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Title: The Veiled Man
Author: Ambrose Pratt
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Language: English
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THE VEILED MAN.

By

AMBROSE PRATT.


Published in The Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, N.S.W.,
in serial format commencing Friday 26 April, 1907, (this text.),
and in The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate
commencing 29 November, 1907

Also in book form by Ward Lock & Co., under the title
"The Leather Mask" in 1907.



CHAPTER I.
CHAPTER II.
CHAPTER III.
CHAPTER IV.
CHAPTER V.
CHAPTER VI.
CHAPTER VII.
CHAPTER VIII.
CHAPTER IX.
CHAPTER X.
CHAPTER XI.
CHAPTER XII.
CHAPTER XIII.
CHAPTER XIV.
CHAPTER XV.
CHAPTER XVI.
CHAPTER XVII.
CHAPTER XVIII.
CHAPTER XIX.
CHAPTER XX.
CHAPTER XXI.
CHAPTER XXII.
CHAPTER XXIII.
CHAPTER XXIV.
CHAPTER XXV.
CHAPTER XXVI.
CHAPTER XXVII.
CHAPTER XXXVIII.
CHAPTER XXIX.
CHAPTER XXX.
CHAPTER XXXI.
CHAPTER XXXII.
CHAPTER XXXIII.
CHAPTER XXXIV.
CHAPTER XXXV.
CHAPTER XXXVI.
CHAPTER XXXVII.



CHAPTER I.

A neatly dressed dapper little man late one afternoon in the summer of 1893, was strolling through the Sydney Domain in the direction of Woolloomooloo when a piercing voice cried out his name: "Mr. Vickars—Simon, Simon Vickars!"

He stopped short and turned about. One of the busy stream of workmen amongst whom he had been moving jostled and almost overset him. The laborer rapped out an oath and passed on.

Simon Vickars staggered to the grass border of the asphalt footpath, and there, out of danger of further collision, peered at the crowd with anxious eyes. Six o'clock had struck, but the summer sun still fiercely blazed. "Who called me?" he muttered, and dabbed his perspiring face with a moist handkerchief.

A young woman presently attracted his attention. She carried a valise in one hand, and waved the other excitedly aloft. She was vulgarly dressed, and rather pretty.

"Nell!" he exclaimed.

She hastened up to him, panting for breath.

"There," she gasped, and dropping the valise at his feet she began to fasten under her hat a coil of hair which her exertions had caused to wander.

Simon Vickars picked up the valise, and without a word strode across the lawn at a right angle from the hive-like path. The girl followed him, a sullen expression gradually settling upon her face. The man's want of consideration annoyed her. She had taken a deal of trouble to serve him, and he had not even thanked her.

"Where on earth are you going?" she called out in angry tones.

Simon Vickars halted. He showed her a pallid countenance. "When did it happen?" he demanded.

"This after—about two." The girl forgot her irritation in concern. She had not seen the man so deeply moved before. "I kidded them I was a new servant just come," she continued glibly. "Luckily ma was out. They kept me for a goodish bit puttin' me through a reg'lar catechism about you. But I swore I'd never set eyes on you in me natural, an' as soon as I could—while they were searching your room—I sneaked to mine, shoved on me hat, collared that bag o' yours you asked me to keep for you, and did a git through the window and out the back way. They'd left a trap in the parlor to watch the front o' the house, but never thought o' the back, the fools."

Simon Vickars nodded his approval of her cleverness. "You must have been waiting here for hours," he said.

"Yes, I have, just hours, and it is as hot as blazes, too. And I nearly missed you in the end, in the crowd; you're so little, you see. It was just a chance I spotted you. You'd got a hundred yards ahead as it was. But I knew you by your hat."

Vickars removed the article mentioned, a straw, with a scarlet band, and mopped his forehead. His first panic had subsided, but he still trembled a little.

"You are a good sort, Nelly. I knew I could depend on you," he said.

The girl flushed with pleasure. "That's all right." She waved her hand as though to deprecate further acknowledgment. "What are you going to do?"

"Slip up the cops, if I can, curse 'em. I think I can. I've had some experience."

"How will you?"

"By doing the thing they are least likely to expect me to."

He put his hand in his pocket and drew out some gold coins. "Ten quid," he observed, after counting them. "They are all I have in the world, but take what you want, Nelly; take what you want."

He extended his open palm towards the girl. Nelly, however, with an indignant gesture put her hand behind her back.

"What do you take me for?" she cried.

"The brick you are." The man had expected his offer to be refused. He grinned and slipped the coins back into his pocket. "Never mind, old girl, I'll give you a royal time as soon as I come back," he added warmly.

"Are you goin' away, Simon?"

"I'll have to for a bit, my girl."

"Where?" Nelly looked inclined to cry.

"Up country somewhere."

"Not out of the country?"

"Strike me—no."

Nelly brightened up. "You'll write to me; won't you?"

"Rather." He held out his hand. "Good-bye, lovey. I'll have to leave you now."

"Without a kiss?" The voice was pitiful.

Simon Vickars kissed her on the mouth. Nelly watched him through her tears until he had disappeared from her view. Long, however, before that moment arrived Simon had forgotten her. He was wondering how he could make good his boast and escape the police.

"They will look for me in the old haunts, search the trains, the intercolonial boats, the public houses, and cheap hotels. That's a dead cert. Well, I guess I can't do better than put up for the present at the swellest place in the city!"'

Three cabs were drawn up in line before the Domain gates. Simon chose the second and got in. "Hotel Australia, cabby," he said cheerily. Three minutes later he climbed the hotel steps, paid four shillings at the office, and was handed the key to a room on the fifth story. He signed his name in the book as Samuel Carson, and immediately afterwards entered a waiting lift.

A tall man, with high cheekbones and a villainous squint, who was seated in the vestibule awaiting his turn at the public telephone, watched Simon's every movement, with interested eyes. When Simon had disappeared, he arose and sauntered quietly over to the office.

"Just let me see that book, please," he said to the clerk. "Humph!" he muttered presently. "Samuel Carson, eh! What's the artful up to now, I wonder?"

"I beg your pardon, Detective Hammond," said the clerk.

The tall man gave the clerk a look of concentrated rage. "I just remarked," he replied in tones of savage scorn, "that I'm needing a bell-ringer to dog my heels and advertise the fact that I am a detective. Are you looking for a job, Mr. Jones?"

The clerk turned crimson, but said nothing.

Five hours later Detective Hammond was invited to a conference in the office of his chief.

"I have sent for you, my dear Hammond," said the head of the police, "because you are the only officer I have who never botches his work."

"Something special?" asked the detective.

The chief sighed. "The Artful," he answered. "A warrant was issued this morning—felony too—he has been uttering valueless cheques. You were out—so I gave the business to Chalmers, who was idiot enough to let himself be tricked by a woman—the 'Artful's' mistress, I believe. We have her, but the bird has flown. I want you to take the matter up."

Detective Hammond made a grimace. "A tough job," he remarked. "There is not a smarter criminal in Sydney than Simon Vickars."

"The more credit to you, my dear fellow, if you effect his capture."

"Oh, I'll do that all right. Can I see the woman?"

"Here is an order. She is at the Central."

Hammond put the order in his pocket. "Any reward?" he asked.

"Five pounds."

"Good. I'll claim it in the morning."

"You know something then?"

"I know the Artful, sir; well enough, at any rate, to make a shrewd guess at what he'd likely to do under the circumstances. Have the trains been watched?"

"Yes, and the boats, too."

"What about the pubs?"

"They have all been visited."

"Then my work is easy. I won't even bother about looking up the woman. I'll have the Artful lodged at the Water Station before breakfast in the morning. Will that do?"

"Do! Have a cigar, Hammond," cried the chief warmly. "No, take a couple. I wish I had a dozen more of your sort in the force."

Hammond suppressed a grin, and absentedly-minded abstracted four cigars from his chief's box. Ten minutes later he was seated in a comfortable armchair in the private office of the Hotel Australia, smoking and softly chuckling to himself. He would have arrested Simon Vickars there and then, except that such a capture would have appeared a trifle too smart. He wished to make his chief believe that he had exercised his genius for at least half a dozen hours. He had, in fact, a considerable reputation to sustain, and he did not care to monkey with so valuable an asset.

By-and-bye he fell asleep. A waiter, acting on instructions, aroused him soon after daylight. Detective Hammond spent the next hour glancing over a newspaper that was still damp from the press. Six o'clock struck. The detective rolled up the paper and put it in his pocket. The journal was the property of the hotel, but his acquisitive facility was handsomely developed. He strolled out of the office and began to climb the stairs. His shoes were shod with felt, so he made no noise, and he did not trouble to inform the nodding porter of his intentions. He arrived at the fifth storey somewhat out of breath, but he was rested and ready for anything when he reached the door of Simon Vickar's room. There he paused for a moment in order to oil his master-key, and also to loosen his handcuffs and revolver.

The lock, answering his expectations, moved soundlessly. The detective pushed open the door and entered the room. Simon Vickars was asleep. The detective shut and locked the door without arousing the sleeper. He then approached the bed, pistol in hand, treading like a cat. In the half light of the chamber the Artful's face looked strangely small and childlike. It seemed a shame to disturb such peaceful slumbering. Hammond paused and eyed his quarry keenly. He thought it possible he might be shamming sleep. But no, the narrow chest rose and fell too regularly, and the long black eyelashes rested upon the cheek without a quiver. Hammond felt rather pitiful. It was such a small man, such a small face, and not ill-looking. A secretive, shut in face, perhaps, yet less wicked than cunning. "What business has such a hairless little rat to be a criminal," reflected the detective.

"Come, wake up," he commanded gruffly.

The long black lashes lifted and a pair of soft brown eyes gazed up at the detective.

"Simon Vickars," called Hammond. "The game is up. I arrest you in the Queen's name."

The little man raised himself upon his pillow. "Hammond!" he gasped.

"At your service."

Simon rubbed his eyes. "I was dreaming," he muttered.

"Were you?"

"What am I wanted for?"

"Forgery and uttering. I warn you that whatever you say will be used against you. Get up and dress yourself, look alive."

Simon Vickars looked hard at the detective. "I was dreaming," he said, and of a sudden his lips began to tremble and his eyes filled with tears. "I was dreaming of my poor old mother." He covered his face with his hands and burst into a storm of weeping. Hammond gave a disgusted smile and put his revolver in his pocket. "Stow that," he growled. "Try and be a man."

"I—I—can't. I'm a guilty wretch I—I—know," sobbed Simon. "But I'm that miserable!"

"Get up."

Simon with one hand plucked off the bedclothes, and then very slowly put his feet to the floor. His body was shaking like a shrub in a gale; he still kept his face hidden.

"Hand me my trousers," he entreated piteously. He had slept in his shirt.

The trousers were hanging at the foot of the bed. Detective Hammond moved to procure them, and like an arrow Simon Vicars leaped at his throat. The detective was a powerful man, but he was taken entirely unawares, and before he could collect his energies his neck was imprisoned in a steel grip. The "Artful" moreover had attacked him from the side, and, with a desperate wriggle ere the struggle had well begun, managed to get astride his victim's back, and to wind a pair of sinewy legs around the detective's middle.

Hammond tore at the hands which bound his throat; he failed to remove them; he felt for his revolver, it was barred in his pocket with a knee, against which he pushed and hammered in vain. He tried to shout for help, but not a sound escaped him. He was choking. He made a tremendous effort and staggered on a blind impulse towards the door, clutching madly at the air with frantically extended hands. He fell ere he reached it, face downwards on the carpet, utterly insensible.

Simon Vickars arose, and stealing to open the door, peered out. The corridor was deserted.

Returning, he bound the detective's hands and legs with strips torn from a sheet, and carefully gagged his victim, who was now breathing heavily, with a toothbrush wrapped in a towel. With a strength amazing in so small a man, he then lifted the unconscious body, and, having bestowed it upon the bed, bound it to the posts by hands and feet. Ten minutes later Simon was dressed and ready for the street. He wore a check suit, a crush hat, a small black moustache, and an imperial. He searched the detective's pockets, and removed therefrom the morning newspaper which Hammond had abstracted from the office, a revolver, the detective's badge of office, a cigar, and a handful of silver change.

Simon thereupon pulled the curtains of the bed about his yet unconscious victim, and departing from the room, valise in hand, locked the door behind him. In the passage he lighted a cigar.

A man carrying an armful of boots was the only person he encountered until he had reached the ground floor. There, however, he was stopped by the hall porter.

"You are up early, sir," said the man suspiciously.

But Simon knew how to treat fellows of that sort.

"What the devil has that to do with you?" he snapped. "Call me a cab."

The hall porter was confounded. He apologised and obeyed. Simon drove straight to the Metropole Hotel, an establishment only second in importance to the Hotel Australia. He paid ten shillings, and was conducted to a handsomely furnished apartment on the ground floor. His name was now George Lamb.

Sitting down he began to read the advertisements in the newspaper which had been stolen twice. Presently, in a column of "Wanteds," the following caught his eye:—

"Wanted for the s.s. Moravian, sailing to-day at noon, three cabin stewards. Apply personally with references before 8 a.m. at the offices of Dalgety and Company Ltd."

Simon Vickars put down the paper and sprang to his feet. His eyes roved the room and discovered a desk, pens and ink. From his valise he produced a bundle of blank letter heads, stamped with the address of several fashionable London hotels. Simon Vickars had always made it a practice of carrying away some letter paper from each hotel he visited. By dint of writing hard and fast, the clock had only struck a quarter past seven when he issued forth from the Metropole armed with testimonials which announced to the unwary that one, Simon Le Couvrier had been variously employed at the Hotel Cecil, the Carlton, St. Ermin's, the Hotel Victoria, and the Savoy, at all of which places he had given quite astonishing satisfaction.

Dalgety and Company's manager at once perceived that he had discovered a treasure.

Behold Simon, therefore, an hour and a half later, clad in a steward's uniform of the s.s. Moravian (the trousers were many sizes too large for him), busily engaged in polishing glass and silverware on the steamer's lower deck, explaining his position meanwhile to a pair of brother menials similarly employed, in a tongue admirably adapted to his most recent alias, "Mais oui, messieurs. Zis gonntree ees not feet for un chien—ze dog—to lif in. I hat him. I come her a—vat you say—a gentilhomme, gentleman. But I my money spend—sacre! who care? Zey take him—my money. Ah, oui! To me, zey say, 'Va t'en!' I am gentlemon—vraiment, mais, vat to do? you see me now—ze steward. Bah! Mais donc, que voulez vous? Et is necessaire zat I go home."


CHAPTER II.

The second steward interrupted the flow of Simon's romantic assertions as the little man was on the point of declaring himself of royal origin. Under the spur of a sympathetic audience Simon's imagination always strode about in seven league boots. The second steward held in his hand an open book. He eyed Simon for a few seconds and then referred to his book.

"Simon Le Couvrier," he said.

"Monseigneur," replied Simon, bowing to the floor. "Ja'i l'honneur de vous saluer."

"I don't understand French, and I am going to call you plain Simon—your second name is too much of a corker for me," said the second steward. "Come along, and I'll show you the cabins you'll have to look after."

Simon grinned and shrugged magnificent contempt behind his superior's back. He made haste, however, to follow him, and once out of sight of those whom he had been feeding with lies, he became cringingly obsequious. The second steward expanded under such treatment, and having completed his rounds, he invited Simon to his cabin and treated him to a glass of absinthe.

As they emerged they were accosted by a giant, a young and extremely handsome man, whose strong chin, steely blue eyes and aquiline nose made Simon think of a Viking. "I'm looking for the second steward," he announced.

"I am the second steward, sir."

"I,"—the young man gave a charming smile which revealed a set of teeth, small and of dazzling whiteness. "I am the Earl of Cawthorne. My cousin, who is an invalid, you know, is just coming on board. I wish to be sure that his cabin is in order, and I would also like to see his cabin steward."

The second steward was a snob. He almost bent in two. "I have had your lordship's cousin's cabin prepared for your lordship's cousin's reception under my personal supervision," he said fawningly. "Your lordship will, I am sure, be pleased with it. This man"—he indicated Simon—"will be your lordship's cousin's cabin steward, and I have already given him instructions to do everything for your lordship's cousin that he possibly can."

The second steward lied regarding the special instructions, but Simon was not a man to contradict his master. He stepped forward.

"Per—r—meet me to assure monseigneur zat I vill vait alvays upon monseigneur's cousin avec du grand plaisir," he said, and bowed low, his hand upon his heart.

The blonde giant took a sovereign from his waistcoat pocket and dropped it into Simon's palm.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Plait—il, monseigneur. Je mo nomme—Simon Le Couvrier."

"I don't understand French," replied the Earl. "I gather, though, that your name is Simon, eh?"

"As monseigneur pleases."

"Ah," said the Earl, "here is my cousin. Perhaps you will lead the way to his cabin."

But at that moment the second steward, received a peremptory message from his chief, and he was obliged to hurry away. He muttered "No. 40" in Simon's ear and fled.

Simon perceived a stretcher advancing towards him, carried by two men attired in ambulance uniform. The stretcher was entirely covered with a circular canvas screen. Simon was ignorant of the whereabouts of No. 40, but he reflected that it had been engaged for the cousin of an earl, so he led the way to the boat deck.

He found the cabin without difficulty. It was the largest on the steamer, faced across a narrow passage by two others that occupied in the aggregate a similar space of deck room. The stretcher bearers entered and deposited their burden on the couch. The Earl followed them; Simon remained at the threshold looking in. The Earl turned down the bedclothes of the cabin's single cot, while the bearers removed the canvas canopy from the stretcher. Simon perceived the recumbent figure of a man whose height erect could not have been less than six feet. His figure, however (he was clad in pyjamas of fine silk), was painfully lean and shrunken. Upon his head he wore a velvet cap, from the peak of which fell a smooth impenetrable veil that perfectly concealed his face. The bearers tenderly raised the invalid and conveyed him to the cot. The Earl covered his cousin's moveless body with the bedclothes, and gave the ambulance men a sovereign a piece. They immediately withdrew.

"Come in, Simon," said the Earl.

Simon entered.

"Please close the door."

Simon obeyed.

The Earl bent over his cousin. "John, old chap," he said gently, "this is your cabin steward. His name is Simon."

Simon bowed. The veiled head slowly turned, and Simon became conscious that the invalid could see him. The Earl looked silently from one to the other. At the end of a minute Simon began to feel uncomfortable under the scrutiny of unseen eyes; at the end of two he felt miserable; at the end of three beads of perspiration stood out upon his forehead; his imagination was stirred, uncannily stirred; the wildest fancies darted into his mind; the silence grew unsupportable.

"Monseigneur," he stammered, turning with a helpless gesture to the Earl.

A voice of penetrating sweetness issued of a sudden from the cot.

"Simon has a bad conscience, I'm afraid, Jack; but that should not prevent him from making a good servant. Where is your cabin, Jack?"

"Immediately opposite," replied the Earl. "I have not seen it yet."

"Then do so now, and look after our luggage as well."

"Will you be all right, old chap."

"Certainly."

The Earl left the cabin, and Simon hastily prepared to follow. He hated the idea of being left alone with that veiled figure on the cot, but he was not permitted to escape so easily.

"Simon," said the sweet voice. It possessed a curiously compelling faculty that voice, sweet as it was.

Simon faced about.

"Monseigneur," he stammered.

"Come here."

Simon trembled and obeyed.

"Your moustache and imperial, Simon, are false," said the voice.

Simon uttered an irrepressible cry, and sprang in sudden panic for the door, his one thought to escape.

"Stop, fool!" The voice pierced to the very bottom of Simon's heart. He stopped; his face was ashen white. "Shut the door; lock it if you like. I am not a policeman—idiot!"

Simon locked the door, and, standing in the shadow, fumbled with shaking fingers in his hip pocket for Detective Hammond's revolver. He did not know what to expect, but he would not be arrested if he could help it. That would mean for him at least five years' penal servitude, one of which must be spent in solitary confinement. Rather death.

"Better allow your revolver to remain where it is," advised the voice.

"Good God," Simon blurted out, "what eyes you must have."

"So you are not a Frenchman," mocked the voice. "I guessed it."

"What in the devil's name are you?" demanded Simon, of a sudden stirred to rage.

The Earl's cousin sat up in his bed. He took from the pocket of his pyjama coat a cigar case, and opened it, selected a weed with care. Simon noticed that his hands were curiously deformed, the fingers were twisted, the palms and backs were seamed with flaming scars.

"A match, please."

Simon remembered that he was a servant. "Now he will have to raise his veil," he thought. But the Earl's cousin after accepting Simon's match-box, put one hand to his veil. Simon saw something move. Almost involuntary he drew closer, and made the astonishing discovery that the veil was constructed of stiff leather, and that it was furnished with a brown glass vizor and a sliding mouthpiece.

The Earl's cousin inserted one end of the cigar into the open mouthpiece and applied a lighted match to the other. Before he puffed out the smoke, he always withdrew the cigar.

Simon watched him, breathing shortly. He was too astounded even to speculate about the motive for using so curious a helmet. The figure inspected the glowing cigar tip, and extinguished the match.

"You look surprised," he observed.

Simon gasped.

"I have a kind heart and an ugly face, Simon. There you have my secret in a nutshell."

Simon thought of smallpox, eczema and leprosy. He shuddered and fell back.

"My face," proceeded the invalid, "is deformed, not diseased. But it is so positively ugly that I wear this veil, even when sleeping. But my heart is so much comparatively kinder than my face is ugly that, unless necessity compels, I never inflict my society upon the world. Out of sight out of mind; you know the proverb, Simon. Now, as I am superlatively sensitive (mark the degrees, Simon, and remember them. I am positively ugly, comparatively kind, superlatively sensitive.) Now, since—to repeat myself—I am superlatively sensitive, I prefer that my existence should be forgotten by the world; I wish, in fact, to live unknown and unremarked. People, you see, are of three classes, Simon; kind people, thoughtless people, and cruel people. The kind would would ostentatiously ignore my misfortune, the thoughtless would try to console me, the cruel would pity me. The whole d——d lot would torture me. You grasp me, Simon?"

Simon nodded; he was incapable of speech.

"It is scarcely half past ten yet," resumed the other. "I had myself carried aboard two hours before sailing time in order to escape remark. I am not really much of an invalid, Simon, though I do suffer from heart disease; but I shall not leave this cabin until we reach England. In the meanwhile you will be my sole attendant. My cousin will so arrange that you will have no other work to do."

"Ah!"

"Your principal duty will be to defend this cabin from the curiosity of others—servants and passengers alike. Of course my cousin the Earl will always be welcome here, but if you ever permit another person to intrude upon my hermitage, I shall give you five pounds instead of fifty at the end of the voyage!"

"Ah!"

"You will, of course, bring me my bath, meals, and so on, and serve me in other ways; but you will have lots of leisure on your hands, so you need not look so discontented."

"I—I—am not discontented, sir. I—I was thinking——"

"What?"

"That something might happen to prevent me leaving Sydney."

The veiled figure started. "No, no—what! go through all this again!" he cried in tones of deep emotion; "I could not. Impossible, Simon, you must not be caught."

Simon's eyes gleamed. "If the police were to search the ship, they would be sure to find my valise!" he muttered.

"Where is it?"

"For safety's sake I gave it to another steward to mind for me."

"He was very like you in appearance, Simon, eh?"

Simon paled. "You must be the devil himself," he cried.

"Go and bring your valise here immediately. Lock the door behind you!"

When Simon returned the veiled man was lying down again, but he still smoked.

"Put your bag under the clothes at the foot of my bed," he commanded quietly.

Simon obeyed.

"My name is John Deen."

"Yes, sir."

"Why do the police want you, Simon?"

"Forgery, sir."

"So! a respectable crime. Well, well."

"A man must live," muttered Simon.

"Certainly, Talleyrand to the contrary, notwithstanding."

"Talleyrand was a shallow wit, Mr. Deen."

"A profound cynic, Simon."

"But an insincere philosopher; he committed worse crimes than theft."

A knock sounded on the door, it opened, and the Earl of Cawthorne entered.

"Baggage is all right, Jack," he announced. "But I shan't be able to get your books here for a while yet. The cabin trunks are all in my diggings. Simon can help me with them later on."

"Thank you, John."

"The police have just unearthed a stowaway from the steerage," went on the Earl.

"Ah," murmured Simon.

"A little rat of a man he looks, but for all that a desperate criminal. It seems that he half murdered a detective at some hotel here early this morning."

"What is his name, John?"

"Simon Vicars. Well, ta-ta, Jack. I'll look you up again as soon as we start."

"Don't hurry back, John!"

When the door closed, Simon dropped limply on the couch; his knees had declined to support him.

"We are in luck's way, Vicars," said Mr. Deen.

But Simon buried his face in his hands and fell to crying like a child.

The veiled figure uttered one short laugh, and then was silent.


CHAPTER III.

The more Simon thought the matter over, the more puzzled he became. The cousin of an earl had helped him to evade justice—why? It was impossible to take Mr. Deen at the foot of the letter and attribute his peculiar kindness to a hypersensitive repugnance to confide his misfortune to a second strange servant. Simon was too old and experienced a world's Genizen to swallow so flimsy an excuse? He rejected it with contempt, in fact. But he looked for an answer to his question in vain. The veil, too, troubled him greatly. He was willing to believe his master's face unutterably hideous, but he shrunk from accepting mere ugliness as an explanation of such absolute retirement as Mr. Deen indulged in. It was beyond all reason. Men are gregarious animals. Moreover, Mr. Deen professed no hatred of this kind. Simon's instincts were mostly parasitical. Since early manhood, he had preyed furtively and constantly upon his fellow-beings, without rage, but also without pity and without remorse. He was a born spy, an accomplished blackmailer, and a gambler to the soles of his feet. He possessed an unlimited faith in the wickedness of human nature. Immediately he felt safe, and within a week he felt safe, his instincts prompted him to seek a victim whose blood he could devour. He discovered two—the Earl of Cawthorne and his cousin, the veiled man, John Deen.

It may be objected, why the Earl? But if Simon had been asked why the veiled man, he could not have answered. As well ask a blind leech travelling in a certain direction through a forest whither he proceeds. Like such a leech, Simon smelt blood, and to pursue the simile, like the leech Simon followed his nose. That is to say, he watched and he waited. Whenever he could he watched through the keyhole of Mr. Deen's door; but he never saw his master without his veil. Mr. Deen appeared to be a book worm. Except during meal hours, and when exercising with the dumb-bells, as he did for half an hour both morning and evening, he was always reading. His literary tastes were Catholic. His library embraced Tolstoi, Paul de Cock, Balzac, and Herbert Spencer.

As time passed Simon wondered at him more and more. He seemed so contented with his solitude, so happily reconciled to his oblivion, that it was hard to conceive that he had ever been acquainted with another fate. Moreover; his temper was extraordinarily placid. Sometimes he admitted feeling unwell, and the more frequently as the steamer approached the tropics, but he did not complain; he merely mentioned his illness as an excuse for lack of appetite, it seemed that he was incapable of being irritated or put out. Simon tried to annoy him without success. One day as a final experiment, he spilt a cup of hot tea upon Mr. Deen's knees.

"It is quite a relief, Simon," said the veiled man, "to find that you can be clumsy at times." Simon was, in fact, an almost perfect servant. But on that occasion he left the cabin in white fury at his failure. In despair he began to watch the Earl. Lord Cawthorne repaid his efforts, however, scarcely less poorly than Mr. Deen. The young man's life was as simple and as open as the sunlight. He was easily the most popular person aboard the boat. Whenever he appeared men and women clustered round him, and, as if on a preconcerted signal, there arose the sounds of gay talk and merry laughter. Apparently he had no vices. He did not drink, he never gambled, it was very seldom that he smoked. Twice a day he visited his cousin, but his visits were short, and his conversation related only to details of the daily run, or jesting remarks about the other passengers. Simon was sure of that, because he had reduced eavesdropping to an exact science.

It was all very puzzling, very exasperating; for although Simon could discover nothing wherewith to foster his suspicions, he smelt a mystery more acutely with the passing of each day. Before the steamer reached Capetown he felt convinced that he was dealing with a pair of the deepest and most consummate scoundrels in existence, and his desire to fathom the secret had developed into an absorbing passion.

The crisis came, near Teneriffe, on one evening of those balmy days for which the Canaries are famous the wide world over.

The veiled man, throughout the day, had evinced a strangely restless mood. Instead of reading he had paced the floor of his shadowy cabin for hour on hour, and since the fall of dark he had stood before his open porthole, peering out from a narrow slit in his parted curtains, at the thoughtless folk who walked the deck. Simon had come and gone, watching and wondering. The Earl had bidden his cousin good-night, with but a curt response. At 11 o'clock, however, Mr. Deen drew back and closed the shutter of his port. He set his electric fan going, rang the bell, and sat down upon a canvas chair.

Simon entered, discreet servility personified. "Bed, sir?" he asked, after bolting the door.

The veiled man in his own peculiar fashion was lighting a cigar.

"Presently," he replied. "Sit down. I wish to speak to you."

Simon having complied, Mr. Deen leaned back in his chair and fixed the cabin steward with his vizor. Simon had endured many such stares, but had never grown quite accustomed to them nor lost in their infliction an uncanny sense of being measured by unearthly eyes.

"You suit me very well, Simon," said the veiled man.

"I am glad to hear you say so, Mr. Deen."

"And I am glad that you are glad; and if you are sincerely glad, your gladness and my gladness may continue."

"I—I beg your pardon, sir." Simon looked puzzled.

"The faculty of adapting yourself to circumstances is your forte, Simon. My genius lies in the opposite direction. I propose that we join forces."

"Sir—I——"

"I don't need to be informed that you have failed to understand me, Simon. Permit me to be more explicit. I am offering you 10 a month, and a yearly holiday of fourteen days to enter my service. S—s—h, man, don't be in a hurry to accept. I should require you to devote your time to me, and I cannot deny that you will lead a gay life as my servant. When we get to England I intend to shut myself up in a wing of my cousin's castle. Your duties there will be the same as here, with this difference—here I have imposed no bridle on your tongue; there I shall insist upon directing the course of your imagination. In other words, you may lie about me as much as you please, but I must be your fiction editor."

Simon had told so many highly-colored stories to his brother stewards about the veiled man that, although he believed in his heart that Mr. Deen was only guessing brilliantly, he could not repress a guilty start nor prevent his cheeks from coloring.

"I—I assure you, sir——" he began.

"Quite so," interrupted the other. "You are incapable of falsehood, eh? But one of these days, Simon, you will recognise at all events the futility of lying to me."

"Mr. Deen—I——"

"One moment, Simon. Hear me to the end. You have a peculiar talent which I have been delighted to remark—and—and (the veiled man laughed) baffle, Simon. You are a born sp—— No, no; we must not be uncharitable; let us say a born detective, Simon."

Simon's mouth gaped open, but he did not speak. He was utterly confounded.

"I have no idea," resumed the veiled man, "of permitting so choice and rare a gift to run to seed. You shall spy to your heart's content, Simon, but understand me fully—for me, not against me."

Simon had nothing to say.

The veiled man sighed. "A Sydney heart specialist has given me two years to live," he said slowly. "If, during those two years, you serve me faithfully, Simon, you will be the richer by one thousand pounds."

Simon found his tongue. "Oh, sir," he cried, "I shall serve you to the death."

"Say unto death, Simon." The voice cut the air like a sweeping blade. "Let me but suspect you of seeking to forestall your legacy, and I shall destroy you."

Simon was very properly indignant. "If you think me so base——" he angrily commenced.

"I do not, Simon. But since I have warned you—take care!"

"It is true that I am a forger, Mr. Deen. All the same you have no right——"

A cold laugh checked his flow of words, but at the same time it made Simon really enraged; so angry, indeed, that he lost his self-control.

"Anyway, what are you?" he grated out. "Birds of a feather, flock together."

"Thank you, Simon," replied the veiled man, very softly. "You have done me a real kindness. For weeks past I have been vainly endeavoring to read your mind concerning me."

"You're so mighty clever. All of us can't have earls for cousins, though, and wear masks."

"Poor Simon, how mad you look!"

Simon gnashed his teeth, and altogether reckless now, cast behind him the last shred of caution. Bending forward, and sneering like a caged wolf, he hissed—

"Fair play's a jewel, Mister Deen. You have my secret. What is yours?"

"I'll tell you to-morrow, Simon."

"Why not now? Is it murder?"

"No, the reverse."

"What?"

"I saved a man's life to the ruin of my own."

"Tell that yarn to the marines!"

The veiled man stood up. So did Simon. The veiled man put his hands up to the back of his head, and for a moment or two fumbled with the fastenings of his mask. Of a sudden the veil slipped, and Mr. Deen's arms fell to his sides.

As Simon gazed at the smiling face revealed to him a strange idea flashed into his mind. Simon was an imaginative man. He fancied that he listened to a demon choir, who, stationed at some inestimable distance, sang a laughing song whose echoes by some magic filtered to his ears through space and time. The meaning of their song he could not fathom, but he knew well that they laughed at their own pain.

"More closely, Simon," said Mr. Deen. "You are a cynic, but look your fill."

The smiling face approached him, slowly and steadily. Simon watched it with a growing sense of peace, for although he could not move, the fire in his heart was rapidly mounting to his brain. "Thomas put his fingers into Christ's wounds," said Mr. Deen.

Simon sighed and swooned.

Mr. Deen caught the senseless body as it reeled and laid it gently on the couch. He stood erect, his eyes rolling wildly in their sockets.

"Oh, God! Oh, God!" he said. Then, he threw out his hands and laughed.


CHAPTER IV.

Simon recovered consciousness within a very few moments. His first glance was directed shudderingly at Mr. Deen, but to his unspeakable relief his master's face was once more masked. He next perceived beside his couch a small table, on which stood a decanter, a water jug and a glass half filled with spirit.

"Drink, Simon," said Mr. Deen.

Simon sat up, and having swallowed the liquor, he began with nervous energy to excuse himself. "It's all owing to a cursed attack of influenza I had a month or two ago, Mr. Deen. My nerves have been in tatters ever since."

The veiled man nodded. "Beastly thing, influenza," he remarked. "Take some more whisky, Simon."

Simon enjoyed the second glass; he felt better, and the whisky was of an exquisite flavor.

Mr. Deen watched him through the smoke of his cigar. "I hope your are not a drunkard, Simon," he said quietly.

"Oh, no, sir. I may say, sir, that I have never been intoxicated in my life. It is true that I like an occasional glass of good stuff—such as this is—but——"

"Quite so; you are a temperate man, Simon. Follow my advice and always remain so. Drink has ruined many careers as promising even as yours appears to be. I knew a man——" he paused.

"Yes, sir." Simon was still fluttered enough to welcome the idea of a story.

Mr. Deen allowed his head to sink upon the cushion of his head-rest. "He was a highly-gifted gentleman," he continued in a dreamy voice. "Well born, rich, and a scientist of rising reputation. He might have done anything with his life he chose, but his wife eloped with his closest friend, and he took to drink. Two creatures depended upon him; his orphaned nephew, a child of eighteen months, and his son, an infant in arms. He gave them into the care of a stranger, and travelled over the globe, trying to forget the woman he had loved. He failed, but he became a drunkard. In the course of half a dozen years he contrived to squander a fortune. Then he wished to cure himself—too late. His disease had developed into a mania. He tried every expedient known to science, and remained a drunkard. His craving for salvation, however, was so strong that, as a last resort, he took his nephew and his son, and with his last shilling purchased a small coffee plantation on Norfolk Island. Have you ever been there, Simon?"

"No, sir; where is it?"

"It is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean, a thousand miles from land. It is peopled by half-breeds, the descendants of the mutineers of the Bounty and South Sea Island savages."

"Indeed, sir."

"Yes, Simon. It is moreover, a British possession and a teetotal colony. The laws that govern the island absolutely prohibit the importation of intoxicating liquors. That circumstance was responsible for the emigration thither of my friend."

Simon began to take an interest in the narrative. "Ah," he exclaimed, "and did he cure himself?"

"Many people thought so, Simon; but you shall judge for yourself. Mr.—ahem—Brown—as I shall call my friend—in order to support himself and his two children, was obliged to work hard in the fields; like a common laborer, indeed, for he had no money with which at first, at all events, to employ assistants. This manner of life did him so much good, that although he was over fifty when the boys reached manhood, and they were well-grown vigorous lads, he was more than their match in physical strength. Ah, Simon, I can shut my eyes and see him now. Such a splendid lovable fellow, Simon, a giant in stature, with a God-like intellect. The boys adored him. He taught one of them all he knew, the other all he would learn. There you have a vignette of each lad." He paused and bent forward. Simon quite unconsciously was sniffing the air like a hound who smells blood.

Mr. Deen smiled behind the veil. "Such a clever little man," he said.

Simon blushed like a schoolgirl and cast down his eyes. "It was you whom he taught all he knew," he muttered.

The veiled man shrugged his shoulders and resumed his story. "One day, about ten years ago, Simon, a ship came to the island, bringing stores from New Zealand to—amongst others—Mr. Brown. The boys were absent from home at the time at different places. They had been possibly sent away on purpose. The one who first returned found Mr. Brown tapping a small keg of French brandy, which he had extracted from a slightly larger cask that should have contained nothing but vinegar. He was very angry at having been discovered; he had not expected either boy for some hours, you see. However, his wrath soon abated, and the pair made friends—over the brandy.

"When the other boy arrived it was past midnight, the house was ablaze from end to end. It was a wooden house, Simon. He heard his cousin shrieking for help. He sprang into the flames and dashed upstairs. What followed he has never since remembered, but three months afterwards he opened his eyes and recognised the people about him. They told him that he had saved his cousin's life by hurling that half-senseless young man out of a window. But ere he could follow, it appears the floor gave way beneath his feet, and he was precipitated into a blazing inferno, from which he was rescued with exceeding difficulty, and not before he had been mutilated so horribly that even during his convalescence his black nurses sickened to attend him.

"Now give me your opinion, Simon. Do you think Mr. Brown could have cured himself?"

"No, sir, I do not. Did he escape?"

"He perished in the fire."

"That settles it."

"Yes, Simon, I agree with you. That settles it."

"And—and—your cousin, sir—is—is he the Earl?"

The veil man sighed. "Yes, he is the Earl. He succeeded to the title—unexpectedly—three months ago. That is why we are going to England. Nothing else could have taken me from Norfolk Island. I—I was almost happy there."

"I wondered why the Earl never drinks," muttered Simon, after a little silence.

"Ah, you noticed that?"

"Yes, sir."

"Providence, Simon, has given you into my hands," said Mr. Deen; "perhaps in answer to my prayers. I am not a religious man, Simon, but wishes are the sincerest forms of prayers, and I have wished for such a man as you for many days."

"Indeed, sir."

"I shall be completely candid with you, Simon. As well as my valet and personal attendant, you must be my spy."

"I—I beg your pardon, sir."

"My eyes and ears abroad, Simon. As I have already informed you, I intend to live like a hermit in the desert, in a wing of my cousin's castle. Nevertheless, there lives in this world a man in whom I take so keen an interest that for the sake of my peace of mind it will be needful to watch his doings closely, unremittingly, and at the same time without exciting his suspicion. Such a service you can render me."

"The Earl!" cried Simon.

"Yes—the Earl."

"Don't you trust him, or—what." The question was wrung from Simon's lips against his will.

"I trust him as I do my own soul," replied the veiled man. "But, then, Simon, I know so little of my own soul that I would be a fool to trust it blindly in strange company."

"I see."

"You flatter yourself, Simon. You are walking in a fog as yet, but attend to me and the mist will lift. My cousin is a man of principle, with nice ideas of honor and a lively sense of gratitude; moreover, he likes me well—we are as brothers. And he has vowed the conduct of his life to a course of my direction."

"Yes, sir."

"But he is a young man, Simon, and also too rich, too handsome, and by nature too indolent——"

"For what, sir."

"To work, Simon, of his own will, now that the threatening shadow of starvation no longer dogs his steps."

"To work," gasped Simon. "Why in Heaven's name should he—work, sir?"

The veiled man sat bolt upright in his chair. "Do you think," he demanded in low deep vibrant tones, "that I shall permit him to become one of that band of listless pleasure-seeking idlers, miscalled the smart set of the aristocracy; that garden of cabbages run to seed whose only useful function in the social scheme is the propagation of their species? Bah!"

"What would you have him to do then, sir?" gasped Simon.

"Employ the talents that Heaven has committed to his care in the best possible interests of humanity. Until three months ago he earned his bread and mine by the sweat of his brow. He has known what it is to want, what even hunger means. By sentiment and training he is a democrat. I intend that he shall champion the democratic cause, and work for the masses as earnestly and steadfastly as if he were still toiling for his daily bread."

Simon half closed his eyes. He was thinking. The veiled man read his thoughts, smiling bitterly, unseen.

"Quite right, Simon," he muttered, half in underbreath. "I have not been altogether candid, yet."

Simon started as if he had been stung. "Eh, eh?" he said.

"It is the other sex that I fear on his account, Simon. English women are beautiful, they say. There were no pretty women on Norfolk Island."

Simon smiled. "Ah! now I understand you, sir," he said.

Mr. Deen arose. "Then I have only to thank God for your intelligence, Simon, and wait—and wait." He repeated the last words very gravely, then he sighed. "You can put me to bed, Simon, now."


CHAPTER V.

Cawthorne Castle stands upon the brow of the first of a small range of hills that rise somewhat abruptly from the flat country surrounding the shipbuilding town of Stayton. In olden days the Earls of Cawthorne had owned every foot of land, which could be seen from the Castle's topmost turret. But time and the encroachment of circumstances had contracted their holdings to a few thousand acres of parks and coverts.

In exchange, however, for the alienated territories they had received so generous an interest in the profits of the industrial life of the place, that for more than a century no scion of the house had envied the rent-rolls of his ancestors.

So it came to pass that when the veiled man and his cousin looked townwards on the morning after their arrival at the Castle, while the later deplored the tall ungainly cranes and the smoke-darkened western heavens, the former easily consoled him with a practical remark.

"But, my dear Adam, with a better view, where would your fortune be? You are the largest shareholder in those great works."

After his business with the estate solicitors was done, Lord Cawthorne paid a visit to London in order to procure a wardrobe suitable to his state. He returned a week later furnished in accordance with approved Bond-street regulations, to find that most of the country magnates had called upon him in his absence. The veiled man urged him to get immediately to work. The late Earl, his departed granduncle, had been a director in the great Shipbuilding Company whose operations supported the town, and as the office was still vacant, Mr. Deen wished his cousin to assume its duties and responsibilities.

"I have ascertained," said he, "that the election has been postponed pending your arrival in England, and it is common talk in town that all the directors are anxious for you to join them."

"You have ascertained," echoed the young Earl. "Is it possible that you have been going about, Jack?"

Mr. Deen shook his head and pointed to Simon, who was polishing the legs of the great piano.

"I have not left my rooms, John," he replied. "I don't suppose I ever shall."

The Earl looked at Simon rather dubiously. "A gossip, eh," he observed.

"A discreet one, at all events. Well, Adam, you agree?"

"I suppose so; though to be candid, old chap, I did not want to get into harness quite so soon."

"But consider the chance, Adam. It is heaven-sent in my opinion. As a director of the company you will commence your life work armed with power to influence the lives of an immense number of your fellow-beings. Simon tells me that the works employ two thousand men."

The Earl looked slightly bored. "A lot of people seem to have called while I was away. I'll have to return their visits," he remarked.

"You'll have time enough for that, Adam."

"I thought of giving a ball or something," said the Earl.

The veiled man made a clicking sound with his tongue. "Give twenty balls if you wish, my dear fellow," he answered sharply. "But in the meantime go and call upon Sir Felix Greig, the managing director of the company, and inform him of your intention to stand for the vacant seat on the board."

"Oh, certainly, if you insist."

"I insist. Go this afternoon, please."

Lord Cawthorne's face colored hotly and he seemed on the point of making a retort. Much, however, to Simon's surprise, he checked himself, and said in constrained tones, "Very well, Jack. Is there anything else you wish me to do?"

"Nothing at present, Adam."

The Earl nodded, swung on his heel, and left the room.

Simon thought it very wonderful that the Earl had given way so abjectly to the veiled man's wishes.

"Gad," he muttered in soliloquy. "I begin to pity the Earl. He's evidently a natural born gay dog, and Mr. Deen has him on a chain. Wonder how long he will stand it? He doesn't look weak."

"Come here, Simon," said the veiled man.

"Sir," with alacrity. Simon was a perfect servant when he chose, and it appeared that he had chosen. The hermit's luxurious apartments were as clean as spic and span as if kept in order by a regiment of chambermaids. Fresh cut flowers filled the bowls, and the walnut furniture shone like so many mirrors. Above all, in personal attendance he was exquisite and indefatigable. Prompt to execute the veiled man's lightest commands, he was always on hand when wanted, and he trod like a cat. Mr. Deen would not have parted with him for a fortune.

"You heard what passed?" asked the veiled man.

"Yes, sir."

"His nature is indolent and pleasure loving."

"Yes, sir."

"But his heart is in the right place, Simon."

"Yes, sir."

"This evening, Simon, you will go into the town and begin to make inquiries where you please, concerning all the prettiest women who are ladies, and who reside in the neighborhood—married and single alike. Forewarned is forearmed."

"Yes, sir."

"You will also take pains to ascertain the repute in which they are individually held. In my opinion the so-called lower-orders are the aristocracy's kindest critics, but we must make a start where we can."

"Yes, sir."

"That is all."

Simon bowed and vanished.

The veiled man strolled slowly across to the piano, and sitting down before it, allowed his fingers to wander over the ivory keys. They evoked a melody whose troubled sweetness was surely a reflection of the player's mind. Mr. Deen was a master of the instrument, and it responded with unquestioning obedience to his moods. Presently the strains grew calmer, but sad and full of wistfulness. The veiled man sank in meditation, often sighed.


CHAPTER VI.

Stayton had been dancing on the tiptoe of expectation and excitement from the moment Lord Cawthorne arrived in England. In mansion and cottage his name was at all hours on everybody's tongue. His advent meant so much to the place, industriously, socially—in fact, in every way. The laborers at the shipping works hoped (at the bottom of their hearts) to find in him a champion of their grievances. The works were well managed, but laborers have always grievances, and the Earl's history was known. "Surely," thought they, "a man who has worked hard since childhood with his hands for his living must sympathise with us, who are workers too. Surely his sudden access of fortune will not blunt the memory of his hardship and blind him to our needs."

The tradesmen hoped he would keep open house, as the last Earl had done, and thereby promote the prosperity of the town. Stayton's male upper ten hoped he would prove a social acquisition, and, broadly speaking, a good fellow. The matrons each hoped to find for him a wife in her own family; the maids hoped he would be pleasant and good-looking. The aggregated hopes of Stayton's upper ten, however, were tempered with anxiety. Many persons had read the history of Norfolk Island, and discovered that Lord Cawthorne must have been bred up among the descendants of criminals and savages. Only the youngest, therefore, ventured to predict with any confidence, grace from his coming.

His flight to London, so soon after his arrival, threw the place into a turmoil, from which it had barely recovered when news came of his return to the Castle.

Mr. Nevil Southdown, Lord Cawthorne's solicitor, experienced a sudden increase of practice in those intervening days. Clients poured in on him with trifling but numerous commissions, glad to pay if he would talk, for Mr. Southdown was the only man in Stayton who had yet made the Earl's acquaintance. He was a short spoken and somewhat querulous old gentleman, much given to minding his own and his client's business. He refused to discuss the Earl, and achieved a reputation for secretiveness which should have made his fortune. Nevertheless, Mr. Southdown was rather discriminating in his confidences than secretive, and there were those in Stayton to whom he voluntarily disclosed all that he knew. One of these persons was the Marquis of Fane, and another Sir Felix Greig. Both were directors of the Stayton Shipbuilding Company. The Marquis was the eldest son of the venerable Duke of Firshire, and it was said that he had long resigned all hope of succeeding to his father's title, for he suffered from heart disease, and at forty-seven looked sixty. He was an exceedingly proud, self-centred man, whom people regarded with awe, but without affection. In all the world but one person understood him thoroughly, his only daughter, Lady Dorothy Foulkes. In old-fashioned parlance, the Marquis worshipped the ground she walked on, but so curiously fenced in was his nature that he forbade her to suspect it, and she loved him so well that she pretended to believe he scarcely cared for her at all. Sir Felix Greig was the Marquis' wife's brother, and Lady Dorothy's uncle—a little man with a brown weazened face, and watchful hazel eyes. As managing director of the company he was feared and hated by the majority of the workers, who thought him hard and heartless. He was in reality, however, a just man, if exacting, and he knew how to reward as well as punish. Under his government men had risen from the ranks to high office in the company, and all his lieutenants were his friends. He was a bachelor and a vegetarian. When Lady Dorothy heard that her father and Sir Felix had seen Mr. Southdown, she became very curious for news; but instead of questioning the reticent Marquis, she called upon her uncle. She had an idea that she could twist the little Baronet around her finger.

"Welcome, Sunbeam," said Felix, glancing up.

The pet name was peculiarly appropriate. Lady Dorothy had blue eyes and golden hair; moreover, she was as slim and lithe as a wand, and she always dressed in white. Stayton loved her because she was bright and beautiful, and because she appeared utterly unconscious that the world contained a single element of evil or of melancholy. Her worst enemies could find no harder name to give her than a butterfly. She was twenty-two years of age, and a second season belle. She had already been in love more times than she could count, and she was supposed for the moment to be flirting with Dr. Francis Somerton, in order to keep her hand in practice. Entering the room with a rushing silken swish of skirts, she perched herself upon the edge of Sir Felix Greig's table, and looked her uncle in the face with a dazzling smile.

"Always planning, Nuncs. What a conspirator you would make if you could plot as well as you can plan." Her voice was a contralto, low-pitched and silver toned.

"Take care, miss; you are crumpling the corner of a first-class cruiser."

"Poor thing." Lady Dorothy did not move. "Nuncs!" she said.

"Well."

"What's he like?"

"Who?"

"As if you don't know."

"Cawthorne! I haven't seen him."

"You women!" growled Felix; "you are all the same. Curious as kittens. Why can't you wait?"

"Nuncs, you have seen Mr. Southdown. Don't you dare to pretend to me."

"And if I have?" Sir Felix liked being coaxed.

"Nuncs!"

"You baby."

"Dear Nuncs!" The voice was a softest purr.

Sir Felix tried to frown.

"Darling Nuncs! Now then."

Sir Felix gave in. "You baby," he repeated, smiling indulgently.

"Tell me everything," with a little cuddling wriggle of her body that was perfectly bewitching.

"Gossip says——"

"Bother gossip," she interrupted. "Mr. Southdown says—now go on."

"Southdown was impressed, Sunbeam," said Sir Felix. "He likes him."

"But, what is he like? That is what I want to know."

"In looks?"

"Of course."

"Big, and strong, and handsome, I suppose. At any rate Southdown calls him a Viking."

"Oh, Nuncs, how lovely! Fair or dark?"

"I did not ask."

"You stupid old Nuncs. You might have thought of me. Oh, bother!"

A knock had sounded on the door. Lady Dorothy sprang from her perch and smoothed her skirts with the demurest air.

"Come in," said Felix.

A clerk entered, wearing an expression, of subdued excitement.

"What is it, Lambert?"

"A gentleman to see you, sir."

"What is his name?"

"Lord Cawthorne, sir."

"Oh!" cried Lady Dorothy.

"Ask him to wait one moment," said Felix.

The clerk bowed and withdrew. Uncle and niece gazed at each other. Lady Dorothy's eyes were sparkling like diamonds. "Don't dream you'll get rid of me," she cried. "I—I——" a brilliant idea struck her—"I'll be your typewriter, Nuncs."

Before Felix could reply she had darted to a neighboring desk, and had begun to tap the keys of a machine.

"Dolly," he said.

No reply.

"Dorothy," sternly.

Lady Dorothy tap-tapped.

"Dorothy," very sternly. "This is perfectly absurd of you!"

"Does your typewriter wear her hat in the office, Nuncs?"

"My dear Dorothy——"

"But does she?"

"No," Sir Felix thundered. "Look, my girl, if you don't be sensible at once, I shall have no option but to receive Lord Cawthorne in another room."

Dorothy had already removed her hat, and was now smoothing her rebellious locks.

"Spell it, Nuncs," she cooed, with a positively brilliant smile.

"Very well, minx." He got up and moved towards the door.

"Nuncs!"

He paused.

"If not, why not?"

Sir Felix frowned. "His business may be of a private nature."

"How could it be? He has never met you before. It is sure to be merely a formal call. And, Nuncs!"

"What?"

"I'll cry if you turn me out. Honestly I will."

"Now, Dorothy——"

She produced a tiny handkerchief. "I—I—never thought——" her voice quivered.

"Dolly!"

"You—you—could be cruel to me." The voice broke, and the kerchief went up to her eyes.

Sir Felix surrendered at discretion. "Then try to look like a typewriter," he growled, "and—and behave yourself. If you make a fool of me I——"

But Lady Dorothy, moving towards him like a sunbeam, stopped the threat on his lips with an impassioned kiss.

"You angel," she cried, "you darling Nuncs—my Nuncs!"

Sir Felix rubbed his nose and gazed at her with a half-chagrined, half-doting air. "You little wretch," he muttered, "you do with me as you please."

"You like it, Nuncs."

"Not always, Dods, not even now."

"You do, you know you do."

"All the same, it is ridiculous. What will that young man say if he meets and recognises you some other time?"

"Nuncs, you said one minute, and you have already kept him five. Ring the bell this instant."

Lady Dorothy settled herself before the machine and began once more to tap the keys. Sir Felix, with a despairing shrug, returned to his table and sat down. Presently, and visibly reluctant still, he pressed an electric button. "Show Lord Cawthorne up," he said to the clerk.

"Now mind you behave," he implored his niece, a moment later.

Lady Dorothy did not reply. To all appearances she was deeply engrossed in typing a letter, and her face was wonderfully serious.

"Lord Cawthorne," announced the clerk.

The young Earl entered, hat, gloves, and cane in hand. He had walked over from the Castle, and his patent leather boots were cloaked with dust. Exercise had given him a color, and he looked magnificently fresh and vigorous. He glanced straight at the Baronet and advanced briskly to the table.

"Six feet two and handsome as Apollo," whispered Lady Dorothy, plying her machine.

Sir Felix rose, and received his visitor with outstretched hand.

"I am delighted to make your acquaintance, Lord Cawthorne," he declared. "Welcome heartily to Stayton and these works."

"You are very kind, Sir Felix."

"A crisp voice—I like crisp voices," thought Lady Dorothy.

The Earl took a chair. He then cleared his throat and hazarded, "A lovely morning."

"Charming," agreed Sir Felix. "You are lucky to have arrived in May; you now see England at her best, in her spring garment."

"Yes. Ah—m—, ah—m, ahem. Fact is, I have come on business, Sir Felix."

"Ah, indeed. Then would you like to see me alone. My—humph—typewriter." He indicated Lady Dorothy.

Lord Cawthorne did not even look at her. "Not at all," he replied. "It's not private. You might ask him not to tap, though; the noise gets on one's nerves, don't you think?"

Lady Dorothy bit her lips, and leaned back in her chair. She had been called a 'him.' The Earl's profile faced her. "I'll give you one or two for that, my lord," she gasped, in thought.

Sir Felix flashed a wicked smile at his niece. "I am quite at your service," he suggested, turning to the Earl.

"It's about this company."

"Indeed."

"They tell me I hold a few shares."

"That is an ungenerous statement of facts, Lord Cawthorne. Your shares represent very nearly a third interest in the business."

"So I understood; they tell me, too, Sir Felix, that there is a vacant seat on the board of directors."

Sir Felix bowed. "The Marquis of Fane and I have purposely kept the seat open pending your arrival, in order that you might have an opportunity of exercising a voice in its disposal."

"It was extremely good of you."

"By no means; it was your due, Lord Cawthorne, considering the nature of your interest. Lord Fane and I both hope that you will join us on the board in person."

"You touch the object of my visit, Sir Felix. Indeed, I came to ascertain if I have any possible chance of becoming a director."

"You have merely to express your wish in order to convert such a chance into a certainty."

"Then I do so now."

"You will join us?"

"If I may."

"That is the best of news. Fane will be delighted; and as for myself I am more pleased than I can say. I shall take immediate steps to secure your election. Permit me to congratulate you on your decision, Lord Cawthorne."

"Ah—thanks."

"In my opinion you are acting most wisely. It is good to discover you are not a drone. Sleeping partners are a class that I cannot tolerate with ease. The more active an interest you take in the management of the company the better I shall be pleased."

"Of course, I am a perfect novice."

"Naturally, but you can learn."

"I—I suppose so. I'm afraid I'll have to work pretty hard, though eh?"

"You'll do very well, I'm sure. I'll be glad to help you in every way I can. I take it that you are not afraid of work."

The Earl gave a rather rueful laugh. "Oh, I can work when I choose," he shrugged his shoulders, "and I have one at my elbow who will keep me up to the mark, however lazy I feel. My cousin, he would suit you down to the ground, Sir Felix—a more energetic fellow never lived!"

"I should like to meet him."

"He is, unfortunately, a confirmed invalid. He never leaves his rooms."

Lady Dorothy thought it high time to intervene. She had not been so long silent as far back as she could remember, and she was feeling horribly neglected.

She stood up. "Sir Felix," she said, in timid little tones.

Sir Felix had forgotten her existence, "Eh!" he cried.

"Would you please tell me how to spell 'innocent.' Has it two n's or one?"

Lord Cawthorne, startled to hear a woman's voice, turned his head. Lady Dorothy had chosen the word which best suited her expression. She looked as guileless as a dove.

Sir Felix glared at her and began to spell, frowning terribly the while. The Earl caught his breath, and wondered if he dreamed. His blue eyes brightened and dilated; his nostrils quivered. Unconsciously he sat bolt upright in his chair. The girl's beauty thrilled him in a way unknown to his experience. He felt the blood pulse with sudden violence through his arteries, and yet a hand seemed to clutch and hold his heart.

He awoke as from a trance to hear himself insistently addressed. Lady Dorothy was bending over her machine, and for a while her face was hidden, else perhaps the Earl would not have awoke at all. He became aware that Sir Felix was inviting him to dinner. He muttered a bewildered acceptance.

"I shall expect you at eight, then," said the Baronet.

"Thanks, thanks very much."

Sir Felix was standing holding out his hand. The Earl arose instinctively.

"My busiest day, I'm sure you will excuse me. Au revoir," said Felix.

"Until to-night?" asked the Earl, almost stupidly.

"Why, no. Tuesday night," I said.

"Oh, yes, of course. Good-bye." He got as far as the door and turned, to meet Lady Dorothy's dancing eyes. She smiled at him. He blushed crimson, bowed, and fled.

Sir Felix Greig was thoroughly exasperated. "Dorothy," he began in his grandest manner. "Kindly resume your hat and relieve me of your presence. Your conduct was outrageous. I am heartily ashamed of you."

Lady Dorothy put on her hat, but she did not go. "Nuncs," she said, "did you see how I knocked him? Oh, isn't he a duck!" she clasped her hands ecstatically upon her breast.

Sir Felix belonged to a school whose members would have been less shocked to hear their daughters swear than use slang.

He turned pale with rage. "You shameless, girl!" he cried.

Dorothy beamed upon him. "I had to," she said, sweetly. "It's the best piece of fun I've had since I left the nursery. Simply English just can't express my feelings. Don't be nasty, Nuncs."

"I shall tell your father the moment that I see him."

"Oh, Nuncs; you can tell fibs. You know you wouldn't have me scolded for the world."

"Dorothy—how could you?"

"Which? I've sinned twice, remember."

"You—you deliberately smiled at him."

"Should I have scowled? Never mind, I shall scowl at him next time, Nuncs."

"Please go."

"Nuncs, I'll be sorry if you forgive me."

"No."

"Look at me, Nuncs."

"No."

She made a sudden rush at him and sprang upon his knee.

"Now, Nuncs," with her arms around his neck, "don't you dare to browbeat me any more."

"Dorothy," he began, most sternly.

She kissed him.

"Dorothy."

Another kiss. "My proper name, please," she cooed.

"Well, Sunbeam."

"That's better."

"You are a very naughty girl."

"Yes, Nuncs, and you're an angel." She kissed him tenderly, and began to stroke his hair. "Darling old Nuncs!"

Over Sir Felix's face there gradually spread the shamefaced smile of a boy caught stealing jam. "You are incorrigible," he muttered, with a final spark of righteous anger. "And—I'm an old fool."

She laughed merrily. They often quarrelled, but their quarrels always terminated so. "Now, I'm going home," she said. "Good-bye, Nuncs." She stood for a moment at the door looking back at him with her most brilliant smile, and Sir Felix thought of nothing but that picture for the remainder of the day.


CHAPTER VII.

Lord Cawthorne did not feel inclined to return immediately to the Castle when he left the managing director's office. At the Castle there was no one to talk to but his cousin, and he remembered his morning's interview with the veiled man, with a certain sense of soreness. He decided to take a stroll through the town and see the sights. Skirting the great noisy works he arrived, after five minutes' brisk walking, half-deafened, in Stayton's main street—a long straight road, planted with trees and flanked with shops and cottages. The clangour of the docks pursued him even there, but in gradual if stormy diminuendo, so that he could presently think of other things. He thought forthwith of Sir Felix Greig's pretty typewriter, and so intently that he failed to notice the courteous greetings of the townsfolk whom he encountered.

"An extremely pretty girl," he muttered as he passed the Town Hall. "A marvellously pretty girl," as he neared the Cawthorne Arms Hotel. "Fancy being a typewriter," as he left the town behind.

