Title: A Pit-brow Lassie
Author: John Monk Foster
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A PIT-BROW LASSIE.

By

JOHN MONK FOSTER.

Author of 'A Poor Man's Tragedy'
'The Moss Pit Mystery,' 'For Love and Gold,' &c.




Originally published in The Blackburn Standard and Weekly Express
(Blackburn, England) commencing 25 May, 1889,
and in the South Australian Chronicle (Adelaide),
Commencing Saturday 23 November 1889 (this text),
also in four other Australian papers and one New Zealand paper.




Chapter I.—The New Wench.
Chapter II.—Beneath the Wheel.
Chapter III.—In Dingley Wood.
Chapter IV.—Retrospective.
Chapter V.—News From Australia.
Chapter VI.—On the Trail.
Chapter VII.—An Adventure Underground.
Chapter VIII.—Missing.
Chapter IX.—Through the Window.
Chapter X.—Arthur Willesden's Schemes.
Chapter XI.—Undercurrents at Work.
Chapter XII.—Reconciled.
Chapter XIII.—The Tobacco Box.
Chapter XIV.—On the Canal Bank.
Chapter XV.—Kate Visits the Mine.
Chapter XVI.—Beyond the Fallen Roof.
Chapter XVII.—The First Breath of Suspicion.
Chapter XVIII.—Inside the Snare.
Chapter XIX.—At No. 9, Craig's Court.
Chapter XX.—Richard Hampton.
Chapter XXI.—The Fall of the Thunderbolt.
Chapter XXII.—Luke Standish's Flight.
Chapter XXIII.—"Off With The Old Love, on With The New."
Chapter XXIV.—Another Betrothal.
Chapter XXV.—George Bamforth's News.
Chapter XXVI.—Approaching the Goal.
Chapter XXVII.—Henry Willesden is Suspicious.
Chapter XXVIII.—The Solicitor Speaks His Mind.
Chapter XXIX.—Back From Exile.
Chapter XXX.—Terrible News.
Chapter XXXI.—After the Honeymoon.
Chapter XXXII.—At the Sign of the Boar's Head.
Chapter XXXIII.—The Arrest on the Pit Bank.
Chapter XXXIV.—The Meeting in Dene Wood.
Chapter XXXV.—Daff Burdock.
Chapter XXXVI.—A Deadly Blow.
Chapter XXXVII.—Arrested Again.
Chapter XXXVIII.—After the Murder.
Chapter XXXIX.—"Guilty or Not Guilty."
Chapter XL.—A Letter from Luke.
Chapter XLI.—When the Cloud Lifted.
Chapter XLII.—Unmasked at Last.
Chapter XLIII.—Nemesis.




Chapter I.—The New Wench.

A scene more unromantic it would be almost impossible to imagine, and one less lovely equally difficult to discover in all the length and breadth of smoke-polluted, pit-pierced, factory and foundry dotted Lancashire.

It was the brow of a coal mine, situated in the very midst of a town of coal pits, and although it was summer time one might have stood on that pit's bank and glanced vainly toward every point of the compass for a sight of green fields, yellowing corn, and cool umbrageous woods.

Yet there were fields and timber to be seen here and there; but the former were brown and arid, the latter leafless and ugly, affording neither pleasure to the eye, resting-place for the body, nor shelter from the sun's fierce rays.

The only things that appeared to flourish in that neighborhood were cotton factories, iron foundries, and coal mines, and the abundance of these fully justified one in phrasing Ashford—so was the town named—'a perfect hive of industry.'

The monuments of Commerce are more numerous if less impressive and beautiful than those which Art and Science have created. Standing on the brow of the King Pit, Ashford, one could count, on a clear day, over a score of huge chimneys, each with its banner of smoke, and some of them towering heavenward higher than any column ever raised to warrior or king. And the great coal heaps visible here and there appeared to be the foundations of new pyramids which, when completed, would dwarf those the Egyptians raised.

It was between three and four o'clock in the afternoon, and working operations at the King Pit were at their greatest activity just then. The mine was one of the deepest in England, it had been sunk over thirty years, its underground workings were said to be more extensive than any in the same shire, and it still found employment for over five hundred hands—men, lads, women, and girls—above ground and below.

The great pulleys suspended on the top of the 'head-gear,' high over the pit mouth, flew round with great rapidity, and the singular humming sound they made, like the droning of countless multitudes of bees, could be heard in the town a good quarter of a mile away.

Quickly one huge cage descended and the other was borne upward loaded with full 'tubs'—as the small waggons used in the mines are called in Lancashire—and when the full cage arrived at the surface it was emptied in a few seconds by the banksman and his co-worker—a woman—half-a-dozen empty tubs took the place of the full ones, there was a clear ringing stroke of a bell, the signal from below, and again the great pulleys were whirling, the huge iron cages speeding in opposite directions.

The King Pit, Ashford, was noted amongst mining people for the great number of women employed about the mines there, and a visit to the place would have disclosed ample evidence of this.

No work that woman or girl could do would be found in the hands of boy or man. There was a woman helping the banksman at the cages; women and girls were running full and empty tubs in all directions across the pit brow, which, like the sides of a modern warship, was covered with smooth thick plates of iron, over which the small waggons slid easily; women and girls were busy in the shoots and screens freeing the coal from dirt and slack.

At the end of the great coal-stack, where coals were stored when trade was bad, a group of women with only a here and there a man among them, were busy with spades and riddles filling railway waggons, and each woman handled her implement of labor as easily and as deftly as a man. On the other side of the pit brow, where the Leeds and Liverpool Canal ran, another group of women were filling a boat with coal in the colliery basin under the guidance of a man.

The ages of these miner women varied greatly. Some of them were over 50 years old, whilst the youngest were just entering their teens. Some of them were large-limbed and muscular, like their relatives who worked underground, and a few seemed too slenderly built for such rough work as they must necessarily undergo. But all of them seemed active and healthful, with weather-tanned faces; they were frank-eyed and sure-footed, even graceful.

The work was rough and arduous, but most of the women preferred it to being cooped up in the stifling cotton factories; and whilst it was rare to find a woman leaving the pit bank to work in the mills, it was common enough to witness the contrary. The pay was poor—the girls received from one shilling to half-a-crown per day, according to their age and ability—but even in that respect it was not inferior to the wages to be obtained by them elsewhere.

The miner women were all dressed after the same fashion. Each of them wore clogs and breeches, and over the latter garment was a petticoat looped up in front so as not to offer any barrier to rapid movement. The body garment was usually a short jacket of some printed stuff, or perhaps the discarded short coat of some male relative. The headdress was invariably a kerchief of some bright pattern, wound gracefully round the head and tied so as to fall in a neat fold behind.

Very picturesque and spruce those pit-brow lassies appeared each Monday morning in summer, for then they came to work in polished clogs and snowy stockings, which peeped daintily out beneath their short trousers, showing not infrequently a pair of well-formed ankles. Here and there might have been seen a form so splendidly developed by exercise that it would have served as a model for a sculptor, and, much rarer still, a face that deserved to be called handsome.

The cry against female labor about mines had at this time not grown strong enough to deserve notice. It was then only talked of in secret at Miners' Union meetings, and the whole movement against the pit-brow women had its origin in the worst of motives. No feelings of charity actuated the men who took up the cry; they had no chivalrous regard for the weaker sex; it was not because they deemed the labor too arduous or that it had a tendency to demoralise the worker; it was because they regarded pit-brow women as rivals in the labor market and wished to have the whole field to themselves.

It was now 4 o'clock, and batches of miners, who had finished work for the day, were beginning to come up the King pit. Presently there ascended with a cageful of others a miner who is to play a prominent part in this story.

This was Luke Standish, who labored at the mine as a day wage man or "dataller." He was about six-and-twenty years old, of Titanic mould, deep-chested, broad-shouldered, and strong-limbed, like some Greek demi-god of classic story.

His head and face were cast in exact proportion to his form, and their massive build, though striking, did not impress a beholder so much as did the singular aspect his face habitually wore. His features were handsome, in a rugged, rough-hewn fashion, but what struck one most was the great honest heart, the frank mind, and clear soul so plainly revealed in the open countenance and straightforward-looking eyes.

Luke Standish was a prominent figure in the limited circle in which he moved. Common repute said of him that he was a good son, a splendid workman, a true friend, and an honest Christian, although he seldom attended church.

His father had been years in the grave, having been burnt to a black human cinder by an explosion when Luke was only fifteen, leaving a delicate wife to his only child's care.

And well had Luke Standish discharged the filial obligations his father's sudden and lamentable fate had entailed upon him. From his youth up he had worked steadily and lived temperately, never idling when there was work at the pit, and wasting none of the money he earned.

Luckily for himself Luke became possessed early in his teens of a passion for reading, and this proved to him a two-fold gain; for not only did it save him joining in the questionable pastimes of his fellow-miners—pigeon-flying, dog-racing, wrestling, and so forth—but it deepened and widened his mind; stirred into activity faculties that otherwise might have forever remained dormant; roused within him ambitions, hopes, more noble ideas of life, and gave him purpose and intellect to effect them; making of him a better workman, truer citizen, nobler Christian.

This was the man who, coming up the King Pit, Ashford, one June afternoon, walked out of the cage with his fellow pitmen, heart whole, his thoughts and dreams up to that moment untouched by thoughts of love. Five minutes afterwards new prospects had opened out before him, a fair land of promise was suddenly revealed unto him; and all this wonderful change was wrought in Luke by a girl's graceful figure and sweet winsome face.

Walking leisurely across the pit brow, chatting with a workmate, Luke's attention was suddenly arrested by the sight of a new face—the face of a young woman who was just then passing with an empty tub. He could not refrain from coming to a standstill, and glancing after the strange pit-girl he said—

"Who's that, Dick? Dost know her?"

"Ah dunnot, Luke. Ah ony know us hoo sterted this morning. A bonnie un, isn't hoo?"

But Luke made no reply to his companion's question. He turned on his heel without speaking, went with the others to the lamp office, where they left their lamps, and then returned to the pit brow wondering much anent the girl whose face had impressed him so greatly.

Lounging about the pit bank, as if he were waiting for somebody or something, Luke watched the new girl with an intentness that surprised him afterwards, when he came to think of it and to analyse the motive that prompted him to scrutinise her so closely.

The feeling uppermost in his mind was one of deep reverent admiration; and next to that came the conviction that although he felt certain that he had not seen her before, her face was familiar to him. Unable to account for the notion, he seated himself on a heap of pit timber and watched her as she went about her work totally unconscious of the deep feeling she had stirred in the young pitman's heart.

There was much to be said in excuse of Luke Standish's involuntary admiration of the new pit-brow girl. Her face and figure would have attracted attention anywhere. Taller than the ordinary run of women, and splendidly built, her shapely limbs displayed themselves in every movement as she went about her work in a quick gliding way pleasant to witness.

She was dressed no better than the rest of her companions, but the gulf between her and the others was very plainly marked. Perhaps this was owing to her face more than anything else. She was dark-haired, brown-eyed, and her face was oval as a wild bird's egg. Her nose, with its clearly cut tremulous nostrils, had the slightest possible tendency towards the aquiline form, but this was insufficient to mar the sweet grace and tender womanliness of the whole countenance.

In age the girl seemed to be about nineteen or twenty. The work she was doing was light and cleanly, and in consequence her hands and face were scarcely soiled. Noting these things, Luke found himself expressing mentally a wish that the new girl's work might never be harder or dirtier than that of "number shouting."

Here a word of explanation may be offered as to the vocation in which the new girl was engaged. Each miner employed in getting coal has a set of tallies, each set being numbered differently, and he affixes one of these tallies to every tub of coal he fills, and when the full tubs are sent up the shaft they are weighed and the number attached to each tub is cried out by the "number shouter" and set down by the weighman.

Luke watched the new girl for some little time longer. It was a positive pleasure to him to sit there noticing every movement of the shapely form, to hear her clear voice intoning the different numbers, each number falling from her lips clearly articulated and singularly musical.

Then Luke arose half regretfully from the "props" on which he was seated and walked slowly across the brow homeward. On his way across he met a woman he knew intimately, and addressing her he asked—

"Who's that new wench yo'n getten number sheawtin'?"

"They ca' her Kate Leigh, so ah yeard at brekfust-tahme, an' o pratty wench too hoo is, eh, Luke?"

"Prattiest that ever ah seed in breeches, Meg. Wheer does hoo come fro'?"

"Ah cawnt tell tha that, lad, bur ah fancy they're strangers ta this peyrt."

Luke said no more, but went thoughtfully home. Whilst eating his dinner his thoughts still encircled Kate Leigh, and he continued to wonder how it was that her face struck him as familiar. Times innumerable he asked himself during the evening where and when he had seen a face that resembled hers, but in vain he strove to find answers to his questions.

Whilst Luke lay awake in bed that night a flash of memory revealed to him the cause of his thinking that Kate Leigh's face was familiar to him. In a moment he jumped out of bed, lit his candle, and made his way downstairs softly so as not to disturb his mother.

Placing his candle on the table he went to the small bookshelf fixed in one corner near the fireplace, and taking therefrom a bundle of old magazines in yellow paper backs he returned to the light. These old journals were odd unbound copies of Cassell's Family Magazine, which Luke had picked up at a second-hand bookstall in the town.

Placing the magazines on the table he selected one from the heap, and turning to the frontispiece he looked upon a face that might have been Kate Leigh's very self in portraiture.

The engraving was entitled "The Carol Singers," by Haynes Williams, and it represented two young girls singing a Christmas carol. The younger of the two was a school girl just entering her teens; the elder a perfect type of budding woman-hood. In her dark hair were intertwined bright holly berries; her eyes and eyebrows were dark also; the nose was slightly aquiline; every feature the exact counterpart of the girl's he had seen that afternoon.

Impulsively Luke Standish bent his head and pressed his lips to those of the elder maiden of the engraving. He kissed the paper as reverently as if it had been Kate Leigh's own lips he was caressing.

Then he replaced the magazines, returned to bed, and dreamt that he had become a mine manager and won for a wife sweet-faced Kate Leigh.


Chapter II.—Beneath the Wheel.

It was Wednesday afternoon when Luke Standish first saw Kate Leigh, and the week had hardly spent itself before a great change took place in certain opinions once held by the miner. It had been a settled thing in Luke's mind that his marriage was never to be thought of until he had passed his thirtieth year, and now it appeared to him that his marrying early or late would depend very much upon a certain pit-brow lassie.

Again he had formerly decided that when he did wed it would be no poor man's daughter; he had resolved to woo and win some woman who would be able to forward his ambitions by means of monetary aid or social influence; now he began to think there were women—no, only one woman—in his own sphere of life that he might do honor to himself by winning.

In plain English Luke Standish loved Kate Leigh; was ardently desirous of making known his love to her. He had even resolved to tell her of his affection, when the right time came; and finally, was willing to marry her whenever she cared to say "Yes!"

All his affection, resolves, and desires were as yet known only to Luke Standish's self, for Kate Leigh never dreamt that she had inspired him with a devoted love for herself; nay, she had never given him a thought that way, nor had they exchanged a word together, although each of them had become familiar with the other's face.

On the afternoon following the memorable one on which he first met Kate Leigh, Luke again hung about the pit bank for some minutes, devouring the sweet-faced pit lassie with his admiring eyes, glancing at her with amusing stealthiness, for he was fearful that she or others might discover the great love that had sprung so suddenly in his heart.

Without suspecting the truth Kate had noticed the big pitman more than he imagined. Involuntarily she had felt a sort of dispassionate admiration for the young giant whose face seemed so open and pleasant, and for whom everyone about the collieries seemed to have a good word to say.

So things went on for nearly a fortnight. Luke had not yet spoken to the object of his silent adoration, but he had made many cautious inquiries regarding Kate Leigh, and had learned something about her.

Kate lived, it appeared, with her mother in a small cottage in the town; they had been in Ashford about two or three weeks, having come thither from Pendleton. The mother and daughter lived alone, and the latter had commenced to attend the Ashford Wesleyan Sunday school.

Luke Standish had contrived to glean these items of information concerning his beloved one with little trouble from Kate Leigh's workmates, and without betraying the secret that he cherished in his inmost soul.

A stranger in the world of love, the young miner had yet to learn that a bold lover might carry the citadel of a women's heart at the first vigorous assault, whilst a timid wooer might wear away his life in peaceful attempts to effect a capitulation.

The veriest tyro in affairs of the heart was Luke. He had never even flirted with any one of the many pretty girls Ashford contained, although more than one fair maiden had given him ample encouragement to woo her. But the fact was that prior to Kate Leigh's appearance on the scene, the miner's fancy had never "turned to thoughts of love."

He had even been accustomed to smile to himself a trifle contemptuously when witnessing other young fellows being dragged about at the end of a girl's apron-strings, and apparently enjoying what he was forced to consider their enslavement.

Well, his own time had come now, and he was in greater thrall than any he knew of, and withal so timid a slave of love that he feared to make declaration of his deep adoration and dearest wishes.

Thus matters stood when an accident—unfortunate if viewed shallowly, happy if looked at from the highest standpoint—threw the handsome pit-brow girl and her admirer together.

One afternoon, when Luke came up the pit as usual he missed the familiar form and face from its accustomed place beside the weighing-machine. There was a lad in Kate's place shouting out the numbers, and she was nowhere about.

Before going to the lamp-office with his lamp Lake went to the new "number shouter," and asked him in an under-tone—

"Isn't Kate workin' to-day?"

"Oh, yah!" the lad answered. "Hoo's workin' in t' screens theer. Sal Jackson hasn't come to-day, so Kate's in her place."

Feeling rather annoyed by what he had heard, Luke left the brow to go with his lamp to the office. Kate working in the screens was an unpleasant thought to turn over in his mind. Laboring there he knew she would be as black as as African, and it pained him somehow to think of her sweet face covered thickly with the blackest of coal dust.

Returning from the lamp-office homeward Luke did not cross the pit brow as was his custom, but went down the waggon road so as to pass the bottom of the screens, hoping to get a glimpse of Kate and his anticipation was gratified.

She was standing at the bottom of a screen grimy as he had expected to find her, but still clearly distinguishable to his keen eyes. Some full waggons had just been taken away and the lip of the screen had been drawn up to prevent the down-rush of coal until the empty waggon came under.

Kate stood on the very edge of the sloping foot-board running up the side of the screen, poised over the waggon road, her hands grasping the light iron rake which she used to pull the coal into the waggons, and her glance was fixed on the empty waggons, which were already running toward the shoot.

Suddenly a sharp scream broke from Kate Leigh's lips, and it was followed quickly by a man's hoarse shout of agonised terror. Turning carelessly on the screen's edge, the girl's foot twisted on a piece of coal, and the next moment she had fallen in the waggon road, right across the rail in front of the approaching waggons.

Luke Standish was only a few yards away when she fell, and for a moment he seemed paralysed with the danger that threatened her. Then he dashed madly forward, a fearful cry welling from his throat, and, heedless of all danger to himself, seized Kate, who seemed stunned by the fall, and placed her out of harm's reach.

The next moment he was lying under the nearest waggon wheel. The buffer of the first waggon had knocked him down ere he could jump aside, and he fell across the rail, where the wheel pinned him, his thigh acting as "a scotch" to the waggon.

Crushed, confused, and helpless, he lay there wondering if his end had come, and thankful that Kate was saved. The next moment he was dimly conscious of a dear, grimy face bending over him—a face that it thrilled him to see in its deep, unspeakable piteousness.

Then he fainted.

The accident had been witnessed by many beside the two who had participated in it, and willing hands soon hurried to Luke Standish's aid. In a few moments the empty waggons were pushed back and the injured man lifted from the ground.

Just as the men were asking each other how Luke was to be conveyed home Mr. Latham, the general manager, hurried up to the spot. Having learned what was the matter and how the affair had occurred, he was about to order the men to carry Luke to the chief office, which was close by, when the miner recovered consciousness.

Glancing around confusedly Luke was about to attempt to rise, but his left leg hung stiff and powerless, precluding any movement on his part.

"Do not try to get up, Standish," said Mr. Latham, "if it pains you; there is a cab at the office and you shall go home in it. Go and bring the cab here," he said to one of the men standing by.

So the young pitman was taken home, and thither a doctor at once attended him. The injured leg was not broken; only badly crushed; and in a few weeks he would be all right again. So Dr. Gregory averred, and his cheery diagnosis of the case fell gratefully upon his patient's ears.

Two hours or thereabouts after the accident, when the crushed leg had been dressed and Luke lay in bed suffering keenly, for the crushed flesh and sinews were losing their numbness then, he did not regret the purchasing of Kate Leigh's safety at such an expense of pain to himself. So great was his love for her, and so unselfish, that the thought uppermost in his mind now was—

"Did Kate Leigh hurt herself by the fall?"

He was soon to have a satisfactory answer from her own lips on this point. Shortly before seven of the clock that evening a couple of visitors called to see Luke. These were none other than Kate Leigh and her mother, and of course the young fellow was glad to see them.

Mrs. Leigh was a pleasant-looking woman of fifty, better spoken than the usual run of women of her class, and it was still easy to see from whom her daughter inherited her good looks. Mrs. Standish was an amiable creature, if a somewhat plain one, and the two mothers soon became very friendly.

It was the first time that Luke had seen Kate in the ordinary garb of womankind, and his first impression of her appearance was altogether favorable. She had a quiet tastefulness in dress that surprised as well as pleased him. Nor was this the only pleasurable surprise in store for him.

Kate Leigh had but little to say to the man who had rescued her from danger at such peril and injury to himself. But what she did say was well spoken, in a manner altogether different from what he had expected.

She thanked him warmly enough, but in the fewest possible words, and the language she used was better English than any he had ever before heard from a pit-brow lassie's lips. Amongst the other pit girls he had heard her speak the dialect common to their class, but with her working garments she had put aside the rude speech also.

This puzzled Luke considerably, and he tried to account for her manifest superiority to all others of her vocation that had come his way. In this, however, he was not successful, not having a sufficient knowledge of her history to enable him to formulate any probable theory. Some day, when he and Kate become more intimate, she might supply him with the key to the problem.

The mothers chatted interminably, whilst Luke and Kate found it difficult to unearth matters for conversation. The visitors stayed until dusk, and on bidding good-night to Luke, Kate offered her hand to him. He seized it, pressed it warmly, and fancied he felt a slight answering pressure.

Then they went away, promising to come again the following evening, and the miner was left to chew the cud of another surprise. The hand Kate had given him to press in his great hard fingers was brown and hard, true enough, still it was small, well-shaped, and cleanly as a lady's might have been.

According to promise, Kate and her mother came again to the cottage of the Standish's next evening, and after a while the young people were left together for a few minutes.

"Do you know, Kate," Luke said presently, following her initiative and putting aside his work-a-day speech, "that your face seemed familiar to me the very first time I saw you?"

"Indeed, then I must resemble someone you know," she replied.

"No, it was because I happened to have your likeness," he answered smilingly.

"That cannot be," she said, smiling also, "for I have never had my portrait taken."

"Then who's likeness is this?"

As he spoke he took up the old copy of Cassell's Family Magazine containing the engraving by Haynes Williams, and pointing out the elder of the carol singers, awaited Kate's reply.

"Am I like her?" she asked, examining the print with critical glance.

"Very much. Don't you think so yourself?" he demanded, and their eyes met for a moment.

"A little—perhaps," she was forced to admit, dropping her eyes before his.

"Not a little," he persisted. "It is your very self. There is your hair and eyes, your month, nose—everything to the very expression of the whole face. I have often wondered," he went on, "whether the artist drew this woman from imagination or from real life. In the latter case there is another Kate Leigh somewhere."

"I fear that the original of this would not be pleased to have her likeness mistaken for that of a pit-brow woman," she responded with a pleasant laugh.

"Why not?" he asked.

To this she made no reply, but commenced to turn the leaves of the magazine.

"You are a reader, I can see," Luke said after some moments of silence.

"A bit of one!"

"What do you take?"

"The London Journal and Bow Bells, and you?"

"I borrow from the Free Library here."

"I daresay you don't read novels?"

"Sometimes I do. I have just finished one of Miss Braddon's—'To the Bitter End.'"

"Is it nice?"

"Very," he replied. "Would you like to read it?"

"Yes, if you will lend it me."

"Then I'll tell mother to give it you before you go."

When the Leigh's departed Luke Standish lay back on his pillows feeling strangely happy. He felt that Fate was very kind to him in thus throwing Kate in his way. His accident would prove an angel in disguise if it enabled him to win the love of this handsome pit-brow lassie.


Chapter III.—In Dingley Wood.

It was between three and four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon in mid-August, and the heat of the fierce sunrays would have been intolerable had they not been tempered by a light breeze that had been blowing since noonday.

Three miles or thereabouts from Ashford lay the pretty village of Altynnham, and hither had come this Saturday afternoon some three or four hundred of the Ashford townsfolk to celebrate the annual picnic of the Wesleyan Sunday-schools.

The spot selected for the picnic was a level piece of pasture land close by Dingley Wood, a long strip of lovely woodland lying in a deep valley, from which circumstance it derived its name. A pleasanter place for such a fête it would have been difficult to find.

The field adjoining the wood presented a bright and animated scene. In the centre was a brass band playing a lively dance, and many a score of dancers were keeping, or trying to keep, time with the music. Sturdy pitmen and their buxom partners, cotton operatives and pleasure-loving factory wenches, collier lads and weather-tanned pit-brow lassies were footing it lightly or heavily, but all merrily, over the level sward; pausing now and again to wipe their perspiring faces, and then off again at a mad pace.

In one corner of the field a number of youngsters were playing at cricket; in another a band of youths were chasing the leathern globe; beside the margin of the wood in the shadow of the trees there gyrated a huge kissing ring; and within the wood itself swings had been constructed by tying a few yards of rope to the far-stretching limbs of the trees.

Taken altogether the scene presented a pleasant picture of innocent enjoyment, that must perforce have given satisfaction to any well-balanced mind. Such a simple event as this picnic was a festival of great importance to those hard toilers, looked forward to maybe for many days, and they would commence the struggle for existence afresh on Monday all the better for the afternoon's play in the open air.

In a couple of young people among the dancers the reader has an interest. These were Luke Standish and Kate Leigh. The former had quite recovered from his injury, and in a couple of days he was to begin work again.

The pitman had not gone to the picnic with Kate, but knowing that she would be there he had made a point of attending it. He had asked her to try a dance, she had complied, and they were now threading their way as best they could through the tangled crowd of dancers.

Luke's love for his handsome partner had been growing, so it seemed to him, everyday since he saved Kate from the waggon wheels, but up to the present it had found no utterance; this afternoon it was almost certain to do so.

Many an opportunity of declaring his love had offered itself during the period of his confinement, but he had refrained from speaking because he did not desire to take any advantage of Kate. He wanted her to give him love for love; not to receive his love out of pity's sake, or on account of any obligation she owed him.

But he had come to the picnic with the definite resolve in his mind to tell Kate Leigh of the affection she had inspired him with, come what might of the attempt. And somehow he felt that her answer would be one to satisfy him.

The dance ended and the dancers came to a standstill. Full of the resolution he had made Luke suddenly determined to carry it into effect. Still retaining Kate's arm he said in as indifferent a tone as he could assume—

"What do you say to a walk in the wood? How cool and pleasant it looks under the trees."

She nodded assent, and they strolled slowly towards the stile that led into the woodland. He vaulted lightly over the bar, as happy as he was agile, and waited for her to descend. Then side by side they went along downward towards the brook in the shadow of the ripe-leaved timber.

Luke chose a path that followed the brook, winding as the rivulet itself, which flowed through the wood's deep green heart. It was a pleasant path with the clear stream gurgling over the many-colored pebbles, bathed here in sunlight, there in shadow, the deep-tinted leaves fluttering above them, the cool graceful ferns springing from out the luxurious grasses, here and there through the trees a glimpse of amber corn ready for the sickle.

They strolled on for a little space in silence, for Luke was trying to frame into words the thoughts running riot in his brain. Pausing a moment beside an elder bush he plucked a bunch of dark ripe fruit and offered it to Kate.

She took the berries with softly spoken thanks, ate one or two, then played with the remainder; twisting them between her finger and thumb in a preoccupied manner. She was half conscious of what was passing through her companion's mind, and was wondering what reply to make when he spoke.

Exchanging a word or two now and again they went onward, still following the babbling streamlet. Now she would stop to pick and eat the great luscious blackberries that grew so abundantly thereabouts, whilst he was busy making up a bouquet of autumn flowers—wood sage, sun spurge, nettle-leaved bellflower and golden rod, with its ebony clusters backed by two fronds of a lady-fern.

"Flowers to the fair," he said half smilingly, half gravely, as he held out the bouquet.

"And sweets to the sweet," she cried laughingly, taking the flowers and giving him a handful of blackberries in exchange.

They had paused beneath a copper beech, and through the flaming leaven the sunlight fell upon them a stream of fire. She was fastening the flowers in her breast, seemingly wrapt in her occupation; he was crushing the ripe berries between his great fingers whilst his love surged up to his lips.

"I love you, Kate," he burst out suddenly without the least premonition. "I have loved you ever since I first saw you that day on the pit brow. You love me a bit, don't you?"

She was silent, though her pale face was flushed a rosy red. She was biting her lips and her fingers were playing nervously with the bright clusters of the golden rod.

"Speak, Kate," he cried tremulously. "Don't you love me?"

"I do," fluttered softly from her lips, "but I cannot leave my mother."

He waited to hear no more. Taking her in his arms he pressed her against his madly-beating heart, and kissed her sweet face as he had never kissed any woman's face before.

They made a fair picture standing there in the first ecstasy of love's dream. He was so strong and manly, she so radiantly fair; and the red light of the copper beech fell around them like a halo—the heart-glow within them and the sun-glow without seeming to apotheosize both.

"You shall never leave your mother, Kate," he said, when listening to her entreaties he ceased to kiss her for a space. "Let us sit down and talk about our future, darling."

They seated themselves on a green shelving bank, with their faces to the brook, which laughed and smiled as it dashed noisily onward as if it knew what had just happened. And they prepared to talk of their future with all seriousness.

"There are only four of us, Kate—your mother and mine and ourselves, and when we are married we can all live together, eh?"

She shook her pretty head rather gravely. Wiser than he was in such matters she felt that a pair of mothers-in-law, no matter how amiable they might be, would be no aid to the happiness of a newly wedded couple.

"Of course I do not mean us to marry for ever so long yet, darling; not until I have a home fit to take you to. I shall study harder than ever now to get a mine-manager's certificate, and who knows what good luck may come my way? I might drop into a situation as soon as I have passed my examination."

"You might, Luke," she answered, "and I hope so. You deserve to succeed—and everybody says you will, too, some day."

He kissed her for her inspiring words of praise, and his honest face was aglow with perfect happiness and hope. The full measure of his ambition at that moment was to pass his examination, obtain the management of a colliery, and make sweet Kate Leigh his wife.

And all his faculties—his immeasurable love, his indomitable will and quick intelligence—spurred him on towards the consummation of those hopes. He would win them all. Of this he felt certain. Sooner or later every hope that now stirred his soul should be realised.

Thus it came to be understood between Luke Standish and Kate Leigh that they were engaged to each other, and although no definite period was fixed for their marriage, it was to take place as soon as circumstances permitted. With matters thus settled they began to converse of smaller personal affairs.

Luke had numberless questions to put to his sweetheart. He wanted to know all her history up to the moment he first saw her on the King pit brow that afternoon about two months ago, and as there was nothing in her past life that she did not desire him to know she told him her biography.


Chapter IV.—Retrospective.

About twenty years before the time our story opened there lived at Pendleton, near Manchester, a married couple named Jonathan and Margaret Leigh! These two were then about thirty years of age; they had been married about ten years, had had several children, none of which, however, had lived, and, on the whole, had lived their married life not unhappily—that is when judged by the ordinary life of married folks of the humbler class of life.

Jonathan Leigh was a native of Pendleton, whilst his wife hailed from the city of cotton hard by. The man was a coal miner, and prior to his marriage the pretty woman he had espoused earned her bread as a cotton spinner in the Ardwick quarter of Manchester, where she was born and bred.

"Jonty" Leigh, as his chums called him, was neither higher nor lower in intellect than the ordinary run of pitmen, nor were his aspirations or pleasures in any appreciable degree better or worse than theirs. That he was an enthusiastic patron of the noble sports of dog-racing and Lancashire wrestling passes without saying, and his love for the sparkling brown ale was inferior to no man's.

Now Jonathan Leigh's wife was considerably above the man she had married in intelligence, aspiration, as well as solidity of character. She could read and write, while he was wholly illiterate. She was temperate, prudent, and earnestly desirous of getting on in the world, whereas he was intemperate and imprudent—a go-a-day, come-a-day, God-send-Sunday sort of a fellow. He worked hard, but spent most of his earnings over and above what was needed for the house-hold expenses.

This was the cause of much dissatisfaction to Margaret Leigh. It pained her extremely to see her husband working from five o'clock in the morning until four or five in the afternoon—always tolling hard, and as a rule regularly, and then when reckoning day came to see him flinging away the money obtained by the personal expenditure of so much effort.

Her marriage with Leigh was in no way a mistake save in its results. She was well acquainted with his character, and prior to their union had fondly imagined that when they were settled down she could easily break him of his intemperate habits and make a better man of him.

The old adage which says that "a man is what his wife makes him" is true in some cases, but in some cases only. Margaret Leigh, prior to her wifehood, was a fervent believer in the old saw, but after half a dozen years of married life her faith in it had completely disappeared.

In spite of her expostulations and entreaties Jonathan Leigh went his own way after his own fashion. He was not a worse husband than his mates, but he fell far short of the standard of excellence his wife had expected him to reach. Perhaps both husband and wife were to blame—the latter for expecting too much, the former for attempting to achieve so little.

So matters had run, and Margaret Leigh was a greatly disappointed woman. With her personal attractions she might have made a much better match—she had had the refusal of a clerk in one of the Manchester banks—but she loved "Jonty" Leigh, and had married him believing his reformation possible in her hands.

Thus things stood when Margaret Leigh's wedded life was ten years old and when her fifth child saw the light. The new-comer was a girl, and contrary to all her predecessors she was a fine healthy child.

Soon after this event a dispute arose at the Pendleton collieries between employers and employed, and finally a strike resulted. As there seemed to be small probability of the dispute ending for many weeks Jonathan Lee and his household made a move eastward, and the spot selected was Ashford.

Some of Leigh's mates had gone thither some months before the strike at Pendleton, and as they reported well of the place he had decided to follow them and settle down there. He sought employment at the King pit, got work there, and commenced the next morning.

For some time things went on very much as usual with the Leigh household. Jonathan was still his old self, working hard, and drinking deep, with his old happy-go-lucky philosophy of life. The movement eastward had not worked any reformation in him such as Margaret had hoped for.

She had jumped readily at the idea of leaving Pendleton for Ashford, thinking that her husband would be more amenable to her promptings when divided from most of his old companions. But here again she met with disappointment. In a fortnight after their coming to the place "Jonty" Leigh had picked up with a lot of new mates of the same devil-may-care order as those he had left behind him, and all hope of his reformation had to be despairingly dismissed from the mind of his disgusted wife.

A few months after they left Pendleton Margaret Leigh encountered a great surprise. It was the fortnightly pay-day, and as Jonathan was unable to go for his wages, owing to a severe illness brought on by a drinking bout, she went for his money.

When her husband's name and number were called out she entered the pay-office, and the cashier who handed her Jonathan's wages proved to be none other than George Bamforth, the gentleman who had once been a clerk in the Manchester District Bank, and who, about twelve years before, had asked her hand in marriage.

The surprise was mutual. George Bamforth was astounded at meeting his old love so unexpectedly, and she noted the expression of commiseration her appearance brought into his eyes. He was deeply pained, she could see, to perceive that she was badly dressed and ill-looking, in no ways different from any other collier's wife.

Margaret Leigh returned home not a little disturbed by her chance meeting with her old wooer, and although she had never given a single love-thought to the man, she was humiliated before him owing to her indigent appearance. Unbidden the thought ran through her mind—How different my life would have been had I married the clerk instead of the miner.

George Bamforth had never quite got over his early passion for Margaret Hampton. The offer of marriage he had made to her was not renewed to any other woman, and he was now a confirmed bachelor of forty. He was a man of keen sympathies and generous impulses, his disappointment in love not having soured his heart in the least, and the sight of the loved one of yore, with whom things seemed to be going hardly, cut him to the very soul.

That chance meeting in the pay-office, and the feeling it engendered in George Bamforth's breast, set him to work at once to improve the condition of Margaret Leigh and her husband, and the first task he set himself was that of reforming Jonathan.

But in this the cashier was not more successful than the miner's wife had been. Jonathan did sign teetotal and keep his pledge for a week; then he relapsed into his old condition, but instead of stopping there he became worse and worse each week. The miner grew sullen and lazy, and Mr. Bamforth's persuasive words were received with curses, and the cashier was told to mind his own business.

Jonathan had learned from his wife that Bamforth was the man who had proposed to her years ago, and this knowledge had set the miner's heart aglow with jealous imaginings.

Leigh's jealousy increased to such an extent—fed by the flippant taunts of his comrades—that he openly accused Bamforth of designs on Margaret, and swore to kill him if he entered the house again.

When the cashier went away there ensued a furious quarrel between man and wife. Stung to madness by the suspicion he harbored, he taunted his wife with infidelity, and vowed to leave her next day and go to America.

Next morning Jonathan got up when the knocker-up called him at half-past four, donned his pit clothes, took his lamp, and went out. It was a nasty morning in the depth of winter. A storm of sleet was roaring outside, and through the bedroom window Margaret watched him go down the street in the direction of the King Pit.

But she never saw him again; whither he went she had never learned. When evening came and her husband returned not she made enquiries at the colliery and was told that he had not been working that day. That he had kept his passionately uttered vow of the preceding night was evident, and to disarm her suspicions and so get clear away he had gone away in his working clothes.

For a fortnight the deserted wife lived on at Ashford, hoping and praying for the return of her misguided husband; but never a word concerning him reached her, and when a fortnight had passed waiting in vain for that which came not Margaret Leigh prepared herself for the struggle for existence.

Then all the nobility of this woman's character showed itself. The shame of being deserted was too keenly felt by her to make her remaining at Ashford possible. Save Mr. Bamforth she had no friends to whom she could turn, and the cause of her husband's flight debarred her from accepting the slightest help at his hands.

Her only relative, a brother, had gone to try his fortune in Australia before she was married, and she had since heard nothing of him. She was inclined to think him dead—struck down probably in some remote quarter of the great southern continent.

Hearing that cotton spinners were required for a mill just then erected at Orrelham, a large village situated between Bolton and Wigan, she went there immediately, was fortunate enough to find employment, and in the village she obtained lodgings for herself and child, now a fine girl of three years.

Ten years slipped away, and the wife and child Jonathan Leigh had deserted still resided at Orrelham. Mrs. Leigh had ceased to work in the cotton mill. A year ago the only company of cotton spinners in the place failed and the mills were closed.

When this happened Margaret cast about for other work. She did not wish to quit the place, and having an excellent character and some friends she obtained odd jobs, such as charing, at the houses of the gentry round Orrelham.

Her daughter Kate was now thirteen, a tall slip of a girl whose face showed then no trace of the great beauty it attained half a dozen years later. The lass was working on the brow of an adjacent colliery, and she had taken up that kind of work because none other was to be obtained since the cotton mill closed.

It was with considerable misgivings that Mrs. Leigh allowed Kate to commence working about the mines, but as her own earnings were not sufficient to maintain them she submitted to the inevitable. Besides, the girl began to work as a pit-brow hand on the understanding that if she did not like the work they would both leave Orrelham and go to some town where employment in the cotton mills could be obtained.

The first morning that Kate Leigh donned the garb of a miner lassie was of course a time of trial to the young girl. Of a quiet retiring nature it required not a little courage on her part to make her appearance in trousers before a number of strangers composed of both sexes.

But Kate was both a good girl and a brave one. She understood to some extent the trials her mother had faced and overcome, and being earnestly desirous of decreasing her parent's burden as far possible, stuck to the work on the pit bank.

After the first day or two the feeling of strangeness passed away, and being acquainted with many of the other girls she soon grew to like the work. It was summer time then, and the uglier aspects of pit-brow-life did not present themselves. Working under a genial sun and soft blue skies is an altogether different matter from toiling amidst storms of wind and snow, torrents of rain and sleet, to all of which the pit-brow hands are often subjected through the callousness or indifference of their employers.

At an old dame's school In Orrelham village Kate managed to pick up a smattering of the three "R's" and this knowledge her mother had done much to increase by sedulously fostering in her daughter a love for reading. Mrs. Leigh was herself a great reader of cheap romances, and from her mother Kate probably inherited her literary taste. She had been accustomed to perusing the old penny journals Mrs. Leigh had bought, read, and afterwards put by, and when she began to work on the pit-brow, with the first week's "spending money" she bought the first two numbers of a periodical she had seen in the village stationer's window.

Thus at thirteen Kate Leigh became one of that great "Unknown Public" whose existence once puzzled Wilkie Collins so much; and regularly for years did she continue to purchase her favorite "Penny Novel Journal."

This taste for cheap literature in no way militated against any virtues Kate possessed; it rather fostered their growth and ennobled the girl's ideas of life. Living as she did in a dull country village, she would have grown up thick-witted as a clod had not the romances she devoured shown her glimpses—often caricatures it is true—of the great world that struggled, surged, seethed, and breathed around her.

What if the heroes of her cheap stories were invariably models of manly beauty—the heroines paragons of virtue and loveliness—the one performing impossible feats of valor and intellect, the other enduring intolerable wrongs and suffering for Right's sake?

What if the characters of the stories were too often the clumsiest of lay figures, woefully overdrawn, and inevitably surcharged with every passion, human and divine? In the end the virtuous reigned triumphant and the wicked were consigned to a righteous perdition. To her uncritical eye the blemishes of the stories were not discernible; she was only able to see in them that which was good and inspiriting.

So the years rolled by and Kate Leigh grew up to womanhood, living, as it seemed to her, two lives—one the hard practical life of the pit-brow girl, the other a dream of romance passed in the companionship of her heroes and her heroines.

As she approached the end of her teens Kate developed into a strikingly beautiful woman, though hers was not the beauty met with commonly in women of her class—a bold sort of masculine handsomeness—but a sweet, unostentatious kind rarely found in village maidens.

Lovers she had in dozens in Orrelham, but none of them had in her a lover. Her reading of romance had steeled her heart against all wooers such as the village could furnish, and poor pit-girl though she was she was dreaming her dreams and building her air-castles. As yet she had to meet the young fellow who could compare favorably with her ideal.

That Kate was conscious of her loveliness need not be recorded, nor need it be written that she was proud of it. As yet it had proved a source of pure satisfaction to her; presently she was to learn that its possession had its own dangers.

At the colliery where she worked the agent was a man named Robert Gregson. He was a middle-aged man, married, with a large family, but these things did not prevent him from forming designs upon Kate Leigh. Her loveliness had excited his lascivious nature, and her modesty only inflamed his desire.

He set about his designs in a snake-like fashion. Kate was removed from the pit-brow and instituted "office-cleaner." The change was at first agreeable to her in every way. The work was cleanly, easy, and the pay better than she had formerly received.

In the suite of offices attached to the colliery Kate, of course, often encountered Mr. Gregson, and he soon informed her that the change in her work and wages was due to the kindly feeling he entertained for one who was so much above ordinary pit-brow girls. Suspecting nothing she thanked him warmly for what he had done.

Some time after this the agent unmasked himself and his attentions. He waited one evening—it was winter time—in the lane along which Kate journeyed homeward, and made such proposals to the girl as to send her flying home almost heartbroken.

Neither to her mother nor to anyone else did Kate breathe a syllable of what had happened; she was too utterly ashamed of the position in which the insult had placed her. She went to work next day as usual, and for some time the agent ceased to persecute her.

But the man's evil intention had not been given up; it was only laid aside for a time. One day when Kate was cleaning Mr. Gregson's private room he entered hurriedly and closing the door behind him confronted the astonished girl, who, after gazing on him a moment continued her occupation of sweeping the floor.

Kate's silence regarding the fellow's previous insult perhaps incited him to offer her another, thinking it would pass unpunished also. Anyhow, without a word he strode across the uncarpeted floor, caught her in his arms before she could spring away, and in a moment he had kissed her twice on the lips.

Then he loosed his hold on her, stepped backward a pace, and stood there smiling. Almost choking with indignation and shame, Kate stood there clasping the long-handled brush as if she were petrified, though her face was the color of fire, whilst her great brown eyes shot forth lightning flashes at the craven who had dared again to insult her.

Then a wave of passionate craving for revenge surged through the girl's breast; she swung round the implement in her hands with fierce purpose and sure aim, and the next moment Robert Gregson went crashing to the floor, a loud cry welling from his lips.

The heavy head of the brush had caught the agent full upon the temple, and as he went down before the sweeping stroke his head came in contact with a table edge, inflicting a nasty scalp wound from which the blood gashed out.

There was a rush of feet and half a dozen clerks ran into the room, brought thither by the agent's shout and the noise of his fall. Each of them assailed Kate with questions on seeing her standing there, white-faced now and vengeful-eyed, with the stunned man at her feet.

"He Insulted me!—kissed me!—and I knocked him down!" she burst forth.

Then she walked from the place, got her basket and can from another room, and went home. She told her mother all that had taken place, telling her also of the agent's previous insult.

The affair created quite a stir in Orrelham, setting every gossip's tongue awag in the place. The agent denied Kate's version of the matter, but despite the advice of his friends he did not take out against her a summons for assault and battery.

A week afterwards Mrs. Leigh and her daughter said adieu to Orrelham for various reasons, and the spot they ultimately settled upon was the town wherein they lived when the husband of one and the father of the other disappeared.


Chapter V.—News From Australia.

It was midsummer time, and the day had been one long fierce blaze of sunny splendour—a day of cloudless blue skies, dusty thoroughfares, heated pedestrians, jaded horses, and thirsty dogs. Pleasant weather when one is able to enjoy it beside the sea, or in cool green depths of woodland; but rather uncomfortable when one is pent up inside a stuffy office—one of many thousands, overshadowing each other with scarcely a space of breathing room between them.

So thought Mr. Henry Willesden, solicitor, as coming out of his chambers in Market-street, he hurried to catch the tram beside the Infirmary that would carry him homeward, for to walk thither under such a broiling sun was simply to invite sunstroke.

Mr. Willesden, a gentleman of fifty-five or thereabouts, was tall, slimly built, clean shaven, and thin-featured. He had keen grey eyes hooded by thick bushy brows of white, and his long hair was snowy-hued also. A pleasant old fellow, and likewise a generous, so that his patriarchal appearance in no manner belied him.

He resided in the southern suburbs of Manchester, in one of the neat villas facing Alexandra Park, and thither in due time he was set down by the tram. Feeling just in the humor for afternoon tea, which he knew was awaiting him, he hurried inside. He was a childless man, having married late in life; but lack of family had spoiled neither his wife's temper nor his own.

As Willesden took his accustomed seat at the tea table, with his eyes on the inviting watercress, his better half remarked:—

"There's a letter for you, Henry, from Australia."

"From Australia?" he echoed as he stirred his tea.

"Yes; here it is."

"When did it come?"

"Just after you left home this morning."

"Humph! It's from Sydney, I see."

"Yes, dear; whom can it be from?"

"I cannot imagine, Annie," he answered, thoughtfully. "I know no one there that I am aware of. I suppose it will be on business of some kind. Anyhow, we will soon see all about it."

With these words he slit open the foreign-looking letter, drew forth a somewhat bulky communication a trifle eagerly, for he felt curious regarding it, and proceeded to read it in silence.

"Well, Henry?" murmured Mrs. Willesden in a mildly interrogative way.

"It's from Dick Hampton," he ejaculated.

"Dick Hampton," she iterated. "Who is he?"

"I forgot you did not know him, Annie. He's a very old friend of mine—we were lads together—and he went to Australia some thirty years ago, and this is the first time I have heard from him since he went away."

"Has he done well in Australia?"

"Wonderfully; wonderfully, dear, according to his letter. But that is not the most interesting portion of his news. Hampton has a sister—or had one—and he wants me to—but I'll read his letter to you."

He laid the open sheet down for a moment, wiped his glasses, took a sip at his tea, and then read the letter, which ran thus:—


"Cambridge House, Sydney,
"June 20, 1878.

"My Dear Harry,

"You will be very much surprised I know to hear from me after a silence and separation extending over so many years, but I hope my letter will be none the less welcome to you on that account. I might have written to you years since had I known where to find you. I only discovered your address a few days ago by the merest accident. Last Wednesday I happened to drop across a gentleman in the Imperial Hotel who had just come over from Manchester, and during the conversation that ensued your name came to be mentioned, and to my infinite delight the Henry Willesden the man knew was no one else but my old chum.

"I got your address from the gentleman—his name is Frederic Anthon—and all particulars concerning yourself. And wasn't I glad to hear that you had made your 'pile,' as they say here, and that you are still enjoying the best of health, being still in practice I suppose? I am glad of that, for I have a bit of work I wish you to undertake, but more of this anon.

"Now I daresay you would like to hear something of my doings here. That's just what I am about to tell you—in short, remember, at the time the gold fever was raging, and having myself caught the contagion, I made straight for the diggings. I knocked about the goldfields for nearly a dozen years, and during that time made more than one small fortune—and lost it again—how I leave you to guess.

"You know the old adage about Fortune knocking once at every man's door. Well, the fickle dame knocked at mine once, twice, thrice even, and the last time she came I was on the threshold ready to open instantly at her summons. I scraped the gold together pretty smartly that time I can tell you, and—which was something new for me to do—kept it. Then I cleared right out of the place, being just about sick of the wild life a digger must lead, and with the few thousands I had managed to get hold of I bought first a sheep farm, and then some building lots in the suburbs of this city.

"To make a long tale short——"


Mr. Willesden paused, midway in the sentence, for a sharp knock at the chamber door attracted his attention, and the next moment it opened, giving admittance to a tallish, dark, good-looking young fellow, smartly dressed, who swung into the room with the air of one who felt very much at home.

"Hullo, Arthur, is it you?" the solicitor said pleasantly to the new comer. "Didn't know you were in town."

"Only came this afternoon, and as I was passing thought I'd drop in for a cup of tea." Then, seeing the opened letter in the elder man's hands, he asked, "Am I intruding upon your private affairs?"

"Not at all, Arthur. I am glad to see you. It's only a letter from an old friend of mine."

The young gentleman seated himself at the table, a servant brought another cup and saucer for the new comer, and Mr. Willesden resumed his reading of the letter.

"Where had I got to? Oh, here it is:—

"To make a long tale short, both my ventures were successful. The sheep farm made me a heap of money, and the land I bought is now covered with good paying property. Altogether I reckon I'm worth something approaching six figures, and that is not so bad I think for a chap who came here with just nine pounds thirteen and five-pence in his pockets.

"Having said so much regarding myself I now come to the bit of business at which I have already hinted. When I left Manchester in 1850 the only relative I left behind me was a sister of 19 or 20, who was then lodging at No. 49, George-street, Hulme. Five years after leaving England I wrote to her at the address here given, but never received any reply. I fancy that she must have removed in the meantime or got married, and thus would never get my letter. I wrote again some time after with a like result.

"Now the business I wish you to undertake is the finding of my sister Margaret. If she is alive you ought to be able to discover her. Anyhow, I hope so, and am prepared to spend something considerable in the search. Put the matter in the hands of some capable man as early as possible, and don't let the expense stand in the way of anything you think ought to be done. I enclose cheque on the London and Australian Bank for £50 to cover all initial expenditure, and will remit again on hearing from you.

"I forgot to congratulate you in the earlier part of my letter on your marriage. My good wishes come rather late in the day, but for all that I know they will be acceptable. As for me I am a bachelor still, and don't expect to change my condition now. At my age, and with but indifferent health, matrimony is not very alluring.

"Wishing you the best of all good things, and hoping to hear from you directly you receive this,

"I remain, yours faithfully,

"RICHARD HAMPTON."


"Henry Willesden, Esq."


"It's quite as interesting as a romance, uncle," said Arthur Willesden as his relative finished the letter.

"Much more so," the solicitor rejoined, fingering the cheque his old friend had forwarded, "for the real must ever be more interesting than the imaginary."

"Who is he, may I ask?"

"An old friend of whom I have not heard for ever so long. He was a clerk in the same office as myself before I began to practise."

"He appears to have done well over there," the young man observed, munching complacently; "for I suppose his six figures mean a hundred thousand."

"Yes, I suppose they do, and I am glad to hear of his luck. And there's the business of finding Hampton's sister. I suppose I shall have to engage a private enquiry officer for the job. If Margaret Hampton—or whatever her name may be now—is living, the man will soon discover her whereabouts."

"I fancy an advertisement inserted in one or two of the leading provincial papers would find her, if, as you say, she is living," the solicitor's nephew rejoined, as he helped himself freely to the delicacies upon the table.

"It might, Arthur," Mr. Willesden responded.

"Anyhow, I'll give the thing a trial, and, as Hampton is not afraid of a little expense, and wishes the matter to be gone into at once, and further urges me to employ all the means at my command, I shall employ a man to prosecute the search. If one falls the other may succeed."

"Certainly; that is just what I was thinking."

"If Hampton's sister is in England, Jem Bowman will ferret her out in a fortnight."

"Who is this Bowman? Is he a detective?"

"No; a private enquiry officer whom I have employed at various times. He's pretty smart at his business, and if Margaret Hampton is to be found he will find her."

"Another cup, Henry?" Mrs. Willesden asked. Her husband nodded an affirmative, and as he sweetened his tea the solicitor added—

"I will draw up the advertisement this evening and forward it to the Daily News and Standard, and half a dozen of the leading provincial papers. I can see Bowman to-morrow some time."

"Yes, dear," Mrs. Willesden assented.

"I'll tell you what, uncle," Arthur broke out impulsively. "Suppose you give me the job of hunting up this Australian fellow's sister."

"You, Arthur?" the solicitor interrogated, half smiling, half in earnest.

"Yes, me; why shouldn't you?"

"Do you mean it seriously?"

"Certainly I do. I've plenty of time and nothing to do with it, and of all things would like to try my hand at a bit of detective work. I am quite interested in the history of your old friend and his missing relative, and will spare no effort to find her if you will put the matter in my hands."

"It appears you have a taste for something in the way of work," Mr. Willesden cried banteringly. "But if you feel that your vocation lies in the detective line you should join the force. I have some little influence, and it shall be used to procure you an appointment if you desire it."

"Nonsense, uncle, nonsense!" Arthur exclaimed petulantly. "That would be work, and this fancy that I have will probably last long enough to enable me to find the woman, but no longer. I should like to try if you will let me."

"Then you shall, lad," the solicitor responded; "but I fear that your enthusiasm will soon wear out if the case proves to be a difficult one."

"When I tire of the case I will give it up instantly, and you can then place it in the hands of Bowman."

"Then you may consider yourself engaged for the business, and I shall expect you to go into the matter at once."

"To-morrow will do, I suppose?"

"Yes; but I shall want you to help me to draw up the advertisement and dispatch copies of it to such newspapers as I may select. Suppose we do it after tea? Have you any engagement?"

"No. I am quite at your service."

After tea was disposed of Mr. Willesden and his relative settled down to the work before them. In a short time they had drawn up an advertisement, which ran as follows:—


MARGARET HAMPTON.—Wanted,
the address of the person of this name
who in the year 1847 resided at No. 49,
George-street, Hulme, Manchester.


The same evening copies of the foregoing were dispatched to a number of papers, metropolitan and provincial, and in due course they appeared therein for a week in succession.


Chapter VI.—On the Trail.

The intelligent reader of this narrative will already have gleaned two or three items of information respecting Arthur Willesden: to wit, that he was young and comely, respectably connected, and being engaged in no kind of labor, manual or otherwise, a person of some means.

To be more particular—and the part he is to play in this story requires it—he was an orphan, his mother having been dead about 10 years, his father half that time. The decease of the latter left his only child—Arthur Willesden, then nearly 21—a nice little income of £250 per annum.

Arthur's father having married a woman with a little money, had turned it to a profitable use, and dying left his lad what might have proved the nucleus of a fortune had the youngster only been as energetic as his father.

But Arthur Willesden inherited his mother's indolent temperament. He was shrewd enough, and clever in a way, nor did he lack ambition of a kind, but he entirely lacked energy to give effect to his dreaming.

At the time of his father's death the young fellow was an articled clerk in his uncle's office, but his legal studies ceased when, on attaining his majority, he found himself in receipt of an income of five pounds a week.

Henry Willesden had urged his nephew to remain in the profession for which he had been studying; but Arthur had ideas of his own, some considerable strength of will also, and he went his own way, enjoying life after his own fashion, living up to his income, but seldom going beyond it.

Not a few of Arthur Willesden's acquaintances regarded his lot with envy, and this was perhaps a pardonable offence on their part. The young fellow was really good-looking, with his tall, slender figure and gipsy face.

He was certainly selfish in nature, decidedly low in certain of his tastes, and was singularly cold-blooded and calculating for so young a man. At times he was rather lavish, but only upon his own pleasures; occasionally he would treat his friends generously, whenever he required a favor at some of their hands.

Unsuspected by either Mr. or Mrs. Henry Willesden, Arthur had for the last four or five years been leading a life of dissipation. He hung about the stage doors of certain theatres; frequented the bars of low music halls; was a haunter of some of the city's most disreputable places.

Of course all these unorthodox pleasures were indulged in secretly by Arthur Willesden—that open kind of secrecy young fellows of to-day affect in their pleasant dissipations. To the world in general, or that portion of it which rubbed shoulders with him—the wives and daughters of city merchants—he was a man of reputable character and moderate fortune, differing in no way from half a thousand others they knew and crossed tongues with.

And this was the gentleman who had undertaken to discover the missing sister of the fortunate Australian, Richard Hampton. No inkling then crossed his mind of the complexities to be evolved by him from the task he saddled himself with. It was purely a whim to play the detective, and the solicitor was near the mark when he hinted that a little difficulty at the commencement of the quest would soon exhaust his nephew's enthusiasm for the work.

On the morning following the interview with his uncle already recorded, Arthur Willesden set forth upon his mission of discovery. In his pocket-book he had set down the names of the brother and sister, the date on which the former went to Australia, and the address at which the latter had lived prior to her relative's departure from England.

With the expenditure of a little trouble Willesden found No. 49, George-street, Hulme, and knocking at the door of the humble-looking cottage, he asked the woman who answered the summons if she could tell him anything of a woman named Margaret Hampton who had lodged in that house about 30 years ago.

The woman stared at him, but said she knew nothing of the person he sought. She had lived there only eighteen months. The amateur detective had expected something like this. He had thought the whole matter over carefully, and was ready with another question, as soon as the woman had concluded.

"Do you know anybody hereabouts who has lived in the neighborhood for a long time? There is usually one or two of that sort in a street."

"I believe there is," the woman said, brightening up. "I've heerd say as owd Nanny Roscoe 'as lived in't street sin' hoo wur o little wench."

"Where does she live now?"

"Cross road theer at number 52."

"Thank you. I am much obliged."

He smiled pleasantly, lifted his hat, and crossed the street towards the house indicated. He tapped lightly upon the half-opened door, and again a woman came to enquire as to his wants.

