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Title: The Will and The Way
Author: Bernard Capes
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Will and The Way
Author: Bernard Capes

*

Published in 'The Mercury', Hobart-20 October, 1909.

*

CHAPTER I.--THE DISINHERITED.

Towards midnight there was a little commotion on the Havre to
Southampton packet boat Columbia, which was drawn up against the quay of
the French port, and already preparing for its journey across the
channel. A passenger--one of three, two men and a boy, who had lately
come aboard--had been taken so alarmingly ill with a hemorrhage from the
lungs that, in the circumstances of stiff weather which prevailed, it
seemed impossible for him to make the passage and survive. Consequently
it was resolved, after the first violence of the attack had subsided, to
re-transfer him, to the shore, where at no great distance quarters more
meet to his condition might be found. He was assisted over the gangway
by his companion, while the little boy trotted beside, sobbing noisily
between grief and terror.

The invalid, all stained and shaken as he was, looked down on, the child
with an expression which, in its anguished struggle to reassure, was as
pathetic as it was ghastly.

"All right, Bobo," he whispered; "daddy's all right really."

The effort brought a thread of new scarlet from his lips.

"Hold your silly tongue!" said the man who supported him. "I'm here to
look after you both, am I not?"

A twisted smile, a little faint pressure on his arm, answered the
speaker's protest. They spoke a volume of grateful confidence. At that
moment the melancholy boom of the steamer's whistle sang after them,
announcing her casting-off. The stricken man stopped, looked back a
moment, then up to the black sky and down again.

"When I embark!" he muttered. "Find me a bed, Rob."

They moved slowly on again, the rain and the wind whistling in their
faces. Presently they came upon a little auberge, where lights still
burned, not far from the quay. It was tawdry in its appointments,
operatic in its paint, but at least it promised them a refuge within
their means. After a little the sufferer was laid in a bed, under a
patch-work coverlet, gay as a flower-garden, but not smelling so nice,
and a doctor was sent for. He never arrived, as a matter of fact; but
'cela ne fait rien'--'it is all one for that'--whispered the aubergiste,
with a serene assurance, to the friend. She was an ample woman of
philosophic temperament, and she took the world as it came. All she
asked was that it should pay its footing--a point on which, in the
present instance, the invalid's companion was able to convince her.
Their interview took place in a little reechy passage off the bedroom.

"I am," he said, "Monsieur Robert Le Strang, an English gentleman
returning home from Japan. My friend is Monsieur William Grenville, also
an English gentleman, some time domiciled in France, but now purposing
to accompany me." (The landlady shrugged her fat shoulders, at which he
paused a moment.) "The child," he went on, directly, "is Monsieur
Grenville's child--"

"And soon an orphan,"' put in the landlady, nodding vigorously. He took
no notice, but continued:

"In all of us madame's natural refinement will detect that soul of
honour which is inseparable from culture. It may be a question of
hours'--('of hours,' repeated the landlady, nodding again)--'it may be a
question of days. In either case, my obligations to the dead will but
render the more sacred my obligations to the living. We are poor, but
honest."

"That is a very good sentiment," said madame, nodding more vigorously
than ever. "And, after all, there is no more healthy lying than in the
poor quarter of the cemetery."

She accepted something in advance, and the interview ended. Le Strang,
re-entering softly to his friend, discovered a change even in that short
interval. A little rest, to rally himself for the final journey, had
been all, indeed, that the poor fellow needed. Obviously, it was to be a
question not of days, but of hours--perhaps of minutes. The grey dawn
was already on his face; his lungs laboured like half-submerged engines,
with a faint splashing sound. He beckoned to the other, who came and
knelt, and put an arm about him.

The invalid made a weak motion towards the boy, who, in the blessed
self-forgetfulness of childhood, lay sound asleep on a little sofa
apart.

"Yes," said Le Strang, quiet but distinct. "I understand. You can trust
him to me, Wil."

A smile of ineffable comfort lit the dying man's face. He sought his
good comrade's left hand with both his unsteady palms. Clasped thus
together, they waited the final call. Presently, fathering some strength
of confidence, he spoke--a broken, rapid current of words:

"Steady at last--steady, Rob, thanks to you--the best friend man ever
found on short acquaintance. Going down--caught in the undertow, and
going down--but steady, Rob, steady--hold up my head, man. Always a
drifter. Where the tide cast me, I turned in the eddies--round and
round, until the next surge took me on. There was Lucy--you won't let
her be slandered--a good, patient wife to a rascal--forgiving, too. Her
boy, Rob, and the heir, by God's justice, to 'Scars.' He won't get
it--but you--you stand to him. A. village girl, Rob--and, the old man
cursed me for it. A dotard, they called him; yet I could never have
believed him capable of that worst. You've got the story,
Bob--every--word--say it--say it?"

"I've got it, Will. I don't forget. There's a memory in me like a
coiner's die."

"Die, you dog! There's an expression! Don't you go dying and leaving my
boy alone. He's got none but you--you and Ruby. I've no faith in her;
but you must try, Rob--you must try and get at her heart for the boy's
sake. She ought to do something for him mistress of 'Scars'--my God, all
hers, and not a broken stick to throw at us!"

"I'm going to try her, Will."

"Try, and hang her--spoilt and selfish, and heartless. Leave her
alone--her mother was at the bottom of it. Die! how we've all died--my
mother, my stepmother, my father, my wife--and now--we've made 'a
covenant with death,' I think, we Grenvilles. Only she remains--a proper
step-sister for the story-books. Look after my boy. Rob."

He sank back exhausted; but presently rallied a little, and spoke again.

"There was a fellow--Redding my father's lawyer--a pushing upstart--son
of a better man. He made the will that cut me. Cut him into slices for
it--crimp him like a cod. Wills! We can all make wills--uncles and aunts
and misbegotten nephews. I've made mine--there may be windfalls yet.
I've made mine, and left everything, of which I may die possessed, to
you, Rob in trust for my boy."

"You mustn't do it, old fellow."

"I've done it, you dog--the last time I was in London. You'll find all
particulars in the bag yonder. A man of business, Rob--for the first and
only occasion in my life."

A flush of happy roguery came to his face--he laughed; and the blood
followed. Kneeling to staunch the flow, Le Strang had not another word
to say but of helpfulness and pity. Such formless protest as was surging
in his mind could find no expression here possible to the occasion. And,
after all, what did it matter A pauper's bequest to one only a little
better provided! No suspicion of collusion in such a testament were
worth charging to him. The will, if it really existed, was so much
scrap-paper. It could not testify by a word against the
disinterestedness of his conduct. He put it out of his mind.

Thenceforth the dying man uttered little that was intelligible. For long
his broken spirit flitted amidst scenes and events to which the watcher
had no definite clue. They revealed little that was creditable or
becoming, for the most part. The man had been a wastrel, and had lived
hard in his short time. It was only, perhaps, his love for his child
which had redeemed him at the last. But the friend was prepared for no
better. It had been the brilliancy of a fine spirit, shining through
that miasma of intemperance, which had attracted him to Grenville at the
first. He had been able to penetrate beneath the flesh, and to
distinguish how much that was fatal, and how much that was charming, and
how much that was the two confounded in that perverse nature, was due to
inherited constitution. And the sum of his approval and disapproval had
been an affection such as he had never felt for any man before.

Near dawn the incessant babble thinned, grew spasmodic, and then died
away altogether. But, with the first ray of daylight which broke into
the dingy room, the sick man sat quickly up on his pillow, and there was
a look of amazement on his face.

"Rob!" he cried in a strong voice--"Disinherited!"

Le Strang wove his arms about him, and commanded the fearful eyes.

"Listen to me, Will," he said, "listen to me. Bobo is mine from this
moment."

The fear sank out of the eyes, and, like water in sand, the life with
it. The dead lips were still recording a smile when they were shut for
ever from the light of day.

A week later. Le Strang took his little orphaned charge across the
water.

CHAPTER II.--THE INHERITRESS.

The will which had dispossessed the dead man had been drafted by Mr.
Luke Redding, solicitor, of Long Wyecombe, in Essex, and of
Arundel-street, Strand, London; had been signed by his client, Mr.
William Grenville, senior, of Scars, in the same county; and had been
witnessed by the lawyer himself, and by the testator's butler, Ambrose
Sham; and it had left everything unconditionally to Miss Ruby
Vanborough, the deceased's stepdaughter, in defiance of the claims of
his son William, an only child by a first marriage.

The explanation of this was simple enough--a typical illustration of the
spared rod and the hated son. A spoilt boy, a spoilt father, wedding,
for his second wife, with a spoilt woman already the mother of a spoilt
daughter--such had been the situation, and what could one expect of it?
The self-willed youngster went all to pieces at manhood, eloped with the
poor child of one of his father's tenants, committed the crowning sin of
marrying her, and was thenceforward pronounced accurst. The spoilt and
jealous stepmother took natural advantage of that breach to secure the
succession to her spoilt daughter, and died, in fact, at last, happy in
the assurance of her triumph; to which assurance the now lonely and
bereaved husband and father never once thereafter seemed to fail, by
word or sign of relenting towards the disowned, to give full
justification. So Miss Ruby came to inherit Scars, and with it as
handsome a rent roll as a young lady of expensive tastes could desire.

She was just about twenty at that date, and a very pretty heiress in
more senses than one. Moreover, taking into account her upbringing and
surroundings, the percentage of good metal in her character was
relatively remarkable. Only it was all held in solution, as it were,
like gold dust in sand, and wanted a deal or washing by a careful hand
to bring it out. She had always had other people to think of things for
her, you see, and knew very little more of the world and its hardships
than might a modern sultana, drowsing on her scented divan over the
latest French novel.

I doubt if she had ever once seriously considered the fortunes of the
man whose utmost loss had been her utmost gain. She had been a girl,
little more than a child, indeed, at the time of his disgrace; and,
since thereafter his name had been banned at Scars the very memory of
him, as a potential factor in her existence, must have grown as dim as a
faded figure in an old sun-baked photograph on a wall. And now for years
she had come to regard herself as the rightful heir of the doting
stepfather who adored her. She meant no one any harm; but to have been
told that, even with the luxurious darlings of the world, there was no
such thing as a natural right to the best of everything, would have
astonished her completely. So that, when once mistress of herself, you
may imagine how badly she came to be served by that ignoramus, and into
what perilous places she was brought by her.

Miss Vanborough did not, after her succession, live at Scars, so called
from the calcareous stone of which it was built. The old Stuart house,
standing out in the fields, depressed her, shorn of its petting and
petted associations. So Mr. Redding found her a tenant for it, and she
went up to London--in company with a "chaperon-companion," Miss Pringle
(originally engaged to her service from the columns of the 'Morning
Post')--where she rented a pleasant suite of rooms in Queen Charlotte's
Mansions between Westminster and St. James's Park.

It was in "Punch," I think, that the picture appeared of the haughty
lady of quality commanding her maid to put out her tongue that she might
wet a stamp on it. Miss Pringle stood in some such relation of slavery
to her employer.

Miss Vanborough--not that Miss Pringle would ever have consented to the
vulgarity of putting out her tongue, unless under medical compulsion;
but she was quite the right subject for the tyranny of a spoilt, if
inherently generous, nature, and would at any time have been ready to
put out, if not a tongue, a shoulder or a knee-cap in her service. She
was an excessively genteel spinster of forty, with a number of little
mincing airs and graces, which seemed to find their crowning expression
in a fuzz of red-brown hair, saucily bedecked with a bow. For the rest,
her figure was angular, her eyes were watery, her nose was retrousse
only at the tip, and her chin was so drawn back into her neck as to give
her a perpetual expression of sneering, which was just an arrant libel
by Nature on a disposition really romantic and affectionate. Her
manners, both of conduct and speech, were correct to a degree. She would
always hold her tea-cup with her little finger hooked daintily out, and
the saucer held under where her chin should have been; to have called a
table-napkin anything but a 'serviette' would have given her pain; her
emphasis upon such words as 'always' and 'often' was invariably upon the
second syllable. But it was in syntax that Miss Pringle excelled. Her
nice selection of words was only surpassed by the high-bred liberties
she took with their pronunciation, and it was simply her affliction
that, in spite of her exceeding particularity, syllables and initial
letters would have a way of transposing themselves occasionally against
her better will and judgment. Thus there were two dear comrades of her
youth, upon whose example she had greatly founded her own principles of
conduct, and to whom she would have been moved constantly to refer, had
it not been for that unfortunate tendency of hers which led her to
translate their titles from Miss Bessie and Bella into Miss Bellie and
Bessa, than which nothing could have sounded more indecorous. Wherefore,
many of the precepts of those excellent unknown ladies were obliged to
go lacking the authority of their names; and only their spirit survived
in Miss Pringle.

One April afternoon the duenna and her charge sat together in the
luxurious drawing-room of the flat in Queen Charlotte's Mansions. Tea
had just been brought in, and the elder lady was engaged in setting
forth the light comestibles accompanying it. She sliced the cake, salted
the crumpets, selected an alluring sandwich or two, and brought a little
occasional table to the side of the sofa on which Miss Vanborough
reclined. The girl pushed it away, rose, and went and knelt by the fire,
yawning.

"You've let it almost out," she said, with a peevish shiver. "I do wish
you'd remember that everyone isn't as cold-blooded as yourself."

"Ruby," protested Miss Pringle. "Surely you must recall your late
ejaculation of reproval when I moved to replenish the grate."

"Then you should practice repose. I do."

She took the cover from the hot plate which stood beside her, tasted a
crumpet, uttered an exclamation of disgust, and seized and shot the
whole contents of the dish into the fire, where they sank fizzling. Miss
Pringle sat in speechless dismay.

But there had been more temper than viciousness in the impulsive act,
and Miss Vanborough had no sooner done this foolish thing than she was
ashamed of herself. She scrambled to her feet, turned to the chaperon
companion, and put all right, as she supposed, in a word.

"That was horrible of me; and I know you like more salt on them than I
do."

Miss Pringle, who loved crumpets, could not forbear a half-tearful
reproof.

"It is not that, but the waste, my dear! Think of the indigenous poor!"

"Yes, I know," said Miss Vanborough. "I'll ring for some more."

The other protested, but in vain. A wilful penitent must have her way,
and poor Miss Pringle had to sit starving while the tea was growing
cold, and her employer satisfying her own languid needs on scraps of
cake and biscuit.

Presently Miss Ruby, lolling back on cushions, with her knees crossed,
and her hands knitted behind her head, essayed some lazy reflections.

"The world is a very good place, Catty--don't you think so? I can't
imagine how anybody can be uncomfortable or unhappy in it."

"Perhaps not, my dear," answered Miss Pringle, "looking from afar on it,
as you do, from the serene altitude of affluence and in the grateful
consciousness of a sunny disposition. As my admired Miss Bessa used to
remark, 'Optimism and pessimism may be useful terms to psychologists,
but to my mind happiness is a question not of externals but of
internals.'"

"Yes. I can quite believe that," said Miss Vanborough. "A little pain
under one's pinafore, you know--Catty," she continued presently,
brightly musing--"did anyone ever want to marry you?"

Miss Pringle started, and blushed a little, wriggling her whole body
from the waist upwards.

"My dear Ruby," she said. "What an unexpected question."

"No, but did anyone?"

"There was an individual," said Miss Pringle, hanging her head.

"Well," said the girl, "what became of him?"

"He was offered," said Miss Pringle faintly, "the choice between a
virtuous attachment, reasonably endowed by an indulgent parent, and the
brazen front of poverty: and he elected, I regret to say, for the
latter."

"He was an idiot, then," said Miss Vanborough contemptuously. "I would
not be poor for anything or anybody in the world. The very thought of
poverty makes me shudder. I would commit any sin, submit to any fate,
rather than know what want is."

"Oh, not any sin," said Miss Pringle piteously.

"Yes, any," answered the girl stubbornly.

"You will come to think differently." pleaded the duenna--"yes, you
will. I have suffered, but I do not complain. There are calls beyond the
compass of worldly wisdom."

Miss Vanborough laughed. "I could never love anyone who made poverty a
condition of our union. And, in any case. I don't intend to marry."

"You don't?"

"Why should I, and sacrifice my independence? Husbands, at the best, are
an expensive hobby. I prefer pictures, and china, and things that one
can always exchange for others when one gets tired of them. If one could
exchange husbands in the same way, I might think of it."

Miss Pringle raised her hands in a shocked horror.

"You will come to think differently," was all she could repeat.

"I don't fancy I shall," said Miss Vanborough, briskly 'toeing' away a
ball of worsted which had rolled from Miss Pringle's hand. "I am very
contented as I am; and when one has everything one wants, it would be
the silliest thing to invite in another who would upset the whole
apple-cart."

"Ruby!"

"Wouldn't it, now?"

"There are men and men."

"Don't you believe it," said the girl saucily. "They are all cut to
exactly the same pattern of greed and moroseness. I am a desirable
person now, am I not? Well, I intend to remain desirable."

As she spoke, a servant entered the room, carrying a card on a salver.
The young lady read the superscription:--"Mr. Robert Le Strang? I don't
know him."

"He said, ma'am, on very particular business," answered the girl.

"Type-writers, or sewing-machines, or entrancing pianolas, I suppose.
Well, show him in, Kate."

A minute later, Miss Vanborough half rose to greet the entrance into her
sanctuary of a tall keen-faced gentleman of middle age.

CHAPTER III.--MISS VANBOROUGH CONSENTS.

Robert Le Strang was thirty-seven, in fact, but his features might have
signified an older man. They had been moulded in a Stoic school, and the
lines on them signified somewhat the scars earned in a more or less
successful combat with adversity. The boney structure of the face, was
prominent, particularly in its underjaw, which protruded a little,
revealing, in moments of grimness, a row of small bull-terrier teeth
calculated to grip. The whole cast of the face suggested dogged
resolution, and would have been unpleasing, had not its sternness been
partly belied, by the melancholy of a pair of very attractive blue eyes,
shadowed under strong dark brows. It was healthily tanned, too, and
bespoke an intimacy with fresh air. The stranger was well but quietly
dressed, and stood with his left hand holding to the lapel of his dark
fawn-coloured covert coat. He was patently a gentleman.

"Miss Vanborough?" he said.

The heiress--who noticed that the low vibrant voice was in keeping with
the rest--had risen, and she bowed. He saw before him, for his part, a
young lady who, on the face of her, presented at first sight no feature
out of the common with the generality of young ladies prettily bred on
the conventions of fashion and conduct. She was tallish and rather
slender, and the mourning which she wore served to emphasise the
particularly clear whiteness of her face, and the particularly red
blossom of her lips. In addition, her eyes were grey and rather
insolent, and her hair was plentiful, of a deep gold, and attractively,
somewhat childishly, looped away from her forehead. But these things
counted for nothing with Le Strang. He was not a marrying man, nor an
impressionable, save to the qualities which endear.

"Painted!" he thought about the red lips; but there at least he was
wrong.

He advanced a few paces, commendably at his ease.

"You do not know me," he said. "I must ask your indulgence. I come as an
agent, or beggar."

At the ominous word, Miss Pringle looked up, and Miss Vanborough sat
down graceful but frigid.

"Pray take a chair," she said. "I never refuse a hearing to anyone
entitled to ask my help. On whose behalf do you come?"

"Your brother's child."

It had been no part of his desire to make dramatic capital out of his
mission, and the consciousness of something theatrical in this brusque
announcement, and the astonished pause it evoked, brought a slight flush
to his cheek.

"You did not know, perhaps, that he had a child?" he hastened to add.

"I have no brother," said the girl, quietly, after a moment taken to
recover herself.

"I beg your pardon," said Le Strang. "I should have said your
stepbrother, of course."

Her eyes opened wide at him. She conned him without the least
embarrassment, and even with some shadow of impertinence.

"Did he send you?" she asked presently.

"He is dead, Miss Vanborough."

Her half-languid attitude yielded to a start of concern. Miss Pringle
had dropped her ball of worsted, and was on her feet on the instant,
very shocked and agitated.

"Dead!" cried the companion--"Mr. William dead?"

Le Strang bowed gravely.

"A week ago in Havre. He had long been prepared for it--it came swiftly
in the end. I was with him at the time--his nearest friend, I suppose.
We were both from Marseilles, where he had been picking up a living in
his own way, and where I came across him for the first time less than a
year ago. He was a dying man then."

The sound of Miss Pringle's sobbing became audible. The girl glanced at
her in some surprise, and away again.

"Yes?" she said to Le Strang. "We knew, of course, that he had ruined
his constitution. And you were with him, you say?"

"I was called home to England," he answered, "and Grenville had decided
to accompany me. He knew that the end must be near, and he had resolved
to bury his pride, and to come and make an appeal to you on behalf of
his child--his disinherited child, Miss Vanborough. He had never put a
penny by, and he died virtually insolvent. The boy was the one object of
his concern--of his passionate devotion, I may say; and, when he was
seized with his last and fatal attack, he begged me to charge myself
with his care--to represent the father in this dying appeal. I accepted
the trust; and I may tell you that, whatever your decision, that trust
will remain to me a sacred one."

"You mean that you are prepared to adopt him?"

"I mean it fully."

Miss Pringle, clasping her hands, took an anguished step forward.

"Ruby!" she whispered tearfully.

Le Strang turned and looked kindly into the poor blowzed face.

"I am sorry I agitate you so much," he said. "You knew Mr. Grenville?"

Miss Pringle wiped her eyes.

"Never personally, Mr. Le Strang," she said faintly, endeavouring to
repress her sobs, "but by melancholy reputation his name and character
were familiar to me. Never naturally perfidious, I am sure, the unhappy
young man; but--the voice of the siren, Mr. Le Strang!"

The visitor bent his brows. "He married her. You know she is dead?"

The companion almost jumped.

"We had heard of it--long ago--it was a merciful release."

He shrugged his shoulders and turned again to the mistress. She still
sat impassive, conning him as if lazily interested. His underteeth
showed a little.

"You will pardon me that digression," he said. "This, of course, is the
reasonable attitude to assume towards a pure question of business."

"What attitude?" she asked. He passed the question by.

"Naturally," he said, "you will ask my credentials. The Offices of the
Board of Education will supply them. I have been teaching in Japan for
some years, and it was on my way home, after relinquishing my post, that
I came across your step-brother, and learned from him the particulars of
his life-story. It is not my business to comment on that; but I may say
that, if he was rightly served, the merits of those who profited by his
downfall should at least justify themselves in generosity."

He paused, and a slight flush came to the girl's cheek.

"I think, perhaps," she said quietly, "that it is like the devotion of
men to waste their substance in riotous living, and then, when dying, to
shift their burdens of responsibility to the shoulders of others."

He looked at her curiously. Surely she was all and worse than his dead
friend had painted her--selfish and worthless. He rose to his feet.

"Well," he said, "you may claim or you may repudiate the duty of
concerning yourself in this child's welfare. In any case it may appear
necessary to assure you that my part in the matter is a purely
disinterested one."

He turned as if to go. She sprang to her feet, blazing now with
indignation.

"Stop!" she cried peremptorily. He faced round.

"How dare you!" she cried low, commanding him like a young insulted
vestal; "how dare you?"

"My mission--" he began; but she interrupted him hotly:

"Your mission! A diplomatic missioner, to be sure. Is that the code of
manners you taught them in Japan--to make your way into strange houses,
and demand charity of their inmates with a pistol at their heads?"

"Ruby," cried Miss Pringle, wringing her hands--"he never did--don't
mind her, sir. Oh! she hardly knew Mr. William, and took no part in his
disgrace! It was all the father's doing--he was like a madman, but very
reasonable about it."

Le Strang stood quite motionless, and, standing, saw the colour fade
from the flushed young cheek, and the storming of the young bosom die
down. He was beginning to change his opinion to find something here to
admire, after all.

"I will not pretend that you have misinterpreted me," he said; "and I
beg your pardon."

She bit her lip and turned a little from him.

"You spoke of my attitude just now," she said presently, not looking his
way, "and it was perfectly evident what you meant. I am not called upon
to justify that, or to explain my opinions or sentiments in any way to
you. But your air of moral superiority was assumed in utter ignorance of
the true circumstances of the case, so far as I am concerned, and if you
are apologising for that, I accept your apology. As to the child, if I
ever knew that William Grenville had one, the fact had escaped my
memory." (A little chill shot again through Le Strang). "Now," she said,
"learning it, I shall of course claim the right to adopt, and educate,
and care for him."

Very formal and dignified for a young lady of twenty or so. Le Strang
bowed, feeling comically as if he had been whipped.

"Then I can have no more to say," he answered gravely, "save to
apologise again for some unjustified expressions, uttered under a
misapprehension, and to thank you earnestly on my dead friend's behalf.
When shall I bring the boy to you?"

She turned to him, half unwillingly.

"I will let you know, if you please. It is a pure question of business.
The term was yours, you will remember, and you will not expect from me
any sentimental acknowledgments of your kindness to my connections.
Only, being business, it is necessary for me to consult, in the first
instance, with my step-father's lawyer, Mr. Redding, who advises me in
difficulties, for I am still very young. Will you call again the day
after to-morrow, about this same time, when I shall hope to give you a
definite answer?"

"Thank you. I will call."

He made his bow, including both ladies in it, and left the room as
self-possessed as he had come.

The moment he was well gone, Miss Vanborough whipped round like a
bristling cat on the companion.

"What are you crying about?"

"Oh. Ruby!" wept Miss Pringle; "poor Mr. William!"

"Nonsense!" cried the girl, scornfully. "You knew less about him than I
did--and that was next to nothing. It's hypocrisy to pretend you care.
If you want to cry about anything, cry about the way in which I have
been obliged to sit and listen to the insults of that man."

"Did he insult you?"

"Don't you know he did?"

"I was too upset to notice. He made me all of a twitter; and you,
too--such a creature as I am. There--I won't cry any more."

"Cry!" echoed Miss Vanborough, bitterly. "Nothing would induce me to
flatter such a savage by crying over his rudeness!"

In proof of which, she threw herself upon a sofa and gave way to quite a
little storm of angry weeping over that injury to her vanity.

CHAPTER IV.--MISS VANBOROUGH REFUSES.

Le Strang left Queen Charlotte's Mansions conscious of a curious ferment
in his mind, which he strove hard, though not quite successfully, to
subdue. His position in this matter was, he told himself, an entirely
detached one, since he had negotiated the transfer which was to shift
all further responsibility from his shoulders. And so the matter ended
for him, and in a day or two he would be free to go about his own
affairs as independently as if no dying friend had ever imposed a solemn
trust upon him. Which was all as it should be--yet, was he in his heart
quite satisfied to leave things thus? And did his obligations fairly end
with this apparently successful termination to his mission? The heiress
was patently--and, indeed, he had been led to expect no less--a spoilt
and self-willed young woman, in whom an impulse to duty might represent
no more than the sunshine of a passing mood. Supposing she were to tire
of her accepted task, to end by neglecting the child, or by transferring
in her turn his custody to alien hands? Were that for him, Le Strang, to
keep, according to the spirit, or merely the letter, the promise exacted
of him by the father?

He had loved William Grenville. Something buoyant and brilliant in the
man, asserting itself through all that temperamental baseness, had
caught at his heart. It was the tenderness of the strong for the
weak--the stonewall lending itself to the clinging of the ivy. That
strength, he decided, must justify the trust reposed in it, through life
and the after memory of life. No--he must not yet loose his hold on the
fortunes of poor Will's child.

Maybe there was some newer feeling, unconscious and unrecognised,
stirring in the deep blood of him. It owed its origin, if there were, to
the moment when a hurt vanity had risen, with hot cheeks, to give him
back insult for his insult. Until that moment all her charms, all her
graces had passed him by unmoved. Now it was characteristic of his
nature that he could vouchsafe the petulant creature a second thought,
and of approval this time, for her anger. "Still very young," he mused,
with a half-smile; "she called herself 'still very young.' That was a
redeeming admission and touching in its way. I suppose she has hardly
known denial or contradiction in all her short life."

The shoulder of a passer-by brushing against him startled him from his
preoccupation, and he raised his face determinedly.

"This is preposterous stuff," he actually muttered to himself between
his teeth, but without condescending to explain to what he referred;
"nothing but an episode, after all. The main business of my life is to
live."

He had that main business set as a problem before him in actual fact.
His record was unexceptionable, but his credentials were another matter.
He was only some fifteen months from Japan, where he had been engaged
for some years as lecturer on English literature in the Tokyo
University. Thence, being a man of forcibly unorthodox views, missionary
intrigue, operating upon national jealousy, had at length succeeded in
ousting him. He had returned home, securing a temporary appointment, by
the way, at Marseilles, where he had met with William Grenville. His
final journey to England had been for the purpose of taking up a
trifling patrimony, which, with his moderate sayings, was all the
fortune that existed to his name. Now, strong understanding soul that he
was, he stood, with a slightly impaired credit, to face the world
afresh.

He looked, indeed, a man fit to the best of that task. It was his
misfortune only that the self-seeking side of him was so entirely
subordinated to the intellectual. He was even something of a dreamer and
romantic; but that was by the way, and not to be confessed.

He reached his lodgings, which were in the Gloucester-road near the
"Gardens," in a curious mood between gaiety and depression, and took the
little five-year-old golden-curled manling on his knee.

"Bobo," he said, "would you like to have a kind aunt to go and live
with?"

The child threw his little arms about his neck. There could be nothing
much wrong with a man who could so gain, in so short a time, the
affectionate confidence of a baby.

"If Robby comes with Bobo," he said. Le Strang laughed. "Robby, Bobo,
would be de trop-po, I am afraid," said he. "But Robby will always be
there in spirit."

That suggested a sufficient compromise to the child, who had already in
his short life experienced many chances and changes, and the two had a
great romp together. For the first time, perhaps, Le Strang was
beginning to realise a sense of personal sacrifice in this disposal of
his little comrade. But his resolution would admit no false sentiment
there. It would not have, though the child had been his own.

On the day, and at the hour appointed, he presented himself in Miss
Vanborough's drawing-room. No one was there when he was shown in, and he
was left ample time in which to scrutinise his surroundings. There was
rather a costly excess of furniture and bric-a-brac; but that, no doubt,
was due to the necessity of compressing into limited quarters the most
cherished possessions from "Scars." And it was all in fine taste, old
silver, sedate warm pictures, and rich Sheraton and Chippendale.

Miss Vanborough kept him waiting so long, that he was at last on the
point of ringing for the servant, when the door softly opened and she
came in. In the same instant he saw perfectly clearly that his mission
was about to prove itself an abortive one. There was a look in the
girl's face--it might have been weariness or petulance; but it was
sufficiently instructive. Patently, he thought, she had repented of her
impulsive offer, and was nervously worried over her ungracious part in
repudiating it. Her complexion, ordinarily pale, was white now to
ghastliness. There were dark shadows round her eyes, and she chafed her
hands softly together, as if they were cold. His heart, as he observed
her, burned a little hot; but his tone, when he spoke, betrayed no hint
of that inward fire.

"I see I am answered, and definitely," he said. "You decline this
trust."

He noticed, but would not notice, that she had held out her hand to him.
Unaccepted, it fell down limply by her side.

"I am afraid I have no alternative," she answered, in so low a voice
that he could hardly gather its terms.

"Very well," he said. "I will not ask--I am not concerned in--your
reasons. The boy remains with me."

"It is better, I think, that he should."

"I think so, too."

"You mean that I should make him a bad guardian?"

"I am not called upon to explain my meaning, Miss Vanborough. It does
not comprise, at least, a sense, of my monetary fitness for the task."

"No. But every other fitness?"

"It is better, I say, that he should remain with me. He will have to
learn to work, and early, for his bread. But, what then? He must find
his joy in the chase, like any other little animal."

She clasped her hands towards him a moment, and then withdrew them, in a
strange, agitated manner.

"Forgive my asking," she said. "Are you very poor?"

He did not answer her.

"Understood," he said, "that I am the furthest from desiring any
sympathy or commiseration in this matter. I am glad, genuinely glad,
that circumstances have not deprived me of such a means of proving the
reality of my affection for a dead friend."

She looked at him with wide eyes.

"Poverty is such a horrible thing," she whispered.

"Is it?" he said. "I know conditions that may be worse."

"No, no," she said. "That is impossible."

He bent his brows on her. "Then why--you force the question upon
me--this condemnation to it of the life in whose place you stand?"

She twined her fingers together, as in feverish pain. All the languor
and flippancy seemed gone from her in a day. Le Strang, for all his
stern judgment of such mutability, could not but wonder over the change.

"I have been advised," she began, and checked herself, drooping her
head. "I cannot say--it is not possible, that is all."

"Advised!" he echoed. "By whom Mr. Redding?"

Her lips moved; but for a little she appeared unable to answer. Then
suddenly she looked up, with a ghost of some recovered defiance in her
expression.

"After all," she said, "it is not the same--to the child, I mean--as if
he had ever known riches. He will only go on as he has begun. The
dreadful thing would be if he had been bred to wealth."

He stood regarding her without a word, and she would not return his
gaze; but the little rally to self-justification seemed to goad her to a
more daring challenge.

"And then,"' she said, "if I may put it without offence--we have no
definite proof, have we, that the boy is my step-brother's at all?"

Le Strang turned on his heel, and made for the door. But he had hardly
reached it, when there came a swift step behind them, and a soft
anguished hand clutched at his sleeve. He stopped.

"Well?" he said.

"I did not mean it--some tempter put the horrible words in my mouth. Oh!
pray, pray forgive me."

He faced round. Her eyes were wet with tears, her forehead lined with
trouble. All in a moment a great pity for this spoilt impulsive beauty
filled his heart. He would have liked, with all inconsistency to soothe
and comfort her: but his strong reason kept him steady.

"There," he said. "I forgive you. Good-bye."

But she still detained him, with her tremulous lips and praying hands.

"Don't he angry--it is not for you, but for him I mean. I have so much;
and it is only his due, and--Oh, please consent!"

He understood that she spoke of money, and he shook his head.

"No one must--need ever know," she pleaded. "I can always send it in
gold."

"Miss Vanborough," he answered quietly, "you confessed, at our last
interview that you were still very young. You are very young, or you
would not make this offer. But I am your friend for it, nevertheless.
Bear that in mind, if you like. Now, you will not see me again. Bobo and
I are going to face the world together and to conquer it."

His last impression of her was of a forlorn still figure, leaning for
support against a chair, and pressing a childish hand against the bosom
of her black frock.

Once, twice, thrice, on his way west-wards, he paused and stood
frowning.

"What does it all mean?" he pondered. "There is something behind that
inconsistency--some influence, some trouble. But where, and what?"

CHAPTER V.--MR. REDDING ENTERS.

Mr. Luke Redding was the son of his father in only a literal sense. For
the rest, as William Grenville had implied, he was a very pretentious
shoot from an unpretending stock. The Reddings for generations had been
sober family solicitors in Long Wyecombe--a conservative, respected, and
decently prosperous race. It was left to Luke, born into a showier and
more revolutionary age, to discover the obsoleteness of the methods
which had built up the practice to which he had succeeded, and which, in
his opinion, obstructed its developments. He was by nature daring,
resourceful, and, one must add, not too scrupulous. Money, and the
pursuit of money, were in the air all about him. His ambitions stretched
far beyond the hum-drum routine of a country office, and the times lent
themselves to his ambitions. The unsavoury spirit, petrol, had come
relatively to obliterate space; and the local interests of many of his
clients were transferred, in consequence, to the metropolis. Thither, he
thought it his policy to follow them, and, for the first time in their
history, Reddings possessed a London office..

But wealth, it is notorious, is, by some immutable law, attracted only
to wealthy and Luke had himself to appear rich if he would secure the
suffrages of the rich. His resources proved unequal to the strain. He
did his best, while the structure of his original fortune held, hiding
under ostentatious show the increasing unsteadiness of the fabric. But
balances, especially bankers' balances, are hard things to maintain on
slippery ground, and Luke, in the effort to keep his poised between
London and Long Wyecombe, found it presently to be on the verge of an
upset.

Then, at the crucial pass, he found a plain, middle-aged, spiritless
heiress obsessed with the matrimonial craze, married her, and, for a
while, buoyed up his sinking credit on that forlorn raft.

He neglected her, of course, even before he had come to realise that the
fortune she had brought him was all insufficient for his pressing needs;
and, after that, he led her a dog's life. He counted it to her fault,
poor wretch that his personal sacrifice to her unattractiveness had
produced such negative results. They lived virtually apart--she in the
old house in Long Wyecombe High-street, he in his luxurious rooms in
King's Bench Walk, Temple. Twice a week he motored down into Essex to
transact local business and instruct his deputy, slept on each occasion
at his home, insulted his wife, and returned to town the next day. She
neither knew nor guessed what desperation was at the bottom of his
ill-treatment, nor to what shifts it was driving him in contemplation.
To her, as to all the world, he was the debonair man of affairs, strong,
masterful, and self-confident.

He prided himself--and she admitted in her heart, poor woman, the
rightness of his claim--on the possession of that indefinable quality
which people call personal magnetism. The term, usually applied to a
form of attractiveness, which may be quite independent of intellectual
merits, is capable, however, of a quite evil interpretation. We
recognise it, in this sense, in the bad school companion, the corrupting
servant, the handsome soldier boy and comely "tar," who, with all the
charms and graces in the world, will succeed in sowing rebellion in
honest minds about them, and that without betraying any proof of a
definite influence brought to bear. If Luke Redding's personal magnetism
was of this order, it was certainly a testimony to its efficacy that the
world never learned from his wife, by so much as a hint, the terms of
misery on which she was allowed to call herself so. But there is no
doubt that, for all his hold on her, she had come in her soul to hate
him at the last.

One morning Mr. Redding--now some three years married--was seated in his
private room in Arundel-street, when the name of a visitor was brought
in to him on a slip of paper. The lawyer's lips came out and his brow
down as he read the superscription..

"So, my friend," he reflected. "You are disinclined to take 'No' for an
answer. We shall see. In the meanwhile a little cooling of your hot
blood out there will do you no harm."

"Tell him I will see him shortly," he said brusquely to the clerk, and
threw the paper on the table. Obviously, however, it was no press of
work that prevented an immediate interview, for, throughout the whole
ensuing quarter of an hour, while he sat frowning and biting his
forefinger, the visitor himself, and the business which had brought him
there, were exclusively in his mind.

At length he stirred, disposed himself as if writing, struck a
hand-hell, and directed that Mr. Le Strang should be admitted. He did
not so much as look up when the stranger entered, but waving his hand
with his pen in it, as if in abstracted motion towards a chair,
affected, for a moment or two longer, to be absorbed in his
correspondence.

Le Strang, in the meanwhile, sitting at his ease, took keen stock of the
figure before him. It was that of a substantial man of forty, with a
strong, butcher-like face, blunt-featured, and clean-shaved. The hair
was short, the neck thick; the hands large and white, and--as the
visitor noticed presently--given to much smooth gesticulation after an
ineffable clerical manner. There appeared, suggestively, a considerable
force of persuasion in their heavy fingers, it might be for hurt, or it
might be for caressing.

Presently the lawyer looked up, shifted a paper or two, and addressed
his visitor. It might have been that the slight flush which came to his
cheek as he did so betokened an emotion of self-conscious failure over
the impression he had to convey--that, to wit, of a busy and important
man holding an insignificant client at his convenience. The firm,
square-set face opposite him showed no more sign of diffidence than of
truculence. It was simply self-possessed.

"You are--" began the solicitor, affecting to search the table for the
slip of paper; but the visitor struck in tersely:

"Mr. Robert Le Strang. I have been in communication with a client of
yours, Miss Vanborough. No doubt she has informed you with what
purpose."

The lawyer leaned quietly back, gently waved out his hands, and brought
them softly together at the finger tips.

"No doubt," he said.

"That purpose," said Le Strang, "is frustrated--through your
intervention, I am to understand."

The lawyer nodded his head placidly once or twice.

"I am sorry for you. Mr. Le Strang--the scheme was well designed--but
impressionable young ladies must be protected against themselves."

"I fail, just at first, to follow you. Of what scheme do you speak?"

"Oh, really, sir!"

"You fully comprehend that I was acting on the instructions of the
father?"

"Fully, indeed."

"And that my position in the matter is a purely disinterested one?"

"Oh. come, come, Mr. Le Strang!"

"I see. Being a lawyer--excuse me--you cannot believe, I suppose, in the
genuineness of so impersonal an attitude?"

Mr. Redding's lips tightened a little.

"William Grenville," said he, "was a sad scapegrace, we know; and we
know, moreover, that he was never of old too choice in his selection of
his friends. You were a great chum of his. I understand."

The under-teeth in the face addressed to him suddenly bit up under the
short thick moustache.

"My credentials, as a man of character and position, are easily
verified," said the visitor quietly.

"My dear sir." said the lawyer, "I don't question them, and more than I
do the worldly naturalness of this appeal to the susceptibilities of a
youthful mind. What I do question--what I am bound to question--is the
personal disinterestedness of anyone advocating the claims of another to
pecuniary assistance on sentimental grounds. All such advocacy, in the
nature of things, must expect its price."

"Mr. Redding," said the visitor, "I did the thing asked of me, and I
accepted, without remonstrance, Miss Vanborough's decision.
But--inasmuch as she seemed to imply that this adverse decision was
inspired by you, and as a matter of form--I considered it my duty to
satisfy myself that she had not been advised against her better
judgment. Therefore, I have sought this interview with you. Now,
offensive, as your insinuations are, I am willing, for the boy's sake,
to pass them over, and to assure you that--if any apprehension exists of
my putting in a claim to a commission (save the word!) on this
business--I am ready, if you desire it, to set my name to a document
expressly withholding me from any such act. At the same time, you will
permit me to say that, in my opinion, it would be a shameful exaction."

The lawyer, half closing his eyes, shook his head with a slow sort of
smile.

"Of course,"'he said, "of course--in your opinion. But I must tell you,
sir, that there are methods of blackmailing other than by force of
threat and exposure."

The visitor rose quickly to his feet.

"You insulting dog!" he cried.

The lawyer sat immovable--wholly impassive.

"A very shrewd way, it occurs to me," he said, "for a poor man to
ingratiate himself with an heiress. There would be visits and mutual
sympathies, no doubt. Miss Vanborough must aim higher, sir."

"Mr. Redding," said the other--he made a resolute effort at self-control
"my friend, William Grenville, had told me, in his dying moments, what
to expect of you. He called you a 'pushing upstart.' I find he was too
complimentary. If he had said an 'insolent cad' I should have been
better informed."

The lawyer got to his feet. The smile on his face had become ghastly.

"Are you sure you ever knew him?" he said, breathing hard. "We have only
your word for it, you know--for that and the pretensions of this young
mongrel your confederate."

Le Strang took a heavy step or two forward.

"Those are silly, idle words," he said--"easy of disproof--futile stuff
for a lawyer. But for every one of them I shall look to call a
reckoning. Bear that in mind."

The solicitor laughed contemptuously.

"Look," he said; "but look away from here. Do you want me to have you
turned out? Why, you impudent dog, what does your claim amount to, even
supposing it is founded on facts that are indisputable? To an appeal to
charity--just that. Well, it is rejected. Take your answer and go."

"It was not rejected," said the other, "until you were consulted; and
then only with obvious distress and shame. Why? Is she not her own
mistress? But there is something behind--and something yet to be behind
that. Beware of the dog at your heels, Mr. Redding."

He made a threatening gesture, turned, and went out. For minutes the
lawyer stood staring at the closed door; then, with a deep sigh,
unlocked a press, and, taking from it a decanter and tumbler, hurriedly,
shakily filled the glass to the brim with wine, and drained it. A spot
of colour came to his cheek; he sank into his chair, and into a profound
fit of brooding.

"A futile fool," he muttered presently--"a resounding brass pot! What
can he do, unless steal a march on me? I must see to that--rivet the
fetters without any further temporising. She'll hold out her hands--no
fear of her succumbing to a pauper. But it's a cursed destiny that
brings this dog across my path at a ticklish moment. I must go and see
her this very evening."

CHAPTER VI.--THE RIVETING OF THE FETTERS.

She was standing by a window when Redding entered, looking down upon
Tothill-street and into Broad-sanctuary, where in dark, drip and mist
the Abbey loomed gigantic. There was a sympathy between her mood and the
weather; it seemed hopeless that the sun could ever shine again as of
old. And, in a way, for her, it could not. She had suffered one of those
shocks of world-disenchantment, which are periodic throughout life, and
which may be compared to the cracking and loosening in pupae of the
shell which is to release their butterfly spirits. Only sometimes a
shock will come so great and so untimely as to cripple the soul within;
and Miss Vanborough, under the blow which had struck her, was feeling
for the moment half-stunned and spiritually dead.

Miss Pringle was out, and save for the single maid whose duty it was to
attend to her and to the door, she was quite alone in the flat. Queen
Charlotte's Mansions--that skyward-lifting pile of dingy brick--is
planned on an admirable system. It is a sort of cooperative club for the
wealthy, where you take your suite of rooms, cosily self-contained, and
live as privately as you wish without any of the responsibilities of
housekeeping. There are two or three fine dining halls, served as in a
club with a number of separate tables, and smoking and reading rooms on
every floor. Housemaids, common to several suites, come in when
summoned, make the beds, dust, put all straight, and retire. You can
keep servants of your own, or none, as you please. If you prefer to meal
in your private rooms, waiters will serve you. It all costs money, of
course; but where that is no object, the manner of life is luxurious and
independent. Miss Vanborough, looking out of her window, stood as
remote, in a delicate felted solitude, as if she were buried in a lonely
hermitage among woods.

She turned her head with a little shock and shiver to the sound of the
opening door. Some instinct had told who it was before his name was
announced. The curve of her cheek, where the light rounded on it from
the back, looked like moonlight on stone. She did not speak a word.

He came up to her, humming a little air, gave her arm a tiny familiar
pat, and stood by her, looking down into the dismal abyss of evening.

"Suicidal, isn't it?" he said. "Yes," she answered. He laughed.

"You've only to lift the sash, sit, and drop backwards. It's a sheer
fall--of a hundred feet, may be. But that's heroics. The sun will be out
by and by."

"No, never," she said.

He took her arm, gently, but with so persuasive a touch that she was
obliged to face him.

"If you so despair," he said, "why not take the obvious way back to
happiness? It's as plain as day."

She shivered, not answering; and he laughed again.

"Ah!" he said, "there are worse things than a guilty conscience, aren't
there? That hardens with custom; the other is a pain for ever. I want
you to give me some dinner, if you will."

"If you will, you mean."

"My dear Miss Ruby, this is a marvellous change in you in a day."

She wrenched her arm from his touch, and pressed both hands to her
temples.

"Change!" she said brokenly. "I am fifty years older--worn and wicked
and ugly. Oh, to-day and yesterday! You might have left me my delusions
a little longer!--left me them altogether, for all the profit their
destruction can bring to you."

He was very much amused.

"But I intend to turn their destruction to immense profit," he said.
"For what else do you suppose that I have delayed it these months, until
the loss to you, through well-established possession, should appear ten
times exaggerated? I would not even have spoken two days ago when I did
unless that fellow had forced my hand."

She was staring at him breathlessly, as if she recognised for the first
time some horrible spectre in his eyes.

"Profit!" she whispered. "What profit?"

He touched her shoulder softly--ventured confidently to let his hand
linger there a little.

"Just the price, of my silence--and at my own figure," he said. "You
must act as I advise, and always without question."

She sprang back from him.

"I will not!"'she cried. "You! Why you were my servant until two days
ago!"

"I am your servant now," he said; "your confidential valet--the
repository of secrets which must not be revealed. If you trust me no
harm shall come to you. If you betray me--well, you know the
alternative!"

She was silent, miserably brooding awhile.

"He married her?" she asked, suddenly. "You are sure of that? The boy--"

"The boy," he interrupted her, "is legitimate. You may let that rest. It
is not my way to accept statements for facts. I made it my business long
ago to verify these."

"And you will not let me help him--not covertly, even?"

"Not in any way. I owe the father a grudge. He was an arrogant, insolent
puppy, and he insulted me. He has got to pay the reckoning at last--to
the second generation. Besides, to help now would be to open a loophole
to further appeals. We should forever have these two nosing about our
business--scenting a suspicion here and there. Better to nip that
possibility in the bud. You have done well so far--been my loyal
adjutant. That man called upon me to-day."

She looked up quickly and said in a faint voice:--"He did?"

"We had a scene," said Redding. "He is an empty fool. I got rid of him,
and I think for good and all. It's plain sailing for this time, if you
will only trust your pilot. The moral right is yours--be convinced of
that. It was the father--the father alone who counted; and he's gone
beyond caring."

Miss Pringle's entering at this moment put an end to their further
confidences. The lawyer treated her with a scant courtesy. She generally
served him for a butt to his humour, but on this evening his manner to
her was marked by an overbearing rudeness which once or twice was near
causing her a collapse. He appeared intentionally to contrast the
arrogance of his attitude towards her with the sympathetic respect he
showed for the mistress. There was no denying a certain fascination in
him where he lent himself to exert it. He was a ready talker, and had
the gift of unobtrusive compliment which to women is a particular charm.
He could appear to defer to opinions which he was really guiding, and to
sympathise instinctively with feminine difficulties which to most men
are unexplainable. Once or twice the girl caught herself listening to
him with an interest which first astonished and then discomfited
herself. "Is this the man," she thought, "this tender understanding
Squire, who can hold a woman so relentlessly under his hand?" There was
even danger in the thought. She was "still very young."

At dinner, in the luxurious gossiping saloon, he brought the
conversation between them round to the subject of poverty--its endless,
heart-breaking penalties and humiliations. He even harped upon the theme
with all the eloquence and graphic illustration of a psalmist.

"But you could sing its miseries in a more convincing voice than I," he
said, in a commiserating half-aside to the girl, and he momentarily
touched her hand.

Her face, which had brightened a little, shadowed to an old
unforgettable memory.

"I could, not sing it," she said. "It is no subject for song. Tragedies
should be written in blank verse, in blood."

"Oh, my dear!" said Miss Pringle, with a twitter. "Not human blood."

"Yes--human," said Redding; "and the censor he made to devour them. He's
a cannibal, you know, Miss Pringle."

"I didn't know it, sir," said the companion, nervously. He could not
speak to her without her feeling tearful. Miss Pringle rose hurriedly
from her chair, and, leaving the table, withdrew to her own room, whence
she did not reappear until the end of the evening.

Mr. Redding drank a moderate half bottle of port before rising, and even
persuaded Miss Vanborough to a glass. When they returned to the flat,
her eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed. He took a chair near her.

"She is disposed of, I trust," said he, referring to the companion. "A
weak, impressionable fool, whom you will be wise to dismiss. That fellow
may try to get hold of her--suborn her. She is an incumbrance, best out
of the way. Don't you think so?"

She lowered her eyes away from him, answering as if to herself.

"Best: yes, best--I suppose so--but how hard a conscience dies!"

"Miss Ruby," he said, in a low voice, "look at me."

She struggled with herself--and succumbed.

"I know," she said, her eyes upon his face; "I shall have to do it. I
wish you would have mercy, and kill me, and end everything."

"Everything, indeed," he answered softly, nothing but his lips moving.
"Warmth, comfort, happy laughter, sorrow scarcely less, jewels,
exquisite clothes, the pride of place, the endless rapture of
sensation--and only the dark wet grave for equivalent--void and
obliteration. What folly, while we can command joy, to be scrupulous of
the means. Nothing follows--not retribution, nor reproach, nor
accusation. The ascetic, the conscience-ridden, who is offered and
refuses life's wine, takes nothing but eternal abstinence for his pains.
He will have no chance, when dead, to taste a bliss foregone for ever.
So much the poorer he--so much the duller. Shall we be as irrational?
These spells of yours, these delights of mine, to halt upon an empty
sentiment! Always to hedge you round from breath of poverty, Miss
Ruby--my task, my dear task, and just a little kindness my reward!"

She gave a quick sudden cry, and rose to her feet.

"I want," she began, and stopped.

"Yes," he said softly, "you want--?"

"I've lost my way," she whispered, like a frightened child, and went
stumbling towards the door.

It was a very pitiful cry, instinctive, emotional, and it tickled
pleasurably the man's thick ears. He was on the point of following to
it, when the door opened, and Miss Pringle, with a look, appeared in the
opening. She held out her arms, and the girl toppled into them. The door
shut, and they were gone.

Redding clinched his fists and his teeth in a short, furious spasm.

"A month's notice," he whispered; "and she goes!"

CHAPTER VII.--MISS PRINGLE GIVES WAY.

The Royal Academy exhibition opens, as all the world knows, its portals
to an ecstatic public on the first Monday in May. Those are the
lock-gates, as it were, to a stream of life at flood. Fashion pours in
till the rooms can hold no more, swirls and babbles awhile, and flows
out again by the swing doors, to the lower levels of Piccadilly. Any
acquaintance with pictures is the last thing the flood has dreamed of
making meanwhile. It has been in far too congested a state to reflect on
anything but its own discomforts. A glimpse of a girl and a dog, of a
silver birch reflected in a pool, of a tumbling wave, transparent as the
convention which produced it--any one, or all of these, caught through
casual loop-holes between ineffable frocks and peerless and peerful
coats, must suffice it for all the culture contained in a couple of
thousand or so painted canvasses. For the rest, it has the individual
consolation of knowing that, if fire were to break out and anneal the
whole conglomerate mass of which it forms an item, it would be baked up,
like a currant in a cake, with a horde of dukes, duchesses, bishops, and
celebrities of every caste and description, and be thenceforth for all
time a distinguished well-connected memory. The game, therefore, may be
said, literally, to be 'worth the candle'--to those, anyhow, who like
the game.

Mr. Robert Le Strang was not one of these. Perhaps he under-estimated,
or had forgotten in his pretty lengthy exile from native institutions,
the enormous attractions of that one which represents pictorial culture
at its highest social expression. He had seized this earliest
opportunity to examine the work of an artist in whom he was interested,
and he found the task beyond him. All the approaches to everywhere were
blocked. He was shouldered, had his toes trodden on, his hat tilted over
his eyes, and his temper ruffled. Being by nature a philosophically
polite man, he decided that he had better give up the struggle before it
betrayed him into retaliation, and postpone his search to a more
accommodating occasion. He left the building and went home.

There, someone, a fellow-lodger, en lightened him. If it was the
pictures he wanted to see, he need only attend at the first opening of
the doors, which was at eight o'clock in the morning, and for two or
three hours he could have the place virtually to himself. Le Strang
thanked his informant, and avowed that, for a marvel, it was the
pictures he desired to see.

He went on a fine morning, leaving Bobo in charge of his landlady, who
was a motherly soul, and attached to the boy. Not that the little fellow
ever gave much trouble. He was a queer, quiet child, easily amused, and
of small vitality. He ailed a good deal, and gave his self-imposed
guardian some anxious moments. Le Strang's brow was thoughtful over him,
as he went on his way.

Necessarily his reflections embraced contiguous subjects--Mr. Redding
and his insolences, Miss Vanborough and her caprices. These figures were
never far absent from his thoughts, though he had been resolute in
confining them there to their proper places and pro portions. The main
business of his life was, as he had told himself, to live--an
independent necessity entirely apart from the casual cause he had
undertaken to champion. And, as to that, even his interference having
proved fruitless. Bobo and he were henceforth, partners in the world,
isolated from all hope or prospect of help, save what they could give to
one another. The will (he had examined a copy of it at Somerset House.
It was dated some three years back) was indisputable; the moral claim
rejected--there was nothing more whatever to be said on that subject.
For the rest, he had obtained a night-lecturing appointment in a local
Polytechnic, and he was writing a book on Japanese literature, for
which, he had already secured a publisher in advance--no great matters,
but an earnest of better things to come. It was the problem of feminine
mutability which, when he chose to think about it, perplexed him.

He thought about it, perhaps, more and more often than he believed. The
contrast between two attitudes--the one of petulant but impulsive
generosity, the other of inhuman denial--was constantly occurring to
him. Of course the lawyer's interference was patent between the two; but
how justified, and why so authoritative? A creature of so imperious a
nature, as the girl had appeared to show herself on first acquaintance,
would scarcely have allowed her will to be over-ridden on a personal
matter, and then with such obvious distress to herself, except on strong
compulsion. What force had directed her--what was behind it all?

Le Strang was a strong, patient, much-enduring man; but he had a natural
pride of self, which, when insulted, could become actively dangerous.
Because, for the present, he had subordinated all other considerations
to the main one of striking out a new career for himself, it must not be
supposed that he had overlooked the lawyer's coarse insinuation, or his
own report upon it. If that slander had been part of a scheme to
frighten away an inopportune visitor, so much the worse for the
slanderer--so much the worse for his scheme. Taken together with the
other, it seemed to point to an anxiety to get rid of an interloper who
might prove troublesome.

He might; he was content to bide his time. It was no consideration for
the girl which moved him, save in so far as her possible victimising
might be affecting the interests of the little life he had adopted. It
was the boy who counted first and for everything with him.

So he told himself, and so he believed; yet that forlorn, 'very young'
figure, as he had last ported from it in its trouble, haunted his mind
strangely. It had seemed so much in need of some help or protection
which it could ask no more than he could offer. Yet, unconsciously to
himself, the warmth engendered of that same human need, which had looked
towards him in its pain, was affecting his nerves of emotion more than
he recognised. His brain told him that he had done with the girl; but
his soul of chivalry was not, in fact, quite so convincing.

Reaching the Academy, he found that his informant had stated no less
than the truth. Though its doors had already been opened some hour and a
half, there was only, comparatively, a sprinkling of visitors
distributed about the echoing rooms--artists, critics, picture-dealers
and picture-lovers; earnest citizens intent on snatching an hour's
converse with romance before the prosaic duties of the day; serious
young women to whom the frivolities of fashion were abhorrent. Le
Strang, intent on his business, was making, catalogue in hand, for the
water colours, when, in passing through the long room, a figure seated
on a lounge near him attracted his attention. He thought he recognised
the lachrymose face under one or those immense spoonbilled hats which
only the beautiful can wear with approximate success, and which are
therefore greatly in favour with the plain. The start, and nervous
little motion as of half-invitation which its wearer gave, implying a
mutual recognition, he raised his hat, advanced, and accosted the lady.