If the Earl had not been in the brownest of brown studies, he must have remarked Simon Vicars standing at the doorway of the inn, chatting with the burly landlord. Simon saw him. But the Earl was satisfied to see the flagstones and when they terminated, the road. He beheld at last the sea a hundred feet beneath him, and with a nervous start he realised that he had left the path, climbed a hill, and come to the edge of the cliffs. Shading his eyes with his hands, he contemplatively observed a flock of gulls winging in slow flight shorewards from the estuary's mouth. They settled in the water among the shipping; but one alighted upon the summit of a gigantic sheerlegs and began to preen its feathers. Lord Cawthorne thought its bright presence made the crane more disgustingly hideous than ever, and he turned his eyes with a gesture of weariness inland. From a ledge of higher cliffs, three-quarters of a mile from where he stood, rose the walls of a large three-storeyed red brick house. It was surrounded with lawns and carefully trimmed plantations. It looked good and new. Lord Cawthorne admired old houses; new houses he liked. A glance at the town revealed the fact that he must have passed through a little unkempt wood. Trees were about him still, but they grew more sparsely than upon the flat, and were curiously stunted and storm-blown. He looked across the trees and town at Cawthorne Castle, and an involuntary sigh escaped him. He sighed to remember how often during boyhood he had sighed for such a home, and he sighed again to think how much more blessed imagination is than reality. Life can be duller in a castle than a cavern. Then he sighed to reflect that he was an ungrateful fool to sigh at all. Finally he sighed because he could not help sighing. He wanted a keener interest in life than working for work's sake and the sake of humanity, as his cousin wished him to work. He was too young and human to care much for humanity at large, or in sections. Individuals appealed to him more forcibly than crowds; and his heart's desires were clamorous for satisfaction. He desired first, friends, gay, cheerful friends; next, to see constantly the faces of pretty women; to occasionally look into their eyes and touch their hands. Lastly and chiefly, he desired excitement of some sort, of any sort. Lord Cawthorne was of a clay which nature scatters with a lavish hand over the face of the universe, and which circumstance sometimes kneads into heroic figures, soldiers, statesmen, leaders of men; more often, however, into idlers and vagabonds. Souls permeate that clay, but dependent uncreative souls; souls that grumble and dream and crave and long for their own betterment, yet never act upon their own initiative, nor resolutely strive to make the dreams they dream come true until they are awakened by the prick of love or hate or sharp necessity.

"This place will bore me to death," said Lord Cawthorne aloud. He was gazing at the wood as he spoke. At the last word a white-clad figure emerged from the trees, proceeding in the direction of the house upon the cliffs. Lady Dorothy was going home on foot, having sent her pony cart with a message to Dr. Somerton, whom she wished to see that evening. She was extremely fond of walking.

"The pretty typewriter," gasped Lord Cawthorne.

In another moment he had impulsively started out to intercept her, making a bee-line for a small clump of trees which he perceived she must pass. He had very little idea of what he would do or say when the time came, but the memory of the smile she had given him in the managing director's office resolved him, past gainsaying, to accost her.

He waited for her, hat in hand, drinking in her beauty greedily. She appeared as she approached entirely unaware of a man within miles. She was thinking. "Has he found out who I am? The impudence of him, anyway. I'll cut him dead."

"Excuse me, miss," he said in a clear voice. "I am a stranger here, perhaps as you know. Can you tell me who lives in that big house on the cliffs?"

Lady Dorothy, with an affected start, perceived him. Courtesy demanded that she should answer a civil stranger's civil question.

"I beg your pardon," she said in tones of the orthodox frigidity.

He repeated the question, trying vainly to engage her eyes.

"The Marquis of Fane," she replied, and moved on.

Lord Cawthorne fell into step beside her. "You seem to be going there," he remarked with a brazen smile.

Dorothy froze him with a glance. "I am," she said; "good afternoon."

Though frozen Lord Cawthorne was undismayed. "I'll take your message for you if you like. I'm going there, too."

The girl gasped. Such impudent assurance was a new experience; it angered her. She became at once officially unconscious of his existence.

"You needn't be hasty and pretend not to know who I am," said the Earl, in a deeply injured voice. "You smiled at me in your boss's office."

"Your boss's office!" she repeated the words in underbreath, suppressing with difficulty a hysterical desire to giggle.

"You know you did."

Lady Dorothy's love of fun began to assert itself. How nice it would be to lead this young man up to her father's house and there cover him with confusion. He richly deserved it.

"Well, if I did," she answered, turning upon him a face of angel innocence, "ought I to have scowled at you?"

"That's better," said the Earl delightedly. "Now we'll get on famously."

"Oh, shall we?"

"Rather; and look here Miss—er—er——"

"Foulkes," said Dorothy. She pronounced it "Fox" with malice prepense.

"Miss Fox! Well er—you do typewriting, don't you? Well, I can give you lots of work if you like; I'll pay you well, too."

Lady Dorothy stopped and faced him. Her mouth was open.

"Oh, can you?" she gasped.

"Lots and lots."

Her eyes glittered. She was thinking, and Lady Dorothy's brain was an agile one.

"I haven't a typewriter," she observed, "and I couldn't do outside work in the office."

"I'll buy you one!" he cried.

"Why?" the question was like a sword thrust, but her adversary was worthy of her steel.

"To do the work with," he answered promptly; "what else?"

"How should I know?"

Her eyes fell before his ardent gaze. His gaze was in fact so ardent that she felt a little tremor quiver through her heart; but she was not the least afraid.

"Lord, how pretty you are!" he cried, carried for a moment off his feet.

Lady Dorothy loved admiration. She was, moreover, a born actress. Of a sudden she determined to fill the role he had assigned to her.

"You fine gentlemen are all alike," she murmured, with a coquettish sidelong glance. "All you seem to think of is trying to turn the heads of poor girls like me."

"Tit for tat," rejoined the Earl; "and anyway you have the best of the deal. You turn our heads without trying."

"Do we?" archly.

"You have mine, at all events."

"You would think me a silly if I believed that now, wouldn't you?"

"I couldn't think of anything, if I tried, while you are here, except how pretty you are."

Lady Dorothy glanced up and down the road; it was deserted, and her father's house was hidden by the trees. She was enjoying herself immensely.

"What's your front name?" she demanded.

It was the Earl's turn to gasp. "Adam," he stammered.

"Mine's Dolly."

"May I call you Dolly?"

"Certainly not."

"Then why did you tell it to me?"

"Just because—— How many sweethearts have you?"

"None," eagerly.

"Oh, fie! Don't ask me to believe that."

"It's the truth," cried the Earl.

"I've got hundreds," said Lady Dorothy. "I expect you're a bit slow aren't you?"

The Earl looked gloomy. "Hundreds," he repeated.

"Yes. Did you take me for sweet seventeen who never was kissed. I'm twenty-two."

"I dislike flirts," said the Earl severely.

"Do you? Well, I think girls who don't flirt are fools. Time enough for them to settle down after marriage." This was in fact Lady Dorothy's sincere conviction.

"One of these days you'll fall really in love, and then you will be jolly well ashamed of yourself."

Lord Cawthorne cherished rather old fashioned ideas of love and matrimony, as far as women were concerned. He was by no means straight-laced, but he intended when he married to monopolise all the wickedness of his family.

"I dare say," replied the girl, with frank indifference. "In the meanwhile, though, I intend to have as good a time as I can."

He shrugged his shoulders. "Where do you live?" he asked.

"In a house."

"Of course, but where?"

"Over there," her sweeping gesture including all England. "Why do you want to know?"

"I want to know where to send you your typewriter. I'll wire to London for one to-night."

"Oh!" Lady Dorothy looked serious. "I told you a fib," she muttered presently. "I have a typewriter; leastways my father has and I can use it whenever I like."

"Well, where may I send you the manuscript I'll want you to copy."

The girl smiled. "I did not say I would do your work."

"But you will—please. I'll pay you anything you like to ask."

"A shilling a word?"

"Done with you," cried the Earl. "Now where do you live?"

"It wouldn't do to send it home. Oh, here comes some one; I must be going." A pony carriage had issued from the wood and approached them at a slow trot in full view.

"Meet me somewhere to-morrow night," suggested the Earl.

"No thank you—my lord; good-bye!" She moved off.

"Please, ah do!" He followed her.

"Lord Cawthorne, you'll get me into trouble if you follow me. You don't wish that, I'm sure."

"Then tell me where I'll see you again. I can't leave you like this." His voice was desperate.

"Impossible. Please leave me!" her voice was nervous and imperative. She was thinking of servants' gossip. Her groom was driving the pony carriage.

"Don't be cruel, Dolly dear."

She turned upon him a scarlet face and blazing eyes. "How dare you!" she cried out in a passion, then sailed on like a queen.


CHAPTER VIII.

Lord Cawthorne called the following day upon the Marquis of Fane. Invincibly reserved even with his life long friends and those in his own family whom he loved best, Lord Fane impressed most strangers disagreeably. Lady Dorothy wondered very much how he would impress the Earl. As she watched that young man from her bedroom window sweep up the drive, her curiosity became a fever that needed treatment to protect her from dangerous results. "I've got to know," she cried excitedly, and ran downstairs. Two minutes later she had carefully concealed herself behind some heavy drapes in an alcove of the Cliff House's smallest reception room. She knew her father's habits from A to Z. She had not long to wait. Lord Cawthorne entered on a servant's heels, treading rather heavily, for he was tired. Nodding in answer to the footman's obsequious direction, he glanced languidly about the room and yawned. "Confound calls! Thank heaven, this is the last for to-day!" he muttered, and sank wearily upon a lounge. He confronted Dorothy, who had already discovered a peep-hole in her curtains. She studied him with critical attentiveness, searching his face for flaws. She wanted to find some so badly that she consoled her failure with the reflection, "Handsome men are generally only clothes props and he is too handsome to be anything else!"

Lord Cawthorne threw his head back and opened gaping jaws. As the yawn proceeded to its close, he tapped with two lean brown fingers upon his front teeth and groaned out the air of a music hall refrain. It was a song without words and utterly unmusical, but Dorothy was enchanted. "What next?" she wondered.

He stood up, crossed the room and stopped before a picture of herself. Lady Dorothy had forgotten it, else it would have been removed in time. Her face flamed. "I know I'll faint," she gasped mentally; but instead of fainting she watched him.

"Dashed like my little typewriter girl; by gad!" muttered the Earl, quite audibly. He put his head on one side and then on the other. "Only at a glance, though," he continued after grave consideration. "This one's nose is not skew-whiffy at the top like mine!"

Dorothy flamed again. With a shudder of rage she put her finger on her nose to reassure herself. It was perhaps just tenderly tip-tilted. But, "skew-whiffy at the top!" Her eyes burned so for a moment that she could hardly see. "The brute!" shouted her heart.

The Earl continued to study the picture, but he spoke no more, though he sometimes smiled. Dorothy hated his smiles, they seemed to her contemptuous of the little typewriter. It was a positive relief when the door opened and her father, calm, stately and old-worldly serious, marched gravely towards his visitor.

The Earl swung round. The Marquis paused six paces distant, clicked his heels and bowed, his body inclining from stiff knees, toes out-pointed, heels together. He was a handsome man, but prematurely old, and preternaturally solemn. Dorothy glanced at the Earl and with difficulty suppressed a cry of ecstacy; the young man looked so astonished and ill at ease.

"Lord Cawthorne," said the Marquis. His voice was gentle, but indescribably cold.

"Lord Fane."

"It is with pleasure that I exercise the privilege of welcoming your lordship to England!" The Marquis bowed again as ceremoniously as before. His tones were absolutely uninflected. He spoke in fact like a machine. The Earl bowed too, but far less gracefully. "Thanks—v—very much," he stammered.

"Pray be seated!"

Lord Cawthorne sank thoughtfully into the indicated chair. The Marquis took another at a formal distance.

"Unfortunately, Lord Cawthorne, we are passing through a period of such political upheaval and industrial effervescence that a man of the serious bent which I am advised you possess must necessarily be saddened at the outset of your life amongst us."

For the last twenty years, England, in the Marquis of Fane's eyes, had been in a constant state of political upheaval and dangerous industrial excitement.

Lord Cawthorne, however, was not aware of his companion's idiosyncrasy.

"I suppose you refer to the return of a labor member for Howth?" he asked.

"Rather to the wind whose direction is demonstrated by such straws. When I was a lad, Lord Cawthorne, the people declined to be ruled, except by their natural superiors. Those—alas for their passing!—were happy days. Now—to our national shame be it said—Demos aspires to supervene and govern its superiors. There are even demagogues who dare to prate of abolishing the House of Lords!"

"Is that so?"

"Indeed!"

"They'll tone down, I expect," remarked the Earl. "Australia, for instance, has been practically run by the Labor party for years past. There has been a good deal of socialistic legislation introduced, but the Upper Houses still stand."

"They will ultimately be abolished."

"No doubt," said Lord Cawthorne, his tones cheerfully indifferent, "and probably here too. Every dog has his day, you know, and our class has had a pretty good run for its money, don't you think?"

The Marquis looked as nearly shocked as his impassiveness would permit.

"You are a philosopher, I perceive," he said with deep gravity. "But will your philosophy uphold you to endure unmoved the spectacle of our decaying constitution when you are more intimately informed of the disease that gnaws at its heart-strings. I assure you, Lord Cawthorne, that respect for rank and name is already a dead letter in our land."

"You don't say so," rejoined the Earl. "Now I've been particularly struck with the servility of poor people, who are, I suppose, the masses—and unpleasantly, too. I love dignity in a man, and hate the lack of it."

"Ah!" There was an ominous pause, but the Earl did not look at his companion.

"I have a few small farmer tenants," he explained presently. "They came along to welcome me when I arrived. They were so cringing that it was a positive relief to discover after a bit that each had an axe to grind, although they cringed worse than ever then. I must say I prefer the independent spirit of the south, where a man asks for what he wants with his pipe in his mouth."

Lady Dorothy was curiously thrilled. Lord Cawthorne voiced sentiments which she had been brought up to detest, and now for the first time she realised that she had never succeeded in learning her lesson. She conceived an honest interest in the young Earl, dating from that moment.

The Marquis, outwardly a mask, was inwardly perturbed. Could Lord Cawthorne possibly be in sympathy with the unhinged times? It behoved him to inquire.

"Dignity is at all times admirable," he observed. "But, in my opinion, it is best displayed in submitting uncomplainingly to the inevitable."

"I quite agree with you, Lord Fane."

The Marquis bowed. "Providence," said he, "has imposed upon mankind unequal burdens. But we all serve."

"True." The Earl looked tired. The Marquis bowed again.

"Unhappily, the masses always forget in considering their evil state that we are all, high and low, the bondmen of fate, irresponsible alike for our existence and the conditions into which an accident of birth has introduced us. Unjust in ignorance, they ascribe their misfortunes to aristocrats, whence have arisen and will again arise revolutions, bloodless and bloody, whose only effect has been, and can but be, to forge fresh chains for the necks of succeeding generations. How much better, wiser, and more dignified to—er—er——" he searched in vain for a word.

"Exactly," said the Earl politely.

"I am glad to learn, my lord, that you are not a democrat. Too many of our class are time-servers already."

"Oh, I believe in letting each man strive as he pleases. In the long run people are certain to find their level; anyway, whatever comes or goes, there is always bound to be an aristocracy of intellect, and that sure knowledge should console us all."

The Marquis was dubious. "Still, if—all men were permitted to follow their bents——" he paused, frowning thoughtfully.

The Earl smiled. "If we all followed our bent in a bee-line, Lord Fane, I guess about three-fourths of the world would be digging in the bowels of the earth."

"True, too true; man's aspirations are mostly base."

The Earl arose; he was bored to death. "I have enjoyed your conversation very much," he hypocritically declared; "but really I must be going."

"Permit me to offer you some refreshment first. Nay, I insist."

"I don't drink; your lordship will laugh at me, but such is the fact."

The Marquis had not laughed for years; he had seldom felt less inclined than now.

"A cup of tea," he suggested, in his gentle, frozen voice.

"Please excuse me; I've been swilling tea all day."

The Marquis bowed resignedly and rang the bell. "I sincerely trust, Lord Cawthorne, that you will confer upon my poor house the honor of your presence here at dinner, at an early date. My daughter, Lady Dorothy Foulkes, who is at present paying me a visit, will be charmed to make your acquaintance."

"I shall be delighted, Lord Fane. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Lord Cawthorne."

The Marquis, keeping a respectable distance from his guest, executed another of his ceremonious bows. The Earl tried to imitate him and departed without attempting to achieve a handshake, feeling, as he afterwards expressed himself, "just as if someone had rammed a poker down his spine."

Lady Dorothy watched her father with a handkerchief rolled up in her mouth. The Marquis was evidently troubled. He walked twice up and down the floor. The kerchief bravely smothered the girl's giggles. The Marquis, after a long moment, put up his hands to his collar as if he found it difficult to breathe. In his eyes there was a tragedy. Dorothy saw—and stopped giggling.

"My cursed shyness—has lost me—one more friend. That young man, clever as he is, thinks me nothing but a stilted, heartless prig," thought the Marquis aloud. Then his hands fell to his sides, and with a listless shoulder shrug, he walked slowly, and oldly, from the room.

Dorothy came out from her hiding place with a countenance transfigured. "Dads, my poor, dear, darling dads," she muttered. Her eyes were full of tears.


CHAPTER IX.

Immediately he arrived at Cawthorne Castle the veiled man took possession of the western wing, and there sealed himself up behind bars and bolts, with Simon Vicars for his sole companion and attendant. Only one apartment, his dining-room, did he place at the disposal of the Castle servants; and even that in a fashion strictly limited. This was situated on the ground floor, and it contained but two doors, one opening on the courtyard, the other upon an interior corridor. During certain hours each day the outer door was left open, to allow the Castle servants to pass in and out with the veiled man's meals. The inner door at such times was stoutly locked, but it was furnished with a fine-meshed grille, through which Mr. Deen might survey the apartment in order to assure himself of a clear coast before he ventured thither when he felt inclined to eat. The room had formerly possessed two windows, but Mr. Deen had obtained the glass of one to be stained and supplemented with impervious steel shutters, and the other to be walled up. The servants thought of him breakfasting in midsummer by candle light and shuddered, beset by unacknowledged superstitious fears. To them he appeared something in the light of an ogre, a shadowy uncanny personality whose directions it were as well to follow implicitly. On that account they entered the privileged rooms in pairs, and their business transacted, they were always glad to fly without attempting to satisfy their curiosity by peeping through the grille. The Earl had, in the first instance, endeavored to explain to them his cousin's peculiar sensitiveness and habits of seclusion, and he believed he had succeeded; but they preferred to listen to the vague and baneful hints of Simon Vicars, and the name which the little valet had dubbed his master—"the veiled man"—spread quickly over the country-side in whispers of evil and mysterious significance. All manner of curious rumors began to arise. Some declared the recluse a leper, or the victim of another equally abominable disease. Others muttered of insanity or crime—crime and the fear of its detection. Others again did not hesitate to dispute the veiled man's sex.

Lord Cawthorne rested blissfully unaware of these whisperings, though he sometimes wondered at the pertinacious frequency of the inquiries regarding his cousin which met him at each turn. The ugliest rumors in fact, had penetrated from the kitchen to the drawing-rooms of Stayton, and the curious dwell everywhere. His answers, however, and the transparent honesty of his demeanour went far to disarm suspicion. He was always glad to recount the story of his cousin's heroic conduct in saving his life from the flames, and he appeared to consider it the most natural thing in the world that Mr. Deen's facial disfigurement should have induced him to eschew society. The majority believed his story, but a few inclined to the opinion that the young Earl was a superlatively fine actor, and that Castle Cawthorne's western wing contained a strange mystery.

The veiled man was wiser than the Earl. Each morning when he awoke he asked Simon: "Well, my lad, and what did they say of me last night?" He occasionally chuckled at the valet's replies in a fashion that made little Simon shiver. But Simon was growing used to his master's sphinx-like and erstwhile disconcerting ways, and as time passed he shivered less frequently and less fearfully. Not even a veiled man can be for long a hero to his valet. A curious intimacy sprang up gradually between the pair; an intimacy, however, that resembled anything but friendship. Mr. Deen used Simon and in a manner liked his society, but behind his veil he despised the man. Simon adored his master's money, and lived in the constant hope of surprising some secret which would make his fortune.

The veiled man wore around his neck beneath his clothes a silver chain, to which was attached a key. Simon knew that this key belonged to an iron fireproof safe, which his master had brought with him from Australia; but Mr. Deen never opened the safe in his presence, and his wonder at its contents grew. Simon often looked at the safe, and he was determined to explore it some day. As yet he had lacked an opportunity, but he was content to bide his time; for his manner of life pleased him perfectly. The veiled man sent him frequently abroad with instructions to acquire information and nose out other people's secrets. Simon loved such work, and threw himself into it with heart and soul. He was soon hail fellow well met with the riff-raff of Stayton, and the crony of every servant and innkeeper in the place. And he managed so adroitly that none suspected his purpose, for he vilified his master in order to make other servants decry theirs; while with people of more independent standing he posed as the nurse of a querulous invalid who made up abroad for the tedious monotony of his home existence.

Simon's first important commission was to discover as much as possible of the pretty women of Stayton, for Mr. Deen was extremely anxious to learn what he could of those of his neighbors amongst whom he did not doubt but that the Earl would pick a wife. At the end of a week Simon was ready to report.

"They are all joined in a conspiracy to marry the Earl, sir," he declared by way of a beginning.

The veiled man shrugged his shoulders. "Cawthorne is no misognist—a full blooded man never is. He will marry," he said gravely. "The question is merely whom. You may spare me unnecessary comments, Simon."

"Shall I take the Carnes, first sir?"

"Do."

"They have three unmarried daughters, Mr. Deen, all pretty and young. Sybil is a blonde and soulful. The others are brunettes. May is musical, and Nelly is a nagger. I have this from their maid, who is not what you would call a reticent young woman. Mr. Carne has a large income, but it is badly invested, and Mrs. Carne is a match-maker. Her eldest daughter is married to a brewer baronet, and another to a pauper peer. She wishes Sybil to catch the Earl."

The veiled man nodded his head. "Excellent, Simon," he remarked. "You are an artist, a born artist; I note Sybil Carne. For the present, however, enough of her. Next."

"The Franklyns."

"Well."

"They boast of Norman blood, sir," (Simon remarked). "Poor as church mice——" (he added contemptuously). "One girl, Maude. The gardener says she shrivels up his flowers worse than a nor'easter. I've seen her, sir; she is beautiful, but proud and cold."

"She might melt to the Earl, Simon."

"Like enough, Mr. Deen; she is as dark as Juno."

"We'll mark her 'dangerous,' Simon, since the Earl is a blonde. Next."

"I'll pass by the vicarage girls, sir; there are two of them, but although pretty and sweet they are engaged—to parsons. There is Mrs. Toombes, though."

"Ah! with so ominous a name, she would be a widow."

Simon nodded. "Francine Toombes is her full name, sir. She is wonderfully lovely, they say, and lively too; but her French maid gives her a good character, and she ought to know."

The veiled man laughed lightly but said nothing.

"I would mark her doubly dangerous if I were you, sir," Simon ventured.

"And why? my man."

"She is great on platonics, Mr. Deen. All the men in Stayton are her friends."

"What the deuce do you know of platonics?" demanded the veiled man, in contemptuous tones.

Simon rested undisturbed. "It is the oldest and surest trick by which our sex is stalked," he replied. "It is a salt of friendship which clever women scatter broadcast, and it differs from all other salts in that often enough it lights on a bird's tail."

"Lord Cawthorne, is not a fool, Simon."

"But his experience of women——"

"That will do," cut in Mr. Deen. "Next."

Simon shrugged his shoulders. "Next is the last, sir, not by any means the least; but I put her last because she does not properly belong here."

"Oh! her name?"

"Lady Dorothy Foulkes. She is the only daughter of the Marquis of Fane, and she is at present paying a visit to her father."

"But the Marquis resides here."

"True enough, sir; but she spends most of her time in London with her mother. Lord Fane has been separated from his wife for many years."

The veiled man was surprised, and said so.

"No scandal," explained Simon. "Not a breath. They say incompatibility of temperament was the cause of it. Anyway, people don't even gossip about them now, and both parties are highly respected. The Marchioness is passe and charitable, and his lordship might be a monk the life he leads. They have a son as well as a daughter—a crack-brained guardsman, who rides like a centaur to hounds, and is always breaking an arm or leg. Lady Dorothy is her father's pet."

"What is she like?"

"A veritable fairy, sir. She is nicknamed the 'butterfly' in Stayton, and it fits her from head to heel. I doubt if she thinks about anything but amusing herself. She is a reputed flirt, and is accredited with a handsomely accoutred string of scalps. I've seen her twice already, and would like to every day. She is absolutely charming."

The veiled man leaned back in his chair and gazed up at the ceiling.

"A goose is walking over my grave," he muttered. Then of a sudden he started upright and said aloud—

"Simon, Simon, you should have named her first."

"But, sir, she returns to London presently."

"No matter."

"She is blue-eyed and fair-haired—like Lord Cawthorne."

"No matter."

"She is supposed to be engaged."

"Again I tell you no matter. She is the one."

"I beg your pardon sir."

"The 'butterfly' you said."

"Yes, sir."

"A flirt—shallow and heartless."

"Ay, sir."

"Simon she is the one, Cawthorne will marry her. It is I who say it. And let me tell you—I am not ill pleased."

Simon gasped. "But," he stammered, "I thought you did not want the Earl to marry anyone."

The veiled man resumed his chair and stared at Simon fixedly for many seconds. "You are not a fool," he said at last, "but it would be impossible to make you understand just yet. I shall have to train you, Simon, train you."

Simon looked ludicrously puzzled. "Yes, sir," he muttered.

The veiled man smiled unseen. "Put me to bed," he said, "and don't speak again until I address you."

Ten minutes later Mr. Deen took from beneath his pillow a small hypodermic syringe that was charged with a colorless fluid. He handed this to Simon, and having disposed himself between the sheets he bared his arm, and beckoned his companion.

"Inject," he said, laconically, pointing to his arm.

"I beg pardon, sir," replied the valet, who was astonished at so unusual a request; "but what is in the tube, sir?"

"Morphia, Simon. For three nights past I have not slept. I shall to-night."

"Are you sure the dose is right, sir?"

"Inject."

The voice was so imperative that Simon hastened to obey. Mr. Deen winced as the needle pierced his skin, and exclaimed aloud as if in spite of himself. "The deuce," he muttered in apology, "it seems I have forgotten how to bear pain."

A little later he laughed softly, and turned his head on the pillow so that his back was to the valet. Simon recovered slowly from his surprise.

"I hope you'll be all right, sir," he muttered.

"Don't leave me, Simon. Good-night." The veiled man's tones were already drowsy. Simon dazedly sat down and watched his master. Five silent minutes passed, then Mr. Deen turned restlessly in his bed, presenting to the valet his curious helmet-like mask. He breathed heavily, and Simon fancied him asleep. At the end of another silent period the veiled man's right hand clutched at his chest, and then flung spasmodically aloft, holding, tightly grasped, the key upon the chain he always wore round his neck. The gleam of steel caught Simon's eye and held his attention in a sort of spell. Presently Mr. Deen's hand fell back on his breast, still, however, clasping the key. His breathing was now deep and regular, and he no longer tossed about. It seemed to Simon that the touch of the key had smoothed his master's slumbers. Simon's eyes did not wander from the key, although he could only see a tiny bit of it. He told himself over and over again that it was the key to his fortune. His expression grew more hawk-like every moment and more cunning. He was making up his mind. In half an hour he was resolved. Fortune favored him. As he arose from his chair the veiled man's hand slid from his breast to the bed, and his fingers, relaxed by sleep, lost their clutch upon the key.

Simon smiled as he approached the bed.

"Mr. Deen," he said. Mr. Deen did not reply. "Mr. Deen," he cried in louder tones. The veiled man slept on.

Simon shook his master rather roughly and evoked a snore. But still he was not satisfied; he took a pin from the lapel of his coat and pricked the veiled man's arm. Mr. Deen slept on. Simon eyed the drop of blood and his smile broadened into a cruel grin. "My chance," he chuckled, and with deft fingers he removed the chain from his master's neck. The safe was in the next room. He tiptoed to the door and turned. Mr. Deen's breathing charmed him. He made his way without further delay to the safe. Immediately he had disappeared the veiled man sat up in his bed and looked about him. Tossing off the clothes he sprang lightly to the floor, and noiselessly as a phantom glided to the door. Simon was on his knees before the open safe. The veiled man smiled disdainfully and as noiselessly as he had come he returned to his bed and resumed his former attitude. Simon meanwhile searched the safe through and through. Much to his surprise it contained nothing but a simple package of papers, the wrapper of which was covered with seals. But Simon's disposition was sanguine, and he hoped much from the package and its seals. He bore his trophy with quick, cat-like steps to his own bedroom, and there, toiling with the skill of an expert, he speedily removed the wrapper without damaging the seals. From the opened envelope he extracted a neatly folded square of blank parchment, within this was a second wrapper of snowy linen, within that a third. Then appeared a common paper envelope which cost him ten minutes of careful manipulation to negotiate, for its parts were closely cemented. But at length his reassure—which had begun to assume extraordinary proportions in his mind—lay open to his hands and eyes.

It consisted of a slip of pasteboard inscribed with three words in his master's handwriting: "Patience, Simon, patience!" Simon Vicars did not comprehend immediately the nature of the trap into which he had fallen. When he did he shook as if with an ague. And yet a moment later he began to replace the various wrappers about the pasteboard slip and subsequently reseal the package, working smoothly and certainly the while like a machine. Simon had escaped from too many tight corners in the course of his life to be quite dismayed by any circumstance. But he was very angry, and his low-mouthed curses were terrible to hear. When satisfied that no one could detect the handling to which he had subjected his master's property, he returned to the safe, put the package back into its proper place, and locked the door. That done, however he shook again, and more violently than before. There remained for him to restore the chain about his master's neck, and he was about to do so when he experienced a sudden agonising fear that the veiled man's sleep had been assumed. His face was of the hue of chalk as he crossed the threshold, and his eyes contained the desperate expectancy of a cornered vermin. The veiled man smiled to see Simon tremblingly approach the bed, a little encouraged by his master's placid breathing, but nevertheless eaten up with doubt and dark suspicions. In a moment it was over. The key lay upon the veiled man's chest, the chain reposed about his neck. Simon sighed gently, and stepping behind the bed stood motionless, his eyes fixed steadily upon his master's mask.

"What now," thought the veiled man. Very soon Mr. Deen began to grow uneasy at the other's inexplicable moveless silence.

Simon was experimenting. Out of his poignant anxiety to discover whether or not his master really slept, he had conceived a clever plan. "If he is awake," thought Simon, "I shall soon be assured of it, for no man can long endure the torture of being observed by an unseen adversary."

But he reckoned without a proper knowledge of the veiled man's iron will. Mr. Deen became more and more disturbed in mind, but he had resolved not to disclose his hand to his valet, and rather than have moved, he would have suffered himself to be very hardly dealt with. At the end of five minutes his face was wet with perspiration, but he still breathed tranquilly. At the end of ten he was employing all the strength in his body to maintain the character he played. At the end of fifteen he was struggling fiercely with hysteria. But Simon Vicars saw only a veil, and his master's respirations seemed to his strained ears as unlabored and regular as ever.

"I guess I've been exploring a mare's nest," he muttered, and as he spoke he stalked to a chair.

In the intense delight of his relief Mr. Deen realised how narrowly the victory had been won, and for the first time in their relationship he paid a tribute of respect to his servant's powers of intelligence. "The fellow is cleverer than I fancied," he reflected. "It was a subtle trick and admirably played."

Simon on his part frowned, then smiled. "He'll never know," he muttered under his breath, "and now that I have proof of his confidence in my good faith, he won't catch me napping; not much, curse him!"

Ten minutes later the veiled man on his bed and Simon in his chair were both asleep. But while Simon had troubled dreams, Mr. Deen slumbered like an infant.


CHAPTER X.

Lady Dorothy Foulkes and her father left Stayton for Scotland the morning after Lord Cawthorne paid his formal visit to the Marquis. They had been unexpectedly summoned to the bedside of the Duke of Firshire in order (as Lady Dorothy subsequently informed her friend Mrs. Toombes) "to witness another of his venerable Grace's marvellous recoveries from certain death."

During their absence the young Earl was elected a director of the Stayton Shipbuilding Company. He also made friends with Mrs. Toombes and Patrick Ellison.

Francine Toombes, like most of the well-to-do people in Stayton, owned shares in the company, and she cast her votes for Lord Cawthorne, an act of which she took care to inform him at the earliest opportunity. Her liveliness amused the Earl as much as her beauty delighted him. She was young—barely twenty eight—with brown heavy-lidden eyes, an adorable figure, and a thorough knowledge of the world.

Lord Cawthorne met Patrick Ellison at her house. As became his name the latter was an Irishman, but for an Irishman he was an anomaly because rich—almost beyond the dreams of avarice. He was not a particularly humorous figure, but everybody laughed at him and called him "Pat." He was a thin, weedy-looking man, thirty-five years of age, ugly and unconquerably good natured. For some months past he had made it the business of his life to follow Lady Dorothy Foulkes about with offers of marriage, which she declined to consider seriously, in common with himself. Mrs. Toombes, though seven years his junior, was his aunt, and at present his hostess. She had a comfortable income of her own, but Pat was very fond of her, and he made her an allowance of a thousand pounds a year, which she did not hesitate to duplicate by occasionally permitting him to pay her bills.

The widow was inordinately extravagant and dressed like a princess. Indeed, her wardrobe was the despair of female Stayton, and the envy of even Lady Dorothy, whose purse, said rumor, the Marquis kept more handsomely supplied than he could properly afford. Pat's other relations seriously disapproved of Mrs. Toombes, considering that she imposed upon her nephew's generosity; but they only gossiped among themselves, for the reason that they too—one and all—were frequent recipients of Pat's bounty. Pat, in fact was constitutionally unable to refuse any asker a gift or a loan; but he did not care particularly for his other relations, and did not pursue them with his favors, whence their jealousy of Francine Toombes. The Earl and the Irishman liked each other at first glance, and, the fancy ripened quickly into friendship. Lord Cawthorne's southern upbringing and Mr. Ellison's Irish blood had produced in each a contempt for the English convention of reserve that disposed them to an early interchange of confidence. On their second meeting, which occurred one morning in the main street of Stayton, the Earl invited "Pat" to take pot-luck at the Castle, and after lunch each considered the other a jolly good fellow.

The Irishman was the first to break ice. "I'm wondering at you burying yourself alive in a little place like this," he began. "You haven't the cut of a countryman, and there's a bit of a loose devil chained up in you somewhere, or I'm mistaken."

"I'm tied," replied the Earl, who was in no wise offended at the others outspokenness. "I'm a grateful man. My cousin saved my life, at more than the cost of his own."

"Who hasn't?"

"Just so. Well, Jack Deen is my mentor, and I'm not ashamed of the fact. He's the dickens of a straight-lace, and something cold-blooded to boot, but his fad is to make a proper man of me, and I'd rather die than hurt his feelings."

"It's a mighty strange position to be in."

"He can't live long," said the Earl. "Two years at most, the doctors say. I'd serve him ten cheerfully in a monastery—just to please him. But as it is I'm a teetotaller, and vowed to work hard and live respectably."

"For two years."

The Earl nodded, his eyes twinkling. "So far, my loose devil hasn't greatly troubled me, and anyhow I'm avowed to be hospitable. I intend to give a big house warming presently."

"What do you mean by working hard?"

"Jack classes idle men with parasites; I'm to learn the shipbuilding as soon as may be."

Pat sighed. "I never did a day's work in my life," he remarked. "What sort of a parasite would your cousin think me?"

"The worst."

"Humph! I don't want to meet him, and I wouldn't change places with you for a kingdom, for I have a sense of obligation, too, and I can understand your feelings."

"Question for question, Mr. Ellison. Why are you burying yourself alive in Stayton?"

"Oh, I'm fond of my aunt, don't you know. I often visit her."

Pat laughed shamefacedly, then added: "That's not quite candid, I'm afraid. Have you ever been in love, Lord Cawthorne?"

"Never."

"Then you haven't begun to live yet. I'm wanting to marry Lady Dorothy Foulkes."

The Earl looked surmised. "Oh," he said, "and she?"

"I wish I could tell you," groaned Pat.

"Why not ask her?"

"I have, more times than you have toes and fingers. She always says no, but I know she likes me and she drops the others she refuses like so many hot potatoes."

"A flirt."

Pat sat up. "Not at all," he cried indignantly. "Men make love to her because they can't help it. She's a lovely angel, and I'd like to see the clod that wouldn't worship her."

The Earl laughed lightly. "You make me anxious to meet her, even if it be to my undoing. Do you think I'll fall a victim to her charms, Ellison?"

"There's not a doubt of it," Pat replied, eyeing his companion with a sudden jealous scrutiny. A moment later he smiled. "You're big and devilish good-looking, but you'll have no chance," he said, with confidence.

"Why?"

"She hates blue-eyed men. She told me so a score of times."

"My cousin wants me to marry," said the Earl. "I did not think so, till last night, but he does. He has given me three months to choose a wife."

"Of course, you'll not allow him to dictate to you in that."

"Not in my choice, naturally."

"But in the matter of time?"

"I have promised;" the Earl spoke with an air of finality, but he smiled when he noted the look in Pat's eyes. "I'm a believer in scientific selection rather than in sentiment," he explained. "Does that shock you?"

"I dare say I'm old-fashioned." Pat was simply horrified.

Cawthorne shrugged his shoulders. "Each one to his taste. I have never been in love, and don't believe in it. As for the rest, one owes a duty to one's children; you'll admit that, I suppose. Would you marry a consumptive?"

"By God, yes—if I cared for her."

"Then you'd be taking a responsibility that I'd decline to handle. I'll want a clean bill of health with my wife."

Pat shaded his eyes with his hands. "What else?" he demanded.

"Oh, good looks and decent morals."

Pat could no longer contain himself. "You—puppy!" he shouted, starting up, his eyes ablaze. "I've a mind to hammer some sense into your numbskull. You—you——" he broke off, inarticulate with rage.

Cawthorne was unaffectedly delighted. "Go on," he said, "don't mind, me." But Pat's fury having effervesced, subsided quickly. He sank back into his chair too angry still to apologise, yet also considerably ashamed at his outbreak.

"You make me ill," he said petulantly, like a child. "Wait, wait! Man, you'll repent your arrogance one day in dust and ashes. And——"

"Yes—yes—go on!"

"And please fate, it will be a consumptive that will work your cure. No, no, I don't mean that."

Their eyes met. "I did not mean that," repeated Pat.

"No, certainly." The Earl's smile was almost joyous.

Pat was confused. "I'm afraid I was abominably rude," he muttered.

"Beautifully, beautifully," cried the Earl, "and convincing, besides; I no longer doubt the power of love, at any rate on Irishmen."

Pat accepted the jibe as a just punishment for his offence. "One for you," he muttered, with a rueful smile. "All the same, you wait; you're very young yet."

"I can only wait three months," the Earl reminded him.

"It will be long enough if Lady Dorothy gets hold of you. And I'm glad to remember she hates blue-eyed men."

"You lovers!" jeered the Earl.

Three days afterwards Cawthorne came upon Lady Dorothy and Mr. Ellison when riding from a duty call. Dorothy's grandfather had recovered from his illness in the meanwhile, and again bade fair to outlive his son, the Marquis, whose hopes of succeeding to the dukedom were now permanently dissipated. Dorothy had returned to Stayton that very morning, and although she had played the sick nurse for several days and was just come from a long journey, she looked as fresh as a rose. The encounter took place in the outskirts of the town, whither she had gone to dispense some private charities. Pat carried her basket and her sunshade. She was talking to an urchin in the middle of a narrow lane, and so absorbedly that she did not heed the Earl's approach, although his horse bravely clattered on the cobblestones. He nodded to the Irishman, and reined up to wait her pleasure, for he could not pass.

"A fine day, Ellison," he said.

Pat noted that his face was all aglow and wondered at the reason, for the Earl did not look at Lady Dorothy.

The girl was taken by surprise, and absolutely unprepared. She started at his voice, and involuntarily looked up. Pat stopped short in the middle of a meteorological platitude, for Dorothy's face, which was well within his range of vision, had shown a signal of distress. Her cheeks were as scarlet as two poppies.

Cawthorne looked past her at Ellison. "I wish you would present me to Lady Dorothy," he said, and sprang lightly to the ground. She recovered her composure while Pat performed the introduction, but not her usual careless grace of manner.

"I'm glad to meet you, Lord Cawthorne," she contrived to say, and the Earl thought the speech as stilted as any of her father's he had heard.

"I have been chasing a typist," he said calmly. "A Miss Fox who lives hereabouts, and who is supposed to be an expert with the instrument. But I cannot find her. Perhaps you might help me, Lady Dorothy."

The girl dared not meet his eyes. "I'm afraid not," she replied in prim tones, "I am almost a stranger in Stayton, Lord Cawthorne. But perhaps this little lad may know."

She turned to the urchin. "Charlie, does Miss Fox live anywhere about here?"

"Not as I knows on, ma'am," replied Charley.

Dorothy was quite herself again by this. She looked up at the Earl with a mocking smile. "Perhaps you have been misdirected."

"Perhaps," he agreed. "And yet I hardly think so." His face was quite expressionless.

Dorothy shook her head. "I must not keep my dear old ladies waiting. Good afternoon, Lord Cawthorne." She moved off, leading the urchin by the hand.

The men looked at each other. "You've met before," said Pat, acutely; his eyes were angrily agleam.

"In another sphere," declared the Earl.

"Bosh!" cried Pat, in a rage.

They exchanged a glance of open defiance, and then Cawthorne burst out laughing.

"I have blue eyes and you are a jealous Irishman," he said.


CHAPTER XI.

Everybody who was anybody in Stayton played golf. The links were situated near the cliffs, and just sufficiently distant from the town to reduce the din and clatter of the docks into a vaguely bell like hum of sound. Stayton was proud of its links, because the country was supposed to be the most difficult for driving purposes in England. It was broken up with ravines and clumps of wind-blown trees, and tussocks manifold. One could lose oneself quite easily in the gorsey valleys, or even on the hills, especially in couples. Many matches had been made there, both golf and matrimonial. The place was seldom quite deserted, but on afternoons and holidays it wore a gay inhabited appearance that mocked the barren seeming of the soil.

Lord Cawthorne could not play golf, but when Mrs. Toombes represented to him how necessary it was that he should learn (from the social point of view), he thankfully permitted her to teach him. But he proved a somewhat too enthusiastic and vigorous a pupil for her liking. She had thought it would be nice to play without caddies, so that they might seek for lost balls together; she was not blindly devoted to the game. But the Earl's eyes were as sharp as any hawk's, and he always found the tiny sphere too quickly. He was, moreover, so strong and tireless himself that he could not easily be brought to understand why a mile's brisk tramping should leave her breathless. Her compensation, however, was in the comments of her friends, who refused to believe that a handsome young man and a lovely young woman could spend two hours a day in each other's company without flirting. And they did flirt sometimes, on the homeward stroll, though never while the game progressed. But always very harmlessly; a matter of challenging glances and bluff outspoken compliments; and only until they began to like each other more than superficially and recognise the fact. In a week they were sworn friends, and knew each other's lives in fairly intimate particulars. Francine told the Earl a thing no other soul had guessed, that she had buried her heart in her husband's grave. On this part he confessed to her that he had begun to find his mysterious cousin, John Deen, a tyrant, under whose rule he could not help but chafe.

"Two men can spend their lives together and never know each other," he said one afternoon. "Jack and I have scarcely been a day apart since we were children. For the last ten years especially—since the infernal accident that wrecked his life and saddened mine—we have shared each other's every thought, or at least I have shared mine with him, and yet now he puzzles me. He seems to be changing—changing."

"I would like to meet this curious cousin of yours," said Francine. "Might I?"

"It could not be managed. His fear of strangers is his one fixed star."

"How is he changing?"

"I scarcely know." The Earl shook his head. "I do everything I can to please him. As you are aware, at his request I have already started working at the docks under Sir Felix Greig, four tedious hours a day—confound it! And his every other wish I gratify, and yet——" he paused frowning.

"Well."

"He is never pleased, Mrs. Toombes. He says nothing, but he makes me feel it all the same. Of course I know in my heart that his dearest, in fact his only desire in life is for my good, or what he considers my good, and I daresay I'm an ungrateful hound not to do his bidding cheerfully, seeing what I owe him—I owe him more than I dare tell you, Mrs. Toombes—yet all the same I can't help fancying sometimes that his feelings have altered."

Francine smiled. "Oh, I am sure you are wrong," she said. "I don't know your cousin, of course, but I am certain that he could not help but like you. You are so quixotically devoted to him, too."

"I don't know." The Earl's voice was very gloomy. "I don't know," he repeated. "When I was a lad I didn't think the matter over very much. Of course I realised from the first that I owed him his spoiled life as well as mine saved, yet once realised he helped me himself to forget it. I could not make you understand in a year how utterly sweet and uncomplaining he was, how grateful for little services, how patient in his pain. You see, we'd made it up (we were very poor, you know) that I would work for us both, and that we'd always live together. For ten years we never exchanged an angry word—indeed, we were like brothers—till this title and the fortune came."

"And then?" Francine was deeply interested and full of sympathy.

"He loathed the idea of coming to England, Mrs. Toombes. It was a terrible sacrifice for him to make; the voyage, strangers, and so on."

"But he came."

"Yes, he came."

"And now?"

The Earl looked into her eyes. "I think he might be beginning to comprehend what he failed to realise in Norfolk Island—the enormous difference between his life and mine. Don't you think that should make him hate me, Mrs. Toombes?"

Francine's eyes opened wide. "It—it would depend," she murmured.

"On me?"

"No—himself—the sort of——" she broke off, then added with a little gasp: "I must be honest. In his place I would hate you, I'm afraid, however much you tried to please me. But you know best if his nature is as mean as mine."

Cawthorne shook his head. "It is different with women, and in any case would meanness count? He ought to hate me, Mrs. Toombes."

"Yes," she said, "he ought. But does he? Ask your heart!"

"He likes his valet, I think, a wretched little ferret-faced nonentity named Simon Vicars."

"Oh, lad!" cried the lady, "you are jealous, I believe. Was there ever such a pair as you and your cousin!"

The Earl looked at her long and full. "You don't know what you are talking about," he said presently, in tones of concentrated bitterness. "But I must tell you something more since I have told you so much."

"Well," her smile was mocking.

"I've carried it locked here for ten years." He pointed to his breast.

His manner sobered the widow. Her smile faded, and his eyes grew serious. "Well," she said again, but almost tenderly.

He folded his arms and bent his head. "I have never liked Jack Deen," he said. "Before he saved my life we were cold companions; allies, but only by force of circumstances. We had no one else to speak to, you see. Afterwards——" he paused, frowning gloomily.

"Afterwards," gasped the widow.

"Afterwards, because I did not like him, I became his bondslave." There was something resembling despair in the Earl's voice.

There followed a long and thoughtful silence. Then Francine started impulsively forward and caught his hand. "I understand," she said. "I understand completely. Oh, how I envy you, Lord Cawthorne."

"Why?"

"Because you are a man, a strong, good man." Her eyes glowed like stars.

The Earl quietly released his hand. "It was the only thing to do," he said indifferently enough.

"Does he suspect?" asked Francine.

"God knows. But ought he not to hate me?"

"He ought to worship you," the widow said.

A week later the Earl informed Francine of the promise he had given to his cousin that he would choose a wife within three months. Pat Ellison had mentioned it to her before, but she made it a rule never to take Pat seriously, from a long experience of his Celtic imagination. They had just finished a protracted game, and were sitting for a breathing space on the top of a little hill that overlooked Stayton and the estuary. Two hundred yards away Pat Ellison and Lady Dorothy were discussing rules with Maude Franklyn and Sybil Carne. Still farther off Sir Felix Greig was hotly pressing Mr. Southdown.

Lord Cawthorne's eyes were fixed on Dorothy while he made his confession, with a measuring look the widow thought. Francine remembered that afterwards, but for the moment with every other consideration it was driven from her mind before a storm of indignation. "He had no right," she burst out. "And you were wrong, ay, cowardly to shrink from vexing him. Three months! my heart! the thing's unnatural. Does he want to spoil your whole life? I begin to detest this cold-blooded cousin."

They had called each other for two days by their baptismal names.

"I am trying not to," said the Earl. "I think I shall succeed for I believe myself incapable of love."

"Oh, what nonsense. Incapable! You incapable!" She trembled with anger at his baffling quietude.

He smiled in her eyes. "You are the most beautiful woman I have ever known and yet I am fancy free." His gesture was more complimentary even than his words.

The widow sighed and blushed. "That is no criterion. Look yonder. Three lovely creatures are they not?"

"Well."

"There are others, Adam. This is but a tiny corner of the world. Your heart is only yours in trust for one of us. Your promise binds you to a fault in honor. What will you say to her one day when she demands accounts of you?"

"If ever such a day and she arrive, I shall tell her of my cousin Jack."

"She'll not forgive you."

"Well, well," he shrugged his shoulders. "But to be honest, Francine, I agree with you. The thing is rather monstrous. I do not want a wife."

"Of course not. She hasn't come upon the scene yet! And to be obliged——Oh! I have not patience with you. Be a man, rebel; recall. If needful, break your promise!"

"No."

"You owe some devoir to yourself."

"Assuredly; a word passed, to redeem, for instance."

"Are you only a conscience and a perambulating sense of obligation."

The Earl laughed. "Pat says I have a bit of a loose devil chained in me somewhere."

"Let slip its collar then!"

"I have mislaid the key, Francine."

She looked at him.

"I want you to help me out of this." He was smiling inscrutably.

"To help you choose," she asked, her dark eyes kindling.

He shook his head. "I wish you'd marry me," he answered calmly. "You don't want a lover, nor do I; we'd get on famously together."

"I feel sure you don't mean to insult me," she answered slowly. Her eyes were glittering and her cheeks held twin crimson spots.

"I am too fond of you," he responded gravely. "But I am serious."

"Then listen, Adam. I am a woman of the world, and can talk to you quite plainly at a pinch."

"Please," said he.

"Human beings are savages," she muttered, "and savages are beasts. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Love can change all that, but nothing, else. It redeems and sanctifies our low estate. It is the one great good which God has given us, the single means by which He has permitted us to escape in part from our initial doom while yet on earth, and realise, however dimly, that angels can and do inhabit the carcases of animals." She stood up, her countenance transfigured, and slowly moved away.

"Francine! Francine!" he cried. He was moved to his depths.

She turned and looked at him with tear-wet eyes. "You poor boy," she said, "I am very fond of you, but don't ever speak to me like that again."

"I never shall, and thank you, Francine. I love and honor you more than I can say."

"A woman can be a man's friend," she said a little later as they descended the slope together. "When you have chosen, come and tell me, will you, Adam?"

"Before I speak?"

"That, if at all, and only if you are sure you do not care—in the proper way—for her."

"And why not then?"

"It would not be fair to her."

"I think you must be an angel, Francine," said the Earl.


CHAPTER XII.

Dorothy had kept the Earl at arm's length since their formal introduction at the hands of Pat. They met frequently, but never alone, and always in the guise of persons satisfied with mere acquaintanceship. Dorothy was not ashamed of the typewriting escapade, but she had her dignity to consider, and, moreover, her father wanted her to marry Pat.

The Marquis, never a rich man, had recently been called upon to discharge his son's debts, and his own pecuniary embarrassments were known to several, who did not scruple to assert that he had traded over-recklessly on his expectations of succeeding to the duchy. There was even talk of process-servers having been seen about Cliff House. At any rate Mr. Southdown, the solicitor, had been a frequent caller there of late, and mutters went abroad when the process-servers showed their heels, of post-obits bonds and mortgages. The Marquis showed Dorothy a deed one day in which the name of Patrick Ellison figured largely. It was his manner of indicating his wishes for her future, and vague as it was it cost the proud gentleman the greatest anguish he had ever known. His sensitive self-consciousness kept him, whenever possible, a prisoner indoors. He saw fingers of scorn everywhere, even in the sky; and when he was obliged to go into the town in order to attend his board meetings his manner froze at their starting-point the most affectionate advances of his truest friends.

Dorothy loved and pitied him so keenly that, although she still said "no" to Pat, she was quite resolved to finally say yes, and all she needed was the necessary courage to perfect in fact the sacrifice she had already consummated in mind. The Irishman was shamefully ill-treated in those days. Alternately she flattered and cajoled, then covered him with scorn and ridicule.

She bewildered him so much that he was near distracted, and went to his friend, the Earl, for sympathy and consolation so often, that Cawthorne grew accustomed to expect Pat as an early morning visitor. Pat spent his evenings with Dorothy.

The interviews at the Castle were generally brief. "I can't make her out," the Irishman would say, after describing his last snub.

"Then let her be," was the Earl's formula. "Take her at her word, man, and go to Africa."

"And I can't do that, either."

"Then go to the devil your own way. Don't think I am going to slobber over you."

Sometimes they quarrelled, but Pat must have derived some inexplicable refreshment from his visits, for he always returned like a hound to the lash, and at last came to love his chastisement.

Meanwhile, the Earl prepared for his house-warming and issued invitations. It was to assume the form of a ball, and Francine Toombes had agreed to act the part of housekeeper and hostess. Naturally the county families were indignant. "Who is this Mrs. Toombes?" became a sort of female greeting, a catchword in streets and links and drawing rooms. Everybody knew perfectly well, for Francine's character and standing were above reproach; but she was a widow, and therefore the natural enemy of mothers and matchmakers. Francine stemmed the tide with cheerful insouciance.

She knew that no one would refuse an invitation on her account, and she proudly determined to make the ball an immense success. The Earl gave her carte-blanche, and her chum and confidant was Dorothy.

Dorothy was deeply interested in the ball. As soon as she knew the date she promised herself one last evening of irresponsible amusement, which she would terminate by accepting Pat. She did not love the Irishman a bit, but she liked him well, enough to consider marriage with him, in her moments of reflection, as not too great an offering to lay upon the altar of a beloved father's happiness. Indeed, with her sex's contrariness, she sometimes grieved that such was the case, because it robbed her of the opportunity to play the martyr properly. A sacrifice to be soul-satisfying, ought—it seemed to her—to entail endless misery and mystery and melancholy. If only "Pat" were a hard man, a stern, unbending tyrant, in whose presence she could excusably shudder. If even he aspired to buy her—ah! then, what secret glory would companion her submission. But Pat, the soft slavish Pat of reality, whom she could twist about her little finger without a conscious effort in the pastime, was not to be thought of in the same breath as her Pat of dreams. It was most exasperating; but she was forced to admit that Pat, the real Pat, promised to make a complete husband. She even caught herself at times cheerfully prospecting the future, playing fairy godmother with Pat's money, and dazzling otherwise her social world. Shocked romance besought her to despise herself, but Dorothy was not without a sense of humour, and she had never been in love. In fact, she laughed as often as she sighed; and day by day she sighed less frequently for the fairy prince or her more young imaginings began, by unseen processes, to peer out of the mist with Pat's kind eyes and freckled face.

Had she gone to the ball, in all human probability she would have married Pat, but on the very eve a telegram informed her that her mother had been taken dangerously ill, and she fled to London. Pat only missed her very much. Francine said it was a nuisance, because her flitting spoiled a fancy-dress quadrille she had arranged. The Marquis spared her tranquilly, assured of her return. Lord Cawthorne shrugged his shoulders when he heard. The Earl had almost forgotten his little typist, and if ever he thought of her; it was merely to reflect upon the momentary waywardness of a generally reserved and level-headed young woman. For so he had come to regard Lady Dorothy.

He was sedulously seeking about him for a wife, but so coolly and soberly that no one except Francine, who knew, guessed at his purpose. He began to cultivate the habit of observation, and gave attentive ear to ladies' chatter, particularly when they discussed their female intimates. He hoped by these means to find at length a good-tempered, easy-going young woman, whose physical endowments might grace his breakfast table. And he plumed himself a deal upon his moderation. "Surely," he thought, "I do not ask too much of fate." He knew very well that he was a handsome man; and everybody could see that he was young, rich, and an earl. His trouble was that the eligibles (amongst whom he classed Sybil Carne and Maud Franklyn) wore impenetrable masks, and spoke only to conceal their thoughts except in trivialities. Moreover, everyone else seemed to have conspired to prevent him from discovering the women underneath the masks. Even Francine mocked him when he asked her help. He would be sure to blame her afterwards, she thought; but she promised to tell him all she knew of the woman of his choice, when he should choose.

He noticed faults in several on golf links during moments of excited play. He discarded some for angry looks, some for strident voices; one for a mole on her chin; another for a mincing manner. Finally there remained only Maud Franklyn and Sybil Carne; and he did not consider them with perfect satisfaction. He could not be sure that he had criticised them as acutely as the others, because they were incomparably more beautiful. Certain it was that Maud had an unmusical voice, and Sybil a mole on her chin; reasons sufficient in other instances for prompt deliverance of self from danger. But Maude's dark beauty and her splendid bearing irresistibly attracted him, while Sybil was a daughter of the gods, divinely tall and most divinely fair.

One day he thought it would be Maude, the next Sybil. He waited and watched, having months in hand. Their families warmly welcomed him, and he accepted hospitalities, but, as he said to Francine, he got no forwarder. Women continued to be mysteries to him, and he was not an Oedipus. The girls were old rivals and secret enemies, which made the matter more difficult, for neither would speak about the other, fearing to go too far. And he dared not flirt with them, dreading to commit himself.

Maude was rather a chill-natured woman, inclined to overestimate the power of her attractions, yet perfectly willing to marry the first rich man who asked her, in order to escape the grinding of struggling to keep up appearances at home. She loathed her home, and its indecently pretentious poverty; but she would have made Cawthorne a good wife, for she was too proud to soil her dignity by doing aught but the right thing, though the heavens fell in consequence. Sybil Carne was of a widely different clay. A physiognomist would have read in her brow—a history to be writ there presently, and a stormy one. Beneath her virginal calm, as yet unstirred by any breeze of chance slumbered passion and unintelligent ambition. She appealed to the Earl as a creature of sex, and she sometimes stirred his senses as luxurious odours can. He thought of her as a sleeping beauty awaiting the adventurer's kiss, but he was not anxious to disturb her sleep. He liked her as a picture best. At the ball he distributed his favors equally between the pair. He took Maude to supper, and Sybil, some time later, for a moonlight promenade. Maude was a silent partner, Sybil talkative. But Sybil's conversation left his mind as blank as Maude's silence.

The ball was a greater success than even Francine had expected, but it was a disappointment to the Earl, from first to last. Of all the brilliant crowd that thronged his halls, only two persons were in any wise his friends, Pat and Francine. For the others he cared nothing; and he was glad to see them go.

He escorted Pat and Francine to their home—that is to say, Francine—since Pat maundered disconsolately in the rear, dreaming awake of Lady Dorothy.

Mrs. Toombes was at first clamatory for commendation of her stewardship, then curious. The Earl paid her grateful tribute, and afterwards confessed himself.

"I was bored to death," he sighed. "I wanted some one there belonging to me, I suppose."

"Your cousin, for instance."

"No," he answered sharply. "Some one to take an interest in on my own account, in whom I would be interested for both our sakes."

"A sweetheart then."

"Perhaps."

"There are Maude and Sybil. You have only to drop the handkerchief, oh! mighty potentate."

The Earl swore under his breath; his mood was bitterly discontented.

"I wish I could fall in love," he groaned. "I mean to marry, but I hate the prospect of being tied up to a woman whom I'll never want to chat things over with."

"And who won't care whether you chat things over with her or not," said Francine.

"Are you laughing at me," he asked irately.

"No, Adam, indeed I am not. I am too surprised at your cleverness. Do you know you have exactly hit upon the secret of happiness in marriage. For practical purposes all one needs, is a mate whom one can chat things over with. Don't marry till you find one, Adam."

"But how?"

"You'll know by instinct the second that you see her."

"Then good-bye Maude and Sybil," he responded quickly.

"Oh, I knew all along," said the widow.

He made a despairing gesture. "There is no one else in Stayton," he muttered gloomily.

"No," she agreed.

"Then what can I do?"

Francine did not reply for some minutes. She was deep in thought. An idea flashed into her mind, so irresponsible and whimsical that it caught her fancy and bound her in its coils; for she herself was irresponsible and whimsical and, like all women, minded for experiment. Every woman is at heart a match maker. "I know a girl," she said at last.

The Earl awoke from a fit of abstraction. "Eh?" he asked.

"I know a girl who would do, perhaps. Indeed, I am sure she would. She is pretty, clever, young and sympathetic. And she is a lady. Poor, though; would you mind that?"

"Not a bit." His tones were brisk and hopeful. "What is her name?"

"I can't tell you—at least not yet."

"And why?"

"You must see her first. I am a great believer in love at first sight. If you see her and like her, I shall arrange for you to meet her, but not unless."

"How absurd you are, Francine."

"How matter of fact and unromantic and stodgy you are, Adam. It is an adventure that would appeal to most men."

The Earl was a trifle nettled. "You are not quite omniscient," he retorted. "I am ready for any adventure."

"Oh, are you? Then dare you place yourself unreservedly at my disposal?"

"For how long?"

"A day."

"Yes, I both dare and do; now explain yourself."

But Francine only laughed. "You'll have to wait, the time is not yet. I'll send for you when I am ready."

And with that the Earl was obliged to rest contented.


CHAPTER XIII.