"Nanny Roscoe lives here I believe?" he interrogated.

The woman before him was too young to be the one he was seeking. She had just left the wash-tub it seemed.

"Hoo does, sur; dun yo' want her?"

"I wish to speak to her for a few minutes if I can do so," he replied.

"Cum in then, un ah'll tell her. Hoo's ma mother, un hoo's next doour washin' for a naybur. Ah'll fotch her in a minute."

She dusted a chair and Arthur seated himself thereon. Then she bustled out the back way, returning in a few moments with her mother—a plump, apple-faced little woman, considerably over half a century old, and hale and vigorous still, as was attested by her active movements and suds-covered arms, which she was busy wiping on her large sack-cloth apron.

"Yo' wanten ma eawr, Polly says, sur?"

"I do. I suppose you have lived about here a long time?"

"Ah 'ave. Ah've lived in this very heawse o'er forty heeurs."

"Do you remember a woman named Margaret Hampton, who used to live over the way, at No. 49?"

"Ah should think ah do. Whah, mon, ah wur ut her weddin'."

"She is married, then?"

"Hoo is. Hoo married a man fro Pendleton cawd Jonty Leigh, un they went o' livin' theer after. Ah went to their heawse o tahme or two. Bur it's o great while neaw sin' ah seed oather on um."

"Where did they live when you visited them last."

"Somewhere near Scowcroft's Pits; ah forget name o't' street. Jonty wur a coaler."

Arthur thanked the old woman for her information, pressed a shilling into her chubby palm, and went away gratified with the progress he was making. His way to Pendleton lay through Market-street, and dropping in at his uncle's office Arthur informed his relative of the discoveries he had been fortunate enough to make that morning.

Mr. Willesden was pleased with his nephew's success; urged him to follow up the scent he had found, and, after lunching at one of the city restaurants, Arthur set forth for Pendleton.

On arriving thither he at once enquired for Scowcroft's Colliery, and finding it, commenced to search in the adjacent streets for Jonathan Leigh, collier. Here again the amateur detective was in luck's way, for he chanced to call at the house of one of the old workmates of the man he was seeking, who told him that Leigh and his wife had gone to Ashford many a year ago, and for all he knew to the contrary were there still.

By noon next day Arthur Willesden was at Ashford. He alighted at the railway-station just as the steam whistles at the collieries and mills were emitting their shrill stridulous screams, telling to all whom it concerned that the time for the midday meal had come.

Strolling out of the station, undecided which way to go, for the man at Pendleton had not been able to offer him any definite information as to the street wherein his old comrade resided, Willesden happened to see some pits a little distance away, and towards them he went with the intention of making further enquiry concerning the man and woman he was in quest of.

Crossing a dilapidated stile Arthur came to a waggon road, and proceeding along this in the direction of the collieries he noticed a pit-brow girl approaching at a quick pace, evidently hurrying home-ward for dinner. He glanced casually at the young woman as she drew near, but his indifference changed quickly into deepest interest as his eyes rested upon her face.

"Pardon me," he said as he and the girl met, "but may I ask you to tell me the name of this colliery?"

He had doffed his hat in the most deferential manner, as if she to whom he spoke wore silken attire instead of corduroy breeches and print jacket; his handsome countenance had assumed its most winning aspect, his voice was low and pleasant.

"It is called Crawford's Colliery," the girl answered, pausing a moment.

"Thank you. I am much obliged."

The girl went her way and Arthur Willesden followed her with his eyes. He had intended to detain her a little longer, but the self-possession usually at his command had left him, and he could not frame just then other questions for her to answer.

"By Jove!" he muttered as he watched her mount the stile, "what a beauty she is. I never saw a sweeter face in all my life. And working on the pit brow too."

The girl was out of sight now, but Arthur did not resume his walk. The slope of the waggon road seemed to have escaped the fate of the surrounding fields, for here the grass was green and luxuriant with a thin sprinkling of wild flowers.

Arthur flung himself down on the bank, mind filled with thoughts quite different from those that had brought him to Ashford. The prospect of speedily finding Jonathan Leigh and his wife had lost much of its interest for him, and all his enthusiasm in that direction was threatened with a sudden extinction.

There was a good deal of the unprincipled Lothario about this comely youngster, and more than one simple maiden had ample cause to rue her acquaintance with him. And seated there on that sunny slope he was preparing his net for fresh prey in the shape of the handsome pit-brow girl to whom he had spoken a minute or two ago.

Nor did Arthur Willesden anticipate much trouble in enmeshing his contemplated victim. With his good looks, ample means, and cunning artifices it would be a surprise to him if he was not able to accomplish his designs in a few weeks' time. This humble girl must perforce be flattered by the attentions of a gentleman. The presents he would make her would turn the creature's head, and if she were at all like the ordinary girl of her class the rest would be easy.

Thus mused Arthur Willesden, and presently he arose from the grassy slope, and, turning his back upon the colliery retraced his steps down the waggon road, remounted the stile, and back through the fields. He had an idea that the girl lived in one of those pretty old-fashioned whitewashed cottages he remembered passing, and it was to test the truth of this fancy that he had returned.

The houses in question were only a couple of hundred yards away, and stood in the midst of a piece of common land fronting the high-road. There were about a dozen altogether, and each one had its strip of garden filled with green plants and bright-hued old-time flowers, a vivid contrast to the many barren fields within easy eye-range.

As Willesden strolled slowly toward the cottages with their thick roofs of thatch and snowy walls he saw the pit girl to whom he had previously spoken emerge from the furthermost in the row. Walking onward at a quicker pace he met her beside the end of the garden, and raising his hat he spoke thus—

"You will pardon me, I am sure, for intruding upon you again when I say I am a stranger to the place and have been directed to these cottages for lodgings. May I ask if you know anyone about here who requires a lodger?"

"I think my mother does," the young woman replied after some slight hesitation.

"Indeed!" and his dark handsome face assumed its most winning aspect. "As I see you are hurrying back to work I will not trouble you to return with me; but perhaps you will point out the house and give me your mothers name."

"It is the farthest house, and my mother is called Margaret Leigh—or Mrs. Leigh."

"Thank you. Good morning, Miss Leigh."

"Good morning."

They parted. She returned to her work at the colliery; he walked leisurely to the cottage indicated, wondering if it could be possible that this sweet-faced pit lassie's mother were the woman in quest of whom he had come to Ashford.

Upon the heels of this fancy there flashed an idea—a cunning knavish scheme that would require much time and trouble on his part to bring to a successful conclusion. But if this Mrs. Leigh was the wife of Jonathan Leigh, of Pendleton, and the sister of the rich Australian, then would he strain every force at his command to consummate his scheme.


Chapter VII.—An Adventure Underground.

"I am going to work to-night, Kate," said Luke Standish in a tone that showed anything save pleasure.

"How's that?" she asked.

"There's something wrong with the roof at the far end of the old northlevel, and as Dick Gorbey, the night timberman, is off work ill I shall have to take his place."

"You'll not be working long on the night shift I expect, Luke?" she said pityingly.

"I don't know," he grumbled, thinking that his evening walks with his sweet-heart would have to be discontinued for a time. "I suppose I shall have to remain on the night shift until Gorbey gets better."

The lovers were standing in the colliery yard a little distance from the King pit. It was five o'clock in the afternoon, the colliery had just finished work for the day, and Luke had returned to tell his sweetheart of the unexpected alteration in his working time.

They were to have gone for a walk that evening, but now that pleasure would have to be deferred until Saturday evening, for the night just named would be the only one on which Luke would be at liberty so long as he remained on the night shift, Sunday night being always a working night.

The lovers chattered for a few minutes longer, and once Kate thought of telling Luke of the pleasant young gentleman who had commenced to lodge at their house on the previous afternoon; but she did not, thinking her lover might be displeased if she evinced any interest in a comparative stranger, no matter how courteous and clever he might be.

The colliery yard was by this time almost deserted; there was no one visible to either Luke or Kate, and their parting words were crowned with a short caress and a long clinging kiss.

Then they went their different ways—the girl to the afternoon meal which she knew was awaiting her home-coming, the man to prepare himself for his night's work by an hour or two hours' sleep. And it seemed to the young miner that the discomfort of working in the night time had decreased considerably since Kate had sympathised with him on that account.

About three hours later the same evening the night shift workmen belonging to the King pit were gathered upon the pit bank awaiting their turn to descend. In gangs of ten the men got into the cage, and in a few minutes the brow was cleared of all save the night banksman.

On reaching the "pit-eye," as the bottom of the shaft is called, each cageful of workmen proceeded to the lamp station, where the night fireman was busily engaged examining each lamp to see that it was not defective in any way.

When the lamps were done with Sam Grimshay, the night official already mentioned, gave the miners their orders for the night, the thirty men were divided then dispatched to different parts of the mine, their work being mostly to repair the roads and colliers' places, which could not be done during the daytime.

Luke Standish was ordered to pick three men and go to the far end of the north level to repair the roof and broken bars which he would find in the shunt there, and a few minutes later Luke and his workmates were going towards that part of the mine the fireman had indicated.

The spot for which Luke and the others were bound lay right at the further end of the north side of the King pit, and it was quite a mile in a direct line from the pit shaft. Ways in the mine are commonly named after the colliers who drive them, and the shunt towards which the four men were journeying owed its name to a miner whose nickname was Doctor.

Luke had his "jackbit"—as Lancashire miners term their meat—with him, besides his can of tea, a pick and hammer, whilst his mates carried, in addition to their meat and drink, a saw and several spades. Thus laden they trudged along the dusty road—in some places the triturated coal was five or six inches thick—and by the time their destination was reached each of the four was perspiring freely.

After partially undressing themselves for work they rested a few minutes to cool their heated frames, and then Luke began to examine the roof they had come to repair. As foreman of the gang the management of the work rested upon him, and it did not take him long to discover that the job was a nasty one to tackle.

At this point the road was about nine feet wide, and the roof was already barred, that is, supported by heavy logs of timber thrown across and held up by stout props. But the props and bars were broken in many places, owing to the great masses of broken roof pressing down constantly upon them, and it would be a difficult matter, Luke could see, to take away the old timber and put in new without letting down a lot of the superincumbent rocks.

Expecting that a considerable amount of roof would fall in they made arrangements for stowing it in the colliers' places, which lay about a couple of hundred yards away, and they commenced work, several of the old bars being replaced by new ones without disturbing much of the broken roof.

It was twelve o'clock—supper time—and whilst they were eating the midnight meal the fireman came, examined their work, expressed his satisfaction with the progress they had made; then he inspected the colliers' places near at hand, and finding them all right went to inspect other parts of the mine lying nearer the shaft.

During the daytime, horses and lads, with gangs of full and empty tubs passed constantly beneath the roof Luke and his mates were repairing, and they were putting up the last bar preparatory to cleaning up the road in readiness for the day miners, when one of the props beside Standish split in two with a sharp crash, and he had scarcely time to bound instinctively backward, knocking down one of the men in his rush, as the roof came crashing down, sweeping out old timber and new, and completely blocking up the way between them and the pit shaft.

"We're a'reet mon," cried Joe Thomson, as he picked himself out of the dust into which Luke had sent him sprawling. "It's made us in, an' we'll ha' to gooa a' reawnd th' air roads to get eawt."

"Haply not, Joe," Luke answered. "It's only abeawt 4 o'clock, and we must try to scrape a road through when the roof settles."

After the lapse of ten minutes or so the roof ceased to fall, and, going cautiously to the edge of the fallen debris, Luke at once saw that it would be utterly useless to attempt making a way through it, for so great was the fall that he could not perceive its summit. So he had to tell Joe Thomson and the other two that they would have to return to the pit shaft through the air-ways.

This announcement was received with murmurs of dissatisfaction, for none of the men relished the idea of having to crawl along two miles or more of low winding ways after a hard night's work. But there was no other alternative, unless they chose to stay where they were until the fall was cleared away, and that might take two or perhaps three days.

Now, although Luke Standish had worked at the King pit for half a dozen years, he had never been through the air-ways on the old north side, nor had any of his present workmates, with the exception of Joe Thomson, and he only once in company with a fireman.

"Do yo' think yo'll know t' road again, Joe?" Luke asked, as they prepared to set out for the air roads.

"Ah think so, Luke," Joe replied, and off they started. Going first up an old incline, or "jig" as it was called, for a hundred and fifty yards, they then turned to the right, left the colliers' places behind them, and were soon in the air-ways. At this point there lay between them and the pit shaft a huge network of old disused roads, that part of the mine having been worked more than thirty years before.

Luke had often heard the firemen say that none of these old roads were fenced off or built up, as they ought to have been according to the Mines Regulation Act, and the officials had themselves admitted that they experienced some difficulty in finding their way through them.

Joe Thomson's confidence seemed to increase with every step he took, and, glad of this, Luke and the other two proceeded at his heels as fast as the lowness of the roads would permit, and presently they were amid the old workings referred to.

For some time their progress was both quick and certain; the swift ventilating current, rushing past them in the direction they pursued, showing them they were right. But in a short time the current became imperceptible, owing to the numerous ways open to its course. The flames of their Davy lamps were no longer deflected by the air streams passing through the gauze, and this guide lost, they had to depend solely on Joe Thomson's memory.

But Joe seemed to remember the way right enough, and they trudged on rapidly, now turning to the right, then to the left, now ascending an incline, then going down a declivity, every turn in the road they followed causing a variation in the gradient.

Joe Thomson was still leading; Luke followed him, then came the other two. All of them were beginning to feel tired, for so low were the old roads in many places that they had to bend themselves double, and the floor was slippery as glass in places. Innumerable old workings branched out from the path they followed, and just as Luke was about to propose a few minutes' rest Thomson stopped suddenly, exclaiming in a tone of infinite surprise and disgust—

"Well, Ah'm blest! This is a fettler, an' no mistake abeawt it!"

There was no need to ask any questions as to the cause of their guide's sudden halting and exclamations, for the reason was plain to all of them. There, only four or five yards ahead of them, the road ended in a blank wall of stone. They sat down and stared at each other, surprise and vexation showing clearly in each work-grimed countenance.

Luke said nothing, but the other men began to rate Thomson soundly for pretending to know the road through the air-ways, and he confessed that he was quite lost. Looking at his watch Luke saw that it was half-past 5, so that they had been walking for over an hour, and in that time must have covered considerably above a mile of ground.

But where were they now?

To this question none of them could give an answer, and after resting a minute or two they turned back, Luke now leading whilst their late guide dropped discomfited behind. Standish struck boldly along the first road he came to, trusting to luck for want of a better guide, but his attempt at leading proved no better than Joe Thomson's had done, for after another hour's crawling along low, tortuous ways, under dangerous stones in the roof and over heaps of fallen debris they came again to a standstill.

This time their further progress was effectually barred by a solid wall of coal. Again they rested, and, happening to glance at the coal-side, near which he was seated, Luke saw the following writing:—

"June 29th, 1853.
Jack Bentham.
"

The writing was in chalk, but it appeared almost as clear as if it been written that day. None of the other men could read, and seeing Luke scanning the rough, white characters on the coal one of them asked him what it was. He then read it for them, whereupon Joe Thomson cried out—

"Why, Luke, that's my owd gron-fayther's rahtin. Thah knows he used to work heeur twenty or thirty eer sin. He was a firemon, an' a've offen heerd th' owd cock talk abeawt these owd roads, bur ah never thowt then as ah had fort' be lost in 'em misel."

Joe seemed deeply affected by the sight of his ancestor's handwriting, but the rugged characters told them nothing of their whereabouts, nor of a way out of the maze in which they were lost. They were all quite weary by this time, and Joe and the other two wished to remain there until someone came to their rescue; but Luke refused to give up the struggle yet, and so he pressed onward, the others following reluctantly at his heels.

If they sat down to await the coming of a guide to lead them out of that labyrinth they might starve them to death ere aid came. It was now nearly eight o'clock, and each of them ought to have been at home two hours ago. By this time the day-shift miners would have gone to the far end of the north level, and there encountered the heap of fallen roof that had forced the four miners to go through the air-ways.

The manager and other officials of the mine would be uneasy about the missing men, and would perhaps think they were buried beneath the great fall. Their relatives also would be upset about them; and thinking of all these things Luke could not endure the thought of sitting there for an indefinite period.

So on they went again, wearily dragging one leg after another. Often they had to crawl on hands and knees for a great distance, where the roof had sunk until it almost met the floor.

One way after another was tried with unvarying failure. They had now gone through many of the old roads, and many more yet remained untraversed, for the old galleries intersected each other every ten or fifteen yards like the cords of a huge net. Very frequently they came upon dates many years old, and the names of former officials all written in chalk.

At first they had chatted to each other as they trudged along, but the conversation gradually slackened, till it ceased altogether, and nothing broke the dense stillness, into which they seemed to be going deeper and deeper each stride, save the clangour of their ironed clogs striking upon the hard floor of the mine.

"Wait here a bit lads, while I have a look up this place!" Luke said, as they came to the bottom of a road that seemed to ascend more steeply than the others they had passed through.

The others assented readily to this proposal, and Luke went along the road, trusting that it might lead them from the huge subterranean net in which they were enmeshed. On and on he went, without encountering any barrier, and with each stride grew a hope that at last he had found the right way. He was now about a hundred yards from his comrades, and glancing back he could see the glimmer of their lamps gleaming through the intervening darkness like stars.

Luke thought that he would go a little further before he shouted for his mates to follow him, and, quickening his pace, he sped on for another score of yards. Then he came suddenly to a stop, and a cry of great disgust burst from his lips. He could get no further. The road was completely blocked by a mighty heap of fallen rocks.

Intensely annoyed by the discovery he had made, he dropped upon the floor intending to rest a little ere rejoining his companions, and sitting there he began to speculate as to when and by what means he and those with him were to be freed from their underground prison.

The exact nature of what followed Luke Standish was never able to determine to his own satisfaction. Whether it were a dream only or really a supernatural vision that he witnessed he could not decide. Weary and exhausted by his wanderings he might have dropped asleep and dreamed it all. Anyhow, this is what he remembered.

He thought he had rested sufficiently, and was about to jump up and hasten back to his comrades, when a sudden and overwhelming horror seemed to petrify him.

There, at a fathom's distance from him, was seated a man apparently ten years older than himself. He was strongly built, rather heavily bearded, with a blue shirt of flannel, such as miners wear, corduroy breeches held up by a belt, and a pair of clogs covering his feet.

The man's face wore a weird, awe-looking expression, and for a few horrible moments Luke Standish gazed upon it spellbound.

The unutterable agony of that brief space will never be forgotten by Luke. Even now the memory of it makes him shudder. There he sat in the middle of the old road mute and motionless, between the young miner and his companions, and Luke could only stare wide-eyed upon the stranger.

How long the horror lasted Luke could not tell. He saw the mysterious figure rise and move towards him, nor could he stir a limb, although he was right in the main path, and on that weird figure came as if the miner were not there.

The next moment Luke felt a deadly chill, as if an icicle had penetrated every pore in his body, and the mysterious stranger was past him. How he came about he knew not. He felt no shock of collision; he felt only that terrible chill and the man or phantom was beyond him, and that the figure had walked right through him.

With distended eyes he watched that strange silent figure walk toward the fallen heap of roof, and the next instant it had melted away, having apparently plunged through the hard masses of rock as if they were but a fog.

Then Luke's brain seemed to spin madly round, and he sank unconscious on the floor, a deep sob of agony welling from out his dry lips and parched throat.


Chapter VIII.—Missing.

It wanted but a few minutes to six o'clock a.m., and the night-shift men belonging to the King pit were gathered together at the bottom of the shaft ready to ascend. Whilst they were awaiting the coming of the cage that was to bear them to the surface one of the miners inquired—

"Where's Luke Standish and his mates?"

The question was addressed generally to those present, and as no one there was able to offer any information concerning the men spoken of, a short pause followed the interrogation. Then one of the others suggested—

"Luke an' t'others have haply gone whoam."

"Ah don't think so," the miner replied, who had previously spoken. "It's too soon for 'em yet."

Then the cage came down with a rush, filled with day-shift miners, and as these came forth from out of the iron structure their places were taken by those waiting to ascend. Then the hooker on—the man in charge of the pit bottom—pulled the signalling lever three times, striking the bell in the engine-house on the surface three times to let the man at the engine know that men were in the cage, and the next moment the great vehicle with its burden of living beings glided swiftly upwards towards the day.

Amongst the men who had come down in the last cageful was the underlooker—the official next in authority to the manager—and going to the office where the other officials were seated he remarked—

"Everythin's a' reet, ah suppose?"

His question was addressed to the night fireman, Sam Grimshay, who was just putting on his jacket in readiness to go home, and as he was, of course, ignorant of the mishap which had transpired an hour before at the far end of the north level, he replied—

"Oh, ay! Everthin's a' reet. There was a bit o' gas up number two jig, bur ah geet it eawt."

"Did yo' send Luke Standish an' some moour o' barrin' int' Doctor's shunt?"

"Ah did," the fireman replied, "an' when ah was theer ut suppr toime they wur gerrin on very weel."

Ben Chadwick, the underlooker, had no more questions to put to Grimshay, so he took up his can, left the office, and was going towards the pit shaft to ascend when he met a pony driver who was running in the direction of the place the fireman had just quitted.

"Wheer ar' ti' running to? What's up?" Grimshay demanded of the lad, who answered by asking him a question.

"Wheer's Ben Chadwick?"

"In th' office. What dost want him for?"

"Doctor's shunt has fawn up, an' noan o' t' coalers can get to their work," the lad exclaimed almost breathlessly.

The fireman hurried the pony driver into the presence of the underlooker and other officials, who listened in amazement to the lad's news. According to his statement the roof in the shunt indicated had given way, completely blocking the road, so that all the colliers whose working places lay beyond the fall would be thrown out of employment for that day at least.

"And wheer is Luke Standish that he didn't send word abeawt it afoor this?"

"Luke Standish!" the lad iterated, seemingly bewildered by the question.

"Ay; wheer is he an' t' others?"

"Ah dunna know; ah've seen nowt on 'em."

"Haply Luke an' his mates will be at t' other side o' t' dirt," Grimshay suggested. "Ah know as they'n not gone up t' pit."

"Could yo' heer anybody workin' at t' other side o' t' dirt?" the underlooker queried of the lad.

"Nowe, ah 'couldn't," was the ready answer. "Me an t' others sheawted monny o' tahme but nobuddy ansert us."

"Ah wonder wheere they are?" Ben Chadwick asked uneasily, and his discomfort was shared by every man present. The thought which had sprung up instinctively in each mind was that Luke and his workmates were buried under the fallen roof in Doctor's shunt.

"We'd better make sure first as Luke an' t'others hannot gone up pit," said the underlooker. "Tom," speaking to one of the day firemen, "gooa up with Sam heeur, an' get to know for sartin whether these chaps are deawn or not. If they're up pit their lamps will be into t'lamp heawse."

The man addressed went to the pit bottom with the night fireman, and they ascended the shaft in company with the colliers who had been thrown idle through the fall at the far end of the north level.

On going to the lamp house the man sent thither could find none of the lamps belonging to either Luke Standish, Joe Thomson, or the other two, and this showed clearly enough that the four men were still down the mine.

The day fireman returned to the pit and descended to tell the underlooker the result of his visit to the lamp station, and Sam Grimshay went home, after telling one or two of the men upon the pit bank the news that a great fall had taken place during the morning and that four men were missing. Nor did the fireman refrain from expressing his sorrowful conviction that someone, very likely all, the missing miners were buried under the fallen roof.

The ill tidings flew about in all directions, and Kate Leigh was one of the earliest to hear them. The names of the missing miners were all known, and when Kate discovered that her lover was among the unfortunates she sustained the keenest shock it had hitherto been her lot to bear.

But she made no scene of her sorrow; she bore her suffering in a quiet, dry-eyed way that superficial observers mistook for indifference. Her love for Luke now equalled the affection he cherished toward herself, and his death would mean the overwhelming of all the bright visions they had dreamed together.

But as the fate of the missing miners yet remained a matter of uncertainty her wishes gave birth to a hope that helped to lighten the load of suspense from which she suffered.

In a short time the ill news reached Luke Standish's mother, and her sorrow dwarfed that of the pit-brow lassie. And the relatives of the other miners missing had their grief to bear also.

When Kate Leigh went home to breakfast at eight o'clock she, of course, made her mother acquainted with the bad news, and their amiable lodger happened to be present at the time. The pit-brow girl did not notice the gleam of pleasure that lit up Arthur Willesden's dark eyes as she spoke of the accident and of the men who were missing.

Had she done so her respect for that young gentleman would have undergone a speedy change. But his back was towards her, and the expression of his face passed unnoticed by Kate.

Arthur was thinking how much easier of achievement would be the task he had set himself to do—namely, that of winning Kate Leigh—if an accident in the mine had swept Luke Standish out of the way. There were only two of them in the race, and one of them was totally ignorant in one respect of the value of the prize for which he was running, and with the young miner put aside the result was easy to calculate.

Down the King Pit active measures were being adopted for the recovery or finding of the missing pitmen. The underlooker and one of the firemen, with a gang of datallers, had proceeded along the north level to the fall in Doctor's, and were already hard at work clearing away the great heap of debris.

The other fireman, old Ike Ellsworth, a man who had worked in the King ever since its commencement nearly 49 years before, and another gang of workmen were on their way through the air-ways, Ike at their head, their destination being the backside of the fall.

It was about half-past seven when Ike Ellsworth and his gang reached, by means of the circuitous route they were forced to take, the spot where Luke Standish and his mates had been working only three or four hours before. A hasty glance about the place convinced the old miner that the missing men were not buried beneath the fallen roof.

The tools they had used during the preceding shift were ranged orderly against the side of the road—picks, spades, saw, and hammer, all being there. And a more careful scrutiny of the spot showed that the cans and garments of Luke and his workmates were nowhere to be discovered.

Going to the edge of the fall, Ike spoke to the workmen on the other side.

"Is Ben Chadwick there?"

"Ay! Dun yo' want him?"

"Ah do."

Ben Chadwick came forward, and standing upon the tail end of the debris asked his subordinate how matters were on the other side. The fireman replied that the tools of the missing men were there, but their clothes could not be found, and he expressed himself as satisfied that none of them were buried under the fall.

"Then wheer are they?" Chadwick asked.

"Lost int' th' airways, o hundred to one!" Ike cried decisively.

"Dost think so, Ike?" the underlooker queried reflectively.

"Ah do, Ben!" the fireman answered, "for wheer else con they be?"

"Ay, jus' so. Well, thah'd better gooa an' look fur 'em Ike, an' I'll send Jim heeur to help thee. Heaw monny men hast wi' thee?"

"Four beside mesel'."

"Then leeuv three on 'em theeur to wurk at fa', an' tek t'other wi' thee int' th' air-roads. And Jim heeur, an' unother shall jine yo' to help find Luke and his mates."

"Aw reet," Ike Ellsworth responded, and after giving the workmen instructions he set out to search for the lost miners.


Chapter IX.—Through the Window.

When Luke Standish came out of the swoon which followed his dream or supernatural vision, whichever it might be, he stared wildly around him, not remembering for a few moments where he was and what had happened.

Then his memory came back with a rush, and an irrepressible shudder shook his frame as he recalled the horror he had endured prior to losing his senses. The first question he put to himself was—Had he been dreaming, or was he awake when he saw, or fancied he saw, that strange, weird-looking figure disappear in the fall just beyond where he was still sitting?

A dream sorely. It was absurd to think it could be anything else.

Glancing down the road Luke could see the lamps of his comrades, who were still awaiting his return, and it struck him that he must have been unconscious for only a very short time, or they would have come to seek him. Then he arose, and with one last shuddering glance around walked down the road to rejoin his work-mates.

As he went along he made up his mind to say nothing to them of the singular incident that had just befallen him. There were several reasons for this. In the first place Luke was known among his comrades as a profound disbeliever in all things pertaining to dreams and spectral visitations, and had always criticised in a most unmerciful manner the ghost stories some of the old pitmen were fond of narrating.

Again, he thought, and perhaps rightly, that the recital of his strange experience might discourage his companions and incline them to believe that they were all doomed to perish in the subterranean wilderness in which they were entangled.

"Have ah bin a good while away?" Luke asked as he joined Joe and the other two, who were still seated where he had left them.

"Middlin'," Joe answered; "did yo' fahnd owt?"

"A fa' o' roof, that's aw," Luke replied. "What's eawr next move, Joe?"

"Ah dun know," Thomson cried wearily. "Ah think we mut as weel dee heer as anywheer else."

"Ah'm gooin' no further," one of the other men cried doggedly. "It's no use ramblin' abeawt when we dunnot know wheer we are."

"Sumbuddy ull ha' to fahnd us," the other man broke in, "for we connot fahnd eawrsels, an' they'll fahnd as heer as weel as anywheer else."

"Ah'm gooin' to ha' o sleep, Luke," Thomson exclaimed. "Ah'm gradely done up."

Luke saw that it would be vain on his part to urge his comrades to continue their rambling just then, and it seemed there was small hope of them finding their way unaided.

So he followed the example of the others and seated himself on the cold hard floor of the mine. In a few moments he could hear the deep-drawn regular breathing of tired men sleeping. Two of the men were already slumbering in entire oblivion of their situation, and a few minutes afterwards Joe Thomson also fell asleep.

Then Luke Standish drew a piece of chalk from his waistcoat pocket, and upon the rocky side of the place he had ascended he wrote his name in large thick strokes that would take years to obliterate, and in addition to this he inscribed the day of the month and year.

He would be able to recognise the spot again should it ever be his lot to revisit it, and, even at that moment it seemed probable that at some tune or other he would desire to see the place where he had, either in fancy or fact, encountered that blue-shirted, dark-bearded figure.

It was now after nine o'clock. They had been wandering among the old galleries for nearly five hours, and were, it appeared, no nearer liberty than when they set out just after the roof collapsed. There was no telling how much longer their imprisonment might last. All that day might elapse, perhaps much longer, before someone came to lead them from out that huge labyrinth whose windings seemed endless.

The dense unbroken stillness was both impressive and oppressive, and seemed to weigh heavily on Lake's heart and mind. He would have slept also, but his head ached too fearfully to allow him to sleep. So he sat there pondering many things, and slowly the minutes slid past, every one seeming to impress itself upon the young miner.

He looked again at his watch and found it was a quarter past ten. Joe Thomson and the others still slumbered as peacefully as if they were at home in their respective beds, and a sullen despair was beginning to fasten upon Luke, when at last his tired eyelids fell and he slumbered.

But his sleep was of short duration. He had hardly closed his eyes, it seemed, when his attention was aroused by some distant sound, and in a moment he was listening intently.

What was it that awoke him?

Was it the clatter of falling roof or the sound of approaching feet? He bent down low, placed his ear against the cold floor, and held his breath, while he listened in an intense, excited way.

Thud! thud! thud! fell lowly, but unmistakably, upon his strained hearing, and rising to a sitting posture he shouted with all the power of his deep, strong lungs—

"Hallo! Hallo! Hallo!"

Joe Thomson and the other sleepers rose suddenly to their knees, staring wildly about, unable to understand the great noise Luke had made.

"There's sumbuddy abeawt!" Luke cried to his wondering sleepy-eyed mates. "I've heard feet! Let's aw sheawt together!"

The next moment four powerful voices blent together, and a mighty "Hallo!" swept along the old galleries of the mine. Intense stillness followed for an instant, and then they all heard a clear, piercing whistle.

Again their joined voices rang out; once more a wave of sound rolled swiftly along the low galleries, and the whistle answered their shout. A minute afterwards old Ike Ellsworth, the other fireman, and two men were beside them, each one glad to find all the missing miners safe.

"What's up, lads?" old Ike asked jocularly. "Han yo' bin lost?"

"Ah think thah knows," Joe Thomson cried ill-humoredly. "We'n bin like four wand'rin' Jews sin' four o'clock this mornin'."

"Thah shouldn't o getting lost, Joe," retorted Ellsworth, "for thah's bin thro' th' air-roads afoor."

"Ay, ah have, Ike, bur ah'll never gooa thro' 'em again," and Joe shook his head with great solemnity.

"It was Joe us sed he knowed t'road," one of the men scowled, "and he lost hissel un' us too."

"Never mahnd, lad," was Joe's response, "ah'll never do it no moor."

There was a general laugh at Joe's expense, and then they prepared to quit the place, old Ike Ellsworth leading. Without the least difficultly the old fireman led them out of the labyrinth, and Luke and his comrades were not over-pleased to notice that they had crossed and recrossed the right way many a time.

All the way out Luke Standish used his chalk unsparingly, making signs upon the roof and sides every score of yards. Old Ike and the other men laughed when they saw him doing this, for they imagined that he was only taking soon precautions as would enable him to find his way out of the maze in future, whereas in reality he was thinking of returning thither some day.

He had not yet forgotten the blue-shirted, dark-bearded figure, and every fresh chalk-mark he made attested to the depth of the impression the incident had made upon him.

After a long fatiguing walk the pit shaft was reached, and a few minutes after the four miners were standing on the pit bank in the warm autumn sunshine. Kate was busy at her work of number shouting, and she could only flash across to him a look of deep love and thankfulness that amply repaid the miner for all the annoyance of the last few hours.

Just as Luke and the others were about to leave the bank the manager—Mr. Latham—put in an appearance. He, of course, had heard of the great fall in the north level and had been uneasy regarding the missing men, and now expressed his pleasure at seeing them all safe.

Luke had to give him an account of all the events of the preceding night, and by the time this was done the steam whistles were announcing the dinner hour. Mr. Latham was both a feeling man and a generous master. Knowing the four men were greatly exhausted by last night's wanderings he intimated that each of them could take a holiday that evening and that their wages should be paid in full at the week end.

This pleased the miners very much, and each went home happy. The relatives of the missing men had been informed that their breadwinners were in no danger, being merely detained in the pit through an accident, and this information had allayed many fears in the missing miners' homes.

On reaching home Luke found his mother awaiting his coming somewhat anxiously. The miner was almost famished with his long fast, having eaten nothing since midnight, and after a hearty meal he washed himself and went to bed.

The remembrance of the singular incident that had befallen him when he left his comrades for a space to explore the old road had seldom been out of Luke's thoughts since the occurrence, and the affair troubled his mind still when slumber seized his tired brain and wearied limbs.

In his sleep he was again lost in the old galleries of the King Pit, once more he left his workmates to go up the old road to find it closed at the top by a heap of fallen roof. Again he seated himself disgusted ere turning to rejoin his fellows, and once more was he struck sick and dumb with unspeakable horror on feeling that weird-looking, noiseless, blue-shirted, dark-bearded figure pass through him and then slowly disappear amid the fallen roof-heaps.

The dream ended suddenly there—sleep also; and the miner sprang to a sitting posture in bed, his face covered with thick beads of cold sweat, and the horror of it all still upon him.

Then he lay back again on his pillow, and in a few moments was fast asleep again, and this time his heavy slumber was neither broken nor disturbed by any phantom fancies.

When Luke next awoke it was a little after 6 in the evening, so arising, he dressed and went out for a walk. He regretted now that he had not told Kate of the holiday the manager had given him and the others, and made an appointment with her.

It was a fine evening, warm and still, and Luke struck for the fields, on the eastern borders of the town, where one, in half-an-hour's walk, might get beyond the smoke and smell of Ashford.

The big red sun hung low in the west, encompassed by a thin veil of haze which gave promise of a fine sunset, whilst here and there the blue sky was dotted with islands of fleecy white cloud. The shorn wheat stood in thick sheaves in the fields Luke strolled through, and amid the ripe-leaved trees song-birds were piping their vesper roundelays. Now and again he met a pair of lovers loitering about the stiles or sitting under the hedgerows.

But Luke had no eye this evening for the grace and light and life about him. He was immersed in reflection, and his thoughts were of his late dream and the remarkable incident that preceded and doubtless originated it.

Looking back now and calmly regarding the incident which befell him up the old road he was forced to think it also had been a dream. But the features of the man he had seen, his dress and figure, the weird aspect of his face—every detail was indelibly impressed upon Lake's mind as if he had know the man for years and seen him thousands of times.

Thus musing Luke came to a standstill beside a grassy bank, where a big-leaved sycamore threw a broad shadow, and here he sat down. He had scarcely seated himself when an idea flashed through his mind, followed by an instantaneous determination to give an effect to the fancy.

From one of his pockets the young pit-man drew an old pocket-book, out of another he fished a piece of black-lead pencil, and sharpening the latter he proceeded to carry out the idea that had struck him.

Luke had attended the art school held in the town for a couple of sessions, and was able to sketch a little. Going to work earnestly, if slowly and laboriously, he contrived in the space of half-an-hour or so to produce a crude yet singularly striking likeness of the figure he had seen in the old gallery of the King Pit.

When the rude sketch was finished he held it at arm's length and scanned it attentively. There before him were the form, face, and clothes he remembered so well. He had missed nothing. There were the corduroy breeches, patched at the knees; the blue flannel shirt, torn at the elbows; the compact form, and heavily bearded face, with its weird aspect. All were reproduced, rudely, it is true, but sufficiently near the original to satisfy Luke.

Gazing at the lines he had made, the likeness struck him so much that a trace of the old shivering horror seized him, and he hastily replaced the pocket-book in his pocket.

Then he arose from the grassy slope and continued his walk, taking a direction that would lead him by a somewhat circuitous route past Bannister's-row, in one of the cottages of which his sweetheart lived. But the length of the walk was of small import to Luke, as he had not to work until the following evening.

The sun was setting now amid great banks of crimson and amber clouds, and through great rifts in the gorgeous colored vapor the glorious light streamed forth, dyeing everything it touched a deep blood-red hue, and transforming the prosaic landscape to a picture of weird unearthly beauty.

By the time Luke Standish came in sight of Bannister's-row the sunset's glory was over, the western heaven had lost all its splendor of coloring, and to mark where the sun had so lately fallen were only some faint streaks of grey far up toward the zenith, whilst upon the horizon's rim there still burned a dull blackish-red glow.

The The miner had resolved to call upon the Leighs for a few minutes, and as he came to the corner of the little garden patch he lifted the latch of the gate and stepped upon the narrow gravelled walk. Suddenly he paused, his gaze fixed intently upon the lower window of the cottage in which the Leighs lived.

There was a good light inside the room, and as the blind was not pulled down Luke could see everything within the apartment, whilst he remained invisible to those inside. And what he saw shot into his heart a pang of keenest pain and sent the blood in hot passionate surges of jealousy through his brain.

This is what he saw—In the centre of the small room was a square table, and on the father side of this, with their faces to the window, so that Lake could see them both dearly, were Kate Leigh and a dark handsome young fellow. They were standing side by side, so close that their garments touched, and their eyes were fixed upon the open pages of some book or magazine.

From their movements and the play of their lips—for no sound reached Luke—he could tell that they were talking; and Kate seemed to be quite at home with the good-looking and well-dressed gentleman who was standing beside her.

The man was a perfect stranger to Luke, who had not the remotest idea of his business there. But one thing concerning him the miner had already divined. The man was in love with Kate; was a rival of his own; and to judge from present appearances, the stranger was not an opponent to be despised.

These thoughts flashed through his mind in the space of two or three moments; and as he stood there by the gate of the garden, irresolute, whether to turn homeward or toward the cottage door, he witnessed something that added another pang to those he already endured.

Kate was bent low over the open pages, whilst her companion stood upright by her side. One of the girl's long, dark tresses had escaped from its crimping pins, and seizing it, unobserved by Kate, the young fellow toyed with it a moment, lifted it to his lips, and kissed it lovingly.

The next moment Kate turned to her companion, and perceiving her vagrant tress in his hands blushed furiously. Some words were exchanged, but Luke could only guess vaguely at their purport; then he saw his unknown rival, with deft white fingers, re-confine the glossy lock of hair.

He waited to see no more. Turning out of the garden he hurried past the row of cottages, through the fields, over the stile, into the waggon road, and through the colliery yard homeward.

For the first time in his life the young pitman was experiencing the extraordinary pains of jealousy. Hot-blooded as he was by nature, the little scene, of which he had been an unsuspected witness, had aroused within his breast such feelings as he had never dreamed himself capable of harboring.

And when Luke turned his back upon the white cottage all love seemed crushed out of his heart, and his excited brain was filled with bitter unuttered thoughts of Kate Leigh and the unknown man who, he believed, had ousted him from her affections.


Chapter X.—Arthur Willesden's Schemes.

On hearing from Kate Leigh that her mother wanted a lodger, and after bidding the pit-brow girl good morning, Arthur Willesden had at once made his way to the end cottage in Bannister's-row. His knock was answered by Mrs. Leigh herself.

"You are Mrs. Leigh, l suppose?" Willesden queried in his most amiable manner.

"Yes," was the reply.

"I have been informed that you have apartments to let, and if so I shall be much obliged if you will permit me to see them."

Mrs. Leigh intimated that the gentleman had been rightly informed, and that she would be pleased to show him the rooms if he would step inside. Arthur followed her without further ado, for he had already decided to take the apartments, no matter how incommodious and uncomfortable they might be. He had asked to see them merely to give Mrs. Leigh the idea that it was the most ordinary thing for him to take rooms and to see them first. He did not desire her to know that he had already resolved upon taking them.

Leading him first into the small parlor, which was plainly but comfortably furnished, with a pleasant outlook upon the strip of green garden, Mrs. Leigh explained that he was the first person who had come to see her rooms; that it was only during the last week or two that she had decided to let them instead of going out charing, as had been her custom, and hoped that the place might please him.

Arthur expressed himself satisfied with the appearance of the sitting-room, and was then shown to the sleeping apartment. Here again everything was plain but comfortable, the room being sweet and clean, the window draperies and bed linen white as snow.

"I am very well pleased with the rooms, Mrs. Leigh," Arthur remarked as they returned to the parlor, "and if you will permit me I will engage them for three months. If you will let me know your terms I will pay you a month in advance."

Mrs. Leigh named a modest sum per week and immediately received a month's payment. This put him on the best of terms with his landlady, as he quite expected it would, and he at once settled down in the house as a regular inmate.

"My name, Mrs. Leigh, is Willesden—Arthur Willesden—and my business is of a literary nature—you understand, I'm a writer for the newspapers and story journals."

"An author?" Mrs. Leigh asked, deeply interested in her lodger now, for she still read the journals of her youth.

"Yes, an author in a small way, Mrs. Leigh. I have written a short story or two for Bow Bells and the London Journal. I have come to Ashford mainly to learn something of the habits and so forth of the people who work in and about the mines."

"You intend to write about them, perhaps?"

"I must admit that you have guessed my intention, Mrs. Leigh," he exclaimed pleasantly. "But do not, I implore you, spread the intelligence, or I shall have all the miners and pit-brow girls posing when I am near, and I wish to draw them from life—just as they are, you know."

"Certainly Mr. Willesden, I won't tell anybody."

"Thank you. And now, Mrs. Leigh, may I trouble you to get me a little dinner ready? I breakfasted early this morning, and am hungry as a horse—anything you can get ready quickest will do."

In a little while Mrs. Leigh had prepared an appetising meal for her guest, and as she laid it before him he remarked—

"Pardon me, Mrs. Leigh, but I quite forgot to ask you before now about your husband and family. Your husband is a miner, I daresay; and how many of a family may you possess?"

"My husband was a miner," Mrs. Leigh answered, somewhat sadly, "and I have only one child living, a girl of twenty, who lives with me and works at that colliery you can see over there."

"And what is Mr. Leigh now?" Arthur asked as he vigorously attacked his dinner.

There was no reply to the diner's last question, and a moment's silence. Arthur glanced towards his landlady to perceive that she was nervously playing with the corner of her apron and that her eyes were brimful of unshed tears.

"Pardon my blundering curiosity, Mrs. Leigh," Arthur exclaimed contritely as he divined the cause of his hostess's emotion. "I never dreamt that your husband was dead or I would not have pained you with my foolish questions."

He half rose from his seat, evidently distressed by the sight of her suffering, and so touched was she by the sympathy displayed in his words and actions that she blurted out the whole story of her eventful married life.

In a maze of gratification and surprise Arthur Willesden listened to her recital. She spoke of her only brother Richard going to Australia and leaving her in lodgings in George-street, Hulme; of her marriage to Jonathan Leigh and removal to Pendleton; of their migration to Ashford and her husband's disappearance, and of her and her child's subsequent wanderings.

Then Mrs. Leigh hurried away, half ashamed of the outburst of feeling which had prompted her to tell her history to a stranger, and Arthur Willesden was left to reflect upon what he had heard.

It was as he had faintly suspected on hearing the handsome pit-girl mention her mother's name. Mrs. Leigh was Margaret Hampton, in search of whom he had come to Ashford. There could be no doubt of it, for the woman's story, to which he had just listened, corresponded in every way with Richard Hampton's letter and the particulars he had himself gleaned.

His quest had ended much more quickly than ever he had hoped it would. How delighted his uncle would be on learning that his nephew had already discovered the sister of his old friend, and how much more delighted still would Mrs. Leigh and her bonnie daughter be to hear that the relative they believed dead was living still, wealthy and unmarried, and eager to make their acquaintance.

These and other thoughts flitted through Arthur Willesden's mind as, his dinner disposed of and comfortably seated in the easiest chair beside the old-fashioned lattice, he smoked a cigar, and watching the grey smoke wreaths, gave rein to his imagination.

Suddenly, from one of the vagrant fancies created by the curling smoke, there came an idea clear and tangible—a scheme that immediately commended itself to the young worldling.

It was a daring plan, that would require all his cunning and patience to bring it to a consummation, but he was prepared to use any artifice, and wait any reasonable period, so that he was successful in the end.

The nature of Arthur Willesden's plans in regard to Kate Leigh had completely changed with the last hour or two. At first his intention had been of the most disgraceful kind. He had intended to entice the handsome lass into an amour with him by any kind of means, and when he had effected his base purpose and tired of her to cast her away—just as he had done others—and go his way, if not rejoicingly, quite unconcerned.

And now instead of making her his mistress he had resolved to marry her.

This great change was due not to any twinges of conscience, nor to any pure affection for the pit-brow girl that had suddenly grown up in Arthur Willesden's breast, but to the most mercenary motives.

The wealthy Australian, Richard Hampton, was an old man, a bachelor, and, according to his own statement, never meant to marry. The pit-brow girl and her mother were his only relatives, and in the natural order of things his fortune would one day come into the possession of his niece.

The likelihood of this contingency becoming a fact had induced Arthur to determine upon marrying the girl whom he had just previously resolved to dishonor, and his altered purpose filled his breast with a virtuous glow.

He did not anticipate much trouble in the path he purposed following. His first and paramount duty would be that of holding his tongue. His uncle must not know yet awhile that he had found Margaret Hampton; and, on the other hand, he must refrain from telling Mrs. Leigh and her daughter of their rich relative's existence until it suited his schemes to do so.

The task of wooing Kate Leigh would be rather a pleasant one, he thought. There might be a rival or two in the field, but the work of ousting them would be quite easy. What rude, hard-fisted pit-man or white-faced factory operative would be able to stand against one of his attainments, personal attractions, and social position?

How well he would be able to play the role he had marked out for himself; a new edition of the Prince and Cophetua. At the right time and in the proper place he would drop a neat little love story into pretty Katie's ears; how he had fallen in love with her at first sight, and instantly resolved that no false notions of social barriers should keep him from her; how he was prepared to sacrifice everything for her and love's sake—the esteem of his relatives and the fellowship of his friends, who would assuredly cut him for daring to marry a pit-brow girl.

There with the smoke curling about him Arthur Willesden enacted it all beforehand, with a serene consciousness that the odds were all on his side.


Chapter XI.—Undercurrents at Work.

When Kate Leigh returned home on the evening of the day on which she was twice accosted by the handsome stranger she was not very much surprised to find him comfortably domiciled in the cottage parlor having tea in company with her mother, who had been pressed to join in the lodger's afternoon meal.

But Kate was agreeably astonished when her mother informed her that Mr. Willesden was an author, who had come to Ashford especially to study the habits and life of pit-folk, with a view to putting the knowledge gleaned into a novel he was writing.

The pit-brow girl had never dreamed that it would be her lot to see a real live author, much less have one dwell beneath the same roof as herself, and her mother's half-whispered intimation of the lodger's vocation threw a halo around him at once so far as parent and daughter were concerned.

And Arthur Willesden came very near Kate Leigh's ideal author. He was young, yet accomplished, handsome and courtly, evidently a gentleman in everything; and his manner had that happy mixture of deference and high-toned familiarity which does so much to set people at their ease.

Kate could not help feeling interested in her mother's boarder, and perceiving this Arthur assured himself that he would soon contrive to change her interest into a warmer feeling.

In the evening, after tea when Kate had changed her habiliments and removed all traces of labor, she went into the little garden to tend her ferns and flowers. Her lover was going to work that night, so that she would have the rest of the evening to herself.

After watering the plants the girl went into the cottage, and fetching her weekly journal, returned to the garden to read. The cottage gardens were each divided by a tall hedge of hawthorn, and under the hedgerow which separated the Leigh's garden from the next, there was a rustic seat, somewhat dilapidated, but still a comfortable lounging-place when the afternoon sun was unduly hot.

Here Kate seated herself and began to read, and the interest in the love romance she perused soon made her forget the existence of the handsome boarder, who was at that very moment intently regarding her through the old diamond-paned window.

Presently Arthur Willesden strolled into the garden smoking. But he made no attempt to interrupt the girl's reading. Going to the garden gate he leant upon it a while, gazing now along the high road and then towards the hedgerow beneath which Kate was seated.

Then he lounged back again, taking the narrow path along the hawthorns, and ever and anon he bent low examining the numerous ferns that flourished in the shelter of the hedge. Glancing up Kate saw him inspecting her ferns rather critically, and when he came beside her she queried—

"Do you like ferns, Mr. Willesden?"

"Very much, Miss Leigh," he replied. "You've got a few fine ones here, I see. I suppose the situation must suit them. I am glad to see that you have the good taste to cultivate them."

The girl said something about loving the graceful plants and having collected them herself, and then he asked her what she was reading. She told him, and then they fell to discussing what they had read.

There was room on the seat beside her, but he made no attempt to seat himself. He leant against the end of the rude affair, chatting to her in his lightest and brightest vein, and interesting her with his chatter, for he could be entertaining when it pleased him to exert himself.

It was twilight now, and presently when she arose to pass inside he did not strive to induce her to stay. So they went into the cottage together. He was resolved that no hastiness of his should frighten away the pretty fish he had made up his mind to catch, and having made a favorable impression he knew it was wise to let the matter end there as yet.

The following morning was that on which Luke Standish and his three comrades were lost in the old workings, and it was at breakfast that Willesden first learned of the existence of a rival. The pit-brow girl seemed very much upset when she came home to breakfast, and noticing this Arthur asked Mrs. Leigh what had happened to disturb her daughter.

Then he was informed that four of the night shift miners working at the King Pit were missing, and that one of them named Luke Standish had been keeping company with Kate for a few weeks. An unuttered wish formed itself in Arthur Willesden's mind that one at least of the missing men might remain underground; but in this he was disappointed, for at dinner time Kate was more cheerful than he had seen her, and she brought with her tidings of the finding of her lover and the others.

Then it dawned upon the young schemer that his work of winning Kate Leigh would not prove so easy of accomplishment as he had thought it would. She was evidently in love with this Luke Standish, or his being missing for a few hours would not have caused her so much distress.

He must see this rival of his as soon as possible, and then he would know what kind of man he had to contend with. But there was no necessity to go looking for Luke Standish, for doubtless that young gentlemen would put in an appearance at the cottage ere long.

When evening came Kate Leigh spent her leisure in much the same way as on the previous night. After replacing her working garments by attire more befitting her beauty and sex, she repaired to the garden, watered her ferns and flowers, and this work of love ended she betook herself to the old rustic seat to finish the story left unconcluded the night before.

Kate did not know that her lover was having a holiday that evening, nor did she dream that at that very moment Luke was rambling alone through the fields a mile or so behind Bannister's-Row. Had she suspected the fact it is very probable that she would at once have donned her bonnet and shawl and gone to meet him, and then the trifling incident which happened in the parlor a little later, and which gave rise to such jealous pangs in the miner's breast, would never have been enacted.

But the girl knew nothing of Luke's whereabouts. When she did think of him it was to imagine that he was preparing to go to work, and that he must be tired owing to the great length of his previous shift.

She remained there reading until the thickening twilight rendered the words on the pages before her quite indistinct. Then she arose, glanced towards the west, where the last glimpses of day were fast dying, and walked slowly towards the cottage. As she neared the threshold she cast a casual look through the lattice and saw Mr. Willesden standing at the table beside the lighted lamp, an open magazine before him.

Then she passed inside, and was going down the corridor past the parlor door into the kitchen when she heard the voice of the boarder calling her. He had seen her come out of the garden maybe, or had recognised her footfall.

"Miss Leigh," he said, speaking quickly, "will you step inside a moment?"

The parlor door stood ajar; she pushed it open and entered, to find him still bent over the open pages of the work before him. He half turned as she came in, saying in a lively interested way—

"I was never more pleasantly surprised, Miss Leigh, than when in turning over the pages of this magazine I dropped quite unexpectedly upon that engraving. You will understand how surprised I was."

She was beside the table now and understood it all immediately. The work upon the table was the old copy of "Cassell's Family Magazine," and it lay open at "The Carol Singers."

"I never knew of a more singular coincidence," Arthur continued. "You never sat to Haynes Williams, I suppose?"

"Oh, no," she said smilingly.

"Then I can't account for it at all. There may be another face"—he paused as if to select a word—"exactly like yours, but I doubt it."

"Then you believe it resembles me?" she asked, pleased somehow by the little incident.

"The resemblance is simply marvellous," he cried very earnestly. "It is your very self. Here are your hair, eyes, mouth, nose—the very expression even."

Kate remembered that her lover had once said the same thing in similar words; she blushed a little at the recollection, and bent over the engraving to hide her confusion. Then it was that a long tress of her dark hair broke loose, and the man at her side took it tenderly in his fingers, totally unconscious that his slightest act and lightest look were being keenly, painfully watched by Luke Standish at the window.

Then the girl lifted her eyes from the engraving and caught Willesden toying with her hair.

"What splendid hair you have, Miss Leigh. May I fasten this up again?"

She could not well refuse, his manner was so respectful and deferential, so she allowed him to refasten the rebellious lock. There is a touch of coquetry in most women, and Kate was neither better nor worse in this respect than the majority of her sex.

She had no idea of doing anything, however trifling, to direct Arthur Willesden's compliments and attention towards herself, still she had no intention of running away like a blushing schoolgirl of sixteen from his pleasant unmeaning chatter. She was rather pleased at the interest he manifested in her, for he was a type of the genus young man of which she had hitherto seen but little.

Pit lads she knew, and mill lads she knew, but young gentlemen were scarce in her circle of acquaintance; and Willesden was such a good specimen of his class—so handsome, clever, and amiable—that Kate was quite excusable in permitting herself to regard him as a friend.

"Was it Milton," said Arthur, his white fingers entangled amid the girl's shining tresses, "who said—


A woman's beauty is her hair?"


The young fellow thought his quotation clever, for it not only supported the literary character he had given himself, but was decidedly apt. The girl had to admit that she did not know who was the author of the citation, and Willesden added—

"With all due deference to the opinion of the great poet of the Commonwealth, I beg to differ from it, Miss Leigh. A head of fine hair is all very well in its way, but I fancy it can hardly be compared with either a splendid figure or a sweet face—such as, for instance, the elder of the carol-singers there."

The delicate compliment to herself conveyed so skilfully in the latter part of his speech caused Kate to ripple fourth a low, pleasant laugh. Her hair was tied up again now, and as she turned towards the door she said—

"But tastes differ, you know, Mr. Willesden."

"Just so," he answered quickly. "But no matter how much they change, you are safe, as you luckily possess all the three attributes of beauty—fine hair, a splendid figure, and sweet——oh! my flattery is frightening you away, eh?"

Kate flashed back a look of mock affright upon him, and then slid away to the kitchen, where her mother was beginning to get supper ready.

A couple of mornings later Kate was standing on the pit brow beside the weighing machine, when the night shift miners came up the pit, and amongst them was her lover. She saw Luke glance hastily in her direction, and she prepared to flash back a smile in answer to the one she expected to see him assume. But his gaze was quickly averted; their eyes met for only the briefest space, and she watched him turn on his heels abruptly, a dark, malignant scowl disfiguring his countenance.

The smile on Kate's face froze there; she shrank within herself as if she had received a heavy blow. What was the matter with Luke to behave so rudely? What had she done to deserve such treatment?

Then the reactionary emotion set in. A wave of indignation swept through her, and had Luke Standish seen her at that moment he would have perceived that it would be dangerous to play hot and cold with a woman of her temperament.

It still wanted a few minutes to six o'clock a.m., and work on the brow had not yet commenced. The brow lassies stood in knots of three or four about the bank, and towards one of these groups Kate saw Luke make his way and stop chatting with them.

One of the four noisy wenches to whom Luke was talking was a sturdily-built girl of eighteen, strong as a man, and very handsome—in a dark, masculine way, that had abundant admirers among the young pitmen of the King Pit.

The girl was called Moll Sheargold. She was rather coarse, decidedly fast, and her reputation was of the most shady nature. She had worked on the brow of the King Pit for several years; was there when Luke Standish first came to the place, and had then taken a strong fancy to him.

But handsome, gypsyish Moll was not at all to Luke's taste; and it was quite in vain that she had set her cap at him. Yet her liking had outlived his indifference to her charms and favor, and she liked him still, although she had not denied herself several lovers in the interval.

Luke stood there for a while chatting with the boisterous, deep-lunged girls and laughing loudly himself now and again at some remark. But the poor fellow was in no merry humor. He had done the whole thing to punish Kate for flirting with the stranger, in his blind jealousy quite forgetting that she knew nothing either of his pains or their cause.

Then the shrill steam whistles or "buzzers" announced from every quarter of Ashford that the hour of six a.m. had arrived. The girls hurried away to their various vocations, and Luke strode from the brow without so much as a glance towards the checkweigh-cabin, against which Kate was still standing.

When the girl went home to breakfast that morning her mother could see that she was disturbed about something, but she refrained from questioning her then. But in the evening Kate's trouble was more apparent than in the morning. She was unusually moody during tea, and once Mrs. Leigh saw her eyes full of tears.

"What's the matter, Kate?" said the mother. "Something has upset you, I can see."

"Nothing," the girl answered, swallowing something that was rising in her throat.

"But there is, I know," Mrs. Leigh persisted. "Tell me what it is."

Kate was silent, viciously stirring her tea, and the elder woman continued—

"Has it something to do with Luke?"

"It has!" And then the girl's tears broke over their dams, and she wept quietly, sullenly.

"You've been quarrelling, I suppose?"

"No!"

"What is it, then?"

At last Kate reluctantly told her mother the cause of her distress—of Luke's behavior on coming up the pit that morning, the scowl he gave her, and his chatting with Moll Sheargold, whom he had arranged to meet that evening, so one of the girls had told her. Everyone knew of her engagement to Luke, and his goings on had set everybody gossiping. This was the substance of Kate's explanation.

"Have you any idea as to why he is carrying on like this?" Mrs. Leigh asked.

"None whatever," Kate replied.

"Have you given any reason for it?"

"None at all."

