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Title: More Than Coronets
Author: Fred M White
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1402581.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: September 2014
Date most recently updated: September 2014

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

Title: More Than Coronets
Author: Fred M White

*

MORE THAN CORONETS.

By

FRED M. WHITE.

*

Published in Chamber's Journal 3 March, 1894.


*


CHAPTER I.

WHEN the wind blew in from the north-east, and the sea came plunging
over the gray granite, the salt sting of the spume was carried up to
Deepdene. There was no glimpse of the troubled waters to be seen from
the latticed windows of the topmost gable, for the old house nestled
in a ferny hollow; still, quiet, and untroubled at times when the gale
rushed through the ancient oaks till they groaned again. You could sit
in the refectory on winter nights and hear the click-clack of the clock
in the stone-flagged hall, where the armoured figures kept watch, and
catch the rustle of the mice behind the panel; whilst, a bowshot away,
the trees bent before the onset of the gale. The seamews came hurtling
over with a flash and a scream, heeling as a yacht runs, whilst at the
foot of the oaks the deer lay snug in the withered bracken.

No great house was Deepdene; but gray stone attuned and hammered by
the deft hand of time until the granite had grown bloomy like the
nectarines ripening on the sunny south wall. Two wings ran out from
each side of the great portico; the windows were mullioned; there
were high-pointed gables with black barge-boards cunningly carved. In
front, a lawn, shaven and rolled and mown until the leisurely flight
of centuries had rendered it a sheet of emerald velvet. Beyond, lay
the remains of what at one time had been the moat, now crossed by a
rustic bridge to the small but well-timbered park. Not a great domain;
but inland, the fair meadows trended to the valley, where the red
farmhouses lay girt about by barns and yellow ricks. In the Deepdene,
land was rich and its yeomen prosperous. And in that fertile valley
lay the income of Dene de Ros, which he counted at no less than ten
thousand pounds per annum. Yes, a beautiful estate, truly.

The house inside was inclined to gloom, for the windows were small,
and the device emblazoned on the panes cast streams of pallid blue and
pale amber across the black oak floors. And yet the whole place laid
no spirit of gloom or unrest upon the mind: it was a haunt of ancient
peace, soothing to the body and mind. The phantoms of trouble and
worldly longing would have been out of place there.

In the great hall gleamed polished coats of mail; dark oak chests were
here and there; underfoot, skins and rugs; whilst to give the whole a
modern touch, were giant palms standing out of dragon vases. In the
living-rooms everything was the same; nothing appeared to have been
changed since the days of good Queen Bess. It would not have surprised
you to see a troop of dames in ruff and farthingale seated in the
quaint carved chairs; or a bevy of cavaliers, hawk on wrist, riding
through the hammered iron gates, brought from Antwerp by some bygone De
Ros, and dividing the kitchen garden from the lawn.

Here and there, some little respect had been paid to changing fashion.
But Dene de Ros was proud of his home and its contents, as he was of
his long descent and aristocratic line. Many years ago, after the
disaster which befell the Spanish Armada, Don del Roso, the commander
of one of the great galleons, had been washed ashore, half-dead, after
a terrible storm, there to be found by Dorothy Western, the only child
of the then owner of Deepdene; and in the course of time there had been
a marriage, and the Del Roso became by elision De Ros; and since then
the line had remained unbroken.

They were a proud lot--there is no denying that. The Westerns were
great people; and Don del Roso had the blood of Castilian kings in his
veins. And, from that day to this, the family had retained the regular
features and dark flashing eyes of the maritime adventurer whose
picture hangs in the hall to witness.

A handsome, well-preserved man of fifty-five or so was Dene de Ros. He
looked younger as he stood in his library, where the pale yellow light
illuminated the brown volumes with which the room was lined; and yet De
Ros seemed hardly happy. Possibly the letter which he had in his hand
caused him some uneasiness. The offending communication was written
upon a sheet of official-looking blue paper, inscribed in a legal hand,
and the contents were of a very pregnant nature indeed.

'Strange, after all these years,' the reader murmured; 'and yet, if
what is set out here is correct, there is only one thing to be done.'
It was the speaker's favourite expression; everybody in the county knew
it. It spoke the upright, honourable man, who never swerved an inch
from his duty, however disastrous the consequences might be. People
called De Ros hard and cold; but not a soul was there in the whole
county who would not have placed his honour implicitly in the hands of
Dene de Ros.

The cause of his uneasiness ran as follows:


'485 LINCOLN'S INN FIELDS,

5th August 1891.

'SIR--In accordance with your instructions, we have investigated the
case thoroughly, and we have delayed writing until there was something
definite to communicate. As you desired, we have spared no expense to
sift the matter thoroughly; and it is our painful duty to state that
the claim put forward by Mr Vanbrugh--otherwise Ambrose de Ros--appears
to be absolutely sound in every particular. Copies of the various
certificates and affidavits by persons whose testimony is apparently
beyond reproach have been laid before us by our Australian agents,
which leave very little doubt in our mind about the matter. It is
impossible to convey everything in writing; therefore, our Mr Carson
intends calling upon you to-morrow, when the whole matter will be
explained. We trust you will be able to grant this interview.

Your obedient servants,

GALLOWAY & CARSON.'


The letter meant ruin, if it meant anything. It would necessitate
leaving Deepdene, and commencing the world afresh. Galloway & Carson
were not the kind of men to express so candid an opinion unless they
were absolutely sure of the facts.

'I shall not fight,' De Ros murmured. 'If this man can prove his
title, I shall make no opposition. But it is hard.' With a little
fleeting passion, the speaker struck the paper in his hand. His very
heartstrings were rooted in the foundations of the old house, which he
would soon be compelled to relinquish to a stranger.

The library door opened a little way, and a girl looked in. She was
about to withdraw, when De Ros called her to his side. There was no
mistaking the likeness between them. Never since the advent of Del Roso
into the family had there been any break in the main line; but now it
looked as if the old name would die out, since Vera de Ros was an only
child. She had the same creamy pallor of skin peculiar to the family,
the same haughty, short upper lip and liquid eyes. A beautiful girl,
dainty, graceful, and refined, like a modernised picture of the dames
whose counterfeit presentment smiled down from the walls.

As she spoke, her voice was low and sweet. 'You are in trouble?' she
asked. 'Is it that claim again? I thought that was forgotten long ago.
The man is an impostor.'

De Ros shook his head sadly, but his eyes flashed. It is hard to lose
everything after twenty years of undisputed sovereignty. 'The man
is absolutely owner of Deepdene,' he said. 'My grandfather had two
sons--Leslie de Ros, and my father, Dene. Leslie was the elder, as I
have often told you. Had he lived, my father would have had nothing
but his mothers money, and the Dyke--say one thousand pounds per annum,
and the house which you know. But Leslie quarrelled violently with his
father, and quitted the country in high dudgeon. Ten years later, proof
came to us that he had died in Australia, and till lately we have never
heard anything further. And now it transpires that Leslie was married,
and left a son, who in turn became a Benedick, and has a son too. It is
an old story,' De Ros concluded bitterly; 'but it means the loss of the
old place, and its transfer to a man who will probably pull it down and
rebuild a red brick mansion on the site.'

Vera's delicate features flushed with pain. 'Pull down this beautiful
monument of the past, destroy the---- Oh, impossible!' The creamy
pallor on her cheeks became more intensely marked. 'That would be worse
than all,' she whispered. 'You are sure of this?'

'Yes. My solicitors say the claim is quite genuine.'

'I can't realise it.' Vera went on after a pause: 'Father, how old is
this man, who has come to drive us from our home?'

'About my own age,' De Ros replied mechanically.

'Then you know all about him. Have you seen him?'

For a moment De Ros appeared to be actually confused, an unusual thing
for a man who had never yet betrayed the slightest emotion. 'I have
heard many particulars from Swayne,' De Ros explained with some little
haste. 'I have to thank him for this.'

'But, had you known, Swayne's discovery would have counted for
nothing.' Vera spoke with pride; she did not consider it necessary to
frame her remark in a spirit of interrogation. The proudest and most
honourable man in the county would have acted as a De Ros should--had
he been aware that the estates were not his own, he would not have
lingered for others interested to make the same discovery.

'I should have done my duty,' he said simply. 'Swayne's vengeance will
be a very empty triumph, after all.'

'It is very strange,' Vera said meditatively as she sank into one of
the old carved chairs--'very strange that you should have lived seven
years in Australia before your marriage, and have discovered nothing of
Leslie de Ros and his descendants there. And yet, in fewer than three
years, Swayne finds the real owner of Deepdene.'

De Ros was silent for a moment; the heraldic device on the window cast
a lurid red shadow athwart the leather-covered volumes; a flash of blue
lighted up the carven mantel over the open grate. Outside, a starling
whistled as he perched upon the bronze cupola of the pigeon-house. The
ordered peace was there still; it lay everywhere save in the heart of
the dethroned master of it all.

'Swayne was lucky,' he said at length. 'He blundered upon the clue
quite by accident, and his thirst for vengeance dictated the rest. I
daresay this Ambrose de Ros has promised to reward him liberally.'

'No one of our name would stoop to barter with a discharged servant, a
dishonest steward,' Vera exclaimed, her dark eyes changing hue. 'You
should have prosecuted Swayne, father.'

'I could prove nothing that the law recognises,' De Ros replied. 'And I
would not build up too high hopes concerning our successor, were I in
your place. To commence with--his mother was an emigrant, the daughter
of a village hind who left the old country to better himself. Leslie
de Ros did not tell his wife who he was; and when he died, leaving a
son, his identity perished with him. But De Ros is no common name,
and naturally, Swayne knew the whole story so far as this family
is concerned. When I discharged him, he found it impossible to get
employment in this country; therefore, he emigrated. In the bush he met
Ambrose de Ros, tending sheep. The rest of the story you can guess. And
now the claimant to this property is in England, and Swayne accompanies
him. The latter's revenge'----

'Is nothing,' Vera interrupted loftily. 'So long as we do what is
right and just, all that goes harmlessly over our heads. Oh, it is
impossible for a creature like Swayne to humiliate a De Ros.' Vera
spoke disdainfully as she rose to her feet. She laid her long slim
hands, glittering with rose diamonds in old settings, on the bronze
dragon that formed the back of a chair, a touch of carmine on her
cheek. In another girl, younger, less regally beautiful, the gems would
have looked out of place; but they seemed appropriate to Vera.

