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Title: The Postmaster of Market Deignton
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1202791.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: July 2012
Date most recently updated: November 2012

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

Title: The Postmaster of Market Deignton
Author: E. Phillips Oppenheim

*

First published by Ward, Lock & Co., London, 1892
Other editions:
George Routledge & Co, London, 1896
Ward, Lock & Co., London, 1911, 1913
_Romance Magazine_, serial, Sep 1914-Feb 1915

*

CONTENTS

Introduction

      I John Martin, Postmaster and Chemist
     II A Visitor
    III White Roses and Ashes
     IV Coming through the Pines
      V "Bonds of Roses and a Yoke of Sand"
     VI "I have Climbed nearer out of Lonely Hell"
    VII A Night of Horror
   VIII For and Against
     IX A Visit from Mademoiselle Hortense
      X A Woman Grey and Ghostly
     XI The Temptress
    XII Was Thine the Hand?
   XIII Mademoiselle Hortense's Advertisement
    XIV At Dubarri's Restaurant
     XV A Compact Sealed
    XVI What did He see?
   XVII A Woman of Mysteries
  XVIII "Your Life for my Sufferings"
    XIX A Woman's Pity
     XX An Episode and its Narration
    XXI The Disappearance of Mrs. Mason
   XXII "Sick am I, Sick of a Jealous Dread"
  XXIII A Night Pursuit
   XXIV The White House
    XXV A Rift in the Clouds
   XXVI An Unseen Tragedy
  XXVII The Sun Shines on my Hopes
 XXVIII The Ashes of Dead Joys
   XXIX In the Arms of Despair
    XXX "Whose Gentle Will has changed my Fate"
   XXXI The End of John Martin, Postmaster and Chemist
  XXXII Hope
 XXXIII Looking Backwards
  XXXIV "You will have no Mercy now?"
   XXXV Whose was the Face?
  XXXVI "Is there Death in the Cup?"
 XXXVII John Rudd's Lie
XXXVIII Escape
  XXXIX On the Threshold
     XL The Secret of the White House

*



INTRODUCTION


"If you please, sir!"

"What is it, Morton?"

"There are several patients in the waiting-room, and your appointment
with Sir Charles is for half-past one. If any more arrive, I think I had
better ask them to come to-morrow."

"Not to-morrow. Thursday, Morton. I expect to be away all day to-morrow.
Dr. Stewart will relieve me, and you must go to him if there is anything
special."

"Very good, sir."

The assistant withdraws, and the physician returns to his labours. Four
more patients in turn occupy that low easy-chair, drawn so that the
light from the high windows shall fall as far as possible upon their
faces. The physician who listens to the recital of their symptoms,
checking them but rarely to ask a few terse questions, sits back in the
shadows, his perfectly impassive features and tone thrown into strong
relief by the nervousness of the men and women who have come to consult
him. In one or two cases he makes a brief examination, and notes the
result with a few careless dashes of his pen.

One by one they enter and pass out, unconsciously typifying in their
entrances and exits the whole range of human drama. There is one who
passes out with a dull pain at the heart-strings and eyes suddenly
blurred. No need to ask his sentence! Others find their way out into the
street with lightened eyes and hearts suddenly freed from a great load.
Their fate or their reprieve is spoken in a few words and in the same
tone.

The physician whose counsel they have come to seek is, for a young man,
marvellously hardened in his profession, but to-day his stoicism is
something more than normal. The patients who have come and gone have
seemed to him like moving figures in a curious dream. Behind the mask of
set-calm features and stern self-repression smoulders a very furnace of
unrest.

They are all gone. As the door closes upon the last, he leans back in
his chair with a little gesture of relief. It is like the withdrawal of an
iron band. The routine of the morning is over; his brain no longer has
any need of its enforced labours. His thoughts are his own.

Gradually the physician falls away, and the man steals out. A tinge of
colour usurps the studious pallor of his cheeks, and his deep-set eyes
are suddenly bright. He has unlocked a drawer, and a letter and a
photograph He before him. The letter is from a man, but the photograph
is of a woman.

He reads the former before he glances at the latter--reads it slowly and
with knitted brows, as though he expects to find in it something more
than appears upon the surface. Yet a simpler or more straightforward
letter could scarcely have been written.


"Deignton Court,
"Monday,

"My dear Norman,--

"Mine old enemy has come upon me like a thief in the dark, and
unless you can leave town to-morrow, I must needs hand over my
carcase to the village practitioner here, which God forbid! Come
to-morrow by the three o'clock train, and bring your gun; you must
spare just an hour or two on Wednesday to try your luck with my birds.
The best of the covers have not been touched yet, and there is
not a man here who can shoot a little bit, so you will have it all
your own way.

"Don't fail me, there's a good fellow! You
have never been to Deignton, I believe, and I shall enjoy showing it to
you.

"My lady bids me say that she adds her commands to my request! I
will send to meet the three o'clock train, or any other more convenient
to you, if you will wire.

"Yours in pain,
"Humphrey Deignton.

"P.S.--It is in the great toe."


The letter is carefully read, and then pushed aside with a sudden
gesture of impatience. For a moment he sits irresolute, then, taking a
bunch of keys from his pocket, he unlocks the top drawer on the
left-hand side of his cabinet, and from underneath a pile of loose
papers draws out a small ivory casket, curiously carved and fastened
with a silver padlock. His fingers toy nervously with it for a moment,
and then the lid flies open, and a curious faint fragrance steals out
into the sombre room. The casket is full of letters in the same
handwriting. The one on the top, presumably the latest addition to the
pile, he takes out and reads. It bears the same date and heading as the
note which he has just discarded:


"Deignton Court,
"Monday.

"By this post Sir Humphrey, I am thankful to say, is sending for you
professionally. You would not believe, my dear Norman, how long these few
days have seemed without even a glimpse of you, or any other civilized
person. The country at this time of the year is something horrible. Let
nothing stand in the way of your coming, I implore you! Never mind if
all your best patients die! I, too, shall feel like that unless you
come, and I am--well, more than a patient, am I not?

"There is nothing to tell you. This place is deadly dull,
and I could not hope to make you understand how much I miss--London!
Each day, at five, I have thought of you; yesterday I closed my
eyes and almost fancied that I heard your horses in the avenue,
and your feet upon the stairs. Tomorrow it will be better than
that: I shall see you and have you here. _Vive to-morrow_!
Look out for a line from me in your room, if I do not see you
immediately upon your arrival.

"Always yours,
"Cora."


Word for word he reads it through, and the faint flush in his cheeks
grows gradually deeper and deeper. At the end he makes a sudden
impulsive gesture, as though to crumple it up in his hand and cast it
from him--an impulse which seems to die away almost as swiftly as it
came. How could he ever have dreamed of such sacrilege! With firm
fingers he replaces the letter in the box, and turns the key.

Then, after a moment's irresolution, he crosses the room and stands
before the window, looking out across the large, dingy square, with a
curiously absent gleam in his dark eyes. Something in those few feminine
sentences written in bold, distinct characters across the daintiest
cream paper seems to stand out like fire before him. They force him to
realize what he has kept zealously in the background. There is no longer
any possibility of concealment, of self-deception. He is face to face
now with that fight which, since the world began, men have fought, and,
alas! most often lost. His fixed eyes see nothing of the grey,
smoke-begrimed sky, or the bare trees which wave their branches before
the window. He looks beyond: down, down into the depths of the precipice
which yawns before him, the precipice of guilt, of sin, of shame. There
are voices in his ears which have been dead for awhile, voices whose
counsel has ever been for his good, and which come back to him now laden
with many heart-stirring memories. They will be heard; he must perforce
listen to them. What is it they are saying? Dishonour, self-abasement,
self-contempt! Bad words; an evil state! Yet, how fair she is, and how
strong the web which she has woven! As yet the bonds are of gossamer.
Some day, the voice whispers, they may be of iron--iron which eats into
the soul, and which no human strength can rend apart.

It is so simple, and yet so terrible. The avenues of history since the
world began are thronged with ghostly warnings. And he, too, this tall,
stern young physician, he too is in the toils; and the chains which as
yet have been roses, are beginning to savour of the metal. It is within
his power to cast them off or to rivet them for ever, to seal them with
the signet of his own dishonour, or to burst them aside and see no more
the woman whose light hand has forged them. He is at the parting of the
ways, and the voices in his ears will make themselves heard. To see her
no more! Yes; he could do it, he is strong enough. There is fibre enough
in his being to make the strain no impossibility. Only it seems to him,
as he gazes out into the grey twilight of the early afternoon, that if
he should do so, if he should pluck out this evil flower and cast it
away, much, if not all, that is sweet to him in life must be rooted up
also. It is like choosing to live for ever in the deep shadows where the
sunlight may never fall. And, after all, why should he? Right and wrong,
honour and dishonour, what are they but abstract states, the creation of
an arbitrary code of laws? What will he be the better for following
their dictates? His, at any rate, will be the loss. Whose will be the
profit?

He raises himself with a conscious effort from the slough of metaphysics
in which he had seemed disposed to wander. For awhile his mind moves in
a healthier groove. From outside people now and then glance curiously in
at the tall figure standing so rigidly before the high window. But he is
at no time conscious of their notice. To him it is as though he were for
the time removed from the ordinary channels of life, and rendered
unconscious of its incidents. He is developing his part in that silent
drama in which she and he are the solitary figures. In those few minutes
of bitter and uncertain mind, it seems to him that he is shaping the
fortunes of two lives.

What is it that helps him to come to that stern, sweeping decision,
which from the moment even of its conception seems to remove him so far
from all his past life? Is it ambition, self-respect, honour? Or is it
that what has seemed love to him is, after all, counterfeit, a thing of
sham, to which he has been the more subject from the hard, practical
side of his professional life? It is a question which then, at any rate,
he does not ask himself. But when at last he is disturbed by the sound
of his waiting horses pawing the ground outside in the street, his
decision is finally taken. The coffer lies empty upon his table, and its
contents are a little mass of fluttering ashes upon the grate.

A few minutes afterwards he is being whirled westwards on an errand of
life or death. Then follows the routine work at the hospitals, where the
nurses whisper his name respectfully, and the patients follow him with
their eyes and half raise themselves to look at him as he passes down
the broad avenue between them. Finally, when his work is over, he is
driven rapidly to Waterloo, barely in time to catch the train for Market
Deignton.

* * * * * * *

It is dawn when he returns. The square is empty, and the tall, grey
houses are gaunt and lifeless. He crosses the street and unlocks the
door unnoticed. Even the policeman dozing at the corner has not seen
him, and his step in the hall and on the stairs is too light to wake the
servants sleeping at the back of the house. Perhaps it is as well. There
is a lead-coloured shade in his face, and dark lines under his eyes which
he may not wish to be made the gossip of servants' tongues. He is in
need of sleep and quiet, and he goes softly to his bedroom. Strange
events have happened within these last few hours, stranger events even
than he knows of.

There is not a soul to warn him. All London is sleeping, unconscious of
the trembling wires which are flashing terrible messages over their
housetops--news which will soon become the theme for millions of men's
tongues. The last sensation is eight days old. Away with it! It is dull
and stale in comparison with this morning's news. Already the great
machinery is whirling the story on to the morning papers. In a few hours
they will be in the hands of the hordes of City men on the railroads,
the 'buses, and in the streets. Is there none to warn you, Norman Scott?
It is your name there in print which men and women are handling lightly,
your fair fame and honour--ay, and more than that--which the world is
beginning to smirch and daub with gruesome colours! See, the sun is
steadily rising higher in the heavens; the morning is growing apace; the
clamour of men's tongues is becoming louder and louder. The sunlight
lies across the rush matting of your bed-chamber; it is stealing up the
counterpane to your wan face. Awake, Norman Scott, awake! Every hour of
sleep adds to your peril. Awake, and find yourself--if not famous, at
least notorious!



CHAPTER I. JOHN MARTIN, POSTMASTER AND CHEMIST


It is market-day in the little county town which has become my temporary
abode. Out in the cobble-paved, straggling square are half a dozen
stalls laden with prints and calicoes, cheap hats, fruit, picture-books,
legs of mutton, sides of beef, and many other such uninteresting
articles. There seems to be plenty of everything except customers, and
they are scarcely expected yet. The housewives of the place are still
busy with their weekend's cleaning, and their lords and masters are away
toiling on the land. Later, when the day's work is over and the
oil-lamps are lit, they will come out together to make their little
purchases, dressed most likely in their Sunday clothes, and washed to a
degree of shininess which, until I came to Market Deignton, I should
have thought incredible.

At present most of the stall-holders are engaged displaying their goods,
the larger portion of which, by the by, are carried out from the little
shops which front the market-place. Strangers are not much fancied at
this sleepy, old-world town. It is my friend Mr. Holmes, the
linen-draper, who is hanging up a row of felt hats above that wonderful
pile of calicoes and cheap sateens, and my worthy friend Mr. Smith, the
greengrocer, is likewise engaged in transferring his stock of cabbages,
potatoes, and apples to the stall in front of his shop.

Butchering seems to be a more regular business, for Mr. Mann and his
stalwart apprentice woke me Tip in the grey hours of the morning,
flinging down great joints of beef and mutton upon his deal counter, and
two hours ago he was sitting on his stool with last week's _Chronicle_
in his hand, prepared for anything that might turn up in the shape of
stray custom. He is a harmless-looking old man, notwithstanding his blue
smock and the shining steel which hangs by his side, but he is an
inveterate gossip, as I have cause to know.

At the north end of the market-place there are half a dozen pens, from
which arises a continual baaing, varying in key, but uniform in
monotony. Things up there are a shade more lively. Mr. Foulds, the agent
to the Deignton estate, has just ridden in, and with his riding-whip in
his hand is looking over the stock of sheep. A couple of farmers stand
by his side, and one or two villainous-looking cattle-drovers are
listening to the words of the county oracle at a respectful distance. So
far as I can judge, his remarks are disparaging in tone and
uncomplimentary to the sheep generally. I may be wrong, of course; I
only go by the fact that Farmer Harrison has taken off his broad-brimmed
hat, and is scratching his head, a little habit he has when bereft of
words or when things go wrong. I had an idea, when those sheep went by
as I sat at breakfast this morning, that they were a weedy lot. Not that
I know anything about sheep; drugs and postage stamps are my articles of
merchandise; that is to say, I hold the proud position of village
postmaster and chemist.

Across the market-place from my shop-door to the gateway of the
_Deignton Arms Inn_ is exactly ninety-two yards. The view is obstructed
a little by a barn-like building of grey stone, built in early days for
a market-house, but used now as a storehouse for corn and a repository
for the market stalls and pens. However, by going to the extreme corner
of my sitting-room window and peering over the wire blind, I can just
see the sign. A little corn business is done here to-day, and at twelve
o'clock there will be a farmers' dinner, which my neighbours, Mr. Mann
and Mr. Holmes, sometimes attend. Mr. Foulds will take the chair, and
towards the close of the repast he will order in a bottle of wine, and
various healths will be drunk. At the risk of being thought unsociable,
I have hitherto declined to take my chair there, but to-day I have half
made up my mind to go. We shall see.

I have said that I am the village postmaster and chemist of Market
Deignton; let me add a few more brief remarks concerning myself. First,
as to my person. I am tall, although my shoulders have a most unbecoming
stoop. I have a red-brown beard streaked with grey, and I wear large and
disfiguring glasses. Personally, that disposes of me. I have been at
Market Deignton about six months, and I can read men and their ways
sufficiently well to tell you exactly in what esteem I am held amongst
the village folk. I am considered odd, and blamed a little for my
retiring ways; but, on the whole, I have been labelled "harmless," and I
do not think that I am disliked. Of my skill in medicine people have an
exaggerated idea, and of my book-learning they speak with unmerited
respect. They would prefer a gossip in my place, but, having me, they
are good-humouredly inclined to make the best of it. I have a
housekeeper, Mrs. Mason by name, who comes in to clean and to get my
meals; I have also an assistant, David Holmes, the linen-draper's second
son. They neither of them sleep in the house, and, save for them, I
dwell alone.

One word more. I have spoken of Market Deignton as a village, and of its
people as village folk. I beg its pardon. It is a town. Henceforth I
hope to style it correctly.

To return to Saturday morning, the point at which I have chosen to take
up this narrative. My sitting-room is not behind the shop, but alongside
it, fronting the street, and from behind its wire blind I can see across
the whole of the market-place. At a quarter past eleven precisely I am
standing up with my hands in my pocket, looking out and lazily wondering
whether Mr. Foulds will buy those sheep after all. I am not particularly
interested in the matter, and my speculation is of the very mildest
order. I am simply standing there and using my thoughts in that manner
because I have for the moment nothing better to do with them or with
myself.

Suddenly I see signs of a commotion. Something is about to happen. The
quiet dullness of the long autumn morning is going to receive a fillip.
Mr. Foulds and his farmer friends hold their hats in their hands, and
the cattle-drovers are looking hopelessly about for some further means
to express their abject humility. Mr. Holmes is out on the pavement with
a pen behind his ear, and there are a score of feminine heads thrust out
from the upper-storey windows of the quaint grey stone houses which
fringe the market. The children are all running towards the north end of
the square, and the heads are all--mine included--turned that way. Ah!
this is something worth seeing. No wonder every one has stopped to look.
An open carriage--a barouche, I think it is called--with a pair of
magnificent dark bay horses, and a coat of arms upon the panel, servants
all in mourning, and the horses with black rosettes. What can it be, I
wonder? A lady inside alone--a lady dressed in half-mourning, leaning
back amongst the cushions, and smiling graciously upon the little group
of bare-headed men gathered around the sheep-pen. The carriage stops for
a moment whilst Mr. Foulds, hat in hand, says a word or two and then
falls back. Who can it be? How foolish I am! The carriage has turned in
at the gateway of the _Deignton Arms_ now, and I have seen nothing of
her face because of this absurd ridiculous dimness of the eyes and
unsteadiness. What is the matter with you, John Martin? Bah! I must be a
little bilious, or out of sorts, somehow. David shall prescribe for me.
David shall give me a draught. Now I think of it, I had very little
sleep last night. David shall certainly make me up a draught. I will go
and tell him.

I ought to be in the shop attending to business, but here I am at the
window again, wasting my time. It seems to have an odd sort of
attraction for me today. I know that Mr. Jones will not feel the same
confidence in that cough medicine now that I have left David to mix it,
and I know that there is a telegram lying upon my desk winch I ought to
despatch. And yet here I am, with my hands in my pocket, and without the
shadow of an excuse for my laziness. There is not even the excuse of
there being anything to see. The carriage with its prancing horses and
solitary occupant has disappeared. Mr. Foulds and the farmers seem to
have come to terms, for they have left off prodding those miserable
sheep about at last, and have turned away towards the inn. I wonder who
that woman was inside the carriage? I wonder--Oh, my God!

I call myself a strong man; but my cheeks are pale, and that beat of the
heart is scarcely normal. My fingers are clutching at the window-sill,
and my eyes--unspectacled, too!--are riveted upon that tall figure
picking her way across the cobbled market place straight--straight, by
all that is horrible, by all that is bewildering!--to my shop.

It is over. Just a passing spasm. The weather has been a little trying
lately, and I need exercise. My spectacles are on again, and my cheeks
are regaining their usual colour. The attack was very brief. I am
composed enough to study and admire the lady who seems about to honour
my establishment with a visit.

She is no ordinary woman, this. See how regular, almost classical, are
her cleanly-cut features, so regular and so pale her cheeks that her
face would be cold save for the soft mobile mouth and grey-green eyes.
See how she carries herself, too. She is an aristocrat, and she shows
it. Watch the poise of her head, and the gracious but amply
condescending smile with which she acknowledges the bows and bobs and
courtesies which obtrude themselves upon her. She is close to the
pavement now, and is raising her skirt with a slight graceful movement
as she steps up on to the flags. By the by, is she so very young after
all? I am inclined to think not. See that line across the forehead, and
level with her lips. She is older than she seems, but she is beautiful.
Not a girl's beauty by any means--too sad, too mature, too listless. But
I am mad to linger here, staring at this woman like a moon-struck youth.
What is her beauty to me? What concern can it be of mine? Far more to
the purpose is it that she is on the point of entering my shop, and I do
not think that I should care about waiting upon her. David shall have
the pleasure. David will gape at her, and he will be very nervous, but
no doubt he will be able to retain enough of his wits to find out what
she wants.

I fling open the door separating my sitting-room from the shop.

"David!"

"Yes, sir."

"I am particularly engaged, mixing drugs. Take the keys."

I fling them on the counter, and close the door quickly. David will have
something to say about this later, I know. Stamps are my department, and
he is not allowed to interfere with the post office work. Never mind!
Better David's gossip than the other.

I have my reasons for not attending to this particular customer. What
they are is of no consequence. I am a plain man, my description of
myself is only a few pages back, and perhaps I am shy of exhibiting my
ugliness before so beautiful a woman. There are a host of possible
reasons; any one of them will do. But, all the same, I have a sort of
curiosity to hear her voice. In order to do so, I must confess that I
stand up behind the door and listen. Why not? It is my own shop, and I
am my own master.

I hold my breath and wait. There is the jingle of a little bell as the
door is pushed open and she enters, a rustle of silken draperies, and a
moment's silence. Then a slow, proud voice, tempered with a moderate
amount of graciousness. What is the matter with my pulses, I wonder? I
must certainly not forget that draught.

"Oh, good morning, David! David Holmes, isn't it?"

"Yes, your ladyship. Good morning, your ladyship."

David went, or had been, to a class--a Sunday-school class, I think--at
Deignton Court. I remember his telling me about it, or his mother or
some one.

"Won't your ladyship have a chair? Not that one, please; it only has
three legs, and it rattles. Tills one's all right."

"Thank you!"

A moment's pause, and the sound of my cane chair being moved across the
stone floor. Then her voice.

"Will you give me ten shillings' worth of stamps?"

A jingling of keys, David counting softly to himself, and the rattle of
a small gold piece upon the counter. Then her voice:

"I want to send a telegram. Where are your forms?--and a pencil,
please."

This is horrible! I alone can work the instrument. After all, I must go
out and face her.

"I will fetch Mr. Martin, your ladyship," David says, and prepares to
come to me.

"How do you get on with your new master?" she asks indifferently.

"Pretty well, thank you, your ladyship," he answers. "People call him
queer, but I like him better than Mr. Ashton. He isn't always nagging
one so."

She does not answer, her interest in the subject being evidently
exhausted, and David comes to me. I am trying on my thickest spectacles.

"A telegram, sir. It's Lady Deignton, sir. She wants to send a
telegram."

"I'm coming directly, David."

"Yes, sir."

"My eyes are painful to-day, and I cannot bear the light. Pull down the
shop blind."

He hurries out, and I hear the brown holland blind go down with a
rattle. Then I follow him with a bundle of telegraph forms in my hand,
which I lay out on the counter before her, and pass on to the
instrument. Here I am enclosed in a little mahogany stand with wings,
and, unseen myself, can steal a glance at her through the glass.

Ah! she is not writing at all. She is sitting with the pencil in her
hand, watching me. I feel a cold shiver travelling upwards through my
whole frame. Yet I do not move.

At last she has looked away. She is writing now; evidently she does not
find it an easy task. She tears up one form and begins another. I watch
her all the time, unseen. I was dreaming when I talked of a girl's face
just now. It must have been a vision. This is a woman's, and a sad
woman's.

At last she has finished, and is standing up, holding out two telegrams.
I go towards her mechanically, holding out my hand for them. As I take
them from her she glances up at me and gives a little subdued cry.

I look her in the face mildly, questioningly. I am the new postmaster,
and she is the great lady of the place, but hitherto a stranger to me.
Her expression is a little curious; I cannot interpret it; I can only
discover its principal component. It is fear--breathless, wrapt fear.
But my steady, bland gaze does its work.

"I beg your pardon," she says slowly, her voice a little troubled still.
"Your face startled me for the moment. It is a curious reminder of some
one I once knew."

I bow, anxious, if possible, to avoid speech, and calmly adding up the
words on the telegrams, hand her the stamps. She affixes them, still
watching me half carelessly, half anxiously.

"You can read them?"

I take up a pencil, and read the top one through without a falter.


"To Miss Deignton, care of Mrs. Wortley-Denoble, Denoble Manor, near
Exeter.

"You must please do as I desire. Have thought over your request, and
reply finally, you must not come."


I put it on one side and read the second one. Lady Deignton leans a
little over the counter, and beneath an affectation of carelessness,
honours me with a very keen scrutiny.


"To John W. Gay, Enquiry Agent, 10, Parliament Street, London, W.

"Report immediately address of Dr. Norman Scott. Wire reply, if
possible.

"Deignton."


"Is that right?" I ask, idly tapping with my pencil upon the counter.

She puts down the money with a brief assent and rises. I have gained the
shelter of my desk, and I can see that she is still looking pale and
shaken. I wish that she would go. There is a light in her eyes as of
coming trouble.

A rustle of silk skirts and dainty draperies gathered up into her
well-gloved hand as she moves across the dusty shop floor. On the
threshold a brief "Good morning" to David, who is holding the little
half-door open for her, and then--thank Heaven!--she is gone. How dark
and cold my little shop seems! Never mind: she is gone.

"Pull up the blind, David; my eyes are better now."

He obeys me, and the sunshine streams in once more. I stand and watch
her out of sight with a curious tightening of my heart-strings. Then I
turn to the telegrams and prepare to despatch them. The one to John W.
Gay I despatch first. Then I address myself to the other.


"To Miss Deignton, care of Mrs. Wortley-Denoble,
Denoble Manor, near Exeter.

"You must please do as I desire. Have thought over your
request, and reply finally--"


Here I hesitate. The quick clicking of the instrument ceases, and I look
across the little market-place with far-away eyes and bent brows. My
resolution is soon taken; I continue my task:


"You must come.
"Deignton."


Only one word omitted. So simple an error; it might happen any day at
any telegraph office. But I go back to my little room and sit there
alone with locked door--alone, save for a chamber full of ghosts. My
brain is busy weaving out the next scene in the drama of my little life.
What a medley it all is! Pale-faced figures and voices raised in agony,
soft whisperings and the gleam of brilliant eyes, the snapping of golden
cords, and the dull cold burning of that despair which eats away the
heart and loosens all the strings of life. What a tangled web it all is
woven across my dizzy memory--tangled and confused, yet thrown into some
semblance of order by the thunderclap of tragedy. Away into the
background with it all! For me memory and madness must move hand in
hand. Let me push this giddy weight away. Let me fix my mind upon two
things only. First, that I am John Martin, postmaster of Market
Deignton. Secondly, that to-day I have taken the first step towards that
dim circle of hope which throws a faint, far-away light upon the horizon
of my life.



CHAPTER II. A VISITOR


At eight o'clock precisely, following in the footsteps of my
predecessors, I close the shop. For the last half-hour Market Deignton
has been in an unheard of state of excitement, and David's hands have
been itching for the shutters. There is a concert in the large room
behind the inn--an amateur concert for the benefit of the Infirmary, of
which her ladyship is the patroness. Carriages have been rolling up by
the score, carriages disclosing to the open-mouthed market throng fine
ladies in snowy-white opera cloaks, and men in evening clothes. The
front seats are half a guinea each, and the high prices and Lady
Deignton's patronage have made the affair fashionable. It is her
ladyship's first appearance after nearly two years' mourning, and for
the last week or two every one has been saying, "How sweet it is of dear
Lady Deignton to abandon her own desire for a longer period of
seclusion, and ensure success for the concert by her promise to attend."
I have had the privilege of disposing of a good many tickets, and the
lady who brought them to me, and who was surprised when I growled at her
for offering me a commission, was good enough to suggest my retaining a
two-shilling one for myself. I threw it to David, and since then the boy
has scarcely been sane.

His time has come at last. The mail-bag, sealed with my own hand, has
been called for a few minutes before the hour, and at the first stroke
of the church clock David is out with the shutters. In the little
sitting-room, to which I retire with a sigh of relief, I find my evening
meal prepared for me, and I settle down to enjoy the only part of the
day which reconciles me to existences.

My supper itself--I dare not call it dinner, though such it really
is--could not by any possible stretch of the imagination be called
luxurious. As a rule, I hurry through it, for Mrs. Mason, who "does for
me," is waiting in the kitchen to clear away, and to get rid of her
quickly and have the place to myself is usually my chief desire. Tonight
I have but little appetite. An indifferently cooked chop and a glass of
thin claret are despatched in little more than ten minutes, and in
another ten I lock the door upon Mrs. Mason. Then, hey presto! for a
transformation scene. For four hours at least, often six, I am the
village postmaster no longer. Out comes a tin of finely-scented rich
brown mocha, and a wonderful machine imported from Paris, in which
practice has taught me how to brew to perfection my favourite beverage.
Whilst it is steaming and bubbling in a great glass bowl, I bring out
from the same carefully locked cupboard an ivory jar lined with lead,
which, being decapitated, discloses a cunning mixture of honeydew and
cavendish; and from the shelf at the back comes a deeply-coloured
meerschaum, which I fill with loving fingers. An old red chintz
arm-chair, high-backed, and with many gaps in its ancient covering, is
drawn up to the fire. Hiss goes the coffee, emptying itself with a
succession of gulps pleasant to my ears from one glass bowl to the
other. While it clears, I bring out an old blue Worcester cup and
saucer, and my one silver teaspoon.

My preparations for the evening have now reached their final stage, and
it only remains for me to decide of what world I shall choose to become
a temporary inhabitant. My bookcases are only of painted deal, but they
surround the little room, and they are tolerably well filled.
Fortunately for me, no one in Market Deignton has the faintest idea as
to the value of those rows of dingy calf-bound volumes, or my reputation
for common sense would certainly suffer. As it is, every now and then,
generally before quarter day, a small parcel, addressed with most
unwilling hand, goes up to Sotheby's, and a cheque reaches me by return
of post. Then for a week I am a morose and miserable man. I try to hide
the gaps made by their loss, but it is always in vain. The gap seems to
be not only in my bookcases: I have lost friends--friends who have been
faithful to me, and my heart aches for them.

To-night I am in no studious mood. I want to escape from myself and from
Market Deignton by the easiest possible channel.

I pass over a grim-looking Kant with whom I have spent my last few
evenings, and take out De Quincey and an odd volume of Voltaire. Then I
pass straight to my poetry shelf and select a small morocco-bound
_Maud_, much the worse for wear, a Byron, Keats, and Shelley. I lay the
last on a foostool by the side of my chair, and after a moment's
hesitation retain _Maud_. Then I pour out my coffee, light my pipe, and
down I sink amongst those creaking but easy springs, puffing out volumes
of smoke into the room, and with my heart already beating to the music
of those passionate stanzas.

It is very seldom that I am interrupted, very seldom that my feet touch
once more the solid earth until either chilliness or sleepiness induces
me to glance from the handful of dead ashes on the hearth--for my supply
of coal is limited--to the little clock on the mantelpiece, and I
remember that I am the postmaster of Market Deignton, and that I must be
up to receive the mail-bag at seven o'clock in the morning. Now and then
there is a ring at the shopbell, and I have to grope my way there
through the darkness, to admit some anxious messenger, generally a
child, and dispense a simple prescription. That is but seldom, though.
People are rarely ill at IMarket Deignton, and when they die it is
generally of old age.

But to-night I am scarcely in the middle of my first pipe when an
unheard-of thing happens. I sit up with a start, and wonder whether I
have been dreaming. No; there it is again! A soft, yet impatient
knocking at my sitting-room door, which opens in the old-fashioned way
upon the street.

I lay down my pipe, and with my book still in my hand, walk frowning
across the room. There is nothing in my surroundings particularly
sybaritical, and yet I have all a shy man's reluctance to expose my
tastes and manner of life to the gossips of the place. Hitherto I have
kept free from visitors after shop-hours. Some trifling hospitalities
offered on my first arrival by Mr. Mann and Mr. Holmes I declined as
kindly as possible, but firmly. People have seemed content to take me as
I wished to be taken--as a man harmless and unassuming, yet desirous of
living his life to himself. So far, I have been able to offend no one,
and yet I have my own way. And now, on this night of all others, when
every man, woman, and child who has sixpence to spend for a back seat
has gone to gape upon his or her betters, there must come this
confounded knocking! Shall I open the door at all? Perhaps the person
will go away if I keep still.

Vain hope! Another knock--a little less soft now and more imperative. I
must accept the inevitable. I lift the latch, and gaze out into the
street.



CHAPTER III. WHITE ROSES AND ASHES


The open doorway frames a strange picture--a picture on which I gaze
with blank astonishment. There is a section of deep-blue sky lit with
stars, the opposite house gable very clear in the bright moonlight, and
in the foreground a tall woman, wrapped from head to foot in a soft grey
opera-cloak, with a hood drawn closely over her head.

"Let me come in!" she demands impatiently--"quick!"

I am amazed, but I stand aside, and she steps in with the old impetuous
grace which I know so well. It is she who closes the door. Something in
her voice and sudden appearance has struck me powerless, and I am
holding on to a chair-back, watching her, dumb and motionless. The door
is closed and locked; then she throws off her heavy cloak, which falls
unheeded across my table, and holds out her pearl-gloved hands towards
me.

Bah! I have fallen asleep over my book! I am dreaming--dreaming once
more of the folly of those old days before their sweetness turned into
dust and ashes. Dreaming! How the room spins round with me! How my heart
leaps! Dreaming once more of her, once more of those wonderful flashing
eyes!--heavens! how distinct they are--of that glorious chestnut hair,
of that delicate, quivering mouth! Once more of you, Cora! To-night! Ah,
how real it all seems to-night! When have I seen that ivory-grey satin
dress with the low corsage, and that great bunch of roses? Never before,
I think. Yet I see your bosom rising and falling; the perfume of your
roses fills the room; the light of your eyes is shining down into the
dark comers of my heart! Ah, how sweet a dream! how bitter will be the
awakening!

"Norman, have I frightened you? Are you not glad to see me?"

Am I mad? If so, God keep me mad a little longer! My pulses are beating
wildly. It was her voice--I swear it was her voice! I am awake.

"Speak to me, Norman!"

Once and for ever the spell is broken. I look across my little table
away into the past, and I know with a sudden rush of relief that all
desire to bridge over that dark gulf is dead and gone. I take off my
glasses, and look steadily into this woman's face with a slight frown
darkening my own.

"You have found me out, then," I say slowly. "You knew me this morning."

She, too, has drawn herself up--a gloriously beautiful woman--and looks
at me with the old curious light in her eyes, and a familiar smile, half
mocking, half seductive, twitching at the corners of her lips. The old
magnificent composure has asserted itself. She is as much at her ease as
though she were paying an ordinary afternoon call.

"Yes, I have found you out, Sir Hermit. Your disguise was fairly good,
but not good enough to deceive a woman, especially me! May I sit down in
your easy-chair, please, and warm my feet?--satin slippers are a trifle
chilly to-night."

She does not wait for my consent. She sits down and rests her feet upon
my fender without a shade of embarrassment. Then she looks searchingly
and deliberately around at all my belongings, and end by beckoning me to
her side.

"My poor dear boy," she whispers caressingly, "come and kneel down on
the hearthrug here. I want to talk to you."

I move over towards her, but I keep my eyes averted; her hand rests
passively upon mine.

"How you must have suffered!" she exclaims with a little gulp in her
throat. "Tell me all about it."

I look her steadily in the face. "Yes, I have suffered," I answer
slowly; "you can see that. Tell me, do you think that I have deserved
this? I am curious to know. Often I have wondered whether I should ever
find myself face to face with you once more, and ask you this question."

I keep my eyes riveted upon her, but I cannot read her expression. It is
at once plaintive and sympathetic, anxious, and--yes!--loving. How far
is she acting? How much of the real woman can I see? Alas? I cannot
tell. I am utterly disappointed.

"Norman, I cannot believe it!" she answers slowly, looking away from me
into the fire. "I cannot believe it. I do not care to think of it at
all. It is like looking into a blank wall."

There is utter silence between us. She sits idly gazing into my dying
fire, as though the ashes which whiten the hearth could tell her what
she has come to know. And I watch her with a great relief lightening my
heavy heart. The moment I have dreaded has come, and I know my power. If
there is to be secret or open warfare between us, I am free to take up
my weapons and fight.

"Norman!"

I bend low down to hear what she has to say. In this new knowledge which
has come to me, I have lost all fear. Her breath falls upon my cheek as
she speaks.

"Yes."

"What does it all mean--your living here, and this disguise? Is it
poverty?"

"Partly."

She looks up quickly. "And what else?"

I suffer my hand to rest upon her fingers. They are very cold and
trembling. I do not answer for a moment. I am trying to read that
curious light in her fixed eyes--eyes which seem trying to see into my
soul.

"There are other reasons," I say at last. "Is it not possible that I
might care to be--near you, Cora?"

Her face softens, but she does not seem altogether satisfied.

"Do you really care still?"

"Am I a man who forgets?" I answer, stooping and taking one of the roses
from her bosom.

"And yet that reason alone did not bring you here," she says, still
unsatisfied. "You are different, somehow. Tell me what it is."

I laugh--an odd little laugh which savours of bitterness. There is
unconscious humour in her question.

"Yes, I am different," I admit, holding her hand and looking into her
eyes. "I have paid a great price for--for our little friendship, Cora.
Don't you think it time for me to claim my reward?"

I draw her a little towards me, as though about to take her into my
arms. She does not repel me, nor does she yield herself up at once. I
can feel that she is trembling, and the colour has fled from her cheeks.
I release her, with a little exclamation of anger.

"You are sorry that I am here," I say, rising to my feet. "I was
presumptuous. Forgive me."

She holds out her hands, and there are tears in her eyes. "Norman, don't
be cruel!" she says softly. "It all seems so strange. I want you to tell
me first. Am I really what has brought you here? You spoke of some other
reason."

I take her hands once more. I am no longer angry. My tone is as tender
as I can make it.

"Are you not sufficient reason, Cora?" I say softly. "And yet, it is
true, perhaps I may have had some other reason; nothing definite, and
yet--"

"Yet what?"

"The place has a certain fascination for me," I answer slowly; "I seem
to have a sort of feeling that if I am here, on the spot, something may
turn up, something--Are you ill, Cora?" I ask, suddenly stooping down and
drawing her half-averted face towards me. "How pale you look! Have I
frightened you?"

Her face is blanched to the lips, and her eyes are full of fear. She
rises suddenly to her feet.

"The concert will be over," she says, speaking hurriedly and in a
curiously strained tone. "Help me with my cloak quickly. I shall
scarcely be able to get to my carriage before the people come out."

She is as colourless as the cloak which I am wrapping around her bare
shoulders. Her hands are cold. I fear almost that she will faint. I pour
out some coffee and give it to her.

"Drink this," I whisper tenderly. "I am sorry I said anything about--you
know what. It was thoughtless of me."

She pauses with the cup in her hand, and looks into my face with an
eagerness which is almost pathetic.

"You have changed, Norman," she whispers. "I don't know what it is, but
I am almost afraid of you. You are hiding something from me."

"On the contrary, I have told you every thing you asked--everything
there is to tell," I answer. "It is you who have changed, Cora. I never
knew you nervous."

"I have gone through enough to shatter the nerves of a dozen women," she
cries with a little burst of genuine feeling. "Norman, I cannot bear to
see you like this. I am rich. Let me give you enough money to go away and
live as you ought to live. I should never miss it. Oh, do let me!"

She is in earnest now--in downright feverish earnest. I feel a pang of
sympathy for her as I shake my head.

"His money, Cora? No! a thousand times no! Besides, there are my other
reasons."

Her hands are upon my shoulders and her face is upturned to mine. Yet it
seems to me that there is more anxiety than tenderness in the eyes which
are flashing into mine.

"Do you mean--me, Norman? Could I not--not just now, but some day--come
to you?"

Not a blush, not a tinge of colour in her cheeks. Only that look of
strained anxiety.

"There was yet another reason which I told you of, Cora," I whisper.
"The hope that while I am here--"

Suddenly she sways as though her feet were giving way, and I catch her
in my arms and hold her up. Her eyes are half closed, and for a moment I
am afraid that she has fainted. With one hand I open the door, keeping
her hidden behind it, and the rush of cold air revives her. A little
tremor passes through her limbs. She opens her eyes and stands upright.

"Good night," she whispers hoarsely. "I must go."

She glides out of my arms and is gone in a moment. Before I can realize
it, she is out of sight, and my little room seems curiously empty and
dark. Only the perfume of roses, faint and sweet, remains to keep me
from asking myself whether, after all, I have been dreaming over my fire.

I cross the room, and, stooping down, pick up one from the great white
mass of blossoms which has fallen from her bosom. For a moment I hold it
in my hand, gazing idly at its rich creamy petals, whilst its subtle
fragrance brings a sudden rush of old memories--memories from which all
the sweetness has died out for ever. Then I throw it away from me into
the fire, with a laugh which rings through my little silent room. It is
good. I have no longer any of this old folly to dread. The path to my
goal is swept clear of one more obstacle. Bravo! John Martin, you are a
famous fellow! You have borne yourself like a man. You have shown that
you can fight even against a woman!



CHAPTER IV. COMING THROUGH THE PINES


Two days pass, two wearisome, uneventful days, during which I have
nothing to do but to sell Her Majesty's stamps and dispense my drugs,
and keep myself from going mad as best I may. My visitor does not return
or show any further interest in my doings. I am left with just the
memory of that brief hour alternately to depress and excite me, and
although I know I do best by playing a purely passive part, the monotony
of it has suddenly become almost sickening.

The first break comes on the afternoon of the third day. About three
o'clock a carriage and luggage cart from the Court go by towards the
station, and it chances that I am at my sitting-room window when they
return. The cart is well filled with trunks, and a smart-looking maid is
seated by the driver. The carriage which follows passes so swiftly that
I catch only a momentary view of its solitary occupant, just a
side-glance of a girl dressed in black, with pale face and clear
features. But even that glance reveals her identity to me, and I know
that the omission of that single word in Lady Deignton's telegram has
brought her stepdaughter home. It is I who have done it! It is through
me that she is here! Shall I be the gainer, I wonder? We shall see.
Somehow this girl's pale, proud face, with its strange likeness to her
father, haunts me. All the evening I see it--in the ashes of the fire,
in the blue wreaths of my tobacco-smoke, on the pages of my book. What
does she believe? If she knew who I was, would she shrink from me, I
wonder?

So the third day passes, and the fourth and the fifth, until Sunday
comes round again. For one hour, from eight to nine o'clock, I am
supposed to be on duty. Afterwards, the day is my own.

My first impressions upon rising are that it is a sunny morning. From my
little bedroom window I can see across the market-square, now very still
and cold-looking, and away over the rising country beyond to the line of
hills which bounds the horizon westwards. Sometimes these hills are dark
and gloomy, topped with grey clouds and hung with floating mists; to-day
they are a dim purple, save where one long slant of sunshine seems to
give a yellow tone to the sloping fields and barer summit. After my
bath, I open my window, and as the sweet fresh air streams in, I plan a
long walk. I will escape from the misery of seeing all my tradespeople
neighbours in their sombre, ill-fitting black clothes, from the sight of
that depressing semicircle of closed shutters, from all the dreary
Philistinism of a country-town Sabbath. I will get right away somewhere
amongst those hills, and watch this unexpected sunlight tinting and
beautifying the saddened land. For a few hours Nature shall take the
place of my calf-bound friends. I will forget Mr. Holmes and Mr. Mann,
forget my little shop with its drugs and stamps and cheap stationery,
forget my routine life and the bitterness of living amongst small
things, between narrow bounds. Away on those hills I shall feel myself a
man again. Bravo for a holiday!

Whilst I am dressing I hear my housekeeper arrive and prepare my
breakfast. There is the clatter of cups and saucers; soon the savoury
smell of something cooking. I dress myself in ancient clothes, a suit of
brown tweed which has seen much service, and make my way downstairs
actually whistling. My housekeeper, dressed in a black gown and prepared
for chapel, shakes her head at the sound, and eyes my attire with stern
disapprobation. To her ears, trained to the sonorous rhythm of Methodist
hymns, the light air from an opera of Donizetti's which has crept into
my fancy sounds frivolous and ungodly. But this morning I am almost
lighthearted. Even Mrs. Mason, with her stem, pallid face and ghost-like
movements, cannot depress me. I unlock the shop-door, in case any one
has a telegram to bring, and sit down to my breakfast with unusual
appetite.

I have just finished, and am lighting my pipe, when the click of the
telegraph instrument in the shop warns me of a communication. I hurry
out and take down the message. It is for Lady Deignton. I write it out
carefully, and read it over with a slight smile:


"London.

"Dr. Norman Scott is in Montreal. Await instructions.

"Gay."


According to the rules, there is no necessity for me to deliver this
until to-morrow, but as I fold it up an idea occurs to me. I will
deliver it myself at Deignton Court. No doubt she will find the news
interesting, and it will be all on my way. So I thrust it into my
breast-pocket, and a few minutes later, my pipe in my mouth, I am
striding through the empty streets of the little town.

I am soon free of it. Across the market-place, up High Street, and then
a short-cut by the back of the church brings me to the bridge. Here I am
on the outskirts of the town, and passing the little knot of idlers
smoking their pipes and leaning against the balustrade, I begin the long
ascent into higher country, with the distant range of hills now fairly
in front of me.

In half an hour I am breathing a different atmosphere. The road has
become a country lane, and the walls hedges. I sit down on a five-barred
gate, with my back to a fresh-smelling bean-field, and gaze idly down at
the little grey town nestling in the hollow far below me. Cooped up in
the midst of it, I, one of its little handful of inhabitants, find in it
at no time anything to admire. Its placidity and repose have wearied me.
What in one sense might have been its charm has become to me, a forced
dweller there, bitter and monotonous. But from here, with the sweetness
of the west wind in my face, I can look down upon it a larger man, and
admire its little clustering groups of grey stone houses built around
that square Norman church-tower, its quaint primitiveness and its air of
being cut off from the rest of the world by that bulwark of dark
fir-topped hills, bearing on their bosom those breezy stretches of
common. I can even think with mild and indifferent toleration of Mr.
Holmes, in the agony of a starched collar and white waistcoat, leading
the brethren at prayer at Little Bethel, and of that dreary, long-winded
five-and-twenty minutes' sermon. And slowly my eyes leave the little
town and mount once more to the hills, and I see into the outer world
from whence I came. Then thoughts and memories come flooding in upon me,
my eyes grow bright and my heart swells. But I will have none of it, I
tell myself sternly. Abstraction, and welcome, but no sadness this
morning, no calling up the ghosts of the past, none of the weary,
enervating luxury of heart-wrenching retrospect. I will have none of it,
I say, with darkening face, and so I leap down into the road, and
relighting my pipe, go on my way.

In an hour I am at Little Deignton. In reality it is no village, only a
handful of trim thatched cottages occupied by the outdoor servants at
the Court. Here I enter an iron swinging-gate, and pass along a footpath
skirting the side of the church.

For half a mile it leads across a track of rich meadow-land, and then
through two thick plantations of fir-trees. Half-way through the first I
hear voices, and looking round, am surprised to see two tramps, and, to
judge from their general appearance, tramps of a bad class, sitting on a
piece of grey boulder, with their faces only half turned to me. The
footpath on which I am walking is carpeted with brown fir-needles fallen
from the trees above, and although I walk with no light tread, I pass
unnoticed. Soon I am out of sight around a bend in the path, and after a
moment's mild wonder that tramps should have been allowed to find their
way in, they pass out of my mind. I have no presentiment, no second
thought concerning them. Certainly I have no idea that these two
miserable men are to play an important part in the development of my
destiny.

