Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership


Title: Petticoat Loose
Author:  "Rita" (Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1701021.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2017
Date last updated: October 2017

Produced by: Maurie and Lyn Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online at
http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html

To contact Project Gutenberg Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au

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

PETTICOAT LOOSE.


By


"RITA,"

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

Author of "The sinner," "Kitty the Rag," "Peg the Rake," "A Woman in
It," "A Husband of No Importance," "Master Wilberforce," "Darby and
Joan," "Sinless Secret," "The Man in Possession," "Two Bad, Blue Eyes,"
&c., &c.


Published in book form in 1898 by Hutchinson & Co., London, and
in serial form under the title 'A DAUGHTER OF THE PEOPLE' in The
Australian Star (Sydney, N.S.W.) commencing 7 Sept., 1898, (this text),
and in numerous other Australian Newspapers of the time, as well as in
The Blackburn Standard (Blackburn, England), Saturday, October 1, 1898.




CHAPTER I.

The "Ring" was shouting itself hoarse. The great race of the day was
coming on. Anxious faces surveyed the beautiful, restless creatures
held by indifferent grooms, and on whom so much depended.

A crowd of women and men had poured from the grandstand into the
paddock, and the yells of the "bookies" and the buzzing murmurs of
the bettors seemed to thrill the warm September air with a strange
excitement. Last instructions were given to the jockeys, as they
tried a stirrup or drew the reins in a firmer grip. One or two
nodded with light-hearted recklessness. Not one glanced at sky or
sunshine with any foreboding of what risk lay behind that frantic
gallop--those furze-banks and hurdles--that wide water jump which was
to tax the finishing power of horse and man. Not one. Not even Pat
Rooney--reckless, maddest, and most dare-devil of all that reckless
lot. He settled his orange and black cap on his chestnut curls, his
blue eyes laughed at the anxious inquiring face beside him.

"It will be all right, sir, never fear. The horse isn't foaled yet that
can beat Kilmorran. There, can't yer honour be aisy, for once? We'll
win--or----"

A jerk at the rein--an impatient movement of the bright bay he was
riding--cut short his words. He cantered on to take his place at the
starting-post. To the left stretched the wide meadows crowded with the
itinerant mob, the idle loafers, the motley mass of men, women, and
children, never absent from an Irish racecourse.

Pat Rooney's eyes swept the crowd with a questioning glance. Suddenly
his white teeth showed in a brilliant smile. The horse curvetted and
reared as he waved one hand in greeting. A girl leaning against the
dividing rails answered the smile and the hand-wave.

"He looks grand, doesn't he, Mickey?" she said, eagerly.

She spoke to a short, hunchbacked man by her side. A man with a sharp
cut face and eager eyes, and a brow for ever crowned with gloom. The
lightning gleams of the eyes were constantly subdued by the cloud
on the broad, sun-tanned brow, beneath which they looked out on a
churlish world. Nature had handicapped him at the start in life's
race, and he could not forgive her, or be otherwise than resentful
and bitter to a humanity that was better favoured than himself. To be
pushed aside, ridiculed, condemned, does not tend to sweeten a nature
already sensitive and ambitious and full of tender yearnings. Michael
Croom had led a strange life. It looked to him like a patched and
multi-colored fabric what time he gave himself up to the contemplation
of the past. He had played so many parts, fallen on such vicissitudes
of fortune, and he was so far down on the ladder that previous dreams
of ascent looked the veriest mockery. He was now only the "handy man"
of a travelling photographic show--a thing that hailed from the land
of stars and stripes and was owned by a woman, and "run" by a woman,
and had secured and attached him to itself by means of promises, and an
occasional advance of salary when business was good. The owner of the
show was an Americanised Irishwoman; a creature of shrewd intelligence,
unlimited enterprise, and indifferent morality. She had a fair show of
good looks, a loud voice and a violent temper. It was her niece who
stood beside the hunchback and waved her hand to the handsome jockey.

"Oh, but he's fine to-day!" she went on. "He's bound to win, isn't he,
Mickey? Why don't you answer? Ah, he's gone now like a flash! Is this a
good place to watch them, Mickey?"

"Good enough," said the man, sulkily. "You'll see the finish. They go
twice round the course."

"Do you mean to take the water jump twice?" gasped the girl, in sudden
fright. "Oh, it's cruel, it's awful. They shouldn't be let."

A sardonic smile parted the hunchback's lips.

"Races are always cruel," he said. "Cruel on horse and man, on rider
and owner. But what of that--isn't all sport cruel? Waste o' life,
health, and money? 'A hell-hound that doth hunt us all to death? A foul
defacer of God's handiwork?'"

"Is that Richard III, again?" asked the girl with a faint smile. "Oh,
Mickey, look. There are the two Englishmen who were photographed this
morning. They see us. They're coming here. Now, do be civil, if you
can."

"Why should I be civil?" he asked doggedly. "They're none too polite to
me. And as for you, Brianna----"

He paused abruptly. The girl's hand was on his arm. He felt the
electric thrill of that light touch through all his veins.

"They're off!" she cried, in an excited hysterical whisper, and he
turned his eyes to the starting place, and then stood perfectly still,
watching that curving line of colour as it swept along the course.

On they came, neck and neck in that first round, so evenly were they
matched. On, and over the hurdles, the furze bank. A blanket could have
covered the nine who were in the race. On, and over the water, while
the spectators held their breath and the loud pants of the galloping
horses echoed on a silence of suspense. On--still on--lost to sight
now as the girl's straining eyes gazed into the green distance. The
line broke, it became straggling; the terrible pace, the stiff leaps
began to tell on straining muscle and panting hearts. The flash of
colour ceased to blend into a harmonious whole. Green and white, orange
and black, crimson, blue, yellow, violet, stood out in separate blots
against the emerald background.

Three abreast now. Three--and one the orange and black of Kilmorran's
jockey. A hoarse about broke from the crowd.

"Kilmorran wins. Go it, Pat Rooney. Shure, didn't I say Pat was the boy
for my money!"

The girl's face turned white as death, and her hand gripped the arm of
the hunchback with a force that hurt him.

Another leap. The horse rose like a bird. Then . . . . What was it?
A swerve? A pressure from the jockey behind him? None could tell;
but a figure fell to the ground beyond the hurdle, and the hoof of
Kilmorran's rival crushed the orange and black cap, while Kilmorran
himself, free and riderless, swept on and leaped the water-jump and
passed the winning-post--alone.

"A jockey off." "What's happened?" "Is it kilt he is?" So the voices
buzzed and clamoured, as the crowd broke, and men rushed in and bore
off a stiff and bleeding figure that a moment before had been all life,
and nerve and motion.

The blue sky held no cloud, the sunshine smiled, and cries of triumph
and the smothered curses at loss and defeat arose sounded the requiem
of a dying soul. With a gasp of agony Pat Rooney's blue eyes looked up
through mists of pain and death to the blue heavens that now seemed so
strangely, strangely near.

"Kilmorran's not beaten," he whispered. "Not--beaten."

Then the curtain of an endless night fell between him and the living
world beyond.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Brianna stood like a stone statue, her straining eyes fixed on that
fatal spot.

"Faith, that was a bad fall," muttered the hunchback, as he turned to
look at her white face. "Poor Pat. I'm thinking he's ridden his last
race this time."

"What happened? Could you see?" asked an eager voice.

It came from one of the young Englishmen whom Brianna had remarked.
They had been standing near her during the race, but she had been too
absorbed to notice their proximity.

Michael Croom turned his frowning face towards them.

"Only a jockey thrown," he answered. "Maybe he's not much hurt. It's
not his first spill, I know. I'll go and ask about him."

He turned abruptly away. The Englishman looked at Brianna's white face
and staring eyes with a sense of wonder. They had made acquaintance
that morning at the caravan. A few idle jests and compliments, a
sense of her wonderful beauty and its wonderful unfitness to her
surroundings, had impressed him. Now he was absolutely startled by the
tragic sorrow of her eyes as they met his own.

"Is anything the matter? Are you ill?" he asked, and instinctively he
drew nearer.

She began to tremble suddenly. Then she raised one hand to her head and
pushed back the black sailor hat that hid her rich-hued hair. Her eyes
seemed to dilate and then grow dewy with tears that would not fall. Her
lips quivered like that of a grieved child. Grief lent her an aspect at
once youthful and appealing.

Max Lorrimer gazed at her, and every pulse of young manhood stirred in
sympathy with her beauty and grief.

"Tell me, my child," he said, tenderly. "Let me help you."

Then the tears fell in large heavy drops, and a great sob burst from
her throat.

"Oh, Pat, Pat!" she cried. "Oh, my heart, my darlin'! Oh, what shall I
do without you! No one to speak a kind word, no one to love me; and not
a moment ago it seems that you waved your hand and I saw you smile--and
now----"

She buried her face in her hands, and shook from head to foot.

"Don't grieve so," pleaded her would-be comforter. "He mayn't be
killed, after all. Lots of jockeys are thrown, you know, and they only
break a collar-bone, or a rib, or something. Perhaps Pat, as you call
him, has done the same."

She shook her head. The heavy clusters of her hair fell about her brow
and ears. She turned away from the handsome, eager young face, and
gazed sadly at the distant course.

Already the accident was forgotten--already the swaying crowd of
well-dressed women and men had descended from their various seats and
were hastening to the enclosure where the exhausted riders and panting
horses were standing, or dismounting. Kilmorran's owner, his face set
in grim hard lines, was standing by his horse. The animal had won the
race but won it disqualified by the absence of his jockey.

It was hard on Desmond Mayne, already up to his ears in debts and
difficulties. It was hard on many others who had backed the favourite
to the full extent of limited banking accounts. And it had been such a
near thing! That point of aggravation was on every tongue.

A woman, well known to racing circles, raised the point as to whether
the horse or the jockey ran the race. It certainly was the former
who was entered, and on whom the odds were laid and the bets made.
Therefore, she maintained with perverse feminine logic, that if
the horse won it didn't matter about the jockey. The question of
weight did not seem to trouble her argument or enter into it. She
had lost a great deal more money than she could afford to lose, and
the fate of the unfortunate jockey left her unmoved. Nowhere does
the innate selfishness of human nature show itself more plainly than
at a race meeting. Risk of life, money, honour, nay, death itself,
are disregarded for the time being--swept ruthlessly aside in the
excitement of that feverish moment on which so much is staked, so much
is lost. The faces tell their own story. It is not always a pleasant
one.

Max Lorrimer stood there silently by the side of the girl whose
acquaintance he had only made that morning. His friend had strolled
on. They had tickets for the stand, but races were no novelty, and
they were "doing Ireland" in a fashion that held preference for the
study of the Irishman in congenial surroundings. Hence their choice of
the meadows that faced the enclosure and the stand, where the crowd
indulged in humours of its own particular kind, and made it's own bets,
and gave vent to its own fancies and expressed its own opinions with
that delightful candour so dear to the Irish soul.

Voices were discussing the accident to Pat Rooney. He was well known,
and a general favourite. As yet no one knew that his fall had cost him
his life. The girl listened eagerly, drinking in hope from that rough
good-humour and buoyancy that try so often to disarm sorrow.

Max Lorrimer encouraged her to be less despondent. Beauty in distress
had a certain charm, but beauty buoyant in life and hope and witchery,
pleased him a thousand times more. Besides, he wanted her to talk to
him--to hear her history. That morning he had seen her sitting on the
steps of the wooden "house on wheels" which its owner had informed him
was just "the natest and complatest and cunningest of its kind" ever
made. She had herself planned it, and had it built according to her
designs. It was her hobby, her delight. In it she could laugh to scorn
the question of "rint," or locality, the call of the tax-collector and
the intrusion of rates, and their representatives. Her long sojourn in
the States had impressed her with the glories of freedom, and when she
returned to her native land she gave all who would listen the benefit
of her opinions. It was on this visit that she discovered she possessed
a relative in an orphan niece--a wild slip of a girl, beautiful and
untutored, with little prospect in life before her, and yet a certain
handiness and capability that might be turned to account.

Her aunt resolved to turn them to her account and that of the show. She
annexed the girl, as she had annexed the hunchback. They worked, and
she directed. She was imperious and iron-headed. She drove her slaves
mercilessly. The lash of her tongue could sting and smart; but at times
she was kind and reasonable enough, and the girl was fairly happy. The
"show," as its owner, Sally Dunne, called it, was well-known throughout
the country towns, racecourses and seaside resorts of Ireland. So was
the girl, with her wild hair, her untidy garments, and her strange
beauty.

"Shure, 'tis Sally Dunne's show," the people would say. And they
would crowd round for a gossip and spend to the value of threepence
or sixpence on the marvels of Instantaneous Photography. Mrs. Dunne
would photograph, develop and frame them--all in the space of five
minutes; at any time, or in any weather. She hung a large signboard
outside the caravan, announcing herself as "The Marvellous American
Female Photographiste. Patronised by Royalty and all the Celebrities of
Europe and the United States." She had cases of "purchased" photographs
affixed to her canvas studio, and professed to have taken them herself.
She made a fair income, lived well, and did just what seemed good unto
her, and Brianna made friends with the hunchback, listened to his stage
experiences, washed and cooked, and looked after the dogs, and was
content enough with the life. At all events, it was better than those
early days of vagabondage and starvation on the coal quay--better than
the oaths and blows and drunken squabbles, and the filth and squalor of
her parents' cellar. She had change, movement, the free air, the sweet,
fair country. Her uncultured mind took tone and colour from Nature and
Michael Croom educated her in his own fashion.

All this, and more, she told the young Englishman as they stood leaning
over the low railings, awaiting Mickey's return. He listened with a
curious interest; her voice held such music, her face such varied
expression, her eyes grew so dark and deep. He had succeeded in drawing
her attention from the jockey, and he was pleased at his success.

Suddenly, however, she came to an abrupt stop.

A fresh race was coming off. The stand was once more filling, and,
crossing the green stretch of grass, threading his way between rows
of cars, crowds of jarveys, sweet-stuff stalls, apple women, dogs and
beggar children, came the figure of the hunchback.

Max Lorrimer saw the girl's cheek whiten and her lips set themselves in
a firm line. He guessed her story, and a thrill of pity stirred him. He
moved a little aside and watched Michael Groom's approach.

The girl watched him also, her whole figure tense and strained and
still. She uttered no sound, asked no question; only looked and looked
with all her heart in her eyes.

"To be loved like that!" thought Max. "Why it would be almost worth
while to die!"

Nearer came the ungainly figure. The strange face lifted itself.

A sharp breath, that was half a sob, cut the silence like a knife.

"I know--I know. You needn't tell me, Mickey. He's dead!"

Then she turned and went swiftly away, as the roar and tumult of the
new race broke from a thousand throats.




CHAPTER II.

The caravan was of pine wood, polished and varnished to the verge
of brilliance. It had a door at one end, a window at the other. In
the day the interior formed a sitting-room, with table, seats and
cooking stove. A cupboard held various utensils, such as plates cups,
and saucepans. At night the table folded into a bedstead and another
cupboard held mattress, sheets, and pillow.

The photographic apparatus and chemicals were kept in a portable canvas
tent that was only erected when the caravan stopped for any length of
time. The horse was blind of one eye, but strong and useful, and the
two Irish terriers, Moll and Tim, were excellent watchdogs.

Brianna attended to the domestic duties of cleaning, washing, and
cooking. Mickey Croom had charge of the horse and the tent, the
preparation of glasses, frame cards, and chemicals, and Mrs. Dunne
herself conducted the business and advertised it in that peculiarly
appropriate and striking manner for which her adopted country is famous.

In her way Sally Dunne was a character, and a remarkable one. She
had travelled much, and kept her eyes open to the ways of mankind in
general. She had a knack of turning most things to account and knew
the value of a red cent sufficiently well to get it, when nothing else
could be got. She had a quick method of speech, many strange sayings,
and delighted in what Mrs. Malaprop terms a curious "derangement of
epitaphs."

A wordy war between herself and the hunchback was a battle ground on
which much Queen's English would be slain, and strewn, and otherwise
ill-treated. He had for years been attached to a theatrical travelling
company, when he had played the melodramatic villain to nightly
applause and appreciative hisses. Once, on a never-to-be-forgotten
occasion, he had played Richard III. at a few hours' notice owing to
the sudden illness of the "star." On the strength of this performance
he had allowed ambition to get the better of discretion, fought with
melodrama and subordinate parts, and finally torn himself from his
beloved boards to follow Fortune under a new aspect.

Chance and Sally Dunne had been his tempters. Later on Brianna came
upon the scene, and in the interest she awakened, and her admiration
of his genius, he found that "balm in Gilead" for which his sick and
lonely soul had yearned.

He taught her Shakespeare, and so educated her strange, untamed soul
to appreciation of the grandest and loftiest ideals. She was quick to
learn and retentive of memory. Her nature was volcanic, alternately
smouldering and flaming. Life held all the wealth of possibility for
her. In sixteen years she had had no youth, and had breathed but an
atmosphere of menace and oppression. Then Hope's face showed itself
round the corner of the stationed caravan, and life woke to pulsing
glories in the smile and eyes of Pat Rooney. She loved him as Juliet
loved, "at first sight," and he returned it with the temporary ardour
of an Irish Romeo.

On the morning that he had waved his hand in an eternal farewell he had
intended an unexplained departure. Fate stepped in with a different
heart-break for the girl he left behind him. She sat desolate and alone
on the steps of the deserted caravan, making a first acquaintance with
grief, unenlightened by deception. Grief had hitherto been a stranger,
for love had played no part as yet in her life. Its vicissitudes and
hardships had been purely physical, and as such combated or succumbed
to when occasion demanded.

She shut herself now into a heart loneliness that made her deaf to all
the noise and turmoil so close at hand. Her hands were on her ears, her
head was bowed. Her loosened hair fell like a cloud about her face and
shut out the September sunlight.

She tried to think of Pat as dead, but it seemed impossible! He had
been such a living image of vitality, mirth and motion that to picture
him inanimate, gone from this world of sense and love and laughter, was
a task beyond her own immediate sorrow. The blow had stunned her by its
suddenness. Pain only beat in a feeble, numbed, pulseless fashion at
the door of her heart.

Imagination had so recently awakened that its glories could not realise
extinction. The cup of joy seemed still close to her thirsting lips.
Not yet could the agony of parched and unslaked tongue herald the
coming torture.

Life was still going on around her. The merry-go-rounds, the stalls,
the shooting galleries, and hoarse cries of itinerant vendors, the
far-off murmur of the Ring, the "k'rect card of the races," the bets
and prophecies of waiting jarvies. All these fell on the air, in a
curious and endless discordance, what time a girl's heart made first
acquaintance with Despair.

The strangeness and "aloneness" of grief seemed to press on her and
entomb her from all that living world beyond. In her ears was the sound
of rushing waters; before her eyes a darkness as of endless night. Of
Time she had no sense, and of Life no present consciousness.

The red of the sunset was burning low before she moved or stirred. A
wind, chill with the breath of autumn, swept up from the river and
crossed the meadows, and rustled among the treetops, and ruffled her
fallen hair. She shivered and lifted her head from her knees, and gazed
with dim, musing eyes at the scene before her.

Then memory came back. With quick, sharp stabs of pain it woke her
numbed heart to feel. It told her of a face for ever gone, of a
voice for ever silent--of something that had parted her from joy; of
somewhere where tears and kisses and love and longing could force no
entrance. And then she rose and faced grim reality in the shape of a
strangely-clad figure advancing with swaying steps, and speaking in
loud, incoherent tones, demanding whether tea was ready, and what she
meant by sitting there, heaped up like a broody hen that was counting
unhatched chickens?

Sally Dunne had been doing honour to the races in true Irish fashion,
treating and being treated. She was slightly exhilarated, and more than
usually loquacious. She had not backed the favourite, and owing to
its disqualification had been a considerable winner. Brianna listened
in silence. She set out the cups and saucers and made tea in that
peculiarly mechanical fashion born of habit, which makes the body
independent of the mind. Sally Dunne babbled on with loosened bonnet
strings and an occasional hiccough. She was describing the attire of a
well-known "horsey" lady who ran her own stables, and was proverbially
unlucky.

"Such a gown--my stars! that never saw a Dublin workroom or a London
either. French as France. I'd bet my bottom dollar, and a new-fashioned
sort of water-back." (She probably meant watteau.) "Well, there warn't
one woman in the place could keep her eyes off that gown--and never
hitchin it up, but just sweeping along as if it weren't in the least
consequential. I'd like to have took a picture of her. Guess she'd
posay herself, and what an advertisement!"

She poured some tea into a saucer and drank it slowly, her elbows on
the table. Then her eyes fell on the girl's face.

"My! What makes you look so queer?" she demanded. "And not a sup of
tea have you touched. And where's that vagabond Mickey? I ain't seen
him the whole living day. In mischief, I'll be bound. If he comes home
drunk to-night I'll broomstick him as sure as I'm an Irishwoman--which,
by the way, I'm not, for seems birth don't count in a Free Country when
you domerciliate yourself there. But you haven't told me what's the
matter?"

"Nothing," said the girl, brusquely, and she hastily swallowed some tea.

"'Spect you've been gallervanting," observed her astute relative.
"There's the varmintest lot of men about this racecourse as I've ever
seen. Not one honest face among 'em. If I thought one on 'em had been
spyin' round here I'd let him know who was in command in the outside of
five seconds. No sweetheartin' tricks for me. Keep that in your mind,
my girl. I'll convey my caravan respectable, I promise you. And that
remembers me, did you hear that Pat Rooney was thrown, just at the last
jump? Broke his neck, or his spine, or something."

"Yes, I heard," said the girl mechanically.

"Dead as a door nail," continued Sally, turning her teacup round to
examine the leaves. "Such a good-looking lad, too. But a bad lot all
the same. It's a fact I've deduced from literal experience, Brianna,
that them as has to do with horses is all vagabones more or less;
chiefly more. Seems as how stables and sinfulness are born affinities.
Cheating, thieving, lying and jockeying are the same thing without
no manner of difference, 'cept the sayin' of them. Never you take up
with an equin--equin--what in thunder, do they call it?--equinoxial
person of any status whatever. Depend on it he'll turn out a blackleg
in the long run. Yet it can't be the force of example, eh?--for 'the
steed is nobler than the man,'[i] as Shakespeare says somewhere. And
now if you're not going to have any more tea, just wash up and settle
things, for I'm dead beat, and must have a snooze afore I recommence my
peregrinations to-night."

"Did you! hear," asked Brianna, hesitatingly, "where they took Pat
Rooney?"

"To the hospital, of course. At least, I don't know, now I come to
think of it. Infirmary, or police court, or somewhere."

"But his mother lives in Mary-street," said the girl.

"Ah, so she does. Maybe 'twas there he was conveyanced. I'll step round
and inquire after I've had my nap. 'Twill be neighbourly, though the
widow Rooney is very much my inferior in the socialistic sphere. But
one mustn't be proud when trouble flies like the sparks upwards. Now
stop talking, girl, and let me go to sleep. The arms of Morphibious
are waving me to slumber in the--Never mind the rest, pull out the
bed, and if Mickey wants any tea he's not to have it, mind that. Bless
Pat Rooney's broken neck, it's put twenty pounds in my pocket. Twenty
pounds! Think of that, Brianna, and don't say Providence ain't good to
us sometimes, and that other folks' misfortunes aren't a blessing in
disguise?"

After which expression of Christian sentiment she turned in and went
off to sleep without any difficulty.

The girl closed the door of the caravan and stood for a moment looking
at the sky. The caravan was stationed in a corner of the meadows that
lie beyond the Cork racecourse. The sloping hills, autumn-tinted, and
crowned with villas and mansions, looked down in a twinkling radiance
of light; the full tide of the river swept dark and dim between its
banks. The evening star had risen, set in sapphire that still held some
of the glow of sunset; a film of tawny gold lingered over the distant
treetops, the air breathed a faint odour of peat smoke and damp mist
and autumn flowers. Sounds of life--voices, laughter, gay bursts of
music--filled the twilight pause.

In some dim way, to which her untutored soul could give no expression,
the poetry of the scene affected the girl, and set her nerves thrilling
as to strange music. Speech could not help her, and thought was chaos,
yet she felt less unhappy and less alone than she had done since her
first sense of loss.

The beauty of the world, the fullness and unrest of life, a longing to
know and thrill and live it to its utmost, swept like a full resistless
wave over her heart. She seemed to stand on the threshold of unknown
mysteries. Love had chained, but Death had loosed the chain. Sorrow,
and passion, and despair had held her life in check while memory opened
its doors. Now every faculty of her nature was at its keenest. Sounds
and whispers of mystery filled the air and haunted the faint chill
mists beyond the winding river. She felt she could not live as she
had lived. Her soul leaped strange barriers to the arms of that lover
who had left her desolate. Then came a sense of peace to human agony.
Terror and grief alike grew passive. All form or visible emotion passed
and left her still and tense, and thrilling with sympathy for the
vague, beautiful world at which she gazed.

Natures are disciplined by such moments as these. A spirit moves on the
face of the waters, and the waters tremble and break, and their depths
are stirred, and never more for them is the darkness of the unknown.
Such a moment had come to this untutored Irish girl. She looked at the
closed door of the caravan, the fluttering folds of the flag of which
her aunt was so proud. Then yielding to some invisible influence, she
descended the steps and moved swiftly away in the direction of the
Marina.

Soon all was quiet about her. Most of the crowd who had come to the
races had sped homewards by car, train or carriage. It was too early
for the night's amusements. A silent bar emphasised the restless
symphony of the day. The girl's swift, light feet bore her onwards
to where the old castle stood out in bold relief, its beacon-light
streaming over the river. It had always been a favourite resort of hers
from the days of her starved and wretched childhood, and her steps
turned there instinctively to-night.

The moon had risen. Its brilliance touched the white road and silvered
the flowing water, making the shadowy background of tree-clad hills
look mystical and remote. The Castle itself looked lonely and grim
as some feudal fortress, its high tower guarding the river and the
lough beyond. She slipped down the rugged pathway and reached a low
stone wall, against which the tide lapped in broken waves. The place
was quite deserted, but from the road above sounded the echoes of
passing feet, the full-toned voices of men, the light ripple of girlish
laughter. Brianna lost all count of time. It seemed as if long, long
hours had passed, and still she stood there, leaning her elbows on the
low stone wall, gazing with fixed, unwavering eyes at the beautiful
scene.

The steps and the voices had grown quiet. The tide was ebbing seawards.
The full bright moon still beamed in sweet tranquility. Suddenly, she
grew conscious of a step approaching her resting-place. The fragrance
of a cigar mingled with the autumn scents of dead moist leaves and
drifted seaweed. The girl lifted her head, impatient of coming
interruption. There were lurking tears in her eyes of which she was
unaware. Her shawl had fallen back, and the damp mists had left light
curls and tendrils of glittering hair about her forehead. Her face
looked strangely white and spiritual in the clear moonlight. To the man
approaching her it held all the beauty and beguilement of a vision. He
was young and impressionable, and keenly alive to woman's loveliness
and charm. His step quickened. There was a strange ring of gladness in
his voice as he uttered her name:

"Why, Brianna! What on earth are you doing here? Who'd have thought
of seeing you so far away from the show? And I hear there's no end of
fun going on to-night. I've been dining up there," he nodded in the
direction of the curving road. "Friends of friends of mine in England.
Duty and all that. But do you know what the time is, child?"

"No," she said, somewhat listlessly. "Nine o'clock, perhaps."

"Nine! You'll never see ten again this side of to-morrow," he answered.
"But tell me, do you often do this soft of thing?"

He tossed aside his cigar and pointed riverwards. Instinct made him
respectful to her loneliness and youth as to his equal in station.
She was feminine, and she was beautiful, and only "a daughter of the
people," but Nature had created him chivalrous, and the world and
society had not been able to break the mould yet.

"Not often," she said, slowly. "I have not the time. But to-night,
'twas no use. I had to come. I thought maybe it might comfort me."

"Comfort--are you unhappy? Ah, yes, I remember. That poor fellow was
your sweetheart, wasn't he, Brianna?"

"He was," she said, simply, and without a flush or tremor. "'Twasn't
much happiness my life had ever known, and cruel poverty sometimes, and
aunt has a bitter tongue of her own, and she's not one to spare it. And
then Pat came, and everything was changed. 'Tis just as if my heart was
broken, now."

