Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature

treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
BROWSE the site for other works by this author
(and our other authors) or get HELP Reading, Downloading and Converting files)

or
SEARCH the entire site with Google Site Search

Project Gutenberg Australia
Title: Wynnum White's Wickedness
Author: J. D. Hennessey
eBook No.: 1100531h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2011
Most recent update: December 2023

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy and Colin Choat

View our licence and header


Wynnum White's Wickedness

by

J. D. Hennessey


Contents

CHAPTER I. A STREET IN THE ANTIQUE.
CHAPTER II. FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK.
CHAPTER III. WYNNUM SEES VISIONS.
CHAPTER IV. ANY DAY BUT SUNDAY.
CHAPTER V. THE STORY OF THE PICTURES ON THE WALLS.
CHAPTER VI. AN UNEXPECTED MEETING.
CHAPTER VII. MIRIAM IS QUITE DISAGREEABLE.
CHAPTER VIII TRISSIE'S STORY OF "THE GOLDEN CROSS."
CHAPTER IX. WYNNUM HOLDS THE FORT.
CHAPTER X. 'SHE IS FOOLING THEE.'
CHAPTER XI. 'DEAD, BUT NOT MURDERED.'
CHAPTER XII. WYNNUM'S FLIGHT.
CHAPTER XIII. MIRIAM SAVES THE FAMILY HONOUR.
CHAPTER XIV. BEHIND THE SCENES IN BLEAK-STREET.
CHAPTER XV. AT THE PRICE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF SIN.
CHAPTER XVI. THE RUGGED PATH OF LOVE.
CHAPTER XVII. A SWELL MONEY LENDER.
CHAPTER XVIII. JACK FERRARS.
CHAPTER XIX. THE INFLUENCE OF A CHILD.
CHAPTER XX. WYNNUM BECOMES A HERO.
CHAPTER XXI. HOPE DEFERRED MAKETH THE HEART SICK.
CHAPTER XXII. WICKED WYNNUM WHITE.
CHAPTER XXIII. WANTED A HUNDRED POUNDS.
CHAPTER XXIV. NO FRIEND LIKE A WOMAN.
CHAPTER XXV. AN AUCTION SALE IN TOKEN HOUSE YARD.
CHAPTER XXVI. A QUESTION OF MICROBES.
CHAPTER XXVII. OUTWARD BOUND FOR AUSTRALIA.


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


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia