Title: The Sinner
Author: Eliza Humphreys (a.k.a. Rita)
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Language: English
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THE SINNER,

By

RITA.

(aka Mrs W. Desmond Humphreys,
and Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys)




Author of "Peg the Rake," "Kitty the Rag,"
"A Woman in It," "A Husband of No Importance,"
"Joan and Mrs. Carr," "Sheba," &c., &c.


Published in book form by Hutchinson & Co., London 1897,
and in The Telegraph, Brisbane, Qld. as 'The Grinding Mills of
God' in serial format commencing Saturday 3 July, 1897, (this text).
Also published in The Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, S.A.)
commencing 9 October 1897, and in
The Week (Brisbane, Qld.) commencing 8 October 1897.






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




"Though the mills of God grind slowly,
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience stands He waiting,
With exactness grinds He all."
—Longfellow's "Retribution."


CHAPTER I.

THE new nurse stood in her little room in the great hospital, arrayed for the first time in the unfamiliar dress of her order.

The lilac print gown, the white apron, the little cap, gave a touch of Puritanism to the mignonne face and figure. They were infinitely becoming to the bright colouring of the one, the rounded proportions of the other. She was a little creature, with an expression of youth and innocence that robbed her of an actual age by several years. In reality twenty-two, she looked scarcely seventeen. There was something appealing in the large blue dark-lashed eyes, the full, rather tremulous lips, the smallness and daintiness of the childlike hands that looked too frail and weak to cope with the duties she had voluntarily undertaken. Yet there were strength and purpose in brow and chin that belied the first impression of helplessness.

And she was a resolute little person in her way, with a strong sense of life's meaning, an ardent desire to do something in that life that should lift her above the idle, the common place, and frivolous of her sex.

It had surprised no one more that the relatives to whose care she had been intrusted, when Nellie Nugent had declared her intention of joining the Nursing Sisters; and in the face of opposition, ridicule and difficulty had achieved her purpose. The very doctor by whose influence she was in the big London hospital had begun by laughing at her ambition. He had believed that her first lover, her first ball, would have knocked this 'nonsense,' as he termed it, out of the pretty little head.

But he had been wrong. Steadily, unceasingly, the girl set to work to accomplish what had become a real desire to be of some service to humanity. And now, after years of waiting, study, and perseverance, she found herself on the first step of that proposed journey.

She was to work for two years in this hospital—work at the meanest, humblest duties, such as she had seen relegated to servants; to bow her haughty little head to discipline; to undertake any office she was told, unquestioningly; to discard fine clothes—the dainty prettiness of fashionable dress; and give all her time and care and thought to the service of strangers and outcasts.

She thought of this as she stood before the glass gazing thoughtfully at her own reflection.

'I wonder what it will be like?' she said to herself. 'I wonder if anything important will ever happen? It all feels so strange now. But it is my own doing. I hope I shall never regret. I feel almost like a nun taking the vows. I wonder——'

A knock at the door broke upon the current of surmise. She turned from the glass, 'Come in,' she said.

A nurse entered. She was a woman of six or seven and twenty. Dark-skinned, dark-eyed, tall, with a strong, serious-looking face, a contrast in every way to the small, bright creature before her.

'Ah, you are dressed,' she said, in a deep ringing voice, 'and you have unpacked? That's right. I am glad you are so expeditious. The matron has asked me to look after you. Would you like to see our ward? You are with me, you know.'

'Am I? I am glad of that,' said the girl frankly. 'Yes, I am quite ready. I should like to see the ward.'

'We have an hour before supper,' continued the newcomer. 'I must introduce myself,' she added, with a frank smile. 'I am Sister Gray—Deborah Gray is my name. Yours is Nugent, I know, and you come from Dublin, do you not?'

'I do,' said Nellie.

'I hope we shall be friends, I like Irish people so much. I have known several in my time. If you ever feel homesick for sound of "the brogue,"' she added, smilingly, 'you will only have to pay a visit to the accident ward. There is sure to be one or more of your compatriots there. They seem to have a monopoly of broken heads and limbs.'

'Oh, they are dreadful people,' laughed Nellie. 'I am not at all anxious to renew acquaintance with them, I assure you.'

She glanced round the tiny room to see that everything was neatly stored away. The space was almost as limited as in a ship's cabin; the furniture was of the plainest description.

Then she followed her new acquaintance into the long, bare corridor, and out of the nurse's quarters into the hospital itself.

There were about ten beds in the cool, whitewashed ward. They were all occupied but one, and the occupants were all men.

Nellie noted that fact with surprise. She had not expected to be put on to the male ward as her first experience of hospital nursing.

Sister Gray moved about from one bed to another, asking questions, or saying a cheery word to the sufferers.

'There are no bad cases here now,' she said to Nellie. 'But we have had two or three very serious; one fatal, yesterday—typhoid.'

She looked at the empty bed significantly. Nellie felt a sudden chill come over her. Death, as an abstract thing, is so different to the tragedy of an actual fact. She stood a moment or two by the vacant bed while Deborah Gray went on talking to one of the nurses in charge.

They glanced with some curiosity at the new comer. She was so young, and so very pretty. They thought both facts told against any use or proficiency in the profession she had chosen. Some of them put it down as of the 'fads' of modern young ladyism, wearied of ballrooms, or a martyr to slighted affections.

Suddenly the door of the ward opened, and a sister entered hurriedly.

'You have a vacant bed here,' she said. 'Yes, I see, No. 7. Someone is just coming in. Here, quick,'—and she turned to Nellie:— 'Turn down the sheets. Ah, you are the new nurse! Let me see what you can do? Get the basin and sponge, and, Sister Gray, show her where the waterproof sheet is.'

The patient was brought in as she spoke. He was wrapped in a blanket, and lying on a trolly, which a man rolled into the ward. Meanwhile Nellie had collected the articles the sister mentioned, and brought them to the bedside.

'Slip off his shirt and wash him,' was the next order. 'Where's the hot water? Why didn't you bring that at the same time? There's the tap over there in the corridor. Dear me, how slow you are.'

Sister Gray came to the girl's assistance, but the head sister insisted on her washing the patient, while she stood over her, critical and impatient, as was her wont with the novices.

It was a hateful business, Nellie thought, but she had to do it. Nursing takes no count of sex or fine feelings. The man was young, but so wasted and haggard—so dishevelled and ghastly an object—that it was impossible to guess what he was like.

'Enteric fever,' said the house surgeon, when he had examined the patient. 'A bad case—neglected, I should say. He was brought from some low lodging-house in Westminster.' He gave the necessary directions as to medicine and diet, spoke to the nurse as to the expected symptoms, and then left the ward.

Nellie remained standing by the side of the bed. She felt very sad and very compassionate. The man's hot, restless hands, slender almost to emaciation, moved ceaselessly over the coverlet. His head, from which the matted fair locks had been cut, tossed to and fro on the pillows. Disjointed words fell from the parched and blackened lips.

'Come,' whispered Sister Gray, softly; 'you have done all you need for to-night. Here comes the nurse who will take charge of him. We can go.'

'Just one moment,' pleaded the girl, 'let me see him take the drink. He keeps moaning for water.'

Sister Gray looked amused.

'You'll never do for here,' she said, 'if you let your sympathies run away with your duty. The day nurses do nothing after nine o'clock, and considering we rise before five, we are fully entitled to the relief. Come along, I must show you where the bandages and things are kept. The sister in charge will expect you to know all that to-morrow. By the way, is this the first time you ever washed a sick person?'

'Yes,' said the girl, colouring faintly. 'Why?'

'Oh, I thought it must be,' said the other, drily. 'From the way you went to work. You can't afford the time to be so very gentle in a hospital, my dear.'

Nellie said nothing, only followed her from place to place, noticing the taps for hot or cold water, the cupboards and presses where all the necessary articles were stored, marvelling at the beautiful cleanliness and order of it all.

By that time the hour for supper had arrived, and Deborah Gray took her down to the airy, cheerful room, where the day nurses were congregated. The meal consisted of tinned meats, salad, and bread and cheese. Syphons of aerated water and jugs of milk stood at intervals down the long table. Everything was very plain and homely. 'You can have ale or stout,' said Deborah Gray, as she saw Nellie glance hesitatingly at the bottles.

The girl would have given anything for a cup of tea. She had tasted nothing since the mid-day luncheon at her aunt's in Hampstead, where she had been staying. However, she had not courage to ask for what was evidently against the rules, and so took some milk and soda-water. She had no appetite, and it would have required something more inviting than bread and cheese or 'Libby' to tempt her to eat on this hot August night. She played with a morsel of bread on her plate, and took in with quick ears and eyes the discussions and faces around the table. She marvelled they could all be so merry and so talkative—so readily throw off the anxieties and horrors of the day—so easily discuss 'cases' and lose sight of the suffering personality the word embodied.

'I see you are wondering at us,' said her new friend, presently. 'You will be just the same by-and-by. It doesn't do to let oneself take this life in too serious a fashion. Why we would wear ourselves out body and mind if we did. This is our hour of recreation and forgetfulness. We have done our best; the day's work is over. It is our playtime, if we like to make it so.'

'Have you been a nurse long?' asked Nell.

'Yes,' said Deborah Gray. 'I was at a hospital in Manchester for many years. Then I came to London.'

'And, at first?' asked Nell, timidly.

'Oh, at first I thought it was dreadful. I used to cry myself to sleep over the sufferings I witnessed. But I soon learnt the folly of that. Now I can go through anything—operations, accidents, horrors of all sorts, and not "turn a hair" as men say. One has to train one's nerves. Tears are the refuge of amateur nurses whose heartstrings tremble at every change. We professionals can't afford that luxury. Humanity and science have so much to learn, and gain, that a "case" becomes possessed of quite impersonal interest. You feel its importance for a cause more than its horrors as a result. Here, especially,' she added, 'we get terrible patients. Such loathsome, degraded, filthy objects are brought in that one wonders if they are human beings at all.'

'I wonder who that man is that was brought to our ward,' said Nellie, thoughtfully. 'I can't help fancying he is a gentleman. His hands were not common hands.'

'No. I noticed that. Perhaps he is a gentleman, in very low water, I should say, poor fellow. Where did they say he came from?'

'Near Westminster, I believe.'

'Ah, very likely. Poverty has its own fashionable quarters. Were you interested in him?'

'Well, he was my first patient,' said the girl, smiling.

'I hope,' said Sister Gray, 'that you may not be his last nurse.'

Nellie started; her wide blue eyes looked appealingly at the speaker.

'Oh, you don't think he will die?' she exclaimed.

'I should say there was every chance of it,' was the quiet answer. 'I know the symptoms. He was as bad as he could possibly be.'

'He shall not die if I can help it,' said the girl with sudden decision. 'The first case I have had anything to do with here. I should think it awfully unlucky.'

'Ah, you are superstitious, like most of your nation,' said Deborah Gray. 'That, also, you will get out of here. It is a fine school for nerves and coolness, and the shattering of all little feminine weaknesses. Not that we are heartless, by any means; but we learn to cultivate common sense and to banish emotions. When you begin to take a scientific interest in your patients it need not lessen your sympathy, but be sure it will weaken it.'

Nell looked at her with wondering curiosity. There was something hard and resolute about the dark, earnest face, and yet the eyes were kind, she thought—too kind to be strangers to the weakness at which she scoffed.

Deborah Gray was, in fact, an enthusiast in the profession she had adopted. Had she been a man she would have selected the medical profession above all others. Being a woman she had made up her mind to be one of the first nurses of the day. Her coolness and skill and nerve had won her notice already among the doctors whose cases she had undertaken. She was known as entirely reliable in the operating ward, even when much older and more experienced nurses failed. She had had several years' experience in a Manchester hospital before coming to this famous London one, and she was rather surprised that a novice like Nellie Nugent had managed to get in. But she had taken a strong liking to the pretty Irish girl, and when Deborah Gray took such a liking it generally meant she had good reasons for doing so. She was an excellent judge of character, and if her keen intellect and good sense sometimes erred on the side of hardness to what she termed 'headless noodles,' on the other hand she was very ready to acknowledge the merits of her associates.

She was a great favourite with the matron and the house surgeon. The wildest or most frivolous student never chaffed Sister Gray, or treated her with anything but grave respect. If she was without the feminine attractions of beauty and gentleness, she made up for it by the frank, generous spirit of 'camaraderie' which so many women lack; by her intelligence, and straight-forward plain speaking. One felt she was a woman of purpose, a believer in earnest well-doing; no dreamer or idler or romancist; just a useful woman in her right groove, and thankful she had found it.

When supper was over she introduced Nell to several of the other nurses, and chatted away in friendly fashion till bedtime.

Then she went up with Nellie to her room. Her own was next to it.

'The lights must be out by half-past ten,' she said, as she bade her good-night. 'I hope you will be able to sleep. I know it must all seem strange at first. You will be called before five o'clock. Be as quick as you can dressing, and strip your bed and open the ventilators, and leave your room tidy. You will have to sweep and dust it yourself after breakfast. Now good-night. I won't keep you talking.'

They shook hands, and Nell went into her tiny chamber and commenced to undress. It certainly was all very strange, as Deborah Gray had said. Very different to a girl's home life, very different to her rose-coloured dreams of what it would be. These hateful duties, these brisk unsympathetic women, these strict rules, the plain unappetising food. They were all painful realities, and yet she was glad she had carried her point and come here. Her parents were dead, her sisters were married and gone abroad. Her aunt in Dublin, with whom she had lived, had a large family of her own, and Nell had always felt the 'one too many' there. She had tried governessing, but that had proved a hateful experience, and then she had resolved on becoming a nurse.

And a nurse she was in real earnest, with a two years' novitiate before her. She hung up the lilac print dress, and folded the cap and apron neatly and carefully, and began to brush out the long soft coils of her red-brown hair. Her face looked pale and grave, her rosy mouth was set in firm lines of resolve.

'I'll go through with it, I'm determined,' she said. 'It is the best thing to do with my life, for I shall never marry—now.'

The 'now' held a meaning of its own—the meaning that a girl's heart gives to some idol of clay—dethroned, shattered, yet unforgotten.

A poet's fancy has commemorated the fact that it is better to have 'loved and lost' than never to have loved at all, but he says nothing about having loved unworthily.

There had been no shadow of inconstancy in Nell's bright and trusting spirit, but it had met with poor return. She had loved and fancied herself beloved; and then had come suspicion—disillusion—a quick, fierce battle with pride—and all was over.

They had parted. He had gone his way, and she—well, she was now only Nurse Nugent in a big hospital, with the badge of professional servitude staring at her from the peg in the wardrobe, and the sense of lost liberty ringing in her ears in the mandate echoing through the long corridor—'All lights out!'


CHAPTER II.

IT seemed very strange to Nell to be called at a quarter to 5, and to find herself with breakfast finished, and the day's work begun, at an hour when she had usually been sound asleep. She swept and dusted her little room, and arranged a few photographs and books and knick-knacks, to give it a more homely appearance. Then came the return to the wards, and the duties necessary before the doctors came round to visit the patients.

Her own 'case' was very bad, and the doctor, after seeing him and giving the necessary instructions, expressed a doubt that he would pull through.

The morning sped rapidly on. At a quarter to 1 she left the ward with the first batch of nurses for dinner. At 1 they had to return to duty again.

Every nurse had two hours off during the day. They were expected to do a little classwork or hear a lecture from the matron, and then take some exercise. Nell would have felt very strange and very puzzled but for Deborah Gray. She took her in hand from the first, and explained and helped her with a ready kindness that touched the warm-hearted Irish girl very deeply.

Shortly after nine o'clock all the day nurses had to leave the ward, and those on night duty came in their place. Supper was served between half-past nine and ten, and Nell found herself absolutely hungry by that time, and able to enjoy the bread and cheese and crisp cool lettuces, as she had never dreamt of doing.

She felt tired and quite ready for bed to-night, and her light was out before the night sister came on her rounds. She slept soundly and dreamlessly. It seemed to her that she had only closed her eyes when the getting-up bell sounded.

The routine of each day was exactly the same, and she soon fell into it. Her time was fully occupied, and the first week glided by with a quickness that surprised her. She liked her work, and did it conscientiously and strictly. Watchful eyes were observing her, but they found no fault save that of inexperience. Meanwhile the fever ran its course, and her patient passed stage after stage to the crisis. Then to the doctor's surprise he rallied and began slowly to mend.

Nell was triumphant. She had hoped even when hope seemed useless. She had dreaded beyond all things that death might claim as his prey this first patient of hers. But now the verdict was given, 'Out of danger,' and she knew that good nursing and regular nourishment were all he required. Her interest in him was purely impersonal, but he had signalised her own entrance into the hospital, and was for ever to be associated with it.

She watched every phase of his recovery with growing interest, from the hour when he struggled back from the topsy-turvy world of delirium to some dim recognition of those about him, until the day when his sunken eyes looked passionate gratitude at her compassionate face, and faltered thanks for her care of him.

Meanwhile the hot August days dragged themselves on, and Nell began to think regretfully of the day when he would be discharged as cured. She almost wished he would not progress so rapidly.

There were only three more patients in the ward now, and one afternoon she and Sister Gray were the only nurses in attendance.

The windows were wide open, the blinds were drawn; most of the patients were slumbering in the drowsy mid-day heat. Nell sat by the side of her special charge with some work in her hand. He was lying back with closed eyes; she fancied he was asleep.

The sound of his voice, subdued by weakness, fell on her ear.

'Have I been long here?' he asked.

She looked at him, and saw he was gazing intently at her. She smiled.

'I can tell you to a day or an hour,' she said. 'For you were brought here the very day I entered on my duties, three weeks ago.'

'Three weeks,' he murmured, 'only three weeks.' There was a long silence. 'You have been very good to me,' he said at last, very good. I—I hope I was not troublesome—or violent?'

'Oh, no,' she said lightly; 'you were much too weak for that.'

'Was I very ill?' he asked, with some hesitation.

'As bad as you could be,' said the girl. 'I often wonder how you could have fallen into such a state. Was there no one to look after you, or care for you in any way?'

A faint touch of colour came into the pallid cheek.

'No,' he said. 'I am only a waif and stray on the roadway of life. A friendless, homeless man, with no friends and no ties. I wonder why death chose to pass me by. I have nothing to look forward to—nothing to care for, or no one to care for me. What can life mean under such circumstances?'

The girl's work had dropped on her lap. Her large soft eyes were fastened on his face with wondering sympathy.

'Is that true, really?' she faltered. 'But you are——'

He smiled bitterly.

'A gentleman, you were going to say. Well, if birth means anything, and education does anything, I may lay claim to that title. But a working man would have a better chance of earning a livelihood than I have. I can only use my brains, and hands are in larger demand, and a thousand times more useful. There is no market price for my wares. I fancy most of them have gone to light fires or line an editor's wastepaper basket.'

'You are a writer?' she said eagerly.

'I am an unsuccessful journalist,' he said. 'Starvation has been my only wage as yet—and then illness overtook me—and harpies preyed on me. Everything went for food or medicine, or rent of that wretched hole where I had found shelter. And that is all I can remember till I seemed to wake from a hell of pain and suffering, and I saw a face tender and full of pity gazing at me. I have often longed to ask how one so young and pretty (I may say that I am so old in years and suffering in comparison to you) came to be a hospital nurse.'

'It was my own wish,' she said. 'I too am adrift on the sea of life with no very certain anchorage. I thought I should like this sort of work, and so I took it up.'

'You are not English?'

'How soon everyone finds that out! The curse of "the brogue" seems to follow an Irish person all the world over.'

'It can be no curse to you,' he said. 'Your voice is so sweet and so full of sympathy. I envy the patients who will succeed me.'

'But you won't go for a long time yet,' she said, quickly. 'You are still very weak. You are not fit to take up work of any sort. You mustn't think of such a thing.'

'God bless your kind heart,' he said, a sort of sob rising in his throat. 'There must be angels still in the world if there are many women like you in it.'

'Oh, nonsense!' said Nell, drawing her pretty arched brows in a slight frown. 'I have done very little. It all came under the head of duty.'

'But duty,' he said, 'does not teach that gentleness of touch and look, that sympathy and patience which you have wasted on such a worthless wretch as I am!'

'Ah, you must be getting better,' said the girl, demurely. 'You are beginning to abuse yourself, and get impatient with things generally. That is always a good sign.'

He sighed heavily. He thought how dreary life had been, how utterly devoid of love or sympathy, or womanly care. He wondered how long it would be before that fair young face would cease to haunt him, as of late it had a trick of doing. The result of weakness, he told himself. Weakness and long absence from all gracious and feminine influences.

There were no conventional barriers here. They were simply nurse and patient. They might talk as they pleased. No one listened to or misjudged them. Idleness and weakness had swept away much of his natural reserve. It was a relief to speak to someone of long-endured trials, of the misery of hopeless hours burdened by mental activity, yet barren of all expected results.

And such had been Dick Barrymore's fate for many a long year. He was but thirty, yet he felt aged and tired and hopeless. The wheel of fortune had turned persistently the wrong way for him. He had tried his best, but it seemed that other men's 'worst' had had a better chance of success. His style was not the catchy, claptrap style that goes down with the public. He was too independent in his views to please editors—always the most intolerant of any species of professional men. He had given up the struggle in despair, writing 'Failure' across each returned MS., where others might have written 'Fame.' And now he woke up once more as the battle cry of life sounded in a hospital ward. Woke up and asked himself the old vain Cui bono as he watched his nurse's busy fingers, and listened to her soft, pretty voice.

A sister, a cousin, a love like that—someone to work for—might have roused his jaded energies, inspired his wearied brain.

But he had no one. No one at all. And he sighed and turned his face to the wall. Away from the golden sunlight filtering through the blinds; away even from the dainty figure in its lilac gown and snowy apron, and prayed for death.

She thought he was tired and had fallen asleep. She went on with her work, and the ward lapsed into its old drowsy calm.

Presently Deborah Gray rose and began to make some tea with her little spirit-stand and kettle. The only chance the day nurses had of securing a cup of their favourite beverage was in some undisturbed half-hour like the present, when the patients needed no special attention.

She made a sign to Nell, and the girl folded up her work and went over to the window seat where the cups and tray were standing.

The two nurses talked in whispers. It was very hot; not a breath of air seemed to stir the blind. The room was intensely quiet; the only sound was the breathing of the patients.

Nell glanced at her own special charge. 'I would give him some tea if he were awake,' she said. 'I am sure he would like it.'

'They always like what is bad for them,' said Deborah Gray. 'You're enough to spoil any patient, Nell.'

She had almost from the first dropped the formal 'Nurse' in addressing her except when they were on duty. Her first interest had developed into a warm friendliness that was infinitely comforting to the pretty Irish girl.

'But it wouldn't hurt him,' pleaded Nell. 'And the poor fellow is so low and dejected.'

'No, no, my dear,' said Deborah Gray firmly. 'The others would want it too, and that would never do. You must learn to curb your sympathies, as I have told you before. It is a good thing this has not been a very bad case. You are much too interested in it as it is.'

'He seems to have been very unfortunate,' said Nell, with a glance at the quiet figure in the distance. 'He tells me he has no relatives or friends, and is in very low water. What will become of him when he leaves here?'

'That, again, is a habit you must get out of,' said Deborah Gray. 'Thinking what becomes of "discharged cases." Once they leave here we rarely ever hear of them again. However grateful they seem, the gratitude rarely outlasts the first day of freedom, the return to life outside the hospital walls.'

She put her cup beside Nell's, on the little tray.

'It is time for your patient's arrowroot,' she said. 'I see he is awake.'

Nell went over to the sick man with the nourishment that had been brought in. He raised himself on his elbow and took a few spoonfuls out of the cup she held. After a moment he sank back on the pillows.

'You are not so strong as you thought,' she said. 'Let me feed you as I used to do.'

He shook his head. 'I can't take any more,' he said, and looking up met the sudden soft anxiety of her eyes. 'Ah, why do you mind; why do you trouble?' he said. 'If you had left me to die it would have been better. There is no one to miss me.'

'You should not talk like that,' she said, gently, as she put down the cup on the table beside him and rearranged the pillow. 'It is ungrateful. Besides it is not for us to say whether we would live or die. That is all directed for us, for the best.'

'You dear little Puritan,' he said, with a faint smile. 'It is easy to see you have not known the full measure of suffering. Yours is the easy faith of women—bred in sentiment and unknowing evil or temptation. A man looks at life and God and hell with different eyes. Think of all the teeming millions in this great city; think of the misery, the poverty, the crime, the vileness that even one street of it—east or west—may hold, and then ask yourself if it is all for the best. But there, do not let us talk of such things. It is not good for you, or wise for me. I have looked at madness too nearly, through the eyes of despair, to dwell upon its manifold causes now.'

Nell was silent. She was wondering how anyone so clever could have fallen into such straits. No one had ever spoken to her like this—had ever hinted that the tree of knowledge held more evil fruit than good—that the pretty platitudes of faith in the higher wisdom were but meaningless things at best; lip utterances that had no root.

The troubled look deepened on her face; it had grown thinner and paler already in this close hospital, in these hot, airless days.

He, lying there and watching her, read her clear soul like an open page. He was skilled in reading men and women—skilled in drawing their portraits with the sharp penmanship of scorn. From youth upwards his soul had been vexed with problems that others had accepted or passed by. He had been unable to do either. The faculty of probing into depths, of sounding alike the shallows or the depths in human souls, had been with him a second nature. It was his manner of using this faculty that had made him unpopular, that had barred every avenue through which he had adventured in search of fame.

And yet, with the feeble pulse of returning health, the old feelings awoke, the old scorn began to throb and quiver in his veins. He found himself studying this weak, girlish creature, with a searching and yet compassionate understanding of her sex and its frailties. He had no belief that anything deeper than a whim of the moment had led her to take her present position. She had probably wearied of ballroom flirtations, or perhaps loved unworthily without return, or quarrelled with her home circle, or craved for notoriety or novelty in the sameness of girlish duties. One or other, or perchance a combination of all those reasons, had no doubt influenced her into accepting this place; and even her interest and sympathy for himself lost something of its sweetness when he remembered that to her he could only present the novelty of a first case.

As she turned silently away, as she moved to and fro in the long, bare room, as he watched the sunbeams falling on her chestnut hair, and wavering ever and again about the slender grace of her dainty figure, he still tried to steel himself against such purely feminine attractiveness.

She was only one in a petticoated crowd; only one of the sex who called themselves 'suppressed' whenever insatiable vanity, or ambition preyed upon their jaded passions. He closed his eyes against the charm of her presence, even as he closed them against the golden light filtering through the closed blinds; the warm sunny afternoon light telling of the world without, of hurrying footsteps and busy crowds, of the race for life and all that makes it precious in the eyes of men.

He must go forth again into that crowd, join in the race, pursue the fleeting phantoms of ambition and success.

The sea of despair had cast him up from its black depths. His pulse beat feebly; but with returning life to the battle strain of necessity. Once more came the cry, 'Gird up thy loins, the day is at hand.'

And yet, like Hezekiah of old, he would fain have turned his face to the wall and wept.


CHAPTER III.

Deborah Gray and Nell were taking an airing on the top of an omnibus that went to Putney. The heat was intense, though the sun was obscured by a thick haze. The roads were dry and dusty, the leaves on the trees were brown and seared, the grass in the parks looked parched; a hot rainless summer had done its best to rob nature of her town attractions. The air bore the echoes of sighs for sea and country and mountainside from the poor and the workers of the Great Babylon. Everywhere was the oppressive sense of stifling heat. The very leaves were still, and the muzzled dogs lay panting on doorstops, and in any chance corner where the shade was to be found.

'It is as hot outside as in,' said Nell, as the omnibus turned into Brampton road. 'Oh for a breath of the sea; a screen of green leaves in a wood. I never thought I loved trees so well as since I left Ireland. No wonder they call it the Emerald Isle. Everywhere green woods, green fields, green hedges, no stunted trees and lopped branches such as here one is always seeing. You have never been there, Debbie, I do wish I could take you straight off with me for a long holiday. How we would enjoy it.'

'You have been just a month at your work,' said Deborah Gray, 'and already talk of a holiday.'

'A day like this would make anyone talk of it,' said the girl. 'You see I have never been cooped up in a city in the summer time till now.'

'It must be a little trying; but this weather won't last much longer. There will be a rattling good thunderstorm to-day, and then we shall have a breathable atmosphere once more.'

'It can't come too soon to please me,' said Nell. 'I feel quite fagged out. I can't sleep, it is so hot. From four o'clock this morning to the time I got up I was sitting at my window trying to get a breath of cool air.'

'And you certainly eat next to nothing. Do you know, Nell, I often fear you won't have strength to go on with this life. It is too hard for you; you haven't the physical strength for it.'

'The doctors said I was organically sound in every respect,' said Nell, indignantly. 'What nonsense. Not strong!—I am as strong as any of you. It is only this hot weather that has knocked me up.' Then she laughed softly. 'It sounds so satisfactory—organically strong. Such nice words, you know.'

'Your constitution had never been taxed when that certificate was given,' said Deborah Gray. 'And besides, you are a fanciful little creature; you think more of your patients as individuals than as cases. However, we shall see. I give you six months, and if you lose your enthusiasm, and cultivate common sense, and don't worry over the sufferings you have to witness, and don't mind a snub from the sisters or a little "cattishness" on the part of the nurses, you may struggle on; but my opinion is you won't. Hospital work is too hard and too trying for you.'

Nell was silent. The little grain of truth in the plain speech hurt her. She hated to think she might be pronounced incompetent; might fail, might really justify the prophetic forebodings that had been her only 'God speed' from friends and relatives.

So she remained silent, and Deborah Gray, looking at the pale little face, found herself tenderly hopeful that something would happen to draw her back from this life. She felt it was not suited to her, nor she to it; but at present there was very little use in saying so. Time would show who was right.

'So you will lose your patient to-morrow,' she said, presently, with a view to changing the subject. 'Have you any idea what he will do when he leaves the hospital?'

'He is going to Dublin,' said Nell, with on odd, little smile.

Deborah Gray looked at her with sudden, sharp attention.

'Do you mean to say you have succeeded?' she asked quickly. 'You never told me.'

'No. I wanted to be quite sure first. I told you I had written to my brother?'

'Yes, the sub-editor of a newspaper, you said.'

'Well, they had a vacancy on their staff. I don't know the technical name, but it has something to do with reviewing, and what they call useful "pars." At all events, it is better than starvation. I worked up Harry's interest on behalf of my unfortunate patient, and he has got the post. He will go straight to Dublin, and Harry will look after him. He is the most good-natured soul in the world, and would do anything for me. So it's all settled.'

'Well, if you are going to start your patients in life as well as nurse them back to it, you will have your hands full,' said Deborah Gray, with a smile at the excited little face. 'You must curb this spirit of philanthropy, my child. No wonder your first case has taken so much out of you.'

'It has taken nothing out of me,' declared Nell, stoutly. 'I am as well as any of you. You will see, when once this heat is over; I shall be quite myself again.'

'We won't argue. It is too hot,' said her friend quietly. 'Even if the subject were worth arguing about. I hope he may prove grateful, and I hope he will repay the loan you are to make him.'

Nell turned a scarlet face to that dark, quiet one by her side.

'How do you know? What do you mean?' she exclaimed.

'I don't know. I only conclude that it will be so,' said Deborah Gray, coolly. 'I am sure he has nothing. He was destitute of anything except pawn-tickets when his clothes were taken off. Well, I naturally suppose he cannot got to Dublin without a ticket, or live on air until his first month's salary is due. You are young and enthusiastic, and you think he is a genius, and there is no nobler task in life than that of assisting genius. I thought so too, once,' she added, with a little touch of bitterness. 'But I have learnt wisdom since those days, Nell. Am I glad? I often wonder. On the whole I think I almost envy you for being able to play fairy godmother. It is more blessed to give than to receive, we are told. I wonder if you will find it so?'

'Whether I do or not,' said Nell, 'it will make no difference. My only difficulty has been in persuading him to take any help, even on the common-sense representation that he could not get to the place where he would be able to earn means of repayment without incurring the obligation of repayment. It is very hard for a woman to persuade a man to let her help him.'

'I have known some men,' said Deborah, 'who needed very little persuasion, or would dispense with it altogether if the woman wished.'

'Ah, that is one of your bitter sarcastic speeches,' said Nell. 'Dick Barrymore is not that sort of man, not at all.'

'So he is Dick now,' said Deborah. 'We are getting on I see.'

Nell laughed, and the laugh was too frank and heart-whole to be misconstrued.

'I knew you would say that,' she said, 'but you are quite wrong. He told me his name casually. Of course, I don't call him by it to his face.'

'There is no reason why you should not,' said Deborah Gray, 'if it pleased you. Drawing-room manners are not absolutely necessary in a hospital ward. I fancy he would not object. His eyes are very eloquent, at times.'

'I would rather you did not talk like that, Debbie,' said the girl earnestly.

'Indeed you are quite wrong in imagining anything of the sort. I have only tried to comfort him—to help him a little bit. Surely, that is not so very extraordinary.'

'You are a good little soul, Nell, and I can't help saying so. But I do hope you won't let your feelings run away with you. Very few men are to be trusted, and you do look so ridiculously young and innocent,' she added, with a faint sigh.

'It seems to me,' said Nell, 'that my appearance is seriously against me. When I was a governess I was always being told the same thing, and Mrs. Martyn, the lady in whose service (I suppose that is the right word) I was, used to be so disagreeable and so patronising, I felt she disliked me.'

'Has she a husband?' inquired Deborah Gray.

'Oh, yes. He was very nice, and much fonder of the children than his wife.'

'Ah,' said Deborah; 'that accounts for her treatment, no doubt.'

'Oh, Debbie, how can you. You don't mean—What a bad opinion of human nature you seem to have!'

'My experience of it has not shown me its best side perhaps,' said Deborah, quietly.

She looked away through the hot haze of sunshine. Fleeting images of half-forgotten scenes crossed and recrossed each other in her mind. A wider gulf than actual years separated her from this girl by her side. Her eyes burnt with a sombre fire. The sharp sting of memory was piercing through her apparent composure and one unhealed wound throbbed painfully. Nell did not interrupt that silence. The golden rule of friendship is the knowledge of when to speak, and when to hold one's tongue. Nell was beginning to know Deborah Gray very well, and to recognise that she had dark moods and moments best left undisturbed. She never dreamt of asking their cause or their meaning. Some instinct told her that she would never hear them, unless some day confession presented itself in the form of relief to the self-controlled woman.

She admired her with enthusiasm. She recognised in her the strength and helpfulness that she herself lacked. The difference between them was in itself an attraction. Nell was inclined to be enthusiastic from impulse, and to endow those she loved with every possible virtue. Deborah Gray recognised this very quickly, and always checked a too-lavish display of feeling. She did not believe very much in the affection or the admiration of one woman for another. All forms of "gush" or emotion were hateful to her. She had trained herself to coolness, and was somewhat scornful of her sex's constant self-betrayal.

The bitterness of an actual experience is yet less bitter than the distrust it has awakened. It hurt Deborah Gray often to check a natural impulse to be generous or trustful, and yet she had checked it again and again. She said sharp little things to herself respecting such impulses; she kept watch and guard over any errant feeling; she prayed for calmness as other women pray for love. Her ideal of happiness was a composure that could not be ruffled by breath of excitement, or disturbed by external influences.

When she turned again to Nell and spoke, they had almost reached their destination. They changed omnibuses and came back by the same route. In those hot summer days it was their favourite way of taking the air. It was cheap and it was restful, and it gave them a wide knowledge of streets and districts throughout London. On the return journey, Deborah skilfully evaded dangerous topics. She encouraged Nell to talk of her home in Ireland, her early girlhood, of the people and their ways. That bright girlish chatter always amused her. It was like a ripple of sunlight on the gloom of their hospital life. Nell had the Irish faculty of seeing the humorous side of things and of people. Her eye was quick to detect comicalities where others swept by in indifference. But to-day she was conscious of a little sense of fatigue as she rattled on. There was more of effort than real amusement in her descriptions. She talked for talking's sake, and because she knew Debbie wished her to talk. It was a curious feeling, and it impressed her. The little stream of light and frivolous words was checked abruptly.

'How I talk,' she exclaimed, with sudden impatience. 'And what nonsense it is! Why do you let me?'

'Nonsense is good for youth and natural to it,' said Deborah.

'Youth, youth! How you do harp on that. I am not young, I tell you. It seems years and years ago since I was a girl—a girl who cared for the fit of her frocks, and to whom a dance meant rapture. I feel now as if I should never dance again.'

'This is hardly the weather, or the place, to make it an attractive prospect,' said Deborah, gravely. 'But I should not like to put you to the test when the surroundings were suitable.'

'You think I am not to be relied on! I know you do, Debbie. I have a humiliating consciousness of the fact. I wonder if you are right. I know I am not a bit the sort of person I meant to be; yet I began well.'

'We all do,' said Deborah Gray. 'Come, let us go in now; our time isn't up, but this heat is cruel. You look quite white and fagged, child.'

They passed up the steps and into the wide, cool hall. A man was there, talking to the house surgeon. An elderly man, with keen, sharp-cut features and iron-gray hair. His clothes had that foreign 'cut' which bespeaks the traveller.

The surgeon turned to the two nurses as they entered.

'Ah,' he said, 'this is the young lady who had charge of the case. Nurse Nugent, this gentleman is a relative of your patient, Barrymore, ward seven. He tells me he has been searching London for trace of him, and only to-day discovered that he had been brought to this hospital.'

Nell turned to the stranger. He lifted his soft felt hat.

'Richard Barrymore is my nephew,' he said. 'I have just returned from Colorado. His mother was my sister. I have lost sight of them for ten years. I came home a month ago, and all this time I've been tracing this nephew of mine. A nice hunt I've had, and in mighty queer places. He's been very ill, I hear.'

'Very ill,' said Nell, gravely. 'But he is better. He is to leave us to-morrow.'

'Could I see him? I know it's not visiting day, and all that, but perhaps you'd make an exception in my favour?'

The stranger spoke with a slight American accent. His manners were somewhat brusque, but Nell liked his face, and his eyes were kind, she thought.

'Oh, of course, of course, under the circumstances,' said the doctor; 'and as the patient has really recovered, we may say. Step into my room, and I will send for your nephew. Nurse, perhaps you'll tell him as you are going up the ward.'

'Shall I mention your name?' asked Nell, turning towards the stranger.

'Yes, there's no objection. He has probably forgotten me. I've not seen him since he was quite a lad. Here's my card,' he added, handing her one, and taking in with keen eyes the grace of the little figure—the beauty of the small delicately coloured face. 'What a child to be a nurse. Looks like a bit of Dresden china,' he said somewhat gruffly, as the two nurses went up the broad staircase.

'She looks young, but she is older than her looks; a clever little thing, too,' said the doctor approvingly.

'She's one of the new-fangled lady nurses, I suppose,' said Geoffrey Masterman. 'I hear there's quite a crank about it. Girls all crazy to be one because the dress is picturesque, and they look like Madonnas. Stuff and nonsense! What are their mothers about, I wonder.'

'The mothers of the present day,' said the doctor, 'have little influence with their children. They are all too enlightened to heed warnings or believe in an older experience.'

'I wonder what this precious nephew of mine has made of his life,' observed Geoffrey Masterman. 'He was always a bit cocksure as a boy, I remember. His mother, poor soul, spoilt him a bit. She thought there had never been a boy so gifted and intelligent, and so morally perfect. It is those wonderful boys who always go to the wall.'

He put his hands in his pockets and strolled up and down the room, waiting for the appearance of the 'wonderful boy,' who had achieved manhood in those years of absence and fortune seeking.

When the door opened, and Dick entered, he stopped and stared as if he had seen a ghost.

'Good heavens, boy! How you've changed,' he exclaimed. 'And how like you are to your poor mother.'

He took the thin, emaciated hands in his own, and wrung them with a force of affection that made his nephew wince. His eyes took in the sharp outlines of the features, the worn, thin frame on which the shabby clothes hung loosely.

A queer, choking sensation rose in his throat. He thought of the dead mother, who had so loved and believed in her son. Perhaps death had been kinder in closing those adoring eyes to a change so heart-breaking.

'I'm very glad to see you, Uncle Geoffrey,' said Dick, presently. 'I know I look an awful scarecrow. Please don't look so distressed; I've been very ill, you know.'

'So I hear,' said Geoffrey Masterman, clearing his throat, and beginning his restless walk once more.

The doctor went out of the room and left the two men together.


CHAPTER IV.

It was an awkward moment for both.

Geoffrey Masterman's conscience rebuked him for years of neglect and silence, while this, his only near relative, had been fighting the battle of life. He had promised his sister to look after her boy. He had broken that promise. He had been far too much engrossed in amassing fortune—far too eager in the pursuit of solid investments and profitable speculations, to think of the youth, struggling single-handed with the giants of poverty and despair.

A wave of remorse swept over him. He was the possessor of millions of dollars. He had silver mines and oil wells, and railway shares, and western mortgages, and this man, his next-of-kin, had been brought penniless and dying to a public hospital.

He paused opposite Dick. He gave a swift, shamed glance at the pale, thin face.

'Dick, my boy,' he said abruptly, 'I'm afraid you've had a tough fight for it. I wish I had known. Why didn't you write to me?'

'I didn't know where you were. America is rather a vague address, you know.'

'True, boy, true. It was my fault. I have been forgetful. But you were at college. I thought you had a grand career before you. What has happened? Come, sit down and tell me.'

And briefly, and with no undue dwelling on the miseries and hardships he had endured, Dick Barrymore related the same story that he had poured out in a moment of weakness to his pretty nurse. His very reticence about his own sufferings and his own feelings touched the older man as no complaint would have done.

The springs of life had run down very low. The tired face, the tired voice, the spiritless patience, these were the things with which young manhood should have naught to do. They were things Geoffrey Masterman had never known, and in some new vague way they hurt him. He sat by the table, one restless hand turning the leaves of a medical book, the other shading his face. When he spoke at last his voice was strangely quiet.

'It has been hard for you—terribly hard. But that's all over now. I've come back in the nick of time, it seems to me. You're leaving here, they said. What—had you any plans?'

'Yes.' The white face brightened, a softer light came into the brown, sunken eyes. 'I have found a friend here who has been very good to me. It is through her influence I have secured employment again.'

'Here? A woman then?'

'Yes—the woman who has nursed me back to life.'

'What!' and Geoffrey Masterman sprang up excitedly. 'That little dolly-faced creature I saw. Do you mean to say you call her a friend. That you would let her help you!'

'Why not?' asked Dick, simply. 'It is a case of "needs must." Through her I have got a post on an Irish newspaper, and I am to start to-morrow for Dublin. You have no idea how kind she has been—all she has done for me.'

His voice broke. He was still so weak that any emotion mastered his ordinary self-control. 'I can never be grateful enough,' he went on presently. 'But for her I should have died. To her I owe not only life, but the chance to make something of it still.'

'Humph!' said his uncle, gruffly. 'So that's it, eh? Those pretty nurses are the devil for getting round men in their weak moments. Catch me ever having one. Well, well, my boy, this was all right and square as long as you were ill and friendless, as you say. But that's all altered now. I'll make the pretty nurse a handsome present to buy herself a gown, or some woman's fallals with, and you and I——'

'My dear uncle!' gasped Dick. 'For goodness sake don't insult this girl by offering her money! She's a lady as—as my mother was. She has only taken up nursing out of tender-hearted sympathy with the poor sufferers who are brought to these hospitals. She is going to devote her life to their service. It is very noble of her, and very self-denying.'

'Yes,' said Geoffrey Masterman, dryly, 'it is. How old is she, this noble young martyr? About seventeen, I should say, from her looks.'

'Oh, she is much older than that,' said Dick, 'and quite a woman in her ways—her thoughtfulness and delicacy and sympathy.'

Geoffrey Masterman looked at him with grim amusement.

'It strikes me,' he said, 'that you are leaving one disease behind you here, and taking away another. Heart complaint, I fancy, brought on by sympathy, and studying a woman's worth in the performance of hospital duty. It won't do, my boy. It won't do. You must come away with me. We'll go to Switzerland, Italy, Russia, anywhere you please, and you'll pick up your health, and I'll look after you for the future. I've no son, Dick, and I shall never marry now. All I have shall be yours, my boy, and I'll put everything ship-shape at once. You can find plenty of work as my secretary, if you must work, and you can write your books, or whatever it is you do write, unhampered by the rapacity of publishers, or the ignorance or bad taste of the public at large. Come, cheer up. Don't pull a long face like that. Your troubles are over, and you shall live life as a young man ought to live it. But no philandering, mind! no hankering after pretty nurses, or nonsense of that sort. You shall travel, you shall enjoy the good things of this world, you shall get your grip on mankind in general, and make them smart for past insolence. You can do it, I know. I read power in your face, sarcasm on your lip. I like you, Dick, and I shall be proud of you, I know. I'm not sorry that you've had this tussle with Fate, that you've learnt the meaning of hardship. One takes these things better young, believe me.'

He stopped at last, and Dick looked up at his excited face.

'You are very good,' he said, drawing a deep breath, 'very good. I can't refuse your generous offer. But I am fond of my independence, uncle, and I can't live a life of idleness.'

Geoffrey Masterman laughed.

'I'm not asking you to do that. I'll find you work enough, never fear.'

'But what about this appointment,' continued Dick. 'I have accepted it, and they expect me to-morrow. I hardly like to put them off. Besides, Miss Nugent took so much trouble——'

'Good little soul!' said Geoffrey Masterman, with an approving nod. 'Well, you must write and say your circumstances have altered, and you are unable to accept the appointment. Why, you only look fit for nursing and coddling still. Well, it's my turn to look after you. You'll just come straight away with me, and see if I don't make a different man of you before another month's out. Is there,'—and his hand went to his pocket in a fashion that was the outcome of an overflowing purse and a consciousness of many possessions—'Is there anything to pay before you leave?'

Dick coloured hotly.

'No, of course not,' he said. 'Hospitals like these are free. But you can give a donation to the building if you like. I should suggest a cheque, or a yearly subscription, if you prefer it.'

'Very well. I'll write out a cheque, and you go and get your traps together, Dick, and we'll say goodbye to this place for ever I hope.'

'I've no "traps," except what you see me in,' said Dick. 'I was brought here without my own knowledge. I expect that the few things I left behind have been sold to pay the rent of my room. But I'll go upstairs and say goodbye to the nurses, and then I'm quite ready to come with you, uncle. By the way, I've no hat.'

'What's to be done? Couldn't you borrow one from the students or one of the doctors?'

'I will ask the house surgeon,' said Dick. 'Perhaps, on the strength of your cheque, uncle, they will be charitable enough to lend me a head covering.'

'If we were in America it wouldn't matter,' observed Geoffrey Masterman, 'but they're so almighty respectable and particular in this country!'

'They read a man's character in London by the cut of his coat,' said Dick, bitterly. 'I have learnt that long ago, Uncle Geoffrey. But here comes Dr. Mowbray. Let us put our case to him.'

A case backed by a millionaire's cheque, the romance of a returned uncle, and a rescued nephew, appealed strongly to the charitable side of the house surgeon.

It was altogether so extraordinary, so unprecedented, so much more like the chapter of a novel than the prose of reality. Of course, a hat could be supplied to the now discharged patient, whose gratitude and memory were set to the tune of a hundred pounds. And then Dick went up to the ward to say goodbye to Nell and Deborah Gray, and to thank them for the care and attention of the past weeks.

He was very quiet. He seemed in no way elated at this sudden stroke of fortune. Nell was a thousand times more excited over it than he was. It seemed to her the most wonderful story she had ever heard.

He held her little hand a long time; he was trying to summon courage to tell her of his passionate gratitude; his grateful remembrance, but the words would not come. He resolved to write to her. He faltered out a few broken words that besought permission to do so, and then a mist seemed to come before his eyes, and the ward and the white beds, and the little figure he had learnt to know so well, all reeled and swam hazily before him.

He released her hand and braced himself up, and walked away down the long room, out of the door, with slow, unsteady steps. She stood there watching him, and then went silently over to the window, and gazed out at the street below. A cab was waiting. She saw him enter, followed by his uncle. The door closed, the horse sprang forward. Her lips parted as if to say 'goodbye,' but no word escaped.

She turned away. In all the ward she seemed conscious of nothing but that one empty bed. Mechanically, she went up and smoothed the pillows; her hand lingered over the snowy coverlet.

She heard a voice speaking to her, somewhat sharply. 'Strip that bed, nurse, and get it ready. It is sure to be wanted soon.'

It was the voice of the head sister. And then Nell remembered she was only a hospital nurse, whose first patient had been discharged—cured.


CHAPTER V.

Nell had been nine months in the hospital. She had nursed many 'cases' since that memorable first one—had seen all that illness and accident can do with poor frail human bodies—had attended men, women, and children, and still felt enthusiastic about her work. But each month taxed her strength more severely, and watchful eyes noted it. She had lost the pretty roundness of face and figure; the soft colour in her cheeks had faded into a delicate pallor. Her eyes looked larger and more wistful than ever under their thick black lashes.

In these nine months she had had but a fortnight's holiday, which one wet week and a bad crossing had done their best to spoil. She came back from Dublin looking worse than when she went, and Deborah Gray told her so bluntly the first moment they were alone. The girl had stoutly denied any symptoms of illness, or even fatigue. The summer had been trying she said, and the winter equally so, and she was not used to fogs, or the hard-freezing cold that sometimes visits London. There had been always an excuse handy.

It was April now. The sun had vouchsafed its presence once more. The trees were putting forth tender buds, and the chestnuts were already in blossom. The air was soft and balmy; even London looked less ugly and dreary beneath the soft blueness of the sky, and in the primrose-tinted sunsets. The park was thronged with carriages, and the treadmill of fashion had claimed its usual crowd of martyrs. The streets were full of endless noise, and it seemed to Nell that the days were endlessly long and wearisome. Yet not even to herself would she acknowledge she was failing—that she had overrated her powers of endurance, and was physically unfitted for the profession she had desired to follow.

'You are not equal to it, Nell. You will have to give it up,' said her friend Deborah Gray, one morning, as they were taking their regulation walk. 'I heard the matron and Dr. Mowbray talking about you yesterday. I am sure it means a hint that you have misjudged your capacity, not your willingness, or your ability for the duties, but I said from the first the life was too hard. And you have not yet got over that bad habit of suffering with your patients, as well as sympathising with them. You have worn yourself out in less than a year, and you would be dead at the end of another.'

Nell was silent; she could not deny the truth of her friend's words, though they were unwelcome. She gave a little sigh as she lifted her face to the cool soft breeze. They were in St. James's Park, and a moment before she had thought how bright and fair it all looked. Now a sudden sense of depression seized her. The sun seemed hazy, and the pale grey clouds took a wintry hue, against the blueness of the sky.

A sense of failure oppressed her in this mood, as it had oppressed her in other days, when the resolve to achieve or dare something had been combated by physical incapacity or mental irresolution. Life was hard on her. She was doomed to be one of the unlucky ones of this world. For ever striving—for ever failing. And she did not like to fail. She hated to feel herself beaten.

Deborah Gray, wondering at her silence, looked at her. She saw her lips were quivering, and that her face had grown very white.

'Don't take it to heart so, dear child,' she said gently. 'There are other things in the world for you to do. After all, nursing is only one of the many feminine resources of modern women. Thank goodness we need no longer sit with folded hands waiting for some man to throw the handkerchief of his choice at our feet. The world is our oyster as much as his. No labour, or trade, or profession is denied to us if we choose to work. If we fail in one we can take up another. We are not compelled to repress ourselves, and sink into the mere child-bearing half of humanity. Try something else, Nell, and don't look so down-hearted.'

'What else can I try?' said the girl, despondently. 'I told you of my venture at governessing—I won't go in for that again. I've no artistic faculties marked enough to repay development. I can draw a little, and paint a little, but that's all. If I could put my thoughts into words I might write a book, but it needs something more than words to make a book readable. I love music passionately, but I am no executant, and my voice is hardly equal to Irish ballads. I don't know what will become of me, Debbie, if this fails. I set my heart upon it.'

'Always an unwise thing to do, my dear.'

'I am sure of that, but all the same I did it.'

'You might try private nursing,' suggested Deborah Gray. 'You have had a good deal of experience here, though you were never much good in the operation cases, or you might get into one of the children's hospitals in some provincial town. The work would not be so hard, and you are quite up to it.'

'You think, then, that I shall be told to leave here,' said Nell, gloomily.

'I am afraid so. I have heard two or three hints to that effect. But cheer up, my dear, all doors are not closed because of one. Something will turn up; depend upon it.'

Nell said nothing. She knew in her own mind that her friend was right—that she was not strong enough for the work demanded. But she had hoped to struggle on for the probationer's time of service at least. She hated the idea of going back to Dublin. How they would triumph. All those friends who had prophesied failure, the brother who had set himself against the scheme from the first!

The soft air swept over her temples, and lifted the little delicate tendrils of hair that curled naturally about her smooth brow. The green freshness of the young year seemed to breathe of hope and joy.

Some memory was at work within her heart; some words echoing with latent tenderness that she had left unanswered. A fragment of a letter—the only letter she had ever received from Dick Barrymore.


'If it ever lies in my power to serve you in any way, command me. I owe my life to you, and the debt will lie heavy upon me until deeds, not words, can repay it in some degree. It seems to me that we could not have met only to part. That life holds something more for us. I dare not ask you to write. You may think I am presuming on your past goodness and interest. I can only repeat that I shall never forget you, and that I would do anything in the world to serve you.'


That letter lay in a little feather pocketbook. She had read it often, and yet she had not answered it. Why, she scarcely knew. He was rich now. He might be famous. Their paths in life had diverged. She would not have him think that she put forth any claim to be remembered. Had he been poor—struggling, friendless—it would have been different.

But to-day its memory recurred to her. She knew he would serve her by wealth, by influence, by any means that were in his power. Why should she not ask him? Geoffrey Masterman was a rich man. He must have innumerable friends. Among them all might she not get a companionship, or secretaryship; something that would uphold her independence.

'How quiet you are. What are you debating in your mind?' asked Deborah Gray, suddenly.

Nell started.

'I was only thinking what I should do if I got my congé,' she said. 'Do you remember that Mr. Barrymore, whose rich uncle turned up in such an opportune manner?'

'Remember the "Romance of the Ward!"' exclaimed Deborah. 'I should think so. Why, it was a perfect three-volume novel of incident. What about him? Did you ever write? You said you would not, and I thought you very foolish. Perhaps you changed your mind?'

'No,' said Nell. 'I never wrote. I thought it would look as if——'

She stopped, colouring hotly.

'I know,' said Deborah, with a quiet smile, 'as if you wanted him to remember you. And I told you that you were a foolish little thing. That a friend at court is always advisable, and that gratitude in a man is so rare a virtue it deserved to be cultivated.'

'I was thinking his uncle, Mr. Geoffrey Masterman, must have a great deal of influence. Supposing I wrote to him.'

'Certainly. Why not? Rich and influential people are expected to benefit their less-favoured brethren. Do you know his address?'

'I have that letter still. I suppose the same address would find them.'

'You might try, of course. But don't be in too great a hurry. You are not dismissed yet, you know. I've often had a fancy about you, Nell,' she went on as they turned out of the park. 'I think you are destined to get more out of life than most girls. I mean, that it won't be commonplace or uneventful. Even your short experience here has been signalised by a romantic experience. None of the other nurses, myself included, have ever got beyond the ordinary, troublesome, vagabondish patients. You are quite distinguished. Perhaps you don't know it, but you are. Now, it would only be in the natural sequence of things, if the rich and grateful uncle helps you, and the prospectively rich and equally grateful nephew falls in love with you. You might give your wedding an air of distinction by asking a bevy of nurses to it as bridesmaids and guests. The papers would be full of it, and the hospital would become more famous than it is.'

Nell laughed.

'I didn't give you credit for so much imagination, Debbie,' she said. 'It is a very pretty little romance, as you put it, but likely to remain one, as far as the principals are concerned.'

'The unexpected always happens,' said Deborah Gray. 'I have seen more wildly improbable things than this prophecy of mine come true. You know, Nell, it is all very well for plain women—unattractive women, disappointed women, to take up missions and turn their backs on the softer joys of life; but for a girl like you it has always seemed to me a little bit absurd. You are not the sort of female thing that men pass by or ignore. You will not be allowed to follow out your own conception of a woman's duties. Men won't let you: you are too pretty and too feminine altogether. Love and marriage will play the chief part in your life, take my word for it.'

Nell shook her pretty brown head.

'Oh, no,' she said; 'you are wrong. I am sure of it. I put away all thought of marriage long ago.'

'Because one man played you false!' said Deborah Gray, bitterly. 'And you found him out, and thought your heart was broken. But you know a woman does not always marry the man she loves. It sometimes happens, and I often think it is better for the woman, that she marries the man who loves her.'

Nell was silent.

'It sounds well enough,' she said at last, 'if it only proved satisfactory——but a one-sided union, Debbie, must turn out a failure in the end. I should not like to risk it.'

'When the hour comes,' said Deborah, 'and the man, you will forget there is any risk in the matter. A woman often loves her own ideal of love in the lover she accepts. The higher the ideal the worse for him. But a man loves her—the woman herself—so he is generally too strong for her, and she takes him because she must, because he overwhelms her, he won't let her think.'

'Why, Debbie, I can hardly believe it is you talking. I fancied you never thought of such things as love, and romance, and all that.'

'"All that" is a comprehensive phrase, Nell. I have thought of such things. I suppose no woman can help it some time or other.'

She lifted her face, and looked up at the bright sky and the drifting fleecy clouds.

'It is as well not to think of them too often,' she said. 'I hate the springtime, Nell! It makes one feel so old—old and sad, and lonely. It must have been a hundred years ago that I was a girl like you!'

There was something in her face so sad and desperate that it frightened Nell. But suddenly Deborah calmed herself. Her dark face took back its usual grave composure.

