I can do. Come on, Jerry.”

A minute later we were both skipping nimbly downstairs, and while Jerry,
at my earnest request, ran round to the stable to see how my
bull-terrier, Bobby, was progressing, I ran into the kitchen to make my
peace with John and Martha. As Martha was somewhat sulky, and protested
that they had managed very well without me, I made my way to the
dining-room, and began swiftly to re-arrange the flowers which I had
culled for the table earlier in the day. John looked rather scandalized,
and remarked that he thought he knew how to arrange a table as well as
most folks. But I did not heed John’s grumbling much, for it was his
chronic condition, and I had just completed my little task to my own
satisfaction when John rang the second dinner-bell, the first not having
been noticed by me.

Just then Jerry came back.

“Bobby will be all right in a day,” he said, whereat I expressed my
satisfaction, for I had been greatly troubled when poor Bobby had come
limping home with every sign of war about him.

“And, oh!” I said, with sudden remembrance, “what has been done with the
wonderful carriage and pair, and those gorgeous servants?”

“They went straight home. They belong to the earl. He sent them to meet
Lady Elizabeth at the station. Her own carriages are coming after she
has seen what arrangements it will be best to make here. I fancy she
doesn’t like the place very much.”

“Not like the Grange?” I exclaimed indignantly. “Why, she must be a
veritable heathen—”

“Dora, I regret that you should think fit to behave so badly, but must
demand a little of your attention, while I introduce you to the notice
of Lady Elizabeth Courtney.”

Was ever luck like mine? Here had I quite lost sight of the fact that my
father and his wife might enter the room at any time, and they had
actually overheard me speak in tones of contempt of the one woman on
earth whom I wished to propitiate! I turned hurriedly round, and saw my
father, looking very irate, Lady Elizabeth, looking coldly critical, and
Belle, looking ill-naturedly triumphant.

“I beg your pardon, papa. I did not mean it,” I stammered.

“No, I do not suppose you did mean us to overhear you,” he replied
sternly. “But I have no doubt that you had resolved to be intensely
disagreeable, and I tell you plainly that I will not have it. You see,
my love,” he said, turning to his wife, “you will have a little temper
and self-will to deal with, but I am sure you will know how to compel it
to keep within due bounds.”

What could I do or say after that? Nothing, of course, and I sat
miserably through the whole meal, while all but Jerry laughed and talked
as if quite unconscious of my presence. I would fain have escaped to my
own room when the dinner was over. But my father had taken it into his
head that I merely wanted to be obstinate and disagreeable, and
suggested that I should spend an hour in the drawing-room. I accordingly
took refuge at the piano. But my music was so melancholy that I am not
surprised that I was asked to desist, for, when you come to think of it,
“Killigrew’s Lament,” and “The Dead March in Saul,” haven’t a very
bridal sound about them.

So far Lady Elizabeth had not spoken directly to me, and whenever my
eyes wandered in her direction, I could see that her glance was very
critical, but I could not be sure that it was quite so disapproving as I
had expected. Yet, although I neither spoke, nor was spoken to, there
was no constraint between the others, for my father and Lady Courtney
were both good conversationalists, and Belle could chatter by the hour,
provided the talk was kept at a suitably frivolous level. Jerry, after
being petted and praised a little, had been sent to bed primed with a
quartet of kisses, and jubilant in the possession of a bright sovereign
which papa had given to him in honor of the advent of a new mistress at
Courtney Grange.

“Belle, dear, suppose you play us one of your pretty pieces,” said my
father. Whereupon I vacated the music-stool, and took refuge near the
big oriel window which overlooked the orchard, and which was my especial
delight. For it was like a small room in itself, and I did not feel
quite so lost among its cozy, faded draperies as I did in any other part
of our drawing-room, which always seemed to me to be much too large for
the furniture that was in it. Belle, after a great deal of fidgeting and
looking round at herself, to make sure that her dress was falling in
graceful folds, struck a few chords on what had been a very fine piano
in its day, but which even I, who was partial to all that had belonged
to my mother, was compelled to admit was getting out of date.

“I really don’t like to let you hear me for the first time on an old
instrument like this, Lady Elizabeth,” said Belle. “If my music strikes
you disagreeably, pray make all due allowance for the difficulties under
which I labor.”

“Pray don’t apologize, my dear,” answered Lady Elizabeth. “I know how to
separate the faults of the instrument from those of the player, and the
quality of the piano need not trouble you long, as in all probability a
grand of my own will be here in a day or two.”

“How delightful!” exclaimed Belle, and then she proceeded to give us a
specimen of the skill which, times without number, I had been advised to
emulate. She played “The Rippling Cascade” in a style that was faultless
as regards time and precision, following it up with “The Musical Box.”
But her playing was utterly devoid of expression. Pathos, tenderness,
power, fire, were all unknown musical quantities to her, as they are,
alas! to numbers of other conventional players; and whether it was
“Home, Sweet Home,” or “The Soldier’s Chorus,” each and everything was
played with the same clock-work insensibility to all the laws of
expression. I watched Lady Elizabeth narrowly, as she listened to
Belle’s efforts in the musical line, and (shall I own it?) I was
maliciously glad to notice a distinctly bored expression steal across
her features. There was one thing in which I could excel my usually
all-conquering sister, of which the lady whom we both desired to please
was evidently a judge, and I could not help rejoicing in the fact that I
was not quite weaponless in the fight for favor, though I had certainly
done anything but shine so far.

“What do you think of Belle’s performance?” asked my father, either
forgetful of my presence, or not caring whether I overheard the
conversation or not. Lady Elizabeth’s reply, though given in a low tone,
and under cover of the music, reached my ears quite distinctly.

“She is just a trifle disappointing there, Gerald. I should imagine your
younger daughter, Dora, to be much the better artist of the two. She
seems to be a trifle wild and ungovernable, but would, I think, be
amenable to reason, with judicious handling.”

“My dear Elizabeth, you don’t know her yet. Wait until you have seen
more of her, and then you will agree with me that she is more than
trying. Indeed, she is positively exasperating at times. Belle always
has some complaint to make of her, and I am not surprised that this
should be so, for it is a matter of impossibility to make her either
look or act like a lady. No one would dream that she was a Courtney.”

Often and often I had felt my heart ache at the neglect and carelessness
with which my father had always treated me, and I had grieved bitterly
at the lack of outward comeliness which seemed to be the passport to his
affection. But that he was actually so devoid of parental feeling as to
show himself positively antipathetic to me had never occurred to me.
Now, as I heard him saying things which must make me almost hateful in
Lady Elizabeth’s eyes, I felt myself harden toward him, and the love
which I had hitherto cherished for him fell from me like a worn-out
mantle. What! oh, what had I ever done that he should do that which
presumably only my bitterest enemy would do to me? Why should he try to
prejudice me in the eyes of his wife? Had he no remembrance of the
mother who loved me with a love equal to that which she bore for himself
and his happier children? Was he quite forgetful of all the little
efforts I had always made to increase his comfort? Did he really regard
me as quite removed from the sphere of a lady, because I had worked
hard, and made my hands red and unsightly, ever since I had realized how
difficult it was for Martha and John to manage our big house efficiently
without assistance? I, in my blindness, had hoped that he would commend
me for my industrious habits, and it was a bitter awakening to discover
that he only rated me on a par with, perhaps, a scullery maid.

I could feel my eyes begin to gain the fire they usually lacked, and the
hot blood suffused my cheeks as I sat trembling with anger, and fighting
madly to prevent myself from uttering the reproaches that forced
themselves to my lips. It would be well, I thought, to keep quiet until
the end of the play, and hear the verdict which Lady Elizabeth would
pronounce upon me. I therefore listened for her answer with tightly
clasped hands and motionless form, but with my attention strained to the
utmost, Belle having meanwhile reached the most flourishy part of
“Household Harmonies.”

“Do you think it quite fair to the child,” said my stepmother, “to give
implicit credence to what one sister says to the detriment of the other,
without giving the latter a chance to defend herself? Do not imagine for
a moment I have a thought of reproaching you. But I cannot help
contrasting the love and admiration you so openly display for Belle with
the coldness and actual displeasure with which you look at Dora. May not
this have much to do with the girl’s presumably bad temper and _gauché_
manners? You see, I want to make the best of all belonging to you,
Gerald, and I am inclined to think that there is more in your younger
daughter than you have given her credit for.”

“I should be only too glad to discover a single good quality in Dora,”
replied my affectionate father. “But I repeat that she is really
hopeless, and assure you, for your own future guidance, that her
disposition is on a par with her looks, than which nothing could very
well be more disappointing, considering the fact that she is the
offspring of a house which for generations has been famous for its
beauty.”

“But a beautiful body does not invariably hold a beautiful mind, and of
course the obverse rule holds good. The fact is, I am not sure that I
have not taken a fancy to Dora. I have an idea that she is a girl of
great possibilities, under judicious management. Certainly, appearances
are against her at present, but appearances are but very circumstantial
evidence at best.”

“And how do you get over her rudeness to you on your arrival?”

“You mean her failure to meet me at the door?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I rather fancy that if I had been in her place I should have done
the same. It is bad enough to be such a contrast in looks to her
handsome sister, without having her plainness accentuated and aggravated
by the most unbecoming attire that could possibly have been procured for
her. Belle is beautifully dressed, and Dora’s frock is simply hideous.
Her hair, too, is plastered down in as ugly a fashion as possible. I
mean to alter all that, and the result will astonish you, I am sure.”

By this time Belle had noticed that she had an unappreciative audience,
and was closing the piano, contriving to display, as she did so, a
certain amount of well-bred annoyance, as I knew instinctively without
looking at her, so well was I used to her little ways. Lady Elizabeth
smiled pleasantly and said, “Thank you, my dear.” My father,
considerably to Belle’s own wonderment, appeared quite oblivious of her
beautiful presence, a thing she had never had to complain of before. He
looked like a man suddenly confronted with a new and mysterious riddle,
and as if he were not sure whether he ought not to doubt the sanity of
any one who could deliberately say anything in favor of me. True, old
Martha and her husband were sometimes quite ungrudging of their
commendation, after I had been specially useful to them. But they were
only servants, and it was perhaps natural that they should judge things
in a different way to more educated people.

As for me, I sat like one in ecstasy, for I had at last found some one
who was not only willing, but actually determined to see that I was
treated in a manner equal to the other daughter of the house, and not
relegated to the position of a menial. My father had evidently forgotten
that I was in the room. Lady Elizabeth thought I had left it, as was
evidenced by her parting words to Belle, as the latter was going up to
her own bedroom.

“Good-night, Belle,” she said. “To-morrow we will have a talk about what
we will do together in future, eh? And tell your sister that I hope she
will be well enough to go on an exploring expedition with me. I’m sure
she has a pretty garden and other interesting things of her own to show
me. She looks like a real lover of nature.”

Had my heart not been so full of conflicting emotion I could have
laughed at Belle’s stare of surprise. But laughter would have been
horrible to me just then, and would have seemed a desecration of the
purer sounds that rose to my lips.

Does the reader know how it feels to be in a state of joy so exquisite
that it is difficult to restrain the voice from shrieking aloud and the
limbs from dancing in wild abandonment? Even so did I feel when I rose
from my chair as Belle left the room. But my excitement ran into the
channels of gratitude and love, and I soon found myself kneeling at Lady
Elizabeth’s feet, sobs shaking my frame, tears streaming down my cheeks,
and broken words of feeling issuing from my lips.

“Dear, dear lady!” I cried. “Oh, how I bless you for your kind words!
You don’t know how I have hungered for love! You don’t know what a grief
it was to me to seem rude to you. You don’t know how grateful I can be.
I will do anything for you. I will work my fingers to the bone, if you
wish it. I will lay my life down for you, if you will only give me just
a little corner of your heart, just a little of the sympathy for which
my heart has been aching.”

“My dear child,” said my stepmother, as she clasped me warmly to her
breast, while genuine tears of sympathy actually rolled down her cheeks.
“My poor Dora! of course I mean to love you. And I want you to remember
that I am your mother, to whom you must come in all your troubles.”

Then, with an affectionate kiss, she released me, and I fled to my
bedroom, sobbing still with excitement, but proud, happy and exultant,
as I had never been in my life.

“She is an angel!” I thought, rapturously. “Oh! how happy we shall be
now!”

Alas, poor mortal! it is well for thee that the portals of the future
are impervious to thy gaze, and that it is forbidden thee to know how
small is perhaps thy destined share of happiness, the true elixir of
life.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER II.
    “In the world there is no duty more important than that of being
                        charming.”—VICTOR HUGO.


On rising next morning my first thought was that I must dress myself
with more care than was usually the case with me before breakfast. Not
that I was not always neat and tidy, as far as my personal toilet went.
But the old dresses which had hitherto been deemed good enough for me to
wear in the mornings would have to be discarded henceforth, and I felt
quite proud of the suddenly accentuated importance of my personal
appearance, as I rummaged my wardrobe in search of something that would
be fit to wear in the presence of Lady Elizabeth Courtney.

But I was not very successful in my search, and was obliged to content
myself with a somewhat shabby green striped stuff, that had been bought
for Belle, but was made up for me, because she took a dislike to it on
seeing it at home. I remembered the remark Lady Elizabeth had made about
my hair, and tried, with very indifferent success, to remove the
objectionable sleekiness which was its distinguishing feature.

When quite ready to go downstairs I surveyed myself in the glass, but
cannot say that I was delighted with the reflection which confronted me
for a moment. It was only seven o’clock, and I went to the stable ere
going elsewhere, to see after the wants of Bobby and of my dear old
Teddy. Teddy was a shaggy pony, whose looks were anything but handsome,
but in whose society I had hitherto spent my happiest hours. That I
should be the proud possessor of a pony often struck me with surprise;
but it was an established fact, nevertheless. My uncle Graham,
protesting that no one would buy such an ugly animal, had given him to
me, and as Belle would not have been seen on the back of such an
inelegant steed, there was no attempt to subvert him to other uses than
the donor intended.

Sometimes Jerry and I wandered for miles with him, taking turns at
having a ride on his broad back over the wide expanse of moorland in
which our county rejoices. Bobby, too, always went with us, and, next to
Teddy, perhaps, was the dearest animal alive. I had bought him, for
sixpence, from some boys who had been paid a shilling to drown him
because he had the mange. He wasn’t handsome then, but he improved in
looks when he recovered from his illness, and he was so loving, so
merry, so clever, and such a jolly companion altogether, that it would
have been a terrible grief to me to part with him. Then both Bobby and
Teddy were such splendid confidants. To them I poured out all my
sorrows, and I always felt better after we had talked things over. They
would both look at me so earnestly and lovingly with their beautiful
eyes, while I told them whatever I had to tell. And then, to prove that
they understood me, Teddy would rub me with his head, and Bobby would
first lick my fingers, and then give a short, sharp bark, and look
defiantly round him, as if to challenge my enemies.

Both animals were nearly as fond of Jerry as they were of me. But he was
only nine years old, and did not understand them quite as well as I did.
Whenever we were bent upon a long excursion on the moors we would take a
basket of provisions with us. Then, when we got to a suitable spot, we
would prepare to enjoy our picnic. Teddy and Bobby would lie down for
awhile, or would amuse themselves in their own way, the one by nibbling
at such eatables as he might find, and the other by excursionizing in
search of rats. But they knew what a certain whistle meant, and returned
promptly to our side as soon as they heard it. Then, having unpacked our
basket, we would distribute the luncheon. There was always a goodly bone
for Bobby, and some apples and a few carrots for Teddy; and though we
were no doubt a curious quartet, we were a very happy one, for I had no
regrets when in the unrestrained company of my three chums. After lunch,
we sometimes had a game at hide and seek among the stones and hillocks,
Teddy in particular being very difficult to deceive. It was such fun to
see his dear old nose come poking round a corner, and to witness him
neigh and prance in his joy at having unearthed us, while Bobby
complimented him on his skill by barking his admiration.

It seemed a pity that such beautiful days should have an end, and we
were all sorry when it was time to go home again. As for me, I used to
feel my spirits leave me as we neared home, for I was always sure to be
in some scrape or other on my return. It was very easy for me to get
into trouble at any time, but the head and front of my offending in
connection with our picnics was my inability to distinguish between
scraps and bones to which Bobby was welcome, since no one else could eat
them, and the remains of a joint which Martha had intended to convert
into _rissoles_. Teddy’s apples, too, had a knack of being of the
choicest flavor, whereas the green windstrewn ones were supposed to be
good enough for a pony.

As I now went to the stable, I could not help wondering how Lady
Elizabeth would regard my pets. But I felt more assured about the matter
than I would have done if I had thought about it yesterday. For if my
stepmother could actually take a fancy to _me_, she was not likely to
take exception to the ugliness of Teddy and Bobby.

“Hallo, Dorrie!” I suddenly heard a voice exclaim, and looking toward
the kitchen-garden, whence the sound proceeded, I saw Jerry,
hand-in-hand with Lady Elizabeth, to whom he was doing the honors of the
place thus early.

“We’ve been getting some strawberries for breakfast,” smilingly said my
stepmother, “or, rather, we were going to get some, but either Gerald or
I ate all we gathered.”

“Well, it wasn’t me,” said Jerry. “I gathered them, and you ate them.
But I can soon pull some more, after you have looked at my white rats
and my rabbits.”

“And my pony,” I put in; adding, with no shade of reserve or shyness
about me, “Do you always get up so early, Lady Elizabeth?”

“Not always, especially if I am in town. But I am fond of rising early
in the country. Besides, I wanted to explore the Grange thoroughly
to-day. I have been here before, but it is so long since that I have
quite forgotten what it is like.”

“Do you know,” put in Jerry, “that I fancied yesterday you did not like
the place?”

“And Dora thought I must be a heathen not to do so.”

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” I exclaimed hurriedly. “It was very
presumptuous of me. But I have lived here all my life, and to me no
place can be nicer than Courtney Grange.”

“That remains to be proved,” said my stepmother, with a smile. “I have
an idea that the sanitary arrangements of this place are bad. Should
this really prove the case, we shall vacate the Grange in favor of a
pretty place of my own.”

“Leave the Grange!” I cried aghast. “Why, that would be awful! I should
look uglier than ever anywhere else.”

“On the contrary, it is just possible, Dora, that this place is to blame
for your unsatisfactory complexion. Perhaps your bedroom is a specially
unhealthy one. Your father has promised to employ some sanitary
engineers at once, to examine the place. Meanwhile I have left my maid
at Sunny Knowe, and we are all going next week to pay a visit to that
place. Your father is quite willing that you should all three accompany
us, and I am sure you will enjoy your visit.”

“But I have no pretty clothes to be seen elsewhere in.”

“We will soon alter that. I am very glad that Ernestine did not come
with me. I can manage very well for a week without her, and it is just
as well that neither she nor any other servant of mine should criticise
you at present. You will show to much better advantage in new clothes,
and may as well create as good an impression as possible, even upon the
servants, who can be very neglectful of people who do not strike them as
important. I intend you to be considered as important as your sister,
who is very lovely, but who must not monopolize all the attention due to
you.”

“Indeed, I do not want attention or assistance. I am quite used to
looking after both myself and others, and cannot expect the same
politeness as Belle. See, these are my pets, and I love them dearly, for
they both love me.”

Bobby always slept with Teddy, and it was no unusual thing to see the
two friends come to meet me, as they did on this particular morning,
Teddy brushing my arm by way of salute and uttering a delighted neigh,
while Bobby barked his “good-morning” quite plainly.

“They have brought you to see some lovely animals,” said a voice at this
juncture. It was my father, who had joined us, preparatory to going in
to breakfast, and who gazed at me with manifest displeasure.

“I’m afraid, my dear,” he continued, “that you will be somewhat
disgusted at being taken the round of stableyards and back premises. But
I should have warned you as to what you might expect from Dora. Her
tastes are inveterately low.”

“Then I am afraid I am low, too,” laughed Lady Elizabeth, “for I have
actually been enjoying myself. I was always sorry that I had no children
of my own, and a few fresh young spirits about me will complete my
happiness in marrying you. Come along, children. We mustn’t keep your
father waiting for his breakfast.”

My father was not severe or ill-natured, except when irritated by the
sight of the child who was a veritable eyesore to him, and he would have
had to be a churl indeed to resist his wife’s sunny ways. He was smiling
pleasantly at her, and had turned to walk toward the house, having
offered her his arm, when I hastily whispered to her: “Pray excuse Jerry
and me for a moment, while we gather those strawberries.” And then I ran
off, followed by Jerry, and knowing full well that my desire to procure
Lady Elizabeth a plentiful supply of the fruit of which she seemed fond
would provoke my father’s displeasure again, simply because it would
strike him as another undesirable exhibition of my notoriously
independent manners.

But I no longer felt any particular desire to please him, and only cared
to be of service to the dear lady who would permit no prejudices to
influence her treatment of me. As far as she was concerned, I meant to
follow Victor Hugo’s advice, and be as charming and helpful as I could.
If I could not make my appearance charming, I would charm her by a
solicitous and persistent attention to her pleasures and comforts.

It did not take the two of us long to gather a good supply of “Queens”
and “Presidents,” and we reached the morning-room before the others had
sat down to breakfast. Belle was there, attired in a pretty pale blue
print, and was admirably foiled by my altogether unprepossessing
appearance. As I saw Lady Elizabeth’s glance wander from Belle to
myself, I knew that she was wondering what I could possibly wear to make
me look pretty; and though I could never really hope to embody such a
pleasant adjective as “pretty,” I was happy in the knowledge that
Belle’s unpleasant theories were upset, and that I might possibly show a
marked improvement in my appearance ere long.

The rest of the day was chiefly taken up with explorations and
consultations, and a good many new arrangements were made. Jerry, I was
sorry to hear, was to be sent off to a French boarding school at the
beginning of the next term. But when I heard that he was to spend all
his holidays at home, just as if he were in an English school, I felt
reconciled to the temporary absences of the bright, clever child who
liked his ugly sister best. Jerry himself was quite overjoyed at the
programme cut out for him, and promised to write us each and all a
French letter from the first week of his residence in France.

Belle, who was now twenty, was enraptured by the promise of next season
in town, while I was so delighted to hear that I was to have efficient
instruction on my favorite instrument, the violin, that I burst into
tears, and ran hastily up to my own room, where I might vent my emotion
unrestrainedly. You see, my tastes had met with so little sympathy
heretofore that I required some time to get used to unwonted
indulgences. I was not sure that my happiness would not yet take unto
itself wings and fly away, or that I was not dreaming; for I had never
heard of the arrival of a stepmother being so conducive to the welfare
of the junior branches of the family as promised to be the case with us.

My father, I noticed during the next few days, was so supremely
contented and so happy in the society of his wife, that I contrasted the
coldly conventional manner in which he had always comported himself in
my poor mother’s presence, and was able to see that the feeling he had
borne for her was but poor stuff compared to the love he felt for Lady
Elizabeth. I remember also having heard that these two were lovers in
their youth, and it amazed me to think that they could have deliberately
thrown aside the heart’s most sacred feelings in order to make a worldly
marriage.

I have since then become thoroughly conversant with the fact that Mammon
is infinitely the more powerful god of the two, when it comes to a
tussle with Cupid, and that even very estimable people lose their
judgment when called upon to choose between them. And yet, how can they
honestly utter their marriage vows, when the heart is given away from
the one they are marrying? Truly, life has many mysteries, which it were
unprofitable work to attempt to solve!

In a day or two quite an assortment of new clothes came for me, and it
was astonishing to see how different I looked in the reds and yellows
which I now wore. I was still the ugly girl of the family, but it was
quite possible for strangers to overlook the unpleasant fact for a
while, and I even caught myself hoping that I looked rather nice than
otherwise, especially when callers began to pay their respects to the
newly-married couple.

Both Belle and I were introduced to nearly all our visitors, among the
first of them being the Earl of Greatlands. I was rather disposed to
like him, until he put his eyeglass up, quizzed me attentively, and
remarked: “You are unfortunately very like your mother, Miss Dora,
though I believe she had much finer hair and eyes than you have. But
everybody improves in the hands of my daughter, and I have no doubt you
will be as handsome as your sister by the time you are her age.”

“I am only just twenty,” said Belle stiffly.

“So I suppose, my dear,” rejoined the earl. “But you will find in a year
or two that even the slight margin of age there is between the two of
you will land you considerably on the weather-side, in other people’s
opinion.”

Belle flashed an angry glance from her beautiful eyes, being careful,
however, not to let the earl see it, for did she not desire an
invitation to Greatlands Castle? As for me, I felt nothing less than
enraged, although I could not quite decide whether the old gentleman was
deliberately rude, or only gifted with an unfortunate knack of making
_mal-à-propos_ speeches. But he did not notice that he had hurt the
feelings of either of us, having turned his attention to Jerry, who,
faultlessly dressed in a new black velvet suit, was being introduced to
his stepmother’s father.

“Ah! a very pretty boy,” he said. “But a perfect imp of mischief, I
know. Boys who look like him always are. How many times have you gone
out ratting?”

“Not so often as I would like, sir. Dorrie can’t always get away.”

“And does Dorrie go rat-hunting?”

“Of course she does. She has a splendid dog. Teddy is hers, too, and
he’s just a brick.”

“Teddy’s a brick? But of what use is a brick on hunting expeditions?”

“Oh, you know what I mean. Teddy is the jolliest little pony in the
world.”

“You seem fond of Teddy?”

“Rather.”

“And of Bobby?”

“I wonder who wouldn’t be!”

“And of Dorrie?”

“Why, of course!”

“And of Belle?”

“Belle? Well, yes, I dare say I am, when she doesn’t sneak on Dorrie.”

“Gerald, I think you are forgetting yourself,” interrupted my father
angrily. “That girl has made you worse than herself. It is just as well
that you are going to be parted. For the present, you have been long
enough in the drawing-room.”

“Very well, sir,” said Jerry, and turned to leave the room at once. Lady
Elizabeth, I could see, was more amused than vexed; Belle looked at both
Jerry and me with angry disdain, and the earl just laughed as if Jerry
had uttered a very good joke.

“Wait a bit, Jerry,” he said. “If the others will excuse me for a few
minutes, I would like you to show me this wonderful dog and pony. And as
they are Dorrie’s property she will perhaps be good enough to come with
us.”

As nobody entered any objection to the earl’s proposals, I accompanied
him from the room, and five minutes later he and Jerry and I were
interviewing Teddy and Bobby, who had been having a gambol at the foot
of the orchard. The orchard was not a place they were supposed to frisk
about in. But somebody had carelessly left the wicket open, and it was
not their fault, poor things, that a choice young “ribstone pippin” had
been snapped in two during their frolics.

The earl was certainly a funny man. He was as different from what I had
always supposed an earl to be as was possible. In fact, he was more like
a jolly old farmer than anything else. But what a gossip he seemed to
be! And how inquisitive he was! He laughed immoderately at sight of my
pets, but immediately soothed my wounded feelings by stroking and
patting them, and I could see that they both took a fancy to him at
once. It wasn’t everybody that Teddy would sidle up to in the dear,
winning way he had, or to whom Bobby would wag his approval. But perhaps
they were both in a better humor than usual; for Bobby had uncovered one
of the mushroom beds, and had helped himself to a few of the fungi, of
which he was inordinately fond, while naughty Teddy, as several broken
branches testified, had been feasting on unripe “Dutch mignonnes” and
“Duke of Oldenburghs.”

“Nice animals,” said the earl. “Just the sort I would have expected your
property to be, eh, Dorrie?”

“My name is Dora.”

“But Jerry calls you Dorrie.”

“He is privileged. He likes me.”

“And how do you know that I don’t like you?”

“You? I don’t see how you can. Very few people do.”

“Perhaps I am one of the few. At any rate, I mean to call you Dorrie. It
sounds nicer between friends than ‘Miss Dora,’ doesn’t it?”

“Now you are making fun of me. And you would make even more fun of me,
if I were to believe that the Earl of Greatlands wanted to be friendly
with an ugly, uninteresting girl like me.”

“Isn’t Lady Elizabeth friendly with you?”

“Oh, she is an angel!”

“Well, please to remember that I am that angel’s father, and of the same
species. Don’t you see my wings?”

At this we all three laughed, and we enjoyed each other’s society very
well for about half an hour, during which time we had shown our visitor
all sorts of things that I had never dreamed would interest an earl.

Suddenly he exclaimed: “And now I must go back to the house, or I shall
be getting into hot water with the old people, eh? But look here, Jerry,
what has Belle got to sneak about?”

“Now, Jerry, don’t _you_ turn sneak,” I warned.

“You don’t need to be afraid. But Belle is horrid, after that. She’s
always saying that Dorrie’s ugly. And I’m sure she isn’t really ugly, is
she?”

The latter question was addressed to the earl. But I did not wait to
hear his answer, for I was thoroughly angry with Jerry, for once, and
returned to the house unceremoniously, leaving them to go back when they
liked. Of course I was not behaving politely. But I am afraid that very
polished manners were really a little out of my line at that time, and,
after all, it was too bad of Jerry to turn the conversation on to my
unfortunate ugliness, just when we were having such a nice time of it.
Instead of going back to the drawing-room, I went straight to the
kitchen, where I was busily occupied for the next two hours in helping
Martha to shell “marrowfats,” to prepare salad, to make a pudding and
some cheesecakes, and in other ways to do my best toward making dinner a
success. Belle never condescended to enter the kitchen at any time, nor
would my father have liked her to risk spoiling the perfect loveliness
of her hands. But Martha and John had never suffered from lack of work,
and some help was absolutely needed by them. True, a strong girl from
the village of Moorbye had been engaged now to do the rougher part of
the housework, but even then there was plenty of room for my assistance.

That evening the Earl of Greatlands dined with us, as did also Lord
Egreville, his son, who had ridden over to pay his respects to his
sister and her husband. He was a widower, and resided with his father at
Greatlands Castle, his two sons being at Oxford. I did not like him at
all, and he took no pains to conceal the fact that he considered me to
be very small fry indeed. But he was quite fascinated by Belle’s beauty,
and flirted desperately with her. She seemed perfectly willing to
receive his attentions, and certain amused glances which I saw exchanged
between Lady Elizabeth, the earl, and my father, set my thoughts working
in an odd direction.

What a queer thing it would be, I mused, if this Lord Egreville and
Belle were to fall in love with each other, and make a match of it! How
it would complicate relationships. Why, let me see, Belle would become
her father’s sister-in-law, and would be a sort of aunt to Jerry and
myself, while the old earl could call himself either her father-in-law,
or her grand-father-in-law, if he liked. The situation presented so many
funny aspects, that I felt it necessary to relinquish my dessert-spoon
while I abandoned myself to a fit of laughter that obstinately refused
to be repressed.

As there was apparently nothing to laugh at, my manners were again
called into question, chiefly by the innocent and unconscious cause of
my amusement.

A few days after this, the sanitary engineers were at work on Courtney
Grange, and we were all domiciled _pro tem_ at Sunny Knowe, a lovely
place in its way, but not nearly equal to what Courtney Grange would be
when thoroughly restored. Oddly enough, a distant relation, from whom my
father had never expected anything, died at this juncture, and
bequeathed him several thousand pounds. His income had never been large
enough to keep the place up as it ought to have been kept, and the
Grange had therefore fallen considerably out of repair. Now that he was
married to a lady with an ample income he could spare his newly acquired
fortune for repairing purposes, and resolved to spend nearly the whole
of it on that object.

Under the circumstances, we were not likely to return to the Grange much
before Christmas. But we did not trouble about that, as the Knowe was a
very pleasant place to live at. I had, very much to my sorrow, left
Teddy under John Page’s care, for Lady Elizabeth desired me to ride a
more presentable steed while at the Knowe. I was provided with a
well-made habit, and had the use of a handsome horse. But the decorous
rides I now took, in company with Belle, and with a groom following
closely, were not to be compared with the delightful excursions Teddy
and I had had together, though Belle enjoyed them, and the altered state
of things was evidently regarded by her as a great improvement.

As it had been necessary to leave Teddy behind, I could not be cruel
enough to bring Bobby away and leave him without a friend to talk to.
John had promised to look well after them both, but I knew that they
would miss me sadly, and longed for the time when I could comfort them
again with my presence. Lady Elizabeth was very good to me, but at times
I was not sure that I did not regret the old spells of unconventional
freedom.

So true is it that we are prone to lose sight of the privileges and
blessings of the present in the vain longing after a vanished past, in
which we could find little to be joyful at, when it was with us. In my
case, I was ready to let the memory of our halcyon days on the moors
outweigh that of all the days of neglect and misery during which I had
craved for the mother’s love which had once blessed me.

The Earl of Greatlands and his son spent a good deal of time at the
Knowe, and we, in our turn, saw much of the castle, which had been
thoroughly rehabilitated since Lady Elizabeth’s first husband had been
good enough to furnish the money wherewith to do it. It was a fine old
place, and it was pleasant to see what pride its owner took in all
connected with it. Lord Egreville was very attentive to Belle, but it
was difficult to decide how far the element of seriousness entered into
the behavior of either of them. There was a prudent reticence on the
part of Lord Egreville at times that annoyed Belle very much, because it
argued that he was not quite so infatuated with her as she would have
liked him to be.

And yet, I do not believe she cared for him one atom, although she gave
him more than sufficient encouragement to proceed with his attentions—up
to a certain point. Once, when in a very gracious mood, she became quite
confidential with me.

“It would be a very good match, even for me, who have always meant to do
well for myself,” she said. “The estate is quite unencumbered, and in
first-class order. Lord Egreville is not very good-looking. But I would
tolerate his looks if I cannot do better for myself. Though certainly it
would be a great thing to become an English countess.”

“But Lord Egreville will not be an earl until his father dies.”

“His father, as you seem to forget, is close upon seventy, and cannot
live forever.”

“How horrid it seems to count upon dead men’s shoes like that!”

“Don’t excite yourself, my dear. If Lord Egreville were to propose to me
to-morrow, I would not give him a decided answer. I must see what my
coming season in town brings forth. I might captivate a much richer
nobleman, or even a millionaire pill or soap manufacturer. At any rate,
I am not going to throw myself away in too great a hurry.”

“‘A bird in the hand—’ You know the rest.”

“Yes, I know the rest. But my motto is: ‘Look before you leap.’”

“Well, I hope you won’t leap into a big bog-hole, that’s all.”

“Well, no. I will leave that suicidal performance for those who can
never hope to leap any higher. How do you like this brooch? Lord
Egreville sent it this morning.”

“If I were you, I would tell him to keep his dead wife’s jewelry a
little longer. He might require it for some one else, if you pick up a
duke or a millionaire.”

Having had my parting shot, I judged it wise to leave Belle to her own
devices, and went off to my little room, where I practiced industriously
on my fiddle for an hour and a half. There were plenty of servants here,
and I had no excuse for offering to help with the cooking, though I
would have liked nothing better. Indeed, I had often thought that if I
had not belonged to a family in which it was necessary to keep up
appearances, I would have become a professional cook. But I had still a
little congenial employment to turn to. Jerry was going off to school
this week, and I had undertaken to mark all his things myself, besides
making him sundry little knick-knacks that would prove useful to him.

I found it very hard to part with Jerry, when the time came for him to
go, and was rather hurt to find that he cared less about leaving us
behind, than he did about the delights of travel and school-life to
which he was looking forward.

“I did think you would be sorry to leave me,” I murmured, reproachfully,
just as he was being resigned to the charge of the tutor who was going
to accompany him to the school, and afterward take part in teaching the
boys.

“Well, what’s a fellow to do?” Jerry rejoined. “You wouldn’t have me to
cry and look like a muff, would you? It isn’t the same as if I was a
girl. It wouldn’t matter then if I cried my eyes red.”

“No more it would, Jerry. Good-by, dear. And you’ll be sure to write
often to me?”

“Quite sure. Good-by, Dorrie. Good-by, pa. And, oh! Dorrie, I’ve
forgotten my bag of marbles, and my new top. Will you send them to me?”

There was barely time to answer in the affirmative, and then the child
was off. Then my father, having seen me comfortably seated in the
waggonette in which we had driven to the station, flicked his whip, and
off we started on our return drive, little dreaming of the terrible
events which were to come to pass ere the dear boy from whom we had just
parted came back to the home he left so blithely.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER III.
                “Tis the unlikely that always happens.”


My life seemed strangely quiet without Jerry for the next few days, and
I longed all the more to console myself with Bobby and Teddy. But one
gets used to the absence of anybody in time, and Lady Elizabeth’s
arrangements were so promotive of the comfort and pleasure of all with
whom she lived that it would have seemed ungrateful of me to suggest
that I should be glad when the time came to go back to the Grange.
Still, it was true that, apart from the loss of Jerry’s companionship, I
had conceived a desire to leave Sunny Knowe. The Earl of Greatlands had
become unpleasantly effusive to me. He was constantly paying me
compliments, which were all the more galling as they were made with a
perfectly grave mien. Had Belle been the recipient, there would have
been nothing objectionable about them, as she could have received them
in the full conviction that they were honestly meant. But for me, whose
ugliness was proverbial, to be addressed as “pretty dear” and “dainty
dove,” was very bitter indeed; for it was bad enough to be fully
conscious of a total absence of all that was dainty and pretty, without
being publicly satirized, and held up to the unfeeling laughter of Belle
and her admirer, Lord Egreville.

One afternoon my temper, which of late had lain in abeyance, reasserted
itself in a startling manner. We were all in the drawing-room, with
several of the neighboring gentry, who had come over to confabulate
about some _tableaux vivants_ that there had been some talk of getting
up. Several satisfactory groups had been decided upon; but, apparently
by common consent, nobody had suggested that I should take a part in the
performances, until the earl remarked: “Look here, there seems to be a
strange want of judgment among you. You have left the flower of the
flock out of your calculations, and I propose that she and I represent
‘Beauty and the Beast.’ I can soon dress up as the ‘Beast,’ and she can
fill her part satisfactorily.”

“And pray who is the ‘flower of the flock’?” said Belle, who was to
represent “Guinevere.”

“Who else, but winsome Dora?” retorted the earl, whereat there was an
undisguised laugh on the part of Belle and a few more of her caliber,
while the rest smiled in good-natured toleration of so palpable an
absurdity. Just for one instant I turned sick with humiliation. Then I
walked up to the earl, and, with my eyes flashing angrily, hissed rather
than said: ‘You are an old man, my lord. I am but a young girl. You
think that you may hold me up to ridicule and laughter with impunity.
But I vow you shall do so no longer. Shall I tell you what I will do if
you dare to insult me in that manner again?’

“Dora, how dare you!” exclaimed my father angrily. “If you have
forgotten how to behave yourself, I must request you to go to your own
room at once.—I told you how it would be,” he remarked to Lady
Elizabeth.

“Tut, tut!” put in the earl. “Let the girl alone, Courtney. This little
bit of an outburst is my especial prerogative, and I would like to hear
the whole of it. What will you do if I repeat the kind of conversation
which seems to rouse your ire? Why shouldn’t I call you a beauty?”

“Because I have a right to demand that you should cease to satirize my
unfortunate appearance, and because I will no longer submit quietly to
listen to compliments which become insults when applied to me.”

“But you have not yet told me how you will prevent me from saying just
what I please.”

“If you are so little of a gentleman as to repeat your conduct, I will—I
will slap your face!”

“This is too disgraceful!” interposed my father again. “Once more,
Dora—”

“I have to beg you once more to permit me to finish this little affair
in my own way,” said the earl, who was actually laughing, so utterly
insignificant and childish did he deem my anger. “So you would slap my
face, eh? Well, there’s nothing would please me better. I like a girl
with some go in her. And you know you really are the nicest, bonniest—”

Five minutes later I was in my own room, feeling thoroughly ashamed of
myself. I had not permitted the Earl of Greatlands to finish his
preposterous compliment. But I certainly had disgraced myself in the
eyes of my father, of Lady Elizabeth, and of sundry other people who
witnessed my exit from the drawing-room and its predisposing cause. For
I had really slapped the old earl’s face, even as I had threatened to
do. He would probably not annoy me in the same way again. Indeed, it was
problematical if he would ever speak to me again; for, after all, my
conduct must seem inexcusable in the opinion of all but myself. For how
could I expect any one else to understand how bitter it was to me to
have my lack of comeliness held up to the laughter and contumely of more
favored mortals.

Next morning, when I came down to breakfast, I found my father awaiting
my advent in the morning room, and braced myself for the reprimand which
I knew to be inevitable. Said reprimand was even more severe than I had
anticipated, but my affectionate parent displayed such a total lack of
the consideration which I felt was the due of my own wounded feelings,
that, somehow, I no longer felt sorry for what I had done, but
maliciously resolved to adopt equally drastic measures if ever I should
be insulted in like manner again.

“I was never so ashamed in my life,” supplemented Belle, who had come in
while my father was talking, and had listened with a smile to his
lecture.

“I am glad to hear you say so,” said the voice of Lady Elizabeth. “It
really was a shame to laugh when you saw how Dorrie was being
tormented.”

“Indeed, it is Dora I was ashamed of, not myself. It is not likely that
I shall ever disgrace myself in like manner.” So said Belle, and then
the very absurdity of the suggestion that she would ever be tormented
for the same reason that I had been provoked the girl to irresistible
laughter, and served to prove how utterly heartless she could really be
where my feelings were concerned.

That afternoon the earl rode over to Sunny Knowe and surprised me by
greeting me even more cordially than ever. Evidently he thought me too
insignificant and childish to be offended with, while I considered that
the best thing I could do would be to make no further allusion to
yesterday’s _contretemps_. He did not seem inclined to tease me any
more, and the remainder of that day passed pleasantly, as did many more
ere we returned to the Grange.