She had spoken slowly and carefully, but her voice broke over those
last words, and the tears gathered and dropped one by one on her
clasped hands.

Involuntarily his own touched them, closed on them.

"Poor girl--poor child!" he said, tenderly.

The sympathy in his voice touched her deeply. Her heart-beats
quickened. She could find no words to answer him, and they stood side
by side in a comprehensive silence, while the silver track of the moon
broadened on the quivering surface of the river.




CHAPTER III.

The girl first broke the silence. She drew her hands away from the firm
yet gentle clasp that half-unconsciously imprisoned them.

"I must be going home," she said. "Aunt will be angry if I'm late."

"It's my way, too," he said. "May I walk with you?"

The calm scrutiny of her eyes swept his face in wonder.

"It's not for me to say no, sir," she answered. "But you're a
gentleman, and I'm only a poor girl. You must please yourself."

"That means 'yes,' to my question, Brianna," he said, lightly. "But
tell me, how is it you speak so well? You have the soft southern
accent, but none of the idioms and expressions of the people about
here."

"Oh, that's Mickey," she said. "He has taught me a great deal. Do you
know he can repeat almost any play of Shakespeare, and he made me
learn them too. It's saying over those grand words, I think, that's
made me speak correctly. I know all 'Romeo and Juliet,'[i] and part
of 'Hamlet,'[i] and 'The Merchant of Venice,'[i] 'Twelfth Night,'[i]
and 'The Tempest,'[i] and 'Much Ado About Nothing,'[i] and ever so
many bits out of other plays. Sometimes Mickey and I act them." Her
eyes sparkled, her whole face changed. "I love that," she said, "and
sometimes he takes me to the theatre. Then I feel as if I want to act
myself. Oh, the life seems splendid. To play to all those people, to
make them forget you are you, and only see what you make them see.
All the sorrow and the joy and the pain of it. Ah, that would be life
indeed!"

Her bosom heaved, her large eyes shone like stars through the cloud of
her loosened hair. The colour of a damask rose was on her warm cheeks
and parted lips. The young man looked at her with something of wonder.
Then a thought came to him and impulsively he spoke out on the strength
of it.

"If you really wish to go on the stage, it could be easily managed," he
said.

She stopped abruptly, and looked at him as if doubting what she had
heard.

"Wish it! Of course I wish it. But Mickey says it's awfully hard. One
has so much to learn, and for years and years you are kept back, and
only allowed a line or two to speak, and you can't get the parts you
feel you can act, and no manager cares to put on a play of Shakespere
unless a big star is coming out in it."

"Mickey isn't far wrong," said Max Lorrimer, "and certainly if tragedy
is your line, you'll have a hard tussle to get to the front. The
public taste has altered since the days of Siddons, Helen Faucit,
Kemble, Kean, Vestris, Macready--all that galaxy of genius which makes
theatrical history now. People like comedy, burlesque, opéra-bouffe.
Can you sing at all?"

"Oh, yes," she said, tranquilly. "I have a voice. But, of course, it's
not like the singing one hears at concerts. I've been to them, too.
Mickey took me."

"Mickey seems to have stood your friend and counsellor in most ways."

"Yes," she said, simply. "He has been very good. And he has had such a
hard life himself. Oh, cruel! People think because he's deformed that
they can abuse and despise him. But if they only knew him----"

She broke off abruptly.

"It's hard, isn't it?" she went on presently. "Hard to be ugly and
ill-favoured, and yet have a beautiful soul that wants to live and be
loved, and do great things."

"Yes," agreed the young man. "It must be very hard. And is Mickey like
that?"

"He is, indeed. But I suppose no one knows him as I do. Most people
think he's surly and disagreeable--and then he does drink sometimes.
He's awful then. Like a raging lunatic. And Aunt Sal and he quarrel
dreadfully, and I get frightened."

"What a life for you, Brianna."

"Oh! I don't mind it so very much. There's the going about, and one
sees so many people and places, and Aunt is kind in her way, and after
all it's better than the life I had in Cork before father and mother
died, and I do get food, and no one beats me now."

His heart gave a sudden, quick throb.

"Beats you! I should hope not. Who'd dare?"

"Oh! Aunt often threatens it," she said, simply. "But Mickey won't
allow that. Besides, I'm big and strong now. I can take care of myself."

He looked at the splendid young form, the proudly-balanced head,
the firm, lithe grace of movement, the flash and brilliance of the
beautiful eyes. Nature had been prodigal of gifts, yet Fate had frowned
on circumstances that might have doubled their value. A sense of pity
and helplessness came over him as he walked beside her. A man can do
so little after all for a woman, and that little is always liable to
misconstruction, if the woman is poor and friendless, and beautiful,
and young.

"Tell me more," he entreated. "I like to hear you speak. I wish I could
help you. I think I might, if you would let me. But you would have to
give up this wandering life. To come over to my country. I suppose you
would never do that?"

She looked at him doubtfully.

"Do you mean I might earn my living over there, be independent? Oh, it
would be grand. But then I'm so ignorant. I know so little. I'm afraid
I'm only fit for the life you know of. You'll think so yourself when
you compare me with others."

He checked some words of recklessness, and for some moments they walked
on in silence.

"I'm afraid it's very late," said Brianna, suddenly. "I hope Aunt won't
have gone to bed and locked up the caravan. She's very queer in her
temper sometimes."

"But surely she wouldn't lock you out?" exclaimed the Englishman. "That
would be disgraceful."

She laughed somewhat constrainedly.

"Oh, Aunt Sal doesn't pick and choose when her temper's up."

"Well, you'll be out of breath long before you get within speaking
distance," laughed the young man as he quickened his pace to keep up
with her hurrying footsteps.

The girl seemed anxious and nervous now. A feeling of constraint crept
between them. It struck her for the first time that betwixt her life
and his there was a "great gulf fixed." She wondered at the ease and
familiarity with which she had treated him. He was a gentleman, and she
only a poor working-girl. She knew nothing of this world, and he would
shrink with disgust from hers, did he but know it as she knew it.

If her soul had found wings and longed to soar beyond the sordid cares
and common round of her daily life, yet none the less had that life its
claims and duties and exactions. To cut herself adrift from them was a
harder task than he imagined. Her heart was warm and loving, and full
of generous impulse, but she had no opportunity of expending its powers
save in that brief love-dream whose birth and death a month might date
and embrace. It was love idealised and made beautiful on her side. She
had yet to learn how little value it had held for her lover. She was
pure and noble herself, and nothing less appealed to her. In the time
before her she would perhaps suffer for that ideal, see it dethroned,
abased; but as yet she believed in it and was ready to sacrifice all
for it.

"I'm afraid you're coming far out of your way, sir," she said at last
to her companion, as the trees of the Marina came into sight.

"Oh, no!" he said, lightly. "I can get to the Imperial this way, and
indeed it's pleasanter than the Blackrock road. If my jarvey hadn't
played me false I'd have been driving home. As it was, I felt an
irresistible inclination to interview the Castle in the moonlight, and
so found--you."

"It's good of you to make no favour of your company," she said,
earnestly. "But, indeed, I feel it an honour. Maybe I should not have
walked with you. I haven't my hat, and 'tis only working girls and
such-like that wear shawls now."

"They are very picturesque," he said, "and, if I may say so, suit the
wearers as a rule far better than hats."

"Pat liked me in a hat," she said, with sudden quivering lips.

"No doubt," he said, shortly. It was hard to be met with such an
argument in defence of a taste that was strictly opposed to the
picturesque. "But then I'm not Pat, so you must excuse my bad taste."

Something in his voice and manner hurt her. She was silent, and a dim
uncomfortable feeling stole over her previous content. She paused under
the trees. A pathway to the left ran under a sort of tunnel, and by it
she could reach the caravan.

"My way's there, sir," she said, pointing in its direction. "And thank
you kindly for your company."

He laughed softly.

"Oh, Brianna!" he said. "Has the blight of conventionality touched
even you? Well, good-night, child. I shall see you to-morrow, perhaps;
somewhere about the course, eh?"

"I don't know," she said. "It seems to me I shall never want to look at
a race again."

"I--I beg your pardon, I forgot," he said, with quick compunction.
"Well, good-bye for to-night. We shall meet again if Fate wills. Do you
believe in Fate, child? I do."

A quick pressure of the hand and then he had turned and left her,
walking city-wards along the broad avenue, while the moon gleamed
through the trees, and the lights of the town were like beacons in the
beckoning distance.

Brianna threaded her way swiftly through the motley crowd of vehicles
and stands, and travelling shows that the Races had attracted to a
temporary resting place. As she neared the spot where her aunt's
caravan stood she saw it was all in darkness. Sitting on the bottom
step of the vehicle was the hunchback. He rose as he saw her.

"So, it's you at last," he said, gruffly. "Do you know how late it is?
Where have you been?"

"Down to the Castle," she answered wearily. "Where's Aunt Sal?"

"Gone to bed long ago," he said. "She was in a fine rage, too. Said
she'd stop your gallivanting tricks for good and all. Has locked the
door, too. Had taken a little drop; that accounts for it. What'll you
do to-night?"

The girl shrugged her shapely shoulders.

"Sit out here," she said, coolly. "It won't harm me. I've got my shawl."

"Nonsense," he answered. "You must go into the studio. These mists and
dews aren't good for you. You'll be quite safe. Leave Tim outside."

Tim was one of the ragged Irish terriers, who were the guardians of the
caravan.

"You're very good, Mickey," said the girl, gratefully. "But what will
you do yourself?"

"Oh, I'm all right," he said, gruffly. "It's not the first time I've
slept under the stars, if need be. But I've a friend here. He'll give
me a corner. Now, to bed, Brianna. It's past midnight--'the witching
hour when churchyards yawn, and graves give up their dead.'[i] Get thee
gone, girl. Take thy share of curtained sleep. Farewell."

He waved his hand, and turned abruptly away.

Brianna slipped into the little canvas structure, called by courtesy
the studio. It was littered with pails and bowls, and bottles of
chemicals. A wooden truckle-bed in a corner, a straw-mattrass and an
old horse rug were thrown upon it. Brianna looked at the bed, and a
little shudder of distaste ran through her tired limbs. In some things
she was fastidious, and through all her weariness of body and mind
to-night this instinct was ungovernable.

She sat down on the edge of the rough couch, and rested her elbows
on her knees, and her face on her hands. A dull stupor seized her. A
belt of iron seemed about her heart, and her brain ached with thoughts
impossible. She felt at war with her surroundings as if she had gazed
through the chink of an open door into a new world. She longed to make
further acquaintance with it, and yet she knew herself a captive, held
fast by chains of obligation and of circumstance.

Gradually numbness and exhaustion stole over her. Her limbs relaxed.
Unconscious of what she did, she fell back on the wretched bed and
sleep took her in its warm embrace and comforted her.




CHAPTER IV.

The smoking-room of the Imperial was full of men when Max Lorrimer
entered. The Cork races had drawn the usual betting and horsey crowd
together, and mingled with them were such English and American tourists
as generally benefit hotel-keepers, and uphold their respective
nationalities with more or less discretion. The Bird of Freedom hovered
over some half-dozen loud-voiced and loudly-dressed individuals who
were drinking whisky, or concocting "cobblers" and "cocktails," and
expressing disapproval of the Irish in the way they managed their
scenery, and retarded progress, and generally kept things back from
that plane of hurry, bustle and confusion so dear to the Transatlantic
soul.

A strange-looking young man was lounging in negligent ease on one of
the chairs. He had a colourless face, clean shaven and heavily moulded,
deep, inscrutable eyes, and a mass of dark hair, unfashionably long.
He was talking to Max Lorrimer's travelling companion, and they both
looked up as he approached.

"Oh, so you've turned up at last?" said his friend. "Just talking about
you. Let me introduce you to an old friend of mine; not seen him since
we were at college. Raemore Clive--Mr. Lorrimer. We'd a bet about you,
old man. You can just set us right. Clive, I must tell you, has adopted
a strange profession, or rather the profession has adopted him. He's a
professor of Palmistry, Clairvoyance and Occultism, unlicensed by Act
of Parliament; isn't that it Clive? Well, he sort of sighted you, just
by holding a letter of yours in his hand. He saw you walking along,
under trees, beside a river (the Lea, of course), with a girl, young
and beautiful, &c. I said it was impossible. You'd gone out to dine,
and were no doubt driving home by the Blackrock-road in the prosaic
guardianship of a jarvey. Now--who was right?"

A strange embarrassment showed itself for a moment in the frank face on
which both the men's eyes were fixed. The odd green inscrutable orbs of
Raemore Clive seemed to shoot out a curious spark, and then grow dull.
Max felt compelled to answer.

"I was walking by the river," he said, reluctantly. "The jarvey never
came for me and I took the Marina on my way."

"By Jove!" exclaimed his friend. "That's lost me a sovereign. What
about the girl, though? I'd faith in your morality strong enough to
back it. Don't say I've lost, that also!"

"I think there's no question of morality or the reverse--yet," said the
strange, low voice, of the thought-reader. "Mr. Lorrimer's companion
was one of accident, not of selection. Was it not so?"

Again that compelling glance forced reluctant admission.

"Yes, I met that girl who was with the photographic show, you know,
Templeton--this morning, when we had our portraits taken by that
singular female."

"Yes, by Jove, I do remember, she was a rare beauty, too. Well, you're
in luck's way, Max, my boy. More than I am. Here's the sov., Clive--or
shall we take it in champagne? A magnum between us, and you shall make
our flesh creep and our hair emulate the fretful porcupine what time we
listen to the tales you can unfold."

Raemore Clive smiled faintly.

"By all means," he said. "I have no call on my clairvoyant powers just
now. I hope you are satisfied that I spoke truth?"

He handed back a letter as he spoke. It was folded in half. A few lines
of writing and the signature were alone visible. Max Lorrimer saw they
were his own.

"Do you mean to say that, just from looking at that, you were able to
see my whereabouts?" he exclaimed, with wondering curiosity.

"I could have told a great deal more had I wished, or had it been
necessary," answered Raemore Clive. "That is very little to do. But
your friend here was very confident, and very sceptical. I only wished
to convince him."

Under his full white lids he again shot one of those strange,
inscrutable glances. Max Lorrimer felt suddenly cold and sick. A sense
of uneasiness, of almost physical terror, came over him. He seated
himself hurriedly. It was a relief when the waiter brought the wine and
glasses and placed them on a table beside the young men. He drank off a
glass of the foaming liquid and lit a cigarette. Raemore Clive did the
same. Then he leant back against the chair; his eyelids drooped, only a
faint gleam, like a thin line of light, shone through their half-closed
barrier. It affected Max Lorrimer strangely. He felt as if he was
watching a hidden flame playing behind some fragile fabric that at any
moment might leap into a blaze. He tried to keep his gaze away, but
time after time it was compelled to return, and be greeted by a mocking
smile, that touched the full-curved lips of the thought-reader.

"Come, now," exclaimed Templeton, at last. "Unfold your tale of
witchery and darkness. Tell me how you discovered you had this power.
You seemed an ordinary boy enough at Charterhouse, if I remember right,
and you were destined for a doctor, weren't you? At least your father
wished it."

"Yes," said Raemore Clive, sending a faint spiral wreath of smoke
upwards. "That is all true. My discovery of psychic faculties was quite
unexpected. I shall not inflict on you the phrases that make our jargon
of explanation. Sufficient to say that when with people, or talking to
them, I became aware of things about them that were secret or apart
from any confidence they gave. It was as if I looked through them and
saw their real selves behind the curtain of their material existence.
I grew interested. I went to a clairvoyant, a Frenchman, in Paris, and
learnt of my power and how to exercise it. Palmistry is only an excuse
for this faculty of second sight. Now, I have so perfected it that I
find it quite an easy matter to tell people what I see about them: what
has happened, or may happen, or will happen."

"Do you mean to say," exclaimed Max Lorrimer, "that you could tell me,
or anyone here, what will occur, say, five, six, a dozen years hence?"

"Right to the end of your lives, if you wish," answered Raemore Clive
coolly. "But I don't say I would do so. It might distress or hurt, or
terrify you. Now, for instance, do you see that man over there? He is
drinking some American abomination and talking as if it was his last
chance on earth of using his tongue. Well, I can see this about him.
He'll never reach America alive. The steamer he sails in is going down,
with every soul on board."

"Good Heavens," cried Max in horror. "But why don't you tell him--warn
him? This is terrible!"

"Did the dwellers on the earth believe in the coming of the Flood?
Did the Jews believe in the birth of a Messiah? Does the world, this
present-day world, believe that its vices and crimes are going to
end in the terrors of a Last Judgment? No. People only believe what
they wish to believe, and a warning that is founded on no basis of
common sense is the last thing I would insult them by offering. I have
no desire to see the inside of a lunatic asylum yet. Madness is the
only excuse men offer for what soars a little beyond their earthbound
comprehension."

Max drew a deep breath.

"It is wonderful," he said. "Wonderful. And yet it can't be a very
pleasant power either?"

"It is not; believe me. When I am with certain people, the evil and the
cross magnetism about them affect me as a vile stench, or loathsome
sight, would affect a very sensitive nose or vision. I get positively
ill. I try to switch off the current of my mental faculties and to put
a dead wall, so to speak, between us. That is my only remedy. You look
incredulous. Has anyone ever read your hand?"

"No."

"I can't offer to do so here, but come up to my room to-morrow morning,
and I will give you a sitting, if you like. But even without that I can
tell you something. You are easy to read. Beware of feelings, swiftly
born, swift in results. Guard yourself against impulses that will lead
to important consequences. When there seems least fear, then dread
danger. There. Take it for what it is worth, and let us have some more
champagne."

They filled their glasses, but a silence of constraint seemed to have
fallen upon them. Max felt uncomfortable, and puzzled. He could not
explain this man's power of divination in any satisfactory manner, yet
he felt it was reliable, and an overwhelming curiosity seized him to
know more. He looked at Raemore Clive's strange inscrutable face, and
wondered how and whence came that faculty of clairvoyance.

The smoking-room was thinning rapidly. The noisy group of Americans
had dispersed, and yawns and good-nights affected the air as one by
one the tourists followed their example. Soon the three men were sole
possessors of the room.

Raemore Clive began to talk. His voice was low and languid, but it
held his listeners as a charm. He told them of things he had seen in
the East--that land of mystery and magic--of strange legends, and dark
histories, and perilous escapes, when curiosity had brought him too
near to danger. Then he spoke of the magnetism of certain natures;
of the curious attraction that draws some, of the equally curious
antipathy that repels others, of the inexplicable power that rules by
a wish, and commands by a look; of all the strange inner life that the
soul keeps in a shrine of its own, that has nothing in common with the
outer world.

Max Lorrimer listened with intense interest. Much that he heard had
been felt by himself, yet never acknowledged. In the world one does
not speak of such things. Only a part of ourselves is ever shown to
those about us, even to those who think they know us best. And in some
shamed, foolish way he had hidden the best part of himself always--the
little touch of romance, the chivalrous belief in women, the vein of
poetry and mysticism underlying his apparent light-heartedness.

But he felt that this stranger read all these, that no lock or bar was
strong enough to close the door of his real self to that piercing gaze.
It troubled and perplexed him. Yet the spell of a strange attraction
held him powerless. He went to his room that night, impatient for the
morrow, wondering what he would hear, what would be foretold.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The hush and the quiet of the night was all about him, but he could not
sleep. His brain seemed active and alert, as if it needed no rest.

An endless drama of many scenes unrolled itself to his memory. Events
long past and half-forgotten grouped themselves together, and cause
and effect and consequence rang up or dropped the curtain as the play
progressed.

His eyes were closed, yet he saw; his ears were dulled, yet he heard.
Astonished, perplexed, and pained, he gazed at the visions, heard
unheeded warnings, sorrowed for painful results. And then it seemed to
him as if he had lived through the like before. As if centuries and
centuries had rolled over his head, and in different ways and under
different aspects he had still held part in their dramas, and beheld
from afar their results. Suddenly darkness overwhelmed him. He could
see nothing more. And a voice stole to the ear of his soul and it
whispered. "Wait--for the end is not yet--neither shall be. The Guide
to the Future is the Guardian of the Past."




CHAPTER V.

The warm September sun had swept the river clear of mist. The stir and
bustle of waking life was everywhere apparent throughout that strange
caravanserai encamped beyond the racecourse. The discordant brays and
noisy barks of donkeys and dogs serenaded Sally Dunne's waking moments,
and aroused her to the fact that she was the sole occupant of the bed.
She smoothed some wisps of hair out of her eyes, and stared about her.
The state of her mind on retiring the previous night had left its
traces. Her garments were scattered over the floor of the caravan--one
boot lay on the shelf among the cups and saucers, the other was on her
own left foot. Her bonnet hung dejectedly from a nail, and her jacket
embraced the space between cooking-stove and cupboard.

"Where's Brianna?" muttered Sally, as reflection threatened to become
unpleasant. "She ain't gone out, for the door's locked. What's come to
her?"

Forsaking the passive for the active mood she slipped out of bed and
commenced the business of the toilet.

"Not home all night! Gallivantin' again! Guess this sort of thing won't
suit my business. Wonder why my head aches so. I'd give something for
a cup o' tea. I bet that girl's been up to some mischief. Ah! now I
remember. I locked the door because she hadn't come. Here, you, Mickey,
what the 'tarnation are you idling there for? I want a pail of water.
And where's Brianna? In the tent? Guess I'd never ha' thought o' that.
Tell her to slick up and get breakfast."

She had her head out of the door, and the fresh morning air was
grateful to her aching brow. Mickey Croom had been standing at the foot
of the steps. He now handed her up a bucket of water, and then strolled
over to Brianna's resting-place.

"Old woman's up," he remarked, concisely. "Says she wants breakfast.
Hurry up. I wouldn't rile her, if I were you."

"I'll be out in a minute," the girl answered, and she was as good as
her word.

Owing to limited space, toilet preparations in the caravan had to await
the disappearance of the bed. With a brief good morning Brianna set to
work, folded up the clothes, packed away the bedstead, and then lit
the fire, while her aunt was splashing cold water over her head and
shoulders.

Sally's conscience was not quite at ease as to her own condition the
previous evening. In the intervals of vigorous towelling she watched
her niece with the corner of her eye, pondering if it would be safe to
carry war into the enemy's quarters without fear of retaliation.

"Why didn't you come home in proper time?" she at last demanded. "What
are you up to, I'd like to know."

"Nothing," said the girl, doggedly. "Only I went for a walk."

"A walk! What do you want to go walking for? You oughter have come to
Widow Rooney's with me. She asked where you were. He'd been brought
home. She would have him. He's going to have a grand funeral, and
'twon't cost her a penny. The place was crammed; and she was mighty
full of herself, and whiskey warn't at no discount, I can tell you."

"So I suppose," said the girl, with a curl of her lips. "That's why you
locked me out, wasn't it?"

"I locked the door at the usual time, on principle," answered Sally,
sternly. "I am always overruled by principle. I wanted to teach you a
lesson. By the way, where did you sleep last night?"

"In the tent, of course. Mickey gave up his bed to me."

"Jis' so. I knew he would. Well, I'll clear out and take a look round
while you fix up this place. I'm of a forgiving disposition, so I won't
make no complaints. But my head is peremptory, and a cup o' tea is the
only thing that'll do me good. Hot and strong, and quick as you can get
it. So long."

With which bit of Americanism she dropped down the steps and made her
way to the tent for her usual morning skirmish with Mickey Croom.

Left alone, Brianna unloosed her bodice and sluiced her face and neck
and arms with cold water, and coiled up her rich abundant hair. Then
she tidied the caravan, and set the table, and opened the door and
window to the fresh morning air. Just as her preparations were complete
her aunt returned. She made for the teapot at once and poured herself
out some tea, and drank it thirstily.

"No! I don't want any bread and butter," she said, as the girl cut a
slice off the loaf, "Take it y'self. You look very glum. What's up?"

"Nothing."

"All comes of gallervantin'! Now, this is the last of it. I won't have
it. I've said so before, and Providence has stept in and circumscribed
you. I suppose you're fretting after that good-for-nothing jockey. What
a choice of a lover! Why, a jockey has as many sweethearts as there
are races. More, if the truth was known. All the brains is galloped
out of his head, and every new gal that makes up to him is better than
the last. I guess I know something about men. I've laid in a store of
experience, and I can oversee the benefits of it. Try to do you every
way, that's all men are good for; and gals is fools mostly. Wal, now,
I've slung enough tea into myself so I'll get out I guess, and see
if there's any customers goin'. Give Mickey that teapot. That's good
enough for him. He's that vexatious, this morning. Nothing ready in the
studio. Doesn't care a cent about my inconvenience when he's took like
this. Is my hat straight, Brianna?"

Her niece glanced at the article in question. It was of strange shape
and trimmed with faded ribbon that had once been green. Sally Dunne
always wore it during working hours.

"Yes, you're all right," said the girl. "Shall you want me?"

"Of course I shall. There'll be heaps of men loafing round before the
races. You've got to bring 'em in as fast as you can; and don't you
go slippin' off round the course, as you did yesterday. I won't have
it--so mind."

Brianna listened with an indifference born of custom. She had no
intention of going near the course to-day. It was too fraught with
memories. Years seemed to have passed since that race that had cost
her lover's life. She wondered that she felt so dull and cold. That
grief seemed to have stilled instead of agonised her. Mechanically she
performed her tasks, but there was no life in her movements, or any
recognition of what she did in her eyes. Even when she had finished and
followed her aunt to the so-called studio she was scarcely conscious of
her actions.

Yet she soon saw that business was brisk. Chance comers attracted
by the flag and the bold advertisement were examining the case of
"Photographic Specimens," or asking terms, or bringing bashful
sweethearts up to be "taken." The "Instantaneous Female Photographer"
was in great form. Her garrulous tongue, her queer expressions, her
audacious vivacity, had a certain compelling charm of their own.

The hunchback was kept busy framing the pictures, and she herself
chaffed, joked and encouraged the sitters in a way that left no choice
but to form groups, or be victimised singly, just as she chose to
direct.

When Brianna appeared she ordered her off to invite fresh customers,
bidding her take a "specimen" in her hand. It was a thing the girl
hated. The coarse jokes and jeers, the familiarities and license of
the men who thronged the racecourse were odious to her. To-day they
seemed specially so. It was not yet time for the chief business of the
day, but crowds of idlers were flocking on the scene, brought by early
trains for a "day's divarsion" from all parts of the country, and ready
to spend money on any pleasure that came in their way.

The fisher lads and farmers' sons from Youghal and Queenstown and
Bandon and Kinsale and other outlying districts were not slow to
recognise the beauty of this strange girl who moved to and fro,
uttering her invitations so mechanically, yet enforcing their
acceptance by a mere flash of her eyes, or movement of her hand. They
were drawn by her as by a magnet to the photographic tent, and the
coins dropped in, and Sally was in high good humour.

Towards noon the girl began to grow very weary, and even Sally Dunne
acknowledged that she was feeling "dead beat," and that she meant
shutting up business, for that day at all events. She emphasised her
words by "switching off" her apparatus, to use her own phrase, ordering
Mickey off for a pint of porter, and giving Brianna leave to prepare
the midday meal of bread and cheese and cold bacon, for which she had
discovered an appetite.

When that was over she dressed herself in gala attire and set out to
find kindred souls, and enjoy the races in their company.

Brianna was left to her own devices. With a sigh of relief she saw her
aunt depart. Then she seated herself on the top step of the caravan,
and with her elbows resting on her knees watched the scene before her.
It was some time before she became conscious that Mickey Croom was
standing by her side. He had spoken to her, but she had not heard.

"Brianna," he repeated; "are you asleep? What's the matter?"

She dropped her arms wearily.

"Oh, is that you, Mickey? I thought you were watching the races."

"No; I wanted to speak to you about something. I came across some
of my old company this morning; they're touring. It appears there a
hitch in the cast. Two of the girls have bolted. One's a small part
of a dozen lines or so. The other's 'Jessica.' It's 'The Merchant
of Venice.'[i] They're only here to-night and to-morrow. As we were
talking it occurred to me you might have a try at it. You've got Portia
and Jessica by heart. I could teach you the acting part in a couple of
hours. Would you try it?"