'I have been talking nonsense,' she said. 'Come, let us forget all this. After all, discipline is a grand thing, Nell. I don't wonder men become soldiers.'

They spoke no more until they reached the hospital gates, and went up the broad stone steps.

As Nell was turning to the nurses' quarters a sister stopped her.

'The matron wishes to see you, Nurse Nugent,' she said. 'Will you go to her room as soon as you have changed your dress?'

Nell's heart sank within her. Some instinct told her the meaning of that summons.


CHAPTER VI.

A special message from the matron to any nurse or sister was always ominous. It meant either rebuke or dismissal. Nell's conscience was clear on the matter of fines, or broken rules, or neglected duties. Therefore, she feared the worst, for which Deborah Gray had, in some measure, prepared her.

The matron received her very kindly. She was a stately person, with an air of dignity that would have done credit to a duchess. She bade Nell sit down, and noting how pale she was, and how her hands shook, she poured her out a glass of wine and made her drink it.

'Don't look so nervous, my child,' she said. 'I only want to tell you something that Dr. Mowbray said. I think it is better you should know at once. He thinks that hospital work is too hard for you.'

She opened a note-book on the table beside her, and turned back to a date. 'Two weeks ago,' she said, 'you fainted in the operating-room. Yesterday you did the same thing in your own room. Yes, yes'—as Nell began to protest—'I know what you would say. The operation was a very horrible one, and the sudden heat yesterday upset you, but my dear child, a good nurse must have no nerves, and she must not be upset. To her, no case is horrible or repellent, if it requires attention and lays any demand on skill. I know you are very young, and that this is your first experience, but the house-surgeon has very keen eyes, and his judgment is rarely at fault. You will never be able to bear the strain of another year here. Remember how ill you were in the winter. You have not quite lost your cough yet. As for night duty, we would not think of giving it to you. I feel, therefore, I ought to tell you plainly that you must not continue this life. I don't know of your reasons for taking it up. You were recommended by a first-rate Dublin physician, and certainly you have deserved his recommendation. But it would be cruel to let you wear out your constitution until a breakdown was inevitable. Therefore, I consider it my duty to speak.'

'You mean then,' said Nell, in a weak, unsteady voice, 'that I am dismissed from here.'

'Don't put it like that, my child,' said the matron kindly. 'We would gladly keep you. I know you love your work, and you are a general favourite with patients and sisters alike. No, it is no case of dismissal. Only we advise you to give up your duty before the strain becomes too heavy. Take a long holiday. Brace yourself up; forget all the horrors and disagreeables of nursing life, and then, well, you will look like yourself—the bright, fresh little girl who came to me from Ireland nine months ago. Look in the glass there. Had that girl pale cheeks and sunken eyes like the picture you see?'

Nell was obliged to confess she had not. She stood there, looking at the changed reflection; the hand resting on the table trembled like a leaf. She felt it would be childish to cry, but she longed to do it, the disappointment was so keen. She had given up pleasures, society, enjoyments, all for nothing. She had trained herself to laborious duties and distasteful work, all for nothing. She had put her hand to the plough, but was forced to look back whether she would or no. The prospect of a return to ordinary life did not please her. The pulse of throbbing youth had ceased to warm her blood and quicken her heart beats. The springtime had no glad music in its voice. She could have echoed Deborah Gray's words, 'I feel so old, so old!'

But she had only run down. She was only tired and weak and unnerved. She sat down again and clasped her hands tight to still their foolish tremor.

'Do you think,' she said, suddenly, 'that I could take private nursing if it came in my way? There must be plenty of old ladies, of inexperienced mothers. Could I not get something of that sort, with a recommendation from here?'

The matron shook her head doubtfully. 'We could not, of course, give you a regular nurse's certificate, because you have not even stayed a probationer's time, leaving the year of regular nursing out of the question. But I have no doubt Dr. Mowbray would speak for you, if you asked him. I see you still harp on the one string. Would you not prefer some lighter or more congenial occupation?'

'No,' said Nell. 'I have tried governessing. That was hateful, and I shouldn't like to be in an office or a shop.'

'But why must you do anything?' asked the matron kindly. 'You are not the sort of girl to buffet with the storms of life. Have you no relatives who would give you a home?'

'Oh, yes,' said Nell, flushing, hotly. 'But I prefer to be independent. I have a little money, very little, just enough to dress on. But I want to do something with my life, not to live in idleness and uselessness!'

'You are unlike most girls of your age. They only care for dress, amusement, lovers. It seems strange, when I look at you, that you should voluntarily put away those things out of your life!'

'The scales dropped from my eyes long ago,' said Nell, bitterly. 'I have seen too much of men's selfishness and women's misery, and the wreck that marriage makes of lives. I don't want a practical experience. So it is that work of some sort has become an actual necessity.'

'If I try and find something for you to do, will you promise me to give yourself six months' rest and quiet? Go to some little seaside place. Bathe, walk, idle, lie on the sands and watch the waves. Give yourself thorough rest of body and mind. Then, when health comes back, and life swings on an even balance once more, write to me, and if you are still of the same mind, if nursing is your one ambition, I will see what I can do. I have a friend who has established a children's hospital—founded it, carried it on by her own unaided exertions. I fancy she might have a vacancy for you. The hospital is at Southampton. I will make a note of it; and now, time is up. I must send you away.'

'When do you wish me to leave—altogether?' asked Nell, as she rose.

'I think for your own sake it had better be soon—say the end of this week.'

'Very well, I will go. You have been very kind,' she added, her voice half-choked by emotion. 'I shall never forget the time I have passed here. I am only sorry I turned out so useless!'

'No, my dear, not useless; pray don't think that. Only you overtaxed your strength, and we could not have it on our conscience to try it any longer.'

She took the girl's small hands in both her own and kissed her kindly on the brow.

'There, cheer up,' she said. 'Don't think you have failed because of this. You will have plenty of opportunities of distinguishing yourself in other ways. Write home, and make your arrangements, and then let me know when you leave. I will tell Sister Adams that you are to have no more heavy duty in your ward.'

Then she opened the door and Nell found herself stumbling along the familiar passages, her eyes half blind with tears.

'Another failure,' she thought. 'Another turned down page in the book of life. . . . What will be written on the next?'

* * * * * *

Nell had never thought of herself as a popular person in the big hospital with its staff of nurses—some learned and apt as the doctors themselves—its busy students—its numerous surgeons, and visiting physicians. She was surprised during the next few days at the regrets, the kindness, the parting gifts, which met her perpetually.

She almost broke down when the last day came, when she rose and dressed in the old commonplace garments of the ordinary girl, and put aside the lilac gowns and pretty caps and aprons of which she had grown so fond. It was very trying to make the round of the wards. To look at the pale faces of the convalescents, the suffering or disfigured ones of the patients; to turn her back on the nurses' home, the familiar classroom, even the dreaded ward where the operations took place.

She had never known how attached she really was to the life and everything associated with it, until she was obliged to bid goodbye to it all. Her eyes were swollen with weeping. She looked the most forlorn little object possible, as she stood by Deborah Gray's side in the nurses' sitting-room, and farewells all said at last, her box and herself only awaiting the hour of departure.

'Now, this is all very foolish and feminine and useless, Nell,' said Deborah, in her clear, firm tones. 'Tears never did any good yet. When a thing is inevitable, put a brave face on it, set your teeth firm, and go through with it. That's my parting advice. With regard to our two selves, nothing is altered. I am not going to forget you, or lose sight of you. We are friends for better or worse, come what may. Excuse my quoting the marriage service, but it came in appropriately—for once. Now dry your eyes and listen. I am going to give you some practical advice.'

Nell sat down. Her lips quivered with a faint smile. She shook the tears off her heavy lashes; her small, restless hands were alternately smoothing and rolling up the grey kid glove that matched her travelling dress.

'Well,' she said. 'I am listening.'

'I have a feeling—an instinct rather—that your coming here was for some definite purpose,' said her friend slowly. 'A purpose that you have yet to learn. I have Scotch blood in my veins, on the distaff side, Nell, and they say my mother had the gift of second sight. Be that as it may, there are times and occasions when things are "borne in" upon me. I see in a flash what is to happen. I don't feel this with everybody, mind you, only just in some special case. Yours is one, Nell. I know we were meant to meet and be friends. I know also that there is a time of trouble and difficulty coming for you, brightened now and then by a great happiness. The happiness is round your path, if you can understand. You may take it or refuse it, but it makes life easier and better for you. Now, my dear, forewarned is forearmed. Exercise your judgment and be cautious in your friendships. If, as I fancy, an opportunity comes for you to make practical use of your training here, remember your old habits, and keep to the rules. I seem compelled to tell you this. I can't give any reason.'

She put her hand to her head and closed her eyes.

Nell watched her wonderingly. In all their hours of intimacy and confidence she had never known her to look or speak as she had done now.

'That is all,' she continued, and her hand dropped, and her face resumed its usual composure. 'Now be a good child, and don't fret any more. The life you go to will be infinitely more to your liking than this. Take a good rest, brace up nerves and energies. Above all write to me as often as you can, and tell me everything about yourself that you care to tell.'

She took up a parcel that had been lying on the table.

'I want you,' she said, 'to take this as a little parting remembrance. It is nothing particular. It is only a book for notes and entries, with this peculiarity. It is leather-bound, and has a lock and key. It may be useful, or it may not. But if ever you feel inclined to be confidential on paper, Nell, it will hold your secrets safely.'

Nell took the square brown paper parcel with murmured thanks. It did not strike her at the time that it would be a very useful present. Keeping a diary was the very last thing she had ever contemplated, but then, one does not tell a friend that a gift is not likely to be put to its intended use.

'I am going with you to the station,' continued Deborah. 'I took my hours off on purpose to suit your departure.'

'How good of you. I am so glad. And your next holiday, Debbie. You will come to me? You promised that.'

'I will certainly come, if possible. I should like to see Ireland. I shall get my leave in June.'

'We won't stay in Dublin,' said Nell, all eagerness and enthusiasm once more. 'We will go to some quiet place by the sea, and have a real good time, all to ourselves. The coast of Ireland is lovely. You will like it, I know, Debbie.'

'I am sure I shall,' said Deborah Gray. 'We workers got the full meaning of enjoyment out of our holidays, that is certain. And mind you, Nell, you are to do nothing but rest. Don't trouble about getting anything to do. Your work will come to you when the day and the hour are ripe for it. Remember that.'

'Are you really a seeress, Debbie?' asked the girl, smiling faintly.

'Never mind what I am. Time and the future will prove the correctness of my prophecies.'

'You have been one thing to me at all events,' said Nell. 'A true friend. A tower of strength when I was weak and foolish. There are people one meets—I am sure you know what I mean, Debbie—who seem to make constant demands on one's time and patience, and sympathy. And there are others who just give all that, and strength, too, without seeming to know they give it.'

'I understand,' said Deborah Gray, and the blood came warmly into her dark, clear skin. 'But don't say pretty things to me, my dear. I am distrustful by nature, and I know my own failings well enough.'

'If I were a man,' said Nell, suddenly, 'how I should love you!'

The colour left Deborah Gray's face. She turned aside and busied herself with the dressing-bag that Nell had brought down in her hand.

'The book will just go in here,' she said, 'and I think it is time to call a cab. For goodness sake, don't cry, Nell!' she added, almost fiercely. 'I hate to see tears. They remind me that I am only a woman, after all.'

But it was in Nell's eyes that the self-betraying drops were standing as the two women went out of the familiar room and entered the waiting vehicle, while scores of white-capped heads and waving hands gave a last farewell from the windows of the great building.


CHAPTER VII.

On the north-west shores of Bantry Bay lies a fairy valley. It is surrounded by wild hills, bare and broken and irregular, and the approach to it is so desolate and dreary that when blue water and fairy islets and leafy woods burst suddenly upon one, it looks as if Nature had been trying her hand at a transformation scene.

The coach from Bantry was dashing along in the sunset of a June evening, laden with passengers and luggage. The horses trotted swiftly down the leafy road, where dusky branches of yew, and arbutus, and holly shut out the westering light. It was very still and very lovely in the heart of those deep woods, and the noise of the tramping hoofs and cracking whip seemed a desecration of their exquisite solitude.

Then, suddenly, the road widened and opened out on either side. On the left, hemmed in by purple mountains, and flooded now by the gold of sunset, spread a wide, blue bay, crowned with tiny islands; on the right, sheltered by tall firs, and bowered in a luxuriant foliage of shrubs and flowering plants, stood a long, white building with a glass porch. It was the first of the three hotels in Glengariff, for that was the name of the fairy valley, with its Alpine scenery and its semi-tropical climate.

The tempered breezes of the Atlantic swept in from the Gulf Stream. The spacious stretching mountains sheltered it from summer heat and winter cold. It looked as if Nature loved it, and had given it for dower her fairest gifts of wood and stream and mountain; of cool, green depths, where waterfalls and torrents fell and foamed, of lovely air and ever-changing skies.

Two of the passengers on the couch were so lost in wonder and delight that they forgot to dismount. It needed a reminder in the polite Irish fashion to bring them down to the commonplace level of the waiting ladder.

'Wasn't it Roche's, you said, miss? Shure, we're waiting for ye these ten minutes, and yer baggage is out on the steps beyant!'

One of the women started.

'Come, Nell,' she said. 'What are we dreaming about? And how many seconds go to an Irish ten minutes?'

'About sixty, I fancy,' said the other passenger, as she proceeded to follow her companion, crab-fashion, down the stepladder.

There were some people in the glass porch, which was open on one side, furnished with basket chairs and a table or two, and bright with tall fuchsias and hydrangeas that stood about in earthenware pots.

The voice of the ubiquitous American was audible 'guessing' and 'considering' and generally making itself noticeable in the person of a tweed-clad woman of ample proportions and wonderful headgear, and a still ampler tweed-clad man whose stature and corpulence were a living contradiction of the national characteristics of his race.

'Our room is ordered,' said Nell, for Nell it was who had arrived, to the hotel proprietor as he advanced. 'Miss Nugent and Miss Gray. We telegraphed from Cork.'

The courteous manager remembered the names. Yes, a room had been reserved. He hoped the ladies would find it comfortable. The hotel was very full, just now. He had scarcely a room free. He touched the bell, and ordered their baggage to be taken upstairs, and told a chambermaid to show them the way.

When they reached their room, at the end of a long corridor, they gave an exclamation of delight. Two windows were open to the mountains and the bay. A flood of amethyst and golden light made radiant all the circling heights; below, the densely purple shadows lost themselves amidst piled masses of rugged rocks and the thickness of shrubs. Everywhere the light glowed and fell—translucent, changeful, wondrous—for never yet was alchemist who could boast of such prodigal skill as the sun at setting time when he lingers behind some favoured mountain crest.

'Oh, isn't it heavenly,' cried Nell, as she gazed and gazed in ever-increasing wonder. 'I never saw anything so beautiful! Oh, Debbie, aren't you glad we came, and you wanted to stay at Bantry? . . . Oh, to fancy we might have missed—this!'

The comprehensive sweep of her hands spoke volumes.

'How many more Ohs, to make up the sum of your rapture, Nell?' said Deborah Gray, in her quiet, deep voice, but her eyes were eloquent and appreciative as Nell's own.

It was her holiday. The promised holiday to which they had both looked forward. The one from the stifling city, and the crowded hospital, the other from the shabby Dublin lodgings where she had been living with her brother, taking a day at Kingstown or Bray as her only change.

But the sacrifices made, the little economies, the carefully saved pocket money, were all forgotten in this glorious moment. Here they were, in an earthly paradise, the treasures of the sea and islet and mountain at their feet; the warm sweet summer days of idleness and repose at last their own.

'Oh, I am so happy! So happy!' cried the girl at last, lifting her radiant eyes to the quiet face beside her. 'One is glad to be alive, to be human in such a scene as this. Debbie, why don't you speak? Can't you get up a little enthusiasm, for once?'

'Perhaps I feel it as strongly as you do, Nell, but I can't express it. One often feels that words have a poverty-stricken effect when one is very deeply moved. So I take refuge in silence.'

'But you are not disappointed? You are glad you came?'

'More glad than I can tell you.'

'And for two long, lovely weeks we shall look at this!' continued Nell. 'Feast our eyes and senses to our hearts' content. I wonder what sort of people are staying here,' she added suddenly. 'I heard the voice of an American cousin in the porch. I hope she won't want to know us. I believe Americans always do want to know everybody, though, when they're travelling.'

'Oh, we can easily avoid them,' said Deborah Gray, as she left the window and went over to the toilet table to remove her hat. She had left her nursing dress behind her, and Nell thought she did not look nearly as well in orthodox travelling gear.

The girl still hung out of the window, unable to tear herself from the lovely view. She did not mind being hot or dusty, or remember that they had had a long day's travelling on no better provisions than a few sandwiches and a glass of lemonade. Food seemed a coarse and commonplace thing beside this changeful splendour of the mountains, this opal light on the stirless waters, this fragrant dusk of woods that held all the breath and beauty of summer in their leafy depths.

'I don't want to disturb you,' said Deborah Gray, at last. 'But may I ask if you intend to dine off a view to-night? The table d'hôte is long over, but I must remind you that a cold chicken and accessories are awaiting us in the dining-room.'

Nell gave a long sigh and left the window.

'Oh, dear, you are quite ready,' she exclaimed, as she noted Deborah's neatly-coiled hair and clean collar, and the fresh tints that cold water and soap had given to her dusky face.

'Of course, I am,' laughed Deborah, 'and you, I see, have got out of all your good habits already.'

'I won't be five minutes, really,' said Nell, 'and I'll make you a present of them. So go to the window, and thank the gods you have eyes to see and a heart to appreciate such a scene.'

'All the same, I am very hungry,' said Deborah, with a smile.

'Goth and Vandal! Why, the very thought of eating is a sacrilege!'

'I am afraid the hotel would fare badly if everyone who came here shared that opinion,' said Deborah Gray.

Yet, for all her jesting, she appreciated the beauty before her as keenly as Nell herself. The first flash and brilliance of the sunset were fading now. The mountains had a warm, violet tint that deepened and changed to brown as the twilight shadows crept down the rocky slopes. The steep pathways were bordered with geraniums and wild fuchsia, and the lovely coral blossoms of the escallonia. A stretch of green lawn fronted the building, on which some cows were grazing. From below came the sound of voices, the bark of a dog, a ripple of girlish laughter. Figures passed to and fro, under the trees, discussing plans for the morrow. It was an idyllic scene. Deborah Gray knew that in her chamber of memories none half so lovely or so full of restful peace had ever found a place.

When Nell had washed the dust of the journey from her face and hands, and smoothed her ruddy chestnut hair, they went down into the dining-room. A considerate waiter had laid a table for two in a window recess that looked out on to the garden. The window stood open, the soft, balmy air blew in, laden with the breath of aromatic shrubs. A shaded lamp threw a rosy tinge on the white cloth and on the flowers in their slender glasses, on the dainty arrangements which made even fowl and salad, and bread and fruit look more poetic than mere food often does.

There was no one else in the dining-room. They ate, and drank, and chatted, and laughed over the incidents of the journey with a sense of perfect freedom and perfect enjoyment.

After all, there are things in a girl's life which a man would only spoil for her. That sense of utter unconcern, of heart-whole enjoyment, of perfect content with the hour, and what it brings. These were Nell's own, at last. She acknowledged to herself they were good and desirable things, and that she was the better for their possession.

When they had finished their meal they went out, and found a path that led them to the water's edge. The fairy islands lay before them, sleeping under the liquid gleam of moonlight. The splash of the ebbing tide on the pebbly strand was the only sound in the perfect stillness.

They seated themselves on the bank, where the great tree roots had made a natural seat. It was not a time to speak. It was just one of those blessed restful pauses that fate vouchsafes sometimes to tired mortals.

These two women had known what it was to be tired—very, very tired. They acknowledged in this moment that it was worth while to have known and suffered for that feeling. How could they so well appreciate the present peace were it not for past toil?

It might have been a long or short time they had sat there, saying nothing, only dreaming and resting as the quiet stars came out in clustering group's, and the moonlight grew slowly brighter above the purple blackness of the mountains. In such a moment one takes no count of passing moments. It is enough just to be and to dream.

A step, crushing the dry twigs and uneven stones on the path behind them, roused them at last. Their solitude was to be disturbed evidently. They sat still; their dark blue linen dresses were not distinguishable from the bracken and undergrowth; their hats lay on their laps. The step came steadily on. There was a sound of soft whistling, and a light cane idly switched the low-stretching boughs on either side. Then a man came suddenly upon those two still figures, so suddenly that his foot trod on Nell's skirt before he even saw there was a woman's dress in his way.

He stopped short with a murmured apology. Nell glanced up, and a gleam of moonlight fell on her uncovered head, and lit up the blue eyes beneath their delicate arched brows.

There was a faint cry of wonder—an exclamation—and then she sprang to her feet.

The stranger was Dick Barrymore.

He recognised her in a moment, though it was the first time he had seen her without the nurse's cap covering her pretty chestnut hair. As they shook hands, and uttered 'wonders' at so strange a meeting, Deborah Gray also rose to meet him. Then came the inevitable and commonplace explanations.

It appeared that Dick and his uncle were staying at Killarney, but had come up to Glengariff for a couple of days, having heard that it was so expected of the tourist. They had been 'doing Ireland' for the last two months, beginning at the Giant's Causeway, and so working on to the south and south-west coast.

After that explanation there was a little embarrassed silence while they mentally studied each other under the clear moon rays and noted the changes that these past months had made.

Dick had certainly altered for the better. His face had recovered colour and flesh; the fair hair curled close about his temples, and the soft, thick moustache set off the somewhat stern mouth and sharply-cut features. The well-moulded chin was no longer disfigured by a beard, as when Nell had last seen it. His figure was well-clad, and he carried himself with the ease and grace of recovered strength. She forgot her embarrassment as she made mental notes of those improvements, and spoke of the change with candid approval.

'And you?' he said. 'Are you still in the hospital?'

'Oh, no, I have left,' said Nell. 'They said I was not strong enough for the work, so I am taking a rest. My friend, Miss Gray, is paying her respects to my country for the first time, and we have come here for our holiday. Isn't it strange that we should all have met again—and in such a manner?'

'It is strange,' he said, 'but very pleasant. I have often hoped to see you again, Miss Nugent. I—I often wondered if you got my letter.'

'Oh, yes,' she said, 'I got it.'

'You never answered it,' he said, reproachfully, and in a slightly lowered voice.

'I was very busy,' she said, 'at the time. The ward was full, and they were all bad cases. Besides, I did not think you would care to hear. There was nothing to interest you in what I could write.'

He was silent, but his eyes took up the reproach of his voice, and Deborah Gray suddenly felt herself reminded of an old proverb, respecting the one too many.

'And so you are staying here,' he went on, presently. 'At Roche's, I suppose. We are at the other one, lower down. My uncle would go there, though I wanted him to come here. It has such a lovely situation. Eccles is on the road. It is supposed to be the crack hotel, and my uncle has a weakness for "crack hotels." In that respect he is quite American. For my part I would always avoid them. They mean high charges, crowds, and inattention.'

He was talking now for the sake of talking, conscious all the time of the slight figure so close to him, of the large soft eyes that rested on his face, of every movement of the small restless hands, swaying the white sailor hat to and fro by its elastic fastening. He had never known how much he had longed to see her again until this sudden meeting. The feeling which swept over him was one that her nearness and her laughing speeches intensified each moment. She looked so small and delicate and fragile in this pale light that his heart seemed to go out and gather her up in a warm protecting embrace, as one would gather a child in one's arms who was lonely and troubled and unloved.

'I think,' he said at last, 'you must have needed a holiday. You are very much changed.'

'I wonder what you would have said if you had seen me when I left the hospital?' laughed Nell. 'My brother thought it was my ghost when he saw me coming off the steamer. But now I am quite strong and well. I don't need any pity, I assure you.'

There was another pause, and Deborah Gray came to the rescue and suggested it was getting late and they ought to be returning.

'It is cruel to shut oneself out from such a lovely night and scene,' pouted Nell; but, all the same, she turned, and he with them, and they walked slowly up the steep path and through the wooded grounds until the lights from the hotel came into view.

Dick Barrymore felt he had no excuse for lingering. He stood—where his own road branched off—half afraid of the question trembling on his lips.

Nell took it off for him quite naturally, with a careless grace that made it seem a very ordinary one indeed.

'I suppose we shall see you again,' she said, 'as we are fellow-travellers, and so near one another. I have a longing to be on the water, to float all day among those islands. I suppose it is to be managed.'

'Certainly,' he said with surprising eagerness. 'It is our programme also for to-morrow. Would you object to sharing our boat with us. We have an excellent man; he knows every place and point of interest about?'

'We pride ourselves on our independence,' said Nell; 'but we may as well waive objections for once. What say you, Debbie?'

And Debbie smiled, and said exactly what was expected of her.


CHAPTER VIII.

There was not a very prolonged discussion between the two friends respecting this meeting, even though there was every temptation afforded it by that sharing of the same room, and that quarter of an hour of hair-brushing which is so conducive to feminine confidence.

But Deborah Gray was a wise woman in her way. She let Nell say just as much as she pleased, and made very few comments herself. All the same she foresaw that this expected holiday would be shared by a third person, and its hours engrossed by a new claimant for Nell's attention.

Still, she had come out to enjoy it, and she meant to do so, even if the proverb of which she had already been reminded were verified. So she laid her head on her pillow and looked at Nell in her little white bed opposite, and smiled the smile of one who knows life and the ways of women, and closed her eyes in satisfied drowsiness, and slept as she had rarely slept for many a month.

They had promised each other to wake early and be out and down to the waterside before breakfast, but when Nell did wake she saw the blind swaying up and down to the persuasion of a gusty, chilling wind, that swept in through the open window, and her dismayed glance as she pulled it aside took in a changed and most melancholy scene. The mountain tops were shrouded in grey mist, the sky was grey, the atmosphere was grey, the trees stood out in blurred masses, their branches weighed down by heavy moisture.

A group of patient cows huddled together under the firs, a crowd of noisy poultry wended their way across the wet grass, the fairy islets were blotted out altogether. It was a weeping, mournful, misten-shrouded Glengariff that lay in its mantle of haze swept ever and again by a cold and chilling wind, that seemed to have strayed back from some winter quarter by mistake.

Nell glanced at Deborah Gray, and saw she was asleep, so she crept hack to her own bed again, comforting herself with the thought that it was but six o'clock, and the weather might change by breakfast time. But when breakfast time came, and they went down into the long dining-room, already crowded with hungry feeders, the prospect was even worse. The rain fell in a steady, continuous downpour, the thick haze still obscured the prospect, and the weather-wise among tourists and visitors who knew the ways of Glengariff, were uttering dismal prophecies between mouthfuls of fried sole and hot coffee.

The two friends found the same table laid ready for them, and the cheerful waiter answered their anxious inquiries with all an Irishman's hopefulness.

'It won't last, miss, never fear. It mayn't be fine altogether, but just a bit hazy.'

Then he whisked off the cover from a delicately-fried sole, and brought them their own teapot and supplies of toast and egg and marmalade enough to atone for any amount of bad weather. Nell ate and drank with an appetite that spoke of mountain air and recovered health. Her spirits rose. She began to take notes of their fellow-travellers, and amused Deborah with her criticisms. At last her attention was attracted by a table adjoining their own. It also stood in a window, it also was prepared for two, and a waiter hovered round giving a final touch to its arrangements, and evidently waiting a given signal to bring in the breakfast.

'I wonder who will come there,' said Nell, with a careless nod in its direction.

'Why wonder about it?' said Deborah Gray. 'You will see for yourself in a moment. A honeymoon, I should say, judging from the waiter's attention. Newly-married men are apt to be reckless in respect of tips.'

'It might be two lone females like ourselves,' said Nell.

'I fancy not,' said Deborah. 'I think it will be a man and a woman!'

Her back was to the door. Nell, from her point of view, had the table on her right, the door on her left. Almost as Deborah spoke, she saw two people enter. The man struck her as being the handsomest man her eyes had ever rested upon. He was very tall, he had the dark, rich colouring, the clear cut features, that mark the Spanish race, and is often seen in some districts of Ireland. He moved with an easy grace that had something foreign about it; a grace that the stare of some two score eyes could not discompose in the slightest degree. He walked up to the vacant table, drew out a chair, and stood waiting for the slower approach of the lady following him. She walked feebly. She had the unhealthy pallor and languid eyes of ill health. Whatever beauty she had once possessed had been wrested from her by suffering, and marred by the weariness of pain.

Her features were sharp—the mouth betrayed intense melancholy. Her hair, soft and abundant as it was, had no gloss or richness of tint. It was of a pale, dull fairness, and her blue grey eyes were rendered almost expressionless by lashes as neutral tinted as the hair.

The contrast between the two was almost startling. The vivid tints, the glow of health and strength on the one face, the wistful attenuated feebleness of the other.

Deborah Gray's keen, professional eye took in the invalid's general appearance with interest. She merely glanced at the man, and as quickly looked away.

'Not a honeymoon, after all,' said Nell, in a low voice; 'only ordinary man and wife.'

'Man and wife, certainly,' said Deborah Gray, equally low, 'but not—ordinary.'

'Don't tell me you are seeing visions, and reading fates,' said Nell. 'I shall begin to be afraid of you, Debbie, my dear.'

So lightly do we jest with fate; so dimly do we see even one inch of that road of the future stretching before us, leading to issues strange and mystic, and unguessed of, as the hand of Time points onward.

The man took his place after the lady had seated herself. Then his splendid dark eyes turned to the adjoining table and its occupants. He read the undisguised admiration in Nell's innocent face; but Deborah Gray's was like a mask—hard, impassive, inscrutable. His olive skin took a warmer shade of colour. There was just the faintest contraction of the features, scarcely more than a shadow on glass. No one noted it, save, perhaps, Deborah Gray herself. She turned slightly away, and, raising the teapot, poured herself out another cup of tea. Her hand was perfectly steady, but the blood surged from her heart to her temples, and the whole room seemed to sway before her.

Nell went on with her gay chatter, but it seemed as if her voice came from some far distance. There was a hustle of people rising, the noise of tourists' heavy boots, the sharp accents of the American voices proclaiming disappointment at spoiled plans. Then suddenly the old instinct of self-repression came to her aid. Her voice was steady as ever as she answered some question of Nell's. She finished her tea as if perfectly unconscious of the furtive glances that from time to time bridged the space between the two tables—a space that, multiplied by years of severance, lay for ever between two lives.

There was a general move into the porch, and Nell and her friend found themselves there also. The American lady, who seemed to live in her hat, had taken possession of one of the basket chairs. She spoke her mind out on many points with that frankness peculiar to her interesting nation. Her husband was occupied with a toothpick, and made an appreciative audience. The tourists were determined to face the weather on bicycles, and no one raised any objection to their doing so. Nell's anxious glances still turned skywards. Now and then the haze lifted under some attacking shaft of sunlight, and showed the bay was an existing fact; she had begun to doubt it, but the momentary brightness was only briefly tantalising, and the mist took swift revenge by enwrapping the scene in yet more impenetrable mystery.

Disconsolate eyes turned from point to point of the hazy landscape, trying to see hopeful signs from those momentary gleams, or detect them in a change of wind, or hear them in the crowing of a cock, which has been known at times to foretell good weather.

A lady with rheumatic ankles and list shoes, who also occupied a basket chair, took a gloomy view of the situation. She had been staying at the hotel for a week, and there had been five such days as this already. A pretty boy, spending a holiday here with a maiden aunt, tried to give a cheerful tone to the conversation by relating histories of worse days and worse weather, during which he appeared to have killed time in a way more satisfactory to himself than to the maiden relative. Nell appropriated him and his conversation with alacrity. They seemed the most cheerful things about, and she did not wish to lose her holiday spirits. The boy thought that it might clear up for an hour or two in the course of the day, upon which Nell accepted readily his invitation to go off and play a sort of parlour Badminton of his own invention, in the deserted billiard-room.

Deborah Gray did not go with them. Instead, she went swiftly up the stairs to her room, and then locked the door and sank into a chair by the window. Her eyes were glowing with a fierce light. Her whole frame was trembling with suppressed passion. Words broke from her unconsciously.

'So it was for her I was thrown over—for her and her money! Poor soul, what a sorry bargain she made! And he—I saw he remembered me. God! how small the world is after all! Couldn't we two have been kept apart?'

Her hands clenched on the soft linen of her gown, her breast was heaving with a passion of resentment.

'She looks ill—dying, I should say. Dying, after six years of married life. And what hopeless sorrow in her face—poor soul, poor soul, I need not surely envy her!'

She rose abruptly, and began to move about the room.

'What can I do?' she cried hoarsely. 'If I wish to leave, Nell will think it so strange, especially as I can give no reason, and yet, to pretend he is a stranger, that is hard. Would he have spoken, I wonder, had I given him the chance? No, I fancy not. He must be glad enough to avoid me, if he has a conscience at all. What was it he used to call me—a woman with a head and no heart? No heart! My God, if only I had had none for him to win and break, and cast aside, as a worthless toy! If only I could forget as he has forgotten!'

It was no longer Deborah Gray, the quiet, composed nurse, the woman of iron nerve and no emotions, who paced to and fro in that locked chamber. It was a woman fighting a battle fierce and ominous, with herself and with the past.

It said much for her strength of will that she did not cry out or give external sign of the hysterical passion that rent her very soul—that no tear fell from her flaming eyes, nor sob, nor sigh, escaped her quivering lips. The years of discipline and self-repression came to her aid. She calmed herself just as she would have tried to calm a turbulent patient, a despairing mourner.

From the corridor beyond came the sound of high-pitched voices, the curious drawl that has its distinctive use in smart sayings. She ceased her restless pacing, and went over to the window and knelt down, leaning her arms on the sill.

There was a little rift of light in the clouds, above the Caha Range—but to right and left they lay in heavy masses. The rain still pattered on the gravel roadway and glistened on the heavy foliage. Some ducks were solemnly pacing to and fro the wet sward and quacking their appreciation of unwary worms, or taking occasional baths in the little pools beneath the clumps of pampas grass.

'Shall I put on a waterproof and go out?' thought Deborah. 'I feel stifling, and rain never hurts me. . . If I could but escape Nell!'

She rose and took her cloak from the peg where it hung, and put a tweed travelling cap on her head, then softly opened the door and went downstairs. She knew she must pass through the porch to get out, but she trusted that Nell and the pretty boy were still at their game. Whether they were or not, at least Nell was not visible. She hurried through the doorway and down the steps, taking no notice of the people she passed. She drew the hood of her waterproof over her head, and walked straight on, down the wet drive, under the drenched and sodden boughs. A few paces further on she came face to face with a man also waterproofed, and holding an umbrella over himself.

It was Dick Barrymore.

She stopped in sudden dismay.

'Oh, are you going to the hotel?' she cried. 'Surely you don't expect us to carry out your programme in this weather?'

'No, that's just it,' said the young man, glancing round to see if she were alone. 'I was coming to say it must be put off till to-morrow. They tell me it never rains two days running like this. Are you going for a walk?'

'I am, but you will find Miss Nugent in the hotel, in the billiard-room, I believe,' said Deborah. 'She doesn't know I'm out. I don't wish her to get wet,' she added, diplomatically, 'but I'm so strong; rain never hurts me.'

'Oh, I'll prevent her going out,' he said, eagerly. 'My uncle was coming over to call on you both,' he added. 'But he thought he would give the weather a chance of improving, but I was to ask you if you and Miss Nugent would come for a drive after luncheon, if it did clear. We thought of going to the Bantry shooting lodge. It is charming, we hear, and just a nice distance. Do say you'll come.'

'I have no objection,' said Deborah, 'if Nell wishes?'

'May I tell her so?'

'Certainly, but the weather has something to say in the matter as well.'

'Oh, I have hopes of the weather,' he said, laughing. 'I suppose you are going to the village?' he added, as Deborah seemed inclined to move forward.

She nodded, and with a hasty goodbye passed on.

'He will entertain Nell. Nothing could be better,' she said to herself. 'And she won't miss me. I can fight my "seven devils" out of me as I please.'

She turned aside, attracted by the sound of water foaming and dashing over a rocky bed. The path that led to it was stony and narrow, the wet boughs struck her face and showered their glittering moisture over her hair. She felt nothing, heeded nothing, saw nothing. Only her eyes burnt like a flame beneath their dusky brows, and the fierce beats of her heart almost stifled her. The throbbing of an unhealed wound hurt her with almost physical pain. After seven years of peace that wound could still remind her of its giver.

She stumbled on, led instinctively by the sound of the one thing in nature that seemed in harmony with her mood. She reached it at last. A torrent falling and dashing over great rocky boulders, a cascade of impotent wrath that foamed and raged, dashed itself wildly against opposing barriers, as puny human wills oft dash themselves against the iron barriers of Fate.

She stood there, and gazed down, a human embodiment of passion as vain and useless as those seething waters, rushing with overlapping haste to the cold and quiet heart of a distant river. The birds twittered above, amidst the quick patter of the rain and the chill breath of the wind. Naught cared they for the agony of a human soul fighting out its battle of womanly pride and womanly love. Naught knew they of the dumb agony that rent that motionless figure, as with pangs of childbirth. She covered her face with her hands, and a groan of anguish escaped her. Then the iron hands of misery broke, and a rain of hot tears showered from her hidden eyes.

'Once I cursed life and him,' she moaned. 'Oh God! Am I still such a weak fool that the mere sight of him can make me regret!'


CHAPTER IX.

THE 'parlour Badminton,' which was only a form of battledoor and shuttlecock, was suddenly interrupted by the appearance of a waiter, who brought in a card for 'Miss Nugent,' and informed her that a gentleman was waiting to see her in the drawing-room.

Nell looked at it and laid down her bat. 'I must go,' she said to the pretty boy. 'We'll finish our game some other time.'

'Oh, of course, I know what that means,' he made answer. 'I've got sisters, you know.'

Nell did not express any great surprise at the announcement.

'Where is the drawing-room?' she asked. 'I haven't been there.'

'Oh, I'll show you,' he said, and vaulted over the table in a fashion that would have horrified the head waiter. Having disposed in this fashion of a little superfluous energy, he conducted her to the apartment in question, and took notes of the looks and height and appearance generally of the visitor.

'Spooney on her, I suppose,' he thought. 'Such a nice girl, too. I hoped she had none of that nonsense about her.'

He put his hands in the pockets of his knickerbockers and whistled softly as he moved over to a table and began turning over the various books that littered it. He had a holiday task to do, and this opportunity was as good as one might reasonably expect. The drawing-room was free to everyone.

Meanwhile, Dick Barrymore was explaining to Nell what he had already communicated to Deborah Gray.

Nell glanced sharply at the window.

'Do you mean to say Debbie has gone out in this rain?' she exclaimed.

'I met her on the way to the village,' said Dick, genially, unconscious of any deviation from the path of truth. 'She didn't seem to mind the rain at all.'

'She's not like me, then,' said Nell, with which he secretly agreed. 'I hate rain like a cat,' she continued. 'Oh, why couldn't the weather keep like yesterday? When one has only a little time for a holiday it seems so hard to have to waste even an hour indoors. And poor Debbie; in two weeks she has to return to work. I did so hope she wouldn't have a sight of "Erin's weeping skies" during the time.'

'It is hard,' said Dick, sympathisingly. 'And will you spend the two weeks here, entirely? Surely you will run over to Killarney before you return?'

Nell looked doubtful, 'We are not fond of rushing about,' she said. 'We want a thorough good "idle," if you can understand.'

'I think I can,' he said. He thought she looked even more fragile in the morning light than on the previous evening.

'Rest and quiet,' she went on, 'are more desirable things to us than any sight-seeing. Debbie has had a very hard time of it this last year. I think she does too much, but she is so strong and resolute it is no use speaking to her.'

'She looks it,' he agreed.

'But she is a dear thing,' continued Nell, eagerly. 'And so clever and so good.'

'She is fortunate in having a friend who believes in her,' he said, with a quiet smile.

'Don't you think every one would believe in her? There is something so straight and true about her. None of the shifty, mean little ways of ordinary women.'

He laughed. 'I hope,' he said, 'that you do not call yourself an ordinary woman?'

'Indeed I do,' said Nell.

'And have you shifty, little ways?'

It was her turn to laugh.

'I daresay I have,' she said. 'I have not considered myself yet, seriously. But when I do I have no doubt I shall find that I am not at all as nice as I would like people to suppose.'

He looked at her with eyes that plainly said he, at least, was one of the people who believed her 'nice.'

'And when do you propose beginning the task?' he asked, presently.

'Of considering myself? I hardly know. I am thinking of doing an autobiography—only there's so little to put in as yet. You are a literary person, are you not? Would you advise me to write it, or shall I wait a little longer and see if life has any nice little tragic woes for me? I think people like to read about the woes of their fellows, don't they? It makes them more patient with their own troubles "in that state of life," as the catechism has it.'

'I hope,' he said, 'you will never have any "tragic woes." They may be all very well to read about, but as actual experiences they are not pleasant.'

She looked at him quickly. 'Ah,' she said, 'I forgot that you——'

'That I have had some actual experience,' he said; 'Yes, but I wish you had forgotten it altogether.'

'But now,' she said, 'all that is over. Did it ever strike you that there was something dramatic about the way in which your uncle turned up. It has been the romance of the hospital you know.'

'I did not know,' he said, and the colour came into his face. 'But it certainly was opportune, as well as dramatic. He has been very good to me. It is the heaven of an author's ambition to be able to write freely and fearlessly of what he feels is right, without respect of publishers' opinions, or critics' banal twaddle, and without the cur of necessity forever snapping at his heels.'

'And have you written anything this last year?' she asked.

'Yes, a book which is not published yet. It has been written leisurely and carefully. It was long before it pleased me. I do not expect it to achieve popularity. The writers who are popular are rarely the thinkers and scholars of literature, but they are the money-makers, which is perhaps better for them. The world likes to be amused, or shocked. It doesn't want to think. The most popular book of last season was one that dealt with the most sacred of human subjects, and dealt with it as a schoolgirl writes an essay. The daring of the idea, and the feebleness of the treatment, aroused a storm of universal indignation. Then, everyone wanted to read the book and judge it for themselves, and the author smiled complacently over a royalty account, and agreed with Carlyle as to the millions, mostly fools, who make up the sum of popularity.'

'I am ashamed to say I have read very little modern literature,' said Nell. 'You see, we are badly off for libraries in Ireland. Smith and Mudie know us not, and pocket-money does not often stretch even to cheap editions.'

'I will lend you as many books as you please,' said Dick. 'I have cases of them stored away. Even in my extremity, they were of such, an unsaleable class that lodging-house harpies let them be.'

'But I don't like dry books,' exclaimed Nell. 'I am not a bit clever, or that sort of thing. Debbie is, but she says she has no time for reading.'

'I suppose not,' he said vaguely. 'And that reminds me. You—you have given up the nursing life altogether, have you not?'

'It has given up me,' said Nell, 'for a time, but I hope to take it up again—not hospital work. I am afraid that it is a little too hard, but I should like a little private nursing. Do you know,' she added, blushing a little. 'I had quite made up my mind to write to your uncle and ask him if he could help me to anything? He must have so many friends. I thought he might know some nice old lady or gentleman who wanted to be taken care of, embrocated and flannelled, and given hot water bottles, and nice nourishing things to eat and drink, and have cheerful companionship. Do you think I should be equal to cheerful companionship? Debbie says I would.'

He smiled rather sadly. 'I am quite sure of it,' he said. 'And my uncle would be only too willing to help you, if you really mean it.'

'Oh, I do mean it. I am quite serious,' said Nell. 'I don't believe in idleness for women. Men, of course, are different. They can achieve great things in the way of cigarette smoking and whiskies and sodas, not to speak of tennis and racing and betting. But a woman isn't capable of killing time so harmlessly. She generally gets into mischief. Dr. Watts understood all about that when he wrote of Satan and idle hands. I don't approve of idle hands, so I want to find a use for them before they get into mischief.'

It was very hard to look at the tempting face, the laughing lips, the long lashes that swept those delicate, creamy cheeks, in sudden, demure coquetry, and not say what his heart burned and longed to say—not tell her that use for the idle hands, for herself—was there at her side to take or leave as she chose, for it hurt him to think of this fragile little creature battling with the world, and its sins and shams and temptations, while a man's strong arms could shield her, and a man's heart lay at her feet.

She chattered on, unconscious of what was passing in his mind, giving him little sketches of her life and surroundings, telling him of her childhood, her school life. 'It is all so far away now,' she concluded, 'and yet it all came back as if it were but yesterday when I saw that boy and played battledore with him. So much has happened——'

She stopped, and a flood of crimson rose to her face and dyed her very temples.

He saw that betraying flush, and his heart grew heavy. A girl does not blush and tremble at a memory—for nothing. So much had happened, she had said. Amongst all the 'happenings' was there one special and supreme event? One thing to which memory returned with lingering fondness? He had no right to ask, but he longed to do so. The pretty boy suddenly banged his book down on the table and sauntered out of the room whistling. He thought this was very slow sort of talk, and wished that the fellow with the moustache would take himself off and leave that jolly girl free to talk to him.

Dick glanced at the window. The rain had ceased falling, the sky looked brighter, and the clouds were less heavy.

'I believe,' he said, 'it is going to clear after all, and we can have our drive. You don't object to outside cars I suppose.'

'I? Good gracious, no! They are second nature to me. It is very kind of your uncle to ask us,' she continued. 'Are you sure we won't be in the way? I mean that perhaps he is only doing this because——'

She stopped, floundering hopelessly among the sea of words. Nell had a knack of saying inopportune things, and she was on the brink of disgracing herself at the present moment.

'I am sure that my uncle will be very pleased to renew acquaintance with you,' said Dick, coming to the rescue; 'and you won't be in our way at all. Far from it. You will confer a favour on us by your presence. As for yourself, you know I am your debtor for life. I told you so, and I meant it.'

'You overrate my services, indeed,' said Nell. 'After all, it was the doctor who saved your life—not I.'

'I prefer,' he said, 'to think it was you. It took something more than a particular dose of medicine or form of diet to pull me up again. I have many memories of that time, in which no doctor finds a place, only the patience and care and continuous watchfulness of my little nurse.'

There was such tenderness in his eyes and voice that Nell felt alarmed. She had kept men at a distance so long that she disliked any attempt on their part to bridge her indifference. For sake of one she distrusted all. She had no heart-hunger now, no desire to be loved, no craving for the renewal of joys that once had seemed sacred and eternal. Love had kissed her out of the sleep of ignorance, and there was no possible return. It had cheated her of her happy innocent beliefs, but also it had left her with a grip on the realities of life, and a supreme disdain for its romance. Dick saw her face grow cold and almost hard. She turned abruptly away and went over to the window and threw it open.

'I believe it is going to clear up after all,' she said. 'I can see the tops of the mountains quite distinctly.'

He followed her and looked out also. At the same moment the mist was swept aside as by an unseen hand—woods were smitten with sunshine, the raindrops sparkled like jewels on the moist boughs and the smooth sward. Lovely tints of purple and gold melted and parted on the heights as the clouds rolled further and further away. The sea burst suddenly into view, with the clear deep brilliance of a sapphire, and the rocky islets basked in warmth and sunlight once again. Nell clapped her hands with a child's delight, and sprang through the low, open window on to the gravel drive.

'It was worth all the rain to see this follow it,' she cried. 'All the watching and waiting of this long, miserable morning?'

Which again may have been one of her unfortunate speeches, but was certainly not complimentary to the young man who had spent the greater part of the 'long, miserable morning' in her company.

But evidently he was not sensitive or thin-skinned, for he only smiled at her delight, and suggested she should put on her hat, and walk a little way towards the village to meet her friend. Nell had not the slightest objection, and ran up to her room for thicker shoes and her sailor hat.

In a few minutes she came down.

'We have to pass my hotel,' he said, 'to get to the village. Perhaps you will see my uncle.'

Nell did not specially care about such a rencontre. Her own remembrance of Geoffrey Masterman was not especially agreeable one. She had thought him rough and unpolished, and full of his own importance. Still, he had been very good to his nephew, and he might improve on acquaintance.

Dick opened the gate at the end of the leafy avenue, and they came out on to the main road, and went on past the Belle Vue, which stood on a knoll between the two principal hotels, its gardens gay with flowers and foliage, and its windows commanding the wide seascape looked by the Iniskisk and Esk and Sheehy Ranges that ran from Kerry to Bantry.

Warned by his late alarm, Dick kept the conversation on purely impersonal topics, and Nell, enchanted by the change of weather, was in wild spirits, and drank in great gulps of the radiant exhilarating air as she almost danced along the road.

She looked so young and fresh and childlike that he was lost in admiration, but he kept his tongue within bounds. He did not wish to offend her. It was happiness enough to be within sight and touch of her again. He blessed the fate that had let him to this spot, and wondered if he could possibly persuade his uncle to remain as long as Nell remained.

What an odd, tantalising little thing she was! A combination of child, girl, woman—a creature to be taken seriously or not as her mood was, but fascinating to him beyond all others of her sex. Why it should be so he could not say, for men are clever enough at arguing and explaining, until just the one woman comes along who defies either to be explained or argued about.

No wiser, no better, no prettier, no more angelic than scores of other women, yet she alone possesses the power to make a man think her all of these. She alone has the glamour he cannot withstand, the power to hurt or bless, to wound or delight, to reach some deeper spring in his nature than yet has been touched; to lift his soul or abase it, just as he is the worthier or the worse for his love.

And Dick Barrymore, walking along that white shady road, and watching the glint of the sunshine on Nell's chestnut hair, knew in his heart of hearts that the glamour and the spell were upon him at last; that this girl had quickened a pulse of his being none other of her sex had ever stirred.

She was no visionary nursling of his fancy; she was not the ideal of his youthful dreams; she was but a girl, with a girl's little faults, and failings, and weakness, but to him the girl, in all the world of girls: the loving, lovable, wilful, tender little creature on whom his gaze had fallen in wondering gratitude, when the fever mists of sickness had cleared off from his brain, and he had known that life claimed him once more as its own.


CHAPTER X.

When Nell returned to the hotel the luncheon bell was ringing. She had not met Deborah Gray anywhere in the village, which was small enough to render avoidance almost impossible. Dick Barrymore had accompanied her, and they had gone as far as the Catholic chapel, and even given a look in at its dilapidated and peculiarly ugly interior, in case Deborah might be there. On their way back past Eccles, they had met Geoffrey Masterman, and he had been most genial and pleasant to his nephew's pretty companion. The drive to the Bantry Lodge had been quite decided on, and in order to atone for the wet morning, they were to start directly after luncheon.

Nell went back to Roche's in a state of wonderment as to Deborah's desertion and ran up to their room to look for her. She was there, changing her dress and shoes, and in answer to Nell's exclamations merely said she had gone to see the waterfall.

She was her old, composed, serious self now. There was no trace of the terrible emotion of the morning, except in the dark circles round her eyes, and an unwonted feverish flush in the usually sallow cheeks. Nell chattered gaily of her meeting with 'Uncle Geoffrey,' as she persisted in calling him, and of the proposed drive, while Deborah Gray made her hurried toilet.

Then they went down for luncheon. They had the same table again, but Deborah changed her place, and sat now with her back to that one they had remarked in the morning. The delicate lady and the handsome man were already in their places, and Nell, between intervals of replenished plates, noted them with renewed interest.

The lady scarcely touched anything. Her husband, on the contrary, ate and drank with keen enjoyment of the good fare, assisted by an equally excellent digestion. Nell found herself once more compassionating the feeble anæmic-looking creature whom melancholy and suffering seemed to have marked for their own. The rude health and hearty appetite of the man annoyed her, though she felt such annoyance was illogical and uncalled for. Before luncheon was over, he left his place, and went out of the room, as if he had forgotten something. The lady leaned back in her chair, and her eyes turned languidly to the adjoining table. They met Nell's compassionate gaze, and seemed attracted by it.

Suddenly she leaned towards her. 'Would you be so kind,' she said faintly, 'As to give me a glass of water? There is none on our table.'

'Oh, with pleasure,' said the girl, quickly. She took up their own water bottle and went across with it.

The lady had turned deadly white. She half-reclined in the chair, and her hand pressed her side as if to still some attacking pain.

'I am afraid you are suffering,' said Nell, her professional instincts aroused by evidence of illness. The lady signed her to pour out some water, and drank it thirstily. A small tumbler of untasted claret stood by her plate, but she pushed it aside.

'Yes,' she said huskily. 'I suffer terribly, terribly, but this will pass. It is only a spasm. My husband has gone to get me my medicine. I shall be all right in a moment.'

Nell still lingered, her face betraying grave concern. Deborah Gray turned, glanced at the grey pallor of the sick woman's face, then once more devoted herself to the duties of the table. But the colour left her own face, too, and the contents of her plate were untasted. In another moment the lady seemed to recover. She sat upright, and declared the pain had gone, and her eyes lost their dull, blank look. She held out a feeble hand to Nell.

'Thank you, so much,' she said, gratefully, 'but please return to your luncheon. I am all right again really. I often get these attacks. They pass off. It is only a spasm.'

'You ought to see a doctor,' said Nell, bluntly. 'A mere spasm would not affect you so seriously.'

The lady smiled. There was something proud and yet tender in the smile that made it infinitely pathetic on such pale lips.

'My husband is a doctor,' she said, 'I have every confidence in him.'

'Oh, I beg pardon,' said Nell, colouring hotly, 'I did not know, and I made the suggestion because I have had a great deal to do with sick people. I have been a hospital nurse, and so I know real illness when I see it.'

'A nurse—you!' exclaimed the invalid. 'Why, I thought you were a mere schoolgirl.'

In her heart she had really put Nell down as such, and given her Deborah Gray as a governess.

Nell began to feel that her youthful appearance was spoiling her success in life. If thinking or wishing would have added a cubit to her stature, or a wrinkle or two to her smooth brow, she would have added a good five years on to her actual age. It was hard to be ambitious of dignity, and find that desire thwarted by want of inches, and the childish innocence of two soft blue eyes.

'Oh, no!' she answered gravely, as that complimentary insult reached her ears. 'It is a good eight years since I said farewell to the schoolroom; but I see your husband coming,' she added, hastily, 'so I will leave you.'

They exchanged bows, and Nell returned to her own table, explaining in a low tone to Deborah Gray the incident that had occurred.

Deborah made but brief comment on it. She seemed, in fact, so cold and indifferent that Nell felt rather aggrieved. In a few moments they had finished their luncheon, and then they left the room, Deborah Gray with her back rigorously turned to that neighbouring table, Nell, with a shy, interested glance at the now recovered invalid.

Once out of the room her tongue waxed communicative.

'Her husband's a doctor. Only fancy, Debbie! Such a handsome man. I should feel awfully jealous of his female patients, if I were his wife. I wonder what his name is. I thought he was a foreigner, didn't you? She is English, I fancy.'

They made their way up the broad staircase to prepare for the drive, Deborah grim and monosyllabic, Nell overflowing with chatter and speculations as she twisted up her coils of hair and adjusted the straw 'sailor.'

'The gods are going to be good to us, I think,' she said, laughingly. 'A male escort, and a rich escort, are by no means undesirable things! And our purses are none too well equipped for a holiday jaunt, eh, Debbie? I am going to speak seriously to Uncle Geoffrey to-day about getting me a situation. That is the right word, isn't it? The woman who works is always on a par with the lady who keeps registry offices going. I have still hopes of the nice old dowager who will want her foot-warmers and her knitting put right, and to be cheerfully accompanied down the vale of years. I wonder if Uncle Geoffrey knows her?'

'Your tongue will slip into calling him that to his face,' said Deborah Gray. 'And then there will be complications.'

'Not a bit of it,' said Nell. 'He thinks I am a gay and giddy child. He would put such a slip down to youthful spirits.'

'And the nephew?' asked Deborah Gray.

'Oh, he doesn't count for much,' said Nell, coldly. 'Perhaps he is studying me as a type for one of his books. Fancy knowing a real live author, Debbie! You ought to be so proud. Do you know——' she broke off suddenly, turning from the glass as she spoke and holding the hatpin out dramatically. 'Do you know, Debbie, my dear, life is beginning to get positively interesting. There is an odour of the domestic drama about it with all those unexpected meetings, and the turning up of rich uncles and the fame of literary nephews! Not to mention a handsome doctor, who looks like a hero of romance, and an invalid wife who is already attached to me by ties of gratitude.'

'Put on your hat, and don't talk so much nonsense,' said Deborah Gray, sharply. 'Americans are proverbially punctual, and I hear wheels.'

'Gracious, are they here already?' exclaimed Nell, stabbing the hat on to a coil of bright hair with the long pin. 'But don't call Uncle Geoffrey an American, Debbie. He isn't any thing of the sort. He's a native of Great Britain, and has all the national virtues. Oh, I wish he would make me his heiress. . . . How lovely it must be to be rich, regular rich. Never to have to bother about anything. To go where you like, live as you like, and money rolling in like a golden stream every day of the year! Debbie, find my gloves for me, like an angel; and do look out and see if they are really there!'

'They really are,' said Deborah Gray. 'Uncle Geoffrey is sitting on the car, and the nephew is pacing to and fro before the porch. Come along, child. Here are your gloves.'


CHAPTER XI.

AN outside car is not the most elegant-looking equipage in the world, but it is decidedly convenient, and delightful, too, when you get used to it, and have acquired the art of balancing yourself on a sort of knife-board. In comparison with its sister vehicle, however, the 'jingle' or covered car, it is elegance itself.

How it could ever have entered the brain of man—even of an Irishman—to invent such a monstrosity is a thing not to be understood of the common or civilised mind. It can boast successfully of being the ugliest and most comfortless conveyance that ever ran on wheels. But the 'jingle' doesn't even run. It jolts and it crawls. It has a hearse-like and dismal appearance, and a covering of black oilskin, which falls, curtain fashion, before the opening. The opening is neither at the side nor the front, but the back, for the 'jingle' is nothing if not original! It is in fact, a vehicle that must have been the invention of a nightmare perpetuated by a practical joke. It has neither sense, nor beauty, nor comfort, nor speed, and has been patented by Irish jarvies as peculiarly their own. It is the scoff and laughing-stock of every sane and reasonable visitor who has 'done Ireland,' and will probably be handed down to posterity as one of the wonders of the world!