After emerging from the first plantation, I cross a narrower belt of
meadow-land, and then through another swing-gate I enter the second, the
larger of the two. This part of my walk I am enjoying immensely. There
is something in the autumn stillness of a wood which has always taken my
fancy. The patches of blue sky one can see so clearly through the
stripped tree-tops, the bare undergrowth with here and there a brilliant
blood-red or purple leaf, the ground itself heavy with oozing weeds and
decaying yellow leaves, and the silence which seems to brood over the
whole land--all these things have a soothing and a pleasant effect,
apart from their direct aesthetic beauty. And it seems to me that I have
never appreciated them more than I am doing to-day. The confinement of
the week has made the sense of liberty doubly welcome. I have taken off
my spectacles, and I am feeling almost happy.

And then, in the middle of the footpath, I stop short. Some one is
coming towards me, coming--nay, she has already come, for we are face to
face, and she is slackening her pace, a little uncertain how to pass me,
for I am a big man, and the path is small. Directly I see her, I stop
short for about five seconds--the longest of my life.

I half murmur an apology for my preoccupation as I step back into the
undergrowth, and she slightly--very slightly--inclines her head. I watch
her pass down the winding path, now in sight, now hidden by the trees,
and when she has gone I stand there still. I see her cross the field,
and I hear the gate swing behind her as she enters the first plantation.
Now she is finally out of sight, and I have time to realize that this is
the girl for whose appearance at Deignton Court I am responsible. This
must be Katherine Deignton.

She is gone! What is it that I have seen? A girl carrying a Prayer-Book,
that is all! And yet it seems to me a good deal. She is out of sight,
and I have not moved. I am thinking of her face--thinking of it so
intently that I could almost believe I see it still.

A pale, marble forehead and pale cheeks, sad eyes, the very colour of
which I am uncertain about, and the Deignton mouth, delicate and
tremulous. A thin, yet graceful figure, and a carriage which could
scarcely fail to suggest a certain pride with which it would be hard to
find fault. I do not think that I have the power to put anything else
into words. There is so little that words can say, after all!

I turn round at last to resume my walk, but I have scarcely taken half a
dozen steps before a thought flashes into my mind and brings me to a
standstill. The tramps! She will have to pass close by them in the
loneliest part of the plantation. Even if they do not speak to her, she
may like to know that there is some one within hearing.

I retrace my steps quickly, and on the soft grass between the two
plantations I increase my pace to a run. Just as I am nearing the gate a
sound for which I have been half listening reaches me, and I set my
teeth and spring forward. The sound is very indistinct, yet my ears
readily interpret it. It is a muffled cry for help, partially stifled by
something thrust over the mouth.

The gate is low, and I am over it with a leap which would have cleared a
five-barred gate. The underwood crashes beneath my feet as I spring
round the corner. There is exactly the scene which I had pictured to
myself. The girl who had passed me a few minutes ago, and whose very
carriage bespoke a certain delicate exclusiveness, is in the rude
clutches of one of the men, whilst the other is calmly turning out her
pockets.

I am in upon them like a whirl wind without warning or grace. My lips
are close set, and I am pale with such a passion as has never before
possessed me. It is the man whose coarse hands are clutching hers in a
half-jeering embrace whom I am thirsting to kill. The blow which I aim
at him he only half averts, and he drops on the path like a log. His
companion, without a moment's hesitation, turns, and leaping the wall,
bounds across the field like a hare.

Once more we are face to face. When I turn towards her it amazes me
to see how cool she is. A deep spot of colour has sprung into her
cheeks, and her eyes are lit with anger. She is rubbing the hand which
her assailant had been holding with a handkerchief. She is angry,
perhaps, but certainly not frightened.

"I am so thankful to you," she says, smiling up at me. "Did you hear me
scream?"

"Yes," I answer briefly, envying her her coolness. As for me, I am still
shaking with wrath, and I look regretfully towards the place where the
other man vanished.

"You art not hurt, I hope?" I add, recovering myself a little.

"Hurt? No, I am not hurt; but the thought of that horrible man's grasp
is almost worse. I could have forgiven a blow, if only he had not held
me," she says, with a little gesture of disgust. "I can't think how they
were permitted to get in here. The keepers are generally so particular."

"You are going to church," I remark, glancing down to her Prayer-Book.
"Allow me to walk with you out of the wood."

"Oh, thanks! If it isn't taking you out of your way."

She stoops down to look at the man who lies groaning and breathing
heavily at our feet.

"Is he much hurt?" she asks with a little shudder.

I examine him briefly and shake my head.

"Not nearly so much as he deserves. I will return and doctor him up
whilst you are at church," I say.

Then I walk by her side to the end of the wood. As she shows no sign of
expecting me to leave her there, I go on to within sight of the little
church. Then I stop, and she holds out her hand frankly.

"You must tell me whom I have to thank for my rescue," she says.

I let go her perfectly-gloved little hand, which I have scarcely
touched, and draw myself up.

"My name is Martin--John Martin," I answer.

She repeats it, and I supplement the information:

"I keep the post office and chemist's shop at Market Deignton. You may
have seen the name over the door."

I am watching for it closely, or I should scarcely have noticed the
slight lifting of the eyebrows which alone denoted her surprise. She has
evidently done me the honour to imagine that I might be a gentleman.

"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Martin," she says simply. "Good
morning."

She turns away, and my quick eyes notice a slight shade of
disappointment in her face. After the first moment's bitterness, I find
some consolation in it. She is disappointed to find that I am only a
small shopkeeper. Well, that is better than indifference.

I retrace my steps into the wood to look for the man whom I have knocked
down. When I reach the place of our encounter I find it deserted. He has
evidently recovered sufficiently to crawl away. I am glad of it; I owe
him no ill-will. He has served a good purpose.



CHAPTER V. "BONDS OF ROSES AND A YOKE OF SAND"


At about one hundred yards from the Court the broad drive divides. To
the left it sweeps round to the long imposing front; the right branch
leads to the stables and servants' entrance. For a moment I hesitate as
I reach the fork, and then, with a little laugh, I turn to the right.
Why not? I am simply here as a messenger from the post office, and it is
my proper place.

I reach the servants' quarters, and discover a footman in a linen coat
smoking a pipe in the doorway. He takes the telegram from me, and
without abandoning his easy position, passes it on to a maid-servant.
Then he removes his pipe from his mouth and favours me with a friendly
stare.

"Walked all the way?" he inquires.

"From Market Deignton?--yes," I answer.

"Nice morning for a walk, ain't it?"

I admit that I have found it pleasant.

"You'll have a glass of beer and some bread and cheese, of course?" he
continues. "Walker, do you hear?" looking over his shoulder. "It'll be
here directly."

I shake my head, but I am not proof against the foaming jug of
home-brewed beer which is brought out almost immediately, and I find
myself gravely drinking the footman's health.

"Like to see the 'osses?" he asks.

I am really fond of horses, and the Deignton stables are famous, so I
readily assent. Under the guidance of one of the stable-lads, we make a
brief visit of inspection. Just as we reach the last stall, a thin,
black-browed young woman, walking on tiptoe, and holding her skirts
gathered up around her, enters the gates and beckons to my companion.

"Is that you, Mr. James? Her ladyship wishes to see the person who
brought the telegram," she announces, in a shrill tone with a strong
foreign accent.

I am neither pleased nor displeased at the summons, and before obeying
it I linger to admire a magnificent brood-mare, whose name is almost a
household word. When we emerge from the stall, the black-browed young
woman is getting impatient.

"Her ladyship is not accustomed to be kept waiting," she remarks tartly,
as she leads the way across the yard.

I shrug my shoulders, and follow in silence. We enter the house and pass
up a flight of back stairs, and along a lofty corridor hung with fine
old oil paintings, into an octagonal sitting-room overlooking the park.
Here the woman leaves me, with an ungracious invitation to be seated,
and disappears through an inner door hidden by a curtain.

I look around, and involuntarily I admire. The hangings of the quaintly
shaped little apartment are all of old blue silk and chintz, draped
against a background of black oak. The chairs and couches are French, of
the Louis Quinze period, and the tout _ensemble_ of the chamber is
distinctly and voluptuously feminine. I have no difficulty in deciding
that I am in her ladyship's boudoir.

No one comes to me, and after a few minutes I rise and stroll towards
the window. The view is superb. Below, a fine stretch of woodland park
is bounded by those dark fir-topped hills scarcely a couple of miles
away. Looking to the left, I can see the pine plantations, and the
little grey church tower rising at the back. The sight of it brings back
to my mind the morning's adventure. My thoughts suddenly play the
truant. I seem to be looking through the old stained-glass window and
across the broad stone aisle where the sunlight is falling, into the
square Deignton pew with its solitary occupant. Almost I can hear the
soft rolling of the organ as the music of some chant dies slowly away,
and then that deep silence which precedes the sermon, broken only by the
turning of leaves and the chattering of sparrows in the ivy. And there
is one face, too, that I can see--a girl's pale, proud face, with its
delicate profile uplifted to the preacher as she leans back amongst the
cushions waiting for his opening words.

I wonder--

My reverie is suddenly broken in upon. There is the sound of a
softly-opening door, and the rustle of draperies. A faint and delicate
perfume has stolen into the air, a perfume as familiar to me as the
scent of roses, only it does not now stir my heart and creep through all
my senses as in the days gone by.

I turn round and find that Lady Deignton is almost at my shoulder. She
is dressed in a morning wrap of a dead rose-colour shade, and her
glorious hair is coiled loosely upon the top of her head. It is evident
that she has only just risen.

"So you would have gone away without seeing me," is her greeting. "I
hope that you have an excuse ready, for I am angry."

"Consider my position, and have mercy upon me," I answer lightly. "Do
you usually give audience to your telegraph messengers?"

I am smiling, but there is a shade of bitterness in my tone. She rests
her hand upon my shoulder, and the open sleeve, falling back, discloses
not altogether unconsciously, the whole of her white, finely-moulded
arm.

"Norman, don't be sarcastic!" she says quietly. "If you persist in
masquerading--"

"It is not altogether masquerading," I object.

A light suddenly leaps into her face. Her tone becomes eager, almost
anxious.

"Then it is stupid, obstinate pride," she says warmly. "There can be no
necessity for your present position."

"There is every reason," I answer simply. "I have not a penny in the
world, and I have an unfortunate but invincible objection to charity in
any form. I am earning an honest living, and I am satisfied."

"Norman, look at me!"

I look steadily into her eyes. They are as beautiful as ever, but the
light seems to have died out of them.

"Well!"

"Do I look tired, weary?"

"Just a little," I am forced to admit, noticing, too, for the first time
the dark rims underneath.

"All night I sat up thinking of you."

"Of me?"

"Yes, of you! Don't be afraid; I am not going to make love to you. Only
let me ask you this: You know whose fault it is that your life has
suddenly become a failure?"

"My own!" I cry bitterly. "I am reaping what I have sown!"

"Norman, it was not your fault. It was mine, mine only!"

I cannot contradict her. There is some truth in her words, after all.

"It is mine! All night long I sat thinking of you--thinking of our fine
career suddenly closed, of your long, wasted life apart from your
fellows, cut off from all your ambitions."

"Not all," I whisper to myself. "There is one which remains." But she
does not hear me.

"I think of your past, so brilliant with promise, and I compare it with
this miserable present, and I say to myself: This is my work--my work!
Oh, it is torture. Tell me, have you forgiven me yet?"

"Freely!"

"But I cannot forgive myself. I never can, unless you help me. I am
rich. There are other countries--"

Then a fire of sudden passion burns up within me. I throw off my glasses
and draw myself up to my full height. I take her by the shoulders, and I
keep my eyes fixed upon her face.

"You are right!" I cry. "It is you who have destroyed my life. It is you
only who can build it up again. You talk of reparation. You can do it if
you will. Enough of words. Answer me! Will you do it?"

"If--if I can, Norman. If I can," she falters.

Her face is blanched, but I have no pity.

"Then tell me the whole truth! Tell me all that happened in this house
on that accursed night. Spare none. Hide nothing. It is the truth alone
I want. You say you pity me. Your eyes tell me that you speak the truth.
Good! Send me back from this miserable purgatory to work out my destiny
amongst my fellows. Give me back my honour and my name. The world thinks
that you are screening me. You and I alone know how false that is. Speak
up and tell me whose hand it was that murdered Humphrey Deignton. Who is
he that I should suffer in his stead? His name, I say! His name!"

She is white to the lips, and her eyes are blank and vacant with a great
fear. My hands are gripping her white dainty shoulders like a vice, but
she does not seem to feel the pain. She is like one in a trance.

"Answer me!" I cry. "By Heaven! you shall answer me!"

And then I see that she cannot. She lies in my arms a dead weight, with
closed eyes and deathlike face. Her head droops over my arm, and a great
coil of hair, escaped from the rest, touches the ground. Her bosom is
heaving, and I can see that the fainting is only momentary. Her arms are
clasped around my neck passionately, and I cannot part them, so I carry
her to the couch and kneel down by her side. For a moment a touch of the
old madness comes to me. The clasp of her arms is like a yoke drawing me
down to her. My breath is upon her cheek, and my face is almost touching
hers. Then she opens her eyes dreamily, and gives a little sigh of
content.

"Norman," she whispers.

The madness is over. I wrench her hands apart almost roughly, and spring
up, angry with her and bitterly ashamed of myself.

"You are a finished actress!" I cry. "I congratulate you. But, Lady
Cora, I am not a man to be trifled with. I want nothing from you, save
one thing only--I want the history of that night! Tell it me! You shall
tell it me!"

She rises to her feet. There is a peculiar glitter in her eyes, and she
points to the door.

"Go!"

"You refuse!" I exclaim.

She stamps her foot. Her head is thrown back, and her bosom is heaving.
I bow my head before the storm. I know that speech on my part is
useless.

"You have been a shopkeeper long enough to forget that you were a
gentleman!" she cries. "You have insulted me--you to whom I have
stooped. Begone! Your name is nothing to me; clear it yourself, if you
can. I have no interest in it, or you!"

So I walk out of Deignton Court with the words of her passionate
dismissal ringing in my ears. As a diplomatist, I feel that I have
erred. As a man, I am content. Open war will suit me best.



CHAPTER VI. "I HAVE CLIMBED NEARER OUT OF LONELY HELL"


The sunshine has died out from the autumn day as I cross the downward
slope of Culdon Hills and set my face towards home. The west is gorgeous
with the blood-red colouring of a stormy sunset, and a few raindrops,
the last of a slight shower, are falling. On the left hes Deignton Court
with its Corinthian front, and imposing array of windows, and as I catch
a glimpse of it through the trees, my heart grows for a moment
wonderfully light. At least, I have broken for ever those bonds which at
one time I stooped to wear. Not so long ago, men and women spoke of me
as Lady Deignton's _bon ami_. Never again! I have passed through the fires
unscathed. I am untrammelled now, at any rate, free to work out my own
release, to fulfil my own destiny. The pure, cold air seems all the
sweeter to me when I remember the enervating but dainty fragrance of
that little blue chamber where I have fought my battle. My heart is
buoyant with a certain vague sense of relief, and as I plunge into the
beech woods and almost lose myself amongst the gaunt, weird shadows, I
am walking side by side with pleasant thoughts. It is close by this spot
that I met her for the first time--this girl whose proud, pure face had
flashed into my memory just in time to save me from folly, just in time
to loll that single spark of reawakened passion for the woman whose
desire it had seemed to be to kindle it. Then I remember that it is my
own hand which has brought her here, that it is I who am responsible for
the omission of that one word from Lady Deignton's peremptory telegram.
Is there anything of fate in it, I wonder? Is she destined to help me in
my task? or--But the other side I thrust away. I will not consider it; I
have had enough of the miseries.

I pass through the second grove, and arrive at the church. The windows
are brilliantly lit, and the organ is pealing. Softly I enter the
churchyard and look in. They are singing the last hymn, and there in the
square pew, with her profile in relief against the black oak background,
is the face for which my eyes were searching.

I have a sudden desire come upon me as I stand there and listen--a
desire, somehow, to speak to her again. I feel my heart beat, and I
could laugh at myself for the folly of it. But, all the same, I steal
away over the gravestones like a thief in the dusk, and crossing the
meadow once more, stand beneath the obscurity of a great tree, with my
back to the paling.

Soon the people begin to come out--one by one at first, and then in a
little stream. Last of all, two figures turn away from the village in my
direction, and cross the meadow towards me. Who is with her? I ask
myself, with a quite unaccountable eagerness. I am determined to see, so
I step into the middle of the footpath and walk briskly to meet them. As
we draw near I give a little sigh of relief. She is walking alone in
front, and behind I recognize my friend the footman.

I pause, and step out into the wet grass to let her pass. A corner of
the moon is hanging down over a belt of black trees on the left, and the
air is faintly light. To my surprise, she recognizes me and stops short.

"Why, here again, Mr. Martin?" she exclaims.

"Yes; I have been walking all day over the hills," I answer. "I am going
home now."

"How tired you must be!" she remarks.

I have turned, and am walking slowly by her side. It is a bold step, and
I can see that she is a little surprised, but I affect not to see it. I
am determined to claim these few minutes for my own, and to secure them,
I talk with all the spirit and energy I can muster.

Of what it is all about I carry away no distinct recollection; only I
know that a stream of bitterness creeps more than once into my tone as
the moments fly by, and I see the morrow, and the week after, and all
other weeks lying before me--a dull, hopeless vista. I am the postmaster
and chemist of Market Deignton, and she is the only daughter and heiress
of the late Sir Humphrey Deignton, Baronet. I have no right to be
walking by her side even. These moments are a nightmare of delight;
to-morrow will bring a bitter awakening. To-night her sense of gratitude
is strong, and she is treating me as an equal; to-morrow she will see
things in a more prosaic light. Perhaps she will blush to remember who
walked by her side across the meadow. Bah! I am a fool to let thoughts
of to-morrow spoil the joy of to-night!

At the gate she holds out her hand with a little decisive movement,
which leaves me no excuse for lingering, even had I meant to. I take it,
and she lifts her eyes for a moment to mine.

"I will never forget your service to-day," she says quietly. "I feel
that I have not thanked you hall enough."

"It is not worth a thought," I murmur. "Your keeper would have done what
I did just as effectually."

"But the keepers were not there."

"It was my good fortune," I answer, smiling.

"Good night."

Then I raise my cap, and away I go, striding along the path across the
meadow with my hands behind me and my thoughts in the clouds. And so I
walk on until the lights of Market Deignton twinkle up at me from the
valley below, and I cross the bridge and pass through the silent streets
of the little town to my own abode.

My housekeeper has given me up in despair, but she has left my supper. I
eat what she has set out, utterly ignorant of what it is, and then
remove the things myself. I poke the fire into a blaze, bring out my
coffee machine, and sit idle for awhile watching it boil. In a few
minutes it is prepared, and my pipe is alight. Then I go up into my
room, unlock a little iron chest which stands at the foot of my bed, and
take out a bundle of manuscript carefully tied up. Then I make my way
downstairs again, and after locking all the doors and pulling down the
blind, I undo the packet and spread the sheets out on the table before
me.

Since I wrote these pages I have neither opened them nor looked at them.
The events of which they treat are events which are branded into my
life. More than ever at this moment are they fearfully and wonderfully
distinct. Yet to-night, as I sit alone in my little chamber, I am
conscious of a passionate, almost a hysterical, desire to fight my way
through the shadows and darkness of my life into the clear and open
daylight. I recognize more fully the reason why I am here--my avowed
purpose. I am anxious and impatient to take at least one step upon the
way. But how? in what direction?

On my homeward path to-night, when my brain was busy weaving useless
fancies, the somewhat trite saying of an old French writer flashed into
my mind. It was to the effect that even our personal experiences
personally recorded seem to us very different when viewed over the
bridge of time. The idea has propagated another. This little record,
faithfully transcribed by me in that most awful period of my life, may
now, read in the light of other events, present some new phase which may
help me to pierce the darkness. At any rate, I am in the mood to try. My
pipe is lit, the blinds are down, and the doors are bolted. Farewell,
John Martin the shopkeeper! Farewell the present, with its diurnal
chronicle of monotony and heartsickness! I go to dig in the past of
another man. Those who care to, may go with me.



CHAPTER VII. A NIGHT OF HORROR


"Portman Square,
"London,
"October 18, 18--.

"I, Norman Scott, physician, in case of sudden death, or lest my memory
should after the lapse of many years have let slip any trifling detail
concerning the events of the night of October 12, in this year, here
write down faithfully and truly the whole history of that night, so far
as I was in any way concerned in it. And side by side with my own
experiences I have transcribed such parts of the evidence of others as
seem in any way to affect me favourably or unfavourably. I repeat that
my object in this is twofold: first, that in the event of my death, this
manuscript, duly inscribed to my executors, being found, and the
unswerving accuracy of it being herewith solemnly attested by me as
before the face of Almighty God, it may impress with its truth some of
those who have halted half-way between belief and disbelief, who have
treated with some suspicion my living words. And secondly, because I am
fully aware that at any moment in my life I may suddenly have to stand
my trial for the crime of murder, of which--God knows!--I am innocent.
And this clearly-written account will be more useful for my defence than
the less connected narrative which I might then be able to offer.

"First, let me state that my name is John Norman Scott. I am of good--I
may say noble--family, although of a younger branch, but of scanty
means. Such fortune as I had has gone in my college education, my
training at the hospitals, and establishment in a fashionable part of
London as a physician.

"It is four years since I started for myself, and I have met with
marked--I may say with wonderful--success. My relatives secured my
entrance into the best and most exclusive society, and from the first my
practice has lain amongst people of that class. This will explain the
fact that, as well as being a hard-worked physician, I have perforce
borne some small part in the world of fashion. Policy rather than choice
has led me to make use of the footing I obtained here, but wishing to be
frank in all that I write here, I will also admit this, that an
infatuation--that is the word which I desire to use--for Lady Deignton
was another reason for my accepting all invitations where I should be
likely to meet her. The relations between us have been so freely and im
justly commented upon in the light of recent awful events that there can
be no harm, nor anything injurious to me or her, in stating this, the
plain truth.

"Sir Humphrey Deignton, Bart., was one of my father's oldest friends,
and chanced to become almost my first patient. Lady Deignton I met first
as his wife, and I freely admit that from the first I was fascinated by
her. Women and I have had very little in common, for my life has been
one of hard work and carefully nursed ambition. Until I met Lady
Deignton I had not known what it was to feel even interested in one of
her sex, and she, with a kindness which has turned out to be so fatal,
seemed always bent on showing how charming a brilliant and sympathetic
woman could appear in the eyes of a man who had somewhat the reputation
of being indifferent to her sex. Unfortunately, she succeeded too well.
I visited constantly at their house, encouraged--nay, urged--to do so
both by Sir Humphrey and herself. I was no doubt often seen in Lady
Deignton's company. Thus much is true. Nothing more! I wish to place on
record this fact, that our friendship, although an unwise and even a
reprehensible one, was free from any suggestion unbecoming to the
relations which should exist between my friend's wife and myself. Mind,
I have not denied my infatuation, or sought to minimize my folly. What I
deny is that it had in any serious way escaped bounds, or had become the
foundation of any guilty understanding between Lady Deignton and myself.

"Early in October, Sir Humphrey and Lady Deignton left town for their
seat in the country. Sir Humphrey was suffering from gout, for which I
had been attending him, and soon after his departure I received a letter
begging me to run down and see him, sleep the night, and, if possible,
have a day's shooting, returning the following evening. Accordingly, on
October 12 I left Waterloo by the three o'clock train for Market
Deignton, and arrived at the Court just in time to see my patient before
the dressing-bell rang.

"I found him much better; in fact, in excellent condition, and told him
so. It is true that, in response to his inquiry whether I should be able
to stay and shoot during the following day, I told him that, as it
happened, I was free from any special case, and should be able to do so.

"When I left Sir Humphrey, on perfectly good terms, we had a glass of
sherry together, and he sent his own servant with me to my room. It was
then within a few minutes of half-past seven, and dinner was at eight
o'clock.

"I am here compelled to admit that a certain event which happened
between the time of my going to my room and my appearance in the
drawing-room a few minutes after eight is withheld from this narration.
In the face of death and disgrace, it must remain for ever locked in my
breast. All that I can say is, that the event decided me to return to
town that night. To cover my departure, I admit that I told a falsehood
to Sir Humphrey. I left a note behind implying that a telegram had
reached me, recalling me to London to attend an urgent case. It was
lamentable, but necessary.

"There were only a few other guests at dinner that evening, and all of
these, with the exception of the Vicar and his wife, were staying in the
house. I mention these in the order in which they occur to me.

"Mr. and Mrs. George Crosswell, of Red Hall, neighbours, and
old-fashioned country people. There could be no possible connexion
between them and the event.

"Mr. Hamilton Lugard, a stranger to me and to everybody. He had brought
a letter of introduction from the Austrian Consul, and turned out
afterwards to be an Englishman, who, from being junior Consul at Vienna,
had entered the Austrian service, and only recently returned to England.
Age about forty. Apparently a gentleman of polish and position, who gave
me the impression of being a little bored.

"The Earl of Walsham, a bachelor and master of foxhounds. A servant
brought him word during dinner that several of the puppies were taken
with a curious sickness, and he made his excuses and departed, not
returning at all that night.

"Mr. George Houghton, Sir Humphrey's lawyer and agent, well known to
everybody.

"Myself.

"Lady Deignton was the only lady present besides Mrs. Crosswell and the
Vicar's wife.

"It is true that during dinner Sir Humphrey rallied me upon my silence
and town appetite. I cannot deny that, nor that there was a cause for
it--only it has nothing to do with the event so far as I am concerned.

"The subsequent incidents of the evening, so far as regards my own
movements, are briefly these. At half-past nine I left the men, who were
sitting over their wine, and went softly into the writing-room adjoining
the hall. There I wrote the note, already mentioned, which has been so
much discussed, and, going into the small cloak-room opposite, I got my
hat and coat unperceived. The fact that no servant noticed me is
remarkable, for there were several who must have observed my movements,
had they been paying the slightest attention to what was going on. I
then passed down the back hall, which was empty, the servants who were
not on duty being at supper, and letting myself out, walked to Mitford
Junction, the nearest railway station on the main line.

"I reached the station at twenty-five minutes to eleven, and the train
was then coming in. I utterly forgot to take a ticket, being in a
somewhat disturbed state of mind. At Vauxhall the ticket collector came
round. He looked at me and passed on. I was, in a measure, dazed and
upset by the recollection of the experience through which I had passed,
and which had led to my flight from Deignton Court, or I should have
paid him for my ticket. The only explanation I can give for his leaving
me undisturbed is that six months ago I had a season ticket to a station
on the line, and my face being doubtless familiar to him, he supposed me
still to be a season-ticket holder.

"I walked to my house in Portman Square, and let myself in with a
latch-key. I went straight to my room and stayed there until morning.
Just as I was preparing to descend, a telegram, of which this is a copy,
was brought to me:


"'To Norman Scott, Portman Square, London, W.

"'Come here at once. Sir Humphrey is dead.

"'Houghton.'"



CHAPTER VIII. FOR AND AGAINST


Without any pause, for I am anxious to avoid all disjointed reflection,
I take up the next bundle of papers. This is attached to a long cutting
from a local newspaper, and is headed as follows: "An account of what
happened at Deignton Court immediately prior to Sir Humphrey's being
found dead."

"For my own satisfaction I have extracted from the mass of evidence
given at the coroner's inquest a very brief account of all that is known
of Sir Humphrey's death. This is the pith of it:

"The evening was spent at Deignton Court in the usual way, except that
every one retired to bed earlier than usual, in view of a long day's
shooting arranged for on the morrow. There was no visit at all to the
drawing-room on the part of the men. The Vicar's wife and Mrs. Crosswell
talked, whilst Lady Deignton answered a few invitations. At 9.20 the
Vicar and his wife departed, and Mrs. Crosswell, making the excuse of
fatigue, retired to her room. Lady Deignton remained alone in the
drawing-room until ten, when she rang for her maid to attend her. She
then retired to bed, from which she was awakened on the morrow by the
alarm consequent on the discovery of Sir Humphrey's state.

"To return to the men. They left the dining room at 9.45, and, with the
exception of the Vicar, who fetched his wife and departed, they went to
the billiard-room, where coffee was served to them. Mr. Lugard and Mr.
Crosswell played a one-hundred game, which lasted until 10.30. Sir
Humphrey and Mr. Lugard then agreed to play until eleven. At that hour
the party broke up.

"Mr. Houghton left the room, and walked across the park to his cottage.
Was seen to leave, and was accosted by several gamekeepers on his way
home. Mr. Crosswell went straight to his room in the east wing, and Mr.
Lugard accompanied him.

"I had left my note upon the hall table, but, unfortunately, no one had
seen it. Sir Humphrey seems to have asked for me twice during the
evening, and to have obtained the idea from some one that I had retired
to bed. At any rate, when he shook hands with Mr. Lugard in the corridor
at the head of the stairs, he remarked:

"'I am just going in to look Scott up for a few minutes. I have a word
or two to say to him.'

"Sir Humphrey then turned in the opposite direction to that which Mr.
Lugard was taking, and walked towards the room which I was supposed to
be occupying, and which was close to his own.

"I had better here explain the position of the apartments. The one at
the extreme end of the corridor, with a double view, was Sir Humphrey's.
The adjoining one was Lady Deignton's sleeping chamber, and a small
anteroom led off from that to one in which her maid sometimes slept.
These two rooms. Sir Humphrey's and Lady Deignton's, communicated by
old-fashioned folding-doors.

"The room number three on the corridor and next to Lady Deignton's was
the first of another suite generally given to bachelors, as it contained
a large bath-room. It was this room which I was supposed to be
occupying; and which Mr. Lugard saw Sir Humphrey enter.

"Early on the morrow a servant entered the room in which I was supposed
to be, to attend to the bath, and found the bed unslept in, and Sir
Humphrey, fully dressed, lying in the middle of the room on his side,
and with his face turned to the floor. The maid hastened to give the
alarm, and Mr. Houghton, Mr. Lugard, and the butler were fetched. They
all describe the scene which they were compelled to witness as horrible
in the extreme. His head was lying in a pool of blood, and his face was
shockingly mutilated. An iron club, spiked at the end, with which the
deed appeared to have been committed, was lying on the floor by his
side. One wall of the chamber was decorated with savage weapons brought
home by a relative of Sir Humphrey's from Africa, and the club belonged
to the collection. It had evidently been taken down by some one in a
hurry, for the nail which had supported it was torn out. The weapon
itself was light, but terribly made, and even a moderate blow on the
head would have been sufficient to cause death."



I take up the third and last paper. It is briefly headed, "Coroner's
Inquest."

"It is evident that in the absence of anything like a clue, or any
evidence concerning any outside party, the three persons on whom
suspicion is likely to fall are:

"First and chiefly, myself.

"Secondly, Lady Deignton

"Thirdly, Mr. Lugard.

"As a matter of fact, from the first the whole of the suspicion rested
upon my head. My notes here comprise:

"(1) Evidence for or against Mr. Lugard.

"Absolutely none. His credentials are authentic and he is recognized to
be a gentleman of position. He was a stranger to Sir Humphrey Deignton.
There is nothing to point in any way to his being involved in this
crime.

"(2) Evidence for or against Lady Deignton.

"Against: None.

"For: (1) She was on good terms with her husband. (2) To have left her
room and entered that in which Sir Humphrey was found dead, she must
have passed through her maid's sleeping-chamber. In evidence the maid
declared herself a light sleeper, that the door of the room was locked
all night, and the key was upon her bed. This was accepted as positive
and conclusive evidence that Lady Deignton did not leave her room on the
night of the murder. (3) Utter absence of all motive. (4) The
impossibility of a woman being able to deal such a blow. This, however,
would not weigh for much with any one who had examined the terribly
spiked weapon with which the deed was done.

"So much for Lady Deignton. The next heading is, 'Evidence for and
against myself.'

"For: (1) No passenger was booked from Mitford Junction by the early
morning train, and I easily proved my presence in my bedchamber at
Portman Square at nine o'clock. (2) No one was seen or heard to leave
the house after the dispersal of the billiard-room party.

"Against: (1) My strange and unexplained departure from Deignton Court,
the time of which there is no evidence to prove. (2) My statement as to
leaving Mitford Junction by the 10.30 train being unsupported by any
railway official, booking clerk, or other witness. Further, the emphatic
denial of the ticket-collector at Vauxhall that he failed to collect the
ticket of any save of known season-ticket holders. (3) The fact that
there had been some scandal concerning my friendship with the family,
and that my name and Lady Deignton's had been freely coupled. (4) The
fact that it was in my room that Sir Humphrey was found dead, after
having expressed his intention of paying me a visit.

"Appended is the complete account of the inquest, with the _vivâ voce_
replies of the witnesses to the coroner. No need to wade through it all.
Here are the salient points in black and white. I am driven to ask
myself, If I am not guilty of this murder, who is?"



On the back of the last sheet are a few hastily-written notes, more in
the shape of a chronicle.

"From the moment of my arrival at Deignton Court on the morning after
the murder I was closely followed by detectives. The question of
arresting me was freely debated, but, as opinion was divided, the police
satisfied themselves by watching every movement of mine. At the
conclusion of the evidence at the inquest I was not allowed to leave the
room. The coroner was an hour summing up. What he said to the jury
amounted to this: that he had no doubt as to my guilt, but they must not
find a verdict against me unless they considered that there was direct
and positive evidence amounting to reasonable suspicion.

"For four hours the jury disagreed, and during that time all eyes were
fixed upon me. Eventually the foreman unwillingly handed in the formal
verdict: 'Death from the effects of a blow delivered by some person
unknown!'

"I remain at liberty, but under constant police supervision. Wherever I
move, even in my own house, I run up against a detective trying to work
up fresh evidence against me. The horrible truth is forced in upon me in
every possible manner, and by nearly all whom I have called my friends.
The press and public opinion are unanimously against me. My practice, in
which the whole of my capital is sunk, is ruined. Even my relatives
decline to help me unless I leave the country at once. To do so would be
to admit my guilt, to put myself outside all possible chance of ever
proving my innocence. I have paid all my debts, and there remains to me
about two hundred pounds. My mind is resolved. I will retire to a
tumbledown old manor-house on the Scottish border, which is my own
property, and there I will dwell for a year until my beard is grown and
my appearance sufficiently altered. Then I will seek occupation of some
sort or other--I care not whether it be breaking stones on the road, so
that it answers my purpose--near Market Deignton, and watch and wait. I
have strength, and I have a will of iron. They shall serve me now or
never. I will find that man or that woman whose burden I am bearing, and
there shall be no mercy in my heart when the day comes to mete out my
vengeance. I will have my pound of flesh! His suffering for my
suffering, his life for my life! Oh, God, give me that man or that woman
who has forged this chain of iron in my heart! It is just! I ask only
for justice. I have sinned, but I have repented. Let this punishment not
endure for ever!"

* * * * * * *

Of course, it is apparent that I am Norman Scott. I have followed out my
design to the letter. I am the village chemist at Market Deignton,
unrecognized in my thick beard and glasses by those who saw me only,
pale and haggard, at that awful inquest. Fortunately I have never
visited Deignton before. No one has suspected me save Lady Deignton. As
yet I have learnt little, but I am not dispirited. On my finger I wear a
ring engraven with the motto of our family--"I bide my time." For it I
am content to wait. And so I sell my drugs and my stamps, and despatch
my telegrams, and I keep ever before me, written in my heart, these four
words, "I bide my time."

And all the while the great world goes on its mighty way, although down
here its echoes fall faintly upon my ears. I am forgotten. I was a nine
days' wonder, and my name is no longer for ever on men's tongues. And as
for me myself, my life has become quiet and harmonious enough. Books,
which before I was too busy to value--busy, as I am now beginning to
acknowledge, with lesser things--are beginning to lay me under their
sweet bondage. I am drifting into a not unhappy state--a dilettante
scholar, a rambler in the pleasant byways of literature, and in a
measure it is the smallness and monotony of my surroundings which have
driven me into the larger life. For that I am duly thankful. Yet I never
forget this, that in myself there are two selves. There is the easily
contented student who finds amongst his books a pleasant resting-place;
and there is the man whose whole life is filled with one passionate
desire, inextinguishable and unchanging.



CHAPTER IX. A VISIT FROM MADEMOISELLE HORTENSE


Monday morning dawns upon a slow, constant downpour of rain. The grey
clouds are thick and low, and the rain descends in a hopelessly straight
manner, which leaves no room for doubt as to the prospects of the day.
Already as I sit at breakfast there are large puddles in the
marketplace, and a perfect little torrent rushes along the gutter by the
side of the path. The grey-and brown-fronted houses have a soaked and
washed appearance. There is not a soul in sight. Evidently I shall have
plenty of leisure to-day.

And so I have. Up to eleven o'clock scarcely a customer has passed the
threshold of my shop. I have given up standing behind the counter and
gazing out into the empty street. My present position is a far more
comfortable one. I am seated in my easy chair, drawn out a little way
from its corner, with a pile of books on the table by my side, and my
pipe in my mouth.

My face is turned towards the window, and at the sound of rapidly
approaching wheels I glance up. A smart dogcart flashes by and pulls up
at the shop-door. I only get a very brief glimpse of the occupants, but
I can see that there are two. The man driving is a groom, and wears the
Deignton livery. By his side is a feminine form, but so enveloped in a
mackintosh and overshaded by the umbrella that I can form no idea as to
who she is. Odd that my heart should beat like this. Am I getting
nervous, I wonder? Odd, too, that I should be so acutely conscious of a
pang of keen disappointment as from my point of vantage behind the
counter I recognize entering the shop Lady Deignton's black-browed maid.

She sets down her umbrella and shakes her mackintosh.

"A change from yesterday, this," I remark.

She looks up and recognizes me--recognizes me, that is to say, as the
postmaster of Deignton.

"It is horrible, desolate," she assents in a strong foreign accent. "Ah,
I remember: you were at the Court yesterday."

"I brought a telegram," I answer. "Not compulsory on the Sabbath, you
know, but the walk was pleasant."

"Ah, you English are such walkers. Will you give me, if you please, one
shilling's worth of stamps?"

I take them from the drawer, and push them across the counter to her.
Glancing up, I notice that she is watching me curiously.

"My lady found plenty to say to you yesterday," she remarks.

In ordinary circumstances I should have made no reply to a speech which
savours of familiarity. But Mademoiselle Hortense is an object of
interest to me. She is one of the few persons who are concerned in the
"Event." I shall not be sorry to be on friendly terms with Mademoiselle
Hortense.

"Her ladyship was good enough to be interested in some details of postal
work," I say carelessly. "She is very affable."

Mademoiselle shrugs her shoulders. "There are many people who do not
find her so."

She has produced a letter from her pocket, and carefully detaching a
stamp from those which I have given her, she affixes it. The envelope is
face upwards and turned towards me. I do not scruple to read it. It is
addressed to--

"_The Daily Telegraph_,
"Fleet Street,
"Advt. Dept."
"London."

There is the crack of a driving whip outside in the street, from which
Mademoiselle divines that her escort is getting impatient. She fastens
up her mackintosh, shakes her dripping umbrella, and bids me "Good
morning." Her dark, heavy features relax into something approaching a
smile as I slip out and open the door for her. On the pavement she looks
back.

"The letter I left on the counter, you will despatch it?"

"Certainly," I answer.

Then she mounts into the dog-cart and drives off. David is out for a few
moments with a bottle of medicine. I am alone in the shop with that
letter.

I take it up and hold it pensively in my hand. So Mademoiselle is going
to advertise. What about? Doubtless she is going to leave her situation.
Perhaps--

I abandon my speculation for a brief mental protest against the folly of
buying cheap stationery. Mademoiselle's envelope is cheap and flimsy.
Behold the consequence: her letter lies open in my hand! If I despatch
it in such a fashion its contents will probably get lost in the post.

I moisten the flap and thump it on the counter. It is useless. There is
absolutely no gum there. What shall I do? Bundle it in amongst the other
letters, and let it take its chance? or shall I play the good Samaritan,
and address another envelope for Mademoiselle? I decide upon the latter
course. I shake the contents of the letter out upon the counter, and
dipping my pen in the ink, am in the act of directing a fresh envelope.
But my hand suddenly becomes rigid. Mademoiselle's advertisement, of two
lines only, stares me in the face, and my eyes rest upon it fascinated.
It is too late for me to consider any nice point of propriety or
impropriety. I have no thought now of proceeding with my task, at any
rate for the present. As soon as I am capable of any action at all, I
take up the letter and envelope, and pass into my little back room,
carrying them with me.



CHAPTER X. A WOMAN GREY AND GHOSTLY


If this were a novel, and I the hero, naturally I should make some
effort to gloss over my conduct. But as I am writing a plain narration
of facts--an autobiography--I do not attempt to do anything of the sort.
To be frank, I will confess that what I did I did without scruple, and
without any interference from my conscience. I stood up by the table in
my little room and read Mademoiselle Hortense's letter and advertisement.
The former ran as follows:


"Poste Restante,
"Market Deignton,
"----SHIRE.

"Dear Sirs,

"Kindly insert enclosed advertisement in the Agony column of the _Daily
Telegraph_ three times, and forward replies to A.C.X., address as
above."


Copy of advertisement:


"Wanted, for his own advantage, address of Dr. Norman Scott, late of
Portman Square."

The papers slip from my hand on to the table, and I stand there for a
full minute, stunned. "For his own advantage!" What can it mean?
Mademoiselle Hortense, as I have said, is one of the persons concerned
in the "Event." Norman Scott is another of them. The inference is plain.
It is in connexion with the "Event" that Mademoiselle Hortense desires
to communicate with him. What has she to say? At the inquest she was
silent. She knew nothing. To-day she wishes to reopen the past. Was her
evidence false? has she been in the secret all the time, or has she more
recently discovered something? I feel my heart beating faster and
faster. Last night there seemed to be no rift in the clouds, and I had
found myself perforce driven to do battle with the first icy touch of an
enervating despair. "For his own advantage!" I repeat the words. Is this
a plot of Lady Deignton's, or is it indeed the first gleam of light? I
forget the black brows and dark saturnine face of Mademoiselle Hortense.
To me at that moment she is little short of an angel.

There is only one course to pursue. I reseal the letter in a fresh
envelope, and carefully address it. Then with my own hands I drop it
into the postbag.

* * * * * * *

The rain never ceases all day. Heavy yellow clouds, without the
semblance of a break in them, hang low down in the sky, and discharge a
continual and pitiless downpour. Early in the afternoon a thick,
steaming mist rises up from the moisture-sated earth and hangs about the
market-place, blotting out completely the hills in the background. The
lamps, lit before three o'clock, bum with a dim, sickly light, casting
feeble reflections upon the miniature torrents which pour down the
gutters, and great pools of water stand about in the hollows and
badly-paved spaces of the market-place.

But, notwithstanding the hopelessness of the weather, Mademoiselle is
not the only visitor from Deignton Court who enters my shop during the
day.

The arrival of Mrs. Mason, come to prepare my afternoon tea, disturbs me
from a brown study, which has become almost a doze. I watch her move
about the room with only half-awakened eyes. Then the hissing of the
tea-kettle and the clatter of crockery in the back room, followed by the
stealthy, purring entrance of my cat--all cheerful and familiar
sounds--remind me that the worst part of the day is over. I stand up on
my hearthrug, and after a shuddering glance around, draw the curtains
close and light the lamp.

Just as I have concluded, Mrs. Mason enters with the teapot, and
glancing carelessly in her direction, I utter a little exclamation.

"Mrs. Mason," I ask, "what is the matter with you?"

She has the appearance of a woman struggling with a mortal sickness. Her
face is white and ghastly, and her eyes are full of a strange bright
light. She is as neat in her appearance as usual. Her grey hair is
carefully parted and brushed, and her black gown is trim and faultless;
but her face is as the face of a dying woman.

She sets down the teapot and looks at me, making a great effort to
control her features.

"It is the weather, I think, sir, nothing more. It depresses me. I am
not ill."

I have my own idea as to the truth of this statement, and I call her
back.

"Mrs. Mason!"

"Yes, sir."

"Let me feel your pulse."

"I would rather not, sir. I am not ill. I do not require any medicine."

"Nonsense!" I reply. "You are ill. No one could look at you and doubt
it. Let me feel it at once."

She suffers me to do so under protest. I ask her a few more questions,
to which she returns me unwilling, but apparently truthful, answers. To
my surprise, I can find nothing whatever in her system to account for
her appearance. I put my watch in my pocket, and look at her longer and
with more interest than I have ever done before.

"Are you in trouble, Mrs. Mason?" I ask. "Have you had any sudden
shock?"

She evades my glance, and shows a marked desire to depart.

"None, sir. Your tea is getting cold, sir. I will fetch the toast."

"You are very obstinate, Mrs. Mason," I remark.

"I don't wish to appear so, sir," she answers. "There is nothing the
matter with me, indeed. It is the weather."

She goes out, and reappears presently with the toast. I watch her
carefully as she sets it down. Her hand is as white as the table-cloth,
and is shaking violently. Her face is grey and pinched. The light in her
eyes is as bright as ever.

"Mrs. Mason."

"Yes, sir?"

"Do you know that I am a doctor?"

"Yes, sir."

"And, as a doctor, I can see that you are at the present moment in a
state of violent agitation. You need some sal volatile, which I will
give you directly. But before I do so, tell me what is the matter with
you. Don't be a foolish woman, now. Have you had any bad news?"

She breaks down at last, wringing her hands piteously and giving way to
a little hysterical sob, half of pain, half of fear. I lead her,
unresisting now, to my easy chair, and force her to sit down. Then I
call David to bring me some sal volatile from the shop. When it arrives
she is quite helpless, and swallows it without protest.

"Sit where you are, Mrs. Mason, while I have my tea. Don't attempt to
move."

She does not answer or make any sign of having heard me. She has turned
her face away, but I can see that the tears are gathering in her eyes.

I leave her alone, save briefly to forbid her once more to move. Then I
go back to the table and pour out my tea, taking care not even to glance
in her direction. In about ten minutes I have finished. Then I light a
cigarette and stand over her by the hearthrug.

"Mrs. Mason."

No answer. I can see that she has been crying, and the tears are
gathering again in her eyes, and her lips are trembling. It is a good
sign. When she has wept the tension will be over. She will be able to
talk to me rationally then.

I am not disappointed. In a few minutes I can see, from over the top of
a book which I have taken up, that the tears are streaming down her
cheeks. Soon afterwards she rises, with her handkerchief in her hand.

"I am much obliged to you, sir. I am better now."

I lay down my book. She makes a movement as though to go and clear the
things away, but I check her.

"Tell me all about it, Mrs. Mason," I say quietly. "You are in trouble.
Perhaps I can help you."

She shakes her head sadly.

"Not you, nor any living man," she says in a tone which reaches scarcely
above a whisper. "I thank you for your kindness, sir. I am quite able to
take the things out now."

I shrug my shoulders and leave her alone. After all, she has a perfect
right to keep her own counsel if she is so disposed. But why? What is
the mystery about the woman? There was no mistaking the look in her
face, which has yet only half disappeared. It was terror--wild,
tremulous terror! What can have caused it? She is a widow, they tell me,
and she lives alone. Whence this mysterious, palpitating fear? The
dramatic side of human life, with all its mighty forces of passion and
crime, sacrifice and honour, has always seemed to me a thing far removed
from the primitive dwellers in this old-world town. Day by day the faces
of my neighbours passing constantly before me carry their little lives
writ out plain in every feature. There is not one of them in whose heart
fate seems to have sown the seeds which bring forth great things,
whether of good or evil. The place and its associations, so far as a
casual dweller here can judge, might serve as the very type of rusticity
and the bucolic; and it is here my housekeeper tells me that she has
spent all her days. She has neither friends nor relations, in the world
outside. Yet, at this very moment as she moves about with set, white
face, she is nerving herself to face some deadly fear. She is fighting
against some horrible thought with an unnatural and unwholesome
desperation. She is, unless I am very much mistaken, one of the figures
in some village tragedy. Who knows what may be lurking behind that pale,
passionate face, with its indrawn lips and steely eyes?