"Try it!" The girl's whole face blazed with excitement. "Oh, Mickey, is
it true? Could I go on? Act--really act? Seems as if I'd die with joy
at such a chance."

"I've always said you were born for the boards," said Mickey; "but as
for chance, bedad, this isn't so much to boast of. Only, I'd like to
see you do it. A first appearance is like the first time you try to
swim. A flounder in the water and strike out for land. Here," and he
tossed her a ragged book. "You're on third scene, second act. They'll
cut out a lot I expect. Get your lines perfect while I go round and
get the acting part, with cues. The manager knows your appearance; he
saw you yesterday. They'll give you the dress. Now, mind you're letter
perfect when I come back, and I'll run through the scenes with you."

The girl had seized the book. Her hands trembled with excitement, as
she turned over the leaves to find the part indicated. She had seen the
play with Mickey more than once. As she glanced over the printed lines
the whole, scene rose before her eyes. She saw the stage, she heard the
voices, recognised the cues, thrilled with the triumphs and sorrowed
with the sorrows represented. To learn Jessica's part was easy enough.
She shut the book and paced the floor of the caravan, living for the
time being in the play she remembered so well, and acting out the part
with an individuality that stamped even its slight importance with
character. The girl was in reality a genius, and the hunchback had long
ago recognised that fact. She could not read or recite the smallest
part without investing it with life, passion, meaning. It came to her
as naturally as to speak. Her declamation was excellent, and Mickey had
been a careful tutor.

The tones of her voice had that irresistible sweetness and thrill that
is positive magnetism, and without which the greatest art is a failure.
She was unconscious yet of her powers. She could only "let herself go"
and revel in that self-forgetfulness. Much might have to be excused
before she won her way to success. Patience and study, and untiring
devotion to her art would be necessary to perfect what Nature had, as
yet, only indicated. But she had strength and force. She would shrink
from nothing. Her whole soul seemed afire now, her whole life changed.
She saw herself in that great gallery of heroines to whom Mickey Croom
had introduced her first. Might it not be possible in some glorious
future that she might play some or all of those brilliant and beautiful
sovereigns who reigned over men's souls and senses, and for whom Fame's
undying laurels ever bloomed.

Meanwhile Mickey Croom threaded his way through crowded streets and
unceasing traffic to the stage door of the Cork Theatre. A rehearsal
was just over. Painted, tawdry figures of women, unshaven, dirty men,
supers, scene-shifters, propertymen, were pouring out into the warm
sunshine with blinking eyes, and tired, care-worn faces. A sudden pang
stirred the hunchback's heart. "If she should grow like them? Saints
in glory keep her! I'd rather see her dead. But she won't. She can't.
I've not studied stage art for twenty years for nothing. Ah, my pretty
you'll show them your power yet--the power of genius. For that's what
you've got in that clever head of yours; and it's not Mickey Croom is
going to stand by and see you put upon by caravan owners or anybody
else. No, my girl, Mickey stood your friend from the first, and he'll
stand it to the last, even though your feet are treading his heart into
the dust."

Then he was summoned to the manager's room, and left it a quarter of
an hour later more elated by a triumph he had won for another than by
anything he might have claimed for himself. Yet, midway between the
city and the road that led back to the caravan he paused suddenly.

"I've done it, and if a first step counts, then the second depends
on herself. And every step upwards takes her further from me--takes
her glory and her beauty, and her great warm, strong heart, and puts
me aside into the cold and shadow. Why did I do it? She is poor and
friendless now, and I am in her life. When she is great and famous
I shall be out of it. You're a fool, Mickey Croom. You're hurting
yourself that you may help another. Is there gratitude in woman's
heart? What'll you gain?--the bite of the serpent's tooth--the sting of
the adder. Holy Mother, pity me! 'Tis I am the fool--the poor witless
fool. She will escape. Her wings are folded now, but 'tis my hand opens
the cage, and then she'll fly far, far away. She'll never come back to
me. I know it--never come back to me."




CHAPTER VI.

The theatre was crammed from floor to ceiling.

It is a curious fact that no audience appreciates Shakespeare like an
Irish audience. They have learnt him at good hands, studied his best
under his best interpreters, and no one is more critical of a faulty or
unorthodox representation than an old Irish play-goer.

The touring company at present performing had come to Cork for the
race week, and had given "Othello,"[i] "As You Like It,"[i] and
"Macbeth,"[i] with great success. To-night had been fixed for "The
Merchant of Venice."[i] Foremost in the dress circle sat the young men
who had been the last occupants of the smoking-room at the Imperial
Hotel the previous night.

Just before the curtain rose the manager came forward to ask indulgence
of the audience on behalf of a new actress who had consented to take
the part of Jessica on very short notice. There had been no time
to alter play bills or programmes, but printed slips informed the
occupants of dress seats that the girl's name was "Miss Brianna Lynch."

"I wonder if that's a common Irish name?" remarked Max Lorrimer to
Raemore Clive who sat next to him. "I've come across it twice in the
short time I've been here."

The thought-reader narrowed his eyes for a moment and looked at the
slip of paper. "It's odd," he said slowly, "but when I look there I
see the face of a girl with a shawl over her head. She has very bright
hair, tumbling about her face. I think you know her."

Max Lorrimer gave him a quick startled glance.

"It would be the wildest improbability," he exclaimed, "if--if I did."

"We will see," observed Raemore Clive quietly. "We won't have long to
wait."

The curtain drew up almost on his words The first act was very brief,
and the pause between Antonio's last speech and the scene at Belmont in
Portia's room was simply signalised by the descent and rising of the
curtain in some few moments. The scene between Gobbo and Launcelot, and
the following colloquies were distinguished by "cuts." Then came the
entrance of Jessica and her first speech to Launcelot--"I am sorry thou
wilt leave my father so. Our house is hell, and thou a merry devil."[i]

Max Lorrimer drew a sharp breath. He could not believe his eyes. There
stood the girl of the caravan, his companion of the previous night. A
warning pressure of his arm kept him still, but his excitement deepened
with every word she spoke.

There was no sign of nervousness or timidity. Her voice was perfectly
modulated, her gestures natural, and full of grace. The brief scene won
the audience at once; though none recognised her in her new dress and
make-up, for Brianna of the caravan.

"By Jove!" muttered the Englishman. "Who'd have thought it? She's a
born actress; there's no doubt of that."

It seemed to him that all the interest of the play passed away with
her. He grew restless and impatient. That lovely face, that lovely
voice impressed him a thousand times more in this new aspect than they
had done in the girl's own natural sphere.

"She was quite right. She has a genius for the stage," he said, as the
act concluded, and in spite of Portia's triumph and recall, he lent
voice and hand to the applause that had recognised the worth and beauty
of the young novice. She was led before the curtain trembling and
unstrung, with scarce sufficient self-command to bow acknowledgements.

Then Max Lorrimer's tongue was unloosed, and he and his friend
discussed this unexpected episode with keen interest. Conjecture was
rife in both minds. How had she come here? By what chance, what luck,
and how in the name of all that was wonderful had she acquired this
stage-knowledge, this self-possession, this beauty of elocution, this
charm of delivery, this simple yet admirable grace of action? It seemed
miraculous--incredible--and yet it was true. Max Lorrimer recalled her
words, and her acknowledgement of Mickey Croom's instructions, but
allowing all this, the girl must be a heaven-born genius.

The play went on, but excellent as were Portia and Shylock, the three
young men were too keenly interested in Jessica to appreciate them.
Faults, of course, the girl had. To a critical mind, they might have
been innumerable, but she possessed a power, a charm, a magnetism that
carried all before her. She loved with Jessica, and she was Jessica
for the time. She went by no traditions, she copied no one. She simply
played the part as it had shown itself to her; artless, innocent,
subtle by turns, with no elation in her success, no consciousness
of her own personality, until for the last time the curtain fell
and the manager and the principal actor were holding her hands and
uttering warm congratulations and prophecies for the future. Then her
heart seemed to swell, and a wave of gratitude went out to the poor,
deformed, unhappy creature who had been her tutor and her friend.

The tears streamed from her eyes.

"It's all Mickey," she cried. "All Mickey. Oh, where is he? I've never
thanked him yet."

He was waiting at the stage-door for her--grim and grey and silent, his
heart too full to trust itself to speak, his whole soul thrilling with
her triumph, and proud of her success.

There she found him when she had changed her dress and gone out.
There, too, were three figures pacing to and fro, and scenting the air
with cigarettes. One approached her. She shrank back a little as the
uplifted hat revealed the face of her English acquaintance.

"It is you," he exclaimed. "I knew it. I felt it. But by what miracle
have you sprung from your caravan into the midst of legitimate drama?
What Genius of the Lamp has done this for you?"

She laughed, disarmed by the frankness of voice and manner.

"It is all Mickey," she said proudly. "He taught me, he helped me, he
encouraged me, and when this chance came and he heard of it, he got me
the part. Indeed, it's grateful and happy I am to-night. Oh, sir! how
did I do? Was I really worth all that applause they gave me?"

"Indeed, you were, Brianna," said the young man, heartily. "Do you
know, I and my friends were waiting here to ask you to come to supper
with us. Do, and we'll drink success and long life to you, and Mickey
here. Besides, there's something to be said about your future. I told
you I had some interest in London. If you once got on there your
fortune will be made."

"I'd like to go to supper with you," said the girl reluctantly. "Do you
think I might, Mickey?"

"Please yourself," said the hunchback, coldly. "It's no business of
mine."

"Nonsense. You come along, too," said the young Englishman, heartily.
"Miss Brianna is your pupil, and you have to look after her interests."

"I'll do that in my own way," muttered Mickey. "It won't be yours, I
think, sir. Suppers and champagne don't often help a woman to much
good."

"Mickey, you're rude and cross," said the girl, quickly. "This
gentleman only meant to be kind to us----"

"That I can assure you is true," said a deep voice, suddenly.

The girl started. She looked up and met the strange inscrutable eyes
of Raemore Clive. They held hers for a moment. She felt sick and cold,
yet fascinated, despite herself. Suddenly, too, she recognised that she
would give worlds to refuse that invitation, but that it was no longer
in her power.

"You will come, won't you?" pleaded Max Lorrimer, persuasively, and,
half-regretful, half-repelled, she saw the hunchback turn and leave
them at her murmured "Yes."




CHAPTER VII.

Brianna was plainly and neatly dressed in a dark serge gown and black
straw sailor hat, but her tall figure and beautiful brilliant face were
none the less remarkable because of her attire.

She walked on by Max Lorrimer's side; Clive and Templeton followed
behind. The restaurant where they ordered supper was almost empty. They
secured a table at the far end of the room, and Brianna looked round
at the novel scene with intense curiosity. She had never been in such
a place, or seen a meal served with the luxurious additions of flowers
and glass and silver and delicate napery. That quickness of observation
and ready adaptability so peculiar to the Irish character stood her
friend now. She was neither awkward nor bold. The three men who were
keenly observant of her every action could detect unfamiliarity with
her surroundings, but nothing coarse or objectionable.

"Now," said Max, cheerfully, as he filled her glass with champagne.
"Now, tell us how it came to pass that you were in the caste to-night,
and acquitted yourself so admirably. I assure you I found it a
difficult matter to convince myself or my friends that Jessica was
really you."

Her eyes shone with excitement.

"It was just as wonderful to me," she said. "You remember I told you
that Mickey used to be an actor, and that he knew almost every play of
Shakespeare's, and had taught me ever so many parts?"

"Yes, I remember that."

"Well, he knows the manager of this company, and learnt that two of the
girls had suddenly left, and they did not know what to do for a Jessica
to-night. He thought of me. I knew every line of the part, and they
said, even if I was letter perfect it would do for the emergency. But
Mickey made me act it, and feel it, and we had a rehearsal on the stage
before the performance, and the manager said I would do very well. That
was all."

"All!" said Raemore Clive, looking at her with his strange eyes. "You
don't make much of it, but it seems incredible that a girl with no
experience, scarcely any teaching, and only one rehearsal, could go on
and act as you acted to-night."

"It seemed very easy," she said, simply. "You see, I knew it all so
well. It wasn't a bit strange. Indeed, I could have repeated all
Portia's part also, though I would not have dared to act it."

"You are a born actress, I am sure," said Raemore Clive. "No one could
doubt that."

A waiter placed a dish of cutlets before Max Lorrimer, and he handed
her one. She was hungry and ate it with evident enjoyment. Clive
watched her with languid interest. She was a new study to him, this
daughter of the people, with her frankness and unconventionality and
utter ignorance of his own world. He led her on to speak of her life in
the caravan, and she described Sally Dunne and mimicked her oddities
of speech in a way that at once set the original before their eyes.
The champagne exhilarated her, but Max was watchful and careful, and
took care that she should have no cause to regret the acceptance of his
invitation. Certainly, she had no reason to complain of want of respect
on the part of his companions.

But Raemore Clive drew her out as no one else could. She bared her
nature, her feelings, her ambitions, her very soul at his bidding. It
angered Max Lorrimer to hear such naked confessions, but he could not
stay them. Finally, at the thought-reader's bidding, she held out her
hand, brown, coarsened by work, hard of palm, with no redeeming quality
save its slender shape. He took it in his own and examined the lines
carefully.

"A hard life," he said. "And you are not one to take things easily. You
are emotional, headstrong, and passionate. You crave fame, and it will
be yours; but the path is thorny, and your feet will bleed and blister
as they tread it. You have courage and strength; you will need them.
Men will love you, but love will always be less to you than your art
and your ambitions."

He released her hand and her eyes met his in wonder.

"Do you mean that you can really tell what will be?" she asked. "That
you see it written here?"

"Yes," he said. "The lines of destiny are easily translated when one
has learnt the alphabet."

She shuddered and turned pale. Lorrimer interposed.

"Come, come, Clive," he said, "you are frightening the child. Enough of
this. Have some fruit, Brianna, and tell us how you are going to break
with caravan life. Will your aunt allow you to go on the stage? You say
she knows nothing of this appearance to-night, or the offer made to
join the company."

"No, sir, but I shall tell her I am going. She can't keep me. Why,
'tis the most glorious chance that could happen. Indeed, it's hard to
believe it myself."

"Everything must have a beginning," observed Lorrimer. "I am glad,
Brianna, that I have seen yours."

She clasped her hands and leant suddenly forward, her soul in her eyes.

"Oh, I can hardly believe it," she said, brokenly. "To have dreamt and
thought and thought of one thing for so long, and then to wake up one
day and find it is yours. . . . Oh, it is too much even to speak of."

"You make me feel ungrateful," said Templeton languidly. "Providence
has dowered me with a fair share of this world's goods, and yet I fancy
I have never looked upon them as anything but my right."

Her brilliant eyes flashed on him.

"I don't understand," she said. "But then, of course, men are
different. The world seems made for them. Now, a woman, she must take
what she can get."

"I fancy a good many of them take what they want, and are not too
particular as to the means employed," sneered Clive. "The world is
composed of two classes. Those who drive and those who are driven. You
had better seize whip and reins at your first chance and keep them."

"Don't bring your cynical, worldly wisdom here, Clive," said Max
Lorrimer. "It's a pure atmosphere as yet."

The girl glanced from one face to the other in some perplexity.

"It must be late," she said, suddenly. "I ought to be getting home."

"Do you call that caravan on wheels home?" asked Templeton.

"It is the only one I have had," she answered simply. "And it wasn't
such a bad life after all, when Aunt Sal was in a good temper. And
there was always Mickey."

She rose, and her eyes looked regretful.

"It has been very pleasant here," she said. "But I am sure he didn't
think it right of me to come. I wonder why?"

The three young men exchanged looks. How odd and embarrassing innocence
can be. Then Max rose, setting aside a proffered cigarette from Raemore
Clive.

"I'll see you home," he said. "You fellows go back to the smoking-room.
We'll meet there later."

The girl shook hands.

"Thank you all," she said, "and good night."

"A wonderful piece of nature," observed Raemore Clive, as he and
Templeton watched the retreating figure. "Nature pure and simple.
Unspoilt, untampered with, fed on ideals, educated on Shakespeare. How
one wonders what the woman will develop into! It would be interesting
to watch that career."

"She is wonderfully beautiful," said Templeton, between puffs of
languid enjoyment. "I hope poor old Max isn't caught. He's such a
Quixotic sort of fellow, and beauty in distress always appeals to him.
But of all mistakes a man can make there's no mistake so irretrievable
as that of a marriage beneath him."

"There speaks the conventional worldling," said Clive. "The voice
of one who has never looked beneath the surface. Social equality is
often the merest veneer. It is the nature of a man or woman that alone
creates the title of nobility. Here is a case in point. That girl comes
of obscure parents, was brought up in poverty and ignorance, yet the
innate delicacy of feeling is unharmed, the soul illumines the body
like a clear, burning lamp, and Nature will mould her, will fit her to
take a place in the world, that at present seems beyond her hopes or
her powers."

"The voice of the prophet!" observed Templeton. "It must be a strange
thing, Clive, to have that faculty of foreseeing. Not altogether
pleasant either, I should imagine."

"You are right. It is not altogether pleasant--sometimes. Come, let us
get back to the smoking-room. How the moon shines. 'On such a night as
this did Jessica steal to Lorenzo's arms.'[i] Let us hope our Jessica
and Lorenzo are not drifting on to the usual romance, 'the way of a man
with a maid,'[i] as saith Solomon. Poor human nature, unchanged for
centuries past, and unchangeable for centuries to come! Do you know,
Templeton, I came here--to Ireland--for a mere whim, and almost by a
mere accident, and I find myself suddenly the spectator of a drama
whose very first act is so replete with interest that I long to see the
whole."

"Why should there be a drama?" asked Templeton. "It might be only
farce, comedy, burlesque, for aught we know."

"I think otherwise. The pulse of youth stirs to thrilling music. It
can't laugh or jest at the obstacles in its path. Romance is a cup of
tragedy filled to the brim with sweetness and pain. The boy writhes as
a victim to every petty sting which manhood would ignore. Yet manhood
envies the boy. For when time has deadened the power of feeling, the
longing to feel may awaken. I--I have forgotten how to feel. My feet
move over a frozen sea. I cannot gaze into its depths again. What I
killed out of myself I alone know. You are happy, and Max is happy, and
that girl is happy. But I? To look at happiness through the eyes of
others is sadder than any loss in life, believe me."

Templeton looked and listened with that surprise of the prosaic
temperament at anything beyond prosaic comprehension that is often a
fatal barrier to confidence. This sort of talk was Greek to him, and
Greek had ever been the bugbear of his student days. All he hoped was
that Max didn't intend making a fool of himself over the girl, and that
hope led him to resolve on a speedy departure from Cork. On the morrow
the races ended. They would hurry on to Killarney, and return by way of
Glengarriff and Bantry, to Dublin. Then back to England, and duty.

He drew a deep breath. Raemore Clive looked at him and smiled oddly.

"What a Philistine you are still!" he said.




CHAPTER VIII.

To-night, the half-door of the caravan was open as Brianna approached.
She had parted from her escort at the railings, and then run with fleet
steps the remaining distance. The lamp was lit, and she could see into
the interior. Sally Dunne was leaning over the door, and two voices in
angry colloquy reached her ears.

"The like of your impudence, you good-for-nothing, play-acting,
ranting, melodramatic ruffian! Leading my niece astray, and cockering
her up with notions of independence! I'll have the law of you, see if
I don't. Guess things is come to a pretty pass when after bringing up
and supporting the girl like as if she was my own child, I'm to see her
turn and rend the hand that's fed her, owing to your marplotting. And
where is she now? That's what I want to know. I'll put a stop to this
gallervanting, as sure as I'm a living woman."

"I'm here, aunt," said Brianna, quietly.

"Oh, indeed; are you?" returned that lady with irate sarcasm. "And what
have you to say for yourself? That's what I want to know. You come in
straight along this minute, and I'll have it out with you."

"If you dare lay a finger on her, or ill-use her as you've done before
in your drunken tantrums, I'll smash your old caravan into firewood,
and you along with it, you old harridan," muttered Mickey Croom. "The
girl's fit for something better than your tyranny, and she's going to
have it, too. Don't you talk about claims in my hearing. I'll have
something to tell the magistrates if you ever do bring it into court.
You've no proof she is your niece, if it comes to proof. My word's as
good as your's, and I'll swear she's mine."

"What!" shrieked Sally Dunne.

"Oh, you needn't yell and be disturbing all your neighbours. If it's
going to be a fight I warn you my weapons are ready. Don't you be a
fool, Sally Dunne. Why, the girl is a gold mine if you only look at it
properly. She'll make hundreds of pounds on the stage. You go up and
see the manager to-morrow and hear what he says about her."

Sally Dunne drew back, and the anger died out of her face. She was the
last woman to quarrel with her bread and butter, and Mickey's words
impressed her greatly. Meanwhile, Brianna quietly ascended the steps,
and pushed open the little half-door.

"Come, aunt," she said, "don't let us quarrel. If you had been here I'd
have told you; but you weren't, and I had to go without your leave.
And I'm going to stick to it. I can act, and I mean to act. I've been
offered a place in the company, and payment. It's only £1 a week, but
it'll keep me, and you've always been saying I was an expense and a
trouble, so you ought to be glad to get rid of both."

"A pound a week, and for acting! You----. Sakes alive, what next!"

Sally positively gasped. She sank back on the bed and surveyed her
niece with an expression in which incredulity and amazement were
comically mingled.

Brianna made no answer. She closed the door of the caravan, drew the
curtain, and then began to remove her hat and dress.

Sally sat there staring and muttering. The variety and novelty of her
emotions rendered speech difficult. She launched forth into prophecies
and warnings, at which Brianna laughed. Pitfalls and snares had no
meaning for her. Her faith in the future was illimitable. To-night all
was rose-coloured, beautiful as a dream. It was only when a certain
expression of her aunt's pierced the veil of excited fancies that a
cold chill touched her heart and set an old wound throbbing.

She had forgotten Pat. Pat, who lay dead in the city beyond. Pat, who
had been the first love of her heart. Pat, who had brought into her
starved and lonely life all the colour and vitality of his own. She
stood quite still, and her face grew white. There was no life or lustre
in her tearless eyes.

To-night she had told herself she would go and see him, lay a flower
on his pulseless heart, gaze for the last time at the handsome face
whose last glance and smile on earth had been hers. To-night; and she
had forgotten him entirely. Had flung herself heart and soul into a new
excitement, listened to the honeyed praises and flattering homage of
new friends, planned out life for herself on a new scale.

A sense of heartlessness and shame swept over her, but yet nothing
seemed to waken the old throbbing warmth in her heart. Pat was dead.
Her brief love-dream had ended. For the future she would live for fame,
for glory, for the splendours of that new, strange, enchanting life on
whose threshold she stood waiting.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Sally Dunne grew weary of talking at last. She yawned, kicked off her
boots, made her toilet for the night, and got into bed. Slowly and
silently the girl followed. She could not sleep. She only lay there
staring at the space of moonlight through the little window, going over
her past life with all its sordid squalor and misery, and wondering
about her future.

How swiftly one event had followed another. How important these days
had been to her. She remembered how reluctantly she had come to Cork.
How hard Pat had found it to persuade her to watch him in that fatal
race which was to have been a glorious triumph, and had held instead
a tragedy so awful. And now the desire of her heart was given her.
Without struggle or effort on her part Fate had laid this chance at her
feet. Of drawbacks and sufferings, of toil and hardship, enmity and
rivalry she never thought. To-night had won for her a victory so easy
that she could not believe any future might come in which she would
have to face failure, or disapprobation from less kindly critics.

All the glamour and glory of that life which from the first days of
"sock and buskin" has possessed a charm irresistible for its followers,
shone about the path of this untutored girl. She was lifted into a new
world, and there her imagination and her hopes held revel, during which
time Sally Dunne snored and grunted the long hours through, and vented
in dreams the wrath of her honest soul.

With dawn the girl fell asleep, wearied with thought and exhausted by
so many varied emotions. It was broad daylight when she awoke. For a
moment or two she lay there passive, trying to collect her thoughts,
to piece together the incidents that had marked a bygone day and
night. Then a thrill of delight ran through her. She remembered all.
She sprang up and tossed back the thick bright waves of hair from her
brow, and, for the first time in her life, felt that life was to be
lived--was to become a thing of action and struggle, full to the brim
with energy and endeavour, offering wondrous prizes and stimulating
hope into active existence at last. It was glorious. It made the blood
rush like quicksilver through her veins. It set every pulse leaping and
throbbing. It set imagination afire with ineffable aspirations.

The narrow boundary of the caravan seemed like a prison. She opened the
upper half of the door, and the cool, soft air, damp with transient
showers, stole in like a whispered welcome. Afar off the hills held
passing rain-shadows, but above this caravanserai of life and hubub all
was blue and bright and golden. The girl drank in the fragrance and
sunlight with thirsting breath. Then, with swift fingers, she dressed
herself, and stole out to the arms of Nature for the consolation and
sympathy she had never found in humanity.

Under the trees all was still and peaceful. The rhythmical flow of
the river, the movement of a passing boat, the beat of a paddle-wheel
carrying a sea-bound freight, alone swelled the harmony without
disturbing it. How beautiful seemed life, how beautiful this world
around. She snatched off her hat and lifted her face to the kiss of the
sweet air, the caress of the glad warm sunlight. Pity it is that kiss
or caress less pure should ever touch the lips or brow of youth.

Her fleet feet broke into a run. She flew along the deserted Marina as
a laywing skims the ground. Nothing mattered, nothing troubled her.
It was supreme joy just to live and to be. Her swift flight came to a
sudden pause as she almost ran into an advancing cyclist. She stopped
abruptly, her face aglow, the short uneven breaths coming through her
parted lips in little panting gasps.

The man swung himself off his "wheel," and stood facing her. She saw he
was the strange-looking individual who had been one of the supper-party
the previous night.

"Well met," he said, as he lifted his cap. "You are out early. Did you
dream of last night's triumph, or are you meditating on the future?"

She drew back. Some of the glow and warmth faded out of her face.
The mockery in his voice was to her like a foreign language, and his
strange eyes had the same curious repellent effect as on the occasion
of their first meeting.

"I have been to the Long Rock for a swim," he went on. "I, too, felt
the need of the morning air. It is the only real 'elixir vitae,'[i]
if we were wise enough to believe it. Nature offers us a draught of
new life with every dawn, and we poor fools of civilisation close our
eyes and roll up our stupid bodies in blankets, and leave the beauty
and magic of the potion to the birds and beasts, and the tillers of
the soil. I am glad to recognise in you a wisdom kindred to my own.
To share a common virtue is almost, if not quite as gratifying, as to
acknowledge a common vice. May I share your walk, or shall I disturb
it?"

"I don't know," she said, bluntly. "You see, sir, you are very clever,
and I am only a poor girl, brought up anyhow, and not used to people
who talk as you do."

"You are one of Nature's divinities, and a pupil of the immortals," he
said, in the same mock-serious tone. "Who am I to quarrel with such
companionship? In the world behind us I can have as much artificiality
as I desire, as much sport with the puppets of Fashion as my leisure or
inclination demand. But is is not every day that one finds a coin fresh
from Nature's mint among the hanselled pieces the world passes to and
fro. I should like to hold that coin a little while before it is sent
out for circulation."

He was strolling beside her, wheeling his bicycle with easy grace with
one hand, and glancing at her puzzled face from time to time as the
light words fell from his lips. What an interesting study she was! How
utterly natural and simple and unspoilt, and yet what gifts of genius
were locked away in that unopened casket of her soul.

"You act again to-night, do you not?" he asked presently.

"I? Oh, yes. They offered me the part for the rest of the tour, you
know."

"For once," he said satirically, "the natural obtuseness of a
theatrical manager has found its exception to the rule. They are making
a good bargain, I have no doubt. But everything must have a beginning.
Even this great glorious world was once only an atom whirling in
clouds of chaos, if we are to believe scientific explanation. At
present, my child of genius, you are an atom, and chaos is represented
by the obstacles and rivalries of a glorious and most unvirtuous
profession. Poor atom! How will it emerge, I wonder? Transformed, no
doubt. Are your ambitions speakable as yet, or do they lie awaiting a
birth-struggle in that sleep-bound nature of yours? For ignorance is
the sleep of youth, and you are very young, sweet Jessica."