The 'outside,' however, is rather a pleasant little convenience, when the springs are all right, and you have a decent horse to trot along in it. It has the advantage of being small, and yet can accommodate four people and a driver without incommoding any of them. And if two out of the four happen to be a man and a maid, throwing an eye of favour at one another, the car is mighty convenient for a whispered word, or the protection of an arm, or any other little device that Cupid inspires.

When you once get used to a car you are apt to err on the side of enthusiasm and take one at all times and seasons, and glory in it. This was what Geoffrey Masterman had done. He had begun by abusing and ended by loving the little vehicles. He was blind to the attractions of any other thing on wheels, and had ordered a private one to be made for himself in Dublin, which was to astonish the English folk on his return.

Deborah Gray had never set foot in, or rather on, an outside car till she arrived in Dublin; but she was one of those alert, supple people, who readily learn the 'balancing trick,' though she still found a difficulty in dismounting. That, indeed, is the great art of 'outside car-ing, and requires much practice and agility.

She found herself sitting by Geoffrey Masterman's side and spinning along a smooth shady road, fragrant with scent of rain-washed trees, and mossy banks of wild flowers.

Everywhere was the sound of water; rippling over stony pebbles by the wayside—growing fuller-toned as it rose to the dignity of a stream, dashing down from some steep, rocky height, gaining force and swiftness as fed by babbling runnels and overflow of hidden brooks it tore like a torrent over rocky boulders, taking the width and importance of a miniature river as it flowed under Cromwell's bridge, everywhere dashing, laughing, leaping with joy of the bright sunshine and the breath of flowers, and all the lovely, simple, fragrant things that decked the woods and valleys. But lovelier even than the shining water was the rich, cool green of the never-ending trees. Unspoilt by time, unchecked by man, the glorious woods rose triumphant on every side. Such wealth of foliage, such exquisite colouring, such arcades and avenues of dark, delicious shade were surely things to boast of, did any of these heedless, indifferent, poverty-steeped dwellers in their midst care to boast or even notice one-half the beauty that lies at their very doors. But their instincts are against it. They prefer to beg.

Nell was in radiant spirits. She knew but little of Irish scenery. Most of her life had been spent in Dublin, and an occasional trip to Bray or Kingstown had alone varied it. She loved nature with enthusiasm, and such a place as this was enough to arouse every feeling of admiration and delight that heart could hold. Dick Barrymore was fully as appreciative as herself if somewhat less inclined to interjections and rapture at each new point of beauty.

The car stopped at last. They got down and crossed a miniature bridge, and found themselves in the grounds of a hunting lodge built something in the style of a Swiss chalet. They were shown over it by a caretaker who lived there. Nell was enchanted with the quaint rooms, the old, old furniture, the faded hangings, and curious presses. From every window one caught sight of the circling mountains—some bald and rocky and treeless, others green clad and verdant, gathering light and shadow from the clouds as they sailed past their lofty crests, now purple, now golden, now dark green, now of that lovely hazy violet the heather lends to all it covers.

'What an ideal place to live in!' exclaimed Nell.

'A poor place enough for a lord!' exclaimed Geoffrey Masterman, who, with his Colorado wealth, would have erected a very different sort of building if he had had the chance. Something probably like Windsor Castle and Welbeck Abbey combined, with a dash of Lismore by way of local colour. Wealth and artistic tastes can achieve even the impossible in the mind of the Colorado millionaire. He walked about with Nell, listening to her light comments and airy nonsense, which seemed to afford him considerable amusement. He was studying her with keen interest as the typical Irish girl of whom one had heard. He wondered if she was typical. But he acknowledged she was at all events interesting.

'You take life very easily, I suppose,' he said, as they stood by a table, covered with knick-knacks and curiosities, in the quaint low-ceilinged drawing-room.

'Very,' said Nell, demurely. 'All Irish people do. It is a way we have. Providence has given us light hearts, so as to balance light pockets. It is an Irish boast, you know, to be "as poor as any gentleman in the land."'

'It is a sadly mismanaged country,' he said, in a magisterial voice.

'Everyone says that,' agreed Nell. 'Perhaps having come from a free and enlightened land, which has robbed us of a quarter of our population, you have something to suggest as to how it ought to be managed.'

He looked at her sharply. He had a fancy she was laughing at him, but he told himself she was such a cool little minx that he did not mind that very much. 'I may, some day,' he said. 'When I get into Parliament. But I suppose even if they knew it was to their best interests to elect me they wouldn't do it.'

'Unless you could persuade them it was to their worst,' said Nell, demurely. 'They are like their own pigs, you know. You must always appear to drive them where they don't wish to go. Then they oblige you by turning in the desired direction.'

He dropped that point, and took up another, which had appealed to him as a grievance. 'To think of all this fine property,' he said, 'and no direct heir. The old name gone. All left for a mere college lad to make ducks and drakes of as he pleases.'

'He might make a better use of it than older and more experienced owners have done,' said Nell, as she moved away to look at some carvings on the wall.

'I believe in race,' said Geoffrey Masterman, thrusting his hands in his pockets and following her. 'It has its advantages, its precedents, its attributes. Look at the English aristocracy, now!'

'I never found them much worth looking at——' said Nell, 'in the park or club windows. I never had the privilege of a nearer inspection. As far as beauty goes, we Irish can give them long odds, I fancy, and beat them. Whenever I saw a particularly ugly woman in a carriage in the Row, I always was told she was a duchess. As for the men——'

She paused eloquently.

'Well, well,' said Geoffrey Masterman, 'good looks don't always go with good birth, I acknowledge. As a mere question of beauty, I confess I have seen more in your potato fields than in the English parks. But the patrician element cannot filter through the soil.'

'A very good thing, too!' said Nell. 'If one may judge from what the patrician element does in its natural reservoirs.'

'What did you do with your tongue when you were a nurse?' asked Geoffrey Masterman, with a good-humoured smile.

'Kept it where it ought to be, I suppose,' she said. 'That is why I have so much lost time to make up for!'

* * * * * * *

'I like that little Irish friend of yours,' observed Geoffrey Masterman to his nephew that evening, as they sat over their claret at their own table. 'I am glad she has given up that nursing fad. I found out a lot about her from her friend. Sensible woman that, my boy; got a good head on her shoulders. The little Nugent girl comes of good family, I find.'

'I always told you she was a lady,' said Dick, quietly.

'Well, I guess I couldn't understand a lady making a servant of herself while there was anything better to do,' said his uncle. 'However, I suppose she is badly off, poor little thing. She told me she wanted to get something to do—companionship or something. It seems a shame she should have to earn her living, but I like her independent spirit all the same.'

He drained his claret glass and set it down.

'If she was in Colorado, now,' he said, 'she could marry anyone.'

'Does it occur to you at all,' asked Dick, 'that she is not the sort of girl who is ready to marry—anyone?'

'Eh? What do you mean? No, it certainly did not strike me that she was a prude, or very exclusive, or that sort of thing. I should think she would be glad to marry and have a home of her own. It would be better for her, too, than knocking about the world among strangers.'

'But then,' said Dick, 'she would lose that very independence for which you praised her.'

Geoffrey Masterman's shrewd eyes twinkled.

'She will never lose that,' he said. 'She will always be able to keep her husband in his place. She has plenty of assurance.'

'You seem,' said Dick, 'to have been making a character-study of her. I am glad you found her interesting.'

'Oh, yes. She couldn't help being that,' he said. 'It was something she said in the lodge that made me ask her to ride back with me. I saw you didn't like it, but fair play is a jewel, you know, my boy, and Miss Grey is a downright clever, capable woman.'

'I never said she wasn't,' said Dick. He had very much resented that change of partners for the homeward drive, and Deborah Gray had been very silent, and looked troubled, and he had been tantalised by hearing Nell's merry chatter on the other side of the car, and seeing his uncle's enjoyment of it.

He wished that she had not such a pretty trick of making the best of herself to everyone, and yet he was not sorry that his uncle had changed his opinion of her. But he did not find it easy to talk about her to him.

He liked to think about her to himself, to picture her looks and ways, the quick, little turn of her head, the restlessness of the small hands, the changing tones of her voice with its faint touch of an accent, the lithe rounded grace of her figure, the little tricks of gesture which were so characteristic of her when animated. Even her dress. He had never noted much about women's dress. In his books they were only touched on as the colouring of a portrait, never a detail. But Nell's cool, blue linen, and Nell's sailor hat, even her little brown shoes, swaying to and fro as the car jerked or spun along; all these were a distinct impression on his memory. The very perfume of a rose in her belt haunted him as the scent of no other flower had ever had power to do. And yet he knew, as well as if he had heard her cool little voice telling it, that she troubled herself not one whit about him!

Perhaps that was the reason why he found the road to Roche's the most favourable for a stroll and a cigar. Perhaps, too, that was the reason why he experienced such a sense of relief when Geoffrey Masterman declared himself disinclined for a walk.

He certainly only waited to be out of sight of the hotel before quickening his steps, and though he had assuredly no right to be haunting the beautiful grounds of the rival hotel, it was in these grounds he found himself as the moon was rising above the mountain heights. He walked on and on, guided by some instinct that only lovers know. Something had been revealed to him in that drive that was as startling as most sudden revelations are. It was only that he could be jealous, jealous even of the man who had been his saviour and benefactor, if it was a girl's whim that he should experience so ignoble a feeling. He did not find the situation or the feeling a pleasant one. Perhaps that was the reason he paused under the trees and took his cigar out of his mouth and gave himself up to one long moment of deliberate reflection.

'If I see her again I shall only let her make a fool of me again,' so ran his thoughts. 'I know they are there by the water. I can hear her voice. Perhaps I had better return.'

And to give himself a better chance of returning he, too, went down to the water.

'It is such a lovely night,' he found himself saying, in explanation of what might seem an intrusion on the two sauntering figures he had reached. 'I thought it just possible that you might like a boat, and I know a man here who has an excellent one. He is not one of the hotel fellows, and it is really doing him a kindness to give him employment.'

Now when inclination and charity point in the same direction there is little use in arguing about the wisdom or propriety of a course suggested.

The boat was secured, and in a few moments more they were all floating over the lovely bay, and among the fairy islands, every one of which had a name or a story, and every such name and story had to be related to the voyagers, and proved so interesting that time became a purely immaterial factor in the matter. The hotel Mrs. Grundys, however, who were sipping 'soda and something' in the glass porch, gave significant coughs, and made loud announcements of the hour being close on midnight, when at length two sailor-hatted young persons sauntered back to the said hotel, escorted by a young man who, it was known, had called that morning, and gone for a drive with them that afternoon.

'Very strange conduct, indeed,' said Mrs. Grundy, for even in Ireland the good lady still wears her spectacles and has her say, and sees more than she has any right to see, indeed more than really exists.


CHAPTER XII.

THE weather next morning was all that was delightful and desirable. Warm floods of light greeted Nell's sleepy eyes as at last they opened to the fact of daylight. Birds were singing amongst the glistening boughs, butterflies, born of the sun, fluttered over the fuschia trees and the escallonia; roses nodded from the wall. The ducks took a morning dip in the dewy grass on their way to a stream beyond; the geraniums and nasturtiums raised their heads of scarlet and gold on either side of the smooth greensward.

Nell, with the bloom of slumber still on her face, and the light of dreams and content in her eyes, stood by the open window, and smiled good morrow to the beautiful scene. There was nothing to trouble her. She had no heartache, no special longings, except that the day might bear out its promise. She was in that mood where the mere fact of existence is a thing to be thankful for, and her impulse was to fold her hands and bow her pretty chestnut head there in the warm sunlight, and say her morning prayer with a thankful heart.

It was not a bad beginning for the day. It showed that more of the innocence than the mystery of life still lurked in her mind. She did not question or reason about the feeling that swept over her. She simply obeyed it, and feeling at peace with herself and all mankind, called out with jubilant voice to Deborah Gray, to wake and share the lovely prospect also.

They were down, and had ordered breakfast, and taken it, too, before any of the other visitors appeared. Deborah Gray had been nervously anxious to have the meal served, early as it was, and refused to go beyond the immediate neighbourhood until they had had it. If Nell had been in less radiant spirits, she might have noticed a certain troubled nervousness and anxiety about her friend that were unusual. But she was too full of their plans for the day, and in making jesting speeches about the 'man from Colorado,' as she called him, to take much heed of Deborah Gray's silence. She never talked much at the best of times, so Nell saw nothing very unusual in her gravity this morning.

She took the kindly waiter into her confidence about the proposed excursion, and heard from him that there was every probability the weather would maintain its promise. They might spend the whole day on the water if they wished without fear of rain or storm.

'I must land on an island, Debbie,' she said, presently. 'It has been the dream of my life to be on one whose circumference lay within the circling possibility of an hour's walk! We'll have luncheon on one of them and imagine ourselves Crusoes. I will give you full permission to flirt with Dick Barrymore. I want Uncle Geoffrey for myself.'

'There is just a possibility,' said Deborah Gray, 'that Dick Barrymore might not care to flirt with me, even if I had the art, which I have not, and that Uncle Geoffrey might not want you.'

'Oh, he likes me very much,' said Nell, with engaging candour. 'I spoke nice words to him yesterday, and asked his advice, and I think that flattered him. He is anxious to serve me if he can; so I live in hopes of the old dowager and the "cheerful companionship" still.'

'It strikes me,' said Deborah Gray, 'that you can have something better than old dowagers and companionship if you wish. And I should strongly advise you to think about it. You are much more fitted for the ordinary fate of womanhood—just marriage and mothering—than the independent knockabout one you crave.'

Nell looked as unconscious as a child. 'He would be a little—old, I fancy,' she said, 'and he is almost too rich. I should feel terrified of the responsibility. He wants everything on such a magnificent scale, I don't feel equal to it.'

'You know quite well,' said Deborah, 'that I was not thinking of the "man from Colorado." I was only looking forward to a very natural and very suitable conclusion to the hospital romance.'

'It would occur in a novel,' said Nell, 'as the inevitable result. But life isn't usually three volumes of incident with a happy termination.'

'No,' said Deborah Gray, her eyes darkening swiftly. 'No, Nell, you are right. The termination is generally the worst part of it.'

She rose and pushed back her chair. 'Come,' she said, 'Let us go out. It is a pity to waste an hour of such weather.'

'Our friends are not down yet, I see,' observed Nell, with a glance at the next table. 'I hope the poor thing is better. I wonder what is the matter with her—I wonder if her husband is treating her properly. I wish I had asked his name. I suppose she is too ill to go anywhere, or do anything. Thank goodness, Debbie, we are well and strong, even if we lack this world's goods.' They passed through the glass porch, and crossed the gravel space, and began to pace the level grass sward.

'I hear there is a celebrated waterfall here,' said Nell suddenly. 'Let us pay it a visit. We have plenty of time before we need start for the boat.'

A shadow of pain swept across Deborah Gray's face. 'Oh, not there!' she cried with sudden passion, 'I mean,' looking away from Nell's astonished face—'I mean it isn't anything in particular. I was there yesterday. It is only a stream, and the impediment of a few rocks give it the importance of a cascade. Let us walk under the trees—it is so pleasant.'

So they turned and walked under the trees, and presently the pretty boy, spying them from the open windows of the dining-room, came rushing out with a whoop and a shout of greeting, and gave Nell a boisterous challenge to race him up the road.

They set off, leaving Deborah Gray behind.

It struck her suddenly, and with that sense of keen pain which the first hint of time's changes gives a woman, that she was years older than this boy and girl—older in feeling, in sorrow, in experience.

She stood under the trees and watched Nell's flying feet, distancing the boy with ease, and the sound of their laughter came back to her on the clear, sunny air.

'And for me all that is over!' cried her heart. 'I and youth have said goodbye for ever. I have no ties, no human thing to love me except perhaps this girl, and she will soon have other loves, other duties. She is not destined to live lonely and uncared for. She takes the sunshine with her wherever she goes, and men love sunshine. I—I bring only shade and gloom!'

She turned aside, swinging round with an abrupt, swift movement. Advancing towards her was the handsome husband of the invalid about whom Nell was so interested.

They were face to face, but she staggered back a step, and then made as if to pass him.

'Stop!' he said. 'Stop one moment. Why should you pretend not to know me?'

All the scorn and horror of her strong nature seemed to leap into her eyes as he spoke. He watched her through half-closed lids, and read that hatred and horror as he would have read a written page.

'I know,' he said, 'you have every right to be offended, justly offended; but it is all so long ago. Surely you have not harboured resentment all these years.'

She looked at him steadily.

'Why did you stop me? What have you to say?' she asked. The stinging contempt of her tone made the blood rise to his face.

'I thought—I hoped,' he said, 'that you might have forgiven me. After all I could not help myself—altogether.'

'I am not asking you to explain or apologise,' she said. 'I simply wish to forget I ever knew you. I consider your attempt to speak to me only another insult added to the many I have received at your hands.'

'What d––d nonsense!' he cried fiercely. 'I beg your pardon. I mean, I never, to my knowledge, insulted you—never with intention. There is no woman living for whom I have such respect as yourself. When I saw you again—well, it seemed impossible to act the part of stranger. I felt I must ask you to shake hands and say you'd forgiven me. After all, Deborah, you were fond of me once.'

'To my eternal shame and misery!' she said. 'Now, listen, James Langrishe. I am no hypocrite—you know that. If I have a fault it certainly is not weakness. You slew my faith in all that was good and pure and virtuous. I swore when I learnt of your treachery that I would never forgive you. I mean to keep that oath. Now——will you let me pass?'

'One moment,' he pleaded in a shamed, uncertain way. The voice of the boy was audible now. He could see the two figures approaching. 'I want to tell you,' he went on hurriedly, 'that my wife is very ill. I—I am uneasy about her. She is too weak this morning to leave her bed. It appears that your friend told her yesterday she had been a nurse. She has taken a desperate fancy to her. Would she go to her for a few moments, just out of charity. There is no woman in the place I could ask, or she would care to have, but just that bright little creature.'

A flood of scarlet swept Deborah Gray's face from cheek to brow.

'My friend is there,' she said with a backward glance; 'make your own request to her!' and with a sudden, swift movement she passed on.

Nell saw the doctor approaching, and saw also that he had been speaking to Deborah Gray. He came towards her with evident embarrassment, and raised his hat. 'I have your friend's permission to ask a favour of you, Miss Nugent,' he said. 'Yesterday you were kind enough to be of some assistance to my wife. This morning she is weak and fanciful as—as invalids are. She has a great desire to see you. Would you add to your kindness of yesterday the additional one of complying with a sick person's whim? Your presence for a few moments would, I think, cheer her up.'

'Of course I will go to her, gladly,' said Nell. 'I have an engagement, however, at ten o'clock,' she added.

'It wants half an hour of that time,' he said. 'I am most grateful for your acquiescence.'

'I am only too happy to assist anyone who is ill or suffering,' said Nell, walking along beside him, and marvelling at Deborah Gray's sudden disappearance. 'I feel so sorry for them, and I have seen so much of illness.'

'I hear you have been a nurse,' he said presently. 'You look very young to have occupied so responsible an office. Excuse my frankness, but I am a medical man and, therefore privileged.'

He put a few professional and medical questions to her which Nell promptly answered. He had a knack of winning confidence—a breezy charm of manner that ably seconded the attractiveness of his personal appearance. They were talking as confidentially and readily as old friends when they reached the hotel. He took Nell at once to his wife's room and ushered her in himself.

The girl's quick eye noted in a moment that the poor lady was very ill. Her face wore the same unhealthy pallor of yesterday. A waxen whiteness, which even the lips shared. She seemed too languid and spent even to raise her head from the pillow. The blinds were drawn, and in the subdued light her corpse-like appearance almost frightened Nell. She approached. The doctor stood at the foot of the bed watching her as she bent over the suffering woman and took her hand.

'I am sorry you are not well,' she said gently. 'Is there anything I can do for you. Are you in pain?'

'Not now,' came the faint answer, 'but all night—that terrible gnawing pain. It wears me out—it wears me out.'

Her voice was scarcely above a whisper. Nell saw that she was really very ill. She laid her small cool hand on the hot forehead, and murmured words of sympathy. The doctor went over to one of the windows and opened it, and then moved restlessly about the room.

Nell asked what was the cause of this suffering, but the poor soul herself seemed quite ignorant of the matter. She only said it had been going on for a few months past—that her husband had brought her here for a change of air. They had been a week at Glengariff, but she felt worse if anything. 'And Dr. Langrishe must return to-morrow,' she said, 'and I feel quite unfit for the journey.'

'Is there no one who could come to you and look after you?' asked Nell. 'You are not fit to be left alone.'

She shook her head feebly. 'No,' she said. 'Only servants. I have one sister, but she has lately married and gone abroad. My mother is old and feeble; she lives far away from here, in the North of England. My home is at Youghal. My husband has a practice there. I have lived there ever since I was married. He must go back, he has his patients to attend to. I sent for you because after what you said, I hoped—I mean I thought—you might possibly care to look after me. I need a nurse, but I do not like strangers—I am fanciful. You were so kind, I was drawn to you at once.'

Her sentences were broken by panting breaths. All Nell's tender sympathies went out to her with a rush of mingled feelings. Here was her chance of private nursing. It seemed just the very thing she had desired.

'Do you mean,' she said eagerly, 'that you would like me to nurse you professionally? Do you—I mean would your husband think me experienced enough?'

'He never thwarts me in any way,' she said, with a wistful glance at the restless figure pacing to and fro between the two windows. 'And as I told you I am fanciful. I feel as if I should get a hold on life again with someone bright and cheerful about me. And I am not a hard patient,' she went on plaintively. 'There are days when I need no looking after at all, when you would be free to do anything you pleased. I—I hope I am not offending you by the suggestion?'

'Offending?' Nell's large, blue eyes looked amused, surprised. 'Indeed, it is the very thing I have been hoping and longing for ever since I left the hospital. Still, I think I had better talk the matter over with your husband. He would require references as to my capabilities. I can give them readily. The house surgeon of the hospital would speak for me, and Dr. Dehayes, of Dublin, also.'

'I don't want anyone to speak for you except my own instincts,' said the sick woman faintly. 'But, all the same, you had better talk my case over with Dr. Langrishe, and tell me when you could come to me.'

'You want someone at once?' said Nell. 'I am here for a holiday with a friend, and to-day we are engaged for a water picnic. If you could manage till to-morrow, though, I would gladly begin duty. Perhaps, as your husband is here——'

She looked over at the doctor. He must have heard the conversation, she thought.

He advanced to the bed. 'Well?' he said, and glanced from one to the other with his dark, strange eyes.

'You know, I suppose,' said Nell, 'what your wife wishes?'

'Yes,' he said, 'but not what you intend.'

She told him briefly what she had already told Mrs. Langrishe, and he listened attentively, his eyelids lowered in that furtive fashion of his and his long slender fingers playing restlessly with his watch chain.

'I think there is nothing to say but "Yes,"' he said, as she finished speaking. 'I can do anything that is necessary to-day, and I will give you full instructions before I leave. I think it would not be advisable for her to return home just yet. I am in hopes that the air here will do wonders for her, once she rallies. She is a bad subject for pain,' he went on, lightly. 'Soon goes down—eh, Mary, my dear? But, with a bright, cheery companion, she will soon be all right again. There is nothing radically wrong, as I tell her; and she has always been a very healthy woman, and comes of a very healthy stock.'

'Yes,' said the invalid. 'My mother is nearly seventy.'

'And I hope you will live to be seventy, too,' said Nell, cheerfully.

Dr. Langrishe's eyes gave a sudden odd flash under their drooped lids. He turned away, and neither nurse's nor patient's ears were sharp enough to hear that muttered 'God forbid!' that fell from his lips.


CHAPTER XIII.

Whatever Nell's satisfaction may have been at securing employment just after her own heart, there was little doubt that no other member of the boating party shared it.

Deborah Gray was both astonished and annoyed. Dick Barrymore shared the same feeling, and Geoffrey Masterman was a little put out at having the ground of good intentions cut from under his own feet, and becoming a witness instead of a bestower of the girl's fresh effort at independence. So the boating party was less hilarious than the drive, and Nell's bright laugh and jests raised no corresponding merriment.

The elements of change were already at work. It was in vain she assured Deborah Gray that their holiday would not be spoilt, that the duties were light enough to give her plenty of liberty. A cloud of gloom rested on that dark, quiet face, a sombre shadow lurked in the deep eyes. Constraint and fear and nervous anxiety marked Deborah Gray for their own from the moment that her friend announced her intention of becoming an inmate of James Langrishe's house.

The morning was at its fairest. The golden sunshine poured itself lavishly over the blue waters and the lovely curves and bends of the bay. It lit up the mountains with a new and gorgeous splendour, as it touched their rifted peaks from which even the faintest cloud was banished. They landed at Garnish Island for luncheon, which Geoffrey Masterman had ordered from the hotel, and which was contained in the baskets that the boatman carried for them to their selected spot.

The island boasted one dwelling—a stone cabin, with the usual odoriferous plot of manure, before the door, and the usual freedom of the home bestowed on dogs, pigs, and poultry in common with the family. A small plot of cultivated ground grew cabbages and potatoes, and grain. The blue water lay before the sloping pathway, and on the steep above rose a ruined Martello tower—its walls broken, and grey and storm-beaten, the long lush grass growing ankle-deep around it. A rocky, broken stairway led to its interior, up which Nell insisted on climbing. Deborah Gray and Geoffrey Masterman declined to risk their limbs in any such foolhardy enterprise. The view from the walls (which had served as fortifications since 1796, when the French attempted to invade Ireland, and appointed Bantry Bay as their rendezvous), was good enough for them they declared.

But Nell mounted successfully to the top of the tower, and was rewarded by a sight of the full bay and harbour, lying placid and calm as a lake, studded with isles and islets—the shores crowned here and there with a ruined castle or Martello tower, a thousand different hues and shades playing over the drooping foliage, the brown and broken rocks, the rippling water, caught here and there as in a basin, and well content to stay, forgotten by the tide. The bare and rocky mountains locked all this wide sweep of waters into a secure and perfect harbour. The largest ship might there find safe anchorage, and bid defiance to Atlantic storms. The 'white strand' might well send challenge far and wide to show its equal in beauty of land or sea.

The two who stood on the old tower's roof, gazing at the scene, were perfectly silent. There are times when words only humiliate feeling by their inability to express it. Love, sorrow, and appreciation alone know the full eloquence of silence.

Nell spoke first, for the Irish tongue is always intolerant of long speechlessness. She said softly. 'When you write another book I wish you would paint——that. I should like it to live in words so that I might come back to it again.'

He turned, and his eyes glowed suddenly.

'If I can find words,' he said, 'I will do it, but it would need more than a poet's pen, a painter's brush, to give life and meaning to such a scene.'

Nell leaned forward and gazed down into the clear depths of liquid sapphire at the base of the rocks.

'Take care!' he cried, warningly, and involuntarily his arm clasped her waist and drew her back. His face paled. 'That was dangerous, and this old tower is unsafe, too.'

'It is lovely,' she said. 'Do you know, I have a perfect passion for being on heights. I can quite understand a man's craze for mountaineering—always going higher and higher, away from earth, nearer and nearer the sky, leaving commonplace things behind.'

'Houses,' he said, 'for instance, and food.'

'Ah, you are laughing at me, and that is unkind. It is my misfortune never to be able to express myself properly, but I thought you might understand?'

'I do,' he said penitently. 'Pray forgive me. I know quite well what you mean. I have felt it myself. After all, the things best worth speaking of are those we cannot express. Our deepest feelings evade words and leave us only tears, or silence. Nature will lift us very near to heaven if we care to climb, and tell us many beautiful things if we care to listen, but, unfortunately, the world has tired our limbs and dulled our ears before we realise what we have lost.'

'When you speak like that,' said Nell quickly, 'I can quite understand your writing books. Sometimes, you know, it is difficult to believe you are that formidable person, an author. Perhaps it is as well, though, for I should be frightened to speak if I thought you were very learned and very clever, and always criticising poor ordinary people who are not.'

He laughed at this candid summing up of his own qualifications.

'I hope,' he said, 'you are not classing yourself amongst the poor, ordinary people.'

'I? Indeed, yes. I am a most ordinary person.'

'You are clever enough,' he said, 'in your own way, and you could never be ordinary.'

'Now, you are giving me the "sweet incense of flattery,"' she said. 'And to my small mind and craving ambition no flattery is so sweet as to hear that anyone considers me clever. But I don't mind letting you into a secret, if you promise you won't tell Deborah.'

'I promise,' he said, watching the demure childish gravity of her face with attentive eyes.

'Well, then,' she said, 'I am not clever. Not one little atom. I was the stupidest girl in my class, and when I left school I gave myself up to the hollow mockery of the world, and forgot everything I had learnt with the greatest ease. It was the same at the hospital. I couldn't master the Latin names of things, and the simplest lecture of the matron was as Euclid's problems to me. But I have kept my secret fairly well. Whenever conversation gets above my head, I listen and agree. When people can't possibly argue with you, they go on talking. Of course, I have made no pretence with you. I knew from the first it would be useless. A writer must be a student of character, and able to see through the small pretences of a mere woman. That is why I am so candid. A few people believe in me, I know. Deborah does, but then, she is fond of me myself, not of what I lack. She is clever, if you like—clever enough for both of us. Now, never say again I have a shred of vanity, for I have stripped myself bare before you, and I never prepared you for the shock.'

'I am not at all shocked,' he said. 'It is fortunate that very few of us see ourselves as we are. Men and women go quite contentedly down the void of life, believing in each other to the last, and yet they are not a bit like what they believe each other to be.'

'Well, my eyes aren't bandaged,' said Nell gaily, 'and if they serve me right now, I think our friends below are signalling to us. Shall we attempt the perilous staircase once more?'

'I would a thousand times rather stay here and talk to you,' he said, 'but——'

'Yes,' she said, smiling up at him with the most charming and ingenuous of smiles. 'There's always a 'but,' isn't there?'

'I am so sorry,' he went on, detaining her at the point of descent, 'that you are giving up your holiday. If I were your brother—or anything of that sort—I would forbid you doing such an injustice to yourself, as well as such unkindness to others.'

'I think,' she said, laughing, 'it is just as well you are not my brother, or "anything of that sort." We would quarrel dreadfully, and I should still have my own way. I generally do.'

'It is not good for you,' he said, 'or any woman always to have their own way. In this present instance, it seems to me bad. For I do not like your "Dr. Fell." I candidly tell you so.'

'He is very handsome,' said Nell, demurely. 'And I have always remarked that men distrust the good-looking of their own sex, as much as they believe in the skin-deep beauty of ours.'

'Ah,' he said, 'you are very clever, little Nurse Nell, say what you please to the contrary! Let us go down. You must give me your hand if you don't mind?'

'Not in the least,' she said. 'A broken neck is not at all to my taste at this early and interesting stage of my career.'

'What have you two been doing up on that tower all this time?' exclaimed Geoffrey Masterman, as they emerged through the low doorway.

'I think,' said Nell, 'that your nephew was taking notes for a new book he purposes writing, and I defied him to do justice to the scene in mere words. So we had an argument.'

'What?' he said, laughing at her serious face. 'You don't mean that you can do that sort of thing?'

'I gave it my best endeavours,' she answered. 'But I am afraid I was not convincing.'

She sat down on the low rough wall and looked seawards.

'Doesn't it seem strange,' she said, abruptly. 'To think of the poor dead and gone people who must have lived here, and looked at that same sea, and watched the flocks of gulls, rocking themselves on that blue water, and screaming round that rocky island? I never come to this sort of place,' she went on dreamily, 'but I feel I want to know all about the former inhabitants—who they were, what they did, whether they know what is going on in the very spot where they suffered, and struggled, and died?'

Geoffrey Masterman looked at her with a curious sense of surprise.

'I shouldn't suppose you ever thought of melancholy things like those,' he said.

'Oh, I am not always frivolous,' said Nell. 'I do think, sometimes. But I always feel a fool when I attempt to express myself. So I find it easier to laugh. I have an uncle who always says of me, "Nell would do very well if she had her words right." That is my weak point, you see. "I never got my words right." If ever I do, I shall blossom into a modern Corinna. How astonished everyone would be. But I am afraid I should have to go to school again for that,' she added with a sigh.

'Life is a better education than any school,' said Deborah Gray.

'That is one of your horrid "grim" speeches,' laughed Nell. 'I don't want that sort of education, thank you. It means suffering, and trouble, and resignation and all that. I only want to be happy.'

'Only! You don't ask much,' said Geoffrey Masterman, looking at her with a glance, half admiring, half curious.

'No,' she said quickly, 'I don't. I think I wouldn't mind living on an island like this with—with—just one or two nice friends and an hospital within easy reach of me, when I felt inclined to be of use. It doesn't sound a very lofty ideal, I'm afraid,' and she laughed softly, as she glanced at their faces, 'but it's all I can boast of. Now, shall we return to the boat? Our ferryman is a mine of information. I have been regretting that I did not bring a note-book with me.'

'I am sure you wouldn't have written a word in it if you had,' said Geoffrey Masterman, as he walked by her side over the long swaying grasses.

'Indeed, I would. I have great literary ambitions of my own. I should like to write down everything that occurs, and everything that has been important, and the places that I have seen, and the things that I have done. Whenever I have read a book where the heroine kept a diary I have been envious of her. But then, I suppose nothing would happen to me like to the heroine. If I thought life would get dramatic I should begin to put down its incidents at once.'

'You might begin a diary,' he said, jestingly, 'by saying that you met me, and that we came here.'

'I might,' she said. 'But in years to come, when I am a white-capped old maiden aunt, do you think I should look back on those two incidents as important?'

'They might lead to important consequences, and then, you know, one must have a starting point.'

She stood still for a moment—strangely still, as if struck by something graver than a mere random thought. Her eyes turned to where the long white hotel buildings stood on the mainland—outlined by dark belts of fir and beech and elm. Her laughing face grew strangely still. There was something almost solemn in the look of the wide blue eyes. One of those upper windows was open. She fancied that a white blind swayed softly to and fro. The memory of that colourless face on the pillow came back to her with startling distinctness. Had it some meaning apart and distinct from the mere ordinary chance of their meeting at the same hotel? Was there already behind that waving blind some unseen Fate drawing her unconsciously towards mysterious issues? She had never experienced a feeling so strange. She turned cold and faint beneath the warm sunshine. The blue gleaming waters seemed to waver hazily before her eyes. With an effort she shook off the feeling.

'A starting point!' That was what Geoffrey Masterman had said. A starting point from which might spring good or evil, weal or woe, suffering or sin?

Her sudden gravity surprised her companion. He looked curiously at her paling face and set lips.

'What is the matter, my dear?' he said kindly. 'Has anything startled you?'

'No,' she said, with a sudden effort. 'There is nothing the matter really. It was only a fancy.'

She smiled up at him and stepped into the waiting boat.

'It is my last day of liberty,' she said. 'I must make the most of it. Patrick O'Leary, take us as far as ever you can. I want to forget there is such a thing as land, or any worries, or any duties, or anything but just this perfect day.'

'And I,' said Dick, so softly that she alone heard him, 'want to forget everything but what has made the day perfect—for me!'


CHAPTER XIV.

True to her word, Nell began her work next morning in regular professional fashion. She had an interview with Dr. Langrishe in which her salary and required duties were duly set forth. He again stated that his wife needed cheerful companionship more than a sick-nurse—to be roused and occupied and not permitted to brood over her sufferings. He was reticent, however, on the exact nature of her case, which he elaborated with Latin words and professional phrases, rather bewildering to Nell. She felt, however, no qualms in undertaking it, as the husband would always be at hand to refer to.

Having seen her patient comfortably settled for the morning, and received Dr. Langrishe's directions as to her medicine and diet, Nell witnessed his departure without any misgivings. If Mrs. Langrishe improved they were to remain at Glengariff for another fortnight, but if she seemed desirous of returning home Nell was to inform her husband of the fact, and then accompany her to Youghal.

Mrs. Langrishe from the first seemed determined to treat the girl as a friend. When her husband had left them she insisted on getting up, and being dressed and established on a couch by the window, which shared the same charming view as did Nell's and Deborah Gray's room. Then she begged Nell to take the afternoon for herself, declaring she wanted nothing but her books, and would probably sleep until five o'clock. She seemed so much better, that Nell took advantage of her permission, and spent the afternoon with her friend, roaming about the grounds. Naturally she talked a great deal about her patient, and it surprised her that Deborah was so cold and unsympathetic in the matter.

'One would think, Debbie,' she said reproachfully, 'that you were angry with me for taking this chance, just as if it wasn't the very thing I wanted, the very thing we've discussed over and over again. And, after all, it doesn't interfere with our holiday very much. I can have every afternoon with you, and all our meals together. Mrs. Langrishe is awfully considerate. If she is as well to-morrow as to-day she will be downstairs, and next day will have a drive. She begged me to ask you to come with us. You will, won't you, Debbie?'

'No,' said Deborah Gray, coldly. 'I prefer not. I think it is better you and your patient keep to yourselves.'

'I think you are very unkind,' pouted Nell. 'One would think you did not approve of my new undertaking. Yet we have discussed something of the kind often and often.'

Suddenly she looked at the dark, quiet face.

'You don't know anything against them, do you, Debbie?' she asked.

'I? How could I?' said Deborah.

'Then it is just one of your prejudices,' said Nell. 'And I shan't pay any attention to it. Dick Barrymore calls him "Dr. Fell." I think it is too bad of you both to try and discourage me at the outset of my career.'

'I have no wish to discourage you,' said Deborah Gray, 'Far from it. But the truth is, I do not like Dr. Langrishe. He is not a man to inspire trust, or—or respect. You must take the feeling for what it is worth. I cannot help it.'

'I thought him very nice,' said Nell, slowly. 'He is very handsome, and his wife adores him!'

Deborah Gray's lip quivered slightly.

'The men women adore are not always the best of their sex,' she said.

'But a wife,' said Nell. 'That is different. She could not be blind to faults or vices after seven years of marriage.'

'Some men are very clever,' said Deborah Gray, 'and some wives prefer to keep their eyes bandaged from the hour they leave the altar. You surely don't require to be told that even those most closely related to us are the greatest strangers to our real selves. A wall of uncomprehension can stand for ever between two lives!'

'I think I would rather live with the wall between us,' said Nell, 'than know the man I loved was not what I believed him to be.'

'Then you and Mrs. Langrishe ought to suit one another admirably.'

'I hope we shall,' said Nell. 'I, at least, go to her unbiassed by any prejudice.'

'When she is in her own home, and amidst her own surroundings,' said Deborah Gray, 'you may have cause to change your opinion of her domestic happiness. To me, she seems a woman worn and tried by sorrow—more even than by physical suffering.'

They walked a few steps in silence. Then Deborah Gray went on: 'You have not told me,' she said, 'what her complaint is.'

'No,' said Nell; 'because I don't know myself. The doctor didn't specialise it. She thinks it is a bad form of indigestion, because she always suffers so after eating any food. Then she is lonely and low spirited. I think she must live very much to herself. But I shall be able to judge better when I see her in her own home, amidst her own surroundings.'

''And you will write and tell me all about them, won't you?' said Deborah, with unwonted eagerness. 'I shall be so interested.'

'Of course I will,' said the girl, lightly. 'If only to show you that your prejudices are altogether wrong, and that the doctor and his wife are a most exemplary couple. By the way, I wonder what sort of place Youghal is? I know there is a barracks about, and where the military are you may expect some distraction.'

They had walked back in the direction of Roche's. As they approached Nell gave a sudden exclamation: 'Why, isn't that Dick Barrymore? And what on earth has he got beside him?'

'A bicycle,' exclaimed Deborah Gray. 'A lady's one, too, I am sure. Why, Nell?'

She laughed, but Nell coloured hotly, remembering certain inadvertent words spoken to Uncle Geoffrey. As they neared the broad gravel sweep Dick came eagerly forward.

'I have been waiting here for some time,' he said. 'Miss Nugent, I am commissioned by my uncle to beg your acceptance of this machine. He has been desirous of making you some little present for all your care and kindness to me in the hospital. And he thought a bicycle would be useful, especially after nursing duties. I can teach you to ride it while you are here,' he added, hurriedly.

'Oh,' exclaimed Nell, flushing like a rose. 'How kind, how good of him! I really don't know what to say. I don't deserve such a present for just simply doing my duty. Oh, Debbie, isn't it lovely? And I've been dying to have a bicycle for ever so long!'

'He ordered this to be made some time ago,' said Dick. 'It is an Enfield, and they had so many orders it took a long time. He telegraphed to have it sent on here, and it arrived this morning. I am so glad you like it. When will you have your first lesson?'

'Now—at once, if you can give it me!' cried Nell, eagerly. 'I'm off duty for a while; but first I'll just run up and tell my patient that I'm in the neighbourhood, and——'

Deborah Gray laid a detaining hand on her arm. 'Wait,' she said; 'I'll go with you, and if Mrs. Langrishe has no objections, I'll sit with her while you are absent. You have been away two hours already.'

'You are a darling,' said Nell, warmly, 'and it will be a weight off my mind. I won't be five minutes,' she added to Dick, as she ran up the steps and entered the porch followed by Deborah Gray.

All the way to her patient's room she rhapsodised over Uncle Geoffrey's present, and her luck in getting what her heart had been set upon for the last year. When they reached the door of Mrs. Langrishe's room she opened it very softly and looked in.

She was lying on the pillows, her face turned to the window. As Nell and Deborah approached they saw that a broken medicine bottle lay on the floor by the couch. It had evidently fallen from the table on which lay the books and papers of the invalid. The contents were spilt all over the carpet.

Nell's exclamation roused Mrs. Langrishe. She turned and looked round.

'You have upset your medicine,' exclaimed Nell, 'and not a chemist in the place. What are we to do now?'

'I am very sorry,' she said. 'It was an accident. I happened to push one of those papers from me, forgetting that I had told you to put the bottle there. It was knocked down, and is smashed, I suppose? You must write to Dr. Langrishe for some more. He always makes it up himself. I have no prescription. So the absence of a chemist doesn't matter.'

'But what will you do till you get some more?' asked Deborah Gray. 'This loss might seriously affect you.'

'I must risk it,' she said. 'You are the friend of Miss Nugent's, are you not? A nurse also, she told me.'

'Yes,' said Deborah, 'we were in the same hospital. I have come to ask you to let me sit with you for an hour while Nell is having a bicycle lesson.'

'Bicycling? Do you do that?' said the invalid, with a faint smile.

'I have just had a present of one,' said Nell. 'And I am going to have my first lesson, if you permit.'

She was picking up the broken glass as she spoke, and then busied herself in wiping up the liquid on the carpet.

Deborah Gray stood at the foot of the couch, her calm, steady gaze on the sick woman's face.

'I hope you will enjoy it,' said Mrs. Langrishe. 'For my part I don't like to see women bicycling. But it is a craze that threatens to become universal. I suppose we shall get used to it. By all means, my dear, run off and take your lesson. Only don't break any of your bones, or what should I do?'

Nell laughed merrily. 'Oh! no fear of that,' she said. 'I have an able instructor. Now tell me first, won't you have some tea before I go? I can order it on my way downstairs, and Debbie will pour it out for you. It's a pity you couldn't exchange us, Mrs. Langrishe. She's worth fifty of me!'

The invalid smiled wistfully up at the bright face.

'I am very well content,' she said, 'with my choice.'

Deborah Gray said nothing, only removed her hat and sat down near the window. 'We shall be able to see you practising from here,' she remarked at last. 'I'd advise the grass. It will be safer. There's a nice little level bit down there to the right.'

Mrs. Langrishe looked out eagerly.

'I shall be quite glad of the amusement,' she said. 'But pray be careful.'

Her pale face had a slight flush. She looked better and brighter than they had ever seen her look. Nell hurried off to order the tea, and Deborah Gray raised the pillows and cushions so as to give the invalid a better view.

Presently they saw her come out and join Dick Barrymore, and the two proceeded to the place Deborah had suggested as being 'soft' for a fall.

'Who is that young man?' asked Mrs. Langrishe.

Deborah Gray explained the hospital romance and its consequences. The sick woman listened eagerly. 'He seems very attentive,' she said. 'I wonder if he is in love with her?'

'I am afraid he is on the road to it, at all events,' said Deborah.

'And she?'

'Oh, Nell cares nothing about him, or any man. She is quite heart-whole.'

'She is a dear little thing. I took a strong liking to her from the first. I am rather a lonely woman, Miss Gray. I have no children to engross me, and my husband has his practice to attend to, and is much occupied. My health prevents me seeing many people, so I am a great deal alone. Besides, I don't get on well with Irish people. I'm afraid I don't understand them. They are so boisterous and so dreadfully talkative; and it isn't as if the talk was interesting, except to themselves. It mainly consists of personalities, or what I call "tracing." Histories relative to their friends and their friends' friends; incidents in the lives and families of people of whom I have never even heard. I am an Englishwoman, you know, and my first experience of an Irish person was my own husband.' She paused, and a fond, proud smile hovered over her lips. 'I judged his country by himself, I suppose, so I was bound to be disappointed. I have met no men like him, and I am afraid the women don't find me interesting. You see, I don't hunt, I don't play tennis, and I don't care for gossip. In fact I have no popular virtues. We have a neighbour now, a widow, Lady Ffolliott——'

She hesitated, glanced out of the window at the two figures moving in sight, then went on: 'A widow, who is very beautiful and very popular. She does everything. She is the leader of society in the place. Such society as there is! Most of the good old families have died out, or departed to more congenial regions. I don't blame them. Youghal is a small, dull, God-forsaken place—ugly, dreary, poverty-stricken. Its only industry is quarrying and pottery manufacture and fishing. As for society, it plays tennis for six months and "talks" it for the other six. I am afraid your little friend will find it very dull.'

'A nurse,' said Deborah Gray, 'does not expect her life to be exciting or convivial.'

'But I don't look upon her in that light. I wish her to be a companion to me. She will have a sitting-room of her own, where she can practise, read, work; do what she likes. She will have the pony carriage at her disposal, also, for I am too nervous to drive; and she tells me she is used to it. I hope she will be happy. I will try my best to make her so.'

'You are very good,' said Deborah Gray, moved to sudden gratitude, and no longer wondering at Nell's elation. 'I am sure she will be happy; she is easily contented, and she has a very sweet temper. We all missed her dreadfully at the hospital, but she was not strong enough for the work. But with you it will be different. I should think she would suit you admirably.'

'How does the lesson go on?' asked Mrs. Langrishe, sinking back on the pillow as if fatigued.

'She is learning to get on and off. She seems very quick at it. I fancy she will soon be able to ride.'

'That, too, will be useful to her,' said Mrs. Langrishe. 'The roads about Youghal are excellent, and she can spin down to the sea every morning for a dip. She told me she loved bathing. It is excellent there and so safe.'

'It seems to me she is going to you as a visitor, not as a professional nurse,' said Deborah Gray with a smile. 'No wonder she is so eager about it.'

'She is coming to me as a friend I hope,' said Mrs. Langrishe gravely. 'I need one, I assure you. That dear little bright face will be like sunshine in our gloomy old house.'

'Here is the tea,' said Deborah, rising suddenly to clear off the papers from the table.

In her heart she was saying: 'She is not happy—she is not happy. He does not love her!'


CHAPTER XV.

Nell came in an hour later, radiant and flushed, and elated at having mastered the first great difficulty of bicycling—mounting and getting off. She found Mrs. Langrishe in quite good spirits, rested and refreshed by her afternoon nap and her tea.

The three women sat on for some time talking. There was no doubt that Mrs. Langrishe was better, wonderfully better. And when dinner-time came she declared herself positively hungry. Nell had her own dinner sent up, so that she might see after her patient, and was surprised at the improvement in her appetite.

'When did you generally take that medicine?' she asked her suddenly.

'Immediately before meals, or when I had an attack of pain.'

Nell remembered that she had had two meals to-day without any medicine, and had complained of no pain. She began to wonder if after all Dr. Langrishe was treating her rightly. She did not mention such a suspicion to the loyal wife, but it entered her own mind, and remained there.

The post had gone out before Mrs. Langrishe remembered that she had not written to her husband, or told him of the broken medicine bottle. It would mean another day without it, and she seemed somewhat nervous. Nell cheered her valiantly, and when she went to bed gave her a few drops of chlorodyne, which Deborah Gray had in her bag. That night Nell slept in the adjoining dressing-room, which had a door of communication into the large bedchamber occupied by the invalid. She was a very light sleeper, and on this night was peculiarly alert. Once or twice she stole softly to her patient's side, and on each occasion found her sleeping quietly and profoundly, nor did she awake next morning till eight o'clock, by which time Nell had bathed and dressed, and was ready to look after her the moment she needed it.

Instead of the usual languid sufferer, it was a bright hopeful woman, who sat up in the bed and gave brisk assurance of her well-being. The change was astonishing. No pain—no symptoms such as of late had distressed her—nothing but the slight weakness of reaction. Nell gave her her breakfast with wondering and delighted eagerness. The change was so astonishing it almost frightened her. All that day she continued to improve. She walked to the sofa without assistance, and once established at her favourite window, insisted on Nell going out.

The girl sought Deborah Gray, and brought her in to read the improvement for herself. She was as much astonished as Nell.

'I wish,' she said, 'you had the prescription of that medicine you were taking. I can't help fancying it did not suit you.'

Mrs. Langrishe flushed hotly.

'My husband is one of the cleverest medical men of the day,' she said. 'I have every confidence in his treatment.'

'Have you never had any advice but his?' asked Nell.

'No. I should not think of such a thing. He has always been the best and kindest of husbands, and, as I said before, his skill is well known. He does not practice for a livelihood, but because he loves his profession. The poor adore him. He gives them his services for nothing. As for me, I would trust no one else. He knows my constitution: he understands me as no stranger could.'

'All the same,' thought Deborah Gray, 'you are a different woman without his medicine.'

The two friends went out into the grounds, leaving Mrs. Langrishe to write to her husband and explain the accident to the medicine. They were soon joined by Dick Barrymore, who came to give Nell another lesson. This morning she got on amazingly. She had learnt to balance herself and propel her machine a few yards by herself before he left her.

'I shall ride down to your hotel to thank your uncle this afternoon,' she said. 'I believe I could do it.'

'Yes,' he said, 'I believe you could. But what if you meet any vehicle? Remember that you have not had to pass anything in the road; that is the test of bicycling. You had better let me come round and take care of you.'

'I think so too,' said Deborah Gray.

'I hope you gave my letter to your uncle,' exclaimed Nell, suddenly, as she walked her machine up the slope.

'Of course I did. And he said you were too grateful for so dangerous a gift. He anticipates an accident.'

She laughed.

'I did not credit him with such a bad motive. But I would risk a hundred accidents for the pleasure of this beautiful machine.'

'In a week,' said Dick, 'you will be able to ride perfectly. What time this afternoon shall I come?'

'That depends on how Mrs. Langrishe is.'

'My dear child,' said Deborah Gray, 'don't worry about her. She is almost well, and if she likes I will sit with her. I have been out of doors since 6 o'clock this morning. I shall be glad of a quiet afternoon.'

Dick Barrymore looked gratefully at the dark, kind face. Deborah Gray had made him her friend for life.

* * * * * * *

The improvement in Mrs. Langrishe's health was steadily maintained. On the next day she was well enough to come downstairs and sit out in the grounds in a basket chair. The succeeding afternoon she and Nell went for a drive. Deborah Gray refused to join them. She wanted one of her long tramps by herself, she said.

It surprised Nell that Geoffrey Masterman and his nephew still remained on at Glengariff. But the 'man from Colorado' declared himself enchanted with the place, and gave no hint of pursuing his travels. As for Dick, he was only too well pleased to be within sight or sound of Nell. He could not disguise from himself the attraction she had for him, though her very friendliness and nonchalant manner of treating him plainly showed that her own regard was but a friendly one. But the moth loves the flame, even when its scorched wings proclaim the folly of close proximity. It was so pleasant to think that some time of each day would be spent with her—so pleasant to watch her graceful little figure as the bicycle lessons progressed, so pleasant to talk, or listen to her talking.

She was radiantly happy just now. A wave of good luck seemed to have lifted her on a calm sea at last. She blessed the day she had come to Glengariff. She loved the place, she loved her work, she took Roche's and all its guests and belongings into the warm embrace of her fervent gratitude, she grew warmly attached to Mrs. Langrishe, the more so as her pride in her first improvement was grounded on daily renewed hopefulness. She had discarded the medicine altogether, for by the time it arrived her patient was so well it was not needed. She ate well, slept well, and now rarely complained of that terrible pain which had been used to attack her. At the end of a week she could walk out into the grounds, and take daily drives. If the improvement lasted, there was every hope of her returning home in a fortnight's time perfectly well.

'I hardly think you will need a nurse after all,' said Nell one evening, when she was pacing up and down the grass plot in front of the hotel with the convalescent leaning on her arm. 'I feel like a fraud, going back with you. Your husband will turn me out.'

Mrs. Langrishe laughed.

'I shall need you, don't be uneasy,' she said. 'If you can't make a patient of me, I shall make a companion of you. I couldn't part with you now, Nell.'

She never called her by the formal Miss Nugent. It was a curious fact that while no one ever thought of relaxing into 'Deborah' from 'Miss Gray,' almost everyone who knew Nell felt instinctively compelled to call her by her Christian diminutive.

'It is all the fault of my want of inches,' she said to Dick, who had joined them, as he frequently did. 'I can't be dignified, and I am always expecting to be chucked under the chin or patted on the head. No one would dream of taking such a liberty with Deborah; but then I'm not Deborah.'

'For which I am profoundly grateful,' he said.

'That is not a polite speech; but I suppose it is well intentioned, and it is not worth while quarrelling as we part so soon. Did I tell you Mrs. Langrishe and I start for Killarney on Thursday? We shall stay there one or two days, then go to Cork, rest a night at the Imperial, and run down to Youghal next day.'

'My uncle and I,' said Dick, 'are also returning to Killarney on Thursday.'

Mrs. Langrishe looked at him quickly. A smile hovered at the corners of her mouth.

'Are you really? That is singular. I suppose you will do the journey on your bicycle?'

'No, on the coach. I must make the most of my opportunities of seeing the scenery.'

Mrs. Langrishe suddenly thought she would like to rest in the porch, and left them to continue their promenade alone. They watched her mount the steps and take one of the basket chairs scattered about. The lady with gouty foot began to talk to her.

'I hope,' said Nell, as they moved on, 'that Mrs. Langrishe will be able to stand the journey. Isn't it wonderful the way she has improved?'

'I think you have a way with your patients,' he said, 'that is better than drugs and doctors.'

'I wish I could patent it,' she said, laughing. 'I might make a nice little fortune. A shilling and three half-pence a bottle, with Government stamp, Nurse Nugent's Patent Cure.'

He smiled, somewhat sadly.

'I suppose,' he said, 'it is no use telling you how much I shall miss you?'

'If it is any relief, you may do so,' she said. 'Though I fail to see where the use comes in.'

'You look such a soft, sweet little woman, Nurse Nell, to have such a hard heart.'

'I am not aware it is hard, but I don't care for sentimental speeches, as I have told you before.'

He sighed and walked on in silence for a few moments.

'You have no idea how long you will be staying with these people?' he asked presently.

'Not the least,' said Nell. 'I am engaged at a yearly salary, and if I give satisfaction I shall probably remain on.'

'It hurts me to hear you talk like that,' he said quickly. 'I suppose that is why you do it. Nothing pleases a woman so much as to know she is giving pain to a man.'

'Are those the sort of things you say in your books?' asked Nell.

'I say nothing in my books that life has not taught me, or I have not proved to be true.'

'What a horrid experience you must have had, then,' she said. 'And what terrible people you must have known. Vampires and women with pasts, and who did the things they ought not to have done. I hope you will never put me in a book. I shouldn't like it at all.'

'The book in which I have put you,' he said, gravely, 'will never be printed. It is only a short story that it contains, but it seems all of my life to me. The book is closed; and locked away in my heart, little Nurse Nell. It can only be released and read by—yourself.'

The bright colour left her cheek, and for once her smile and words were not ready to answer him. When she did speak it was with a sudden sense of anger, for which he was not prepared.

'I have tried to make you understand,' she said, 'that I cannot hear speeches like—like that. I don't want to believe you mean them. If you did——'

'Yes?' he said, turning rather white as he met her angry eyes. 'If I did——'

'Then it would certainly end all our friendship. Is that plain enough.'

'Yes, it is very plain indeed, and very cruel.'

'I can't help it. If it would make you understand me any better I would tell you that I can never care for any man in any way but just as—a friend. The moment there is any sentiment or nonsense of that sort I hate them. I can't help it, I don't believe in them.'

'Because one has been treacherous,' he said. 'You hinted as much to me once. But I know more of life—of men—and perhaps of women than you do. I know that your heart won't always be obdurate, and visit the sins of one upon the heads of all. So I will be patient, Nell, and bide my time. For the present, say you forgive me. Don't send me away utterly miserable from dear Glengariff.'

She half smiled.

'It is a dear place,' she said. 'One can't even be unamiable here. I am so sorry to go away.'

A soft troubled breath escaped her as she looked around at familiar landmarks.

'I wonder,' she said, 'if I shall ever come back here? That is the worst of going to a place and getting fond of it. You want to come back again, and you never can, just in the same way.'

'No,' he said, sadly. 'Never, just in the same way. It would comfort one to feel that the way might be a better or a happier one, but we can't know even that.'

