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Title: Wynnum White's Wickedness
Author: J. D. Hennessey
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: August 2011
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: Wynnum White's Wickedness
Author: J. D. Hennessey

*

author of "The Dis-Honourable," etc.

*

Published in The Bathurst Free Press and Mining Journal (N.S.W.), in
serial format, commencing Wednesday, 6 November, 1895.

*



CHAPTER I.--A STREET IN THE ANTIQUE.


The old and well known name of White had been first painted over the
shop in Chester-street twenty years before; but as young Wynnum looked
up and read it by the light of the street gas-lamp he had to choke down
a bit of a sigh, for he knew that it would soon be painted out.

The name had been done in black and gold block letters, and displayed on
either side was the further information--Cabinetmaker, Upholsterer, and
Undertaker. The last branch of the business, it may be said, however,
was a sinecure, for there had not been a single funeral conducted during
the whole of the twenty years.

It was painted up originally, and had been re-painted and gilded, once
every five years or so, because it looked well, and savoured of older
days, for it was regarded as being the privilege only of very
old-established London firms thus to designate themselves--firms which
dated their origin from a time previous to undertaking being carried on
as a distinct and separate business.

No one was deceived, however. There was a proper undertaker's
establishment a few doors down the street, where one might have a cheap,
shabby genteel 'Reform funeral,' or be buried with all the pageantry and
pomp of crape and tossing plumes, and mutes, and velvet pall, and other
accessories of fashionable grief. In fact, for money, you might have
purchased tears! But, notwithstanding all this, the Whites clung to the
assumption that they were undertakers, and felt themselves to be raised
above the common herd of furniture-dealers in Chester-street by the
appellation.

It should be stated, perhaps, that Chester-street was the particular
abode of the antique. Second-hand furniture warehouses and old curiosity
shops stretched in an almost unbroken line from the big main
thoroughfare, where the roaring tide of London traffic ebbed and flowed
at its northern outlet, to the narrow alley-like tail of the street at
the farther end, through which vehicles painfully and slowly dribbled
out in the direction of the Strand. It is true that a butcher's shop and
an oil and colourman's, and one or two other businesses of nondescript
character, had somehow wedged themselves in between the shops which gave
the streets its well known name and dingy character; but they were
interlopers, and they knew it. They took down their shutters every
morning at a very early hour with becoming diffidence, for
Chester-street was, on the face of it, second-hand, although, like some
human faces, it was not all it seemed to be.

That very night, as young Wynnum White opened the door of No. 161 with
his latch key, there was a scene transpiring at the back which would
have made the trustful eyes of antique furniture-buyers open wide with
astonishment.

There had been a great second-hand furniture sale that day at Portley's
extensive auction rooms in William-street, and, for reasons which will
be explained later on, the firm of C. E. White, cabinetmakers,
upholsterers, and undertakers, had assisted considerably to rig the
sale. The goods had been elaborately advertised in the Times and Daily
News, and other London newspapers, as having been removed from a
nobleman's residence in Great Portland Square for convenience of sale;
but, except for a few Turkey and velvet pile carpets, and a dozen or two
of odds and ends the whole sale was rigged, as was well known to every
Jew and Gentile broker in the rooms. The heavy silk brocade curtains and
hangings, and the elaborate walnut and rosewood and other suites of
drawing-room and dining-room furniture, with hundreds of other articles
advertised as second-hand, were fresh from the silk merchants of the
city and the frame-makers of Curtain Road. Almost the whole of it had
been partly or wholly manufactured in Chester-street, and a good portion
actually sold from samples, had yet to be French polished and
upholstered, so as be in readiness for delivery as genuine second-hand
furniture at 9 o'clock the next morning.

Wynnum was not employed in his father's business, but he knew that four
big van loads of furniture from No. 161 were included in the sale. It
was an anxious time just then for the family, and he dropped in during
the sale to hear how matters progressed with his father's goods. A suite
of dark oak antique library furniture, which he recognised as having
been made at C. E. White's, was under the auctioneer's hammer when he
pushed his way through the crowds towards the rostrum. Portley was
selling himself, for the sale, although mostly rigged, had assumed large
proportions, and the catalogue showed nearly a thousand lots.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' said the burly auctioneer, wiping his brow with
a large silk scented pocket handkerchief, 'Let us pause here a moment. I
have now to sell a magnificent suite of dark oak antique library
furniture, upholstered with best horsehair, and covered with morocco
leather finished with brass nails.'

'John,' he said, calling to the head porter, 'let the men bring forward
the whole suit, and place some of the chairs at the end of the selling
table, so that the Hon. Moreton and Lady Brown may sit upon them and
feel how comfortable they are.' This made a little sensation, and
produced a good effect; although, while there were unquestionably many
wealthy bargain-seekers in the room, Wynnum doubted whether there was
any Hon. Moreton or Lady Brown present. This little fiction, however,
served its purpose and Portley drew his hands caressingly over his
massive gold watch chain, and, sticking his thumbs into his waistcoat
pockets, to give effect to the whole of his expensive and expansive
getup proceeded:

'You will pardon me, ladies and gentlemen, for calling special attention
to this lot, for it would grieve me to see it sacrificed, as so much
valuable furniture has already been sold this morning. The whole of this
splendid suite is equal to new, and without appreciable damage, except
for a slight ink stain on the leather of the table, which could easily
have been removed, but has been retained by my special orders. I may say
in confidence that that ink stain was made by the hand of a nameless
exalted personage when in company with the nobleman, whose name also I
am not permitted to give. I would not desecrate the honour of our great
English nobility by attaching any money value to that ink stain, but now
that I have told you its history, I am sure it will not lessen the value
of the article to the ladies and gentlemen I see around me.'

'Good man, Portley, that's original,' said one of the brokers in a voice
barely audible to Portley, but distinctly heard by the little crowd who
had formed a 'knock out' in one corner of the room. The general British
public, however, much to Wynnum's amusement, received the statement with
deference, and a few fashionable-looking men crowded up towards the
table to catch a glimpse of the interesting memento of a noble, if not
royal, mishap.

'John, where are the rest of the chairs?' called out the auctioneer
impatiently.

'They are behind in the warehouse, sir,' replied John, 'and we cannot
easily get at them, but they are all as like as two peas, sir.'

The face of the senior White, who was standing near the brokers, looked
decidedly uncomfortable. The fact was that only three chairs out of the
dozen had been sent to the sale, the others being but partially
manufactured or not commenced at all.

Wynnum noticed that Portley looked annoyed, and tried to catch his
father's eye, but the latter continued to look down.

'Well, ladies and gentlemen, we must hurry on; it will be a pity to
break the suite, so I will put it up in one lot. We guarantee the rest
of the stuffed-back chairs to be in all respects equal to those
exhibited. There are sixteen pieces in the suite--what shall I start it
at?'

He looked across in the direction of the brokers, one of whom at once
bid twenty pounds. It was understood on such occasions as the present
they should do all they could to assist the auctioneer in selling the
rigged goods. At genuine second-hand sales they as often as possible did
the opposite, and formed 'knock-outs' among themselves, by which
articles they wanted were bid for by one man only, so that they might be
bought as cheaply as possible. After the sale they were put up to
auction again among themselves, the difference in the price being
equally divided among the members of the 'knock out.'

There was a genuine bid for the suite at ten pounds under the reserve
price, and the auctioneer looked carelessly across at Wynnum's father.
White nodded his head, although with an air of reluctance, and the
hammer fell instantly. The suite had been sold considerably under cost
price.

Wynnum left the sale room, hoping the other goods of his father's would
fetch a better price. He was convinced in his own mind, however, that
for manufacturers to rig sales was nothing better than a lottery.

But we left Wynnum in the act of entering his father's house and shop in
Chester-street about eight o'clock on the night of the auction sale. He
was met by his father, as he stepped out of the dimly-lighted front shop
into the full glare of half-dozen gas jets. 'We shall have to work all
night, Wynn,' was his first greeting. 'I let everything go, worse luck,'
he continued in a lower tone of voice, 'and besides some library chairs,
there's the greater part of a dining-room suite in leather to be
stained, French polished, and stuffed by the morning.'

It was astonishing how brisk the head of a firm would get when working
like this all night among his men. He fed them well, and would even be
jocular, but there was no mistaking the rate at which the work was put
through. Not a tack nor a stitch was wasted, and Wynnum dubbed the whole
thing wicked, for, as he would say occasionally to his father, 'There is
no time to put in honest work.'

All the rest laughed at his being so scrupulous, and was nicknamed 'The
Family Conscience.' But 'The Family Conscience' had not been brought up
to French polishing and upholstery, so after a while he left them to it,
and joined the domestic circle in the house, and then retired to bed.

All through the night, however, his father and about a dozen men, and
two or three women, were occupied in completing the new second-hand
furniture. The framework of the chairs was stained and skilfully
polished, so as to deceive any but an experienced eye. After the chairs
and setters had been stuffed and covered with leather, they were rubbed
over with an oiled rag to give them the appearance of having been used,
while to complete the deception the new webbing and canvas on the bottom
of the furniture was dusted with ashes, so as to give them the look of
age.

One of the purchasers remarked the next morning how well the furniture
had been preserved, notwithstanding its being probably in use for two or
three years. The roan leather on the suite passed for genuine morocco,
for they knew, of course, that it had been originally bought from an
eminent firm in Bond-street, and had been used by the dear departed
nobleman--whom the auctioneer so mysteriously referred to--for quite a
number of years.

Alas! Chester-street has a good bit to answer for in the matter of
making new goods second-hand, and for other things besides. But this was
the last transaction of the sort which that firm, at any rate, was
likely to have anything to do with, for the money realised out of that
rigged sale was to take the White family out to Australia.




CHAPTER II.--FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK.


No one would wish to analyse too closely the springs of action which
guided the conduct of Charles Edward White; he was like many another
business man of forty years ago-overburdened. His family was large and
expensive, and he lacked the moral courage to 'grasp his nettle.'

He would, for instance, wander aimlessly about the city--presumably on
business--for half-a-day rather than face a pressing creditor. It was
not so much that he lacked principle or industry, or application to his
business, but he was weak and unfortunate, and that which would have
made a strong man stronger, crushed and demoralised his whole nature.
Like many another weak and unfortunate man, he at last decided to flee
from the ills he could not conquer, and about a fortnight after the sale
referred to, he left Chester-street for good. He was the last of the
family to go, except Wynnum, and putting a couple of sovereigns into his
son's hand, he left him at the Cannon-street Railway Station, to join
his family on board the 'Golden Cross' at Gravesend, outward bound for
Australia.

After the train had moved off, Wynnum turned his steps back to the old
shop in Chester-street, with a strangely heavy heart. He was master
there now, for the whole of his kith and kin had left him--left him to
keep guard, and cover their retreat if possible until the 'Golden
Cross,' with its freight of living souls, should get well out to sea.

So when Wynnum let himself into the deserted furniture shop and dwelling
house, he knew that for a lad of nineteen he had no easy task before
him.

It was Saturday night, and the 'Golden Cross' would not sail from
Gravesend before Monday, and he must keep that shop open--although it
would be almost entirely emptied of its stock--and he must hoodwink the
public, and his father's creditors and landlord, at any rate until the
following Wednesday, and the question which troubled him was how it
could be done.

There was something more than that, moreover, which troubled him, for it
was a piece of business which he did not relish, that he--'The Family
Conscience,' as they had called him should be expected to do this acting
of a lie.

He had, however, all Sunday to think about it, so he wisely resolved to
go to bed. But he must first look over the premises, for he had been
absent half the day.

Few things are more haunting than the echoes of a deserted house, out of
which have trooped young and old, whom the ties of love and kindred have
made one's friends. Not even the cat had been left behind, for she had
been carried off to the ship surreptitiously by one of the youngsters.
He was all alone, not only in that house, but in London.

For twenty long years his father and family had lived and worked there
in the heart of the metropolis. They had every one of them grown up in
the place; to Wynnum it seemed like treason thus to desert the old home.

The dwelling-house was a four-storied building over the shop, facing the
front street, and was of very old construction. At the back, built more
recently, there stretched for some distance the two storied warehouse
and workshops.

He lit the gas as he passed along, for the flickering candlelight seemed
dim, and its beams were uncertain. He went first into his father's
counting house, where books and papers were strewn about in great
disorder. Then climbing the staircase into the cabinet-maker's workshop,
he looked carefully around.

There was nothing of much value there, and the benches and various
appliances of the business were untouched. It looked just as it had
looked as long as Wynnum could remember, and he almost imagined himself
labouring under some strange delusion. The very tool-chests stood at the
head of the benches. Surely on Monday morning the men would be there at
work again as usual.

There was old Bernie's bench, and that Shorter's, and that Maguire's;
here the apprentices worked, and over there Isaac Rex and the
French-polishers. It was like a grim dream to think that they had all
been discharged several days before--that was, except Rex, who, as an
old and trusted employee in the secret, was coming in for a few days to
open the shop and help to keep things straight.

Wynnum turned out the gas and went down into the lower shop, and was
passing on to the dwelling-house, when he thought he heard something or
someone. His heart beat quickly, until he could almost hear it audibly
thumping against his ribs. As he turned the lights rapidly out, and
retreated towards the dwelling-house, he felt sure that someone was
following him, but he dared not turn round again to see. He bolted the
dividing door between the dwelling-house and the business-premises with
a sharp snap, and sprang up the stairs to his bedroom, and locking the
door, prepared himself for sleep. What a blessing, he thought, that
to-morrow was Sunday. It would take him the whole day to think!

But who was that down-stairs? Was it anyone, or only his fancy? He lay
awake for a long time thinking and listening. As he did so a strange
thing happened.

Down in the street a gas lamp stood by the side of the house, at the
dividing line between the Whites' shop and the next door neighbours, and
its light glanced quite brightly through the unblinded window upon the
ceiling of the room, and was reflected upon an old fashioned pier glass
which stood upon the mantel piece. This had been bought like other
furniture in the room, cheaply at a sale, and was not worth much; but it
caught the reflection of the gas light in the street, and glittered
strangely before Wynnum's eyes. He had drawn up the blinds to let the
light in for company. It was only gas light, and dull and yellow at
that, but it was light, and light is always company to the well
disposed.

He lay looking at the bright spot on the pier glass for some time, when
he suddenly started, and staring up into the corner of the room, he
gazed there in amazement.

There was looking out upon him from the corner, just below the cornice,
his mother's face!

The light from the looking glass was somehow reflected back exactly upon
that corner of the room. The wall paper had been pushed aside, and was
hanging down for fully half a yard, and it was behind this that there
looked down upon him that human face.

Many people would have sprung up on the spur of the moment to
investigate, but Wynnum could not have done it just then to have saved
his life. It was not lack of courage but of power to will. He had never
feared his mother, nor indeed loved her very much, the passion had never
been awakened.

A mother's love springs up naturally out of the warm bed of physical
pain, self-sacrifice, and self-denial; but the child's is not
spontaneous, and has to be planted in the heart with patience, before it
takes root and grows. Some children--in very well regulated families
too--are never taught to love.

But the face neither moved, nor smiled, nor spoke, and Wynnum lay there
looking at it; and from it to the glass, thinking how strange it was
that the reflection of the light should strike that particular corner,
but his eyes always turned again to catch the eyes of the face, until at
last he seemed to have lost all power to remove them. He was being
mesmerised by the strangely staring eyes that looked down upon him.




CHAPTER III.--WYNNUM SEES VISIONS.


The exercise of that subtle power by which one person obtains mastery
over the senses of another, is said to have a soothing and not
unpleasant sensation for the subject operated upon, and while Wynnum had
no power to resist the mysterious influence rained upon him through
those strangely human eyes, he really had no wish to do so. He had gone
through so much that day!

He realized that possibly upon his tact and skill depended the whole
future welfare of the White family. His father had taken care to impress
upon him the fact that he was liable to be arrested as a fraudulent
debtor, if it was known that he was running away from his creditors. He
would of course pay every penny eventually, for there was money to be
made in Australia!

'Wynnum,' said he, as they parted, 'you must do your best for us, my
lad.' These were his last words, and the load of responsibility which
pressed upon Wynnum's heart was great. Whatever would happen to the
others, he thought, if his father was arrested. It was a responsibility,
too, which he had to carry entirely by himself--and he was little more
than a boy. It was a relief to feel himself for a time less his own
master, and the mainstay of others. Lying there, partially mesmerized,
it was as though he actually had someone himself to lean upon.

Outside in the street it was raining and blowing, and the lamp light
flickered on the pier glass. As he turned his eyes back upon it they
seemed to become fixed, and there passed swiftly before and around him,
a series of panoramic pictures representing bygone days. This, it should
be explained, was preceded by a curious bodily sensation, as though
everything was receding from him, and he was actually falling back into
the past, and growing less and less, until he lay again an infant in the
nurse's arms. But he knew and understood everything.

It seemed to him that he existed in a dual form. He had compassed the
impossible, for he felt himself to consciously exist in two places at
the same time.

He lay there in the nurse's arms a delicate infant with finely-moulded
limbs, the first-born son in a large family of girls. He knew that his
father, Charles Edward White, was a fairly well-to-do man of business,
and that there was general rejoicing because he had been born a son.

He heard his mother say petulantly to the nurse: 'His name is to be
Wynnum, only that, without either Charles or Edward. I never heard such
nonsense, you might as well call him Jerusalem or Jericho; but his
father will have it so. Fancy Wynnum for a Christian name? Probably the
clergyman will refuse to baptise him, and very right and proper too. I
hope he may.'

Fair-haired girls passed around him in the pier glass, They were his
sisters, but the boy had robbed them all of beauty. The friends of the
family--every one of them--said he ought to have been another girl. One
scene specially arrested his attention and impressed itself upon him.

He saw himself a boy of six years old, sitting with his mother and
sisters in the pew they occupied in the old fashioned Presbyterian
Church, which was down a queer secluded sort of cul de sac.

There were stained glass windows on each side of the pulpit, about which
it must be said there had been trouble in the congregation, for some of
the white-haired elders had objected to the innovation. Painted windows,
said the stern Scotch Londoners, were not in keeping with the simple
spiritual form of worship which had been handed down to them by their
fore-fathers, besides, such things savoured of idolatry!

They were memorial windows, however, to be presented by a wealthy member
of the congregation, and money carried the day.

The large windows were elaborate representations of two scripture
scenes, but below them on either side, projecting from the coloured
glass bordering, were two round pictures. In one a Bible saint was
looking on a book (strange! it was a modern looking book, not a scroll
of parchment), and by his side glaring around upon the congregation, was
a fearful looking animal. The corresponding saint, on the other side of
the pulpit, kept company with a bull, but it was the first animal that
specially confronted Wynnum when he sat in Church on Sundays, and became
a part of the boy's childish creed.

He asked both his father and mother and sisters to tell him all about
it, but the first pretended to be too busy, and the others said they did
not know. So Wynnum listened in his childish way to the Minister's
sermons, hoping to hear something about this fearful animal which stared
coldly down upon him every Sunday morning. On one occasion he heard the
Minister tell of Elisha and the bears, and he thought that that was what
it was intended for, but it seemed to him too ugly, even to be a bear.
It did not quite fit in with the story of how David killed a lion and a
bear, for the animal in the painted window was alive. But one Sunday he
heard the Minister preach an awe-inspiring sermon of how the devil goeth
about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 'It is no doubt the
bear he refers to,' said Wynnum, and henceforth the animal was
established as a portion of Wynnum's childish creed; and, when the rest
of the family followed the usual custom of bowing their heads for a
moment when they first took their seats in Church, Wynnum followed their
example, although no doubt ministers, elders, congregation, and even his
own family would have been horrified had they known the truth--Wynnum
always prayed to the bear.

'Please bear help me to be a good boy, and don't eat me up.' It was a
queer sort of religion that, even for a child; but revolting as it
seems, there was something about it which tinctured Wynnum's thoughts of
God when he came to be a man. But was the child's idea of God altogether
dissimilar to that of multitudes of people?

As the years passed the family fell upon less prosperous times. He heard
his father say that a partner had cheated him. But that is a thing very
commonly said or imagined, and might, or might not, have been true. More
boys and girls were added, and some died. So the time fled past, and
Wynnum saw himself a young man.

Handsome, almost womanly in the delicate contour of his limbs, and
finely-chiselled face; with high brow, large eyes, and firm red lips; it
puzzled men who prided themselves on breed, how the son of a mere master
mechanic came to be possessed of these things. He was well educated for
his position in life, he knew the Latin primer at ten, had written
poetry at twelve, essays at thirteen, and two years later saw a letter
of his actually inserted in the London Times and felt himself to be
almost a genius. This is but a meagre part of the vision of the pier
glass, however, but it is enough to give the reader some idea of our
hero's early life and surroundings.




CHAPTER IV.--ANY DAY BUT SUNDAY.


The first thing which caught Wynnum's eye when morning dawned was the
face. He looked at it however, only for an instant, and then sprang upon
the floor, for there was nothing supernatural about it in the daylight;
and yet it would be difficult to describe his astonishment.

It was a nearly life-sized female face, exquisitely painted on canvas,
behind the wall paper of the room. A print which had hung near to it had
been removed, and the many thicknesses of wall-paper, had somehow been
partially torn away. To Wynnum's knowledge no member of the family
during all these years, had dreamt of the existence of any painting
behind the dull-figured wall-paper. He stood for a moment or two
spellbound with astonishment. In the beautiful features above him, there
was certainly some resemblance to his mother, but it was very slight;
the face was too refined and beautiful and ethereal to be that of
Margaret White. The painting of the eyes was extraordinary, they seemed
so strangely fixed and staring.

'It mesmerized me last night,' Wynnum said thickly to himself, 'I am
sure it did. I wonder what more there is behind?'

To move a chair into the corner, and spring upon it and pull down more
of the wall covering was the work of a moment. A great painting was
revealed, which evidently covered the entire side of the room. But the
strange thing was, that the female face occupying the top corner seemed
to have been painted there, through some whim of the artist, as though
it had been put in as an after-thought, for it had nothing to do with
the picture itself, which, as far as could be seen, was a fine landscape
in oils, in an excellent state of preservation.

'This is very remarkable! most remarkable!' Wynnum repeated to himself
in his excitement, as he hurriedly made his toilet. 'How on earth came
the thing there? It must have been hidden away for over a hundred years.
It may be a lost painting of one of the old masters and worth thousands
of pounds. The present landlord only bought the property about fifteen
years ago. How fortunate it is that I have discovered it, but I wonder
what will be the best to do.'

After dressing, Wynnum made his way to a neighbouring Coffee House to
get breakfast; it was known as an 'all night' house, and hot fragrant
coffee and eggs and toast were soon in front of him. Such houses were
frequently of doubtful reputation, but Wynnum was not well versed in
such matters. He started, however, and almost upset his coffee, when a
familiar voice at his elbow suddenly asked him for the loan of a
shilling, to see him through the day.

'Good morning, Rex,' he said, starting round, 'you regularly frightened
me; what on earth are you doing here? Sit down with me and I will order
you some breakfast.'

'I came over early, sir, thinking perhaps, although its Sunday, you
might want me. If you don't I can go home again. I hope all are safely
off, and well?'

'Yes, capital,' replied Wynnum briefly.

The man spoke with studied respect and ate his breakfast almost in
silence.

His young master's mind was filled with conflicting thoughts. It was a
relief to have any one to talk to that he knew, and yet he wanted to be
alone to think over the whole situation and also decide as to what he
should do about the newly-discovered picture.

Isaac Rex, who had thus abruptly introduced himself to Wynnum, was one
of the class of men seldom or never met with outside a big city. By
trade he was a French polisher, as might be seen by looking at the
fingers of his right hand, where the signs of his calling persistently
lingered. He was a man of medium height, with black, thin, and slightly
curling hair, small eyes and a sharp thin semi-Jewish nose, who might
have been any age from forty to sixty. He was distinctly of a mongrel
race, claiming no particular nationality, save that he was a Londoner.
Cat-like in his litheness of limb, he was broad-shouldered, and yet
dapper and neat about his legs and feet. He never raised his voice much
above a whisper; knew how to keep a secret; and could walk home erect,
along a crowded footpath, after drinking enough beer or brandy to make
three other men blindly drunk. He got intoxicated sometimes however, but
it was in a way peculiar to his class. It made him more disagreeable and
reticent, and he would then drink anything, even methylated spirits of
wine, until the naptha in it almost drove him mad.

There was nothing for it as such times but to send him home. The
following morning he would come to his work at the proper hour, with a
mysterious self-satisfied smile, as though he had, over-night,
discovered a gold-mine. It was generally believed that he was married
and that his wife and daughters were dressmakers, and that he spent
almost the whole of his wages in drink; but although he had worked for
Wynnum's father for nearly thirteen years, no one knew where he lived.
If asked he would reply, 'Oh, over the water,' meaning thereby across
the Thames. His curious fellow-workmen would sometimes reply
sarcastically, 'You mean over the beer.' There was one trait in his
character to be specially mentioned. Not a day passed but about lunch
time he came to the counting-house, or waylaid the head of the firm, for
the loan of a shilling. It was second nature to him; again and again six
separate shillings had been specially advanced to last out the week; but
it was of no use, he could not keep them, and a couple of days after he
would be back again for the daily shilling loan. However, he always
dressed neatly, spoke pleasantly and politely to strangers and
customers, was shrewd, and knew when to speak and when to hold his
tongue--things which have many a time, as in the case referred to,
covered a multitude of sins.

'I shall not want you to-day, Rex,' said Wynnum, 'but be over in time to
take down the shutters at eight to-morrow morning.'

'All right, sir.'

Wynnum was once more alone, and made his way as fast as possible back to
the house, and to the room which contained the picture.

He at once commenced a more careful examination of that portion of the
landscape which he had already uncovered, and was surprised to find that
it was curiously fastened to a rabbet, evidently made for its reception,
by large silk loops which fastened upon dark, smooth wooden buttons. It
was plain that the picture was stretched in this way upon the wall for
convenience of removal. By ripping down the wall-paper from the ceiling
and two sides, the great picture would have been unbuttoned from the
wall in half-an-hour or less, and rolled up for removal. In his
curiosity to see the whole of the picture he was about to tear down the
wall-paper when he suddenly stopped, and stepped hurriedly back into the
room.

'Good heavens, what am I about to do!' he ejaculated. 'The picture is
not mine! True I have no knowledge of its ownership at present. It is
not the landlord's; he may have given two thousand pounds for the place,
but he paid nothing in the purchase money on account of this valuable
picture. The money which it would bring would no doubt pay my father's
debts two or three times over and save the family honour, but it would
be saved by dishonour, although it might not be publicly known, and the
dishonour would be on my soul only.'

In his distress and perplexity he paced to and fro, now glancing out of
the windows upon the morning sunshine which peeped down into the dingy,
old street and gladdened the sparrows who sat pluming their feathers on
the parapets of the houses on the opposite side of the way, and then
again at the wallpaper, half stripped from the side of the room, and the
position of the picture, and the fixed haunting eyes of that woman's
face.

It is not often that even a young man feels creepy and uncanny in broad
daylight, but the eyes of the picture perfectly fascinated him. He
ejaculated, 'Whatever is she looking at?'

He pulled a chair into the middle of the room and sat down in it and
stared back at the picture. Had he remained is that position for many
minutes he would have been hypnotised, and this story might never have
been written. He wrenched his eyes away, however, and casting them upon
the carpet sat absorbed in thought.

'What were those piercing eyes looking at? Why did the painter place
that face just there, and make it look like that. It could not have been
by chance! The hand of a master painted that face, and painted it for
some special purpose.' Thus ran Wynnum's thoughts as he tried to think
it out. It was as though the artist had put his whole soul's purpose
into those eyes, and the expression of that face. It seemed to be
saying, 'There! There! Look! Look!'

'What is it looking at?' exclaimed Wynnum as he wheeled his chair, and
turned himself towards where the painfully fixed gaze of those eyes
rested.

It was evident that they were looking at the wall just above the
wainscoting of the opposite corner.

'I wonder,' cried he, leaping from the chair in his excitement, 'whether
there is anything behind the wall paper on the other side of this room!'

He examined it carefully, and rapped it with his knuckles, but could see
nothing unusual about the wall. Pressing his fingers, however, into the
corner, and just above the varnished wainscoting, he felt that there was
a beading running up the corner and along the wainscot, similar to that
upon the other wall from which the papering had been torn.

Taking a pen knife from his pocket he cut through nearly a dozen
thicknesses of wallpaper, the accumulation of very many years of house
renovation, and uncovered the beading.

He did this with scrupulous care, which was explained a moment after by
his saying aloud: 'I do not intend to touch this picture or anything
else which I may discover in this room, the things are not mine. But I
shall find out all I can, and then replace and fasten everything neatly
up, and let it remain there a secret, probably known only to myself and
God. Those eyes, however, are intended to convey the impression that
they are looking at something, and I am convinced that there is some
secret in that corner, and before I cover over the face again, perhaps
for another hundred years, I mean to see.'

It was now about one o'clock and he hurried down to the workshop, to get
some tools to remove the beading and wall paper as neatly as possible
without defacing anything.

'With a little paste,' he said to himself, 'I can put everything
perfectly straight after I have fastened it all up again.'

There were glass doors between the outer shop (which when the shutters
were down was open to the street) and an inner showroom, and the back
premises. He was startled as he looked through these glass doors, for he
distinctly saw something move in the back shop.

He stopped to listen, but as everything was quiet, went on, and passing
through the almost empty show-room, opened the glass door leading to the
workshops. Here he looked cautiously around, but could neither see
anyone nor hear anything.

'It must have been a cat,' he said, and indeed the supposition was not
unnatural, for the lower shop was surrounded by skylights to admit
light, and several of them had broken panes, and were far from cat
proof; the neighbouring back premises, too, were only one story, and had
flat leaded roofs, and were famous as a daily and nightly promenade for
cats. So it might have been one of those domestic animals; but Wynnum
still felt a bit uneasy. He had the feeling that some one--and some one
not friendly to him--was about the place. There were so many nooks and
crannies for anyone to hide in those great rambling shops. 'And yet it
must have been a cat!'

He got the tools and returned to the second floor front room, determined
to have a good look round the place for the cat later on; his
nervousness was very much lessened by the broad daylight which streamed
in on every side. As he passed into the room with the hammer and chisel
and screw-driver in his hand, he heard the bells of a neighbouring
church peal out their first call to worship.

'I had almost forgotten that it was Sunday,' he said, 'but it's any day
but Sunday to me. In fact,' he continued to himself as he placed the
tools upon the door, 'a day is just what a man puts into it. As far as I
am concerned, the church bells and closed shops, and quiet streets
notwithstanding, it's not Sunday.'

All this was characteristic of Wynnum, for although he was burning with
feverish curiosity to know whether there was anything at the back of
that wallpaper, he took delight in trifling with his curiosity. He had
been known to keep letters of deep interest to him, unopened for several
hours after their arrival, on some pretext or other; but really to
discipline himself in self-control.

Stooping to his work he hammered in the chisel beneath the beading, as
noiselessly as possible, and removed a corner of the wall-paper; he
lifted it up a few inches, and beneath it there met his eyes another oil
painting!

With eager, but careful, haste, he now removed a large portion of the
wall-paper, and partially uncovered another equally well-preserved
painting in oils on canvas. It was stretched upon the wall with movable
buttons in a similar fashion to the picture opposite. He had uncovered
enough to see that it was a life-size painting in the nude of a lovely
woman with a massive casket of jewels open at her feet. Glancing
backward Wynnum saw that it was upon this casket that the eyes of the
face in the opposite corner of the room were so strangely fixed. The
riddle, however, was only partially solved.

After two or three minutes spent in thought, he approached the picture
again, and commenced to unfasten it from the buttons; his hands trembled
as he did so. A new idea had evidently seized him. There was something
more at the back of that picture. Possibly the original casket and
jewels, which the artist had depicted upon the canvas! This actually
proved to be the case, and in a few minutes Wynnum, by exerting his
utmost strength, had drawn a large brass-bound box, which seemed to be
of French workmanship, out of the recess. The key was in the lock, so
pulling it clear out into the room, he unlocked and opened it.

Inside was a large and elaborately carved ebony casket which exactly
fitted the outside box, upon the top of which lay a large flat folded
document with the word 'Garde!' written in large letters upon its face.
Wynnum took it up with caution, for he recognised the word as the
equivalent for the English 'Beware!' What he learnt from this curious
and threatening, but very old document, for it was quite yellow with
age, must be left for the next chapter.




CHAPTER V.--THE STORY OF THE PICTURES ON THE WALLS.


The document was in French, and as Wynnum was but an indifferent French
scholar, he had some difficulty in translating it. He read it however,
with very rare accuracy, as follows:--

'Chester House, London.

'In the year of the Great Plague.

'STRANGER,--You have already been cautioned to beware how you meddle
further with the secret you have now discovered. The ebony casket at
which the face has looked for so long a time, is filled with gold and
precious jewels. Do not dare to touch them however, before you read this
letter, for they are covered over and enwrapped in apparel taken
directly from the bodies of persons in this house, who yesterday died of
the plague. Alas! they have died unconfessed, and unshriven, as
thousands more are dying and will die. May the Good Lord, and Our Lady,
The Blessed Virgin, have mercy upon their souls!

'But I write in haste, lest death should overtake me ere my task is
finished, for I am the only living person in this house. The red cross
is marked upon the doorway, so that none may leave nor enter. Night
after night when the death cart comes along the street, I hear the
mournful cry, 'Bring out your dead,' and I have seen by the torchlight
one and another of the residents carried out and thrown on the heap of
corpses; but last night none were thus taken, and I knew that all had
perished, and that save myself there was none to bear them forth. They
are lying in a room above, where I left them, when I removed portions of
their plague-infected garments to cover over my treasures before hiding
them away. Pray God that I may have time to complete my work, ere this
scourge which is now decimating the population of this city, fulfils its
mission upon my body, and sets me free.

'It matters not what my name is, I have sworn on the Holy Rood to the
Cardinal, not to reveal it; sufficient for it to be known that I am a
gentleman of France, and have been in this house a prisoner for nearly
ten years. I might have escaped at almost any time, and heaven knows how
I have longed to do so. But I am bound on my sacred honour as a
gentleman and a soldier, never to leave the house without his
permission. Ten long years have passed however, and now I too must
die--but I have kept my word.

'I have not been forgotten, for nothing that money could purchase has
been denied me, save that I have not been permitted, until this plague
smote the city, to communicate with any person of the household. I do
not even know their names. To solace myself and pass the weary hours, I
have painted pictures upon the walls of this room. Art was, from a
child, dear and sacred to me, but in this room I have grown to worship
it, for it has enabled me to reproduce upon the glowing canvas the face
and form of her I love. Yes love! love passionately! love ever! For my
heart tells me that they lied when they swore that she was false, and
wished for my banishment. They removed me here by violence and made me
swear--and I have kept my vow. The pictures which I have fastened to
these walls are so fashioned, that if fortune had smiled upon me and
brought release, I might have speedily removed them. I do not wish them
to be discovered now, for there are those who might cause them to be
destroyed, and I wish them to be preserved to a time when another
generation may read the truth in them, and yield me the justice which my
enemies deny me now.

'In the jewel casket will be found a clue, by which the descendants of
her I love, may possibly be identified; if such are living at that time,
let the finder forward the jewels and gold, after deducting sufficient
for needful expenses, to be divided equally among them. Who can say,
there may be one descendant living, and that a woman, the counterpart in
face and gesture of the angel of my dreams. Her child. Our child; or her
descendant--May it prove to be so! But think not stranger to appropriate
to yourself that which is left in trust for another. You cannot, for the
casket is securely sealed, and he who first opens it must die!

'I have covered over and hidden these pictures with painful care, and
the hiding place is all ready for the casket. I shall then conceal
everything, and as all who know aught of this room are dead, I shall
after having completed my task, go to a lower apartment to die, leaving
my secret to posterity, my body to the plague, my soul to God.

'Stranger, thou too must die. My pictures thou mayest keep for thine
own, but not the casket--the jewels are meet only for the blood
descendants of her I love.'

Wynnum read the document over slowly, for he made out its purport with
some difficulty, then he read it over again, and yet a third time, and
then without uttering a word, replaced it on the top of the casket,
closed down the lid of the chest and locked it. He was about to withdraw
the key and place it in his pocket, but on further thought left the box
just at it was first found.

He sat down in the chair again with a pallid face--he might have been a
man smitten with the plague!

'I must get out of this house for a while,' he exclaimed at last.
'Perhaps I want some dinner. It must be after midday, and besides this
house is too much for me. No wonder that I feel like a haunted man in
it. I must get into the fresh air outside, or I shall certainly be taken
with some infection.'

He quickly bathed his face and hands in cold water, and changed a
portion of his dress. His hat and gloves were lying on a table in the
entrance hall down stairs, so snatching them up he passed hurriedly out
through the hall and shop into the street.

No sooner had he closed the door after him, than a large and curious
mahogany corner cupboard was opened from the inside, out of which there
stepped Isaac Rex. He moved along the dimly lighted shop with a
perfectly noiseless tread, and going quickly up to the entrance door
slipped the bolts both top and bottom. 'That stops my young
whipper-snapper from putting in an unexpected appearance,' he said
chuckling to himself, 'and now I'll see what he has been at up stairs
all this blessed morning. I can't think why the devil he sticks so
quietly about the house. Were I he, I'd either have cleared out for the
day to Battersea or Gravesend, or I'd have had someone in for company.
But lor, he's only a young cub; knows nothing, the blessed fool, or he
would have had a high old time with the run of a place like this; and
the very considerable pickings, which the old man, in his haste has left
behind. I wonder whether he gave young Wynnum those pawn
ticket's--that's one of the things I want to get hold of--he can't have
taken them with him to that there Botany Bay he's gone to.'

While talking thus to himself Rex made his way into the dwelling-house,
and passed up the staircase, opening doors, and glancing into rooms as
he proceeded.

'The old cock hasn't left much behind him,' he remarked, as he sniffed
contemptuously around the dining room, 'taken the carpets too, and the
electro-plated forks and spoons, I'll be bound; dashed if I thought they
used such common things in Australia.'

He moved about with cat-like tread, which was partly due to the stealthy
way he had of putting his feet down, but principally to his wearing
large slippers over his boots, made of a thick kind of woollen list,
commonly used by workmen when occupied in mansions with many polished
floors.

He must have seen them before, but he seemed struck with the width of
the staircase, and the size of the rooms. 'This is a rum old house.' he
said, 'must have been built long before such things as shops were
thought of in this part of London. Likely as not it had a garden round
it in the days when the old swells lived over in Soho Square, and
Charles the Second kept some of his favourite ladies near by in King
street. Rummy old tales this place could tell. Blest if all these doors
ain't real Spanish mahogany. I wonder the old governor didn't take 'em
down, and hang cheap ones in their place, and sell them as relies from
Hampton Court at old Portley's.'

'Ah! suppose it's here that the youngster slept last night. But----'

He stood transfixed with astonishment, for looking straight down upon
him from the other side of the room were the penetrating eyes of the
face.

'Jerusalem! so this here's what he's been a doing of all the morning.
Ripping down wall-paper and discovering pictures. Well I'm blest!'

Rex sat down on a chair in his astonishment, and just then his eyes fell
upon the brass bound box.

'Hallo! what have we here! This young chap has been amusing himself to
some purpose this blessed sabbath morning. What a queer ancient-looking
old trunk. I wonder where he got it from and what he has in it. Nothing
very valuable, or he would not have left the key in the lock. But then
he did not know that Isaac Rex was about. He nearly caught me last night
though, and again when he came down for those tools this morning. So
this was his little game, breaking the sabbath, hunting for pictures.
But it's a remarkable picture; must be worth a lot of money. I always
thought that this old pile of bricks could tell some queer tales. I'll
swear the old gov. knew nothing about this here landscape. He'd have
sold it to the National Gallery or the British Museum! What on earth can
young Wynnum White be thinking of doing with it? Well, whatever he does,
I'm in for the half, or I'll wring his neck for him. He must think I'm a
fool, if he imagines that Isaac Rex is going to part with a plant like
this for the price of a week's wage.'

'Now let's see what we have here,' he said, as he stooped to lift the
box over towards the light.

'Father Moses! It must be full of gold to be so heavy.' He lifted it
about a yard, and put it down again, and falling on his knees, unlocked
it and lifted the lid. He removed the document from the top of the
closed case, scarcely noticing it, so struck was he with the carved
ebony casket.

'Oil polished,' he said, 'and a beautiful piece of carving; it must be
very old; but let us see what's within.' He lifted out the heavy casket
with some difficulty and found on the bottom of the chest another key.
On applying it to the lock the bolt presently shot back, and with a
wrench the casket lay open before him. On the top was a fine linen
undergarment, trimmed with exquisite lace, but yellow with age. A slight
scent was suffused from it, and drawing it out he lifted it to his face.

'Queer scent this linen has, but rather sickly,' he said, placing it on
one side. Beneath was a soft layer of white sheep's wool, which Rex
quickly but carefully removed. Then came a soft piece of chamois
leather, and under that jewels rich and beautiful enough to be the
ransom of a king.