"Then take no more notice of him," the mother commanded severely. "Before you speak to him again make him apologise for his conduct as well as explain it," Mrs. Leigh added. "I don't see why you need cry about Luke Standish. There's plenty of young fellows in Ashford who would be glad enough to slip into his shoes. He's no big catch anyhow."

Mrs. Leigh was really angry with Luke on her daughter's behalf. She had scarcely approved of their engagement, though she had said nothing against it, for she believed that Kate might easily have made a much better match.

Unsuspected by either mother or daughter, their conversation had been overheard almost from beginning to end. Arthur Willesden was seated in the little front place smoking when he heard Mrs. Leigh questioning Kate as to what was the matter with her. The parlor door was ajar, as was that leading into the kitchen, and by merely sitting still and straining his auditive faculties he managed to catch most of what was said.

Willesden was exceedingly pleased to discover that an estrangement had taken place between the pit-brow girl and her lover without any interference of his, but he would certainly do what he could to widen the gulf they themselves had made.

But how to do this?

A little reflection suggested a method, and resolving to put it into effect he called for his landlady, and when she entered the parlor thus addressed her—

"What sort of a theatre have you in Ashford, Mrs. Leigh? I was thinking of going there this evening."

"It's only a small affair compared with the places in Manchester, but it's right enough for Ashford. Kate and I go there sometimes."

"Then may I ask, as a special favor, that you and Miss Leigh will accompany me there to-night? What is the play to-night?"

"I forget, but you'll find it advertised in the Chronicle. I'll fetch you the paper and then speak to Kate about it."

On turning to the first page of the local newspaper Willesden found that the play announced for that night—Friday—was the "Lady of Lyons." The play was no favorite of his, and the cast was only of third or fourth rate order, but neither of these things mattered much, for it was not love of the histrionic art that was prompting him to go to the Theatre Royal that evening.

Meanwhile Mrs. Leigh had returned to the kitchen, where her daughter, having finished her tea, was preparing to remove the evidences of her vocation.

"What do you say, Kate, about going to the theatre tonight? Mr. Willesden is going, and he wishes us both to go with him, if you are agreeable."

"If you would like to go, mother, I am willing."

"All right then, dear. I'll tell him we are going."

Kate was much more pleased to accept Arthur's proposal than her words implied. Highly incensed with her lover for his rude and unaccountable conduct, she had been striving to devise some method which would enable her to pay Luke back in his own coin when her mother told her that their handsome boarder desired to take them to the theatre.

It was just the thing Kate could have wished to happen. She would show Luke that she also could have more strings to her bow than one if it so pleased her; and further, he should see that whilst he had fallen to the level of a demirep in his flirtation, she had lifted herself far over his head in hers.

The girl knew quite well—a fact that Arthur Willesden was also cognisant of—that the presence of herself and her mother at the theatre, in company with a gentleman who was young, handsome, well-dressed, and generally unknown would set the gossips' tongues awagging, and their chatter would not be long in getting to Luke Standish's ears.

This was the principal thought of both Kate Leigh and Arthur Willesden on their way to the theatre. She wanted the matter to get to Luke, feeling that it would teach him a much-needed lesson and bring him to her side humble and penitent; he desired the affair to reach the young miner, naturally thinking it would widen the little breach that already existed between the lovers.

So the small party of three wended their way in the fair autumn sunset through Ashford's busy streets, and their progress was noticed by several persons who knew the mother and daughter. Mrs. Leigh and Kate had donned their best attire for the occasion, and the pit-brow girl appeared really beautiful and ladylike in her tasteful dark grey dress and black velvet hat.

In due time the little theatre was reached; Willesden obtained tickets for the centre boxes, despite the mild expostulations of his companions, who would have preferred the greater and cheaper privacy of the pit, and the two settled themselves in their places and waited for the curtain to rise on Lord Lytton's romantic play.

Even before the play began the Leighs and their attendant cavalier attracted notice from various parts of the house. Up in the threepenny gallery, among the gods, were two miners from the King Pit who exchanged views anent the party from Bannister's-row.

"Sithee Dick!" one cried in a loud whisper to the other, "who's sittin' 'int' boxes. Kit Leigh, her muther, an' o swell!"

"Ay, it is, Jack," his mate responded. "Ah wonder who he is?"

"Dunno; bur he's a nahce chap, annyheaw, an' hoo's o bonny wench, too. Ah dersay 'e's sweet on 'er, an' is tryin' to shove Luke Standish off t'road."

"It looks as if Luke's chance weren't wuth mich, eh, Jack?"

"Jus' wor ah wur thinkin'," and the miners chuckled in unison at the probable discomfiture of their pitmate.

Below in the pit two more critics of the opposite sex were discussing the appearance of the Leighs in such an unusual place as the boxes, and the probable relationship existing between themselves and their gentlemanly companion. These two were Moll Sheargold and another girl from the King Pit, and being seated beside the stage, at one corner, they could perceive the occupants of the boxes quite plainly.

"What'll Luke think o' this?" Moll Sheargold exclaimed to her companion. "He'll get t' know, fur ah'll tell him missel int' mornin'."

There was a ring of triumph in the girl's voice, and her black eyes gleamed vindictively as she watched the slightest movement of Arthur Willesden and his friends.

"Dost know who 'e is, Moll?" the other girl asked, as she eyed Kate Leigh's companion admiringly.

"Ah don't, Peg. He doesn't belong to Ashford, ah con see. Ah'll tell thee wot," Moll cried suddenly as an inspiration flashed upon her, "ah'll bet e's that theer lodger we heerd on 'em havin'."

"Lahkely enuff—oh, it's stertin', Moll!"

The ringing of the prompter's bell and the rolling up of the drop-scene diverted the girls' attention to the stage, and for a time at least Kate Leigh and her unknown friend were left in peace.

Meanwhile the news had already reached Luke Standish that his sweetheart, in company with her mother and some young gentleman, had gone to the Theatre Royal together. It was one of the night shift miners who brought the intelligence, and from the pitman's description of the young fellow accompanying the Leighs Luke was able to identify him as the same man he had seen with Kate in the cottage parlor.

Owing to the little incident he had silently witnessed, Luke Standish made certain enquiries, and discovered that the Leighs had a gentleman border, who, it is confidently whispered, was a writer of stories and such things, and besides very rich.

This information had not decreased the pitman's intense annoyance concerning Kate's behaviour to a comparative stranger. To permit such familiarities as those he was witness to was both unfair to himself and wholly unlike Kate. He supposed she allowed him liberties because he was young, good looking, and well-to-do.

That night was a time of troublous thoughts and feverish unrest to Luke. The scene in the cottage parlor would persist in rising before his mental sight, and this was supplemented by a vision of Kate sitting side by side with his rival in sight of all the Ashford playgoers, who would never have done gossiping about it.

By the time morning came round the poor fellow had worked himself into a desperate mood, and had quite made up his mind never to speak to Kate Leigh again. No doubt she thought she had him safely tied to her apron-string and could fetch him back when she was so humored, but he would show her that he was no girl's puppet to dance according to the way she pulled the strings.

When the night's work was done and Luke ascended the shaft he never even glanced towards the place where he felt Kate would be standing, but, alighting from the cage, made across the brow in the direction of the lamp place. His steps, however, were arrested by the voice of Moll Sheargold, who shouted—

"Heeur, Luke, ah wahnt t' speyk to thee."

Moll Sheargold and Peg Marsden were seated on a heap of pit timber a few yards away, and going to them Luke dropped upon the "props" and asked what he was wanted for. Then both the girls' tongues were let loose at once, and between them they managed to tell him of what they had seen the previous night at the theatre.

They dilated on the good looks and splendid attire of Kate's unknown companion, the great attention he paid her, and the pleased manner in which his overtures were received; and finally, how they all went home together in a cab after the play was over, as it happened to be raining heavily.

Luke had sufficient command of himself to repress all evidence of the suffering caused him by the pit girls' garrulously spiteful chatter. He laughed in the most indifferent way, averred that what Kate Leigh did was no concern of his, as all was over between them, and all the time he was eating out his very heart in such pains as only young and foolish lovers can feel.

Then the morning whistles stayed the conversation and the miner hied him homeward, scarce knowing what to think of his sweetheart. He was sharp-witted enough to understand that Moll Sheargold would wilfully exaggerate anything that would tell against Kate Leigh; still it was indisputable that she had been to the theatre with Willesden, and over and above that fact there was the episode of the parlor.

On Saturday afternoon Arthur Willesden decided to run over to Manchester on a flying visit to his uncle. He had now been at Ashford for nearly a week, and during that period had sent no word to his relative of either his whereabouts or his doings concerning his search for Margaret Hampton.

Arthur was afraid that if he did not go to his uncle and make up some fabulous story of his unresting attempts to unearth the rich Australian's sister he might employ the private enquiry officer of whom he had spoken, and then Mrs. Leigh and Kate would soon know of their altered prospects.

This was just what Willesden wished to prevent. It would be easier, he knew, to win Kate Leigh while she remained a pit-brow girl than it would be afterwards as the probable heiress of a wealthy relative. His object, therefore, in going to his uncle was to obtain two or three weeks' time, ostensibly to seek that which he had already found.

On Saturday afternoon also Luke Standish remembered that he had arranged to meet Kate that evening, and when the recollection of their appointment first came to him he resolved not to keep it.

But as the hours wore on towards the time appointed a change came over him. At first he began to wonder if Kate would go to the trysting-place to meet him, and, as a consequence of pondering over this thought, he finally resolved to go and see. Of course, he told himself, he would not let her see that he was there, nor permit himself to speak to her. He would hide himself somewhere near; watch how long she would await his coming, and then let her go away without seeing him.

Thus would he punish her for coquetting with Mr. Arthur Willesden.

In the meantime Kate Leigh was also pondering the problem of the appointment. All the afternoon she had been weighing the arguments for and against keeping her tryst, and ultimately, like Luke, she decided to be there. But, unlike her lover, she resolved to go there openly as usual, and in plain, straightforward fashion demand from Luke both apology and explanation.

The meeting place was a stile in the fields half a mile or so from Bannister's-row; the time appointed 7 o'clock; and a few minutes before the hour named Kate left the cottage and strolled slowly towards the trysting spot.


Chapter XII.—Reconciled.

When Kate Leigh arrived at the trysting place it was about five minutes after the appointed time, but her lover was not there to meet her. He could hardly have come and gone away again, she thought, so early, and being a reasonable girl she resolved to wait some little while for his coming.

It was a beautiful evening, and being Saturday the skies about Ashford were much clearer than usual, owing to the fact that the army of foundry, colliery, and factory chimneys were enjoying their hebdomadal rest. Only the huge chimney at the ironworks on the other side of the town was displaying its customary banner of thick black smoke, for, unlike its fellows, it seldom rested the whole year through.

Kate strolled quietly past the stile and alongside the tall, thick hedgerow adjoining it. She had fallen into a day-dream and, being busy amidst her fancies, she did not notice the minutes that slipped away one by one until nearly a quarter of an hour had elapsed since her arrival.

Then she suddenly remembered why she was there, and her pretty white teeth closed angrily, doggedly, and her face assumed an expression of intense annoyance as she realised that her coming thither and subsequent waiting for Luke promised to be fruitless.

She resolved to wait not another moment, and, turning, retraced her steps towards the stile, where she suddenly came face to face with her lover. Luke appeared rather flurried and shame-faced. He had been there before Kate put in an appearance seated behind the hedge, where she never dreamt of looking; and his resolution to watch her come, wait, and go away again without speaking to her had slowly melted away when he recollected that if he did not seize his chance then to have the whole affair out with Kate it might be a week, even longer, before another opportunity presented itself.

There was just the slightest space of silence between them, then the girl spoke and in a tone more resolute and sullen than ever he had known her adopt before.

"So you've come at last?" she said.

"Yes; how long have you been here?"

"Too long—much too long," she responded quickly. "Longer, I think, than ever I shall wait for you again."

"I didn't expect you to come at all," he said meaningly.

"Why not?"

"You ought to know why."

"Oh, I see now. You think your carryings on with Moll Sheargold would have justified me in breaking my promise to meet you?"

He looked at her angrily, surprised at her question.

"No!" he cried bitterly. "I thought you would have been ashamed to meet me."

"Ashamed! Of what? Do you know what you are saying, Luke Standish?"

The girl's pride and anger were now fully aroused. Her slender form was rigid as a statue's as she stood there before him with flashing, star-like eyes, and quivering, dilated nostrils.

"I saw you that night with Willesden," he burst out, almost quailing before her scornful glance.

"At the theatre?"

"No, not then. I could have pardoned that, but not the other."

"I don't know what you mean."

"I mean that night in the parlor when you and your fine lodger were looking at some books together, and when he tied up your hair. It was very pretty. I saw it all through the window."

There was a visible change in Luke's color as he spoke, a perceptible tremor in his voice as he recalled the scene which had caused him such heart-pangs, and small beads of cold sweat stood upon his brow.

"It was on Thursday night," she said in a changed way.

"It was," he replied, noticing the change.

"And was it through that that you went to Moll Sheargold on Friday morning, and made an appointment to meet her the same night?"

Some inkling of the truth regarding the origin of the misunderstanding which had arisen between them flashed upon Kate when Luke mentioned the parlor episode, and perceiving that her lover's conduct had been based upon a misapprehension of her own, she determined to have the whole affair bottomed on both sides.

"Yes," Luke answered. "It was what I saw on Thursday night that made me go to Moll Sheargold on Friday morning. I asked her to meet me for the same reason, but I did not keep my appointment. I was working on Friday night."

"What took place in the parlor between myself and Mr. Willesden was the merest accident. He chanced to see the engraving in the magazine you lent me, and noticing the resemblance called me in to mention it."

"But I saw him tying up your hair, Kate," he cried grudgingly.

"He asked to do so, Luke, and I couldn't well refuse. He's a nice civil gentleman, but nothing whatever to me," she rejoined earnestly.

"Still you went to the theatre with him."

"Because I had heard that you had promised to meet Moll Sheargold."

"And you don't care for this Willesden, Kate?" he asked tenderly, venturing to seize her hands.

"Not at all, Luke," she answered softly, though she looked him frankly in the face and permitted him to retain her brown hands in his big hard palms.

"If you had to choose between us, Kate," he persisted, "which would it be? Willesden, with his good looks, social position, and means, or myself and poverty?"

"You, Luke, you!" she said brokenly, her eyes full of tears.

"God bless you, darling!" the miner cried, fervently clasping her slender form to his breast. "What a fool I was to doubt you!"

Happy once more, with every fog of suspicion and distrust dispelled by the sun-glow of mutual love, they kissed each other, spoke of forgetting the past, and pledged themselves to be more reasonable and less suspicions of each other in the future.

Then they sauntered away from the stile, through the fields, towards the westering sun, whose nether rim touched the horizon; and low down in the southern heavens the pale disc of a spectral-looking moon was plainly visible. Luke had plenty of news to tell Kate; some of it he thought would be welcome as it spoke of his own progress.

"The night fireman at the King Pit, Sam Grimshay, is leaving on Tuesday next, and Ben Chadwick, the underlooker, has offered me the place."

"You will accept his offer of course?"

"I don't know yet. It will be all in the night," he added regretfully, thinking that such beatific evenings as that he was then enjoying would only come in his way very seldom.

"But the pay is better and the work more easy," Kate said, with all the future wife's prudence and forethought.

"Yes, but I don't relish the thought of working regularly in the night. It might prove a step toward something better, certainly," he said doubtfully.

"And you might get out of the night shift in a while," she added.

"Then I'll take the place, Kate, as you seem to think I ought." Then he continued, "Were you frightened when you heard that we were lost?"

"Very much," she answered, and a dreamy look came into her eyes as she remembered the torture of suspense she had endured that morning, when she first heard that Luke and the others were missing, until they made their appearance at midday.

Then Luke recounted the story of their wanderings among the old workings, and to Kate he also narrated that of which he had not previously spoken to any living soul—his singular vision or dream on leaving his companions and ascending the old road.

"But it must have been a dream, Luke," Kate said, laughing at her lover's solemn face.

"I don't know what it was," he answered dreamily, "but no dream ever impressed me so much before. Do you know that by merely closing my eyes I can call up the image of the man just as he first appeared to me? Why I have even sketched a rough likeness of him."

"Where is the sketch?" Kate demanded, half inclined to disbelieve his statement.

"I believe I have it on me," Luke answered, fumbling in his pocket, and finding the book containing the sketch, which he had touched up with crayon, he handed it to his sweetheart.

The girl took the open pocket-book in her hands with a pleasant smile upon her face. Luke saw her eyes fix themselves on the strange dark-bearded countenance his pencil had limned, and then a sudden, awful look came into them—a strong inexplicable stare that alarmed him.

"What is the matter, Kate?" he asked sharply.

"Have you been jesting with me?" she asked in a low, breathless way. "Did you only do it to tease or frighten me?"

"Do what?" he demanded, not apprehending her meaning.

"Draw this sketch."

"Not I. What an Idea! How should I know that I would frighten you? I tell you," he cried solemnly, for she was still regarding the sketch intently, "that it is an exact likeness of the man I saw down the King Pit."

"It is strange, very strange!" she murmured. "I cannot understand it at all."

"Nor I," he responded, "but it is nevertheless true!" Then he added, "Why were you frightened by this man's face?"

"Because," she replied in a faint tremulous whisper, "it is a likeness of my father!"

"A likeness of your father!" he echoed in great amazement.

"Yes; a likeness of him as he appeared about seventeen years ago."

"Impossible?" Luke cried. "It may be a bit—even a lot like him, but it cannot be his portrait. You must be mistaken, Kate."

"I tell you," she exclaimed, with tragic solemnity, "it is a portrait of my father and no one else. Every detail is faithfully reproduced—features, beard, cap, shirt, everything. I can scarcely believe yet that you have drawn it from your memory, as you say."

"As true as there is a God above us, Kate," he cried, with a vehemence deep and earnest as her own. "I saw the original of this sketch whilst lost last Thursday in the mine."

This asseveration of Luke's seemed to have allayed all Kate's doubts as to the source of the little drawing she still retained in her hand, and for some moments they walked on in silence amid the falling twilight. Then he suddenly asked—

"How is it, Kate, that you remember your father's appearance so well? When he went away you were only a child of three years, you know."

"Because, Luke, there is a portrait of him at home which was taken only a few days before he disappeared."

"A photograph, I suppose?"

"Yes, and according to my mother this is how it came to be taken. It appears that some wandering photographer came to Ashford and took several views of the town. Among them was one of the Red Lion, in King street, and one of the loungers standing beside the Inn door was my father, who managed somehow to get a copy of the photograph."

"Have you the picture still?"

"Yes, it is at home."

"I should like to see it very much," Luke remarked thoughtfully.

"You can see it tonight if you want to," Kate replied, "and then you can compare your sketch with the likeness in the photograph."

"Just what I was thinking. Suppose we return then, Kate?"

She readily assented to his suggestion, and they directed their footsteps towards Bannister's-row, each of them busy with the thoughts engendered by the identification by Kate of the man Luke had sketched.

"I see now," the miner said presently, "why you doubted my statement regarding the sketch. You thought I had seen your father's likeness and reproduced it."

"Yes, Luke, and I wish it had been so," she replied somewhat sadly.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because then the mystery which surrounds the matter now would not have existed. It passes my comprehension entirely."

"And mine also," he murmured wonderingly.

"Have you ever been much out of Ashford, Luke?" she asked more vivaciously.

"No, only occasionally, Kate—on a trip or something of that sort."

"I was thinking you had perhaps seen my father somewhere, and forgotten his face again until you dreamed of it—it must have been a dream, Luke—when you were lost in the mine."

"I can't believe it was a dream," he protested, "and I am quite confident that I never met any man whose face resembles this," indicating the sketch which she had handed him back.

"Then how do you account for it?"

"I cannot account for it. I have tried to do so, but failed. I'm utterly puzzled, and that's the top and bottom about it."

They were now approaching Bannister's Row, and as they reached the garden gate Kate said—

"I think, Luke, we had better say nothing yet to my mother about this matter, it would only upset her without in any way satisfying her desire to know something more of my father's disappearance."

He concurred in her proposal, and they went into the cottage together, Luke's unexpected appearance causing Mrs. Leigh a little surprise and considerable annoyance, for she had begun to fancy that all was over with the miner and her daughter, and that Willesden would have the field to himself. The astute woman had already divined the nature of her boarder's feelings towards Kate.


Chapter XIII.—The Tobacco Box.

Taking her lover into the little parlor which his rival now rented, Kate lit the lamp, closed the door, and then took down from over the fireplace a framed, cabinet-sized photographic view. Luke had been in the room several times before, but had not bestowed any particular attention on the small picture Kate now placed on the table close beside the lamp.

The view presented one of those quaint old taverns so dear to the artists of both brush and pen, and which the modern Goths, the brewers, sweep away to erect in their stead ugly pyramids of brick. The Red Lion was a low, rambling, framework house, with thatched roof, diamond-paned windows, and over the principal entrance there swung an old-fashioned signboard, on which was painted in red a representation of the singular animal that gave its name to the place.

Before the front of the Inn several persons were lounging, and among these Luke instantly perceived one whom he identified as Kate's father. There was no necessity to compare the photograph with his rough sketch. The identity of the two was unmistakable, and the portrait upon which he now gazed for the first time brought vividly before him once more the strange, weird face of the man he had encountered whilst lost with his workmates in the mine.

"This is your father, Kate!" he said, laying his finger on the figure in the photograph, and speaking in an undertone so that Mrs. Leigh might not overhear what was said.

"Yes."

"And that is the man I saw down the King Pit!"

"Or fancied you saw."

"How was it," he continued, not heeding her remark, "that your father was taken in his pit clothes?"

"I put the same question to my mother many a year ago, and this is how she explained it. My father and some other miners had "bobd"—struck work—on the morning the picture was taken and gone on the spree, and the artist must have induced them to form part of his photograph. The other men were some of my father's old workmates, and you will have noticed that they also are in their working clothes?"

"Yes. I had noticed that," he answered musingly. Then he asked somewhat abruptly, "Do you know the exact date of your father's disappearance?"

"Quite well, for I have heard my mother mention it hundreds of times. The morning my father went away was the 30th of August, 1861."

"The 30th of August!" he cried, "and this is the 2nd of September! Why, Kate, it was the 30th of August on which I saw your father?"

"Well?"

The tone in which Luke had last spoken caused Kate to regard him curiously. The discovery that Kate's father had disappeared on the same day of the month as that on which he had seen someone who resembled him so much had given rise in Luke's mind to a theory which might ultimately explain the whole affair. But at present he resolved to say nothing to his sweetheart about it.

"Yes," Kate continued as her lover remained silent, "the dates are identical. What do you make of that? Anything?"

"Well," Luke rejoined evasively, "at any rate it is a remarkable coincidence."

"Yes, but unfortunately that does not explain anything."

"It does not," he was forced to admit, being still determined to say nothing of the theory that his fancy had lately originated.

A little later the lovers said goodnight to each other and Luke went thoughtfully homeward, the experience of that night having brought him abundant material for mental exercise. First there was the identification of his sketch by Kate as a portrait of her father, and then the correspondence of the date of Jonathan Leigh's disappearance with that on which Luke had had that singular adventure in the King Pit.

Luke's theory was the result of his having read some time that persons who had met with death in any foul or mysterious manner reappeared to somebody on the anniversary of their fate. The miner ridiculed this idea the moment his mind gave birth to it; but it was not so easy to rid himself of the thought as to jibe at it, and presently, when he had cast about in vain for some explanation of the affair, the theory he had at first laughed at appeared a little more reasonable.

Early in the following week Luke Standish accepted the position vacated by the night fireman, Sam Grimshay, and commenced his official duties. One of his first duties was that of making himself perfectly familiar with those old workings in which he and his three comrades were lost, for, as night-fireman, he would have to travel occasionally through them, and invariably alone.

After a few journeys, in company with old Ike Ellsworth, Luke could find his way unaided through the intricate network of old galleries that had formerly puzzled him so much, and about a week after being lost with his comrades he was once more wending his way towards the place where, either in fact or fancy, he had seen the man whom Kate declared to be her father.

It was half an hour after midnight, and Standish was returning through the air-ways from the far end of the north level. He had already discharged the greater portion of his night's work, having hurried over it as speedily as possible, in order to leave him time to do the work he had set himself—namely, that of revisiting the scene of his singular experience.

In a little while the new fireman was in the heart of a subterrene maze, and guiding himself by means of the chalk marks he had made at intervals upon the roof and sides of the galleries he soon reached the bottom of the inclined road which he had ascended alone, and where his adventure or dream had come to him.

There could be no mistake about the place, for there at the corner was his name in big white characters, and after resting a few moments he began to walk up the old road, his thoughts dwelling upon his former visit, and a strange feeling that was quite distinct from fear pervaded him.

In a few minutes the fall was reached and Luke seated himself in the middle of the road on the very spot he had previously occupied. He remained there several minutes; half-hoping, whilst fearing, that his former experience would be repeated. But neither in fact nor fancy did he again see that dark-bearded blue-shirted figure that had chilled him to the very marrow and momentarily paralysed him.

Then Luke arose to depart, more inclined now to believe that his adventure of a week ago was but a dream. Was it not possible, as Kate had suggested, that during a visit to the cottage of the Leighs he had seen her father's photograph and forgotten it entirely until that morning a week ago?

"What's that?"

Luke had not taken a dozen strides when this ejaculation escaped him, and it was caused by his foot striking some object which emitted a hollow, ringing, metallic sound. Deflecting his lamp so that its light fell on the floor beside him he found, after some moments' searching, a small oval-shaped tobacco box, such as miners commonly use.

At a first glance there appeared to be nothing unusual about it, save that it was made of brass, such boxes being generally constructed of tin.

Its polished surface was but little tarnished, and this led Luke to think that it had been lost only a short time; but later, when he came to reconsider the matter, he attributed its freedom from rust to the great dryness of that part of the mine in which it had been lying.

On turning the box in his hand to examine it more closely he heard something rattle inside, and pressing upon the spring button with his thumb the lid flew back, disclosing about an inch of thick twist tobacco, which was much shrivelled, and hard as a piece of stone almost.

Luke was about to shut the box again when some marks upon the inner side of the lid attracted his attention. Examining the marks he found that they were writing, and a closer scrutiny still revealed something that sent a deep thrill through him. It was a name—the name of a man—It was that of

Jonathan Leigh.

Again and again he examined the letters to make certain that he was neither dreaming nor being misled by his senses. But there the name remained, rudely graven in straggling characters, which were evidently the work of someone unpractised in the art of engraving.

Then he closed the box, placed it carefully away in one of his inner pockets, and filled with a curious feeling he hurried from the spot, wondering what this new link in the chain of mystery could mean.

The next evening, when Kate Leigh had done working, and was going homeward, she found her lover awaiting her coming in the waggon-road beside the stile, and Luke at once made her acquainted with his discovery of that morning.

"It must have belonged to my father," said Kate, as she handled the box almost reverently; "but, of course, I know about it. My mother would very likely be able to recognise it. But how are we to show her this without telling her the rest of the matter?"

"Leave that to me, Kate," Luke rejoined, "and I'll manage it. I am going home with you for that purpose."

A little later Luke was seated in the cottage kitchen; Kate was having her tea, and Mrs. Leigh was knitting, seated in her rocking-chair beside the window. About five minutes ago Arthur Willesden had obtained his first glance at his brawny and not unhandsome rival through the parlor window as Luke and Kate came to the cottage, and the sight of the lovers in company again, with all the traces of their quarrel gone, only caused the worldling to vow afresh that his schemes should soon part them again and for ever.

"Oh, Mrs. Leigh," Luke presently remarked in an offhand way, "I found something the other morning which may interest you. I am fireman now, you know, and occasionally visit the old roads in the King Pit—some of them the very roads your husband used to travel along years ago. It was in one of those roads that I found this box."

He handed the tobacco box to her as he finished, watching her intently the while, as did Kate also. Mrs. Leigh took the box without the least show of interest, regarding it for a moment quite indifferently. Then on a sudden there was a flash in her eyes, and she became tremblingly eager.

With her thumb she pressed upon the spring button as Luke had done, and when the lid flew open she at once fixed her gaze upon the writing on its inner side. The action convinced Luke and Kate more than any words could have done that Mrs. Leigh had seen the box before.

"You know it?" Luke queried.

"Know it!" and her uplifted countenance expressed both knowledge and deep emotion. "It was my husband's. I gave it to him before we were married."

"I suppose he must have dropped it when he used to work at the King Pit."

"I daresay, but I don't recollect hearing him speak about losing it."

Hereupon Luke suggested that Mrs. Leigh should keep the box, as he had no use for it and it clearly belonged to her. She accepted his offer with thanks, and at once went to her bedroom to ruminate over this memento of her youth. When her mother left the kitchen Kate remarked in an undertone—

"And you say that you found the box near the place where you saw my father?"

"Not more than half-a-dozen yards away," he responded.

"There must be some meaning in all this," Kate continued musingly. "Of that I am quite satisfied now, although I cannot yet comprehend what it may be. Perhaps after all my father did not desert my mother."

"Ha!" Luke cried, with a little gasp, as her half-veiled meaning flashed upon him. "I understand. Your father might have got lost in the old workings as I and the others did—and died there."

Her nod convinced him that he had rightly interpreted her thought, and after a moment's pause Kate added—

"I should like to see the place, Luke, where you found the box and saw——" She paused, uncertain what word to use to describe what he had seen.

"It would mean a two miles walk underground."

"Could you manage to take me there sometime unknown to anyone but ourselves?"

"I don't know," he rejoined reflectively. "It might be done, I daresay. I shall have to be down the pit alone sometimes, and perhaps it could be managed then. There will be a little risk for us both, you understand. The manager and under-looker may not like me taking you down the mine without their permission; and your mother would not care about you undertaking such a journey."

"The risk must be run," she replied decisively. "I feel that I ought to go, and I will!"

"Then you shall!" he made answer.


Chapter XIV.—On the Canal Bank.

When Arthur Willesden returned to Ashford after visiting his uncle at Manchester he was annoyed but in no sense dismayed to find that his two days' absence had been long enough to enable the pit-brow girl and her miner lover to forget their quarrel and renew their sweet-hearting.

He became acquainted with all the ins and outs of the matter without the least trouble or questioning. Mrs. Leigh was his informant, of course, for knowing that Willesden was an admirer of Kate's, and secretly inclining to her lodger's suit, she openly expressed the annoyance she felt at her daughter renewing her intimacy with Luke Standish.

Arthur had returned to Bannister's Row on Monday morning, and quickly afterwards had learned all that his landlady could tell him concerning Kate and her lover.

"Miss Leigh is all right, I suppose?" Willesden had remarked after exchanging greetings with his hostess.

"Right enough, and foolish as ever," Mrs. Leigh responded wrathfully. "Will you believe it? She's gone and made it up again with Luke Standish, after his carrying on with that shameless hussy, Moll Sheargold. I've no patience with such work. She must have met him somehow on Saturday night, for they came here together. He ought to have been ashamed to face me, and I showed Mr. Luke pretty plainly what I thought about him!"

"I think you are quite justified, Mrs. Leigh, in being indignant at the man's conduct," Willesden answered. "Still I am pleased to see that you in no way attempt to force your daughter's inclinations. But, as you observed, he ought to be ashamed of himself. It was an insult to both yourself and Miss Leigh for him to even speak to such a girl as that Sheargold appears to be. From what I hear she is one of the very worst characters in the town."

"That she is—and he knew all about it. She is not much better than a street-walker. And knowing this, Luke Standish got Moll Sheargold to meet him, and Kate heard of it, for she told me so herself, and yet after that she make it up again."

"Well, never mind," Willesden said soothingly. "In a short time Miss Leigh will doubtless tire of this Standish when she discovers his real character. Between ourselves, I am much surprised at her keeping company with a mere miner. With her beauty she might have done much better, I think."

"Just what I have said to her all along," Mrs. Leigh murmured mournfully.

"To speak frankly," Arthur cried in his open, winning way. "I, myself—you will pardon my speaking, I know—admire Miss Leigh very much. I may say that I love her, and would gladly make her my wife to-morrow."

"I had guessed as much," Mrs. Leigh cried jubilantly. She was glad to hear that he loved her daughter, and equally pleased to know that she had all along divined her lodger's secret.

"But I must beg of you," Arthur continued, "to keep secret what I have told you. I love and respect Kate—may I call her so for once?—too much to give her the slightest possible trouble or annoyance, and so long as she thinks fit to continue her engagement with Standish so long must my feelings towards her remain unknown—even unsuspected. If I am to win her at all I will win her fairly."

"Of course," she assented, "and it is only what I expected you would do."

Despite this asseveration Mrs. Leigh would have been better pleased had her lodger been a trifle less scrupulous. She didn't see that Luke Standish deserved such honorable treatment, and would have been only too glad to see him ousted from his position as Kate's accepted lover by the far more eligible young gentleman by her side.

Arthur was quite cognisant of his landlady's opinions in this respect, but he had seen from the beginning what line of action would best forward his own interests, and was resolved to keep to it.

On visiting his uncle Arthur had so impressed the solicitor with an imaginary account of his unflagging efforts in search of Margaret Hampton that the solicitor had given him three more weeks' time in which to find his client's sister. And the young man had agreed that if he did not prove successful in unearthing the wealthy Australian's relation in that time his uncle should put the matter in the hands of the enquiry officer whom he had originally intended to engage.

So with three weeks' time before him in which to mature his scheme of winning Kate Leigh, Willesden returned to Bannister's Row to find that he was further from the end of his work than when he left Ashford on Saturday afternoon.

But he felt that although the lovers had become reconciled his past week's work had not been all wasted. Already he had won a friend of the strongest possible kind in Mrs. Leigh, who would, he knew, not only use her influence in his favor, but do all she could against their common foe, Luke Standish.

While Willesden was thus considering the pros and cons in reference to his scheme it suddenly occurred to him that the girl Moll Sheargold, of whom he had heard so much already, might become very useful to him if she could only be got hold of and adroitly managed.

From the meagre information he possessed he fancied that Moll and Kate were rivals, and if the former were only half so bad as people made her out to be she would not scruple to use any means of parting the lovers. In case Moll Sheargold were only in love with Luke Standish she would almost certainly prove a valuable ally to him, and he resolved to avail himself of her aid.

But how was he to become acquainted with her? He could hardly ask either of the Leighs to give him an introduction, and he knew nobody else who was known to Moll Sheargold. In this dilemma he determined to have a stroll as far as the King pit, thinking he might chance to discover the girl whom he wished to become acquainted with.

It was three or four in the afternoon when Willesden left Bannister's-row, and telling Mrs. Leigh that he would be back in an hour or so for his tea he strolled towards the colliery where both his rival and the girl he loved were employed.

Arthur had visited the pit-brow on two or three occasions, walking about the place and pretending to take notes in order to sustain the character he had given himself, and to the banksman and one or two others he was already known as "that theer rahtin chap." With the manager, Mr. Latham, he was on the best of terms, and had permission to wander about the colliery yard at his pleasure.

Ascending the narrow flight of stone steps that led up to the pit brow, Arthur walked past the mouth of the shaft, and passing Kate, who was just then busy, treated her to his heartiest nod and pleasantest smile. Walking across the pit bank he descended on the other side, wondering the while what Moll Sheargold was like and where she was working.

Going along the waggon-road that skirted the brow he came upon a couple of brow girls standing at the end of of a train of full waggons. He glanced casually towards them as he drew near, and his eyes met the big flashing black eyes of a bold-looking and decidedly handsome girl whom he could not help admiring.

The girl's gaze was as searching as his own, and moreover there was something in it he could not quite comprehend. Instantly he resolved to speak to her, and lifting his hat he said—

"You will pardon my speaking to you, I am sure, and excuse my asking if you like working about the pit brow?"

The handsome girl remained silent, still staring in that incomprehensible way at the elegant speaker, but her friend cried laughingly—

"Ah lahke it weel enuff—better than t' factory. Ah don't know what Moll thinks."

"Oh, ah lahke it reet enuff," the black-eyed damsel responded, dropping her gaze for a moment from Arthur's face.

"Ah mun be off, Moll," the other girl broke in, "or ah shall have owd Dan cussin me;" and with this she hurried round the corner of the waggon and disappeared.

"Pardon me," said Willesden, laying his gloved hand on the other girl's shoulder as she also turned to go away, "but is your name Sheargold?"

"It is! Heaw did yo' get to know?"

"I guessed as much on first seeing you, and your friend, who has just gone away, convinced me that I was right. But I'd no idea Moll Sheargold was such a beauty."

"If yo' ony want to gammon me ah'm gooin," and she turned away again as if displeased with his flattery.

"Just a moment. I want to speak to you about Luke Standish and Kate Leigh. They are friends again, you know."

"Ay, ah know," she said sullenly, her great black eyes gleaming balefully.

"I want to have a long chat with you, but this is no place for it. Will you meet me tonight?"

"Ay," she replied readily. "Where?"

"On t' canal bank aside o' t' Britannia-bridge."

"Is it a quiet place? I don't want us to be seen together."

"It's quiet enuff."

"Then I'll meet you there at half-past eight. I don't know where the place is, but I shall easily find it I daresay."

He extended his small gloved hand, and she took it in her great brown palm. Willesden hurried away in one direction, the brow girl in another, the latter very much pleased with the half-crown the "swell" had forced into her hand at parting.

At the time mentioned by Arthur he and Moll Sheargold met on the canal bank as agreed. He had already formed an estimate of the pit-brow girl's character which subsequently proved to be fairly accurate, and as his own was not remarkable for delicacy they soon got to thoroughly understand each other. It was dark by the time the meeting took place; Willesden offered his arm at once to Moll, who took it readily, and as they strolled slowly along the towing path he remarked—

"I fancy you know why I wished to see you alone, and what I wanted to talk to you about. If not I will tell you. But first of all let me ask if I am right in thinking that you love Luke Standish and hate Kate Leigh."

"Yo' are reet, ah do," Moll cried bitterly.

"And would gladly see them parted for ever."

"Ay; even if ah ne'er get Luke, ah dunnut wan Kit to have him."

"And you will understand that I don't intend to let Kate have Luke if I can help it."

"Ah con see that," she replied knowingly.

"I have the idea that if Kate could only be got to give Luke up and engage herself to me he would become your lover at once. He agreed to meet you last week, didn't he, when they quarrelled?"

"Ay, but he didn't come."

"He would change his mind, no doubt, if he found there was no chance of winning Kate. He might even marry you then."

"There's no chance o' that theer neaw," Moll exclaimed with a mournful emphasis on the last word that at once attracted Willesden's notice.

"Why not?" he asked.

"Ah connut tell yo' why," she responded, her voice tremulous, her words half inarticulate, as if she were going to cry. "Whoever gets Luke Standish it ull not be Moll Sheargold neaw," and again she emphasised the word.

"Why shouldn't you?" he persisted, wondering what the girl could mean.

"Ah connut tell yo'," she sobbed.

"You mean you don't like," he responded, quite taken aback by her tears. He had come prepared to meet with vulgarity, viciousness, boldness—any or all of the vices to be expected from a girl of her repute—but for her tears he was quite unprepared. They showed him a side of her character which would otherwise have been unknown to him; but still her tearfulness was a complete puzzle to him.

What could it mean? He had said nothing to set the girl's lachrymal fount aflowing, and it seemed incredible to believe that she was one of those who cried over a lost lover. No; there was some other reason for Moll's tears. What was it?

"Cheer up," he said soothingly, "in a week or two—or at the longest two or three months, Luke Standish and you will be sweethearts again."

"We shan't!" she burst out, "for then Luke will know wot ah am. He'll never luk at me again after that."

The girl relapsed into tears, and suddenly there darted through Willesden's mind a knowledge of the nature of the girl's trouble. If it was as he suspected her position was one of the most difficult and painful in which a girl could be placed. But how was he to prove whether his suspicions were false or correct? It was a delicate question to touch upon, but at last he resolved to do it.

"Ah, I understand, Miss Sheargold," Arthur said in his most sympathetic tone, "and I am very sorry to hear of your painful position. You are expected to be——"—he paused irresolutely—"to be a mother."

He had taken the plunge, and wiping his heated face with his handkerchief he waited for the girl's rejoinder to the arrow he had shot in the dark. But she was silent still, sobbing a little; and this inclined him to believe that his flying shot had hit the mark.

"And the father of your child?" he went on, encouraged by her silence. He paused a moment to give her time to reply, but she spoke not, and he added—"It is Luke Standish, I suppose?"

"It isn't!" she returned fiercely, lifting her tear-stained face to his. "If it wur him ah wouldn't keer fur owt else," and upon this the girl's sobbing commenced afresh.

In an adroit way the wily youngster got Moll Sheargold to tell him the story of her fall, and from what she told him it appeared that the unfortunate creature had long been in love with Luke Standish, but failing to make him her lover had, in order to quicken the passion in him, permitted other young fellows to pay her attentions, and seeing that all she could do brought the man she loved no nearer to her, she had grown reckless of her reputation, honor, everything.

"Then," said Willesden, when the girl had concluded her narrative, "Luke Standish is to blame for all your trouble. But for loving him you might have been some man's wife now. With your beauty I am certain you could have had your pick of many."

"Ah'd duzzens to choose fro'," Moll answered, "and allus thowt it would be reet wi' Luke inth' end; but when that theer Kit Leigh coom ah could see as theer wur no moor chance for me."

"And now they intend to be happy at your expense," he murmured; and his words dropped into the girl's ears like poison, as he desired they should. "That is," he added, "if you don't prevent them."

"What con ah do?" she cried in a burst of passionate impotence. "Ah'd sooner kill Kit Leigh than see her Luke's wahfe!"

"It will not be necessary to go so far, I think," Willesden said meaningly.

"What do yo' mean?" she demanded, her great eyes dry enough now, and a vindictive fire burning within their depths.

"I mean that if you only choose to do it you can part Luke Standish and Kate Leigh for ever!" he cried, in a quick confident way that sent a thrill through the fierce uncultivated woman by his side.

"Con ah?" she asked breathlessly eager.

"Yes, and without laying a finger upon either of them, or any danger to yourself."

"Which road? Which road?" she asked vehemently, all thoughts of her trouble swallowed up in the prospect of preventing for all time the marriage of her rival with the man she loved and could not win.

"I'll tell you in a moment," he replied, pleased at her angry mood and the intensity of her eagerness to be made acquainted with his projects. "And further, if you only do as I shall advise you presently you will get out of your trouble as well as part Luke Standish and Kate Leigh."

With passionate impatience the pit-brow girl demanded what she should do, and pausing a moment on the canal bank Arthur Willesden glanced around to see that they were alone, and then whispered his scheme into Moll Sheargold's attentive ear.

It was to denounce Luke Standish as her secret lover and the father of her child.

A minute's deepest silence followed this suggestion. The girl was startled by the daring nature of the proposal, frightened by its apparent difficulties. She had never dreamed of such a thing as this he suggested. It was revolting to even her, mad as she was with jealousy, and overwhelmed with a trouble she traced to Luke's indifference.

"Well," he asked, "what do you think of it?"

"Ah connut do it."

"Then Luke will marry Kate, that's all."

He spoke as if her decision was a matter of indifference to himself, and at a sign from the girl they turned and retraced their steps on the towing-path. Half a mile to the left of them the lights of the town shone like terrestrial stars, while a few astral lamps were mirrored in the quiet waveless water alongside which they walked. Suddenly Arthur saw a man's figure approaching, and he whispered—

"Cover your face; no one must recognise us."

Moll drew her shawl over her features as the man strode past, while Willesden masked his own with his handkerchief under the pretence of blowing his nose. Then when the wayfarer's feet grew distant she returned to their former conversation by asking—

"Is there no other way of partin' 'em?"

"None!" he answered quickly, decisively.

She began to enumerate the difficulties of the plan he suggested, and stopping her, he said—

"Don't you see that whether you lose or win the case Luke and Kate will be parted for ever? You know what she will think about it. Do what I advise you and you shall have fifty pounds!"

"Fifty pounds?" she cried in amazement and incredulity. "Fifty pounds!"

"When shall ah ger it?"

"You shall have five pounds to-night if you decide to do what I want you; another five in a month; and twenty pounds more on the day you enter the case against Luke Standish. The remainder shall be yours on the day after the trial."

The sum of money Willesden had named aroused all the cupidity of Moll Sheargold's nature, and it appeared to her that the gratification of her vengeful, jealous desires were, instead of being punished, to be rewarded by the bestowal of a small fortune upon her. She had no idea of the stake for which her companion was playing. She merely thought that Willesden was in love with Kate and desired to prevent his rival winning her.

"Ah'll do it," she said breathlessly, prompted to accept his scheme by motives of personal interest, hatred of Kate Leigh, and the desire to revenge herself upon Luke for neglecting to fall in love with her.

"And here are the five pounds I promised you," he said, taking out a pocket-book and counting the golden coins into her outstretched palm. "I will pay the other sums as I have stated."

She pocketed the money without a word, and as Willesden replaced his purse he added—

"Remember that not a word of either our meeting or agreement must ever pass your lips. The slightest hint might ruin everything and put us both in prison."

She assured him that he might rely upon her keeping her mouth shut, and after making arrangements for another meeting in a few days they parted, Arthur feeling highly satisfied with the result of their interview, and Moll Sheargold quite determined to earn those fifty pounds.

In the best of humors with himself Willesden went homewards believing that his unsuspecting rival was already as good as disposed of, and highly elated with his brilliant scheme. As he had told Moll Sheargold, no matter how the case went, it would inevitably part Kate and Luke for ever.

No one would believe that the miner was entirely innocent of the charge to be brought against him, and Willesden felt less reputation and high temper would never more look with anything but disgust and hatred upon a man over whom there hung such a foul suspicion.

And the heartless schemer remembered with a thrill of pleasure that Luke Standish had been unconsciously playing into his hands in his flirtation with Moll Sheargold. That little diversion was likely to cost the poor miner dearly, for not only would it lend an aspect of reality to Moll's charge, but would almost certainly convince Kate that her lover was far less innocent and blameless than he really was.


Chapter XV.—Kate Visits the Mine.

It was Saturday evening again, and once more Luke Standish and his sweetheart were strolling together in the fields behind Bannister's Row. Just a week had elapsed since their last walk, and their conversation naturally turned to the subject they had then discussed, although neither of them had anything new to advance on the matter.

"I suppose, Kate," Luke remarked, "that you are still determined to visit the old workings of the King Pit?"

"Yes," she answered, "as soon as you can contrive to take me there."

"Then you can go to-night."

"To-night," she echoed, hardly prepared for such an immediate response to her wishes.

"Yes, between eight and nine o'clock. It will be quite dark by that time, and no one will be down the pit beside us."

"Will any one see as go down?"

"There will only be the man at the engine, and he cannot see who gets into the cage or out of it."

"Won't he think it strange if you go down to-night?" she asked.

"Not at all, for he knows I have to go down. Some of the colliers' places are full of firedamp, and whilst speaking to Mr. Latham this afternoon I offered to go down to-night about eight or nine to see that it was not becoming dangerous."

"You did it because you remembered my wish, I suppose."

"Partly on that account, I must admit, though I didn't tell the manager so."

"Then I'll go with you," she exclaimed. "How long shall we be down, do you think?"

"If we descend about eight o'clock we may get back again by ten."

"You will change your clothes?"

"Certainly, and you also. If you appeared on the pit brow in that white dress anyone might see you a mile off, and it's quite certain the engine-tenter would do so."

About an hour and a half later the lovers stood on the brow of the King Pit ready to descend. Around them lay the colliery yard, still, dark, and deserted, for they and the engineman were the only beings about the place. The old night-watchman was comfortably seated beside a pot of ale in the nearest tavern, and so was not likely to notice who descended or ascended the pit that night.

Luke was standing between the mouth of the shaft and the engine-house, whilst Kate stood behind one of the spars of the headgear, quite in the shadow and utterly beyond the reach of the engine-tenter's eyes. Presently the cage rose slowly to the surface and stopped. Then Luke got in, Kate slipped in also on the other side, and he gave the word to descend.

Kate did not cry out when she felt herself being dropped at a swift rate down that dark vertical tunnel. She had been down a coalpit before, and therefore was quite cool. Seizing the crossbar in the middle of the cage she steadied herself during the descent, and won a word of approval from her lover on account of her courage.

Luke had a lamp in his hand, another in his pocket, and when the pit bottom was reached he handed the latter to Kate. Then, after a few minutes' rest, they made their way towards the places which, as the fireman had stated, were filled with firedamp.

When the colliers' places were reached Luke found that no appreciable change had taken place. Owing to a fall in an air-road close by a dangerous quantity of the fiery gas had accumulated, but it was safe so long as no one went near it with a defective lamp. With the greatest interest Kate watched her lover test the firedamp in the usual way.

Telling Kate to put her lamp on the floor for a moment Luke pulled down the flame of his own until it became a faint blue speck. Then he raised it slowly toward the roof, and presently the girl saw that the lamp gauze was filled with a luminous pale-blue vapor. Next he lowered the lamp again from out of the gas, which rested in a layer along the roof.

"Is there much, Luke?" Kate asked breathlessly as they turned away.

"Enough," he answered, "to kill a thousand men if they were down the pit when it went off."

She shuddered just a little at this, but said nothing, and Luke now took a path that would lead them into the old workings on the north side of the pit. At a good pace they trudged on, Luke Standish leading and telling Kate to speak when she felt tired, so that they could rest.

On and on they sped, never abating their speed, and in half an hour they were amid the old galleries. The girl was too excited now to feel the least fatigued, and again and again refused to rest when he asked if she were tired.

They were now at the bottom of the old road and the next moment ascended it together. Five minutes more and the fall was reached. Kate seated herself on the side of the road and wiped her heated face, whilst Luke, taking a seat on the stone he had previously used for that purpose, said—

"This is the place, dear, where I saw your father. I was sitting on this very stone, and I saw him go right into those stones"—pointing to the fallen roof—"and disappear among them."

"Where did you pick up the box?" she asked calmly, though he could see that her face was unusually pale and resolute-looking.

"Just there, beside your feet. What is it, Kate?"

He saw her jerk her head round and look right down the road, but after that brief ejaculation he could not utter another word—he could only watch Kate, who seemed to have become quite unconscious of his presence.

Fixedly the girl stared down the road for a few moments, and then her head turned back towards Luke as if her eyes were following something he could not see. But he noticed that her eyes were distended and filled with a weird, unnatural expression, that her mouth was closed firmly, her nostrils dilated, and that her gaze was now fixed on the fall behind him, as if she were spellbound—fascinated.

The next moment he saw her sink prostrate and senseless to the floor, a deep sob of agony bursting from her lips.


Chapter XVI.—Beyond the Fallen Roof.

When Luke Standish saw his sweetheart swoon away and fall prostrate on the road he broke the spell that had hitherto kept him dumb and motionless and sprang to her aid.

Taking Kate in his arms he waited impatiently for her recovery, for in their present circumstances he could do scarcely anything toward quickening her resuscitation. Taking her hands in his own he felt that they were icy cold, so he began to chafe them as well as his awkward position enabled him.

In a few minutes the girl began to struggle in her lover's arms, and presently her eyes opened, and she glanced around in a dazed, wondering kind of manner, exclaiming—

"Where am I, Luke? What place is this? What has happened?"

"Don't agitate yourself, darling," he replied. "You will be all right again in a minute." He hereupon ventured to press his hot lips against her pale cheek, adding, "You fainted, you know."

His words brought back to Kate in a rush the recollection of the cause of her unconsciousness, and clinging more closely to her sweetheart she cried brokenly—

"I saw him, Luke! I saw him! You most have seen him too!"

"Who?" he asked.

"My father. He came right up the road, went past me and you, and then seemed to melt away into the fall there. You must have seen him."

"I saw nothing, dear. But I saw that your eyes were fixed on something I could not see."

"Did you hear anything?"

"No."

"But he spoke to me twice. First when he went past me, and again just before he disappeared amid those stones. He mentioned my name each time. It is very strange that you neither heard nor saw him."

"I saw and heard nothing," Luke responded. "You must have fancied those things. I am satisfied now that I was dreaming as you have just been doing. We have both been the victims of a heated imagination."

She shook her head decisively.

"No," she cried, "it is not imagination. In your case it may have been; in mine it is quite impossible. It was as real as such things can be. I was fully awake and remember everything. I was sitting there, you on that stone, when something caused me to look down the road, and there I saw my father coming slowly towards me. At first I thought he was going to stop, but he only looked at me, whispered my name, and went on past you and towards the fallen roof."

"How was he dressed?" Luke asked.

"He had on an old-fashioned cloth cap, wide at the top, a blue flannel shirt torn at the elbows, and cord breeches patched at the knees."

"Just as I sketched him!" Luke ejaculated.

"Yes, just as you sketched him, and as he appears in the photograph at home."

"It is very mysterious," Luke muttered, adding, as Kate rose to her feet, "shall we go now?"

"Yes, let us go," she responded, taking a long last look at the heap of fallen roof. "But the mystery of it all seems clearer now to me."

"Clearer?" he replied, as they went down the road together. "What do you mean, Kate?"

"I mean," she said, "that I perceive a meaning in all that you and I have seen. I believe now that my father never ran away from my mother at all; that he went neither to America nor Australia; that he never even left Ashford."

"What became of him then?"

"I believe," she replied slowly, solemnly, "that what is left of him lies up this road under that heap of roof. He must have got lost in the old workings, as you and the others did; but he was not so fortunate as you were."

"Just what I had somehow began to fancy might have happened," Luke made answer.

"It is not a fancy with me," Kate murmured. "It is a conviction. My father left home that morning, seventeen years ago, in the very clothes in which we have both seen him, and never being seen again, of course my mother came to think that he had gone away. I shall never rest satisfied until that roof is cleared away."

"But how is that to be managed?" Luke asked doubtfully.

"I don't know, but it must be done," she cried, "even if I have to come down by stealth and do it myself."

"It will take a man a week to do it, Kate."

"No matter, it shall be done. I shall go to the manager and tell him all, and he will perhaps have the dirt cleared up."

"Perhaps he may. Anyhow we can see what he thinks about it."

"What time will be the best to see Mr. Latham?"

"To-morrow afternoon, I think. He is a very nice man, and will certainly listen to what we have to say, though, of course, we can hardly expect him to believe it as we do."

"And my mother?"

"Had better know nothing just yet. If the manager consents to have the fall cleared up we can tell her then."

And so it was agreed.

On the following afternoon Luke and Kate repaired to the residence of Mr. Latham, the manager, which lay only a few minutes' walk from the King Pit, and on presenting themselves were at once received by that gentleman in his parlor.

Mr. Latham was a man of 50, or thereabouts, and had been connected with the collieries he at present managed for over 30 years. He had begun his working life there at 15 as a mining student, and had gradually worked himself up to his present position, filling in turns the appointments of fireman, underlooker, mine surveyor, under manager, and, finally, the honorable and lucrative post of general manager.

He was greatly respected by his workmen on account of his genial nature and love of fair dealing, and, although he had the reputation of being very sceptical on matters of religion, no man in Ashford had a larger or warmer circle of friends. For the rest he had a fine gentlemanly appearance, and spoke with a slight nasal twang that reminded one of America, and gave to his utterances a humorous flavor.

Mr. Latham seemed puzzled a little as his eyes rested on his visitors. A visit from either of them alone would not have caused him much wonder, for he had always evinced a kindly interest in the young fireman, and had often spoken to Kate since the afternoon she fell from the shute. In fact, it was owing entirely to him that the handsome pit-brow girl was permanently appointed to the place of number-caller.

As briefly and as clearly as possible Luke related the whole story of his singular experience whilst lost in the mine and that of Kate's on the previous night. Mr. Latham listened incredulously to his fireman's account of the spectral apparition and his sketch of it that had been identified by Kate, together with the finding of the tobacco-box bearing Jonathan Leigh's name and its recognition by Mrs. Leigh.

"This is the most singular thing that ever came under my observation," said Mr. Latham gravely as he examined both the rude sketch Luke had made and the photographic view of the Red Lion. "It appears incredible, but, of course, I cannot discredit your word so far as believing you saw it goes. Yet it must have been an hallucination or mental illusion, for no one believes in ghosts nowadays. That is the only rational explanation of the matter that presents itself to my mind, and I think it the only reasonable one that can be given."

Kate shook her pretty head decisively, while Luke was rather inclined to accept the manager's view. It appeared more probable to suppose that he and his sweetheart had been subject to the same hallucination than to believe that they had received a supernatural visitation. But the mystery of it all was not lessened in any way by taking this aspect of the matter.

"Then what is your idea of the matter, Miss Leigh?" the manager asked.

"I believe," said Kate firmly, "that it was my father himself that I saw; that he never left Ashford at all, but was lost in the mine somehow, like Luke and the others, and that he lies beneath the fall of roof."

Mr. Latham was quite familiar with the story of Jonathan Leigh's disappearance; had even a distinct recollection of the miner himself, and the girl's emphatic utterance had evidently made some impression upon him, for he asked, after a little pause—

"And what do you wish me to do? Have the fallen roof cleared up, and thus either prove or disprove your suspicious?"

"Yes," Kate responded quickly in grateful tones, "that is what I wish to be done. I feel certain that my father's remains will be found under the roof."

"Well, we shall see," the manager answered; then turning to Luke he added—"How long will it take to clear up this fall?"

"A couple of men will be able to do it in two or three shifts I think."

"Then if you have any men to spare to-night set them on to clear away the fall. You need not give the reason for its being done. Lead the men to think that the dirt is being removed in order that the old workings beyond may be examined; and then, in case Miss Leigh's suspicions prove to be unfounded, and nothing is found, there will be no talk about the matter."

The lovers thanked Mr. Latham for his kindness and withdrew. They had a short walk together to chat over the result of their interview with the manager, and ere they parted they decided that Mrs. Leigh should be taken into their confidence. Both Luke and Kate felt that the clearing away of the fallen roof would disclose something, and the narration of their experiences to Mrs. Leigh would prepare her for anything that might come to light.

So Kate went homeward to relate to her mother the various chapters of the mysterious story, the closing part of which yet remained to be told; and it need not be recorded that Mrs. Leigh was greatly disturbed on hearing the strange things her daughter related.

When night came Luke Standish went to work, and acting upon the power Mr. Latham had given him he selected two of the miners to commence the work of clearing up the fall. The men chosen were Joe Thomson and Harry Edwards, two of the three who had been lost with him in the mine, and as soon as he had given the rest of the night shift men their orders he accompanied old Joe and Harry to the old road.

"Wot are they cleenin' this heer fa' up for, Luke?" one of the men asked as they stripped themselves for work.

Luke had expected some such question, and bearing in mind the manager's suggestion he at once replied—

"Ah think it's being cleared up so that the old workings further on can be examined. We want to know if there's anny gas in 'em."

This statement satisfied the miners, and after a few minutes' chat with them Luke went away, promising to return that way in the morning in order to lead them out of the labyrinth.

It was between four and five o'clock a.m. when the fireman returned to Joe Thomson and Harry Edwards, and he found that they had cleared away a considerable portion of the fallen roof. Wondering if they had either seen or found anything during the night, Luke exclaimed banteringly—

"Well, Joe, what han yo' fo'nd? Some goold amang t' dirt; or haply yo'n seen a ghost or two?"

"We han seen nowt, nor fo'nd nowt, o'ny a road o'er t' fa', Luke."