"I have the pleasure," he began--"Mrs.--?" She bowed, simpering a
little.

"Miss Pringle, Mr. Le Strang," she admitted, with a blush. "The
matrimonial designation is not yet appropriate to me."

"Oh, indeed!" said Le Strang gallantly, though wondering a little. "I
must apologise for anticipating; but it was a very natural mistake."

She had already been attracted to him; he now appeared to her one of the
most charming men she had ever met. She bent to a little laugh, very
embarrassed and maidenly.

"It is kind of you to say so," she said, "but chaperon-companions are
pledged to others' interests before their own."

"You mean?" he ventured--"I did not know."

"You stand in that relation to Miss--?" All Miss Pringle's coquetry
vanished in the sudden anguish evoked by that innocent question. Her
poor watery eyes brimmed over; she could hardly refrain from sobbing as
she wiped them.

"Stood, Mr. Le Strang," she whispered, when she could speak--"stood.
Miss Vanborough has dismissed me, Mr. Le Strang."

Le Strang was very sorry, and said so quite feelingly.

"After two years' devoted service," wept the companion--"I could not
have believed it--I who have suffered her whims and caprices as no other
mortal woman would, or could have done, and loved her through all,
nevertheless, as if she were my only child."

Le Strang sat down beside her.

"It seems ungrateful," he said, with a hard face. "What was her reason,
or excuse, may I ask?"

The poor woman raised her eyes and hands.

"What, indeed?--to suit her convenience, no more--a month's notice, like
any hired menial; and, come tomorrow, it will be a week since I left."

"And that is all?"

"No, Mr. Le Strang, no--to do her justice, I believe she was speaking
another will than her own, and indeed I make her that allowance, though
the hardship is none the less to me."

"Ah," Le Strang was grating his chin thoughtfully. "You refer, I
presume, to Mr. Redding?"

"He has an influence over her," she said hesitatingly--"never more
marked than since your first visit to us. She has been spoilt, Mr. Le
Strang--there is no denying it--but she was never capable by herself of
such a meanness as that which must have disgraced her for ever in your
eyes. Oh, dear, dear, how very disheartening!"

"Pray compose yourself, Miss Pringle. I want, with your permission, to
ask you a question or two. Distract your thoughts for a moment, please,
because we are exciting a little notice. Do you admire that portrait
opposite? The woodland setting is effective, don't you think?"

Miss Pringle gasped a little, mopping her eyes.

"I was admiring it before you came, Mr. Le Strang," she said faintly.

"You are a connoisseur, I see," said Le Strang. "You like to come and
enjoy the pictures before the vulgar herd are afoot?"

"Yes, indeed," said the companion. "Though, truth to tell, my present
visit is due to a private appointment with my late employer."

Le Strang looked up, with a slight start.

"Miss Vanborough?"

Miss Pringle nodded woefully.

"I would never," she said, "calumniate her. The meeting, by her desire,
is strictly secret, and I am convinced it bodes me good. But what
benefactions," said the poor woman, threatening a new outburst, "can
atone for the injury to a blighted faith?"

She looked in sudden terror at her companion.

"If she comes," she gasped, "please not to breathe a word to her of my
confidences."

"I will not," answered Le Strang--"nor of my asking, nor of your
answering, the questions I am sure you will let me put to you. It
strikes me, you know, that an adviser, other than Mr. Redding, would not
be out of place here."

Miss Pringle clasped her hands in quick emotion.

"Everything has gone wrong of late," she said tearfully; "such moods,
such tears, such silences, such dreadful sentiments. I could say, if I
dared, that Mr. Reading's influence would appear to be distinctly
malevolent."

"When, in your opinion, did it begin to take on that character?"

"Never, noticeably at least, Mr. Le Strang, until after your first visit
to us."

"You understood what that was about?"

"Oh, yes, indeed! Poor Mr. William!"

"But this Redding has been for long, I understand, legal adviser to the
family?"

"Ever since the death of his respected father, when he became the sole
appropriator of the business. It may have been for four or five years--I
don't know, indeed. My personal acquaintance with the family extends
over no more than two."

"Since my visit, you say? The change succeeded on that? What was my
appeal to Miss Vanborough? Surely a well-justified one. Yet, between the
coming and the going of this man, she had decided to reject it--and
against her natural inclinations. What had he said to persuade her?"

"How can we tell--but surmise--"

"Well, Miss Pringle?"

"I hardly dare to suggest it--if it were not for you--so reassuring--but
--well. I know from report that Mr. William did not favour young Mr.
Redding at all--that he snubbed and affronted him--and--"

"And?"

"I do not think, Mr. Le Strang, that Mr. Redding is the sort of man ever
to forgive or to forget an injury; and--perhaps--it is only my fancy--he
may be taking this means of revenging himself."

"This means, this means? But why this means? What authorises them? Miss
Vanborough--"

"I think--possibly--I--don't know, of course--he may have advised Miss
Ruby against the expense--played upon her terror of poverty, which is an
actual nightmare to her ever since her experience."

"She has had some experience of it, then?"

"Oh, Mr. Le Strang, never to be forgotten, I think! Her mother, Mrs. Van
borough, was left, when widowed, practically a pauper. She had had very
poor health, and had been, I fear, much spoiled by a rich, or apparently
rich, and indulgent husband. All at once she was thrown face to face
upon the world. The time that followed was terrible, and it was that
which has left such an indelible impression on poor Miss Ruby's mind.
Mortified by acquaintances and insulted by menials; forced to tasks for
which her naturally refined and--O!" said Miss Pringle, in a burst of
emotion, "I am sure I can sympathise with her. But the mercy was it
didn't last long. Mr. Grenville--then himself a widower and very
susceptible--met Mrs. Vanborough--I believe over some business connected
with her late husband--was struck by her beauty, and married her within
a year. From that moment, as I'm told, the two, mother and daughter,
could turn the easy-going gentleman round their little fingers. He
simply doted on them. For all his treatment of Mr. William, he was the
tenderest heart when nothing occurred to cross him; and, indeed, his
final death was attributed to shock over that injury done to his
faithful old servant on the night of the burglary."

"Burglary? What and when was that. Miss Pringle?"

"You don't know? No, of course, you can't. Oh, a horrible thing, Mr. Le
Strang! It happened when I had been living at 'Scars' for nearly a year.
Mr. Grenville--then for the second time a widower--had taken to his bed,
with compressed gout in the heart, and had sent for Mr. Redding. The
lawyer gentleman was sleeping in the house on the night it occurred.
Nobody had heard anything, but in the morning the butler, Ambrose Sharp,
was found lying in the dining-room, with the window wide open, and
perfectly insensible. It is supposed that, while looking to the
fastenings as was his custom, he had discovered and been struck down by
a burglar. But, nothing certain was ever found out, and nobody was
arrested."

"And the butler?"

"He had been hit, it was believed, by some muffled instrument, and his
skull was fractured. They thought at first that he was dead; but he
recovered after a time, though never his reason, and is living at this
day."

Le Strang, lapsed in profound musing, made no comment for a while.

"And it killed--" he began at length, looking up with a deep sigh.

"It killed Mr. Grenville," said Miss Pringle.

"The old servant had been greatly attached to his master and his masters
family, and the news brought on the attack of angina pectoris from which
he died."

Again Le Strang fell into a fit of fathomless abstraction. Presently he
rose to his feet.

"Well, Miss Pringle," he said, "I must impose myself on you no longer. I
wonder if you would allow me to come and see you some day?"

The ex-chaperon was very much fluttered and flattered.

"So poor a welcome," she said, with a little wriggle and giggle;
"but--if wanting in display--the sincerity of a grateful heart--number
three King's Terrace in the Gloucester-road--"

"Why, that is my road!" cried Le Strang, with a smile. "It is
providence."

"I am sure," began Miss Pringle delightedly, and, checking herself with
a faint gasp, rose to her feet.

"Ruby!" she whispered.

Le Strang, as suddenly smitten, turned round, and saw Miss Vanborough
coming in by the door. It was not his way to shirk difficulties on
demand, and he walked straight up to the girl, raising his hat as he
approached.

"An encounter," he said, "as pleasant as it is accidental. Miss Pringle,
whom I have just chanced upon, told me that she was expecting you."

She was veiled, but not so closely as to hide the intense pallor of her
face or the emotion visible in her eyes. She bowed; but all the enforced
quiet of her manner could not conceal the real trepidation which lay
beneath. She gave a nervous, apprehensive glance hither and thither
before she spoke.

"Pleasant? I could have thought better of you; but it does not matter."
A strange answer. Le Strang, facing the tender girlish figure, felt all
at once his irony rebuked. She was pretty--beautifully dressed--a dainty
shape of fashion; but might not tragedy go well-attired, and trouble
speak in furs and frills? They spelt nothing but prescriptive custom to
this child of fortune. Her black frock struck the note of woe.

"It is pleasant," he said gravely. "I don't know, and I don't ask
myself, why. Perhaps it is because I love pictures. But you were right
to question the word. I'll say no more than that."

She glanced about her again, in that curious apprehensive way, then,
making a gesture to the ex-chaperon to stay where she was, requested Le
Strang to walk a little with her. She seemed to find a difficulty in
speaking.

"I can still admire truth," she began suddenly, with an effort. "Do you
know why I am here?"

"I hope I do," he answered, quietly. "That means," she said, "that Catty
has been confessing to you."

He did not reply.

"Ah!" she said, with a rather quivering smile, "what a hopeless
confidante!"

"It is perfectly true that we met by accident," said Le Strang. "You
don't blame her, Miss Vanborough?"

"I blame nobody," she answered, "who is transparent--only the secret
self-seeking natures. That is why I detest myself. Even you, Mr. Le
Strang, can have no worse opinion of me."

"I can only judge," he said, "by what I find; and I am finding here, I
trust, an effort at atonement for a seemingly, uncalled-for cruelty."

"You speak very plainly."

"It is just my fault."

"I owe her compensation, then? Ought she to accept it?"

"I think so, if offered in the right spirit."

"What is that?"

"Cannot you tell?"

"With tears and regrets and entreaties? Mr. Le Strang!"

She had stopped, and he had stopped. He was looking firmly into her
eyes.

"Mr. Le Strang, I ask you, in the right spirit, to re-consider your
determination about the little boy."

He shook his head.

"Not money," he said.

"You will not let me? Nothing will move you--not tears and regrets and
entreaties?"

Her eyes were swimming, her lips trembling, an actual fact. He was moved
more than he cared to show.

"You must see it in my way," he said very kindly. "My trust is a trust
of sentiment. To profit by it would be to confess its moral ruin."

"But you need not profit," she said. "Indirectly I should." he answered.
"And, further, it would tie my hands, close my mouth, from acts and
words I may possibly contemplate."

"I do not understand you."

"Likely enough you do not, Miss Vanborough. I could not wish you to
indeed. I could wish you to so little that I would not have you believe,
in any future circumstances, that I had ever acted a part against you.
Bear that in mind, if you will; and remember also, if you will, that you
may find a friend in me, should yon ever need one."

He was looking at her very earnestly and her eyes fell before him.

"I suppose I must thank you," she said, in a low voice. "But there comes
a time in one's self-contempt when friendship sounds an empty word. It
is no good for the irreclaimable to pretend to court advice, is it? They
will go their own way, however much they may agree with the wise people
who point out its errors to them."

She looked up, with a sort of desperate challenge in her eyes. Le
Strang, observant of her, believed he read more hopelessness than
defiance behind it.

"Anyhow," 'she said, "you will not mind telling me how the child is
doing?"

"He is an ailing little fellow." answered Le Strang. "Sometimes I
fear--"

He paused, and she put a quick hand on his sleeve.

"You do not mean to say you think he will not live long?"

"The thought sometimes troubles me, Miss Vanborough."

"Poor baby!" she whispered. "But perhaps that would be the happiest
ending for all of us."

For a moment he answered nothing. "Now you see how wicked I can be, she
said."

"I don't think I do," he answered quietly. "But I see, perhaps, what you
neither intend nor wish me to see. Good-bye!"

He held out his hand to her. After a moment's hesitation she placed her
own in it, let it rest there an instant as a small way-worn bird rests
on a wave--then turned and left him.

Any spirit observer, looking into the man's mind as he bent his steps
for home, would have lit there upon a very curious trail of thought,
running unswervingly, rather deadly, towards a particular goal. So the
stoat runs in the track of a rabbit. He sees nothing of his
quarry--ignores all else but the scent which leads him on. In Abyssinia
there is a species of human thief-catcher who hunts, as a dog does, by
smell. Perhaps, amidst ultra-civilisations, there is a form of moral
nostril particularly sensitive to the odour of rascality. If so, Mr.
Luke Redding did an unfortunate thing when he insulted Mr. Robert Le
Strang.

It would be impossible, Paddy, to tell you of my own sensations during
these instants of waiting. Depict me standing in the miserable patch of
formal garden, at the door of a paltry red brick villa, listening, as I
have never listened in all my life, trembling, I do believe, in the very
excitement of my hope. More than once the temptation to cry out almost
overpowered me. I must tell her that I had come--must let Mimi know that
I waited for her. I could have beaten down twenty doors in my rage
against delay, smashed the glass of the window to atoms, and razed the
very building to the ground. Upon the other side was this imperturbable
Farman, as quiet, as cat-like as ever, listening with bent ear,
betraying no emotion; seemingly convinced already of his success. And I
must obey him faithfully, wait as he waited, crush my impatience in
hands of iron. Oh, I say, it was intolerable, and yet it was the truth!

No one answered to our bold knock; the silence became almost
insupportable. A minute we waited, two minutes, and still there was no
sound, but that of our own quick breathing.

As for the lamp which burned so brightly, we could see it plainly,
standing upon the table of the front room, and the single ornament of
that bare apartment. For the rest, there was no carpet on the floor, no
ornament, no picture--but just the room itself and the bare wooden table
and the lamp standing upon it. This we might have looked for, but not
for the mystery of the silence, the absolute stillness which met us--so
that one could have heard a watch ticking in the hand. Were the men
warned, then? Had they fled the place? My heart sank low at the
thought--and yet it was a thought that crept upon me.

I had spoken no word to Farman since we entered the garden of the house,
but this new turn was not to be borne, and I could suffer it no longer.
A. hurried whisper asked him what he made of it--and, a little to my
surprise, he answered me aloud.

"They are asleep," he said quietly; "we must wake them:"--and he knocked
so loudly that the hound began to bay again, and I could hear the voice
of Oleander cursing him. Plainly, we had no further need of concealment.

"Who is asleep?" I asked a little brutally. "Did you not tell me that
Madame Gastonard was here?"

"I believed so," he answered as quietly.

"You believed so--well?"

"I shall tell you presently."

His answer told me that he, with all his discernment, could make little
of the situation. My own advice had been to force the window of the
room, and this he now proceeded to do--but first he lighted a little
lantern and laid his pistol on the sill. A disingenuous catch gave way
at the first attempt, and we climbed through, immediately, and went
straight toward the inner door. Here for an instant Farman stood
irresolute.

"There may be some danger," he said--and then he asked me--"are you
quite prepared?"

I whispered that I was, and he flung the door wide open, searching the
hall beyond with the faint rays from a policeman's lantern. There were
signs of habitation here such as we might have expected--a felt hat upon
a cane seated chair, a basket such as women take to market, a stick so
heavy that it was almost a bludgeon, an old mackintosh hanging upon a
nail driven into the wall. The floor was uncarpeted, and showed mud from
clumsy boots--at the far end the door of the kitchen stood open, and a
flicker of firelight from the grate still flashed upon its plastered
walls. Thither now we went cautiously. But the place was
tenant-less--though a kettle still sang upon the hob and some dishes
stood unwashed upon the table.

I often think, Paddy, that nothing is so sure a test of a man's nerves
as a house of unknown perils, which he must search room by room, I am
afraid of little in this world. It is no mere boast--for these things
are purely physical--but I possess some presence of mind beyond
ordinary, and a contempt for many of the situations of danger which
tradition has glorified. And yet I swear to you, the sweat run down my
face like rain while I stood by Farman's side in that shabby kitchen and
asked him, what next?

No longer did I believe that Mimi was here--and yet I was forbidden to
say that she was not here. The evidence of recent occupation, the shreds
of coarse food, the empty bottles lying pell-mell in the scullery, a
woman's tattered bonnet flung to a comer, a little jug of milk set apart
with a few dry biscuits--these were the witnesses to Farman's good
faith, and witnesses no logic could shake.

As he had spoken, so the truth--that my dear wife had been the captive
of these ruffians in this very house, that she might even be a captive
still or worse than a captive. For now I shall tell you that an
overmastering fear of the worst took possession of me, and would not be
quieted. I cared nothing for the men or the danger of their presence
Every step, long dragged out and heavy, was as a step toward a dreadful
secret. The upper stories of the house became in an instant the chambers
of the terrible truth. And above all, was the torture of the thought
that we had come too late, and but for those useless hours at St.
Germain might have saved her.

This latter brought me to the nadir of despair. Even Farman took pity
upon me.

"I begin to think that Madame is not here," he said quietly. "Let us go
upstairs--we shall not be long in doubt."

I looked him full in the face, and did not spare him the question.

"Is she alive, Farman?"

"Why should they kill her? The blackmailer never kills--he has not the
courage."

I could but shrug my shoulders.

"Then their object has been blackmail?"

"It could be nothing else, Monsieur."

CHAPTER VIII.--FACILIS DESCENSUS AVERNO.

The simile ending the last chapter would seem, on the face of it, a
somewhat inverted one, considering the relative bulks of the stoat and
the poor bunny it attacks, which may be as one to five or six. These two
men were, on the contrary, fairly of a size, though, physically, there
was no comparison between them. Practical hard work had toughened the
one; sedentary and self-indulgent ways had softened the other. Nor does
the moral analogy hold; for, if Le Strang was tenacious of purpose,
Redding was, in that respect, not so much as an inch or two behind him.
If it came to a struggle between them--for which, it must be confessed,
there seemed at present no adequate grounds--it would be just a question
of pull devil pull baker. But what excuse could offer for that test of
strength? Well, Le Strang, if it is to be presumed that he foresaw one,
kept his reasons characteristically to himself. Not until near the end
did the other come fully to realise the persistence and relentlessness
of the enemy who had been following him down to his doom, with scarcely
a movement in the grasses or the crackle of a dead leaf to betray him.

There had been, with the hunter, more than one provocation to this
pursuit, as the sequel showed--loyalty to a dead friend, devotion to a
trust confided to him, suspicion of the adverse pressure brought to bear
upon the recipient of his appeal, a deep and ever-growing concern for
the victim, as he was obstinate in believing her, of that coercion. His
interview with the girl at the Academy had left him oddly moved. Such
passionate self-depreciation as she had shown could hardly have been a
pretence. Fanciful young women, he knew, would sometimes affect the
Byronic-Manfredian pose, making themselves out, for the sake of a
romantic reputation, much worse than they really wore. To figure as a
little soul-worn in knowledge of evil was a coquetry characteristic of
the day. But he was convinced that there was no such attitudinising
here. Petted children of fortune were, of all people, the least at pains
to affect sentiments or emotions which they did not feel.

No--this tragedy of self-disillusionment, to whatever cause it owed, was
as real and poignant as it was mysterious.

His heart was touched, his chivalry, his soul of justice. More than all,
perhaps, his instinct, like a sensitive seismograph, recorded the
presence of villainy somewhere and somehow in his neighbourhood. Such
things may be with the fine in sympathy, and such was the case here. Le
Strang felt a sense of wrong in the air about him, and at first he was
only uneasy and undetermined in that sense. It was something said by the
ex-chaperon which had given his suspicions a definite direction. From
that moment Mr. Luke Redding was a marked man to him.

Villainy is a comparative term. It is inherent only in the same sense
that a man may have phthisic conditions in his blood which circumstances
may develop. A first fall from self-respect in the one constitution, a
neglected cold in the other, may spell equal disaster. Henceforth the
disease becomes progressive and irreclaimable. On the other hand, a man
may possess the germ of villainy in him all his life, and nothing occur
to betray it. Temptation lacking, he may die in the odour of sanctity.
Luke Redding, unfortunately, was not so favoured.

He was ambitious, and the ostentation of his age aggravated his state;
he was popular, and he bid for recognition beyond his means. A
misappropriation of trust funds, perilously restored at a crisis, marked
his first fall from grace. Thereafter, it was only a question of time
and opportunity. He had parted with his self-respect.

The opportunity was sure to come--and it came. He justified it to
himself, of course, on human grounds--the just borrowing to repay, or
the smelling at an orange in the terms of the fable. He owed someone a
bad turn; it would do no harm to keep the trump card in his own hand for
a little; he would restore at the psychological moment. Even while he
thought, the situation developed in his mind at an alarming pace. A
difficulty which he had not foreseen struck his purpose lame. But
possession once realised was not easily foregone. In a moment of
desperation, he threw for security, and was henceforth lost for ever.

Then, claimed wholly to evil, its issues enlarged themselves to him by
leaps and bounds. Luck so far had favoured him admirably; but luck, like
heaven, helps only those who help themselves. He began, by degrees, to
contemplate a stroke of master-villainy, before which all his other sins
had paled.

Yes--there was something wrong, no doubt. Le Strang's instinct had not
recorded a local disturbance for nothing.

CHAPTER IX.--LE STRANG SPENDS A WEEK-END IN THE COUNTRY.

The estate of 'Scars' stands well away from the road among the flattest
of South-East Essex pastures. Two miles westward lies Long Wyecombe, a
respectable market-town, owning a station, a parochial hall and library,
a handsome church and vicarage, a broad street flanked by good shops and
staid old residential houses, an hotel, the "Red Hand," where the
assembly balls are held, and a police station, accommodating a sergeant
and five constables. In the last place is epitomised, according to its
own estimate the local shrewdness which has made Long Wyecombe a byword
for clever dealing with its neighbours. And, indeed, Sergeant Roper is a
knowing man of his inches, which are many.

At Long Wyecombe station there alighted, bag in hand, one Saturday
afternoon in mid May, a tall, rather square, and exceedingly
resolute-looking gentleman, by name Mr. Robert Le Strang. It was coldish
weather, and he kept his coat collar turned up and his hat a little
pulled down over his eyes, for he desired to attract no more attention
to himself than was compatible with the arrival of a perfectly
unpretending stranger. Dismissing, with a wave of his arm, the
importunities of the 'Red Hand' omnibus conductor, he hurried down the
station yard, passed a siding on which some trucks were standing, and
out at the gates at the bottom of the slope, which discharged him upon
the outskirts of the town, and, as is usual in the case of station
environments, a congeries of mean and ugly tenements representing life
at its dullest and most unpicturesque. But, observation being the last
thing he courted, he was gratified to find his exit into quarters so
suburban, and in a little he had left behind him the last of the sorry
villas, and was out, walking at random, along an uninhabited country
road. And then he paused to reflect.

He had come, purely on his own initiative, to look about him and make a
few inquiries, that was all. There being no engagement to him on this
day of the week, he had chosen it for the expedition, since it left him
a free hand until the following Monday evening. And what of that? It was
a custom with many town-wearied souls, having rural hankerings, to spend
their week-ends in remote villages, chance or fancy guiding their
choice, and cheap taverns being plentiful; and he had been in the mood
for such a mild adventure. Presently, a country fellow coming towards
him, he advanced and asked the man for the information he desired.

Yes, said the native; there was an inn, the "Five Alls," a mile and a
arf, or maybe two mile furder along the road (which it appeared was the
Southend turnpike), and readily to be identified from the fact of its
standing within twenty yards or so of the private road to "Scars," where
it turned off the highway--a superfluity of information, perhaps, to one
who had eyes and could read, but welcome here nevertheless.

Le Strang, betraying nothing of his gratification over the chance which
had directed his footsteps, ventured to ask another question. Did his
informant happen to know, where a Mr. Ambrose Sharp lived?

The man scratched his head.

"What!" he asked. "The doited old gentleman with the pit in his skull?"

Le Strang opined that that was the individual he referred to. The man
pointed in the same direction.

"Take the next turning," said he, waving his hand to the right, "and
you'm see it--a white cottage wi' skeps--he lives there wi' his married
darter, a widder. But you'm get nowt of reason out of the old man."

Le Strang, aiming at a venture, said he wanted honey.

"Oh, aye," answered the native. "Plenty of that--you can't miss it."

He continued to call directions--assuring his accoster that the place
was impossible to miss--for long after Le Strang had gone on his way.
That is the excess of plebian politeness, and must be excused for the
real hospitable feeling it displays.

Le Strang, after his nature, took his good luck with as little
excitement and as much philosophy as he would have any dour stroke of
fortune. A strange feeling of destiny was beginning to overtake him in
this matter. Providence, he could have thought, was just making use of
him for its retributive ends. He had need to exercise no more than his
natural strong intelligence, and things would shape themselves to him
without effort.

As he passed by the turning, he saw the cottage plainly enough, but, as
it lay away from his present purpose, contented himself with observing
its situation before he proceeded. He found the 'Five Alls'--a pleasant
roadside tavern of the smallest pretensions--bespoke a bed there, and
issued forth to reconnoitre. A few yards further along the road he came,
as he had been led to expect, upon the private way, and, going down it,
into present view of the house of "Scars."

He knew it at once, from old descriptions given him by his dead friend.
It stood out in the quiet fields, in the still, cold evening, as placid
an antiquity as ever recorded the loves and crimes of forgotten ages.
The falling sunset tinted its gables; cattle cropped and lowed beneath
its gardens; it seemed a very habitation of peace.

Now, as Le Strang regarded it, standing somewhat distant from him, over
the hedgerow, not the ghosts and flittings of dead days became
associated with it in his mind, but the spirit figure of a girl, its
present, though absent, mistress, looked, to his imagination, from its
windows, descended its steps, moved along its walks, and, in the very
thought, was gone. He became conscious of the phantom presence only in
its vanishing, and laughed half-vexedly to himself.

"What is in all my mood and purpose but to oust her from that unfair
possession?" he thought. "I am a fool, wasting time and daylight."

He was curious to examine the building closer, if possible, and
presently, prowling hither and thither, discovered a little green lane
which actually penetrated to near its western wing. Here, looking over a
low wall in the shadow of trees, he found he could command a much nearer
view of the building, the whole back of which, with its lawns and
gardens, stood extended but a hundred yards or so away from him. He
leaned his arms on the coping and sank absorbed in contemplation, his
eyes especially canvassing the range of largest windows, which were long
and low, and easy of access, the turf running up to the very walls
beneath them.

"A simple job for a burglar!" he actually and very foolishly murmured
aloud; but not Saturn in his wood, "quiet as a stone," could have seemed
to himself more solitary and remote from observation that he seemed. "It
must have sounded plausible enough, whoever was the first to suggest
it," he added.

"Ah!" said a voice behind him, and a hand alighted on his shoulder.

Le Strang, conscious-stricken, paused a moment to get his moral balance
before he faced deliberately round.

"You heard me make a remark?" he asked.

"I did," was the grim answer.

The law, in the person of a county constable, stood overshadowing and
menacing him. The man had approached, in his felted boots, over the soft
grass-borders of the lane, intent on watching the suspicions movements
of this loiterer, whom he had been observing from a distance, and he had
been repaid beyond his expectations. He was a red-faced, red-haired
fellow, no more than normally strong in suggestion, and his eyes
measured the width and muscle of the figure before him with some obvious
apprehension. Nevertheless, his jaw was set, and his nerves braced
pluckily for any struggle that might ensue.

"There is probably help to be had within call," said Le Strang, "but you
intend to do it all by yourself, I see--vogue la galere, Roberto, which
is the French for mincemeat. Believe me, I admire your courage."

"What are you a-doing of here?" demanded the officer brusquely.

"I was," said Le Strang, "contemplating the structure of that dwelling
house, until you rudely broke into my reflections. It invites criticism,
I assure you, from one point of view. The fact is as obvious as my
exclamation was natural and the conclusion you drew from it
characteristic. But to talk of burglars is not necessarily to be a
burglar, Roberto. What charge do you propose preferring against me?"

"Loitering with intent to commit a felony-eh?" said the constable.
"Come, now!"

"Do burglars in this part of the world," said Le Strang, "refer to
themselves as burglars?"

"Seems they do," said the man. "I'm not above larning."

"That's very creditable of you," said Le Strang; "but it is contrary to
the spirit of knowledge to accept statements on trust, or else we might
at this day, you know, be believing in the existence of the unicorn,
although we have never seen one. Have you ever met a burglar, by the
way, who talked as I am talking?"

The constable looked nonplussed and a trifle unhappy.

"They're up to every manner of trick," he said doggedly.

"Except, I think," said Le Strang, "that of successfully posing as
gentlemen to people of your penetration. Now, do I look like a gentleman
to you or not?"

The constable conned him officially.

"I assure you," said Le Strang, "that I hang upon your answer with
almost as much concern for the result as I should if hung upon the
gallows."

"Your clothes is well enough," said the constable, "if your tongue only
equalled them."

"After that," said Le Strang, "any struggle which would imperil their
distinction is impossible to me. You have taken, so to speak, the wind
out of my sails; I am your passive and obedient prisoner, Roberto. What
do you propose doing with me?"