Silence fell upon them once more. The shadows of the trees crept duskily over Nell's bright hair. She looked up at last, a slight flush on her cheeks, a curious little smile on her lips. 'Well, as it will soon be goodbye,' she said, 'I won't quarrel. I am afraid I was bad tempered just now. You don't deserve it, for you have been very good to me, and so has your uncle. So I promise to be nice and amiable while we are here. Does that satisfy you?'

She looked so fair, and young, and sweet, that he longed to take her in his arms and pour out the long pent-up passion of his heart on her lips, let her be ever so angry. But he checked himself by a strong effort.

'Anything,' he said, 'will satisfy me that you are good enough to give.'

She held out her hand, and he took it and held it for a moment, letting his eyes say what she had forbidden his lips to utter.


CHAPTER XVI.

NELL'S DIARY.

Knockminoss House, Youghal, July 7.

A formidable task has been set me by my friend, Deborah Gray. None other than to keep a diary of all events that happen until we meet again!

We had spent a long-promised holiday together at Glengariff, in the south-west of Ireland, and then I undertook the charge of Mrs. Langrishe, an invalid lady who was good enough to take a fancy to my not very useful and insignificant self. It is a week since Debbie left, and yesterday we arrived here, after journeying by easy stages to Killarney and Cork. Mrs. Langrishe bore the journey admirably, and arrived at Youghal looking so well that I felt proud to reintroduce her to her husband in the character of a convalescent, instead of that of the wretched invalid I had first taken charge of. A carriage met us at the station, and a cart for the luggage. (What an advantage it is to be rich, and how delightfully easy it makes life!)

I looked out eagerly as we drove along by the sea, which spreads wide and blue before you as you come out of the little station. A stone wall protects the Strand, and the houses built along the road leading to the town. I am not good at description. I only know we passed a lighthouse, which was open to the harbour, and faced south and south-west, and whose light, I was told by the doctor, could be seen out at sea at a distance of two leagues. Then came a street, with tall, old houses on the left, and a modern and pleasant looking hotel on the right. A little further down stood the Presentation Convent, a Gothic built edifice of imposing appearance. I saw solitary figures of nuns in their black dresses and strange headgear pacing to and fro the narrow paths, which had been made on the sloping hills behind the convent itself. The carriage then turned into the main street of Youghal. A narrow, dirty street it was. On either side were low, miserable hovels, with swarms of children, half-fed and filthy, playing in the gutters or clamouring round shop doors. Women with shawls about their heads, in ragged gowns, and with worn and haggard faces and unkempt hair, stood about in groups, wasting in that eternal Irish gossip the time that would have cleaned and tidied their houses, their children, and themselves.

The hot July sunset lit up the squalor and dirt that had set their stamp on every side. Only a few decent shops stood out from the wretched buildings in the neighbourhood of the old clock tower. The town itself lay under the shadow of a steep hill, and its one miserable street straggled on for about a mile, till it reached a wider road beyond quay and harbour, leading to the bridge which spanned the river.

We turned suddenly to the left, and the horses mounted slowly up a steep, uneven road. We drove on for a long time. There were no houses in sight—fields and woods were all I could see in the fading light of the west.

'We are home now,' said Mrs. Langrishe, with a sigh of relief.

I saw the carriage pass through an old stone gateway, past a lodge, at which an old woman with a wrinkled, evil-looking face was standing, dropping curtseys. Then we passed quickly up a short avenue, so close and thickly set with trees that the last glow of sunset was completely shut out, and we were plunged into a sudden twilight. The avenue ended before a grey stone house, built as so many houses in Ireland are, with a square frontage, unrelieved by any architectural fancy. But it faced south, and before my delighted eyes spread the vast blue of the Atlantic.

The ground on which I stood was a plain stretch of grass, ending with a wire fence that shut it off from a sort of plantation. On either side the house was shut in by trees densely packed. Accustomed as my Irish eyes were to the luxuriant foliage that is so marked a feature of Irish scenery, I yet fancied that there was too much wooding about Knockminoss to be healthy. It seemed to suffocate the place. In this hot stirless night no breath of air reached us. The house had a desolate set-apart look, it seemed to me. Its only redeeming feature was that wide sweep of sea view, far off as it was.

I had very little time, however, to make observations. Mrs. Langrishe had entered the house and called to me to follow her. She was standing in a low square hall, which struck me as singularly gloomy. It was handsomely furnished, but in a cold, stiff, formal fashion, that my modern eyes did not approve. Out of this hall led the dining-room and drawing-room. At the back, was a library and a small study, used by Dr. Langrishe as a consulting room. The kitchen regions spread further into the rear. A very wide staircase, with shallow steps and carved oak balustrade, led to the bedrooms. The house was only two storeys high. The servants' rooms were above the kitchens, and led to by a separate staircase.

Mrs. Langrishe pointed out the various rooms as we went up the stairs. The doors were all open. The dining-room was lit, and the table laid for dinner. We went first into a lovely pink and white bedroom. The windows open to the same broad sweep of sea and curve of coast that I had so admired.

'This is my bedroom,' she said. 'Next to it is my husband's dressing-room and a bathroom. On this side is my own little boudoir, where I usually spend mornings. Your rooms, Nell, are on the other side. You won't have such a good view. Your windows look down on the garden and orchard, but you get a side glimpse of the sea that you are so in love with.'

She came nearer to me, and we both stood looking out to the blue waters—the small rocky island capped by its white lighthouse, and the bold headland that sheltered Ballycotton Bay.

'Ah!' she said, with a sigh, 'if you only knew how good it is to look on all this once more with eyes of health. I was so wretched when I looked on it last. The years had begun with me, Nell, when I could only say, "I have no pleasure in them." Thank God, all is changed now. Thank God!'

I saw her lips move—her eyes grew dim with grateful feeling. I said nothing. It is always my fate to feel like a fool in presence of any strong emotion on the part of anyone else. I suppose I look it, too. Fortunately it has not been my fate to have a mirror at hand at such moments!

When she had recovered from her agitation, she took me to my own room—or rather rooms—for there were two. A large, airy bedroom, plainly, but comfortably furnished, and a sweet little sitting-room adjoining it—a nest of cosy, beautiful things, low chairs, tables, screens, a piano, bookcases round the walls, china, flowers—all that my eyes delighted in, set in subdued harmonies of terracotta and dull, olive green. I gave vent to raptures and exclamations.

'You surely did not do all this for me!' I said. She smiled.

'I ordered it to be done,' she said. 'It was a pleasure to think it out and plan it! I am a rich woman, Nell, and I am at a loss often to know what to do with my money. It was quite a godsend to have a new use for it, I assure you.'

A sort of shadow crept over her face.

'Once,' she said, 'I had planned these rooms for my own little girl. This was all white then, Nell, white like herself, my little faded lily; but you see it was not to be. I lost her five years ago. It has been my life's great sorrow. I did not tell you before. I rarely speak of it. A loss like that, Nell, one never quite gets over. It is a wound that bleeds inwardly, and slowly. It never really heals. I think no other child will ever call me mother. Sometimes I hope not, for sake of this one memory.'

She looked round. I saw her face brighten.

'It is all different now,' she said, 'and it looks to me like yourself, Nell, bright and sunny, and full of rich colouring. It will suit you. I hope you will be happy, dear child. I hope you will believe that I bring you here as my friend. I have often longed for one. I have been lonely, sad, depressed, but though I know many women, few appeal to me. You did at once. Don't fancy I am saying this for the mere sake of saying it. I mean it. You will see I mean it.'

I stammered out some hasty words. What could I say, but that I was her friend, that I hoped I should be so always. For I had grown very fond of this poor woman, and I felt a strong pity for her. I fancy—but there, I am not sitting here to waste my pages on fancies. They are to contain actual, real records.

Now that my first evening is over at Knockminoss, what shall I write of it? The handsome doctor was charming at dinner. He talked to his wife and myself impartially. He seemed astonished at the improvement in her, at her appetite, her colour, her animation. I thought I had never seen her look so well. She had put on a pale pink blouse of some filmy material, through which her neck and arms showed with becoming discretion. She was a thin woman, and chiffon and gauze were dear to her heart.

Her hair, which I had lately taken to dressing for her, was no longer dull and lustreless. It shone with a natural healthy gloss, due, I flatter myself, to my care, and was twisted in a soft loose coil at the back of her well-shaped head. On the whole I felt very proud of my charge, and expected more gratification from the doctor than he showed. But perhaps he is not a demonstrative man. As for her, poor soul, she adores him. Anyone can see that—he best of all. It is foolish, I think, to show her love so plainly, but then one is always so much wiser for others than for oneself!

After dinner we all sat out on the great grass plot. (It is not a lawn, just a gradual, smooth, wide slope, unbroken by flower-bed or shrub.) It was intensely hot, but the sky was bright, though the moon was only in her first quarter and the stars were scarcely visible. Dr. Langrishe strolled to and fro, smoking a cigar. His wife and I talked at intervals. I wanted to go in and unpack, but she would not let me.

'It is too hot to do anything indoor,' she said; 'do stay out.'

I learnt that there was a short cut down to the sea, and that they had a bathing-box of their own, which I might use. I promised myself an early swim to-morrow morning.

'Isn't this house a long way from the town?' I asked suddenly. 'I mean for a doctor. Suppose your husband was wanted suddenly——'

'Oh,' she said, 'he has a special sort of practice. Besides, he does not depend entirely on that. He has private means. There are other doctors in the town. He would never have lived there. In emergency cases they are always at hand. But in case of an operation, or anything critical, they send for him. He is a very clever surgeon.'

I thought of those long, slender white fingers, and I remembered operations it had been my lot to witness in the hospital. I shuddered.

'Are you cold, child?' she asked.

'No,' I said. 'I was only thinking of some of the scenes I have gone through. How I used to hate the operating-room!'

'What nerve you must have had,' she said. 'I can hardly believe, when I look at you, that you were ever a real white-capped uniformed nurse! I should like to see you in your dress.'

'You will see me,' I said. 'I have sent for all my belongings to Dublin, and when they come I will put on my professional attire to show you how I look in it.'

'I don't wish you to wear it here,' she said, almost anxiously. 'I should fancy I was ill again; and oh, Nell,' and she clasped her hands suddenly, 'I do hope and pray I may keep well. I should dread to go through that suffering and fear again.'

I cheered her, of course, and laughed at the idea of a relapse. Indeed, in my own mind, I am sorely puzzled as to what was the matter with her. Latin names are so useful, but so ambiguous! Her husband's explanation had left me completely in the dark. Her recovery was so sudden that it took me by surprise. I questioned her about Youghal as a place of residence in order to change the conversation. She mentioned the names of some neighbours, but lamented that the good families and old families were now no more. Death or ruin or misfortune had overtaken so many of them.

'Our nearest neighbour,' she said, 'is Lady Ffolliott. She is a widow, and lives at a place called Durrus. It is further inland than this. A lovely old place. She has bought it I believe. She is a great horsewoman. She rides splendidly, takes fences like a jockey, they say. She is what one would call a brilliant woman. By that I mean that when she is in a room everybody knows it. She is very popular and very rich, goes to Dublin for the season, and dresses magnificently.'

'I should like to see her,' I said.

'Oh, you will be sure to do that soon,' said Mrs. Langrishe. 'She comes over here very often. Indeed, my husband told me she is coming to dinner to-morrow night, and he will probably ask one or two of the officers from the barracks also. Lady Ffolliott likes male society.'

This is all I have gleaned so far about my new surroundings. It has taken me till midnight to write it all. So I think I have done my duty, and can go to bed with a clear conscience!


CHAPTER XVII.

July 8.

I slept well, and woke at six. The morning was lovely, and I dressed hastily, made up bathing dress and towels, and started for the sea.

Mrs. Langrishe had given me full directions as to the short cut, and it brought me out on a road that led to the cliffs. I followed them in the direction of the Strand, and soon discovered her 'bathing-box,' as we call them in Ireland—I had the sea almost to myself, save for a few male creatures in the distance; who used the cliffs as dressing-rooms, for machines there were none.

The tide was in, the water lovely. I swam and dived, and floated and frisked, with keen enjoyment of the bracing air, the warm, lovely sunshine, the smooth, hard sands underfoot. On my way back I met Dr. Langrishe. He was on his way for his dip, he told me, and mentioned that the breakfast hour was nine o'clock. That gave me ample time to dry my long locks and dress. Then I went to Mrs. Langrishe's door to ask if I could do anything for her.

She bade me come in.

I found her sitting by the window, her hair streaming about her shoulders. She looked pale and heavy-eyed, as if she had not slept. I felt distressed at so sudden an alteration. She laid the blame on the heat. It had been impossible to sleep, and a bad night always upset her. I said little. I did not wish to discourage her. She had been so anxious to come home; but it struck me she would have done better to remain at Glengariff. I did her hair for her, and helped her into a cool cotton gown. She looked better when she was dressed, and we went downstairs into the dining-room, where breakfast was laid.

Dr. Langrishe soon appeared, fresh from his bath, the picture of handsome, healthy manhood. It was strange how he had always seemed to me to dwarf and shadow his wife by his own super-abundant vitality. This morning I noticed it again, even as I had noticed it at Glengariff, when I had first seen them together.

After breakfast, Mrs. Langrishe had to interview her cook, and give her orders for the dinner this evening. I made use of the liberty given me to explore the outdoor premises. I saw a cow grazing in the paddock and two or three horses. There was a poultry yard also and a range of stables and coach-houses shut in by a high stone wall from the kitchen garden and adjoining orchard. From nowhere else except the front of the house was the sea visible. Far off, a range of mountains stood up against the misty sky. I knew the Blackwater divided them from Youghal. Near as they looked, they stood in County Waterford, but geography is not my strong point, so I will only say that they looked as if they belonged to Youghal and its county. Leaving the orchard, I took my way down the avenue by which we approached the house from the main road. In this sultry July morning it was delightful to wander under the cool shade of the thickly planted trees. Overhead the branches met and interlaced, shutting out the hot sunshine with their lovely green leafage. I strolled slowly along until I came to the lodge.

Standing in the doorway was the same evil-looking old woman I had noticed the previous evening. As she heard my step she looked sharply at me. She was knitting, and her needles moved swiftly and mechanically amidst the grey wool. I paused a moment, and wished her good morning. She gave it briefly. For an Irish woman this surprised me. I lingered still, asking a few questions as to the road and distance from the town.

'I suppose you live here,' I said, after she had answered me.

'I do, miss. I've lived here since the master took the house. I knew his family well. 'Tis the sad changes I've seen amongst them one and all. He's the last of them now, is Mister James, and sorra a chick or a child coming to kape the old name up. The mistress is but a poor, delicate crature. God help her! You're not belongin' to her, I suppose, miss?'

'No,' I said. 'I'm only a friend. I've come to stay and look after her for a while.'

'Indade, thin, she nades it; sorely she does. 'Tis a lonesome life she's had av it, as Moll Duggan knows. And though she's English, and quare in her ways, and none too much liked in the place, yet she's a kind way wid her, and she's had her own troubles, too. They'll come to us, rich or poor. And I'm sorry for her since the child died. She's not the same at all, miss—not at all.'

'It was a great pity, I am sure,' I said. 'She has told me about it.'

'It's not often she'll spake av it, poor soul! I hear she's mended grand since she wint away to the mountains. Shure 'twas a poor ghost av a thing she was lavin' here. I never thought to see anything but her coffin brought back. No life or strength in her at all, there wasn't.'

'Well, she's very different now,' I said, cheerfully. 'And I hope she'll keep so. Her husband is a very clever doctor, isn't he?'

She shot a swift glance at me.

'That's as may be,' she said, cautiously. 'How would I be knowin' whether he's clever or not. Shure, 'tis only the quality has the grand diseases. The dispensary does for the likes av us, whin we're sick.'

'Do you live here, quite alone?' I asked, by way of changing the conversation.

Her restless fingers stayed a moment. The sunlight flashed on the long bright needles.

'What would the likes av me be wantin' wid company,' she said.

'I thought,' I said, 'you might have had children—or grandchildren.'

Her face darkened. She said no further word, but went quickly within, and shut the half-door of the little lodge after her.

I was astonished. It is rare for the Irish of her class to take offence at inquiries respecting either their families or affairs. But she appeared to have done so, for some unexplained reason. I walked on to the entrance gates and stood a moment there, debating whether I should venture down the long hot road. As I stood I heard the sound of wheels behind me. I looked round and saw Dr. Langrishe driving a dogcart, with a man behind him. I stepped aside, but as he saw me he drew rein.

'I am going on my rounds,' he said, 'can I drive you to the town? It is rather a long walk on such a hot day.'

I agreed at once, and sprang upon the high step with alacrity.

I loved driving, and we bowled rapidly along, turning off at right angles to the road we had traversed the evening of our arrival.

'I have to call at a house near here,' he said, 'Lady Ffolliott's. I won't be a moment. I have only to give her a message from my wife.'

I was all curiosity. What I had heard of Lady Ffolliott had interested me so much that I longed to see her. I hardly expected, however, to do that unless she happened to be in the grounds. We drove through an avenue of sycamore trees, and came out before an imposing-looking building, double fronted, with a massive porch and beautifully laid out grounds surrounding it.

On the smooth emerald green lawn strutted a magnificent peacock, its brilliant plumage spread to the hot sunshine, and, standing on the broad stone steps, feeding the lovely vain creature with cake, which she scattered on the turf, was a woman.

Such a woman!

I have never been given to raptures over my sex—pretty faces and lovely forms are common enough in Ireland—but this woman almost took my breath away. She was so beautiful. She was very tall, and yet so exquisitely proportioned, one would not have her height a shade less. I think, though, the most wonderful thing about her was her hair. It was of a ruddy, red-gold colour, twisted and coiled about her shapely head in perfect masses. The sunshine streamed down on it, making yet more rich and vivid its glorious colour, and the soft waves and tendrils that softened her brow. The colouring of her face was lovely—dead creamy white, with a faint bloom on the cheeks, which deepened into crimson on the mouth. She wore a white gown, severely simple, but showing to perfection the shape of her figure, and the warm ivory of the throat. As we drove up, she looked straight at us. She did not move, only a faint smile touched the curves of her mouth, and her lifted eyes of dark, almost purple blue, revealed a sort of amused curiosity. They were as lovely as everything else belonging to her, fringed by dark lashes that curled upward.

'Ah, doctor, good morning,' she said, and I almost started at her voice. It spoilt the whole charm of the picture. It was hard, metallic, with a strange accent to which I was unaccustomed. It struck me, as a first impression, that it was not the voice of a lady. 'What brings you to Durrus so early?' she went on. 'No bad news, I hope?'

'No,' he said, throwing the reins to the man who had sprung to the horse's head. 'I have only come with a message.'

He jumped down from his high seat and approached her. I noted they did not shake hands, but passed into the porch together, he talking earnestly.

Now, I suppose, I have no business to relate my impressions in detail in these pages, and yet I could not help the strange feeling that came over me as I watched those two figures. They were both so handsome, they looked so splendidly matched in height, looks, and physique, and they seemed on such remarkably good terms with one another. The thought uppermost in my mind was that I was glad I was not James Langrishe's wife. It was foolish, no doubt, but then these pages will be a record of foolishness, so a little more or less to the general amount won't matter. The message took about a quarter of an hour to deliver. Then he came out alone, mounted to his seat, and we drove off.

'So that——' I said, as we trotted down the avenue, 'so that is Lady Ffolliott. Mrs. Langrishe spoke about her as a near neighbour and a great horsewoman. She did not prepare me for a "great beauty" also.'

He looked at me quickly.

'You think her handsome, do you? I thought women were always unappreciative of each other's good looks.'

'One would have to be blind,' I said, 'not to acknowledge Lady Ffolliott's. She is the handsomest woman I ever saw in my life.'

'And not an "if" or a "but" to qualify that opinion?' he asked, ironically.

'No,' I said. 'I think not. Of course, I don't know her yet. Some faces gain by repose, and lose by expression. I can't tell if she is a picture or a statue till I speak to her.'

'You will have that opportunity to-night,' he said. 'She is to dine with us. And you will hear her sing, too. She has a glorious voice.'

I thought of the speaking voice that had been so harsh and grating, but I was wise enough to say nothing on that score.

'I did not introduce you,' he went on. 'I reserved that till you were on her own level. It would have been absurd calling out names with you at that elevation.'

'Yes,' I agreed. 'Even if she noticed me, of which I have grave doubts.'

'Oh, she did,' he said, quickly. 'She asked who you were—at once.'

'Then she must be Irish,' I said laughing.

'Of course, she is. Did you suppose——'

'Her accent puzzled me,' I said, as he paused. 'I couldn't quite make it out.'

He said no more, only touched the horse with the whip, and sent us spinning along the white shadeless road with renewed speed.

'Are you going to the town?' I asked, for I hate silence, and he at all events had not an unmusical voice, or an accent that one could cut with a knife.

'Yes,' he said. 'To the chemist's. I want some drugs, and I have a consultation later on. By-the-by'—and he slackened speed, and checked the horse to a walk—'how long did Mrs. Langrishe continue to take the medicine I sent?'

I had been looking straight ahead, for a glimpse of the river shone brightly in the distance, and the sloping hills and wide green country dotted with white farmhouses on the Waterford side, made a lovely picture in the foreground.

As he spoke, however, I glanced at him. His lips were set tight together, and I noted a curious white line round the lower one. It faded away as the pressure of the upper lip lessened.

'The medicine,' I said, vaguely. 'Oh, of course, I remember. The bottle got broken. It was all spilt.'

'Not the second one,' he said, sharply.

'Oh, no. That was all right. But by the time it arrived, Mrs. Langrishe was so much better that she did not need it. I believe it is at Glengariff still. We meant to bring it, but forgot.'

He gave the horse a sudden savage lash that sent it flying down the hill. I caught the side of the dogcart, with a little cry of terror. The jerk had almost unseated me.

Have I ever said Dr. Langrishe was handsome? In that moment his face showed the savage, brutal ferocity of the devil.


CHAPTER XVIII.

July 8th, Midnight.

I have just come up to my room; but sleep seems so far from my eyes that I will add a few more notes to my day's record, before I go to bed.

The night is intensely hot—the sultry, close heat that is the precursor of storm. I have put on a cool linen dressing-gown. The window is wide open, and my table is close beside it. Not a breath of air stirs the lace curtains—the candles burn steadily on the dressing-table. The house is very quiet. Not a sound breaks on the drowsy stillness.

What was it Debbie said to me the night before we parted?

'Write down everything that strikes you, however unimportant it may seem.' Everything.

To-night I am haunted—cursed, so to speak—by the memory of words I never ought to have heard. God knows how sorry I am that I did hear them! Shall I write them here? Will it be any relief if I do?

To explain them I must touch first on the dinner party. It was a very small affair. Only Lady Ffolliott, a Captain Tivy, and a young ensign (Charley Blake was his name), and ourselves. Six in all. Lady Ffolliott looked superb. She wore white satin, a rich, gleaming, lustrous satin, that any duchess might have envied. It was perfectly plain, save for some of the lovely Youghal lace on the bodice, caught by a spray of diamonds. It made me feel positively un-Christian to look at all this prodigal beauty. Such a face, set on ivory white neck and shoulders. Such a figure, carrying with insolent ease its own faultless grace. No wonder men lose their heads over a woman's beauty. Here, at least, was excuse enough for it.

Poor Mrs. Langrishe. What chance had she, though I did my best for her? It was the light of a farthing dip in comparison to the glowing noonday sun, the weakness of water to wine. I don't often 'drop into poetry,' but I never look or think of Lady Ffolliott without remembering those lines of Mrs. Browning:——


. . . . Mere cold clay,
As all such things are, but so fair,
She takes the breath of men away
Who gaze upon her unaware.


That describes her perfectly.

Of course, to all the men the room contained but one woman. Mrs. Langrishe and myself received the attention of courtesy, but Lady Ffolliott had the eyes and ears and souls of them all! And upon my word, I couldn't blame them.

She sang to us in the drawing-room later in the evening. To my astonishment, the harsh and accent-marred speaking voice melted into a deep throbbing contralto when she sang. It was another spell, another charm. How more than enough some women have to be sure! And how far too little others!

Mrs. Langrishe is passionately fond of music. She plays, and plays well. But who wanted to hear mere playing, after drinking in those full-throbbing passionate notes, and listening to words that were tender enough to wake up the very feelings they described? I don't know the name or the words of that song. She used no music, but I do know that it left a most unholy longing behind it. A longing to love madly, wrongly, defiantly, for love alone made life worth living. It was after that, when we had all sauntered out on the grassy sward, that my melancholy fate took me within hearing distance of those betraying words.

I had gone in the house for a lace shawl for Mrs. Langrishe. Lady Ffolliott feared neither night dews nor chills. With her lovely neck and milk-white arms bared to the moonlight, she stood just a few yards beyond the long French window. The faint light fell on her rich hair and her insolently beautiful face. I stepped lightly out of the window. She was just before me. Beside her stood Dr. Langrishe. He was speaking.

'It is hell, Di,' I heard him say. 'Hell—that you are giving me.'

'Hush-h,' she whispered warningly, as my black dress passed shadow-like over the grass at her side. But I had heard. I cannot forget. Oh, I wish to heaven I could.

I have never thought I could act. I have never thought it was in me to be otherwise than blunt, outspoken Nellie Nugent. But to-night has taught me that it is wiser sometimes to mask feeling than betray it. I never looked at them when we returned to the house. I talked foolish, frivolous nothings with Charley Blake. I listened to Captain Tivy's laments over the ill-fortune that had stationed him at Youghal, instead of Cork, and all the time my brain was throbbing with the memory of those overheard words. I heard them echoing through the laughter and the jests. I hear them now. It seems to me I shall always hear them. . . Do I stand on the threshold of a tragedy? . . the broken passion; the fierce despair of James Langrishe's voice haunts me with a sudden sense of terror.

'It is hell, Di, hell—that you are giving me!'

That he should call her by her Christian name, which his wife innocently used, would not have startled me so much. It might have been the result of a moment's forgetfulness, but those reckless words meant something more, something worse, something dangerous. I am no student of character; I cannot read faces as Debbie does; but even I can see that James Langrishe is a man of fierce temper, strong passions, fiery nature—a dangerous man to thwart; a man who would risk everything to accomplish his wishes, a man whose love would be as terrible as his hate. When I think of Diana Ffolliott's lovely face and maddening beauty, her daring insolence of speech and manner, my heart sinks within me. To love such a woman means badly for any man when obstacles and impediments stand in the way. For such a man as James Langrishe, it would mean——What I dare not whisper to myself—what I dare not write even here.

* * * * * * *

July 16.

A gap of many days in my entries. Let me sum them up in one, and make it a long one, for I am all alone to-night, and the time hangs heavy on my hands. The doctor and his wife have gone out somewhere to dine (I do not know the people, they live at Ardmore, or near Ardmore); and will not be home till late. I am tired of roaming in the grounds, so I have come up to my own pretty room, and taken out my diary to write it up.

It is no longer a task to me. I begin to like it, and with the liking the interest grows. Some of its extracts I sent to Debbie in my last letter. She has not answered it yet, but I know she is very busy. I know how little time she can take from her work. This is her last year, too, at that hospital, and she is not likely to spare herself.

But to return. What have I to write since my last entry? One conviction, surely rooted in my mind, is that Dr. Langrishe does not like me. Disguise it as he may, a hundred little things show it me. On the other hand, Mrs. Langrishe's attachment deepens every day. We are constantly together. We drive, or rather I drive her, about the many beautiful spots surrounding Youghal. We walk in the grounds, we shop in the town. She has shown me the beautiful old church whose interest is historical, and whose existence dates from the thirteenth century. I have seen the wonderful tomb of the first Earl of Cork, and the strange grave in the churchyard where the grass will never grow, and the water gate, and the famous old clock-tower once used as a bridewell. I have wandered in dear Sir Walter Raleigh's house, and sat on the broad oak window seat, where he and Spenser may have discussed 'The Faerie Queen.'

Dear, lovely old house, to me sacred as a shrine to the pilgrim's heart, for Sir Walter is my hero of history! He, at least, knew how to build a domicile that had beauty of design. They say he had it built on the lines of a Devonshire manor house, in honour of his birthplace. One wonders what brought him to Youghal from his far-off sunny county!

The house is covered thick with ivy and creepers, and bowered in myrtles, from which it takes its name. It has three pointed gables, and a picturesque porch. The walls are chiefly wainscotted in Irish oak. In one room was a carved mantel, to which I lost my heart. It rose nearly to the ceiling. Outside, in the old, old garden, stand a group of ancient yews, the trees from which Youghal takes its name, 'Eochaille,' the yew wood. I could have spent hours in that old house, and delicious garden. I saw the place where the first potato was planted in Irish soil. Little dreamed the planter that one day that homely root would be the national food; and I saw, too, the very tree under which my hero had smoked his pipe, what time his Irish cook deemed that Old Nick was at work with her master, on seeing smoke issuing from his nostrils and mouth, and had dashed a bucket of water over him in her terror, crying out lustily to saint and Virgin for help against the evil one.

To Mrs. Langrishe this is, of course, old ground, and she has been over and over again to the house and church, and knows the history of both according to tradition and chronicle, but to me it was all new and sacred and wonderful, and reconciled me even to the dirty old town, with its filth and its smells, and its jumble of queer houses and hovels, their low half-doors polished by generations of leaning elbows.

It is only when I get up on the hilly ground to the west of the town that I forget its disagreeables. Up there, where part of the old walls still stand, one can go back at least a couple of centuries. If stones could speak, what tales those old walls could tell. Untold interest lurked for me in their ivy-covered towers and turrets and loopholes, and bits of ancient gateways. What sieges they have stood! What battle waves of blood and terror have broken over and around them! What grants and rights they held for the town they shielded! What changes of monarchy have been rung out and rung in with shouts of joy and blaze of bonfire! And still they stand, and generations have passed away. The arms that built and repaired and preserved them are dust, and yet still they stand. Wonderful it seems to me, and in the wonder I almost forget to be critical as I gaze down on the queer jumble of buildings—some modern, some half-ruined—that form the present town. Heaped pell-mell, all sizes and sorts, hovel and house standing cheek by jowl, their roofs moss-grown or broken, their walls coloured by time or stucco, cabbage and potato plots, manure heaps and pigsties, ruined cabins and narrow alleys, and ladder-like lanes that are mere stairways of rough steps, ancient graveyards and ancient buildings where never sunlight seems to come. Such is Youghal as I view it from its vantage point, the walls.

But enough of ancient history. I sat down to write of present events, and my pen has run on with a veritable guidebook description of my present surroundings. But I cannot help getting interested in a place where I live. I watch the pathetic misery of the faces that look out at me from their shrouding shawls, and I look at the poverty-stricken condition of the town, and I wonder if any improvement is possible.

Progress seems to have been abruptly arrested here. 'Don't care' seems branded alike on streets and houses and people. On market days, or at cattle fairs, the general gloom is relieved by a considerable amount of drunkenness. It is humiliating to watch the long string of ass carts, or 'butts' as they are called, wending their way homewards with an inebriated load, to whom even the eternal 'go an' presents difficulties of utterance. If it were not for the superior intelligence of the patient and belaboured little animals I doubt whether their owners would ever reach home on these occasions. As it is, I find myself wondering how much of the profit of pig or sheep or poultry, as the case may be, is flung away in the public-houses, instead of being kept for the good of wife and children. I am no politician, heaven knows. I state merely my own conviction of Ireland and Irish difficulties when I say that they spring from the inability of the people to provide for any 'to-morrow.'

The present day or hour is all they consider, and the result of such wisdom is only too evident.

I was saying that Mrs. Langrishe and I are much together. I observe her closely, all the more so because of that dread of which I dare not speak. I wonder if she thinks she still holds her husband's heart; if she ever did hold it, which I doubt. I know that the money is all hers. He has nothing worth speaking of.

She is the daughter of a rich Manchester merchant, now dead. He divided his enormous fortune between his two daughters, giving his wife only a life interest in it. Mrs. Langrishe is generosity itself. She gives her husband an income of his own, as I have discovered, and the whole expenses of the establishment are defrayed by her. She is a good manager, and not extravagant.

They keep several horses, and they have a closed carriage and private outside car, besides the dogcart and pony phaeton. We usually use the latter for our drives. It is light and convenient, and the pony is a steady safe-going animal such as Mrs. Langrishe loves. She is a highly nervous woman, and is in terror whenever her husband drives her. He is reckless in the extreme, both riding and driving. No horse is too high-mettled for him—a taste that Lady Ffolliott seems to share also.

She has been here twice since that memorable evening. Once she rode over in the early morning. She looked magnificent on horseback, a coal-black hunter, spirited and mettlesome enough to tax anyone's skill and nerve; yet to her hand docile as a lamb. Yesterday, again, she was here. She came to afternoon tea, and sat in the cool, pretty drawing-room for nearly an hour, chatting cordially to Mrs. Langrishe, and ignoring me in her usual insolent fashion. I do not like her.

Small wonder at that! Is she not rich, beautiful, triumphant, and patronising, and, above all, do I not feel she is treacherous? Poor Mary Langrishe! She suspects nothing. She is so blind and trustful that it angers me. And yet, not for worlds would I give a hint that all is not right. That her husband and her friend are deceiving her.

But, I ask myself with a sort of terror, how long will the blindness last, how long will concealment be possible? It is strange to look at these blank pages and think that a day may come when they will have to bear the burden of a secret whose import none of us can tell—as yet.

* * * * *

Have I said all I have to say? Is there nothing lurking in the background? A shadowy dread that I have been putting aside? Let me be honest and confess it. Before Mrs. Langrishe went out to-night she had one of those sharp, sudden spasms of pain that I had witnessed at Glengariff. It passed quickly, so quickly that she made light of it. She would not allow me to breathe a word to her husband, and she insisted on dressing and going to this party.

But I don't like it. I am not easy in my mind, for I cannot understand the cause. There, it is written, and my mind is relieved.


CHAPTER XIX.

July 17.

Last night it rained heavily, and the morning broke grey and cloudy. I looked out at the sodden grass and rain-drenched trees, and a distant haze that represented the sea. It reminded me somehow of my first day at Glengariff. Dear, lovely Glengariff! What a happy time I had there. And how long ago it seems. I wonder——

I broke off here. I argued with myself that Dick had no right to a place in these pages. Perhaps my conscience pricks me for not treating him well, but I liked him so much that I didn't want him to make love to me and spoil everything!

I have heard nothing from him, of course, since we said goodbye at Killarney. I half promised to write, but I have not done so. I think I am a bad correspondent. And I prefer to leave our next meeting to chance. 'What is to be will be,' I say to myself. 'I never expected to meet him in Ireland after parting with him in the ward of a London hospital. And yet it happened. In similar fashion, if Fate decrees, our paths may cross again. He is good, kind, true, reliable; and I know he cares very much for "little Nurse Nell," as he calls me, but yet my heart is obdurate. I cared once for a man. He treated me badly. I vowed I would never let myself care again. Perhaps it was a foolish vow. Dick tried to persuade me that it was. Ah! dear me——'

Enough of Dick. He has nothing to do with my present life, or the anxieties already hovering about it.

Mrs. Langrishe did not leave her bed this morning.

She said the dinner party had tired her, and they had been caught in the storm, and it made her nervous. I sat beside her for some time. Then she dropped off to sleep. I did not like her looks at all. The old, unhealthy pallor had come back to her cheeks and lips. She slept restlessly, and her hands and limbs twitched with odd, convulsive movements that surely 'nerves' alone could not account for. I was standing watching her in serious uneasiness when the door softly opened, and her husband entered.

He came over to my side. 'Ah, she is asleep at last,' he said. 'She had a bad night. The rest will do her good. I am going out now. I thought I would just have a look at her first.'

'She is not sleeping naturally,' I said. 'I don't like those convulsive movements of the muscles.'

As I said it I noticed his lips change. That curious white line I have before mentioned came round his lips. He bent over the sleeping woman as if to conceal his altered expression.

'Nonsense,' he said, drawing back again, and speaking in a sharp, subdued fashion. 'You are fanciful, Miss Nugent. This is simply a nervous affection. She is a highly nervous woman. She was almost hysterical last night on account of the storm.'

I said nothing. I had no inclination to pit my opinion against his, but all the same, I had my own ideas on the subject.

'Keep the room dark,' he went on, 'and let her sleep as long as she will. If she wants anything, let her have a little claret and seltzer water. There is a bottle downstairs, on the sideboard, the brand she likes.'

He drew out his gloves from his pocket, and fidgetted nervously with them for a moment.

'She had better remain upstairs to-day,' he went on presently. 'The quieter she is the better.'

'Very well,' I said, and resumed my seat, and took up some needlework on which I had been engaged. He went away then, and presently I heard wheels on the gravel drive, and knew he had left the house. For about an hour Mrs. Langrishe slept on. Then she awoke with a start and a cry of terror.

'Oh! I have had such a horrible dream, Nell!' she cried pantingly. Her eyes gazed wildly round, and her hand clutched my arm.

I tried to soothe her, but it was no easy task. Presently, however, she lay back on the pillows.

'I can't forget it,' she said, 'someone—I couldn't see the face, but only the hands, a strong, cruel-looking hand, with long, white fingers—was trying to strangle me. I can almost feel the pressure on my throat still! And over there, at the foot of the bed, a woman was standing, and laughing, and as she laughed she moved away, and I saw her body was that of a gigantic snake, only the head kept turning and looking at me.'

She shuddered as she lay among the lace-frilled pillows. All the appointments of her room and herself were of the daintiest and most costly description. Poor soul! Neither lace, nor satin, nor the delicate coral-pink colouring which made her bed a thing of beauty and softened the light from the opposite window—nor any of these things could make her look aught but a plain, pallid-faced woman, with the stamp of ill-health on her worn brow and sharpened features, and in her dimmed and weary eyes. My heart ached for her. I knew well that she only wished to set off her own want of attractions by tasteful and becoming surroundings. There was no vanity in the desire, only a longing to please the critical taste that had made her its yoke-fellow—a longing infinitely pathetic. I did my best to soothe her, but the dream seemed to have taken a strong hold upon her mind and she could not shake it off.

'It is the effects of the dinner party,' I said, lightly. 'Indigestion and nerves combined. By the way, who was there? Any Yawlishers?'

For so I always called the select society of the neighbourhood.

'Captain Tivy,' she said. 'And the Geraldines, and Di Ffolliott, of course.'

'Does she go everywhere?' I asked.

'Yes, she is our beauty, you know. Our showpiece, as it were. No party would be complete without her. Her dresses alone are a godsend to this benighted place. We should forget there was such a thing as fashion, but for Di's gowns and mantles and bonnets.'

'With all her beauty,' I said, 'I don't envy her. I don't think she is a happy woman.'

'She has lost her husband,' said Mrs. Langrishe, pityingly. 'And she has no child.'

'Ah, you are too compassionate,' I said. 'Lady Ffolliott is not the woman to bury her heart in a grave, and as for children—I have heard her say she could not understand any woman spoiling her figure.'

'She often makes strange speeches, Nell. She doesn't really mean them.'

'You are a better champion than she deserves,' I said, somewhat bitterly, for did I not know in my heart that this woman was no friend to my poor invalid.

'Am I?' she said, wearily. 'I don't know. I have been so happy in my married life that I can afford to pity wives unblessed, unloved, or widowed. But there are not many men like my Jim.'

Her Jim! Good heavens! the blindness of women.

Her Jim, whom she believed in and loved; her Jim, whose whole soul craved another woman. I bit my lips to keep back imprudent words.

She lay there quite still for a few moments, her eyes closed, and a sort of smile hovering round her pale lips. I suppose her fond, blind heart was praying for or dwelling upon 'her Jim' and his perfections.

'If you are feeling better,' I said, suddenly, 'I will fetch you some luncheon. It is past one o'clock. Dr. Langrishe left some claret for you downstairs. He said you were to have it.'

'Did he? He is so thoughtful. Very well, Nell. Tell Hannah to bring up a tray, and you go down and have your own luncheon.'

'I would rather stay here with you,' I said. 'If you don't mind.'

So I went down and gave the orders, and the parlourmaid brought up a luncheon tray on which were cutlets, and chicken, and fruit, and wine, and laid a small table in the window for me, so that I could take my own meal and look after my patient as well. She ate a very few mouthfuls, but drank the claret thirstily. It was a small-sized bottle, holding about three claret glasses. I mixed it with seltzer, and she declared it did her good.

'Do take some yourself,' she urged. 'I am rather critical about claret. The are very few brands I like. This is my favourite, and Jim always gets it for me.'

I seldom take wine, but the day was hot, and I was thirsty, so I mixed myself a tumblerful with the addition of the seltzer and drank it off.

'It is very nice,' I said. 'But I am no judge of wine. I couldn't tell one brand from another.'

She laughed. She seemed in better spirits and stronger. I advised her, however, to remain in bed till the evening.

'You shall get up for dinner,' I said, 'and put on a tea gown and come down. Tea gowns suit you. I will make you look lovely.'

She looked wistfully at me.

'Ah, Nell,' she said. 'I wish you could. But my day is over. I have no beauty left. It is not that I am vain. It is not for myself I care—it is——'

I lost all patience, and rang for Hannah to remove the things. I wanted to hear no more of 'her Jim.'

I set the room in order and made her pillows comfortable, and then offered to read to her. The rain had ceased, but the sky still looked grey and heavy. The room was dusky and very quiet. I was not surprised that after a short time the invalid's eyes closed, her breathing grew soft and subdued—she had fallen asleep again.

I laid down the book. Suddenly, a strange feeling of drowsiness overtook me also. It was so unusual, that I tried to shake it off. I walked into the dressing-room, and looked out of the window, but in vain did I try to keep my heavy lids open. A sort of dizziness came over me, and a curious singing noise filled my ears. In some dim way I struggled across the room to the big Chesterfield couch—reached it, and lay down.

That is all I remember.

It seemed as if I had slept for hours, when the sound of voices, subdued to a whisper, roused me. I was scarcely conscious whether I was awake or dreaming. With an effort I opened my eyes. The room was nearly dark. The voices came from the adjoining bedroom.

'Quite an enchanted palace,' said one. It was Lady Ffolliott. 'And the sleeping beauty lies beyond. What spell did you breathe on them, Dr. Jim?'

'I suppose,' he said, 'it was the heat, or having nothing to do.'

They were close to the dressing-room door by the sound of their voices. I lay on, languid and inert, with an odd feeling that my heart was awake but that my body was powerless to move.

'She looks better asleep than awake,' went on Lady Ffolliott. 'But she is pretty, you know. I never recognised before what an important part eyebrows might play in a woman's life.'

'What on earth do you mean?' he asked.

'Did you ever see so perfect an arch? I envy her that. But we all have a weak point, haven't we?'

'You,' he said, hoarsely, 'have little to complain of, God knows! You are the most maddeningly beautiful woman I have ever seen.'

'Nonsense,' she said. 'If you were only wise you would see a hundred ways in which I could be improved, or in which little Miss Eyebrows beats me. That soft colouring, those large, innocent eyes, those perfect curved brows. I often think what fools men are. How blindly they pass by the good, how wilfully they select the bad. That child, Jim, is worth fifty such as I, but you won't believe it.'

'No,' he said, 'I don't like milk and water.'

'Well, I'm not that. I'm more like strong drink I think—upsetting—intoxicating—if I am to believe your sex. Eh, Jim?'

'I wish,' he said, 'that no other man might see you or speak to you. It drives me mad when I see you coquetting as you do.'

I made an effort to rise, but a waking nightmare seemed to hold me in a grasp from which there was no release.

'I wonder sometimes whether I hate or love you most,' he went on in the same suppressed hoarse voice. 'Last night I could have killed you. You allowed that old painted satyr to kiss your hand. You sang to him, or let him believe so. I—I never got a word or look the whole evening.'

'We must be careful,' she said. 'I don't want people to talk, and you are very reckless, Jim.'

'Reckless!' he said. 'Is it any wonder? Every day, every hour away from you is torture.'

'And if,' she said mockingly, 'I were your property, Dr. Jim, every day, every hour would be torture away from—some other woman.'

'No, no!' he said passionately. 'You wrong me there, Di.'

'Hush-h,' she whispered. 'I think someone is stirring.'

They ceased speaking, but no betraying sound came from the bed where Mrs. Langrishe lay. As for me, the buzzing in my ears began again. Do what I would my eyes closed. Dead weights seemed to cling about my limbs. I tried to speak, to scream; but my tongue seemed paralysed. I heard the soft swish of a dress passing—passing—passing into distance—the closing of a door.

Then again I slept, or seemed to sleep.


CHAPTER XX.

When I awoke from that strange slumber I felt quite myself. I sprang up from the couch and went into the bedroom. Mrs. Langrishe was up and partly dressed.

'Why, Nell,' she said smiling. 'What a laggard nurse. I looked in, and saw you were sound asleep. It is six o'clock now.'

'I can't make it out,' I said. 'I never remember doing such a thing as sleeping in the afternoon. It must have been the wine. I am not used to taking wine in the daytime. I won't do it again.'

She had seated herself before the mirror on the toilet table, while I was speaking, for me to dress her hair. I began to brush its soft, long strands mechanically. She had beautiful hair in all but colour. I told her once, laughingly, I would dye it golden, were it mine.

'Mrs. Langrishe,' I said, suddenly; 'was there anyone here in your room a short time ago?'

'Not to my knowledge,' she said. 'Unless my husband looked in. But I have been asleep all the time. Why do you ask? Did you fancy you heard anyone?'

'Yes,' I said; 'I felt certain I did. But perhaps I dreamt it. I fancied I heard Lady Ffolliott's voice.'

'I will ask Jim,' she said. 'She may have called, and then he would be likely to bring her upstairs to see me. When I was ill before she used to come every day.'

I finished her hair, and then put her into a tea gown, a lovely, airy, lacy garment, of her favourite pink, shrouded in creamy films of chiffon and muslin. Then I left her sitting by the open window of her boudoir while I ran off to make my own toilet for dinner.

The bell rang before I had finished. I hurried down, but the doctor and his wife were already seated. I made a hasty apology, as I declined soup. I had never been late for a meal before.

'I must blame you, Dr. Langrishe,' I said. 'For it is really your fault, or rather the fault of your wine. I broke my usual rule, and took a glass of your wife's claret at luncheon time. It sent me to sleep for the whole afternoon.'

He was raising a spoonful of clear soup to his lips as I spoke. It never reached them. There was a splash in the white cloth; the spoon almost fell from his hand.

He gave a hurried exclamation, then turned sharply to the waiting parlourmaid and bade her take away his plate. Then he looked at me.

'You are not used to wine,' he said, with a faint sneer. 'I advise you to abstain from it in future if the effect is so strange.'

I felt my face grew crimson. It was his tone more than his words that annoyed ma. My hot Irish blood boiled in sudden anger at the hateful insinuation. Words, imprudent and wrathful, trembled on my tongue, but I caught sight of Mrs. Langrishe's face, and restrained myself. She looked so terrified and imploring that I knew she dreaded a scene. While I hesitated, she spoke.

'Indeed, James,' she said, 'the wine did seem stronger than usual. It sent me to sleep also.'

'You women are so fanciful,' he muttered, pouring out a glass of wine from the decanter by his side. 'It was only the heat made you drowsy, I suppose. As for you, Mary, it is surprising you slept to-day when you never closed your eyes all last night. Some fish, Miss Nugent?'

I accepted salmon, and held my tongue. I saw the frown deepen on Dr. Langrishe's face. He ate his salmon in silence. Mrs. Langrishe refused it, and made another attempt at conversation, as unlucky as my own. She asked if Lady Ffolliott had been there that afternoon. She fancied she had heard her voice.

He looked sharply up.

'She called—yes,'—he said, and the white line I had learnt to associate with any strong emotion on his part showed for a moment as he spoke. 'I took her up to see you but you were asleep. She wouldn't disturb you. She will probably look in to-morrow.'

'Oh, I shall be all right to-morrow,' she said, cheerfully. 'I feel much better. My sleep did me good.'

He shot a sudden, eager glance at her. She met it with one of her foolish adoring looks. I felt angry, and yet sorry for her. Oh, if only I dared open her eyes! I sat on; my own eyes fixed on my plate, the colour burning hotly in my cheeks.

It was true. I had not dreamt it! Di Ffolliott had been in that room; the words I had heard were their own, dangerous revealing words. The secret I had only guessed at was the hateful secret of two guilty hearts, and the poor wronged, unconscious creature before me was the obstacle to that guilty passion.

I turned sick and faint, as I sat there. For a moment the lights and flowers swam hazily before my eyes. I could see nothing. Even Mary Langrishe's voice sounded miles away.

Then, suddenly, everything grew clear once more. And as my brain steadied, and my heart beats recovered their normal speed, a resolve, born of that moment's horror, leaped into life. At any cost, at any sacrifice, I must stay here and help this poor, blind, trustful soul. She was so alone, so friendless, and in such peril, too.

God knows I am not suspicious by nature, but I became suspicious in that moment of terror, and saw plainly that this unloved wife was in a critical position. That her very unconsciousness of peril left her all the more at the mercy of the man she loved.

Could I possibly help her?

In this quiet hour, as I sit here and write down my terrors and suspicions, I feel my own helplessness as I never felt it before. A weak girl, and I must watch and guard this solitary woman, and keep at bay this dangerous man, and hear with insolence and indignity from the scornful beauty who has read me aright. She knows I am no false or pretended friend to Mary Langrishe. She knows I will keep her at bay if it is possible to do it.

How all my foolish jests come back to me to-night! How clearly I remember the very words I spoke to Geoffrey Masterman respecting this very diary. 'If I thought life would get dramatic I should begin to put down its incidents at once,' I had said. And heaven knows there is drama enough unfolding itself here under this roof. More than I ever wanted, or ever bargained for.

Am I too imaginative? Are my suspicions too readily awakened? I hope not. In any case, they will be locked up here, safe and sound. No eye shall see them. I will not breathe them even to Deborah Gray. All the same, they are a heavy and a hateful burden. I would give a great deal to whisper them to safe, honest ears, were such at hand—to someone who would say they were unwise, untrue, unworthy of 'little nurse Nell.'

* * * * * *

12 o'clock.

I come back again to these pages. I cannot sleep. I cannot rest. An hour ago I put out my light, but I have left my bed and been hanging out of the window for most of the time. It is a hot, misty night. The sky is dull, save for a few stars gleaming among black clouds. The flowers in the beds are drooping and broken after the heavy rain. The air oppresses me. I feel stifled.

* * * * * *

I have stated that my room does not face the sea, though it has a side glimpse of it. It overlooks the garden and a small stone building, which I at first took for a tool-house or outhouse of some kind, until I learnt accidentally that it was a sort of dispensary of Dr. Langrishe's, where he kept drugs and specimens and dissected horrible things that were brought to him or procured by him, in the interests of science. It was lighted by one small window, and always kept locked. I had never seen him enter it, but then I was not in the habit of hanging out of my window in the fashion of to-night.

My light, as I said, was extinguished. As I stood there, gazing out over the dark misty grounds, I saw a sudden streak of light shine out from the gloom. Naturally, my eyes followed its direction. It came from the little stone building. I could see in through the uncurtained window, but only a small portion of the interior was visible—a row of shelves containing bottles. As, half-curiously, I watched that light, a shadow came between me and the shelves; an arm stretched upwards. I saw the black coat sleeve, the white cuff, the long, slender fingers I knew so well. A bottle was taken down; the shadow moved again. Then, once more, the arm and hand came into light. The bottle was replaced on the shelf.

It is evident I am not the only sleepless person at Knockminoss to-night. But surely midnight is an odd time for the doctor to visit his dispensary and prepare his medicines.

12.30.

The light is out now. In the deep silence everywhere I heard the sound of a locked door, then a step crossing the gravel. He must have come in.

How late he sits up. I wonder if Mrs. Langrishe is asleep? She went to her room at 10 o'clock. She has been alone all the time. I wish I dared cross the passage and ask her if all is well.

I am afraid I am getting nervous and unsettled. It will never do. Oh, for Debbie's good, steady head and clear common sense. I feel such an unreliable little fool! . . .

July 24.

Another week has passed, and my fears are lulled to rest. At least, nothing has occurred to waken them again. Mrs. Langrishe is much better. We have been out almost every day. We have seen nothing of Lady Ffolliott. She has gone to Cork for a week, so I hear. Dr. Langrishe has been very busy—over a scientific experiment, he says. It necessitated hours spent in that curious building, and also a visit to Cork for some special drug not to be obtained in this benighted town. (He has been away two days and nights. I draw my own conclusions, and I leave my confidante here to do the same.)

Mrs. Langrishe and I are quite happy together. She has told me a great deal about her early life, her marriage, her impressions of Ireland and the Irish (not very flattering to either, but full of good common sense). In fact, we have become as confidential as two women solely dependent on each other for society and amusement are bound to become in a limited time.

Sometimes, in the cool of the evening, I go for a spin on my bicycle. On one occasion I met Charley Blake. He is a good-looking talkative youth, with the usual importance of the newly-fledged military, and the usual Irish tendency to gossip. He seemed surprised that I could stand the dullness of Knockminoss, and abused Youghal heartily, and with reason. Yet I am dimly conscious of a growing fondness for the place. The season has just begun, so I avoid the sea front, for excursions block the strand with trippers, and the sea is a sight to make one shudder, with its crowds of ungainly females, in the most primitive and unsightly of garments—the long, shapeless gown, high in the neck, and flowing to the heels, and guiltless of waistbelt, which the uneducated British bather believes in as appropriate for dips.

The seaside arrangements of Youghal are primitive in the extreme. Bathing boxes for public use are unknown. So the fair bathers unclothe themselves unabashed under the avails of the promenade, and trip to the briny deep apparelled as I have described, and dip and duck, and scream and laugh, with supreme disregard of spectators.

If Youghal could only be taken in hand by an enterprising English syndicate, what wonders might be worked! Its fine position and bracing air are God-given blessings that only need to be known to be appreciated; but, alas! alas! like many of the beautiful and picturesque spots of my unfortunate country, it is neglected, abused, and hampered on all sides by the indifference or the ignorance of the inhabitants.

As I said before, Mary Langrishe and I give a wide berth to the Strand on excursion days. We hear of good 'lets,' and of manifold visitors, but they interest us not one whit. We take our drives through the beautiful country, or along the road by the Blackwater. We go to pretty Ardmore, and to the quaint historic ruins of Temple Michael, once a stronghold of the Geraldines, and taken from them by that ubiquitous personage, Cromwell. And sometimes, in the cool of the evening, we drive near to the old walls, or walk to my favourite point, looking down on the pell-mell mass of crowded roofs and ruins which make up the town. The blue river parts the harbour from the land, shelving softly to the base of purple hills and bare mountains.

It is like a bit of ancient history up there. One can well believe what stirring scenes and times Youghal has seen since it emerged into the light of the sixth century; since Paganism and Christianity fought for its possession, since Dane and Norwegian besieged and plundered it, and the Anglo-Norman settlers built its walls, and monks and friars founded its abbeys. Up there, on those old walled heights, one reads its history best; below, in the modern jumble that civilisation has made of it, one only recognises how much it lacks.

Mrs. Langrishe has planned an excursion to Lismore, and another to Cappoquin, to inspect the famous Mount Melleray, founded by a community of monks of the order of La Trappe. But both these mean a day, and a long day too, so I do not urge it very strongly. There is time enough, I say. The summer is at its height. We will wait till the weather gets cooler.

'I shall be glad when it does,' she said to-night, as we sat out on the broad grass plot, which is like, and yet unlike, a lawn. 'The heat tries me. I am never well in the hot weather. I sleep badly, and when I sleep badly I feel a wreck the next day.'

'But you are feeling better,' I said, anxiously. 'Better and stronger than last week?'

'Oh, yes,' she said, cheerfully. 'Ever so much better. That pain does not trouble me at all.'

Dr. Langrishe had been away two days. She had half expected he would return to-night. But the eight o'clock train had long been in, and there was no sign of him. No conveyance had been sent to meet him, by his own request. He would have taken a car from the station and come up by the Bog road, had he arrived. I saw Mrs. Langrishe was anxious and expectant. She had put off dinner, and arranged a nine o'clock supper in its place. It was evident we would have to partake of it ourselves.

As we sat there, the lovely evening light on the trees and the broad, blue sea shining in the distance, I heard a step coming along the gravel drive. I looked hastily round, and saw the old woman from the lodge approaching. She had something in her hand. A telegram.

She came up to Mrs. Langrishe and dropped a curtsey.

'I've brought up this, ma'am,' she said. 'A boy was after coming up from the station with it. I said I'd take it ye.'

Mrs. Langrishe tore it open. An expression of disappointment shadowed her face. She handed it to me. It was from the doctor.

'Detained—returning to-morrow.'

That was all it said. I made no remark.

'It's all right, Molly,' said Mrs. Langrishe. 'It was from the master. Will you go into the kitchen and have something after your walk?'

'No, thank ye kindly, ma'am. It's not that bit av a walk wud hurt me.' She looked restlessly about, and I saw her arms twitching under her apron. 'There's no bad news, ma'am, I hope? Is the master coming home, maybe?'

'Not to-night, Molly. He is detained in Cork. He will return to-morrow.'

'To-morrow is it? Ah thin, good luck to him. 'Tis lonesome widout him, ye are, ma'am. I'm sure o' that.'

'Not so lonely as I used to be, Molly,' said Mrs. Langrishe, with a look at me. 'I have a friend to cheer me up now, you know.'

'Ah, thin that's thrue for ye, ma'am. An' good company she'll be, too, from the looks av her. Well, good-night an' God bless ye both. I'm glad Mister James is returning soon. There's a poor soul bad wid favver down at Micky Donovan's farm. It's not far. They sint the boy Paddy up to ask wud the master come down. I'll be after telling him it's not home he is yet. To-morrow, maybe, he'd give a look at her.'

'She had better send to the dispensary,' said Mrs. Langrishe. 'Fever is not to be trifled with.'

Then with another curtsey and some muttered words, Moll Duggan took herself off.


CHAPTER XXI.