She flushed to her very temples. His mocking voice, his strange glances
troubled and perplexed her. No one had over spoken to her as this man
spoke! or looked at her with eyes that seemed to read her very soul.

"I know I am young," she said at last. "But yet I have never felt
young. The poor have no playtime. From the moment I could run alone I
have had to work."

"Your playtime will come," he answered. "And then you can look on
while others work for you. Believe me, that is the height of physical
enjoyment. The butterfly has laughed at the ant from the days of Eden
onwards. Not that you will ever be a butterfly." And again his strange
glance plunged into her earnest eyes. "No, you will want to live, and
feel, and enjoy, and triumph, and all these things you will do. Let us
sit down on this seat and talk. The day is ours and Nature's. Let us
enjoy it. We can only be spendthrifts of leisure when we are young. I
was young once, Jessica. It was long ago, centuries, I think. You make
me remember and regret it--all in one."

"Why do you call me that?" she asked, colouring shyly, as she took the
seat he indicated.

"Because you are 'Jessica' to me. That was my introduction to you. You
will never know what that first glimpse of you meant. The embodiment
of a creation, a vision, a living poem, a sudden human ecstasy. For
you were genius as I have pictured it. A fresh, pure, untrammelled
soul spreading its wings to the ether of existence as a bird in its
fight heavenwards. I wish you could remain as you are. But that is
impossible. It is the one thing that spoils all life--the passing of
the moment. For no other can be quite the same. If we try to make
it the same we only succeed in a poor imitation, and imitation is
insincere and ineffective, No, all things, however beautiful and
divine, are ruled by the law of change. Do you understand? Yes, your
soul is comprehensive, though it lacks expression yet."

"I think I understand," she said. "But I find it hard to speak."

"That is what makes you such a divine listener. Soul and body are like
two antagonisms chained together, for ever at warfare, and for ever
apart. When speech enters one channel the other is closed. I prefer
to speak to you through the channel that is perforce dumb. It cannot
answer. I master it: I hold it. It is mine. There will be plenty of
others to force that other channel, and it will be responsive, and
learn, too, all the sex's arts of subterfuge and fence. Yes, Jessica,
that, too, will be your lot, and so I have spoken to you first, and
forget you cannot. For that with which you have listened is the spirit
in touch with mine. Do you hear me? Are you listening? To the world at
large, to those fishermen yonder, we are only two human personalities.
A man and a woman. The prose of the situation embraces your sailor
hat and my modern machine yonder. But the poetry and the spirit of
it concern us alone, and you will remember and I shall remember. For
centuries ago we knew and met and--loved. Yes, Jessica, we loved, and
through the ages I hear a voice stealing back to me through the echoes
of your own, and it tells of suffering and of joy, of division and of
death! Can you hear it? You shake your head. Your eyes are full of
wonder and perplexity. But you will hear it, Jessica; you will. Fate
has spoken, and its voice cannot lie!"

He rose. She sat there dumb and spell-bound, and all the music and
glory of the morning seemed like a dim, discordant sound. She saw him
lift his cap. Then he sprang lightly to the saddle-bar, and with a wave
of his hand flashed down the path and was out of sight in a moment.




CHAPTER IX.

Brianna sat on where her strange companion had left her,
half-bewildered by this extraordinary conversation. What had he
meant--what could he mean by affirming that they had met and known each
other and loved in some past time? What voice had spoken to him that
she too was to hear? What mystery attracted and repelled her when she
met his strange eyes, or listened to the odd deep vibrations of his
voice?

She asked herself these questions but heard no answer. Yet she felt
this past half-hour had had an influence upon her life. A wave of new
feeling had lifted her on its crest far above the level of common-place
things. Her soul had begun to live, her mind would never sleep again in
placid assurance that what was, was; that it had always been, and would
always be, unaffected by human hopes and desires.

She lost all sense of time and place. Passing footsteps seemed only
the echoes of a dream, figures and faces looked vague and shadowy.
When at last she roused herself she felt it must be late; far later
than the usual breakfast hour. But even the thought of her aunt's
anger did not disturb her, and she walked tranquilly back to where the
"vials of wrath" awaited her, feeling that with all the wide wonderful
future before her a little inconvenience in the present might easily be
endured.

Sally Dunne was irate, and letting everyone in the vicinity know it. To
be left in this fashion to light the fire, to get the breakfast, to do
all that had long been relegated to Brianna's useful hands, had aroused
a fair amount of her hot Irish temper, and Mickey Croom had felt the
lash of her tongue despite his offers of assistance.

When Brianna really put in an appearance at last she had so exhausted
her vocabulary of vituperation that she had little to say, and took
refuge in sarcasm of a distant and polite nature.

Would the Tragedy Queen partake of breakfast? Might she offer the
humble refreshment of her poor dwelling to one so gifted and superior?
She feared the tea was cold, but if, on another occasion, information
was given as to what hour breakfast would be convenient, she would do
her humble endeavours to have it ready.

Brianna listened silently as she drank a cup of tea and ate a morsel
of dry bread. It all seemed so mean and so insignificant, fussing over
trifles like this, when the world was so beautiful, and life so full of
promise.

"Oh, do be quiet, aunt!" she exclaimed at last. "After all, you only
had to do what you will have to go on doing; for if I go away on this
tour you must shift for yourself, unless you engage a servant to work
as I've worked without wage or thanks for the last five years."

"Oh, indeed!" answered Sally, loftily. "And 'twas wages you expected?
And what of your keep, you ungrateful cannibal, you? And your clothes,
and the wear and tear of my constitution teaching and putting up with
the like o' you? For our social grades were very different. I was
never a ragamuffin, and boot and shoe to my foot was never wanting;
and that's more than you can say! But there; your head is just turned
topsy-turvy with this play-ranting nonsense. But take my word, the day
will come when your pride will be broke, and like the stricken heart
that panteth for the water-brooks, so will your wounded spirit turn
hankering after the safety and comforts of my caravan, and you'll cry,
'Oh, for the shelter of my wandering home, and the plain but honest
victuals that awaited me there.'"

"And which I always had to cook."

"Better is it to cook than to gallervant," answered Sally; "and an
honest mouthful with quietness is preferable to a stalled ox on the
housetop,[i] which is metaphorical but spoken with good intention, and
no call either to be received with a sneer or a sniff!"

"I'm not doing either," said Brianna, meekly, "and I'll wash up these
things now, and you can go to the studio if you want to."

"Dear me! How mighty condescending we are! And no compunctions, which
I suppose is to be expected, and your benefactress only fit to be
trampled in the dust. Well, I guess you'll have your fall yet, Brianna,
for pride is bound to suffer; and so lay that to your heart while I
attend to my duties, and unroll the panorama of art in my humble,
though ostentatious, fashion."

"Instantaneous, you mean," laughed Brianna.

"Oh! I insinuate nothing," said Sally, loftily. "Words are but empty
sounds, and I must, of course, stand corrected when play-actresses
come on the scene. But, let me tell you, Brianna, that in that great
and glorious land where I made myself name and fame, my language was
accounted one or my universal accomplishments, and no trally-wagging,
gallervanting chit of a girl would ever have dared to pass her
criticalisms upon it."

She tossed her head. All the "stars and stripes" seemed to flutter in
her faded ribbons, and sound in her shrill voice. Brianna's face grew
grave. She said no more, and with the majesty of a Siddons, Sally Dunne
marched out of the caravan and down the steps, and thence to what she
fondly called her studio.

The idea of Brianna's independence was gall and wormwood to her. She
could not bear to think of it. Yet she felt that she was powerless to
restrain the girl. "The liberty of the subject" could not be infringed
lightly, even in a less law-abiding country than Ireland. If the
girl had a craze for the footlights, to the footlights she would go.
It annoyed Sally to think that she had secured an engagement, had
actually undergone the ordeal of a first appearance, without consulting
herself. And done it creditably, too. She had seen the announcement
in the morning paper. Mickey had bought one and shown it her, and the
testimony of print was very convincing. She had said nothing of it
to the girl, not being desirous of "cockering up her vanity," as she
expressed it. Still, it rankled in her mind, and spoilt the sunshine
that was so good for business, and made her curt and uncomplimentary
to female customers. As luck would have it a great many of the minor
"stars" of the company had strolled down to the caravan that morning,
some to be photographed, some to criticise the habitation of the
new recruit to their ranks. Her history had got about and curiosity
was rife, so they dragged their tumbled skirts and badly-shod feet,
and general aspect of unwashed powdered impropriety to this strange
domicile. They succeeded in thoroughly rousing the ire of Sally Dunne,
and hearing some home-truths about themselves and their profession that
were too uncomplimentary to pass for playfulness.

When Brianna heard sounds of warfare in the vicinity, she guessed that
the redoubtable Sally was to blame. Curiosity impelled her to learn
what was the matter. She was astonished to find her aunt being "baited"
by a lot of loud-voiced rowdy-looking girls. She recognised some of
the faces as belonging to the touring company, and wondered what had
brought them there. When they saw her, they ceased their fusilade of
compliments. One or two greeted her in friendly fashion, but the others
examined her with the curiosity they would have bestowed on a strange
animal.

"So you're going to be one of us?" "My, ain't she good-looking,
though." "No wonder old Monty took a fancy to her!" "Engaged right
straight off, ain't you, my dear?" "What's this your name is? Brianna
Lynch, I heard."

"What a mouthful! Well, Brianna, you did uncommon well last night.
I'm the girl who might have had your part if I'd been a quick study,
but I'm not, especially in the legitimate line. Shakespere's awfully
hard. My name's Phyllis D'Eyncourt--at your service. Pretty, ain't it?
Phyllis I got out of a book and D'Eyncourt from a play I once acted in.
Everyone calls me 'Phil' in the company. So can you, if you like. Now,
tell me who's the old party in the tent? Heavy old woman? Leading lady?
Got a rough side to her tongue and no mistake."

She was a tall fair girl who had spoken, with a certain air of jaunty,
self-assurance about her manner that told of long knocking about in the
by-world of adventure to which the stage offers an open door. Brianna
looked at her critically. There was something she liked in the large
frank blue eyes, the smiling mouth, the good-humoured expression.

"That is my aunt, Mrs. Dunne," she said. "Why don't you let her take
your photograph?"

"Been done by too many good artists, my dear. See me in the windows
here, if you look. No, your three-penny-done-while-you-wait and
frame-given-in don't suit my ticket. I told the old lady that, and it
riled her, I think. But I came to see you and have a talk. You know we
leave to-night. Are you ready? We'll have to catch the 11.45 train, and
not a moment to pack up. All the private luggage has to be sent on this
afternoon."

"Well, I've not much," said Brianna, ruefully. "And nothing to pack it
in," she added.

"What's that?" queried Sally Dunne's sharp tongue. "My niece ain't
going to disgrace herself trallywaggin' with a lot like you. There
isn't a respectable coloured head among the whole pack. I refuse my
consent."

"I shall do without it, as I told you last night," said Brianna.

"Then you don't take a rag to your back save what you stand in!"
exclaimed Sally. "And a nice show you'll make, going about with a
touring company. Fine company, indeed! Set of painted Medusas,[i] with
your serpent locks and bold eyes!"

"Come, you stop that," said Phil indignantly. "I'd have you know we're
just as respectable, and more, too, than any travelling caravan owners.
Your niece doesn't appear to have much to boast of in the way of
relatives, anyhow. Why, a decent-sized scarecrow in a cornfield would
be ashamed to stand alongside of you!"

This sally was greeted with a shout of laughter from her friends, which
had the effect of still further increasing Mrs. Dunne's temper.

She let fly a broadside of abuse in which Irish and American idioms
were graphically mingled. This effectually routed the enemy. The girls
fled, laughing, and shouting, and calling back to her, and bidding
Brianna flee for her life if she wanted to show an uninjured face to
the stage-dresser that evening. The girl stood there pale and trembling
and humiliated.

"I'm ashamed of you, and I hate you!" she cried at last, half-choked
with passion. "I wouldn't stay another hour here if I could help it.
What have I to thank you for? Food, for which I've worked and slaved
from morning till night. Clothes, that were your own cast-off leavings.
This frock Mickey gave me last Christmas, and it's the only decent one
I ever possessed. For the rest, I've been abused, scolded and beaten;
never a kind word in all these years; and now, if you could, you would
chain me here, your slave still, though you know I can make my way in
the world without a cent of yours. But you can't do it--you can't. The
Saints be praised for that!"

"The Saints, indeed. It's little enough the Saints will be troubling
their heads about you. A vile, ungrateful, headstrong hussy, only fit
for the company of painted warlocks like that lot I've just sent off.
Well, take my word for it, a judgment there'll be on you, Brianna, and
a bad end you'll come to us, sure as I say it."

Her niece gave a scornful shrug of her shoulders and turned away. But
all the beauty of the day, and all the visions of a rosy future were
spoilt and dimmed for the time. Her new life, as represented by the
society of what Sally termed "painted warlocks," looked less inviting
than it had done the previous night. Would she ever become like those
girls? Would she, too, flaunt in paint and powder, and "second-hand"
finery that looked infinitely less respectable than her old patched
rags?

She had hardly wondered at Sally Dunne's aspersions. There was
something about these girls that repelled her instincts--the jokes,
the gestures, the coarse laughter. And yet they belonged to the most
glorious and beautiful profession in the world.

A halo of mystery still surrounded that life of the stage. The thought
of failure was hateful to her. The fires of ambition so recently lit
burned fiercely within her heart and refused to be quenched.

She called to Mickey, who was loitering at some distance.

"Come away from here," she said. "I want to talk to you."

He followed her swift steps at his own limping pace. His eyes took in
every line of her figure, the poise of her head, the lithe grace of
movement. How splendid she was he thought, and how good it was to think
that he--he--poor, despised, deformed Mickey Croom--had been the helper
of her fortunes. There was no saying what glories might be hers in
future, and to him she would owe everything--everything; her education,
her training, her first appearance. All these. True they were only
stepping stones as yet, but still without stepping-stones even a brook
is impassable, save to sure feet. Brianna's feet would never have been
sure but for him--so he told himself--and when she paused abruptly now,
and, beckoned him to her side, his pride and his triumph and his glory
in her swelled like a tide within his heart and made speech impossible.

But she scarcely heeded his silence. Eagerly she poured out her soul
to her patient listener--a soul like a tempestuous sea, full of cross
currents and vague restless motion. Had she chosen rightly? Did he
think it was in her to act, to become great? Nothing less would satisfy
her. If she thought she would degenerate into anything like those
frivolous chatterers of the morning she would rather stick to the
caravan and the life she had known.

When her breathless words ceased he tried to pacify and reassure her.
He had tales of other beginners, histories of theatrical struggles,
difficulties surmounted, hardships endured. One thing he assured
her she possessed that no training, nor any art could give. It was
a voice. A voice capable of expressing every human emotion, full of
tender tones, and wonderful inflections. A pipe of melody and infinite
charm. Had she not noted its power the previous evening? Why--her very
first speech had struck on the attention of the audience; held them,
entranced them.

"You must succeed if you work," he went on. "You must. You can't help
it."

"Oh, Mickey!" she cried. "I wish you were coming with me. I shan't know
what to do without you."

There was a moment's silence. Then he said very quietly:

"Do you mean that, child? Can I help you? Do you feel you want me?"

"Oh, indeed, indeed I do!" she said, earnestly. "You are my only
friend, Mickey; you know that."

"But there will be new friends for you now, Brianna. Your life will
drift away from mine. And then you'll be ashamed of me. You'll be sorry
if I claim your notice."

She turned and looked at him, and then laughed aloud.

"If that day ever comes," she said, "remind me of last night. Do you
think I can ever forget what I owe to you?"

"Your hand on that!" he said hoarsely.

She gave it silently. Their eyes met. Something she saw in his arrested
her attention.

"Why, Mickey," she said, "you're not crying?"

He jerked out a laugh, and drew his sleeve across his eyes.

"Sure, child, isn't the sun just shining straight into my two eyes?" he
said.

Then he rose abruptly.

"You'd better get back and see about the dinner. It's the last time,
you know."

She sprang to her feet, and stretched out her arms, and laughed
joyously.

"The last time!" she echoed. "Oh, think of that, Mickey. Isn't it
glorious! Slavery, tyranny, misery all over! The last time!"

And how could he find it in his heart to warn her that even among those
evils she enumerated, there had still lurked one good that the new life
might withhold--safety!




CHAPTER X.

The murky light of a November sky was adding its gloom to the general
squalor and dinginess of one of the narrow streets that lead out
of the Strand. Fog shrouded the city, and curtained the river. A
thick, damp moisture oozed from the pavements; the panting breaths of
struggling horses sounded through the darkness; lights flashed redly
like demoniacal eyes that mocked at human and animal discomfort. Hoarse
shouts of warning rang out ever and anon to the alarm of groping
pedestrians.

A girl was making her way through the darkness and confusion, diving
under horses' heads and steering through the disorganised traffic. She
reached a narrow street where the fog from the river was soaring up
in a black mass of vapour, made her way to a door marked No. 41, let
herself in with a key, and ran lightly up the stairs to a dingy little
top room.

A girl crouching over the fire turned at her entrance.

"Ugh! What a day! However did you find your way back? I had almost
given you up. Well, any luck?"

"Yes, I've got the part."

"Nonsense!" The indifference left her face, and she sprang to her feet.
"You're not joking, Brianna?"

"Do I look as if I was joking?" said the rich, full voice. "No, Phil,
it is true, quite true. The most wonderful thing has happened, but I'll
tell you when we're having tea. I brought some in, by the way. Has
Mickey come home?"

"No, not yet. I expect he'll come soon. It's about his time. Well, this
is good news, Brianna. I declare you're in luck. I wish I was."

"Your time will come," said the Irish girl. "Never say die, Phil. Look
at me. Who'd have thought I'd ever get on to a London theatre after
just one year's experience in the provinces?"

"But you're down-right clever. There's no doubt about it," said the
other gloomily. "And such a quick study, too! I haven't a spark of real
talent, I'm sure of it."

Brianna was laying the cloth and setting out the tea things which she
took out of a cupboard.

"We'll have some toast for a treat," she said, as she took up the loaf
and began to cut thick rounds of bread. "Oh, there's no butter. Never
mind, Mickey shall fetch some when he comes in. There he is; run down,
Phil, and tell him before he comes upstairs. See, here's sixpence."

The other girl hurried off, and Brianna slipped out of a worn cloth
jacket, and removed her hat. She was very much altered. She had lost
her rustic look, and much of her beautiful colouring, but the red of
her lips accentuated the slight pallor of her cheek, and her eyes were
full and glowing, and her rich-hued hair seemed more luxuriant than
ever.

She carefully stirred the fire, and then knelt down to make the toast.
In a moment Phil returned.

"Well," she said, "begin. I'm dying to hear. Was it the agent got it
for you?"

"No; that's the strange part. I saw him as usual, and as usual heard
the same old story. He said it would be useless to apply. There were
fifty or more before me. So I left, and went back to the fog and was
groping along when I suddenly groped myself into the arms of a man
coming from the opposite direction. He apologised. I did the same. We
looked at each other as far as the gleam of a street lamp would allow.
We recognised one another immediately. We had met at the Cork races a
year ago. He is a gentleman--a lieutenant in the Dragoons, I think. He
remembered me, and insisted on hearing how I had got on. He saw me ...
'The Merchant'[i] that first time I ever 'took the boards.' Well, I
told him how I had toured with Monty's Company and taken all sorts of
parts and been a general utility actress for the last year, and that
I had got tired of it, and wanted a London engagement. He was much
interested. Asked me what agents I had been to and all the rest of it!
He abused old Whitmore for all the rogues and villains you ever heard
of. I told him about this vacancy at the Delphic. As luck would have
it he knows the principal actress, Miss St. Vincent, quite well. Great
friends. She's a lady, you know--the daughter of a clergyman in the
Isle of Wight."

"Oh! Stow that!" exclaimed Phil, impatiently. "There are some nine
hundred actresses at present in London, and eight hundred and
ninety-nine of them are clergymen's daughters. Do vary it a bit, my
dear."

"I only know what Mr. Lorrimer told me. Well, let's go on. He offered
to take me straight off to Miss St. Vincent and introduce me. She is
everything at the theatre. Her word is law, and if she told them to
engage me, why they would. So off we went. Oh, Phil, such a love of a
flat down Chelsea way. Perfect! And she the most perfect thing of all.
And so kind. I told her my story, and she was interested, and she made
me do one or two of my parts, and said I had the makings of a real good
actress in me. Wasn't that praise from her?"

"Yes," said Phil gloomily. "But it's quite true. Everyone who has seen
you says the same."

"Ah, here's Mickey!" cried Brianna, springing to her feet. She seized
the butter, threw it on the table, then took Mickey Croom's two hands,
and whirled him round and round.

"I've got it. At least, as good as got it!" she cried, laughing
and crying at the same moment. "Oh, Mickey, dear, isn't it
wonderful? Was there ever such luck? Your Brianna will appear at
a real London theatre. There's for you! After all the anxiety and
waiting, and agents' swindling, the chance has come to me. Isn't it
glorious--unbelievable! How astonished you look! There, sit down, poor
old dear, and get your breath, and the Happy Family shall have tea, and
I'll tell you all about it."

She rapidly repeated what she had already told Phil D'Eyncourt.

"And when I had done my famous little Jessica bit, she said to me, 'You
shall have the part, certainly. I'll write to the manager to-night.'
There, good people, what do you say to that? And I'm on in the great
scene with her. Fancy poor Brianna Lynch appearing with the great star
at the Delphic! I suppose I am awake, eh, Phil? Would you mind pinching
my arm? Ah--h--not so hard! Yes, it's all right. And, oh! I'm so
hungry. Phil, that's enough toast to begin with. We'll make it as we go
on. Hot and hot between two plates, like Mrs. Pipchin's chops!"

She dragged a chair up to the table. She was wild with excitement. Her
two companions watched her with affectionate delight. They both adored
her in different ways; Phil D'Eyncourt in a feminine, admiring, and
half-envious fashion, Mickey Croom with the ungrudging, worshipping
passion of a great soul held in bondage by a weak, deformed personality.

"Miss St. Vincent is just lovely," continued Brianna, as Phil handed
her a cup of tea. "I don't wonder people rave about her. And so clever.
But I wonder if she likes melodrama?"

"She's first in pieces of the Delphic sort," said Phil; "and gets a big
salary. I think she's wise to keep to it."

"I should always choose the highest in Art if I could," said Brianna.

"But it is not always possible, child," said Mickey, looking at her.
"There are many rungs to the ladder of Fame, but you can't jump to the
top. You must climb."

"Yes, I know," said the girl, with a sigh. "How hard it was, for a
time, wasn't it, Mickey? And what would we have done this last month
but for you getting on to the halls. However, it's my turn now to help,
and perhaps Phil will get something soon. Miss St. Vincent asked where
I lived, and with whom, and I told her all, even to the stage-uncle
relationship, Mickey. Dear me, what a rock of strength that has been to
us, hasn't it, Phil?"

They laughed gaily, and Brianna began to recount past episodes and
incidents that had a humorous as well as a pathetic side to them. It
was so pleasant to look back on storms when the ship was at last in
quiet seas. The vivid Irish fancy pictured the future in colours of
prismatic certainty. All hardships and toil were but shadows to a
brilliant foreground.

They lingered over their meal. Brianna told them of the new piece that
was to be put on for rehearsal immediately. She was to ask for Miss St.
Vincent at the stage door at eleven o'clock the next morning, and be
introduced to the manager, and he sent her part.

"I have to thank you, Mickey," she said, earnestly, "for teaching me to
speak. That was one of the first things Miss St. Vincent said before I
had repeated half-a-dozen lines. 'Thank goodness you know the rules of
elocution. Oh! what I have had to endure from mumbling.' I said I had
been taught by a great Shakespearian student. I did, indeed, Mickey.
'No better school,' she answered, 'and you will have nothing to unlearn
when you leave it.'"

A spot of red crept into the hunchback's sallow cheek. Praise like this
was so sweet to him. Other reward he could not and would not expect.

He moved away from the table and sat by the fire, smoking his pipe
and watching the movements of the two girls as they washed up the
tea things and tidied the room. What a happy year this last year had
been! Not even poverty, hardships, struggles, had dimmed its romance
for him. He had been Brianna's guardian and protector, and when Phil
D'Eyncourt had thrown in her lot with them, he had accepted the
responsibility with perfect goodwill. He had saved Brianna from much of
the coarseness of stage experiences, had sheltered her youth and beauty
in a hundred ways of which she was entirely ignorant, and when she had
prayed and entreated to come to London he had taken an engagement at a
music-hall--a thing he hated and despised--in order to support the two
girls until something turned up. His make-up as an Irish character, and
his singing of Irish songs, had made him the rage, and before a month
was over he had a couple of nightly engagements at his disposal.

It was humiliating, but satisfactory. It was also eminently
characteristic of an epoch that has turned Shakespeare into scenic
display, and aided the apotheosis of the music-hall artist.

Mickey Croom would never allow Brianna to witness his performance. He
hated to think that her eyes should witness his buffoonery, or her lips
laugh at his exaggerations of character.

"The bigger fool I make myself the more they like me," he muttered,
savagely, as night after night the applause of witless youths and the
laughter of light women greeted his efforts. But the pay was good, and
Brianna must be fed and sheltered until such time as she could secure
the long-talked-of "appearance" that was to bring Fame to her feet at
last!

Poor Fame! Fair mirage, that mocks the artist soul again and again.
What great things have been done in your name, and what poor rewards
you have granted!

As Mickey Croom smoked on, the frown on his brow deepened. In Brianna's
story she had touched very lightly on her meeting with Max Lorrimer. He
remembered that. It was gall and wormwood to him to think that another
man should have helped her--another succeeded where he had failed. He
had spared neither trouble nor expense, had paid agents' fees, sought
out theatrical managers, bribed interviews, stood drinks and lunches
out of his salary, yet all without success. Then suddenly this young
soldier had flashed across her path once more, and done in an hour what
he had laboured vainly for during months of anxious suspense.

It was hard, but nevertheless it was an accomplished fact. As he
watched her radiant face and heard the joyous ring in her voice a
fierce jealousy gnawed at his heart. He had told himself he could be
nothing to her ever, schooled himself to believe it, but all the same
it hurt him to think that anyone else might be. He wanted her in his
life. He could not bear to think of a time when she should have passed
out of it. Fame he never would grudge her; but it must be a fame that
would never lift her above his reach, never raise her to any altitude
whither he might not follow.

She owed so much to him. Was it altogether selfish to expect a little
in return? He tried to think it was not. Yet her light words, her
careless affection, her present exhilaration, hurt him, and the gloom
on his brow deepened as that lithe figure moved to and fro, and from
the girlish lips came snatches of Irish song, gay, plaintive, tender,
the songs he had taught her while they had trudged beside the caravan
in far-off days of which she never spoke now. He rose at last.

"I must be off," he said, and laid his pipe down on the mantelshelf,
and glanced for a moment at his face in the little dingy mirror. The
furrowed brow, the iron-grey waves of hair, the eyes dark and gloomy
as a starless night, all seemed to mock him with that ever-recurring
sense of physical disgust to which he was subject. As he glanced, there
flashed from behind him another face, flushed, brilliant, beneath a
shower of loosened hair. The two looked at one another from the dull,
cracked glass. Greater contrast could not be imagined. With a sudden
savage flash the dark eyes met the blue. For one unspoken moment they
held them by sheer force of will, searched them, spoke to them. Then
they were released. A shadow seemed to pass from the mirror's surface,
and Brianna heard the sound of a closing door.




CHAPTER XI.

"When you have quite done admiring yourself, my dear----" said a
mocking voice, and the girl started and looked round.

"Has Mickey gone?"

"Mickey has certainly gone. Didn't you hear the door? And now what are
we two forlorn females going to do to-night? A gallery in the Strand,
or a prowl? I vote for the Empire. I'm dying to see the new ballet.
After all, why need you mind what Mickey says? He's not your father or
your husband, and indeed even if he were you would not be bound to obey
him in these days of Emancipated Female Unions! He never asks if we go
out. I wonder how the fog is." She went over to the window and lifted
the blind. "It's quite clear, I declare. Come, Bri., my dear, where
shall we go?"