The man was evidently perplexed over his reception, and at a loss how to
act. He did not want to miss a chance that might help him to his
promotion, and this same 'Scars' had once already, in his experience,
been subject to the operations of the craft. On the other hand, he might
make a mistake, which would delay his advancement indefinitely.

"I heard you," he said, "with my own ears, proposing of a job to
yourself. What's your name, anyhow?"

"Hooky Walker," said Le Strang, serenely and without a moment's
hesitation.

"That settles it," said the constable. "You'll have to come with me, you
know."

"With pleasure," said Le Strang.

"Where to?"

"To give an account of yourself to the sergeant," said the man.

"Delighted," answered the prisoner. "You may believe me or not; but I
was on the point of myself proposing that solution of the difficulty.
Long Wyecombe. I presume? Does your beat take you that way?"

"Yes, it does," said the constable shortly; and began to fumble for his
pocket.

"No, no," said Le Strang. "Put those away. You must really take my word
for it as a gentleman, or there will be difficulties. I have plenty of
money in my purse, positively I have. If I happened to be what you think
me, my first impulse would be to grease your palm, wouldn't it? But I
haven't the least intention of doing so. In fact, if anybody has to pay
for this mistake. I propose that it shall be you."

The constable's jaw fell a little, but he stood to his guns.

"Right away," he said; "but I don't lose sight of you, my man."

"Certainly not," said Le Strang. "We will be pleasant wayfarers and
comrades."

They left the lane together, or, to be more precise, the constable trod
upon his captive's heels. From time to time Le Strang turned cheerfully
to engage the other in conversation, but, receiving only monosyllabic
replies, desisted after a while, and pursued his way in philosophic
serenity. Dusk was gathering, the road lonely, and caution demanded the
utmost alertness on the part of the official. Not a soul did they pass
by the way, but once, at the entrance to a by-lane, a solitary old man
leaning on a stick. Le Strang paused a moment to regard intently this
figure. It was that of a hale gaffer of sixty or so, large eyed and
snowy-haired, but with the most vacant expression in its stone-white
face that it was possible to imagine. It was dressed curiously, too, for
a rustic, in worn but decent broad-cloth, and had on a swallow-tailed
coat and a rumpled white tie knotted about its collar.

Le Strang, moving on once more, turned to his pursuing shadow.

"Ambrose Sharp?" he asked.

The officer grunted a surly affirmative, and redoubled his watchfulness.
Here, to be sure, was fresh matter for suspicion--a connection, however
indefinite, between a burglary that had been and a burglary to be. He
recovered his confidence.

Lights were already twinkling in the out-skirting villas when they
reached Long Wyecombe. Le Strang falling back a pace, walked step to
step with his conductor.

"I am a stranger here," he said, "You must direct me."

He had only spoken, when the officer captured his arm, and, wheeling
swiftly under the red glow of a lamp, on which were plainly inscribed
the ominous words, "Police Station," ran him under a low portal, and,
with a single dexterous twist into a small boarded room, where, at a
high desk, sat a thickset, bearded official of a keen but domestic
aspect--Sergeant Roper, no less. Gas burned under the ceiling and a
cheerful fire in the grate; round the wall ran benches for the
accommodation of waiting constables; and pinned up here and there were
villainous portraits, particulars of lost property, and printed bills
advertising descriptions of bodies found, or bodies wanted, the latter
entailing cash rewards of anything from ten shillings to a hundred
pounds, according to their degrees of villainy or the capacity of their
victim's pockets.

The burly sergeant, writing a moment unconcernedly, put down his pen,
folded his hands together on the high desk, and looked over its brass
rail with official equanimity.

"A charge, Williams?" he said.

"What?"

The constable, standing at guard over his captive, stood at stiff
attention.

"Under suspicion of loitering with intent to commit a felony," he said.
"I come on the man unobserved in Scars lane, and heard him give
utterance to the words, 'A good chance for a burglary.'"

Le Strang laughed.

"Roberto," he said, "an imperfect memory is a dangerous thing! But go
on."

"Asked his name," continued Williams imperturbably, "gave Hooky Walker,
and was requested, in consekence, to attend here and offer a
satisfactory account of himself."

The sergeant looked at the suspect.

"Assumed for the occasion, of course," said Le Strang. "I had reasons
for withholding my own."

"Naturally, no doubt," said Mr. Roper, drily. "But perhaps the
occasion's past."

"No, it's only beginning," said Le Strang, coolly. "You'll understand me
in a minute, and when I tell you, in private, what my name really is. In
the meanwhile, I'm open to confess my folly--which shall be a useful
warning to me--in uttering my thoughts aloud. But what I really said was
'A simple job for a burglar,' which is a very different thing from the
other, and bore reference, not to any contemplated house-breaking, but
to one which, by report, has already been committed on Scars--whose
mistress, Miss Vanborough, is, by the way, personally well known to me."

A short pause followed this statement, during which the sergeant took
the speaker's measure, with a certain wonder depicted under his reserve.
Then he turned to the constable, who had stood all this while like a
wooden soldier, with his legs glued together and his arms to his sides,
and shook his head slightly with a doubtful expression, as much as to
say, "Is this another of your mares-nests, Williams?"

"Personally well known to you?" he repeated, addressing the stranger in
a tone which, while still guarded, suggested a hint of better respect.
"That is so, is it?"

"Personally--yes," said Le Strang, "as well as the circumstances which
were the actual cause of her succeeding to her inheritance. There was a
burglary, was there not?"

"Was there, sir?"

"I ask you, Sergeant?"

"I ask you, sir?"

"Very well, I answer. In my opinion there was not."

"Oh, indeed!"

The sergeant, propping his elbows on the tall desk, bridged his finger
tip's and looked long and intently over them at the speaker.

"You have your reasons, no doubt," he said presently.

"I have my theories," answered the other. "It is just possible that they
might bear better fruit than yours, which would appear, to say the best
of them, to have turned out a rather barren stock."

Not a word said the sergeant; but official rumination spoke in his
steady blue eyes; and, under the thick yellow beard which covered his
face to the cheek bones, and met, it seemed, over his head, the busy
machinery of his brain was working at dynamic speed. No one might have
guessed, from his impassive exterior, the complicate thoughts which had
been set moving in him at the instance of that confident challenge. It
had stirred up the dust of an affair, which, pregnant with certain
suspicions as it had been--to him, at least--circumstances had relegated
to the limbo of impossible solutions. It could be nothing less than
worth while, at the least, to examine this theory while it offered. No
head of police likes to write off a case, finally and irrevocably, in
the sense of a bad debt. He may appear to do so, but that is only to the
greater aggravation of his amour propre. After a period of twenty years,
one may touch him on the subject, and find that to do so is still to
touch him on the quick.

"You won't mind telling me, will you," he said presently, "if you are
representing any interests but your own in this question of a theory?"

"Not in the least," answered Le Strang. "I am representing, wholly and
solely, the interests of, the late William Grenville's son and heir,
whose guardian I am."

Sergeant Roper descended from his tall stool on the instant, and
presented the figure of a wholesome stoutly-built official with a
reassuring suggestion of strength and intelligence, about him. He
addressed the still rigid constable.

"You can go, Williams; and another time, my man, don't be in quite such
a hurry to jump to conclusions."

But Le Strang interposed.

"I'm really indebted to him, Sergeant. He gave me the very pretext I
wanted for an introduction to you, and I allowed him no chance by
explaining."

The Head waved his hand impatiently, and Constable Williams,
crestfallen, wheeled in one piece, and marched automatically out of the
room.

The moment he was gone, Sergeant Roper closed the door upon him, and
turned with his back to it and his face to the stranger.

"Now, sir," he said, "if you please. What is your theory?"

CHAPTER X.--SERGEANT ROPER IS IMPRESSED.

A half-hour had passed, and Sergeant Roper had returned to his seat at
the high desk. The visitor stood with his back to the office fire, quite
comfortable and at his ease. A certain confidence, a certain
understanding, had been established, it was evident, between the two
men. Presently the officer, who had been engaged in pencilling down on a
sheet of paper certain hieroglyphics, which seemed to suggest in their
arrangement a plan of battle, looked up, with the butt of the pencil
tapping on his teeth.

"I admit, sir;" he said, "that your theory fits in nicely with my own
suspicions. The object is what have always hipped me, and guessing wild
were guessing nowhere. How did you come to think of it?"

"Native intuition," answered the visitor, briefly.

"Indeed, sir?" said the sergeant. "In that case, if you'll excuse me,
you should follow Mr. Holmes, the story book gentleman, and become one
of us. It would be worth your while. Now, it were that question of the
plate, tied up all ready for removal in a tablecloth, what led us away."

"Perfectly simple," said Le Strang. "Butlers have charge of the plate,
and so nothing could have offered itself handier. But a burglar. I
think, would hardly have made that incriminating bundle of the stuff; he
would have disposed of it piecemeal about his person."

"Very likely," said the sergeant. "That's reasonable enough. And now
--granting you're correct--what do you say to the chances of his having
destroyed, done away with--you know what?"

"Not in reason," said the visitor, "Where would he be without it?"

"Where he was--not where he is, certainly," answered the sergeant.

"Exactly," said Le Strang, "and that, by your own showing, was in a
pretty tight place. He won't have killed his goose with the golden eggs,
take my word for it."

"Very well," said the sergeant. "Then now, sir, how to force him into
producing it?"

"Ah!" said Le Strang. He turned and faced the other squarely. "You fully
understand, sergeant," he said, "the damaging nature of the exposure,
supposing we could bring it about, and supposing my theory is
correct--to--someone else?"

"I can't fail to, sir."

"Very well. Then I don't move hand or foot in this business unless that
person is guaranteed from the consequences."

Sergeant Roper reflected. He was human if official, and could see, even
perhaps more deeply than the facts warranted, into the motives which
underlay this condition.

"Someone is very young, sir?" he said, presently.

"Very young."

"And inexperienced, and unbusiness-like, and easily persuaded by those
put in legal authority over her?"

"Without the least doubt."

"Perhaps--granting a change of front--someone could be argued, on moral
grounds, into lending herself to the tactics of the opposition?"

Le Strang, receiving the proposition with a certain wonder, fell into a
fit of profound musing. The sergeant, rubbing his nose with a pencil,
tactically awaited his emergence from it. Presently, with a deep sigh,
the visitor looked up.

"I won't answer for that," he said, "though I understand what you mean.
There are prospects, influences, a whole world of personal sacrifices,
stupendous and unsurmountable in seeming to such a nature, involved in
the question. Let it pass, however, for the moment. We are agreed, are
we not, as to the first step to be taken?"

"Quite so," said the sergeant. "I will see the woman at once, and in the
meanwhile you will engage to secure, if possible, the necessary
guarantee. Armed with that, I make no doubt I shall have a chance with
her. Of course, even if done, and successfully, it might lead to
nothing, though the opinion seemed to point to satisfactory results.
But, anyhow, your theory, Mr.--?"

"Walker," said Le Strang.

"Walker," repeated the sergeant, "is a true one. I am convinced. When do
you leave?"

"By the nine-thirty on Monday morning. You will particularly bear in
mind my name, my alias, will you not?"

"Trust me, sir--and for seeing the reason."

"You have my town address?"

"Fast and safe, sir."

"Good-night, Sergeant Roper."

"Good-night, Mr. Walker."

Le Strang, with his hand at the door, bethought himself, and turned to
ask in a low voice a final question. "There is no suspicion. I suppose,
with the man's wife of--?"

"Collusion?" The sergeant dismounted from his desk, supplied the word,
and shook his head. "None in the least. She is a poor feckless overborne
creature, sir, and they are quite estranged, as I happen to know."

He stood pondering a moment.

"Dear, dear," he said. "To think that he, the son of his father, and
what ought to know the law better than most, should come under
suspicion! It's the motors that runs away with them."

Le Strang spent a quiet Sunday loitering about the country. He never
once put foot in Long Wyecombe until the following morning, when he
returned through its dingy outskirts to the station. Waiting here on the
platform, he was accosted by a rustic-looking fellow in corduroys, who
put a note into his hand and withdrew. He saw, when he came to open and
read it in the train, that it was from Sergeant Roper.

"You are quite correct," it ran. "She it paid the pension through him,
and the difficulty is as you supposed. Try what you suggested, while I
keep everything here quiet."

Le Strang, igniting the note, from a match, lit his pipe with it, let
the paper burn out, and stamped the ashes to pulp on the floor. A smile
was on his dark face as he looked out of the window. His was a nature
bad to offend, but sweet, after all, to love, by those who could conquer
it.

CHAPTER XI.--ANDROMEDA IN CHAINS.

A pretty sermon might be preached about those petty children of fortune,
whose own spoilt natures bind them to rocks to be the prey of mercenary
monsters. It is a bad thing ever to assume one's right to an immunity
from the trials and anxieties of this world, and to do so is necessarily
to repel the humane, and to invite the attentions of those who value
material above moral qualifications. The sharks, in short, are eternally
prowling about in search of your toothsome pampered Andromena, and lucky
is she if she can find a Perseus to come to her assistance in time.

No doubt Miss Ruby Vanborough's eyes, straining to the horizon, would
have welcomed the appearance of such a champion. Though the chain she
had woven about herself was of pure gold it had attracted to her, it
seemed, no better than the spirit of a loveless cupidity. Her moral
vision was opened, and she would gladly, if she could, have disengaged
herself from her fetters, and escaped into obscurity. But by that time
the monster was already coiling himself about her, and her opportunity
was gone.

I wonder if her dreams meanwhile had figured out a Perseus, very far,
very faint, and always too remote to cry upon for succour? It was the
worst misery of her state that she had been forced into making herself
out a hateful thing to the one soul for whose respect she had come, poor
petted child that she was, to repine, and the more because it was denied
her. He might have pitied, helped, saved her otherwise. There were worse
states than poverty, he had said, and she had denied it; but she had not
then felt the full mercilessness of the toils in which she strangled,
and now, when she would have recalled her denial with penitent teas, it
was too late. He was gone; she was never to see him again; he had said
so with his own lips, and she, wretched Andromena, was delivered over to
the "monstrous eft." How bitterly she recognised at last that want was a
purely relative term. One might want bread, milk, the necessaries of
existence, or one might want unattainable diamonds, or an unattainable
estate, or the unattainable love of one only soul out of all the
millions of mankind. In any case it was the unfulfilled desire which
consumed. Money could not assuage that, and the rich were as subject to
want as the poor. To be peaceful, happy, self-respecting once more were
worth, she felt, the sacrifice of all she possessed. Would he look with
approving eyes on that atonement? She had almost, between want and
anguish, persuaded herself to the great renunciation, when one afternoon
Luke Redding called upon her, and in a few minutes, and in the softest
way imaginable, blew her little web of righteousness into shapeless
tatters.

He was in a particularly cheerful mood that day. Some litigation,
touching on the association of a client of his with a none too savoury
East End firm of canned-food contractors, had ended successfully for his
side, and his material profit on the case was in consequence secured. He
cared nothing about the moral, which had turned upon the condemnation,
as unfit for human food, of a consignment of tinned shellfish, which had
been originally sent from America, pronounced tainted, returned to the
States for re-dressing and again exported to our shores for consumption
by the poorer classes. Tile stuff was poison, no doubt--he had himself
seen a tin of it opened and analysed--but what then? A flaw in the
indictment having rendered the charge innocuous, there was an end of the
matter so far as his client's responsibility was concerned; and, if any
law-abiding citizen should come to be killed, he would at least have the
satisfaction of knowing that he was sacrificed to a technical point,
than which no fate, to his law-abiding mind, could possibly be more
gratifying. On the other hand, to plead ignorance of the law was no
excuse in jurisdiction, and the law by implication, had pronounced this
food as innocuous as itself. Therefore, if any man died of it, it would
be a plain case of felo-de-se.

Reasoning thus, Mr. Luke Redding reached Queen Charlotte's Mansions
early one afternoon in an exalted frame of mind, which was further
uplifted, by mechanical means, to the fifth floor, on which Miss
Vanborough's flat was situated. He rang the bell, heard that the young
mistress was out, and decided to await her return within. He had hardly
sunk upon a sofa, easy and confident, when she entered, and, seeing him,
uttered an exclamation, threw her boa upon a table, and herself into a
chair, and began without a word to pull off her gloves. He watched her
for some little time in amused silence.

"Been walking?" he asked presently. "You look pale and tired."

"I am tired," she said, low and passionately; "tired and sick to the
heart."

"Indeed?" he said; and stirred, and leaned forward, interested. "You
should keep a carriage, you know, or a motor."

"It would need a fast one," she said, "to take me out of myself."

"Unreasonably fast," he answered, "to leave so fair a situation for
nothing."

"For nothing!" she exclaimed, most bitterly and scornfully.

"Would it not be?" he asked. "For a sentiment, call it, then. Convince
yourself, poverty commands no credit with death, even to the wording of
an inscription on a tombstone. It is the rich alone whose virtues are
extolled."

"I wish I were dead," she said.

"A schoolgirl's wish," he retorted quietly. "You might have been rebuked
for smearing your copy-book, and uttered the same empty threat. An
unexpected present, an invitation to a ball, would have put you out of
your mood in a moment. Life is nothing in itself; it is the art of
knowing how to live it that tells. I would rather make joy before me
than leave misery behind. It all ends at the grave."

She rose hurriedly, and went up and down, up and down, her hands to her
temples.

"It does not," she cried, "it does not--I know it in my heart."

"A very human organ," he said, smiling.

She stopped suddenly, and faced him. "Why do you say these things?" she
cried; "why have you constituted your self my bane and tempter? You ask
nothing, while you imply all. Is it money you want?"

"Supposing," he said, "I were to answer 'yes'? Would you give me what I
asked?"

She was silent.

"I see," he said. "A point of casuistry. You could not give, you know,
and clear your conscience."

"There is another way," she muttered; but it is doubtful that he heard
her.

"Come," he said, a little peremptorily; "haven't we had enough of this?
The inevitable is best accepted with a good grace, especially when it
carries with it all the advantages that the world can offer. Or is
there, perhaps, some want unsatisfied in the prospect, which, to a
nature like yours, spoils all the rest? If there is, I might possibly
even come to supply it--or its very good substitute."

Some spirit, challenging, alluring, moved in the dark soul of his eyes.

"I don't know what you mean," she whispered and turned away.

"Ah!" he said, with a little laugh; "there is a fascination in enigmas.
All women like acrostics. I have known one marry to secure the answer to
one."

She turned again, with a face like ivory.

"Marry!" she said. "Was that your wife?"

"Possibly," he answered. "If so, she has retorted with another, poor
dear. How to make her happy--that is my puzzle. You might help me to a
solution. It was really for that purpose that I called."

He was leaning back now, and bridging his finger-tips in front of him.
They and his speech were as steady as the whispering stone of an oracle.

"Go on," said the girl, staring, with bloodless cheeks, but away from
him. "What is it you want me to do--command me to do?"

"Tut!" he said good-humouredly. "If you regard it in that spirit, I am
dumb. It is for you alone to decide."

"What?" she said. "Please to say."

"Well," he answered, "it is a suggestion--nothing more. You brood here,
and she broods at home--two women, the nearest to my interests, and
already in a way known to one another. It would do you good, and it
would do her good. I venture to propose that for a time she should take
Miss Pringle's vacant place. It would be doing a real kindness to the
poor woman, whom, truth to tell, my absorbing engagements leave very
much alone. Will you ask her?"

The girl was silent for a while.

"Was it for this," she said suddenly, "that you got rid of the other--to
secure a spy and instrument of your own?"

He rose, in seeming very much offended.

"That is enough," he said.' "I am answered. It is evident you do not
know my wife."

"I know you," she answered; "and I know that, whatever her nature, and
whatever her will, she will come in the end to do yours."

"And what is that?" he asked ironically.

"Something evil," she retorted. "I don't know what: but there is a
purpose behind this."

"Bad human nature," he said, "bad, bad. It is the common way, however.
Once convicted is always labelled. You think me incapable of a natural
kindness. Very well, poor woman, she shall not come."

"You know quite well that she will," answered the girl--"that it is you
that decides, not I. Why affect the farce? We shall be two wretched
women in sympathy over our bondage, at least. Poor woman! Were you quite
deaf, Mr. Redding, to what was said about you, and your treatment of
her, out there in the country?"

He made an ineffable benedictory motion with his plump white hands.

"All men have their enemies," he said, "and I forgive mine. It is
settled, then, and I thank you sincerely for your hospitable acceptance
of my proposal."

All at once she sprang away from him, and went again to and fro, to and
fro, with wild hurried footsteps. He saw some passion rising in her
beyond her control, and waited quietly for the storm to break and pass.
It came at length in a flash and cry.

"She shall not come--do you hear? I say she shall not come!"

"He stood perfectly unmoved, smiling upon her. Her face was quite white:
she stamped her foot, the wilful child in her predominating over all the
tragedy.

"I will endure this torture no longer," she cried. "Why have I submitted
to it at all, when a word could release me? I will speak and end it--be
free, though I have to beg my bread. Do you understand? I throw off your
wicked hold on me--I have made up my mind, and nothing shall change it.
I will go to Catty, and ask her to reverse our positions and let me be
her companion. I will do anything, go anywhere to escape from this
hideous thralldom!"

"Even to gaol, no doubt!"

The cold scorn of the words smote, like a frost, the passion on her
lips. She strove to speak again, shivered, and stood dumb and staring.
Then he came upon her with force, seized her hand in his, and let her
feel its strength, daring her to rebel with the demon in his eyes.

"Who has been instigating you to this?" he said in a low voice of fury.
"Do you hear? Answer me, you vixen."

She sank away from him, down to the floor, while he still gripped her
wrist.

"Answer me," he repeated. "Have you been scheming to outwit me--to
league yourself with another behind my back?"

She crouched, as if she really thought that in the tense rage of his
mood, he was going to strike her. His fingers crushed into her hand.

"Will you speak?" he said. "Is it that man--that Le Strang? Have you
seen him again?"

"I have not seen him," she answered, desperate in her fear: "but I will,
I will go to him and abase myself, and own all and make restitution."

He gave a veritable snarl, and flung her hand from his so violently that
she uttered a cry of pain. The pity of the sound seemed to waken in him
some remorse. He stood breathing heavily a minute, and passed his
fingers once or twice across his forehead.

"You angered me." he said presently. "Did I hurt you? There, I am sorry.
But you talk like a child. Do you think for a moment that restitution is
so simple a matter? Can you dream for a moment of my acquiescing in an
act which might spell our utter ruin, yours and mine? But even if you
were to do as you say, what proof, my girl, but your own wild word,
seeing that I hold the card of all cards in my hand? Believe me or not
as you will, this procrastination of yours, in the full knowledge of the
right, has made you my criminal confederate."

Crouching on the floor, her hands clasped together, her shoulders
humped, she listened to him in an awful fear.

"Granting, in the last resource," he went on, "that my exposure were
possible, do you suppose I should be content to suffer, and allow you,
who had compassed my destruction, to escape? No, we stand or fall
together, my dear. Your repentance comes too late, I think, if you would
be wise, your unalterable determination must reconsider itself. The
alternative--a painful one even to consider--is just the law courts,
disgrace, a prison cell, and a plank bed, in exchange for all this
luxury and high estate. Can you face it?"

She had sunk prone, and lay with her face buried in her hands. The
attitude revealed the shapely lines of her form, and the man's eyes
roved pleasurably over the beauty his craft had moulded, so to speak. He
dwelt a minute or two on the vision of the soft heaving shoulders, on
the music of the low convulsive sobs.

"Come," he said, presently, in a very gentle, very wooing voice: "you
have made a good fight, but the issue lies beyond the strength of those
tender hands. Let it remain with me to whom in this matter you belong,
child. Rest on that assurance, and think of it no more. You can only
torture yourself by thinking. Say to yourself, 'The burden is his, the
evil, the responsibility. I yield it to him to answer for the wrong, to
protest and exonerate me. For myself, I have tried my best and failed."

His voice sank to a musical silence. Minutes had passed before she
stirred, and put back her tumbled hair, and rose to her feet, a figure
of such hopeless misery that it moved even him to regard it. But his
emotions always touched material sensation too close to be of lasting
value.

"Will you go now?" she said. "I cannot face it--and I belong to you--and
I will ask Mrs. Redding to come and stay with me."

"For your good, and hers," he said. "Good-bye."

He knew that he had reached the psychologic moment, and, in that
assurance, turned and softly left the room.

CHAPTER XII.--MISS PRINGLE HAS A VISITOR.

Miss Pringle was very miserable with a cold. Her face, ordinarily of a
lachrymose cast, exhibited now such an excess of the melting-mood as to
suggest the possibility of its running away altogether. She coughed and
sniffed and gurgled and cleared her throat and blew her nose, and was,
in general rundownedness, if one may use the expression, not unlike a
guttering tallow candle in need of snuffing. Something of this, no
doubt, was due to the soft sentiments awakened by a perusal of a
sixpenny novelette, which lay at that moment face-downwards in her lap;
but chagrin over the physical woefulness of her state, as representing
generally her moral ineffectiveness in life, contributed largely to the
result. She was loveless and forlorn, she felt, and that for the sole
simple reason that she lacked the one recommendation which of all
recommendations was without a shadow of credit to its possessor--the
recommendation of beauty. Unflanked by that, the loveliest qualities
counted for nothing--were made, indeed, the frequent text for secret
mockery and laughter. Archness, for instance--how forgiveable a coquetry
in the well-favoured; but, were she to attempt it, what unkind comments!
And yet it sprang from the same vivacious impulse in all; only the
vehicle excused or condemned it--the vehicle, which, in a world of
reasoning people, ought not to be considered of the slightest
importance. It was very unfair.

She turned up the wick of the sinking lamp--for it was evening, and, in
number three, King's Terrace, paraffin still obtained--stirred the cup
of hot cocoa which stood by her side, and, drawing her shawl closer
about her, reflected dolefully.

"Beauty may be only skin deep; but then we can't put our skins on and
off like gloves. It is no consolation to me to know that, if I were
skinned, I might, for what anybody could tell, be Cleopatra," thought
Miss Pringle.

She sighed, sipped genteelly at the cocoa, with her little finger
gracefully poised, and taking up the book from her lap, reperused the
sentence which had been mainly responsible for this dismal cogitation.

"'My honest Susy,'" she read, "'said Lord Edward, as he clasped his
homely fiancee to his breast, your plain face as you call it, is to me
more refulgent with the light of truth than are all the enamelled
simperings of the loveliest duchess in the land.'"

Mass Pringle dropped her hands, with the sixpenny novelties in them, to
her lap once more.

"All very well," she pondered; "but such, things don't happen in real
life. Why, if men are honest in this contempt of corporal endowments, do
they always give their attention to the pretty ones and their neglect to
the plain?"

She signed again, in a deeper depression, and recalled a woeful song of
her youth:--

"Weary, so weary of drifting adown the dark stream of life--Weary, so
weary of living, longing to lie down and die...."

The cadence wailed up in her soul to a climax of ineffable sadness,

"Oh, I am not pretty! I know it," she wept: "but I have heart, and I am
distinguished-looking. More than one photographer has been complimentary
about my hair. Oh, if Love were only really blind, as he is said to be!"

Poor Catty! She might, with appropriateness, have sought comfort in the
French proverb which declares that all of her kind are grey in the dark,
for her world was very dark at the moment. But, indeed, it would have
needed the blackest of night to make her attractive.

It is to be feared that her state of mind was due, at least in part, to
the persistent neglect of a certain cavalier, whose self-invitation to
her maiden bower had as yet borne no fruit. She hoped, quite truthfully
and honestly, nothing whatever from his redemption of his promise, save
a little surcease of her loneliness, a little share in the friendly
confidence of a man. The sex was so alien to her as a rule that the
condescension would have seemed to her like a respite from that eternal
enforced estimate of herself as a sort of spinster leper. She had
dreamed, in her little mincing, twittering way, of a friendship of real
regard developing from that first impression of a manly masterful
individuality, which could be as strong to understand and sympathise as
it was reassuring to look upon. But her dreams, it seemed, were doomed
to no rapturous awakening. He did not come--he had forgotten her. And,
behold! in the very thought he was there.

Drawn-faced--agitated--hurried; breathing quickly like a man hard
pressed. She almost upset the cocoa as she rose trembling to greet him.

"Mr. Le Strang! What is it? What is the matter?"

"The boy!" he gasped--"the child! You must come with me!"

In all her distress and confusion the peremptoriness of the demand found
a feminine thrill in her heart.

"He cannot breathe," he said--"he is choking. He has been hoarse and ill
of late--my landlady is out--everybody is out--you must come and help
me--tell me what to do--while the servant goes for the doctor."

"Oh, dear, dear!" cried Miss Pringle, wringing her hands. "I will
come--I don't know what to do--it sounds like croup--you must give him
iodine--I mean ipecacnanha--and put him in a bath of hot water. My
hat--where is my hat?"

He seized her arm.

"How can I send for ipecacuanha till you come? There's not a second to
waste."

"My hat," she repeated, in the last state of agitation.

"Bother your hat!" he said, and he fairly carried her off.