'What a queer old thing she is,' I remarked, as the old woman disappeared down the avenue.

Mrs. Langrishe was lying back in her cushioned basket-chair, slowly folding and unfolding the telegram she had received.

'Yes,' she said, somewhat absently, 'she is. She was an old servant in my husband's family, and when he took this house he put her in the lodge. She has had some troubles of her own, poor old soul. A son, suspected of knowing a good deal about dynamite plots a few years ago, and a daughter who went to the bad, a lovely girl. She ran away from home, and poor old Moll was quite off her head for a time. No one has heard anything of the girl since.'

I remembered, then, how oddly the woman had behaved when I spoke to her that morning at the lodge. Unwittingly I had touched upon delicate ground.

'There are so many of those stories,' I said, presently. 'It is very sad. And it is always the woman who has the worst of it. I think it is a shame.'

'All women think that,' she said. 'It is an unfair battle. The strong against the weak. But you see there is no halfway for a woman. Her road has been marked out and she must keep it, or suffer the consequences.'

'Yet we are expected to forgive men for worse sins than just that one slip, which youth or ignorance or temptation has brought about.'

'Dear Nell,' she said gently. 'What is the use of rebelling? It can't alter that unwritten law. The soul that sins must suffer for its sin. Every day we live points out that fact.'

'Do you think,' I asked her, 'that you would forgive a man who had sinned against you?'

She turned very white.

'I should try,' she said. 'One can never measure the strength of another's temptation by one's own power of resistance. And men are not faithful by nature, as we are.'

'I am sure of that,' I said, bitterly, remembering my own experience, and my present discovery. 'Oh, I wonder why we can't be enough for ourselves—we women. Men only spoil our lives the moment we give them place or part in them.'

'Ah, Nell,' she said, folding out the crumpled paper, and laying it on her lap, 'when you love you will not care very much whether your life is spoilt or not. You will only think it is worth the living at last. It will seem to you so wonderful that among all the world of women one man—the one man—should have stooped and chosen you and made you mistress of his heart and home.'

A smile played round her lips. The happy, trustful smile of a trusting woman. It angered me to see it, but it would have been cruel to disturb her peace of mind. 'Mistress of his heart and home. That was what she had said; what she believed. And he had only married her for her money. He cared nothing for herself, or her failing health, or her adoring worship. He only coveted the forbidden beauty of an unprincipled woman!'

A silence fell between us after that last speech of hers, I think she was away in the past, dreaming perhaps of those girlish days when she and Jim had met, when the spell of his handsome face had been sufficient to blind her to all else, even to the fact that it was her wealth he coveted—not herself.

She turned to me at last and laid her thin cold hand on mine.

'Nell,' she said, 'if I can read faces aright, I know you have a lover worthy of all your trust—of all your heart. I should like to think you would make him happy one day. I—I fancied, somehow, at Glengariff you were not very kind. Believe me, child, it is not given to every woman to be loved worthily or well, just for her own sake; but he loves you very deeply. Has he not told you so?'

'If you mean has he proposed—certainly not,' I answered. 'Nor do I wish it. I like him very much, but that is all. And I don't wish to marry. I believe there are other duties and interests for a woman than yoking herself to a man and putting up with him as long as they both shall live!'

'Ah,' she said, with a sudden little catch in her breath. 'That sounds solemn, doesn't it? It makes one think of—of the afterwards, Nell. If one was sure, quite, quite sure that the barrier of death would only be a temporary barrier. That, again one would meet, and love, and cling to that other who is left behind—here?'

Her voice broke. I saw her lips quiver, and suddenly the tears broke forth and streamed down her white, thin face. She made no attempt to disguise them. She sobbed helplessly like a child.

'Nell,' she said. 'Nell, I know my fate so well. It is I who will have to wait for him beyond the barrier. Will he remember, will he care, will he ever come to me again?'

I rose from my seat. I could not bear it.

'Oh, hush—hush,' I said, 'this will never do. You are getting morbid and fanciful. I cannot allow it. It is an indulgence I only permit to real invalids. You are only a sham, you know.'

She rose and slipped her cold thin hand within my arm. How warm and plump and solid I felt beside her. In her white gown, and with her tall, slight figure and delicate face outlined by the clear, full moonlight, she looked strangely frail and shadowy. I drew her arm close to my side, and walked her off into the house.

'You want some food,' I said briskly. 'And a good glass of wine. That is what is the matter with you!'

And I turned to the sideboard, to conceal my own eyes. They were more self-betraying than my voice.

July 30.

The doctor came back again a few days ago, but Lady Ffolliott is still absent. I have had nothing worthy of note to put down in my diary save a letter from Debbie, rather a brief one. She thanks me for my long letter, and is glad to hear I have taken her advice and am keeping notes of my case.

She mentions that Dick Barrymore's book is out and making a sensation in town, and encloses a review on it from some critical journal. If I wish, she'll buy it for me, as, of course, there is little chance of it getting to Youghal or even to Cork for a good six months or longer. We are as badly off for literature as for most good things. I have written her to send me the book. I can spare 6s. now for what would have meant a luxury a few months ago.

It is not given to every girl to get £100 a year as nurse-companion! Mrs. Langrishe is a most generous woman. She is always making me presents—gloves, laces, sunshades, all sorts of useful and pretty fripperies. Her health is still uncertain, but there is nothing to be gravely anxious about. The great heat is trying, and she is not able to bathe in the sea every day as I do.

The doctor has returned in a gloomy, unsettled state of mind. He is up very late at night at his scientific work, so late that he has ordered a bed to be made up for himself in his dressing-room. He does not wish to disturb his wife, he says, and she is at all times a bad sleeper.

The days pass quietly and monotonously. A few callers drive up now and then, but Mrs. Langrishe excuses herself from seeing them. She is not well enough, she says. Even our drives have been discontinued.

I have just finished Dick's book. It is delightful. Brilliant, caustic in style, finely written, and well worked out. A book to remember. A book to be glad one has read. I feel a higher respect for him than ever. I wonder how I had the courage to be so flippant and careless when I was with him. There is an undercurrent of sadness in the book that tells of his own many heartaches. He calls it 'The Fruit of Experience,' and very bitter and unpalatable fruit it seems. I have taken to reading it out to Mrs. Langrishe. She is delighted with it, and begs me to pass it on to the doctor when I have finished.

'Does he care for novels?' I asked.

'Oh, yes. When he has the time to read them. He has a very queer collection of books in his own case—Dumas, Eugene Sue, Albert Smith, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Reade, and ever so many more modern authors. Whenever you want anything to read, you must ask him to lend you some of his private store. The library, of course, is all solid standard reading—Thackeray, Dickens, Scott, Lytton, Macaulay, Balzac—more than I can remember, often as I have arranged and catalogued them.'

'I have read the titles, often,' I said. 'But the cases were always locked. I did not like to ask for any books.'

'What nonsense, child,' she said. 'Are you not at home enough yet to ask for what you want here.'

'I am a bashful, retiring sort of person,' I said, laughing, 'and I was afraid to ask for the loan of any of those splendid-looking volumes.'

'You are quite welcome to any of them,' she said. 'But I think you will find Jim's collection more amusing. I will ask him to bring you some.'

'Oh, no. Don't trouble him,' I said. 'I will look over the shelf for myself, when he is out of the way, if you will let me choose one or two.'

'Very well,' she said. 'We will make a raid on his study to-day.'

* * * * * *

We made 'the raid' that very afternoon, when the doctor was out. It was the first time I had been in the consulting-room, or rather study, for no patient had ever called at the house while I had been there.

It was a small, rather gloomy-looking room. A large writing table, containing many drawers, and loaded with books and papers, stood in the window, which was draped with dull-coloured velvet curtains. A comfortable chair, on a movable swivel, stood in the knee-hole of the table. A couch was on one side of the wall, and a few plain leather chairs. The bookcase was a mahogany one. The doors were shut, so Mrs. Langrishe had to open them. The key was in the lock. I saw three shelves, closely packed with volumes. Of that number the top one contained medical works, old Bradshaws, and foreign guide books; the other two were crammed with 'yellow backs,' and the familiar 'Railway Library.' Here, indeed, was literature of all sorts—spicy, sensational, horrible. An odd collection, it seemed to me, for a medical man. 'Paul Ferrol' was side by side with 'The Scarlet Letters' 'Monte Christo' and the 'Three Musketeers' shovelled the 'Marchiones of Brinvilliers' into a corner. The 'Wandering Jew' and 'The Mysteries of Paris,' 'The Crimes of London,' 'Eugene Aram,' 'Clever Criminals,' 'The Night Side of Nature,' and scores of others, were ranged with some dozen of Marryat's and Mayne Reid's, and Jules Verne's series. A few translations of Zola's worst, and a few untranslated modern French novels, completed the collection.

Mrs. Langrishe seated herself on the chair by the writing table as I examined the contents of the shelves. I took the 'Marchioness of Brinvilliers' out of its place, and began turning over the leaves. As I did so a paper fell out and fluttered to the ground. I stooped and picked it up. It was a small scrap of ordinary notepaper. On it were traced some words, and the usual hieroglyphics one sees in a doctor's prescription. The curiosity of my profession impelled me to decipher the Latin terms. It was a curious prescription. The ingredients were only three. Of one of the drugs I was entirely ignorant, but the one following it was arsenic, and parallel with its name was its prescribed quantity. It did not concern me, so I replaced it between the pages from whence it had dropped. My fingers still held the book open at the same place. My eyes glanced down the printed lines.

It struck me as odd that the very page from whence the paper had dropped contained a passage describing the symptoms and nature of the same poisonous mineral. I had never read the book, so I put it quickly on one side, and went on with my investigations.

The next work I selected was the ghastly 'Paul Ferrol.' Then I gave a glance up at the top shelf, containing the medical books. They were rather high up, so I fetched a chair and stood upon it, and then commenced to read the titles. Without exception every volume related to the treatment or nature of mineral and vegetable poison!

It struck me as somewhat strange, this uniformity of subject. But then, doctors had curious leanings towards one special sort of disease and its treatment. I knew that well enough from my brief hospital experience. One would be mad about 'germs,' and another about surgical treatment; one only cared to treat infectious diseases, another approved of cardiac or spinal affections, and so on. Perhaps Dr. Langrishe had also his professional weakness. It was not an agreeable one, I thought, but it accounted for the rats and rabbits I had seen taken into his dispensary; the hours spent in researches. He was writing a scientific work on the nature of certain drugs, so he had said. I suppose it was a book on poisons he was compiling. I selected the two books I have mentioned, and then Mrs. Langrishe relocked the case.

'What an odd choice you have made,' she said. '"Paul Ferrol," I have never read that, I believe, but I have heard of it.'

'I hope,' I said, 'Dr. Langrishe won't mind my taking these volumes away. You must tell him I had your permission.'

'Of course. He never minds my taking the novels. It is only the medical books he won't have tampered with.'

We left the room then, and she went up to the boudoir. It was too hot for her to go out, so she lay down on the couch. I, however, betook myself to the grounds, and under the shade of a huge old oak tree I placed my basket chair and began to read the history of the famous poisoner, Mario of Brinvilliers. It had a curious, horrible fascination for me. As I read on, I grew so absorbed that I forgot all about the time. The sound of a footstep aroused me at last. A shadow fell across the page. I looked hastily up, and saw Dr. Langrishe.

'How absorbed you were,' he said. Then glancing round he asked, 'Where is my wife?'

'In her own room,' I said. 'It was so hot she wouldn't come out.'

I closed the book. The picture on the cover was uppermost. His eye fell on it.

'Where did you come across that book?' he asked sharply.

'Mrs. Langrishe gave me permission to select one or two from your book case,' I said. 'I hope you don't mind.'

'Mind, of course not!' He had a riding whip in his hand, and as he spoke he switched the grasses right and left. 'Why should I mind?' he went on abruptly. 'The books are a curious jumble, a job lot bought at sales or second-hand shops. You have made a queer choice, though,' and he glanced again at the picture of the beautiful horror, with her velvet mask and her feathery ringlets.

'Yes,' I answered. 'I suppose it is queer, but then I am interested in poisons. By the way,' and I turned the leaves rapidly back till I came to the slip of paper. I think there is something of yours here. A prescription, is it not?'

As I handed it to him I looked up straight into his face. If ever I saw fear—ghastly, awful fear—in any human creature's face, I saw it then. All the blood seemed to forsake his cheeks and lips. He made a sudden snatch at the little scrap of paper, and stood holding it, or rather crushing it, in his ungloved hand, while his eyes searched my face.

'Once for all, Miss Nugent,' he said, in a savage, low voice that startled me, 'I warn you I will have no spies listening and prying into my concerns. It's not the first time that——'

He stopped abruptly. I had sprung to my feet and faced him there in such astonishment and indignation that I think it brought him to his senses. He raised his hand to his brow, and swept the dark hair back.

'I beg your pardon, I forgot myself,' he stammered. 'I am an irritable man, especially where professional matters are concerned. I hate anyone to meddle with my books and papers.'

'I shall never do so again. You may be sure,' I said, coldly, though rage was boiling within me. 'Your wife opened your bookcase, and told me to select any works I pleased. I will return them immediately. It was no fault of mine if a mislaid prescription was hidden in one of them.'

'Hidden?' he said, fiercely. 'That's another accusation. What do you mean?'

'I mean that you are the worst-tempered man it has been my lot to meet,' I thought to myself, but prudence forbade such an expression of opinion.

'I mean nothing, Dr. Langrishe,' I said, icily. 'Except that I am at a loss to understand your anger. It seems to me quite uncalled for.'

He turned abruptly away and went into the house, leaving me standing there.

* * * * * *

I have returned the books by Hannah, the parlourmaid. She took them to his consulting-room, and tells me she handed them to him with 'Miss Nugent's compliments.'


CHAPTER XXII.

During dinner, Dr. Langrishe never addressed a word to me, and even to his wife he was brusque and uncommunicative.

I saw she looked nervous and disturbed. We talked inane common-places—the weather, the fishing, the forthcoming amateur concert in aid of the schools. It was hard work, but I seconded her manfully.

Dinner was nearly over, when she made a remark that again seemed to disturb her husband's temper.

'By-the-bye, Jim,' she said. 'Did you ever go to see that poor girl at Donovan's farm? Molly Duggan told me she was bad with the fever. I hope it is not the same sort of fever we had here three years ago.'

He drank off his glass of wine before he answered her.

'I have seen the girl,' he said, shortly. 'She is dead.'

'Dead! Oh, poor thing. She was such a pretty girl, and so young!' exclaimed his wife. 'I had no idea she was so ill, or I would have gone to see her.'

'I should advise you not to go near the place,' he said, shortly. 'The fever is infectious. There's a good deal of it about. In your state of health——'

He paused abruptly, poured out another glass of wine, and drained it off. 'If it's going to be an epidemic like the last,' he went on, 'I shall pack you off somewhere.'

'But we are so far from the town, dear,' she pleaded, 'and I'll not go there at all if you think it unwise. Please don't talk of sending me away. I hate to leave home.'

'You women always do hate the thing that's best for you,' he said, rudely.

'When did Eily Donovan die, Jim?' she asked presently, as if to change the subject.

'When?' His frowning brows met angrily. 'Yesterday; no, to-day. What does it matter when? I've seen half a dozen similar cases to-day, more or less serious.'

'No wonder you are tired and worried,' she said, soothingly, as she rose from the table. 'Shall I send your coffee in here, Jim, or will you take it in the drawing-room with us?'

'Send it in here,' he said, abruptly, 'or no—let Hannah take it into the consulting-room. I have some work to do.'

I passed quietly out of the door. I saw she wanted to linger there for a last word. So I left them. I went into the drawing-room. The windows were open, a lamp with a large yellow shade stood in one corner, and threw a soft, delicious light over the delicate colouring of the room, the tapestried lounges, the stands of palms and ferns, and bowls of flowers. The grand piano was open. A book of Chopin's nocturnes stood on the carved stand. I seated myself at the instrument, and began to play. I was but a poor musician in comparison with Mrs. Langrishe. I could only play Irish melodies and a few old waltzes, but she declared she loved to hear them. As the sad old rhythm of 'Loved and Lost' rose and fell in the quiet room, she stole softly in and took the low chair by the window.

'Go on,' she said, as I half turned. 'I love that air. It just suits the scene to-night. What is there about waltz music that is so haunting, so sad, so full of memories?'

I went on playing. I could see her as she sat there, with the moonlight on her soft black draperies, her fair hair and sad, pale face—sadder and paler than ever it looked in that faint light.

'I can't forgot that poor girl,' she said at last. 'So young, so pretty. Such a bright, merry little soul, Nell, and now—dead. She used to run up here with messages, or drive the donkey-cart with vegetables to the town. She was but sixteen. I have known her ever since I lived here.'

There came a knock at the door, and the parlourmaid entered.

'If you please, ma'am,' she said, 'there's Polly Donovan without, sister of poor Eily that died this morning. She's after asking for a few flowers. May I give them to her?'

'Of course, Hannah. Stay, I'll go and pick them myself. Where is the girl?'

'In the back, ma'am, waiting by the kitchen garden.'

She rose. I also left the piano.

'Wait a moment,' I urged. 'Is this wise? Remember, the girl has come direct from the infected house. Remember what your husband said? You are not strong enough to run risks. Let me go and pick the flowers.'

She stood as if undecided.

'I'm sure there is no fear, Nell,' she said. 'Besides, the risk is as great for you as for me. Why should you go if I am not to?'

'Oh, doctors and nurses never catch anything,' I said lightly. 'Besides, I am well and strong, and you are not. Stop here and drink your coffee. I'll be back in a moment.'

I put my arm lightly round her, and seated her in the chair once more. Then I went off to the garden. A bare-headed, tidily-dressed girl of about twelve years of age was waiting at the gate. Her eyes were red and swollen with crying.

'I will give you some flowers,' I said. 'Come in here. We are so sorry about your poor sister. I thought she was getting better?'

'So she was, miss. We all thought she was mending grand. And the doctor, he said so too, an' thin sudden-like she took a turn for the worse. 'Twas after takin' the new medicine that was, she begun to be sick in her stomach, miss, an' we saw it was all over, and we sint for the priest, an' then—God rest her sowl—she's gone to glory now, an' we're the sorrowful creatures at home this night.'

'Did Dr. Langrishe see her?' I asked, beginning to cut some white stocks and dahlias and tall, white marguerites as I spoke.

'Shure an' he did, miss. We had something from the dispensary first, but no doctor came out. 'Tis a long ways, miss, from the town, an' whin mother heard the master was back she asked him to look in and see Eily. She was on the mend, thin, miss. An' he said she'd get over it. An' thin he brought some new medicine for her, an' after a while she got bad agin. Ah well,' and she wiped her eyes with her print apron, 'it's all over now, miss, an' 'tis wakin' her we'll be to-night, an' lovely she looks, miss. White, an' beautiful, an' sweet, jist like an angel in a picture. God bless her.'

I had been gathering flowers while she talked, as many white as I could find, then some pink roses and sweetpea, and the feathery green of asparagus tops. She held out her apron, and I laid them in, loose as they were. Just as I had done this, I heard the gate between the kitchen garden and flower garden swing open, and saw Dr. Langrishe's tall figure approach.

He came quickly towards us.

'Oh, Molly,' he said, 'I thought I saw you pass my window. What's that you came for—flowers?'

'It is, yer honour.' She dropped a curtsey, holding her nearly filled apron carefully the while.

''Tis for poor Eily, I come for them,' she went on.

'It's all right. You can have as many as you wish. Look here, this is the paper, the certificate I promised your mother. Give it her when you get home. Be careful, now, don't lose it. The death has to be registered. See they attend to it.'

He handed her a sealed envelope, and she put it in the bosom of her gown. He never addressed a word to me, but stood there as if waiting for the girl to go. She curtsied again, bade us good evening, and then walked away, holding the flowers carefully in her apron.

I followed her silently, and he accompanied me. When we reached the gate I bade her good night, and she turned off down a path leading to the back entrance.

Then Dr. Langrishe spoke.

'I suppose,' he said, 'I offended you this afternoon. I judge as much by your sending back my books. Pray forgive me, I was vexed, disturbed. I had been sorely tried all day, and I'm a bad-tempered man.'

'Pray say no more,' I exclaimed. 'I can quite understand your not liking your books to be meddled with. But you may be sure I would not have touched them without your wife's permission, as I told you. But she seemed to think you would not object.'

'Of course not,' he said. 'Of course not. Pray think no more about it. My wife has taken you to her heart; her friends are my friends. Let us forget that little outburst. Go to my room when you wish, take what books you please, so long as you return them, and don't contrast the ill-tempered brute of a husband too unfavourably with the amiable and friendly wife.'

I confess I was astonished at such words. But I had secret misgivings as to their real meaning. I did not like this very sudden change. I couldn't understand why, from open discourtesy, he had veered round to apologetic friendliness. There was no reason for it. I felt convinced he had no warmer feeling for me than during the whole time of our acquaintance, but he wished me to believe he had.

Well, the conversation, and the incident leading to it, are put down here for what they are worth. Time perhaps may throw some light upon them.

* * * * * *

I found Mrs. Langrishe still sitting at the open window when I returned. She handed me my coffee, and I stood there beside her drinking it and looking out at the sloping green lawn and the blue, unrippled sea, dotted here and there with fishing boats.

'What are you thinking of?' she asked.

'They are going to "wake" that girl to-night,' I said. 'I would give a good deal to be able to see the ceremony.'

'Would you really? I don't think you would find it interesting. Wakes nowadays are not what they were in Carleton's time. Nor would you find the Shaughraun business likely to happen. The priests are very much against "waking." They try to persuade the people to send the body to the chapel, but the old prejudices are hard to uproot. And are they really going to have one for poor Eily?'

'So her sister said. Do you think I might get in as an unknown spectator?'

'You could, of course, but I don't think it would be wise, especially if there are any "fever germs" about.'

'I don't mind that risk,' I said. 'As I told you before, I never catch anything.'

'But these Irish hovels and cottages are different—close, dirty, unventilated. I never knew a people who so rigorously objected to fresh air, pure water, and cleanliness.'

'Youghal is certainly a very dirty place,' I observed. 'And the shops, with the exception perhaps of the drapers' and the big store, are a disgrace. Isn't there anyone in charge, local board, commissioners, magistrates, who could improve matters?'

'I suppose they think they have done enough. They have made the Blackwater navigable, and passed a Drainage Act, and protected the salmon fishery, and there is a poorhouse, and an infirmary, and gas works, and a savings bank. What more would you want in an Irish town, so old and unimportant?'

'It used to be important once.'

'Ah yes, my dear. But Ireland is very different now.'

'But to return to the wake?' I said. 'It has occurred to me that Moll Duggan might be going.'

'Might! My dear child, she'd get up from her own death-bed to go. No festive gathering in the world can compare in the Irish mind with the glorious excitement of a wake, or a funeral.'

'I know that,' I said. 'Although, of course, in Dublin——'

'Ah, yes, Dublin is different. It has advanced a little with the times, but don't compare Youghal to the capital.'

'I know nothing to which I could compare it,' I said, laughing. 'And yet it might be made so beautiful and so popular.'

'Have you made up your mind to go, Nell?' she asked presently. 'Because, if so, I should advise you to take Moll Duggan with you as a chaperone, and put on your plainest gown, and a bonnet, if you have one. I am sure you will find it a wretched business, and be sorry you went; but if you are bent upon it——'

'I think I am,' I said, 'and I'll take your advice, and go in under the shelter of Moll Duggan's wing.'

I laughed softly to myself. An idea had entered my head. I said nothing to her, but went upstairs to my room, and put on the dress, cloak, and bonnet of the nursing sisters. They were of a dark, neutral tint, and the bonnet had the usual long veil and white strings. I came down softly and walked across the hall. As I reached the drawing-room, the door of the consulting-room was suddenly opened, and Dr. Langrishe came out. I stood still, the handle in my hand. He was half way towards me before he remarked my presence. Then he started.

'Good heavens,' he cried. 'What's this?'

'It's only me,' I said. 'Didn't you know me in my professional getup?'

'No. . . . It startled me at first. I couldn't——But what on earth have you dressed up like that for?'

'I am going to an Irish wake,' I said, 'for the first time, and I want to look unremarkable.'

'Do you fancy you do that?' he asked.

There was a curious look in his eyes that I did not like. I made no answer, but walked into the drawing-room. He followed.

Mrs. Langrishe gave a little cry of surprise. I had dressed once for her in the old lilac gown and cap and apron, but she had never seen me in my outdoor uniform.

'Why, Nell!' she exclaimed, and then her face grew suddenly white. 'Why did you put that dress on,' she said in a distressed, broken way. 'It seems like an evil omen. I don't like it. When you came into the room——'

'I am so sorry,' I said; 'I never thought you would mind. You told me to put on something very quiet.'

'What nonsense you are talking, Mary,' said Dr. Langrishe. 'I think it is a very suitable costume for Miss Nugent. It is certainly most becoming,' he added, with another of those odd looks. 'But what is the idea of going to this wake? You are Irish yourself, and it can have no novelty for you?'

'That is just what it has,' I said. 'I have never seen one, and I am anxious to do so.'

'I can't applaud your taste,' he said. 'A lot of noisy, ragged creatures, huddled in one room, drinking whisky, and shouting and singing, and moaning and crying. It is the nearest approach to Pandemonium that I can imagine.'

I was drawing on my gloves. I made no observation.

'Are you going by yourself?' he asked, suddenly.

'No,' I said, 'with Moll Duggan; if she'll take me, that is to say.'

'Moll Duggan?' His brow darkened, and he turned towards the window.

'You choose odd company,' he said.


CHAPTER XXIII.

I met Moll Duggan just locking her door, dressed in her long Irish cloak, which, summer or winter, is the out-of-door attire of the Irishwoman when she can afford it. When she cannot, she contents herself with a shawl drawn over her head. The old woman started when she saw me.

'Glory be to God, who is it?' she exclaimed, and crossed herself hurriedly.

'Why, don't you know me, Molly?' I said.

'Ah, miss, so 'tis you it is. What's come to ye at all? I thought ye was a ghost, stealin' along, shure 'tis not the way ye're dressed on other days?'

'No,' I said. 'But I was once a nurse, Molly, and this was the dress I had to wear, and I've put it on to-night because I want you to take me to Mickey Donovan's farm. They're to "wake" poor Eily to-night, and I'm going. I'm sure you are bound for it, too.'

'I am, miss. Wasn't she like a child av me own, poor Eily. May the heavens be her bed this blessed night, an' shure they will, for 'tis she was the innocent good creature, an' the good child to her parents.'

'I'm sure of that,' I said. 'Everyone has a good word for her. It is sad to die so young, Molly.'

We were walking on together. She seemed less sour and reticent than her wont.

'Sad,' she said, as if echoing my words. 'Ah thin, miss, there's sadder things than dyin' young. Maybe she's tuk from worse to come.'

As if that thought brought dark reflections in its train, she lapsed into gloom and silence. We crossed a field path and skirted a small wood, then a patch of rough and rocky ground, from whence we caught sight of the farm in the distance. The white buildings and walls shone in the moonlight. Fields of grain and potatoes lay in green patches around, the cows were in their sheds, the useful and inevitable donkeys browsed in leisurely peace on a wide stretch of grass land, a farm horse or two kept them company. Evidently Micky Donovan was a well-to-do farmer.

'The land looks well,' I remarked to my companion as we neared the farm house itself.

'Tis well enough,' she said, curtly, for the Irish are too wise to praise anything for which rent has to be paid. 'But Micky's a poor man. He finds it hard enough to live an' keep his family respectable from one rent day to another.'

'But his landlord must live also, and keep his family respectable,' I said. 'Do you never think of that?'

'Ah, sure, 'tis easy enough for the likes o' thim to live, an' the best av everything at their service,' said Molly. 'They never denies themselves anything. 'Tis no toilin' an' moilin' in the cold of winter or the heat of summer as they knows about.'

'They have hardships and struggles of their own,' I said, 'that you never hear of, and perhaps would not understand. Don't fancy they're happy and content any more than the farmers you pity. Trouble is no respecter of persons, Molly. Queen and beggar, the lord and the peasant, the Pope and the priest, they all have their share. Never envy the rich. They are often more unhappy and have a harder life than the poor man, with his cabin and potato plot, and his bare-footed children playing around the open doorway.'

'Ah, miss, talks all very fine, but if you'd seen what I've seen—'tisn't so long since the tenants were evicted on the big estate here. An' I saw with my own eyes the poor man that was stabbed by the constable with his loaded bayonet an' never a bit ov him in the wide wurrld known ov him. An' the meetings an' rows an' riots. Ah! 'twas a terrible time intirely, miss—that it was.'

I hadn't time to argue with her that if the Ponsonby tenants had not been foolish enough to adopt the plan of campaign, and insist on equal distribution of rents, there need have been no 'terrible time,' no bloodshed or evictions. We were at the farmhouse entrance now, and walked unceremoniously into the kitchen, crowded already with friends and neighbours, sitting or standing about. The kitchen was wide and low-roofed. It opened into another room in which was a bed draped all in white. I followed Moll Duggan into it. The dead girl was laid out there. She was fully dressed. Her hair lay spread around the pillows. Her hands were crossed upon her breast, and about them was twined a brown rosary. At the foot of the bed, on an oaken chest, stood seven lighted candles, and the flowers that Polly had brought from Knockminoss were scattered about the bed, or placed in bowls of water.

The girl's mother sat by the head of the corpse, and on chairs and benches all down one side of the room were women, young and old, friends or relatives of the family. They were talking loud and eagerly. Our entrance made no difference. They simply looked at us, and the tongues wagged freely as ever.

Moll Duggan went down on her knees and crossed herself, and said the prayers for the dead. There was something touching and pathetic in the action, I thought. And yet all around and about the voices chatted and buzzed. I heard laughter and jest from the kitchen beyond, and the quiet waxen face of the dead girl lay on the snowy pillows as if rebuking the carelessness of the living.

Truly strange ways, and a strange people! And yet they meant kindly. It would not have been considered neighbourly to leave their friends alone in their grief. They would sit up every night, until the funeral, enjoying themselves in this dismal fashion. One more among the many peculiarities of my country is that the people cannot even keep their grief to themselves, but call on their friends to witness it.

Two women near me were talking in subdued tones.

'Ah, the pity of it—and such a lovely girl, an' wasn't Katey Corrigan makin' the match for her wid young Barney Maguire, an' he willin' enough, an' as fine a lad as ye'd wish to see. 'Twill break his heart intirely, that it will, or sind him off to Ameriky, maybe.'

''Tis the will o' God, Mary,' said the other woman (who by the way had daughters of her own). 'An' maybe Barney'll do as well for himself as iver Katey Corrigan could do for him. She's a fine hand at match-makin', sure enough; but it's none so well they've turned out, as I've good cause to know. Wasn't Biddy Reilly tellin' me wid her own two very lips, that she cursed the day whin she took Pat Henessy for her husband, the hard drinker he is, an' a sore trial to any dacint woman. An' I'm none so sure, betwane ourselves, Mary Hogan, that there wasn't the bit av money passed betwane Pat an' herself to make things aisy, an' poor Biddy, she thinkin' t'was herself he cared for, an' not what she'd got to bring him—the tidy bit av bizness it was too!'

I half-smiled to myself. How history repeats itself. After all, was there so much difference between the poor Irish match-maker, and the great ladies of society who took their commissions in a variety of ways for the introduction of parvenus to Court, and who 'arrange' marriages for them with eligible suitors?

I begin to think that in all grades of life, and among all conditions of men, 'self interest' is the one great motive of their actions.

Presently, as the voices grew subdued, a curious sound broke across the room. At first I thought it was the voice of the 'Keener,' though I had heard that with the abolition of whisky at these ceremonies, that historical personage had gradually disappeared.

The sound increased and swelled into a wail, a melancholy, long-drawn minor chord. I rose and looked through the doorway near me, and saw a blind woman sitting in a corner playing a fiddle. She wore a rusty black skirt and jacket, and a shabby, tattered, old sailor hat. She looked miserably poor and wretched, and her playing was of the most primitive description. I don't know what sort of air it was. It had a good deal to do with one note—a wailing, mournful, long-drawn out note—and some of the audience began to rock themselves to and fro, and give vent to correspondingly dismal sounds. My ears suffered considerably during the performance, but the company appeared to appreciate it immensely.

'Shure, 'an it's good of Joaney, the poor woman, to come an' cheer us up a bit,' said Mary Hogan to her friend.

'Indade, thin, she's none so badly off as she purtinds,' said the other. 'The visitors is very kind to her. Little Bridget there, who takes her about, she told me that she tuk as much as fifteen shillings last week on the Strand alone. Not a ward of a lie about it. An' she's put a tidy bit in the savings bank agin winter comes. Ah, woman, Joaney Sullivan's no fool. You may take your oath av that.'

Meanwhile, Joaney Sullivan played on and on—dirges and jigs alternately—and snuff was handed round on a plate, and tea 'supped' out of mugs or cups, or indeed anything that came handy. One or two men had brought whisky in flat bottles, which they took out of their pockets and drained surreptitiously, so as not to offend their host, who would have been banned by the parish priest for producing the national beverage on such an occasion.

It did not seem to me that this festivity was likely to prove very entertaining. I heard gossip galore, but I have no intention of filling up these pages with histories of peasant squabbles, loves, hates, births and marriages. I began to wonder what had become of the old Irish wit and humour. The only amusing story I heard was that of one Pat Cassidy, who informed a neighbour that his landlord had built a row of 'dacent stone cottages' near the town for workmen and their families, having just knocked down the filthy old, undrained, draughty hovels which had stood on the land for some fifty years.

'Av coorse,' said Pat, 'I took one av thim to oblige him; an' I put up wid it though it hadn't the convaniences av me ould cabin at all. I've bin there jist upon two years, an' now, I suppose, I'll be axed to pay me rint!'

A grievance this, after living in a clean, well roofed, tidy house for two years!

The atmosphere grew more and more oppressive. I saw some fresh arrivals coming in, and amidst the stir and confusion I managed to escape, leaving Moll Duggan behind. What a relief it was to be out in the sweet, pure air once more. The brilliant moonlight made the place light as day. I took out my watch and could see the time distinctly. It was nearing eleven o'clock. I had no idea I had spent so much time at the farm, and I hurried along the road as fast as my feet could take me. It was a quarter of an hour's walk to Knockminoss. Taking the short cuts by which I had come here with Moll Duggan, I reached the lodge without misadventure of any sort. The gate was unlocked, and I passed quickly in. Midway down the avenue I met Dr. Langrishe. He was coming towards me and smoking a cigar.

'Oh, Miss Nugent, is that you?' he said. 'I hope you enjoyed the "wake." Interesting in these highly civilised days, is it not?'

'Yes,' I said. 'It was interesting, as showing how little civilisation has done to lift the veil of superstition from those poor creatures' eyes.'

'How you are hurrying,' he said. 'There's no need to fly like that. Mrs. Langrishe is in bed by this time. Do you grudge me a few moments of the society of which you are so lavish to her?'

I felt my face flame hotly under the soft gloom of the arching boughs. I did not like his words, or his tone, or the curious glitter in his eyes. He was near enough for me to catch the fumes of wine from his breath, and the horrid suspicion struck me that he was not quite himself. I drew a little away; but I did not slacken my speed.

'It is very late,' I said, hurriedly. 'Too late to loiter out of doors.'

He laughed unpleasantly.

'It would not be too late with the right man, I suppose,' he said. 'But I have been unfortunate enough not to find favour in those pretty eyes. So I am to be snubbed, eh, Nell?'

'Dr. Langrishe!' I cried, indignantly. 'That is not the way to speak to me. You have no right to use my Christian name.'

'I beg your pardon,' he said, with mock humility. 'Is its touchy little spirit up in arms? You see, I never hear you called anything but "Nell." The prettiness of Nell—the goodness of Nell—the sympathy and kindness and cleverness of Nell. Naturally I drift into thinking of you as "Nell," which indeed suits you better as a name than "Miss Nugent." And in that dress you look altogether so piquante and bewitching. I shall always call you "little nurse Nell" in my heart from to-day, whether you like it or not.'

'Little nurse Nell.' The same name another man's lips had called me. The same name Dick Barrymore had given me. To hear it spoken by this man, hypocrite and deceiver as I know him to be, affected me with a sudden horror.

What could he mean by this familiarity—this entire change of manner? That it was assumed for some purpose I had no doubt whatever. But I was in the dark as to what that purpose could be. I made no answer to that last insulting speech. I know well enough by a woman's intuition that the insult only veiled its veal purport. He neither admired nor liked me, but he had determined to try and make me believe he did both. Was it to separate me from his wife? To leave her once more friendless, ailing, helpless, at his mercy, in his power?

A sickening terror seized me as the thought flashed through my mind. All my horror and distrust of him battled with the prudence that whispered not to make an enemy of him for his wife's sake. She was so unsuspecting, so trustful, so helpless. We were almost out of the avenue now, for I had quickened my steps again.

'Aren't you going to speak to me?' he said more gravely. 'Come, come. Don't play at propriety like this. In the life you've led, and with that pretty face of yours, you must have heard enough of such speeches from men. What about the hospital students, eh? and the doctors, and the patients, too, Nurse Nell?'

'I am happy to say,' I answered sharply, 'that not one of the men you have mentioned ever forgot to behave himself as a gentleman in the presence of a defenceless girl!'

'Ha! ha!' he laughed harshly. What a regular heroine-of-a-novel speech. Do you mean that I am not a gentleman, then, because I paid you a compliment? 'Pon my soul, that's good—very good, You're the first woman that ever turned rusty over a compliment from me. Let me tell you, Miss Nugent——'

But what he intended to tell me remained a mystery. I sped swiftly into the house through the open window of the drawing-room, and fled upstairs to my own bedroom.

I was panting and out of breath. I sat down for a moment or two to recover myself. My shaking hands began to unfasten my cloak and bonnet. My face burned with indignation. I saw that I had a harder task before me than I had dreamt of when I promised to be Mary Langrishe's nurse and companion. I had to tolerate the insults of her husband, or leave her to his mercy.

2 a.m.

A distant clock has just struck the hour. I have been all this time writing down these entries. I commenced to write the moment I returned to my room, after listening a few moments at Mrs. Langrishe's door. All was quiet there. I felt sure she was asleep, and I locked my own door, and without changing my dress, began to write. . . . . I have finished now, and must go to bed. How hot and close the night is, and how hot my head is.

I have a curious burning feeling in my throat. A sense of intolerable thirst. Ah, the thoughtful Hannah has left a jug of water and a glass by my bed. If it were only lemonade!

It is lemonade, and delicious lemonade, too. I have drunk a tumblerful of it and I feel refreshed and cool.

Cool. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

What is this? I am shivering now. I feel deadly cold. Oh, God! Am I going to be ill?

* * * * * *

Three a.m. has struck. I woke suddenly and found myself lying over the table, my head on the page, my arms stretched out. What on earth can be the matter? I must get into bed—but the bed looks so far away—and my limbs so heavy. My dress—how is it I have not changed my dress after coming from that fever-stricken household. What folly!

Oh, dear God of mercy, give me clear head and steady brain for just five minutes more, to lock this—away.


CHAPTER XXIV.

THE STORY CONTINUED BY DEBORAH GRAY.

July 18, 189—,

My time in this hospital is almost up. My last year of service ends in September next. It has been a hard and trying time, but I love my work, and the experience gained here repays me for any labour or exertions in the past.

I have returned from a brief holiday spent in Ireland with my little friend, Nelly Nugent. She was in this same hospital for a short time, but was obliged to leave on account of her health. She is not strong enough for hospital work, but was fortunate enough to procure a situation as companion to an invalid lady in Ireland——

(. . . Good heavens! What a hypocrite I am! Why am I writing like this? No eyes but my own will ever read these pages. Can't I be truthful, even here?)

An invalid lady in Ireland! A woman I once hated with all my heart and soul. The woman for whose sake James Langrishe left me. That is the truth. I feel better for writing it.

What fools of fate or chance we are! We men and women, who make our little earth-life the centre of importance. The wheel of fate has turned for me after seven years of fighting out that devil which James Langrishe left in my soul. I met him again.

Those seven years had been a liberal education of hard work, hard thinking, hard living. I came out at the end of them a woman, cold, unemotional, and full of purpose. But I had no soft or tender feeling left. Help, skill, care, these I could give to the poor sick miserable wretches I had to tend in the wards; but the sympathy, the pity, the little tender ways of which Nell had such a store, those I could not pretend to. My heart was like an empty vault, full of great darkness. Love is the only lamp that illumines the soul of a woman. Alas, what a night of gloom is left to her when that lamp is extinguished.

That lamp was extinguished long ago for me, and out of the darkness I had to grope my way back to daylight, the foggy, grey, neutral-tinted day of a lonely woman's life. But it was not the loneliness that held such terror for me, it was the memories that loneliness evoked.

When I had known James Langrishe first, I had been a fresh, trustful, clean-souled girl. He swept the freshness away with the hot acrid breath of passion's blast. He turned the trust to disbelief. He peopled the clean soul with godless and impure fancies, leaving me, as I said before, with a devil to fight, in return for my love and faith in him. All this he did, and then mocked me to my face for 'prudish scruples.'

Well, it is good for a woman to humble herself before the mirror of her own soul once in a way. So, I will go on my knees at last, and confess I was a fool; an utter, blind, besotted, unreasonable fool. A woman's road in life is marked out clear, fair, straight for her, by her own instincts, by the unwritten law of society. If she errs from it, straying to right or left, she steps into bogs of shame—pitfalls, snares, set for her by the stronger power, whose prey she is. I saw my road clear and straight before me. There was no one to say me nay. I was free and independent, and I had never known fear of man or woman.

And I met James Langrishe.

He was so handsome! I had never seen a man to equal him. Every woman in the place raved about him, but my worship was silent and unuttered, and veiled, too, by little sharp thrusts and speeches to which he was unused. And so, because I would not seem to bend before him, he turned his mind to me, and made hot love to me, as such men do, and then would draw back subtly, as if alarmed, and ask my pardon for presumption, and talk of friendship and respect.

Respect is a wider embrace of a woman's character than love. The subtle flattery pleased me.

My fears were soothed, and he would walk and talk by the hour, and he would intoxicate my soul with that most dangerous form of admiration, an admiration not for myself, but for my strong brain (as he called it), my clear common-sense, my keen insight into character, my companionableness, my influence over those with whom I came into contact.

'You are not beautiful,' he would say, frankly, 'but you are something better. You are a woman for a man's mate, not his plaything. You could rouse him, elevate him, inspire him——'

Faugh! Why do I write this maudlin trash? I, who know its sequel; in whose memory the name of a traitor is branded in letters of undying shame.

* * * * * *

There are two sides to a woman's nature. Perhaps to a man's also, but I know only one of theirs—the worst. So it was, that while abashed and trembling in this man's power, and loving him with the wild, mad idolatry that was part and parcel of myself, I yet knew that something in me escaped him. Escaped, and perched bird-like above my captor's hand, beyond his reach. He could never touch it, or capture it. Away from him I could reason clearly enough. I knew, often, that I loved him with the love that borders on hate. It was strung to so intense a tension that the strain was more than human strength could hear. But with him I could not reason. I only felt that his influence enwrapped me as a flame enwraps gossamer; that his voice, his touch, his glance, his kiss, could lift me heavenwards in rapture for which I suffered corresponding shame and agony in after moments.

* * * * * *

Time went on. Long or short, I did not know, or care. I had flung myself overboard for good and all, and the waves and the winds bore me hither and thither on the current of a man's caprice. Then began, for me, the education of evil.

All pure and simple things that do a woman good—faith, religion, charity, helpfulness, were thrust away, and out of sight, or laughed to scorn by his specious reasoning and brilliant pantheism. For he was only animal, pure and simple—this man I had chosen for my god! He had no beliefs, no integrity, nothing good, or great, or noble about him. Men and women, human lives, were just tools to use for any purpose he desired them. But for a time, I believed in him, and for a time he loved me. That—I know as only a woman knows, for a man cannot feign passion without her detection—unless indeed she be more fool than he is knave.

For a time; and then I woke. It was all over. He lifted the mask from his soul, and I knew him as he was.

Did I suffer? Not just at first. I was too numbed, too broken, to feel very acutely. But then, slowly, the throbbing wounds began to ache and bleed, and I lay like a half-dead thing in a living world, and cried aloud in bitterness, as a human creature must cry soon or late to God who has created it! But of my crying there came nothing, neither response, nor pity, nor peace.

And therein lies the real bitterness of sorrow! The two-edged sword cleaving bone and marrow asunder, the sharp, rending agony that finds no remedy or relief, that, crying dumbly to the darkness and mystery of a beyond, strains its ears for response that never comes.

Never.

At least no human thing whose sad confessions I have heard, whose aching suffering body I have nursed, has ever confessed to me that help met or comfort reached it in such hours as these. God knows, it has been my lot to hear sad and pitiful stories enough. Stories of ruin, desertion, suffering, torture, horrible and ignoble—of martyred lives, of crime, sin, shame. Truth stands naked and unabashed by the side of death. No figleaf is needed at such a time, and men's and women's tongues have alike whispered strange and horrible things to the ears of the nursing sister.

And out of the fight, how have I come off at last? Cured—disenchanted? What?

Hate, born of love, is of all feelings the bitterest and wickedest and most enduring. And with all my heart and soul, with every instinct and feeling of my nature, I know I hate James Langrishe.

Not that my feeling is revengeful. I would not step across the road to do him harm, but I could not stand and look on at his sufferings, his downfall, his punishment, as the fallen angels might have looked on at Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, falling from heaven's high estate to join their ranks. For surely, as I write these words, the dark hour will come for this son of evil, the hour when he and guilt, and all the wrong he has wrought, will look at each other reflected in the hideous and grotesque distortions of the devil's looking-glass!

Strong words, you say. Not feminine, or graceful, or pretty. No. And I don't mean them to be anything but strong.

A woman of my nature, and who has lived my life, has few fanciful, feminine vanities left. She can stand back and look on at life without a veil, and see the thing it is! The curious, piecemeal patchwork of God and the devil, as we have chosen to call the two strong powers we cannot fail to recognise fighting for mastery in this outer world.

How my pen and my feelings have run away with me from my modest starting point. It is plain I have not the gift of authorship. My brain is an unstable, unreliable substance. If I had to earn my livelihood by my pen, I wonder if I would ever be able to keep my own personality in the background. I have a sort of feeling that I should be my own Paul Pry, for ever intruding on my story, letting experience pop round the corner and say this, that, or the other, as fancy moved me.

Cannot I possibly come back to the record of facts that my diaries have usually held. For I may as well state at once, that since I took up hospital work I have always kept notes, not only of my patients' cases, but of the incidents connected with the life. It has become a habit. However, I have hitherto restricted myself to just the record of facts connected with the day's work and duties. I have never permitted myself the luxury of confidence, even to these safe pages. All the stranger, therefore, is it that I should burst out in this fashion. Perhaps it is the after-effect of my holiday at Glengariff, perhaps the outcome of those pent-up feelings that made my life almost intolerable while James Langrishe was on the spot.

* * * * * * *

By what accursed irony of fate was I obliged to meet him again, to speak to that poor, sickly creature he had made his wife, for sake of her wealth?

God alone knows. I don't.

But having met him and spoken to him, with such scorn and hatred as my outraged heart could hold, I, at least, consoled myself by thinking of the victory. I fear his power no longer. The very attraction he once had for me, the subtle attraction of the senses, his handsome face, his eloquent eyes, his persuasive, tenderly modulated voice—all these seemed to me as mere external tricks and artifices—the whitewash of a sepulchre whose interior I had once seen, whose gruesome horrors I knew. . . . . And now, it is all over, like my brief holiday, and Nell is in his house, and I am here, in the fetid atmosphere of the hospital, and my spell of rest is over for to-day. I must close this book, and go down to the ward.

A new patient was brought in last night. A woman, or rather a girl—a fearful object, wretched, ill clad, her face pinched and blue, her long lovely russet-hued hair, unkempt and matted—the victim of poverty and intemperance and typhoid.


CHAPTER XXV.

July 19.

The woman is in the last stage of that virulent and horrible fever. She will never rally. Her constitution has been enfeebled by vice and drink; her language shows that, even if her face did not tell her history. She is Irish from her accent, I should say. It is not an unpleasant one. Certainly not a Dublin or Belfast one. I know both. It is a drawling monotonous accent, and she has a soft, and seems to me, a well-cultivated voice. Her ravings are terrible sometimes.

They have cut off all her hair. She looks a pitiable object, lying there, with her head bandaged, her livid face, her parched lips, from which the panting breath comes painfully and unevenly. It needs resolution and experience and cool-headedness to deal with cases like these—to remember the loathsome sufferers are still human, with souls to be accounted for!

I have the night duty in the ward to-night. I hardly fancy she will live through it. I cannot spare the time to write more now. I must take my turn of sleep, and I feel sorely in need of it.

July 20.

Horror upon horror seems to accumulate for me.

Let me—while the scene is still fresh in my mind—commit it to these pages.

Surely the hand of fate is at work, drawing me once again into the net of James Langrishe's life and actions. At nine o'clock last night I went on duty. I could see the typhoid patient was sinking fast.

I gave her some milk, but she could scarcely swallow it. Her eyes were sunk deep in her head. They looked at me in a beseeching, feverish entreaty.

'You want something?' I said, quietly. 'What is it? Would you like to see a priest? You have only to say so.'

A heavy frown knit her brows. 'Priest—no, it's too late for that,' she gasped. 'My soul will have to answer for itself, and so will his that ruined me and brought me to this. May the hearthstone of hell be his bed, and with my dying breath I say it.'

I was used to hearing strong expressions from the Irish patients, who were not uncommon in this hospital. I rebuked her gently for that unchristian wish, but she followed it up by low mutterings and curses all more or less eloquent of animosity.

Suddenly a name she muttered caught my ear. I bent closer to her.

'Who did you say?' I asked, eagerly.

Her claw-like fingers were plucking at the sheet that covered her, her lips moved quickly, her glazed eyes were gazing straight before her. She paid no heed to my question. The curses were rattling off her tongue now as glibly as I had heard prayers and blessings fall from the lips of her compatriots in a more Christian frame of mind. I listened, wondering if my ears hod deceived me.

'When we meet, James—for we shall meet again—I'll be there, I tell ye. The foot of Dead Woman's Hill, at midnight. I must be going now. Mother'll be so angry. A kiss—a hundred kisses if ye want them, heart of my heart as ye are. . . . What! gone! left me. A curse on his lips. Ah! don't curse me, James Langrishe. Shure, me heart's broken, and me life ruined. You said I should be a lady. Is this what ye meant? Ah! black villain, black heart, you'll cast me off, you'll send my soul to hell, will ye? No, you won't. You can't. May Hell's deepest curse be on your head; may your bones never rest; may your death be as bitter as mine, and the gallows your end, murderer that ye are! . . Ah—h—h!'

A shriek broke from her so agonised and terrible that one of the other sisters came round the screen and approached the bed. But she lay quite still now. Her hands had ceased to move.

'She's gone,' said the sister, quietly.

'Not yet,' I said, and half supported her head.

But it was the last stage of collapse. A shudder ran through her body. She opened her eyes and gasped for breath.

'Is it any use to call the house surgeon?' asked the sister.

I shook my head. I had nursed too many cases not to know every sign and symptom of the disease.

'It would be useless,' I said. 'Nothing can be done.'

'You look very white,' she said, in surprise. 'Surely you are not upset by this?'

I had learnt self-control in a good school. I hastily shook off the emotion that threatened to interfere with the duties of the moment. I would not even let myself think that this strange woman, whose dead limbs I was straightening, for whom I had to perform the last sad offices human hands can render to a fellow mortal, that this, for whom life was for ever a closed book, had crossed the dread threshold of eternity with a curse on her lips—a curse coupled with the name of the man who had once been my lover.

* * * * * *

Not then could I allow myself to think, but now I am free to do so—free to go over and over again that incoherent raving which told its own story against this man, and laid the ruin of another life at his door. I did not know her name. No friend had come to see her. A stranger had found her in the street below, dying almost, and had brought her into the hospital, and there she had remained. She had never told anything about herself. Indeed, she had never been able to speak rationally or calmly. I should have paid no heed to her ravings to-night but for the mention of that name—James Langrishe! There was no mistaking it—no possibility of deception—James Langrishe, and this awful creature, who had scarcely any charm or trace of femininity left about her.

What had been the secret shared between them? The old, hateful, common story of betrayer and victim. One in one grade of life, the other in a lower and unimportant one—too unimportant for virtue to be of any moment. Her words had implied that, but they had also breathed a hatred, terrible and relentless. A curse on the life and soul of the man she had said she loved.

I can give the story no place except in my memory, and here. Will a day ever come when I shall have a clue to it? When I shall know who this poor creature really was? Another victim of James Langrishe's evil passions, another soul whose peace and welfare he has ruined.

* * * * * *

July 20th.

No one has claimed her.

That fate most dreaded by all the friendless and unknown creatures whose last breath is spent between these walls, the fate which gives them to science for its own purposes, will be her fate. Her body will know no resting place in quiet burial ground, no visit from kindred, no tears let fall from sorrowful, living eyes. Unknown, unsought, she has passed into the unknown country, and only a stranger's lips breathe 'God have mercy upon her soul.'

July 29th.

A wet Sunday, and my day off. There has been a great deal of sickness and mortality in the wards during the past week.

I feel too depressed and weak to go out. It is hard work nursing and tending these poor creatures, interviewing their friends and relatives, keeping guard over them on visiting days, hearing their melancholy histories, that truly make one doubt the purpose or aim or the scheme of creation. . . . Life in great cities, the life of the poor, is the most horrible, hopeless, wearisome struggle for bare existence. The diseased bodies, the besotted brains, the awful, loathsome recklessness with which those same diseased and tainted creatures breed others of their species and cast them on the ocean of humanity—these are the horrors and problems with which I am perpetually confronted.

I have seen what preachers and philanthropists never see. I have heard the futile cry of the departing soul that goes in blind ignorance to meet its doom. I have beheld the evils of false conceptions of truth and morality, of systems introduced to promulgate good, and productive instead of only wrong and suffering and oppression. The motley crowds that pass to and fro the wards of our hospitals are an everliving reproach to the vices civilisation has brought among us. A clean, fresh, natural life has been made an impossibility. Who is there to legislate for it among political sycophants and place-seeking hirelings? Who is there to speak to lawmakers of the iniquity of a system made complex by every art of man in order that justice shall be the costliest and hardest thing to win on this side of the grave? Who among preachers of creeds ever pauses to consider what it is he is giving in place of spiritual food? Hard stones of doctrine, dry husks of a spurious morality, the sounding of brass and the tinkling of cymbals! Where are the disciples of Christ, the peacemaker? Where are the followers of His beautiful charity?

In the ritualists' pulpit, in the Pope's palace, in the dissenters' chapel? In cathedral, or church, or monastery, or temple? Each crying aloud against the other and vaunting their own ritual, their own faith with the brazen effrontery of an order, blessed and ordained by Heaven?

Poor Heaven, place or state whichever you be, how much you have to answer for! What crimes and wrongs have been committed in your name! What rivers of blood have washed the world's highways at your supposed bidding! What vileness has been shielded by your armour! What hideous hypocrisy of soul has been cloaked by a pretended faith in your high destinies!

Oh! How this is all bitter and blasphemous, the Pharisees would say! Bitter because it is true, blasphemous because it is unsectarian.

Be it so.

I am only a woman, who is fighting life's battle, single-handed, disillusioned, and what I say is true of myself and my experience, for of all sins I most abhor and loathe, it is the devil's darling sin of hypocrisy, and Christian hypocrisy most of all.

* * * * * *

I have been looking over one or two of Nell's last letters. She does not write often. She does not seem quite at her ease about Dr. Langrishe. I cannot make out what she suspects; but that it is a case of 'Dr. Fell,' I feel confident.

In reading over one of them I was struck by the following observation:—

'The lodge here is kept by a strange, queer-tempered old woman. I can't make friends with her, which for an Irish person is singular, and for me—unusual. She has had some great trouble in her life. Her daughter ran away; no one knows what became of her. I hear she was a very beautiful girl. It is believed that there was some man behind the scenes, as usual. Ah! Debbie, my dear! Well may we say, "Preserve us from the men!"'

I put down the letter and began to reflect.

The lodge-keeper of James Langrishe's place was a queer, soured old woman who had had a beautiful daughter. The girl had run away from home. No one knew where. It was believed some man was at the bottom of it.

Under ordinary circumstances, I should have thought nothing of those observations of Nell's, but with that miserable story and my own miserable suspicions fresh in my mind, it struck me in a new light. I wrote to her at once asking guardedly for information on two points—the time of the girl's disappearance, and if, in the neighbourhood of Knockminoss, there was any place known as Dead Woman's Hill. I gave no reasons for asking these questions, nor did I tell her anything of the girl whose last breath had spent itself in a curse on James Langrishe's name.

Towards evening, the rain cleared off. I resolved to make use of my 'day out,' as the servants call it. I would go for a walk.

I left the hospital, and went on through the wet, sloppy streets, without paying much heed as to where my footsteps took me. Church bells were ringing for evening service. Well dressed people passed me with composed Sunday faces and prayer books in their hands. I was used to being one of a crowd. I moved with them, and leaving Charing Cross behind, went further west, towards Piccadilly. Here I again found myself in a greater crowd than I liked. I crossed the road, and walked up a bye street, of whose name I was ignorant. The sound of a bell struck my ear. I looked up and saw myself by an unimposing building with green doors. One or two people were going in, and, moved by curiosity, I stopped and read the name on the board without.

"The Theist Church."

Theist? I wondered what sort of ritual was to be found here. I entered, passed along a passage, at the end of which stood a table, covered with books and pamphlets. Then I opened a door and walked into a bare, unbeautiful edifice, with plain pews of polished wood, and walls painted a dull green. Opposite the organ, by which sat the choir, was a sort of platform. In the centre stood the pulpit, from which the whole service was conducted. I was shown into one of the vacant pews (there were a good many), and took my seat and listened with pleasure to a beautiful voluntary on the organ, performed by a true artist, who knew his instrument and loved it, I should say.