Brianna hesitated a moment.

"I don't care to go anywhere, really, and as for the Empire, well--what
things you've told me! And Mickey advises us never to go to the
promenade of any music-hall by ourselves."

"You little prude! My dear, do begin to look on life sensibly. No
one can go through it with eyes bandaged. There's no more harm in a
music-hall than in the gallery of a theatre, though I grant you the
entertainment is slightly different."

"Slightly, I should imagine!" agreed Brianna, with some contempt.

"But as hundreds of thousands of people want to be amused without the
trouble of thinking what amuses them, the halls are packed and the
theatres half-empty. Still, I won't force your inclination. There are
half-a-dozen theatres within the reach of as many minutes, and Monty's
passes are good for any. Which shall it be?"

Brianna considered for a moment, and then gave it as her opinion that
the Lyceum would be advisable.

"It's as good as a lesson," she said, "and I want lessons."

Phil shrugged her shoulders. She leaned to burlesque and comic opera.
The serious side of the drama never appealed to her. But she did not
dispute Brianna's choice, and the front row of the upper circle found
them eager and expectant as the curtain drew up on Henry VIII. Whenever
Brianna was at a theatre she had eyes and ears for nothing but the
stage. No detail, however insignificant, escaped her. For the time
being she lived in the parts that were represented; sorrowed, joyed,
laughed, desponded, or criticised. Her instincts were very keen, and
her taste and judgment singularly correct. Mickey had trained her
eye, as well as her mind, and now that training showed itself of good
service.

When the first act was over she began to look about the house. In the
second row of the stalls a décoletté back and a tower of golden hair
attracted her attention.

"Look Phil," she said, and then suddenly stopped, while a cold strange
feeling crept over her. Someone in the same row of stalls had stood up,
and was glancing carelessly over the different parts of the house. The
girl saw and recognised him, widely separated as they were.

A whole scene rushed back to her memory. An early morning, the sunlight
on a river, the dawn of hope and triumph in her own young life, a
mocking voice, two eyes that seemed to read her soul, the sound of
strange words she could not comprehend. Before her was the speaker.
There were the same strange eyes, and into her heart had crept the
same strange fear of them. She shrank back instinctively. Phil was
chattering loudly beside her, giving the cheap free criticism of an
unbiassed mind to the follies of a fashionable audience.

"Why, they're as much 'made-up' as any of us on the stage," she said.
"Look at that old thing in the box, in the green satin! My, what
diamonds; pity she hasn't a decent neck to hang them on. There's a
pretty woman over there, in white. No, too much powder, and too much
flesh. She'd be the better for some of the diamonds; regular beauty
unadorned she is! What a pack of old frumps over there; I expect
they're Duchesses. The sort of Duchesses 'Punch' always shows up.
Rather a nice looking girl in the box there. Do you see? With the stout
old party in black satin, and the young man who looks as if he had
polished his hair as well as his hat. Don't it shine, just. Do you see,
Brianna? Why, what's the matter?"

"I--I know him," said the Irish girl, slowly. "That's the young officer
I told you about--Mr. Lorrimer."

"He looks quite a swell," said Phil, wonderingly. "Fancy his being
here. I suppose you don't want him to see you. Well, you don't think
he'd look for you in dress circle or stalls yet, do you?"

"I don't mind if he sees me," said Brianna. "He knows what I am. He
can't expect me to be among the swells of the audience."

"I wonder what's become of your aunt and the caravan," said Phil,
suddenly. "Never heard or seen anything of her since you left, have
you?"

"Not a word," answered Brianna. "She was so angry, you know; and the
idea of Mickey coming too just made her mad."

"A good thing for you that Mickey did come," said Phil. "Wish I had had
an uncle like that to look after me when I first started touring."

"But he's not my uncle, really," said Brianna. "He only called himself
that because of lodgings and places."

"You kept it up very well," observed Phil. "Though I've thought uncles
weren't often as fond of their nieces as Mickey is of you. He just
worships, you, Brianna."

"He is very good and true and helpful," she said earnestly. "What a
noble heart beats in that poor disfigured body. Phil, have you ever
thought how cruel life is? What had Mickey done, that Nature should
serve him so?"

"Nature in the shape of drunken mothers often serves us so," answered
Phil shrewdly. "Look at the streets of any big town or city. The wonder
is that any child survives its first year. It's no fault of the mothers
that they do."

"Oh, I know; it's horrible, cruel, vile. One wonders God lets such
things be."

"And the churches and the missions, and the slum-workers can't make
matters better," continued Phil, gloomily. "Were you ever in a hospital
ward? I was once. Oh, the sights and scenes, and the pitiful, awful
stories! But there, don't let's talk of such things! Better look at
the house. Where's your swell friend gone? Why, he's down in the
stalls--look, at the end row there, talking to another man. What a
strange face. Do look, Brianna! What's the matter? You look quite pale!"

"It's so hot here," murmured the girl, leaning back and fanning herself
with her folded programme. "It makes me feel faint."

"Can I get you anything? Coffee, soda-water, lemonade? See, they're
bringing some round."

"No, no. I don't want anything, I'll be all right in a moment."

But she did not lean forward again, and kept her extemporised fan well
between her and the railings.

The play went on, but much of her interest had evaporated. Try as she
might her eyes would wander to that figure below. Of Max Lorrimer she
did not think, but the dominating personality of Raemore Clive was not
to be gainsaid by any effort. Strange she should have met both on the
same day. That the broken links of the chain were united at the same
period.

Attraction and repulsion were alternately swaying her mental faculties.
The memory of those strange words haunted her once more, she grew
restless and ill at ease. As the third act ended she begged Phil to
come away. The theatre was stifling, she was faint and tired. Any
excuse that came to her mind found utterance.

Phil made no objection. They rose and elbowed their way out, and were
soon in the street. Once in the open air, amongst the bustling crowd of
the Strand, all Brianna's fears vanished. It was as if she had thrown
aside some heavy covering that weighed her down--that stifled free
action or free thought. The reaction was so welcome that she could have
laughed for sheer relief. She took Phil's arm, and they walked quickly
home, laughing and jesting in frivolous girl fashion, discussing what
they would have for supper, and planning to surprise Mickey as they
loved to do.

Brianna had much of the Hibernian lightness and hilarity of spirit,
especially after a fit of depression. Away from the tyranny of Sally
Dunne, she had expanded into a totally different being. Happiness is
both a tonic and a beautifier. And in spite of hard work, poor wages,
and severe study Brianna had been very happy during this past year.

"Only a few hours, and then to-morrow!" she exclaimed, as she gave
Phil's arm a squeeze. "Glorious to-morrow! I feel as if I could 'skip
out of my skin like a snake,'[i] as Ben Johnson has it. I wonder if
snakes ever do skip out of their skins. I suppose it's a fact in
natural history. Here's our shop, though, Phil. Let us see how far
half-a-crown will go. Positive extravagance, isn't it? But one isn't in
luck every day."

"You haven't got your luck yet. I wouldn't be too sure," said Phil,
cautiously. "Half-a-crown's too much for a possibility."

"We'll reserve sixpence for beer and ginger-beer," laughed Brianna. "To
be sent in on the stroke of twelve."

They completed their purchases and let themselves in at the door of
their dingy lodgings. Brianna ran lightly up the stairs and opened the
parlour door. The radiant light of a blitzing fire and a turned-up lamp
greeted her astonished eyes. Seated in front of the fire, her gown
turned up to avoid scorching, and her bonnet tilted rakishly on one
side, was Sally Dunne.

Brianna stood still in the doorway, and gasped out an exclamation that
was echoed by Phil. The occupant of the chair turned her head and
surveyed the girl critically.

"Wal, Brianna," she said at last, "guess you're astonished at seeing
me here, and considering we parted on the very threshold of ructions
it is a marvel that I am embracing you in a spirit of forgiveness,
forgetful of my own identity and not even seeking to condemn you for
your ungrateful conduct. Now, come and kiss me."

Brianna advanced slowly, but she did not offer any salutation.

"How did you find me out?" she asked.

"How?" returned Sally, airily. "Oh that was easy enough. The company
could easily be traced, and one gal had Miss D'Eyncourt's address here
on account of some philandering love affair, which I will spare her
blushes."

"I don't know what you're talking about," interposed Phil, angrily. "No
one had my permission to give my address, that I know."

"All the same, I got it, you see," said Sally, with a triumphant grin.
"But now you have come in, permit me to remind you that my long waiting
here has given me an appetite, and as hospitality is Heaven's first
law, in the words of the great Shakespeare, 'Stand not on the order
of supper, but let us sup.'[i] There's a pub, round the corner that I
noticed, and half-and-half is what I'm at present taking, it suiting
London air, and a constitution that the wear and tear of caravans and
ungrateful friends, not to mention others, has long left unimpaired."

"People who are self-invited," remarked Phil, "are not expected to
give orders as if they were in an hotel. Some beer will arrive for
Mickey's supper about five minutes to 12, but no one here stirs out to
public-houses for any half-and-half, let me tell you."

"Oh, indeed!" exclaimed Sally. "And who may you be, giving your orders
in this caravan, as if you were its mistress."

"She is as much its mistress as I am," said Brianna, quietly. "We all
go shares here. Or course, aunt, as you have come to see me, I'll get
what you want, but you must wait till Mickey comes in. He won't allow
either of us to enter a public-house."

"My sakes! What next! He'll be cockering you up to believe you're
ladies, just as his drunken old foster-mother used to declare he
was a gentleman; only an accident, of course. But that's his little
mystery, or hers. It don't concern us. But if you mean to insinuate
that our social positions are variegated in any way since you left my
world-famous show, Brianna, let me tell you that you at least have no
penny historical romance about you. Plain Brianna Lynch you were and
are and will be, and Moll Murphy was your mother, and Patsy Lynch your
father, and there's nothing to be proud of in that, so far as I can
see."

"I never said I was proud of my parents," said Brianna.

A vivid picture of a bare-footed, ragged child running wild about the
Coal Quay flashed back to her mind. It seemed hardly possible that she
and that child were one and the same. Poverty, hardships, and brutality
had been the chief factors in her early education, and yet she had
conquered them. They were left far behind her now on a road she had
traversed in sorrow and bitterness of spirit.

"Your mother was my youngest sister, and I by rights of primogentiure
have a claim to your respect," continued Sally Dunne, loftily. "Though
its not much of a welcome you've given me," she added, relapsing into
the vernacular of caravan life, "and not a drop of anything handy to
drink your health. When does that idle vagabond you've chosen for a
protector come home."

"He has an engagement at a music-hall," said Brianna. "He will be home
about 12 o'clock."

"Fine company, indeed!" sniffed Sally. "And my show despised and looked
down upon us as contemptuous, though patronised by the nobility and
gentry of all countries! And are you on at a music-hall, too?" she
demanded, abruptly.

"I? Oh, no. I am doing nothing at present. But I have an engagement at
a good London theatre coming off. Five pounds a week and my dresses!"

"Lord sakes!" exclaimed Sally, opening her eyes. "You! a chit, a
vagabond, an ignoramus like you! Are they all mad people here? Five
pounds a week! Why, I'll go on the stage myself, if that's to be made
on it. Give up my caravan, sell the whole show, and play leading lady
as they call it to a London audience!"

"There's just one slight difficulty in the way of that, Mrs. Dunne,"
interposed Phil, who had been laying the table, and listening in great
amusement to the discussion. "There might not be a theatre, even in
London, sufficiently impressed by your singular merits to offer you the
part you seem so capable of filling!"

"Young woman," said Sally, solemnly, "when your opinion's asked for
it's time enough to give it. My versatile talents qualify me for
anything in life, as has been foretold of me. My caravan is but lonely
since deserted by my own flesh and blood in Nature's dire ingratitude.
That's why I've studied the Queen Mother in 'Hamlet.'[i] Would you like
to hear me go through it? I've had many an audience outside my caravan
most omniferous in their appreciation. I'm one of Nature's geniuses,
and my instincts are unfaulty. You shall judge for yourselves.
Now--I'll begin----

[i]"Hamlet, thou thy father hast much defended. Nay, then I'll speak.
What, I must not budge! Then straightway I'll depart and send those to
you that can speak. Aye, and set you up a glass that shall show the
inmost part of you yourself to you. What ho! Who comes? You will not
murder me? Ah--h--h!'"

A rippling peal of laughter shook the room.

"But, aunt, you're saying Hamlet's part as well as the Queen's,"
exclaimed Brianna.

"That's the way I make it unintelligible. I give my own cues. Oh, I
assure you, girls, I was most beset by assiduities to recite the part
again whenever I had done it once."

"I can quite believe that," said Phil, still laughing.

"But lo! I hear a footstep," burst out Sally, melodramatically. "Stop,
beshrew me, but I know its halting tread. 'Tis Mickey Croom! Is this
the traitor that I see before me? Come, let me clutch thee!"

She darted towards the door and threw it open, revealing the astonished
face of the hunchback.




CHAPTER XII.

Few things are more chaotic, complicated, and unsatisfactory than the
first rehearsal of a new play. To one uninitiated in stage mysteries it
would seem impossible that anything acceptable to the public could ever
be evolved from such chaos.

The first rehearsal of "The Unpardoned Sin"[i] at the Delphic proved no
exception to the rule. Disorder, wrangling, and fault-finding seemed
the order of the day. The stage manager and the joint authors were
perpetually at loggerheads. Some of the minor characters had not put in
an appearance at all, and the hero, who was extremely self-opinionated,
was perpetually arguing over speeches and situations with the heroine,
who, on the strength of popularity, a fine presence, and a vast
experience of high-class melodrama, was a power not to be resisted even
by leading gentlemen.

Brianna had put in an appearance at the stage door at the time agreed,
and been introduced to the manager as the young Irish actress who would
take the part suddenly thrown up by a girl with whom Miss St. Vincent
had quarrelled. She was to read her part, and then the question of
suitability would be determined. Meanwhile, she stood at the wings and
listened to the wrangling, and felt all impatience at the continual
interruptions, the suggestions of "cuts," the alterations in "lines,"
the disputes over an entrance or exit to right or left, all the petty
stage conventions with which she was now so familiar.

Amidst it all the beautiful face and figure of Ray St. Vincent stood
out, a dominating personality. She was a born actress, and had won her
laurels long since. Generous and enthusiastic by nature, she was a
favourite off as well as on the boards. She loved the stage, and loved
her life on it, and in response to public adoration she gave her best
and most brilliant gifts.

Above all, she had an intense sympathy with the young and enthusiastic
strugglers of her own sex. Never had she turned a deaf ear, or withheld
a helping hand, when an appeal was made to either. She had a positive
faculty of intuition, and never made a mistake where true talent was
concerned. Her manager had illimitable faith in her, and often asked
for her advice in preference to trusting his own judgment.

The part that Brianna was to play in the new melodrama had been offered
to and accepted by a far more experienced actress; but after studying
it through she declined to act it, as her best scenes were to be
dwarfed by Ray St. Vincent's share in them. The great actress could
afford to laugh at the petty jealousy of a minor one. She took her at
her word, however, with surprising promptness, and Fate threw Brianna
Lynch in her way just at a critical moment. She seemed the very girl
she wanted. Gifted, yet malleable, a quick study, and utterly free from
the paltry jealousy that it had so often been her fate to meet. A word
to the manager and all was done. He knew that his leading actress would
never play with an incompetent support, and two scenes in the play
brought out the best qualities of each of these two characters.

When it came to Brianna's turn to read her part she had had time enough
to learn it. She kept the book in her hand, but scarcely glanced at it.
She obeyed Ray St. Vincent's stage directions at once, because she saw
that they were correct, and the brilliance of the "star" seemed only to
bring out her own best qualities in response. Their first scene went so
well that the company forgot their grievances and united in a burst of
applause.

The manager addressed Brianna as she retired to the wings.

"Wherever you got your training, it's excellent," he said. "And you can
speak, thank God. Every line tells."

"Do you think I shall do?" asked the girl timidly.

"Yes," he said, "I'll give you a trial. If you're not nervous the first
night you'll make a hit. But stage fright would spoil all, and you've
no experience of a London theatre, I'm told."

"No," she said. "But I've acted in Liverpool and Manchester, and other
big towns, and I suppose audiences are much the same. I've heard that
Manchester is more critical than London."

He laughed.

"Wait till you try London," he said.

He moved off, and a young actor took his place. There is a frank
"camaraderie" about the stage that makes its professors independent of
social etiquette. Introductions are as unnecessary as chaperons.

"You did that very well," he remarked to Brianna. "Had much experience?"

"Only the provinces," she answered. "Montague's Company, you know; old
comedies and Shakespearian parts."

"Oh, the old school," he said loftily. "Yes, I know. Not in my line. I
keep to the modern. Light comedy is my strong point. I've never played
off the London boards, thank goodness!"

"Then you have a great deal to learn," said Brianna quietly.

"What?" he exclaimed, looking at her as if he could not credit his
powers of hearing.

"Yes," she said, "it is far and away the best school. It trains memory
and versatility. It gives you so many chances, and above all if there's
the right stuff in you it brings it out!"

He laughed scornfully.

"Keeps it in," he said, "is more likely. Why, I know a man who was cast
once for the part of Captain Absolute and had to play it and nothing
else for seven years! Fancy that, seven years! Of course, now he's one
of the grooviest actors on the boards. You simply can't act with him."

"Oh, I've known people like that," said Brianna. "But then they weren't
intelligent, can't help being 'groovy,' as you call it. Haven't you
heard of old Mrs. Seyton, the Irish actress, who was so letter-perfect
in Shakespeare that she could act even when blind drunk, without
prompting? Why she was taken out of the Workhouse sometimes to play the
Queen in 'Hamlet,'[i] and after the performance would have to go back
to Skahabeg!"

"No," said the young man. "I never heard of her, or Skahabeg. I don't
know anything about Ireland or the Irish. You're Irish, aren't you? I
guessed so by your accent."

"I am," said Brianna. "Cork's my birthplace. Have I a very strong
accent?" she asked, anxiously.

"Oh, no," answered the young fellow. "It's very pretty, in my opinion;
and when you're acting one doesn't notice it, except in a certain
mellowness of tone, that English voices lack. Ah, excuse, me, that's my
cue."

He left her, and she stood there in the wings quietly observant of all
that was going on, and marvelling what the play was like as a whole.
Actors rarely judge a play on its merits as a play. To them it is
merely a series of parts, and their own individual part is of paramount
importance. Perhaps this is as well, when it comes to a question of
production.

The "star," of course, is always perfectly convinced that by his or her
part the piece may command failure or success. Its merits, taken as a
whole, are comparatively insignificant. It is criticised in theatrical
parlance as a play, "with a rattling fine part for so and so." "Me,"
in large capitals, is what the principals look for, and "me," often
describes a circle of very limited intelligence.

When the long rehearsal was over Brianna felt tired and exhausted. She
had had nothing to eat since her early breakfast, and excitement and
fatigue made her pale and faint.

She was surprised, when Ray St. Vincent came up to her.

"How tired you look, child," she said. "Come home with me and have
something to eat. I want to talk your part over with you."

Before Brianna had quite collected her senses, it seemed to her that
she was being whirled along the murky streets in a hansom, and was
listening like one in a dream to the pleasant chat of her companion.

A sense of peace, of comfort, came over her, to which she had hitherto
been a stranger. All her cherished dreams looked back at her from a new
standpoint of hope. The bitterness of first struggles, of poverty and
hardships were all forgotten. She had the fortunate Celtic capacity of
throwing herself into the joy of the immediate moment. The old horrors
of her life seemed like incidents in a nightmare. They had passed. They
were over. The dawn had broken, the day was at hand, and her heart
swelled with joy and glad relief, and the tears glistened in her eyes,
as she followed her new friend into the dining-room of her pretty flat
and sank down in one of the big inviting chairs before the bright wood
fire.

"Now, we'll make ourselves comfortable," said the actress, as she
tossed her sealskin cloak aside and removed her hat. "Just some hot
soup and a cutlet, and then we'll talk. I always 'talk' my part over
until I get into it. I hope you won't mind. I've tired out lots of my
stage friends before this. Now I'm going to experiment on you."

"You will not tire me," said Brianna, earnestly.

"No? I really believe you mean it."

She dropped her jesting tone, and leaned forward, holding her while
slender hands out to the blaze.

"It's not fair to ask your history," she said, "but I should think it
was interesting."

Brianna shrank back, and her colour changed.

"Interesting! Oh, no, it is horrible. You know, of course, I am not a
lady, only a----"

"A daughter of the people," interrupted Ray St. Vincent, quickly. "What
of that? You have unusual gifts, let me tell you, and they are no mean
inheritance."

"I was going to say only a common girl."

The actress looked at the beautiful face and pathetic eyes, then
lightly touched one of the brown, work-coarsened hands, lying idly in
the girl's lap.

"'What God has created, that call not thou common or unclean,'"[i] she
quoted, softly. "Ah, child, for aught you know our lives may be much in
accord with each other. I was not sixteen when I faced the world on my
own account, sick of the irksome restraints and iron discipline of an
uncongenial home. I was cast off. My name is never mentioned there now.
I had to work my way from the first rung of the ladder up to where I
stand now. It has taken twelve years to do it, Brianna. Twelve years?
Does it seem a very long time? Oh, the tragedy of those years. Dropped
into a gulf of despair, left behind for ever, and only one thing left
to me--work. It is my own religion, my salvation. It is the only
salvation for a woman who has a heart, and a face that men call fair.
You have both, child--and youth--and a great gift, I wonder what life
will mean for you. Ah, here comes the soup at least. Draw your chair up
to the table. You must be famished."

Brianna obeyed. A sense of wonder and of interest seized upon her. She
seemed to stand on the threshold of a new experience. This beautiful
woman, surrounded by wealth and luxury, crowned by fame, the idol of
a public, the queen of many men's worship, this marvellous being was
treating her as an equal. The charm of her personality vanquished the
girl. There is always something wonderful in womanhood to its expectant
possessor.

Brianna felt as if some new self, of which she had been but dimly
conscious, had unfurled wings in expectation, and poised, waiting
and exultant, for the joy of flight. An ecstasy of emotion swayed
her senses. The beauty and luxury around appealed to some vague want
her life had always craved and missed. The food, the service, the
appointments, how different to anything she had ever known, and yet how
naturally she accepted them.

Would such things ever be hers? Did they lie within her powers of
attainment, even as they had lain in the power of this woman?

Then the first flash of wonder passed, and left her waiting for what
would follow. She felt as if something was about to happen; something
that would alter her life henceforward.




CHAPTER XIII.

They drew their chairs up to the fire and sat silently enjoying its
warmth, while without the gloom gathered and deepened in street, and
river, and sky.

Miss St. Vincent had the acting part of the new play in her hand, and
the plot in her head. It was of the plot she talked, giving a rapid,
concise account of its varied embroglio, and sketching the heroine in
vivid colours for Brianna's wondering eyes.

"A man never draws a woman quite completely," she said, "either in a
book or a play. The characters I have represented have never been what
the author intended originally. He gives me the skeleton, and I give
it the flesh and blood. I think it, talk it, feel it, until it becomes
a real person, or rather until I become its reality. Now, here,"--she
paused, then stirred the fire to a brighter blaze, and began turning
over the typed pages of MSS.--"this woman is altogether impossible. She
has loved the man when both were young and free, and sees him desert
her for another woman, whom he marries. She swears never to forgive,
and she marries, nursing her revenge, and, resolved to gain it, she
makes mischief and misery, and the man's wife appeals to her--about the
last thing on earth a woman would do, except on the stage. Never mind,
it gives us a fine chance for a scene, though I fear you won't look
weak enough for the part. The husband hears this appeal, and his hatred
and humiliation are intensified. He drives his wife to desperation
and poison, when in comes the Revengeful Woman, saves her rival, and
reconciles them, and goes out to her own life--broken-hearted. In real
life the whole thing would be impossible, but you'll find the audience
tearful and enthusiastic and ready to swear it is true to nature."

"But the stage has to exaggerate," said Brianna. "If there was no
violent passion or emotion, no over-virtuous virtue and over-vicious
vice, the audience wouldn't grasp the meaning of what they saw."

"That," said Ray St. Vincent, "is the opinion that the stage-world
has of its audience. It gives its theories to them. It cannot realise
a change--the change of education and culture. It clings to old
traditions and believes in old faults. Melodrama is of all stage
work the most burdened with these traditions and these faults. The
fine speeches are mere clap-trap to catch the gallery and pit, or
the traditional middle-class audience--the retired city folk, the
aristocrats of Clapham Rise and Peckham, and Maida Vale. Oh, how sick I
am of it all!"

Brianna raised surprised eyes to the beautiful impatient face.

"Then why do you do it?" she asked. "Surely you are famous enough now
to choose your own kind of work."

"That is just what I am not," said Ray St. Vincent, bitterly. "I got
into a groove and there I must stick. No one, no manager or dramatist,
will believe I can do any other part than those with which my name has
been associated. 'Keep to that line. No one can touch you at it,' they
say, and plays are written for me, and parts brought to me, and again
and again I am forced from the art of the stage to its conventions. I
know so well the old routine, the exact look, gesture, break in the
voice, tear in the eye, but never yet have I played as I could play, or
had the part I wish to act."

Brianna looked at her again.

"I thought you so famous, so happy," she said.

"'Call no one happy till they're dead,'"[i] quoted the actress,
scornfully. "Least of all we puppets of the public, made to dance and
mimic for its amusement, bear its displeasures, hear its censure, and
suffer at its will."

She clasped her hands and leant back in her chair. The MSS. slid from
her lap and lay disregarded on the floor.

"Oh! what dreams I dreamt once," she said. "Once, a girl, in the old
rectory parlour, living on ideas, feeding every sense on poetry and
romance. What dreams. . . . My God! . . . And now--where are they? What
use were they? What does the world care for anything beautiful, simple,
pure, idyllic? It loves its vices and its pleasures, its follies and
its shams. Those who would teach it anything better are mocked at, or
stoned, as the Jews of old stoned their great Teacher. I'm not going
to preach, child. I'm not a religious woman, far from it, but, oh!
how my heart aches for something true and great and comprehensible in
this life of mine! But, there, enough of me. Now, tell me all about
yourself; all that you care to tell, of course. Don't be afraid to
trust me. I'm sure you're good. I can feel that your eyes have never
looked shame in the face yet, and whether you came from gutter or
throne makes no difference. You carry within you that spark of divine
fire which illumines life, and lifts its possessor far above the
world's outer darkness."

So in the soft dusk the firelight illumined, Brianna told her story,
its pitiful beginning, its neglected childhood, its misery and
hardships and vicissitudes. She told it simply, and with no attempt to
waken sympathy. She was surprised to feel the sudden warm clasp of a
hand, to see tears standing in the beautiful eyes that met her own.

"You brave, wonderful child!" said Ray St. Vincent suddenly. "What you
must have borne and suffered! . . . . And yet never discouraged. I am
glad Fate threw you in my way, though I feel you were bound to succeed.
If it hadn't been I who helped you it would have been another. Now,
tell me, what do you think of Mr. Lorrimer?"

"Of Mr. Lorrimer?" echoed Brianna. "Only that he is very kind, and
doesn't seem a bit stuck up or proud. But I know very little of him,
very little. Why do you ask me?"

"Perhaps to hear how he has behaved to you," was the answer. "I have
so little faith in men. There are so few one can trust or believe. So
few who look upon a woman as anything better than an excuse for their
vices, or an appendage of their comfort."

"I know nothing about them," said Brianna. "Mickey has always taken
care of that."

"I should like to see Mickey. You must bring him here some day."

"May I? I should love you to know him! I could never tell you one half
his goodness to me."

"Don't repay it by ingratitude, child. . . . Wasn't that a ring? I hope
no one is coming to disturb our solitude. I forgot to deny myself. Oh!
It's Max Lorrimer's voice. Shall we see him?"

"That is for you to say, surely," answered Brianna in surprise.

"Well. Yes, I'm at home, Parkes, and bring in the lamp."

She rose and picked up the play in its stiff cover, and then held out a
welcoming hand to her visitor.