When at last we were installed in our old home again, we were astonished
at the wonderful improvements that money and taste had been able to
effect in and around it. It was now a grand old place, worthy of the
imposing view it commanded and the fine trees by which its grounds were
dotted. My father both looked and felt like a rich landed proprietor, as
he surveyed the realm which, thanks to Lady Elizabeth’s income, he would
be able to support in a style becoming the dignity of the Courtneys, who
had once owned all the land for miles around. A new wing had been added,
for the comfort of Lady Elizabeth, whose rooms were situated here, and
who had brought such a quantity of beautiful new furniture with her that
the Grange was a veritable palace of delight to Belle and myself, who
had never known anything but shabby surroundings. My bedroom was now of
my own choosing, and had been furnished exactly like Belle’s.

I wrote glowing accounts to Jerry of all that was being done, and was
especially careful to give him full details concerning Bobby and Teddy,
and the rats and rabbits. Poor Jerry! he was to have come home for the
Christmas holidays, and they were close at hand when a serious accident
befell him. He had been too venturesome in some of the school sports,
with the result that he had a severe fall and fractured his right leg.
His father was telegraphed for at once and lost no time in reaching him.
Meanwhile, the boy had been treated by a skillful surgeon, and there was
every prospect of his progressing satisfactorily toward recovery. But it
was deemed inadvisable to move him at present, so poor Jerry had to
forego his anticipated holiday at home.

“I felt awfully sorry for Kendall,” he wrote in his weekly letter home,
“because his father and mother were dead, and he would have to spend his
holidays at school. Now I am jolly well glad, for he will be company for
me.”

It must not be imagined that Jerry was particularly selfish in
expressing himself thus. It was only his youthful vagueness that was at
fault. The writing, under the circumstances, was hardly legible. But I
thought it very brave of the child to write at all.

Meanwhile, Christmas approached and passed with comparative
uneventfulness. True, Lord Egreville had proposed to Belle. But she had
declined to give him a definite answer, on the plea that she was too
young to be engaged just now; the truth being that she was determined
not to labor under the disadvantage of being already out of the running
when she went to London for the season.

A house in town had been rented for us, and in due course we all
migrated thither. I had hardly expected to be introduced to London
society yet, and Belle openly grumbled at the idea. But Lady Elizabeth
generally got her own way in everything, and when she intimated that
there was no reason why I should not enjoy myself like the rest there
was no opposition from my father. Arrived in London, however, I found
that people were by no means inclined to make a fuss over me, while the
“beautiful” Miss Courtney was fêted and courted to her heart’s content.

Still, the proposals she had confidently expected were somewhat chary in
realizing themselves, and when they did come they were not as
superlatively tempting as they might have been. The fact was, it was
pretty generally known that Belle would have no dowry to speak of, and
though plenty of young aristocrats admired her immensely, they deemed it
advisable to offer their affections and society at the shrine of Mammon.
There were a couple of millionaires in the market. But, incredible as it
seemed to Belle, there were other girls in London whose physical charms
equaled her own, and to these other girls the millionaires succumbed.

Belle fumed. Belle raged. Belle almost anathematized. Belle hated her
victorious rivals. But Belle was wily, and presented an unruffled front
in the presence of Lady Elizabeth and her relatives. She made the most
of the proposals she did get, but professed her inability to love the
proposers. Love, indeed! Could such a beautiful sentiment find an
entrance into her cold breast? Impossible! What she coveted was wealth
and station, and when, toward the end of the season, Lord Egreville’s
proved to be the most eligible offer, she accepted him, and had the
felicity of seeing her engagement recorded in all the society papers.

I had an idea that the Earl of Greatlands did not care much for Belle,
but had never presumed to give utterance to my suspicion. Lady
Elizabeth, however, was not quite so reticent.

“I wish you every happiness, dear,” she said to Belle, kissing her
warmly, “and I think that you and Cyril will prove very congenial
companions; but I am not sure that my father will like to see any
mistress at the castle, other than his own wife, so long as he lives.”

“But your father has not got a wife!” exclaimed Belle, with rising
resentment at what she considered Lady Elizabeth’s presumption; for, by
her engagement to her brother, she was prospectively lifted to the same
plane of relationship, and but for the favors which her stepmother could
bestow upon her, she would at once have merged the respect due to a
mother in the aggressive equality which she deemed a sister-in-law’s
meed.

Lady Elizabeth’s reply startled us all.

“He has no wife at present,” she said, “but I have good reason for
asserting that he contemplates marriage at an early date, provided the
lady of his choice condescends to accept him.”

“Condescends to accept him!” I knew very well what was the gist of
Belle’s thoughts, as she sat with a sullen and dismayed face, without
making even a pretense of eating the dainty fare which lay on her
breakfast plate.

Who wouldn’t condescend to accept him? Wasn’t he nearly seventy years
old? And wasn’t he likely to die ere many years were over, leaving his
widow in the untrammeled possession of a title that would give her the
_entrée_ to any society? He was sure, too, to scrape and save all he
could to provide for his widow after his death, and that would mean a
considerable curtailment of the allowance which Lord Egreville looked
for on his marriage. Besides, if the earl brought a countess to the
castle, and Lord Egreville was asked to retire to the dower-house with
his bride, her position would be by no means so imposing as she had
expected it to be. Residence at the castle, as its nominal mistress, had
been one of Lord Egreville’s special pleas when urging his suit, and,
next to the acquisition of the secondary title, with the prospect of a
succession to the primary one, had been one of her chief reasons for
considering him much more of an eligible _parti_ than her other suitors.

And then, oh, horror! suppose the earl’s new wife should be young!
Suppose there should actually be a child born! Why Cyril would be still
further despoiled to provide for the bringing up of the little brat.
True, he could not be robbed of his prospective right to the earldom, as
he was the eldest son. But an active fancy could easily picture no end
of humiliations for him and his wife, if the foolish old earl were
permitted to bring his infatuation for some pretty face into fruition.

That these thoughts flew through Belle’s brain in the sequence in which
I have recorded them is more than I am able to vouch for. But I knew her
temperament and disposition so well that I had no hesitation in guessing
the direction of her reflections.

“I believe you are just saying all this to try me,” she said at last,
looking up at Lady Elizabeth with a face from which she was trying to
banish some of the shadows. “Now I come to think of it, he spends the
greater part of his time with us, and if he were attracted by anybody in
London, he would be more likely to seek her society than ours.”

Lady Elizabeth smiled very mysteriously, but did not vouchsafe a more
explicit reply.

“Papa,” said Belle, impatiently, “suppose you look up from that stupid
paper and take a little intelligent interest in what is going on around
you. It’s perfectly exasperating to see you absorbed in an account of a
shooting or fishing expedition, when the future of your eldest daughter
is being discussed.”

“My eldest daughter, eh? To be sure, I have two daughters, but the
future of one of them is considerably in embryo yet, I should imagine.
And what do you wish me particularly to say?”

“Have you known anything of the earl’s intention to get married?”

“Well, really, now you mention it, I did hear some time ago that he was
on the lookout for a suitable spouse, but I fancy the old party hasn’t
turned up yet.”

“Just what I think. Lady Elizabeth has simply been teasing me.”

“Why, my dear, do you happen to know anything definite about the
matter?”

Appealed to thus directly, Lady Elizabeth replied guardedly, “I have
really been given to understand that my father would like to get
married. But I am not at liberty to disclose the name of the lady whom
he would like to marry.”

“At least tell me whether she is old or young,” appealed Belle,
anxiously.

“Oh, she is several years younger than my father, I believe.”

With this answer Belle was forced to be satisfied, and shortly afterward
we all left the breakfast-room.

As for me, I had listened to the foregoing conversation with
considerable interest, but not with the absorbed attention which might
perhaps have been aroused in me, if I had had the least idea that the
doings of the Earl of Greatlands could possibly affect myself. After
all, I was really sorry for Belle. But perhaps the earl’s marriage might
not affect her so adversely as she feared.

At eleven o’clock Lord Egreville came to see Belle. I do not know the
exact purport of their conversation with each other, but I do know that
when Belle’s _fiancé_ left the drawing-room he looked much less pleasant
than when he entered it, and hardly seemed to have time to speak to the
earl, who was announced at this juncture. Thinking I would have an
hour’s uninterrupted practice on my violin, I went up to my own room,
but was summoned thence by-and-by.

“Please, Miss Dora,” said Lady Elizabeth’s maid, “you are wanted in the
library.”

“_I_ am wanted in the library!” I echoed, in surprise. “Why, who can
possibly want me?”

“I do not know. It was milady who sent me to ask you to go down to the
library.”

“Is Lady Elizabeth there?”

“No, she is in her boudoir. Mr. Courtney is with her.”

At first it struck me as very singular that there should be a caller who
wished to see me alone, and then I reflected that my music-master had
perhaps found it inconvenient to give me my music lesson at the usual
hour, and had come to ask me to change the time. Full of this thought, I
hurried downstairs, but was very much surprised to be confronted, not by
Signor Tringini, but by the Earl of Greatlands.

“My dear child, how astonished you look,” he said, as, coming forward
and taking my hand, he conducted me courteously to a seat.

“Well,” I replied, “I cannot conceive what can be your object in
desiring an interview with me. But perhaps there has been a mistake, and
it is Belle you want.”

“Indeed, it is not Belle I want, but your very own self.”

“I hope I have not been doing anything to call forth your particular
displeasure. I have really tried to be on my best behavior with
everybody since I came to London.”

“You have not displeased me yet. But you will displease me very much, if
you refuse to grant the request I have come to make of you.”

“Then I will do the best I can to avert your threatened displeasure by
promising to grant your request beforehand.”

“Ah, my dear, if I were inclined to take an unfair advantage, I would
rejoice exceedingly over that promise. As it is, I am terribly afraid
that you may retract it. Do you happen to have heard of my intention to
get married, if I can persuade a certain lady to accept me?”

“Yes, Lady Elizabeth spoke of it this morning. But she would not give us
any clew to the lady’s identity, and I, at least, am very curious about
her. I hope she is a nice old lady, and that she will like me. You see,
she will be a sort of grandmother-in-law to me—with your permission.”

“Grandmother fiddlesticks! She isn’t old enough to be anybody’s
grandmother. Can’t you guess who it is?”

“Why, no. How should I? I do not know so very many of your friends, and
I really do not know anybody that would seem to be a suitable Countess
of Greatlands.”

“Well, it seems to me that for all-round obtuseness you beat everything!
Do you think it likely that I would seek a private interview with you,
in order to tell you of my intention to ask some one else to marry me?”

“Then why have you come to see me?”

“Why? Only to ask you to take pity on a lonely old man, and marry him.
Look here, child, don’t jump up and look angry, for I really mean it.
You are the only woman I would care to marry, and if you refuse to marry
me I will have nobody else.”

“Good gracious! how can a girl marry her grandfather? Do you forget that
you are my stepmother’s father?”

“And what of that? We are not really related. Now don’t be hasty, my
dear. Think of all I can do for you, and of all you can do for me. You
shall have anything and everything you want, and be presented at Court.
As the Countess of Greatlands you will be courted and sought after. But
you can do much more for me than that. You can make the short span of
life which yet remains to me perfectly happy. Say yes, my dear, and my
love and gratitude will know no bounds.”

But I could not say yes for a while. Yet neither could I say no. My
astonishment was almost too great for words. Still, I was not displeased
at the dazzling prospect held out to me. Reflect, dear reader, before
you blame, that I had always been told that I need never hope to win the
affection of any man, and that, while those around me basked in the
sunshine of family joys, the man did not exist who would care to cast in
his lot with mine. True, this man was old, and he was almost decrepit.
But he had singled me out from the many others who would gladly have
become Countess of Greatlands. In doing so, he had done me an honor of
which I was fully sensible, and it was such a joy to me to have become
the best beloved of even an old man that my heart prompted me to say
“yes,” as he desired.

Still, certain scruples would obtrude themselves upon my notice, and
counseled a little hesitation.

“Belle?” I faltered at last. “I cannot! It would make such a difference
to Belle.”

“It will not make the slightest difference to Belle, I assure you,
Dorrie. She is too vain and frivolous for me to care about living in the
same house with her. Whether I marry or not, Cyril and she will have to
content themselves with the dower-house during my lifetime. It is the
same with the title. They cannot have it until I am gone, and your
present possession of it will not keep them out of it one day after it
accrues to them. Come, my dear, end my suspense, and keep the promise
you made me a while ago.”

“My father? And Lady Elizabeth?”

“Have no solid objections to offer.”

Neither had I after that. But, somehow, the enraptured kiss with which
my old lover sealed our engagement was not the sort of thing I had
pictured in my day-dreams, and I involuntarily shivered under his
caresses.

“What is it, my little pet, are you cold?” he asked solicitously.

“Just a little,” was my evasive answer. “This room always seems chilly.
But that does not matter. Tell me, for it seems so strange, how it is
that you actually want to marry _me_, of all people in the world. Look
how ugly I am!”

“You are not ugly to me, my dear. Besides, I am past thinking outward
appearance the sole recommendation and guarantee of a happy life. I need
more than mere outward beauty.”

“And you think you have found it?”

“I am sure I have found it! And now, my love, with your permission, I
will remain here until your father comes. I shall see you again later in
the day.”

Having thus virtually received my dismissal, I sped up to my own room,
but not before my ardent lover had claimed another kiss as his due.

Did I feel glad?

Or did I feel dismayed?

I was really unable to tell myself which sensation predominated. I met
Belle on the landing, and was conscious of a strange feeling of
trepidation, which made me slink into my own room like some one guilty
of a mean action.

Oh, dear! how could I ever face them all? I thought. How could I ever
have the presumption to pose as the superior in rank and family prestige
to my beloved stepmother? Why, if I married her father, I should be
_her_ stepmother. And my sister’s mother-in-law! And my father’s
mother-in-law, too! And—could it be possible?—my own step-grandmother!
There were no end of complications involved in the new arrangement; and,
as I pondered over them, I became more and more doubtful as to the
propriety of accepting the grand future held out to me. And yet, if I
could do so without repugnance on my part, and with an honest
determination to prove that the earl had acted wisely in selecting me as
the wife of his old age, why should I not become a great lady? Why—

But my conjectures were interrupted at this juncture by a very unusual
event. Belle had actually come to visit me in my own room! I knew
instinctively, however, that her visit boded me no good, and when I
looked up into her face, I saw that she was in a demoniacal temper.

“Is it true?” she cried, as she flung herself on a chair just in front
of me. “Is it true that you have actually deluded that old imbecile into
offering marriage to you? My father has just told me that you are to
become the Countess of Greatlands at a very early date. But the news is
too monstrous for belief! A hideous little reptile like you to lord it
over me! A shrimp of a girl, whose _gauchérie_ and ill-manners are
proverbial, to dare to assume airs of superiority over me! I tell you it
shall not be. I will not have it. Sooner than endure such a humiliation
I would—I would—”

“And pray what would you do?” I asked, not with the compunction I had
felt a while ago at the idea of relegating my beautiful sister to a
secondary position. Nor yet with the anger which had blazed up in me on
hearing the commencement of her virago-like harangue. But with the cool
contempt of one who feels that her position is impregnable, and that her
assailant is beneath consideration. “And how will you prevent an
arrangement with which you are not of sufficient importance to be
permitted to interfere?”

Perhaps it was astonishment at the unwonted courage with which I met her
assault. Perhaps it was a sudden access of prudence. But whatever the
cause, the effect was the same. Belle declined to tell me how she would
prevent my marriage with the earl. But she continued to revile me for
some minutes as treacherous, deceitful and scheming, and wound up by
saying that I need not congratulate myself upon my seeming triumph, as
Lord Egreville would certainly not permit his father to perpetrate the
folly he contemplated, even if he had to swear that he was no longer
responsible for his actions.

To all this I steadfastly refused any further reply, and, becoming tired
of leveling abuse which seemed to make no impression, Belle left the
room as suddenly as she had entered it. Once alone, I found that my own
feelings with regard to the coming event had undergone a complete
revolution. I no longer entertained the slightest doubt as to the
propriety of having consented to accept the earl. On the contrary, I was
strongly determined to fulfill my promise, and to remove myself forever
from the tyranny of Belle’s reproaches and airs of superiority. Very
much to my own surprise, too, I felt very indignant at the slights cast
upon the earl, and found my heart warm considerably toward him. For,
when I came to think of it, he had always treated me kindly, and even
when I thought he was deliberately insulting me, he must really have
meant what he said. That his taste was peculiar, to say the least, was
patent even to myself, but that was all the more reason for gratitude
and love on my part.

Gratitude? Yes, that was undoubted. Love? Why not? Surely it is not so
very hard for the one to engender the other.

Presently Lady Elizabeth came to my door and asked my permission to
enter. This was readily given, though I already felt very much
overwrought, and dreaded the coming interview. But I need not have been
uneasy about that; for, as usual, my good stepmother had only my welfare
at heart.

“I am afraid Belle has been giving you an uncomfortable time of it,” she
said, drawing a chair toward me and kissing me affectionately. “She is
fuming in the drawing-room, and has sent for Cyril to consult with him
as to what is best to be done in this remarkable crisis.”

“And you?” I asked beseechingly. “Do you think I have been a scheming,
wicked girl, and that I have done wrong in accepting the earl?”

“Certainly not, my child. I have known for some time that my father
wished to make you his wife. Indeed, he consulted me as to the wisdom of
doing so, and I gave my unqualified approval to his project. Seeing that
he had set his heart on having a young wife, I preferred to see you in
that capacity rather than any one else. But I hope that you are fully
alive to the duties that will be expected of you.”

“Indeed yes,” I answered soberly. “I mean to do all in my power to make
the earl happy.”

“That is right. If you think only of promoting his happiness, your own
will come, as a matter of course. But tell me, have you any idea that
the ceremony is expected to take place almost immediately?”

“Oh no! how can it? I am too young yet to marry.”

“My dear, in a case like this the bride’s youth counts for nothing, and
the bridegroom’s age carries all other considerations before it. Your
father also agrees that it is best to make immediate arrangements, and
there is really no reason why you should not be married next week.”

And somehow it was all decided, almost without referring again to me,
that on the following Wednesday I should be transformed into the
Countess of Greatlands. I have no doubt that society partially echoed
Belle’s sneers and voted the earl half crazy. But if it did, its
criticisms did not trouble me, and I was supremely happy as I reveled in
the lavish preparations that were being made for the great event.
Belle’s wedding was indefinitely postponed, although it had at first
been spoken of as an almost immediate event.

So far as I could judge, Lord Egreville was as bitterly opposed to the
earl’s wedding as Belle was. He was just distantly civil to me, and I
took no trouble to ingratiate myself with him. Sometimes, when the
couple sat whispering in a corner, I surprised an occasional glance that
was positively malignant in its intensity of hatred. Once or twice I
remembered my sister’s assertion that she would prevent my marriage, and
wondered vaguely if she were really hatching some plot against me. Then
a certainty that it was out of her power to harm me consoled me once
more, and I pursued the happy tenor of my way, all my time occupied
either by the earl’s visits or by my initiation into further gayeties of
attire.

The wedding itself was to be a very quiet affair, and as soon as it was
over my husband was going to take me into Derbyshire for a week. Then we
were to go to the castle, which was being rapidly prepared for my
reception.

And so the time flew on, until Tuesday came round once more. To-morrow
was to be my wedding day.

To-morrow! Oh, that dreadful to-morrow! Shall I ever forget it as long
as I live?


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER IV.
                   “There will be no wedding to-day.”


That night I went to bed hoping to the last that Belle would relent and
say a kindly word to me. For after all, she was the only sister I had,
and I would have been thankful to have been reconciled with her. But she
was as implacable as ever, and never uttered one kindly word to me amid
all the congratulations of others; although Lady Elizabeth had, I know,
remonstrated with her on her unsisterly behavior. My father did not care
to interfere in the matter, especially as his sympathies were all in
favor of his eldest daughter.

I was up betimes, for we were to be at the church at ten o’clock. I had
been sorely exercised about the choice of a wedding dress, as I feared
that white would make me look more hideous than usual. But Lady
Elizabeth had persuaded me to have a creamy satin, and, somehow, as I
surveyed myself in the glass, I was not quite so dissatisfied with the
result as I had expected to be. The freckles had found the London
atmosphere uncongenial, and had departed, I fervently hoped forever. My
complexion too had changed from a muddy hue to a clear dark olive which,
though far from being satisfactory, was a considerable improvement on
its former condition. My hair, thanks to the skillful treatment of Lady
Elizabeth’s maid, had grown much thicker, and looked rather nice than
otherwise.

But, in spite of these improvements, I was still an ugly,
insignificant-looking slip of a girl, and I lost myself in wonderment at
the thought of such great good fortune coming to me. There were to be no
bridemaids, only a few personal friends having been invited to church,
though there was to be a reception at the house afterward. Belle had at
first declared her intention of refusing to accompany us to church. But
perhaps the thought that she would, by holding herself aloof, betray to
the world at large how deeply chagrined she was, induced her to alter
her mind.

Still, when I saw her in the hall, just before we started, I could not
account for her unusual appearance. She was positively livid, and shook
every now and then in the strangest manner. Both my father and Lady
Elizabeth conceived the idea that she must be ill, but she assured them
that there was nothing the matter with her.

“But of course one feels a little excited at seeing one’s sister so
suddenly raised to splendor,” she said, with a side glance at me which
displayed so curious a mixture of fear and hatred that I lost all my
good spirits, and was driven to church in an unaccountable state of
nervousness and trepidation, which was increased when I saw that the
bridegroom and Lord Egreville, who was to officiate as best man, were
not here first, according to arrangement.

“I am surprised they are not here yet,” whispered Lady Elizabeth. “Never
mind, dear, they are sure to come soon.”

So I thought, too. But for the life of me I could not hinder the tears
which came to ease my head and my heart, both of which were in a state
of painful tension. By-and-by, I looked up to see Belle’s eyes fixed
upon me once more. But what had wrought a change in her again? Her
expression was no longer one of fear, but of victory. The hatred was
there yet, and that did not surprise me. But how to account for the
unmistakable triumph which I had seen manifest itself on her face for a
moment?

Like a flash her words recurred to me: “I tell you, it shall not be! I
will not have it! Sooner than endure such a humiliation I would—”

Ah! what would she do? What _had_ she done? I asked myself anxiously.
Something decisive. Something disastrous to me, I knew, or her face
would not have worn that momentary impress of a purpose accomplished.
Somehow, through all the weary waiting that followed, my powers of
observation and deduction seemed strung to their highest pitch. I
noticed that as the moments dragged on without bringing the two
gentlemen, Lady Elizabeth and my father grew momentarily more anxious.
And I also noticed that Belle no longer looked expectantly toward the
door, as every one else kept doing, but that she bore all the appearance
of one whose desires were accomplished.

At last, unable to bear the suspense any longer, my father rose from his
seat, and, whispering to Lady Elizabeth that he was going to the earl’s
temporary town residence, to ascertain the cause of the strange delay,
he left the church without further preamble, my acutely attuned ears
shortly afterward hearing the rattling of his cab-wheels down the
street.

Lady Elizabeth, who sat next to me, put a caressing hand upon my own,
and whispered: “Do not look so frightened, child. I do not suppose they
will be long in coming now.”

“They will never come!” was my reply, intended only for my comforter’s
ears. “They will never come! Something dreadful has happened, and Belle
knows it. See how calm and self-satisfied she is now. Remember the state
she was in before she came. She vowed that my marriage should not take
place. She has made her vow come true!”

Lady Elizabeth cast a startled glance at Belle, but had no time to
comment upon my words, for at this moment we heard an excited hubbub
near the door, and Marvel, the earl’s valet, came down the aisle with a
face which advertised bad news.

“Will your ladyship please leave the church as quickly as you can?” he
said to my stepmother. “And take the bride with you. _There will be no
wedding to-day._”

“For God’s sake, tell me what is the matter!” she exclaimed. “Something
dreadful has happened to my father!”

“An accident has occurred to him,” said Marvel, with an attempt to speak
as if it were nothing serious. But his voice broke in the endeavor, and
he sobbed forth: “Oh, my poor master! it is too dreadful!”

“What is the matter with him?” cried Lady Elizabeth, fairly shaking the
man in the intensity of her excitement and dread. “Tell me at once.”

When I heard Marvel’s reply, I neither shrieked nor fainted. For I had
felt sure that he would say what he did.

“He is dead!” he said, and my eyes, flaming and accusing now, at once
sought Belle’s, flashing my conviction of her guilt in her face. Under
that glance she reeled as if from a blow.

I hardly know what else happened that morning. I went home as in a
dream, feeling somehow more sorry for Lady Elizabeth than for myself,
and wondering if they would hang Belle when it was discovered that she
had murdered the earl; for my mind refused to disabuse itself of a
conviction of her guilt, although reason pointed to the conclusion that
it was impossible for her to have injured the earl, seeing that she had
not seen him, or spoken to him, for twenty hours.

The wedding guests returned to their own homes, there to discuss the
sensational interruption to what some of them had voted the most
sensational wedding of the season. My father reached home soon after we
did, and confirmed Marvel’s story in every detail. The Earl of
Greatlands had been found by Marvel, who had grown alarmed when he did
not rise at eight o’clock, lying in ghastly rigidity in the bed which he
had sought some hours earlier in apparently unusually buoyant health and
spirits. A glance convinced Marvel that life was quite extinct, and a
moment later he was rousing the household with shouts and cries. Of
course everybody came rushing up to the earl’s room. And of course
several doctors were summoned at once. But it was only too patent from
the very first that there was no hope, and though there was much loud
lamentation on the part of the servants, and quite a touching display of
sorrow on the part of Lord Egreville, or, rather, the new Earl of
Greatlands, it was not of the slightest avail, and the fiat speedily
went forth to the world that Lionel, ninth Earl of Greatlands, being in
an unusually excited state, owing to his prospective marriage, had
succumbed to unsuspected heart disease.

Nearly all the world accepted this explanation of the tragic event which
had, at one blow, deprived me of husband, wealth, title, position and
influence, and had converted Lord Egreville into the peer he longed to
be.

But not for one moment did I believe that the doctors had given anything
like a true diagnosis of the cause of the late earl’s death. There is a
fashion in everything, even in matters of life and death, and nowadays
it seems to be an epidemical fashion with medical men to ascribe every
sudden death of which they do not understand the cause to unsuspected
heart disease. The explanation is plausible, and, in all likelihood,
more often than not correct, although there is a strong element of
guess-work about it. Post mortem examinations are horrible and
unpleasant contingencies to contemplate, and the feelings of relatives
and friends are apt to be cruelly wounded by the bare mention of such a
_dernier resort_.

Of course it would have been extremely painful for all parties concerned
if an inquest over the remains of the Earl of Greatlands had been
suggested; but I never doubted for one instant that such a course would
have resulted in the discovery of foul play, such as only I—and one
other, as subsequent events proved—suspected.

Suspected! do I say? It was no mere suspicion with me. It was a firm and
rooted conviction, that nothing but absolute proof to the contrary could
ever dispel. And that proof, since no one broached the advisability of
an inquest, was not likely to be afforded me. No doubt there was
considerable marvel in some people’s minds concerning my manner of
bearing the sudden reverse of fortune which had befallen me, but their
opinion troubled me little, and it was not likely that I would occupy
the minds of sensation-mongers long after I had been relegated to my
former status of insignificant obscurity. Tears did not often come to
relieve the aching weight which oppressed me, as I pondered in what
perhaps struck those who were unable to gauge my real feelings as a hard
and defiant mood.

How could they tell, however, that the grief I felt for the loss of the
man who had loved me outweighed my regret for my lost glories, since I
let very few words of sorrow escape me? Indeed, I dared not indulge in
comments with any one, for I feared lest the horror and loathing which I
now felt for my sister and her _fiancé_ should break the bounds in which
I had resolved for the time being to entrammel them, and overflow in a
torrent of bitter denunciation and invective. I should imagine that
there are few girls of stronger passions for love or for hatred than
myself, and I sometimes caught myself wondering how I managed to refrain
from publicly denouncing those whom I firmly believed to be the
deliberate murderers of my dear old earl; for I hated them with a hatred
that was consuming in its wild intensity. Yes, my hatred was of fearful
force. But I was swayed by an even stronger passion, which held it at
bay.

This was my love for Lady Elizabeth, the first being who, since my
mother died, had opened her heart to me, and who was now prostrated by a
nervous attack, due to grief at the loss of her father, between whom and
herself the strongest sympathy had always existed. She had of late
admitted me largely into her confidence, and I had gained so much
knowledge of her nature that I knew what a bitter blow such family
disgrace would be to her as would overtake us all were my convictions
shared by others. For my father’s sake I would not have repressed my
wild longing for vengeance. For Lady Elizabeth’s sake I could have
submitted to make an even greater sacrifice.

But even my great love for her could not induce me to hold friendly
intercourse with Belle, or to withhold the fierce glances of accusation
under which the new Earl of Greatlands writhed in impotent rage. He saw
that I suspected evil-doing of some sort on his part, and he resented my
glances at first by frowns of defiance. But somehow, when I continued to
maintain steadfastly the antagonistic attitude I had assumed, he grew
manifestly uneasy, and even went so far as to presume to address words
of sympathy to me, which implied that he imagined me to cherish
animosity against him merely because he was occupying the place of the
man who was to have been my husband, and suggested that he hoped I would
no longer hold aloof from him and Belle as if I thought they had done me
an injury.

To this misjudged attempt to induce me to bury the hatchet I vouchsafed
no response but a cold stare of contempt and a curl of the lip which
spoke volumes. Indeed, so potent was this mute answer of mine that the
earl almost ceased to visit our house, and my father was informed by
Belle that my violence and ill manners had succeeded in depriving her to
a great extent of her lover’s society.

“Dora,” said my affectionate parent to me one morning after breakfast,
“I am sorry to observe that you have lapsed into your former
ill-conditioned state of selfish ill-breeding. I have made all due
allowance for the disappointment you must have felt at being prevented
from becoming the great lady you expected to be. But I have noticed with
growing displeasure that you are venting your spleen in an unjustifiable
manner upon Belle. Certainly, she is going to occupy the position you
thought would be yours, but she is doing you no personal injury thereby,
for your chances are irrevocably gone, and she was engaged to the
present Earl of Greatlands before the marriage between yourself and his
father was arranged. It is therefore abominable that you should try to
make her life miserable by driving her lover from the house, and doing
your best to produce an estrangement between them; and if you continue
your present behavior, I shall insist upon your going to live at the
Grange until we are ready to leave London.”

Lady Elizabeth was too ill to come downstairs, and was, therefore, not
present during this harangue. Otherwise it would probably not have been
made; for, even in things that wholly and solely concerned me, my father
was wont to show that consideration for his wife, who loved me, that he
would never have displayed toward me for my own sake, and he treated me
with tolerable politeness when in her presence. But when she was not
there, he showed the same unbounded partiality for Belle and the same
lack of sympathy for me which had always distinguished our intercourse
in the past; and it is not surprising that my lately acquired
self-reliance prompted me to retort that I was best aware of the motives
of my conduct, and that Belle was not likely to lose her lover through
me, since their destiny would henceforth be ruled by the promptings of
an evil conscience.

“You miserable little wretch!” exclaimed my father. “How dare you speak
to me in that tone? And how dare you cast innuendoes against Belle and
Cyril which virtually amount to an accusation?”

“An accusation of what, sir?” I asked, with a calm deliberateness which
surprised even myself, and caused my father to stagger as if he had
received a blow. And, indeed, he had received such a blow as is to be
hoped falls to the lot of few fathers. For my looks and manner, more
than my words, had struck him with the sudden conviction that his
favorite child was suspected of having at least been accessory to a
mortal crime. That the suspicion emanated from the brain of another of
his children mattered little to him, for he already disliked me too
intensely to feel any heart-pangs on my account. It was quite
sufficient, however, to cause him to cast aside the last shred of
conventionality as regarded his treatment of myself.

What transpired during the next five minutes I prefer not to relate.
There are events in the lifetime of most people which possess either too
sacred or too painful an interest for discussion with others. The memory
of my last interview with my father awakes in me no emotion but that of
resentment at the constant injustice with which he had always treated
me, and which culminated on this occasion in my expulsion from his
house.

Perhaps he thought that I would not take him at his word, and that at
the end of the hour which he had named as the limit of time he would
allow me in which to pack up my belongings and rid my family of my
presence, I would weepingly sue for mercy and promise to be polite and
conciliatory to Belle and the Earl of Greatlands. The mere supposition
that I, whose passions were of the strongest, could thus do violence to
my feelings, and acknowledge the superiority of two people whom I hated
and despised with all my heart, for the sake of retaining a home in
which I could never hope to be happy again, still serves to excite my
indignation and to provoke me to a feeling of resentment which I would
fain repudiate in my calmer moments.

For, after all, my father, poor man, was blinded by his partiality for
Belle; and although he fully grasped the deadly import of my unspoken
suspicions, he never for a moment doubted his beautiful darling’s
goodness, but accepted my attitude merely as a convincing proof of the
monstrosity of nature of one to whom had been denied that outward
fairness which in his eyes was equal to the strongest proof of inward
purity. Thus I sometimes reason, in attempted palliation of his
harshness to me. But, somehow, my reasoning has an awkward knack of
doubling upon itself and transforming my would-be kindlier leanings into
the old imbittered resentment.

My preparations for departure were soon made, although as yet my brain
was in too great a turmoil to permit me to make a definite plan for my
future guidance. I must remove myself and my belongings quickly. And I
must take my leave of Lady Elizabeth without permitting her to be pained
by a knowledge of the permanent nature of the estrangement between
myself and my family. The latter was a difficult feat for me to perform.
But I succeeded in going through the interview in a manner which it
pleased me to recall during my subsequent sufferings; for my dear
stepmother was spared the pain which would have been hers, if she had
realized the anguish of mind which my love for her caused me to hide.

I found her in her dressing-room, reclining on a couch which was drawn
up to the fire, the day being somewhat chilly for the time of year. I
noted with a sudden foreboding dread the change which the last few weeks
had wrought in Lady Elizabeth’s appearance. She was paler, thinner, and
altogether much more fragile-looking than when, so short a time ago, she
had assisted me to select the trousseau for my own marriage with her
father. There was, however, a light in her eyes which had, until lately,
been a stranger to them, and which had caused me considerable
uneasiness. For it gave me the impression that it had its origin in a
feeling deeper even than the grief which an affectionate daughter would
naturally feel at the loss of a beloved parent.

Could it be that—oh, no! perish the thought! Why should she be tortured
by such suspicions as had fixed their scorpion-fangs in my brain? She
could scarcely be so fully convinced of Belle’s capacity for evil as I
was, since she had never known her until the glamour of her artfulness
and beauty was such as to cause nearly every one who knew her to take a
fancy to her. Nor had she such deep reason to distrust one of her own
mother’s children as was the case with me. Some hidden sorrow was
sapping her life’s strength. But I fervently and sincerely prayed that
it might not be the hideous phantom of suspicion which was bidding fair
to wreck my own life.

“I have come to say good-by for a time,” I said, speaking with wonderful
quietness for one whose brain was in a whirl of stormy emotion. “As you
know, things are not as pleasant as they might be between Belle and
myself, and father and I have agreed that it will be best for me to
return to the Grange for a while. The change will do me good, but I
shall be grieved to part from you.”

“But, my dear, we are all going to the Grange shortly,” said Lady
Elizabeth, casting upon me a look of anxious scrutiny. “Come here. Kneel
beside me, and tell me all about this sudden arrangement. Have Belle and
you been quarreling?”

“Belle and I have not been quarreling,” I answered, as I dropped on my
knees beside the only woman in the world who loved me, and stroked her
white hand between my much less shapely ones. “But you may have noticed
that, whether rightly or wrongly, I cannot feel happy in her presence.
The earl, your brother, too, seems to be kept away from the house
through the antagonism which he and I feel for each other. I feel as if
it were wicked to dislike any one nearly related to you. But, indeed, I
cannot help it. So you must forgive me, and let me go from you now with
nothing but the kindest and most loving words from you; for, believe me,
I am more sorely in need of your sympathy than ever I was, and could not
bear to think of an estrangement between you and me.”

“Dorrie, I have learned to love you, and I know that you are not likely
to form violent antipathies without a cause. I also feel convinced that
your treatment of—of—my brother is dictated by the strongest feeling on
your part. The nature of that feeling must remain unknown to me, for I
dread confirmation of certain thoughts which fill my days and nights
with terror. Even should you prove to be actually unjust to my brother,
it will make no difference between us. But, if you are really leaving
town before the rest of us do, you must promise me one thing.”

“I will promise anything to you.”

“I know your willingness to serve me, and I think I can gauge your love
for me, but I am about to exact a great proof of both. Listen. All my
life I have yielded to the dictates of family pride. I have been proud
of my ancient lineage and unsullied family escutcheon; so proud, indeed,
that I did not hesitate to ally myself with one who had once been one of
the humblest sons of the people. I never dreamed of the possibility of
my being lowered to his family level by marrying him, but was sure that
the prestige of my own connections would over-shadow the possible
vulgarity of his antecedents. In marrying a wealthy commoner, of whose
personal worthiness I felt thoroughly convinced, I hoped to be able to
assist my family to a financial position more commensurate with their
social status than the aristocratic impecuniosity which had been our lot
for many years, owing to the extravagance of my grandfather, who had
mortgaged the greater part of the estate. My expectations were fully
justified. My husband was kind and generous, and whatever my original
feelings toward him may have been, I can truthfully say that his upright
nature won my complete loyalty and respect. I was certainly disappointed
to find myself comparatively poor after his death. But I have had time
to think the matter over since then, and believe that the people to whom
he left the bulk of his money must have needed it more than I did. I see
that you wonder why I am telling you all this. I assure you I have a
strong enough motive, for I want you to realize that I would sacrifice
everything to the honor of my family—love, happiness, even life itself.
This being the case, can you picture how terrible it would be to me to
see even the shadow of public disgrace fall upon our name? That you have
ample provocation for a certain course of conduct which would materially
affect the interests of my brother, and of your sister, I know. I also
know that you return the love I bear you. Let that love outweigh the
resentment you feel at the conduct of others. If you are not inclined to
spare _them_, for God’s sake spare _me_ the anguish which a disclosure
of your—of your suspicions would cause me! You are leaving us for a
time. I implore you to have mercy upon an ancient name.”

By the time Lady Elizabeth had got thus far, she was sobbing in
uncontrollable excitement, and clung to me with convulsive apprehension.
As for me, I was filled with grief at this disclosure of the suffering
which my dear one was undergoing. I could no longer doubt that she
shared all my own painful suspicions, and that to her distressed state
of mind her recent physical prostration was attributable. And I was
stabbed by the remorseful thought that I had been the one to originate
the dread suspicions which were doing so much mischief. Was it too late
to undo the mischief? Could I hope to remove the terrible burden of
dread which oppressed Lady Elizabeth? It was doubtful. But there was too
much at stake to warrant hesitation on my part, and my course of conduct
was instantaneously mapped out.

“Mother,” I said, as quietly as my emotion would permit, “I cannot
pretend not to understand the meaning of what you have just said. But,
oh! my dear, how could you think I meant all that I implied to you on
that terrible morning, when I was beside myself with anxiety and grief?
Put away such thoughts from your mind. It is the misfortune, not the
fault, of Cyril and Belle, that all the circumstances attending recent
events have seemed as if specially guided for their interests. But if
even I, who am so great a loser by their advancement, can say that my
first suspicions were unjustifiable and wicked, surely you can no longer
think them capable of a crime too atrocious for even ready-dyed
criminals to think of.”

Lady Elizabeth suddenly raised her head and literally gasped with
mingled relief and amazement.

“Is it possible,” she cried, “that I have been tormenting myself
needlessly? That I have foully wronged Cyril and Belle? That I have
mistaken your dislike to them for a stronger sentiment—that of a thirst
for justifiable revenge for a deadly injury?”

“Quite possible. Think. Our dear old earl could not have been expected
to live very much longer. He was happy. So happy, that he was naturally
excited. Excitement is not good for weakly old people, and the skillful
doctors who were summoned were sure to be able to judge of the real
cause of death. You cannot tell how much I regret having given audible
expression to a cruel suspicion. But you can do as I have done—and
repudiate it.”

“Do you repudiate it?”

“Most certainly I do.”

“Thank God for that! You have lifted a nightmare from my mind. Do you
know that the promise I wished to exact from you was that you would at
least spare me the suffering which a denunciation of my brother Cyril
would cause me?”

“A denunciation! Ah, well—I don’t like him. I never shall like him. But
as there is nothing to denounce, I can safely promise you, nay, swear to
you, that never, so long as you live, will I, by word or deed, do aught
that can injure any member of your family or in any way jeopardize its
good name.”

“You swear this?”

“I swear it!”

“You have given me a new lease of life, my darling, and by the time we
join you at the Grange you will see me almost as vigorous as ever.”

“I hope so. But I must be off now, or I shall not be ready when the cab
comes round for me. Good-by.”

“Good-by, my dear. I hope the change will do you good. You too have been
drooping lately.”

“I suppose I have. But country air will work wonders, eh?”

Another minute, and I had hurried out of Lady Elizabeth’s room, with
breaking heart and whirling brain. Should I ever see her again? To what
had I pledged myself? I had, for her sake, forsworn all my dreams of
punishing those whom I firmly believed to be the murderers of the Earl
of Greatlands. Certainly, I had never intended to invoke the vengeance
of the law upon them, for I also had some regard to the maintenance of
the esteem in which the two families were held by the world at large.
But I had meant to elucidate, by some means, the extent of their
culpability, and to show them up to their relatives in all their hideous
criminality, leaving them to continue their career stripped of the
misplaced love and confidence that had hitherto been so charily bestowed
upon me.

Surely this was but a feeble ideal of the punishment due to a great
crime which had deprived me of everything that made my life worth
living. But I was now bereft of even this small satisfaction, for I had,
for the sake of Lady Elizabeth, pledged myself to do nothing that would
reflect discredit upon her family. I had even gone so far as to
repudiate all my suspicions, and so long as she lived I must do nothing
to re-awaken the terrors which had been tormenting her of late.