There lived together at that time, in a tiny flat at St. John's Wood, two young women sworn to bachelorhood, who had been schoolfellows of Francine Toombes. Their names were Letitia Blake and Judith Ramsay. They were journalists, and both were employed upon the reporting staff of a well-known society newspaper. It had long been their custom to spend a yearly holiday with Francine, and all three were attached friends. Letitia Blake was a tall and handsome brunette, twenty-six years of age, a clever pen-woman and extremely popular in her profession. Judith Ramsay was small, fair, plain, and thirty-two. They were cousins by marriage, and orphans. They had no one to consider but themselves, and none to call them to account for their independent, and Bohemian ways. Letitia earned three pounds a week, Judith a paltry twenty shillings, but their purse was a joint one and shared as frankly as their thoughts and lives. Their acquaintances called them the Siamese twins, and, despite their poverty, there were not to be found two happier or more care free girls in London.

Francine wrote to Letitia the following letter:—


"My Dear Letty,

I want you very much to do me a rather peculiar favor. On Wednesday next I am sending my maid to London (I cannot go myself) with a jewel, which I wish you to have valued for me. I think it is a diamond, but I may be mistaken. You, however, will easily be able to have the matter determined. But now to explain about my maid. She is country bred and a bit of a fool, who is horribly afraid of cabs—she would not enter one for a kingdom; but she knows one place in London, the Marble Arch, and she could go straight there in a 'bus. Can you contrive to be there next Wednesday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, dressed in black with a red rose in your bosom. I'll describe you to her so that there can be no mistake. Send me a wire, dear—to say yes. Love to Judith.

Yours always affectionately,

Francine Toombes."

"P.S.—You'll be doing me such a service, dear.—F.T.

P.P.S.—See that she gets into the right 'bus for Victoria before you leave her, dear. Heaps of love to you both.—F.T."

Letitia and Judith waxed eloquently sarcastic over Francine's letter, but the required telegram was despatched, and the widow sent for Lord Cawthorne.

The Earl had not expected the summons so soon, but he was pleased at Francine's promptness. He was a man who liked action to follow briskly on decision; and having made up his mind to marry, he had already begun to fret because he could not find a wife to suit him. Francine noted his eyes rove about the room, as they shook hands, and he smiled.

"She is not here," she said.

"Where, then?"

"I haven't an idea, Adam. But on Wednesday next, at three o'clock in the afternoon, you will find her in London at the Marble Arch."

"In London?" he said, frowning.

"Yes. She will be dressed in black with a red rose in her bosom. Of course, you will not speak to her; just look! She is not aware of your existence; I have tricked her to be there."

"I can't go to London," said the Earl.

"Why?"

"Jack Deen will not allow me."

"Jack Deen be bothered!" cried the widow. "You must go; you promised me a day."

"Yes, but not to go to London."

"You gave yourself to me for a day at my absolute disposal. There were no restrictions."

The Earl looked grave? "That's true," he muttered. "But I never dreamed——"

Francine lost patience. "Are you a child—a booby in leading strings," she said.

He nodded. "Say a bondslave," he replied. "That's just what I am, Francine. But never mind, a promise is a promise. I'll go!"

She looked curiously into his gloomy face. "Is it so bad, really. What will he say?"

The Earl shook his head. "He'll demand an explanation."

"And you?"

"I'll explain."

"I hate and detest and loathe that cousin of yours," she flashed out of a sudden. "He is nothing but a monster. As for you, you were a fool ever to let him stick his claws in you!"

Lord Cawthorne smiled and sighed, and took his leave. He went straight to his cousin. The veiled man was seated before his piano playing Chopin's Marche Funebre. He broke off with a discordant crash as Cawthorne entered, but he did not speak.

"Jack," said the Earl, as the other turned to him, "on Wednesday next I am going to London."

The veiled man kept as still as stone. The Earl tried to distinguish his eyes through the brown glass vizor that faced him so immovably, but he failed as he had always failed. In less than a minute the silence became intolerable to him.

"Have you anything to say?" he asked impatiently.

Simon Vicars, who had followed the Earl into the room, grinned behind a discreet hand. He knew exactly how the young man felt, confronted by that ugly helmet, with its uncanny eyes and its impenetrable occupant.

"Simon," said the veiled man, "leave the room."

Simon vanished, and the silence was repeated.

"Have you anything to say Jack?" repeated the Earl after another minute. His voice was now almost desperate. The veiled man clasped his hand upon his lap.

"Good-bye," he said.

"What?" gasped the Earl.

"Good-bye."

"What do you mean?"

"You are going to London, and I say good-bye to you. Is that difficult to understand?" His tones were, crisp and cutting, with a sneer in each inflection.

The Earl bit his lips. "There is no occasion to be vexed, Jack," he protested. "I shall only be a day away, a single clay. It is on a lady's business. I promised in the dark, but I promised or I would not go."

"Her name?"

"Mrs. Toombes."

"Are you going to marry her, Adam?"

"No," the Earl colored hotly. "Certainly not," he added, as if resenting the imputation.

The veiled man smiled behind his mask. "What is her business?"

"Must you know, Jack?"

"Some whim-wham, eh?"

"Only that, Jack. I may tell you if you insist, but I'd rather not."

"Then be silent. Have you chosen a wife yet?"

"No."

Then followed a moment's silence, and then the veiled man turned slowly to the keyboard.

"Oh, well, don't let me detain you," he drawled.

The Earl moved hesitatingly towards the door, but at the first note of music evoked by his cousin's hand, he stopped, as if an adder had stung him, and wheeling about, he strode quickly to the veiled man's side.

"Jack," he cried, "Jack," and laid his hand upon his cousin's shoulder.

"What now?" asked the other testily.

"Jack, old man," the Earl's voice quavered as he spoke, "we were better friends in Norfolk Island."

"You think so."

"I know so, Jack; you never want to see me now. When we meet you are as distant as a star and—and—damnably cold. I do all I can to please you. I want to do more, but you—Jack—what has come between us?"

The veiled man shook off the Earl's hand, stood up and faced him. "The grave," he answered in a frozen voice. "In the grave it is very lonely, Adam, so they say. I must go there soon and—well—the best preparation for loneliness in death is loneliness in life." At the last word he shrugged his shoulders, and, turning upon his heel he walked with steady footsteps towards his bedroom.

Lord Cawthorne was cut to the heart. He watched his cousin go, his features twitching convulsively the while, but though he wished to say a thousand things he remained speechless and moveless. His folly had brought his cousin to that pass, such was the thought that struck him impotently miserable. As a dream he lived the past anew—the wretched, the accursed past. He saw himself a gay and reckless lad of eighteen, pacing homeward on the fatal evening with swinging stride through the starlit twilight of the South, across the cascade bridge, a valley, and a hill, and finally along an avenue of stately pines. He saw himself, in his old thoughtless fashion, enter once more the rambling Norfolk Island cottage which he called his home and burst unceremoniously upon the man whom he and his cousin had once called "Father." He experienced again the shock of astonishment which had held him dumb before the wrath of a startled drunkard. He saw Mr. Deen again, a white-haired Bacchanal, rise from his cups and curse and threaten him for his unwelcome apparition. Then his anger faded—faded into an invitation and a song. And he had, nothing loth, although still witless with surprise, sat down beside the man he called his father, and taken from his hands fiery draughts of once unheard of liquors. He experienced anew the wild pleasure of the orgie that ensued; the stirring sense of kindled fancies, the mad desire for song and laughter, the gradually encroaching pall of sensuous sleep and bestial stupidity, through which for a while he saw the walls dance, the lights flicker, before he sank into black night and nothingness. And then the hideous awakening. His cousin standing beside his bed, in the heart of a strange hot, crimson glare, stinging him to life with savage hands and scalding words. His stumbling efforts to escape the flames, and finally that struggle on the staircase, when his cousin had seized him in his arms and hurled him with a giant's strength through a devil's cauldron into safety, only to fall himself, poor fellow, exhausted by his gallant effort, into the fiery pit which had blasted both their lives.

How long he stood there gazing back into the past he never knew. Simon Vicars aroused him with a deferential cough.

"The master likes to eat alone, if you please, my lord, and his lunch is ready," Simon said.

The Earl realised that he had been staring at a closed door—a wonderful door through which he had seen cruel visions. He gave the ferret-faced little valet a look of piercing inquisitiveness; a look that made Simon shiver in his shoes, for the pupils of the Earl's eyes had contracted into glittering points, and they seemed able to penetrate a man's heart. "I don't like you, Simon," he said, very softly. "And I wonder every day why my cousin endures you near him. You are a scoundrel, I am sure, a bad little man. But look here, you be good to Mr. Deen, serve him faithfully and well, and then when the end comes, you'll find yourself richer than you ever hoped to be. Do you understand?"

Simon would have protested and prevaricated, and perhaps tried to bargain for something definite if those eyes had not been staring into his. As it was he snuffled a little and said, "Yes, my lord." It was the best he could do for himself at the moment, and before he had time to consider that he should have acted the part of an outraged innocent, the Earl had gone.

Simon locked the door, and then tapped his index finger on his palm. He had begun to perceive that he had been insulted. Until that moment he had only felt aggrieved. "A scoundrel, a bad little man," he muttered. His lip tightened upon his canine teeth, and rolled up like a curtain until he closely resembled an irritated terrier. "All right, my lord," he snarled; "if ever I get the chance, I'll pay you out for that." Simon had never liked the Earl.


CHAPTER XIV.

Unhappily for the success of Francine's romantic little scheme by which she hoped to interest Lord Cawthorne in her pretty friend Letitia Blake, that young woman received an imperative summons from her editor just as she had finished her lunch, on the appointed Wednesday. It was too late to wire Francine, so Letitia besought Judith Ramsay to take her place.

Judith, however, required some pressing before she would undertake the commission. "Francine said that her maid is a fool," she objected, "and the odds are that she will not come near me. Francine is sure to have described you as tall and dark, whereas I am short and fair."

"You, a journalist, to talk like that!" retorted Letitia, scornfully; "what if she does not come near you? Haven't you eyes and a tongue? Do you mean to tell me that you could possibly fail to pick her out a country gawk who will be certain to carry her calling on her face and back."

"That's all very well, but there is always a crowd at the Arch; besides, even if I find her she may refuse to hand me over the jewel!"

"Then bring her home," said Letitia.

Judith was unable to advance another objection, therefore at a few minutes to three o'clock she alighted from a 'bus at Marble Arch, and took up her stand just without the park gates. She was attired in black, and she wore a red rose in the bosom of her gown.

Lord Cawthorne could hardly believe his eyes, poor Judith was so very homely. He passed her a dozen times and he noted that she was looking for some one too. Had Francine played a practical joke on him? There was no other woman with a black dress and a red rose to be seen. At the end of a quarter of an hour his doubts fled. Judith was evidently the person he had come to see. No man likes to be played with, and the Earl began to feel annoyed. He saw Judith accost two country-looking women, and she seemed to be growing anxious. He was growing angry. He waited another ten minutes and then stalked fuming into the park. His train back to Stayton did not start till nightfall, and he had some hours to kill with not a notion how to kill them, for he had no club and very few acquaintances. If Judith had been pretty he would not have cared; he could have thought of her and built romances. He did not lack imagination, though he was a practical young man. And while coming up to London, he had half decided to follow her—if she were sufficiently attractive, at a proper distance, of course. But—that ugly creature! He trusted he would never set eyes on her again! Judith was not ugly, but the Earl's annoyance made her hideous. Pat had been his companion in the tram to town. Pat had come up to call on Lady Dorothy. The Earl thought of Pat's occupation with genuine envy. If he had known Lady Dorothy's address, he would have gone there straight away, not to see her, but Pat. He consulted his watch, and swore energetically aloud. It was only half past three, and his train left at half-past six. He felt very bitter towards Francine Toombes, and determined never to trust her again. "Women," he sneered, and most unjustifiably, for this was his first malign experience of the sex. Of a sudden he stopped short, dazed by a thought, and taught a fleck of wisdom by his rage. He had come to town expecting to see a pretty woman and prepared to fall in love with her. His anger merged quickly into self-contempt, and a moment later he walked on, taking an unexpected pleasure in the sunlight, the swarming footpaths and the summer-coated trees. By the time he reached the Serpentine he was an unreflecting, impressionable creature. He had looked into the eyes of at least two pretty girls, and he felt thereby exhilarated and ready for an unrehearsed adventure. He resolved to speak to the next pretty woman whose glance allured him—and in the same instant he came face to face with Lady Dorothy.

She was seated on a bench beside the stream, staring pensively at nothing. She was dressed in black with a veil, but her veil was raised to her brow. She was pale and sad. Dark rings encircled her eyes, and she looked as though she had not slept for long, or had recently been weeping.

Aimlessly wandering, the Earl had left the path some time before, and Dorothy's bench was so secluded that, with a smile, he thought he recognised the hand of fate. She had not seen him, and so profound was her abstraction that even when he stopped she remained unconscious of his presence. "Good heavens!" thought the Earl, "is it possible that this sad-faced girl was once upon a time my perky and bewitching little typist."

Hat in hand he bent over her, "Lady Dorothy, how ill you look!" he said. He expected to have startled her, but Dorothy was too preoccupied with grief to be surprised at anything.

"Good afternoon, Lord Cawthorne," she answered listlessly. Their meeting might have been prearranged. And, stranger still, she seemed forthwith to forget him.

The Earl was piqued. He had it in mind to bow and go, but there was something so forlorn and desolate in her attitude, and so pathetic in her pallid inattentiveness to everything except her thoughts, that he presently forgot his pique in sheer astonishment. Then quite suddenly he remembered why she had been called away from Stayton and his ball.

"May I ask after you mother's health?" he inquired, in a concerned voice.

Dorothy looked up at him. "She is going to die," she replied; her lip pitifully quivering.

"Good heavens!" he exclaimed. "I—I—am awfully sorry; I—did not guess."

"How could you? We did not know ourselves until to-day." A tear splashed down her cheek; She put up her hands and quickly lowered the veil. "I—I—haven't slept for three days," she muttered hastily, as if wistful to explain her tears; and then she felt she must explain her presence in the park. "They—they made me go out," she moaned. "I did not want to go."

Sorrow for one means evil fortune had for ten years shadowed Cawthorne's life, but he had never witnessed till that day a woman's pain. All his soul was quickened by her tears to sensibility, and there seemed nothing worth while in the universe of action except to comfort her. "You poor little girl," he said, and Dorothy thought she had never heard anything kinder or more loving than his voice. Fresh from the half-baked sympathy of surgeons and servants, it overwhelmed her composure, and before she knew it she was crying bitterly. The Earl sat down beside her. "Ah, you poor little girl," he repeated softly, and with no thought but pity for her grief he took her trembling little hand and pressed it to his lips.

There was so much honest reverence in the act, and tender chivalry, that Dorothy was touched and soothed. She withdrew her hand, but not offendedly, only indeed to wipe her eyes. Her tiny lace mouchoir was already wet and hopelessly inadequate. Afterwards the Earl smiled to remember how instinctively he offered her his cambric and how naturally she accepted it. A little later she was calm save for an occasional sob, and almost passionately grateful; but she could not trust herself to speak, for shame at her break-down, and an agony of shyness quite new to her experience. Blood is the best teacher of the gentler courtesies. Cawthorne had been brought up in a rougher school than most men, yet no life-trained past master in diplomacy could have displayed a finer tact. As soon as Dorothy began to recover her composure, he looked upon the ground and waited in gravest silence on her pleasure. She stole a glance at him at last, and all her shyness disappeared on instant. Why, she did not trouble to inquire.

"She—will die to-night," she whispered huskily.

"My poor little girl," said Cawthorne, "can I do anything? If so, command me."

"What could he—what could any one do?" asked Dorothy despairingly in mind. The fiat had gone forth—and yet his thought was kind. "Father is there! He came up this morning," she contrived to say. Then she stood and offered him her hand. "I must go home," she muttered.

She did not understand his answer, but it was a comfort to realise that he was keeping pace with her. She had never felt more lonely and dependent in her life. Twenty minutes later they came, without a word exchanged meanwhile, to Curzon-street, and stopped before a house. There they looked for a second in each other's eyes.

"Good-bye," said Dorothy.

"Surely there must be something I might do?" he almost pleaded, as he took her hand.

She shook her head forlornly. "Nothing."

"Then good-bye, Lady Dorothy, and—God console you."

The earnest words and low deep tones that carried them trapped afresh the springs of the girl's sorrows. She went up the stairs crying silently, almost blinded with swift-flowing tears; and the Earl watched her until the house received her, scarcely less grieved than she. He had still two hours to wait for her train, so he went back into the park. London was a problem he did not want to solve just then, and the trees and grass lawns called, but not the people. A painted lady (she looked marvellously girlish) smiled at him. He shuddered, then stung himself with a sneering "pride." All the same he left the beaten paths as soon as possible, and because he was not quite sure that he could rediscover the exact spot where he had met Dorothy, he pretended not to care if he never saw it again. He went in that direction because his mood was melancholy and he wanted to be alone.

He had been seated there for about half an hour when a voice startled him.

"Why did you say 'poor girl?'" the voice demanded.

Cawthorne jumped, in his surprise, and he colored too—an unsophisticated trick he had brought with him from Norfolk Island. His interlocutor was seated on the same bench, one arm cast carelessly over the back rest. A middle-aged wreck he was, garbed in threadbare black, with straggling side whiskers, a stubble-covered chin, and a beery nose. He fixed the Earl with a pair of bleared and bloodshot little eyes. "Why did you say 'poor girl?'" he repeated; after an inappreciable pause he went on with ludicrous aggressiveness: "If you have wronged a woman, young sir, you had much better marry her than parrot, parrot, parrot out 'poor girl.' What good in the devil's name will your 'poor girl' do her?"

Cawthorne had been taught at Norfolk Island to be a democrat, or he would certainly have got up and moved in dignity away. As it was, he thought of doing so, for the man was evidently drunk. But involuntarily he smiled, and having smiled it seemed churlish not to stay. A second thought rooted him to his seat; what right had he to despise a drunkard?

The wreck observed his sudden gloom and chuckled tipsily. "Touched you right on the sore spot—hey?" he cried.

"Not your words—your appearance," said Cawthorne sternly.

The bloodshot eyes grew savagely resentful. "An ill-balanced world," growled the owner, "permits vice to plant its triumphs in the face of honest poverty. These rags contain a finer gentleman than your broadcloth ever will."

"Indeed," said Cawthorne.

"Ah, and beneath this frowsy tile (he tapped his battered hat) there rides an intellect once recognised at Trinity, An ex-Fellow. I, young man, who lost his fellowship—through love." He paused.

"Of the wine when it was red?" asked Cawthorne cruelly.

"Of a woman who is dead," replied the wreck. "Would to Heaven I were with her now! Do you know, even, yet I often think of suicide."

"Not in sincerity."

The wreck pointed to a distant foot-sign. "You see that notice: Keep off the grass; some such symbol ever haunts me. The roads are hard and choked with dust. I look with longing eyes therefrom upon the forbidden green, untraversed dells so promiseful of rest and calm oblivion; yet even when I am most world weary, and inclined to stray, fear like a watchful gaoler keeps the boundary."

Cawthorne's sympathy would not flow. "A coward too," he sneered.

The wreck nodded gravely. "I would rather be a philosopher and a coward than a hero and a fool. Death, as a veil, may cover nothingness or anything, even the hell and heaven of the dogmatists. We only see the veil, and human wisdom halts before that, blind and impotent. This only is revealed to us—we live. We can conceivably at all times die and conceivably too, we must at some time die. If we die before the unseen powers demand our reckoning, we assume responsibilities not thrust upon us, and therefore we are fools, and maybe criminals. Nay, criminals most certainly. For what are suicides unless the thieves of time, the pickpockets of eternity?"

In spite of himself the Earl was interested. "You talk well," he admitted grudgingly.

"My conversation," cried the wreck, "has delighted savants who would scorn to waste their time on such as you."

Cawthorne was ashamed to feel himself growing angry. "How you have fallen from your high estate," he jeered.

"Facilis descensus Averni," sighed the wreck, "sed revocare gradum (he threw out his hands with a tragic gesture) hoc opus! hic labor est! The task is beyond my powers and my inclination to achieve. The world has nothing for me but a little whisky and a tomb."

"A drunkard's tomb!"

"So be it, sir, and since I have withstood your jibes you shall repay me with——"—his expression became hideously cunning—"Shall we say—a shilling, sir?" his voice trailed off in a whine.

Lord Cawthorne felt sick at heart. Degraded as he was, the man was a fellow being and in miserable case. He thought of a lonely grave in far-off Norfolk Island, and his eyes grew very pitiful. He took a sovereign from his pocket. "Look here," he said gently, "use that, if you please, to pay your fare to Stayton. Ask there at the shipping works for Sir Felix Grieg, and I shall see that you'll have work to do—work that will——"

"Work!" interrupted the other. "Work!" He drew himself waveringly erect, his form and countenance expressing outraged pride. "I am not an object for your charity. I'd have you know, sir, that I shall not want bite or sup while the Blue Bell tavern stands. There is my work. There my disciple's meet and nightly toast my vanished greatness, the whiles I chant to their unintelligent and yet appreciative ears the rolling periods of Homer, or declaim the mighty Cicero's Philippics. Call there to-night and you shall hear me, like a venging god, impeach the monster Cataline." He threw out his right hand and assumed a pose. "Quo usque tandem—O, patres conscripti," in a loud sonorous voice he began, but stopped abruptly, for the sovereign had slipped through his trembling fingers. With a cry like that of an animal, he fell on his knees and swooped at the precious coin. When he arose, he looked stupidly, yet defiantly, about him.

"Everywhere a pitfall, a pitfall," he muttered; then, without word of apology or acknowledgment, he pulled his hat rim over his eyes, and shambled off; a stooping, melancholy figure, that discorded sharply with the gracious landscape.

Cawthorne watched him sadly till he disappeared; and then his thoughts returned to Lady Dorothy. Was her mother dead yet? What was the girl doing? Who would comfort her? Her father, her brother, or Pat? Pat! Humph! He got to his feet and began to pace up and down before his bench. Did she care for Pat, he wondered. Pat was a good fellow. He liked Pat very much. But somehow Pat and Dorothy would not pair well in his fancy.

At half-past five he looked at his watch, and decided that he would, after all, catch the midnight train to Stayton. The 6.30 was a slow one, and he might just as well dine in town and see a theatre, as have a cold and lonely supper at home. Besides, he felt that he wanted cheering up. Dorothy's grief and his encounter with the wreck had horribly depressed his spirits. He walked to Piccadilly and bought a stall at Mudie's for the Empire. Afterwards he inspected the shops and purchased some black ties. His thoughts ran on funerals. In order to escape them he entered a jeweller's shop and looked at some rings. One so caught his fancy that he asked for a pen and ink to write a cheque. It had been made to fit a finger so slender that it refused to pass the tip of his smallest; but it contained three large emeralds, and its price was a hundred pounds. "Since I am pledged to marry. I may as well buy an engagement ring at once," he thought; "it will save me another trip to town." Anticipating objections to his cheque, he asked the jeweller to post the ring to Cawthorne Castle. Ten minutes afterwards he was smiling to remember that Pat had once told him of Lady Dorothy's attachment to emeralds. Such an idea had not entered his mind in the shop; upon reflection he was sure of that, but he could not understand why he should trouble to ask himself the question. When half way through his dinner—he went to Verey's—he made rather an exhibition of himself. He almost choked, and it was because it suddenly occurred to him that while he was eating Lady Dorothy's mother lay dying. But it was Dorothy's streaming face he saw, as he choked. A man can be ashamed of a kind impulse. The Earl was so angry that he lost his appetite, and he was extremely snappy with the waiter, a fact that earned the fellow an extra half-crown.

"Every one knows," reflected the Earl, "that a music hall is not worth visiting before nine o'clock." At eight he left the restaurant, and strolled leisurely towards Hyde Park Corner. Thereabouts a policeman directed him to Curzon-street. "It would be perfectly proper and in good form to make inquiries at the door," said Cawthorne aloud, in order to convince his hesitation. He soon found the house, but because the blinds were drawn, he waited opposite in gloomy indecision until 9 o'clock had struck.

"That poor girl!" he muttered at last, and crossed the street. A footman opened the door. Cawthorne opened his mouth to speak, but the fellow, with a meaning look, put his finger on his lips and beckoned him indoors. The Earl was astonished, but he entered; there seemed nothing else to do. The lights in the hall were turned down low and a tyrant hush inhabited the place. The footman moved noiselessly on tiptoes, and Cawthorne followed, like a shadow, feeling an inexcusable intruder, and anxious already to be gone. At the end of the passage a yellow bar illuminated the lock and border of a door. The footman pushed the door wide, and for the first time a sound was heard, the grating of a hinge. Cawthorne saw a comfortable room and the figure of a man seated upon a saddle-bag chair with his back to the door. Beyond the smooth edges of his carefully parted hair shone the tip of a cigar. The footman spoke to him in underbreath and he arose, whereupon the footman vanished, closing the door behind him. Cawthorne had expected to see Lord Fane, until he saw the cigar. The man who confronted him was his own age, square-shouldered and strongly built; hawk-featured, with a massive jaw. His expression was gloomy and ill-humored. He spoke immediately, in a low voice, with an unmistakable air of de haut en bas.

"You got my message, I suppose?" he said.

"N—no," stammered the Earl. "I—I—came—in——"

The other waved his hand. "It does not matter, now that you are here. I am Lord Algernon Foulkes. It is my mother who is dead. She died this afternoon at five o'clock. She expressed a wish to be buried in the family vault at Sutherness. Will it be necessary to embalm the body?"

Cawthorne turned pale. It appeared that Lord Algernon mistook him for an undertaker, and now he understood why he had been so mysteriously admitted to the house.

"I—I—excuse me," he stammered. "I am afraid you are making a mistake, Lord Algernon. My name is John Deen. I am the——"

"What!" interrupted the other, in a voice that rumbled like distant thunder. "Aren't you from Southebys?"

"No—I—I——"

"Then why the dickens are you here?"

"I came to make inquiries—to see if I could do anything." The Earl was painfully embarrassed, and he scarcely knew what he said. "I'm a friend of Lady Dorothy's," he concluded breathlessly.

Lord Algernon muttered—"D——d impertinence!" he was evidently furious. In two strides he reached the door and threw it open.

"I—I'm awfully sorry," gasped Cawthorne. "If there was anything I could do——"

"Oh, there is," said Dorothy's brother, in tones of angry bitterness. "You can go—you know—clear out—if you like that better. It would be a decent thing to go quickly too—do you understand?"

Cawthorne snatched out a card and tossed it on the table. He knew he would be able to make allowances for Lord Algernon's ill-behaviour afterwards, but at the moment there was something black, like murder, in his heart. As soon as he felt the pavement underneath his feet, he took off his hat to the passing breeze. His head seemed overful of blood, and there was a noise like rushing water in his ears. He had been treated like a dog, and he had only wanted to be kind to Dorothy. When people died in Norfolk Island their friends gathered round the relatives to comfort and sustain them. Oh these cold, inanimate-hearted Englishmen, who desired to appear insensible to natural emotions! Would he ever comprehend them? Perhaps, but, please God, he would never imitate their icy customs. Ten minutes later he found himself at Marble Arch. He thought he had been running; for he panted, and his brow was wet. How he wished he had gone home by the train he should have caught. The thought of the music hall sickened him. He strode up to a hansom. "Driver," said he, "do you know a tavern called the Blue Bell?"

"Jump in, sir, and I will take you there in the twinkling of an eye," replied the man.

Cawthorne had remembered the wreck's invitation. "Call at the Blue Bell to-night, and you'll hear me, like a venging god, impeach the monster Cataline!" He experienced a crying need for companionship, even that of a drunkard. The cab entered Edgware Road, and soon a cross street, then another. It stopped at length before a public house and a writhing laughing crowd. A policeman was dragging an unfortunate along the pavement, who struggled like a maniac and screamed out horrid blasphemies. With a shudder, Cawthorne recognised the soi-distant ex-fellow of Trinity, and he quickly bade his driver return to Marble Arch. Thence, in utter wretchedness, he walked to the station and sat down in a darkened waiting-room. He had seen that on his stroll which increased his gloom, and he began to fear and hate London as a dark sponge that absorbed vice and virtue and exuded miseries. Certain social problems that have baffled the sages of all centuries reared up their heads and mocked his limited experience. The inequalities of fate; the uselessness of countless human lives; the luxury of some; the hunger of the hosts; the traffic in women's bodies; the invincible indifference of the world to sin and human suffering. In the train he partially recovered his indolently optimistic point of view, but he reached home a grayer man than he had left it, and possessed of an opinion that he could never again be quite so carelessly light-hearted as when he had set out; for he had gained at first hand some little real knowledge of his kind, and wisdom always makes for sadness. A letter from Francine Toombes awaited him.


"My dear Adam," it ran. "By an absurd mistake the wrong person awaited you at Marble Arch this afternoon. I cannot tell you how grieved I am; I have been in a perfect fever ever since I knew. It was really too bad—and I went to such a lot of trouble. Are you very angry at your wasted day? Oh, I feel you must be; but try not to blame me. I cried, truly I did! Come and see me in the morning—and be kind to me—Francine."

Cawthorne tore the missive thoughtfully to bits. "Am I angry at my wasted day?" he asked himself. "But was it wasted? Rather was and is it not the fullest day of my experience?"


CHAPTER XV.

Above the western wing of Cawthorne Castle, which wing comprised the oldest yet least weather-beaten portion of the structure, there rose a small square tower, whose narrow-slitted windows commanded a wide view of the country-side. Simon Vicars often found his master seated before some one of those, either gazing in silent meditation at the town, or dreamily considering the inland hills. At such times the veiled man was not an easy person to intrude upon. Contemplation of the exterior world always fascinated him, yet as invariably embittered him. He liked to observe unseen the moving ways of men, to watch laborers at their occupation in the distant fields, to see a waggon crawl along the road, to mark the more rapid sweep of a horseman pressed with business, or to listen to the faintly clamorous echoes of the docks. But his pleasure in the pastime was so intimately blent with envy and other mordant humors that more than once Simon had hesitated on the stairway to listen to his master's unconsciously uttered groans; and at times even the little valet had stolen away, terrified by maledictions, which, though muttered in an underbreath, announced a soul in torture sharp enough to sting it to inflict some measure of its pain upon another. Simon knew the world about him very well, and he had himself experienced the gloomy joy of kicking an understrapper when overtaken by misfortune. It was not that he stood in any wise in physical dread of the veiled man; but Mr. Deen could wield at will a tongue with gall, and Simon's temper was an evil one. He did not want to quarrel with his master if he could help it. He cherished a presentiment that if all went well the veiled man's secrets would yet be his, and his faith in the pecuniary value of his master's secrets was as firmly rooted as his belief in Providence.

Simon had seen the inside of too many prisons to care about risking his liberty for trifles. On his return to the Castle one evening, just as he was about to enter his master's apartments, a fellow servant informed him that the Earl desired to speak to him. This occurred some three days after Cawthorne's visit to London, during which time the veiled man for some unexplained reason had declined to receive his cousin. "Some message to Mr. Deen, I suppose," thought Simon, as he made his way to the Earl's apartments. Messages in fact frequently passed between the pair. The servant had directed Simon to the library, but the Earl was not apparent. Simon cast his eyes about the room and saw a desk upon which lay a blotting pad, and upon that a half-written letter. A sleek smile overspread his face, as with cat-like steps he crossed the room. Simon adored other people's correspondence. For choice he preferred completed letters, but half-written ones were not despised. For a second he paused, his head poised over the pad, his ears cocked like those of a listening spaniel. But hearing no sound, he began to read. The letter was evidently intended for the veiled man's eyes.

"My dear Jack," it began.

"What a chance!" gasped Simon. "Now we'll discover something."


"Perhaps you will overcome your objection to see me when I tell you that I have decided to ask a certain lady to become my wife. I shall not commit her name to paper, for, as you are aware, I have no confidence in your valet's honesty and I believe him quite capable of——"

What the Earl believed Simon capable of he was not just then to learn, as before his eyes could grasp another word he received a box on the ear, delivered with such hearty vigor that the little man toppled over sideways and fell with a loud crash on the floor. He glanced up, dazed and breathing hard, to see the Earl looking down on him with a cold smile.

"Have I fallen into a trap?" Simon wondered.

"Get up you little sneak," said the Earl, "and next time you come spying here, use your eyes better." He pointed contemptuously to a screen, behind which he had been reclining on a couch when Simon entered the apartment.

Simon slowly arose. His face was livid, and between rage and fear he was speechless. He put up one hand to his aching jaw expecting to find it broken, and then all of a sudden he burst out crying. Lord Cawthorne sat down at his desk, scrawled his name to the letter which Simon had been reading, and enclosed it in a wrapper, which he sealed. "Give this to Mr. Deen," he commanded, swinging round when he had finished with disconcerting suddenness.

Simon cowered back, but presently extended a tremulous hand. "I'm sorry," he whined; tears were rolling down his cheeks.

"No doubt, sorry you were caught," sneered the Earl.

"You—you—you won't tell Mr. Deen—my lord—I—I——"

"The moment I see him, Vicars. There, clear out; you sicken me!"

Simon dried his eyes. "Very good," he replied, and marched out of the room. He felt that he would be dismissed; but he would first have his revenge! His mean little mind had already caught hungrily at the idea of vitriol.

"I'll spoil his beauty for him, the d——d coward," he muttered venomously. "I will, if I have to serve ten years for it."

Simon mouthed no empty threat. He had some acid in his room, and he knew how to use it. His chief weakness had always been his temper, and that was now so thoroughly aroused that he did not care a finger-snap for consequences. He had been struck what he chose to consider a cowardly blow, and his prospects of fortune were about to be destroyed by the same hand. He went straight to his bedroom and extracted a bottle from his bag. "Mother of God how I hate him!" he ejaculated. His heart ached with rage, ached horribly, but his brain worked smoothly. "Master's sure to send for him when he reads the letter," he reflected. "I'll throw it in the blighter's face afterwards, in the outside passage as he goes to leave!" and he put the bottle in his pocket. A few minutes later, having failed to find the veiled man in the lower rooms, he set out to climb the tower stairs. Mr. Deen knelt before an embrasure of the second chamber in the attitude of a worshipper. His head was buried in his arms, and his body was heaving up and down as if under the influence of some deep emotion. At any other time Simon would not have dared to disturb him, but preoccupied with fury, he cast prudence to the winds.

"A letter for you, sir," he announced harshly, and strode to his master's side.

The veiled man slowly raised his head. "Look!" he said, "look." And pointed through the window.

Simon followed the direction of the pointing finger, and saw on the lawn before the tower a woman and a man. The woman was Francine Toombes; the man, her cousin, Patrick Ellison. Francine had never appeared to better advantage. She was attired in a fleecy white silk which admirably displayed the graceful proportions of her figure, and at the same time threw into bold relief the dark beauty of her countenance. She faced the tower, and often looked up towards the watchers there as she conversed with her companion. They were, in fact, attempting to decipher an inscription on the wall.

"It is Mrs. Toombes," said Simon in a sullen whisper.

As he spoke Lord Cawthorne appeared walking quickly towards his visitors, a pleased expression on his handsome face.

Mr. Deen drew back like a man stung, and starting to his feet he simply rushed at the staircase and flung himself down the ladder. Simon followed, almost forgetting his rage in wonder. He found his master in the drawing-room; but the veiled man had recovered his composure, and he greeted Simon from the mid-floor with his ordinary coolness. "A letter you said, I think," he said.

"Yes," replied Simon.

The veiled man read the letter twice, frowning behind his mask. Then he looked at Simon.

"The Earl has decided to marry," he observed.

"Yes."

"You do not seem surprised. How is that?"

"I read that letter, sir."

"Oh! you read my letter. It was sealed."

"I read it before it was sealed."

"And then you sealed it?"

"The Earl sealed it, sir."

The veiled man began to observe Simon with extraordinary attention. "There is something on your mind, Simon," he said presently. "Is it that the Earl caught you reading the letter?"

"Yes, sir."

"What had he to say to you?"

"He knocked me down."

The veiled man smiled unseen. "Oh, he knocked you down. And you?"

Simon shrugged his shoulders. "He is a coward; but he is bigger than me."

"Yet you contemplate revenge?"

Involuntarily Simon touched the outside of his pocket which contained the bottle of acid. "Oh, no, sir," he replied uneasily.

The veiled man stepped up to Simon and placed a hand on his shoulder. "You were an ass to let him catch you, Simon," he said softly.

Simon felt dazed. He had expected to be peremptorily discharged, and instead of that not a word of reproach had been addressed to him. "I—I—couldn't help it," he stammered stupidly.

The man in the most fatherly manner began to stroke Simon's arm. "Come, come," he said (and his voice was amazingly kind). "Don't tell me that, Simon. You must have blundered in some way. How was it?"

"He was behind a screen. I—I thought the room was empty. Eh!" He uttered a sudden exclamation, for his wrist was grasped in a vice-like clutch, and he was spun round like a top. Next moment he stood alone, for the veiled man had sprung back a pace or two in order to regard the bottle that he had abstracted from Simon's pocket.

"You devil!" cried Simon. "You devil!" His face was aflame with rage, but he did not move. Mr. Deen had removed the stopper from the bottle, and vitriol is a deadly thing.

"So," said the veiled man. "Vitriol, it seems to me; you must dislike the Earl a little, Simon?"

Simon could not speak.

Mr. Deen returned the stopper to its place, and held the bottle forth with a gesture of invitation.

"What!" cried Simon.

"It is of no use to me," replied the veiled man with a shrug.

Simon took the bottle. If before he was dazed, he was now almost witless with astonishment. He turned the phial over and over in his hands, looking stupidly from it to his master.

"I'd throw it away, were I you," murmured Mr. Deen. "In spite of your cleverness, you have too many savage impulses, my friend. In my opinion you are a belated Paleolith at heart, with a fifteenth century headpiece. The woman Borgia might have found you a useful tool, but I begin to doubt if you are the man I want."

Simon knew nothing of the stone age, and he had never heard of the Borgias, but he understood that he was being jeered at. Once again rage mastered his discretion.

"What would you do if a cowardly giant knocked you down?" he growled.

The veiled man sighed. "I have suffered more substantial injuries than that," he answered quietly.

"Without wishing to avenge yourself?"

"No, not exactly that."

"What then?"

"I waited for ten years. Hatred does not spoil by keeping, Simon! Throw that bottle out of the window."

Simon did not move.

"That or take a month's wages."

"What?" shouted Simon. "Aren't you going to turn me off?"

"Not unless I am forced by your folly."

Simon darted across the room and threw the bottle far among the trees. He turned then with a positively glowing face, to perceive that his master had taken a chair.

"Come here, Simon," said the veiled man. "I want to speak to you."


CHAPTER XVI.

Mr. Deen regarded his valet for the space of half a minute without speaking; and Simon's sharp little face was worth the study he gave it. His expression almost, second by second, changed. In one instant delight had displaced vindictiveness; the next doubt, joy. Then came suspicion, malice, greed, cunning. Simon was grappling with strange facts and the ideas bred of them. Mr. Deen saw in successive stages several different animals—a man, a monkey, a snake, a pig, and finally a rat.

"Think aloud," said the veiled man suddenly.

Simon grinned nervously. "I'm not the only one in Stayton that hates the Earl," he muttered. In his voice was fear at his own daring.

"Oh! Is there another?"

"One who has hated him for ten years."

"The man you speak of, Simon, has waited ten years for his revenge; but he has hated my cousin much longer than that!"

"You!" gasped Simon. His thoughts whirled.

"Yes, I."

"It seems impossible. Until to-day I—I—thought you——"

Simon stopped, seeking vainly for a word. His own penetration, while uplifting his vanity and dazzling his pride, had almost dismayed him. His knees were knocking together. He felt that he was about to be initiated into the mystery that had so long baffled him, and he could scarcely contain himself. In the same breath he longed to sit down.

"I—I—thought you were just ratty on him," Simon gasped. Emotion had made him weak.

"Well?" said the veiled man. "Fond of him, you mean?"

"Ay."

"Yes, that was the impression I wished to give you," said the other softly.

Simon's very body assumed the form of a note of interrogation. From crown to sole he was a speechless but imploring question. His eyes seemed ready to spring from their sockets, and his breath came in quick sighs.

The veiled man smiled indulgently. "A rascal can only be trusted to be a rascal," he observed, by way of explanation.

"Ah!" exclaimed Simon. There was a world of reproach in his look and tone.

The veiled man laughed aloud. "I was not asleep the night you rifled my safe," he said.

Simon shrank back, and his face for a second was convulsed. "You—you——" he groaned.

"Patience, Simon; patience!"

Simon collapsed in a chair. Luckily one stood behind him.

The veiled man was enjoying himself as he had not done for years. "I played upon you, Simon, as Apollo might upon a reed. Do you remember how I stirred about in my pretended sleep and exposed the key. That was your hour of trial, your temptation. How easily you fell! Did you struggle against anything but fear of consequence, my man?"

Simon closed his eyes.

"Did not shame touch you when you fatuously dreamed to bite the hand that fed you?"

Simon appeared to be asleep.

"Are you ashamed now?"

Simon opened his eyes and sat up. "No!" he snapped, and showed his teeth like an angry cur.

The veiled man rubbed his hands together. "Good!" he chuckled; "very, very good. I have now perfectly completed my study of your character. Until to-day I doubted your courage at a pinch. But you'll do, Simon; you'll do. That 'no' said much, and you can hate; Simon, if I were a Frenchman I would embrace you!"

Simon began to suspect his master's sanity, and not for the first time.

"How would you like to be a rich man, Simon, with an income say of 10,000 a year?" asked the veiled man after a little pause.

"He is surely mad!" thought Simon. "Very much, sir," he replied.

"And how would you like to make such a fortune at the expense of the man you hate?"

"Eh? Eh?" Simon frowned, and blinked his eyes in puzzled fashion. It is hard to follow a mad man's fancies. "The Earl?" he asked in feeble tones.

"My cousin's fortune runs to more than that," said the veiled man.

"You would ruin him," gasped the little valet.

"Ay, ruin him, supplant him, crush him; make a figurehead of him for scorn and pity and contempt." The veiled man's voice grew of a sudden shrill and piercing.

Simon shook his head. He now felt certain that his master was mad, mad as a March hare.

"It would be hard to do that," he muttered.

"You shall judge," said the veiled man. "You see those curtains?" He pointed to a shrouded alcove.

"Yes, sir."

"I shall retire into my bedroom presently. You will go on forthwith and find the Earl. Bring him to me, in my bedroom; then close the door and conceal yourself behind those curtains. Do you grasp me?"

"Yes, sir."

"Within five minutes I'll lead the Earl out here. We shall converse. Do you listen?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then go, be quick!"

Simon sprang to his feet and hurried from the room. He found Lord Cawthorne on the terrace. He had just bidden Francine good-bye, and he was still waving his hand to her.

"If you please, my lord," Simon murmured cringingly, "Mr. Deen would like to see you at once."

The Earl nodded and led the way indoors. Simon acted as his gatekeeper.

"In the bedroom, if you please, my lord," he whined.

A moment later the little valet was snugly hidden in the alcove. Full of curiosity and expectation he waited, straining his ears to catch the slightest sound for perhaps three minutes; then the bedroom door opened and the veiled man appeared. He crossed the room, and sat down within a yard of Simon's curtain. The Earl followed on his heels, but remained standing.

"I repeat that I caught him in the very act, John," he said, frowning as he spoke. "Am I to understand that you doubt my word?"

"By no means, Adam." The veiled man's voice was slightly satirical. "I have never had occasion to doubt your word, and I hope I never shall. But what you want me to do is impossible. What would I do without Simon Vicars?"

"A better man could easily be found."

"In only one sense. I would loathe a paragon if he were strange. Things would have to be explained to him. I could never go through that torture again."

"But if it were necessary, John. Vicars is a spy. Can we afford to risk——" He stopped short and looked uneasily about him. "Where is he now?" he abruptly demanded.

"I have sent him on a message."

"Well," said the Earl, "to resume. Can we afford to risk having such a fellow about us? It is evident that he suspects something, and is trying to discover it. Else why should he play the spy?"

"Bah!" sneered the veiled man. "Let him spy as much as he likes. He is not a mind reader, and our secret is locked up in your brain and in mine——"

"But——"

"Oh! buts be hanged!" the other interrupted rudely. "The fellow, rascal though he be, suits me. He is a perfect servant, and he gets on my nerves less than even you do. Is my comfort of no importance? He has hands like velvet, and when my head aches he strokes away the pain. No one else ever did that. My life would be less worth living if I lost him, and God knows at best it is a burden."

Lord Cawthorne made a little shrinking gesture that seemed involuntary. His face softened and his eyes darkened. "Say no more, John," he muttered. "I see how selfish I have been to ask. But—but—ah, well."

The veiled man shrugged his shoulders. "How could he suspect?" he demanded testily. "But even if he guessed the truth—ay, and knew the truth—what could he do?"

The Earl was silent.

"What could he prove even if he went to Norfolk Island," pursued the other. "Who there knows which of us is Adam Deen's son. You, as well as I, called my father, 'father,' and I doubt if a soul on the island dreamed that we are only cousins! Tut, tut, Adam, your fears are ridiculous."

"A man in a false position always fears," said the Earl.

"A false position!" cried the veiled man. "In what false position are you? I am of right the Earl of Cawthorne, it is true. But it was at my request—nay, my entreaty—that you assumed my place, and name, and now enjoy my fortune. Whose business is it that I chose to resign these things to you a year or two before my death, when in the course of nature they would be yours by right."

"Ah yes, John," said Cawthorne sadly. "But I am an impostor all the same. Your lawful heir I may be, but you are the Earl whatever I am called or call myself. It is only of late that I have begun to realise that I was wrong to yield to you."

"Wrong—why?"

"Because my life is a lie and must always be a lie. When you die, I shall be the Earl in fact; but I must still wear your name, wear it for ever."

"And who is hurt by that?"

"The Government. There are death duties."

"Oh! honest Adam! But you can pay them in another way."

"Of course, but subterfuge is shameful."

"It cannot be the name. I was baptised Adam John and you John Adam; can so trifling a transposition have stung your conscience?"

"I lied to the lawyer in posturing as you."

"Then is it only the lie that hurts?"

"A lie is never justifiable."

"When it pleases one and injures none?"

"It is still a lie."

The veiled man threw back his head impatiently. "Then," he demanded, in deeply injured tones, "you actually begrudge me the one and only pleasure possible to me, the bitter sweet happiness I take in watching you doing the things I might have done, yet cannot do, and guiding for a time your life as I would have lived mine, if fate had not so cruelly laid me by the heels! By God, old man, I can scarcely credit it!"

Lord Cawthorne threw out his hands. "Don't believe it," he said earnestly, almost passionately. "I begrudge you nothing, John. God is my witness that I would sacrifice my life this moment for your happiness."

"Then why——" The veiled man shrugged his shoulders and spread out his palms.

"I have told you all my mind, John, with but one motive. I want you to understand that every day I am doing something for you. For a long time past there has been a sort of wall between us, and it seemed to me that perhaps you fancied me the sort of creature who could pull a long face here, and elsewhere enjoy myself whole-heartedly. It is not so, John. In my every action I consider you, and upon my honor, in the shame I feel in deceiving the world, I often poignantly regret our old hard-working life on Norfolk Island."

"Adam!"

"I do, John, upon my soul, I do. But don't mistake me. I delight in the very shame itself because I suffer it for you. Through me your life was ruined. I—I——" His voice broke, and he turned his head away. The veiled man got slowly to his feet and moved to his cousin's side.

"Dear old Adam," he murmured in a winning voice, "it is true that I have been doing you an injustice in my thoughts; but now I humbly ask your pardon."

"No, no, John."

"On my knees." The veiled man made, in fact, as if to kneel, but the Earl uttered a cry and caught his arm.

"Don't dare," he grated out. He was trembling with emotion.

"I shall, unless you forgive me," said the other.

"John, I have nothing to forgive."

"Then give me your hand!"

The Earl obeyed, and for a long moment they gripped hands silently. Behind his mask the veiled man was as pallid as a sheet, but the other's countenance was transfigured with a sort of glow. He looked unutterably happy.

"Dear old John," he said at last.

The veiled man suddenly released his cousin's hand and returned in a curious stumbling fashion to his chair. A moment later he began to laugh. "I have been a fool," he said in explanation, "a d——d fool, Adam."

"Yes, you have, old man," replied the Earl, in cordial tones.

"But I'll pay penance for my folly."

"What penance?" The Earl was smiling.

"I'll resign a hope I had—the hope I have been cherishing of seeing you married within this year. I gave you three months in which to find a wife, you remember?"

"Yes."

"Well, I'll extend the period to twelve."

"Why, John?"

"Because in the last moment I have been converted from my ancient cynicism. There is such a thing in the world as love. I know it. I want you to love your wife, Adam!"

"Ah!"

"Therefore don't be too quick in choosing her. You wrote me that you had already decided—to ask a certain lady——"

"Yes."

"Well, unless you care for her, put——"

"But I do, John." The Earl's face was scarlet. "That is—er—I——"

"What!" thundered the veiled man, "you have fallen in love?" There was joy and even triumph in his tones.

"I—I'm afraid so, John." The Earl was a picture of confused shamefacedness.

The veiled man's laughter rang out sweet and shrill.

"You laugh," said the Earl, a little angrily.

"I thank Heaven," replied the other with sudden earnestness. "The news is a benediction; for now—old boy, dear old boy—I shall be able to truly rejoice in your happiness, as never before."

"I haven't won her yet."

"Bah! you will. Tell me about her, Adam. Is she pretty, sweet, good? What is her name?"

"Her name is—Lady—Lady Dorothy Foulkes. Yes, she is lovely sweet—and good."

The veiled man gave a little start, and then without any warning he groaned aloud, and pressed his hand to his side.

"Your heart, Adam!" cried the Earl.

"Yes!" gasped the other. "Help me to my bedroom and then leave me, please. I'm always best alone with these attacks. Tell Simon not to disturb me; he'll be back presently."

Lord Cawthorne, in great concern, helped his cousin to his feet, and half led, half carried him across the room. Simon Vicars, peering from his hiding place, saw one of the veiled man's hands wave suddenly in his direction. In a flash he understood. His master had counterfeited sickness in order to give him, Simon, a chance to appear upon the scene. Evidently he wished to get rid of the Earl. Simon slipped out of the alcove, and glided like a shadow to the corridor. There, after a short wait, he made a noise with his key in the back of the outer door, and returned in his usual manner to the drawing-room. The Earl met him at the door. "Your master has had a little heart attack," he said.

Simon pretended to be anxious. "I'll go to him at once," he cried.

"Mr. Deen wants to be alone," replied the Earl. "I don't think he is very bad, though he is in pain. He is resting now. You had better wait until he calls. In the meanwhile kindly let me out."

Simon obeyed, but having locked the door behind the Earl, he ran like a hare to the veiled man's bedroom. Mr. Deen was seated on the bed. He arose as Simon entered. "He has gone?" he asked in a low voice.

"Yes, sir."

The veiled man strode over to his wash-hand stand, poured some water into the basin and began to wash his hands.

Simon uttered an elf-like chuckle. "You shook hands with him!" he cried.

"Yes."

"And now you wash them!"

"A Daniel come to judgment," sneered the veiled man.

"But why do you hate him so terribly?" asked Simon, with a sudden frown. "He did not ask you to save his life, and it is not his fault your face was—er—scarred."

The veiled man wiped his hands, and returned to his bed. He took a seat upon the edge and folded his arms.

"It dates before the fire," he answered presently. "From earliest childhood, in fact, I think."

His voice was even-toned and expressionless. "Are you very curious?"

"Yes!"

"Yes, sir, if you please, Simon, or if you prefer it 'Yes, my lord.' Don't forget that you are my servant as well as my confederate!"

"Yes, sir—my lord," said Simon meekly.

"On second thoughts 'sir,' always 'sir;' I am a democrat. I must be true to my principles!"

"Yes, sir," said Simon.

"You don't think me mad any longer, I suppose?"

"Oh, sir," cried Simon, "you mad!" His tones and look combined to indicate the monstrous absurdity of the idea.

The veiled man gave a jarring laugh. "You cannot deceive me, Simon. Not long ago you thought me a lunatic, but I can see that your sojourn in the alcove has corrected the impression. Don't protest, man; I am not offended."

Simon cast his eyes on the floor, and with an effort remained silent.

The veiled man smiled. "Listen, Simon."

"Yes, sir."

"We were never friends, my cousin and I. We quarrelled in the cradle, I believe. As we grew up we tacitly agreed upon a truce because other companions were forbidden us. In Norfolk Island, you see, the folk are curiously mixed in blood, and my father, Adam Deen, was an aristocrat to his finger-tips, poor man."

"Yes, sir."

"My cousin was my father's favorite. That began it all, I think. I have at some time told you that my mother deserted my father for another man. It happened soon after I was born, and it broke the old man's heart. I was supposed to resemble my mother when a child. I remember often having seen my father regard me with an expression of mysterious aversion. Perhaps he doubted my paternity. He never spoke a harsh word to me in his life, it is true, but also he spared me his affection. He reserved all his tenderness for Adam. Once I caught him fondling Adam, when he thought I was away. He had never fondled me. I was scarcely ten years old, but from that moment I hated Adam. I could multiply instances of my father's favoritism after that, for as he grew older he became less able to control his feelings; but enough said. When I tell you that I worshipped my father to the last hour of his life, you will understand how I suffered from the lack of his affection. But I suffered in silence. Indeed, I pretended to notice nothing; for I felt instinctively that my father would be pained if he guessed my state of mind, and I so adored him that I would have gone to the stake to spare him an hour's discomfort. A good hater is always a good lover, Simon."

"Yes, sir." Simon just breathed the words. In his passionate attentiveness, his whole being was merged into the faculty of hearing. He found it quite difficult to speak.

"I don't wish to bore you, my man, but it is necessary to make you comprehend that I had cause to hate my cousin."

"Indeed you had sir."

"I loathed him! My God! how I loathed him! He was before me in everything. He was stronger than I; he disliked his books but he was quicker brained than I, and he learned his tasks more readily. He had supplanted me in my father's heart. He was handsomer than I, and a better fellow than I was in every way. What was there lacking, Simon, to fill to the brim my cup of bitterness?"

"Nothing, sir."

"You are wrong, Simon. We needed to be rivals in love, and I to be the loser."

"Oh! Oh!" cried Simon.

The veiled man drew a sharp breath. "There was a girl, a pretty girl, who lived within a mile of us. She was a half-breed—beautiful as that woman we saw from the tower window to-day—and very like her, with a skin of satin and eyes like a doe's. On the evening of my eighteenth birthday I asked her to marry me." He paused.

"Yes; yes."

"She had been for months my cousin's mistress," cried the veiled man, in a frozen voice.

Simon threw out his hands. "My God!" he cried. And then: "But you you saved his life. Why—why?" His voice ended in a squeak of excitement. He was panting like a runner.

The veiled man uttered a laugh, so discordant and devilishly mocking that the little valet felt a cold hand on his heart. "It was an accident," he muttered. "When I saw that the house was on fire, I wanted to save my father. I climbed in by one of the back windows which the flames had not then reached, and rushed to my father's bedroom. But Adam only was there lying in a drunken sleep. I did not dream, however, that he was drunk (he was always a heavy sleeper), or I would have left him to his fate. As it was I feared that the smoke would presently arouse him, and that he would escape by the way I had entered, as he might easily have done. It was the first chance I had ever had for revenge. The staircase was in flames. My idea was to drag him to the head and push him down. I tried to do so, but he struggled, and it was I who fell; he sprang through the flames and landed in the hall, which was blazing too, but only in parts. So by another trick of my accursed fate Adam escaped with a few trifling hurts; while I—— But I need not explain, you have seen my face, Simon."

Simon shuddered. "And—and afterwards?" he stuttered.

"I awoke to consciousness some weeks later to find Adam nursing me. The poor fool imagined I had sustained my frightful injuries in his service. I encouraged him to think on, for my whole constitution had been shattered, and since, in order to live, some one must work to keep me, I preferred that he should be my slave. Simon, what do you think I said when first I saw my face in a mirror?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Adam was there, crying like a baby. I looked up at him and said, 'Don't fret, old boy, I always was an ugly lubber.' Then I fainted. Wasn't it clever in me not to faint at once?"

"You're a wonder, sir," said Simon solemnly, "a living wonder."

"Adam thought me an incarnate angel, and he thinks so still," chuckled the veiled man. "That is the secret of my hold on him. Through the years that followed, the dull, soul-tortured years—my chief amusement was to play the hypocrite at his expense. I preached so nice a course of morals, that of his own accord he married his mistress. She led him a dog's life, and was unfaithful too; but I persuaded him to forgive her again and yet again. While she lived I was almost happy—he was so miserable you see—but at length she died, and then my sole comfort again consisted in the fact that the man I hated was my servant. Lord! how I fooled and played upon his feelings. I learned to know him so thoroughly that I could read his inmost thoughts. I could make him pleased or wretched with scarce an effort. Sometimes I pretended I could not bear him for a moment out of my sight; I would not allow him to work, and for days together I would go hungry (we were miserably poor and our living depended on his daily toil) in order to see him starve. At other times I affected illness and delirium for excuse to vent my rage on him——"

"The poor devil!" muttered Simon.

The veiled man laughed. "Ah," he said, "sometimes I felt quite sorry and repentant and said 'poor devil' too. I was not totally inhuman. But I had only to glance into a mirror to change all that. And when the news came that I was an earl, with a princely fortune which I could never by any means enjoy, the last spark of pity and remorse died out within me. For nearly a week, Simon, I lay on the broad of my back, unable to taste food, unable to sleep; enduring all the while the tortures of the damned. I think no other human being can have ever suffered as I did then. Adam waited on me like a dog or a woman, but I was too weak even to curse him. I must have died at last but for a saving plan that gradually evolved itself, and a passionate desire to make Adam suffer before I died some little of my agony. My plan in its crude state was to put him in my place, to allow him to drink deeply of the joys of life accompanied with power and riches, and at the proper moment to snatch the cup from his lips. I have since improved upon that plan, as you shall discover presently. But one thing at a time. I had much trouble to induce Adam to exchange identities with me. At first he point-blank refused. However, I contrived to convince him that the happiness of my last few years depended absolutely on his furthering my wishes, and I clinched the matter by vowing to die if he refused compliance. He gave way at last, and you know yourself what followed. That brings us to date——"

"And your improved plan?" suggested Simon eagerly.

His master nodded. "In order to sustain the influence I exercised on him, I found it necessary to maintain my old role as his guardian angel, and the keeper of his conscience," he sneered. "Hence you will understand why I have obliged Adam to pose as a useful citizen by joining the directorate of the shipbuilding company and working at the docks under the manager, Sir Felix Greig. Besides, I wanted him to be publicly respected."

"Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere, I soon encountered the opposition of fate. Adam likes money, rank, and power as well as his fellows, I believe, but he has a character of his own, which nothing seems able to spoil. A little while ago I reluctantly arrived at this conclusion, that even if I were to strip him of his honors and drive him back to ignominious poverty, he would not suffer very poignantly. It became necessary to amend my plan. It did not take me very long to find a way. I know Adam so well, you see. But for your benefit, Simon, since you know very little of him, I shall tell you this: he is a man who feels for others more acutely than for himself. I decided, therefore, to make him marry, and to strike him through his wife."

Simon opened his mouth in surprise.

The veiled man rubbed his hands together and chuckled softly. "You heard him to-night declare himself in love with Lady Dorothy Foulkes. Ah! Simon, at length after all these years, Fate, wearied out by my persistent patience, has condescended to be kind to me. I have him now, this dear cousin of mine, in the hollow of my hand."

"What—will—will you do?" asked Simon.

"I shall tell you on the day that his engagement is announced," replied the veiled man.


CHAPTER XVII.

It was not until five weeks after her mother's death that Lady Dorothy returned to Stayton. In the meanwhile she had been staying with her father in a little town in Southern France. She came back clad in deep mourning, and looking miserably thin and ill. Henceforth Cliff House was to be her home, for the Marquis had decided to give up the separate establishment in Curzon-street in which he had maintained his wife, and which, said rumor, he had never been able to properly afford. For that, however, poor Dorothy cared nothing. Indeed, her old butterfly had become, for the time being, a cruel memory, since in all her little social triumphs her dear dead mother had been tenderly associated; and in her absorbing sorrow, it seemed impossible to her that she could ever be glad and gay and irresponsible again.

Francine Toombes and many other of her female friends essayed to cheer her but Dorothy's affectionate and romantic nature had been stirred to its depths. She refused to be comforted, and she would not leave her home except to pay melancholy visits to her uncle, Sir Felix Grieg, a mourner too (for it was his sister who had died), or to wander among the graves in the churchyard on the hill. Pat Ellison, driven desperate by her obstinate gloom, had for a while relinquished his suit and gone abroad; and there was no other young man in Stayton who knew her intimately enough to intrude upon her grief, though many sighed for the courage they lacked in that direction. Lord Cawthorne was of that class. He became quite a pedestrian in those days, and his rambles always led him past the Cliff House and the cemetery gates, a mile beyond. Often he saw a drooping, black-clad figure, sitting with folded hands upon a fallen monument, gazing with pale face and rapt fixed eyes on space.