She felt almost out of her senses. To be running, bare-headed, loosely
beshawled, beside a man, also hatless, in the open street. It was more,
she thought, like a 'Baachanalian orgy' than the behaviour of Christian
people in a Christian land. She forgot her cold, her depression, the
sentiments of Lord Edward. And then, even a little exhilaration a thrill
as of self-abandonment shot a tingle through her veins. Had he not come
to her in his need?

That was sore enough, it was patent. The little fellow was already near
his last gasp. Le Strang drove the servant out for ipecacuanha and the
doctor, while Miss Pringle, wet eyed and quaking, dived into unfamiliar
basements for hot water. How she procured it, delivered it, waited,
shivering on dark landings for the invitation into a male sanctum which
never came, greeted the grave doctor when he came, the concerned and
panting landlady when she came; finally found herself alone in a little
parlour, expecting the call or message which was not vouchsafed--all
this remained, and was to remain in her mind, a mere chaos of distracted
impressions. But as she sat, hearing, in fact or fancy, soft creakings
overhead, low voices, and little stifled cries, a wild impulse came
suddenly upon her to leave the house, to return hurriedly to her own
lodgings, and thence, hastily attired, take train for Westminster. She
could do it, and be back within the hour.

Whence the impulse came, or why, she could not have said. Only it seemed
right to her that Ruby ought somehow to know, ought somehow to be
present at this crisis of a tragedy for which in a measure she was
responsible. She felt, in a vague wild way that Ruby had only to come
and say that all should be right, and all would be right--that, in any
case, were this opportunity to be lost to the girl for vindicating her
womanliness before the man who had had such apparent reason for
questioning it, she Catty, would be accountable for the wrong. She felt
herself, good unselfish soul, the appointed medium of a reconciliation.
What, if through her instrumentality an explanation should be brought
about, and all put right again?

In the excitement of the inspiration she arose, listened fearfully for a
minute, and then, walking on tiptoe, left the room and the house.

CHAPTER XIII.--RECONCILIATION.

The little servant of all work, snuffling on the landing, found an
opportunity to whisper to her mistress as she issued from the sick-room;
the land lady, no less affected, carried the message in.

He came at once. His face was white and full of grief; but the lines of
sorrow in it were disciplined to a sternness which forbade all sympathy
and quieted all demonstration.

"Where?" he asked.

"In your own sitting-room, Mr. Le Strang," sobbed the landlady; "but I'm
sure, under the circumstances--"

He silenced her with a gesture, and went downstairs--opened the door of
his room with a steady hand, and, entering, closed it deliberately
behind him and turned to face her.

She was standing near the empty grate, nervously fingering the pieces of
a little stoneware child's puzzle which lay on the table beside her. He
went and took them from under her jewelled hand, arranged them in their
tiny box, and, placing the box on the mantelpiece, confronted her once
more at a yard's distance.

"You will pardon me," he said. "It was the last thing he played with."

She was in evening dress, soft and glittering, and a costly cloak was
knotted loosely about her throat. From the diamond in her beautiful hair
to the little buckle on her slippered foot, she was a vision, she
exhaled an atmosphere of fragrant wealth--an anomaly in that mean
apartment. Only the tragedy of her eyes contradicted all that happy
display. They were turned on Le Strang with an intense apprehension, an
intense appeal in them; and a line, as of physical pain, was drawn
between. The hurt of his act, which had been a cruel one, might have
accounted for that; but she spoke without resentment, and in great
agitation:--

"Miss Pringle came to fetch me--she thought I ought to know, and I was
grateful to her. I was just going in to dinner when--Mr. Le Strang--Oh,
I hope he is better--has passed the worst?"

"Yes, he has passed the worst--he is dead."

"Oh, no, no!"

He bent his eyes upon the agonised young face.

"Why should you be distressed?" he said. "Wasn't it the end that you
yourself considered the happiest for us all?"

She drooped her head, unable to look at him.

"You spoke," said he sternly, "the natural thought of the pampered race
to which you belong. The little life stood upon your conscience,
perhaps; it marred the perfection of your comfort, like the bark of a
dog breaking through your sleep. And, because it interfered with your
serenity of mind and conscience, it was to be happier out of the
way--happier for itself and for me--for me."

She sank into a chair, and leaning her elbows on the table, buried her
face in her hands.

"Maybe for itself," he went on, "the little soul is best away--fast
asleep and at rest--never in all time to feel the disillusionment of
knowledge, or the weariness that comes with years. He was in my arms
when he died. That, God save him, was the right parting--a little thing,
like a child going to school, cheered with love and reassurance on his
way. I had learned to love him--I shall feel his loss--without hyperbole
I may say it, and say it in the full knowledge that a few days, a week
or two, will cure my pain. Death severs all ties, and this was slight.
Even now I can admit that Fate has been kind to him."

He paused, took a single step nearer her, and continued, in a low, tense
voice:

"But Fate is blinder than men, Miss Vanborough, and if she works
relentlessly, works without spite or calculation. Bear that in mind; and
bear in mind, if you will, the trust which I accepted from my dead
friend, this dead child's father. It began at one graveside, it will not
end at the other. It comprises the vindication of a right--which, if
admitted, God knows, in time, might (I am a rough nurse) have saved
him--it comprises, I say, the vindication of a right, and the punishment
of a wrong. You will understand that, if you please, very distinctly."

She had lifted her face, and was staring straight before her,
convulsively knotting and unknotting her fingers.

"Yes," she whispered.

The utter misery of her attitude and expression could not but stir the
deep emotions of him; but when he became conscious of that softening,
half-sensuous mood in himself, he repressed it sternly.

"I make no threats," he went on. "I claim no knowledge but the
conclusions natural to a reasoning mind. If they are wrong, I must seek
in other directions for a solution of the problem which you were rash,
or unfortunate, enough to put to me."

She turned towards him an instant, and her lips formed the words, "What
problem?"

"Is it necessary to ask?" he said; "or to recall a comparison between my
first and second visits to you? If it is, I am already wrong, it may be,
in my estimate of the nature of the influence which came between."

Her head was bent low again, and she breathed like one in agony. And
then, of a sudden she was on her feet, appealing to him with wild eyes
and imploring hands.

"Follow up your conclusions--kill me with your hate and scorn--I will
thank you, before I die, upon my knees."

Her cloak burst its fastenings and slipped from her to the floor, when
it lay, a silken foam, about her feet. All the tender youth of her white
neck and soft young arms were revealed to move the man of human pity in
him. And something more--this helpless beauty at his mercy--most
loveable for all her sinning.

He set his teeth. "But she is a sinner," he told himself; and all at
once his heart was turned to deep compassion, and he stood amazed like
one who wakes from dreams of death and terror to hear the birds singing.

"Poor child!" he murmured, half in voluntarily.

She sank down upon that silken ruin and broke into heartrending tears.

He stood a little, regarding her, his pulses beating heavily. A moment
ago he had not foreseen, had not dreamt of such an end as this. It had
come upon him swiftly, suddenly, like a thief in the night, and he was
robbed before he knew himself awake.

Presently he moved and touched her shoulder; the contact made him gasp,
as though he had burnt his hand.

"I told you once," he said, "that, for the sake of an impulsive offer, I
would be, if you wished it, your friend. Do you wish it?"

Striving to still her tears, she shook her head.

"Think again," he said, very softly. "You may be in need of one."

Once more the desperate negative.

"Still very young," he said gently. "It was not so many days ago."

"It was centuries, I think," she said, low and broken. "And you are my
enemy."

"Enemies," he said, "are often made by misunderstanding. A first
confidence is half the way to friendship. Give me yours, if you will."

"No, no," she answered. "I cannot it is impossible."

"Not to save me this pain of being forced to act the traitor to one I
want to help?"

"It is no treachery," she said; "and nobody can help me. I have made my
own bed, and I must lie on it."

"Supposing," he said, "I were to be the traitor, not to you, but to my
trust--to promise here and now to desist from my pursuit?"

For an instant, as she looked up at him, a wild, unreasoning gladness
lit her eyes; but in its very birth it was gone. She faced him then with
a steady gaze.

"Would that make things better by adding to my self-contempt the
knowledge that, for a worthless creature's sake, you could be moved to
forego your purpose--that I had succeeded in making you something
smaller than yourself? Oh, no, no! Leave me my belief in you, at least.
Be strong and just--you will be just, I know, however much you punish
me."

Strange words from such a child. His blood seemed racing in his veins.
He made a desperate clutch at his reason--sought to steady himself, like
a drunken man.

"How can I strike effectively," he said, "with you between us? You urge
me on and tie my hands at once. I cannot see my enemy for your face.
Stand aside, and let me know him, and him me."

"He holds me," she whispered. "When he falls I fall with him."

Her voice choked; she shivered, and was suddenly lifting up to him poor
supplicating hands.

"Oh, don't send me to prison!" she cried, like a veritable child.

Tho agonised appeal was wrung from her irresistibly. It caught among the
very fibres of his soul. The motion of the piteous scene upstairs
returned fast upon him, heating his blood to madness. He sank to his
knees beside her, and seized her hands in his.

"Listen to me," he said, with a thick, rapid utterance, "give yourself
away from him and to me--make your cause mine and mine yours."

She struggled, striving, with a look of terror, to withdraw her hands
from his grasp.

"You must not," she said; "let me go, for pity's sake. It can never
be--never never."

But still he held her.

"Listen once more," he said, "only for a little. Poor sinning, mistaken
child. I read into your heart--I read its fear and miseries, as plainly
as I read the story of the wrong which, heaven granting, shall be
amended in a little. Yield, and no harm shall come to you."

Her eyes ran down with piteous tears; but she had ceased struggling,
feeling the uselessness of it.

"You kill me with shame," she said--"always to be the sport of men's
exactions!"

"What exaction here?" he asked.

"You will be bad, if I will be bad," she said.

"Bad!" he exclaimed.

"O, you bribe me!" she said, "at the price of myself. What can that be
worth at what value do you hold it, when the very terms you offer for
its possession are faithfulness to your trust?"

He gazed intently into her eyes.

"Be sure of that," he said, "before yon state it so confidently. I know
the nature of my trust, Ruby, better than you might dream. It was
founded on a love to which, in the name of the dead, I can ask, without
faltering, this last expression. Let it be as I wish, and the dead--on
my soul I say it--will rest in peace."

But she only shook her head, with a woeful sigh.

"Whatever you may know," she said, "you cannot know me better than I
know myself--a thing for no good man to desire. Leave me the memory of a
kindness unspoiled by any such condition. Do not betray your trust, even
so little or so far, but pursue your purpose to the end. It will be a
mercy to me--O, it will, it will! For you to withdraw now, on whatever
pretext, would be to condemn me to a worse fate. Mr. Le Strang, do not
hold me--O, have mercy!"

He had none.

"If all of this were swept away," he said, "and we knelt clean man to
maid, would you give yourself to me?"

She did not answer. He stole an arm about her, and drew her helpless to
him. For one moment, with wet cheeks and closed eyes, she surrendered
herself to that ecstasy of rest and protection; then, with a long moving
sigh, he put her gently from him, and rose to his feet: and she sank
prone upon the floor, hiding her face from him.

"So soft, so sweet, so beautiful." he said--"how strangely passion is
born! I never meant to say this thing--a minute ago no thought of it was
in my mind. And now--why an inspiration, child, has transformed me. All
day, and all night most of all, a figure will walk in my brain, charming
its dark places. We shall become intimate in that tender comradeship;
you will learn to speak your heart to me, for all your tragic reticence
at this pass. Already, such strangers as we were a moment ago a
confidence is born between us. That contact made it. Would you ever part
with it to another? I know better. See, I am so sure that I ask you
this."

He sank on one knee by her side again, and, putting his hand on her arm,
spoke low.

"In Long Wyecombe there is an old pensioner on your bounty, a man
disabled in your step-father's service. He fears--or his daughter fears
for him and for herself--that were he by any chance to recover, or
partially to recover his faculties, your grant to him would cease. Maybe
he has been encouraged in that belief. I hope it is an unfounded one. I
ask you to write to me to-morrow, saying in so many words that it is an
unfounded one. Trust to me for a reason and a purpose in this. I want no
answer from you now."

For one moment, most exquisite to him, his hand lingered on that soft
contact, and then he rose to his feet once more, resolute in
self-control.

"Child," he said. "I might have forced you further, but I was strong.
Thank both our fates for that--remember it, when your terror of yourself
becomes perhaps greater than you can bear. Now I must leave you, and you
are free to go, untied and uncoerced. If you want me, you shall come to
me of your own will; you shall not plead that I compelled you. I shall
be waiting here--waiting and expecting you--ready to take the burden
from your sinking hands. 'Still very young'--God of mercy, so she is--so
she is!"

He looked one moment down on her, with an expression in which passion
and compassion, triumph and surrender were curiously blended, then bent
and half-lifted, half helped her to her feet. Her lips were swollen, her
eyes near closed with weeping, the chain about her neck had burst its
catch and hung down loose. He fastened it in place; he lifted her cloak
and set it about her shoulders; masterful possession was in all his acts
and inferences; and yet he did not possess her, and yet she had no
thought but to yield to him. If at that moment he had offered to comb
her hair and wash her face, I think she would have submitted without a
protest. But he never kissed her once; and perhaps, like a child, she
felt herself rebuked in that omission.

And, when she was ready, he took her round to Miss Pringle's, without a
word exchanged between, and left her there.

CHAPTER XIV.--THE CAT AND TWO MICE.

For one moment, during his last-related interview with Ruby, Luke
Redding had feared that the girl had in actual fact put herself into
communication with Le Strang. That fear laid, and the possibility of its
recurrence barred, as he thought, for ever, he gave himself no more
concern about the man. His experience, both private and professional,
argued against any further interference from that quarter. Empty threats
were the common resource of the disappointed cadger, and he could
afford, with a full confidence, to laugh at these. The one victim
secured to him in her inseverable toil's, his position was simply
unassailable. For the rest, his business now lay in gradually, and with
infinite finesse and subtlety, so removing those toils, strand by strand
and replacing them by others less galling and more seductive, as to
charm the eased soul into reconciliation with its bondage.

He never had a doubt as to his capacity for this task. An abnormal
egotism is one characteristic of lunacy; and what, after all, is a soul
possessed by evil but the soul of a lunatic? It has lost its dual
personality, which is the safeguard of humankind. Luke loved himself so
entirely that even his own worst acts appeared to himself most lovably
forgivable. He could not believe in others remaining long adamant to the
charms which were so patent to Luke Redding.

It was in truth a very execrable business about which he now went so
smoothly and self-complacently; and yet he seemed to have no more
conscience over it than a cat has in playing with a mouse. His own
claws, his teeth, his subtlety were the exquisitely engrossing things to
him, and the movements of his victim were to be regarded in no other
light than as provocation to those deadly graces to display themselves.
He was so sure of himself that he would not hurry the denouement; so
absorbed in himself that he never gave a thought to a possible dog round
the corner. More, his self-confidence making him vainglorious, he even
essayed the difficult game of playing with two mice at once, and
thereby, illustrating the ancient proverb, invited his own bankruptcy.
For the cast was never yet stroked that could do that successfully.

It was on one of his periodic visits to Long Wyecombe that he began to
'extend his sphere of playfulness' thus perilously. After his custom, he
had come home from business to dinner, but not, after his custom, to
render that meal a trial and humiliation to his life's partner. Yet he
was not so short-sighted as to arouse any suspicion by a premature
unbending. The apparent spontaneity of that, when it came, had been
carefully approached by him.

Mrs. Redding was many years older than her husband--a sufficiency, but
not many enough, to justify his constant insult to her discretion as
lacking the parental quality which ought to characterise it. For he was
wont to tell her that she was old enough to be his mother, which was
untrue; and silly enough to be his wife, which was incontrovertible. She
was certainly not wise, and had the additional disadvantages of being
unattractive in appearance, and of having lost, through him, her
moderate fortune; wherefore, her raison d'etre had ceased to be
apparent. And yet she persisted in existing, and very healthily on the
whole. She was one of those women who can survive the worst treatment
and on next to nothing. Her appetite was always a negligible quantity;
she lived at the vanishing point. Born to strict maidenhood, her form
remained true to the canons of that prejudice which her
inclinations--her mistaken inclinations--had in a rash moment
repudiated. She was so spare that when she sat down her eyebrows sat up.

No woman, on the face of her, to take or keep a voluptuary's fancy--and
that was her fault; but it is hard to have to reject romance because
there may be self-interest at the bottom of it. And she had paid for her
fault, and was still to pay, poor foolish vestal.

The two, husband and wife, sat facing one another across the
dinner-table in the dull old room of the dull old house in the dull old
High-street. The meal was over, the servants withdrawn, and the lawyer,
one hand to his hip, the other poising a glass, sipped at his wine
reflectively. Now and again he would shoot a swift disliking glance at
the thin, sallow face opposite. It was like seeking for his mood the
venom most apt to stimulate it; and presently he began:--

"I have been waiting for you to speak, Monica, but your confounded
reticence is always, it seems, to remain unconquerable."

She answered to his words, like a poor, dusty, lean-flanked donkey to
the cudgel, with a movement that could hardly be called a start, and a
little lift of her head, which, however, too heavy to resist its own
weight of unhappiness, sank again almost immediately. The wooden
impassivity of her face might have expressed to him, had he had the soul
to read it, that sort of witless stoicism under inexpressible grievance
which is wont, on deadly opportunity, to deliver itself in some sudden
act of blind and desperate hatred. But, like all tyrants, he was morally
near-sighted.

"Is it not?" he said, answering to that mute response. "One might have
thought that, in a matter so nearly concerning your husband's interests,
you might at least have waived your prerogative of incommunicativeness.
But the habit is ineradicable, I suppose. Well, let it pass. You have
had a letter from Miss Vanborough, have you not?"

"Yes," she answered, not raising her head.

"And an invitation--is it not so?"

"Yes."

"Do you intend to accept it?" She did not reply.

"I need not point out to you," he continued, clear and deliberate, "that
the young lady is a most important client of mine, whose good will it is
of the first consequence to regain. She is placed at the moment in a
position of some difficulty for a youthful and inexperienced girl,
having parted recently, for necessary reasons, with her
chaperon-companion, Miss Pringle. For all her wealth, she is virtually
friendless. It would be a kind act--a neighbourly act--to go and give
her the benefit of your society during this remaining period of her
mourning."

For one instant her eyes raised themselves to his, and were again
dropped.

"You made her write?" she said.

"There is no question of influence in the matter," he answered. "You may
suppose that, in suggesting, no more, an appeal to you, my motive was
not an entirely disinterested one--not quite, nor quite so much the
contrary as you might be inclined to suspect. But what then? If you have
never troubled to realise the state of our finances, the need, the
desperate need to me of securing and humouring such an interest as this
ought, at least, to open your eyes. Bankruptcy is stalking me on the
other side of the hedge. Monica--that is the bare truth. It is just a
question who gets in the first shot."

Her expression did not alter by a line. "And the disinterested side?"
she said.

"Ah!" he answered, glancing keenly at her, "more genuine, perhaps, than
your grudging nature might admit. I could have found others, livelier,
more fit, more congenial for the task--"

"But not so interested in your interests," she broke in--and shrank
aghast at her own temerity.

"Or so determined to hold herself aloof from them, you might add," he
continued coolly.

"I do not hold myself aloof, Luke," she whispered, trembling.

"That is well," he said. "A little readier, a little earlier response,
you know, might always have secured you against this situation. One
cannot give one's confidence to a stone. Say that I am using you here,
partly using you, for my own purposes. Are not yours one with them? Do
you wish to see me go to the wall?"

"I only fail to see--forgive me," she muttered, "how--how one client can
help you to stave off that disaster."

"In a thousand ways," he answered, "if the client is generous--and
credulous."

She fixed her eyes on his face for the first time--held them there, as
if fascinated. A little kindness, to so starved and warped a nature,
would have made her his unquestioning instrument long ago.

"You vegetate here," he said softly, absorbing her gaze into his own;
"you brood and magnify. A little freedom, a little enlargement of your
sphere might fit you into becoming a companion to more than a pampered
empty-headed girl. Do you ever sing now, Monica?"

"Never," she whispered, her eyes still fixed enthralled on him. "I have
forgotten the way."

"That is a pity," he said, "because it was a pretty one."

"Luke!" she said.

He smiled, without answering. "Luke, when am I to go?"

"I did not say you were to go," he replied.

"Please to tell me."

"Well," he said, "if you are to decide by her anxiety to receive
you--to-morrow."

CHAPTER XV.--FLOWERS ON A GRAVE.

For, a day or two, in the reaction following that night of poignant
experience, Le Strang went about his business in a state of moody, and
rather savage, depression. He sorrowed over his little comrade, so
untimely called away; he rebelled against his own emotional surrender to
a passion which, humiliating in itself to one of his strongly
independent character, had the further disadvantage of hindering his
hands in the unravelling of that problem he had set himself to solve; he
felt that he had been unfairly trapped by sentiment into a collusion
with the powers of evil.

It is a fact, if a rare fact, that men who have cherished their freedom
into maturity, will sometimes, when betrayed by circumstance into
surrendering it, evade the astounding responsibility so incredibly
undertaken by them, by, severing their jugular arteries. Le Strang,
needless to say, was no white-liver of that order; but he found himself
none the less distressed by many, and unreasoning qualms. There was
still enough of the dreamer in him occasionally to demoralise the
worldly side; and it was the practical difficulties of that duplicated
existence which would sometimes frighten him vaguely in the prospect.
Independent he felt that he could always have wrestled with the world on
pretty equal terms of give and take; it was quite a different matter
with a woman clinging to his coat sleeve.

The mood was perfectly natural--one inevitably consequent on such
selfabandonment as he had been betrayed into a moment of extreme
exaltation--and its as natural corrective was a homoeopathic dose of the
poison which had maddened him. It was administered in due course.

Poor Bobo was sealed into his bit of a parcel--so small that Le Strang
himself could carry it to the grave--and despatched on his long journey
to the other side of the moon, where are the joyous nursery gardens
which are hidden from our longest and most inquisitive telescopes.
There, no doubt, some kind Madonna received him as directed, and put the
tired little traveller to sleep for a while in a bed of white cloud
stuffed full with angeldown; and afterwards, when he awoke wonderfully
refreshed, took him to the gardens, and made him peep over the wall at
the world, swinging below like an enormous school-globe, only infinitely
brighter and more interesting. This is probable, though we cannot know
for certain, as they never acknowledge the receipt of parcels up there.
Only, the morning after, Le Strang awaking in his bed, found a little
feather, which had fluttered down, lying on his hand; and so he was
sure, at any rate, that Bobo had been received safely, because the
feathers which came out of his own pillow were always dusky brown, with
hardly a streak of white in them, whereas this one was all pure white
and smelt of the moon.

But by then his mood had changed, and was very tender once more--almost
exultant in its consciousness of a passion returned, never thenceforth
to haunt him but with longings for its own fruition. He had had enough
of Benedick, the misogynist.

It was the sweet aftermath of that tragic night, full of emotional
softness for the little loss and the greater gain now realised. The day
before had been dull, with a drizzling rain--no occasion for a
delicately-nurtured girl to dare unnecessarily the terrors of a sodden
London cemetery. And yet she had been there--a slender pathetic
figure--making no favour of it, but withdrawn, in company with the late
chaperon-companion, behind a little group of loafers that even the worst
weather could not keep from congregating, like wormy crows, on a patch
of upturned soil. He had noticed the knot of flowers in her hands--no
funeral wreath, but a bunch such as a child might gather--and had felt
his heart swelling to the pretty natural token while the priest droned
out his melancholy pomp of words. These children--for what was she
more?--these children, the dead and the quick, were both his charge
against the hard dealings of the world. He had surrendered one trust to
heaven; should he betray the other in its greater need? The sense of
dear possession returned strong and sweet upon him. From that moment he
longed for her to come to him.

Early in the morning he revisited the little grave. It had been heaped
up by then, looking no larger than a fine molehill, and the flowers lay
at its foot. He stooped and gathered one, a single blossom, and set it
in a fold of paper, and put the paper in his breast pocket. He was very
grave, but smiling, over this piece of sentimentality. "You won't grudge
it me, Bobo," he said; "but, if you want it, send your messenger. I am
saying to our next meeting by deputy, little man. Do you say the same
down there, if you love your friend."

Then he turned, and, leaving the cemetery, set his face once more to
that which he had to do.

CHAPTER XVI.--NEWS FROM LONG WYECOMBE.

Le Strang, somewhat tired and dispirited, was sitting one evening alone
in his room, reflecting on the weary procrastinations of destiny and the
patience entailed upon anyone who set himself to unravel its complicated
problems, when the door opened and a visitor was shown in. He uttered an
exclamation, rose, and greeted the burly figure of the newcomer with
delight.

"Sit down, Sergeant Roper," he said. "Sit down. There's whisky and
tobacco for you on the table. A pipe and a glass on duty are
permissible, I suppose. Well, I'm rejoiced to see you, and I hope you
bring news at last."

The sergeant, obviously gratified by his reception, doubled himself,
comfortably but deliberately, into the chair offered him, filled his
pipe and tumbler, stopped the former with a finger about twice the size
of an ordinary man's thumb, lit it, with some gruntings for ease, drew
it well aglow, and, leaning back in his seat, looked about him.

"Dull quarters, these London cribs, sir," he said.

"I dare say," answered Le Strang, "and dull people living in them very
often. But you haven't come all the way from Long Wyecombe to tell me
something which ought to be pretty obvious to me by now."

"Ah!" said the sergeant. "You should live in the country, sir. Plenty of
excitement there."

"Why, I believe it," answered the other, keen upon his visitor's face.
"I shouldn't wonder if you have come to enliven me with some story of
your country jinks."

Mr. Roper smiled, looked about him for somewhere to spit, and,
recollecting himself, coughed, as if that had been his polite purpose in
turning aside, and resumed his puffing for some moments in silence.
Presently he took the pipe from his mouth, tapped its rim gently on the
tray, looked into its bowl, sat up, replaced the stem between his teeth,
and crossing his legs easily and at length before him, said pleasantly:

"Well, sir, I got the letter."

Le Strang, brightening, uttered a minute sigh of relief.

"It served its purpose, I hope," he answered briefly, looking down.

The sergeant just glanced at him.

"I'll come to that, Mr. Le Strang," he said. "You'll excuse my having
insisted on the original. A copy, such as you proposed, sir, would never
have done."

"No?" replied the other, raising his eyes with a fine appearance of
nonchalance, and balancing a paper knife between his first fingers. "I
daresay you're right."

"The woman knew the lady's hand, you see," said the sergeant, "and would
have been suspicious of being got at otherwise."

"I see, of course," answered Le Strang. "It's all right. I don't know
what prompted me to the suggestion, unless--well, on general principles
it's best to keep first evidences in one's own hands, isn't it."

"Oh, it's in my hands all right!" said the sergeant. "In fact, I've got
it here with me, and, being done with, you can have it back, if you
like."

"Very well," said Le Strang. "I may as well pigeonhole it."

He rose, as the other took a letter from his tunic breastpocket--the
very autograph document, guaranteeing, under any circumstances, his
pension to Mr. Ambrose Sharp, which its recipient had asked of a certain
young lady, the ex-butler's patroness. As it passed between the two men,
their eyes met for an instant. There was positively a spot of colour on
Le Strang's cheek. The sergeant, shrewd man, smiled. There was something
more of the dovecot than of the pigeonhole, he fancied, in this
transaction, but he kept his thoughts to himself.

"Am I to gather, from your readiness to part with this," said Le Strang,
turning away, as he 'pouched' 'the ineffable billet, "that it has proved
effective in inducing Sharp's daughter to consent to the operation on
her father?"

Sergeant Roper again removed his pipe from his lips, again looked into
the bowl, blew its contents into a glow, and replaced it as before.

"Mr. Le Strang, sir," said he, "you're really, upon my word, an
extraordinary clever gentleman."

"What'" exclaimed the other, somewhat startled. "You mean--?"

"I mean, sir," said the sergeant in a low, impressive voice, as he
leaned forward, "as that Redding comes out as pretty a scoundrel as it's
ever been my lot to cross."

He sank back in the chair, having delivered his bolt, and nodded his
head once or twice at the figure standing attentive before him.

"That's so," he said, "and the credit of the proof lies with you, sir."

Le Strang thrust his hands into his trouser pockets, and stood
tense-set, square-shouldered, waiting to hear.

"Go on," he said. "She's consented to the operation of trephining, has
she?"

"She's consented, sir, and, more, it's been done."

"Done?"

"At his own cottage, sir, and successfully, by our police-surgeon, Mr.
Travers. The pressure of the broken bone on the brain being removed, the
man's recovered his reason."

Le Strang blew out a long breath. "That's good," he said, quietly.
"Well?"

"I couldn't let you know before," said the sergeant; "and anyhow you'll
agree as the end justifies the precaution. It's all exactly as you
calculated."

"It was Redding gave the blow?" The sergeant nodded.

"With a padded life-preserver. No doubt he intended to kill the man, and
thought he'd succeeded. The result, when he came to learn it, must have
shook him. But he lay on the poor thing, never recovering his
senses--and no more he would but for you."

"And his object?"

"Just as you reasoned, sir. He had tried, to bribe the man to collusion,
and failing that, took the shorter way. A nice lawyer, upon my word!"