Nature, which made me of a contemplative turn of mind, made me also a
dabbler in the external features of psychology--at any rate, an
interested student of the little cycles of life perpetually crossing and
recrossing my own. For months, Mrs. Mason has represented to me merely a
unit, a machine by means of which the necessaries of human life have been
brought to me. But from this moment she occupies a different and more
dignified position in my regard: she has become a morsel in the great
whole of humanity. She is a woman who has in her life a touch of that
which, whether it be developed in channels of good or evil, at any rate
elevates the human being above the beast. Neat, self-possessed and
self-restraining, she scoops the crumbs from my table-cloth, folds it up
and places all the little appurtenances of my tea-table in their proper
places. She knows that I am watching her curiously through the little
cloud of blue smoke blown out from my cigarette, but it does not disturb
her. She is getting the better of her momentary breakdown. By to-morrow
morning she will have lapsed once more into the cold-faced, grey-haired
little woman who goes through her duties always with the same unvarying
neatness and method. But her day's trials are not yet over.

The silence in the street without is suddenly broken by the rapidly
approaching sound of horses' feet. Pit-a-pat! pit-a-pat! pit-a-pat! they
come as regular as clockwork, the perfectly even tread of well-matched
carriage horses. They are crossing the market-place towards my shop; now
they are coming round in front of it, and--yes--they have pulled up at
the door. I myself have plenty of food for speculation in the advent of
my customer, whoever he or she may be; but I chance to' glance towards
Mrs. Mason, and my personal interest is immediately eclipsed. She is
standing perfectly still, listening. A stony, intent look has crept into
her face, and she seems to have forgotten the plate which she has in her
hands--forgotten even my presence. She is holding her breath.

There is the sound of carriage steps being let down, then the rustling
of skirts as a lady sweeps into the shop, and a voice, proud and
imperative without any leaven of graciousness. I am watching Mrs. Mason
steadfastly--watching her with an interest for which I cannot account.
What does it mean? That look is back again, her face is blanched with
fear, and her eyes are gleaming with a terror-stricken light. Decidedly
Mrs. Mason is a very singular woman.

The situation is suddenly dissolved. David's head is thrust through the
doorway between the shop and my sitting-room.

"Her ladyship, sir," he announces in an awe-hushed tone. "She is asking
for you."

I throw away my cigarette and prepare to make my way into the shop. At
the door I glanced round once more at Mrs. Mason. She is standing quite
still, with one hand pressed to her side and that strange look still
engraven on her face. So I leave her.



CHAPTER XI. THE TEMPTRESS


Lady Deignton is sitting with her back to me, writing. She does not look
up at my entrance, nor take any notice of my respectful greeting. So far
I have no clue as to how she intends to receive me. Not that I am very
anxious about it. If I have any preference at all, I would rather it
were open war between us. All that I ask is to have my hands free to
strike. She and I have drifted apart now, and between us lies the gulf
of those bitter words, and her scornful dismissal of me from Deignton
Court. I want no bridge across that gulf. As things are, so would I
rather they remained. What her visit here to-day bodes I cannot tell.

I notice that David has his hat on, and is standing before Lady Deignton
in an expectant attitude. From the fact that his eyes are fixed upon the
note which she appears to be writing, I conclude that he is to be her
messenger. I am not supposed to know this, however, and I question him a
little sharply:

"Where are you going, David?"

He answers me in a hushed, but excited tone:

"To Deignton Court, for her ladyship."

I say nothing. Lady Deignton glances up, languidly closes her note,
and meets my inquiring gaze with cold indifference.

"I have forgotten an address to which I desire to telegraph," she explains.
"I am sending your assistant home in the carriage for it. I suppose you
can spare him?"

"Certainly, if it is necessary," I answer. "Cannot your ladyship's
footman take the note?"

She looks up at me with a faint, but decided frown.

"I do not choose to send notes by my servants unless I know them. As it
happens, my footman is a fresh one. I can find another messenger if you
prefer it."

"There is no necessity. David can go," I answer without apparent
reluctance; but inwardly I am chafing. It means that I am to have the
honour of her ladyship's company for the best part of an hour, and it is
an honour which I do not desire. I have scarcely admitted even to myself
all that I passed through during our last interview. I am no creature of
steel, but a man of flesh and blood, and more than once yesterday
afternoon I had felt myself growing weak. The old fires are not yet
altogether burnt out, nor are the old days as the days of another world.
There is a certain curve of her shapely head, a certain gleam in her
eyes, a certain softening of her tone, which are dangerous still to
me--dangerous alike to that sworn purpose of my life and for the rigid
control which I have imposed upon myself in all my intercourse with her.
True, I have fought against them and conquered. I have gone into the
fire and borne myself unscathed. But in the lonely hours which have
passed since then there has crept into my heart some faint reaction of
tenderness towards her, which has made the memory of my victory seem a
very barren triumph. A boy's first love dies hard, and it is idle to
deny that in a way--however unworthy a way--I have loved this woman. I
find no pleasure in such a confession as this. I am ashamed to make it;
and yet I have promised myself that this narration shall be a mirror to
all my feelings, and I must be faithful to myself. Even now how strong
am I? At the thought that in a few minutes she and I will be alone once
more my heart is beating fast and my senses are growing confused. I am
in ill trim for battle to-day.

From behind my mahogany desk I watch her slowly finish her note--watch
the pose of her bent head, the heavily-fringed, downcast eyes, and the
blue-veined white hand whose delicate fingers are clasping the gold
pencil with which she writes. She is wearing a dark sealskin coat and
turban hat. Oddly enough, I can remember going with her into Bonds' to
choose them. I am curious to know whether she, too, remembers that day,
whether she thought of it when she elected to wear them this afternoon.
The coat is a little out of season now and a trifle old-fashioned.
Perhaps she remembered.

The note is finished at last and sealed. The footman summoned to the
door receives a few careless instructions from her ladyship. Then David
departs holding himself stiffly and fully impressed with the importance
of his mission. The carriage wheels roll away in the distance. She and I
are alone!

I hear the slow rustling of her silk skirts as she regains her chair,
but I do not immediately quit the shelter of my winged desk. Considering
the manner of our last parting, it seems to me that it must remain with
her to make the first advances. She has come to me. Good! Let her
declare herself. Let her say whether she comes as friend or foe. So I
remain there in silence, until at last she speaks.

"Mr. Postmaster!"

I emerge from my semi-obscurity and stand before her. Her face and her
tone are alike inscrutable. I am not able to judge in what mood she has
come.

She looks at me in mock approval. "Quite the country shopkeeper's
attitude," she remarks blandly. "Dear me! who can say after this that
men have not the gift of adaptability? How naturally you seem to fit
into your new sphere of life!"

Sarcasm is a weapon which she can use until she is tired. I am proof
against that, at any rate.

"Much obliged," I answer, bowing. "Anything I can get your ladyship?"

"Excellent! excellent!" she applauds satirically. "But, after all, you
are a little wanting in some respects."

"I shall be proud if your ladyship will condescend to instruct me," I
answer.

"Exactly. Well, you must remember that I am the great lady of your
neighbourhood. It is an honour for you to have me inside your poky
little shop. You ought to be more obsequious! You should bring me out
your own easy chair and a footstool from the back parlour. In fact, I
rather think that you ought to invite me to go in there and sit down."

"I will not presume so far as that," I answer, "but if your ladyship
finds that chair uncomfortable, I will get you another."

"You need not trouble," she answers coolly. "I do not propose to remain
here to be an object of curiosity to any of the little townspeople who
come in for stamps or drugs."

"You are going across to the inn?" I remark. "I am afraid you will find
it very wet crossing the market-place. Shall I go and borrow an umbrella
for you? I don't possess one myself."

She looks at me for a moment honestly, and the reproach in her eyes
troubles me.

"You are very inhospitable. I was thinking of spending the time in that
battered old easy chair of yours, and warming my petrified feet upon
your fender."

"You will be very welcome," I answer gravely, lifting the flap of the
counter for her to pass through. "It is not for me to remind you that
your presence in the back parlour of a little shopkeeper might give rise
to some--remark. If you are indifferent, it is no concern of mine."

"It is, as you say, no concern of yours."

She shrugs her shoulders, and sweeps past me with inscrutable face. In a
moment we are standing face to face upon my worn hearthrug. Then her
expression changes, and her face is inscrutable no longer. She is
resting her delicately gloved hand upon my shoulder, and looking up at
me with a marvellously soft gleam in her eyes. She has become in one
moment the Cora of those past days. My pulses respond to her touch, and
something of the old tenderness creeps into my heart Is she seeking to
minister to it, I wonder? It would almost seem so. A peculiar perfume,
one which years ago she dedicated to me, is shaken into the air with
every movement of her body, and mingles with the sweet fragrance of a
bunch of dark home-grown violets which are hanging loosely from the
bosom of her coat. In the firelight the few sharp lines have quite
vanished from her face. She stands there a gloriously beautiful woman,
whose presence seems to light up my shabby little room, and there is a
light in her eyes at once winning and beseeching, which speaks to me
more plainly than any words could do. Yet my heart tells me that I have
nothing to fear. The days of my slavery are numbered, they have passed
away. I am regarding her, even at this moment, if not together
impersonally, at any rate without any of that responsiveness which her
eyes are seeking to win from mine. She is there, within reach of my
arms; she has found her way in upon a life as lonely and joyless as the
life of any man can be. We are alone in the dusky firelight, and
everything about her--her attitude, her softly gleaming eyes, and the
perfume from her dress, and the flowers from her bosom--seem designed to
recall those other and more passionate days when at her most careless
nod I should have followed like a slave, and to kiss her hand would have
seemed a priceless boon. Yet now more than ever I am conscious of the
gulf which yawns between us. My love, such as it was, has perished.

I wonder whether she sees it. Her eyes are soft almost to tears, and her
voice is sad.

"I am afraid--I know that I have come on a fruitless errand."

I do not know what her errand may be, but if she comes to me as the Cora
of old days, seeking to revive the old tenderness, her errand is
fruitless indeed. But I say nothing; I wait.

"You do not--care for me--any longer. My happiness is nothing to you.
Oh, I know it! I know it! Your face tells me."

The pearl-gloved hand which has been resting upon my shoulder grasps it
tightly. Her eyes are suddenly bright and eager. Her lips are quivering.

"You have come here in disguise, with a purpose. All your life is shaped
to that purpose. You are bent upon unearthing the past."

For the first time I answer her with no pretence at concealment. What
would be the good? She cannot hinder me.

"If I am," I cry, "can you wonder at it? I will tell you the truth: I am
here to win back my name. Until I have done that I cannot be said to be
living at all. I am penniless, friendless, an object of suspicion to
every man and woman who has read the details of--of the 'Event.'
Sometimes I fancy that you scarcely realize my ostracism and my
degradation. Lady Deign ton," I continue, looking her steadily in the
face, "do you know that after that inquest my name was expunged from
both my clubs, that people shunned me in the streets as though I were a
leper, that my own relations, my own flesh and blood, prayed me to crawl
out of the country, to consent to my own social extinction? Can you
wonder that, knowing myself to be innocent, knowing, too, that I was
bearing upon my shoulders the burden of another man's sin, I swore to
track that man down, wherever and whoever he may be? And I shall do it.
Lady Deignton. Some day I shall do it."

Her face has grown very white and set. I can see that she is making a
great effort to keep calm. It is a desperate woman who stands there
facing me.

"Norman, my errand to you is this. At least listen to it. I have come to
offer you everything I possess in the world to go away from this place,
and let the event die out of men's minds. The thought of you here is a
nightmare to me. I cannot sleep or rest. And if it were to be reopened,
if all the miserable story were once more to fill the papers, and echo
all around me, oh, I could not bear it! I could not bear it! I should
die!"

I shake my head. "You ask too much, Cora," I say as kindly as I can. "It
is my honour. What is there more bitter in the world than to have a
name, and yet fear to use it; to skulk, as I am doing, under a miserable
alias?"

Her arms are suddenly around my neck, clutching me desperately, striving
to draw my face down to hers. A very storm of passion is in her tone and
in her eyes. I can feel that she is shaking from head to foot.

"Norman! Norman! what can the world give you that I cannot give you? I
am rich. I will go with you to any part of the world you choose. What is
a man the better or the worse for the name he bears? Our life lies in
the future, not in the past. Oh, let me teach you to forget! Listen to
me, Norman my love, my love!"

Then, as I stand there listening to her frantic words, and gazing into
her passion-stricken face, white to the lips with feverish anxiety,
there comes to me like the funeral knell of all my hopes a hideous, a
demoniacal thought. A cold shudder passes through me from head to foot.
I wrench myself free from her in horror, and step back, holding my hands
stretched out before me. Yet all the time my eyes are fixed wildly upon
her face, seeking to read the thoughts which are flying through her
brain.

Words come to me at last, but my throat seems suddenly dry and hot. I
can only speak with difficulty, and my voice sounds harsh and
disjointed.

"Cora I Cora! for the love of God, don't--don't let me think it!" I cry.
"Don't!"

I stand there petrified, wondering at the swift change. Lady Deignton is
herself again, pale, languid, and supercilious. The passion has died out
of her face like breath from a mirror. I glance behind in wonderment.
Mrs. Mason is standing there like a carven figure.

"Mrs. Mason, what do you want? Why are you here?" I ask, striving to
command my voice.

"I beg your pardon, sir. I am sorry to have startled you. I knocked at
the door, and as you did not answer, I thought you were in the shop, and
I was coming through to you."

"What do you want?"

"I should like a bottle of the medicine that you gave me this afternoon,
sir, if it is not troubling you too much."

"You shall have it presently, Mrs. Mason," I say, gathering my wits
together as well as I may. "Lady Deignton, will you allow my housekeeper
to make you a cup of tea?" I say, turning to my visitor, who has sunk
into the easy-chair, with her face in the shadow.

"Thank you, it is not worth while," she answers, with a slight yawn. "My
people will be here in a few minutes."

Mrs. Mason curtsies to her ladyship, who barely acknowledges the
salutation. There is an odd expression on my housekeeper's face which I
do not understand. Then she retires, closing the door softly.

We are alone again, but there is an impatient rapping on the shop
counter outside, growing louder and louder.

"Mr. Martin! Mr. Martin! are you there?"

It is the second summons. If I do not go I risk an invasion into the
parlour. I bow to the inevitable and go.

My customer is a farmer who has a cow ill, and wishes to telegraph for
the veterinary. He is in a state of great agitation, and I have first to
write the telegram out for him, and then he insists upon waiting while I
despatch it. Before I can get rid of him, the Deignton carriage is at
the door, and my heart sinks as I hear the rustling of skirts, and Lady
Deignton sweeps through the door of my parlour and out into the shop.
She takes a paper which David has brought, and writing for a moment or
two on a telegraph form, folds it up and hands it to me.

"I thank you for the shelter of your sitting-room, Mr. Martin," she says
coldly. "Good afternoon."

She walks across the shop and steps into her carriage, and I watch her
in a dazed sort of way, struggling all the time with a mad impulse which
bids me rush after her and force the whole hideous truth from her lips,
even though it be the seal of my own destruction. I hear the carriage
wheels roll away, and David's voice recalls me to the present.
Mechanically I hurry through my duties, and retire into my little
back-room. Oh that I might awake and find it a dream, this strange visit
of hers, that passionate prayer, this hideous new thought stealing like
poison into my heart and blighting every thought and hope of the future!
Oh, my God, that this thing may not be true! I who have prayed but
seldom in my life lift up my hands to the ceiling of my little room, and
out of the agony of my heart I cry aloud. My God! that this thing may
not be true, that my lips may not be sealed for ever, that I may not be
entombed in this living death while life lasts! Then I sink into my
chair and bury my face in my hands. If it be true, then at last I
believe in a hell--a hell on earth.

The hours pass by. I cannot sleep, I cannot rest with this fear upon me.
To-night must end it. Better the truth, and one leap into the dark
waters of the Deignton river, than this wild tempest of heart-sickening
doubt.



CHAPTER XII. WAS THINE THE HAND?


My shop is closed, and Mrs. Mason has gone. The moment I am assured of
this I hurry into my thickest boots, and catching up a stick, start on
my walk. There is the glow of a cheerful light behind the drawn blinds
of most of the little windows past which I hasten, but not a soul in the
streets, not a soul all the way along those wet country lanes where the
high black hedges loom against the black sky, and never a star comes out
to light me on the way. A night of desolation has followed a dreary day.
The whole earth is rain-sodden and sad. A dull wind sobs in the
tree-tops, and at every gust the branches discharge little showers of
dripping wet. Here and there I am ankle-deep in sticky sandy mud; more
than once I find myself knee-deep in a flooded portion of the road. I do
not heed it. I have but a solitary care, only one desire.

The walk, with all its discomforts, its weird sights and strange night
sounds, passes like a dream. For all my patience, I am amazed when I
find myself at last at my journey's end. It seems only a few moments ago
since that hideous, crushing idea first found its way into my brain, and
I passed out into the soaked streets and felt the lingering rain-drops
cooling my hot cheeks, and, behold! I am here at Deignton Court. In a
few moments I shall know.

I pass round to the servants' entrance and ring the bell. The girl who
answers it does not know me.

"Is Lady Deignton at home?" I ask.

"At home? Yes; she is at home."

"Will you tell her that the postmaster from Market Deignton is here? Ask
if I can see her for a minute."

The girl looks at me doubtfully.

"Hadn't you better send a message?" she suggests. "Her ladyship is going
in to dinner directly."

I shake my head.

"It is important. She will see me," I answer. "Please to let her know."

I sit down in a large comfortable room near the kitchen, and my friend
the footman, seeing me there, comes and talks to me curiously. I suppose
I answer him; I do not remember now. I am conscious only of a fierce
impatience for that girl's return. In time she arrives.

"Her ladyship will see you for a moment in the library," she announces.

Preceded by the footman, I go to the library--a great dimly-lit room. As
yet it seems to me untenanted. But when the door is closed, and I am
left standing there, I hear the rustling of skirts, and my lady advances
from the deeper shadows. A diamond star flashes in her wonderful hair,
and diamonds sparkle on the plain band of black velvet which encircles
her white, shapely throat. She is wearing a low-cut dinner-gown of black
net, unrelieved by any colour save for a great bunch of Neapolitan
violets, whose odour is making the air around faint and sweet. My time
has come! We are standing face to face, and she is waiting for me to
speak, waiting with features which are marble in their pallor, and
coldly-inquiring eyes. Yet even at that supreme moment, the pathos of it
all is keenly apparent to me. I look down at my worn, almost ragged
clothes, dripping with rain and splashed with mud, and involuntarily I
raise my hand to my unkempt, wind-tossed hair. What an object I am to
confront this elegant, serene woman, with her graceful presence and
dainty toilette! What a contrast!

"You have something to say to me," she remarks in measured tones. "What
is it?"

Then I gather up my wits and check the dry little laugh which somehow
has forced its way from my lips. I look her in the face, and I keep my
eyes steadfastly fixed upon hers.

"Cora, something has come into my mind--something more terrible than
anything I have ever dreamed of. I have come here because I cannot rest
until I know the whole truth concerning it. This afternoon you came to
me--you prayed me to abandon the purpose which has brought me here, the
one hope which keeps me still in touch with life. You--you--"

"Stop!"

I pause. She has arrested me with a sudden gesture and one imperative
word.

"You were firm. You decided to go your own way. Nothing that I could
offer had any temptation for you. The matter is over. What has brought
you here?"

I draw a step nearer to her and look around. The door is closed. We are
in the centre of the room, secure from all listeners.

"One thing in this world, one word from you alone, Cora, could break my
purpose," I whisper hoarsely. "Say it, and my hand drops nerveless. I
move no more. I give myself up to the speediest death I can find."

She meets my eyes boldly. There is not a tinge of colour in her cheeks.
Her breathing is perfectly regular. I am a fool; I have dreamed a fool's
dream.

"I have no further word to say upon the matter," she answers, gathering
up her skirts in her hand as though preparing to go. "I advised you as I
thought for the best. You thought otherwise. Good! Go you own way. I am
indifferent."

Surely I have been a fool. But I will destroy all chance of a relapse. I
have come here to speak certain words, and I will speak them.

"Tell me this," I say, drawing so close to her that I can feel her
breath upon my cheek. "Nothing that I can ever discover of the story of
that night can bring harm--upon you?"

Then we stand and face one another in complete silence. A little French
clock is ticking on the mantelpiece, and a piece of burning log falls
off into the grate with a little splutter. The closely-drawn curtains
shut out all sound of wind and rain. I can hear her breathing a little
quicker now, and I can hear my own heart beat. The word for which I am
waiting is the word of death or life to me.

For a moment I fancy that she falters. There is a slightly grey tinge in
her cheeks, and her eyes have lost their languor. Yet, after all, why
should she not be shaken? Have I not asked her in plain words whether it
is not her burden I am bearing? whether those white hands are the hands
of a murderess?

The extreme tension passes away with the sound of her voice, and I am
thankful for it.

"I understand," she says slowly. "You wish to ask me whether I am the
guilty one for whose crime you are suffering? If so, you will be
generous, you will spare me, you will sacrifice your great desire for
the sake of--our past friendship. How chivalrous! How noble! What you
refused this afternoon, when I stooped to show you my heart as no other
man dead or alive has seen it, you would grant me now out of your great
magnanimity. Oh, I understand you, Norman Scott, and this is my answer:
Leave the house! Go! Find out the truth if you can. And, when you know
it--if ever the day comes when you know all--remember my words and my
prayer to you."

I look at her steadfastly for a moment, at her pale, scornful face, and
clear, angry eyes. I mark the evenness of her tone, and I am forced to
admire the commanding grace and dignity of her attitude, and the gesture
with which she dismisses me. Then I turn away, and passing through the
servants' hall unmolested, step out into the night. A great weight has
been rolled away from me. There is no guilt in her face, nor any sign of
weakness in her scornful rejection of my proposal. The future is still
mine to mould and fashion with a free hand. The only obstacle which
could stay me has been removed. I shall still work out my destiny.



CHAPTER XIII. MADEMOISELLE HORTENSE'S ADVERTISEMENT


This morning Mademoiselle Hortense's advertisement appeared in the
_Daily Telegraph_. As soon as I have assured myself of the fact, I write
out a telegram on one of the pink delivery forms:


"To A.C.X., Poste Restante, Market Deignton.

"N.S. is in London, and will meet you anywhere and any day this week.
Reply by wire only, care of Gregson, 112, Great Marlborough Street."


There is no Gregson at 112, Great Marlborough Street, to my knowledge,
but the address is useless and may serve as a blind. The telegram in
reply will be handed to me to forward, and in my possession it will
remain.

I do not expect Mademoiselle Hortense before tomorrow at the earliest;
but at twelve o'clock, to my surprise, she walks into the shop. I happen
to be mixing some drugs with my back turned to the street, and have seen
her approach only through the mirror. David is in attendance behind the
counter. She buys some lozenges and is about to depart. As she gathers
up her change, however, I hear her ask a question:

"Have you a letter for me addressed A.C.X.? But no, it is too soon yet."

I turn round for the first time.

"There is a telegram for A.C.X., David," I say; "it is on my desk."

She receives it quite calmly, and, with it in her hand, would have
lingered to talk with me. But I nod somewhat curtly, and go back to my
place behind the desk. I do not wish Mademoiselle to see too much of me
to-day. At the same time, I am disappointed when I see her leave the
shop without opening the telegram.

In about two hours she returns, and, as I do not happen to be in the
shop, she leaves a telegram with David in a sealed envelope. I tear it
open, and read:


"I will meet you at Dubarri's restaurant, Regent Street, at half-past
one on Wednesday."


I wait till David is out of the way, and then I tear the message
carefully up. During the afternoon I write a brief reply:


"I shall be there."


So far I have done well. I have preserved my incognito, and I have
arranged the meeting. How I am to get to London I have yet to consider.

The rest of the day passes somewhat wearily. After the excitement of
last night and the prospect of to-morrow's journey, the hours which I am
compelled to spend in the fulfilment of my small duties seem more than
ever tedious. Towards closing-time a telegram arrives which I take down
without special interest:


"To Lady Deignton, Deignton Court.

"Arrived in Liverpool yesterday. Hope to reach you on Saturday.

"CALLENDER, _Hotel Victoria_."


I take it that this is some connexion of her ladyship, and after sending
David off with the message, I think no more about it. But soon after he
has returned, and is busy carrying out the shutters, a groom from the
Court comes riding down the street, and seeing me outside--I have
stepped on to the pavement for a breath of fresh air--pulls up. It has
been showery most of the afternoon, and is just beginning to rain again.

"Good evening, sir," he says.

"Good evening," I reply.

"It don't make no difference in the time, does it, if a telegram is sent
off from here or from Mitford?" he inquires, looking round at the
gathering clouds.

"None at all," I tell him. "If you have to ride to Mitford with one, it
will go much quicker from here. In fact, it would reach its destination
before you got to Mitford."

His hand goes round to the wallet which is slung around his shoulders,
and he produces a piece of paper. I can see that it is a telegraph form.

"I've got a telegram here," he says, "and the message was that I was to
take it to Mitford. I don't see any blooming use in going on there and
getting wet through, when it would go just as well from here."

"Give it to me, and I'll send it for you, then," I say, holding out my
hand. "I dare say they thought the office here was closed. It is after
hours really, but I'll send it for this once."

"Why, that's it, no doubt," he says, giving it into my hand. "I am much
obliged, sir. Glad I thought of asking you. Good evening."

He canters his horse across the square, and disappears under the broad
archway of the _Deignton Arms_. I take the message into the office, and
after reading it carefully, despatch it. It is--


"To Callender, _Hotel Victoria_, Northumberland Avenue, London.

"Do not come. Am writing.

"C. DEIGNTON."


The message tells me nothing, but, all the same, I feel that it has a
certain significance. There could be only one reason for the man's
instructions. For some cause or other Lady Deignton did not wish it to
pass though my hands. I have never heard the name of Callender; but in
my mind I put down a black mark against it.

Just as I have finished with the instrument, I hear light footsteps
pause outside the closed shop-door, and then a hesitating tap. I throw
it open, and behold--Mademoiselle Hortense.

"I am sorry to come so late," she says, with an apologetic smile which
shows all her white teeth. "Have you a time-table?"

"If you will step into the shop, I will see," I answer.

Mademoiselle Hortense does so. I go into the back parlour and bring out
one which lies open upon the table there, for I, too, have been
consulting it.

"I find that I have only my own left," I say; "but if you will tell me
where you want to go to, I will write down the trains for you."

"It is to London."

"Morning or afternoon?"

"Morning, please."

"There is a train at ten o'clock, which arrives at Waterloo at 12.50," I
say. "Will that do?"

"Very nicely, indeed, thank you. Perhaps I had better take down the
times of the others--if there are any, though."

"There is no other fast train," I say decidedly. "The ten o'clock from
Mitford is the only morning express."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Martin," she says, rising. "I am afraid that
you must be weary to see me. It is the third time to-day."

I make some courteous, indefinite answer, and bow her out. Things are
going well with me today. It is true that I have been compelled to see
Mademoiselle Hortense three times; but I have been on my guard, and I
have been able to keep my voice disguised and my face in the shadow.
And, on the other hand, my last real difficulty with regard to to-morrow
has disappeared. I know by what train Mademoiselle Hortense intends to
travel. She will go by the ten o'clock; I shall catch the 9.10.



CHAPTER XIV. AT DUBARRI'S RESTAURANT


Back once more in London; once more a unit in this great wheel of
humanity. After my weary months of contemplative idleness, the roar and
excitement of the great city are like the scent of battle to a pensioned
charger. I discover now what I have for long dimly suspected. I am pining
to find myself once more in the press and struggle of men, to breathe
once more the intellectual air of cultivated London. As I walked down
Pall Mall and Regent Street a few minutes ago, I saw many faces I knew.
I have received one or two half-startled recognitions. A great physician
tried to stop his carriage in St. James's; and I even heard my name
shouted from a club window by a man who sought to stop me. But to all
these things I have chosen to remain both deaf and blind. I am in no way
disguised. I am Dr. Norman Scott, and I do not suppose that the inside
of a couple of years has made a great difference in my appearance. But I
have made up my mind that for the present I will neither claim nor
acknowledge acquaintance with those who were of my former life. I will
spare them all the trouble of making up their minds whether or no I am
to receive notice at their hands. There shall be no cause for
embarrassment on their part so far as I am concerned. One day I hope to
walk these pavements a free man. Then I shall bear no ill-will to any
man. Then all will be welcome who choose to come to me. I shall have no
individual slights or looks or doubts to remember. It is much better so.
And at the thought of that day my heart swells, and my eyes grow dim.
Nature never meant me for a recluse; the air of a great city is like a
strong stimulant to me. I look into the faces of the men and the women
who throng past me with an interest which is almost childish. Only when
I see a face which in any way strikes me as familiar do I keep my eyes
averted and my head erect.

I make two calls on my way to Dubarri's restaurant. I go into Cook's and
have my hat ironed, and I buy a carnation of my favourite colour for my
coat. It is still only a few minutes past one when I reach my
destination, and select a small table in the darkest corner of the room
facing the door. There I sit and watch for Mademoiselle Hortense.

I am not in the least afraid of recognition. The change in my appearance
is, I feel, quite sufficient. I have brought up from Market Deignton
some relics of the other part of my life, consisting of a frock-coat,
made by a fashionable tailor, and a tall hat, neither, so far as I can
see, very much out of date. My boots, too, are of a different style from
those I have worn lately, and my gloves have not seen the light in
Market Deignton. Then, my false hair--have I ever confessed that my hair
is false?--has gone, and also my glasses. My complexion is no longer
reddish, but decidedly dark; and my heavy double spectacles have been
replaced by a single eyeglass. I have just looked at myself in the
mirror yonder, and I am perfectly satisfied. Mademoiselle Hortense may
be an observant woman, but she will not recognize in me the postmaster
and chemist of Market Deignton.

It is early for luncheon, but my breakfast this morning was little more
than a pretence, and I am not sorry to see the dish of cutlets which I
had ordered on taking my seat. I begin my luncheon and eat with an
excellent appetite. I am not quite sure whether Mademoiselle Hortense is
proposing to do me the honour of lunching with me, but in that case I am
quite capable of eating more cutlets; and I can explain that I could
scarcely occupy the table without ordering something.

The restaurant itself is just such as a woman would choose. There is a
large confectioner's shop on the front, separated from this room by a
green wooden partition and glass doors. Every time one of them is opened
the roar of Regent Street sounds in my ears, bringing with it, after my
long retreat, a curious sense of novelty. Every time it is opened I
glance up expecting to see Mademoiselle Hortense.

I am lingering over my last glass of claret, when the door opens, and a
girl dressed in black, and thickly veiled, enters and pauses on the
threshold. The menu, which I have been affecting to study, slips from my
suddenly nerveless fingers and flutters on to the ground. My eyes are
riveted upon the slim, elegant figure of the girl who is glancing around
the room with admirable nonchalance. It is not Mademoiselle Hortense;
but it is, nevertheless, an equally familiar figure. Am I dreaming, I
wonder, or--

I half rise from my seat, and her eyes in the course of their wandering
round the room reach me at last. She does not hesitate or look twice.
She advances steadily towards me, and in a moment we are face to face. I
stand out from my place and bow to her in a dazed manner.

"You are the lady who advertised for Dr. Norman Scott?" I remark in a
low tone, more in the form of a greeting than an inquiry; and she
answers me with a slight inclination of the head and a conventional
smile. Then I place for her the chair opposite to my own, and we sit
down and look at one another like a pair of conspirators.

"I am Dr. Norman Scott," I say simply, "and I am here in answer to your
advertisement. It is very good of you to try to help such an unfortunate
person as myself."

Then, at last, she raises her veil fully, and I know that my first
instinct of recognition was a truthful one. The girl who sits facing me
is Sir Humphrey Deignton's daughter.



CHAPTER XV. A COMPACT SEALED


Early in life the routine of my profession taught me to be naturally
self-possessed and Self-controlled. Both qualities stand me in good
stead now. I grasp the situation swiftly. Mademoiselle Hortense has been
merely the messenger. It is this girl who inserted the advertisement,
and up to now I am unrecognized. Good! I must take care that I remain
so, at any rate for the present.

"Can I offer you any lunch?" I say as pleasantly as possible.

She shakes her head; but I insist:

"At least, have a glass of wine and some sandwiches. It will look
irregular if you have nothing, and at these places there are always
people who notice."

She lets me order some soup and sandwiches and sherry. Her first reserve
is passing away. She even looks around her with some satisfaction.

"You could not have chosen a better place," she remarks. "How dark it is
in this corner! Dr. Scott, I am going to begin to talk to you at once
whilst the tables around us are empty."

"I am ready."

"First of all, then, do you know who I am?"

"Yes; you are Miss Deignton."

She looks a little surprised.

"How did you know?" she asks.

"The likeness to Sir Humphrey is quite sufficient," I answer gravely.

She bows her head.

"Very well, then. You can imagine, of course, from the fact that I am
here at all that I believe you innocent of my father's death."

"And God knows I am grateful to you for that belief," I murmur
fervently.

She continues without heeding my interruption:

"I knew you at once, from the photograph which my father had in his
study, and, besides, I have seen you before. I have often heard him
speak of your father and you; and if I had not been educated wholly
abroad, I dare say we should have met. When I left school my father's
second marriage was not pleasing to me--I am speaking very frankly, you
see--and I preferred not to live at home."

We are interrupted here by the waiter with the soup. She takes a few
spoonfuls and then resumes:

"I have mentioned my father's marriage. While I am speaking about it I
should like to ask you a question: Do you know who Lady Deignton was?"

"No. I only know that she was born in France."

"She was a governess at a house I used to visit at abroad. Sir Humphrey
met her there when he came to see me. Her father was an Englishman, I
believe, and no doubt she was perfectly respectable and all that; but I
did not like her as a governess, and naturally liked her less as my
father's wife. Still, that did not make me any the less fond of my
father, and when that awful news reached me I nearly went mad.
Afterwards, when I had recovered from the shock a little, I believe that
only one thing saved me. Can you imagine what that was?"

I look at her mouth, which has suddenly hardened, and I divine the
truth.

"It is that you desire to see his murderer brought to justice."

"Yes. At first, I admit that I thought it was you. I was at the inquest,
although you did not see me, and I listened to every word of your
evidence with my eyes fixed upon your face. The conclusion I came to
then I have never wavered from. I decided that you were innocent."

"Thank God for it!" I say in a low tone, and looking gratefully at her.
"These are the kindest words I have heard from any one since the--event.
Forgive me for interrupting you: I was forgetting."

I am in danger of losing a little of my self-control. Through that thick
net veil I can see a pair of grave eyes which seem to speak to me of
sympathy.

"I was sorry for you then," she says simply, "and I have been sorry for
you ever since. But, you see, I did not know you, and there was
something stronger in my heart than sympathy for any one. It was the
desire to know who was the guilty person."

She glances around, fearing lest the earnestness of our conversation may
make us an object of curiosity. No one appears to be taking the
slightest notice of us; but she finishes her soup before resuming the
subject, and I make a few idle remarks about the shops, the weather,
anything. The waiter removes the soup, and brings the sandwiches and
some sweet things which I had ordered. Then she leans over towards me
again.

"One thing seemed to me very certain," she continues, "and that was,
that if the key to the mystery was anywhere, it was at Market Deignton.
Accordingly, I waited for several months after the funeral, and then I
wrote to my stepmother, proposing to come and stay at Deignton Court for
awhile. She replied at once, putting me off almost as though I were a
stranger. I tried again, with the same result. About a fortnight ago I
wrote once more. This time she actually telegraphed me not to come; but
through a mistake in the transmission of the message it read 'come,' and
in twenty-four hours I was at Deignton Court. Lady Deignton received me
calmly, but at the same time I could see that she was very angry. Still,
I am there, and I mean to stay there for the present."

"And you have discovered--?"

"Nothing."

"Ah!" I toy with my wine-glass, and hide my disappointment under a
frown.

"But at the same time I have my suspicions," she continues cautiously.

"Since how long?"

"Since the day of the inquest."

"And had you any ground for them at all?"

"None at first. You know what a woman relies on more than a man in such
cases."

"Impressions?"

"Instinct."

I nod. For some reason or other I seem to have faith in this girl's
instinct.

"You say that you have had a suspicion since the inquest," I say in a
low tone. "Since then, has it become strengthened?"

"Day by day."

"Has it grown towards proof?"

"No; I have nothing in the shape of proof or tangible evidence to give
you. I take it that you are still anxious to prove your innocence."

I laugh a little bitterly.

"Until I prove it I am an alien, friendless and homeless. I have neither
name nor any man's regard. I would give twenty years of my life to prove
it. I would give my whole life."

"I thought that you would feel so," she answers softly.

I would like to look into her eyes, but they are fixed upon her plate.

"I knew that you must feel so," she repeats, still without looking up.
"That is why I decided to see you if I could. The same end is dear to
both of us. We may be able to help one another."

The moment has come for my question. I put it, and my heart beats fast
in the silence which ensues before she answers me.

"Whom do you suspect?"

We have been talking in a low tone. Now our voices have sunk to a
whisper, and our heads nearly touch across the table. At that moment,
intense as its interest is to me, I notice everything. I notice that her
voice, low though it is, is clear and unfaltering. I notice, too, that
her eyes are closely watching me. She is anxious to see what effect her
words have.

"My stepmother."

"Lady Deignton?"

"Yes; Lady Deignton."

The figures in the restaurant have suddenly become to me like figures in
a dream, dimly seen through a mist which seems to fill the room. The
mist is in my eyes, and there is a loud humming in my ears. Bah! it is
over. I draw a long breath. The colour is in my cheeks once more.

"And have you any grounds at all?" I ask with what seems to me wonderful
calmness.

She assents. "Yes. I should hesitate to tell you this--to be here at
all, knowing that once you and my stepmother were great friends, if the
stake were less. But I am going to ask you to tell me this honestly: Is
your regard for Lady Deignton such that you would hesitate to clear
yourself at her cost, should you be satisfied that she is guilty? If so,
why, our ways lie apart, and I shall rely upon your honour to forget
that this meeting has ever taken place."

I do not hesitate. Lady Deignton has had her chance from me. Only one
thing is clear to me through all this.

"I want justice," I say firmly, "and it is just that the guilty should
suffer, not the innocent. If it be she, well, I do not think that I
shall spare her."

She is satisfied. I can see that she does not believe the evil that has
been said concerning Lady Deignton and myself. For that, too, I am
thankful.

"I was sure that you would feel so. Any man would. I want to be quite
frank with you," she continues, "and I am going to tell you every little
thing that I have noticed since I came to Deignton Court. They may not
seem much to you at first. Afterwards they may come to mean more."

"Let me judge for myself," I say.

"First of ail, then, did you know a servant at the Court named Mason?"

I am getting used to control myself. I only shake my head. After all, it
may be a coincidence that this is the name of my mysterious housekeeper.

"Well, there was one. Immediately after my father's death he
disappeared. Then came the news that he was dead--had died at some
relative's in a neighbouring county. His wife came back to Market
Deignton, dressed in deepest mourning, and calls herself a widow. But
only a few nights ago he came to the Court, unknown to the servants, and
was with Lady Deignton for an hour. I will tell you about it. It was
after dinner, in the drawing-room one night, and she and I were alone.
Suddenly I heard what seemed to me to be a twig beating against the
window, and I chanced to look at Lady Deignton to see whether she, too,
had noticed it. She was horribly pale, and had risen to her feet, with
her eyes fixed upon the window. I looked down at my book, and pretended
to go on reading. In a moment she spoke to me:

"'Katherine, I wish you would go and make out that list of books we were
speaking of in the library. I shall want it to-morrow morning,'" she
said.

"I rose at once and left the room, but only to enter the blue
drawing-room by another door. From behind the curtains I saw my
stepmother unfasten the French window, and a man stepped into the room.
He had a woollen comforter wrapped round the lower part of his face, but
when he began to speak it slipped, and I saw him distinctly. It was
Mason."

"Could you hear what they were saying?" I ask quickly.

"Only a single sentence of Mason's. These are the words: 'If it were
anything but murder, and my poor dear master--God have mercy upon us
all!'

"Then I heard him speak threateningly to Lady Deignton, and I saw her
give him money, and push him towards the window, trying to get rid of
him. Just as he was going I slipped away quietly into the library."

"You have discovered a clue, more than a clue. Mason must be found. I
remember they said that he was ill at the inquest, and would probably
die."

"Yes, it is a clue," she echoes thoughtfully. "There is nothing else
definite. Only I watch my stepmother closely, and I can see that she
lives in a constant state of dread day and night. Once she woke up and
aroused the whole house with her shrieks. I was first in the room--I
have chosen one close to hers--and I found her sitting up in bed with
her face palsied with horror, and her hands stretched out as though to
keep something away from her. It was a nightmare, she declared. But she
has had it more than once. I have seen her when she thought herself
alone, and I have been almost terrified at her face. When I look at it I
cease to doubt any longer. I say to myself that this is surely the face
of a guilty woman."

She ceases talking, and pours herself out a glass of water. I watch her
mechanically, my idle eyes taking note of her long slim fingers and
delicate wrist. I seem to have suddenly become the tenant of an unreal
world. I have lost hold even upon my sensations. I am drifting upon a
sea which I cannot fathom. I think of the days when a flush stole into
my cheeks and my heart beat guiltily when Cora Deignton and I found
ourselves in the same room. I remember the swift lightning glances with
which she would welcome me, the dances we sat out together, the frantic
haste with which I would attack my day's work, that I might steal one
brief hour from the afternoon to lounge in her cool, dainty little
boudoir, whilst she denied herself to all comers, and gave me wonderful
little cups of tea, and we talked of all things under the sun. As a
rule, our talk was harmless enough. Only once did we draw near to that
line beyond which was dishonour. Even now I shiver to think of it, for
we seemed to have drifted to the very border. I can see her at this
instant, her soft, brilliant eyes gleaming at me from the depths of the
great lounge where she was sitting, and her arms suddenly stretched out
towards me. What was it that saved us, that gave me one instant's
respite in which to consider that she was the wife of my father's
friend? A bell, or a caller--some trifle, I know. I remember dismissing
the carriage and walking home in the twilight across the park, with my
pulses and heart all aglow, and thanking God who had kept me from the
hell of such dishonour. It is true that she tempted me, tempted me day
by day. Am I becoming a coward to shelter myself behind that? Mine was
the fault, the bitter, grievous fault, and verily I have borne the
burden. Yet, thank God that the evil of those days is dead! Their false
sweetness troubles me no longer. The memory of them is like ashes
between my teeth. Their temptation is for everlasting dead. I can think,
only with a shudder, of the woman who so nearly led me captive. She has
had all the grace I owe her. She must take her chance now.

My dream is over. My companion's voice has brought me back to the
present. I find that she is putting on her gloves.

"It is time for me to go," she says quietly. "Have you been thinking
over what to do?"

"Partly," I answer. "The man Mason must be found. I--I am coming down to
Market Deignton."

"As Dr. Norman Scott?"

I look at her closely. No, she has no suspicion. I will keep my secret
for a little longer.

"No, in another character. I will not fail to introduce myself."

We have both risen. She hesitates for a moment and then puts out her
hand.

"You had better give me your address," she suggests.

I take out a card and scribble upon it. After a moment's consideration,
however, I tear it up.

"Post Office, Market Deignton," I say.

She smiles. "You are going to lose no time," she remarks.

"There is no time to lose," I answer gravely. "Can I do anything for
you?"

"You can put me in a cab," she says. "I am spending the day with some
friends at Kensington."

So we pass out on to the pavement together, and I call a hansom. As it
draws up I look her in the face.

"I cannot thank you yet. Miss Deignton," I say earnestly. "You have done
a brave, womanly thing, and if I succeed in winning my way back into
life, it will be through you."

"I have done what I thought right," she answers, looking away for a
moment. "We shall see. Good-bye."

I hand her into the cab, and she gives me a little smile and nod as it
drives away. Then I hurry back to a small hotel near the Strand, change
all my things, and before seven o'clock the postmaster of Market
Deignton is behind the counter sorting the letters.



CHAPTER XVI. WHAT DID HE SEE?


At three o'clock on the following afternoon I am in the shop to receive
the second mails from Mitford Junction. They are brought to me for
distribution in a sealed leather bag by a grey-haired old man whom the
villagers know only by the name of Crazy Jack. My duty is then to sort
them into two batches--one for the town of Market Deignton, to which
David takes a leisurely promenade; the other is handed back to Crazy
Jack, who carries it onto Little Deignton and the Court. This
performance we go through twice a day.

This afternoon, as I am tying up the few Little Deignton letters, I am
suddenly conscious of a touch on the wrist. Crazy Jack is leaning across
the narrow counter, with his wizened features strangely contorted, and a
frightened gleam in his bleared blue eyes.

"Is there no' one there for th' White House, Muster Martin?" he asks
eagerly.

"I didn't notice," I answer. "I thought so."

He pushes the little pile back towards me. "Do 'ee see," he begs.

I look at him, surprised at his strange appearance. No wonder they call
him Crazy Jack. It is little trouble to humour him, though. Near the
bottom I pause.

"Yes; there is one there for Mr. Callender, the White House," I say,
keeping my forefinger upon it. "Aren't you well this morning, Jack? You
look as though you wanted some medicine."

"Take it out and put it by for the morning, sir," he begs in a hoarse
whisper. "I'll na take it noo."

"Why not?" I ask. "It is not far out of your way if you go across the
park, and the letter must go."

The horny knotted hand resting upon the counter is shaking. The man must
certainly be ill.

"Muster Martin," he says, with a certain rugged emphasis in his tone
which is not without its effect upon me, "if tha will, tha canst turn me
off, and my poor old mother'll starve or go t' workus. I'll no be able
to keep her, for there's no other job I'm fit for but this, and if I
lose it there's nowt else. But take that letter till morning, I can't,
so theer--I can't."

"Give me a reason, Jack," I say quietly. "I don't want to be hard on
you."

"I be afeard."

"Afraid!" I repeat. "Afraid of what?"

"That I can't tell 'ee. But I'll no' go across the park to t' White
House in the dusk."

"You're a silly fellow, Jack," I exclaim impatiently. "A grown man like
you to have such fancies!"

He draws himself up with a sudden movement. He is standing now in the
track of a stray gleam of sunlight, and I am conscious of a certain
rustic and homely dignity in his bearing.

"Muster Martin, you ha' noticed, like all these other folk who call me
Crazy Jack, that there be something queer about me. I bean't like other
men, quite, eh?"

"Not exactly. Jack," I answer, after a moment's hesitation.

"No, I bean't, and that's the truth," he admits, shaking his head
sorrowfully. "I was all right until I seed summat in Deignton Park, near
t' White House," he adds, his voice sinking almost to a whisper. "It
killed the mon in me. It made me what I be, poor, daft. Crazy Jack. I'll
no' go there save in the sunlight, and then in fear and trembling. I'll
no' do it for the Queen upon her throne!"