About half the dirt had been cleared away, and sufficient had been removed to enable one to scramble over the top into the road beyond. Luke saw this, and climbing up the dirt-heap, he slid down the other side, never dreaming of the startling discovery he was about to make.

On reaching the other side of the fallen roof Luke took a step or two along the low road, glancing casually about, and suddenly his attention was drawn to something lying against the side of the road. He hastily stepped forward, bent low to examine the thing he saw, and then a hoarse cry of terror left his lips and he dropped on his knees like one who was paralysed.

Was he dreaming or mad? There before him lay the semblance of his sketch—the figure of Kate Leigh's father—beard, face, clothes—everything—just as he had before seen him.

But Luke was soon convinced that what he saw was no illusion due to either madness or slumber. His cry of terror had startled Thomson and Edwards, and hurriedly scrambling over the roof-heap they ran to his side, to be appalled also by the sight of that which had so terrified Luke.

In a little time when the three men recovered their voices the younger man, Harry Edwards, asked in an awed whisper—

"Who is he, Luke?"

The fireman remained silent, but Joe Thomson spoke, and his words set at rest for ever all Luke's doubts regarding the identity of that silent, terrible form lying there before them.

"It's Jonathan Leigh," Joe cried. "Bur heaw has he getten heer! Ah thowt he went to Mericy teens o' heeurs sin'!"

"Yes," Luke responded in a strange undertone, as if he were afraid to waken the sleeping figure, "it's Jonathan Leigh, Kate Leigh's father. You knew him, Joe?"

"Ah did, Luke; ah knowed him weel."

Even as the men spoke the object of their speech seemed to be vanishing away. It was the merest shell, scarcely more tangible to the touch than a shadow—preserved so long only by having been excluded from the air; and now, with the fresh atmosphere playing upon it, it began to lose each moment distinctness of outline, and before they left the spot that which at first to them appeared a sleeping man had become an undistinguishable heap of dry bones and mouldering rags.

In one of the adjoining roads a piece of brattice—a kind of rough canvas used in mines for ventilating purposes—was found, and in this the last remains of Jonathan Leigh were carefully gathered and carried to the pit bottom. An hour afterwards the news of the extraordinary discovery was being discussed in every corner of the mine, and by noonday the news was all over Ashford.

Along with the bones of the dead man had been brought from the mine such articles of his attire as had withstood the wear and tear of time. These articles were as follows:—An old cloth cap, with leathern "neb," or peak; a pair of clogs, such as miners wear in Lancashire; a few shreds of clothing; and, finally, a broad belt of leather, in no way damaged by either its long imprisonment or ghastly work of girding a dead man's waist.

These things were carefully guarded by Luke, and on ascending the shaft he placed them in Kate's possession, after telling her of the discovery. The intelligence upset the girl very much, and, at Mr. Latham's suggestion—the manager happened to be on the brow when the fireman came up the pit—she had a holiday.

There is no occasion to dwell upon what followed. Mrs. Leigh, when the inquest was held a few days later, identified the cap, clogs, and belt as articles which her husband used to wear; and Joe Thomson testified to having recognised the remains as those of Jonathan Leigh before the air shattered the dead shell to dust.

Of course there was not the slightest evidence forthcoming as to how the deceased came by his fate. It was generally supposed that he had got lost in the old workings, and that the fall of roof had imprisoned him, leaving him to die an awful lingering death. The verdict was one of death by misadventure.

At the enquiry nothing was said by either Kate or Luke of their spectral visitations, nor was the finding of the tobacco box bearing the dead man's name mentioned. Any allusion to those matters might have aroused a curiosity which those concerned thought it better not to awaken.

And so the inquest passed away without any one suspecting the extraordinary manner in which the unfortunate Jonathan Leigh came to be discovered, and in due course his remains were interred in the Ashford Cemetery.

The sad event brought to both Mrs. Leigh and her daughter not only the sorrow that might have been expected, but also a feeling of sad satisfaction. It was more pleasant for them to know that Jonathan Leigh had been the victim of misfortune than to think, as they used to do, that he was false to his manhood and his marriage vows, and a renegade to his wife and child.

A day or two after the discovery behind the fall Luke Standish revisited the place, and whilst examining the old workings lying beyond he found an old Davy lamp which had evidently belonged to his sweetheart's father. He had occasion to visit the spot frequently during the time he acted as night fireman at the King Pit, but never again did he see anything of a spectral character.


Chapter XVII.—The First Breath of Suspicion.

A fortnight had slipped away since that discovery in the King Pit workings which had set all the little town agog with wonder, and Arthur Willesden was carefully maturing his diabolical plans against Luke Standish.

During the past two weeks the heartless schemer and Moll Sheargold had met again on the canal bank and he had advised her how to set about the task she had undertaken. Her first business was, he told her, to drop here and there among her intimate friends a hint as to her own condition and the man who was to be held responsible for her fall.

This Moll did in a masterly way; and those who thus gleaned the faintest intimation of her position never thought she was throwing the blackest of all suspicions upon an innocent man. They believed her because it seemed only the concluding portion of a tale of which she had told them the earlier part long ago.

As Arthur Willesden had shrewdly guessed, Moll Sheargold's love for the fireman was well known to her workmates, whom she had all along led to believe that her affection was returned and that she and Luke had often been out together.

This was a positive untruth, but only Moll and Luke were aware of it. The other pit-brow girls had seen Moll and Luke chatting together frequently about the colliery, prior to Kate Leigh's appearance on the scene, and were naturally inclined to think that what Moll told them was true.

And so the dark work went on, unsuspected by Luke Standish, who never dreamt of the storm that was being prepared for his special behoof. Nay, he even lent himself innocently to the furtherance of his unknown enemies' plans.

Acting upon a hint from Willesden Moll Sheargold waylaid Luke upon the pit-bank, somewhere in Kate Leigh's sight as often as possible, and kept him chatting as long as she could; and this little trick gave great force and considerable coloring to the insinuations the girl had judiciously scattered.

It was no especial pleasure to the young fireman to have the dark handsome pit-brow girl stopping him and putting all sorts of questions to him, still there was nothing very unpleasant about it, even when Kate happened to be within sight. His trust in his sweetheart's good sense was only equalled by his great love of her, and he knew that she feared no rivalry now.

Another week passed and the passing of each day added new growth to the scheme which Arthur Willesden was so carefully maturing. Slowly Moll Sheargold widened the circle of those to whom her secret was confided, and the matter was now known, in confidence of course, by almost every woman and girl who worked about the collieries.

As yet not the slightest whisper of all this had reached Kate Leigh's ears nor those of her lover. Luke had completely failed to understand a faint jocular allusion of one of his pitmates. They would be the very last of all to hear of it openly, for indelicate of speech as many of the miners and brow-girls were they yet refrained from speaking of the subject before Kate and Luke.

Whilst Moll Sheargold was thus carefully laying the foundations of the case which at the proper season she intended to launch against the man she loved out of hatred of Kate Leigh, the man whose tool she had become was so conducting himself that when the storm came no one would suspect him of having had a hand in its brewing.

He had never ceased to pay Kate the utmost deference both in word and manner, and although it was impossible to hide his deep admiration from her, a thing he never attempted, he did not cause her the least embarrassment by trying to force his attentions upon her. And his invariable courtesy and kindliness so far won upon the girl as to make her respect Willesden very much.

This satisfied Arthur for the present. When the right moment came he would give voice to all his aspirations readily enough, but the time was not yet. Meanwhile he pursued his scheme of diverting all suspicion from himself, and his first step in that direction was to make himself known to Luke Standish and compel the young pitman to believe that he was really a friend.

This was not a difficult task. Kate introduced her lover to Willesden, and in a little while the latter had quite overcome all Luke's prejudice by his glib tongue and frank ways. After that first chat with Arthur the pitman was forced to admit to himself that his new friend was not a bad fellow after all, and Willesden did not permit this favorable impression to die for want of nourishment.

Having learned that Standish was a mining student, and considerably hampered in his studies on account of his slender means, Willesden contrived to give the young fireman an agreeable surprise by purchasing and presenting to him a couple of fine works on mining.

Luke accepted Willesden's little gift, utterly disarmed and completely won by his new friend's generosity and charming ways. After this they became very friendly, the simple pitman never dreaming that he was taking a snake to his breast.

About this time an incident occurred which gave to Kate considerable uneasiness at the moment, and afterwards became a piece of conclusive evidence against Luke when Moll Sheargold's case was launched forth upon him.

It was Saturday night, between nine and ten o'clock, and Arthur Willesden and Kate Leigh were making their way past the King Pit in the direction of Bannister's Row. They had been to a school concert, to which Luke was also to have gone, but when the time came he said he had to go to work that night.

It was a beautiful night in the late autumn. The gleaming stars were out in their countless hosts, a full moon rode high as the sun at noonday, and neighboring objects and the adjacent country stood out almost as clearly as in the daylight.

Arthur and Kate were walking in the shadow of the waggons, chatting, when in the road, which ran at right angles to the waggon road, thirty or forty paces ahead of them, a couple of figures appeared, walking slowly and talking earnestly.

The figures were those of a man and a woman, and as they passed across the waggon road the moonlight falling full upon them revealed their identity to Kate Leigh, who, with her companion, remained unseen. A cry of surprise almost burst from the girl's lips as she recognised Luke Standish and Moll Sheargold.

A wave of irrepressible indignation passed over Kate, but she mastered herself sufficiently to restrain herself from giving utterance to it. Arthur Willesden had evidently not noticed her agitation or its cause, for he continued the conversation, and neither by word nor look showed that he had recognised the people who had just crossed their path.

Kate was pleased to think her companion was ignorant of what she had just seen and felt. It was humiliating to know that her lover and Moll Sheargold were at that very moment together, but it would have been more humiliating still for others to know it also.

What was Luke doing with such a girl at that time, and in such a place? This was a question that Kate could not avoid putting to herself, but she could not frame any answer thereto to satisfy her.

Luke had told her that he would be working that night, and it was only at his request that she had consented to go to the concert in company with Arthur Willesden, greatly deploring that her lover could not go also. And now instead of being at work there he was with a girl who had scarcely even a decent reputation.

What did it mean? Had Luke deliberately misled her? Was his having to work that night a fiction? Had he pressed her to accompany Willesden to the concert so that he would be at liberty to meet Moll Sheargold?

All the way home the girl tortured herself by turning over such thoughts and suspicions, and although she was able to disguise her sufferings from her mother, and also from Arthur Willesden, she broke down on retiring to the privacy of her chamber.

And as she lay there sobbing herself to sleep she vowed that unless Luke gave her the fullest and most satisfactory explanation she would at once end their engagement. It was better to end it all at once than to torture herself continually, as was now the case.


Chapter XVIII.—Inside the Snare.

Kate Leigh was far from the truth when she suspected that her lover had lied to her in order that he might meet Moll Sheargold, for he had gone to work as he had said he would, and his encountering the girl with whom Kate saw him was a pure accident so far as he was concerned.

But that which was accidental on Luke's part was pure design on that of Moll Sheargold's. Her meeting with the fireman was the outcome of Arthur Willesden's cunning brain, and he had so arranged the encounter that Kate should see them together.

About six or seven hours before Kate Leigh had the unhappiness of seeing her plighted lover walking with her rival through the colliery yard Arthur Willesden went for a walk, choosing a direction which would, he knew, cause him to meet Moll Sheargold on her way home from the pit.

As anticipated, he met the girl, who was fortunately alone, and stopping her they had quite an interesting interview. Willesden had a special object in view in seeing Moll, and he lost no time in letting her know what that object was.

"I thought I should meet you, Moll," he said, with the freedom of an old friend, "and I want to speak to you particularly."

"What abeawt?" she asked pleasantly. "To gie me that other fahve peawnd yo' agreed on?"

"That is not due until a week next Tuesday, and you will get it then without fail. But if you will do what I want you to-night I don't mind making you a present of half a sovereign."

"What is it?"

Moll spoke in an avaricious tone. This young fellow seemed literally a gold mine to her, and in her eagerness to possess herself of some of his loose cash, combined with her hatred of Kate Leigh, the fallen girl was prepared to do a great deal.

"Not much, Moll," he replied. "I only want you to meet Luke Standish to-night."

"Ah'd do that theer for nothin'," she said, "if ah hed t' chance."

"You love him yet, I see."

"Ay, an' ah allus shall do," she retorted.

"Well, what I want you to do will be a pleasure, then, rather than a task; and you shall have the half-sovereign as soon as you say you will go."

"Ah'll go, wheerever it is; an' neaw wheer's that theer hauve sovrin?"

"There it is. I never break my word."

She pocketed the coin handed to her and then asked—

"Wheer am ah to meet Luke?"

"Beside the King Pit."

"When?"

"To-night, when he comes up. He is working this afternoon, you know, and will have done about 9 o'clock, or half-past. I want you to be waiting at the bottom of the steps leading from the pit brow when he finishes work. You understand?"

"Ay."

"When Luke turns up you must speak to him and keep him there until I and Kate Leigh pass that way. I want Kate to see you and Luke together, and we shall be coming that way about half-past nine to-night. You can talk about whatever you like so that you keep him there until we pass."

Moll Sheargold's eyes flashed triumphantly as she realised the picture Willesden's words conjured up before her. She saw herself and Luke standing in the colliery-yard alone at a late hour, and her rival coming past expecting nothing and seeing them together, just like lovers, as they ought to have been.

The chance of triumphing over Kate, even for a brief period, was too great for Moll to relinquish it; the morsel of vengeance held out to her was too sweet to be refused, and she vehemently assured her companion that she would be there fully prepared to make the most of the situation.

"I am glad to see that you enter into the spirit of the thing," Willesden cried. "You see it will strengthen your case against Luke very much. You could call Kate as a witness against him."

"An' ah will!" the girl cried savagely, thinking how such a procedure would crush her detested foe to the very dust.

In her present frame of mind it was not necessary to offer her a reward for doing that which Willesden had just suggested, for she would have undertaken the task readily enough if only to cause trouble and pain to Kate Leigh.

"You will be there then?"

"There's not much fear o' me missin'," she responded, "an' ah'll tak keer as Luke doesn't goo away 'beawt Kate seein' us."

"You'd better get there about nine, for fear he should come up sooner than expected. I and Kate will not fail to pass about half-past nine."

She nodded her black head in a determined way, and then they parted, each of them fully satisfied with the prospect of the night's work that lay before them.

It was about ten minutes past nine that night when Luke Standish was released from his duty. His business that afternoon and evening had been to attend to the great furnace which ventilated all the colliery. One of the old miners whose permanent work it was to feed the everlasting fires with coal being ill, he had been asked to take a turn at it and had consented.

But Luke had taken the extra shift very reluctantly, for he and Willesden and Kate had agreed to go the Wesleyan school concert that evening. So the fireman was obliged to give up the night's pleasure he had promised himself, but he would not hear of either his sweetheart or his friend staying away because he could not go. The tickets were bought and they must use them. Hence Kate and Willesden had gone, as he desired them.

The regular furnace-man relieved Luke, as has been already stated, shortly after nine o'clock, and ascending the shaft he at once made his way toward the lamp-house, to leave his lamp there before going home.

As he descended the narrow flight of stone stairs his iron-shod heels rang out clear and loud upon the hard steps, but he hardly noticed this, for he was just then thinking of his sweetheart, and wondering if the concert were over by this time.

Before reaching the bottom of the stairway he heard the sound of light quick footfalls, and the next moment he was face to face with Moll Sheargold. He was just the least bit surprised, and showed it by his stare. The next instant he cried cheerily—

"Good neet, Mary."

"Good neet, Luke," she replied. "O nahce neet, isn't it?"

"It's a bonny neet," he agreed, adding a little flippantly, "And where are yo' off to this tahme o' t' neet?"

"Wheer do yo' think?" she asked laughingly.

"Ah don't know, ah'm sure, Mary." He always called her "Mary," thinking 'Moll' a very vulgar substitute and quite unworthy of such a handsome girl.

"Gowse," she cried, meaning that he should make a guess as to her destination.

"Then ah will," he retorted. "You have come to meet me, Mary," he added, thinking he had shot far wide of the truth.

"Yo're reet, ah have, Luke."

He stared for a moment in silence, thinking of his little flirtation with her and wondering if he had really plumped upon the truth. Then he burst into a laugh that was just a little forced, saying—

"You don't mean it?"

"Ah do," was her emphatic reply.

"And why do you come to meet me?"

"Ah wanted to speyk to yo'."

"What about?"

"Kate Leigh."

"What of her?"

"Nothin' good, yo' may be sure, Luke."

"Nothing bad, I hope, Mary?"

"That's for yo' to judge," she sneered.

"Well, what is it?" he cried impatiently. "Out with it, whatever it may be."

She was not be hurried over her communication, her point being to detain him until her purpose was fulfilled. But the moonlight revealed no approaching figures—Kate Leigh and Arthur Willesden were a long time in coming, she thought. Then she continued the conversation by saying to the impatient man at her side—

"Yo' luv Kit Leigh an' expec' to make her yer wahfe?"

"I do!" he cried boldly, and the gladsome ring in his voice shot into Moll Sheargold's heart a bitter pang, intensifying a thousandfold her hatred of her fortunate rival.

"An' do yo' know that the wench yo' intend to wed is out gallivantin' wi' unother chap?"

"What do you mean?" he demanded fiercely.

"Ah meeun us Kit Leigh is eawt wi' their fahne lodger," Moll gibed. "Ah seed him march her off to t' concert as if he own't her."

"Is that all?" he cried laughingly, relieved by the girl's last words. Her last sentence but one had suddenly filled his heart with the old passionate jealousy of Arthur Willesden, but he was easy again now and added, "You need not have put yourself to all this trouble to tell me that. I knew where Kate was going and who was to take her."

"It's aw reet, then, ah s'pose," Moll muttered, "an' ah've hed ma trouble fur nowt."

"I thank you all the same, Mary. And now I must be off to the lamp-house."

"Ah'll wait till yo' come back, then, Luke, an' we con goo away together."

This arrangement was hardly satisfactory to Luke, but he had not the heart to say he preferred to go homeward alone. So he went to the lamp-place, and when he returned he and the girl went away in company along the cart road that led through the colliery yard, across the waggon-road, and into the town.

Luke hardly knew whether to feel flattered or displeased by the girl's presence there. In a sense he was both. Moll's evident interest in his own welfare could hardly be twisted into a matter of offence, and yet he would not like it to get to his sweetheart's ears that she had met him and that they had gone homeward together. But what was he to do? She had forced her company upon him, and she was much too pretty for him to treat discourteously.

Some thought of all this passed through Luke's mind as he and Moll crossed the waggon road, and, as was recorded in the last chapter, were revealed to the eye of Kate and Willesden returning from the concert. Neither of the former saw either of the latter, and the poor pitman went home never suspecting the trap into which he had fallen.

But Luke had an uncomfortable quarter of an hour on the following afternoon when he called at Bannister's Row. He found Kate at home, and on making a formal enquiry about Arthur Willesden was informed that he had gone home for a day or two.

Luke did not find Kate dressed ready for a walk as he expected, nor did she make any preparations for going out even when he made his appearance. She was much colder to him than usual, and it was evident to him that she was very much displeased about something.

Presently Kate rose from her seat in the kitchen, and motioning her lover to follow, went into the little parlor. The girl had resolved that no miserable misunderstanding should again estrange her and Luke, and had brought him into that room to speak plainly to him of last night's affair. She would give him the fullest opportunity of explanation.

But if his explanation did not satisfy her and fully clear himself she was determined to end her engagement to Luke forthwith. Much as she loved him she could not bear that he should misled her in any way. Once and for all he must choose between herself and Moll Sheargold.

"What is the matter, Kate?" Luke asked as he closed the parlor door behind him and went towards the window beside which she was standing gazing into the garden. "Have you got a bad headache again, dear?"

"No."

She spoke coldly in marked contrast to his tender tones, and she repulsed his effort to take her in his arms.

"What is it, then?" he asked, both pained and annoyed.

"I thought you were working last night?" she said sternly, her eyes fixed upon him.

"So I was—from two until nine," he replied not a little disturbed.

"And where were you at half-past nine?"

"In the colliery-yard," he blurted out, feeling that she knew all.

"And your companion?"

"Moll Sheargold."

"I am glad that you admit the truth, for I saw you together. It remains for you to explain the meeting. All I want is the truth from you. I am not prepared to share a lover with Moll Sheargold, and if you cannot give her up we must part; that is all!"

The beautiful girl stood before him pale, dignified, and determined, and there was no mistaking the meaning of her clear decisive utterances.

"There is no question of giving her up, Kate!" he cried. "I swear to God that it is so. Moll Sheargold never shared my love with you!"

"It may be so. All I know is that you once promised to meet her, and that you were with her last night. I may remind you that that meeting remains to be explained."

"It was a pure accident, Kate," he exclaimed, in great earnestness. "I met her in the colliery yard as I was going home, and we merely went as far as Halton's Lane together."

"You didn't arrange to meet her, then?"

"No! As God is above us I didn't."

Luke was perhaps justified in saying that his meeting with Moll Sheargold was a pure accident. So far as he was concerned it was, and to have admitted that the girl designed the encounter would only have necessitated further disagreeable explanations. On the whole he deemed himself warranted in suppressing a portion of the truth, and he did so believing the matter would end there and for ever.

So they kissed and made it up again.


Chapter XIX.—At No. 9, Craig's Court.

As the reader will have already learned, Arthur Willesden left Ashford on the Sunday morning following the evening on which he and Kate Leigh went to the concert, and his destination, as may have been divined, was the residence of his uncle, the solicitor.

But the purpose of his visit has yet to be explained.

It will be remembered that on his previous visit to his relative Willesden had obtained three weeks' more time in which, ostensibly, to carry on his quest. That period was now past, his schemes were still unconsummated, and he had gone to Manchester to lay the foundations of another scheme.

Arthur reached the villa beside Alexandra Park in time to catch his uncle and aunt at breakfast, and as the young fellow intimated that he wished to have a chat on business matters with the solicitor the latter decided not to go to church that morning. Mrs. Willesden went, however, and uncle and nephew were left to themselves.

"It's about that detective business of yours, Arthur, that you want to see me, I suppose?"

"Yes, that's it, uncle."

"Any good news to tell me?"

"No. I am no nearer finding Margaret Hampton now than I was three weeks ago."

"And you want more time, I suppose?"

"No. I have decided to give the search up. I am completely at sea in the matter, and shall never get any nearer the end of it."

"Discouraged, it seems?" said Mr. Willesden, with a smile.

"Utterly!"

"Well, the fit has lasted longer than I thought it would. I knew you hadn't the dogged patience and bulldog tenacity which alone enable a man to unravel a mystery of any complexity, and you are wise in giving up the search. I shall put the matter into Bowman's hands to-morrow, and I have little doubt that he will find Margaret Hampton if she's alive."

"I was thinking," said Arthur, "of calling upon this Bowman and narrating to him what I have done in the business. He might be able to find the trail where I lost it."

"Just so, Arthur; your experience might prove of some use to him. I shall drop him a line to-night saying that I wish to see him, and you can see him any time to-morrow. You'll find him at 9, Craig's Court, Oldham-street."

Arthur jotted down the man's name and address; then he remarked—

"Have you heard anything further from your Australian friend?"

"Oh, yes," the solicitor answered. "I had a letter from him last Thursday. He intends to sell all his possessions in Australia and settle in England, so he says—but you shall see his letter."

Rising, Mr. Willesden crossed the room to where a small bureau stood, and from one of its upper drawers produced a letter which he handed to his nephew. The epistle ran thus:—


"Cambridge House, Sydney,
"August 14th, 1878.

"My dear Willesden,

"I was heartily pleased to receive your prompt and kind reply to my last communication, and equally glad to hear that you had not forgotten me. I heartily reciprocate your generous wishes, and trust ere long to shake hands with you again. Since I last wrote to you I have grown quite homesick. Rather a strange attack this, you will think, after an absence of so many years, but it is a fact, old fellow. I am utterly tired of this part of the world and dying to see England again and feel the soil of Lancashire once more beneath my feet.

"In short, old friend, I intend to convert all I possess in this quarter of the globe into hard cash and settle in the old country for the rest of my days. I never liked the idea of dying and being buried in a foreign land, and now I am resolved that I will not. The conversion alluded to will be accomplished as speedily as possible, and then I shall make tracks for home. I may say that I have a great notion of investing my little pile in land, and if I might presume so much upon your friendship, I would ask you to cast about in search of a pretty house and estate that could be purchased for something like £100,000. More work for you, you see, if you will undertake it. I should like the place all the better if it were somewhere in Lancashire.

"I was pleased to hear that you were taking steps to discover my sister, and when you next write to me I hope you will be able to say that Margaret is found, and that she is waiting to welcome me back to old England.

"For the present, farewell.

"Yours faithfully,

"RICHARD HAMPTON."


Refolding the letter, Arthur handed it back to his uncle, and as the latter rose to replace the missive in the bureau, the younger man remarked in an indifferent tone—

"I daresay your friend is already on his way to England?"

"He may be, as his letter is nearly seven weeks old. I am glad that he is coming to settle in the old country."

Arthur was also glad of this, but he refrained from expressing his feeling, and he continued the conversation by adding in the same indifferent way—

"And what about the estate, uncle? Do you think you will be able to find Mr. Hampton a suitable place in Lancashire?"

"I fancy so, Arthur. There are several in the market, I think, and a hundred thousand will go a tolerable way in land nowadays."

Their conversation ended here, and after dining with his relative at the unfashionable hour of 1 o'clock, Arthur left the villa, and catching a passing tramcar rode into Manchester.

An hour or so later a young gentleman might have been seen before the door of No. 9, Craig's Court, Oldham-street, with a most disgusted look on his handsome countenance. It was Arthur Willesden; and he had only just discovered that the address his uncle had given him was Mr. James Bowman's public office, not his private residence.

Willesden was greatly annoyed by the trifling mistake he had made. His business with the private enquiry officer was of a most urgent nature. But it now appeared that it would have to wait until morning, and he went away chafing at the delay.

Next morning, soon after nine o'clock, a visitor was shown into Mr. James Bowman's wretchedly furnished little office. It was Willesden, of course, and he reflected that if Jem Bowman was clever at his business his surroundings did not show that he had been successful.

The detective was a grey-headed, stoutly-built man of fifty, clean shaven, and heavy-jawed, and his bushy white eyebrows, underneath which gleamed a pair of deeply-sunken eyes, were quick and bright as a ferret's. His whole countenance indicated, to those who could read it, resoluteness of character, indomitable patience, quick intelligence, much cunning, and just a suspicion of an unscrupulous nature—evidently the man to unravel mysteries and ferret out secrets.

"You wish to see me?" Bowman said as he handed his visitor a chair.

"I do. I am Arthur Willesden. I suppose my uncle has written to you this morning?"

"He has. I was just about to go to his office when you arrived."

"He mentioned my name, I daresay?"

"Oh, yes; and your business also. There is some woman whom you have been seeking, and having tired of the affair your uncle wishes me to take it up. He intimates that you desire to make me acquainted with the progress of your enquiries up to the present."

"That is it exactly."

"Then I shall be pleased to listen to you, Mr. Willesden," Bowman said, settling himself in his chair in an attitude of attention.

There was a little pause as Arthur prepared to speak. He had reckoned up the man by this time, and his line of action was clear. It was a bold step he was about to take, but he did not hesitate.

"I suppose, Mr. Bowman, that we need not fear any one overhearing us?"

"No; we are quite safe, sir. My clerk is the only person in the place beside ourselves, and he is too far away to hear a syllable."

"Then I may speak frankly to you. Will you be surprised if I tell you that I have already discovered this woman—Margaret Hampton—for whom my uncle is desirous that you should commence searching?"

"Very much surprised," Jem Bowman cried, his small eyes gleaming with sudden interest, "for your uncle informs me that you have failed in the task you undertook. He was slightly misinformed—by yourself, of course."

"That is so," Arthur replied, echoing the other's laugh. "But I think you will excuse me when I explain the matter. This is how it came about. A week or two ago my search for Margaret Hampton led me to a certain town, and on the first morning of my arrival there—within an hour of reaching the place—I met and fell in love with a beautiful girl whom I instantly resolved to make my wife some day. Well, I got to know where she lived, I engaged lodgings close by, made her acquaintance, and now feel satisfied that I shall win her."

"But what has all this to do with Margaret Hampton, may I ask?"

"A good deal, Mr Bowman. The girl I loved turned out to be Margaret Hampton's daughter."

"Will you permit me to put a few questions to you, Mr. Willesden?"

"As many as you like."

"You will understand that this business of finding Margaret Hampton has not yet been explained to me—I mean that I am still at sea as to why and for what she is wanted. May I ask why your uncle wishes her to be found."

"A brother of hers, who went abroad long ago and has prospered, wishes her to be discovered."

"Ah! I understand. And Mrs. Hampton—if that is still her name—and her daughter are still ignorant of their brother and uncle's existence?"

Arthur nodded affirmatively.

"They are poor, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"And you thought it would be easier to win the love of a poor girl than that of the niece of a rich man?"

"Exactly. That was why I did not tell them their prosperous relative was desirous of making their acquaintance. If I had told my uncle that I had found the object of my search, you see he would have spoiled my chance of winning the girl!"

"So he would. And you want both the women and your uncle to be kept in the dark a little longer, until you have won the girl?"

"Yes. May I rely upon your help in the matter? It will be quite worth your while to do so, I think. I can enable you to lay your hands on Margaret Hampton in a few hours, and you can go on making my uncle believe that you are searching for her. The woman's brother is willing to pay liberally for the business, and you can run up as big a bill as you like for imaginary expenses with the certainty of its being paid."

"And you will, perhaps, do something if I consent to act as you desire me?"

"I will. On receiving your assurance to help me I will hand you twenty-five pounds."

"Then assuming that you have given me an accurate account of the whole affair, I beg to give you that assurance immediately."

"And I hand you a cheque for the amount named."

They shook hands over the bargain, each of them equally pleased with the transaction, and then Bowman asked Willesden to give him an account of his finding of Margaret Hampton and her present address. Arthur gave the other a detailed narrative of his search for Mrs. Leigh and his finding her at Ashford.

Jem Bowman jotted down the widow's present address, and then they left the office together; Willesden going back to Ashford by the earliest train he could get, the other making his way to the solicitor's chambers in order to formally undertake the quest of Margaret Hampton.


Chapter XX.—Richard Hampton.

The autumn had quite spent itself and winter had just set in, and its advent was marked by a severity that caused many a hoary-headed weather-prophet to predict that the forthcoming season would be an old-fashioned one. No snow had fallen yet, but a hard black frost had paved every gravelled path as with iron "setts," and covered each sheet of water with an icy roof, upon which the skaters were already disporting themselves.

It was between eight and nine o'clock, and the night air was piercingly chill, but despite the inclemency of the weather the great thoroughfares of Manchester were thronged with shivering, red-nosed wayfarers. A silvery quadrant of the moon was just rising over the roofs and chimneys of the populous city, and the frosty atmosphere lent a double brilliance to the starry lamps of heaven.

A train arrived at the Victoria Station, and from it there alighted a gentleman with whom this story has something to do, and to whom, on that account, it is necessary that a word or two of description should be accorded.

This passenger on alighting stood for a few moments on the platform, gazing with perceptible interest on the bustle around him, and the lights of the lamps overhead enabled one to take a mental photograph of the man beneath them.

In age he was past life's prime, being apparently about sixty; in height he was less than the average mortal, if the figures of statisticians be truthful. His general appearance was that of a gentleman of means, although his only visible baggage was a small portmanteau.

If age had not fallen lightly upon his shoulders it had certainly touched him with a loving hand. His deep, broad beard was white as winter's snow, and his ruddy complexion contrasted pleasantly with his snowy hair. There was a frank, genial expression about his eyes that invited confidence, whilst his patriarchal appearance justified one in supposing that every virtue found a devotee in him. Only too often nature makes of a mortal's face a living lie, but in this man's case she had expressed in his countenance more than a modicum of truth.

Presently he turned to the right, left the platform, and engaging a hansom outside the station bade the cabman take him as quickly as possible to Cardane Villa, Alexandra Park. The driver expressed his willingness to oblige his fare, and the next minute they were bowling along the well-lit streets at a fair pace.

In a quarter of an hour the gentleman who had travelled by the London train was standing before the door of Henry Willesden's residence with the brass knob of the bell-pull in his fingers. Presently a maid appeared, and on his saying that he wished to see her master he was asked to step inside.

He followed the girl and was met at the entrance to the drawing-room by the solicitor emerging therefrom. The men fronted each other for a moment in silence, whilst the maid slipped away. A smile was lurking about the eyes and mouth of the visitor as he watched the other. Then a sudden light flashed into Henry Willesden's face and he stepped forward exclaiming—

"Hampton!—Dick!"

"Nobody else, Harry."

The hands of the old friends met in one of those firm, clinging grips in which an ordinary Briton can express so much.

"I didn't know you at first, old friend," Willesden said when the vigorous hand-shaking was over. "You saw how puzzled I was for a moment?"

"Certainly I saw it, but I was not going to tell you who I was," Hampton cried laughingly.

"No wonder I was puzzled," the solicitor rejoined, "for the Dick Hampton I remembered was as black-haired as a gipsy."

"So he was, Harry, but you see that the winter of age has covered us both with snow," Hampton replied, pointing to his friend's snowy hair and stroking his own head.

By this time they were inside the cosy drawing-room with its great glowing fire and homelike appearance. Hampton was introduced to Mrs. Willesden, and both host and hostess expressed their pleasure at his arrival in time for supping with them.

"How was it, Dick, that you didn't write to me, or send a telegram, so that I could have met you at either London or Manchester?"

"I thought I'd give you a little surprise, Harry; and I think I have managed to do so."

"No doubt of that, for I was not even certain that you had yet set sail. I was never more surprised in my life than when I recognised you a minute or two ago."

"'Twas a pleasant surprise, I hope?"

"I need not assure you of that I think," Mr. Willesden rejoined earnestly.

During the progress of the meal the old friends chatted with the freedom of school lads of the old days when they were companions, and of the ups and downs each had encountered since their lives had parted ways. Hampton's reminiscences of his career in Australasia were of a most interesting nature, and the supper lasted for an unusually lengthy period.

When at last the meal was concluded Mrs. Willesden retired, saying that she was fatigued, though her real reason was to give the old friends an opportunity for a long chat such as she felt they must desire.

So Hampton and Willesden dropped into an easy chair, one on each side of the fire, stretched their legs out on the hearth-rug that the comforting glow of the blazing coals might fall upon them, and with a flagon of frothing nutty-brown-colored ale near at hand prepared for a pleasant half-hour's talk.

"Well, Willesden," Hampton began, "what news have you for me of my sister?"

"Not so good as I had hoped I should have," the solicitor answered.

"You've not succeeded in finding her?"

"No; I regret to say that we have not. I was quite sanguine at first that she would be found in a few weeks, and as you said in your letter, be waiting to welcome you back to England."

"But you have not ceased to search for her, I hope, Willesden?"

"Oh, certainly not. Since I first received your intimation that you desired your sister to be found I have had a private detective engaged specially to search for her."

"That's right, old fellow; don't give up the search so long as a chance remains. And that reminds me that you will be requiring more funds. You only need to say how much you require."

"We'll talk about that when your sister is found," Willesden rejoined.

"Perhaps it is necessary we should employ more than one detective in this matter," Hampton suggested. "If you think another man would be of any use don't let any thought of the extra cost prevent you from saying so, Harry."

"If your sister is living I am perfectly satisfied that Jem Bowman—the detective already engaged—will discover her, although he admits that this case rather puzzles him."

"How long did Margaret remain at No. 49, Great George-street, after I went away?"

"Only a short time it appears. In the following summer she married a miner named Jonathan Leigh, and they lived at Pendleton for several years. Where they settled next we have not learned; but Bowman inclined to the belief that they emigrated to America."

"And you, Harry?"

"Well, I almost think so too, for I feel convinced that if your sister and her husband had been in England Bowman would have found them before this."

"America is a big place," Hampton responded reflectively, "and it would be worse I am afraid to find them there than if they had been in England."

"Perhaps it would," Willesden assented.

"Has this Bowman any idea as to what part they are likely to have gone?"

"He thinks they have gone to Pennsylvania—if they have gone at all—for he has discovered that a large number of Lancashire miners with their wives and families emigrated thither in eighteen fifty-seven, which was about the time they disappeared from Pendleton."

"The idea seems a likely one," Hampton mused, "and if Bowman fails to find Margaret within the present month we'll send him to Pennsylvania—supposing he is willing to go."

"He'll go anywhere or do anything in order to prove successful in a case he has undertaken, for he always feels that his professional reputation is at stake."

"Well, that is settled; and now, Willesden, about that other business?"

"The estate you spoke of in your letter?"

"Yes; have you succeeded in finding a likely place which is on sale?"

"There are several. There is Denewood Grange in Lancashire, Wilverton Hall in Cheshire, and Monsal Abbey in Derbyshire—all, or rather any, of which can be purchased, I believe, for something less than the sum you mentioned in your communication."

"Where is this Denewood Grange?"

"Almost midway between here and Liverpool. It is situated in the parishes of Upholland and Orrell, and the wood, from which I suppose the Grange derives its name, is said to be one of the most picturesque bits of woodland in the shire."

"I suppose the place can be seen at any time?"

"Most certainly."

"Then I shall have a look at it at once, if you can contrive to accompany me?"

"I am quite at your service."

"Then to-morrow we go to Denewood Grange?"

"If you desire it."

So the matter was settled, and after a little further conversation the friends bade each other good night and retired to rest.

On the following morning Hampton and Willesden set out for Denewood Grange, reaching their destination shortly after noon. The Grange was a mansion of the Elizabethan period, all gables and glazed windows, and it stood on the crown of a wooded knoll that was but an outlying spur of the deep, thickly-timbered valley which spread right and left before the house for a mile or more each way.

Hampton was sufficiently taken up with the appearance of the Grange and adjoining estate as to desire to become its possessor, and the solicitor was there and then commissioned to purchase it on the most favorable terms he could contrive to obtain.

There is no occasion to follow the legal steps taken to transfer Denewood from its possessor's hands to those of Richard Hampton. It is quite sufficient to state that the purchase was effected most expeditiously, and that the new master of the Grange took up his residence there a week or so before Christmas.


Chapter XXI.—The Fall of the Thunderbolt.

About three months have passed since that Saturday night on which Kate Leigh saw her lover walking in company with Moll Sheargold through the colliery yard, and the suspicions which had naturally arisen then, but which Luke had explained away, had lately been revived.

More than once during the last few weeks she had heard her sweetheart's name coupled with that of the unfortunate pit-brow girl—Moll Sheargold—whose pitiable condition was now a matter of common talk to all who worked about the King Pit.

The few words of rumor that had been dropped, perhaps designedly, into her ears had filled her with deep and passionate indignation against the vile gossips who could originate and spread such baseless and shameful stories.

And just while this mood was upon Kate—when she was prepared to believe Luke Standish as pure as her own guileless self, and had scornfully rejected the deadly rumor—there recurred to her one or two memories that not only left a bitter flavor behind them, but even forced her to admit to herself that the rumor she had overheard might be far less baseless and lying than she had at first imagined.

During their short estrangement Luke had certainly flirted with Moll Sheargold before her very eyes, and he had even admitted that he had made an appointment to meet her. According to his own statement he had not kept his promise to meet the dark, handsome girl, whose fall was now so well known; but had he spoken the truth in that respect? Or had he really met her as he had agreed to do?

And then again there was that other incident, which she herself had witnessed on returning from the concert with Arthur Willesden. Luke and Moll might have met quite accidentally, as he had averred was the case, but now that she came to examine the matter calmly it certainly seemed suspicious.

How came Moll Sheargold to meet Luke haphazard in the colliery yard? She had friends certainly in Spencer's-lane, which lay at the other side of the colliery to the town, and she might have been returning from a visit to them when Luke came upon her. But Kate remembered with a thrill of pain that when she saw her lover and the girl he was with they were walking leisurely along, more like sweethearts out for a stroll than a man who had been working a turn down the pit and a girl who was hurrying homeward.

The few dark words that had fallen upon Kate's hearing had set her mind to work in various ways, and the foregoing doubts and suspicions had been generated by the permeating mass of thoughts the girl's active brain contained.

That these doubts made Kate miserable need not be set down here, and her misery was increased by having to be borne in silence. The nature of her trouble was of too delicate a character to be mentioned to either her mother or her lover, and while she hoped that her lover was innocent of the charge rumor had already laid at his door she feared also that he might be proved guilty.

And meanwhile Luke Standish's eyes were fast becoming opened as to the dangerous nature of the ground upon which he and Moll Sheargold stood in the estimation of the public at least.

For a time the young fireman was completely puzzled by the bantering allusions the King Pit men kept making to certain paternal honors that were shortly to be accorded him, but it was not until he heard of Moll Sheargold's misfortune that he fully realised the extent to which he had unwittingly compromised himself by means of his thoughtless flirtation with her.

He knew that his workmates had noticed the attentions he had paid Moll Sheargold during his estrangement from Kate, and he had only to thank or curse his own stupidity for the conclusion they had jumped to. It was a punishment he richly deserved for ever having doubted Kate's love.

But he felt no uneasiness regarding his mates' jests, knowing that he was entirely innocent of the accusation made against him. Yet he felt that the foolish rumor might work mischief if it got to Kate Leigh's ears.

She, of course, would never question his guiltlessness in the matter, but he knew how much she would suffer from having her sweetheart's name joined to that of Moll Sheargold's in such a dishonorable affair. So for Kate's sake he hoped that the rumor would die away and be forgotten without ever reaching her, never thinking that she already knew of it, and was tormenting herself to death almost by the suspicions it had engendered.

And thus the lovers kept their thoughts to themselves on the matter of Moll Sheargold's fall, and Luke's aversion to the subject only tended to confirm Kate's suspicions. Luke had never said that he disliked to speak about the unfortunate girl—had never even alluded to her at all; and this omission had been construed as a kind of negative evidence against him.

Arthur Willesden was still lodging with the Leighs at Bannister's-row, and he was quite satisfied with the aspect of things around him. In every respect his plans were maturing, and giving the promise of a fruitful yield.

Before Christmas arrived Moll Sheargold would launch the thunderbolt at Luke Standish which he—Willesden—had been at such pains and cost to prepare, and when that blow fell gone for ever would be the miner's hopes of making sweet faced Kate Leigh his wife.

And when his rival's chances were swept away as completely as if they had never existed, he would dare to do a little love-making on his own account. He had already won Kate Leigh's respect and gratitude, and he felt that with Luke out of the way he would soon win the rest.

During the last five or six weeks Mrs. Leigh had had a severe attack of rheumatism, being bedridden for many days, during which period Kate had to stay home in attendance upon her mother. This event had given Willesden a chance of winning the lasting gratitude of both the pit-brow girl and her mother.

In the most kindly and gentlemanly manner he insisted upon seeing to the payment of the doctor who attended his ailing landlady, and when this was granted him he stated that he desired to engage his present quarters for six months longer, and he gave neither mother nor daughter any rest until they had permitted him to pay down in hard cash for half a year's board and lodgings.

As neither Mrs. Leigh not Kate knew anything of the deep game Arthur Willesden was playing they naturally thought him one of the kindest and noblest of all God's creatures. To both mother and daughter their boarder appeared everything that a man ought to be.

Arthur's generous forethought enabled Mrs. Leigh to tide over her illness without running into debt, and the deep impression his kindness made upon the widow was never quite obliterated, even when the young worldling's duplicity was proved beyond all further questioning.

Though Willesden was still located at Ashford, he had not failed to make himself fully acquainted with outside events so far as they bore upon his own interests.

Now and again during the past three months, at intervals of a week or a fortnight, he had dropped in at the villa facing Alexandra Park, and from his unsuspecting uncle had learned that although Bowman was vigorously prosecuting his quest of Margaret Hampton his search was still an unsuccessful one.

And only a day or two ago Arthur had discovered that Richard Hampton had returned from Australia and had purchased and was then residing at Denewood Grange.

Was it a wonder that the youthful schemer chuckled to himself in the most satisfied way when he saw all his plans and hopes looking so bright and promising? A few more weeks, perhaps a shorter period, would witness the consummation of his schemes.

His rival would then be a dishonored man and a discarded lover and himself the affianced husband of bonny Kate Leigh. Then would follow the rest of the scheme he had marked out so carefully.

When he was engaged to the pit-brow girl—when she was wearing their betrothal ring—Mr. James Bowman would suddenly discover that the sister and niece of Richard Hampton had not gone to the United States as he had imagined, but were living in a small Lancashire town, whither he would immediately hasten to inform the poor women of their rich relative's existence and desire to see them.

This was the picture that had constantly hung of late before Arthur Willesden's mental vision, and the sequence of events he had thus calculated upon happening appeared to be only the natural results of the forces he had set working.

The game he was engaged in was of absorbing interest to Arthur, and in case he came off a loser would cost him pretty dear. His tips to the private detective, his bribing of Moll Sheargold, and his designedly generous treatment of the Leighs had made an inroad into his little fortune; but he was quite contented, seeing a prospect of his investments being returned a thousandfold.

Another week passed, and at length the long-gathering storm burst in all its pent-up fury, its lightnings almost blinding Kate Leigh with shame, its thunderbolt striking her sweetheart with deadly effect.

It was on a Thursday morning, about a week or so before Christmas, when the storm burst. Three days before Moll Sheargold had been confined of a baby lad, handsome and strong as its mother, and this momentous episode had again set wagging all the gossiping tongues of Ashford.

On the morning alluded to Luke Standish was at home partaking of dinner with his mother when the sudden and unexpected blow fell upon him. He had been working the night before, and had only just arisen from bed, and as he commenced to eat there came a sharp authoritative knock at the door.

Rising, Mrs. Standish went to see who was knocking, and on opening the door was confronted by a policeman whom she knew.

"What is it, John?" she asked wonderingly.

"On'y o present for Luke," he exclaimed with a smile, and handing her a blue-colored document he turned on his heel and marched unconcernedly away to deliver the other summonses he held in his hand.

"What is it, mother?" Luke asked, as his parent advanced towards the table.

"A summons o' some sort!" she answered, unable to read.

"A summons! What for?" the fireman ejaculated, glancing up from his plate.

"Ay, a summons," Mrs. Standish replied. "Ah dunnut know what for, but John Robinson browt it, an' he said as it wur for thee."

Luke stretched out his hand for the blue neatly-folded and official-looking paper his mother held towards him. Sorely perplexed he smoothed out the document, and his heart gave a great throb, his face lost all its color as he read the words that appeared to swim before his eyes, and realised the fact that he was summoned to attend at the Ashford Borough Court at half-past ten on Monday morning next to show cause why he should not contribute towards the support of an illegitimate child of Mary Sheargold, of which he was alleged to be the father.

"My God, Luke! What is it, lad?" his mother exclaimed, as she noticed his deep pallor and great agitation.

But he did not seem to have heard her frightened cry. He sat there white and trembling, the summons clenched in his hand, his teeth shut firmly, his lips drawn together, and his strange-looking, distended eyes fixed upon the words that meant so much pain and shame and loss to him.

"For God's sake, lad, tell me what it is!" his mother cried again, her fright increased by his continued silence. "Tell me, Luke!" she added, bending over her son affectionately.

"It is nothing!" he at last answered in a low, hard voice. "At least nothing that I need fear. Don't let it disturb you, mother."

"But what is it for?"

"A summons which shows that Moll Sheargold is going to father her child on me."

He saw that his explanation had not lessened his mother's uneasiness—had even increased it—and he rightly interpreted the question her looks expressed though her lips could not utter it.

"It isn't true, mother!" he cried aloud. "As true as God's in heaven it is false!"

"Then why has Moll done it?" she demanded, not at all satisfied that he was innocent.

"I do not know," he murmured, reading his parent's suspicions in her words and tone.

For the moment he felt utterly crushed by the blow that had struck him, and his misery was increased by the bewilderment he felt at Moll Sheargold's singular action against him. Why had she elected to take such an unwarrantable course?

Was it to revenge herself upon him for rejecting her attentions? He knew that she loved him, as she had shown occasionally rather too plainly, and he knew also that he had shown her pretty plainly likewise that she could never be anything to him. Had she done it out of pure spite? And was she about to prove the truth of the saying that "hell has no fury like a woman scorned?"

Of all the world one person only beside himself knew that he was innocent of this vile charge, and that was Moll Sheargold, his accuser. His mother had given no credit to his protestations of guiltlessness, therefore it was not likely that anyone else would do so.

A hot blinding mist rose before Luke's eyes as he thought of all the misery and shame in store for himself and the pain that would fall upon his sweetheart when the news of his summons reached her, for how could he expect Kate to believe him innocent when his mother refused to do so?

Nay, he felt that it would be utterly useless on his part to go to his sweetheart and swear that Moll Sheargold's charge was absolutely baseless. Kate would remember his flirtation with Moll, and his meeting her in the colliery yard that Saturday night, and to counterbalance such damning evidence as this he had only his solitary testimony—testimony that everyone, friend and foe alike, was prepared to discount, knowing that it was customary in similar cases for the culprits to plead absolute innocence.

The miner ground his teeth savagely together as he realised how impotent he was, and he felt that a series of small circumstances had woven about him a network of steel, from which all escape seemed impossible.

All this passed through Luke's mind in a short time, and when the first stunning effect of the blow passed off his feeling of misery was supplanted by one of intense indignation. What a monstrous charge was this laid against him, and what a fool Moll Sheargold must be to make such an accusation.

He would crush the infamous scheme in a moment—force the degraded girl to publicly declare his innocence; and with these thoughts in his mind he jumped from his chair, left his dinner untouched, and putting on his coat and hat prepared to leave the house.

"Where ar't' gooin', Luke?" his mother asked as he laid his hand on the latch.

"Where am ah gooin'?" he echoed turning on the threshold with the half-opened door in his hand. "To Moll Sheargold."

"What for?"

"To shove this infernal summons down her lying throat," he cried, waving the document in the air.

The next moment he slammed the door to heavily and strode down the street.


Chapter XXII.—Luke Standish's Flight.

As anyone might have foreseen the news of the summons flew like wildfire through the little town, and it reached the brow of the King Pit first of all. Even when Luke Standish was on his way to Moll Sheargold's the intelligence had flown so far and fast that his sweetheart was then in possession of it.

The quick flight to the colliery was due to the fact that one of the men who worked upon the King Pit brow happened to be returning from his dinner when he saw the policeman, John Robinson, hand Mrs. Standish the summons for her son.

Wondering what the summons was for—for the browman could tell what the document was by its color and the person who delivered it—the man waited for the policeman to overtake him, and being on speaking terms with Robinson, said—

"What's up at Standish's, John? Ah seed you takkin a summons theer."

"Oh, ay, Danny," the officer replied with a laugh. "It was fur Luke."

"What's he bin doin'?" the browman asked as he and Robinson walked up the street together.

"Ah connut tell thee that, lad," the policeman answered wagging his head sagely. "Aw as ah know is that Moll Sheargold wahnts a feyther for her chahlt."

"Was t' summons for that theer?"

"It was for nowt else, Danny. T' case is to be tried nex' Monday mornin'."

The browman hurried to the colliery with his budget of intelligence, and in a few minutes the news was known to all who worked about the surface. The majority of the browgirls were seated in the big cabin passing the remainder of their dinner hour in gossiping, and Danny Ogden's news was a delicious morsel of scandal that all welcomed, and they tossed it about from lip to lip with the greatest delight.

Returning from her dinner at about five minutes to one, Kate Leigh happened to stroll towards the cabin, beside the open doorway of which she leant herself, not dreaming of the subject which was being so boldly discussed inside.

Some of the girls had not noticed Kate's approach, and they continued their rude comments upon Danny Ogden's news in tones loud enough for Kate to overhear them.

The mention of Luke Standish's name first aroused Kate's attention, and a minute later she knew all that had taken place that morning; and the intelligence affected her as much as it had disturbed Luke. Pale and almost choking she remained there a moment only, then she walked away, fearful that those inside the cabin might come out and discover her in the very throes of her shame.

Half staggering across the brow she came upon the man who superintended all the pit brow work, and telling him that she had been taken suddenly ill, she asked for an afternoon's holiday. Her white face and evident agitation fully supported the girl's statement, and her request was at once granted.

Thanking the man brokenly she immediately left the brow just as the steam whistle began to announce the hour of one, and the pit girls came trooping from out the cabin quite unconscious that their rude tongues had almost broken one of their workmates' hearts.

But Kate did not turn homeward on quitting the pit bank. She had resolved to learn for herself what truth there was in the gossip she had just overheard, and the path she took led her at length to her sweetheart's home.

She knocked at the door, which her lover had slammed only a ten minutes before, and when Mrs. Standish appeared, said—

"I want to see Luke; is he in?"

"He's just gone eawt," the widow replied, amazed at Kate's appearance there.

"Where has he gone?"

"To Moll Sheargold's, ah think. But cum in, wench, he'll happen not be long. What was to wahntin' him for?"

"I want to know if it is true that Moll Sheargold is going to father her child upon him?"

The girl's face was now aflame with hottest shame. It was heartrending to the pure, proud girl to be standing there asking her lover's mother such a question as that she had just uttered.

"Ah think it is," Mrs. Standish replied. "Ah know that he geet o summons this mornin'."

Kate waited to hear no more. Rising, she at once made for the door, paying no heed to, scarcely hearing, the widow's protestations of her son's innocence. Beside the door she turned, just as Luke had done, saying sternly—

"Tell your son, Mrs. Standish, that I never wish to see his face again until he proves himself worthy of an honest woman's love!"

Then she sped homeward, desirous only of reaching the privacy of her own bedroom, and wondering if heaven had power to send a blacker trouble than that which had fallen upon her that day.

On arriving at the cottage in Bannister's-row Kate told her mother that she had left her work on account of illness; but she said nothing about the cause of her indisposition, and going at once to her room the long pent up flood of tears burst forth, and her grief did not spend itself until the troubled girl had sobbed herself to sleep.

Half-an-hour or so after Kate returned home Arthur Willesden came back from a stroll through the town. He seemed much agitated about something, as Mrs. Leigh could plainly perceive on opening the door for him, but she said nothing, going forward to the kitchen.

But the next minute she heard Willesden calling her, and going into the parlor found him standing on the hearthrug before the fire. She felt certain now that something had happened to him—perhaps he was going away. His first words showed her that he was not uneasy on his own account.

"Mrs Leigh," he began in a consolatory tone, "I am sorry to say that I have bad news for you and your daughter."

The widow gave a little gasp of surprise, having expected the trouble was his own, and sank into the chair nearest her. Then he continued—

"Have you heard anything of the summons Luke Standish received this morning?"

"No."

"Well, the whole town is ringing with it, and I feared it must have got to you and Kate—poor girl, it will pain her terribly, I know."

"Kate has come home ill!" Mrs. Leigh cried. "She is upstairs now in her room."

"Then she has heard of it. What a trial it must be to her, poor thing."

"What is it all about?" the widow, cried excitedly, tired of the suspense to which he was purposely subjecting her.

"Do you know a pit-brow girl named Moll Sheargold?" he questioned.

"Yes. What of her?"

"She is the mother of an illegitimate child."

"Yes?"

"Well, she says Luke Standish is the father. She has taken out a summons against him, and the case is to be tried next Monday."

Mrs. Leigh heaved a sigh of relief. The intelligence was unpleasant enough, but much less so than Willesden's manner had led her to expect. There was even a grain of comfort to be derived from it, for now all would be over between Kate and the pitman, and Kate might make the better match, which the mother desired.

"Are you sure of this, or is it only a rumor, Mr. Willesden?" she asked.

"Quite certain," he replied. "I came home through the colliery yard and found that everyone about the pit knew of it—could even tell me the policeman's name who delivered the summons."

"What was the name?"

"John Robinson, so they say."

"Then I will soon know whether it is true or not!" Mrs. Leigh said rising.

"What do you think of doing?"

"Of going to Mrs. Standish. If it is true Luke shall never cross my doorstep again."

Willesden did not attempt to dissuade the widow from her avowed purpose, and in a little while she was hurrying towards the house her daughter had previously visited that afternoon. Mrs. Standish was at home, and the visitor quickly learned that it was quite true about Luke having received the summons; and before they parted the two women had a pretty little quarrel over the matter; for if the miner's mother was far from being convinced that her lad was guiltless, she did not defend him the less stoutly on that account.

It is time now to return to Luke Standish and see how he went on after leaving home with the expressed intention of visiting Moll Sheargold and forcing her to withdraw her infamous accusation against him and resign her iniquitous action at law.

But on presenting himself at the home of the Sheargold's he was informed that the girl was too weak and ill to see anyone, and that the doctor had left word that the least excitement would certainly endanger her life. In the passionate mood which then possessed him Luke was half-minded to force a way into the girl's presence, but better thoughts prevailed and he went sullenly away.

Taking a path that led outside the town the fireman struck into the country, hardly knowing and scarcely caring whither he went. It seemed to Luke as if he were flying from his trouble, and he sped through the dead, brown fields, under the black leafless trees, alongside the dark ragged hedgerows, seeking a reprieve for the pain that was torturing heart and brain.

But the bleak landscape and leaden-hued sky brought not the anodyne he sought. The passions that were contending within him were not to be tranquilised by any amount of penance in the shape of walking. But before Luke realised this he had left Ashford half a dozen miles behind, and by this time the short wintry day was beginning to draw in.

He only discovered how far he had walked on perceiving the village of Longdon on the hillside a small distance ahead, and turning he bent his steps homeward again.

It was bitterly cold, the wind blowing from the north-east, but the young fellow's blood was in too heated a condition for him to feel the chilliness of the icy air. Presently snow began to fall, slowly at first and in tiny flakes, but soon quickly and in great scales big as shilling pieces.

Suddenly Luke stopped in the path and taking the summons from his pocket read every word of it once more. By this time he thought Kate might have heard of it, and what a wretch she must think him. In a sudden impulse of passion he tore the blue sheet into minute fragments and tossed them over the hedge.

Then he continued his walk, quickening his gait, for an idea had just come to him, and he had a purpose now in getting to Ashford as soon as he could. Looking at his watch, he saw that it was half-past three, and it would take him an hour or more to reach the King Pit.

He would just be in time to intercept his sweetheart on her way home. He wanted to assure her that he was wholly guiltless of this monstrous accusation, and although he felt that he might not succeed in convincing Kate of his innocence he was determined to make the attempt.

It was quite dark when Luke reached the colliery, and it yet wanted twenty minutes to 5, the hour at which Kate Leigh usually finished work. She could not have gone home yet, he mused, and taking up his station beside the old stile in the waggon road he awaited her coming.

The ground was now covered with a soft white carpet of snow, and the great flakes were still descending and silently, steadily, adding to the mass. Regardless of the cold, he stood there in the semi-darkness, his hair, face, beard, and clothes covered with the congealed particles, silent and grim as a statue carven from frozen snow.

A quarter of an hour passed and the steam whistles rung forth their unmusical notes, the stream of harsh sounds passing through the falling snowflakes with a strange muffled sound. It was five o'clock now and Kate might come any minute. Shading his eyes with his hand he glanced down the line endeavoring to make out her slim figure in the gloom.

But he saw nothing, and he waited on. Another half-hour passed and again there was a hoarse piping of whistles accompanied by a muffled clangor of bells. Was Kate working overtime? Was she working at all?