The man lifted himself up and stared at them in speechless astonishment.
Then peering round the apartment with a frightened face, he stole
noiselessly into the adjoining rooms and searched them. Then he came
back, and staring for several seconds at the diamonds, and pearls, and
rubies, and other jewels, drew a deep breath, and muttered to himself,
'that youngster must have been robbing one of the Rothschilds.'

He stooped down and placed his hand among the jewels, which were mostly
mounted, and pressing his fingers down through them pulled up a couple
of gold coins.

At that moment there came a ring at the door bell.

An angry ejaculation fell from his lips: 'It's the police, curse them!'

With dexterous haste he replaced everything and after lifting the casket
back into the box with an effort, he replaced the document and closed
and locked the brass-bound case and stole silently from the room. The
ring was not repeated and a few hours afterwards just as the shades of
evening were closing down upon the city, a man opened the door of
White's second-hand furniture warehouse, and let himself out into the
street, and disappeared in the gloom and distance--it was Isaac Rex.
Like most men of his smooth, oily, cat-like breed, he had a great
aversion to the police.




CHAPTER VI.--AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.


Wynnum looked at least three or four years older than he really was.
Much of his early life had been spent away from home, and during the
past twelve months the business anxieties of his father had been to some
extent confided to him; this may have added to the paleness and gravity
of his face. Then, too, he habitually kept his mouth closed, which,
besides denoting firmness of purpose, always increases by a year or two
the appearance of age in youth.

To have seen him as he entered a famous cafe near Charing Cross between
the hours of one and two that Sunday, he might easily have been taken
for three-and-twenty. In fact he was as cool and self-possessed, as he
passed through the swinging-doors and caught a glance at his form in one
of the full length mirrors which adorned the great saloon, as a man of
thirty.

It was a medium-sized, well-dressed, and generally presentable-looking
young man that met his gaze in the looking glass. Literary instincts had
not imparted to him slovenly personal habits. He knew something of the
art of dressing with taste, and had had the further advantage of a good
tailor, who made the best of him. And not a bad best either, as many a
bright-eyed London girl had thought when passing him that morning on his
way from Chester-street. His brown wavy hair curled itself up against
the large fashionable brim of a new and glossy high silk hat; his
carefully-buttoned black frock coat was without a crease, while well-cut
trousers and neatly fitting gloves and boots completed his attire; yet
there was no suspicion of the dandy about him. His light brown moustache
and incipient beard, although downy and youthful, were quite in keeping
with the age suggested. As he looked around for a seat, his quick bright
eyes flashed intelligently over the place as though he was perfectly
familiar with the scene before him.

He took off his hat and gloves, revealing a broad white forehead and
well-kept hands, and ordering some lunch, sank down upon a velvet spring
lounge against the wall before a marble table. At the adjoining table
were two Frenchmen smoking cigars, while a fashionably-dressed woman,
with a Parisian accent, chatted away to them on the other side. The
place was a sort of cosmopolitan Bohemian land, where men and women ate
exquisitely-cooked food, drank fragrant coffee, played Dominoes, smoked,
and pleased themselves according to their tastes, with very little
thought about their neighbours. The place was not confined to any
particular class, and was fast, without being in any way disreputable.

Having dined well, notwithstanding the faint fumes of tobacco smoke,
Wynnum ordered coffee, and helping himself to a cigar, commenced to
smoke. It was evident that this young man, just turned nineteen, knew
his way about town!

Curious thoughts filled his mind as he lounged back on the velvet
cushions, smoking and sipping his coffee--alone in London. He felt, as
it were, thrown back upon himself. He was without a business or
profession; true he was a fair scholar, a good accountant, was a clever
pianist, quick witted, and of fluent speech; he had made a few odd
pounds by writing for magazines the previous year, but like many other
fairly clever youths, had been considered by his partial parents cut out
for something better than trade; but what the something was had never
been determined. He had no troubled thoughts just then, however, about
his future. He was young, and inexperienced in the thornier paths of
life. The whole of London was before him--what need for fear! 'But,'
thought he, 'it is a queer feeling for a fellow to belong altogether to
himself. No father or mother to overhaul your conduct; no sisters to
kiss you in order to discover whether you have been smoking or drinking;
no younger brothers to pry out your secrets, and ransack your drawers.
Married men belong to their wives, young men to their homes; I belong
entirely to myself.'

The walk in the fresh air, his new surroundings, and the dinner, had
evidently quite turned the current of his thoughts. Wynnum was himself
again, the room with the pictures and the plague-guarded treasure, and
also the unpleasant task which awaited him on the morrow, had for the
time being fallen back into the distance. He had been absent too much
from home to feel very keenly the parting, and it was too soon yet for
him to know all that it meant. Moreover, he was a thorough Londoner,
which may be taken to mean that he held himself erect, and had a large
share of easy self-reliance, not to say aggressive independence. There
is no city in the world where boys develop into men more rapidly when
they are thrown much upon their own resources than they do in London.
Wynnum had a strange new sense of freedom--tempered somewhat by a
feeling of regret and loss.

Putting on his gloves and hat, he picked up the slight silk-tasselled
umbrella, which was his constant companion, and strolled out of the cafe
with a self-satisfied, almost jaunty air. How little men know about each
other! Who could have guessed at the romance, the tragedy, the
possibilities of crime, hovering around his pathway. He was no doubt
regarded by those who watched him as being some well-bred youngster of
ample means and free and easy habits, whose chief employment was to keep
himself amused. Anyhow, for the time he had thrown off all thought of
Chester-street, with its good and bad fortune. No doubt he was mentally
intoxicated with his discovery. He could not help but feel that he was
almost a millionaire for anything he knew. The treasure of the unhappy
French artist was his by right of discovery. No one besides him in the
world knew of its existence. Although he had determined in his heart not
to touch any portion of it until it came into his possession in some
lawful way, still he had not yet abrogated his claim to it. The power to
make himself rich was his, and he felt rich, and his very walk, and the
way in which he carried his handsome head, seemed to denote some right
to more than usual consideration. He walked briskly along without a
purpose--a sign that he was on good terms with himself, and in the best
of health.

Two young ladies were in front of him as he neared Exeter Hall, and
before he had seen their faces he felt that he must know them; but as he
pressed forward to make sure, they turned into the Hall. Without a
moment's hesitation Wynnum followed them; so closely indeed that the
usher who met them near the door thought that they all belonged to the
same party and placed them together in the same row of seats. As Wynnum
accepted hymn books, and passed two of them on to the young ladies their
eyes met with a flash of mutual recognition, which in the case of the
elder of the two girls was specially pronounced.

There is no need to comment upon the strangeness of this meeting. It was
singular no doubt, but such things happen to very ordinary people every
day. It was wholly accidental; but Wynnum regarded it as something very
much akin to fate. He had thought Miriam Lane over a hundred miles away
from London; but here she was with her cousin Mary Thorpe sitting beside
him.

Of all the people in the world, she was the one just then, he was the
most pleased to see. The service was one of the famous May Meeting
series, and a popular preacher had attracted an immense throng. People
were not only closely crowded in the seats, but were standing up the
aisles and passages.

Everything passed off smoothly and with interest, until toward the close
of the address, when a slight accident occurred in one of the galleries,
and a semi-panic for a few minutes was got up by some excited
individuals at the rear of the hall. Mary Thorpe was somewhat disturbed
by the confusion, and whispered to Wynnum that they wished to leave the
building. The latter, nothing loath, at once arose and made his way
along the crowded passage followed by the two girls, and indeed by a
number of other people who were making their way out.

On nearing the doorway the crowd became more dense, and turning round
Wynnum saw that Miriam was nearest to him. It was several minutes after
when they gained the street together, but their companion had
disappeared. Conversation had not, of course, been possible in the
building, so the two now shook hands very cordially.

'What a pleasure it is to see you again, and so unexpectedly,' said
Wynnum.

'I am pleased to meet you,' replied Miriam, 'but wherever has my cousin
gone.'

For fully half-an-hour they searched about and waited, but Mary Thorpe
was nowhere to be seen. Miriam was much distressed, but Wynnum assured
her that, having missed them, she must have returned home alone.

'Let me call a cab to take you home,' suggested Wynnum.

'I would prefer to walk,' replied Miriam. 'You know, Mr. White, our
friends live near the Park, but they are very good people, and think it
wrong to make others work on Sunday without absolute necessity.'

'Allow me to offer you my arm then,' said Wynnum.

'No, thank you, Mr White.'

'But we cannot walk along through this crowded thoroughfare together
unless you do,' pleaded Wynnum.

The finger tips of the girl's hand were placed within his arm without
another word, and her light touch sent a thrill of pleasure through his
veins.

The face of the slight girl at his side would have attracted attention
anywhere, and yet it was not what would usually be described as a
beautiful face. But the large expressive eyes, and finely-formed
features, and beautifully small hand, were quite sufficient to make her
attractive, while she came of a race proud of their talents. She herself
was an amateur artist of uncommon ability, and resided with her aunt and
two cousins, who were sisters, in one of the loveliest rural spots of
the Midland counties.

Wynnum had known the family for some years, and had fallen madly in love
with Miriam when on a country visit about six months before. But Miriam
had made no sign, and he knew that her aunt, Mrs. Broughton, would not
have allowed either engagement or correspondence on the part of such
young people. This also partly explains Wynnum's willingness to remain
in England, while his family was leaving for Australia. It was no mere
boyish fancy or the passing passion of a summer holiday. Unconsciously
she had won his whole-hearted affection, and let it be said less by the
beauty of her person than the grace and loveliness of her strength of
mind.

'You know it was my aunt's wish that we should visit London during the
May meetings of the churches. Of course I was pleased to have the
chance, so we are all four of us staying for a week or two with our
friends here!'

They had a great deal to tell each other, and the fact that Wynnum's
friends had all left for Australia was the occasion of no little
surprise to Miriam.

'You must intend to follow them?'

'No.'

'Whatever are you going to do in England all by yourself?'

'Work,' replied Wynnum, 'and make a name and position for myself here.'

'Yes, of course that is very right and brave of you; but you will feel
lonely without them all, and suppose you should be ill?' she said,
looking up it him with a kind of sisterly conconcern.

'Men have to take some risks in life,' he answered proudly.

'Yes, but it all seems so strange to me,' she answered, 'that you should
stay behind.'

'I had no wish to leave England, and besides, I had to stay; and then,
too,' he said hurriedly, 'I have a secret to guard and keep.'

'A secret, Mr. White?'

He hesitated for a moment.

Love delights to confide in the one that is loved. It is a proof of
affection. He thought to himself: 'If I only had a secret shared in
common with this sweet girl I love, who can tell it might be the means
of leading her to love me. To have her know my secret would surely make
her partially my own.'

He quickly formed the resolution to tell her all about the pictures and
treasure. It was a risk, but he resolved to take it.

'I don't of course mean to ask you what you refer to, but it sounds
quite romantic for you to wish to stay behind in England to guard a
secret,' she continued.

'It is true, though,' he replied, 'and I am going to tell you all about
it.'

'Don't,' she replied hurriedly, 'at least not hastily, without due
consideration. If I can help you as a sister,' she said, lowering her
voice, 'for I can see that you are somewhat sad and troubled and lonely
too, although you put a brave face on it, then I will hear your secret
and give you the best advice that a girl of my age can. You know I like
you, and feel sorry for you, but I think that you had better not tell me
anything this afternoon.'

To say that Wynnum was greatly touched by this gentle but thoughtful
speech of his companion expresses but a small part of what he felt. To
hear her speak to him like that, and talk about acting a sister's part
to him, sounded like the death-knell of his dreams of love; but he was
all the more determined to confide in her.

They were now nearing Chester-street, and the thought flashed through
his mind that he would not only tell her of his secret, but show it to
her.

'I think that I had better tell you now,' he answered quietly; 'I may
not be able to another time. It was very good of you to speak to me as
you did just now. Of course I know,' he said hastily, 'that it was
because you wished me to feel that you were sorry for my being alone in
this great city; but may I call you Miriam while I tell you my secret;
it will make me feel more as though we were really friends.'

'Yes,' and the very slightest pressure of the fingers which rested on
his arm was Miriam's answer.

'Then this is my secret,' said Wynnum: 'My father is leaving England for
Australia to avoid bankruptcy, and I am remaining to ensure, if
possible, their undisturbed departure. The house which my father has
occupied in Chester-street for the past twenty years is a very old one.
By accident I discovered this morning some costly oil-paintings on the
walls of one of the rooms; and in a secret hiding place I also found a
box containing a great treasure of gold and jewels. I have been asking
myself all day whether I may honestly appropriate some portion of the
treasure to save the family honor, or whether it would be adding theft
to misfortune for me to touch it.'

In a few more words Wynnum told the astonished girl his story about the
face, and how it looked at the place where the casket was, and of the
letter of the unknown gentleman of France, dated 'The year of the great
plague,' and how the treasure was guarded with plague infected garments.

'It's like a fairy-tale,' she gasped; 'I can hardly believe it. Surely
you must have dreamt it?'

'We are close to the house,' said Wynnum, 'come in with me for a few
minutes, and you shall see it all for yourself. Who can tell, it may
help me for you to have seen it.'

'It must only be for a moment then,' she said, 'I do not know what my
aunt would say to me.'

It was not more than ten minutes after the departure of Isaac Rex, when
Wynnum took Miriam in with him, and passed up the staircase of the
deserted house. He showed her the pictures, and the brass bound box
which contained the treasure. She only stayed for a very few minutes.

'You had better leave the gas burning,' she said to Wynnum, as they were
about to leave the house again. 'I feel so sorry for you to have to come
back to this dreadful place and stay here all alone tonight. I don't
think you should touch the treasure,' she continued, when they were once
more outside. 'It is not really yours, is it? I should just put it back
and wait.'

'Do you not think I could honestly take the large landscape,' he asked.
'You know the document written by the French artist said that the
discoverer might have the pictures?'

'But I am afraid of you getting into some trouble over it,' she replied
with a woman's ready wit. 'You see that picture is so large, and so
splendidly executed, that it must be worth thousands. You have so little
time to decide too. I think that you had better wait. I might think it
over tonight and to-morrow, and then write and give you the best advice
I can. But you must decide yourself, you know. Only do not touch the box
again; it would be terrible for you to take the plague.'

They walked on for some time in silence, absorbed in thought; but Wynnum
had lost much of the heavy-hearted feeling he had. He was fortified in
his resolution not to touch any part of this treasure he had discovered.
He knew that the whole surroundings of the matter were very doubtful and
critical, so much so that he might bring ruin and disgrace upon himself,
if any part of these things were found in his possession. Events proved
that he decided wisely, for complications were increasing, in a way of
which he was then quite ignorant.

Wynnum left Miriam at the door of her friend's house, after hearing that
Mary Thorpe had returned home in safety. He was thanked by the girl's
aunt for having brought her home, and was warmly invited to go in and
remain to tea. But he wanted to get back to Chester-street again. Much
as he disliked and even dreaded the idea of remaining for several nights
alone there, he was anxious that his secret should not remain any longer
in that room uncovered, for it had occurred to him that there were at
least three latch keys to the front door, and he had only one of them.
Where were the other two? He must find out if possible and he must cover
the pictures over again at once. So he hurried back as quickly as
possible.

Wynnum was not deficient in either courage or nerve, but his heart beat
quickly while he examined the house and workshops to see that the place
was as he left it.

His footsteps echoed through the half-empty shops like a menace, and
remembering the missing latch keys, he bolted the front door before
climbing the staircase again to his sleeping chamber.

It took him two hours to replace the treasure, and restore the room to
its original state. Another hour's work with paste and brush in the
morning he thought, and the room would present a similar appearance to
that which it had done for something like two centuries since the death
of the Frenchman.

Having completed his task he descended to the lower part of the house,
with the intention of going out to procure some refreshments, before
retiring for the night. As he was about to unbolt the door however he
heard a tap upon it--a gentle tap such as might have been made by the
hand of a child. He paused for a moment. It was repeated, and following
it immediately he heard a child's sobbing cry: 'Please Wynn let Trissie
in!'

He undid the door immediately and opened it, when to his utter amazement
he saw before him his little six-year-old sister Trissie.

She stood there with dishevelled dress and great tears in her eyes,
sobbing as though her little heart would break.

'I'se comed home Wynn, away from that nasty ole ship,' she said between
her sobs.

'Good Heavens, Trissie! My poor child!' he ejaculated, and stooping down
Wynnum raised her in his arms and kissed her.

She nestled up to him with an exhausted sob, and then fainted away with
sheer hunger and fatigue.

'My God!' exclaimed Wynnum in his excitement, 'the child has been lost
from the ship at Gravesend, and has somehow made her way back here
alone!'




CHAPTER VII.--MIRIAM IS QUITE DISAGREEABLE.


While Wynnum is restoring Trissie to consciousness, let us take a glance
at another scene transpiring in London that night, not so very far away
from Chester-street.

Before a pleasant coal fire, which cast its light and shade on all
things in the room, were gathered three girls. Two were sisters, and the
third, their cousin Miriam Lane.

It was ten o'clock, they had said good-night to their friends, and had
gathered in front of the fire at the far end of the great old-fashioned
room in which they slept. Two of them badly wanted a real good
confidential talk before they retired to rest, but not the other one.
All three were in deshabille. Miriam occupied the centre of the group,
and with the full fire light upon her, as she reclined in a large easy
chair made a pleasant picture. She had unloosed her long hair, which
fell in nut-brown masses to her waist, and wore a pale blue wrapper,
trimmed and lined with some lustrous silk. She held one knee clasped in
her small white fingers. It was evident as she gazed straight into the
fire, that her thoughts were far away from her surroundings.

Grace Thorpe had just thrown a satin slipper at her sister Mary who lay
stretched full length upon the soft wool rug in the light of the fire,
looking steadily and roguishly up into her cousin's abstracted face.

Grace sat in a chair, slightly tipped back, on the other side of the
fire, with one small foot on the fender to steady herself, and the other
one, now slipperless, swinging impatiently to and fro. 'Tell us what you
can see in the fire, Miriam?' said Mary mischievously.

'I'll tell you what I can see,' continued the laughing girl after a
pause, 'and really I feel quite shocked, for a small volcano has just
been in eruption at the back of him, and it has blown his hat off--a new
black silk hat, too, Miriam.'

Miriam only smiled at this sally, so Grace kicked off another slipper in
the direction of her cousin and said to Mary, 'I think Miriam's very
disagreeable, she has had quite an adventure this afternoon with a
fascinating old friend of hers, and here are we three girls all by
ourselves, and we might have a splendid time talking about it, and yet
she won't say a word. I call it really mean. Now, if I had a lover, I
should tell you two every word he said to me, and just what I said, and
whether he squeezed my hand, and sighed when he said good-night. Now,
don't you think that I would, Mary dear?'

'I am sure you would,' replied Mary, kicking her toes on the soft rug,
'and so would I, but you see Miriam's different. It is evident though
that she is very, very, very much in love with him.'

'How absurd you girls are,' said the young lady whose conduct was thus
criticised.

'Don't take any notice of her,' remarked Grace to her sister; 'It must
be very nice and interesting and romantic to be in love. You tell me
about him, Mary. Talk as though you saw all that happened at Exeter
Hall, and afterwards, actually transpiring in the fire. You need not
mind Miriam, she is so taken up with happy thoughts that she won't hear
one word of it.'

'Well, said Mary, 'let me stir up the fire first, for I cannot see him
anywhere for the smoke that last shovel full of coal made. Ah! there he
is again.'

'Now he is just following us into the Hall, and with all the polite
audacity in the world, he is offering us each a book, and has sat down
beside me. I feel really sorry for him that I am not my cousin. He is
certainly in love, for he has a new silk hat in his hand, and by the
careless way in which he is putting it under the seat, right upon the
dusty floor, I am certain that he is quite confused, and does not know
what he is doing. If it had been Miriam sitting beside him, and she had
no book, I am certain he would have trembled as he offered half of his.
But now the service is over, and I am lost, and Mr. White and Miriam are
alone and--Miriam dear had you not better take up the parable?'

'Yes, with pleasure,' said Miriam thoughtfully. 'He has just offered the
girl his arm, and after a little pleading she has taken it, and they
walk along some very narrow and dingy streets and reach this very
hospitable old mansion, where they say good-bye to each other and
separate.'

'Now Miriam, as you love me, is that positively and truly the whole
story?' pleaded Grace.

'That is all I have to tell.'

'But Miriam, he is really very nice,' said Mary, 'now don't you love him
just a little bit?'

'No, I don't think I do,' replied Miriam gravely. 'I feel sorry for him,
he is not as old as he looks, and is far too young and too clever to be
left in this great wicked city by himself. You girls really must not
bother me about him. I don't love him and am not likely to; but still I
cannot help thinking about him.'

As may readily be gathered from their conversation, they were all three
very inexperienced in love affairs. Mary confessed right out that she
would have fallen straight in love with Wynnum, had he shown the same
attention to her. While Grace thought that Miriam must be very difficult
to please.

'What did he talk about to you, Miriam?' asked Grace abruptly..

'About something which I cannot tell either of you,' said the young girl
gazing steadily into the fire, 'but it must be 11 o'clock and I am
tired, so good night sweet cousins,' she said laughing.

And Miriam really believed that she was only sorry for Wynnum, and did
not love him. But when she fell asleep she dreamt that he had bought a
castle, and had grown to be a very proud, and clever and handsome man;
and that he had put her in prison in a dungeon of his castle, because
she had found out a secret about him. And she looked out of the narrow
window of her prison into the moat, and the water lying in it was
stagnant and discoloured.

She could hardly recall the dream when she awoke, but she knew that it
was about Wynnum and his secret, and somehow it was not a pleasant
dream.

A very few words may satisfy the natural curiosity of the reader as to
the three young ladies, whose privacy we have somewhat boldly intruded
upon.

Miriam Lane, and Grace and Mary Thorpe, were orphans, the daughters of
two brothers, both clergymen. They were now left, however, without
means. House property in Nottingham brought them in a thousand pounds a
year in addition to some other investments. Mrs. Broughton, their aunt,
was herself wealthy, and was their father's sister, and their sole
guardian.

They lived when at home in a rambling old hall, in a village, near a
market town in the midland counties. They had each their own maid, and
were as full of life and good spirits as well educated, healthy, and
well-to-do English girls usually are. Mary was a beauty, and Grace a
wit, and Miriam something of a combination of the two. But the three
girls were bosom friends and confidants, and this was the first time in
her life that Miriam had a secret from them.

After hearing Wynnum's story, she felt somehow as though she had known
him all her life, and he could not have done anything more likely to win
her heart than this. He had told her his secret, and with unfaltering
trust, placed himself wholly in her power. A shallow, vain frivolous
girl, might and probably would, have betrayed him; but Wynnum's secret
was safe with Miriam Lane, and yet the simple maiden really thought that
she did not love him. Although she knew full well that he loved her, and
would have trusted her if necessary with his life.




CHAPTER VIII--TRISSIE'S STORY OF "THE GOLDEN CROSS."


But we must turn again to Chester-Street, for with the arrival of
Trissie, matters there had assumed a different aspect. Wynnum carried
his sister up to his own bed, and after a time restored her to
consciousness.

'Now Trissie, you must lie still and rest, while I prepare you something
warm and nice to eat,' he said to her.

What a difference it makes when you have someone you love to think about
and care for, especially when it is someone who is entirely dependent
upon you. The old house was a different place as Wynnum bustled about in
his clumsy man-like way, to get the child something warm to eat.

'You is good, Wynn,' she said approvingly after she had partaken of
nearly a basin full of milk and groats. 'Ize tum back to live wid you,
and take care of you, and we'll never go near any nasty ole ship, with
big mousies that run all over the beds, will we Wynn?'

'Tell me all about it, Trissie,' said Wynn as he lay down by her side
upon the counterpane.

It was like Wynnum, he had not questioned her as to how she was lost, or
how she found her way back to Chester-street. He would let her tell as
much as she could about it, right from the beginning, and tell it in her
own way.

Trissie propped herself up in bed with the pillows, and having made
quite sure that she was comfortable, addressed her brother as follows:--

'Wynn, never go away from home, not even if your farder and mudder and
sisters tell you to, because it isn't nice. They puts you to sleep in
little beds near the ceiling, in a wee mite of a little room where there
are big mousies.'

'You mean rats, Trissie,' said Wynn, 'there are always rats on ships,
but they don't hurt you.'

'Big mousies eat you up, Wynn. They started to eat Louie and she
screamed and jumped, right out on the floor. And Tom called out from the
next little room, whether he should lend us the Bosun--that's the cat's
new name Wynn.'

'So you did not like the ship? But it was very naughty of you to run
away; just think what trouble they will all be in. And whatever do you
think I am going to do with you.'

'Is 'oo sorry Wynn that Trissie came home?' she asked looking down
curiously at her brother. 'If you knew how tired I was and how long I
stood knocking for you to tum and let me in,' and two big tears came
bubbling up into the child's eyes.

'Now, don't cry Trissie pet,' said Wynn hurriedly, 'of course I am
pleased to have you. I am only troubled to know what the others will
think, and what shall I do with you now that they are all gone. But tell
me all about it.'

Trissie was comforted, and after some consideration said with great
gravity, 'ships is funny things, Wynn. We went up a ladder and climbed
over the roof to get inside. Such a mess everything was in, and there
was a cow on the roof, and some sheep, and a lot of hens and ducks, all
penned up in little cubby houses. The docks were just under one of the
maypoles.'

'Under what?' queried Wynn.

'Maypoles,' replied Trissie confidentially, 'they had three on the roof,
with ropes fastened to them, but I could not see any boys and girls
dancing round them. They were awful big and high though, and one day
there was a flag on the top of one of them.'

'Those were the masts,' was Wynnum's amused comment.

'They pulled the big ship out of the place we were in at first with a
steamer.'

'That was the dock,' said Wynn.

'Then we played at 'follow my leader,' all along the River to Gravesend;
but we never caught up. Then I'se had the toothache.'

'Now tell me how you came to be on shore at Gravesend this morning,'
said her brother.

'Louie and Bessie took me with them in the little boat, to get an ole
tooth out; but it hurts to have tooths pulled out, so after they gave me
some sweets to be good, I hid away in the railway station. I heard them
say, 'Wherever has she gone?''

'Then a very cross lady; with a nice little dog got into a carriage, so
I went in too for the little doggie looked at Trissie, and wagged his
tail.'

'I sat as quiet as a mousie, while the man looked at us all and counted
and then banged the door; and then the train began to puff, and I heard
one of the ladies say, 'Now we are off to London.' The cross old lady
put 'Twinkle,'--that was the nice little dog--into a basket and then
asked me whose child I was. I told her my name was Trissie and that I
was tumming to you.'

'No one else talked to me so I went to sleep and when I awoke, the cross
ole lady was shaking me, and said, 'get out and find your people, this
is London.' So I began to cry.'

'How did you manage then,' asked Wynnum, in evident concern.

'She told me not to cry, or the policeman would have me, and asked me
what my name was, and where I lived. I told her I was Trissie White and
that my mudder had gone in a big ship to Australia, and that I was going
back to Wynn to Chester-street. Then she said 'Umph,' so I asked her to
give me Twinkle, and said I'd love him ever so much and take him with me
to Chester-street. Then she said 'Umph' and went away to see about her
luggage, so I tummed away.'

After a long pause as though she was trying to remember something the
child continued.

'Outside a dirty ragged boy asked me 'whether my mudder knew I was out?'
so I said 'no!' He said, 'You're green, young 'un;' so I said, 'You're a
rude boy, and I don't want to speak to you,' and I tummed away again.
Then I walked a long way and saw a homnibus waiting with no one looking
after it, near a big house. It was like the one we went in to go to the
nasty ole ship, so I got in, and directly after some people got in, too,
and almost covered me over in the corner.'

'Then a little man stood on the step and called out loud to the people
in the street.'

'I wonder that he did not turn you out of the omnibus, Trissie,' said
Wynn, 'that was the conductor.'

'I did get out when a lot of other people did, and then I was so very
tired and hungry, and a gentleman gave a boy a penny to show me to
Chester-street; but the naughty boy put his tongue out at me, when the
nice gentleman was gone, and went into a shop and bought a bun.'

'He would not give me any of it so I called him 'greedy boy' and tummed
home by myself.'

Wynnum felt very much troubled by this fresh anxiety. He could not
possibly leave to take the child back to Gravesend, and what to do with
her, he did not know.

For the time being, however, she was company, and with her soft arms
around his neck he forgot a large part of his cares. He listened to her
soft breathing as she slept, and felt himself braver and more of a man,
that he had her to take care of.

The heroisms of most men's lives, are things forced upon them by their
surroundings.




CHAPTER IX.--WYNNUM HOLDS THE FORT.


Early the next morning Isaac Rex was at Chester-street to open the shop.
Wynnum let him in, but was surprised to see a small, oldish-looking man
with him. He was respectably dressed and wore a black frock coat, but
had the rakish look of a man about town.

'It's a friend of mine,' said Rex, 'come to help me.'

There was an offensiveness about the way in which Rex said this that
annoyed Wynnum, but he thought it best not to say anything just then.
Two vans arrived soon afterwards to remove more of the remaining stock
of furniture.

This was the result of an arrangement made by Wynnum's father with a van
proprietor and one of the brokers. The furniture was not worth much, but
it was to be sold at Portley's, and Wynnum, according to this
arrangement, was to have part of the proceeds with which to pay certain
debts. It may be said at once that wherever the money went, none of it
reached Wynnum's hands.

The removal of the goods attracted no particular attention, as it was an
everyday proceeding along the street. Probably some of the neighbouring
furniture warehouses thought that the Whites were unusually busy.

Rex and his friend were most assiduous in keeping up appearances, and
partly as the result of Wynnum's suggestions, they arranged the little
remaining stock to the best advantage, and piled things up in such a way
that the view of the back was wholly intercepted.

They prepared, too, for any emergency which might arise. One curious
would-be customer made his way to the almost empty show-room at the
back, but he only found ladders and brushes and a bucket of whitewash,
as though in readiness for workmen to whiten the ceiling, as the first
part of a general renovation.

About nine o'clock a messenger handed in a telegram addressed to Wynnum,
but without a signature. It was from his father and read as
follows:--'Trissie lost yesterday, Gravesend, all most anxious, ship
just sailing, find her.'

Wynnum tore up the message, wondering at the same time whether a
telegram could by any chance reach them, and whether it might be
possible to put the child on board again at Deal. But he was practically
a prisoner, for he could not possibly leave the place. His thoughts
turned to Miriam--she might help him.

Cautioning Trissie not to leave the house, he went round to Portley's to
see how they were arranging about the furniture, just sent in, for the
next day's sale.

Had he seen the look with which Rex followed his movements, he would
probably not have dared to have left the place. No sooner was he gone
than Rex made a sign to the man who had come with him, intended to
intimate that he had better keep his weather eye open, and then made
straight for the house door.

Wynnum had left it, as usual, unlocked. There were two doors leading
into the dwelling house the one referred to, which led directly out of
the shop into a sort of hall, and another out of a yard which was
connected with the workshops. That door was bolted, so Rex bolted the
one he had entered by, thus securing himself from being followed.

'Now let us be quite sure about this chest. It is so heavy or I would
net Mr. Jaykes to help me, and we would clear with it at once; but we
will manage it to-night if we have to tie the young one up; he won't
dare to split on us for his own sake, and the family's.' He hurried up
the stairs two steps at a time, toward the room which Wynnum occupied.

It should be said that Rex had no knowledge whatever of Trissie's
return, and it so happened that as he ascended the stairs that young
lady was enjoying herself, with a fairly large family of extemporised
dolls in a cubby house, which she had made under a side table, covered
with a large cloth.

She had heard the footstep on the stairs, and thought that it was her
brother returning, and prepared herself to give him a start, 'just for
fun'; but when she saw that it was Rex she kept perfectly still and
watched him.

He looked round the room with amazement, for Wynnum had carefully
replaced the wall paper, and there was no sign of either treasure-chest
or picture.

'This must be the wrong room?' he exclaimed, after nearly a minute's
hesitation. 'No! this is the furniture. What the Satin has he done with
the picture and box! He cannot surely have made off with them. Perhaps
he has the box under this table?'

Trissie, knowing perfectly well who it was, was not the least afraid of
'Ikey,' as the young boys of the family had been used to call him. She
had been watching him through a hole in the table cover, and when he
stooped to look under the table, she thought it a splendid opportunity
to frighten him, so on his lifting the cloth, she called out in as
sepulchral a tone as she could command--'Boo!'

The effect upon the man was extraordinary. He was a coward at heart and
the unexpected sound in the still room, gave him a great start.

'Boo, Ikey Rex, run away, bad man,' called out Trissie more loudly, but
still in imitation of the supposed voice of the dead. It was a complete
rout. The man sprang out of the room, on realising that someone was
there, and went down the stairs three steps at a time as though Hades
was behind him.

'Is it all right?' asked the stranger, as Rex put in a very sudden
appearance in the front shop.

'I don't know what is there,' said the startled man, 'but there's
something, and it seems to me as like as not that it's the devil.'

'You dashed old fool,' was the uncomplimentary remark. 'Here let me go
and see, and you stop and look after the shop. Mind you don't let that
young White follow me up though. He might think that I was after
something, and quickly give me in charge. I tell you I don't like the
look of his eyes, he'd be a bit rough, I know, if he was in a corner,
and had a revolver handy.'

'Don't be a fool, yourself, sir,' said Rex, hurriedly. 'This is a queer
house, and you'll do no good prowling about.'

'I suppose it was all a lie then, was it?' said the man turning round on
Rex in a threatening attitude. 'You told me there was a box of jewels
here--if that was a bit of your confounded lying, I'll make it hot for
you, you ugly Jew.'

The speaker was small, but wiry, and seemingly an extremely bad-tempered
man, so, on this sudden outburst, Rex thought it policy to mollify him
with a soft answer.

'Well go up and see for yourself, but don't be long, or we shall have
young White back, and there may be the devil to pay if he finds you
rummaging about the house. I'll swear that I saw both gold and jewels
there myself, and handled them only yesterday. It's the second floor
front room.'

'What did you say you heard just now?' asked the man.

'I heard a voice and my own name; I'd swear to that,' replied Rex.

The stranger took no precautions but hurried up the stairs, leaving the
entrance door open behind him. 'Rex is a fool, it was his fancy, or a
cat. Let's see, it's the second floor front room.'

Now Trissie, on the hasty departure of Rex, had laughed immoderately at
the success of her plans, and to further discomfort the enemy she
decided to lock herself in. This she did without much difficulty, and
then hearing the stranger's step on the stairs, she turned the key
slightly round and looked through to see who was coming. She caught
sight of his face, as he turned round on the landing and sprang up the
next flight, and seeing that it was a strange man, felt considerably
frightened. She did not utter a sound, however, for there was a locked
door between them, and she believed Wynnum to be down stairs.

The man at once caught hold of the handle, and turning it pushed hard at
the door. It became evident to him that it was locked.

'Some trick of that Jew,' he said with a coarse oath, pushing at the
door again.

Trissie was perfectly shocked at the man's language, and forgot her fear
in a strong desire to administer proper reproof. Another big swear
settled it, so putting her lips to the key hole she called out in her
best and loudest bogey voice--'Dat's a berry bad word, you naughty man.'

The effect was electrical, the stranger evidently no more wanted to be
caught up there than did Isaac Rex, so he slipped back down the stairs
with great alacrity.

Trissie returned demurely to her cubby house, not the least discomposed,
and proceeded to rehearse the whole of the man's wickedness to her
dolls.

'Naughty mans both said bad words, and unless they is berry, berry,
sorry indeed, they'll go to the bad place where everything is bad--bad
mans and bad boys, and bad cats, and bad dogs, and bad dollies.' It
never occurred to Trissie that there were such creatures as bad girls
and bad women!

'Well?' said Rex, on the man's hasty return, and noting his disconcerted
appearance, 'Have you seen it too?'

'It's a mad woman the young fool has up there, and she has locked the
door.'

'The confederates looked at each other in blank amazement.'

'The devil!' was the only rejoinder of Rex.

'A she-devil,' said the other, 'and a fool too, she actually told me I
was a naughty man!'

'Has anyone called, Rex,' said Wynnum a few minutes later as he entered
the shop.

'No,' answered Rex sulkily.

Wynnum looked from one to the other; he did not like their appearance at
all, but said nothing further, for he wanted to see Trissie.

The fact was that while he had been out he had met Miriam with one of
her cousins, and had told the girls about Trissie's unexpected return.
Miriam comprehended his difficulty, and immediately offered to take
charge of Trissie for him for a few days. They would call for her in
half an hour. So it was to get her ready that he hurried up the stairs,
down which the stranger had but a few minutes before descended.

'Trissie, open the door, whatever made you lock yourself in?'

The child knew his voice and turned the key to admit him.

'Bad men's been saying wicked words, so Trissie locked them out.'

'Whatever do you mean, child?'

'Is 'oo cross Wynn cos I frightened them?'

'Now do be a good Trissie, there's a nice lady coming to take you to
stay with her.'

'Is you tumming to, Wynn?'

'Not now, but I shall come see you to-night,' said Wynn quite
cheerfully.

'Trissie'll wait.'

'No Trissie won't wait, she will just be a good little girl, and go with
the nice lady. Why, if you stayed here all by yourself the bogey man
might come and take you away with him.'

'He's been,' said the child laughing as Wynn brushed her hair, 'but
Trissie frightened him away.'

'Has anyone been up here?' asked Wynn hurriedly and in an alarmed tone
of voice.

'Ikey Rex came up looking for a box in my cubby house and Trissie said
'Boo!' and frightened him away. Then nudder man came; a bad naughty man
who said swear words, but Trissie locked the door, and he ran away.'

The effect of the child's speech upon her brother was very great. He sat
down in a chair, white and crestfallen. His secret was his no longer.
His heart sank within him as the thought flashed across his brain, 'That
mongrel Jew has one of the latch keys.'

'Is 'oo sick, Wynn?' asked the child putting a warm little hand within
his cold fingers.

It was a terrible blow to Wynnum, but he shook himself together and made
a sickly attempt to smile away Trissie's fears.

'I am better now, Trissie,' he said, but in his heart he moaned, 'My
God, what shall I do with two of them. To get the treasure they will not
scruple to take my life!'

Just then the street door bell rang. It was so arranged by Wynnum that
Rex should ring if he was wanted. He cautioned Trissie to say nothing to
anyone about the naughty men, and took her down stairs.

A few minutes later she was walking in the direction of the Park,
between Miriam Lane and Grace Thorpe, her mouth full of sweets, and in
her memory Wynn's solemn promise that he would come and see her that
very night.

On the departure of the young ladies with his sister, Wynnum at once
proceeded up stairs; it was lunch time, but nothing had been said yet
about any one of the three leaving to obtain lunch.

They had read in each other's eyes that it was now open warfare, and war
to the knife.

If Wynnum had had a revolver he would certainly have carried it in
self-defence; but he had absolutely nothing in the shape of weapons
offensive or defensive, except a large leaden ball, which had been found
in a drawer of some chest purchased at a sale. He tied this firmly up in
the end of a long silk handkerchief, and put it into his pocket, and
then took a half-crown and two single shillings out of his purse.

'Rex,' he said, on going down stairs, 'what is your friend's name?'

'Stephen Burton,' replied Rex with a scowl.

'Ah! of what place?'

'Lambeth.'

'Well, Mr. Burton of Lambeth,' said Wynnum, 'I am obliged to you for
your assistance this morning, but shall not want you further. Here is
half-a-crown for your half-day's work.' The man took the proferred coin
in silence and looked across at Rex, who was about to speak when Wynnum
stopped him.

'Here, Rex, is a shilling for you to get some lunch, and here is another
shilling with which to bring me in something on your return. You had
better be quick as I may have to go out this afternoon.'

Not another word was spoken, both men had their hats on, and went
straight out together.

As they stepped into the street, a tall, fiery-looking Irishman entered.
It was the landlord who had called for the month's or rather two months'
rent.

'Oh! Mr. Wynnum, how's your father? Hope he is at home, as I have just
looked in for the rent, which, by the way, I let run on last month at
his special request, so that's nine weeks exactly he owes to date.'

'Father is not at home, Mr. Fitzgerald.'

'But he has left the rent, no doubt,' said the speaker cheerfully.

'No he has not, I am sorry to say.'

'Bedad then he ought to, for this is the cheapest place in
Chester-street, and I can't wait any longer for the money. Since I
bought this house fifteen years ago your father has been my tenant, and
I don't want to be hard on him. But you tell him that Mr. Fitzgerald was
in for the rent and that I'll call again on Wednesday.'

'You had better make it Thursday,' said Wynnum hurriedly.

'Well, will the money be here for me then?'

'I cannot exactly promise you that now,' said Wynnum evasively, 'but it
will be the more convenient day.'