She sighed. It was the one passing tribute paid by pride to nature. It
seemed so hard to be compelled to give it all up: the horses in the
old stone stables, which had once been the refectory of a Capuchin
hospital; the family pictures; the old silver-throated organ with the
yellow keys, which had been fashioned by Father Smith himself. For Vera
loved her music, and the organ that stood in the long gallery, opposite
the brass-bound oaken chest on which Del Roso had floated ashore. And
that--the cradle, as it were, of the race--must go too.

'It will be a wrench,' she murmured between her little white teeth;
'and yet there is comfort in knowing that everything is going to our
own flesh and blood. I daresay we shall manage with the Dyke and your
younger brother's portion--we are not extravagant.'

'It will be a triumph for Swayne,' De Ros said meditatively.

'It will not,' Vera retorted. 'He will gain nothing by it.' Vera swept
out of the room, her black velvet skirts trailing behind her, her
little high-heeled slippers clacking on the polished floor. In the soft
dim light of the hall she recognised a figure which seemed familiar.
The man bowed humbly, but there was a grin on his face.

'Swayne!' said Vera, with an uplifting of the arched brows. 'Why are
you here?' There was no anger or indignation in the clear level tones,
nothing but the cold, distant contempt naturally felt for a detected
scoundrel. Vera simply regarded him as if he had been some noisome
insect.

'I came here, Miss,' Swayne replied, striving to speak insolently, and
failing lamentably in the attempt, 'to see your father. Subject to the
necessary preliminaries, I have been reappointed steward to Deepdene
estate by the owner, Mr Ambrose de Ros.'

'Indeed!' Vera said with the same smoothness. 'This is interesting.
Your trip to Australia seems to have proved fortunate, Mr Swayne.'

The man smiled uneasily. In a dim way, he was conscious that the
proposed triumph was proving somewhat chimerical. The coarse red face
was sullen, the little twinkling eyes fell before Vera's calm gaze.

'You may say that,' he retorted with a rising inflection. 'I tried a
land speculation, and in a short time I made ten thousand pounds. Then
I went up country, where I was fortunate enough to find Mr Ambrose de
Ros. He came over to England with me.'

'Indeed! He is to be congratulated upon his new friendship. What manner
of man is this relative of mine, Mr Swayne?'

Swayne grinned again, and then coughed behind his hand, with a
deference which he found himself unable to master so long as Vera's
clear eyes were bent on his face.

'Not much like a De Ros, I fear,' he said. 'In the first place, Mr
Ambrose--or, to speak correctly, Mr de Ros--is a gentleman entirely
devoid of education. He has lived in the bush all his life, amongst the
sheep; he has few ideas beyond his own wants.'

'I suppose you mean that he is a working man?'

'Well, that's about what it really amounts to,' Swayne continued, the
feeling of insolence cropping up again. 'A labourer who has a son also,
who is very little better. I daresay you'll find it awkward at first.'

But Vera displayed no emotion; her beautiful face was calm and serious,
as if she had been listening to the passing chronicle of some village
romance. She even smiled slightly as she drew her skirts together.
'Thank you,' she said simply. 'I shall be able to judge for myself
presently.'

Vera passed up the wide staircase, leaving Joshua Swayne in a curious
frame of mind, in which grudging admiration was uppermost. He had been
turned away from Deepdene four years before with scorn and contumely;
but now a sudden trick in Fortune's wheel had placed vengeance in
his grasp; and yet the first shot had exploded harmlessly--the enemy
remained undismayed.

Meanwhile, Vera turned into the great corridor, lighted by a large
oriel window, where the purple and primrose device of the race flashed
like a jewel in the sun. On either side were family portraits--a
general, a famous statesman, a bishop with mitre and full sleeves of
lawn. There were beautiful women in whose honour bloods had crushed
many a cup, the whole proud noble line that culminated in a rude
shepherd from the antipodes.

Vera smiled bitterly as she ran her hands over the ivory keys of
Father Smith's work. But to-day there seemed to be a jarring note in
the harmonious wail of the Gregorian chant, and Vera abandoned her
stool, and, crossing over, stood for some time contemplating an object
standing under the great oriel. It was an old oaken chest, brass-bound,
and black with the passage of centuries. A little drift of bloomy
feathery dust lay on the lid, but not enough to obliterate the curious
inscription carved thereon by the hand of Del Roso himself. It was
the casket he had clung to when the Santa Maria went down, and the
commander had been the only living soul to reach that ironbound coast
in safety. Vera traced the inscription with idle forefinger:


Thys was my arke of safetie, 
here I found the Englyshe shore; 
Thys is my home, and here withyn 
Is troubil gone and o'er.


Vera lifted the lid. The chest was crammed with musty documents,
expired leases, grants of royalties, and the like. She let the lid fall
with a sullen bang, and leaned her face upon it. 'And this is the end
of it all,' she murmured. 'What would the Castilian noble say to the
shepherd, I wonder?'

There was a step on the stair, and Vera rose as her father came towards
her. There was a gray slip of paper in his hand--a telegram.

'This is from my lawyers,' De Ros said gravely. 'They warn me that
Ambrose de Ros proposes to honour us with a visit tomorrow.'




CHAPTER II.

THE somewhat ceremonious dinner at Deepdene had drawn to an end. The
function was always a more or less solemn one, invariably held in
the great dining-hall, with its polished walls, where the spears and
ancient arms shone dimly. A shaded argand lamp threw a subdued light
upon glass and silver and the picturesque confusion of fruit; the
butler had a light to himself on the buffet where the racing-cups were.
There was but one spot of crystal flame in the midst of darkness dim
and quiet.

Usually conversation between father and daughter proceeded smoothly
enough; but on the present occasion they said but little. There had
been a delay on the line in consequence of the breakdown of a train,
and Ambrose de Ros had not yet arrived. The ordeal was merely postponed.

Vera felt ill at ease, nervous almost. In an absent-minded way, she sat
before the piano in the drawing-room playing impromptu snatches. There
was ample glow there from the candles on the silver branches to light
up Vera's face. She looked cold and haughty in black lace, which showed
up the ivory whiteness of her arms. There were diamonds in her hair.

De Ros stood before the high open grate, which was empty save for its
complement of feathery ferns and Parma violets. He looked at his watch
for the twentieth time. As he did so, there came the crunch of wheels
on the gravelled drive. 'I thought I heard the brougham,' he said.
'They have arrived.' The speaker took a step forward, then his mind
changed. After all, it was idle to expect him to welcome the coming
guests. Courtesy and politeness they would have, but nothing more.

Then the drawing-room door opened, and a solemn footman entered. 'Mr de
Ros and Mr David de Ros,' he said, and vanished.

Vera rose to her feet, a superb figure, and stood by her father's side.
Her dark eyes were calm and steady as she surveyed the intruders. She
was prepared for all that was commonplace and plain, and she found it.
Still, the personality of the new head of the house might have been
worse. Naturally, it was he who first engaged Vera's attention. The
other was merely a young person of the name of David, the class of
youth that patrician beauty comes in contact with in shops, a necessary
social machine.

Ambrose de Ros stood with the light full upon his face. He smiled.
Apparently, he was no more embarrassed than he would have been amongst
his sheep. And there was no looking over his head either, for he stood
six feet two inches in his stocking feet, which, you will admit, is
a tremendous advantage in an interview of this kind. He was broad,
too, in proportion--a perfect giant of a man, with a wonderful chest
and shoulders. He was straight as a dart. He had regular features, a
wonderfully pleasant smile, and blue eyes. Vera gasped. The man was
a gentleman. Yes, merely an uneducated shepherd, but unmistakably
a gentleman. Nature is a staunch republican in these matters,
unfortunately for the theory of hereditary gentility. Vera could not
look into that gentle, refined face and doubt it.

'You are welcome,' Dene de Ros murmured. 'I am glad to see you.'

'Yes,' Vera echoed, 'we are both pleased to make your acquaintance.'

The new owner of Deepdene advanced with extended hand. There was a
pleasant smile on his lips as he crushed Vera's fingers in a grasp
like a vice. 'I am glad to hear you say so,' he responded. His voice
was wonderfully sweet and sympathetic, clear and soft as a woman's.
'Fourteen thousand miles have we travelled to see the old place that
belonged to my ancestors. David didn't want to come; he was all for
letting these things be; but I said no. Not that we're come to turn you
out of this house; don't you think it; but I wanted to see my own flesh
and blood. I'm a poor uneducated man, who's got his own living ever
since twelve years old, and therefore not fit for the likes of you.
Very likely you will look down on me, which is natural'----

'They will not look down on you,' David interrupted. 'Nobody who ever
knew you well ever did that, father.'

There was an awkward pause for a moment, during which Vera's clear,
calm eyes closely scanned the last speaker. Despite his homely name,
David was a gentleman too. He was a De Ros every inch of him, with the
same dark hair and pallid cheek, save that his eyes were blue. It was
De Ros physically glorified by the importation of fresh healthy blood
in the family. And the young man's speech, if lacking repose and the
falsetto throatiness which obtains in refined circles, was correct and
harmonious.

'Now, don't you interrupt me, Dave,' the elder man went on, laying his
hand upon his son's shoulder with rugged affection. 'Mind you what the
Book says concernin' a son's duty to his parents.--As I was saying, sir,
I was only a poor shepherd, although I managed to give Dave the benefit
of an education. I can't read myself.'

Vera laughed. The confession was so na´ve, that all the sting went out
of it. Fancy a De Ros of Deepdene who was unable to peruse the Times!

'But Dave had advantages. It was terrible hard to part with him; but
I did it, and I'm glad. He went to Melbourne, and there he became a
gentleman. It was there that he learnt the ways of good society.'