Does any one doubt that I found this sacrifice of my personal
inclinations very hard to bear? or that it was not a real sacrifice to
leave my enemies to gloat unrestrainedly at the success of their evil
plotting? Or do they imagine that the feelings I harbored were
unjustifiable? If so, let them imagine themselves in my position. Let
them picture all that I had lost and suffered, and contrast my lot with
what would have been my condition had the earl’s life not terminated
when it did. True, I had as yet not the slightest practical evidence to
support my opinion of the culpability of the new earl and his _fiancée_;
but as my personal conviction never admitted the slightest doubt on that
score, I found its virtual abandonment all the harder to bear, though
nothing would now make me disregard Lady Elizabeth’s wishes. And this I
mention, not for the sake of demonstrating my powers of self-sacrifice,
but to show how gratefully I reciprocated the kindness of my stepmother,
and to show how my heart hungered for love, since the lavishment of a
little of it upon me had power to arouse in me a feeling so passionate
as to be almost akin to worship.

And now I was about to leave, probably forever, the one being who cared
for me. Small wonder that the hard feelings which had hitherto enabled
me to keep my composure should break down, and that the quick tears of
utter lonesomeness should chase each other down my pale cheeks as I
hurriedly gathered my belongings together, and began to pack them in the
substantial trunks which had been provided by Lady Elizabeth to hold the
trousseau with which her loving liberality had provided me.

“Excuse me, Miss Dora, but my lady has sent me to see if I can be of any
use to you. You are packing everything up? Then pray let me do it for
you.”

I looked up through my tears, and saw Agnes, my stepmother’s maid,
standing ready to relieve me of my task. She was in such evident
sympathy with me that at sight of her kindly face my last shred of
composure left me, and I wept in such an abandonment of grief as only a
feeling of utter desolation can produce. Agnes was frightened at the
violence of my emotion and did her best to console me. But I presently
became calmer, and thanking her for the trouble she was taking, gladly
availed myself of her help in packing my boxes. I felt no hesitation in
taking everything that belonged to me, for all I had worth having was
due to the generosity of Lady Elizabeth or of her father. To my own
father I owed nothing of which I was now possessed, the last item of the
unbecoming garments which he had so grudgingly bestowed upon me having
disappeared long ago.

In another half an hour I was ready to go, and a few moments later the
cab for which I had sent was at the door. As I stepped into it I glanced
at the upper windows of the house which was no longer a home for me. I
saw Lady Elizabeth, who had come to her window to wave me a smiling
good-by. Evidently no one had yet told her that I was permanently
banished from my father’s house. I smiled and kissed my hand to her,
resolved that her last glimpse of me should be as pleasant as possible.
Then my eyes sought the level of the drawing-room windows, to see—what?
My sister standing there by the side of the Earl of Greatlands, both of
them displaying the greatest delight at my departure, and both of them
casting contemptuous glances of triumph on a poor, homeless girl whose
presence near them was a continual reproach.

But their malevolence did not get all the satisfaction it sought, for my
glance wandered swiftly upward again, and rested on my stepmother’s
smiling face, until I was driven out of sight altogether, with such
apparent unconsciousness of their presence that they could not know I
had seen them. And thus I entered upon the battle of life on my own
account.


                               ----------



                               CHAPTER V.
                         “A maiden’s fancies.”


In spite of the turmoil of mind under which I had labored since my
interview with my father, I had already formed somewhat definite plans
for my future.

I had made all my arrangements as if I were really going to the Grange,
and had had my boxes labeled accordingly. Thus Lady Elizabeth had not
alarmed herself about me, knowing that my comfort would be looked after
at the Grange. My father, if he had taken the trouble to make any
inquiries about me, would also think he knew whither I was bound; and,
even if visited by a faint feeling of compunction on my behalf, would
consider that I was as well off in one place as in another.

But since he had ordered me from his house, I meant to take him
literally at his word, and had resolved never to cast my shadow within
any threshold of his again. I was but ill equipped for earning my
livelihood, but I had a certain determination of purpose at whose
bidding I was prepared to cast aside all false pride, such as might
possibly throw obstacles in the way of my progress. Thus I realized that
it might become necessary for me to adopt a means of living perfectly
honest and honorable in itself, but which had hitherto never entered
into the calculations of a Courtney.

Circumstances had precluded my having many friends to whom I could turn
in my present need. But I felt that I could rely upon the vicar of
Moorbye and his kindly wife. Both the Rev. Horace Garth and Mrs. Garth
had always shown some interest in me and in my doings, and they were
among the few people who seemed to be uninfluenced by the physical
disadvantages which were such a sore source of trouble to me. It was to
the Moorbye vicarage, therefore, that I resorted for aid and counsel in
this my great extremity. I felt some trepidation as I was swiftly
whirled along in the second-class compartment, for which a sense of the
necessity of economizing the money I had at my disposal had induced me
to take a ticket. As to what kind of traveling companions I had, it is
impossible for me to say, for I was too much engrossed with my troubles
to take notice of my surroundings.

“Will the Garths welcome me, and do their best for me; or will, they
consider me to blame, and wash their hands of me?”

This was the question that was uppermost in my mind, and I could
scarcely refrain from putting it into so many words, when, on alighting
at Moorbye Station, whom should I see but the vicar himself welcoming
two ladies who had evidently traveled from town by the same train which
had conveyed myself.

Leaving the porter, who gave me a respectful recognition, to see after
my luggage for the present, I hurried up to the vicar and accosted him.

“Mr. Garth, can you give me a moment’s private conversation? If these
ladies will kindly excuse you, I will not keep you long.”

“Why, Dorrie! What brings you here just now?” Mr. Garth exclaimed, as
he, fortified by the permission of his friends, walked along the
platform with me. “And how do you happen to be traveling alone?”

“My father has turned me out of his house. Until I can find some means
of earning my living, I have no one to whom I can go for counsel but
yourself. I hoped to have been able to stay with you to-night, but I see
you already have visitors.”

“Tut, tut, child! As if that mattered. You would always be welcome. Now,
not a word of all this until we can talk the matter over later on.
Meanwhile, come and be introduced to my friends.—Oh, I say, Thompson,
see that Miss Courtney’s luggage is sent up to the vicarage with the
rest.—Ah, here we are! Mrs. Marshall, I am glad to introduce to your
notice Miss Dora Courtney, who has kindly come to cheer her old friends
up a bit. Miss May, you will be pleased to have a clever companion of
your own age while you are down here. Dorrie, these are old friends and
near relatives of ours, Mrs. Frank Marshall and Miss May Morris.”

What wonderful power there is in generous good nature combined with
tact! Five minutes before I reached Moorbye Station I was among the most
miserable upon earth, wondering whether even a civil welcome awaited me.
Five minutes after my arrival I was being bowled toward the vicarage in
Mrs. Garth’s funny little governess car, and was laughing merrily with
the others at the small space at our individual disposal.

“My dear, I have an unexpected pleasure in store for you. Here are our
cousins, and here is Dora Courtney, also come to favor us with a visit.”

Thus said the vicar, on our arrival at his home. There was a warm
welcome from Mrs. Garth, supplemented by a somewhat boisterous one from
Master Vincent Garth, who betrayed great curiosity concerning my outward
appearance.

“Do come right into the middle of the hall, just for one minute,” he
demanded, “while we have a real good look at you.”

Quite unconscious of the purport of his impetuosity, I laughingly obeyed
him, the rest meanwhile standing by in indulgent amusement. For some
seconds the child looked at me gravely. Then his face became quickly
clouded with disappointment, and, considerably to the surprise of us
all, he burst into loud lamentations, of which it was some time before
we could gather the meaning.

“We don’t like her any better,” he sobbed. “Susie said Miss Dora was to
be a grand countess, and we’ve looked at her, and she isn’t turned
grand. She’s just ugly.”

I believe Mrs. Garth hoped and fancied that I had not been able to
understand Vinnie’s comments. But I had not found it very difficult to
do so, and felt quite as much hurt as if this little stab to my vanity
had proceeded from a responsible individual, instead of from an
impulsive child, though I strove to hide my humiliated feelings as much
as possible.

“What a horrid child,” whispered Miss Morris, as we passed up the fine
old staircase, in the wake of our hostess, on the way to the rooms
allotted to us. “He ought to be whipped for insulting any one like
that.”

For a moment I was tempted to second her remark. Then my better nature
prevailed, as I remembered how frank and generous Vinnie really was.

“I do not blame him,” I answered, somewhat soberly, it must be
confessed. “Vinnie was only giving way to a natural disappointment, and
did not dream of hurting my feelings, I am sure.”

“Now look at the accommodation I have for you, and tell me if you think
it will do,” called out Mrs. Garth’s rich voice from a room which she
and Mrs. Marshall had just entered. “I have only two spare bedrooms,
which open out of this dressing-room,” she continued. “I had intended
the large room for Madge, and the small one for May, but I am afraid I
must ask two of you to use one bedroom jointly.”

“Oh, how delightful!” exclaimed May, who was evidently a very impulsive
young lady. “Madge can have the small room, and Dora and I will sleep in
the other. I may call you Dora, mayn’t I? I hate ceremony, and, do you
know, I have taken quite a fancy to you.”

Of course all Miss May’s propositions were cheerfully acquiesced in, and
we were all three soon occupied in unpacking our dinner-gowns. In the
dressing-room a cozy little fire shed its comforting rays upon the
pretty furniture and draperies, and gave an aspect of cheerfulness to
the place which was by no means reflected in my own heart, though I
strove to banish all outward semblance of dejection.

“Fancy a fire in June!” laughed May, as she insisted I should at once
call her. “It strikes a Londoner as rather odd; but, do you know, I’m
not at all sure that it isn’t quite cool down here. I gather that you
are a native of these parts, Dora. Is it a usual thing to need fires in
summer?”

“At the Grange,” I replied, as I fastened the dinner-dress which I would
rather have been excused from wearing this evening, as I was both tired
and overwrought, and would gladly have gone to bed, “at the Grange we
seem to need fires all the year round in some of the rooms. Some parts
of the neighborhood are inclined to be rather marshy and damp, and as
coals are cheap about here, nearly everybody keeps the chills off in the
only possible way.”

“Good gracious! I hope it isn’t a fever-and-ague sort of a neighborhood!
What shall we do if it is? We are invited down here for a month, but if
there is any danger in that direction, I shall betake myself off again.
Fancy jerking your limbs first in one direction and then in another, and
pulling grimaces at people just at the very moment when you want to be
most polite! It’s too awful to think about, and I dare not risk it.”

“Why, you goose,” exclaimed Mrs. Marshall, “you are mixing up
fever-and-ague with an entirely different complaint, called St. Vitus’s
Dance. It is a nervous affection, not likely to be brought on by a
chill.”

“And,” I added, “I don’t think you need alarm yourself about
fever-and-ague, either. None of the Garth household have ever been
troubled with it, and we have always enjoyed the same immunity at the
Grange.”

“The Grange. That’s where you live, isn’t it?” inquired May. “It sounds
quite old-worldish and jolly. I can fancy all sorts of spirits and
hobgoblins disporting in its interminable corridors and secret chambers.
What is the ghost like? Is it a woman dressed in gray silk, and with a
heartbroken look on a beautiful face? And does she wring her hands, and
cry, ‘Woe is me!’ Or is it a man, looking fierce and vengeful, and
dragging clanking chains after him? They are mostly either one or the
other, and oh! I forgot, the woman turns into a cat sometimes, and
stands mewing over a place where there is a buried treasure. Isn’t it
delightful to think of? Dora, you must take me to the Grange, and let me
sleep with you one night. Then we’ll watch for the ghost, and perhaps we
may solve the mystery of the treasure and become rich beyond the wildest
dreams of avarice. And then I’ll write the ghost’s history. Mr. Stoach
is great on ghosts lately, but our ghost tale will be much better and
much more thrilling than any he has got hold of. I wonder if there are
heaps of rubies and pearls and diamonds and sapphires among the
treasure. It always is the case. Oh, won’t they be gorgeous! Dora, we
must go not later than to-morrow night! I really cannot bear the
suspense any longer. What do you say?”

But for a little while I was beyond saying anything, for every time I
tried to speak a fit of laughter prevented the utterance of a single
intelligible word. Mrs. Marshall, too, though she laughed like one who
was more familiar with Miss May’s flights of fancy and vagaries than I
was, enjoyed the situation thoroughly.

“That’s the way with May,” she smiled. “You will get used to her
by-and-by, no doubt. She pictures the wildest things, and accepts the
freaks of her own imagination as gospel truth.”

“But,” interrupted May, whose face looked comically anxious. “There is a
ghost, isn’t there? And there is a treasure, isn’t there?”

“I’m afraid that the Grange possesses neither of those hall-marks of
antiquity,” I responded, as gravely as I could. “At least, I have never
heard of them.”

“That’s just it!” cried May, renewed hope sparkling in her eyes.
“Perhaps you are rather nervous, and they didn’t like to tell you about
the ghost. But it’s there, all the same. Have you never heard it
pattering along the deserted corridors, or tapping gently against the
window panes, to attract your attention, or sighing mournfully through
the keyhole, or—”

“May, do be less absurd,” pleaded Mrs. Marshall. “You will not be ready
to go down with us to dinner if you do not hurry up, instead of standing
chattering about rubbish.”

“Rubbish, indeed! Ghosts are not rubbish. Treasure is not rubbish. I
wish I had some of the latter now, so that I could have a maid to dress
me. Dora, you must, you really must, let us make a start at solving the
mystery to-morrow.”

“But there is no mystery.”

“That remains to be seen. At any rate, you will take me to the Grange
to-morrow, will you not?”

I was glad that just at this moment we were summoned to dinner, as May’s
persistence about visiting the Grange worried me a little, and I did not
want to commit myself in any way until I had had the private talk with
Mr. Garth that had been agreed upon. So “We will see about it” was all
the reply on the subject which May received just then. But it satisfied
her for the time being, for she immediately went off into ecstasies of
thanks and speculation, which bubbled over even after we had sat down to
dinner.

“What do you think?” she exclaimed to Mr. and Mrs. Garth. “I’m in for no
end of adventure. Dora has promised to take me to the Grange, to
exorcise the ghost and recover the buried treasure. And we’re going to
spend our wealth abroad. We shall wear our diamonds at the foreign
courts, and I intend to marry nothing under a duke. And my children will
be princes, and perhaps—Good gracious! who’s the next heir to the throne
of Germany?”

By this time the whole company was convulsed with laughter, which Miss
May did not seem to appreciate; for she froze up immediately, cast a
withering look of scorn at the callously inappreciative company, and
spoke not another word for at least two minutes, at the end of which
time her tongue was languishing for exercise.

“And how did you leave Lady Elizabeth?” inquired Mrs. Garth, during this
momentary break in the conversation.

“I do not like her present condition at all,” was my reply. “She has
fretted a good deal ever—ever since the earl died.”

It cost me much to utter these words quietly, for the mere thought of my
poor old lover’s mysterious death always moved me to sudden anger.

“But surely she is not fretting herself ill?” said Mr. Garth, in some
surprise. “We know that she was much attached to her father; but, after
all, he was really old, and she has many compensating blessings, if I am
not mistaken.”

“You are not mistaken,” was my answer. “But Lady Elizabeth’s grief is
not selfish or unreasonable, though it may be incomprehensible to all
but herself and me.”

“Then you think you understand fully why she is allowing it to prey on
her health?”

“God help me, yes!” I cried passionately. “Why do you torture me like
this? Cannot you understand that the whole subject is too bitter for me
to talk of more than can be helped?”

“Poor child!” exclaimed Mrs. Garth penitently. “Of course it is. I ought
to have known.”

“No, no, I am the one to blame. How can you possibly know all that
occupies my mind? Forgive my hasty words, they were foolish and
unwarrantable.”

Mrs. Garth protested against this last assertion of mine, but I need
hardly remark that our party was not quite so cheerful as it had been,
and that we were all somewhat relieved when it was time to adjourn to
the drawing-room.

“Dorrie,” said Mr. Garth, “can you spare me a few moments before we join
the others?”

“Certainly.”

“Then we will have a chat in my study.”

And to Mr. Garth’s study we went. Here, so far as it was advisable for
me to do, I confided the details of my history and perplexities to my
host, who listened with the greatest attention to all I had to tell him.

“Do you think I am much to blame?” I asked at last.

“I cannot think that you have much to reproach yourself with, as, though
somewhat impulsive at times, I believe you to be very fair and just.
But, to be candid, I do not quite realize the necessity for all this
extreme feeling. That, I suppose, is because I do not know all the
workings of the case. Is that so?”

“You are quite right. But I cannot be more explicit than I have been. I
have no right to press the subject further on any one’s notice. But I
can assure you honestly that I have done nothing of which I need be
ashamed, and that it would be utterly impossible for me to live in the
same house with my sister again. Not that she need be blamed much,
either. But we seem to be naturally antagonistic to each other and are
best apart.”

“But what will you do with yourself, child? That you should earn your
own living has never been contemplated for you, and you are consequently
handicapped at every point.”

“I am not afraid of work. Teaching is not much in my line. I believe I
can play the fiddle sufficiently well to perform at an occasional
concert, but that would not do much toward keeping me.”

“You might teach the violin—”

“Oh, dear no. I am afraid I should find myself rapping the knuckles of
my pupils if they should turn out extra stupid. That wouldn’t do at all.
I could go out as amanuensis, or companion, or something of that sort;
for I write a neat hand, have more than a smattering of French and
German, and am A1 at making Everton taffy and pickled cabbage.”

“Two very indispensable acquisitions for an amanuensis! Still, your
other qualifications might fetch somebody. What do you say if we
advertise? Would you mind going abroad?”

“Just what I would be best pleased to do at present.”

“Now about Mrs. Marshall and Miss Morris. It will be necessary to tell
them something—”

“We will just tell them that I have had a deal of trouble, that I wish
to turn my back on the scenes of my trouble for a time, and that while
away from home I have a fancy for earning my own living. Such part of my
troubles as are already public property you may of course confide to
them.”

“Then things are settled so far. I will see about the advertisement
being sent off for you, and you must understand that we are by no means
in a hurry to get rid of you. You will be more than welcome to stay here
until you find something to your liking to do.”

Somehow all this kindness robbed me of the composure which a strict
business-like attitude on Mr. Garth’s part might have helped me to
preserve. I could only thank him brokenly, and beg him to excuse my
appearance in the drawing-room, as I felt fit for nothing but solitude
and bed. He readily promised to do what I wished, and at length I felt
at liberty to retire for the night. But by this time I had a distracting
headache, and though I bathed my forehead with eau-de-cologne, and tried
various other infallible specifics, I found it impossible to go to
sleep, or even to subdue the pain which tormented me. From below I could
occasionally hear the sound of singing, though I was unable to judge
whether the vocalist was the elder or the younger of the two visitors.

About twelve o’clock, as judged from the periodical chiming of the
little clock in the dressing-room, it became evident that the other
visitors were coming up to bed, and I forthwith feigned the sleep which
refused to come at my bidding, lest voluble Miss May might expect me to
talk with her. The two ladies made as little noise as possible in the
dressing-room for a while, and I was just thinking that my bedfellow
would soon join me, when I heard the most blood-curdling shriek
imaginable, and a white figure fairly flew into the bedroom, jumped into
the bed, drew the clothes frantically over her head and ears, and moaned
in a state of shuddering terror. My own natural alarm was speedily
quenched by the appearance of Mrs. Marshall, bearing every evidence of
extreme anger.

“I do believe you are losing your senses altogether!” she exclaimed,
giving her sister’s shoulder a vigorous shake, which, so far from
pacifying the young lady, only sent her into a fresh paroxysm of terror,
and caused her to give a louder shriek than the first. By this time Mrs.
Garth had run into the room, to see what was the matter, while at the
door could be heard the voices of a startled group of people, composed
of the vicar, the cook and the housemaid, all of them wondering what on
earth the commotion was about. Inside the bedroom, the tableau was not
without interest. Mrs. Garth stood with a lighted candle raised above
her head, looking almost as frightened as May seemed to be. Mrs.
Marshall was trying to convince her sister that there was nothing to be
afraid of. May was steadily trying to bury herself under the bedclothes,
and I was sitting up in bed, vainly struggling to wrest my legitimate
share of sheets and blankets from the frantic clasp of their
unceremonious appropriator.

After a while May grew calmer and popped her head from under the clothes
with a sudden jerk, which caused it to come into contact with the chin
of her sister, who was bending over her, in an attempt to pacify her.
The result was somewhat painful for Mrs. Marshall, and caused May to
scream out again in terror.

“Keep it off! Keep it off!” she cried wildly.

“Keep what off? What on earth do you mean?” I shouted, feeling utterly
unnerved and vexed at the same time.

“Oh, the ghost! the ghost! Keep it off!” was the shuddering response.

“How can you be so silly,” I said, out of all patience. “What do you
mean by a ghost?”

By this time, May began to seem more rational, and cautiously sat up,
surveying the room with a scared look. “I heard it,” she said, solemnly.
“And I felt it touch my shoulders.”

“It was no ghost other than myself who touched your shoulders,” spoke up
Mrs. Marshall, still hugging her jaw in an attitude of pain. “I wish I
could shake some sense into you.”

“Oh! it was you, was it?” quoth May. “But it wasn’t you who gave three
unearthly taps at the window. I heard them quite distinctly, and I’m
sure it was all done by a ghost.”

“It was done by the Virginia Creeper which climbs all over this side of
the house,” said Mrs. Garth. “You will very likely hear it again, but
may go to sleep comfortably.”

“And let other people go to sleep,” added Mrs. Marshall, as she went
back to her own room.

Mrs. Garth, after bidding us both good-night, also retired, and May
subsided angrily into a recumbent position. “Just like Madge, to try and
make me look ridiculous,” she grumbled. “All the same, it was a ghost,
and I won’t stay here after to-morrow.”

And this was the girl who, only a few hours before, had talked of laying
a ghost and unearthing the ghostly buried treasure with which her
prolific imagination haunted the home of my childhood!

Certainly her escapade had had one good effect. It had banished my
headache, and I did not suffer any more from insomnia that night.

When I awoke the next morning, May Morris was looking at me with a
comical expression of disgust on her pretty face.

“Do you know,” she said solemnly, “I believe I made a perfect idiot of
myself last night. I can’t think what it was that so unnerved me. The
fact is, it was the unexpectedness of the whole thing. Now, if I had
known beforehand that the house was haunted, I shouldn’t have been
frightened a bit. You wait and see what a bold front I shall put on when
we see the Grange ghost.”

“My dear,” I said, with a smile born of a conscious superiority in
matters nervous, “there are two reasons why I cannot show the Grange
ghost.”

“And what are they?”

“I am not likely to visit the interior of the Grange, and, if I did
visit it, I could not show any one its ghost, because it hasn’t got
one.”

“Hasn’t it, really?”

“No—really.”

“What a pity! And just when I thought I was going to have a share of the
treasure! Never mind, I shall find another some day. Oh, by-the-by, Mr.
Garth told me a funny thing last night. He said that you, a rich young
lady, belonging to a county family, and, as one might almost say, the
widow of an earl, wanted to take a situation and earn your own living!”

“He is quite right in what he has stated.”

“Then I believe I know just the sort of thing that would suit you, that
is, if you would care to go to Russia.”

“Why not?”

“Well, you see, it is such a queer place. It swarms all over with
nihilists, and anarchists, and spies, and caviare, and bomb-shells, and
there are prisons at every street corner, into which they clap you
without so much as a minute’s notice, if you don’t happen to salaam
humbly every time a government official goes by in his amber gown and
scarlet turban. In fact, it’s just a horrid place, where they can’t
speak English, and where they murder everybody who can’t pronounce the
word ‘Peccavi.’”

“Upon my word, May, you’ll be the death of me yet! You seem to get
awfully mixed up in your information. Somebody must have been slandering
Russia to you a little. Of course, it could never be half so nice as
England at its best; but even the Evil One, you know, isn’t half so
black as he’s painted, and we’ll give Russia the benefit of doubt.
Anyhow, your description hasn’t frightened me, and, if you don’t mind,
you shall give me the particulars of the situation you were speaking of,
while I complete my toilet.”

“All right, I’ll tell you about it. But if you are put in prison and
tickled to death, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I dare say you have heard
that when Madge and I are at home we live at South Kensington. Now next
door to us there lives a Russian lady with her little daughter and a
whole swarm of servants. We met Madame Kominski at Lady Tranmere’s At
Home last week, and heard that she was looking out for a useful
companion to take back to Russia with her. She wanted somebody who was a
real lady, who could be treated on a family footing, and who could speak
French or German. She had had several applicants for the post, but none
of them suited.”

“I wonder why?”

“Well, between you and me and the post, I think I know. They were all
too good-looking. Madame is both young and beautiful, and does not want
a companion who will eclipse her.”

“Then I suppose I shall stand a chance of securing the coveted post,
since I am almost ugly enough to serve as a foil even to a plain woman.”

“Now that is nasty of you, for I don’t call you a bit ugly. Only just
unbeautiful enough to prevent madame from being jealous.”

“Very well. I will go back to London to-morrow and interview Madame
Kominski, if you will furnish me with her address.”

“But why not write?”

“A letter would not describe my appearance accurately enough. If madam
desires some one who is unbeautiful, as you put it, a sight of me will
go far to convince her that she has found the treasure she is in search
of.”

“I don’t quite understand you, but of course I will write the address
down for you, and if you really get the appointment, you must write me
regular accounts of your adventures. Then I’ll have them printed in a
book, and if I can’t find a buried treasure, I shall perhaps be famous
as an authoress.”

“A valuable wrinkle, my dear. I must be careful not to write anything
that isn’t intended to become public property.”

“Oh, but you are sure to be in such a perpetual state of excitement that
you will not be able to weigh all your words when you are writing. There
is one difficulty. Suppose they put you in prison, how will you manage
to send your letters off?”

“You must trust me for that. I am sure to find some way of dispatching
all the letters I am likely to write to you while in prison. On your
side, you must never mention anything about Russia or the Russians in
any letter you may dispatch to the czar’s country. Then we shall be all
right.”

“Very well, then that is all arranged. But before you go downstairs I am
going to show you the loveliest, most ravishing, most delightful thing
you ever saw in your life. Look here!”

As May spoke, she jumped up and dived into one of her boxes, whence she
fished out a whole handful of photographs. I naturally expected to
behold the presentment of a superlatively beautiful member of my own
sex, and was not a little astounded to see a dozen portraits of a
popular but by no means wonderfully handsome actor.

“Isn’t he bewitching?” May rhapsodized. “Did you ever see any one in
your life half so handsome? Oh, he’s simply adorable!”

“And did he give you all those photographs?”

“Oh, dear no! I bought them all with my own pocket-money. I love him so
dearly that I dream of him almost night and day, and I buy a copy of
every fresh portrait of him that is issued. Oh, if you could only
imagine how I love him!”

“And does he return your love?”

“Unfortunately for me, he does not know me. He has never even seen me.”

“Then I suppose you fell in love with him on the stage.”

“No, he is nearly always on tour, and I have never seen him act. Indeed,
I have never seen him at all. I just saw a photograph of him in a
shop-window, and straightway fell in love with it. You may think it only
a passing fancy. But I feel that if I could only look upon his face, my
greatest dreams of earthly bliss would be realized, and I would be
content to die.”

“Mere romance, my dear girl. You will come across some one in the flesh
who will prove much more charming than the counterfeit presentments of
your adorable actor, who, by-the-by, becomes engaged to a fresh young
lady about every six months.”

“I can’t help it. He is just all in all to me, and I shall never marry
so long as he remains single. If, after all my devotion, my hero marries
another woman, then I may think of accepting a gentleman who proposes to
me every three months. Meanwhile, I have a little consolation. I often
take a look at his house at Kensington, in the hope of catching a
glimpse of him through one of the windows.”

And in this style May meandered on, the while I wondered whether she
were really sane or not. She was evidently badly smitten, and by mere
portraits, which must have revealed to her many beauties of expression
which were hidden to me, for I could only look upon them as the faithful
presentments of a man whom I had heard spoken of as selfish, conceited
and unscrupulous in his dealings with women.

“I suppose you are quite disburdened of all the particulars of your
wonderful romance by this time,” was Mrs. Marshall’s cheery greeting. “I
knew it was no use interrupting you before you had confided the whole
story to Miss Courtney. And what do you think of it, Miss Dora, now that
you have heard it?”

This last question was addressed to me with such a humorous twinkle in
Mrs. Marshall’s merry dark eyes, that, for the life of me, I could not
help responding to it, and my comments were expressed in a burst of
hearty laughter, which not all my latent worries could rob of its
spontaneity. I was not sure that May might not resent our irreverence,
but she took it very good-humoredly, and five minutes later we were all
greeting our host and hostess at the breakfast-table.

As both the sisters were in quite a merry mood, they cheered the rest of
us up wonderfully, and no one, to look at us, would imagine that we had
ever become acquainted with care.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER VI.
     “When venom’d gossip shows her poison-fangs, the watchword is,
                               ‘Beware!’”


But as soon as breakfast was over, I had a private confabulation with
Mr. Garth, in which he fully approved of my intention of going to see
Madame Kominski at once.

“Let me see,” he said by-and-by. “There is a train from Moorbye at
12:52. This would enable you to reach Kensington by 4:30, a good time, I
should imagine, for catching the lady at home. If you fail to see her
this evening, you can either return here, or put up at a hotel which I
can recommend for the night. If you do not come to an arrangement, you
will return and stay here, of course, until something else turns up.
Should you, on the other hand, find the appointment one that you can
accept, your future proceedings will be arranged between Madame Kominski
and yourself.”

“The 12:50 train will suit me admirably,” I said. “I shall have time to
pay a visit to Bobby and Teddy. They, at least, will remember me with
affection.”

“Then suppose you get ready at once, Dorrie. I will go with you, as I
want to see John Page. He has had frequent touches of rheumatism lately,
and I promised to take him some liniment. I can talk to him while you
interview your pets.”

“Miss Morris is anxious to go to the Grange. But I would much rather go
without her this morning.”

“My wife will amuse her. I can take her, together with her sister, to
have a look at Courtney Grange to-morrow.”

Half an hour later the vicar and I were walking briskly toward my old
home, and I was feeling happy at the mere sight of the waving
corn-fields and smiling hedge-rows which stretched on our right hand, in
vivid contrast to the semi-barrenness and sober but quaint coloring of
the moorland on our left. I found it impossible to pass all the floral
treasures which greeted me by the way, and my heart presently grew heavy
at the thought that it might possibly be years before I was able to
gather another bunch of wild flowers on my native heath. When the
chimneys of the Grange came in sight, I had a fierce battle to fight
with my avowed determination not to enter its doors again, and I found
that sentiment was, after all, a much stronger passion in me than
wounded pride.

“Oh, I must run in and see Martha,” I exclaimed, when at last we emerged
from the long avenue. “Do wait a minute here, while I run round to the
back and give her a surprise.”

Suiting the action to the word, I left the good-natured vicar to his own
devices, while I hurried round to the kitchen entrance, anxious to see
Martha at her usual avocations, in order that I might fancy this hurried
visit to my home more homelike. Somewhat to my disappointment, Martha
was not half so surprised as I had fancied she would be.

“Eh! is that you, Miss Dora?” she exclaimed, dropping the potato she was
peeling, as I impetuously sprang into the kitchen and gave her a warm
greeting. “I thought maybe you would come to-day; and you’ll find your
room quite ready for you.”

“But how could you know I was coming?” I inquired blankly. “I never sent
you word that you might expect me.”

“No, but Mr. Courtney did. We got a letter from him this morning. Here
it is.”

I took the letter, which she pulled out of her pocket for me, and read
it, feeling as if all the romance were knocked out of me again.

“Prepare Miss Dora’s room. If she is not already at the Grange, you may
expect her soon.”

That was all, and I could not help a slight feeling of vexation at its
tenor. True, it implied that my father had not really intended to banish
me altogether. But it also evinced such a determination to ignore any
mental distress in which I might be submerged that it convinced me more
than ever of the hopelessness of ever expecting my father to show the
least spark of true affection for me.

“And how is John?” I asked soberly.

“John! Why, John’s pretty much as usual, I think,” said Martha, with a
sharp touch of asperity in her voice. “But somehow he seems to be
everlastingly complaining of late, and it’s ‘Oh, my leg! Oh, my back!’
nearly all day long.”

“Then he must be really ill.”

“Not he. He’s just taken a lazy fit, and wants pampering, that’s all.”

“Which he isn’t likely to get from the wife o’ his buzzim,” broke in
John’s voice at this juncture.

“Oh, John, I quite forgot!” I exclaimed penitently. “The vicar is
waiting for you on the steps. He has got some liniment for you.”

John hobbled off at once, calling out, as he did so: “There’s a letter
waiting for you upstairs, Miss Dora.”

Aroused to sudden curiosity, I at once ran up to my old room, and almost
cried with joy to see Lady Elizabeth’s beloved handwriting. If my
father’s missive lacked sympathy, his wife’s made ample amends for it,
for it breathed of nothing but love and anxious care for my well-being.
It had been taken for granted by my stepmother that I would come
straight to the Grange and wait quietly there for the return of the rest
of the family. I resolved to perpetuate her comforting delusion as long
as I could, and forthwith wrote her a letter, in which I thanked her
warmly for all the nice messages she sent me, and assured her that she
need have no uneasiness about me, as I should make myself quite
comfortable while at Moorbye.

Then I sallied out to the stables, having wondered already how it was
that I had seen nothing either of Bobby or of Teddy. Even as I got quite
up to the stable door they were both still invisible, and a vague
feeling of impending calamity seized me, as the old familiar whistle, to
which my erstwhile playmates had been wont to respond so joyously,
failed to evoke the usual boisterous signs of recognition from either of
them. I certainly did hear a feeble whine, but could hardly credit it to
be Bobby’s usually clamorous voice.

“Oh, my God!” I thought dumbly, “is a new trouble about to befall me?”

Then I walked slowly forward, feeling a leaden weight on limbs and brain
alike. With quaking heart and anxious eyes I peered in the direction of
Teddy’s old stall, and when I failed to see the dear little ugly
companion of my happiest frolics, I only felt the mist which covered my
eyes to be the outcome of a dreary conviction which had been stealing
over me ever since I emerged from the house. For a moment a deadly
faintness almost overpowered me, so that I had to seize the nearest
available support, in order to prevent myself from falling. While I
still stood, feeling half dazed with a newly added sense of misery, I
once more heard the feeble imitation of a whine which had already
attracted my attention. Then, looking down, I saw, painfully rolling
toward me, a little round body that must be, could be, nothing but my
darling Bobby. Hastily stepping forward, I stooped and lifted the
object, and oh! how can I ever describe what I felt when, taking it to
the light, I discovered it to be none other than my beloved pet! Poor
fellow! he had recognized me, and, though almost at death’s door, had
made a desperate effort to meet me once more.

I sat down with him on my lap and bent over him in an agony of grief.
He, in his turn, fondly licked my fingers and looked at me with a
piteous, all-adoring love shining out of the beautiful eyes which were
already fast glazing over with the last dread film.

“Oh, my darling!” I moaned, as I kissed his dear little head over and
over again. “What have I done that I should lose everything I love? I
would give ten years of my life to see you frisk about me in the old
happy way. Can’t you really get better, now that I have come?”

Did the poor thing understand me, or was he only making a supreme effort
to make me comprehend how glad he was to see me? Perhaps it was both,
for he always was more intelligent than some human beings I have
encountered. Be this as it may, he suddenly rose to his feet, and stood
looking in my face for a moment almost the picture of his old excitable
self, with sparkling eyes and quivering body. Then he gave a sharp, glad
bark, and dropped, lifeless, on the lap of one of the most desolate
human beings on earth.

How long I sat there in my misery I do not know, but was at last
interrupted by the voice of the vicar, who, perceiving what had
happened, asked me no questions, but, gently lifting poor Bobby’s body
into a basket which stood close by, suggested that we should bury him
ourselves before we returned to the vicarage. As one in a dream, I let
him lead me whither he would, and together we went down to the old
orchard, where, presently, my kindly friend took upon himself the office
of grave-digger. Concerning Teddy, I asked no more questions just now,
for I no longer believed him to be alive.

When I had marked Bobby’s resting-place, I turned to John Page, whom,
for the first time, I noticed to be standing near me. “And now,” I said,
my voice still shaken with sobs, “tell me how it is that you never sent
us word that my pets were ill.”

“Indeed, miss, I did,” answered John, with a sympathetic look at my
grief-stricken face. “I sent the master word about everything. You had
only been gone a day or two when Teddy began to fret and go off his
feed. He would seek you in the yard, and in the orchard, and in all
sorts of likely and unlikely places, and when he couldn’t see anything
of you, he would whinny that pitifully that neither Martha nor me liked
to hear him. We used to try to pet him up a bit. But it was no go, and
we could see that if he went on fretting like that things would soon go
wrong with him. Bobby, too, hung his head, and walked about looking the
picture of misery. When you were away at my lady’s place, before, they
both took on considerable. But you were not quite so long away, and it
hadn’t such an effect on them as it’s had this time. It was only last
week that Teddy died, and Bobby has never been out of the stable since.
I have done what I could for him, but anybody could see that he wouldn’t
be here long. The master knew Teddy was dead, and I’m sure I thought you
knew all about it. I buried him just at the foot of the paddock, feeling
that that was where you would have liked to put him, if you had been at
home.”

I couldn’t speak. But I gave John a look which would show him that I
exonerated him from blame and that I was grateful to him for what he had
tried to do for me. Then I walked down to the paddock, to take one last
look at poor old Teddy’s resting-place. And here a fresh idea seized me.
My two pets had been such inseparable friends during life that I felt it
cruel to part them in death, and returned to John, to ask him to bring
Bobby’s body to be finally interred beside that of his friend and
companion. My wish was soon accomplished, and then, without looking back
at the old home even once more, I walked away toward the vicarage,
followed by the vicar, and hardly knowing whether grief at my loss, or
resentment at the callousness which had prevented my father from telling
me the true state of the case, was predominant.

I had not walked far before I was overtaken by Mr. Garth, but there was
very little said between us until we were nearly at the vicarage.

“Did you know that my pony was dead?” I asked him.

“Certainly not,” he replied. “I saw John last week, and he never
mentioned either of your pets, though I do not doubt that he has taken
good care of them. Very likely your father did not wish you to be told
much about them, lest the news should unsettle you.”

“Yes, of course. That is the true explanation of the case. My father was
actuated by tender regard for my feelings, and I ought to feel
proportionately grateful. But, somehow, I don’t feel particularly moved
in the direction of gratitude, and the sooner I am away from the
neighborhood of Courtney Grange the better. I shall not regret my
absence from it now, since my presence near it could only foster painful
memories. The past is dead, and I must let my dead past bury its dead.”

“You have youth and energy on your side, my dear. I predict that in six
months you will yearn for your old home again and be as happy as ever
here.”

“Never! You do not know me, Mr. Garth. My experiences since I went to
London have been such as to develop and increase the latent passions of
my childhood, besides endowing me with others toward which I never
suspected myself to have a leaning. Among the latter are self-reliance,
independence, and firmness of purpose. They alone will forbid my early
return to the Grange.”

“Well, I will not argue the point with you, child, as of course you know
more about the matter than I do. But has it struck you that while we
have been lingering at the Grange, time has been flying, and that you
have missed the 12:50 train for London? You will have to put off your
journey until morning, as the next train from here arrives in London too
late to enable you to call at Madame Kominski’s house this evening.”

“Then what shall I do? How soon can I get there in the morning?”

“If you do not mind rising early, you can leave by the 6:30 A.M. train.
That will land you in Kensington in good time.”

“If you and Mrs. Garth—”

“Pray don’t mention it, child. We are only too happy to do what we can
for you. Oh, there they all are!”

“They” of whom he spoke were Mrs. Garth, Mrs. Marshall and Miss Morris,
who were walking leisurely toward us, their hands full of wild roses and
honeysuckle, which they had been pulling in the hedgerows. Master Vinnie
was skipping alone in front, and having an occasional race with Leo, a
splendid St. Bernard, who looked as wise as any of us.

The whole party looked so handsome, so happy, and so thoroughly
satisfied with their lot in life, that my own isolation and loneliness
struck me more forcibly than ever. I am not sure that I was not going to
give way to another outburst of grief, when I chanced to look up into
Mr. Garth’s face, and saw that the erstwhile sad and sympathetic
expression of his countenance had vanished as magically as do morning
mists before the power of the rising sun. He was smiling at the pleasant
sight which greeted his gaze, and in an instant I was confounded by a
sense of the selfishness of my own conduct. What right had I to obtrude
my private griefs upon my friends? True, they were kind and
sympathizing, but that did not deprive them of their due claim to
consideration, and life does not hold so much happiness for any that one
can afford to exchange the flowers of joy for the withered leaves of
sorrow, even though the sorrow may more closely appertain to another.

I believe that great changes of character may be brought about in
susceptible and highly-strung natures by trifling incidents, and a
suddenly conceived resolve of my own was no particularly noticeable
departure from a somewhat general rule. “If I cannot be happy myself,” I
reflected, “I can at least conduce to the happiness of others by
presenting a bright and cheerful front to the world. And this I will try
to do in future, God helping me.”

It was in conformity with this resolution that I walked smilingly up to
Mrs. Garth and her guests, and apologized for having kept the vicar so
long away from them. Then I challenged Vinnie and Leo to a race, and,
before Mr. Garth had time to conjecture the cause of the abrupt change
in my demeanor, I was scampering down the lane with the delighted boy,
and the no less delighted dog, who instantly entered into the spirit of
the diversion suggested, as did also May Morris, who laughingly
exclaimed that she saw no reason why she should not join in the fun, and
promptly followed in our wake. We had half an hour of scampering and
laughter, and returned to the vicarage breathless, rosy, and hungry.
Perhaps Leo could hardly be accused of being either breathless or rosy,
but he was certainly as ready for his midday meal as any of us. As for
myself, I noted with surprise that my effort to appear cheerful and
happy had recoiled upon myself, and that I no longer felt so miserable
as I had done earlier in the day.