I glance at the letter in perplexity. It is evidently of no
importance--a catalogue of a sale of farming stock, as its outside
testifies, for Mr. Callender or occupier. I know nothing of the tenant
of the White House save that he is an invalid, and presumably very
unlikely to be interested in a catalogue such as this, probably directed
at random by some auctioneer's clerk. At any rate, I fail in my duty to
Her Majesty, and I withdraw the letter.

"Very well, Jack," I say; "you shall take it in the morning."

His bleared eyes are full of tears; he is not too crazy to know what
gratitude means.

"And I'll no' lose my place, Mr. Martin, sir?" he asks eagerly.

"No, Jack; I'll see to that."

"The Lord bless 'ee, sir! I knows a gentleman when I sees 'im, Crazy
Jack does, and you be one. The Lord bless 'ee, sir! The Lord bless 'ee!"

He hurries away with his satchel slung over his shoulder, drawing his
ragged sleeve across his eyes, and I watch him partly in curiosity,
partly in pity. Outside on the pavement he pauses once more, waves his
hand to me with a semi-theatrical gesture, and hobbles away across the
market-place--a curious, bent-up figure, physically and mentally
deformed, but with heart enough left to appreciate a trifling act of
kindness.

"Poor fellow!" I say softly.

David, who is sorting his own pile of letters busily at the back of the
shop, looks up and pauses in his task.

"He'd never have gone to the White House, sir; he can't pass along the
lane that skirts the park without shivering and muttering to himself. At
first he used to give a little boy a farthing to walk with him, but he's
got a bit better since then."

"Did he have an accident there, or is it a ghost walk?" I ask, without
feeling any special interest in the matter.

David looks up at me, and stops sorting his letters; his ruddy round
face has caught a gleam of Crazy Jack's fear.

"He saw something crossing the park, sir. No one has ever been able to
get him to say what it was, though there's no end have had a try. He
shakes all over, and nearly has a fit when it is mentioned."

"Foolish fellow! And do the people hereabouts really believe that he saw
anything, then?"

"I don't know that they do exactly believe it, sir; you see, he's always
been rather queer in the head. But there's just one thing that makes it
rather strange."

"And what is that?" I ask, turning away to enter my room.

David's voice has sunk almost as low as Crazy Jack's. He is going to
speak of a matter which no one in Market Deignton can mention save in
hushed tones.

"It was the night of the murder at Deignton Court, sir."



CHAPTER XVII. A WOMAN OF MYSTERIES


So far from things concerning the event becoming more clear to me since
my arrival at Market Deignton, every day seems to weave an additional
web of mystery around it, and to plunge me into deeper bewilderment.
There is no doubt about it: I am in a complete fog. I cannot tell which
way to turn, or, rather, to grope; and there are still three long days
before Sunday--three intolerable, dreary days.

Since yesterday, Mrs. Mason, at whom I have scarcely glanced since I
first engaged her on the day of my arrival here, at the recommendation
of Mrs. Holmes, has become an object of interest to me. She is reputed
to be, and describes herself as being a widow. Yet, according to Miss
Deignton, her husband is mysteriously alive. Now I think of it, the very
day on which Mason paid his secret visit to Deignton Court was the day
on which she was so mysteriously ill. Was she in the secret before, or
did she know of it on that day for the first time? How much does she
know, I wonder? Does she really carry the whole drama of that night, the
key to the mystery which my life is pledged to solve, behind that grey,
worn face and correctly-reserved deportment?

Work for the day is over, and my mind is free to wander on its own
account. I lounge back in my easy-chair, and watch Mrs. Mason as she
prepares my evening meal. Is it possible that that smooth-fingered, neat
little woman carries in her heart the knowledge which would set me free?
If I should suddenly shut the door and point a revolver at her heart,
should I force her to yield it up to me, I wonder? I fancy not. I do not
think that Mrs. Mason is an ordinary woman, by any means, nor do I think
that she is a woman whom it would be easy to terrify. I am going to put
her to the test a little; I am going to ask her a question, and watch
her.

"Mrs. Mason."

"Yes, sir."

"I thought I understood from you that you were a widow?"

I have sunk low down in my easy-chair, and have pushed it back into a
gloomy comer. Mrs. Mason at the moment of my question is standing where
the firelight falls upon her face. My diplomacy in effecting this little
arrangement is rewarded. She gives a quick, convulsive start, and half
closes her eyes, as though to escape from the sight of some threatened
blow. The gesture or paroxysm lasts about three seconds; and had she not
been standing well in the light of the dancing flames, I could have seen
none of it. She answers me quietly and without emotion:

"Yes, sir. My husband has been dead some little time."

"Oh, I beg your pardon," I answer, rising and taking my place at the
table. "Bring me the Worcester sauce, Mrs. Mason, please."

She brings it me and sets it down. I notice that her fingers are
shaking. She hesitates, and then leaves the room. Presently she comes in
again on some pretext or other.

"Do you require anything else, sir?"

"Nothing else, Mrs. Mason."

Again there is a trifling hesitation. It does not lead to anything,
however. She leaves the room without speaking.

After I have finished, I ring for her to clear away. Then I bury myself
in the easy-chair, with my feet upon the fender, and affect to be deeply
interested in the first book which had chanced to come to hand.

Once or twice I steal a glance at her. There is an ashen shade in her
pale face, and a slight nervousness in her movements foreign to her
usual manner. These things I note, and continue reading.

She has quite finished now, but she does not go. Presently I hear her
voice, and glancing up, see that she is standing by my side.

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"What is it, Mrs. Mason? Do you want some money?"

"No, sir, thank you. You--asked me a question just now."

"Did I? What was it? About the mushrooms?"

"No, sir; about my husband."

I lay my book down. "I am sorry if it distressed you, Mrs. Mason."

"It wasn't that, sir. But may I ask--had you any reason for asking it?"

"No particular reason, Mrs. Mason. I fancied, for the moment, I had
heard some one mention your husband, that is all. It must be a mistake."

"It is a mistake, sir."

"Of course. I don't doubt that, Mrs. Mason; I'm only sorry I mentioned
it."

"I hope you'll forgive me, sir, for seeming inquisitive; but you don't
happen to remember when you heard--"

"I couldn't have heard it at all, could I, Mrs. Mason?" I interrupt. "It
must have been my fancy."

She is sorely troubled, I can see, and my answers do not altogether
satisfy her; yet she can say no more.

"Thank you sir. Good night, sir."

"Good night, Mrs. Mason."

She leaves the room, a prim, black-gowned little woman, whose outer
husk, at any rate, speaks of staid and commonplace respectability. Yet,
somehow, I am beginning to feel a conviction that she is one of those
whose tongue could, if she chose, set me free from my bondage. At any
rate, she has her inner and her outer life, and the secret of the former
is connected by some means, and in some fashion, with the "Event." In
what fashion, and how closely, it is my task to discover.

I am beginning to find myself in the position of a man who has a lot of
threads before his hands, but who has no means of discovering which one
will help him to unravel the tangled skein. I have had a pull at one
this evening. Now I will leave it alone and try another.

I light my pipe, and walk up and down my room for half a dozen times.
Then, after a little hesitation, I do what I have not yet done since my
arrival at Market Deignton: I put on my cap, lock the door, and cross
the way to Mr. Holmes' shop.

I inquire for Mr. Holmes, and am shown at once into the bosom of the
family. Mr. Holmes is reclining in a high-backed chair drawn up to the
fire, reading extracts from last Saturday's paper aloud to the partner
of his domestic joys, who sits facing him with a baby in her arms, and a
pile of stockings by her side. There are several children about the
room, and a young lady of about fourteen is sitting at a worn piano
playing scales.

I am received with some surprise. Mr. Holmes stands up with the paper
still in his hands, and greets me with mild affability. Mrs. Holmes
deposits the baby in a cot, and, shaking out her gown, affords me the
privilege of grasping a large warm hand. The rule of opposites is well
observed here. Mr. Holmes is a small, thin man, clad in black, and much
resembling an undertaker in a small way of business. Mrs. Holmes is
large, and a little coarse and flabby. At the same time, she is
hospitable and even cordial.

"Come to have a chat and a pipe, I hope, eh?" remarks Mr. Holmes. "We
were saying, me and the missus was, only last week, that, considering
we're neighbours, we don't see much of you--weren't we, Mrs. H.? Willie,
give Mr. Martin that chair, and Maria, do leave off those scales for a
few moments!"

"It's very good of you," I say, taking the chair which Willie has
vacated on my behalf. "I came in really with a message for David. I want
him to get over a quarter of an hour earlier than usual tomorrow. It is
possible that the inspector may be round."

"We'll tell him when he comes in, for sure," Mr. Holmes declares. "Now
you're here, you'll stop a bit, won't you? I'd like to have a chat with
you about David. Is he sharp--quick at his work, eh?"

I am glad to be able to report that I find David in every way equal to
his work. Mr. Holmes is pleased, and begins a few reminiscences of his
own start in life, to which I listen with forced blandness.

"Perhaps Mr. Martin is fond of music," Mrs. Holmes remarks, breaking
ruthlessly into her husband's recollections, "Maria, my dear."

The signal is not one to be disobeyed. I suffer in silence, but the
torture of the "War March of the Priests," played with a reckless
disregard of time or sharps, upon a worn-out piano, which seems never to
have known the tuner's hand, hastens on my mission. Besides, Mrs.
Holmes, evidently on hospitable thoughts intent, has left the room, and
in the kitchen behind I can hear the clatter of plates and glasses.

"I sent out a letter to-day," I remark, "to a name I have never heard
before. Rather curious, considering that he must live within a few miles
of here."

"Mr. Holmes is a great gossip, and he is interested at once.

"Who was it?" he asks; "I back I know him."

I knit my brows and look in the fire.

"Let me see, the address was 'The White House.'"

Mr. Holmes's interest grows.

"The name was Callender, then?"

"So it was. Callender--that was it. Who is he?"

"If you'll believe me," Mr. Holmes declares, sitting forward with his
hands upon his knees, "I've not set eyes upon him half a dozen times in
my life."

"A new-comer I suppose?"

"Nothing of the sort. Been here four years, if he's been here a day."

My interest in Mr. Callender suddenly fades away. I continue the
conversation without any special motive.

"That's odd, isn't it?" I remark.

Mr. Holmes wags his head.

"He's quite an old gentleman, I believe. Very seldom goes out. Chronic
invalid. He started to go to Cairo for the winter some time ago, but
when he got to London he was afraid he couldn't stand the journey, and
came back again."

"And when was that?" I ask.

Mr. Holmes looks solemn. There comes into his face just that look which
I have noticed in the countenance of all the Market Deignton folk when
any allusion is made to a certain event.

"He left the White House only the day before the murder of Sir Humphrey
by that doctor fellow," he says gravely.

I do not remonstrate with Mr. Holmes. After all, is not his conclusion
the conclusion of all? Besides, my thoughts are fully engrossed. Just
then Mrs. Holmes comes bustling into the room.

"You'll take a bit of supper with us, Mr. Martin? It's all ready upon
the table."

I am constrained to accept her invitation. In the circumstances, it
would not be well for me to take my departure just as I have come into
possession of the knowledge which I came to seek.

I sit between Mrs. Holmes and her fourteen-yea-old daughter, and,
despite my own recent dinner, I am quite equal to attacking a
well-cooked rasher of bacon and an egg. Mr. Holmes, in high good humour
at the fare, which I fancy that my presence is responsible for, beams
genially upon his better half and around the table.

"We've been talking about poor old Mr. Callender, my dear," he remarks.

"Not much to talk about, I should fancy," Mrs. Holmes answers, filling
my glass with beer. "He's a poor miserable creature, by all accounts."

"So I've been hearing, Mrs. Holmes. I had scarcely ever heard his name.
By the way, whereabouts is the White House?" I inquire, glad to have the
opportunity of renewing the subject without the onus of introducing it.

"Why, it's inside the park, to the left as you go in from the village,
and about half a mile from the Court," Mrs. Holmes explains. "It's what
they call the old dower-house of the Deigntons."

"Then I suppose Mr. Callender is related to the family?"

"He is a connexion either of poor Sir Humphrey's or Lady Deignton's; I
don't rightly know which," Mr. Holmes confesses; "I have heard, too."

"An old house?" I ask.

"About two hundred years," Mr. Holmes thinks. Mrs. Holmes believes that
it is older.

"Then, of course, it has its family ghost?"

Mr. and Mrs. Holmes exchange glances.

"So Crazy Jack says," Mr. Holmes replies. His tone is by no means light.
He evidently takes the matter seriously.

"Crazy Jack! Ah, yes, I've heard something about that. He wouldn't take
a letter there this afternoon because it would be twilight. I had to put
it away until to-morrow."

"I don't know as I blame him," Mr. Holmes declares solemnly. "Of course,
I know there's them as says that Jack's been a bit half-witted all his
life, and he ain't none too sharp anyhow; but all the same, he was a
decent fellow enough until that night--the night after the murder at
Deignton Court; but I dare say you've heard the story, Mr. Martin?"

I shake my head. "I don't think so."

"Well, he was taking a short-cut across the park, after delivering the
letters at the house, on the night after the murder, and there, moving
amongst the trees, he saw--something, nobody knows what. Anyhow, he was
brought home here next morning, after having been out all night, with
his hair turned grey and his wits crazed, and so he's been ever since.
If any one asks what happened to him or what he saw, he shrieks like an
idiot. No one has ever been able to get a word from him of what it was.
But you see what he is now, and for my part I can't help thinking that
there must have been some cause for such a breakdown. Something he must
have seen."

"I wouldn't talk of such things before the children, John," Mrs. Holmes
remarks, frowning upon her spouse. "See how scared they look. And I
don't suppose an educated man like Mr. Martin with all his book-learning,
sets much store upon ghost-stories and such like."

Mr. Holmes is obedient, and I am, or appear to be indifferent. So the
conversation drifts away and presently, having smoked a pipe with Mr!
Holmes, and listened to a vigorous exposition of his political opinions
in a silence which he doubtless considers an acquiescent one, I make my
escape Alone in my own little sanctum, I breathe a sigh of relief and
kick off my boots. Then I light a last pipe and sit down to think over
the dying embers of my neglected fire. I have not evolved a single ray
of light out of all the heterogeneous mass of information which I have
acquired. On the contrary, I am confronted with a new puzzle. If Mr
Callender has been at the White House all this time, who was the Mr.
Callender to whom Lady Deignton wired a few days ago not to come to
Deignton?



CHAPTER XVIII. "YOUR LIFE FOR MY SUFFERINGS"


Sunday morning at last! Never has a day seemed so long in coming as
this; but come it has, and at half-past ten, after a pleasant, leisurely
walk from Market Deignton, I find myself seated upon an old stump in the
second plantation between the Court and the church. My head is leaning
back against a red-trunked pine, and through the little cloud of
blue-grey cigarette smoke which hangs around me in the breathless air, I
keep my eyes fixed upon the path above.

It is a wonderfully clear day for November. Up through the slim,
leafless branches of the trees I can see patches of blue sky, and the
sunshine is glancing upon the russet-brown undergrowth, and lies across
the winding path. The air is positively motionless. Every now and then a
withered dead leaf comes fluttering to the ground to make thicker the
damp spiky carpet which lies already upon the ground, and just now a
rabbit went scurrying through the bushes, pausing for a moment and
sitting up on his haunches to look at me in surprise with bright black
eyes. But, save for these things, Nature seems to have fallen asleep.

It is one of those days which in their absolute quietude suggest a brief
suspense of her laws of growth and decay. There is neither the busy
stirring of spring, nor the murmurous, full-hearted content of summer,
nor the winter sounds of wind and rain stripping the trees and howling
over the land like a destroying angel. The earth lies exhausted after
the violent storms and rain of the last week. Between the branches of
the trees I can see long streaks of water, silver-blue in the sunshine,
where the river has overflowed in the valley; and up on the hill yonder
a great elm has snapped asunder, and half of it lies on the ground,
whilst the jagged end, bark-stripped and branchless, lifts still a
stubborn front.

Yet to-day the air is soft and motionless, and the sky is free from the
suspicion of a cloud. The tops of the distant hills are wrapped in a
soft white mist, hanging around them like gauzy draperies, and full of
suggestions of the rounded green slopes which they nowhere completely
hide. With my hands clasped behind my head, I take it all in, smoking
languidly and waiting.

After all my constant glances, she is upon me before I am aware of it.
Her light footsteps fall absolutely noiseless upon the soft, oozing
layers of decaying leaves, and it is her voice which gives me the first
token of her approach.

"Good morning, Mr. Martin," she says pleasantly enough, but without
slackening her pace, and with a slight intonation in her voice which
seems intended to convey some surprise at seeing me here.

"Good morning. Miss Deignton," I reply, springing to my feet.

She half glances towards me, and I remove my cap and face her with a
smile. As I had intended that she should, she recognizes me. She drops
her skirts from her left hand, and looks at me in swiftly comprehending
surprise.

"Dr. Scott!" she exclaims. "Why, I thought that your voice sounded
familiar the other day. Why did you not tell me then? and what is the
meaning of this masquerading?"

"It isn't altogether masquerading," I answer with a shade of bitterness
in my tone. "The professions are barred to a man without a name, and I
had to make a living somehow, you know. Just as I was wondering how to
solve the problem, I chanced to see an advertisement in a paper I picked
up somewhere of a chemist's business for sale at Market Deignton, found
that the post office went with it, and suddenly realized that to come
here--in some sort of disguise of course--was about the wisest thing to
be done. It seemed an excellent opportunity, and I took it."

"I see. But you might have taken me into your confidence on Wednesday, I
think," she says, looking at me with a shade of reproach in her clear
grey eyes.

"I don't know why I did not," I answer. "Perhaps I was looking forward
to surprise you."

"You certainly have," she says, looking me over carefully. "You have
nothing fresh to tell me, I suppose, since Wednesday?"

"Nothing," I answer with a sigh. "Nothing."

We have reached the first gate, for somehow she has moved on, and I have
found myself walking with her. Before us, a broad stretch of meadowland
leads to the smaller plantation, through the leafless trees of which we
can see the grey spire of the village church, with its neat little
cluster of red-tiled cottages nestling close around it. There is
scarcely a breath of wind. The thin grey lines of smoke from the
chimneys ascend straight into the sunlit air. Not a leaf stirs upon the
trees. Beyond is a stretch of deep red-soiled ploughed land, and then
the background of hills. We pass through the gate, and walk slowly
across the meadow.

"I am like a man confined in an iron circle of mystery," I say
thoughtfully. "I keep on striving to find an exit, and am continually
coming upon new facts, but they none of them lead me out. I cannot
connect them. I have no power of sifting the useful from the useless,
the straw from the chaff. Nature never meant me for a detective, I
fear."

"You should not regret it. It is not a noble vocation."

I look with darkening face across the quiet landscape.

"You forget that life or death is in the balance for me. I am playing
for high stakes."

"Is it quite death?" she says softly. "You have always the consciousness
of innocence to take away the sting from the suffering."

"A fallacy," I answer gloomily. "I believe that if I were really guilty
I should feel more resigned; but being innocent, to be robbed of name,
home, honour, everything dear in life to a man--oh! it is hard."

"Yes, it is hard," she repeats softly. "Very hard."

I look round, for something, a very slight vibration in her tone,
attracts me. I am not mistaken: her eyes are dim with tears, and her
pale cold face has a new and strange expression upon it. It is a
revelation to me. I have an odd feeling at my heartstrings, and, if only
I dared, I would like to raise that daintily-gloved little hand to my
lips and hold it there. It is just a fit, a sensation perhaps as
transitory as that glow of pity for me which is shining in her face. It
passes, and there is silence between us--a silence matching almost the
deep Sabbath hush of the silent country. Then, how soon I do not know,
the church bells begin to ring.

"I must go," she says. "You will not mind my leaving you here."

"May I wait for you?" I ask with a sudden impulse.

She looks at me deprecatingly, but without displeasure.

"Do, please, remember, if you wish to maintain your identity, that you
are Mr. Martin, chemist and postmaster of Market Deignton. Do you wish
all the servants at the Court and all the villagers here to see us
together?"

"Not exactly," I admit. "I must go home then, I suppose."

"Yes."

"There is no service in the afternoon?"

She shakes her head.

"I sometimes come through the woods, though," she says, laughing. "But
you must not dream of waiting until then. Do you hear?"

"Yes."

I hold the gate open. Just as she is passing through I ask her a
question:

"By the by, do you know anything of Mr. Callender, who lives at the
White House?"

She shakes her head. "Only that he is a very harmless old invalid of
phenomenal age--a connexion of Lady Deignton's, I believe. I have been
to see him once or twice, but he is very infirm."

"Thank you."

She nods to me, and I raise my cap. From a little knoll behind I watch
her cross the meadow and enter the smaller plantation. When she has gone
the day seems darker--the sun has disappeared behind a cloud.

I have a small volume of Shelly in my pocket, and sometimes reading,
sometimes thinking, the day steals on, whilst I wander restlessly
around. From a distant hill I see the tiny congregation leave the church
and slowly disperse. A little troop of the Court servants cross the
meadows towards the park, and behind I can see Miss Deignton side by
side with a man--a young man in clerical dress. I watch him leaning
eagerly towards her, and I smile. You cannot change the impassiveness of
those cold, clear features, my reverend and respectable friend. You can
bring no light into those still grey eyes, nor a single tinge of colour
into the pale cheeks. She does not even turn her head as she answers
you. You are not of her world.

She is gone once more. A clock from the stables strikes one, and it
seems to me that the brooding stillness of the winter's day grows
deeper. I climb a hill, from which I can see the grove of trees which
embosom the White House and the long graceful front of the Court. By
counting the windows I can even find the room wherein the "Event"
happened; and, like a certain great man in days before mine, I am for a
moment fired into hot indignation at the silence of inanimate things.
That room whose four walls witnessed the hideous deed which in men's
minds is written down to my account could tell another tale. Why can
they not for one moment find tongues and speak, give me but the slightest
clue to follow up, the slightest indication which could help me out of
this mesh of broken threads and tangled suppositions? Day by day of my
solitude my heart is growing harder towards the unknown whose burden I am
bearing. Whether it be man or woman, my heart is steeled against all
thoughts of pity. Even if it should be she, she has had her chance. Her
prayers should not move me now. The iron of suffering has entered into
my soul. She has been the bane and the curse of my life. What was once
passion has dried up into hate. Better keep clear of that narrow path
which leads to my redemption, my Lady Deignton, with your soft eyes,
whose bondage is madness and your sweet temptings which once led me to
the very edge of the precipice of dishonour! I have a fancy that I am
wearing your chains--chains no longer of roses, but of iron; but the day
may come when I can cast them off, and I shall have no mercy. The secret
of that guilty chamber yonder whose window shines now so softly in those
faint gleams of wintry sunlight has been well kept; but a single
revolution in the wheel of fortune, and it may be my turn. It were well
for you then to say your farewell to the things of this earth, for
neither your temptings, nor you passionate pleadings, nor your cries for
mercy shall hold my hand.

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Your life for my sufferings.



CHAPTER XIX. A WOMAN'S PITY


As afternoon steals on I descend from the hill and enter the wood once
more. Through the still air I can hear distinctly the chimes of the
stable clock as it strikes three; and its echoes have scarcely died away
before the gate at the further end of the wood opens and swings back
Soon I see her coming slowly towards me, carrying a mysterious-looking
brown parcel in her hands.

"Here still?" she exclaims, with high-arched eyebrows.

"Here still," I echo, standing before her, cap in hand.

"How fierce you look!"

"I am fierce. I am weary of my bondage," I cry, with a little burst of
bitterness. "My solitude has made me a man of moods. I am not fit for
your company this afternoon, Miss Deignton. I should be alone. I have no
right to inflict myself upon anyone."

"Nonsense!" she laughs lightly. "Do you know I believe that there is
something far more prosaic the matter with you, and I don't wonder at
it."

I look at her inquiringly. Her face is full of a bright, half-humorous
sympathy which I cannot help finding attractive.

"You want to know what is really the matter with you?"

"Certainly."

"You are hungry."

"Can you see it in my face?" I ask, smiling despite myself.

"I can see more than hunger--starvation," she laughs. "Confess, now, you
have had no lunch?"

"Lunch! No."

"Nothing to eat, in fact, since breakfast."

"I admit it."

With a little laugh, half-apologetic and altogether musical, she unties
the small brown-paper parcel which she has been carrying. For a moment I
am mystified. Then the outer covering falls away, and I see two little
piles of sandwiches.

"These are _pâté de foie gras_," she says, touching them with her
forefinger; "the others are beef. I hope they'll be good; I cut them
myself."

I take a sandwich from each pile, and discover that I am voraciously
hungry. I do not say much in the way of thanks; I eat the sandwiches.
Directly I have finished she takes out her watch.

"I have not come here to stay with you," she remarks. "I don't lay claim
to being in any way a properly-behaved young woman, but it won't quite
do for me to be wandering about these woods with you, will it? At any
moment some of the servants or villagers might come this way, and if
Lady Deignton once got to know, farewell to my chance of being useful to
you. There is a path just here which leads into the avenue. You can go
as far as there with me, and then--good-bye."

We walk on in single file, for the path is narrow and the undergrowth
thick. About half-way we are compelled to pause for a moment while I
hold back some brambles for her; and before we proceed, I ask her a
question.

"Miss Deignton."

"Yes?"

"I have a question to ask you."

"I am ready."

"Do you really believe that Lady Deignton killed your father?"

She looks carefully around. We are alone, and in a perfectly solitary
place, but she lowers her voice almost to a whisper.

"I do. I honestly believe it."

"And if you could do so, you would not hesitate to prove it?"

"Why should I? Lady Deignton is nothing to me. My one desire is for
justice. So long as it is my father's murderer who suffers, I care not
who it may be."

Her face is wonderfully stern in the half-light. She is standing close
up against an oak-tree, and her features stand out in bold and striking
relief against the gnarled dark trunk. I look at her, and my heart
glows. One person in this world, then, is in sympathy with me. There is
one person who shares my great desire. No one save he only who has felt
the bitterness of utter isolation in thought and sympathy and person
from the whole world of his fellows can realize in any degree the
sweetness of such a thought. And of all people in the world it is she.

"You would not spare her, then?" I persist.

"Not for a moment. Not though she begged me upon her knees. Not though
my father himself rose up from the dead and implored me to. Your broken
life is in the scale as well as my father's death."

We are in the smooth, broad avenue now, which bends in the distance and
leads up to the Court. It is here that we must part.

"You must not come again unless I write," she says. "If anything happens
you will hear from me at once."

A letter from her! At any rate, it is something to look forward to. She
holds out her hand, and I clasp it in mine. A gleam of sunlight
travelling up the long, open avenue rests upon her face, and touches it
with a curiously softening beauty. For a moment we stand there in
silence. I have something else to say, one last word, but before I can
say it we are disturbed. There is the sound of wheels close behind, and,
turning round, we are confronted by a most unaccustomed sight. A shabby
four-wheeled fly is slowly jogging towards us, its heavy wheels rolling
almost noiselessly along the smooth drive.

"Do not go away," she says quietly. "Who can it be? And on a Sunday,
too!"

The occupant of the fly sees us, and, putting her head out of the
window, calls to the driver to stop. He does so, and a dark,
foreign-looking girl, with black eyes and troubled face, leans out
towards us.

"We are going the right way to Deignton Court, if you please?" she asks
timidly.

"Yes," I answer; "straight on."

She fingers for a moment with the window strap, and looks at us
nervously.

"You live at Deignton Court, perhaps?" she says, addressing my
companion. "I have come a long way just to see my Lady Deignton, and
perhaps even now she will not see me. It is the wrong day to come, is it
not, on the Sunday? Is she what you call very devout, the Lady
Deignton?"

"Oh no; I don't think so," Miss Deignton answers a little brusquely. "I
have no doubt that she will see you if you have anything to say to her."

"Thank you so much!" The head is withdrawn and the fly rolls on. We look
after it in silence.

"I wonder what that means?" Miss Deignton says thoughtfully.

"One of Lady Deignton's foreign relations, perhaps," I suggest. "She was
half Hungarian, was she not?"

"I don't think that young lady has quite enough assurance for a relative
of Lady Deignton's," she answers a little drily. "Good-bye; I am going
to hurry up to the house."

Our hands touch for a moment, and then she turns and walks swiftly up
the avenue with light, springy footsteps. I watch her slim, upright
figure, with the free, proud carriage, until it disappears, and away
ahead I see the back of the fly as it creeps onwards. Once or twice on
my homeward walk amongst the fast gathering shadows the memory of that
girl's pale, dark face and plaintive voice crosses my mind. There is
something a little odd about this visit of hers to Lady Deignton, and
her timid anxiety lest, after all, she should not be able to see her.
But by the time I have reached home and the shelter of my little room,
the memory has faded from my mind; other thoughts have usurped my whole
attention. How am I to know that this dark girl, with her pale, anxious
face and foreign accent, is another of the figures whom Fate has woven
into the tragedy of my life?


CHAPTER XX. AN EPISODE AND ITS NARRATION


On Monday morning, soon after ten o'clock, a trim little girl, who tells
me that she is Miss Deignton's maid, brings me the following letter. I
tear the envelope open, and seeing that it is of some length, I take it
into my room and read it there:


"DEIGNTON COURT,
"Monday morning,

"Dear MR. MARTIN,--

"I promised to let you know all that happened here likely to bear in any
way whatever upon the matter in which we are both so deeply interested.
Something has happened which is certainly odd, and I hasten to acquaint
you with it, although, of course, it may not have any connexion whatever
with the end we have in view.

"When I reached the Court last evening, after leaving you, the fly which
had passed us in the avenue was drawn up at the front door, and the girl
who spoke to us was just getting into it. She seemed much distressed,
and although she had her veil down, I could see that she was crying
bitterly. So I stopped her.

"'Have you seen Lady Deignton?' I asked.

"She shook her head tearfully. 'It is cruel of her!' she sobbed. 'She
will not see me even for a moment. I have sent and begged her to do so,
but she takes no notice.'

"'Does she know what your business is, or who you are?' I ask.

"The child--she is little more, really--shook her head. 'I sent up my
name, and I told her that I hoped she would pardon my coming, but I was
in great trouble. I wanted to ask her a question--just a simple
question, that is all.'

"'Does she know your name?' I asked.

"The girl shook her head. 'No; I am as much a stranger to her as she is
to me. She might have let me speak to her.'

"I considered for a moment. As you doubtless have decided, it seemed
very odd. I came to the conclusion that the servant must have
mis-delivered the message in some way. As a rule, I never interfere in
any way with my stepmother, but in this case I decided to do so.

"'Come back again, and I will see what I can do,' I told her.

"She began to thank me, but I stopped her and took her into my
sitting-room. Here I told her to wait, while I went in search of Lady
Deignton.

"I found her in her room with the door locked. When she heard my voice
she came to speak to me, without, however, opening the door.

"'Is that you, Katherine?' she asked.

"'Yes,' I answered. 'Can I come in? I want to speak to you.'

"'Are you alone?' she asked.

"'Yes,' I told her.

"Then she opened the door and let me in, closing it again after me.

"'I have a bad headache, and I am lying down, she said, looking at me
curiously. 'Do you want me particularly?'

"She looked ill, and she had evidently been lying down. Her hair was in
disorder, and there were dark rims under her eyes.

"'I am sorry I disturbed you,' I began; 'but there is a girl
downstairs--'

"'I have already sent word that I will not be troubled with her,' she
interrupted, frowning. 'Why have they not sent her away?'

"'She would have gone by now if I had not stopped her,' I explained. 'I
met her as I came in, and as she was in great distress, I came to ask
you whether you could not see her just for a minute. She has come a long
way, poor girl, and she is so bitterly disappointed.'

"'It is no concern of mine,' my stepmother answered coldly. 'She has
come on some begging errand or other, no doubt, and I decline to be
troubled with her.'

"'She only wants to ask you a question.'

"'And that question probably is, how much I will give her,' my
stepmother interposed coldly. 'I have had such callers before, and I
have learned to be firm. This is no affair of yours at all, Katherine;
but, since you have interfered, you can tell her that I will not see
her, once for all. Please to leave me alone.'

"I could see that it was no use to talk to her, for she had made up her
mind; so I went downstairs and told the girl that I could do nothing for
her. She looked so bitterly disappointed, and was, withal, so pale and
worn out that I was really sorry for her.

"'Stay and have a cup of tea with me before you go,' I said. 'It is a
long drive to the station again.'

"She sat down and burst out crying. I ordered the tea and left her alone
for a time. She was soon more composed, and looked up at me gratefully.

"'How kind you are!' she said. 'I am so miserable!'

"'You are young to be travelling alone,' I said. 'Have you come far?'

"'I have come from Buda-Pesth on purpose to see Lady Deignton,' she said
pitifully.

"'All alone?' I asked.

"'All alone. There was no one to come with me. My father is dead, and my
mother.'

"'And have you no relatives at all, then?' I asked.

"She shook her head. 'No one, except a married sister, whom I shall
never see again, and a brother whom I have lost.'

"'Lost! Do you mean that he is dead?' I ask.

"'No; lost. It was to make some inquiries about him that I came here.
That was why I wanted to see Lady Deignton."

"'If that is all, she shall see you,' I declared. 'But why Lady Deignton
especially? Would not any one else do?'

"She looked at me and her face cleared. 'Why, yes. Any one who was here,
let me see, nearly two years ago. How stupid I was! I never thought of
asking any one else but Lady Deignton in her own house, but I daresay
some of the servants would know even better than she. Were you here the
year before last?' she asked timidly.

"'In what month?'

"'In October--about the twelfth.'

"You may imagine that I started. I had never for a moment thought of
connecting her in any way with what you call the 'Event.' Even now, of
course, the date might be a coincidence, but I could not help starting.

"She noticed it, and asked me why I seemed surprised. I composed myself
as well as I could.

"'It was the date that startled me,' I answered. 'Perhaps you do not
know that a very terrible thing happened here in this house on that very
date?'

"'No. What was it?' she asked, with wide-opened eyes.

"'Sir Humphrey Deignton, the master of this house, was murdered.'

"'Murdered!' She repeated the word with a little thrill, and looked away
into the fire. 'No; I never heard of it. How should I? I was in Hungary.
I do not even read the English newspapers. It was dreadful! Who did it?'

"I shook my head. 'No one knows.'

"'What I has no one been punished for it?' she asks.

"'No one.'

"She smiled with a rather superior air. 'In France or Hungary that would
not be. The police would discover it.'

"'Let us talk of that no longer,' I said. 'Why was it that you mentioned
that date?'

"'I will tell you,' she said. 'I have a brother. All his life he has
been wild and strange; able to settle nowhere; as clever as any man
could be, but without industry, without perseverance. He would not keep
in any one place; he could only live travelling; he had been many
things. When we last heard of him he had become valet to a gentleman,
and was travelling in England.'

"'Did he write and tell you this?' I asked.

"'He did; but he did not say the name of his master, nor did he give any
address. He promised to write again, but he never did. I have never
heard anything of him since; and now my mother is dead, and I am alone
in the world--quite alone.'

"'And it is about him that you have come here to make inquiries?' I
asked.

"She nodded. 'The only thing I had to go by was the postmark of his last
letter, and the date--the twelfth of October.'

"'And its postmark?'

"'Market Deignton, England.

"I sat still, thinking it over.

"'I made some inquiries at Market Deignton,' the girl went on sadly,
'and the only house where gentlemen with men-servants would be likely to
come visiting would have been here. That is why I came to see Lady
Deignton. I want to ask her to tell me if any gentleman with a servant
was staying here about the date that the letter was posted to me.'

"'It was not necessary to see Lady Deignton to find that out,' I said to
her reassuringly. 'I can tell you in a moment.'

"She clasped her hands together joyously, and half rose from her seat.

"'But, really,' she cried, 'how good--how very good you are!'

"I rang the bell for the housekeeper, Mrs. Brown. She came in a minute
or two, and gave us the information I asked for at once. Of the few
people staying at Deignton Court on that memorable night, only Mr.
Lugard had a man-servant with him. She was sorry that she had no
recollection of his appearance, and there was no one else in the house
to whom she could apply for information. All the servants who had been
in the house at the time had either left since of their own accord, or
had been dismissed. She had an idea that he was a sickly young man, and
not in very good health; but even that might be fancy on her part. She
was very sorry that she could remember nothing further. At any rate, she
was sure as to the main point--Mr. Lugard, and no one else, had a
man-servant with him.

"Mrs. Brown went out, and I turned to my little _protégée_.

"'You see, if your brother was here at all,' I said, 'he was in the
service of Mr. Lugard.'

"'And do you know this gentleman's address--Mr. Lugard's?' she asked
eagerly.

"I shook my head. It was piteous to see her face fall.

"'It can very easily be found, though, I should think,' I told her. 'Mr.
Lugard came here from Vienna, and had been in some way connected with
the Austrian service. If you write to the Austrian embassy in London, no
doubt they will have his address, and will be able to forward the
letter.'

"'And how long will it be before I can get an answer?' she asked.

"'Two or three days, I should think.'

"She had finished her tea, and now she rose to go. She held out both her
hands to me impulsively.

"'What are you going to do until you hear?' I asked her.

"'I shall stay at Market Deignton,' she answered. 'If, after all, it was
not my brother who was Mr. Lugard's servant, I may have to make some
more inquiries here.'

"'And if you don't succeed at all?' I asked her.

"She turned very white. 'I--I do not know,' she said. 'I shall try to
get some situation.'

"'You do not mind telling me,' I said as kindly as I could. 'You have
not much money, perhaps?'

"She shook her head. 'Only a few pounds. Perhaps it was rash of me to
come; but in Buda-Pesth what should I have done? I have no relatives, no
friends. I pined for my brother, and, wild though he has been, he is
always generous. I knew that he would help me. I thought that he might
help me meet a situation.'

"She looked very young and friendless, and I was sorry for her.

"'Where are you going to stay at Market Deignton?' I asked.

"'At the _Deignton Arms_' she answered timidly. 'But I do not know what
will become of me, if I do not hear in two or three days,' she added
with quivering lips.

"It seems quite a wild-goose chase that the poor child has entered upon,
but I did not like to tell her so. I gave her the address of a
respectable woman in Market Deignton who was once my nurse, and wrote,
asking her to take the child in for a few days, and I promised to go and
see whether she has had any news the day after to-morrow.

"Then she went away, still crying, but very grateful.

"I have made a great effort to put down our conversation just as it took
place, and I think that I have been fairly successful; so, please take
care of this letter. It is just possible that we may want to refer to it
later.

"During the evening I saw my stepmother as I was passing her room. She
looked better, and asked me to go in.

"'It was a little hard on that girl, perhaps, not to have seen her
this afternoon,' she remarked. 'Did you give her anything before she
went away?'

"'She did not want money,' I said, changing my position so that I could
keep my eyes fixed upon Lady Deignton's face.

"'Nonsense! they all want money,' she said impatiently. 'If she didn't,
what did she want?'

"'Information about a brother,' I answered. 'He was valet to some
gentleman about two years ago, and wrote her a letter from here. That is
the only clue she has.'

"'Well, I hope somebody was able to help her,' my stepmother remarked,
quite kindly for her. 'Tell me all about it.'

"I told her everything. She made no remark until I had finished.

"'It is singular!' she said then. 'I don't see what good I could have
done if I had seen her. I scarcely remember Mr. Lugard; and certainly
Mrs. Brown is the only one in the house who could have told her whether
he brought his servant here or not. I am glad that you made inquiries
for her, and gave her some tea. If I knew where she was, I would send
her some money. It seems a very deserving case for a little charity, if
her tale is true.'

"I opened my lips to tell my stepmother that the child had not gone
away, but was still at Market Deignton. Then I changed my mind. I
determined to keep this to myself for the present. That is the close of
the episode.

"No doubt you will wonder what has made me write all this to you so
carefully. I think I wonder a little myself, but the poor child's story
made an impression upon me, and anything about any one in this house
about the time of the 'Event' is interesting to me, and must be so to
you. We cannot tell in what direction the light may come. I must say
that my stepmother's obstinate refusal to see this girl puzzled me, but
her indifference afterwards, when I had told her what I had done, seemed
too natural to be anything but genuine. Still, keep this letter with
your other notes.

"K. D."

"P.S.--This morning I found the girl's card just where the servant had
put it down, in Lady Deignton's room. The name was 'Olive Walsingham.'
Strange that she should have an English name!"



CHAPTER XXI. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF MRS. MASON


Miss Deignton is right. I cannot, for the life of me, see any connexion
between this girl and any of the personages in the "Event." At the same
time, the fact that her brother should have sent her a letter from here
dated only a day before the murder is a little curious, even if looked
at only in the light of a coincidence. It is just another of those minor
circumstances which seem in themselves to call for some explanation, but
which present scant surface for investigation.

I am standing before my sitting-room fire, smoking, and thinking over
the contents of my letter, when David unceremoniously thrust his head in
at the door.

"Telegram, sir."

As I have had no warning from the instrument I know he means a telegram
to be despatched. I put aside my pipe, and make my way into the shop.

Another coincidence! The young lady who is sitting in my one cane-backed
chair writing out her message is the subject of the letter which I have
just been reading. I recognize her instantly, but, to my relief, I find
that the recognition is not mutual. Naturally, she does not expect to
find the man whom she had seen walking with Miss Deignton in the avenue
of Deignton Court behind the counter of a village shop. She regards me
without interest, and altogether as a stranger.

"How much is this telegram, please?" she asks, holding it out towards
me.

I read it over indifferently, counting each word:


"_To_ Mr. Hamilton Lugard,
care of Austrian Embassy, Downing Street, London.

"Can you tell his sister the address of Jean Margot, valet in your
service when last heard of? Is he still with you? Reply to Olive
Walsingham, Post office. Market Deignton."


"One and eightpence halfpenny," I say briefly.

She counts out the money upon the counter and rises.

"Will the reply be sent to me directly it comes, or shall I call for
it?" she asks.

"You have not given me your address, so I should not know where to send
it," I remind her. "You had better call here, I think."

She gives a little sigh, and looks aimlessly around.

"I wonder how long it will be before the reply will come," she remarks.

"It depends upon how long the person delays it to whom it is addressed,"
I answer. "You might get an answer within an hour and a half."

"Thank you. I hope it will be soon," she says meekly. "Can you tell me,
is there a library here?"

I shake my head.

"No; I am afraid that Market Deignton could scarcely support a library.
Mr. Smith, at the stationer's shop across the market-place there, has a
few books to sell, I believe."

"Thank you. I don't want to buy any, but I will go and see," she says.
"Good morning, and many thanks."

"Good morning."

She walks out, and I watch her pick her way across the cobbled
market-place to Mr. Smith's. Every one is looking at her. Strangers are
rare in Market Deignton, and with her big, dark eyes and dainty,
tight-laced little figure, she is curiously at variance with the
rusticity which is the chief element of the town. Even our country girls
do not lift their skirts quite so high as Miss Olive Walsingham does, as
she carefully picks her away along with as much deliberation as though
the cobbles were steppingstones, and the puddles between them were parts
of a swiftly-flowing river. But, then, the young women of Market
Deignton do not wear French boots with high heels.

I despatch her message; and more than once during the morning I find
myself wondering what the answer will be. It is a little before one when
I hear the click of the instrument, and find that it has arrived.


"_To_ Miss Olive Walsingham, Post Office, Market Deignton.

"Jean Margot left my service during October, year before last, through
illness. Have not seen him since, but believe he left the country.

"HAMILTON LUGARD."


I write the message out slowly, and am just directing it, when I hear a
light step upon the floor and a rustling of draperies. I glance up and
find that Olive Walsingham is standing on the threshold of the shop
looking at me apologetically out of her dark, childish eyes. She
advances to the counter with an inquiring smile and raised eyebrows.

"There is no reply for me yet?" she asks. "Ah! I suppose I am too soon.
But it is so dull here. I will come again."

I hold out the envelope to her.

"I was just addressing this to you," I say. "It has this moment come."

She takes it from my hand and opens it eagerly. Then her little mouth
quivers and her eyes grow dim. It is a disappointment, and she looks
more like a child than ever. I have a horrible fear that she is going to
cry, and I yield to a sudden impulse which has come to me. I lean across
the counter towards her.

"I hope you won't think me impertinent if I make a suggestion," I say.
"I couldn't help seeing your telegram, you know, and the reply."

She looks up at me quite frankly. I can see that what I had feared is
not far off. There is already a tear hanging upon her eyelashes.

"Of course not," she assents.

"Well, you are trying to find your brother, are you not, who was valet
to Mr. Lugard, who was staying at Deignton Court two years ago?"

"Yes; that is what I am here for. He wrote me, and the letter was posted
here in October. He did not say a word about leaving, and since then I
have not had a single line from him. And now--now--"

There is a break in her voice, and she looks down at her black gown.

"I understand," I interrupt hastily; and I daresay there is enough of
sincerity in my tone to inspire her with further confidence in me.
"Well, what I was going to suggest is this: Why don't you inquire at
Deignton Court amongst the servants?"

"I was there yesterday," she exclaims. "Miss Deignton was very, oh! very
kind to me; but it seems that something terrible happened in the house
just about the time my brother was there, and nearly all the servants
left. The housekeeper was the only one, but she could remember nothing.
She only knew that after the dreadful affair that happened there every
one left the house, of course. She remembered that Mr. Lugard had a
servant there, and that was all."

I do not say anything for a moment, for I am following out a train of
thought of my own. My sitting-room door is open, and I can hear the
clatter of plates as Mrs. Mason moves about preparing my luncheon.

"I must find my brother somehow," my companion continues tearfully. "Oh
how I wish I knew what to do!"

The clatter of plates in the room behind suddenly ceases, and I fancy
that I hear a sharp feminine ejaculation. I do not take much notice of
it. Probably the cat has stolen something, or Mrs. Mason has broken a
plate. But the sound itself and the movement remind me of my
housekeeper, and I remember suddenly that she was in service at Deignton
Court at the time of the "Event." I turn to my companion.

"It is rather a coincidence," I remark, "but my housekeeper was
housemaid at Deignton Court about that time, and was one of the servants
who left soon afterwards. Should you like to ask her any questions?"

She jumps up at once with an eager cry.

"Oh! how good of you to think of it! Yes, yes!" she exclaims. "Let me go
in and ask her now--may I?"

"Certainly," I answer. "Will you come this way?"

I lift up the counter flap, and she passes behind. Then I throw wide
open the door of the sitting-room, and we enter together. My luncheon is
half laid, and the remainder of the things are all on the table, only
waiting to be arranged.

"Mrs. Mason," I call out, "I want you a moment."

There is no answer, nor is there any sound in the kitchen. I call again:
"Mrs. Mason, just a moment."

Still she does not come. Then I go out into the kitchen. It is empty,
and for the first time in my life I find it in confusion. The street-door
stands wide open. I step back into the sitting-room perplexed.

"Mrs. Mason must have gone out for a moment to fetch something," I say.
"It is very odd, but she will certainly be back directly. You can see
that she has not finished setting my lunch. Won't you sit down?"

"Thank you."

She sits down in my easy chair without any embarrassment, but her
restless black eyes go wandering all round the room. She is regarding my
book-cases with amazement.

"What heaps and heaps of books you have!" she remarks naively. "It is
quite like a library."

"Would you care to look at them?" I remark absently, for I am puzzled
concerning Mrs. Mason's disappearance.

My visitor is evidently a young lady who dislikes sitting still, for she
is up and reading the titles over to herself in a moment. Suddenly she
gives a cry of pleasure.