Just as these questions flitted through his mind a dim figure came into sight. It was Kate? No! only the man who had granted her the holiday she had requested on the plea of illness. As he reached the stile he recognised the white figure standing there, and said—

"Heaw do, Luke?"

"Heaw do, Harry? Has Kate Leigh done yet?"

"Hoo's not bin workin' sin' dinner tahme," the man replied. "Hoo went whoam ill."

In another moment the miner was over the stile and going towards Bannister's-row. In a few minutes he was beside the garden-gate; now he was upon the narrow snow covered walk; then he was knocking at the door; now facing Mrs. Leigh on the threshold.

"You here?" she cried sternly, with flashing eyes and lowered brows.

"Yes. I want to see Kate."

"She is ill in bed and cannot see you. I wonder that you dare come near her after what you have done!"

"I am innocent," he said with simple pathos. "Do let me see her for a minute."

"It is her own wish that you do not, and that wish is mine also. And I shall be obliged if you will never come near my house again."

As she finished speaking she stepped back and the door was shut in his face. A great lump rose in Luke's throat, almost choking him, and two big tear-drops fell upon his frosted beard. He brushed the moisture from his eyes with an angry sweep of his palm, and turning away from the cottage felt that now he had reached hell's lowest and darkest depth.

Then he went home to prepare for his night's work.

When Luke called Kate was still up-stairs, having cried herself asleep but her mother was hardly warranted in saying she did not desire to see him, for not having spoken to her daughter on the subject she was, of course, unconscious of what the girl's desires on that point were.

Willesden was in the parlor when Luke came, and he contrived to overhear what had passed between the fireman and Mrs. Leigh. When she came in Arthur called the incensed widow into his room, saying as she entered—

"May I ask, Mrs. Leigh, who it was that came to the door just now?"

"Luke Standish?"

"Wanting to see Kate, I suppose?"

"Yes, the shameless brute."

"You refused to let him, of course?"

"Certainly, and gave him a bit of my mind in the bargain."

"It was exceedingly ungentlemanly of him to come near her at such a time. He seems altogether unable to appreciate the extreme delicacy of her nature."

To this Mrs. Leigh assented with a vigorous nod, and he went on—

"It has pained me very much, Mrs. Leigh, to think of the petty yet almost unendurable annoyances to which Kate will be subjected when she returns to work. Her engagement to Standish will make her a target at which her companions will shoot all sorts of things. You know how coarse some of those pit-girls are, and you know what it will be to bear their taunts. Wouldn't you like to spare her all this?"

"Very much!"

"Then keep her at home for a week or two, and I will take care that you lose nothing by her ceasing to work. You can say you have another attack of rheumatism. A little fib is justifiable in a case like this."

She assented readily to this proposal, and when Kate came down from her room with red swollen eyes and disordered hair she found her mother apparently suffering from another assault of her old complaint, and in response to Mrs. Leigh's urgent request she consented to remain off work for a few days.

It was a great relief to Kate to think she would not have to face her workmates for that week at least. She fully understood what a butt she would become for rude banter and indelicate gibe, and she shrank from the ordeal of showing herself yet awhile to the public gaze.

Willesden really felt some concern for Kate's delicacy of character, but his main design in wishing her to remain at home was that she might be kept out of Luke Standish's reach. He believed the girl loved his rival sufficiently to incline her to believe in her lover's protestations of innocence, and to prevent this he devised the little farce already enacted.

On the following day Luke Standish again went to the house of the Sheargolds, his intention being the same as on the previous noon. But he was once more denied admission to the girl, and again it was alleged that Moll was still too ill to see him.

He knew now that the girl was purposely evading a meeting with him. He could perceive that no opportunity of seeing or speaking to her would be given him until they met face to face in the Ashford Borough Court.

And it was not probable that they would meet in that place on Monday next, for he would not be there to defend himself. For various reasons he had decided on taking this course and allowing the judgment to go against him.

In the first place he had heard that his sweetheart, Kate Leigh, and his friend, Arthur Willesden, were both to appear as witnesses against him, as they had seen him and Moll Sheargold together in the colliery yard late at night some months ago, and to spare his darling such a bitter humiliation he had resolved not to appear.

It were better that he should lose what little chance he had of clearing himself from the black accusation than that Kate should be crushed to the dust in keenest shame by being dragged into the witness-box and thus made the cynosure of the prying eyes and prurient minds with which the court would be crowded.

To spare her that agony he would sacrifice himself; and she would never know that he had thrown away his only chance in order to save her from pain and shame—nay, would she not interpret his failure to defend himself as indisputable evidence of guilt?

It was intensest bitterness to him to think of all this, but he had marked out the course he thought it best to pursue under all the circumstances and would not shirk it now.

When the day of the trial arrived the court was densely packed with a gaping crowd of Ashford's most ignorant idlers all agog with expectation. But they were doomed to disappointment, for the case occupied only a very few minutes.

The defendant did not put in an appearance when his name was called, and judgment went against him by default.

And while the case against her son was thus being disposed of Mrs. Standish was reading a letter she had just received from her lad. Luke had gone out early that morning, never mentioning whither he was going, or when he would be back, and now it appeared that he was not coming back at all.

In the letter Luke stated that he was going far away from Ashford—might perhaps leave the country altogether—and when he had settled down somewhere he would send for his mother. Till that time she would remain at Ashford, as he had provided for her maintenance for two or three months. He had contrived to save thirty pounds, and half of this sum he had taken with him, having banked the other portion that morning in her name. He enclosed the bankbook, and she would be able to draw the money as she required it.

That was all he had to say. He wasted no ink in making further declarations of innocence, which he felt everybody would disbelieve. He said nothing as to where he thought of going. He was gone, and no one in Ashford had the remotest knowledge of his destination.

But the tidings of Luke's flight spread quickly through the town. His mother was deeply offended by his running away, and whenever she spoke of it she rated him soundly for his cowardice. If he was innocent he should have defended himself like a man; if he was guilty he should have admitted it like a man, and made the poor wench an honest woman.

That was the way in which Mrs. Standish argued the matter, and the great majority of people thought as she did. Of all the thousands who knew about the case not one ever dreamt that the miner was innocent.


Chapter XXIII.—"Off With The Old Love, on With The New."

As Luke Standish had clearly foreseen, the fact of his sudden flight on the morning of the trial had added the last link to the chain of evidence which convinced Kate Leigh that her late lover was certainly guilty of the offence laid at his door.

It was impossible for her to interpret the incident in any other way, and the fact of his destination being carefully hidden, even from his mother, went to show that he feared that the law might follow him. Not only was he a guilty wretch, but, as his parent said, a cowardly one, who had sinned and fled from the consequences.

And now, being thoroughly satisfied that Luke was unworthy of her love, she strove to banish him from her heart and mind—a task she would never have striven to accomplish had her tender, loving nature been able to discover the slenderest excuse for his conduct.

But all was dark as pitch against Luke—nowhere glimmered the faintest streak of light. So guilty was he that he had not dared to face her during the past week. She did not know that the poor fellow had waited for her by the stile till he was half-frozen, and that he afterwards came to the cottage and was denied all access to her.

Mrs. Leigh had thought it best to say nothing to Kate about Luke's visit, and this omission of the mother's caused the daughter to unjustly record another black mark against the pitman's name.

Kate had not yet recommenced work, as her mother was still supposed to be unwell, and the girl still shrank from the idea of resuming her place among the pit-brow women. Since the day she left work she had never ventured beyond the confines of the cottage, her fear of encountering the curious glances of people having been developed instead of being decreased by her retirement.

And during the past few days the girl had perceived a change in Arthur Willesden's demeanor towards herself. He was still as deferential as ever, quite as respectful in every way, but his voice appeared to have a tone now that it had lacked previously—his lightest word a meaning that she had not noticed before.

It was plain to Kate now that Willesden was not only a warm, admiring friend, but a devoted lover also. A shadowy indefinite something she clearly apprehended yet could not have defined told her of the transition which had taken place in Arthur's position and feelings towards her.

She would not have discovered this change so readily had not her mother dropped such very plain hints regarding what might possibly happen now that a certain unworthy hulk of a fellow had taken himself out of the way.

And when Kate came to notice Willesden's manner she was forced to think that her mother had made a shrewd guess at his feelings. And if, as Mrs. Leigh had intimated, their handsome and generous-hearted lodger had loved her all along it was certainly very noble of him never to overstep the boundaries of friendship so long as she was engaged to the man who had fled from his native town.

But now that everything had altered and her engagement was a thing of the past he had certainly the right to try to win her; and thinking over the matter Kate could not help feeling impressed by the delicate and honorable way in which Arthur had behaved.

She respected the young fellow very much, had a great admiration for his handsome appearance and gentlemanly address, and the debt of gratitude she and her mother owed him it would never be, she feared, in their power to repay.

She even regretted that she did not return Willesden's affection, for was he not worthy of any woman's love? And what was she but an ignorant pit-brow girl? One of a class despised by many; and what man in Arthur's position—save himself—would think of choosing a wife from her walk of life?

All the circumstances of the case—save one—pleaded in Willesden's favor. He had played his part so well as to cast a glamour over both mother and daughter, and it was probable that when he deigned to ask Kate to marry him she would consent. The only thing that militated against him was the ghost of the old love which still haunted the girl, but which she was constantly endeavoring to lay.

At last the crisis came. It was a couple of days after Luke's flight, and Arthur resolved to put his fate to the touch that evening should a favorable opportunity present itself. He had given Mrs. Leigh a hint of his intention in the morning, and she applauded his resolution, promising to give him the chance he so much desired.

After nightfall, when the household work was over, and Kate had donned a bright-colored dress of print, which set off her simple beauty as a tuft of green leaves sets off a rose, Mrs. Leigh made some excuse for slipping out to some of her neighbors, leaving her daughter by the fireside knitting.

The closing of the back door warned Arthur, who was on the alert, that his opportunity had arrived, and he was just in the mood for grasping it. He advanced into the kitchen, his dark face flushed and handsome, his black eyes flashing with the light of love and hope.

She glanced up as he came in, according him a smile of welcome, and accepting this as an omen of success he went towards the fireplace, saying—

"Busy, I see, Miss Leigh?"

"Yes, in a small way," she responded, the bright needles twinkling in her deft fingers. "My mother has just gone to Mrs. Dawson's."

"Then we shall be alone for a few minutes, and I am glad, for it gives me an opportunity I have long desired. Do you know, Miss Leigh, that I have come to make a confession?"


Chapter XXIV.—Another Betrothal.

"Do you know, Miss Leigh," Arthur Willesden had said, "that I have come to make a confession?"

The clicking of the girl's needles ceased for a moment as she glanced up at his words. She thought she understood the matter to which he referred, and her sweet face grew crimson under his ardent eyes. Then she dropped her gaze, her needles clicked and twinkled faster than before, and she echoed—

"A confession?"

"Yes; but I am sinner enough to believe that you will grant me the fullest absolution when I have fully explained the nature of my sinning, and also its cause."

He paused a moment as if he expected some reply; but Kate was silently plying her knitting pins, and he continued—

"You will be indignant, I am sure, Miss Leigh, when you learn that I came here—to this house—under false pretences."

She cast a swift look at him, but uttered no word.

"I told you and your mother that I was an author who had come to Ashford specially to study mining life. It was not so. I am no author, and I never cared to learn anything about the pits—save that which concerned you."

Still she said nothing, but the needles flitted to and fro, and the grey-hued wool went sliding round her little brown finger.

"The author business was the most plausible excuse I could invent at the time to account for my staying in the town, and from the moment I first set eyes on you I found it impossible to leave Ashford. To be near you always I deceived both you and your mother. That is my sin. May I hope that you will forgive me the deception I practised upon you?"

"I have nothing to forgive, Mr. Willesden," she replied with some emotion, "and every reason to be thankful that you came here. We shall never be able to repay all your great kindness."

"I have not yet finished my confession," he retorted. "When I have done you will not speak so kindly, I fear. I love you, Kate—have done so since we first met in the waggon road. I resolved then to win you, but on coming to live here found that you were engaged to another. That knowledge sealed my lips, though it could not close my heart. So long as you were affianced to another I never showed by word or act what were my feelings towards you. I speak now because you are free. Kate, darling, will you be my wife?"

He had pleaded his cause most eloquently—had presented himself and his actions in the best possible light. His pretty little speech had been carefully prepared and committed to memory weeks ago, and it had been rehearsed more than once.

No wonder that it made an impression on Kate. Standing there on the hearthrug with his back to the fire, his dark handsome face aglow with passion, his flashing black eyes aflame with love-light, that prettily-told tale of love at first sight falling from his lips in tenderest accents touched the girl in the way he desired, and won him the battle.

Willesden's love had a most ignoble birth, springing as it did, firstly, from the worst possible motives, but his love was real enough now; and Kate felt it, and knowing nothing of the base feelings which had first attracted him towards her, and having an exalted idea of his character, she honestly regretted that she did not love him, and wished that he had come to woo before her heart was stolen by Luke Standish.

She said something of this to him in answer to his impassioned plea. He had taken her hands in his own and the knitting had slipped from Kate's lap upon the floor, displacing one of the needles and dropping several stitches. She was still seated, and he was bent over her, waiting for her to speak.

"It is so sudden," she faltered.

"I could not restrain myself any longer," he pleaded. "Think how long I have kept my love within bounds for another man's sake. Give me one word of hope. Say at least that you do not hate me."

"Oh, no! I respect and admire you—I wish I loved you," she exclaimed frankly. "You will understand me, I know. I cannot forget and love again in a week."

She sighed as if some bitter memory had crossed her mind, and he responded—

"I have been too hasty perhaps; I thought only of my love; I forgot your mistake."

"Yes, it was a mistake, but it is over now."

"And may I hope that some day your respect and admiration will give birth to a tenderer feeling?"

"It may—I hope so," she replied fervently.

"Then I am satisfied that it will; and, Kate, your respect and admiration are more to me than any other woman's love could be. Promise to be my wife, and from such feelings nothing but love can come. Will you not say yes?"

"If you wish it—knowing all," she faltered.

"If I wish it!" he cried jubilantly. "Why it is my dearest earthly hope. I want the right to forbid you ever donning the garb of a pitgirl again."

"There is nothing wrong about that."

"Not for ordinary girls, but for you it seems quite out of place. Well, you have done with it all, thank goodness, and you will look prettier and more like the true gentlewoman you are in the pretty dresses I shall buy you than in your corduroy breeches."

She laughed, and then their pact was sealed with the tender salutation customary in such agreements. He drew a chair beside her, seated himself thereon, the knitting was lifted from the white flags, and as Kate addressed herself to the task of taking up the dropped stitches he asked—

"And when is the wedding to be, Kate?"

She hesitated to name a date, being in no hurry to resign her freedom.

"You shall select your own time," he said, seeing that it would not do to press for an early marriage just yet, much as he desired it. "Suppose we say a month from to-day?" he added.

She shook her shapely head decisively, and he asked—

"Two months, then."

"Why need we name a date just yet?" she replied.

"Because I love you so much, dear, that every day will be torture until I make you mine. So that you name a day—I care not when—I shall be satisfied. I want to be able to look forward to a day when my happiness will be assured."

"And is the naming of the day quite essential to your happiness?" she questioned, wishing to gain time and hoping that her mother would return in time to save her from Arthur's tender importunities.

"Quite so—name it!" he cried with mock imperiousness of tone and gesture. "From to-day is it to be one month or two?"

She nodded, half won, half wearied by his loving persistence, and her motion of assent caused him to exclaim joyfully—

"In two months, then, you will be my wife. How happy you have made me, darling!"

He took her lovingly in his arms and pressed his lips tenderly to her own. But much as Kate respected and admired Arthur—greatly as she now loathed her old lover—she felt that Willesden's caresses were but as milk compared with the wine of Luke Standish's heart-thrilling kisses.

But that dream was over now, and it was wrong even to think of it. Another life now lay before her instead of that she had once thought of living as Luke Standish's wife. With a half-repressed sigh that did not escape Arthur's sharp ears she dragged herself back to the present to listen to her accepted lover's words.

"And now," Willesden was saying, "I want you to tell me that you will not think of going on the pit-brow any more. It pains me beyond expression to think of you toiling at that rough work while I lounge about doing nothing at all. You will go to work no more?"

"I don't know," Kate replied in a doubtful tone. She was wondering how she and her mother were to live if she worked no more between the present and the wedding day.

"You will be guided by your mother?"

"Yes."

"That is settled, then. And now let me see your finger. Will this fit it?"

He pulled a ring from his little finger and slid it upon the third finger of her small, brown, outstretched hand.

"A bit too big—not much—Kate. I can easily tell now what size will fit you. To-morrow I am going to Manchester to buy the engagement ring. It will remind—oh, here is your mother. Mrs. Leigh, congratulate me on my good luck. Kate has promised to be my wife."

His face was aglow with love and pleasure, his whole being seemed instinct with triumph at the victory he had won, and his open manner and winning ways would have captivated the hearts of more sophisticated people than the pit-brow girl and her mother.

Of course, Mrs. Leigh was intensely gratified to hear that Kate had accepted Willesden. With Luke Standish out of the way she had felt certain that it must come to that, but she had not expected her daughter to give herself to Arthur so readily.

On the following morning Willesden was off betimes to Manchester for the purpose of obtaining the little gemmed circlet of gold which was to be the outward and visible sign to Kate of her engagement to him. He purchased a pretty ring set with pearls and one large brilliant, and with this in his pocket he made his way to his uncle's, just catching him and Mrs. Willesden at dinner.

Arthur was asked to partake of the meal. He complied, and he and the solicitor fell into conversation. The young fellow had decided to tell his relatives of his engagement to the Ashford pit-brow girl, his reason for taking this course being this—

Sooner or later the solicitor would have to learn that Arthur was engaged to Kate Leigh, and by telling him at once his uncle's suspicions might not be aroused later on. Of course he had no intention of telling the solicitor that he had wooed and won Kate, knowing her to be Richard Hampton's niece.

His purpose was to make his uncle and aunt believe that for sweet love's sake alone he had courted the humble girl, never dreaming that she possessed a wealthy bachelor uncle. When that fact became known, as it must shortly, he trusted to his own ingenuity to explain away all he had done.

"And what are you doing in town, Arthur?" Mr. Willesden asked.

"You cannot guess, uncle, if you try all day," the nephew exclaimed laughingly.

"You're on some wild business or other I am sure, Arthur," Mrs. Willesden remarked.

"On the contrary, my dear aunt, my mission is of the most peaceful nature imaginable," he retorted merrily.

"You've come to town to engage offices in which to commence business as a legal light," Henry Willesden chaffingly said, knowing his kinsman's utter distaste for work of any kind.

"No; something even more surprising than that, uncle."

"Then unravel the riddle for us, for I cannot imagine anything more unlikely to happen."

"I am going to be married!"

"Married!" Mr. and Mrs. Willesden cried in a breath, as much astonished as if he had said he was going to be hanged.

"Yes, married. Why shouldn't I? I have just been to buy the engagement ring."

"And the young lady?" Mrs. Willesden asked.

"Lives at Ashford; her name is Miss Leigh. She works, or rather used to work, on the pit-brow."

"And you are going to wed a pit-brow girl?" the solicitor asked in amazement.

"Yes, in two months from yesterday, and I'd have married her much sooner if I could."

"Are you acting wisely, Arthur, in selecting a wife from such a class?" the elder man asked gravely.

"Acting wisely, uncle? Why any of the seven wise men of Greece would have jumped at Kate Leigh if they had only had the chance. She's beautiful, pure, good, clever—nothing at all like the pitgirls you have in your mind's eye. You'll agree with me when you see her."

"How long have you known her, Arthur?" Mrs. Willesden questioned.

"Only a few weeks, but quite long enough to learn that she is everything I desire."

"Well, well, you will have your own way, I suppose, Arthur, and I do hope that the marriage may turn out as well as you expect," Mrs. Willesden responded.

"And I shall make the bride a nice little present on the wedding-day," the solicitor remarked.

"Thank you! Thank you!" Arthur rejoined, and soon after this he took his departure, going, however, not straight to Ashford, but to the office of the Private Enquiry Officer, Jem Bowman.

Once, whilst at the villa, it had been on the tip of Arthur's tongue to ask his uncle how Bowman was progressing in his quest of Richard Hampton's sister; but he had repressed the desire to learn more of the matter, thinking that if he evinced any curiosity about the Australian's affairs his relative's suspicions would be aroused later on when it came to be discovered that he had married Hampton's niece.

So he proceeded to No. 9, Craig's-court, to have a few minutes' chat with Bowman, and he was fortunate enough to find the detective in his office. Soon they were ensconced in the little shabby apartment wherein their first interview took place, and after formal greetings had been exchanged Willesden said—

"Well, Bowman, how is the search for Mr. Hampton's sister going on? Has any new move been decided upon yet?"

"I'm going to America—to Pennsylvania—to find her," Bowman replied, smiling.

"You've convinced my uncle, then, that Margaret Hampton has gone there?"

"Yes, and her brother too. I was at Denewood Grange yesterday and Hampton commissioned me to proceed at once to the United States to hunt up his relative. Of course I am going—am just putting things square before my departure."

"How long do you expect to be away?"

"Two months at least—perhaps three. Mr. Hampton's terms are pretty liberal, and I am in no particular hurry to terminate my engagement."

"Certainly not. Why should you? And when do you leave England?"

"On Saturday, by the Cunarder Pavonia."

"Well, I'll be off now, wishing you may have a fair voyage and a good time on the other side."

"Thanks. Will let you know when I get back."

Willesden hurried away down Oldham-street towards Victoria station, eager, now that all his business in Manchester was completed, to get back to Ashford. He had purposely withheld from Bowman the knowledge of his impending marriage with Kate Leigh, thinking that the next time that he and the detective met all his schemes would have reached consummation.

By the time the short December day was drawing in Arthur was back again at Bannister's-row, and at tea time—a pleasant meal which mother, daughter, and prospective husband partook of in company—a slender bejewelled gold band flashed and sparkled on the third finger of Kate's left hand.


Chapter XXV.—George Bamforth's News.

It was now the twenty-third of December, and the rigor of the winter was already justifying the predictions of those weather-prophets who had said a month ago that the coming season would be one of particular severity.

The town of Ashford and the whole country for miles around lay swathed in a thick crust of frozen snow. The streets and pavements of the borough were so slippery that wayfarers and beasts of burden went about their dally toil at considerable risk to themselves. The blacksmiths of the place were unusually busy spiking and re-shoeing the horses' feet.

Everywhere preparations were being made for the advent of Christmas. All the shops were tricked out with the usual winter delicacies; and clumps of red-berried holly, dark-green fir, and other evergreens, with sprays of white-berried mistletoe, were delighting the walls and ceilings of many a British home.

Shortly after dinner Arthur Willesden and Kate Leigh went out together, their skates hanging on their arms. He was looking handsome and happy at the prospect of having his affianced to himself for an hour or two and teaching her to skate. She did not appear at all unhappy in Arthur's company, and was looking remarkably beautiful in a small sealskin cap and long fur-trimmed jacket which her lover had presented to her that very morning.

About half an hour after the lovers left the cottage a gentleman came from the direction of Ashford station towards Bannister's-row. He stopped a moment as he arrived at the corner of the snow-covered garden; then he lifted the latch of the wicket and approached Mrs. Leigh's front door.

He was a low stoutly built man, between fifty and sixty years of age, although no one would have thought him so old, for his round cheery face showed scarcely a trace of a wrinkle, his walk was quick and elastic, whilst his thick black hair was only faintly frosted here and there.

This gentleman was George Bamforth—he who had once been a lover of Margaret Hampton and an unsuccessful suppliant for her hand; and it will be remembered that he was cashier for the firm which employed Jonathan Leigh prior to the time of his tragic disappearance.

Presently a step was heard in the corridor, and the door was opened by Mrs. Leigh. Mr. Bamforth silently scanned the widow's face, thinking she was almost as comely as when he first made her acquaintance. She was mute also for a moment, wondering who her visitor could be whose face seemed so familiar to her.

Then she remembered him, and her eyes lit up with pleasure as she recalled how much he used to love her, and the great kindness he had afterwards shown towards her in those troublous times before Jonathan disappeared.

"Mr. Bamforth. How glad I am to see you. Come in at once. How well you are looking."

"I may return the compliment, Mrs. Leigh," he rejoined, following her into the parlor, wherein a bright fire was burning.

"I only heard a week or two ago," said Mrs. Leigh, "that you left Ashford four or five years ago to go to Bolton, where I suppose you are still living?"

"Yes, I still live there. I have only come to Ashford on business."

"And how did you learn I was living here?"

"I went to the old address in Caroline-street, and by happy chance the woman living there knew both you and your daughter. She told me that you had been back here a few months only, and she told me also of the singular discovery of your husband's remains."

"Yes," she responded in a low voice, "it was a sad story and a terrible fate for him."

"It was! It was!" he joined in sympathetically.

"Well, it is over now, and the truth is less hard to bear than the suspense I endured when I knew not what had become of him."

There was a little pause between them, then he broke out in a cheery way—

"Mrs. Leigh, the business that brings me to Ashford affects yourself very closely."

"Me?"

The word fell from her lips in a little gasp, and her heart began to throb faster than it had done for years. Remembering his old affection she suspected that he was about to renew the offer he had made her so many years ago. If so, what answer was she to give him?

But the widow's heart flutterings were occasioned without due reason, and when Mr. Bamforth spoke they were instantly stilled. It was not the desire to resuscitate his unforgotten passion that brought Bamforth there. It was, as he had said, business, and the wish to do her a friendly turn.

"Yes, Mrs. Leigh, the business concerns you. It's about an advertisement I came across the other day—Tuesday. I had occasion to go over a file of the Manchester Examiner, and my attention chanced to be drawn to a notice which I feel certain refers to you. I took the date of the paper and obtained a copy. This is the advertisement I mean."

He had pulled a newspaper from his pocket whilst speaking, and smoothing it out he showed her on the front page the following advertisement—


"MARGARET HAMPTON.—WANTED,
the present address of the woman of that name, who
in 1847 lived at No. 49, George-street, Hulme, Manchester,
and whose brother Richard had then just gone to Australia.
The said woman will hear of something to her advantage
on applying to Mr. HENRY WILLESDEN, solicitor,
City Chambers, Market-street, Manchester."


"Well, what do you think of it? It must refer to you, I think?"

"It must," she answered. "I wonder what it can mean."

"I don't know, but evidently it means something profitable to you. I think you ought to go to Manchester at once."

"To-day, do you mean?"

"Certainly. This advertisement is over four months old, and in a matter of this sort you ought to make yourself known immediately to the solicitor whose name appears in the notice."

"I think I had better go."

"Of course you had. Where is Miss Leigh?"

"Out skating with the young gentleman to whom she is engaged. I expect they will be back again by four or five o'clock."

"Well, lock up the house and be off at once. You can leave the key with one of your neighbors, and a message for your daughter. And—if you will permit me—I will accompany you to Manchester."

"I shall be glad if you will," she said rising. "I will be ready in a few minutes."

In a quarter of an hour the widow had dressed herself for the journey, and locking up the house she took the key to a neighbor, to whom she showed the advertisement. The woman promised to give the key to Kate when she and Willesden returned, and inform them of the business which had taken Mrs. Leigh to Manchester.

When George Bamforth and his companion reached City Chambers, Market-street, the afternoon was only half spent, and they found Mr. Henry Willesden in his office. In a brief yet perfectly clear way Mr. Bamforth explained the nature of their business, narrating also how he came across the advertisement and afterwards conveyed intelligence of it to his friend Mrs. Leigh.

The solicitor listened gravely to the other's recital, quite convinced that this was the sister of his old friend, Dick Hampton; but as a matter of legal procedure he put a string of questions to the lady.

"Can you tell me, Mrs. Leigh, the exact date of your brother's departure for Australia?"

"I cannot. I only remember that it was in July, 1847."

"You will not know your brothers birthday, I daresay?"

"Quite well. He was born on the thirtieth of November, 1824."

"Can you tell me the names of your father and grandfathers and the maiden names of your mother and grandmothers?"

"I think so. My father's name was Roderick Hampton; my grandfathers were John Hampton and Simon Rushton. The maiden names of my mother and grandmothers were Rushton, Gregory, and Brent."

"That will do, Mrs. Leigh," the solicitor said. "I am thoroughly satisfied now that you are Richard Hampton's sister. I may say that your brother is alive and well, and that it was owing to him that the advertisement was put in the papers."

"Is he still in Australia?"

"No; he returned several weeks ago. He has been very fortunate out there, and is now a rich man. He has purchased the mansion and estate of Denewood Grange, and is now living there."

"Whereabouts is this place?"

"Two or three miles on the other side of Wigan. The nearest station is Orrell."

"I should like to see Richard," Mrs. Leigh murmured.

"And he is quite eager to see you. Suppose we go this afternoon? There is plenty of time, and it would be a most agreeable surprise to your brother. And perhaps Mr. Bamforth will accompany us?"

The solicitor's proposal was assented to, and in a few minutes they were rolling down Market-street in a cab towards Victoria-station in order to catch the 3.45 express to Wigan, where they chartered a cab to take them to Denewood Grange, which was only about four and half or five miles away.

There is no necessity to dwell upon the meeting between the long-parted brother and sister. It was affectionate and touching, as such reunions generally are. Mrs. Leigh was astonished to find that Dick was unmarried, and he was surprised to find that she was a widow with one daughter.

But now that the master of Denewood had recovered his relative he had no intention of losing her again. In a little while after coming to the Grange Mrs. Leigh had consented to reside there permanently with her brother, and Kate also was to come there at once.

Richard Hampton and his three visitors had tea together before the latter departed, and the meal was taken in an old-fashioned, cosily-furnished room.

"How far will it be, Willesden, from here to Ashford?"

"Across country about nine or ten miles," the solicitor answered. "But you cannot get to it by rail direct from here."

"Then in that case," said Hampton, turning to his sister, "I shall make certain of you and my niece coming here to-morrow, for I shall drive to Ashford for you. You may expect me, Margaret, about noon."

Shortly after this the visitors returned to Wigan in the vehicle that had brought them, and from that town proceeded homeward by rail, Messrs. Willesden and Bamforth travelling as far as Bolton together, whilst Mrs. Leigh went by a different route alone to Ashford.

It suddenly occurred to the widow as she journeyed homeward that she had overlooked one or two things whilst with her brother and the other gentleman. She had quite forgotten to tell Richard that Kate was engaged to be married in something less than two months, and it only struck her now that the solicitor's surname was identical with that of her prospective son-in-law.

In the excitement of the afternoon she had failed to notice these things; but it really mattered little, for she could tell her brother to-morrow when he came, and she could ask Arthur to-night if the lawyer were of the same family as himself.


Chapter XXVI.—Approaching the Goal.

When Kate Leigh and Arthur Willesden returned from their skating expedition they were a little surprised to find the cottage locked up back and front and no one in the house. Their walk to and from the ice, and their prolonged exercise thereon, had given them a hearty appetite and they had expected to find a toothsome meal awaiting their coming.

But when the key was given them by the neighbor, and she related the cause of Mrs. Leigh's absence, their mild surprise changed at once to deep amazement. Arthur was even a little fearful of the possible results of the widow's visit to his uncle.

The neighbor could not tell Willesden who the gentleman was who had gone to Manchester with Kate's mother. She only knew that he had brought the newspaper containing the advertisement and that Mrs. Leigh was acting upon his advice in going off there and then to the 'torney who wanted to find her.

This episode afforded Willesden abundant pabulum for meditation during the rest of the evening before Mrs. Leigh's return. What he feared most was that the widow would not only tell his uncle all about herself and daughter but about himself also.

Even if his name were mentioned incidentally the solicitor would be certain to ask how long his nephew had resided at Ashford with the Leighs, and then he could hardly fail to discover why he was about to marry the pit-brow girl; and Arthur felt somewhat afraid that his uncle would denounce him on discovering the artful game he had been playing.

In his inmost heart he cursed the unknown gentleman who had brought the advertisement to Mrs. Leigh's notice and by doing so threatened to destroy the elaborate scheme he had been at such cost and trouble to work out.

Kate's mood during her mother's absence was one of innocent wonder, and she plied her lover with numberless questions which he might have answered but didn't. Never by even the faintest allusion did he let the girl know that the object of her mother's journey, with all its possible changes and far-reaching influences, was fully known to him.

What he did not know was the extent to which his own interests and schemes would be endangered by the meeting of his relative and his landlady, and afterwards by the reunion of Richard Hampton and his sister Margaret.

He would have given anything—done anything almost to have prevented this thing happening, for he knew now that his chance of making Kate Leigh his wife hung upon a thread. If either the girl or her mother learned, within the next few weeks, that he knew of their rich relative's existence when he first came to Ashford, and that he had gone there to find them, they would read his secret immediately, and then all hope of winning Kate would be at an end.

With such thoughts as these Arthur Willesden harassed himself pending Mrs. Leigh's return, and the length of her absence only served to increase his perturbation. This uneasiness and apprehension prevented him from enjoying his long tête-à-tête with his affianced, who could not help noticing her lover's unusual abstraction.

At length, when the young people were beginning to think that Mrs. Leigh was not going to return at all that night, there was a sharp heavy knock at the front door, and as Kate rushed to open it she exclaimed joyously—

"It's my mother! I can tell her knock."

Before Mrs. Leigh had entered the cottage her daughter rained upon her a shower of questions.

"Where have you been, mother? What was the advertisement about? Is it good news? I feared you were not coming back to-night——?"

"Have patience, Kate, and I'll tell you all about it if you'll wait until I've taken my things off and rested a minute."

And when the widow had removed her bonnet and shawl and refreshed herself with a cup of tea she related all that had taken place since she left Ashford in the afternoon. Kate and Arthur listened most attentively to her narration, and before she had finished the latter was quite satisfied that Mrs. Leigh had not discovered, and did not suspect, anything in regard to himself.

Mrs. Leigh's manner towards Willesden was unchanged, and when she had concluded, and Kate had expressed her astonishment and pleasure, he ventured to ask—

"And what did you say, Mrs. Leigh, was the name of the solicitor you went to?"

"Willesden—Mr. Henry Willesden. I was too excited to notice at the time that his name and yours were alike."

"Why," Arthur cried, with a well-assumed manner of surprise, "it must be my uncle you have been to. He's the only solicitor in Manchester of that name, and his offices are situate in City Chambers, Market-street."

"It's the same, then, and a nice gentleman he is. I thought, while coming home, that he might be akin to you?"

"Of course you would not think of mentioning my name to my uncle, just as he would not deem it necessary to speak of me to you?"

"Just so, Arthur," Mrs. Leigh rejoined. "And that reminds me that I forgot to tell Richard about Kate's engagement to you. But I can tell him to-morrow when he comes."

"You think he will come, then?"

"Certainly, I do. And he will expect me and Kate to go with him at once to the Grange. He is coming over himself to make sure of us, he said. Perhaps he will ask you, Arthur, to spend your Christmas with us."

"I hope he may," Willesden answered, with a loving glance towards Kate. Then he added in an altered tone, "Perhaps this rich brother of yours, Mrs. Leigh, may object to my engagement to his niece. He may have a grander match in view for her."

"When Richard hears, as he will, of all your great kindness and generosity, he will like you, Arthur, as much as I and Kate do."

"I hope so! I hope so!" Willesden said fervently. "It would kill me to lose Kate now!"

Kate was now preparing supper, and when it was ready they partook of it together, still discussing with animation the singular experiences of the day and the changes that were likely to follow them. Arthur made the widow describe her brother with great minuteness; and, as will be seen in a while, her description was sufficiently graphic to suit Willesden's purpose.

It was late when the inmates of the cottage at last retired to rest; the mother and daughter to dream that they were living a life of great splendor, and doing all sorts of great things; Willesden to imagine that all his schemes were overturned, and that his banished rival had returned to wed Kate Leigh.

The next morning was a busy one with the widow and daughter, who had to pack such portions of their belongings as they wished to take away with them. That was to be their last day in Bannister's-row, and Richard Hampton had already provided his sister with ample means to prepare for the sudden change.

Arthur's things were already packed, but their destination was not yet known, as it depended upon the master of Denewood Grange. If Dick Hampton was kind enough they would be forwarded to the Grange; if he were inhospitable they would be sent to the young fellow's old residence.

Leaving Kate and Mrs. Leigh to perform their preparations for departure, Arthur went out for a stroll, saying he would be back in time to meet their relative, who was expected to reach the cottage about 12 or 1 o'clock.

Having learned that Hampton intended to drive over from Denewood if the morning were fine, he assumed that such intention would be fulfilled, as the weather was all that could be desired. The clear air was filled with wintry sunshine, and it seemed as if a thaw was at last setting in. A long drive through the snow-covered country on such a day would be beautiful, and Arthur felt that Richard Hampton would not miss it.

On quitting the cottage he made for the town, and going into the principal hostelry he soon learned that anyone driving from Upholland to Ashford must come along Scott's-lane, and very soon Arthur was in the old road indicated.

Walking at a good swinging pace Willesden went along the lane, keeping a sharp lookout for the private carriage he expected to meet; but he had covered more than a couple of miles before he encountered a vehicle of any kind. Then, as he rounded a bend in the lane, he perceived some sort of conveyance approaching; he could hear the rattle of the wheels on the hard snow, although he could not yet clearly see either the horse, driver, or carriage.

It was difficult trudging over the frozen snow, which in most places was as slippery as ice, and Arthur slackened his pace, but he never took his eyes from the fast approaching vehicle.

He could now see that the conveyance was an open carriage, drawn by a powerful bay horse, and the man driving was a venerable-looking gentleman, whose hair, and beard were white as the fields between which he was speeding. It must be Richard Hampton, and the other man, whose back was all he could see, was the groom in attendance upon him.

The vehicle was now only a score of yards away, and suddenly Arthur slipped and fell prostrate on the glassy footpath, lying there for a moment or two as if he had hurt himself. Richard Hampton, for he it was, had seen the young man fall, and stopping the carriage opposite him, asked if he had hurt himself much.

"I have sprained my left ankle rather badly, I fear," Willesden said as he struggled to his feet, both his face and posture showing that he was suffering great pain.

"May I ask if you have far to go?" said Hampton kindly, sorry for the other's mishap, and attracted to him by his handsome face and gentlemanly appearance.

"I am only out for a walk, thank you; but I live at Ashford, and I am afraid that I shall not be able to walk back again. May I presume, sir, to ask your groom to do me a favor?"

"Certainly. What is it?"

"When you reach Ashford let him send a cab to meet me."

"Nonsense, man! What a ridiculous request? You shall ride with me. I will set you down, sir, at your own door."

In a moment Hampton and his groom had descended from the carriage and were helping Arthur inside, although he protested against the great trouble he was giving them. Then, when he was comfortably seated with his back to the horse, Hampton gathered up the reins, and they went dashing away towards the town.

"May I ask," said Willesden in his most deferential manner, "the name of the gentleman to whom I owe such a debt of gratitude?"

"My name is Hampton, sir—Richard Hampton, of Denewood Grange. Do you know the place?"

"I have heard of it, and you also," was Arthur's reply.

"Indeed?"

"Yes. I've heard my uncle speak of you frequently. He's an old friend of yours, I believe—at least I think I've heard him say so."

"Who is he?"

"Henry Willesden. He lives in Manchester, and is a solicitor."

"And are you really my old friend's nephew?" Hampton asked eagerly. "How glad I am to have been of service to you."

He changed the whip from right hand to left and offered the former to Arthur, who took it gladly and shook it heartily.

"If you are surprised, Mr. Hampton, on meeting a relative of an old friend, I may also be surprised on the same account."

"Why? I do not quite understand you!"

"Well," said Arthur smiling, "you are the relative of some dear friends of mine."

"To whom do you refer?"

"Mrs. Leigh and Miss Leigh—your sister and niece, I believe."

"You know them, then?"

"I should think I do!" Arthur exclaimed. "I have lived with them several months, but I only learned that they were related to you last night, after Mrs. Leigh came back from visiting you."

"And you lived with them up to last night, when my sister would, of course, tell you that she and her daughter were henceforth to live with me?"

"Yes, and although I am glad to hear of their good fortune, it was a wrench to think that I should have to part from them."

This was said quite sadly, and Mr. Hampton did not quite understand its import just then. It was only later on that he came to comprehend its full significance.

They were now approaching the outskirts of the town, and as Arthur intimated that he had not yet removed from Mrs. Leigh's, they drove to the cottage together. In a few minutes Bannister's-row was reached, and Kate and her mother were rather amazed to see their relative and Willesden in company, and apparently on the best of terms. But why did Arthur limp so?

The apparent enigma was soon explained, when the cottage parlor was gained and Hampton entered into conversation with his relatives. He narrated how he had happened to be driving by when young Willesden slipped and sprained his ankle, and he denounced the young fellow's impudence in wanting him to send a cab to meet him!

Kate and her uncle became great friends at once. The attachment on both sides was at once spontaneous and reciprocal. The girl was immediately drawn to her pleasant-looking and kind-hearted uncle, and he was delighted to find his niece so beautiful, modest, and well-spoken.

Presently Mrs. Leigh drew her brother aside and told him the story of her daughter's engagement to Arthur Willesden. Of course her recital of the affair was a highly colored one. Mrs. Leigh was not devoid of certain faults, as the reader will perhaps have perceived, but ingratitude was not one of them. She remembered her lodger's numberless acts of kindness, his unfailing generosity, and his invariable gentlemanly treatment of herself and her daughter.

And the story of Arthur's wooing was told to Richard Hampton in a way that would have satisfied the young man himself had he overheard the conversation between brother and sister. Mrs. Leigh's narrative went right home to Hampton's heart, confirming the favorable opinion he had previously formed of Willesden, and he assured his sister that instead of attempting to place any barriers in the way of Kate and Arthur's marriage he would do his utmost to hasten it.

Just as brother and sister finished their interview Kate and Arthur came into the parlor. The pain from Willesden's sprained foot had now almost disappeared, and he had come to bid Mrs. Leigh and Hampton good-bye. He did not wish to appear ardently desirous of going to Denewood Grange, especially as he had not yet been asked to go there. So going to the widow and her brother he said—

"I suppose I shall have to say good-bye to you for a time, for you, of course, will all go in the carriage to Denewood?"

"Oh, yes," Hampton answered. "And may I ask where you are thinking of going?"

"To Manchester—where I resided before I came here."

"Indeed! and how was it, Willesden, that you didn't tell me, when we were coming here how things stood between you and Kate?"

Arthur cast a hurried look at Mrs. Leigh, as if he had just guessed that she had been telling her brother of his engagement to her daughter. Then he muttered, as if confused—

"Because—because——"

"Of what?" Hampton demanded with smiling coolness.

"Well," Arthur cried desperately, "I thought you would object to our engagement."

"Then you were mistaken."

"What—you agree to it?" the young man asked in evident surprise.

"Most certainly I do. And when you marry my niece your bride will not be the dowerless pit-brow girl you once calculated upon marrying!"

"God bless you!" Willesden ejaculated, apparently quite overcome with emotion.

"If thanks are needed it is you who deserve them, my dear sir," Hampton replied earnestly. "Margaret has told me of your great kindness, and I know not how to repay it. Will you at least do me the honor of spending Christmastide at Denewood?"

"With pleasure," Arthur answered.

"Thanks. Then that is settled, and we can all go to the Grange in the carriage. Simpkins will see that all your boxes, Willesden, and all your baggage, Margaret, are brought to Denewood."

Hereupon Hampton instructed his groom to repair to the town and engage a conveyance to carry the goods and chattels of his relatives and friend to the Grange. Then they went to the carriage, and shortly were bowling merrily along through the wide snowy expanse of country that lay between Ashford and Denewood Grange.


Chapter XXVII.—Henry Willesden is Suspicious.

"By-the-bye, Willesden," Hampton said, as the barouche sped swiftly between the tall ragged hedgerows, here and there covered with masses of congealed snow, "I forgot to tell you that your uncle will probably be with us at Christmas."

"Indeed," Arthur replied somewhat dolefully, though his companions did not notice the accents of regret in his voice.

"Yes. When he was at the Grange yesterday with Margaret I omitted to invite him to spend his Christmas holidays with me. But I rectified my omission this morning by writing him, and I expect both your uncle and aunt some time to-morrow."

Willesden expressed himself as greatly pleased at the prospect of meeting his relatives at Denewood, but the probability of encountering them there was a source of considerable uneasiness to him. It was quite impossible to foresee the issue of that meeting. Would his uncle suspect him of scheming to marry the pit-brow girl, knowing all the time that she was a rich man's niece? Or would he think, as Hampton did, that his wooing of Kate was devoid of all design and purely a love affair from beginning to end?

These were problems he could not solve at present. To-morrow night he might be able to do so. But no matter what his uncle might think or suspect his course was plain. To Hampton, his uncle, to all the world, he must persist in saying that he had wooed Kate Leigh never dreaming of her relationship to the master of Denewood Grange.

"Won't your uncle be surprised when he finds you at Denewood?" said Hampton, taking up the conversation which Arthur had permitted to drop, "and engaged to my niece?"

"No doubt he will, Mr. Hampton."

"I suppose he did not know of your engagement or he would have mentioned it yesterday?"

"My uncle knew that I was engaged to a certain pit-brow girl named Kate Leigh, but, of course, like myself, he never dreamt that she was a relative of yours."

"Of course not," cried Hampton laughingly, as he flicked the bay into a quicker pace, "how could he?"

"I remember," said Arthur, "that when I went to Manchester to buy Kate's engagement ring I called upon my uncle and aunt and told them that I was about to marry a pit-brow girl, and they were not a little shocked at first to hear of such imprudence. They didn't say, 'Don't marry her,'" he went on smilingly, "nor hint that I should regret it; but they did ask me if I thought it was wise to take a wife from the pit-brow."

"Ha! ha! ha!" Hampton burst out, and his laughter was echoed by the other three. "What will they say now when they discover that your duckling turns out to be a swan?"

By this time the barouche was ascending the steep narrow lane just beyond the small village of Mathurst, from the top of which was obtained a fine view of the surrounding country. Hampton and Willesden were seated with their faces to the horse, Mrs. Leigh and Kate on the opposite seat.

Bringing the horse to a standstill on the very summit of the hill Hampton rose to his feet, and pointing with his whip directed the attention of his companions to a house which stood on a wooded eminence two or three miles away.

"That," said he, "is Denewood Grange, where we shall be in half an hour."

"It is splendidly situated," was Willesden's only comment.

But a host of thoughts flitted through the young worldling's brain as they took their seats again and dashed down the hill. He was wondering If Kate would be her uncle's heiress, thinking how many years Richard Hampton was likely to live, and dreaming of the time when he would be master of that fine mansion on the other side of the valley.

On arriving at the Grange Hampton found a telegram awaiting him. It was from his friend, Henry Willesden, accepting the invitation to spend Christmas at Denewood.

Of course Hampton showed the telegraphic message to the other three, but one of them at least was not overjoyed about it. During the evening the master of the Grange took his guests over the house, and through the extensive park adjoining it, and they felt he had reason to be proud of possessing such a splendid home and estate.

The afternoon of the next day was waning when Mr. and Mrs. Henry Willesden reached Denewood. Their amazement may be imagined on finding their handsome nephew domiciled there, and discovering in Richard Hampton's niece the pit-brow girl he had told them he was going to marry.

Arthur smiled pleasantly at his relatives' utterances of astonishment, and he alluded vaguely to a project from which they had endeavored to dissuade him. But he left the work of explanation to his friends, and Hampton undertook the task readily, explaining everything to his own satisfaction, if not to that of his more suspicious friend Henry Willesden.

Christmas Eve was spent in the pleasantest fashion by the inmates of the Grange. There was a fine piano in one of the drawing-rooms, and it turned out that Arthur was a decent performer on the instrument. Then it was discovered that Kate could sing several old songs very prettily, and her uncle had neither lost the power to render nor forgotten the words of some spirited ditties Willesden reminded him that he used to sing.

So with music, song, and genial converse the evening was whiled away, and when the fingers of the quaint time-piece on the mantel were pointing almost to midnight the party adjourned to the terrace upon the roof of the Grange, and there awaited the advent of Christ's natal day.

Around them stretched the silent, snow-shrouded country, half-veiled, half-hidden by the semi-darkness; before them lay the wooded valley, the black boles of the trees appearing like so many mute sentinels of the night; and through the clear crisp air there came the faintly canorous swash of the Dene Brook as it fell over its tiny falls; and over all was the mystery-fraught night and the star-sprent sky.

Then the clock in the village church slowly struck the midnight hour, and ere the chimes had died on the air there broke forth a joyous peal from the deep-throated bells, to be taken up by all the surrounding villages until all the heavens seemed filled with floating harmony.

Suddenly Kate's thoughts wandered to Luke Standish, and a sharp pain smote her as she wondered where he was spending his Christmas Eve. For a moment a deep passionate yearning thrilled her bosom and her eyes filled with tears.

Angry with herself for being unable to repress her emotion she told herself that her renegade lover was quite unworthy of such feelings. The man by her side—Arthur Willesden—was worth a dozen such men. How was it she could not love him as he deserved to be loved?

Christmas Day passed quietly, uneventfully away. Mr. and Mrs. Henry Willesden were to leave the Grange on the morrow, but their nephew was to stay until the end of the week.

Somehow Arthur did not like the attitude of his relative. Mr. Willesden had not said anything to account for his uneasiness, but the young man felt that his kinsman was far from satisfied with the explanation Richard Hampton had given him. He evidently suspected something; but how much or how little he could not say.

Anyhow so long as his uncle said nothing there was no danger. Let him suspect as much as he chose, so that he kept his suspicions to himself. It was hardly probable that he would betray one of his own blood; still Arthur would feel more at his ease when the solicitor had returned to Manchester.

But before the morrow was over Henry Willesden had a few words to say to his nephew. Half a dozen hours before he quitted the Grange the solicitor came upon Arthur, who was strolling about the lawn alone and enjoying one of his host's cigars.

"Hullo, Arthur! is that you? Taking things easily, I see," the elder man began.

"Certainly, uncle; why shouldn't I?"

"Just so; why shouldn't you? Am sorry your aunt and I leave this afternoon."

"So am I," Arthur responded hypocritically. "You might have stopped the week out."

"We couldn't; and, Arthur, if you have time, I want a few words with you."

"As many as you like, uncle," the young man responded, boldly facing the difficulty he could not evade. "Let us walk towards the brook. And now, uncle, what is it you wish to say?"

"It is about your engagement to Miss Leigh; and you must excuse me, Arthur, if I frankly say what I think."

"Certainly. Go on."

"Well, then, it appears that you have lodged for a considerable period with the Leighs?"

"That is so. I think I told you that when I last called at your house."

"Yes, but you forgot to tell me, Arthur, that whilst you led me to believe that you were endeavoring to find Hampton's sister, you were then living with her and her daughter."

"So it appears now; but of course I did not dream of their relationship to Hampton. Surely, uncle, you do not think I did?"

"Frankly I do," the solicitor replied coldly.

"But I assure you that you are mistaken," Arthur cried. "I went to the Leighs solely because I had fallen in love with Kate, and had no thought for anything else. How was I to know that the Leighs were Hampton's relations when even your clever detective couldn't find them out?"

"Because," said the elder man drily, "I happen to know that Mrs. Leigh told you all her history before you had been with her many days."


Chapter XXVIII.—The Solicitor Speaks His Mind.

When Henry Willesden calmly affirmed that he knew that his nephew had been in possession for several months of the leading circumstances of Margaret Hampton's history, the latter felt for a moment—but for a moment only—that further denial of that fact would be useless.

There was an instant's pause in the conversation, and the solicitor felt that he had driven his clever kinsman into a hole from which all escape was impossible. Then Arthur's courage waxed strong with a rush, and his pleasant, clear, ringing laughter nonplussed his uncle.

"The fact I stated, Arthur," said Willesden sternly, "is too serious for laughter."

"I was not laughing at your fact, uncle, I was only thinking how suspicious you legal gentlemen are of all things and people, and how easily you credit one with bad rather than good motives."

This was clever of Arthur, for he had not only changed the subject for a moment or two, but was gaining time in which to decide on the course he should take in regard to his uncle.

"You must admit that the aspect of the case justified my suspicions? And you have yet failed to explain the matter to my satisfaction."

"Some men are rather difficult to satisfy."

"Or put it in another form—some men are less easy to gull than others."

Another burst of merry laughter came from Arthur, and it annoyed the solicitor very much. He was intensely displeased, because his nephew could not or would not see the whole thing in the same serious light as himself.

"It appears," said Arthur, when his laugh was done, "that you have such small faith in the common honesty of your own flesh and blood that you began to suspect me of some sort of underhand work the moment you found me here?"

"No, Arthur; I only began to suspect something when I discovered that you had lived so long with the Leighs and was acquainted with all their past life."

"You have been making enquiries, it seems of the mother and daughter?"

"Of the mother only."

"And thus creating in her mind a certain suspicion and distrust of me, and doing so without being sure that I am guilty of the trick you suspect."

"Mrs. Leigh suspects nothing, Arthur. My inquiries were too carefully framed to arouse any suspicion in her mind."

"I fail to see how you could get the information you desired to obtain without exciting her curiosity by your questions."

"You appear to think that I have been subjecting Mrs. Leigh to a strict cross-examination, and I've done nothing of the kind. It was not necessary to directly question her in order to get the information I wanted. I daresay you know that Mrs. Leigh is not a very reticent woman, and she began of her own accord to laud you up to the skies, thinking that I, as your uncle, should naturally feel interested in all that concerned you. The most I did was to listen to her."

"Then in that case there is no harm done, uncle, and we will say no more about it."

Arthur spoke as if he were conferring a favor upon his relative by permitting the discussion to end there, and the delicate humor of the thing did not escape his uncle.

"If you wish it," Willesden rejoined, "of course we will say no more about it. But in that case I must say that I shall be unsatisfied."

"I have already given you my word that I entered the house of the Leighs in utter ignorance of their relationship to Richard Hampton. I can do no more, uncle," Arthur went on in an injured tone, "and you ought be satisfied."

"Would Richard Hampton be satisfied? Would his sister and niece esteem you so much if they knew that for two or three weeks after you went to live at Bannister's-row you were specially employed by me to discover Margaret Leigh—for you knew that that was her name?"

In no ways abashed by this powerful rejoinder, the younger man looked the other frankly in the eyes, saying quietly:—

"I must admit that they would all suspect me of evil intent in going to lodge with the Leighs. But they, like you, uncle, would only be mistaken. I can hardly blame you for looking at the matter as you do, but the truth is that when I first saw Kate Leigh I had neither time nor thought for anything else. I first met Kate coming from the collieries in her working clothes. I followed her home and engaged to lodge with Mrs. Leigh because she was the mother of the prettiest girl I had ever seen."

"Is this the whole truth, Arthur?" the solicitor asked, gazing fixedly on his nephew.

"It is, uncle. If my word is not sufficient, go this moment to Kate Leigh and ask her when and how we first met, and how I came to lodge with her mother."

"You will remember the date on which you became acquainted with the Leighs?"

"Yes, it was the seventeenth of August."

He gave the exact date, fearing that his relative had already learned it from the widow.

"That is so. But how do you explain the fact that a week or so after the date just named you paid me a visit at the villa and asked me to give you another couple of weeks in which to search for Margaret Hampton? If, as you say, you had already given up the search for her, why did you ask me for another fortnight's time in which to find her?"

This was another poser, but Arthur's clever mendacity was equal to the occasion.

"Because I had still some idea of taking up again the quest I had dropped."

"I suppose you placed all the particulars relating to Margaret Hampton at the disposal of Bowman when he took up the search?"

"Most certainly; ask him."

"I will as soon as possible; but at present he is across the Atlantic. I think I told you that he was going there. I cabled to New York to say that Hampton's sister was found, but he didn't get the message. The Pavonia had arrived before the cablegram arrived and he was not to be found, having, of course, set out for Pennsylvania."

"And are you not able to communicate with him in any way? Did he not give you an address to which to write?"

"He promised to write to me on reaching Pennsylvania and give me an address there to which any communication could be forwarded. I daresay a letter from Bowman is on the way by this time."

"You will find that I helped him as far as possible, and in no way endeavored to lead him on a false scent, as I imagine you suspect I did."

"Frankly, Arthur, I did," the solicitor responded; "but let us say no more about it."

"As you like; but I do not like to be suspected of all these things."

The young man spoke as if he were an injured innocent, and for a moment his uncle made no reply. Then the two kinsmen turned from the snowy bank of the brook along which they had been walking and strolled back towards the house.

"It is quite possible, Arthur," Henry Willesden said presently, in an apologetic way, "that I am quite mistaken from beginning to end of this business, and in that case can only express my regret for having suspected you of unfair dealings."

"Say no more about it, uncle," Arthur cried generously. "I think I shall tell Hampton all about the whole affair."

"Perhaps that will be best," the elder man rejoined, and there the matter ended so far as nephew and uncle were concerned.

In the afternoon Henry Willesden and his wife took leave of their friends at the Grange and journeyed back to Manchester, and the mind of their young kinsman was not easy until he saw the carriage containing them roll down the valley road in the direction of Orrell station.

So long as his uncle remained at Denewood Arthur had felt himself standing on the edge of a precipice, over which one word of Henry Willesden's addressed to his host would have flung him.

And so long as the solicitor stayed at the Grange there was great danger of that word being spoken, and the only chance of safety was in the separation of the two old friends. The slightest hint from Willesden to Hampton as to his nephew having been employed to find the woman whose lodger he had been for months might have upset the daring scheme he had so cunningly conceived and so skilfully worked out.

But his relative had gone away and he could breathe in peace once more; and neither his host nor either of the Leighs knew anything of the amateur detective business he had been engaged in, and which so closely concerned themselves.

His intimation that he would himself make Richard Hampton acquainted with all the particulars relating to his quest and how he came to abandon it seemed to have settled all the solicitor's doubts regarding his nephew's honesty of purpose.

This was exactly the effect that Arthur had striven to produce. He had no intention of mentioning the affair to his host. To do that would be suicidal, and he wished to prevent his uncle from doing so. Well, his little scheme had brought about the desired result, and he was out of danger again.

Out of danger, but still far from being certain of attaining the end for which he had been working and scheming so long. Kate Leigh was not yet his wife—weeks still divided them from their wedding day—and he felt uneasy as to what might possibly happen to frustrate his dreams and hopes during the ensuing thirty or forty days.

His fear of losing Kate was now increased by the addition of a feeling—an influence to which he had been a stranger at the commencement of his undertaking. At first he had been actuated solely by base worldly motives; now he was impelled by actual love of the sweet girl herself.

His passion likewise had a most lowly ignoble origin, but its base birth in no sense affected the depth and strength of his love, for he was prepared now to marry Kate for herself alone.

How ardently he wished that the day fixed for the wedding was on the morrow instead of still being several weeks distant, for his fear of losing Kate would never be cleared quite away until he placed the marriage ring upon her slim brown finger.

On the day that Richard Hampton visited Bannister's-row he had been informed that the wedding day of his niece and Arthur had been decided upon, and although he had given his immediate consent to that arrangement he would have preferred a much longer engagement.

Hampton had conceived a genuine affection for his bonny niece, and would have liked to keep her and her mother at the Grange with him for a considerable period—a year at least—and this would have given the girl an opportunity of improving her mind and mastering certain small accomplishments which would be useful to her and ornamental also.