Le Strang was deep in thought.

"And now," he said, looking up suddenly. "What next?"

Sergeant Roper laid his pipe softly on the table, rose, and stepped up
close to his host, with an air of infinite caution.

"Lie low, sir, if you please," he said, "lie low. We must wait until the
patient's sufficiently recovered to face him with his evidence. In the
meantime all's kept quiet amongst us, and not a soul knows of the
operation but me and the doctor, and the woman, whose silence I'll
answer for. The thing, you'll agree, is to trap him into delivering up
what he's got in his keeping, if he's still got it, which you don't
doubt, nor me neither. Once raise his suspicions there, and we're done.
He'll destroy it."

He paused. Le Strang gazed at him intently.

"You don't forget my condition, Sergeant!" he said.

Mr. Roper rubbed his chin, embarrassed.

"Why, I don't want to, sir," he said, "if you'll show me the way."

"Perhaps I can," said Le Strang.

He went to a cupboard, took a brown handbag from a shelf, opened it,
selected therefrom a paper or two, and handed them to the other.

"Read those," he said.

Sergeant Roper received the documents with some wonder. Perusing them,
he looked up with a positive gasp.

"Blessed Jonah!" he said. "From Mr. William Grenville himself! Well,
this beats everything!"

"You see," said Le Strang. "If that other embodies what I suppose, and
what I once hinted to you--"

"It does, sir."

"Very well, then, I lead first in this matter--you understand that?--and
you act on my instructions."

"On your instructions, sir."

"They don't include the ruin of a scoundrel's helpless victim, but quite
the contrary--quite the contrary--you comprehend."

"So I should have gathered, sir."

"For the rest. I have a scheme for making this dog disgorge; and that,
by your leave, we will now proceed to discuss."

The sergeant looked at him admiringly.

"Upon my word, sir," he said, "a good detective was wasted in you--upon
my word he was."

CHAPTER XVII.--A RESPITE AND ITS SEQUEL.

It might have been difficult to estimate, on the face of things, the
mutual benefit to Miss Vanborough and Mrs. Redding, derived from the
visit of the latter to Queen Charlotte's Mansions. A silent antagonism,
a stealthy distrust of each other, a constant suspicion lurking under
the veneer of social observances, an instinctive sense on the part of
both that they were being exploited to some impenetrable purpose by a
master schemer, were hardly to be regarded as testimonies to the success
of the situation proposed and brought about by the lawyer. Whether the
alleged advantage were designed, in the first instance, for wife or
client, the incompatibility of the two natures would alone, one might
have thought, have been a sufficient argument against any possible
development of sympathy between them. But, indeed, neither dreamed of
pretending to such an understanding. They had been brought blindly
together for some reason, which might or might not explain itself in the
sequel, and in the meanwhile they abode in antipathetic association, and
waited for the fearful oracle to speak. Miss Vanborough, in truth, was
at no trouble to effect a hospitality which she had been the remotest
from desiring to offer, or to conceal, at least, by implication, her
contempt of the mean little creature, her guest, whom she fully believed
to have been introduced into her house as a spy. A manner of social
condescension, intentionally offensive, as extended by a patroness
towards the wife of an employee, was her means for keeping the undesired
visitor at her distance. She would deign no more than an injured queen
to ingratiate herself with her treacherous subjects, and this one, she
believed in her heart, had been deputed to watch and report upon any
secret communication she might hold with her friends. She did not guess
indeed, how utterly the stranger and his paltry claim were disregarded
by Luke Redding.

All this time the conscious tumult in her soul subjected her to a
hundred moods of miserable suspicion and perplexity, of utter despair
and the rare sweet reactions from despair. She seemed to herself to live
and move in a spectral world of informers--to see eyes watching and
traps set for her in a multitude of glimmering places. They need not
have taken such elaborate precautions, she thought. In that one
direction where escape seemed to offer there was hope for her least of
all. A bar crossed it stronger than any bolt they could forge. Had he
not said that he would not have her until she came to him of her own
will, and was not that tantamount to abandoning her to the outer
darkness for evermore? For how could she pretend to love and impose her
own wicked ruin on the chosen of her heart? Fine term for such an out
rage! She must save him from herself and hug what consolation she could
gather from that heroism.

And she meant it, poor unhappy girl, although, in the quiet of the night
she would allow sweet passage to the dreamings of her soul. Then he
would rise and take her in his arms, and all would be rest and safety.
It could not be in life; but here, in the shadowy realms, the miracle
was wrought somehow. He had stormed her heart that evening, and she had
never questioned but that it had become his captive. The first time this
occurred to her, she lay awake in amazement. "But I never had a voice in
it," she thought; and, so thinking, sighed and cried quietly for a
little, because she had not a voice to decide in anything any longer,
but was just the sport and slave of circumstance.

And in the meantime, what was preparing, maturing, threatening? Things
could not remain at this stage for ever, or where would be the loss or
profit to any soul concerned? She waited for her torturer to reveal his
terms; she waited for her beloved to retort with the blow which much
include them all in its effects. Mr. Redding would see to that--at
least, so far as she was concerned. She could not know, how much the
other had learned or guessed of the truth. No matter. It only needed for
her to lie broken at his feet, and she would confess it all, to the last
syllable.

And the visitor? How did she accept the situation and play up to her
part--or to what, in her distorted imagination, she supposed to be her
part? To fit herself "into becoming a companion to more than a pampered
empty-headed girl!" Those words had fallen upon her like the "shadow of
a rock in a thirsty land." To fit herself in what way? To be applauded
for some service to the master whom she loathed, and adored, and
mistrusted, and hungered for, and whose hand she was ready to kiss or
bite in the spirit of the very meanest instrument of tyranny! She could
read his purpose no more than she could realise her own; but she could
watch and wait, and in time they might both be revealed to her.

And in time they were, and the Nemesis the man had evoked of that narrow
nature, which he had starved and scorned and blighted in its little
sphere of usefulness, came to overtake and destroy him.

He went very softly, very warily at first, obtruding his company only
rarely on that of the two ladies, and then with gentle apologies and
much kindly humour. One might have thought that this companion of theirs
had really been the end and object of all his complicated scheming. He
seemed to wish to lend himself the medium to their better understanding.
He arranged little expeditions for them, and brought them tickets for
plays which he was anxious they should see. His manner was entirely free
from any hint of mastery or subordination. If he wished to lull the one
into a sense of self-security, he was successful in so far that her
consciousness of a persecution for some reason succeeding despair,
exposed her still more helpless to his designs. His charm, when in these
moods, was patent--even seductive. She found herself re-awaking to a
wonder that a single personality could combine so much inhumanity with
so much captivation. Perhaps, after all, he had wrought in desperation
and was repenting on kinder reflection. It could make no difference, of
course, to her ultimate purpose; yet, supposing it were so, and that he
could be induced to second her in that reparation of a miserable wrong?
Surely, in that case, the matter might be compromised.

As she unbent a little to him, so did his manner to her become more
intimate and tender. It was then that Mrs. Redding's watchfulness began
to shadow out a clue.

One evening he came in upon the girl standing, as once before, at the
open window of her sitting-room. It was deep dusk within and without,
and below the city roared and sparkled in at splendid mist of night. She
started violently as she found him standing beside her. He looked down a
moment and backed with a sudden shiver.

"How can you do it?" he said; "that sheer drop, and the temptation.
Doesn't it seem to draw you?"

"No," she said?

"Ah!" he answered, passing a nervous hand across his forehead. "Then I
envy you. It's the one thing I cannot stand. Better, it always seems to
me, the leap and the deadly scream and the crash, than that awful
prospect of the unreachable without. Shut the window."

She hesitated, and obeyed.

"I will turn up the light," she said. He stopped her, himself again.

"No, I love this scented gloom, and the sense of the sweeter presence in
it. You haven't given me your hand."

She gave it. He lingered over the contact a moment.

"That it were possible," he murmured, "for such as I, to dream of its
possession altogether!"

She tore herself from his touch. "Are you mad?" she whispered.

"I might be," he answered, "if I could believe you once a traitor to
me."

She had retreated back from him, and stood panting softly.

"So the boy is dead!" he said quietly. Her breath jerked and came
quicker. "Yes," she said.

"You know it? How do you know it?"

"Miss Pringle told me."

"No one else?"

"No one else."

She could face him with that lie for her love's sake. Love would forgive
her.

"If I could think," he said, "that you were plotting against me! I know
how she knew it, for I met her to-day, and she told me. I was a fool not
to sound her further. Are you plotting against me?"

"No," she said; and, indeed, she spoke the truth there, for his name had
never once been mentioned between her and that other.

He was silent for a little.

"I am sorry," he said presently, "that you should think fit to continue
your acquaintance with that babbling fool. I warned you once of the
risk, and I do again. You will bear in mind that this death does not
alter your position by a hair's breadth--worse, it lays you open to the
charge of withholding the truth only so long as it was ruinous to you to
confess it. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," she said.

He stirred, and eased his breast of a laughing sigh. Under cover of the
sound, from the deep shadows near the room door a thinner shadow seemed
to detach itself, and, stealing spectral down the passage, turned and
returned with audible footsteps.

"My wife," said Redding aloud. "Is that you, Monica? I've brought you
ladies a couple of tickets for 'Still Waters Run Deep' for to-morrow
night."

CHAPTER XVIII.--A DISH OF CUTLETS.

Mr. Redding was a gastronome, and something of an amateur cook in his
way, which, within its limits, was an admirable one. His large white
hands were curiously apt at the little persuasive touches which bring
grace out of disorder and flavour out of insipidity. They were
benedictory, sensitive, capable all in one. To see them toss up some
little souffle affair of cream and puffery was to receive a lesson in
the artistry which is inborn and instinctive. His mayonnaises had once
been famous among picnicers at Long Wyecombe; he had wooed his wife over
a lobster salad. That was a very odd reflection, when he came to think
of it. Over a lobster salad--of course; so it had been.

Now and then he would call at the flat while the ladies were out at the
theatre or elsewhere, and concoct some little supper dish for them as a
surprise against their return. Once it was an escallop of oysters, most
daintily served in their shells; once a delectable little savoury of
mushrooms and soft bloater roes, laid on toast and garnished with fried
parsley. On these occasions Rudger, the maid, was his able and admiring
lieutenant. She procured the cream, the bread-crumbs, the condiments,
and laid everything ready to his hand on the dining-room table near to
the fire. He was scrupulously particular about the condition of his
enamelled ware; a spot of dirt was anathema to him.

On the evening of the 'Still Waters Run Deep' visit, he arrived at the
flat, some hour after the ladies had left it, with a brown paper parcel
containing a fresh lobster under his arm.

"It's lobster cutlets to-night, Rudger," he said, with that pleasant
ingratiatory smile, which made putting oneself out for him a positive
privilege. "Will you oblige me by quartering the monster?"

The girl received the packet from him with a blush and coquettish turn
of her shoulders.

"There's a fire in the dining-room, I suppose?" said he.

"Oh, yes, sir!" she answered. "Miss Vanborough never likes to come home
to a cold grate."

"Very well," he said. "Then a few bread-crumbs, a trifle of cream, a
dash of taragon, an egg and pinch of butter, the frying pan, and the
monster, if you please, Rudger."

He reflected upon the policy of kissing the girl; but thought better of
it, and she tripped away, simpering. In ten minutes all was prepared for
him, and he shut the dining-room door, and set about his task.

An observer, of epicurean tastes, would have found a pleasure in
watching him over it--his clean deft manipulation of its parts, his
unerring sense of its proportions. Within half an hour from his starting
to work, a couple of crisp, delicate, bright brown cutlets lay placidly
steaming upon a dish laid on the table. And then he paused, and looked
about him.

Presently he arose, and, humming an air, stepped softly to the door and
listened a moment. He could hear the girl moving about the bedrooms,
busy over her work. He returned to the table.

Alert, stealthy-eyed, but never ceasing his melodious murmur, he brought
from his coat-tail pocket a little round tin, somewhat depressed in the
top, and a tin opener, and with a quick strenuous action cut through the
lid of the former. A faint sickly odour rose to his nostrils, and he
bent his head an instant to it.

"Ptomaine there," he whispered to himself--a man might guess it without
expert opinion. "But what the law sanctions is right."

Rapidly scooping out a sufficiency of the contents for his purpose, he
went to work again, and manufactured a third cutlet--only introducing a
little more of the seasoning--and added it to the other two upon the
dish. Then he emptied the surplus of the potted stuff into the fire,
threw the remains of the fresh lobster flesh after it, closed and packed
up the tin and opener in one small parcel, and, returning all in his
pocket, went and opened the window of the room and let in a healthy
clearing breeze. After a little he rang for the servant.

"Take away, if you please, Rudger,'" he said. "The chips of the
workmanship mustn't remain to discredit the artist--only the finished
production. There was just enough and no more. No, leave the cutlets
themselves, if you please, and the frying pan."

"They're beautiful done, I'm sure," said the girl admiringly. "However
you come to be so clever is a wonder."

"I'm not clever, Rudger," he said; "but I have a feeling heart. That's
the secret."

She laughed and coloured, going about her business. Presently, when he
was left alone again, he turned to the table. It was laid with wine and
glass and silver, and he poured out half a tumbler of sherry, and took
it down at a draught.

"I don't know how it is," he muttered. "I thought I was proof; but these
things take some seasoning."

The chosen form of seasoning would appear, however, to have produced its
effect by the time the ladies returned, for he rose to greet them with a
high colour and a perfect self-possession.

"Ave, imperatrix!" he exclaimed jocundly--and stopped suddenly over some
thought awakened by the salutation. "The play was all you hoped of it, I
trust," he added, somewhat confusedly.

"Yes." answered the girl indifferently. "It took me out of myself for a
little."

"A bad play, then," he answered, very boldly. "A jealous, grudging,
abominable play. But the supper's mine--I've been at work on it for the
last hour. Lobster-cutlets, ladies! What do you think of those for a
bonne-bouche?"

The hungry eyes of his wife glistened; but not with hunger. She stood in
the background, like a gaunt gray shadow of the other cast upon the
wall. There was something wolfish in her gaze, her watchfulness, her
silence.

Redding went before, ushering them to the feast. He was full of
cheeriness and bustle; set chairs near the table, warm plates on it, the
cutlets to their final heating on the fire.

"Admit I have surpassed myself," he said, as he came up with his
frizzling burden, and delicately slithered a cutlet into the plate
before each lady. "Admit my artistry, and eat and be grateful--a
crustacean the milkiest of his race--ask Rudger, who quartered him for
me,"--and he appropriated the third cutlet to himself.

Miss Vanborough took up her fork with a listless air. This dulcet but
insistent persecution was wearing out her very soul. There was to be no
rest, no release from it--there was never to be again, she felt. But
yesterday her little daring hope had withered in its promise. He had
come and killed it, and she was hopeless. She hardly cared what became
of her now.

She took up her fork, and at that moment Mrs. Redding, leaning across to
her, removed her plate from under her eyes, and substituted her own for
it.

"Pray excuse me," she said, with a little ridiculous giggle; "but yours
looked so brown, and I like them well done. Do you mind?"

The act was so unexpected, so startling in its unusualness, so
phenomenal a self-assertion on the part of the little mean and abject
soul, that for an instant it "quite took the hostess's breath away. Then
very cold and dignified, she lowered her eyes.

"Not in the least," she said. "I am perfectly indifferent, I assure
you."

With a loud laugh Redding arose, and again removing the substituted
plate, replaced it with his own, and himself took the other.

"If there is any objection to this one," he said, "I am bound by all the
laws of gastronomy, to claim it to the cook."

Miss Vanborough sat perfectly impassive throughout this second exchange,
which having been effected, an uncomfortable silence tell upon the
company. Only Mrs. Redding was busy over her cutlet, every atom of which
she devoured in a fierce exultant way.

"They are very good," she said suddenly. "Why aren't you eating yours,
Luke?"

"I am waiting for our hostess to begin," he answered, with a charming
bow to Ruby.

"I have no appetite," said the girl, and laid down her fork.

He rose again and emptied both his plate and her own into the fire,
where their contents sank fizzing and guttering.

"Nor I," he said, coming about, "after this failure of my feast."

The desperation of a devil was in his heart: but his smooth courtliness
betrayed no hint of the passion raging within. He laughed and chatted,
and overflowed with bright pleasantry and anecdote. When it was time for
him to go, he bid the ladies good-night with a jest on his lips, and
went the length of kissing his wife, which was a rare attention with
him. She stood perfectly impassive to the salute.

"Take care of yourself, Monica," he said. "You are looking a bit
overdone."

"Thank you for the warning, Luke," she answered, in her toneless
unresponsive way. "I do my best, you see."

He walked home to his chambers by way of the embankment. It was near
midnight, and stormy weather. In a quiet corner near Hungerford Bridge,
he paused a moment, and looked over the parapet. The tide was at its
full, seething in ropy tangles about the wall below. He put his hand to
his pocket, glancing stealthily about him the while; then bent again,
and dropped the little parcel into the water. It floated a brief minute
before it settled and sank. His face, as it came up from its watching
into the lamp-light, was like the face of a suicide, livid and grinning,
rising to the surface. He went on his way.

"So that ends," he was thinking. "Nothing gained from it--nothing to
fear from it--not an atom of proof. After all it was only a chance, and
might have failed. She was blind and insensible to the whole
transaction--to any significance in it, at least. Why should she not
have been? But the other! Oh. Monica, my wife! Monica, Monica!"

__________________

He was gone, and the two women were left alone. Weary and heartsick,
Ruby was about to turn out the lights at the supper-table, when she
heard a strange sound near her, and facing about, uttered a little cry
and stood transfixed. Mrs. Redding had crept noiseless to within a few
yards of her hostess and was standing regarding her with a face of
deadly hatred. There was something so horrible in her expression that
the girl gave an involuntary gasp of terror.

"What is it?" she whispered. "Are you ill?"

"Ill!" breathed the woman. "Dead, if it were for you."

"Mrs. Redding," said the girl, terribly alarmed, and moving as if to
summon assistance, "let me call Rudger--let me--" But the other stopped
her madly.

"Isn't it so?" she said, in a tense fierce voice. "Wasn't this planned
and plotted between you?"

"I don't know what you mean," cried the girl. "There is something wrong
with you. Let me get help."

The woman struck her own cheek relentlessly with her clenched hand.

"Judas!" she cried. "If that kiss could have poisoned his wicked lips as
he thought to poison mine!"

She menaced the terrified face before her.

"But I was too subtle for you," she went on. "The despised wife, the
hated encumbrance, who barred the fruition of your schemes was too
subtle for you. Ever since he was connected with that case of the
poisoned food, I have wondered why it never occurred to him to use it to
get rid of me--so simple--just a cutlet of tinned lobster, and ptomaine
poisoning, and there was an end of me."

She gave a horrible little screeching laugh, clinching her fingers
convulsively.

"You must be mad," whispered the girl. "He could not be guilty of so
diabolical a thing."

"Do you know him better than I?" cried the other. "Not for all your
intimacies and your confidences, mistress. But I was prepared, you see.
I am not so easily put out of your way."

Then, quite suddenly, horror at its extreme seemed to rally Ruby's
fainting spirit. She faced the other, deathwhite, but calm.

"I think," she said, "your wild imagination forces its own conclusions.
Your husband served us all alike. Were we all to be poisoned?"

Again the little screeching laugh replied to her.

"Did he? You fool! Did he eat the cutlet that was to have been mine, and
that came to be his? Sound enough the other two--he took good care to
secure evidence on what he had brought with him for them."

A quick recollection, of the seemingly ridiculous little episode, which
she had scarcely regarded in its passing, came upon the girl with a
sickening shock.

"Oh, it is too horrible!" she muttered. "I can't believe it. What could
be his object?"

The dreadful little creature rocked with laughter.

"Oh, don't you know, indeed, Miss Vanborough?"

"I know nothing--I 'know nothing," was the shuddering answer--"only that
I loathe and fear him already so much that--"

The other interrupted her.

"That is a pity, because he intends you to take my place."

CHAPTER XIX.--SURRENDER.

Le Strang was lying from day to day in a sort of waiting exultation, now
dreamy, now restless, but never in his heart doubting that the condition
which he had imposed upon his love would come to be fulfilled. There was
no self-complacent sentiment, but an emotional intuition, subject to his
strong determination to take no unfair advantage of circumstances in
this bid for a beautiful prize. At the same time if there was
uprightness in his attitude, there was pride in proportion. He was no
man to play the love-sick suitor--to sigh "a woeful ballad made to his
mistress's eyebrow,"--to let his chosen believe that she could "have her
lion roll in a silken net and fawn at a victor's feet." He was of the
masterful order of suitor, compelling, protective; and a woman who
desired him must be content to play the womanly part of submission.
There was a lovely kindness in his nature to compensate; and also a
lovely reason--but that was of less importance. Reason is the last
requisite for philandering; though it does very well for later on when
the knot is tied.

So he waited, believing that in the end she would come to him;
suffering, in his resolute self-repressing way, for the ordeal he had
imposed upon himself as much as upon her. Or was it so indeed? Now and
then the qualm would seize him. What if she were intentionally keeping
away to show him the baselessness of his surmise? But it never stayed to
convince. Destiny had so surely marked them out for one another. The
'unities' in this drama of their lives called for their wedding bells,
and romance could in no wise else be vindicated.

He laughed over the word, but very kindly. After all, he was romantic to
a degree, if only he could once afford to let himself go. That time
might come, perhaps, when perfect confidence and perfect tranquility and
perfect understanding were established between them. In the meanwhile,
the practical complications of the plot called for his unbiased
attention, and it was solely for the reason that his love's delay to
surrender herself to his hands embarrassed the issues it was his design,
and his ripe design, to bring about, that he deplored her seeming
reluctance to yield. So he told himself; and all the time his heart
burned hot for the poor, unhappy child, so helplessly isolated in her
misery. For every day added to the account of her torture, he set a new
figure to the sum of the reckoning to be called by and by, and swore
that Redding should pay it to the uttermost farthing.

For by now the man's villainy was a proven thing, and the occasion for
surprising and denouncing him only lacked the co-operation of his
principal victim. It had become necessary to move in one direction, with
extreme caution and secrecy, and the path was only clear that
co-operation granted. For the rest, the ways of destiny had been marked
by a rare and wonderful grace, so that, it seemed, the awards and
penalties at the end would all be according to deserts; and thus it had
happened because the man having command of the sentence upon the weakest
sinner was the very man most mercifully and lovingly inclined towards
her.

Everything was ready therefore, for the unexpected descent; only a
young, pathetic figure blocked the way. She was not to be ridden down;
Mr. Robert Le Strang, commanding, would neither have her lured over to
his party. He had said how she was to come, if she was to come at all;
and, though, of course, he put it on purely practical grounds, Sergeant
Roper was not so blind as to demur. Only he ventured to point out that
every day added to the risk of discovery--that they could not for ever
keep close the fact of a certain witness having come into prominent
evidence.

"Very well," said Le Strang; "give me up to the last moment you can
afford and then, if there have been no developments in that one
direction, we will re-cast our policy. But you must see as well as I do,
the importance of our securing, if possible, this decoy."

It was an unpleasant word to use and he bit his lip over it; but it was
necessary, on moral grounds, to dissociate the girl from any wilful
complicity in the wrong which she was only awaiting her desperate
opportunity to repair. And with that compromise Sergeant Roper had to
rest content.

His endurance was not put to too severe a test. On the very night of the
conversation which had thus dismissed him, satisfied and dissatisfied,
the surrender, which Le Strang had so long desired and looked for, came
about with dramatic effect.

He had sat up late--he was never an early sleeper--in his lonely room,
brooding, with a sharp hunger at his heart, over the tortured and
torturing ways of Providence in securing its ends for the fairest
propagation of the human race--in forcing men "to learn in suffering
what they teach in song." His mood inclined him to darkness and
melancholy, to which the atmosphere of the night contributed. The wind
wailed outside his window, driving the rain in fitful spasms upon the
glass. It was past midnight, and nothing broke the stillness otherwise
save the occasional whizz of a motor or rattle of a cab down the empty
street. All the household was long abed, and he was quite alone. He
felt, for the moment, intensely isolated in a world of human sympathies,
emotional, sociable, gregarious. A desire, such as he had never felt
before, to know the sweets of comradeship in their most poignant form,
came upon him overpoweringly. What a wonderful and awful change had
these last few weeks wrought in him! He thought of Samson and
Delilah--he raised his eyes and looked about him guiltily. "Delilah, my
little sinful maid!" he whispered--"if you would come and shear my locks
for me!"

A boom of wheels turned into the street--approached--ceased with a
rattle and jingle of harness at the very gate of his lodgings. He
thought nothing about it, until he heard rapid feet mounting the steps,
and, immediately afterwards, a low tap on the hall door.

"Strange," he muttered, rising. "I had supposed we were all in."

Some thrilling intuition informing his actions on the instant, he went
very softly into the passage, and unfastened the bolts without noise. A
flaw of rain drove in as he swung open the door, and with it, it seemed,
the white apparition of a woman. She was in the passage, entreating him,
appealing to him with a voiceless agony, before he could command his
reason. Her face was death-wild; a dew of wet sparkled in her brown
hair. He put a hand upon her naked arm.

"Hush!" he whispered; "say nothing. Is the cabman paid?"

She fumbled for her nurse. He stopped her, led her into his
sitting-room, went out and paid the man, returned, shut the hall door,
then his own, with extreme quiet, and stood and faced her.

CHAPTER XX.--CONFESSION.

In the very act he saw her condition, and darting forward, caught her in
his arms as she swayed. She clutched at his shoulders, stood staring a
moment; then slipping down to the floor at his feet, buried her face in
her hands, and lay breathing convulsively. He waited a little for the
first emotion to pass, then spoke, deep and resolute.

"At last, child!--at last! So the burden has become more than you can
bear?"

Lower and lower, as if her shame were crushing her. A wing of her hair
broke loose and hid her face from him.

With a sigh he knelt and wove his arms about her neck and shoulders,
striving to raise her. She struggled to repulse him.

"Not that!" she whispered. "You don't know me--I'm wicked!"

She strove but he was stronger. He took her, flushed and torn and
weeping, into his arms and bade her lie there, for not else would he
listen to her. She lay then, panting and dishevelled, but turned her
face from him.

"Now confess to me," he urged, strung all through with passion. "Have I
not known the truth from the first? But by the fulness of your shame
shall you earn absolution. Confess to me."

"Have mercy!" she implored. "I was mad--I did not know what to do or
where to go--only to you. Oh, save me from him--save me!"

In her agony she bent to him; he caught her to his breast and crushed
her there, and set his lips to hers. Her struggles but inflamed him. He
ceased, only to hide her face upon his shoulder and speak to her as if
she were a child.

"Did I hurt you? But, there--now you know how strong I am--how savage to
hold and help. You are mine, little Ruby--all your body and all your
soul and all your cause are mine from this moment. Now, tell me, what
new villainy of his has driven you to this?"

She shuddered in his arms; she was quite helpless and broken.

"He tried to murder his wife tonight," she whispered, awfully; "to
poison her. And--and--oh! merciful God! even that is not the worst!"

The enfolding arms possessed her, controlled and re-assured the terror
within.

"Tried to murder his wife, did he?" he repeated, in a steady voice. "And
what could be worse than that?"

"How can I say it--I!"--a shivering spasm shook her--"so horrible beyond
words! But it was she declared it true."

"Tell me, Ruby."

"Oh, what have I done--what have I done to make it possible--the price
of his silence--I was to pay it with myself. I had never dreamed of his
contemplating a thing so hideous; but then I understood it all--why he
had never asked me for money!"

Her broken utterances sank to silence; but he had heard enough to
understand. Mechanically, as he held her, his hand caressed the tumbled
hair. There was that in the deadly quiet of his face which boded ill for
someone. But still he measured out his voice in tones of ice.

"You must tell me the whole--do you understand? I am here to save you."

His touch, his force of command, stilled the shuddering nerves. After a
time she was able to falter out to him the story of the evening, with
all its grotesque and horrible details. He listened, with a face of
stone. Only, whenever the terror in her threatened to break bounds, his
hand was there to steady her, to caress her back to the paths of sanity
and hope. And, when she had finished, he gathered all that wild despair
into his charge afresh, and spoke and soothed it into reassurance.

"Poor child!" he whispered, with his lips to the hot half-hidden cheek;
"poor child! A cruel burden for these soft shoulders. A stern, hard
taskmaster, Ruby, to make your release from it so conditional on your
submission to his will. But it had to be so, for both our sakes, my
bird. To force you would have been to condone the sin. For you have been
a sinner, little girl however great the allowances yon may plead. You
have been a sinner, and must confess. For the moment forget all the
rest, Ruby, and make your heart clean to me. Have you been a sinner?"

She turned her face from him and whispered "Yes."

"What!" he said, "persuaded you to it in the first instance?"

"My wicked cowardice."

"You feared poverty beyond words?"

"Oh, yes--yes!"

"Do you now?"

"Not if you will help me."

"What! Will you be poor for my sake?" She did not answer. "Put your arm
about my neck," he said. She hesitated; then obeyed. "So," he said,
"answer me."

"I will be poor," she whispered. "For my sake?" he insisted.

"For your sake," she answered.