'Exalted society,' David remarked with a certain frigid candour. 'I was
assistant in a dry-goods store in Little Collins Street.'

'Where the society was good and the pay excellent,' Ambrose de Ros
remarked with pride. 'But Dave was always a very ambitious lad; and I
hope, for his sake, that you will be pleasant and amiable to me.'

'They will do so for your own sake, when they know you,' David put in
parenthetically.

'Be friendly to me,' Ambrose went on, without noticing the
interruption, 'because my boy is a good boy, and a credit to his
parents. I come here with peace and good-will in my heart; my feelings
go out to you--yes, go out to you.' He repeated the last phrase with
childish delight in his own eloquence.

'I don't come as a thief and a robber, to deprive you of this dear old
place, which you love as part of yourselves. I don't ask for much. I
only want to be on pleasant terms with my own flesh and blood. Let
me have the younger brother's portion, the place they call the Dyke,
and the little money as goes with it. That's all--only that. And your
good-will and esteem. And in saying this I simply echo the feelings of
my boy who stands there before you.'

'I thank you for your consideration,' Dene de Ros replied. 'I can see
that your little speech cost you a considerable effort.'

'Ay, you may well say that,' exclaimed Ambrose, 'Three months on and
off, I've been learning that speech by heart, and yet, when I came into
the room, all the tender bits seemed to go out of my head. I did intend
to drop into poetry; but I quite forgot it.'

'And yet my father never heard of Silas Wegg,' David said dryly.

'I knew a Wegg who was a driver on Paterson's Station,' Ambrose said
innocently. 'But if I remember rightly, his name was Jacob.'

There was another awkward pause, during which Dene de Ros pulled
his moustache uneasily. He did not feel himself; he was awkward and
restless before these people, whom he could not treat, as he would
have liked, with his best and chilliest Quarter-sessions manner. And
yet the man who supplanted him stood there smiling and absolutely
self-possessed. David smiled too, but then he was reading the thoughts
of his host, and they amused him.

'Perhaps I had better speak for my father,' the younger man said at
length, 'as it was arranged that I should do. There is no question that
this house and the estate connected with it belongs to us.'

'You will find no opposition to that statement,' Dene de Ros said
coldly.

'I thank you,' David replied as serenely. 'It will be as well, perhaps,
for you to listen to all I have to say before interrupting me again. In
the first place, let me thank you for our reception. It is better than
we had any right to expect. Naturally, you regard us as interlopers,
aliens who appear unexpectedly, and thrust you from your inheritance.'

'Beautiful!' Ambrose murmured. 'That's the result of a natural aptitude
for speaking, fostered by association with gentlefolks.'

Vera, to whom this information was communicated in a stage-whisper,
bowed coldly, yet conscious of amusement. Like a great many uneducated
men, Ambrose de Ros had a weakness for long words, and a wonderful
faculty for grasping their meaning and pronunciation. It was quaint and
amusing altogether; all the same it was irritating to find a De Ros
regarding a shop assistant as a superior. They were the gentlefolk of
David's past.

'But you need have no fear,' David continued. 'My father and I have
thoroughly discussed the whole matter, and we are perfectly agreed to
take no more than he has suggested.--Mr de Ros, for many years your
father held this estate, deeming it to be his own; for more years still
you have been master here. Is it right that you should be deprived now
of your possessions? No. I have my own ambitions to serve. I came to
see my father placed in a position of comfort in his declining years;
and the younger son's portion will suffice us both. We decline to
accept the ownership of Deepdene.'

A thrill of admiration glowed in Vera's breast. The speaker's tones
were full and clear, his head was erect. There was no dry-goods
salesman there. David was De Ros, the spirit of the race personified.

'I thank you from the bottom of my heart,' Vera's father replied with a
little catch in his voice; 'and it is a great consolation to find that
my successors will be worthy of the best traditions of our house.--But
nothing shall alter my resolution. The place belongs to your father; I
can hold it no longer.'

'And this is your absolute determination?' David asked.

'Sir, a De Ros never changes his mind,' was the haughty reply. 'I
decline to go on living here under false pretences; I could not do it.'

'David,' Ambrose said reproachfully, 'didn't I tell you this would
happen? When Swayne found me out, and told me all that had taken place
in the past, and what I was entitled to, didn't I suggest pulling up
the sticks and making a bolt of it? "Let us get away from him, so that
he can't find us again," I said, because something seemed to tell me
that it would come to this.--My dear young lady, I can see that your
heart is warm, although your face is cold. I want you to believe that
if I'd known what was going to happen, I would have died rather than
caused this pain.'

'I am sorry,' Vera murmured, a little touched in spite of herself.
'I am quite willing to believe all that you say; but it cannot be
otherwise.'

She moved across the room to the piano, and commenced to play. There
was nothing contemptuous or distant in the action, she was merely
actuated by a desire to set the Australians more at their ease, to give
them a home-like feeling, and show that an awkward incident was closed.

Presently she looked up, and saw that the two elders were conversing
earnestly together. Then David crossed over to the piano and stood by
Vera's side. She gave him a friendly smile of encouragement. 'Do you
know,' she said with a sudden burst of confidence, 'I like your father.
He seems to be such a wonderfully single-minded man.'

David's features lighted up with a glow of enthusiasm. 'He is one of
the best men in the world!' he exclaimed. 'He has been mother and
father to me; he almost starved himself, so that I might have a decent
education. Only, he will shake hands with people.'

Vera glanced down demurely at the diamonds on her right hand.

'Of course,' David said, noting the glance; 'and I specially warned him
when he came in. I think that my father is the strongest man that I
ever met in my life.'

'He certainly impressed me with that fact,' Vera laughed. 'But all the
same, I think I am going to like your father very much.'

They breakfasted the following morning in one of the smaller rooms,
looking out on the terraced lawn beyond the moat to the park, where the
deer lay in the shadow of the great umbrageous oaks. The hour was late
for visitors accustomed to rise with the sun, and they had both been
out long before. The meal was fairly cheerful. It seemed to be tacitly
understood that no further allusion should be made to the ownership
of Deepdene. That had been absolutely settled by Dene de Ros on the
previous evening.

There was a sunny smile on the face of Ambrose as he took his seat at
the table. Everything seemed to be the brighter and better for his
presence. 'I've been up since four,' he said. 'I've been all through
the village and into most of the cottages.--Cousin Dene, these cottages
want seeing to.'

'Do they?' Dene asked carelessly. 'Bronsor looks into these matters.'

'Well, he hasn't looked very far--that's all I can say,' Ambrose
responded. 'Some of them are tumbling down, and the hinds there tell me
the labourers' wages on the estate are only fourteen shillings a week.
Now, when I'----

The speaker paused in some confusion. His own innate tact and refined
feeling warned him that he was about to inflict pain upon two of his
audience. But Dene de Ros came gravely to the rescue. 'You were about
to say that you will alter things when the estate comes into your
hands,' he said quietly. 'Yes, that is all right.'

'I am ashamed to say I was,' Ambrose stammered. 'I was going to blunder
that out when I stopped. Why? Because it would have been a wicked
thing to do. But look you here, Cousin Dene. Isn't it as wicked and as
shameful to own ten thousand pounds a year and pay men, with souls in
their bodies and families to keep, wages like these? And when they are
worked to a standstill, where do they go? To the poorhouse. And if they
are ill, what do they get? Nothing. Ah, it is hard, hard, I tell you.
And I know, my friends, because I have suffered that way myself.'

'You are a republican,' Vera said with a little smile.

Ambrose's face grew wonderfully grave and solemn. His lips trembled,
but the infinitely kind light still dwelt in his blue eyes.

'I am for the Queen,' he said simply. 'But if it's a question of
grinding down one of God's poor creatures for the benefit of one richer
and more powerful than himself, then I'm a republican indeed. My dear,
it seems to me that you are a very ignorant young woman, after all.'

Vera laughed as she rose from the table; it was impossible to be angry
with the speaker. In his own rugged, simple way, his dignity was quite
as great and lofty as that of Dene de Ros himself.

'You must not mind my father,' David remarked, as they made a tour of
the house after breakfast, the young people a little behind the elders.
'He does not mean to be unkind; but he is terribly in earnest.'

'And so are you, or I am lamentably out in my reading. Strange, in a
man who has mixed in the very best Melbourne society!'

David laughed; he quite appreciated the satire. 'There is another
evidence of my father's simplicity of character,' he said. 'When he
came to see me at the store where I was engaged, he used to abase
himself before the assistants there. I tell you there was not one of
them fit to black his boots; and yet, like myself, he is no respecter
of persons as persons.'

'Then you have no admiration for the class to which you belong?'

'My experience of them does not warrant reverence,' David said dryly.
'I met a good many scions of nobility down under, most of whom were
patriots.'

'Patriots!' Vera replied with a puzzled expression. 'Is that colonial
slang?'

'Indeed, no,' said David. 'They all recalled the lines:


True patriots we, for, be it understood, 
We left our country for our country's good.


For instance, there was a cab-driver who was a member of the Upper
House. We had a Baronet in the stores, who ran errands. You couldn't,
by any stretch of imagination, call him a gentleman, you know. Then
there was the younger son of a well-known Viscount, who marked in a
billiard saloon. No; on the whole I did not form a high opinion of the
aristocracy.'

Vera was silent, full of new ideas. It came as a revelation to her that
race and rank could fall so low. Presently they came to the end of the
corridor, where the mellowed sunlight flashed on the yellow keys of the
old organ. Vera's fingers touched it lovingly. 'Ah,' she said with a
little sigh, 'I shall miss the delightful instrument of Father Smith.'

'But why should you?' David asked eagerly. 'You have made up your minds
not to stay here, and we must bow to your wishes. But surely treasures
like these are not to be counted as houses and land. Take your organ.'