A dozen times a day he cursed his cowardice and resolved to dare upon the next occasion; but as often as he vowed, he was forsworn, and all because of a new-born diffidence and self-distrust, of which he knew the origin full well, yet which he could not conquer. But one dark afternoon of late autumn he saw her weeping, from a distance, and something caught him by the throat and forced him through the gates. His love for Dorothy had been inspired by her need of sympathy. Such was his nature; and he could not pass her then. He was a man who required for his truest happiness something to cherish and protect. The old Dorothy, merry and careless as a butterfly, reckless, charming, independent, had only appealed to him as one bright, moving figure in a bright and moving crowd; but from the moment he had found her sitting lonely and grieving in the park she had irresistibly attracted him. With her first fallen tear his heart went out to her, and he saw immediately that she was beautiful and human, and a woman. She dwelt thereafter so continually in his thoughts that he did not hesitate for long to ask himself the reason why, and then to admit the cause of his obsession. He was so little of a hypocrite that he had never wilfully attempted to deceive a living soul, even himself. Dorothy did not hear him coming, till he was very near, for his footsteps were deadened by the long rank grass. Upon his part, concern for her sorrow had robbed him entirely of self-consciousness. His only thought for the moment was to help her, and when at last she looked up and their eyes met, hers so pitifully bright with tears, he did not stop.

"Oh! but you must not—indeed, you must not," he said gently. "My poor girl, do you know what you are doing?"

She sadly shook her head and turned aside her face. She was glad to see him, but she could not speak just then.

"You are chiding the Omnipotent," went on the Earl, "denying His goodness and disputing His will."

"Yes," murmured Lady Dorothy. "I know. The—rector told me it was my duty to submit myself, but I can't, I can't. She—she was—my only mother."

The Earl sat down beside her. His heart responded sharply to her forlorn little cry, but he resolutely pressed his pity back.

"You have only one father," he said gravely. "I met him yesterday, and it made me sad to see how ill he looks. I don't think he will live long, Lady Dorothy."

The girl sat up suddenly and caught her breath. "Oh!" she cried, and pressed her hand to her heart. "Oh! how cruel you are!"

"You also," he said firmly. "I am sure he worships you—and you leave him much alone. Day by day I pass this way, and always I see you here in morbid solitude. Do you spend your time with him when you are at home?"

She did not answer, but continued to look at him with widely opened eyes and parted lips. The Earl's face turned a little paler, for he could not read her thoughts, but he went bravely on: "When I lost the only parent I have ever known—the man I called my father," he said, in a low deep voice, "my grief was less for his death and the manner of it, than for recollected opportunities that fate had given me to serve and please him, which in thoughtless selfishness I'd wasted; but you can scarcely have a cause like that. Why do you grieve?"

"She is gone," muttered Lady Dorothy.

"Where?" he demanded quickly.

"To heaven!" cried the girl.

"Then you grieve for your own loss. Is it possible you are so selfish and unwise? You cannot bring her back, and another needs your company and loving care—one who should certainly be not less dear and one who is here, for—can you say—how long?"

The tears had dried on the girl's cheeks, into which a flush had crept. She continued to gaze at her companion, but now her eyes, before expressionless, were dilated with commingled terror and aversion. "You are the cruellest man, I think, on God's earth," she said slowly; and speaking, she arose.

The Earl stood up, too, and bowed before her. "Do you really believe it?" he asked. "If so, you are mistaken."

She moved off in silence, her expression bitterly resentful. He followed more slowly, but at the gates he paused and watched her descend the hill; his thoughts were full of pity. Dorothy did not look back. That night he described the interview to Francine Toombes and his hopes. "In a little while she will perceive her injustice," he confidently declared.

"And then?" asked the widow.

"She will apologise to me."

"Why?" Francine was smiling strangely.

"Because she is an honorable woman."

With a gesture that was almost motherly, Francine put her hand on the Earl's arm. "Oh! you poor innocent boy," she said. "Don't you know that with a woman a man is always in the wrong, and he is most wrong when he is right. We are chaste and virtuous, but never honorable; though we all love honor in a man."

"You haven't honor and yet you love it?"

"Certainly, and we are logical. Honor is a fetish, which the first woman taught her sons to reverence in order to prevent the husbands of her descendants from opening their wives' letters, amongst other things."

He laughed, but Francine sighed.

"You have made a bad beginning," she declared, as one who knew. "It is very likely that you have cured Dorothy of her grief, but it is certain too you have offended her."

"What shall I do, then?" he asked anxiously. "Should I apologise?"

"By no means; you have begun to woo her with a club, therefore you must keep on beating her till she submits or she'll despise you."

"But how? My club was unfortunately made of wool, you see."

"Patented to resemble wood, however."

"Perhaps."

"Then keep on shaking it. She'll never know the difference. To beat a woman you don't really need to strike her."

"You promised to help me," he muttered abjectly.

"And I shall. When next you meet her, scowl!"

"Literally?"

"Have you any brains at all?"

"I am in love."

"You dear man," said Francine, and she kissed him on the cheek; "now go—I am tired of you."

Three days later Lord Cawthorne encountered Dorothy in her uncle's office. He was working there on some shipping plans when she entered unannounced, as was her custom. Sir Felix was absent at the works. He arose at once and offered her a chair, but mindful of his friend's advice, he took care to treat her as an utter stranger. He scarcely glanced at her, and did not even speak. The effort it cost him to control his feelings made him look stern and cold. Dorothy's thoughts flew to their first meeting in that place, when she had tricked him to believe her a poor working girl. Involuntarily she sighed, for then in brain and body she had been attired in careless white, and now her dress was melancholy and her mind.

On seeing the Earl her first impulse had been to go. She still resented his remorseless opening of her eyes. "Canting preacher," was her secret name for him. But pride would not let her run away. She would remain and show him how little she cared, how utterly indifferent to him she was. Therefore she sat down, and thought of her typewriting escapade, staring sadly at the floor. So five minutes passed. Then she began to wonder at his silence. She had been rude to him, she remembered. Had she offended, perhaps hurt him? She hoped so; ardently she hoped so. His officious impertinence richly deserved punishment. How dared he preach to her? what right had he to teach her her duty? That was a parson's business, or an intimate friend's. He was a mere acquaintance, almost a stranger! Yes, indeed, she hoped she had hurt him. She wished she could hurt him more. Could she? Was there any chance of that?

She looked up suddenly, a gleam of angry purpose in her eyes. But he seemed unaware of her existence. His head was bent over a plan, and his pen was busily ascratch. His profile was mask-like, his expression preoccupied and set.

Dorothy regarded him with hostile keenness, seeking consciously for a weak spot in his armour. But his calm strong face defied analysis, and she reluctantly decided that here was a hard man for a woman to deal with. But stay, he did not seem a hard man? In a flash she remembered their meeting in the park on that worst day of her life, the day her mother died. How kind he had been, how womanly tender and pitifully soft his eyes! How instinctively and entirely she had trusted him, ay, and leaned upon his sympathy as though it was her support of right. And never with an acknowledgment, except to call him cruel when he had striven to repeat his kindness. Dorothy stood up. All in a second she perceived how badly she had used him, how ungenerous she was to treat as an impertinent stranger the man who had been once her friend in need.

"Lord Cawthorne," she cried.

He slowly raised his head, and in deep surprise became aware of her transfigurement. Her eyes shone like stars, her cheeks were scarlet, and her lips were parted and quivering.

"Yes," he said.

"I want to tell you—that I—that I am sorry—I called you the 'cruellest man.'"

Cawthorne's heart leaped, and began to hammer at his ribs. But he clenched his hands behind his plans and vowed not to surrender.

"It was a manifest misstatement," he remarked, with admirable coolness; "and as such it failed entirely to disturb the equilibrium of my conceit."

Dorothy had not expected a rebuff. It almost crushed her. Her brain was already revolving a further self-abasement when it suddenly occurred to her that Cawthorne's eyes were kinder than his word. The fancy gave her courage.

"And my apology?" she asked in tones of politely contemptuous inquiry.

"Was unnecessary," he replied.

"And therefore unworthy of an answer?" Her scorn was no longer veiled.

"Quite," he answered sticking to his guns; though it wrung his heart to refrain from falling on his knees before her.

Dorothy shrugged her shoulders and took out her watch. "Can you tell me how long my uncle will be?" She spoke as she would have to a clerk.

"I expect him every moment, madam." Cawthorne answered like the clerk.

Dorothy bit her lips, and resumed her chair. She wanted terribly to run away, but she would rather have died than yield him openly the palm of victory. Her blood was up. Her former humility seemed a shameful thing. She had been a little fool to apologise, but never again! She hated him, hated him! But—let him wait! She smiled her most guileless smile and looked him in the eyes.

"I should imagine that you cannot have had much experience of women, cooped up so long on Norfolk Island."

"Not since my wife died," he responded calmly.

The girl started in spite of herself; the thing was so unexpected and astonishing. "Your wife!" she cried. She could have bitten off the offending tongue the next instant, but the word was uttered.

Cawthorne bent his head. "There was perhaps an object in your question," he suggested.

She recovered her composure with difficulty. "No—no—at least—yes. I was seeking an explanation of your somewhat original behaviour." She became rapidly more dignified as she proceeded. "You see, in England, when women apologise to men, they expect their condescension to be recognised."

"Indeed!" said the Earl. "Is your sex, then, in England, considered man's superior?"

Dorothy felt hot all over.

"Englishman treat us like that," she murmured. "It is the modern form of chivalry. Of course, I speak of gentlemen."

"Of English gentlemen," he corrected, bowing gravely. "Unfortunately, I come from Norfolk Island. But I am too old I hope to learn their ways." He suddenly arose from his table and approached her chair perhaps too closely. "What should I have done?"

"I beg your pardon, Lord Cawthorne." She drew back very stiffly. He did not move.

"What would an Englishman have done?" he persisted with a mocking smile.

Her lip curled, but she was content to look up at him defiantly without replying.

"This?" he asked, and bent his knee before her. "Or this?" he stooped down lower still, and kissed the crinkle of her robe.

Lady Dorothy sprang to her feet, her face aflame with anger. "How dare you!" she burst out. "Oh! how dare you!"

"Could any man be humbler, even an Englishman?" he retorted. "What shall I do, then?—grovel at your feet and call the gods to witness the amazing spectacle of a woman who has condescended to admit she is human and can err, or"—and he stepped back haughtily—"give you sneer for sneer, and tell you to your face that which you only dared insinuate to me? I am at your service Lady Dorothy."

"You cruel, abominable man!" she muttered through her teeth. Her hands were clenched too, and she trembled like a leaf. Indeed, she was a leaf whirled on a gale of passion.

"Thanks."

"I hate you."

"That is bad for me, because I love you." He spoke so coolly she thought his words deliberately devised to put a crown upon his mockery.

"In my uncle's absence I have no one to defend me from your insults," she retorted breathlessly. "Speak on, it is your opportunity. Oh, please speak on!"

The color absolutely left his face, and the pupils of his eyes contracted into points of light. For the first time in his life he lost his temper with a woman.

"You little liar!" he cried, and in two strides stood before her. Dorothy met his eyes, and her soul dissolved in terror. She had never feared a man before; and never had she felt so lost and hopelessly at sea. Would he really strike her? His look was terrible. She shivered and shrank back, a sudden coward, yet utterly a coward.

And then his rage broke out. "What are you to call my love an insult?" he demanded, in a voice that seemed to penetrate her very flesh and rush along her veins like liquid fire. "An angel counselling a demon; in that case only you'd be right. But I'm a man, and I will stake my life, as good as you, you vain, ill-governed little girl!"

Fate intervened at that moment in the shape of a messenger, who knocked and entered the room on the heels of his knock with a brisk and business-like air.

"If you please, my lord, Sir Felix's compliments, and will you go to him at once. He is in the boiler house?"

"Certainly, Somers, at once!" The Earl crossed the room, took his hat from a rack, and strode off, without deigning a glance at Lady Dorothy. She heard the door close, and sank into her chair, a palpitating, hot-cheeked creature, half saint, half vixen.

"The beast!" she cried, and shook her tiny clenched fists in the direction he had gone. "I could kill him!" Then, woman-like, she began to cry; but not for long. Very soon she dried her eyes and looked about her. The vixen had gained the upper hand. "He loves me!" she mattered. Her thoughts were running on revenge. "'A little liar,' 'a vain, ill-governed girl.' He dared to name me so! My heart, but he's a tender lover, a courteous, gallant gentleman!" In a little while she smiled. "What a husband he would make!" she whispered scornfully. In a little while again she fell to laughing and crying together. And why she laughed she knew, but why she cried she could not understand.

When Sir Felix came upon the scene she was all saint; he found her gazing dreamily on space, and in her great eyes there was a look of such unearthly radiance that the old gentleman felt a chill at heart. She was the child of his dead sister, and now the only thing he loved on earth. Was she to be taken from him too? his darling, his sunbeam! How pale and thin she was, how frail and beautiful!

"Dorothy!" he cried, in a voice that trembled with unspoken fear. The girl awoke from her dreams, and arose with a sudden and most charming blush.

"Oh, Nuncs," she said. "You startled me. How long you have been! I was dreaming."

"I did not know that you were here. Cawthorne told me. Let me look at you, dear." He took both her hands and held her from him as he searched her with his eyes. "Cawthorne is quite right," he muttered discontentedly. "And I'm a selfish old fool not to have noticed it before."

"What, Nuncs?"

"You are nothing but a shadow, darling. We must see to this, we must see to this."

"Did Lord Cawthorne say that?" Dorothy turned away her face; it was scarlet.

"He did; more shame to me that I needed to be told. Dods, my darling, you must not fret your life away. Our dear one cannot come back to us."

"You have been fretting too, Nuncs."

"No more, not from this moment. I have something to do now—to look after my little sunbeam."

"Dear old Nuncs."

"I—I—we must wake up. I—and you too, Dods—we've both been very selfish. It's wicked to nurse one's grief."

"Lord Cawthorne says——" she began, then stopped.

"Yes, yes," he cried. "He is a fine young fellow that, and wiser than his years. What he says is very right. We must not shut ourselves up. We must go about more, Dods. We must—we must give a party—a nice quiet little party."

The girl smiled lovingly. Her uncle detested social functions, and she knew well that the party would be for her.

"A little dinner party?" she suggested.

He looked delighted, for he had expected a refusal. "Yes, yes," he cried, "just a few friends; say your father—and——"

"And Francine Toombes."

"Yes, and Cawthorne."

Dorothy's cheeks flamed again. "And you and me," she concluded quickly.

"Excellent!" he cried, and, drawing her into his arms, he kissed her very tenderly.


CHAPTER XVIII.

It is not to be supposed that Lord Fane felt his wife's death very keenly. The pair had been separated for a dozen years, and they had never been more than formal lovers. Nevertheless, the Marquis entertained old-fashioned and pronounced ideas on certain points, and he was deeply shocked when Dorothy proposed that he should dine abroad within four months of their bereavement. It was on a piece with his character, however, that he should plead indisposition as his reason for refusing. Moreover, he offered no objection when Dorothy announced her intention to attend, because he would have been unable to explain his displeasure without taking her in somewise to his confidence, and that he could not do, though he adored her. Dorothy had never succeeded in penetrating his reserve, and she despaired to guess the reason of his coolness in those days. She thought him needlessly unkind, and he considered her a too easily forgetful, pleasure-seeking woman. He had liked her better when devoted to her sorrow. Such misunderstandings grow up like poisonous mushrooms in the dark and oft-times bear bitter fruit. If he could but have brought himself to speak, both had infallibly lived happily thereafter in each other's affection and fuller comprehension; but the Marquis' shy soul declined to recognise the obligation, and preferred to suffer than to disclose itself even to the gaze of his daughter's loving eyes. So it came about that Dorothy went to her party feeling heartsore and rebellious; while the Marquis spent the evening in his study, alternately cursing his incurable disease of shyness, and sadly reflecting on a wasted and most lonely life.

The dinner was a culinary triumph, but a dismal social failure. Dorothy was preoccupied and silent. Sir Felix's gaiety was a forced and painful thing to witness. Lord Cawthorne confined his talk to politics, and even Francine's lamp shone feebly in the prevailing depression. She did her best to stir the others into cheerfulness, and sometimes she provoked a smile; but as the function neared its termination she grew listless too and angrily dejected. She visited her wrath on Cawthorne.

"You are as dreary as an owl," she whispered as she passed him. "If you don't do better in the drawing-room, I'll wash my hands of you."

The Earl, in fact, was gloomy. He had been gloomy over since he had made his curious declaration of love to Lady Dorothy. He could not forgive himself for his angry ebullition, and he felt sure that the girl would never forgive him either. If he had been cherishing a secret hope in that direction, it was dissipated now; for Dorothy had met him with an icy bow, and through the meal she had not once addressed him. Sir Felix soon suggested that they should finish their cigars in the drawing-room. He knew that his niece liked the odor of tobacco, and he did not think that Mrs. Toombes would mind. Cawthorne merely shrugged his shoulders; he had lost his chance with Dorothy, and all places were the same to him. Francine sang a love song and insisted upon cards. They played two rubbers of whist, Francine and the Earl against Sir Felix and his niece. Dorothy carefully avoided Cawthorne's eyes, and twice trumped her partner's trick. Sir Felix was a devotee of whist, but he made no remark; he was far too melancholy.

At last Francine yawned. "It must be terribly late," she said.

"Yes," echoed Dorothy. "And father will be sitting up for me; I must be going, Nuncs."

The widow kicked her partner under the table. "Will you see me home, Sir Felix?" she demanded brazenly. "Lord Cawthorne, will, I'm sure, look after Dorothy." She kicked the Earl again.

"With great pleasure," he responded, thus urged, and he looked at Dorothy. She was looking at Sir Felix somewhat anxiously he thought; but her uncle felt, if truth be told, rather glad to be spared the long walk to the Cliff House. Francine lived close at hand. He accepted the arrangement with alacrity, and the party broke up straight away.

Cawthorne and Dorothy commenced their stroll in silence, walking quite a yard apart. For a while they continued so, but when half-way down the main street the Earl's temper quickened into action. He fancied that the girl resented his companionships.

"It was not my fault," he suddenly began. "I expected to have escorted Mrs. Toombes."

"I know," said Dorothy.

"I shall take care, however, to spare you such a thing again, if a similar circumstance recurs."

"Thank you," said Dorothy. "Isn't it a lovely night, and what multitudes of stars. How many would you say are visible?"

"About four thousand to the naked eye."

"Oh! absurd. I can see millions, I am sure."

"Can you? I think not. I received a note to-day from Mr. Ellison."

"So did I."

"He will be here next week."

"On Monday."

"I like Ellison."

"We have something to agree upon."

Cawthorne tugged viciously at his moustache. "I'll have something to tell him when we meet that ought to make him want to blacken both my eyes."

"Indeed."

"Yes, I am his confidant and have betrayed his trust."

"How nice in you!"

"By making love to you," he muttered savagely.

Dorothy's eyes sparkled in the darkness. "And now again," she asked.

"Bah!" said he. "He has proposed to you a dozen times. The world knows it."

Dorothy laughed lightly. "He won't mind so much, I think," she murmured, "especially if you describe your method."

"You think me an uncouth animal, no doubt."

"I try not to think of you at all. I wish you'd help me. Shall we talk of something else?"

"You?"

"Well, I am somewhat of an egotist; as you have cleverly discovered."

"I——"

"A vain, ill-governed little girl."

"Ah! Oh! Humph!" Cawthorne smiled. He was getting on better than he had expected.

"One exaggerates a bit at times," he condescendingly remarked. "Humph! who is your author?"

Dorothy felt wickedly inclined. "Zola," she replied.

He followed her lead. "You always tell the truth, of course."

"As often as a little liar can!"

But there was so much bitterness in her voice, that now he stopped abruptly. "Look here," he said. "I'm sorry for that. Will you shake hands?"

She folded her arms. "Never while I live," she answered firmly.

"You really hate me, then?"

Dorothy in reckless moods would travel anywhere without a care to consequences. She lost her balance now. "Hate! I adore you," she replied, "and that is why I'm going to marry Mr. Ellison."

Cawthorne assimilated this piece of information so slowly that at the end of half a minute the girl impatiently moved on. She felt thankful for the dark, for her face was crimson.

"You won't marry Ellison," said the Earl at last.

"No?" her tones full of mockery.

"No, I'll tell him what you said. He's a good fellow and deserves to be treated fairly. Besides, he's honestly in love with you."

"And you too, eh?"

"I'm not sure of that just now, my Lady Dorothy. The question is, ought one to respect a woman who does not respect herself?"

It was Dorothy's turn to stop. She faced him with a little gasp, her eyes ablaze.

He saw her plainly now, for she stood under the light of a street lamp.

"Don't dare to pretend you thought me serious!" she cried.

Cawthorne perceived his advantage, and seized it like a watchful general.

"Then do you hate me! The truth this time, if you please." His voice was so stern and penetrating that Dorothy dared no longer play with him.

"Yes."

"Which means?"

"N—no!" He hardly caught the whisper, it was so meekly uttered and subdued.

A wild hope dashed into his heart. The club seemed really an effective instrument, although but painted to resemble wood. He set his teeth. "Then give me your hand this instant," he commanded.

Dorothy clenched her hands and put both behind her. She would die first. "I'm not your dog, bully," she flashed.

Cawthorne bent a little forward and gazed into her eyes. Some instinct taught him that if he won this struggle, he might, after all, not always lose his sweetheart.

"You heard?" he demanded gratingly.

She nodded. She looked pale, but full of fight and utterly defiant.

Cawthorne unscrupulously determined to assail her where there seemed most chance of victory; at any hazard he must beat her. He clapped his hands suddenly together, and thrilled to see her start and tremble. "Quit your fooling!" His voice was harsh, his manner simply brutal. "I'm not a man that you can play with. Keep that for Ellison. Shake hands with me, or I'll leave you here and now."

"You—you'd leave me—to—to go home alone."

"Are you a baby to be frightened of a dark road? And if you are——" he shrugged his shoulders in savage indifference.

"You—you gentleman!" she cried.

He took out his watch. "I'll give you thirty seconds to decide."

"I don't hate—I loathe you," she panted.

"I'm sick to death of your whims and whams," he retorted, growling.

"I'll go alone," cried Dorothy; "I'd scorn——"

He swung on his heel and left her. He did not even trouble to take off his hat.

Dorothy thought of the gloomy half-mile between her and the Cliff House, and shuddered.

"Lord Cawthorne!" she called out.

He stopped and looked over his shoulder. "Well?"

"Here is my hand."

He returned to her side. Her right arm was rigidly extended. She was breathing hard, and he saw that she really detested him. He gave her unresponsive fingers a warm quick grip, and instantly released them.

"For your own sake be either silent or civil until we reach your home," he warned her.

She made no reply, and they resumed their walk. As soon as the zone of light was passed, Cawthorne lifted his hat, and mopped his streaming forehead. He was bathed in perspiration, and he felt ridiculously overcome. For some moments he played with wild dreams of throwing himself in the dust at her feet and grovelling for pardon. The knowledge of her righteous anger alone restrained him. He felt it would be absolutely useless to plead before her then. But oh, if she could only guess how soft he really was, and what a frightful effort it had cost him to act the brute to her! What was she thinking of? he wondered.

Of a sudden he hard a curious smothered sound beside him. Was she crying? His heart throbbed madly and stood still. He could have groaned aloud. But what was that—a laugh? Impossible! Good heavens!—what but there was no doubt of it. Dorothy was laughing, and laughing like one most thoroughly amused—laughing as she had not laughed for months.

At first he was passionately grateful and relieved; but Dorothy continued to laugh merrily at tiny intervals. He became curious, then puzzled, then amazed, almost angry.

"When you have time you might let me share the joke," he suggested, at last.

"With pleasure," she responded briskly. "I have been thinking of your local reputation."

"Indeed!"

"Yes; nearly every one in Stayton considers you a mild and diffident young man, the sort that would hardly say 'Boo' to a goose."

"It is your privilege to know me better, eh?"

"I would not call it a privilege exactly," said Lady Dorothy; and she laughed again.

"You are still in the enemy's country, permit me to remind you."

"Oh, I'm not afraid you'll leave me now."

"And why not?"

"Because you are wanting to know what I'll have to say to you at my father's door."

"Door!" he echoed hardily. "Won't you ask me in?"

"I beg your pardon."

He saw in mind her eyebrows lifting haughtily. Her voice inspired the vision.

"I'm thirsty, and it's a long walk home," he persisted.

"I'm afraid the servants will be all in bed," she replied with careless insolence.

Cawthorne frowned and thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets. "Have you ever been in Italy?" he asked abruptly.

"No; have you?"

"Not yet. I guess we'll go there for our honeymoon."

Dorothy caught her breath, but presently she answered, and seemingly with out an effort—

"The Lord be good to me!"

"So, so," muttered Cawthorne. "Yourself will be to blame if otherwise. I'm only a savage when I'm crossed."

The girl's laughter rippled out afresh, but if mocking it was troubled too. They were passing through the little wood, and not a light in all the world was visible. In her deepest heart she was afraid of her companion, and now she chide herself because she had refused to let her father send a carriage for her.

For the next few minutes neither spoke, but at length the trees halted, and the house lamps glimmered through the gloom.

Dorothy gave a little cry of triumph as she saw her home.

Cawthorne understood her perfectly. "Lead, kindly light," he quoted with a smile. "Patience, Lady Dorothy, a little more civility and then your turn will come."

"My turn for what?"

"To play the tyrant."

"You surely don't admit——" she began in jeering tones, but he put a quick hand on her arm.

"Patience," he repeated; "just a little patience. At the gate what you will, but the road is mine."

His voice had strangely altered. Before, it had been harsh and dominant; it was commanding still, but low and musical, and it vibrated with an undertone of real passion that the girl was quick to recognise.

"I scarcely—understand," she faltered.

For several months past, Cawthorne had carried an emerald ring in the heart pocket of his vest. His left hand sought it now, while his right slipped along the girl's left hand to her wrist. In a second the thing was done. Dorothy felt her hand snatched to his lips, and she saw a green light sparkle on her marriage finger.

"No, no, no," she panted. "Let me go." She tried to wrench her hand away but he held it firmly in both of his.

"Till we reach the gate," he said, "the road is mine."

"No, never! never!"

"You shall!" He spoke like fate.

"I think you must be crazy!"

"Until the gate."

"No further."

"Not an inch." He released her hand. Once more they moved on. Dorothy's breathing was short and quick. She held her hand out from her side and dared not look at it.

Her heart beat like a frantic thing, and she was wildly wondering what next? She kept her eyes fastened on the gate, now scarce a hundred yards away, but (and the curious contradiction puzzled her) with every step that brought her nearer home and safety, she felt more conscious of alarm, and far less trustful of herself.

Half the distance traversed, Cawthorne spoke. "Marry Ellison!" he said.

The mystery of him had begun to madden Dorothy, but just then she could not speak. "He's a good fellow, and he loves you well," proceeded Cawthorne.

She was silent. Cawthorne softly touched her arm. "He could not even pretend to be unkind," he muttered in a shaky voice.

"But what of Italy?" flashed the girl. The best and worst of women are coquettes; as for Dorothy, she was ever at her happiest with a firestick in her hands.

Cawthorne smiled and sighed. They were very near the gate, and the lamplight already illumined his face. She glanced at him out of the corners of her eyes, and was almost shocked to see how grave and kind he looked.

"Italy is very far away," he said, and then they reached the gate. Cawthorne strode forward and threw it open. Dorothy paused on the dividing line and for the first time looked at the ring. She thought she had never seen a finer one, and she experienced a vague regret.

"No one else shall ever wear it," said Cawthorne. He was holding out his hand.

The band slipped off too easily. Dorothy let it fall into his palm and held her breath to stop a sigh. It was really too ridiculous. She felt very angry with herself.

"I see the trough," said Cawthorne, glancing round.

Dorothy bit her lip, marched off up the path, chin in air. He followed, but did not try to overtake her. He knew that he would find her at the door.

She waited in a little haze of light that filtered through the fan glass from a swing-lamp in the hall beyond. She was frowning thoughtfully.

"Here our acquaintance ends, perhaps?" he asked.

She answered with a question. "What would you have me say?"

"I cannot give you fair advice. I am a partisan of self."

"You behaved——" she stopped.

"Like one of those pre-historic aboriginals, who wooed their wives with clubs," he supplemented gravely. "Love is the great unveiler, Lady Dorothy."

Their eyes met. "I don't believe you care a bit," she muttered.

"You do," he answered calmly, "you know."

"Will you kindly ring the bell?"

He obeyed like a machine, then stepped aside and bared his head.

"Good-bye!" he said.

"Good-bye."

"For ever?"

"You might apologise," she blurted out.

"I hear steps," he replied! "Is it for ever?"

"For ever," she repeated firmly.

The door opened and a servant's face looked out.

"Good-night, Lord Cawthorne," said Dorothy in her most effusive tones. "Thank you so much for bringing me home."

"Please don't mention it, Lady Dorothy. It was a great pleasure."

They bowed to each other like a pair of stately animated images, whereupon the girl swept past him with a scornful and most tantalising swish of skirts. The door closed upon his face. For a full minute he stood gazing at the panels, conning the moves of a game which he had played well and lost. There only remained for him to lose well, but he could not avoid a bitter thought of Francine Toombes. "Clubs are out of date," he muttered, "and women are, after all, the poorest students of their sex."

A window jarred in its frame above his head and aroused him from his reverie. "It is time to go," he thought. But in three paces he stopped as suddenly as if he had been shot. Something had fallen at his feet.

He looked up to see a blind drawn rapidly across a bar of yellow sheen.

"Is it possible?" he said involuntarily aloud, and stooping he fumbled on the path.

He found a rose, a red rose.

Sometime later he remembered that Dorothy had worn a red rose in her hair.


CHAPTER XIX.

With whatever feelings Lord Cawthorne embarked upon his career as a student of the shipbuilding trade (and it was to be feared that they were embittered by coercion), it was not long before he became reconciled with his employment. To commence with, the work was interesting. Secondly it brought him into close and immediate contact with a class of earnest workers whom his own upbringing enabled him to understand and respect, and towards whom his sympathies flowed spontaneously. Finally it gave him a purpose in life as well as an occupation. The purpose, it is true, was not apparent all at once. In a measure it evolved itself, and Cawthorne had for some time been its servant before he realised that he should be its master if he did not wish its hobby horse to ride him. It began out of his good-nature and the sickness of an Irish engineer named Denis Flaherty.

Flaherty had grown up with the Shipping Company, and, although he possessed a wife and four grey-eyed daughters, he should not have needed help, since he had always earned good wages. Nevertheless, it only required one week of fever to exhaust his resources. Mr. Thorne, the reverend old rector of Stayton, assured the Earl a fortnight later that Flaherty's case deserved no sympathy, yet he was unable to deny that the family must have starved in the meanwhile save for his assistance. Mr. Thorne was always assisting some distressed person, always marvelling at the improvidence that produced such calls upon his purse. "In a town like Stayton," he was fond of saying, "with no surplus population, and with a constant call for labor at the shipping works, chiefly inhabited as it is by skilled mechanics, there should be no such thing as poverty. Yet what do we see——" At that juncture he would spread out his soft white palms, with an expression on his kind old face of amiable bewilderment, and add dejectedly, "I know of scarce a score of families with savings bank accounts."

Cawthorne went to see the Flaherty's, and he spent half an hour at the sick man's bedside. Denis suffered from a low wasting fever, but he was not too weak to talk; and the tale he told was transparently honest and plausible enough. How could he save, with the rent to pay, and six to feed and clothe on two pounds four and six a week. He admitted that some of his fellows contrived to lay by for a rainy day in spite of even greater handicaps; but 'where was the use of living without some enjoyment?' The old woman liked her drop of beer, and as for himself he went periodically upon the spree, with a few shillings his wife did not grudge to allow him from the housekeeping. But always on a Saturday night, with the Sunday ahead to sleep it off. He had never lost a day at the works except through sickness, and he had never drunk his week's wages like some of the workmen did. Mrs. Flaherty sobbingly assured the Earl that her man was the best on earth, and the easiest managed. He had only beaten her twice that she could remember, and since these lapses had both occurred at Christmas time she recalled them with quite an air of boastfulness. Her daughters were, she declared, too young for service, though one, the eldest, got an occasional job at the steam laundry. They were pretty girls, ranging in age from eight to twenty. Cawthorne went away, his pocket the lighter of a five-pound note, and feeling rather ashamed of himself because it was so easy to earn the passionate blessings that had been poured upon his head. He was very soon presented with the opportunity to extend his philanthropy to others. The company employed two thousand men, and a proportion was necessarily always ill and indigent. Cawthorne said nothing about his charities to a living soul, but his enormously increased popularity among the workers at length exerted Sir Felix Greig to make inquiries, the result of which led to something like a quarrel between the manager and his pupil.

Sir Felix was a man of hard and fast opinions, and he did not hold with that modern trend of thought whose ideal is the obliteration of class distinctions. In his view, mankind was, broadly speaking, providentially divided into two sections; those who spend, that (indirectly) others may live; and those who toil, that (also indirectly) others may have. His sympathies were wholly with the former. The rights of capital were sacred in his eyes, and the only obligation he could see entailed on capital was that of paying regularly to labor the smallest wages labor would accept. He honestly believed that the company he managed deserved well of God and man because its operations supplied with bread a few thousand hard-working people.

The coincidence that a score of idlers was thereby maintained in ease and luxury did not strike him as irrational or in the least unnatural. Their money had started the business. It was only right that they should reap the benefit. Capitalists he regarded as sowers of seeds, laborers as the soil in which the seed germinated, and which produced the crops. Who but a foolish agriculturist would over-enrich his ground? The human element in the problem escaped him altogether. Cawthorne, on the other hand, without having devoted much thought to the subject, felt instinctively an obligation to care for the welfare of those whose toil, however selfish, earned for him a princely income. When therefore Sir Felix accused him of pauperising the company's employes and teaching them habits of improvidence by his carelessly expended charities, he retorted hotly that he was only returning to the men some portion of their own.

In the discussion that followed he was entirely worsted, although his opinion remained unchanged. But the quarrel induced him to give the matter careful study, and in the end he came to the conclusion that his obligation to care for the men upon whom his living depended imposed a graver duty than alleviating the occasional distresses of the sick and foolish poor among them; a duty, in fact, that extended to the wise as well as the improvident, and which embraced every soul who took any part in the production of his income.

It occurred to him quite suddenly, on the night he escorted Lady Dorothy to her home from Sir Felix Greig's dinner party. And it came with all the force of an irresistible conviction. He was seated on an armchair in his bedroom at the time, sniffing at a rose, a red rose. He kissed the rose, and told himself that the conviction could not be combated. Then he kissed the rose again. He considered the matter the remainder of the night, often pressing the rose to his lips. The sweet odor of the bloom helped him wonderfully to arrange his thoughts, and perhaps inspired their outcoming resolve. When the lamps began to pale with morning, his head was full of plans, and his great purpose was already almost fledged. He wanted somebody to confide in and explain it to; someone who would not try to sneer him down with economic arguments, nor throw cold water on his first enthusiasm; but someone who would understand at once the human side of his idea, who would firmly encourage him to pursue his duty now that it was recognised, and who would always help him with advice and sympathy. But who, who? Ay, indeed, who? His cousin, the veiled man? Cawthorne shook his head. Poor old John would certainly approve, but he needed something more than approval. Sir Felix Greig? Not to be thought of. Sir Felix would laugh his scheme to scorn as quixotic and impracticable. Lord Fane? He shook his head; the Marquis was too reserved and cold. Mr. Southdown? No again. The cool old lawyer would only be concerned in finding legal flaws and seeking to discover difficulties. Dr. Somerton? He did not like Dr. Somerton. Mr. Franklyn? Mr. Franklyn was too poor and his scheme would be sure to affect the company's dividends. Mr. Carne? He liked Mr. Carne, but he was not a shareholder; neither was Pat Ellison. But what of Francine Toombes? Cawthorne considered the widow with a frown. She would approve, cordially sympathise, advise and help him to the utmost of her power, he did not doubt for a moment. But—er—would she—would she—er—er—would she what? He sprang to his feet with an impatient laugh and began to pull off his clothes. "I'm an infernal hypocrite," he muttered. "And I've been ass enough to deliberately try and deceive myself."

Some eight hours afterwards he knocked at the front door of the Cliff House and sent his card to Lady Dorothy. He had written on the back of it, "I want to see you on important business."

When the footman disappeared he regretted that he had not inscribed a more subtle, curiosity provoking message. Would business, however important, appeal to Dorothy; more especially considering the curious relations? He thought not, and vowed himself a fool. Then the footman came back. He was prepared for a denial, but the man, much to his surprise, invited him upstairs and sonorously intoned his name at the door of a tiny drawing-room.

Cawthorne looked in, to see Dorothy giving tea to Maude Franklyn and Sybil Carne. Dorothy's troubles for his business! She thought his visit an impertinence, and she would have delighted in refusing to receive him at another time, but she could not resist the temptation of showing Maude and Sybil how to entertain an Earl.

"I've neither time nor inclination to shake hands," she airily observed. "But if you ask me prettily, I'll give you tea."

Cawthorne shook hands with the other girls and took a chair. "How could any one ask for anything except prettily?" he inquired.

"Not bad," criticised Dorothy. "Now ask!"

"Please, Lady Dorothy, will you trouble yourself to give an undeserving but appreciative mendicant that which you will not miss, but will secure his happiness in the taking in considering the making!"

Maud and Sybil exchanged glances. Dorothy smiled.

"Certainly," she replied. "Sugar?"

"Without tongs, please; two lumps."

"Lord Cawthorne," said Miss Franklyn, "don't you know that Lady Dorothy disapproves of compliments. We were discussing them before you came. She expressed herself quite strongly."

"And you?" he asked.

"I!" She shrugged her shoulders. "Sometimes, sometimes not."

"I love them," declared Sybil. "Of course when they are nicely turned; so does Dorothy, if she told the truth."

Dorothy put two lumps of sugar into the Earl's cup with her fingers, and handed it to him.

"It is sad to have a reputation for insincerity," she remarked, looking him in the eye. "I must really learn to be truthful." The corners of her mouth went up, and her eyes twinkled.

Cawthorne kept a steady face. "I wish you would settle the question. I'd hate to offend you," he said quietly.

"Then honestly I detest compliments."

"Thank you very much."

Maud and Sybil again exchanged glances.

"I haven't seen you on the golf links lately," observed the latter.

"I have been too busy, Miss Carne," said the Earl.

"How quickly the summer is leaving us," contributed Miss Franklyn.

"I believe I have its last rose," said Cawthorne, with a look at Dorothy.

"The very last!" she flashed.

"Is it growing in your garden?" asked Sybil.

Cawthorne sipped his tea. "Not growing," he said slowly, "and, after all, I am not too sure it is the very last."

"White, pink, or crimson?" asked Dorothy.

"It is a red rose."

"An emblematical bloom, perhaps," suggested Maude, with something of a sneer.

"Of what?" he demanded coolly.

The girl colored under his gaze. "I am not an expert," she responded icily.

"Nonsense; every girl knows the language of flowers," cut in Lady Dorothy. Her smile was positively wicked.

"I should think so," cried Sybil. "The rose is emblematical of—— Ah, but it depends upon its color."

"It is a red rose," said the Earl.

"Love, then," murmured Miss Carne, with a modest blush.

"Is that your opinion, Lady Dorothy?"

But Dorothy refused to meet his eyes. "Sybil spoke of gift roses," she declared. "Is yours a gift rose?"

"Yes."

"Then it ought to mean the giver loves you, if the giver is a woman."

"But does it?"

"Ask her, Lord Cawthorne."

"I have," he responded calmly.

"Would she not answer you?" asked Sybil, who seemed deeply interested.

"She equivocated," he replied. "She is a dear quaint little girl, with golden hair and the bluest eyes imaginable; but young as she is, she is already a pronounced coquette."

"Does she live in Stayton?" asked Dorothy.

"Yes; her father works at the docks. One of these days I shall show her to you if you'll let me. I am anxious to help her if I can, and you must advise me how. She is much too pretty and intelligent to follow the average humdrum life of her class, and already she has ambitions."

Dorothy looked puzzled, the other girls disappointed.

"It is a dangerous thing to take people from their class," ventured Miss Franklyn.

"Sometimes," he assented.

"What is her ambition?" asked Sybil.

"I caught her one day perched upon a stool before a table, and she was pretending to be a typist. From her conversation, however, I have gathered that she also dreams of some day marrying a tremendously wealthy man."

Dorothy smiled and blushed in spite of herself. "You ought not to encourage her," she said.

"I don't, in her dreams," said he; "still, she might learn typewriting, don't you think?"

Sybil and Maude rose to go. Dorothy did not press them to remain, and Cawthorne rang the bell without being asked.

"I thought for a moment that Dorothy gave him the rose. Didn't you?" whispered Sybil in the hall.

"So she did," replied Miss Franklyn, with a bitter smile.

Their departure caused a silence in the drawing-room. Cawthorne resumed his chair at once, but Dorothy took up a position by the mantel, and stared steadily at the opposite wall.

"In my opinion a red rose may be a sign of forgiveness," said the Earl at last.

"I came on business," he pursued.

Dorothy did not seem to hear.

"I'm awfully in want of a friend just now, to advise and assist me."

Dorothy began to tap upon the carpet with her foot.

"It's this way," he indomitably persisted. "In spite of the prosperous appearance of this town, there is in reality a frightful lot of poverty and misery among us—poverty for which all of us who are shareholders in the shipping works are directly or indirectly responsible. I am the most responsible, because I am the biggest shareholder, and I have begun of late to feel the matter rather keenly. I've come to you——"

"Really," interrupted Dorothy. "I don't understand these things." She spoke with extreme coldness, for she was thinking that this approaching her under cover of so thin a subterfuge argued a poor opinion of her perspicuity. "You would do better to consult my father or my uncle," she added.

Cawthorne had a sudden inspiration. "Not without first gaining your good wishes and enlisting, if I can, your sympathies upon my side," he responded quickly. "They are business men, you see, and they would laugh at me or hint politely as your uncle has already on an other aspect of the case, that I am a quixotic fool." He looked into her eyes. "You see," he went on earnestly, "the welfare of so many people are involved, men and women and little children, that I dare not make a mistake at the outset of my enterprise."

Dorothy's sternness slightly relaxed. "Some charity?" she asked.

"Some justice," he replied. "Will you listen?"

"Will you be long?"

"As long as you will listen."

"Oh, very well,"—ungraciously—"I can spare you five minutes, I think."

Cawthorne gravely, inclined his head. "I ought to tell you that I've been helping some of the poorest workmen's families," he commenced. "Your uncle heard of it, and he was rather angry. He accused me of pauperising the people, and encouraging them to be improvident. At first I did not believe him, but soon I saw that he was right. Charity demeans. It is the worst kind of help that you can give a man. But even when I perceived that, I felt all the surer that I owed the people a duty to assist them. It occurred to me in this way. The company employs about two thousand men, who work hard from dawn to dusk for an average of about a hundred pounds a year. Most of them are married, and have to support large families on that miserable pittance. Now, I need not do a hand's turn, and yet the company pays me 20,000 a year, which money is earned, every penny of it, and much more, by the men. It is true that the men don't work hard for the love of me, or to enrich me and my fellow, shareholders, but for their daily bread, yet the effect is exactly as I have described."

"Uncle says that the men are paid better than at most places," said Dorothy. "And I think that must be so. They all seem satisfied, and they never think of striking."

"That is quite true, Lady Dorothy, and it is also true to use another of your uncle's arguments, that our capital started the company, and is responsible for its maintenance, and the maintenance from starvation of thousands of human lives. But your uncle and others forget that the company has already more than paid us back our capital in dividends, and that it grows richer and richer year by year; yet what of the men? Are they better off to-day than when they started work? And what are their prospects?"

"Oh!" said Dorothy.

"Take the case of Denis Flaherty," said Cawthorne. "There is a man who entered the docks when a lad, thirty years ago. To-day he earns two pounds four and six a week, and he supports, as well as himself, a wife and four children."

"I know the girls," murmured Dorothy.

The Earl nodded. "How much of his salary do you think he can put up for a rainy day? I don't think very much. And if he saved a trifle, it would be at the expense of the poor little infrequent pleasures he may otherwise be able to afford. A grey life, a grey life, Lady Dorothy."

The girl was silent, but her eyes spoke a great deal.

"And think of his future," pursued the Earl, "remembering the while that his is the case with one thousand nine hundred and odd others. Denis has been ill, but he is now recovering. He is about five and forty years of age, but his grinding life has put its mark upon him. He looks sixty. Say, for argument sake, that he is good at the outside for another ten years' work. What then? The company will turn him adrift with polite expressions of regret, and his children if, and if and yet again if, if they are able and willing to do so, will subscribe to keep him and their poor mother from the workhouse. A grey life greyly ended, Lady Dorothy."

"It is horrible, just horrible!" cried Dorothy.

"We are in better case," said Cawthorne. "Live or die, work or idle, our income grows and grows, because forsooth our capital started the company! Is that the reason? What else? But is it a good, a satisfactory reason, do you do you think?"

"It is horrible. But why—why is it?" She threw out her little hands.

"Shall I tell you?"

"Please."

"It is because Denis and his class are ignorant, and because we, who are wise, are selfish enough and cruel enough to trade upon their ignorance. We take from them the utmost they will give at the lowest price they will accept, knowing full well, although they don't perceive it, that the bargain is unfair to them, but salving our consciences with the reflection that not our need but theirs obliges them to ratify and keep the bargain."

"That it not honorable," said Dorothy convincedly.

"No it is not honorable," he answered gravely; "it is only lawful." He smiled of a sudden and looked at her intently. "The other day your uncle stigmatised me as a socialist, and I had said far less to him than I have said to you."

"Then if you are a socialist in thinking as you do, so am I," cried Dorothy.

"I wonder if we—we are?" he murmured thoughtfully.

"Tell me——"

"My socialism consists in this: I want to see the world so arranged that the weak in intellect shall be protected from the depredations of the strong, just as fully as the weak in body are protected from their stronger neighbors now."

Dorothy's whole face lighted up. "Oh!" she cried, "that is a grandly chivalrous idea. I like you well for thinking that."

Cawthorne smiled. "I want to put it into practice as well as thinking it, in the tiny way I may be able to here—with your help. Will you help me, Lady Dorothy?"

"With all my heart," she cried. "Only tell me how."

"Had I not better explain my plan first?"

"Of course."

"It concerns the workmen of our Company. My purpose is to persuade my fellow shareholders to do henceforth a little more justice to the people whose toil earns our fortunes; and to make them recognise that we owe them as human beings a deeper obligation than we would owe them as horses or oxen. When our cattle are unfit for further work, do we let them starve? And yet when our human servants are unfit for further work, who cares if they starve or not?"

Dorothy abruptly took a chair. Her face was brilliantly illuminated. "I see, I see," she cried. "You wish to make the Company provide for the old age of its workers just as it does now if they meet with accidents and are crippled."

"Surely," said the Earl, "and illness, too; and death—those they leave behind them should be cared for in some way."

"Oh, yes."

"And in case they should be discharged or quit the company's service of their own accord?"

But Dorothy looked doubtful at that.

The Earl saw and smiled. "But certainly provision should be made for such as those," he said. "Suppose, for example, you were in my service, ought I not to pay you fully for the work you did for me because you behaved badly to me in another way? Again, if you chose to leave my employment of your own accord and even against my wish, would that discharge my obligation?"

"I see," said Dorothy.

"And do you also agree?"

"Entirely. But,"—she hesitated—"how will this be done? It will cost the company a great deal of money, will it not?"

"I have not gone into the figures yet, Lady Dorothy. But I do not think it will cost very much. My plan is to slightly raise the wages of every worker straight away, but instead of paying the increase directly to the men, to put it into a trust account and insurance fund for the benefit of all. Say, for instance, that we raised each man's wages on a sliding scale in proportion to the amount they now receive, upon a minimum basis of one pound per annum. This would yield about three thousand pounds a year. Then, again, I think it quite possible that the men may be persuaded to swell the fund themselves. Indeed I feel sure that none would refuse to allow the company to deduct an equal proportion of their wages to that contributed in excess by the company; in which case the fund would receive six thousand pounds a year. Even six thousand pounds is not very much to start with, considering that the company's employes number two thousand; but then only a few retire each year, and only a small proportion is ill at one time. Of course, as I said before, I am quite in the dark as to what amount would be requisite; but even if it cost the company itself five or six thousand pounds a year or more, I should not hesitate."

"Will it, do you think?"

"Yes. I'm afraid it will need a lot of persuasion before it can be brought to our way of thinking. A company has been described as a thing that has no body to be kicked and no soul to be damned, and rightly so. It is owned by people, you see, whose only interest in it is in drawing their dividends. We'll have to take the shareholders one by one and talk them over. Unfortunately, we'll need to talk them all over, for unless they agree unanimously we cannot carry the reform."

Dorothy liked the 'we's.' "I'll answer for my father," she said quickly.

"And your uncle?"

"Oh, Nuncs; he'll do anything I tell him."

Cawthorne's eyes kindled. "That's first rate," he said. "But say nothing just yet until we are better prepared. If you'll allow me I'll work out a general report, which I'll submit for your approval, and then we can thrash the details out between us. I'll send to London at once for a competent actuary who will help us with figures. Will that suit you?"

"Splendidly."

"It is my intention to open the fund with a donation of five thousand pounds, so that the men may begin to enjoy the advantages of the scheme forthwith."

"I think you are too generous," said Dorothy. "You are the biggest shareholder, and the greater portion of the cost will come from your pocket in any case. You should not do too much."

Cawthorne would willingly have paid a greater sum to see again the look that was in Dorothy's eyes that moment. But although he felt a delightful thrill pass through his body, he answered with admirable calmness. "There is a method in my madness, Lady Dorothy. When the other shareholders learn what I propose to give, for very shame's sake they ought not to raise insuperable objections to footing their share of the bill."

Dorothy looked unconvinced. "You can't care very much for money," she declared.

"On the contrary," he added, smiling; "I'm as mercenary as other men. But I've taken up an unconscionable measure of your time; you must try and forgive me." He arose and held out his hand. Dorothy arose too.

"You can be interesting when you like," she murmured, smiling shyly at him; but she did not seem to see his hand.

"And may I come again; how soon?"

"When you report is ready."

"Won't you shake hands with me? Surely we may be friends now?"

Dorothy considered the matter, also the tip of her shoe. "One could not enter into such a bargain lightly," was the result of her reflections. "Do you think?"

Cawthorne declined to think. "If the rose meant nothing, I'll give it back to you," he said.

"Where is it?" demanded Dorothy.

He touched the heart pocket of his vest.

"Let me see it."

It was pressed between the leaves of a small diary. Dorothy saw her name inscribed upon the open page, and therein a chance to mock him.

"Are so many roses given you," she asked without a smile, "that you needed to remind yourself of the origin of mine?"

"No," said he. But he uttered the syllable in such a tone that she decided not to prosecute inquiries further on the point.

Cawthorne gazed at her, she at the rose, and the conversation languished.

"Did it mean nothing?" he asked at last.

"Almost nothing." Her eyes flashed and fell.

"Exactly what?"

"I'd rather shake hands with you," she whispered.

"Than tell?"

"Yes." Again she whispered her reply, and for a second time the Earl wondered why she whispered.

He returned the rose and diary to his pocket. Such a sudden and overmastering desire had come to him to seize her in his arms and crush her lips to his, that he dared no longer look at her.

"I'll—I'll come—the moment the report is ready," he somewhat brokenly announced, and with that he turned and abruptly left the room.

Dorothy stared after him, her mouth a little open, and her scarlet lips apart.

"He never does what one expects," she thought. "He is a most exasperating man."

But her eyes were very tender.


CHAPTER XX.

Simon Vicars was growing impatient. Already several months had elapsed since the eventful day on which the veiled man had taken him into his confidence, and still the Earl's courtship dragged on. Simon wanted to know exactly what species of revenge his master contemplated, and the part therein that he would play. He wanted to know, moreover, how that part would advantage himself, and other things; but the veiled man obstinately refused to gratify the little valet's curiosity, answering all Simon's attempts to draw him out with a curt direction to wait until Lord Cawthorne's engagement should be announced. Simon might have waited more contentedly if it were not that the condition of his master's health imposed unexpected trials on his patience. The veiled man, as summer waned, fell ill, of a curious enfeebling sickness that had a marked effect upon both his body and his mind. He became terribly emaciated, and his once impervious placidity was replaced with a querulous and irritable temper that Simon found hard at all times to put up with. For a long time he refused to see a physician; indeed, the mere suggestion threw him into an ungovernable rage. But as his body weakened, his opposition waned, and the Earl at last took the matter into his own hands and called in Dr. Somerton. Simon was present at the interview, and since the doctor insisted upon the removal of his patient's veil, Simon saw for the second time his master's face. However, he was prepared to endure the horrid sight on that occasion, and he exhibited even less emotion than the doctor. The veiled man bore the inspection with apparent stoicism, but when again alone with Simon, he broke out into a storm of maledictions. He cursed the world and Providence and particularly the Earl, with a bitterness whose furious intensity amply evidenced the torture he had experienced in allowing another stranger to witness his deformity. Afterwards, however, he settled back into his old saturnine calm, and, the first step taken, he suffered the surgeon's succeeding visits with scarcely a remark. In the dreary weeks that followed Simon often told himself that his reward would need to be a large one to compensate for the tedium of his master's sickroom, and the veiled man's biting and continual complaints. He believed it would be large, or his own fiery temper could not have stood the strain he resolutely imposed on it. But even though hope and avarice supported him, he sometimes felt distracted, and inclined to cast his prospects to the winds, for the sake of indulging, at what ever cost, the angry humors that, beneath his tranquil seeming, consumed his spirit. On one of these occasions, after a long day spent at his master's bedside, he found himself so nearly at the end of his powers of self-control, that, the moment the veiled man slept, he stole away from the room and from the house of his imprisonment; and reckless whether his master needed him or not, he approached the town, bent upon drowning his troubles in a certain tavern, where he knew that he would find a friendly welcome.

He had been shut up in the Castle for so many days that he was surprised to find how quickly the season had moved in his preoccupation. But if the evening air blew chill upon his face it also drove away the worst measure of his fierce humor; and when he reached the town he was once again his dapper consequential little self, instead of the brooding irritable creature who had left the house. Now Simon was essentially a lady's man, with an eye always open to admire a pretty face, and a mind disposed to quarrel with his destiny for lack of them. He had already made the acquaintance of half a score of servant girls, and with two at least he had established a kissing friendship. But he knew very few of the daughters of the town, and those he knew, were not particularly charming. When, therefore, he came face to face with Norah Flaherty just within the side-door of the inn, he stopped in sheer astonishment. He had not allowed himself to dream that Stayton contained so rare a sample of feminine prettiness. Norah carried a frothing jug of beer, which she had just purchased for her mother. She was very simply clad in just a plain cotton gown, with a plaid shawl fastened on her shoulders; but she needed no adornments to enhance the challenging light in her big grey eyes, nor the arch pertness of her small tip-tilted nose, nor yet again the round apples of her cheeks. Simon barred her passage, but she did not seem to mind. In fact, Norah delighted just as much in Simon's spell-bound admiration, as Simon delighted in her fresh young beauty. In a flash she grasped his parts, and thought him a very proper man; a little small perhaps, but so neat, so well dressed and clean; far more commendable indeed such parts to her young eyes than those of the dirty hulking mechanics (her own reflection) whom she was accustomed to see, returning, too tired out and hungry to remember manners, from the docks and shipping works. She felt immensely flattered by Simon's admiration, and ill-disposed in consequence to hurry him. But in a moment or two she remembered her modesty, and cast down her eyes.

"You moight see I'm waitin' to pass out," she observed with a delightful brogue. Simon swung off his hat, a point she noted for future consideration in his favor.

"I thank you, my dear, for reminding me," he gallantly responded, without budging an inch, however; "but it's not to be wondered at that I'm just rooted to the spot——" He stopped short there, provokingly.

"Indade! and why?" said Norah. She was tired of staring at the floor, so she raised her eyes.

"Why?" he repeated. "Do you need to ask me why? And you not so long from your mirror, I'll be bound, seeing the inducement you carry on your shoulders to be taking you there every spare minute of your time."

"Blarney," said Norah, and she tossed her head. "It's not wid yer blarney you'll put the comether on Norah Flaherty, let me tell ye, me foine gentilman."

"Ah!" cried Simon, "Norah! Norah! the name is as pretty as the sweetest tune I know, and it fits you like a glove."

Norah looked at him in affected surprise. "One on top av another; sure yez moight be an Oirishman," she said.

Simon reflected that she did not seem anxious to go. He took courage. "Sure," he mimicked, "Oi'd be an Oirishman, or anything for just one privilege Oi'm afther coveting."

"And what moight that be?"

"A kiss from two cherry lips I see before me."

"And foiner men than you and bigger too have got the stinging ear for axin' more politely," the girl retorted. "But sure you're kapin' me. Plaze let me pass."

"So beautiful and yet hardhearted," sighed the valet. But he stepped aside, and bowed with real grace. "I'll scarcely be living till I see you again," he whispered in her ear, "just existing. Where shall it be, and when?"

"Sure the worruld is wide," she flashed.

"And toime is koind," he mocked back. The woman had the last word, as was but natural. "Where there's a will there's a way," she pouted, as she flitted through the door.

Simon puffed out his cheeks and pruned his feathers like a pouter pigeon, as he watched her go. "That's what's the matter with me," he soliloquised. "I'm spoiling for the want of female company. Doesn't even the Bible say it's bad for men to be alone?"

Then Simon went into the taproom and consumed in quick succession four glasses of hot spiced rum, which induced him to expound his views on politics to half a dozen yokels and mechanics, whom he secretly despised for drinking beer. Simon considered beer an ungentlemanly beverage. Another result of his potations was a resolve, by hook or by crook, to see Norah Flaherty on the ensuing evening. He returned home comfortably drunk and inclined to be quarrelsome, but by great good luck the veiled man still slept peacefully.

Next afternoon Simon asked for permission to take a constitutional, and his request was not refused. He strolled into Stayton and purchased a large box of chocolates. Later by adroit inquiries addressed to certain of his cronies, he acquired a deal of information concerning Norah Flaherty. He learned, for instance, that she was 'walking out' with the under-gardener at the manse; that she did occasional odd jobs at the steam laundry, and that she was generally esteemed as rather a flighty girl. Simon smacked his lips at the last of the discoveries. He had always got on well with flighty women. But though he played truant again that night and again upon the next, he did not succeed in meeting Norah. On the fourth day he played a bold stroke. He had the impudence to call at Norah's house and ask for Norah's mother. Mrs. Flaherty did not like the appearance of the little valet. She had a wider experience of men than Norah, and Simon's sharp little ferrety face impressed her more than his neatness of attire—unfavorably too. But she was civil.

She gave him good-day, and wiped a chair for him, since, good or bad looking, he came from the Castle.

Simon volubly explained his position.

He was valet to the Earl's cousin, and his master was very dissatisfied with the rough way the town laundry was treating his fine linen. Some one had recommended Miss Flaherty (Simon was most formal) as a clever clear starcher, and he had called to see if Miss Flaherty would care to undertake Mr. Deen's washing.

Mrs. Flaherty's thoughts flew forthwith to the Earl, who had already played the fairy godfather to her family more than once; and she thought less of Simon's bad looks thereafter. Simon, in answer to her query, admitted with a shrug it was quite possible that Lord Cawthorne had recommended her daughter to his cousin; but he emphasised the fact of Mr. Deen's particularity.

"He's a terrible hard man to please, Mrs. Flaherty," he sighed; "and if your daughter will do the work for him it'll be done his way or none, and he'll be wanting to give her instructions himself through his grating. You've heard no doubt that he never sees a living soul."

Mrs. Flaherty had heard, like every one else in Stayton, and like the rest of Stayton she was very curious about the veiled man, and she thought privately, it would make her quite an important personage among the gossips, if Norah did Mr. Deen's washing. She was very sorry Norah was out just then, but she'd send her to the Castle that evening if Mr. Vicars wished. Simon thought that evening as good a time as any other. His indifference was consummate. He hoped Miss Flaherty would suit, that was all. Mrs. Flaherty felt sure Norah would do her best. "We're not that well off we can afford to turn up our noses at good money," she assured him.

Simon replied that Mr. Deen never stuck at a penny or even threepence, and so the bargain was concluded.

The veiled man had just finished his dinner when Norah came. Directed by one of the Castle servants, she knocked at the courtyard door. Simon was so eager to receive her that he hardly waited to see that his master had gone upstairs before he rushed to unlock the door for the clear starcher. Norah tossed her head when she saw him, but he put his finger on her lips and drew her into the room. Then he showed her the grating on the other door and whispered with a great air of mystery——

"He's ill to-night, my dear, and not to be worried over trifles. But I've made up a little parcel of the things, and you are to do them, and when you bring them back he'll tell you himself if they suit or not. You're just to do your best, my dear."

"I'm not your dear," whispered Norah, with an arch look. But the grating had given her a slight fright, and her coyness was assumed. She kept close to Simon for protection's sake, and her eyes travelled nervously about the room.

"Where is he?" she whispered faintly.

"Upstairs."

"Then give me the parcel and let me go."

"I daren't go for it until I have my dinner," Simon answered. "It's in his bedroom, and he'll be all nerves till he's had his smoke. You'll have to wait a bit, my dear."

Simon coolly sat down before the table "Why not try a bite yourself?" he suggested artfully. "That game pie is scarcely touched; there's lots for two."

"It'd choke me," said Norah. "Oi'd be afeared he'd jump on me every moment."

"Oh, rubbish! We'd hear him coming; you need not be afraid, my girl."

Norah's eyes lingered on the pastry longingly; she only tasted meat twice a week, but her fears were paramount.

"What would he say av he caught me?" she muttered.

Simon answered by serving out two portions of the pie on a pair of plates.

Dr. Somerton had ordered the veiled man to take champagne with his meals. There was a bottle on the table, open but scarcely touched. Simon filled a couple of glasses and began to eat.

"Sure Oi think you're very rude," said Norah.

"And I think you're very stiff and unsociable," retorted Simon. "What's to prevent you sitting down and having a jolly time with me. If I'm not afraid, surely you needn't be."