"We are enjoying a little blind man's holiday," she said. "That shadowy
form is Miss Lynch, if you wish to know. I brought her home with me
after rehearsal. I wanted to talk the play over with her."

Brianna rose, and the entrance of the lamp at the same moment showed
her to the young man as he had never seen her yet. A slender figure
in a close-fitting dress of dark serge, a mass of light chestnut hair
coiled about her head, a slight flush warming the delicate oval of
her cheek. He was startled at the change in her, at the new air of
refinement and ease that made her greeting of him so natural, yet so
perfectly unobtrusive.

"If you are talking the play over I hope that means that you have
secured a part in it," he said, eagerly.

"Yes," said Brianna. "Thanks to Miss St. Vincent's influence, they have
given it to me. Oh, I am so proud, so pleased. If you only knew what it
means!"

He took a chair, and Ray St. Vincent rang for tea.

"I had no idea it was five o'clock," she said. "Now, Max, did you come
for refreshment, or out of curiosity?"

"Neither," he said, smiling. "The truth is I have another favour to ask
you. I seem to be always doing that, don't I? But this is one that may
benefit yourself at some future time."

"Indeed! Well, what is it?"

"A friend of mine," he commenced, "has written a play----"

She laughed. "Oh, fie, Max! That is such an old trick. The Jew and his
partner, you know."

"Really, I am in earnest," said the young man. "I could not pretend
to be clever to you. You'd find me out directly. This man is really
wonderful. You should hear him talk."

"I've no faith in talkers," she said, turning to the little tea-table
her maid set out.

"Well, the long and short of it is, he has written a play--the most
marvellous thing I ever heard. Wait till you hear it, or read it. And
the part of the woman is simply grand."

"Is there only one woman in this marvellous play?"

"Yes; one woman and four men. It's most original, as I told you."

"Then it speaks failure at once. The play-going public won't stand
originality. It makes them exercise their brains; and they don't go to
the theatre for that. How many acts?"

"Two. I tell you he read it to a few fellows in my rooms last night,
and it held us simply breathless. Would you let him read it to you?"

"For what purpose? I'm not independent. It's not as if I was a manager.
I could not accept a play with any view to production. And a two-act
play is impossible."

"The public want educating. They've run in the same groove long enough,
and the critics help them to do it. Why shouldn't a play be in two acts
as well as a musical comedy or a farce?"

"No reason, except the thick-headedness of managers, the conventional
rules of companies, the obstinacy of actors, and the general obtuseness
of the British public. Vanquish these and your play may be a success.
With the stage, the press, and the public in its present condition, I
venture to say it won't."

"Poor old Clive!" sighed Lorrimer, as he sipped his tea. "It's a shame
to think of such good stuff wasted, and he's made up his mind you're
the one woman who can do the heroine."

"A good many other amateur dramatists have honoured me with a similar
opinion!" she answered.

"Clive--is it Mr. Raemore Clive who has written this play?" asked
Brianna, suddenly.

They both looked at her.

"Yes," said Lorrimer. "You don't know him, do you?"

"I met him in Cork, don't you remember?"

"Of course I do. Queer chap, isn't he? Metaphysical--no, psychical,
that's the word. Sees things; reads your hand, and your thoughts, and
all that. Do let me bring him here, Ray. He'd be quite a study for you.
And even if the play isn't regularly produced you might do it at a
matinee, you know. Create the part, or whatever they call it. Do hear
him read it. I assure you I wouldn't bother about it, only I feel it's
great, and unlike anything I ever heard.

"Very well, bring him here on Sunday evening, and you must come too,
Brianna. You see I've dropped the Miss Lynch. If the play is so
wonderful does he intend to produce it himself at a matinee?"

"I shouldn't wonder. It depends on whether he can get a cast to please
him. I don't believe he can. The four men are very difficult parts."

"It's an odd idea," said Ray, musingly. "One woman and four men, and in
two acts. I really begin to feel interested."

"You'll be a thousand times more interested when you hear it."

"Is this man a recent acquaintance of yours?"

"Yes. I first met him when I was touring Ireland with Templeton. He and
Templeton were at school or college together. This chap Raemore Clive
is a mystic or clairvoyant. He can tell what's going to happen to you.
It's most extraordinary."

"I should certainly like to see him," observed Ray thoughtfully. "I am
interested in those out-of-the-way sciences, if they are sciences. I
believe in personal magnetism. No one can sway an audience of any sort
without it."

"As you sway yours?"

"Yes, and as that child yonder will sway her's. She is full of it.
Bernhardt has it. Ellen Terry has it. It is a sort of footlight
delirium that rushes from you to your hearers. You feel and they are
bound to feel with you. They are not able to think, or cavil, or
criticise. They must do just what you want them to do for the time
being."

"It seems very wonderful," said Max Lorrimer, tugging at his long
moustache thoughtfully. "But I'm sure you're right, for I've seen the
effect as you say."

"The Public is a soft-headed fool at best," said Ray scornfully.
"It will rush after anything it is told to rush after. A two-headed
monstrosity, or an armless 'What is it,' will draw them as surely as
any genius. In fact, they seem to prefer them. How many stage successes
have been made, not by merit, but by some eccentricity on the part of
the actor--some trick of manner or peculiarity of voice. I could name
popular comedies that have run three or four hundred nights merely
owing to some little trick or mannerism that has caught on. The actor
may have been quite unconscious of it, but one person tells another
and then everyone rushes to see or hear this oddism. What made the
success of the 'Private Secretary?'[i] Simply the way Penley said
'D'you know-w?' A week later all London was saying it. It's the same
with Roberts, and Brough, and Paulton, and Grosssmith. They simply
play themselves. They are born comedians. They don't need to act. Then
dramatists write parts round their eccentricities or mannerisms, and
fame is theirs. It is a great art to utilise your own advantages. It is
the new policy of the stage. Half the comedians at whom we all laugh
are not actors or actresses. They are simply eccentrics, and cannot
help playing what they are. The mistake would be if they played any
other part. I daresay they sigh to be Romeo or Hamlet or Macbeth, but
Nature has wisely prevented it. To be a legitimate laughing-stock may
not be art, but there is no doubt it pays much better."

She poured herself out some more tea, and laughed as she met Brianna's
admiring glance. "I was off at a tangent, wasn't I?" she said. "I hope
I haven't bored you both. Max, this piece is going to be a big hit, let
me tell you. There's grit in it, and Brianna, there, will wake up to
find herself famous, if I'm not much mistaken. Letty Peraut will be mad
at her folly in throwing up the part when she sees what can be made of
it."

"I'm so glad," said the young man, his face aglow with genuine feeling.
"Ever since I saw Miss Lynch act that night as 'Jessica,' I felt she'd
make a hit some day. I told her so, and to see her on the London boards
so soon seems like a prophecy fulfilled."

He looked at the beautiful face, and Ray St. Vincent, caught the look.
A sudden chill, a sense of loss and pain, touched her heart.

"Must I lose this, too," she thought, "the friend of years, the hope,
the dream? She has so much that I have lost. How quick men are to
recognise gifts of soul when they are united in a beautiful body."

With a sigh she turned aside and busied herself with the teacups.
Brianna rose suddenly.

"I am sure it is late, I ought to be getting home," she said. "They
will wonder what has become of me."

"You remember the hour for rehearsal to-morrow?" asked Ray St. Vincent.

"Oh, yes. I shall devote this evening to studying my part."

"How do you go home?" questioned Max Lorrimer, rising also. "Couldn't I
give you a lift in my cab?"

"Thank you, no," she said, quietly.

And Ray St. Vincent felt an odd little thrill of pleasure at the sound
of that decisive negative, and at the serene unconsciousness of the
beautiful face.

She took the girl's hand in her own and kissed her warmly.

Max Lorrimer looked on with a sudden sense of rebuff that was both
unusual and unpleasant.




CHAPTER XIV.

With jubilant steps and a voice that unconsciously broke into song
Brianna ran up the stairs of the dingy lodgings and burst into the room
where Phil D'Eyncourt and Sally Dunne were seated.

"Oh, such a day!" she cried. "Everything's happening at once. Fancy,
where I've been. Miss St. Vincent took me home with her, and we had
dinner together, and talked over our parts in the two scenes, you know.
Phil, we're on together, and I have such a splendid bit. And she is so
kind and helpful, and for all her fame and name not a bit stuck up.
Just as sweet and natural as if she were nobody in particular."

"You lucky girl," said Phil, with a sigh. "I wish my turn would come."

Then she put down her work and bubbled over into sudden laughter. "I
took your aunt to an agent," she said. "He thinks she would do for the
halls; but she is ambitious--leading lady or nothing, isn't it, Mrs.
Dunne?"

Sally looked at the two girlish faces and frowned.

"It's well for chattering magpies to be strutting and preening
themselves," she remarked. "But noise don't count against weight. An
able-bodied woman like me with my vast stores of experience and my
versatility of talent is bound to succeed some day."

"She made a great impression on old Whitehead," observed Phil,
demurely. "He chucked her under the chin, didn't he, Mrs. Dunne?"

"He had the impertinence to offer overtures of familiarity," said
Sally, with dignity, "which I naturally rescinded with scorn. Love
is to me an oft-told tale," she added. "So I don't pay much heed to
men's lamentations. Sally Dunne knows her own value, and I tell you,
girls, that until a woman does that she is neither more nor less than
a shiftless delusion, blown here and there by every chance breeze that
sweeps her path."

"You're a caution, you are," exclaimed Phil, laughing boisterously. "A
real down-right character, isn't she, Brianna? Why don't you go on the
'halls?' You'd make a fortune, and you need only be yourself, and do a
song or a recitation. You don't half recognise your value."

"There you make a mistake, miss," rejoined Sally, sharply. "It's my
value that has my entire comprehension. I never disremember a time
when I was blind to my own superiority. But life has been hard to me,
and my nature is soured by adversity and the unnatural asperity of my
much-tried spirit. But my poor interests must take a back seat now
before the Tragedy Queen. Go on, Brianna, tell us all about it. Or wait
till Mickey comes in. He's gone for a bottle of Kinahan to oblige me,
and keep out the damp of this pestillenthal chamber. What a place to
live in! Why, the paper's rotting off the walls, and you can't open a
window without being rheumaticised with river mist. Ugh! Give me my
caravan, I say, for choice--no one's leave necessitated. I think I hear
Mickey, and the kettle's on the boil. Now for a drop o' comfort, while
you can your tale unfold."

Mickey made his appearance at this moment laden with parcels. Brianna
relieved him of them, and answered the welcome of his eyes with a
brilliant smile. Yet the contrast between this dingy room, this shabby
housekeeping, and all the comfort and beauty of her new friend's
surroundings struck sharply on her notice. A new fastidiousness had
crept into her natural sense of refinement. The parcels of grocery, the
untidiness of Phil D'Eyncourt, the slovenly attire of her aunt, all
bore a new and distasteful aspect.

Hurriedly she put the parcels aside into the cupboard, and took out
glasses and spoons and sugar for the concocting of the "drop o'
comfort" mentioned by Sally Dunne.

"I have to study my new part," she said. "And I must give two or three
hours to it, aunt. Why don't you and Phil go with Mickey to-night? It
will pass the time."

"The discourteousness of such a request is its only excuse," exclaimed
Sally, bridling with righteous indignation. "I to be turned out to a
low immoral place of amusement by her I've reared and upraised to this
station in life! What next?"

"I can't study unless I'm perfectly quiet," answered Brianna; "and you
know, aunt, you can no more stop talking than a clock can help ticking
when it's wound up."

"That's true," observed Mickey gruffly. "Brianna's got to be considered
now, Mrs. Dunne, and as you've come here self-invited, why you must
fall in with our ways or--take yourself off again. I suppose you're
sensible enough to see that."

"Never were my senses maligned," exclaimed Sally. "And I'd have you
know that I understand the proprieties of life as well and better
than you, Mickey Croom. I am proud of my niece. She will be elated on
a pinnacle of success one day, and I shall not be behindhand in my
acclamations. Now, Brianna, my dear, one more tumbler of punch and then
I'm off to the gilded halls of pleasure, as you desire. It will be a
super-abundant gratification to see Mickey making a fool of himself."

Mickey's scornful glance passed over her unobserved. Sally Dunne was,
at present, enjoying herself immensely. The caravan was all very well
in the summer, but in the winter, that was a very different matter.
Besides, she loved London, and having quartered herself on the Happy
Family, as they called themselves, she determined to stay with them as
long as she possibly could. She had secured an attic at the top of the
house, and had brought there her few belongings. Phil D'Eyncourt had
intimated that in the present straitened condition of finances she must
pay for her own board, and her willingness in that respect had resulted
in Mickey's packhorse condition, and the abundant replenishing of the
store cupboard. They felt it was useless to raise more objections at
present, and that Sally Dunne must be added to the family menagerie
much as an eccentric cat or a mischievous parrot would have been.

She was amusing, and in Phil's vernacular, "wouldn't be able to boss
the show any longer," and as long as she kept her temper under control
they could make no very strong objection to her presence.

Mickey Croom's dislike to her was as strong as ever; but, after all,
she was Brianna's only relative, and it was for the girl to object, not
for him.

He shared the punch with her, and listened eagerly to Brianna's account
of her day's adventures.

He listened to her rich, full voice, he looked at her sparkling eyes,
he read the hopes and triumphs of her heart. Then, suddenly, his head
drooped, and he groaned aloud. Brianna stopped in her recital.

In a moment she was beside him.

"Why, Mickey, Mickey dear, are you ill?" she cried, and as he lifted
his head and looked at her, something new and human and beautiful in
his eyes struck her with a sense of wonder.

"No, child, no. I'm not ill," he said, hoarsely. "Only a sudden spasm.
It's nothing; it's gone."

"Working too long on an empty stomach!" interjected Sally Dunne. "Well
I know those spasms. Peppermint and gin, Mickey, that's the best for
remedial action. I've got some, now I come to think of it. I'll go and
fetch it."

"No, no, don't," exclaimed Mickey, impatiently. "I'm all right."

He drew himself up, and away from the girls arms, and gave himself a
shake like a dog who had swum to land through deep waters.

He felt angered and ashamed at this self-betrayal. It was weak and
unmanly, and altogether unworthy of the part he had determined to play
in life.

"Come, it's time for us to be off," he said, suddenly. "You've two
minutes to get your bonnets on."

Sally Dunne rose and left the room, taking one of the candles with
her. Phil, laughing and joking, retired into the adjoining bedroom she
and Brianna shared. The hunchback stirred the fire to a blaze, and
stretched his hands towards it. As the red glow leaped upwards Brianna
noticed for the first time how thin and white and well-shaped those
hands were. They looked almost transparent in the firelight. The hand
of the artist, not of the worker.

A wave of pity and of tenderness swept over the girl's heart. She came
closer, and leant her arm on the mantelshelf, and stood there looking
down on the worn, rugged face that seemed, in this moment of rest, to
wear an infinite pathos.

"Life has been very hard for you, Mickey, hasn't it?" she asked,
suddenly.

"Hard!" he echoed, and the bitterness of his voice said more than his
words. "Hard, indeed, child. I don't even know who I am."

"Do you mean you don't know your parents?" she asked.

He shook his head.

"My earliest recollections are only of a drunken old woman to whose
charge I had been given, and to whose care I owe this--deformity,"
he said, with a sudden, savage frankness that startled the girl.
"Childhood, boyhood, what were they but humiliation and torture?
Manhood--what is it but shame? I move among my fellows strong, able,
keen of wit, firm of purpose, true of heart as any of them, and I see
myself shunned and scorned and abhorred. I have to fall behind in the
race, to suffer contumely, to watch the horror in women's eyes, the
mockery in men's, to see little children shrink from me, unknowing the
wealth of love the poor hunchback holds, and all that is beautiful in
life passes me by. I only know its cruelty and pain."

"Oh, no, Mickey!" she said, and sudden rare tears sprang to her eyes
at the unconscious pathos of his voice. "Not altogether cruel. I have
never shrunk from you. I have always loved you, Mickey, and I always
shall. You were my only friend when I was friendless, and no other can
take your place."

"Not my place, but a better one. Child, don't think I claim anything
from you but a memory. And even that only if it is a free gift. I am
not exacting, only faithful."

The deep, dark eyes looked up at her from under their rugged brows with
the patient, dog-like fidelity she knew so well. Her own gazed back,
and seemed to plunge into a well of clear water. The faithful heart,
the steadfast nature, the great loyal unselfish soul, all these she saw
and recognised.

She trembled suddenly as one on the threshold of a new world.

"Oh, Mickey!" she cried, softly. "What injustice you have done
yourself."

One of the long, slender hands dropped on to his knee. The bright
flame died into a deep red glow, and shone on his white, sad face.
Involuntarily she sank on her knees and took the hand in her own.
Suddenly the velvet softness of her mouth touched and lingered on it in
the first caress she had ever given.

He sat very still. He was afraid to move, afraid to speak. Something
thrilled to his heart's core, wild as pain, sweet as joy, desolate as
death. Then a sigh that was half a sob stirred the silence.

The door opened suddenly, and Sally Dunne entered.




CHAPTER XV.

The little squalid room was quiet at last. Brianna paced to and fro
ceaselessly, restlessly, the book in her hand, but all her mind and
brain a series of pictures in which her own personality stood out,
suffering, pleading, forgiving, as the part demanded.

All else was forgotten. For the time being she was the wronged wife
pleading with her husband, then with her rival. Her voice thrilled and
quivered on the silence. Her face flushed and paled with overwrought
feeling. She caught sight of its reflection in the dull glass over the
mantelshelf, and was startled into sudden wonder.

"If I could only look like that on the night!" she said. "Oh!--If I
should fail after all."

The thought fell like the chill of ice on her passionate enthusiasm.
No success has failed to touch the possibility of failure in its
probationary hours.

Again she returned to her part, tossing the book aside, for she was
letter perfect in the first act. She thought it all out. The positions,
the movements, the modes of entrance and exit. There would be a long
and arduous rehearsal on the morrow, and she had determined to show
something of what she could do.

It was nearly eleven o'clock before she ceased and flung herself into
the ricketty old chair by the fire. She was very tired. The emotions
and excitement of the day began to tell upon her, and that old sense of
loneliness and discouragement returned.

Involuntarily her thoughts turned to her meeting with Max Lorrimer. How
good he was! How friendly and hopeful! How he seemed to believe in her!
How pleasant it must be to hold his friendship as Ray St. Vincent held
it! She remembered they called each other by their Christian names.
That surely argued terms of long intimacy. From this point her thoughts
wandered onwards to the forthcoming Sunday. She would meet that strange
man again. Would he remember her and the morning when he had spoken
in that wild fashion? She could recollect his words still. How often
she had puzzled over them. Had they meant anything, or had he only
spoken in order to mystify and bewilder her? She knew he held a strange
fascination for her. The fact of his having written a play which she
was to hear sent a curious thrill of excitement through her veins. It
seemed to draw him nearer to herself, to place them on a ground of
united interests.

She leant back in the shabby chair, and closed her eyes and went over
in memory all the incidents and accidents that had beset her life since
that day of the races. The two men connected with that brief drama
were once more associated with her career. Could it only be a simple
chance that had directed this, or was there really a Fate controlling
human lives and forcing them to play a part in the scheme of existence
whether they would or no?

She grew perplexed. How strange it was. How impossible to know with any
certainty of conviction. Life was in us, and about us, and we drifted
on taking the evil with the good, the dark days with the bright, and
in the end it was all the same. The dropping of a curtain that could
never again be raised, the passing on to a stage whose mysteries were
unrevealable.

Her thoughts were abruptly disturbed by the entrance of the other
members of the Happy Family. Sally Dunne burst into wild complaints
at finding the fire nearly out, and no preparation for supper. She
was cold, and tired, and hungry. If this was the treatment she had to
expect she would return to the caravan.

Brianna rose wearily. Her aunt always brought back memories of the old
wretched life. She seemed to feel the fetters of obligation on her
wrists once more. Phil D'Eyncourt was less ceremonious. She pushed
Sally into a chair and bade her 'shut up.' "Brianna's not to be
worried," she went on. "She's our show piece, and has to be considered.
You shall have your supper in five minutes, and if a knuckle bone of
ham, a pound of best Cheddar, and a quart of six ale don't content you,
why you'd best go back to your caravan, as you say. We never asked you
here, you know."

Sally Dunne unloosened her bonnet strings in silence. Some of Phil's
home truths were unanswerable.

Meanwhile Mickey attended to the fire and the two girls laid the table.
The sight of the food restored Sally's good humour, and the arrival
of the ale, frothing and thirst-inspiring, still further assisted the
renewal of harmony. They all sat down to supper with good will.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Day after day the rehearsals went on--arduous, lengthy, full of
squabbles and disputes, turning the stage into a playground for
loosened jealousies and long-hidden animosities.

Brianna stood aloof and looked on in wonder. Her reserve stood her in
good stead, for, if she made few friends, neither had she any enemies.
By Mickey's advice she held back the full interpretation of her part
until the date of the performance should be at hand, contenting herself
with mere accuracy of word and action; Ray St. Vincent did the same.
But she watched Brianna carefully, and every day felt more convinced of
the girl's rare abilities.

"You don't forget to come to-morrow evening?" she said, as they were
parting after the Saturday rehearsal. "Come in about eight; you've no
evening dress, I suppose?"

"No," said Brianna. "I've never needed one off the stage yet."

Ray St. Vincent's eyes swept the slight figure with easy measurement.

"I'll fix you up," she said, with a smile. "Be with me at half-past
seven instead of eight. You're not too proud, I hope. I always think
the stage should uphold St. Paul's advice to 'have all things in
common.'"

Brianna coloured.

"It's very good of you," she said, with a glance at her well-worn black
serge. "And why should I be proud? I don't want your guests to be
ashamed of me."

"That's a sensible girl," said Ray, approvingly. "I've half a
theatrical wardrobe at anyone's service if they need it. You shall have
your choice."

She nodded and passed on. Brianna followed shortly afterwards. Ray
St. Vincent puzzled her a little. After that first outbreak of frank
familiarity she seemed to have withdrawn into a background of reserve.
She treated Brianna merely as one of the company; suggested "business"
in their scenes, or gave hints as to improvements, but never relapsed
into anything resembling friendliness.

The girl felt hurt by the sudden change, and cased herself with the
humility of an inferior. After all, why should she have expected any
other treatment, she asked herself. She must win her spurs first before
she could claim equality with any star in the profession. She squared
her shoulders, and drew herself up as she passed through the narrow
dark passages and labyrinths of mystery that lead to the stage-door.

A voice at her elbow startled her.

"May I walk home with you, Miss Lynch?" it said, and with a rapid
glance round she recognised Ashton Leigh, the young actor who had
talked to her at the first rehearsal. Since then they had merely
exchanged nods and smiles, or brief greetings, as they stood at the
wings, or passed each other behind the stage.

"I am going up the Strand," she said. "Is that your way?"

"For to-day, yes," he answered, as they passed on through the darkness
and emerged into the street.

Brianna looked at him curiously. She was wondering what he had to say
to her.

"You're getting on uncommonly well," was what he did say, as they
dodged the traffic and finally crossed the muddy street. "I expect
you'll make a hit. Of course it's a poor party, a namby-pamby affair,
but you seem to turn it into something. Cis Harrison, one of the
authors, is a great friend of mine, and we were talking about you at
the Savage last night. He wrote most of your lines, so he's naturally
interested. Curious how egotistic those writer chaps are, isn't it?
However, he's immensely pleased, because his collaborator would have
all the plums for Vincey. We always call her Vincey behind, you know.
By the bye, is your name your own? It's so uncommon. I thought all
Irish girls were Norahs or Biddys."

"It's my own, certainly," said Brianna. "I'm glad you like it. I think
it's horrid."

"And--ah--where do you live?"

"----Street. We are almost there."

"You might ask me in, you know. It would be friendly. And I might coach
you up in a point or two that would catch on with a London audience.
Bless you, I know them! Took their measure long ago."

"Oh, certainly come in!" said Brianna. "It's a wretched place, though,
but we can give you a cup of tea if you like, and I should be very
glad to hear what you suggest. I don't mind confessing to you I'm very
nervous. This is the house. I wonder if the others are in?"

"The others? Don't you live alone?"

"Oh, no," she said, smiling. "We're quite a family--an uncle and aunt
and a friend. She's an actress also. Perhaps you've heard of her--Miss
D'Eyncourt?"

"No," he answered, somewhat gruffly. "Not that pleasure."

He watched the girl open the door and looked in at the dingy entrance
and dark staircase with measurable disgust. Was the game worth
the candle? This wasn't at all the sort of thing he had expected.
However, he followed her up the stairs, and into the parlour. For
once that apartment was looking respectable, not to say festive.
Mickey had celebrated "treasury day" by the purchase of a quantity of
chrysanthemums and a scarlet shade for the lamp. Phil had set out the
tea things, and a brilliant fire made the room look cosy and inviting.

Sally Dunne was toasting muffins, and Phil was telling some anecdotes
to Mickey, at which they were both laughing.

There was something homelike and innocent about the scene, and Brianna
introduced her visitor with the simplicity of perfect ease.

Phil D'Eyncourt gave a hurried glance at her fringe and then extended
her hand. Mickey Croom flashed a suspicious interrogation from beneath
his frowning brows. Sally looked up from the half-toasted muffin and
recognised the guest as something superior to caravan patronisers. She
therefore expressed her pleasure by a dignified salute and a carefully
misworded greeting.

"Mr. Leigh has kindly come in to give me some hints about my new part,"
said Brianna, as she drew forward a ricketty chair for the visitor. "I
asked him to tea! so I hope it's ready. Do sit down, Mr. Leigh. I won't
ask you to excuse anything, because we're all Irish, and Irish people
expect you to take them as they are."

He smiled, and expressed his willingness to fall in with that fashion.
It was all quite different to what he had expected, but he liked
novelty. Besides, the girl was lovely enough to make anything excusable
in her surroundings. He wished, however, that the surly-looking
hunchback would not stare at him so. Those dark, piercing eyes made
him uncomfortable, and when one's motives are quite beyond reproach,
well----

"The tea is ready," interposed the voice of Sally Dunne. "If the
gentleman will condescend to anticipate our humble meal he's kindly
welcome. As the great bard says, ''Tis not the poverty, but the will
consents.'[i] Still, had I known visitors were expected, a kipper or a
bloater should not have been begrudged to disgrace our humble board.
Such suspicious occasions are not too numerable that we should despise
them."

Ashton Leigh listened, in such undisguised astonishment to this
harangue that it almost upset Phil's gravity.

"Isn't it a dear old Malaprop?" she whispered between suppressed
giggles as she arranged the chairs. "Make her fortune on the stage, you
know, if she'd only go on like that."

"Phil D'Eyncourt! Whisperings isn't manners," interposed Sally. "Hand
the gentleman some muffings, and behave yourself grandiloquently."




CHAPTER XVI.

Probably to behave "grandiloquently" was beyond Phil D'Eyncourt's
powers. In any case, the tact of a young man, a good-looking man, and
above all one who belonged to the same profession, being seated at what
Sally Dunne termed their "humble board," was sufficient to exhilarate
her spirits to an unusual degree.

She talked the latest theatrical gossip and the slangiest of theatrical
slang, evidently unconscious that these were just the very things
Ashton Leigh most disliked. Besides, she herself was the type of girl
familiarised by Gaiety burlesque and comic operas, a type Ashton
Leigh had always been very well content to leave alone as something
altogether too rare and expensive for an income less than a Duke's.
He had had a surfeit of golden hair and kohl-washed eyelids, of
hare's-foot complexions and pearl powder. He was annoyed that he had
come here; annoyed because Brianna spoke so little and her friend so
much. The hunchback, too, was a puzzle to him. He was so surly and so
horribly observant. What odd surroundings for the girl! And yet she
seemed perfectly content. There seemed no opportunity of throwing an
apple of discord into their family circle. He thought it was the very
oddest he had ever seen, and his experience had not been limited, but
still Brianna stood out from them all as so entirely different that he
could not imagine her being contented to remain there.

"How did you get on at the Delphic?" he asked her at last. "Agent, was
it?"

"Oh, no," said Brianna. "I had an introduction to Miss St. Vincent, and
she got me the part at once."