'No, no,' Vera said coldly. 'It is part of the house. See! it is built
into the wall, and every mistress of Deepdene has played upon it since
the maker first tuned these dingy pipes. No; I will come and play upon
it, if you like, sometimes--that is, if I may. I should as soon think
of taking Don del Roso's casket as the organ.' Vera pointed to the
oaken chest, on the top of which the dust gleamed blue and saffron in
the sunlight. Then, for David's benefit, she read the old inscription
and told the simple old story.

'I must look into that some day,' David said with interest. 'Anything
old, like that, has a wonderful fascination for me. It points to the
fact that within that casket lies the secret and mandragora for the
cure of trouble.--Do you understand the hidden meaning that lies under
these words?'

'There is popularly supposed to be one; but the parable is beyond me,'
Vera replied, a note of incredulity in her voice. 'There has been no
direct break in the male line since Del Roso wrote that doggerel.
Perhaps you are the prophet from a far country who is to solve it.'

The time came ere long when those words recurred with terrible force.
Meanwhile, the sun shone; the drowsy hum of bees floated in through the
window; a starling chattered on one of the limes outside, and, like
a snake in the grass, there peered in the face of Joshua Swayne. He
nodded familiarly to Dene de Ros; his manner to Ambrose was servile.

A flush mounted to Ambrose's face, his blue eyes were cloudy. 'Man,' he
said sternly, 'where are your manners? When I want you, I will send for
you. Now, go.'

Dene de Ros could have done it no better. There was the dignity of the
born aristocrat in every gesture. Swayne crept away.

'Cousin,' said Ambrose, 'I am no judge of men and manners; but it seems
to me that that man is a scoundrel.'

Swayne passed over the rustic bridge; he heard not the chatter of the
starling, for his heart was full of bitterness and malice. 'Ah!' he
muttered, 'if they only knew! But there is time enough for that.'




CHAPTER III.

THE new order of things appeared to come about at Deepdene in the most
natural manner possible. There was a little flutter of excitement at
first, a disposition on everybody's part to see the new owner, and then
everything settled down in the old groove--the machine went on as usual;
nothing appeared to be disturbed, save that one or two of the servants
accompanied De Ros and his daughter to the Dyke, which was situated
just beyond the park gates. Dene de Ros took his deposition grandly.
The old order changes, giving place to new; but nothing can debase the
good and just man struggling with adversity. Dene de Ros owned defeat,
but he could not fall.

For a year now the new owner had reigned in his stead; and, if a
little heresy may be permitted, the estate was no worse for the
change. Ambrose was unspeakably human; he was approachable; unlike his
stern, unbending relation, he could feel for the misery which he had
experienced. The cottages on the estate were improved, long-standing
grievances alleviated, nothing neglected. And the county took kindly to
Ambrose. He lacked the outward gloss and polish; but he had a native
dignity and refinement of his own which fenced him round with the same
dignity that doth hedge a king. He was a clever man, too; he started
to educate himself with the fervour of a young man. Before twelve
months had elapsed, he could read and write well. The books he read
were a revelation to him. With early advantages behind him, Ambrose
would have died a great man. And yet, despite the breadth of his ideas,
despite his admiration for Adam Smith and Mill, nothing was altered at
Deepdene. He regarded the oaken panels and gleaming armour, the storied
device on the windows, with solemn and respectful awe.

'It's a big responsibility to follow those who are gone,' he said a
score of times. 'They made the family what it was; they helped to make
history too; and I've got to keep up their traditions.--David, lad, it's
a very solemn undertaking that's put upon me.'

David was wont to listen respectfully. It was impossible for any one
to carry out the burden laid upon his shoulders better than his father
did. 'People say things are more satisfactory than they were,' he said.
'I am certain that no one is any worse for the change.'

'I hope not,' Ambrose said with simple solemnity. 'This is a trust
which I hold under Providence. Out there, where I was for weeks at a
time without seeing a single human soul, I used to wonder and dream
what I should do if I had a lot of money left me. I said that mankind
should be the better for it; and they are, though perhaps I shouldn't
say so. The labourers are better paid, they've got decent cottages to
live in.'

'Things will be better still,' David replied, 'when you get rid of
Swayne.'

It was the one sore point between father and son. To a certain extent,
Swayne had assumed his old position, and many were the private acts of
tyranny perpetrated by him that never came to the ears of his employer.

'I owe all I have to him,' Ambrose said slowly. 'It was he who found
me out, and placed me in my present position; and I don't see that he
benefited much by all the trouble that he took.'

'He is steward of the estate at a good salary,' David said
parenthetically.

'And a good servant, mind. I know nothing against him,' Ambrose went
on, as he lowered his voice impressively, 'except that there was
something wrong, a few years ago, when he held his present position
before. He told me all about that honestly and honourably, and that's
why I gave him another chance.--David, lad, when a man makes one false
step, a cruel world is again' givin' him another chance; and that's how
criminals is made.'

In his earnestness, Ambrose dropped into the old vernacular. It was
not often that David heard it now, and it was not displeasing to him.
It brought vividly before him the recollection of the simple-hearted
shepherd who deprived himself of everything for the sake of his boy.

'And yet I don't trust Swayne,' David answered.

'I don't myself,' was the somewhat startling reply. 'Mind you, I can
lay my hand upon nothing; he does his work well; and yet, when his
voice is in my ears, and his face before me, there's something here
near my heart that keeps on whisperin', "He's a scoundrel--he's a
scoundrel." But I don't listen to it, because I argue that it's nothing
more than sinful prejudice. But the voice is never silent.'

David changed the subject. There were other things to think of, of
much more importance than Swayne. The younger man sighed impatiently
as he looked round the library and then out across the lawn. He had
everything that makes life worth living--good health, good looks, and
the reversion of a fine estate--and yet there lay across his couch not a
crumpled rose-leaf, but a trail of thorns. He was like the little boy
crying for the moon.

It was not the moon he wanted so much as one bright particular
star--Vera de Ros. It was impossible to be in her company long without
being attracted to her--to be attracted and repelled at the same time.
And David felt that unless he could win Vera for himself, all the rest
was weariness of the flesh.

And she would have none of him; she repelled him gently and coldly,
leaving him with an uneasy feeling that she cared for him all the time.
Perhaps she did; but the demon of pride stood in her way. She liked
David better than any man she had ever met; her respect and esteem for
Ambrose was great, and yet they had between them deprived her of her
inheritance. Hers, too, was the passionate pride of race; the blood in
her veins was of the blue azure, whilst that of David was but a muddy
stream. His mother had been a daughter of the soil, as was her mother
before her; and birth was part of Vera's religion.

And yet she liked David. It was in her hands to say whether she should
return to Deepdene and reign as its mistress again. She knew that she
had only to unlock the floodgates of her passion and abandon herself to
an affection which, with all her resolution, she could not stifle. And
here the element of pity came in. David only wooed her from a sense of
justice. Could she accept as a lordly gift that which was morally her
own?

Of course David knew nothing of this. He wandered out upon the shaven
lawn, where the peacocks were sunning their Argus-eyed fans, flashing
a purple and golden sheen; he watched the deer browsing in the hollow.
From the quaint pigeon-house, the doves fluttered down to his feet.
He stood there chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy. The sky was
clear overhead; but up from the sea came bands of trailing purple. The
breeze blew on his face with fitful puffs. Far up in the empyrean, the
gulls wheeled and circled, uttering plaintive cries.

'We shall have a storm before the morn, sir,' remarked one of the
gardeners with a tug at his forelock. 'The gulls came in from the Clef
Rock quite early. Ah, you should see this coast in a gale!'

'I haven't seen one yet, though I have been here a year,' David
laughed; 'and I must say I don't see any signs of a storm at present.'

The rugged old countryman shook his head knowingly as he passed on.
At the same moment, a figure crossed the rustic bridge and came
rapidly towards the house. It was Dene de Ros, his features stern and
contracted. He did not appear to see David for a brief space.

'You look as if something had happened,' the latter remarked.

'I did not notice you, David,' Dene de Ros replied.--'Yes, something
very unpleasant indeed has happened, not that it concerns me
personally, only your father ought to know at once. Where is he?'

By way of reply, David led the way through the dim cool hall to the
library, where they found Ambrose struggling with a mass of accounts
which Swayne had just left for his inspection. He looked up with a
smile, which evaporated as he noted the thundercloud on his visitor's
brow. 'What is it?' he asked quietly. 'I see there is something wrong,
cousin.'

'It is that scoundrel Swayne,' Dene replied, keeping his passion down
with difficulty. 'I always warned you that you were dealing with a
rascal, and that you were foolish to give him another chance. He has
gone upon a new tack this time altogether, since there is no longer any
chance of robbing the estate upon a large scale.'

'He wanted money badly,' Ambrose interposed. 'He made a little fortune
out there in land, which he invested in the New Tasmania Bank. He came
to me in great distress yesterday with the news of its failure.--Don't
be too hard upon the poor fellow, Dene.'

'I declare you are the most exasperatingly lovable man I ever met,'
Dene exclaimed, smiling in spite of himself. 'Because a rascal loses
money, which he probably obtained by questionable means, I am to be
sorry for him. That man robbed me of hundreds of pounds; I discharged
him without a character; and by the fortune of war, he discovered you.
That was his revenge, as he thought; but there he was utterly mistaken.
It caused me no great pain to do what was right.'

'You are a good man,' Ambrose said huskily--'one of the best of men.'

Dene de Ros waved the compliment aside impatiently. His face flushed,
as if he were ashamed of that generous praise.

'But,' he went on, 'when your exaggerated gratitude caused you to bring
that man home, and keep him about you, I was annoyed. Do you suppose
he would have troubled about you, had it not been for striking a blow
at me? The first intimation I had of your existence was a letter from
Joshua Swayne saying he had discovered the son of Leslie de Ros, and
asking ten thousand pounds for his silence.'

'Why wasn't I told this before?' Ambrose demanded quietly. His mouth
had grown harder, his blue eyes flashed. 'I ought to have known.
Forgive a man once, I say, give him a chance; and if he fails in his
duty again'----

'But you were set upon him. Besides, I always had a comfortable
conviction that if you gave the rascal rope enough, he'd be sure to
hang himself. And I don't suppose you will care to look over the last
escapade, because it concerns the poor.'