"Yes, but Oi don't live wid the man."

"I do, and that's why I ask you," said Simon.

Norah took a chair that faced the grating. "I'll want to be seein' it," she explained.

Simon moved her plate and gave her a knife and fork. "Try a drop of that sparkling stuff first; it'll make you as brave as a lion," he advised.

Norah thought it was lemonade; she drank a little and made a wry face. "What is it?" she gasped. "Horrid stuff."

"It's grand for the complexion," said Simon. "I take a deal of it."

Norah took another mouthful, and attacked the pie with sudden appetite.

"That's friendly," said Simon with a genial smile. "Like as if we were husband and wife, eh?"

Norah showed her white teeth. "Be you married, Mr. Vicars?"

Simon sighed and shook his head. "I'm reckoned hard to please, and I don't know but what I'm not. But I'm a homely man at heart. I suppose you've lots of sweethearts—a pretty girl like you."

Norah denied the soft impeachment. She also described the Stayton young men as a lot of noodles, not worth "spaking wid." As a matter of fact, her best young man, the manse under-gardener, was waiting for her at the Castle gates.

Simon pressed her to improve her complexion. "Not but what it's perfect now," he added diplomatically, "but that sparkling stuff will keep it perfect."

Norah finished her glass, and wondered why she felt so joyous and elated, and so pleased with her companion. She could not help in some way expressing her feelings. "My," she said, "it must be foine to live in clover like you. No wonder you're so pat wid yer tongue, drinkin' the stuff loike this every meal toime. It puts the loife into wan, it does."

"You've only to say the word, my darling," replied Simon, edging his chair nearer her. "You've clean turned my head with those big grey eyes of yours, Norah, dear."

"Kape your distance," retorted Norah, casting the hand aside that had sought to clasp her waist. "It's a loose girl your after thinkin' me, perhaps."

"I'm an honest man," he replied, with dignity; "it's marriage I mean. Not at once, of course," he added cautiously, "but when I've a bit more saved."

"They all say they're honest," objected Norah.

"Yokels!" sneered Simon.

Norah surrendered to the sneer. She thought with contempt of the stodgy solemn-faced young man waiting for her at the gate, and then she thrilled to feel Simon's arm steal around her.

"Arrah!" she muttered, thrusting back her head to look into his eyes, "it's the cunning divil you are, for sure; you know how to get round us—too well I'm thinking."

Simon kissed her on the lips. Ten minutes later he produced a parcel from a cupboard, and gave it to the girl. "Mr. Deen's shirts," he remarked. "Be sure and bring them back yourself, Norah, darling, and I'll see there's more for you, and money too."

"Oi thought you said they waz upstairs," she cried reproachfully. "Shure, Simon, yez are not to be trusted."

"All's fair in love and war," said Simon; and he cut further protest short with the box of chocolates that he had carried in his pocket for the last four days. Norah left perfectly contented. Simon hated to let her go, but he dared not neglect his master any longer. He found the veiled man seated in the drawing-room smoking, in his own peculiar fashion. Simon was so well pleased with himself that he felt magnanimously disposed towards his master, and equal to almost any amount of waiting to have his curiosity satisfied. Norah was a fine girl, a very fine girl.

"I hope you feel better after your supper, sir?" he asked good-naturedly.

The veiled man shook some ash from his cigar. "Has Norah gone?" he demanded calmly.

Simon started. "Eh?" he said. He felt his flesh begin to creep.

"I heard voices, and slipped down. I watched you through the grating," explained Mr. Deen.

Simon's thoughts were busy, but he did not speak.

"Were you serious in your proposal of marriage?" asked the veiled man.

"N—no," Simon muttered.

The other shrugged his shoulders. "Then take my advice and conduct your philandering clandestinely. In a small place like this one needs to be careful. I have no objection to the girl visiting you occasionally, as she did to-night, under cover of business; but there must be no scandal. My cousin is a straight-laced fellow, and, as you know, he already has a 'down' on you. I don't wish to be always having to defend your character."

Simon pinched himself to make sure that he was awake and not dreaming. He felt he ought to offer some apology. "No doubt about it, but the master had done the handsome," he reflected. "You see, sir, it's pretty lonely for me at times, especially at night," he muttered.

The veiled man uttered a short harsh laugh. "I'm not blaming you, my man, only warning you," he answered tartly. "Have the girl here as much as you like. If you lime your twig well, she will come and come again. You needn't fear that I will spy on you. My objection to you meeting her abroad is that the gossips would be sure to wag their tongues; and such a thing would interfere with my plans—do you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"I know you must find it dull here, Simon, and if Norah's company amuses you, enjoy it by all means, within the limits I've prescribed. She seems a nice girl."

"A bit flighty, sir."

The veiled man sighed. "Evidently you are not in love with her."

"I've cut my wisdom tooth," chuckled Simon; "one woman is much the same as another, only some are prettier."

"And therefore more desirable? I ask for information, Simon."

"I think so, sir."

The veiled man sighed again. He seemed inclined to moralize. "All that I know of women, I have learned from books," he observed in tones of melancholy. "But I must admit that many, many authors bear out your conclusion. An impulsive, hare-brained race they seem, prepared to sell their bodies for gewgaws, flattery, or wedding rings; prepared to sell their souls for what they and other fools call love. Do you fancy Norah loves you, Simon?"

"I've always been fortunate with women, sir," answered Simon, leering horribly.

Mr. Deen smiled behind his mask, in a manner that would have terrified the little valet had he seen it. "Don't rely too much on your personal charms, Simon," he advised. "Norah has a canny spark in her or I'm mistaken. By the way, I have an old brooch in one of my trunks that belonged once to my mother. It is of no use to me."

"Oh, sir," cried Simon, his whole face lighting greedily.

"It may save you a pound or two," continued Mr. Deen, "and if my books may be relied upon, jewellery of any kind has a wonderful effect on women's hearts!"

Simon positively began to like the veiled man.

CHAPTER XXI.

Lord Cawthorne shut himself up in his library, to the exclusion of all callers, and worked so hard upon his report that within a week he was able to write to Dorothy requesting an appointment to settle the minutes. He wrote formally, and the girl replied in the same spirit, naming the second day from date at three o'clock in the afternoon.

He found her awaiting him and expecting the actuary he had promised. But Cawthorne had left his expert at the Castle. He was very keenly set upon his scheme, but he had decided that the presence of a third party at the interview was not exactly necessary. Dorothy thought otherwise. "I am a silly at figures," she declared, "and you have already confessed that you have no knowledge of insurance business. You should have brought him, Lord Cawthorne."

It was a long report; it covered a dozen pages of foolscap, and was in manuscript. Dorothy failed so often at badly written words that it became necessary for the Earl to stand behind her chair and interpret. He stood there for the better part of an hour without feeling tired in the least. Perhaps the faint perfume that ascended from the girl's golden tresses refreshed him. Or it might have been the sight of her round dimpled arm which, bare to the elbow, lay across the sheaf of papers on the table, well within his reach, or the occasional glimpse of a snowy neck and peach-like cheek. It is not only by the sense of smell that the body is invigorated. There is taste, for instance, and Cawthorne tasted sweetness throughout his task. Dorothy, on the other hand, was honestly absorbed. When she had mastered the report, she arose with a look on her face that perhaps no one had ever seen before.

"It is perfect—perfect," she said, "and as good as it is perfect. Lord Cawthorne, I must tell you something now, once and for all; I shall never cease to be grateful to you for the compliment you have paid me in allowing me a share in your work."

"Your co-operation amply compensates," he returned. "I needed a partner, but I should not have asked any other woman. Shall we go into details?"

"Not until we have shaken hands," said Dorothy. "I want to be friends with you, and to lay aside, from this moment, all memory of our silly squabbles."

"And of my uncouthness and brutality. I ask for nothing better in the world." He held out his hand. The girl placed hers in his; and looked into his eyes.

"Friends," she said.

"Sure friends." He pressed the little hand and instantly released it. Dorothy pointed to the chair and resumed her own.

"What shall we discuss first," he asked.

Dorothy shook her head. "It is all perfect; I would not have a word altered. How you must have slaved at it!"

Cawthorne was a little disappointed. If Dorothy would not discuss the report, how could he prolong the interview? "I worked pretty hard," he said, "because the sooner we begin our real campaign the better for the men's sake. Still, I fancy that some of the details may be yet improved. The provision in case of death, for instance! Ronald, the actuary, says that we ought to pay a lump sum to the widow; but somehow I consider it would be better to pay her a pension while she remained a widow."

"I think so, too," cried Dorothy; "she would be sure of her living then, wouldn't she? and the women of that class are so weak, don't you think?"

Cawthorne thrilled at the success of his stratagem. "In what way?" he asked, comfortably crossing his knees.

"Oh! with money and other things. Some lazy fellow would be sure to marry her for the sake of her money, or some rogue might swindle her out of it altogether."

"That sounds reasonable!" he answered slowly. "But still we must look at the question from the other side. It seems a bit unfair to, as it were, prevent her from marrying again by only giving her the pension while she keeps single."

"Do you think so?" said Dorothy. "In my opinion it would be quite fair. A woman has no right to marry twice! Let her look after her children."

Cawthorne barely suppressed a chuckle. The conversation was spreading grandly, and he thought he could see a clear half hour ahead at least—half an hour during which he might feast his eyes without let on the girl's beauty and watch the constant changes of her expression.

"Humph," he remarked with a judicial air. "But suppose the woman happened to be young and childless?"

"Even so."

"But—or—why—may I ask?"

Dorothy, it seemed, had thought this matter out. "There are more women than men in the world," she answered quietly, "and every woman who marries twice robs a sister of a husband."

"I should say of a very doubtful benefit," commented Cawthorne cunningly. The wider the scope of discussion, the longer time it would take to settle, he reflected.

But Dorothy contemptuously destroyed the herring. "Woman's vocation is to marry!" she retorted. "Only imbeciles think otherwise."

Cawthorne regretfully left that herring to its fate; he had others in his bag, however. "But only once?" he asked.

"Certainly, only once."

"I think you will pardon me for disagreeing, that women are meant to be mothers, rather than to marry. It would be a miserable life to which we would condemn a young, childless woman, if we prevented her marriage."

"But we don't," cried Dorothy. "If such a one married again, would not her husband keep her? And if she truly loved a man, do you think for one instant she would not scorn to weigh her pension against the man she loved?"

"Oh!" he exclaimed, pretending to be confused. "But that would be wrong in her, wouldn't it, if no woman ought to marry twice?"

Dorothy was plainly a little staggered for a moment; then her eyes kindled. "Love alters everything," she explained, with a lofty indifference to logic. "Besides we are speaking of a young and childless woman."

"Is love a discriminator?" he inquired artlessly. "Might not a widowed mother love again?"

"Not if she has been a good faithful wife. Her husband's memory and her children would prevent her. If she did, she would deserve to be punished."

"Still we must consider her children. Should they be penalized for their mother's—er—weakness?"

"Certainly not," answered Dorothy. "We could provide for the children, of course."

Cawthorne was just about to raise the point that a man foolish enough to marry a widow with encumbrances, deserved to be obliged to support the latter unaided, when a servant appeared at the door.

"Mr. Ellison, my lady," he announced.

Cawthorne uttered a bad word underbreath, and rose to greet his friend. "How goes it, Ellison?" he asked, with great apparent cordiality.

Ellison shook hands with Dorothy and took a chair, without noticing the Earl's hand.

He scented a rival, and Dorothy had hinted the previous day at some secret understanding with Lord Cawthorne. His usually genial face wore a rather hard and watchful look.

"I'm very well thanks, old chap," he drawled and turned to Dorothy. "Any chance of a cup of tea?"

"You'll have time for a cigarette first; I ordered it for a quarter past." Four struck as she spoke.

"May I? Have one?" He offered his case to the Earl.

Cawthorne accepted a weed, and struck a match upon his heel. Dorothy promptly came across and blew it out. "You can smoke when you leave," she explained. "But I have a word to say to you before you go. You'll excuse me for a moment, won't you, Pat; it's business."

Pat looked very black, but bowed.

"I'll see you out myself," said Dorothy, and she glided to the door.

Cawthorne took his hat, and, nodding gaily to the other man, followed her; but though he wore a smile he was angrier than Ellison. She awaited him at the head of the stairs. As he approached the smile faded from his face, to be suddenly replaced by a frown.

"I'm afraid I was boring you?" he said coldly.

Dorothy shook her head. "You must not be annoyed, please, I am sending you away because father will be here presently, and I want to see Pat alone before he comes."

"Oh!"

"When shall—I speak to father and Uncle Felix about our work?"

The 'our' sensibly placated him, but he remembered that she wanted to see Ellison alone.

"To-night, if you please," he answered, grim as an owl. "The sooner the better."

"Very well, I'll attack father to-night and Nuncs to-morrow morning. Shall I write you the result?"

"Could I not see you? Letters are so unsatisfactory, in business matters."

Dorothy considered. "Nuncs has made me a promise to play golf to-morrow afternoon."

"With him?"

"No; he's too busy."

"With whom, then?"

"I had thought of asking Pat," said Dorothy mendaciously.

"Hang Pat;" said Cawthorne, much more cheerfully. "I'll call for you at three o'clock sharp."

Dorothy smiled and extended her hand. "I'll be ready. Good-bye now, Pat is waiting for me."

He took her hand but grew despondent again, even while he held it. "He's going to propose," he uttered gloomily. "I could see it in his eye."

Dorothy blushed. "You have no right to say such a thing!" she cried, with spirit. "If you offend again, I'll not forgive you. Indeed, I don't believe that I'll—— no, I'll not. You need not call for me to-morrow afternoon, Lord Cawthorne, thanks."

He turned pale, but his eyes flashed. "Of course, if you prefer Ellison."

"I do thoroughly; he is always a gentleman."

Cawthorne set his formidable jaws. "It was my misfortune to have been brought up at Norfolk Island," he muttered through his teeth. "But I'm willing to learn excellences, even from Ellison. I understand that I was rude; I beg you to forgive me."

He did not look an atom contrite, indeed his face was as threatening as a thunder-cloud, nevertheless, Dorothy decided to be gracious; and, strange to say, she conferred her pardon with a curious timidity. "I'm—I'm sorry you made me speak like that," she faltered.

"I won't again," he growled. "Does the appointment hold?"

"If—if you like."

He bowed and went, leaving Dorothy, as was often the case, wondering at him, and wondering also at herself.

"He is not a bit like other men," was a reflection that had continually recurred to her from the commencement of their acquaintance. At first she had used it as a species of excuse (in charity) for his misdeeds; later on as a circumstance not to be overlooked in judging his character as well as his shortcomings; and later still as a delightfully uncertain element responsible for at least half the pleasurable excitement she derived from his companionship. As she moved off down the corridor on her way to Mr. Ellison, she repeated it again, for perhaps the thousandth time. "He is not a bit like other men." She felt rather glad that he was not.


CHAPTER XXII.

Cawthorne called for her with a caddy, to whom he gave her club. Part of her news he knew already, for Sir Felix a few hours earlier had coldly warned him that he would do all that one man could to prevent the "great purpose" from bearing fruit from practice. Dorothy was quite crestfallen about it, even though she had partially succeeded with her father. "Fancy Nuncs of all people in the world!" she began with a big, big sigh. "And I always thought I could do anything with him. I don't see how I can love him any more."

"I wouldn't say that," said Cawthorne.

"He was so mean, so catty," explained the girl. "He listened to every word I had to say, so seriously and so—so—sympathetically. And he asked me all sorts of questions too. He just turned me inside out, and then—and then"——she shook her little fist at the town—"and then"—she turned a tragic face on her companion—"and then he said, just as I say now, with his mouth puckered up, so. Look at me——"

Cawthorne looked and longed.

"Ah'h! Ah'm'" she mimicked Sir Felix's deep bass—perfectly. "'Ah'm! Lord Cawthorne's hobby horse won't carry two, my dear. He's a nice young fellow with Utopian ideas; but this world is sick of Utopian ideas. It doesn't want them. The men are hard enough as it is to manage. Ah'm! If we started coddling them up with pensions and what not, we might as well make them a present of the Company at once. Ah'm! For human nature, my dear, is the same the world over—Ah'm!—and every inch you give a man, especially an ignoramus, makes him straight away suspect you've got an ell concealed somewhere that belongs to him.'" Dorothy stopped mimicking, because she thought suddenly it might make her look unbeautiful. "He also said," she continued dolefully, "that the Company was a business, not a public philanthropic institution, and that that so long as he had any say in the management, he would oppose with all his force any crack-brained scheme like ours."

Cawthorne shrugged his shoulders. "We may convert him yet," he said encouragingly. "Your father was more tractable, I think you said."

"He has promised to think it over," replied Dorothy in a more hopeful tone. "He seemed quite impressed, but he said it would be wrong to decide without considering the cons as well as the pros. But I know he'll be on our side, dear old dad. His manner is cold, but he has a heart of gold."

Her face looked very lovely then, Lord Cawthorne thought. "Well, anyway, you've made a start," he said. "And I've something to report too. I called last night on Mrs. Toombes and persuaded her without any trouble at all."

Dorothy's expression subtle changed. "She is a great friend of yours, isn't she? I have noticed that you call each other by Christian names."

For one wild moment Cawthorne thought her jealous. "I have a warm regard for Francine Toombes," he answered heartily.

"And she for you?"

His idea quickened nearly into hope. "I trust so," he replied.

Dorothy sniffed. "I don't see you can claim much credit for gaining over a woman, and a close friend."

Cawthorne bit his lip. Her jealousy then was only over his success. "I'm not pluming myself at your expense," he said, as calmly as his disappointment would permit. "I have to report though, I suppose."

"What next?" asked Dorothy.

"I'm having the report printed, so that we can send a copy to every shareholder. I'm not sure we oughtn't to have done that first. But no use to cry over spilt milk; anyway, they will be ready to-morrow. I'll send you a batch as soon as they reach me."

"Thanks."

"Concerning the ordinary shareholders among our acquaintances and friends. I was thinking it would be the best plan to visit them together."

Dorothy averted her face. "That might look funny," she murmured.

"Would you care? In a good cause, surely——"

"Father might think it strange—you—see—it—it——" she paused.

"I see," he said.

Dorothy took a plunge. "I think, we ought to divide the people between us," she declared, with the air of a discoverer of unknown lands.

There was no other alternative that the Earl could see. "We'd certainly cover the ground more quickly," he replied, but without enthusiasm.

"So we would," she cordially agreed.

"But we'll have to see each other pretty often all the same," he cut in artfully.

Dorothy could not help but to admire his tactics. He yielded in one direction to assail her more strongly in another. She thought him, however, a little bit too clever. She shook her head. "I'm afraid people would talk," she answered coldly. "I want to help you all I can, but I have no desire to encourage idle gossip."

Cawthorne cursed in his mind the human weakness noted; but they had reached the links and Dorothy was selecting a club, and answering at the same time certain handwaves. The links were dotted with figures in fashion that annoyed the Earl. He took a club too, and the game began. Dorothy led off with a splendid drive that he imitated badly. In ten minutes she had hopelessly outclassed him, but he noted with satisfaction that she was making for the hills, and he took comfort to remember that he had bribed the caddy to assist him. It took her an hour to lose her last ball, by which time she had reached, to his thinking, a glorious lonely valley. He worked his way up as quickly as he could, and arrived hot and rather breathless. She had tossed her club aside, and seated on a rock she watched him with a discontented face.

"I could have beaten you quite easily," she said.

He nodded and wiped his face. "I'm only a beginner."

"You shape badly, you use your club like a hammer. Francine taught you, didn't she?"

"She is reckoned a good player too," he ventured, with carefully manufactured innocence. "And she took such pains, I fear I'm not a credit to her."

He leaned upon his club, and looked resolutely down the valley. The temptation of her attitude, together with the solitude about them (the caddy had vanished), jangled all his nerves.

"I expect you talked and idled as much as you played," scoffed Dorothy. "To learn golf properly you've got to devote your whole soul to it."

"It's a grand game."

"I'm not particularly fond of it."

"No?"

The conversation languished awhile. Dorothy was really tired or she would have ordered a return. As is was she waited vainly to be entertained.

"You are not interesting," she said at last.

"No," he replied. "There is only one man who could interest you with his silence, Lady Dorothy. And though you may have met him, you haven't recognised him yet."

"Who is that?"

"The man whom you will love."

The girl gave a little start. Her big eyes opened wide and the corners of her mouth turned upwards. "Do you know, Lord Cawthorne, you are a very surprising man?" she said.

"Surprising?"

"Yes, you are continually doing or saying things no other person would dream of."

"Have I been again impertinent?"

"No, not this time." Her voice was doubtful.

For the first time in many minutes he looked up at her. "I ought to tell you," he began in sombre tones, his eyes fastened on her face, "that all the rude things and boorish things I did and said to you—threatening to leave you that night, and so on—were—just deliberate. I wanted at all hazards to make you take an interest in me."

Her eyes dilated. "Do you really mean that?"

"Yes."

She was silent for a moment, then she smiled and said lightly: "You are quite an actor."

It was the cruellest speech she had ever made. She knew that it would hurt, and she meant it to hurt—meant it thoroughly. Once again Cawthorne surprised her. He took off his hat, still looking gravely in her eyes. "I thought you ought to know," he said. "It was different at first—I'd have done almost anything. But now I would not, if I could, win you under pretence."

Dorothy's face turned very hot. "You pay me a greater honor than I desire and yourself a finer compliment than you deserve." She rose as she spoke. She experienced a keen anxiety to crush him with one blow, so she added almost in the same breath: "Have you seen Mr. Ellison to-day?"

He nodded. "This morning. He is going on a trip to Norway. We are friends again."

Dorothy crimsoned. Her calculations were in fact, upset. "Did he—did he say so?" she panted angrily.

"He told me you had dismissed him."

"He had no right."

"I cannot account for your conclusion. Ellison is a man of the nicest honor."

Thrust in a corner, Dorothy grew desperate. "If you imagine—if you dare to assume——" she began.

Cawthorne raised his hand. "Pardon me," he interrupted coolly. "Why should I assume anything, Lady Dorothy? Ellison and I are not the only men on earth."

"Thank Heaven!"

He smiled in spite of himself. "Aren't you forgetting we are friends?"

"You are just an impossible man!" she cried. She seemed, however, less angry, even a little relieved perhaps.

"Shall we resume our game?" he asked.

"I'm tired of golf. Let us go home."

He picked up her club and followed her. They discussed the weather, the season, and a recent shipwreck on the coast. It was just as if a truce had been declared between two enemies, who, though constrained to converse, feared to speak intimately lest dangerous admissions be inadvertently imparted. Near the Cliff House gates they encountered a girl with a well-filled basket on her arm. Dorothy stopped her.

"Why, Norah," said she, "where are you going with all those clothes?"

"To Mrs. Delaney's, my lady." The girl deposited her basket on the road, glad of a rest.

The Earl recognised her, with a courteously touched hat. "How is your father to-day, Miss Flaherty?" he asked. Then his eyes became riveted on the bosom of her gown and it was doubtful if he heard a word of her reply. He was thinking that the brooch which fastened her shawl marvellously resembled one that had once belonged to his cousin's mother, which the veiled man treasured far beyond its intrinsic value. It was an old-fashioned brooch, set with amethysts. The one he knew was dinted in a certain place; so was this. Such coincidences startled him. In a sort of dream he listened to the interchange of question and reply; and after they had resumed their journey, he still dreamed on. Dorothy bade him a cold good-bye, and he answered absent-mindedly. But he made his way to the Castle at a tremendous pace, and he was not dreaming when he got there.

He went straight to his cousin's wing, and Simon Vicars granted him unqestioning admittance. The veiled man received him in a pleasant mood. "Adam, old man!" he cried. "Why, this is kind of you. I did not expect to see you again until to-morrow."

"Jack," said Cawthorne, "either you have a thief about you or I am bewitched. Twenty minutes ago I saw your mother's amethyst brooch in a girl's dress."

"What was the girl's name?" Mr Deen's voice was anxious, but behind his mask he smiled contentedly enough. The veiled man possessed certain terrible advantages.

"Norah Flaherty," said Cawthorne.

"Oh! Oh, then Simon did not lie to me. He fancies a girl so named."

"Eh?" The Earl looked positively astounded.

"I gave him the brooch to give to her," said the veiled man.

"Your mother's brooch?"

"I have reason to believe that my mother is dead."

"John!" cried the Earl.

The veiled man uttered a sigh.

"Sentiment is dying out of me," he murmured. "It is, after all, a happy circumstance. When the time comes, I shall be very ready for the tomb."

The Earl said nothing. He was endeavouring to piece his thoughts together.

"I made my will to-day, Adam," said the veiled man calmly. "Dr. Somerton and his assistant kindly witnessed it."

"Your will!" gasped Cawthorne.

"Of course, it may never be necessary to have it proved. But one cannot read the future, and for your sake, Adam, I wish to provide against even the remotest chance. Need I tell you that I have left everything of value I possess to you?"

Cawthorne shook his head.

"If I had guessed—you wanted that brooch——"

"John!" The Earl's voice was full of pain, indeed, a mist swam before his eyes. "Surely you cannot dream——"

"Was it only then that you thought that I had been robbed?"

"I thought you treasured it."

Mr. Deen laid a hand upon his cousin's arm. "You dear old sentimentalist, let me tell you a secret. Somerton says that I must die within a year. I have very little use for brooches now."

"A year!—Oh, John!—a year!"

"Ask him yourself if you doubt."

"Dinner is ready sir," announced Simon, appearing suddenly at the door The cousins shook hands and the Earl went off, repeating sadly to himself: "A year—a year."


CHAPTER XXIII.

Lord Cawthorne took upon himself the work of attempting to canvass the shareholders not resident in Stayton, and happily won his cousin's consent to the enterprise. He spent a month in London, a week in Paris, and a day or two at several English inland towns. Altogether he was absent for more than seven weeks; but though he travelled far and wide, and expended much eloquence and energy, he only succeeded in convincing an almost insignificant minority to his views. Curiously enough, those who yielded to his arguments most readily were of the lower middle class; either retired business people, not all of whose savings were invested in the company, or kind-hearted widows, who cheerfully consented to have their small incomes reduced in order to benefit those poorer than themselves; and again, in some cases, snobs who could refuse nothing to a lord. The richer shareholders, with scarcely an exception, declined to treat the Earl's proposal seriously. They considered him in private a cross between a crank and a socialist, and laughed the great purpose to scorn. He returned to Stayton, therefore, in a despondent mood, and with a poorer opinion of human nature than when he had set out. He had corresponded regularly with Lady Dorothy in the meanwhile by means of brief business-like letters, to which she replied with a formality that sometimes reduced him to despair. The girl, however, received him with much more warmth than he had hoped for. During his absence her father had joined the cause, and of all the people she had visited only one, Maud Franklyn's father, had withstood her methods of attack. Nor had she quite resigned all hope of winning him. She felt that she could afford to be kind under the circumstances, and Cawthorne found her charmingly sympathetic and consoling. But for all that, his suit did not progress. Dorothy took pains in a thousand subtle ways to make him understand that if she liked him as a friend and partner, she would not tolerate him as a lover. And for the next month, although they saw each other almost every day, their intercourse and conversation were perfectly impersonal.

Sir Felix Greig was unwittingly responsible for a change in their relations. The old baronet had been at first content to smile at the "great purpose" as an Utopian ideal, unworthy the consideration of practical men of the world. He believed that it would die a natural death of its own accord without his interference, and in consequence he merely opposed Cawthorne and his niece with sneers. But as time passed he viewed with secret misgivings the increasing number of Dorothy's proselytes; and at length he determined to take action. It must not be supposed that Sir Felix was an uncharitable man on that account. His heart was just as susceptible to kindly emotions as that of any living, and his purse had always responded to an urgent call. And he was broad-minded too in many respects. But Sir Felix belonged to that still numerous class of Englishmen with whom conservatism is an ineradicable mental habit. His life was ruled in all things by established precedent, and he hated all experiment. For ten years past the various departments of the docks had been connected with his office by means of telephones. He abominated and had never used the instrument. He detested improvements in machinery more heartily than the men, who at least possessed some excuse for their feeling, inasmuch as most mechanical inventions are devised to economise labor. He even carried his prejudice so far as to deplore (though secretly) any but a very gradual increase in the prosperity of the company, and he suffered agonies of mind each time it became necessary to extend the works in order to provide accommodation for the conduct of unquestionably advantageous undertakings. Especially did he abhor and distrust innovations of a more abstract nature. In order to prevent his employes forming themselves into union, he had gradually raised their wages until they were now paid at a slightly higher rate than any other workmen of their calling in the land. He regarded unions as potential revolutionary engines. He saw in every organised attempt to improve the conditions of the workaday dependents of capital, a nefarious conspiracy to wreck the British constitution; and he looked upon social reformers as conscious or unconscious antichrists. It is just possible that he might have favorably considered Lord Cawthorne's scheme had it been originally brought before his notice decked in philanthropic clothes. But the Earl, strong in his own conviction, had taken care in his report to make it abundantly apparent that he desired to render justice rather than charity. Indeed, he had boldly asserted his opinion that the company from the day of its inception had over-reached and financially ill-treated its employes.

Sir Felix was thereby antagonised. The absurdity of such a point of view irritated and amused him; but he ceased to laugh when his brother-in-law, the Marquis, and others of his friends confessed themselves infected. The thing was growing serious. He must do something. He sat up the whole of one night and drafted out a counter-blast, in which there were many columns of figures to be found, showing the enormous sums that had been paid in wages to the men; and other even more convincing arguments, intended to demolish utterly his adversary's contentions. Sir Felix, however did not take his report to the Earl. An old dog for a hard road, he had his counter-blast printed secretly, and also he had the Earl's reports reprinted, then, under cover of a sufficiently plausible business excuse he convened a special meeting of the entire body of the shareholders. But two days before that fixed for the meeting he despatched a copy of the Earl's report and his own counter-blast to every member of the company, together with a curt notification that he himself intended to move a resolution that Lord Cawthorne's proposals be forthwith adopted and carried into practice. The Earl received his copies in due course, while seated at his breakfast. He was thunderstruck. He read the counter-blast once, the notification of the resolution to be moved a dozen times. Then he went straight to Sir Felix Greig's house. A servant informed him that Sir Felix had been called suddenly on important business to London, and that he would not return for some days. Ten minutes later Cawthorne arrived, hot and panting, at the Cliff House. He had run all the way. Lady Dorothy was in ecstacies. She seemed to have been expecting him for she received him in the hall. She seized both his hands, and wrung them warmly.

"Oh! isn't it splendid," she cried. "Fancy dear old Nuncs pretending all along to be against us, and now surprising us like this. Isn't he a dear old rogue? Oh, I shall hug and scold him, I can tell you! The wicked old darling to deceive me like that! But oh! I can't help loving him all the more. I feel mean too—I've been thinking such bad things of him. It seems almost too good to be true——" She stopped, then, but only for want of breath; she was deliriously excited—almost bubbling over.

"It is," said the Earl. For the first time she saw that he was not only not joyous, but positively gloomy. She felt a chill.

"What?"

"Is it too good to be true. Did you read his answer to our report?"

"Oh, that stupid thing! That is nothing. He is going to move the resolution. I don't know—why—he sent it——" She paused considering. "Oh, oh!" she cried, of a sudden.

"Yes," said Cawthorne. "He is going to move the resolution, in order to make sure of killing it, the cannibal! And now having launched his bomb, he has fled to London to avoid us. He won't return until an hour or two before the meeting, or I'm mistaken. Lady Dorothy, I don't want to malign your uncle, but I can't help saying that he has treated us with a total lack of both candor and courtesy."

The Marquis entered at that moment. He wore an unreadable cold smile. "Good morning, Cawthorne; discussing Greig's latest, I dare say?"

"We are, sir. Can you throw any light upon it?"

"None whatever; he has tricked you shamefully. Good morning!"

He walked through the room, chilling the atmosphere as he passed, and vanished. It was the Marquis' way. Cawthorne turned to Dorothy, and was scarcely surprised to see that she was crying. But she wept unconsciously, and her tears were as much of anger as of grief. The young man was deeply touched to see them flow, and his strong jaws set in iron lines.

"You have no right to condemn him unheard," she panted.

"You are quite right," he answered gravely. "He owes us no duty, and he warned us that he would work against us. Besides, from his standpoint, his action is perfectly legitimate. I apologise to you for saying what I did."

"I will never speak to him again," she cried in swift consequence. "What will you do?"

"Fight him, to the last gasp. But it's a forlorn hope. He has beaten us already."

"And—our—beautiful—scheme." She covered her face and broke into a sudden uncontrollable fit of sobbing. He watched her silently, longing yet not daring to take her in his arms. "I—was—so—happy, too," she murmured through her hands, and walking blindly to a couch she threw herself down, weeping unrestrainedly. "The poor, poor men—and—their wives and children—they did so h—hope. And now——" she became quite inarticulate.

Cawthorne was very pale. Her sobs unmanned him at one moment, at the next they made him desperate. He struggled to be calm and failed. In a sudden daze of sense he crossed the room and flung himself beside her on his knees. "Look here, you must not cry," he muttered in a curiously savage voice. "I can't stand it. Do you hear?"

"I—I can't help it," moaned Dorothy. "I—I'll be b—better—pre—presently!" And indeed she tried to recover her composure. When she had succeeded partially, she looked through her fingers at the Earl, and then she caught her breath in fear. Cawthorne's frame was rigid. His clenched hands were held tightly to his sides, and upon his face was a look unearthly and entirely terrible. He gazed at Dorothy, without appearing to see her, or anything, as if his thoughts were miles away. He was fighting a great battle with himself. Dorothy watched this struggle in instructive understanding, and when presently she saw him rise and his features relax and his hands unlock, she realised a force before her whose manifested power her fancy halted, dazzled, and dismayed. She thrilled from head to heel, and a wonder quivered through her mind that she had ever dared to play with such a man. Surely it had been in ignorance, not hardihood; then came another thought. He had mastered himself; but who could master him?

She sat up and looked at him without concealment. "You will fight and you will win," she said, with sudden deep conviction. "I shall go to the meeting and see your victory."

He smiled and shook his head. "I'll do my best, of course. But this time he will beat us."

"This time?" she repeated.

"Yes."

"Does that mean that you won't give in—that you—that you will fight on—afterwards—though you are beaten now?"

"Yes," he answered simply.

Dorothy sprang to her feet, her eyes aglow with pride and admiration. "Oh, but I am glad to be your partner. You have given me hope," she cried.

"You are truly interested in our scheme?"

"I would give almost anything to bring it through."

He nodded his head. "So," he said and nodded again. A moment later he held out his hand. He was looking past her at the wall, and he spoke doubtfully like a man only half awake. "Good-bye."

"When shall I see you?"

It was the first time she had ever asked him such a question, but he did not seem to consider it significant, even to consider it at all.

"At the meeting," he answered slowly, and transferred his gaze to the door. His lids were narrowed over the pupils of his eyes, and his brows almost met above them.

Dorothy watched him in almost a state of passionate expectation. What was he thinking of? He had conceived some plan, that was evident. "What is it?" she whispered.

He shook his head and blinked his eyes, returning for a moment with physical effort from his mental aberration. "Eh! we said 'good-bye,' didn't we?" he asked, and straight became absorbed again. But a mechanical impulse had been imparted in that moment to his muscles. He walked like an automaton to the door, and through the hall. Half-way down the drive, Dorothy saw him put on his hat, which till then he had carried in his hand. Thereupon he sensibly increased his pace, but he did not look back, and soon the trees hid him from her view.

"Some people," said Dorothy, "would call him absent-minded. They would be stupid."

Cawthorne spent the rest of that day and the whole of the next with his cousin, the veiled man. They talked of nothing but pounds, shillings, and pence; and they had never agreed better in their lives. The Earl arrived at the meeting a few minutes late, but a chair had been prepared for him at the directors' table. As he picked his way through the densely crowded board room, Dorothy noted with satisfaction that his expression was calm and self-assured. He looked around him as he took his seat, nodding quietly to those who met his glance. Then he stared long and full at Sir Felix Greig, who was speaking on some formal business. He seemed to be measuring his antagonist, the girl thought. She tried to catch his eyes at frequent intervals through the dreary half-hour that followed, but she always failed. He exchanged silent greetings with everyone but her. She wondered why and was inclined to feel offended, especially when he smiled at Francine Toombes. But at last her uncle rose to propose the fateful resolution, and then she understood. Cawthorne, for all his apparent tranquility, was nervous. She distinctly saw him shudder, and his face turn white. Then he started up uneasily and shifted in his seat. She watched him narrowly, her whole soul in her eyes. Twice she marked him brush his mouth with his kerchief, and once she saw a spot of scarlet follow on a gleam of ivory. She became intensely anxious on his account, and quite unconsciously she began to imitate his gestures. Later she followed the bent of his mind, and gradually became absorbed, like him, in her uncle's speech. It was a curious oration. Sir Felix commenced by reading the Earl's report. That finished he gently deprecated certain passages which he quoted anew, and he deplored the fact that the Earl had couched his proposals in a form that in some measure actually reflected on the honesty of present and former shareholders. He ventured, however, to hope that the shareholders would not resent the implied insult, and he assured them that in any case (even if the charge was capable of being proved) they might appease their self-love and their consciences with the reflection that no other company or business in England had, so far, exhibited more consideration for the rank and file of its employes. Thence he wandered eloquently into figures, and while asking his audience to believe that he supported Cawthorne's scheme, he deftly advanced a thousand substantial reasons to vote against the resolution. He spoke for the better part of an hour, without a pause or interruption, always fluent, the thorough master of his subject, his language, and his auditors. They indeed listened entranced. Towards the end he worked subtly for a climax. Of a sudden he broke sharply from his discourse to pay a glowing personal tribute to the Earl. He lauded to the skies his talents, his industry, and his humanity. And when it seemed that he had but commenced his peroration, he concluded abruptly with these words, "I have moved this resolution, ladies and gentlemen, because I am at heart a utopian and a socialist; I shall cast my vote against it because I am obliged by my position as your managing director to be a man of business!"

In the midst of the hum that followed some one formally seconded the motion, whereupon Cawthorne got upon his feet. He felt that his scheme was already dead and ripe for burial, but he had something to say, and he waited in patience for the privilege. He had never spoken publicly before, and while expecting the event he had suffered tortures; but immediately the time for action came, his nervousness fell from him like a cloak. He looked coolly at the chattering crowd and twice addressed the chairman. The Marquis at last hammered on the table with a paper knife and silenced followed.

"Mr. Chairman," said Cawthorne, "ladies and gentlemen"—he bowed to the audience and smiled at Dorothy, wondering the while at the girl's extraordinary pallor; but a second later he forgot her altogether—"I have in the first instance to thank my friend Sir Felix Greig for the very kind fashion in which he saw fit to speak of me," (he bowed gravely to Sir Felix), "and in the next place to beg for your indulgence while I make a few remarks upon the resolution." He paused and received a few encouraging "Hear, hears."

"I cannot doubt, ladies and gentlemen," he pursued, "but that we all heartily concur with the principal conclusion arrived at by the previous speaker; which is, I take it, that it would be a very excellent and proper thing to provide liberally for old age, sickness, and death of those upon whom our incomes and fortunes depend, if we could do so without injury to the prospects of the company and without unduly sacrificing our private interests."

"Hear! Hear!" interjected some one. "Those are the questions!" cried another. The Earl raised his hand.

"The latter question, ladies and gentlemen, each shareholder can answer for himself. The former has been answered by our managing director in a fashion which has not convinced me, but which I dare not at present challenge, since for more than a decade Sir Felix Greig has intelligently and intimately supervised the company's affairs, while I am but a tyro and his pupil. It would indeed be nothing but impertinence on my part, to oppose my limited experience to his expert judgment. He has insistently assured us that if the company as a company were to adopt my proposals, and henceforth to distribute a portion of its profits in the manner I have indicated in my report, a spirit of indolence and independence would be thereby engendered in the beneficiaries, subversive of discipline and proper government; and, moreover, that the company as a business concern would infallibly incur the hatred and strenuous opposition of its trade rivals, who, disinclined to follow its example, would in all human probability join hands to ruin it. Ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor to inform you that I accept Sir Felix Greig's verdict in the matter. But——" He paused for a moment, his eyes moving along the tables and thence across the sea of astonished faces in the room. It occurred to him that Francine Toombes was smiling nervously, that the Marquis of Fane seemed puzzled, and that Dorothy looked stupefied. Sir Felix Greig wore a watchful frown. He was biting his nails, a sign with him of uncertainty and agitation. The expressions of the others were curiously disappointed. Many present, in fact, had journeyed to Stayton from great distances in the hope of a sensation, and they were disgusted at what appeared an almost pusillanimous surrender. Cawthorne possessed a keen dramatic sense. He enjoyed his pause and breathless silence that sustained it, so much that it required a positive effort to resume his speech. "But," he went on, "if, ladies and gentlemen, if as private individuals absolutely dissociated from the company we choose, each according to his means, to surrender a sufficient number of our shares to provide——"

Sir Felix sprang to his feet. "I rise to a point of order," he cried excitedly, "Mr. Chairman, we are here to discuss the business of the company, not the potential acts of individuals."

Lord Fane coldly inclined his head. "You will please confine yourself to the motion, Lord Cawthorne."

The Earl set his jaws. "Very well," he replied. "Shall I be in order if I move an amendment?"

"Yes."

"Then, Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I have the honor to offer as a donation to the company twenty thousand five-pound preference shares." He plunged his hand into his breast pocket and flung on the table a bundle of scrip. "I beg to move as an amendment of Sir Felix Greig's motion that these shares be accepted by the company upon trust to carry into effect the purpose of the principal motion of which mine is the amendment. If that be done, I cannot conceive how the prospects of the company can be in any wise injuriously affected. The employes will be as amenable to discipline as ever, since not the company, but I would provide for their accidental and natural necessities; while as regards the more important question of incurring the hatred and organised opposition of our trade rivals, I do not think that even the most bitterly inclined would venture to censure us for managing and distributing that which they will not fail to consider a charity, although they'll be wrong to do so!"

He sat down; and for at least half a minute not a sound was to be heard. But then succeeded an uproar, almost deafening, everybody spoke at once or shouted. It was quelled at last by the persistent rapping of the chairman. "Who seconds the amendment?" demanded Lord Fane. No one responded for a moment, then Dorothy sprang to her feet. "I," she cried—she seemed almost beside herself, and perhaps had never looked so beautiful. "I—I have ten shares. I'll give them, too. When I think of those poor mothers and their children! I'd—give—anything," she gasped.

Her unexpected little speech produced an electric outburst of enthusiasm. The meeting was thrilled to its depths, and the cheering took some time to die away. "Those who vote for the amendment will please say ay," said the Marquis, as soon as he could be heard. He looked full at Sir Felix as he spoke, as though to challenge him, but the old baronet only smiled and shrugged his shoulders. "Those against, no. Ah! I think the ayes have it." He suddenly stood up and swept the room with a glance.

Dorothy scarcely recognised her father. His habitual mask of cold and chilling reserve had fallen from his face, as though an enchanter's wand had touched him, and waked to life long slumbering fires within. His cheeks were flushed and his eyes seemed to shoot out light. "My friends," he began, in a low but ringing voice, "this meeting is now closed, but before we part, a word with you. Lord Cawthorne must not suffer through his generosity. Twenty thousand shares are too many for one man to give. Let us each subscribe according to our means."

"You are right, Fane," said, of all persons in the world, Sir Felix Greig. "I'll do my part."

"And I, and I, and I," cried, a score of others.

"Three cheers for Lord Cawthorne," shrilled out Francine Toombes. They were given with a vigour that made the windows rattle, and in the midst of the babel Sir Felix made his way to the Earl.

"You have beaten me, Cawthorne," he quietly observed. "But I am not sure I'm not rather glad. Will you shake hands?"

"With pleasure, Sir Felix." They heard Dorothy's voice.

"Nuncs," she said, triumphant malice in her glance and tone, "we've beaten you."

He looked her in the eyes. "My dear," he replied, "in your calmer moments you will remember that I did not speak against your partner's amendment."

"I prefer to remember, Nuncs, that you were the first to say you'd do your part," and she held out both her hands to him.

"Is this a whole-souled reconciliation, Sunbeam?" he asked, his eyes twinkling.

"Yes—I forgive you everything."

The old gentleman stooped and kissed her forehead. Then Dorothy turned to look for Cawthorne.

But the Earl had disappeared.


CHAPTER XXIV.

Dorothy felt both annoyed and hurt. Why had he run away from her like that? was she not his partner? It was mean of him to rob her of the immediate fruit of their triumph, and prevent her from showing everybody that she was entitled to a measure of his glory. There was a lot of the woman in Lady Dorothy. But perhaps he was waiting for her outside the hall. She hurried to her father and drew him from the press. "A headache," she said.

Cawthorne was not to be seen either in the courtyard or the street. Her head began to ache really; she sighingly accounted for it as a judgment on her fib. The Marquis assisted her within the pony carriage, and excused himself. "Greig wants me. There are a lot of papers that as chairman of the meeting, I should sign. But John will drive you home, dear. Take my advice and go to bed. That excitement was too much for you, I am afraid."

Dorothy in fact looked pale and utterly fagged out. "Shall I send the carriage back for you, dad?" she asked wearily.

"No thanks, dear, I'll walk. Home, John."

The girl sank back on the cushions and began to sniff her smelling salts. It was a tame ending to a whirling day, and that stupid man might have made it so much pleasanter. Why did he run away? It was cold, and a thin fog wrapped the hollows. She drew her furs about her with a shiver, and thought pityingly of the poor people who had no furs at all. How the poor of Stayton would bless Lord Cawthorne's name! It was funny how resolutely her thoughts returned to him. His speech? She considered it a good speech! not as clever as her uncle's, but impulsive, manly, and vigorous. How fine he had looked as he flung the scrip upon the table! Theatrical? A little perhaps, but not more so than, as a woman, she could easily forgive, without being helped there to a fraction by his splendid offering. She wondered had that idea entered his mind at the Cliff House the day she cried, and was it the reason of his absent-minded leave-taking? she decided yes; and then began to wonder had the wish to please her influenced his subsequent decision. She could not say no, and she hardly dared say yes. But for the very first time she lingered pleasantly over the reflection that he loved her. He was a good man, however, uncouth at times, and the love of a good man is a thing that no woman can at heart despise. "I wonder why I don't care for him in that way?" was her next thought. It puzzled her so much that her brows puckered in a frown, and she could not let it be. It began to worry her for a solution. "He pleases me," she muttered inwardly. "I like him; I respect him, and he interests me, sometimes indeed, like the other day, he dazzles me. But—but he never touches me. Yes, that must be the reason."

Another Why? was in the very act of rearing up its head when the carriage stopped.

"Ah, Lady Dorothy," said Cawthorne's voice. "I wonder may I beg a ride, and afterwards a cup of tea?"

Dorothy did not blush; she turned scarlet, from her forehead to her shoulders. She did not reply to him in words, but he seemed satisfied, and a moment later the ponies trotted on, drawing a double load.

"I'm afraid I startled you, coming out of the fog," he observed.

"This is why—you—you left the meeting so—so quietly," stammered Dorothy.

"Yes; I did not want—hum—the crowd, you know. I wanted to see you privately."

"Indeed!" Her voice was a little cold.

Cawthorne folded a rug across his knees. "It is very cold," he remarked. "I think we'll have a fall of snow."

"I think so too."

The conversation was not brilliant, but that was all there was of it until they were ensconced in Dorothy's drawing-room. She left him to take off her wraps, and returned after a lengthy interval clad in black velvet from head to heel.

The contrast between her fair face, and the dark material was so striking that Cawthorne could not take his eyes away from her.

"I like velvet," he observed.

"You wanted to see me privately," she reminded him. "My father will soon be here."

"Yes; I want to set myself right with you."

"Right with me?" She took a chair at the corner of the fireplace and motioned him to another opposite.

"I prefer to stand," he said, and laid his elbow on the mantel. There was a sort of subdued eagerness in his manner, and his face had rather a hard look, even cynical.

"Well?" asked the girl.

"Did you think me very generous, giving up all those shares to the men?"

Dorothy raised her head. "I thought it noble of you," she answered clearly. "I think so still."

"Of the Earl of Cawthorne, and so it was."

"Of you."

"Not of me. My name is Adam John Deen. Will you listen to me for a little while?"

"Yes."

"I am not the Earl of Cawthorne. My cousin, John Adam Deen, is the Earl. I am an impostor. The Earl gave those shares to the Company, not I. I was simply his mouthpiece. I would have explained to the meeting if I could. But I am bound by an oath."

Dorothy got to her feet, and placed her left hand upon the mantel. Then they gazed across the fire into each other's eyes.

"What a strange story!" she said. "I can see that you are serious."

"Yes."

"Is that all you have to tell me?"

"Will you listen still?"

She nodded silently, and in the hour that followed she neither spoke nor moved; her eyes were always fastened on his face. He told her even more than there was any need to tell; and his narrative closely resembled in its main facts that related by the veiled man to Simon Vicars. The most striking discordancy occurred perhaps in the Earl's account of his marriage. He had married his first wife because she cared for him, and his cousin wished it, he declared; but he never hinted that she had previously been his mistress. It is to be concluded that the veiled man had lied in that particular to Simon, for Cawthorne did not spare himself in other ways; indeed, he laid his whole soul bare to the woman he loved, and he rather exaggerated than concealed his faults.

When he had finished, Dorothy passed sentence instantly.

"You should never have consented to change places with your cousin!"

"I know," he replied. "I felt it at the time. But I wrecked his life, you see. I could refuse him nothing."

"You are a living lie."

"I have not only now discovered it!" he answered bitterly.

"Why has your cousin allowed you to tell me all this?"

"He does not know. He would never have consented, so I did not ask permission. I broke my oath in telling you."

Dorothy shuddered. "Your oath?"

"Yes, my oath. As soon as I leave you, I shall tell him what I have done, of course; but I am still an oath-breaker. My only consolation is that you know the full extent of my iniquity."

"And that is a consolation?" Her lip curled.

"Yes, because I know that you don't love me. If you cared, it might be otherwise."

"You mean that if you thought I had cared you would not have told me."

"I mean that if you had cared I could not have told you."

"Then you have—only told me—because you——"

"Because it occurred to me last night that you might in time grow to care."

"Did that never occur to you before?" she interrupted cuttingly.

"Not in the same way—in companionship with the conviction that I had no right to even try to win your love without you knew everything beforehand."

They had been exchanging till that moment thrust and parry like two desperate but unequal swordsmen, the one able and resolved to slay, the other anxious to defend his life.

But of a sudden Dorothy felt weary. She moved backwards and sank into a seat. "You have given me a deal to think about," she said; and chin on hand, her elbows on her knees, she stared into the fire.

Cawthorne's face was very white and sombre. "You ought to give some consideration to the fact that I have been absolutely honest with you," he said at last.

"I am doing that," she replied.

"Is the personal equation paramount?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are you judging me as a friend—the man you know—or as a mere abstraction?"

Dorothy started, and looked up at him. "What do you mean?" she cried.

"I am a human being, and——"

"And——"

"I love you," he said simply.

A flush crept into her cheeks, but she did not turn her eyes away.

"Is that a proposal of marriage?" The words were alive with scorn and piercingly distinct.

His lips curved into a painful smile. "Do you think I would ask you to share my shame?" He shrugged his shoulders.

This miracle happened. Dorothy was touched. She put up her hand to her throat because it hurt, and then to her side, for her heart was hurting too.

"I wish you—to leave me," she said slowly.

"And afterwards?"

"I don't want to see you again—ever."

He inclined his head. "Will you," (his voice was curiously hoarse)—"will you—let me—touch—your hand?"

"No."

"You will never change?"

"Never!"

He walked to the door and turned. He looked thence all about the room with a slow lingering regard, as though taking farewell of it. But he did not look at Lady Dorothy and he did not speak again.

Dorothy heard the hall door shut a moment later, and she said to herself, "If I loved him, I could not have let him go!" But she did not understand why it was she felt so miserable. Her head ached so horribly that she decided to take her father's advice. She went to her room.


CHAPTER XXV.

Cawthorne went to see his cousin, but not immediately. He had sufficient consideration to wait until the veiled man dined. He did not eat a morsel himself. He confessed his crime in three sentences: "I have told her everything, John. I could not help myself. You see, I love her."

The veiled man understood him perfectly and if he was annoyed at Cawthorne's breach of faith, he did not show it. "You look unhappy," he remarked.

"I've lost her," explained the Earl. "She called me a living lie, and put a period to our acquaintance. I'm going up to town for a little, John."

"When?"

"To-night."

"Why?"

"I don't know, but I can't stay here."

"Very well, go! Good-bye."

Cawthorne was amazed to see his cousin's hand extended. "I—I—I'm an oath-breaker," he muttered.

The veiled man shrugged his shoulders. "You are in love; shake hands, you poor old fool, and buck up! Where will a wire reach you?"

"At the Walsingham."

"Good! Send Simon to me as you go out."

Simon found his master seated at a desk, writing.

"That you, Simon?" asked the veiled man without turning his head.

"Yes, sir."

"Cawthorne has denied his earldom to Lady Dorothy, and earned his conge for his folly."

"You don't say," gasped Simon.

"I do, though, and the thing doesn't suit my book at all. Wait!"

He wrote quickly for several moments, and then looked up. "He told her everything, Simon."

"He must be mad, sir—mad as a hatter."

"He is in love."

"It's the same thing, sir."

"Not quite, Simon. Cawthorne's character is beyond your powers of penetration. If he hadn't cared a pin for her, he still would have confessed before he married her. He has a very tender conscience."

Simon looked doubtful. "Did you give him permission, sir?" he asked.

"No."

"Then what becomes of his tender conscience? Didn't he give you a promise?"

"A vow, Simon—a vow. Nevertheless, he is a thoroughly conscientious, honest man, curse him! But where's the use of talking? You wouldn't understand if I explained all night. All men are rogues to you."

Simon frowned.

"The question now is, how to repair the mischief he has done," went on the other in a low grim voice.

Simon shook his head.

"You've seen her, Simon?"

"Yes, sir."

"Would you call her mercenary?"

"All women are mercenary," sneered the little valet.

"Then you think she has sacked him because she is not quite sure of his ultimate succession?"

"I'd stake my life on it, Mr. Deen."

"Humph! For once I agree with you. I want you to take this letter to her straight away and wait for an answer."

The veiled man had begun to fold the manuscript, but he suddenly gave over. "To save you the bother of opening it afterwards, I'll read it to you, Simon, now," he growled.

Simon pocketed the insult, notably assisted by his curiosity. He even contrived to be silent.


"To Lady Dorothy Foulkes," began the veiled man.

"Dear Madam,

My cousin has just related to me the purport of his interview with you this afternoon, and he is now on his way to London, with what purpose in mind I dare not say. The event has distracted me. I am a lonely, sick creature, tottering on the brink of the grave. Can you find it in your charitable heart to spare me some few minutes of your time, at any hour to-morrow that may suit you. To my inexpressible chagrin, I cannot quit my room, or I would present myself at your door to-night, instead of this,

Your humble servant,

John A. Deen."

Simon looked at his master in the utmost stupefaction. "You—you'll see her!" he gasped.

"Ay, the whole world, if need be, rather than risk my revenge."

Simon shivered at the fierce bitterness in his master's voice.

"She'll never come, without a chaperone," he ventured presently.

"Let her bring a dozen."

Simon took the letter, but did not move quickly, he was still dizzy with surprise.

"Hurry!" shouted Mr. Deen.

"I'm d——!" whispered the little valet. Two hours later he returned from the Cliff House, bearing a letter from Dorothy. It contained these words:—


"I shall call upon you to-morrow morning at eleven.

Yours faithfully,

D. Foulkes."

Mr. Deen nodded his head several times. "I'll receive her in the drawing-room, Simon; it is a big room, and there her chaperone need not overhear our conversation."

Francine Toombes was astounded when early on the following morning Dorothy requested her company to pay a visit to the veiled man, and she privately considered her friend's explanation lame. Dorothy showed Mr. Deen's letter, and admitted that she had quarrelled with the Earl, but she denied that he had proposed to her. In fact, she was anything but communicative, and if it hadn't been that Francine, like most of the inhabitants of Stayton, was intensely curious to catch a glimpse of the mysterious recluse, it is possible that she might have refused to go, for she felt really hurt at Dorothy's half confidence. As it was she made an elaborate toilette, and caused Dorothy to be twenty minutes late in her appointment. They drove up to the Castle in the latter's pony carriage.

Simon mounted guard on the terrace, and he helped both ladies to alight. Dorothy had an uneasy consciousness of being scrutinised by many pairs of unseen eyes as she passed the windows, and she heard whisperings in the corridors. The Castle servants were, in fact, on the qui vive, and their excitement became intense when their scouts informed them that both ladies had entered the western wing. There was little work done in the place that morning. The veiled man's drawing-room was richly dressed in hothouse blooms. Francine uttered a deep sigh as she entered it; the apartment pleased her thoroughly. Dorothy thought the air too strongly perfumed, and she did not like the sombre drapings of the doors and walls, though she could not but admire the massive stained glass windows.

Simon bowed them into chairs, and glided to the room beyond. The veiled man lay face downward on a couch, trembling violently.

"They are here, sir," whispered the valet.

Mr. Deen's teeth chattered in his head, but with a great effort he arose and forced himself to be calm. He had cast a long black silken cloak about his stooped frame and shrunken limbs, desiring to conceal his deformity. But the attempt was vain, his misshapeness was even exaggerated by the folds, and he looked like a monstrous bat rather than a man. Two paces from the door he halted, unable to proceed; and so cruel was his emotion that he shook like a reed in a gale.

"Lean on me, sir," muttered Simon anxiously.

He almost gratefully complied, and setting his teeth, he suffered the little valet to lead him to the threshold. But the rubicon once passed, his strength of will returned. He drew himself to his full height, and strode proudly forward. Francine, seeing that weird, black-clad, black-helmeted figure, turned pale, and with difficulty repressed a shriek of terror. Dorothy was made of stronger stuff. She felt her heart flutter wildly, it is true, and perhaps the blood departed over quickly from her cheeks, but she immediately arose, and advanced a pace or two to meet him.

"Lady Dorothy Foulkes?" he asked, and the piercing sweetness of his voice made a profound impression on his auditors. It gave Francine confidence enough to rise.

"I am Lady Dorothy," replied the girl. "This is Mrs. Toombes."

The veiled man bowed gravely to each in turn.

"I crave your pardon, Mrs. Toombes, and yours too, Lady Dorothy, for giving you the trouble of this visit. I shall make what amends I can by detaining you as short a time as possible. Will you, please, madam, resume your chair, and will you please, Lady Dorothy, accompany me yonder—yonder." He pointed to the little alcove at the further end of the room, in which Simon Vicars had once listened, concealed, to an important conversation. Francine nodded and sat down again. Dorothy bowed and fearlessly moved forward. Mr. Deen drew aside the curtain and bent almost double, waiting for the girl to pass. Dorothy saw, beyond, an open window, a table and two cushioned seats. She wondered would he arrange the curtains when he followed her, and for the first time she felt a little afraid. But a second glance at his sunken, withered form decided her. She entered the alcove and calmly chose a chair. Mr. Deen let the curtain fall and followed. Dorothy could still see Mrs. Toombes, afar off, through the parting, and her nervousness vanished like a dream. She began to feel sorry for, and to take an interest in her strange companion. "What a life to lead!" she thought, with a sudden thrill of pity. "To be forced to exchange forever, for this velvet magnificence, a few books and a little ferret-faced man, the great glad world. How can he possibly endure it?"

The other eyed her through his mask, reading her like an open book. "You are right; it is hard at times," he muttered quietly.

She started, astonished and disturbed at his penetration. "Are you a mind reader Lord Cawthorne?"

The veiled man winced at the name.

"Please call me Mr. Deen," he pleaded. "Yes, Lady Dorothy, I am something of a mind reader. But you need not fear me. I can only read the superficial thoughts, those that no one troubles to conceal, those that filter unvalued and unheeded to the features from the heart. I saw you pitied me."

"I do," said Dorothy; "I pity you profoundly."

"I thank you from my heart, Lady Dorothy, because I can see that you are sincere and true. It was very good of you to come to me."

"I would have been inhuman to refuse."

"No, but selfish. I hardly dared to hope you would come—so many people are selfish, so very many. Until to-day I have only known one to invariably consider the happiness of others before his own convenience. My cousin, Adam John Deen, whom you have known as the Earl of Cawthorne."

Dorothy covered her eyes with her long black lashes, and ventured to reply.

The veiled man smiled behind his mask. "It is of him I would speak to you," he continued in a low voice that to Dorothy seemed wistfully pathetic. "I should first assure you he has no dream of my intention. He went away, despairing, my poor cousin."

Dorothy bit her lips. Did he intend to plead to her? She hoped not. Her cheeks grew hot at the idea, and yet for what other purpose had he sent for her? And had she come, unknowing, unsuspecting, from merest charity? She dared not say! Shame pierced her, like a knife, sharp and self-repellent.