“You’re just a dear, jolly girl,” said May to me, as we were
rehabilitating our toilet, previous to going down to lunch. “I’m awfully
sorry you are going away so soon, and I’m awfully afraid lest those
horrid Russians should lock you up in one of their dungeons. Just fancy
how awfully horrid it would be if they were to hang you up by the
thumbs, and flog you with a bundle of knouts!”

“My dear girl,” I said, unable to refrain from laughter at May’s limited
and slangy vocabulary, as well as at her hazy and mixed-up notions of
things Russian. “It is not by any means sure that I am going to Russia,
and even if I do go, it is of no use anticipating unlikely
contingencies.”

“Perhaps not,” retorted May sapiently. “But one may as well be prepared
for possibilities, and then they don’t overtake one as a surprise. And,
after all, there are perhaps worse things than the knout.”

“Hardly,” I rejoined. “The knout so generally proves an instrument of
death that it must be regarded as the extreme punishment.”

“But suppose they banish you to Siberia?”

“I don’t see any probability of such a disaster, as, if I am lucky
enough to secure the appointment I am seeking, I shall be very careful
about what I say and do. And now—suppose we go downstairs?”

After luncheon the vicar announced his intention of paying some visits
which he owed to a few of the poorer of his parishioners. “I do not care
to inflict myself upon them in the forenoon,” he added. “They are
generally busy, either cleaning or cooking, and do not care to be
bothered by callers before they have had time to don themselves up a
little.”

“But why should you trouble yourself to visit them at all, when you have
a curate who could look after your poorer parishioners?” asked Mrs.
Marshall. “The vicar of St. Dungaree’s Church only associates with, or
speaks personally to, the well-to-do people of his parish. He never goes
to any house of which the rent is less than seventy pounds per annum.”

“Then I suppose he does not think people with small incomes possess
souls?” I ejaculated.

“Oh, dear, yes! of course they have souls. But you can’t attach as much
importance to their conversion as if they were in a position to be of
service to the church, as rich people can be, and a curate’s attentions
are as much as they can expect.”

“Then we may conclude that the objects of a curate and of a vicar are
entirely dissimilar. The curate wishes to save souls. The vicar is
anxious to wheedle money out of his parishioners. Fie, Mrs. Marshall,
how can you so depreciate Mr. Garth’s calling?”

“Good gracious! Miss Courtney. It’s you who are doing it, not me. I
never thought of the matter in the light you are throwing upon it. And I
am sure Mr. Garth understands my meaning very well.”

“To be sure I do,” responded the vicar, good-humoredly. “No doubt the
vicar of St. Dungaree’s is swayed by motives which outsiders do not
understand. For my own part, I am quite convinced of my own unfitness
for a city living, as I have what some would consider inveterately
democratic notions. For instance, I am far happier when chatting with
old Mrs. Murfree, who has been bedridden for six years, and who
nevertheless earns a precarious livelihood by knitting and coarse
needlework, than when conversing with Lady Smythe, who imagines herself
to be the greatest lady in the county. And I would much rather have a
talk and a smoke with old Grey, our cobbler-poet, than be invited out to
dine with the lord of the manor.”

“And that reminds me,” put in Mrs. Garth, “that Lady Smythe and her
daughters are coming this afternoon for a game of tennis. The
Worthingtons will probably be here, too, so I hope you will try to get
back before they leave.”

The vicar, having promised to use his best endeavors in that direction,
now hurried off. I would rather have been excused from meeting the
coming guests, if I had consulted only my own inclination; and it
required a little mental struggle on my part to induce me to persevere
just then in my lately-formed resolve to be as cheerful as possible at
all times. May Morris, superficial and shallow as she seemed, was a
bright, merry girl, who did nothing to foster either lugubriousness or
reserve, and with whom it would have been difficult for me to maintain a
silent mood for any length of time. Vinnie, too, seemed to have taken
immensely to me since the morning and eagerly importuned us for another
romp. Thus it happened that when the Smythe family drove up to the door
they were rather scandalized by seeing two young women, who were
evidently utterly regardless of appearances, scampering along a
sidewalk, laughing and panting, followed by a fleet-footed child, who
was pelting them with daisies which had a few hours before bespangled
the tennis lawn, and by an excited St. Bernard, whose occasional tugs
had utterly ruined the fresh appearance of their gowns.

“There now,” I said at last. “I really must sit down a bit. Vinnie,
hadn’t you better run in and ask nurse to sponge your hands and face,
before any visitors see you? I think I must go in also and straighten my
hair.”

“That’s just how I feel,” said May, so we all adjourned, in order to
present a better appearance by-and-by.

An hour later both courts on the vicarage tennis lawn were occupied with
players, most of whom wielded their racquets in such a way as to
indicate considerable practice in the health-giving pastime upon which
they were now engaged. The two brothers Worthington, sons of a local
landed proprietor, were worthy partners of the Misses Smythe, and Mr.
Graham, the doctor’s assistant—whose aider and abettor in all social
functions at which they could both be present was Mr. Wix, our
curate—was so evidently smitten by May’s charms that I caught myself
wondering whether he would be able to supplant the fascinating actor.
Mrs. Marshall had offered to let me play in her stead, but a reaction
from my previous excitement had set in, and I craved quiet and repose.
Leaving her, therefore, to a game which I knew she would enjoy, I
strolled further away from the house, and presently sat down on the
forked arm of an apple-tree which grew just behind the hut that had been
erected for the accommodation of those who preferred to watch the game
rather than take an active part in it. The branch of the tree hung so
low that I had no difficulty in fixing myself comfortably upon it, and I
soon found the repose of my situation so conducive to drowsiness that I
think I must have gone to sleep for a little while.

At any rate I was roused by the sound of voices which I could not
localize for a few moments, as I had not noticed the approach of the
speakers, who were evidently now sitting in the hut close to me. My own
name fell on my ears with somewhat startling distinctness.

“Miss Dora Courtney,” said a voice which I recognized as that of Lady
Smythe, the wife of an ex-wine merchant who had chanced to be the mayor
of a neighboring town on the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee, and had
consequently dropped into a knighthood. “Miss Dora Courtney surprises me
by her behavior.”

“In what way, Lady Smythe? And who is the young lady, that she should
evoke interest in _you_?” asked another voice, which was strange to me,
but which had such a liberal allowance of flattering unction in it, and
which laid such emphasis on the second person singular that I set its
owner down for a toady of the first water at once.

“My dear Miss Grindle,” was the reply, “I am certainly exclusive. But I
am able to take interest in many people whose position in society
scarcely warrants notice from me. Otherwise you would hardly find me
mixing indiscriminately with people at parties like this. It pleases
commoners to be noticed by persons of title, and I pride myself upon
being looked upon as more condescending than the rest of the nobility
hereabouts.”

“Oh, you’re just an angel! If only the Mountmerlyns were like you.”

“Ah, yes! poor things! I feel sorry for them. What’s the use of their
asthmatic old earldom, without money to keep it up? Such a struggle as
they must have! And, between you and me, they’re dying to know Sir
Robert and myself, but are overawed by a sense of the great difference
in our position.”

“You mean—Lady Smythe?”

“We are so rich, and they are so poor. No wonder they are afraid of
intruding upon us.”

“And this Miss Courtney?—”

“To be sure, we were talking of Miss Courtney. Well, she was brought up
at Courtney Grange, and has a sister and brother who are perfectly
lovely, strange as it may seem when you look at her plain face. I
believe they pride themselves upon being a county family, but they were
a very poverty-stricken lot until the father secured for his second wife
a rich widow, the daughter of the Earl of Greatlands. Then one startling
announcement followed another. Lady Elizabeth’s brother, the heir to the
earldom, became engaged to the beautiful Miss Courtney. Then the wedding
was put off because the old earl was to be married to the ugly Miss
Courtney, the one who is here now. While all society was opening its
eyes in amazement at this freak of the old earl, it was startled by the
news of his death on his wedding-morning.”

“How shocking! And had the marriage taken place?”

“How could it? This girl would then have been the Countess of
Greatlands.”

“Poor thing! What a dreadful disappointment for her.”

“Yes, you may well say so. And that is what surprises me so about her.
She seems to be quite happy and merry. Look how she was running about
the garden when we came—a perfect tomboy.”

“So she was. It’s really very indecent of her, when one comes to think
of it. She ought to keep herself as quiet as if she were really a
widow.”

“H’m! widows! I don’t think much of them. They are a flighty lot. But
what do you think people are saying about the ‘Greatlands Romance,’ as
it is called?”

“I’m sure I don’t know. You see, I have been abroad, and—”

“And you can’t afford to buy the newspapers. Yes, I know all about that.
Well, they say that the earl’s son—that is, the present earl, and his
intended bride, Miss Belle Courtney, were furious when they heard of the
old gentleman’s infatuation, and that they swore the marriage should
never take place. One of the servants overheard a desperate quarrel
between the two sisters, in which the elder vowed all sorts of horrible
things. After that it was queer, to say the least, that the poor old
man, who had gone to bed the night before quite healthy and happy,
should be found to be dead when his valet went to rouse him on his
marriage morning.”

“Good heavens! why, they must have murdered him!”

“Well, it certainly looks like it. They vowed he shouldn’t get married,
and he didn’t live to get married. Of course, the other couple, now that
all obstacles have been swept out of their path, will get married soon
and share the wealth and title. But I wouldn’t like to stand in their
shoes.—Oh, here is Mrs. Garth! Mrs. Garth, we have just been saying what
a good thing it is for poor Miss Dora Courtney that she can be so
cheerful after all her troubles.”

“Yes, she bears up wonderfully, poor child. But I have not seen her for
some time. I thought she was perhaps in here with you. Where will you
have your tea? Here, or in the drawing-room?”

“I think I would rather go indoors for a while. I want to look at some
new prints Mr. Garth was telling me about.”

A few minutes later the hut had changed occupants, and May Morris, hot
and excited after a victorious game, was pouring tea for the tennis
players out of an urn which a servant had placed on the table, while the
young men were handing the bread and butter plates round, amid a chorus
of laughter and merry rapartee. I alone sat unobserved, lonely, and now
once more thoroughly miserable, heedless of aught else save my own
bitter reflections, and feeling as incapable of moving as I had done
during the conversation between Lady Smythe and Miss Grindle.

That the tragedy of my life should be talked about did not surprise me.
But that my own dreadful suspicions should have found an echo in the
breasts of others was to me a most horrible revelation, which created in
me so great a revulsion of feeling as to paralyze my energies _pro tem_.
I could do nothing for a while but sit and wonder vaguely what would be
the end of it all. Would the conviction of my sister’s guilt spread from
one to another until the authorities felt bound to interfere, with the
object of arriving at a complete solution of the mystery? Should I have
to give evidence? And would Lady Elizabeth be called upon to witness
against her brother and her stepdaughter? Would the name of both
families be dragged through the mire of the criminal courts, and be
gloated over by pothouse politicians in polemical discussions _in re_
the immorality of the aristocracy? And, horror of horrors! suppose
things were to come to the worst, was it possible that my beautiful
sister, the pride of her father’s heart, and one of my darling mother’s
children, could be sentenced to a shameful death! A murderer’s death is
not more shameful than his crime, we know; but, alas! how many hearts
bear witness to the agony inflicted on friends and relatives by the
mandates of justice. It would kill Lady Elizabeth if the case were
brought to trial, and this reflection was itself enough to strengthen my
determination to avoid publicity henceforth. My very presence, it
seemed, was sufficient to set the tongues of conjecture and suspicion
wagging. My temporary absence might perhaps help people to forget the
existence of myself and my history.

For the future, if I would avoid a crisis, I had better be seen and
heard as little as possible; and this reflection made me so feverishly
anxious to quit the country that I sprang from my seat in excitement and
hurried toward the house as if thereby I could hasten the interview
between Madame Kominski and myself. As I might have expected, I was
intercepted on my way and besieged by inquiries as to where I had been
hiding myself. My pale face and heavy eyes indorsed my plea of the
desire of seclusion on the score of a violent headache, and I was
allowed to go to my room, where Mrs. Garth soon followed me with a cup
of tea and words of sympathy. Left alone once more, I meditated
earnestly as to my future proceedings, finally coming to the conclusion
that for the sake of Jerry and Lady Elizabeth, if not for the sake of my
father and Belle, I must never divulge aught that could harm Belle, but
must do all in my power to prevent the suspicions of others from being
fostered.

In spite of my desire to appear as cheerful as possible, I felt myself
unequal to the task of going downstairs again that afternoon. Evening
found me able to appear more sociable, and the next morning saw me,
primed with good wishes and affectionate “good-bys” from my dear good
friends, Mr. and Mrs. Garth, both of whom had got up to escort me to the
station, en route for Kensington, where I arrived in due course.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER VII.
          “From prying eyes and fingers defend us, good Lord!”


“Is Madame Kominski visible?” I inquired of the smart servant-maid who
answered my ring at the bell of the house to which I had been directed
to go.

“Is it an appointment, madam?”

“No, but I have reason to think that Madame Kominski will see me.”

“If you will step inside, I will ask her. What name shall I give?”

“Miss Dora Saxon.”

This change of name was the result of my deliberations while on my way
here. It struck me as desirable, in Belle’s interests. In Belle’s! How
strange it seemed that I should have to resort to trickery and
subterfuge for the sake of one who, though so nearly related to me, was
yet my mortal enemy! Yet so it was, for was not the happiness of those
whom I loved best on earth involved in her immunity from punishment, if
she were guilty; and in her protection from false accusation, if she
were innocent? Ah! would to God I could have thought the latter! My
course of conduct would then have been much easier for me.

“You wish to see me?” was the question addressed to me after a while, in
such a musical voice that I glanced at the owner of it in pleased
surprise, as I answered somewhat eagerly: “Yes, Madame Kominski. I have
been told that you are seeking a companion, and would like to secure the
post. I can give you good credentials.”

“And references to former employers?”

“I have never lived away from home before.”

“And why, may I ask, do you wish to come to me now?”

“My home associations have become painful. I was to have been married a
month ago, but—”

“The old story. Your lover forsook you?”

“No, my lover died.”

There was a quick glance of sympathy, and a few moments’ pause. Then
Madame Kominski resumed: “Your story is very sad. But I am afraid that
for that very reason I cannot entertain the idea of making you my
companion. I want some one who will be cheerful and bright, not a woman
whose bearing will wear the impress of a tragic past. Pray do not think
me unfeeling, but I often have to leave my little daughter for days
together, and would not like her to be made melancholy.”

“You would find me as cheerful as you could desire. I intend to cast my
past from my mind as much as possible.”

“If I could think that—”

But there is no need to give the whole conversation in detail. Suffice
it to say that I prevailed upon Madame Kominski to write to Mr. Garth
for further particulars of me, and that I obtained her promise to engage
me, should his reply prove satisfactory. Feeling quite sure that this
would be the case, and that Madame Kominski was a woman who could be
trusted, I told her that my real name was Courtney, but that I preferred
to be called Miss Saxon for the future, as I did not wish it to be known
that I had left home to go to service. As it happened, it was well that
I took my prospective employer into my confidence. She had heard
something about my history from the newspapers, and my candor seemed to
win both her sympathy and her good-will.

She insisted upon my having lunch with her, and introduced me to her
daughter Feodorowna, a girl of ten, who could not boast of a much more
attractive appearance than myself. But by-and-by, as she grew to
womanhood, her looks might improve, and she might possibly become more
like her mother, who certainly was a very beautiful woman, being tall,
stately, and inclined to embonpoint, though as yet being only
sufficiently stout to make her voluptuously perfect. Her fine dark eyes,
Grecian features, clear skin and purple-black hair, which waved and
curled about her brows in charming disorder, would seem to disclaim a
Mongolian origin altogether, and were all in harmony with her musical
voice and graceful gait.

Two days later, a very satisfactory reply to madame’s letter having come
from Mr. Garth, all arrangements were completed. My luggage had been
sent for, and I was formally installed as companion-governess in the
household of Madame Kominski, who readily agreed to my wish that my true
appellative should be discarded for the present, and that I should be
introduced and known to others only as Miss Saxon. I had not forgotten
May Morris’s idea that absence of good looks was the best recommendation
to madame’s favor. But I did not let the notion worry me. I was by this
time convinced that nature, when denying me beauty, had given me some
compensating qualifications, and Madame Kominski was so kind and
friendly with me that I found no difficulty in being comparatively happy
and wholly cheerful.

Feodorowna, or Feo, as she was called by her mother, seemed to have
taken quite a fancy to me, and I won her heart altogether when I
proposed teaching her to play the violin. I found her to be an apt and
docile pupil, but as masters came to the house to teach her many of the
branches of her education, such portion of it as fell on my shoulders
did not prove onerous.

“We start for St. Petersburg on Monday,” said Madame Kominski, the
Friday after I had become a member of her household, looking up from a
letter which she was reading. “I suppose you have no objection to go
there, Miss Saxon?”

“None whatever, madame. I shall like it very much, I am sure.”

“I have no doubt you will, for you will have every possible comfort and
will mingle in the best society St. Petersburg affords. And you, Feo,
now that you are going to see your cousins again, must not neglect your
English. I shall depend upon Miss Saxon to insist upon constant practice
in that and in French.”

“You may depend upon me, and upon Feo, too. We have already made a
compact to speak nothing but English together one week, and nothing but
French the next.”

“And, mother, what is the use of saying Miss Saxon every time? Why don’t
you call her Dora, like I do? She will really seem like one of the
family then.”

“Well, Dora be it, with all my heart, child. Ah! what’s this? Dora, I
find that I have to go out of town to-day. I may be back to-morrow, but
cannot be sure. You will see that the servants push on with the
packing.”

“Certainly. I will do my best to make up for your absence.”

Madame Kominski had evidently read something in the last letter she had
opened which had caused her to form the sudden resolution of leaving
home that day. She hastily gathered the papers which had come by that
morning’s post together, and was leaving the breakfast room with them,
when Feo exclaimed: “Oh, mother, it is too bad! You promised to take us
to the theater this evening.”

“My dear child, I cannot help that. This journey cannot be postponed. You
shall go to the Grand Theater soon after we arrive in St. Petersburg.
You know that I never willingly disappoint you or break a promise to
you.”

“Forgive me, dear mother. I won’t complain again.”

From this it may be gathered that Feo was a docile, affectionate child,
and such I always found her. I could not help hazarding a faint
conjecture as to the nature of the business which took madame from home
at a time when one would suppose her presence to be more than usually
necessary in it. But it was no business of mine, and I found sufficient
to do to occupy all my thoughts and time for the next few days. It was
Monday at noon before the mistress of the household returned to it. She
seemed tired and somewhat dispirited, but insisted upon starting for St.
Petersburg that night, as had already been arranged.

A week later we were all comfortably installed in a splendid house, on
the Nevski Prospekt, and my eyes were fairly dazzled by the magnificence
of some of the houses to which I was introduced. I was very glad that my
wardrobe was so liberally furnished, and that I was at least possessed
of the means of mitigating my plainness as far as was possible. I was
also spared some of the humiliation which had been so often meted out to
me in England. Whether it was that I was surrounded by more people,
whose chief characteristic was lack of physical beauty, or whether it
was that less importance was attached to the possession of mere outward
charms, I cannot say. But it is certain that my personal deficiencies
were less often brought home to me here, and, greatly to my surprise, I
seemed to promptly win the favor of several cultured aristocrats, who
apparently never dreamed of discounting my few mental attractions
because I was only a hired companion.

Many of them spoke English, and showed great interest in our social laws
and customs, so different to those prevailing among themselves. To the
best of my ability, I answered all the questions put to me, sometimes; I
fear, forgetting that to extol English institutions was to decry the
systems of the land in which I had temporarily found a home. One evening
madame, always good to me, had taken me with her to the house of a
certain Prince and Princess Michaelow, both of whom welcomed her with
great warmth and affection. The princess, who proved to be English, and
only a few years older than myself, was a girl of strikingly imposing
figure and lovely appearance. Her rich, glittering auburn hair framed a
face of the purest oval. Her arch, piquant features were set off by a
complexion of exquisite fairness and purity, the cheeks reminding me of
nothing so much as of the dainty pink dog-roses I had so often delighted
to gather at home. Her teeth were white and even, and were given plenty
of opportunity for display by their smiling owner. But her eyes struck
me as her chief charm. They were large and limpid, fringed by dark
lashes, and were of the deepest azure, with a bright-rayed amber iris
that gave them an almost uncanny beauty. She was dressed in a gown of
soft pale blue surah, and her only jewels were pearls. But such pearls!
And such a mass of them, in ropes, strings, sprays and festoons, which
helped to put the finishing touch to as fair a vision of human beauty as
I had ever beheld.

I was half inclined to stand in awe of her at first, and to shrink into
a pained comparison of her appearance and mine. But her frank, cheery
smile and demonstrative welcome at once put that nonsense out of my
head, and I was henceforth content to worship her as the embodiment of
all that was good and beautiful. My admiration must have shone in my
eyes, for the prince bent down to me, and said smilingly, in rather
broken English: “I perceive that Miss Saxon’s tastes are similar to my
own. I hope she will often favor us with a visit. My wife has been
looking forward to meeting Madame Kominski’s new friend.”

New friend! Was that Prince Michaelow’s delicate way of putting the
case, or did he really not know that I was madame’s paid companion? I
caught myself revolving this conjecture even while conversing brightly
and with outward ease. But it was not destined to trouble me long. Later
on in the evening, Madame Kominski, who was a brilliant
conversationalist, and an evident favorite wherever she went, being
surrounded by a group of admiring friends, I found myself somewhat
isolated and thrown upon my own resources. Yet I was by no means tired
or dull, for I watched the ever-varying panorama in the brilliant salon
in which I found myself with considerable interest.

One man in particular attracted my notice by his somewhat sinister
aspect and gloomy bearing. He stood, half concealed by the draperies of
a large portière, with erect figure and folded arms, looking at Madame
Kominski with an expression in his eyes which I found it difficult to
fathom, but which gave me an uneasy conviction that it boded her no
good. He was tall, of fine build and bearing, and would, I think, by
most people be considered handsome. But there was a depression of the
eyes and upper part of the nose which I did not like, and which seemed
to me to argue the possession of a cunning and perhaps malignant nature.

My inability to fathom the meaning of his frequent glances in Madame
Kominski’s direction began to irritate me. Was it love that he felt for
her? Or was it hate? If the latter, why did such a look of desire shine
from his eyes when they rested on her sparkling beauty? If the former,
why did he frown and clinch his hands at the sound of her merry laugh?

“You seem engrossed in contemplation of Count Karenieff,” said a voice
at my elbow. “Does his appearance charm you so much?”

“By no means,” I replied quickly, turning to the Princess Michaeloff,
who seated herself by my side. “On the contrary, he strikes me as rather
repellant than otherwise. I have been wondering if he hates Madame
Kominski.”

“Certainly not. He is madly in love with her. Unfortunately for him, our
friend’s tastes lean in another direction and she has been compelled to
reject his suit.”

“Then he does hate her, and his glances mean revenge.”

“I hope not. He is a dangerous enemy. There are several people now doing
penance in the fortress of St. Peter and Paul who have been doomed to
their awful fate through his denunciations. Only last week the son of
one of these, a mere child of fifteen, was banished to Siberia, and
there is little doubt that Count Karenieff has a hand in this business
also.”

“But what could he, a boy of fifteen, have done to deserve so horrible a
fate?”

“He has done nothing to deserve it. No one pretends to say that he has.
But he is a bright and intelligent lad, who might some day be seized by
a desire to avenge the wrongs of his parents, and he is the heir to a
vast property which is now confiscated by the State. Of course the man
who has given the State an excuse for increasing its revenue has also
come in for a share of the spoil.”

“What a monstrous system! What a monstrous—”

“For God’s sake, be quiet! If you are overheard talking like that, we
are lost! How could I have been indiscreet enough to dwell on tabooed
subjects like that? I think it must be through meeting with some one who
is as unsophisticated as I was myself when I first came here, only
twelve months ago.”

“So short a time as that?”

“Yes, so short a time as that. I came out here as Madame Kominski’s
companion. Thanks to her goodness, I had as many social advantages given
me as if I had been a sprig of nobility, instead of being merely the
daughter of a poor country curate, who had found it necessary to leave
home to earn a livelihood. How kind fate has been to me! I was scarcely
here before I won the love of the man who is now my husband. I have
surely all that woman can desire. I love and am beloved, and I revel in
unlimited wealth and comfort. Better still, I am able to free my parents
from the harassing anxieties against which they have hitherto had to
contend. Still—”

“You must be perfectly happy.”

“I have only one wish ungratified. I would dearly like to live in
England, and to escape the constant espionage to which we are all
subject. But this cannot be, so I spend as much time in the company of
English people as I can. Do you know, Madame Kominski brought an English
companion out here three years ago. She was very fond of her, and was
somewhat cut up when Miss Vernon, a very handsome woman, by-the-by, left
her to get married. When I left her, she said that she would have no
more companions, as she grew fond of them only to lose them. I am very
glad that she has altered her mind.”

So then, madame had been actuated by no petty feeling of jealousy when
she declined to engage a pretty girl as her companion. She had few
relatives, felt somewhat lonely in the house, and desired to secure a
companion who would be likely to remain a member of her household for
some time. Struck with this conviction, I felt more assured than ever of
the real kindness of madame’s nature, and actually felt glad for the
moment that there was no likelihood of her being disappointed in me as
she had been disappointed in her other companions. Little did I dream
how soon she would stand in dire need of loving friendship, she, to whom
the world seemed to wear so smiling and benignant a front!

While we had been talking, there had been a slight movement of
dispersal, and some of the guests now claimed the attention of the
princess, who had certainly given me a disproportionate share of her
attention. Soon afterward, we also took our leave, and both madame and
myself seemed to have plenty of food for pleasant thought during the
short drive home.

The next morning it was found a difficult matter to rouse Feo at the
usual time, and her maid expressed the opinion that the child must be
ill. I went to see her, and found her pale, sick and languid, possessed
of a violent headache and consuming thirst. Somewhat alarmed, I
announced my intention of summoning a doctor at once. But to this plan
Feo entered very strenuous objections.

“Indeed, Miss Dora, I am not really ill,” she protested. “I shall soon
be all right again, and I’ll never, never do it again as long as I
live.”

“Do what, child?”

“Oh, that would be telling, and I promised Olaf that I wouldn’t tell.”

“That mischievous little cousin of yours! You have been up to some
naughtiness together. Tell me, have you been out and caught a fever, or
something of that sort?”

“Oh, dear no, Dora. At least, we caught something, but it isn’t a fever,
and we didn’t have to go out for it. Oh, dear, my head!”

“Well, I must just go and see if madame knows what will cure you.”

“Oh, Dora, dear! pray don’t! She would be so vexed. Look here. I’ll tell
you all about it, if you’ll promise not to let mother know what is the
matter with me.”

“But suppose you should get worse. Madame would blame me then, and
serious mischief might result from delay. I really think we must call a
doctor in.”

“Oh, Dora, you are so silly! Why can’t you understand? I see I shall
have to tell you everything. But do give me a drink of lemonade first. I
shan’t get worse, that is certain. They never do; Olaf says so.”

“Let Trischl fetch you a cup of coffee.”

“Bah! Do you want to make me sick? I want lemonade, and you might—yes, I
wish you would get me some vodki to put in it.”

“Vodki! Is the child crazy?”

“No, I’m not crazy. But I think you must be, or else you would
understand that it’s just the Katzenjammer that’s the matter with me.”

“Katzenjammer! What a queer complaint. I hope it isn’t catching.”

But at this point Feo suddenly became convulsed with laughter, provoked
thereto, I think, by the comical aspect of Trischl, who had all this
time remained in the room, and who had thrown her hands up in horror at
the name of the mysterious disease. The sight of Feo’s mirth began to
make me feel angry, for it struck me that she had been hoaxing me a
little. But all at once the laughter ceased, and was replaced by sobs,
amid which I heard an occasional protest to the effect that she would
“never do it again—no, never!”

I now deemed it wisest to keep silent for a while, and presently Feo
raised a repentant and shamefaced countenance to mine.

“I’ll tell you all about it,” she said. “But you must promise not to
tell mother.”

“If it is nothing very bad.”

“Of course it isn’t.”

“Very well, then, I promise.”

“I knew you wouldn’t be nasty with me. And now I’ll explain what the
Katzenjammer is. You get it after you have been tipsy.”

“Feo!”

“It’s quite true. You see, last night, after mother and you had gone
out, Uncle Feodor and Aunt Anna called with Olaf to take me to the
theater, as they had promised to do. But Olaf didn’t want to go to the
theater, and asked me to stay at home and play with him. He knew of such
a splendid new game, he said. So we got permission to stay here, for I
thought Olaf’s new game was something wonderful, he made such a fuss
about it when he ran to my room to persuade me to agree to his plan.
Then, when we were alone, he said: ‘I have a short story to tell you
first. Our old isvostchik, who has been with us so many years, has got
dismissed to-day for getting drunk. He has often been drunk, and he was
told that if he did it once more he would lose his place. Old Hans, who
is a German, knew the penalty of offending again, and he was always
troubled with what he called the Katzenjammer after he had been tipsy.
But this seemed to make no difference. He got tipsy yesterday, and
couldn’t drive the carriage when mother wanted to go out in the
afternoon. So he was packed off about his business, in disgrace. Now
don’t you think, Feo, that it must be delightful to get drunk? If it
were not, do you think a poor man would risk so much for the sake of
drinking vodki? I’m sure he wouldn’t, so I’m determined to try what it
feels like to be tipsy, and I want you to share the fun. We’ll pretend
to be two friends, who haven’t seen each other for a long time, and
we’ll keep inviting each other to have a drink with us.’

“‘But suppose it makes us have the Katzenjammer after it?’

“‘Oh, then we have only to take a little drop more vodki, and then we
shall be better again.’

“So at last I agreed and Olaf reached a decanter and some glasses out of
a sideboard, and we made ourselves tipsy. It was great fun, too, for we
grew quite jolly, and we danced, and we sang for ever so long. Then Olaf
fell asleep on the floor, and I came to bed. I don’t know whether Olaf
wakened up or not when they came to fetch him. And it isn’t half so
jolly as I thought it would be. My head aches awfully, and I’m never
going to get drunk again.”

Now was it very wrong of me to be so stricken with laughter that I found
it necessary to turn away to hide my emotion? I’m afraid a strict
moralist would hardly approve of my behavior, and I must have felt some
twinges of conscience, or I would not have tried so hard to recover a
stern demeanor. Finally, I succeeded, and drew such a picture of future
horrors, that would certainly be the consequence of indulgence in a
taste for strong drink, that Feo was almost frightened out of her wits
and was not likely to transgress again in a hurry. Of course I tabooed
the idea of giving her any more of the pernicious stuff which had made
her ill. As Trischl appeared to know all about the matter, I purchased
her silence by the gift of a silver rouble, which she received with many
manifestations of satisfaction. Then I ordered some hot extract of beef
to be brought for Feo, advised her to lie still for an hour or two, and
went to the morning-room in search of madame.

I found her looking somewhat disturbed. She always had a surprising
amount of letters, seeing that she was a private individual. I had once
or twice offered to take some of the fatigue of correspondence off her
hands. But to this she would never consent. Indeed, I never even saw the
addresses of the letters she sent away, as might have been the case had
she cared to trust me with the duty of writing them down to her
dictation. There was much that was mysterious in her way of receiving
and dispatching her postal communications, and she was so good-natured
with me on every other point that I knew she must have a good and
sufficient reason for keeping me aloof in this respect. On this
particular morning one of her letters had brought her tidings which
necessitated a sudden change of plans on her part. As had been the case
when in London, she left home for a few days, scarcely allowing herself
time to have a small portmanteau packed, and giving us not the slightest
idea of where she was going or how long she would be away. I was told
that she depended upon me to take her place in the household as far as
possible, but specific directions she had not time to give me.

That afternoon, I was writing a letter to Mrs. Garth, when Feo came into
my room.

“I wish you would take me for a drive, Dora,” she said. “My headache has
nearly gone, and I believe fresh air would cure it altogether.”

So I put my half-finished letter on one side, ordered the carriage, and
prepared myself to go out with Feo. We both enjoyed the drive, and as I
was still fresh to many of the sights of St. Petersburg, there was
plenty of subject matter for conversation.

On arriving home again, I repaired at once to my own room, as I was
anxious to finish the letter which I had begun to write to Mrs. Garth. I
took the key of my room door out of my pocket. As I did not want the
prying eyes of any of the servants to glance over my correspondence, I
had taken the precaution of locking my door instead of putting my papers
into my desk again.

I was somewhat surprised to find that the door was not locked, after
all, and thought for a moment that I might have been mistaken as to
having turned the key. But no. Reflection convinced me that there had
been no mistake. I distinctly remembered that, after taking the key out
of the lock, I had tried the door-handle. It would not yield to my
touch. Therefore, the door had been locked. It was not locked when I
returned. It was evident, then, that it had been tampered with during my
absence. But who could have taken such an unwarrantable liberty? The
question puzzled me, until I recalled to mind a figure I had seen on the
stairs as I came up. It was the figure of a man whom I had not seen
before, but who was walking leisurely downstairs, as if he felt assured
of a safe and familiar footing in the house.

Who, or what could he be?

A servant in the house?

I thought not.

What then, a spy?

At the mere thought of being subject to the government espionage of
which I had heard so much my limbs trembled under me and I fairly gasped
for breath. I thought of May Morris and her gruesome predictions, and
the wildest consternation seized me as I wondered if I had written
anything that could compromise me. Had my letter to Mrs. Garth been
overhauled? I must ascertain, if possible. I examined my blotting case
and papers. They did not look as if they had been disturbed. I was
putting them down again, half-reassured, when I perceived the faint
impress of what must have been a dirty thumb on the edge of the sheet of
note-paper on which I had been writing. I disclaimed the idea of having
soiled the paper myself; but resolved to apply a test, in order to be
quite sure.

Taking another sheet of paper, and wetting my right thumb with ink, I
lightly grasped the paper between my thumb and forefinger, leaving upon
it a slight mark. Then, taking a magnifying-glass from the table, I
observed the two marks with its aid. The veinings on them were totally
different. I had not soiled the half-written letter. A spy had been in
my room. Could it be that trouble was in store for me, and that I had
already fallen under the ban of suspicion?

Madame was away a week. When she returned, I was struck by the anxious
expression of her face and still more by the evident effort with which
she strove to be her old bright self.

“Are you not well?” I asked her, feeling considerable solicitude on her
behalf.

“Quite well, Dora. Only a little tired after traveling. Tell me, has
anything notable occurred during my absence?”

“There have been several callers.”

“Were the Prince and Princess Michaelow here?”

“Yes. They came on Thursday, and took Feo and myself for a drive. We
spent a very pleasant afternoon. Feo is spending the day with them
again.”

“And Count Karenieff. Has he been here?”

“No.”

“Ah! I thought so! I must be on my guard against him. Is that all you
have to tell me?”

“There is something else. But I am not sure that it is worth mentioning,
or that the circumstances warrant the uneasiness they have caused me.”

“For Heaven’s sake! tell me all there is to tell. You little dream all
there may be at stake.”

“I am convinced that there is a spy in the house. Hush—what was that?”

As I uttered the last words, I sprang to my feet, and ran toward a large
portière, which seemed to me to have moved while I was speaking. The
door behind the portière was open, and I was just in time to see the
figure of a man disappear round an angle of the great corridor into
which all the rooms on this floor opened. When I turned and faced madame
again, after carefully shutting the door, I saw that she was deadly
pale, and that she was literally shaking with nervous apprehension. I
hastily gave her a glass of wine, which she just as hastily drank, and
then sat looking at me with a mute question in her startled eyes.

“A man has just run away from this door. He has been listening,” I
whispered, feeling as if the raising of my voice might bring ruin on the
unnerved woman of whom I had already grown fond. Then I rapidly related
how I had been driven to the conclusion that the house was under
espionage.

“Was there anything in the letter that could be construed as matter of a
mischievous tendency?” madame asked anxiously.

“Nothing whatever,” was my confident reply. “I had merely said that my
life in St. Petersburg was being made very pleasant, and that I had met
a great number of very nice people. After I discovered that my
correspondence had been overlooked, I destroyed the letter and resolved
not to dispatch another in its place until I had consulted you. On
Thursday I wrote out a page from Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost,’ and left it,
together with my blotting-book and writing materials, on the escritoire
in this room. When I examined the things on my return, I found that the
page of poetry and the top layer of blotting-paper out of my blotter had
disappeared. Ah—that door is opening!”

The door, which slid on noiseless hinges, was quite concealed by the
portière, but a very slight motion imparted to the latter by the
incoming draught had not escaped my watchful attention, and the spy,
whoever he was, was baffled again for a time, for madame sprang up, and
drew the large curtains to one side, so that it was impossible for the
door to be moved again without our being aware of it. To make assurance
doubly sure, we slid the bolts that were on the inside. Then we explored
the room which opened out of the large morning-room in which we had been
sitting. We soon satisfied ourselves that nobody was there, and then,
after locking the doors of that room also, to prevent unwarranted
intrusion, we sat down to discuss the matter more fully.

“Dora,” said madame, “just reach me my desk, will you?”

Willingly I obeyed, and then the desk was carefully overhauled by its
owner, who became still more agitated when she failed to discover
certain papers of which she was in search.

“I am lost!” she said despairingly. “I have been mad to keep those
letters. And yet, how could I destroy them, when they were as life
itself to me! My God! have I been too late, after all? Is he already in
the hands of those cursed, bloodthirsty devils? Holy Mother of God! save
me from going mad!”

My own bewilderment and alarm were momentarily increasing, but I used my
best endeavors to soothe the distracted woman at my side.

“For pity’s sake!” I implored, “be calm. To lose your self-control may
help to bring about the very disaster you fear. And think of Feo. She
will still claim your attention, whatever may be the demands upon your
fortitude.”

“My darling Feo! God help her, if anything befalls me, for those
ravening wolves, my enemies, will have scant mercy upon the child of a
suspect. Dora, can I trust you? Dare I put my secrets in your keeping?”

“God helping me, I will do all I can for you.”

“I believe you. Now listen.”

Madame Kominski spoke in a low voice, but with a painful concentration
of purpose and a nervous clasping and unclasping of her hands which
could only be the result of extreme agitation and dread.

“Listen,” she said once more. “I belong to a family which has given many
martyrs to the cause of freedom, and from my earliest youth I was taught
to hate that merciless Juggernaut, the Russian autocracy, with all its
vile ramifications of pillage and murder. Pah! Curse it! What does
government do for us? It revels in luxury and splendors drained from the
life-blood of millions of groaning victims. It grinds the people into
nothingness as remorselessly as the millstones crush the wheat with
which they are fed. But the day will come when even that mighty thing of
evil will be numbered among the curses of the past, and when wealth and
happiness are no longer all absorbed by the thin crust of society, while
all beneath it is one mass of rotten, seething corruption and misery.
They talk of hell! What hell could display sufferings equal to those
which have been endured by my people? What hell could be big enough to
hold all the accursed wretches who have for ages helped to trample out
the lives and souls of a vast nation?”

“Madame! madame!” I whispered, in renewed alarm. “Think how dreadful it
will be if you are overheard!”

“Why, yes,” she said, sinking her voice again. “I believe I must be mad!
And is it not enough to drive one mad, to see the downfall of all one’s
hopes; the failure of all one’s plans; the utter hopelessness of trying
to rescue even one unit among all these millions from the remorseless
fate which an iron autocracy metes out for it? Where are now all my
struggles? Lost! Wasted! Gone! Crashed by the foul harpies who bloat
themselves on the miseries of others!

“But I forget that you do not yet know my history. Listen. I will tell
it to you.”


                               ----------



                             CHAPTER VIII.
     “Brave hearts and willing hands may foil even Satan himself.”


“I had,” continued madame, “father, mother, sister, and two brothers,
all of whom were sacrificed to the Moloch of oppression: My father’s
estates were confiscated, and his castle was handed into the possession
of his betrayer, to whom was also given a title, and who was henceforth
known as Count Karenieff. I, a babe in arms, was surely spared in
fiendish irony of purpose, and was consigned to the care of a childless
couple in St. Petersburg, who had strict injunctions to bring me up as
their own offspring, and who, in consideration of the small income they
received with me, kept the secret of my birth until I was nineteen. Then
Paul Galtioff died, and his wife Marie, having confidence in my
discretion, and a premonition that her own end was not far off, showed
me my true vocation. She told me of all that my relatives had suffered,
and how my mother had been subjected to imprisonment, torture, the lash
and personal degradation because she would say nothing that would
incriminate my father. I have often since heard of the horrors of St.
Peter and Paul. In your country they speak with bated breath of
banishment to Siberia as the extreme compass of human suffering. _We_
know that it is the one ray of hope which gleams before the eyes of
those who are denounced. Complete freedom will never be theirs again,
but there are gradations in even the lowest ruts of misery, and I would
pray for the devil himself to be saved from the anguish endured by those
condemned to the fortress.

“What wonder that, thinking of all these things, I should pant for
vengeance, and that I should devote all my future energies to foiling
some of the plots against my compatriots! But Marie Galtioff infused in
me some of her own caution and cunning. Both she and her husband had
belonged to revolutionary societies for years without once exciting
suspicion of their loyalty. Henceforth I derived my chief satisfaction
in hoodwinking our oppressors. I habitually met kindred spirits, among
them being Feodor Kominski, who afterward became my husband. Perhaps it
was well for him that death claimed him soon after Feo was born. His
spirit was too ardent to have worked in the dark much longer.