'Ah!' There was a world of meaning in the exclamation. 'Go on.'

'Well, I happened to be riding past one of the new cottages by the
church yesterday, when I heard Swayne threatening one of the women
there. Certain words which came to my ear roused my suspicions, and I
returned presently. After a little persuasion on my part, the whole
thing came out. It appears that the tenant's name is Meakin, one of the
new labourers from Surrey.'



'A superior man for his class,' Ambrose observed. 'Very independent;
but a good workman, and a firm believer in trades-unionism.--Never mind
what your opinion of that is; please to go on with the story.'



'Well, the woman was angry. It appears that the cottage was let for
half-a-crown per week; whilst, as a matter of fact, it is honestly
worth five shillings. In collecting the rent, Swayne, it appears,
always demands four shillings, and gets it too, for these people know
when they are well off, and fear of Swayne getting them out of their
holdings seals their mouths.'

'Oh! Then Swayne pockets every week something like forty sums of
eighteen-pence--that is, if he does the same everywhere.

'Which he does,' Dene de Ros went on, with a little malicious delight
in the discomfiture of his successor. 'I called at several more of the
cottages, and had it out with the wives. Of course, I assured them that
no harm could come to them; after which they spoke freely. I find all
the labourers on the home-farm are paid twenty-two shillings. There
are about forty of them; and Swayne, under threat of dismissal if they
complain, gives them a pound each. It is by no means a bad way of
adding nearly five pounds a week to one's income.--But you can test
this for yourself.'

Ambrose de Ros rose to his feet, his lips trembling, and his hands
tightly clenched. His gentle, innocent mind recoiled with loathing. Bad
enough to plunder the rich; but when it came to the poor and lowly, he
was filled with righteous indignation. He looked like the incarnation
of an avenging Providence.

'This must be seen to at once,' he said. 'Will you come with me? I
have to meet Swayne at Meakin's cottage presently; and if what you say
proves to be true, then you will see that I can be just.'

As the two strode along in the direction of the village, a silence lay
upon them. They reached the labourer's cottage at length. It was past
one o'clock, and Meakin was at home, a powerful, burly-looking man,
with a clear eye, and a manner somewhat independent. Swayne, looking
mean and cunning as usual, was conversing with him.

The steward's face fell a little as he saw the angry gleam in the eye
of his employer. He would have spoken, but Ambrose put him aside.

'Meakin,' he said slowly and distinctly, 'I have found you honest and
straightforward, and I want a truthful reply to my question. Why, when
the rent of your cottage is half-a-crown weekly, do you pay Swayne four
shillings? And why do you take a sovereign on Saturday, when you know
that you are entitled to two shillings more?'

Swayne gasped; his cunning face grew white and ghastly. He signed
swiftly to his victim; but the latter smiled in reply. The man saw his
advantage; something told him that the day of tyranny was past.

'Because I was bound to, sir,' he replied bluntly.--'Ah, I know what
a steward can do when a man offends him. They can ruin a man. And
because, even as things are now, I'm forty per cent, better off than I
was before I came here, I kept my tongue between my teeth. I have not
wronged you, sir, only myself. And if you knew what it was to starve,
you'd know how that takes all the pluck out of a man.'

'I do know,' Ambrose said quietly. 'I don't blame you, Meakin, or any
of you; I blame myself for trusting to a villain. Do not be afraid to
speak, for he shall rob you no more. Tell me if you are the only
one, or does he treat you all the same?'

'There's no favour shown,' Meakin replied with grim humour. 'Mr
Swayne's kind enough to treat us all alike. Go down the cottages, sir,
and see if I'm not tellin' you gospel truth.'

Ambrose turned away, all his anger gone. In its place there welled up a
feeling of bitter disappointment. He had trusted this man; he had put
aside his prejudices; he had been deceived.

'The way of the world is beyond me,' he murmured. 'I would not have
had this happen for anything.--I would have found you what money you
required. Come to me in an hour's time. By then, I shall know what to
say.'

The speaker felt too upset to pursue his investigations further; he sat
on the edge of the old stone drinking fountain which stood under the
shadow of the church, whilst the others finished the unsavoury task.
Ambrose felt quite as dejected and cast down as Swayne himself. The
latter had reckoned upon the simple-mindedness of his employer. The
labourers and cottagers were under his thumb; not one of them would
dare to charge him with his malpractices. And now it has all come out,
and ruin stared him in the face.

There was no fear of prosecuting, of course; Ambrose de Ros would have
cut off his right hand first. There was strength and comfort in the
reflection as Swayne crept into the library an hour later, and found
himself face to face with the man he had wronged. And yet he felt no
remorse; he only burned for vengeance against Dene de Ros, who had
brought all this about. The latter appeared to have scored a triumph at
every turn. There was one other card that Swayne had to play, his final
effort. He knew all the secrets of the house, every nook and cranny; he
had been a privileged and trusted servant for years. His eyes gleamed;
there was a sullen flush on his face as he scraped his leathery
jaws with a rasping, unstable forefinger. But he could not face the
white-haired, sweet-faced giant who stood before him.

'I'm not going to bandy words with you,' Ambrose said slowly. 'You had
a good chance, and you lost it. I trusted you, and you have betrayed my
confidence by robbing the poor, God's poor. You are no longer a servant
of mine, Joshua Swayne; you can go.'

But Swayne was not quite easy in his mind; he wanted to be absolutely
certain as to the remoteness of a criminal prosecution; yet he
simulated no remorse before the most credulous of men. 'You will not
take any stops against me?' he asked sullenly.

'Unto seventy times seven, I could forgive; but it doesn't follow that
I'm going to find employment as well,' Ambrose replied with a quaint
admixture of humour and solemnity. 'I couldn't have believed it,
Swayne.'

'We never do till we find a man out,' Swayne muttered. 'Mr Dene
de Ros was angry and scornful; he is a gentleman, of course; he
wouldn't demean himself by a dirty action. He's a man of honour, like
that Brutus chap in a play that I once saw, and he behaved like an
aristocrat when he heard of you, didn't he? And yet he's as bad as me.'

Ambrose crossed over to the door and locked it. The words apparently
were innocent enough, but they seemed to inflame De Ros to madness. His
blue eyes blazed as he laid his hands upon Swayne, and shook him to and
fro as an ash-tree is shaken by the wind. 'Explain,' he said between
his teeth; 'come, your meaning.'

'Don't you strike me,' Swayne said fearfully. 'I suppose you can read?'

The sneer went harmlessly over the head of Ambrose de Ros. 'Yes,' he
said simply; 'I can now, as well as you. But don't keep me waiting. I'm
slow to anger, but beware how you rouse my passion. Speak, man.'

'Very well, I will,' Swayne burst out, his venom giving him courage.
'You're curious as to that casket of Del Roso's; therefore, look into
it, and read carefully all you find there. I'll say no more, if I die
for it. But search and read, and tell me what you think of Dene de Ros
then.'

The look of expectation, dread, almost fear, died out of Ambrose's
eyes. He unlocked the door and pointed to the hall. 'You are too late,'
he said. 'I knew all that the casket has to tell long ago. Yes; I mete
out to all men the latitude I gave to you. And if you ever dare to
trade upon the secret which you have stolen, it will be the worse for
you. For, of all enemies that a man can choose, the worst is the honest
being whose trust he has so shamefully betrayed. Now go, and never let
me see you again.'

Swayne crept away humiliated, almost ashamed. He had fired his mine; it
had exploded harmlessly into the air.

Ambrose remained behind. He looked up to the wild gray sky, changed
since morning; he saw the oaks on the hill tossed by the forefront of
the gale. 'He must never know,' he murmured. 'That one great sin shall
be forgiven.'




CHAPTER IV.

VERA stood in the shadow of the porch before the Dyke, a porch like a
lychgate, with heavy doors, held up by hammered hinges fantastically
embossed. There were red tiles on the roof; but they were shot with an
emerald shade, caused by the moss and house-green thereon. Down in the
hollow there the air was curiously still. A feathery acacia on the lawn
trembled as the meadows do in the summer haze; yet, on the hill above,
the giant oaks were tossing and moaning as the gale swept by. The storm
had gathered force in the night, and a hurricane blew in from the sea;
and a vessel had come ashore in the gray of the dawn.

They were all down on the shingle, probably every one in the village
save Vera, and Dene de Ros, who was from home. A mackintosh was
buttoned down to her feet, the hood drawn over her head. Now and again
the sun shot out from behind the rushing cloud-rack. There was a sting
of salt in the air like particles of dusty rain. Vera could taste
the brine on her lips as she toiled up the red road passing over the
hill like a parting in a head of tawny hair. It was not quite a safe
passage, for the way was strewn with branches; a drift of leaves tossed
hither and thither; but at last the crest was reached, and Vera looked
down at the sea on the other side. For a moment she bent down to regain
her breath. The blast caught her on the face like a blow. There was no
heaving, tossing expanse of blue there, nothing but a seething caldron
of white ragged spray. It was not more than half-tide; but the waves
washed up to the cliff. Down below there, a group of men were standing
knee-deep in the white lather, conspicuous amongst them being the form
of Ambrose de Ros. David was not far away, directing the movements of
the boatmen.

A bowshot away, a brig was astride the rocks; the cruel black teeth
had pricked her side whilst she rocked to and fro, trembling like a
thing of life as every heavy sea struck her. Fortunately, the mast
and running gear had not gone by the board, and there the crew were,
lashed, patient, waiting resolutely for the end. It was impossible to
reach them; and fairly warm as it was, the weary hours of exposure had
told upon the hapless crew. Twice a life-line had crossed the deck from
the crazy old rocket apparatus on the shore; but it was evident that
the crew of the Lucy Ann were past making any effort on their own
behalf. Yet those on the shore did not despair. Boldly and fearlessly,
Vera pushed her way down to the shingle; the white scud washed over her
feet, but she heeded it not. She accosted David impatiently. 'What are
you waiting for?' she asked. 'Can't you do anything?'