"I think," said the veiled man, "I know Adam well enough to assume in perfect confidence that in confessing himself to you, he took upon his shoulders the greater portion of what blame attaches to us both in practising our deception on the world. It is therefore only fair and right that I should tell you everything. Lady Dorothy, when the news came that I had succeeded to a great fortune and a title, strange as it may appear to you, I only then realised the full measure of my misfortune. I had had ten long years in which to study it and revolve it and become inured to the idea of it, and yet those years had taught me very little. Adam, you see, during all that time waited on me, maintained me in comparative luxury, cheered me, comforted me, nursed me, with a devotion that I cannot recall without being well-nigh confounded. Lady Dorothy, his kindness is not to be described. It was superhuman. He made it his life's work to win me to be contented with my evil fate, and he did not altogether fail, for sometimes even I was almost happy. I tell you this to try and make you understand how I felt when I discovered I was a rich man and an earl. In my younger days before—the—accident—I was ambitious, ardent in temperament fairly equipped with brains and physically strong, well fitted in fact to make my way in the world, and to enjoy to the full all that life had to give, or all that I could wrest from it. In a single day I became in body a pitiful wreck, in appearance a horror, a monstrosity. If I removed my veil, Lady Dorothy, you would fly from me in fear and loathing——"

"No! no!" cried the girl.

He bowed. "To resume, Adam strove ceaselessly to make me forget my former state, my ambitions, my ardent hopes, my dreams of conquering the world. He set me such an example of patience and devotion and of constant loving-kindness, that if I had been twice as evil-hearted as I am, I still must have responded and tried to imitate him. As it was, I came in time to think as little as might be of my misfortune, and at times I almost succeeded in believing that there were no other people in the world but I and Adam, until that second evil day of mine when I awoke to find myself an earl. Bear with me a little, Lady Dorothy; it is necessary that I tell you this. The knowledge at first stunned and then transformed me into a fiend. My ambitions awoke from their long slumber—to be mocked on the one hand by my fortune, on the other hand by my deformity. I was in the place of Tantalus, and I suffered as he suffered. To my shame I confess it. I conceived a terrible hatred for my cousin, and I deliberately determined to commit suicide as the best means of punishing Adam; for in my cruel agony it seemed to me that he was responsible for all my pain, and I only wanted to revenge myself and die. Ah, you shudder, and turn from me, Lady Dorothy, and you are right. But—yet—but yet—if you——"

"No! no!" cried the girl vehemently, and her eyes filled with tears as she spoke. "Upon my honor, no. I—I can understand——"

He slowly shook his head. "No, you cannot understand! How could a gentle girl like you? But perhaps you will be able to imagine something of my state when I tell you that for more than a week I refused food and drink. I was very near death, very near indeed, I think, before my bitter madness passed. And it was Adam who saved me from damnation—dear old Adam. What do you suppose he did?"

Dorothy looked at him, she could not speak.

"He came to me one night, a pistol in his hand, and he asked me to forgive him, as one about to die. He said he knew I hated him, and that he was resolved to give me the final and only satisfaction that one who has irretrievably wronged another can give—his life! At first I did not believe, but he speedily convinced me, cynic as I was, and for the first time in my life I wept. But even then, Lady Dorothy, I did not wish to live, and I must have died had he refused me the amends. I asked that he should take my place in the world, and allow me the poor little reflected happiness of sharing in and governing his life as though it were my own. It was a selfish thought, a monstrous selfish thought; but it made my life worth living then, and worth living still. I cling to it even now, as I cling to life—the life that is fast slipping through my fingers (his voice sank to a whisper). Lady Dorothy, I have not a year to live."

Dorothy was staring at the curtains through a mist of tears.

"Adam is the best man on God's earth," went on the veiled man presently. "If you knew him as I do, you would not have called him a 'living lie.' His soul is proud and sensitive. He hates the very shadow of a falsehood, and he has suffered much in pleasing me. Lady Dorothy,"—the girl felt a hand placed gently on her own—"what fault there is, is mine, not his. And, after all, who is wronged by the deception? No living soul, not one. And when I die, the fault, however great or small it may be, dies with me; he will then be truly Earl Cawthorne as my heir. He loves you very dearly, Lady Dorothy, and—and somehow—I—think you are not quite indifferent. Can you—will you forgive him? You would make him happy, and me. I have no claim on you—none—none—but I would like to know, before I die, that in my selfish seeking I have—not—altogether—marred his life."

If the veiled man was acting, he acted very perfectly. There was a world of tender pleading in his voice, and his concluding sigh would have moved a heart of stone. It thrilled and thrilled again. "I—I—will you tell him—I would like—to see him soon," she muttered, and rose. Through the curtains she saw Francine in the distance watching her. She put down her veil in obedience to an instinct to hide herself. After a little while she stole a glance at Mr. Deen. He was kneeling on the floor before his chair, his head bowed, his hands clasped as though in prayer. Dorothy did not suspect him of hypocrisy, nevertheless his presumptive occupation jarred. "Good-bye," she whispered suddenly. The veiled man got instantly afoot, and without a word strode to the curtains. The girl passed out, and slowly crossed the room. She heard the tinkling of a bell, and Simon appeared at the further door. "Oh!" cried Simon. "Oh!"

Francine uttered a shriek and started to her feet. Dorothy turned, to see the veiled man, a wild weird figure, tottering, with frantically outstretched arms, towards the carpet. All three rushed to his assistance but he arose on his elbow as they approached, and waved them off with a trembling hand. "Go! go!" he gasped. "Farewell." At the last words his head fell back again and he lay very still.

Simon turned a pale and excited face on Dorothy. "Please go, my lady!" he cried eagerly. "This way, this way. I'll attend to him when you are gone."

"Yes, come," said Francine, who was shaking like a leaf.

A moment later the veiled man was alone. He listened to the departing footsteps of his guests, smiling grimly the while, but he did not move until he heard the sounds of the shooting locks and slamming doors. Then, however, he evinced a sudden energy, and he gained the couch without the least theatrical attendant movement of his arms. The actor lacked an audience! Simon entered the room at a run, but he stopped like a man shot when he saw his master comfortably seated. "Fooled by the lord!" he cried. "You did not faint, sir?"

"I haven't felt better for a month past," he responded; "but I considered it advisable to terminate the interview impressively."

"Did you succeed, sir?"

"I did, Simon; she has requested me to send for him."

"Was it hard?"

"Well, well, not hard exactly; she needed patient managing, however; she is emotional as well as mercenary. I was obliged to cant of hearts. She actually wept when I assured her that I couldn't last a twelvemonth."

"Crocodile tears, sir, I'll be bound."

The veiled man nodded. "She swallowed hook and line when I'd convinced her that Adam will truly be the Earl when I am dead. You'd better send him a wire at once; say that I am ill."

"Very good, sir," Simon's eyes glittered. "I should say, that the engagement ought to be announced pretty soon now, sir."

"I shouldn't wonder, Simon. And then——" he paused.

"And then, sir?"

"Then, Simon—then for my revenge!"

Simon hurried off to send the telegram.


CHAPTER XXVI.

Simon Vicars would have been perfectly happy that day, but for one thing; Norah Flaherty was growing troublesome. He met her in the street on his way to the post office, and she contrived to detain him for several minutes, although he pleaded urgent business, and was as nearly downright brutal in his desire to cut so public a conversation short as he dared to be. Simon thought of Norah all the way home, and his reflections were by no means grateful, if his expression might be taken as an index of his mind. During the first month or two of their acquaintance he had liked her very much, and he had ardently welcomed her evening visits to the Castle with his master's linen. Even now he remembered with pleasure some of the dainty little meals, enlivened with kisses and champagne, which they had shared together in the veiled man's dining-room. The nuisance of it was that, as his fancy cooled, Norah's liking for his society increased. For quite a long while past she made it her business to call at the Castle every third and sometimes every second night, instead of once a week. Simon had objected vainly on prudential grounds.

"Sure, ain't we kapin' company?" Norah would reply. "And aren't we almost the same as man and wife; sure whose business is it but just moine and yours, darlin'?"

"Yes; but no one knows, and no one must know yet, Norah dear. There's your character to consider."

"Char—acter," Norah would sniff; "an' don't I thrust ye, Simon, darlin'?" Whereupon the argument almost always ended with a kiss.

Simon could have borne the affliction with more placid equanimity perhaps, if Norah had retained her prettiness. But as the days passed the girl began to lose her roundness of face and the graceful outlines of her figure. Her features paled and sharpened. Sometimes she looked absolutely haggard, and the expression in her big grey eyes (which threatened to become her only beauty) almost frightened Simon. They gazed at him like those of some dumb tortured creature, reproachfully, anxiously, hauntingly. They disturbed Simon's dreams.

Simon often stopped of a sudden in the middle of a task, and muttered, "D—— the girl!" He had angrily ordered her to stay away from the Castle that night, but at eight o'clock he heard her knock.

"Curse the girl!" he growled.

"I had to come, Simon," she murmured, as he opened the door; "but I'll not kape ye, darling, long."

"The master's there," he lied. "I can't ask you in. What is it?"

"There's talk," she answered, with a pathetic little catch in her voice, "an'—an'—mother watches me." She began to cry. "Sure, darlin,' I'll not be able to kape it from them long at home. Av—av—you'd only marry me, Simon dear!"

"You know I can't—yet," he growled.

"Sure I'd be no hindther to ye, darlin'; it's never a penny I'd be after axin ye for."

It was too much. Simon's manhood arose in arms. He showed what his manhood consisted of by slamming the door in her face. Norah did not understand for awhile. She thought that perhaps the veiled man had called him. She waited for a few minutes, and then knocked timidly. Simon looked up from a cutlet, and expelled a horrible epithet through his clenched teeth.

Norah knocked again. Simon swallowed a glassful of champagne. "Knock away," he murmured, "you'll find I'm done with you, you low Irish baggage." Norah knocked again. There followed an interval of silence. Simon was beginning to find comfort in the thought that she had gone, when the knocking was renewed, and much more loudly. "The persistent little trollope," he repeated angrily.

Another knock, louder still. Simon frowned. Then a thunderous summons came; a rat-tat-tat that could be heard far and wide. Simon sprang to his feet, a murderous expression on his face, and flew to the door. "Look here, you vixen!" he shouted, as he pulled the bolts, and then he fell back, with a gasp of consternation. It was the Earl.

Cawthorne gave the little valet a glance of cold inquiry. "Vixen, eh?" he said. "Have you female visitors, my man?"

"I—I—n—no, my lord, certainly not." Simon recovered himself with admirable celerity. "A—a—cat has been scratching all the evening at that door, my lord."

"Oh!" The Earl raised his eyebrows, shrugged his shoulders, and pressed on. Simon returned to his chair, and sat down shaking. He would have liked to steal up and listen to what the veiled man had to say to the Earl, but he felt unequal to the task just then. Ten minutes later Cawthorne reappeared. His eyes were shining like stars, Simon thought.

Simon watched him cross the courtyard and make for the stables. Almost immediately lights flashed, and there was a noise of wheels. "He must be going to the Cliff House," muttered Simon. "Lord, he would not be in such a hurry if he knew as much about women as I do." He heaved a deep sigh. "I wish he had my job with Norah Flaherty!"

Cawthorne almost ran over Norah. The girl was so overcome with misery that she walked the road, in a scarcely sensible condition. Fortunately he saw her just in time to pull his horse aside; but though the wheel must have nearly grazed her shoulder, Cawthorne did not stop. He was satisfied to see that the woman with the bowed head and drooping frame did not fall. Norah noticed nothing, she did not even hear the rattle of the dogcart as it passed, but walked on, dull and dazed, a plodding hopeless figure. And Cawthorne speedily forgot her. He guessed, as little as did the wretched girl, how busily fate was at work with the interweaving of their destinies. What cared he for her fate in any case, just then. He was going with a new-born hope to Dorothy, and his singing heart made music in his ears. He asked for the Marquis, and was shown into that stately person's study.

Lord Fane received him in the same fashion as he would have welcomed to Cliff House alike the dearest friend or deadliest enemy. But Cawthorne was proof against a much severer trial than his host's frigid ceremoniousness. He had resolved to conquer a woman's heart as well as to persuade her father, and the latter task he regarded as a mere preliminary skirmish. He went straight to the business.

"I have come, Lord Fane, to ask your permission to marry your daughter."

The Marquis was astonished, and not entirely unpleasantly, but for all the feeling he displayed, he might have been listening to a remark upon the weather. "Indeed!" said he.

Cawthorne bowed.

"Have—you—er—spoken to—er—Lady Dorothy?" He called his daughter Lady Dorothy in his thoughts.

"No," replied Cawthorne. "I thought it proper to speak in the first instance to you."

The Marquis acknowledged the compliment with a cold inclination. "Just so," he observed, and slightly raised his eyebrows. "Just so. But—er—Lady Dorothy is over age—and her own mistress! I shall—er—be happy to bow to her decision in a matter that so—er—vitally concerns herself—as—er. I presume—that you will too."

"Then may I conclude that I am at liberty——"

"Most certainly." His bow would have driven a Chinese mandarin distracted.

"May I see her, Lord Fane?"

The Marquis bowed again, crossed the room, and rang the bell. "Did you—er—find it cold driving over?" he asked, returning.

"Not particularly; there was very little wind."

The Marquis sighed. "I shall be glad when the winter is over. My physician insists upon my taking exercise, and yet golf is barely possible these days."

"You should try the dumb-bells, Lord Fane."

"I must."

A servant appeared. "My compliments to Lady Dorothy, Lingard," said the Marquis, "and tell her that the Earl of Cawthorne wishes to pay his respects."

The man vanished.

"I really must," pursued the Marquis. "One's liver suffers from a sedentary life, and one cannot always be taking medicine."

"I have been going in for Sandow lately," observed Cawthorne, his eyes fixed upon the door. "It's really a good scheme; you can exercise as mildly or violently as you please."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, and it's wonderful how it works your muscles up."

"I'm afraid I have overstepped the age for muscular development."

"One does a lot of walking playing billiards." The Earl was fighting bravely to keep up a show of interest.

"That is true," replied the Marquis. "Greig quite tired me out last night. Do you play?"

"Very poorly, though I like the game. Ah!" His face lit up, for Lingard had returned.

"Yes, Lingard?" asked the Marquis.

"Lady Dorothy will be pleased if his lordship will go to the drawing-room, my lord." The Marquis bowed to the Earl, and the Earl bowed to the Marquis.

"You will excuse me," said Cawthorne.

"Certainly," replied the Marquis, bowing again.

Cawthorne surprised an uneasy idea that he was playing in some comic opera. The absence of an orchestral accompaniment reassured him, but he scarcely knew whether to smile or to groan, the Marquis had so worn upon his nerves. Dorothy was standing by the fireplace, gazing steadily into the heart of the glowing coals. Cawthorne waited until the door had closed; then he quietly approached her. "My cousin said that you would see me. I am here," he said. He saw that the hand that rested at her side clinch nervously, but otherwise she did not move.

"Have you forgiven me, Dorothy?"

"There was nothing to forgive," she whispered. "I—was wrong. It is I who ought to ask forgiveness."

"For what?"

"For calling—you—a living lie."

"I am."

Very slowly she turned her head. "Your cousin says that you are the best man on God's earth. I don't think he is very wrong."

Their eyes met. Dorothy caught her breath. "No—no," she panted of a sudden, and swayed backwards out of reach; for Cawthorne had started forward, his arms outstretched.

"You—don't love me!" he groaned, and his arms fell to his sides.

"No!" Her cheeks were scarlet; her eyes rivalled the brightness of the fire, but she looked curiously wild, like a creature trapped, but alert to defend herself, passionately watchful of attack.

Cawthorne saw and was seized with anger. "Don't fear!" he grated out. "I wouldn't touch you for a kingdom; I'm not a brute."

Dorothy flamed. "I did not say you were," she muttered, breathing very quickly.

"Not in words!"

"You—you are mistaken. Won't you sit down?"

"No, thank you. Good-night." His anger was growing hotter every second.

Dorothy lost a little of her color. "W—won't—you—let us be friends?"

"I'd rather you hate me." He was utterly reckless now.

"I don't hate you," she murmured, casting down her eyes.

"No," he rejoined; "you find me tolerable. But I decline to be tolerated. Good-night and good-bye."

He strode in a whirl of passion to the door.

"You are extremely unkind," said Lady Dorothy.

It was her voice that made him look back, her eyes that brought him to her side again, chalk white, and trembling. "Dorothy!" he gasped. "Dorothy!"

She put out her hands as if to protect herself. She was pale too, but statue still. Her lips were parted, yet she did not seem to breathe. "No," she said, as if in answer to a question, and again, "No," more vehemently.

"You do! You do!" he cried, and seized both of her hands in one of his.

"No, no; no, no."

He drew her towards him, but though his gaze held and mastered her, she strained her body from his reach. "You love me!" he muttered, in a voice that rang with triumph, and he used his strength against her. "Deny it if you dare."

"It's hate," she desperately gasped. "It's hate."

"Look me in the eyes and tell me so again." He had one arm about her now, and his face was perilously near hers.

Dorothy closed her eyes of a sudden, and ceased to struggle. She felt strangely weak and listless. "I hate you," she whispered, and with the words the last spark of her energy departed.

"You lie," he said, and kissed her fiercely on the lips.

A quiver flashed like lightning through her frame, and then she rested, a dead weight, in his arms. Cawthorne stood for a long minute quite unconsciously supporting her, gazing at her white face the while like a man in a dream. At last he realised that she had fainted, but even then he felt loth to move, and he was nothing apprehensive of the swoon. Crossing slowly to the couch, he laid her very softly down, and kneeled beside her. "I shall surprise the sweet truth from her eyes," he thought; and he waited, an entranced expression on his face. Dorothy awoke with disconcerting suddenness, her strength returned in an instant. Cawthorne was not vouchsafed to see her eyes immediately, for she sat erect the moment she awoke, and she did not look at him.

"I—I fainted, didn't I? How stupid of me!" She put up her hands to her face and to her hair.

"Yes," answered Cawthorne.

"Oh, do get up," she muttered pettishly. "A man looks so ridiculous on his knees."

Cawthorne obeyed, and took a seat beside her on the couch. He felt a little dazed. Dorothy had discovered a wisp of hair astray. She rose and proceeded to arrange it before the mirror, her back to him. Cawthorne stood up too.

"I'm sure I don't know why I fainted," she said presently, in a defiant way. "I am not that sort of girl at all."

Cawthorne understood that she was challenging a contradiction. He smiled and folded his arms.

"Are you dumb?" she demanded angrily.

"No."

"Then say something!"

"You little wasp!" he responded coolly.

She swung on her heel and faced him. "I beg your pardon, Lord Cawthorne."

He bowed with exaggerated deference. "I had the honor to remark, 'you little wasp.'"

Dorothy sailed over to a chair opposite the couch, and sat on the extreme edge, most primly erect. "Perhaps you will explain," she said.

"With my kiss still fresh upon your lips, do you need an explanation?"

Dorothy wiped her lips with her handkerchief. "You dared!" she cried, her eyes on fire.

"How to deal with such a girl!" he cried and threw out his hands.

"Did I ask you to try?"

He strode forward, and bent over her, looking so very grim, that she winced and drew back. "What is it to be?"

"I—I—please sit down, Lord Cawthorne. You are—behaving very strangely."

"How dare you, Dorothy! How dare you!"

"That is a way to talk to me;" she did her best, but her impudence was fast deserting her. "How dare I what?"

"Play with me at such a time," he retorted fiercely. "If I am the man you love, it should be your glory as a woman to surrender, not your pride to sting and taunt."

She began to whimper. "I—I—don't—I don't care. Besides, you kissed me when I wasn't looking. It was mean of you."

He caught her of a sudden in his arms, and raised her roughly to her feet. She struggled wildly, beating at his arms, and pushing at his breast, but all in vain.

"Let me go! Let me go!" she panted.

"No."

"You coward to hold a girl against her will."

"You'll pay me at my rate for every word."

"I'll cry for help."

"Cry!"

"You—gentleman!"

"Are you done?"

"I'll never forgive you for this! Never."

"Dorothy."

"Well?"

"You are looking now! I'm going to kiss you!"

"You dare!"

She put both her hands upon his chest, and strained backwards at arm's length. He looked full into her eyes and drew her, in spite of her resistance, slowly, inexorably towards him. She set her teeth and put forth every atom of her strength, but first one arm gave way, then the other.

"I am going to kiss you!" he repeated.

"I loathe you," muttered Dorothy. "Loathe you—do you hear?"

"Oh!" he said, and let her go.

She almost lost her balance, but agilely recovering she stood before him, her bosom heaving, her eyes blazing. "Now are you satisfied?"

"Quite." His face was livid, but his eyes were very dull. He spoke like a machine in a dreary monotone, "Quite, quite satisfied."

"Then go!"

"Yes, I'll go; it's all there is to do, isn't it? Good-bye!" He turned and moved in uncertain fashion towards the door.

"If you go," cried Dorothy, "I'll—I'll never speak to you again."

"Never again—never again," he muttered foolishly and stumbled on again. His hands were outstretched, and his fingers feeling at the air like those of a drunken man.

Dorothy turned pale. "Adam," she whispered, "Adam!"

Cawthorne almost fell against the door. He was fumbling blindly at the latch, when of a sudden, two soft arms entwined themselves about his neck, and a mass of golden hair was pillowed on his breast. He steadied himself against the panels, and listened to the girl's wild sobbing, trying witlessly to understand. "Naturally she's sorry," at last he decided, "but she needn't go such lengths."

He stood very still, blinking his eyes, and striving with heroic fortitude not to touch her with his hands.

"I didn't mean it," moaned Dorothy.

"It's all right," he replied huskily; "it's all right."

"I must have been mad," she sobbed. "It was a wicked, wicked lie."

He magnanimously essayed to shoulder the blame.

"I deserved it for trying to force you. I behaved like a brute."

"Kiss me," whispered Dorothy, and she raised her tear-wet face to his.

Cawthorne shuddered. "I—I—say," he gasped, and for conscience's sake he fixed his eyes upon the ceiling. "I guess you're overdoing it. I knew you were angry. It's all right; I don't mind now a bit. I don't want you to demean yourself."

"Kiss me," she whispered again, and more imperiously.

"It's all right, I tell you." He resented her persistent resolution to humiliate herself, and therefore spoke with warmth. Did she think him a block of wood to tempt him so?

He felt her fingers knot at the back of his neck, as though they intended to pull down his head, and indeed they tried. He turned rigid. "You'll go too far," he warned, with real anger, and involuntarily he put his hands upon her waist. "Don't be absurd, Lady Dorothy. I tell you it's all right. I'm not vexed."

"Look at me!"

He looked. Her head was thrown back, and she gazed up at him with languorously half-closed eyes, a bewilderingly soft and luminous light in them. In that instant, too, he felt the warmth of her body as a new temptation. His senses whirled, but anger saved him from what he thought would be a craven fall.

He raised his hands and wrenched apart her hold, then grasping her wrists in a clutch that Dorothy remembered to her death, he hissed out through his teeth, "I don't want to kiss you, Lady Dorothy. I am satisfied to know that you exaggerated! Keep your kisses for the man you love!"

Dorothy sank suddenly upon her knees. "I ask you, so," she pleaded, and her tears began to flow afresh.

Cawthorne uttered a strangled groan, and fell. He kissed her on the forehead.

"My lips," said Dorothy.

It is the first step that costs. Having fallen, Cawthorne scarcely hesitated to explore the abysses. He kissed her on the lips. Then Dorothy arose, and they stood for a while casting at each other shy and foolish glances. Dorothy's role was that of a resigned slave; she looked bewitchingly submissive, adorably expectant of substantial tyranny. But Cawthorne, although inclined to think he walked on air, was not persuaded by his senses utterly, and his mind still wandered in a mist of wonder and astonishment. Moreover, a wrathful conscience was beginning to admonish him. The first man's first excuse for sin trembled on his tongue, 'The woman gave to me and I did eat.' "What can I make of you?" he groaned despairingly.

Her eyes fell, and she crossed her little hands, in apparent humility, before her.

"Your wife?" she asked, in the softest of whispers.

Cawthorne backed himself to the couch, and sat down, all of a heap. He stuck his knuckles in his eyes and began to rub them vigorously. Dorothy followed and held up her wrists for him to see.

"You did that, you great cruel man!" she said.

The poor little wrists were pink where he had held them. Cawthorne was almost certain now that he dreamed. He took her hands, and pressed her crumpled bracelets to his lips. Dorothy felt tired. She sat down very close beside him. Cawthorne abruptly set her free, and leaning back he closed his eyes. The dream was overbearingly delightful; but he would wake soon; he knew that well enough. "I don't believe you love me one bit really," pouted Dorothy.

He started up and ceased to dream. He put out his hands and touched her face doubtfully on either cheek, holding it more firmly a moment later (since it did not move) between his palms.

"Is it possible?" he said.

"What?"

"That we both live, and are awake, and that you love me?"

Dorothy did not reply; her lashes lay long her cheeks.

"Dear!" he cried, of a sudden, in a voice that thrilled her through and through. "Don't play with me again. I couldn't bear it."

Dorothy raised her lids and looked into his eyes. A full minute passed so, but his doubts were hard to drive away.

"Say it," he pleaded.

Her lips parted. "I love you," she responded gently. "You would have taken me, but I preferred to give myself to you."

"When will you marry me?" he asked, after a moment of silence.

"In a year."

"Less eleven months."

"That is too soon."

He frowned. "Do you think so?" His voice had altered. "My cousin is dying, Dorothy. It is his dearest wish to see us settled down before he goes."

Dorothy surrendered utterly. "When you please," she whispered.

"Very well. This day month. I'll go and tell your father at once." He stood up and smiled down on her. "You are mine," he cried. "Altogether mine. Did you know? Good-night."

She stood up too. "Are you going—so soon?"

"I must. I have to tell my cousin—as well—as your father. And besides I have not had my dinner yet."

He proceeded to Lord Fane's study, and he tapped upon the door.

"Come in," said the Marquis.

Cawthorne entered, and the other ceremoniously arose.

"I have the honor to inform you, my lord, that Lady Dorothy has consented to marry me, and that she has fixed this day month for our wedding."

The Marquis bowed. "Permit me to congratulate you," he murmured, then added in his coldest voice: "But did I understand you to say this day month?"

"You did, Lord Fane."

"The date I think should be amended. The Marchioness is scarcely six months in her tomb."

"Seven months, my lord," said Cawthorne quickly. "And I have valid reasons. My cousin, to whom I am immeasurably indebted, is dying rapidly of an incurable disease. It is his urgent wish that I should marry as speedily as possible."

The Marquis frowned. "Even so, it seems to me precipitate," he icily observed.

"Of course, if you object——"

"Object is a strong word, Lord Cawthorne," interrupted the Marquis. "I would only venture to advise. Lady Dorothy, as I remarked to you before, is her own mistress."

Cawthorne felt his temper rising. "I am sure," he said impatiently, "that Lady Dorothy will be influenced at least as much by your advice as your objection. I can only tell you that she yielded to my request for an early marriage under pressure of the same desire that governs me, to please a man whose feet are already in the grave."

The Marquis bent almost double. "I am honored by your confidence, Lord Cawthorne."

"With regard to settlements?"

"I think we may safely leave that matter in Mr. Southdown's hands. He is my solicitor, and, if I do not err, he also acts for you."

"As you please, my lord. I wish you good evening."

"Good evening." Cawthorne extended his hand, but the Marquis was in the middle of a stately bow, and his eyes were fastened on the floor. Cawthorne retired, swearing under his breath; and it is to be regretfully recorded that he visited his temper on his unoffending horse, for he used his whip quite unnecessarily, and in consequence began his homeward journey at a gallop. A little later Dorothy gave up expecting her lover to return, and she began to think of her father. How would he take the news? Filled with curiosity, and a little anxious too, she made her way to his study, and softly opened the door.

The Marquis sat with stooping shoulders and bent head before his table, an open book within his reach. But he was not reading; indeed, his face was covered with his hands. A great pity came to Dorothy. She glided over the carpet like a shadow, and reaching forward touched her hands with his. "Dads!" she murmured, "dear old Dads."

He started back with a nervous cry, and looked up at her with an expression, half fearful, half defiant. "What! Dorothy, my dear, you startled me; you should give over such childish tricks. I have quite a palpitation."

"Oh, dear, I am so sorry. Do forgive me, Dads?"

"Readily, my dear."

Dorothy perched herself on a corner of the table. "Have you seen him, Dads?"

"Lord Cawthorne, Dorothy?"

"Yes, Dads."

The Marquis compressed his lips. His heart ached bitterly, and he longed to take his daughter in his arms, but he had never felt more shy of any one before. He stared at the book he had been reading when Cawthorne interrupted him and tried desperately to be calm. He succeeded in being almost brutally repellent. "I am confident he will make you a good husband," he remarked. "You have chosen wisely, I believe. But don't you think your present attitude is rather unladylike, my dear?"

Dorothy got down from the table at once. There was a lump in her throat; it was difficult for her to speak, but she made a brave effort to break down the barrier of ice between them. "I love him, Dads," she murmured wistfully.

The Marquis nodded; jealousy was eating him.

"Don't you care, Dads? Aren't you glad for me?" There were tears in the girl's eyes now. And her lips were pitifully quivering, but the Marquis dared not look at her. He frowned, and set his teeth together.

"I hope you will be very happy," he said icily.

Dorothy muttered some form of thanks, and with a streaming face withdrew. She cried herself to sleep that night. Her father did not sleep at all. Daylight found him seated still before his idly open book, gazing, like the graven image of a man, on space, and thinking—and who knows what miserable thoughts.


CHAPTER XXVII.

The veiled man received the joyful tidings with an outburst of gladness so spontaneous and transparently sincere, that Cawthorne spent an hour thereafter remorsefully chiding himself because he was still unable in spite of all he could do, to reciprocate the warm affection that his cousin evidently entertained for him. As child and boy as well as man, it had been the same. True it was that ever since the dreadful night on which his cousin had saved his life, he had profoundly pitied him, respected him, even reverenced him, but he had not liked him. And yet they were friends, the truest, most intimate of friends. It was very strange. What could be the cause of the vague unconquerable antipathy that kept his heart sealed to the encroachment of the other's fondness. For a long while he had been inclined to believe himself lacking in some part of the proper equipment of man. But when he began to mix with the world he was forced to abandon that theory. And he could now scarcely number the people whom he regarded warmly. Was it an instinct that prevented him liking the veiled man? He hated to think himself so foolishly unreasonable, and yet an instinct would explain the matter best. But if an instinct, what then? Surely that would argue some warp in his mind; for who but a mentally unbalanced person could help but love his kindest and most devoted benefactor, the man who had given up more than his life for his friend? Cawthorne was fighting an oft-fought battle anew, and the issue of the struggle seemed as bafflingly indeterminate as ever. He came to the old conclusion—the mystery was incapable of solution; and the old decision—he was utterly unworthy of the affection lavished upon him—an insensate clod, a cold-hearted ingrate! He could not find a grain of comfort in the memory of all the services he had rendered to his cousin. They should have been the spontaneous offerings of grateful love, and they had been consciously inspired by an always wakeful and calculating sense of duty. It seemed to him that he had wronged the other unforgivably even in the act of caring for his welfare, and the worst part of his shame consisted in the fact of his deceit. He had not been honest; to have told the veiled man that he did not like him was impossible, and it would have been cruel as well. But he had always acted in such a fashion as to induce his cousin to believe him fond, and it was a painful thing to think that if John Deen knew the truth he would probably have spurned his gifts and scorned his friendship.

Cawthorne fell asleep at last in very weariness, but the old sore festered even in his dreams. He dreamt that the veiled man stood beside him with a naked axe, which he held aloft in one hand, while with the other he securely grasped his victim's throat. "Wretch!" muttered the ghostly visitant. "Through all these years you have betrayed and mocked me with your cowardly affections. But learn now at last that I have known and hated you for long, and watched and waited patiently for my revenge. Your hour has come!" Cawthorne desperately tried to struggle, but his nerves were paralysed, and in helpless agony he eyed the gleaming axe. It rose and poised to fall, but at the fatal instant he heard a scream, and saw the woman that he loved rush towards them with hands outstretched to seize and save. The veiled man uttered a horrid laugh and turned. The axe flashed and swung, and Dorothy pitched forth on the floor, a ghastly reeking corpse. Cawthorne awoke, covered with perspiration and trembling in every limb. "Thank God, it was a dream," he said.

At that moment the veiled man and Simon Vicars were closeted together in an alcove of the western wing. The face of the little valet were an unaccustomed look of awed and tremulous astonishment. The veiled man grinned fixedly behind his mask; and his eyes glowed like coals. The leather protected Simon from a sight that would have frozen him with terror, for all the evil passions of a demon were reflected on his master's scarred and twisted countenance. "Now, Simon," he was saying, "you can understand why I have permitted, even encouraged, you to flirt with Norah Flaherty, and also why I forbade you to meet her in the town. It will be said afterwards that she came here to see me."

"Ay," said Simon, "ay—ay!"

"You will go to-morrow to London, and seek out some out-at-elbows clergyman, preferably a drunkard, and bring him here with Norah."

"Ay, sir, and afterwards?"

"After the marriage, you will take the girl to London and establish her in lodgings, where she must stay until the child is born."

"But if it be a girl?"

"No matter, Simon. My earldom is one of the few that descends to heirs general. If it be a girl, she will be a countess in her own right."

Simon put one hand to his throat. "With thirty thousand pounds a year," he muttered huskily. "And I will be her guardian."

"A good one, I trust, Simon," said the veiled man, with a frightful laugh. "You would not rob your own child, eh?"

"All my life long I've felt I'd be a great man one day," said Simon solemnly. "You can depend on me, sir. I'll obey your bidding to the letter."

"I trust you absolutely, Simon, because your interests walk with mine. Nevertheless, more is wanted here than honesty of purpose. You will need to be cunning, tactful, and adroit. The clergyman must be brought to present silence in the first place, and then the girl. She will, no doubt, prove a little difficult to handle."

"Trust me, sir, I'll manage her. She's not in a position to dictate terms."

"But you must not frighten her, my man. The ceremony and her natural nervousness will try her quite enough. I wouldn't have an accident for worlds."

"Never fear, sir. She's passionately fond of me, poor wench, and will do what I say."

"So much the better. But are you sure she'll consent to go to London afterwards, and stay there all alone?"

"I'll fix her, sir; you needn't worry. Since expense is no object, I'll lodge her like a lady and get her a companion. She is a bit romantic, and if I know anything of women, she'll be only too glad to disappear for a time for the sake of the splash she'll be able to cut afterwards among her friends."

The veiled man nodded approvingly. "I can see you know your business, my man. Well, we understand each other now, I think. You may put me to bed." And the veiled man fell asleep almost as soon as his head touched the pillow, and he slumbered as dreamlessly and gently as a babe.

But it was otherwise with Simon. The little valet paced his room, thinking, thinking. The abominable plot in which he was the working partner did not altogether please him. He hardly dared at first to hope it would succeed. It was too subtle, too clever, too monstrous; and yet a careful study of its parts revealed no flaw. After a time, however, he became inured to the idea of it, and he convinced himself it could not fail. Yet still it did not please him. He pondered and pondered, and hit at length upon the reason. Norah would be splendidly provided for, and also Norah's child. But what about himself? He would certainly be Norah's trustee, and the guardian of her infant, and such a post would doubtless yield fine pickings. But Simon was not disposed to be content with pickings, the bone in reach of his hand. Moreover, he had once been a lawyer's clerk, and he knew well enough that trustees and guardians may easily be removed. He was by no means inclined to trust Norah where money was concerned. Women of her class are notorious grab-alls. She might discard and defy him once she felt secure, and how could he hurt her without punishing himself? The outlook was really serious. As a prudent man it behoved him to consider how it might be bettered. It was useless to think of approaching the veiled man in such a quest. His master would flout him for a greedy rogue, and, besides, he had declared himself abundantly content with the existing arrangement. Simon felt that, as an honorable man, he could not re-open the matter. He must therefore look elsewhere. Where? If he could only be sure of Norah, sure that he could always bend her to his wishes; sure that she would never refuse his demands, deny his authority, nor oppose his plundering of the estate. Yes, that was what he wanted—to be sure of Norah. But how? True, she loved him now, idolised him indeed, in spite of his brutality, and always returned like a hound to the whip. But would she always? He thought not. Simon put little faith in the permanence of love. And if she defied him, how would he stand? He might threaten to betray her; but Norah was not lacking in brains, and she would soon learn how little she need fear him. For even if he actually betrayed her for revenge, who would believe him? Such an act would neither hurt nor advantage him since once the plot was achieved—Norah would be impregnably entrenched as the dowager Countess of Cawthorne in law and in deed, and only her own act could dispossess her of her estate. He, on the contrary, would be merely a guardian trustee, capable at any time of being removed and discharged like a mere servant.

Simon felt very uncomfortable indeed. His imagination pierced the future, and he saw his fearful fancies being inevitably converted into facts. He beheld Norah in the act of contemptuously snapping her fingers in his face, and he began to hate her like the devil. The little fellow gnashed his teeth and turned scarlet with rage. "Somehow, somehow," he snarled, "I must get her into my power. I must make her thoroughly afraid of me. I must, I must——" He broke off suddenly and sat down on the edge of his bed. "I must marry her," he muttered, and in one second he turned as white as the coverlid on which he sat, for he heard or thought he heard a sound. For almost a minute he held his breath, listening in a veritable agony of apprehension, his nerves strained and tingling. Was it the veiled man, suspicious of treachery, come to spy on him? Had his master heard those whispered words of his? The silence contained all the tortures of purgatory. Panic, terror gave him courage. Of a sudden he leaped to his feet and hurled himself like a cannon ball across the room. He tore open the door, and peered out. The corridor was empty. He fell against the wall, sick and almost fainting in the excess of his relief. "Thank God!" he gasped. "Thank God!" At the bottom of his soul Simon was horribly afraid of the veiled man.


CHAPTER XXXVIII.

On the following morning Simon Vicars left the Castle at nine o'clock, in order to catch the 9.45 train to London. Instead of going direct to the station, however, he proceeded to the laundry at which Norah Flaherty was employed and asked to see her. Norah came out to the door, trembling with excitement. Her companions noted her change in color when her visitor's name was mentioned, and they watched her curiously, Simon too. But Simon was accustomed to the fire of eyes. He took off his hat to Norah with as much deference as he would have to a duchess, and said for all to hear, "If you please, Miss Flaherty, Mr. Deen's compliments, and could you let him have his silk handkerchief at once?" Norah alone saw Simon's eyes, and their meaning glance took immediate effect.

"Sure, Oi'll run home and get them—the now, av ye'd wait. It's only a step," she replied; "Oi'll not kape ye a minit."

"I'll go with you," volunteered Simon. "The master's in a hurry."

Norah asked her mistress for five minutes' leave of absence, which was granted grudgingly, and they set off together. "What is it, Simon dear?" she asked nervously, when they were out of earshot.

Simon glanced behind him. "Wait till we turn the corner," he directed. A minute later, feeling safe from observation, he stopped and produced a sovereign from his pocket.

"I'm going to London by the 9.45 train," he murmured. Norah turned white.

"For how long?" she gasped.

"It depends on yourself, my girl."

"What do ye mane, dear? Depends on me, is it?"

"Exactly! Can you keep your mouth shut?"

"Oh, Simon!"

"Will you do what I tell you, then?"

"Have I ever displased ye, Simon, darlin'?"

"Then take this pound, and follow me to London by the ten train, without saying a word to a living soul. Now mind, not a word. I'll meet you at the other end."

"And then, Simon—and then?"

Norah's hand was pressed to her side and she was breathing hard.

"I may marry you," said Simon coolly. "But mind you—not a word. Good-bye," and without lifting his hat again (for the street save for themselves was empty) and Simon was not a man to waste his courtesy, he abruptly left her and hurried to the station.

Norah's joy was too deep at first for words, but after a moment or two she muttered under her breath, "My God, and me thinkin' the hard things of him! The swate good he is! Ochone, Ochone!"

Simon met her at Euston with a question, "Does any one know you came?"

"You an' me, Simon darlin'," she replied; "no more, as God sees us."

She was dressed as he had left her at Stayton, but, much to Simon's surprise the girl seemed to have miraculously recovered her former beauty. Her cheeks were flushed, her big eyes shone like jewels, and she walked with a buoyant step beside him. Men turned their heads to look after the pretty country girl. Simon noted and was pleased. He decided that he had no great reason to feel ashamed of her, in spite of her shabby cotton dress, and in a burst of magnanimity he offered her his arm. Poor Norah was in the seventh heaven of delight. "We make a fine pair, and that's a fact," observed Simon. "But we'll make a finer when I get you some decent clothes."

Norah made no reply. She was so happy that she feared to break out weeping. He put her into a hansom, and they drove to a big millinery establishment in Tottenham Court Road. There he bought Norah a grey silk gown and a rather showy black-feathered hat, also a thick veil. At his command Norah repaired to a dressing-room and donned her finery. She returned to him laughing and crying almost completely overcome, and looking really beautiful. Simon soothed her as best he could, and hurried her back to the waiting hansom. He gave the driver the name of a second-rate hotel, and there arrived, he engaged a room, whither they immediately proceeded. "It's now for business, my dear," he murmured as he closed the door. "Sit down in that chair, and listen to me."

Norah obeyed. Simon talked for more than an hour, and when he had finished he took from a little handbag that he had brought with him a Bible. Norah by then had lost all her color and her brightness. She looked dazed, even ill, and a full ten years older than when she had entered the hotel. She seemed to regard her lover with a mixture of both fear and aversion, but she said never a word, and in her eyes was a light that Simon found impossible to read. It made him so nervous that he blustered, "You'll have to do as I say, if you want me to make you an honest woman," he said gruffly. "And, after all, it's little enough. Thousands of women would give their eyes for such a chance and hang the odds! What, to be a countess with 30,000 a year! What, to have the kiddy a lord or a lady! And me, that you pretend to be so fond of, always by you! And what's the risk? None at all, I tell you. Can't you trust me?—me that's making your fortune, both your fortunes!"

"He never did me no harm," muttered Norah. "It's him Oi'm thinkin' of; an' sure he stood to father koindly, when we naded help that sore."

"With the other one's money, though, remember!" cut in Simon sharply.

Norah was silent.

"Well, my dear, what is it to be?" he demanded impatiently.

"I'm thinkin'," said Norah.

"Then be quick about it, for I have another string to my bow, and as nice a girl as one would wish to see."

Norah caught her breath, her big eyes dilating. "You'd do that, Simon!" she gasped.

"I have to, if you refuse me."

"And—is—she—yours—too!" Norah's face was chalk white.

"No." Simon shrugged his shoulders, then added artfully, "Not that it would matter, any one would be. I'm giving you the chance, darling, because I love you."

"You love me? You!"

"Ay."

"How could you sell me?"

"You fool, you little fool! Don't I keep on telling you. You'll never set eyes on his face after the ceremony. It's only a form. You'd be my wife still and always. What the devil makes you hesitate, I can't imagine! You pretend to love me, yet when I ask you to help me to help us both to a fortune, you stare and glower, and tell me I'm selling you."

Norah began to cry. "Oi don't want the fortune," she wailed. "Oi want just you, Simon dear, an'—an'—it's a wrong an' wicked thing you're axin' of me. Ye know it is."

Simon smiled, and, kneeling beside her, he slipped his arm about her waist. "And if it is, what then?" he muttered. "Won't you be doing it for me, the man who loves you, darling? What's any one else to us? And we'll be as happy together afterwards as the days are long—with our baby! Think of it, darling—our baby. He'll be an earl Norah! won't that touch you? My God, Norah, won't we be proud of him. Only think of it!"

The girl shuddered. "The other, thin," she moaned; "what will he be?"

"To the devil with him!" grated Simon. "I hate the ground he walks on, the big hulking coward that he is. Norah, one day he struck me in the face and sent me headlong to the ground, just because I didn't move quick enough to please him. If you love me girl, you'll never pity him. I'd like to see him starving in the gutter, so I would. And never a bite or sup he'd get from me nor you. By——!"

"Oh, Simon dear," cried Norah, her tears ceasing to flow in terror at the fierce hatred of his tones, "shure it's—it's not koind to spake like that. You frighten me, Simon dear."

"It's not you that need be frightened of me, darling. I'm too fond of you. But don't mention that brute again, or I'll think you've stopped caring for me!"

"Me stop—carin' for ye—is it, me?"

"Then give me a kiss and do as I bid you, dear."

Norah threw her arms round Simon's neck. "O'hone, darlin'," she whispered, "must it be that? Can't ye—love me—poor—swateheart?"

"Love you poor or rich, I can and will always, pettie. But you are not going to stand in your husband's light are you, dearie?"

Norah melted entirely at the word. "Me husband," she repeated tenderly. "Is it that?"

"It's what I'll be within the hour after his death, my pretty, as fast as law can bind us—only first the oath." Simon stretched out his hand and swept the Bible upon Norah's lap. "We'll kneel together, darling," he whispered.

Norah slipped to the floor beside him.

"Say it after me, Norah acushla. I, Norah Flaherty——"

"I, Norah Flaherty——"

Simon dictated an oath that made the girl's blood run coldly in her veins; but his arms supported her the while, and he kissed and fondled her with loving, chiding words. She faltered through her task, white-faced and trembling, and then she kissed the Bible. The latter Simon gave her to keep. "It will always remind you of this hour," he said.

Ten minutes later Norah was seated at a table whose magnificence held her dumb. Simon, however, plied her with wine and food, and acted so perfectly a devoted lover's part that the girl insensibly forgot the black hour she had passed, and the black crime she was pledged to consummate. Before the lunch was over, indeed, she was in a joyous mood, and as happy as her lover seemed to be. It was only when they stood in the registrar's office that she began to remember again. Fumbling in her pocket for her handkerchief, her fingers touched by chance the Bible. She uttered a little cry and almost swooned. But Simon knew. He caught her hand and pressed it firmly. "Courage, dear!" he whispered, and smiled into her eyes. They left the office man and wife. Simon kissed her in the cab, and called Heaven to witness she would never repent that day. He swore to be her slave, and he filled her hands with gold. Norah thought she dreamed, and the dream expanded splendidly. They went to a jeweller's, and Simon bought her half a dozen rings and brooches. They went to a second milliner's, and Simon bought her a marvellous fur cloak that reached from her chin to her feet. Norah was no longer the same girl. She turned the sovereigns over and over in her pocket, and avarice awoke in her. She had never possessed as many shillings of her own before. And then the rings and the cloak! The rings were real gold with real stones. The cloak was of real fur. She stroked it ceaselessly, and looked in every mirror that they passed. Simon watched her with the smile of a Mehistopheles. He took her into Bond-street, and made her look at the ladies in the shops and carriages. "There's not one can hold a candle to you my sweet," he muttered—"not one of them. When you're the Countess, you'll make 'em mad with envy, so you will!"

Norah was growing used to the idea. She began to forget Lord Cawthorne, and to think only of herself. "You were born for the purple," whispered Simon, "just born for it. Your face and figure can't be matched, and it's wondering I am if you're not, after all, some great man's changeling."

Norah blushed. "Oh, Simon," she muttered, "you must not sphake such things."

"May be your mother had a noble lover?" he persisted unabashed; "such things have been."

"Oh, Simon!" her face was now aflame. "Shure, poor mother——"

"I'm only joking," he hastily assured her, and with the cleverness of a skilled general he promptly changed his venue. "Just think of what you'll be able to do for your mother and your father and your sisters, Norah, when we are fixed. It's ladies and gentlemen they'll all be, darling."

Norah caught her breath. "Shure—shure—shure," she repeated, her whole face aglow.

"We'll marry the girls to lords and earls, Norah, no less."

"And—an'—we'll have 'em live wid us in the Castle," Norah gasped.

"Indeed we will," he responded heartily.

Norah squeezed his arm. "Simon, Oi'm lovin' ye," she whispered. "It's moighty good to me ye are."

"Pooh!" he sneered, "that's nothing. Wait a bit and I'll cover you with diamonds, and the others too. I'm a family man at heart, I am; and I'm simply dying to see all your people fixed up with us at the Castle. What times we'll have, Norah! What times!"

"Shure I want to dance, this very moment in the strate wid joy," she cried.

It was enough. Simon had triumphed. Norah was now his willing instrument. He drove her back to the hotel, and left her munching nougat in the room he had engaged, while he proceeded to look for a clergyman. Simon had an acquaintance who lived in Soho, a working jeweller and a mathematical instrument maker named Johann Soubergehr. The man was also a fence, and in past years he and Simon had done business together. Simon went to him now because he knew he was to be trusted and because he knew that Soubergehr had an extensive acquaintance with rogues and vagabonds.

Johann was surprised to recognise his old customer, and apparently not over-pleased, to judge by the scowl he gave the little valet as he entered the shop. "Oh!" said Simon, "you're thinking of that Hampstead affair of June—four years back. What a memory you have, Soub, old chap. But buck up, I've come to square the account."

"So," growled Johann. "Then you vant somedings—out of me—I guess?"

"What do I owe you?"

"Four pounds—as if you didn't know."

Simon took out a small handful of gold and silver, and counted the amount named over the glass counter.

"Stow that and be sociable," he advised. "Will you come out and have a glass of wine?"

"Is it business you vand to dalk?"

Soubergehr put the money in his pocket, without acknowledgment; but his scowl had fled.

"Yes."

"So, then come oopstairs. I haf there a leedle speirid more goot as ve can ged at a hotel."

Simon was nothing loath, and a moment later he entered a small room on the second floor that he remembered very well. The furniture was old and cheap and very dirty. The place smelt of onions, of which there was an open bottle on the table. Simon was a fastidious little fellow and his lip involuntarily curled, but he said nothing. Soubergehr extracted from a cupboard a stone jar and two bleared glasses. "Helb yourselv," he observed, with a more gracious air than he had yet used.

Simon wiped his glass with his handkerchief and poured out a fair-sized nip.

"Vasser?"

"No, thanks."

The German half filled his glass, and sitting down began to sip gazing steadily at Simon through sunning, half-closed eyes.

"You vandt?" he said at last.

"A drunken clergyman within the next two hours, and no questions asked."

Soubergehr scratched his head. "Whadt for?"

"I said no questions."

"I nodt—do business—like dat, mein friendt. You forged me, I dink."

Simon looked sulky. "I could get one easily enough myself."

"Budt—you are in a hurry—nein?" Soubergehr closed one eye altogether.

Simon shrugged his shoulders. "My present patron wants to marry a girl—secretly."

"Und—who might he be?"

"Cousin to the Earl of Cawthorne—by name John Deen. The thing is above board in a way, but he doesn't want the Earl to know until after his death, as the Earl keeps him you know. Fact is, the man is dying. He has seduced a girl, and he wants to do her justice before he kicks the bucket. If the Earl knew, he'd probably raise a rumpus, because he expects a small annuity to fall in on Mr. Deen's death. Now you have the whole ticket."

"You said he was dying."

"He is dying."

"Ven vill he die?"

"Oh, he can't last long—a month or two, perhaps three or four, but he may die any minute, and there's the hurry."

"How mooch vill he squeeze?"

"Ten pounds, with a warranty against blackmailing."

"Id is nodt enough."

"He can't do more, Soub. His annuity is mortgaged up to the hilt, and the Earl only allows him a fiver a week. He's bedridden, you see."

"How then does he pay you, mein friendt?"

"I have his bonds—for a trifle. I'm taking my risk of the Earl settling after he kicks the tub."

"I vandt—vordy bounds, Simon. Dat or nodings."

"Oh, come, Soub, you're talking through your neck. Forty for a paltry introduction. Rats!"

"Vordy." The German closed both eyes.

Simon arose. "You are richer than I thought," he observed sarcastically. "Good day, Soub."

"Thirdy," said Soubergehr, when Simon reached the door, Simon opened the door.

"Tervendy," said the German. Simon passed out and began to descend the stairs.

"Vifteen!" shouted Soubergehr. Simon made no reply, but his departing footsteps could be plainly heard.

"Den!" yelled the German, "undt may Cott strike you mit bullets!" He was shaking with fury. Simon gave a light laugh and returned to the room. He took two notes from his pocket and tossed them on the table.

"He must be properly ordained and authorised, Soub. The marriage must be strictly legal, don't you know. And send him to the—— hotel. I've a room there where I'll wait for him. Make as good a bargain with the fellow as you can. We can't afford to pay him more than a tenner at the outside. If you can get him to take less, you may have the difference. Good day, Soub."

Soubergehr grunted angrily, and Simon smilingly departed. He had the utmost confidence in his old confederate, and did not doubt but that he would fulfil the bargain to the letter. He found Norah posing in all her finery before a mirror, and one glance at her eager and excited face set his last fear at rest. He had managed splendidly. He had triumphed right along the line and he felt that his future was at length most brilliantly assured. He could afford to be kind, so he opened his arms and played the lover. Norah embraced him with a joyful cry, and for the next two hours they were as happy and irresponsible as children. The time fled indeed so quickly that they were quite surprised when at length a loud rat-tat upon the door disturbed them from their fondling.

"The Rev. Mr. Soames," announced a waiter.

Norah hurriedly retired behind a screen in order to arrange her disordered hair, but Simon received his visitor with perfect coolness eyeing him the while with the keenest curiosity. The clergyman was a tall man of perhaps fifty years of age, with a long narrow face, a receding chin, and an enormous nose. His skin was deeply pitted with the smallpox, and dyed to a mild crimson. His eyes were overmoist, and he constantly mopped at them with a large soiled handkerchief. They were underhung with puffy hollows. He wore a suit of respectable antiquity, that bore signs of a recent furbishing, and he carried in one hand a grimy shovel hat, in the other a small black bag.

"Mr. Vicars, I presume," he observed, in rich nasal tones, bowing as he spoke.

"I am glad to meet you, Mr. Soames," said Simon. "You come, I think, from Mr. Soubergehr?"

"At your service, Mr. Vicars."

"Pray sit down."

Mr. Soames complied glancing somewhat nervously at Norah's screen.

"Mr. Soubergehr has doubtless told you——" began Simon.

"Everything," interrupted the clergyman. "But I understood you demand secrecy. That young lady——"

Simon smiled. "That young lady is my half-sister, Norah Flaherty, Mr. Soames, and she is the person whom you will presently unite in the holy bonds of wedlock with the gentleman whose servant I am. That is, if we come to terms."

Mr. Soames cast down his eyes. "Mr. Soubergehr mentioned the sum of seven pounds," he murmured. "It is not a large amount for the service you require, but it is not for a servant of the Lord to haggle over money."

Simon raised his eyebrows. "Seven pounds. I told Soubergehr five at the outside."

"It is written, Mr. Vicars, 'Those who preach the Gospel shall live by the Gospel,'" He heaved a sigh and raised his eyes to the ceiling. "As a servant of the Lord I dare not offend my Master by disobeying his injunctions." He solemnly and slowly shook his head.

Simon's lips curled. He hated cant, and despised the psalm-singing class of rogues, as scoundrels of a much lower social scale than that in which he moved. He was himself a sincerely religious little man, but only in the privacy of his bedchamber. In public he professed agnosticism. "The old hypocrite," he muttered. He said aloud, "I'm willing to split the difference. Mr. Soames; but I can't go a penny more than six."

Mr. Soames uttered a groan. "The Lord be the judge betwixt thee and me," he whined. "Upon your own head be it, young man, that you put upon his servant albeit the least worthy of all who works His will. I have some rent to pay, and six pounds ten will just suffice to cover it."

Simon nodded and bit his lip. He was honestly disgusted. "Very well," he said, and consulted his watch. "Norah, are you ready? We have just time to catch our train."

Norah appeared, hatted and veiled. "The Rev. Mr. Soames—Miss Flaherty," said Simon.

Mr. Soames smiled insinuatingly. "Bless thee, my child," he murmured, leering at her like a stayr.

Simon smothered an oath, and pushed the old reprobate out of the room. Two hours later they all left the train at Carliffe, a village situated some four miles from Stayton. Simon had ordered a close fly by telegraph, and into this they at once ascended. Eight o'clock struck as they started, and Norah confessed to an ardent appetite. Simon bought some cheese, beer and biscuits at the tavern. The Rev. Mr. Soames, however, absorbed most of the beer, and his potations made him reminiscent, likewise amorous. He enlivened the drive with racy stories of the unlettered doings of ecclesiastical dignitaries, and he continually squeezed Norah's foot. Norah, who sat opposite, was divinely contented. Simon, under cover of the dark, had his arm round her waist, and a strange gentleman was squeezing her foot. The experience was all the more piquant because the strange gentleman was a clergyman and ought to have known better. It is to be feared that Norah was rather a flighty young woman. Simon stopped the carriage outside the Castle grounds, and he led his guests by a devious by-path to an outer door of the western wing that had not been used for many a month. There he directed them to wait, and himself hurried round to the courtyard and let himself in by his master-key, without encountering the observation of a living soul.

Norah and the Rev. Mr. Soames looked at each other, left alone. They could see quite well, for the ground was thinly covered with snow, and a half-moon shone immediately above them, although the sky was banked in parts and threatening. Norah raised her veil, and remembering her squeezed foot, smiled at him provokingly. "My dear," said the clergyman, "are you fully prepared to under take the solemn duties and grave responsibilities of matrimony?"

"Oi—Oi think so," faltered Norah.

"You look—very young," he declared, "too young!"

"Oi'm—Oi'm nearly twenty."

"I knew it," he groaned, "I knew it!"

"What did ye know?"

"That you were but a babe, my child. Satan, prowling in the wilderness, loves to prey on such pretty sucklings."

Norah gave him an arch look, and meekly hung her head.

"They tell me, you'll soon be a widow, my child," he suggested, edging nearer.

"Y—yes." Norah shivered involuntarily, but not because he came nearer.

"Ah my child," sighed the other in a tender voice; "you'll need in that hour of trial a strong arm to lean upon, and afterwards, a strong kind helpmate to comfort, protect you, and—to—cherish you—babe and widowed orphan—you will be.".

Norah smiled, wickedly. "Oi'll not be lookin' long, for shure," she muttered. "It's not a poor girl Oi'll be then, yer riverence."

Mr. Soames sighed. "Money is the root of all evil in unthinking hands, my child." He put his hand on her shoulder very gently, very reverently. "I pray the Lord to bless you, to lead you not astray." His hand fell absent-mindedly to the girl's waist, and absent-mindedly his arm encircled it. "There is one who will come at your call, my child; one who—I may say it in all faith and reverent self-confidence—who, although he has known you but an hour or two, already feels——"

But Norah giggled suddenly and broke away from him. "Oh, g'long, ye naughty wicked craythur," she cried laughingly. "It's a wife ye must make me before Oi'll be a widow, and then Oi'll be loiker to choose a young man than an old beer barrel like you, savin' yer riverences prisence."

Mr. Soames was deeply hurt. "My dear, you have wronged me cruelly," he declared. "A beer barrel—in truth, my unfortunate complexion——" But Simon's voice interrupted his eloquence.

"Norah, where are you?"

Norah heard, and felt a sudden thrill of terror. She remembered the ordeal she had to undergo, and all her old fears of the veiled man awoke to life. She caught the clergyman by the arm. "Don't lave me wid him. Swear to me you won't lave me wid him," she panted in his ear.

"Is it the man you are to marry—coming, Mr. Vicars, coming?"

"Yes!" she gasped, "yes. Swear to me——"

"My child," he answered solemnly. "Depend upon my chivalry. Am I not a servant of the Lord? Lead on!"

But in fact he had to drag her forward to the door. Simon saw her and met her with a scowl of fury. "What, Norah!" he growled. "Come in and take my arm, if you want a leaning post." Norah forgot her fears as if by magic. She truly loved Simon, and Simon was evidently jealous. She entered the Castle blushing, and palpitating, and wonderfully happy, leaning heavily on Mr. Soames' arm.


CHAPTER XXIX.

Simon led the way to the veiled man's room. The apartment was dimly lighted by a brace of candles, set in silver candelabra, in a bracket that suspended from the ceiling over a table spread with writing materials at the farthest end, before the curtained alcove. Simon pointed to the table and said in a low voice to Mr. Soames. "You had better prepare the certificates; you have the license, I presume." The clergyman nodded, and gently disengaged Norah's hand from his arm.

He was greatly impressed by the splendid fittings of the room, and he looked subdued, almost nervous. Norah was trembling like a leaf. Simon led her to a chair and induced her to sit down. "You have nothing to fear, darling," he whispered. "Mr. Deen, poor fellow, is as ugly as sin; but he hasn't the strength of a cat, and you need not look at him unless you like."

"Don't lave me, Simon," she pleaded, seizing his hand; "shure Oi feel—dreadful!"

"I must, dearie, Mr. Deen is waiting for me. But I'll be back in a minute, and you can hold my hand all through the ceremony, if you wish to. Don't you be a fool, dear, and go fainting or singing out, or I'll never forgive you. Remember what it means to us. Be brave, sweetheart. Promise me!"

"Shure I'll thry," she murmured. "But couldn't ye give me something to drink? I—I feel——"

"Wait!" said Simon, and he slipped away, to return in a short while with a tumbler of diluted spirit. "Take a big drink," he advised.

Norah drained the glass and a moment later her head began to swim. She leaned back in the cushions with a sigh.

"Are you better, darling?"

"It's very hot and close here," she murmured, and closed her eyes.

Simon stole across to the clergyman. "Have you got the names right, Mr. Soames? John Adam Deen and Norah Flaherty."

"I want their father's and mother's names as well." Simon hurried back and forth between the veiled man's room and the table, and between Norah and the table. Soon all was ready for the ceremony.

"They have only to be married and to sign their names," said the clergyman at last. "I'll put on my surplice," and opening his bag, he extracted a very dirty muslin garment.

Simon extinguished one of the candles. "Mr. Deen's face was horribly disfigured by fire," he explained, "and he hates to be looked at closely. Take care you don't say a word when you see him, or start or shrink. He is frightfully sensitive."

Mr. Soames thought of his filthy surplice, and was not sorry for the dim light. "I'll remember," he answered gravely.

Simon glanced at Norah, and reassured by her motionless attitude, he approached his master's bedroom. The veiled man stood by the fireplace, drinking something from a wine glass through a straw. "All is ready, sir," Simon whispered.