“For some years after I became a widow I supported myself in various
ways. Then my opportunity came from a quarter least expected. A member
of our society, who possessed great influence at court, where he was
supposed to be one of the most loyal supporters of the throne, was asked
to recommend some lady who would make an efficient government spy. He
nominated me for the office. The pay was on a princely scale. The social
advantages attending the post were great. There was no circle deemed too
high for my entry into it on apparent terms of equality with the most
exclusive. My credentials were indisputable, and my own conversational
ability did the rest. I became a general favorite in society, and might
have been happy, could I but have faithfully performed the day’s duty
for which I was paid. My employers gave me every opportunity of spying
and denouncing suspected persons. I denounced a good many when I saw
that their discovery by others was inevitable. But I always contrived to
let them have sufficient warning to escape before the bolt fell. I was
doing good work for my people, under the mask of an alien to patriotism.
Above all, I was occupying a place which will soon, I fear, be occupied
by a substitute whose aims and aspirations will not be as mine have
been.

“When I was in St. Petersburg in the early spring, Count Karenieff, the
son of my father’s old enemy, was introduced to me, and I found it a
terribly difficult matter to be civil to him. It was, however, necessary
that I should curb the anger which his very name aroused in me. But when
the caitiff’s whelp actually dared to propose marriage to me, my scorn
and hatred over-stepped the bounds of prudence, and my rejection was so
fierce as to astonish him.

“‘I see, madame,’ he said, his face glittering with the evil with which
his heart is full to bursting. ‘I understand you better than you
understand yourself. You see in me a man of strong feeling, and you
think it necessary to use strong words with me, in order to drive me
from my purpose. But I tell you that your beauty has aroused my
passions, and I will gratify them even though you raised ten thousand
objections. You are so unnecessarily vehement that I conclude you have a
more favored lover. One, moreover, who resembles me not at all. And you
think to marry him? I swear you shall marry none but me! Nay, if you do
not beware, I will bring that about which shall make you turn to me for
help, which shall make you only too happy to throw yourself into my arms
and yield yourself to my embraces. As for your lover, I shall find him,
and I shall silence him, never fear. His golden hair shall turn gray
with horror, and his blue eyes shall become dim with anguish.’

“‘He has neither golden hair nor blue eyes,’ I cried, trembling with the
awe the man’s fierce words evoked.

“‘Thank you,’ was his reply. ‘I thought that, as you seemed so disgusted
with my proposal, your inamorato must be my antithesis. Now I am sure of
it. If it had not been so, you would have been glad to permit me to
retain an erroneous opinion. Good-day, madame. Perhaps, when next we
meet, you will have become wiser.’

“With this the viper left me, and I sat bereft of all my usual
fortitude. For I knew him to be capable of as much villainy as his
father before him, and I had practically betrayed Victor Karniak to him;
for his instinct had led him to form a correct idea of the appearance of
my intended husband. That he would hound him down, I had no doubt. But I
was not so paralyzed by Karenieff’s threats as to hesitate long about
what I must do.

“That night I attended a meeting which was held by Nihilists not far
from here. I had difficulty in reaching the place unobserved, and,
carefully disguised, I saw Karenieff and two of his myrmidons watching
my house. I explained the impossibility of my further attendance at the
meetings for some time, as my presence might lead to the discovery and
betrayal of my associates. There were those among them who swore that,
if there must be a victim, it should be Karenieff himself. I would have
rejoiced any time since then to have heard of the removal of the
pestiferous carrion; but he bears a charmed life, or, rather, he is too
well aware of his danger to go anywhere unguarded, for he has denounced
too many people not to fear vengeance from some quarter.

“Victor Karniak was persuaded to leave St. Petersburg for a time, and it
was considered wisest for us not to meet again until we could do so with
more safety.

“I was sent to England, on what was deemed important business, soon
after this, and hoped that Karenieff’s mischievous intentions were
rendered impossible of achievement. Meanwhile Victor, having been
imprudently active in Odessa, narrowly escaped capture by shipping as a
common seaman on board a steamer, in place of a drunken sailor who had
fallen overboard. In due time he reached London. We found means of
meeting, and have been married in an English registry office.

“But we dared not return together, and I dared not delay my own return,
as I had much information to give concerning many Russians who have
escaped to England, some of them with Victor’s help and mine. They are
safe where they are, and will assuredly never return to Russia, having
been warned of what they might expect; so I feel no twinges of
conscience because I have convinced the government beyond doubt that
they are out of Russian territory and beyond Russian jurisdiction.

“My husband, anxious to be near me sometimes, and having considerable
property which he wishes to realize, if possible, followed me here. He
was at the Princess Michaelow’s reception, and though we were studiedly
cool to each other, I once saw Karenieff looking at us with such an
appearance of malicious conviction on his face that I felt sure he
suspected our secret. Victor, who had been called by an alias in Odessa,
believed himself to be recognized, and would have tried to leave the
country again, but was taken ill and has been unable to quit his bed for
more than a week. I have been with him the greater part of the time, and
he is only since yesterday strong enough to rise and dress himself. This
morning I saw him, disguised as an old peddler, and armed with a license
and pass which a friend had procured for him, start on a journey, every
inch of which is fraught with danger of detection and death. God grant
that, shaken as he is with his recent illness, he may find himself once
more in your land of freedom ere long.

“But I fear, I fear! For my enemy has been active. He has been missing
from his usual haunts, and has been trying to discover my husband’s
whereabouts. This I have been told by the people who, on my behalf, have
been watching Karenieff. He did not come here to seek me, because he
knew I was not here. That he has not known exactly where I was, I can
but hope, for the sake of Victor and the friends who have helped us. But
that he has already denounced me as a traitor and Nihilist I was told
to-day on my way here. I would not have entered the house again, but
would have tried to escape, had I had means of travel with me. Besides,
I could not, in any case, have left Feo. Had I done so, my child would
surely have fallen under the vengeance of those who have gloatingly
crushed out the lives of other innocent children.

“I had hoped to get away under cover of night, but alas! what you have
told me since I came home has served to convince me that I am already
too closely watched to be permitted to escape. Dora, my friend, help me,
for the love of God! for I already feel, in anticipation, all the
horrors of the fortress, and I can no longer plan clearly.”

All this had been spoken in a voice too low to penetrate as far as the
door, but clear enough for me, whose head was bent close to madame’s, to
distinguish every word of it. For a few moments I could only continue to
gaze at my friend in blank dismay. Then, as certain possibilities
presented themselves before my mental vision, I clasped my hands
angrily, and exclaimed: “Great Heaven! why am I not tall and beautiful,
when so much size and beauty is wasted on people who do not know how to
use it?”

Recalling that time, I am not surprised at the change my apparently
irrelevant lament wrought in Madame Kominski’s demeanor. She sprang to
her feet, and fairly hissed at me in her wrath: “Fool! fool that I have
been, to imagine my troubles could really interest a comparative
stranger! I betray all my secrets to you, and implore your aid, and only
succeed in evoking from you a lamentation concerning your own lack of
beauty. God! what small minds there are in this world!”

“Madame,” I cried, springing to my feet in my turn, “you mistake me. I
am devoted to you, and will do anything to help you. I expressed myself
clumsily, but I meant to say that if I were more like you I would change
places with you. As it is, the plan is hopeless. But we will think of
something else. God is not always on the side of the mighty.”

As I spoke, I put my arms round madame and kissed her affectionately.
The revulsion of feeling produced in her mind by my words and actions
broke the intense strain under which she had labored, and she embraced
me convulsively, a perfect storm of sobs shaking her frame. I strove as
best I could with my own emotion and let madame cry on. I knew it would
do her good. Presently she grew calmer, and after a while her sobs
ceased altogether.

“I am better now,” she said. “I feel as if a great cloud were rolled
from my brain. I can think and plan once more. My mother, they say, had
the courage of a martyr. If I fall, my enemies shall not gloat over my
cowardice. Suppose we open the doors again. It is not wise to show a spy
that we fear him.”

I had just opened the door, and put the portière into its usual
position, when Trischl, the German nurse, came to see her mistress. She
walked into the room without invitation, but preserved nevertheless her
usual respectful demeanor. “I believe madame needs friends,” she said in
a low, cautious voice. “I have seen that which makes me think so. Madame
has been good to me. If she will not be angry at my presumption, I will
be her faithful helper.”

As Trischl ceased speaking, she looked at her mistress anxiously, as if
half afraid of reproof. But of that she met none, and the friendly clasp
of the hand with which madame tried to show her appreciation of the risk
the faithful creature was running in offering to help a suspect was to
her a seal of allegiance. For a little while we deliberated together,
forming and rejecting one plan after another. Presently an unusually
vigorous peal at the visitor’s bell made itself heard even here, where
the sonorous reverberations seldom penetrated. We all turned pale and
the same unspoken question was in all our eyes: “Is the enemy already
upon us? Is it too late to escape?” Even evils are welcomed at times,
when they come in the place of a still more dreaded one, and we were all
positively relieved when a footman presently came to ask madame if she
would see Count Karenieff in the salon.

“Tell him I will see him immediately,” said madame. Instinctively both
Trischl and I knew what should be done, and we hastened to bathe
madame’s face with eau-de-cologne, to brush her hair, to alter her
toilet a little, and to give to her face the appearance of quiet
composure by means of a little powder and rouge. The results were
arrived at quickly. The effect was good, and madame’s bearing and
appearance, as she went down to interview her mortal enemy, were the
reverse of those of a betrayed and despairing woman, who anticipated a
horrible fate in the near future.

“Temporize with him,” I had counseled while hurriedly assisting with her
toilet. “Feign ignorance of his cruel intentions. If he asks you again
to marry him, do not insult him, but seem as if you had altered your
opinion of him. Ask him to give you a day to deliberate. It would be so
much time gained for us.”

The nod of comprehension with which she left us showed that she
considered my advice to be good, and I felt more hopeful of the result
of the interview between the courageous woman and the dastardly man than
I could have believed possible half an hour before.

“And now,” said Trischl, “there is no time to be lost. There are spies
in the house. But we can be as clever as spies, if we like, and we must
prepare things for madame’s departure as soon as possible. All her
jewelry must be hidden somehow, so that she can easily carry it away.”

I felt that Trischl was right, and that a desperate emergency like this
was not the time to stand on ceremony. Fifteen minutes later a strange
face peeped in at the open door for a moment. We were both diligently
employed. To all appearances we were both innocently employed. Trischl
was quilting some silk, of which she purposed making a kind of cuff, to
be tied above the elbows. I was indulging in the prosaic occupation of
mending a pair of corsets. Could the fellow who had glanced at us have
seen that a pile of jewelry lay underneath the aprons Trischl and I had
donned, he would perhaps have been slightly surprised. Had he had a
suspicion that I had just stitched a parure of diamonds into the corset,
and that Trischl was quilting the silk over a beautiful pearl necklace,
he might perhaps have thought it advisable to report the occurrence to
his superiors. As it was, he passed on, in blissful ignorance of our
real occupation, and it was certainly not our business to enlighten him.

“Here is madame,” said Trischl presently; and I looked anxiously at
Madame Kominski, to see if I could tell the result of the interview from
her bearing. Trischl rose hastily to her feet, seemingly overwhelmed
with confusion at having been caught occupying her mistress’s seat. She
had forgotten that her quilting task was not finished, and some valuable
rings rolled across the floor, the incident evoking a little surprise in
the mind of their owner. But while Trischl hurriedly tried to recover
the runaways, I explained what we had been doing.

“What a clever idea!” said madame. “I should never have thought of such
capital hiding-places myself. If I manage to quit Russia, I shall
probably be in great need of money, and will be glad to realize the
value of the jewelry.”

“I hope things are not so desperate as we have feared,” I hazarded.

“You shall judge,” was the reply. “Karenieff was evidently prepared to
find me more antagonistic to him than I showed myself, and I think my
bearing convinced him that my suspicions concerning him were not
aroused.

“‘I am sorry to have kept you waiting,’ I said, ‘but the truth is, I was
busy with my toilet and could not come before.’

“He cast upon me a swift look of surprise, and then, apparently much
gratified by the civility of my reception of him, dosed me with a few
compliments, adding that he hoped I had forgotten the wild, foolish
words he had uttered to me months ago. I actually found it possible to
laugh, as I remarked in my turn: ‘Ah, yes! We all alter our opinions of
things as time goes on. I have learned to esteem where I once despised;
and you—you, no doubt, take things more coolly than you did.’

“‘My love for you has not grown cooler,’ he exclaimed. ‘Consent to marry
me, and I will secure you immunity from trouble in the future.’

“‘Marry you! Is it possible you still wish me to become your wife?’

“‘It is not merely my wish. It is the one passion of my life! Say you
will be mine, and remove my suspense.’

“‘I do not know,’ I said, pretending to hesitate. ‘You see, I hardly
thought you would favor me again with a proposal, after my former
rudeness to you.’

“‘The woman who hesitates is lost! Have I really supplanted my
fair-haired rival?’

“‘Bah! Fair men are so insipid.’

“So they are. But you will not find me insipid, my beauty. I hate, or I
love, to madness, and either passion finds in me an ardent votary. It is
well you have chosen me for your lover rather than for your enemy, since
I have more power than you dream of.’

“‘Indeed! I did not know that you had any special vocation. You said
just now that marriage with you would bring me immunity from trouble. I
do not see how that can be, since we all have our troubles; but I wish
it were true.’

“‘It shall be true. Listen. You are in the pay of the government. The
private fortune you are supposed to have is non-existent. I know exactly
what is paid you, since my position in the secret service is so high as
to be one upon which devolves the regulation of these little things.
With one stroke of my pen I can make or mar many a life that fancies
itself secure at this moment. Now, information has been brought to me
that you, so far from being a faithful servant of the Crown, are in
league with those vagabond Nihilists. As my wife, you shall be proved
innocent. As my enemy, you would be crushed. Which is it to be?’

“I believe I acted my part very well. I was overcome by sudden terror. I
clung to the man. I wept and implored him to save me. I promised to
marry him as soon as he liked. I suffered him to embrace me. His kisses,
hot, passionate and scathing, have been showered on my face and lips. I
have listened to burning words which have made me ashamed of my
womanhood. Had I alone been concerned, I would have died rather than
have undergone the humiliation of the last half hour. But there is Feo
and Victor. For their sakes I must escape from this accursed country.”

“And you shall escape,” said Trischl, with decision. “I think I know how
it can be managed.” In another moment she had left us, hurrying away as
if struck by a fresh idea, while madame and I eyed each other anxiously.

“Has he gone?” I asked.

“For a time. I believe he has gone to stop extreme proceedings against
me. But the relief will be only momentary. I should go mad if I had to
endure his caresses often, and he may at any moment discover that I am
already married. His vengeance would then be more terrible than ever.”

“It is not to be thought of. We must act at once.”

“Here is Ivan Dromireff, madame,” said Trischl’s voice. “I met him on
the staircase.”

Both madame and I looked at the new arrival with surprise. He turned out
to be none other than her coachman, and he stood bowing awkwardly, the
while holding out a note between fingers that were much less clumsy than
his vocation would have led one to imagine them to be.

“A letter from Prince Michaelow,” he said quietly.

“How is it that it has not been sent up in the usual way?” inquired
madame sharply, receiving for answer a word of which I could not catch
the meaning, but which wrought a great change in madame’s behavior.

“Sit down,” she said eagerly, “while I read the note. And you, Trischl,
secure the door against intruders, and wait here until we decide what is
best to be done.”

Trischl, having obeyed her mistress’s order, came and stood beside Ivan.
It struck me that the footing upon which they stood was a very familiar
one, for they smiled at each other in quite an affectionate manner.
Meanwhile, madame’s proceedings were somewhat curious. She opened the
note, upon which were merely written a few lines to the effect that Feo
was enjoying herself and would remain for the night where she was. Then
she took from her pocket a bunch of keys and unlocked a small medicine
chest. From this she took two phials, each containing a colorless fluid.
Her next proceeding was to fetch a small china tray from a side-table.
Into this she emptied the two phials. When the liquids were thoroughly
mixed, she immersed the note in them and let it remain a few seconds.
When she lifted it out of the tray again, it was seen to be closely
covered with writing, some kind of sympathetic ink having been used
which had required acids to develop it. This is what was written on the
note:

    “MY FRIEND—Our cause is lost. We are betrayed. Nothing but prompt
    flight can save us. Count Karenieff has much in his power. If you
    can dupe him for a while it will be well. Victor will elude his
    enemies, I think. I have long feared this day, and have been
    prepared for it. Ivan will give you a pass that will be of good
    service to you. But it must be used to-night. To-morrow every
    departure from the city will be closely watched. By the time you get
    this we shall be well on our way. Feo will go with us, and I trust
    we shall all arrive in England safely. You know the rendezvous. It
    will be better for you to be unencumbered by the child. I would
    advise your companion to get away, too, if she has helped you in any
    way. Ivan has already made his preparations.

                                                                     M.”

After passing the note on to me to read it, madame asked Ivan if he were
aware of its contents.

“I know how we are all circumstanced,” he said promptly, “and what the
prince told me will be something similar to what he has written.”

In a low, rapid voice madame read the letter over for the benefit of
Trischl and Ivan, who were now too much implicated to be excluded from
confidence. Then she struck a match and burned the note and its envelope
until they were entirely consumed. Meanwhile, I returned the acids to
their receptacles, wiped the tray, and removed every trace of the
chemical operation, giving madame the key of the medicine chest when I
had done.

“And now,” said Ivan, “for action.” A minute later he had divested
himself of his overcoat, and had made himself much less stout by the
removal of some clothes which he had had packed round his body. Then he
coolly took off his big, bushy beard and mustache, and his tously black
wig. Such a transformation as all this wrought in him! He had seemed a
rough specimen of humanity, not far removed from serfdom. He stood
before us slim, erect, fair and smooth-faced, but bearing the witnesses
of an indomitable spirit in his determined mouth, no longer hidden by
the disfiguring hair, in his fearless glance, and in his square jaw.

“Now you know me; but no names, please,” he said warningly, as madame
seemed about to exclaim aloud at sight of him. “The prince, having
induced you to accept a certain position, has always been convinced of
its danger, and has always been prepared with plans to rescue you. For
this purpose, he recommended me to your notice as coachman, in order
that no symptoms of menace might escape your friends. I have seen that
you have no more time to lose. Here is our passport. It is made out for
August Krämer, a German mercantile agent; Anna Krämer, his wife; Wilhelm
Schwartz, commission agent, and Karl Schwartz, son of the latter.”

“But that will not do for us. We are three women, not three men,” said
madame.

“If circumstances do not fit us, we must fit ourselves to circumstances,
and I think we can manage it,” said Ivan. “Trischl is my foster-sister,
and will go with us, I know. She is big enough and strong enough to
personate Schwartz, senior. You, madame, will have to figure as Herr
August Krämer, while I will do my best to make you a suitable spouse.
The young English lady will make a very nice boy. Here are some of the
things you will require. Put on as many as will be hidden by outer
clothing. Take the rest with you. In fifteen minutes follow me. I will
have the carriage waiting at the door. It shall contain a few necessary
articles which will have to be put on in the carriage. You must give me
your order to drive to one of the theaters. But be very careful. Some
one is sure to be on the watch. We will drive away openly. As soon as we
have driven off, draw the curtains and complete your disguise the best
way you can. After a while I will stop the carriage. You must then get
out, leaving nothing in the vehicle, and keeping your mantles well
wrapped round you. Walk on a few yards until I join you. The horses will
stand for some time, and I have a man ready to take them to a place
agreed upon. It will not do for them to return home too soon, and it is
just possible that we may need them. Now I must be off.”

Another minute, and he had replaced his beard and top-coat. Still a
minute more, and we three women were trying to induct ourselves into
garments such as we had never been used to. In ten minutes we had
stuffed our pockets full of wigs, beards, jewelry, papers, money and
other etceteras. I had had time to run to my room and secure my own
money and jewelry, as well as a large cloak and a hat. Everything else I
must perforce leave behind. Trischl fetched her big cloak and bonnet,
and went down to the carriage a yard or two in front of us. Punctual to
time, we stepped inside. Madame told Ivan to drive to the Alexander
Theater. Ivan touched his hat obsequiously, mounted his box, cracked his
whip, and we were started on our perilous journey.

There was no loss of time among us, after we drove off, for we knew that
promptitude on our part was a matter of life and death. It was a
somewhat cramped place in which to transform our appearance, but we had
to make the best of the situation. With hurrying, trembling fingers we
wrought at our disguise. Madame donned a tow-colored curly wig, beard,
mustache and eyebrows, and exchanged her mantle and bonnet for a
top-coat and slouch hat. Trischl adorned herself with a black beard
something like Ivan wore, and likewise donned a rough overcoat, which
she surmounted by a felt hat. I was not proud of my hair, anyway, so,
seeing what trouble the others had in disposing of theirs under their
wigs, I ruthlessly cut mine off with a pair of scissors I had brought
with me for emergencies. It was surprising how small and slight a boy I
seemed. It would be easy to pass me off as a fifteen-year-older.

When we had done our best to transform ourselves into as presentable
representatives of Messrs Krämer and Schwartz as was possible with our
resources, we commenced strapping up the cloaks and hats, the latter
being mercilessly crushed during the operation. We had barely completed
our preparations when the carriage stopped and Ivan opened the door.
“Now is our time,” he said hurriedly. “We shall barely catch the
Cronstadt boat. Go toward the boat-landing. I will follow you in a
minute.”

Without another word we obeyed Ivan’s directions. We had almost reached
the landing, when a fair-faced, rather good-looking woman grasped madame
somewhat unceremoniously by the arm, and addressed her in the whining,
ill-used tone which is the special prerogative of certain carping,
dissatisfied wives.

“I’m sure, August,” she said. “It’s easy to be seen that we’ve been
married this six years and more. I have seen the time when you wouldn’t
stalk on half a mile in front, leaving me to follow as best I could. But
times are different now, and a man isn’t above making his wife carry his
top-coat in these days. But I won’t stand it any longer. You may carry
it yourself.”

So great was the transformation that for an instant we did not see that
it was Ivan who was personating the ill-used wife. As soon as she did
become fully alive to this fact, madame took the top-coat on her arm,
instinctively apologizing for her apparent rudeness.

“No, no, that will never do,” muttered Ivan. “You are far too polite.
Keep up your rôle of a careless husband and growl harder at me than I
growl at you—if you can. There must be no appearance of haste or anxiety
to escape notice. Boldness is our best weapon.—Herr Schwartz, that son
of yours looks too much like a girl—too quiet and shy.—Here, Karl, my
boy, have a cigarette, and walk with a little more swagger—as if the
place belonged to you. Take a peep at the pretty girls you pass, and be
politely courteous, if any old ladies seem to need your services.—Herr
Krämer, you are as fidgety about that hair of yours as if you were a
woman. It is dangerous to appear too solicitous about your personal
appearance. Now, all three, please. Follow whatever cue I may think it
desirable to give you.”

Thus grumbling, admonishing and advising, the pseudo Madame Krämer
talked until we were close to the ticket-office, near which a goodly
number of people were waiting to pay their fares, have their passports
viséd, and receive their tickets to go on board the river steamer which
lay waiting for its living cargo.

I am afraid that I must confess myself not nearly so brave as I had
imagined I was, for, now that the crucial moment had come, I trembled in
every limb; whereas the others, either more habituated to the exercise
of courage, or more alive to the irretrievably fatal consequences of a
false move on their part, walked up to the barrier as nonchalantly as if
traveling by this route were a matter of daily occurrence with them.
Fortunately for us, there was an unusually large number of passengers,
many of them being of the Jewish persuasion. Upon these the rancor of
the officials seemed to concentrate itself, and while apparently
well-to-do people were merely treated unceremoniously, the followers of
Israel were harassed and insulted beyond patient endurance. Many of them
had been prosperous, but had been hounded from their homes and driven to
beggary by a cruel and rapacious tyranny that found ready helpers in its
horde of greedy, money-grabbing, red-taped myrmidons.

My heart ached for the sorrows of one miserable couple, who were
accompanied by six children, and who seemed to be bewildered by the
insults which arrogance in office heaped upon them. But I also felt
especially grateful to them. For the officials had no time to spare to
examine our passports with anything like care when there were so many
downtrodden Jews upon whom to exercise their spleen. Thus it happened
that without much fuss or questioning we soon found ourselves seated in
the deck saloon, en route for Cronstadt, the second-class passengers
being huddled forward, where they were not likely to be spoiled by the
luxury of too much comfort or accommodation.

I saw madame scan the other occupants of the saloon very searchingly.
Perhaps she thought that her daughter was among them, and it was
difficult to augur well or ill from the fact that she was not there. I
wonder if ever any one watched the endless twistings and turnings of the
Neva with more impatience than we did, or if any one ever longed more
devotedly to get beyond the oft-recurring view of St. Isaac’s golden
dome. But even as times of joy have their ending, even so is the period
of suspense and danger never interminable, and we at last found
ourselves close to Cronstadt.

We had not considered it safe to talk about our position while sitting
in the saloon or pacing the deck, lest we should be overheard and
betrayed. But we all felt breathless anxiety as we filed off the boat on
to the landing-stage, holding our tickets in readiness for the
collector.

Suppose we had been missed at St. Petersburg! Suppose Karenieff, baffled
and enraged, were already on our track! Suppose a wire had been sent
here, conveying orders to detain and arrest us!

Anticipation presented numberless possibilities, all of which, as we
walked ashore without hindrance, seemed as if they were to be happily
negatived by the reality.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER IX.
    “How fain are we to turn our backs on that which likes us not.”


It struck me at the time as a remarkable coincidence that after walking
about fifty yards we should come across a droschki, into which we all
stepped, being driven away without a word of explanation to the driver,
unless a peculiar, thrice-repeated nod by Ivan be considered sufficient
explanation.

It would be useless to pretend that our drive was in every respect a
comfortable one. The droschki was, in the first place, so small that we
had to sit on each other’s knees. And it was so shaky that we had to
hold on to each other to avoid turning a somersault on to the roadway.
But that was not the fault of the droschki. The ill-used vehicle was
compelled to do duty as a sledge in winter. In summer the runners were
unshiped and laid to rest for a few months, while the clumsy wheels were
hauled out of their hiding-place and tied to the body of the droschki
with ropes. When you take a carriage of this description, and drive it
helter-skelter through streets paved with rough round cobble-stones, the
result cannot be expected to be conducive to comfort.

In my case, the miseries of that drive were intensified, as I was
already feeling very sick, in consequence of having been rash enough to
cap my first cigarette with a second one. But it was all in the
interests of patriotism and freedom, and the memory of the sufferings of
that day and night has been wiped out by the recollection of their
satisfactory ending.

We had been driving, as nearly as I can remember, about half an hour,
having branched off from the streets into the public park known as Peter
the Great’s Gardens, when our driver drew his horse up close to the edge
of some dark, stagnant water. We were beside the new Mole. The last
remnant of daylight was now gone, so far as it does go altogether in
these latitudes in summer. But we were quite able to see that in the
huge basin before us lay hundreds of steamers of various nationalities,
in one of which at least we hoped to find a haven of refuge.

Seeing us get out of the droschki, several uncouth-looking boatmen,
dressed in bright-colored print shirts, immediately importuned us to
employ them. After a little preliminary bargaining between them and the
droschki-driver, the two least villainous-looking boatmen were employed
to row our party to an English steamer named the _Beacon_.

A liberal _douceur_ was given to the driver by Ivan. We stepped into the
gaudily-painted boat, carrying our scanty store of luggage with us; the
men bent to their oars, and we were soon skimming the surface of the
Mole, while the sounds of the droschki’s wheels died away in the
distance.

“Keep a sharp lookout,” muttered Ivan in English. “These fiendish
boatmen would brain us all, and pitch us into the water, if they thought
that, by catching us unawares, they could land a few roubles and a watch
or two. That sort of thing often happens, but none of the villains are
ever brought to book. They bolt off to their winter quarters as soon as
they have done a stroke of that sort of business, and when they come
back in the next boating season the whole affair has been forgotten by
the officials.”

After this, I sat with my eyes glued on the boatmen, anxiously noting
what a number of ships we had to pass before we reached the one we
wanted, and wildly longing for the time when I could bid an eternal
farewell to misery-haunted Russia. I supposed, the _Beacon_ being in the
inner Mole, the men would be rowing half an hour before they reached it.
To me the time seemed an age ere we pulled up beside a black-looking
steamer, and one of the men shouted “Ahoy!” to the watchman on deck.
There was a speedy reply to the summons, three or four dark heads
popping themselves over the side to have a look at us. There were no
questions asked, and it almost seemed to me as if we had been expected,
though one could not complain of the preparations for our reception
being too elaborate. A rope-ladder hung from the ship’s side, and for a
moment my heart sank within me, when I was told that this was the only
means of boarding our ark of safety.

Trischl confessed to me afterward that she almost fainted at what seemed
to her to be courting certain death. But we were both possessed by an
even greater dread than that of falling back into the water, and nerved
ourselves to appear as “manly” and unconcerned as possible, lest our
terror should betray how totally unused to our present surroundings we
were. As for madame, she seemed to be endowed with super-human courage
and calmness.

In due course this fresh ordeal was over. The boatmen grasped the end of
the ladder, which had wooden rungs, in order to steady it, and one by
one we sampled its precarious footing, swaying from side to side with
the motion of the boat, and sometimes being turned almost with our backs
to the steamer before we reached the rail at the top. Here many hands
were ready to seize ours, and to help us to descend the short ladder
which led from the rail to the deck. It is contrary to all custom for a
woman to be left to the last to come on board in this fashion, and Ivan,
in spite of his assumed transposition into a member of the weaker sex,
would fain have seen the supposed German merchant board the ship before
him. This, however, would of a certainty have roused the suspicions of
the boatmen.

So madame was left to give the boatmen their stipulated pay and to come
on board unaided. The boatmen, knowing with what facility seafarers
usually mount these hanging ladders, pushed their boat off without
further delay, and paid no more attention to the individual whom they
left dangling in mid-air. Being thus unceremoniously thrown upon her own
resources, madame exerted herself to secure a more stable footing, and
when at last she stood upon the deck, shaking with sudden nervousness, I
firmly believed that nothing short of a miracle had saved her from
falling into the water.

“Pray come down below at once,” said the voice of a man who had taken an
active part in our reception, and who proved to be the captain. “I began
to be afraid that you would not save the tide. It will be high water in
an hour, and there is nothing to hinder us from weighing and starting at
once. We must pass out when the gates open. You will have to excuse the
quarters to which I am compelled to consign you until we are out of
Russian jurisdiction. We may possibly be boarded again by government
officials before we are clear of the docks, and you must all be alike
invisible and inaudible. So be perfectly still until I come down to you
again. You will find some other refugees in the ship. They will help to
make you comfortable. Take care!”

While the captain was talking, he had been leading us through the ship’s
saloon; thence through the steward’s pantry to what he called the
lazarette, whence we emerged, through a cunningly concealed sliding
door, into an apartment that was so narrow that two stout people could
barely have passed each other in it, and so dark that the reader may
reasonably excuse the momentary panic which overcame me, when, before we
had quite comprehended that we were at last at the end of our journey,
we were pushed further into the passage-like space. Then the captain
hurriedly left us to our own devices, and the door closed with a
peculiar click which advertised some patent spring action.

We were doubtful what step to take next, and were so imbued with a sense
of the deadly danger that would attend any noise on our part, that for a
few moments we dared neither move nor speak. It was a great relief when,
in a few minutes, the captain returned with a scrap of candle—warranted
to go out in five minutes.

“Daren’t allow more. Might be seen,” he whispered, and then clicked the
door after him.

We eagerly availed ourselves of the dim light which had been put into
Trischl’s hand to glance around our temporary prison, which eventually
proved to have been contrived by means of double bulkheads, which
traversed the ship from side to side, but were only two feet apart from
each other. The reason for this economy of space will be obvious when it
is remembered that the object of the shipbuilders had been the provision
of a secret chamber of which the existence was not to be even suspected
by those not in the secret.

The long, narrow passage thus obtained was furnished with rugs and
cushions, and such other means of comfort as the exigencies of space and
practicability allowed.

But we did not dwell long upon the view of our place of refuge, for we
speedily caught sight of that which filled us with the liveliest joy.

We had been enjoined to keep silent. Surely it would have been a
superhuman task to refrain from a few exclamations of thankfulness at
the surprise in store for us. For here were the Prince and Princess
Michaelow, madame’s daughter Feo, and a fourth person whom we soon knew
to be none other than Victor Karniak, my mistress’s newly-wedded
husband.

Surely tears, and sobs, and smiles, and ejaculations of gratitude were
never more rapturously blended than in the small, stuffy hole in which
we were all reunited! But prudence soon reasserted itself, and ten
minutes later a Russian spy might have listened at the door without
hearing a sound from within. Yet a little while longer and we could hear
the vibration of the screw. We had entered upon another phase of our
adventurous journey.

Excitement and danger are prone to make one forget or ignore bodily
claims which weigh very seriously with us at other times. But when these
unwonted stimulants are withdrawn, nature is apt to take a little
revenge for the temporary slight put upon her. Thus it is not surprising
that, the happy reunion of friends and relatives being accomplished, the
quartet of newest arrivals should become conscious of extreme fatigue
and of the need of some kind of refreshment.

The latter was soon forthcoming. A larder at one end of the room we were
in was stocked with a liberal supply of eatables and drinkables, and
there were plenty of willing hands to serve us with a meal to which some
at least of us did full justice.

“And now, Miss Dora,” said Trischl, “the best thing we can do is to lie
down and sleep for a while. Everybody else has much to talk over with
friends, and we shall not be missed.”

It was quite true. We could, for a time, at least, be easily, perhaps
gladly, spared. While traveling, and sharing mutual dangers, we had all
seemed tolerably equal in our claims upon each other. The situation was
altered now. Trischl was kindly and warmly welcomed. But her welcome was
the one which generous employers would naturally extend to a faithful
servant. I was treated in every respect as an equal, but was still
conscious of the fact that I was not actually one of the family, as
seemed to be the case with Ivan. That madame should appear all in all to
her husband and child was natural. But that Ivan, whom I had admired
while I thought him madame’s very humble assistant, should turn out to
be none other than Count Sergius Volkhoffsky, the cousin and bosom
friend of Prince Michaelow, was a great surprise to me. They all had
much to talk about, or rather, to whisper about, for great caution was
necessary, and I felt no compunction in following Trischl’s advice.

But it was long before I could sleep; for the motion of the vessel,
combined with the unpleasant vibration of the screw, which seemed to be
almost under me, soon made me feel sick again, and I underwent a period
of intense but silent misery, too ill to lift my head, but not too ill
to feel a fresh accession of terror every time the motion of the ship
ceased.

I did not know then that the coming out of dock of a merchant steamer is
a tedious business which involves many fresh starts and stoppages, if
collisions with quay walls or ships are to be avoided. Had I been aware
of this fact, I should not have kept fancying that the _Beacon_ had been
detained by Russian government officials, and that pursuers were about
to discover our hiding-place.

When at last sleep did visit me, it performed its work so effectually
that on awaking I had no trace of fatigue or illness left. My cushions
were at one end of our curious room, which was no wider than an ordinary
bunk, and would hardly have permitted any one to pass me without
disturbing me. As it was, I had slept uninterruptedly for hours, and was
quite refreshed when I opened my eyes and saw that a lamp was casting
its brightening rays around me. Trischl stood by my bedside, if such I
can call it, smiling with joy, and holding in her hand a cup of fragrant
coffee.

“I have brought you some coffee and a ham sandwich,” she said. “You may
get up as soon as you like now, and come on deck when you have had some
breakfast. We have left Russia behind us and have got rid of the Russian
pilot. The captain says there is no more fear of pursuit.”

This was joyful news indeed, and I lost no time in preparing myself to
go on deck.

“If you will follow me, miss,” said Trischl, “I will show you the berth
that is to be yours till the end of the voyage. You will be able to wash
and dress comfortably in it.”

Even the little den to which I promptly betook myself was of somewhat
circumscribed area, but it was as a very paradise to me, by reason of
the delightful feeling of security which I felt as soon as I stepped
into it. I soon discarded the raiment which had served me so well, and
at once lost myself in the delight of making myself more suitably
presentable. Every necessity seemed to have been foreseen and provided
against, and I found an ample stock of clothing placed at my disposal.

I was very glad that I no longer needed to masquerade in boy’s attire,
and took especial delight in robing myself in a pretty pink morning gown
Trischl brought in for me. My hair afforded me some trouble, though. If
I had been an ugly girl before, what must I be now? I thought. My little
berth was lighted by a swing lamp, fixed to a bracket in the bulkhead.
There was also a mirror hanging near the bunk. But I could not judge
very well of my appearance, and it was with a sense of regret at the
thought that my cropped hair negatived the advantages of my pretty dress
that I eventually followed Trischl into more airy and lightsome regions.

I found the ship’s cabin well occupied. Madame and her husband, together
with the Prince and Princess Michaelow, being deep in consultation
concerning future arrangements. So I did not encroach long upon their
time, but, after exchanging pleasant greetings with them all, went on
deck. Here Feo was having a merry time with Count Sergius Volkhoffsky. I
am not sure that I wasn’t sorry to find that the latter was a grand sort
of an individual, after all. I would much rather have been able to call
him Ivan, especially as he looked so very handsome, now that he was
dressed in a manner befitting his station, while I felt painfully
conscious that I must be looking a bigger fright than ever.

“Oh, Dora, I am glad you have come up at last,” exclaimed Feo, bounding
affectionately toward me. “They would not let me wake you when the
captain first came to tell us that it was safe enough for us now. Isn’t
the sea pretty? And isn’t this a jolly ship? And isn’t everybody in it
jolly? And, ho; isn’t Sergius jollier than anything?”

I have been told since that if my lips did not indorse the latter
sentiment, my eyes did. But I must warn the reader that the individual
who made the statement is not to be trusted with regard to anything he
may say about me. For he is unduly prejudiced in my favor. The latter
fact, when it was first brought home to me, came upon me as a huge
surprise. I still feel surprise, when I think of it, but am better
accustomed to it by this time.

There was much to explain and to talk over concerning our recent flight,
and, while Feo rambled hither and thither, in thorough enjoyment of the
situation, I listened to the explanation of much that had seemed
inexplicable to me. The whole party with which I had become so closely
associated was of Nihilistic proclivities, and had been spending much
energy and a great deal of money in facilitating the escape from Russia
of such members of their fraternity as from time to time fell under the
ban of suspicion. It had, however, of late, struck them that the limit
of their own safety had been spanned, and their flight had not been
nearly so hasty and unpremeditated as it had seemed to me, though Mme.
Karniak, as I must now call my employer, had been reluctant to recognize
her own extreme peril. There was some special mission to perform, for
which a considerable sum of money was still needed. Madame could only
contribute her quota after handing in her report and receiving the check
with which government rewarded her imaginary services once a month. She
resolved that once more, and only once more, she would run the risk of a
return to St. Petersburg.

She achieved her purpose, but narrowly escaped falling a victim to her
patriotic zeal. Prince Michaelow, less sanguine than she, had foreseen
her danger, and provided for her escape, his cousin having considered it
by no means derogatory to his dignity to assume the rôle of a coachman
for the nonce. The Princess Michaelow, or Nina, as she has since asked
me to call her, had taken no active part in Nihilistic plans and
consultations, and had been as genuinely surprised at the sudden
necessity for the flight to England as I had been, but was by no means
downhearted at the prospect of having to spend the rest of her life in
her own country. As for Mr. Victor Karniak, he had deemed it wisest to
avoid the river steamer, and had not reached the _Beacon_ much sooner
than we had done ourselves.

Needless to say, the visit of the _Beacon_ to Cronstadt was not the
result of merely mercantile speculation, but of a thoroughly
systematized plan of campaign, by which refugees in the secret had their
escape from Russia facilitated. The vessel usually made four trips
between England and Cronstadt in the season, taking coals out from the
Tyne, and returning with a mixed cargo of wheat, timber, and refugees,
London being the discharging port. The after hold was docked of two feet
of its legitimate length, this space being utilized for the hiding-place
in which we had spent our first night on board.

I used to imagine myself an ardent lover of nature. During this voyage I
sometimes wondered if I had turned Goth or Vandal. For I no longer took
the all-absorbing delight in my surroundings that had hitherto
accompanied me when among fresh and unconventional scenery. The
ever-changing panorama of views of first one country and then another,
alternated by the numerous islands which are dotted about the Baltic,
would have aroused my enthusiasm at any other time. That they did not do
so on this occasion must be laid to Count Sergius Volkhoffsky’s charge.
He was so clever and so brilliant that when talking to him I naturally
overlooked the unobtrusive claims of scenery. I might possibly see a
great deal more of the world in time to come, I thought, but I should
never have such a wonderful traveling companion again. Therefore it
would have been foolish to refuse the opportunities which were mine of
enjoying his society. Certainly these opportunities seemed to last
almost all day, for, strangely enough, Count Volkhoffsky never seemed to
tire of my company. I knew that things would be very different, when we
reached London, and he was introduced to cleverer and better-looking
girls. Meanwhile, I felt happy in the present, and tried to banish the
oft-recurring vision of my own probable future of lonely lovelessness.

Alas! the time sped all too quickly for me, though by every one else on
board our arrival in London was hailed with unmixed relief. The Prince
and Princess Michaelow went to the Hôtel Metropole until they could
complete their arrangements for residing in a home of their own
furnishing. Their cousin, Sergius, went with them for a time.

Mr. and Mrs. Karniak, Feo, myself and Trischl were soon located in
Kensington again, being fortunate in securing a very nicely furnished
house pro tem. I was not sure that madame’s financial position was such
now as warranted my remaining with her, but I hardly knew how to
introduce the question of my departure. It relieved my embarrassment
considerably when madame, having probably partially gauged my feelings,
spoke to me one morning about Feo’s future.