'We are trying,' David answered, his face flushing a little. 'There is
great danger for us with the tide flowing so rapidly. And those poor
fellows appear to be utterly exhausted, unable to assist at all.'

Vera sighed rebelliously; she blamed the men standing idly there,
although she could suggest nothing practical. And she knew how
impossible it was for any one to swim out to the wreck with a line.

Ambrose de Ros turned to her with a look of sadness on his face. 'I
never felt so helpless before,' he said. 'I tried swimming; but I had
to come back. I used to pride myself on my strength; but I was like a
child out there.'

That he had attempted anything daring to the verge of rashness never
appeared to occur to him for a moment. He had deliberately risked his
life for others, and the failure had filled him with honest shame.

Vera felt a twinge of self-reproach as David turned and touched his
father's arm. 'I have an idea,' he said. 'We must try another rocket
with a weighted line. If it holds, I might get along it to the vessel.
You see?'

Ambrose waited to hear no more. The rocket apparatus was again brought
into position, and a weight attached to the end of the stout line,
consisting of two drags armed with triangles. Three times did the
screaming force of the gale cast back the line in a tossing tangle;
then, at the fourth attempt, the cord fell full across the slanting
deck. Strong hands pulled on it with a will; it held stoutly. A moment
later, David had cast off his oilskins and heavy boots.

'You would not try it?' Vera faltered. 'If the hooks give way, you will
be literally crushed upon the rocks over by the bar. You must not go.'
She tried to speak imperiously; but her voice snapped and broke as the
string of a harp gives way suddenly.

There was a wistful smile on David's face as he replied: 'It would not
matter--to you. And if I do fail, you will get back your own again.
Perhaps, then, you may forgive me.'

Vera fell back, shrinking before a force greater even than the
onslaught of the gale. She had never cared for David quite so much
as she did at that moment, and there came over her the impression
that she was about to lose something precious. She felt a passionate
self-reproach, a bitter regret that she should have deliberately
impressed him with such an idea. 'You are right,' she murmured.
'Forgive me. And if you do not return, I--I shall be the most miserable
woman in England.'

The last words fell so low that David failed to hear them. He grasped
the rope in his hands and set off on his perilous journey. There was
a breathless term of suspense on the shore as David fought his way on
inch by inch. At one moment he rode high above the waves; another, and
he was lost to sight again. Two hundred yards of that seething flood of
death seemed like an endless distance; and if once the rope gave way----

But Vera dared not think of it. In a dreamy, dazed way, she saw David
working his way up the side of the wreck and stand clinging to an iron
stanchion; then she saw his hand go up in triumph. There was a wild
yell of exultation from the shore, save from Ambrose. He stood by
Vera's side, and, with tine instinct, seemed to read her thoughts.

'That is my boy,' he said with simple pathos. 'My dear, I wish you
would be kinder to him in future, for he is very fond of you.--No; he
never told me so; but I am not blind, my dear. If you could only get to
care for him, I should be satisfied at last. And I ask your pardon if
I've said too much.'

Vera made no reply, for the simple reason that she was incapable of an
answer; but the words sank deep in her heart, and found a responsive
echo there. With strained eyes she watched David's movements; she saw
the second line drawn on and firmly lashed to the bulwarks; she saw the
life-buoy dancing out from the shore. And presently, one of the crew of
the ill-fated vessel reached land in safety.

But all danger was not over yet; the rising tide caused the wreck to
toss and heel ominously; still, the timbers clung together mercifully
until the last man had been rescued, and only David remained.

'Why does he tarry?' Vera asked in an agony of apprehension, as the
barque reeled over and then recovered with a shudder like some thing of
life. 'Oh, he is foolish; it will be too late.'

Ambrose de Ros laid his hand upon Vera's shoulder. Even in that moment
of terrible danger, she noticed that the fingers were steady, their
grasp even. His face was calm and set, showing no sign of fear. 'My
boy is in the hands of God,' he said simply. 'Were I to lose him, I
lose everything. Deepdene is nothing in comparison. Go up to the house
at once, and bid the servants bring blankets and brandy down to the
cottages here directly. It is no time for selfish considerations.'

Vera turned to obey, marvelling at herself the while. The simple old
shepherd, without education or training, was born to be a leader
of men. There was a ring of command in his voice that there was no
resisting.

'He is a good man,' Vera said to herself, her breath coming with little
gasps as she ascended the cliff. 'A man to be loved and honoured; and
I am a blind, proud fool. I am glad I know him, despite the price we
paid.'

There was a lull in the wind for a moment; the giant oaks ceased to
toss and moan; a silence fell over everything--a silence so intense
that Vera could hear the singing of blood in her ears. As she looked
down again, she could dimly distinguish David's figure creeping along
by the rope; she saw Ambrose dash out breast-deep in the spume and draw
him to land. A mute prayer of thankfulness rose to Vera's quivering
lips. The wild scream of cheers was carried upwards to her ears, and
then the phalanx of the gale bore down again with savage fury. It
seemed like the cry of the elements baffled of their prey.

But beyond it all, the blast seemed to beat a triumphant song in Vera's
brain now, like a Gloria closely allied to martial music, David was
safe; the sea had given him back again; the trees crashed above her,
the yellow leaves dashed in her face, but she heeded them not.

Down in the hollow where the house lay, everything was quiet. Vera
burst into the hall and smote upon the gong until the place echoed with
the metallic roar, and the frightened servants trooped in to discover
the meaning of the disturbance.

'Is there anything wrong, miss?' asked the agitated butler, who always
would regard Vera as his mistress. 'We thought'----

'It is no time to think,' Vera cried, a note of triumph ringing in her
voice. 'I want you to do as you are told without delay. There has been
a wreck in the bay, and your master is down there.'

'He can't do anything,' the butler murmured as Vera paused for breath.
'We thought we heard the guns a while ago.'

'The crew are all rescued; Mr David saved them,' Vera continued, her
face flushed, the triumphant note still dominant. 'He is a hero, I
tell you. Take all the blankets you can find, and as much brandy as
possible, and get down there at once. These are my orders for you.'

They hurried off to obey the command; and speedily they all returned
laden--not one of them remained behind. Vera noted the quickness of the
operation, and acknowledged it with a grateful smile of thanks. 'Ah!
you seem to understand,' she said. 'And now, away, every one of you,
and render what assistance you can. I will look after the house.'

Vera stripped off her dripping covering and applied a match to the huge
log-fire which was always ready for lighting in the hall. After the din
and hurry of rushing footsteps, the place sounded strangely quiet. The
glow from the blazing logs only served to form a small halo of light,
leaving the rest of the echoing space in deeper gloom, save for the
few weird flashing points where a casque or glove of mail caught the
reflecting glow. Vera drew a beehive chair close up to the open flags
where the fire rested, and placed her feet before the cheerful blaze.
She was absolutely alone in gloomy Deepdene, but she knew no fear. It
was the home of her ancestors; every nook and cranny was familiar to
her; every noise and creak she could account for.

To any one coming into the hall, the place looked quite empty, so
close was the bee-hive chair to the fire; and presently, when Vera
came out of her dreamy reverie, it seemed to her that some one was
crossing the hall in the direction of the stairs. Vera did not move; a
servant perhaps, she thought. But, again, the tread was too cautious
and stealthy for that. The intruder, whoever it was, shuffled along,
getting bolder as he advanced, until he reached the stairs, which
were at such an angle that Vera could see without being observed. A
lancet window, all purple and amber tinted, lighted up the new-comer's
features, disclosing the restless, cunning face of Joshua Swayne. There
was wrong-doing in every motion of his crouching, writhing body.

Vera caught her breath sharply, but with anger more than fear. What was
that man after? she wondered. Naturally, she had heard the story of
the previous afternoon's discovery; she knew that Ambrose de Bos would
never more tolerate the presence of the dishonest steward again; and
yet he had ventured to intrude himself at Deepdene at a time when he
imagined the house to be deserted. Doubtless he had met the servants on
their way to the shore, and availed himself of the golden opportunity
thus presented.

But robbery could scarcely have been his object, since, as Swayne very
well knew, no article of any value was to be found save on the ground
floor. And there was secretness and suggestive dishonesty in every sway
of his body as he crept along, looking furtively around him from time
to time. Presently the intruder disappeared from sight, and in the
intense stillness of the place, Vera could hear him stealing along the
gallery overhead until his footsteps ceased by the organ. There was a
creaking sound, as if something was being opened--the casket of Del
Roso, no doubt.

What could Swayne want there? Vera asked herself. She was not conscious
of a single particle of fear; she smiled to herself as she thought of
the thief all unaware that he had been discovered. And something had
to be done: it would never do to allow Swayne to rob the house; and,
for all Vera knew to the contrary, Del Roso's casket might contain
articles of value. With a sudden impulse she slipped off her boots and
followed. There, sure enough, was Swayne on his knees before the oak
chest. He had scattered papers and parchments broadcast in his hurry,
till very little remained therein. So engrossed was he with his task,
that Vera drew nigh and touched him on the shoulder. She could see the
cunning leer on his face as he clasped a packet of papers in his lean,
yellow claw. Then the smile disappeared; the face became drawn and
hard, the thin lips faltered. Swayne scrambled to his feet, breathing
heavily. But he still clasped the packet in his hands, as if afraid to
relinquish it.

For a few seconds Vera regarded him steadily. Swayne shuffled uneasily
before her gaze; he looked towards the end of the gallery, as if
contemplating flight. But Vera resolutely barred the way. 'What is the
meaning of this intrusion?' she demanded.

'Finishing up my work,' Swayne answered sullenly. 'In any case, it
doesn't matter to you what I'm after; I've finished now. Please, don't
interrupt me, because I've got plenty of other things to do.'

The speaker bent down, and hurriedly commenced to replace the
parchments in the casket. But he only employed one hand, Vera noticed,
clutching the parcel of papers in the other meantime. Then he rose, and
would have bustled out with a vast show of commercial importance.