'You look as though you were doing up the place a bit?' said the
landlord approvingly, as he caught his eye on the dust-sheets thrown
over some old stuff at the back--which he probably thought valuable
furniture--and then glanced at the preparations for white washing the
ceiling.

'Yes, we are having a bit of a clean up,' replied Wynnum, with some
hesitation, for he hated the part he was acting.

'Well, be sure and have that money ready on Thursday,' said the
landlord, who was not at all a bad fellow.

Somewhat to Wynnum's surprise Rex returned from his lunch alone,
bringing with him a good warm dinner from a neighbouring restaurant.
This Wynnum disposed of with zest, for he was faint with hunger. Having
completed it, he called Rex into his father's counting house, which he
had tidied up, keeping the key in his possession.

'Rex,' he said, without moving a muscle, although his heart beat fast
and his throat was thick and husky, 'kindly hand me that latchkey which
you have of this place.'

Rex made no demur, but simply did as he was told.

'Where did you get it from?' asked Wynnum.

'Your father lent me it to me to let myself in after I had been out
pawning some chairs and other things at Rutherford's.'

'Have you been in here unknown to me, either last night or the night
before?'

'No.'

'Why did you go upstairs during my absence this morning?'

'Out of curiosity only, to see how the house was left.'

'Why did you stoop down to look under a table for a box,' said Wynnum,
fastening him with his eye.

The man quailed under his resentful glare; but denied it.

'All right,' said Wynnum. 'But, now mark my words, Rex. You think that
you know so much that my hands are tied, and I can do nothing. But you
are mistaken. If you do your duty to my father and me, I shall give you
liberal payment, but if I catch you, or anyone else, on these premises
at unauthorised hours, I'll hand you over to the police and risk the
consequences. I don't know, nor care much, what you may know, but if I
catch you trying anything underhand with me, you'll be sorry for it. Now
you had better go and dust down the front, and don't bring any more of
your friends about the place; we two can manage very well, and I tell
you plainly I won't have them.'

Wynnum's hand during this speech was in his coat tail pocket playing
with the silk handkerchief and leaden ball. He watched Rex intently, and
Rex feared him for he felt confident that it was a revolver he had in
that pocket.

Rex mumbled out some reply, and went off to do what he was told. He
might not have been so quiet, but that he and the so called Mr. Stephen
Burton had arranged another plan of proceedings. They meant to have that
treasure box somehow, and if possible, without violence.

That afternoon between three and four o'clock a well appointed one-horse
brougham drew up at the shop, and Rex at once called his young master.
Wynnum went to the carriage door and found the occupant to be a quietly
but richly dressed lady of great personal attraction and probably not
more than half a dozen years older than himself.

Wynnum was a trifle flurried, for like most young men of his age he was
very susceptible to the charms of female beauty, and easily flattered by
attentions shown to him by a handsome woman a few years older than
himself.

'Have I the pleasure of addressing Mr. White?' said the lady smiling,
and showing a charming set of pearly teeth.

'That is my name, Madam,' replied Wynnum respectfully.

'Mademoiselle, if you please,' said the lady, shrugging her shoulders
with another fascinating smile.

'I beg your pardon,' said Wynnum, in some confusion.

'Oh, don't apologise pray; when one gets to be over twenty, gentleman
may be forgiven for making such mistakes. But my name is Mademoiselle Le
Blanc, and I wish to speak with you privately. May I trouble you to open
the carriage door for me?'

Wynnum did this with excusable haste and trepidation. At nineteen the
blood courses swiftly through the hot veins, and the touch of a
beautiful woman's small gloved hand may push back the gates of hell or
heaven for a young man as she is good or bad. A black satin slipper with
a large coquettish rosette was placed upon the carriage step, and
lightly leaning on Wynnum's outstretched hand one of the handsomest
women he thought that he had ever looked on in his life, stepped upon
the pavement.

It may be imagined that Wynnum felt thoroughly ashamed of the state of
things inside the premises, but she did not appear to notice it, and
said simply, 'Can you not show me into the counting house, or somewhere
where I can talk to you in strict privacy?'

'Dust a couple of chairs, Rex, and bring them into the counting house.'

The beauty of this elegant, perfumed woman, whose dark flashing eyes and
radiant smile seemed to say, 'Wynnum White--I am going to make you love
me,' had almost intoxicated him.

For fully half-an-hour Wynnum was engaged in an animated conversation
with Mademoiselle Le Blanc, it was over something which evidently deeply
interested both of them; their eyes met too, not unfrequently, and
before the close of the interview, the lady's eyes would fall when
Wynnum seemed to be looking at her too earnestly. Before our hero handed
her back again to her carriage, he had her card, and she his promise to
call upon her at St. John's Wood that night at eight o'clock. Rex eyed
him intelligently and triumphantly. As he returned from seeing her off,
he was flushed and animated. The interview had evidently made a pleasant
impression upon Wynnum. On entering the counting house again however, an
onlooker would have seen him start and blush to the temples, like some
modest maiden newly kissed.

Oh Wynnum, Wynnum! what of Miriam Lane, who loves you as a sister, but
who expects to-night to see you? A tiny embroided, jewelled,
gold-clasped band, a lady's garter, nothing less nor more, lay on the
floor beside the chair. Wynnum, alas! picked it up and pressed it to his
lips.

He meant nothing, of course, his heart was wholly Miriam's, and the act
was but a spontaneous tribute of homage to a fair and fascinating woman.
But he kissed the band of silk and gold, and placed it in his pocket,
wondering half shamefully how and by what means he could return it. The
faint odour of perfume still lingered about the place, and Wynnum sat
down thinking about those flashing eyes and that soft melodious voice.
Had he known that that embroidered jewelled article of dress, had been
dropped there on purpose, as a reminder to ensure his keeping his
appointment, he would have crushed its golden clasps beneath his heel,
for although born and reared in London, Wynnum was by no means either
fast or vicious. He was no doubt romantic and to a large extent
impassioned, but so far at any rate, no woman, however fair, had much
chance to captivate his senses, unless she had first secured his love.




CHAPTER X.--'SHE IS FOOLING THEE.'



'Miriam, I wish you would come down stairs quickly and 'sound the loud
timbrel o'er Egypt's dark sea,' said Grace Thorpe, with a solemn face,
that evening to her cousin.

'Why, what is wrong with our little captive maiden?' replied Miriam
laughing.

'Oh! she says that if her dear brudder Wynn is not here in five minutes
time, she is going to cry.'

'Poor little child,' said Miriam sympathetically, 'I'll go to her.'

Wynnum called a short time after this episode to see his sister, and to
thank Miriam and her friends for their kindness. The former had told her
aunt a portion of Wynnum's story. It transpired that Mrs. Broughton had
known some members of the mother's family, who were country neighbours
of her own people in Gloucestershire, so without allowing the full
details to transpire, Miriam had managed to enlist her aunts' sympathy
for the gentlemanly and clever young fellow, who had made himself so
pleasant and agreeable when they were all at Bournemouth, and who was
now left alone with his little sister to take care care of, in what Mrs.
Broughton described as 'this great and dreadful city.'

Trissie had won Miriam's heart at first sight. It may be that the
child's passionate love for her brother had something to do with it;
anyhow Miriam had secretly determined to take Trissie back with them to
Marston, and Miriam usually had her way.

So when Wynnum called that evening every one felt sorry for him, and
almost jealous that Trissie should so completely appropriate him to
herself. The latter told Wynnum as a secret, that Miss Lane was very
good and had told her she was to call her Miriam, and she was going to
sleep in a dear little cot in a dear little dressing room, where bogey
mans could not possibly come. She kissed everybody, and was carried off
to bed by Miriam, quite satisfied with the solemn assurance that her
dear Wynn was not going away for some time, and would be sure to call to
see her again to-morrow.

Very soon after Trissie had left the drawing room, however, Wynnum
excused himself, urging the pressure of his business, and saying
good-night, left the house.

Miriam was sorry, and her cousins were positively vexed; but when they
discussed the matter alone by the firelight, Miriam stoutly defended
him.

'It showed his delicacy and good taste,' she averred. 'He had called in
without any formal invitation to see his sister, and having seen her, it
was most correct for him to politely refuse to stay longer.'

'But, he was asked,' said Mary, 'and then he plays as you know divinely,
and aunt suggested that we might have some music.'

'It was only polite for us to invite him to remain, and to urge him
under the circumstances; but I like him all the better for refusing. We
can send him a proper invitation for another night.'

'I am delighted to hear that you are beginning to like him, dear,' said
Grace with much interest, 'you may even get to love him by-and-bye.'

'I hope she won't,' said Mary, 'for there may then be a chance for me;
but Miriam has such a start you see.'

'Perhaps you did not care to have Mary looking at him with her soulful
eyes, and so sent him home early,' suggested Grace to Miriam. 'I believe
that she will fall in love with him yet.'

'I am sure that I would, if I dared,' said Mary; 'but it is so evident
that the young man belongs to Miriam. She is even thinking of taking
that dear old little Trissie to Marston, I hope that she may, it will be
great fun, and Wynnum will be obliged to come down occasionally and see
his sister; but, Grace, is not Miriam a lucky girl?'

Without doubt Miriam Lane was a lucky girl, in that she had very much
her own way with her aunt and cousins. She was good, capable,
thoughtful, and intensely sympathetic, and was one of the favoured few
who are fortunate enough to be regarded by their friends as having a
knack of doing the right thing at the right time. The sway of such
people in a household is none the less real and autocratic because so
gentle and so little realised.

Miriam may not have been altogether conscious of it, but she had a way
of maturing her plans, and then causing someone else to suggest them.
She had certainly made up her mind to take Trissie to Marston until
Wynnum was settled, and could arrange for her to be taken out to her
friends in Australia; but it was Mrs. Broughton who afterwards actually
suggested it. Miriam had decided, too, about another thing, but had not
determined as yet whether she would tell her aunt--she certainly would
not tell her cousins. It was this: She had decided to place it within
Wynnum's power to save the honour of his name. She had found out somehow
from him that less than five hundred pounds would pay all that was owing
to his father's creditors, and as she had considerably more money than
that lying uninvested at the bank, she was going on the morrow to offer
to lend that amount to Wynnum.

She pictured him that evening going back to Chester-street in lonely and
pitiful condition; but at the time, reckless of the fact that he had not
more than five or six pounds in his pocket, and a young sister dependent
upon him, he was on his way to St. John's Wood in a hansom cab, with a
jewelled garter wrapped in silver paper in his breast coat pocket, which
he intended to leave with the servant for her mistress.

Let us not blame Wynnum too much, however, for Mademoiselle Le Blanc's
conversation with him that afternoon had been sufficient to have turned
a wiser head, and as far as he was concerned the visit was a perfectly
legitimate and proper one.

Mademoiselle Le Blanc had talked to him that afternoon, of literature
and fame. She had read his letter to the Times, and afterwards one of
his articles in a magazine. 'Mr White,' she had said, 'I am in an
authors' set, and have talked about you to my friends; they agree with
me that your writings bear the stamp of genius. Written by one you
know--Dowered with the hate of hate, the scorn of scorn, the love of
love.'

And so she had run on to him during that half-hour of fascination in his
father's counting house. Is it to be wondered at that he was intoxicated
by her flattery and beauty; that he believed her, when she predicted for
him an early position of honour among the authors of his day, and that
he accepted an invitation to meet a select circle of her literary
friends that night at her Villa at St. John's Wood.

'We are a bit Bohemian, you know,' she said with a bewitching smile, 'I
tell some of my friends that they are not quite as thoughtful of the
proprieties as they ought to be; but you know, Mr White, authors and
poets and musicians are allowed more latitude than the ordinary clay.
Now be sure and come, for I shall introduce you perhaps to Sir Luke and
Lady Brookfield who own the Archway Magazine; why, they could make your
reputation, and place you in a position to acquire wealth almost
immediately. And I shall help you, too, for one cannot help liking you;
but that,' she said laughing, 'must be a secret between ourselves.'

Let no impatient reader think Wynnum very simple and very easily
deceived. Remember he had talent, he could write well, and he knew it,
and it was a beautiful woman that thus talked to him--and he had only
just turned nineteen.

A ride in a well-appointed hansom, with a good horse in the shafts, and
pleasant thoughts in the mind, is a pleasure to most ordinary people,
and it was so that evening to Wynnum. But there was one thing he thought
which would have added to the enjoyment--to have had someone with him.
Yet he hardly knew, if he could have had his choice, whether it would
have been Mademoiselle Le Blanc, or Miriam. The reader should know one
thing, however, before charging him with being altogether fickle.
Wynnum's ardent imagination dwelt much upon the fact that his new
acquaintance was either French or of French extraction. 'Just such a
woman,' he thought, 'as the artist of the painted room at Chester-street
would have loved.'

The cab pulled sharply up, for he had reached his destination; when the
thought crossed his mind--'Who can tell. Fate may have brought us thus
together. Mademoiselle Le Blanc may prove to be none other than the
descendant of the fair one, loved by the unfortunate gentleman of
France.'

It must be confessed that although Wynnum had been born within sound of
Bow Bells, and reared mostly amid the pulsating life of that great and
heartless city, he was decidedly romantic. Many are mistaken as to the
influence of London on the mind of youth. Talk about London's trade, and
its mechanical science and invention, and common place routine of common
lives; of its persistent jingling of the guineas, and bartering of
souls; you may doubtless find all that in the mighty modern Babylon,
where the day's business of the world every morning awaits transaction.
But if you want romance, if you seek for human nature in its most
fantastic, ludicrous, or pathetic moods, go to London. London is the
most romantic place in all the world! The old, the quaint, the
beautiful, the mysterious, are all there jostling with modern
achievements and present day science, in the rushing tide of life which
ebbs and flows along the arteries of the great metropolis. You may find
everything in London; the wealth of Crisus, and the poverty which has
passed beyond despair, the noblest charities, and the hardest and most
selfish greed. You may have crowds and noise, or solitude and silence,
you may have revels and gaiety, and you may see suffering and sin.

Before climbing the steps of the villa, Wynnum stopped for a moment and
looked around. It was a calm and unusually quiet night. London lay in
the distance at his feet; a haze of dull light hung above the mighty
city, and on the quiet air there smote upon his ear the sullen moan of
London's sin.

'I do not think that I should care to live up here,' thought Wynnum, as
he lifted the knocker of the door to announce his arrival--'the city
lies below there too much like some great animal moaning in its pain.'

In a well appointed vestibule a smart servant took from Wynnum his
overcoat and hat, and ushered him into a small but richly furnished, and
brightly lit, drawing room. To his surprise he found himself alone. A
few minutes afterward Mademoiselle Le Blanc entered in evening dress,
and welcomed him with cordiality, but with more reserve than she had
shown during their afternoon interview.

Her undoubted beauty showed to great advantage in a gown of black
velvet, while round her throat was clasped a costly necklace of pearls.
She looked younger, and every charm which had captivated Wynnum during
the previous interview, seemed to be emphasised under the soft light,
and amid the handsome surroundings of the apartment. 'I am so sorry Mr.
White,' she said, 'to disappoint you, but I fear that we shall be all
alone. It is our usual reunion evening, but by a curious coincidence I
have had apologies from more than half-a-dozen of my friends. They know
that it is my evening at home, and of course some one may drop in, but
we must in the meantime amuse each other as best we can. I suppose you
are dying to know who I am and all about me?' Wynnum smiled and
stammered an apology; but Mademoiselle had exactly guessed his thoughts.

'I wish you would not ask me though,' she continued, 'why is it that
people are so stupid as to want to know so much. Why not take people as
you find them; now you Mr. White, are pleasant and gentlemanly, and
evidently well educated, and cultured by travel and society. You speak a
little French, I think, and while you have your youth to enjoy, and
sufficient wisdom and experience to enjoy it without excess, you are
just nice for anyone to know. Why should I worry myself about your
grandfather. He is no doubt dead years ago. You see it is quite
sufficient for me to know you, not as you were five years ago, but as
you are to-day.'

'And why should you want to know anything about me,' she continued after
a pause, half shading her eyes with a white jewelled hand, as she looked
abstractedly at some flowers on a side table. 'I am pleasant to look at,
and witty to talk to, and friendly to know. And yet the first thing with
you English people, is to ask--'Who is she?''

'But you have the purest English accent, Mademoiselle,' said Wynnum.

'Ah!' she laughed, 'you see that you cannot help being curious about me.
But don't ask me anything; let us talk, and I will play and sing to you,
and we will enjoy ourselves for an hour, without any opening of cupboard
doors in search of skeletons, which perhaps don't exist after all.'

She was a clever musician and good singer, and she sang song after song;
but most of them were pathetic, and the impassioned love songs which
might have been expected, were all carelessly passed over. The time went
very quickly, until a neighbouring clock chimed the hour of nine.

She turned round suddenly upon him, and placed her warm hand on one of
his which rested on the piano.

'Wynnum White you are young, but you are old enough to let me see that
you are very much unlike most other men. I don't think that you ought to
have come here to-night knowing nothing about me. But you make me feel
better to know and to talk to you. Tell me what is there about that
house of yours in Chester-street which bad men, and even rich men, might
covet?'

'I do not understand you,' said Wynnum in intense surprise.

'I think that you will if you consider for a moment; the men I speak of
don't usually waste their time about trifles. I like you Wynnum White,'
she said lowering her voice, 'for if I am not good myself, I can
appreciate it in a man--it's such a rare commodity in men. You have some
hidden treasure at Chester-street, and I am ashamed to say that I have
been used as a decoy to bring you here, while two or more determined men
have searched the house. Now have some cake and wine, and then go home
again; they will be gone by the time you get there, and try and not
think too hardly of Mademoiselle Le Blanc; we may meet again some day.'

She offered him her hand; lifted it near his lips as though hoping he
might kiss it. But he took no notice of it, nor of the proffered
refreshments.

'Excuse me, madam, I will go,' he said hurriedly, 'I am ashamed of
myself, I should have known better?' He seized his hat and coat, and a
moment afterward was on the footpath hurrying along in the direction of
Chester-street.




CHAPTER XI.--'DEAD, BUT NOT MURDERED.'


Wynnum called no hansom cab this time--it was a relief to his feelings
to walk. He pressed his feet firmly down at every stride as though
someone was underneath them, and that someone was himself. Not that he
regretted making the acquaintance of this woman; she might not be good,
but she certainly was not all bad; she was clever, and she was
beautiful; but he had been fooled--outrageously fooled--and through his
own vanity too!

He was in that dangerous, reckless state of mind, which all high-strung
people sometimes get into. Some of the most desperate dare-devil things
in history have been done by men who were chagrined!

There were two men, he thought, searching the house and shops at
Chester-street, and he had been fooled by a beautiful woman on purpose
to get him out of the way. His pride was wounded to the very quick. How
did they know he had written a letter to the Times, and published
articles in magazines? And all her flattery, and praise, and talk of
literary friends was a beggarly piece of imposture, that he might dance
attendance on a false woman while they robbed his house! His firm, quick
tread rang again upon the pavement--he could have walked till midnight.

'Never mind,' he ejaculated, 'I'll make the wretches suffer for it.'

The stranger was perfectly right about Wynnum; he was not powerfully
built, not very muscular, but he had blood and breeding, wherever he got
it from, and when aroused he was a dangerous man.

He seemed to reach Chester-street in no time. The place was all in
darkness, but he opened the door with his latch key without a moment's
hesitation and closed it and bolted it top and bottom, and then striking
a match, lit the nearest gas jet. He had the silk handkerchief with the
leaden ball in the end, wrapped twice round his right hand; and he had
something very much akin to murder in his heart.

He stood still and listened, there was not a sound to be heard; he moved
forward and lit the next gas jet, and listened again. So he went on
until the whole of the warehouse and workshops were brightly
illuminated. There was no sign of any living thing! He came back again,
his firm step ringing like a challenge through the great half-empty
place.

'Now for the house!' he lit the gas in every room, and on every landing,
as he ascended towards the apartment in which he had slept. Throwing
open the door he went in and lit the gas. The whole room was in a state
of wildest disorder.

Wynnum turned instantly toward the spot where he had secreted the
casket, and then laughed and ejaculated, 'Safe! the fools.'

Whoever had been there, they were evidently not professional burglars;
it was as though the room had been given over to the sport of madmen,
rather than anything else.

The wall-paper covering the large painting had been partly torn down.
The pier-glass had been wrenched from its position above the fireplace,
and lay with the glass shattered in fragments upon the floor of the
room. Tables were overturned, a chest of drawers had been emptied of its
contents, which were strewn upon the floor, and then pitched bodily upon
the bed.

'They have searched everywhere but in the right place,' said Wynnum
grimly to himself. 'There are two of them or more, that's evident, and
in my opinion they are still upon the premises.'

He felt elated now; they were foiled after all; they had not found it!
And then he thought of Mademoiselle Le Blanc, and strode upstairs to
search the rooms above with the extemporised life preserver firmly in
his grasp. The thought of that woman was to him as is a spur to a
fiery-tempered steed; he would be even with them! He found these rooms
in similar disorder, but they were empty of those he looked for.

Then it occurred to him that he had not looked in the counting house,
which he had left locked; and downstairs he went again with the same
masterful tread. He expected every moment to be struck by someone, and
held himself in continual readiness to return a blow.

The door of the counting house had been burst open, and the place
evidently carefully searched. After looking around Wynnum came out and
walked slowly along the whole length of the lighted warehouse, looking
carefully under tables and furniture, and into any places of possible
concealment, until he reached the front door. It was unbolted both top
and bottom.

'They have let themselves out since I came in!' he ejaculated.

It was perfectly true, there had really been three men on the premises
when Wynnum stepped from the street into the darkness of the warehouse;
they heard him bolt the door behind him, and strike matches as he lit
the gas jets right along the warehouse to the back; they knew that he
was looking for them and the bolting of the door told them that he was
not afraid.

The stranger whispered to Rex as they listened to Wynnum making his way
up to the workshops. 'The young devil has a revolver, and he'll shoot
the lot of us in cold blood, if he comes across us. I thought Louie
would have kept him billing and cooing at St. John's Wood! Rex you're a
confounded fool!'

So when Wynnum came down stairs, still looking for them, all three had
left the house. It was not exactly a case of the wicked fleeing when
none pursued, for there was one very determined sort of a stripling
behind them.

When he saw the evidence of their flight, Wynnum's spirit seemed to fail
him.

'I cannot stop here to-night, and I am not going round the place to turn
the gas off,' he said, 'I will turn this one low at the door, and the
rest may burn until the morning. I am off to get a bed to-night
somewhere out of this!'

Some of the neighbours, lower down the street, remarked next morning,
'Those Whites must be desperately busy, they were at work again all
through the night.'

Rex was more sheepish than ever when he met Wynnum the next morning; but
the latter thought there was a dangerous look about his eyes. That
afternoon he borrowed five shillings and Wynnum gave the money to him
without a word, although he knew he was drinking. On Tuesday night he
kept the gas lit again, and never left the place. He had no fear of Rex
now--he was too drunk.

The first post on Wednesday morning brought no letters, but Wynnum saw
by the newspaper that the 'Golden Cross' had passed the Isle of Wight
the previous day, and by that time he judged she would be well out at
sea. He had a different feeling now, knowing that his father and family
were safe; so as Rex seemed less drunk than he had been the previous
night, Wynnum called him into the counting house, which he had carefully
put straight again.

'This will be our last day together Rex,' he commenced, looking him full
in the face, 'and I want to have a few words with you.'

'Did you pawn all this furniture, and other stuff for my father!' he
continued, taking out a large parcel of pawn tickets.

'Yes,' replied Rex.

'Who are these Rutherfords that own the pawn place, are they Jews?'

'No, it's really owned, I believe, by a swell money-lender, who runs a
house decorator's and painter's business as a sort of blind.'

'Why as a sort of blind?'

'Oh, because he's better able to deal with the gents through having that
sort of a business. He's a tremendous swell himself, and has managers
for his different places. You should see the smart gig he drives, with a
groom in livery, and the place too he has at St. John's Wood.'

Rex evidently was a bit off his guard, and certainly was not quite
sober.

'Has he anything to do with Mademoiselle Le Blanc!' was Wynnum's next
question, and he looked Rex straight in the face.

'Do you think I'm such a dashed fool as to answer that question?' the
man replied with a half-drunken leer.

'That's quite enough,' said Wynnum, angrily, 'you have answered it, and
now let me tell you, Isaac Rex, you drunken, cowardly cur, I've a great
mind to knock you down just where you stand.'

Rex edged a little nearer the door, at the same time putting up his
fists in a fighting attitude.

'You daren't do it--I'd smash your face in,' he said.

'There's no need to punish you, you treacherous hound,' said Wynnum
contemptuously, 'you are already punished. It's in your blood, and I can
see it in your face; you came into this place to steal. You hid in here
and watched me, when I thought that I was here alone. When I went out
last Sunday, you went upstairs, and saw a painted picture on the wall.
You were prying about to see what you could steal, and you found a
brass-bound box, and in the box a large ebony casket filled with jewels.

'Yes, and my Got!' said Rex excitedly. 'I put my hands in, they are
lying on the top, just under the silken garment with the lace. I saw
them, and you must divide with me, Wynnum White. There are more than you
can want--pearls, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, and gold pieces beneath
them, it's a wonderful treasure! You must divide with me, or my Got! I
will kill you!'

'Stand off, you madman,' cried Wynnum, for Rex had moved nearer to him
in his excitement. 'You want nothing, you have the plague, that's all
you want; in a few hours you will be a dead man!'

'You wretched thief, you must have smelt the infected garment on the top
of the jewels, put there to protect them from thievish hands like yours,
and it is just beginning to tell on you. It's a pity some of the friends
you had with you last night didn't smell it too!'

'So you were in the conspiracy, when Mademoiselle Le Blanc was sent to
get me out of the way?' he continued bitterly.

'Ah well, you are to be pitied now; I think you had better go home and
say your prayers before you die.'

As he listened to Wynnum's vehement words the face of Rex assumed a
pain-smitten, scared look, and a sort of a greenish hue.

It was evident that he was suffering acute internal pain of some sort;
whether it was the plague, the effects of adulterated drink, or the
results of a diseased imagination, matters little--he was ill.

But Wynnum was too maddened by his whole environment to pity him. It
never occurred to him that the man would really die. To have frightened
him into a fit would, in Wynnum's opinion, have been scant punishment.
This knave had pried into his secrets and darkened the whole
surroundings of his young life. Everything was his if he would only make
himself lawfully possessed of it; and he would have paid his father's
debts and married Miriam, but this cursed prying thief had spoilt it
all; had told his secret to others in the hope of stealing the treasure
from him, and now, that they could not find it, he wanted him to divide!

In the bitterness of his heart Wynnum wished Rex dead. But he would have
shrank back with horror from the thought, had he known that it was so
near fulfilment.

The postman had just come into the shop with a letter, and Wynnum went
forward to take it from him. Rex, groaning with internal pain, stole
upstairs to the workshop, where he had a quart bottle of methylated
spirits of wine secreted, and sitting down, he began to drink it.

The hot burning sensation which followed the drinking of the fiery
spirit, which is pure alcohol adulterated with naptha, at first eased
his pain; but it soon returned again, and the man now nearly mad drunk,
drank more. There was no hand near to snatch the fiery poison from his
grasp so he placed the scalding spirits to his lips again, and again;
then crossed his legs, and pressed his clenched fist against his
stomach, and drank more, and more, and more; and then rolled heavily off
the chair, the last of the liquor falling from the bottle and making a
little pool beside him!

Then everything was quiet--so quiet, that at last the very mice crept
stealthily out of their hiding places, and ran noiselessly across the
floor; then looked at the man lying there, and rushed back frightened to
their holes. But he lay quiet for so long a time that at last they
ceased to fear him--the soul of Isaac Rex had passed to judgement, and
all that lay there was cold dead, human clay!

Wynnum noticed that Rex did not come down stairs again, but he never
troubled himself to go to him. 'Let him sleep it off, the drunken
wretch,' he said; I'm glad that I frightened him.'

In the meantime the postman had brought Wynnum a letter of some
importance.




CHAPTER XII.--WYNNUM'S FLIGHT.


The Mansion in Park Avenue, where Mrs. Broughton and her nieces were
staying with their friends, was on that Wednesday a scene of busy
preparation. Something had transpired which made it advisable for them
to return at once to Marston, and they had arranged to go down by the
Thursday afternoon express, taking Trissie with them. So, as Wynnum had
not called on Tuesday, it had been necessary for Miriam to write to him
and tell him of the new arrangement.

This was the letter which the postman should have handed to him, but
unfortunately Miriam had been writing to another friend at the same
time, and through some unaccountable mishap, had put the letters into
the wrong envelopes. The commencement of the letter which Wynnum found
in the envelope addressed in Miriam's hand writing to himself, was as
follows:--

'MY DEAREST BOB,--You will think me very negligent. It is nearly a week
since I last wrote to you, and two letters have reached me from your own
dear hand since then.'

Wynnum stopped there, and turned over to the next page, and the next,
until he saw that it was signed--

'Ever your affectionate MIRIAM.'

He immediately returned the letter to the envelope without reading
another word. His face was deathly pale, and a great choking something
swelled up in his throat; his love for Miriam was unquestionably sincere
and strong.

'I will close it up again,' he said hoarsely, 'or I may be tempted to
read it, and that would be gall and wormwood. She might, she ought, to
have told me, the false, deceitful girl? I will write to her at once,
and return the letter.'

But, although he sealed up the envelope, he felt somehow that he could
not write.

'Why,' he exclaimed, 'did she not tell me that she had a lover? Why has
she--the only woman I ever wholly believed in and adored--thus deceived
me?'

'I will forget her,' he said fiercely, 'she is as false as Mademoiselle
Le Blanc.'

But the accusation, while on his lips, found no echo in his heart. That
excused Miriam, for love is ever long-suffering and kind, and
self-forgetful. She had been very good to Trissie, and had told him,
too, that her friendship for him was that of a sister only. But he could
not bear to meet her again and know that she loved another.

'Everything is against me,' he groaned; 'even my own heart, for that
makes me love her still, although no doubt she pities and despises me.
I'm poor and wholly friendless, save for Trissie. Poor helpless little
child she loves me; only just now she is a further care and
burden--better for us both, perhaps, if we were dead!'

Had he read Miriam's letter through he would have found out that her
dearest Bob was a bosom girl friend at Marston. It would have saved him
a world of anguish that day and much suffering afterwards--but, as we
have already said, he did not read it.

He grew calmer after a while, and with an effort wrote the following
letter:--

'DEAR MISS LANE,--I at once return you the enclosed, which has this
afternoon been handed me by the postman. I unwittingly read the first
few lines before realising that, although addressed to me, it was
indicted for another. I need scarcely say that, except for those first
lines, I have not read the letter. I have no cause to upbraid you,
although I regret that I have seen any portion of the letter, for I
write to you with an aching heart. It seems as though all the evils of
the world had fallen to my lot; for I have no claim to speak to you
further of my troubles. You have already been far kinder to me and
Trissie than I had any right to expect. I take this opportunity, the
last which I may have of addressing you, to thank you for your kindness.
I leave Chester-street to-night, alas in shame and dishonour, and with
bitter sorrow of heart. I was once proud; the humiliation which I now
feel is almost greater than I can bear; but for Trissie, I should be
tempted to destroy myself, and, if possible, forget my troubles in the
grave. But I have the child to think of and to live for. I shall take
nothing with me from here save my own clothing. The pictures and the
treasure I leave carefully concealed and untouched. I do not know whose
they are, but they are not mine. The little furniture and goods which
remain will be for the landlord and my father's other creditors. The few
pounds which I possess have not come out of my father's estate, for I
myself earned them. To-morrow night, after I have provided some
temporary lodgings, I will call for Trissie about seven o'clock; but
please excuse me from seeing you or any of your friends. It can do no
good to anyone. I now thank you most truly and sincerely for all your
kindness, and I do this by letter, so that I may be saved the pain of
seeing you again. I have tried to do right, God knows, but adverse
circumstances have been too strong for me, and I leave the deserted home
of my dishonour, and go myself out into the world, although personally
guiltless, a wretched and disgraced young man. It's hard, very hard, and
I had planned my life so differently. I had hoped even that you in time
might have loved me. But there is no resisting fate. Pardon my thus
writing you. It is for the last time.

'Believe me to remain,

Your devoted servant,

'WYNNUM WHITE.'

This letter was not written without many a sigh and heartache, and
putting the one which he had received with it into an envelope he
directed it to The Elms, Park Avenue, London, and placed it ready for
posting later on in the evening. He could not leave to post it then, Rex
was drunk, and he would have to put the shutters up himself that
night--for the first and last time.

Alas! the trouble and sorrow which often arises in this sad world
through lack of knowledge. With another awful blow impending, Wynnum was
already as utterly miserable as a man well could be.

Miriam's letter to him, which was unfortunately speeding along by the
afternoon mail train to the Midlands, read as follows:--

'DEAR MR. WHITE.--I write to you in this familiar way because I want you
to do me a favour, rather I should say, two. We are going back to
Marston by the afternoon train to-morrow (Thursday), and we, that is my
aunt and myself, want you to be good enough to let us take Trissie with
us. She is very happy, and you need not trouble anything about her
clothes, we will see to that.

'The second favour is that you will please operate by cheque upon an
account which I have, through our solicitor, opened in your name at the
London and County Bank. A sum of five hundred pounds has been paid in
there to your credit, and it would please me if you would kindly use it
to settle any of your father's debts which may have been left unprovided
for. Do not thank me please, there is no occasion. I shall by our
solicitor's advice, let you add three and a half per cent per annum
interest to the principal, when it suits you to return it, as I am
certain that you will yet make your way to an honourable position in
life. I have cut your signature off one of your letters to me for the
bank's signature book. You may feel lonely, so pardon me for advising
you and do not allow yourself to be discouraged. If you should get dull,
come down to see Trissie and your other fiends at Marston. You will, I
am sure, not misunderstand me in writing to you in this way; you have
entrusted a great secret to me, and in return I am treating you with the
freedom of a sister. I do not wish you to write to me unless there is
actual occasion, but we shall want to know now and then how you are
getting on. Trissie will of course be my aunt's little guest at Marston,
so it would be nice if you wrote occasionally to her--not to Trissie,
but to my aunt.

'Hoping that you will be able to settle all the worrying affairs you
have in hand to your satisfaction, Believe me,

'Your sincere friend and sister,

'MIRIAM LANE.

If Wynnum had only received this letter what a world of trouble and
heartache would have been saved! But alas? he did not know of it until
long afterwards.

It has already been said that all this happened in the month of March.

Now, fogs are unusual in London during that windy month, but they come
sometimes, and by four o'clock on that afternoon, thick clouds of black
and yellow vapour had filled the streets. It was a veritable London fog,
that had come down upon the city, blotting out all identity. The lamp
lighters hurried around to get the street lamps lit, but they burnt
dimly, and were so befogged, that their straggling rays failed to shed
their light on the pavement. Many of the furniture shops in
Chester-street were without glass windows, and opened right upon the
footpath. It was the very night for robberies of chairs and small
articles of furniture, so as early as half past four, some of the
neighbouring shops began to put their shutters up. The fog, too,
penetrated disagreeably into the premises, so Wynnum nothing loath
determined to follow the example of his neighbours. It really exactly
suited his purpose, for the fog was so thick that he could not be seen
by anyone, and the very houses across the street were obliterated. In
closing the shop he first carried out the runners and laid them
carefully down, saw that the iron pins fitted well into the floor holes,
he would close the shop carefully he thought, it might not be opened
again for many a long day. Then he carried the big shutters out one by
one, sliding them well up into their places; then put up the side door
posts, and the iron bars, and screwed the nuts firmly upon the bolts,
and fixed the fanlight, and hung the street door, and closed it. The gas
was burning in the back part of the shop, but he now lit it right
through to the counting house. He had a few more letters and things to
pack into a trunk. He had already cleared out and burnt piles of account
books and papers and made things tolerably straight.

He had also most carefully repaired the wall-paper, which covered up the
large oil painting, and had taken some of the furniture into another
room, and as far as possible removed all sign of the destructive work of
Rex and Burton, when searching for the treasure.

He thought several times about Rex, but had no occasion to go up into
the workshop, and had no wish just then to disturb him. 'I will get
everything packed and be ready to leave,' he said to himself, 'before I
wake him. I suppose he will be stupidly drunk; but on the whole perhaps
it is as well. If he had been sober I might have had more trouble with
him. As it is, if he is too drunk to walk I will put him into a cab and
pay the driver to set him down at Lambeth bridge, he will surely be able
to find his way home from there.'

So with these thoughts in his mind he went quietly on with his
preparations.

He had two boxes, a portmanteau and leather hat-box, and bundle of rugs,
sticks and umbrellas, to take with him; these he placed near the door,
so that they might be easily handed out. He had determined to go in a
four-wheeler to Euston Station, and leave his luggage in the cloak room
for the night, so that if he was followed this would throw anyone off
his track. He was at last ready and was about to go up stairs to bring
Rex down, when he turned back to place a chair near the door. 'I may
have to sit him down here, while I call a cab to take him to Lambeth,'
he said.

This done he hurried up the stairs to the workshop, two steps at a time;
he was anxious to get away, for it was now after 6 o'clock. He lit the
first gas jet he came to, but could see nothing of Rex. This did not
surprise him, however, for he had expected to find him sleeping
somewhere upon the floor.

He went up to the polishers' end of the shop, near the great open
fireplace, and there found him huddled in a curious heap upon the floor.

'Drunk still,' he said touching him with his foot. 'However shall I get
him down the stairs?' He stooped down and shook him but there was no
response.

'Rex!' he called out loudly, shaking him again, 'get up, you can't sleep
here all night, it's time for you to go home.'

He took hold of his hand, to try and pull him on his feet, but no sooner
had he grasped it than he let it drop again--it was perfectly cold!
'Oh!' he exclaimed--it was as though he had been smitten with sudden
pain--reaching across a bench he lit another gas jet.

The light fell full upon the prostrate corpse, and the whole horrible
tragedy stood suddenly revealed to him. 'My God! he is dead! surely I
must be going mad.'

It would have been a ghastly spectacle at any time, but under the
circumstances it was like the opening up of hell to Wynnum. His eyes
seemed to project from their sockets, as he stood there in speechless
horror staring at the lifeless body. He put his hand up to his forehead,
and felt it cold against his fevered brow.

'It's fate!' he said, 'I am unintentionally a murderer; the mark of Cain
is upon me!' Then he sat down on a low wooden stool which happened to be
near him, and hid his face in both his hands and sobbed aloud.

He had been without food almost all day, the strain upon him had been
tremendous, and this last catastrophe was the climax of his troubles.
Presently he arose awkwardly to his feet, and without looking again at
the corpse, groped his way like a drunken man to the staircase, and
staggered through the shop out into the foggy street.

'Give me a glass of hot brandy and water,' he said to the barman of the
nearest public house.

He drank it off at a draught. 'Now can you give me something to eat?'

That too was furnished, and another glass of brandy.

'Queer young cove there in the bar,' said the man confidently to his
employer, who sat behind in the bar parlour, 'looks as though he had
either done a murder or had a fit.'

Wynnum was young, and the drink and food revived him. 'I dare not leave
it there, to be found to-morrow. I should be hung for murder,' he
whispered hoarsely to himself, 'then too the whole disgraceful affair
about my father would be blazoned by the papers all over London.
Whatever shall I do!'

Two hours afterward, a strange scene was transpiring in one of the large
underground cellars beneath the White's dwelling house. By the light of
a candle Wynnum might have been seen standing in his shirt sleeves. With
the assistance of block and tackle he had lifted a large flagstone
nearly to the roof of the cellar. The stone was intended to be removed
on occasion, for it had a ring securely fastened in its centre. In the
stout oaken beam above, another ring was bolted, and the hooks of the
pullies had been attached by Wynnum to each. The stone was grimy and
seemingly had not been disturbed for many years, and yet the rings
showed that they were intended to be used with a block and tackle for
the purpose of opening up the receptacle, or whatever it might be. The
air which came up from the shaft or well was cold and damp, and a
murmuring sound was heard from it, as though there was flowing water at
no very great distance.

Wrapped in a large crumb cloth, near the opening, lay the body of Isaac
Rex. With a great effort Wynnum had dragged it in this downstairs, and
he now stooped down to remove the sheet from off it, and then pulled and
pushed it until the head and shoulders were above the opening. It was a
subterranean shoot or passage of very old construction which led into
one of the great London sewers. Wynnum gave the body a push, and heard
it slide or fall for some distance after it had disappeared, then there
was a gurgling splashing sound and presently the lapping and flowing
noise was heard as before.

Loosening the rope, Wynnum lowered the flagstone with a trembling hand
back into its place.

'Thank God that's done!' he said.

He carried back the block and tackle to the workshop, and carefully
removed all traces of disturbance in the cellar, and then went up stairs
and washed his hands and face and dressed himself for leaving.

He had the candle lighted, and was just about to turn the gas off at the
meter, when he was startled by the ringing of the door bell.

He went hurriedly to answer it, his heart beating quickly as he did so.
There was a respectably dressed woman standing at the door.