"Oh! how delightful! how charming! You have Corneille, and Racine, and
De Maupassant, and Sainte-Beuve, and Victor Hugo, and ever such a lot of
French books! Do you read them yourself?" she asks, turning to me in
astonishment.

"Occasionally, when I can find time," I answer, smiling.

She is taking them down and greedily turning over their pages one by
one.

"Let me lend you one or two," I suggest.

"Oh, how charming! Thank you ever so much!" she exclaims, darting a
quick look of gratitude towards me. "I'll take Corneille, if I may, for
one, and--and--"

She takes one or two volumes from the case and glances rapidly through
them. Then she suddenly seems to remember her errand and looks at me
inquiringly--

"Your housekeeper does not seem to come," she remarks.

I am a good deal perplexed. Lunch is not half set yet, and we have been
in the room nearly ten minutes. I go out into the kitchen and look up
and down the street and across the market-place. There is no one in
sight. Then I close the outer door, and on my way back I see a white
garment thrown carelessly into a corner. It is Mrs. Mason's apron with
the strings all torn, as though thrown off in a hurry. I go back into
the sitting-room and make the best apology I can.

"I am very sorry, but there are no signs of my housekeeper. Suppose you
call in some time this afternoon. She will certainly be here then."

My visitor, who is on her knees before the bookcase, rises reluctantly,
and gathers up the books she has selected.

"It is so good of you!" she says impulsively, "and I shall enjoy these
books. Mr. Smith's were detestable, and the place is terribly _triste_.
Shall I come about four?"

"That will do," I answer, opening the door for her. "Good morning."

"Good morning, Mr. Martin," she says, hugging her books with one hand,
and holding out the other to me. Then she walks briskly away, and I
watch her, smiling to myself. If she is not a born French girl, at any
rate she has thoroughly imbibed the Southern spirit. A few minutes ago
she was all tears and anxiety, now she is as gay and bright as though
she had not a care in the world. It is a light-heartedness easily
purchased.

I turn back to the sitting-room, and eat my lunch absently and without
appetite. What am I to think of this new problem? In other words, what
is the meaning of Mrs. Mason's sudden flight?



CHAPTER XXII. "SICK AM I, SICK OF A JEALOUS DREAD"


At a quarter-past two David returns from his dinner. I despatch him at
once to Mrs. Mason's cottage with a message of inquiry as to the reason
for her sudden absence. In an hour he is back again. The cottage is
empty and shut up, he tells me. There is no sign of Mrs. Mason anywhere.

Punctually at four o'clock my visitor arrives. The consolation of her
beloved Corneille has evidently been only temporary. She is looking
troubled and anxious.

I lead her into the sitting-room without a word. She seems to expect it,
and there are several people in the shop who look at her curiously as
she enters. She is too disturbed, however, to be conscious of any
particular scrutiny.

I am obliged to leave her alone for a few minutes. When I am able to
quit my post in the shop, I find her seated in my easy-chair, and gazing
disconsolately into the fire. This time the bookshelves seem to have
lost their charm.

"Is your housekeeper here?" she asks directly I enter. "I cannot hear
any one out there."

"I am very sorry," I tell her, "but Mrs. Mason has not been near the
place. I have sent my boy to her cottage, and he found it shut up and
empty. I cannot account for it in any way."

She smiles at me piteously.

"I am very unfortunate," she says. "I had no idea that the search would
be so hard a thing, or I think that I should have stayed in Paris."

"I thought you lived in Buda-Pesth?" I remark.

"No; my mother came from there, and just before she died we left Paris,
where we had been living, and went back to Buda-Pesth to try to find an
uncle of mine. But it was of no use; he had gone abroad. And soon after
we arrived in Buda-Pesth my mother was taken worse, and died, and there
was I all alone. I went back to Paris and sold our few things there, and
then I came to find my brother. I never thought that it would be so
difficult."

"Not even though he had not written you for so long," I remark.

She shakes her head sadly. "He never would write letters--never. And,
besides, my mother was, oh! so angry with him for becoming a servant;
although, poor fellow, he had tried hard to find something else to do.
But he was never happy unless he was travelling. He could not stay in
one place."

"I daresay that restlessness was the cause of his leaving Mr. Lugard," I
say, trying hard all the time to think of some consoling speech. But
before I can frame it, David thrusts his head in at the door and hands
me a note. I tear open the envelope, and after glancing it through, read
it aloud:


"Sir,--

"I regret that sudden illness forced me to leave your house this morning
whilst preparing your lunch. I will come back as soon as possible, but
it may be several days, perhaps weeks. I have sent to Mrs. Ransome
asking her to call upon you, and I think that you will find her capable
of supplying my place.

"I am sorry to have caused you any inconvenience, and remain.

"Your respectful servant,
"Hannah Mason."


"This appears to have been written from her cottage," I remark; "but my
boy, whom I sent there after lunch, found it shut up. David!"

David appears promptly at the door. He does not even glance at me whilst
I am speaking, but stares open-mouthed at my companion. Fortunately her
distress is such that she is unconscious of him.

"Who brought this note, David?" I ask.

"A little boy, sir."

"Whose little boy?"

"I did not notice, sir. I was serving Mrs. Holt when he came in, and he
just put it on the counter and walked out."

"Did you see him at all? Should you know him again if you saw him?" I
ask sharply.

David shakes his head.

"I can't call him to mind any way, sir," he admits. "All I saw was that
he was a little boy."

I dismiss him with a quick movement of the head, and turn to my visitor.

"Very likely Mrs. Mason stayed somewhere in the town until she felt
better, and sent the note before starting for her own home," I say.
"There is only one thing more I can think of. I will walk over after the
shop here is closed to-night and try to see her. I dare say she will be
well enough to answer a few questions. I really don't see what else
there is to be done."

Her face, as changeable as an April sky, lights up again. For the moment
she does not seem to have a care in the world.

"Oh, how good you are!" she exclaims suddenly, holding out both her
hands to me in a burst of gratitude. "May I come too?"

I hesitate. This is rather more than I had bargained for, for I am no
squire of dames, and should very much prefer my own company. Yet, how am
I to tell her so?

"I am afraid that you would find it too far," I say doubtfully. "It is
nearly two miles, and a very muddy road. You would be tired to death
before you got there."

She raises her shoulders--an odd, foreign little gesture--and looks up
at me with her face puckered up into what, at any rate, has the
semblance of a frown.

"I do not mind the mud or the distance, if you will have me," she says.
"It is very triste all alone."

"Of course you may come, if you like," I assent, a trifle ungraciously,
however. "You would be very much more comfortable at home with Corneille
though. Won't you take a few more books instead? It isn't exactly summer
weather, you know."

"Thank you. I would rather go and see Mrs.---- Mrs.---- your housekeeper."

"You'll spoil your shoes and your petticoats."

"I do not mind about my shoes, and I can hold my skirts high," she says,
making a comical grimace at me. "Petticoats! what droll words you
English use!"

"Well, if you are determined to come, of course I shall be pleased," I
say, with a sigh which I am ashamed of, and which I make some effort to
stifle. "Do you know where the church is?"

She nods. "I am staying just opposite, at Mrs. Copeland's."

"Well, be there at about a quarter-past eight," I tell her. "I cannot
get away before."

She jumps up as though suddenly aware it is time she brought her visit
to an end.

"I shall be there!" she exclaims cheerfully. "And now I will leave you
in peace for a short time. _Au revoir_."

"By the by, will you be seeing Miss Deignton again?" I ask her.

At the mention of Miss Deignton's name her face brightens.

"Ah, she is so good and kind, that beautiful Miss Deignton!" she
exclaims impulsively. "She has promised to come to see me; it may be
this afternoon. It is for that reason that I am hurrying back."

It occurs to me that I have not seen the hurry, but I make no comment.

"Well, if you do see her, I think it would be a good idea if you got her
to find out the names of some of the other servants who were at the
Court when your brother was there. The housekeeper will know the
addresses of some of them, at any rate. It would be better if you could
find out some of the menservants."

She claps her hands. Evidently the suggestion pleases her. Something
which comes into her face just at that moment touches me, and I am
somewhat annoyed at my impatience. She is so much more of a child than a
woman. How old she really is I do not know, but she looks scarcely more
than sixteen. At any rate, she is pitifully young to be so friendless,
and engaged on such a hopeless quest.

"Till this evening," she exclaims, as she trips lightly across the floor
of the shop, and through the door which I hasten to open for her.

"Until this evening," I answer, with more kindness than my tone has yet
known. "If you change your mind about going, you need not trouble to
send me word. If you are not there, I shall not wait. Remember, it will
be a very tiring walk, and it is not exactly summer weather."

She only laughs at me, and I know quite well that she means to be there.
Then she flits away, and I go back into my shop.

The tedious routine of work seems more wearisome than ever this
afternoon. Crazy Jack comes in as usual for his batch of letters, and I
sort them and hand them over in grim silence. Then Mrs. Ransome arrives
to offer herself in Mrs. Mason's place. She is a large, cumbersome
woman--a type I dislike about me--and with a remarkable aptitude for
backdoor gossip. I am forced to engage her, however, and I do so as
briefly as possible. She has brought her apron with her, and goes into
the kitchen at once to prepare tea; and I linger behind the counter
watching the dim grey twilight steal down upon the town, and the hills
in the distance grow dark and blurred. The monotony of my life is
beginning to eat into my heart. I am growing very weary, and the goal
seems yet as far away as ever.

And then, in the midst of my very gloomy reflections, my eyes light upon
a figure crossing the marketplace, and remain for a moment fixed there.
My discontent is instantly forgotten. Life has suddenly taken unto
itself more roseate colours. I lose myself in an allegory. The twilight
which hangs over the market-place and the more distant hills is the
gloom lowering over my life, and the figure which comes to me from out
of it is a figure of light, the visible antithesis of all darkness, the
clear illumination of truth, which one day is to shine through all the
clouds which are hanging over me. The thought takes hold of me, and I
yield myself up to it. It is but a brief luxury, perhaps the luxury of
madness. Only the sound of the shop-bell brings my feet down to earth
once more.

She is in the shop, standing almost before me, and my eyes, quick to
take notice of such things, show me that she is carrying her head more
erect than usual, and that her eyes, when they meet mine, are devoid of
the kindly recognition which I am becoming accustomed to look for. The
old depression sweeps in once more upon me. What if she, too, were
beginning to lose faith in me? "Anything but that!" I find myself
inwardly murmuring. My back is already heaped with burdens. Another such
as that, and I can fight no longer.

"Good afternoon, Miss Deignton," I say quietly.

"Good afternoon," she replies with perfect impassiveness. "I want some
stamps--seven, if you please."

David takes them from the drawer, and laying down a pile of letters upon
the counter, she begins to affix the stamps. I am at my wits' end for a
moment or two how to get rid of my assistant, but fortunately my eyes
fall upon a bottle of medicine which I have been mixing. I hastily wrap
it up and hand it to David.

"Put on your cap, and take this to Mrs. Rust, David," I direct; "I
promised it an hour ago."

"Won't it do when I go to tea, sir?" he asks innocently.

"No; take it now," I answer sharply. "You can go for your tea when you
have left it; but be sure and get back by six."

David is off without further hesitation, and I watch him depart with a
sigh of relief. At last we are alone.

Miss Deignton calmly continues affixing the stamps to her letters, and I
lean back against my shelves watching her. She is wearing a short
tailor-made gown of rough brown tweed, a jaunty little hat, and thick
boots and gaiters plentifully bespattered with mud. She docs not even
glance towards me, so I am compelled to break the silence.

"Have you walked over?" I inquire.

She nods assent. "Yes; I came over to call upon my protegee."

"She has been here," I remark.

"So I understand."

Something is wrong. What is it? I cannot imagine, so I affect not to
notice it. I tell her all that has passed between us, and of Mrs.
Mason's strange disappearance. She listens, with her eyes turned away,
and idly tapping her boots with her walking-stick When I have finished
she frowns.

"I have been sorry ever since that I troubled you with that long
letter," she remarks. "The affair is mysterious, but I am quite
convinced that it does not concern us in any way. I do not think that it
has any reference to the 'Event.'"

"I differ from you. At any rate, I cannot feel so sure," I say.

She shrugs her shoulders. "We shall soon know. I have written to one of
the other servants who was at the Court at the time."

"What are you going to do with the girl in the meantime?" I ask.

She lifts her grey eyes to mine, and looks at me in a manner which I do
not quite comprehend. It means displeasure, at any rate, and it chills
me.

"Oh, I shall keep her until something turns up about her brother; and,
if nothing ever does, I shall try to find her a situation, if she is
willing to take it. I leave her entertainment in your hands."

"Her entertainment! What do you mean?" I ask bewildered.

"Oh, nothing."

"Nonsense! You must mean something. I do not understand."

She looks at me haughtily, her eyes full of a languid wonder, her head
thrown back, and her tone icily cold. She is every inch a great lady.

"You are not speaking to your shop-boy, Mr. Martin."

I bite my lip and apologize. She is standing up with her back to me, and
hears my words without remark. When I have finished she turns round.

"Oh, it is of no consequence," she remarks. "What I meant, if you are
really anxious to know, was that, with the resources of your library,
and your company after shop hours, she will probably be able to survive
the dullness. Good evening, Mr. Martin; I think I hear my cart coming."

She has gone as far as the door before I can recover myself sufficiently
to answer her. The fact is, I am very near being desperately angry.

"Miss Deignton!"

My voice has a ring of something in it which seems to compel her notice.
She pauses on the threshold and looks round.

"I am at a loss to understand your insinuations," I say as calmly as I
can. "Will you be so good as to explain yourself?"

"I do not think that it is necessary--or worth while."

My anger has reached white-heat. It is all I can do to control my voice.

"As you wish," I answer curtly. "Good evening."

She is stepping from the shop when a smart dogcart drives up, and a man
in shooting-coat and gaiters jumps down and meets her on the threshold.

"Miss Deignton, by all that is fortunate!" he says, throwing away his
cigar and lifting his cap. "I suppose I ought to say by all that is
unfortunate, for the mater and girls have gone to call upon you this
afternoon, and it seems that I am the favoured one after all."

"I'm very sorry not to be at home, Captain Vavasour," she says, stepping
back into the shop with him. "What an age it is since I saw you! I
thought that you were in Egypt."

"Home two months ago--invalided," he laughs.

She looks him up and down, a brawny, sunburnt man with long, fair
moustache and well-cut features.

"I suppose I may congratulate you upon your convalescence, at any rate?"
she says, smiling.

"I think you may go so far as that," he answers, showing a set of very
white teeth. "At any rate, I am not amongst the incurables."

"I should imagine not," she rejoins.

"Do you know that the mater has gone on a formal visit of remonstrance
to you?" he continues, leaving the subject of his health. "I really
think--we all think--that it is too bad of you to shut yourself up so.
It must be ghastly dull at Deignton Court for you."

"No duller for me than for my stepmother," she remarks. "Do you think
that we women have no resource save society?"

"Oh, but it is different with Lady Deignton," he answers. "She is
scarcely one of us; we hardly know her, in fact; whereas we may almost
call you an old friend, may we not?"

I move away out of hearing, and busy myself with some drugs. I am not
naturally a hot-tempered man, but as snatch after snatch of their gay
conversation reaches me every now and then, I feel a passionate desire
to hurl the bottle I am handling at the Honourable Captain Vavasour's
head. I know him well enough by name, although, fortunately, we have
never met. His father's place is next to Deignton Court, and once, in
the days when it was nothing to me, I had heard his name and Miss
Deignton's coupled rather significantly. It comes back to me now readily
enough as I stand there with my back to them, and yet acutely conscious
of their presence. I am angry with him, and I am, I think, more angry
with her. Does she not consider what it must be to me to stand behind
this wretched counter, and have their conversation forced upon my
ears--conversation, by the by, which seems to have become more serious
now, judging by her bent head and his lowered voice. "All women are
selfish--bitterly, miserably selfish!" I mutter savagely to myself as I
stoop down amongst my bottles. I had thought her different. I had
thought that the woman who had stretched out her hand to help a man in
such sore straits as I was not like other women. Now I know that I was
mistaken. I was a fool!

At last, after what seems to me an interminable while, a dogcart from
the Court drives up. Miss Deignton shakes hands with Captain Vavasour,
and hesitates. I can see that she is undecided whether or no she will
speak to me again. She half looks round, and I return her glance. What
she sees in my face evidently does not encourage her to speak, for she
leaves the shop without a word.

I watch him lift her in, whilst the groom stands at the horse's head.
She takes the reins, nods to him brightly, and drives off with a rattle.

Captain Vavasour comes in humming an opera tune, and sends a couple of
telegrams, one to Tattersall's, and one to his tailor. Then he addresses
a few remarks to me, which I answer with a curtness equal to his
condescension, stares at me for a moment as though I were some untamed
animal, and finally, lighting a fresh cigar, drives off. To this day he
does not know how my fingers itched to throw at his shapely head the
little bottle of quinine which I was handling. It was a near thing.

I take my tea in gloomy solitude, and afterwards finish up the
letter-sorting and post office work. I have forgotten to order any
dinner, and Mrs. Ransome's ideas of an evening meal have not led her to
make any preparation. So I fill my largest pipe, and make some coffee,
and smoke my hardest until eight o'clock. As soon as I hear the church
clock strike I take my cap and stick and start.



CHAPTER XXIII. A NIGHT PURSUIT


To-day everything has gone awry with me, and I am just in that mood when
a hard, solitary walk along a muddy road, with a wet wind blowing across
the open country into one's teeth, is useful as a sedative. But as I
turn the churchyard corner I see that fate, still unkind, has denied me
this last consolation. Miss Olive Walsingham is waiting for me, in a
smart ulster and cap, with her hands stuck deep down into her pockets.

"I was here ten minutes before my time," she calls out to me cheerfully
as I raise my cap. "Am I not an example to my sex?"

"You are," I answer drily. "I hope you know that you have a rough walk
before you?"

We are under a gas-lamp, and she holds out a little foot cased in a
hideous pair of thick woman's boots.

"_Voilà!_ My landlady's. For the damp roads they are adorable. I can walk
through banks of mud and rivers of water. But the appearance! Well,
never mind; there is no one to see me except you, and I do not believe
that you notice such things at all, do you?"

"Not much," I answer gruffly. "Pardon me, may I smoke?"

"Of course. I can't imagine what you want to for, but you're welcome, so
far as I am concerned. But then you are odd, aren't you?"

"Am I? May I ask if that is your personal estimate of my character, or
are you relying upon information received?" I inquire with studied
politeness.

"Oh, information received, of course!" she laughs. "I know all about
you--ever so much."

"Indeed! And your informant?"

"Oh, my landlady and her little daughter who waits upon me. You see,
they will talk, and as for me, what have I to do but to listen? Besides,
it is 50 interesting. Listen. You are reserved and very unsociable; you
especially avoid women; you read hard books; you smoke a great deal; and
you are a--crank. That last word I did not know the meaning of before."

"Go on! Surely that is not all?" I remark.

"Oh no! There is also a rumour that you have, as Mrs. Copeland says,
known better days, which means, I find, that you are a gentleman who has
been obliged to become a shopkeeper. But, as I say, it is only a
rumour."

I look down at her suspiciously. Yes; there is a humorous gleam in her
dark eyes.

"I trust that so wild a report did not obtain your credence," I say.

"Oh, I don't know," she replies airily. "I am naturally of a romantic
disposition, and have a great desire always to believe that sort of
thing; it is so much more interesting. I also hear that you never go to
church, but that you give away a good deal more money than you can
afford."

"And who told you that?" I ask sharply. "Not Mrs. Copeland?"

"Oh, a little bird. _N'importe!_ It is all chatter, of course."

"Have you come to the end of it?" I inquire.

"To the end of my landlady's chatter. But then there is Miss Deignton's
report, you know, and hers would not be chatter, would it?"

"Why not?"

"Oh, I do not know. But Miss Deignton seems too proud and self-contained
to talk gossip. What she told me was not so interesting, but I dare say
it was nearer the truth."

"And what did she tell you?" I ask with studious unconcern.

"Let me see. Oh, I remember. 'By the by,' she said, 'Mr. Martin is a
very superior person, and if you can interest him in your case, he will
doubtless be able to advise and help you, better even than I can.' Fancy
her calling you a very superior person! Then she saw your Corneille, and
so I told her all about you."

"You did, did you?" I remark with sudden enlightenment. "What did you
say? I am quite interested."

"Oh, I spoke well of you, I can tell you. I told her all about your
funny little sitting-room, and all its books, and how kind you had been
to me; and--oh, yes--I told her that I was going for a walk with her
'superior person' after his post office was shut up. It was great fun."

"Indeed!" I mutter between my teeth.

She glances up at me quickly, but it is too dark for her to see my face,
which is perhaps just as well.

"Yes. It didn't matter, did it?"

"Oh, not in the slightest," I assure her. "Most discreet of you. By the
by, you didn't happen to mention that our walk had a purpose, did you?"

"No. She seemed tired of talking about you then, and began to tell me
that she had written to another of the servants who was at Deignton
Court two years ago. Miss Deignton has been very, very kind to me," she
went on, suddenly serious; "but I don't think that I liked her quite so
much to-day. She is very proud, is she not?"

"She is considered so, I believe. Am I walking too fast for you?"

"Walking! Do you really call it walking? Why, I have been running for
the last half-mile. I don't mind it a bit, you know, but it makes me
feel very tiny."

I slacken down at once, and for awhile we walk on in silence. My own
feelings are mixed. In one way, what I have just been told has made me
very angry, and yet, at the same time, it has brought with it a certain
relief. At any rate, I can understand Miss Deignton's altered manner to
me, and I wonder at it no longer. Of course she must feel a certain
contempt for any man in my position who could find the opportunity and
inclination to amuse himself with a child like this. What evil spirit, I
ask myself fretfully, could have induced her to play so mischievous a
part?

We have left the town behind now, in the hollow of the hills, and even
the cluster of twinkling lights has faded out of sight. The hedges,
which have been high on each side all the way, have come to a sudden
end, and we are crossing a stretch of bare common land interspersed with
marshes and a few stunted gorse bushes. By the side of the road a
heavily swollen stream is sobbing along, and from the distant hill comes
the faint tinkling of sheep bells. At the extreme end of this open space,
known as King's Common, is Mrs. Mason's cottage, and about a mile
farther on is the village of Little Deignton and the entrance to the
park. It is the most desolate part of the road, and as we are crossing
it I feel my companion's hand upon my sleeve.

"Is it much farther?" she asks timidly. "If so, do talk to me. It is
dreary, and it makes me afraid."

"About three-quarters of a mile," I say. "Listen!"

I stop suddenly in the road and clutch her by the arm. For a full minute
we stand there together, listening. At first I am inclined to think that
I have made a mistake. There is nothing to be heard but that monotonous,
gurgling flow of water, and the music of the sheep-bells upon the
hillside. But, just as I am preparing to move on, I hear it again. It is
the sound of wheels in front gradually growing fainter and fainter in
the distance. I hasten forward, quite forgetting my companion.

"What is it?" she asks in a hushed voice, struggling to keep by my side.

"Wheels," I answer laconically. "Come along as fast as you can."

She catches hold of my coat-sleeve, and we do not speak again until we
reach the grey stone cottage where Mrs. Mason lives. As I had begun to
suspect, the gate is locked, and there is no light in any of the
windows. I jump over the wall and knock loudly. There is no answer; I do
not expect any. The windows are barred and the doors are bolted. Mrs.
Mason's illness has evidently not prevented her from taking a journey.

As soon as I have satisfied myself that the cottage is really empty, I
step back into the road, and, kneeling down at the edge of the path,
strike a match.

My companion, who has been leaning against the fence out of breath,
comes over to my side, with her black eyes dilated with wonder.

"What are you going to do?" she whispers. "What is it? Have you lost
anything?"

I point downwards into the small part of muddy road which is dimly lit
by my flickering wax vesta. She looks there blankly.

"I can see nothing," she exclaims. "What is it?"

"Cart-wheels," I answer laconically. "Mrs. Mason left here five minutes
ago. We are just too late."

She looks up from the road into my face. "What shall we do?" she asks.

"Find her," I answer shortly. "Do you see, the cart has gone towards
Little Deignton. There is no railway station that way, and the road ends
in the village. She cannot be far away. Can you come a little farther
with me? After all, we may be on the right track."

The excitement of the thing has laid hold of her. She is pale, but has
recovered her breath, and her dark eyes are gleaming.

"I can walk all night," she answers, with a dash of fierceness in her
tone. "Let us lose no time. Come!"



CHAPTER XXIV. THE WHITE HOUSE


Silently we hurry along, my companion keeping pace with me pluckily, and
never once falling behind. In about twenty minutes we are in the dark
winding lane which leads down into the village, and scarcely a hundred
yards along it is the only turn on the way.

It is nothing but a grass-grown cart-track, leading round to the back of
the Court, and seldom used, except in timber-felling times; but after
passing it once, I turn back and light a match. The wind blows it out
immediately. I light another--fortunately, I have plenty--and stooping
down, I examine the ground carefully. I am unexpectedly rewarded for my
caution, and after a very brief inspection, I spring up and open the
gate.

"This way?" she asks in surprise.

"This way," I answer. "A cart has passed through here to-night, and
within half an hour."

"Where does it lead to?"

"I am not quite sure, but I think to Deignton Court," I answer. "Come
along."

It is hard going, but she keeps up by my side bravely. We skirt a
ploughed field and then pass up a fine broad avenue of elms. I remember
now being told that hundreds of years ago this was the principal
entrance to the Court. When we emerge from the avenue, we are confronted
with an obstacle.

The stream is flowing right across the road, and there is no
hand-bridge. Olive utters an exclamation.

"Is there no way of getting over?" she asks, looking round.

"Only one," I answer. "Come!"

Long before she can realize what is going to happen, she is up in my
arms, and I am knee-deep in the stream. For a moment she makes no
resistance, although I can feel her breath falling hot upon my cheeks.
Then, without any warning, she makes a violent attempt to jerk herself
out of my arms, and almost upsets us both. I hold her tightly, however,
until we reach the opposite side, and then I set her down.

"How dare you?" she asks passionately, wrenching herself away and
stamping her foot. "How dare you?"

I look at her wonderingly. Her face is scarlet, and her black eyes are
flashing.

"How did you expect to get across?" I ask calmly. "You couldn't have
waded. Would you have had me turn back or leave you here alone?"

"You had no right. It was shameful! You treat me as though I were a
child," she sobs out hysterically. "And I am not. I am a woman."

"_Be_ one, then," I answer, a little gruffly, I fear, for I am in no
humour for this sort of thing just now. "Remember what business we are
on, and I'll make my apologies to you later. We have no time to waste."

She says not a word, but keeps by my side, and we pass on under the deep
shadow of the great trees. In a few minutes we come to a gate, and again
there is a parting of the road. The main way goes through the gate round
a grass field, and evidently terminates amongst the outbuildings at the
back of Deignton Court. The other track, apparently very little used,
enters a grove of thickly-growing black pine-trees, and leads I know not
where.

I light another match, and stoop down. In my own mind I have no doubt
but that we are bound for Deignton Court, but after a brief examination
of the broken ground I am perplexed. The wheelmarks whose traces I have
been following seem to lead right into the plantation. I begin to wonder
whether, after all, we may not be upon a fool's errand. Perhaps a few
hundred yards up the plantation we shall come upon a timber-wagon,
deserted and left there till morning; or, after all, the ruts may not be
so recent as they seem. But then, how about the cart-wheels which I most
certainly heard start from Mrs. Mason's cottage? At any rate I will
follow this thing through to the end now I have come so far.

"We are going straight on, not through the gate," I whisper to my
companion. "Follow me."

We turn aside and plunge into the pine-grove. The darkness here is
profound, and a strange, deep silence reigns around. Now and then there
is the rustle of a pine-cone in the tree-tops, and once a rabbit comes
scurrying across our path and vanishes in the undergrowth. Even our
footsteps fall noiselessly on the soft carpet of fir-needles, and the
thickly-growing trees seem to keep out all the night sounds of the open
country. I can hear my companion's soft breathing growing quicker and
quicker, and I know that she is nervous. In an impulse of pity I hold
out my hand to her. She grasps it eagerly, and retains it. Her fit of
passion is over.

"I am frightened," she whispers. "I cannot see my way."

"Keep quiet," I answer in a low tone. "It is almost over; we are coming
to an opening."

What seems to be an opening is only a narrow clearing, in the middle of
which is a rude hut, built tent-shape, of tree branches. But before we
have taken half a dozen steps forward we are brought to an abrupt halt.
A high, five-barred gate, wired at the bottom to keep out the rabbits,
and covered with nails at the top, bars our way. Beyond it there seems
to be a larger opening, or else we are at the extremity of the
plantation. My eyes have grown so accustomed to the gloom that I cannot
see which it is.

I feel for the fastening of the gate. As I expected, it is locked, and
also secured by a padlock. Then I move my hands along, and peer through
the darkness to find out what is by the side, hedge or wall. I find that
there is a wall, higher even than the gate, and built of huge, rough,
granite stones.

I turn back to my companion, who is standing patiently by my side.

"You must wait here while I go on a little way," I whisper. "You mil not
be afraid? I shall not go out of hearing."

"I will try not," she answers, without much confidence in her voice,
however. "You will not be very long, please; I shall be so lonely, and
it is very dark."

"No longer than I can help."

I put my foot on the lower rail of the gate, and cautiously clutch at
the top of the wall with my hands; but before I can make another
movement the light of a bull's-eye lantern is flashed upon me, and a
man's tall, broad figure seems to spring out of the ditch. The sudden
light blinds my eyes, and I can see nothing of the man save the long,
shining barrel of his gun, which almost touches my chest.

"Stay where you are!" he orders in a deep, gruff voice. "If you move a
step backwards or forwards, I fire!"

I become instantly rigid, taking particular care to make no movement
whatever in any direction. My challenger takes a steady survey of me,
and then, lowering his gun, comes up to the gate. I can see that he is
prepared to lay hands upon me should I attempt to escape, which I have
not the faintest intention of doing. I am quite satisfied to let events
develop. Meanwhile, to my surprise, Olive shows herself possessed of a
courage and presence of mind for which I have certainly never given her
credit. She does not utter a sound or make any movement. So far, I am
satisfied: she is unobserved.

"Now, what are you doing here?" the man demands. "Out with it! Where are
your mates?"

"I have none," I answer coolly.

He grunts incredulously, and flashes his lantern over the wall. Its
broad light flashes at once upon Olive's pale, scared face. She is
leaning up against a tree, and is evidently horribly frightened.

"A girl!" he mutters, astonished. "What business have you here at this
time of night?"

"We have lost our way following a cart which came in this direction," I
explain.

"A cart! There's been no cart along here--no sign of one. You'll have to
find a better tale than that. This is a private road."

"To where?" I ask.

He hesitates. "Never mind to where. It ain't your business. What I want
is to hear your account of yourself, and to take your name and address.
You don't seem to have any poaching kit about you, but you've got to
give a better account of yourself before I've done with you."

"Oh, you're a gamekeeper, are you?" I remark.

"What did you take me for--a policeman?" he answers contemptuously. "Name
and address, and the young woman's! Out with them!"

He is standing well outside the plantation, and has lowered his lantern.
My eyes too, have become a little accustomed to the dim light. I look
him steadily in the face. A sudden thrill of excitement is stealing
through me. I know where I am; I know who this man is.

"You know my name as well as I know yours, John Rudd," I answer firmly.
"Let me pass. I am Norman Scott, and I am going on to the White House."

He falls back for a moment as though he were shot, and the lantern goes
crashing from his fingers and rolls into the ditch. In the half-light I
can scarcely see his features, but I catch the gleam in his eyes, and
hear his laboured breathing as he stands before me blocking my path.

"Do you hear, John Rudd?" I repeat sternly. "Stand aside, and let me
pass! I am no poacher or housebreaker. Unlock this gate!"

His hand suddenly tightens upon my arm till I am forced to cry out with
the pain.

"Back you go! back! back!" he cries hoarsely. "Muster Norman or his
ghost, you shall not pass this gate while I'm a live man!"

"Off with your hands!" I say, "off with them!"

"A step farther, and you're a corpse! Sure as there's a God above, I
mean it!"

The muzzle of his gun is within a foot of my heart. I watch it
fascinated. It does not quiver; it is as steady as a rod of steel. The
man has dropped on one knee, and has taken careful aim. One step onward
would be certain death for me.

"You're a brave man, John Rudd," I say quietly. "It is your turn
to-night, but mine will come."

I turn away, and Olive, with a gasp of relief, clutches my hand. Side by
side, and in absolute silence, we retrace our steps through the
pine-grove, and behind us, all the way, his footsteps sounding like a
grim, ghostly echo of our own, stalks John Rudd, with his lantern in his
hand and his gun under his arm.

At the dividing of the ways he leaves us, and this time Olive makes no
protest when I take her carefully up and carry her over the stream. From
the opposite side I turn and look back. John Rudd is standing still in
the middle of the way as motionless as a dark, carved figure, watching
us.

"Good night, John Rudd," I cry back to him, waving my hand; "you are a
faithful night-watchman. We shall see what the daylight can do."

He does not move or answer me in any way, but the rim of the moon is
just rising from behind a bank of dark clouds and throws a faint, lurid
light upon his set, gloomy face. Just as I am turning my back he slowly
raises his gun and levels it at me. Olive gives a scream and hurries me
away. To tell the truth, I feel a great deal more comfortable myself
when we are round the corner. My last hasty glimpse behind tells me that
he is still there, but has lowered his gun.

When we reach the road we look at one another almost for the first time.
Olive gives a great sigh of relief, and clutches hold of my arm, which
she does not abandon for the rest of the way home.

"What an awful man!" she exclaims. "WHiat did he mean? Why was he so
serious? what does it all mean? Oh, my head is whirling!"

"The man was head gamekeeper at the Court," I say. "I knew him many
years ago; he used to be in service with a relative of mine."

"What do you suppose became of that woman?" she asks. "Do you think that
she really went that way?"

I shake my head.

"I cannot tell," I answer. "The man was very mysterious, but he was
always harsh and reserved. If the cart went through there, it went to
what is called the White House."

"Who lives there?" she asks.

"I am not certain," I answer deliberately. "I mean to make some more
inquiries to-morrow. By the by, your brother entered Mr. Lugard's
service under an assumed name, did he not? Did Mr. Lugard know his real
one?"

She looks up at me, surprised at my abrupt question.

"I am not quite sure," she answers thoughtfully. "I should think not; he
was not very proud of being a servant, as you can imagine, and I dare
say he would keep his real name a secret. In the letter which I had from
him he told me, if I was writing, to address the letter to some
initials."

"His real name was Lionel Walsingham, was it not?"

"Yes; Lionel Margot Walsingham."

"And what were the initials he told you to use when you wrote to him?"

She looks at me curiously.

"I am sorry, but I cannot remember. I was trying to think of them the
other day. Why do you ask?"

"I scarcely know," I answer; "it just occurred to me, that is all."

"In connexion with anything that has happened to-night?"

"No; I meant to ask you before. It seems to me important to know the
name by which he went, if we want to find him."

"I'm so sorry I've forgotten the initials," she says; "I only know that
there was a C in them."

"And the letter--I suppose you have not kept that?" I ask.

"No; mother had it when it came, and I think that she destroyed it. I
kept only the envelope."

I can see that she is almost ready to drop with fatigue, so I ask her no
more questions. She alludes to the subject once more, however, just as
we are nearing home. .

"I think, after all, Mr. Lugard knew his real name," she remarks,
"because the man who recommended Lionel to go to him was a friend of Mr.
Lugard's, and he knew Lionel well, too. Lionel was proud of our name,
and I don't think that he would use it while he was a valet."

"I think, perhaps, we had better find out some time from Mr. Lugard what
name he went under," I say; "we must talk it over to-morrow, when you
are less tired."

She looks up at me curiously.

"I wonder why you are so interested in helping me," she says suddenly.
"It is very, very kind of you. May I ask you a question?"

I nod. "If you want to."

"What did that man mean when he called you by another name?"

I look at her searchingly. Her dark eyes are fixed steadily upon mine.
Has she begun to suspect, I wonder, that my interest in her lost brother
is not all for her own sake?

"It meant that I, too, have been one of the unfortunate people of the
world. Miss Walsingham," I say quietly. "Some day I may tell you all
about it."

Her eyes are full of sympathy, and she holds out both her hands with a
sudden impulsive gesture. We are standing on the pavement now, in front
of the cottage where she is lodging.

"I am so sorry," she says simply. "Good night."

"Good night," I answer; "we mustn't stay talking here, or we shall wake
all the good people in the place."

I watch her disappear into the cottage, waving me a final farewell, and
then I walk down the narrow street and across the market-place home.

Eleven o'clock strikes as I unlock my door and sink into my easy-chair,
drawing my pipe and tobacco towards me. It has been a long evening, but
I am not conscious of any fatigue; on the contrary, a strange
exhilaration possesses me. I make myself some coffee, and I sit into the
small hours watching the smoke from my pipe curl upwards to the ceiling
and weaving a whole phantasmagoria of dreams and fancies. The dull,
leaden despair of yesterday and the days before has gone. The first
gleam of light is parting the clouds which have hung over my head so
long. My hand is nerving itself to strike, and before me I can see my
weapon. What matters though it be down an avenue of danger and
difficulty? I am a man with an arm to strike and a heart dead to all
pity. "Myself for myself" is the motto which those days of agony have
engraven into my heart. And at the end of the avenue there is daylight.
Mine be the fault if I fail to reach it.



CHAPTER XXV. A RIFT IN THE CLOUDS


We human beings are strange creatures. Yesterday morning I should have
embraced with considerable eagerness any honourable means of trying my
fate in a better or a worse world. This morning I have not the faintest
desire for a less material or even an altered state of existence. My
feet are upon the earth again, and the savour of living is as sweet as
ever. I am one with my fellowkind, and disposed to be friendly with all
men. The exhilaration of last night has rather increased than abated. It
is true that I had only a few hours' sleep, but I have risen perfectly
refreshed. I have eaten my breakfast with most unusual appetite, and I
find the flavour of my morning cigarette excellent. I have not the
faintest desire to throw myself into the arms of Heine or Owen Meredith
or Coleridge, and to drift with them into the dark waters. My affinities
with the literature of despair and the poetry of pessimism are suddenly
sundered. If I felt like reading at all, I should probably take down
Sterne, or one of the milder humorists. As I don't, I content myself
with standing in a comfortable position before the fire in my room,
looking out across the market-place, bright with a day of unexpected
sunshine, and listening for the shop bell.

And after all, what does it mean--the exhilaration of last night and the
content of this morning? Just a gleam of hope, that is all--just a
little rift in the clouds which may close together again before evening.
But I have sat so long in the bottomless pits of despair--so long have I
suffered and endured in a darkness which held no promise of lightening,
that by comparison the twilight of to-day is indeed welcome.

All is as vague and tangled to me as ever. I can see nothing clearly.
There is nothing yet in the shape of a beacon light to guide me; but
there is a difference between to-day and the days that have been.
Whereas, before, the darkness was intense, so that I knew not which way
to grope, and my hands were empty of any knowledge, to-day there is
something in my grasp. It is only a tangled skein, but the clue is
there, if I have only the wit to find it. There is definite work to be
done--definite work leading to a definite end, and the man that is in me
is kindled and fired by the knowledge.

Last night I put away my pride and wrote to Miss Deignton, and an hour
ago David started on his way to the Court with my letter. Before mid-day
I shall have a reply. Will she grant my request, I wonder? I have asked
her to come and see me--I have told her that I have news. I have entered
into no explanation, yet I think that she will come.

Will there be a reaction to this light-heartedness of mine? Will
twilight find me plunged once more in the icy waters of despair, more
hard than ever to endure by reason of this temporary uplifting of spirit?
or shall I have struggled one step further into the light? I cannot say.
What may be in store for me, I cannot tell. Yet I am sanguine. I have a
feeling that the old misery has fallen away, like a discarded garment,
and I pray that it may be so.

A ring at the shop bell. I throw my cigarette away, brush the ashes from
my coat, and hasten out. It is Olive Walsingham.

I am not really pleased to see her, for somehow there is growing up in
my mind a doubt--a doubt whether, after all, we are working to the same
end. In a certain way I am deceiving her, and I am not sure but that a
dim sense of it is dawning upon her. Would it be safe to tell her the
truth, I wonder? It might be rash, but I should feel a great deal more
comfortable. Has she any suspicions of it? If she has, I think I will
tell her all. It may be better.

"Good morning," I say pleasantly. "No cold, then?"

"No; I am quite well. Not even tired," she answers.

I do not want to have her come into my sitting-room, so I ask her to sit
down here. She subsides timidly into the cane-bottomed chair, and fixes
her eyes upon me. She is evidently not quite at her ease.

"I have been thinking over all that happened last night," she begins
slowly. "It is very strange and very mysterious."

"What part of it particularly?" I ask.

"The part which concerns you chiefly, I think," she answers. "So your
name is not Martin, and you are a gentleman, after all. I like your real
name better. Norman Scott is quite pretty."

I have been hoping that she did not hear everything that passed between
Rudd and myself, but it seems that she has. If she knows my real name,
she may learn my story at any moment. Better, perhaps, to tell it to
her.

"It is true that I have another name," I admit. "As I told you last
night, I am like your brother. I did not care to drag a good one down
with me."

"Perhaps so," she answers. "And perhaps--perhaps--"

"Perhaps what?" I ask, looking at her keenly.

"You may have another reason."

"Granted," I admit as carelessly as possible. "It does not matter, does
it? It does not--"

"Concern me. I do not know. I have been wondering."

I look steadily at her. She is evidently struggling with an excitement
which she finds it very hard to suppress. Her hands, and even her lips,
are trembling. Her face is white, and her eyes, which seem riveted upon
mine, watch eagerly every change in my expression. I have an instinctive
feeling that there is some trouble in store for me.

"I have been wondering," she continues, leaning across the counter so
that those searching black eyes come very close indeed to mine,
"wondering why you have taken so much trouble to help me find my
brother, why you have become so interested in the search."

"Can you not give me credit for doing so much for you out of good
nature?" I ask, gravely enough, but with an uncomfortable sense of
playing the hypocrite.

She shakes her head.

"No; I do not believe in good nature--in man's good-nature," she answers
with a cynicism which comes strangely from her childish lips. "A man
will do anything for a woman he cares for or loves, but there are very
few who will do anything at all for one if he has no interest in her.
Now, you--you do not care for me, Mr.--Martin?"

Her voice has dropped, and I cannot be deaf to its sadness, nor can I
keep as unconcerned as I would wish to appear under the steady scrutiny
of those soft dark eyes.

"Miss Olive, you--"

She lays her thin, tiny white hand upon my lips--a queer little gesture
which effectually checks my speech.

"You can spare me any polite speeches, please," she says. "I do not like
them. They hurt me. You do not care for me, not one single bit. Even the
stupidest girl cannot be deceived in such a matter, unless she chooses
to blind herself; and I know. I do not wonder at it. On the contrary, I
should be surprised if you did. You do not seem to me to be the sort of
man who--cares for any one easily. You are--a little hard-hearted. Is it
not so?"

Her eyes have grown dim, and towards the close of her speech her voice
trembles. Of course, it is all very ridiculous, but I find it exceeding
hard to keep from consoling her. She is so forlorn-looking, so sad, and
so pretty. But my wiser self tells me that my greatest safeguard is to
remain as hard-hearted as she thinks me to be. So I take no notice of
that pleading look, and I do not clasp the hands which are half
stretched out to me. I say nothing.

"It is no matter, no matter at all," she goes on, turning her head away
at last, and slowly drying her eyes. "I am very foolish, but I am not
altogether silly. I do not forget that I am here for an object, and an
object which means everything in life to me. I am here to find my
brother. I come to you by the merest accident, and I confide in you. I
find you willing, more than willing, to help me. We took that expedition
together last night. You were as much interested in it as I. Why, you
were not thinking about my brother or of me, when you stood face to face
with that man by the gate in the pine grove; and you told him your name,
and he fell back as though he had seen a ghost. You were not thinking of
me or of my affairs when you told him that your day was to come, and
when you waved your hand to him, and found his gun pointed at your
heart. What does it mean? You have had my confidence. Give me yours.
What is my brother to you?"

The girl has changed again. She is standing up now, and her dark face is
clouded over with distrust and suspicion. I draw a breath of relief. I
find her easier to deal with so.

"I am not sure, when I see you looking like that, that you deserve my
confidence," I say gently. "In any case, I have not merited your
suspicion. It is true that, in seeking to help you, chance has brought
me in contact with matters interesting to myself. Sit down, and I will
tell you in a few words the story of my life, and why I am not bearing
my own name."

She is as easily calmed as roused. She takes the chair to which I have
pointed, and looks up at me expectantly.

"You have heard me speak of a terrible event which happened at Deignton
Court about the time that your brother was there," I begin. "I think I
told you about it. Sir Humphrey Deignton was murdered one night in the
bedroom of one of his guests, and the mystery has never been cleared
up."

"Yes," she says eagerly; "go on."

"Well, Olive, I was one of the guests in the house that night; not only
that, but it was in my room that the deed was done. It is true that I
was not really in the house at all; I had left for London two hours
before, but I have never been able to prove it. So, you see, suspicion
fell upon me. There was not enough evidence to have me arrested and
charged with the crime, but there was enough to cause my friends to
shrink from me as though I were a leper, to destroy my reputation, and
to wreck my future. Even now I am believed to be the murderer of my
father's oldest friend--a man from whom I had never received anything
but the greatest kindness. If I were to assume my own name and call
myself Norman Scott, people would cross the road to avoid me; they would
hound me from place to place; they would be afraid of breathing the very
air which was contaminated with my presence."

"You!" she cries incredulously; "you a murderer?"

"That is the opinion of nine-tenths of the people who read the trial," I
continue. "If you or I had read the same chain of evidence against any
other man, we should doubtless have believed the same thing. It happens,
however, in this case that the minority are in the right. I am innocent;
and, being innocent and desirous of proving it, I have come down here
under an assumed name--"

"To try to find out the murderer," she interrupts, looking up at me with
her face all alight with a sweet womanly sympathy. "Oh, if only I could
help you! If only I could help you! It is cruel!"

"You understand now that, when last night we seemed to stumble on some
mystery altogether unconnected with your brother, I was very much
interested. I began these inquiries and this search wholly on your
account, Olive. By accident, we seem to have drifted off the path of our
investigation, and to have discovered something which will doubtless be
more valuable to me than to you; but you must not blame me for that."

"I do not! oh, I do not!" she protests eagerly.

"And you are quite satisfied now?"

"Quite. I was mean and horrid to want satisfying. Forgive me; I am very
penitent."

I am obliged to leave her for a moment or two to attend to a customer
who has just entered, and is staring curiously at the black figure in my
chair. I get rid of her as quickly as possible; but just as I am leaning
over to speak to Olive again, David enters with a note in his hand. It
is the reply from Miss Deignton.

I take it from him and tear it open, letting the envelope fall upon the
counter. It is very short.


"Deignton Court.

"Wednesday morning.

"Expect me this afternoon. Am glad to have your letter.

"K.D."


I thrust it into my pocket with a smile. Then I turn towards Olive again
and find that her eyes are fixed upon the envelope which lies before her
on the counter.

"Is not that--Miss Deignton's writing?" she asks.

I take up the envelope, frowning. It was careless of me to have left it
there.

"Yes."

"And--and she knows, of course, all that you have told me--about
yourself?"

"Yes, she knows."

Olive looks at me for a moment oddly. The childishness has fallen away
from her, and there is a light in her big dark eyes which troubles and
perplexes me. Then she suddenly rises, and I am conscious of a distinct
feeling of relief.