The day following Henry Willesden's departure from Denewood, Hampton said something to Arthur regarding what he would have desired had it been agreeable to his young guest. The two men were out together, walking along the path that Arthur and his uncle had perambulated on the previous afternoon, when Hampton remarked—

"I shall be sorry, Arthur, to lose Kate in a few weeks. I should have liked to have kept her at the Grange with me, had it been possible, for a year or so, and the prolonged stay with me and her mother would have been of infinite value to my niece. In that time she would have been able to perfect herself in many ways—pick up lots of things she ought to know, and knows not, owing to the circumstances in which her life has been spent."

Arthur Willesden listened in silence to what his host was saying, but it seemed as if some sharp-fanged animal were gnawing at his heart. A new danger was apparent in Hampton's utterances—a peril that he had never dreamed would beset his schemes. How was he to confront this fresh hazard? He felt that his only certain chance of winning Kate was to keep her to her promise and let their wedding take place at the time already agreed upon. A year's delay would be fraught with incalculable danger.

"Has Kate intimated," Arthur asked, as smoothly as his voice would permit him, "that she would prefer a much longer engagement?"

"Certainly not, for I have not mentioned it to her, you know. But you must see how valuable such a lengthened engagement would be to her now?"

"I don't quite see it, Mr. Hampton," Arthur responded, with a feeble attempt to smile.

"Because you are so much in love with Kate that you won't," the elder man rejoined good-humoredly. "Now, while it was quite right and really gentlemanly and honorable of you to want to marry a pit-brow girl right off, it is not at all the same thing when you desire to carry away my niece at such short notice. Do you understand me?"

"Hardly, Mr. Hampton."

"Well, what I mean is this, Arthur. When you first proposed to Kate Leigh she was only a working girl, now she is the niece of a wealthy bachelor. Her present education might have sufficed for the station she would have filled as your wife, but as my heiress—which she certainly will be—it is necessary that she should have a year with a clever governess, music-master, and so forth. Then when she married she would not be ashamed of meeting people in the rank of life to which her fortune will give her access."

"It is quite necessary, as you say, that Kate should master all those little accomplishments; but she is a quick girl, and could pick them up after marriage as easily as before."

"But family affairs would interfere with study, I am afraid," Hampton replied.

"Not at all," Arthur cried. "Kate and I shall become regular students. You will see if we don't, Mr. Hampton."

"I can see that you don't like the idea of giving up this early marriage," Hampton laughed, "so we'll say no more about it at present."

"Thank you," Willesden cried gratefully.

"But I may add that it would give me the greatest pleasure to hear that the marriage had been postponed for twelve months. I am quite fond of Kate, and don't like the idea of losing her so soon."

"You need not lose her at all," said Arthur, "for we will take a house somewhere near, and then she can come here as often as you choose."

"Well, think over what I have said, and if you change your mind let me know."

"I will."

Hampton was rather disappointed at the result of his conversation with his guest, but in no sense annoyed thereby, for he naturally set down Arthur's evident reluctance to give up the early marriage to his great love for his intended wife; and the young fellow had been such a true friend to his sister and niece in the time of their bitterest struggles and direst need that he could not attempt to put his veto upon Arthur's most cherished desires.

In a few days Arthur's visit to the Grange terminated, and after taking a cordial leave of the Leighs and the master of Denewood he returned to his old quarters at Manchester, but not with any intention of remaining there for any great length of time.

As quickly as possible he desired to get back to the neighborhood wherein his loved one abode, and to effect this he had decided to set up a household of his own at once, and as near Denewood Grange as possible.

Consequently he immediately instructed his business agent to enquire, without the loss of a moment's time, if any villa in the vicinity of Orrell or Upholland were on sale or to be let; and in a couple of days he was informed that Thornhill House, the late residence of Dr. Atherstone, not long ago deceased, was in the market, to be either purchased or leased.

"Where is the place?" Arthur asked.

"In Upholland, half a mile from the church, and a similar distance from the entrance to Denewood Grange."

"And the terms on which it can be leased?"

"Are extremely reasonable—only fifty pounds per annum."

"Then we will go and see what it is like."

They went the same afternoon, and Thornhill House pleased Arthur so much that he resolved to lease the place for two or three years if the furniture, &c., which still remained in the house, could be obtained on reasonable terms.

The executors of the late Dr. Atherstone were reasonable in their demands, and in a week after bidding good-bye to his friends at Denewood, Arthur Willesden and a couple of servants were domiciled at Thornhill House.

And the work was done so expeditiously and quietly that neither Richard Hampton nor his relatives knew that they had got Arthur Willesden for a neighbor until he walked over to the Grange one afternoon and told them.

He had timed his visit so as to catch them all at home, and, as he had expected, just preparing for the afternoon meal. Hampton and his women-folk were sensible enough to call things by the old-fashioned names they had used all their lives, and to them the mid-day meal was dinner, the afternoon one tea, and the evening repast supper.

Of course Arthur was welcomed to the home and invited to join them at tea, to which invitation he readily responded. They were rather surprised to see him, but said nothing, leaving him to explain his visit, if explanation were thought necessary by him.

"I thought," said Arthur, "that as I was so near you I would just walk over and wish you the compliments of the season."

"Are you visiting someone near here?" Hampton asked, as they sat down to tea, and Kate filled and handed their cups to them.

"Not visiting," Willesden replied, with an emphasis on the last word.

"I understood you to say so, Arthur."

"Not at all, Mr. Hampton. I am living close by!"

"Living!"

The word fell from the lips of Kate, her mother, and Richard Hampton almost simultaneously, and their eyes fell wonderingly upon the young fellow, who seemed to be enjoying their amazement so much.

"Yes, living here," he answered; "not more than half a mile away."

"Where?" Kate asked.

"At Thornhill House, where some local doctor formerly lived. Atherstone was his name, I think."

"I remember," said Hampton, "he died about three weeks ago. I've seen the place. And how long have you been there, you sly young dog?"

"My tenancy only commenced this morning; but I have taken the place for a few years as our future home," nodding towards Kate. "I had no notion of taking the place—did not even know that it existed—when I said good-bye to you all a week ago, but my agent happened to mention it to me, and I took it, thinking you would like Kate and me to live near you and her mother."

"So I should when you are married," Hampton replied, and Mrs. Leigh iterated her brother's expression of opinion. Kate said nothing, but the turn the conversation had just taken had dyed her cheeks a vivid crimson.

"To-morrow," continued Arthur, "perhaps you will all drive over and have a look at Thornhill. Its rather a nice place—in a small way, of course—and will, I hope, please Kate."

But Kate did not utter any warm expression of approval of her lover's action. She felt that she was far less grateful towards Arthur than she ought to be, and her admiration and respect had not yet changed into love. Perhaps the change would come in time, but her heart clung still to the man who had first filled it with love's sweet passion.

She had no intention of going back from her promise to Arthur. She would marry him at the time specified, and even if he failed to make her love him she would still be happy and contented as his wife. He was so good that he deserved to be loved.

But Arthur did not interpret Kate's lack of approval as meaning anything but regret for the engagement into which she had entered with him. He imagined that her uncle had already been urging her to postpone her marriage for a year, and he feared that she might make her uncle's desire a pretext for delaying their union.

But he was resolved that nothing less than a threatened rupture of his engagement should force him to resign the notion of an early marriage. He had taken Thornhill House in order that he might thus be constantly near Kate and able to counter-balance the influence of her uncle should he endeavor to delay the wedding.

It was late in the evening ere Arthur left the Grange, and when he went away he took with him the promise of his sweetheart, her mother and uncle to pay a visit to Thornhill the following afternoon.

According to promise the party from Denewood walked over to Arthur's residence on the next day. It was not worth while to take the carriage such a short distance, Hampton said, and a walk would do them good. He knew where Thornhill House lay and would pilot them thither.

So they set out, and the quick walk through the crisp frosty air set Kate's habitually pale cheeks aglowing. Her uncle had insisted upon her being fitted out in royal fashion, and the heavy dark furs she was wearing set off her sweet delicate beauty to perfection.

Arthur saw Hampton and his relatives coming up the little drive, and he himself opened the door to welcome them. Then he helped Kate to remove her outer garments, thinking what a perfect picture of lovely womanhood she made.

Thornhill House was a big roomy place, and after a certain fashion pretty. It had been built thirty or forty years ago by a successful tradesman, and at his death had passed into Dr. Atherstone's hands, who had furnished the villa in a tasteful manner and extended and beautified the grounds.

It stood on the opposite side of the valley to the Grange, and its few acres of grounds were covered with fine shrubberies and clumps of elm and chesnut. The Dene Brook divided the Denewood land from that of Thornhill, but while the former occupied the western bank of the stream for a mile or more the latter only bounded the brook for about fifty yards.

The place was suited to the requirements of a man of moderate means—say five or six hundred a year—and large family; and to look properly after the house half a dozen servants at least were necessary; but, as has been intimated, Willesden had but two at present, and these were the late Dr. Atherstone's cook and her husband, whom he had picked up in the village.

Arthur's slender income was hardly sufficient to maintain such an establishment as Thornhill House, yet he had taken it for three years, knowing quite well the considerable expense it would entail upon him.

In leasing Thornhill he not only desired to be near Kate, but desired also to impress the girl and her relations with the idea that he was a man of considerable means, and to effect an entrance into the house as its master he had taken a new plunge into debt.

But Arthur comforted himself with the thought that the small mortgages he had effected upon his property in order to pursue his plan of marrying Richard Hampton's niece would all be swept away soon after the morning that he and Kate were united.

Of come Hampton would make his niece a handsome allowance, and that joined to Arthur's income would enable the young couple to live comfortably at Thornhill, and he would be able to wipe out the various small debts he had contracted during the last four or five months.

Such thoughts as the foregoing flitted through Arthur's brain as he showed his visitors over the house and grounds, and afterwards entertained them to tea. How he wished that the master of Denewood would resign all idea of delaying the marriage. Then he would be quite happy.

Singularly enough the moment this notion was conceived by Arthur, Hampton was also turning it over in his own mind. They were all four strolling through the the Thornhill grounds near the brook, Arthur and Hampton a little in front of Kate and her mother.

"I can see, Arthur," said Hampton pleasantly, "that you have given up your intention of an early marriage?"

"Certainly not," Willesden retorted, with a laugh. "You bachelors have no idea of the torture a long engagement inflicts upon people who are really in love with each other."

"Like you and Kate, eh?"

Arthur nodded affirmatively.

"Your taking this place showed both your cleverness and determination, my boy, and I think it would be cruel of me to interfere in any way so as to delay the wedding."

"It would!" cried Willesden.

"Then I beg to withdraw my objection, Arthur. The wedding shall take place on the fourteenth of next month, as you and Kate originally agreed."

"Thank you!" said the young man fervently. "You have made me the happiest man in the world!"

"What is it?" said Mrs. Leigh, as she and Kate overtook the others.

"I was only saying," said her brother, "that the fourteenth of February will be a happy day for Kate and Arthur."

"It will be a happy day for us all, I hope," the widow rejoined.

Arthur's face was aglow with love and satisfied hopes; Kate's was bent down so low that none of them could clearly perceive what feelings it mirrored. They thought she was only hiding her shy confusion, but the girl's countenance was more serious than it ought to have been with her wedding morning only a few weeks away.

She was asking herself would it be right for her to marry the handsome, noble-hearted, loving man by her side when her vagrant fancies were yet full of another man's face.

Yes, she would marry him. His kindness and love deserved some sacrifice at her hands, and perhaps the old love would die out of her life and thoughts, and a new and nobler affection take its place when she and Arthur became man and wife.


Chapter XXIX.—Back From Exile.

Winter had been displaced by spring, spring had given way to summer, and the last-named season was at its very zenith. It was a time of soft warm winds, clear blue skies, and the green leafy woods were just beginning to change color. The month of roses was come and gone, and the fruit was ripening in fair English orchards. The green cornfields were being bronzed by the fierce heat of successive noondays, and here and there amid the yellowing grain sprang the big crimson-cupped poppies, each one a flaming spot of color among the waving ears.

Through the little hamlet of Swaleham, which lies just two miles south of the ancient city of Durham, a tall, powerfully-built young fellow was walking one summer evening. This man's face was very pleasant to look upon, the eyes were so big, open, and honest; but just now they were both grave and regretful in their aspect.

His thoughts had flown across the wide and thinly-populated acres of Yorkshire moorland and settled down upon the shire of Lancashire, wherein he was born, had lived and worked to manhood up, loved and lost, and from which, just eight months ago, he had had to fly, broken-hearted and disgraced.

And now it was probable—almost certain—that he would be returning to his native county again within a few weeks. He was not going back certainly to the small town wherein he first saw the light, but still the place to which he was to go was only a few miles from the old home.

The reader will have guessed that the young fellow spoken of was Luke Standish. So it was. The reason why he came to the north of England is already known, but why he was going back to Lancashire again remains to be explained.

On flying from Ashford Luke had gone straight to the north of England, knowing that there he would be almost certain to find employment immediately, and of the kind to which he was accustomed. He was fortunate enough to obtain work the day following his arrival at Swaleham at one of the collieries close by, and he started the following morning.

At first Luke was half inclined on quitting Ashford to strike out for America, and but for his mother he would almost certainly have crossed the Atlantic. But as she was quite dependent upon him for her existence, and as a voyage to the United States would have swallowed up all his little capital, and there was the uncertainty of getting work as soon as he landed, he decided to go to Durham.

The latter journey would be much less expensive, the chances of work much greater, and in a few weeks after settling there he could send for his mother. So Luke had come to Swaleham, commenced working there, and liking the place tolerably well had sent for Mrs. Standish just a month after his arrival.

Luke's mother had quite a budget of news to tell her son on meeting him. She told him that all Ashford was talking about the good luck which had fallen upon Mrs. and Kate Leigh. The girl's uncle had come back from Australia with "a mint o' money"—a million, folks were saying—and he had taken them both to live with him at some grand hall he had bought.

Mrs. Standish never tired of talking about the good fortune of the Leighs. She wearied Luke by her incessant references to the subject, and annoyed him not a little by the tone she invariably adopted.

It was his own fault, she broadly hinted, that he had not married Kate and was not now riding about in a carriage with her and living in a big gentleman's house. If he had been sensible, and kept himself to himself he would have been happy, well-off and respected; whereas now, owing to his his gallivanting, he was in exile and disgrace.

All this chatter half maddened Luke. It was like putting the last straw on the camel's back. He was a dutiful son and bore it with what patience he could muster; but at times, when his mother's tongue became too acrid, he had to rush from the house, fearing that his passionate tongue might utter words no son had a right to speak.

It was useless for him to declare his innocence or to protest that he was the helpless victim of a scorned woman's vengeance. In his mother's eyes he was guilty of the charge which had driven him from Ashford, for the simple old creature never dreamed that any woman, however vile, would accuse a man of her child's paternity unless he were more or less culpable.

So the pitman and his mother settled down at Swaleham, and the former endeavored to forget the sweet dreams he had dreamed only a little while ago. It was hard to lose Kate, harder still to have her think that he was guilty; and his flight would have convinced her of that, he felt satisfied.

It was literally maddening to think of what he had lost, and how easily and undeservingly he had lost it. When he thought of it all the passionate, bitter tears filled his eyes, almost scorching them with their heat and bitterness, and his great honest heart was wrung with an unspeakable agony.

With him to love once was to love for ever, and Kate Leigh would never cease to be the object of his deep, reverent adoration. And unless Moll Sheargold withdrew the calumny she had launched against him the girl he loved would never look upon him with kindly eyes again.

Mrs. Standish had told Luke that after the day on which he received the summons Kate Leigh had ceased to work upon the pit bank. She had gone home the same afternoon and remained there until her rich relation drove to the cottage and took mother, daughter, and their lodger away with him to his fine house in the country.

A lot of folks were saying, Mrs. Standish went on, that Kate was going to marry the gentleman who lodged at their house; but whether the rumor was false or true she did not know, as she had given over visiting the Leighs after Luke was "summonsed."

But Luke could not believe that Arthur Willesden was going to marry Kate. His mother and the other gossips, he thought, were mistaken, as he once had been when he imagined that Arthur was his rival. Willesden was too true a friend, Kate too real a lover, to make such an engagement possible. Common decency would prevent both of them from rushing into one another's arms while the old love was still a living memory.

Kate had probably resigned all hope of ever being his—Luke's—wife, but her love for him, he knew, had been deep and real, and she was too true a woman to be able to rake the old passion out of her heart and replace it with a brand new affection all in two or three weeks' time.

Arthur Willesden might love Kate, but Luke fancied that he would have to wait a considerable period before she rooted up the old—the first love—and planted a fresh one in the same soil.

But these thoughts, after all, were, as George Meredith would say, only thin food for a wounded heart to feed on. The comfort he derived from such reflections was of the sorriest kind, and only too often there was a sting in the tail of the thoughts with which he attempted to solace his unfortunate self.

But sorry or satisfied as Luke might be with his lot the days sped on, and soon after settling down at Swaleham the Lancashire pitman became an evening student at the Mining School held in the city of Durham.

He walked to and from the town three nights a week, never missing a lecture, and throwing himself heart and soul into his work, and made such progress in his studies that he was himself astonished. Somehow the scientific problems with which his mind was now constantly filled acted as an anodyne and eased his heart-pains.

When May came he went up for examination, passing it creditably, though he knew not this until some weeks afterwards, when he received a certificate from the Home Office authorising him to act as mine manager, signed by the Home Secretary.

About two months after this a piece of good fortune came in Luke's way. One Saturday afternoon he chanced to drop into the reading-room of the public library in Durham, and taking up the Colliery Guardian, the recognised organ of the mining world, he came upon the following advertisement:—


WANTED. MANAGER for a small colliery
in south-west Lancashire; none but thoroughly
practical men with a large knowledge of the Longwall
system need apply.
Address: The Newgate Colliery Company,
Newgate, near Upholland.


Luke copied the advertisement into his pocketbook, thinking he might try to obtain the place as well as anybody else, and the next day he wrote and forwarded his application to the address given.

He never dreamt that he would be successful, knowing that there was a large number of unemployed mine managers in the market, and in fact he hardly cared to obtain the appointment, as he had no great desire to return to Lancashire just yet.

But to Luke's surprise he succeeded in obtaining the appointment, and at the time this chapter opens he was on his way to Durham to post the letter in which he announced that he accepted the position and salary offered him, and that at the time named in the letter received he would be at Newgate ready to commence his duties.

So after an absence of nine months Luke Standish returned to Lancashire again—returned to his native county but not to his natal town—although he found afterwards that Ashford and Newgate were only about a dozen miles asunder.

And he set his face southward once more, never dreaming of the great changes that had taken place during his absence—changes fraught with momentous consequences to him, although he was still ignorant of their occurrence, and which were destined to wreck two lives and imperil another.


Chapter XXX.—Terrible News.

Luke Standish found that the Newgate Colliery was not only a small affair but a new one also. The two pits constituting it had been sunk during the present year, and coal had only been coming up for about three months.

As usual at new collieries the miners were earning good wages, and this fact had brought new men into the place from all the surrounding towns and villages. It was not singular, therefore, that Ashford should have contributed its quota with the rest, and that the new manager should chance to know one or two of the miners who had left that town and come to Newgate.

Going through the mine one day, whilst his managerial honors were yet less than a week old, Luke was greeted by a rough hearty voice that seemed strangely familiar him. The speaker was busy hewing the coal when Luke ascended the "drawing road," but on getting a glimpse of the new manager's face he laid down his pick, exclaiming:—

"Hello, Luke, owd lad, is it thee?"

"Ay, it's me," Standish responded, as he wondered where he had seen the collier before.

Then it flashed upon him that it was old Joe Thomson, who had been lost with him this morning a year ago in the disused workings of the King Pit.

"Is it thee, Joe?" Luke cried genially as he held out his hand, which was shaken vigorously in the other's iron grip. "Ah didn't know thee at fust, owd mon."

"Bur ah knowed thee, Luke," Joe responded, with a laugh that rang through the low corridors of the mine, "un ah'm gradely fain th'art gerrin on so weel."

"Thank you, Joe," Luke answered, dropping the vernacular unconsciously, "and how long have you been here?"

"On'y a month, bur ah'm doin' very weel an intend to stop heeur."

"Glad to hear it, lad, and while I am here you shall always have a place. And how are things getting on at Ashford?"

"Just abeawt th' same."

"And how is Moll Sheargold getting along?"

"Hoo seems aw reet, Luke. Lives an' dresses like o lady, and works noan, naythur."

"And how does she manage to do it?" Standish asked wonderingly.

"Ah dunnot know," Thomson rejoined, shaking his head eagerly; "but folk says——" he went on hesitatingly, and then stopped in apparent confusion.

"Well, what do folk say?"

"Thah'll not be vexed, Luke, if ah speyk eawt plain?"

"Not at all, Joe; out with it!" the manager cried, not a little curious to know what the miner seemed half afraid to tell him. Could it be possible, he asked himself, that the unfortunate girl had become a social outcast—a street-walker?

"Well," said Joe, "folks says as thah hes bin keeping her."

"Me!" burst from Luke's lips like a flying ball.

"Ay, that's wot they sen."

"Its an infernal lie, Joe! an infernal lie!" Luke almost shrieked. "I wish," he added in the same passionate strain, "that the earth may close in upon me if ever I gave Moll Sheargold a penny in all my life!"

"Ah beleeuv thee, Luke, ah beleeuv thee," Joe faltered, not a little awed by the other's terrible invocation.

"And why do people spread such a scandalous falsehood?"

"Becos Moll Sheargold is tellln' everybody as it is true."

"And they believe her, I suppose?" Luke demanded bitterly; "just as they believe that I am the father of her child?"

"Ah," was all that Joe answered.

"I am not the man to fly from the consequences of any sin of mine," the young manager said sadly. "And, thank God, I have not to reproach myself with Moll Sheargold's fall; but I fear the world will never know how innocent I am."

"Well, annyheaw," Thomson said more cheerfully than when he last spoke, "th' wust of it is all o'er."

"Over, Joe. What do you mean?"

"Yo've heerd abeawt Moll's chahlt?"

"I have heard nothing but what you have told me since I left Ashford."

"Well, it's deeud."

"Dead! What? The child?"

"Ay. It deed abeawt three month sin'; it's strange thah ne'er heerd on't."

"Not strange at all, lad," said Luke, "for I never wrote to anyone at Ashford, and no one there ever wrote to me—for, of course, no one knew where I was."

"Well, it's gone," said Joe, "and a good job too, ah think."

"Yes, perhaps it was better the child should die than live to be ashamed of its mother."

Just then there was the rumble of approaching wheels upon the line of rails in the "drawing road," and turning his head Luke could see that it was Thomson's drawer coming in. So the conversation dropped for a few minutes whilst the miner and the lad who "drawed" for him filled the tub with coal and the latter ran off with it towards the pit bottom.

The mineral was easy to get in Joe Thomson's place—in mining parlance "the coal was soft"—and seeing that his old workmate did not lack the wherewithal to keep his drawer busy for some time yet Luke resumed the conversation where it was broken off.

"And so the child is dead, you say, Joe, and its mother living like a lady?"

"Ay, ay," the other responded.

"And as it is certain that I give her no money, where can she be getting it from?"

"Ah dunnnt know, lad," Joe murmured. "It puzzles me heaw hoo does it."

Luke's former suspicions were revived now as to the way in which Moll Sheargold existed, but the subject was hardly one that he cared to discuss, so thinking that Joe might be able to tell him something of another ex-pit brow girl he said:—

"I suppose that you would hear of Kate Leigh's good luck?"

"Ah should think ah did, lad. Wunnerful, wasn't it?"

"It was."

"Well, hoo wur a pratty wench, Luke, an o dacent un, too."

"Yes," the manager responded with a bitter sigh; "but for Moll Sheargold's infernal lies I should have married Kate."

"Well, well, lad, it's o'er an' done wi," Joe answered in a consolatory tone, "an' it's no use cryin' abeawt brokken mugs."

"Kate went to live with her rich uncle, I heard, Joe, at some fine place."

"Hoo did. They lived at that big place that's close to heeur—Denewood Grange they ca' it—o while wi' her relative."

"Is she not living there yet?" Luke cried.

"Hoo's not?" Joe retorted, staring at his superior with a curious gaze.

"But I only heard yesterday that Mr. Hampton—Kate's uncle—was still living at the Grange."

"So he is, Luke, and Mrs. Leigh lives there, too; but Kate isn't wi' em neaw, thah knows."

"Where is she?" Luke asked almost with a sob, an indefinite, yet fearful terror filling his trembling heart.

"Hoo lives neaw at o place caw'd Thornhill."

"Whereabouts is it?"

"On'y hauve a mahle fro' t' Grange."

"And what is Kate doing at that place, Joe? Surely Mr. Hampton has not permitted Kate to go out as a servant if he is as rich as folks say."

The truth was revealed now to the obtuse pitman who sat there conversing with Luke. The depths of his manager's ignorance were at last made plain, still the hard-handed, soft-hearted fellow hesitated to let in the light upon Luke's darkened mind. All he could blurt out was:—

"Kate isn't a sarvunt."

"Not a servant? What then? Speak Joe, can't you?"

"Hoo's married, lad, married!"

"Kate married!" fell in a hoarse, tremulous, and incredulous whisper from the manager's dry white lips.

"Hoo is, Luke."

"You are not gammoning me, Joe?" the stricken man pleaded.

"Ah'm not," the other cried solemnly. "It's gospel truth. Hoo wur married last Feb'uary, so ah've heerd."

There was silence for some moments. Luke's face had become livid as that of a corpse, and a cold heavy sweat stood in big drops upon his forehead and palms. His eyes had that glassy stare commonly seen in those who are demented.

All the agony of a lifetime seemed to have been suddenly compressed into that moment. Every aspiration, hope, and dream was crushed to the dust and buried for ever. For a brief space he was literally paralysed by the overwhelming blow, and when at last speech and motion came to him he had to bite his nether lip almost through to keep back the sobs and tears.

It was a strange scene, and not an undramatic one. There, beside the wall of the "pack," sat Luke Standish, rigid and mute, the only evidence of his suffering being distended eyes, dilated nostrils, and the twitching of various facial muscles, whilst a fathom's distance from the manager knelt Joe Thomson, his gaze bent condolingly upon his companion, and his naked arms and body gleaming black and bright as a negro's in the dim light of the Davy lamps.

At last Luke spoke, and in his agitation he unconsciously fell into the dialect to which he had been used from childhood.

"Ah'm aw reet neaw, Joe," he said huskily. "Yo're news coom on me sudden lahke, an' quahte upset me at fust. But ah'm aw reet agen, neaw."

"That's reet, Luke; cheep up, owd lad. There's plenty o' fish in't say yet." Joe's condolence was hearty enough, if somewhat clumsy.

"An' who did hoo marry?"

"Hadn't we better sey no moor abeawt it at present, Luke?"

"Tell me who hoo married," Luke persisted, "an' then ah've done."

"Well, ah've heerd folks sey us Kate's husban' used to lodge wi' 'em at Ashford. Ah forget his name just neaw."

"Arthur Willesden?"

"That's him."

"Ha!"

That was all Luke said, and bidding Joe good morning he made his way towards the pit shaft, his brain literally awhirl.

The memory of that black day will never fade from Luke Standish's mind. Even to think of it brings back some of the inexpressible pain he felt then. He went about like one in a stupor, hiding himself as much as possible from the people about the colliery, murmuring to himself, "Kate married to Willesden," and that thought never leaving his brain for a single moment during the day.

All his interest in the future seemed to have died a sudden and violent death; life was no longer worth the living—it was a positive burden, an intolerable agony, that he would have ended by suicide but for his mother's sake.

Evening fell before his confused brain cleared itself and he was able to think rationally of what had happened. And even then no suspicion of the truth ever crossed his mind. All that he did suspect now was that Arthur Willesden had been his rival from the first.

But he did not dream of the cunningly-conceived and basely-executed schemes by which which his ruin had been wrought and Arthur's success achieved. Yet he was stunned to find that Kate had wed another within a dozen weeks after his flight.

On going home in the evening his stony face and listless manner told his mother that something of great moment had happened to him. She was naturally alarmed, for he had not gone home to dinner as he ought to have done, and fearing that some accident had occurred at the colliery or that he had quarrelled with his employers she piled him with questions.

"It is nothing to you, mother! Nothing to you!" was all he replied.

"But ah must know, Luke! Ah must know! Tell me, lad, what it is," she entreated, almost going on her knees beside her son.

"Kate Leigh is married!" he said wearily, wishing to stop his parent's importunities.

"Is that all?" she demanded, amazed and indignant.

"All, mother! All! It could not be more!"

"Rubbish!" Mrs. Standish cried, jumping to an erect posture. "Ah thowt it was o matter o' lahfe un deeath!"

"It is more than either life or death to me!"

"Do 'ave o bit o' sense, lad, will to. Ah've heeurd aw abeawt it, un Kate's not wuth o cup o' cwod wayter——"

"Not a word against her!" he exclaimed. "You believe me guilty, so how can you judge Kate?"

"Well, hoo couldn't keer much for thee, lad, when hoo wed another chap two months after thah went away."

He said nothing in answer to this, but rose to go out.

"Wheer art gooin'?"

"For a walk."

"What tahme will t' come back?"

"I don't know, mother, but don't wait up for me."

The house in which Luke and his mother lived was not far from the colliery, and on quitting it he went along Auburne's-lane in the direction of Upholland, the only definite purpose in his mind then being the desire to see the place in which his lost love lived.

It was a fair summer evening, and the surrounding country lay calm, sweet, and beautiful with the sunset glow upon it. The western heavens were a splendid study in every shade of crimson and gold, skilfully wrought by the inimitable hand of nature, and as the twilight deepened the brilliant colors of the sunset assumed each moment a duskier tinge.

Meeting a farm-laborer, Luke asked to be directed towards Thornhill House, the residence of Mr. Arthur Willesden. The man chanced to know and told him.

"Gooa deawn this lone across Dene Bruk, an' yo'll fahnd it t'other sahde' o' t'wood."

The narrow, grass grown lane indicated ran through Dene Wood, and following it Luke crossed the shallow stream which was here spanned by a rude wooden bridge. On the other side of the brook the lane suddenly turned to the left, and presently he came upon a big pair of iron gates, upon the stone posts of which was engraved the name THORNHILL HOUSE.

'Twas dusk now, no one was stirring, and as the gates stood invitingly ajar he stepped inside and glanced around. But all he could see through the thickly-planted trees were here and there a window and chimney-pot, now a glimpse of a flowerbed, then a breadth of smooth, dark green lawn.

He was hungering now for a sight of Kate's sweet face as a man dying of thirst in a desert might hunger for a deep draught of cool refreshing water, and scarcely thinking of what he was doing he went along the avenue, treading not upon the hard gravel, but the soft sward, whereon his feet fell noiselessly.

In a minute he was beside the house—close by one of the low windows that opened upon the lawn. Still he neither saw nor heard aught. Not even a dog made latrant murmurs. It was quite dark now. He need fear no detection, and he was about to turn from the lawn and seek the back part of the house when his feet were suddenly arrested and he crept back to the window.

Inside the room someone was playing a piano—not any tune, but merely flirting with the keys—and the weirdly spiritual symphonies that were wafted through the the flapping lace draperies and slightly opened window seemed specially attuned to the mood of that despairing man kneeling there upon the grass.

The low wailing notes expressed all his utter weariness of life, his passionate despair and inexpressible misery, and his very heart and brain seemed to vibrate in unison with the lightly-touched chords.

Who could the player be? Not Kate, for she knew not the art. He pulled the casement open, lifted the light curtains noiselessly, and gazed upon the musician. Good God, it was Kate!—sweet-faced as of yore, but oh, how weary-eyed. The life, the vivacity, the zest of life which had characterised her a year ago were gone now, and she seemed sad-hearted as he was.

He let go the curtains, for his hand had grown suddenly nerveless, and he fell face forward on the grass, weeping as only men can weep once in a lifetime.


Chapter XXXI.—After the Honeymoon.

It was quite true, as old Joe Thomson had said, that Luke Standish's sweetheart of yore had become the wife of Arthur Willesden, and that they were now living at Thornhill House. The wedding-day was the one originally fixed upon by Kate when she first consented to marry the handsome young fellow who had been so kind and generous to herself and her mother whilst lodging with them.

After the first visit paid by Richard Hampton and his relatives to Thornhill, when, it will be remembered, the master of Denewood withdrew his objections to an early marriage between his niece and young Willesden, there was no further hitch of any kind, and the wedding was duly solemnised within the ancient pyramidal-towered church of Upholland one bleak morning in February.

The good and just providence, which generally hangs about in novels and dramas at a convenient distance, ready to be called in when wanted, was absent on that occasion, and the cunningest young scoundrel in the three kingdoms was permitted to wed himself to one of the sweetest and truest girls in the land.

In this case the mills of the gods were grinding even more slowly than usual, and the surety of their work being done at all was still a matter of doubt. But so it is too often in this strange world, my masters. 'Tis only the common experience of all men to see knavery prospering and waxing fat, whilst truth and honesty, gaunt-cheeked and sad-eyed, labor eternally in vain.

In marrying the man to whom she and her mother owed so many great debts of kindness, Kate Leigh had only fulfilled the promise she had given him. She had, so far as in her power lay, repaid his generosity by keeping her word, and thus granting him his dearest desire.

In wedding Arthur she discharged an obligation and conferred a favor, but in no sense satisfied any desires of her own. Her head told her that it was her duty to link her life to that of this handsome, noble-hearted young wooer, but in her heart of hearts she felt that she ought to have married Luke Standish.

Of course, her head often upbraided her heart for thinking a little fondly and regretfully of her old lover, and as the girl acted upon determination rather than impulse she became the wife of Arthur Willesden and the mistress of Thornhill House.

But she had gone to the altar in no false colors. She knew her own heart—saw her position clearly enough—and she endeavored to show Arthur how matters stood. On the eve of the wedding-day, when she and he were bidding each other good night, she said—

"You remember, Arthur, that when I consented to be your wife two months ago I told you then that I did not love you as a wife should love a husband."

"I remember, darling!" he whispered, reverently lifting the hand he clasped to his lips.

"To be honest, Arthur," she went on, "to be just to myself and you, I must repeat those words. Forgive me, but I must say them."

"It will come all in good time."

"It may. I hope so. I even think it will. I respect, admire, but do not love you yet. You understand me, I know."

"I do," he cried, "and your honesty and frankness are almost as precious to me as your love. But that will come, never fear, when we are married."

"I hope it may," Kate responded.

"You do not regret that we are to be wed to-morrow?" he asked.

"No, I do not," she replied, firmly believing that her love for Luke Standish had been a mistake and that her future with Arthur Willesden must be a happy one.

He laughed a low pleased laugh and kissed her tenderly upon the cheek. Her ready answer to his question made him believe that he was loved already, but that she chose to call her love by another name.

In a while they parted, to meet again next morn and speak the words that bound them together for life. The wedding was a quiet affair. Richard Hampton wished to make a village carnival over it, but at his niece's desire there was neither feasting nor drinking, save at the wedding breakfast.

Within the church, during the celebration of the ceremony and at the Grange after the marriage Arthur Willesden was flushed and jubilant, as if he had just achieved a glorious conquest. Kate, however, was very calm and collected, and somewhat paler than usual, her appearance showing neither the shy happiness nor the maidenly nervousness that her mother and uncle had expected from her.

Mrs. Leigh guessed rightly that her child had not yet contrived to banish her old sweetheart from her heart and thoughts; but the mother was not uneasy on that account, for she felt that her daughter would soon learn to love Arthur, now that they were husband and wife.

Richard Hampton also wondered at his niece's gravity, but as he knew nothing of her love affair with the young pitman, Luke Standish, he could not attribute her spiritlessness to a bygone yet unforgotten passion. He believed that it was a case of love on both sides; and had he guessed that Kate was marrying Willesden not because she loved him, but because she desired to repay his many kindnesses, he would certainly have interposed.

The party entertained at the wedding breakfast was a small one, consisting of only seven persons. These were the bride and bridegroom, the master of Denewood and his sister, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Willesden; and lastly, Mrs. Leigh's old admirer, George Bamforth.

At the end of the little speech he made in proposing the health, wealth, and prosperity of the newly-wedded pair, Richard Hampton presented his niece with a cheque for five hundred pounds, which formed, he said, the first payment of the annual allowance of that sum he henceforth intended to make her.

After the breakfast Kate and Arthur took train to Dover and thence the boat to Calais, from that place journeying southward to Paris, where they remained a month or so, coming back to Lancashire just as the trees were putting forth new foliage, the larks commencing to mount skyward, and the ragged thorn hedgerows bursting their tiny red bourgeons.

During the past few weeks Arthur Willesden had lived a life of unalloyed pleasure. He had won the fair woman he loved so passionately, and thus assured to himself not only the inestimable joy of being mated to the dearest creature the earth held, but also the certainty of being henceforth in receipt of an income that would banish all pecuniary cares.

The five hundred a year Mr. Hampton allowed Kate, added to his own two hundred and fifty, made a comfortable total, which would enable him to make a respectable show in the country; and on returning to Thornhill he at once set that establishment on a footing equal to the joint incomes of himself and his wife.

Half a dozen more servants were imperatively required; Kate's health required a pony and barouche, in which she could obtain fresh air and exercise; and he also needed a horse for similar purposes. All these things were obtained in due course, and thus it came about that the expenditure of the Thornhill establishment was only just covered by the income its master and mistress possessed.

Presently a few small thorns began to show themselves in Arthur's bed of roses and to annoy him not a little. Soon after he and Kate returned from their honeymoon he received a letter bearing the Ashford postmark, and written in a sprawling hand which was quite familiar to him.

The missive was from Moll Sheargold. It contained that lady's best wishes for the future happiness of her old workmate and her husband, and concluded with a request for an immediate loan of ten pounds. Arthur cursed a little in his throat at the girl's impudent coolness, but all the same he sent the sum named by the next post.

That letter from Moll made him realise for the first lime that he was completely in her power, and this feeling was decidedly unpleasant. Miss Sheargold was such a passionate creature that if he did not comply with her requests no matter how unjust or irrational they were, she might go to Richard Hampton—perhaps come to Kate—and tell them of the scheme he had devised and she had executed in order to get Luke Standish out of the way.

So he sent the money, but with it enclosed a stern remonstrance which he hoped would frighten the girl into thinking that he would help her no further. His objurgation, however, was lamentably weakened, if not rendered entirely powerless by the desire he expressed to meet her at some safe place in a week or so.

This was the sharpest thorn that had yet appeared in Arthur's roseate couch. The one next to it in point of annoyance was Kate herself.

The love which he had expressed himself as being certain of making its appearance after their marriage, and which the girl herself had hoped would come to her, showed yet no signs of its dawning. Nay, there was even room to believe that a feeling quite opposite to the one expected was beginning to manifest itself in his sweet wife's breast.

Arthur thought this, not because Kate ever expressed any regret at having married him, but her manner told him what her lips refused to utter. She was always quiet and submissive to his wishes, and his caresses were always accepted if they were never invited. She did not openly object to his company when she went driving, but as often as convenient she stole off alone, and that told him enough.

He would have preferred less quiet submission on her part, and more of the active independent spirit which once characterised Kate. Her obedience denoted the dutiful wife, not the loving mate he had hoped she might become, and he now began to fear that her heart would never learn to throb in rapt unison with his own.

And loving her well he dissembled his annoyance, permitting her to go her own way while he exercised the same privilege. And she devoted her time to music and literature, and when she was not either playing the piano or reading she was out driving along the beautiful green lanes or visiting her mother and uncle at the Grange.

But the lack of love on his wife's part did not make a miserable man of Arthur Willesden. He loved Kate, it is true, but had a time of trial and privation come it would have been soon proved that he loved himself much better.

And on the whole he had a happy life of it. With ample, if not extraordinary, means at his disposal, he was enabled occasionally to revisit the gay scenes of his old bachelor days—secretly, of course—and now and again he paid a flying visit to some of the surrounding race meetings.

But there was no recklessness or extravagance about Arthur Willesden's dissipations. He took them cautiously, cheaply as possible, and always in moderate doses. If his principles were not of the purest he certainly displayed them in the most quiet way he could discover.

During the summer months the master of Thornhill and Miss Sheargold had occasion to write to each other several times, and they met frequently at certain out-of-the-way places. By this time a complete change had transpired regarding the relationship in which they stood towards each other.

When they first joined hands on the canal back at Ashford she was merely the accomplice, he the cunning knave who set her to work; but they were linked together now in a closer and even more criminal bond. Beginning as Arthur's tool, Moll had permitted the intimacy between them to grow until she became his mistress.

Moll was still living with her parents at Ashford, and, as old Joe Thomson had said, was following no ostensible occupation, yet lived and dressed like a lady. To account for this Willesden had instructed her to say that she was being kept by her old lover, Luke Standish, and most people believed the story when they heard it.

Neither Moll Sheargold nor Arthur Willesden had heard aught of Luke Standish since his sudden flight from Ashford, and they believed he had gone abroad—probably to America—and that his mother had afterwards followed him thither.

And thus things stood when Luke came back to Lancashire as manager of the Newgate Colliery, there to be told, as recorded in the last chapter, of the changes that had taken place during his absence in the North of England.


Chapter XXXII.—At the Sign of the Boar's Head.

One afternoon in September Arthur Willesden rode over to Denewood, not that he had any special business to transact with one or other of its inmates, but because he thought Kate, who had left Thornhill an hour or so before him, might have called there.

On entering the Grange he found both Richard Hampton and Mrs. Leigh inside, but not Kate, as he had expected, for the servants at home had told Arthur that his wife had taken the direction in which her uncle's residence lay.

She must have gone right on along the lane towards Orrell, Willesden thought, and thus thinking he was about to make his adieux and depart, when Mrs. Leigh said:—

"Whom do you think I met yesterday, Arthur?"

"I don't know, Mrs. Leigh. Perhaps my uncle or aunt."

"No; Luke Standish."

"Luke Standish!" Arthur exclaimed in great surprise.

"Yes; you remember him, I'm sure?"

"Quite well, but I thought he had gone abroad over the Sheargold affair, and I fancied he would be ashamed or afraid of returning to Lancashire."

"He's never been out of England, it seems."

"Where did you meet him?"

"In Dene Wood; and the poor fellow looked so worn and ill that I couldn't help speaking to him."

"Is he living at Ashford again?"

"No; he lives close by here—well, only a couple of miles or so away. He is managing some colliery at Newgate village, so he told me."

"Who is this Standish, Margaret?" Hampton asked. "I've never heard his name before, I think."

Mrs. Leigh briefly informed her brother of the relationship which had existed between the man spoken of and her daughter and mentioned the cause of their engagement being broken.

"And what did Standish say?" Arthur asked, feverishly eager to know what had passed between his mother-in-law and his vanquished rival.

"He protested that he was quite innocent of the charge Moll Sheargold had brought against him, and he fell on his knees on the grass and wished that God might kill him that moment if he did not speak the truth."

"It would be quite a dramatic scene," Willesden rejoined, with a sneering laugh. "Of course you did not believe him, Mrs. Leigh."

"But I did, Arthur. Somehow I think the girl did it all out of spite because Luke preferred Kate to herself."

"Well, it was a strange way of revenging herself; but I am inclined to think that in this case there is no smoke without fire. Well, ta-ta, I shall go through the wood and catch Kate somewhere in Freckleton-road."

As the door closed behind him Richard Hampton said gravely—

"I wish, Margaret, that you had told me sooner of this Standish, and the affair which parted him and Kate."

"Why, Richard?"

"Because," he answered, "I have an idea that Kate has not yet forgotten her old lover. Have you not noticed how pale and weary she has appeared of late, and how seldom she and Arthur are together now?"

"Yes!" the widow responded uneasily, "but even if Kate still remembers Luke Standish, we need not fear that she will misbehave herself."

"I am not thinking of an elopement, Margaret. I am only thinking that if you had told me of all this before Kate had married Willesden I would certainly have prevented her from sacrificing herself to him while she loved another man, who after all may be innocent."

"But why did Standish fly if he was not guilty?" Mrs. Leigh demanded, stung into an attack upon Luke by her brother's defence of him.

"I don't know; but you yourself admitted that the man made you believe him guiltless, and now that Kate is married what good can he attain by telling a false-hood?"

"Well, whether he is guilty or innocent it is all over now, Richard."

"Perhaps it is not all over, Margaret. Does Kate know that Standish is living so near here?"

"I think not; but you need not be under any apprehension. I made Luke promise that he would never put himself in her way. He knows that she is married now and may be trusted to respect her position, I think."

In the meantime, while brother and sister were conversing, Arthur Willesden was speeding back homeward as fast as his bay mare could carry him. He did not go through Dene Wood and along Freckleton-road in order to overtake Kate, as he said he would on quitting the Grange.

The reason for the change was the unexpected discovery that Luke Standish was living almost within sight of the Thornhill windows. What did his sudden appearance in that quarter mean? Was his coming thither one of the accidents of fortune, or was it design? Had the duped pitman discovered something of the plot which had disgraced and exiled him?

Arthur feared that the last supposition was the right one, and even were he mistaken in this the mere presence of Luke Standish so near Thornhill was a deadly menace to the peace and well-being of the household of Thornhill.

Willesden knew that his wife's love was yet far from being won by him—even feared that his influence over her was gradually growing weaker, and who knew what might happen if Kate and Luke chanced to meet alone in some quiet corner of the woods or lanes?

Mutual explanation might arouse suspicions, and suspicions might suggest enquiries which might lay the whole scheme bare. And Arthur Willesden knew sufficient of his wife's character to feel convinced that if she ever learned by what ignoble means she had been won she would leave him and never return.

So that, all things considered, Luke Standish's presence at Newgate was a positive danger, and, if possible, he must be driven thence immediately. Already Willesden had bethought himself of a plan which might drive the pitman out of the country again, but to put it into effect the aid of Moll Sheargold was absolutely necessary.

He was riding home now to write to her that they might meet and talk over his scheme of expelling Luke from Lancashire, and in a few minutes after reaching Thornhill he had dashed off a few lines asking Moll to meet him on the following afternoon at the Boar's Head, Dalton Green, about three o'clock.

Willesden posted the letter himself, and next day he and Moll met at the time and place he had named. Dalton Green was a small village situated about midway between Upholland and Ashford, and the master of Thornhill and his mistress had often used the little country tavern as a rendezvous.

The Boar's Head Inn was both quaint and quiet. It stood in the corner of a beautiful green lane, whose tall hedgerows and towering, full-foliaged trees made a pleasant spot in the landscape. It was a low, rambling house, half tavern, half farm, with an old porch and stone benches.

Its customers were composed mostly of carters, who rested their beasts while they slaked their own thirst and perhaps had a game of bowls, for there was a capital bowling green, and also a fine garden of the old-fashioned kind behind the Inn, where Moll and Arthur had spent many an hour together.

He was first on the scene, but he had not been seated many minutes in the small parlor when, glancing through the diamond-shaped panes, he saw Moll Sheargold crossing the lane, and he drank his glass of beer and went to meet her.

"Where shall we go?" he asked. "Into the parlor or garden?"

"It will be nicer in the garden," she replied; "let us go there."

They walked down the flagged and sanded lobby, telling the red-cheeked and brawny-armed serving wench to bring some refreshments to them in the garden. Then they passed through the yard into the orchard, and seating themselves on a rustic seat beneath an old apple tree exchanged a few commonplaces until the maid had brought what he had ordered and disappeared again.

A year's good and easy living had changed Moll Sheargold for the better, so far as appearances went. She was improved greatly both in manner and speech, and was dressed tastefully in a dark-blue gown and hat which admirably set off her dusky beauty.

"Well, why did you ask me to come here?" Moll queried, as she took a good drink of the cool ale the wench of the inn had brought her.

"To tell you that Luke Standish has come back again," Arthur replied.

"Back again! Wheer to? Not to Ashford or ah should ha' seen 'im."

"He's living at a village called Newgate, at the other aide of Upholland."

"An' yo' sent for me to tell me that?"

"Yes, because his presence may be dangerous to us, don't you see?"

"How? In what way?"

"He may find out how you tricked him if he is permitted to stop about this quarter, and then it would be prison for yourself and disgrace for me."

"Well, if he 'as come here he'll not go away again because we ax him, will he? If he gets to see that we want him to go, that will just cause him to stop."

"But I think we can make him go away, if you only agree to work the plan."

"Me?"

"Yes, you."

"I've always to do the dirty work," she grumbled.

"And you always get the pay," he retorted.

"I didn't marry somebody with a rich uncle, did I, eh?" she sneered.

"If I did you have shared the benefit of it, Moll. Now, haven't you?"

"P'r'aps I 'ave."

"Well, I don't wish to quarrel, anyhow."

"And I don't wish to keep huntin' Luke Standish about like a dog. You seem to forget that I like him yet better nor any living man!"

"It will be quite as well if you can forget it, too, for it must be quite clear to you that he cares nothing for you, and will certainly put you in prison for false swearing should he ever find you out."

"I wish I'd never done it," she cried sullenly.

"It's too late to wish that now. What you should wish is to get him away from this part of the world as far as possible."

"An' how can it be manisht?"

"By taking out a warrant against h'm."

"For what?"

"The money he owes you as the reputed father of your child."

"He might pay the money—it's only about ten pounds—an' then he wouldn't need to go away."

"I don't think he would pay it. He'd almost certainly refuse, thinking that to do so would be to acknowledge that the child was his."

"An' if he didn't pay it?"

"He'd have to go to prison, and when he came out would have lost his position and have found it convenient to quit Lancashire again."

It was quite as well for Arthur Willesden that he did not see the angry look of disgust that flashed from Moll Sheargold's eyes. At that moment she was indignant enough to have done almost anything to spite him, for he had roused all her passionate nature by speaking so coolly of sending the only man she had ever loved to prison.

But she had gone too far now to turn back, and to expose her companion's schemes would mean accusing herself of perjury. Distasteful as was the task Willesden wished her to undertake it must be done. But it was hard to be forced to persecute the man she loved.

"I won't do it unless I'm well paid," she exclaimed angrily. "And I tell you plain that I don't like doin' it at all."

"Of course you'll be paid," he answered. "Don't I always pay you well?"

"You do—too well. I was bad enough afore I met you, but I'm a thousand times worse now. I wish to God I'd never seen you!"

"What nonsense, my dear. Have you turned Methodist? Why, when I first saw you you were working like a slave for about a dozen shillings a week, and were badly fed, ill-clothed, with neither leisure nor pleasure in your life. Now you are a lady—and a pretty one too. Put that in your pocket and give me a kiss."

The sight of a ten-pound note somewhat calmed Moll's anger, and pocketing it she submitted to Arthur's caresses. Then he said:—

"You will do it then?"

"Ay; how am I to begin?"

"All you have to do is to go to the Ashford Police Court to-morrow morning and tell the chief constable that you wish to take out a warrant against Luke Standish for so and so. This is Luke's address"—handing Moll a slip of paper—"and you had better take it with you. You understand all you have to do?"

She nodded.

"And you will go for the Warrant tomorrow morning?"

Another nod.

"If you don't do it I am afraid you will regret it, for I need not tell you that you are in much greater danger than I am. For if Luke chances to discover who the real father of your child was he would make things hot for you."

"And you, too, if I told him all!"

"Oh, no, for I should deny all and everything you said, and I think he would take my word before yours."


Chapter XXXIII.—The Arrest on the Pit Bank.

Distasteful as was the work Arthur Willesden had laid upon her, and she had promised to undertake, Moll Sheargold carried it out next day to the very letter of her employer's instructions. She went to the Chief Constable of Ashford, laid her case before him, and he at once issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Luke Standish, manager of the Newgate Colliery.

The same afternoon quite a dramatic scene was enacted on the pit brow at Newgate. Between two and three o'clock p.m. a couple of respectably-dressed men came to the colliery offices and asked to see the manager.

Mr. Gorton, the head clerk, informed them that the manager was down the pit at present, but they could see him when he came up by waiting on the pit bank, whereupon the men said they would go to the place indicated and see Mr. Standish there.

Mr. Gorton did not ask the two men the nature of their business, nor did they volunteer to tell him. He took it for granted that they were miners of some sort who, knowing the manager, had come to seek work at the colliery.

The men seemed to understand that the clerk took them to be pitmen, for on quitting the offices and walking leisurely towards the pits they laughed and complimented themselves on their make-up. On reaching the pit brow one of the men said to the banksman:—

"Is the manager anywhere about?"

"He's deawn t' pit."

"Which of them?"

"Th' Arley mahne."

"Is the pit the Arley mine or the other one?"

"T'other."

"He'll have to come up the other pit, I suppose?"

"Ay, ov coorse."

"What time do you think the manager will be coming up?"

"He may cum up anny minute neaw."

"Then we'll wait to see him, Dick," the man said, turning to his companion.

"Ay, we'll wait," the other man responded.

Then the banksman asked:—

"Ah s'pose yo' wahnt to see th' manager abeawt o place heeur?"

Both the men nodded.

"Well, ah think he's some places empty, un fro wot ah heeur coalers sayin' they're gradely good places too."

"We want good places, Dick, don't we?" cried the man who had conversed with the banksman, as he laughingly nudged his companion.

Then the brow-man hurried away to the loaded cage, which had just reached the surface, and the men to whom he had been speaking strolled toward the mouth of the Arley mine, up which they might expect the manager to come.

Seating themselves on a heap of props and bars the men patiently awaited the appearance of Luke Standish. A quarter of an hour slipped away, during which time the cages were constantly ascending and descending, but their freight, as yet, had consisted of mineral, not men.

At last the signal bell in the engine-house was struck three times, and the ringing notes were plainly heard by the two men sitting on the timber. This was the signal that told the engineman that miners were coming up in the next cage, so that he might wind more cautiously. Again the bell rung out thrice, and then the great pulley began to gyrate.

"He's coming up!" the man called Dick whispered as he rose to his feet.

"Very likely," his companion replied coolly; "but that is no reason why you should jump up like that. Sit down, man, for when he comes up he won't run away, even if he knows me."

"Are you certain you will know him again?"

"It's not very probable that he'll have changed much in twelve months, will he?"

"Not much, I should think, Dan."

"Well, here the cage is. Sit down."

Dick dropped back upon the heap of props as the bonnet of the cage appeared above the landing-place, and the next moment ten men and lads stepped forward upon the brow, each and all of them as black-skinned as ever was a son of Africa.

But Luke Standish was not among them, nor anyone who bore the least resemblance to him. The manager was taller by a head than any of those who had come up the pit. The eyes of the man called Dan had fixed themselves for an instant on each of the miners but he had never risen from his seat, and still sitting, he said to one of the grimy pit-men:—

"Was the manager at the bottom when you came up, lad?"

"Ah seed nowt on 'im," the collier answered. "Did thah, Tom?" turning to another miner.

"Did ah wot, Pee?"

"See owt o' Luke Standish; these chaps are waitin' fur 'im."

"Ah heerd one o't galloway lads say as Luke were up at th' furnace."

"He'll not be long then before he comes up," Dan responded, and the miners quitted the pit bank.

In ten minutes more the signal bell again announced that men were coming up the pit, and in a little while another cageful of miners stepped forth upon the smooth iron-covered pit bank. This time Luke Standish was among them, and the man sitting there in wait for him recognised the manager at once.

As Luke turned from the Arley mine he felt his arm touched, and looking round saw the two men standing at his elbow.

"Can I speak to you?" said he named Dan.

"Yes. What is it?" Luke replied.

"Will you read this?"

A blue official looking document was placed in the manager's hands, and opening it wonderingly he read as follows:—


"To the Chief and other Constables of the Borough of Ashford, in the County of Lancaster, and to all other Peace Officers in the said Borough.

"WHEREAS on the 10th day of December last complaint was made before Charles Graham, Esqre., one of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the Borough of Ashford, in the said County of Lancaster, for that Luke Standish, of 17, Queen-street, the father of the illegitimate child of Mary Sheargold, refuses to contribute to the support of the said child, contrary to the Statute in such case made and provided:

AND WHEREAS the said Justice then issued his summons unto the said Luke Standish, commanding him, in her Majesty's name, to be and appear, on the 15th day of December at ten o'clock in the forenoon, at the Borough Court, in the said Borough, before such Justices of the Peace as might then be there, to answer to the said complaint and be further dealt with according to LAW:

AND WHEREAS the said Luke Standish hath neglected to be or appear at the time and place so appointed in and by the said summons, although it may now be proved to me, upon oath, that the said summons hath been duly served upon the said Luke Standish.

"THESE are, therefore, to command you, in her Majesty's name, forthwith to apprehend the said Luke Standish, and to bring him before some one or more of her Majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the said Borough, to answer to the said complaint and to be further dealt with according to LAW.

"GIVEN under my Hand and Seal this twenty-second day of September, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Seventy Nine, at the Borough aforesaid.


"HENRY PAULTON, Mayor."


"My God!" cried Luke, as he finished perusing the warrant for his arrest, "what an infernal shame this thing is! I will never submit to it!"

The miners who had come up the pit with Standish were still standing near. They had seen the man give him the document, and its color had told them that it was a summons of some kind. Now they came crowding round the two men and their manager, excited by Luke's exclamation and ready to tackle the officers if they only got the word from Standish.

"Don't you know me, Luke?" said he who had handed Standish the warrant. "I am Dan Jordan. See!" and he whipped off his long whiskers. "I am sorry, lad, to have such a disagreeable duty to do, but if you will go quietly nobody need know about it, and you can easily get bailed out."

Luke was silent for a few moments. His passionate soul was roused to its lowest depths by this new injury and degradation, and for a time he felt reckless of consequences. He had only to say a word and his workmen would hurl themselves upon the officers, and he would be free to go where he listed.

But indignant as he was he had yet some reason left, and a moment's reflection showed him that the difficulty of his position would be increased tenfold by his offering resistance to the officers. It was inexpressibly annoying to undergo arrest, but only submission to the law could save him from worse complications.

"I will go, Jordan," he said, "if you will promise not to lay a hand upon me."

"Give me your promise, Standish, not to try to get away, and you shall go as you like."

"I promise, then. You can follow me at a respectful distance."

Luke walked leisurely across the brow as if nothing had happened of an unusual nature, and the two officers sauntered after him as though they had finished their business with the manager and were going away.

But it was quickly known all about the colliery that the two men were either policemen or detectives in disguise, and that they had come to arrest Standish for some offence or other. The miners who had witnessed the scene between Luke and the officers told this much to all they met; but, of course, they did not know why a warrant had been issued against him.

Pausing beside the entrance to the colliery offices Luke waited until Dan Jordan and his mate came up, then he said:—

"I am going inside a few minutes to speak to Mr. Gorton. I shall show him the warrant and ask him to follow me to Ashford to stand bail for me."

"All right, Standish, we'll wait," Dan replied. He had known the pitman for many years and placed implicit faith in his promise not to attempt an escape.

Going into the offices Luke told the chief clerk that he desired a few minutes' private conversation with him, and Mr. Gorton at once granted his request. Although Luke had only been at the colliery a few weeks he had made friends of all with whom he came in contact by reason of his frank kindly ways and simple unassuming manliness, and he and the cashier were already great chums.