The veiled man refilled his glass from a bottle on the mantel. "I've drunk enough raw brandy to intoxicate a pair of commercial travellers," he muttered, "and still my knees shake under me."

"Better take no more, sir; you'll be ill to-morrow!"

"One more glass." The veiled man was fighting for time. "In the meantime tell me how you managed."

"There won't be time now, sir," objected Simon.

"Then what did it cost?" The veiled man cared nothing for money, but in each second he lived a lifetime, and as yet his courage was benumbed.

"Three hundred all told, sir," replied Simon. "Norah's dresses and fixings came to a hundred, you see. I had to make her decent. Then I paid a hundred to the friend I told you of—old Soubergehr—to put me on to the clergyman—he wouldn't take a cent less, the old robber; and a hundred to the man himself. It's a terrible deal of money, sir; but I couldn't do better in the time and be sure of getting what we wanted."

The veiled man stretched out his hand for the bottle. "I'm satisfied," he said. "Just one more glass—and then——"

But Simon seized the bottle. "You forget the girl, sir," he muttered earnestly. "She'll be fainting with terror if we keep her any longer."

Mr. Deen shuddered violently. "One—just one more," he pleaded.

"Not a drop, sir."

The veiled man laughed of a sudden and seemed to pull himself together. "Very well; do you go on first, and comfort the girl. Did you put out the second candle?"

"Yes, sir; you won't drink again if I leave you?"

"No."

Simon departed. The veiled man, left alone, took off his mask, and walked slowly to the door. Parting the curtains quietly he peered into the room beyond. He saw Simon helping Norah to her feet, and the surpliced clergyman standing a little in advance of them, turning over the leaves of a small book. The veiled man paused a moment to wonder at his vanished fears, and then strode forward, smiling grimly.

The clergyman looked up and started in spite of himself at the hideous apparition that confronted him. He saw two glaring, almost lidless eyes protruding beyond a flat mass of livid-colored scars. His gaze became fixed, his body rigid. Had the creature a nose. No, nor eyebrows, nor ears, nor hair! He thanked Heaven for the dim light, since a single candle revealed so much. He tried to speak, to bow, but he was petrified with horror.

The veiled man halted at three paces distance, and fixed his eyes on Norah. The girl had not seen him yet. "Miss Flaherty," he said in his sweet, thrilling tones. "I am deeply sensible of the honor that you pay me."

Norah gripped Simon's hand very hard, and raised her eyes, till then fastened on the floor. She had been intensely conscious of his approach. "Oh!" she said, and gazed at him, fascinated and appalled. The first thing she realised was that one of the veiled man's eyes was crusted over with a thick grey film. Evidently it was blind. But his seeing eye searched her through and through with a hard defiant look. Second by second she noted his other deformities but Norah was a woman, and, second by second, instead of accumulating fears, her heart dissolved in pity. "The poor man!" she muttered at last, "the poor man."

John Deen heard the whisper, faint as it was, and his scarred lips lost their ugly curves.

"Mr. Soames," said Simon suddenly, "will you kindly commence?"

The clergyman started, and blinked his eyes. "Eh? what? of course," he said, and glanced at Simon with an owlish look.

"This way, sir," said Simon, and he slipped an arm round Norah's waist. The veiled man approached them, but to Simon's amazement Norah, instead of shrinking back or screaming, as he had poignantly expected, withdrew her hand from his, and quietly sank down upon her knees. The veiled man, nodding his head like a machine, for he was surprised, followed her example. Simon shook his fist at the clergyman and bared his teeth. He looked exactly like a wolf. "Mr. Soames!" he snarled.

Mr. Soames started again, raised his book, and stumblingly came forward. He began the service in a stammering broken way, but after a while he glanced down, and perceiving that the veiled man had covered his face with his hands, he proceeded more assuredly. Simon nudged his master and offered him a ring. Then, he nudged Norah and placed her left hand in the veiled man's right. He was a consummate master of ceremonies. Norah trembled a little at first and her hand lay lifeless in the veiled man's grasp, but presently her fingers twined around the other's palm, and John Deen felt a sudden burning in his heart. He muttered his responses in a choking voice. He was thinking, "She pities me; oh, God! she pities me!" Norah kept whispering in mind, "The poor, poor man! I must make it easy for him." She spoke when required, in tones whose ringing firmness made Simon hold his breath.

"Whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."

The veiled man dazedly stood up, still holding Norah's hand. The girl got to her feet, and smiled at him courageously. "It is all over," she whispered.

"Except to sign your names," said Simon, the mentor. "This way, sir, and madam."

His mocking voice made the veiled man rage. He gave his valet a look of fury, then on an impulse of revenge, he stooped and kissed Norah's hand.

"My wife!" he said, "my wife!"

Simon turned pale. Norah had never been more dear to him than at that moment, and he felt a violent thrill of jealousy. The veiled man put Norah's hand on his arm, and strode over to the table. Mr. Soames directed them to sign, and then, sitting down himself, he became engrossed with the certificate. Simon and the veiled man looked at each other. Norah stared idly at Mr. Soames. "We have four miles to drive, and the last train leaves at eleven," muttered Simon.

The veiled man smiled. "Would you part man and wife—so soon?" he asked.

Simon turned absolutely livid. "The Earl!" he gasped.

"D—— the Earl!"

Norah looked from one to the other and instinct taught her that the two men were waging a battle as desperate as their voices were subdued—for her possession. She felt her senses reel.

"Simon, take me home!" she cried, and held out her arms to him.

Simon tore his gaze from the veiled man's face and darted to her side. Then, supporting her he turned and surveyed his master, with blazing eyes and a snarling lip. "No, you don't!" he growled.

Mr. Soames watched them, petrified with astonishment. The veiled man swayed to and fro; his countenance was almost purple. "S—Simon," he stuttered, "you—you've been drin—drinking," and swinging on his heel, he moved off with uncertain tottering steps into his bedroom.

Mr. Soames put down his pen and cleared his throat. "This is most extraordinary," he declared. "A most extra—ordinary proceeding altogether. I am not sure that I should, as a servant of the Lo——"

But Simon cut him short. "The certificate, you old lubber!" he hissed. "The certificate! and keep your idiotic opinions to yourself." The little valet seemed beside himself with passion.

"Mr. Vicars—I——"

"The certificate! Curse you! Don't you understand a bargain?"

The clergyman surrendered. "Here it is and—and—if I ventured to expostulate and——"

"Shut up!" cut in Simon. "Follow me," and without more ado, he half led, half carried Norah, who was almost unconscious, into the corridor. Thence he hurried down the stairs and along a flight of passages to the door by which they entered the Castle, the clergyman stalking meekly at his heels. The cold night air revived Norah immediately.

"Oh, Simon," she gasped and stood erect, "he wanted; he wanted——"

"Never mind," he interrupted quickly, "you're right now. Just wait here a minute till I return. I won't be a second, and Mr. Soames will mind you." He turned to the clergyman: "Take off your surplice, you old fool!" he cried, and darted back into the building.

"An irreverent—a most irreverent and godless young man," said the clergyman severely. He had utterly forgotten his surplice. Norah smiled, but she felt sick and tired, and she wanted to sit down. The next few minutes were an agony to her.

Simon ran like a hare to his master's room. He was still half frantic with rage, and his mood was dangerous. He felt capable just then of any crime. But at the veiled man's door he paused abruptly. His master lay within the room, stretched out at length upon the middle of the floor, still unmasked, and breathing stertorously. Simon tiptoed to his side, stooped suddenly and shook him. The veiled man only grunted. Simon kicked him sharply in the ribs and neck. Mr. Deen groaned, and opened his eyes, but closed them immediately again.

"Drunk as a lord!" snarled the little valet; and he spat on his master's face.

The act restored Simon's self-respect and soothed his rage. "That makes us quits," he muttered.

Then he turned about and, with all possible speed, rejoined his companions.


CHAPTER XXX.

Norah's disappearance was the subject of town talk on the following day, and public opinion soon bracketed her name with that of Simon Vicars. The gossips declared that she had eloped with him, and they had evidence. Had not Simon called to see her at the laundry an hour before she vanished? Moreover, George Dale, a railway porter, had observed her enter a third-class carriage of the ten train for London, while every one knew that Simon had caught an earlier train, and had not yet returned. The thing was transparent. Norah's old lover, the under-gardener at the vicarage, acquired a sudden popularity. His idlest cronies got hold of him and treated him at the Cawthorne Arms so often that before noon he was quite intoxicated, and had already sworn a dozen oaths to crack the little valet's skull if he had to follow him half over England. Everybody sympathised with him, and execrated Simon. How dared a little ferret-faced rat of a man like Simon steal away their prettiest girl? Feeling soon ran high especially at the docks, for Norah was well liked, and the daughter of one of the oldest hands, a man who had grown up in the service of the company. The men muttered together at their work, and Denis Flaherty was pleasantly astonished at the number of invitations he received to drink. Denis, in his secret heart, was not inconsolable at Norah's loss; it meant one mouth less at home to feed, and Norah had always spent her little earnings on her own back. But Denis understood the popular demand, and he supplied it with a fine show of virtuous indignation, and dark mutterings of vengeance. He even went so far as to declare his intention of seeing the Earl about the matter; for was not Simon, in a way, Lord Cawthorne's servant, and therefore was not the Earl, in some vague measure responsible! His friends applauded him, and somewhat to Denis' dismay promptly fixed that night for the task. Half Stayton in fact, resolved to escort him to the Castle. Every man at the docks loved the Earl, and would not have pained him for the world. They all said that and repeated the remark at intervals. But a scandal, any scandal was dear to their souls; and was it not every man's duty to see that a rogue should be punished?

No one doubted in the least but Norah had been led astray. It is true that some of Norah's female friends smiled and shrugged their shoulders. Perhaps they sympathised with Simon—for Norah was a pretty girl, with airs and graces, but she was a woman nevertheless, and they dared not openly take sides against their sex's interests. If Simon had returned to Stayton by the train arriving at 6 o'clock (tea hour at the docks), he would infallibly have been maltreated, for by then the town was in a ferment, and the streets were lined with homing workmen. But he was fortunate enough to choose a later train, and when he set foot on the platform at eight the loungers nodded to him with even more than their usual civility. This miracle had occurred. In two hours popular opinion had acquitted Simon without a stain upon his character, and half Stayton was now ready to stand him an ashamed and reconciliating beer.

And Simon was responsible. For by the six train had arrived in Stayton a letter to Mrs. Flaherty from Norah, which the little valet had himself dictated. It ran as follows:—


"Dear Mum,

I'm writing to tell you that I've come to live in London. I can't give you my address just now, because my man doesn't want the marriage public yet, or he'll offend his people. He married me yesterday, and I'm very happy. My man is a gentleman and he is very rich. He's going to have me educated, and I'm to learn the piano and have one of my very own. Please give Mr. Vicars the handkerchief and shirts of Mr. Deen. They're all done and ready folded on my bed. I promised to take them to the Castle yesterday, but I was called sudden and had to go. Tell him I'm very sorry. I send you five pounds for a present, and I'll send you more soon. No more at present from your loving daughter,

Norah D——"

And he left the station, although the night was mild and Simon walked through the main street of the town, he did not meet a soul. The whole population, in fact, sat in doors, searching its recollections and considering the momentous question: "Who is the man? Norah had signed herself Mrs. D——" Did then her husband's name commence with 'D.' Obviously so, and yet—who could it be? Five thousand people scratched their heads and wondered. Norah had said he was rich and a gentleman. In that case he did not live in Stayton. And if not, where? Was he some chance visitor who had seen and been irresistibly attracted by Norah's big grey eyes! That seemed the only explanation possible, and before long it was generally accepted as the correct one. Some women here and there ventured to cast a doubt on Norah's story but they were instantly silenced with the retort, "Hey! would she send five pounds to her mother if it wasn't true?" That five-pound note was a stroke of genius on Simon's part. It bought Norah's parents, body and mind; it purchased instantaneous and almost universal credence of the other statements in Norah's letter, and finally it dazzled even the hardiest doubters, or held their malice tongue-tied. For five pounds was a little fortune in Stayton's eyes. And Stayton argued that only a rich woman could afford to give away so much. But Stayton presently went a step farther still, and said defiantly, "Only a lady would do so, being able."

Norah's character, therefore, was not only whitewashed, but by ten o'clock at latest she had a proud position in the social scale. And while Stayton was making her a lady, Norah sat in a London music-hall, beside the stout and matronly figure of the Bloomsbury boarding-house keeper to whose charge Simon had committed her; and utterly unconscious of her apotheosis, Norah screamed with laughter at a negro minstrel's sallies, until every one about her thought her a lunatic, or pitied her for the silly little country girl she was.

Simon Vicars found his master sitting up in bed, sick and very irritable. He had spent the day, he said, making his will; and he seemed anxious to have it executed there and then. "I may die to-night," he muttered gloomily, "and I want to be sure of everything before I sleep."

Simon suggested calling in two of the Castle servants as witnesses, and to his surprise the veiled man immediately assented. "I am growing used to people," he explained, "and I've been through so much of late that a little more or less to bear scarcely matters!"

Simon chose the butler and a footman, and brought them to his master's bedside.

The fellows were nervous and ill at ease, but they contrived to sign their names without spilling much ink in the process, and the veiled man rewarded them with a sovereign a piece.

There was a lot of gossip in the servant's hall that night.

Mr. Deen rendered no apology to Simon for his conduct at the wedding, but Simon was content to remember he had spat in his master's face. Instead of sulking, therefore, he made himself as agreeable as he could. But the veiled man seconded his efforts poorly. His mood was morbid and despondent. He seemed indifferent to everything. Simon described his doings at length and the arrangements he had made for Norah's comfort, without eliciting an observation. He cunningly reminded his master of the near approach of his revenge and only earned a sigh. In despair he cracked a joke, and the veiled man groaned.

Simon grew very serious. "I believe you are really ill, sir," he said at last. "Let me send for Dr. Somerton."

Mr. Deen shook his head. "I'm sicker in mind than in body, Simon," he replied. "I've passed a very lonely, miserable day."

Simon grinned behind his hand, for he thought of all the brandy his master had consumed on the previous evening.

"I expect you head ached too, sir," he murmured, turning aside to conceal a wink.

"Ah, my head ached too. It often aches now, Simon. I doubt I'm near the end."

"Stuff and nonsense!" cried Simon cheerfully. "You're just a bit upset, that's all, sir. And no wonder, considering the way you're been put about—the wedding and what not. You'll feel a different man to-morrow, sir!"

"If—I'm alive to-morrow—Simon."

"You'll be alive all right, sir. Why, bless my soul. I don't believe you could die if you tried, before you'd enjoyed your revenge. That would——"

"Hush, Simon!" said the veiled man, sitting suddenly erect. "Don't use that word again. I'm sick of it. It has tortured me all day. It will torture my dreams to-night. Go and fetch me some brandy!"

"Better not, sir. It doesn't do you any good."

"You heard me?"

"Yes—sir—but, but——"

"Go!"

Simon went.

"A stiff nip, Simon," said the veiled man curtly.

Simon felt curiously apprehensive. He had never seen his master in this mood before, and he liked it as little as he understood it. A glance into the wine cupboard gave him a new shock: It contained on the previous morning three bottles of strong French brandy; now two were empty, and the third was not full.

Two bottles and a quarter in less than two days, and Mr. Deen had ever been markedly abstemious. Simon shook his head.

The veiled man swallowed the liquor in one draught and sank back weakly on his pillows. Simon took a chair beside the bed, and toyed with the glass, frowning nervously the while.

The veiled man stared up at his purple canopy for some moments without moving. At last he turned restlessly about and his glance traversed the room. Of a sudden he put up his hands to his head and tore off his mask. Then raising himself on one elbow, he stared wildly at the opposite wall.

Simon noted that his master's face was unusually palid. The cones of the deepest scars still burned, but the surrounding masses were the color of a fish's belly, if possible the phenomenon increased his monstrous ugliness. Then again, his eyes, both the seeing and the blind, were bloodshot from the iris to the rim. He was a ghastly spectacle to see, and involuntarily Simon quailed. "What is it, sir?"

The veiled man pointed a crooked, wavering finger at the wall. "The bookshelf! Look! Look!" he gasped.

Simon glanced at the bookshelf. "Eh?" he muttered, deeply puzzled.

"Take that cat away!" cried the other in an awful voice.

Simon sprang to his feet. "Where?" he demanded.

"On the books. Quick! Quick!"

Simon examined the bookshelf with attention. "There is no cat there, sir. You must be dreaming," he said quietly.

The veiled man fell back on his pillow and covered his eyes with his hands. "I knew it," he groaned; "I knew it. Adam could not see it either. It is invisible to all but me. It is a devil! It has been sitting there all day. It is waiting to convey my soul to hell."

"Mr. Deen! Mr. Deen!" cried Simon. "You must pull yourself together. It is the brandy that has put this fancy in your head. You must drink no more!"

"Fool!" groaned the other, "it is my conscience."

"Your conscience?"

"Ay, I'm lost, I tell you—lost; damned eternally, unless—unless——"

"Unless what?" Simon's face was curiously pale.

"Unless I undo——what I have done."

Simon clenched his hands. "You can't," he muttered. "Are you mad to think of such a thing?" and he strode with a very grim look towards the bed.

The veiled man's breast heaved up and down, and Simon saw something gleam between his fingers. Astonishment held the little valet spell-bound. His master was crying like a child.

"I must—I must," he sobbed, in accents of despair. "I've been very wrong, very wicked. Adam is a good man and I have ruined him. I—I—— Oh, my God!"

He uttered a sudden frightful scream that rang and quivered through the building; then he tore the bed clothes from his meagre frame and sprang erect, glaring into Simon's eyes. "You—you devil!" he shouted shrilly. "It is your fault. You tempted me."

"No—no!" cried Simon, backing in affright.

"Liar that you are!" shrieked the veiled man, and with the fury of a maniac he hurled himself at Simon's throat.

The struggle was short and sharp, for though at first Simon was completely overmastered, the veiled man's strength completely gave out. In less than a minute his frantic hold relaxed, and he sank to the floor at Simon's feet, a huddled and insensate mass. Simon bore him to the bed, and only pausing to make sure his master's heart still beat, he hurried from the room to despatch a servant for the doctor.

Mr. Deen was still unconscious when Dr. Somerton arrived, but he yielded to restoratives, and when he awoke he seemed in a saner frame of mind, to Simon's thinking. At any rate he answered sensibly the questions put to him, and he said nothing while Simon was present of the cat upon the bookshelf, though he glanced in that direction furtively and frequently.

The doctor gave him a hypodermic injection of morphia and waited, holding his pulse until he slept. Simon's anxiety was feverish, for he did not want his master to die just yet. But the physician's impassive visage told him nothing, and he dared not to speak until he felt sure the veiled man could not hear.

It seemed a century before the doctor rose.

Simon was bursting. "Will he live? Is he bad?" he gasped.

The doctor gravely shook his head. "He is in a most precarious condition. I don't think he can last this week out. Can I see the Earl?"

"I think his lordship is out," faltered Simon, "but he won't be long now; it's after ten."

"I'll wait; you might take me to his rooms!"

Simon nodded, and, in a feeble halting fashion, he led the way to the other wing. He even forgot to lock the dividing door behind him, and he was so plainly overcome and stricken down that Dr. Somerton was moved to kindly thoughts.

"You seem deeply attached to your master, my man," he observed in a sympathetic voice.

Simon was thinking. "If he—if he dies before he clears up matters with his cousin—I'll have all the responsibility of proving my case. They may even choose to fight me."

"Ah, doctor," he cried, "can't you keep him alive a little longer—just a month or two, even a few weeks?"

Dr. Somerton put a pitying hand on Simon's shoulder. "Human skill can avail nothing, Simon. His heart is almost worn out. It's like a horse knocked up from a long journey; it can only go a very little further before it will fail and fall, in spite of spur and stimulant alike."

Simon groaned. "A week—one week?" he pleaded desperately. Dr. Somerton was touched. Such devotion in a servant was a rare and precious thing.

"I'll do all I can. He may last a week," he answered gently.

They had reached the Earl's study by then. Simon opened the door and thrust aside the curtain.

"Hallo, who is there?" came suddenly from within. The Earl had spoken.

Simon started, then impulsively stepped forward. "If you please, my lord, I didn't know you were at home. Master is dying, and the doctor has come to tell you," he blurted out.

Cawthorne had been writing a letter. He dropped his pen and stood up.

Dr. Somerton bowed to him from the threshold. "It is true, I regret to say," he murmured, advancing into the room with a depreciative shoulder-shrug. "Your cousin, it seems, has unfortunately disregarded my advice. Instead of keeping perfectly quiet, and avoiding all disturbing influences, upon which course of action I repeatedly warned him that his life depended, he has been drinking heavily and over-exciting himself."

"What!" cried the Earl, "drinking! John! Impossible!"

"I assure you it is the case!"

Cawthorne gave Simon a look of anger. "You——" he began; but Simon threw out his hands.

"My lord, my lord, I've been away on a holiday. I only returned to-night. But I can swear he never touched a drop while I was with him."

"That is quite possible," interpolated the doctor. "Mr. Deen had evidently not been drinking long. But," and he shrugged his shoulders, "the mischief is unhappily done."

"I'll go to him at once!" cried Cawthorne suddenly.

"He is asleep now. I was obliged to give him morphia," rejoined the doctor "He was not quite right in his mind. Once, when Simon was out of the room, he implored me to chase away a cat he thought he saw upon——"

Cawthorne passed his hand across his brow. "Good heavens!" he interrupted, "that reminds me. I spent the afternoon with him, and he kept asking me at intervals to look at a cat upon his bookshelf. I thought he was joking."

"That's it!" gasped Simon. "He saw something there, I'm sure. He told me to drive the cat away; and when I said there wasn't one, he declared it was a devil."

"A common enough hallucination," said the doctor, nodding his head; "due perhaps to alcohol. Did he eat to-day? Simon could not tell me."

"Oh, yes; I saw to his meals myself. Certainly he did not eat much, but then he never had a big appetite."

"Humph! We'll need a nurse, my lord."

"I'll nurse him!" cried Simon eagerly. "He'd die twice as quick with a stranger about him. He hates strangers. I've nursed him before."

"But he'll need to be watched night and day, my man, as the end approaches——"

"I'll take turn about with him if you will allow me, doctor?" interrupted Cawthorne. "It is quite true what Simon says. My poor cousin has an abnormal detestation of strangers. His terrible affliction has made him keenly sensitive. And if he must die, should we not try and make his last moments as comfortable as possible."

The doctor bowed. "I was considering the living as well as the dying," he replied. "It is quite likely that Mr. Deen will not recover consciousness again, in which case your task will be particularly painful. But, on the other hand, he may—perhaps it were kinder to assume he will. It is, besides, the last office you will need to render him."

Simon burst into tears. "My poor master!" he wailed. "The kindest and best man I ever had!"

Cawthorne was touched, and all the more because, after the first shock of knowledge, he could not help feeling almost glad that his cousin was about to die. He stepped forward and put his hand on Simon's shoulders. "Calm yourself, my man," he said in a soft, gentle voice. "You have done your duty to your master, I am sure—nor will I forget that when he is gone."

Simon shook with sobs. "He's been more than a father to me. I'll—I'll be going back to him," he muttered brokenly, and seemingly unable to control his agitation, he stumbled out of the room.

Dr. Somerton and Cawthorne looked at one another.

"Few are able to inspire such devotion—your cousin must be a good man, my lord," said the doctor gravely.

"The best—the very best. Can nothing be done for him?" The Earl's voice was very husky.

"Nothing."

"How long?"

"He may linger a week! Good night, my lord. I'll come early in the morning."

When the doctor had gone, Cawthorne crossed the room and threw up the window. For long he stood before it, gazing out into the noiseless darkness; oblivious of the chill blast that blew upon his face; lost indeed in melancholy meditations. At length, however, he turned about and glanced with a little shiver at his table. "I'll have to tell her," he muttered. With lagging steps he moved to the desk, and slowly and reluctantly sat down. Then he took up his pen and with a heavy sigh commenced his task.


"Dorothy," he wrote, "my cousin John is dying. The doctor says he cannot last another week. What will you think of me when I tell you I am glad? I have no regrets at all, though I am sunk in shame to realise that this is so. He is the best of men, the saviour of my life, my kindest benefactor. Yet I have never liked him, and now I am glad that he is dying. There must be something cruelly selfish and abominably wicked in my nature. It is hard for me to tell you this, but it is only right that you should know—before it is too late. And if you feel you cannot trust your life to such a one as honour binds me to confess I am, I shall be punished even less than I deserve. After what I have already said, I hardly dare to write what I have so often whispered in your ears—I love you, dear. God knows I do, but—but is my love worth having? In all humility I ask you to decide. Will you send a word to me? I shall try to wait in patience, for I am a coward, and dare not go to you until I know—

yours always,

Adam John Deen."

Cawthorne slipped the letter into its envelope, and pressed a button on his table. A servant appeared. "You rang, my lord?"

"Post this, please—at once."

The man took the letter and departed. The Earl selected a cigar from his box and thoughtfully bit off the end.

"Should I have had the courage to be entirely honest, if I had doubted her love of me?" he wondered, and there was in his eyes a look of pain and self-contempt.

A moment later he suddenly arose, and with an exclamation of anger or disgust he threw his unlighted cigar into the blazing grate.

"I'll go to John," he muttered. "At least I should do that." And he strode frowning darkly from the room.


CHAPTER XXXI.

Cawthorne found the door that gave access to his cousin's rooms wide open. He paused for a moment on the threshold, thinking, in a shocked fashion, how angered John would be if he knew. Then he remembered that John was dying, and he understood that Simon's carelessness was intentional. He left the door as it was and passed on, wondering dully at the power of the death to change.

Simon Vicars was seated at his master's bedside. He arose when Cawthorne entered, and gravely saluted.

The Earl glanced at his cousin, and in a low voice asked about his mask.

"He took it off himself, my lord," answered Simon. "You need not fear to disturb him; he could not be aroused, I think."

"But he will wake."

"Please God, my lord."

Cawthorne looked at Simon curiously. "Go to bed, my man," he said. "I'll watch to-night."

He had expected a protest, but Simon bowed and immediately withdrew.

Cawthorne took the chair he had vacated, and gazed pitifully at the veiled man's face.

John Deen was breathing in a regular but laboured way; his hands crossed idly; his breast rose and fell with each respiration. His distorted lips were just parted sufficiently to show a gleaming ridge of yellow teeth. He seemed to smile and sneer—eternally.

"No man ever had a sadder life," mused Cawthorne. "And no man ever bore his cross with nobler resignation. Why is it that I cannot like him?"

"How hideous he is!" he muttered. "How utterly repulsive! How loathsomely he grins! And yet beneath that monstrous ugliness dwells a grand and lofty soul. Is it that the littleness of mine is jealous of his grandeur? Is that the reason why I find it difficult to endure him, even sleeping?"

He uttered a groan and covered his face with his hands. His heart ached. He had tried so hard and frequently to lose his cousin, tried with all his strength—and failed.

And still he failed. Shame overpowered and unmanned him. He felt himself unspeakably mean and vile, a creature more despicable than the lowest criminal. In an anguish of self-abasement, he cast himself upon his knees beside the bed, and called himself by the cruellest names aloud. At last, however, broken by emotion, he gave way like a woman, and wept bitterly.

How long afterwards, he did not know, he fell asleep. He awoke to find himself still kneeling, his hands outstretched across the cover lid. There was weight upon his head. He roused himself with a start, and saw that it was broad daylight. Something slipped from his head and fell dully on the clothes. His eyes were at first a little dazzled by the light, but he looked down and made out his cousin's hand. John's hand had been resting on his head. He caught his breath and glanced quickly at the other. John's eyes were open, and looking at him with a softness of expression he had never seen in them before.

"John!" he cried.

"Father, father!" muttered the veiled man, feebly but in a sort of ecstasy.

Cawthorne's heart for a painful second stood still. John had mistaken him for the beloved parent. Cawthorne's uncle and John's father, who had been a father to them both. Cawthorne remembered that he had always been supposed to resemble his uncle in face and form, and with the remembrance came a thrill of anguish. How had his uncle died?

"No—no, John," he groaned. "It's not father, it is I, your cousin Adam!"

The veiled man slowly blinked his eyes, and their expression hardened.

"I—I—was dreaming—I suppose," he said. "Give me some water."

Cawthorne hastily supplied his want, supporting his head while he drank.

"I'm—in—great pain—my heart!" gasped the veiled man presently.

"My poor John!"

"Where is Simon?"

"He has not come down yet—I'll call him."

"Wait! You—you have not been to bed."

"No, but I slept."

"Here? Kneeling beside me?"

"Yes."

He frowned and put up his hand to his face. "Oh!" he exclaimed.

"Shall I get you your veil?" whispered the Earl.

"No thank you, Adam. I don't seem to care. Strange, isn't it?"

Cawthorne bit his lip; he could not trust himself to speak.

"How long will I live Adam?"

"John!" cried the Earl.

"How long? I know I'm dying."

"The doctor says—a week perhaps!" Cawthorne answered huskily.

The veiled man smiled. "He's a fool. I'll live longer, but not much." His voice was assured and grim. "I'm not sorry," he added gravely. "Are you?" and he looked into his cousin's eyes.

Cawthorne turned white.

"Are you?" repeated the veiled man.

"No, John," the Earl replied trembling tones. "It is best I think."

"For me!"

"John! John!" The cry came from the Earl's very soul and was full of agonised entreaty.

The veiled man sighed. "Never mind," he muttered. "I'll say it—for you too. Adam—best—certainly best. But there's a thing you must do for me before I go——"

"Anything," groaned the Earl—"anything."

"Promise me."

"As God hears, I promise."

"You must marry Lady Dorothy at once—and bring her here. I—I have a word to say to her."

"But, John, she—she may refuse."

"A dying man's last prayer?"

"I'll go to her."

"This morning?"

"Yes."

The veiled man closed his eyes. "Send Simon to me," he muttered.

But Simon was already at the door, and perhaps had heard for he entered at a run. "Master!" he cried. "Master!"

The veiled man did not open his eyes but he spoke at once with irritation. "Don't be an idiot, Simon," he commanded angrily. "I'm not deaf. See the Earl away and lock the door behind him."

Cawthorne exchanged a glance with Simon, who had stopped dead in the middle of the room, and then moved towards the door. Simon followed sheepishly.

"He seems better, my lord," he whispered in the passage.

Cawthorne shook his head. "He knows he's dying, but he has an iron will," he answered solemnly.

The veiled man waited eagerly for Simon's return. Simon found him seated half erect, and trembling so violently that the bed shook under him.

"Cushions—cushions!" he gasped.

The little valet sprang like an adder to his side and propped him up with pillows.

"You shouldn't—truly you shouldn't sit," he expostulated nervously. "Why couldn't you wait?"

"My time's too short. Send for her, Simon. Send for her, by telegram."

"Eh? Eh? Who, sir?"

"Norah."

"Ah!"

"She shall nurse me. You must buy her a costume for the part. Simon, Simon—it's coming, it's coming. I've waited long, but it's coming now—coming!"

"Calm yourself, sir! For God's sake calm yourself."

But the veiled man uttered a curse and waved him back. His eyes were simply ablaze.

"Adam has promised to marry Lady Dorothy at once and bring her here. Oh! he! God! he! We'll give them a pretty drama for their wedding present. Listen! Look! I here, you there; Nora beside you! They enter and stand here: so; my——Adam—my dearly beloved cousin—and you, Lady Dorothy—permit me to present to you my wife!"

"For God's sake, sir!" cried Simon, and he darted forward, for the veiled man was sitting upright clawing at the air and grasping for breath.

Simon forced him back upon the pillows and dashed some water in his face.

"Send for her! Send for her!" panted the veiled man, and then, as though he had expended all his strength, he ceased to struggle and lay still.

At that moment there came a loud knocking at the dividing door. "Dr. Somerton!" cried Simon, and ran thither like a hare.

"Quickly, quickly, doctor," cried Simon. "He has been very excited, and I think he fainted."

But the veiled man had not swooned; he had heard the knocking, and by a tremendous exertion of his will retained his consciousness. He had a word to say to the physician—a word that could not wait. He opened his eyes as the doctor approached him and forced his lips to a smile.

Dr. Somerton took his wrist and felt his pulse. "This is madness!" he commented grimly. "Madness! You are in a fever. Do you want to die to-day?"

John Deen just contrived to shake his head. "No more morphia," he whispered gaspingly. "I want—to—keep—my senses."

"Then you must obey me. The least excitement robs you of hours—days. You must promise to be quiet."

"I'll be quiet. I promise," said the veiled man, and he closed his eyes. Doctor Somerton barely heard the words, so feeble were their utterance.

"The smelling salts, Simon," he said quietly. "This time your master has really fainted."


CHAPTER XXXII.

Dorothy was seated in the library. She had just finished her breakfast, and was in the act of reading her lover's letter for the second time, when a servant brought her his card.

Cawthorne had scrawled in pencil: "A matter of life and death."

Dorothy said to the footman. "Here—Somers," and waited.

Cawthorne entered, hat in hand, but he did not go right up to her; he did not even offer to shake hands.

"You are reading?" he said, and, pointed at the letter.

Dorothy nodded. "I do not like it at all," she answered coldly. Then she saw how pale he was, how darkly ringed his eyes, and her heart softened.

"It was a thing to tell me in your arms," she murmured in reproachful tones.

"I was a coward, darling; but indeed it seemed a duty that could not be postponed—even for an hour. Does it make a difference?"

Dorothy looked into his eyes. "I never thought you perfect, dear," she said, "if you were, it is possible I would not care—so much."

"Ah!" he cried, "you are an angel! But it is just as true that I'm not fit to black your shoes."

"And is that why as yet you—you have not——" she paused and cast down her eyes.

"I have not——"

"Kissed me," whispered Dorothy, blushing divinely.

Cawthorne clasped her passionately to his breast and bent his lips to hers. "My precious one," he muttered tenderly. "I dreamed of this, yet hardly dared to think I was dreaming true. It is so beyond my merit. But yet, ah, dear, if you could know how sharply I despise myself."

"Hush, Adam, you are wrong, and very foolish. It is not your fault that you dislike your cousin. Our hearts belong to God, dear, and He uses them according to His pleasure. I thank Him from my soul that He has made you love me. I cannot doubt His goodness there! and shall I doubt His goodness in another case? Listen, dear, perhaps you were not allowed to like your cousin in order that your duty to him should be rendered difficult. It is easy to care for those you love."

"Ah, Dorothy, if I could think so."

"And why not, dear? You have been sorely tried. Your duty has been sometimes hard to follow."

"Often, Dorothy."

"But you have not failed?"

"It is my only consolation, and it was not a consolation till this moment. Dorothy, do you know I began to fear and worship you, as well as love you. Where did you get your precious wisdom from?"

The girl smiled happily. "From my love," she whispered. "It teaches me something new and beautiful every minute of the day. But tell me, Adam—did you come to get my answer to your note; and wrote upon the card—a matter of life and death?"

Cawthorne's face grew very serious. He held her at arm's-length and looked into her eyes.

"Dearest," he said gravely. "John's dying wish is to see us wed before he goes. He has a thing, he says—to tell my wife. He is waiting for your answer."

Dorothy turned pale. "Your wife!" she faltered. "My answer?"

"Will you come to him, my darling?"

"How—can it be?" she caught her breath. "You—said—a week!" Her lashes lay along her cheeks, and from neck to brow she burned.

"Less than a week, my sweet. It would mean within a day, or two at most. If done it should be quickly done; can you trust me sweetheart, a little sooner than your promise? I would not ask, however much I wished, except for John. But he is dying, absolutely dying; and it is the last service I can render him!"

"You promised——"

"For myself—not you," he interrupted quickly.

Dorothy raised her head. "You could not give any one promise that would not bind me," she said proudly. "And since you promised, I shall go to him as your wife and when you will!"

Cawthorne said nothing for a moment, and when he spoke, it was with a painful effort.

"The first words of the Centurion's prayer are running through my mind," he uttered huskily. "I'm not worthy that you should enter under my roof."

Dorothy put her hands upon his breast. "Adam," she said firmly, looking bravely in his eyes. "You must not pay me homage—that discredits you. It hurts me, Adam. In this matter neither of us thinks of self. Not I—not you. We have a duty to perform, to your cousin who has done so much for both of us; and that is enough. But now and for all time, dear, remember this on pain of my displeasure. I am no more angel than you are seraph." She smiled. "I am a woman who loves you"—her smiles faded and she paled as well—"very purely, dear—but passionately. Do you understand?"

But if Cawthorne knew he acted very strangely; for he stooped on a sudden very, low and kissed her hands. And it was also strange that, despite her protest, Dorothy refrained from chiding him. It is true her eyes flashed as if in anger; but when he arose, instead of voicing her chagrin, she offered him her lips and twined her arms about his neck, weeping as though her heart would break. "It is so soon, so soon," she whispered in her sobs. "Ah, Adam dear, be good to me—promise to be good to me!"

And Cawthorne, white to the lips, swore a vow that seemed to give her comfort, so that presently she ceased to weep, and pushed herself apart from him.

"Leave me, dear," she muttered, not daring to look up.

"Your father," he suggested, embracing her fondly with his eyes.

"I'll speak to him," she said. "He'll like it best from me," and Cawthorne went.

His dogcart waited at the door, but he sent it on; he had to be alone. Yet he walked quickly and he would not have looked back, had he felt sure that Dorothy was watching him. His happiness was so intense that it was very near akin to pain, his heart was aching with pity for his cousin. Poor John had missed so much, so very much. He did not know it, but as he walked, tears were trickling down his cheeks. He passed a man who touched his hat without response and stared at him concernedly. The man was Denis Flaherty. "Begorrah," said Flaherty to himself, "did wan ever see the loike?"

Flaherty was going to the Cliff House with a message from Sir Felix Greig to Lady Dorothy. He was much surprised and a little contemptuous to have seen a man cry, but, like all his fellow-workmen, he adored the Earl, and no one ever heard the story from his lips. Cawthorne entered the little wood, like a man in a dream, but before he came to the end of it he was once more his own master. He had been awakened by an accident that may easily happen to a dreamer. He tripped upon a root of a tree, and fell heavily to the ground. He was still brushing his clothes when a voice hailed him. He looked up and saw Francine Toombes. The beautiful widow was seated in her brougham. She asked him to open the door, and stepped out upon the road. Then she told her coach man to drive on and wait a hundred yards ahead of her.

"I saw you pass my house an hour ago," she explained, returning to the Earl, "and guessing where you might be going, I followed because I have something most important to say to you."

Cawthorne shook his head. "My cousin is dying," he said gravely. "And I have much to do. Don't think me discourteous, Francine, but I cannot wait."

"Won't you let me walk beside you?" asked the widow; then she muttered, "I am very sorry, Adam—awfully sorry—but I must speak, and when you hear me, you'll agree that you were right to listen. Besides, I won't detain you long; and if you are in a hurry, I can drive you—afterwards—to wherever you wish to go."

Cawthorne liked the widow very much. He had seen her but little of late, and it suddenly struck him that he had uncavalierly neglected a good and true friend, since he had fallen in love with Lady Dorothy. He rather shamefacedly came to a halt. "You are kinder than I deserve," he said frankly. "I am at your service."

"I've been wanting to see you several days past," she began, "but my business was—was too private to discuss at Dorothy's, where I might have gone to see you—and yet I did not like to send for you—for more reasons than one."

"Well," said he.

"It is about a woman, a lady. I met her in Italy, when I was spending my honeymoon, eight years ago." She faltered a little, then resumed, "We became great friends, and have corresponded ever since. She arrived here last Thursday to spend a few days with me. She is the Countess of Forli."

She glanced at the Earl very keenly, as she named her friend. But he merely lifted his brows, and said "Indeed!" He looked resolutely patient.

"Does the name recall no memories?" she asked.

"None."

Francine seemed very disappointed. "I am sorry," she said quietly. "Forgive me if I pain you, Adam. She is your mother, and she wants to see you."

Cawthorne staggered back as if he had been struck by a bullet. "My mother!" he gasped; then, "No—no—no!" he cried. "She is dead!"

Francine in pity looked away. "Did your father tell you that?" she murmured. "It would have been most natural. Nevertheless she is alive—and here; she has come from Italy to see you—just once before she dies. You won't refuse her, Adam; she may have sinned, but she has suffered much. And—she is a woman and your mother."

Cawthorne was thinking—"Not my mother but John's, and John is dying. What must I do?"

Francine went on speaking in low rapid tones. "You must not hate me for knowing, Adam; you see, I am the only friend she had hereabouts, and she dared not communicate with you direct. She had to confide in some one, and she has been aching to see you ever since you returned to England. But she could not come before. The Count died a month ago at Florence. He left her enormous riches, but she is too old to care. She is so lonely, so sad; you are her only child. I believe her heart would just break if you refused to see her. You won't do that, Adam. Ah no, you can't do that."

Cawthorne's expression was dazed and dull. "I must think," he muttered wearily, "I must think. I'll let you know——"

"Oh, but promise me you'll see her, Adam. I can't, I simply can't go back to her with empty hands. I left her almost prostrate with excitement and anxiety. Say you'll see her, Adam, if even in a day or two. She can wait with hope. Adam, you are a man, a big strong man, surely, surely you'll not be hard with your own mother—pleading—praying—"

Cawthorne put out his hand. "Don't, Francine," he almost groaned; "it's not myself I'm thinking of. You don't understand. I—I—there is my cousin; he is dying—and I owe him more than my life. He needs me—most, immediately. Tell her to wait a little—I——"

"You'll see her!" Francine cried, "Oh, thank God! you've made me happy, Adam. But when—when——"

"Soon," he answered vaguely. "I—I will let you know."

"You'll not keep her long?"

"No." He raised his hand and beckoned to the widow's carriage, which turned at once and drove quickly up.

"Where shall I take you?" asked Francine, as she entered and made room for him.

"To the Castle," he replied, and sank back in his seat. Francine gave the order and they started. It was a silent journey, but it did not seem so, for both were thinking busily; but while Francine's thoughts were tender and triumphant, the Earl's were full of uncertainty and gloom. What influence would this new complication exercise upon his life? he wondered. Would his cousin, the veiled man, consent to see his mother? In that case his duty, though difficult and painful, would be plain to follow. He would be obliged to explain his impersonation to the Countess of Forli (his aunt) and lead her to John's bedside. He shuddered to consider that interview. The broken-hearted mother and the hideously deformed dying son! And how she would loathe him when she knew that her child's unspeakable misfortunes were due to him—him—alone! It would hardly fail to make her his enemy; and what might she not do and say—afterwards. Give his story to the world in a manner to hurt him—and—Dorothy! It did not seem impossible. He shivered and sat up.

Francine was gazing out the window, a contented smile upon her face.

Cawthorne smiled and shrugged his shoulders. He tried to banish thought. But his mind speedily began to whirl again. What if the veiled man were to refuse to see the Countess and to insist that he, Cawthorne, should personate him still? Would it be possible for him to obey? What, to deceive a mother to pretend to be her son! Her real son lying on his death bed; near at hand. Possible? Right? It would be a crime, abominable, unforgivable! "Good God!" he groaned, and unconsciously he crashed his hands together.

Francine, startled by the sound, turned and looked at him. "Adam," she cried, "what is the matter? You frighten me." And indeed her exclamation was excusable, for Cawthorne's face was grey, his eyes ghastly. But he recovered in a second and contrived to smile.

"I was rude enough to forget where I was," he ruefully explained. "I was thinking of—of the Countess."

"Your mother," she corrected, in reproachful tones.

Cawthorne was saved replying by the sudden stoppage of the brougham. They had arrived. He opened the door and sprang to the ground.

"You'll not forget?" murmured Francine, offering her hand.

Cawthorne held her hand for a while, a little longer than was necessary. "No," said he, "I'll not forget; and thank you, Francine, for your care of her!"

The widow gave him a charming smile, and went away very happily, for she was thinking how happy the Earl's last words would make her friend.


CHAPTER XXXIII.

Simon looked quite bright and hopeful when he opened to the Earl. "Master seems ever so much better, my lord," he muttered joyfully. "He has taken some broth, and a bit ago he put on the mask again—a real good sign that, don't you think?"

"Is the doctor here?"

"No, but he's coming again at twelve. He said we were to keep the master very quiet, and not let him talk too much. Oh, but I forgot to tell you, master asked for a nurse for himself; so I telegraphed for a lady I know. As soon as I said I knew one, he declared he'd have her and no other. I hope you won't think I've taken too much liberty, my lord."

Simon's humility was a touching thing to see; but the Earl was too preoccupied to be aware of it. He dismissed the matter with a shrug. "One nurse is much the same as another, I suppose. Is your master awake now, Simon?"

"He's been dozing off and on ever since the doctor left, my lord; but I think he's awake now."

Cawthorne pushed past the valet. "Don't trouble to follow," he said quietly. "I have something to say in private to my cousin."

Simon smiled. He thought he could guess what the Earl had to say. Lady Dorothy had either refused or consented to marry him. Simon could wait; he would know soon enough.

Cawthorne entered the veiled man's bedroom, and softly approached the couch. The invalid lay very still, the vizor of his helmet staring at the ceiling.

"Are you awake, old boy?" the Earl asked in a half whisper.

John turned his head, "Back Adam—at last," he sighed. "Is it yes or no?"

"It is yes, John. Dorothy will marry me. But, tell me how do you feel?"

"A great deal stronger, Adam."

"That is fortunate, for I have a thing to tell you which you should not wait to know. We have always believed, you and I, John, that your mother died years ago. But we were wrong. She is alive, and here. She is craving to see her son. Naturally she assumes that I am he."

The veiled man gazed at Cawthorne through his vizor for a full minute without speaking. He was inexpressible amazed. "Oh," he said at last. "My mother. How curious! Alive—and she is here."

Cawthorne had never heard him speak so softly, so nearly reverently, and a sudden wonder filled him.

"She is staying with a friend of mine, Francine Toombes," he murmured. "She has come over from Italy expressly to see you. Francine says she has been longing to come over ever since she heard of our return to England, but her husband was ill and she could not leave him."

"She is married!" cried the veiled man.

"Was," corrected Cawthorne gently, "her husband died last month."

The veiled man frowned behind his mask. "Father assured me she was dead," he said in harder tones. "This woman may be an impostor who has heard our story and is wolfing for money."

"I think not, John. She is the Countess of Forli, and Francine says immensely rich. Mrs. Toombes, besides, has known her for many years, and loves her. I feel sure she is your mother, John."

The veiled man seemed to ponder. After a moment he asked in a doubtful voice, "Have you seen her, Adam?"

"No, but I have promised—on your account, of course. You will see her, John?" The veiled man shut his eyes and began to consider the matter very seriously. He was human enough to wish to see his mother, even though he had throughout life borne her memory in resentment, for had she not wrecked the happiness of the one and only being in all the world whom he had ever truly loved?—his father. But he had for so long made his every act, and every accident of fate subservient to his desire to wreak at his death a Parthian vengeance on his cousin, that his second thought was hitherto directed. If he consented to receive his mother, would his revenge be in any wise jeopardised? Would——?

But his reflections were interrupted by his cousin's voice. "I've been thinking, John," said Cawthorne, "that I ought not to marry Dorothy under present circumstances. You see, when your mother learns how we are situated, and how it was that you were injured, and so on, as she must know and ought to know, it is impossible that she can regard me in a kindly fashion. Indeed, it is more than likely that she will blame me and detest me as the cause of your terrible misfortunes and your death. How then could we be sure that she will consent to preserve the secret of my impersonations? Consider the scandal that one whisper of that abroad would cause! Who would put faith in the purity of my motives, with you not by to defend me? The world would infallibly condemn me. It would be said that I had taken advantage of you, perhaps that I imprisoned and ill-treated you—perhaps murdered you. People are only too anxious to believe the worst of their kind. Well, John—what then? My reputation would be ruined for all time! I don't exaggerate, believe me. And——"

"Stop!" said the veiled man suddenly. "You go to needless trouble in raising these objections, Adam. I have no intention of seeing this woman. She may be my mother, but what do I care in any case? If she is my mother, she is the vile creature whose wanton faithless conduct broke my dear old father's heart made of him a drunkard, and ruined his whole life. I loathe her, Adam; loathe her from the bottom of my soul. I would rather entertain a devil fresh from hell!"

Cawthorne started and frowned. "John, John!" he cried. "Whatever she did, she is a woman and your mother."

"I tell you, I loathe her."

"John, she bore you——"

"I have little cause to thank her for that," he interrupted bitterly.

"But she was not responsible——"

"She was responsible for her adultery——"

"John!" Cawthorne's voice rang sharp with pain. "I must beg you to spare me."

"Then never mention her name to me again."

"Unhappily I must; I have promised on your account to see her."

"Then see her on your own."

"No—no; impossible."

The veiled man smiled behind his mask; with the swiftness of a flash of lightning an inspiration had occurred to him.

He saw a way clear to make his mother an instrument of his revenge. If he could but induce his cousin to impersonate him to his mother now—at once—why then in a few days' time, when he was dead, Adam would be exposed as a liar to the Countess, and incur thereby her hatred and her scorn. His smile grew fiendishly cruel.

"Why impossible?" he asked in low caressing tones. "It is evident to me that you pity the woman, Adam. Go to her, and act the part your heart dictates—a pitiful forgiving son. She has not seen me since I was a baby, and it will be easy to persuade her that you are her child. Your strong resemblance to my father would alone convince her. Yes, Adam, go to her, and everybody will be satisfied. I, for I care nothing except that I do not see her; you, because your soft heart cannot bear to see a human creature suffering; and she, because it seems that she is craving for the comfort you can give her."

Cawthorne's brows contracted till they met. "It would be wrong—wicked," he muttered, "to deceive a mother—to allow her to——"

"Would you prefer to take her the only message I can send? Do so, if you will. Tell her that I look upon her as the worst of women—that I abominate and——"

"John, for Heaven's sake be silent!"

"Then choose and choose quickly, but remember this—I have only a few days to live. You owe me much, but you can pay the debt in full by showing me your wife before I go. I have set my heart upon it. Do that, and I'll die happy. Fail, and much as I love you, Adam, I'll not be able to forgive you, for you'll have baulked the one dear bitter, sweet ambition of my declining life."

"John, John, you set me a cruel task. I have been too long a liar for your sake."

The veiled man sighed. "I've counted on it," he murmured tenderly, "and loved you for it, dear old boy. But bear with me a little yet. Listen. I cannot see my mother. I could not say a gracious word to her. I remember my father and my heart closes up. An interview with her would kill me. And yet—and yet, Adam, I do not want to pain her. I would like to die at peace with all the world. Do you go to her and be my proxy. Say the things I wish, but have not the strength of mind to say. Forgive her. Comfort her. Dismiss her. It is impossible with her history that she could live in England. You will in all human likelihood meet her but the once. You'll deceive her, it is true. But who is injured by it? Not she; and you'll make her happy. Not I; for you'll have rendered me a service, a Christian service. Who then?"

"I," groaned the Earl.

The other gazed at him for a moment, and then said in a voice of piercing sweetness. "I always forget you, Adam. But I'll mend my ways, while yet it is not too late. Forgive me for my selfishness, old chap, and forget it if you can. Give my compliments to Lady Dorothy, and say good-bye to her for me. As for my mother, bring her to me—to-night. Go now, Adam; I'm feeling—rather tired and weak."

But Cawthorne, instead of departing, moved closer to the bed. His face was a little flushed, and there was a look of melancholy resolution in his eyes. "I'll—take your mother—your forgiveness," he muttered, "and—I'll bring Dorothy to you to-morrow—if I can."

The veiled man sighed. "Not if it hurts you, Adam."

"I am hoping it will," replied the Earl, and he walked slowly from the room.

Simon Vicars stood in the opposite doorway reading a telegram. "Oh, my lord," he cried as Cawthorne approached him. "Do you think you could look after master for a while this evening? The nurse will arrive by the night train, and I think I ought to meet her, so as to tell her all about his ways and so on."

The Earl nodded. "I'll dine early, and relieve you at seven or even before. You had better order a carriage to take you to the train."

"Thank you very much, my lord."

Cawthorne found on his table a letter from Lady Dorothy that had just arrived by hand. It ran—


"Dearest,

I have prevailed on father to consent to our immediate marriage; but it was difficult; he so detests the unusual, and even now he is more resigned than pleased. He suggests that we should go abroad afterwards. Father will arrange it himself with the dear old Vicar to marry us. And he wishes you to meet him at Mr. Southdown's office at two o'clock this afternoon. Those stupid settlements, I suppose, the very thought of which I hate. And dearest, father says that we should not see each other again before the ceremony.

Your loving Dorothy."

Cawthorne put the letter in his pocket, and glanced at his watch; it pointed to a quarter before noon. "I have to see about the license, I suppose," he muttered, and rang the bell. "Have Black Prince saddled, please," he said to the footman. "And tell the butler I'll lunch immediately."

Twenty minutes later he was cantering smartly towards the town.


CHAPTER XXXIV.

Cawthorne left the solicitor's office at four o'clock, having executed an agreement to settle a large sum on Lady Dorothy after the marriage; Mr. Southdown having been unable to complete the preparation of proper settlements at so short a notice. The Marquis had treated him throughout their tedious interview with an acid coolness that he found very hard to bear. And although the young man endured the trial manfully, he set out on his homeward journey, feeling sore at heart and worn out with his long effort to restrain himself. For that reason he rode more carelessly than usual. He was musing sorrowfully on his prospective father-in-law's manifest dislike of him, and wondering at its cause, when Black Prince, feeling the reins hang loosely on his neck, took it in his head to bolt.

Cawthorne awoke from his reflections with a shock, to find himself speeding at a break-neck gallop through the town. He was a good rider, and the sudden start had not unseated him. But he always rode without a curb, and Black Prince treated the snaffle with contempt. Moreover, he saw a hundred yards before him, two carts drawn straight across the narrow road. For a moment he was utterly dismayed, for the passage was quite blocked, and an accident appeared inevitable. Then he remembered that Black Prince was a hunter, and he took a little courage. He heard a shout, a woman's scream, and he saw a man dart out like an arrow to one of the horses in the cart. The man seized the horse's bit and tried to drag his head around. Next instant Cawthorne was upon him. It seemed that the man was doomed, but Cawthorne, who lived a lifetime in that second, resolved that one who tried to save him should not suffer. He gave a mighty wrench at his left rein, and slashed his whip across the face of the bolting thoroughbred. Black Prince snorted and swerved, but he had already gathered for his jump. He rose in air and cleared the fore part of the second waggon in a splendid flying leap. His pace carried him across without a touch, but in the swerve Cawthorne lost his seat. He struggled madly and vainly to regain it, yet for a while he clung on, upheld by one spur entangled in the saddle rim and his hands wild clutch upon the reins. He saw the houses glimmer past, beneath the horse's neck, dancing and tossing like card structures in a storm. There followed trees as dizzily awhirl, then a flat stretch of country that rose and fell like billows in a gale. His strength was failing fast; lower and lower his head and body sank. Soon the landscape ceased to play its reeling pranks and only the blue sky met his dazzled gaze. A curious sense of unreality possessed him. He tried to realise that it was his own experience he was living through. He said to himself, in a few seconds I shall be killed. But he was in no wise serious. A second sense informed him that he was safe at home lying on his bed and dreaming the experience of some other man. He smiled and put out his hand. It touched the coverlid of a bed. He felt the honeycombed surface of the quilt with recognising fingers. "I knew it," he thought, and smiled again. Then he wondered at the darkness. "It must be night," he mused. "I must go to sleep again."

But he did not sleep, and in a moment or two he became conscious that his head ached badly. Then a canary began to sing. It struck him a little later, as a strange thing that a bird should sing at night. A little later still he wondered who had placed a canary in his room. He had not known before that there were any imprisoned song birds in the Castle. He resolved to speak to the housekeeper about it in the morning. No wonder his head ached, subjected to such a thrilling fusillade of sound. It was really too bad of the servants. On a sudden his eyes were smitten with a flare of light. He shut them involuntarily, and the glitter held them closed. He was much startled, and although confused as well, he itched with curiosity. Was a burglar in the room? He would pretend to be asleep. He breathed calmly, and meanwhile he prepared to sit up, or spring at the intruder's throat, as occasion warranted. But heavens, how weak he was! He found it difficult to move a finger, and the contraction of his muscles caused him pain. He well-nigh forgot the burglar in amazement at his state.

What could have happened? He had scarcely asked the question when the hard light faded as suddenly as it had appeared into a shadow, that yet was not entirely black. He opened his eyes, and the lids touched a moistened cloth. Light came softly through the cloth, and drops of water that splashed gently on his face. The mystery maddened him. He set his teeth and with a great effort put up his hands and pushed aside the cloth. He suppressed a groan, and blinked wildly at the recurring flare. Soon he became partially accustomed to the light, and he was able to peep out through his puckered lids. He was in a strange room, lying on a couch opposite an open window. It was evidently a lady's room, for the walls were decked with fripperies and the furniture was purely feminine. A canary stared at him through the bars of a little gilded cage, hanging from a bracket near the door. He marked the beady glitter of its watchful little eyes, and hoped it would not sing again. He heard at intervals a curious sighing sound, that his fancy tricked him into thinking was the weeping of a woman. But the room seemed empty. Where was she? He tried to guess what could have befallen him, yet at first he could remember nothing. What was his name? Adam Deen? Why, of course, and he had a cousin named John Deen. So far, so good. But he had never imagined there was a room like this in the whole of Norfolk Island. To whom could it belong, and why was he here? All at once his wandering glance encountered the picture of a mounted lady that rested on a distant easel. The counterfeit presentment of the horse stupefied him for a moment, but it supplied the keynote to the riddle, and in the few phantasmagoric seconds that ensued he re-enacted mentally every action of his life from the hour he had left Norfolk Island, until he fell senseless from Black Prince's saddle. When his whirling thoughts resolved themselves to order he felt no longer any curiosity. He had been hurt and he was in the house of a good Samaritan. He would die or get better. Nothing mattered much except that he was very tired, and he wished that some one would stop the singing of that wretched little bird. The canary had resumed its warbling, and threatened to burst its throat. Cawthorne eyed it with feeble resentment. "I'd like to twist your neck," he muttered half aloud at last. Then he heard a startled cry ring out beside him, and he turned his head. Three paces off was a chair and a kneeling woman dressed in black. She faced him from across the chair with parted eyes aglow. She had been crying and praying, and her cheeks still glistened from the moisture of her tears.

She was old. He thought her sixty at first, for her hair was white as snow, but after a moment's gazing he reduced her age by many years, because her face, though lined, was scarcely wrinkled. It was a sad face, sad and strangely beautiful. "How lovely once she must have been!" was the Earl's involuntary thought. Next he wondered at the pleading of her eyes, the pathetic quivering of her parted lips. She seemed to silently implore him to be kind to her. Yet why—why—why? There he lost himself in gazing, as if he had been hypnotised, he forgot the present utterly, and his mind wandered back at the direction of another's will into his remotest past, his past of vague remembrances and hazy dreams. Where had he seen that face before? Somewhere, surely, but long, long, long ago! As a boy perhaps—yet no; and yet again how subtly mistily familiar it appeared. How the eyes pleaded and implored for recognition and for something else—what else he could not tell. Was it as a child that he had seen her, last. Surely as a child, and surely he had loved her too. His heart seemed slipping from him—was it flowing out to her? Oh, surely he had known and loved her well. But when, when, when? Ah! this futile effort to remember! It was cruel, torturing, agonising! And her silence! why was she silent? Oh for her to speak; then perhaps he would remember. Her voice would recall. As if in answer to his speechless prayer, the woman got slowly to her feet, and glided towards him. She was tall, of graceful shape, and noble carriage. Every detail, every second made her more familiar. Cawthorne trembled on the dizzy brink of revelation and held his breath to listen, for he knew that he would remember. She stood beside him, and her tears splashed down upon his wavering outstretched hand.

"Adam," she whispered—"Adam."

"Mother!" cried the Earl, and his voice resounded through the chamber with a vehemence so passionate and thrilling that the canary ceased to sing in sheer surprise!

"My boy—my son!" moaned the woman, and she fell on her knees beside the bed, sobbing as though her heart would break.

Cawthorne sank back weakly on the couch and closed his eyes. For a period he was partially unconscious, but he did not altogether swoon. He knew when the woman's sobbing ceased. He felt lips pressed softly to his brow, and he heard the sound of movements in the room. He struggled gradually back to sensibility. Some one gave him to drink, and he speedily grew stronger. He looked up and saw Francine. The widow greeted him with a smile. "She has gone away for a little, just a little," she whispered.

"Am I badly hurt?" asked Cawthorne, a moment later.

She shook her head. "You were stunned and much bruised, Adam, but the doctor says there are no bones broken. Luckily you fell in a drift just outside my gate. We saw you from the window. Oh, the fright we had!"

"Oh!" said Cawthorne, and he struggled to sit up. The widow helped him. He felt the room swing and rock at first, but the vertigo soon passed and a glass of water gave him strength to stand. "I must get home," he muttered. "My cousin expects me at seven."

"Why," cried Francine, "it is not five yet. You must stay for tea at least, and then I'll drive you to the Castle in my pony cart."

"Five! Five!" he looked at her with a confused and stupid air. "Are you sure?"

"Sure! the sun has hardly set."

"It seems a century since four." He sat down again. "I half thought I was dead when I awoke." He put up his hands to his throat. "Why, my collar is gone!" he cried.

Francine laughed merrily, and crossing the room detached a mirror from the wall. "Now look at yourself," she said, returning, "and wonder at my charity in admitting you to my pretty little room."

Cawthorne saw a pale face in the mirror crowned with crossed strips of plaster, whose edges gleamed scarlet here and there. His clothes were mud-bespattered, torn and caked with dirt. He remembered his wild ride sharply as he looked.