"I think I understand," she says softly. "Goodbye. You have been very
kind to me."

She lets down her veil, and walks out of the shop and away across the
market-place with bent head and slow, deliberate footsteps. I watch her
until she is out of sight, and I do not think that she means to come
back to me again.

But I have not seen the last of Olive Walsingham.



CHAPTER XXVI. AN UNSEEN TRAGEDY


I am looking for her all the afternoon, but it is dusk before she comes.
Mrs. Ransome has been in and prepared my tea, and the door is closed
upon her again. She will not be back for an hour, when she will come to
clear away. I have just lit my lamp, and, with a book in my hand, am
about to sit down, when I hear the sound of wheels outside. I hasten
into the shop and find Miss Deignton already entering.

David has just gone out with a bottle of medicine, and we are alone. She
does what she has not done before: she holds out her hand.

I take it and hold it as long as I dare. Her lips are parted in a bright
smile, and the fast driving has given a brilliant and unusual colour to
her cheeks.

"I was rude yesterday," she says frankly. "Horribly rude! I have no
excuse, for really it was unjustifiable. But you have forgiven me,
haven't you?"

"Long ago. It was nothing."

"It was something. It was a good deal. I was foolish enough to think
that you had been amusing yourself with that poor child, and I am
ashamed of myself now for harbouring such an idea for a moment."

"It is forgotten," I tell her. "Let us think no more of it."

"Where is your housekeeper?" she asks suddenly.

"Gone to attend to her own family wants. I do not keep a resident one,
you know."

She looks towards the door of my sitting-room and back at me, smiling.

"Why don't you invite me in? Is Olive to be the only privileged one?"

I do not need to answer her, for she must see in my face how glad I am.
I lift the counter-flap, and open the door, and we pass through
together.

She looks round with undisguised interest, and laughs as she sinks into
my easy-chair.

"This is a most unfortunate visit for you," she declares. "My sympathy
for you in your terrible privations is beginning to evaporate. How cosy
you are! What a lot of books, and what a pretty tea service! Is there
enough tea for two, I wonder?"

I point to the tea-caddy, and place another chair at the table.

"We can replenish _ad libitum_. Do you really mean that you will have some
tea?"

"Of course I do. I'm positively dying for some!" she answers, seating
herself with the utmost composure, and peering forward to look into the
milking "Cream, I declare! You most luxurious of postmasters! What would
they say if they knew it at St. Martin's-le-Grand? Sit down, please; it
worries me to see you standing up."

She pours out the tea, and somehow I find myself sitting opposite to
her. She is certainly more at her ease than I am. It is bewildering to
have her so close to me in a chamber peopled many and many a night with
thoughts and visions of her. But if it is bewildering, it is also very
pleasant.

"Now tell me the news, all of it," she directs. "How good the tea is!"

"Do you know anything of Mr. Callender?" I ask with seeming irrelevance.

"Mr. Stephen Callender, of the White House, do you mean?"

"Yes."

She shakes her head.

"Nothing very much, except that he is a dreadful invalid; something
wrong with the tissues of his brain, I believe. He is very old, very
unsociable, and very harmless. You asked me about him once before."

"Have you ever seen him?"

"Not very lately. Lady Deignton goes to sit with him occasionally, but I
have not been for years. He doesn't care much for young people."

"Do you know where he came from?"

"I haven't the least idea. He came to the White House about five years
ago, and there he has been ever since. He did try to get over to Germany
and go on to Egypt once, I remember, about two years ago, but when he
got to London he found the travelling too much for him, and he came back
again. He was a distant relative or connexion of my father's, I
believe."

"And are you sure that he has been at the White House for five years?" I
remark, a little disappointed.

"Yes, longer than that, I believe. I remember his coming quite well.
Pass the bread and butter, please. What have you got in your head about
Mr. Stephen Callender? He's the most harmless old man you ever saw. He's
very infirm, and he wears goloshes and spectacles almost as ugly as
yours. It's my private opinion that he's been a--"

"Have you seen anything more of Mason?" I ask.

"Nothing."

"Have you ever wondered where he came from that night?"

"Often."

"Have you ever tried to guess?"

"No. Have you any idea?"

"Yes."

"Where?"

"The White House."

She is silent for a minute. The idea is evidently a new one to her.

"Any reason?" she asks.

"Yes."

"What are they?"

"Yesterday afternoon, his wife, Mrs. Mason, who has been my housekeeper
since I came here, absconded without the least warning. I was interested
in her disappearance, and I traced her to one of two places."

"Well, what were the two places?"

"One was Deignton Court, the other the White House."

"She is not at Deignton Court."

"Then she is at the White House."

Miss Deignton is beginning to show more signs of interest. She sets down
her cup, and looks at me fixedly.

"I will ask you how you know that, in a moment," she says. "First, tell
me, have you any idea why she left you so suddenly? Does she suspect
you?"

"She may do. She may have been a spy upon me all the time. But I think
not. I have another theory."

"What is it?"

"A few moments before she left she was in this room laying the cloth for
my lunch, and I was talking to Olive Walsingham in the shop. The door was
open; she could easily have overheard our conversation."

"What was it about?"

"I was proposing to take her in, and to ask Mrs. Mason certain questions
before her."

"About what?"

"Her brother."

"And Mrs. Mason could have overheard this?"

"Undoubtedly."

"And your theory is that, sooner than be asked those questions, she left
you."

"It is feasible, at any rate, however odd it may seem. She left me
without a second's deliberation, frightened almost to death. I have
heard since that she was seen running towards her home without any hat,
and looking like a ghost."

"And you say that you traced her--"

"To the White House. Listen."

I tell her the story of our night walk, and how at its close we were
baffled, taking pains to dwell fully upon every slightest point. She
listens in absolute silence until I have finished. Then I can see that
her interest is deeply aroused. Her first question touches the subject
which is uppermost in my own mind:

"You do not in any way connect Olive's brother with--"

"I do not," I interrupt. "I will tell you what seems to me probable.
Mrs. Mason for days has been in a state of collapse. I believe that she
knows everything. On the very day when Mason visited Deignton Court, she
came here having all the appearance of a woman who had received some
awful shock. She could scarcely move, and all the time she was on the
verge of hysterics. Since then she has been only just able to get about,
and there is no doubt that she has suffered terribly. It is possible,
then, that the bare thought of being questioned about events at Deignton
Court at the time of the murder was too much for her, and she fled from
it. She was in that state when she needed only such a little thing as
that completely to unnerve her."

"That may be so," she assents thoughtfully. "At any rate, it is
reasonable. I am wondering about John Rudd. He is very honest, and was
devoted to my father. I can't think that he would be silent if he knew
anything."

"John Rudd was an honest man when I knew him," I answer bitterly; "but
gold will buy a good deal, and Lady Deignton has plenty of it. He was
faithful enough last night to those who are employing him."

"I heard my stepmother say the other day that he is an excellent
gamekeeper," Miss Deignton remarks thoughtfully. "I think that is the
only time she has ever mentioned him."

"He may be an excellent gamekeeper," I answer; "but it is as watchman,
not as gamekeeper, that he is serving her now."

"Listen!" she exclaims suddenly, lifting her forefinger. "I thought so.
Those are Lady Deignton's horses. She is coming here!"

There is the sound of a carriage drawing up outside with much commotion,
and I rise to my feet.

"You are quite safe here," I whisper. "She cannot see you. I will go
out."

I enter the shop just as Lady Deignton sweeps in. She is wearing a long
sealskin coat and turban and a thick veil. When she draws it up I am
shocked at her appearance.

She does not offer me any greeting, but draws her gloves off slowly.

"Give me telegraph forms and a pencil, if you please," she says in a low
tone.

I place them before her and wait while she writes out her message. When
she has finished it she hands it to me to read over, and I do so aloud:


"To Manager, Stokes's Hotel, St. James's, London, W.

"Reserve rooms to-day for Mr. Stephen Callender and servant. Will arrive
about eight o'clock."


I hand her the stamps, and receive the message back again without
remark. Then I take it to the instrument and despatch it. When I have
finished, I find her still there.

"I am waiting for you to congratulate me upon my appearance," she says
in a hollow tone. "What do you think of me?"

She raises her veil a little higher. Her cheeks are sunken strangely,
and there are deep-black lines under her eyes. Her face is perfectly
colourless, almost livid. She is the sudden wreck of a beautiful woman.

"I am grieved to see you looking so ill," I say truthfully.

"Hypocrite!"

The word is scornfully hurled at me rather than spoken. She drops her
veil and turns her back upon me. Half-way to the door, through which I
am longing to see her pass, she pauses and looks over her shoulder. She
seems undecided whether to speak again or not. Eventually she decides to
do so.

"You dare to pity me!" she exclaims. "You whose work it is. Oh, Norman!
Norman! you are crushing me into my grave!"

She has turned suddenly round. There is a gleam of the woman I once
worshipped in her swimming eyes. My heart is beating fast.

"Spare me! Oh, spare me, Norman!" she cries. "See, I plead to you. Have
mercy!"

"How? What can I do? I--"

Suddenly her face changes. She drops her veil, and at the sight of her
altered expression, the words die away upon my lips.

"My servants are looking through the window," she says, speaking without
moving a muscle of her face. "I must see you, and alone. You must come
to me. You will not refuse me this, Norman? Think of old days, and
answer me. You will come?"

"If you wish it, I must," I answer. "I cannot see what good there is to
come of it, but it shall be as you will. Tell me when to come."

"To-night, at nine o'clock," she says briefly. "I shall expect you."

She drops her veil and sweeps out to her carriage. From my place behind
the counter I can just see another visitor on her way across the
market-place towards my shop--a sad little black figure, walking slowly,
and with bent head. I recognize her with a frown of impatience. Am I to
be robbed of my last few minutes with Miss Deignton?

I step back into the sitting-room. She is leaning back in my easy-chair
with her eyes fixed upon the fire.

"At last!" I exclaim. "And now--"

I break off in my speech, and Miss Deignton springs to her feet. We both
look at one another in startled silence. The air seems full of horrible
echoes--echoes of that piercing shriek which has rung out from the
pavement outside the window. Such a sound I have never heard before, and
pray God I may never hear again. It is like the startled wailing of one
of Dante's spirits stepping into an unexpected hell.

There is no repetition of it, and it is followed by the plunging of
horses and the sound of wheels. Then I draw a long breath and spring to
the door.



CHAPTER XXVII. THE SUN SHINES ON MY HOPES


In half a dozen seconds I am out in the street, staring blankly up and
down. I have some vague expectation of seeing a crowd gathered around a
fainting or a dying woman. There is nothing of the sort. The only object
in sight is Lady Deignton's brougham disappearing in the distance. I
gaze after it searchingly. The horses are going at their usual pace, and
the coachman and footman are sitting unmoved upon the box. I abandon the
idea of connecting in any way that awful shriek of agony with Lady
Deignton. I remember her composure only a moment before, and I withdraw
my eyes from her carriage. Suddenly I remember the little black figure
whom not a minute ago I had seen crossing the market-place.

She is nowhere in sight. I look around very carefully; she had
completely disappeared. Bareheaded, I walk along the pavement and look
into Mr. Mann's shop. She is not there. I cross the road, and look into
Mr. Holmes's. It is empty. No one else seems to have heard the cry, for,
save myself, there is no one in sight, and as for Olive, it seems as
though the earth had opened and swallowed her up.

I give it up at last and go back to my sitting-room, where Miss Deignton
is waiting for me impatiently.

"Well," she asks breathlessly, "is any one hurt? What was it?"

I shake my head. I am feeling perfectly bewildered.

"You saw how quickly I was in the street?"

"Yes. I saw you pass the window."

"Well, then, there was not a soul in sight--not a soul. I could see both
ways along the street and across the market-place. They were absolutely
deserted. I looked in both of the shops. They were empty. Every one
round here must have been at tea, and no one besides ourselves seems to
have heard the cry."

Miss Deignton is a little pale.

"Was there no cart or carriage in sight?" she asks.

"Only Lady Deignton's brougham. It was going at the usual pace, with the
coachman and footman on the box."

"How far away was it?"

"About at the church corner. Just turning up the hill. There is one
thing more to tell you."

"Yes."

"When I came in here from the shop, Olive Walsingham was crossing the
market-place towards here. When I rushed out after that horrible shriek
she had completely disappeared. There was not a sign of her."

We are both perfectly silent for a moment. Whatever our thoughts may be,
we do not exchange them, then.

"What was my stepmother talking to you about?" she asks, after a long
pause. "What does she want?"

"To bribe me to turn back my hand," I answer. "She is afraid, mortally
afraid."

"To bribe you!"

There is a light in her eyes which is almost cruel, and the corners of
her mouth are tightly compressed. She waits for me to say more.

"Yes. Not with money, it is true; but by the sight of her sufferings,
by--"

"You have not--you would never listen to her!"

"Not to her, nor to any living person," I answer, with a sudden vigour
in my tone. "I have borne this miserable burden too long already. I am
sick of slinking through life under a false name, of vegetating in this
wretched hole, an alien from all the interest and excitement of life.
Listen to her! Not I! I am adamant! I have been down in hell long
enough. Sometimes--sometimes I am bold enough to dare to hope that
heaven itself will be opened before me, when the day of my justification
shall come."

Her eyes have fallen before mine. She has turned away; but is not her
very silence encouragement? I take a quick step forward. My arms are
outstretched, and a very torrent of words is upon my lips; and then I
stop short, my arms fall to my sides, and a smothered groan escapes from
me. Have I not registered in my heart a vow that no word of this shall
pass my lips until the shadow has passed from across my life? My vow
shall be kept. Yet these few moments of intense silence have their
meaning for both of us. She, too, has yielded herself up to their
influence. She makes no effort to escape from them by any spasmodic
attempt at outside conversation. It is I who at last do that.

"I had forgotten. I have not yet told you the news," I say in a low
tone.

"News?"

She half turns round, but she does not yet meet my eyes.
In that dim twilight her face seems to me wonderfully soft and womanly.
The proud mouth has relaxed--is even quivering at the corners, and there
is colour in her cheeks. I do not continue for a moment, for I am
watching her with a keen, deep glow of pleasure. My little room will be
sanctified to me for ever by these few minutes of her presence.

"Did you say 'news'?" she repeats softly. "Tell me."

I make an effort and collect myself. "Yes; Stephen Callender has left
the White House."

My tone has changed with the current of my thoughts. I am no longer
trembling upon the edge of a volcano; I am back again amongst the
meshes, grappling with my fate. These few minutes have passed, but their
memory will remain for ever.

"How do you know?" she asks, also in a changed tone, but still without
raising her eyes to mine.

"Lady Deignton has just sent off a telegram to an hotel in London,
ordering rooms to be reserved for Mr. Stephen Callender and servant
to-night."

"It is strange," she says thoughtfully.

"It is more than strange," I answer. "Only an hour ago I was asking you
who Stephen Callender was. Only last night we traced Mrs. Mason to his
abode, and found it guarded by Lady Deignton's servants. To-day, Stephen
Callender, an old infirm man, has left the place and gone to London. I
do not understand it. It is incomprehensible."

"You say that Lady Deignton told you this herself, and put the telegram
into your hands, with the London address?" she asks.

"Yes."

"That is to say, she has almost gone out of her way to let you know this
man's movements. If this is so, how can he have left here to avoid you?"

"Quite true," I answer.

"If he has really gone to London--if this has not been written solely to
deceive you."

"What is your opinion?"

"I have no opinion," she says, slowly buttoning her glove. "It is a
premonition."

"And it is?"

"That Stephen Callender is still at the White House," she says
deliberately; "and before this time to-morrow I mean to do my best to
see him."

"Alone?"

"Yes, alone."

"May I--"

"No! If Stephen Callender knows anything of my father's murder, it is
his daughter who shall wring the knowledge from him. I am going now.
Many thanks for the tea."

"We may meet again," I say. "I am coming to Deignton Court."

"Coming to Deignton Court! When?"

"To-night."

"Why?"

"Because Lady Deignton made me promise to. She asked me in such a manner
that I could not refuse."

She shrugs her shoulders. "Do you think it wise?"

"I think that no harm can come of it, at any rate."

"Nor any good."

"Of that I am not sure," I answer thoughtfully. "Lady Deignton is on the
verge of breaking down. God forbid that I should seek to entangle her in
any confession, save an honest and a free one; but if of her own
accord--and she must have a conscience, after all--she should disclose
the truth--"

I pause. I do not feel able to finish my sentence. It seems at this
moment as though the goal of my hopes is hard at hand. My eyes flash,
and my voice trembles, but Miss Deignton shakes her head.

"You do not know my stepmother," she says quietly.

I walk out with her to the door, and she lingers there for a moment,
looking up and down and across the dimly-lit market-place, with a
half-frightened expression on her face.

"I must be nervous to-night," she says, shuddering a little; "the echoes
of that horrible cry seem to be in the air even now. Walk across the
marketplace with me."

David has just returned from his tea, and is watching us with a surprise
which is not decreased when he sees me take up my hat and leave the shop
with Miss Deignton. The men, too, in the stable-yard at the _Deignton
Arms_ gaze at us curiously.

"We are becoming reckless," I remark, as I hand her up into the cart. "I
am afraid these people will talk."

"You are already an object of suspicion," she laughs, as she takes the
reins from the groom. "People say some very queer things about their
postmaster. Never mind; I have a presentiment that the end is not very
far off."

"God grant it!" I murmur fervently. "I am tired of masquerading. Shall I
see you tonight?"

"If it is possible, yes."

The groom stands away from the horse's head, and she gives me a farewell
nod as the cart rattles off. Then I go back to my shop, and mix drugs
and sort the mail like a man in a dream. I too have a notion that the
great climax of my task is not far off.

I am haunted by Lady Deignton's grey, terror-stricken face. In her heart
hes the knowledge that would set me free. How long before I shall become
possessed of it? It may be to-night.



CHAPTER XXVIII. THE ASHES OF DEAD JOYS


It is not until I stand face to face with Lady Deignton that I realize
the nature of the ordeal to which I have committed myself. All the way
from Market Deignton, across the bare common-land and along the
tall-hedged lanes, my thoughts have been busy with my own affairs. I
have allowed myself the delicious luxury of a complete abandonment to
the most sanguine imaginings. I have fancied myself a free man once
more, stepping back into a world always fascinating to me, and with the
full joy of living beating once more in my heart. For I was never made of
the stuff whereof anchorites are fashioned. My solitude has been hateful
to me; I have never found it for a moment endurable. I have none of the
inherent reserve of the student and the man of letters. Nature meant me
for a worker amongst my fellows, and my profession has done all that was
requisite towards developing the practical part of myself. I am no
dreamer or maker of books. It has been in the keen fray and the mighty
struggle of intellect against intellect that I have found my happiness.
And this forced abandonment of all my ambitions, of all the great
battles with science, which were the joy of my life, has been of itself,
apart from its hideous cause, a source of abject misery to me. And now I
am like a lost wanderer amongst the mountains, stretching up my hands to
a great rift in the black clouds through which the daylight comes
streaming down, and breathing out a passionate prayer that deliverance
may indeed be at hand. And in these hours of waiting for the fuller
daylight which means salvation I am yielding myself up to a foretaste of
the joy to come. I am busy planning out the whole course of my
justification. I have even dared to look beyond, to see myself in the
new life which the future may hold for me: holding my place again
amongst those whose companionship was once my pride, and pressing
onwards towards the realization of many of the high ambitions of my
younger days. And mingled with all my dreams, all my hopes, is one so
sweet and so dear to me that, as I suffer my thoughts to linger upon it
only for a moment, all life seems flooded with sunshine, my heart
quickens, and my feet seem to be walking upon air. Oh, there is joy in
the world yet--recompense even for all my sufferings, and the way at
last seems clear before me! I have not once thought of the woman whose
suffering must be my triumph. I have not wasted a single thought upon
her. I have given myself up altogether to the unaccustomed luxury of
castle-building.

And now the critical moment has come, the moment, which, above all
others, is to decide my fate; and I find myself face to face with this
woman in whose features are written all the signs of a consuming agony.
She comes towards me from the deeper shadows of her chamber into the
rose-lit space where I am standing behind the carefully shaded lamp with
folded arms, and for a full minute she speaks no word to me, nor I to
her. And for her part she is wise. There is that in her face which she
knows full well to be far more eloquent than speech.

Who shall say that Nature is always just in the brand she sets upon our
countenances? In that long searching gaze which passes between us I read
in every feature the agony through which the woman has passed. Yet the
fierce traces of those guilty sufferings, of those long days of
self-reproach, have robbed her of none of her beauty. There is a
hothouse fragility about her appearance, a hectic flush upon her cheeks,
and a bright--an unnaturally bright--gleam in her eyes, which are mute
but touching appeals for compassion. The hollows under her eyes are
scarcely disfigurements; the wasted hand, on which the rings hang loose,
has borrowed a dazzling whiteness from the mental disease which seems to
be consuming her. And as she moves across the room to me, in her loose
flowing gown, I cannot but notice that her limbs have lost their
roundness and her step all the buoyant grace which in the old days had
distinguished her wherever she appeared.

It is when I see her thus, and think of her as she was then, a woman
without peer or rival in her gay passionate beauty, that my heart grows
faint with fear. Not that I fear any revival of my old folly: no power
on earth could bring that to life again; it has been trampled out too
rudely, and buried too deeply. But what man on earth can remain without
a single spark of human tenderness for the woman who once, however
unworthily, filled the world of his thoughts and reigned over his fancy?
Pity is swiftly begot of these seeds of tenderness--pity against which I
must steel myself in invulnerable armour, for my honour's sake.

She sits down in a low chair by the fire with a gesture of weariness,
and takes up a screen from the table by her side. Whilst she holds it
before her face the shadows encompass her, and I see nothing but a pair
of large luminous eyes shining out of the gloom like stars, and ever
seeking mine. Even this is easier to bear than the sight of her face.

"Will you not sit down?" she asks in a tone so low that it hardly
reaches my ears.

I shake my head. I do not answer her in words, I want to be quite sure
of the steadiness of my voice before I use it. I do not want her to
detect the slightest sign of weakness in me.

"Your old self," she remarks, with the ghost of a smile. "You always
would stand over me when you talked. Strange that I should remember, is
it not?"

And still I do not answer her. What is the use? I have not come here to
bandy recollections, or to exchange such remarks as these. She knows it
as well as I. I am here at her bidding. Let her say what she has to say.

There is a short pause. Then she looks over at me, and lowers her
screen.

"It is good of you to come," she says wearily. "I wonder whether I did
well to ask you? I do not know that I have strength enough left to say
those things which I have in my heart to say. Yet I am glad that you
came."

"I have come against my own will, and against my own judgment," I say in
a tone the hardness of which surprises even me. "If you have anything to
say to me, I am here to listen to it. I fear that you have been ill."

She gives a scornful laugh. For a moment the screen falls upon her lap,
and her face is touched by the firelight. It has not improved. That
laugh has brought an ugly hard look into it. Then the screen is raised
again, and I see it no more. But I do not forget the look.

"You fear that I have been ill. You fear! As if you cared. Norman Scott,
you have taught me a lesson that has eaten like iron into my soul. A
little more than two years ago you were my devoted--what shall I call
it?--admirer. From your lips I heard all the usual platitudes. To be
with me was the summit of all happiness. The hours spent away from my
side were hours spent in purgatory. All other women were ciphers. You
were distracted between what you called your love for me and your sense
of honour. And now--now that I am friendless and alone in the
world--when even ordinary kindness from you would be sweet to me, you
have become my bitter persecutor. You, Norman Scott, of all men in this
wide world!"

"I am not your persecutor," I answer firmly. "I want nothing but
justice."

"It is false! You have nothing before you but the hope of shifting the
burden which you are not man enough to bear yourself upon the shoulders
of a weak woman. Ask yourself what you are doing. Nay! I will tell you.
You know that in the eyes of the world there are only two of us who
could have been guilty of Sir Humphrey's murder. One of these is a
woman--a woman without a friend or relation in the world--a woman whom
it is safe to strike at, because there is no one to defend her. And you
say to yourself: 'She is helpless; I will fix the crime upon her, and I
will escape myself.' And so you watch me. You set a spy upon my actions;
you weave a skilful net, into which some day, and very soon now, you are
hoping to draw me. And all the while I seem to hear the echo of your
voice as you leaned over my chair, scarcely two years ago, in that
little room in Bruton Street, and implored me to see no callers for just
one hour--to let you sit there and talk to me. And you sat there, with
your horses waiting below, and your watch on the table, until you were
compelled to tear yourself away. It makes you frown now, does it, to be
reminded of all the foolish things you said and did for my sake? How
noble! how chivalrous! How like a man!"

"Lady Deignton, I am sorry that you should pain both yourself and me by
dragging up memories of a past which we have both outlived," I say,
making a great effort at calmness. "I want nothing but the baldest
justice. I do not desire any harm to come to you; but what I do want is
this: I want--if this deed lies at your door--full and ample confession.
I would not have you punished if I could help it. I would give you time
to get to the uttermost corners of the earth. But justice I want; and
justice I will have! What have I done that I should suffer hell for
another's sake? It is not you against whom I am plotting. I struggle
only towards the light; and if, when my turn comes, the light falls upon
you, how am I to blame? If you are guilty, confess it to me now. If you
are innocent, what have you to fear?"

"Everything--whether I am guilty or not. It is easy to create suspicion
against any one. Sooner or later your efforts will create suspicion
against me, and when once it is kindled, the blaze will come. Oh! I know
how they will talk; how the noble army of gossipers will enjoy the
sensation of picking a woman's name and honour to pieces. Norman Scott,
come out of the shadows, and stand where I can see your face. Stand
there, and listen to me!"

A sudden passion is vibrating in her tone and blazing in her eyes. She
has thrown down the screen and is standing up before me, with a dull red
spot burning in her cheeks. It is the supreme moment. Now or never she
will speak. And with that conviction born of her sudden access of
passion forcing its way into my senses, the terrible dramatic intensity
of the moment is lost upon me. All the lurid background of the
confession or denunciation which I am throbbing to hear has no
significance for me. I wait only for the sense of the words which burst
upon me like a thunderstorm.

"Norman, listen to me! We are alone. Suppose for a moment that the
thought in your heart is true. Suppose that I did murder my husband that
night. Do you hear? Suppose that I did it, I say! How dare you be the
one to raise the first stone to cast at me! You who day by day with
tender looks and living words sinned against him and wronged me! You who
sought to steal from him who counted you his friend what he esteemed his
most precious possession! You who deliberately sought to efface his
image from my heart, and paint your own there instead! Listen! You have
driven me to bay. Suppose I tell you now that you have succeeded.
Suppose I tell you now that for love of you, and believing in your love
for me, I killed Sir Humphrey! What have you to say to that? Are you so
guiltless as to dare to become my persecutor and my accuser? Who is the
moral murderer, then, you or I? Answer me that, Norman. Ah, I see you
flinch; I see you turn pale! And well you may. Read the past for a
moment in that light. Read your own actions; mark your own conduct,
hunting me down like a bloodhound, for a crime which, if this right hand
indeed committed it, lies at your door, not mine. If there was ever hate
in my heart towards my husband sufficient to make me seek to compass his
death, who planted it there? You! You hypocrite! You coward! You come
here and talk to me of your honour and your name, as though both were
precious and unspotted things. You whine at your mild sufferings as
though you yourself were a martyr, immaculate and sinless.
Have you ever asked yourself in what esteem the world will hold you
should you gain your end? Oh, the folly of man! Hand me over to justice
as my husband's murderer, and in the heart of every man and woman in
this country your rightful place will be by my side. What you now
complain of as suspicion will become loathing. Fool! away with you! I
have pleaded to you once in vain. I do so no longer. Away, and do your
worst! I fear you no more than--this!"

She dashes the daintily-embroidered screen on the floor between us, and
waves me away with a gesture of supreme and magnificent contempt. Her
head is thrown back, and her eyes are afire with the scorn which has
trembled in her words. Her lips are perfectly bloodless and white, and
by the rustling of the loose clinging robe which she is wearing, I know
that every limb is shaking with a consuming passion. And I too am sorely
troubled and oppressed with a great overwhelming sense of shame. The
ghost of those days of my folly has risen up against me indeed; but the
crop is bitterer than the seed. There is a lump in my throat, and a film
before my eyes. I call upon my manhood in vain. My tongue refuses its
office. I cannot speak. I lean my arms upon the wide chimney-piece and
bury my head there.

For some time I do not move or answer. The wild frenzy of her words has
made havoc with my reason. I seem powerless to struggle against the dark
waters which are closing around me.

And then she comes close to me, so close that I feel her warm breath
upon my cheek, and her hand rests upon my bent shoulders. Her voice is
softer, but the bitterness is still there.

"Norman, have I hurt you much? I cannot help it. Take one step more
forward in our imaginings. Imagine that I am indeed this guilty woman,
and that I have sinned for the love of the man who tempted me. I turn to
him in the after-days of sorrow and remorse for comfort, for tenderness,
for protection. Picture to yourself that man, whose passionate whispers
still ring in my ears, turning coldly away from me, leaving me alone and
unfriended, nay, even setting himself with deliberate fiendishness to
bring my sin home to me. Imagine him for whom I sinned become my
accuser, holding aloof from all my advances, looking at me in horror,
and calmly working for my destruction that he may clear his own name
from all suspicion. Only picture it to yourself, Norman. A _fin-de-siècle_
chivalry, is it not?"

I turn upon her, stung into a desperate calmness.

"Cora, God only knows whether there is one grain of truth in this
hideous catalogue of suppositions of yours. Yet, listen to me. You have
had your say--here is mine. I do not deny that in the days you speak of
I imagined myself desperately in love with you. You were a very
beautiful woman, and you flattered me by preferring me to a crowd of
admirers. You were, too, the first woman of any attractions whatever
whom Fate had thrown across my path. So far as regards my age, I was a
man; so far as regards my experience of your sex, I was a boy. You did
what you liked with me. You chose that I should fancy myself in love
with you, and I did fancy myself in love with you. It is true that we
were together a great deal more than was good for either of us. I blame
myself for it, of course, but with your larger experience I blame you as
much. And you know this: you know that my lips have never touched yours,
that they have never spoken one serious sentence which you could
construe as temptation. We said and did many things that were foolishly
sentimental, but there was a barrier which was never crossed. I
suffered, I admit it; but to the end I was able to look Sir Humphrey in
the face, knowing that of any thought or any design against his honour I
was innocent. Ask yourself, Cora, from your memories of those days, ay,
down to the very night of your husband's death--ask yourself who was the
tempter, and who the tempted of us two."

For once her eyes fall before mine. I continue, encouraged by my
momentary victory:

"Yet though my conscience is not so foully besmirched as you would have
it, I must pay the penalty of my folly, if my folly lies at the
foundation of this horrible crime. Face to face with me, Cora, and face
to face with God, confess to me now that this deed was yours, done as
you have told me in a paroxysm of love of me, and my hand is for ever
stayed. I will take up my burden and carry it to the end, and you shall
see me no more. Only I leave this room and you for ever, and God keep us
for ever apart."

Her eyes are full of fear, and a grey pallor is in her cheeks.

"I will not confess!" she whispers hoarsely. "This may be a trick."

"You have no fear of that," I answer sternly. "You know me better.
Confess your crime, and the manner of it, and you are free, so far as I
am concerned, for the rest of your life. I will pledge my word to raise
no hand against you directly or indirectly. Only I will have the whole
truth, I will know the mystery of the White House, and of Stephen
Callender. I will know why Sir Humphrey was in my room, and why you
followed him there. I will know why Olive Walsingham cries out in the
street at the sight of you, and why you carry her off. I will have every
piece of this puzzle put in its proper place by you, and then, so far
from moving against you, if you are ever in need of help which my arm
can render, it shall be yours. Only I will be convinced."

The fire and majesty have died out of her. She has sunk into a chair,
with her face half hidden from me.

"What do you know--what have you to do with Stephen Callender and the
White House?" she falters. "What have they to do with this?"

"That is what I desire to know," I answer calmly.

"There is nothing to tell you about Stephen Callender."

"Confess to your crime, then. Look me in the face and tell me that it
was done in a moment of madness, for my sake. Let me have every detail,
so that I can fit everything into its proper place and prove your words.
Do this, and I will keep my word. I will leave the country, and you
shall never see my face again, unless you need my help."

"And if I--do not?"

"Then the day will soon come when, without any help from you, I shall
have solved this riddle; and I make you no promises for that time.
To-night I make you an offer. To-morrow my strength may have waned. Be
wise for yourself, and confess."

"I will await that day, whenever it may be," she answers suddenly. "I
have no confession to make to you, Norman Scott. Come to me when you
hold in your hands the answer to the riddle you are so sure of solving.
Till then, go! I pray to God that I may never see your face again. It
was a cursed day for you, and for me, that ever we met."

She throws herself face downwards upon a couch, and I accept my
dismissal without a word. I go out once more from the four walls of that
dainty chamber, a man made suddenly old, and stricken with a fear more
awful than death. I dare not meet Katherine Deignton. I dare not look
into her face. I have no strength or manhood left to carry me through
another ordeal. Without a word or a look to any one, I pass in silence
out into the night, and set my face towards Market Deignton.



CHAPTER XXIX. IN THE ARMS OF DESPAIR


I daresay that most of us, even those whose lives have been marked with
little of the tragedy of life, carry in our hearts a sealed corner into
which we never care to look, the memory of which we cannot even recall
without a shudder. This walk home, and the long hours of the weary night
which followed, will always remain such a memory with me.

It is dawn, and when the first faint flush of morning steals up from
behind the hills yonder, I am still out, a wanderer around the silent,
deserted town. A slight frost has hardened the ground, and a
silvery-grey mantle has fallen upon the housetops and lies across the
fields. The air is keen and crisp, full of a healthful buoyancy which
many a time has had its effect upon my spirits. Even in this hour of my
bitter sorrow it has some influence upon me. I find myself struggling
once more with this load of abject and passionate despair. I try to tell
myself that all is not yet lost. It was a parable, that hideous,
loathsome story to which I listened last night. As yet no definite word
has stamped it with the hall-mark of truth. I recall its weak points,
its exaggerations, its tardy narration, and I strive hard to nerve
myself towards resolute and absolute disbelief in it. What was my sin to
merit so great a punishment as this? At such a crisis truth is naked of
all reserve. I had listened to a woman who had flattered and tempted me;
but on the threshold of sin I had turned back. In the grey twilight of
that night whose end had been so hideous I had fled back to London, a
conqueror. It was true that I had listened and dallied and hesitated,
that I had suffered myself to drift towards evil, with my face turned
resolutely and obstinately away. But, nevertheless, when the moment of
trial arrived I had triumphed. Was it the justice of heaven, the justice
of God, to bring upon me this awful retribution?

And as the morning gradually steals on, and the town awakens, I become a
calmer and a saner man. I look down at my soiled garments and feel my
hot flushed checks, with a dim recollection that I have been walking
about all night. Then I hurry home and let myself in unseen.

I am at my post as usual when the mail comes in, and the first letter of
the heap which I am preparing to sort drives away again my
painfully acquired composure. I gaze at it with fixed eyes, speechless
and dazed, until at last David comes over to my side and reads the
address over: "Norman Scott, Esq., Post Office, Market Deignton."

"I wonder who he is," David remarks curiously. "He don't live anywhere
round here."

I put the letter on one side and proceed with the sorting.

"To be called for, no doubt. Go on with your work, David, and never mind
the letters," I say sharply.

He does not look up again, and as soon as I have finished my task, I
make my escape into the sitting-room, bearing the letter in my hand. I
close fast the door, and with trembling fingers break the seal.



"Little Brook Street,
"London, W.

"I have screwed up my courage to write to you, Norman, only after many
vain endeavours and many broken resolutions. For an old man to confess
himself in the wrong goes sorely against the grain, and I begin to feel
myself a very old man, seventy-eight last birthday, and breaking up fast,
as my doctors do not hesitate to say, behind my back. They brought me
here twelve months ago, directly after my terrible trouble (of course
you know of Edward's death), and now I shall never go back again. It is
one more amongst the many troubles which have fallen upon me during
these last few years, that I must die in this poky house like a rat in a
hole, rather than in my old bedchamber at Gorley Towers, where I can lie
and watch the sea and the sky, and the rocks on which I played when I
was a boy. I have outgrown this great city, with its gloom and roar and
ceaseless noise; and I lie here day by day with my face to the wall,
cursing that miserable hankering after life which dragged me away from
home at my age in the vain hope that any doctor in this world can check
what Nature has ordained.

"Enough about myself. I write to you as an act of justice--a tardy one,
you may say, coming as it does from my deathbed--but still with the
desire to make you some amends, if perchance I, your eldest living
relative, and the head of our family, have been over-harsh in my
judgment against you. God knows that these last two years have been
heavy with misfortune and trouble for me. I have lost my son, and my
son's son. And this brings me to the subject concerning which I am
writing you. You, Norman, have become my heir. It is you who, in the
course of a few weeks, perhaps even a few days, must bear my name and
reign in my stead. I cannot help it if I would. Nature has ordained that
you should become the head of the family, and Nature's decree is
absolute. And therefore I write to you, Norman, and I charge you,
whatever you may be doing, and wherever you may be, to come to me
without pause or rest on the day on which you receive this letter. No
more at present, for writing wearies me, and my eyes are weak. I do not
hold you capable of nursing evil feelings against an old man tottering
upon the verge of the grave, so I do not fear but that you will come.
Only I say, come swiftly, for my time is short.

"From your uncle,
"REGINALD NORMAN SCOTT."



After I have read the letter, I do not hesitate for a moment. I go
straight into the shop and telegraph to headquarters for some one to
come at once and take charge of the office. I am compelled to leave, I
say, to see a relation who is dying. There must be no delay. Then I go
back into my sitting-room, and taking some notepaper from the drawer, I
write to Katherine Deignton.

It is only a line or two, and I do not refer in any way to the events of
last night. I am leaving Market Deignton, I tell her, for two days. It
may be that I shall never return. But before I go I must see her. I
implore her to come to me. There is something which I must say to her. I
will not keep her long. Only let her come.

I send David away with the note, and prepare to wait for the reply with
all the patience I can summon. At twelve o'clock I send for David's
younger brother, who has just come out of school, and he stands behind
the counter whilst I go up to my room, and, dragging out a portmanteau,
prepare for my journey.

In about a quarter of an hour I am called downstairs. It is a young
lady, David's younger brother announces in a very audible shout. I
hasten downstairs and into the shop. My half-framed hopes are dashed. It
is Olive Walsingham.

A wave of trouble seems to be in the air. She, too, is pale, and there
are dark rims under her eyes. She scarcely returns my greeting.

"May I go in there and speak to you?" she asks piteously, nodding her
head towards my sitting-room door. "I will not keep you more than a
minute."

I lift the counter flap, and follow her into the sitting-room. I am in a
very selfish frame of mind. Other people's troubles seem to me to be of
very little account.

She stands nervously up against the table, and her eyes are full of
tears. They are also full of something else, against which I resolutely
steel my heart. I have no pity to spare for other people to-day. My
heart is too heavy with my own cares.

"You have been so kind about helping me to find my brother," she says
suddenly, "that I felt I must come and tell you. I have found him. I am
going away to join him at once."

I am interested in spite of my own woes.

"How did you hear about him?" I ask.

"Lady Deignton wrote to one of the servants who was at the Court when
Lionel was, and found out his address. I am going to join him at once.
I--I am so sorry!"

"Sorry! I should have thought that you would be delighted to have found
him," I remark, a little bewildered.

"Yes, of course I am. But I meant that I was sorry to have given you all
this trouble, and that walk the other night to the White House, all for
nothing. He has never been there in his life. He is hundreds of miles
away now."

"No connexion with Mr. Stephen Callender, then?" I ask quietly.

"Of course not. No; that has been a mistake all the way through," she
answers with nervous emphasis.

"By the by, you were outside here about five o'clock yesterday
afternoon," I remark abruptly. "What frightened you so? I heard you
shriek."

She is ghastly pale, and her eyes are full of fear. Her black-gloved
hand is clutching the table as though she were afraid of falling.

"I--shriek--here! I was not here at all yesterday afternoon. It could
not have been me. I was at home; I did not come out."

"Think," I add, watching her closely. "Lady Deignton's carriage was in
the street at the time. Are you sure?"

"Quite sure," she answers resolutely. "It must have been some one else.
I was not out at all."

I do not ask her any more questions about it, but I do not trouble to
hide my disbelief in what she has told me. I think that she feels it,
for she stands there looking the picture of abject distress.

"I am going away to-day," she says in a minute or two.

"So am I," I answer.

"For good?" she asks quickly.

I shake my head.

"For two or three days only. Perhaps a week."

"Oh!"

It is odd, but it seems to me that she is disappointed at my answer.
What difference can it make to her whether I remain here or not? Why
should she want me away?

"I came to tell you this at once," she goes on, "so that you need not
waste any time making inquiries of Mr. Callender, at the White House, or
anywhere else. You see that it's useless, now that I have found him, is
it not?"

"Quite," I answer drily. "I am glad that you have been so successful."

She holds out her hand, which I do not for a moment perceive.

"Won't you shake hands with me?" she asks, with a piteous tremor in her
tone. "I am going away, you know."

I take her hand, and hold it for a moment. "Of course I will," I say as
kindly as I can. "Goodbye, or, rather, _au revoir_. We shall meet again
some day, I have no doubt."

She looks at me searchingly for a moment through a mist of tears, as
though wondering whether those last words of mine are altogether
careless. Then she drops her veil suddenly, and walks away.

As for me, I look after her with a bitter feeling in my heart. All women
are surely false! Even this girl, to whom I have been kind, has come
here with no other purpose than to lie to me.



CHAPTER XXX. "WHOSE GENTLE WILL HAS CHANGED MY FATE"


It is dusk before Katherine Deignton arrives. Two hours ago I completed
all the preparations for my departure. Since then I have had nothing to
do but wait.

At last she comes. I hear the clatter of wheels in the street, and
hasten out of my private door to meet her. My "relief" has arrived, and
is in the shop attending to the postal work. I have finished with that
for awhile.

Even in the agitation of seeing her, and knowing that it may be for the
last time, I have an eye for the most trifling details connected with
her appearance. I notice her smart hat and long driving coat, and the
pink colour underneath her veil, which tells of a rapid drive here. I
notice, too, the groom's look of surprise as he turns the horses round
and drives slowly across the market-place to the inn, leaving us two
together. And I notice, too, with a sinking heart that there is a
certain amount of reserve in her greeting, amounting almost to
sternness.

She follows me into my room, and when I have turned up the lamp, looks
with surprise upon my altered appearance; for I have been obliged to
unearth some remains of a long discarded wardrobe, and am wearing a
black frock-coat and dark trousers, and a tall hat lies ready upon a
chair.

"You are going away?" she remarks.

"Yes."

"And not as the postmaster of Market Deignton?"

I take my uncle's letter from my pocket and hand it to her. She reads it
carefully through, with a start at the address, and then hands it back
to me.

"I am glad," she says simply. "I have always felt that your family had
been cruel. This must make you more than ever anxious for our success."

She is watching me keenly. I turn away with a groan and bury my head in
my hands upon the mantelpiece.

"Something has happened," she says, drawing close to me. "Something more
than this. Tell me. Remember, it is our compact. Last night, did she
confess? You went away without asking for me, as we had arranged. Why?"

I turn and face her--a desperate man. Even to me my voice sounds
curiously hollow and strained. It rings in my ears as the far-away echo
of another man's speech.

"Something has happened--but not that. I am going away for good. My hand
is stayed."

"Going away!"

She repeats my words incredulously, as one without understanding, with
her eyes all the while fixed wonderingly upon my pale, haggard face.

"Yes, I am going away. First, to do my duty to this old man, though God
only knows what comfort I can offer him; and then--then to the farthest
and most desolate corner of the earth, to make my way down to hell as
fast as body and soul will take me." I add fiercely, "I sent for you,
hoping only for this--that the sight of my misery now might some day
help you to think a little kindly of me; that some day you might cease to
think of me only with contempt."

There is a minute's deep silence between us, during which all outside
sounds seem to gain a new and strange importance. Heavy footsteps pass
by the curtained window along the pavement, and the rattle of a
milk-cart upon the cobbles grows louder, and then dies away. In the shop
some one is laughing; there is the jingle of money upon the counter, and
a cheery good night from some country customer. And in the foreground of
these everyday sounds the silence in my room, where not even a coal
falls from the hearth, becomes strangely and horribly oppressive. I
begin to fear that she will leave me with that look upon her face and
without a word. I could have endured anything--the most passionate
reproaches, the bitterest scorn--better than this cold, dull silence.
When at last it is broken, although her voice is barren of all sympathy,
of expression of any sort, I draw a long breath of relief.

"You must tell me everything."

I meet her eyes, cold, censorious, and penetrating, and I shake my head.

"I can tell you nothing!" I cry bitterly.

"You have become that woman's tool, then--you whom I trusted, in whom I
had faith! You have resolved to become her secret accomplice. You break
your honourable compact with me, to enter into a guilty one with her."

"It is false! May God grant that I never see her face again!" I cry
fervently.

She proceeds, without noticing me, with a scorn which ring in her tone
and eats into my heart:

"And this is the man in whom I trusted. The man whom, of my own accord,
I stepped forward and tried to save. You say that some day you hope that
I may pity you. The day has soon come. I pity you now. I pity myself;
but, most of all, I pity you."

She moves away towards the door, drawing her skirts around her, as
though the touch of any of my belongings would bring defilement. And
then I, who have borne so much, find that my cup is overfull, and that I
can bear no more. A sort of madness comes upon me. After all, what has
been my sin to merit such punishment as this? My heart is on fire, and I
stand at my full height and face her without flinching.

"You do well!" I cry passionately. "You are like all your sex--so
generous, so considerate, so long-suffering! You see a man whose soul is
in torment, and you pour out your scorn upon him to make fresh fuel for
the fire of his madness. What matter that he loves you? What matter that
in these long nights of my purgatory I have sat over this fire and
dreamed wildly--madly, if you like--of a day when my name should be
washed clean, and I should dare to stretch out my hands towards you and
tell you of the sweet hope which had lightened my days of misery. You
can spare me your curling lip and the flash of your dark eyes. Who knows
my folly better than I? I see my dreams of all that is dear and precious
in life to the heart of a man swept away for ever! I see myself
henceforth a wanderer in strange countries, homeless, and for ever
joyless, shut off from everything in life, both great and small, which
goes to bring happiness or peace. And in these first moments of my utter
loneliness, my utter misery, when the hell of my future lies blank and
dreary before me, and the strings of my manhood are broken, it is
you--the desire and hope of my days, whose image must for ever remain to
torture me--you who come here to be the cruellest and hardest of my
judges, to echo with your voice the world's scorn! You have spoken your
message, and I have heard you. Now go! Away from me! If ever a prayer of
mine is to be granted upon this earth, may I never see your face or the
face of any of your sex again! Go!"

I believe that I am as near insanity as a man can be and yet preserve
the light of his reason. There are fires before my eyes and a burning
like the burning of hot irons upon my temples. I am suddenly unconscious
of foreground or background to my life.

And then, through the mists and fires which blind my eyes, I see her
with her head still thrown back, and a deep rich colour staining her
cheeks, slowly moving towards the door. It opens and closes. She has
gone.

At last! With a low deep cry of relief I sink into my chair, and turning
my face towards the cushion, I bury my head in my arms. In a few moments
my eyes are blinded once more--but this time with tears, and great sobs
which I have no power to repress force their way past the lump in my
throat. Thus alone am I saved from madness. The weight seems rolled away
from my brain, and my temples burn no longer.