'Does Mr de Ros know you are here?' Vera went on quietly, without
evincing any disposition to let Swayne pass. 'Did he send you here?'

'Of course. You don't suppose I should have come without, do you?'

'There is no occasion for you to be insolent,' Vera said in the same
serene tone. 'I do not believe you. You thought all the servants were
out; you met them some time ago, and that was your opportunity. You did
not know that I should be alone in the house.'

Vera paused as she noticed the quick flash in Swayne's eyes. She stood
face to face with a desperate man, who, did she but know it, held
in his hand the assurance of future comfort, almost prosperity. And
between him and safety was nothing but this slim, weak girl.

'Do not molest me,' he said hoarsely as he advanced with a gleam in his
eyes that meant mischief. 'I tell you I am here on business'----

''Tis false!' Vera interrupted. 'I was sitting in the hall as you
came through, and I followed every movement. Do honest men, honestly
engaged, crawl into a house like a thief in the night? No; you came
to steal something, and you have it in your hand. I thought I was not
mistaken; your face betrays you.'

Swayne came still a step nearer, his eyes glowing sullenly. 'Have it as
you will,' he said hoarsely. 'I am a desperate man. I have played my
last card, and I am not going to forfeit the trick at the bidding of a
mere girl. I have suffered enough at your hands; beware how you force
me to retaliate. We are alone in this house together; remember that;
and stand out of my way, or'----

The speaker paused significantly; but Vera made no movement. Her eyes
flashed scornfully, but the threat disturbed her not.

'Miserable coward!' she said; 'give me those papers.'

Swayne laughed insolently; yet there was a minor chord in it eloquent
of respect. 'You will hear of these letters in time, for I mean to use
them,' he said. 'I am a disgraced and ruined man, and these letters
represent food and clothing, and lodging and drink to me. Do you
understand?'

'Yes,' Vera returned curtly. 'You have stolen some family secret, and
intend to trade upon it. But you have not reckoned with me yet.'

'You have guessed it,' Swayne replied, heedless of the interruption. 'I
found it out years ago in going over the documents there in search of a
missing lease; but it was useless to me then, and I left it till there
was occasion to use it. But fate was a little too strong for me, and I
nearly lost my opportunity, not expecting to be found out so soon. You
see I am quite candid.'

'You are. And now give the papers up before other means are tried.'

Swayne laughed harshly. He thrust Vera on one side with such violence
that she fell against the panel of the wall. She saved herself from
falling by clutching at a rapier suspended across another; her grasp
pulled it down. The blue, snake-like blade fell from the embossed
leather scabbard with a clang upon the floor. With all her blood on
fire, Vera clutched the lethal weapon and made a thrust at her enemy.
He staggered back alarmed.

'Once for all, will you give me those papers?' she cried. 'I warn you
that unless you do so, I shall try to kill you. Give them up, I say.'

The coward came uppermost. Swayne gave a yell of terror as the flashing
blade descended flat on his arm; the packet fell from his hand. Quick
as thought, Vera stepped forward and placed her foot upon it. 'And
now,' she cried again, 'try and recover them at your peril.'

Swayne collapsed altogether. His face was white, his hands shook, yet
the look of hatred and baffled passion still gleamed in his eyes.
'Take them and read them, for they concern you as well as others,'
he said. 'I shall not be entirely deprived of vengeance even now.' He
turned and hurried from the gallery.

Vera heard his footsteps speeding across the hall, then her eyes fell
upon the superscription on the fateful packet which she held in her
hand. A deadly faintness overcame her, a sense of horror and shame. In
a dreamy kind of way she turned over those letters; the great stable
clock chimed two hours, and then it seemed that Ambrose de Ros was
standing close by. His face looked kindly sympathy, but his eyes were
full of pain.

'You have found that,' he said gently. 'Oh, the pity of it, the pity of
it!'




CHAPTER V.--

VERA was conscious of only one feeling for the moment, a feeling of
intense gladness that she was alone to grapple with the trouble which
had come upon her. The discovery of an heir to Deepdene other than Dene
de Ros had been like a bolt from the blue; but the latter revelation
came like a dash of lightning out of a winter sky. It was worse than
misfortune; it was disgrace. Vera had dropped the packet, and wrenched
herself free from Ambrose de Ros' detaining grasp, fleeing homeward
like Atalanta across the dewy lawn. Not until she reached her own room
was she conscious that her stockinged feet were torn and bruised--no
thorn by the wayside had troubled her.

The shadow of disgrace hung over her; and Ambrose de Ros knew it,
had evidently been aware of it for a long time; and yet he had never
swerved in his friendship, never so much as shown by one single sign
that he had discovered how cruelly the late owner of Deepdene had
deceived him.

Remember, that Vera's life had hitherto been apart from the world; she
had lofty ideals of her own, and the rude touch of modern life had
not taken the gilt from any idol, showing the feet of clay. Her pride
in all her possessions had been great; she had regarded her father
as a prince amongst men. How passionately she had admired him when
misfortune had come upon them, and he gave way to the intruder without
a murmur, and as a dethroned monarch would abdicate his crown. And,
in her inmost heart, Vera had despised the degenerate offshoot of the
race who had deposed the reigning sovereign. She would not admit that
he could have risen to the sublime height attained by her father. And
yet, all these years she had worshipped a trickster and a charlatan,
an impostor who masqueraded in the armour of a gentle knight of high
degree.

It was a harsh judgment for a negative crime committed in a moment
of the fiercest temptation; but youth is prone to be hard in its
judgments, and it is always those who have known no ungratified desire
who are the hardest upon the weaknesses of poor human nature.

It was all over now, Vera told herself; the pleasant days had come to
an end; she could never show her face at Deepdene again. The organ
would remain unplayed; she would tell her father of her discovery on
her return, and then she would go away, never more to be seen by those
who knew her story.

She was thankful that Ambrose had not followed her. All the afternoon
she half expected him, but he came not. She never imagined that he
was waiting until she could wrestle with and fight down her sorrow
before he approached her. And, later on, when she was partaking of
tea in solitary state, he arrived, and, unannounced, came into the
drawing-room. Vera's back was to the light, which was softened and
subdued by the palms in the long narrow windows, and he could not see
the look of misery in her eyes.

Apparently, he was not in the least embarrassed; indeed, when you came
to consider it, there was no reason why he should be. He sat down by
the little gypsy table on which stood the quaint service of silver, and
begged for a cup of tea. The smile on his handsome, simple face was
pleasant to see.

'Well,' he said cheerfully, 'we did better than I expected with those
poor fellows. None of them seem to be the worse for their adventure.'

Vera was conscious of a little pang of conscience. For some hours now,
she had not given the shipwrecked mariners a single thought. 'I am glad
to hear it,' she said in a strangled voice. 'How pleased David must
have been. He behaved like a hero.'

'He did his duty,' Ambrose remarked; 'my boy would always do that. And
they all turned out and cheered him afterwards till the tears came in
my eyes. Pity you weren't there as well, because David would have liked
it.'

'David does not know everything,' Vera said bitterly, conscious of a
little tinge of reproach in the speaker's voice. 'If he did, he would
hate me.'

Ambrose made no reply for a moment; he appeared to be raptly
contemplating a sportive satyr depicted on the frescoed ceiling. Then
a goat-hoofed Pan seemed to engage his earnest and critical attention.
'David does know everything,' he said quietly, without moving his eyes.
'In fact, it was David who first let me into the secret. You see, some
two months ago I happened to be turning out the contents of old Del
Roso's casket, when I came upon a bundle of letters--you know the ones
I mean.--By the way, my dear, how did you come to discover them? You
left me so hurriedly this morning, that I hadn't time to ask you any
questions.'

Vera explained. So long as she was generalising upon an abstract bundle
of papers, the words came glibly enough. She saw how the lines of the
listener's mouth tightened as she proceeded with her story.

'Then Swayne knew all about these letters?' he asked curtly.

'Yes; he had found them there years ago, and had left them for safety.
He did not know when they would be useful. There was no opportunity of
abstracting them before my father dismissed him; but no doubt Swayne
had taken notes of addresses. No wonder that he found you so easily in
Australia. Then he tried to blackmail my father, as you know, without
success. Again the letters were useless. But when you dismissed this
man as well, he saw his way to--to----' Vera's voice died away to a
murmur; she could say no more.

Ambrose took up the broken thread for her; his face was grave, yet
his eyes kindly. 'And you read those letters,' he said. 'My child, if
what I say seems cruel, remember it is my earnest desire to be kind.
You read those letters from my father to yours, telling the latter
everything. Yes; I have read them myself. Leslie de Ros wrote to his
kinsman here from time to time; but he never told my mother and myself
that he had done so--we knew nothing. It was his desire that the
succession which he had forfeited should remain in the present hands.
He asks your father to preserve that secret. My father dies, and the
secret with him. And then Dene de Ros is left absolutely master of
Deepdene.' Ambrose concluded with the triumphant air of a man who had
absolutely proved his case.

But Vera declined to see it in the same light 'You have forced me to
speak, and I must,' she replied slowly. 'It was wrong. You know it
was wrong. My father traded on your ignorance of your proper position
to enjoy the property here for twenty years. He assumed to be an
honourable man, whereas he was an impostor.--Oh! to think I should feel
the bitter shame of saying so much of my own father. It was his duty to
disregard that foolish wish. We should have found you out and restored
you to your own.--You shake your head. What would you have done under
the same circumstances?' Vera bent forward with fierce eagerness to
catch the reply.

For once in his life, Ambrose de Ros was tempted to prevaricate.
He looked up helplessly at the goat-hoofed Pan, but den veil no
inspiration therefrom.

'Your silence is an eloquent reply,' Vera continued. 'You could not
have done such a thing.--Oh, I have watched you for this year past I
was prepared to dislike and despise you; but my prejudices have turned
to something like affection, because you are a good man and do good
things. And when I was getting reconciled to everything, this trouble
comes upon me. How can I ever look the world in the face again?'