Then the preacher or minister entered, and the service commenced. The book in my pew informed me that the compilation and arrangement of the service had been the work of the founder of this church. The portion used struck me as being most admirable. . . . It was just when I was engrossed with the new form of litany, in which the congregation joined, that someone was shown into my seat, and I lifted my eyes in surprised greeting to the face of Dick Barrymore.


CHAPTER XXVI.

July 29, 9.30 p.m.

A lovely rendering of Gounod's 'Nazareth' on the organ kept me in my seat till the last echo died away.

Dick had left me, but I found him, as I expected, waiting for me at the door. His greeting was warm and enthusiastic, but I took it for what it was worth, knowing that Nell was the cause of it. Her name trembled on his tongue as soon as 'How d'ye do,' and 'How strange meeting you here!' had been said and answered with a lingering handshake as an accompaniment. Then I told him all he was dying to know, and we walked up Piccadilly and turned into the Green Park for a talk before I took the homely 'bus' back to the hospital.

It appeared he was a constant frequenter of the Theist Church, though not a professed acceptant of the religion it embodied. When I could drag him away from 'Nell'—Nell's doings and sayings, her present welfare, her future plans—I made him explain what Theism really meant, and the reason of its existence as a religion, in a sort of alien relationship to the parent church.

We had a long and interesting conversation. Indeed he even accompanied me on the omnibus to the hospital, and took leave of me with evident regret.

I promised to see him in my 'off' hours, for the next week. It is likely he will be leaving town shortly, with his uncle. Geoffrey Masterman appears to have acquired the true American craze for 'rushing' from place to place. He never settles down anywhere for any length of time.

I asked him why he didn't write to Nell himself. He allowed he had done so, and sent her his book, but had only had one letter in return. He seemed to think she did not desire to open any correspondence with him.

* * * * * *

In my own heart I cannot blame the girl, though, to common sense, her conduct seems a little unwise. Dick is such a good fellow—so honest and tender and true—and he loves her so devotedly, but alas! isn't that always the way? The best and truest love rarely finds what Tennyson called its 'earthly sequel,' unless, indeed, 'streaming eyes and broken hearts' be considered in that light.

Well, we parted, Dick and I, and I went into my own quarters, and wrote up my diary for the day, and in consequence of the time spent in doing so had to undress in the dark, or rather by moonlight, for hospital rules are inexorable, and fines are a heavy tax on a nurse's pocket.

* * * * * *

August 6.

Save for the usual 'cases' in the wards, I have had nothing to chronicle. The heat in London has been intense, and a corresponding amount of sickness, due to drought and reckless living, crowded the fever wards last week. But things are better now.

It occurred to me to-day, that it is some time since I had a letter from Nell. I hope nothing is the matter; I feel unusually anxious. I saw Dick Barrymore yesterday. He told me he had written to her a week ago, but had no reply yet. He leaves for Switzerland to-morrow, with his uncle. I shall miss him very much. We have seen a good deal of each other lately, and I seem to know him better than I did at Glengariff.

Dear Glengariff! How lovely it must be there in those cool woods, beside that lovely murmuring water, among those fairy islands!

No wonder I sigh, sitting here in the hot close air, that no ventilation can make breathable.

But I must not get discontented. I have put my hand to the plough. There must be no looking back. I am steadily working on for a purpose and ambition of my own. Whether I achieve them or not I at least have the satisfaction of trying my best.

August 7th, Knockminoss, Youghal.

. . . Breathing space at last! The last entry in my diary was written in my own room in the hospital in London. I open it to-night in a brief half-hour of leisure, to continue its history once more here, under the roof of the man I count my bitterest enemy.

How has it all come about?

Let me be accurate in every detail. Much may one day depend on these notes of mine.

The 6th broke cold and wet. It was a bank holiday, and the streets were that dismal look which weather and disgusted pleasure-seekers alone can bestow. I took a look at drenched gowns and dripping umbrellas, and bedraggled skirts and melancholy feathers, as I passed to my morning duties. I had been a brief time in the ward when one of the sisters came to me with a telegram in her hand,

'For you, Sister Gray,' she said.

It was such an unusual thing that I took the little brown envelope with some trepidation. I tore it open and read this message:


'Nell very ill. Fever. Fear the worst. Am ill myself; can do nothing more. Come at once; at once.

'MARY LANGRISHE.'


I stood there, holding that little bit of paper in my hand like one dazed. Then I muttered some excuse to the sister in charge, and, regardless of rules, fines, everything, I rushed to the matron's room, and poured out my breathless request. With or without permission, I must go at once, that very day, to Ireland.

Nell dying. My bright, pretty, merry Nell! I felt sick and broken-hearted as I read those words.

I don't know what I said to the matron, but I suppose I made it clear that the message was urgent, and that go I must.

The permission was granted. Indeed had it been refused I should have left all the same.

I took the 6.30 train from Euston, caught the mail at Kingsbridge next morning; and was in Youghal the same afternoon. I took a car and drove straight to Knockminoss. The man did not drive through the town, but turned round past the other side of the station, and drove along a straight dusty road till he reached a hill. He drove up this hill, and on and on for what seemed to me a long time. Then we reached a lodge, and he informed me that I was at my destination. A woman came to the gate; my parched lips tried to frame an inquiry but failed for very terror of what the answer might he. We drove down an avenue, thickly planted with trees, then came a wide, open space, showing the sea fair and smiling in the distance, and before me was the house as Nell had described it. I sprang from the car and rang the bell. I bade the man put down my small Gladstone bag and modest trunk, and paid him his fare. A servant came forward and stared when she saw me. She was a stupid-looking girl, with untidy black hair rolled about her head, and a not too clean apron over her black dress.

'I am the nurse,' I said. 'I was telegraphed for. Will you take me to Mrs. Langrishe's room?'

'Will ye plaze step in, miss', she said, opening the door of the dining-room.

'I'll tell the masther, miss. No one is allowed to go near the mistress but himself.'

I went into the room and stood by the window, looking out in an agony of fear and impatience. Presently I heard a step, I turned and saw James Langrishe.

His face, as he saw me confronting him, turned perfectly livid. If he had seen a ghost he could not have looked more terrified.

'My God! You! How did you come here?' he gasped.

'Didn't you expect me?' I said. 'Your wife telegraphed for me. Nell is very ill,' she said. 'I came at once.'

'My wife,' he stammered. 'My wife telegraphed for you? There must be some mistake.'

'Here is the message,' I said, handing him the telegram, which I had kept in my pocket ever since I received it.

He read it, and his face grew savage.

'I was not told,' he said. 'I know nothing. I wouldn't have sent for you if I had needed a nurse.'

'Probably not,' I said. 'But it was my friend I came to nurse, not you. How is she?'

'It has turned to typhoid,' he said, sullenly. 'I can't give an opinion yet.'

'And Mrs. Langrishe?' I asked.

'The bad symptoms began yesterday. I suppose she felt ill and wired to you the day before. I knew nothing about it.'

'She never told you!' I said, breathlessly.

'Haven't I said so? It's devilish odd. I think she must have gone off her head. She has been very queer. She hasn't slept since Miss Nugent was taken ill.'

'May I go and see them, since I am here?' I said, quietly.

'Of course,' he said, hastily. 'Why not. It's no business of mine. Indeed, it's a great relief to have someone to look after them. I had intended sending to Cork for a nurse. The parlourmaid is ill, too—same thing, I'm afraid. People are getting scared. There are a lot of cases in the town.'

He spoke in a jerky, nervous way, moving restlessly to and fro at the time. His eyes never met mine. I thought his manner very odd. But perhaps I put it down to some remnant of unforgotten sentiment. A woman never believes that a man who has once loved her ever quite forgets her!

I showed no embarrassment whatever, though I felt I had come to his house in a very inopportune fashion. I was puzzled to know why his wife should have telegraphed for me without his knowledge. However, I put it down to some urgent request of Nell's, which she had carried out before succumbing to the fever.

'Will you take both cases?' he asked me suddenly.

'Yes,' I said. 'I am used to hard work. I know every stage of this fever. I have nursed scores of cases already. Are they in adjoining rooms?'

'No, that's impossible.'

'It must be managed,' I said. 'Surely you know that.'

'Miss Nugent is better. She does not need so much care as my wife. Their rooms are divided by a passage.'

'I will see them,' I said, 'and then make my arrangements. Kindly lead the way.'

He took me up a broad staircase, which led to a long carpeted corridor. Several doors opened on this corridor. He opened one, and lying on the pillow—a wasted haggard object—was Nell. I stopped by the door to gain composure. I was afraid of disturbing her. She seemed in a state of sleepy exhaustion; her eyes were closed, but she was muttering softly to herself.

I went over and studied her attentively for a few moments.

The room had been cleared of hangings and superfluous furniture. There was the familiar scent of disinfectants everywhere.

I touched her hand. It was burning hot. Her head turned restlessly on the pillows. I leant over her and whispered her name. She paid no heed. She kept muttering something over and over again.

'Is it locked up? Oh, is it locked up?' That is what I heard.

'You have attended her entirely yourself?' I asked Dr. Langrishe, as I moved away from the bedside.

'Of course,' he said sharply. 'My colleagues here are not more skilful than I am, and I did not think it necessary to have a London physician over.'

I passed over the sneer without observation.

'I should like to see your wife next,' I said.

He and I followed him into a beautifully furnished bedroom, with two windows looking seawards. The curtains of the bed were draped French fashion from a gilt crown fixed in the ceiling. They were of delicate pink, covered with filmy lace, and shrouded the haggard, wasted face of the sick woman in ghastly contrast to herself. My first glance showed me she was very ill.

'How many days,' I asked quietly.

'To-morrow will be the sixth from the first symptoms. She would not acknowledge she was ill.'

'You should not have allowed her to nurse Miss Nugent,' I said, sharply; 'especially if she was in bad health at the time.'

'How do you know she was in bad health?' he asked, with a furtive glance at my face.

'My friend told me in one of her letters.'

'She was very well,' he said insolently. 'As well as she has ever been. But she is a fanciful woman, and a headache will knock her over.'

'Where does that door lead to?' I asked, pointing to another one that opened out of the bedchamber.

'That is my dressing-room.'

'May I see it?' I inquired.

'Certainly,' and he led the way again, and threw open the door.

It was a fair-sized room, very plainly furnished. It had a wide square window, also looking to the sea. A couch stood before it. In the opposite corner was a low iron bedstead. The furniture was completed by a mahogany wardrobe, a shaving-glass and table combined, a marble-topped washstand, and a couple of chairs.

'You use this room at present?' I said.

'Of course. She had had very bad nights. I have watched her for the first half and Hannah, the parlourmaid, would then take my place, but she has broken down to-day.'

I considered for a few moments. Then I said:—

'I should propose to move Miss Nugent into this room. I will then have the two patients under my eye. Is there another bedroom into which you could move?'

'Of course,' he said. 'There is the spare room, at the end of the passage. I shall be within call. But do you think it advisable to move your friend?'

'I do,' I said quietly. 'And I must have all this fantastic drapery and hangings removed. Can you send anyone to assist me?'

'The housemaid has left,' he said. 'Got scared. Hannah has gone to the fever hospital. The woman who admitted you and the stable men are the only servants!'

I thought that for such an imposing-looking establishment it seemed singularly destitute of domestics. But I was not going to raise objections at such a time. A crisis was at hand, and I needed all my nerve and coolness. I knew I was strong enough to do the work of two nurses with very little outside assistance, and surely in a day or two he would be able to get someone to help with the household.

'Please send that woman up,' I said, and I removed my cloak and bonnet, and hung them on a rail in the outer corridor.

He went downstairs, and in a few minutes the untidy creature who had admitted me appeared.

I gave her my orders, and she brought steps end dusters and brush, as I desired, and in a very short time I had the fripperies and fantasies stripped from Mrs. Langrishe's room, the square of carpet raised and removed, the boards sprinkled with carbolic, and the inevitable drenched sheets waving to and fro in a current of fresh pure air.

The dressing-room wanted very little arrangement, only the removal of the carpet, and the placing the bed in a different position. The couch, a deep padded Chesterfield, I intended to use for myself.

I then bade the servant remove her master's belongings to the spare room, and get that ready for his use.

While she was doing this I examined the medicinal bottles on the table beside Mrs. Langrishe. They were unlabelled. Evidently her husband made them up himself. One was a small bottle marked, 'Drops,' on which a strip of paper was pasted, marking, by little notches, each dose. I smelt this. 'Morphia,' I thought to myself, and then looked at the sleeping woman. She was in a heavy stupor now. She seemed to breathe with difficulty. I did not like her appearance at all, and for many more days she must battle with this hateful disease ere a change could be expected. Would she ever have the strength?

As there was nothing to be done for her at present I returned to Nell.

Still restless, still muttering, unconscious and unrecognising. There was no doubt that she was very seriously ill. I had seen too many cases of this horrible fever not to recognise at a glance its virulent or mild forms. But she was young, and had lived quietly and restfully now for nearly a year. Surely nature and I could pull her through, if God so willed.


CHAPTER XXVII.

August 16.

It is close on midnight. The change was effected easily. Nell is now in the adjoining room, and I have my two patients under my eye.

Dr. Langrishe came in at eleven o'clock, examined them both, and gave me directions for the night. About midnight the crisis might be expected with Nell. I was to call him in if I felt in the least uneasy. . . . I sit here and try to calm my mind by writing down these facts.

It seems years since I came over in answer to that telegram, and yet it was only yesterday.

How slowly the hours and the days have passed! How long I seem to have waited for that dreaded moment when I shall know if life or death is to be her fate. The hardest duty of the sick nurse is the watching. Nothing can be done—nothing must be given. One has only to wait—wait—wait—and see the battle fought out.

It is hard enough, that time, when one has merely a professional interest in the sufferer, but when one's heart is in the case, and love and anxiety are mingled in that dread hour of suspense, ah, that is when one recognises human weakness!

Enough. . . . I must put my journal away now. The hour is at hand. When I open this again what shall I have to write in it? . . . Let me fall on my knees, cold and careless sceptic as I have long been, and pray God's pity for this life I love.

August 17, 6 a.m.

The glad sunshine breaks over the world, and the world is beautiful! There are birds singing in the boughs, the grass is spangled with dew, the sweet fresh air blows in through the open window by which I sit—and Nell?

Nell is safe!

Oh! I thank God. I thank God. My heart is so full I could sing for joy. The glad tears crowd my eyes. I, who so seldom weep, who despise womanly emotion so heartily.

The crisis was sharp, but quickly over. I had summoned the doctor. For in that dread moment all animosity was forgotten. We were simply nurse and doctor, waiting in profound anxiety for the crisis of a human fate.

It came—it passed—through the wide open window the sweet, fresh air poured in. She opened her dim eyes, and they turned from his face to mine.

'Why, Debbie?' she said, faintly, and then smiled, and half turned on the pillows. A soft dew broke out on her forehead, the ghastly colour of lips and cheeks altered ever so slightly.

'I feel easier now,' she said.

'Give her the restorative,' said the doctor. 'She will do. If there's no relapse, she'll have turned the corner and be on the mend.'

And then for the first time in my life, the courage of the nurse gave place to the instincts of the woman. I sank into the chair beside the bed, trembling from head to foot. I could not speak. I could not even say 'Thank God.'

He looked at me in surprise.

'Were you so fond of her?' he asked, half scornfully. 'On what trash you deep, strong-natured women spend your feelings!'

It was a brutal observation, especially at such a time. It stung me to strength and composure, however. I rose and gave her the restorative.

'She will do now,' I said coldly. 'I need not keep you from your rest.'

He made no answer, but walked into the other room, and I heard him go towards his wife's bed. I could not leave Nell's side for a moment. But as I stood there I heard the chink of a bottle touching a glass.

I hurried to the doorway, and saw him bending over the little table on which stood the medicines.

'She has had her medicine,' I said quickly. 'I hope you——'

He turned round and faced me savagely.

'Curse you, Deborah Gray; can't you attend to your own duties there,' he said. 'Do you suppose I don't know what I'm about. You nurses think you know better than the whole College of Surgeons put together!'

'I wouldn't give much for the nursing capacities of the whole College of Surgeons,' I said. 'It is one thing to prescribe for, but another to attend to a patient.'

I had walked into the room as I spoke. Mrs. Langrishe was in the same sort of stupor which marked her case so strongly. Nell had been restless, excited, wandering. Mrs. Langrishe's brain seemed dull and inert.

My eyes turned from her to the table.

I saw that the bottles were not in the position in which I had placed them. However, I made no remark. There was no reason why Dr. Langrishe should not move the bottles or examine the medicines which he himself dispensed. I thought the poor woman looked very bad. Her colour was awful—the breath came fitfully and unevenly through her leaden-hued lips. I began to have doubts whether she would ever have strength to pull through the fever as Nell had done.

'It is strange,' I said, thoughtfully, after a short silence, 'that the medicine has no effect upon her. It suited Nell so well.'

'You musn't compare my wife with Miss Nugent,' he said. 'Their constitutions are totally different.'

'And yet you give them the same medicine?'

'I suppose next you will be wanting me to write out my prescriptions and submit them to you. You professional nurses have a fair share of Mother Eve's virtue—curiosity.'

'If she does not improve,' I said, 'I wonder, for your own sake, you don't call in other advice. There is a Dr. A., of Dublin—(mentioning a famous physician of that city),—he would come at once.'

His brow darkened.

'Do you think,' he said, somewhat huskily, 'that she is so bad?'

'You need not ask me,' I answered. 'What is your own opinion?'

'Oh, she has wonderful rallying powers,' he said evasively. 'I think she will make a good fight for it.'

That was all the conversation.

I sit here writing it down while it is fresh in my mind, for I do not quite like Dr. Langrishe's manner. He seems to me like a man with something on his mind—some burden or trouble. His temper is so irritable, his manner so strange and discourteous, that I should fancy he wished to make my stay here purposely unpleasant. But neither discourtesy nor temper will drive me from my post until my patients are out of danger—or need me no more.

7 p.m.

Both are sleeping quietly how. I can afford to lie down myself and take a little rest. How tired I do feel!

Same day, 10 p.m.

Nell's improvement is steadily maintained. She is gaining strength every hour, and takes eagerly the light nourishment which I give her. To my great surprise, Dr. Langrishe told me to-night that he had telegraphed to the Dublin physician. We might expect him to-morrow. This sudden change of plans quite amazed me. I could not make it out.

August 18.

I have had five good hours' rest to-day. The servant girl took my place, but there was no need to call me. The patients slept the whole afternoon.

It is always towards night that Mrs. Langrishe gets worse.

Nell woke up quite bright and cheerful. She was full of curiosity to know how I had come to Knockminoss. I would not let her talk much for fear of exciting her. She said something that puzzled me, however. 'Where are my keys, Debbie?'

I gave them to her. I had found them under the pillow on a key chain, and they had been in my charge ever since. She looked anxiously at them, telling them over one by one.

'That is all right,' she said, softly. 'I did lock it up.'

'Lock what?' I asked, remembering suddenly how all her wanderings had been about something to be looked away in safety.

'The diary,' she whispered, and then glanced timidly round.

'Who is in the next room?' she asked.

I told her Mrs. Langrishe, and that she was ill.

'Very ill, Debbie?' she asked, turning her frightened eyes to mine. 'Tell me. What is it?'

'Fever,' I said. 'The same fever that you have had, dear.'

A look of relief crossed her face. She sank back on the pillow.

'Debbie,' she said, then, 'to-night, when you are all alone, I want you to go to the chest of drawers in my bedroom. Open the small top drawer on the right with this key. There you will find my diary, unless——' She paused, and put her hand to her head in a perplexed, painful way. 'I can't remember,' she said. 'I felt so ill—did I put it away safely before I lost consciousness? Heaven grant she may never get sight of it!'

'She—who?' I asked in wonder.

'Mary Langrishe,' she whispered. 'Oh, Debbie, it has been terrible here, terrible.'

Her shuddering glance wandered round the room.

'I can't speak of it. I daren't,' she went on. 'But you will find it all written down in the diary, everything . . . read it, Debbie, and then form your own opinion. Perhaps I have been too suspicious. I don't know—but I distrust that man with all my heart.'

I soothed her, and bade her lie down and rest, and not worry herself over anything till she was strong once more.

'Remember,' I said, 'you are not safe yet. There is always the danger of a relapse. Then, what should we do? It will need all my care and skill to nurse that poor creature in the next room. Her strength is scarcely equal to the strain of this horrible fever.'

She wrung her hands in a sudden desperate way.

'And it was all my fault,' she murmured. 'I brought it here. I would go to that "wake," and I remember I never changed my dress nor used any precaution, and sat there at the open window half the night. And now she has it, too. Oh, Debbie, say she won't die. For God's sake promise it!'

'Dear child!' I said gently. 'The issues of life and death are not in mortal hands. I will do all I can, but you can assist me greatly by being quiet and obedient, and doing your very best to get well. There is a time in the most critical diseases when the wishes of the patient materially assist recovery. Remember that, and relieve me from further anxiety on your behalf.'

'I will, Debbie,' she said, earnestly. 'Indeed, indeed, I will. And oh!' she went on, 'I'm so glad you put me here, I am near her. It is such a comfort, and I can see you passing to and fro. One thing more——' and she laid a detaining hand on mine, 'has he attended us both?'

'Yes,' I said, 'but I wish for another opinion. I expect a doctor from Dublin to-morrow.'

'Oh, I am so glad,' she said, eagerly. 'Watch her carefully, Debbie, very carefully. Did she have the same medicine that I did?'

'Exactly,' I replied.

'And no sleeping draughts and stuffs?'

'No, certainly not. In her state it would have been most injurious.'

'And, he? Where does he sleep?'

'Down the passage. In what they call the blue room.'

She looked relieved.

'That is all, Debbie,' she said. 'Now go and fetch the diary, and when you read it, sit where I can watch you. I should like to see your face. But don't let him catch sight of it. Keep it locked safely away. Promise me that.'

I promised; then gave her some milk end left her.

10 p.m.

I found the diary in the drawers she had described. It was locked, and the key was on the chain with the others. The diary was the same that I had given her in the hospital when she left us. It had a peculiar clasp with a Bramah lock. I took it with me to Mrs. Langrishe's room, and put it in my own dressing-bag until I should have leisure to read it. The whole long night was before me.

Medicines and nourishment had to be given at regular intervals. That was all. I had a small spirit lamp and stand which I always stood in the fireplace, and used for boiling water or milk, or anything of that sort. I made all my preparations for the night, bathed and brushed my hair, and changed my dress for a cashmere dressing-gown. Then I put a small table with a shaded lamp in a corner of the room, in view of Nell's bed.

She was wide awake and watching me eagerly. The doctor had paid his last visit for the night. Mrs. Langrishe was just in the same condition. I sat down and wrote up my journal to this present extract.

* * * * * *

11 p.m.

I have just looked in at Nell to tell her I am going to read the diary. She says she is getting sleepy, and won't disturb me by a word.

I have locked the door of the bedroom leading into the corridor. There is no fear of disturbance. The window is wide open as usual, for the night is very hot. I can see the sea shining like a burnished mirror under the light of the brilliant August moon. The trees stand out dark and still against that luminous background. Within all is still and peaceful. The room is in shadow save just where I sit in the circle of light thrown by the lamp.

A night-light burns in Nell's room. It shows me her pale face and dusky hair lying back on the frilled pillows. The soft tick of the clock on the chimney-piece, and the hurried breathing of the sick woman are the only sounds I hear.

The house seems very still. I don't know whether Dr. Langrishe has gone to bed or not. A sense of peace and seclusion are about me, and yet I feel strangely disturbed. The locked diary is there, on the table. I haven't opened it yet. I feel as if my own impressions must be got rid of, so to speak, before I venture to read that history.

The moon has stolen round. Its golden crescent faces me and clusters of brilliant stars make the light clear almost as day. So lovely, so peaceful a scene, and yet within this room the heavy burden of human griefs, human anxieties.

I fancy I hear a step on the gravel below. It has crossed the grass sward running down to the plantation. The faint odour of a cigar steals up to the window. The doctor must be out there smoking.

I went over to the window and looked out. I saw the tall dark figure I knew pacing to and fro the stretch of velvet sward. The light within must have shown him myself with equal distinctness. He called to me softly, and I answered.

'Any change?' he asked.

'None whatever,' was the reply.

He walked away, and I watched him slowly pacing from end to end of that sloping stretch of grass—now in shadow, now coming out into the fuller radiance of the moon. The tiny red spark from his cigar was distinctly visible. Then I saw him turn down the slope and pass into the plantation beyond, as if going to the road that led seawards.

I turned back into the room. I glanced at Nell. One arm was thrown out on the white coverlet, her pretty, dusky head was defined against the faintly deepening background of the inner room.

I passed softly to Mrs. Langrishe's side. She opened her eyes and complained of thirst. I gave her some milk and soda-water, and rearranged her pillows. The rapid pulse, the dry hot skin, the quick breathing—all were unchanged.

Then I returned to my seat by the table and unlocked the diary.


CHAPTER XXVIII.

August 19, 5 a.m.

I began to read Nell's diary towards midnight. I was interrupted twice to attend to Mrs. Langrishe. With that exception I read steadily on and on till daybreak.

What shall I say here of that book, with its innocent yet damning truths, with its terrible suspicions?

Is James Langrishe a blacker villain than I ever dreamt he was? Has he some awful purpose in his heart, concealed and masked by that handsome, inscrutable face? He loves another woman, and his wife, the one barrier between them, lies at his mercy, in the throes of a deadly disease!

I know what James Langrishe's love can be. I know how utterly unscrupulous he is, and I know that what has puzzled me in this case of his wife's is accounted for by the confessions of Nell's diary! He is a dangerous man—a subtle foe. Can I match my woman's wit against his schemes and baffle them?

I dare not breathe a suspicion, and yet I must meet him, speak to him, as if I were still ignorant of his intentions. It would never do to drive him to bay, to make an open enemy of him. And yet—my whole soul recoils with shuddering horror as I think of his long treachery to his poor trusting victim.

What can I do? The vigilance and keenness of half a dozen nurses would scarcely suffice to baffle such schemes as his. And I am but one woman, for Nell cannot help me. At the thought I glanced at the opening between the two rooms. I have said her bed was a low, light iron one, easily moved. I resolved to place it in such a position that Nell, lying there, could see the bed and table of the sick woman.

She must watch his every movement, should he come into the room in my absence. See that there is no tampering with bottles or glasses, and then—if Mary Langrishe recovers—she must have some sort of warning. At any risk, I am determined I will not leave her at the mercy of this fiend.

* * * * * *

Let me be calm, let me be wary. I walk among pitfalls indeed, and I have need of cunning to match cunning—an iron nerve and watchful eye.

I can write no more now. The day is at hand. I must prepare for my duties.

The poor creature whose life wavers in the balance has passed a quiet night, but the restless fit is coming on. I must lock those two books away. I have a terrible task before me!

August 20.

A quiet hour at last. The long, long day has worn itself away, and I am tired and spent. The physician came yesterday. He examined the patient, asked me a few questions, looked at my notes, and then retired to consult with her husband.

I would have given worlds to know what they said, but I have not yet descended to listening at keyholes! How is it in this world that the hypocrites always succeed, the truth-tellers never? That man was no doubt making out his plausible, specious story, and his colleague was content to take his view of the case.

I know a good deal about professional etiquette. It is a pity no census has ever been taken of the lives it has sacrificed!

* * * * * *

The physician had lunch and then came up for a last look, and to give me his final instructions.

'You are perfectly satisfied with the treatment?' I said quietly.

He flashed a keen glance at me.

'It is the usual treatment,' he said. 'If her strength can be maintained, she will do. Give her plenty of milk, chicken broth, or any light nourishment she can take. It is more a case for nursing than for drugs!'

'Ought she to have sleeping draughts?' I asked.

'Sleeping draughts? Certainly not! I was not aware—I mean——'

'I believe Dr. Langrishe is in the habit of giving her morphia,' I said. 'He thinks she ought to sleep more than she does.'

He looked perplexed.

'Is that so? He did not mention it. I certainly object. In her present condition it is positively dangerous.'

I glanced at the table by the bedside. The bottle marked 'Drops' had been removed.

'Doctor,' I said, moved by a sudden impulse, 'please say nothing. It might offend Dr. Langrishe. I asked you on my own responsibility. I will see she takes no more.'

He looked at me, as if trying to read my very soul. I bore the search unflinchingly. Then he laid down Mrs. Langrishe's hand and stood for a moment or two watching her.

He drew his watch out of his pocket, and then put it back. His brow drew together in a perplexed fashion.

'When did you say you expected the crisis?' he asked.

'To-night, I believe,' I said. 'I was not here when she was taken ill. She was nursing my friend there, who is now on the road to recovery. I fancy Mrs. Langrishe struggled against the symptoms longer than we imagine.'

He put the watch back in his pocket.

'I shall stay here to-night,' he said, suddenly. 'I will watch her myself. There are one or two points about the case that interest me. I suppose I can have a bed here, if necessary.'

'Certainly,' I said. There was a jubilant ring in my voice that must have struck on his ear.

'You seem pleased,' he said, with an odd smile lurking round his grave lips.

'Yes,' I said. 'I am. I have been very anxious.'

'Have you done all the nursing yourself—both cases?'

'Yes,' I said.

'It was too hard,' he said. 'Much too hard. You should have had another nurse here.'

'Dr. Langrishe did not think it necessary. Besides the whole household is upset. The servants have fled in terror of the infection.'

He began to pace the room slowly and thoughtfully.

I heard wheels on the gravel below. It was the dogcart to take him to the station. I went over to the window. James Langrishe sat there, holding the reins. He looked up, and shouted impatiently that there would only be time to catch the train. The doctor went downstairs and out of the front door. From where I stood I could see and hear them both.

'I am not going back to Dublin, Langrishe,' He said. 'I shall stay here. A change is at hand. I want to watch it. But you can drive me to the post office if you wish. I must send some telegrams.'

I saw James Langrishe's face turn from red to white. For a moment he said nothing, only sat there, staring straight before him.

Then he muttered something about its being all right, and the doctor sprang up beside him. He gave the horse a savage cut, and the dogcart whirled down the avenue.

I turned from the window and went into Nell's room, before ringing for the girl and giving her directions.

'Oh, Nell,' I said. 'We've found a friend at last. The Dublin physician is going to remain till the crisis is over.'

The girl's face turned very white. The tears of weakness and relief sprang into her large blue eyes.

'Oh, thank heaven,' she said. 'Oh, Debbie, how clever you are. How did you manage it?'

'It managed itself,' I said. 'I was as astonished as you.'

Then I sat down on the side of the bed for a few moments, and held her small wasted hand in mine while in low hushed whispers we discussed the diary.

* * * * * *

The afternoon passed quietly. The physician came in twice. Dr. Langrishe did not appear again until dinner was over. She was then growing rapidly worse, and hope sank within my breast every moment.

Suddenly, she turned her head and murmured something. I bent close to catch the words; they were so faint. I turned quickly to the doctor.

'She asks for claret,' I said.

He considered a moment. Then he turned to James Langrishe.

'Let her have it,' he said. 'It can do no harm now.'

He turned to leave the room. The physician looked at me. 'Go you, too,' he whispered. 'Fetch it yourself; open it here; don't let it out of your hands.'

I felt myself change colour. Was it possible, after all, that James Langrishe had betrayed himself; that these keen professional eyes had seen something amiss?

I hurried after him: my dress made no noise on the carpeted floor. As he entered the dining-room I was beside him. He started. The old evil look I knew flashed from his eyes.

'What do you want now?' he asked, savagely.

'The claret, of course,' I answered, coolly. 'And the corkscrew. I will open it upstairs.'

He said nothing, but unlocked the sideboard and took out of the cellarette one of those small pint bottles Nell had mentioned in her notes. He put it down, and I quietly took possession of it. I glanced at the seal. It was unbroken. At least there had been no tampering with the wine. I secured a corkscrew and ran quickly upstairs.

Even in this brief time there had been a change. I drew the cork, and poured out half a tumblerful of the wine. The doctor added some water and held it to her lips.

She drank it thirstily, eagerly, Then . . . . It seemed a miracle—her whole face changed. The glazed dim look left her eyes. She gave a long deep breath, and lay back.

'Fan her,' said the doctor hurriedly, 'she wants air.'

I took the large palm leaf fan I had so often used and waved it softly to and fro, and held a smelling bottle to her nostrils. At that moment Dr. Langrishe entered.

The physician drew back a step. His quiet unemotional face bore a look of triumph.

'Your wife is safe,' he said. 'The worst is past. It is odd, these fancies they take,' he went on. 'You remember with the Prince of Wales it was beer, but the result is generally the same. When the fate is swaying in the balance, I always listen to Nature. If she had asked for morphia I should have given it.'

James Langrishe turned aside. I saw him take out his handkerchief and wipe his brow. His emotion seemed too great for words. He left the room.

* * * * * *

And now once more comes the trying part of the case, untiring watchfulness, unceasing care, will be needed. My vigilance must never relax, my energies must not fail. She will live, unless there should be a relapse. That is what I have to guard against. She is sleeping now, the natural, though somewhat feverish slumber of convalescence. The Dublin doctor has gone to rest. I don't know where James Langrishe is. I am well content that he should not come into this room. I would he might never enter it again. Is it too hard a thing to say of that, wicked, wasted, unholy existence of his?

The physician has telegraphed for another nurse from Cork. He says I am overdone; that I, too, shall fall ill if I don't rest.

I fancy there is no more to fear now, and when I can leave the other nurse in charge I shall know the delight of one long, good night's rest!


CHAPTER XXIX.

August 27.

A long, quiet, peaceful week. Nell is up and about the room, and gaining strength every day. Mrs. Langrishe's progress is slower and less perceptible. Still, every day of improvement is a sign of hope.

And what of James Langrishe?

He certainly does not trouble us at all. Perhaps conscience has made a coward of him, perhaps the Dublin physician alarmed him. I only know that he never interferes with me or my assistant, a young nurse from the Woman's and Children's Hospital, Cork. Mrs. Langrishe is left entirely in our hands. She needs no medicines now. Only plenty of light, wholesome nourishment. As soon as she is really convalescent, I shall urge her to come away for a change. She and Nell. I do not think the air of Knockminoss at all suitable to her.

The household is still in the same disorganised state. We two nurses have to prepare the invalid's food ourselves, as the Irish servant has very little idea of cooking, at least of invalid cookery. I suppose she manages her master's dinners to his satisfaction, or she would be sent about her business.

I am a poor eater at the best of times, and the plainer and simpler the food the better I like it, but even I began to rebel a little at the watery soups and greasy stews, and badly fried fish, which are served to Nurse O'Toole and myself. Nell simply cannot touch anything that Bridget Lehane does. I have to concoct jellies and milk puddings, and make beef-tea for her in my leisure moments. But I mind nothing now my anxiety is at rest. Besides, Mary Langrishe is the sweetest and most grateful of patients.

* * * * * * *

I came up from the kitchen a short time ago. I had gone down to see to supplies and put on some fresh beef-tea for my patients. I had to reprimand the girl Bridget rather sharply. She had persistently stood gossiping with an old fish-woman at the back entrance, and persistently refused to attend to my call. For all excuse she told me that Katey Leary (one of the biggest vagabonds in the place) had been telling her 'such a mighty queer story' she couldn't drag herself away. I asked what the story was, and her garrulous Irish tongue ran on for fully a quarter of an hour.

Disentangled from the meshes of 'I sez' and 'Sez I,' and some half-dozen family histories of O'Hooligans and MacCarthys and O'Briens, I made the story to be as follows:—

Three weeks or so back a juvenile O'Hooligan, related in some mysterious manner to the redoubtable Katey Leary, had been out on an errand, and was returning home by a lane skirting the foot of a hill some couple of miles off. He saw a woman sitting at the bottom of the hill on a heap of stones, apparently resting. Her shawl was drawn over her head. He came close to her, and she turned and looked at him. Her face, according to the boy, was 'just terrible.' He knew, in some mysterious fashion peculiar to the Irish, that he had looked on no living woman—' 'twas a sperrit, miss, sure enough, and he gave a screech and took to his heels, and never stopped until he was safe in his mother's cottage.' Now, whether Tim O'Hooligan spoke of this adventure or not, I was unable to discover; but certain it was that between that date and this, the same woman, sitting in the same position, had been seen by some dozen or more equally credible authorities. The story was going about the neighbouring farms, and the place was getting an ill name.

'Not,' added Bridget, 'that that's to be wondered at, miss, for shure isn't it Dead Woman's Hill, where the murder was twinty years or more ago, an' small wonder if it's haunted now be them as can't rest in or out of purgatory.'

'Dead Woman's Hill,' I exclaimed, struck by a sudden memory. Where had I heard that name? I tried to think, but for a moment I could not remember. Then it all flashed back. The girl who died in the hospital, cursing James Langrishe's name. That was the place she had mentioned.

'I'll meet you there,' she had said. 'At the foot of Dead Woman's Hill, at midnight.'

I had some of the Scotch superstitions. I was not sceptical as to ghosts or apparitions, or legends of haunted spots, and surely this was a very singular occurrence. There was a place in the neighbourhood called 'Dead Woman's Hill,' and probably its uncanny reputation had made it a very safe trysting place. But yet, was it possible? Could I really believe that the poor ruined creature I had nursed in the fever ward of a London hospital was now haunting in spirit this very place! Are there 'stranger things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy,' I began to wonder.

All day I have kept this story to myself, and 'pondered it in my heart.' It has a queer meaning for me. I felt unnerved for the first time in my life. A strange, unholy, longing took possession of me to see this thing for myself. To find out if it really bore the semblance of the girl by whose death-bed I had stood, whose lifeless limbs I had straightened for the hideous sack in which she had been sewn and taken to the mortuary.

I thought over ways and means. I had not yet been outside the grounds of Knockminoss. My brief spells of exercise had consisted of a turn in the garden, a few moments pacing to and fro that long stretch of sloping grass before the house.

I had more leisure at my command now. Still it would seem strange to start off for a midnight walk to a place two miles away.

I must wait. I could not possibly do it until James Langrishe was out of the way.

August 29th.

A strange thing happened to-day.

The doctor came upstairs after breakfast. He saw his wife, and made a few inquiries after her progress. I was alone in the room. Nurse O'Toole had gone to lie down in Nell's old bedroom, which had been thoroughly aired and disinfected, and which we nurses used now for our relief hours of rest and sleep.

'I have come to say, Mary, that I am called away for a couple of days,' he said. 'Now that you are getting on so well you won't need me. I leave you in good hands.'

'Where are you going, dear?' she asked, feebly.

'Only to Cork. I leave to-day. I shall be back on Saturday at the latest.'

She smiled affectionately, and laid her thin transparent hand on his.

I saw his eyes fall on it. It was the left hand. The thick hoop of the wedding ring looked far too large and heavy for its emaciated strength.

He drew his own hand away suddenly, and moved aside under some pretext of altering the light. I had fixed up green inside blinds over the art-patterned roller ones, so as to keep the room dark and cool.

'A good idea,' he said. 'Was that yours, Deborah?'

'I saw Mrs. Langrishe start, and a keen, suspicious glance shot towards me.

Naturally it must have seemed strange to her that utterance of my name. I wondered whether he had noticed the slip, or made it purposely. Nothing was impossible where James Langrishe was concerned. I answered him coolly, and without looking at him.

'Yes, Dr. Langrishe it was. We get all the morning sun this side of the house.'

'Would you like to change any more bedrooms?' he asked with that faint sneer I began to know so well. 'My house is quite at your service. Pray make any arrangements you please.'

I heard the poor deluded creature in the bed apologising for and lamenting his discomforts. It put me out of all patience. I busied myself at the other end of the room and turned my back on him. I heard some more murmurs, some fond expressions, the sound of a kiss, and then he left.

I breathed freely. It was delightful to think that for three days there need be no espionage, no tremors and fears. I fancy I had never realised how great the strain had been until that moment. When I turned again and looked at Mrs. Langrishe I saw she was quietly crying—crying because that traitorous wretch of a husband was going to Cork for two or three days. Truly the ways of women are strange and past understanding.

August 30th.

The lovely golden moon—August's queenly moon—is in full splendour in the deep blue sky, and shining over the tranquil breast of the quiet sea. It is close upon ten o'clock. Nurse O'Toole has the night duty, a light office now, for Mary Langrishe always sleeps tranquilly and easily. I had never found she needed sleeping draughts, and took good care to say so in presence of her husband.

Nell is in bed, sleeping like a child, and I have come to my room—her room, rather—though she still prefers the dressing-room. I feel too restless to undress or go to bed. I keep thinking of that lonely trysting place, and I wonder if that ghost story is true, or due to an extra amount of grey matter secreted in a cell of the O'Hooligan brain?

I sit here, writing nothing, for I have nothing to write, tracing these idle words, feeling all the time that something is drawing me—drawing me—slowly out of this house, out and over the quiet lonely road that leads to Dead Woman's Hill. I have never been there, but I seem to know it so well. Can I resist the power? Shall I obey it?

I will—I must. Be it truth or phantasy, a trick of imagination or a story got up for a purpose, I am determined to find it out.

I will put on my bonnet and cloak, and then tell Nurse O'Toole I am going for a walk. I often go out in the evening for a stroll in the grounds. She will think it nothing unusual. I can leave one of the French windows unshuttered and return that way. I fancy the servant has gone to bed. She is fond of retiring early and getting up late. Yes, my mind is made up, I will go.

August 31.

With quiet nerves and steady pulse, and facing the bright daylight, can I believe in the existence of haunting spirits. Unable to rest in their own sphere, bound by some inexplicable law of which we wise mortals know nothing, to return to some spot of their vexatious earthly pilgrimage?

Can I, I ask myself, believe this? I only know that last night when, between eleven and twelve, I found myself at the foot of that ill-omened hill, I most certainly and distinctly saw the face of the very woman I had nursed, and laid out for dead in the hospital.

Crouched at the foot of the hill, on a heap of stones, her shawl drawn about her head, as the boy O'Hooligan said, so the figure sat as I approached. The full moonlight made everything clear and distinct. I know my eyes played me no tricks. And the strangest part of all was that I felt not the least fear. I saw it, and stood a few paces off, coolly regarding it, and sure in my own mind that it was a real being, and that the story had a very rational foundation.

But suddenly the figure lifted its head and looked at me from out of the shrouding folds of the shawl. Then, indeed, I knew what fear was. The deadly chilling terror that stops one's heart beats, that makes the hair bristle on one's head, and grips the frame with an icy grasp, that leaves the limbs powerless to obey the instincts of the brain. Such a moment of such a terror was mine. Then it passed, and I grew calm and looked back at the haggard face, with only a sense of wonder.

Here was something that I knew belonged no longer to this world in which I moved. Here, in likeness of its old self, and yet with a fearsome indescribable change in it, was the face whose eyes I had closed, the lips whose curses still rang in my ears.

I must state here that from the moment the fear passed out of me I became conscious of a certain pleasurable interest in the phenomenon before me. I had witnessed death so often, in so many ghostly shapes and forms, that it had ceased to alarm or distress me. It only left a haunting desire in my mind to know what really happened afterwards. . . The moment of release. What did it really mean? Was all of earth forgotten? Could the whole mysterious personality of the 'ego' change and accept its spiritual garb as it would have accepted a present of new clothes on the earth plane?

Those things had perplexed me many times. Now for the first time in my life came an opportunity of questioning a spirit, about whose authenticity I had no manner of doubt. It was a remarkable face—one not easily forgotten—and the most singular circumstance about it was that as the shawl fell back, I noted the hair was cut short, just as it had been in the hospital.

I looked at her, and as I looked I saw her slowly rise, and the full golden rays of the moon streamed down upon the ghastly face and the sad despairing eyes. I thought she was about to speak, but she only stood there looking at me.

'Who are you?' I asked, suddenly. 'Will you tell me your name?'

There was no answer. I felt perplexed, but not in the least alarmed. Maybe I have to thank the blood of my Scotch ancestry for that.

'Can you speak,' I went on. 'Is there anything you want?'

Then, whether it was voice or sigh, or impression, I cannot tell, but to my brain, not in my ears, came four words. Only four words, so strange—and to me so unintelligible that I write them down almost unwillingly.

They were these: 'The Black Cap waits.'

And then—well then, I looked only at a heap of stones and a sloping hill on which the moonrays streamed.


CHAPTER XXX.

Sept. 1st.

I closed my diary with that last entry. There was no use to speculate about it. I only knew it happened, and that neither God nor man can shake my belief in it. It has been a theory of mine all my life that the earnest longing of the spirit can mature into action when the earth-clog of existence is cast aside. If it goes out of life with that longing it must be a motive force in its existence. However, I shall say nothing, not even to Nell, about my visit to Dead Woman's Hill.

But a conviction is growing up surely and steadily within my mind that I am destined to play an important part in James Langrishe's fate, that it was not without purpose we met again, and that from circumstance to circumstance I have been led along the mysterious road on which I now tread, for the working out of that purpose.

Oh, what would I not give to rend the veil of the future—to see, even a little way along the dark road, to know what lies for him, for me, beyond? But it cannot be—not yet, I tell myself, not yet.

* * * * * *

10 p.m.

A telegram arrived to-night from James Langrishe. It was addressed to me.

'Tell my wife I cannot return yet. Have to go on to London. Will write.'

I, of course, broke the news to Mary Langrishe, and had the satisfaction of seeing her cry herself into a bad headache. Her reasons were twofold. First, her husband had wired to me, instead of her; second, he had gone to London without giving any reason.

I gently explained that telegrams were public property, in a way, and that probably his reasons were not. But she is weak and foolish, poor woman, and won't hear common sense. I wonder sometimes why Nell is so fond of her. To me she is not a particularly interesting woman, and she is certainly a weak one. I can hardly wonder that she has ceased to interest her husband, and that all her blind love and devotion is absolutely wasted on him. Not that his loss of interest or affection excuses his conduct, but knowing him as I do, it explains it.

September 8.

And now has begun for us a peaceful, tranquil time. Nell is able to get out in the garden every day. Mrs. Langrishe herself is up, and sitting in her own boudoir. The doctor is safe away in London. Nurse O'Toole has returned to Cork.

We three women are leading a monotonous, yet not unpleasant existence. I have broached the subject of change of air, and Mrs. Langrishe has suggested the mountains near Mellary. It appears that those good monks have not only founded an establishment of their own, but have built a series of cottages in this healthy, bracing spot, which can be let to visitors for the summer season. Mrs. Langrishe proposes that I should go over to Cappoquin, and then drive to the monastery, and make inquiries about one of those houses. It would mean leaving her alone for the day, but then she is really convalescent, and Nell is quite capable of doing everything necessary for her during my absence. My anxiety to get them away from this house, and be rid of the hateful fears and suspicions of this past month, induce me to lend a ready ear to the proposal.

I propose to take the steamer at 1.30 from the quay and go up to Blackwater, returning by half-past seven if the tide serves. It will be a pleasant excursion. I am only sorry that Nell cannot come with me. Mrs. Langrishe seems quite full of the idea. She longs to be well and strong once more, she tells me. She is sick of playing the invalid. I promised her great things from mountain air, and freedom from household cares.

She informed me this morning, while I was dressing her, that no doubt it was this fever coming on that had made her feel so queer and ill for some time back. It was diplomatic to agree, but it was not truthful, and my conscience suffered accordingly.

September 10th, 11 p.m.

I have just come to my room (the dressing-room again) after a long talk with Nell. We talked with hushed voices and bated breath, for we talked for the first time of our fears, and of James Langrishe. Step by step we trod the path of suspicion opened by the diary, and leading back to the first days of our acquaintance with the doctor's wife.

It was scarcely possible to put one's fears into plain words, but we knew each in her own heart what the awful thing was whose shadow had haunted James Langrishe's actions, and between which and his unsuspecting victim we had interposed not an hour too soon.

'But we can't guard her for ever,' said Nell, despondingly. 'She loves him and trusts him entirely, and whatever he tells her she will do. As long as he loves that other woman, his wife is not safe, and that he loves her there is no doubt.'

'Where is she now?' I asked. 'Have you heard?'

'No, but I believe she is in Cork still. At least Mrs. Langrishe said so the other day.'

'I should like to know,' I said, 'what has taken him to London.'

'So should I,' Nell answered. 'Mrs. Langrishe had a letter yesterday. It seemed rather a long one. She read it about a dozen times.'

'I wish,' I said, 'she could see him in his true light; but that's impossible. However, if we can get her away and get her strong and well there will be no need of medicines, and once out of this ghastly house I think we ought to warn her, Nell. I can't have it on my conscience to leave her—a lamb at a wolf's mercy.'

'As long as she keeps me with her I can watch,' said Nell.

I shook my head.

'My dear child,' I said, 'the greatest vigilance would not be vigilant enough to guard her if he is determined to——'

'Hush,' she said, turning very pale. 'Don't say it, Debbie, dear. It sounds so awful put into words.'

'It will sound more awful put into deeds,' I said.

'Could I possibly have been mistaken?' she said, anxiously. 'Did it read so badly, Debbie?'

'It read,' I said, 'as badly as anything could read, short of actual accusation.'

'Ought I to keep it? It seems so dangerous. I seem to be haunted by the terror that it may fall into someone's hands.'

'That was what troubled you in your delirium,' I said. 'You fancied you had not locked it up, but it was quite safe, I assure you.'

Then I rose and bade her good-night, and went off to my own room.

Mrs. Langrishe was in bed, propped up by pillows, as was her fancy. Her face was flushed, and her eyes feverishly bright. I did not quite like her looks. I went over and felt her pulse. It was beating faster than it should have done. I asked her if she felt as well as usual, and she declared she did, but not in the least sleepy. I suggested that I should sit up and read to her for a time. It was only half-past ten, but she declared the light hurt her eyes. If she were alone she would soon go to sleep. I moved the night-light into a corner where she could not possibly see it, and arranged her pillows comfortably and left her.

When I had undressed I put on my dressing-gown as usual, and then took out my journal. I listened a moment at the door of communication between the two rooms. All was quiet. She was evidently asleep, and I need fear no interruption.

It seems to me almost a duty now to commit every fact that comes under my notice to these safe pages. I cannot rely absolutely upon memory, besides memory is not evidence.

I wonder what made me write that. If I live much longer in this house I shall become suspicious of everything and everybody. . . . I shall begin to mistrust myself and my own powers of reasoning. I quite long for to-morrow, a long day in the open air, on the lovely river of which I have heard so much, into the solitudes of those dark mountains whose tops I have watched the sun's rays crown so many summer mornings.

It is growing towards midnight. I had better close those pages. I wish there may be no need to open them until we are all safe and together under the peaceful shadows of the Knockmeledown Mountains.

September 11th, Night.

Whatever I might have intended to write here of my journey, I have neither time nor inclination to do so. I caught the return steamer from Cappoquin (having secured a house for a month from the 10th of September), and arrived at the quay at half-past seven. The outside car from Knockminoss was waiting for me. As we dashed off I asked the man if all was well at the house.

'They are, miss,' he said, 'and the master's back. Came back sudden like. No one expected him. The house is a bit upset.'

I was utterly amazed and very ill-pleased at this news. But I found the man knew nothing, only that the doctor had arrived by the 6.10 train and dashed home on a car from the station, and that Bridget was mighty put about for things for dinner, not having expected him at all.

My impatience made the drive home seem endless. I thought the lodge would never appear in sight. I sprang from the car as it reached the front door and hurried upstairs to Mrs. Langrishe's room. I found her sitting up, dressed in a marvellously smart tea-gown; her face looked painfully flushed and her eyes feverish and strained. The doctor was not there, and Nell was sitting by the window looking almost as disturbed as Mrs. Langrishe. I spoke to them, as I usually did after an absence. If I had ventured an opinion, I would have said they had quarrelled, but that seemed too wildly improbable to suggest.

As I was relating the incidents of my journey a noise from the inner room struck me. I turned hurriedly. As I did so the door was thrown open, and Dr. Langrishe appeared. I stared, and the blood rushed to my face. Through the open door I could see the whole arrangement of the room had been altered. The bed was in its old place, the shaving-glass stood by the window; his portmanteau was on the floor, open, and with its contents strewn about on chairs and carpet. It was a man's room once more, and he had taken possession of it.

'How do you do, Sister Gray?' he said, coolly. 'You see, I've come back to my old quarters. My wife tells me she is perfectly convalescent, and your absence for the whole day is proof enough of that. I congratulate you on your excellent nursing. It only leaves one regret behind. The cure of the patient means the dispensing with the valuable services of the nurse!'

He stood there, with his handsome evil eyes on mine. I was, for a moment, too amazed to speak.

Then my unfortunate temper blazed forth.

'What do you mean, Dr. Langrishe?' I asked. 'Am I to consider your words in the light of a dismissal?'

Nell started to her feet and came over to my side. I felt the pressure of her hand on my arm, and I knew I had said an unwise thing.

'You may take it any way you please,' he said, insolently. 'I have been badgered out of house and home by a parcel of women for the last month. I've had enough of discomfort. I'm having a decent cook down from Cork, and I am coming back to my own room, and I am going to rule my house in my own way once more. Now that my wife is well, I'll not have the place turned into a hospital with rules and regulations any longer.'

'Debbie,' whispered Nell, entreatingly, as the hot blood flew to my face, 'be quiet, dear; be patient—remember.'

I did remember, but I could not be quiet under such covert insult. I looked at Mrs. Langrishe. She was white and trembling.

'Is it your wish,' I said, 'that I should go?'

'No, not immediately; pray don't take offence, dear Miss Gray,' she said, feebly. 'But, really, I am quite well now, only for just a little natural weakness. Why should I be detaining you from your own proper duties. My husband tells me that you left the hospital to come here, and that your time there is not up.'

I laughed harshly. This was gratitude indeed!

'I should not be likely,' I said, 'to stay a day longer with a patient than was absolutely necessary. But my own judgment tells me, Dr. Langrishe, that your wife is not yet strong enough to be left without attendance.'

'She will have mine,' he said, mockingly, 'and Miss Nugent's, if necessary.'

I said no more, but turned to leave the room.

Nell followed.

'What does it mean?' I asked, as we passed down the corridor.

'I can't make it out,' she said. 'He came home in an awful temper, and insisted on having all your things turned out of the dressing-room, and his own brought back. I think she is frightened, poor soul. Oh, Debbie, what am I to do? I feel so nervous and terrified, and if you go——'

'There is no "if" about it,' I said. 'He as good as ordered me out of the house. I cannot stay after to-night. I won't go to-night, not for even worse insults. We'll share this room, child, and I must pack up, I suppose, and go back to London, and our promised holiday is all over!' I sighed regretfully as we went to her room, and closed the door.

'It is too bad,' she said, indignantly; 'and he has done it purposely. I know he wishes you out of the house, Debbie. He seems to have a fear as well as a dislike of you.'

'And well he might,' I thought to myself. 'Well he might.'

I commenced to pack my belongings. It did not take me long. Nothing would have taken me back to Mrs. Langrishe's room but a message. As none came, Nell and I sat on in the beautiful moonlight, talking and discussing plans, and cheering each other as best we could.

At last a knock at the door startled us. The servant Bridget was there.

'The misthress's compliments, miss, to both of yez, and would ye oblige by coming down to supper. The misthress is downstairs at the table waitin' for ye!'

We both sprang up.

'What!' I cried. 'Is your mistress downstairs—in the dining-room?'

'Shure she is, miss, an gettin' on grand. 'Tis walkin' all over the place she'll be immediately.'

I looked at Nell. She looked at me. 'He is going to kill her by open and legitimate means,' I said. 'Come, Nell, let us go down. I'll pocket pride to-night for your sake, and hers. I don't know why, but I have a feeling that she is glad I am going away.'


CHAPTER XXXI.

The dining-room was brightly lit, and the table laid out in quite a festive manner, with glass and silver, and flowers. It was the first time I had had a meal downstairs since my arrival at Knockminoss. The doctor and his wife were seated, one at the head and the other at the foot of the oval table. Places were laid for Nell and myself opposite each other.

Mrs. Langrishe wore the same airy, filmy tea-gown, pink silk and lace commingled, and her hair was curled and waved, and then twisted up in an elaborate coil on the top of her head. Her face had still the same feverish flush, and her thin, haggard cheeks looked thinner by contrast with it.

She smiled graciously as we entered.

'Dear Miss Gray,' she said. 'Don't accuse me of taking liberties with myself. I really feel quite well, and my husband gave me permission to come downstairs. Now, let us all have supper together, and try to forget this horrible time. I, for my part, am only too thankful to do so.'

'And I,' said her husband, 'only too thankful to welcome my wife back to her old place. This has been a time of purgatory to me.'

I seated myself in silence, and Nell made some jesting remark as if to cover my reticence. The doctor began to carve the pair of fowls before him. The table was spread with cold tongue, roast beef, salad, fruit, and cakes. Mrs. Langrishe took some chicken, but Nell and I would not touch anything our arch-enemy served. The beef was before me, and, at his request, I carved it. There were two or three sorts of wine—claret, sherry, and hock—but not content with that he insisted on opening champagne, and gave Mrs. Langrishe a glass of it. I thought it an unwise proceeding, but as any interference was prohibited, I said nothing.

Nell and I refused to touch any wine, and took water.

The champagne seemed to have an exhilarating effect upon the doctor's spirits. He became talkative, noisy—almost boisterous. He questioned me about my journey to Mellary, made coarse jokes about the monks, and complimented his wife on her choice of a place for change of air. He spoke of certain alterations to be made in the house during her absence, and even declared she must hunt again that winter. She had played the invalid too long.