I lose all count of time. My fire burns low, and the great calm of an
utter apathetic despair is settling slowly down upon me. Then suddenly
the door from behind is opened softly, and a light footstep enters and
pauses upon the threshold. It must be Mrs. Ransome's little girl.

"I shall not want anything more, tell your mother," I say, without
looking round. "Run away now, please, and close the door; I am busy."

No answer. Suddenly there is the rustling of a silken skirt close at
hand; a soft arm is stealing round my neck, and a woman's warm breath is
upon my cheek. The whole air seems suddenly full of the perfume of
violets. I do not dare to move. It must be some dream. I must have
fallen asleep over these dying embers and--yet--

A low voice in my ears, sweeter than the music of God's angels:

"Norman, forgive me! Forgive me! I will trust you--always!"

I do not move. I am listening to the beating of my heart, with
half-closed eyes, yielding myself up to the exquisite enchantment,
fearing to look up or speak, almost to breathe, lest it should all
dissolve before my eyes and I should wake into the old world of misery.
And then a soft delicate hand is drawn lightly across my burning
forehead, and a woman's glowing cheek suddenly rests for a moment
against mine, firing my blood and pulses into a sudden burning
consciousness. I stretch out my arms and lift my eyes. It is she! She
whose proud, half-averted face, wonderfully softened and touched with a
strange new fire, is being drawn slowly down to mine. She whom my arms
are encircling with a passion which sweeps every sad thought and memory
out of my mind. It is no dream, after all! It is the joy of my life
stealing in upon me in this same hour wherein I have touched also the
bottomless pits of despair.



CHAPTER XXXI. THE END OF JOHN MARTIN, POSTMASTER AND CHEMIST


It is late at night when my hansom pulls up at No. 8, Little Brook
Street, but there are still lights at the upper and lower windows, so I
do not hesitate to pull the bell. The door is opened at once by a
grey-haired manservant in plain livery.

"What name, sir?" he asks, peering out into the darkness.

"Don't you know me, Morgan?" I say quietly.

He gives a quick start and holds out both his hands, which I do not
hesitate to grasp.

"Mr. Norman! Thank God, sir! I'm thankful indeed to see you again. Sir
Reginald has been asking for you every half-hour. Give me your
portmanteau, sir."

"Am I to stay here, do you know, Morgan?" I ask.

"Your room is all ready, sir. The master had it prepared yesterday.
Never mind about the cab, sir, one of the men will pay him, and send him
off. Come upstairs at once, if you please, sir."

"How is Sir Reginald?" I ask as we pass up the broad staircase.

"Dying, sir!" is the solemn reply. "Nothing has kept him alive through
to-day but the hope of seeing you."

"There is no hope, then?" I say mechanically.

"None, sir. The doctors have left, but you will be able to see for
yourself. This way, if you please."

Morgan has thrown open the door of a large dimly-lit bedchamber, and
motions me to precede him. The bed has been wheeled into the centre of
the room, and the firelight shows me clearly the wan, yet still powerful
face of the man whose harsh edict was the first which had driven me into
my banishment. In a low chair by his side a hospital nurse is sitting
before a table piled with all manner of hothouse fruit and several
bottles.

She rises at our entrance, and after a brief glance at her patient,
glides away into one of the darkened corners of the room.

My uncle, too, has heard us. He turns his head slowly, and his deep-set
eyes, heavily fringed with long grey eyebrows, suddenly light up with
unmistakable satisfaction. He motions me to draw near to the bed, and
Morgan takes up his stand behind the curtains of the ante-room. To all
intents and purposes we are alone.

I stand looking down into the fine but wasted face, waiting for him to
speak, and bear with some dignity the keen, searching scrutiny to which
I am subjected. It was almost as though he were seeking for something in
my face, and as though the absence of it was a great relief; for in a
minute or two he gives a little sigh, and holds out from beneath the
coverlet a white, wasted hand, on which a single gold ring is hanging
loosely.

"Take my hand, Norman," he says in a voice stronger than I had expected
from him. "It is late in the day to offer it, but not too late."

"Never too late, uncle," I answer quietly, holding his fingers firmly
between my own.

"We have been hard and selfish, Edward and I." he says slowly. "Poor
Edward, he always wavered a little in your favour, but I would never
listen. When a man is dying, Norman, many things become clear to him,
many misconceptions fade away. 'Judge not, that ye be not judged.' These
words have haunted me of late, Norman. You have been cruelly treated, my
boy."

"I do not complain; I have no cause for complaint," I answer softly. "It
was my own folly which has brought this living death upon me."

"Folly alone can never merit the sufferings which you have had to bear,"
he says. "We judged you unheard. Not one of us lifted up his voice to
ask that question which should have been the first upon our lips. Late
in the day, Norman, I have sent for you to do you justice. We should
have remembered that you were one of us, and have abided by your simple
word. Late in the day I have seen this thing clearly, and now, Norman,
answer me as before your God, before the God who in a few hours will
become my Judge: are your hands clean of blood? Had you any guilty
knowledge whatever of this awful crime which men have laid to your
charge?"

I raise my hands to heaven and look him in the face without fear.

"None," I answer firmly. "I am innocent."

"It is enough."

He closes his eyes for a moment, and I see that he is exhausted. I
summon the nurse, and pour him out a dose of the medicine which she
hands me. In a moment or two he opens his eyes again, and I see that he
is not so prostrate as I had imagined him.

"You forgive me?" he says.

"Fully, freely," I answer. "I have nothing to forgive. I might have
judged the same had I been in your place."

"Call Morgan here."

I do so. The man seems to know without any word from Sir Reginald what
is wanted. He produces a roll of paper, pen and ink, and Sir Reginald,
with strength for which I had not given him credit, takes a pen into his
fingers and signs his name tremulously, but with still something of the
old dash. Afterwards Morgan and the nurse sign the same paper below, and
it begins to dawn upon me what it means.

"That is my will, Norman," he says, as soon as they have retired again.
"I have done you tardy justice, and it will not be an empty title that
will come to you. You will be rich. Money may help you to bring the
truth to light."

"Never, I fear," I answer sadly. "Uncle, if you feel strong enough to
bear it, I would like to tell you the whole miserable story. You will
know then the exact amount of my folly, and the exact amount of my
suffering."

He turns his face towards me, and I see that its stern lines have all
relaxed, and his eyes are filled with a kindly gleam. He simply nods,
and I wait for no other encouragement. There in that darkened chamber,
in such words as come to me, I tell the faithful story of my
own--humiliation, omitting nothing, glossing over nothing--tell it to
the bitter end, even to those few moments in which Katherine Deignton
and I had joined hands in my sitting-room. And as I finish, I feel the
wan, bony fingers enfolding mine, and I see tears shining in those deep
bright eyes. I know then that I am no longer friendless and an outcast.
Even this stern old soldier who has lived his life with a fine
blamelessness which has won him a great respect from all men, even he,
knowing the very depths of my folly, has no thought for me save of
sympathy and kindness. And somehow, in those few minutes of deep silence
which follow the conclusion of my confession, during which we sit hand
in hand a great part of my burden seems rolled away from me. My heart is
less sore, and my depression less abject. There are two people in the
world who believe in me, two people who know the whole truth, and judge
me more sinned against than sinning.

It is my uncle who breaks the silence at last.

"Norman,", he says quietly. "I do not believe Lady Deignton's story to
you."

I give a quick start. The mere suggestion of its falsehood is
staggering. In my own thoughts I have scarcely dared to go so far.

"She was not a--good woman, and she came of a wild, loose family," he
continues in a moment. "I have never willingly listened to a single word
spoken against a woman in my life, but when Sir Humphrey brought her
home from abroad there was a good deal of talk, and some of it reached
my ears--now and then. There was talk, I believe, of another lover. God
knows I would never unearth--such gossip, save in such a cause," he
continues, after a moment's silence. "But have no faith in that story,
Norman. Watch her. She may--have cared for you--as she says, or she may
be making you the victim for the sake of some rascal of a lover in the
background. Watch her, Norman. Never lose sight of her. Truth is hard to
bury. Some day it may leap into sight, when you least expect it. Don't
despair--don't despair, my boy."

"I never shall," I answer firmly. "Katherine is remaining at Deignton
Court, and if anything happens, I shall hear from her."

"Katherine," he repeats, with a faint smile--"'bonny Kate Deignton,' as
Dick used to call her. I'd like to see her, Norman. I'd like to see the
woman who may some day be your wife."

"Please God," I answer softly. "Uncle, I want to talk of yourself for a
moment."

"There is little left to be said of me, my boy," he answers quietly.

"More than you imagine, I think. You are not so ill as Dr. Pleydell
imagines. He doesn't know the family constitution. Remember that I am a
physician."

"And a clever one too, Norman, my boy--so they used to tell me."

"You said something in your letter about longing for home. Should you
like to go there?"

"Dearly, Norman, dearly. But they say that the journey would be my
death."

"There is a certain risk in it, but very little," I answer. "You have
not long to live, uncle, but there is no reason why it should not be
months instead of days; and there is no reason why you should not be
down at Gorley Towers instead of here. Will you trust yourself to me?"

"Of course. If I could die in the old four-poster at the Towers, with my
face to the sea, and you by my side, Norman, why, it would be happiness.
Is it possible, do you think?" he asks eagerly.

"I am sure of it," I tell him. "To-morrow we will go. I will make all
the arrangements. But you must sleep to-night, and I must stay with you.
I want to gauge your strength."

"Nurse shall make you up a couch," he says. "Bless you, Norman! And now
listen, my boy. One promise I must have from you."

"Anything."

"I understand that you will stay with me to the end. Is it not so?"

"Of course."

"Yes, yes. But if there comes a letter from Katherine, if she wants you,
if anything happens at Deignton, you understand, you will go at once.
Promise me that, and in return I will promise you this: that I will not
die in your absence. I will keep alive until you get back. I will do
it."

"Let it be so," I answer, holding his hand for a moment. "And now I want
you to sleep. See, I am turning the lamp down. You have talked as much
as is wise. I will arrange with the nurse about staying here, and
to-morrow I will take you home."



CHAPTER XXXII. HOPE


In three days we are settled at Gorley Towers, the home of our family, a
fine ancient mansion built of massive and weather-beaten rocks on the
coast of Northumberland. My uncle has his wish. The great north chamber
has been hastily prepared for him, and the bed on which many of his
ancestors have breathed their last has been drawn up to the oriel window
which almost overhangs the grey troubled waters of the North Sea. On the
wall before him hangs his sword, and underneath it his dearest
possession in this world, the Victoria Cross.

The return to the home of his boyhood, and the fulfilment of his desire,
seem to have given him a fresh lease of life. He is palpably stronger
and able to sit up in bed without difficulty; but of his complete
recovery there has never been any prospect. He knows as well as I that
he has but a few months to live, but it does not trouble him. Death here
in his old home is the death for which he had craved, and he is
perfectly content.

And I spend my time mostly by his side. Once or twice, when he has
fallen asleep and the nurse has been with him, I have stolen out and
walked for awhile along the dreary coast, watching the white-topped waves
as they dash themselves upon the storm-indented shore, with that same
everlasting sullen roar to which I have listened many a time in the days
of my boyhood. The seagulls scream around my head, and every now and
then the cries of birds from the inland marshes are borne upon the wind
to my ears. It is a melancholy country, but its suits me very well. More
cheerful surroundings would certainly be less endurable.

I am sitting with him one dull windy morning when the post-bag is
brought in, and, as usual, unlocked and looked through by himself.
Towards the end of the bundle he comes upon a letter which seems to
interest him. He studies briefly the postmark and the handwriting. Then
he hands it over to me, and watches the colour come into my cheeks as I
realize whence and from whom it has come.

"It is your summons, Norman," he says, leaning back upon the pillows,
but keeping his eyes fixed upon me. "Read it."

I tear it open and glance rapidly through the few lines, written as I
can see in great haste. When I have finished. Sir Reginald is still
watching me keenly, and his thin white hand which lies upon the coverlet
is shaking with anxiety.

"Aloud, Norman. Read it aloud. It is a message for you. I will hear
every word."

I do not care to deny him, so I read:


"'Deignton Court,
"'Thursday,

"'Wherever you are, and whatever plans you have made, lay them aside
the moment you receive this letter, and come to Market Deignton. There
have been so many rumours about you during the last few days that it
matters little in what character you come. You may be ex-postmaster of
Market Deignton or Dr. Norman Scott. It matters very little, for the end
is close at hand now. If you fail me now, Norman, you will repent it all
your life. Come.

"'Katherine.'"


Sir Reginald has raised himself on his couch, and his wan face is lit up
with excitement.

"Ring for a time-table, Norman," he exclaims. "Go and change your
clothes. Order a carriage and the fastest horses in the stable. You can
stop the express at Ringford junction by signal."

I shake my head, although it is hard to escape from the contagion of his
excitement.

"I cannot go and leave you like this," I say, with an attempt at
firmness. "I--"

"Silence!"

I start with surprise at the sudden change in my uncle's expression. His
face is no longer the face of a dying man. His eyebrows are closely
knit, and the old air of military command has suddenly returned. His
voice, too, is abrupt and imperative.

"Norman, if you dare to thwart me now, you are nephew of mine no longer.
What! you think that I prize your company more than the honour of our
name? Away, sir! Away!"

He points to the door. I have no choice but to obey, but before I go I
stretch out my hands to him.

"Uncle, you have been very good to me," I say. "Farewell!"

"Farewell, Norman!" he answers with wonderful firmness. "And remember
this: it is true that I am on the threshold of death, but on the
threshold I will remain until you come back to me. Mind, I will not
die. I will live until you come and tell me that the clouds have broken,
and the sun shines once more upon our name. And, Norman, bring her with
you. Let me see her by your side before I die. Now, go!"

And it is thus that I leave him, with one long lingering clasp of the
hand, brave and soldierly and hopeful; and as I am whirled through the
country lanes to our wayside station, I realize that my desire to break
through the bonds of my slavery is being fed with fresh fuel. It seems
to me that the sweetest moment of my freedom would be to bring the great
news to my uncle, and know that the supreme joy of my life was also a
torch to light him rejoicing into another world.



CHAPTER XXXIII. LOOKING BACKWARDS


Once more I am drawing near to Market Deignton, having travelled from
Northumberland as swiftly as express trains can bring one. I have been
travelling all night, and in the still grey dawn of the winter's morning
I drive over from the junction seven miles away. The east is still
streaked with red, and the clear air is wonderfully soft and breathless.
All the way along the deserted country lanes I have had my head out of
the carriage window, drinking in the freshness of the morning, grateful
after my long imprisonment in stuffy railway trains.

We rattle through the deserted town without encountering any sign of
life, save one early milk cart, and unnoticed I let myself into my old
quarters. My successor in the post office has not yet made any proposal
to me with regard to the other part of the business, or the
dwelling-house, so these are still in my name. My principal connexion
with Market Deignton is as yet unsevered.

The sun is just beginning to gain strength, and when I pull aside the
curtains it floods in upon my room. Everything is exactly as I left it
on the close of that wonderful day. It was there that I was sitting with
my head bowed in my hands--yes, there is a faded violet still upon the
tablecloth which must have fallen from the bunch she was wearing. I
stand for awhile, completely lost in recollections of that short sweet
time--the oasis which, be my future life ever so dark and dreary, will
still remain an entrancing memory in the sandy desert of my despair.
Utter misery I can never realize or taste again. There must always be
one faint sweet light shining through the gloom.

I go upstairs and change my travelling clothes and take a bath.
Afterwards, with the help of an oil-stove, I make some coffee, and while
I drink it I read over for the twentieth time the letter which has
brought me here.

It may mean so much, or so little. And it is so with my life. That also
may mean so much, or so little. As I fold the letter up and replace it
in my pocket, I realize more completely than ever that the absolute
despair of a few weeks ago can never come to me again. Even now I cannot
sit in this room save with quickened pulses and stirred heart. She loves
me. It is just that knowledge which makes life endurable, even though we
had parted without any certainty of ever looking into each other's face
again.

For we have never for one moment deceived ourselves as to what our
course for the future may be. I have dimly planned schemes for rushing
through life, by travel in Africa with a friend of my college days,
whose letters of invitation, after long wanderings, have just reached
me, or by any other honest and faithful means. In any case I have never
had the faintest idea of offering my shattered life to Katherine. There
is a barrier between us which is hopeless. Sir Humphrey was her father,
and until my dying day that awful accusation of Lady Deignton's will
brand me as an unwitting accessory to his death. Innocent in purpose,
innocent in deed, and yet morally guilty in the broad light of that
woman's confessed motives--that is my position. She knows it, and yet
she wants to see me again. Why? Has she still any lingering doubts, I
wonder, as to the hopelessness of my position? I dare not trust myself
to share them, and yet I am thankful for her message. Once more I shall
see her come down the winding brown path amongst the pine-trees, slim,
and proud, and fair, in her sober black gown and jacket, on her way to
the church. It will be another memory to crystallize and cherish, another
bright spot in a boundless desolation. Shall I stand amongst the shadows
of the dark-growing trees and watch her lift her eyes from the ground as
at last she sees me; and will the glad light rush into them, I wonder,
and flash across her face, as I watched it once before? It is thus that
I hope to meet her. Thus may it be.

And soon I am on my way to meet her, starting early to avoid much notice
from the townspeople, who would surely be surprised to see me so soon
back amongst them. The fresh, buoyant air, sharp though it is with more
than a touch of frost, is pleasant to me after my long hours of travel
and scanty rest, and I bare my head to the breeze which sweeps across
the open country and through the bare hedge-tops. Soon the clustering
market-town, with its thin spirals of grey smoke curling upwards, and
its many suggestions of Sunday repose, lies at my feet, a miniature
panorama. I come on the uplands which lead to Deignton Court, and on my
left is the dark range of hills, growing more and more distinct, which
has become so familiar to me during the days of my exile. Even now I
find it hard to look upon them without a sudden sinking of spirit; for
in those weary hours when I have gazed out from my lattice window as
from behind the bars of a prison they have somehow figured in my
thoughts as the types of my inward sadness. Dark, majestic in their
broken rugged line, unchangeably and mysteriously solemn, they have
seemed to me to bear some vague but depressing analogy to my own
sufferings.

But to-day all things are changed. This brief period of my absence, big
with great events, has assumed a curious importance in my mind. It seems
to me almost like a leaf out of a far-distant past--my life in this
old-world town brought to so sudden a termination by these great shocks
of fortune. It is hard to believe that in actual measure of time only a
few suns have risen from behind these everlasting hills since I hurried
along this road from Deignton Court, with the iron of a cold despair
planted in my heart. To-day I retrace those steps, taken in desperate
haste and bitter disappointment, and to what end I cannot tell. But I
shall soon know.

I am in the pine-wood long before the church bell begins to peal, long
before the hour of her coming. But time means little to me. I wander
about, in a certain sense impatient, and yet with a certain dread of her
coming hard to account for; and in the end I am surprised when I hear a
light step on the path, and, looking up, find her almost at my side.

I do not attempt to frame any ordinary speech or greeting; I do not,
indeed, say anything at all. I stand there with my hands outstretched
watching her. I want to read her face, and I bend my whole attention to
its changes. The surprise which first flashes into it is banished by a
curious shyness, a sudden drooping of the eyes and access of colour; and
then a frank, womanly greeting, and a kindly, pleasant, upward glance. I
am satisfied. It is what I hoped for.

"It is really you, then!" she laughs, with her hands still resting in
mine. "You had my letter?"

"Yes. Am I not here?" And, lest she should have any doubt at all about
it, I hold her hands a little tighter.

"When did you get it? I did not expect to see you until to-morrow at
the earliest. Northumberland seems so far off."

"I got it yesterday morning, and started about half an hour afterwards."

"And you reached here, when?"

"I was landed at the junction at about five o'clock this morning, and
got a chaise from there to take me to Market Deignton; stole into my old
rooms like a thief in the night, changed my things and washed--and here
I am!"

"You must be tired to death," she says reproachfully. "You ought to have
gone to bed."

"Tired? Not a whit!" I answer lightly. "If I was, it has gone."

She laughs, and draws her hands away from mine. I let them go
reluctantly.

"I must give up church, I suppose," she says thoughtfully. "I have a
good deal to say to you."

An old desire comes back to me at that moment--a desire felt first when
I had looked through the old church window and seen her sitting alone in
her pew, with the sunlight playing upon the dark oak and glancing across
her devout upturned face. For a moment I hesitate, then I tell her of
it.

"Katherine, since that day I have never been in a church. There will be
no one there yet. I wonder--could we not go in for a few minutes?"

"I should like it," she answers softly but readily. "Let us hurry and
get there before the service. I am glad I came so early."

And so, saying little to each other, we pass through the swing-gate into
the meadow and across it into the churchyard. The old nail-studded door
is unfastened, and we push it noiselessly open. I would have taken the
nearest seat, but she leads me up the stone aisle into her own square
pew.

"I shall be back in one moment," she whispers, taking up a basket of
flowers from the seat. "I must just arrange these."

I bow my head, and watch her as she passes through the wooden rail up to
the communion table, with her hands full of the rare white blossoms,
whose perfume seems to fill the tiny building. The sun is shining
faintly through the rich stained-glass windows, touching her face as she
kneels for a moment at her task, and casting a long ray of light across
the dark, worm-eaten oak stalls. As she rises to her feet and comes back
towards me, it catches her face and bathes it in a momentary sweetness.
Her lips relax a little into a smile, and her eyes meet mine. Almost
unconsciously I sink on to my knees upon the coarse straw hassock. In a
moment she too is at my side, her face hidden in her white hands. Then I
know that my coming has not been in vain.

I too bow my head, and dream that I am back again in the days of a
simpler and sweeter clear-mindedness, before the fogs of science and a
keenly-developed intellect had clouded my understanding. My mind is
suddenly purged of its load of earthly troubles, and a peace which I
have not known since boyhood steals in upon me. In these few moments all
the bitterness and heart-soreness of my struggle with the world seem to
fall away from me, leaving only a sense of unutterable relief and deep
restfulness. For the first time for many years I find myself thinking of
the days of my youth, of my mother's face--a dim yet sweet memory--and
of the time when I stood on the threshold of manhood, alike fearless and
defiant of its evil, nursing in my heart lofty ideals and strong yet
wholesome ambitions. The noxious pessimism which, however,
unconsciously, has tainted my later days falls away from me. I rise from
my knees and step out again into the clear sunlight--a better and a
saner man.



CHAPTER XXXIV. "YOU WILL HAVE NO MERCY NOW?"


We leave the church just as the first bell begins to peal, and I follow
Katherine in silence along a path which crosses the meadow diagonally,
and leads into a deeper portion of the woods. For some time not a word
passes between us. I am experiencing the luxury of a deep mental calm,
grateful beyond all manner of expression after the troubled days through
which I have passed. It is a calm, too, more of hopefulness than
dejection. A light has been let in upon my spirits, although I cannot
tell from whence. With every step I take in the clear winter air, I feel
my hopes growing stronger. What Katherine has to say to me I cannot
tell. I only judge from her serious face and knitted brows that it is of
some import.

At last she tells me, although, strange to say, I have felt no
impatience. We have come to an open space where some timber has been
felled, and we seat ourselves for awhile upon one of the giant trunks
which hes, lopped of its branches, alongside the path. Then she turns
towards me and speaks.

"Am I very bold to have sent for you like this, Norman?" she asks.

"If it be bold to give life to the dying," I answer promptly. "Not
unless."

"You remember how we parted," she continues, speaking in a low tone, and
with her eyes fixed upon the ground. "You would hold out no hope what
ever. So far as you were concerned, our partnership was at an end. You
looked upon the present position with absolute despair. What the
position was, for some reason of your own, you refused to tell. You
chose to break the bond of confidence there was between us. You simply
withdrew from it without explanation."

"Katherine--"

She interrupts me quickly.

"I am not blaming you. I do not see what else you could have done. Only
being a woman, and a very much interested woman, I was naturally not
content to remain in a state of ignorance. For reasons which I gave you
the credit of believing sufficient ones from your point of view, you
declined to tell me even the nature of the obstruction which had come in
our path. Very well. The natural sequence was that I determined to find
out for myself. Do you see?"

I move uneasily, and begin to break into small pieces a twig which I
have been holding in my hands. But I do not interrupt her. What would be
the use?

"I do not think that I should ever have succeeded, not altogether, at
any rate; but, as it happens. Lady Deignton has told me herself."

"Told you herself!" I repeat in blank amazement.

"Unwittingly--yes. Listen," she continues, dropping her voice and
bending towards me. "You remember how I found out about Mason and his
night visit to my stepmother?"

"Yes."

"Since then I have often chosen to sit in the inner drawing-room,
whenever, in fact, my stepmother has chosen to sit in the outer. On
Wednesday night I was rewarded. Lady Deignton had been sitting there all
the evening, and at ten o'clock she rang the bell and asked where I was.
The man went to my maid, who told him, as I had directed, that I had
gone to my room. He brought back word to my stepmother, and she then
told him that the servants were to go to bed. No gas was lighted in the
room where I was, and she could not have had the least suspicion that I
was there; yet, out of precaution I suppose, she drew the curtains which
hang between the two rooms, and fastened them with a cord. There was
still, however, plenty of space left for me to look through.

"For more than an hour she walked up and down the room, talking softly
sometimes to herself, and at others standing quite still as though she
were listening. Then, about eleven o'clock, I heard a faint tapping at
the high French window. Directly she began to undo the fastenings I
looked through the gap in the curtains, and I saw Mason step softly into
the room. They began talking at once in low whispers, and for a long
time I could hear nothing. Then Mason moved nearer to me, and I heard
him say:

"'Oh, thank God for that! You are sure that he is gone?'

"'Quite sure,' she whispered back. 'He will never come here again. I--I
told him--'

"'What did you tell him?' he interrupted hoarsely. 'What was it?'

"'I told him that I killed Sir Humphrey for love of him, and--and he
believed me.'

"Then they moved away from me and I heard no more."

There is a few moments' intense silence. Trees and sky seem reeling
round. I am scarcely sure of myself. Then I clutch hold of her wrist and
grasp it fiercely.

"You--heard--her, Lady Deignton, say that!"

I cry, with a passion which vibrates through my smothered tones. "Quick!
Tell me again."

"I heard her say those very words," she answers, looking me in the face.
"Then for the first time I understood your absence, and knew how great
must be your sufferings. So, you see, I did not delay. Early on Thursday
morning I drove over to the junction and sent that letter to you."

It is several moments before I can say anything. It is hard for me to
realize the whole import of what I have heard; hard for me to realize
that once more, without dishonour and without shame, I can fling myself,
body and soul, into the struggle for freedom.

Then, perhaps for the first time, as they fall away from me, I realize
too the hideous burning pressure of those iron bands which Lady
Deignton's false words have forged around me. But it is over. Once more
I have stepped back into the light, nay, rather the twilight, but how
much sweeter than the abysmal gloom in which I have been sitting! If I
am not yet a free man, the doors of my prison are open, and the path hes
clear before me. With a sudden gesture of exaltation, I spring to my
feet and lift my hands towards the sky.

"Free!" I cry. "Free to work out my own redemption!"

"And my desire," Katherine murmurs fervently. "Norman turn your face
towards me, and listen. I have a thing to ask you."

I take her hands in mine, and look into her eyes.

"Well?"

"Now that you know that this woman won your forbearance with a lie--and
such a lie!--you will not hesitate to track her down. You have been
grossly deceived once. You will have no mercy now?"

"None," I answer. "There is no vengeance in my quest. It is justice
which I seek. I want the truth, and I will have it! Lady Deignton, or
any other, I care not."

"It is well," she answers softly. "Norman!"

"Yes."

"I must ask you one more question--a horrible one."

"I do not fear it."

"Lady Deignton spoke of a bond between you and her and--"

"That will do," I interrupt. "There was nothing. In those days, when she
singled me out from all her admirers, I was mad enough to believe that I
loved her, and mad enough to be very unhappy about it. But to the last,
even to that night when I fled away from Deignton Court in fear of
myself, I was able to look Sir Humphrey in the face. I had been madly
foolish, and I was wretchedly ashamed of it. That was all."

"You must not think that I have turned inquisitor; but there is one
thing more I want to ask," she says, after a moment's pause. "It is
something concerned with the night of the 'Event,' and something which
you have never spoken to me about."

I have an idea what she means, but I sign to her to proceed.

"You left Deignton Court suddenly, late at night. Your excuse about a
telegram was not the real reason. That unexplained and abrupt departure
is chief amongst the pieces of evidence against you. It seems to me that
the time has come when I may ask you why you went?"

I drop her hands, and look away into the dark part of the wood. But I do
not delay my answer.

"I left because I found in my room a note from Lady Deignton. She
proposed--but read it for yourself; it has been in my pocket-book ever
since."

She holds out her hands and shrinks back. "No, I will not see it--I will
not touch it! You must tell me."

"It was only a line. It told me to leave the door of my room unlocked.
That was all. I found it in a blank envelope, on my dressing-case,
during the evening. I walked downstairs and out of the house."

There is a short silence. Then she turns round and speaks to me in
altogether a changed manner and altered tone. I can see that she wishes,
for the present, to ignore this part of our conversation, and I am
thankful for it.

"Tell me how things have gone with you since you left Market Deignton.
You have been in Northumberland, you say."

I tell her everything in a few words; but when I have finished her eyes
are full of tears.

"I remember your uncle, Sir Reginald, quite well," she says. "I used to
think him the handsomest old man I had ever seen, and the nicest. And he
made you come directly you had my letter!"

"Directly. He would not hear of an instant's delay. He was as impatient
as I was."

"And how long will it be safe for you to stay away from him?"

"Not more than a week, I am afraid. If nothing turns up by then, I must
go back."

"One week. We may do much in a week," Katherine remarks thoughtfully.
"By the by, Norman, where are you going to stay--in Market Deignton?"

"I suppose so. You know that there is another postmaster appointed."

"I have not heard it, but I am not surprised. No more afternoon teas in
the shop-parlour, or suppressed telegrams."

Her words remind me of the last one I sent for Lady Deignton, and I ask
her a question.

"Did Stephen Callender ever leave the White House?" I ask.

"I believe not," she answers. "This is what I want to talk to you about.
I believe that he is there still."

"Why?"

"Because Lady Deignton goes down there every day. To all appearance, the
house is empty and locked up, but every day at dusk Lady Deignton has
been there, and Mason admits her."

"Mason!"

"Yes, Mason. Norman, that innocent-looking house holds your fate and
mine. It must yield us up its secret."

"It shall," I answer, springing up. "Come, Katherine, why do we hesitate
any longer? Let us go there now in the broad daylight, force our way in,
and insist upon seeing this man, whoever he may be. I am longing for
action, and there is no reason for delay. Come."

Her hand upon my arm restrains me. "Wait. I have something else to tell
you."

"What is it?"

"Do you remember a cry in the street whilst you and I were in your room
that afternoon?"

"Remember it, yes!" I exclaim with sudden interest.

"You rushed outside, but there was no one in sight, only the back of
Lady Deignton's carriage turning the church corner."

"Yes."

"Well, the girl who shrieked was Olive Walsingham, and she was in that
carriage."

"With Lady Deignton?"

"Yes, with Lady Deignton."

"Ah!"

"She was coming into the post office, and met Lady Deignton face to face
upon the pavement. She recognized her, and the result of her recognition
was the shriek we heard. Lady Deignton hurried her into the carriage and
brought her to the Court. Now you can see why my stepmother positively
refused to see her when she came first to Deignton Court on that Sunday
afternoon. They are not strangers."

"And her brother. Why, she came to me on the following day and told me
that he was found; that I was to let Stephen Callender and the White
House alone. Her brother was abroad, and she was going to him," she
said.

"The words were put into her mouth by Lady Deignton. She lied."

"What has that girl's brother, a mere gentleman's valet, to do with Lady
Deignton?"

"One thing more," she continues. "I have seen a copy of my father's
will. Stephen Callender received a legacy of five thousand pounds."

I look at her in bewilderment. "What does it all mean?" I cry. "Who is
this Stephen Callender?"

"In a few days we shall know. Perhaps to-night. Perhaps--What was that?"

She has stopped short in her speech, and sprung to her feet. I, too,
turn hastily in the direction whence the sound has come. It was only a
slight one, the quick snapping of a twig and the rustling of dead
leaves, as though a light footstep had parsed over them. But there is no
one in sight, and though we listen intently, there is no further sound.

I stride through the undergrowth a few yards into the wood. There is no
one to be seen. I try another direction, with the same result. There is
no sign of any one having been near, nor is the sound repeated.

"It must have been a rabbit, or a fox perhaps," I say, turning back to
Katherine. "There is no one here."

"There is a path a few yards further on," she answers. "Quick! get
through to it. Just beyond those brambles."

I push my way through the tangled bushes, and come out on a broad green
path. Still there is no one in sight.

In a minute Katherine, flushed and breathless, joins me.

"Was there no sign of any one?" she asks.

"Not a vestige," I answer. "It must have been an animal of some sort."

She appears curiously disturbed. "Listen," she whispers.

We stand perfectly still. There is nothing to be heard, save the usual
wood noises; and being winter and a still day, even they are very slight
and low. Gradually the colour comes back to her cheeks.

"I don't know why I am so nervous," she declares, with a laugh; "but
just a moment before I had an idea that some one was near listening to
us. I stopped suddenly while I was talking, you know."

"Yes. It was fancy, dear. One often hears such sounds in the wood."

"I suppose so," she admits. "Still, it is odd that I should feel like
that."

An unmistakable sound comes to us now through the silent air. It is the
stable clock at the Court chiming the hour. Katherine listens to it
amazed.

"One o'clock. I had no idea it was so late. I must go back to the Court
for a little time, or Lady Deignton will miss me. Could you wait for
about an hour and a half?"

"I'll try," I answer cheerfully.

"I shall not be more than two hours, and then we shall have so long
together that you will very likely get tired of me," she says, laughing.
"Lady Deignton will think I am at the vicarage."

"And what are we going to do?" I ask eagerly.

"We are going to wait here and watch," she answers in a low tone. "You
see that green path behind the trees. If Lady Deignton goes to the White
House this evening, she will pass along it--"

"And if she does?"

"If she does, we will follow her."



CHAPTER XXXV. WHOSE WAS THE FACE?


I watch her cross the meadow and turn in at the gate which leads through
the Court shrubberies. Here she waves me a final farewell, and
disappears. After a few moments' indecision, I light a cigar and set out
for a brisk walk through the woods.

For a time it is pleasant enough. I climb a hill and gain a fine view of
the Court, with its picturesque outline and stacks of ancient chimneys
clearly defined against the background of dark-green hills. The country,
bare and brown in its winter's garb, is at its best in the faint soft
sunlight. A blue haze hangs about the horizon, and though the deep
colouring of autumn has almost faded, yet here and there the sunlight
brings out a purple tone in the distant woods which surround the Court.
I walk a little farther, and then I come to a sudden standstill. I am
feeling exceedingly uncomfortable, and I have just divined the reason.
It is many hours since I tasted food, and I am ravenously hungry.

I turn the matter over in my mind. There is just a possibility of
Katherine's bringing me some sandwiches; on the other hand, there is a
possibility that she may either forget or have no opportunity of
procuring them. I should certainly be better off if I could manage, at
any rate, to take the edge off my appetite, which is a thing rapidly
growing beyond sandwiches. I mount a gate and look around me for means
to do so.

On the south side of the field into which I am looking are some fowls
and guinea-hens, and from inside the wood, a few yards farther back, a
thin column of smoke is rising amongst the trees. It is evidently the
nearest habitation, and I follow the grey stone wall which divides wood
from meadowland until I come to the south corner. Here a small gate
leads into a trim garden; built right up against the thickly-growing
trees is a grey stone cottage, with the Deignton coat of arms engraved
over the door.

My appearance is the signal for a general commotion. A dozen dogs tug at
their chains, and howl in every conceivable key as I touch the latch,
and one or two more welcome me with wriggling bodies and wagging tails.
A litter of pups came tumbling over one another, and jumping around my
legs with great manifestations of delight; and a small boy on all fours
behind a board upon the cottage floor sets up a vigorous chorus to the
general uproar. In the midst of it all, a tall, broad-shouldered man in
a brown velveteen coat stalks out from one of the outhouses. I recognize
him at once.

Instantly the turmoil is at an end. The dogs retire one by one into
their kennels, from the depths of which they sit and glare at me. The
pups desert my legs for the new-comer, and the baby ceases to yell. The
man stands in the middle of the path looking at me, with a heavy frown
on his honest weather-beaten face.

"What do you want here, sir?" he inquires slowly.

"Something to eat, John Rudd," I answer cheerfully. "I am hungry."

"Have you walked from Market Deignton, sir?"

"Since breakfast," I answer. "I am a starving man."

He invites me to walk in, civilly, but without heartiness. I decline to
have anything to say to the best room, and take a seat in a fine oak
chair before a huge fireplace in the kitchen.

"We've very little to give you, sir," he remarks. "Me and the missus had
dinner at half-past eleven, and she's gone over to her brother's now, or
she would cook you something. Would home-brewed ale and bread and
cheese--it's a Stilton--"

"Nothing in the world could be better, John."

He spreads a clean white cloth upon the table, clumsily, but neatly, and
brings out a loaf of bread and the better half of a Stilton cheese from
the larder. Then I hear his heavy footsteps underneath in the cellar,
from which he presently reappears with a Dutch blue jug of ample
proportions, so full that he has to set it down carefully. As soon as he
has completed the preparations for my repast, he leaves me without a
word--save one of civil invitation to draw my chair up to the table--and
I hear him outside feeding the dogs.

In twenty minutes I am feeling a different man. I light a cigar, and go
out and tell him so.

"I'm glad to hear it, sir," he answers, scarcely glancing up from his
occupation. "Good morning, sir."

"Just a moment, John. I'm a doctor, you know. What's the matter with
you?"

He looks up quickly. The bronzed face has lost a good deal of flesh and
colour, and he stoops when he walks.

"I am quite well, thank you, sir," he answers. "There is nothing at all
the matter with me."

"Yes, there is, John. Night-watching doesn't seem to be agreeing with
you."

He stalks to the gate, opens it, and points up the field.

"I wish you good morning, sir. And, Mr. Norman."

"Yes, John."

"I've knowed you a good many years, sir, and Sir Reginald before you.
Sir Reginald was the best master I ever had, and for his sake as well as
your own, I'd be sorry for any harm to come to you. I've just a private
word for your ear, sir. It's a word of advice. Will you take it?"

"I will if I can, John."

"Then just walk up this field, and set your face towards Market
Deignton, and catch the first train to London, or wherever you be
living. This is no place for you, sir. I tell 'ee you're not safe here,
sir," he wound up energetically. "You're not safe, and I wish you'd go."

"And why am I not safe? Who is there to harm me? What have I done that I
should be in any danger from any one? Tell me that, John."

"It's more than I can do, sir; but mind my words, they're the solid
truth."

"They may be; and yet, what have I to fear? I am an honest man. I have
done no one any harm."

"That's as it may be, sir."

I bend over and look him in the face.

"John Rudd, do you believe that I murdered Sir Humphrey Deignton?"

"There's a many who do believe it, sir," he answers.

"Look me squarely in the face, John. Do you believe it?"

"I know nothing about it, sir," he answers doggedly. "I only know that
there's them as says you did, and plenty of them."

"I know it, John. But you're not one of them. I can see in your face
that you're not."

"It's of no consequence what I believe, sir."

"It is of a good deal of consequence to me," I answer gravely. "You
could help me, if you would."

He does not answer. He has turned away, and is calmly examining one of
the pups.

"John, who lives at the White House?" I ask him abruptly.

"Mr. Stephen Callender, sir?"

"And who is Mr. Stephen Callender? Why do you guard his house by night?
Is he in hiding? Who is he, and what has he done? Come, John, I have a
good right to ask these questions."

He does not answer, or, indeed, make any sign of having heard me at all.
He vanishes into the cottage, and returns immediately carrying a
double-barrelled gun full-cocked.

"Mr. Norman, I was bred on your uncle's land, and I've known you since
you was no higher than my knee, but I've got to tell 'ee this: if you
hang about here and play the spy, or ask me any questions which it is
not my business or my duty to answer, I've got to treat you like I
should a poacher, or any trespasser that wouldn't move off when he was
warned. Now sir, will you go!"

I toss him half a sovereign, and shrug my shoulders.

"Here, John, put this in the children's money-box," I say. "You're an
honest fellow, but I can't exactly call you a grateful one. Good
morning."

I turn away, and he walks slowly to the garden wall after me.
When I reach the gate leading back into the wood I glance around. He is
still standing there with his gun on his shoulder, watching me with
curious intentness. He has not stooped to pick up the half-sovereign.
Every step I have taken the barrel of his gun has covered me. The
thought of it is scarcely pleasant. One little tremor of the finger and
I should have been a dead man. When I remember the man's wild look and
strange manner, I am conscious of a distinct feeling of relief.

I make my way back to the clearing in the woods where I am to meet
Katherine, and sit down on the fallen tree lazily smoking my cigar. For
a while my thoughts keep my brain active, but as the time steals on I
begin to be conscious of a drowsy languor stealing slowly over me. I
have had no sleep for two nights, and the air has been strong. Finally,
I rest my head upon my hand and close my eyes. For some time, I cannot
tell how long, I doze.

Quite suddenly I wake and start to my feet. There is no one in sight, no
sound. Yet the feeling with which I awoke was unmistakable. I felt that
I was not alone. Somewhere amongst that thick undergrowth, or behind
those dark trees, some one was looking--some one whose presence boded
ill to me.

I stand up in the centre of the space and look around.

"Who is there?" I cry. "Come into the light and let me see you!"

I am no coward, and yet here in the clear sunlight I find myself
shivering. There is no answer to my challenge, no sound to be heard,
although I am holding my breath and standing perfectly still, with all
my senses keenly tense and on the alert. I begin to reason with myself.
I must have been dreaming, I must--

"Ah!"

My eyes suddenly detect a black object moving amongst the trees. There
is a slight but distinct sound. This time at least it is no question of
fox or rabbit, or any other animal. It is the rustle of a woman's gown
amongst the dead leaves.

I spring forward, but suddenly stop short and throw up my arms. There is
a blinding flash of light before my eyes, more brilliant than the sun's
pale rays, followed by a loud report and a hot stinging pain in my
shoulder. The trees are dancing before my eyes, round and round and
round. How damp these leaves are. I am on the ground, sinking down,
down, down. And what is this upon my cheek?--a burning spot, a woman's
hot tearful kiss; and words--tremulous faint words--mingled with that
far-off ringing which seems to be beating upon the drums of my ears and
stealing through my brain--

"Oh, forgive, forgive!"

I strive to keep my eyes open, but I can see nothing distinctly. Just a
suggestion of a woman's dark swimming eyes, a patch of blue sky, and an
acorn which swings from an oak bough above my head. And now a mist is
blotting them all out, and the throbbing upon the drums of my ears is
louder. And earth and sky and trees are dancing madly away into black
darkness.

I remember no more. I become unconscious.



CHAPTER XXXVI. IS THERE DEATH IN THE CUP?


It is very odd. Last night--was it not last night?--I was in my old
room, the bachelor chamber at Gorley Towers, with the roar of the sea
lulling me to sleep, and surrounded by all the familiar objects of my
boyhood. This morning everything has vanished away as though it were a
dream. I am in a strange bedroom--a room of which I have not the
faintest recollection, which I am quite sure that I have never been in
before. The walls are merely whitewashed, and hung with texts in frames.
The windows have funny little diamond panes, and there is a sill wide
enough for two people to sit in. I don't see my bag or my dressing-case,
or any of my things, arid--yes, I am most certainly wearing another
man's night-clothes, and pretty coarse ones they are, although clean, I
am thankful to say. By my side, too, is a table with bottles on it and a
wineglass, just as though I had been ill. It can't be a dream, for I am
most certainly wide awake. I will get up and see what it means, and
who--

"Ah!"

What is the matter? Have I sprained my shoulder? I can't move it. The
pain, when I tried to lean on it to spring out of bed just now, was
awful. Why, it is bandaged, swathed in heavy, clumsy bandages, and--good
God! Blood!

I have common-sense enough to He back upon the pillow and think. Slowly
it all comes back to me. The letter from Katherine, my departure from
Gorley Towers, and the long journey here; the meeting with Katherine in
the wood, and then--yes, that was it, I was in the wood sitting on the
trunk of a tree; there was a shot. Yes, that was it. I was waiting for
Katherine; I remember quite well now. But where am I, and in whose
hands?

I try to get up again, and find out once more how weak I am. I give up
the attempt for a while. Physical movement being impossible, I lie quite
still and endeavour to grasp the situation mentally.

Where am I, and in whose hands? That is the most important question for
me to decide at present. I should probably, when found in the wood, have
been carried to the nearest house, and I have this to consider--that the
part of the wood in which I was shot being private and quite
unfrequented, I was doubtless removed at the instigation of the person
who shot me. If that be so, it is fair to presume that I am not in
friendly hands. And yet, to judge by my surroundings, there seems to
have been some clumsy attempts at taking care of me. That the person who
tried to shoot me should be now trying to restore me to health seems
illogical, and feminine.

What is that? The barking of dogs--a good many dogs. Whose voice is that
reproving them? It is quite familiar to me, and surely I have heard it
lately. Ah, I know! I know, too, where I am. The voice was John Rudd's,
and I am in John Rudd's cottage.

I have gained my first point. I know where I am. I know, too, that I am
in the hands of one who would not willingly see me come to harm, yet
who, if he chose, could tell me the secret of my attempted murder. He
knew that I was in danger when he warned me. Then he must also know from
whom.

Lady Deignton is his mistress. Lady Deignton is the only woman, so far
as I know, to whom my absence from this world would be distinctly a
thing to be desired. And yet, can it be she? Can it be the woman whose
hand has lain in mine, and whose voice and eyes have spoken--But that
will do. It is a train of thought which I dare not follow just now.

I try to force my memory back to the moment when I sat on the trunk of
that tree waiting for Katherine. Let me see: I remember hearing the
stealthy rustling of light footsteps, and a woman's skirts trailing
amongst the dead leaves. I remember turning round and seeing--what was
it that I saw? The blaze of light seemed to have hidden so much; the
white puff of smoke, the pain, the trees and sky flying round and round.
Yet there is another memory behind it all, if only I could seize upon
it. My brain seems so unsteady, and I find it hard to concentrate my
thoughts upon that moment. There was a black gown behind the trees, and
a face. Oh! it is no use, no use. The face seems to mock me. My memory
has suddenly become a blank.

My temples are hot, and I feel my pulse. It has risen rapidly during the
last few moments. I must put away these thoughts for awhile. When I am
stronger I will force myself to recall that little scene again.

I lie still and idly gaze out of the window; soon I fall asleep. When I
awake I feel stronger, and my pulse is more regular. I take advantage of
this to sit up in bed and make a brief examination of my wound. I
discover that the bandages are ill-fitting, and that it has been badly
dressed, but, fortunately, the wound itself is trifling. A few inches
to the right would have ended my life. As it is, the bullet has grazed
my shoulder-blade and simply torn up the skin. It will probably be
healed in a day or two.

A sound upon the stairs. Some one is coming up; doubtless my nurse. I
sit up eagerly. At last I shall have some news of the outside world. The
latch is lifted, and a small ruddy-faced, black-haired woman enters,
bearing a basin of beef-tea. This must be John Rudd's wife.

She sets down the beef-tea, and approaches the bedside. Seeing me with
my eyes open and watching her, she stops suddenly.