“I find,” she said, “that Feo shows considerable facility for learning
languages. She is so young yet that she may safely postpone a good many
of the ordinary branches of her education, and she is getting on so well
with her French and German that I hope you will not leave us for some
time. To lose you would be a serious break in my child’s education, and
I hope you know how anxious I am to retain your companionship,
especially as Victor has much traveling to do before his financial
affairs are all satisfactorily arranged.”

“Surely he is not going to Russia again?” I exclaimed.

“No, not to Russia, but to South America. He has money invested in
shares there, and is also concerned in some California speculations. For
some time he has foreseen that it would be as well to invest his capital
out of Russia. But his agents have been rather lax, and he is going to
inspect both nitrate beds and gold mines, in order that he may realize
his legitimate profit on them. This will take him many months, and we
want you to promise that you will stay with me at least until he comes
back. Both Feo and I need you.”

Stay with them! As if it were a favor on my part, too! Put in that way,
the request certainly surprised me.

“Stay with you!” I said gratefully. “I shall only be too happy to do so.
Where else have I to go to, since my own father declines to welcome me?”

Madame had a knack of being tantalizingly mysterious at times, and I
puzzled my head for some time to unravel the meaning of the curious
smile with which she greeted my last question. But my immediate future
was now arranged for, at all events, and the least I could do in return
for madame’s kindness was to set about my duties, light as they were,
with all my heart and all my soul.

Meanwhile, I felt anxious to learn how things fared with Lady Elizabeth.
At times, when I remembered the mysterious nature of the illness from
which she was suffering when I last saw her, I almost feared the worst.
Then my naturally hopeful temper reasserted itself, and I reflected that
she would now in all probability be quickly recovering her normal
strength in the bracing air of Moorbye, whither my family would be sure
to have returned ere this.

And Jerry! Dear little Jerry! How ardently I longed to see him. He would
be spending his holidays at home now, and I wondered if he had made such
progress with his French as he seemed to anticipate before he left us.
What a long time it seemed since father and I, both with such light
hearts, had seen him leave our little station in the care of the tutor.
And what a round of events had taken place since then. I had suffered
much, and felt years older, although the last few weeks seemed to have
softened my regrets for the past in a wonderful degree.

Belle, too. Somehow, I was now able to think of her without feeling such
anger as had formerly haunted me, though I can never pretend to a return
of loving, sisterly interest in her. That was dead forever, but so also
was my former determination to make her suffer as keenly as I had been
made to suffer. Such a determination I looked upon now as unchristian
and unnatural, since the object of my vengeance was my own mother’s
daughter.

Better let sleeping dogs lie, I thought, since any revelations
concerning the death of the late Earl of Greatlands, if they tended to
substantiate my idea of willful culpability on the part of Belle and her
fiancé, would be productive of great grief to many others.

Feeling anxious and unsettled, and being doubtful of the wisdom of
writing home to ask for news of my people, lest my father should compel
me to give up my present life of honorable independence and freedom from
petty insults, I took advantage of a spare hour or two shortly after my
return to London, and went to the house my father had rented in town. It
was tenantless. I had not intended really going in, but I believe I
should not have been able to resist trying to see Lady Elizabeth, if she
had still been living here, and I felt more disappointed than I could
have believed possible, since I had not really expected to see her. To
go to Moorbye was out of the question just now, I thought, as I did not
wish to trespass upon madame’s good nature yet awhile to the extent of
neglecting my duties for a couple of days.

I was walking through the park, on my way home again, revolving the
propriety of writing to ask Mrs. Garth to let me have all the news about
my people, when I accidentally jostled against some one else who was
evidently as preoccupied as I was. Hastily looking up, with an
ejaculation of apology, I saw, looking at me with a face upon which was
pictured the greatest surprise, an elderly man, in whom I recognized
none other than Dennis Marvel, the former valet of my dear old earl.

“Oh, miss!” he said eagerly. “I am glad to see you. For I have that on
my mind which will drive me mad, if I keep it to myself, but which I
dare tell to nobody but you. I am fairly pulled to pieces with the
misery of the thing. One minute something in me says, ‘Tell all you
know, and let justice be done. Let not the guilty flourish while the
innocent are cast aside.’ The next minute it seems as if the wickedest
thing I could do was to make more trouble for them that has had enough
already. Oh! miss, you will be able to help me to decide what should be
done. Though you had such bitter enemies, you won’t let hatred of them
lead you to be cruel to their belongings, and oh! how it will ease my
mind to tell you everything. I have been to the house to inquire for
you, but the servants could not tell me anything about you, except that
they thought there had been a quarrel, and that Mr. Courtney had turned
you out—you, who had been robbed of wealth and title! It made my blood
boil to hear it; but of course I could not say what I thought, and I
never hoped to come across your ladyship that was to have been like
this—so lucky, after all.”

I had let the old man talk on so long without interruption, for my
inward dismay had literally bereft me of the power of speech for a time.
I did not even try to pretend to myself that I misunderstood Marvel’s
meaning, or that I did not know exactly to what event he was alluding.
At last the mystery of the earl’s death was going to be cleared up for
me. My suspicions were to become proved facts, and upon my shoulders was
to fall the onus of judging and sentencing the guilty. It is small
wonder that I felt the blood leave my face; that my limbs trembled under
me, and that I was glad to avail myself of the support of the seat near
which I had come into collision with Marvel. I motioned to him to sit
down also, hastily looking round, lest possible prying ears should be at
hand to surprise and proclaim to the world the secret of which my
companion was about to disburden himself.

“I see that you fully understand my meaning,” he said, “and I don’t need
to beat about the bush much, for I always thought that you suspected
foul play, by the way you looked at your sister and the young earl.
Well, miss, it’s quite true. They made away with my poor old master, for
they had sworn that you shouldn’t get married to him and lord it over
them at the castle. Besides, they pretended to think the earl must be in
his dotage, and no longer fit to be the head of the family, when he
could seriously think of choosing—well, miss, not to offend you, I
hope—but they said he had picked the ugliest girl he could find, and
that there was no telling what crazy thing he would do next—try to cut
off the entail, or something of the sort. So they laid their plans to
stop the wedding, and, I swear it is true, they murdered my poor old
master.”

“Stop, Marvel,” I said now, having at last recovered the power of
speech. “The accusations you make are too terrible to be believed
lightly. It is easy to say what your suspicions dictate. But you have no
proofs of what you say, and I will not hear anything more. I loved the
old earl for his goodness to me, a neglected, unattractive girl, whom
very few people cared for. The present earl is his son and the brother
of my dear stepmother. His fiancée is my sister, and thus both, though
actually my enemies, have claims upon my forbearance. Marvel, I dare not
believe them guilty. I will not believe them guilty! You shall tell me
no more.”

“You must hear all I have got to say now, Miss Dora,” returned Marvel
firmly. “I tell you, I must open my mind to somebody, and I reckon you
are the safest. Another thing, I have to be back soon, so would like to
get on with my story.”

“Are you still with the present earl?”

“Yes, that’s how I know so much about his black secret. And my knowing
the secret is the reason why I stop on with him, for he is not very easy
to put up with nowadays. But, you see, I have lived all my life in the
family, and so did my father and mother before me. So I feel as if the
family’s trouble and disgrace were mine, too, and I would rather keep on
as I am than let another man step into my shoes. For he would soon be at
the bottom of the family mystery, and then what would become of us all?”

What, indeed? The result was too dreadful to contemplate, and I no
longer questioned either Marvel’s veracity, or the purity of his
motives.

“The present earl,” he went on, “was always inclined to drink a bit. But
since his father’s death he has really gone on awful. Every week it has
got worse, and I have had to put him to bed drunk every night for this
last month. This couldn’t help having a serious effect on him, and last
week he had a very bad attack of delirium tremens, in which his own
ravings showed the whole business up as plain as daylight. I was glad he
was pretty quiet when the doctor was there, as he would have been one
too many in the secret. The papers said that he was laid up with an
attack of pleurisy. But I knew better, and it does not pay a fashionable
doctor to split about his patients. Toward the end of the week the earl
got over his attack of the blues and then I had a serious talk with him.

“‘My lord,’ said I, ‘you must drink no more.’

“‘And why not?’ he asked, looking at me as if he thought I had left my
senses somewhere else.

“‘Because,’ I said, looking him straight in the face, ‘dead men tell no
tales, but drink makes people tell things that it’s safer nobody else
should know. I’ll tell you what the drink has made you do and say, and
then you can judge whether it’s safe for you to drink any more or not.’

“Then I described how he had gone on when unconscious of what he was
doing. He had fancied every now and then that his father’s ghost was
standing before him with outstretched finger and threatening visage.
‘For God’s sake!’ he would scream, ‘take it away! It is drawing me down
to hell! Let me go—take her! She prompted me to it! It was her crime. I
would not have thought of it, but for her. I gave him the poison, but it
was Belle who bought it. She swore that she would use it on her sister,
if I failed with the poor old man, who deserved nothing but good at my
hands. Why didn’t I let her poison the girl? I shouldn’t have had this
to face then. Begone!’

“At this he jumped out of bed as if he meant to attack somebody. But he
just fell all of a heap on the floor, and was pretty easily managed till
the next paroxysm came on, which was in another hour or two.

“Now you can guess what sort of an effect my talk had upon my master. He
went almost beside himself with terror, and was for offering me no end
of things to bribe me to keep his secret. But I am not one of those
human vultures who grow fat on the crimes and miseries of others, and I
wouldn’t touch a farthing from the earl except in the way of my
earnings, as usual. It would burn my fingers, if I did. ‘No,’ I said,
‘Dennis Marvel knows his duty to the family too well to betray it. Your
lordship has the matter in your own hands. Keep off the drink. Keep your
mouth shut, and all’s safe.’

“Since then he hasn’t tasted a drop of anything that could make him
drunk. But he has awful nights, all the same. He wasn’t really meant for
a villain, and, saving your presence, Miss Dora, if that she-devil, your
sister, hadn’t got hold of him, things would have been all right, and we
should all have been as happy as we used to be before we knew her. And
now, Miss Dora, what would you advise me to do? Do you blame me for what
I have done? It would kill Lady Elizabeth, and disgrace the family
forever, if we didn’t keep the secret. So it cannot be wicked to shield
the guilty.”

Thus appealed to by Marvel, I replied firmly:

“We _must_ shield the guilty, Marvel, in order to protect the innocent.
You wouldn’t like to have Lady Elizabeth’s death on your conscience,
would you?”

“God forbid!”

“Then you and I, faithful friend, must breathe a word of this business
to no one. And we must do all we can to prevent others from learning the
terrible secret. It is a heavy burden you have put upon my shoulders,
Marvel. I can only hope your burden has been eased a little in the
telling, and that you will not think it necessary to share it with any
one else.”

“I give you my Bible oath, Miss Dora, that not a living soul shall hear
me speak of this thing but you. The weight of the secret was choking me,
but, as you say, a burden shared by somebody else of like mind is half
rolled away.”

“And yet you have something else to tell me. What do you mean by saying
that the earl has bad nights? Is he still likely to betray himself?”

“I think not; for, when awake, he knows quite well what he is saying.
But his conscience is tormenting him to his doom. He cannot live long
and suffer as he is doing. Sleep refuses to visit him, except when he
takes an opiate, and every night the dose has to be made bigger, or it
has no effect. A fine state of mind for a man to be in who is going to
be married next month.”

“Next month?”

“Yes, on the fifteenth.”

“In London?”

“No. Lady Elizabeth is too ill to stand much fuss and excitement. So the
wedding is to be as quiet as possible, and is to take place at Moorbye
Church, the Rev. Mr. Garth officiating. It is just as well for
everybody.”

“Yes, it is just as well. And now, do you know, Marvel, I feel ill with
the shock of all you have told me, and—”

Marvel at once jumped up and offered to fetch a cab for me. I gladly
accepted his offer, and reached home half an hour later, while Marvel
returned to his master’s town house, to fulfill those duties which his
long attachment to the Greatlands family, and his identification of his
own honor with that of his employers, alone made it possible for him to
continue.


                               ----------



                               CHAPTER X.
               “’Tis better to be born lucky than rich.”


“You have been gone a long time, my dear,” said madame. “I had begun to
be quite anxious about you, and some one has been waiting for you who is
becoming, oh! so impatient.”

“Impatient to see me? Why, I shall believe myself to be quite an
important individual soon,” I returned, with an attempt at a smile, that
was so lamentable a failure that madame’s attention was aroused at once.

“What is it, my child?” she asked solicitously. “I thought, when you
came in, that you were looking extra well. You had such rosy cheeks. Now
I see that you are flushed with excitement. How is it? Have you had an
adventure? You are trembling all over.”

“Yes, I have had an adventure,” I said, my pent-up emotions finding vent
in tears, which soon relieved me a little, and were not checked by
madame, who fully understood the value of this outlet for nature’s
wellsprings of feeling. She was at first somewhat alarmed as to the
nature of my adventure. But I speedily reassured her on that score,
telling her that I had met an old family servant, who had been giving me
some news that had upset me for a time.

“Is it very bad news?” she asked.

“My stepmother is ill, and my sister is going to be married.”

“But your stepmother has been ill some time, and your sister was engaged
to be married before you left home.”

“Yes, but both illness and engagement have made progress, and I feel
very anxious now about Lady Elizabeth.”

“You must go and see her soon. That will put your mind at rest. And the
dear little brother of whom you are so fond. How is he?”

How was he, indeed! Why, I had forgotten to make a single inquiry about
him. Truly, my perturbation of mind must have been great to make me
forget Jerry. My horror had effaced the memory of my love for the time,
and I explained to my mistress that so much that was sensational had
been told me that there had been no inclination to bring Jerry into the
conversation.

“I shall learn all about him to-morrow,” I concluded. “As you know, I
have written to Mrs. Garth to send me all the news she has, and I should
have her reply soon. I will also write to Lady Elizabeth at once,
explaining that I am still safe and well. It is just possible that she
has been anxious about me, although I wrote her a reassuring letter from
the Grange before I came to you. I also gave Mrs. Garth permission to
inform her that I had gone to St. Petersburg, in safe companionship.”

“Not so safe as you thought, eh? But that is all over now, Heaven be
thanked. And the chances are then that your stepmother and your father
know already where you are, if you have imposed no special restrictions
upon Mrs. Garth?”

“Yes, very likely they know already.”

“I hope they will not insist upon your leaving us.”

“I will not leave you. But I must see Lady Elizabeth, as she is so ill.
Perhaps a visit from me might help to tranquilize her mind a little.”

“Dear me! And there is some one else whose mind will want tranquilizing
by this time. Sergius is waiting in the drawing-room for you all this
while.”

I would fain have been excused from meeting “Sergius” just then, for I
knew I must be even more unpresentable than usual. But madame was
inexorable, and a minute later I was _tête-à-tête_ with a man in whose
company I had begun of late to feel remarkably uncomfortable. It was
strange that I should begin to avoid the presence of the only individual
of the opposite sex whose lengthened absence was distasteful to me, and
that I should become _gauché_ and dull in the society of the one being
whose conversation afforded me most happiness. And yet, when I come to
think of it, there was nothing strange about it, after all, though I did
not understand myself at the time.

I know now that I loved Sergius Volkhoffsky with a passion so great that
I dreaded a betrayal of my feelings to others, with the consequent
humiliation that I thought would be inevitable. He was handsome; I was
ugly. He seemed to me to be one of the cleverest men under the sun,
while I felt the acquirements of which I had formerly been so proud to
be little more than a rudimentary education. Thanks to his prudent
foresight, he had lost but a small proportion of the wealth which he had
inherited from his father. And I was a penniless girl, whom disagreement
with her family had compelled to go forth to earn her own livelihood.

No wonder I felt miserable when I pictured the different fate that might
have been mine, had I but possessed a fair share of nature’s bounties,
and no wonder that I shrank, in anticipation, from the joyless existence
foreshadowed in an unloved future.

I had truly loved my old earl. But my love was based entirely on
gratitude and esteem. Such love is honest, honorable and pleasant to
behold. It is also lasting and durable, if permitted to flow on in a
gentle, uninterrupted current. But if its possessor be of an ardent
nature it is as easily dispelled by a sudden passion as is froth on the
surface of the breakers, and I know now how feeble is the love born of
gratitude compared to the love one feels for one’s ideal. There are some
women so constituted that passion is powerless to assail them, and upon
the whole, it is well for them that it should be so, for their lives run
on in quiet, contented grooves that afford them every satisfaction.

But ask the woman of a more ardent nature if she would barter her hopes
and dreams and possible disappointments for the humdrum existence
associated in her mind with quiet affection, and she will answer
emphatically in the negative. It was so with me now. Having once seen
and known Sergius Volkhoffsky, I could but marvel how I could ever have
contemplated marrying a man old enough to be my grandfather. Having
arrived at this state of mind, my recollections of my past
disappointments lost all their bitterness, and I could but feel thankful
that my passion for Sergius, vain as it seemed, was not of an unlawful
nature, since I had as yet made vows of allegiance to no other man.

But I was not thinking of all this in detail when I entered the room in
which Sergius had been waiting so long for me.

“I am sorry,” I said, “that I was not here to receive you when you asked
for me. I am also very curious to know the nature of the business which
could actually make you wait half an hour and more to see me.”

He sprang up to greet me, his pleasant smile and warm hand-clasp being
enough to dispel the most obstinate spirits. His glance, too, was so
ardent that I felt the color rush to my cheeks, and instinctively
lowered my eyelids, that he might not see what power he had over my
feelings.

“I have not been dull while you were out. My friends have taken care of
that. But I have that to say to you which made me very impatient for
your arrival. Now that you are here, I am not in such a hurry to
disburden myself, lest I be sent away in disgrace. But, first, tell me
what I have been doing to offend you lately.”

“Offend me! How could you offend me?” I asked, with such genuine
surprise on my face that he could but see I was in earnest.

“Then why,” he continued, this time taking my hands in his, as if to
command my attention more effectually; “why have you been so stiff and
distant with me? How do you account for that?”

How did I account for it? To this day I am unable to tell. I only know
that, amazing as it may seem, Sergius loved me, and desired nothing so
much as to spend the rest of his life with me. Of course I urged my own
unfitness for the honor of becoming his wife. But my feeble
remonstrances were so vigorously combated that at last I was able to
believe myself to be as truly beloved as the most beautiful and perfect
woman could wish.

There was now only one possible hindrance to my perfect happiness.
Belle’s secret must not be divulged in its entirety. But I could not
accept an honorable man without warning him that possible
disgrace—deserved disgrace—threatened my family. Disgrace, moreover, of
so deadly a nature that a nation would recoil in horror from the
contemplation of it.

“I have heard all your history from Madame Karniak, and can thus form
some faint idea of the nature of the disgrace you hint at. It has some
connection with the sudden death of the late Earl of Greatlands. You
see, I know all about him, and I am not at all jealous of the affection
you felt for the poor old man. But you have suffered enough in
connection with that business, and anything that your sister may have
been accessory to must be expiated by herself, not by you, nor by me,
whose happiness depends on becoming your husband.”

So said Sergius. I know of nobody so young who is half so wise and
clever as Sergius. So why should I stand in the light of our mutual
happiness? Truly, it would have been sheer folly. Therefore, when I went
to bed that night it was as the promised bride of a man any woman would
have been proud to win.

There had been much congratulation on the part of the Karniaks, who
smilingly asserted that they had seen all the time “which way the wind
was blowing.” During the evening, we had a call from the Prince and
Princess Michaelow, who warmly welcomed me as one who was speedily to
become a relative.

“Not for a long time,” I said, feeling just a little embarrassed because
I could not prevent my face from looking ridiculously happy. “I am going
to remain with madame until all the South American and Australian
business is settled.”

“But suppose madame no longer wants you?” observed Sergius
mischievously.

“But you see she does want me.”

“That remains to be proved. I believe a little bird has already
whispered something to me about alteration of plans since you came in
this afternoon.”

“It is quite true,” supplemented madame. “What I said this afternoon to
you about not leaving us was sincerely meant. But while you and Sergius
were making your future arrangements, Victor and I decided that life
would not be worth living so long apart. So Feo and I are going to South
America with him, and may probably stay there much longer than Victor
would care to stay without us.”

“Meanwhile,” said Nina, “you are to stay with us as our guest, until
Sergius gets a house nicely furnished for you.”

“And your visit is to be a very short one. A fortnight at the most. I
shall make upholsterers and decorators fly around, so that when we
return from our wedding-trip you will find everything to your liking.”

So said Sergius, and since everybody seemed inclined to dispose of me so
unceremoniously, I could but utter very feeble protests, and virtually
surrender myself to their management. I only made one stipulation. My
marriage must be as private as possible. My happiness seemed too great
to be true, and I had a vague feeling that, if fate should dash the cup
from me, I could best bear it with few onlookers. The feeling may have
been morbid. But my past experience must plead my excuse.

The next morning lessons for Feo were out of the question. We elders had
so much to talk about, and so many plans to discuss, that madame told
Trischl to take the child for a walk, while we completed our
arrangements. Trischl had been offered the option of joining her own
people, who were now in Germany, but had preferred to travel with madame
in the capacity of maid. So her immediate future was disposed of also.
The Karniaks would have liked to stay to the wedding, but considered it
advisable to secure a passage in a quick boat that was sailing in four
days. There was thus little time for preparation. But I rendered all the
help I could, and be sure that my dear friends and I parted from each
other with tears of regret, though we expected to have the happiness of
seeing each other again some day.

I had had two letters from Mrs. Garth, in which she informed me that
Lady Elizabeth was very much better; that Belle was more beautiful than
ever, and apparently very much delighted at the approaching consummation
of her ambitious projects. Jerry was at home, and was a jolly little
fellow, but said that the Grange wasn’t like home without Dorrie. My
father, too, I was told, had fretted somewhat about me, having evidently
come to the conclusion that his treatment of me had not been the
exclusive outcome of wisdom. “I am sure,” continued Mrs. Garth, “that if
you were to return home now, your father would welcome you as gladly as
would Jerry and Lady Elizabeth. Of your sister’s sentiments I know
nothing, as she holds herself very much aloof from me. I have an idea
that she dislikes me. By-the-by, you remember May Morris? She is going
to marry Mr. Graham, the young doctor. He has bought a practice at
Brightburn, and will take his bride thither next week.”

I was very much amused when I remembered May’s rhapsodies about the
actor, but had no doubt that a healthy affection for a good man who
loved her would oust all the rubbishy romance with which she had
formerly been filled. It was good news to hear that my stepmother’s
health had improved so much. I could but hope that the improvement might
continue, and that she might be spared all knowledge relating to the
particulars of her father’s death. I resolved that when I saw her again,
I would, indirectly, try to set her mind at rest on the subject by
explaining the irrational and unfounded nature of the suspicions I had,
in my bitter sorrow, shared with her. Her illness had always struck me
as having a mental origin, and I concluded, since she was improving,
that she was already inclined to think the best of her brother and
Belle.

I was just revolving all this in my mind, and thinking how glad I would
be to go to the Grange again, when a servant announced a visitor for me,
and my father came quickly into the room in which I sat. I was not
wholly surprised by his visit, for both Sergius and I had written to
him, giving him the particulars of our engagement, and asking his
consent to our immediate marriage. But if I expected anything like a
demonstrative greeting from him, I was disappointed, for he merely
touched my hand, as though I had been a comparative stranger, and then
plunged straight into the business which had brought him hither.

“I have, after an unwarrantable silence on your part,” he said,
“received a letter of so extraordinary a tenor that I have decided to
answer it in person. You say you have promised to marry an individual
who calls himself Count Volkhoffsky. What proof have you that he is a
genuine count?”

“I can refer you to his cousin, Prince Alexander Michaelow, from whose
house we are to be married. There are plenty of people in London who
will give you proofs of the genuineness of both titles.”

“A prince! You seem to have the knack of ingratiating yourself with the
aristocracy. You are not quite so ugly as you were. Your hair, curled in
that fashion, looks rather pretty than otherwise. Still, I can’t see
what even an old and decrepit nobleman can see in you. He might get a
_professional_ nurse at much less expense.”

My father had always trampled on my feelings without the slightest
compunction, and his sneers had left many a bitter wound behind. But
these were all healed now, and he had lost the power to hurt me. For the
first time in my life his depreciation of me evoked nothing but a
feeling of triumph. I simply rose and rang the bell, and, on its being
answered, asked the servant if Count Volkhoffsky had arrived yet. On
being answered in the affirmative, I sent to see if he would favor us
with his company for a moment.

“And tell Mr. and Madame Karniak that I would be glad if they would
permit me to introduce my father to their notice,” I said, as the
servant was leaving the room.

I shall never forget my father’s look of indignant surprise, when I
spoke of introducing _him_, to the _notice_ of _my_ friends. I was amply
avenged for many a cut I had received, and was also convinced that, in
future, he would treat me with a little more consideration. But he
evidently regarded me principally as Belle’s rival, and even when he,
later in the day, set off to return to Courtney Grange, he was, I am
sure, feeling both perplexed and sore at the idea of the apparent
facility I possessed for at least equaling, if not surpassing, his
beautiful darling’s opportunities of happiness.

He had also taken it for granted that my fiancé was some undesirable
individual, whose motive in marrying me was self-interest of some sort,
and I smile yet when I remember how astonished he was when Sergius
confronted him, and asked him in so courtly a fashion for his consent to
his marriage with his youngest daughter. Of course that consent was
given, and very glad I was, too. Although I was not anxious to see Belle
again, I was thankful to be reconciled, with my family, as Jerry and
Lady Elizabeth were too dear to me to be given up entirely.

The day after my father’s visit to me witnessed the departure of the
Karniaks to Chili and my temporary installation in the house of Prince
Michaelow.

My second trousseau was already in active preparation. Madame Karniak
and Princess Nina had insisted on making me handsome presents, to
compensate me for the wardrobe I had lost, they said. Lady Elizabeth
also sent me the most affectionate letter imaginable. So far from
resenting the fact that I was about to marry a man whom I regarded with
much warmer feelings than the mild affection which I had entertained for
the poor old earl, she rejoiced with me at my good fortune in having won
the love of such a man as Sergius. She was also good enough to say that
I fully deserved my happiness, and as an indorsement of her approval of
the whole arrangement she inclosed a check for one hundred pounds as her
wedding present.

Thus armed with the approbation of my friends, and all the necessary
sinews of war, I entered the whirl of preparation with the lightest of
hearts and the brightest of prospects. Sometimes my busy fingers would
stay their work, and a cloud of dread and apprehension would settle on
my brain.

Was it possible that I, utterly lacking outward beauty, and until lately
the most unloved of beings, was really and truly the one and only woman
with whom Sergius could be happy? Had he never loved another woman? And
if he had, was she not sure to have been beautiful?

When I remembered how truly artistic was my lover’s temperament, it
seemed incredible to me that he could be perfectly contented with a wife
whose chief function in society seemed to be to act as a foil to those
women whom nature had endowed more liberally with outward charms. And if
the time were to come when it would become incumbent upon me to
recognize the conviction that Sergius had mistaken his sentiments for
me, and that he regretted his precipitancy, how would I be able to bear
my life?

Suppose, after the irrevocable knot was tied, my husband were to wake up
some day to the knowledge that he loved another woman? Suppose—but by
the time I had thus foolishly and fruitlessly tormented myself, it was
beyond my power to endure even the thought of another self-stabbing
supposition, and a reaction invariably set in. Surely Sergius, who was
chivalry, gentleness and bravery personified, and who was esteemed by
all his friends for his powers of observation and his clear, cool
insight into human nature, would not belie his character just where I
was concerned! To believe it was to doubt all his good qualities, and I
rated myself an ingrate for entertaining such heretical sentiments for
one moment.

If the reader is inclined to subscribe to this last opinion, perhaps he
or she will kindly credit fate with at least a portion of the mental
perversity which at times tormented me almost beyond endurance. It had
been so often impressed upon me all my life long that I could never hope
to win the true and lasting regard of any man, that it was surely
natural for me to doubt the endurance of the happiness which seemed to
be within my grasp.

But these freaks of fancy could not withstand the sunny presence of my
worshiped Sergius himself, who was apt to flatter me almost as much as
the Earl of Greatlands had done, and who seemed never tired of praising
the now luxuriant silken rings of my hair, my long-lashed, expressive
eyes, and my graceful figure, not to speak of my rich olive complexion.
On most of these counts I let him talk without protest on my part.
Although I knew that his opinion of me was ridiculously disproportionate
to my deserts, my anxiously observant eyes could not blind themselves to
the fact that my outward presentment was a vast improvement upon its old
self.

But when Sergius actually ventured to praise my face, and above all, my
inveterately snubby nose, I put down his flatteries with a firm hand. It
was in vain for him to quote Tennyson, and speak of my unfortunate organ
as “tiptilted.” There are degrees and proportions of tiptiltedness, and
I had measured the depths of unhappiness too often through “that hideous
nose” to allow my vanity to persuade me into believing its disabilities
removed.

Still, I was no longer miserable about it; indeed, I grew rather proud
of it than otherwise. For if that nose had not had the power to repel
Sergius, it was henceforth to be regarded as the most prominent existing
proof of the genuineness of his affection.

And, after all, what mattered it, since, when the glamour of
self-torment was off me, I knew myself to be my lover’s idol and the
hope of his existence, miraculous though such a state of things seemed?

My friends, too, were of the kindest and most considerate ones of the
earth. Thus there seemed nothing to hinder me from being perfectly
happy, and as my wedding-day approached nearer and nearer I grew more
and more confident of the future, for neither envy nor hatred conspired
to wreck my prospects, as had been the case before the dawning of that
other wedding-day.

I was writing to Lady Elizabeth, to express my regret at her inability
to come to the wedding, and to thank her for her generosity and good
wishes, when Sergius was announced, and I hastily finished and sealed my
missive. For was not this the last day of my spinsterhood? And did I not
owe my beloved every moment I could spare?

“I hope you have finished all your preparations, sweetheart, and that no
one else expects any attention from you to-day,” said Sergius. “For I
mean to monopolize you altogether.”

“Indeed you won’t, for Nina won’t see me for some time after to-morrow,
and has exacted a promise from me that I would go with her to choose her
very latest wedding-present to me. So you will have to spare me for an
hour or two.”

“And indeed I won’t! Just picture your being selfish enough to want to
go off without me! You shall do your shopping. But you must do it in my
company, for, oddly enough, I also have a fancy that you should choose
your most prized wedding-present from me yourself, and we can make one
expedition of it. Oh, here is our gracious princess herself! She will
agree to all I propose, I know.”

“I must first know what it is that you propose,” smiled the Princess
Nina, who had just entered the room, Prince Michaelow following closely
in her wake. “I don’t like to make promises in the dark.”

“Sergius wants to go shopping with us,” I explained.

“Oh, as for that, I mean to go, too,” said the prince. “If Sergius will
look just a shade less bridegroomy he may also make one of the party.”

The prince’s sally at Sergius’s ecstatically happy look was received
with a laugh by us all, and half an hour later we were all four being
driven toward Piccadilly behind a pair of splendid bays. Then ensued a
series of excursions into various West End establishments that was even
more odd than it was delightful, which is saying much. For it was
strange to me to feel myself the courted and petted object of attention
on the part of three such splendid specimens of humanity as my betrothed
and the Prince and Princess Michaelow. Probably others also noted the
disparity in our appearance and commented on it after their own fashion.

But my companions were too agreeably employed to pay attention to much
beyond the business at hand, and so many presents were lavished upon me
that I found it necessary to enter a protest. We were all just leaving a
Regent Street jeweler’s shop, preparatory to re-entering the carriage
for our homeward drive, when Princess Nina suddenly said to me in a low
voice: “What a beautiful woman! And she seems to know you. Who is she?”

I looked up hastily, and was confronted by my sister and her intended
husband. For an instant I hesitated whether to return Belle’s stare of
haughty recognition by a conciliatory movement or not. My hesitation
proved my salvation from what would have been an intolerable
humiliation. The Earl of Greatlands and Miss Courtney passed on without
vouchsafing me anything but the disapproving look due to an obnoxious
stranger rather than to a sister, and we had entered our carriage before
I had had time to answer Nina’s question.

I felt the blood leave my face at thus meeting my mother’s child as a
stranger, and Nina was quick to see that I was strangely moved by the
encounter. She looked the question she did not care to trouble me by
repeating, and I tried to answer her in as unmoved a voice as possible.

“That was my sister who passed us. And the gentleman who is with her is
the Earl of Greatlands.”

“H’m! I thought as much,” put in Sergius. “I was just thinking that the
woman approaching us would have been quite handsome, if her face had
been less soulless, when I saw her flash such a malignant look at my
Dora as is never seen on the face of the good, and which a stranger
certainly could not evoke. I don’t envy my Lord Greatlands.”

“And I would not like to be in Miss Courtney’s shoes,” said Nina. “For
her affianced looks just like one of my father’s parishioners used to
look. He had been both wicked and dissipated, and finished his career in
a madhouse. We will, however, hope that your sister, when married, will
find her husband more desirable than he looks.”

Alas! I knew too well how little happiness the future could really have
in store for my misguided sister and the unhappy man who had succumbed
to her evil influence. The latter looked even more ill than I had
expected to see him, and I doubted whether the haunting remorse from
which he suffered would not soon drive his reason from its throne.

And Belle! How could she comport herself with such queenly pride, and
with such an air of self-satisfaction as she was wearing just now? It
was inexplicable to me. But though the puzzle was beyond my
comprehension, it had the power to damp my joy for the rest of the day.

I would much rather have been spared the sight of my enemy on my
wedding-eve, and, for the life of me, I could not help wondering whether
her presence in London would not prove an ill omen for me. Of course the
fancy was silly. But there it was, and I could not banish it. Still,
though I was less happy than before, I did not wish to spoil the
pleasure of my companions, and, for their sakes, I feigned a gayety I no
longer felt.

As we were being driven slowly past Hyde Park Corner, on our way back to
Kensington, something else occurred to cause me an accession of surprise
not unmixed with dread. A woman was waiting to cross the road as soon as
it should be safe to do so.

She was carelessly glancing at the occupants of the carriages which
passed her, and I was just thinking how handsome she was, and with what
perfect taste she was dressed, when I felt a convulsive pressure of the
hand which was clasping mine. I looked up, to see that Sergius had
turned deadly pale, and that he hastily leaned back and turned his head
away from the stranger.

But he was too late. She had seen him. Moreover, he was no stranger to
her, as I could tell by the swift recognition which flashed across her
features, and by a hasty forward movement that she made, as if to
intercept our progress. The princess was not noticing the by-play. But
that Prince Michaelow had seen and recognized the stranger I knew by the
glances of dismayed intelligence which he exchanged with my fiancé.

Soon after this we were back at the house of my generous friends, and
three of us at least were less light-hearted than when we set out early
in the afternoon.

That evening I could not dismiss the stranger from my mind. Who was she?
And what acquaintance could she have with Count Volkhoffsky, who had
been in London so short a time? But the prince knew her too, and both
men had been distinctly dismayed when they saw her. Sergius had been so
little away from me since we came to London that he could not have made
many acquaintances of whom I did not know.

Was it possible that he had known her in Russia? Nay, was it possible
that this was the unknown rival in my lover’s affections which my
jealous fancy had painted? And if so, how could he have transferred his
regard from so handsome a woman to my insignificant self? And in this
question I found consolation and hope for my own future. For Sergius
must love me, or he would not have been anxious to marry one so utterly
devoid of physical and pecuniary attractions as I was. Not that I ever
dreamed that he could be mercenary. But I had of late taken positive
pleasure in the reflection that I owed my happiness to no external
advantage which time or ill fortune could destroy.

And yet, how could I marry the man I loved, if thereby I condemned
another woman, who perhaps loved him equally well, to the misery of
desertion? I could not reconcile it to my conscience to do this cruel
thing. So I took an opportunity of satisfying myself on that point
before Sergius went back to his hotel for the night.

“Do you know,” I said to him, “I do not want you to think me intrusive.
But I saw the young lady at Hyde Park Corner who seems to be an old
friend of yours, and whom you seemed to wish to avoid. Tell me, for
God’s sake, what is she to you?”

“You saw her?” he said, looking more startled than I liked to see.

“Yes. What is she to you?”

“I think, for the sake of your own peace of mind, that you had better
not ask me.”

“But I must know! Have you ever been her lover? If so, I must give you
up to her, for I cannot purchase my paradise at the expense of another
woman’s salvation.”

“My darling! There spoke the noble woman whom I love, and whom, God
helping me, I mean to cherish through life. Thank Heaven! my past holds
no dark secrets of that sort. It has been turbulent and full of danger,
but, I swear before God, my love was given to no woman until I met you.
Now, are you satisfied?”

“Yes, I am satisfied,” I said, and I sank into his arms with a sob of
relief which showed how terrible a phase of dread I had just passed
through.

“You naughty child,” said Sergius fondly. “How could you speak
deliberately of giving me up to another woman? I am not like you. I
would fight for my rights to the last breath. You have promised to marry
me, and I will give you up to no one living. You are mine, mine alone!”

After this, my doubts being all dispelled, I was happy once more, and
bade Sergius goodnight with the exulting conviction that henceforth the
whole of my life would be spent in his beloved society.

My wedding-morn dawned bright and cloudless, and nothing intervened to
prevent my marriage this time. My father came as the sole representative
of my family, and explained that Lady Elizabeth had a severe cold which
detained her at home. Otherwise she would have come up to town for the
wedding. Belle was in London, he said, in answer to my inquiry, doing
some shopping, but there was no reference made by either of us as to her
absence on the occasion of her sister’s marriage. Jerry had sent me a
letter, full of regrets at his own enforced absence, all couched in his
own boyish style, and he supplemented these regrets by the promise of a
long visit to me at Christmas.

Dear boy! it did me good to read his affectionate chatter.

My father made himself uncommonly agreeable to my friends, and I think
that he must have begun to doubt the correctness of his own opinions
concerning me, when he saw the esteem in which others held his hitherto
despised daughter. He pressed Sergius and myself so cordially to come on
a visit to the Grange that I thought it would perhaps be better to bury
the hatchet, even though I was inwardly convinced that if my friends had
been of low rank, and that if we had been a struggling clerk and his
wife, instead of the Count and Countess Volkhoffsky, he would still have
preferred our absence to our company.

We were going to Torquay for a short honeymoon, after which we were to
settle down in the luxurious home already prepared for our reception. As
I changed my bridal gown for the dress in which I was to travel, I
contrasted my present bliss with the unhappy time which already seemed
to belong to the limbo of a better-to-be-forgotten past, and thanked God
that I had won the love of so good and true a man as Sergius.

Sergius had laughingly bidden me to make haste with my toilet, as he was
in a fever of impatience to have me to himself, and to feel that he
really had secured the object he loved.

I had just as laughingly responded, little thinking of the awful blow
that was even then hovering over my head. On going to the drawing-room
again I expected to encounter only Sergius and the Prince and Princess
Michaelow, for my father had already taken his leave.

But how shall I describe the sudden shock I experienced when I saw that
Sergius was absent, and that both my friends wore such a look of
commiseration and distress as convinced me that something terrible had
again happened to me.

“Where is Sergius? What has happened?” I exclaimed, in sudden panic.

For a moment neither of those whom I questioned spoke. Then the prince
came forward, and, clasping both my hands in his, said gently:

“You must take heart, my child. Nothing dreadful has happened to your
husband.”

“Then why is he not here? And why do your looks belie your words?”

“Sergius has had an unexpected summons.”

“Away from me?”

“Yes, he has been compelled to go to Russia.”

To Russia! To Russia, whither he had only just escaped, of all places!
And without a word of farewell to me, his bride of an hour!

Surely Fate was sporting with me, when, for the second time, she robbed
me of a husband on my bridal day!

But this stroke was harder than the other. The poor old earl had been
claimed by Death. Sergius had left me, apparently of his own free will,
and in the fullness of health and strength.

Who or what was it that had a stronger claim upon him than I had?


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER XI.
                          “The grip of death.”


I verily believe that for the space of half an hour I was beside myself.
But so far from being violent under my emotions, I was stunned by them,
and rendered temporarily incapable of connected thought. Prince
Michaelow was, I think, unable to endure the look of anguish which my
face must have borne; for, after whispering a few words to his wife, he
quitted the room, wearing an expression which even my dulled senses were
able to construe into a conviction of the hopelessness of expecting to
see Sergius again.

The Princess Nina sat down beside me, clasped my hands in hers, and
comforted me more by her sympathetic attitude than words could have
done. Presently my thoughts were able to collect themselves again, and I
began to question Nina eagerly.

“How long has Sergius known that he would have to go back to Russia?”

“Only a few minutes before he left.”

“Why did he not bid me good-by first?”

“He had not time. The summons was urgent. Besides, he loves you so
dearly that he could not have borne to witness your distress at his
departure.”

“If he loved me half so dearly as you say, he would not have forsaken me
at anybody’s call.”

“But he was compelled to go! It was his sacred duty to do so.”

“Then he ought to have taken me with him. If he is in danger, who so fit
to bear him company as his wife? And to whom can he owe a more sacred
duty than to me? Have I not been told more than once that all his near
relatives are dead? Then who is there left to call him from me? Ah! now
I have it! It is the woman whom I saw recognize him at Hyde Park Corner,
and whom he tried to avoid! Who is she?”

“My dear child, now you ask of me more than I know. But you may rest
assured upon this point. If any woman exerts influence over him, and has
used that influence to bring about your husband’s return to Russia, her
motive and power are purely political. You know that Sergius has been
very much involved with secret societies, and your knowledge of his
character ought to assure you that nothing but the most irresistible
claims upon him could have induced him to leave you at this juncture, to
return to a country of which every inch is fraught with danger to him.”

“Then I ought to be with him! Is it right that I should remain in a land
of peace and safety, while he rushes into the jaws of death?”

“My dear child, his chances of security are much better while he is
alone. If you were with him, he would perhaps have to neglect the duty
to which he is called, in order to watch over your safety.”

“And suppose he did?”