Then he took more champagne and drank her health, as he said, and bewildered and intoxicated the poor creature with his glances and compliments and tender speeches. He seemed to take a malicious pleasure in airing his affection for her, and calling out a display of her adoring worship of himself. It made Nell and myself most uncomfortable, but we could not leave the table till she did so, and she seemed inclined to sit on all night, basking in the sunshine of her hypocritical husband's love-making.

At last he rang the bell and ordered in coffee. I was a little surprised, but the servant brought in a tray of cups, and, at his desire, put it on a table near the window. He rose, and Mrs. Langrishe followed him. The window was wide open, as usual, and the garden and lawn were flooded with moonlight.

He turned to me, as I also came towards the table.

'Would you kindly put out the lamp, Miss Gray,' he said. 'The one on the table. The other gives enough light, and it is a pity to spoil the romance of such a scene by the vulgar glare of an illumination.'

I immediately went back to the table and touched the extinguisher. It was stiff, and did not work well. I may have been a moment or two before I managed it. Nell was standing by her chair watching me. We heard him say,

'Sit down, my angel, and rest. I will wait upon you.' We exchanged looks expressive of our feelings.

I lifted the lamp and carried it over to the sideboard. At the same moment the servant entered and commenced to clear away the supper things. Dr. Langrishe addressed me from the window.

'You will take some coffee, Miss Gray, won't you—and Miss Nugent, too?'

Nell and I loved coffee. We accepted the offer and went over to the window. He handed us each a cup, asked if we took it au lait or black, and took a cup himself, with a lequeur of cognac in it.

All the time he talked incessantly. Nell was standing half in, half out of the window, her cup in her hand. She seemed to be gazing out at the belt of woods and the gloom of moonlit sea. I was near her. I had begun to drink the coffee, and finished it quickly. It was not as good as I had hoped, but it was better than the hospital stuff. Nell had, I think, only sipped a small portion of hers. I do not know what made me notice that she had a white cup—mine had a pattern on it. I glanced at Mrs. Langrishe's to see if her's was the same. It was a pink one, with a gold border at the top. It struck me as odd that, where all the appointments were so excellent, there should have been such an unmatched service sent in with coffee, but it was no concern of mine, and the thought was dismissed almost as soon as I entertained it. It was probably the servant's fault.

My eyes turned again to the lovely view. It seemed less distinct than it had been. A sort of haze seemed creeping between the wood and the sea, and yet the moon was bright as ever.

'Nell——' I said, suddenly.

My voice was drowned in a cry from her. I saw her start, and the cup fell from her hand, and lay in a hundred fragments at her feet.

'Debbie,' she cried, 'look at that woman, look! Oh! what an awful face!'

I was through the window and beside her in a moment. She was trembling violently. I saw a figure standing opposite the house in full view of the windows. A shawl was drawn about its head. The face looked straight at us, and the full moon revealed it with startling distinctness. I knew it in a moment. The same woman, the same face I had seen at the foot of Dead Woman's Hill. At Nell's exclamation, at my movements, James Langrishe had also come forward.

'What is it? What are you staring at?' he asked. 'Who is there?'

'Can't you see anyone?' I asked. 'A woman. Look, she is leaning against the iron railings beyond the grass slope.'

'I can see nothing,' he said, angrily. 'What cursed folly is this?'

Mrs. Langrishe had also risen and come forward.

'But there is a woman there, James, dearest,' she said. 'Can't you see her? Look, she is coming ferwards. She waves her hand. Oh, Jim! her face. It is no living face. It is a dead woman's face. My God, and she signs to me!'

And with a wild, terrified shriek she sank down, insensible, into Nell's outstretched arms.

In a moment all was confusion. With a savage oath James Langrishe took his wife's unconscious form from Nell's weak support, and laid her on the leather couch. I dashed water over her face, and Nell ran upstairs for the smelling salts.

The Irish servant meanwhile kept up a running commentary of ejaculations and remarks, and declared it was 'gettin' beyant the beyants, the way things was. An' no dacint crature could slape in peace thim times. An' shure, wasn't it well beknown everywhere who 'twas that walked, an' hadn't scores of people seen her, an' if 'twas here she was now minded to come, shure, Bridget Lehane wasn't goin' to stay in the place. No, not for double the wages anyone might offer her!'

Her master cut her short with an oath.

'What nonsense are you talking woman?' he exclaimed. 'Get out of the room. I want none of your infernal jabber going on here.'

The girl fled. As the door closed I looked at him.

'What she says is true,' I said, in a low voice. 'That was no living woman we saw. I have good reason to know.'

'You?' he said, and his livid face gave me a shock, as for a second's space I saw written on it the one unmistakable sign of fear.

'I,' was my answer. 'I nursed that woman in the fever ward of the hospital. I saw her die. And yet I have seen her here, twice. The first time was at the foot of Dead Woman's Hill.'

His eyes fell. I saw the ghastly colour creep over his very lips till his face looked like a grey mask. Then into it flashed a savage desperation.

In that moment, I think some evil deed first drew its birth-breath. In that moment, the soul of James Langrishe defied death or hell to turn it from its purpose.

It was some moments before Mrs. Langrishe regained consciousness. Then she opened her eyes, and sat up, and asked the usual foolish questions.

I left Nell to answer her.

I was myself unnerved and upset, and my head began to ache in a feverish unaccountable way.

'Good heavens!' I cried, in my heart. 'Am I going to be ill—am I going to take the fever?'

I staggered into a chair. The room looked hazy and indistinct. The faces swam before me. I pressed my hands to my head. It was burning hot, then suddenly as the feeling had come it passed. My brain steadied and my eyes cleared, and I rose.

'If you will excuse me,' I said, 'I will go to bed. I don't feel very well.'

I believe they spoke, but there came a buzzing singing noise in my ears, and I could not hear distinctly.

'I think this must be something like people feel when they are drunk,' I said to myself, and I seemed to hear my own foolish laugh as I said it.

* * * * * *

Then I was in my room. I was trying to pull off my clothes. I was looking at my box, packed and addressed for departure. I saw the bed turned down—the frilled pillows. I felt but one longing, one impulse—to lie down and sleep—sleep for ever!

I remember no more.

* * * * * *

FINAL EXTRACTS ADDED BY NELL.

Two weeks—two long, endless, miserable weeks. How can I write all the terrors and sorrows and anxiety they have held for me?

And yet I must. The story cannot be left unfinished. There has been too much said for me to be silent now. There are too great issues at stake for either omission or negligence on my part.

'Oh, what would I not give for a friend to trust, to rely upon, to take counsel with. I feel so miserably helpless and alone. Oh, for a man's strong heart and strong sense to encourage me now! For Dick, strong, self-reliant, clever Dick. But I don't know where he is, and I daren't write to my own people. I daren't breathe a word of the hateful suspicions at work within my soul, and poor Debbie is ill—ill of the same terrible fever.

Fortunately, she has had it very mildly, but it has been bad enough. Bad enough, indeed, taken in conjunction with all that came with it. And now my pen has the hardest task to fulfil I have ever given it. It is little wonder I shrink from putting down in black and white the truth of all this past year's fears. And yet I must.

Mary Langrishe is dead.

Dead, and in her grave, poor soul. And the stonemasons are at work over an elaborate marble cross to her memory, and an inscription, composed by a bereaved husband, and adorned by an appropriate text!

Do devils laugh at us, I wonder, watching the apelike tricks we play before high Heaven and our fellow mortals!

* * * * * *

Now the bold plain fact is written, perhaps I can compose my mind to the task before me. I have to trust memory, for I have had not a spare moment to make any notes since the night Debbie fell ill.

That night, Mrs. Langrishe seemed on the high road to recovery. Her husband had returned from London and behaved somewhat rudely to Debbie. In fact she took his conduct in the light of a dismissal, and declared she would leave next day.

We both were asked downstairs to supper, a fact which rather surprised me. Our meals had been served upstairs in Mrs. Langrishe's boudoir since her illness had upset the household, following closely on my own. The supper was very festive, as far as appearances went—lights, flowers, fruit, wine all set out as of old, and Mrs. Langrishe in high spirits, and the doctor complimentary, and almost lover-like. Yet I felt uneasy, and so I am sure did Debbie.

Mrs. Langrishe had a fainting fit later on that night, brought on, I fear, by a remark of mine that frightened her and led to a ghost story from the servant, and to great anger on the part of Dr. Langrishe. I certainly fancied I saw a figure standing at the end of the grass slope, and with a very awful face, and Mrs. Langrishe declared she saw it too. The rest of that evening, and the awful night that followed it, is a hazy confusion of recurring terrors.

Let me try at last to separate the tangles, and unravel the threads, and see what sort of narrative comes out of the confusion.


CHAPTER XXXII.

Mrs. Langrishe had scarcely recovered from her fainting fit when Debbie left the room. She said her head ached, and retired abruptly. I remained behind with Mrs. Langrishe and her husband. He chided her for being so foolish and fanciful, and then insisted on her having another glass of champagne. It seemed to revive her. She sat up and began to talk—rather oddly, I fancied—and as for Dr. Langrishe, he finished the champagne, and I thought it best to depart. I asked Mrs. Langrishe if she would require my assistance, but the doctor interposed.

'I will be your maid to-night, my love,' he said, and not caring to witness any more maudlin tenderness, I retired. I found Debbie in bed and sound asleep. I therefore put the light out of sight, and undressed very quietly, and got in myself.

It was a large bed, and stood against the wall. Debbie slept on the inner side, her face turned away from the room, so I did not disturb her. She seemed in a dead sleep, but knowing how worried and anxious she had been of late, I did not wonder at it. I had turned out the lamp before I got into bed. The moonlight, however, was so bright that everything in the room was distinctly visible.

After two or three moments, I began to feel drowsy. I closed my eyes, but a curious singing noise began in my ears which I did not like. Then came an odd sensation, as if I were floating out to sea. The room seemed filling with water—clear, deep, silvery water—and it rose and rose until the bed was lifted up and I in it, and we seemed drifting away in a flood of liquid light. Leaden weights seemed pressing on my eyes. I tried to open them, but could not. My limbs grew chill and heavy, and—I remember no more.

* * * * * *

It seemed as if hours had passed when I awoke with a start. I fancied I had heard a strange, suffocating cry, and that it was very near. Someone was calling,

'Nell, Nell!'

I sat up.

'Debbie,' I cried, 'was that you?'

There was no answer. Only the quiet, heavy breathing of the sleeper by my side.

The moonlight had faded now. All was dark in the room. In the stillness I could hear my heart beating loudly, heavily, with the painful throbs of fear. A cold perspiration stood on my brow. I was shaking as with deadly cold. I lay back again, and drew the light covering up to my ears. I felt as if my limbs were weighted—as if I could not move hand or foot. Yet my hearing was painfully acute, and with all my heart in my mouth I listened.

Nothing—not a sound or movement—only the faint rustle of leaves from beyond the partially open window, only the softly deepening dusk creeping over the room. I felt my eyes closing. I felt the leaden-weighted drowsiness stealing over my senses. Again I slept.

* * * * * *

When I awoke next it was with a terrifying consciousness of being called by someone, and was out of the bed and groping my way to the door before it struck me that I was perhaps the victim of some nightmare. I stood mid-way in the room, swaying to and fro in a dizzy fashion. I grew deadly sick.

When the paroxysm passed, I was bathed from head to foot in a cold sweat. I sank down into the nearest chair feeling horribly ill, and trembling as if I had an ague fit. The numbing horrible cold set my teeth chattering, and yet I had not strength to grope my way back to bed. Then, in the dead silence that reigned everywhere, I suddenly heard a strange sound. It was a sound familiar to me only in the hospital wards, and a sound that of all others I most loathed and disliked.

It was the sound of the stomach pump.

There was no denying it, no mistaking it. Ears that have once heard that sound never forget it. And as I sat there, and caught the regular, even suction of the horrible machine, I began to ask myself what on earth was the meaning of it. Who could possibly require its use? Was anyone ill? Was it Mary Langrishe?

The thought gave me sudden strength. I started up from the chair and groped my way to the door. My cold fingers felt for the handle, found it, turned it.

It was locked, and the key was not there.

In frantic terror I rattled and shook the handle. I called aloud. I screamed to Debbie to wake and help me, but she never moved. Then my senses fled, and calling out that murder was being done, and I could not get out, I fell heavily across the threshold.

* * * * * *

Was it all a dream—a ghastly nightmare? For now comes the story of the awakening; and as I live I cannot tell if this night of terror was real, or due to an over-excited brain, and the stimulant of half a cup of coffee.

I awoke again, or rather was awakened by a violent knocking at my door. The sun was streaming in. It was broad daylight, and I was in bed, though how I got there I cannot imagine or remember.

'Miss Gray—Miss Nugent!' cried a voice—the voice of Dr. Langrishe—'will one of you get up and come to my wife? She is very ill—quick as you can. I've called you half a dozen times.'

I sprang out of bed. I never looked at Debbie, or gave a thought to her. Then I remembered the locked door.

'The door is looked on the outside,' I cried. 'I tried to get out in the night and couldn't.'

'Are you sure?' said the doctor's voice. 'There's no key here!'

My eyes turned to the keyhole as I slipped my feet into my slippers.

The key was there.

More and more bewildered, and feeling uncertain yet whether I was asleep or dreaming again, I hurried into my dressing-gown, and unlocked the door and rushed off to Mrs. Langrishe's room.

As I entered I saw the figure of one of the local doctors standing by the bedside. He turned away as I entered. I saw him lay a stiff white hand down on the lace coverlet.

'I am very sorry, Langrishe; it is too late,' he said. 'Of course, after what you have told me, the cause is natural enough. . . . I know what a trying time you have had!'

I sprang forward, and there, lying quietly back on the pillows, the golden sunlight falling on her white face and closed sunken eyes, was the dead form of Mary Langrishe.

For a moment I stood paralysed—struck dumb—with the awful suddenness of her fate.

The two doctors were speaking still. I saw James Langrishe's handkerchief raised to his eyes, and heard the sympathising tones of his colleague. I longed to speak but fear chained my tongue.

Suspicion is not proof. I dared not say what my own feelings prompted me. It was not the time or the place for that.

'Oh, how was it? How did it happen?' I cried at last. 'Why was I not called?'

'I called you till I was tired,' said Dr. Langrishe, turning on me almost fiercely. 'If your habits in the hospital were anything like those I have witnessed since you have been under my roof, I don't wonder you were dismissed from it!'

I felt my face grow scarlet. I tried to speak, but grief, anger, and indignation only found one way of betraying themselves, and verifying his judgment.

I burst into a flood of tears.

'Ah,' I heard the other doctor say. 'No nerve, no stamina. Too young, I should say, and inexperienced. So many of these lady nurses are useless when it comes to real hard work. There, there, my dear,' he added, turning to me. 'Don't fret about it. Let it be a lesson to you in the future. You don't look very strong or well yourself. Besides, even if you had been with the poor lady you could have done nothing. Failure of the heart's action, accelerated by sudden fright. The weakness had been of long standing, you say. Yes; and then this fever. Oh, quite right, quite . . . I will sign the certificate if you wish . . . you prefer it? Certainly, certainly. Now, about the sad duties—eh?'

'I will do all that is needful,' I said, drying my eyes. 'Do not send a stranger.'

They said something, but I was really beyond attending to mere words then, and all I know is that they went out of the room and left me with the cold, still, inert thing, that only last night had been Mary Langrishe!

* * * * * *

I laid her there, in her pretty pink-draped bed, in one of her lovely lace and muslin gowns, and drew the blinds, and set the room in order.

Then I stood there, for long, and looked at her.

Oh, if she could speak. Only one word, only 'Yes' or 'No' to the hideous suspicion that lay in my breast.

Her body told me nothing; her face told me nothing. It was calm and full of peace, as most dead faces are. Rarely, indeed, do their last moments leave any self-betraying marks behind.

I felt bewildered. If it had not been for the presence and assurance of the other medical man, I might have blurted out some of my terrible suspicions. But he had been called in. He had stated the cause of death, and my lips were perforce sealed.

With regard to Dr. Langrishe's statement that he had called me, and I had not heard him, what could I say?

My impressions of the night were a series of nightmare-like horrors—lifelike visions—and yet baseless, apparently. I had fancied the door was locked, and all the time the key was on my side of the door, I had fancied I heard her calling me, but her voice could not possibly have travelled from this room to mine, through closed doors and the long corridor beyond.

Then suddenly I thought of Debbie. What could ail her? Sleeping heavily, soundly through all the night's confusion? My duties here were over. With one last, sorrowful glance at the stirless form, which the chill linen already outlined, I hurried back to my own room.

Debbie lay exactly as I had left her, only her face had a deep purple flush on it, and her hands and head were burning hot. My heart stood still with terror. Was she going to be ill next? Was she in the grasp of that fever-fiend with whom I had lately struggled.

I remembered the strange doctor was still in the house, and without an instant's hesitation I flew downstairs. I heard voices in the consulting-room, and I knocked at the door. Dr. Langrishe opened it. I rushed by him, and laid my hand on the arm of the stranger.

'My friend, Miss Gray, the other nurse, is very ill,' I said. 'Will you come and see her? I think she is sickening of the fever, too!'

He rose at once, and glanced at Dr. Langrishe.

'Go by all means,' said he, with his cold, evil smile. 'Miss Nugent has no faith in my abilities. I should prefer you to undertake this case.'

He sat down again at his table. The other doctor followed me, and we went up to Debbie's bedroom.

He looked at her attentively, felt her pulse, tried to rouse her from that deadly stupor, but in vain.

'When did you notice anything wrong?' he asked me.

I told him how strangely she had slept all night, and how unusual it was for her to do so. He looked more and more puzzled.

'It looks to me,' he said, 'as if this sleep were not natural. She is not in the habit of taking sleeping draughts, is she?'

'No,' I said. 'She has never done such a thing to my knowledge.'

He lifted the lids of her eyes and looked at them, again felt her pulse, and listened to her heavy breathing. Then he asked a few questions as to her general health and the dates when Mrs. Langrishe and I had taken the fever.

'I am afraid it is that,' he said, at last, 'but it's impossible to say for certain yet. In two or three days the symptoms will be definite.'

'Will you come—will you attend her?' I said, impulsively. 'She does not like Dr. Langrishe. It would make her worse, I am sure, if she thought——'

I stopped abruptly. Dr. Langrishe was standing in the doorway. His face was set and white; he did not attempt to come into the room.

'Well, Conolly?' he said. 'What is your opinion?'

'I can't say yet,' was the guarded answer. 'I fancy it will turn to typhoid.'

'She has been attending my wife and Miss Nugent,' he said in a hard, steady voice, 'and, like most of her profession, taking no precautions with regard to herself. I thought she looked ill yesterday. I am not surprised at this.'

'I suppose,' I interrupted, looking at Dr. Conolly, 'she cannot be moved. She intended leaving here to-day to return to London.'

'Impossible,' he said. 'Preposterous! Unless you wish to kill her. You had better isolate yourself in this quarter of the house, and if you require other assistance I will send it you. You are scarcely well yourself yet.'

Dr. Langrishe had gone away as abruptly as he came. His house was being turned into a hospital with a vengeance.


CHAPTER XXXIII.

That same day Debbie succumbed to a mild attack of the same fever, and she and I and a nurse from the town, who came every night and left every morning, were completely shut off from the rest off the house.

Mrs. Langrishe was buried the third day after her death. I saw nothing of the funeral, but the nurse told me it was not largely attended. It took place early in the morning, eight o'clock, and very few people were invited. I sent to Cork for a wreath for her, and slipped into the room at daybreak and placed it on her coffin.

I had not seen her from the hour I laid her out. I did not know what changes had taken place in her appearance. To me she would only be a memory henceforward, never a friend more—the living, trusting, kindly, suffering creature I had grown to care for so deeply, to pity so much.

And now three weeks have passed—Debbie is getting better. She took the fever less seriously than Mrs. Langrishe or myself. The doctor pronounces her out of danger, and in another fortnight we can leave this hateful prison.

I have seen nothing of James Langrishe. He went away directly after the funeral, overcome with grief, so I heard, and left us the house to ourselves. The new cook, a pleasant Englishwoman, who arrived in the midst of all the confusion, proved herself a veritable treasure. She was not afraid of infection, nor for ever running into corners and saying prayers to saints, and crossing herself as she passed the sickroom, as foolish Bridget Lehane did. She cooked for us, and did her share of the housework, and kept Bridget to her duties, and made us all comfortable and content. I believe Dr. Langrishe paid her a month's wage in advance, and left her in charge of the household.

He told her he was going to England, to break the news to his wife's mother, who was a very frail old lady, and to whom it would not be advisable to write of the occurrence.

And so, in his deep mourning, and with that new mask of grief worn skilfully over his dark, evil face, James Langrishe turned his back on Knockminoss, and I felt as if I could breathe freely once more.

* * * * *

The cook came to me this morning with a letter from her master in her hand. She informed me he had written asking the condition of Miss Gray and when it would be convenient for us to move out of his house. It was then to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected, and put in order for his return.

I took the hint, as it was intended to be taken. Deborah was on the high road to recovery. If Dr. Conolly said she might be moved, I resolved to lose not an hour in taking her away. We would go into some clean, quiet lodgings, near the sea, and there she could remain until strong enough to bear the journey to London.

I told her this, and quoted one or two passages from the doctor's letter. She agreed at once; indeed she seemed almost feverishly anxious to be out of the house.

The doctor had sent us a cheque each. Mine was my salary up to the time of his wife's death, and a month added in lieu of notice. Deborah's was simply accompanied by a slip of paper, on which was written,

'For professional services for one month. Ten guineas.'

I saw her face flush. She seized the cheque as if to tear it in pieces, but my hand stayed hers.

'No Debbie,' I said. 'We must pocket pride in this instance. It is strictly just that you should be paid for your professional services. Remember, you are not strong or well yet. We have to live, and you have to get back to England. You can't afford to throw away that money.'

The colour ebbed slowly from her face. She handed me the cheque without a word. I placed it with my own in my purse; I determined to cash them at the Bank of Ireland in the town that afternoon, when I went to look for lodgings.

* * * * * *

I returned from the Strand fatigued and cross. The houses were all let. No lodgings were to be had. It appeared that people take them for the season, say from May or June till October, paying exorbitant rentals for the worst furnished and dirtiest-looking residences it has ever been my lot to behold.

I looked at some half-dozen, and retired in disgust, more especially when I heard that the smallest, cheapest, and dirtiest would fetch £14 a month!

Clearly, nothing was to be done there, so I asked if there was not such a thing as a cottage to be found. I was directed to one at the back of the Strand, at the end of a row of small, irregular little houses. It was surrounded by fields and looked out on the sea. It had originally been two separate cottages, but an enterprising owner had knocked them into one. The rooms went through from front to back, a window at each end. It was beautifully clean and neatly furnished.

I foresaw wonders to be done with a little art-muslin and some plants and flowers. The price was moderate. A clean, tidy old woman, who lived in the kitchen, agreed to do the housework and cook, 'if 'twas plain cookin' we'd put up with.'

I promised it readily. I was no inexperienced hand at the culinary art myself. If 'plain cookin'' failed, I could throw myself into the breach. The old woman whose name, she informed me, was Mary Ryan, promised to have the rooms ready for us next day, and I told her we would arrive about five o'clock—in time for tea. Then I returned to the car, and drove rapidly home up the Bog road, which was the shortest way to Knockminoss.

I found Deborah sitting up and looking wonderfully better. I told her of my success, and she seemed pleased at the idea of leaving here so soon. I spent the rest of the evening packing up our joint belongings and making a melancholy tour of the deserted rooms. If I shed some bitter tears over the memories connected with that pink bedroom and the closed and shuttered boudoir, where that poor woman had so often sat and talked to me, it was not altogether weak or unnatural.

I returned to Debbie. I closed and locked the boxes. The last thing I put in was her journal.

'It is our last night here,' I said, with a glance at the familiar bedroom, the paraphernalia of glasses and bottles, the what I called 'hospital look' of everything, from bare walls to bare floor.

Debbie was sitting up in an easy chair, wrapped in her dressing-gown of olive green cashmere, with a thick, black cord girdle; a gown in which I always thought she looked like a Lady Superior. I am sure, if ever Debbie founds a home or retreat or anything of that sort, she will dress like that, in loose, swooping gowns, with a rope or cord confining the waist. In nothing does she look so well and so majestic.

She did not immediately answer, but her melancholy glance followed mine.

'The last night,' she said, at last. Then she looked at me long and thoughtfully.

'Nell,' she said, 'have you considered what we are to do? What it is our duty to do?'

A cold shiver ran through me.

'Oh, Debbie,' I cried, 'don't tell me that you think we ought to accuse him. Have we proof? Have we anything really to justify us? It is such a terrible, terrible thing to say of anyone, and once said we must abide by it.'

'It was a more terrible thing to do,' she answered. 'And once done, he must abide by the consequences of his deed.'

I was silent, looking helplessly at her as the stronger power, and awaiting her decision.

'Have you read it carefully?' I asked, glancing at the diary, which I had left with her that afternoon.

'Every word. Most carefully. It is my belief that he drugged us both on that fatal night; but you, if you remember, only took half the coffee he gave you; you spilt it, fortunately for yourself. The symptoms you describe are almost identical with those you experienced after drinking some of her claret. The brain awakes, but the body is like a helpless log. I can't think what it is he uses. Could I have slept as I did—I, whom the least noise will waken—if he had not given me something?'

'But if an inquiry took place the doctor would say that was the fever coming on,' I suggested.

She shook her head.

'Those symptoms are not the symptoms of fever. One is restless, sleepless, incoherent, the temperature rises rapidly. No, Nell, I am as certain as that I now speak to you that the coffee was drugged.'

'There is one thing we could do,' I said quickly. 'Have up Bridget, and question her as to whether her master tampered with the coffee that night.'

'You are right,' said Debbie, eagerly. 'Have her up at once. And, Nell, go you over to the window there, and make a note of what she says. It will not do to trust to memory now. Here, take your diary and write my questions and her replies.'

I summoned Bridget, and she came up smiling, and dirty, and untidy, as usual. Debbie spoke a few gracious words to her, told her we were leaving to-morrow, and presented her with half-a-sovereign in our joint names. Her gratitude took the form of many blessings and rapturous thanks.

From my place on the low bare window-seat I heard all, and noted Debbie's skilful questioning, and listened, half-amused, at her efforts to keep the girl on the one track, for it is an impossibility for an Irish person to tell you a story without circumlocution of divers kinds, and a tribute to the genealogical virtues of every family whose name is brought into the matter.

My notes, detached from the circumlocution, ran as follows:—

Deb: 'Do you remember, Bridget, the evening your mistress died, when we were all downstairs in the dining-room?'

Bridget: 'Remember, is it, miss? Shure an' I do. Iverything that happened is just as clear as print in me memory; an' the ghost, too—for 'twas a ghost as sure as me two eyes iver see out of me head—an' Moll Duggan—well, she knows av it, an' that Katey, poor girl—Kathleen was her name, miss, an' as fine a girl as you'd wish to see—oh, a lovely girl she was——'

Deb: 'Yes, yes, Bridget. I know all that, but what I want to ask you is, do you remember making coffee for us, and bringing it into the room after supper?'

Bridget: 'I do, miss, but savin' your presince, I wouldn't tell ye a bit av a lie this same blessid night. 'Twasn't me as made it, miss. Not likely, faith! The likes av me handlin' the beautiful silver coffee pot. Ah, no, the master, he comes out, an' sez he to me he was most particular, an' did the kittle boil, that was afore supper, miss, an he axes me to give him a jug, and the coffee grounds.'

Deb: 'You mean the coffee itself?'

Bridget: 'Well, shure, that's the same thing, miss. Grounds it is, an' a plinty av thim there was too, for didn't I throw thim into the bucket wid me own two hands?'

Deb: 'Then your master made the coffee that night?'

Bridget: 'He put thim grounds into the jug, miss, an' I poured the boiling water on it, an' sez he, 'Fetch me an egg to clear it,' and shure I did, Miss. An' he stood the jug on the stove, an' tells me I'm to bring it in whin he rings, afther supper. An' indade it 'twas a mighty fuss, for he had the cups set out in the pantry, an' tould me to pour the coffee into thim the minnit as I heard the bell, an' bring 'em in on the silver tray, jist as they were.'

Deborah: 'You didn't take any of the coffee yourself, Bridget, I suppose?'

Bridget: 'No, miss, I did not. An' it had been tay, now, I would not have minded a dhrop; but I'm not used to the coffee, miss, an' I don't ever drink it.'

Deborah looked at me, and I at her. Then we dismissed Bridget Lehane.

'What do you think now?' asked Debbie, as the door closed. 'The coffee was splendidly prepared. You remember how strong it was; and the cups set out by himself. In one or other he put his vile drugs. We each had a different coloured cup. I remember noticing that most particularly. You upset his calculations by upsetting yours. Mrs. Langrishe drank all hers.'

'And you think——?'

'I think hers contained poison, and that we were intended to sleep too soundly to hear her cries of pain or fear. His plan succeeded with me, but not with you. You woke, and that sound you heard, Nell, was no fancy. It is my belief that if Mary Langrishe's body was exhumed now there would not be a trace of either food or poison in the stomach. He used that machine in order to destroy all evidence.'

'But he called in another doctor. You know the gardener was sent off at daybreak.'

'Yes, but she was almost dead then, and he timed that message, knowing it would arrive too late. . . . Nell, a word, a hint from us, and that body would have to be exhumed, and James Langrishe would stand convicted by his own over-caution.'

I shuddered.

'Remember,' I said, and I held the book towards her, 'Remember that even here I am not sure. I thought I heard that sound, but I felt as if I were in the agonies of a nightmare.'

She looked at me steadily.

'You will not be a reliable witness, Nell,' she said. 'But, reliable or not, the day will come when, as surely as I now speak, Fate will make us the instruments of James Langrishe's doom. We need not stir hand or foot. We need not raise a whisper of our suspicions. We may lock these books, and put them aside and try to forget we ever wrote one word of the tragedy they hold, but no lock will close them. No will or wish of ours can lay the seal of eternal secrecy on this murdered woman's grave.'

I was silent.

She held out her hand suddenly and took the book, then gave it back, and pointed to the pens and ink on the table by her side.

'Write down that,' she said, and in silence I obeyed.

'Now,' she said, 'put your journal away, Nell, as I will put mine. They have served their purpose. We need them no more. It remains to be seen whether Fate will make them its instruments in the future.'

'And you will say nothing?' I asked eagerly.

Her eyes were gazing straight before her, with that strange inscrutable look I had seen but once before.

'I will say nothing till the time comes, till his own folly works out his own fate.'

[End of Nell's Diary.]


CHAPTER XXXIV.

THE STORY TELLS ITSELF.

Foreign travel is no doubt a very delightful and very exhilarating thing, but scenery cannot cure a heartache, and even to the fairest and most enchanting spot we can only carry our own burdens, only see it through our own sorrowful eyes.

Dick Barrymore was saying something of this sort to himself as he trod the tourists' beaten track from Lucerne to St. Moritz. It was all grand and beautiful and worthy the praise of poet and pen, but he wanted someone to be beside him in the mountain passes; in the glow of an Alpine sunset, in the wondrous splendour of an Alpine dawn.

Someone! Only a little girl. Nothing very beautiful, or clever, or wonderful. Just a little, blue-eyed, mocking, tantalising girl, and then the face of the whole world would be changed, and life would be free of torment. He wondered what she was doing, where she went, whom she saw, or coquetted with in that, demure, half conscious, wholly sweet manner of hers.

He envied dark-browed 'Dr. Fell,' as he still called him. He felt a twinge of jealousy at the thought of 'barracks,' a suggestion Deborah Gray had let fall. The thought of red-coated rivals was not pleasant, and the snow-clad mountains took a sanguinary hue to match his jealous thoughts. He could have blessed his uncle when, one September day, he declared he had had enough of Swiss guides, Swiss scenery, and Swiss prices, and would go straight back to England.

England meant within hearing distance, at least, of his wilful little sweetheart, for so he called her in his own heart. They arrived in London at night, and the very next day he went to the hospital with a note for Deborah Gray, to beg her to let him know when she would be off duty and could see him. The answer brought completely upset all his calculations:

'Nurse Gray was not in the hospital. She had left last month.'

He then asked to see the matron, and the halo of the 'Romance' being still about his name and his memory, he was speedily favoured with an interview. From her he learnt that Deborah Gray had been suddenly sent for to Ireland on account of the dangerous illness of a friend. She had left on August 6, and they had heard no word of her since. Dick felt his heart stand still as he heard these words, 'Telegraphed for to Ireland.'

They could but mean one thing. Nell . . . Nell must have been taken ill and sent for her, and that was more than a month ago.

Ill, dying perhaps, and he had been idling his time among those Swiss mountains, listening to tourists' raptures, and trying to believe he was enjoying himself. He asked a few brief questions, but only succeeded in ascertaining that it was to Youghal, county Cork, Deborah had gone. She had given no address, and no one in the hospital had had any news of her from the hour she left.

He tried to preserve some remnant of self-command, and took his leave with outward composure, but once out of the hospital precincts, he sprang into a hansom, dashed back to the hotel, and informed his uncle that he intended starting for Ireland by the night mail to discover what had happened to the two nurses.

Geoffrey Masterman waited until his nephew had walked and talked off some of his agitation. Then he said,

'Look here, boy, if you do this you make it appear that your interest in this girl is something quite out of the common. It is none of your business to follow up Miss Gray, or to fancy that she is with her friend. It might be someone else she has gone to nurse, the doctor's wife, perhaps. Don't you think it will look a bit odd, if you rush off demanding to know why she is staying there?'

But Dick was beyond reasoning, beyond arguing, beyond anything, but just that frantic longing to know what had happened to Nell. Why his letters had been unanswered. What was detaining Deborah Gray in Ireland?

In the end, Geoffrey Masterman came to the conclusion that it was better to see him through his phase of madness than to combat it; and, grumbling audibly at the follies of youth, he had his own Gladstone packed, and declared himself ready for Holyhead and Dublin that evening.

That journey seemed endless to poor Dick. There were new lines on his brow, and not a few silver threads among his fair locks, before he reached Youghal. His uncle stayed behind at Cork, declaring he would not be rushed from train to train in this headlong fashion. Once at Youghal, the young man took the inevitable car and desired to be driven 'Dr. Langrishe's house.' He knew no other address. The man drove off, but as they were trotting along he commenced to talk to his fare.

'Beggin' yer honour's pardon, is it the doctor yer wantin', for he's not there at all. It's to London he sez he went after the funeral.'

'The funeral!' gasped Dick, and his hand clutched the side rail of the car. 'Whose? What? Whose was it?'

'It was herself, Mrs. Langrishe, sir. She's been ill on and off this long time, an' she tuk the fayver. It's been mighty bad here in the town this past summer, an' the poor lady got it. They do say as 'twas nursin' the young lady who was her companion, or something, an' there was great works at the house, an' a nurse over from London, an' two doctors, an' all no use, poor soul. She's gone to glory, sure enough. God rest her, a kind an' good lady she was, as iver stepped; an' 'tis the poor of the place will miss her sore.'

'And the other, the young one?' gasped Dick, finding voice at last.

'Oh, she's well enough! She got on grand wid the nurse from London to take care av her. Why shouldn't she? An' then the nurse fell sick, an' 'twas the same thing agin. Indeed, I heard as 'twas the same night as the poor lady died that she was tuk bad. But she wasn't so ill as the other one, an' now they've gone down to live by the say; an' Knockminoss is all shut up until the doctor comes back.'

'Wait. Stop!' cried Dick. 'If there's no one there it's no use my going. Have you any idea where the young ladies are? It's them I want, not the doctor.'

'Och, shure, thin yer honour, an' why didn't ye say so at furst. It's meself can take ye to thim, for isn't it me own mother's sister, Widdy Ryan, that let thim the cottage, an' lives wid thim to do their bit av cooking an' what not? Why, I'll have ye there in no time, yer honour; an' a tidy place it is, too, an' handy to the say, an' the young lady, she goes bathing ivery morning, bless her pretty face. Always a pleasant word for ivery one. 'Tis sorry we'll be to see the last of her, an' shure 'tis soon now they'll be goin' back to England.'

He had turned the horse's head, and was driving back the same road. It seemed endlessly long, to Dick's impatience, but in reality it was but a very short distance to traverse before the car stopped at a pretty low, thatched cottage, with a garden before and behind, in which sunflowers and stocks and roses were growing in picturesque profusion.

He handed the man half-a-crown, and not waiting for thanks, or further words, walked up to the open door and looked in.

He saw a wide, red-bricked kitchen, clean and tidy as a picture, and standing near the fire, a teapot in her hand, and talking to a brown-faced old woman, who was holding a canister of tea, stood Nell. The revulsion of feeling was so strong after all he had undergone, that Dick cared nothing for spectators, for scruples, for even any possible objection from Nell herself. He walked straight in, and as she turned, he softly called her name in a sobbing breath, and folded her in his arms.

The teapot dropped on the red-tiled floor and broke into a hundred pieces. He cared nothing for that, and Nell apparently did not know it. She was crying with her head against his breast. He stroked her hair, he murmured a score of tender names, he breathed out passionate words of thankfulness and relief, and she suffered it all without question, without rebuke. She only felt that her prayer had been answered. The strong arm on which to lean, the strong heart in which to trust, the strong brain on which to depend—all were here at last. The dark, awful time, the terrors and anxieties, slipped off her like a burden released.

Sobbing and laughing all in one, she clung to him as a frightened child clings to its nurse. She could say nothing but,

'Oh, Dick! how glad I am; how glad I am.'

He thought they were the sweetest words he had ever heard.

She drew herself away at last.

'You must come and see Debbie,' she said. 'She has been very, very ill. Oh, if you only knew, Dick, what these past months have been to us.'

He was very well content to know what they had done, seeing that they had brought her to his arms, and won from her a confession so sweet. But she flew off and into the low bow-windowed parlour, where a table was spread for tea, and where flowers seemed blooming everywhere. He looked, and there, pale and wasted, the mere shadow of her former self, sat Deborah Gray.

When she saw him, she sprang to her feet, and she too called him by his name with no prefix of formality. And then came a torrent of questions, and a general sense of topsy-turveydom until at last they grew quiet and accustomed to his presence, and with a womanly tribute of smiles and tears, made him gladly welcome in their cottage home.

But gradually as the joy and excitement wore off, a strange sort of restraint seemed to creep into the conversation. Dick noticed this first, and he noticed that it occurred whenever the name of Dr. Langrishe was introduced. They told him of Mrs. Langrishe's death, and he thought it odd they should speak of it as sudden, after what the carman had told him about it. However, he did his best to draw off attention from anything painful or disagreeable. 'There would be time enough for that,' he said. 'They, at least, were safe, and he was with them once more.'

For him that was happiness enough.

'For her, too,' seemed to say Nell's liquid eyes, as they met his adoring gaze.

Deborah Gray noticed those eloquent glances, and drew her own conclusions. Nell was going to be wise at last. Sorrow had softened her obdurate little heart, and she was no longer inclined to quarrel with the gifts the gods might send her.

When tea was over, she discovered that two or three things were required from the town, and asked Nell to go for them. It was only natural that Dick should offer to accompany her, and she saw the two depart with an absurd attempt at indifference that left her gravely smiling in the doorway. But when they were out of sight she went within and there was no smile on her lips. She sat down on a low basket chair by the window, and looked sadly out at the shining sea.

In another week she would be well enough to leave here, and return to her old life. It seemed as if this past month had been but a wild phantasmagoria of events; as if it could not have been herself, Deborah Gray, who had witnessed and participated in them.

And yet, she knew the events had happened, and that she had witnessed them. Nay, more, that locked away in her trunk lay their written records, held fast by a silent witness, a witness who might yet be needed to condemn the guilty.

Slowly and steadily she marshalled every detail of that history in review.

She heard a voice from the grave calling to her, an obscure, unnoticed woman, for justice on the evil doer. She saw herself alone, unaided, uncredited, fighting against the mighty engines of the law, facing a man who, in the deadly struggle before him, would spare neither wealth, nor energy, nor power, to crush her as an enemy in his own self-defence.

The law itself, as an instrument of justice, is not terrifying to an unprejudiced mind. But the law as a motive force in the hands of brutal, unfeeling, indelicate men; the law as an inquisitor plying into the past of a witness's life in order to throw discredit on her present statements, that, indeed, is a thing to fear and loathe, and to make silence seem the highest wisdom.

Deborah Gray knew that it was in James Langrishe's power to throw such discredit upon her, to hold her up to the sight of friend and foe as a woman jealous of a rival, for whom she had been forsaken; eager for revenge on the man who had wronged her with that wrong no woman ever forgives!

No wonder she sat there, perplexed and distraught. No wonder she asked herself whether the burden might not be eased by taking into her confidence the strong sense and cooler judgment of this heaven-sent friend.

And yet the first word of suspicion was the first strand in that rope of condemnation that she could place around James Langrishe's neck.

Who was to be the instrument of Fate in this instance? The dead woman in her grave, or the living woman with her condemning record of facts built up from the trivial incidents of daily life?

Slowly the glow of sunset faded. Softly and tenderly the quiet twilight crept over the peaceful scene. But the dark eyes watching it were still troubled and perplexed. For many a long and weary day there would be no peace born for them.


CHAPTER XXXV.

Geoffrey Masterman came down to Youghal next morning by the eleven o'clock train. His nephew was waiting for him at the station. He looked so radiant and happy that Geoffrey felt he had his answer before he put his question.

'It's all right, I see,' he observed, as they walked out of the station to the row of waiting cars.

'Yes,' said Dick. 'It's all right, thank God. Will you come and see them first, Uncle Geoff, or go to the hotel? I'm staying at the Green Park. It's most comfortable. You'll like it, I'm sure.'

'I'm not in love,' said Geoffrey Masterman, grimly, 'and'—with a glance round at the Strand—'if this is Youghal, I don't think much of it.'

'Oh, you haven't seen half of it,' said Dick, 'and don't pretend to be disagreeable, uncle. I see you've brought your "kit bag," so that means you'll stay at least a night.'

'Where are they?' demanded Geoffrey, resisting the blandishments of sundry ragged boys who desired to relieve him of his bag.

'The girls? in a cottage close by here. Nell is perfectly well, but poor Deborah Gray looks very ill still.'

'Nell, indeed,' said Geoffrey Masterman. 'Little blue-eyed baggage, a nice dance she's led you, I must say. Hoist this thing up on one of those crazy vehicles. I'll pay my future niece a morning call before I go to the hotel.'

They sprang up on the nearest car and drove round to the Widow Ryan's cottage. Nell was evidently watching for them. She came out smiling and blushing and was somewhat disconcerted at Geoffrey Masterman's wholesale embrace of her small person. Dick had certainly lost no time in breaking the news.

A very noisy and talkative half-hour followed—what time the car waited, and the jarvey reckoned up his extras. But with all Geoffrey Masterman's jests and sarcasms, Nell felt that he was quite content with his nephew's choice, and that the last objection she had raised to her lover's summary claim on her was swept away, even as he had assured her it would be swept. So she could allow herself to be as happy as she pleased, and withdraw the 'little wilful thorns' of pride, and pretence, and dignity, with which she had so long kept Dick at a distance.

After that morning, a blissful week flew by. A week of drives, and boating, and picnics; of trips to Ardmore and Capel Island, and up the lovely Blackwater to Cappoquin, and Lismore, and Mellary. All day long they were out in the fine bracing air which alone should make Youghal famous for invalids and convalescents, and with each day Deborah Gray's health improved, but her gloom and reticence deepened. She seemed as one burdened with some heavy secret. She was abstracted and almost morose.

Geoffrey Masterman watched her with a keen interest and a great deal of perplexity. It was clear to him that she was in trouble, and was bent on fighting it out in her proud, self-contained fashion. Once he hinted as much to Nell, but she seemed so grieved and distressed that he let the subject drop, and only spoke of it now and then to Dick, while they smoked their last cigars before turning in at night. Dick had also noticed it, but he put it down to the sad occurrences of that time at Knockminoss, and to her professional mortification at losing a 'case.'

He had always thought Deborah somewhat cold and unfeeling, and the manner in which she now detached herself from Nell's merry enjoyment, and the obdurate melancholy in which she indulged, led him to think she almost grudged her bright little friend her present happiness.

The week passed, and Deborah Gray was bent on returning to London and the hospital. She had written a full explanation of her illness, and they were only too glad to have her back again. She was too valuable a nurse to be anything but welcome where cool heads and skilled hands were perpetually wanted. She consented to stay a night in Dublin, and was introduced to Nell's brother, and made heartily welcome in Nell's old quarters.

It was not to be supposed that Dick Barrymore could tear himself away from his fiancée yet, so Geoffrey Masterman and Deborah Gray travelled on next day, and the same evening found her back in her old place in the hospital.

Then commenced the old routine. The hours of duty, the hours 'off,' the regulations for meals, sleep, exercise. She felt as if she were becoming a mere machine, a something that worked because a certain set of springs set it in motion, a something with no heart, no pity, no tenderness. Her mind had only room for a great dread—a heavy, hateful fear, that lay on her heart at night, and moved by her side all day, and gazed at her from chance eyes that met hers in the busy streets.

She knew nothing, and asked nothing, of James Langrishe's doings. She did not know if he had returned to Youghal, or was still in London. All she hoped was that they might never meet. If they did, she felt the truth of her hateful suspicions would flash from her eyes to his, and that he would know what her soul hid from the world.

Nell wrote to her, happy, gossipy letters; letters that breathed nothing of that hateful time and its weight of secrets and anxieties. She answered the letters briefly. It seemed to her that even to Nell she could say nothing now.

That she must hold herself aloof and wait.

* * * * * *

One Sunday, towards the end of October, was her free day. She spent the morning at the Theist Church, and the afternoon with some friends at Hampstead. She left about six o'clock, and came west on top of an omnibus as usual. As the omnibus was going down Oxford street a slight shower of rain came on. Deborah was looking at the pedestrians scurrying along, unfurling umbrellas, or rushing into omnibuses, when suddenly her eye caught sight of an elegantly-dressed woman, over whom a gentleman was holding his umbrella. The omnibus stopped to allow of some passenger entering it, and she noticed the gentleman wave his hand to a passing hansom. He put down the umbrella, to assist the lady in, and Deborah Gray saw he was James Langrishe.

She gave a swift turn in her seat and glanced at his companion. With the mental photograph left in her mind by Nell's description, she could not doubt but that she was looking at Lady Ffolliott. The red gold hair, the beautiful colouring, the splendid figure, all were there, and their possessor was in company with the man who not two months ago had laid his wife in her grave.

The hansom dashed on, and her eyes followed it. She saw it turn down Bond street, and then it was lost to view. A sense of burning indignation was the one sense of which Deborah Gray was conscious. Knowing what she knew, the open shamelessness of this man's conduct stamped him as utterly callous, and utterly without conscience.

'I shall remember this,' she thought, 'when the time comes.'

The rain had ceased. She felt too disturbed to sit quietly there any longer. She got out at the circus and walked towards Charing Cross. Coming out towards the broad thoroughfare of Northumberland avenue, with the palatial hotels, she hesitated and looked down. She might take that way and walk along the embankment. There was plenty of time.

She followed the impulse and went down the avenue. As she passed one of the big hotels, she noticed a hansom standing at the entrance. In her perturbed state of mind the fact that between the shafts stood a grey horse, scarcely touched that note of association which had led her to observe another grey horse in another hansom. Her glance swept carelessly over it, and she was passing on, when a man came swiftly out of the hotel, and sprang into the waiting cab.

He saw her and she saw him. She saw, too, the change in his face as he recognised her. She passed on towards the embankment, but she had scarcely reached the end of the thoroughfare when the sound of hurried footsteps caught her ear.

The night was closing rapidly in. The gas lamps had long been lit. As the quick steps almost echoed on her own, she turned. The gaslight fell on the face of her pursuer, and she was scarcely surprised when she saw who it was.

'Miss Gray,' he said. 'Deborah—I thought I recognised you. I could not be mistaken.'

She took no notice of his outstretched hand. She only stood there and looked at him.

'What do you want with me?' she asked, quietly. A strange quietness, the quietness of the sea before the storm lashes it to fury; for all the horror and hatred she felt for this man swept like a flood over her soul as she gazed into his smiling, handsome face once more.

'Want with you,' he repeated. 'Nothing. But it is surely not strange that I should speak to you, that I should wish to ask how you were? I left you in my own house—ill.'

'And sent me a very strong hint to clear out of it,' she said.

'You put it strongly,' I only meant——'

'James Langrishe!' she said. 'The time has long gone by when you and I need play at courtesies. Our paths have crossed again. I hope it is for the last time. I hope it for your own sake.'

He changed colour slightly.

'I can't understand you,' he said.

'You are not usually obtuse,' she answered. 'Shall I speak plainly? The grass hasn't yet grown over your wife's grave, and you are in hot pursuit of another woman. Had I wished to forget the strange occurrences at Knockminoss they would have been recalled to me by your own imprudence. Be careful, James Langrishe, or other eyes than mine may read your secret. I shall not guard it one hour longer than Fate wills.'

A curious leaden hue crept over his features as he heard those words. His attempt at bluster, at the old coarse oaths, failed signally. Those calm, condemning eyes read his very soul, and for once in his life James Langrishe felt what it was to fear a woman. A mortal dread mastered him body and soul.

She only stood there perfectly silent, gazing at him with a loathing she could no longer conceal, the loathing of that craven, cowardly, cruel nature which once she had worshipped as an ideal of manhood. Then she turned silently away and left him.

He stood a moment or two watching her retreating figure—a look of murderous hate in his eyes. Then he, too, turned and went back, up the broad avenue, until he reached the hotel. Here he paused a moment, as if undecided. Then he went into the smoking-room and ordered a pint bottle of champagne and a liqueur of brandy.

When they were brought he poured the wine into a tumbler and added the brandy to it, and drank it at a draught. Then he took out a card from his card-case and wrote a few words on it, and called the waiter who had served him.

'Take that to Lady Ffolliott,' he said, 'and tell her I am waiting to see her in the reading-room.'

As the man disappeared, he walked into the room he had mentioned. It was almost deserted. At that hour it was never frequented. He chose a quiet corner, and sat down near one of the tables, and began turning over some papers. The wine had steadied his nerves, but his pulse beat furiously, and a hundred thoughts went whirling in wild confusion through his brain. It seemed hours before the soft rustle of a dress made him look round, and he saw the beautiful figure of Di Ffolliott approaching.

'What is it, Jim? What is the matter?' she said, hurriedly. 'Your message startled me. I was just dressing for dinner.'

'Sit down here,' he said huskily. 'I've come to say that since I saw you—an opportunity has arisen for me to get rid of my practice, and sell the whole place with it. I hate it. I should never care to live there again. But I must go back to Ireland to-morrow to make the necessary arrangements. After that, I shall return here, or go abroad. Di, put me out of my misery. Surely we have had enough of waiting, and scruples, and conventionality. I'm sick of it. I've had a hell of a life ever since I've known you; a man can't bear more. Promise me, when things are settled you'll marry me at once. Let us leave this hateful country. You are always saying you'd like to travel—we'll go to Spain, America, India, anywhere you like, but it must be soon. Haven't you tried me enough; and you know I'm not a patient man, and I've never loved a woman as I love you, Di!'

His face told her he spoke truth then. Its wild worship and passionate longing were plain enough to read.

'This is very sudden, Jim,' she said. 'An hour ago there was no word of such a thing. The usual year of waiting was as much in your mind as in mine!'

'Never in mine, Di,' he said, 'never in mine, as I live, but I did not like to speak too plainly. I thought, like most women, you would not excuse the maddest love ever given, for one small breach of your beloved conventionality! Faugh, I hate the word!'

He looked at her, and his burning gaze made her own eyes droop. It was eloquent enough to force conventionality to curtsey and withdraw. She glanced hurriedly around. No one else was in the room except a bald old gentleman in a distant quarter nodding over the last number of 'Punch.' She bent forward, and laid her hand on his.

'How soon,' she said, 'do you wish——'

The blood leaped to his face, and his eyes glittered with unholy triumph.

'An hour would be too long had I my way,' he said passionately. 'As it is——' he paused, and seemed to make a rapid calculation. 'Two, three, I should say in three weeks I could have arranged everything. We might get married by special license. It will avoid banns and all that vulgar publicity that makes marriage a bugbear to men. Then start at once for Paris, and so on across the Pyrenees. Oh, trust me, my empress, I will map out a tour that will delight even you. Ah,' and he drew a long deep breath, and looked at her again with all the wild worship of his heart, straining and warring against the curb he had to place upon it, 'Kiss me, Di,' he implored, and she leant quickly forward, and their lips met.

'You do love me. Swear that you love me,' he muttered, and he rose, and laid a strong, yet trembling hand on her bare white arm.

'You know it well enough, Jim,' she said, half sadly, for in that moment of self-surrender she knew how much of her long-cherished power had fled.

'And you will never play me false, never throw me over. By heavens, Di, I think I would kill you if you did!'

She smiled, half pleased, and yet a little afraid of this flame she had kindled, and in whose fierce glow her own heart had become scorched.

'Answer,' he said, watching with jealous pain that little curious smile, lifting the crimson curves of her lips.

'I will be true to you, Jim,' she said, 'as long as I love you. But it is not in man's or woman's power to promise eternal love or eternal fidelity. You have won me; it rests with you to keep me. I promise nothing—nothing.'

His lowered lids hid his eyes for a moment, and hid, too, a look not good to see.

'Three weeks,' he muttered absently. 'Nothing can happen in three weeks. Nothing can part us, Di, except our own hearts play us false.'

'I think mine will stand that test,' she said.

'And you don't ask about mine,' he said, jealously.

'One loves, and one is loved, you know,' she said. 'I feel very sure of you, Jim.'

He looked at her long and earnestly, all his soul in his eyes.

'I will not see you again,' he said, abruptly, 'until the day before I claim you for ever. Three weeks from to-day. You will remember?'

Something in his voice struck a sudden chill to her heart.

'Of course, I will remember,' she said. 'Does a woman ever forget her wedding day?'

'We will forget that man or woman ever stood between us,' he said, 'on that day. It will be my only, my real wedding day, and you—you Di?'

The colour wavered in her clear lovely skin. She lifted her glorious eyes to his.

'I will tell you,' she said, 'on that day.'

Five minutes later he was in the streets on the way to his own hotel, his brain reeling with the very madness of love. All memory of life, and sin, and remorse, aye, and retribution, swept aside by the sorcery of a woman's loveliness!


CHAPTER XXXVI.

To a closed house, lonely and dreary as a vault—to empty rooms, where not a footstep sounded—to a ghostly horde of memories, that it needed strong nerves to exorcise—came James Langrishe in the dusk of an October evening.

The two servants, hastily warned, had struggled with damp rooms and damp fuel, and sent to the town for provisions, and done their best to make some sort of preparation for their master, but nothing that hireling hands ever do, can give to rooms that home look which love can bestow on the most commonplace surroundings.

The doctor entered, with the mist and damp of the chill autumn evening still clinging about him. The clang of the bell he had rung at the front door still echoed in the distance, the light of the solitary lamp in the big, gloomy hall made everything shadowy and vague.

Bridget Lehane, who admitted him, murmured an apology for things not being straight. The intimation of his coming had been so sudden. He made some impatient rejoinder and threw down his rug and Gladstone bag, and went into the dining-room.

The fire was doing its best to burn cheerfully, but the chimney was damp, and the coals had only smouldered. The large lamp that stood on the sideboard gave out a friendly light, but it had been hastily trimmed, and burned unevenly, and the smell of oil was self-evident. He looked around with shuddering distaste as he drew off his gloves. Then he rang the bell hastily.

'Take some hot water to my room,' he said. 'By the way, what room is it you have prepared for me?'

'The blue room, sir; the others was all being disinfected, and the papers had been stripped off as you ordered.'

'Yes, yes. I might have known there'd have been nothing done. I know what Irish workmen are. In heaven's name, bring me some lights, and get this fire to burn. The room is almost as cheerful as a churchyard, and the smell of paraffine is enough to knock one down.'

'I'm very sorry, sir, but we was out of oil, and shure, we had to borrow this from Moll Duggan till the boy brings up what we ordered. We only got yer tiligam this morning, sir, an' the place was all upsotlike, an' cook an' I had our hands full iver since.'

'Do what I tell you, and don't talk,' he ordered, sharply, and Bridget retired, to find candles, and get hot water, grumbling all the time at the "onraysonableness" of men, expecting to find everything so straight as an arrow for them, an' niver letin' on to anybody that they was comin' back.

After dinner, James Langrishe despatched a message to Dr. Conolly, who lived in the town, requesting him to come up, if possible, that evening.

It was nine o'clock when he appeared, the coachman having waited for him by James Langrishe's orders. He was shown into the dining-room, where the doctor was sitting over his wine. By his side, on the polished mahogany table, was a heap of letters and papers.

The two men had a long conversation. It was evidently satisfactory.

Bridget Lehane brought in glasses and soda-water about half-past ten and set the spirit-stand on the table, and then asked if anything more was needed. Her master dismissed her to bed, and the two men drew up their chairs near the fire and continued their conversation.

About half-past eleven Dr. Conolly left; the doctor rose also, and proposed accompanying him as far as the lodge. Both men had had their fair share of the whisky and soda, but Dr. Langrishe only seemed to grow morose and reticent over his potations, while his companion became genial and communicative.

The night was very dark as they stepped out from the hall and turned down the almost leafless avenue. The ground beneath their feet was damp and thick with fallen leaves. The rain had ceased, but neither moon nor stars lit up the gloomy walk.

'You've not seen the ghost yet, I suppose, Langrishe?' said Dr. Conolly, as they walked briskly on towards the lodge. 'You know you're credited with one here. Not a soul in the place but talks of it. I wish she'd favour us with a visit now,' and he laughed boisterously. 'But those same apparitions are too wise to show themselves to anyone who would be a creditable witness.'

'What nonsense is all this?' said the doctor, savagely. 'Who is spreading reports about me? It will be worse for them if I catch them.'