Frank Gorton was a few years older than Luke, but he was still a single man, and having many tastes common with those of the manager they had struck up a friendship; but at the time this occurred Standish did not dream he would so soon require the aid of his new friend. Fortunately Luke had told Gorton something of his past life, so that the latter was less astonished by the sight of the warrant than he would otherwise have been; and moreover, he had been convinced that Standish was innocent of the accusation which had driven him from Ashford.

"Go with the officers at once to Ashford, Standish," said Gorton, "and I will follow you there as soon as possible. I shall be sufficient bail for you, I think."

Luke thanked him and withdrew. Then he and the two officers went up the lane together towards the house in which the manager and his mother lived. Leaving the men within a stone's throw of the cottage Luke went in, changed his clothes as speedily as he could, and telling his mother nothing of what had just happened went out, merely saying that he would not be back before night.

Rejoining the men, they all went toward Newgate Station together, and while the colliery was still in sight Luke suddenly met one he had never expected to meet there. It was Arthur Willesden, out riding on his fine bay, and on seeing Luke he stopped beside the unflagged footpath, saying:—

"Hullo, Standish, is that you? I heard you were living hereabouts, but scarcely believed it. But how are you getting on, old fellow?"

"Badly enough, for I am under arrest," Luke replied.

The manager spoke more pleasantly than Willesden had expected. He was satisfied that Standish was still in the dark regarding himself; and so it was, for although Luke's friendship for Arthur was less ardent than formerly he did not dream that the the man seated there on the bay was his deadliest foe and the cause of all his troubles, past and present.

"Under arrest! What for?" Willesden cried, in well simulated amaze, for he knew the warrant had been issued that morning and had been on the alert for this.

"For neglecting to support somebody else's child!" Luke exclaimed bitterly. "Show him the warrant, Jordan."

Arthur affected to examine the document handed to him very critically, then he gave it back, merely saying very coldly:—

"It's for the old case, I see."

His manner even more than his words showed plainly that he considered Luke guilty, and that his arrest was only just and proper under the circumstances. Luke noticed this, and his heart filled with a sudden fury against the handsome elegantly-attired gentleman who had married Kate Leigh.

"At all events, Willesden," he cried, "whether I am guilty or not it was a lucky thing for you that Moll Sheargold charged me with her child's paternity. But for that Kate Leigh would have been my wife, not yours. Good afternoon."

Luke's words struck Arthur like a blow. His dark face flashed and then grew deadly pale. The taunt in the other's words was so true, and they brought vividly before him his wife—pale, listless, indifferent to her husband's love, and her old affection still kept green in her inmost heart.

Ere he recovered himself Luke and his companions were going their way, and restraining the impulse to gallop after the pitman and vent his throatful of curses upon him, Arthur pricked his mare's sleek sides with his spurs and dashed in the other direction.

Hitherto Willesden had only been Luke Standish's enemy when his own interests demanded it; but henceforth he would be a personal foe, ever ready to revenge the taunt thrown at him that afternoon. Formerly he had been spurred on by love of self, now private enmity filled his heart.

On reaching home Arthur took what little revenge was offered to him there. He told Kate that coming homeward from Newgate village he had met an old friend of hers in charge of two policemen. Could she guess who the man was? No, of course not. How could she? Well, it was Luke Standish.

He was chattering away behind his evening paper as if his intelligence concerned neither of them, but he saw that his words had set his wife's lips quivering and that her face had grown a shade paler. Then, with a visible effort, she enquired the cause of Mr. Standish's arrest.

While this little episode was taking place at Thornhill another was being enacted inside the police-office at Ashford, where Frank Gorton had just arrived and was filling up a form which provided that in case Luke Standish failed to keep his recognisances he—Gorton—would be mulct in the sum of twenty-five pounds. In plain English, Frank was bailing out his friend.


Chapter XXXIV.—The Meeting in Dene Wood.

Nearly a couple of months had passed since Luke Standish came back to Lancashire as the manager of Newgate Colliery, and in that position he still remained despite the petty scheme Arthur Willesden had devised and Moll Sheargold executed to drive him away again.

Willesden had calculated that even if Luke chose to pay the money rather than escape payment by flight he would lose his situation owing to the scandalous gossip his arrest would originate. Surely, he thought, the proprietor of Newgate Colliery would never retain the services of a man who had been arrested and hauled to the Police Court on such a charge.

But in this Arthur was mistaken. The owner of the mines Luke Standish managed did not concern himself at all with the actions of his servants outside of their relation to himself. So long as a man discharged his duties well he was satisfied, and so it proved that Luke was never in danger of forfeiting his appointment.

He had settled Moll Sheargold's case against him by paying all expenses, and although he did it most grudgingly, as was but natural, it was done, and there the matter ended. He had placed the matter in the hands of a solicitor, who had arranged everything so speedily that Luke's appearance in court was not necessary.

Since his coming back to Lancashire there had been no meeting between Luke Standish and Moll Sheargold, nor had they even set eyes upon each other. At the time of his arrest Luke had procured Moll's address from one of the officers of the police court, and he had written to her the same night asking her to grant him an interview.

Utterly puzzled by the girl's inexplicable persecution of himself he thought that by conversing with her he might learn why she had chosen to drive him from Ashford by an accusation she knew was absolutely groundless, and again why she had taken the warrant out against him.

But the interview desired was not conceded. All he obtained was a note from Moll in which she stated that she did not wish to meet him and would not do so.

This only intensified Luke's bewilderment and augmented the bitter score already marked down in his mental ledger against the shameless creature who had done so much toward ruining his happiness.

But in his analysis of Moll Sheargold's motives he never thought it requisite to journey further afield than the girl herself. Her debased feelings, passionate nature, and rejected love formed the only component parts of the problem which he tried to solve. He never dreamt that she had been prompted by another mind more cunning and acute than her own.

But although Luke did not suspect Arthur Willesden of having a hand in Moll Sheargold's despicable actions he had grown to dislike the handsome, accomplished, and lucky man who had profited so much out of his own evil fortune, for it was indisputable that Kate only married his rival on account of the charge which Moll Sheargold had levelled against himself.

Of course Luke only felt this; he did not know it, for the reason why Kate married Willesden was known to herself alone. But it was only natural that the miner should have an aversion for the man who had stolen Kate's hand when he was far away and unable to guard it.

He bitterly repented now of his flight from Ashford, and he vented his anathemas upon his own cowardly heart for having fled as he did like a guilty wretch. That act had forced Kate to think him criminal, and his own unhappiness was due to what he had done.

If he had only stood his ground like a man all would have been well. He would have been under a dark cloud for a time, and Kate would certainly have ended their engagement, but in time he might have lived down the charge, proved himself innocent, and then his love would have returned to her allegiance.

At whatever cost to himself Moll Sheargold's accusation ought to have been vigorously denied by himself in the police court; and rather than admit his guilt, which practically he did by flying from Ashford, he ought to have gone to prison and rotted there, a martyr to his pure cause and good name.

But it was all over now, and quite useless to dwell upon the past. Luke knew this, but the recognition of the fact could not prevent him from torturing himself with thinking what might have been. He was only an ordinary man, of a piece with common humanity, and his passions, regrets, aspirations, wrongs, would persist in filling his brain with maddening thoughts, and his heart with every variety of agonised feelings.

A year ago flight had seemed the safest and easiest way of escaping from Moll Sheargold's maleficent imputation; now it appeared the most cowardly and foolish thing he could have done. He only saw the whole matter clearly now that it was a year too late.

And now Kate was lost to him for ever—wedded to a man he felt she would never love—and he was still as guilty in the world's eyes as he was twelve months ago. He had gained by his flight absolutely nothing—had lost by it positively everything.

During the past two months Luke had met both the master and mistress of Thornhill House and Richard Hampton and his sister. Willesden and his defeated rival had met occasionally about the village or in the quiet green lanes, but since that afternoon when the latter was under arrest no words had passed between them.

Whenever they met Luke was always afoot, Arthur on horseback, and they merely looked daggers at each other in passing. The eyes of the latter were filled with a malign and apprehensive stare, while the mine manager's look was simply contemptuous.

Luke had never repeated his nocturnal visit to Thornhill, but since that night he had twice met Mrs. Willesden out driving, and on each occasion their meeting took place in the beautiful old lane that ran past Thornhill House right on to Newgate village. On both occasions Kate was accompanied only by her groom, who sat stolidly behind his mistress with his back to the horse she was driving.

For a brief space the eyes of the old lovers met in passing, and involuntarily Luke reverently bared his head whilst the woman he still loved so well swept by, and a sudden wave of crimson suffused Kate's pale countenance as she noticed his act.

She had imagined that whenever she and Luke Standish might meet he would be ashamed to lift his eyes to her own, like the guilty wretch she supposed him to be; but his look was frank and fearless, if inexpressibly sad, and the pained, wearied expression his countenance wore touched her in away quite unexpected.

A sudden pang shot through her, and she found herself wondering if it were possible that her old lover were guiltless of the calumnious imputation Moll Sheargold had launched against him.

One evening the master of Denewood and the manager of Newgate Colliery found themselves side by side on the platform of a political meeting held in the neighborhood. The late member for South-west Lancashire had just vacated his seat by dying, and a new candidate had to be selected.

Richard Hampton and Luke Standish were made known to each other by Mr. Smethurst, the gentleman who owned the colliery Luke managed, and in a little while they were upon the best of terms with one another.

By this time the master of the Grange was well acquainted with all Luke's past life, so far as it was known to Mrs. Leigh, and he was conversant with the singular accusation which had prevented his niece from marrying the miner instead of her present husband.

Somehow, from the first time he had heard of Luke, Hampton had felt friendly towards him, perhaps because he naturally sympathised with the weak, the unfortunate, and the fallen; and this feeling was speedily confirmed after a pleasant chat with the young manager.

The conduct of Arthur Willesden had of late given considerable offence to Hampton. He was away from Thornhill much too often; attended too many race meetings; gambled too heavily, and lost too much for a man in his position.

And the uncle had noticed that his niece seemed to derive small happiness from her marriage. He had watched Kate's sweet face grow paler, her tender dark eyes become more sad, and although she had never uttered a word of complaint anent her spouse it was easy to see now that her union with Willesden had been a mistake.

And when Hampton came to learn that Arthur Willesden was not Kate's first love he felt that the discarded one still retained possession of his niece's heart.

All these things predisposed Hampton towards Luke, and when they met the frank, manly, and genial nature of the latter quite won the older man's heart. He parted from the manager with cordial expressions of friendship, and invited him to spend an evening now and again at Denewood. Luke promised to avail himself of the other's offer, and one evening a few days later he set out for Denewood Grange.

As already stated the Dene Wood was of considerable length, although of small width, running in a north-western direction as far as Newgate village, and it happened that the shortest way to the Grange was along the public footpath, which ran alongside the brook through the whole length of the wood.

The sun was still above the horizon when Luke left home, and he expected to reach the Grange long before twilight had thickened into darkness. There was no need to hurry, so he strode along at a comfortable gait, the waters of the brook bubbling musically past him and the trees around whispering sweetly, weirdly, as the wind swept through their foliage.

Half way through the wood, when Denewood Grange was only a mile distant, Luke saw ahead of him the figure of a woman, dark-robed and closely veiled. She stood leaning against a tree as if waiting some one's coming, and as Luke passed her he wondered who she was.

From her dress she was evidently one in fair circumstances, he thought, and passed on, almost brushing the woman's dress, for she never moved as he approached and went by. But the next instant Luke stopped suddenly and turned towards the veiled figure. His steps were arrested by hearing the woman cry out:—

"Good night, Luke Standish!"


Chapter XXXV.—Daff Burdock.

"Good night, Luke Standish!"

The sound of his own name falling so unexpectedly from the unknown woman's lips startled him, and taking a step or two backwards he scanned the veiled face and sombre-dighted figure intently. But he failed to discover anything that enabled him to identify the lady, yet her voice had a familiar ring in it.

"Good night," he returned, "but you have the advantage of me. I have not the pleasure of knowing to whom I am speaking!"

"Forgotten me already, have you?"

"I was not aware that I had ever known you," he answered.

"Yet we used to be great friends," she rejoined, still leaning against the tree.

He took a step nearer, a mad thought running riotously through his brain. Was it possible that the masked woman before him could be the girl he had loved and lost? The voice was not at all what he remembered Kate's to be, but perhaps she had purposely disguised it.

"May I ask your name?" he faltered.

"Yes, if you like," the woman whispered.

"What is it then? You are Kate—no, Mrs. Willesden!" and again he neared her by a step.

"No!" the woman hissed, suddenly starting bold upright. "I am Moll Sheargold!"

"Oh, it's you, is it? Well, I wanted to see you very much," and he sprang forward to seize her should she attempt to escape him.

"Yes, it's me," she cried, throwing up her veil and disclosing the dark handsome features he remembered so well. "You took me for the white-faced doll who married another man two months after you went away."

"She was not to blame!" he exclaimed passionately. "It was you, for driving me out of the country!"

"A good job, too, for you," she retorted with a sneer, "for it proved how much she loved you, when she forgot you in eight weeks."

"Are you not afraid," he asked, ignoring her taunt, "to meet me here in this quiet place?"

"What should I be feared of?"

"That I might kill you for the scandalous wrong you have done me. It would be no sin to choke an infamous liar like you!"

Luke was half mad with righteous indignation, and in his excitement he grasped Moll's arm in his iron grip and raised his clenched fist as if he were going to strike her. The menace displayed in his burning eyes, hot words, and threatening attitude made the woman quail, and the pain from her gripped arm was sickening.

"Don't! don't!" she entreated, covering her face with her free arm, for she was really frightened of him now.

"You're safe enough," he said contemptuously, as he flung her arm from him and his clenched fingers relaxed themselves. "But tell me why you charged me with being the father of your child when you knew that I was as innocent as your own mother."

"Because I didn't want you to marry Kate Leigh," she ejaculated, all her former fierceness returning.

"What did it matter to you whom I married?"

"Everything, Luke, everything," she retorted, her anger changing to sobs.

"Why?"

"Need you ax why? Because I loved you an' hated her."

"You chose a remarkable way of proving your liking for me."

"Anyhow, I parted you and Kate for ever!" she answered doggedly.

"And caused a poor girl to marry a man she never loved."

"She shouldn't have married him, then. If I couldn't have you I swore she shouldn't. She's as happy as me—and neither of us have got you."

"And I shall have to carry through life the infernal falsehood you have fastened round my neck—never able to hold up my head in the company of honest men—for ever debarred from asking a pure woman to be my wife."

"Keep single, then," she rejoiced savagely.

"Will nothing induce you to withdraw the false charge you made against me? To clear my name of the stain you have put upon it?"

"What does it matter now when it is all over and done with?"

"I want the world to know that I am innocent," he replied.

"It's not the world you care about so much as Kate Willesden," she burst out.

"True; I should like her to know that I am not the guilty wretch she must think me."

"And you would like to see me in gaol for perjury, wouldn't you? But you'll have to wait a good while before you do that."

"You never did any good if you could help it, I know," he cried in a tone that stung the poor girl to the heart. "Not content with driving me away you had me arrested on my return."

"It wasn't my fault," she answered quickly but unthinkingly.

"Not your fault? Whose then?"

Moll was silent for a moment. She saw the mistake she had permitted herself to fall into, and was considering how to remedy it. This she did by saying:—

"I only meant to say that having driven you away I was bound to take a warrant out against you when I heard you had come back again."

"Just so. You are quite logical. Having sworn one lie you were compelled to swear another to prove it."

"I'm not so bad as you think me, Luke," she pleaded.

"You're a thousand times worse than I ever dreamt a woman could be."

"If you had only loved me everything would have been so much different."

"But I did not; and you know, Mary, that I never gave you any reason to think that I did."

"You didn't," she replied bitterly, "and that was just the curse of it. If you had cared for me I should never have become what I am. But if you didn't love me I couldn't help loving you, and it was only natural I should try to part you from the woman I hated."

The red rays of the setting sun came pouring in level streams between the dark tree boles, lighting up the wooded valley with a rosy glow and smiling on the faces and figures of Moll Sheargold and Luke Standish with a vivid, beautifying color. The birds were still twittering here and there among the branches, and now and again a dead leaf fluttered down from the trees.

The red light falling on Moll's face showed Luke the tears that had over-flooded her eyelids, and moved with a sudden impulse of pity he said:—

"I will forgive you all the harm you have done me, Mary, on one condition."

"What is it?"

"You hinted just now that imprisonment would follow any withdrawal of your fake charge."

"It might. What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to write to Kate—Mrs. Willesden—saying that I am innocent of that with which you charged me, and stating your reasons for doing as you did."

"Is that all?" she asked eagerly.

"It is. There can be no danger to you in doing what I ask."

"I'll do it!" Moll cried, a vindictive gleam in her eyes.

The girl was thinking that such a letter as Luke had indicated would be another bitter pang added to those her rival already endured. If Kate still loved the man she had cast off because she believed him guilty, what must her regret be on learning that he was quite innocent! Yes, she would do as Standish desired.

"You will write to her, then, and tell her all?" Luke asked again.

"To please you, I will."

"You know her address, I daresay?"

"Very well, and I will write to her at once."

"Thank you. I must be going now. Good night!"

"Good night, Luke."

He held out his hand, she took it readily in her own, and then they parted—Luke continuing his walk toward Denewood Grange, Moll remaining there leaning against the tree for some moments longer. Then she moved away also, going in the direction Standish had taken, and apparently following him.

A minute after Moll Sheargold disappeared along the brook side-path a man rose from behind a clump of bushes and a tall bracken. He was lying there amid the luxuriant grass and ferns when Moll accosted Luke, and he had overheard every word that had passed between them.

The man's name was Daff Burdock. He was a lazy, ill-conditioned vagabond, who lived in the adjoining village, and eked out an existence by poaching and such odd jobs as he could get. He had recognised Luke Standish as the new manager of the pits at Newgate, and he had not forgotten the woman's name.

He was a shrewd villain, and thought he might be able to make something out of the secret he had by the veriest chance overheard. Thus thinking he went his own way, going toward Newgate to join a gang of fellows who had tastes and pursuits similar to his own.

After bidding Moll Sheargold good night Luke Standish walked at a leisurely pace through the wood. By this time the sun was setting and twilight drawing in, and already in the most thickly timbered portions of the valley it was almost as dark as night.

Stilled now was the song of every bird in the wood, but the broad shallow brook kept up its canorous tinkle, and the rustling leafage and swaying grasses, the sharp clear cry of a distant landrail among the hattocks of shorn wheat, and the sudden mouthing of a latrant dog lent their various notes to the music of the night.

As he strolled along the brook side Luke naturally pondered the conversation he had just had with Moll Sheargold, and he was also considering the great change the letter she was to write would inevitably produce in the mind of Mrs. Willesden.

For the sake of them both it would have been well if Kate had learned ten or eleven months ago that he was innocent. His guiltlessness would be proved too late for either of them to profit by it; still it would be something for him to think that Kate knew he had been sinless and sinned against all along.

Coming to an open glade, where the last traces of daylight seemed to be lingering, he glanced at his watch and saw it was already past 8 o'clock. Too late, he thought, to pay his contemplated visit to Denewood Grange.

Yes, he would defer his visit until to-morrow evening. Besides, he had now lost all desire to see Richard Hampton and Mrs. Leigh that evening. His interview with Moll Sheargold had turned his thoughts into another channel, causing him not a little mental perturbation, and he wished to remain alone and reflect undisturbed upon the new phase of things Moll's missive would originate when it reached Thornhill.

If Mrs. Willesden was not happy with her husband now, owing either to lack of love for him or remembrance of her former passion, her unhappiness would certainly be augmented when she learned that Luke was blameless.

As this thought passed through the miner's brain he paused beside the old wooden bridge that crossed the brook, half minded to turn back and free Moll from her promise regarding the letter.

If Kate were indifferent to her husband now, the information Moll would communicate might turn that indifference to hatred—might revive her old passion for him—Luke—and from one or other of those things would spring family jars, domestic complications, which would only embitter Mrs. Willesden's existence.

Ought he not to spare Kate those troubles? Would it not be better that he should refrain from proving his innocence to her when to do so might cause her endless pain? If he did not sacrifice himself all her hopes of married joy would be endangered. Was he strong-willed, true-hearted enough to let her think him guilty for ever, that her own happiness might not be hazarded?

Yes, he would do it. But it was a bitter pill to swallow; yet he was brave enough to gulp down the noxious thing. Still it was heart-rending to think that Kate would never know all—that he was guiltless, had had the opportunity of proving it to her and had refrained, to spare her pain and trouble.

Turning from the bridge Luke hastily retraced his steps, never slackening his speed until he reached the spot where he had left Moll Sheargold. But she had vanished. He could not be mistaken in the place. That rotting trunk lying across the brook marked the place clearly, and this was the smooth-barked silver beech against which he had left her leaning.

Thinking she must have gone Newgate way he followed, but reached the confines of the wood without seeing aught of the woman he was seeking. Then he retraced his steps, and when the bridge over the brook was reached Moll Sheargold was still unfound.

Feeling now that it was useless to seek her further Luke crossed the bridge, went along the lane that led to Thornhill House, but instead of passing the gates of that place he went through a stile on his left and returned homeward by a circuitous route.

It was night now, but there was light in the open fields and lanes, for the stars were out, and a broad, yellow harvest moon was sailing up and across the eastern heavens. To-night the starry lamps made but a faint show, for the great radiance of the moon dimmed their pale, far-away lustre.

With lingering feet Luke paced the white paths through the cornfields in which the hattocks stood in long mute files, the weird moonlight lending them a vague dumb sort of personality; and from cut corn haulms, flower and weed, grass and leaf, there arose the fragrant odors of an autumn night.

It was near midnight when the manager arrived at home. He had enjoyed his long walk, for somehow the peace and silence of the night, the refulgent moon, the dim mysterious stars, the awful depths of space, had brought him a nepenthe for his tortured heart.

As he neared home Luke met five or six men, among whom was Daff Burdock, who at once recognised the manager again, and as the former passed the gang of poachers the latter said:—

"Good neet, Luke Standish!"

"Good neet, lads!" the miner responded genially as he went his way.


Chapter XXXVI.—A Deadly Blow.

The reader will remember that after parting from Luke Standish Moll Sheargold followed him along the path by the brook. But it was not because she desired to see whither he went or wished to overtake and speak to him again.

She had other and more important business on hand than either of those things. She had journeyed from Ashford that evening with the special object of meeting Arthur Willesden in Dene Wood, and as he had failed to make his appearance at the time and place she had mentioned she was quite impatient, and was going to seek him.

During the past three months the relationship existing between her and Willesden had become considerably strained. They had been on the most indifferent terms with each other since Luke Standish reappeared on the scene and the failure of the warrant to drive him away again.

The speedy and effectual manner in which the miner had settled the matter for which he was arrested had been a tremendous disappointment to Willesden, and he had the injustice and foolhardiness to blame Moll Sheargold for failing to drive Luke away from Newgate.

Besides, he was getting tired of his intimacy with the girl, and thought the present a good opportunity for getting rid of her. So one morning he wrote a short letter to Moll saying that he had come to the conclusion that it would be better for them both if they never met any more, and that she need not expect to either see or hear from him again. Henceforth they must be strangers, and it would be useless to hope of obtaining another penny from him.

To that missive Moll had replied that whilst she never wished to see his face any more she hoped to hear from him often. If he failed to continue the payments he had made her since their acquaintance began she might think it necessary to tell Mrs. Willesden how her husband had won her.

In his rejoinder to Moll's letter Arthur had assured her that he was quite indifferent to any disclosures she might make, and he pointed out that if she followed the course she indicated she would certainly be issuing the warrant for her own arrest for perjury, and supplying him with evidence to convict her.

If she wrote to Kate, he went on, and stated that he had induced her to charge Luke Standish with the child's paternity, he would take care that the letter was shown to Luke, and afterwards placed in the hands of the police, who would most certainly prosecute her for false swearing.

Moll wrote again, affirming her intention to unmask his villainy unless paid to keep the secret. He retorted, and dared her to pen the words that would mean her own imprisonment.

And so the matter had run on, week after week, until the night that Luke encountered Moll Sheargold in Dene Wood. The girl was honestly afraid of the thing that Willesden hinted at; but whilst she feared imprisonment she hated him too much to allow him to escape her so easily.

Twelve months' extravagance and fast living had made the thought of all work distasteful—unbearable—and she had resolved to carry out her threat if he did not reopen his purse to her. So last night she had sent a note to Thornhill, saying that she would be in the Dene Wood at dusk, near the spot where they had met once before, and if he failed either to meet her or accede to her wishes he knew what to expect.

Moll's mind was now quite made up, and she meant every word she had written in her last missive. If Willesden proved obdurate she would march straight to his wife and tell her of the dastardly scheme he had designed and she had carried out in order to oust Luke Standish from her affections.

Then when she had told all and ensured Willesden's discomfiture, she would permit a certain weak-brained and fiery-hearted admirer of hers to take her away to America, and thus evade all danger of being imprisoned. Thus would she repay the scoundrel who, having used her so long as she was serviceable and attractive, had now cast her off.

She was waiting for Arthur Willesden when Luke Standish went by, and the impulse to speak to him was too strong for her to resist. The opportunity might come to her no more. So she spoke, and the reader knows the result.

Tired of waiting, Moll followed the path that led to Thornhill, fully determined to go thither to speak to Kate that very night if Willesden did not come. She knew that if he came at all he would come through the grounds alongside the brook and not along the lane.

As Moll came in sight of the bridge she perceived Luke Standish standing there, and thinking he was waiting the coming of some one she crept behind a cluster of thick bushes and watched him. She had only just got out of the way when she saw Luke turn and go back towards where they had met at a quick pace, and divining his purpose she sped the other way, going across the bridge, along the other side of the brook toward the Thornhill grounds.

In the meantime where was Arthur Willesden? Had he received Moll Sheargold's note? And did he intend to meet her? The letter had reached him that morning, and on reading its contents he had sworn not to go near the place she had named.

He was sick of the woman, and it was utterly useless for her to attempt to extort more money from him. If she thought to frighten him she was mistaken. He felt certain that he was safe, because to carry out her threat would endanger herself. Certainly he would not meet her.

A little firmness now would rid him of Moll Sheargold for ever, and he had troubles and anxieties enough apart from those of which she was the cause. First there was Kate's indifference to his love, which time only seemed to intensify. Then there was that little sum Jem Bowman had required so often of late, and which he dared not refuse to send; and last came his invariable losses on the turf.

All things considered the master of Thornhill was far less happy than he had imagined he would be when Kate Leigh became his wife. Somehow everything had gone wrong with him since their marriage, and this turn of ill-fortune was not calculated to improve Arthur Willesden's selfish nature.

When night came on he began to feel uneasy regarding what Moll Sheargold might take it into her mad head to do, seeing that he had failed to meet her. If she really carried out her menace, regardless of all personal danger, his difficulties would be increased a thousandfold. If Kate ever learned how he had won her she would quit the house at once and never return; and besides the loss of her peerless self there would be the loss of her five hundred a year, by means of which things were kept going.

He had underestimated the danger. He was foolish for not having met Moll. Strangely excited, Arthur put on his hat and went out, wondering whether Moll was still awaiting his coming in the wood. As he passed the drawing-room on the ground floor he heard Kate's fingers straying idly over the keys of her piano, and the weird wailing notes struck him as so many utterances of her own heart.

He opened the front door and passed on to the lawn to see a woman's figure bending beside the window of the room inside which his wife was playing. He dashed across the lawn noiselessly, and laying his hand on her shoulder was confronted by Moll Sheargold.

"You here?" he cried out in fear and amaze.

"Yes, I'm here!" she exclaimed. "Didn't I tell you I should come?"

"Hush, don't speak so loudly. My wife is inside that room."

"Then let her hear me, for I have come to speak to her."

"Hush, you fool! Don't you hear that the piano is stopped? For God's sake don't let her hear us!"

"I thought you weren't frightened?" she cried in a loud jeering tone.

"Come away! Not another word until we are safe in the wood!"

He half dragged Moll across the lawn, and they went quickly along one of the walks leading to the brook; but Willesden never uttered a word until they had passed out of his grounds, crossed the bridge, and were in that part of the wood in which Moll and Luke had met an hour before.

Presently they came to a standstill on the edge of the stream, which here and there reflected a shaft of moonlight. Despite the brightness of the moon it was very dark beneath the trees, for the thickness of the leafage overhead kept out the light.

"Now, fool, I'll speak to you!" Arthur cried, almost hoarse with fright and passion. "What were you doing when I caught you beside the window?"

"I've told you already," she cried as angrily as he had spoken. "I wanted to make sure who was in this room, and if it was Kate I was going to tell her all."

"All! What is that?"

"You know, I think. Anyhow, you wouldn't let me have the chance of telling it."

"I don't care what you tell," he cried blusteringly. "It was not because I feared anything you had to tell, for Kate hates you so much that she would not believe anything you might say. But I do not wish to see you in gaol."

"How kind you are," she sneered. "But I'm not afeared of that now."

"Why not? You know quite well that Luke Standish would give anything to be revenged upon you for what you have done. When you charged him with being the father of your child——"

"Which I should never have thought of doing if you hadn't put me up to it and paid me £50 for doing," she interrupted.

"What does that matter? You did it, and it was the deadliest insult and injury you could do him. You know how he loved Kate, and what it must have cost him to lose her; and don't you think he would send you to hell if he could for it?"

"I'm not frightened of Luke now," she answered. "I was at first, but I know now that he has forgiven me."

"What an infernal liar you must be! How can you know what he will do?"

"Because I have seen him—spoken to him!" she jeered.

"When?"

"To-night."

"Where?"

"Not far from here."

"What did he say to you?"

"Much that you will not get to know."

"Curse both you and him!" he burst out passionately. "I daresay he prompted you to tell Kate?"

"He did!" she laughingly ejaculated, enjoying his evident distress.

"And you promised to do it?"

"I did."

"Do you mean to do it?"

"I do! If you hadn't come to me at the window Kate would have known before this that I was yours, and that you bribed me to swear falsely against Luke."

"Take that, you infernal jade!"

Half maddened with passion, fear, anxiety and trouble, Willesden shot out his clenched fist and hit Moll a stunning blow full between the eyes. She fell before the blow like a dead log, and lay still and motionless upon the dark sward. In a moment Arthur's passion was routed by a horrible sickening dread.

"Moll! Moll! Get up! Get up! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to hurt you!"

But the prone form neither moved nor spoke. She lay there stiff and white, and a thin shaft of moonlight falling through the branches overhead showed him that her eyes were wide open and glazed. He put his hands to her head to lift her up, but recoiled with a shudder. Her head-dress and hair were dripping with some warm fluid, and the moonrays told him it was blood.

Then with a low, hoarse cry, he rushed away through the dark wood, knowing that he was a murderer.


Chapter XXXVII.—Arrested Again.

The wildest excitement prevailed in the villages lying around Dene Wood on the morning following the incidents recorded in the last chapter, and the streets were studded with groups of awed and wondering gossips, who discussed with the deepest interest the one topic of the time.

Early that morning the dead body of Moll Sheargold had been found in Dene Wood. A miner going to his work had come upon the murdered woman, and after making sure that life was extinct he had flown back to Upholland, where he lived, and roused the village constable.

Then with white face and stammering haste he recounted what he had come upon, and he and the policeman went to where the dead unknown woman lay amid the long dew-covered grass, among which her own life blood had poured.

Remaining with the body, the constable dispatched the miner for further aid to the residence of the superintendent of police; and by the time the adjacent villages were showing signs of wakefulness, the dead woman was deposited in a shed belonging to the nearest public-house, there to await an enquiry into the cause of her death.

Then the news spread like wildfire, as the phrase goes, and during the morning hundreds of people came to inspect the dead, but up to noonday no one had identified her.

Shortly after 1 o'clock the stream of persons, which all day had flowed to and from the shed sheltering the dead woman, contained one to whom the dark handsome features now rigid and cold were not wholly unfamiliar.

This was Daff Burdock, he who had overheard all that had passed between Moll Sheargold and Luke Standish on the preceding evening. He was greatly startled on recognising the dead woman, but those who noticed the surprise he evinced thought it was an expression of the natural repugnance any one might feel on viewing a murdered person.

By this time everybody was telling everybody else that it was a clear case of murder—although as yet there was no evidence to show how the dead woman had come by her death—and they were speculating as to the motive of the crime and its perpetrator.

But Daff Burdock said nothing to anyone regarding the dead, nor did he venture any information as to her name, although he remembered quite well what she called herself when speaking to Luke Standish.

He had his own reasons for keeping his mouth shut, and the idea of his being able to reap some profit from the dialogue he had been an unsuspected listener to seemed quite certain now. He would speak when the right time came, but that period had not, he judged, yet come.

Like all the others Daff Burdock believed that Moll Sheargold had been murdered; and he was absolutely certain in his own mind who her murderer was, Luke Standish, of course. Who else could it be? Had not the woman followed him? Certainly she had, and they must have quarrelled again, with the result lying there stark and grim before him.

These inferences of Burdock's were anything but far-fetched ones. Ninety-nine men out of a hundred would have formed a similar conclusion to that he had arrived at. Knowing just what he did, and no more, it was hardly possible for him to think differently than he did.

In the afternoon, among those who came to look at the dead woman, was an old acquaintance of the reader's—Joe Thomson. It will be remembered that he now lived in Upholland, and on coming home from work he with one or two others paid a visit to the shed behind the Legs of Man Inn.

Joe instantly recognised the dead creature as Moll Sheargold, and of course he made the fact known to the police, who immediately communicated with the relatives of the deceased at Ashford, and when Mr. and Mrs. Sheargold arrived they confirmed what Thomson had stated.

Although Luke Standish had heard that some woman had been found dead in Dene Wood he had not learned who she was. It was the busiest day of the fortnight with him—making-up day—and he was hard at work all that evening, going through the wage sheet in conjunction with the cashier, Frank Gorton.

But early next morning, which was the day fixed for the inquest, Luke discovered that the dead woman was Moll Sheargold. The news astonished him for a time, so awful and unexpected was it.

Where had she gone after he bade her good-night? What was she doing in the wood at all? His meeting with her had been purely accidental. She could not possibly have known that he was to go through the wood that night, and she must have gone there to meet some one else.

The very attitude in which he first saw her proved that she was waiting for somebody. But for whom? That was the question of questions. In the excitement of meeting her, and the conversation that ensued, he had forgotten to ask himself what Moll was doing so far from Ashford at that hour of the night.

He was very sorry for the girl, but the manner of her death was as great a mystery to him as to the rest of the world. Even if he attended the inquest he could throw no light upon her fate, and might possibly incriminate himself.

So he remained at the colliery, wondering what the the inquest would disclose, and mournfully thinking that with Moll Sheargold's untimely end was lost all hope of his innocence being made clear to Mrs. Willesden, for of course the promised letter could not have been written.

The inquest was held in due course, twelve honest-hearted if somewhat thick-headed farmers and village shopkeepers sitting round a table and trying by their collective sapience to hide their individual obtuseness. Their verdict, of course, was safe in the coroner's keeping, and they would find according to that gentleman's summing up.

The first witness called was Michael Sheargold, who testified that the deceased was his daughter. She left home about 6 o'clock in the evening of the 24th of September without saying whither she intended going, and when next he saw her on the evening of the 25th she was dead, and lying in the outhouse belonging to the Legs of Man public-house.

The next witness was John Heyes. He stated that whilst going to his work between 5 and 6 o'clock on the morning of the 25th he discovered the dead woman in Dene Wood lying on her back close beside the footpath, and quite stiff and cold. He at once roused the local constable.

The village policeman corroborated the statements of the preceding witness, and described in detail the exact position in which the deceased was discovered. She was lying face upward among the grass just off the footpath. Both her arms and lower limbs were fully outstretched, as if she had never stirred after falling or being knocked down, and there was nothing to show that any struggle had taken place. He had noticed that a boulder lay half imbedded in the soil close to her head, and he thought that it was the cause of her death, as there was blood upon it.

Then came the witness whose testimony would almost certainly decide the finding of the jury. This was Dr. Middleton, the medical gentleman who had been called in to make a post-mortem examination of the deceased. He testified that the immediate cause of death was a fractured skull, and consequent concussion of the brain, produced probably by the head of the deceased having been brought into violent contact with the boulder the former witness had mentioned.

All the vital organs of the deceased were in a strong and healthy condition. Besides the fracture of the occiput, which was the direct cause of death, he had found upon the body other marks of violence. The bridge of the nose, the lower part of the brow, and the cuticle of each eye were very much bruised, discolored, and abraided; and it was evident she had received a heavy blow, probably from a strong man's clenched fist. His own opinion was that the deceased had been felled by a sudden blow, and that her head had fallen upon the stone already indicated, death being the result.

That was all the evidence adduced. No one knew that Daff Burdock had any information to offer, and he kept out of the way. The moment for which he was waiting patiently had not yet arrived. When it did he would have plenty to say.

Then the coroner summed up. Taking Dr. Middleton's deliberate, scientific, and weighty statements as his guide, he pointed out to the jurymen that the case before them was clearly one of death from personal violence. Whether it was a question of wilful murder or simple manslaughter was what they would have to decide. His own opinion inclined to the former view. He ended by adjuring them to deliberate calmly and dispassionately on the evidence laid before them, and to find according to their united reason and conscience.

The jury retired to their appointed room, were locked up, and a minion of the law was stationed at the door. In a quarter of an hour they returned, unanimously agreed upon their verdict, which was one of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown.

Two days afterwards the ill-fated girl was buried in the cemetery at Ashford. Her parents had never known of the relations that existed between herself and Arthur Willesden, and her death was as great a mystery to them as it was to the rest of the great world.

On the afternoon that Moll Sheargold was interred, the billposters were placarding all the hoardings for some miles around Dene Wood with the announcement that Her Majesty's Government would pay one hundred pounds reward for such information as would lead to the arrest and conviction of such person or persons as were concerned in her murder.

The following evening about dusk three constables might have been seen going through Dene Wood in the direction of Newgate. It was dark when they reached the residence of the manager of the adjoining colliery, and the leader tapped gently at the door, which was opened by Mrs. Standish.

"What is it?" she asked. Her eyes filled with a frightened look as they fell upon the bright buttons and blue uniforms of the three men.

"Does Luke Standish live here?"

"Ay," fell in faltering accents from the poor widow's ashy lips.

"Is he at home?"

"He is."

"We want to speak to him—we'll come in;" and thereupon the men strode past the dazed woman, along the lobby and into the kitchen, where Luke Standish was seated reading.

"What is it?" he cried, starting up as the three policemen entered.

"You are wanted at the Police Court."

"For what?" he demanded.

"The murder of Mary Sheargold. This is the warrant for your arrest."

"My God! Can it be possible? Let me see it!" and he seized the document held out to him. He saw that the officer spoke truly, and all his courage and manhood seemed to ooze out at his finger ends. His arms dropped nerveless at his side, and he cried brokenly, "I am innocent! I am Innocent! God above knows that I am!"

"That may be," the leader of the men replied laconically, "but you must come with us. Now, men."

Luke never dreamt of offering any resistance, and in a moment he was hand-cuffed and helpless. The suddenness of the blow, its glaring injustice, had almost paralysed him. For the time being he was not himself at all. All his firmness of character, clearness of thought, and iron nerve had vanished. He was limp and thoughtless as an idiot.

They led him unresistingly away, leaving his stricken mother sitting in her chair, dumb as a stone and livid as a corpse.

An hour afterwards Luke Standish was safely lodged in the county gaol at Ashford, and the news was flying far and wide that the suspected murderer of Moll Sheargold had been arrested.


Chapter XXXVIII.—After the Murder.

It was Saturday evening when Luke Standish was arrested, and on the Monday morning following he was formally examined on the charge of wilfully murdering Mary Sheargold. The evidence that was then laid before the magistrates caused them to remand the prisoner until the next week, when the quarter sessions were to be held.

When the day appointed for Luke's trial arrived the County Police Court was crowded with an excited mass of people. The murder of Moll Sheargold had caused a huge sensation in Ashford, and the arrest of the manager for the crime had only tended to increase the general excitement.

In a small town like Ashford Luke was naturally known to a great number of its inhabitants, and all who knew him remembered that less than a year ago he had run away in order to escape the consequences of a charge the murdered woman brought against him.

Of course an immense majority of the public considered him guilty, and the origin of the crime was plain enough to everyone. It had undoubtedly sprung out of the paternity case which was decided in the adjoining court about ten months before. The dead girl must have gone to meet her old lover in Dene Wood, they had quarrelled, and in a moment of passion he had struck the blow which resulted in her death.

It was "plain as a pike-staff" folks told each other, and thought that the case would go hard against Luke. These people had to form their opinions upon the aspect of things, and all the circumstances were certainly in his disfavor.

All the evidence adduced at the inquest was gone over again, and in addition to that there was a new witness forthcoming. This was Daff Burdock, upon whose secretly supplied information the prisoner had been arrested.

The cunning vagabond had waited until a reward was offered, and then gone straight to the Police Office and told all he knew. When asked why he had not supplied the intelligence sooner he replied that at first he had intended to keep his mouth shut out of feelings of pity for the prisoner, but his conscience had forced him to speak.

Burdock's evidence seemed thoroughly conclusive to every soul in the crowded court, and when Luke admitted that the witness's account of his interview with the dead woman was substantially correct, and that he was seen by Burdock coming from the direction of Dene Wood about midnight all doubt was ended as to his guilt.

In the end the prisoner was committed for trial at the Liverpool Assizes on the charge of wilful murder.

In the meantime, what were the other characters of this plain, matter-of-fact story doing? The mother of the imprisoned man was confined to her bed, and according to her medical attendant was hardly likely to rise therefrom again unless a speedy and favorable change in her condition manifested itself.

Mrs. Standish had never been a strong woman, and the terrible charge upon which her only child had been arrested, and afterwards committed for trial, had struck a deadly blow at her weak constitution, and she was now lying on the shadowy borders which divide life from death.

Knowing no more of Luke's innocence than the generality of the public, she was afraid that he was guilty—not of wilful murder, but of striking the passionate blow which had unfortunately resulted in the loss of Moll Sheargold's life.

She felt that Luke would be found guilty at the assizes, and that his life would be ended on the scaffold, and she prayed to God with all her strength and fervor to take her away before the awful and impending blow fell upon her.

After assuring himself that Moll Sheargold was dead Arthur Willesden had rushed madly from the spot, taking the direction of Thornhill, and he had nearly reached the house before he remembered that his hands were covered with the lifeblood of his paramour.

Then he rushed back to the brook, and standing in the deep shadow cast by a full-foliaged sycamore he washed his hands again and again in the cool waters of the stream, wiping them first upon the rank grass, and afterwards drying them on his handkerchief.

Then he made for the house again, but less hurriedly than before. Coming to the lawn he went towards the window, beside which he had encountered Moll Sheargold before they quarrelled and he struck that deadly blow.

There was a light within the chamber still, but no sound of idly struck chords came therefrom. His wife had probably retired to her room, he thought, as he walked towards the hall door, which he found ajar, just as he left it.

Pausing on the threshold he wiped his heated face, examined his hands and attire by the moonlight, then pushed the door open gently, slipped inside the hall, passed swiftly and noiselessly along the corridor and up the staircase to his own room, without meeting any of the servants.

Then he whipped off his hat and coat, lit a cigar, turned up the gas, touched the bell, and by the time a servant answered his summons he was lounging in an easy-chair, smoking and reading as contentedly, apparently, as if he had been there for hours.

"Has your mistress retired to her room yet, Benson?" he asked of the maid with a yawn.

"No, sir. She's in the morning-room yet, I think. Do you want her?"

"No, thank you. But you may tell her that I have retired. I feel quite drowsy, and have been nodding whilst reading."

The maid had reached the door when she heard her master call out:—

"A moment, Benson. My watch has run down and the clock is stopped. What time is it?"

"It was half-past 9 by the hall clock when I answered your bell, sir."

"Thanks; that will do."

The girl withdrew, and Arthur breathed a deep sigh of relief. He felt much safer now, there in his own room. No one had seen him quit the house; his return had been unnoticed. The maid was satisfied that he had never been out of his room. She would tell her mistress that he was retiring, and if necessary Susan Benson and Mrs. Willesden would be ready to swear that he had never quitted the house that evening.

He threw down the volume he had pretended to be reading, and began to pace the thickly-carpeted floor, almost biting in two the cigar between his teeth, and sending forth the smoke in short swift puffs.

He was thinking of Moll Sheargold as he last saw her, lying there among the grass, the blood gushing from that wound in her head, the brook rippling by almost at her feet, the dark, green boughs waving so gently overhead, and the yellow moon-light over all. What madness it was to strike her!

Was it possible that anyone had seen him and Moll together? No, he was safe in regard to that. But had he left any trace behind that might implicate him? Then he thought of the handkerchief upon which he had wiped his hands, and pulling it from the pocket of the coat he had thrown off he saw that slight traces of blood were upon it.

Taking down the fire-screen he flung the handkerchief into the grate, set it on fire with a match, and watched it burn to black ashes. Just as he was putting back the screen he was startled by a hurried knock at the door, and hastily dropping into a chair he cried:—

"Come in."

The door opened and the maid names Benson entered, her face and manner showing that she was agitated about something.

"What is the matter?"

"Mistress is ill—has fainted! Will you come down, sir?"

"Where is she?"

"In the morning-room, sir."

Hastily descending the staircase Willesden entered the apartment indicated, to find his wife lying unconscious on a couch, with several of the servants around her. Her sweet face was utterly colorless, and but for the faintly perceptible rise and fall of her bosom she would have seemed dead.

"What is the matter with her? How did it happen?" he demanded, sinking on his knees beside the couch.

"When I came into the room to deliver your message, sir," said Susan Benson, "I found mistress lying in the middle of the floor in a dead faint. I called the others and then told you."

Willesden glanced round the apartment. The piano was still open, and the overturned stool and scattered music seemed to explain the accident. Kate must have fainted whilst playing. She had been rather poorly of late, and this seizure was only a temporary attack that would speedily pass away.

Dispatching one of the male servants for the nearest doctor, Willesden carried Kate to her own room, where the restoratives usual in similar cases were applied. But neither the application of cold water to her temples and face, nor of stimulants to her nostrils roused Kate from her unconsciousness.

Arthur was beginning to feel uneasy about his wife's condition, for despite his faults he loved Kate devotedly, and in his concern for her safety he almost forgot the tragedy that had been enacted that night half a mile away.

Soon after the medical man arrived Mrs. Willesden showed signs of returning animation. His remedies appeared to be more effectual than those previously used, for presently her lips and eyelids began to twitch and at last opened.

"My husband! My husband!" fell tremblingly from her ashly lips.

"I am here, dear," Willesden murmured tenderly, bending over the bed.

But the eyes that met his own had no rational light within them. Her gaze wandered past him without that gleam of recognition filling them that he expected to see, and her white lips opened again as she whispered:—

"My husband! My husband!"

"She is not quite herself yet, Mr. Willesden," the doctor remarked. "She will be all right again in a little time."

"I hope so," Willesden rejoined. "I was beginning to feel uneasy about her."

"There is nothing serious the matter. It is merely a slight attack of weakness. I have noticed that Mrs. Willesden has not looked quite well for some time."

But the doctor's prediction that Kate would recover speedily from her illness was not verified. The first symptoms of mental aberration which she had manifested were not due to the fit of fainting, but were the first signs of an attack of brain fever.

Before midnight the nature of Mrs. Willesden's illness revealed itself so plainly that both her medical attendant and her husband were compelled to admit that it was no simple fainting bout, which would pass rapidly and be cured easily, but an acute attack of phrenitis, or inflammation of the brain, accompanied by fever and delirium.

But Mrs. Willesden's frenzy was not of that violent and convulsive nature commonly experienced in such diseases. She writhed a little upon her couch and kept up an incessant and incoherent chatter, but her mutterings were almost always about her past life, when she was a pit-brow girl; and although the names of Luke Standish, Moll Sheargold, her husband and others fell from her lips, the utter lack of coherence in her talk made it mere childish babble.

When the delirium passed away it was morning, and never once during the night had Arthur Willesden left his wife's bedside. He and the doctor had watched together, for the former would not hear of the latter leaving the house, even for a moment.

Willesden had an object in keeping the doctor by his side all night. He was thinking that his testimony might be of great value to himself, for if requisite could he not swear that he—Willesden—had never been out of the house that night?

After the phrensy had subsided Mrs. Willesden sank into a heavy lethargic sleep, and believing that all danger was past now the medical gentleman departed, saying he would call again in a few hours, and he advised Willesden to seek repose at once.

Committing his wife to the care of the servants whom the doctor had instructed how to treat his patient, Arthur went to bed and was soon sleeping soundly. The crime he had unwittingly perpetrated in a moment of ungovernable fury did not obtrude itself into his rest, and when he awoke the sun was riding high at noon-day.

Hastily making his toilet Willesden repaired to his wife's chamber to find her much the same as he had left her before going to sleep. The doctor had called again an hour ago, had expressed himself as satisfied of her safety and progress, and had gone away leaving further instructions with Mrs. Willesden's attendants as to their mistress's treatment.

Leaving Thornhill on horseback, Willesden rode over to Denewood Grange and told Hampton and Mrs. Leigh of Kate's illness. He assured them that his wife was progressing favorably, and then departing trotted away toward the village of Upholland, eager to know if the dead woman had been discovered and what people thought of her death.

On reaching the corner of the principal thoroughfare, with its strange mixture of quaint old stone houses, with here and there one of brick, he saw that something of moment had happened, for there, at the door of the Legs of Man, a crowd of villagers was standing engaged in excited gossip.

Riding up, Arthur asked what was the matter, and was told that a woman had been found murdered in Dene Wood and that she then lay in the Inn; but no one could tell him who the woman was nor who was responsible for her death.

As he turned away from the crowd Willesden wondered if Moll Sheargold had kept their intimacy the profound secret she always professed she had done, and if she had always burnt the letters he sent her. Supposing she had done both those things he failed to see how on earth the crime could ever be traced to himself.


Chapter XXXIX.—"Guilty or Not Guilty."

Within the great Court of Assize at Liverpool a large crowd of people, interested in one or other of the cases to be disposed of that day, were settling themselves into their places, for the most important trial of all was about to begin.

The judge was seated in his elevated position, above the jurymen and the greater and lesser lights of the legal profession, and whilst the twelve honest men and true seemed a little overawed by the grave nature of the business before them the counsellors, barristers, and solicitors were chatting to each other as animatedly as if the immediate work to be done was to partake of a feast or witness a play and not a matter of life or death to the poor fellow concerned therein.

And while the lawyers, big and little, crossed tongues in jest with as evident a relish as they would display when presently they crossed them in real earnest, the members of the fourth estate—the gentlemen of the press—coolly sharpened their pencils, saw that their note books were ready to hand, and then did a little gossiping with their neighboring phonographers.

The body of the court was filled with a heterogeneous mass of men and women, drawn together by curiosity to witness the legal proceedings, or interest in the prisoner. Among them were a couple of pitmen from Ashford, who had come to see their old workmate tried, and beside the miners were seated two of Luke Standish's best friends—Richard Hampton and Frank Gorton.

Since Luke's committal he had been visited occasionally by the cashier and the master of Denewood. They had come together for the purpose of arranging his defence, and after an interview with Standish, Hampton had been so profoundly convinced of the mine manager's innocence, that he had thrown himself heart and soul into the work of bringing him unstained and uninjured through the trial.

But with the best intentions it was not much that Richard Hampton could do in the matter. He could neither collect evidence to prove Luke guiltless nor to establish an alibi; all he could do was to place his defence in the hands of one of the cleverest of barristers money could obtain, and leave the rest to fate.

On a sudden the multitudinous whisperings were stilled as if by magic when a a deep-lunged usher bawled forth:—

"Horder in the Court!"

Then one of the officers of the assize announced that as a true bill had been found against Luke Standish he would now be placed on trial charged with the wilful murder of the woman Mary Sheargold.

Another buzz of expectation, and all eyes were turned upon the dock wherein the prisoner was now standing—white-faced, hollow-chested, wild-eyed and trembling, the very picture of the guilty wretch so many present believed him to be. Luke was but a shadow now of the Titan he once was. His imprisonment, and much more the intolerable disgrace, had destroyed all his great strength and vitality, and he was but a mere shell of his former self.

Again the usher called for silence in court, and then the great question upon which all the trial would turn was put to the prisoner at the bar by the clerk of arraigns—

"Guilty or not guilty?"

There was a moment's deep silence, everyone present seeming to hold their breath, and then the voice of the man in the dock was heard saying in a low tremulous yet perfectly distinct tone—

"Not guilty!"

Forthwith the trial commenced in earnest. The counsel for the prosecution began by proving the death of the deceased woman, Mary Sheargold, the cause of her decease, and the manner of its discovery. The dead girl's father, John Robinson, and Dr. Middleton were called as witnesses.

Mr. Sheargold testified to his daughter's death, the second gave evidence as to the finding of the body in Dene Wood, and the medical gentleman named attested as to the manner in which the unfortunate woman came by her death. The evidence of these three was both brief and conclusive.

Then the principal witness, David Burdock, was asked to stand up. He made his appearance, bold as if he were virtuous, and ready for the work before him. Upon his evidence the life of the prisoner was supposed to hang, therefore it behoved him to be prompt and straight-forward in his replies to all questions.

"Your name?" the counsel for the prosecution began.

"David Burdock."

"Your occupation?"

"Laborer."

"Where do you live?"

"At Upholland, near Wigan."

"You know the prisoner?"

"Ah do."

"You are perfectly sure of that?"

"Quahte sure."

"How do you come to know him so well?"

"Becos ah was livin' not very far from th' pits he coom to manage, an' ah once went to him for a shop."

"You once went to him for employment?"

"Ah did."

"Did he find you employment?"

"Nowh; he'd no places empty on 't pit brow, so he said."

"This happened before the murder took place?"

"It did."

"Now, do you remember," the counsel continued, in a tone which indicated that having disposed of the preliminaries he was coming to the real business, "where you were on the evening of the twenty-fourth of September last?"

"Ah do."

"Where were you?"

"In Dene Wood for an hour or two, and then ah went to meet some mates o' mahne at Newgate."

"About what time were you in the wood?"

"Fro' abeawt six o'clock to eight."

"How is it that you recollect the time so well?"

"Becos ah finisht my tay soon after hauve past fahve an' went straight to th' wood, an' when ah laft it ah heerd th' Upholland church clock strahkin' eight."

"What were you doing in the wood?"

"It was on my road to Newgate wheer ah had to meet my mates, an' sittin' deawn for a smook ah dropped asleep."

"There is a public path through the wood?"

"There is."

"How long were you asleep?"

"Abeawt an hour, ah think."

"What awoke you?"

"The voices of o mon an' wummun talkin'."

"Who were the man and woman?"

"Luke Standish and Mary Sheargold."

A loud buzz went through the crowded court, but it was instantly stilled by the usher's strident command for silence, and then the prosecuting counsel continued the examination.

"You are perfectly certain that it was the prisoner and the murdered woman you saw together?"

"Quahte certain. Ah knowed the manager at once, an' ah heerd 'em mention one another's name."

"Were they quarrelling?"

"They wur."

"Did you hear the prisoner threaten the murdered woman?"

"Ah did. Ah heerd him ax her if hoo wasn't feared o' meetin' him in such a quiet place; an' ah seed him grip her wi' one hond while he raised t'other as if he were goin' to hit her."

"Can you recall any of the exact words the prisoner used?"

"Ay. He axed if hoo wasn't feared he might kill her for the scandalous wrong she'd done to him; and he said it would be no sin to choke one such as her."

"Did you gather, from what you overheard, the nature of the wrong the prisoner complained of?"

"Ay; it was her feytherin her chahlt on him."

"Of which he swore she knew he was quite innocent."

"Yiss."

"And did she admit that he was not the father of the child?"

"She did."

"Did the murdered woman give any reason for charging the prisoner with being the father of her child when she knew he was absolutely innocent?"

"Yiss. She said she luved him and hated the woman he was coortin', and she did it to stop them gettin' married."

"And the false charge brought by the dead woman against the prisoner had the effect of estranging—that is separating—him and the woman he was then courting?"

"Yiss."

"How do you know that?"

"Becos ah heerd Luke Standish say that the woman he loved had married another mon becos hoo thowt her owd sweetheart was the feyther o' the deeud woman's chahlt."

"You saw the prisoner and the murdered woman part company?"

"Yiss. The prisoner walked away, leaving the woman where ah fust seed 'er."

"What direction did the prisoner take?"

"He went tort (towards) Upholland."

"Going towards the spot where the murdered woman was found next morning?"

"Yiss."

"Did you see the woman follow the prisoner?"

"Ah did. Ah seed her gooin' along t' brook sahde two or three minutes after he went away."

"You did not see them together after that?"

"Nowh. Ah went eawt o' th' wood then."

"Where did you go to?"

"Newgate village."

"Where the prisoner used to live?"

"Yiss."

"Why did you go there?"

"To meet frien's o' mahne."

"You met them, I suppose?"

"Ah did."

"At what place did you meet them?"

"At th' Fox an' Goose."

"An alehouse in Newgate village?"

"Yiss."

"How long did you stay there?"

"'Till turnin' eawt tahme."

"Eleven o'clock?"

"Yiss."

"And then you and some of your friends returned home to Upholland?"

"We did."

"You met some one on your way home?"

"Yiss."

"Who was it?"

"The prisoner, Luke Standish."

"You are prepared to swear it was Luke Standish that you and your friends met?"

"Ah am."

"Did you speak to the man you met?"

"Ah did."

"What did you say?"

"Ah said, 'Gud neet, Luke Standish.'"

"Did he reply?"

"He did."

"What did he say?"

"He said, 'Gud neet, lads.'"

"From what direction was the prisoner coming when you met him?"

"The direction o' Dene Wood."

"Where the murder took place?"

"Yiss."

"What time would it be when you met the prisoner?"

"Abeawt midneet. Ah heeard th' Upholland church clock strahke twelve just as Luke Standish passed us."

"That will do; you can stand down."

The prosecution had no more witnesses to produce, and the examination of the last one presented in itself a strong case against the prisoner at the bar. The prosecuting counsel had made the utmost use of David Burdock's evidence, and already a strong conviction was growing up in the minds of the judge and jury that the man on trial was guilty of the crime upon which he was arraigned.

The counsel for the defence began by subjecting the last witness, David Burdock, to a severe cross-examination.

"I think, Mr. Burdock," Standish's counsel began, "that you have been imprisoned for various offences?"

"Yiss."

"Twice for poaching?"

"Yiss."

"And once for wife-beating?"

"Yiss."

"And once for stealing poultry?"

"Yiss."

"You saw the body of the murdered woman on the morning of the twenty-fifth of September, when it lay in the outhouse belonging to the Legs of Man Inn at Upholland?"

"Ah did," Burdock answered, with just the slightest trace of hesitancy.

"And you recognised her as the woman you had seen the previous evening in Dene Wood?"

"Yiss."

"But the information you possessed was not offered to the police until several days later?"

"Nowh."

"You waited until a reward was offered for the murderer?"

"Ah waited becos ah thowt ut fast o' keeping may meyth [mouth] shut, un letting Luke Standish off."

"And you would have the court believe that your conscience at last prompted you to go to the police with your information?"

"Yiss."