“Then he would meet certain and speedy death which you would no doubt
share.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Perhaps not. I had better be more explicit. Years ago, your husband
joined a society which had for its object the removal of the Emperor
Alexander. It is one of the rules of this society that its members shall
unhesitatingly perform any duty which the Executive Council may deem
necessary for the welfare of the country. A ballot decides which of the
members shall undertake any given task. Sergius has hitherto escaped the
ballot. But, even as he almost ran from the house, he said that his turn
had come; that he could not bid you farewell himself, and that if we
never saw him again, we would know that he had done his duty. You think
me cruel to tell you all this, dear; but I know your strong sense of
what is right, and am sure that you would rather think of Sergius as
dead than as one who could betray either his country or his wife.”

Think of him as dead!

Sometimes, when I remember that scene, I wonder how it is that I did not
go mad. Or that the phantom mockery of joy which had again eluded me did
not leave brain and heart alike seared with hatred of all mankind.

But, after all, both hearts and brains can bear an enormous strain ere
they fail their owners, and mine proved themselves to be at least of
average strength. They both survived this new ordeal, and soon after
this I was back in my dressing-room, anxiously trying to reduce into
less chaotic sequence the thoughts which chased each other through my
mind.

Was Sergius really lost to me forever? And was the errand he was bent
upon as terrible as Nina’s words suggested?

Alas! what room for doubt was left me? He belonged to a secret society,
which had for its object the _removal_ of the Emperor Alexander. There
was only one way in which an obscure society could compass that removal.

Its members would no doubt term it justice. The world would call it
assassination. But to me the contemplated deed had only one name by
which it could be fitly designated—murder! That was what was meant. And
look where I would, that self-same word stared me in the face with
demoniac persistence.

Murder! Good Heaven! was my whole life to be darkened by its foul
environment? Did not my poor old earl become its victim? And was not my
own sister an object of secret horror to me because I knew her to have
worshiped at its shrine?

And now my newly-wedded husband, who was dearer to me than aught else on
the face of the earth, was being drawn into its fearsome toils! What was
it to me that he believed the czar to be a tyrant and oppressor, and
that he was but doing the bidding of his superiors in office? Whatever
the motive, or whatever the provocation, the deed would be the same. I
have, I think, a strong sense of the duty owing to one’s country. But,
if a Charlotte Corday had been my ancestress, I should have made a very
degenerate descendant; for I prefer moral suasion to physical force, and
the assassination of the most objectionable tyrant would weigh on my
conscience like lead.

And, since Sergius was now part and parcel of my being, everything that
touched him touched me. Could I bear the thought that the guilt of
murder lay on his conscience—on _our_ conscience? I knew that I could
not, and I prayed God to forbid that this evil thing should come to
pass. Prayer alone would not avail me, I knew, since God helps those who
help themselves. I must act, if I would compass my desire.

Yet what, after all, could I do? After an hour’s almost maddened thought
I succeeded in forming something like a definite plan of action. I would
follow Sergius as quickly as a fast through service could take me. As to
whither I was to follow him must be speedily discovered, else I might
arrive on the spot too late to effect my purpose.

Said purpose was to frustrate the errand upon which my husband had been
summoned. If I succeeded in doing so, what would be the consequences to
him? Would the secret society to which he belonged, on finding its
mandates outraged, avenge itself upon him? And would the salvation of
his soul from bloodguiltiness prove his own death knell?

Truly, it was hard for me to know my own duty. But in one respect I did
not hesitate. I was determined to follow my husband to Russia as soon as
possible, in order that, if an opportunity offered, I might at least be
on the spot to do what seemed right.

But, first, I must discover exactly where Sergius had gone to. And I
must so comport myself as to hide my real intentions from Prince
Michaelow and his wife. Otherwise they might decline to give me the
information I sought, since I could not expect them to enter into all my
thoughts and feelings respecting my husband’s expedition.

Thus it happened that my outward bearing was that of one who is already
resigned to her fate, when I begged them to give me some information
that would enable me to picture the whereabout of my husband until he
returned to me. I knew that my friends had very faint hopes that he
would ever return. But they were also acting a part. They wished to
blind me concerning the real gravity of the situation, in order to
preserve me from the shock of sudden and hopeless bereavement. The
interview was, in fact, a little comedy which had for its _motif_ the
enshroudment of a terrible tragedy.

But it sufficed my purpose. I learned all that my friends could tell me,
and when I begged to be excused from dining with my hosts, on the plea
of being too ill and sick at heart for any society but my own, I was not
wasting my time in self-indulgent grief, as was imagined, but was
hastily gathering together everything that I could conveniently take
which would be necessary for a long journey.

I had even room to feel thankful that I had received so many valuable
presents of jewelry, which might, on occasion, be turned into cash, and
that the generosity of my friends had prevented me from spending much of
the money which Lady Elizabeth had sent to me. Neither money nor jewelry
took up much room, and it was an object with me to be as unencumbered as
possible. I already knew something of the exigencies of sudden
departures, and had no mind to take anything that would hinder my
progress.

Luckily for my present purpose, Sergius and I, in view of a possible
Continental trip, had studied Bradshaw to some purpose lately, and I now
had little difficulty in extracting some information that would guide me
to Moscow, whither I was told that Sergius had gone.

My newly-engaged maid was not a little bewildered by the turn of events.
But she proved amenable to reason and did as she was bid without
questioning. I told her to fetch me a hansom, and to tell the driver to
stop at the tradesmen’s entrance, where my portmanteau was put into the
vehicle. Then, accompanied by my maid, I also went out by the
tradesmen’s entrance, my object in doing so being to escape the
observation of the Prince and Princess Michaelow, who might have noticed
my departure from the front door, and who would then assuredly have
tried to dissuade me from following Sergius.

On arriving at Victoria Station I found that I had thirty-five minutes
to spare. This I occupied in visiting a hairdresser’s shop in the
vicinity. Here I was enabled to purchase a gray wig and sundry etceteras
which would effectually transform my outward semblance into that of a
staid, elderly lady who would not be thought unfit to travel unescorted.
I had already purchased a quiet black bonnet and a long black cloak from
my maid, and felt sure that my ultimate transformation would be complete
enough to deceive even Sergius, if he saw me.

At half-past eight I left Victoria, after giving the maid some messages
for the Michaelows. She was to tell them that I thanked them for all
their kindness to me, and that I felt it to be my duty to join my
husband at once, without risking the delay which even my best wishers
might possibly consider advisable.

I was not without hope that I might see Sergius even before I left the
boat, or, at all events, before I had been long _en route_. But he had
probably not taken the same direction that I was taking, and I felt
bitterly disappointed when I failed to overtake him. I was at Brussels
by five o’clock in the morning, and twelve hours later was in Cologne.
The next morning saw me on the way to Berlin, and I pushed on thence to
Alexandrovo with as little delay as possible.

I represented myself as an English lady on her way to Moscow to visit
her sister’s family, and had not much difficulty in obtaining a
passport. In two hours from leaving Alexandrovo I was in Warsaw. Now
that I had crossed the frontier I was in momentary dread of betraying
myself by overanxiety, and did my best to appear as careless and
joy-expecting as if I verily expected nothing more exciting than a
reunion with my sister.

But in Warsaw I felt so ill with suspense, disappointment, and
travel-fatigue, that I was compelled to rest at a hotel for a day, in
order to recruit my strength sufficiently to complete my long journey
without a breakdown. Two days later I reached Moscow, via Smolensk, and
then the fever of unrest and anxiety allowed me no ease for a time.

Suppose Sergius were not here, after all! Suppose some accident had
befallen him, and I had actually passed him on the way! In fact, no end
of suppositions suggested themselves to me, as I drove to a hotel in
which Sergius had, I knew, found a safe resting-place on more than one
occasion.

Now I did not expect to encounter my husband at the public
_table-d’hote_, nor, indeed, in any of the public rooms. He had come
upon a secret errand, and he was not likely to ruin his chances of
executing that errand by leading too open a life. I felt the burning
blush of double-distilled shame on my cheeks even as I thought this.
Shame at the idea of any one whom I loved lending himself to crime even
at his country’s bidding, and shame that I, so much the inferior of
Count Sergius Volkhoffsky, should dare to judge him by my own
inexperienced standard of right and morality.

Perhaps, when I knew all his reasons for coming hither, I might even
sanction the fulfillment of his task. Perhaps—but here I suddenly pulled
myself up in horror, for was I not approaching perilously near to a line
of argument which might ruin my peace of mind forever? Sanction murder?
How could I for one single moment imagine myself capable of such an
iniquity!

Rest and comfortable refreshment did wonders for me, and, on the day
after my arrival in Moscow, I sat in the salon, eagerly scanning a
German paper which the hotel management had provided for the use of
visitors. From it I gathered that the czar was expected in Moscow, but
that some rearrangement of plans at St. Petersburg had caused a
postponement of the Imperial visit.

How utterly unlikely it would have seemed to those around me that the
emperor’s visit to Moscow could possibly concern me! And yet what a pæan
of thankfulness rose from my heart as I realized that this postponement
of which I had just read meant the deferring of what might prove the
greatest tragedy of my life. I knew that Sergius could not hope to enter
St. Petersburg without detection, and that it was hardly likely that
those who at the present time had the power to direct his movements
would order him thither, since he was so well known there, and had
already been denounced to the government. This delay gave me a chance of
meeting him soon, and of at least trying to weigh my influence against
that of the terrible secret society of which he was a member.

On the second day of my stay in Moscow my wish was gratified. I saw my
beloved in the flesh, safe and well, and yet, incredible as it seems to
me now, I gave no outward sign of the rapture which filled my breast. He
was very well disguised, but my love was so keen that it could have
penetrated even more elaborate disguises than the one he had adopted,
while it was so cautious that not even to himself would I betray my
knowledge of him until I could feel sure that no mortal eye but ours
beheld our meeting.

As I had expected, he was an inmate of the same hotel in which I had
pitched my temporary habitation, and when I first saw him there he was
emerging from the room next to mine, just as I approached my room door,
after partaking of breakfast in the coffee-room. There were other people
in the corridor at the time, so I quietly entered my own apartment and
closed the door behind me, for my joy would have been too visible if I
had done otherwise.

But I knew that I should see Sergius again, for I knew also that he was
certain to remain in Moscow until the expected visit of the czar took
place. Now that I had discovered the very location of his room, it would
be easy for me to watch his movements, or at least so I thought. It was,
however, nearly nightfall ere I, peeping through the chink of my
partially opened door, saw him return to his own room. And even then it
was impossible for me to make myself known to him, for he was
accompanied by a stranger who might be either friend or foe, for
anything I knew.

So I waited perforce with augmented impatience until my longed-for
opportunity should come. It was very hard to know that he was within a
few feet of me, yet separated from me by the barriers of caution and
expediency for an indefinite period. How astonished he would be when he
learned how very near I was to him! And what hopes I pitched upon my
persuasive powers! No wonder that my impatience rose to an almost
agonizing pitch as the hours wore on, and the stranger still lingered in
my husband’s room.

I would have tried to listen to the conversation of the two men, had I
conceived it to be of the slightest use. But there was no conveniently
placed connecting-door between the two rooms through which scraps of
conversation, if not carried on in a low key, might have been heard, and
the constantly frequented corridor was not an ideal resort for an
eavesdropper. So I was obliged to bide my time, ere I could make any
sign of my presence to Sergius.

At last the low, unintelligible murmur of voices ceased and there were
indications that a move was being made in the next room. “At last!” I
thought, “my weary probation is nearly over. Sergius will soon be alone,
and I can then slip a note under his door that will warn him of my
presence.”

But picture my disappointment when the two men passed my room-door
together! Sergius was going out again with the stranger, and I might not
have another chance of seeing him again to-night. For a moment I
hesitated as to what course to follow. Then I resolved to keep my
husband in sight, and to ascertain, if possible, whither he was going.

I was convinced that, be he never so cautious, he was in danger from all
sides, and, though not probable, it was certainly possible that I might
be of service to him. Nina had told me that my presence near my husband
would only be another source of worry and danger to him. But I could not
bring myself to believe this, for I was resolved to be cautiousness
itself.

Indeed, I was so cautious that Sergius and his companion were almost out
of sight when I emerged from the hotel portico, and I had to accelerate
my speed considerably before I succeeded in bringing myself within
measurable distance of them. Sergius wore a gray wig and a flowing beard
of the same venerable hue. This in itself would not have been disguise
sufficient to blind any one inclined to be suspicious of his identity.
But that he never lost sight of the extreme perilousness of his position
was borne into my mind by his adoption of a somewhat feeble gait and
carriage, more in unison with his assumption of the character of an old
man than his own light, swinging walk would have been.

The stranger seemed young, being of a lithe, supple figure, and
destitute of hirsute adornment. He wore smoked glasses, and his face was
disfigured by a singular contortion, which seemed to draw his features
all to one side. Now and again, as they passed under a gas-lamp, I was
able to scrutinize them closely, and it did not take me long to decide
their errand was a secret one, for they glanced back from time to time,
as if apprehensive of being followed, and doubled up one street and down
another, with such a reckless disregard of distance and probable fatigue
that I was convinced they were trying to elude pursuit.

By the time this sort of thing had gone on for over an hour, I began to
feel desperately tired, and was seriously contemplating the necessity of
returning to the hotel, when I saw something that convinced me that
Sergius needed some one to give him a friendly warning, and banished all
sense of fatigue.

The two men were being followed. A man stepped from a doorway after they
had passed it, and, slouching into first one corner, then another,
contrived to keep near them, although he did his best to avoid being
seen in his turn.

In an instant I thought of Count Karenieff. Was it possible that he or
his myrmidons were already on the trail? That the fiends had almost got
my husband in their power, and that his denunciation was already a thing
accomplished!

At thought of this awful possibility I turned sick with dread. But I no
longer hesitated about revealing my own presence. At all hazards,
Sergius must be warned. He must be made aware that an enemy dogged his
footsteps. And he must be cautioned against betraying the secret resort
of the Society to those interested in, and intent upon, its destruction.

With this object in view, I sprang forward, and would soon have reached
my husband’s side, but for an occurrence which was as unexpected as it
was horrifying to me. The man who was acting the spy upon Sergius and
his companion had also come to some sudden resolution; for he also
sprang forward, but was intercepted by two individuals who appeared to
have come upon the spot by magic.

I saw the glitter of gleaming steel, as a dagger flashed in the
moonlight. I heard a stifled, gurgling cry, and before I could echo it,
I felt myself gripped by the throat and rendered for the moment
incapable of uttering a sound. It seemed to me that my last moment had
come. My tongue clove to the roof of my mouth; my breath seemed to be
forsaking me; my eyes felt as if they were starting from their sockets,
and the horrible dread of immediate violent death possessed me.

Presently—the time may have been a few seconds; to me it seemed an
age—the pressure was taken from my throat, and even as my senses were
leaving me I felt a gag put in my mouth; some heavy garment was thrown
over me; I was lifted from the ground, and was borne away, possibly to
endure a fate which I was no longer even capable of imagining.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER XII.
                           “In mortal peril.”


When I once more became conscious of my surroundings, I was seated in a
chair, in the center of a large, low-ceiled apartment, of which the
atmosphere was chill and damp and the light feeble. I was supported on
either side by a figure clad in a long gray cloak and wearing a gray
hood and scarlet domino. As my scared senses reasserted themselves more
fully, I could see that the room was peopled by many other figures
similarly attired, and that my presence among them was the central
subject of interest.

Nay, there was one other object that must have been of even more
horrible interest than I was! In front of the chair upon which I was
seated there lay a recumbent figure, covered by a large square of black
cloth. It was outlined with horrible distinctness, and a shudder ran
through me as I realized that this was the dead body of the man I had
seen struck down while in the act of shadowing my husband for some
purpose unknown to me, though I could not have imagined that purpose
anything but inimical to his safety.

And where was he, the beloved object for whose sake I had braved the
dangers which now encompassed me? I looked around me, hoping to
recognize his figure among the many with which I was surrounded. But
alas! the enshrouding cloaks and obscuring dominos would not permit
recognition, and my heart sank within me as I thought that even were he
here he might find it impossible to be of service to me without
endangering his own life.

At the end of the chamber in which I now found myself was a slightly
raised platform upon which were seated seven or eight of the cloaked
figures. But I noticed that in their case the cloak was black and the
domino yellow, and I conjectured rightly that they were the rulers of
the assembly. I was feeling acute bodily suffering, yet that was for the
time lost sight of in the horror of possible speedy annihilation.

Have any of my readers ever been in a situation of mortal terror? If so,
they will be able to realize the acuteness of perception with which I
regarded everything around me, and the miraculous swiftness with which
the most irrelevant ideas chased each other through my brain. Even while
trying to pierce the disguise of my possible judges, I found myself
wondering how dear little Jerry was getting on, and whether Belle’s
wedding would be postponed again or not.

But, after what seemed an interminable time, the silence was at last
broken by a voice which ordered, in deep, impressive tones, “Remove that
covering.”

Instantly four figures approached the object lying in front of me, two
from either side of the room, and each one silently lifted a corner of
the cloth, and doubled it back, so as to expose the corpse of a man
whose countenance wore such an expression of terror and agony as made me
use desperate efforts to cover my face with my hands. But they were held
tight by the two persons who supported me on my seat, and the same
sonorous voice which I had already heard commanded me to look upon the
face that lay in front of me, and ponder upon the fate mapped out for
all traitors to their country.

Such a command was not reassuring, and I relapsed into trembling
passivity, while black cloaks and gray cloaks proceeded to try the
murdered man after he was dead.

“What is the name of that traitor?” was the question I heard, from the
lips of the man who seemed to be the president of the assembly.

“Karol Gratowitzki.”

“What was his crime?”

“He was a government spy.”

“And his special mission?”

“To dog the footsteps of Number Finis.”

“Then he deserves his fate. Who was the avenger?”

“Number Sixteen.”

“Then his exemption from future death-service has been earned.”

At these words the man who had replied to the above questions stepped
forward, bowed to those who were seated on the platform, uttered a
formula, of which I did not catch the import, and then ranged himself
upon the opposite side of the room to the one he had previously been
standing at.

“Remove the body,” was the next command. In another moment the board
upon which the dead man had been laid was re-covered, and was lifted up
by four figures, who marched down the room with it, and disappeared
through a low door, which was bolted after their exit, amid a dead
silence on the part of those left behind.

“Now my turn is at hand,” I thought, feeling sick with dread, and
looking in vain for a friendly sparkle in the eyes of the silent figures
around me. My premonition was correct, for the next words I heard
referred to myself.

“Who is the prisoner?”

“We do not know,” was the reply.

“How came she here?”

“She was spying upon one of our chosen.”

“Did she betray antagonistic intentions?”

“Yes; she sprang forward, as if to strike, simultaneously with the man
who has already been removed.”

“What weapons has she in her possession?”

“None that we have seen. She has not yet been searched.”

“Remove her, and search her.”

Up to this point I had remained silent, for my tongue refused to utter a
sound. But the prospect of suffering the indignity of having my clothing
removed for the purpose of examination made me utter a startled protest.
There was, indeed, a tiny English revolver hidden in my dress for
defensive purposes. But how was I to convince these stern martinets that
I would never have dreamed of hurting any one, unless it was absolutely
necessary, in order to save either my own life or my husband’s.

“Indeed!” I cried, forgetting that I was not speaking to a meeting of
English people, “I assure you that I am innocent of the remotest
intention of injuring any one belonging to you. And surely I have
already suffered indignity enough!”

There was a slight movement of surprise, as if my nationality had been
unsuspected, and then one of the black-cloaked figures who had hitherto
not spoken stepped forward, and addressed the president in a low tone.
Receiving an affirmative reply to some suggestion which he offered, he
proceeded to cross-question me in very good English.

I am sure that I created an unfavorable impression where I was most
anxious to be conciliatory, for, after partially unfolding my story, I
was seized with sudden alarm on behalf of Sergius, and forthwith became
as reticent as I had a few moments before been voluble. For was it not
possible that undue candor on my part might betray some secret hitherto
carefully preserved by my husband? Suppose his marriage, while still a
member of this dread society, was against the rules? And suppose I were
betraying a secret that might prove fatal to him, if I spoke of his
recent absence from the country for which he had sworn to give up his
life? Of all that concerned his connection with the people who now had
me in their power he had told me nothing, and in all likelihood his
reticence on this subject was entirely due to considerations of personal
safety. Perhaps he was under oath to reveal nothing. How, then, was I to
account not merely for my knowledge of the fact that he was a member of
this society, but of the still more perilous secret of his motive for
returning to Russia? Or of my own object in following him?

Would not my admission that my presence in Moscow was the result of my
private determination to frustrate an event which they regarded as
necessary for the salvation of their country be sufficient to procure my
own death-warrant as well as my husband’s? Mine because they must
necessarily regard me as an enemy, his because he was, even if
unwillingly, the cause of my knowledge of their deadly secret. Alas!
where was he? Surely, if he were present, he would at once have tried to
save me from the summary fate which hung over me. And yet, to do so
might be to risk his own safety.

Truly, vanity was never reproved more cruelly than mine was then! When
the Princess Nina had told me that, so far from my presence near him
being advantageous to Sergius, it might prove an additional source of
peril, I did not believe her, since I meant to be too cautious to run
into danger. And here I was, in dire extremity, and likely to involve my
dear husband in my own ruin, all because I had had too much faith in the
superiority of my own judgment.

The position, too, was one that was very difficult to understand. How
did I come to be classed with the man who had already succumbed to the
swift vengeance of this terrible society? The solution of this question
was beyond my powers, but I was at least able to grasp one fact. Sergius
must be the Number Finis whom the stranger was said to have been
shadowing. And his safety was of such importance to the society that
protectors, two and three deep, followed in his wake.

Some of these must have watched my pursuit of him, and must have
imagined me to be his enemy. As this thought thrust itself forward, I
began to feel less despairing, but could still not quite determine
whether his speedy arrival on the scene would be conducive to my
salvation, or to his undoing, and my brain became so bewildered that I
hardly knew whether to pray for his prompt arrival or for his continued
absence. There had been a break in the stern mode of conducting the
inquiry. The door was silently opened by the janitor, in response to a
signal from without, and three persons entered, who evidently brought
news of stirring import, though its nature was not permitted to reach my
ears. There was a buzz of excited voices, and the prevailing feeling
seemed to be one of consternation. Several people who had hitherto kept
silent joined in the conversation, and some hurriedly left the
apartment. Although I had made wonderful progress with the Russian
language, it was still beyond my power to comprehend very rapidly spoken
utterances, and even if the discussion had been carried on in a louder
tone I might still have been unable to grasp its full import. But I
could at least tell that the news received was provocative of grief in
the breasts of some of this mysterious assemblage of people, while
others were stirred to menacing anger.

How this anger might affect my own fate was impossible for me to tell.
But at all events I had received a momentary respite, and the dread of
instant death was removed from me. Even my hands were now released, and
had I been able to do so I might have stood up unhindered. But I was
sick and giddy, from the combined effects of the violence to which I had
been subjected, and of the mental distress under which I was laboring,
and could now do no more than gaze helplessly around me, and wonder why
Sergius did not come to my rescue.

Presently the excitement abated again, and the cloaked figures resumed
their places, the three latest comers approaching close to where I was
sitting.

“Now, Brother Finis,” said the president, “look closely at this woman,
who was caught dogging your footsteps, in company with a man whom we
know to have been a government spy, and tell us if you have seen her
before.”

My heart leaped to my mouth at these words. This must be Sergius,
although the ample folds of his cloak, and his hood and domino, had
prevented me from recognizing him.

Hastily stepping forward, he now obtained a full view of me for the
first time. He did not recognize me for a moment, owing to my
disfiguring wig. But when I looked appealingly at him, clasped my hands
in an attitude of distress, and sobbed just the one word. “Sergius!” he
started as if struck by lightning.

The next instant he had pushed both my bonnet and my wig from my
forehead, disclosing my own dark curls, and as at last I succumbed again
to the faintness which had oppressed me for so long, I heard, my
husband’s voice exclaim:

“My God! This is my wife!”


                               ----------



                             CHAPTER XIII.
                         “Paying the Penalty.”


“Look up, my darling, you are safe now,” were the next words of which my
returning consciousness was cognizant. Opening my eyes, I saw those of
Sergius bent anxiously upon me, and thankfully realized that I was
embraced by his strong arms and pillowed upon his warm breast. Surely it
was as he said. I was no longer in danger, and might give all necessary
explanations without the paralyzing presence of an assembly which put
patriotism before every other duty to humanity.

“Thank God, I have found you!” I murmured, while the tears of relief
flowed down my cheeks. “Oh, Sergius! how could you leave me without one
word of farewell?”

“I was compelled in honor to come here without an instant’s delay. And
it was hard enough to tear myself away on my wedding-day, without
undergoing the agony of parting. Besides, I knew that you would refuse
to let me come without you, and I dreaded to involve you in danger.”

“Yet you did not dread danger for my husband, who is dearer to me than
life.”

“Indeed I did! But I dreaded dishonor still more. And there was another
danger of which you are doubtless still ignorant. Had I not answered in
person the telegram which summoned me hither, sudden death, at the hands
of outraged patriotism, would have overtaken me in England. For our
Society, which may strike you as a small one, has its ramifications all
over Europe, and it never spares those who break their oath of
obedience.”

“But you barely escaped from St. Petersburg without falling into the
hands of enemies, and even the strictest Society could hardly accuse you
of leaving the country to evade your oath.”

By this time all haziness had left my mind, and I felt altogether
stronger. I raised myself into a sitting posture, and prepared for my
first attempt to wean my husband from his determination to do all which
his associates wished him to do. I looked around me to see that we were
quite alone, in a small room, and that the door, which no doubt
communicated with the larger apartment, was firmly closed. Then, with
momentarily augmenting excitement, I began to tell Sergius all about my
own journey hither.

“And do you know my principal object in following you?” I continued.
“Nina told me that the special duty which demanded your presence here
was the _removal_ of the czar. For God’s sake, don’t lend yourself to so
dreadful a deed! I could not bear to think of you as a murderer.”

Even as I made this appeal I saw that it was utterly useless. Sergius
had pushed his domino away from his face, and there was nothing to
hinder me from noting that he had blanched considerably and that his
eyes gathered an expression of mingled anger and anxiety.

“Dora,” he said firmly, “you are treading on ground that is more
dangerous than you dream of. Nina was a very foolish woman to make such
a wild assertion, and you are still more foolish to act upon her
information. Had I deemed it advisable, I would gladly have brought you
with me. As I did not think such a course wise, I overconfidently
imagined that my friends would have used some measure of discreetness. I
certainly did not give Nina the particulars of my mission to Moscow, and
even if I had done so, I should never have dreamed that she would betray
my confidence.”

“Indeed, Sergius,” I protested, “Nina is the last woman in the world to
betray her friends, and it was because she saw me tortured with all
sorts of conflicting fears that she showed me the purely political
nature of your sudden departure, which she no doubt knew without fresh
information from you. And she certainly never dreamed that I would
follow you, for I did not give her the slightest hint of my intention to
do so. It was surely better for her to enlighten me than to leave me a
prey to the misery of unexplained desertion.”

“Perhaps you are right, Dora. All the same, your arrival here will
certainly complicate matters for me. Still, I can understand your desire
to learn as much as possible—and, why, I do believe you must have been
suffering from jealousy! Tell me, is that so?”

“Well, I knew that you had seen a woman at Hyde Park Corner, whom you
would have liked to avoid while with me. She knew you, I could tell. And
she is so much handsomer than I am that you must own it was natural for
me to imagine her power to be of a different nature to what it has
proved.”

“How do you know yet that she had anything to do with my sudden
departure?”

“I don’t know. I can only conjecture.”

“Well, I will tell you. You have gone through such a bitter trial, and
have suffered so much, that I cannot be angry with you, even for
doubting my love. Vera Vassoffskoy is a member of our Fraternity. So
also is her husband. Both have sad reason to hate an oppressive
government, for it has robbed them both of kindred and fortune. But
Madame Vassoffskoy, though at one with us in all our general plans,
hates individual bloodshed. She was on a secret mission to London when
she saw me. Before she left Moscow, she knew that the ballot had fallen
upon me, with reversion to her husband in the event of my failure to
appear on the scene in time. I shrank back when I saw her, for I
regarded it as an evil omen to be confronted with my secret obligations
on my wedding-day. But she was determined not to lose sight of me, and
tracked us home by means of a cab which she called to her assistance.
Having found my address, her next proceeding was to have an official
message conveyed to me, commanding my instant return to Russia, to
fulfill the great plan for relieving the sufferings of our oppressed
country. Death is the reward of disobedience to the mandates of the
Executive Council, and my grief at leaving you at such a time showed me
that I could not have done my duty to my country if I had witnessed your
distress. Hark! there is the signal! Our time is up, and we seem to have
explained so little. And you still look so ill!”

“Indeed, I am quite recovered now, and will give you no trouble. To be
with you is all I want to make me happy and well.”

It was even so. I felt that, by his side, I could bid defiance to the
threatenings of fate. Sergius tightened his arms round me and kissed me
with all a young husband’s devotion. But his caresses were rather those
of one who is bidding a painful farewell than of one just reunited to
the idol of his heart, after a trying separation.

“You must trust me, darling, whatever befalls,” he whispered; and, could
it be true? were those tears of grief which trickled down his cheeks? I
stood up in suddenly returned alarm, but before I could question him at
all there was a much louder knock at the door than the first one had
been. Another second, and it was thrown open. Sergius hastily replaced
his domino, and, kissing me once more, said: “I am ready.”

The next moment I was standing alone in the little room. Sergius had
gone. The door was closed and bolted, and I was a prisoner once more.

Still I did not, for some time, realize that my isolation and detention
were to be of a prolonged nature. But when more than an hour passed
away, and I had listened to the gradual dying out of all sounds in the
outer room, I was seized by a species of panic. Was it possible that I
had really brought danger upon the head of Sergius, and that he had
already paid the penalty for my rashness?

I had seen with what little compunction the presumed spy had been
dispatched, and my despairing fancy pictured my dear one already
weltering in his blood, while I would perhaps be left to die in this
cell of cold and starvation. There was a little light available for me,
though not within my reach. It shone through an elevated grating which
communicated with the larger apartment, and after a time this
circumstance afforded me a little hope.

I concluded that, though the meeting was probably over, the place could
not be entirely deserted. Otherwise the lights, feeble as they were,
would most likely be extinguished. Then a new horror seized me. How many
murders might have been committed on these premises! And how many
corpses might be buried within a few yards of me!

I am not superstitious, in the general acceptation of the term. But I
always had a horror of the near presence of death, and even the most
strong-minded among those who may become acquainted with my history will
admit that my circumstances and surroundings were uncanny enough to
raise the hair of a much less nervous individual than myself.

My watch told me that I had been immured in this underground room for
two hours, and I was feeling faint and sick with hunger; for it was now
verging on dawn, and I had had very little food all the previous day,
being too much engrossed in watching for Sergius to attend properly to
my own bodily needs. Sleep refused me its refreshing aid, though I would
gladly have welcomed the temporary oblivion of my surroundings which it
might have given me.

After a time I fell into a species of semi-stupor, from which I was
roused by the entrance of Sergius into my prison.

I am not sure that coherency of thought was not banished from me even
after my husband had pressed wine and food upon my acceptance. I know
now that I mechanically availed myself of the refreshment brought to me,
but I cannot recall what transpired for a while, until a flood of tears
relieved my brain from the pressure which the strength of my emotions
exercised upon it.

Then I was able to comprehend all that Sergius had to tell me, and to
realize how very nearly I had compassed his ruin, though I did not know
until afterward what a battle he had had with the sterner members of the
Society, whose motto was “Death to everything through which our plans
may risk betrayal.”

Briefly, the position was this.

Sergius had been strictly cross-examined concerning me, and had been
able to convince his interrogators that I was really his wife. They were
also satisfied as to my fidelity and attachment to him. But they
declined to trust my discretion at a time when a word might betray their
plans, and ruin their hopes of revolutionizing the country. It was
therefore decreed that I was to be kept a close prisoner until such time
as Sergius should have fulfilled the obligations that the Society
demanded of him.

“In other words,” I said, with a shudder, “I am never to recover my
freedom until you have committed a hideous crime that would haunt us all
our lives. I would rather die at once.”

“My poor child! you speak out of the ignorance born of residence in a
free and happy country,” said Sergius sadly. “Could you but faintly
realize the horror and misery that oppress the subjects of the czar, you
would pray with us for the abolition of such a monstrous anomaly as a
fabulously wealthy ruler at the head of a nation that is ground down to
the lowest depths of poverty and degradation. While incredible sums are
exacted for the support of a prodigal court, each year sees a huge
holocaust of the victims of starvation and oppression! Our rulers revel
in costly frivolities, while famine depopulates our country by tens of
thousands! No other European state can show such a perfect system of
barbaric misgovernment and corrupt officialism as Russia. If any of the
czar’s subjects show symptoms of originality or strivings after a better
state of things, they are promptly consigned either to the state prison
or to banishment, and all national reform has to be made the subject of
secret plottings by a handful of men and women into whom patriotism or
special provocation have instilled a greater amount of bravery than is
possessed by their downtrodden and broken-spirited compatriots. The
scoundrels whom despotism has put in office abuse their privileges to a
brutal extent that would be tolerated nowhere else in Europe, and must
come to an end even here some day. Our newspaper press is a dead letter,
for it is so supervised and gagged that nothing even approaching a hint
of discontent at the existing state of things is allowed to appear. A
strict supervision is also exercised upon all our literature, and even
that which is imported from other countries is examined so jealously
that any article or paragraph which can be construed into disapproval of
Russian politics is promptly detected and blocked out. Police spies
intrude in our innermost sanctums, and true domestic privacy is
practically unknown among us. Nor is this all. Physical oppression has
been the heritage of us Russians for ages, and the slightest excuse is
good enough to justify the confiscation of our property and the
deprivation of our liberty. Liberty! why, even liberty of conscience is
not allowed us, and we are asked to believe that God has gifted our
cursed tyrants with the knowledge of the only true way in which to
worship him. Whether it be Stundist or Jew, it is all the same. The
Orthodox priests, who insult Christ by calling themselves Christians,
are ever ready to instigate an ignorant mob into deeds of violence which
are a disgrace to humanity. Dare to differ from them in creed, and you
find yourself singled out for additional outrage. Your house will be
wrecked, your home destroyed; your work taken from you, and all manner
of vile insult heaped upon you. If you have wives and daughters, God
might help them, but you can’t, and the priest won’t raise voice or
finger to save them from the atrocities of the mob, which must be
allowed to reward itself somehow for its readiness to support the
Orthodox Church.”

“But surely the government would not refuse to punish those guilty of
such shameful deeds?”

“My dear child, the government and the Church will never fight each
other, and the only reward which a complaint against the latter would
bring forth would be the ruin of the man who ventured to make the
complaint.”

“But the czar. He is so powerful that a word from him would put an end
to many of these evils. Surely if he knew—”

“The czar! He must know. He has been appealed to too often to be able to
plead ignorance. But if he, who is nominally at the head of so huge a
nation as ours, and who receives imperial emoluments for doing his duty
to that nation, will not take the trouble to make himself acquainted
with the needs of the subjects whom he is paid to govern and protect,
then it is high time that he be made to give place to some one who will
be honest enough to do the work for which he is paid. We want peace and
prosperity at home, while our rulers neglect us in order to annex other
provinces and enlarge an empire that is already too unwieldy.”

“Yet if this emperor is removed by violence, he will be succeeded by his
son, who will probably govern just as he is doing, so that his murder
would only prove a fruitless crime.”

“Not so. If his violent death does not frighten his successor into more
humane methods of government, he will be removed in his turn. And so it
will go on, until the rights of an oppressed people win the recognition
that is demanded. You feel horrified at the idea of one man being turned
over to avenging justice. How can you put his life in the scale against
the lives and souls of the thousands who are the daily victims of
governmental oppression and official cruelty? ‘Vox Populi, vox Dei’ is
our watchword, and God and the People shall not always lift up their
voice in vain!”

Oh, how noble my husband looked as he thus eloquently vindicated the
right of the people to insist upon justice! And how strange it was that
I, who had come to Russia fully resolved upon converting my husband to
my own peaceable ways of thinking, should end by sharing his enthusiasm
and by believing as he did. Yet so it was, and in defiance of possible
subsequent conscience pricks, I began to look upon my husband’s
contemplated act as that of a brave, self-sacrificing hero, rather than
as the assassination against which my soul had revolted. Since that
eventful night a reaction has set in, and I often thank God that, after
all, no bloodshed stains my husband’s hands.

“You will feel your isolation very much, I am afraid,” said Sergius,
after we had, by tacit consent, tabooed further conversation anent the
czar.

“If I can see you often, I will try to be as patient as possible. But I
cannot help being anxious for your safety while you are away from me.”

“My dear girl you need not worry at all on my account. You have seen for
yourself how carefully I am guarded.”

“Yes, that is true. But I also know that your position must be a
precarious one, or you would not be under the necessity of maintaining
the disguise in which I saw you. You are, too, quite aware that you may
be discovered and arrested at any moment.”

“How do you come to that conclusion?”

“Without much difficulty. Your manner, after leaving the hotel where I
first saw you, showed that you feared to be tracked. Even the fact that
your associates had mounted guard over you, and saved you from the
government spy who was following you, is proof of the great danger you
are in. How thankful I shall be when we are safe in England again!”

“So shall I, my darling. Meanwhile, we must make the best of the
situation, which will perhaps not be quite so dreary for you as you
imagine. You are to exchange this comfortless place for a room in
another part of the building, where you will have every indulgence but
that of perfect freedom until it is deemed safe to permit you to go
abroad again. Ah! there is the signal. Your fresh quarters are ready.
Come, Dora, but remember that you must not speak by the way.”

A few seconds later the door opened, and Sergius led me past two figures
holding lighted candles, and in the wake of another, who pushed aside a
heavy curtain, beyond which was a narrow, tortuous staircase, up which
we climbed until my weary limbs found it almost impossible to go
further. Fortunately, we had nearly reached the top, and Sergius half
carried me into a room which was the picture of warmth and comfort.

A bright fire burned in the stove, and its enlivening rays made me
suddenly conscious of the fact that I was shivering with cold. I sank
quite exhausted upon a comfortable lounge, and it was like a transition
to Paradise to find myself housed again in a haven of warmth and
comfort, with the grateful odors of daintily prepared food assailing me.
Yet I could neither eat nor drink of that which was set before me, and,
so fatigued was I by my experiences, that I yielded to the languor which
overpowered me, and was just conscious of being kissed affectionately by
my husband, and covered over with multitudinous wraps, when I sank into
a sound and refreshing slumber, from which I did not awake for several
hours.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER XIV.
                        “Long Live the People!”


I was rested and refreshed by my long sleep, and was glad to find that
the events of the night had had no ill effect upon my health. The room
in which I found myself opened into a smaller one, fitted up as a
bedroom, and in this place, greatly to my astonishment, I saw all the
luggage I had taken with me to the hotel, which, for many reasons, had
better be nameless. How Sergius had managed things so cleverly I could
not tell. But I was delighted to be able to remove my disfiguring
disguise, and make the most of my natural appearance.

Now that I was no longer a solitary damsel, whose movements might
attract undesirable notice, I ceased to feel the need of appearing of
such mature age, and I actually felt glad at the sight of my own homely
presentment, after I had attired myself in a frock which I knew Sergius
would like. While I was still busy touching up my toilet, an elderly
woman, of serious but pleasing appearance, entered the room, and asked
if I would take my breakfast, or rather lunch.

On first seeing me, she looked rather surprised, as if she had still
expected to be confronted by a becurled and bespectacled old lady. I was
able to understand her, and to reply to her, but was relieved to find
that she relapsed into German. As I knew that language much better than
Russian, it was possible to get on very well with my visitor, who told
me that her name was Marie Ivanovitch, that she was the nominal lessee
of this house, and that she had seen me on the previous evening.

“Then there were women, as well as men, in the assembly?” I exclaimed.

“Certainly,” was the reply. “We women are as much alive to the griefs of
our country as the men are, and the sexes are nearly equally balanced in
our Society. Our usefulness is sometimes of a different nature to
theirs, but, upon the whole, we have as much work to our hands as the
men have.”

“And your work just now is to prevent me from leaving this house?”

“Even so. But I trust that you will not find your detention very
irksome, since it is only the consequence of necessary precautions for
the safety of your husband and others. And I cannot impress upon you
sufficiently the danger of attempting to elude the vigilance of those
whose judgment ordered your stay here.”

“I am not likely to do anything that will run counter to the wishes of
the Society, provided Count Volkhoffsky approves of them.”

“What! Taking my name in vain?” cried another voice at this juncture,
and Sergius put in an appearance.

“I was just telling Madame Ivanovitch that I would obey any orders of
the Society that are indorsed by yourself,” I explained, while I smiled
a glad welcome upon the face I loved.

“And the particular command in question?”

“That I do not attempt to leave these quarters.”

“I hope you will not. You are safer here than elsewhere. And this is the
only place in which we could see much of each other.”

“Say no more, my dearest. Wild horses shall not drag me away without
your approval.”

“There, what do you say to that, Sister Ivanovitch?” asked Sergius. “You
see, my wife has pledged her word to me to be obedient. In fact, you
need be under no apprehension of indiscretion on her part. We both give
you our word of honor.”

“And yours is too well known to be doubted, Brother Volkhoffsky.”

“Sergius,” I said, as the worthy woman went to see after our lunch, “I
feel thoroughly ashamed of myself for causing you so much trouble and
anxiety. I shall—”

“Not another word, my darling. It does me good to see you looking
something like your own bright self again. I ought never to have left
you behind, for I might have known that you would have preferred to
share danger with me, rather than live a life of suspense and inactivity
at home.”

“My life promises to be inactive enough even here now.”

“But at least you know where I am and what I am doing, and that is
something.”