"I suppose my horse bolted straight home?" he asked, then started. "Good Lord!" he cried. "I hope to goodness no one will assume that I've been killed and go frightening my cousin."

"No fear," smiled Francine. "My coachman caught Black Prince. The dear creature stopped almost directly after you fell, and came back just as if he was anxious to see whether you were hurt or not. He is in my stable now."

"Good," said Cawthorne; "I'll ride him home."

"Indeed, you shall not. You are far too weak, my friend. I'll not allow you to risk another accident."

Cawthorne shook his head. "I am growing stronger every minute," he said decidedly. "I have put you to trouble enough as it is. Besides, Black Prince would lose all respect for me if I threw up the sponge at a mere fall into a drift."

"A wilful man must have his way, I suppose. But at least you will take some tea."

"You are kindness personified. Yes, I'll take some tea."

Francine rang the bell. "I know you'll excuse me," she said softly, "if I send your mother to you," and she departed, without awaiting a response.

Cawthorne's heart began to beat tumultuously. In a little while he heard footsteps in the passage, and he sprang to his feet, trembling with emotion. But it was only a maid with the tea-tray. He sat down again, biting his lips to try and still his agitation. "How can I? How can I?" he muttered under his breath. "It's a crime! I can't do it. I can't do it." He watched the door and strained his nerves to listen. He heard nothing, but within a minute some instinct taught him of the Countess' approach. He felt her presence very near him, and without realising what he did, he arose. The door opened softly as if pushed by a noiseless breeze. In an anguish of suspense he held his breath until he saw her standing on the threshold, and then he heaved a sigh. Their eyes met instantly. The Countess glided into the room, and shut the door behind her, always gazing into his eyes. Very slowly she went toward him, her hands a little outstretched, and on her face a look of such tense and passionate anxiety that his very soul dissolved in pity. He wanted with all his heart to rush forward and take her in his arms—to comfort and console her—to assure her of his pardon and his love. Nevertheless he stood spell-bound and motionless, arrested by so sharp and pitiless a thought that his countenance became as hard as stone, and the Countess, seeing his expression change, came to a halt. Her hands fell to her side and her face turned deadly white.

"You have not forgiven me," she faltered in despairing tones.

Cawthorne forgot everything in the world just then except the woman who confronted him. It had been upon his tongue to tell the Countess all the truth, and confess that he was not her son. But the sight of her sorrow and the sound of her voice awoke to sudden life in him a blind and overwhelming emotion that convulsed his resolution, and scattered to the winds his conscientious scruples together with all memory of honor, self-respect, or duty. He uttered a queer strangled cry, and as helpless to do aught except what he did as a leaf whirled before a gale he darted forward and caught the Countess in his arms. "Mother—mother—mother!" he mumbled. "My darling mother!" and he covered with almost frantic kisses the white upturned face.

The Countess sighed and smiled, then closed her eyes, and her body of a sudden stiffened in his arms. With a strength that Francine would have thought amazing, Cawthorne bore her to the couch and laid her gently down. He rushed thence to the bell and pulled so violently that he wrenched the cord away.

"Tell Mrs. Toombes the Countess has fainted. Quick! quick!" he shouted at the maid who came in answer to his summons, and still holding the bell pull in his hands, he stole back to the couch. "Mother, mother," he muttered, and he kept repeating the words over and over till Francine came, rocking to and fro like one distracted. "She can't be dead—she must not die!" he cried, glaring fiercely at Francine, as she entered.

Francine smiled and bent over her friend with a bottle of ammonia. "Silly man," she said, "you should have put her head down—not up. See, she is already awakening."

Cawthorne saw the lady's eyes open and search for him. He started forward impulsively and threw himself on his knees beside her. "You are better. Thank God!" he said.

The Countess gave him a wan but very lovely smile. "I am well—and happy, dear," she whispered brokenly, and then to the surprise of all she covered her face with her hands and burst into a storm of weeping.

Cawthorne watched her dumbly for a moment, but he could not endure the sight. He stood and turned a grey working face to Francine. "Do something," he besought her.

Francine nodded. "You must go home," she muttered. "She is overcome, and your presence does not help her now. Come back in a few hours."

"Do you think she will be ill? Shall I fetch the doctor?"

"No, no. She is only a little hysterical. I'll soon persuade her to be calm."

"You'll be very kind to her, Francine."

Francine smiled into his eyes.

"I'll be here at nine," he said, and after one long almost fiercely tender look at the heaving figure on the couch, he tiptoed quickly from the room.


CHAPTER XXXV.

Cawthorne rode Black Prince homewards at a reckless gallop, but he met with no mishap. When he reached the Castle he went straight to his bedroom. He was in a state of feverish excitement. At one moment he bitterly blamed himself for deceiving the Countess, on the next he exulted almost wildly in the success of his hypocrisy. He could in no wise understand himself. If the Countess had really been his mother instead of his cousin's, she could not have more suddenly and overwhelmingly engaged his pity and affection. The cry "Mother! mother!" that he had uttered when first she spoke to him, had burst from his very soul, spontaneously, irresistibly, instinctively. And when later on he had summoned resolution to break his promise to his cousin and clear himself, he failed as signally as his duty had for a little while seemed clear. Even now he could not feel more than intellectually regretful that he had given a promise to his cousin unjustifiable in a strictly moral sense, and had also contemplated breaking it. He admitted the responsibility of three crimes: the making of a bad promise, the unfulfilled resolve to break his word, and the deceiving of a woman. But the two first caused him most discomfort. In the third he was supported against remorse by a strange unfathomable exaltation; a delight in the sin itself that surprised and shocked him. He thrilled to remember that he had held the woman in his arms, that she had caressed him. And his wonder at the experience was the blissful wonder of a child at some unexpected act of fondness—exhibited by a reserved but deeply worshipped relative. He explained the fact in words that satisfied his mind, but did not still the throbbings of his heart. "She is my aunt," he said, "who took me when a motherless babe into her care, who loved and tended me as my own mother might have done, had she lived." But of all the things he had to wonder at, he wondered least at this—he was jealous of his cousin, jealous because the veiled man had alone the right to call the Countess by the name that trembled on his tongue, and sang itself over and over in his thoughts—"Mother—mother—mother."

He dined, eating and drinking like a man in a dream, without glancing at his food. And like an automaton he presented himself when the clock struck seven at his cousin's door. Simon Vicars waited for him hat in hand, and slipped out when he entered. The veiled man was asleep. Cawthorne sat beside his couch for more than an hour thinking, thinking, then a voice aroused him from his reverie.

"Why do you wear that cap, Adam?" asked the veiled man.

Cawthorne started. "I fell and cut my head—a trifling accident, but I'm obliged to wear a plaster."

The veiled man nodded. "We all have our little vanity," he muttered. "Do you marry Lady Dorothy to-morrow?"

"Yes," replied the Earl in dreamy tones; "at three o'clock. We shall be here at four."

"Good. Have you seen my mother?"

"Yes."

"And she accepted you?"

"She believes I am her son."

"Then at last the path is smooth before us all."

"Before us all." Cawthorne repeated the words mechanically.

The veiled man eyed him through narrowed lids. "My mother—what is she like?" he asked.

Cawthorne stared past his cousin at the wall. "She is tall——" He paused.

"Well?"

"Her hair is quite white—white as the snow."

"And her face?"

"She is beautiful, John, beautiful and sad, sadder than I can describe. Somehow I can't believe that she was all to blame. Your father——"

"Silence!" hissed the veiled man, rearing up his head on a sudden like an angry snake about to strike. "How dare you name my father in a breath with her? How dare you, I say! You of all people in the world."

Cawthorne bowed to the storm. "Forgive me, John," he answered meekly. "I had no right. Only—only—she is a woman—and——"

"Exactly," sneered the other, "she is a woman, and still beautiful, as you have said."

"It is not for us to judge her, John."

"Neither is it for us to malign the dead."

"Have you no curiosity to see her, John?"

The veiled man bit his lip. "None. Hark!" he cried a second later, "what is that?"

They heard the jarring of a distant lock, and presently the sounds of footsteps. "Simon returning with your nurse," said Cawthorne.

The veiled man held out his hands. "Good night, Adam," he said gruffly. "Come to me with your wife to-morrow afternoon, but not before. I want to save my strength—till then. I want it to be the happiest hour of my life."

Cawthorne pressed his cousin's hand between both his own. "God bless you, old fellow," he whispered, and rising he went slowly from the room. In the larger apartment without he saw Simon Vicars and a woman in a nurse's costume whose arms were full of parcels. He nodded to Simon, and bowed to the woman, whose face he could not see, for it was closely veiled.

"Is master awake, my lord?" asked Simon.

"Yes. He seems pretty well. Good night, Simon."

"This is the nurse, my lord."

"Good night, nurse," said Cawthorne. The woman mumbled something and turned her back on him. But Cawthorne was already moving towards the door, and he did not heed the awkward rudeness of her act.

He repaired to his bedroom and dressed himself quickly but with exceeding care, ordering a carriage in the middle of his preparations. At nine o'clock he alighted at Francine's door and rang the bell. He was ushered to the same little boudoir in which he had returned to consciousness after his fall that afternoon. The Countess of Forli was seated on the couch where he had lain her. She stood up to receive him, extending both her hands. She was pale, but very calm and her great blue eyes looked at him steadily. Cawthorne waited to hear the door close, then slowly he began to cross the room. He had been extremely nervous till that instant, but the woman's calmness acted on his ragged nerves like balm on an open wound. His thoughts moved with unexpected clearness and rapidity.

"How wonderfully she influences me," he reflected. "Her tranquility has made me tranquil in a second." Then he began to realise in a curious subconscious way the enormous fatefulness of each step he took. "I am going to my doom. I have promised John to deceive this woman. If I do so, the crime will be irreparable. Never afterwards shall I be able to look her in the face. One step, two steps, three steps." He was counting them. Two remained, and his limbs were moving. "There is still time to undo—to confess—to escape," cried his thoughts. "You were a coward to promise, you'll be a criminal to fulfil. Your remorse will be eternal!" There followed a tiny senseless interval, a blank hiatus in his consciousness. He awoke to find that he was kissing the woman's hands. There came another blank and again he woke to find himself seated on the couch beside the woman, gazing raptly at her averted face. She held his left hand against her breast, and was fondling it with cool but restless fingers, whose every touch was a caress. He saw that her lips were quivering, and he saw a tear steal down her cheek. On a sudden something seemed to snap in Cawthorne's brain. He snatched his hand away with a harsh inarticulate cry, and sprang to his feet. For a moment he was utterly beside himself, bereft of reason and of sense, the mere creature of blind ungovernable instinct, an impulse to escape by flight from his dilemma. He dashed across the room and had almost reached the door, when he heard his name called in tones of meek reproachfulness. He stopped and turned on instant, arrested as if by magic, and as marvellously restored to self-command.

The Countess was trembling like a leaf. "I—I—thought you had forgiven me," she faltered.

Cawthorne felt his heart gripped. In one second he stood before her; in another he was on his knees at her feet. "Mother—mother," he groaned. "I am the wickedest and most miserable of men. I am not your son. I am your nephew, the child of your husband's brother, Vincent Deen, whom you took a baby orphan from his dying mother's arms. Your son, my cousin, is at the Castle, lying on his death-bed. He asked me to impersonate him to you as I have done to the world for a year and more, and, God forgive me, I tried, but I can't—I can't."

The Countess of Forli leaned back on the couch and gazed at the bent figure of the Earl with an air of amazed bewilderment: "You are not yourself—but your cousin!" she gasped.

"I am Vincent Deen's son," he answered, staring at the floor.

"Impossible!"

"I am Vincent Deen's son," he repeated dully.

"Give me your hand!"

Cawthorne did not look up, but he did as he was bidden. The Countess smoothed out his fingers and placed his open palm upon her own left palm. Then she smiled slightly and enclosed his wrist with her other hand. "You are Vincent Deen's son," she said quietly.

"Yes."

The Countess fixed her eyes on the Earl's downcast face. "But, if you are Vincent Deen's son, you are not the Earl of Cawthorne."

"No."

"Will you explain to me the mystery?"

Cawthorne shivered, and his face darkened. But it was his plain duty to obey, and he called up all his strength for the task. "It commenced 11 years ago at Norfolk Island," he muttered. "One evening I came home and found my uncle drinking brandy. I—I—drank some too—and very soon I lost my sense. There was a fire that night, and John—saved my life—at more than the expense of his own." Cawthorne paused a moment to moisten his lips, then he clenched his teeth, and proceeded in a strident voice. "My uncle died. John was all but killed—and horribly disfigured. He wears a mask—sleeping and waking. He—he—has no ears—no nose—one eye is blind—his scars are—— Oh—Christ—how you will loathe me! He is your son, and now he is dying!" He looked up suddenly, unable to endure the anguish of suspense. Better far to see and meet her hatred, he thought, than fear and feel it like a skulking coward. But the Countess did not appear to hate him. Her eyes were dilated, it was true, yet rather with astonishment than horror, and she held his hand so tightly that he could hardly have withdrawn it had he wished. A strange peace came to Cawthorne then, a peace however that was full of wonder, and a little tinged with awe.

"Go on," she whispered. "Go on—quickly! quickly!"

"For many months he could not leave his bed," said Cawthorne. "But though he suffered agonies, he never complained. He was more patient than Job—more kind and forgiving than an angel. Afterwards he was still an invalid. I worked for him, it was my only consolation for ten years. Then the news came that he was an Earl. For the first time he succumbed. The irony of fate in showering on him honors and riches which it was impossible for him ever to enjoy broke his spirit, and killed that noble fortitude which all his misfortunes had been unable to destroy. He resolved to die, and in his despair he drove me with curses from his side. Yet even then, so much better and grander of soul than other men is he, that when almost at his last gasp the sight of my misery and grief recalled him from the tomb. But he felt he could not live unless he had something to live for. It is hard for me to explain. He required me to impersonate him—to exchange identities with him—to take his place—before the world. He said that in my happiness he would find his own. I vowed—to obey him in all things, to let him mould my life. If I had refused—he would have died. That is my excuse."

"Go on," said the Countess.

Cawthorne passed his free hand tremblingly across his eyes. "His ambition has always been to see me married before he goes. I have promised to take—Lady Dorothy Foulkes to see him to-morrow afternoon—at four—we—are to be married at three o'clock."

"Lady Dorothy," said the Countess softly. "I have seen her; she has a sweet and earnest face. Do you love her, Adam Deen?"

Cawthorne bent his head. "Yes," he answered, "I love her."

The Countess smiled, then sighed. "Does she know?" she whispered.

"All except she believes that you are dead—as I did too and John, until this morning."

"And John does not want to see me?"

"Don't blame him too much," said Cawthorne huskily. "He—he worshipped his father—but—but—he—he commanded me—to—to make you as happy as I could."

"Adam," whispered the Countess, "look at me." Cawthorne raised his eyes, and was astounded to perceive a light of absolute tenderness in hers. "You have made me very happy," said the Countess softly. "In a moment I shall tell you why, but you will answer me some questions first."

He nodded, struck dumb for the while with his amazement.

"Was your uncle always kind to you?" she asked.

"Always," he muttered. "Always."

"But of course—not quite so kind—as to your cousin?"

Cawthorne turned white to the lips. "He—he—favored me," he answered in tones of deep distress. "Heaven best knows why. When we were boys, poor John felt bitterly about it. I have never ceased to wonder since how he kept and keeps from hating me; he had cause enough—God knows! I think he must be a saint, an incarnate angel——"

"Your uncle favored you?" interrupted the Countess in a dreamy voice.

"Yes."

The Countess cast her eyes to the ceiling and her lips moved as though in prayer. But no sound reached the Earl, and a moment later, looking down at him, she smiled. Then she put his hand before his eyes, and pointed to his smallest finger. "It lacks a joint," she whispered. "Tell me how you lost it, Adam."

"I—I do not remember," he answered vaguely. "It has always been like—that."

"You remember nothing."

"Nothing."

"Your cousin's finger—the same finger—is it—is it like this?"

"It is perfect, though his hands are scarred." Cawthorne knitted his brows, and his eyes began to question hers.

But the Countess smiled, and toyed with his hand. "When you were a tiny baby your nurse took you for a walk one day, and carelessly, in pushing back the hood of your perambulator, she jammed your little finger in the bars. The doctors had to amputate the topmost joint because the bone was crushed into a pulp. I cried at the time, Adam, more bitterly than you; but now—I am glad—glad—intensely glad. Can you guess why?"

"No," said Cawthorne.

"It was because—my son was hurt so—the son I was wicked enough to afterwards desert!—not your cousin—Adam—but you, dear—you."

Cawthorne caught his hand away from her, and put it with the other to his throat. "Oh, no," he muttered, in a choking voice, "you are mistaken. My—uncle——"

"Your father," she interrupted.

"No—no—no!" He stood up and surveyed her, swaying slightly to and fro. He was breathing loudly and quickly, like one fresh from running far and fast.

"Your father," repeated the Countess, rising too. "Can't you see, dear? He visited my sin on you. Perhaps he hated you at first because of me. It is plain to me he put you from him. He made you, poor defenceless baby that you were, take your cousin's place, and he gave John yours. But no man is stronger than nature. As you grew up, he loved you in spite of himself, he favored you! Oh can't you see it, dear? it is all so plain to me."

"But—but—why would he? It seems—wicked—cruel—terrible."

"Dear, he doubted me—before I left him." The Countess of a sudden covered her face. "It was really why I left him. Perhaps, perhaps—— Oh! my boy—cannot you understand?"

"Yes!" gasped Cawthorne. "I understand. He doubted my—paternity."

The Countess moaned like one in physical distress. "I wronged you—more even than I guessed," she sobbed.

"I understand—another thing," said Cawthorne, whose face was transfigured. "I understand why it was when first I saw you that my whole heart went spontaneously out to you."

"When first you saw me," she repeated wildly, "but you will cast me from you now."

"Mother!" he cried, and opened wide his arms. The Countess gave him one questioning tearful look, then threw herself, weeping, on his breast.

His own eyes were not dry, and a lump had risen in his throat, but he soothed her as best he could, and soon he persuaded her to resume her seat upon the couch. Afterwards they held each other's hands, and often they looked into each other's eyes; but neither cared to speak for long, though the thoughts of each other were busy. The Countess was trying to entertain a blissful hope that her son might wish to see her again and still again. Cawthorne was striving to realise his altered state. His impersonation of the veiled man had been a cause of never sleeping pain and shame to him. His nature was too simple and straightforward to find comfort or compensation in however happy a result if the means employed were blameworthy. And neither lapse of time nor custom had reconciled him to the fact of the deceit he had practised on the world. It was therefore with a sort of ecstacy that he greeted the new conditions of his life, and he felt for his mother, as well as love, a passionate and boundless gratitude, since hers had been the hand to lift from his soul the burden of a sin which he had unwillingly committed, yet suffered from in long and lonely bitterness of spirit. "Mother," he said at last, "how happy you have made me. I can't tell you how—my hypocrisy, innocent as its purpose was, has weighed on me; and now——"

"Now," sighed the Countess, "you are free—from it."

"I am really the Earl, though my cousin lives."

"You have always been the earl—that is, of course, since—your—succession, dear."

"Yes, I have been impersonating myself," he muttered in tones of wonder. "Oh, if I had but known."

The Countess sighed again. "Will you still marry Lady Dorothy to-morrow, dear?" she asked presently.

"Ay, and now without a thought of anything but gladness, for my hands are clean. Besides, John wishes it, you know. His strongest desire is to see me married to the girl I love before he dies."

"But, dear, will you tell him—your cousin?"

Cawthorne started, and looked into her eyes. "Ah!" he cried. "Why not," he said a moment later. "Dear old John's one thought is for my welfare. He is the most unselfish man that ever breathed. It has been a sadness to him to know that, in impersonating him, I have not been always happy. Now he will doubly rejoice to learn what—thank God—I can tell him."

"How you love him, Adam!" said the Countess jealously.

Cawthorne's face on a sudden darkened. "No, mother," he answered gravely, almost gloomily, "it's my shame and sorrow that I don't care for John at all. I have never cared for him. There is something in me that prevents me even liking him."

"That is very strange, my son."

"I cannot help it, mother. I have tried—and always failed. He is the best man living, I believe; but though I respect and reverence him above the world, I cannot like him. And the cruellest part of all is that he is simply wrapped up in me. Sometimes I think there must be something black and bad ingrained in me. He saved my life—and at what a cost! Oh, mother, if you could see him! And all those years at Norfolk Island he devoted himself to trying to make me a good man. I owe him everything—everything. And yet I can't like him. Mother, there must be something bad in me. I ought in sheer gratitude to worship him—don't you think so, mother?"

But the Countess shook her head. "No man is the master of his heart," she answered softly. "We love and hate as destiny directs. I see nothing bad in you, dear boy, and I am sure that no one can reproach you with your treatment of your cousin."

"I have given him no heart service, mother; I have done my best for him—always, I believe—but only from a sense of duty."

"You deserve the more credit on that account, my boy. But let us change the subject, let us talk—of—of—ourselves." Her voice began to tremble, and she gave him a pleading look. "Have I found you—only to lose you, dear? May I never hope to sometimes see you? Listen, dear—I shall not live in England—it would be too painful for us both—if people knew, and they would soon discover our relationship. But would you—could you—sometimes—come to see me—in France or Italy? Ah! Adam, don't for pity sake refuse me hastily—don't say——"

"Mother!" cried the Earl, "do you doubt I love you?"

The Countess shook like a leaf. "Is it possible?" she whispered. "How can it be? I deserve nothing but——"

"Love," he interrupted almost fiercely. "Love and reverence. Are you not my mother?" and stooping he pressed warm kisses on her hands.

The Countess tried in vain to restrain her tears. "Your mother is a wicked woman," she wailed—"a wicked, wicked woman, Adam, dear. She deserted you—and wrecked your father's life."

"Is it for the son she bore to judge her?" asked the Earl. "Mother—let me tell you once for all I love and honor you—because you are my mother! If you were the worst of women, my duty would be just as clear. Never accuse yourself to me again, my mother."

The poor lady closed her eyes. "Ah, you love me—only because you think it is your duty," she said in low despairing tones.

But Cawthorne, with a smile of infinite pity, put his arm about her and pressed her to his breast. "Did you not tell me a moment since that no man is the master of his heart?" he whispered in her ear. "We love and hate as destiny directs. Those were your own words, little mother, and I love you because I cannot help but love you."


CHAPTER XXXVI.

Simon Vicars was so richly experienced in the ways of women that it was in secret trepidation he explained to Norah the full effect of the course of action that he wished her to follow on the morrow. He would have vastly preferred to leave her in present ignorance, and permit her to make the discovery subsequently unassisted. But he reluctantly decided to be honest, because he feared that if taken by surprise in any way, Norah might, on the impulse of the moment, do or say something to defeat his hopes. And the event proved Simon's wisdom. Norah had grown quite reconciled with the idea of robbing Lord Cawthorne of his rank and fortune, but she had not dreamed that her crime would involve in his ruin a woman, and another of her benefactors. Lady Dorothy had been very kind to her in many little ways, and from her earliest girlhood Norah had been a devoted admirer of Stayton's charming "Lady Bountiful."

So it came about that when Simon informed her of the Earl's imminent marriage, Norah was both shocked and horrified. All Stayton had long known that the Marquis of Fane was financially embarrassed, and Norah's thoughts at once flew to the old scandal.

"Why," she cried, "the pore Marquis hasn't a penny to jingle on a tombstone, Simon. Shure—the young couple will stharve."

"Let them," retorted the little valet. "They are nothing to us. In this world it's every man for himself, and the devil take the hindermost, my girl. Personally I'm sorry for Lady Dorothy. But she deserves all she gets for being fool enough to marry a brute like Cawthorne. Besides, she is going into the thing with her eyes open. She knows very well that her husband elect is not really the Earl."

"But—she doesn't know about me marryin' the master. Don't tell me that, Simon."

"She'll soon find out," said Simon with a cynical smile.

Norah gave her husband a look of surprise and indignation. "The Earl's a man as can fend for himself," she muttered presently; "but Lady Dorothy ought to know. I'll not stand by and see her do it, Simon. Shure, she's always been kind to me."

"Norah, you are talking like a fool."

"I may be a fool, but I'm not going to see an innocent lady ruined. So I'll tell ye—to your face—Simon me man. Either ye let me stop this marriage or else—I'll tell 'em all to-morow, that by roights O'im your woife and sorra a bit of Mister Deen's!"

"Do you know what would happen then, Norah?" asked Simon, showing his teeth in an angry dog-like grin.

"Not a bit of me cares," she defiantly retorted. "Oi love Lady Dorothy, Oi do!"

"You'll care in a minute," snarled Simon. "Do you want to see the inside of a gaol? It's a bigamist you are, Norah. Do you hear? You'd get seven years at least for that. Nothing could save you. The police would take you off at once, and not a hand would I lift to help you!"

Norah was too ignorant to know that Simon Vicars was a partner in that crime of hers, and that he would infallibly share her punishment, else she would have defied him. As it was, she turned pale with fear. She had all the blind terror of her unlettered class for the majesty of the outraged law, and she knew she had committed bigamy.

But she did not immediately surrender. "Shure," she stammered, "they'd never tell on me that wud be after saving them. Ye can't frighten me so aisy, Simon."

Simon took two papers from his pocket, and approached her with a bow of mock deference.

"Read them," he advised, holding them before her eyes.

Norah could only read print, but she recognised the papers readily. They were the certificates of her two marriages. She regarded them with a stupid air. "Oi know what they are," she said.

"It's well you do," Simon snarled.

"What d'ye mane?"

"I mane this. You dare to play me false. You dare to break the solemn oath you swore to me to obey me, and by the God above us, within that very hour I'll write a letter to the big judge, Lord Russell himself, telling him what you did, and where to find you."

Norah looked at Simon steadily. "You'd do that!" she gasped.

"Like a shot."

Norah took out her handkerchief and put it up to her face. "O'hone, you're that hard!" she wailed, and began to sob.

Simon grinned. "It's your own fault," he muttered. "Only be sensible, and you will find me as soft as putty."

Norah, however, was not really weeping. She peeped at Simon cunningly through her fingers, and seeing her chance she sprang forward of a sudden and snatched the papers from his hand. In another second she had stuffed them into the bosom of her dress, and faced him with the triumph of a vixen.

"Don't dare touch me, or I'll scream for help!" she cried.

Simon, however, much to her astonishment, sat down upon the nearest chair, and burst into a hearty laugh.

"You ignorant little fool," he said a minute later. "Don't you know that those are only copies? The originals are recorded in the law courts. Touch you? Not me. You needn't fear. Keep the certificates and welcome. Dream on them, cuddle them! Do what you like with them. Tear them up or burn them if you like. Then you'll see how valueless they are."

His contempt ate into the girl's heart, and planted conviction in its wake.

"You cruel divil!" she gasped. Then, woman-like, she resorted to her sex's last expedient. She began to wheedle him with endearments and with tears. "No—no. I didn't mane that," she wailed. "Shure, you know how I love you, Simon, darlin'. But shure, darlin', you told me nothin' of Lady Dorothy at—the time in Lunnon. An' shure, darling, she never did anythin' to hurt us. She's a swate girl, Simon dear. Why should we harm her? A little bit of a letter to her to-night, just a little bit of a letter, would save her, Simon darlin', an' who'd be hurt by it? Plaze—plaze, acushla, let me sind her the word—one little word."

Simon shook his head. "I'm not a beast, Norah," he answered gruffly. "I'd like to save the girl if I could. But you don't understand. She'd tell the Earl at once, and the fat would all be in the fire. Master would be spoiled of his revenge, and he'd turn on us like a cornered rat. The Lord knows what he'd do; most likely he'd make another will, and cut us both out of it without a shilling. But I'll tell you what I'll do, Norah. Since you're so fond of Lady Dorothy, I'll not stand in your way afterwards if you'd care to give her something handsome. We'll be rich enough. I wouldn't give the man a crust to save him from the workhouse. But it's different with the woman, and, as you say, she never did anything to harm us."

Norah began to dry her eyes. "What d'ye mane by somethin' handsome?" she demanded in suspicious tones.

"Five or six thousand pounds," he answered glibly. "Ten even, if you want to be a spendthrift."

Norah caught her breath. "Ten thousand pounds!" she gasped. The magnitude of the sum appalled a girl accustomed all her life to think in pence. "My failzie!" she exclaimed, as soon as she could think; "but that is a fortune, Simon dear. Would—would there be any left for us?"

Simon rubbed his hands together. He perfectly appreciated the unconscious egotism that inspired the question, and it filled him with a cynical delight. "They're all alike, at bed rock," flashed his thoughts. "They'd give away their shifts on impulse, and grudge a yard of cotton when the fit is passed."

"Oh, we'll do," he replied. "We'll have enough to buy the baby diamond bracelets if your fancy runs that way, and still not starve ourselves."

Nora blushed. She was perfectly happy now that Lady Dorothy's future seemed assured, and deep in her heart there stirred a sort of wonder at her own magnanimity. She felt that she could not be a really bad girl since she had sought so pluckily to save a fellow-being from ruin. And, after all, what had Lady Dorothy done for her? Given her an occasional shilling, and an odd job or two at clear starching, for which she proposed to make a return of ten thousand pounds. How many women in Stayton would be so generous? She began to swell with pride.

"It's a great sum!" she said to Simon.

The little valet shrugged his shoulders. "No one ever called me a mean man," he remarked, with an air of grand indifference. "And seeing that Lady Dorothy has been a friend to you, I'll make it fifteen, even twenty if you press me!"

"Shure, you're a noble gin-rous darlin'," cried Norah, opening her eyes very wide. "And it's me that's just lovin' ye for that same. But I'm thinking ten's quite sufficient. Pwhat would any girl want with more?"

Simon's smile richly merited perpetuation, but unhappily no artist was there to see, and it's bitter irony was lost on Norah utterly.

"Ten it is, then?" he responded. "And now this matter is settled, Norah."

Norah was so overcome with admiration for the rogue before her, that she felt a sudden desire to equal him in greatness.

"Ay, Ay," she said, and fumbling at her throat she presently extracted the certificates. "You'd better kape them, Simon darlin'."

But Simon waved her hand aside. "Not at all, not at all. They're yours, my dear," he replied; then added with a sneer, "You'll want one of them to show to-morrow to the Earl—blast his eyes!—and the other you'd better treasure up. It will serve to remind you that I'm your master if you ever feel inclined to again disobey me."

Norah gave a little shiver, and slipped the papers in her pocket. She did not like handling them at all; evidences of her guilt they were, and they seemed to scorch her fingers.

"Shure, acushla," she began. "It's not me that wants—to——"

Simon stopped her with uplifted hand.

"It's master's bell!" he exclaimed. "I may not be back immediately, so you'd better go to bed."

He closed the door behind him, and grinning like a wolf the while, he very gently turned the key within the lock as well.

"Better to be sure than sorry," he reflected. "Women are eels for slipping through the fingers."

Then, noiseless as a shadow, he sped downstairs.

The veiled man had torn away his mask, and he glowered at Simon from the pillows with eyes that looked like huge beads set in sockets of some monstrous idol's face.

"You'd no right to go away!" he querulously cried. "You promised not to leave me even for a minute."

"But you'd fallen asleep, sir," muttered Simon. "And I had to show Norah the way about."

"I've been dreaming," said the veiled man, in a voice that shook and quavered in a manner simply pitiful. "I dreamed that they were all about me—the doctor, my cousin and his wife, and Norah, and Mr. Somerton—and when I opened my lips to speak and tell them, what you know—I—I could not make a sound. I was paralysed from head to heel and dying fast. Oh, my God, the horror of it! The cup at my very lips! Look at me. Feel my hands. I'm bathed in perspiration."

Simon darted off for sponge and towel, and returning, with the speed of thought, he began to mop his master's face.

"It was only a dream, sir," he murmured soothingly. "Only a dream. You must not dwell on it. Excitement is bad for you. You'll need all your strength to-morrow!"

"I'm as weak as a child, Simon."

"You'll be better to-morrow, sir. Try and go to asleep again, sir. I'll fan you; so. But close your eyes."

The veiled man listlessly obeyed and soon he seemed to slumber. But ere five minutes had elapsed, he awoke with a violent shudder and a start.

"Simon, Simon!" he hissed out in a shrilling voice.

Simon caught his hand and squeezed it hard. "I'm here, sir. I'm here," he said assuringly.

The veiled man uttered a deep, moaning sigh. "There's no God—no hereafter—Simon," he cried. "When we die—we go utterly to dust—utterly!"

"Yes, sir," muttered Simon.

"Utterly, Simon—utterly!"

"Utterly," repeated Simon primly.

"Yes, yes, but hold my hand—don't leave me, Simon." His voice trailed off to a murmur. "I must not be alone—I—I—am—afraid."

"Never fear," said Simon, "I'll hold your hand all night."

"No God," whispered the other, his eyelids slowly closing. "No—here—after!" And he slept.

Ten minutes later the little valet gently disengaged his hand, and sank wearily into a chair that stood beside the bed.

"It's a rum go how terrified these atheists get when their numbers are called," he reflected with a sneering smile. "Ten to one he'll be asking for a priest if he has any strength left after the interview to-morrow." Then Simon closed one eye and shook his head. "But he don't get one if I know it," he muttered under breath. And his teeth gleamed yellow in the lamplight from behind his tucked up lips.


CHAPTER XXXVII.

It had been in Cawthorne's mind when he bade his mother good night, to write a full account of the day's wonderful happenings to his sweetheart. But he decided, after some reflection, that his cousin had the first right to hear his golden news, and his hypersensitive conscience would not permit him to slight the veiled man, even in imagination. His letter to Dorothy, therefore, destined to be read by the young girl on her wedding morning, was only such a missive as she had expected to receive. Yet it gave her comfort none the less, and the memory of its passionate assurances helped her later to withstand her father's stately coldness and her uncle's thinly-veiled disapprobation of her hasty and half secret marriage. Sir Felix Greig had pictured a vastly different wedding for his niece—a ceremony of flowers and laces, with rose-strewn pathways for her traversing, lined with smiling crowds, the joy bells jingling merrily the while. He had found it hard to resign that cherished dream, the harder, because although he loved to pose as a cynical old bachelor, he was in reality as romantic at heart as a bread-and-butter school girl. It had hurt him to learn that the world was not to know just yet; he had always detested secrets, and he had writhed to hear that the ceremony, shorn of its proper splendor and positively crop-eared, as it appeared to him, was to be performed at the Cliff House rather than Stayton's quaint old church. But the cruellest part of his disappointment was reserved for Dorothy herself to inflict—and at the last moment. While the vicar, the Marquis, and himself were awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom in the library, Dorothy entered the room, attired in a simple gown of plain white cachemere. Sir Felix had imagined her busily engaged with her maids in donning a regulation silk or satin wedding dress, with its wreath and veil and wealth of orange blossoms. He stared at her for a few seconds, then glanced quickly at his watch. It wanted a more five minutes to the appointed hour. "Dorothy," he cried "you ought to be in your room; you'll never be dressed in time."

Dorothy gave him a tremendous smile. "I am quite ready, Nuncs," she answered, and glided towards her father.

Sir Felix was more than shocked; he was grieved and inexpressibly dismayed. He muttered in a bitter whisper that it was high time for an old fogey to cut himself absolutely apart from the younger generation, whose unbeautiful matter of factness he could neither understand nor forgive. But presently he called himself an old fool, and blinking his eyes for a reason he would have scorned to admit, he gazed at Dorothy. She had cut him to the heart, but it was the last time that he would see her as a maid, and he realised, with a choking feeling in his heart and throat, how very dear she was to him. He saw her twine her arms around her father's neck, and he heard her say, in a voice that made him clench his hands and bite his lips, "Dads, Dads, I'm leaving you." Then—was it possible?—he saw the Marquis, whose face was set like marble, gently disengage his daughter's hands; and he heard the Marquis say in tones of ice, "I'm sure you will be happy, child. But pray, my dear, don't make a scene!"

Poor Dorothy! Poor Marquis! The girl shrank back like a stricken thing. The man stood as motionless as a stone and stared beyond her at the door. But in very truth, although Dorothy endured a moment of unalleviated misery, her emotion was as fit to be compared with that which (unsuspected by any other there) convulsed her father's soul as an April sun shower to an arctic tempest. The Marquis to all seeming was a courteous host somewhat anxiously awaiting an expected guest. But the panels of the door at which he gazed were transparent to his eyes, and beyond he saw a dark and trackless ocean which he knew that he must cross alone—alone—to where—to what? The last link that bound him in an indifferent service to the world he loathed and loved was wearing to its final thread. The daughter he adored was going to a stranger, and he was passing through the bitterness of death. Sir Felix thought his pride a miracle of brutal cruelty. He started forward and slipped his arm about the girl's waist. "Never mind," he muttered, and huskily implored her not to cry. The Marquis heard and smiled. It was a smile that cannot be described with words, for like the spirit of comedy, it capped a tragic situation with a bubble of unuttered laughter, and mockingly expressed that one thing indescribable—a soul.

Dorothy was still struggling for control when her lover was announced. He entered on the servant's heels, and was greeted with an almost universal sigh. The Marquis did not sigh. He spoke, and his language exactly suited the occasion. Cawthorne looked handsomer than usual, despite his plasters, and supremely happy. He pressed Dorothy's gloved fingers to his lips, and so looked into her eyes that she forgot her father and was almost joyless. Twenty minutes later the ceremony was over, and there only remained to drink the bride's health and say farewell. The toast was drunk in silence. Afterwards Sir Felix caught the girl in a hasty embrace, and stumbled, blinking wildly, to a chair. Dorothy was left to face her father.

"Good-bye, Dads," she whispered, and held out her hands. She was shivering from head to heel, and in her eyes there was an entreaty so piteous that the Marquis, seeing it, began to tremble too. He kissed her quietly on the brow, and in that second he fought the greatest battle of his life and won it. He conquered himself, and for the moment overcame his curse of shyness. He was desperately reserved, at whatever cost, to give his daughter what her eyes had asked.

"Good-bye, my darling," he said in a voice that electrified all present. "And may God send you the happiness I wish you."

A misty smile was his reward.

When they had gone, and the vicar as well, Sir Felix got to his feet, and crossed the room to where the Marquis stood, staring gravely at the floor.

"Fane," he muttered huskily, "we'll miss her!"

The Marques slowly turned his head and looked his brother-in-law in the eyes. "Yes," he replied; then added in his usual chilling tones. "By the way, Greig, Cawthorne wishes the assurance fund he instituted to be administered a little more liberally than we have been doing. It seems some malcontents have been complaining. He has handed me a cheque for 1000 to cover any deficiency that might be occasioned by a new arrangement. He desires the men to be notified that this sum is a present from his wife. Will you take charge of it?"

Sir Felix nodded, and mentally registered a vow that nothing ever again should make him try to penetrate Lord Fane's reserve. He felt as he repeatedly assured himself during his homeward stroll, as if a dish of cold water had been dashed in his face.

Meanwhile the new-made husband and wife drove in a closed carriage to the Castle, by a route that skirted without entering the town. Dorothy was shy and silent, and Cawthorne, too, seemed disinclined to speak. But they had held each other's hands, and sometimes they exchanged a tender glance. The same thought animated both. They were going to see a dying man to whom they were in gratitude beholden. It chastened their happiness and filled them with a delicate reserve. Dorothy would have been distressed had Cawthorne offered her the least endearment, and the Earl knew her mind as well as if she had expressed it. The girl had never honored and admired her lover one half so dearly as upon that journey, and when he helped her from the carriage, she said a word that made him thrill with pride. The town clock was striking four when they arrived, but before proceeding to the western wing, Cawthorne led his wife to his little private study, which was all bedecked with flowers. When they entered he softly closed the door and turned to her.

"Dearest," he said, "for a day I have been keeping back a secret from you which I may not tell you even yet, because I think I should tell John about it at the same time as yourself. Can you forgive me, Dorothy?"

"A secret," said Dorothy.

"Yes, dear—a very wonderful secret. I have a mother, Dorothy. I have always thought her dead, but she is alive, and here in Stayton."

The girl's eyes dilated. "Your mother!" she gasped; "is that the secret?"

"No, dearest; it is something she told me—something that concerns her—and John and me."

Because Dorothy was a woman she gave a little pout and muttered pleadingly, "Can't you tell me—now?"

Cawthorne smiled; he was very sure of her. "I can, sweetheart," he answered, "and shall if you wish. Shall I?"

For a second her face lighted up in joyous expectation, but as suddenly she frowned. "But your cousin——" she murmured.

Cawthorne took her face between his hands and looked long and full into her eyes. "Dorothy," he said, "I am the proudest and happiest man in God's world to-day."

Then he laid her hand upon his arm and opened wide the door, and Dorothy said nothing, and straightway the secret lost importance, for his praise and look and tone had filled her sum of ecstacy. She walked beside him through the corridors, treading on air, and dreaming true. But when they paused at the dividing door to knock, she put her hand upon his breast and whispered, "Adam, I am the proudest and happiest woman in God's world to-day." And the Earl dreamed too, so that it was Dorothy who knocked at last, they stood before the door so long.

Simon Vicars admitted them, a pale-faced Simon, whose eyes travelled ceaselessly about, unable to rest a second anywhere, and whose jaws locked together in a nervous vice. He led the way, all three silent, to the veiled man's drawing-room. On the middle floor stood the sick man's bed, which had been moved there half an hour before, according to the veiled man's final whim. Yet they could not see its occupant, because tall screens surrounded him on every side. But Cawthorne thought less of the bed than of a lady, clad in sombre black, who had risen from a distant chair immediately he entered. In deep astonishment he recognised his mother! And there were others in the room. Mr. Southdown, the solicitor, leaned against the piano, whispering to a man who seemed to be a clerk. Dr. Somerton hovered in and out between a narrow parting in the screens, and a table dressed with phials, near at hand. And a second woman, attired in black, her face impenetrably veiled, stood movelessly beside the farthest bedpost. Cawthorne paused for a moment, gazing petrified with surprise at his mother. But the Countess rapidly approached him all the while, and soon he had need to speak.

"Mother," he whispered. He felt Dorothy's hand grasp his arm, and he turned to her, at once his presence of mind restored. "Dearest," he muttered very low, "this is the Countess of Forli—my mother."

The woman and the girl looked at one another, the one sadly, the other with a quick and almost passionate interest. But the Countess alone had words.

"I can see that I have taken you by surprise," she said, and she turned with a proud little gesture to her son. "It is not my seeking, Adam. Your cousin sent for me—an hour ago. I could hardly refuse to come, but I have not seen him yet. And I have been implored to wait."

Cawthorne frowned, and shook his head. He was sorely puzzled. "I do not understand," he replied! "He knows nothing yet."

"Does—does—your wife?"

"No."

"Mother," whispered Dorothy of a sudden—"mother."

The Countess started, and her face went scarlet. She gave the girl a glance wherein humility and haughtiness were strangely mingled, and she whispered back, "Call me 'mother,' Lady Dorothy—later—if you can. Your husband will explain. I—I——" But her voice failed her at that juncture, and with a tragic gesture she turned about and moved away. The Earl felt painfully embarrassed and Dorothy rebuffed and chilled; but a second later these emotions were expelled by others more sharp and dominating, clamoring for place.

The veiled man's thin metallic voice rang out. "Take those screens away," he said. All looked quickly at the bed, and watched Simon Vicars draw the screens aside. "Quite dramatic!" thought the cool old lawyer, who as yet was ignorant of the reason of his summons. With a spontaneous impulse every one gravitated towards the middle of the room. The veiled man was propped up at an obtuse angle in the middle of his couch. A rug of crimson velvet was drawn up to his chest, but his white-clad arms overtopped the flashing coverlid and his scarred hands stroked the pile. Those who were not familiar with the sick man's mask involuntarily shuddered. It seemed hideously out of place in the snow-white pillows; grim, unnatural, mysterious.

Cawthorne whispered reassuringly to Dorothy, and then impatiently pushed forward. A moment later he bent over his cousin, and said in a low but distinct voice, "John, old boy, I have brought my wife to see you—as you desired. But we must see you alone, for a little while. I have some important news to give you!" The veiled man did not reply at once. His mask concealed the fact that he was intensely agitated. For a moment no sound could be heard but his deep breathing, then Cawthorne spoke again.

"Private news, John."

There followed a little rustle, and a noise of moving feet behind the Earl. Mr. Southdown, the doctor, and the Countess of Forli had exchanged glances and were retiring. The veiled man set his teeth, and, with a violent effort, raised one hand. "Stop!" he burst out. "Stop! Don't go—any one!"

"John!" cried Cawthorne.

The veiled man clenched his hands. "I don't want to hear your news."

Dr. Somerton hurried round the bed, a shocked expression on his face. "Mr. Deen—Mr. Deen—you must not excite yourself," he remonstrated.

The veiled man laughed. "Keep back, doctor—I've no time for you now," he cried in piercing tones. "I have my work to do. Norah, stand forward."

The woman in black, whom Cawthorne had carelessly remarked on entering the room, became suddenly the most prominent figure of the gathering. She had been standing without the circle. She now advanced until she paused beside the bed exactly opposite to Lady Dorothy.

Cawthorne saw that she was trembling. He tried to pierce with his eyes her veil, but failed, as did the others. Her hands were tightly clasped before her, and her head was bowed in an attitude of either fear or shame.

"Simon Vicars," said the veiled man.

"Sir," gasped a voice that made all start.

Cawthorne glanced at the little valet, and pinched himself, to make sure he was awake. Simon's face was ghastly pale, and his eyes seemed starting from their sockets. "What in Heaven's name——" gasped the Earl.

"Simon!" cut in the veiled man's voice. "The certificate!"

"She—she—has them—it," stuttered Simon.

"Norah!" said the veiled man.

The woman in black started, and began to fumble at the neck of her gown. Presently she extracted a crumpled piece of paper and dropped it on the bed. Her hands were shaking as if she had an ague.

The veiled man clawed up the paper, but he did not waste on it a single glance. "Raise your veil!" he commanded grimly. She obeyed.

"Norah Flaherty!" cried Lady Dorothy, her voice almost breathless with surprise.

"Norah Flaherty!" echoed Mr. Southdown, and the old lawyer pressed his glasses closer to his eyes.

Norah looked at Dorothy, and her whole face puckered up, like that of a baby, on the verge of a weeping fit.

"Norah Flaherty!" muttered Cawthorne stupidly.

"No," cried the veiled man in tones that grated on the others' ears; "not Norah Flaherty, but Norah Deen, Countess of Cawthorne, my wife—and soon, by nature's grace, the mother of my child."

For a long minute there was absolute stillness in the room, then the silence was broken by half-arrested sighs. The veiled man sighed more deeply than the rest. "Adam," he said in softer tones, "here is my certificate of marriage!" and he held out his hand.

Cawthorne took the paper quite unconsciously, he was utterly bewildered. While stretching forward, Dorothy's hand slipped from his arm, but Dorothy made no effort to replace it, and Cawthorne did not heed.

"Adam," said the veiled man, "for the sake of my unborn child, I wish you to publicly admit that you have been impersonating me! It would be an easy matter for my executors to prove the fact, but I know you are an honest man and I would rather every doubt was cleared away before I die. That is why Mr. Southdown is here—and these others!"

Cawthorne's mind was stumbling through a maze, to which he had no key. He scarcely understood a word of his cousin's speech. He did not try to answer.

"Lady Dorothy," said the veiled man, "'you know the facts. Adam seems distracted. Will you—speak for him?"

Dorothy glanced at Cawthorne, and then from one to the other of the rest. Her brain was more agile than the Earl's, and she already understood the situation. The veiled man was breaking his promise to her and disinheriting her husband. Moreover, he purposed making her husband the chief instrument of his own ruin. Instinct taught her of something cruel and even diabolic in the act, and her whole soul uprose in revolt. She believed that when Cawthorne understood he would submit, but she was a woman, and with the undeveloped justice of her sex, she could see no wrong in fighting wrong, with wrong. "I think you must be dreaming, Cousin John," she answered, looking straight at the vizor of the mask. "What is this? all this talk of impersonation? And how can Norah Flaherty be Countess—even though you may have married her?"

"Adam," cried the veiled man, "do you hear your wife?"

The Earl nodded vaguely. He heard his name. But he was beginning to understand, and his eyes were losing their first dullness.

"I believe you hate my husband, and have planned to ruin him," said Dorothy.

The veiled man snapped his teeth together. "Adam, wake! wake!" he grated out. "A dying man can't wait for ever!"

Cawthorne nodded again, and looked at him with eyes that saw at last. "What is it, John?" he asked.

"Have you or not been impersonating me, this year past?"

"Yes," said Cawthorne.

"Mr. Southdown, Dr. Somerton, you heard?" cried the other in a voice that rang shrill with triumph.

They mumbled inarticulate replies, so deep was their astonishment.

"Then bear witness, all of you," cried the veiled man. "My cousin has admitted that I am the Earl of Cawthorne. I tell you now that this lady is my wife. Mr. Southdown, Simon Vicars will hand you my will, as soon as I am dead. It will be for you to prove it!"

Mr. Southdown bowed and tried to speak, but he only succeeded in uttering a croak.

"Adam," said of a sudden the Countess of Forli, "should this go on? If you allow me, I shall speak."

Cawthorne glanced at her and shook his head. "Wait!" said he. Then he returned to his cousin.

"Have you made provision for me in your will?" he asked.

The veiled man answered with a weak but jeering laugh.

"Then your purpose is to ruin me?" pursued the Earl.

The veiled man laughed again.

"I think you must hate me, John."

"I have hated you all my life, Adam." The words were faintly uttered, for the veiled man's strength was leaving him.

Cawthorne did a strange thing. He turned to Dorothy and took both her hands in his. "Dorothy," he muttered, "now I understand why God would never let me like him!"

Dorothy began to cry. But Cawthorne in moving had dropped unwittingly the certificate of marriage that the veiled man had given him. Mr. Southdown saw the paper flutter to the floor, and stepping forward he stooped and picked it up. Retreating with his prize a little way, he slowly smoothed it out.

Meanwhile Cawthorne returned to his cousin. "John," he murmured, kneeling down beside the bed, "now that you have consummated your revenge, will you not forgive me, and let us part friends?"

The veiled man sighed. "Why do you ask me that?" he muttered with an effort.

"You saved my life."

"No—no!" said the other. "I tried to kill you—to hurl you into the fire—but you struggled and I fell."

Cawthorne's face turned grey. "Is that true?" he gasped.

"It is true."

Cawthorne got slowly to his feet. Norah was sitting in a chair within six feet of him. She was weeping bitterly, and Simon Vicars tried in vain to comfort her. Cawthorne watched the pair like a man in a dream. Dr. Somerton bent over the bed and felt the veiled man's pulse. "I'm afraid, my lord—I must ask you all to go," he said a moment later, "your cousin's state is very low."

The old solicitor looked sharply at the doctor over his spectacles. "Give him something to restore him—to keep him up, even for five minutes! It is necessary!"

Dr. Somerton frowned. "Why?" he demanded.

"I'll tell you in a minute."

"The end has been already overhastened. He is sinking fast."

Mr. Southdown shrugged his shoulders. "Can you save his life? no; then I beg you to oblige me. I'll accept every atom of responsibility."

Dr. Somerton nodded, and approaching the table took up a hypodermic syringe that was already charged. Two seconds later, he plunged the needle into the veiled man's arm.

"Nitro-glycerine?" asked the lawyer.

"Yes, yet I doubt if it will rouse him. He is well-nigh comatose."

Cawthorne of a sudden shook himself, and, turning to Dorothy, put his arm about her waist. "Don't cry, dearest," he whispered tenderly.

"Adam," said the Countess of Forli, "all this is very terrible. Why won't you speak?"

"It is too late, I think," he answered sadly. "Besides, why should I rob him of his triumph? at least he will die happy."

The veiled man stirred uneasily upon the bed. "Adam," he muttered. "Adam."

"John," said the Earl, without moving.

He blinked his eyes for a little while, then smiled. "Who said I was dying?" he demanded shrilly. "I have not felt so strong for days."

Mr. Southdown cleared his throat and held the certificate aloft for all to see. "There is a mystery here, my lord," he announced, looking at the veiled man through narrow lids. "According to this certificate, Norah Flaherty was married in London—on the——day of——to one Simon Vicars. Has your lordship been wilfully misleading us?"

Simon Vicars sprang erect and darted with an irrepressible cry towards the lawyer. "Give it to me!" he shouted. "It is mine." He had entirely lost his head.

Mr. Southdown did not hesitate. "Certainly!" he replied, "for you are Simon Vicars."

Simon stuffed the paper in his pocket and glared across at Norah, black murder in his eyes. "You—you——" he groaned, hardly able to articulate.

Norah stopped crying and got tremblingly afoot.

"Judas," shrieked the little valet.

Norah put her hand into her pocket. "Shure—shure—this must be the one," she stammered, and produced a second paper. "Shure, Simon dear, Oi didn't mane it," she wailed. "Don't look at me loike that. Oi didn't mane nothing—Oi forgot—which—oh—why did you give me the two?"

"Fool!" he hissed, "put it back, put it back!"

But Dr. Somerton took the paper from her hand before she could obey and looked at it. Then he exclaimed, "Good God!" and handed it across the bed to Mr. Southdown.

Simon Vicars realised the game was up. His fine castle in Spain that he had so laboriously erected was tumbling about his ears. The clever stroke by which he had designed to hold Norah in a constant subjection of terror had undone him through the stupidity of his tool. For one dizzy instant his brain spun and he thought of a horrible revenge. He had a revolver in his pocket. Some instinct had induced him to arm himself an hour before. His hand closed about the stock. He would shoot first Norah, then the Earl, then, if he could, the others. He craved blood. He smelt blood. He tasted blood—he had bitten his lip almost through. His glaring eyes marked the spot on Norah's breast that his bullet would enter. "Now," he muttered, and drew forth the weapon.

But even as he moved fingers of iron closed upon his wrist. The revolver was wrenched out of his hand, and Cawthorne's voice muttered in his ear the one word, "Go!" No other marked the little drama, for all were gazing at the lawyer.

"Bigamy—by Heaven!" cried Mr. Southdown; "and if I don't mistake conspiracy as well!"

There came a queer gurgling sound from the bed. The veiled man had torn off his mask, and, sitting half erect, was struggling, vainly to speak.

The horrid apparition drew all eyes and held the gathering spell-bound, save only Simon and the Earl.

"Go!" repeated Cawthorne.

Simon gave his monitor a dreadful look and stole like a shadow to the door. Cawthorne put the pistol in his pocket and watched him go. Simon fled at top speed to his bedroom, and seizing his bag hastily stuffed some clothes therein. From a locked trunk he then extracted a cheque which bore the Earl's signature. It represented a large amount and was a forgery. Simon had prepared it with infinite trouble months before, for just such an emergency as this. He was a far-seeing little villain. It took him but a moment to fill in the date, and a moment later he slipped out of the wing and made his way to the front of the Castle, where Dr. Somerton's dogcart and the Countess of Forli's carriage stood in waiting.

It was easy to persuade the doctor's groom to drive him into Stayton and the shipbuilding company's office. There arrived, he boldly approached Sir Felix Greig, whom he calmly requested in the Earl's name to cash the forged cheque. Sir Felix, who had long ceased to experience surprise at any action of Lord Cawthorne, shrugged his shoulders and consented. Simon slept that night in a packet bound for Holland.

Meanwhile, in Cawthorne Castle's western wing, the veiled man's life was fast ebbing to its close. When Simon vanished through the curtained door, the Earl turned to his cousin and caught his breath in sudden pain to see the other's agony. The veiled man had fallen back upon his pillows, but he still fought to speak, and his eyes were livid with hate and fury and despair. Cawthorne strode to the bed and bent over him. "Can you hear?" he asked. The veiled man's eyes said yes.

"Then listen. I impersonated you, it is true. But I was always rightfully the Earl, although we both thought otherwise. I, and not you, am Adam Deen's son. My father put me from him and gave you my place for reasons you can guess. The Countess of Forli is my mother, not yours, and since she is here, she will bear witness to my words. Mother!"

The Countess of Forli stepped forward. She was very pale, but marble still. She looked into the sick man's eyes. "Adam is my son," she said with cold impressiveness, "and you my nephew. I recognised him by a mark which cannot be mistaken, and which you have not." She glanced at the veiled man's hands and involuntarily she shivered. "When he was a babe, and before I deserted him, the little finger of his right hand was crushed through a nurse's carelessness. The top joint was amputated. Adam is my son and the Earl of Cawthorne. I swear this before God!"

The veiled man gazed at her, and while he gazed a wonderful calm descended on his soul. The rage that had strangled his faculties and forbidden even utterance evaporated like an evil humor, leaving him impassive and emotionless. He felt that he could at length speak, and he felt too that all the resources of his intellect were marshalled like patient and obedient vassals, prepared to do his bidding.

"I do not doubt one word that you have spoken," he murmured suddenly. "I feel it is the truth. The man—I thought my father—always loved Adam best."

He closed his eyes and for a moment no sound was to be heard but Norah's sobbing. Poor Norah had thrown herself upon a distant couch, and was crying as if her heart would break. She had discovered that Simon had deserted her, and her despair was unfathomable.

Cawthorne felt his hand clasped, and turning, he looked at Dorothy. "This was your secret, dear," she whispered, her lips quivering, her eyes swimming in tears.

"Yes," said Cawthorne.

The veiled man raised his lids, and looked at his cousin. "Adam," he muttered.

The Earl started. "John!" he cried.

"It seems I have gone to a lot of needless trouble, eh?" and he smiled so horrible that every soul there shuddered.

"By God's mercy," replied the Earl, in a voice that filled the room like some rich music, "you have been allowed to hurt me only in intention, John. And for that I forgive you as freely as I hope myself to be forgiven!"

"That's nice of you," said the other, with a feeble sneer.

"John—John——"

"No heroics, please. Tell them all to go. I have something to say to you alone. And by the way, ladies and gentlemen," his voice grew shrill and wonderfully dominant, "please let no fool among you send for a clergyman. I wish to die in peace!"

Cawthorne exchanged a loving glance with his wife, and Dorothy immediately moved off. The others followed, looking dazed, almost stupefied indeed. Only Norah did not stir.

Cawthorne saw her and called on her by name. She staggered to her feet and tottered towards the door, but midway she stumbled, and clutching blindly at the air, began to scream. But the Countess of Forli, with swift sympathy, put her arms about the wretched girl. Two hours later Norah's child was born, dead. When the door closed, the veiled man asked for a drink of water, and Cawthorne propped him up and helped him drink.

Afterwards they looked into each other's eyes. "What is the time?" asked the veiled man.

But the tower clock began to chime even as he spoke. He counted the strokes. "One, two, three, four, five. A full hour," he muttered, "a full hour."

The Earl sank on his knees beside the bed. "In a little while you'll stand before your Maker, John," he muttered with a yearning look.

"If there is a God?"

"Oh, there is, there is."

"If there is a God, He'll not despise a manly man. Nor shall I fear Him. For this at least I'll have to say to Him: I died as I lived—and scorned to play the coward at the end!"

"John, John, the bravest of the brave——"

"Silence! Don't preach to me. I am resolved."

Cawthorne bowed his head upon his hands and silently began to pray. He was sick at heart, and aching with a sense of powerlessness that was worse than pain and that weighed upon him like a doom. John Deen watched him placidly, and so some minutes passed.

When Cawthorne at length looked up, his eyes were blurred with tears. "For Christ's sake tell me what can soften you?" he pleaded in a husky whisper. "Don't die hating me, old boy!"

"Give me your last word," rejoined the other, "and I shall give you mine."

"May God forgive and comfort you for all eternity," said Cawthorne solemnly.

For the last time on earth, the veiled man smiled. "Bury me—in—my mask," he said, and he closed his eyes.

What lingering spark of vanity or sensibility prompted the request? Or was it governed by some deeper motive still; a subtle plan, a cruel desire to conceal his final mental attitude, and thereby plague his cousin's future with a ceaseless doubt. Full well he knew that a gracious word would have glorified his cousin's life. Did he deliberately withhold it? Was he harder or softer than he seemed? Was hatred still his master, or remorse? He alone of mortals could have answered these and other questions, but he did not speak. The Earl cried out many times to him, adjuring and beseeching him by turns with sacred names and sacred memories, but the veiled man made no response, and his breathing grew even more labored, and more stertorous. Cawthorne ceased at last to speak, and began to dream and pray.

God only knows what were the veiled man's thoughts meanwhile, and when his senses swooned. Hours passed, hour on hour. Cawthorne awakened from a long trance of misery to see that the room had been artificially illuminated while he dreamed; night had fallen, and Dr. Somerton was standing by the bed, his expression grave and reverent.

"He is quite unconscious," said the doctor in answer to the young man's mute inquiry, "and no earthly power can bring him to again. You can do no good by staying here, my lord. I have already sent for a nurse, and until she comes I'll watch. Your wife expects you, and anxiously I think. It is nearly eight o'clock."

Cawthorne fastened the mask about the veiled man's face, and passed slowly and sadly from the room. He felt as if all the light had gone from his life for ever; but when he looked at Dorothy, he knew that he was wrong. Her very presence was a benison, as were her soft white arms that stole round his neck. She divined his misery, and all her woman's heart went out to him. She knew by instinct that to cheer and comfort him she must make him think of her and her only. "Dear," she whispered, "I have been so long alone, so very long!" And Cawthorne strained her to his breast and was consoled. For his was a nature that found its happiness in the cure of other's loneliness and pain.

John Deen slumbered on in dull insensibility for eight and forty hours. Then he died, peacefully, without a struggle—without a sign. And the man he had hated so bitterly followed his dust, bareheaded to the tomb.


THE END

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