"Oh! I know she and Letty fell out," he answered. "But you were lucky
to please her, I can tell you. She doesn't, as a rule, like anyone
better looking than herself to play with her."

Brianna looked calmly at him.

"It would be difficult to find anyone who was that, I should say," she
answered.

"And younger," he went on, remorselessly. "Of course, you are quite
different styles, though."

"Oh, great actresses aren't as silly as all that!" exclaimed Phil.
"Besides, they must know when they're beginning to go off."

"I knew an actress," said Ashton Leigh, "who had reached the ripe age
of fifty summers and yet insisted on playing ingénue parts in every
piece. But she was an oddity altogether."

"What's her name?" asked Phil, eagerly.

"Mrs. Curran," he said. "But really she was Lady Skibbereen. She ran
away from her first husband, went on the stage, divorced him, and
married Lord Skibbereen, retired for a year or two, then came back to
the boards."

"Skibbereen, did you say?" exclaimed Sally Dunne. "Guess I know her
then! She went back to the stage, and no one knew what became of her
child, or if there ever was a living child born, and now the estate's
in Chancery, or I was misinformed so."

Ashton Leigh nodded.

"That's so," he said. "And I believe she could put the whole thing
straight if she chose, but she doesn't choose. She's as giddy and
skittish as ever, and believes she's just as charming."

"There's no fool like an old fool," growled Mickey. "And some of the
best actresses exemplify that. They'd turn away the finest part ever
written if they had to play a woman of forty in it. Just as if that
isn't the most interesting and dramatic age. What's the life of a woman
who has had no experience and no history?"

"You're quite right," said the young fellow eagerly, looking at him
with some interest for the first time. "Love is for girls and youths,
but passion, power, strength, influence, they are for the drama of life
played on the stage of experience and illuminated by past hopes."

"I guess that's very fine talk," observed Sally, resting her elbows
on the table and poising her saucer of tea delicately on the tips
of her fingers. "Sounds like something out of a play. Shakespeare,
I surmise. All the same, if you ask me what catches on with men I
should say--gals. But go on, Mr. Leigh, I'm much interested about this
same Lady Skibbereen. If I knew where she was I'd look her up for old
acquaintanceship. I came nearer to finding out her mystery than anyone,
and it's only because I had no clue that I promiscuously followed it.
Still there are things, as Shakespeare says, that are as rosemary to
remembrance. But enough of the past. Do you know where she is now?"

"Acting at the Grand, Islington, last I heard of her. But haven't you
an 'Era?' You can trace any theatrical person through that unless
they've changed their name."

"Yes, I forgot that. I'll hunt her up anon. Dear me, girls, how silent
you are. I have to do all the infra dignities of the table. Some more
muffins, Mr. Leigh?"

"Thank you, no," he said, rising. "I--I'm afraid I must be going home."

"Going home? But I thought you were here for rehearsing your parts?"
exclaimed Sally. "Did I misunderstand as much? It will give us all
so much pleasure. Brianna there, she won't let out the synopsis of
the play by any manner of dissuasion. She turns us all out when she's
studying."

Ashton Leigh devoutly wished that she would take it into her head to
turn them all out there and then, but politeness forbade his saying so.
As Brianna appeared perfectly indifferent whether he stayed or went he
again excused himself, and having shaken hands with them all, was shown
downstairs and out of the front door by Phil D'Eyncourt.

"He was a pleasant, personating young man," said Sally Dunne, rising
from the table at last. "But he talked a deal of nonsense. Women of
forty, indeed! I'd like to know who'd look at them after thirty save
them as owns them and can't help it. Interest! Stuff and nonsense.
What's interest beside a pretty face, a pair of bright eyes, and a good
shape. So you two girls, don't go playing no grasshopper tricks. Youth
is youth, and beauty's only skin deep, and while you have 'em make the
best of 'em, [i]for oh, it is not always May,[i] as the bard says.
Brianna might marry a peer. They mostly takes their wives from the
stage or the halls nowadays, and proud should I be to tread her gilded
halls, and be relevated to a menial position that I might well adorn!"

"You would adorn any position, Aunt Sal," said Brianna, gravely. "But
I should be very sorry to marry a peer for your sake. I don't think
'gilded halls' are much in my line."

"Wait till you get the chance of them," said Phil, piling up the
teacups preparatory to washing them.

"That was a very curious story," went on Sally Dunne, seating herself
by the fire. "Very curious. It's put me back on a track I'd like to
follow. Lady Skibbereen did have a child, after she left the old man. I
know that for certain. Now, what became of it?"

"I should say that was no concern of yours," said the hunchback, in
somewhat surly fashion.

"Perhaps not?" said Sally. "But the abnominal curiosity of my sex is
such that I'd like to explore that little mystery. To think of that
property all going to waste, and good money only lining the pockets
of thieving lawyers, is enough to make one's blood boil. It is thus
morality prospers."

"There doesn't seem much morality about Lady Skibbereen," observed
Phil. "Not that she's any exception. Actors and actresses live a life
so totally different to anyone else that it's absurd to think the same
rules should govern them."

"It's a life of thankless struggle," said Mickey Croom.

"Oh, no! not thankless!" exclaimed Brianna. "There are great rewards."

"They are not worth the pain and the struggle of getting."

"Don't discourage the girl on the threshing fold of her career,"
exclaimed Sally Dunne. "She can be good if she chooses. If she doesn't
choose that is her own look out. It is not for want of warning and
good advice, I shouldn't take up with that young popinjay if I were
Brianna. He thinks too much of himself. I can read character as well
as anyone, and I guess I know who can be trusted and who can't. So
don't flatter yourself with false hopes. [i]He who despises the humble
surroundings of another, may live to be despised himself.[i] Which may
be Shakespeare or a proverb, but in any case is the application of it."

"The application has nothing to do with me," said Brianna, as she put
away the tea things, and closed the cupboard door. "There's no man
living who could draw me away from my art. I have determined to devote
my life to it, and I mean to succeed."

The dark, melancholy eyes of the hunchback searched her face with sad
scrutiny. She meant what she said--then. Would she mean it when time
and the hour were ripe for temptation, when the struggle for mimetic
honours would be hampered with conditions; when, worst possibility of
all, her heart would learn its own weakness, and she would know herself
before and above all else--a woman?

"I haven't told you," said Brianna suddenly, "that I am going to Miss
St. Vincent's to-morrow evening."

The announcement focussed all their eyes in her direction.

"Is it a party?" asked Phil, with jealousy in her tone.

"She might have inconcluded me," said Sally, huffily. "As your lawful
chaperon I ought to encompany you everywhere."

"Actresses don't require chaperons," said Brianna quietly. "No, it's
not a party, Phil. Someone is going to read a play, and Miss St.
Vincent has asked a few listeners, that's all."

"But you haven't got a decent gown to go in!" exclaimed Phil. "Those
sort of people always dress for the evening."

"I know," said Brianna, colouring, "but Miss St. Vincent is going to
lend me one. At least, I am to buy one out of my salary. She has heaps
of stage dresses she doesn't want."

"How lovely!" exclaimed Phil, enviously. "Oh, do get a gorgeous one
as you're about it, Brianna. You want striking colours. But I suppose
you'll choose black. That is so like you."

"I shall certainly choose black, if I can," answered Brianna. "I hate
to be conspicuous."

"Some people never do make the best of their chances," said Phil. "Wish
I had the pick of dresses like Ray St. Vincent has worn. She's the best
dressed woman on the stage."

"Any diamonds?" asked Sally, looking up.

Phil laughed, and Brianna was conscious of a feeling of deep annoyance.

"Ah!" murmured Sally, shaking her head mournfully. "It's the old
story--Ignim fatus! Ignim fatus!"[i]




CHAPTER XVII.

Brianna was shown into Ray St. Vincent's dressing-room on her arrival.
The actress was sitting before her toilet glass adjusting the coils and
curls of her beautiful hair, and attired in an elaborately-lace-frill
underskirt and a dressing jacket of pale blue silk and Valenciennes
lace. Her evening gown of white satin lay on the adjoining couch.

"Ah, my dear! So you are in good time," she said, as she held out a
hand of greeting. "I've not forgotten. Open that wardrobe there--the
one fitted into the wall. That's my 'property cupboard.' You'll see
three dresses--a pink satin, a black net with a high transparent
bodice, and a yellow embossed silk, rather the worse for wear. Take
which you please."

She bent forward and began to touch up her eyelashes slightly, while
Brianna opened the wardrobe door. Then she took up a powder puff and
dusted her face and neck thickly, removing the powder afterwards with
a soft handkerchief. This done she rose and threw aside her dressing
jacket and stood before the mirror, a lovely vision in white satin
corsets and lace skirts. Brianna looked at her enviously. The exquisite
blending of Art and Nature made up a combination that seemed wholly
irresistible. A sense of her own inferiority--of something missing--the
lack of some subtle feminine charm, came to her in that moment.

Her plain, untrimmed underwear, her ill-fitting stays, her warm, coarse
petticoat--how common they seemed before this vision of Parisian
lingerie, these scented, cobwebby laces and cambrics.

"I think I should like this," she said, taking down the black net from
its peg. "I--I'm not used to low-necked dresses, you know."

"Haven't you decent shoulders? You look all right," said the beautiful
actress, carelessly. "Very well, take the black. Let me see how you
look out of your gown."

It was with some sense of shame that Brianna unbuttoned her serge
bodice and unhooked her simple skirt. She had never appraised her own
charms as mercilessly as this feminine judge was about to do.

"Why, you're all right!" exclaimed Ray St. Vincent. "What are you
blushing and trembling for? My dear child, your neck and arms are
simply perfect; not your hands. You'll have to train them mercilessly;
but they'll pass to-night in gloves. Now, get into that gown. Wait a
moment. What a petticoat. You can't possibly wear that. Here, take this
black silk one with the flounces. You can keep it afterwards; it's no
use to me. And as for the gown, well, the wardrobe keeper wouldn't give
two guineas for it, so you may have it for what you like. Why, really,
Brianna, you look very nice. It fits perfectly, considering your
corsets. My dear child, do get a decent pair first salary. I wonder
you're any shape at all! Here, pull you together in a few minutes. You
don't understand the way that bodice fastens!"

She drew the delicate transparent net over the firm, white shoulders
and bare arms, hooked and pulled and pinned the folds into shape,
draped the glittering jet fringe that fell from bust to waist, and
arranged the loose grace of the skirt over its black silk foundation.

"Now!" she exclaimed, triumphantly, and turned the girl round to face
her own reflection in the long glass panel of the wardrobe. "Now, what
do you think of yourself?"

Brianna surveyed a tall, slight shape in its dusky draperies. The warm
flush of youth and excitement was on the cheeks, and the bright glance
of pleasant surprise in the eyes. She felt as if she was surveying a
stranger. "What a difference!" she cried, breathlessly.

Miss St. Vincent laughed.

"Yes; the grub and the butterfly, isn't it? I remember when I first
learnt the power of dress transformation. It's the only magician that
can serve a woman not dependent on art. Will you have a touche of
poudre de riz.[i] No? Perhaps you're right. Time enough for that. We
all come to it sooner or later. Well, now I must hurry on myself. Go
into the drawing-room and wait. I'll be ready in ten minutes."

She pushed the girl gently through the doorway, and called out to her
maid to come and help in the completion of her toilet.

Brianna passed on through the dining-room, where the table was laid for
supper, and into the pretty, lamp-lit drawing-room beyond. It was the
first time she had seen it, and she glanced round on the hundred and
one objects of art, refinement, and luxury with a sort of awe. Tables
were littered with bric-a-brac, screens broke up the lines of furniture
into nooks and corners, flowers were everywhere, and a huge palm worthy
of Kew's glasshouses touched the ceiling in one corner. The ensemble
was delightful. Eye and senses were alike satisfied, and the rose-hued
light of a standard lamp threw a lovely glow of becoming colour around.

Brianna went up to the fire, where a few logs burned on the tiled
hearth. She seated herself on a low cushioned chair, and leant back
with a delightful sense of comfort and pleasure. It was altogether
novel, and she revelled in the novelty of the sensation.

Her eyes closed in dreamy content. Her thoughts floated off on a stream
of exquisite imaginings. The sound of an opening door at last disturbed
her. She heard a voice say "Miss St. Vincent will be here directly."

Then she looked round and saw Raemore Clive.

She rose slowly from the chair, and watched the strange green eyes glow
and scintillate and then smile in sudden surprised recognition.

"I am sure it is 'Jessica'--no other!" he said, and crossed the room
and took her hands in both his own. "Do you remember me? Yes, I see you
do. And my prophesies--they were correct, you see. You are no longer
Fate's football, but Fate is your footstool. How you have changed."

"Have I?" site said, stupidly.

She felt awkward and uncomfortable. She wished he would not look at
her so strangely; above all, that he would not recall that morning
on the Marina when he had sat beside her and talked the strange,
incomprehensible jargon of his profession.

"Have you?" he echoed. "I should think so. Do you know I have had an
impression lately that we should meet soon? Once or twice, it seemed to
me, we were within reachable distance, breathing the same atmosphere;
but I am keeping you standing. Won't you sit down?"

Brianna did so, and he took a chair near her own.

"And you will hear my first play," he went on, smoothing back his dark
hair with one long white hand. "How strange, and yet how fortunate.
There is no one to whom I would sooner reveal that weird and mystic
side of myself, that creative faculty crystallised into shape by
intense thought and intense feeling than you, sweet Jessica. You will
always be Jessica[i] to me, you know. Now, tell me, how have you got
on? And how comes it I find you here?"

Brianna gave him a rapid sketch of her theatrical experiences and her
introduction to Miss St. Vincent. He listened with eager interest.

"So it was Max Lorrimer again," he murmured. "Strange! By the bye, he
should be here. He was to meet me at eight o'clock. I have not the
honour of Miss St. Vincent's personal acquaintance. I know her on the
stage, that is all."

The rustle of a skirt cut short his sentence, and he turned and rose to
greet the beautiful woman who had entered the room.

"How do you do, Mr. Clive. I am delighted to make your acquaintance.
Max is late as usual. Did you ever know him in time? Have you made the
acquaintance of Miss Lynch, or must I introduce you?"

"We have found out we are old acquaintances," said Clive, as he
released her hand, and drew forward a chair. "I made Miss Lynch's
acquaintance as 'Jessica'[i] the first time she ever appeared on any
stage. I prophesied success for her from that moment. I am delighted to
find I was correct."

Ray St. Vincent flashed an eager glance at his strange face.

"Are you a seer?" she asked laughingly. "That makes you doubly
interesting. Max did not tell me that. I hope you have brought your
play, by the way. I am quite curious to hear it. Your friend spoke most
highly of it. Is this you first attempt?"

"Yes," he said. "I have made a long study of the stage in many
countries, and I have come to the conclusion that it stands in
great need of reform in every particular. It is conventional, it is
inartistic. It is a mass of errors and tyrannies. It is hopelessly and
crudely false to any just proportion of fact or emotion, and the fault
lies not with those who write for it, but those who interpret what is
written."

Miss St. Vincent lifted her delicately arched brows in some surprise.

"You are very candid," she said. "And that is a very sweeping
assertion."

"Yes," he said, calmly. "It is. But I speak from long experience, and
absolute conviction. What was good enough for a past generation is
not good enough for us. We are more cultivated, more critical, and
more fastidious. We want to see ourselves on the stage, not strutting,
mouthing travesties of humanity, a burlesque on its passions and
emotions. Look at the expression of love, grief, despair, hate,
revenge; the a, b, c of drama. Is it anything like reality? Has any
actor or actress the courage to be silent on the stage? Yet how much
silence can express! What sympathy it can stir! Why, if they went into
the streets of a great city and studied its tragedies, watched the
faces, listened to the voices, they would learn a lesson that neither
book nor instruction could ever bestow. But they won't. They take
their lessons from tradition, just as they make their stage doors open
outside instead of inside a room. It is quite wrong, but it has always
been done, and therefore it must continue to be done."

Ray St. Vincent looked at him with some interest.

"Do you know," she said. "I never thought of that! Of course, it is
wrong. But then the stage cannot be like reality. People want broad
outlines, violent contrasts, vivid colour."

"Excuse me," he said, coldly. "That is just what all theatrical people
say they want, because it suits their purpose to give it. The directors
of the stage treat their public much as the Board of Guardians treats
its paupers. They lay down rules of diet and recreation for them which
they are bound to accept. You have taught the public certain fallacies
connected with the stage, and they look for them--the stage moon, the
stage thunder, the stage peasant and the stage villain, the aiming of
a clap-trap heroism at the gallery, the false sentiment of virtue, the
preposterous exaggeration of vice, the dressing of a part, as laid down
by dead-and-gone 'stars.' Oh, I could go on for ever, and yet not end
this catalogue of criminal imbecility miscalled Art."

He turned to Brianna.

"Now, I will ask you, as a new beginner, whether a stage manager
ever permitted a gesture or an action of yours to be natural? To be
your own interpretation of what you felt? You shake your head. I was
sure of it. Genius is forever trammelled by ignorance and absurdity
generally representing power, and poor Genius' has to bow its head--or
starve. The consequence is that on the stage nothing appeals to one's
imagination. Everything is done for our eyes, ears, and brains, and we
are treated en masse like children in a nursery. The plot is explained
at once, the secret is no secret, the error or crime is as patent as
daylight in the first act yet supposed to come as a revelation in the
last. The prologue is done away with. True, but its trail is over every
play and drama and comedy that the 19th century has known. Modern
dramatists have just escaped originality and modern audiences have just
escaped intelligence. I have witnessed plays that simply set my teeth
on edge, so false they were to every canon of art, and every conception
or truth. I have seen the interior of a cottage situated in a country
village lit by electricity! I have witnessed the elopement of a married
woman, who leaves her husband asleep on a couch and walks out of the
window in full evening dress, without a bonnet or a hand bag! Every
woman in the audience laughed as she pictured the arrival at an hotel!
But that special theatre was ruled by a fashionable millinery firm, and
the rule was 'latest Paris fashions' in every act!"

"Really, Mr. Clive, you are pitiless!" exclaimed Ray St. Vincent,
"though what you say is quite true. Only it never occurs to us, I'm
sure. We accept a certain set of rules in the profession, just as a
child accepts the five finger exercises as a prelude to piano-playing.
We must, or else we'll never get a chance of the piano-playing."

"That," said the new censor, "is why you should all make a stand
against it. Everyone who has won a name or taken a position has a right
to speak his or her convictions."

"And become utterly unpopular," said Ray St. Vincent.

But Brianna looked up with kindling eyes.

"I think you are quite right," she said. "Quite. It is horrible,
idiotic, to think of going on with errors, and sticking to old
prejudices and old traditions year after year simply because it has
been done before! But if you knew as much of life on the stage, Mr.
Clive, as you do of life off it, you would soon understand why so
little improvement is possible."

"Yes," said Raemore Clive; "most tragedians are brainless puppets,
trained to act and speak as hundreds of other puppets have acted
and spoken. The few original and really gifted actors are powerless
against the bugbear of tradition. I've known one member of a company
to fight tooth and nail for a certain exit or a certain position.
The whole dramatic incidents of the play were to him centred just in
that particular fad. If he had power he won the day; if he hadn't,
well, he could spoil the scene for the author. Few playwrights have
any voice in the arrangement of their pieces. At first they insist,
then they grow weak or tired, or indifferent. The company for whom, or
around whom, it is written worry, and perplex, and hamper them until
in sheer desperation they say, 'Do what you please,' and that to the
intelligence of an actor, or, pardon me, an actress, usually means, 'Do
exactly what somebody else has done in a similar situation.' Ah! here
is Lorrimer at last. How do, old boy? I have been inflicting my views
on the errors of the stage on our friends here. I am sure they will
hail you as a relief."

"Mr. Clive is absolutely merciless," said Ray, as she and Max Lorrimer
shook hands. "He is a new St. George about to fight the Dragon of stage
conventions. I'm afraid he'll find it has too many heads even for the
strong sword of his convictions."

"That's what I tell him," said Max. "He forgets that all art in the
British Isles has its commercial side. And that is the side which
appeals to managers and directors, as well as to the profession
generally. An unsuccessful piece is a greater bugbear than an
inartistic one. Errors and bad taste are easily forgiven, but an empty
treasury spells ruin!"

Raemore Clive gave a weary sigh, and settled himself in an artistic
pose, which greatly impressed the maidservant who came in with coffee,
liqueurs and cigarettes.

"I have asked one or two friends in," observed Ray. "I hope you don't
object, Mr. Clive? They are connected with the theatrical world. One is
critic on the 'Footlight.'[i]"

"Ah, those ---- critics," said Raemore Clive, with a languid smile.
"How dearly they do love their self-importance. How much they think
they know, and how poverty-stricken is their intellect."

"I shouldn't advise you to tell Tom Rafferty his intellect is
poverty-stricken," laughed Lorrimer. "He'd open his vials of wrath, I
can promise. He's an Irishman."

"I should imagine so. Irish names leave little to the imagination. I
know what to expect from him. He will be impetuous and incapable of
argument except from the standpoint of his own limited intelligence."

"You have hit him off exactly," said Ray, taking a cup of coffee from
the tray. "All the same, you must remember we are in duty bound to
respect the august body of critics. They are a power, and we can't
ignore it."

"You could if you chose," he answered.

She shook her head. "Ah, Mr. Clive, wait till your play is produced.
You will have to change your opinions then."

"I shall never do that," he answered quietly. "Is it permitted to smoke
here?"

"Yes. I'll set the example," she said, lighting a cigarette from the
tongue of flame that issued from the mouth of a silver monster. "Now I
hope the others won't be long, for I'm dying to hear your play after
your views on plays. What is the title, by the way? You have not told
me."

"I have simply named it 'The Opal,'[i]" he answered.

"Unlucky on the face of it."

"Yes," he said, suavely. "That is why I chose the title. I am nothing
if not unconventional. I hate superstitions. They are the fetters man
fastens on the few senses he is allowed to use."

There was a momentary silence. Brianna had listened in fascinated
wonder to the conversation. Ray St. Vincent was deeply interested in
this strange being. He saw he had impressed the women, and found a
curious pleasure in playing on their emotions. He loved to feel that
his personality dominated others. He had no belief in himself, but
he had determined that the world in general should never know it. He
defined himself as "a bundle of sensibilities with no common senses and
a great many uncommon ones."

In the silence that followed he drew from his coat pocket a small roll
of paper tied with flame-coloured ribbon. It was the MSS. of his play,
written in the most exquisite and minute handwriting. He looked at it
with a gracious and tender smile, as if it were something human and
loveable.

"My child," he said, softly. "My first-born. The creation of many
thoughts, the subtle embodiment of that evanescent flame called
'Genius.' Ah, what birthright am I giving you? To what sponsors do I
entrust your tender soul?"

The door opened on the announcement of "Mr. Gayling and Mr. Rafferty."




CHAPTER XVIII.

A tall, burly man, with a red face, a badly-fitting coat, and a head
of hair that advertised antagonism to barbers' shears or prevailing
fashion, entered the drawing-room, much as a bull might enter a china
shop. He was closely followed by a small, weak-looking individual of
the prevailing pattern of manhood. He was neutral tinted, and would
have been overlooked in any crowd of half a dozen people. Perhaps it
was by reason of his own negative qualities that he had chosen to
be the shadow and echo of his Hibernian friend. One was seldom seen
without the other, and Gayling and Rafferty were coupled like a company
or a partnership, in their clubs, or among their associates.

"And how are you, my dear lady!" exclaimed the critic, extending a
hand, and kicking aside a footstool which was in his way. "Excuse
me, but why do you have such a lot of furniture in your rooms. Ah,
Lorrimer, the top o' the morning to you. How's every bit of you? Miss
Lynch, did you say? Delighted. Surely we're compatriots, or I'm no
judge of an Irish face. Ah, I thought so. The ould country hasn't
forgot to turn out beauty yet, has she, gentlemen? There, don't blush,
my darlin'! I might be your father for the years between us, and if I'm
not, sure that's my loss, for your mother must have been a rare jewel
of a girl if you're anything like her!"

The eyes of Raemore Clive had been fastened on this noisy personage
ever since his entrance.

"And to a boor and Goth like this I am to confide the delicate
subtleties of my composition," he reflected. "It is to him, and dozens
of his compeers, that the ignorant public look for opinions on drama,
literature, music! How much that explains!"

He heard his name pronounced, and bowed in response to the
introduction. He and Tom Rafferty measured each other with a glance of
mutual antipathy. Swords were in rest for a time, but each hand went to
the scabbard in anticipation.

"And is it long since you left Ireland, Miss Lynch?" asked Rafferty,
swallowing the contents of his coffee cup at a gulp, and putting the
delicate china down with a force that made the girl start nervously.
"Bedad, I was forgetting it wasn't my landlady's 'unbreakable' I was
handling. My apologies, madam. You see, I'm not much used to lady's
knick-knacks. No damage done. Well, Miss Lynch, as I was saying, but
are you one of John Walter Lynch's daughters, of County Clare? I knew
him well, and his father and mine were college chums. He married a
Miss O'Connor. The belle of the county she was, and had three sisters
as lovely as herself; which is saying a great deal, and that puts me
in mind of a good story about O'Connor's maiden aunt. 'Feathers' we
used to call her when we were boys. I don't know why, I'm sure, except
that she had a fancy for that fluffy, shimmery stuff that old ladies
wore in their caps. What's this the name is? Marabout. Well, as I was
saying--but perhaps the story isn't quite fit for ladies' ears, so I'll
reserve it."

He took a chair, which creaked beneath his weight, and in the confusion
Brianna's attempt to dissociate her name from any connection with the
Lynchs of County Clare was quite lost upon him.

"Ah, well," he resumed, "now tell us the latest ong dits of the
theatrical world, Miss St. Vincent. How's the new play getting on, and
when is it going to be produced? Hope it won't clash with Prothero's
new comedy 'Hot Potatoes!'[i] Awful title, isn't it? Told him so. Know
it'll be a dead failure."

"Write your criticism on those lines," drawled Raemore Clive. "It'll
save you and the public so much trouble."

Rafferty turned swiftly in his direction, and flashed a searchlight
glance at the impassive face.

"Mr. Raemore Clive is also a dramatic author," interposed Ray quickly.
"It is to hear his play that I asked you all to-night."

"Oh!" said Rafferty, putting forth a hundred quills of porcupine
importance and dropping Hibernianism for critical attention. "I'm not
acquainted with your name, Mr. Clive. Produced anything yet?"

"No. I have kept aloof from that imbecility as yet," answered Clive,
coolly. "The banality of the stage and the unwisdom of criticism are
barriers that no sane mind would attempt to scale."

"That's your opinion, is it?"

"It is. I am not ashamed of it."

Rafferty took up a cigarette, lighted it, rose from his chair, and
selected larger and less fragile accommodation. Then he seated himself
and looked straight at this censor of established rules.

"I'd like to hear your play," he said.

"You won't like it," observed Raemore Clive. "None of your cult are
sufficiently educated to appreciate a new departure. You would first
have to forget everything you have learned, everything you have
believed, and everything your own brains claim as original, critical
and intelligent. Having done this, you would have to listen with an
unbiassed mind, a thing no critic ever possessed. After having lived
in the belief that you know everything connected with dramatic art,
from the first original 'Punch and Judy'[i] show in the Garden of
Eden down to Sarah Bernhardt as 'Tosca,'[i] you would have to grasp
the humiliating fact that you know absolutely nothing. You have all
declared that life is the reality, and acting the sham. I am going to
prove that life is the sham and acting the reality."

The attention of everyone in the room was concentrated on the speaker.
He felt perfectly happy.

"I propose introducing you not to new emotions, but to old emotions
newly represented," he went on, flicking off the ash of his
cigarette into a silver shell at his elbow. "Also I will show to an
indiscriminating public that nothing is perfect that satisfies. My play
will satisfy no one; therefore, it will be a type of perfect pleasure.
It will create a longing that nothing can satiate. It will be as the
first kiss to the lover, the first brandy and soda to the society
inebriate. They will cry, 'More, more!'" He sighed, and laid down
his finished cigarette. "But there will be no more," he added. "The
perfection of Art is the Incomplete."