'Is Isaac Rex at work here please?' Wynnum stared at the woman in
speechless fear.

'I am his wife, sir,' she said, as though to explain why she had asked
the previous question.

Wynnum still hesitated to answer; he could not tell the truth, he did
not want to tell a lie.

'He has been here to-day,' he said at last with an effort, 'but has left
the house, and will not be back again, as Mr. White has gone away and
all the hands has been discharged.'

'What time did he leave, sir?'

'Before dinner,' replied Wynnum.

'Did he look as though he had been drinking,' asked the woman,
hesitatingly.

'Yes,' said Wynnum, 'he was drinking both to-day and yesterday.'

'Ah! he'll be in then to-night,' said the woman shuddering, 'he's the
curse and ruin of all his family, sir; it would be a good thing for us
if he was dead. I must go home again then, sir, thank you; good night.'

'It is Nemesis,' said Wynnum five minutes after as he sat trembling in
the cab on his way to Euston Station. 'I shall be confronted with
something connected with this terrible night, every way I turn. I wish I
could have told her that he was dead. But she will perhaps hear of it.
Yet it is possible that she may not, for how many things happen here
that are never heard of; how many haunted men such as I may be in a few
days, hide in this great city and are never found. If I can only get
Trissie to-morrow, we might be lost to everyone perhaps for years,
without leaving London.'

Thus alas! did Wynnum White go out from the home of his childhood,
hoping that he might be lost to all who had previously known him.

Who was to blame? Wynnum, proud, but humiliated and heart-broken would
have said fate; but he was young and somewhat inexperienced. Anyhow he
had gone out, to hide himself from his fears, and troubles, in the
great, strange, pitiless, city of London. But good Heavens, what a
home-leaving it was. To go out like that, with all the safeguards to
honour and character suddenly wrenched away from him, and the guardian
presence of a holy love (the surest safeguards of youthful virtue and
integrity) rudely thrust from off the threshold of his heart. What
wonder if Wynnum White went out on to the streets of London (a waif
tossed to and fro upon the turbulent tide of city's life) to sin. Who
was there to save him, but the Good God who looks pitifully down from
heaven upon us all.

Wynnum's character, it may be said, was sound, and his health good, and
his future in his hands. Yes, but a young man may have all that, and
some experience too, and yet become utterly lost and depraved, in a
great city. The life of youth is like the driving of a strong and
restive four-in-hand; the horses are the impulses and passions; the
driver may know enough to keep them well in hand and out of danger on
the level and unobstructed road; he may know how to urge them up hill
and steady them down; but it is when the unlooked for happens that he is
tested--then he shows how he can drive! And this was the dangerous task
before Wynnum when he went out that night alone upon the crowded
thoroughfares of London life. If fortune favoured him all might yet be
well: but if not?--




CHAPTER XIII.--MIRIAM SAVES THE FAMILY HONOUR.


Marston Hall, and Marston Village and Marston Church, spread themselves
in picturesque disregard of regularity over a characteristic square mile
or so of English scenery. You may find such places in the Midland
Countries by the score. To an outsider they are veritable
sleepy-hollows, charming and pleasant in their quiet surroundings, but
places only to be glanced at, as you hurry along to something larger and
more interesting; and yet to the residents of Marston, the village with
its Hall and Church, was a place of much importance. There were other
Marston's within a distance of fifty miles, about which the lowlier
inhabitants of the village talked as of far-distant foreign places.
There was Marston-in-the-Clay and Brookside Marston; but the Marston we
speak of was Marston, or, when it was absolutely necessary to qualify
it, Marston on-the-Hill.

It was the end of March, and after a notably late winter (for there had
been a heavy snow storm in the middle of the month which had covered
half of England with its whiteness for several days) the spring had
burst suddenly upon the country, and its coaxing whispers had already
persuaded a few early spring flowers that the winter had passed, and the
time of the singing of the birds had come.

Miriam was driving Pop and Pepper in the basket-carriage. She had been
to the railway station, some two miles distant to a neighbouring market
town. A groom with folded arms sat on the little seat behind her. Miriam
was alone in the carriage, and, if the truth must be told, was very much
out of sorts. Earlier in the day she had received Wynnum's letter, and,
shut up in her own room, had had a good cry over it. The drive to the
railway station had been undertaken in the faint hope that he might have
telegraphed the address, on finding out the previous night that they had
brought Trissie with them to Marston.

She had known the previous day of her mistake, for Bob herself, who was
none other than the rector's eldest daughter, had met them at the
railway station with the letter meant for Wynnum in her hand.

'What a mistake you have made, Miriam,' she exclaimed the very first
moment that she had her alone; 'but whatever did you say about him in
your letter to me? He would read every word of it!'

'I hope that he may have done so, Bob; then he would know something of
our plans. My fear is that he hasn't, for I have found him scrupulously
conscientious, and when he saw 'My dearest Bob,' he would not unlikely
turn to the close of the letter and read, 'Ever your affectionate
Miriam,' or something like it, and return the letter, thinking it
private, without reading another word.'

'What fun!' cried Bob; 'he would think that I was your sweetheart. But
you need not trouble about that, dear,' laughed the merry girl as she
saw the reproachful look which came unconsciously to Miriam's face, 'I
am certain he read it. I suppose you opened your heart to me and told me
the colour of his eyes and all the rest of it. I feel quite jealous, but
I suppose I must congratulate you on the prospect of an early
engagement. You know he was really very nice at Bournemouth; but it is a
pity he is so poor.'

'Don't tease, Bob, there's a dear,' said Miriam gently but firmly,
blushing at the same time at the recollection of the five hundred
pounds. 'It was a stupid mistake for me to make, but I think there was
very little in the letter that I should mind his reading. Moreover, as
you have already learnt from my letter to him, we are only friends.'

'Very good friends,' said Emily Robertson, otherwise 'Bob'; 'why, he
ought to adore you; and as for you Miriam, whether you know it or not,
your are head over ears in love with him, or you would never have done
what you have.'

Miriam smiled, as much as to suggest, 'you think that you know a great
deal, but really you don't.' Yet that night Wynnum had been continually
in her thoughts, for she was upset and troubled. He had told her that on
Wednesday night he would be leaving Chester-street, and now she did not
know where to address a letter to him. Although she was greatly vexed
with herself, she thought, 'I shall hear from him to-morrow and then I
can put things straight.'

The morning's post alas! had brought Wynnum's letter, and also one from
their friends at the Elm's, saying that it had been delivered just after
they left. And that Mr. White had called on Thursday night for Trissie,
but on hearing they had gone, went away at once; the letter added that
the servant, who saw him, said he seemed very much disappointed, and
looked very pale.

Wynnum's letter had indeed been a terrible shock to Miriam. Coming on
the top of all her kind and thoughtful efforts for his reputation and
welfare, she felt it keenly? Yet she could not blame him.

'How terribly lonely and disappointed he must have felt,' she thought,
and her heart bled for him. He would surely write about Trissie and send
his address; but this was Friday afternoon, and there was no further
letter or telegram, and she whipped up Pop and Pepper into a smart trot
to relieve her feelings before she neared the village. They went round
by the Post Office, where she stopped and sent the groom in for the Hall
letter bag and then turned the ponies' heads home.

Miriam put Trissie to bed herself that night, and when the child knelt
down and said her prayers, and asked God to bless and take care of her
dear brudder Wynn, she heard a soft 'amen,' above her head, so when
Miriam tucked her up in her soft cot, and kissed her, she said, 'Oo do
love Trissie, Miriam?'

'Yes, dear,' said Miriam,

'And Wynn?'

'Yes, Trissie, he's sad and lonely and wants people to love him and to
help him. Now go to sleep, little one.' And Miriam went back into her
own room and locked the door and read Wynnum's letter through again and
had another cry.

Miriam was closeted for over two hours that night with her aunt, and
Grace and Mary felt themselves to be left quite out in the cold.

'Really,' said Grace to her sister, 'I cannot make out this affair of
Miriam's at all, it's getting quite serious, and I am sure that she has
been crying. I don't believe after all that it's nice to fall in love!'

It may spoil half this story to some romantic readers; but the truth
must be told. Miriam was seven months older than Wynnum, and a few weeks
before had passed her twentieth birthday. Although not yet her own
mistress as far as money matters went, her aunt treated her with
delicate consideration, and felt her, in matters of business, to be
quite a woman. Her mother had died when she was quite young, and, her
father, who was a man of literary tastes, and retiring disposition, left
a great deal of the household arrangements in his young daughter's
hands. She was the only child, and early became her father's pet and
confidante, and when at his death four years before, Miriam went to
Marston Hall to make her home with her Aunt and cousins, she was
uncommonly matured and thoughtful for her years.

Mrs. Broughton had lived almost all her life at Marston Hall; and was a
kind, motherly, good-natured, unassuming woman, with ample means, but
very homely ways. Miriam was her favorite niece, but it must be said she
had been much opposed all through to the arrangements projected by
Miriam in regard to young Wynnum White.

'If you don't love him, Miriam, why do you take such an interest in
him?' she said that evening.

'Aunt, why should not a woman be interested in the career of a talented
young man, without wanting to love him or marry him?'

'I don't think it's natural, child,' replied Mrs. Broughton.

'That's when a woman's sympathies are cramped and her sphere in life
narrowed,' said Miriam. 'A girl must not look at a man in the way of
friendship, without thoughts of marriage. Really, Aunt, I get altogether
put out with things; we are that squeezed by absurd customs and fastened
by proprieties of life and the fear of Mrs. Grundy that I often wish
that I was a man. They can be kind to women, and sympathise with them,
and befriend them, and the world says it is all very nice and good; but,
let a woman befriend a man, and if she is not going to marry him, all
the world holds its hands up horrified, and says she ought to.'

'Now, I am not in love with Wynnum White,' she continued, as her aunt
made no reply, 'and I have no intention of marrying him; but I admire
his talents and conscientiousness and originality, and self-reliance;
and I want you to let me help him.'

'Why, have you not already done that, Miriam?' said Mrs. Broughton, 'you
have lent him five hundred pounds, and in my opinion you might just as
well have given it him; and we have taken dear little Trissie, and what
more can you want to do?'

'Let me put the matter plainly, Aunt, I have made a stupid blunder in
sending the letter I wrote to Mr. White to Emily Robertson. He has left
Chester-street in trouble, and through no fault of his own, his good
reputation is imperilled. I want to go up to London and get Mr. Grant,
our solicitor, to find him, and if he should not be successful in doing
so, I want to arrange for him to pay all those debts I told you about.'

'But why not write to Mr Grant and arrange the matter that way,' said
Mrs. Broughton.

'I fear, Aunt, that in that case there will be delay in writing about
it, and in this matter delay is dangerous.'

'Well, Miriam, dear, I admire your kindness of heart and generous
spirit. It is your own money that you are spending and I am sure that
you mean well, and you shall do as you like; still I cannot help
thinking that you are allowing your sympathies to mislead you. However
it will only take a few days, so you and Mary had better perhaps go up
to London again to-morrow, they will be glad to welcome you at Park
Avenue, and then you can arrange the affair as you wish with Mr. Grant.'

Mary was delighted at the prospect of another trip to London, and the
following night the two girls were once again with their hospitable
friends at Park Avenue.

To go back for a few days it should be said that there was quite a
sensation in Chester-street on the morning following Wynnum's flight,
when it was found out that the shutters were not taken down at C.E.
White's as usual. Someone came up about 10 o'clock from the undertaker's
lower down the street, and rang the bell on the off chance that there
might have been a death in the family, and that a coffin and funeral
would be wanted. Half a dozen of the neighbors watched the undertaker's
man with profound interest until at last he came away muttering to
himself that the whole family must have departed this life for a better
world.

At the appointed hour, as arranged on the previous Monday, Mr.
Fitzgerald, the landlord, called for his rent. He expected to see the
whole front glistening with new paint and gilding, and was astonished to
find the shop closed. He rang the bell three times, then walked over to
the opposite side of the street and surveyed the premises from several
favorable standpoints. This, however, not affording any particular
satisfaction, he crossed over and enquired of the next door neighbors on
each side as to whether any of the Whites had left a message for him. At
last he reluctantly went away looking very red in the face.

Half an hour after he had gone a stoutish man rang and then hammered at
the door. He had a piece of blue paper and came to serve a summons or
something, so after a while not be able to serve it, or gain admission
to the house, he gummed it on the door. Then all neighbors, on one
pretext or another, came across, or from up the street and down, to read
it, until another creditor came along who thought the first man had
taken a mean advantage of the rest, and tore it down. Thus passed the
first day following Wynnum's flight.

The next day, Friday, the landlord effected an entrance, and seeing that
there were sufficient goods and chattels left to meet the rent, took
matters very quietly, and went in and out occasionally, smiling
graciously on the unsecured creditors, who called to make enquiries. On
Saturday, none of the Whites having put in an appearance, he commenced
to make preparations for a sale, and the re-letting of the premises.

The following Monday morning, however, to the astonishment of the whole
of Chester-street, a lawyer's clerk appeared upon the scene, and a
good-sized legal notice was affixed to one of the shatters to the effect
that on satisfactory proof of the correctness of their claims, creditors
in the estate of Mr. C. E. White would receive payment in full, either
on the premises between the hours of nine and five, or at the offices of
Messrs. Grant and Shuttlecock, Solicitor's, Lincoln's Inn Fields. It was
the talk of every tea table in Chester-street that afternoon. Why they
were actually advertising in several of the papers, such a thing was
never heard of before, and two or three people presented their bills for
payment twice over, in the hope that the little incident might be
overlooked. But Messrs. Grant and Shuttlecock's representative was equal
to the occasion for Wynnum had happened to leave in the counting house
some substantial files of receipted bills, and these were carefully
examined by the cashier before making his payments: to the saving of a
number of golden sovereigns belonging to Miss Miriam Lane.




CHAPTER XIV.--BEHIND THE SCENES IN BLEAK-STREET.


Although, for the sake of Wynnum's reputation the debts of the the elder
White had been paid by Miriam in full, things had not gone as
satisfactorily as might have been wished. Mr. Grant had been fairly
non-plussed on calling at the bank, to find that the five hundred pounds
which he had paid into Wynnum's credit had become an absolute fixture.

'We are very sorry sir,' said the bank manager, 'but we cannot possibly
pay over any portion of the money without Mr. White's signature, a
specimen of which we have in the bank's signature book.'

'But, my dear, sir,' said the lawyer, 'the money belongs to my client,
Miss Lane, and Mr. White has no knowledge whatever of its lying in your
bank to his credit. He has suddenly disappeared, and we can find no
trace of him, so that the object my client had in view in opening the
account has been frustrated, and we now wish to use the money for the
purpose intended by Miss Lane, when it was paid into Mr. White's
credit.'

'I have no doubt as to the correctness of your statement, sir,' answered
the banker politely, 'but it does not alter the fact, the money was paid
to the credit of Mr. Wynnum White, whose signature we hold, and he is
the only person who can legally operate upon the account; that is,
unless he furnishes us with other instructions.'

There was no help for it, so Miriam's own bank account was drawn upon to
the extent of nearly four hundred pounds to satisfy the claims of the
elder White's creditors. The five hundred remained intact, and in due
course the premises were handed over to the landlord. The advertisement,
which had been inserted daily in a number of newspapers that 'if W.W.,
late of Chester-street, would communicate with Messrs. Grant &
Shuttlecock, solicitors, of Lincoln's Inn Fields, he would hear of
something to his advantage,' remained unanswered. But weeks passed;
Miriam and Mary had long returned to Marston; No. 161 was let again to
another tenant, and the advertisement, meeting with no response, was
withdrawn.

But where was Wynnum all this time, what was he doing, and why had he
not written to inquire about Trissie?

It may be answered almost in a word. The horror of a great darkness had
fallen upon his soul.

The day following the death of Rex and his flight from Chester-street,
Wynnum had taken a small furnished room on the third floor of a house in
a bye street of Camden Town. He paid a week's rent in advance for the
fusty room which was supposed to possess accommodation for both sleeping
and sitting. No questions were asked him as to his occupation or whence
he came. It was not usual to ask questions so long as a lodger paid his
rent.

He found on getting a bit straight that his stock of money had now
dwindled down to about three pounds.

He kept much in doors for a day or two and overhauled his boxes, and
tried to look the past and the future fair in the face. It was by no
means an agreeable prospect, however. The past was unpleasant to
contemplate. He was consciously a criminal. In his hatred of Rex he had
hastened if not caused his death, and then done away with the body. He
had cheated and deceived his father's landlord and creditors, and he had
lied to Rex's wife.

'The Family Conscience' was in no humor to excuse himself, he felt that
he had acted a part which was inexcusable, although it had been forced
upon him by untoward circumstances; and he tortured himself with
exaggerations of the heinousness of his sin. More than once on that
first Thursday he was on the point of giving himself up to justice as
the self-accused murderer of Rex. Then he thought how could he live with
a white-souled child, like Trissie? She could say her prayers at night
and he must listen. He might be arrested, too--what would become of her
then?

When he found that evening that she had been taken to Marston, he
certainly at first felt it as a blow, for he longed for a word of love
and sympathy, even from a child, but he was relieved in his mind, 'she
would be well cared for,' and he went back to his lonely lodgings, to
bear his burden by himself.

He had a latch key and went in and out without speaking to anyone. His
bed was made in the morning while he partook of breakfast at a
neighboring restaurant, his dinner he frequently made off of bread and
figs, for he had read somewhere that life might be sustained in this
way, and he dreaded the parting with every shilling. He took out pen and
ink and paper one day, and tried to write, but his mind was unhinged and
his natural fluency forsook him. Everything that he commenced, turned
upon something ghastly and horrible. It was as though his brain had
become possessed with visions of the dead, and haunted with the fear of
punishment. He could not possibly have written to Marston. He felt
himself degraded and polluted and unfit for fellowship with upright
people.

No doubt he was suffering the effects of reaction following a severe
mental strain, and his whole view of his past actions was distorted and
exaggerated. He wanted cheerful companionship, but unfortunately he had
none, save his own bitter and self-reproachial thoughts. This lasted for
a number of days--days during which Miriam had more than once wept over
his letter, while he pictured her, when his thoughts could be brought to
think of her at all, as happy with her friends and Trissie, and her
lover.

One night as he had kept scrupulously within the house all day (as he
had an idea that there must be a warrant out for his arrest) he went
stealthily out and purchased an evening paper. Miriam and Trissie must
have prayed for him last night, for the paper contained an account of
the inquest held upon the body of Isaac Rex. How be gloated over it,
with the expectation of meeting with his own name. He drew a long sigh
of relief when he came to the close of the report. The body had been
found in the Thames, had been identified by Rex's wife, and a verdict
had been given to the effect that the deceased had been accidentally
drowned while in a state of intoxication. Wynnum breathed more freely,
and having read it over two or three times decided to go out and take a
walk.

For the first time for days he walked the street without shuddering when
a heavier step than usual trod behind him. For days he had not exchanged
half a dozen words with any one, and the longing for companionship came
upon him with overmastering power. He had dressed himself carefully
before going out. It was nearly eight o'clock and he walked down toward
the Euston Road. As he went he overtook a man who looked like a
mechanic, and for the sake of speaking to some one asked him if he could
direct him to Tottenham Court Road. The man gave him the desired
information, and then told Wynnum that he was very badly off and sorely
in want of something to procure a night's lodging. Wynnum gave the man a
shilling, with a pleasant exterior, but with an aching heart. He walked
on without speaking to any more men--it was too expensive.

He turned down Euston Road in the direction of the Park, when he
overtook and kept for some distance side by side with a young,
fragile-looking girl. He knew instinctively who and what she was--or
thought he did. A week before he would have been ashamed at the idea of
speaking to her. But he was alone, now, and friendless, and the strong
barrier of self-respect, which is a wall of steel against the overtures
of vice, had been rudely broken down. They looked at each other, and he
spoke to her. They walked on together, talking of twenty harmless things
until they reached the end of the road, where they stopped and talked
for a few minutes longer. She was expecting to meet a friend, she said.
He replied that he had only turned out for a stroll and must go back
then, he wished her good-night and left her.

He remembered as he retraced his steps, that he had walked over that
very path, only a fortnight before, with Miriam.

'Alas!' he frowned, 'who in this world is so miserable as I am. Miriam
is another's, and I who but a fortnight ago thought myself a fit
companion for any good man or woman, am on the down grade altogether.
The next day and for a week afterwards he answered advertisements, and
walked the streets seeking employment until he was heart-sick and weary.
He wrote for magazines and papers, but usually looked in vain even for
the courtesy of 'Returned with thanks.' He had but a few shillings left!

Then he got an offer of twenty shillings a week as corresponding clerk
in an office, and took it, but received his dismissal at the end of the
week. Wynnum did not know it, but although his work was neat and
accurate, his employer thought him too much of a gentleman.

'You don't suit me, Mr. White,' was all his employer said, and all that
Wynnum could get him to say, and the latter returned to his lonely
lodgings that night with a heart like lead.

The next day was Sunday, and in the evening after, the street lamps were
lit, Wynnum made a pilgrimage to Chester-street to see how it fared with
the place. He passed by the home stealthily, as though half ashamed. He
feared that he might be recognised, and yet could not resist repassing a
second and third time. The front had been painted and varnished, and
another name was above the door. The house was lit up and there was even
a light in the pictured room, which held the treasure.

The only things of any special value which Wynnum now possessed were the
pawn tickets, and these he had gone through over and over again
wondering to whom he might sell them--if indeed they were saleable at
all. The time of some of them had expired; so he thought on the Monday
that he would go round to the place at which they had been issued and
find out more about them.

Some distance from the pawnbroker's establishment in Bleak-street he
noticed a van backed up against the footpath, with a large door open. He
looked in, and to his surprise saw that it was a warehouse, stored with
all kinds of furniture. A thought striking him he passed in, and meeting
a man said to him, 'Is this Rutherford's?'

'Yes,' replied the man, 'this is the warehouse.'

'Is all this furniture in pawn?'

'Every blessed stick of it, sir,' said the man. 'But you need to fix
your business up with one of them at the office, and then come down
here.'

'Oh, I don't want to pawn anything,' said Wynnum, 'but you have an
enormous quantity of stuff here.'

'Yes,' said the man, 'enough to furnish twenty houses, and pianos enough
to play dance music for half London, and some of it's been here nigh on
a dozen years.'

'What! and interest paid on it all that time, never!' exclaimed Wynnum.

'It's true, though,' said the man. 'Why, there are things here now
belonging to some very decent parties in Chester-street, and there's a
good bit more lent on some of them than they would bring; but they have
had interest paid on 'em that often, they must have eaten their heads
off twice over. I'm hoping that they won't be taken out because the rats
have been at them--I mean at the leather seats, but it was done two
years ago, and the tickets have been renewed four times since then.'

Wynnum groaned. 'Why, it is enough to ruin anyone.'

'Yes, it's bad,' said the man, 'but you would be surprised to know of
the very respectable patronage we get, and the way the interest is kept
up.'

The place was piled to the roof with a most extraordinary collection of
bulky goods, the larger part of which bore out the statement of the
attendant; for the things were thick with dust. The man saw Wynnum
looking at it and said, 'We don't touch the dust you see, it's better to
leave it until the things are shifted, and besides it does not matter,
the things get a genuine second-hand look about them. You can scarcely
believe it now, but we have had to give up lending small sums on this
sort of property as we were being imposed on. They put things in just
for the sake of warehousing them, until they get a genuine second-hand
appearance. You see, after they have been here for a year or so they are
equal to anything from Italy or any other foreign land where they go in
for antique furniture. Bless you, there are some very respectable firms
who send their best goods here to get the proper aged appearance, and
it's wonderful how it increases the value. Only we have to insist that
they shall borrow enough upon them, or it does not pay us.'

'It gets to be quite an infatuation; some of them seem to almost make a
living at it. You know,' he continued, confidentially, 'it's a sort of
fine art, this here business and we try to keep our customers--as the
lawyer said to his son-in-law.'

'How was that?' asked Wynnum.

'Well it was this way, he handed over a law suit with his daughter to a
young attorney on their marriage and said, 'take care of both of them.'
The old lawyer had that lawsuit hanging on for years, but the young one
won the case in six weeks, and came to tell him, quite proud like about
it. But the old man was greatly exasperated and said 'I'm ashamed of
you, sir! you must be a fool sir! I've reared a whole family on that
lawsuit; you've got no sense!''

'Yes, sir, we try to keep good customers, but the man has brought down
his vouchers and I must help to unload the van.'

Wynnum still looked round with a curious and interested eye, when the
man whispered to him, 'If you want to negotiate a private loan, or
dispose of pawn-tickets, sir, there's the place, (giving him a card) to
go to.'

Wynnum felt himself flushing to the eyes like a detected schoolboy who
had played truant, and hurriedly left the place.

He read on the card, 'Nathaniel-Jaykes, 13 St. Simon-street.




CHAPTER XV.--AT THE PRICE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.


Most people in St. Simon-street knew Nathaniel Jaykes in a general way
as a singularly prosperous house decorator; but he was really the enigma
of the street, and had been such at the time of our story for about five
years--that was ever since he bought into the business at the death of
old Stephen Brown. St. Simon-street was one of those characterless
streets common to the West Central postal district of London, and may be
described as a mixture of private residences, professional offices, and
business houses with a few shops. It skirted a very large aristocratic
and semi-aristocratic portico of the metropolis.

Old Brown had done a large and remunerative business; but, by the look
of things, Nathaniel Jaykes was amassing a fortune.

Punctually at half-past nine every morning a stylish gig with a handsome
chestnut mare or dark bay gelding was brought to the front by a smart
groom in livery; and a quarter of an hour afterwards Mr. Jaykes would
saunter out with a cigar between his lips and inspect the animal and
vehicle. The suspicion of a speck of dusk was enough to bring out a
white silk pocket-handkerchief, and woe betide the groom if there was
left on its application the slightest stain. If Mr. Jaykes' character
had been as unsullied as his gig, he would have been a pattern to the
whole neighborhood; but somehow people would talk about him, although
they really knew but little, and they said some very strange things.

Jaykes was a well preserved man of something over forty, and was a dandy
from the parting of his hair to the soles of his French kid boots. With
keen grey eyes, a voice as soft and smooth as velvet, and a gentlemanly
deportment, he lived alone--a bachelor.

The shop, with its suite of offices at the back, differed little from
others in the same way of business, except that everything about the
place was kept scrupulously neat and clean; in fact, all that bright
paint and gilding could do to give the premises a well-to-do air was
done. The rooms over the offices and the side entrance hall were
decorated and furnished with great luxury and taste. A servant with a
boy in buttons, and an elderly housekeeper looked after Mr. Jaykes'
domestic comforts, and they knew him too well to thwart his wishes in
the slightest, or leave the least thing undone likely to attract his
attention.

When he was pleased, or when he wished to engratiate himself, none could
be more gentle and engaging; but when aroused he was a fiery demon,
whose passionate temper carried him beyond all bounds. He rarely stormed
much at his workmen, for out of doors, or when in his customers' houses,
he was always affable and polite; but when he did they had cause to
remember it, and his clerks, except very young ones, were rarely in his
service longer than six months. It was a peculiarity with him to take
some new face quite suddenly into his favor, and raise such an one
almost immediately to a position of fullest trust and confidence, and
then after a time as quickly turn against them, and with seemingly
little or no reason abruptly overwhelm them with the vilest and most
insulting opprobrium, and discharge them on the spot. He was a man, too,
who seemed to delight in mystery, and yet, strange to say, he was a
diligent and careful man of business.

As Isaac Rex had said of him, he ran his house-decorating business
largely as a blind. The old name of Stephen Brown was kept above the
door in Simon-street; while he was elsewhere known as Mr.
Rutherford--for he was the proprietor of no less than three large
pawnbroking establishments run under that name--but in his biggest
business, that of a private money-lender, he was known as Nathaniel
Jaykes. He was a polished scoundrel, whose whole career was both
criminal and remarkable, and would have furnished subject matter for
half-a-dozen sensational novels. Yet the law had not only never thought
of putting its hand upon him, but it rubbed shoulders with him in the
persons of judges and legal and other celebrities in the houses of
people of quality. For, by some means best known to himself, he could
get invitations to balls and receptions, and was hail fellow well met
with club-men and other aristocrats, revolving upon the outer orbits of
fashionable society.

All this was not known to Wynnum, however, until some time afterwards.
To his astonishment, on calling upon Mr. Jaykes a few days after his
first visit to Bleak-street, the latter offered him ten pounds for the
tickets, and paid for them straight away in gold.

'Now what are you going to do with yourself?' said Mr. Jaykes to Wynnum,
after he had told him as much as he cared to, about his father and his
own position.

'I have nothing in view at present,' responded Wynnum.

'Just write your name here, please.'

Wynnum did so, and Mr Jaykes looked at the clear, firm handwriting with
approval.

'I will give you at the rate of one hundred and fifty pounds a year for
a start, if you care to come in with me as a confidential clerk,' said
Mr Jaykes abruptly.

The offer almost took Wynnum's breath away. Besides the ten pounds just
paid to him; he had exactly three halfpence in his pocket; he had the
previous day sold a small gold trinket given to him by his mother, when
ravenously hungry--a trinket of so little actual value that they had
refused to make him an advance upon it at a pawnbroker's. He had been
living on bread and dates and such like food for a week, and was
hungering for a piece of juicy beefsteak; and with the maddest
recklessness he had spent almost the whole of the money realized upon a
dinner. It was a new pleasure, such as a certain titled poet might have
craved for, to eat that dinner.

He remembered it years afterwards when far more sumptuous repasts were
spread before him; but the expectant desire, the monstrous satisfaction
of that juicy meal never came again to him. It was a thing which could
never be repeated. And yet it was only a common chop house in Holborn,
and the whole meal consisted of a rump steak, two mealy potatoes, some
cauliflower and bread. But he was hungry--hungry for meat--a peculiar
sensation of the appetite probably not known to many.

Wynnum closed at once with Nathaniel Jaykes. He did just wonder what his
work would be; but he owed a week's rent, had most of his best clothes
in pawn, and was financially--except for the newly-acquired ten
pounds--shipwrecked, so that he had no alternative. He distrusted
Jaykes, however, from the very first moment that he saw him. The room in
which be found him was uncommonly luxurious to be over a shop and
offices, and there was a nameless something about the place which
suggested to Wynnum that things were not quite on the square; then too,
the eyes and nose and voice of Jaykes seemed familiar to him, and he
puzzled his brains as to where he could have met with him before. But to
be offered what was equal to nearly three pounds per week, was to Wynnum
like being overwhelmed with sudden good fortune, and he took it, only
hoping that he might be able to satisfy his new master, and retain his
position.

It is no wonder that so many people regard poverty as the worst of
evils. It has been made such by the usages of society, and by the
artificial conditions of modern life. What is education or genius or
character to the man with a threadbare coat and an empty pocket. It is
the fashion of preachers and philosophers and novel writers, to talk as
though these things were sufficient of themselves to command respect and
admiration. Wynnum had found out to his cost that with the World (writ
large) these things alone are rags.

It was three months now since he left Chester-street on that ill-starred
night, and they had been three months of bitter disillusion. He had done
everything during that time to enlist the sympathies of supposed friends
except to write to Marston; but once it became known that he was poor he
found himself practically friendless. He found out how true it is that
the best friends of the poor are the poor, and that the poor are
unselfish only by reason of their poverty; As for the middle and upper
classes of modern society, all Wynnum's chivalrous ideas of them had
absolutely vanished. He had thought the whole thing out for himself, and
he had found the thinking of it to be 'very bitter and salt and good.'

'Why even love,' he had exclaimed; 'that which we are taught is the most
unselfish of passions, is itself the very essence of selfishness. It is
merely a passionate desire to possess that which we feel to be the
complement of our own existence. That which we love, we are; and a man
really dies for himself who gives his life for his friend. Disinterested
friendship so loudly prated of, is a thing which never will and never
did exist.'

Wynnum had found tribulation and poverty and misfortune a very
knowledgeable school, and had learnt more during the three months he had
attended it, than in all his previous life. But now he had suddenly
obtained a fairly easy and comfortable, and not badly paid situation;
but he had stepped into it, as the prize of the knowledge of sin.

There was a speaking tube connecting Nathaniel Jaykes' room with the
lower office, and as Wynnum was about to leave, the whistle was
vigorously blown.

'Wait a moment,' said Jaykes to his new clerk.

'Hello!' he called out down the speaking tube.

'Why do you keep me waiting here, you cursed usurer?' called out a rough
voice through the tube.

'Good morning, judge, I shall be pleased to see you; did not know you
were there, I am all alone, come up at once.'

'It's Judge Jones,' said Jaykes, turning to Wynnum. 'I have a little
legal transaction with him, and might want a witness, just step behind
that screen and take a seat, but do not speak, or make a noise, or come
out, unless I call to you. Your salary shall commence from this
morning.'

There was not a moment to think, for the heavy step of the judge was at
the door, and Wynnum simply did as he was told.

Wynnum gathered from the interview that heavy advances had been made by
Jaykes to the judge, and that he wanted more; but that Jaykes would only
do it on terms which Wynnum listened to with amusement. The names of
some fashionable women were mentioned too, in a way which filled Wynnum
with no little surprise.

Jaykes sat writing for several minutes after Judge Jones had departed,
and then called Wynnum.

'You noted that Judge Jones agreed to my terms?' said Jaykes in a cold
business-like voice.

'I could not help but do so,' answered Wynnum.

'Just put your name to that declaration,' said Jaykes.

He seemed quite another man after Wynnum had done this, and became
profusely affable; he made Wynnum drink a glass of wine with him, and
shook hands as he dismissed him, telling him that he might commence his
regular duties at nine the next morning. The boy in buttons let him out,
and stared at him with all his eyes.

Ten minutes afterwards Nathaniel Jaykes was driving through the warm
summer air in the direction of St. John's Wood. The chestnut tossed her
mane and lifted her well bred feet with showy action, as the smart gig
whirled along. The whole thing was a marvellous get up--master, groom,
gig, harness, horse. Solomon was a Jew, if not a money-lender, but in
all his glory he was not arrayed like Nathaniel Jaykes. Hat, gloves,
diamond scarf pin, gold chain, ring, snow white linen--he stepped out of
his gig at Mademoiselle Le Blanc's pretty villa, as though brand new in
every particular. But it was the newness of artificial manufacture, not
the freshness of natural growth Jaykes was like other men we meet with;
no one imagines them as ever having been young or impulsive or
disingenuous; they had the appearance of being very well made, but it
was in a shop, and from their brains to their boots they have a brand
new smell about them. Who is there that does not know such men, and such
women too, and where is it that we have not met them? except among the
very poor.

'It is not often you favor me with an afternoon call,' said the lady of
the villa, as she coolly greeted Jaykes, 'what's the matter?'

'Several things,' he replied; 'Judge Jones is up in arms, and I'm in
luck. But hang Jones, he can wait. I came over to see you about young
Wynnum White.'

'Have you found him out,' asked the lady, showing increased interest.

'Not only have I found him, but I have him, and shall be able to watch
him daily.' Jaykes said this smiling the while and showing a set of
white teeth.

'I have engaged him as a confidential clerk!'

'God help him then,' said Mademoiselle, 'I am sorry for the youngster;
he'll soon be as bad as the rest, under your tuition.'

'Your a regular fool, Louie; what does it matter to you or to me what he
becomes or what becomes of him. If what Rex said was true, he knows
enough to make it worth our while taking some trouble with him. And you
must assist me. I do not believe that he has any suspicion of me at
present, but as soon as I bring him out here, he will see through
things; but that won't matter. It's my opinion that he killed Rex, or
brought about his death in some way, because he thought that he knew too
much. It is of no use doing the saint business with him. We will let him
see and know enough to make him just like ourselves; that's the only way
we shall get hold of his secret, and then, unless you care to take him
to your loving heart Louie, he may perhaps be induced to pitch himself
after Rex into the Thames. It is not easy to deceive me, I know too much
of the ways of sinners, and I am confident that he has a secret, and
that he knows more about the death of Rex than anyone else. Did it ever
occur to you Louie that there is a Freemasonry of guilt.'

'Yes, and when I saw young White before he hadn't any knowledge of it.'

'Ah! you wait until you see him again then,' said Jaykes laconically.

Wynnum was not altogether blind to the danger of the position in which
he was about to place himself. He of course knew nothing of the
connection existing between Jaykes and Mademoiselle Le Blanc or he would
not have so carelessly gone right into the lion's den; but he took the
position offered to him by Jaykes with his eyes open. It was not the
situation he would have chosen.

From the short interview between Jaykes and the Judge, he knew he was
about to be brought into contact with things which his conscience would
not approve of; but he saw in it an open door through which he might
pass out of his abject poverty into the hopeful future. He was
philosophic enough to know that very few people can earn their
livelihood exactly the way they wish, or draw their salaries without
winking at some objectionable thing. He at once obtained more
comfortable lodgings in a private family, with the understanding that
the daughters of the house should take care of Trissie for him during
his absence in business hours. He decided to at once get his sister up
from Marston. He further determined to set himself a task which should
absorb his attention after office duties were over. 'I won't drift to
the devil,' he said to himself, 'for the want of something to do. I will
prepare myself by private study for matriculation at the London
University, and whether I take to the law, or medicine, or literature
afterward, it will be a valuable help to me.' The chief thought in his
mind was to be occupied, for he wanted to forget Miriam. 'I won't
drink,' he said, 'or gamble, or get associated with vicious company. I
am suspicious that in the employment of Mr. Jaykes I shall have
temptations in all these directions, but with Trissie for company, and a
useful and honorable ambition before me, I shall be less likely to go
wrong.'

All this was wise and laudable; many a man has become a drunken and
vicious gamester for lack of suitable and wholesome employment; but
Wynnum would not have been so confident of his power to maintain his
purity of purpose had he knows more about the character and designs of
Nathaniel Jaykes.




CHAPTER XVI.--THE RUGGED PATH OF LOVE.


'Trissie, your brother has written for you to go back to London, shall
you be pleased to go?' was the greeting of Miriam one afternoon a few
days after Wynnum's engagement with Jaykes.

'Yes,' said the child, without hesitation, 'I love 'oo and everybody,
but I love my brudder Wynn the best.'

Miriam sighed, she had become attached to the child, but any love she
may have won from her, she felt to be entirely overshadowed by the love
which Trissie bore for her brother.

A letter had come that morning from Wynnum to Mrs. Broughton, and it had
occasioned a long and anxious conference between Miriam and her aunt. It
was as follows:--

'Dear Madam,--I find it most difficult to commence a letter to you after
my long, and what must have appeared to you, unaccountable and
ungrateful silence. I can only explain that my troubles and
disappointments have been so great and keen that I could not bring
myself to write even to thank you for your wonderful kindness to my
little sister. After some months' struggle with adverse circumstances, I
have at last been able to provide a suitable home for my sister, and
have obtained an appointment which enables me to fulfil my duties to her
as a brother, until I can either take or send her to Australia. An
acquaintance of mine will be passing through Derby next Saturday
morning, who has kindly agreed to take charge of Trissie and bring her
on to London. If I might ask you to add to your many kindnesses, that of
placing her in charge of the guard of the early morning train from your
station, she will be met at Derby on her arrival there, and be brought
in safety to London. I am so much ashamed at my seeming neglect that I
do not know how to thank you for your great kindness. I shall always
feel myself to be indebted to you and your wards, Miss Lane, and Misses
Mary and Grace Thorpe, and I can only hope that when in the future, I
may have won for myself the position of honorable distinction to which I
aspire, I may be able in some measure to repay your kindness to me.'

After long debate between Miriam and her aunt, a promise was extorted
from the latter, that what Miriam had done through her solicitors should
be kept a secret from Wynnum.

'Aunt, dear, the money is nothing, but to let him know through you, what
I have done perhaps foolishly, would be a humiliation greater than I
could bear.'

'But what of the money lying to Mr. White's credit in the bank of which
he knows nothing?'

'Let it lie there,' was the only answer Miriam would give.

So Mrs. Broughton wrote to Wynnum in a kindly but formal way. 'It had
been a pleasure,' she said, 'to have had Trissie with them, they would
miss her very much, for she had become a general favorite, but it was
only right of course, that she would be with her brother, now that he
was settled again. They were all well, and Trissie would be at Derby at
the time stated in his letter.'

Wynnum read this with a beating heart, hoping to find something in it
about Miriam; but there was not a word in it about her, nor a word of
sympathy for him in his trouble.

As may have been surmised he had arranged to go himself to bring back
his sister, but had purposely suppressed any word to that effect in his
letter. He had no wish, under present circumstances to visit Marston.

At the appointed time he awaited impatiently for Trissie at Derby. The
slow market train of the branch line drew into the station at last.
Wynnum looked at the station clock; the local train was ten minutes
late, and the London train was due to start from the main platform in
five minutes.

'Have you a little girl in your charge named Trissie White?' he
hurriedly asked of the guard.

'No, sir,' said the man.

Wynnum was just about to express his annoyance and commence a careful
search for Trissie, when to his amazement Miriam stepped out of a
first-class carriage close by him, and turned to give her hand to his
sister.