“To me it is everything. Life away from you would be such a blank that I
do not care to picture anything so dreary.”

Does the reader wonder at our ability to take things so quietly, even
with an awful tragedy ever looming before us? I sometimes feel surprise
thereat myself, until I remember that, in spite of our experiences, we
were both still gifted with the elastic spirits of youth, and that the
mere joy of being reunited was enough to make us temporarily forgetful
of painful subjects.

Of course we had many confidences to exchange, and Sergius removed my
mystification concerning several things. It seems that the man with whom
I had seen him walking on the previous evening was Ivan Vassoffskoy, the
husband of the handsome young woman I had seen at Hyde Park Corner, and
the individual who would have had to officiate as my husband’s
substitute in the event of his failure to respond to the injunction to
repair to Moscow at once. Ivan Vassoffskoy had even more reason to dread
recognition by government spies than had Sergius, for it was in Moscow
itself that he had been denounced, and, but for the injunction of the
Society, would ere now have sought safety in flight. His wife was
already in England, having been deputed to carry out some plans for the
Fraternity, of which she also was a member.

“Ivan has wonderful powers of contortion, which have saved him from
discovery more than once,” said Sergius, when speaking of his colleague.
“It would take his dearest friend all his time to recognize his
naturally handsome face in the twisted and distorted visage which he
presents to the public gaze. I have only heard of three people who could
equal him in this direction. These were an English actor, a Japanese
contortionist, and an English murderer. All three used their peculiar
talent to good purpose, and were able to mystify whom they liked. The
murderer even went so far as to masquerade in your Scotland Yard,
although he knew that detectives were on the lookout for him. If Ivan’s
powers of contortion serve him as well as they served the English
malefactor he will have cause to be thankful for them.”

“I thought he looked very singular,” I said. “But I would never have
dreamed that he could by any possibility be regarded as a handsome man.
But tell me, where were you going when I saw you together?”

“We were going to visit and take pecuniary help to the wife of a man who
has fallen a victim to official rancor. He had the misfortune to have a
pretty daughter, who was beloved by a youth in every way worthy of her.
Now, although both Olga and her father and mother favored this young
suitor, he had several rivals for her hand. Olga is a very nice girl,
but I fancy that the good pecuniary position of the family had something
to do with the love of at least one of those who proposed for her hand.
Be this as it may, on finding himself rejected, he swore to be revenged
both upon his rival and upon the girl who had had the temerity to award
a man of his standing the insult of a refusal.”

“His threats were heard with dread, for he was in a position of some
importance, in which he had facilities for dealing underhand blows at
those who were unfortunate enough to offend him. A large proportion of
the denunciations, which result in death, imprisonment or banishment,
are the outcome of personal malice; and when once a man or woman is in
the position of an accused prisoner, there is small hope of delivery,
especially if there is property to confiscate.”

“And did this bad man fulfill his threats?”

“Indeed he did. You shall judge what difference this enmity made to Olga
and her parents when I tell you that her father and brother have been
sent to Siberia as political exiles. The mother and daughter are reduced
to poverty, and have found it impossible to support the younger children
without help from friendly sympathizers, who have to exercise the
greatest precautions in visiting them, lest they, too, fall into the
power of iniquitous officialism.”

“And Olga’s lover—what of him? Can he not help them in their emergency?”

“Poor Paul! I fear there is little doubt that he languishes in that
living grave—the fortress on the Neva.”

“How horrible! It makes me shudder to think of it. Oh, Sergius, for
Heaven’s sake take care of yourself! What shall I do if evil befalls
you, and how can you escape it in this dreadful country? I hardly dare
hope that you will reach England alive. How thankful I would be if we
could leave at once.”

“My dear girl, there are many things worse than death. _That_ I must
risk. But you could not retain your respect for a man whose oath has
been broken, and whose word of honor is worthless. I will be as careful
as is consistent with my duty. More I cannot promise, even to you.”

Was it true that I would rather welcome the death of my hero than that
which he conceived to be dishonor? I think not. But I had not the
temerity to argue the question with him, and, rather than distress him
again, I tried to put the ghastly picture of his so-called duty from my
mind.

“Tell me, if you may,” I said, “what special information it was that
produced such a sensation at the meeting last night?”

“There is no reason why I should not tell you. Some members of our St.
Petersburg branch have been denounced and tracked by informers in the
pay of Count Karenieff and his myrmidons. Six of them have been
arrested, and it is not likely that they will ever recover their liberty
again. One lady, who was arrested some weeks ago, and who was really
innocent of conspiracy, has been so monstrously treated that she has
died in prison. The circumstance of her death would be regarded as an
opportune release from a life that could never again become tolerable to
her, were not the predisposing details so horrible. She was grossly
insulted by the governor of the jail in which she was immured, but
refused to forget that she was an honorable wife and mother. Nothing
daunted by her indignant rebuff, the scoundrel again insulted her. This
time the unhappy lady slapped her tormentor’s face, and aroused in him
the demon of revenge. She was accused of attempting to take the
governor’s life, and was ordered to be subjected to the frightful
indignity of the knout. In spite of her alternate prayers for mercy and
screams of resistance, she was dragged to the place of punishment,
forcibly stripped, and mercilessly beaten.

“The physical pain was something terrible to endure, but one survives
even worse things than that. It was the moral degradation that ate into
her soul, and induced her to end her unhappy life. How she obtained it
no one knows. But it is certain that she had poison in her possession,
and that she used it to good purpose.”

“How can such iniquities be permitted! You make even me feel a longing
to take part in the downfall of a government that can sanction such
atrocities! To think that a noble woman’s end should be so sad!”

“Her end? That has not come. She lives in our souls, and cries aloud
from the grave for vengeance! Her death has revived the ardor of both
the enthusiasts and the lukewarm adherents of the cause of the people,
and will do freedom more service than her life has done.”

We had much more conversation in the same strain, for I fully
sympathized with my husband’s accounts of the cruelties inflicted upon
his compatriots. But all subjects come to an end some time, and our talk
varied itself by excursions to Greenby and to Courtney Grange, not to
speak of all we hoped to do when we were once more at liberty to return
to England and take possession of the handsome house intended for our
reception.

“And I have already written to the Michaelows,” said Sergius. “Of
course, neither their name nor ours appeared in the letter. But they
will receive it indirectly, and they will understand that we are
together. This will allay their anxiety about you, and all the
particulars of our adventures can be related when we see them.”

“I wonder if such an event will really come to pass?”

“To be sure it will. I can’t have you always imagining the worst. You
must look at the bright side of things.”

“Do you know what I would do if I had the power?”

“Something wonderful, no doubt.”

“I would give you a drug, if such were obtainable, that would make you
oblivious of everything but my presence and my wishes. Then I would take
you far away from Russia, and would keep you there until there was no
longer any danger of your being recalled.”

“Ah! Dora, I’m afraid I shall never make a patriot of you.—But, whatever
can be the matter! Do you hear the commotion?”

“Sergius! for Heaven’s sake, fly! Some one has betrayed you! Those are
government men who are rushing upstairs! Oh, what shall we do? How can
you escape?”

But my husband appeared much more astonished than frightened, and hardly
seemed to notice what I was saying, for all his attention was apparently
concentrated upon the hurrying footsteps without.

In another moment our room door was flung open without ceremony, and
half a dozen people entered, among them being Madame Ivanovitch.

“The country is saved! Hurrah! Death to the tyrant!”

These and other exclamations became mixed in an inextricable jumble, so
excited were all the speakers. Sergius saw that some great news had
arrived, and became as excited as the rest.

“Silence, some of you,” he cried, “until I know what has happened! You,
Vassoffskoy, what is it?”

“We have been anticipated. The czar will never come to Moscow now! Our
St. Petersburg contingent has achieved the great deed. The tyrant has
been assassinated! Long live the people!


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER XV.


It was all quite true. The czar had been assassinated. Though he was not
killed outright by the bomb which was thrown under his carriage, it was
known that he was mortally injured, and could not live long. The
messenger who brought the news to Sergius had started from St.
Petersburg to Moscow as soon as the deed was done, being previously
armed with a railway ticket and a passport, and was already on his way
to the frontier, whither it was advisable for all other suspects to
proceed at once, if they would escape the tremendous hue and cry which
would doubtless be raised without delay.

In spite of the fact that I was the associate of conspirators, the news
which elated them horrified me, and I was more than ever convinced that
my rightful avocation lay among scenes of peace and domesticity. It was,
therefore, all the more strange that the whole of my grown-up life so
far should have been one of danger, turmoil and excitement.

Yet, as all things have their limit of prominence in the ever-shifting
kaleidoscope of life, even so would that fever of existence, which is
variously termed “patriotism” and “treason,” cease to influence my daily
being ere long. Such, at all events, was my hope, and I no longer
doubted that Sergius would at once use his utmost endeavors to escape to
England.

But, for a time, it was difficult to obtrude individual interests into
the jumble of excited comment in which the ever-increasing number of
fresh arrivals discussed the tragedy which had taken place at St.
Petersburg, and its probable effects upon the members of the Society.

“I suppose it will be no longer safe to meet here after to-day,” said a
man, whom I heard addressed as Ivan Vassoffskoy, but whom I would not
have recognized as the man whom I had seen with Sergius on that
never-to-be-forgotten night of adventure.

“I do not think it was safe to meet here to-day,” said another, who had
just arrived. “Just as I entered the passage leading round to our secret
entrance I fancied that a man brushed past me, and I feel rather
alarmed.”

“One of ours,” remarked Sergius.

“I think not,” was the reply, which seemed to imbue all the company with
a sense of insecurity. “I challenged him in our usual way, but received
no answer, as must have been the case if he had been one of us.”

“Then why did you come in if you fancied yourself followed?”

“Because I concluded that the ‘house’ was already suspected. I did
retrace my steps for a few yards, but did not succeed in drawing the man
away from the vicinity of the passage. This being the case, I thought it
better to come in, after all, in order to warn you. It is quite possible
that the passage is guarded already, and that everybody emerging from it
will be arrested.”

“You did well, brother,” was the verdict of a tall, imposing man who had
hitherto said little. “I had already begun to doubt the wisdom of
meeting here much oftener, but was anxious to await the great event
before altering our plans. As you all know, that event has taken place,
and, by the terms of our oath, we are no longer a Society, although the
consummation aimed at has been not our work, but the work of our brave
St. Petersburg contingent. I proclaim us morally and patriotically
disbanded, and absolved from all further duty or allegiance to the rules
of our Brotherhood. If, in the future, it becomes necessary to give the
government another severe lesson, you all know how to communicate with
me, if I am still alive and in freedom, and you all know that my sole
aim in life is to avenge the wrongs of the people. Before the setting of
another sun some of us will be on our way to other lands, to seek that
safety and freedom of speech which is denied us here. Some of us may
have fallen into the hands of the tyrants, and have no longer a hope
left. Others, confident that nobody suspects their connection with us,
will continue to live in and about Moscow in comparative security,
pursuing a life of honest toil, and always ready to afford an asylum to
a patriot. But, whatever be the fate in store for us, we have nothing to
reproach ourselves with, unless it be that our fight for God and our
right has not been drastic enough.”

All the details of this conversation were fully explained to me by
Sergius some days later, when it was no longer dangerous to speak even
in whispers, as was the case while we were flying toward the frontier.
But although I had not understood all that was said, I had gathered
enough to know that our situation was already one of extreme peril, and
I own that I felt terribly alarmed. I was also angry with myself for my
husband’s sake, for I was sure that my presence could not fail to hamper
his escape from Moscow. But I was not a little surprised to see how
stoically all these dangerous conspirators received the news that their
arrival had been watched, and that their exit was probably cut off by an
outraged government at whose hands they would find little mercy.

This seeming mystery was, however, soon explained. There were, on the
upper landing, and partly within the four rooms whose doors opened on to
this landing, over twenty people present, none of whom appeared in the
cloaks and dominos which had imparted such an awful solemnity to their
meeting when I was taken captive by them. This, Sergius told me
afterward, was because they knew that the catastrophe at St. Petersburg
had virtually disbanded them.

“Take off your shoes, Dora,” whispered Sergius. “And don’t be alarmed,
darling. Our danger is not nearly so imminent as you seem to fear. We
have long expected this crisis, and have not allowed ourselves to be
trapped like rats in a hole.”

While Sergius was speaking, he rapidly unlaced his boots and took them
off. Greatly to my amazement I saw that all the other people present
were engaged upon the same task, and I followed the general example,
feeling sure that it would eventually prove to be justified, by reason.

As soon as their noise-producing foot covering was removed, all present
began to throng into the bedroom I had occupied for so short a time.
Some one touched a secret spring in the wainscoting, which noiselessly
yielded to a slight pull given to it by Sergius, and revealed a
cavernous opening into which, with whispered injunctions against making
much noise, first one and then another of the conspirators disappeared
with either boots or shoes in hand. One man fetched a short ladder into
the room, besides a boot and a shoe, which had evidently been previously
in readiness for some special purpose.

Sergius held back until all the others had passed through the secret
door. Then he raised the bedroom window, which was one that opened on to
the roof. His next proceeding was to throw the two shoes some distance
along the flat roofs of the adjoining buildings. Then, leaving the
window open, and the ladder by which he had reached it still standing,
he took my hand and drew me into the space in which our companions were
making cautious and laborious progress. Carefully closing the door
behind us, he stooped for a moment, and I heard a sharp click, as of
breaking metal.

“There,” he said, in a low tone. “It would take pursuers some time to
follow us, for I have broken the spring, and that door will never yield
again to gentle persuasion. Are your shoes all right?”

“Yes, I have them in my hand.”

“And your money and jewelry is already stowed in our pockets. Everything
else you must sacrifice. You are unfortunate with your clothes.”

“Never mind, so long as I have you left. But why did you throw those
shoes out of the window? And why did you leave the window open?”

“To lead probable pursuers off the scent, and induce them to believe
that we have escaped through the window, dropping our shoes in our
hurry. A couple of houses along the flat roof there is an easy means of
descent to the ground, by way of out-house tops, and thence into an
unfrequented back street. It will seem the most natural way in the world
to escape, and while the enemy is following up the false scent we shall
all be making good progress in another direction.”

“But suppose it is a false alarm, after all?”

“Listen!”

I did listen, and no longer hesitated about groping my way into the
darkness beyond. For noises, loud and threatening, penetrated to my
shrinking ears, and told me that the house had already been forcibly
entered. Of course the doors had been locked behind us, and I could hear
that these were being beaten down with heavy weapons.

“Now, silence, for your life!” whispered Sergius. “Trust me to lead you
to safety.”

Not another word was exchanged between us for several minutes, during
which, having crawled on to a sort of shelf, and covered the opening by
means of a spring sliding panel, we found it necessary to crawl for some
distance on all fours, in a stifling atmosphere which threatened to
choke us. But at last this ordeal was also over, and we emerged into
another chamber, similarly arranged to the one by which we had entered
the species of tunnel which we had just traversed.

I was by this time almost exhausted with terror and haste, and was
thankful indeed to be told that the worst danger was now over. But I
exerted myself womanfully to hide the full extent of my distress from
Sergius, and have since felt rather ashamed at times when he has
insisted upon praising my courage and fortitude.

“You may put your shoes on again now,” he said, “and we shall no doubt
find some one in the next room ready to give us a good brushing.”

It was as he said. But it took a good wash, as well as a good brush, to
make us at all presentable, and every requisite facility for furbishing
up one’s toilet was to be found here.

“How strange it seems,” I said, “to have come into such handy quarters.
I understand the comforts of the other end. But these two little rooms
seem to be only used for dressing, and don’t communicate with a bedroom
at all.”

“That is easily explained. We are now actually in a theater, and these
are the manager’s dressing-rooms. He is one of us, and the whole plan of
escape is of his devising. That passage along which we crawled is space
taken from the front upper rooms of three houses that we have crossed.
It was necessary to take off our shoes, in order not to make too much
noise over other people’s heads; but even the chance of betrayal on this
score is practically guarded against, since all these front rooms have
been taken by various members of our Fraternity. They would know what a
scrambling noise overhead meant, but there is a possibility of
antagonistic strangers being sometimes present in some of the rooms, so
we are always as careful as possible. There, now, if you have quite
recovered your breath, we will follow the rest of our friends
downstairs.”

In a few minutes we found our way down staircases along corridors into
what proved to be the manager’s private room, and here the manager
himself was conversing with several of those who had so recently escaped
a mortal danger.

“Ah! here you are, Brother Volkhoffsky,” he said. “Do you think the
alarm has been a false one, or that the flight was unnecessary?”

“If my wife and I had been one minute later,” was the reply, “all would
have been lost. I had only just broken the secret spring, when I heard
loud commands to surrender, while the door was being violently
assailed.”

“Ugh!” shuddered one or two. “It’s as well we’re out of it. But what had
we better do next?”

“I do not think that it would be advisable for any more of you to leave
the theater now,” said the manager. “The police will be watching the
whole neighborhood very carefully just now. You very likely all need
refreshment badly, or will before you have a chance of obtaining any
elsewhere. Four of you shall have some wine and such substantial fare as
I have already provided, while the rest walk boldly on to the stage. You
must refresh yourselves in relays of four. I don’t want too many people
in this room at once, as we are likely to be interrupted at any moment,
and my advice is that you spend as short a time here as is consistent
with a substantial meal, which I again warn you will be needed. I will
give you all part of some play to masquerade on the stage with, and if
any prying spies intrude, you will be supposed to be rehearsing for
to-night’s performance. As evening approaches, the theater will be
lighted up, and before the real artists arrive you must so dispose
yourselves as to be able to join the audience unobtrusively. You will
then be comparatively safe, as no one will imagine that people who know
the police to be on their track would spend the evening listening to a
comic opera, thus apparently wasting valuable time. After the play is
over, you can emerge with the crowd, and go your several directions in
comparative safety. After that it will be each one for himself, and the
God of nations for us all. And now, my friends, I have my daily duties
to perform, and must attend to them at once, if I would avoid the curse
of suspicion. So good-by, and may our unhappy country be no more under
the necessity of fighting against those whose duty it is to help instead
of to oppress!”

This wish was fervently echoed by the rest of those present. There was a
solemn ceremony of handshaking, and then the Society which had exacted
such a horrible duty from my husband was disbanded forever, although
many of its members found it advisable to follow the manager’s advice
and abide in the theater until after the evening performance. Sergius
and I were of the number; and, greatly to our relief, the tickets and
passports with which Sergius was already provided were accepted at the
railway stations without suspicion.

Our journey to the frontier, although desperately fatiguing, proved
uneventful, and when, having traveled by the Brest-Litovsk route, we
found ourselves in Berlin, we felt able to express to each other without
fear our thankfulness at our escape. In Berlin we stayed for a couple of
days, to take much needed rest, and to replenish our shabby and scanty
wardrobe, since we did not care to return to England with nothing but
the clothes we stood up in.

There was no need for Sergius to sell any of our jewelry to provide
ready money. He was well supplied with cash, and had this not been so he
could have drawn upon a Berlin banker whom he knew.

A couple of days later we presented ourselves, somewhat travel-worn, but
otherwise in good health, at the house of Prince Michaelow, in
Kensington, and I shall never forget the delighted astonishment with
which he and Nina welcomed us “home” again.

“Thank God!” said the former. “We never expected to see either of you
alive again.”

“You see, I fetched him home,” I said to Nina, and I hardly know whether
smiles or tears most prevailed as I received my friend’s enraptured
caresses.

“I can’t think how you have managed so beautifully,” said Nina; “unless,
indeed, you only went part of the way.”

“We went all the way, and Dora has gone through all sorts of terrible
adventures with no end of pluck,” asserted Sergius.

“It’s just wonderful! After the news of that horrible assassination
reached England, I felt sure you were both doomed,” said Nina, with a
shudder, accompanied by another hug. “But how did you escape so easily?”

“Perhaps we had better defer explicit particulars for a little while,”
interposed Prince Michaelow. “I am thinking that one never knows what
may happen, and that it will be as well not to betray the fact of your
having been in Russia again to any one. I suppose you were in St.
Petersburg?”

This was said so significantly that I knew what awful thing he was
hinting at, and at once exclaimed: “No, thank Heaven! Sergius has been
no further than Moscow. _That_ was done without him.”

“I am so thankful!” chimed in Nina. “Of course, I feel for the people.
But it is an immense relief to me to know that none of my friends have
killed the poor, misguided man.”

“You see,” said the prince, “we shall never be able to make true
patriots of our wives. They are too English for that. But how will this
affect your future?”

“I am just as much absolved from further duty as if mine had been the
hand which threw the bomb. Our Society is disbanded, and will never be
reorganized on the same lines. While still a member of it, I was
resolved to fulfill the terms of my oath to the letter. But that sort of
work does not suit me, and though I long for the regeneration of my
country, I am now convinced that violence on the part of secret
societies can never cure the evils we deplore.”

“Then you are not likely to join another secret society?”

“Never! My political career is over. I cannot sympathize with the
government. I may not work openly in the interests of the people. And I
will not lend myself again to secret plotting. This much I have already
told Dora. But she does not know yet that I have resolved never to
return to Russia. Henceforth my life is devoted to her happiness and
comfort.”

This was indeed glorious news, which helped me to throw off the last
talon of the incubus of dread, and speedily recover the happiest spirits
imaginable. We decided to adopt the prince’s advice, and to say nothing
to any one about having been elsewhere than on our originally projected
wedding-tour. We had returned within the time expected, and I for one
would not have put it in Belle’s power to betray the fact that Sergius
was in Russia when the czar was assassinated.

So we duly took possession of our own beautiful house; and then, as I
really longed to see Lady Elizabeth and Jerry, we went down to the
Grange, to pay a visit which my father had strongly urged us to pay.

And how different this journey to Moorbye was to the last one! Then I
was lonely, unloved, miserable and homeless. Now I was the possessor of
everything that goes to make life happy. And yet only a few months had
elapsed between the two visits. Early summer had but given way to late
autumn. Certainly, many events had been crowded into a short space of
time. Nevertheless, it was nothing short of wonderful that such results
should have sprung so rapidly from the ashes of what I had deemed an
almost incurable grief.

I could not complain of my reception, for all but Belle greeted me with
warmth, and I was positively thankful that she held aloof from me. I was
also glad that no one witnessed our meeting. She had kept her room, when
we first arrived, on the plea of a headache, to which I inwardly gave
the name of envy. For, knowing the superiority of Sergius to the Earl of
Greatlands, and thoroughly understanding Belle’s envious nature, I knew
that my good fortune could but be a very bitter pill for her to swallow.
We encountered each other in the corridor, when I was on my way to the
dressing-room assigned me, and it was characteristic of the nature of us
both that we merely bowed when we saw each other. There was no sisterly
kiss. Not even a handshake. Apparently there was to be an armed truce
between us, and Belle’s first words prepared me to understand that she
hated me as much as ever.

“So,” she said, drawing her superb figure up to its full height, and
looking scornfully at me, “you have managed to secure a title, after
all! Had you lived in the middle ages you would have been burned as a
witch, for nobody would have believed that you used aught but magic arts
to ensnare your victims. And you have not shown much decency, either, or
you would not have married so soon after—”

Here Belle, callous and hardened as she was, paused for a moment, and I
finished the sentence for her in a manner she little expected.

“Since the death of _your_ victim,” I said, now feeling as relentless as
she was herself. “Take care how you goad me, or I may be tempted to
betray your secrets. For I know everything, and one word from me could
shatter your castle of cards. While I am at it I will tell you something
else. Not long ago you deliberately meditated my removal by the same
means which made your fiancé an earl. Take care how you attempt to
repeat such experiments. I am not the only one in the secret. But it
will be safely kept, if you behave yourself, for the sake of others, who
would suffer by your downfall. I hardly need hint that you would
precipitate that downfall by any attack upon my life, since I am less
likely to die unavenged than the poor old earl. And now I have only one
stipulation to enforce. You must henceforth be civil and polite to me
and mine. In return I will refrain from ever alluding to this wicked
business again. The possessors of your secret are as anxious to guard it
as if they were alike guilty with you.”

Had Belle been struck into stone she could not have been more rigid than
she was. Her face petrified with horror, and her eyes betrayed the
consciousness of guilt. She made no attempt to interrupt me. But the
look of relief which overspread her face when I reassured her that her
secret was safe showed me that she thoroughly understood the meaning of
every word I said, and convinced me that I need fear no further insults
from her in future. I had not meant thus openly to confront her with her
own wickedness. But her insults stung me to it, and my words certainly
had the effect I desired.

When, shortly afterward, I joined the others in the dining-room, there
was ample balm for my wounded feelings. My father, having got over the
pique which he had first felt on discovering that I was capable of
carving my own fortunes, and that I was not inclined to eat humble pie,
was becoming quite cordial with me, and had evidently come to the
conclusion that there must be something in me, after all, since others
seemed to appreciate me so highly. As for Sergius, it was impossible to
resist him, and there was every evidence that Mr. Courtney was already
feeling very proud of his new son-in-law.

Lady Elizabeth was looking much better, and plied me with a great many
questions relative to my early Russian adventures. “I have missed you
very much,” she said. “But I have not felt so anxious about you as might
have been the case had you been less energetic and self-reliant.
Besides, you knew that I loved you, and I expected you would apply to me
at once, if you were in need of money. I also thought that, as the
friction was connected with Belle, you would return to us as soon as she
was married. But I never dreamed that you would be the possessor of a
wealthy husband and a title. Certainly, in your case, it has been proved
that it is better to be born lucky than rich. I wonder what Belle thinks
of it. She has never said anything to me. She knows I would not listen
to a word against you. But I hope she does not mean to be rude, or that
her headache is not a mere pretext to avoid you.”

“You need have no fear,” I replied confidently. “I met Belle in the
corridor, and received her congratulations. I think she means to let
bygones be bygones as much as possible now. I daresay she felt that she
had sufficient cause to be ill-natured before. And, you know, she must
have been awfully disappointed when she found she was not to live at the
castle.”

“You said some strange words that morning,” said Lady Elizabeth, sinking
her voice to a whisper. “The thought of what they implied has almost
killed me. The whole affair was so dreadful that I did not know what to
think. Do you still—”

“Mother,” I interrupted hastily, “for Heaven’s sake, pay no more heed to
the ravings of a grief stricken girl. It was unfortunate for us all that
your brother should have gained his title under such tragic
circumstances. But pray do not think that anything but nature interfered
with my wedding. It served me right. I was selfish and headstrong, and
ought to have remembered how cruelly Belle was disappointed. It was a
shame to say wicked things of her besides.”

“Oh, Dorrie! how thankful you make me. I have of late begun to think it
impossible that either Cyril or Belle would stoop to criminality. It was
too awful to believe. Now that you are also convinced, I feel thoroughly
happy. And how nice you are looking, too! You have such pretty hair, and
such a fine complexion. Your figure, too, since you have become less
thin, is as good as Belle’s own. Your father remarked a little while ago
that it was wonderful what an amount of good looks you were developing.”

“I believe I am too happy and well-cared for ever to recover my former
perfection of ugliness.”

“Now, Dorrie,” chimed in another voice, “it’s really too bad of you. You
don’t seem to be able to spare me a minute. I don’t believe you are half
so jolly as you used to be.”

“Why, Jerry!” I said, kissing him affectionately. “Didn’t I talk with
you nearly all the way from the station? And didn’t I discover what a
little fraud you are, for you couldn’t answer my most simple French
questions? And haven’t you taken possession of Sergius ever since?”

“Yes, to be sure. I forgot that. But, oh my! isn’t he a brick? He’s
given me a sovereign, and he’s going to buy me the jolliest pony he can
get, so that I can have plenty of riding in the holidays.”

Just at this juncture Mr. and Mrs. Garth, who, it seems, had been
invited to dine with us, arrived on the scene, and there was a
considerable amount of congratulating and handshaking. Then Belle came
down, looking as quietly elegant and beautiful as ever, though perhaps a
shade paler. She was very gracious when introduced to Sergius, and
impressed every one very favorably by her brilliant conversation and
ready wit.

Both my father and Lady Elizabeth looked very happy and contented, and
the evening was spent sociably and harmoniously. There was only one
cankerous secret hidden beneath the smiling surface of family unity. But
that was to be buried forever, I devoutly hoped.

“What a pity Greatlands isn’t here,” said my father, some time after we
had all adjourned to the drawing-room. “I’m sorry business kept him in
town this week. You see, Volkhoffsky, he is doing the thing in style,
and is very busy making all necessary preparations for next week’s grand
event. Yes, one week more, and then Belle, too, will have passed the
portals of matrimony.”

Yes, one week more, and the final scene in this life-drama will have
been played. One turn more of Fortune’s wheel, and we will ring the
curtain down upon these reminiscences of an ugly girl’s life.


                               ----------



                              CHAPTER XVI.
                   “Life and thought have gone away.”


Never had such a brilliant company been assembled within the walls of
Moorbye Church. It was Belle’s wedding-day, and the sun shone kindly
upon the face of nature. Only a few family friends had been invited
down, but the little church was filled to overflowing by the gentlefolks
of the neighborhood, who did not think it _infra dig._ to undergo a lot
of crowding and elbowing for the privilege of witnessing an earl’s
wedding.

Belle looked superb in her pearl-embroidered satin gown as she walked up
the aisle with my father, and her bearing must have struck the onlookers
as unusually calm and dignified. I fancied that I could detect a sign of
anxiety in the hurried glance she cast around in search of Cyril, and
that her face paled on discovering that he had not yet arrived. Possibly
she thought of that other bridal morning, when the bridegroom did not
put in an appearance. As yet, however, there was no need for uneasiness.
The train by which the Earl of Greatlands was to come from town was only
just due, and it might possibly be a little late.

“I feel very anxious,” said Lady Elizabeth to me, in a voice low enough
only to be heard by myself. “Cyril ought to have contrived to be here
first. He has behaved very strangely altogether of late, and I cannot
help thinking that something must be wrong with him. I hope he is not
ill.”

Alas! I knew what was wrong with him, and by this time my fears exceeded
Lady Elizabeth’s own. When I say that I feared, I speak advisedly. For
it had seemed to me that an interruption to this marriage was a thing to
be dreaded, for everybody’s sake. True, real happiness was not to be
expected for either Belle or her husband. But it was more fitting that
these two, who had sinned together, should spend the rest of their
conscience-haunted days together, than that either of them should be
left at liberty to cast a shadow upon the life of any one else. Perhaps
it was very presumptuous of me to constitute myself judge in such a case
as this; for to encourage criminals in the achievement of that for which
they have schemed and planned hardly seems a justifiable way of making
the punishment fit the crime. Certainly the demands of justice would
appear to point to a very different ending to our family troubles. But
what woman in my place would not have tried to pit silence and oblivion
against naked justice?

It was a relief to us all when the Earl of Greatlands, accompanied by
Mr. Alwyn Gardener, his best man, hurriedly entered the church and
walked toward the altar. But Mr. Gardener appeared flushed and troubled,
and the bridegroom seemed to me to be looking like one demented. For at
one moment he bit his lip and clinched his hand with all the air of one
who is doing a thing that is distasteful to him. The next he was smiling
at Belle, and gazing at her with the exultant admiration of a proud and
happy bridegroom.

Presently Mr. Garth and his two chosen assistants began the marriage
service, and the interest of the onlookers was quickened in an endeavor
to hear the responses. Even yet I felt apprehensive of interruption.
But, so far, my fears were unfounded, for the ceremony was concluded,
and soon all was smiles and congratulation. The bride was kissed by
relatives and bridemaids, and I hoped that, among all the fuss and
excitement, the fact that I neither kissed my sister nor shook hands
with my brother-in-law would pass unnoticed.

There was to be a reception after the wedding, and then the
newly-married pair were to go to Scotland for their honeymoon. We were
quite a merry party at the Grange, and even I, who was so much behind
the scenes, felt as if I almost dared hope that the family troubles were
now over.

Jerry was in high glee, for everybody liked him, and the tips he got
were enough to have turned any ordinarily lucky schoolboy green with
envy. His holidays were almost over, and no doubt some of the
school-chums of whom he spoke to me would soon show him how to get rid
of his pocket-money.

The Earl of Greatlands excused himself somewhat earlier than had been
expected, on the plea of feeling the need of half an hour’s quiet, as he
was considerably out of sorts. “It will be time enough for you to get
into your traveling dress in three-quarters of an hour, dear,” he said
to Belle, whom he kissed again with all the ardor of a lover. Then he
went up to his room, while Belle supported her honors a while longer in
a manner that won admiring encomiums from certain individuals of the
toadying order, who never lose an opportunity of flattering their
superiors in station. When at last the bride went upstairs, she had
little time to spare for dressing, but declined to take her two
bridemaids with her to facilitate the process.

A minute later Marvel, who had accompanied his master to Moorbye, rushed
into the room in which the rest of us were toying with time, and,
throwing his hands up with a despairing gesture, screamed rather than
shouted his dreadful tidings—

“My master is dead!”

That was what he had to tell us, and a moment later all was confusion
and excitement, which was augmented by the sound of despairing shrieks
from above.

In common with others, my first impulse was to rush upstairs to Belle’s
room. I arrived first, and found her standing in the middle of the
floor, alternately screaming and laughing, both screams and laughter
being such as can but proceed from the tortured bosom of insanity.
Beside her, on the floor, lay an open letter. I instinctively picked it
up and hid it in my pocket before any one else saw it. I knew, without
being told, that whatever awful tragedy had taken place in the next room
was explained in that letter, and that it was the reading of it which
had driven my sister mad.

There were plenty of affectionate hands ready to help the stricken
bride, and plenty of loving hearts that would fain have lightened her
woe. But the blow had been too awful in its suddenness, and had struck
when she was least prepared for it, just when she was at the zenith of
her triumph and satisfaction. It had extinguished forever the light of
reason from that beautiful face, and had transformed the erstwhile
smiling bride into a hopeless maniac.

Strangely enough, she seems to have forgotten the present, and all
memory of aught connected with the family of Greatlands has been wiped
off her darkened mind. She will never betray the part she bore in that
other tragedy, and the world speaks very pityingly of the beautiful girl
whose mental and social life ended on the very day which had witnessed
the climax of her ambition.

The new Earl of Greatlands, being tender and pitiful, would have
established his father’s bride of an hour in the dower-house, surrounded
by such comforts as she is capable of enjoying. But to this plan neither
my father nor Lady Elizabeth were willing to consent, and she still
lives at Courtney Grange, one of the saddest wrecks of humanity it is
possible to meet with. Interest in her surroundings she takes none, but
will sit and babble by the hour of the time when she was a little one,
and had no greater trouble than to please an indulgent governess.

My father has aged very much of late, and always bears about him the
impress of one who has been cruelly stricken by fate. He had almost
worshiped his eldest daughter, in whom he saw nothing but physical,
mental and moral perfection. To gaze upon her as she is, and to contrast
her present condition with what might have been, is a daily torture to
him, which robs his life of much of its former animation and spirit.
Seeing how he takes the changed order of things to heart, I often feel
thankful that he is quite unsuspicious of the fact that, but for
herself, Belle might now have been happy in the love of husband and
children, even as I am.

Lady Elizabeth, too, was greatly grieved for a time. But as her
sympathies are widely scattered, and her interest in human nature is
keen, she finds sufficient employment for mind and body to keep both in
a healthy state of activity. If there is one thing that she is more
sorry about than another, it is the fact that she could ever have
harbored unworthy suspicions against two people whom she now firmly
believes to be entitled to be numbered among the innocents. Thank God
that she is spared the knowledge which I possess! It would kill her.

Jerry is now at Cambridge, and bids fair to reward all the hopes
centered upon him.

As for myself, there is a perpetual problem facing me, and that is—What
have I done to deserve all the love and happiness which are showered
upon me? Yes, there is one other—How shall I repay Sergius for the
transformation he has wrought in my life? I am constantly trying to do
it, but never manage it quite to my own satisfaction, though I believe
my Russian friends, all of whom now live within a short distance of our
house, entertain very exaggerated views concerning my capabilities of
making a good wife.

There is one other subject upon which the future reader of these memoirs
may possibly desire a little enlightenment. He shall have it.

Cyril, earl of Greatlands, who is said to have accidentally poisoned
himself by swallowing a large dose of chloral in mistake for a milder
drug, sleeps by the side of his ancestors in the Greatlands mausoleum,
and only Dennis Marvel, who is now the young earl’s valet, and myself
ever dream that despair and remorse drove an apparently happy man to
sever the life-chords which had become a torture to him.

So soon as I had an opportunity to do so unobserved, I read the letter
which had been the last thing upon which Belle had gazed with the light
of reason.

    “My darling wife,” it ran, “I thought to have overcome the horror
    which has been resting upon me ever since I became an accursed
    parricide. My God! how could I do it! And how could you urge me to
    it! You, whom it would not have been difficult to worship as the
    outward embodiment of all that is pure and holy! I have often asked
    myself if I were mad. For I could not otherwise understand how it
    was possible for me to continue loving the temptress whose ambition
    has wrought my father’s doom and mine. For I am doomed and accursed!
    My days are filled with loathing of myself, and my nights are one
    long dream of horror. For me there is no salvation. I see my
    father’s frowning face, and hear his curses even amid the gay talk
    of the happy folk around us, and it is more than I can bear.
    Therefore I have put an end to it. When you pick this up from your
    dressing-table, the man who murdered his own father to gratify your
    ambition and his own greed will be numbered among the dead. But for
    you, who could coolly plan a murder, and yet not be haunted by
    remorse, life still holds many possibilities. You are now the
    Countess of Greatlands. I have enabled you to gratify your ambition.
    In return, you can make expiation for your own guilt by devoting
    your gifts to the interests and benefit of others. This I pray you
    to do, repentant sinner that I am! This I implore you to do,
    madly-loving husband that I am! This I command you to do,
    wretched—but but my strength fails me. I must bid you an eternal
    farewell. God bless you, my darling, and may His mercy be given to
    us both.

                                                                “CYRIL.”

I read this letter through, but though it moved me terribly, it told me
nothing I did not know already. How would it be with others, though?
Would it not enlighten them more than was desirable about secrets that
were better kept? I thought so, and I carefully burned the letter,
anxiously watching it shrivel beneath the action of the flames, and
guarding against the possibility of the smallest fragment escaping to
betray the dark mysteries of the past.

Does the reader blame me?



                                THE END.



    ----------------------------------------------------------------


[Illustration]


After Bathing the first time with Pearline, you feel as if you never had
been clean before, possibly you haven’t. Only baths like the Turkish or
the Russian can make you as clean as Pearline does. There’s the same
feeling of lightness and luxury after it, too. Bathing with Pearline
costs almost nothing. It’s like everything else—you would long for it,
if it were expensive, but you’re apt to overlook it when it’s cheap.
Directions on every package.

Beware

Peddlers and some unscrupulous grocers will tell you “this is as good
as” or “the same as Pearline.” IT’S FALSE—Pearline is never peddled; if
your grocer sends you an imitation, be honest—send it back.

JAMES PYLE, New York.


------------------------------------------------------------------------


                                BURNETT
                           - - - AT THE - - -
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          WHAT THE RESTAURATEURS AND CATERERS WHO ARE TO FEED
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Messrs. JOSEPH BURNETT & CO.

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                                                       Very truly yours,
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                                           By ALBERT S. GAGE, President.

                                -------

                                              CHICAGO, April 26th, 1893.

Messrs. JOSEPH BURNETT & CO., Boston and Chicago.

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                                                F. K. MCDONALD, Manager,
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                                -------

                                          WOMAN’S BUILDING,            }
                                          WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION.}
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Messrs. JOSEPH BURNETT & CO., Boston and Chicago.

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Gentlemen: We take pleasure in stating that BURNETT’S Flavoring Extracts
will be used exclusively in the cuisine of the Columbia Casino
Restaurant, at the World’s Fair Grounds, as it is our aim to use nothing
but the best. Respectfully,

                                                  H. A. WINTER, Manager.

                                -------

                                          TRANSPORTATION BUILDING,     }
                                          WORLD’S COLUMBIAN EXPOSITION.}
                                                CHICAGO, April 24, 1893.

Messrs. JOSEPH BURNETT & CO.

Gents: After careful tests and comparisons we have decided to use
“BURNETT’S EXTRACTS” exclusively in our ice creams, ices and pastry.

                                                      Very respectfully,
                                                         SCHARPS & KAHN,
                                    Caterers for the “Golden Gate Cafe,”
                                                Transportation Building.
                                                            “TROCADERO,”
                                   Cor. 16th Street and Michigan Avenue.

                                -------

                                       “THE GREAT WHITE HORSE” INN CO.,}
                                       WORLD’S COLUMBIAN               }
                                       EXPOSITION GROUNDS.             }
                                  CHICAGO, ILL., U.S.A., April 26, 1893.

Messrs. JOSEPH BURNETT & CO., Boston and Chicago.

Gentlemen: It being our aim to use nothing but the best, we have decided
to use BURNETT’S Flavoring Extracts exclusively, in the ice cream, cakes
and pastries served in “The Great White Horse” Inn, in the grounds of
the World’s Columbian Exposition.

                                                       Very truly yours,

T. B. SEELEY, Manager, “The Great White Horse” Inn Co.

                             --------------

    The Restaurants that have contracted to use BURNETT’S EXTRACTS,
                              exclusively,
                            are as follows:

 WELLINGTON CATERING CO.,
 “GREAT WHITE HORSE” INN,
 THE GARDEN CAFE, WOMAN’S BUILDING,

                                -------

 COLUMBIA CASINO CO.,
 THE GOLDEN GATE CAFE,
 NEW ENGLAND CLAM BAKE CO.,
 BANQUET HALL.

                             --------------

                   JOSEPH BURNETT & CO., BOSTON, MASS.


                                 Pears’
                                  Soap

 Wholesome soap is one that attacks the dirt, but not the living skin.
 It is Pears’.


------------------------------------------------------------------------



 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_).





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