'Oh, not about you. I never said that. They only say a woman with a shawl over her head, and a very awful face—heavens, Langrishe! What's that before us—don't you see?'

'See! I see nothing. Are you drunk, man, or dreaming? Why, it's pitch dark.'

'I know it, but look, Langrishe, walking straight before us. A woman's figure, as I live, I'll light a match.'

The spark of it illumined the darkness for a moment. Beyond its circle of light was a faint, misty outline. A cold wind sighed through the stripped branches overhead. Then all was darkness again.

'What folly is this!' exclaimed James Langrishe, fiercely, 'and the idea of you taking it up, Conolly. I thought you had more sense.'

'I certainly thought I saw a figure moving before us,' said Dr. Conolly, doggedly, 'and it's no joke I'm telling you, Langrishe. Scores of people have seen this thing. Sometimes it is seated at the foot of Dead Woman's Hill, as if waiting for someone, and sometimes it walks to your lodge and down this avenue. . . . There . . . by heaven! man, as I'm alive, I see it. Where are your eyes? . . . Look—straight before us—facing us. Goodness! what an awful face.'

The cold sweat stood out on James Langrishe's brow. He clutched his companion's arm, and stood for a moment gazing wide-eyed into the darkness, swaying like a drunken man.

'Some fool is playing tricks on us,' he muttered. 'There's nothing there—nothing.'

They were half way through the avenue now. Suddenly, through a rift in the clouds, the moon shone out pale and watery, yet distinct enough to show the path before them. Nothing was there.

James Langrishe burst into a harsh laugh.

'I think, Conolly,' he said, 'my whisky was stronger than we thought. A pretty pair of fools we are, to turn ghost-seers at our time of life. Come, hurry on; I'll keep my word, and see you to the gates. Perhaps the ghost will oblige me by waiting till I return, and acquaint me with a reason for frequenting my avenue.'

They went on hurriedly, and spoke but little. Then James Langrishe returned to the house. His heart beat a little quicker as he approached the place where that ghastly face had for a second's space seemed to flash out of the shrouding darkness. The moon was still shining down through the drifting clouds. But neither form, nor face was visible. Yet James Langrishe's own face was ashy white as he stepped once more into the glow of warmth and light. He bolted the outer door, and returned to the dining-room, and stirred the fire into a blaze, and lit every candle he could find. Then he poured himself out half a tumbler of whisky, dashed in some soda-water, and drank it off.

'I'll carry a pistol about me for the future,' he said aloud, as if speaking to some unknown listener. 'I'll have no——tricks played on me. Who talks of ghosts? There are no ghosts. We live, or we die—there's an end of us. Carrion, rotting back to its own clay, feeding the worms. Ghosts? What old women's tales to frighten silly girls and children.'

He paced the room in a fevered manner, pushing aside chairs, talking all the time wildly and incoherently.

Someone passing along the hall, with a candle in her hand, paused before that closed door, and listened with frightened eyes to the strange talk and movement going on within. It was Bridget Lehane.

'Musha, mother of mercy,' she cried to herself, 'but the quare goings on there is in this house, an' sorra a place at all, at all, for a dacent gurl to live in. Shure, 'tis the masther has the onaisy conscience, and why should he at all only for the things as he knows an' I daren't be lettin' on about seein' as how a prison was in the taycup to-night, when meself was lookin' at the leaves!'

She crossed herself, and stole softly back to the kitchen. For many and many a night she had chosen to sleep there on a settle before the fire, rather than go upstairs to her bedroom.

* * * * * *

James Langrishe had been a week at Knockminoss.

It was known that the furniture and house were to be sold, and that he had made over his practice to Dr. Conolly. These facts gave rise to a great deal of talk, but talk is so much the natural province of Irish folk that the wagging of tongues meant less to the 'waggers' than an outsider would have supposed. Yet looks askance were cast at the handsome doctor when he drove through the town or along the outlying roads, and there were many who said the change in his appearance was due more to fear than to grief.

Yet still, all the whispered rumours amounted to very little, and as yet none had reached his own ears. When he was in the house he was for ever sorting papers, burning letters, packing books and surgical instruments, and generally dismantling the establishment, but the servants noticed he never went near his wife's apartments, and her wardrobe and jewellery were packed under the superintendence of Mrs. Conolly, who gave him the keys afterwards.

His iron will kept him there day after day, and gave him strength, too, for the hateful tasks that must be done. Once he turned his back on Knockminoss, he resolved never to enter it again. His present bravado had a purpose to serve, but with every night his terrors grew apace, and his nerves needed more and more of that false stimulant that sent him reeling up to his hated room in the small hours of the morning, to close his eyes in a drunken stupor that rested neither mind nor body.

* * * * * *

A child can kindle a flame that half an army cannot extinguish. In like manner a chance word, dropped by an idle tongue, is oft-times the seed that sows a field of dragon's teeth in a single night.

Bridget Lehane had a sweetheart, and the said sweetheart was a member of the constabulary. Reticence is assuredly no fault of her nation, and reticence to a sweetheart on any subject connected with her own life and its incidents would have been an impossibility. So it came to pass that Jimmy Whelan was informed of everything connected with the doctor, and the affairs generally of Knockminoss, and how he always carried a pistol in his coat, and how he drank himself into raging lunney every night of his life.

Jimmy was not one whit sharper or more brilliant than others of his persuasion, but he took to thinking things over, and they seemed to him as to Bridget, 'mighty quare.' Still, nothing was said, and the preparations for leaving Knockminoss went on apace; but during the second week the story of the ghost was once more revived, and not a soul from shop or farm would tread the avenue after dusk for any bribe or persuasion.

The stories got to Dr. Conolly's ears, and Dr. Conolly had a wife, and he and the wife talked together over Dr. Langrishe's curious dislike to the place and his hurried preparations for departure, and his strange reticence about his future plans. It needed a woman's wit to put her finger on the weak point of the chain of circumstances. Mrs. Conolly was the woman.

'Lady Ffolliott is leaving also; her place is to be shut up, the lodge-keeper told me. I wonder if he will marry her, after a time. He can't pretend to be sorry for his wife's death. Everyone knew he was infatuated with that woman, and his freedom came most opportunely.'

Dr. Conolly kept silence for some moments. His thoughts were back with a scene in the grey dawn of a September morning. He remembered a hasty summons, a confused account of a strange seizure, the story of the little nurse and her agitation, the certificate he had been asked to sign, the hurried funeral, the strange symptoms of the London nurse, which had puzzled him at the outset of her illness, the abrupt departure of the widower, and now his determination to sell his place, even at a loss, and leave Ireland altogether.

The more he thought the more he remembered. The more he remembered, the less he liked. He grew nervous, suspicious, uncomfortable, and it was while in this mood that he was informed that one Jimmy Whelan, of the constabulary, was below in the kitchen and desired urgently to have word with him.


CHAPTER XXXVII.

The communication of Jimmy Whelan resulted in the following letter, written by Dr. Conolly to Deborah Gray:—


'Dear Miss Gray,

'I write to ask you if, by any chance, you kept any notes of the late Mrs. Langrishe's illness during the time you attended her at Knockminoss. I was unable to question you on the subject owing to your state of health. I must tell you that my reasons for asking this are most serious, though at present I beg you will treat this communication as strictly private, as I will treat anything you tell me on the subject.

'Believe me,

'Yours faithfully,

'CHARLES CONOLLY.

'Youghal, Co. Cork.'


In due time there arrived for Dr. Conolly a thick packet, sealed and registered. He opened it, and found it consisted of manifold sheets of paper containing extracts from a journal that had apparently been kept by two persons. It was accompanied by a note from Deborah Gray.


'——Hospital,
'London.

'Dear Dr. Conolly,

'In answer to your letter, I beg to enclose the following extracts from a journal kept by Miss Nugent, who was Mrs. Langrishe's companion during the months of July, August, and part of September, and also my own notes from the time I was summoned by Mrs. Langrishe herself, to the fatal 12th of September, when she died. The records speak for themselves, but neither my friend nor myself wished to breathe our suspicions until they were necessary, either to justify or condemn some quite impartial interference. I need scarcely say we are both ready to stand by every word we have written, however strange or condemnatory they may seem.

'Yours faithfully,

'DEBORAH GRAY'


That night Dr. Conolly read every word of the records submitted to him. When he finished, his face was the face of one on whom Fate has imposed a stern and distasteful duty. His heart sank with a dread beyond all words. He had taken this man's hand, he had called him friend, and now he must stand forth and accuse him before the world and his fellow-men of the most awful and dastardly crime the brain of a devil could conceive.

Horror inexpressible seized him as he thought of Mrs. Langrishe's strange illness, of her husband's pretended anxiety, of the fearful hypocrisy and deceit of which the poor woman had been the victim.

There was one thing, however, which he could not understand, and that was the fatal haste to bring about a result that led to open suspicion. Why had he not let the poor creature linger on and slowly fade into the grave his skill had dug for her, instead of making this sudden, savage onslaught, as it were, on her already jeopardised life?

He puzzled over this for long. Suddenly, the remembrance of his wife's words flashed across his mind—the infatuation for Lady Ffolliott! Here, evidently, was the motive. In his fear of losing one woman, James Langrishe had ruthlessly sacrificed another.

The evidence of those two nurses would condemn him hopelessly, if—if the body of the dead woman bore out that evidence.

It was a case for human justice now, without mercy, without paltering. The law had been outraged boldly and recklessly; the law must avenge itself upon the offender. All the threads of suspicion must be gathered up, knotted into one strong, condemning strand. He had but to place these papers in the proper hands, and the order would be given to exhume the body of the poor wronged woman.

There must be no delay. James Langrishe had proved himself a man devoid of scruples. He himself knew on what thin ice he trod here, amidst the scenes of his infatuation and his crime. As yet, no whisper of all the many floating round had reached his ears; but at any moment they might do so, and he would escape.

His urgent haste to have all matters of business settled, the disposal of his practice and his property, his utter reticence on any future plans, save only that he was going to London—London, where Lady Ffolliott was—all these facts were strangely suspicious. Dr. Conolly felt that in some measure his hand was forced. The grave must be the first accuser. By its silent witness James Langrishe would be pronounced innocent or—guilty.

* * * * * *

It seemed to James Langrishe as if that last week would never pass. The hours seemed leaden-footed; they brought him no peace, no rest. The nights were things of terror when he would sit surrounded by the glare of fire and candles, horribly conscious of lurking shadows, of faces looking out at him from dusky corners, in terror of the lonely room, in greater terror of that creaking staircase, and that long, shadowy corridor, down which he dared not glance.

At times his brain and will were fiercely active, at others they grew sluggish and inert, and he became the prey of torturing fancies that drove him to a dangerous refuge for temporary forgetfulness.

But the third week dawned, and everything was so nearly settled that he could fix the very day and hour of his departure. And still the hand of Nemesis was stayed, and legal scruples and legal difficulties hampered, as they always do, the plain, straight path down which Right and Truth and Common-sense would march to justice had they but their way. So it came to pass that, driven desperate by his own fears and terrors, and his horror of that crime-haunted house, James Langrishe started suddenly off to London one morning, leaving his luggage to follow him, and telling no one of his intention.

He arrived three days before Di Ffolliott expected him, but she did not blame him for expedition—only she exclaimed at the change in his appearance, the pallor of the dark, brilliant face, the haggard, sleepless look of his eyes. He told her it was due to absence and longing and love, and half-chiding, half-incredulous, she let herself believe it, more especially as his feverish restlessness increased hour by hour, and whether with her or away from her, time seemed a thing of dread to him.

The arrangements for their marriage were simple enough, and he had persuaded her to drive from the church to Charing Cross station, en route for the train to Paris.

There were to be no guests. She had few friends in London, and he would suffer none to be present at the event. For once in her life Di Ffolliott allowed herself to be blindly led, and followed, meek and obedient, the will of one she had chosen as her master. Wild and mad as was his love for her, hers was no less wild and mad for him—otherwise she knew she would not have sacrificed the show and publicity she loved, and gone quietly to church in the early morning in a plain travelling dress, whose only merit was its perfect fit, to be married as any common little dressmaker's girl might be married!

The day came at last. A grey, foggy November day. Early as it was a few loiterers came into the church when the doors opened. One man, with a shrewd, quiet face, watched each straggler with keen interest. Now and then he whispered to another man by his side, a good-natured, red-haired individual, who kept well in the shadow of a pillar, and who bore a singular likeness to one Jimmy Whelan, of Youghal police fame.

At last a man entered hurriedly. He was dressed in dark clothes, and wore a white muffler round his neck that partially concealed his features.

'That's him, sure enough,' whispered Jimmy Whelan to his companion.

The man nodded. His keen eyes watched the tall figure with a scrutinising glance, taking in perhaps the chances of a struggle when the desperate game should be played out.

After a few moments' delay he came out of the vestry, and took up his position before the altar rails. Then he turned his white face towards the empty aisles, and gazed eagerly at the door. It opened, and alone and unsupported, a woman walked in. Her beauty seemed to glow and warm the cold dim church, the foggy grey atmosphere.

'My word, she is a beauty! I don't so much wonder at him,' exclaimed the watcher, pressing a detaining hand on his companion's arm, which kept his red head out of sight of a chance glance, should one speed that way.

The lady took her place, marshalled by a seedy-looking pew-opener.

The clergyman opened his book and the sermon commenced. Solemnly, slowly, the words rang out in the silence. Solemnly they echoed in the ears that had determined to pay no heed to a ceremony which was only considered in the light of a bit of legal tomfoolery to ensure a legal bargain.

'I require and charge you both as ye will answer at the dreadful Day of Judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be disclosed, that if either of you know any impediment why ye may not be lawfully joined together in matrimony, ye do now confess it.'

One moment's dead silence—an awful, terrible silence. Then the strange man left his place, and Jimmy Whelan left his, and swiftly they moved forward and stood beside the couple at the rails.

The clergyman paused. James Langrishe turned. Before he could utter a word a hand was on his arm. The strong, steely clasp that in dreams he had felt and fought against a hundred times, was the clasp of reality.

'James Langrishe, I arrest you in the Queen's name, for the wilful murder of your wife.'

The book fell from the clergyman's hand. Such a proceeding as this he had never faced in the whole course of his clerical experience.

'This is not the time or the place for such a proceeding,' he stammered.

'Maybe not, but I'd be sorry to think that that poor lady was legally bound to a man who must face a criminal charge.'

'It's all a mistake,' thundered the doctor, wrathfully. 'Do you hear? A mistake. This man doesn't know me. No such charge has ever been made, as he says.'

'I know you, sir,' said Jimmy Whelan, quietly. 'I was brought here to identify you; the charge is quite true.'

Then, with one look of shuddering horror at the man whom she had come here to wed, Di Ffolliott sank senseless to the ground. The startled clergyman raised his book. The dusty pew-opener advanced to the assistance of the unconscious bride, and James Langrishe, handcuffed and with his captors one on either side, was led out of the church, to a cab waiting at the steps.

Dogged and silent, he sat between the two. The network of the law he had defied was about him at last. He felt that struggling was useless.

Only one question he asked as the cab rattled through the foggy streets.

'Where are you taking me?'

'To Cork. The first investigation takes place there. We are bound to caution you not to say anything that may be used in evidence against you.'


CHAPTER XXXVIII.

The magisterial inquiry into the cause of Mrs. Langrishe's death was one of the sensations of the hour. It was from the first so plainly against any satisfactory defence that the jury unhesitatingly brought in their verdict of 'guilty.'

James Langrishe left that court, and was taken to the Cork Gaol to await his trial at the winter assizes.

The full horrors of his position came home to him then in the humiliation of imprisonment. His very companions in the exercise yard scorned to look askance at him—the gentleman murderer whose sentence they knew was a mere matter of weeks. He was never alone for a single moment. Two warders watched him night and day. His duties and his food were the duties and the food of the commonest prisoner who shared this legal captivity. The very doctor and chaplain seemed to regard him as they never regarded the vagabonds and lawbreakers who filled the other cells. The horror of that one crime which sets a man apart from all other criminals, was a horror that made itself felt even here, where crime was in the air one breathed.

He showed no sign of what he felt. Outwardly cool and dogged, he passed his days as the other prisoners passed theirs; making no complaint, asking no favour, seemingly indifferent to the passage of time, but in his heart cursing himself for his own folly, his own blindness, since now the veil was rent, and in the eyes of his fellow men he had read his own condemnation. He had engaged the very best counsel for his defence, but even those astute legal brains made no secret of the well-nigh hopeless nature of the task they had undertaken. Save for his counsel, no one came near him. No message ever reached him from that world beyond those high white walls, at which his moody eyes gazed despairingly.

There was not a very long time to wait before the assizes commenced, but it was long enough to turn his raven locks to grey, to furrow his brow with lines that Time never ploughed. The day of trial came at last, and he was placed in the van between his two warders. He heard the great gates clang behind him, he looked up once at the soft blue sky above his head, and shuddered.

The drive seemed long as eternity, and the time of waiting longer still, but at last the summons came, and he was led from the cell of the courthouse up the narrow corkscrew staircase, and placed in the dock facing the judge, in his crimson robes, the crowded bench of barristers and reporters, and everywhere were crowds of gazing, curious faces—the faces of men and women he had known and met a hundred times in years of residence amongst them. No one looked pity or sympathy, or gave sign of recognition.

That first penalty the criminal pays—the silent condemnation of his fellows, was already demanded from James Langrishe.

The light of the winter day fell through the line of windows that lit the court, and showed up the newness and varnish of recent improvements. Its old gloom and dirt had disappeared since the fire that had come to obliterate those landmarks of time. But to James Langrishe that newness and cleanliness had something gruesome about it. Would there not be busy reporters to state that the first important criminal case since the fire of 1891 was the case of James Langrishe? He almost fancied he saw the lines in the Cork Examiner or Constitution of the next morning, and a grim smile touched his lips as he wondered why his thoughts should dwell on such trivialities at a time when his life hung in the balance.

A stir in the benches below, the rustle of papers and opening of briefs arrested his attention. His face hardened and set itself in rigid composure. His eyes, with their old, mocking brilliance, turned from judge to jury, from the jury to the witness-box, with its solitary chair, and then dropped to the crowd of bewigged heads below. In the well of the court stood a table on which was a model of Knockminoss. Beside it were various articles whose nature his professional experience readily guessed, and a little apart from them lay a small brown paper parcel. He found himself wondering what it contained.

He gave it no second glance. There was nothing about it to betray its fatal purport, or the effect its production was to have in the issues of the case.

Then the proceedings commenced. The clerk of the court read out the indictment, the jury were sworn, and prisoner was asked whether he pleaded guilty or not guilty to the charge of the wilful murder of his wife, Mary Langrishe, on the — of September, 18—. His white lips belied the firmness of his voice as he gave the expected denial. Then the counsel for the prosecution began to address the court. There was no need here for legal subterfuge or suggestion. The plain, bold facts were plain enough for a child's comprehension. The evidence given at the previous inquiry was again retailed, and for all his defiant demeanour James Langrishe felt that it was absolutely condemnatory.

The giving of arsenic for medical purposes was all very well, but the nurse's evidence was damning. There had been no need for such a remedy in Mrs. Langrishe's case. The inquest had also proved one fact more suspicious than all the rest. The stomach-pump had been used on the fatal night, and for what purpose could it have been used except to destroy the evidence of poison? But arsenic can never be quite destroyed. It has the peculiar property of embalming the body, and by its antiseptic virtues gives back the vital organs to the light of day in a state that places its presence beyond a doubt, even to the most minute atom.

When Mary Langrishe's body was exhumed, and the investigation made, the stomach was found to be quite empty. Yet the evidence of the nurses proved that she had partaken of supper with her husband and themselves. This fact alone was suspicious enough. Nothing could explain it away, and in spite of the stomach having been emptied, there were traces of the poison in other organs sufficient to do away with the theory that the arsenic had been administered for merely medicinal reasons. Counsel went on to say that apart from and beyond these facts arose the question of motive in the case of murder. Unfortunately, in this case the motive was so clear and plain a one that it added the strongest link to the chain of evidence against the prisoner.

Within two months of his wife's death he was about to marry another woman. His preparations for flight were then briefly dwelt upon, after which the prosecution proceeded to call witnesses for their case.

That speech made a sensation in the court. The tide of popular favour set strongly against the prisoner. It was felt on all sides that his innocence was an impossibility, and from mind to mind flashed like an electric current all the hundred and one little condemning incidents of his life in their midst. His open infatuation for Lady Ffolliott—meetings, letters, speeches overheard—and at the time only laughed at—how absolutely damning looked all these trivialities now when passed in review before a court of justice.

The routine of a criminal trial is always more or less the same. The opening address, the testimony of the witnesses, the cross-examination, the badgering and bullying of counsel, the speech for the defence, and the summing up.

The sensation of this case was the evidence of the two nurses, and the extracts from their diaries as read and commented on by their counsel, and on which they were examined. Beginning with the acquaintance at Glengariff, and the strange symptoms of the invalid, Nellie Nugent was questioned and cross-questioned on the point set up by the defence, that arsenic had undoubtedly been administered to the deceased lady, but it had been given for a certain complaint from which she suffered, just as in like manner the morphia had been administered for sleeplessness.

In confutation of this, came the evidence of the two nurses as to Mrs. Langrishe's rapid improvement in health after the accidental breaking of the bottle of medicine her husband had left for her, and the discontinuance of the said medicine during the remainder of her stay at the hotel. At this point the brown paper parcel was taken from the table and handed to the witness.

She identified it as the one that Dr. Langrishe had sent to Glengariff for his wife, and which she had placed on a shelf in the cupboard of her bedroom. It had lain there in a corner unobserved, unopened, until sent for as an item of evidence in the case. It had been analysed, and the analysis was submitted to judge and jury.

The amount of arsenic contained in it would have killed any adult, even one accustomed to taking it, in a week.

The sensation at this point was tremendous.

The face of the accused was ashen-white as he saw that bottle—the forgotten, incriminating record of his first blundering attempt.

Medical evidence in support of the nurses' story closed the case for the first day, and left it black enough against the accused man as he was driven back to the gaol.

For three days he stood in the dock, and saw arrayed against himself the deadly crowd of dimming facts which his blindness and foolhardiness had overlooked. He heard those records of the diaries, and cursed the folly that had suffered those female spies within his doors. With the desire of averting suspicion he had only aroused it.

Deborah Gray's evidence seemed to impress the court even more than Nellie's. Her calm, serious face, her simple, direct answer, her evident reluctance to state anything save what was absolutely necessary, gave her admissions a greater weight, than her friend's. Her cross-examination was lengthy and severe, but nothing could shake her grave serenity. It was only when the defending counsel asked her roughly why she had not mentioned her suspicions at the time of Mary Langrishe's death that she hesitated in her answer. She looked at the guilty man for the first time. All the colour left her face. Her eyes drooped. Her voice trembled.

'I—I do not consider it professional to talk about a case,' she said. 'Besides, I was ill myself. I was not with Mrs. Langrishe at the time of her death. She was in her grave before I knew anything of what had happened. And no one has a right to utter suspicions that they cannot verify.'

'You could not verify yours?' demanded the prosecution.

'No,' she said, very low.

'But you believe James Langrishe did administer poison with criminal intent, to his wife?'

'I do.'

Then James Langrishe knew that her hand had put the first strand of the fatal rope about his neck, and in his heart of hearts he cursed her as the author of his ruin.

He scarcely listened to Bridget Lehane, who followed Deborah into the box, and rambled on about the ghost and the drugged coffee until the prosecution and defence alike lost patience, and could make nothing out of her evidence.

He raged at his own folly now for surrounding his house with gossiping, credulous idiots, who had only eaten his bread and then turned upon him in the hour of adversity.

Perhaps the cruellest and blackest hour of all he had to face was the hour when Di Ffolliott, pale as death, and clothed all in black, stood up in her turn, and he had to listen to her answers as the sharp, cool voice of the famous Q.C. dragged unwillingly admissions of that wild love, that fevered impatience, that hurried broken marriage, from her pale lips.

His long-sustained self-command gave way then.

He bent down and covered his face with his hands. In his heart he said, 'The bitterness of death is past now. It cannot be worse than this!'


CHAPTER XXXIX.

The speech for the defence was as able and brilliant as it was unconvincing. Even the judge pitied the hopeless effort, and the accused man listened with a bitter smile on his pale lips, knowing its utter uselessness in face of all that had gone before.

It was odd that never until he had faced this trial had he even dimly imagined he had awakened a suspicion in the mind of his fellow mortals. How the first terrible design had taken shape he could scarcely tell. The mad infatuation for Di Ffolliott, that impatience with the sickly, uninteresting woman whom he had married solely for her wealth, these he remembered; and then the gradual hope that freedom would come soon and by its blessed chance he might secure the one woman he had ever coveted—without success.

At that time the ugly thought had found no place in his mind; but little by little it had formulated itself, growing stronger and more tempting with every day that barred him from those lovely arms. Human life had no very special value in his eyes. He had tested poisons on living creatures with utter callousness as to their sufferings. Sickness had rarely aroused any wider sympathy in his breast than the perplexity or difficulty of the case demanded, and as little by little he trod the path of possibilities it seemed scarcely wrong to his specious reasoning that he should assist those possibilities, instead of await them.

His conscience was not of the troublesome order, and he became, after a time, interested in his own experiments. He told himself they were so easy, so natural, so utterly beyond detection. It was only when Deborah Gray had established herself as his wife's guardian that he grew desperate to the verge of recklessness. The woman he loved so madly had withdrawn altogether. He never saw her, he rarely heard from her. His soul was afire with longing to be by her side, and yet he was detained here by miserable convention. One unguarded moment, one blundering action, and all the elaborate structure he had so prided himself upon, crumbled to the dust. He could put his hand on the weak place now, but then, so blind and besotted had he been, that he had never even recognised a weak place at all.

All this flashed before him as he sat in the dock between his two gaolers, and listened to the specious arguments in his favour that his counsel presented to the jury.

He knew it was so much waste of breath and fine words. He had known his case was hopeless from the moment that fatal bottle had been unearthed from its forgotten shelf, from the moment that Deborah Gray had calmly and judiciously endorsed her written records by her clear, unshaken evidence.

The impression she had made nothing could obliterate.

How he cursed now the folly that had made her his enemy, that had placed him in her power, even as once her blind trust and love for him had placed her in his.

That cool and masterly skill on which he had prided himself looked now the veriest blundering of a child. It had never occurred to him that anyone would doubt his wife had died from the after effects of typhoid, accelerated by the shock to her weak heart of that fright she had experienced on the night of her death. And all had gone so well—for a time. He had even lost any sense of fear, had never dreamed of post-mortems, or inquest, or inquiries. He had been so sure he was safe. He had blessed that fever for sealing Deborah Gray's lips, he had allowed himself such contempt for little, hysterical, warm-hearted Nell, and yet those two weak, despised women had overthrown the whole elaborate structure of his self-defence, had placed around his neck the noose that would hang him.

He started suddenly.

The voice of his counsel had ceased. There was a brief moment of silence. Then came a rustle of papers. The judge fixed his glasses, and raised his head and looked at him, and began his summing up of the case.

In comparison with the amount of evidence, and the number of witnesses, that summary was very brief, but it was long enough for one man's purgatory. He began by stating in the clearest terms the facts as they had been laid before the court by the various witnesses. Dismissing all that was irrelevant, he pointed out that the question of motive is of all others the question that has to be considered in all cases like the present. The accused lived on good terms with his wife, and no unkindness of any sort had been proved against him. This circumstance as being strongly in his favour, had been made the most of by the counsel for the defence. But a man may live on very amicable terms with his wife and yet love another woman, more brilliant, more beautiful, more fascinating, than his lawful partner. It is this lamentable human weakness that over and over again has led men to commit any sin, even any crime, in order to gratify their wishes. Had Mrs. Langrishe died from the effects of the fever, or from any accident, it would still have shown the worst possible taste for her husband to go to the altar with another woman in barely two months' time from the date of her decease. But when circumstances pointed clearly to his having again and again administered to this poor, trusting creature, medicines which were of the most harmful and dangerous kind, it gave to her opportune death a more important meaning and laid open to the gravest suspicions the man who, on the strength of his relationship, basely traded on his professional opportunities.

If it had not been for the suspicions of the nurse being aroused by her patient's rapid improvement on the discontinuance of his medicines, then in all probability the unfortunate woman would have gone to her doom, and no living soul would have suspected the cause. He felt compelled at this point to draw the attention of the jury to the fact that this special medicine had in every case been prepared by the accused. There was no prescription to trace, and no chemist to question. He had prepared the medicine in his own dispensary, and sent or given it to his wife with his own hands. His attempt in the first case had failed signally, and either he had taken fright or resolved to wait a more favourable opportunity. The outbreak of fever had seemed an interposition of Fate. He had awaited its issues, and even at the urgent persuasion of the nurse had called in another physician. The recovery of the poor woman, her delight and gratitude at returning health, had been read to them from the concise and admirable notes kept by Sister Gray. It was only fair to say that but for those records, and the keen observation of their clever author, the present case would have been attended with infinite difficulty. He then went on to the night of September 12, the strange determination of Dr. Langrishe to occupy the dressing-room, his rudeness to the two nurses, the supper, and the drugged coffee, as proved by the witness Bridget Lehane. The description in Nurse Nugent's diary of that night, and the strange sensations she had undergone, were almost too sensational for a court of justice. To use her own Words, they read like a nightmare, but the jury must use their own judgment in accepting or dismissing them from the chain of evidence. If the coffee had been drugged—and the condition of Deborah Gray, who had drunk her cupful at a draught—seemed to point to that fact, then Nurse Nugent's evidence was entirely credible. She had only taken half the quantity her friend had swallowed, and the result had been a partial deadening of the senses, overcome by strenuous effort, and at last relieved by Nature. Her sufferings, her terror, her courage, had all been laid bare, before them. There was no need for further comment.

Dr. Conolly had spoken of being called in just as the poor lady was expiring, of having heard the husband's account of the seizure, and seeing no reason to discredit it. He had known for long that Mrs. Langrishe was very delicate. He had heard of her attack of typhoid fever, and the plausible account given by her husband of the fright she had received that night after supper by seeing some figure on the lawn, had been received by him in perfect faith. Not for one moment had he doubted that Mrs. Langrishe's death was anything but a natural one, until the return of the accused from London, his anxiety to dispose of his practice, and property, and the startling change in himself. Yet, still, he was far from suspecting anything so terrible as these revelations until the man Whelan called upon him and declared he felt it a duty to lay before him certain facts that had come to his knowledge. From that moment Dr. Conolly knew no peace. It was an awful thing to accuse a man of so dastardly a crime, it was more awful still to keep the secret in his breast and stifle his awakened suspicions. He began to blame himself for that hasty concurrence with Dr. Langrishe. He began to acknowledge there should have been a post-mortem inquiry before the deceased lady was laid in her grave. At last he had laid his information before the authorities, with the result that the condition of the body fully entitled the gravest suspicions, more especially when the contents of the stomach were found to be entirely cleared away, thus verifying Nurse Nugent's narrative where she declared she heard the sound of the stomach-pump.

That one fact was the most weighty and important piece of evidence they had been offered. If the accused was innocent, if his wife had died that night, or rather morning of September 12, from natural causes, what reason was there for using the instrument spoken of?

He felt bound to call their attention to this fact, as it had struck him as the one thing that pointed most directly to the guilt of the accused man. There had been no explanation of it offered by the defence, in spite of its condemning character. They must weigh it in the balance with the medical evidence of the deceased's illness, as given by her husband, by Dr. Conolly, and by the certificate of death handed in to the registrar. The assertion of Dr. Langrishe that he had at different times prescribed arsenic in conjunction with other drugs for a certain complaint from which his wife suffered must also have its due weight with them, as it was a well known fact that arsenic always left some trace of itself in the system, and possessed the curious property of embalming, so to speak, the body that contained it. No medical man, however, would think of prescribing or giving arsenic to anyone just recovering from typhoid fever. But it had not been clearly proved that this was the poison given the deceased lady either in her coffee or by some other means, and then removed by use of the stomach-pump. As far as the evidence went no one could say what had been given, and indeed, were it not for the precaution taken of cleaning the stomach of its contents, it would have been exceedingly difficult to bring home this present charge against the accused. The fact, however, of the use of the stomach-pump, and the clear evidence of motive, were what the jury were bound to consider carefully and dispassionately. It was not a matter for sentiment, but for justice, and important as was the issue at stake they must be guided by justice only.

If, after duly and carefully considering the evidence laid before them, they entertained any doubt of the guilt of the accused, they were to give him the benefit of such doubt. If, on the other hand, they found no reason to believe him anything but guilty, they must bring in a verdict to that effect. If there was any point of law on which they desired information he would be happy to assist them. Then he dismissed them to their duty, and they retired forthwith.

* * * * * *

An hour passed.

An hour into whose sixty moments were crowded such horror and dread as only the guilty know, an hour in which a human life hung in the balance, when even thought was suspended by expectation, and people talked in whispers, or glanced with awestruck faces at that closed door behind which the jury were debating their verdict.

At the expiration of that hour they returned. The prisoner was brought up once more. The usual question was put:

'Do you find the prisoner at the bar guilty or not guilty?'

And over the breathless stillness came that one awful word which, hoping against hope, James Langrishe told himself he would not hear.

'Guilty.'

The judge put on the black cap and addressed the prisoner with that awful formula which once heard can never be forgotten.

As the last sentence fell from his lips, 'And there be hanged by the neck till you are dead, and may God have mercy on your soul,' a wild sobbing cry burst from a woman's lips. The prisoner's despairing eye saw a figure in the well known nurse's dress sway forwards, and then all grew dark and black before him as his own soul, and he was supported from the dock by his gaolers into that awful van and back to that lonely cell whence he should never issue, a free or innocent man, to face the light of day.


CHAPTER XL.

There was a new sound to James Langrishe in that clang of the closing gates, that quick harsh rattle of the turning keys. There was a new horror for him in the faces of the warders as they looked the curiosity they dared not express. The little patch, the sky above, the high, white walls spoke to him with the voice of liberty for ever forfeited. The beautiful tame peacocks perched on the stone balustrade seemed to shrink aside as he stumbled through the doorway. He never saw those regal birds but he thought of the morning when he had watched Di Ffolliott feed them on the sunny lawn of Durries. The cold whiteness of the interior struck him with a deadly chill. It seemed as if, already, he stood in a huge sepulchre hewn and made ready by his own hands.

It was a Saturday, and the prisoners were all busily cleaning down passages and staircases; scrubbing, polishing, with cheerful alacrity, as he had seen them doing during those weeks of suspense. Was it only his fancy that even these criminals and outcasts shrank aside, that the questioning of their eyes turned to horror as they read on his face the one most awful word that any language holds—'Murderer!'

The two warders hurried him along and into his own cell in that long white corridor. How ghastly it looked with those plank beds upturned, the folded clothes, the utter bareness and cleanliness that made its sole beauty.

He sank down on the wooden stool, his only seat. No one spoke to him. The men conversed softly with each other. He knew they were counting the moments when they would be relieved and could leave him to his night guardians and talk freely of the incidents of the trial.

It was awful—ghastly—unendurable!

He wondered what possible mercy lay in any suspense. He would rather have gone straight from the dock to the gallows than linger on here for a week or a month, as the case might be—watching the leaden-footed hours drift by, laid aside from all the living, pulsing world outside those iron-barred gates, as dead to all his fellow-mortals as if the unhallowed earth were already cast above his head.

He turned aside from those two watchful guardians. They had removed his shackles, and he covered his face with his hands, and looked into his heart at last with eyes that were no longer heedless of the doom so recklessly challenged. He saw that scene again as if it had been photographed on his brain.

The crowded court. The murky daylight. The gleam of crimson from the judge's robes. The bewigged heads nodding and consulting at every stage of the trial. The white face and stern dark eyes of Deborah Gray, and then, last and saddest of all, that lovely woeful face of the woman for whom he had lost his soul! Would she come to him, he wondered, now that she knew the worst, or would she regard him now and henceforth with the horror that his crime demanded and none of the pity that his love might have awakened. If it were she who had sinned, he thought, he would have haunted her prison gates and dared all, done all, that man could do to save her, and then, when her last hope failed, would have thrown away his life at the same moment she forfeited hers.

But this was a man's love, and woman's was but a poor, pale thing in comparison. In all this weary time she had made no sign, sent no word. Perhaps he would go to his doom unnoticed still, and yet he knew that to have seen her face once more, touched her hand, no matter how many watchful eyes were round them, he would have forfeited every hope of earth or heaven.

The cell grew dark as the daylight closed. The little gas jet gleamed up behind its thick glass window. He could look at but not touch it, yet its bright gleam often comforted him in this comfortless place. They brought him food, and he took it mechanically, and then tried to read! But the letters swam before him. He could make no sense or meaning of the printed page on which his eyes were fixed.

He tried hard to realise what thing this was that had come to pass. . . . He tried to believe in that sentence of death. But yet he could not believe in it; could not picture the grim reality behind those few brief words, 'And may God have mercy on your soul!'

His soul . . . his? What was it? What did he know of it? What thought had he ever given to its existence or welfare? None whatever. What did it mean to him now? Nothing, and less than nothing.

He looked at the little shelf on which were placed his pewter mug and horn spoon, and that regulation Bible. He had never opened it, or even looked at it, in all these weeks of suspense and anxiety. Should he begin now?

He thought of the chaplain's grave remonstrances, of his own scoffing words. And so brief a time now in which to repent, or to prove them. A grim smile came to his lips. He rose and went to the little shelf and took up the book.

The warders watched him in surprise. He dragged his stool near the little square of light, and began turning over the leaves indifferently. Suddenly his eyes fell on some words. They had been scored under with pencil, perhaps by some other hopeless prisoner, facing as he faced the closing tragedy of life.

'The soul that sinneth it shall die.'

That was what he read.

'The soul that sinneth!'

Well, he had sinned as few men sin. Sinned willingly, wilfully, mercilessly; and this was the fate of his soul—death. Not the physical death that his body would know, not the mere ceasing to exist which is the fate of all humanity, but the hopeless, eternal death of the sinner who has defied his Maker, and sees himself confronted by a judge, stern, implacable; just, with the awful justice that must abide by its own decrees.

He closed the book and put it aside.

But the words would not be put aside. They rang in his ears, they echoed in his heart. They haunted his restless sleep, and flitted through his dreams. 'The soul that sinneth it shall die.' No hope, no rest, no mercy. He had staked that soul on a mad passion—and lost. The devil would have his due. There was no chance of cheating him.

* * * * * *

To a prisoner whose days are numbered a certain number of privileges are granted. He may write and read. He may receive visits from friends. He is not obliged to do any work, and even his food may be of a better kind, if he desire it.

But never for a single moment, night or day, is he alone, and not even to his nearest and dearest on earth can he speak one word that is not the common property of his watchful gaolers.

Novelists and dramatists have taken many liberties, and invented many pleasing little fictions with regard to prisons and prisoners. The condemned cell and the affecting interview have played their part in many tragic scenes, but they are widely different from the grim reality.

No prisoner is allowed to receive any visitor in his cell, not if he were a prince, or a peer; neither would he be permitted to speak to them alone, though it were his last hour on earth. Once the law takes him into its charge he has to submit to the stern unvarying discipline it has organised. He ceases to be an independent being. He is only one item in a community, obeying the same rules, and following the same routine, for a longer or a shorter period.

It is more than probable that if any relative or friend of a condemned man knew in what guise they would see him, and how utterly impossible private speech or interview is made, they would deny themselves the melancholy pleasure of a last farewell and forego the privilege of gazing through one grated cage into another equally guarded, and between which and themselves stands the watchful warder of the unfortunate criminal.

This is a reality that the imaginative novelist never seems to take into consideration. It would hamper description too much, and put a stop to the harrowing scenes that draw tears from the reader's eyes, by reason of their utter unlikeness to the truth.

Probably, had Deborah Gray known what a last interview with one whose life is forfeited by his country's laws really meant, she would not have begged, prayed, and besieged the necessary authorities in order to obtain it. But she did not know. She, too, thought only of the condemned cell, the closed door (outside of which stands the compassionate gaolor of fiction), the privilege of free speech, all in fact that has been written or described of such scenes.

She faced the grim reality in the wet grey gloom of a winter morning, a few days after James Langrishe's sentence.

It was a strange thing that all the desire for revenge, all the horror and hatred, seemed to have died out of her heart from the moment she had seen the black cap put on by the judge, and heard those awful words—'And there be hanged by the neck till you are dead!'

Hanged by the neck!

All through that night she seemed to hear those words ringing in her ears. All through those long wakeful hours she paced to and fro, seeing only that face of despair set in rigid calm, thinking only that round that neck about which her fond arms had once twined themselves, the hangman's noose would soon be knotted.

And she had done this.

She had persuaded Nell to keep that fatal diary, she had watched with jealous eyes his every action, she had asked the very questions that had set that servant girl gossiping to her sweetheart, she had sent to Dr. Conolly the carefully kept records of those days at Knockminoss. True, it had been her duty to do all this, to protect the innocent, and bring the guilty to justice, but now she looked at her hands with shuddering horror, seeming to see in them the knotted rope that would send a human soul to meet its awful doom.

On the morning when the order she had craved and begged was handed to her, she sat for full an hour gazing at it, trying to make up her mind to use it, yet repelled by a shrinking horror of what use might mean. It might be a month before the sentence would be executed. There would be time and to spare for the use of that order, but her duties called her back to London, and she knew that once she left this country there would be little chance of her returning.

For ever henceforth in her mind would the Emerald Isle be associated with the gruesome horrors of this trial. Once the wild waters of the channel rolled between her and it, she would never care to cross them again.

She made up her mind suddenly, but decidedly. She said nothing to anyone but called a covered car, the hearse-like vehicle she abhorred, and drove through grey mist and drenching rain from the city along the dreary western road to the great iron gates of the county gaol, where James Langrishe awaited the execution of his sentence.


CHAPTER XLI.

The bell gave forth a hollow clang, a little panel slipped hack, and a warder's face looked out. Deborah Gray showed her order, and the gate was unlocked, and the man examined it.

Then she entered. The door was locked behind her, and she followed her conductor up a steep gravel pathway, past the governor's house, and up to another gate set in the high white walls of the prison boundary.

Here her conductor rang a bell and then gave her into the care of a second warder, who opened the gate, and she found herself in the grounds of the prison. At the entrance stood another warder. To the left was the governor's office. Close to it, and perched on the low stone balustrade, were the two peacocks that James Langrishe had remarked with so swift a pang of memory.

Deborah found herself gazing at the building with a strange fascination. She could see into the interior, so white and clean, and in such marvellous order. It reminded her of some great ship, with its tiers of cell doors, its stairways, and netted ropes stretched hammock-wise at every point of danger, its rows of fire buckets, its regular passages stretching right and left from the main entrance.

After she had waited a few moments a stout, pleasant-faced warder approached. He held her order in his hand.

'You wish to see Dr. Langrishe, miss?' he asked.

'Yes,' she said.

He looked keenly at her pale, dark face, her nurse's costume. This, doubtless, was the wonderful nurse about whose evidence the papers were full, about whom the prisoner's attendants had spoken.

'Will you follow me?' he said, and he went down the steps and into the gravel courtyard. A narrow path, wet and miry now from the falling rain, ran along between two walls, those of the prison yard and the chapel. She passed a little gateway opening into a small gravelled space, at the end of which stood a small square building, with a pointed glass skylight let into the roof.

She asked no questions. Perhaps it was as well she did not know what dread thing that insignificant little building held, or that from the narrow gateway she had just passed James Langrishe would take his last look at earth and sky.

The pleasant looking warder stopped before a wooden door, at which the pathway ended. He unlocked this, and motioned to Deborah to step within. She found herself in a passage, fenced by a strong wire grating. It looked into a still narrower passage, a mere strip, so to speak, also grated, and beyond that was a small boarded chamber, containing a solitary chair. It had two doors. One led into the narrow passage, behind which the warder bade her stand; the other——

She had scarcely time to speculate as to where that led, when there came the harsh grating of a key in the lock, and, still guarded by his two gaolers, James Langrishe stepped through the open doorway and faced her through the double barriers.

One of the men retired. The other took up his place in that narrow passage that divided the prisoner and his visitor from even the possibility of a handshake.

Awestruck, and pale as death, Deborah Gray looked at the watchful gaoler.

'Must I stay here?' she said faintly. 'Can I not stand where you are?'

'No, miss,' he said, not unkindly. 'I have my orders, and these are the rules. Whatever you have to say must be said from there.'

'Why did you come here at all,' demanded James Langrishe, fiercely. 'You've done your worst. You and your spies did their duty well. Had I known it was you——'

He stopped abruptly. She saw his lips quiver. She knew then whom he had expected.

'James,' she said, gravely, 'I came to say goodbye—to tell you that in all this matter I have only been the instrument of Fate. I never breathed a word of my suspicions. I locked those books away. I said I would make no sign, breathe no word. And I did not. Yet I felt all the same my reticence would not protect you. It was not from me the first whisper came, and it is not just to harbour revengeful feelings now.'

'I made you my enemy,' he said, gloomily. 'What could I expect from you in return?'

'I forgave all that,' she said, 'and no provocation would have made me speak.'

He half-turned aside. He could not bear that she should look at him with those pitying eyes—should see and compassionate his degradation.

There was something ghastly in the last act of the drama he had played so recklessly, something horrible in the idea that the woman he had so ruthlessly wronged should alone remember him in its closing scenes. Had they been alone—but not even that privilege was allowed. Not though she had been the woman he loved instead of the woman he hated.

'There is nothing to be said between us,' he muttered. 'I hope my time will be short; that much mercy, at least, they might give.'

'Is there anything you wish? Anything I can do or say for you?' she asked, and the tears sprang to her eyes as the haggard misery of his face was turned to her once more.

'You can spare me any moral claptrap,' he said, bitterly. 'I know my fate, and I shall meet it without flinching. Confessions are for weak fools, or men with a conscience. I am not the one, and I don't ever remember possessing the other. If we are to entertain each other for 15 minutes I feel at a loss for an entertaining subject. But don't let me have tears or texts for mercy's sake. I found one to comfort myself with last night. It preached a more eloquent sermon than any the chaplain has favoured me with. As for messages—have you brought one!'

She noted the eager flash of his eyes, the sudden hope in his face.

'No, James,' she said, gently. 'It may be sent through another source. I have only come to say farewell, and to tell you that I have forgiven—all.'

There was silence for a space. He pushed aside the chair and clasped his hands behind his back, and moved restlessly to and fro.

'So you can say that, now?' he said, at last. 'How death softens you women! I suppose I'm as good as dead,' and his harsh laugh broke across the narrow space and made her shudder.

'James,' she entreated, 'I don't want to preach. God knows I'm no saint, but——. . . . I pray you may meet death in a better frame of mind. Have you no thought of that poor woman—no fear you may meet her?'

'No,' he said, bitterly. 'If what priests say be true, we shall be far enough apart. When the tree is felled by the axe, it lies where it fell. It does not blossom into fresh leafage. And when the axe of Fate felled me, there I lay, and lie. Life looks but a vague shadow, and in the heaven of sects and fanatics I don't believe. I left the valley of superstition behind me long ago.'

Again silence fell between them. The warder thought it was the strangest conversation to which he had ever played the part of listener.

'And you are not—afraid?' she said, faintly, breaking the silence with a sudden memory of Time's swift passage.

His laugh held scorn and bitterness, but no fear.

'No,' he said. 'I go to prove a delusion, or find a reality. I can abide by either issue. Surely you did not think a thing like this would change me?'

She shuddered involuntarily. Her grave, dark eyes grew misty, and for a moment she clung to the railing by which she stood, as if for support.

'James,' she cried wildly, 'was there not some one else who—Oh! I can't say it. It sounds the wildest folly! James, how will you meet—that other?'

'What other?' he asked sharply.

'I—I cannot tell you now,' she said, and she looked at the warder's impassive face. 'Will they allow you to receive a letter?'

'Yes,' he said. 'But it must be opened before the authorities. They are so afraid that the law may be cheated of its due,' and again he laughed, 'that they live in terror of any kindly assistance hastening that sentence. However, I am permitted to read letters, so if you have anything to tell me, Deborah——'

She clasped her hands involuntarily.

'Yes,' she said, 'I have. . . . But you will not believe it, James. It will sound to you more wildly improbable than any effort of fiction. Will you answer me one question?'

'Yes,' he said.

'Do you know who it was that everyone said haunted that hill near Knockminoss?'

'I never paid any attention to that folly,' he answered indifferently. 'No, I heard no name. Don't tell me that you——'

'It was Moll Duggan's daughter,' she said; and she saw his face change at last, as it had never changed even during that ordeal in the court.

The warder lifted his head.

'Time's up,' he said.

Deborah Gray shuddered. Involuntarily she pressed closer to the grating.

'May I not shake hands?' she implored. 'It will be the last time.'

'Take off your gloves then,' said the man, 'and let me see your hands are empty.'

She obeyed, and threw back her long cloak, and let him examine her cuffs. Then she passed into his strip of passage and faced the condemned man with but one line of division.

The warder unlocked the door and took his place beside his prisoner. The two cold hands met in a farewell clasp more awful and more eloquent than if death had stood in real truth beside them, for they shook hands across a living grave whose only memories would be sin and shame.

'Will you write what you meant?' he whispered, hoarsely.

She bent her head. She could not speak for a moment. He released her hand. He heard the key turn in the lock outside.

'God pity you. God pardon you!' fell from Deborah's white lips.

Then the door between them was ruthlessly closed, the outer one was opened, and she saw him led away by his gaolers, even as her own summons sounded.

With blind eyes and stumbling feet she hurried on past that fatal gateway which James Langrishe would enter, but through which he would never return a living man.

Across the wet gravel, past that white and cheerful entrance, where still the gaudy peacocks strutted to and fro, past a group of prisoners going to work with the cheerful alacrity of 'short terms,' and on and on like one in a dream, with the jingle of keys and the clang of closing barriers still in her ears, till the last was passed, and she raised her tear-wet face to the weeping skies above, and silently prayed God's pity on the man who had so grievously wronged her youth!


CHAPTER XLII.

'Deborah,—This will be the last letter my hand will pen, and I write it here in my cell, knowing that now my hours are numbered. Of all the human puppets who have played their part in my life, of all whom I have loved, and wronged, despised, and hated, you are the only woman for whom I have had any respect. Does that sound strange?

'It is true. For even when I wronged you most you stood far above me. It was impossible to lower you to my level. You made your way and won your position, as you said you would, and you are loved and honoured, while I—who left you to the fate of others, treated in like fashion—I am the football Fate has chosen to kick into the pit of perdition. Deborah, I have read your letter many times. You say truly you were but an instrument in the hand of Destiny. I believe you are too noble for revenge, but not too noble for hate. Well, I deserved your hate, and yet you say you have forgiven me. I am not going to make any confession to you. You have heard my story, and your keen eye read my secret long ago. Why should I rail at fate any longer. "The soul that sins shall die," so I read, and so I believe; and why should I whine and cry like a whipped child? You can't change a man's nature because you show him what that nature has led him to do. I suppose mine was bad always. If there ever was a grain of good in it you found it out, but even you could not force it to a larger growth. It lay, fallow, and rotted, and—died.

'But to go back to your letter.

'It is all quite true, Deborah. I mention no names, even, like yourself. Strange that your hands should have closed her eyes, your ears heard those threatening words. If she is to be my welcomer when once I cross the boundary between my world and hers, I have an enviable time before me! And yet what better do I deserve? What should I and such as I do in the Christian's Heaven? I ask it in all seriousness of you as I asked it of the chaplain here, who prates of mercy and of pardon for repentant sinners! What use would harp of gold, and robe of white, and songs of praise, be to me? Surely, what is myself must remain as it is. Death, that parts it from the body that held it, cannot part it from what I know and feel it is!

'I sit here with cold, dry eyes, and ask it of myself calmly and dispassionately. Do you remember our wild talks in my student days, and yet you came out unscathed from that fire, Deborah, and you are a good woman, and I—no need to write it. My sentence is just. I am not unhappy. I am not afraid. I think, if I feel anything at all, it is a strange, cold curiosity as to what I shall be, and where I shall be before this time to-morrow? I feel so full of life and strength now. Shall I sleep to-night? They say criminals always do, don't they? How glad these men will be when they need no longer watch, and guard my every action. What strange duties the crimes of one-half the world leave to be performed by the other half! After all, I lived my life, the best of us can do no more. Am I sorry for my sins, I wonder, or only for their consequences? That is the test, Deborah. If we escape the consequences we never trouble about the sin. Existence is but a witch's cauldron, and the bubbles in it are human lives that seethe and glow and burst, while the old hag, Fate, stirs and stirs it round, and chuckles grimly over each catastrophe.

'Are you wondering that I can write like this? Are you grieved in your good, honest fashion, that I do not make a more Puritanical ending of my last hours? A time of prayers and tears, and Bible reading, and penitence? Surely you know me better than that, Deborah. You, to whom I once showed all my naked soul! What strange heights we reached in our speculations! What curious points arose between us, and how we talked, and how you loved me! No other woman loved me as you did, or tried to lead me to better things.

'And now it has come to goodbye to all things earthly, and I am calm and cold, and seem not to care one whit for that fact. I think of you as I saw you last, and wonder why your memory is the one strong, clean, wholesome thing to which I turn? For I gave you but little love, and you have no reason to pity me, or shed one tear for my fate. But you do, and you will, for you are one of those women who do not forget. You do not love out your love; and have done. It lives in your great, strong, womanly soul, turned from an earthly channel into other and more unselfish ones. You will be always a personality; an element of use, help, strength, no matter where you go, among whom you labour.

'But I think you will never love again, Deborah, and to-night I can find it in my heart to be glad of that.

'Well, it has come to be good-bye. This is my last sheet of paper. My gaolers are weary, I think, of the rustling of the sheets, of the scratching of my pen. I wonder if you know, Deborah, that to-morrow's dawn is the last that I shall see? I pray the sky may not be blue. I would like to go out to bold grey gloom, leaving nothing to regret except the sin that now demands its price—the life of James Langrishe.'


* * * * * *

When Deborah Gray received the letter, it was Nell's wedding morn. The hand that had penned it was but cold clay. It lay against her breast while she kissed the young bride's blushing face, and heard the organ's swell, and the chiming of glad bells!

And that day the sky was blue, and the sunshine bright.

She wondered where that soul had wandered to—which of his victims had greeted him. Had they forgiven, as she forgave? Was that other world untrammelled by the narrow prejudices of this? She gave a short, sobbing sigh as the carriage drove on.

'What is it? What has distressed you?' asked the voice of Geoffrey Masterman, beside her.

But she could not tell him of a vision that she saw—lying deep, deep in the cold clay of a prison grave. She could not say that only for one moment's power to lift the veil of the hereafter she would have bartered all her future.

For a moment sorrow made her heart weak; weak even amidst the joy and mirth and festivity of the happily concluded Hospital Romance.

For a moment she thought only of hell and judgment, and the terrors of the unknown, which that strange nature had so callously faced. He who had once said to her, 'Love, enjoy, claim all that is best of life. Immortality is but annihilation. Death ends all.'

Had it ended all for him?

Surely, surely, the sting of Death is not to know what it ends—what it brings.

The carriage stopped. She saw a gay, striped awning, crimson cloth, moving figures, happy faces. Here was life beginning—a thing of joy, and hope, love that was to be eternal!

And at her breast lay cold and heavy something that spoke of life ended.

* * * * * *

'How pale you are, and how quiet, Debbie, dear,' said a soft voice in her ear. 'Come, put off that grave face. I am going to cut the cake.'



THE END.



Transcriber's Notes:

(1)

Article from The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 - 1939) 19 February 1898:

"Rita's" latest novel, "The Sinner," has had three other titles before it settled down into its present name. It was first called "The Mills of the Gods," but the authoress found this name had been already taken. It was next called "A Man of Evil," and it ran through the country papers under the title of "The Confessions of a Hospital Nurse."

(2)

The Extract from Longfellow's 'Retribution' at the beginning of this story did not appear in the published book, but only in the newspaper series entitled "The Grinding Mills of God."

(3)

Article from The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946) 27 August 1898:

NEW NOVELS.

"Rita's" new story, "The Sinner" (London, Hutchinson and Co.) opens rather well, with a description of a nurse's life in a large London hospital, but it gradually drifts off into into a sensation novel of the Wilkie Collins Type, in which extracts from a diary kept by one of the characters and a statement by another are embodied in the narrative.

There are two nurses, Nellie Nugent and Deborah Gray, both of whom have been unfortunate in their love affairs, and are therefore indisposed to receive the advances of a fresh lover. The improbabilities begin with the advent of a patient suffering from fever, who, when he is recovering, falls in love with Nellie. A wealthy uncle of his from Colorado (those western states of America, with their rapidly made fortunes, are quite a godsend to the novelist), turns up at the right moment, so that Dick Barrymore, who is an author and a journalist, becomes a very eligible wooer, but Nellie will not listen to him, and finding the hospital work too heavy for her, takes a position as nurse to Mrs. Langrishe, a doctor's wife, who is in delicate health.

The scene then shifts to Knockminoss-house, Youghal, in Ireland, the residence of the Langrishes, where a tragedy is fast developing. Dr. Langrishe, who turns out to be the man who has jilted Deborah and embittered the rest of her life, has married for money, and is slowly poisoning his wife in order that he may marry a beautiful widow, Lady Ffolliott. Nellie sets herself to thwart this criminal design, with the assistance of Deborah, with what success we must leave the reader to find out.

As a sensational story "The Sinner" is fairly up to the average of its class, but we had hoped for something better. A truthful picture of the life of a hospital nurse would have been a welcome novelty, but "Rita" (Mrs. Humphreys) has preferred to give us a story such as a score of living writers can do as well or better. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of Irish scenery, which are vivid and picturesque.


THE END

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