For nearly a minute Wynnum watched them unobserved. Miriam was dressed
with simple elegance, appropriate to both the early morning hour and the
occasion. Wynnum seemed to have lost all power over himself, and stood
gazing at them without moving.

Surely it was a very natural thing for Miriam to have brought Trissie to
Derby herself; the distance was not great, and the morning was
beautifully fine; but it had never occurred to Wynnum that such a thing
was probable. Nor had it occurred to Miriam that Wynnum's acquaintance
was none other than himself.

Trissie was dressed most becomingly, and Wynnum saw at a glance that
everything she wore was new and rich material.

Suddenly there was a flutter and a rush, and Trissie was in her
brother's arms, and he and Miriam stood face to face.

'This is a surprise, Mr. White,' said Miriam, as a blush suffused her
face, and with a slight haughty air, she shook hands with him. 'You gave
us no intimation that you were coming for Trissie yourself, or we should
have been pleased to have seen you at Marston. Which train do you go on
to to London by?'

'The next,' said Wynnum, hardly knowing what to say, and feeling very
much abashed.

'Then you will need to be quick to catch it, as it leaves almost
immediately, from the next platform,' said Miriam coldly. 'Good-bye,
Trissie dear, we shall always be pleased to see you at Marston,
remember.'

Wynnum commenced to speak his thanks.

'Please don't thank me, Mr. White, we are all sorry to part with
Trissie, good-bye.' She turned and stepped into the carriage again which
she had just left, and to Wynnum's eyes she appeared cold and beautiful
and disdainful.

'It is because I am poor,' thought Wynnum, as he turned away with his
sister. 'I am nothing to her now.'

He must have been something to Miriam, however, for, having sat down in
the carriage, she very nearly commenced to cry.

Four hours later Trissie and Wynnum were again in London, and that night
while Trissie slept Wynnum wrote two letters to Miriam, and one to Mrs
Broughton, but tore up all three of them.

'He had already expressed his gratitude,' he thought, 'what right had he
to trouble them about his affairs. Then, too, they were wealthy and in a
higher walk of life than himself.' But pride retorted, 'Your blood is as
good as theirs, and you have uncommon ability, it you will only put it
to the test. Wynnum White, make a name for yourself, and secure that
treasure, and you may be the peer of prouder and more beautiful and
distinguished women than Miriam Lane!' There was born in that hour of
bitterness and disappointment, a resolute determination to achieve
distinction, but, alas! there was something lacking, something which
even intensifies and glorifies the highest effort of a gifted man.
Wynnum's heart was strewn with the ruins of a hopeless love, upon which
there shone only the cold moonlight of bygone memories. It is the
sunlight of love and youth, which warm the heart to deeds of highest
ambition and noblest daring.

It is the fashion now-a-days to smile at the mention of a heart ache, as
though it were but a trivial pain; No doubt it is to those whose
sympathies have been dwarfed and stunted and whose hearts are barren of
the nobler gifts of love. But the gifted men and women of the race are
larger-hearted and therefore more keenly susceptible to both pain and
pleasure. It is the forest giant, which spreads its branches wide and
lifts its towering head above its fellows, that feels most the fury of
the storm. Homelier bushes and less pretentious trees may be swayed
inconveniently by its violence, but the storm shakes the tall oak
through a thousand branches and fibres to its very roots. The greater,
the nobler, and the more gifted the man or woman, the more fully are
they qualified for suffering. And as Wynnum tore himself adrift from his
first strong pure and passionate young love, his heart bled, and his
pain was as real and severe as if it were physical. He saw the one
woman, whom his heart went out to in supreme affection, fading out of
his life, and his whole soul rebelled against it. He felt with that
divine intuition which comes to most of us once in a life-time, that she
ought to be his, and he ought to be hers. It was the one only possible
union which could yield to each the highest and purest satisfaction and
happiness. It was the one righteous and supreme love for each other that
had been ordained from the beginning for them, but which, once lost,
could never be regained.

Rather than give up Miriam, Wynnum would have parted with his life. And
yet pride and circumstances caused him to deliberately renounce her. Had
he not seen her letter to her lover! Had he not that very day witnessed
her coldness and disdain! He was humiliated, too, for he had written a
letter which could scarcely be characterised as perfectly truthful--no
wonder that she despised him. But he would cause her yet to respect him.
He would work and he would wait.

Nor was Miriam happy, although she had wealth and position and friends.
The sons of half-a-dozen country squires were ready to throw themselves
at her feet; but they awakened not the warm response in her heart which
Wynnum's voice and presence did. She knew then, when it seemed too late,
that this gentlemanly, thoughtful, white-browed Londoner had won her
heart. She blamed her pride for keeping him in such complete ignorance
for what her love had done for him, but women-like, she blamed Wynnum
too, 'What right had he to tell her his secret--thrust it upon her.' If
he was so proud although so poor, why did he put himself in her way at
all; to cause her to think about him, and feel sorry for him, only to be
treated with coldness and neglect. What right had he to imagine her
engaged, or to take so much for granted, and give her no opportunity for
explanation. He would no doubt yet obtain that treasure, he would
certainly become rich and distinguished, and marry some clever girl of
rank, and probably never trouble himself further about herself or
inquire whether anyone had paid his father's debts, and so kept his good
name from dishonor. She heartily wished that she had never known him.
Then she called back the wish again, and so for days made herself
pleasurably miserable; for that is the only way to describe some of the
first experiences of those who tread the ragged path of love, which
never did, nor will, run smoothly.

But Miriam's pain was not nearly so acute or terrible as Wynnum's. She
knew that he loved her; there was for her a warm sun-ray of hope that
everything might some day come right. But Wynnum saw no gleam of light
upon the dark waters of separation and despair which in his belief
flowed between them. He was no doubt foolish, as many another lover has
been with slighter cause. But she had not written him one word of
explanation in reply to his letter, he thought, and he had seen her face
to face and she had said nothing. He forgot that until the last few days
Miriam had no knowledge of his address. But love is blind in all
directions, or there would be fewer married and aimless lives.

That night, with the torn letters on the table in front of him, Wynnum
fought the whole thing out in his own way and settled it; and having
settled it endeavored to push it resolutely on one side. He had no
trinkets, no letters, no visible links connecting him with his love. If
he had he would have returned or burnt them or possibly have done them
up in brown paper and put them out of reach among the dust--emblematic
of the last state of half of life's thrilling incidents, which, like the
boating waves of the ocean, shape and alter and destroy the varied
landscape of our brief history.'

'Don't tell me anything more about Marston or Miriam,' he said rather
roughly to Trissie the next morning, 'They have been very kind to us,
and I have thanked them, and we are never likely to see them again.'

Conscience said, 'You ought to have written, if only to have told them
of your safe arrival with Trissie in London.' But the pride of offended
love--and no pride is greater--replied, 'No.' And Miriam, who thought,
'He will surely write to tell us of their journey,' looked and waited
for a letter from him in vain.




CHAPTER XVII.--A SWELL MONEY LENDER.


There are men whom it is impossible to briefly characterise except by
the use of slang. Jaykes was one of them. He was something between a
gentleman and a blackleg. He was a 'swell'--a man heaved upon the
surface of society, not by the essential right of superior breeding, and
character, and education, but by fortuitous circumstances--mostly
despicable. Jaykes was no more a gentleman than the wooden painted
imitation is marble; but he looked like a gentleman, and usually spoke
like one, and you had to come into tolerably close contact with him
before you found him out.

For the first month Wynnum was puzzled. Jaykes treated him with
exceptional kindness and consideration, more like a friend than a clerk.
He took him out with him in his gig, listened to his opinions, and told
him that he was so satisfied with his services that he would at once
increase his salary by fifty pounds a year.

Wynnum certainly discharged his duties with the greatest care and
assiduity; but he often wondered how his services could possibly be so
valuable to Nathaniel Jaykes. There had been no repetition of the Judge
Jones affair. All the business transactions during the first month were
fairly honourable and straightforward, and although almost continually
in Jaykes' company, he saw little or nothing to condemn. He had been
placed above all the clerks in the office, and had charge of the keys of
the safe in which the cash was locked up at night. The ledger keeper and
two junior clerks evidently regarded him with suspicion and envy, and he
was too proud and too cautious to make any inquiries of them about
Jaykes. Toward the close of the first month, however, he had a surprise,
and made an unpleasant discovery.

They had been driving around to a number of mansions one day where work
was progressing or other business required the attention of Mr Jaykes,
when, to Wynnum's annoyance, he drove into Chester-street and stopped in
front of the old residence of the White's. It was occupied, as Wynnum
had known previously, by another firm in a similar way of trade to his
father. Jaykes went in without acquainting Wynnum in any way with the
nature of his business. As he stepped in, however, much to Wynnum's
humiliation and chagrin, Mr. Fitzgerald stepped out. Wynnum naturally
anticipated that the landlord would upbraid him for his losses, but
instead, to Wynnum's intense surprise, Fitzgerald stepped up to the gig
and held out his hand with great cordiality.

'Good morning, Mr. White,' he said with a broader brogue than usual. 'I
am extremely pleased to see you looking so well and prosperous. You see
I have let the place again, although I cannot say (between ourselves
that is) that my present tenant is as pleasant and agreeable a man as
was your father. I suppose you have not had time to hear yet from your
people in Australia. Good look to them; I hope they will pick up a
fortune, for your father was always well thought of by myself. But I
must be going. Good morning, Mr. White.'

Wynnum could hardly believed his ears; but his astonishment was
increased when Mr. Black, the head of the firm of undertakers lower down
the street, who happened to be passing, stopped and inquired
respectfully about his own health and that of his family, 'I hear, Mr.
White,' he said, looking with admiration at the handsome mare and
stylish gig, 'that your people have come in for a fortune. I
congratulate you!'

A few minutes afterwards Wynnum was rejoined by Jaykes.

'I've a bit of money lying idle,' he said as they drove off, 'and I am
half inclined to buy that old place of your father's. I am acquainted
with the present tenants, and they tell me that it may be bought from
Fitzgerald for a couple of thousand pounds. What is your opinion of it
as an investment?' Jaykes turned sharply round as he said this and
looked Wynnum straight in the face. It was flushed with evident surprise
and confusion, and so thoroughly was Wynnum thrown off his guard, that
he made some incoherent reply.

Jaykes was perfectly satisfied. 'It is there right enough,' he thought
to himself as he looked at Wynnum and marked his confusion. 'Yes, I
think I will buy the place,' he repeated, 'and pull down the present
buildings, and put up a substantial modern structure.' He looked at
Wynnum again, but the latter was on his guard now, and made some
commonplace reply, expressive of approval.

Jaykes seemed to think that there was nothing to be gained by
concealment and drove round to Rutherford's in Bleak-street.

'I don't know, White, whether you are aware that I own these businesses
that are run under the name of Rutherford,' he said. 'They give me very
little trouble, for I have excellent and thoroughly trustworthy
managers. I shall not be many minutes; you may as well pull down a few
doors while waiting; you no doubt have so many friends around here,' he
said sarcastically, 'that you may not care to wait before a
pawnbroker's; but it's a business which makes very good money.'

As Wynnum sat waiting in the gig he had plenty to think about; as Jaykes
very well knew he would, and intended.

He cleverly tricked Wynnum into what was practically a confession that
there was something associated with No. 161 which he wished to conceal.
Having gained this point, and he regarded it as a very important one,
Jaykes determined on adopting a new line of tactics.

'What do you do with yourself in the evenings?' he asked with some show
of interest as they drove back to St. Simon-street.

'Lately I have been reading French and doing mathematics,' replied
Wynnum.

'I thought as much,' said Jaykes, 'you want more company and generous
living. You ought to drink a glass or two of wine at dinner. It would
put some color into your face.' He offered Wynnum a card of entree to a
conversazione at a fashionable assembly that night, but it was
respectfully yet firmly refused.

'Well,' he said laughingly, 'I will let you off to-night, but you are
too clever and good-looking, White, to shut yourself up in the way you
are doing now. Besides,' he said, looking meaningly at Wynnum, 'if you
dressed really tip-top, as I do, and went out more, you might in many
ways be of great service to the business, and I could give you three
times your present salary. Turn it over in your mind.'

Wynnum generally spent an hour with Trissie after dinner at night, for
that young lady by no means retired as early as she should have done.
But that evening when she had gone to bed and Wynnum drew up his chair
to the table, at which there waited for him his books, he read no French
and did no mathematics.

He saw through Jaykes now; slightly disguised, he had been none other
than Stephen Burton, of Lambeth, the confederate of Isaac Rex, and the
proprietor of Mademoiselle La Blanc. He was trapped again, and he did
not exactly see his way out. He felt thoroughly heartsick about the
treasure. To get it Jaykes would certainly buy the house. His first
resolve was to immediately throw up the situation; but then he thought
of Trissie, and remembered his previous poverty. He was now drawing at
the rate of 200 a year, and could not afford to give it up; and he
could see too, that he was every week making himself himself more
valuable to Jaykes, although he knew that his first engagement had been
solely for the sake of Jaykes' obtaining the opportunity of worming from
him his secret.

But it was now a fair square stand up fight, as far as he and Jaykes
were concerned over this treasure.

'Let me see how the position looks in black and white,' said Wynnum to
himself, taking up a pen and drawing some sheets of paper in front of
him, 'there is nothing like reducing a thing to writing.'

1st. Rex on that Sunday saw the large picture, and saw and unlocked the
treasure chest.

2nd. The same evening he must have seen Jaykes, and in order to obtain
his help in getting and disposing of the jewels, told him a part, or the
whole, of what he knew, and agreed with him as to the sharing of the
jewels and gold.

3rd. In that arrangement, W.W., who had discovered the treasure, was
entirely passed over.

4th. Jaykes, slightly disguised, accompanied Rex next morning in the
role of Stephen Burton, their intention evidently being to secure the
treasure, by fair means or foul.

5th. This design having been frustrated by my watchfulness, aided
unconsciously by Trissie, Jaykes sent Louie Le Blanc to entice me to St.
John's Wood, while they searched for and secured the chest.

(a). I judge from this that Jaykes and Louie Le Blanc must be very
intimate.

(b). Mademoiselle spoke to me of men who were rich, unscrupulous, and
desperate; referring, no doubt, to Jaykes.

(c). By these references to Jaykes I should judge that she cannot have
any real regard or love for him.

(d). To some extent she actually betrayed his confidence by telling me
what was probably transpiring at Chester-street.

6th. The house was searched that night by Rex, Jaykes, and probably
another, but the treasure was not discovered.

(a). This was proved by the confession of Rex, when he called upon me to
divide.

(b). They must both have seen the large picture.

(c). Jaykes knows now in which room to make the most diligent search.

7th. Rex died without any likelihood of his having imparted his
knowledge of the secret to anyone further.

8th. The only thing of which Jaykes can have any personal knowledge is
the existence of the picture.

(a). Because he to-day evidently planned to surprise me into some
acknowledgement as to my interest in the house.

(b). If he possessed sufficient knowledge as to the facts, why trouble
himself about me at all?

9th. Jaykes having scored a point to-day, proves by his changed manner
that he believes in the existence of the treasure described to him by
Rex.

10th. He will spare neither time, thought, nor money to secure it, and
he will unless prevented, certainly succeed.

(a). My position and salary are for the present secure, for he will not
want to lose sight of me.

(b). Now that he has thrown off all disguise, Louie Le Blanc will
probably appear upon the scene again.

(c). I may expect to be bribed, threatened, and cajoled, before he goes
to any expense in searching the house.

11th. Knowing as much as he did of Rex, he may suspect that I know the
particulars of his death.

(a). He will attempt to use this to intimidate me.

(b). He will not however take any step likely to bring himself in
contact with the law courts.

12th. He will not purchase the property if he can in any way secure the
treasure without.

(a). Because he knows its existence to be a secret from the landlord.

(b). He regards house property with disfavor, as he has occasionally
lost by it, and thinks it too expensive to keep in order.

(c). There is no proof that the property is in the market.

13th. He is unlikely to take any definite step until he is possessed of
more full and reliable information, which he will first of all endeavor
to obtain somehow from me.

Wynnum after writing out his statement, studied it carefully, making
further notes, and decided that he would immediately find out what he
could about the present occupants of 161 Chester-street. He decided too,
not to quarrel with Jaykes if possible, and not to give him any more
information. It had now come to be a game of skill, between two
sharp-witted men, one had money, the other knowledge, and the stake was
a fortune.

The more Wynnum thought over the position of things, however, the less
confident did he feel. Jaykes already held an important clue in the
knowledge of the position of the large oil painting, and knowing what
Wynnum did, it seemed to him a most simple thing for Jaykes to search
that room, and place his hand upon the treasure chest. But it is easy to
be wise after the event, and the whole matter naturally presented a far
more vague and unreal aspect to Jaykes than it did to Wynnum. His
thoughts really turned to the cellars of the house as the most probable
hiding place of the jewels, and he determined before taking any further
step to have the whole thing out with Wynnum.

'Stop and have dinner with me to-night, White,' he said the next
afternoon, 'I want to have a talk with you.'

It was impossible for Wynnum to refuse, so, at seven o'clock, he found
himself sitting opposite to Jaykes over a thoroughly recherche bachelor
repast. The girl and Buttons waited at the table, and Wynnum thought,
'If he lives like this every day and drinks as much wine, its easy to
see the cause of his brilliant complexion.'

After the last course was cleared off, port and sherry were placed upon
the table and the servants retired.

The night was warm, so Jaykes opened one of the windows wide, and they
both commenced to smoke.

'Now don't spare the wine, White,' said Jaykes, 'a glass or two will do
you do harm, and it helps one talk; makes you feel sociable, you know.'

'Wine is a thing that I never cared much for,' said Wynnum.

'Ah! you're young yet,' laughed Jaykes, 'but fill up and drink my
favorite toast, for I want to talk to you to-night, here's to old wine,
young women and gold! they are the only things worth living for!'

Wynnum drank the toast, and guessing what was coming, waited for Jaykes
to commence.

'I have been thinking over what I said to to you about buying that old
place you once lived in in Chester-street.'

Wynnum bowed his head and toyed with his wineglass. He was collecting
his wits for the coming combat. Jaykes blew a big cloud of smoke, and
watched its curling wreaths make their way nearly to the ceiling before
he spoke again.

'Do you know that Isaac Rex called upon me a few days before he died,'
he said.

'No, but I am not surprised to hear it,' replied Wynnum.

'Why?' asked Jaykes sharply, thinking that he had trapped Wynnum into an
admission.

'Because he tried to steal some pawn tickets from me, and in other ways
proved himself to be a thorough scoundrel.'

'And you think that he might have come to me with the intention of
finding out whether he could dispose of them,' said Jaykes, not by any
means pleased with Wynnum's answer.

'Yes,' replied Wynnum.

'Don't you think there was something very queer about his death?' asked
Jaykes after a pause.

'No,' said Wynnum coolly, 'he was a confirmed drunkard, and lived near
the Thames. It was proved at the inquest that he had been drinking.'

'But was he not with you in Chester-street on the very day he died?'
asked Jaykes.

'He was there part of the day on Wednesday,' replied Wynnum, 'but it was
not proved when he died.'

'But when was the last day you saw him?' asked Wynnum suddenly after a
pause.

'On Tuesday,' said Jaykes, with a slight frown, which Wynnum noticed,
although it was not intended that he should. 'But why do you ask me
that?'

'Simply because I was curious about the man. He worked for my father for
nearly fourteen years. He was a mysterious fellow though, and I never
liked him. I believe him to have been a thoroughly two-faced scoundrel.'

'That's very likely,' replied Jaykes, 'and I am at a loss to know why he
came to me; but he told me a queer thing about that house of your
father's, and it's a thing I think you ought to know--if you don't know
it already!' he added with emphasis.

'You make me feel quite curious,' said Wynnum, blowing out a fair sized
cloud of smoke, to hide his face. Jaykes watched him closely, and then
said with his eyes fixed straight upon Wynnum: 'He told me that you had
found a hidden treasure in that house.'

'And did you believe him?' asked Wynnum.

'Yes,' said Jaykes with decision.

'Well, you surprise me,' said Wynnum carelessly, 'do you think that I
should come here and sell you those tickets for ten pounds, and then
take my present position for a couple of hundred a year, if I had found
a secret treasure?'

'Well, I confess,' said Jaykes, 'that's the very thing that has puzzled
me; but he told me that there was a very fine painting in oils in one of
the rooms behind the wall paper.'

'Did you believe him?' asked Wynnum.

'Yes,' said Jaykes, 'I have cause to believe him, I saw the picture
myself.'

'Indeed,' said Wynnum, 'when was that?'

'Oh, it does not matter when I saw it, White; you know a sight more than
you pretend,' he said with an oath, 'and unless you tell me, and we can
come to some arrangement about the matter, I shall buy the place and
have it thoroughly searched, even if I have to pull it all down and
excavate the foundations.'

Jaykes waited a few minutes anxiously for Wynnum's answer, but when it
came it was altogether different to what he had expected.

'I certainly know something, Mr. Jaykes,' said Wynnum slowly, 'but it is
both less and more than you imagine, and I prefer to think the matter
over, say for a fortnight, before I make any statement at all in
reference to the matter.'

'I shall agree to nothing of the sort,' said Jaykes, keeping his temper
with difficulty, 'some fool may go and stumble upon it, probably in the
way you did. We will settle the affair to-night,' he said, pouring
himself out another glass of wine.

'You will have to settle it yourself then,' said Wynnum, 'there is
another person to be considered besides ourselves, and I shall do
nothing without careful consideration.'

'What person is that?' asked Jaykes impatiently.

'The lawful owner of the treasure, whatever it is,' replied Wynnum.

'Bosh,' said Jaykes, 'if no one knows of it, the finder is the lawful
owner; but do you mean to intimate that you have not seen it?'

'Certainly,' replied Wynnum.

'But Rex saw it?'

'So I believe,' answered Wynnum dryly, 'and it cost him his life.'

'You mean that you killed him,' said Jaykes trying to look through
Wynnum.

'No,' replied Wynnum, 'nothing of the sort, there was no mark of
violence on his body; but I happen to know that the treasure, whatever
it is, is poisoned, and that's what killed him. My advice, Mr. Jaykes,
is that it be left alone.'

Jaykes looked at Wynnum in astonishment at this.

'Is that the reason you would not touch it?' he asked.

'No, it is not,' said Wynnum, 'but it is a reason why the whole matter
had better be handled very cautiously. We have only Rex's word for it as
to the existence of jewels and as far as his experience went, the game
is not worth the candle.'

'I don't believe you, White,' said Jaykes, 'you're trying to bluff me,
but I'm not a fool. If he was poisoned, how did his body get into the
Thames?'

It was Wynnum's turn to feel uncomfortable. It was an extremely awkward
question.

'How his body got into the Thames is no affair of mine, all I know is
that the treasure is purposely infected with the germs of the fatal
disease known as the Plague of London. Rex told you he handled the
treasure, you say; I have good reason to believe is poisoned, as I have
already told you; and the proof of it is that Rex handled it and died. I
think Mr. Jaykes you had better agree to my proposal and let the whole
thing stand over for a fortnight that I may have time to think it out.'

'You mean while you have time to secure it for yourself.'

'Not necessarily,' replied Wynnum.

'I shall buy the property to-morrow,' said Jaykes hotly.

'I don't think you will,' said Wynnum.

'Who is to stop me.'

'I shall,' replied Wynnum, quietly.

'How?' interrogated Jaykes, with a sneer.

'By telling all I know to the landlord,' said Wynnum, coolly.

'By George, you're a smart fellow, White!' ejaculated Jaykes,
derisively; but he felt that Wynnum had made a point.

The two men sat looking at each other for several minutes in silence
after this. Jaykes thought if I could only secure him somewhere for a
few days. Wynnum read his thoughts, and felt somewhat uncomfortable,
although he laughed at the idea of violence, for he knew that Jaykes was
a coward, and if it came to a struggle he felt that he was a match for
him.

'Well, White, I agree to it,' said Jaykes at last, 'we will let it rest
for a fortnight, but don't you play me false or you will regret it.'

'Pardon me,' said Wynnum, 'there is no playing false about it. The
treasure at present belongs to neither one of us. It has, I believe,
been willed by the original owner to some survivor. But at present I am
not prepared to say anything, nor give any further information as to its
place of hiding.'

'White you're a fool,' said Jaykes hotley, 'you may lose it all, half a
loaf is better than no bread, why don't you tell me what you know, and
let us divide?'

'I have already been asked to do that by Rex,' said Wynnum, dryly.

It was late as Wynnum walked home to his lodgings; but Jaykes sat on and
smoked another cigar and drank several more glasses of wine before he
went to bed. They both felt that as far as that night went, it was a
drawn game. If anything, Wynnum, had the advantage, for Jaykes dreaded
fever or infection, every bit as much as he loved his wine, his women,
and his gold.




CHAPTER XVIII.--JACK FERRARS.


Possibly some readers may have wondered how it was that Wynnum had no
friend about his own age to take into his confidence. Most young men
have an intimate of their sex--a chum who is their second self until a
more enthralling love weakens the bond. David and Jonathan have had
their counterparts in all classes and climes.

The truth was that at the time of our story Wynnum's intimate friend and
companion, who was a medical student named Jack Ferrars, had been making
a temporary sojourn on the continent for the purpose of studying a
special branch of his profession. He had however, returned again to
London; but Wynnum had only a few days before forwarded to the postal
authorities his new address. The result of this was that on returning
from the dinner with Jaykes he found a number of letters that had been
sent to Chester-street awaiting him, two of which were from his friend.

Wynnum opened and read them with pleasure. To know that Jack was again
in London was the very best of news to Wynnum, for his friend was a
nephew of the Dalton's, of Park avenue, and a cousin of the Thorpe's and
of Miriam Lane. It was through his friend that Wynnum had been first
introduced to Miriam, and Jack's return somehow caused a ray of hope to
once more brighten the sombre outlook of his like.

Late as it was, he sat down at once to answer Jack's letters and make an
appointment to meet him the following evening. Among other letters was
one addressed to his father from a small creditor, who wrote to say
that, having heard that Mr. White's creditors had been paid in full, he
would be glad to receive a cheque for his account. He regretted not
having noticed the advertisement earlier, which called for the rendering
of all accounts by a certain date, and hoped the oversight would not
interfere with the settlement of his bill.

Following upon his recent strange experiences in Chester-street, this
letter thoroughly perplexed Wynnum.

That his father's creditors should have been notified by advertisement
to render their accounts, and have received payment in full, was simply
astounding.

He determined to go straight to Chester-street on the following morning
to make inquiries and lay awake half the night racking his brain to
discover how it could come about, or who could have done it.

He was pleased to know that the debts were paid, and yet somehow he felt
uncomfortable about it. The idea laid hold of him that someone had found
and appropriated the treasure, and paid his father's debts as a sort of
salve for their conscience in having robbed him of the benefit of his
discovery. His thoughts at once turned to Miriam, but he scouted the
idea that she could in any way have played him false. It never occurred
to him that she, out of her own money, would have paid those debts. She
had shown herself, he thought, disdainful of him; yet conscience told
him that he had not treated her as well as he might have done. How kind
she had been to Trissie; and there might even be some explanation of
that letter--he would tell Jack about it, however.

He was early at Chester-street the next morning, and soon found, without
laying bare his own ignorance, that the debts had been paid through a
firm of solicitors. With this information in his possession, he had a
very different feeling as to his relation to the street, and walked
quietly along the familiar sidepath, nodding occasionally to old
acquaintances as he thought matters over and tried to get a better grasp
of the situation.

'Somehow I don't want to push my inquiries any farther at present,' he
said to himself; 'if I discover who has done it I shall feel under the
obligation to repay them, and I cannot do that now. Possibly, by
ascertaining the name of the solicitors, I shall only find out something
about the matter calculated to annoy me.'

It never occurred to him that the debts had been paid as a disinterested
act of friendship. Jack Ferrars was about the only male friend he had.
He had a few relatives, but none whose friendship he had sought or
prized. Whoever had done it, had, he felt sure, been actuated by a
selfish motive, and he preferred for the time to remain in ignorance.
The knowledge, however, that Chester-street could cast no slur upon his
name greatly elated him, and he turned confidently into his father's old
shop and asked to see the proprietor.

Wynnum had a pleasant interview with Mr. Pillow, the new occupant, who
expressed himself as being very pleased to see him. The outcome of this
interview was a proposal on the part of Wynnum that in consideration of
his supplying the names and addresses of his father's customers, he
should have certain commissions on any business resulting therefrom. He
was very anxious to know what the relations of Jaykes might be with the
new occupant, and Mr. Pillow readily told him that he had no personal
acquaintance with the money-lender. His salesmen must have seen him when
he called. Wynnum, at the invitation of Mr. Pillow, looked over the
premises to note the new arrangements for carrying on the business, and
found to his relief that the apartment containing the pictures had been
turned, with others, into a show-room, and was stored with
partly-manufactured goods. As far as Wynnum could see, both the
paintings and treasure were undisturbed.

When be reached St. Simon-street at about 9 o'clock that morning, Jaykes
was leisurely finishing his breakfast, with a pile of letters at the
side of his plate. And, on his coming downstairs, there was absolutely
nothing in his manner to indicate that anything unpleasant had
transpired between them the previous night. He talked business as
smoothly as usual, and went out in the gig about the customary hour.
Wynnum felt all the elated gratification of an early riser who had got
the start of the world generally--he felt that he had the start of
Jaykes at any rate.

No sooner was he out of the way than Wynnum sat down and wrote a private
letter to Mr. Fitzgerald, saying that an acquaintance of his was on the
lookout for some property in Chester-street, and might make him an offer
for No. 161; but he (Wynnum) would like in such a case to tell him
something, and would be obliged if Mr. Fitzgerald would drop him a line
to his private address at Upper Portland-street before closing with any
such offer, as the information he could give might prove much to Mr.
Fitzgerald's advantage.

The following day the landlord wrote him pleasantly but briefly, and
promised to do as requested; but said that unless some very advantageous
offer was made he had no intention whatever of selling the property.

Before the week was out Wynnum learnt from Mr. Pillow that Jaykes had
called round and made a further offer to rent a portion of the house,
but that he had refused, mainly on account of the inconvenience of
access. The offer had been a very liberal one.

Wynnum was very much disturbed at this, although not surprised. Jaykes
had not referred to the matter during the whole week, and Wynnum
regarded his very quietness as suspicious.

'He is plotting something,' thought Wynnum.

During this fortnight Jaykes seemed to take pleasure in giving Wynnum
glimpses of the seamy side of life, and by his talk it might have been
imagined that such things as virtue, and honesty and goodness had no
existence, and that those who believed in them were but fools for their
pains. It set Wynnum thinking as others under similar circumstances have
thought.

'Here now,' said Wynnum to Jack Ferrars, to whom he had imparted a
general knowledge of the situation, 'is a man who expects those in his
employment to act and speak dishonestly for him to others, but who would
at once hand over to the police any one who acted in the same way
towards himself. Can it be wondered that those who are expected to cheat
for, and lie for, and practically steal for an employer, should end by
doing to him as they have been taught to do for him?'

Some such thoughts as this must occasionally have crossed the mind of
Jaykes, for one day about this time an official called to serve him with
a subpoena.

'Tell the devil that I am on the continent and that I won't be back for
a month,' he said.

The old ledger keeper and a junior clerk nearly tumbled over each other
in their eagerness to tell this lie, to save their employer from
inconvenience. But somehow Jaykes picked a quarrel with both of them
soon after, and within a week the junior clerk was discharged.

Jaykes was at St. John's Wood about the end of the fortnight, and told
Louie Le Blanc how he was utterly foiled by Wynnum's caution and
secrecy.

'Why don't you take him in hand, Louie?'

'I will on one condition,' she replied.

'What is that?'

'That you leave him entirely to me, for say a month, and that if I can
get him to tell his secret, and we secure the spoil, you will be content
with one third.'

'No I won't,' said Jaykes, 'I can get the whole of it, and I don't mean
to divide with anyone.'

'Then you will have to do your own dirty work yourself.'

But fate decided otherwise, for the following morning Jaykes was ill.

Wynnum saw by the very appearance of things of St. Simon Street that
some thing was wrong. He was earlier than usual, and nothing seemed to
be properly in hand. The ledger keeper and the two junior clerks were
standing talking together, and two or three outside workmen were waiting
about for instructions, before proceeding to their work.

'Good morning,' said Wynnum cheerfully, has not Mr. Jaykes been down
yet?'

'He's ill,' said Brown, the ledger keeper; the doctor has been and has
but just gone. The boy says he has had a very bad night; kept them all
up, but would not let any one go for the doctor until early this
morning.'

'It's the first time anyone here has known him to be ill,' continued the
man, 'and he has been most violent, half out of his mind. He threw a
scalding hot poultice right into the housekeeper's face, and said he'd
be----if he would have any infernal torments of that sort applied to
him. And Mrs. Bruce is scalded all over the face, and she told him that
it would serve him right if he was----. The boy Scott is up with him
now, for the girl won't go near him, and the boy is afraid of his life;
for he went in to see if he was asleep, and Jaykes shied a boot jack at
him, and told him to go to the devil.'

'I will go up to him,' said Wynnum. He met the servant in the hall and
asked if the doctor had left any message; but all Wynnum could get out
of her was that there was a prescription upstairs, and she would be glad
to have her wages and leave at once, Mr. Jaykes was mad.

'Now Sarah, don't be a foolish girl,' said Wynnum, 'You will have to
stay at any rate until we can get someone else to take your place. When
people are ill their temper must be borne with.'

'But you haven't heard about poor Mrs. Bruce; she'll be disfigured for
life, and he's thrown the boot jack at Scott, and I'm that afraid I
won't go near him.'

'Very well, you look after Mrs. Bruce and see that the house is kept
straight and quiet, and I will see what is best to be done with Mr.
Jaykes,' said Wynnum.

The money-lender's sleeping apartment was on the second floor, and was
arranged with a large dressing-room on the other. There were doors of
entrance from each, and also doors on to the landing. Wynnum heard
Jaykes groaning within, and entered by way of the dressing room, where
the boy Scott stood fairly shaking in his shoes.

'How confoundedly late you are White, I thought you were never coming,
these wretches have nearly killed me with their infernal fomentations,
I've got the very pains of perdition in my inside, and that old hag has
been scalding me on the outside, as though I was not bad enough within.
Oh!' he shrieked as another spasm seized him, 'curse you, don't stand
fooling there, send for her.'

He pointed with his finger to a card upon the table near the bed and
rolled over writhing in pain.

Wynnum glanced at it and gave it to the boy, 'Tell Shaw from me to take
a cab, and go to that address, and say Mr. Jaykes is dangerously ill and
wants immediate attention, Tell William's also, to go round to Dr.
Shorter's and ask him to step in again at once.'

Jaykes lay quiet from exhaustion, the spasm had spent its force, and he
only shook his head when Wynnum asked him if he could do anything for
him. However, he bathed his forehead with eau de cologne, and in other
ways tried to soothe and quiet the man. The doctor then came in, and
shortly after Louie Le Blanc, and Wynnum withdrew to look after the
business with an uncomfortable mind. Jaykes had sworn at him, and told
him to see that the devils did not rob him too much, until he was
better.

'How long will he be ill?' said Wynnum to the doctor.

'I am afraid for some time,' replied the medical man, 'we shall know
better to-morrow.'

On the morrow it became evident that Jaykes was smitten with some
malignant fever. He was terribly ill.

Mademoiselle Le Blanc had taken complete charge of the house, having
brought a servant of her own with her. She engaged another housekeeper,
as Mrs. Bruce insisted upon leaving.

Wynnum could not help noticing how completely she had made herself
mistress of the house, although he had not as yet spoken to her. He was
carrying on the business to the best of his ability, and as several
fairly large contracts were in hand, he found himself more than fully
occupied. Jaykes, he learnt from messages sent to him by Mademoiselle,
was perfectly prostrate, and desired him to do the best he could.

This state of things lasted for a fortnight, during the latter part of
which the life of Jaykes hung trembling in the balance.

One morning about this time Louie sent for Wynnum to go up stairs to
her. He found her waiting for him in the large first floor sitting room.
She stood on the hearth rug as he entered, attired in a close-fitting
print dress, which set forth her handsome figure to advantage.

'Ah! Mr. White,' she said, 'you see I have been compelled to give in. I
wanted to do without you, but you see I have had to send for you after
all.'

It was about some business matters of Jaykes's she wanted to see him,
and the result of their conversation was that Wynnum paid a visit to the
bank and found increased trust and responsibility laid upon him.

After this it became a daily thing for Wynnum and Louie to talk matters
over, both in regard to the sick man and the business. He was amazed to
find out how conversant she was with the details of the business, and he
noted with interest that her processes had caused the house to assume an
order and neatness, which, with all its luxury, had been absent before.

'She is different to a housekeeper,' thought Wynnum. 'What a pity it is
that she is not his wife.'

He was unconsciously becoming reconciled to many things he had regarded
before with indifference or loathing. This attractive woman, for
instance, who had duped him, and lied to him, and who was the mistress
of a man he held in contempt, had come to be a not unpleasant element in
his life. He found her possessed of shrewd common sense, and by no means
devoid of sympathy. She had nursed Jaykes and mastered him, and soothed
and managed him, as only a wife or sister could have done. And it had
all been done as a matter of course and without ostentation. 'Surely,'
thought Wynnum, 'she cannot be so very bad.'

Jaykes's recovery was tedious, and another fortnight passed, but except
for an occasional visit to St. John's Wood, Louie watched over him with
untiring attention.

'Mr. White,' she said one evening when Wynnum had inquired how Jaykes
was progressing, 'my brother says that he would like to see you in the
morning, and Dr. Shorter thinks that if he is not over-excited you may
see him without any harm.'

Wynnum started, and looked at her in astonishment.

'Pardon me, Mademoiselle,' he exclaimed, as he noticed that she was
watching him closely, with an amused, and half contemptuous smile about
the corners of her mouth, 'I did not quite catch what you said?'

'I said that my brother, my half-brother, Mr. White, would like to see
you in the morning; did you not know that Mr. Jaykes was my brother? I
suppose you thought that--Ah well, never mind,' she said stopping
herself.

'I beg your pardon,' was all that Wynnum could stammer out abruptly as
she left the room. But he only half believed her. She had deceived him
before, and why not again! Whatever she was, he knew her to be an
intimate friend of Nathaniel Jaykes, at whose behest she had already
used her beauty and talents to decoy and defraud him, and to enable
Jaykes to gain his purpose in regard to the Jewels, she was, no doubt,
prepared to do so again.

It should be said that notwithstanding their recent daily intercourse,
there had not been the slightest approach to familiarity between
them--they had not even shaken hands, and Wynnum had distrusted her, as
was natural since that night at St. John's Wood; and at St.
Simon-street, she had seemingly only spoken to him as though under some
obligation to do so, through her relationship to Jaykes. Wynnum
determined now, however, to be more than ever upon his guard with her.

He knew perfectly well that Jaykes was determined if possible to secure
the treasure, and he had good reason to believe that Louie Le Blanc was
prepared to assist him to the utmost of her power.

He had a long conversation that night with his friend Jack Ferrars, and
although he did not tell him all, he told him enough to half paralyse
him with astonishment.

'It is a queer affair,' he ejaculated, taking his pipe out of his mouth,
several minutes after Wynnum had done.

'But how do you account for this illness of Jaykes?' he said after
another pause.

'I have never tried to account for it,' replied Wynnum.

'Do you think that he may have got the treasure, and with it the
plague?' said Jack.

'No, I cannot think that,' said Wynnum, but it was an unpleasant
suggestion, and the idea gave him a shock.

'When were you last at Chester-street?' queried Ferrars.

'It must be nearly a month ago.'

'Well if I were you, I should watch those people at St. Simon-street
very closely. And also take the earliest opportunity of paying another
visit to Chester-street, to see whether the Frenchman's treasure box is
safe. I am strongly of opinion that Jaykes has had a smart touch of the
same complaint that killed Rex. You see it came on with sudden
prostration and violent spasms and then passed into fever, just like
cholera or plague. You ask Mademoiselle Le Blanc suddenly to-morrow
morning, what in her opinion caused the illness, and see how she takes
it, you may get a suggestion; but it will be unfortunate if he should
have got hold of the jewels. You see you cannot prosecute him, even if
you are sure of the facts. It is a treasure trove whoever gets hold of
it. If I were you I should go to Pillow at once and tell him I had a box
hidden in that room which I now wished to remove. You might give him the
picture as a sort of bonus on the transaction. What puzzles me is that
you did not collar the booty when you had the chance.'

'But I have told you that the treasure is willed to the Frenchman's
blood descendant,' said Wynnum.

'But hang it all, man alive,' said Jack, impatiently, 'that was nearly
two hundred years ago.'

'Well, what difference does that make? Does two hundred, or three
hundred, or five hundred years, absolve us from respecting the wishes of
the dead? That document is equal to a will and the treasure is therein
bequeathed to the descendant of the French artist. What I intend to do
is, if possible, to buy the property when it comes into the market and
then find out the heir.'