"Are you my lover, and not my friend?" he said. "Call me 'Rob,' as my
friends call me."

"Rob," she murmured. "For your sake, Rob."

"For your sake, Rob."

"Loving you as I do--say it."

"Must I?"

"Yes."

"Yes."

"Loving you as I do."

"Give me your lips, Ruby--there--so now you will be poor for my sake,
and I say you shall not be poor. I am a man of my word, and I say it.
Read me that riddle, you child. No, you cannot; but it has an answer.
Now, in the full loveliness of our confidence, in the full assurance of
my strength, tell me the whole truth about this matter--the hold that
accursed hound has over you. Whisper it to me, so that not even the
shadows may hear." He held her close to him while she spoke low and
tremblingly; and at the end he fondled her, smiling.

"Why that is just no more and just no less than I supposed. See what a
perspicacious husband for this little wife. She must be careful in the
future to dare no secrets from him. And is that all, and have you no
excuse to offer?"

"Oh, no, no! Not one."

"Not the beguiling of the serpent?"

"He said, that if I spoke, he would burn the evidence, and then attest
his knowledge of its existence, swearing that it had never been
committed to his keeping, but that if it had been destroyed by other
than my step-father, I myself must be the guilty and remorseful one. He
would spare no means, he said, to ruin and convict me. Oh, don't let
him! Don't let me be sent to prison!"

She clung to him suddenly in a passion of self-abandonment. His eyes
were full and his heart fire as he held and confronted her.

"To prison!" he said. "No harsher bonds than these, you baby. My God! so
he would burn the evidence, would he? I can believe it. He has scotched
it once already. Do you guess how?"

"No, I cannot."

"The better, I think. You will know soon. Thank heaven there are keener
wits than yours upon his track. He will be down in a day, with the
wolves at his throat. Great God, I say! this villainy transcends all
bounds. My fingers itch for him. If we can have him on attempted murder!
But the reptile was cunning there. We'll see what Roper says."

He had been speaking as if to himself. Now the fury died out of his
eyes; his arms enfolded his love with infinite tenderness.

"Now rest, my little one, my child," he murmured. "I am here, as I said,
to save you. I have been waiting for you to come. The issue lies in my
hands. I tell you that for your dear hope and comfort. Fear nothing any
more. Your punishment has been great, but it ends to-night. You have
confessed, and are forgiven, Ruby."

She lay weeping quietly, at peace at last in the strong surety of his
protection. For minutes he hold her so.

"Do you know," he said presently, in a strange soft voice, "that this is
the first time I have felt love for a woman, Ruby? How many years of
unclaimed passion go to make up its account, do you think? Now it is so
rare and precious a thing to me that I must treat it like delicate
glass. A rude touch, and it is chipped. Wherefore, if you understand, my
little vestal, I am going in a moment to consign you to the care of the
Abbess of all Vestals, Miss Pringle, who lives close by. Did you know
she did?"

"Yes; she told me."

"Very well, I must do this, for all my mad longings, for our two most
particular sakes. I shall see you to-morrow. For to-night we must part.
Come."

He unclasped her bare arms from about his neck, and rose to his feet,
lifting her with him. Her sweet flushed face hung in shame before him;
he tried to put up her hair for her, to reorder her tumbled plumes.

"I have never yet asked you," he said--"that wretched woman--how did you
escape?"

"She left me," she whispered. "I heard her go to her room and lock
herself in. And then--don't know how I came--I was mad with fear and
horror. I remembered that you--"

"Yes, yes--recall no more of that. You flew straight and true, my bird.
We'll think of her to-morrow, and her part in this affair. Now we must
find you sanctuary; but the Abbess will be in bed. How shall we wake her
without waking the street? Do you know her room?"

"Yes, it is in front, on the second floor?"

"Then, we must stone her, poor martyr. There is no help for it. But
first--it is hard to part with you--yet these voices may penetrate to
sleeping ears. Is there any harm, Ruby? We are plighted man and
maid--dear trustees for one another. I cannot let you go at once. How do
people make love?"

For all the tragedy of her mood, she could not forbear a little
tremulous smile at the question, nor a throb of pride over her power to
move the deep heart of this magnificence.

"But perhaps we have been making love," he said. "I don't know. As a
term it is commonplace--a little vulgar--nothing to represent that
inexpressible ecstacy. Trust me, sweet--come to me once more--one last
goodnight in silence before we separate."

In a little he put her cloak about her, and, leading her with stealthy
caution, took her into the dark-blown street. The rain had ceased for
the moment, but the sleek shine of the pavements promised coldly for
silk stockings and gossamer shoes. There was no help for it however;
and, after all, the way was short.

But when they did reach the vestal bower, Le Strang uttered an
exclamation and stood aghast. It was under repair, it appeared, and the
whole of its front was a network of scaffolding poles. He conned the
situation bewildered. It was near one o'clock in the morning.

"Which is her window?" he asked of Ruby. "Can you make it out?"

"It ought to be there," she answered perplexed, "where that fence of
boards is. But I can't see it."

They went into the patch of garden in front; and he set to fusillading
the woodwork with such small stones as he could find. He did not dare to
throw beyond, for fear of breaking the glass; but his efforts thus
hampered, failed to evoke any response.

"I wonder if there is a ladder anywhere," he said in desperation,
glancing here and there; and his eyes in the act were suddenly aware of
a face looking in upon him through the railings.

It was a flushed and rather sleepy face, surmounted by a very muddy
crush hat; and there was a suggestion about the elegantly attired figure
beneath as if it found the temporary support of the railings grateful.

"Locked out?" said the stranger.

"Le Strang nodded; and instantly a bright idea struck him.

"You don't feel inclined to swarm up one of those poles, I suppose?"
said he--"a man of your youth and agility. It's more than I can manage."

The subtle flattery, in the presence of beauty, told. The stranger
released his hold of the railings very cautiously, and came into the
front garden, where he took off his hat and looked at it critically.

"Blew off--out of cab," he explained, "and I wed after it, and the cab
wed on. You haven' seen a cab pass, have you?"

"Not for hours," said Le Strang.

"Oh!" said the stranger. "Wish pole?"

Le Strang signified the one, and immediately, to their surprise, the
inebriated youth, first putting his damaged headgear on the grass, went
up it like a cat. Le Strang halted him at the fence of boards, and he
climbed it, and vanished. In a moment his face reappeared over the edge.

"Here's a window open," he called down.' "What name?"

"Please to tap on it," said Le Strang, "until you wake the occupant, and
then say 'Miss Vanborough.'"

They waited in excessive perturbation, conscious of divers and
mysterious sounds above. Once a terrified little scream seemed to
forbode catastrophe, but it was not repeated, and was succeeded by
remonstrant murmurs, which ceased of a sudden. The stranger looked over
the boards.

"She's coming down to open the door," he said, in a tone of high
disgust. "I say, you've asked a good lot of me, you know--" and he came
over the fence, and slid down the pole into a puddle.

"She was in curl-papers, you know," he said injuriously, as he got up,
dripping. "Don't you go doing that sort of thing again, you know."

A sound of withdrawing bolts startled him. He snatched up his hat and
fled.

CHAPTER XXI--THE WAY.

"No, ma'am," said Sergeant Roper. "It's no case, in my opinion. We'd
better hold to our own, which is clear enough, and not go confusing the
indictment with a supernoomary count, which might end us, like the dog,
with getting neither the jint nor the shadow for our pains."

He spoke, fondling his beard, after profound thought, to Miss Pringle,
who, fluttering between the extremes of agitation and gratification,
presided by courtesy at a meeting of conspirators hastily summoned to
her lodgings. The lady sat at one side of her sitting room table; Le
Strang and the sergeant faced her across it at the other. They were met
to discuss ways and means towards the swift exposure of a scoundrel,
and, in the course of the debate, made her, as representing the
speaker's chair, the formal medium for their arguments. The position
greatly flattered her, while it left her uncommitted; for in addressing
her they really spoke to one another. But there was a subtle design
behind Le Strang's euphemisms, the crafty rogue, which the poor woman
never so much as guessed at.

"No case, Miss Pringle," said Le Strang, in his deep voice--she
regularly thrilled when he addressed her "Very well. Then one of the
most inhuman attempts at murder ever perpetrated must be erased from the
indictment. So be it."

"Inhuman, ma'am," said the sergeant, "if you like, and if a fact. But
there's not a tittle of evidence in law to prove it. What's the case?
Mr. Reading was once connected legally, with an affair of condemned
tin-stuff; Mr. Redding makes some lobster cutlets; someone suspects him
of introducing poisoned tinned-stuff in a single one of those lobster
cutlets. Where's the connection? He brought with him a fresh lobster,
and took care the servant should know it. If he brought anything else,
trust him for having destroyed its evidences in good time. No one was
hurt; nothing remains to analyse; you can't go and convict on suspicion
alone. I don't say he's innocent, and I don't say he's guilty. The moral
odds may be against him, or maybe no more than the mad jealousy of a
woman. What I do say is that, in my opinion, it's no case, and that
nothing will he served by us trying to use it to double-lock the darbies
on his wrists."

"I assure you, sir," said Miss Pringle, palpitating, "that I for one
should be only too glad to believe Mr. Redding incapable of such an
atrocity; though, if called upon to contribute a testimonial to
character, his repugnance to say grace before dinner, and much less
after, it would be my bounden duty to asservate. For indeed I have never
once known him to call a blessing, though so strangely superstitious
that he would not even pass a magpie without taking off his hat to him.
But, then, as my dearest Miss Bella used to remark, an agnostic is
capable of anything, though certainly, if he wanted to poison his wife,
why couldn't he do it quietly at home?"

"Obvious enough," said Le Strang, grimly. "Because he wasn't in the
habit of paying her those delicate attentions, and any sudden change in
his methods might have excited suspicion; because he wanted an
independent witness, his victim and tool, to testify to his loving
kindness; be cause, at Miss Vanborough's flat, situation and
circumstance lent themselves most readily to the attempt."

He glanced at the officer, shrugged his shoulders, and continued:--

"But Sergeant Roper talks with authority, Miss Pringle, and his view of
the matter is the view I expected. I should have liked to make assurance
doubly sure--to have had two barrels to my shot-gun; but we must make
the one do. Now, as to the means--and there, by your leave, we will
advance, for the sake of convenience, a postulate. Say the case, as one
of attempted murder is unprovable; we will assume it, nevertheless, to
be a case. Granting it to be within the bounds of possibility that the
attempt was actually made, we must proceed as if we had to consider the
consequences of the attempt. Are you with me so far, Sergeant?"

"Yes, sir," said Sergeant Roper guardedly; and added, "speaking to the
lady."

"Very well," said Le Strang. "Then what is Mr. Luke Reading's likely
attitude this morning towards the affair of last night? Does he, in the
first place, suppose that his pretty purpose was suspected by the one
most keenly interested in its frustration?"

"You've seen the main witness, sir, and I haven't. What are her
conclusions?"

"She believes recalling certain incidents, that in all likelihood he is
uneasy."

"Grant that he is then, sir."

"How will it influence his actions? Will he keep away from the flat for
a time, or will he--which seems to me the more probable--take an early
opportunity of revisiting it, in order to satisfy himself as to how the
land lies, and to allay, to the best of his ingenuity, any possible
suspicions? Remember that he knows nothing of the scene which followed
his departure last night."

"And he mustn't know."

"Exactly; he mustn't know. He mustn't return to learn of Miss
Vanborough's flight, or of his wife's condition, until we are prepared
to receive him."

"Short notice, sir. He may be proposing to himself to go back there
today."

"I suggest proposing it for him."

"You do?"

"Unquestionably. Every hour minimises our chance. You can produce your
witness at any moment, I suppose?"

"Where, sir?"

"At the flat, is my suggestion."

"Half an hour will do it."

"Good. And now for the bait."

He just glanced at Miss Pringle before continuing--

"I want you to bear in mind that Miss Vanborough has never once had
visual proof of the document, with a simple assertion of whose existence
Redding has been able to coerce her into submission to his will."

Sergeant Roper uttered an exclamation.

"Is that so, indeed?" he said. "You don't question its existence, Mr. Le
Strang?"

"Not for a moment, Sergeant. I gave you once before my reasons for that
belief. It exists, I haven't the slightest doubt; only Miss Vanborough
has never seen it. She has taken that dog's word for its existence. I
propose that she shall take it no longer."

The sergeant was beginning to see light. He nodded several times, with a
gratified expression.

"To be sure, sir," he said, "to be sure. You intend to draw him--to kill
two birds with one stone, proof of his crime being proof of your profit.
What is the young lady's loss is your gain, Mr. Le Strang. It all
dovetails, doesn't it? I suppose, by the way, she sees it in that
light?"

"Absolutely."

"And is prepared to invite him to come to the flat and show her the
document?"

"To invite him, yes; but not to meet him."

"Oh! not to meet him?"

"I suggest our being her proxies in the business."

"I see, I see."

"Apart from everything else, her horror over the place, since the affair
of last night, is so extreme, that she wishes never to return there,
never to set eyes on it again."

"Oh, the poor dear!" interpolated Miss Pringle, with a little burst of
emotion; "and she so delighted to come there, and live in perpetuity in
the Metropolis, and look out on the Minister in sun and wet. O dear,
dear!"

"I am sure it is like you to say so," said Le Strang, gravely; "and we
must all feel very deeply for Miss Vanborough in her unhappy position.
If ever there was a time when her friends were called upon to rally
about a poor soul in extremity, this is the time for Miss Vanborough's
friends to show the courage of their opinions on her behalf!"

He had taken, as he spoke, a paper from his pocket, and he now, still
regarding Miss Pringle, opened and referred to it.

"This," he said, "is a letter written to Mr. Redding by Miss Vanborough
from my dictation. I do not think any means illegitimate for the
trapping and destroying of such vermin; but, in case the scruple should
occur to anyone. I take this opportunity of avowing that I am solely
responsible for the nature of the lure--which, indeed, I had to put
force upon Miss Vanborough to sanction--and that I not only accept, but
glory in any moral onus which the sensitive might be inclined to attach
to me on its account. Here, then, is the letter I made Miss Vanborough
write, and you will observe that her complete ignoring in it of the
business of last night will be sufficient in itself to lull whatever
suspicions Mr. Redding may have been inclined to entertain. He will
believe his purpose undetected, and he will walk into the trap
undeterred by any feeling of apprehension as to his wife's reception of
him."

"One moment, sir," said the sergeant. "Supposing she, Mrs. R.... has
already been and acquainted him of the young lady's flight?"

"Not a chance, in my opinion. If she knows of it, the odds are she'll
believe that Miss Vanborough has gone to him. Remember her conclusions."

"That's true enough. Well, sir, if you'll read the letter, please?"

With another glance at Miss Pringle, Le Strang responded:

"Dear Mr. Redding,--After our interview of the night before last, I feel
compelled, in my own unhappy interests, to write to you as follows. I
had hoped that your knowledge of that poor child's death would have
served to mitigate the insistence of your persecution; but I was
mistaken. You tell me that it has not affected in any way the nature of
your hold over me. I do not understand how that can be, if it restores
me to my original position as sole beneficiary. Is there anything more
behind that you have concealed from me? Remember that you have never yet
shown me the paper in your possession. I must see it if you want me to
believe, otherwise so great is my desperation, I shall risk everything
in a full confession to a responsible person. Upon this I am finally
resolved. I shall be at home this afternoon from three to five o'clock.
If you do not call, bringing with you the evidence I have a right to
demand, I shall understand that I am justified in discrediting its
existence, and in taking what steps I please to protect myself from your
further molestation. For precaution's sake, and in order to ensure an
answer, I shall send this note by Miss Pringle to whom I have wired a
request to call upon me."

He ended, and looked up somewhat shamefacedly at the startled figure
opposite. The poor woman, who had been listening and smiling in a rather
fearful approval, sat completely petrified over the denouement. At
length she gasped out:

"Miss Pringle! I!--to visit that dreadful man!"

"The simplest thing," said Le Strang. "You have only to adapt yourself
to the situation as stated, and to be blind, deaf, and ignorant as to
every fact otherwise. I have taken the precaution to have this written
on a sheet of the Mansions' notepaper, which we were fortunate enough to
find in a blotting-book of yours, and so in every way the lure is
complete."

Miss Pringle demurred decisively, protested emphatically, wept
copiously. She couldn't do it, she said--she simply couldn't. She would
never keep her wits, let alone her courage. Why couldn't Sergeant Roper
go, or Mr. Le Strang himself?

"Why not send him a lighted candle at once, with an invitation to burn
the thing!" said Le Strang reproachfully. "Think of the tremendous
issues which turn upon the diplomatic conduct of this mission, and of
the rights and mercies you imperil by refusing it. And none more
completely fit for the task than you yourself, Miss Pringle, with your
natural discretion helping you to compass the downfall of a villain, and
to release a dear friend and a comrade from his loathsome toils."

He cajoled, flattered, reassured her, Sergeant Roper seconding. Finally,
the good creature dried her eyes and succumbed.

"Far be it from me." she said, still gasping hysterically, "to disoblige
my dearest Ruby in such a matter of life and death, and she so humble
and considerate it makes my heart bleed to see her. To hear how she
sobbed and shivered in my bed last night--begging your excuses,
gentlemen--asking me to sleep by her because she was so cold, and to
have her Catty, she said, like a sword by her side, only I wasn't to cut
her because she was wicked, the dear--it would have moved a heart of
adamant; and laughing and crying in a breath, and teasing me about my
assignation with the young gentleman on the scaffold--a shock that I
shall never forget to my dying day--and falling asleep in my arms at
last, her cheeks wet with tears. I'm sure," ended Miss Pringle in a gush
of emotion. "I would go to the scaffold for her at any time, if
needful."

"And I'm sure I would, too," said Le Strang.

And so, having gained his point, he set himself to instruct the good
soul minutely as to her conduct and policy, and presently was able to
despatch her, quite fortified and resolute at last on her errand.

CHAPTER XXII.--AT PEACE.

After the tempest, calm. So felt the poor child whom a relentless
destiny had at length yielded up to peace. Such rest, such bliss could
never be but in the heavenly relief from torture. As the star needs
night to reveal its shining, so against that background of death and
horror did her soul glow large and tranquil. She had been a castaway,
and was rescued; in despair, and the Perseus had come to her aid. Likely
enough, under normal circumstances, she would never have found in him
that demi-deity her heart now recognised and worshipped. She might have
come to admire, to love him, but never with that whole-souled surrender
of her will to his which stood for her renunciation of all that was
selfish and wilful in her character. Now, shamed and abashed before him
as she was, she felt his mighty helpfulness like a condescension, and
saw herself only a mean and contrite little creature in the shadow of
his greatness. All her peevish caprice, her high self-reliance were
exchanged for sweet humility; that spoilt and imperilled spirit was
humanised, womanised, and was become a tenfold lovelier thing thereby.

He had demanded everything from her--the truth, the secrets of her
heart, the conduct of her affairs. Her sole duty remaining was to trust
to him, love him, lest on his strength for ever more. In return he gave
her all of his confidence, save such as would have seemed still to claim
her to a part in the exposure of a villain. As to that he would tell her
nothing of his purpose or designs. She was to leave everything to him,
and, for all else, rest and recover the tranquility of mind and body
which were to minister to his rapture of her in the halcyon days to
come.

She did her best, good maid; but a passion so cradled in storm was not
very easily tempered to call. The fear was still in her heart, though
for him rather than for herself at the last. She trusted and gloried in
his resolution; but was manliness always something more than a match for
the subtleties of the wicked? She hoped so, but she wished he would
convince her. She was trembling for his sake all the time she was
obediently writing the letter from his dictation.

Yet, surely, the phrasing of that letter itself might have gone some way
towards reassuring her. There was that of cunning circumvention in it,
which spoke of the craft of the duellist, in tempting an adversary off
his guard, at least as much as it did of the confidence of the
straight-hitter in his strength. Yes, Mr. Robert Le Strang, we must
think, was fully a match for Mr. Luke Redding, and had the advantage on
his side of not despising his antagonist's capacities for harm.

He would not allow his love the smallest of voices in the debate, since
he had sworn to her that her punishment had ended with her atonement,
and to have included her in it would have been to keep her in some
measure on the rack. But the moment he had despatched Miss Pringle on
her mission, and had got rid of the sergeant, his thoughts turned to her
irresistibly.

Mr. Roper, perfectly sensible of his being temporarily in the way, acted
like the diplomatic constable he was.

"Well, sir," said he, "I shall go and hold my man in readiness, and you
will let me know the result the moment the lady returns?"

"The moment," said Le Strang, and bid him out with some affected
preoccupation over the business in hand. But the instant the door had
shut on him, he went to the foot of the stairs, and called softly for
Miss Vanborough.

She came down to him at once, glowing and tremulous. She was still in
the evening dress of the night before, though Miss Pringle's virgin
wardrobe had been drawn upon to modify certain of its details. They went
into the sitting-room together, and he shut the door; and then he took
her young face between his hands and gazed into it searchingly.

"Have you ever seen me look at you like this before. Ruby?"

"No," she whispered, her eyes falling.

"Why do you colour so, then?" he said. "Does it shame you, more than my
violence? What a wooing ours has been! It has been the Berserker's way
up to now with me; and to-day it is the love-sick pleader's. Which part
do you like me best in?"

"I don't know. I don't know what you are going to ask."

"For possession, Ruby, that is all--possession as quick as bothersome
formalities will allow it. The thought of even the shortest necessary
delay makes my brain burn."

She looked up, with a little shine of tears in her eyes, and down again.

"Isn't it a wee bit difficult," she said, "to distinguish this way from
the other?"

"I am not demanding, Ruby; I am asking for you; begging for you."

"And supposing I were to refuse myself to you--that is to say on such
very short notice?"

"Then--I don't know. There are no Fleet parsons nowadays, worse luck,
and no Gretna Greens. I should have to abduct you somehow, I suppose."

"So it makes no difference whichever way I answer."

"Oh, yes it does! It makes all the difference between being carried off
to a registrar, or married respectably in a church."

"I see. Then I choose the church, for Catty's sake. Where is she, I
wonder?"

"Do you? She's gone on an errand for me. She won't he very long. Do you
want her back?"

She did not answer. He led her to a comfortable chair in a dusky corner,
sat her in it, and himself down on a stool at her feet. Then he put his
head in her lap.

"Shear my locks, Delilah," he said. "Let your little hands flutter in
them like butterflies in a furze bush."

Timidly she stroked the hair on his temples; but love soon gave her a
surer, more caressing touch. It half hypnotised him.

"See how you subdue me," he said. "I am enslaved, bewitched. I would do
anything you bade me--most things, at least."

"Give me up, then!"

"That is one of the exception's."

She bent her face towards him, greatly moved.

"Have you thought of the worthlessness of what remains to you when my
one recommendation is stripped from me? Rob, dear Rob, it is showing you
no love."

"Have I your love. Ruby?"

"Oh, yes! I can't help it."

"I should have thought otherwise, finding you capable of thinking mine
such a sordid affair. Never say such a thing again."

"I will not. But there are other things. I am not wise, Rob."

"You are wise enough to recognise what a clever follow you are going to
have for a husband. That is enough for me."

"Are you very clever?"

"Enormously."

"Oh!"

"What do you mean now?"

"Why, only that I should have thought--perhaps--that you were not just,
quite wise enough recognise how foolish I am."

"Ruby!"

"Oh, don't beat me!"

He put up his arms as he lay, and drew her face down to him.

"Do you know," he said, "I rather like you. I think we shall come to
terms. My child--my passion! 'All her face composed of flowers.' O,
Ruby! Cannot I woo softly when I'm in the mood?"

An hour and more went by thus and thus. We can leave them to it with
more profit than we should gather from the recital. At the end, they
came to earth, were jangled to earth, by the sound of the front-door
bell. Le Strang got to his feet with a sigh; and was in a moment the
practical man of action again. His brows were lowered and his teeth set
as Miss Pringle came into the room. There was a curious excitement in
her face. He put up a hand to silence her.

"Go upstairs, Ruby," he said.

The girl obeyed instantly, with no more than an agitated glance of
appeal to him.

"Now," he said, as the door shut upon her. "What news?"

Miss Pringle in the sense of a strain over and a mission well
accomplished, was breaking into volubility. He cut her short at the
outset. "Is he coming?"

"Yes," she answered. "He will be there between three and four,"

CHAPTER XXIII.--AN OMEN.

Mr. Redding was an agnostic, as Miss Pringle had called him. His verdict
upon any divine interposition in the affairs of men was "not proven." He
saw nothing about him to justify such a conclusion, and he did not, as a
matter of fact, much trouble himself to look for a justification. It
would not have been convenient, and convenience was his fetish. It is so
with most of us, if the truth must be confessed; only, in the majority
of our cases, we include in the study of our own a sense of the
necessity, or making some provision against a possible after life of
rewards and penalties. We can do no harm by doing good, and we may find
the practice profitable. Anyhow, virtue is unlikely to prove itself a
punishable offence in the beyond. So it is wise to be on the safe side.

The best that can be said of the impious is that they have, when they
have it, the courage of their opinions; yet it is strange how often,
among disbelievers, that courage contradicts itself in superstition. Mr.
Redding, as Miss Pringle had implied, was an example of the anomaly. He
was a perspicacious, calculating, acutely reasoning rascal, and for all
that, as unreasonably superstitious as a servant-girl. He might scoff at
the Deity, but he would not walk under a standing ladder, or sit down
thirteen to table, or journey abroad on a Friday, for any consideration
in the world. At the same time, as if to disclaim the least method in
his scruples, he would shrink from the howling of a dog at night, from
the tap of a death-watch, from the scrutiny of a cross-eyed stranger;
and he was in all things as sensitive to dreams and portents as a
neurotic monk in a monastery. Scornful of men, he would do anything,
commit any absurdity to propitiate the ill-omened amongst beasts and
fowls.

He went down to his office, on the morning following that horrible
supper at Queen Charlotte's Mansions, in a mood of painfully nervous
depression.

He had had ghastly dreams in the night, from which he had awakened
enervated to one of those dull acrid days which, in cities, brood upon
the spirit like a foretaste of the world's end. The wind, though it
stirred little enough, was in the East: the sun sat in the cold haze
overhead like a disc of pallid brass: the houses, the streets the very
crowds thronging them, had all a livid aspect, as if the first leprosy
of decay were beginning to coat the features of a dying earth. The air
went raw into the lungs, awaking no responsive heat of blood or thought;
everything looked lifeless and worthless, as if a spray of mercury had
mingled with the June gold and ruined its glory for evermore.

Fit atmosphere for the man's dead heart, one might have thought, but
indeed, in the records of villainy, the most death-dealing natures will
be found the most life-loving. Warmth is the medium in which their
sensuous atrocities are planned and committed. Luke Redding found no
purpose, hardly an excuse for his deed in this chill grey morning. The
very impotence of that last night's essay seemed symbolised in its stony
face.

Somewhere a poet has said that hell is in conscious failure. Luke, in
that case, might at least have been commiserated on his premature
damnation. He told himself that he had never regarded his attempt as
more than a gambler's speculation--that the odds had been equally for or
against its success. That might be true in a way: but a gambler once
detected with a card up his sleeve was a gambler handicapped in all
future operations--and therein lay the rub. Had he been detected? That
was the question which eternally haunted him.

He found sometimes one answer to it, sometimes another. At its worst it
spelt for him the utter collapse of his hopes and schemes. It was not
that he feared the legal consequences of his crime: he had moved too
cautiously, wrought too cunningly, to leave the law a chance of laying
hold of him. He knew as well as Sergeant Roper that he had not made the
ghost of a 'case' for the police. What he did fear, solely and wholly,
was that the detection of his purpose by his intended victim, had that
occurred, would render any fresh attempt on her virtually impracticable,
and so debar him for ever from acquiring that which he had proposed to
himself should be the reward of his success. In. short, and plainly, he
could not hope to coerce Miss Vanborough into marrying him, so long as
his wife was determined to baffle his designs on her and live.

And what then, if she were? Why ruin--ruin instant, or ruin deferred:
but ruin inevitable in the end. Every day saw him appreciably nearer the
brink of the fall. His business, for all its showy accessories of brass
and mahogany, was a house undermined and honey-combed, like those
ant-eaten buildings which, sound on the surface, crumble into touchwood
at a blow. It was mortgaged, compromised, loaded with debt to its
attics: a false step, and down it crashed. Nothing short of a fortune
could restore it to stability. Whence was that to come, if not from and
with the mistress of "Scars."

He had made a compact with himself to adopt, while this dark deed was
pending, no other means to avert the catastrophe. Now it might be that
no resource was left to him but fraud, some fresh misappropriation of
funds entrusted to his care. It could not amount to much at the
best--something totally inadequate to his needs; and, when it should be
used, what next? The dock or self-destruction--there was no third
alternative. Was it not maddening to think of a possible blocking of
that way out of the impasse, which had presented itself to him as by
comparison, so secure and satisfying?

It was true that it was still open to him to bleed the heiress--to drain
her pocket if he could not possess her person. But somehow he shrank
from that contingency. It was hardly, perhaps, a contradiction of his
nature, that, while degrees of villainy did not affect him, his vanity
was touched in the thought of his degrading himself in her eyes to the
level of a mere squalid blackmailer. If he sinned, he wished to pose
before her as sinning magnificently for passion's sake.

The mere word in his mind was like a tonic. He walked brisker, lifted up
his head, made on effort to throw off his burden of gloom. Supposing,
after all, that no suspicions had been aroused--that his own excited
imagination had read a meaning out of the meaningless. In that case the
road still lay open to him--the same means, possibly, also, if his
ingenuity could hit out another and yet more subtle method of employing
them. By the time he reached Arundel-street, a long stone's throw from
his chambers, he was waxing almost elate in the pleasant exercise of his
invention.

His rooms were on the ground floor, and consisted of his own private and
luxurious sanctum off one side of an ample vestibule, of a suite of
clerks' offices opposite, and of a little glazed waiting-room at the end
of the hall, where a commissionaire sat to receive, and write down on
little slips of paper the names of visiting clients, which were thence,
with varying results, submitted to the head. Mr. Redding, arriving
exceptionally late this morning, opened the door of his room before the
swing door to the vestibule had ceased flapping, and, in the very act,
uttered an exclamation and recoiled. Some thing--a black cat--had run
across the floor of his room as he entered, and had disappeared, it
seemed, among the shadows thrown by a pile of deed-boxes against the
wall.

He stood a full minute quite motionless, and breathing rapidly. What did
this portend? He had never known a path so crossed without something
uncanny, something of disaster happening to its subject. With his eyes
guarding the open door, he stepped back into the passage.

"Trumble!" he called: "come here!"

The commissionaire answered to the summons with deferential swiftness.

"Who brought that cat in? Don't you know they are utterly forbidden in
the house?"

The man looked surprised.

"Yes, indeed, sir," he said; "there's never a one let come near the
place."

"Don't tell me," said the lawyer excitedly, "I saw one--a black one--it
ran towards those boxes as I opened the door. Who let it in?"

"It wasn't me, sir," said Trumble. "I wouldn't do such a thing. It must
have come down by the chimney, or run in between someone's legs. I'll go
and turn the brute out, sir."

"Hush!" said his master angrily. "What term's that, you fool! Speak it
fair and offer to fondle it. Go in while I wait here."

The man obeyed, seeking in every corner of the room--calling and
coaxing. But no cat was to be found. He was fain to desist at length,
convinced enough for his part that the thing was a delusion.

"There's no cat been here, sir," he said, "asking your pardon, unless
he've gone and bolted up the chimney."

"See if the register's down."

The man examined, and looked round puzzled.

"Yes, it is, sir," he said.

Luke made a strong effort at self-control, and came into the room. As he
shut the door he was scrupulous to see that no dusky shadow slithered
past him going out.

"I suppose I was mistaken," he said, "and that it was an effect of
darkness caused by something outside passing the window as I came in."
"That was it, no doubt, sir," said Trumble, relieved. But in the same
moment he heard his master utter an exclamation. Redding was looking
down at the silken cushion he was wont to use in his office chair.

"Something's been lying here," he said, in a voice that sounded quite
little and hoarse. "There's the dent of its body."

He stood as if awestruck, then put his hand on the cushion.

"It's warm," he whispered. "Look about again, Trumble."

The commissionaire made a second investigation, more exhaustive even
than the first: but to no effect. By the time he had finished. Luke had
succeeded in at least affecting a mastery of himself.

"Very well," he said. "It was my fancy, I suppose. Waste no more time
over it. Is any-one waiting to see me?"

"One lady, sir," said the commissionaire. "She made a point of it, or I
would have passed her on to Mr. Patterson."

"What name'"

The commissionaire handed over his slip. No one might have guessed, from
the immobility of the lawyer's face as he glanced at it, the "turn," as
the vulgar say, which its perusal gave him. He shifted some papers on
his desk a moment or two, as if in abstraction.

"Oh!" he said, suddenly, seeming to recollect himself, "yes, to be
sure--I'll see Miss Pringle--show her in, Trumble."

As the man left the room, he hastily seized up the cushion from the
chair, and flinging it into a corner, sat down with a lowering
expression.

"To come so pat on the other!" he whispered. "What does it portend?"

CHAPTER XXIV.--TRAPPED.

Without the movement of a muscle in his face to betray the varying
emotions excited by a perusal of the letter de livered to him, the
lawyer placed the paper on his desk, and throwing himself into an easy
lolling position in his chair, looked pleasantly across to Miss Pringle.

"You know?" he queried tentatively, just tipping the sheet before him.

Miss Pringle shook her head. It so happened that Redding's extreme
lateness in reaching his office had indirectly served her mood to the
most tonic effect. Left to kick her virgin heels in the glazed waiting
box for same three quarters of an hour, and exposed during that time to
the suggestive, if inaudible comments of passing clerks of not too
refined a humour, a growing sense of outrage had done for her what all
her affectionate self-sacrifice had been unable to effect. She was
inspired by it to a self-defensive dignity which was positively
corrosive in its character. Her fears and tremors were exchanged for a
frigid combativeness. It would be well for some people, she thought, if
they learned the respect and confidence in which she was held by their
betters. She would just show this wicked creature how she could be a
match for him.

"Oh!" said Redding. "You don't, eh? Just a convenient go-between?"

"I am habitually, willing to oblige Miss Vanborough," said Miss Pringle
shortly.

"Indeed?" answered the lawyer. "And yet she hasn't treated you very
well. I understand."

"Do you?" said Miss Pringle. "Who from?"

This brevity was positively alarming. Luke regarded her with a sort of
amused curiosity.

"I can't remember at the moment," he said. "But it doesn't matter a bit,
if you yourself are satisfied."

"Not a bit," said Miss Pringle. She felt her own manner like a sudden
inspiration, and took refuge behind it thenceforth. "I am to request an
answer from you, Mr. Redding." she said, "and shall be obliged if you
will give it me."

"To this letter? Will it be enough if I say that I will wait upon Miss
Vanborough with pleasure between three and four o'clock this afternoon?"

"I daresay; if that is an answer."

"You are not in her confidence in this matter, then?"

"What matter?"

"Oh. nothing of any importance, Miss Pringle. You left Miss Vanborough
well. I hope?"

"Perfectly."

"And my wife?"

"I had not the pleasure of seeing Mrs. Redding, Mr. Redding, but nothing
was said to suggest to me a contrary conjecture."

"That is capital. You won't want me to detain you, I daresay, Miss
Pringle?"

"At your good service, Mr. Redding."

"Good morning, Miss Pringle."

"Good morning, Mr. Redding."

He bowed her out. The dreaded interview was positively over, and
successfully. Miss Pringle hurried on her way home with a heart swelling
with relief, gratification, and a triumphant consciousness of
self-merit.

For minutes after he was left alone,

Luke Redding stood, with his fingers on the handle of the door, deeply
pondering. Then he moved, returned to his table, and re-read the letter
once or twice.

"So," he said, with a dark smile, on his face, "it is all right so far.
Things run normally, there has been no outbreak, and I am not suspected.
Or, if I am--"

He mused again, caressing his chin.

"It is as well, anyhow," he muttered, "to go and convince myself.
Monica, at the worst, it seems, is reasonable, and I am persuasive. I
can rest on that. The other's the thing."

He moved to sit down again, hesitated, glanced uneasily into the corner
whither he had thrown the cushion, and, with an ejaculation of
impatience, dropped into the chair.

"These omens," he thought, "spell good for some. Actors, I believe, hold
the thing for a happy augury. Why not I? Am I not an actor too?"

His laugh was a little shaky, nevertheless, as he took up the letter
once more, and, holding it at arm's length, ran through its contents.

"Mutinous!" he whispered--"mutinous at last, is she? Must see the thing.
Well, she shall see it."

He fell into a profound fit of abstraction, biting his fingers the
while. Presently he came from it, with a heavy sigh.

"I am disappointed in you, young lady," he thought. "I had hoped that
you were getting reconciled to your fetters--more, that you were
learning to feel a little of the right emotion towards their riveter. We
must tighten the curb--wring your tender mouth a bit. I wish I dared to
whip you. You would be my little white slave, I think, thenceforth and
for ever."

The gloom of his mood did not lighten with the hours. A very demon of
dejection seemed to rule the day. As it drew on, the sun waxed white
behind its glaze of fog like a cataracted eye, and the wind, what wind
there was, grew freighted with a deadlier chill. The atmosphere seemed
to get into his brain, numbing and incapacitating it from consecutive
thought.

He lunched expensively, drinking champagne with his food; but the brief
exhilaration only provided its own lengthier relapse. At three o'clock,
weighed down with depression, he returned to his private room, extracted
a certain paper from a safe let into the wall, and, with a dark
desperation at his heart, set out to walk to Queen Charlotte's Mansions.

His way took him to the river. Near Hungerford Bridge he stopped, and,
irresistibly attracted, looked over the Embankment parapet. In the swirl
of sluggish water beneath him a battered tin bobbed and floated. For an
instant his heart went sick, and he recoiled, but only to rally and
curse himself for a fool. He went on his way, and, mounting the steps at
Westminster, turned into the area of lofty buildings.

Going down Tothill-street, the whine of a cripple on the kerb attracted
his attention, and he paused to regard the creature. He was never given
to profitless charity, but there was something in the aspect of this
forlorn misery which arrested him, he could not have said why. The poor
thing, young enough in manhood, was all crumpled up on crutches, and
held a little tray, with matches on it, towards him. Luke approached
him, harsh and brusque in manner.

"A beggar?" he said. "You have no right to solicit, you know?"

The white-faced creature slunk back, almost stumbling in his haste.
Involuntarily the lawyer put out a hand to save him, and finding it not
needed, withdrew it hurriedly.

"How was it--how did this happen?" he said, in a low but kinder voice.
"What broke you up like this?"

"A fall, good gentleman," answered the abject thing, "one of them there
balloons. I was holding on to a rope, and got carried up and dropped.
'Twas thought I should a' died, but they saved me."

Saved him! A sweet salvation, as the world went. Luke, regarding him
with horror, felt moved somehow to ask him a question, an odd enough
one.

"Did it hurt much?"

"I never knew nought about it, kind gentleman," said the cripple, "until
I come to in the 'orspital."

For some reason unexplainable the answer relieved and solaced the
questioner. He took a sovereign from his pocket, and put it into the
grimy hand.

"Drink my health with that," he said, and was moving away. The ecstatic
creature, voluble to tears, called benedictions after him.

"Gord bless you, sir," he said--"Gord bless you."

Luke returned to him for a moment. "What did you say?"

"Gord bless you, kind gentleman," repeated the cripple, a trifle
abashed.

"Ah!" said Luke--"yes--to be sure I hope He will," and he continued his
way to the flat, in a mood as strangely near to wistfulness as he had
ever felt.

Rudger admitted him. Her manner seemed constrained, and she appeared to
have been crying. He was such a fine affable gentleman, to be sure; and
for her to have been suborned by the police into deceiving of him--it
was dreadful. However, there was no help for it, and to his demand as to
whether her mistress were at home, she answered, as she had been
instructed, "Please to walk in, sir," which sounded like an accepted
understanding of his visit, and committed nobody.

Luke walked, in, unsuspecting. In the face of action he was himself
again--a bold and confident villain, with suavity at his tongue's tip.
He could supply twenty reasons to himself for the girl's obvious
distress, and twenty remedies for it, should chance ever find them alone
together.

She just showed him into the drawing-room, and retreated at once. He
entered and looked about him. No one was there. He saw a window opposite
him wide open in its lower part, and was stepping hastily across to shut
it when a sound behind him made him pause and look round.

Two men had followed him into the room--a burly police-sergeant of his
acquaintance, and the obtrusive stranger who had once visited him in his
office.

CHAPTER XXV.--THE OPEN WINDOW.

"Beware of the dog at your heels." Who had spoken those words? In that
moment, I think, he knew himself trapped and doomed. The sense of dark
fatality which had pursued him all day--always in seeming the shadow of
something horrible behind him, and always a vague indefinite nothingness
when he had turned to look--was interpreted at last in the sinister
significance of this ambush. So he read it at once, and, reading it, his
heart constricted deathly for an instant, his nerves leapt and vibrated.
But, in the very shock of the surprise, he seised desperate hold of his
reason, desperate control of his manner, lest in the demoralisation of
either a consciousness of his guilt should seem to betray him. And all
the while that his mind was leaping and tearing, like a snared rat, for
a way to escape, his eyes were gazing steadily on the two figures, and
there was a placid smile on his face.

"What? Sergeant Roper?" he said, not a tremor in his voice. "This is an
unexpected meeting!"

"Sorry I can't say the same, Mr. Redding, sir," answered the other
coolly.

"Not?" said the lawyer. "Well, I confess there does seem an air of
premeditation about it. Is Miss Vanborough, may I ask, in the plot?"

Le Strang put in a decisive word:--"Miss Vanborough is not here. I
represent her, I may as well tell you, in this matter, which is simply
one of your exposure and impeachment."

Redding conned the speaker with an air of insolent disdain.

"Really!" he said. "If I am not mistaken, the rascal who tried to
blackmail me. I can't congratulate you on your confederate, Sergeant."

Le Strang did not even flush to the insult. Worthless as he saw the
creature, undeserving his least pity or commiseration, he was too
large-souled to retort upon the snarlings of a beast so trapped and
helpless in his hands. But, though he would not return insult for
insult, he would not address him again directly.

"You will tell this man, Sergeant Roper," he said, "that it is no part
of my interest or intention to acquaint him by what processes I arrived
at the conclusion of his guilt in a very detestable crime. It is enough
for him to know that he is detected and exposed."

The dog at his heels! Again the fateful reminder. In all this sudden
ruin of his schemes, in all the wild despair of his heart, the thought
of his own criminal folly in despising a warning, however seemingly
innocuous at the moment, struck with the bitterest force. The look of
the hunted creature stole into his face, however hard he might strive to
repudiate it. He gave a sick laugh.

"Mr. Le Strang, sir," said the sergeant, "formed his suspicions of you
from the first--I won't say how or why, as he doesn't want me. But this
I will say--as that the end have justified the means. We know what you
done, sir, and what you have got with you in your packet at this moment,
and we make no secret of it that this was a roose to trick you into
producing it. It will save a deal of unnecessary trouble, and maybe
serve you for an extenuating circumstances, if you will hand it over."

Redding, listening with a smile, folded his arms over his breast.

"You are quite a convincing orator, Sergeant," he said. "Bluff, I
believe, is a term in 'poker.' Did you ever play it?"

"That won't do, you know, Mr. Redding," said the officer. "I'm talking
about what I know."

"In my pocket?" said the lawyer banteringly. "And what may that be,
now?"

"A will, sir," said the sergeant--"one made by the late Mr. Grenville
subsequent to that by which the young lady come to profit in her
ignorance. You needn't deny it."

"Certainly not," said the other coolly. "I neither deny nor admit it. I
know nothing, in fact, about any such document, if such were drafted, it
was entirely without my knowledge or connivance?"

"It were drafted and signed," said the sergeant, "and witnessed by you
and the butler, Ambrose Sharp."

"Certainly one was."

"And certainly two was; and the second cancelled number one. Come, Mr.
Redding, sir, it's no good. The game's up. Will you hand it over?"

"Take care, sergeant. You will bear in mind the peril you are inviting.
If this fellow has misled you, the worse for you both. Understand me
when I say that I know nothing of this will of which you speak. As one
of your presumptive witnesses, I deny that I ever set my hand to such a
testament."

He spoke with a convincing gravity. One might at least admire, the
magnificence of the courage which could so brazen out a desperate
situation.

"Very well, sir," said the sergeant, "then we must produce the other."

Le Strang, standing near the door, beckoned, and instantly there came
quietly into the room, and paused by him, the figure of an old
white-haired man leaning on a stick--Ambrose Sharp himself, no other.

"Ah Mr. Redding," said the ex-butler, "that were a cruel and treacherous
blow you dealt me, sir; but I'm glad to think my duty earned it."

In the first shock of the apparition the unhappy wretch had staggered
back, so that for an instant he seemed in peril of falling through the
opened window behind him; but, before Sergeant Roper could dart forward
to his rescue, he had recovered himself, and was leaning among the
curtains, his hands picking at his throat. It was a painful thing, then,
to watch the struggle of the possessed with his demon. He rallied from
it, loose-lipped, shaken with the face of one dead and lost; whereat the
formal voice of the law, habituated to such exposures, took up the tale
of denunciation.

"It's no part of my duty, sir," said the sergeant, "to comment on this
here evidence; but you can see for yourself as how the man's been
operated on, and has recovered his reason. He accuses you of a murderous
assault committed on him for the purpose of closing his mouth, on the
night of the supposed burglary at Scars. I've only to add to that, Mr.
Redding, that I've a warrant here for your arrest on a charge of
attempted murder, and that I hope you'll come with me quietly."

He took a step forward, as he ended.

"Stop!" cried the accused.

He had advanced a single pace from his covert, but, finding his actions
beyond his control, had paused there, with an expression of white hatred
on his face.

"An ambush," he said hoarsely, struggling for speech. "Courageous dogs,
to have feared to use your teeth until I was snared! But if I'm to go
down, it shall not be alone. I did it--make the most of that confession,
as I shall. I knew the old man could not last much longer--the thing was
in my hands--I was quick to foresee the uses to be made of it, but that
old fool there stood in my way; and since I could not bribe him to see
with me, I broke his wooden head to silence him. Not hard enough for
such a skull--that was my mistake. A wise witness, on my soul. But
you,"--he turned with fury on Le Strang--"you guessed the truth, did
you, and suborned my pretty mistress and used her for decoy? I see it
all, you hound. I understand her treachery, and how you compelled her to
it, and where you hope to profit. Take your pauper, you will not keep
her long. She is going to testify to her knowledge of my crime, to her
acquiesence in it, and her guilty enjoyment of its fruits. The dock for
her as for me. Play the happy suitor while you can, and discuss the
prospect while you kiss. The timid, treacherous fool--too weak to be a
strong man's love! Yet I loved her, and would have made her my wife in
time."

There came a scream and quick rush through the door, and, before anyone
could move to interfere, Mrs. Redding had leapt upon him, and borne him
down upon the open window-sill. Taken off his guard, he was prostrate
under her, big man as he was, and helpless in an instant. He beat out
wildly with his hands; his face was like an ashen mask.

"Monica!" he gasped. "Not that way!"

Her clutch was demoniac.

"Come down!" she said between her teeth.

They went over together. It all happened in a moment, and while fearful
hands were still outstretched to save them. An appalling sound,
attenuating through a second to eternity, a dull crash, a momentary
pause, the cry of sudden voices and footsteps running far below--all
shivered into silence, and ended.

The cripple saw it carried away. "Gord bless him, anyhow," he said. "I
shall sleep drunk to-night for once."

It had been a daring villainy, such as only a master-miscreant could
have conceived and thought to carry through. And, may be, if he had had
the acumen to advise his victim to a measure of compromise with William
Grenville's executor--to have conceded just that sop to Cerberus--he
would have carried it through to its atrocious end in the murder of his
wife, and his ultimate complete enslavement and corruption of the poor
girl caught in his toils. But, fortunately for the right, he was not
superior to those common weaknesses of the criminal--inordinate greed,
vain-gloriousness, and a contempt for the sagacity of the good--and so,
over-confidence in his own victorious cleverness brought him, literally,
to the ground.

They found the will upon his body. Its date was that of the night of the
supposed abortive burglary, and it left, after revoking all former wills
and codicils, the testator's property unconditionally to his only son
William, thus completely reversing the terms of that former will under
which Miss Vanborough had figured as the sole beneficiary. But there was
an earnest appeal in it to the heir to make adequate provision for his
step-sister while unmarried, and to provide her with a reasonable dowry
elsewise.

Now it came out that the old butler had been largely instrumental in
procuring this change of front, which was due to his pleading, through
long months and as a privileged servant, for some relenting towards the
young master whom he had loved, and had loved only the dearer for his
faults. And so it appeared that at length, whether for the impression
they wrought on old affections and long suppressed remorse, or from
their awakening of a doubt as to the wisdom of entrusting so much power
to such young and inexperienced hands, or perhaps for no better reason
than that they disturbed and wearied a self-centred nature, his
importunities had prevailed upon his master, and Mr. Redding had been
sent for to draft a new will.

Its terms were simple enough: the thing was done in an hour, and Miss
Vanborough stood all unconsciously disinherited under the witnessing
hands of Luke Redding and Ambrose Sharp, both of whom were desired by
the testator, naturally enough, to keep, their knowledge to themselves.
And thus came Luke's opportunity.

It is not to be supposed, that he saw in it all at once that full-blown
flower, of rascality it came quickly to develop. At the first, no doubt,
he designed no more than to use his information some day for the
diplomatic bleeding of a narrow maintenance, conditional on the favour
of a none too friendly connexion, would be particularly galling. But
that scheme could hardly have presented itself to him before he
recognised the impossibility of its fruition without the connivance of
Ambrose Sharp. To render it something less than abortive, he must win
over, bribe over, the old man to his side.

He made the attempt, without hesitation or delay. To his cynic
conception it was merely a question of the figure. But for once his
worldly estimate was at fault. The butler had rejected his proposals,
extravagant though they were, with horror. Red ding, feeling in his
pocket for a life preserver he was wont to carry with him at night for
his own protection on lonely roads, had feigned to turn away as if
baffled and abashed, had whipped suddenly round, and had struck the old
man down at a blow.

He had intended to kill him, and believed, no doubt, that he had been
successful. The desperate situation he had invited admitted of no
alternative. But the result, as Sergeant Roper had said, "must have
shook him." However, his resourcefulness rose to the occasion. He had
disposed matters after the deed, so as to make it appear as if a
burglary had been attempted; he now, in the character of almoner to the
family, gave Sharp's daughter to understand that the liberal allowance
made her on her injured father's behalf, was as solely conditional on
his non-recovery as it was on her holding her tongue as to that
condition. She was a dull, selfish woman, with all that degree of
cunning obstinacy which goes with narrow-mindedness; and she took her
money impassively and was mute to professional remonstrances. They could
not force her into consenting to an operation, and Luke felt safe.

So safe that the lost and desperate soul of him began to turn to a
contemplation of things which it had not hitherto conceived. Why not use
his knowledge to the securing of the whole rich fortune for himself? As
well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. As things stood, for all the
saving profit this deadly sacrifice of conscience stood to bring him, he
might as well have stayed his hand and submitted to a virtuous
bankruptcy. Only one shadow in the light of his ambition--the shadow of
his married state. How to lay that spectre was the question.

We need not follow him farther or draw an obvious moral from the proverb
which hoists a gunner with his own petard. He went fast enough to his
account, if his flight was down instead of up, and the inquest disposed
of what remained.

It was a painful business, of course, rife with scandal and conjecture;
but they managed to keep Ruby out of the box, since she had been no
witness to the occasion which had brought the deed. The lawyer, to whose
hands William Grenville had entrusted the will which made his friend,
Robert Le Strang, heir to all that of which he might die possessed,
watched the case on behalf of the legatee. The legal proceedings which
ensued are matters of probate, and call for no more discussion than was
entailed in the necessary contention that, as William Grenville, by the
terms of the later will, died possessed of all the 'Scars' property,
that estate necessarily devolved upon the body and person of Mr. Robert
Le Strang, his assignee. And Mr. Robert Le Strang, having asserted and
emphasised throughout the business his personal knowledge of the
wrongful heir's innocence of any wilful participation in the fraud, and
of her earnest desire to right things the moment she learned they were
astray, proved his case and the will, whereby he was able to justify to
a certain young lady his somewhat arrogant assertion that she would not
come to be the wife of a poor man.

CHAPTER XXVI.--THE AFTER-GLOW.

Two ladies were resting on the sands of a North Welsh watering place. It
was a famous golfing locality, and they had clubs by their sides.
Immediately behind them, between the sands and the links, was tossed up
a great rampart of tussocky dunes; in front, the sea took the land in a
vast scythe-like sweep of bay, which, six miles to the north, melted
into an estuary of hazy blue all jewelled with liquid reflections. Vast
mountains rolled in purple billows round the horizon, and, nearer, the
valleys sprang into slopes of vivid green. A beautiful, restful place,
full of high lifting suggestion.

It was one of those unsophisticated coasts where bathing machines are
not, and decorum must limit itself to its opportunities. They were
represented here, so far as bathers wore concerned, by a dozen
rudimentary tents--like Japanese box kites, and almost as apt to blow
away--and by the sand-dunes. Any unwary dive among the latter was liable
to produce embarrassing results. But there was no help for it, and
sensitive propriety usually hardened after a time.

The ladies were both of the sporting type--rough-complexioned,
unyouthfully youthful, tailor-made, hard-voiced. One sat with her knees
cocked up, and her hands clasped round her shins; the other lay on her
back with her hands under her head, and her hat tilted over her eyes.
Both chewed stalks of grass. Said the one on her back:--

"Who's your friend, Jack?"

She had scarcely waited until the individual referred to--a lady leading
a tiny boy by the hand, with whom she had observed her 'pal' to exchange
a nod, had passed out of hearing.

"Le Strang's her name," said Jack. "She won't interest you."

"No sport?"

"Don't golf, or mote, or play bridge, or anything useful."

"What brings her here, then?"

"Jupiter knows. The brat, I suppose. She's a feminine--one of the
domesticated fowls. They're stopping with Lord Saxonshore. Her husband's
something swell in education. I know them through meeting them at Uncle
Bob's place in Bucks. They've got a sort of private home close by for
girls--first offenders or something--who've come to grief through
poverty. Rich cranks, who don't know how to spend their money. Uncle
Bob's infatuated about her. Do you think her pretty?"

"Not my sort. I don't favour the domestic breed."

"Oh! Then if she's plain to you, I wonder how you'd favour the
lady-superintendent of the home?"

"You needn't leave the young lady at a loss to answer, Miss
Cockerton-Cragg," said an unexpected voice close by, and a face,
suddenly appearing over a sand-dune, simpered angrily down upon the
astonished couple.

"Great Scott!" whispered Jack to her friend. "It's Miss Pringle, the
person herself."

The other young lady, after a single look, rolled over on her face, and
went into a silent convulsion of laughter. Miss Pringle, in the part of
a mermaid, with her hair drying down her back and a towel over her
shoulders, was hardly, it must be confessed, an exhilarating sight.
Nature had certainly dealt abominably with the poor woman. It could
never resist making fun of its own work in her.

"I am sure," said Miss Pringle, "that it must be very gratifying to your
good nature, Miss Cockerton-Cragg, to witness this risibility on the
part of the young lady your friend. But, if I might be allowed to
suggest one resource for rich people who don't know how to spend their
money, except on horses and dogs and motors, and such like vermin, would
be to educate themselves into a little manners and good taste where the
feelings of the less fortunate than themselves are concerned. And
domesticity may be a very contemptible thing, and plainness a worse; but
it's the lack of beauty and womanliness together that finds least favour
in the eyes of the sex which some people think to attract by aping its
habits, and only exiting disgust instead. And as to cranks Miss
Cockerton-Cragg, a little crankiness of that sort would bring you a
credit you'll never gain by knocking a ball about with a bit of a stick,
and I shall be glad to know if there is anything peculiar in the conduct
of the home to which you apply the term."

Jack, sportsmanly abashed, chewed her straw, and only grinned and shook
her head.

"Oh," said Miss Pringle, gathering up her things rather tremulously.
"Then perhaps another time, young lady, you'll limit your observations
to what concerns you, and wait to make a display of your jealousy and
ill-feeling till you are sure there are none listening who can retort
upon you with a recommendation to consult the testimonial of your glass
for their reason. I wish you a good-morning,"--and the lady
superintendent, issuing at full length from behind her covert, went off,
very stately, across the sands.

"Gosh!" said Jack.

The other choked with suppressed laughter.

"Did you ever!" said Jack. "The vixen! I say, there's the husband
coming. Look at him--isn't he big? His wife adores him, I believe. That
cat's joined him. I hope she don't peach."

"Hadn't we better slope?"

"Yes. Come along."

Miss Pringle, falling into step with her employer, exhibited a somewhat
agitated visage. He noticed it at once.

"What has happened to disturb you?" he said. "Come, out with it!"

"You are always so observant and so frank, Mr. Le Strang," she said. "I
confess I have just been hurt in my feelings by some observations I
overheard. It is a very hard thing, Mr. Le Strang, to have a heart full
of loving, and be doomed to lovelessness, because--"

"Who is?" he interrupted her. "Let's ask Bobo."

He called to the little boy, who was playing with his mother. The child
turned, and, scampering across the sand, plunged into Miss Pringle's
arms, which were held out to receive him.

"Bobo want Catty," he said. "Mumma's castles fall down."

Beauty may spell love to men, but to children love is beauty. There was
no half-heartedness in Bobo's caresses. Her tears fell upon his little
face, as she kissed it passionately.

Le Strang drew his wife away.

"Something has occurred to hurt her, poor soul," he said. "But there's
the remedy. You don't mind, Ruby?"

"Mind!" she answered, soft and glowing. "Wasn't she the first to show
mumma the weak places in her castles? It was very horrid of me, I know,
Rob. But it is a shame that beauty of soul counts for so little. Are you
going to bathe, now that she's taken the child?"



THE END



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