"Oh! you are better, sir," she exclaims. "That's well."

"Thanks," I answer, with my eyes fixed upon the basin. "Is that
beef-tea?"

"Yes, sir."

"Will you give it to me, please?"

She brings it to the bedside, and proposes to hold it for me. I show
her, however, that I am quite able to do that for myself; and, to her
further surprise, I finish the basinful before I speak again.

"Were you hungry?" she asks, taking the empty basin from my hands, and
looking at me curiously.

"Ravenously," I answer. "Now tell me, please, how long have I been
here?"

She shakes her head and looks troubled.

"You must not ask me any questions at all, please, sir. My orders are
not to talk to you."

"At any rate you can tell me that," I protest. "Was it yesterday that I
was brought here?"

"No, the day before," she answers hesitatingly. "Now, please don't ask
me anything else, sir. I shall only get into trouble, and if you only
knew how I've disobeyed orders already! Hush!"

There is a low tapping at the door downstairs. The woman looks at me for
a moment with wide open, terrified eyes. Her ruddy cheeks have suddenly
become almost pallid. She seems to be completely paralysed with fear.

The tapping is repeated more imperiously. By this time Mrs. Rudd seems
to have made up her mind how to act. She seizes the tray and empty basin
from the bed, and opening the window, drops them softly down on to the
ground beneath. Then she closes it noiselessly and comes over to my
side.

"You are not to let any one know that you have had this beef-tea," she
says, bending close over me with a strangely frightened look in her
eyes. "Pretend to be unconscious. It is for your own good. Be silent."

Before I can find breath to ask her any questions, she has gone. I hear
her open the cottage door, and there is a few minutes' conversation in
the room below. Then I hear the sound of soft footsteps and the rustling
of skirts--silken skirts--upon the wooden stairs; the latch of the door
is lifted, and a woman in dark clothes and closely veiled sweeps into the
room. I am watching through half-closed eyes, and I recognize her. It is
Lady Deignton.

She comes across the floor to my bedside, moving with that easy,
undulating grace which, in the old days, I had been wont to think the
very perfection of a woman's walk, filling the air with a faint familiar
perfume, and, by contrast, intensifying the bareness and meanness of the
low-raftered, plainly furnished room. She comes to the very edge of the
bed and looks down. My eyes are quite closed now, but I can hear her
soft breathing, and presently her fingers take my bare wrist. She pushes
back the cuff of my night-gown and holds my pulse. I can feel it
quicken a little, and I know that it will not be wise to feign
absolute unconsciousness too long. Already she seems to be suspicious,
for she lowers her head, and I feel her warm breath upon my
cheeks. Then I open my eyes and look up at her in a dazed manner.

She does not shrink away as I had half expected her to do, but meets my
eyes fully and searchingly. It is as though she is seeking to read my
whole condition, mental and physical, to measure my strength against
hers, and to know my thoughts. I do my best to mask both. Then, without
withdrawing her gaze, she speaks to me:

"You are better, Norman."

There is no sympathy in her tone--more of mockery. I endeavour to
compress my brows into a frown, and I take care that my voice is low and
faint.

"Thanks to a woman's failing wrist and ill aim, yes," I answer. "Is it
you whom I have to thank for this. Lady Deignton?"

She looks at me, still with the same fixed gaze, but with a certain
amount of genuine surprise in her face.

"Is it possible--that you do not know?"

"I know--that it was a woman. I believe that it was you."

"Why?"

"Who else holds me her enemy?"

"Enemy! And why should you and I be enemies?"

"Your heart must answer that question, Lady Deignton--your heart and
your guilt."

"My guilt? Ah, yes. Thank you for reminding me of it. As you say--my
guilt."

She walks to the window, and stands there with her back to me, and her
firm, delicate figure clearly outlined against the light. Only her face
is turned away, and I cannot see it.

"When you can spare me the time, I shall be glad to ask you a few
questions, Lady Deignton," I say.

She turns round slowly and faces me.

"You may ask. I may not choose to answer."

"Where am I?"

She shakes her head. "Go on."

"Why am I here?"

"It was the most convenient place to bring you--out of the way."

"When am I going to be allowed to depart?"

"When your hurt is healed. It is not very serious. You can see that for
yourself."

"But I am weak, terribly weak. I want strengthening medicine, and wine,
and food, or I shall be here for weeks."

A faint smile crosses her lips.

"You will have everything necessary--in moderation."

"Why don't they bring me something now, then? I am fainting for want of
it."

"They have my orders."

I half raise myself, taking care that the effort shall seem to cost me
more pain than it really does, and look at her sternly.

"You wish to keep me here, hanging on between life and death. You are
going to half starve me, like a dog. Is that your plan?"

She shrugs her shoulders.

"You are just as well here out of the way for a short time," she says.
"Meddlesome people generally get into trouble, and it will teach you a
lesson."

"I understand," I tell her, sinking back amongst the bedclothes, but
keeping my eyes fixed upon her. "You wish--to keep me here
till--till--you and your--accomplice can escape. Oh, it is an excellent
scheme."

"My accomplice? You are talking in riddles. I do not understand you. You
are raving."

"Yes, your accomplice, Mr. Stephen Callender," I say boldly.

A sudden spasm distorts her face. It is only for a moment--come and gone
so swiftly that, had I not been watching her with more than ordinary
intentness, I could scarcely have noticed it. Then she nods her head,
gently, sympathetically, mockingly.

"Poor fellow! I thought the fever had left you. We shall have to be
careful how much nourishment you take. You will not be well quite so
soon as I thought you would."

Her last words have a meaning of their own, and a sinister one. I am
well aware of it, but I make no sign. I sink back as though completely
exhausted, and turn my back upon her.

I think I must have fallen into a short doze, for when I open my eyes
again the daylight is fast fading away and the room is in semi-darkness.
In the corner farthest from the bed I can hear voices whispering. I
raise myself softly. Mrs. Rudd has just come into the room with a basin
of beef-tea, and Lady Deignton is in the act of taking it from her.

"You need not wait," I hear Lady Deignton whisper. "I will give it to
him."

Mrs. Rudd visibly hesitates. I can see that, for some reason or other,
she seems unwilling to give up the basin. Lady Deignton's face grows
dark and angry as she takes it from her.

"Don't you hear me, Mrs. Rudd?" she says imperiously. "You can leave the
room now."

The woman turns away at once. In order to reach the door she has to take
a few steps towards the bed, and in doing so, she notices that my eyes
are open. She starts and looks quickly round. Lady Deignton's back is
turned to us--she seems to be looking into the beef-tea. Mrs. Rudd leans
forward on tip-toe towards me, and through the twilight I can see that
her face is pale and anxious. With her hand she motions towards where
Lady Deignton is standing with the beef-tea. Then she shakes her head
vigorously, frowns, imitates the action of drinking, frowns and shakes
her head again. I cannot fail to understand. I am not to drink the
beef-tea which Lady Deignton is preparing for me. An odd feeling of
sickness comes over me. I nod my head, and turn over towards the wall.



CHAPTER XXXVII. JOHN RUDD'S LIE


I feign sleep, hoping that Lady Deignton will leave the beef-tea by my
side, and go. I find, however, that she is not willing to leave my
taking it to chance. She does not scruple to take me by the arm, and, as
she imagines, awake me.

"I have brought you some beef-tea," she says coldly. "Sit up and drink
it."

"I am sleepy," I answer. "Put it down, and I will take it presently. Let
me alone now."

"No; it will be cold. You have slept enough. Sit up and drink it."

I look into her face, as rigid as marble, and I note that the hand which
offers me the cup does not shake. Then I wonder no longer at the crime
which surely lies at this woman's door. She is worthy of a place amongst
the Borgias. She is a princess amongst murderesses.

I take the basin, and lift a spoonful of the beef tea to my mouth, taking
care to spill the greater part of it. I sip it carefully, and a great
feeling of relief steals through me. The beef-tea has been doctored
indeed, but not with poison. There is a drug in it very well known to
me, which would probably, if I drank the basinful, keep me weak and
drowsy and prevent my gaining strength. But it would have no worse
result. There is no death in the cup.

Suddenly the sound of voices in the garden below attracts Lady
Deignton's attention. She takes a quick step towards the window, and
remains there for a moment or two. I take the opportunity to empty half
the contents of the basin between the bed and the wall. When she returns
I hand her languidly the bowl.

"I will finish it presently," I say, with half-closed eyes. "Not now, I
am drowsy."

She seems to regard my apparent state with satisfaction, and presently
she glides from the room, softly closing the door. I hear her talking in
the room below, and then the outside latch is lifted and falls. She has
gone.

Half an hour passes--an hour. At last there are steps once more upon the
stairs, and Mrs. Rudd appears, bearing a tray.

"What a time you have left me alone!" I exclaim, raising myself upon my
elbow. "I have been wanting to thank you for warning me against that
beastly beef-tea."

She looks at me oddly.

"Please don't say anything about that, sir. The basin was half empty.
What did you do with the rest?"

"Given it to the boards," I answer, pointing downwards.

"I am glad you understood me, sir," she says. "I knew that Lady
Deignton meant to do something with it when she brought out the
bottle from her pocket, and ordered me downstairs."

"Yes, it is evident that Lady Deignton wishes to keep me here," I
remark. "Do you know if she is making preparations to go away anywhere?"

She shakes her head.

"I cannot tell you anything. You must not ask me, sir. It is bad enough
as it is, to think that I should be plotting against my own husband,
even though it is for your sake, Mr. Norman. You haven't recognized me,
have you, sir?"

"I do now," I answer readily. "You were Hannah Deans, and your father
was gardener at Gorley Towers when I was a boy. Why, we've stolen your
father's early strawberries together many a time."

"It's true, sir," she answers, wiping her eyes with her apron. "And now
they expect me to sit still and see you shot and poisoned, and the Lord
knows what. I'm the most miserable woman on earth, sir. What's come to
John I can't reckon up. It seems as though he were gone raving mad. Some
day I shall have to take the children and leave him, I know I shall."

"Your husband's only fault is that he serves a bad mistress too
faithfully," I answer. "There is a guilty secret connected with Lady
Deignton which I have set myself to solve, and I will solve it. John
Rudd knows all about it."

She looks at me with a stern, hardening face.

"It is Lady Deignton who has dragged him into it, and all their wicked
ways," she says slowly. "I hate her. John was as honest as the day,
before she worked round him. Curse her! I say."

There is a moment's pause. Then she takes up the tray, and brings it to
me.

"I have brought you some tea and toast, sir, and there is a chicken
cooking. Can you take some tea, sir?"

"Of course I can, Mrs. Rudd," I say, sitting up readily. "Nothing I'd
like better."

I do not ask her any more questions for the present, for I can see that
she is crying quietly at the other end of the room. But when she comes
for the tray, I detain her for a moment.

"Do you know Miss Deignton?" I ask quietly.

"Yes, sir,"

"Have you seen her since I was brought here?"

"No, sir."

"Have you heard anything about her? Tell me."

"Yes, I will tell you, sir," she answers, after a second's hesitation.
"I have not seen her, but John has. He has been made to tell a lie to
her."

"By Lady Deignton?"

"Yes, sir."

"And the he was?"

"That he had met you on Sunday afternoon hurrying along the road towards
Market Deignton."

"On Sunday afternoon?"

"Yes, sir."

I am silent for a few minutes. Then I raise myself up in the bed.

"I have known your husband almost as long as I have known you, Hannah,"
I remark.

"Yes, sir."

"And I have always considered him to be a perfectly honest and truthful
man."

"He was, sir, indeed he was," she sobs. "I do not believe that he ever
told a downright lie before. That is what makes him feel so badly about
it."

"He told you about it, then?"

"Yes, sir. I saw that he was in trouble, and I made him tell me."

"And did you not ask him why he should perjure himself at Lady
Deignton's bidding? What right has she to make a liar of an honest man?"

"I have asked him, sir; I have threatened even to leave him; and I have
told him what I think of her."

"And what did he say? Did he contradict you?"

"No; he only shakes his head. 'Hannah,' he said, 'you are talking in the
dark. There is something behind it all which you cannot know. Be silent,
and leave me to do my duty. I must do it, even though it drag me down
into hell.'"

"And you think, Hannah, that he really imagined it his duty to become a
liar, and the tool of such a woman as Lady Deignton?"

"Yes, sir, I do. God help him!"

I am silent. She is about to leave the room, but I stop her.

"Hannah, will you send a message from me to Miss Deignton?"

"No, sir."

"You won't help me at all, then?"

"No more than I am doing, sir. I am a miserable woman, but I dare not
help any one against my own husband, misguided though he may be."

"You are helping me as it is," I remind her.

"In a different way, sir. I cannot take any message from you to Miss
Deignton."

I do not ask her again. She leaves me alone, and soon I fall asleep.



CHAPTER XXXVIII. ESCAPE


When I awake it is broad daylight, and Mrs Rudd is standing by my side
with a tray. I sit up in bed and gaze at her blankly.

"I was obliged to wake you, sir," she says apologetically. "John will be
home in an hour, and I wanted you to have some breakfast. How do you
feel this morning, sir?"

"Better," I answer blithely, "much better. Give me the tray, Mrs. Rudd;
I am hungry."

She arranges the pillows, and pours out the coffee. For awhile I am too
hungry to talk. I eat both the eggs she has brought, and a good deal of
homemade bread and butter. Then, seeing her looking anxiously out of the
window, I hand her the tray, and declare my meal at an end.

As soon as I am alone I make a careful trial of my strength. I am more
than satisfied with the result. I can move my wounded arm, and I can
walk with ease. The only thing now remaining is to decide upon the best
time for leaving the place and making my escape.

Mrs. Rudd comes up again presently, bearing a pitcher of cold water. She
is leaving the room without saying a word to me or even looking in my
direction, but I stop her.

"Mrs. Rudd."

"Yes, sir."

"Has John come home yet?"

"Yes, sir."

"Where is he?"

"Asleep, sir."

"Asleep."

"Yes, sir. He has been out all night. He is out every night."

"Ah, I see. And about what time does he go?"

"About five in the evening, sir. Do you feel any stronger to-day, sir?"

"Strong enough for anything, thanks to you, Hannah."

"I'm fearsome whether I've done right, sir."

"You need not be, Hannah. There can be no question about it. Tell me, do
you know whether Lady Deignton will be here to-day?"

"I don't know for certain, sir. I think so."

"Have you any idea what time?"

She shakes her head.

"There's no telling, sir. She's been here at all times of the day and
night. She often goes down to the White House about dusk, and she might
call on the way."

"Down to the White House!" I repeat. "To see Mr. Stephen Callender?"

"I suppose so, sir."

"By the by, Hannah, do you know Mr. Stephen Callender?"

"I've only seen him once, sir. He walked as far as here one day last
summer, and came in and rested for awhile. I'm not sure that I should
know him again."

"He's a great invalid, isn't he?"

"Yes, sir. They say that Lady Deignton is very kind to him. I don't
know, I'm sure."

"She seems to have a fancy for invalids," I remark grimly.

Her hand is upon the latch, but I stop her.

"Hannah, if I should go away without saying good-bye, you won't think it
unkind of me, will you?"

"No, sir, only--"

"Only what, Hannah?"

"When you do go, let it be at dusk; and go right through the woods and
into the Market Deignton road as quickly as you can."

"Very well, Hannah; I shall take care of myself. I have had warning
enough here," I add, touching my arm lightly.

The day passes to me intolerably slowly. Towards afternoon the wind
rises, and from my bed I can see the tree-tops bending and swaying, and
the leaves flying in showers past the window. The sky as yet is clear,
but there are great piles of clouds gathering westwards, forming a
gorgeous foundation to a fiery sunset.

At last I hear the latch of the outer door lifted, and immediately
afterwards the sound for which I have been listening--Lady Deignton's
clear voice.

"Close the door quickly, Mrs. Rudd," I hear her say. "The wind is enough
to blow one away."

"Yes, your ladyship." It is John Rudd's deep bass voice which answers.
He closes the door, and there is a moment's silence.

"Where is Hannah?" Lady Deignton asks.

"She has gone into Market Deignton, your ladyship, to see her brother. I
expect her home directly."

"Ah! And how is our--patient?"

"About the same, I believe, your ladyship. Hannah says that he has not
attempted to move from his bed all day. Will you go up and see him?"

She hesitates, and, to my relief, makes no movement upstairs. "I am
rather late this evening, Rudd, and I have a good deal to do. I don't
think I want to see him. He is safe enough up there. After to-night, if
all goes well, it will not matter so much."

"I shall thank God, your ladyship, when to-night's work is over," John
Rudd answers.

I catch the echo of a faint mocking laugh from Lady Deignton, and then
suddenly their voices are lowered. Despite all my efforts, I can hear no
more. Only I gather that Lady Deignton is telling him news which he
seems to accept with relief. Then there is the rustling of her dress upon
the stone floor, and the click of the latch as she prepares to go. Her
last words are spoken in a louder tone, and by keen listening I am able
to follow them.

"You have been a faithful servant, John Rudd. After to-night you need be
servant to no one any longer unless you choose."

"I thank your ladyship," he answers gravely. "I only hope that what I
have done has been for the best. I hope so."

The door is closed upon her at last, and very soon afterwards Hannah
returns. I have a shrewd suspicion that she must have been waiting
somewhere close by to see Lady Deignton go. I hear her husband talking
to her for a few minutes, and then he too goes; and I see him, with his
gun upon his shoulder, walking up the meadow towards the wood gate.
While I am watching him Hannah enters with a tray.

"I have brought you your tea, sir," she says, setting it down.

I thank her, and drink it thoughtfully. I am undecided whether to tell
her that I have made up my mind to leave the place or not.

"You have been out, Hannah?" I remark, as I hand back the empty tray to
her.

"Yes, sir. I went out to avoid telling Lady Deignton a pack of untruths
about you. It was a poor shift. Now I've something to tell you, sir.
But, first of all, do you feel quite strong?"

"Perfectly, Hannah. I can move my arm, and I can walk. I have been
wondering whether I shall not go away to-night."

"Mr. Norman."

"Yes, Hannah."

"I met some one in the wood, sir."

"Who was it? Not--not Miss Deignton?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you speak to her? Did you tell her about me? What did she say?"

"I spoke to her, sir, but not about you. I dared not do that."

"Well, what did you speak to her about? Tell me, Hannah."

"I found out where she was going, sir. She was going to evensong at the
church, and she will be out in three quarters of an hour. If you really
feel strong enough--"

I throw off the bedclothes, and spring out. I have already prepared for
a hasty departure by dressing, all except my coat and collar.

"I am glad you are going, sir," she says. "Everybody is out of the way
now. Remember to keep to the lower road through the wood. If you do that
you are certain not to meet John, and it will take you straight to the
church."

"I will remember, Hannah," I say, holding out both my hands. "Good-bye.
You will hear from me, and some day I shall hope to repay you for all
your goodness to me, if I can."

She takes my hand and smiles in a friendly manner.

"Thank you, sir; and there is one thing more."

"Well."

"If you should be stopped by John to-night, or any other night, you need
not fear his gun. I change the cartridge for an old one every night
before he goes out. I am not going to have him shoot any one, if I can
help it, to oblige Lady Deignton."

I laugh at her heartily, and once more wish her good night. I do not
dream, as I hurry up the meadow, keeping in the shadow of the grey stone
wall, that, armed or unarmed, John Rudd will not have the power to do
harm to any one to-night.



CHAPTER XXXIX. ON THE THRESHOLD


Once more I stand on the borders of the grove and watch her cross the
meadow towards me. Before, I have seen her in daylight and sunshine; now,
the gathering dusk is deepened by the dark, low-flying clouds driven
across the sky by a wild west wind. Above my head the tree-tops bend,
and the leaves come down in showers. The noise of the wind and the
creaking of the pine-boughs fill the wood, and I have listened to them
during my swift walk here with a certain exultation and uplifting of
spirit. This is no time for soft breezes and gentle sunshine. To-night,
though I carry my life in my hand, I am going to fight my way out of
this dark miasma of mystery. I am weary of scheming, and wondering, and
plotting. I know now where to strike, and no power on earth shall hold
me back another hour. If Katherine bid me wait, I will point to my
wounded arm. There is more danger in delay than in prompt and decisive
action.

Nearer and nearer she comes, and faster and faster beats my heart. Her
eyes are downcast, and it is the sound of my voice which first tells her
of my presence.

"Katherine!" I cry, holding out my shaking hand. "Thank God!"

I would not willingly be without my memories of that moment, nay, I would
not part with them for any treasure that the world could yield, or man's
invention suggest. She stands quite still, and looks at me for a brief
while with dilated eyes, as though I were indeed a ghost that had
stepped across her path, and she feared me. But the touch of my hands,
the joy in my eager tone, are wholly human. She can have no longer any
doubt of me. Nor has she. I see the colour rush into her pale cheeks,
hollower, it seems to me, than when I saw them last, and I see a
glorious light flashing in her eyes and across her face as our hands
meet, and I draw her unresistingly towards me into my arms, where she
rests, without any speech passing between us. Her eyes are dewy, but her
lips have curved themselves into a deliciously-satisfied smile. For a
few moments the winds have ceased to roar for us, and the trees to sob
and the clouds to threaten. We are not aware of the existence of
anything in the world, save only our two selves.

Naturally it is Katherine who first descends to the world again,
prompted by her surprise at my appearance. She stands a little way from
me, takes off her hat, which has somehow become a trifle crushed, and,
seemingly heedless of the fact that the wind is making wild sport with
her hair, turns a half-grave, half-blushing face towards me.

"I think it is quite time that you began to behave like a reasonable
human being, and gave me some account of yourself," she remarks, with a
futile attempt at severity.

"I have been waiting to be asked for several minutes," I answer. "Do you
want to know everything?"

"Everything. Every single thing, if you expect to be forgiven for the
fright you have given me. I want to know where you went on Sunday
afternoon, where you have been since, what you have been doing, and why
you have not written to me, or sent me some sort of word."

"You shall have a faithful and detailed account of my doings," I answer
grimly. "To begin with, then, you remember when we were sitting on the
trunk of that tree on Sunday, before you left me, you fancied you
heard some one moving near us?"

"Yes."

"Well, you were evidently right. After you left, I went down to John
Rudd's cottage and begged some lunch, and was back again waiting for you
in about an hour. I was smoking, and a little drowsy--I hadn't had much
sleep, you remember; but suddenly I heard that rustling again just as I
was dropping off. I started up, but I was only in time to see a woman's
black dress, before there was a flash, a report, and I was shot."

"Norman!"

I hold out my hand. "Let me finish. When I recovered consciousness I was
in John Rudd's cottage, and there I should probably have been now if it
had not been for Mrs. Rudd. My wound was slight, but it had been
wretchedly bandaged, and I had lost a fair quantity of blood; and there
was Lady Deignton trying to starve me and dose me with some lowering
drug. I should have been there still, but Mrs. Rudd and I are old
friends, and she gave me plenty to eat, and threw Lady Deignton's
preparations for me out of the window. The consequence is, that to-day I
am myself again, and your stepmother imagines that I am lying helpless
on my back. Mrs. Rudd let me out, and though she declined to bring you a
message from me, she told me where you were going; and here I am."

Katherine has gone very pale during my narration. The rich scarlet glow
has faded altogether from her face, and it seems to me unusually set and
stern.

"Norman, was it Lady Deignton who shot you?"

I answer hesitatingly. I have a curious reluctance to tell her all I
suspect.

"I do not think so, Katherine," I answer. "My mind is too clouded to
recall really whose face it was that I seem to associate with that
moving figure. I have an idea, but I scarcely dare trust to it. After
all, it may only be a phantasy. I really think I would rather--"

"Norman, you must tell me," she interrupts. "I will accept what you say
only as a conjecture. I want to know whether it is the same as mine."

"Well, then, it has seemed to me--sometimes since, that the face I saw
for a second bending over me was the face of Olive Walsingham."

"I suspected as much."

"You!"

"Yes. She and Lady Deignton are sharing this secret, sharing this mad
desire to keep us from the knowledge of it. I do not know why. I am
weary and sick of wonderings and imaginings."

"Then let us end them!" I cry promptly. "Let us go to the White House.
Come!"

"I am ready," she answers firmly. "Lead the way."

We turn into the narrow path, and plunge into the deeper portions of the
wood. There is no chance now to exchange another word. Above our heads
the great trees are bowing their heads with a great sullen roar to the
mighty wind. Twigs and fluttering leaves and small branches are dashed
in our faces, and scores of rabbits leap across the path and into their
holes, flying before the strange confusion. Breathless, at last we gain
the broad avenue which leads to the Court, and find ourselves in a grey
lurid twilight wherein every ordinary object seems to take to itself a
strange and fantastic shape. I am about to cross the avenue, when
Katherine's hand convulsively clutches my shoulder.

"Look!" she whispers, pointing through the gloom to the other side of
the opening. I follow her finger.

Drawn up in the shadow of a great oak is a closed carriage and pair of
horses. There is a single man on the box, and the blind of the window
nearest to us is drawn.

"That is a carriage from the Court," Katherine whispers. "Perhaps we are
only just in time. Come!"

We cross the avenue boldly. The man on the box looks at us with the
perfectly wooden expression of a well-bred servant. Then he touches his
hat to Katherine.

"Whom are you waiting for, Miles?" she asks, pausing for a moment.

"For Mr. Callender, I believe, miss," he answers. "I had orders to be
here at five o'clock to take Mr. Callender to the station; but I've been
waiting an hour already, and we could never catch the express. You might
mention it, miss, if you should be going in," he adds, touching his hat
again.

Katherine nods, and we plunge into the private path which leads to the
side entrance of the White House. Just as we come in sight of the gate
and the keeper's hut we both stop short. The gate stands wide open, and
on the threshold is John Rudd with his gun under his right arm, and his
left hand extended. Before him is a slight dark figure which we
recognize with a start. Katherine clutches my hand, and draws me close
to her side.

"Do you see?" she whispers. "Do you see who it is?"

I do not answer, for I am eagerly watching the two figures. But I know
quite well who it is. It is Olive Walsingham.



CHAPTER XL. THE SECRET OF THE WHITE HOUSE


We stand perfectly still and listen, hidden behind a tall laurel shrub.
It is the girl who is speaking, rapidly, passionately, and with many
strange little foreign gestures. Her shrill voice reaches us even above
the roar of the wind.

"I tell you that I will, I must go in! Lady Deignton is there, and I
have to see her. I have her own message: 'Come to me at the White
House.' You shall not stop me. You do not know your duty. Let me pass!
Let me pass--_béte_!"

"It's no use talking, miss," Rudd answers firmly. "My orders are to let
no one enter the White House grounds this way, and I must obey them.
There is the front gate. I have nothing to do with that."

She stamps her foot in a fury.

"You know that the front gate is locked. Lady Deignton told me herself
that I was to come this way. Listen," and she lowers her voice and we
cannot hear what she says; only we know that the man remains unmoved,
and does not give way an inch.

"You're only wasting time, miss," he says, when at last she is silent
again. "I will not let you pass this way, if you stay here all night."

She stands still for a moment, and we catch a glimpse of her pale cheek
against the dark background of Rudd's coat. Then she thrusts her hand
into the bosom of her dress as though in pain, and, suddenly withdrawing
it, deals him what seems to be a feeble blow with her tiny white fist on
his chest. But, to our amazement, he staggers back with a stifled cry,
sways for a moment backwards and forwards, striving with one hand to
clutch hold of the girl, and with the other pressed close to his side,
and then with a deeper cry of pain falls over in a heap upon the turf.
The girl does not even glance towards him again. She walks swiftly along
the path and across the lawn to the house.

We stand upright, and come out from behind the shrub. Katherine looks at
me in horror.

"She has stabbed him," she whispers hoarsely. "Do you think he is dead?"

I shake my head and hasten forwards. Katherine keeps by my side. As we
reach the spot where Rudd lies moaning upon the ground he opens his
eyes, and makes a futile effort to raise himself. I drop on one knee and
glance at the wound. To my relief, I see that it is not dangerous enough
to demand any special attention. I staunch the bleeding with my
handkerchief, and then spring up to my feet.

"I will come back to you, Rudd," I say. "Come, Katherine, there is no
time to lose."

He crawls over on to his side, and reaches for his gun. But I know of
what stuff the man is made, and I have been watching for some such
movement. Before his lingers can reach the trigger I have caught it up
by the barrel, and sent it spinning into the wood, where it explodes
harmlessly.

"Lie still, John Rudd," I say sternly, "unless you want to bleed to
death. You have done your duty. The end of this cursed business is at
hand at last."

He makes some faint response, but we are too far away to heed it.
Katherine is leading me round to the side of the house. As we turn the
comer we can see Olive Walsingham peering in at the windows and trying
to find an entrance.

"There is a side-door somewhere round here, the one Lady Deignton uses,"
Katherine whispers. "It may not be locked."

Almost before she has finished speaking we come to it. Not only is it
unlocked, but to our surprise, it has been left a few inches open. With
a thrill of excitement we pass through it into the back of a large
square hall. I close the door behind us, and we move a few steps
forwards. At last we have come to the final chapter in this grim series
of tragedies. We are actually within the walls of the White House.

"Courage, dear!" I whisper, taking her hand in mine for a moment. "The
end is--"

I break off in my speech. A door only a few feet from us on the left has
been left open, and through it we can hear the sound of muffled voices.

"Come," I whisper softly; and together we push the door open and enter.

The room in which we find ourselves is empty, but the voices evidently
come from an inner chamber adjoining it, and separated only by a
curtain, which is now partially pushed back. Through the opening we can
just catch a glimpse of a woman upon her knees before a couch. The
figure on the couch we can see nothing of, save that it is the figure of
a man, but the bright firelight is falling upon the disordered hair and
upturned tear-stained face of the kneeling woman. We both know who it
is. We look at one another and listen, holding our breath. Soon she
speaks again, with a passionate wail in her voice, choked every now and
then with thick sobs:

"Oh, listen to me! For God's sake listen to me I Think what my life has
been for these two years, and ask yourself whether it is just that you
should do this thing. Have I no claim upon you? Do you forget that your
sufferings are my sufferings, your fate my fate? I am weary of pleading
with you for your own sake. Am I of no account?"

A low reply comes to her from the unseen figure upon the couch. We can
hear none of it; but almost immediately she speaks again, her low,
thrilling tone seeming to fill the dimly-lit chamber. Even Katherine and
I feel its influence.

"You do not think that justice has many sides. Oh, think of the nights I
have sat with you here, holding your hand and soothing you to sleep,
through all the grim, lonely hours of solitude and ghostly fancies, and
of the days, the horrible days, of lying and plotting and scheming lest
any one should penetrate here, and discover our secret! Never have I
known what it is for one instant to be free from this great
overshadowing fear. Day by day, and night by night, it has lived with
me, till the deep lines have stolen into my face and the grey hairs into
my head. Do you owe me nothing for all this, my love, my dear, dear
love? Is it all to be fruitless? Are we never to try that new life in
some far-off country that we have spoken of and planned for? It is my
life as well as yours that you will offer up. Is that justice? Is that
justice to me? Am I to have no reward for all the torture and the
suffering I have passed through?"

She lifts her clasped hands and throws them round the prostrate figure
by her side in a wild, stormy abandonment of grief, and then in a moment
a faint, dull whisper, the ghost of a voice, just reaches our ears:

"In another world, Cora, my darling, or from another's hand--not mine.
Cannot you see that even if I yielded, even if I gave way to these sweet
prayers of yours, it would be for a very short time? The bitterness of
this thing has eaten its way into my heart. I should not be with you
long enough to make it worth while. Don't you know that I am very
ill--nay, why should I not speak plain?--that I am dying, Cora?"

"No, no, no!" she moans. "It is only this place that is killing you.
Once away from it--far away--"

She breaks down, sobbing convulsively. I feel my own eyes moist, and
there is a lump in my throat. It is hard indeed to believe that this can
be Lady Deignton.

Again the figure on the couch whispers in her ear. She dries her eyes
and rises slowly, carelessly drawing around her the mantle which has
slipped from her shoulders. We hear the sound of one long passionate
kiss and a choking sob.

"I--I will send the carriage away and do as you bid," she murmurs.

Then, before we can move, she has turned away from the couch, and,
crossing the room towards us, draws aside the curtain. We all then stand
face to face.

The end of it has come at last, but not as I had dreamed of and prayed
for. There is nothing of the baffled conspirator in this woman's
bearing; there is not even any semblance of guilt or fear. Her face is
white and strained, as though wrung with a great anguish, but in this
moment of her defeat, of her supreme sorrow, she carries herself with
the high dignity of a vanquished queen.

Never before have I seen her look so womanly or so beautiful. Somehow,
as our eyes meet, I for my part forget all that has passed between us. I
have the curious feeling that I am the culprit, and she the victim.

A bright spot of colour blazes in her cheeks as she realizes the fact of
our presence. Then she retreats slowly into the room, and, leaning down,
takes a white, wasted hand which is resting upon the couch. For a moment
there is a glare in her eyes as she turns and faces us again, the glare
of the conquered but desperate woman eager to defend the man she loves
from evil. But it passes away. Only she stays there, holding the hand
tightly.

"There is no need for me to leave you," she whispers softly. "Katherine
is here."

The man on the couch half raises himself, and clears away the rugs which
has been piled over him. Lady Deignton, stooping down, passes her arm
around his back, and thus supports him. The movement has brought him out
of the deep shadows into such light as there is.

"Katherine," he murmurs, "my child!"

She gives a wild start, and clutches my arm frantically. A worn,
strange-looking old man, with long but carefully-trimmed grey beard, and
face ghastly pale in the green, shaded lamplight, is sitting upon the
couch holding out his arms towards her. I feel her fingers close upon my
wrist like a vice, and the colour flies from her cheek. I, too, am
conscious of something like a sudden blindness, I put my hand to my
eyes, and cover them for a moment. I have seen a ghost! Surely I have
seen a ghost I Then the tension of the moment is broken by a piercing
shriek from Katherine. I look again. Katherine has left my side, and is
on her knees before the couch. Her arms are wound around the man's neck,
and her lips are pressed to his face.

"Father! Father!" she sobs. "My father, is it really, really you?"

Then, as one great flash of summer lightning sometimes lays bare a whole
countryside, I see the truth. And Lady Deignton looks at Katherine, and
from Katherine to me, and smiles with a strange bitterness. Surely this
is not our triumph, but hers.

* * * * * * *

For the moments which follow we have no measure of time, but after a
while Katherine's broken caresses and wondering questions are checked,
by a low, deep voice.

"I must speak to you, Katherine, and to you, Norman. Will you--"

He does not finish the sentence, but he holds out a thin trembling hand.
I step forward without hesitation, and clasp it firmly in mine. He gives
a gasp of relief.

"Norman, my boy, I have done you a sad injury. It has not been
altogether of my own will or knowledge. Cora, you tell them the whole
story. I am not used to seeing people, and I am a little dizzy. Tell
them everything. Let them understand it all."

Lady Deignton, still with one arm around him, turns towards us. She
speaks in a rapid, even tone, almost as though she herself were in no
way concerned with what she is saying. Every now and then she glances
towards the figure on the couch with dim eyes. It is evident that we
have ceased to be persons of any interest in her sight.

"I begin at the night of the murder," she says, "and I tell you at once
the wretched cause of all this misery. We had a guest, a Mr. Lugard, who
came to us with a letter of introduction from a friend of Sir
Humphrey's. His valet was my brother.

"When Sir Humphrey met me first I was a governess in the family of an
Austrian nobleman. He had known my father, who was an English gentleman
of good family and position, but he knew nothing of my mother, or my
sister, or my brother. I was foolishly proud, and I chose to tell him
nothing of them. My mother had been an actress in her younger days, and
she was now utterly disreputable. My brother had gone to the bad. My
sister I knew little of. I was married to Sir Humphrey one morning at
the Embassy at Vienna, and I neither told my people about him, nor him
about my people.

"I had heard nothing about any of them until that night, nor had they
heard anything about me, except that I was married to an Englishman.
Consequently, when I recognized my brother as Mr. Lugard's servant, the
meeting was a terrible shock to me. I talked to him for some time, and I
began to feel a good deal ashamed of myself. I determined to do what I
could to make amends. I would tell my husband that my brother had found
me out, and ask for his assistance towards starting him afresh in life.
There was one thing still which troubled me. I did not want Sir Humphrey
to know that my brother had come here as a valet, so I told him to go at
once to Mr. Lugard and tell him that he must leave his service that
instant. He was to make his own excuse, and as Mr. Lugard was leaving on
the morrow, it would be easy to keep him out of the way until then. Then
I told Mason, who was a trusted servant, the whole truth, and directed
that the bachelor's room was to be given to my brother, and that he was
to be treated as my guest. I had forgotten all about Dr. Scott, and I
had no idea that he was already occupying the bachelor's room; nor, it
seems, had Mason, who was very unwell at the time, and in the middle of
the evening went to bed ill.

"After dinner I scribbled a note for my brother, and left it in the room
where I supposed he would be. It was only a line to tell him to leave
his door unlocked. I had a good deal to say to him before I spoke to Sir
Humphrey, and I could think of no other means.

"Sir Humphrey saw me leave the note there, followed me, and read it.
You, Norman Scott, also read it, imagining it for you. You,
Humphrey--and I do not blame you, dear--thought the same.

"You, Norman Scott, behaved as you should have done when you read that
note and imagined what you did imagine. You left the house. When
night time came my brother carried his bag into the room you had most
unfortunately vacated, and began to undress. He was interrupted by my
coming to him. We had scarcely been together for a moment when Sir
Humphrey followed. What happened then was all over before I could find
words to attempt any explanation. My brother had his arm around me and I
was crying when Sir Humphrey came in. We sprang apart, and I daresay I
looked surprised. At any rate, I was too frightened to say a word, and
before I could collect myself it was all over. I--I--"

Lady Deignton is ghastly pale, and I am afraid she is going to faint.
Sir Humphrey motions her to be silent.

"Let me tell them, Cora. Be quiet, dear. That cursed iron club was lying
upon the table--someone must have taken it down to look at it--and I
struck him with all my force--I was a strong man then--across the face.
God in heaven forgive me!"

He sinks back on the couch, and there is a moment's silence. Then Lady
Deignton continues. Her manner has relapsed into its former deadly calm.

"My first words afterwards told him what he had done. He was for
arousing the house. I would not let him. What followed was my device, my
idea, my carrying out alone. Lionel, my brother, was much older than I
was, clean-shaven and grey, the same height as Sir Humphrey, and not by
any means unlike him. With my own hands I undressed him, and against
your will, Humphrey, against your will,' I forced you to take off your
clothes, and help me to put them on Lionel. I was careful even down to
the minutest detail, and it took us more than an hour. Then we stole
back to my room, through Sir Humphrey's, and I fetched Mason, and told
him all It was getting light by that time, so Sir Humphrey hid in
Mason's room until dusk the next day.

"Then he crossed the park, and, unseen by any one except a crazy
postman, reached the White House. Stephen Callender, an eccentric old
pensioner of Sir Humphrey's father, and a great invalid, had just left
for Egypt. We gave out that he had returned unexpectedly, finding the
journey too great for him. Since then Sir Humphrey has Jived here as
Stephen Callender, and by some means or other we have managed to keep
the real Stephen Callender from coming back. The doctor who was called
in to see the murdered man at the Court had never seen Sir Humphrey, and
had no suspicions. The coroner's jury were all farmers and people
connected with the estate, and when it was understood that I did not
wish the bandages across the head to be disturbed, not one of them
suggested doing so. I must tell you that when I planned this thing and
forced it upon Sir Humphrey, we both of us looked upon it only as a
chance, and a very slender chance. We did not dream of succeeding so
well."

There is a deep silence, a silence of wonder, almost of awe. Then Sir
Humphrey speaks.

"Katherine," he says slowly, "and you, Norman, you have heard the whole
sickening story; you have heard everything. But you have not heard--you
will never hear, you will never understand--the heroism and the devotion
with which Cora, my wife, has watched over me and nursed me and guarded
me."

He looks away from us, and takes her hands lovingly in his own, drawing
her closer to him, until her head sinks upon his shoulder and remains
there. Then he turns to us again, with tears dimming his eyes, and a
deep tenderness in his tone.

"I am not going to try to make you understand how day by day she has
kept me alive, has comforted me, and tended me. I could not. The
knowledge of it dwells in my heart as a thing to wonder at, to think of
with reverence and awe. Never was a life laid down for another's as hers
was for me. But you, Norman--with you it is different. You may have
cause to find grave fault with her, and with me. You--"

I hold out my hands and stop him.

"I find no fault, no shadow of fault," I cry passionately. "She has done
well and nobly."

She looks up at me for a moment, her face stained with tears, and with
her glorious hair all dishevelled. It is hard to believe that this is
the tempting, beautiful woman with whom I have striven so desperately.

"I thank you," she says simply. "You are generous to say that, for I
have not met you with fair weapons. I have stooped to falsehood and
deceit, and I have played a part with you that my soul loathed. It was
for his sake. That is all. I do not try to justify myself. I would do it
again a thousand times over. But I want you to understand. There have
been times when I have striven to make you misunderstand. You know me
better now. It is the actress who has lied to you. It is the woman whose
only thought has been to keep her husband from harm."

"God bless you for it, dear!" he murmurs fervently, although no one
there save I alone can know the whole significance of her words to me.
"But Norman," he continues, looking towards me, "it is only during the
last few days that I have realized one thing--what your position has been
all this time. Do not blame her too much for keeping this from me."

"I do not blame her at all," I answer; "and from me at any rate you are
safe. Had I known the truth, I should never have been here. Since I am,
you must let me help. You would surely be better away from here--out of
England altogether."

He shakes his head.

"That is all over and done with," he answers slowly. "Only yesterday my
old friend and lawyer, Robert Ames, was here. He took my depositions
down to the slightest particular, and to-morrow they will be acted upon.
No, no," he continues, smiling faintly at us, for both Katherine and
myself have sprung to our feet, "my mind is irrevocably made up. There
is a carriage waiting for me outside now, but I have refused to go. It
is enough. What I will not do for my wife's sake, and such a wife, I
shall not do for any other person. You understand? "'

He ends with a gasp, and closes his eyes. We look at one another in mute
despair. As for me, my eyes are wet with tears, and there is a great
choking in my throat. The day of my release has come, indeed, but the
sorrow of it outmeasures the joy. I look at this frail, prematurely-aged
man, who is bravely giving himself up to be the victim of a nine days'
wonder, and at the woman who has almost pawned her soul to save him, and
who lies now stretched upon the floor by his side in a hopeless
abandonment of grief, with her arms still wound around his neck. I look
at them both and my heart is sick and heavy. This is the cost of my
freedom. Would to God that I had carried my burden into some far
distant-country and died there!

There is a strange, intense silence in the chamber, a silence broken
only now and then by the distress of the two women who are kneeling by
the side of the couch. I am standing by myself a little apart, with my
face turned away, and it is thus that I first am aware of a new-comer. A
hand, a small, shapely hand, steals through the aperture and divides the
curtain, and immediately afterwards a slim, girlish figure, with white
face and dark, brilliant eyes, steps cautiously into the room. I watch
her for a moment, fascinated. Then I hear what sounds like a low,
wrathful cry from Lady Deignton as she rises to her feet and faces the
intruder.

"Olive," she cries, "you here?"

"Yes, I am here. Where is Lionel? I told you that I would see him, and I
will. Where is he?"

She moves forward with quick, feline tread, keeping her eyes fixed upon
the bed. Lady Deignton watches her with horror.

"Olive," she says slowly, "I have deceived you. Lionel is not here."

The girl stops short. Her bosom is rising and falling quickly, and her
eyes are afire.

"What have you done with him? Tell me. If Lionel be not here, who is
that man upon the couch there?"

Sir Humphrey raises himself upon his elbow, about to speak, but Lady
Deignton has anticipated him.

"This is my husband. Sir Humphrey Deignton, Olive."

"But--but he was murdered!" she gasps.

Lady Deignton shakes her head.

"He was supposed to be," she answers. "Olive, will you let me tell you
all about it to-morrow? I--I am not well now."

The girl advances a step farther forwards into the room. She does not
appear to have heard her sister's last request.

"If Sir Humphrey Deignton, your husband, was not murdered that night,
who was?" she cries. "The truth! I want the truth! Where is Lionel?"

"He is dead," Lady Deignton answers quietly.

"Dead!" Olive repeats, keeping her eyes relentlessly fixed upon her
sister. "Dead! and you--you have lied to me. I have been your tool.
Is it your fault that I am not a murderess? Did you not tell me that
that man," turning suddenly towards me, "was hunting Lionel down? Did
you not bid me watch him--ay, even put the pistol into my hand with
which I sought to take his life? Oh, my God! Was ever woman so false,
so perjured as you? But I will have the truth now. Lionel is dead,
you say? How did he die? Was he murdered?"

"He was killed--accidentally."

"And by him?"

She is pointing to the couch. Sir Humphrey has been waiting to speak,
and he answers the question himself.

"It was I, child. It was a wretched mistake. I did not know that Cora
had a brother, and I found them together, and--and I struck him. I have
suffered very much, and there is more suffering in store for me. Won't
you try to forgive me?"

He turns his haggard, gentle face pleadingly towards her. As if in
answer to him, she moves slowly forward towards the couch. We all stand
aside to let her pass. But the look on her face is not one of
forgiveness, and I watch her movements with a curious sense of dread.
Her face is like the face of one in a nightmare, set and white, and
terrible in its blank inexpressiveness.

"I have been deceived," she says slowly. "I was told that Lionel had
killed you, that he was here in hiding, and that Dr. Scott was seeking
to track him down and bring him to justice. And it was all a lie! Lionel
never killed any one. It was you--you who killed him," she concludes,
bending down.

"Alas! yes," he falters. "God only knows how bitterly I suffer for it."

Then suddenly I see her hand steal into the bosom of her dress, and,
recognizing the gesture, I leap forwards. But I am too late. Sir
Humphrey himself must have seen the blow coming, but he only closed his
eyes. None of us could stop her. With a low, animal cry of rage, she has
buried a small dagger in his left side.

* * * * * * *

He opens his eyes once, and is conscious for about a minute. He gives
Katherine his left hand, and smiles at me. Then he turns to his wife
with a look of indescribable love and content. Her arms are wound around
his neck, and her face pressed close to his.

"Good-bye--all of you," he falters. "Let the girl go. This is much
better. Cora, my dear, dear love, be brave! We had to part. This is
better. Farewell!"

Then he says no more, but his last action is to lay Katherine's hand in
mine. And outside morning breaks behind the clouds, and a faint early
sunlight steals into the chamber, glancing across the calm, white face,
and wonderfully softening the deep anxious furrows. Then we three rise
and look at one another, and the tears spring into my hot, dry eyes as I
look upon Lady Deignton's white hairs.

"Where is she?" Katherine whispers, glancing half fearfully around.

"Gone," I answer. "It is better so. Let us pray that we may never see
her again."

* * * * * * *

It is not long before Katherine and I kneel by another death-bed, more
peaceful by far than this. For my uncle has lived to see his desire
accomplished, and in the chamber of his ancestors, with his face turned
seawards, and the fingers of his right hand locked on the hilt of his
beloved sword, he welcomes death like a brave man, conscious of a long
life of righteous deeds and Christian bravery. And Katherine and I, as
we stand up in the grey morning and look through the open window across
the wild, tossing sea, turn over a chapter of our lives. For henceforth
tragedy has no more a share in us. Our lives become as a
smoothly-flowing river, with a strong, deep undercurrent of sweet and
lasting happiness.



THE END


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