'By George, and if she is a woman, marry her,' said Jack. 'Look here,
Wynnum, if you are already promised to some fair damsel, remember I have
a heart to let, so give me the first authentic information, but be sure
that it's before you tell her anything about the bequest, or she might
not have me.'

'You are good enough for any woman, Jack,' said Wynnum, 'as far as I am
concerned, however, I never intend to marry.'

'You are out of sorts to-night, old fellow,' said Jack, kindly, 'but
perhaps you have not managed your fair one properly. Anyhow you have
first claim, if you are really at liberty, and if I were you I should
make a very careful quest for the heiress of the Gentleman of France.'

Wynnum thought a good deal afterward about his friend's suggestion and
advice, and, as he had for weeks chafed at the uncertainty and delay, he
determined, somehow to bring matters if possible to a crisis. If he only
dared to sever his connection with St. Simon Street, he would have done
so, but he did not dare. He had saved a few pounds, but not enough; the
experience he had had of poverty deterred him from running any hazardous
risks. He could not afford, he thought, to sever his connection with
Jaykes at present; at any rate he had not the moral courage to do so.

It is the fear of giving up the seen for the chance of obtaining the
unseen, that debars many a man of noble parts from securing the highest
success. They would dare all for themselves, but not for others
dependent upon them. So Wynnum felt that he must put up with Jaykes
awhile longer for the sake of Trissie.




CHAPTER XIX.--THE INFLUENCE OF A CHILD.


One effect of the illness was to make Jaykes look ten years older than
he did before; his features were pinched, his eyes sunken, his cheeks
hollow; but Wynnum saw at a glance, as he took a chair by the side of
his bed on the following morning, that there was no change in the man.
Affliction had neither softened, purified, nor taught him. His body was
exhausted with the hard struggle he had had for life; bits of the veneer
had been chipped off, and the inner self stood more manifest, but to
Wynnum who had now better learnt to read the signs which indicate the
workings of a sad man's heart, it was evident that he was the same
Nathaniel Jaykes--selfish, avaricious, cruel, and implacable.

Wynnum in few words gave him a brief outline of what had transpired in
the business during his illness, Jaykes by gestures signifying his
approval or otherwise.

After giving some directions in a low tone upon business matters, he
said: 'That's enough for this morning, White,' and closed his eyes.

Louie then placed a cordial to his lips and said, 'Now try and sleep for
an hour,' and followed Wynnum out of the apartment, and down stairs to
the private office where he was to obtain some papers.

There they both sat down and instinctively looked at each other, for so
far neither of them had spoken. Wynnum was much shocked at the
appearance of his employer, and scarcely knew what to say.

'Are you sorry that I did not let him die?' asked Louie, abruptly.

'He must have been terribly ill,' said Wynnum evasively.

'So ill that for a full fortnight, it was like fighting for his soul,'
replied Louie reflectively, as though she were recalling the past.

'He no doubt owes his life to you,' said Wynnum.

'I know it; but he won't thank me, nor would he believe it if he were
told; it might have been better if I had let him die. You are a puzzle
to him though, and now he is getting better I want to put you on your
guard.'

'Thank you, I have already had reason for being on my guard,' said
Wynnum coldly.

'I know that,' said Louie frankly; 'and young as you are Mr. White, you
have played a strong game, and I admire you for it; you had a good hand,
however. But I could tell you something you might like to know,' she
tapped with her fingers on the arm of the chair, as though nervously
awaiting Wynnum's answer.

'How beautiful she is,' thought Wynnum, 'as fair as she is false,' and
yet he hardly knew what to make of her, for there are minor evidences of
character, and here Wynnum felt himself to be quite at fault. She did
not dress like a woman inherently or consciously bad, nor look like one,
nor speak like one. Wynnum had seen several women of another stamp come
to visit Jaykes, whose whole bearing and deportment--much as they tried
to cloak it--told the initiated eye that they lived familiarly with sin.
But there was no mask on Louie's face or conduct, more than upon that of
other clever women familiar with the way of the world. Her very candour
counted in her favor with Wynnum, and if she was really the half-sister
of Jaykes, there might be an explanation which would place her whole
position and relations to Jaykes, and her villa at St. John's Wood, in a
totally different light. That she should speak of herself as a bad woman
might after all mean nothing. In some senses she probably was bad
enough, for who could help but be bad who had been in league with
Jaykes.

'I should like to ask you one question,' said Wynnum after a pause.

'What is that?' she asked.

'What was it that caused your brother's illness?' Wynnum watched her
closely, but she showed no sign of confusion. If she knew what Jack
Ferrars had suggested she did, she certainly controlled her features
well.

'How should I know,' she said; 'when he was taken ill I had not seen him
for two days. The doctor should be better able to tell you; but why do
you ask me?'

'I was wondering how far you might be in your brother's confidence,'
said Wynnum.

'If that is all, Mr. White, I should have thought that by this time you
would have guessed that he tells me everything. It is better for me to
know,' she continued, 'although I may not always approve. I am his
sister--that is, by my mother's marriage with his father--and for some
years now, have been his chief adviser. He won't marry,--and knowing him
as well as I do, I could not advise him to,--and the dolls of women he
gets about him are only playthings, which men of his stamp must have, it
seems, when they want to be amused.'

Wynnum listened in silence, but without looking at her. He had asked
Jack Ferrars' question and had gained nothing. If she new, she evidently
had determined not to tell.

But Louie Le Blanc had wanted such an opportunity as this to put herself
on a fairer footing with Wynnum, and she determined to make the most of
it. A woman may be bad, but she hates to have anyone think her worse
than she is, especially if it is a person whose good opinion she values.

'Mr. White, do you remember that I told you one night I liked you?' she
said.

'Yes, you did me that honor,' replied Wynnum briefly, and in a tone
which declared quite plainly that he did not approve of this personal
turn in the conversation.

'Well I meant it, and because of that, I am sorry that you should be
misled about me. I have never pretended to be good, but I know that you
have thought bad things about me which are untrue, and unjust. I am
content to be known to be as bad as I am, but no worse, please.'

Mademoiselle was evidently speaking under the influence of strong
feeling; it was with an effort that she had screwed her courage up to
this point.

'I willingly apologise for any thoughts in which I may have done you an
injustice,' said Wynnum, with more cordiality than he had previously
shown.

'Then let me tell you in a few words what you wanted to know before I
discovered myself to you that night at St. John's Wood. Remember, you
did not find me out. I deceived you to please Jaykes, and then told you
exactly how matters stood to please myself. I am by nature too candid to
make a good hypocrite. You know it's a favorite belief of mine that I
was not born bad. You drop a baby down in France, it's neither French,
English, or German, but it learns to speak in French. Mr. White,' she
continued, after a pause, and Wynnum knew by her voice that there were
tears standing in her eyes, 'will you believe me when I tell you that I
was more than four years a woman, before I had, to my knowledge, spoken
with a conscientious and pure-minded man.'

'I have no recollection of my father,' she continued. 'He was of course
French, a doctor of fairly ample means, fond of science and literature;
he died when I was quite young. My mother, who was English, very soon
married again. She met Jaykes's father in Paris, where he was sporting
around as a wealthy widower, with one son,--the man upstairs--'

She jerked this out half contemptuously. 'He was a pawnbroker, and when
my mother found it out, it almost broke her heart. Pawnbrokers' wives
are not much in society, you know?'

'I was kept at a fashionable boarding school in Paris, and remained
there until I was heartily sick and tired of it. We went to mass on
Sundays, and I had a confessor as ugly as the grimmest chaperon could
have wished. We had no gentlemen visitors, and any we saw were met
clandestinely. Then my mother died suddenly, and I was telegraphed for,
and hurried over to London to the funeral. Her death, however, brought
me release from the hateful discipline of the school.'

'Jaykes' father was to me a kind, indulgent old man, and liked me, but
his inclinations were his religion, and his money the only thing he
worshipped. Nathaniel took after him, but the father's worst
characteristics had become most pronounced in the son. When old Jaykes
died, I found that my mother's money had all been left to me with a
small share of the old gentleman's fortune. Nathaniel and myself
continued to live in the old place at Brampton for a year or two, and
knowing what he is, you may guess the kind of company we kept. It suited
me better after a while to live apart, and I rented and furnished the
villa at St. John's Wood. Of course I was friendly before that with
Judge Jones. He was one of the most agreeable men I knew, and none of
the people I met with thought or cared much of what is known as
morality. I was the baby dropped down in France so I talked French.'

'Jaykes had obtained a lien over the business downstairs and took a
fancy to live here.'

'You will gather from all this, that although I have money, and am
fairly well educated, and have a well furnished house of my own, I
sometimes get tired of hearing about Jaykes' business affairs, and this
eternal going to theatres, and receiving gay company and the rest of it.
You see I cannot be what the world calls good, and move in the circle
and know the people I should like to unless----'

She looked at Wynnum for a moment, it was a fugitive glance with nothing
bold or unwomanly in it, and a tear shone in the corner of her eye. It
was only a momentary lifting of her long, downcast lashes, but she saw
that Wynnum understood her.

'There now,' she said, rising abruptly from her chair and looking
defiantly across at Wynnum, 'you may think just what you like of me. I
have told you the plain, unvarnished truth about myself; of course I am
bad, I was brought up to it, and I don't know that I ever shall be
better. But you want to arrange those papers, so I will go,' she said
hurriedly, as though afraid of giving Wynnum a chance to speak. 'Just
one last word, however, a woman's postscript, you know,'--she said, with
her old fascinating smile--'I have felt more like my own real self since
I have been in this house fighting to save that man's life. It might,
perhaps, have been better for me to have let him perish, but my mother
was married to his father, and, bad as he has been to others, he has
been just to me. There's no one in the world that really cares a pin for
him, so you see I could not very well let him die.'

She had been standing for the last few minutes grasping the handle of
the door, and suddenly opened it and was gone, leaving Wynnum standing,
for he had risen from his chair at the same time as she did; he had been
anxious to speak to her, and yet did not know what to say.

He saw her no more that day, nor for several days afterwards. Jaykes was
recovering slowly, but although Wynnum had frequent interviews with him,
Mademoiselle Le Blanc persistently avoided Wynnum. It may be that she
knew that she had made a favorable impression and wished matters so to
remain.

Notwithstanding the expectulations of Jack Ferrars, Wynnum made no
further move at this time in regard to the treasure chest. Pillow
appeared to be very busy, and Wynnum had no excuse to force his way
upstairs to examine the apartment. Jaykes was not strong enough to get
about, except with assistance, and Wynnum, uncertain as to what to do,
waited for something to turn up. He was a great believer in allowing
things to take their own course, and in a few days the unexpected
happened.

It was late at night--a warm summer's night, for the heat all day had
been stifling--and Wynnum sat on the balcony of his sitting room,
enjoying the cool breeze and smoking a cigar. He was thinking over the
events of the day; and also of Louie Le Blanc and Trissie.

Every reader will by this time know that Wynnum was no raw, shy,
unsophisticated youth. In age, stature, and speech, and in physical
faculties, he was a man (and a very handsome and engaging man), and he
knew that Louie Le Blanc was in love with him. He had thought over many
things as he sat there: Louie was in love with him, she was very
beautiful, she was quite four and twenty--was it possible that she had
paid those debts! He smoked half a cigar while considering the last
question.

Then about the treasure. Louie must still be in the confidence of her
brother; she confessed that Jaykes came to her for advice, and that he
told her everything. If she loved him (Wynnum) she would protect his
interests. He felt certain that to the utmost limit of Louie's power,
the treasure box was safe from Jaykes. Then he reviewed the whole
matter, and got back to his old speculations about Louie being the
possible heir of the French artist. Suppose he did marry her, what
then?--she was a better and truer woman than many who were better from a
social standing point. See how she had nursed Jaykes. Then how frank and
open she had been about herself. What was he, too, to air his virtue and
integrity and high-character. For aught he knew, her money had saved the
honour of his name in Chester-street and elsewhere. But for him to marry
her would give her the chance in life she wanted. He recalled her very
words, 'you see I cannot be what the world calls good and virtuous, and
move in the circle, and know the people I would like to, unless'--Wynnum
had supplied her intentional omission. 'It would give her a chance,' he
said--'the chance she wants. It would be a fine experiment, and show
Jaykes what his sister might become in the society of a different stamp
of man to himself, and under more favorable surroundings.'

'She was the very woman that would idolise her husband, and bring up her
family with exemplary virtue, and distribute tracts, and teach in a
Sunday School, and go to the very extreme in all goodness, if she only
had a chance.'

'And why should she not have a chance?' said Wynnum out aloud, as he
blew a cloud of smoke into the quiet night air, and threw the end of his
cigar down into the street. 'But,' said conscience, 'you don't love her,
and marriage without love on both sides, is little better than'--and
Wynnum thought of Judge Jones. And then there arose before him another
vision, in which was a woman's face that might have been an angel's. It
was a vision of what might have been--a vision of supreme affection and
incarnated in the lives of himself and another; but the other was not
Mademoiselle Le Blanc.

Upon the dark background of the night there arose before his excited
imagination a roseate conception of love's young fair dream. The great,
what might have been, and ought to have been, of so many hearts and
lives! It was a golden dream of wedded happiness, but alas something too
bright, too beautiful, ever in this world to become true. And then
beside it he saw another vision; the vision of sin unsanctified by love
and tainted by unhallowed memories. He knew that he had no love for
Louie; if he had he would have married her without hesitation, trusting
that love might hide a multitude of sins.

Just then a child's hand was laid upon his knee. It was Trissie's. The
child had stood for a minute beside him while he, unconscious of her
presence, was absorbed in thought.

It was Trissie, white-robed and clad in childish innocence.

Had Louie ever been like her, he thought, as he lifted the child upon
his knee and put arms around her.

The night was warm, but he held her close to him, for she brought him
back to sweeter and more wholesome resolutions. Trissie was going to
school. The Miss Mortimers were very kind to her; the child was well
cared for and happy, and immoderate only in her love for Wynn. Could he
trust Trissie to Mademoiselle Le Blanc as he had trusted her to Miriam?
Would he feel as much at ease in his mind with Trissie at St. John's
Wood, as he did with Trissie at Marston? Louie might tell her beads and
say her prayers in a certain fashion, but would she bend over Trissie
when she prayed and say 'Amen,' as the child had told him Miriam had
done.

'Trissie, this is against all rules and regulations,' he said, as he
bent down and kissed the childish forehead. But Trissie made no
answer--her quick eye had caught sight of something in the distance,
which held her attention. Wynnum had seen it too, when Trissie first
stood beside him, but he saw it unconsciously as in a dream; it had
possibly suggested to his mind some portion of his vision.

'Wynn, what is that pretty colour in the sky?' said Trissie.

The startled man following the pointing of the child's finger, and
watched it for a minute in silence.

'Why, Trissie,' he said, hurriedly, 'it's a house on fire, and it's over
in the direction of Chester-street. But you will catch cold my little
sweetheart; and listen! it's striking eleven o'clock. You must go back
to bed.'

'And will you go to bed, Wynn?'

'Yes, of course, presently.'

But Wynnum did not go to bed, for the lurid glare was creeping cruelly
across the sky, and the sound of hurrying feet, the rattle of vehicles,
and hum of voices, already smote upon the quiet night. The fire was in
the direction of Chester-street.

Supposing that it should be number one hundred and sixty one!




CHAPTER XX.--WYNNUM BECOMES A HERO.


It was with an anxious heart that Wynnum hurried to the scene of the
conflagration. It was needless to ask the way, for the blood-red sky and
distant murmur of confused sounds afforded a plain direction.

He dashed along the shortest possible way to Chester-street. He had a
presentiment that the fire was there, or at any rate somewhere in the
immediate vicinity.

We will not attempt to explain why or how certain impressions will in
supreme moments fasten themselves upon the individual mind. The fire was
in Chester-street, and Wynnum felt as he got into the crowd at the far
end of the street, and pushed his way as quickly as possible nearer to
the conflagration that he was wanted--that his hour had come. He had no
thought of consequences, and, of course, did not dream that next morning
all England would be ringing with his name.

But in response to some mysterious influence, his whole being was
aroused--it leaped up as it were to meet the supreme opportunity, glad
to make any sacrifice, take any risk, face any death.

Such opportunities present themselves at rare intervals to most men;
they are the flood-tides of life, when fame, fortune, and power may be
the final result for the man who has the sublime audacity to stake
everything upon a throw, and do or die. They come usually, if not
always, after discipline, pain, humiliation, and loss. The effort of the
soul to rehabilitate itself, either before or after crucifixion, has no
doubt something to do with it. For a brief period the body is gifted
with supernatural strength, the mind with superhuman grasp and insight,
the heart with supernatent courage. The jagged rocks of difficulty may
at such a crisis bruise the feet, but they cannot stay the progress, for
in such hours difficulties are but stepping stones, by which heroes
climb the rugged steep of fame and victory.

Thank heaven there can be no analysis of heroism; it is something which
you cannot put in black and white--it's the unknowable and unthinkable
quantity of human life. Two men may be similar in outward form of
strength, but the spirit will be wholly different--so different as is a
racehorse to a mule. One is a gentlemen, the other a lout. And usually
the first is most amenable to criticism and blame; mules don't often
kick over traces; stagnant waters wreck no ships; and there are men of
stupid giddiness whose lives suggest no moral value. They suffer no
mishaps, and are never shipwrecked, because they dare not trust
themselves upon the sea.

Wynnum was the one man in all that night inspired with a mission. The
question was: Would he fulfil it, or, like other cowards, take ship for
Tarshish?

It was number one hundred and fifty seven that was burning--a house on
the same side of the street as one hundred and sixty one, but two doors
lower down.

Wynnum saw at a glance alas! that the little wind there was blew the
flames in the direction of the French artist's treasure chest. To his
mind, so far, that chest was the one only thing in Chester-street. Come
what would, and at whatever risk, he determined that he would save it.

He attempted in his eagerness to break through the line of police which
kept back the crowd.

'I am wanted, I belong to the place,' he said to the constable.

'You can't pass, sir,' replied the stolid representative of the law, and
he pushed him back again.

Half-a-sovereign, however, and the words 'I must get to one hundred and
sixty one,' passed him through the cordon. Here he was among firemen,
hose, engines, and showers of sparks and burning debris flung out of the
heart of the huge conflagation and like scoria from a volcano in
eruption.

Once past the line, no one questioned him, and he was soon standing
opposite to his old home. He wanted first to take in the whole
situation, and it was then that there was set before him the crucial
test of life. He had to choose--to choose heroism and poverty, or
cowardice and gold.

The door of one hundred and sixty one stood wide open. Pillow was
hurriedly removing the most valuable of his effects, and after a
moment's thought Wynnum determined to make direct for the treasure
chest, and somehow drag it from its place of concealment. He paused,
however, for a sight presented itself suddenly to him, and to the
gathered thousands which made the blood of all run cold.

The principal seat of the fire had so far been in the shops and
warehouses at the back, but it was now seen to have full possession of
the house, and tongues of flame broke out through the first floor front
windows. The smoke was blowing westward and the whole street became so
brightly illuminated that the smallest object was almost as distinctly
seen as in the light of day.

Standing on the sill of one of the attic windows of the burning house,
sixty or seventy feet from the ground, was a child clad only in its
white nightgown and appealing in pitiful dumb show for aid. It was a
girl baby of five or six years, for her light curly hair swept her
shoulders; and peeping above the window sill here was seen another
terrified little face.

The crowd looked up appalled, and saw that below, behind, and on either
side of them was the fire, which blazed angrily and threw it's
coruscation of brilliant sparks and flaming missiles high in the air; to
descend again in showers of golden rain upon the houses and multitude.

The flames soon showed themselves on the second floor, but had not yet
reached the third storey, and a fire escape was run up against the
blazing house, a fireman mounting the rungs of the ladder as they
wheeled it into position.

It was not high enough, however, and as the man attempted to unfasten
the extension ladder, a sudden rush of flame enveloped him, and with a
smothered cry of pain he fell head first from the ladder to the street
and was picked up by his comrades a corpse.

One life sacrificed! and the escape was now catching fire so they pulled
the apparatus back.

But still the children stood there in pitiful extremity, waiting for a
saviour. It was a sight which made the hearts of the beholders sink
within them. What is it that makes us so pitiful for a child? The women
fainted; and strong men turned away their eyes from looking at them, and
groaned and wept. No one asked whether they were good or bad children,
they were children, that was enough; but they were doomed, and ten
thousand pairs of eyes watched the flames licking their way up the front
of the house from point to point--higher, higher, higher--towards them.

Suddenly, however, the attention of the vast crowd was tamed to another
object.

The houses on each side of the first were by this time burning, but on
the roof of the next one--just above the parapet overlooking the
street--there appeared the head and shoulders of a man. He was creeping
along the leaded gutter of the parapet amid a shower of falling sparks,
toward the burning house containing the children.

No words can adequately describe the sensation of the next moment; for
some unexplained cause he stepped from the guttering right on to the
parapet, and there erect, and seemingly calm, and self-sufficient, stood
for a moment against the sky, with the reflection of the flames upon his
face and garments, as one transfigured--a spectacle to men and angels.

The crowd watched him in breathless excitement as he cautiously moved
along the narrow summit of the wall.

It is needless to say that it was Wynnum.

'He is only throwing away his life,' said a fireman to his mate. 'It
can't be done. There's a drop of six feet on to the next house, and the
same to climb up again on the other side, before he can reach the
children and then he has to carry them back one by one, he can never
bring two together.'

'And see, the fire has reached the rooms below the parapets and attics.
Why, where he is standing now must be as hot as hell.'

'Steady Wynnum; don't tread on that loose brick; one false step here
will haul you into eternity, and there's Jack Ferrars, and Louie Le
Blanc, and ten thousand other people watching you from below.'

The houses are very old, and a loose brick did actually fall over into
the street as he stepped upon it; but he recovered himself and never
once looked down.

He stopped for a minute or so at the end of the parapet and then dropped
the six feet into the gutter safely. The vivid light showed what
appeared to the crowd to be a crack down the side of the wall, but it
was only a double length of webbing. He had another length with him to
fasten somewhere after he had climbed the wall of the house. He would
want it to let himself down again when coming back with the children.

Heroism is nothing without skill and forethought; only fools rush into
the battle without their swords. Wynnum had calculated every chance, and
forecast every contingency. For the sake of these unknown helpless
children he had sacrificed the French man's treasure; but he had come
there to save them if human skill, and nerve, and courage could
accomplish it. He had no intention of blundering away his life.

'Thank heaven,' whispered thousands of spellbound men and women, 'see,
he has reached them; but now, how will he carry them back?'

They saw him climb in by the the window and disappear. It seemed an age
before he returned again. 'He must be exhausted,' they said to each
other.

'The man was a fool to attempt it,' said a working man. 'Three lives
instead of two.'

'And,' said another, finishing the sentence, 'the third one a grown man
and a hero!'

'He will come back,' said Jack Ferrars hoarsely, to a man who stood
close to him. 'I know him, his name is Wynnum White. He was born in No.
161, he knows every portion of those houses from a boy, and when he
takes a thing like this in hand he has nerves of steel. Do you hear?' he
said fiercely to the man, as though he would strike him, or anyone else
that questioned it. 'He's going to save them!'

'God help him,' said the man reverently. 'I hope he may, but if he does
it will be a miracle; but look,' he continued excitedly, 'the flames
have broken through the roof of the second house, although the firemen
are flooding it with water, and see, the flames are shining through the
windows of 161.'

'That's only a reflection from the back,' said another man, 'the doors
must be open on to the landings. The workshops are alight, but the house
is not touched yet.'

Jack had no thought for one hundred and sixty one, however, for with the
youngest child under his left arm, and the other on his back,
frantically clinging with both arms around his neck, Wynnum had
reappeared and was now lowering himself by the webbing on to the parapet
of the second house. Only one hand was free, and the crowd below turned
sick and giddy as they watched him.

The least miscalculation of distance or of weight, a moment's dizziness
or faintness, and three of them would be flung, mangled corpses, on the
street.

Three firemen were now on the roof of Wynnum's old home ready to help
him, but so fierce was the heat, it was as much as they could remain,
even there, and they could afford no possible assistance until Wynnum
had crossed the parapet.

'It will take ten or twelve strides,' muttered Jack, 'twelve strides
with the roof blazing on one side of him, and on the other sixty feet
below, the stone-paved street.'

He was seen to brace himself against the wall as though to steady
himself before he started across; he grasped the child beneath his left
arm firmly, and forcibly loosened the hands of the terrified child upon
his back; her fearful clutch upon his throat had well nigh choked him.

During that moment, as he stood there between life and death, he thought
one instant of Trissie, sleeping peacefully in her little bed, and
he--Then he tried to soothe the children.

'Be quite still now and I shall save you.'

'God help me!' he ejaculated--he felt that it might be his last
prayer--then set his teeth together, and stiffened every muscle, and
took the first step away from the supporting wall, then the second, and
the third--it seemed a life time to the breathless crowd below. He was
half-way across walking steadily, but quickly; then he had to stop to
recover his balance, when a cloud of smoke suddenly obscured him from
view.

'That's done for them,' ejaculated the man at Ferrars' elbow; and
expecting to see them fall, he steadied himself against the next man,
for be felt sick and faint. Then closed his eyes from the dreaded
spectacle.

'No, they're over; the firemen are hauling them up; I knew that he would
do it,' shouted Jack hysterically, 'I must go to him.'

But the crowd still stood watching breathlessly; one child had been
handed up; now another; now they are helping up the man!

And only then, when they realised that the children's preserver was
really safe, did the pent up excitement voice itself in a cheer which
seemed to rend the very sky. It was heard above the roaring of the fire,
and Jaykes caught the echo of it over a mile away in St. Simon-street.

Men shook hands with each other, with tears in their eyes, and cheered
again, hardly knowing what they were about--beside themselves with very
joy.

'I'd like to shake hands with your friend,' said the man by the side of
Ferrars; 'it was the pluckiest thing I have ever seen or heard of in all
my life.'

'He must be an acrobat or tight rope walker; I never saw anything to
equal it at Astley's,' said another citizen.

But a dull, booming thud and a cry of warning from the firemen caused
the crowd to sway backward, while showers of sparks and burning
fragments were scattered in all directions. It was the roof of the
burning house that had collapsed.

'Another three minutes,' said Jack Ferrars to himself, 'and Wynnum would
have been too late.'

At the next day's breakfast tables all England talked of Wynnum's
dauntless bravery. He was terribly burnt and injured, said the
newspapers, and it was feared that the young child would not recover, so
severely had she been burnt during those few seconds, as they crossed
the parapet above the burning roof.

It was a splendid exhibition of heroism, said one of our great London
dailies, and bordering upon a miracle that he or the children had
survived. The friends of Mr. White had taken charge of him, and daily
bulletins would be issued as to his state. It was proposed that a public
presentation should be made on his recovery.

Neither the London nor Manchester papers reached Marston until midday.
And luncheon was over when Mary looked through the Times.

'Miriam,' she said suddenly in some excitement, 'there has been a
dreadful fire in Chester-street, and a man named Wynnum White has saved
two children at the risk of his life; the paper praises him greatly and
says he is a hero. It's strange that the street should be
Chester-street, and the man's name Wynnum White. Do you think it could
be Trissie's brother--the name Wynnum is not a common one?'

Miriam took the paper from her with a trembling hand, and read the long
and graphic newspaper report of the fire and of the heroic saving of the
children, with a beating heart.

'Yes,' she said simply, 'that was Trissie's brother Wynn.'

There was something in the tone of Miriam's voice, however, which caused
Mary to turn back and look at her, for she was just running off with the
paper to her aunt and sister. She stood still a moment and looked
straight in Miriam's face, then caught her in her arms and kissed her.
Love, sympathy, and reproach, were strangely commingled in the look and
the embrace.

'You don't know all, Mary,' said Miriam, and then burst into tears.

Alas! she did not know all, nor did Miriam either, for at that moment
Wynnum was lying between life and death, badly burnt and terribly
disfigured; and bending over him with the tenderest policitude was
Louie. She had fought with death for the life of her mother's husband's
son; but she would fight a tenfold battle for the life of Wynnum.

'If he lived,' the doctors had told her, 'it would be through her
nursing. He would owe his life to her; and she would be recompensed.'

She was a proud woman that day, for she had taken Wynnum up to St.
John's Wood (it had been noted as his address by the papers), and over a
hundred cards with congratulations and good wishes from peers and
commoners had been left at her door. It was as though the wished-for new
life had actually commenced.

She had for months entirely severed her connection with Judge Jones. She
would never see him again, nor anyone like him. Wynnum only partly knew
her after all. She even prayed for him during those dark days--no formal
or meaningless prayer either; but one which half-despairing faith flung
right against the throne of the Almighty.

Was it fancy or did she really hear the answer?--'Thy faith hath saved
thee (and him), go in peace, and sin no more.'

But for her anxiety for Wynnum she would have been perfectly radiant.
Yet she never doubted the result. 'My star,' she whispered to herself,
'is in the ascendant. He must get better. Jaykes recovered, and I never
did for him what I would do for Wynnum--my love! my hero!'




CHAPTER XXI.--HOPE DEFERRED MAKETH THE HEART SICK.


When two young persons, in love with each other, are once started in a
game of cross purposes, circumstances almost invariably add to the
complications and make things worse. Disinterested spectators can always
tell how this and that mistake might have been avoided; but the players
do not see it. They become like puppets in the hands of chance.

The wall of separation which had grown up between Miriam and Wynnum, had
wholly originated in mistakes and misunderstandings; but it was there,
and was as real as though it had been built up of set purpose by those
most concerned.

Miriam, at this juncture in our story, made another overture, which in
the ordinary course of events should have again brought her in friendly
correspondence with Wynnum; but alas! the fates were still unkind.
Trissie, however, was again a visitor at Marston.

It came about very simply.

Miriam was not at all well, and Mrs. Broughton, finding that she
continued low-spirited and guessing the cause, suggested that she should
go with Grace for a change to London and stay at Park Avenue. This
suggestion was acted upon about a fortnight after the fire.

Miriam had seen by the papers that Wynnum's state was still critical,
and on the evening of their arrival in London, the two girls obtained
from Ferrars a full description of the fire, and of Wynnum's heroism,
and injuries.

'He is certainly better,' said Jack in answer to their eager questions,
'but the doctors, and no one else knows what to make of him, he seems
dazed. He knew me and all that, but takes no interest in anything. He
must have suffered terribly, the skin is growing again they say on the
side of his face, and his hair in growing too--you know it had to be cut
off; but his left arm under which he carried the child, and his left leg
were terribly punished by the heat. It's a miracle how he escaped at
all.'

'Who is nursing him?' asked Mary. 'I suppose he is still at his
lodgings.'

'Not a bit of it,' said Jack, 'there were offers to take charge of him
and nurse him from a number of people. But his employer's sister claimed
the right to take charge of him, and carried him off to St. John's Wood,
to a beautiful place she has there. I have called several times, but I
could only once get to see him. Oh, he's being well taken care of.'

'I suppose she's some kind old lady who will take an interest in him,'
said Mary.

'She's kind enough no doubt,' said Jack, (who knew something about
Wynnum's admiration for Miriam, and thought that young lady had not
treated him very well), 'more so than some people, but she is not old.'

'Tell us about her, Jack,' said Miriam, not pretending to notice his
inuendo, although she winced under it nevertheless.

'Well, she's a rich young lady about twenty-five, and entirely her own
mistress. Only for one thing I wish he would marry her when he
recovers.'

'What's that?' said Mary; 'is she not nice-looking enough for him?'

'I have only seen her twice,' said Jack, carelessly; 'but she seemed to
me to be one of the handsomest women I had ever put eyes upon.'

'Why do you not wish Mr. White to marry her then?' asked Miriam.

Jack Ferrars paused for a full minute before answering and then said, 'I
must ask you to excuse me cousin Miriam, from answering that question.
Wynnum and myself are chums you know, and I do not feel myself at
liberty to say.'

'He's in love with her himself,' said Mary.

'No, I am not,' replied Jack, promptly.

'Do you think Mr. White is,' said Miriam, quietly.

'I am sure he is not,' said Jack, 'that is, he was not before this
accident; but it's hard to say what may happen now; the doctors say that
he will owe his life to her.'

Mary said nothing more, for Miriam's sake; but she thought to herself,
'young, beautiful, rich, and she has saved his life; and Miriam has
allowed him to think that she is engaged to someone else. We shall
certainly have to do something or he will marry her, if only out of
gratitude, and Miriam'--she stopped there, however, for Miriam was
asking Jack about Trissie.

'The child seems to fret about Wynnum, he does not seem to care to see
her, and Miss Le Blanc says that the remarks a child would naturally
make about his bandaged head and face might upset him. She is well
looked after by the Miss Mortimers, for Miss Blanc has taken all
Wynnum's affairs in hand, and money seems to be no object to her. She
has sent the carriage down several times for Trissie and Miss Mortimer
to be taken out driving; but the little mite is always asking to be
taken to her brother Wynn.'

'Poor little thing,' said Miriam.

'Let us take her with us to Marston again,' said Mary to her cousin
impetuously, 'she might stay until Mr. White has quite recovered.'

'What do you think of the suggestion?' said Miriam to Jack.

'I think it would be first rate,' answered Jack, who thought that his
cousin might be softening towards his chum a little. 'I will call
to-morrow at St. John's Wood and see what Wynnum and his nurse say about
it.'

'Do,' said Miriam, 'and you may say that it will give us very great
pleasure to have her, and that we are anxious to hear of Mr. White's
recovery.'

Ferrars presented himself in due course at St. John's Wood on the
following day, but found to his surprise that Miss Le Blanc with two
servants and Wynnum had left town.

'Can you give me their address?'

'I am sorry, sir, but there have been so many inquiries, and so much
curiosity, that my mistress ordered me not to give any one her address.
If you leave a card or letter it will be forwarded, but the doctors have
advised a complete change of scene. I heard my mistress say, that when
Mr. White is stronger, they advise that he should spend the winter in
the South Wales. They think that his nerves have received an almost
fatal shock, and that his recovery will be very tedious.'

Ferrars thanked her and promised to send a letter to be forwarded. He
took his cousins the next day to see Trissie, and the meeting was so
pleasant--for Trissie was in ecstasies at seeing Miriam again--that
without more ado they allowed Trissie to settle the matter herself, and
a few days after she was occupying her old quarters at Marston.

'What makes you love me so Trissie?' asked Miriam of the child one night
when she was unusually demonstrative.

'Because 'oo said 'Amen' when Trissie prayed 'God bless her dear brudder
Wynn.''

A blush flew up into Miriam's face at the unexpected reply.

'You must always pray for Wynn, Trissie,' she said.

'Do 'oo pray for him?'

'Yes, Trissie,' she said, hesitatingly, 'but you should never tell
people when you pray for them.'

'But I tell everything to Wynn.'

Miriam said nothing further, for it was evidently useless to argue upon
such a matter with Trissie.

Three miles away on the Derbyshire side of Marston, was one of the
quietest, sweetest, and most romantic villages to be met with anywhere
in England.

Everyone who knew Moreland wondered why so sweet a spot did not attract
more visitors. The houses of the main street clustered upon the side of
a gentle slope from a valley, through which there flowed one of the
clearest and gentlest of rivers to be found anywhere. Moreland was proud
of its fishing, of its romantic scenery, and splendid agricultural
uplands. It had ruins, and the spacious park and extensive gardens of a
neighboring nobleman were continually open to visitors. And yet the
White Fawn Inn, smothered in flowers, and kept by the eldest of two
widowed sisters of most exemplary character, was only visited by an
occasional angler of quiet habits and retired disposition.

One day prior to that on which Jack Ferrars had talked with his cousins
about Wynnum, the whole village was stirred with excitement.

A telegraph messenger rode over from the neighboring market town, with a
message from a London lady ordering rooms for herself, an invalid
gentleman, and two servants, and also accommodation for a coachman and
carriage and two horses. The consternation could not have been greater
if the village had been suddenly invaded by the French.

'The party,' said Mrs. Borrowdale, who was the much esteemed
proprietress, 'might remain for several weeks. The invalid gentleman
needed change, quiet and agreeable surroundings, and she sent a special
request to the newly-formed brass band of the village, that during the
stay of the distinguished visitors, they should not practise anywhere
within half-a-mile of the inn.'

Mrs. Borrowdale was somewhat taken aback as she told her confidential
friend the post mistress, on finding that her visitors were so young,
and the lady so beautiful, but Louie spent her money freely and paid
whatever was charged without questioning--although it must be confessed
that the charges were wonderfully moderate, for money is money in
English villages, and for what seemed a very small outlay to Louie they
had undisturbed possession of almost every room in the spotlessly clean,
and flower-perfumed hostelry.

Wynnum was as Jack Ferrars put it 'better, but dazed,' he moved slowly
about, allowing himself to be wholly guided by Louie, who had brought
her maid for herself, and and elderly servant to especially attend to
Wynnum, and a smart phaeton and pair of quiet, but handsome ponies, with
a coachman, to take the patient out.

Louie had not been used to travelling alone, or as chief of a party, and
was a little puzzled when the hostess asked her to inscribe their names
in the visitors' book, She thought a moment, and said to herself, 'I
don't want these stupid people to think that I am French, my name is
White in English, so she wrote Mr. W. White and Miss White; but she
wrote hurriedly, and Mrs. Borrowdale read it as Mrs. White.

'Mr. and Mrs. White,' the good lady said to herself, and treated them
accordingly.

It never occurred to her simple mind to look for a wedding ring on
Louie's white taper finger, although had she done so she would only have
been bewildered, for a variety of dress and other rings usually sparkled
on Louie's hand.

The servants referred to her as Mademoiselle, but that attracted no
particular attention, for they mostly kept their own company; so it got
bruited everywhere abroad that the visitors were Mr. and Mrs. White.
Louie heard it and smiled; she had not got far enough away from her
Bohemianism to be troubled much by the mistake. It rather amused her.

Wynnum, too, was perfectly docile in her hands, and seemed to look to
her for everything. He was steadily recovering from the burns, and would
no doubt soon be better in his mind.

The weather was beautifully fine, and Wynnum seemed pleased with the
driving. The phaeton was made with a movable seat for the accommodation
of a coachman or otherwise; this seat was usually removed, so that he
could sit behind, and Louie would drive Wynnum herself. He would not
walk much, but seemed to bask in the beauty of the quiet rural scenery,
content with that and the careful attention bestowed upon him.

Bandaged up as Wynnum was during the first few days of their visit, it
was hard for strangers to tell how old he was, and the country people
would remark, 'There is the poor invalid gentleman and his beautiful
young wife.'

The first time that Wynnum was out after the bandages were removed was a
lovely autumn day, and tempted by the perfect weather, Louie drove
farther than usual, and found herself in the vicinity of the adjoining
village of Marston.

As they passed through the village the place seemed to have a singular
effect upon Wynnum, he became quite animated and looked around, saying
several times to Louie, 'I seem to know this place.'

She laughed, pleased that he should show interest in anything, and said,
'You will soon be better and be able to go back to St. Simon-street; but
you are mistaken, I think, about the village; you cannot have been here
before. Many English villages are singularly alike.'

But the effect of that drive seemed to have been especially beneficial,
so a few days after Louie drove there again.

As they were returning, Wynnum seemed to arouse himself and said, 'I
know the name of that village Mademoiselle; it is Marston. I think that
I would sooner not go there again.'

From that day Wynnum's recovery was rapid, far more so than they had
dared to hope; but every day Louie's heart sank more and more within
her, for she knew that Wynnum was beginning to realise his position, and
she thought that he was not altogether pleased with it, and yet he said
nothing, but would lie on a sofa in the evenings while she played and
sang and read to him. He was very quiet, but he was thinking a great
deal.

He saw that this woman loved him, and he guessed that he owed his life
to her. She was wonderfully good and kind to him, and he was still very
weak. He thought it was not exactly correct that he, a young man, should
be stopping there with a young woman, although he was still an invalid,
and she had a maid and another servant with her. But he cared less what
the world thought of him, and if anything was wrong he could easily
rectify it by marriage. That was, if she still really wished it.
Shattered as his constitution seemed to be through his ordeal and
illness, he was so much her debtor that it was the least amends that he
could make her. He knew nothing, however, about that Mr. and Mrs. White.

'Miriam,' said Grace one morning, rushing impetuously into her cousin's
presence, 'who ever do you think I have seen in Marston? None other than
Wynnum White. A lady was driving him with a lovely pair of bay ponies,
and a groom behind. I made sure that they were coming up here to see
Trissie, and they turned down the Moreland Road.'

'Such a beautiful woman and quite young, and they looked to be so
interested in each other. Do you think it's possible that the lady is
this rich young friend of his, Mademoiselle Le Blanc that cousin Jack
Ferrars told you and Mary about? I should not be surprised to find that
they are the people we heard of who are staying at the White Fawn Inn at
Moreland. I am completely puzzled--but don't you remember that the
Rector said that it was a Mr. and Mrs. White. They must be married, and
yet how is it they have not called on us with Trissie here? Do you think
that Mr. White is offended?'