"It is quite unusual, Mr. Burdock, for men like yourself—poachers, thieves, and wife-beaters—to possess such a delicate conscience as you evidently own."

The counsel's playful irony was not lost, for a loud titter ran through the crowded building, and the color of the witness's face attested that he was not yet dead to every sense of shame. Then the counsel continued—

"You saw the prisoner and the murdered woman part after their interview on the evening of the twenty-fourth of September?"

"Yiss."

"You heard their parting words?"

"Ah did."

"Did they bid each other good night?"

"They did."

"Parting in a friendly way?"

"Yiss."

"Do you remember hearing the prisoner say that he would forgive Mary Sheargold all the wrong she had done him on one condition?"

"Ah remember him seyin' so."

"And that condition was that she should write to his old sweetheart stating that he was not the father of her illegitimate child, and giving her reasons for bringing that charge against an innocent man?"

"That was the condition."

"And the dead woman agreed to write such a letter?"

"Hoo did."

"And after that they parted apparently on terms of friendship?"

"They did."

"I suppose you are not prepared to swear that the dead woman went to Dene Wood that evening for the special purpose of meeting Luke Standish?"

"Ah'm not."

"Did you hear her say that she had come there to meet the prisoner?"

"Ah didn't."

"From what you overheard do you think the meeting in the wood was purely an accidental one?"

"Ah think it must ha' been."

"Then she must have gone there to meet some one else?"

"Ah dunnut know."

"Did you see any one else in the wood that evening—any man or woman beside Luke Standish and Mary Sheargold?"

"Ah didn't."

"But others may have been in the wood for all that—especially in the higher portion of it toward Upholland, which you did not pass through after witnessing the meeting and parting of the woman and the prisoner, and toward which you saw them go?"

"There may ha' been."

"When you met the prisoner at midnight was he not proceeding homeward in a quiet and and peaceful manner?"

"He was walkin' slow, but ah didn't tek mich notis o' him."

"But he did not appear like a man who had just committed a murder."

"He didn't," Burdock admitted, in a reluctant way.

"And supposing the prisoner had committed the crime attributed to him, could he not have reached his home by crossing the fields and thus escaped observation?"

"He met ha' done."

"Thanks, Mr. Burdock; you can stand down."

Then the barrister to whom was assigned the task of summing up the case for the prosecution arose to his feet. He began by saying that the case before that court was one of the clearest that had ever come within the range of his experience. Both the motive of the crime and the unfortunate man who committed it must be clear to all. The evidence of the last witness, David Burdock, had brought the whole strange and sad story before them in a vivid picture.

The dead woman, it seemed, had loved the prisoner, while he had loved and was engaged to another woman. To prevent the man she loved from marrying a woman she hated the murdered woman had devised the scheme of fathering her illegitimate child upon the man at the bar. Thus she had parted the prisoner from his sweetheart and driven him in great shame from his native town; and when he returned to Lancashire some months afterwards he found that the woman he loved had married another man, thinking her old lover guilty of the charge which had been brought against him.

Let them think of the pain and shame the murdered woman had caused the prisoner and then they may imagine the deep unquenchable debt of vengeance he must cherish against her, and when he found himself face to face in the quiet wood with the evil woman who had disgraced his name and wrecked his happiness, what passions must have surged through his heart—what just indignation have filled his breast.

That this was the case the evidence of Burdock proved. The prisoner at the bar had seized the murdered woman, had uplifted his fist to strike, but a better impulse came and he had gone away. Up to this point all was clear, and was attested by an eyewitness. What followed was certainly a matter of conjecture. But the facts were so clear, and all pointed in one direction, that there was no escaping from the conclusion that forced itself upon them. The murdered woman had followed the prisoner; had overtaken him; they had quarrelled again, and in a moment of passion the unfortunate man at the bar had struck the blow which had caused Mary Sheargold's death. That was the case for the prosecution.

The defence had no witnesses of its own to bring forward, either to attest to Luke Standish's innocence or prove an alibi. From the moment he said good-night to Moll Sheargold in Dene Wood to the time he met Daff Burdock and his companions at midnight the miner had encountered no one whom he knew; and the fact that he was unable to adduce any evidence to show where he was between the hours of eight o'clock and twelve on the night of the murder was almost sufficient of itself to convict the poor fellow of the crime.

The barrister to whom the summing up of the defence was entrusted did as well as could be expected with such a lamentably weak case. Luke's case was strong in nothing save the truth; all the circumstances connected therewith were ominously against him, and the only independent evidence forthcoming was against him also.

Acting upon the instructions of the prisoner the counsel for the defence commenced by giving a plain unvarnished recital of his client's doings on the night of the twenty-fourth of September. Luke Standish left home on that evening about seven o'clock with the intention of visiting a friend of his, Mr. Richard Hampton, of Denewood Grange. He had taken the public path through Dene Wood simply because it was the nearest way to his friend's residence.

When about half way through the wood Standish had come upon a woman standing against a tree and closely veiled. She was evidently awaiting someone's coming. Who could that some one be? Not Luke Standish assuredly, for besides himself no living being knew that he was going through the wood that evening, for neither his mother nor his friends knew of his contemplated visit.

The prisoner passed the veiled woman with merely a glance, and he never dreamt of stopping near her until he heard his name uttered. He did not even know who she was until she unveiled herself. Then followed the conversation, of which, as given by David Burdock in examination and cross-examination, they had obtained a substantially correct version. The prisoner and the murdered woman had quarrelled it was true; which was only natural under the circumstances. Luke Standish would have been more than mortal had he not shown his just indignation on meeting the misguided woman whose infamous scheme had made ruin of his good name and dearest aspirations.

But being a reasonable man and a merciful one also the prisoner had forgiven the dead woman on condition that she wrote to his old sweetheart and cleared him from the stain she had placed upon him. She had consented to this, and then they parted in a friendly way.

After leaving Mary Sheargold Standish proceeded on his way, but being naturally upset by his conversation with her he decided to put off his contemplated visit to Denewood Grange until some other evening. On reaching the bridge in Dene Wood which crosses the brook he had turned back again to speak once more to Mary Sheargold. His purpose was a noble one, involving a great and commendable self-sacrifice. Thinking a complete knowledge of his innocence might disturb the wedded life of his old sweetheart, Standish had sought Mary Sheargold again to ask her to refrain from penning the letter she had promised to write.

But on regaining the spot where he left her he found her not. She had disappeared, and although he went through the wood, along the footpath, and back again, he saw her no more. Then he rambled through the fields adjoining the wood, walking slowly and taking a circuitous course, so that it was midnight when he reached home.

That was the simple and the whole truth regarding the doings of the prisoner at the bar on the night of the twenty-fourth of last September. Nothing had been omitted that had actually occurred; nothing had been brought forward but plain matter-of-fact. After bidding Mary Sheargold good night in the presence of David Burdock, Luke Standish had never set eyes upon the murdered woman. Whoever might be guilty of taking her life his client was assuredly innocent. There was just reason for thinking that the woman had gone to Dene Wood with the intention of meeting some person or persons, and the unknown person or persons were probably responsible for her death.

In concluding his address the prisoner's advocate warned the jury against hanging a man on circumstantial evidence alone. Only a short time ago, he ventured to remind them, the confession of that clever murderer, Charles Peace, had proved a man innocent who had been sentenced to death on circumstantial evidence. Proof, in the present case, was far from being conclusive, and so long as there remained a doubt the prisoner should have the benefit of it. He left the fate of his client to their merciful consideration.

The judge summed up, and then the jury were bidden to retire and bring in a verdict in consonance with the evidence laid before them. In half an hour they returned with a verdict of guilty, but strongly recommended the prisoner to mercy.

Then the question was asked if the prisoner at the bar had aught to say why sentence of death should not be passed upon him. There was a moment's silence as Luke Standish lifted his stony face and fronted the sea of intent countenances. Then he spoke, low, but clear enough to be heard throughout the packed court.

"All I have to say is that I am innocent. I do not blame anyone for judging me guilty under the circumstances. Some day, God willing it, my guiltlessness will be made known, and then the hanging of an innocent man for a crime he never committed may teach the juries of this country to be more careful in sentencing men to death."

Then the judge arose in his place, and in slow and solemn tones spoke the pregnant words which meant Luke Standish's death warrant.

Then the condemned man was led away, firmer and braver now with his fate settled than when it was still unknown.


Chapter XL.—A Letter from Luke.

The news of Luke Standish's arrest on suspicion of having murdered Moll Sheargold struck Arthur Willesden with great surprise and unspeakable pleasure. He heard of the manager's apprehension on the evening it took place, but at first was inclined to disbelieve the intelligence, for it seemed too good to be true.

It was true enough, however, as Willesden discovered next morning; and a little later he leaned how it came about that Luke Standish was connected or supposed to be with the crime. He remembered that Moll Sheargold had told him she had met Luke Standish that night, and now it appeared that they had met in Dene Wood, and that Duff Burdock had been present at their meeting.

Willesden learned these things when the arrested man was formally examined before the magistrates at Ashford, and on the instant the scoundrel recognised the fact that a strong net of circumstantial evidence was already woven around the unlucky miner whom he had done so much to torment and make unhappy.

But no feelings of mercy for the arrested man stirred Arthur Willesden's breast. The only emotions he felt were an indescribable joy at Standish's apprehension, and a secret feeling of relief on thinking himself safe.

He had watched the proceedings subsequent to Luke's seizure with the deepest possible interest, and as he saw the case against Standish grow stronger and stronger, and the iron meshes of the legal net slowly drawing themselves closer and closer about the innocent man, he could scarcely restrain his jubilation.

And then came the trial at Liverpool and the conviction of Luke. That event, Arthur ventured to think, disposed for ever, so far as he was concerned, of Moll Sheargold's death. In two or three weeks more the dread sentence upon Luke Standish would be executed, and with his death the crime for which he was to die would speedily drop out of the public mind.

In three weeks' time all would be over and he would be safer than ever he had been for a year. The man who held the first place in his wife's affections would be rotting in a criminal's unhallowed grave, as the only woman who had known of all his deep-laid plans was rotting in hers.

With feverish impatience Willesden counted the days that stood between Luke Standish and the scaffold. The master of Thornhill would not be perfectly at rest until the executioner had shaken hands with the miner, placed the fatal cord around his throat, and launched him forth on the dread mysterious journey which men call death.

In the meantime the friends of the condemned man were busily engaged on his behalf. The recommendation to mercy had been placed before the Home Secretary, and a petition praying for a commutation of Luke's sentence had been got up, unknown to the condemned man, and was being signed by numerous and influential people.

Even those who believed Luke guilty of the blow which resulted in Moll Sheargold's death considered that the circumstances which led up to it were of the most extenuating kind; and that at the farthest the crime committed was only one of manslaughter. The dead woman had injured the prisoner beyond all reparation, and the blow he was believed to have struck was the outcome of natural indignation, not of malicious and criminal intention.

Since his arrest Luke had been in a heavy sort of mental stupor that had scarcely ever lifted itself from his brain, save when his friends paid him a visit and during the trial. He seemed to take no interest in what his friends said or did, and his one wish was that the end might come quickly.

After his conviction Luke was visited by the master of Denewood Grange, and during the conversation that ensued he learned for the first time that the only two women he cared for on earth were dangerously ill.

He had expressed a desire to Hampton that his mother and his old sweetheart should pay him a visit before the fatal day, and then it was that his visitor told him that his mother had been unable to quit her bed since his arrest, and that Kate had had a severe attack of brain fever, from which she was not yet fully recovered.

If Luke had a desire beyond that of wishing for a speedy end to all his woes, it was a longing to see his mother and old sweetheart once again that he might assure them, standing as he did on the verge of death, that he was innocent of Mary Sheargold's murder as he had been guiltless of the offence with which she had a year ago accused him.

For the opinion of the world he cared nothing now; for the opinion of his only relative and lost love he cared everything. If he could only convince the latter that he was free from all stain of the crime for which he was condemned to die he felt he could face a hundred deaths.

As Richard Hampton had intimated to Luke, his niece was still suffering from the effects of the dangerous malady which had prostrated her on the night of the murder.

Although two months had passed away since the time of her seizure, Mrs. Willesden was still confined to her bed, and if there was no danger of her dying, a new and almost as terrible a peril had presented itself.

The delirium of phrenitis had passed away to leave her mind in a strangely clouded state. Her memory for all that had happened prior to her illness was completely lost, and the medical gentlemen in attendance upon her feared that her mental faculties might never be fully restored.

When the phrensy of the fever ended and Kate regained consciousness she was able to recognise all whom she had previously known. But unaided her mind could not fish up from out the waters of the past any incident or personage.

She lay there week after week, her mind almost a vacuum, and that black impenetrable cloud lying behind her eyes and filling her brain. Again and again she attempted to recall the past that had slipped so strangely, so mysteriously away from her mental grasp; for in a vague indefinite way she was conscious of having lost something; feeling just like a person feels on forgetting something, and yet unable to give name or shape to the forgotten thing.

Of course Mrs. Willesden had never heard the slightest whisper in regard to the momentous events of the last nine weeks. To have told her of the murder of Moll Sheargold and the arrest and conviction of Luke Standish would, her relatives thought, have been highly injudicious, considering her condition, and the servants were warned against making the faintest allusion in their mistress's presence to the Dene Wood tragedy.

During the earlier part of her daughter's illness Mrs. Leigh had remained altogether at Thornhill, and even now she came every day for an hour or two, and her brother often accompanied her.

It was now a fortnight since Luke Standish was sentenced to death, and in another week the execution would take place, unless the Secretary for the Home Department saw fit to commute the capital penalty to one of penal servitude.

The convicted man was still ignorant of the efforts his friends were making to save him from a felon's death. Had he known of this Luke would hardly have thanked them for it, for he was now sick of life, and death would have seemed preferable to him than the hopeless existence of a life-long convict.

During the past week Mrs. Willesden had grown sufficiently strong again to leave her bed, but she had not ventured beyond the confines of the house. In a few days she might be permitted some exercise in the shape of driving, provided the weather was fine and she were carefully wrapped up.

But though Kate had improved so much physically her mental condition had not altered in any perceptible way. Her lapsed memory had not returned to her, but the great physician who had been called in had stated that there was no danger now of insanity supervening, and that the dormant faculty would almost certainly return when her health was perfectly restored.

Matters stood thus when one afternoon the postman came to Thornhill House with a letter addressed to its mistress, who was at that moment in her own room idly turning the pages of Whyte-Melville's clever story, "Contraband."

Willesden had gone out for a ride an hour ago, and although Mrs. Leigh was in the house she was not present when Kate received the missive the postman brought. Glancing first at the superscription the writing seemed familiar to her, but all in vain she strove to recall the hand that must have penned it. She shut her eyes and strove to pierce the mental cloud, but no recognisable form came to her out of the darkness of the past.

With a sigh she turned to the postmark and saw that it bore the word Kirkdale. Where was that? Ah! she remembered now. It was near Liverpool.

But she knew no one who resided there. From whom could the letter have come? Somewhat impatiently she tore open the envelope and scanned its contents. The note ran thus:—


"Dear Kate,

"For the last time I venture to use the old, sweet, familiar name, and you will, I hope, pardon the liberty I take in thus using it once more.

"Writing to you as I do from the cell of the condemned felon, with the very shadow of a disgraceful death hovering over me, I would urge upon you the solemn, the imperative necessity of believing that what I have to say to you is the whole, the absolute truth. In a week from to day I shall be beyond the reach of all praise or blame—shall be standing before my Maker, and in view of this is it likely, I ask you, that I shall pen a word of falsehood?

"You will have learnt from the newspaper accounts of my trial that I was quite innocent of the charge which parted us by driving me from Ashford, but I cannot hope that you believe me guiltless of her death. Like the rest of the world you will have been guided by the evidence and must think me a murderer. But I am innocent of her blood—innocent as an unborn child.

"As I hope for mercy from the God before whom I shall stand next Wednesday I swear that I am guiltless of Mary Sheargold's murder; I left her alive and well that night in the wood, and never thought of harming her. We parted friends, and she promised to write to you and explain why she charged me with being the father of her child. If this is not the truth I wish that God may consign me to eternal damnation.

"You will never know how hard and bitter my life has been since we met. I lost both your respect and love through neither fault nor offence of my own, and now I am about to lose life itself for a crime I never committed. Such things make one doubt even a good God's existence. Truly the ways of the Lord are past finding out.

"A word of forgiveness will make death more easy to

"LUKE STANDISH."


With dilating nostrils and distended eyes Kate gazed at the open letter in her hand. At first the major portion of the written characters conveyed small meaning to her mind, but the names of Mary Sheargold and Luke Standish had shot arrows of flame into the darkened part of her brain, and then with an overwhelming rush her lapsed memory flooded back upon her understanding.

Still as death, and colorless as a marble statue, she sat there for a brief space; apparently paralysed by the terrible revelation that had just come to her. Her restored memory had filled her brain with a fearful knowledge. The cloud had vanished, and now all was clear as day once more.

Mary Sheargold was dead, her murderer free, and Luke Standish condemned to die for her murder. Good God! It was incredible! Was it too late yet to remedy all? No! With heaven's help she would do it. She rose, took one stride towards the bell-cord, then she reeled suddenly, a cry of alarm fell from her ashy lips, and she tumbled, a senseless heap upon the carpet!


Chapter XLI.—When the Cloud Lifted.

Mrs. Leigh was just approaching the door of her daughter's room when the muffled sound as of something falling and a low scream fell on the widow's ears, and hastily entering the apartment she found Kate lying senseless upon the thickly carpeted floor.

Greatly alarmed Mrs. Leigh lifted Kate and carried her to a low easy chair. In this she placed the unconscious woman and began to chafe her hands. In her agitation the widow never thought of summoning aid, and it was unnecessary to do so, for in a little while Kate showed signs of returning consciousness.

First she heaved several deep sighs, her eyelids twitched a little, then lifted, and she cast a perplexed stare around her. Seeing her mother kneeling beside her with an anxious look on her countenance she asked—

"What is the matter, mother?"

"You fainted, I suppose, for when I came into the room I found you lying senseless on the floor. What agitated you?"

"I remember now—it was the letter. Where is it? Tell me, is it true?"

"What letter, Kate? Is what true?" the widow asked.

"I received a letter from Luke Standish—there it is—see. Read it, mother, and tell me if it is true."

Mrs. Leigh picked up the letter which Kate indicated lying on the carpet where it had previously escaped the widow's observation, and hastily glancing over its contents she remarked—

"When did this come?"

"Just before I fainted, mother," Kate replied. "But tell me, is it true that Luke Standish is sentenced to death for the murder of Mary Sheargold?"

"Yes, it is true enough, Kate."

"He is innocent! He is innocent!" Kate murmured.

"Well, he may be," her mother answered doubtingly.

"May be?" the younger woman exclaimed. "I tell you he is innocent. If Mary Sheargold is dead I know who is responsible for her death."

"You are rambling, child!" Mrs. Leigh rejoined, gazing at her daughter with slightly apprehensive eyes.

"Rambling?—no. I am sane enough now. But you must tell me everything connected with this dreadful business. Tell me quickly, that I may know what to do."

"It will only disturb you—perhaps make you ill again," Mrs. Leigh replied.

"I must know at once. If you don't tell me, mother, I shall leave the house at once, and from the first villager I meet learn what you will not tell me."

Most reluctantly the widow narrated the series of incidents that had transpired since the night on which her daughter was attacked by brain fever. She spoke of the finding of Mary Sheargold's dead body in Dene Wood, of Luke Standish being arrested for the murder, his trial and conviction for the capital offence.

"Where is my uncle?" Kate asked, rising as her mother finished her recital and touching the bell-cord to summon a servant.

"He went out this morning on some business, but said he would get back again about this time. I daresay he's back at the Grange now."

"I'm going to him, mother."

"When? Not to-day, I hope."

"As soon as possible. I must not lose another moment," Kate rejoined firmly.

"It isn't fit to go out, Kate. See, it is beginning to snow. You will take cold if you do and be bad again."

"If it costs me my life I am going, mother! Oh, Johnson, tell them to get the carriage ready as quickly as possible, will you?"

The servant disappeared, and Mrs. Leigh exclaimed in a tone that expressed both indignation and disapproval—

"You are surely mad, Kate, to think of going out on such a day!"

"I shall be mad, mother, if I stay in this house much longer. If you care for my reason help me to go as fast as possible. This is no place for either of us I tell you. I have been mad or I should not have been here so long. You will know all soon enough, mother—soon enough. May God give me strength to do my duty!"

Utterly nonplussed by her daughter's words, Mrs. Leigh could only watch in silence Kate's preparations for going out. The younger woman's face was still unnaturally pale, but she had evidently recovered all her former clearness of brain and vigor of action.

In a few minutes Kate had donned a heavy, fur-lined jacket and a close-fitting hat, and was awaiting the reappearance of the servant to announce that the carriage was in readiness. She was impatiently walking to and fro, a strange light burning in the depths of her big dark eyes that seemed to have lost for the moment all their wonted softness.

Then the maid entered, saying the carriage was waiting; and telling Kate to wait a moment, Mrs. Leigh hastily assumed her out-door garments and followed her daughter.

Entering the vehicle with her mother Kate ordered the coachman to drive as speedily as he could do Denewood Grange, and presently they were dashing along between the dark ragged hedgerows, and brown dead-looking fields, and through the slowly falling snowflakes.

"What is the meaning of all this, Kate?" Mrs Leigh asked, as they were borne onward to Denewood.

"It means, as I told you before," said Kate calmly, "that I know Luke Standish is innocent of Mary Sheargold's death. It means also that I know who the real murderer is, and that I intend to see justice done to both the guiltless and the guilty."

"But how can you know anything about the real murderer, if Luke is innocent, when you have never been out of your house since the murder was committed?"

"I know!" was all the answer the girl vouchsafed to give.

"Why, you didn't even know anything about the facts of the case until you received Luke Standish's letter. Hadn't I to tell you all about the arrest and trial?"

"I know!" Kate responded again.

"You don't know, Kate. You cannot know. It's nonsense to say you do," the widow burst forth almost angrily. "I believe you are not quite yourself yet."

"I've not been myself, mother, for months," the girl cried, and a shudder shook her lithe frame. "But, thank Heaven, I am myself once more. I should have killed myself if I had come to my full reason only to find that an innocent man had been hanged for a crime of which he was not guilty. Think of it, mother—in another week Luke Standish would have been hanged."

"I cannot understand you, dear," the widow murmured, a little distressed.

"How can you understand it? But you will soon! You will soon! I see the hand of Providence in all this, and justice will be done at last to an injured man!"

There was silence for a few moments, and the carriage was now drawing near to the Grange. As it passed through the lodge gates and ascended the tree-lined drive Kate asked—

"Will uncle have got back again, do you think?"

"I fancy so."

"Where has he been to?"

"Liverpool."

"Did he say why he was going there?" Kate asked in a casual way.

"Yes. It was on some business relating to Luke Standish. They're trying to get him off, Kate."

"Are they?" the younger woman asked in a mechanical way.

"Yes; he was recommended to mercy, and your uncle has done all he could to get Luke respited. But he begins to think it will be all labor in vain."

"Yes, mother, it will be labor in vain, but not in the sense you take it. Luke Standish will not be respited perhaps, but he will be set at liberty."

Mrs. Leigh was about to make some rejoinder when the carriage came to a standstill before the Grange, and descending from the vehicle mother and daughter ascended the steps to the house.

"Am I to wait, ma'am?" the coachman asked his mistress.

"No," Kate responded; "you can return home at once."

"What time shall I come back for you, ma'am?" the flunkey asked again.

"Never!" she cried, and passed with her mother into the house, while the amazed servant remounted his seat and slowly drove back again to Thornhill.

Richard Hampton had returned, and hearing the sound of carriage wheels upon the hard gravel outside he glanced through the window of the room in which he was sitting and saw his sister and niece alight from the carriage.

The master of Denewood at once hastened to greet his niece, surprised and delighted with her visit. As he greeted Kate in the hall his face showed both fear and pleasure—fear that she had ventured abroad too early, pleasure on seeing her so strong and clear-minded again.

"Kate," he said, kissing her tenderly, "how glad I am to see you all right again. But I'm afraid you are a little imprudent in coming out on such a day as this."

"Just what I told her, Richard," Mrs. Leigh broke in, "but she would have her own way and come."

"Uncle," said Kate, laying her hand on his sleeve, "I have come to see you on a very grave matter. I must speak to you at once."

Hampton's interest was suddenly aroused by the tone of his niece's words, and gazing more intently upon her face he saw that its great paleness and altered aspect were not due to her late illness alone. Her whole countenance seemed charged now with a firmness, a solemnity, which he had never before seen upon it, and wondering what she had to say to him, he asked—

"Do you wish, dear, to see me in private?"

"No. Mother can be present if she wishes to be," was Kate's answer.

"Come, then," said Hampton, and he led them towards the little room he called his study, and when they were seated he added—"And now, dear, what is it you wish to speak to me about? I hope that you and Willesden have not been quarrelling."

"I have come to see you because you are a magistrate, not because you are my uncle," Kate said in a hard voice. "I want to ask your advice on a certain thing."

"What is it?" Hampton asked, half smilingly. "You know I have been a justice of the peace for only a month or two, and my knowledge of the law is rather limited; but I'll do my best to oblige you."

"Supposing," Kate rejoined, in the same hard voice, "I knew that Luke Standish was innocent of the crime for which he is now under sentence of death, and that I could point out the real murderer, what course ought I to take? I am not jesting, uncle," she cried in a low vehement way that sent a thrill through Hampton's heart. "If you love me, say what I should do!"

"Go to a magistrate and make a deposition before him, and then he would issue a warrant for the criminal's arrest."

"Then I swear to you, uncle, that the real murderer of Mary Sheargold is my husband, Arthur Willesden! Have him arrested at once!"


Chapter XLII.—Unmasked at Last.

A look of pity passed between Richard Hampton and Mrs. Leigh as Kate denounced her husband as the murderer of Mary Sheargold. Of course neither of them took her statement seriously, and the look they flashed upon each other meant they were agreed as to Kate's mental aberration.

"You do not believe me!" she continued, seeing the exchange of looks and comprehending its meaning. "You think I am mad, but I swear to you it is God's truth. I was mad, but I am sane again now. What must I do to prove my sanity to you? Shall I count the number of panes in those windows?—the books on the shelves there? What must I do to show you I am sane as either of you?"

This impassioned outburst scarcely allayed Richard Hampton's suspicions in regard to his niece's mental condition. Rising, he went to her, and placing his hand upon her shoulder said—

"You cannot be conscious, dear, of what you are saying. Let us say no more about it just now!"

"I must speak," Kate replied firmly. "If you will not listen to me some one else will. Time enough has been already wasted. I tell you again that Luke Standish is innocent of Mary Sheargold's death, and that Arthur Willesden is her murderer! I saw him strike the blow!"

"How can you expect me to believe this, Kate?" Hampton asked. "You have only just recovered from a severe illness in which your reason was at times in danger. When did you learn that Mary Sheargold had been murdered, and that Luke Standish was under sentience of death?"

"To-day. This afternoon I received a letter from Luke which told me all, and it was his letter that brought back my lost memory to me. But for that I should have been at home still, with the dreadful past lying behind me like a black impenetrable cloud. But I remember all now, uncle—I remember all now! Do you wish to know what brought on my illness?"

"Yes—tell me."

"It was the murder that caused it. I saw the blow struck and fled home, but remembered no more of the dreadful affair until Luke's letter brought back the recollection of it."

"Where is the letter Standish sent?" Hampton asked.

"Where is it, mother? You had it last."

"I left it in your room, Kate. There was nothing of importance in it, Richard. Luke Standish solemnly proclaims his innocence. That is all, I think."

"You know, mother," Kate broke forth, a new idea in her mind, "that before to-day I heard nothing of Mary Sheargold's death. I have never seen a newspaper since before my illness, and I know now why you kept them out of my way. You told me nothing, did you, of the time the murder took place?—yet I know it was on the very night my illness began. You have never mentioned the spot where the crime was committed, but I know the exact spot. It was on the western side of the brook in Dene Wood, just below the bridge and near the footpath. And the blow that struck Mary Sheargold down was the blow in the face from a man's fist. If I am mad how do I know all these things? Do you believe me now, uncle?"

"My God! It seems incredible," Hampton muttered, sinking back into the chair beside which he was standing. "Tell me all, Kate."

"On the night of the murder," Kate began, "I was seated in the morning-room at home idly playing with the piano, when I heard the sound of voices beside the window, and crossing the room I lifted the edge of the curtain and saw my husband standing on the lawn with Mary Sheargold. The moon was shining brightly and I at once recognised them both. They seemed to be quarrelling, and presently they went away together, going toward the brook.

"Hardly knowing why, I opened the window, stole across the lawn, and keeping well in the shadow of the trees I dogged their footsteps along the brookside, over the bridge, and when they stopped I was only a few yards' distant. Somehow I had no fear of being discovered, and suspecting something was wrong I crawled behind some bushes near which they had paused. I was resolved to know what had brought them together, and I heard every word that passed between them.

"He began by passionately calling Mary Sheargold a fool, and asking in the same strain what she was doing, when he caught her beside the window. She replied by saying that she wanted to make sure who was in the room, and, if it was myself she intended to tell me all. I had no idea then of what she meant, but I was doubly resolved, now, not to lose a single word of their conversation, and scarcely breathing I lay there in the damp grass, and what I heard made such an impression upon me that I think I could recall every word that passed between them.

"What did she mean, he next asked, by telling me all. She retorted by remarking that he knew, and would not give her a chance of telling it. Then he cried that he didn't care what she told, because he knew I hated Mary Sheargold too much to believe anything she might say. He added that he did not wish to see her in gaol.

"In response to that she sneered at his supposed kindness, and said she was not afraid of going to gaol now. Why, he cried, didn't she know that Luke Standish would give anything to be revenged upon her for charging him with being the father of her child. I could barely repress a cry of great astonishment on hearing his last words, but I managed it somehow, and Mary Sheargold's reply was even a greater surprise still.

"She said she would never have thought of fathering the child upon Luke if he—Willesden—had not put her up to it and given her fifty pounds for doing it."

"And what did Willesden say to that?" Hampton asked excitedly. "He'd deny it, of course."

"No; he merely said what did it matter so long as she had done it. Then he reminded her of the depth of Standish's love for me, and what it must have cost him to lose me; and he tried to frighten her by saying what Luke would do if ever a chance of revenging himself upon her offered itself. And then Mary said that she feared Luke no longer because she had met him that night, close by, and that he had promised to forgive her."

"A moment, Kate," Hampton interrupted again. "Will you swear that you have never read any account of the trial?"

"Certainly, I have never even seen a newspaper since last September."

"Has any one told you about it?"

"My mother told me this afternoon."

"What did you tell her, Margaret? Did you mention that portion of David Burdock's evidence which related to the paternity of Mary Sheargold's child?"

"Not a word, Richard," Mrs. Leigh answered. "I merely told Kate of the finding of the murdered woman, and of Standish's arrest, trial, and conviction for the murder."

"Go on, Kate," Hampton rejoined, "I am satisfied now that you are neither mad nor dreaming, but speaking the truth."

"Well," Kate resumed, "I was saying that Luke had promised to forgive Mary, and this statement seemed to render Willesden furious, and he cried out that Luke had probably prompted her to tell me. She replied, laughingly, that he had, and that she had promised to do it, and meant to keep her word. Then I heard him say, in a low intense way—

"Do you mean to do it?"

"I do," was the reply. "If you hadn't come to me at the window Kate would have known before this that I was your mistress and that you bribed me to swear falsely against Luke."

"And then?" Hampton demanded, for Kate had paused.

"Then he cried in a voice quite thick with rage, 'Take that, you infernal jade!' and she fell like a dead thing before his clenched fist. After falling she never spoke nor moved, and this seemed to frighten him, for he called upon her name, asking her to get up, and saying that he didn't mean to hurt her.

"But she never stirred or spoke, and lying there terror-stricken among the grass and ferns, in the deadliest fear that the loud beating of my heart would tell the murderer of my presence, I watched him bend and lift her head, to recoil the next moment and examine his hands by the moonlight.

"Then he rushed away, muttering something, and after a time I stole stealthily homeward, resolved that the murderer should answer to the law for his crime. On reaching the bridge I almost discovered myself to him. A faint splash put me on my guard, and there I saw him washing his hands in the brook. Then he rubbed them on the grass, dried them on his handkerchief, and stole away.

"I followed by a roundabout way, and when I reached the window beside which I first heard the voices I found it still open. Passing in I found the room just as I had left it, and then the place seemed to swim around me and I fell to the floor."

"And you did not remember all this before to-day?" Hampton queried.

"I remembered nothing of the murder until Luke's letter brought the memory of the past back to me. I knew that I had forgotten something, and I was always striving to recall it, but until this afternoon I failed. Then I came straight here to tell you everything."

"It is a strange case! A strange case!" Hampton murmured.

"You will save Luke, uncle," Kate pleaded, "and bring the murderer to justice?"

"Yes, Luke shall be saved, dear, and I suppose Willesden must be arrested. It's a most unpleasant affair, still justice must be done."

"Justice must be done!" Kate echoed firmly.

She had just reason, she thought, to hate the cunning scoundrel whose name she bore. His loathsome duplicity had parted her from the only man she ever loved and driven him from his native town in disgrace; and now the injured man was lying in the condemned cell waiting to suffer death for a crime her husband had committed. How she loathed herself now for ever becoming his wife.

"You will return to Thornhill no more, Kate," Hampton remarked, "but stay here in future with your mother and myself. I shall go at once to the nearest police-station, lay the whole matter before the authorities, and issue a warrant for Willesden's arrest. I will order the carriage and go right off to Pemberton, and if—well, what is it?"

The entrance of a servant caused Hampton's interrogation, and the domestic replied—

"Mr. Willesden has called, sir."

"Then tell him that his wife is not returning to Thornhill again, and that she and I decline to see him or give him any explanation."

"No, uncle!" Kate cried, "let him be shown in here. Then you shall see whether he is guilty or not. Ask Mr. Willesden to step this way, Davidson."

The servant withdrew, and Kate added—

"Leave this matter to me, uncle. Can you hide yourself anywhere? There, behind that screen will do. Quick, he is coming!"

Hampton and Mrs. Leigh crouched down behind the large folding screen, and Kate reseated herself, and a minute later Arthur Willesden came sauntering into the room.

The last two months had wrought a decided change for the worse in Willesden's appearance. He was much more careless than of yore in matters of attire, and his face, once so smooth and healthy colored, if dark, was now bloated, and his eyes had a sunken, haggard look about them that denoted either dissipation or an uneasy conscience.

Half an hour ago he had returned to Thornhill, just as the coachman returned without Kate, and the flunkey's replies to his questions had made him a trifle uneasy. Kate gone with her mother to Denewood and not coming back again! What did it mean? He would see. So handing over his horse to another servant Willesden ordered the coachman to drive him to the Grange.

"Alone, Kate?" Willesden observed as he entered the study, "I thought your mother and uncle were with you?"

"They will return presently," she replied so coldly that he was forced to notice it.

"What is the matter? You seem agitated."

"I am calm enough," she answered; "but if I were agitated there would be the amplest of reasons for it."

"Why? What is the matter?" he asked again, and all his auditors could discern the tone of apprehension that ran through his words.

"My uncle is a magistrate, you know," Kate rejoined, cold as marble and preternaturally calm, "and I have been asking him to issue a warrant for the arrest of a murderer."

"A murderer?" Willesden gasped.

"Yes, a murderer—he who took Mary Sheargold's life."

He was silent for a brief space, gazing blindly at his wife's pale face, his brain aflame with fears, suspicions, wonder. Then he laughed brokenly, uneasily, saying—

"Isn't her murderer in prison?"

"No; but he will be to-night."

"What do you mean?" he asked in a hoarse whisper.

"I mean that I know you to be a murderer, and that I intend to bring you to justice! You killed Mary Sheargold!"

"For God's sake hush!" he cried fearfully. "Someone will hear you." Then in an altered tone, he said, "You are jesting, Kate, or mad!"

"Neither, as you will find out soon. I followed you and Mary that night. I heard all that passed between you. You bribed your mistress to father her child upon Luke, didn't you? I saw you strike her down and wash your hands in the brook; and having committed one murder you would be accessory to another by permitting an innocent man to be hanged for your crime!"

"Hush! For Heaven's sake, hush!" he exclaimed hoarsely. "Do you want your husband to be dragged to the scaffold?"

"That is just what I do desire. If there is any justice in England you shall hang!"

"Have mercy! Spare me! I never thought of killing her! Spare me!"

"To spare you would be to sacrifice a man whose shoes you are not good enough to tie. I will not spare you! Even if I were certain that Luke Standish's life could be saved without endangering yours I would not move a single step to save you from death. A man who could be guilty of such a devilish scheme as that which you conceived and induced the woman you killed to carry out is unfit to live!"

"If I sinned, Kate," he pleaded, "it was for your sake!"

"For my sake!" she retorted, with intensest scorn. "No, it was for your own. Was it for my sake or your own that you drove the only man I ever loved in disgrace from Ashford? You know I never loved you—that I married you from a mistaken sense of duty—and that I should never have looked at you had I known the truth!"

"You have not yet told anyone of this?" he asked.

"My uncle and mother know all!" she answered.

"They will not believe you!" he cried. "They will never believe I did it!"

"At first they would not believe me when I said you were a murderer, but I managed to convince them, and now they will be as certain of it as I am."

"Why now?" he asked, noticing the emphasis she placed on the word.

"You will learn in a moment," she replied coldly, enigmatically.

"For God's sake, Kate!" he burst out, dropping on his knees before her, "give me a chance of my life! I will go away out of the country and never trouble you again if you will only give me time to get away."

She shook her head decisively.

"Give me two days—a day," he implored her.

"To keep your guilt from the world for a moment even is an injustice to Luke Standish, and to remain silent for two days might imperil his life. But I will you give one day in which to escape, on one condition."

"What is it?" he asked eagerly.

"That you place in my hand a written confession of the murder."

"No, not that; anything else."

"Then I shall go to the police authorities at once and tell them all."

"I'll do it," he cried in desperation.

"There are pen and paper," she said, placing the materials for writing before him. "A few words will be sufficient."

He seized the pen and wrote, in a hurried sprawling hand, the following—


"I, Arthur Willesden, confess that in a moment of passion I struck Mary Sheargold the blow which caused her death; but I never intended to do her harm, much less kill her.

"ARTHUR WILLESDEN."


"That will do," she cried, seizing the manuscript and retiring from the table; "but before you go let me show you something. See, here are the witnesses to our interview and your confession."

As Kate spoke she swept aside the screen and revealed her uncle and mother to the astonished criminal. Then with curses both deep and loud Willesden tore out of the room, and a minute afterwards the trio standing in the study saw the carriage which had brought Kate and her mother, and after that her husband to the Grange, rolling rapidly down the avenue with the unmasked scoundrel seated inside.

"Did I do wrong, uncle, in promising to remain silent for another day?"

"Under the circumstances you were, I think, justified in conceding the villain so much. It was very clever of you to wring a confession from him in the way you did."

"Luke's life will not be endangered, will it, by a day's delay?" she asked somewhat apprehensively.

"I think not, dear. With the evidence we possess now we could save Standish on the very morn appointed for the execution."

"But I should like Luke to know at once that the real murderer is known and that his own life is safe. Think, uncle, of what he must have suffered and be suffering still. I was mad to promise the scoundrel a day's silence, for it means a day's extra torture to an innocent man!"

"Yes, dear, the poor fellow's sufferings must have been terrible!" Hampton replied. "I liked Standish the first time I met him, and I could not believe him guilty of that woman's murder."

Kate's eyes thanked her uncle so much as to render all speech superfluous. Then she said—

"Had I not better answer the letter Luke sent me?"

"Certainly—or better still, delegate the matter to me. I will write for us both, and let him know that his safety is assured."

"Yes, you had better write, uncle," Kate responded. She feared that if she wrote to Luke she might say things that a wife ought not to say to an old lover.

"Then I'll write him by to-night's post; and you need not be afraid, Kate, that I shall be sparing in words of hope."

Then Mrs. Leigh suggested that they should have tea, and as they quitted the study one of the servants handed Hampton a brown envelope, upon which the word TELEGRAM was printed.

"When did this come?"

"Just this minute, sir."

The servant went his way, and Kate and her mother were moving away when Hampton arrested their steps by saying—

"Wait a moment. Do not go. I have an idea what this is."

Then he broke open the telegram, glanced hurriedly over its contents, and read it out to them. It ran—


"Richard Hampton, Esq., J.P.,
"Denewood Grange, Upholland.

"The capital sentence passed on Luke Standish is commuted to penal servitude for life.

"GODFREY LUSHINGTON."


"Thank God!" Kate exclaimed joyously, "that his life is safe at least!"

"So you see, Kate, that Standish's friends have not been idle!" Hampton rejoined, as he kissed his niece's joy-filled face.

"This is your work, I see," she answered. "Well, it is something to know that come what may he will not die."

"Die!" her uncle cried. "I should think not! In a week, dear, he will be here alive and well among us."

Then at last Kate's fortitude gave way, and she cried as one can only cry in a time of great trouble or unbounded joy, and when her tears were all shed she felt happier than she had done for the last year.

When evening came Hampton wrote and dispatched the letter he had intimated he would send to Luke Standish. He informed the prisoner of the telegram he had received that day from the Home Office announcing the commutation of his sentence, and he hinted that he need not be disturbed by thinking he would have to pass a lengthy period in a convict prison. In a week—perhaps sooner the prison gates would be opened and he would walk out a free and unspotted man.

That Hampton's missive stirred Luke's breast with hope need not be recorded. But he could scarcely believe that such fortune was in store for him. He had no fear of death now before him, for by the time Hampton's missive reached him Luke had been apprised that his sentence had been commuted. But that the doors of the gaol would open to him so quickly, and that he would be free and unspotted, seemed too much like a dream to be realisable. Still he hugged the hope that had been given him and prayed that his friend might not be mistaken.

At the same time as he wrote to Luke, Hampton also communicated with his old friend, Henry Willesden, and his missive to the latter was both lengthy and painful.

As briefly as possible Hampton set forth all the incidents and facts connected with the amazing discovery that Arthur Willesden was the actual murderer of Mary Sheargold. He narrated how Kate had followed her husband on the night of the murder, and of her subsequent loss of memory from the shock. He spoke also of Arthur's visit that afternoon and of his confession. He concluded by asking the solicitor to visit the Grange as early as convenient on the next day.

Soon after dispatching the letters Hampton sent a groom to Thornhill to make enquiries concerning Arthur. The man returned with quite a budget of intelligence.

It appeared that after leaving Denewood, Willesden had returned home in the carriage, and on reaching Thornhill had sent the coachman for Mr. Jenison, the horse-dealer, who lived in the village, and to him had there and then sold both the horses, the pony also, and both the carriages. Then he went to Upholland Station, taking with him one of the servants to carry his luggage, and departed in the Manchester train.


Chapter XLIII.—Nemesis.

A couple of hours after receiving Richard Hampton's startling communication Henry Willesden made his appearance at Denewood Grange in anything but a satisfactory frame of mind. Never, at any time, had the solicitor held a high opinion of his nephew; but he had not dreamt it possible that he would ever become a murderer.

This, however, was the case, if the information in Hampton's letter was reliable; and he saw no reason for doubting its trustworthiness at present.

Soon after reaching the Grange Henry Willesden and Hampton were closeted together, and the interview that ensued was of a lengthy character. The latter related in full all the incidents of the previous day, explaining how it came about that Kate had not accused her husband of the crime earlier, and giving, almost word for word, the conversation that passed between Kate and Arthur in the study whilst he and his sister were hidden behind the screen.

Then he showed the solicitor Arthur's written confession, and finished by saying that the master of Thornhill had fled Manchester-ward on the previous afternoon, taking with him everything of value that he could easily carry away.

"It is a painful case," Willesden remarked when the other concluded; "but I suppose you must do your duty, and place the matter in the hands of the police. We should be guilty of murder if we permitted Luke Standish to die when he is innocent."

"There is no fear of that now, Harry."

"Why? Is not the execution fixed for next Wednesday morning?"

"It was; but the capital sentence has been commuted to one of penal servitude for life. I received a telegram to that effect yesterday afternoon from the Home Office, and this morning a letter came confirming the telegram. Here is the letter; read it."

The letter, ran thus—


"Whitehall, London.

"Sir,

"In reference to the numerous memorials forwarded by you on behalf of the convict Luke Standish, I am directed by the Secretary of State to acquaint you that, having fully considered all the circumstances connected with the case, he has felt himself justified in advising her Majesty to commute the capital sentence to one of penal servitude for life.

"Yours faithfully,

"GODFREY LUSHINGTON."


"When do you think of placing the matter before the authorities?" Willesden asked, as he handed the missive back to Hampton.

"Not before this evening."

"Why? Is it because you desire Arthur to make his escape?"

"Kate promised to give him a day in which to effect his escape if he would confess the crime. He did so, as you are aware, and she will not break her promise."

"I intend to tell you now, Hampton, something I ought perhaps to have told you long ago. But under the circumstances I thought it best to keep silent, and I fancy you will pardon me the omission when you hear all."

"To what does it refer?"

"To my nephew. When you first wrote me Arthur happened to drop in at my house just as I was reading your letter to my wife. He heard part of it, and when he learnt that you had a sister whom you wished to be found he induced me to permit him to take up the search for her."

"Nothing very wrong about that, old fellow."

"Wait until I have finished and then you will think differently perhaps. Well, I allowed him to play the detective for two or three weeks; then he tired of the business and I handed it over to Bowman, who you will remember was no more successful than my nephew had been—or rather, pretended to have been.

"When Mr. Bamforth brought forward your sister and niece, and they came here to reside with you, I leave you to imagine my surprise on discovering that my nephew was engaged to your niece; and I soon found out by questioning Mrs. Leigh that Arthur was actually lodging with them when he was supposed to be hunting after—and unsuccessfully, too—Margaret Hampton."

"And do you think that Arthur knew that the Mrs. Leigh he lodged with was the Margaret Hampton he was in search of?"

"I am certain he knew it, because your sister told him her eventful history the very day he became her lodger. Do you see now what I am driving at?"

"I think I do. You mean that Arthur kept his knowledge of my existence from my sister and niece for a purpose of his own."

"Exactly!"

"And that purpose was?" Hampton queried.

"To win Kate by any means before she learned that she was a wealthy man's niece and probably his heiress. It was much easier for him to win her as a pit-brow girl than as your niece—you see?"

"Just so, and that accounts for the cunning plot he conceived and carried out to get his rival, Luke Standish out of his way. And I remember now that Arthur would not on any account hear of the marriage being postponed for a year. He was afraid, I suppose, of his schemes coming to light and stopping the wedding!"

"I saw all this at the time I first met Arthur here; but I thought your niece was marrying him for love alone, and that was just why I held my tongue."

"But if Arthur found my sister so easily how was it that the detective you engaged did not discover her also?"

"There are two answers to that, Hampton," the solicitor replied. "Arthur, on giving up the search, volunteered to place his own investigations before the detective. Now he had one or the other of two things in his mind when he made this offer. He either intended to lead Bowman astray on a false scent, or bribe him to keep silent regarding your sister's whereabouts. My own opinion is that Bowman was bribed and that his visit to America was a mere blind."

"Very likely; very likely," Hampton murmured, amazed by this fresh disclosure of Arthur Willesden's cunning knavery.

"And in an indirect way," the solicitor continued, "I hold myself responsible for all this miserable business. If I had not permitted Arthur to play the amateur detective he would never have met your niece, Standish would not have been so grievously wronged, Mary Sheargold would still have been alive, and my nephew would not have been a murderer."

"Nonsense, Harry. How can you be blamed for doing what you did? It was impossible for anyone to foresee the issue of the trivial incident which formed the beginning of Arthur's scheming. Let us say no more about it."

So the matter dropped, and the solicitor borrowed his friend's carriage to drive over to Thornhill and make enquiry there concerning his nephew, and Hampton told his relatives of the interview he and Willesden had just concluded, and the surprise evinced by both mother and daughter may be conceived when they learned that Arthur Willesden was employed by his uncle to find Margaret Hampton when he first lodged with her, and that he had kept silent on the matter in order to further certain schemes of his own.

This news was welcomed by Kate, for it threw new light on her husband's character and actions, and enabled her to read his plans from the moment they first met. It was plain to her now that Arthur had conceived the idea of marrying her the moment he discovered that she was Richard Hampton's niece.

He had said that love to her was the primary cause of his sinning, but that excuse was untenable now. All his infernal scheming was not to win the pit-brow girl, but the heiress of the master of Denewood.

But even this new addition to the score of her handsome son-in-law's villainy did not quite turn Mrs. Leigh's heart against him. She had still a vivid remembrance of the numberless acts of kindness he had done her in the days of her tribulation and hardship, and she could not forget her earliest impressions of her clever and gentlemanly lodger.

When evening came Richard Hampton and his niece went over to Wigan and had a long interview with the chief constable there, and as a result of this a warrant was issued for the arrest of Arthur Willesden for the murder of Mary Sheargold.

In the meantime what had become of the fugitive master of Thornhill? As the servant who accompanied him to the station had said, Arthur had booked for Manchester and departed in a train bound for that city. But he never reached Cottonopolis, for instead of proceeding thither he alighted at one of the small stations on the route, and thence proceeded to Liverpool.

He did this to throw whoever might follow him on a fake scent, for he knew that the groom would tell which way he had gone. On reaching Liverpool he chartered a cab to take him and his belongings to the Crown and Anchor Hotel, a place near the docks and much frequented by seafaring men.

His reason for going there was a good one. He knew that there was no likelier spot in all the great seaport city to hear of any ship that was sailing that night or on the morrow, and he had resolved to quit the country within 24 hours, no matter what sort of craft he sailed in.

By doing so he would be safe from all pursuit, he thought, for he would be afloat before the police were set upon his track, supposing his wife kept her promise of giving him a day in which to effect his escape.

A couple of hours after reaching the Crown and Anchor, Arthur learned that a trading vessel, the Montanara, was to sail the following evening, bound for New Orleans; and proceeding at once to the Salthouse Dock, in which the vessel lay, he obtained from one of the men then aboard her the address at which the captain was to be found.

Driving immediately to the residence of the commander of the Montanara, Arthur succeeded in booking a passage in the vessel, and he was ordered to get all his traps aboard early the following morning and himself at noon, as the ship would be towed out of dock ready to sail with the night tide.

Returning to his hotel Arthur possessed himself of a portmanteau containing all his own and his wife's jewellery, and sallied out to convert the jewels and trinkets into cash. He effected this in an hour or two, and to avoid suspicion he pledged or sold the articles at various places. He then returned to the Crown and Anchor, preserving the tickets of the things pledged, for he intended to return them to his wife, that she might redeem them if she thought fit.

Next morning Arthur dispatched his luggage to the Montanara, and then he turned to the dally papers to see if they contained any information relating to himself. Supposing Kate had kept her promise no one besides her uncle and mother would yet know why he had fled, and if the police only got to know that evening he would then be, he hoped, safely out of the way.

At length Arthur came upon a big headline that instantly aroused his interest, and he had to read the paragraph through before his fears for himself were allayed. The paragraph was headed "THE DENEWOOD MURDER," and it contained the information that Luke Standish's sentence had been commuted to one of penal servitude for life.

But nowhere did he come across anything to show that his part in the crime had been made known to the public, and this filled him with a certainty of escape. In a few hours more he would be aboard the Montanara, and then the whole detective force of the country would seek him in vain.

As noon approached he paid his hotel bill and betook himself on foot toward Salthouse Dock, which was only a short distance away. He had with him sufficient money to keep him a year or two, and no fear of future indigence troubled him for the time. Let him arrive in safety on American soil and he could trust his future to his own clever brain.

Thus thinking Arthur sauntered along the dock, in which numerous vessels were taking in or putting out their cargoes, never dreaming that even at that moment Nemesis was treading upon his very heels. But so it was, for within sight of the vessel that was to bear him to safety he was struck down senseless, almost lifeless.

From the hold of one of the ships he passed great bales of some heavy material were being raised by one of the usual steam cranes, and just as Arthur passed beneath the machine the iron arm broke with a loud snap, and striking him on the back in its descent hurled him crushed and bleeding to the pavement.

Some of the workmen had a narrow escape, but none of them received the faintest injury. Only the strange gentleman lay there, dying upon the blood-covered flags.

A cab was sent for, and when it arrived the unconscious man was placed therein and conveyed to the nearest hospital. There he was at once attended to by skilled surgeons, but the oldest and most experienced of them all shook his white head significantly on examining the patient's terrible injuries.

There was not the faintest hope of recovery. Mr. George Smith—such was the name Arthur's pass for the voyage bore—would not—could not live for more than a few hours. Probably he would pass away without recovering consciousness. It would be a mercy if he did so. Thus spoke the physician.

All the afternoon Arthur lay stretched out on the hospital bed senseless, and it seemed as if the old doctor's prediction would be fulfilled. But just as the short, wintry day died down in the west and the lamps of the city were being lighted he struggled back again to a knowledge of life.

Then the nurse watching at his side broke to him, as tenderly as she could, the awful news that his death was only a question of a few brief hours, and she asked him to give the address of his relatives, that they might be communicated with at once.

At first he refused to believe that death was so near to him, but even while the words of denial were on his tongue the truth of her statement was entering his heart. Then for a few minutes he suffered such agony as no pen can picture—the love of life was so strong within him, and death had given him such brief notice.

Then at last he breathed the name and address of his wife, and urged that a telegram be sent to her acquainting her of his condition and asking her to come to him.

When that was done the maimed man lay still and mute, his eyes closed, and breathing regularly, if somewhat stertorously. And scarcely knowing whether her patient was sleeping or had lapsed into unconsciousness again the hospital nurse felt that if his wife came not quickly she would come too late.

The telegram from the hospital announcing Arthur Willesden's mishap reached Denewood Grange half an hour or thereabouts after Kate and her uncle set out for the town to lay before the police authorities the information they they possessed regarding the actual murderer of the unfortunate woman, Mary Sheargold.

That done they returned to the Grange to find Arthur's telegraphic message, and its intelligence came like a thunderbolt upon them. Without the loss of a moment's time Hampton and his niece drove to Upholland station, and catching the express to Liverpool reached the hospital about three hours after Willesden had caused the telegram to be dispatched.

But quick as they had been they came too late to see the unfortunate man alive. Half an hour before their arrival Arthur Willesden had sighed out his last breath of life, and ere he died had confessed to the snowy-haired medical gentleman, who happened to be near his bed at the time, that he was the man whose hand had struck down Mary Sheargold.

The doctor had been inclined to take that confession as the senseless raving of a deranged brain, but a few minutes' conversation with Richard Hampton entirely changed his opinion.

All the dead man's belongings, including the ship's pass, were handed over to his relatives, and after making arrangements for the forwarding of the body to Thornhill, so soon as the inquest was over, the widow and her uncle returned home, and immediately on reaching the Grange Hampton dispatched a mounted messenger to Wigan, bearing a letter to the Chief Constable, which contained intelligence of Arthur Willesden's accident whilst escaping and his confession of the crime ere dying.

Of course the whole story got into the newspapers, and for many a long day people could talk of nothing else but the Denewood case.

One snowy morning, three or four days after his death, Arthur Willesden was quietly buried in the village churchyard at Upholland, and besides a few villagers the only persons present were the uncle and aunt of the deceased, Mrs. Leigh and Richard Hampton, the widow having become so ill once more as to prevent her attendance at the funeral.

After the interment Henry Willesden, with Kate's permission, of course, went through all his late nephew's papers, and, as the solicitor almost expected, he found among them evidence that proved that Arthur and Bowman had been in league in regard to the detective business; and he discovered further that the enquiry officer had bled his accomplice pretty freely by afterwards threatening to expose the whole scheme if he did not tip up.

Arthur had made no will, so that all he possessed became the property of his widow. But Kate absolutely refused to profit to the extent of a single penny by his death, and with the full consent of her uncle she made over everything that her husband had died possessed of to his uncle, the solicitor.

A few days after the burial of Arthur Willesden's remains Luke Standish was set at liberty, and when he walked forth from the prison gates a free man, and his name cleared of the terrible stain that had blackened it for so long, two tried friends were by his side—Richard Hampton and Frank Gorton.

And as the trio drove from the prison to the station the master of Denewood pressed into the ex-convict's hand a couple of notes for a hundred pounds each. Luke declined to take them without first hearing whence they came, and then he learned that they came from the Home Office as some slight compensation for his false imprisonment.

From Liverpool Luke and his friends travelled to Denewood, and during the journey Hampton narrated the startling episodes of the past week, owing to which Luke had been saved from a life-long imprisonment.

He related how Kate had followed her husband on the night of the murder; had seen him strike the fatal blow, and then rush away; how she had been seized with brain fever that very night on returning home, and when she recovered from the attack her memory was gone. Then his letter came to her, and it succeeded in recalling the forgotten past, upon which she had rushed to the Grange to tell him (Hampton) all.

He spoke of Arthur following Kate to Denewood, and of the scene that took place in the study there; of his subsequent flight to Liverpool, his preparations for sailing in the Montanara, and of his accident, death, and confession.

And to the miner it seemed as if he were listening to some impossible story and not a chapter of real life. But there he was, safe and sound, free again to go whithersoever he listed, and his name not only cleared of that black murderous stain which had rested upon it since Moll Sheargold's death, but also freed from that other false charge which had been the cause of all the later troubles.

But it was all over now, and his two enemies were dead—both of them lying in untimely graves—whilst he, against whom they had conspired, was still hale and vigorous.

And then Hampton told Luke of the business that first brought Arthur Willesden to Ashford; and he also mentioned the scheme he must have then conceived of marrying Kate, knowing her to be the niece, and probably the heiress, of a rich bachelor.

The unveiling of the first link in the chain of Arthur Willesden's schemes made the understanding of all that followed easy. Looking back now Luke could see everything in its real light; could understand why his rival had gone to lodge at Bannister's-row, why Moll Sheargold had driven him from Ashford, and what she was doing that night in the wood when she met her death.

Well, it was all over now, thank God! and he was happy enough at that moment to forgive his dead foes all the injuries and wrongs they had wrought him.

So long as he and Kate were alive and free nothing else mattered much. And his old mother was also alive and gaining strength each day—so Hampton told him—since she heard that her lad was saved from the gallows and his liberty also assured.

And beyond all these things there was the golden hope that one day he might yet make his old sweetheart his wife. That aspiration was so sweet and holy—so inexpressibly beautiful and joy-giving—that merely to think of its realisation swept away all the dark shadows and bitter agonies of the past, and clad the future with all that was tenderest, loveliest, and most glorious. What pen can picture the first meeting of the old lovers? What words express the feelings with which each breast was filled? To perform such tasks every pen, all words, are impotent. Such scenes and emotions may be imagined—they cannot be faithfully described by a foreign hand.

* * * * * * *

When the icy rigor of winter had succumbed to the gentler breath of spring, and leaden-hued skies and black dead fields had changed to blue breadths of heaven and cowslip and buttercup spread meadows, there was another wedding within the old church at Upholland, and again the bride was the rare-faced Pit-Brow Lassie.

But on this occasion Kate was not an unwilling wife, for the frank-faced, honest-eyed giant by her side was her old lover, the pitman, Luke Standish.

THE END

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