There were tears in Vera's voice as Ambrose de Ros rose and laid his
hands upon her shoulders. When he spoke, his voice was soft and sweet
as a woman's. 'My dear,' he said, 'this is your first trouble, and you
find it hard to bear. But if we forgive and forget, why should not
you? You are not injured at all. There is no one amongst us, man or
woman, who has not yielded to some temptations. There is none amongst
us without sin to cast the first stone. Your father's temptation was
great; he was only obeying the injunction of a dying man. And again, do
you think he did not consider you? And then, did he not act honourably
when I came forward and claimed my own? He could have bribed Swayne
into silence; but his nature abhorred such a deed. My dear, he is your
father.'

Vera made no reply for a moment, and yet it seemed as if the great
weight about her heart was melting like snow in the genial sunshine.

'We ought to have destroyed these letters,' Ambrose de Ros went on.
'But I did not care to do so, because they were written by the husband
of my mother. That is why we put them back in the old casket, thinking
they would be safe there. It was a kindly providence that placed them
in your hands.'

'A providence destructive of my happiness,' Vera murmured.

'You are wrong,' Ambrose replied. His voice was not devoid of severity.
'It is a lesson from which you will profit. Pride, my dear, is your
besetting sin; it hides the perfect, generous woman; it keep you away
from the rest, as if you were a different clay, a thing apart. My
dear, that wonderful poet of yours, whose works I am just beginning
to understand, tells us that "Kind hearts are more than coronets, And
simple faith than Norman blood." Ah! when you come to mix with the
world more, you will understand what that means. I am not like you; I
lack your advantages.'

'No; you are not like me,' Vera burst out impetuously. 'You are a
thousand times better, and I thank you for your kindness.--Oh! you
dear, kind, generous, simple-hearted man, what a lesson you have given
me! I am glad that you came here; I am glad the estates are yours,
because you are much more worthy to control them than we are. And the
people here are happier and more contented; I can see it in their
faces.' Vera covered her face in her hands, and burst into tears.

Ambrose waited until the sun shone out from behind the clouds before he
spoke again. 'Now you begin to be yourself,' he said. 'You will forgive
your father?'

'Yes, if you wish it,' Vera said with a new sweet humility, 'I will.'

'I have done so long ago, remember. You will meet him as if nothing
had happened; and this matter shall never be mentioned between us
again. Those letters have been returned to the old casket, because it
is my fancy that you should take them out and destroy them with your
own hand. The secret belongs to three of us--Swayne we shall never see
again--and it shall be laid aside for ever. You must come up to-morrow.'

Vera nodded; her lip was quivering, and two diamond drops trembled on
her long lashes. The tears, so rare with her, seemed to have washed all
her pride away. As Ambrose rose, she came to her feet, and taking a
single yellow rose and maidenhair from a glass, pinned it on his coat
'These are my colours, and you shall be my knight,' she said almost
gaily. Her voice was still unsteady, but thrilling with happiness. 'You
have won your way into my heart against my will; but you cannot say
that my capitulation is not graceful. "Sans peur et sans reproche."
That is you, sir.'

'I don't know what that means,' Ambrose said simply. 'But if it
signifies that you look a thousand times handsomer and sweeter, now you
are your natural self, I'm not going to argue the point.'

'And I feel it too,' Vera confessed.--'Yes, you may kiss me.'

       *       *       *       *       *

The storm had died away along the deep; the oaks on the crest looked
like sentinels; the waves rolled lazily in to the shore. Only the wreck
lay on the granite spar, evidence of the tempest of yesterday. Already
most of the wrecked sailors had departed for the nearest port of Hull;
the wild feeling of excitement had subsided into quietness, for loss of
life along that coast was, alas! no novelty.

Vera toiled along up the slope in the bright sunshine. She was on
her way to the shore, before calling at Deepdene on the errand which
Ambrose de Ros had placed in her hands. As a matter of fact, Vera
wanted to view again the scene of David's exploit, to pore upon it
sentimentally. Not that she admitted this to herself; she would
have been angry had any one suggested it. She had no idea that this
indignation would have been a direct evidence of love. But then Vera
had no acquaintance with psychological analysis, since her knowledge of
the works of Messrs W. D. Howells and Henry James was nil.

It was hard to realise the vivid scene of yesterday in the blue
placidness of to-day. A little ridge of white bearded the shore, gray
gulls floated idly on the water, a shag was gravely fishing off the
wreck. Vera smiled at the contrast; her laugh rippled out on the air,
and presently brought some one from behind a rock to listen. It was
David, grave and courteous as usual.

'You here!' Vera faltered. 'I--I thought that I should be alone.'

She coloured at the boldness of the speech and the impression it
conveyed. But David did not appear to notice anything calculated to
wound. He only saw that Vera was wonderfully sweet and fair, and that
there was a gentle light in her eyes that had never shone so meekly
there before.

'I daresay,' he replied mildly. 'I'm looking for a knife I lost
yesterday.'

Vera's laugh rang out loud and sweet. The anti-climax was too
ridiculous. But it seemed to remove the feeling of restraint between
them. 'Strange,' Vera said, with a little mocking note, 'that a man who
is so reckless with his life should think so much of a pocket-knife.'

'It was given to me by a man who is dead,' David explained with a
simple directness that reminded Vera of his father. 'Besides, it
matters little to any one what becomes of my life.'

'For shame!' Vera cried indignantly. 'Think of your father.'

David laughed gently. By this time they had turned by mutual consent,
and were climbing the cliff side by side. 'I do think of my father,' he
answered. 'I have nobody else to think of. And yet, from your loftier
standpoint, he is nothing but a poor, uneducated man, who occupies a
position to which he is not entitled.'

Vera paused a moment, and laid her hand upon David's arm. Her lips
were quivering, her eyes luminous with tears. All the pride seemed to
have gone out of her face, leaving it more beautiful than ever, and
infinitely more sweet and womanly. 'You are wrong,' she said in a low
voice. 'That was my opinion at first; but I have changed my mind. I
regard your father as one of the best and noblest of men; and, were he
ever so nearly related to me, I could not love him more; and I care not
who hears me say so.'

'I am glad to hear you say that,' David replied. 'I always told you
what a splendid man he is; and you recognise it at last.'

'I recognised it from the very first,' Vera replied, determined to make
her confession full and absolute. 'I recognised it at once; but my
foolish pride would not permit me to own it. And my feelings were the
same towards you.'

But David refused to be quite pacified. Latterly, he had schooled
himself to think nothing further of Vera save in a brotherly way.
By this time they were passing through the woods trending down to
Deepdene; the flaming torch of autumn blazed on the leaves, casting
a red glow on Vera's cheeks. But the scarlet flush there was not all
forged by the gleam of nature's furnace.

'That is kind of you,' David said, a little bitterly. 'But you are a
thing apart from me. I am not mate for the caste of Vere de Vere.'

Vera made no reply. David cast no look at her as they entered the hall
at Deepdene together. He knew why she was there, but he made no effort
to accompany her when she turned towards the staircase. He stood before
the burning logs on the hearth, his feet upon the hammered iron rail.
It seemed to Vera that her pride had gone out and entered his soul.

She hesitated for a moment. A strange timidity had taken possession of
her. She pronounced David's name softly, the first time she had ever
done so, and he turned swiftly to her, his face aflame, expectant. The
purple and amber light flashing from the storied device in the lancet
window fell full upon her. There was supplication in her eyes, a warm
look of invitation far more eloquent than any words could be. 'David,'
she whispered again, 'come along with me; I want you.'

There was no occasion for her to repeat the command; he was by her
side directly. He saw that the hand resting on the rail was trembling.
Without a word spoken on either side, they passed into the gallery and
along the dimly lighted place till they reached the casket of Del Roso.
Vera opened the lid and fell on her knees before it. 'Help me,' she
said, 'since you know what I require.'

Presently Vera had the fateful papers in her hand. She clasped them
close until David had replaced the parchments; then she broke the
string that bound them and dropped them in a fluttering heap on
the hearth of the wide capacious grate. As if it were some solemn
ordinance, David struck a match and applied it to the yellow pile.
Gravely and quietly the twain watched until the sobbing points of flame
died down sullenly, and nothing but a pinch of gray feathery ashes
remained.

'It is gone, forgotten,' David murmured. 'Let it not be mentioned
again.'

'But it must be,' Vera said with glowing eyes. 'David, do you know that
I am glad I found those letters? Is not that a strange thing to say?'

'Well, rather,' David confessed. 'I should like to know your reason.'

Vera's face was turned upwards; her eyes were glowing with a luminous
light. 'Because they killed my pride,' she murmured. 'They showed me
how poor and mean I was; how noble and high-minded you. Forgive me,
David; you would not have me say any more?' She held out her white
hands to him, her face full of supplication.

David took the fluttering fingers in his own and held them firmly.
'There can be no half-measures between us,' he said almost sternly. 'I
must have all or nothing. Vera, do you mean that you are mistaken--that
you can care enough for me to be my wife?'

'Yes; I ask no greater honour; I covet no dearer happiness.' The eyes
were clear and steadfast, the eyes full and true.

Very tenderly David took her in his arms and kissed her quivering lips.

Then, with a sudden impulse, Vera burst from him, and, crossing to the
organ, played a wild 'Gloria in excelsis,' full of rich triumphant
chords. 'It is the "Te Deum" for a soul that is free,' she explained
reverently. 'The shadow of the past is uplifted, the morning of content
is here. David, I have solved the enigma of Del Roso's poesy. Read it
aloud, please.'


'Thys was my arke of safetie, 
here I found the Englyshe shore; 
Thys is my home, and here withyn 
Is troubil gone and o'er'--


David quoted slowly. 'I think I can see your meaning, dearest.'

Vera laughed as she laid her head upon her lover's shoulder. 'Yes, this
is my home in very sooth,' she said; 'and there, better, I discovered
that which caused my trouble to be "gone and o'er."--And now, let us
tell your father.'

They passed down the stairs hand clasped in hand; the light, filtered
through the device of De Ros, fell upon Vera's face and made it
glorious.


The End.


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