'I thought he was not well yet. But Jack is coming down on Friday
afternoon, and we will find out all about it then.'

Miriam had not said a word, but her face was pale and her heart very
still. 'Surely it could not be true!' But she could not trust herself to
say anything. So Grace ran off to acquaint her aunt and sister of the
wonderful discovery which she had accidentally made.

One hardly knows which was most to be pitied; Miriam, Louie, or Wynnum.
Each one of them had been hoping and waiting, and the wished for end
seemed as far off at ever. Hope deferred had made the heart sick. But
for Miriam and Louie a new element was about to be introduced, which
would add bitterness to the cup of each.




CHAPTER XXII.--WICKED WYNNUM WHITE.


Judging by appearances the following afternoon, it looked very much as
though Wynnum had surrendered at discretion.

He lay upon a sofa facing an open window around which monthly roses
cluttered in rich and fragrant abundance. A soft rug was spread over him
and pillows supported his head, and close beside him in a low chair sat
Louie, her finger within the pages of a closed book, out of which she
had been reading to him.

They had both been gazing for several minutes, without speaking, upon
the well-kept flower-garden, where the bees were busily at work among
the autumn blossoms.

'How long have we been here?' said Wynnum at last.

'Three weeks next Wednesday,' replied Louie.

'And how long have I been ill?'

'It will be five weeks to-morrow since the fire.'

'And you have nursed me all that time? It has been very good of you. I
suppose Mr. Jaykes is quite well by this, and knows that I am staying
here. I have scarcely any recollection of coming down, so I must have
been bad. I wish that you would tell me of all that has happened.'

Wynnum shut his eyes and listened as she explained how he had fallen
unconscious into the arms of a fireman after he had surrendered the
children, and had been lifted upon the roof of number one hundred and
sixty-one.

'It is strange how one collapses when the strain is over,' said Wynnum;
'I seemed to be made of iron when I crossed that parapet with the
youngsters.'

'You looked equal to anything,' said Louie. 'I watched you from the
street, and almost fainted to see your danger. Mr. Ferrars was there,
too, and thousands of people. I heard of the fire at St. Simon-street,
and thinking it nearer than it was, came down with my maid to see it.
You need not be shocked--the coachman came with us to see that we were
not robbed or molested. I shall never forget it; nor will anyone who saw
you save those children. I am afraid to tell you how much the newspapers
and everyone else praise you.'

'I could not help myself; I had to do it; although, as I daresay you
guess, I was at first attracted there by something else,' said Wynnum,
quietly.

'But is Mr. Jaykes better?' continued Wynnum, after a pause.

'He is dead,' replied Louie.

'You don't say so,' ejaculated Wynnum; 'I thought he had quite
recovered.'

'He had a relapse and was ill for about a week and then died.'

'Did you see him before his death?' he asked slowly, for he had a
glimmering of the truth.

'No,' said Louie, 'I was down here nursing you.'

'Otherwise he might have recovered?'

'It is possible,' she replied, 'although I do not think anything would
have saved him. He took a severe cold, and also injured his health by
his own indiscretions. The doctor writes that everything possible was
done for him.'

'You must have had a very anxious time of it,' said Wynnum, for the
first time looking round into his companion's face.

'Yes,' rejoined Louie, tears almost in her eyes, 'it has been an anxious
time; I would have liked to have gone to him, but I wanted you to get
better, and I was afraid to leave you.'

'Louie,' said Wynnum--(it was the first time he had called her by her
Christian name, although she had occasionally during his illness called
him Wynnum.) Her color heightened as she heard.

'Louie, I want to tell you something that I think you ought to know. I
want to tell you why I do not care to drive over to Marston.'

Louie wondered at this, for she had expected something quite different
from the words and manner of Wynnum's commencement. But she soon
realised that what she wished was coming; for Wynnum commenced to tell
her of his love for Miriam Lane, and how he had discovered that she had
trifled with him, and loved another.

It took some little time, and there was a long pause when he had
finished, for Louie did not know what to say; he had asked no question
of her.

'We have not always been the best of friends,' he added at last, 'and
our first meeting was not under the happiest circumstances.' At this he
reached over and took her soft white hand, which rested on the arm of
her chair temptingly near him, and held it in his own. 'But I know very
well that you have saved my life, and you have shown yourself in many
ways to be a noble and devoted friend. I should indeed be bane and
ungrateful if I did not think very differently of you now to what I once
did. Will you try and forgive me for my uncharitableness? I understand
you now, and confess that I did you a wrong. I wish to be frank with
you, as you, that day at St. Simon-street, were frank with me. You have
my admiration and gratitude--and reverence,' he added, slowly; 'but I
must not deceive you. I do not yet feel that I can give to you what I
once gave to Miriam Lane. Really, Louie, I am a poor, weak man; I don't
feel myself worthy of the love and companionship of such a woman as you
have shown yourself to be.'

Their hands were still together, and she lifted his to her lips and
kissed it passionately--it was their betrothal--when hearing a sound on
the gravel path outside, they both looked up and saw Jack Ferrars gazing
straight through the window at them like one transfixed. He lifted his
hat awkwardly and walked round to the private entrance.

A few moments afterwards he was announced, and after the usual
salutations Louie almost immediately left the room.

Jack then explained to Wynnum with some confusion that he had strolled
round through the garden and looked accidentally in at the window as he
passed. He hoped that he had not intruded, but as Trissie was across at
Marston, they had all been anxious to hear how be was getting on.

'Trissie at Marston, Jack,' ejaculated Wynnum, in some surprise. 'How
ever has that come about?'

'Simply enough my dear fellow,' said Jack. 'You see you have become such
a hero in the popular estimation, that everyone is anxious to do what
they can to show their appreciation of your courage.'

'Do they talk like that about me at Marston? asked Wynnum.

'Certainly they do. My aunt and all three of the girls have been most
anxious to hear of your recovery, and they brought Trissie down, because
they thought it would relieve your mind and please you. I believe all
three of the girls are in love with you, although they are greatly
puzzled,' said Jack, with some hesitation, 'to know how you come to be
here with Mademoiselle Le Blanc. It's odd that she should have brought
you here so close to Marston. But, by the way do you know that all the
people in the neighborhood are talking of you two as Mr. and Mrs. White.
Perhaps you are already married, if not, you will be as soon as you are
well enough; allow me to congratulate you, old man.'

'Jack, I want to ask you one question?' said Wynnum earnestly; 'Is your
cousin Miriam engaged?'

'Not to my knowledge,' said Ferrars. 'I used to think at one time that
you would have liked her to have been, although you never saw fit to
take me into your confidence; but I know of no one else.'

There was a long pause after this; then Wynnum asked: 'Is there anyone
at Marston you know named 'Robert?''

'No, no one,' said Jack after he had thought a few minutes, 'except the
old chap that keeps the turnpike gate.'

'Well, do you know any gentleman friendly with them at the hall who
might be called Bob?' said Wynnum impatiently.

'No, I certainly do not, unless, by the way, the appellation should
refer to a great friend of Miriam's who, I believe, is more familiarly
known to her family and intimates as 'Bob'; but I don't think Miriam is
ever likely to marry her, I have had a thought or two in that quarter
myself.'

'Jack,' said Wynnum, his voice trembling with emotion, 'I am afraid
there has been a terrible mistake; I would have given the world to have
known yesterday what you tell me. I fear that it is too late. Thank them
all from me for their kindness, and say that we will send the carriage
over to-morrow quite early for Trissie to come here and spend the day, I
am not strong enough to call.'

Before Jack left he said to Wynnum, and his face was very grave and
anxious: 'Are you really going to marry Mademoiselle, Wynn?'

'Don't ask me,' replied Wynnum, 'Do you see how nobly she has befriended
me, and how I owe to her my life. And why should I not marry her, there
is no one else that a cares for me.'

'I don't know so much about that,' said Jack dolefully, as he grasped
Wynnum's hand and said 'Good-bye.'

When Louie returned on the departure of Ferrars, she saw at once that
the events of the afternoon had been too much for her patient; he looked
paler and more distressed than he had done for days. Louie was
disappointed, but there was no alternative, Wynnum had to go straight
off to bed.

Her heart beat fast as she sat alone thinking over the events of the
day, yet she was not fully satisfied. She felt confident that if that
stupid Mr. Ferrars had not arrived so inopportunely, Wynnum would have
said more.

She thought too, that she noticed a change in Wynnum after the interview
with Ferrars. 'What could he have come for?' He was the cousin of Miriam
Lane, the girl Wynnum loved. He had actually come from Marston. Could it
be possible that he had brought some message from her? 'Had I known,'
she said aloud, 'I would never have brought him anywhere near Marston.
He is better now, however, and I will persuade him to leave this place
at once.'

What Wynnum's feelings were that night may be imagined. He had gone so
far that he knew he was bound in honor to Louie; although he felt
confident from what Jack had told him that he had been too hasty in
believing Miriam to be engaged to anyone else. But supposing her free,
she had never given his suit any encouragement, while after the
evidences he had of Louie's love for him, he would be base indeed to
break his word. No, he would not see Miriam again. Louie should not say
of him what she had had cause to say of other men. She had saved his
life, and whatever it might be worth it should be at her disposal. These
people at Marston had been kind to Trissie and all that but he was
nothing to them, while he knew full well that he was all the world now
to Louie. He would speak to her the very next morning, and they would be
married at once, and now that Jaykes was dead he would offer Fitzgerald
a big sum for the property in Chester-street, and pay for it out of the
treasure. With the balance he and Louie would be wealthy enough for
anything, and they could then arrange their plans about Trissie and
themselves. He did not expect much happiness in his married life, but he
should have done his duty, and if Louie was really what she seemed to
be, even love might come in time.

Jack Ferrars rode back to Marston Hall thoroughly perplexed. He did not
like Louie. The little Wynnum had told him about her, had not been to
her advantage, and he regarded his friend now as thoroughly in her
toils.

'Just like a woman,' said Jack illogically, 'they can't do a man a good
turn without mixing up some selfish end of their own with it. Why could
she not nurse him, without compromising him and herself by coming down
to a place like Moreland in this honey-moon fashion, and passing herself
off as Mrs. White. It is plain enough that she has him fast, although I
am certain that he loves Miriam best. It is one of those horrible messed
up affairs, in which men are victims and woman shine.' Jack said this
savagely, sticking the spur into his hack as he did so, who responded
with a bound, and a quickened pace.

Ferrars was supposed to be a mild sort of woman hater, but he liked his
cousin Miriam, and he determined that he would prevent the Marston Hall
people knowing more than was absolutely necessary about the state of
things at Moreland. If Miriam really did love Wynnum, the latter should
have a chance, and he thought out sundry desperate plans to frustrate
what he called the designs of Louie Le Blanc.

'Miriam,' he thought, 'is no match for the Frenchwoman; but if I can
help it the latter shall not have it all her own way. Who could tell,
perhaps, after all, she was only fooling Wynnum to find out something
more about the French artist's treasure.' But the recollection of that
love scene, which he had caught a glimpse of through the window,
dissipated the thought, 'no woman could have looked as she did then if
she did not love.'

Arriving at Marston he was besieged with questions. He hurried off to
dress for dinner, but Grace and Mary were ravenous for news and before
dinner was over they managed to elicit from him much more than Jack had
intended to be known. It was noticeable that Mrs. Broughton and Miriam
said very little.

Later in the evening while Grace and Mary were occupied with the
examination of some new music which Jack had brought down for them from
London, Mrs. Broughton asked Miriam to go with her to her own room.

It was evidently a matter of gravity to Mrs. Broughton; the good lady
nervously closed the door, and then took quite a minute arranging her
gold glasses, looking all the while at Miriam before she essayed to
speak.

'Well, aunt, dear, what is it?' said Miriam at last.

'I am afraid, Miriam, by what I hear,' said Mrs. Broughton slowly, with
a sigh, 'that Mr. White is a very wicked young man. . . And we have his
sister staying here. It is really most distressing--and you three girls
my wards! Trissie being with us makes us as it were, connected with
these people, and the Rector's wife assures me that he must be quite
depraved. I should not like Grace and Mary to know, but you are older
and a good sensible girl.'

'But aunt what is the matter? Mr. White is ill, what do you mean?'

'There is a great deal the matter, my dear. Mrs. Robertson tells me that
Mr. White is living at Morelands with a young French woman, and that
they are passing as husband and wife. I would not believe it, but Jack
has unintentionally corroborated all she told me. He is of course a
friend of Mr. White's and will try to cloak his fault. I felt all the
time at dinner that he was trying to keep something back. You may depend
upon it that he is not nearly so ill as Jack pretends he is. I am
confident that Jack received a shock when he rode over this afternoon
and found out how things are. It is perfectly disgraceful, that after
all your kindness to him and his sister, he should come down here with
this woman, and stay within a mile or two of Marston. Oh! the wickedness
of some men and women, Miriam, and I really always thought so much of
Mr. White, although I was careful not to mention it, lest it should
influence you in his favour; but what a mercy it is that he never gained
your affections. However, the dear child is a sweet little thing, and
cannot help being the sister of such a brother, but I think that it will
be best to send the things with her in the carriage to-morrow and let
her remain. We cannot allow ourselves to be associated in any way--to
put it most charitably--with such questionable conduct.'

Miriam was sorely troubled and hardly knew what reply to make to her
aunt. She felt sure that she was under a misapprehension as to Wynnum
having been a willing party to a scandal, but the whole affair caused
her anxiety and alarm. She had become greatly attached to Trissie and
she loved Wynnum, and the account of his recent heroism had lifted him
still higher in her esteem; she felt jealous of this beautiful young
French woman who had been privileged to nurse him back to life and
health. But she was connected with him through his employer; and who
would not have been proud to have nursed him after what he had done!

'I think, aunt, that you are mistaken. Jack says that Mr. White was
brought down to Morelands quite unconscious, and that there is an
elderly servant woman waiting upon him, and that Miss Le Blanc has her
maid and coachman with them too. I think that if we questioned Jack
further, we should find out that there was no semblance of impropriety.
Of course it looks bad, from common standpoint of the world for a young
woman like Miss Le Blanc to be so interested in a young man, but that is
one of the conventional things of society which I complain of. I really
think, aunt, that after Mr. White's heroism in saving the lives of those
two children, I would have done the same for him myself.'

'But you would not have passed yourself off as Mrs. White,' said Mrs.
Broughton with emphasis, as though that settled it.

'Her name is White in English,' said Miriam, 'and there may be some
mistake. I do not think that we have enough evidence to condemn them.'

'Well, Miriam, I am sorry to do anything which seems unkind; but I have
to think of the good name of your cousins as well as your own, and I
insist, dear, that Trissie must remain at Moreland to-morrow if she goes
there.'

Miriam knew that there was no appeal when her aunt spoke in this way in
regard to a matter affecting herself and cousins, and set herself to
think out a plan whereby such a breach, as the sending away of Trissie
would involve, might be averted.

The following morning dawned with all the ripe beauty of an elderly
English autumn, the foliage was already tipped with the glowing
indications of that rich and radiant beauty which clothes our deciduous
trees with a glory which is rarely equalled, and never surpassed in
other lands. Wynnum met Louie at breakfast and found that, tempted by
the loveliness of the morning, she had decided to go over to bring
Trissie from Marston herself. She wanted to do some shopping, and would
start early and pick Trissie up on her way back. She told Wynnum in her
pretty imperious way that, as he had not behaved well the previous day
in the matter of getting better, she thought that he had better rest, as
Trissie's visit would be sure to occasion a good deal of pleasant
excitement, and he would need to husband his strength.

Louie had made a most careful morning toilet, and looked superb--no
doubt it had occurred to her that she might meet Miriam. 'I can, at any
rate,' he thought, 'show this country girl how to dress.'

She drove the bays herself, and as the groom swung himself into his seat
behind as they started, and Louie nodded and smiled to Wynnum as he
stood watching her from the garden, he could not do other than admire
both the lady and her taste in horses and and equipage.

'To think that I, who have nothing, and am nothing, can have this woman
and all she possesses for the asking!' he said to himself, as he paced
up and down the lawn. 'Most men would leap at the opportunity, while
I---' He left the sentence unfinished, but, like many another thing left
unsaid, it suggested the more. Although Wynnum could not bring himself
to love Louie, he admired and respected her, and in a certain way felt
himself to be thoroughly unworthy of her. His feelings strikingly
indicate what a masterful passion love between the sexes is. He had
tried to force himself to feel toward Louie as he did toward Miriam,
but, although he owed his life to Louie, he could not. It was a pity,
perhaps, that he knew he could have her.

Wynnum, however, was ignorant of one matter. Jaykes had left the whole
of his wealth to his sister, and Louie knew that she was possessed of
fortune as well as beauty. And yet she prized these rare possessions
more for the sake of Wynnum than herself. Her pent up better nature had
found vent at last, and her whole soul went out to the man she loved.

Thoughts such as these filled her mind as she drove along the fragrant
country roads; the dew still sparkling on the lower branches of the
hedges, and here and there upon the grain which grew by the wayside.

'Will Mrs. White be back to luncheon, sir?'

The question was put to Wynnum by Mrs. Borrowdale, and it was put to him
at an inopportune moment, for his thoughts were with Miriam. 'Miss Le
Blanc will be back to luncheon,' said Wynnum.

'I beg your pardon, sir,' said the landlady in a startled and
apprehensive tone of voice, 'but is not the lady your wife?'

'No,' said Wynnum curtly, for he felt irritated by the question. 'Who
said that she was?'

'The lady did, sir,' and tears actually came to the woman's eyes.

'Well, don't bother me, I'm an invalid; ask Miss Le Blanc about it when
she returns; you are mistaken, I tell you.'

'But if it were known, sir--you know I am only a poor widow woman, with
a widow sister--it would ruin us. I should lose my licence, and I have
nothing else to fall back upon. Folk are so very particular down here,
sir. Will you please find some other accommodation, sir?'

'All right,' said Wynnum haughtily, for he was in no humor to explain,
and he doubted whether any satisfactory explanation could be given. 'I
will speak to Miss Le Blanc when she returns, and we will leave; but
remember this, my good woman, I came down here an invalid, and have
simply been nursed by Miss Le Blanc.'

'But why, sir, did the lady enter your names as Mr. and Mrs. White,'
said the woman, as though she hoped there might be some satisfactory
explanation by which such good customers might be retained.

'Goodness only knows,' said Wynnum, without troubling himself to look at
the register.




CHAPTER XXIII.--WANTED A HUNDRED POUNDS.


In the meantime Louie was returning to Moreland, Trissie with her, who
it must be said, felt very much in awe of the beautiful lady who drove
the two bay ponies so fearlessly--Trissie thought it Louie's usual mode
of driving; but in fact they were being driven as they had seldom been
before. The whip, with the dainty parasol upon the handle, came down now
and again almost viciously across their glossy coats, and Timothy held
on behind, and wondered how long it would take him to get their ears
dry, when they were once safely in the stable again. There had been an
incident that morning which had ruffled Louie's usually serene temper
more than she was herself willing to confess.

She had unexpectedly and really unintentionally met Miriam in her
carriage, face to face; and in Louie's opinion Miriam had treated her
with the greatest discourtesy, and Trissie was actually being sent to
her brother for good, as Louie shrewdly guessed, because Wynnum was with
her at Moreland.

It was really through Trissie that the trouble had arisen, for the thing
which had galled Louie most, had been said by Miriam to soothe the
child, when it was made plain to her, that she would not return again to
Marston. Jack was with Miriam in the breakfast carriage, and had done
his best to smooth matters over; but it was of no avail, the eyes of the
two women had met--and fire flashed.

Louie did not by any means relish the prospect of having to tell all
this to Wynnum; and had she known the state of his mind, as the result
of his interview with the hostess, would have liked it still less. It
was a most unfortunate medley. Miriam had done just what she had
intended not to do, while Louie had--not without some reason--heartily
hated Miriam at first sight. She had found out that it takes a great
deal more than clothes to get the best of some English country maidens.
Trissie, too, had made matters worse by telling Louie very frankly that
she loved Miriam the very next best to her brother Wynn. In some things
Miriam and Louie were much alike. Each possessed a very large share of
that valuable commodity known as self control. Louie decided to hide her
annoyance from Wynnum until she had a favorable opportunity to tell him,
and she had quite won Trissie's good opinion by the evening, and had led
Wynnum to think that Trissie was only to remain with them until the
morrow.

That night when Trissie was asleep, Wynnum lay resting upon the couch,
in view of the firelight, and Louie pulled her favorite chair near its
head, and prepared herself to tell him of the events of the day. Before
she had time to commence however, Wynnum reached his hand over and took
hers and pressed it to his lips and said:

'Louie, when do you think we might be married?'

'As soon as you feel that you love me enough to make me your wife,
Wynnum,' was the quiet and unexpected answer. 'Shall we talk frankly to
each other,' said Louie after a few moment's silence.

'Yes.' replied Wynnum.

'Then you know that I love you with all my heart; but I don't want you
to marry me to be unhappy--and yet why should you be unhappy with me?'
she said, as though she were thinking aloud. 'You know all about me.
There is nothing, nothing, for you to find out. We have lived in daily
intercourse in the same house. You have seen me at all hours of the day.
You know me ten times better than you know Miriam Lane; she is almost a
stranger to you, you have only seen her when she has been in company
clothes, and on her best behaviour, but poor me you know the very worst
of, Wynnum.'

'What, you say is all true, Louie, but I would sooner not talk about
Miriam. It is not Miriam that I have asked but you, when we may be
married.'

'But I think it is right that we should talk about it; better to do so
now, than by and bye have something between us which we dare not
mention. You know my heart's dearest wish is to have you love me; but I
want to have no sunken rock beneath the surface of our daily life
against which the frail barque of our domestic happiness might at any
time make shipwreck. Your ambition is to be a great author, but mine is
only to love and be loved. The best kind of love, to my mind, springs
from mutual esteem and confidence. I think that you ought to let me say
what I want to about Trissie and Miriam.'

'What has changed you so, Louie?' asked Wynnum.

'Am I much changed? I am glad, I think it has been love, and shame, and
suffering, and hope.'

Wynnum listened to the calm quiet tones of Louie's voice with a strange
sense of respect and pleasure. He would willingly have allowed to anyone
that she was better and more worthy of being loved than he was, but his
heart made no response.

Louie told him of the meeting with Jack and Miriam; the two carriages
had come together unexpectedly. Miriam was only going with them a little
way to make a call. Jack was to have brought Trissie, and then called
for Miss Lane on his return.

'You know, Wynnum, I hate her, she purposely slighted me before Trissie,
and the very way in which she kissed her good-bye, was intended as an
affront to me. It was as though Trissie was going to be defiled by
sitting in my carriage. Jack Ferrars does not like me, I know, but he is
open and frank, while Miss Lane is secretive and deceitful. If she were
a bad woman no one would ever know it. She would never be frank as I
have been even with her lover.'

To change the subject Wynnum told Louie of the interview with Mrs.
Borrowdale.

'I wrote Miss White in the book,' said Louie, 'that is my name in
English; but what nonsense it is; however, if you prefer to do so we can
return to town.'

This was done and the proprietress of the White Fawn Inn hardly knew
whether to be sorry or glad. She never remembered having been so
liberally paid before for her services.

'But you know the gentlefolk around are very curious and particular,'
she said to Wynnum.

'It will be well for them,' replied Wynnum easily, 'if they never have
more solid ground for complaint.'

The following day Louie was once more at home at St. John's Wood, and
Wynnum and Trissie were settled in their old lodgings.

The position was no doubt a strange one. Louie evidently had no
intention of being married without being loved. She had determined to
win Wynnum's affections by some means, for to her mind the hold which
Miriam had upon his heart could only be a very slight one. Louie had a
sound appreciation of her own personal and other advantages. She felt
confident that if Wynnum loved her she could make him happy as his wife,
and she set herself to make him love her; not as a shy maiden would a
backward swain, but as a mature and accomplished woman of the world
might a clever man.

She had decided with Wynnum's endorsement to sell the business which had
been carried on by Jaykes, and left the winding up of affairs to Wynnum,
to be transacted through Louie's lawyer, who was instructed that Wynnum
was to draw a liberal salary. There was nothing about it in the shape of
a gift, but it was to be full and sufficient.

Then Louie suggested that she wanted a change, and asked to be allowed
to take Trissie with her to a quiet watering place on the East Coast of
England. Wynnum of course consented--what else could he do?

'You may come down and see us if you wish from Saturday until Monday,'
said Louie, 'it will do you good. I shall write to you every other day
or so, so that you may know all about us, and you can write or not, as
you feel inclined.'

Louie was determined that there should be no coolness and no reserve
between them. She seemed to feel its approach instinctively. And where
Miriam and most other women would have shrunk back within themselves at
once, she went to the very other extreme, and with her impetuous, almost
childish frankness, swept every gathering cloud immediately away.

'Now Wynn,' said she, 'I am going to take Trissie with me to St. John's
Wood tomorrow, to try on some holiday frocks, and you must come up to
dinner and bring her back; it will be our last day in town, and we shall
want to have a talk over things.'

Trissie was sleepy when the evening came and elected to stay all night;
so, as Louie evidently approved of the arrangement, Wynnum had perforce
to agree.

'Lie down on the sofa, Wynnum,' said Louie afterward, 'and let us
imagine ourselves at Moreland again, you are not so strong as I could
wish to see you.'

'Why don't you marry me then, Louie,' said Wynnum, 'and end my
perplexity and doubt.'

'Do you love me any better than you once did,' asked Louie.

'Certainly I do,' said Wynnum earnestly.

'But you don't love me well enough to marry me yet; you don't love me,
for instance, as well as you once loved Miriam Lane. You see I'm not
afraid to talk to you about things, because you don't expect anything
very proper from me, and then I have nursed you so much, and know you so
much, and know you even better than you know yourself. For instance you
would be very good and kind and proper, if you married someone who was
not a woman, but I know that you would not be happy.'

'What do you mean?' said Wynnum, laughing and lying down to rest upon
the lounge as he was bidden.

'Well I will tell you,' said Louie, drawing a favorite rocking chair of
hers near the lounge, and putting her dainty little feet upon a low
footstool.

'You know I'm a woman.'

'Yes, I quite believe that,' said Wynnum who was now thoroughly amused.

'Ah, but wait a moment, there are plenty of women; women who get married
too, to men that love, or think they love them; but they are not women.
They are naturally cold, and sisterly, and repress themselves; they
always wait to be kissed first, and hold their husbands who ought to be
their other life at arm's length. I wonder now why God gave women
beautiful forms, and softness and soothing voices, and physical beauty,
if it were not to make them loving and lovable to the men they marry.'

'You know,' she continued, 'there's no one else in the world I should
talk to, as I do to you, but you have asked me three times to marry you,
and you don't love me enough yet. You are grateful to me, and you have
come in a certain way to admire and respect me, but you feel a good bit
like a brother to me yet. Oh, you need not say anything, I know you do!
And let me finish now; the man that feels like a brother to a woman is
not gifted with marriageable love.'

'Now I don't suppose that two people were ever before placed in the
strange position that we are to each other, or that any woman ever
talked to a man who had made her an offer of marriage as I am talking to
you. But I have my own idea of what marriage ought to be, and it is
this: There should be mutual love and respect, not merely the brotherly
and sisterly milk and water affection, which is regarded as the correct
kind in so many households; but a perfect union, mentally and
physically, between a perfect woman and true man. I have been thinking
over these words in the marriage service, 'with my body I thee worship.'
Not one man in ten thousand knows what a great deal they mean. It is not
easily explained either and I am not going to attempt to explain it to
you; you will have intuitive knowledge of it some day perhaps.'

'Really, Louie, I don't know what to say to you.'

'No, of course you don't,' said Louie kicking over the footstool; 'if
you loved me, you would know what to say fast enough, but I think that
is a long enough lesson for to-night. You are making a little progress,
and for a man, you are fairly teachable. I think that its just possible
that I shall be able to marry you one day yet. Now you had better go,
and call and see us off at the Railway Station to-morrow morning.'

Wynnum almost offered to kiss Louie shortly afterward, when they said
good-night. But he saw in Louie's eye that he mustn't. Her whole soul
and body were his, as soon as he loved her, as she demanded to be loved,
but not before. She had woken up late in life to learn the sacred
meaning of 'love,' and had determined that she would make no more
mistakes; she would not accept marriage, nor even caresses, from the man
she loved and longed for--without it.

Wynnum, however, had anxieties of his own, apart from Miriam and Louie,
for No. 161 Chester-street was at last in the market.

The owner, Mr. Fitzgerald, had had considerable losses about the time of
the fire and in response to Wynnum's letter he had written to him
shortly before the return from Moreland, advising him of the fact. If he
could sell privately beforehand, he would do so, and he would be willing
to accept a hundred pounds as a deposit on the purchase money. But
Wynnum had not anything like such a sum of money in his possession. Debt
had accrued at his lodgings during his absence which he had to pay, and
notwithstanding his fairly liberal salary he had saved practically
nothing. He was too proud to ask Louie for the money, although he knew
that he might have had ten times the sum by speaking a word, so he began
to cast around among other friends and acquaintances.

He tried Jack Ferrars first, but, like other medical students, Jack was
in his usual chronic state of impecuniosity. His heroism over the fire,
he naturally thought, must to some extent have rehabilitated him with
certain relatives and acquaintances; but, when it became known that his
errand was to borrow a hundred pounds for a few weeks, his reception was
a cold one. Everyone was poor, or their money was locked up, or they
could not do it on principle, or something else unfortunately prevented
them.

Jack knew the purpose for which Wynnum wanted the money and was very
anxious to assist him, and suggested that, as he might well afford to
pay a fabulous rate of interest for the use of the money, he should go
to a money lender.

Wynnum on this wrote to several, and called upon one or two others, for
the matter was becoming urgent. If the affair could not be settled
within a few days, wrote Mr. Fitzgerald, he would have to put the place
up to auction; so Wynnum picked out the most promising of the answers he
had received and went with Jack to, as the latter hopefully said, 'fix
up the money.'

They had the shamefaced feeling and expressions of countenance common to
inexperienced borrowers. It wears off with men who run big overdraft
accounts with their bankers, but it is very pronounced with those who
attempt to borrow a small sum on personal security.

'Ah!' said the genial Mr. Finden, when he had listened to Wynnum's
explanation, 'and for what purpose do you want the money?'

'I prefer not to say; we will guarantee good interest.'

'But, my good sir, what is your security?'

'My friend will become security for me,' said Wynnum.

'And what security has your friend?'

Jack hurriedly, and in some confusion, named the extent of his personal
possessions.

'Very good,' said the suave business man, 'I have no doubt we can make
the advance if things are as you state. There will be two preliminary
inquiries to make and a valuation fee of three guineas, payable in
advance. Kindly fill up and sign these forms, and we will put the matter
in hand.'

After some consultation with Jack, Wynnum filled up the papers and paid
the money, and left the office feeling more impressed with the enormous
value of 100 than he had ever done in his life before.

Inquiries were either made or supposed to be, in due course, and within
a few days a letter was received stating that the loan was refused on
the ground of unsatisfactory security.

The same day the property was advertised for sale with other freehold
and leasehold hereditaments, to be offered for public competition, by
order of the owners and mortgagees, at Whipstock and Scratchem's Real
Estate Mart, Tokenhouse Yard, E. C.

To add to Wynnum's vexation he found that the property was attracting
some attention on the part of some of the neighbors. The front part of
the old house was but partially damaged; but the workshops having been
burnt down it was supposed that the place would only fetch a little more
than the value of the land.

Wynnum had satisfied himself that to all appearances the room containing
the treasure and pictures was still undisturbed.




CHAPTER XXIV.--NO FRIEND LIKE A WOMAN.


A day or two after the departure of Louie and Trissie for East-Haven,
Wynnum received the following characteristic letter from Jack, who was
now on a short visit to Marston.

'Dear Wynnum,--I hope that I have not put my foot into it; but you know
that Mary and myself are on the very best of terms with each other, and
except that I think it is bad, from a physiological stand point, for
first cousins to marry, unless they are absolutely perfect physically
and mentally--which I don't know that we are--I might ask the dear
little girl to become my wife. However, that is quite apart from the
matter I have in hand to write about.'

'The fact is Mary has very much love for Miriam, and a very kindly
feeling towards you, and she has told me something which so astonished
me, that I am afraid that I partly disclosed to her what you told me
about your old house.'

'By the way, old man, I think that when two fellows are as intimate as
we are, it would really be better to confide more fully in each other.
Now there is not much which I do not tell you; but I learn down here
that you have given me only a very meagre account of various affairs in
which you are interested. You are so sensitive over your heart
complaints, and so secretive over your monetary difficulties, that,
although you are the best fellow in the world, you really take a lot of
getting on with. However, I told Mary a bit about our expedition to old
Bindem's and the result; and womanlike she wanted to know all about it,
and why you wanted a hundred pounds. I told her that you were thinking
of studying surgery and that adult corpses were just now rather high in
the market, but she threatened to tell aunt Broughton, which at once
brought me to seriousness, so I told her it was the old half-burnt
carcase of a house you had in view. This was overnight, and on the
following morning she invited me to go for a walk with her, and 'pon my
word I was afraid that the dear little girl was going to propose to me,
for I believe that is the conventional custom on such interesting
occasions. Her face was brimming over with information and I know that
she had something big on her mind. You know of course that you are in
trouble down here with Mrs. Broughton over that Frenchwoman. I stick up
for you naturally on all suitable occasions, but I have found out from
Mary as a most sacred secret, not to be breathed even to a 'talking
oak,' let alone a living man or woman, that Miriam thinks you are a very
nice young man, a regular brother of girls in the ordinary way, but
quite eligible, to be nearer and dearer to herself, if you were not so
frightfully reserved, and uncommonly conceited. In fact that--but there,
I dare not say another word, for I have the fear of Mary's wrath before
my eyes. I may be allowed however to say that I hope you are not
irretrievably committed to that splendid half-sister of the never-to-be
forgotten Jaykes.'

'But to come to the more practical portion of this long epistle. It may
interest you to know that Mary has seen a letter which was by mistake
forwarded to a certain person known as 'Bob'; but originally written to
somebody else. It is described to me as a most business-like production,
such as some wonderful woman of these remarkable times, indite with
singular felicity. In fact there was in the letter much about
money--that sordid dross so worthless in our hours of fancy and
sentiment; but so precious and unattainable when you call upon your
friends, or a money-lender, to borrow a hundred pounds. But this is
mostly introductory so I will close by telling you what I have been
trying to get out all along, viz.--that when you left Chester-street to
chance your luck amid the stir and strife of London, there was lying to
your credit in the London and County Bank the very respectable sum of
five hundred pounds sterling. It is still lying there, and will continue
to do so, I understand, until the crack of doom, unless an individual
ycelpt Wynnum White should write and sign a cheque for that amount, and
present it across the counter of the bank, when it will be duly honored
by the handing over of five hundred sovereigns. Now remember all this is
strictly private, so don't ask me one word further. It is as much as my
neck is worth to tell you what I have. But there's the money: go and buy
your house and be happy, and immediately upon her discovery write me an
introductory letter to the heiress of the gentleman of France.'

Wynnum read this letter from Jack Ferrars with astonishment. It was
evidently intended to convey to his mind that Miriam was far more
friendly to his suit than he had imagined, and that she, or someone
under her influence, had before he left Chester-street, actually paid
five hundred pounds into a bank for his use.

'It's Miriam,' he said aloud to himself.

'No one else would have thought of doing such a thing. The letter which
she intended that I should have, must have told me all about it. So she
paid those debts too, through her solicitors; but why has she left the
five hundred lying there all this time? And just think how I have
treated her! What a disagreeable, ungrateful wretch I have been.'

It was the revulsion of feeling which won Miriam's battle at a stroke.

But the sale was on the morrow! He would go down by the afternoon
express and see Miriam and apologise--and beg her to take back the
money; better to lose the house, and treasure, and everything, than act
so base a part as accept it, and use it with such a misunderstanding as
existed at present. He could not do it!

With hardly a second thought he sent a telegraphic message to Jack to
say that he would reach Marston by five that afternoon, as he was
leaving immediately by the express.

The message was handed to Jack an hour afterwards, when he was gravely
advising with Mrs. Broughton about a winter clothing club connected with
Marston Church, and, as he said, to Mary afterward, he might have been
knocked down by a feather.

'You are an awful goose, Jack,' remarked that young lady, 'it's just
like you men, you always mess things up. He really must not come up to
the Hall, Aunt Broughton would almost insult him, whatever did you tell
him for--at least like that? I don't know what we are to do.'

'Suppose we take Miriam into our confidence, and get her to meet him in
the Park, as though it were an accident, and we two could go for a
little walk together while they had it out.'

'Really I dare not tell her, Jack.'

'Then I suppose I must, for it has to be done.'

Whoever did it, it was done, for when a little before half-past five
Wynnum reached the Park gates in one of the two horse flies which plied
for hire at the railway station, Jack was waiting to meet him.

'Look here, old fellow,' commenced Jack as Wynnum stepped out of the
fly.

'What else could I do,' said Wynnum stopping him, 'I must see her.'

'Well, come along,' said Jack with a grimace, 'she's down with Mary, in
the coppice; but I warn you she's in a state of high pressure
excitement. We have had the utmost difficulty to get her to come down
and meet you, and upon my soul old fellow you must be prepared for a
rough time. She seems to me to be a good bit changed of late, more quiet
and reserved, and has taken to parish work and all that, as though she
didn't expect to live long. But I have told Mary to cut and leave her as
soon as we have said 'How do you do,' and I have promised not to be far
behind. I tell you, though, you're getting me into a petty mess with
Mary, roaming about with her in those romantic woods alone.'

Jack was talking against time, for he could see that Wynnum's excited
feelings precluded his saying anything. With every mile that had brought
him nearer Marston his heart had sunk lower and lower. He felt that
there was so much to say, so much to explain, that he despaired of being
able to say anything at all that he ought to and wanted to say. How was
it that he never could appear to advantage in Miriam's presence?

Jack chatted away and hurried along in front, for the pathway just here
was narrow, and soon they came upon the river, and in the distance among
the trees they caught sight of the girls.

'Now pull yourself together, old man,' said Jack; 'I am sure she likes
you. Go right up and shake hands with them both, and I will make off
with Mary, and then you have it all out--and win.'

It was good advice no doubt, but the sort of advice more easily given
than noted upon. Wynnum felt his lower limbs trembling, and he was
uncertain whether he would be able to articulate a word.

With the evening rays of the autumn sunset creeping through the branches
of the trees upon the girls' faces and attire, they formed a winsome
picture--to Wynnum almost forbidding in its very attractiveness.

They shook hands all round in silence, and without a word of warning
Jack and Mary suddenly vanished among the trees and bushes. They were
alone face to face. Eyes looking into eyes, and both hearts beating
madly. It seemed to Miriam as though he would never speak and his name
was forming on her lips--'Mr White--'

But it had no opportunity of utterance, although Wynnum was only just in
time.

'Miriam, can you ever forgive me?'

'Wynnum!'

That one word told everything.

In a moment his arms were around her, and his kiss upon her lips; they
were brother and sister no longer, and there was nothing on either side
to be forgiven!

Wynnum had evidently profited by Louie's lessons; he wanted no one that
evening to teach him how to love.

What a ride back it was that night by the train. Miriam's kisses on his
lips; Miriam's money at his disposal in the bank. Untold wealth probably
within his grasp, for he would buy that house to-morrow. He leaned back
amid the cushions of the first-class carriage as the express train
dashed through the quiet moonlight and startled with its rush and roar
the country side, and closed his eyes and thought of Miriam.

His own Miriam, for she had promised that as soon as it it was wise, and
she had obtained her aunt's consent, she would become his wife. He had
carried everything by storm, when once the ice was broken through.
Miriam had been fairly startled out of her reserve, and had capitulated
without conditions to a hero.

And the train rushed on through the night with tireless revolutions of
many wheels toward London, and every sound was a song of triumph, and
Wynnum smiled to himself and closed his eyes again and hummed a love
song in the corner of the carriage thinking that the rambling of the
wheels would deaden all the sound. Then some of his fellow-passengers
also smiled, but with their eyes open, for the sound of the cooing
melody called up unconsciously old half-forgotten scenes of youth and
love and pleasure for themselves.

It was the quickest run that express had ever made upon the road; they
were in London in no time--at least so thought Wynnum.

Alas! however, for the happiness of life. When Wynnum reached home late
that evening there lay upon the table Louie's first letter from East
Haven.

It brought Wynnum down from the seventh heaven to an entirely different
region. He had actually asked two women to marry him, and he dared not
open Louie's letter for fear that it might say 'I will.' He was a hero
no longer. He lit a cigar and went out and sat upon the balcony and
smoked with that letter from East Haven still lying unopened upon the
table--he smoked because he was afraid. It had been a day of fate--he
had his heart's desire, Miriam loved him, and yet he was not satisfied
with himself--alas! how could he be!

He opened Louie's letter at last.

It was a totally different handwriting to Miriam's. No fine upstrokes or
sloping lady-like angularities. It was neat and clear and firm, but
somewhat self-assertive like the writing of a woman who made her letters
much after the fashion of her speech and thoughts. The address and date
stood at ease in the top corner; but there was no 'My dear' about it,
nor any other conventional or polite call to attention, and yet the
whole letter, fragrant with delicate perfume, read like a long caress.
It was as follows:

'You can hardly think, Wynnum, how this child Trissie adores you. She
was tired out to-night, for we have been finding out a score of lovely
nooks along the beach which we want to show you. So I had her on my lap
awhile, looking as sweet as a cherub in her long white robe, before she
went to bed. We had a most confidential talk about a variety of things,
which I must not of course tell you; but without any breach of
confidence, I may say that a china doll, and motherly old cat, and two
small kittens, and God and heaven and 'brudder Wynn,' and Miriam Lane,
were all strangely mixed. Trissie thinks my two bay ponies nicer than
Pop and Pepper, and the carriage she says is lovely, as there is just
room in it for myself and her and Wynn. She added that when Mr. Ferrars
and Miriam and herself were in the basket carriage she was pushed, so I
have promised her the whole of the front seat to herself on Saturday,
when we come to the station to meet you. You will know by that how
pleasurably we both anticipate your coming, so you will have the
prospect of making two pairs of eyes look brighter when you arrive. I
think that you ought to feel yourself a happy man. Modesty prevents my
saying all the complimentary things Trissie has deigned to say about
myself. You may rest assured, however, that she is as perfectly happy as
she can be. I asked her to-night what she would like best of everything,
and after she had thought a bit she said, in quite an awe-struck voice,
that she thought she would like God and brudder Wynn to come and live
with as at East-Haven, instead of our dying and going to heaven. But do
not misunderstand me through my telling you all this chatter. I have
thought much about you and your future since coming here. I am sure that
an inactive life would never suit you. We all need stimulus to attain
our highest good, and you need that and application to develop the
latent power within. You have no need to ask anyone whether you may be
this or that; it is the possession of the power to be, which gives the
right to be, and I am sure sure that you have it. How I long to see you
successful; the compeer of famous and distinguished men. Honorable and
honored for native worth. But sitting here to-night writing to you, I
feel sure that it will be so yet--don't laugh at me for saying I feel
sure too, that I shall have something to do with your success. I don't
yet know how; but I feel certain that it will be mostly through me--poor
little me--that you will yet develop a power which will bring the
world's homage to your feet. To achieve that for you, Wynnum, I would
pay any price demanded of me; and to protect you, I would, if necessary,
give my life. Nor am I dreaming or romancing or writing fine sentiment
merely. It's a calm hushed moonlight night, as I sit here writing to
you, and I am conscious somehow that before you love me well enough to
please me, I may possibly need to give my life. It's a disappointing
sort of a world, Wynnum, even when people do their best; but whatever
else you forget, remember that there are two people here who love you
very dearly. And whatever else you fail to do, be sure to come down by
the early train on Saturday, or Trissie will break her heart.

'Yours until then, and ever afterward,

'LOUIE.'

Wynnum replaced the letter in its envelope with a sigh, he felt that
every word was true. But he said nothing, his heart was too full for
utterance. He resolved, however, that he would on the Saturday tell
Louie everything. However ungrateful he might appear, he could not let
her be deceived.

It was strange though, that he could prepare himself to tell all this to
Louie without fearing from her one violent, or bitter, or upbraiding
word. It did not occur to him that it was the highest tribute he could
possibly pay to her true and sweet nobility. Imagine it; think of it; a
woman--and such a woman--to remain unloved.




CHAPTER XXV.--AN AUCTION SALE IN TOKEN HOUSE YARD.


Wynnum awoke the next morning in a state of feverish excitement. It was
Friday, a day not usually regarded as one of good omen. He had a letter
to write to Miriam; an auction sale to attend, and Louie and Trissie,
and many other matters, alas! to occupy his thoughts. Jack was coming up
that morning from Marston, and had promised to meet him early, the sale
was advertised for eleven o'clock. He had also to get a cheque for three
hundred pounds marked at the bank. There was no doubt a good bit to do.

He knew, too, that 161 Chester-street was on view that morning, and he
had determined to go up and have a look at the room and reassure himself
as far as possible of the security of the treasure. He was doing this
partly at the suggestion of Jack Ferrars, who, with all his jocularity
was a cautious individual.

There was only one other inspecting the premises when Wynnum called. He
was a small broad-shouldered man with a newish-looking pepper-and-salt
tweed suit on and a shabby silk hat. He did not look much like a
purchaser; but on seeing Wynnum he tried to strike up an acquaintance;
and to his annoyance followed him from room to room.

The house itself was found to be practically undamaged by the fire, but
the whole of the back workshop was a wreck. It was in charge of a local
resident, so it was impossible for Wynnum to conceal his identity.

The old man followed him about like a dog, there was no shaking him off.
He went with him into the room containing the pictures, and Wynnum
seemed to feel instinctively that he needed to be cautious. He glanced
carelessly around, and judging by the look of things that all was right,
quickly left the room, still followed, however, by the man.

In the vicinity of the Bank of England, as everyone knows, is Lothbury,
and out of Lothbury you turn into Token-house Yard. A place now mostly
occupied by stockbrokers but at one time the site of a busy trade in the
manufacture of the tokens of copper, brass, and lead, which then did
duty for pennies and half-pennies.

The sale-room at the time of our story was possessed of the dingy
attributes common to such places in the city, and when Wynnum and Jack
entered at a quarter-past eleven, there was not more than a dozen people
present beside themselves.

'You will get it cheap, old fellow,' whispered the sanguine Jack, as he
looked around upon the company; but Wynnum did not feel quite so sure.

'You can never tell this class of people by the hats and coats they
wear,' he said.

The auctioneer, Mr. Scratchem, after reading the terms of sale,
commenced with some city properties. Some of which were purchased while
others were passed in.

'Now,' said the auctioneer, who by the way was a singular individual,
and bustled through his business as though it were a matter of perfect
indifference to him whether he sold anything or not, 'I have some very
eligible business premises in Chester-street to offer.' At this he took
a drink from a tumbler which stood on a ledge within the cedar rostrum.
It might have been cold tea and probably was; but general interest
seemed to be aroused as he lifted it to his lips; it looked as though he
were taking a refresher with the intention and determination of forcing
a sale.

Wynnum looked at him with some anxiety, and then glanced around at the
company to see if any present had the interested appearance of
purchasers; but so far as he could see, they were as unconcerned as
though they had merely dropped in to escape a shower of rain.

Mr. Scratchem was of the auctioneer species peculiar to the city. He was
thin, cadaverous-looking, sharp-featured, and altogether
unprepossessing.

There was none of the outward pomp and circumstance of the West End
auctioneer, who dresses in broad-cloth and gorgeous waist coat, with a
buttonhole. Probably this man had never smelt a flower in his life, let
alone worn a buttonhole. A bit of rusty black ribbon did duty for a
watch guard; and his coat, vest, and trousers, would scarcely have
brought seven-and-sixpence in the Minories; but he was a warm man and
very well respected for all that, and a great quantity of business
passed through the firm's hands. He looked as though he was born to
knock things down, and he did it ruthlessly; mostly for financial
institutions as mortgagees or assignees--a race for which he had
unlimited respect, for by them he mostly gained a very comfortable
living.

He became quite animated after his refresher. 'I have to announce,' he
said, 'that the very desirable freehold property known as 161
Chester-street, is being sold by order of the mortgagees.'

Fitzgerald stole quietly into the auction room just as this announcement
was made, and sat down at the back. He had come in to try and prevent
the property being altogether given away, as he hoped to see it make a
trifle over the mortgage money. The insurance money had already been
paid to the company, by whose order it was being sold, for the said
company had made Fitzgerald certain advances. The balance to credit
would not be very much he knew, for the way the expenses had been run up
after the fire were simply astounding to a simple-minded Irishman like
Fitzgerald. The whole Board had personally inspected the property at a
charge of five guineas a head; then the company's valuator had assessed
the damage in regard to the company's loss. This report had been
considered at a full and special meeting of the Board, and the insurance
money having been paid, the whole of the expenses were deducted. And so
the thing had mounted up until Fitzgerald saw that no matter how well
the property might sell, he stood very little chance of finding any
balance for himself after the payment of all and sundry claims. However,
he had privately instructed a broker to run the property up to a certain
figure before it was withdrawn, for he wanted at any rate to secure
himself against any further claims being made upon him by the Mortgage
Investment Company.

The auctioneer waited a long time before he received any offer at all,
when someone bid eight hundred pounds.

'Gentlemen,' said Mr. Scratchem, 'I should perhaps explain that this
property is not in the suburbs, nor anywhere about the brickfields
between Bayswater and Willesden; but is in Chester-street, one of the
most remarkable business thoroughfares in the whole of London.
Chester-street, gentlemen, is the native abode of the historian, and
antiquarian, and curiosity seeker. The freehold premises which I am
offering for sale are in the most eligible portion of the street, there
is a frontage of forty feet, and a depth of no less than two hundred
feet, the back premises have been partially destroyed by fire, and we
sell it with all faults as it stands. The title is sound and will be
found in perfect order, and I am offered only eight hundred pounds.'

A nod came from a man in one of the back seats.

'Nine hundred.'

'A thousand.'

'It's against you sir,' for the auctioneer had caught another mysterious
gesture.

'Any advance upon one thousand pounds!'

'It should be said, perhaps,' remarked the auctioneer dryly, 'that this
property was bringing in a rental of ten pounds per month prior to the
fire, and it is estimated that a matter of two hundred and eighty pounds
would put the place in perfect order.'

'Eleven hundred,' called out Wynnum; for he thought the silence was
being dangerously prolonged.

'Twelve hundred,' said the landlord's broker, having received a nod from
Fitzgerald.

'One thousand three hundred,' said Wynnum, deliberately.

There was a long pause; the auctioneer's hammer was poised in air to
knock it down, when a new voice was heard.

'Fifteen hundred!' It was the old party who had followed Wynnum all
round the place that morning, and Wynnum started and began to apprehend
trouble, as he listened to the sound of the man's voice, for he had
looked around several times without discovering the stranger.

He was sitting on a chair right behind Scratchem's rostrum.

'If this property were renovated and partially rebuilt in modern style,
I have no doubt it would bring a much larger rental,' said the
auctioneer, who had never seen the property in his life.

'Two thousand pounds,' said Wynnum.

'Two thousand five hundred,' grumbled the stranger at the back of the
rostrum.

Wynnum nodded.

'Is that intended for three thousand?' said Scratchem to Wynnum.

'No my bid is two thousand six hundred.'

The stranger now whispered something to the auctioneer who, after a
minute's consideration, said, 'I must remind you gentlemen that this is
to be a cash transaction, I do not think we can accept cheques.'

It was now Wynnum's turn to step forward and explain to the auctioneer
that he had a marked cheque for three hundred to hand in as a deposit,
and that the balance would be paid in cash at any time after the sale.

Another conference then went on at the back of the rostrum, and
Fitzgerald guessing that someone was trying to get the best of Wynnum,
although he was dumbfounded at the price which was being offered for the
house, stepped forward. He felt sure that Wynnum had some private reason
for wishing to buy the place and that he would find the money. It was of
course to his advantage that the property should bring as much as
possible, so he explained to the auctioneer that he was interested in
the sale as mortgagor, and that he knew Mr. While to be a responsible
person, quite able to make good his offer if he should prove the highest
bidder. There was no getting away from this, so the sale was resumed.

'It's against you, sir,' said Scratchem, cocking his eye over his
shoulder in a most ludicrous fashion.

'Three thousand,' was the response from behind the scenes.

'Three thousand five hundred,' said Wynnum without giving Scratchem a
chance to repeat the bid.

'Four-thousand,' was slowly uttered from the back.

Wynnum consulted for a moment with Jack and the eyes of all in the room
watched them, as though the fate of nations hung on the decision. Wynnum
and Jack were in a great state of excitement over the opposition Wynnum
was meeting with, and the latter was recommending a bold stroke which
might altogether disconcert the enemy.

'Bid another thousand,' he whispered. The auctioneer waited, and slowly
repeated the previous bid to give them time.

'Five thousand pounds,' said Wynnum in a loud clear voice which echoed
through the room.

'God save us!' shouted out the delighted Fitzgerald unable to retain his
feelings any longer.

There was no response this time from behind the rostrum, and a few
seconds afterwards Mr. W. White gave in his name, and the cheque as a
deposit, and was declared the purchaser.

As they quitted the auction Mart the stranger brushed rudely against
Wynnum, and muttered in his ear: 'Suppose it has gone!' He then looked
into Wynnum's face with a malicious grin, and turned on his heel and
left them, to be lost in the thronging city crowd.

'Jack,' said Wynnum, 'let's get a cab, and drive straight to
Chester-street. Did you hear what that fellow said? I thought he must
know something; but supposing it is gone?'

It is a new revelation of London for those who have never before driven
in a cab from the City to the West End. Cab drivers never travel by the
ordinary main throughfares, but select quiet by-streets, the existence
of which no ordinary mortal before inspected.

But neither Wynnum nor Jack were interested in the streets, except that
they thought the journey an unconsciously long one. They were too
excited to talk much, each of them was thinking of the enormous price
paid for the place, and the ominous words of their opponent, 'suppose it
should be gone?'

'Hi, jehu!' shouted Jack through the hole in the roof of the cab; 'this
isn't a funeral, drive a bit faster, there's a good fellow, and you
shall have an extra shilling.'

Ten minutes afterwards they were in the neighborhood of the cafe
previously referred to in this story.

'Wynnum,' said Jack, 'I must have some lunch. If what that blamed old
idiot said should prove true, I believe I should forfeit my life if the
news strikes me on an empty stomach. Let the cabby wait for us and let
us eat our lunch in peace. If things are all right as you left them you
can treat me to a dinner afterward, in your new character of
millionaire.'

The luncheon was soon dispatched, however, for both men were in a state
of fearful although suppressed excitement.

On arrival Wynnum at once showed the keeper of the place his receipt for
the deposit money, and asked for the keys. They ascended the familiar
staircase together. Neither of them spoke and Wynnum led the way into
the apartment with the pictures and closed and locked the door.

'If that man had anything to do with Jaykes and knew that the treasure
had been removed,' said Wynnum, as they stood together in front of the
corner of the room opposite the door, 'he would never have bid so high
for the property.'

'Goodness me,' exclaimed Jack, 'don't argue the point now let's pull the
wall-paper down and see.'

But Wynnum held him back. 'Let us examine the paper first, and then cut
it with a knife from the rabbet, you might injure the picture.'

Wynnum felt the knife fall into the old slit which he had made months
before. He ran it up and down for three yards or more, and then along
the wainscoting, and then Jack positively threw himself upon it for his
nerves were strung to the highest tension, and tore the paper from the
wall. Before them was--the cavity, which had at one time held the
Frenchman's treasure.

Both picture and treasure were gone.

Wynnum looked blankly at the empty space for a moment, and then swooned
and fell heavily upon the floor.

'Good Heavens!' exclaimed Jack, and immediately set himself to restore
Wynnum to his senses. Somehow he had felt uncomfortable about the
treasure all the morning, and knowing the high state of excitement in
which Wynnum was, had taken the precaution to put a flask of brandy in
his pocket. It was well he had done so.

Jack did not leave Wynnum until he had seen him safely in bed and asleep
at his lodgings.

'It's a frightful disappointment,' he said to himself as he went home,
'I was afraid that it was too great a risk to leave a box of jewels,
protected only by a bit of wall paper. That comes of being honest and
conscious you see. But you may carry honesty a bit too far. Poor old
Wynn he is going to East Haven tomorrow, and I fancy he dreads something
down there. I must see him off, he is certain to be awfully down on his
luck.'

'I was right after all,' he continued. 'Jaykes got that treasure and
died of the plague. It is to be hoped that it will kill off a few more
of them.'




CHAPTER XXVI.--A QUESTION OF MICROBES.


The carriage was waiting outside the East Haven railway station when
Wynnum's train from London drew in. Trissie was in undisturbed
possession of one seat, with her back to the horses, and in front of her
sat Louie with the reins, and by her side was an empty seat for Wynnum.

No one passed that carriage without turning to glance for a moment at
its occupants, for under Louie's well-bred reserve there was a vivacity
and happiness which gave a charm and grace to the features, and a
sparkle to the eye. Trissie was the picture of expectancy.

Wynnum was one of the first out of the station, a handbag his only
luggage; he stepped quietly into the carriage, and having greeted the
occupants, sat down in the vacant seat. The groom stepped away from the
horses and jumped up behind, and they were off--how well to do they
appeared; how supremely contented; how perfectly happy!

Both Trissie and Louie, however--the latter especially--knew
instinctively that there was something wrong. Human temperament is not
unlike the atmosphere; an impending storm says nothing, but it sets the
barometer falling, and we feel both the thunder and lightning long
before we see the flash or hear the roar. Louie knew for certain that
something had happened, and that something was coming, so she allowed
the horses to appear uncommonly fidgety, and gave attention to her
driving, leaving Trissie to sustain the conversation.

On reaching home--for Louie had rented a very commodious house--she took
Wynnum's hand, and their eyes met.

'Wyn,' she said, 'something has upset you and you are tired after your
journey. The servant will show you to your room, and there's a bath
adjoining. I want you to remember that we won't have a word of serious
talk until Trissie is fast asleep to-night. We are going to roam about
the beach after lunch and play at being children. I really will not
listen to a single grown up word.'

'But, Louie, I might mislead and deceive you; it is not fair to either
of us,' said Wynnum, ruefully.

'You cannot deceive me, Wynn. Trissie expects to enjoy herself, and for
that matter so do I, even if it is for the last time; now don't be
fractious; I cannot have Trissie's afternoon spoiled, or my own, either;
we have counted on it all the week, so please be good.'

When Wynnum came down to lunch he looked greatly refreshed, and found an
exquisite repast awaiting him. Both Louie and Trissie were bubbling over
with mischief and fun.

As the house door shut behind the three, an hour afterwards, Wynnum
seemed himself to have caught the contagion.

'There now,' said Louie, as some favorite dogs came scampering after
them, 'we are going to have a children's afternoon of frolic and
forgetfulness, and leave every one of our bogeys within doors.'

What an afternoon it was! They explored caves, made castles in the sand,
climbed to the summit of the lighthouse, and rode donkeys along
precipitous paths by the cliffs. Trissie declared that she was so tired
and happy that she would have to ride a donkey home, and further decided
that she had enjoyed herself beautifully. And Louie, seemingly just as
happy, but more subdued, said to her, 'Well, pet, I feel almost as young
and happy as you do.'

It was true, too, although she felt certain that a blow she might never
recover from was coming. For a few hours she had determined to be glad.
And why not?

Who has not sometimes watched the playful ripple, so much akin to
laughter, which spreads itself across the surface of a wheat-field that
is golden ripe. The morrow may bring the reaper's scythe, and the next
day, in place of that fair scene, there may be only stubble; but it
laughs none the less gladly to the romping summer winds which sway it to
and fro--why should it think of the morrow; sufficient unto the day is
the evil thereof.

As far as Louie actually did think, such was the terror of her thoughts.
Until nine o'clock came she would listen to nothing unpleasant,
disappointing, or sad.

She sang that night as Wynnum thought she had never done before; she
surpassed herself; and then she would have Wynnum play. Trissie listened
to them both with eyes, and it must be said sometimes with mouth wide
open, and thought them the two nicest, handsomest, and cleverest people
in the world.

But by nine o'clock Trissie was tired, and soon after the maid called
Louie to kiss her as usual before she want to sleep.

When Louie came back she walked quietly up behind Wynnum's easy chair;
he was leaning his head back as he looked into the fire, so she bent
down quietly and kissed him on the forehead.

'There Wynn, that's the last of our playing at being children; now tell
me what has happened--and mind, you must not keep back any one thing
that I ought to know.'

And Wynnum looked into the fire and somehow, shamefacedly, told her
everything, while Louie bowed her head and kept back her tears and
thought bitter things of Miriam Lane. He told her, too, about the
missing treasure.

'Wynn,' said Louie, after all was told, 'I don't think I can trust
myself to see you to-morrow; you know I can't be a sister to you, and I
won't make believe that I can. There is one thing, perhaps, that I can
do for you--never mind now what it is. You go back to London to-morrow
morning, and I will explain things somehow to Trissie. By midday on
Monday I will see that there are ample funds in your account at the bank
to meet any cheque you may need to draw, to complete the purchase of the
house. I will leave Trissie at your rooms at Upper Portland street that
afternoon, and on the following day I will write you a good-bye letter,
and then I shall be gone, perhaps to France.'

'But remember, Wynn, I always have, and always shall, long to hear of
you as being something great and noble. I wish that you would promise me
to try and do something that may associate my name with yours; it would
partly recompense us for what we both have lost.'

The eyes of each were wet with tears, and Wynnum promised--not really
knowing what.

He was about to continue in self-upbraiding terms, but Louie would not
hear a word.

'You are still,' she said, 'and always will be my hero.' And she kissed
him passionately and was gone.

'Louie! Louie!' he called after her; but her door was shut, and he knew
that he would see her as he had seen her that night--no more.

It is not necessary to describe how Wynnum passed the hours of
darkness--dark in more senses than one. It was a long watching for the
morning, but when it came it seemed, as though everything had been
pre-arranged by Louie. Breakfast and the carriage awaited Wynnum in time
to catch an early train for the metropolis; but he saw neither Louie nor
Trissie.

On Monday afternoon Wynnum paid for the house in Louie's name; giving
instructions that the property was to be transferred to her. The same
afternoon's post brought a long and affectionate, although somewhat
formal letter from Miriam, in reply to his. Miriam wanted to be assured
that it was not in gratitude for anything that she had done for him that
had caused him to ask her to be his wife.

Somehow it jarred upon Wynnum, that she should think such a thing
possible, after all the love which he had lost for her; although Miriam
did not, and could not, know aught about it.

The fact possibly was, that now Wynnum felt Louie as a personality to
have passed so completely out of his life, he missed her. Somehow too
the prospect of going down to Marston as an accepted lover did not
wholly fill the measure of his mind. There are degrees in all that is
sweet and desirable, and after such an experience as Wynnum had passed
through in Louie's society, it is not surprising that truly as he loved
Miriam, he no longer felt her to be the perfect being he had once
conceived her.

Trissie came home again on Monday night. It was another link broken. She
was loaded with farewell presents, dear to a child's heart and Louie had
kissed her a last goodbye. Wynnum was learning somewhat sadly, that
there is no success in love, or in aught else, but something must be
parted with--left behind.

He thought to himself, 'probably by this time to-morrow, Louie will be
in France,' and at that he sighed.

It was not toward France, however, that Louie at that moment was
looking, but to another country; one nearer to us all.

Louie was alone that night with her servants at St. John's Wood, her
eyes sadly red with weeping; but at the special time now referred to,
she was bending with eager curiosity over the French artist's treasures.
Jaykes had got the jewels after all. The treasure had caused his
illness, and indirectly his death; but Louie had determined that the
poisoned hoard of wealth should slay no more victims--save one.

She was applying the antidote herself for fear that it might bring death
to the man she loved. Jewel after jewel was carefully laved with the
disinfecting fluid, and Louie had now come to a portrait which she had
found buried among the gold pieces.

'It is wonderful,' she exclaimed, 'that must have been my mother's
goodness knows how many times great grandmother. That explains what
Nathaniel meant when he thought that he was going to die. He said that
there was proof that I was the heiress, and here it is. Ah well, it's
too late now. As Wynnum says, there's no resisting fate--but it may help
him to remember.'

It was wonderful how calm she was; but it was the calmness of a broken
heart--the icy stagnation of despair.

There must have been over one hundred weight of golden pieces, and the
cleansing and disinfecting of them occupied Louie until very late into
the night. Then there was much burning and fumigating and cleansing of
the box before she seemed satisfied. The sheep's wool and chamois
leather and all that she had used she burnt in the fire. Then she placed
the empty chest in a convenient position by the wall, and filled small
bags with the gold, and placed them side by side in the chest. Upon them
she placed the jewels and above them again the picture. Then she lay
down and rested for an hour and took some light refreshment.

Her task was not yet done, however, for she sat down to her desk and
seemed to become absorbed in writing. It became morning and still she
wrote. Then she cleared away all evidences of her work; tidied up that
which had become disarranged and surveyed the pretty room. How well she
knew it--every article of furniture and cherished nicknack! She was
wondering how it might appear to other eyes besides her own. It was only
natural perhaps that she should in that hour of doom wish that there
might have been one who would fight for her life, even as she had fought
for that of Jaykes and Wynnum. Already through her gentle veins, alas!
there flowed the germs of the dreaded infection; but she had determined
to hasten the end, so as to spare herself the agony which she had seen
another suffer.

'What matter,' she thought; 'she had nothing to live for now--at any
rate she had done one good deed with which to consummate her life. Her
foolish ancestor had poisoned the treasure, and she had applied the
antidote. The whole thing was fitting, for she had seen proof which
satisfied her that she was none other than the blood descendant of the
Gentleman of France.'

Suddenly a pang of suffering caused her to close her lips to restrain
the cry with which nature relieves its pain. It lasted but for a minute.
The dread disease, alas! was doing its work upon her quickly.

'People have been known to die from it,' she said aloud, 'within three
hours.'

She hurriedly changed her dress, attired herself in an evening gown of
black velvet and clasped around her throat the costly necklace of
pearls; then stood before one of the glass doors of her wardrobe, and
looked at herself.

'Ah!' she whispered with a sigh, 'Wyn will see me to-day. I am more
beautiful than she is. I would have made him a better wife; but its too
late now for this world, he will love perhaps when he knows all, and
sees me lying dead.'

Another sudden spasm caught her breath and see knelt beside the bed and
prayed in broken utterances that the end might be swift and pangless.
But there was no time now to lose, so she rang the bell loudly for her
maid.

The girl came in half-dressed, surprised at the unexpected summons; but
she at once awoke fully, with astonishment, on finding her mistress up
and dressed.

'Do not be frightened, Beatrice, I am ill. I want you to send the man at
once for Dr. Stacey, and then come up to me again.'

As Beatrice closed the door, Louie took a a bottle from a case.'It's the
only remedy for suffering,' she said aloud. 'I have risked it for his
sake, and it has, as I expected, smitten me. Ah!' she continued, 'how
strange that after all that I have nursed and loved, I should be fated
to die like this alone.'

She was talking now in her native tongue, 'Dear little hands,' she said
smoothing them together, 'you nursed them tenderly, and little feet you
walked so soft and quietly; but with all your grace and gentleness, and
wealth, you could not make him love you--- while she----!' and Louie lay
down upon the bed with a half smothered choking sob.

'Beatrice,' she whispered to the terrified, girl on her return, 'tell
the doctor when he comes that I was very ill with frightful spasms, and
took something to ease the pain. If I die be sure and send this letter
at once to Mr. White.'

The last words were spoken with much difficulty, and directly after, the
drug which she had taken, brought on unconsciousness.

It was half an hour before the doctor came, and all the time Louie lay
there unconscious and without a struggle; once her hands seemed to be
grasping at something, and her feet moved as though she felt herself
slipping over the brink of some dread precipice, with none to save her.
And she, who had been so good a friend to others, had none in that last
hour to hold her hand, and smoothe her pillow, and wipe the death sweat
from her brow, and go with her as near and far into the dread unknown as
as living mortals may.

'I should have been called in hours before,' said the doctor to the
frightened servants, 'She must have been very ill, for she has taken
morphia to relieve the pain, and evidently took an overdose. You say
that she told you to send for Mr. White. Better do so at once. Your
mistress is dead!'

By the time Wynnum, in response to a hurried summons, reached St. John's
Wood that Tuesday, nature and the kindly hands, of not unloving
attendants had smoothed away the harsher evidences of pain and death.

The fair tenement which had been the roof tree of no ordinary spirit lay
there with eyes closed, but with a calm and fair exterior. The necklet
of pearls was still clasped around the throat of alabaster, and beneath
the black velvet robe there was outlined the shapely contour of her
graceful form.

Her sudden death smote Wynnum with a very tempest of grief; he reeled
beneath the blow; it was as though he suddenly realised what a friend
she had been to him, and what a sweet and noble woman she was. But he
had much more to learn about her.

A week after the simple but stately funeral (at which Wynnum and Trissie
had been true mourners) Jack and he were together at Upper
Portland-street.

On the floor in front of them was the Frenchman's treasure chest.

Louie's will had been produced by her lawyers; and after legacies to
servants and and others, and ten thousand pounds to Trissie, the whole
of the great fortune was willed unconditionally to Wynnum White. The
will had specially particularised an oaken brass-bound chest containing
jewels, which were specially bequeathed to Wynnum by Louie Le Blanc, as
the blood descendant of the French artist.

'Jack,' said Wynnum, 'I positively loathe and hate this treasure now;
but I have no fear of infection; she would not have asked me to open it
unless all danger of that had been removed.'

'But,' said Jack, 'she may not have disinfected it thoroughly. My advice
is to run no risks. It is a most marvellous thing is this plague
microbe, and the effect of it seems to be fearfully lasting. There is no
getting at the bottom of these noxious germs. May I see the letter
however in which you are assured that it is safe.'

It read as follows, and was the letter which, by the hand of Beatrice,
had first told Wynnum of Louie's death:--

Dear Wynnum,--'There is a letter for you on the top of the French
artist's treasure chest; read it a few days after my funeral. You need
not fear the plague now, I have myself undone as far as possible the
mischief wrought by my own rash ancestor.'

'My life was not worth much, so I gave it to preserve you and others
from the dreaded infection. There can, however, be no harm now come to
any one from it. Goodbye for ever, Wynnum. Remember your promise, and
never forget my love.'

There was no signature, none was needed.

Jack put the letter down upon the table without a word.

'I shall read the letter for me in that casket at once,' said Wynnum,
'and I would do so if I knew for certain, that I had to pay for it, the
penalty of death.'

'Well,' exclaimed Jack, 'for goodness sake don't be too precipitate!
Wait until I slip out to the chemist, and get some disinfectant. If you
are willing to sacrifice your life for the sake of a secret I am not.'

Wynnum awaited Jack's return somewhat impatiently, and after a certain
amount of precaution the outer chest was unlocked. Upon the top of it
lay the French artist's warning document, the contents of which are
already known.

The two men then lifted out the ebony casket, and with a somewhat
unsteady hand, Wynnum applied the key.

They seemed to start back instinctively as Wynnum threw up the lid; but
a white cambric handkerchief only, lay upon the top of the jewels. It
was embroidered with the initial letters, 'L.L.B.' Wynnum removed this
immediately and there flashed under the light a perfect blaze of jewels,
upon the top of which lay a picture, also set in flashing gems; but
there was no letter visible.

Wynnum picked up the picture impatiently, and saw beneath it the letter,
addressed in Louie's well-known hand to himself.

He took it up, but as he did no, caught sight of the face of the
portrait, and held it straight up to the light with a startled
exclamation.

It was an exquisite portrait on ivory--idealised no doubt for it was a
face of ravishing and almost unearthly beauty. Under it was written in
French: 'Louie, the angel of my dreams.'

It was the face of Louie Le Blanc!

'When you read this letter my beloved Wynnum,' ran Louie's letter, 'I
shall be dead. It is better so. I might have barred the way, to some
extent, to your happiness had I lived; and then someone had to disinfect
the treasure.'

'I do not know by what means Jaykes got possession of the jewels;
probably with Pillow's connivance. However, I found the chest at St.
Simon Street when Jaykes was ill; it was beneath his bed. Curiosity must
have got the better of his fears, or he believed the story of the poison
all a lie; the result was that he fell a victim to the plague. I only
found this out some time after I first went to nurse him.'

'When he thought himself dying he told me something of it, but I only
partially understood him. He said 'You are the French heiress of a
poisoned fortune, Louie.''

'I knew of the treasure when you asked me what caused his illness; but I
only knew a little, and I determined that if the thing was poisoned you
should never touch it. But I would have told you more if you had given
me the opportunity. I did not tell you afterward, because I wanted you
to run no risks, and I believed somehow that there was a secret about
the box which was connected with myself.'

'However, it is all yours now, and the wonderful portrait. It gave me
quite a start when I first saw it; how mysterious the whole thing has
been! You see, Wynnum, my instincts have not been at fault. We were
fated to come together, and if I cannot be to you what Miriam will be, I
may perhaps be what my fair ancestress was to the noble French
artist--'the angel of your dreams.' Maybe I shall come to you from the
spirit land--I certainly will if I can--to inspire you with genius, and
prompt such thoughts as will lead men to give you homage and do
reverence to your work.'

'Do not blame me Wynn. I have not taken my own life. I took fair
precautions, and only eased my suffering when I found that the dread
disease had really marked me for its prey.'

'How happy I have been with you Wynn--I must tell you now--happy when I
marked your pure-minded goodness from afar; happy when I saw you bravely
and grandly put your life into the hand of opportunity, and risk
everything to save a child; happy too, when I nursed you back to life
and reason, and marked an awakening interest, which to my hopeful heart
seemed the first dawn of love. But it was not to be. And I would now,
sooner, far sooner, die, than live my life upon a lower range of love's
experience.'

'Every pang I suffer this morning, Wynn, will be an atonement for my
ignorance and sin. May be, too, like one of old, God will accept my
having thrown my poor frail woman's body between the dead and the living
that the plague may be stayed. Farewell then, a last farewell, beloved.
You could not love me when near and living, may you do so when I am
dead.'

Wynnum spoke no word, good or bad. He had not read the above letter
aloud, and Jack, who out of respect for his feelings had been examining
the jewels in silence, turned as he caught a sudden rustle of paper.

With the letter still grasped in his hand, which had dropped upon the
table, Wynnum lay back in his chair as white as death.

'Look here, old chap, this will never do!' exclaimed his friend, as he
put a restorative to his lips, and wiped the cold perspiration off his
brow. 'You must remember Miriam too, and Trissie; besides, I want to
know what I am to do with all these jewels; shall I put them in the box
again? Come now, shake yourself together a bit, and don't give way like
that.'

'Jack,' said Wynnum, faintly, 'I could not touch those jewels; not that
I fear contagion, but they have robbed the world of one of the sweetest
and noblest of women that ever breathed. Sell everything, keep half the
proceeds yourself, and give the other to the poor. I cannot touch any
portion of it except this picture. I am rich enough without it; and,
besides, it is the price of blood.'




CHAPTER XXVII.--OUTWARD BOUND FOR AUSTRALIA.


It was after many days.

Wynnum and Miriam were at last married and Trissie was two years older
than at the death of Louie, and was now about to leave England for
Australia to join her friends.

Miriam had not suggested it, but it was by her wish that they were
taking this trip to the Antipodes. She thought that a thorough change
would do Wynnum good. And there was something else--which what follows
will explain. So they stand together waving their hands with Trissie to
the white cliffs of old England as the great steamer turned her prow
toward the broad deep sea.

This is what had happened.

Wynnum, as by an enchantment, had sprung suddenly into fame, and Miriam,
who loved him with all the truth and constancy of womanhood, had given
up trying to understand him.

It had been one of the strangest courtships ever known, and only that
Miriam was possessed of strong common sense, she would have been madly
jealous, for Wynnum made no secret of his adoration of the dead.

He was a rich man now, so they called it eccentricity; had he been a
poor man and less clever, they might have called it by another name.
Mrs. Broughton almost went so far as to forbid the banns. But Miriam
never faltered.

When she heard the whole story from Wynnum's lips, she said he had a
right to love her, and she would have thought less of him if he had not.
She was too large hearted to be jealous of one who was dead. She would
marry him whenever he wished.

But he had become an extraordinary mortal to be a lover, and Grace and
Mary no longer regarded their cousin as being a girl.

'They have been engaged over twelve months,' said Grace one day to Mary,
'and I don't believe that Wynnum has kissed her half a dozen times; not
nearly as often as your betrothed, Jack Ferrars, does, I'll be bound, in
half a day.'

'I would not have a lover like Wynnum,' said Mary, 'nor would Miriam
only she is so absurdly proud of him.'

'Ah! but he writes wonderful books,' said Grace, 'and writes them so
quickly. Miriam says he gets sort of wrapt, once he begins to write, and
when he is writing at his best, he often calls her Louis--just think of
that!'

The remarkable development of Wynnum's genius had been for months the
talk of London scientific circles. He was always a fluent and graceful
speaker; but his marvellous gift of eloquence had burst meteor-like upon
society. He was called upon one night to give an address upon an
important topic before a distinguished company of literary and
scientific men. He had been thus honored largely through having made a
munificent donation to a college. He had to be asked to speak; but no
one anticipated eloquence.

There was something sad, however, about his fine face, which on his
rising at once arrested attention, and for a few minutes they listened
to his calm thoughtful sentences out of curiosity, albeit with some
surprise that a young man who was rich and could give money could also
give them striking and original thoughts, clothed in graceful and
appropriate language.

But soon stronger feelings took possession of them; he was telling them
in new language the story that was nearest their hearts. They listened
to him with interest, and then with pride, for they passed with him into
the chambers of imagery and mystery, upon which his youthful genius
flashed thoughts that lit up the hitherto unknown with an uncommon and
awe-inspiring radiance. He stood before them as one possessed, and
transfigured by his theme. His careful analysis, calm convincing logic,
and sublime exposition, held them spell-bound. White-headed sages
listened reverently to him, for he spoke as with the authority, and they
knew instinctively that it was truth which he uttered--truth which had
been delved for in mines of wisdom, to which only the choicest spirits
of the race ever gain access.

Wynnum paused amid his triumph and looked around upon the eager
listeners who hung upon his words; but there was no applause, only a
deep breathless silence. Then he drew from his argument the broad
deductions which illustrated their value to suffering humanity. He let
fancy, and poetry and eloquence have full sway, and rolled his rich and
glowing periods upon his listeners, without hesitating, or using one
inappropriate word. He led them to survey their own work from a new and
loftier standpoint. His spirit and desire seemed suddenly to fire and
sway all present. Those clever cultured men became as puppets in the
hands of a master; tears came to eyes which rarely wept, and smiles of
anticipation showed themselves on faces to which such things had long
been strangers. It was a triumph of eloquence and genius. In fact, for
the success of the gathering it was too great a triumph; men could talk
of it, and of nothing else.

'Who is he?' they asked. 'Where did he come from? This Wynnum White?'

'Wynnum,' said Miriam to him afterward, 'how ever can you do it?'

'Really, dear,' said Wynnum smiling, 'I can hardly tell you. It comes
upon me after I have thought and studied long alone; sometimes it comes
most unexpectedly. You may laugh if I tell you what I attribute it to.'

'No, I won't laugh,' said Miriam.

'Well then, it's inspiration, genius, something which is unexplainable;
but when it comes I always seem to hear a kind of murmuring sound in the
distance, as though the wings of an angel fluttered above me in my
dreams.'

Much of his writing, too, had become just as remarkable. At times he
would pace his library floor for half a day, or go off riding, or
fishing, or to something else with Miriam, or more often alone. He would
say, 'I cannot do it to-day.' But when the mood came upon him, he was
inspired.

He would say, 'Miriam you may sit there, but don't speak a word.'

And Miriam watched him with an interest bordering upon religious awe. He
could see things of unutterable mystery to her. The mood was on him; he
forgot the present, for the room was peopled with the scenes and
characters of a marvelous imagination. He listened to their speech, and
saw their deeds, and laughed, and lived among them, and put them in his
books, and Miriam marvelled at his absorbed and wondrous attitudes, and
watched his pen racing across the paper, to keep pace with the writer's
quicker thoughts. At such times he rarely wanted to erase a word. Nor
did he wait to think--it simply came--flowed from the nib of his pen
without conscious effort. He could not explain it, but sheet after sheet
was filled.

And people read his books and marvelled, but when Miriam pressed him to
know the secret of his power, he could not tell her. He put her off. But
once he said to her, 'When at my best, there is no effort of mind or
hand, the pages fill themselves, as though my hand was guided by
another, like a man writing in a dream.'

And so Miriam and Wynn were married, and lived and loved in kindly
fashion as do so many others. But there were times when Louie's words
and face and presence became so real, that he longed to touch her hand,
and listen to her voice, and see her face, as in the days of old. Then
from a drawer, never opened save in secret, there would be brought forth
a portrait painted on ivory. And Wynnum would gaze long and lovingly
upon the face, and seem to hear again the rustle of silken robes, and
feel the touch of a warm loving woman's hand.

He had kept his promise to the dead.

It was a favorite portion of Wynnum's creed, that the great majority of
the gifted end distinguished men who are famous in literature or art,
owe it to some woman's love.

And so the great night came down upon these three:--Genius, womanhood,
and youth; a new world was in front of them, and the land of many
memories behind, and the tossing sea around; but there was one of them;
who, whether on land or sea, in places new or old, would ever more see
visions, and dream dreams.



THE END


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