Rafferty gazed at him with the nearest approach to bewilderment his
well-balanced brain had ever known. He could not make out whether the
man was humbugging or in earnest; whether he was laughing at them in
his sleeve or deceiving himself by overweening vanity.

"Do you mean all that seriously?" he demanded at last.

Raemore Clive's smile was worthy of a Raphaelistic cherub.

"Mean it, of course I do! Life is too short, for pretence. That is why
I am so frank. Art is divine beyond all else life holds. She has been
my teacher, goddess, friend. In my poor way I have tried to interpret
some of her teachings. I do not expect to be appreciated except by some
rare soul--some unit in a crowd of inanities."

His eyes rested softly on Brianna. He watched the colour waver in her
face with a subtle enjoyment.

"Some rare soul," he went on, in his deep melodious voice. "But its
sympathy and its comprehension will be my best reward. I ask, I expect
nothing more."

"Well, your expectations are likely to be gratified," grunted Rafferty.
"But don't you think you'd better get to business? Having such a mighty
good opinion of yourself naturally makes one anxious to hear what your
work is like."

"I have created a heroine," explained Clive, looking at his roll of
MSS., "who can be interpreted by one woman only."

"Well, we don't usually have two of them playing the same
part,"--interpolated Rafferty.

Clive waived aside the objection with a delicate hand, that drew
attention to his beautifully manicured nails.

"I am not jesting," he said--"I will read you the first act. Then, if
you please, you may all criticise or suggest. I only ask silence while
I am reading. Interruption of any sort will snap the delicate threads
that link the story, the interpreter, and the listeners, for a brief
space."

For half-an-hour the voice of the interpreter rolled on in deep
changeful cadence. For half-an-hour uninterrupted attention was given
to the weirdest, wildest, most impossible piece of dramatic work that
anyone present had ever heard.

Then the MSS. was laid down, and the author looked round at the circle
of faces.

"I'll have another cigarette," he observed, "and you can express your
opinions."

Rafferty gave a short laugh.

"Of course, you know it's all utterly impossible on the face of it."

"Utterly impossible!" murmured his echo, nodding a sleek head in
approval of so sweeping a denunciation.

"For stage purposes," corrected Ray St. Vincent.

"Well, wasn't it intended for the stage?" demanded Rafferty.

"I think it is the most beautiful thing I ever heard!" exclaimed
Brianna, raising a flushed face and brilliant eyes to the author's
tranquil gaze.

"Beauty has nothing to do with the question," growled Rafferty. "What
the stage wants is plot. Incident, movement, life. This is simply a
dramatic dialogue--a poem in blank verse. As I said before, it is
impossible. It goes against every canon of art."

"No," interrupted Clive. "There I must differ from you. Not against
every canon of art, only against the false conception of art that
has been canonised and pandered to so long. I have no intention of
producing my play at Drury Lane, or staging it on the boards of the
Lyceum, or burlesquing it at the Gaiety, or offering it to Young Men's
Christian Societies at the Lyric. You, my dear sir, have played the
critic at most of these popular resorts. You immediately regard my
work with the prejudiced eye of your position. I have endeavoured to
explain that it will be [i]caviare to the multitude.[i] The quotation
is perhaps more familiar to you than the article in question."

"But, really, Mr. Clive!" exclaimed Ray, hastily, "do you think it
would act?"

"No, my dear lady. I only expect that it will be acted; and by
yourself, if I may be so bold as to express the wish."

"Oh, I could never do such a part," said Ray St. Vincent. "Why, Opal,
as you call her, is a different woman in every scene."

"She is true to her name, and her sex," said Clive. "Changeful,
variable, erratic, exquisite through all. Not so much a woman as the
essence of all womanhood. It is a great part."

"That I grant," answered the actress; "but you'll find no one to play
it. You throw the whole burden of your drama on the shoulders of one
woman. The four men seem to me but foils to the different sides of her
character."

"Exactly. In the first act she is the ideal of the real to each man.
In the second she becomes the real of that ideal to each man. It was a
great conception, you must grant."

"It sounds like d----nonsense," muttered the Irishman.

"Very much so indeed," echoed the Echo, rubbing his thin hands together.

Lorrimer rose and stretched out his long limbs and laughed.

"I confess it's all Greek to me," he said. "But, then, I never
pretended to be clever."

"I wish Mickey could have heard it," murmured Brianna involuntarily.

All eyes turned to her.

"Is he a critic?" asked Raemore Clive.

"Oh, no. He is only a student of Shakespeare, and he taught me
everything I know."

"Taught you!" Clive's eyes grew brilliant. He leant forward. "You got
your conception of Jessica[i] from him? I wish I had known. I would
rather read my play to him than to all the managers and critics of
London! I can recognise originality when I see it. It is the rarest of
gifts, and the least valued. We are all copyists--writers, artists,
musicians, playwrights. It is the same old story. The British public
has listened for half a century to 'The Last Rose of Summer'[i] and
'Home, Sweet Home,'[i] and at last believes it appreciates music.
The director of the Kailyard concerts will insist that the only two
comprehensible ballads of Thistleland are 'Scots Wha Hae'[i] and
'Auld Lang Syne.'[i] A representative Irish artist would be hooted
as an ignoramus if he refused to place 'The Minstrel Boy'[i] on his
programme. My dear Mr. Rafferty, don't glare like that! It is quite
true I assure you. You are only a dramatic critic. Your friend Gayling
here is a musical one, I accept his word, as I accept yours. Every
shoemaker makes best on his own last, of course. The great fascination
of a critic, to ordinary minds, lies in their belief that he knows
everything. It is only the extraordinary mind that has dared to peer
below the surface, and whisper surprise at--shallow depths."

Rafferty sprang to his feet, upsetting the table at his elbow and
scattering cigarettes and bric-a-brac over the carpet.

"Bedad, sir!" he exclaimed, "this is worse than bull-baiting. Do you
want to insult my fellow-critics through me, or is it at meself you're
pointing you're malice? I'd have you know, sir----"

"Calm yourself; pray calm yourself, my dear friend," urged Clive,
persuasively. "We're not on Stephen's Green, you know, but in a lady's
drawing-room. And, really, considering how much the world of art and
literature has had to bear from your brethren of the quill, it is time
someone drew a lance in their defence."

"Don't you mind him, Rafferty," said Lorrimer, trying to calm down
Hibernian excitement. "He doesn't mean half he says. He only wants to
get a rise out of you!"

"Begorra! The man that does that will have to pay for it," fumed the
Irishman, too excited now to mind manners or guests.

"Name your price, my dear sir," Clive answered, with his sweetest
smile. "Your pound of flesh will be ready whenever you choose to call
for it."

"Now, Clive, give over," urged Lorrimer. "What's the use of spoiling
our evening and losing our tempers?"

"Since you put it in the plural sense, none," answered Clive. "I
apologise individually and indiscriminately, and I'm sure Mr.
O'Rafferty will do the same."

"There's no 'O' in my name, sir, I'd have you know," thundered the
Irishman.

"I beg pardon. I forgot you dropped it on leaving Queenstown, let me
see--ah! yes, five years ago, was it not?"

Rafferty's face grew suddenly ashey grey, his jaw dropped, his eyes
glared at the impassive face of his persecutor with an expression of
fear and attempted defiance. He tried to speak, but no words would
come. Through the narrow slit of his half-closed lids Clive watched him
with amused content.

"I am a clairvoyant. Perhaps I ought to have explained," he said,
languidly. "I can tell you all your past history, if you wish, Mr.
O'Rafferty!"




CHAPTER XIX.

That challenge was not accepted, but to restore harmony was impossible.
Ray St. Vincent was annoyed, but Rafferty was no favourite of hers.
He only represented a power that was better conciliated by champagne
suppers than offended by serene indifference.

She did her best to smooth matters over, but it was a relief to all
when the memory of a club appointment drew the Irishman's attention to
the hour. She took him into the dining-room and threw the oil of whisky
and soda on the troubled waters of hurt pride and justly incensed
dignity. The Echo chirruped in sympathy, and finally he and Rafferty
left the actress's flat with the comforting conviction that she, at
least, quite shared their opinion of the self-asserting upstart, as
they called him.

She returned to the drawing-room laughing.

"It was too bad of you, Mr. Clive," she said. "You forget Irish people
are very touchy and an Irish critic the human apotheosis of a hedgehog.
I really trembled once. I feared it would be a case of the Boulogne
sands and newspaper paragraphs."

"The man is an insufferable ass," said Clive.

"Did you notice anything about him?" asked Lorrimer, curiously.

"I saw it in his aura," he answered.

Ray St. Vincent turned to him with wide eyes of surprise.

"Do you mean you really see things about people? That you can tell what
has happened to them, or will happen?"

"Yes. Ask Lorrimer there if I'm to be believed or not."

Max looked uncomfortable.

"He certainly has told me things which have come true," he answered. "I
don't know how he does it. He seemed to hit the right nail on the head,
too, with Rafferty. He looked like a cur with his tail between his legs
when he slunk out of the room."

"Could you tell me anything about myself?" asked Ray St. Vincent,
smiling up at the strange face.

She was leaning over the back of a chair. Her white satin dress,
severely simple, clung in lustrous folds about her beautiful figure.
The bared loveliness of throat and shoulders took a rosy tinge under
the delicate shading of the lamplight. She was a picture of beautiful
seductive womanhood, and for a moment the man gleamed out of the
strange green eyes she challenged, and the seer was forgotten.

"Oh, yes, I could tell you a good deal," he answered, brutally. "But
you'd better not ask me to do it--here. Wait till we're alone."

She laughed and a little embarrassed flush rose to her cheek.

"Very well," she said, "and now what about the second part of your
play? Are we to hear it?"

"No," he answered. "The thread of harmony is broken. I cannot weave
the web of illusion for you afresh. But there is no need for haste.
You acknowledge you cannot play the part I was about to lay at your
feet; the offering of intelligence to a genius it has recognised and
compassionated you for uncongenial surroundings. Perhaps the time is
not yet ripe. The shams and hollowness of conventionality are still
about you. Art is to you only as a reflection in muddy water. You
recognise what might be, but you lack courage to embody it. You are a
part of your time and your surroundings. Some day you will know you
worshipped an error. That is all."

She laughed and shrugged her beautiful shoulders.

"We all do that, Mr. Clive, in some form or another. Meanwhile, let us
go in to supper. I am sorry the harmony of the evening is destroyed,
but another time I will select my guests with more regard to their
magnetic affinity. Isn't that the right expression?"

The conversation became general, and the arrival of the authors of the
new Delphic drama, and two actresses in the self-same drama, brought a
new and attractive element into the scene.

At supper Clive sat beside Brianna.

"Tell me," he said, "what you thought of my play."

"It is difficult to express what it seemed to me," she answered. "That
wonderful, changeful creature, neither wholly good nor wholly bad,
emotional, variable, enchanting, and her part in those four lives, and
then your scene in Egypt--it breathes mystery and incomprehensibility.
It was altogether wonderful."

"Would you create it for me?" he asked. "It seems to me you alone
understand what I meant. And you have genius. I always told you
so. Undeveloped, held in leading strings by the inartistic follies
of tradition. Here is your opportunity to display it. Rise above
prejudice. Show what can be done by courage of true art. Interpret what
I have conceived. Together we might create a new art--might rule the
world, might overthrow one at least of its many Temples of Error. How
pale you are. Do you fear your powers? You need not. I can tell you
that."

"It is not that I fear," she stammered. "It is only my inexperience. If
the part is beyond Miss St. Vincent, how could I have the courage to
perform it?"

"Because," he said, eagerly, "you come to it unbiassed, free from the
host of prejudices that hamper her. Your mind is fresh, your gifts are
great. Poetry and inspiration thrill your veins. You were in my mind
when I dreamt of the opal, but I had no thought of meeting you."

"Had you forgotten what you said to me that morning on the Marina?"
asked Brianna, bluntly. "I couldn't half understand you, but certainly
you prophesied we should meet again. Why should it have surprised you?"

"I had not looked to the ages. The immediate present was lost to me,"
he answered. "There are times when the veil of the flesh obscures my
senses. I suffer it to do so for fear I should lose touch with my
fellow-man. If I cultivated only the spiritual side of my nature I
should be unfit for the physical existence whose needs are at times
imperative. The delights of life are also its compensations. Wine,
sociality, beauty, amusement, all have their use and their charm. At
times I can do without them, but at others I abandon myself to each
and all as they allure or arouse sense, or satisfy an awkward passion.
But now, tell me where you live. I will come and see you. I will read
the conclusion of my play, and we will study it together. Then I shall
produce it."

"Oh, you must let Mickey hear it first," she said, eagerly. "His
judgment is wonderfully correct on theatrical matters. Of course, he
may not quite understand your method of construction, but he will know
instinctively if it is true art."

"Will he?" said Raemore Clive, half-closing his eyes. "That will
be extremely interesting. I shall be glad to make the acquaintance
of--Mickey."

An hour later he was strolling homewards, having got rid of Max
Lorrimer and the dramatist, whose nervous hopes about the forthcoming
play had irritated and bored him unaccountably. For this man had
secured Brianna. Her first bow to a London audience would be made as
one of the puppets of his show. It vexed Clive to think of it, and yet
he was forced to do so. It seemed a desecration of her genius, this
part in a common-place melodrama. He could not understand why she was
so proud and pleased about it.

He mounted the stairs of his bachelor flat in Piccadilly in a very
ill-humour. He touched the knob of the electric light in the vestibule
and passed from there into his sitting-room. An odour of violets filled
the air from two large bowls of Benares work that stood on the table.
A divan of Persian saddle-bags stood in one corner. Quaint chairs
and carved cabinets and bookcases of Indian workmanship composed the
furniture. The tall windows were shrouded in straight-falling draperies
of thick, dull gold silk. A few pictures in massive Florentine frames
stood out from the olive-tinted falls. The general colour was sombre
but rich, and an air of sensuous luxury pervaded the whole place.

Clive tossed his soft felt hat aside, threw down his overcoat on
the nearest chair and then lit a cigarette. On a carved stand near
the divan was a tray with cut-glass spirit bottles, glasses, and
soda-water. He mixed a glass, and drank it off almost at a draught.
Then he threw himself down on the cushions of the divan and began to
smoke. Suddenly he started up, threw his half-finished cigarette aside,
and crossed the room to where a small inlaid cabinet stood in the
companionship of an Indian jogi, whose arms were stretched upwards in
the phantasy of an abnormal growth. Clive unlocked the cabinet and took
out from a drawer a small crystal.

With this in his hand he returned to his seat, and leant back for
some moments, his gaze bent in fixed, stern immobility on the shining
surface. Moments passed and were succeeded. No sound disturbed the
stillness save the low even breathing of that solitary figure. His
eyes dilated, a curious pallor crept over his face. Still his gaze
burned down like a living flame into those clear depths. At last a
deep painful sigh burst from him. He threw the crystal aside with a
smothered curse.

"Has my power gone?" he muttered, "or have I no power here in this one
instance? It isn't often I ask in vain."

He threw himself back on the cushions, and, closed his eyes. The
clock chimed the half-hour, then the hour after midnight. Still he
remained in that trance-like stillness. When at last he opened his
eyes there was a curious hard look within their depths. His lips wore
an expression of cruelty, a determination that seemed almost vicious.
Again he seized the crystal and searched its depths.

"For every aeon of torture, for every decade of separation, for the
joy I have coveted and the anguish I have borne I demand you as
recompense," he whispered. "Come back to me, fulfil my dreams. Look up
and meet my eyes. I claim you."

A dull film crept over the shining surface of the crystal ball. It
seemed to grow thick and opaque. His eyes glowed like flame, his hands
trembled, strange incoherent words fell from his lips. Then the shadow
passed once more. No face looked back, no picture showed itself to his
burning desire. Again he dropped the thing, and passed his hand over
his damp brow.

"What was it Abdullah promised?" he muttered aloud. "So long as your
will is your own, so long as heart and brain are poised in equal
balance, so long shall you command the destinies of others. But the
hour will come when another fate will seek to master yours, another
will combat your own. Then shall you seek the secrets of the crystal in
vain. It will show you--nothing."

He rose and replaced it in the cabinet, and then began to pace the room
with slow, uneven steps.

"I cannot understand it," he said. "No will has mastered mine, no other
fate has yet grown dear to me. Alone I have lived, and mean to live.
Love is the dream of boys and fools. The wise brain spurns such folly.
Then why has my power left me? Why is the vision dimmed and the future
veiled?"

He went to the bookcase and stood there looking at title after title
of the strange volumes it contained. Mystic lore of all countries and
in all tongues, treatises on physiognomy, on palmistry, on cheirology,
and cheiromancy, the sciences of strange religions, the history of
celebrated necromancers. Among them all he seemed to find nothing
suitable, nothing that he wanted. With a stifled sigh he turned away at
last, leaving the glass door unopened.

"Always miserable, always unsatisfied," he murmured. "Is culture the
worst form of mental corruption after all? Am I deceiving myself as I
have so long deceived others? Does my day of reckoning approach?"

His glance wandered round the luxurious room.

"Faust sold his soul to the Devil for a woman's sake--a woman's sake.
At least he had love to console him. For what have I sold mine?"




CHAPTER XX.

Sally Dunne felt herself a person of extreme importance. Brianna had
informed her that the real author of a real play was coming there that
afternoon to read it to her and Mickey Croom.

"If you have no objection, I shall disassociate myself from you, and
listen, as the auditorium," answered Sally. "There may be delusions,
not to speak of obscenities, in a modern play, that necessitate my
presence as a married woman representing proprieties. You are a girl,
and Mickey is a man. I would not have any play-writing gentleman
disabused of the idea that you are unprotected. I apprehend the
feminine delicacies above all things."

"You are perfectly welcome to play audience, and so is Phil, if Mr.
Clive has no objection," said Brianna. "But he is a very strange man.
Whatever you do, don't interrupt him while he is reading."

"I should not dream of such familiarity," answered Sally. "Preferences
are not in my line."

What this ambiguous phrase meant Brianna did not attempt to fathom. She
was busy tidying up the room, and preparing the tea table. Phil was
dressing herself, and Mickey was not expected till five o'clock.

"It is a disgusting little hole to ask him into," said the girl,
suddenly looking around with dissatisfied eyes. "If you only saw Miss
St. Vincent's rooms!"

"Oh!" bridled Mrs. Dunne. "Far be it from me to wish for such
introspections. I'm not fit, of course, to obtrude myself where my
niece is invited. Still, I suffer my own reflections, Brianna, though
you think fit to trample on me now."

The girl looked at her odd relative with a sort of wondering amusement.
How long ago it seemed since she had been afraid of Sally, afraid of
the tyranny that had made her life odious. Now all was changed.

As she moved to and fro dusting the shabby chairs, arranging a flower
here and there, altering the position of the lamp, and the folds of the
dull green moreen curtains, her thoughts ranged back to the caravan
days. Could she possibly be the same Brianna, the unkempt, ragged
child, loose of hair and skirt, the bullied, chidden creature who had
loved the dogs and horses better than any living creature, better even
than Mickey, who had oft-times been surly and harsh, and whose bouts of
drunkenness had used to distress her even more than her aunt's failing
in that line.

"What are you going to offer the gentleman?" asked Sally, suddenly.
"Not tea, surely! Poetists have no fancy for cat-lap. They like the
sparkling cup, the flowing bowl, the ruby wine; or I don't [i]know them
by their fruits,[i] as the Scripture has it. Whisky and soda is what I
would suggestify. Reading is dry work."

"Mr. Clive will have tea and nothing else here," said Brianna, firmly.
"I don't choose to encourage orgies. So, just keep an eye on that
kettle, aunt. I won't make the tea till he arrives."

"Which, indeed, [i]the spirit of tyranny is breathed o'er us all,[i]"
misquoted Sally, discontentedly. "Drinks given out by measurement, and
all the laws of hospitality supervisioned. Why in my caravan, there was
always the glass of whisky for the asking, and 'kindly welcome' to it.
But you're not a bit of Irish in your ways, Brianna. Sure, a little
drop o' drink never hurt anyone yet."

"Not if they stopped at the 'little drop,'" said Brianna. "But I never
knew an Irish person who did. Now, aunt, I'm just going to wash my
hands. If you hear a knock you might go down to the next flight, and if
it's Mr. Clive, ask him up. You know what that servant is."

Sally's expression showed that she did know what the servant was.
Indeed, they had had many a breezy interview. She spent a few blissful
moments recalling those excitements, and watching the kettle, which
was just on the boil. Then a loud knock at the door startled her, and
she remembered Brianna's instructions. She opened the door, groped her
way to the next landing, and looked over the stairs. A tall figure in
a fur-lined coat was ascending, guided by husky instructions from the
background.

"Descend to your own departments, Emma," commanded Mrs. Dunne, in
stentorian tones. "I will usher the visitor to his destination."

Raemore Clive looked up, and was somewhat surprised at the strange
figure who, with "nods and becks and wreathed smiles," was inviting his
ascent.

"Just up here, sir; next flight. You have come to see my niece,
Brianna, I believe. Yes, she expects you. Will you kindly follow me and
I will anticipate you to her apartments. Though humble and apologising
for excuse, yet they are respectable and no arrears of rent."

She was talking over her shoulder and leading the way at the same
moment. Raemore Clive felt somewhat mystified, but Sally Dunne carried
her own interest along with her, and the fascination of her colloquial
powers was apt to more than delight a stranger.

Clive glanced round the room, and a sense of wonder swept over him.
So she lived here--in this common-place little room, with this
extraordinary relative. Genius, beauty, talent, buried in obscurity
like a lost jewel that has fallen in a dunghill. How strange and how
horrible it seemed to his ultra-refined senses. Luxury and beauty were
as the breath of life to him. He had all the sybarite's enjoyment of
colour, fragrance, harmony, and here everything was an offence to sense
and taste.

But at the moment Brianna entered, followed by Phil D'Eyncourt, and
he forgot his disgust as he looked at the glowing loveliness of the
young Irish girl, and the suggestive and more pronounced charms of
her companion. Brianna greeted him with the frankness of her natural
manner. Then she introduced her friend, and explained that Mickey Croom
would arrive shortly. She made no apologies for her surroundings.
He had invited himself, and must put up with what he found. The
magnificence of a sable-lined coat in nowise affected her, and she
hung it up on a nail behind the door with an indifference that brought
Sally's wrath upon her head.

"Take care, Brianna," she cried, sharply, "If that nail cuts the sable
(Sibernian, or I'm no judge), Mr. Clive will be amply justified in
recriminations. Gals is so careless, sir. Permit me to ameliorise for
them."

"Oh, it's all right, aunt," exclaimed Brianna. "Please don't, fuss. Mr.
Clive, may I give you some tea? I'm just going to make it."

He accepted, and took a chair near the table, feeling he was suffering
voluntary martyrdom in a good cause.

Phil D'Eyncourt was studying him all the time with keen disappointment.
He was so ugly, she thought; so big and massive, and with such strange
eyes. They gave her what she termed "the creeps," whenever she caught
their green glow from between the half-closed lids. Their strange
scintillations shot out inquiries in a manner that reminded her of
a snake's tongue as it darts to and fro. A fear that was almost awe
crept over her whenever she was near him. All the slang and persiflage
of her usual conversation failed her for once. She would have given
anything to get away, and yet it seemed foolish to have such feelings.
To Brianna and Sally Dunne he was only an ordinary man drinking
ordinary tea, and talking--well, no, it was not ordinary talk, any
more than the voice was an ordinary voice. It was like the roll of the
sea, the chords of an organ. It made listening a pleasure, and grouped
common-place words into harmonious phrases.

As they were drinking their tea Mickey Croom entered. Raemore Clive
remembered the night of the supper at the Imperial, and how this man
had objected to Brianna's accompanying Lorrimer and himself.

"We have met before. I suppose you remember?" he said, and his eyes
swept the powerful face and deformed figure with an eager curiosity.

"Yes, I remember," said Mickey. "The world's gone on much the same, but
our places are changed in it."

"Well, I have proved less churlish than you, Mr. Croom," answered
Clive. "I did not refuse your hospitality as you did mine, or was it my
friend's?"

"Maybe I had my own reasons," answered Mickey. "However, that's neither
here nor there. I'm pleased to see you again. Brianna has been full
of your play. It is a great honour to us that you should come to this
humble place to read it."

"I am anxious for an opinion that is thoroughly unbiassed, and
thoroughly reliable," answered Clive. "My faith in Miss Lynch is the
faith of a seer, who can pierce the future and behold what it promises.
She has a career before her. I told her so when first we met."

"Did you really, now?" burst out Sally. "And she never to say a word!
Brianna, you are a fraudulent receiver. I'm ashamed of you!"

"Do you mean to say you can foretell things, Mr. Clive?" exclaimed
Phil. "How interesting!"

He smiled.

"It is not always interesting," he said, "nor pleasant to hear. For
instance--you," he half-closed his eyes, and she felt herself growing
chill and sick and faint, "you are destined for a tragic termination
to your stage life. Beware of fire! And you, madam," and he turned
swiftly to Sally Dunne, "your fate is threatened by the sister element,
water--of a strong nature," he added below his breath. "But you will be
fortunate and--almost rich." Then he turned to Mickey. "You have drawn
the shutters over the windows of your soul," he said. "You fear me. But
you need not. I will only read your fate at your own desire."

The hunchback grew suddenly pale. For the first time since his entrance
Brianna looked at him. She almost started. Instead of his usual
careless attire he wore a loose black velvet coat, and from beneath
his turned-down collar escaped a white silk necktie. His iron-grey
hair fell in its usual picturesque confusion about his head and
throat. There was something distinguished and superior about his whole
appearance. Something she had never yet recognised.

"Ah, do let Mr. Clive tell you, Mickey," she entreated. "How often
you've said you wished you could unravel the mystery of your birth."

A sudden silence fell on them all. The full gleam of those green
phosphorescent eyes suddenly flashed upon the hunchback's face, and
compelled the answer of his own.

"Stretch out your hand," said Clive, in his low, deep voice. "What is
written there you surely need not fear to know."

Mickey obeyed. The thought-reader took the long, slender fingers in his
own, and turned the palm upwards.

No one spoke while his eyes traversed line after line in a tranquil
scrutiny. Suddenly he looked up.

"You have been cruelly wronged," he said. "You are the child of great
people. Fortune and rank should be, nay they are, yours. You have had
a strange life, full of vicissitudes. It is over. Your fate is at your
feet, waiting your acceptance. I cannot tell you its shape or form. But
it means entire change of destiny!"

There was a moment's dead silence. Sally Dunne gave one gasping breath,
then clasped her hands tight in an attitude of strained attention. For
once words failed her.

Mickey Croom first broke the silence.

"Enough of this foolery!" he cried sternly. "You don't suppose I
believe it."

Raemore Clive laughed softly.

"People take good news in different ways," he said.

"But if it's true," cried Sally, breathlessly. "If good fortune is
coming to you, Mickey, what then?"

The hunchback looked at her vaguely.

"It can't be true," he muttered. "It's impossible. Besides, what can it
matter now? My life's lived, my heart is hardened. I care for nothing.
What could wealth buy for me, and what," with a shrug of his shapeless
shoulder, "what sort of figure would I cut among great folk?"

Clive's eyes rested searchingly on his figure.

"In this age of science and research," he said, "there is no limit to
what can be done for humanity, provided humanity can pay for it."

For a moment the hunchback's face grew eager. His eyes burned with a
sudden, fierce glow.

"Do you mean," he said, "that I--that money could bribe science to make
a man other than he is by nature?"

"I do mean it. I know a Russian doctor whose sole practice has been
among malformed or disfigured patients. He has made more cures than I
could mention. I have seen patients of his, and I am sure of what I
say. Have you been like this from your birth, or was it an accident?"

"'Twas an accident, that I can testify," interrupted Sally. "Don't I
know the drunken old harridan who had a hand in it? Moll Flannagan
she was, and took them from the birth or month. Indeed, she wasn't
particular how, as long as the dollars were forthcomin'. Why, Mickey
there was a lovely boy, and as straight as a dart up to three years
of age, and even then he'd have been cured had there been anyone
to look after him. Oh, the injustice of it all. A disgrace to the
irresponsibilities of life I call it!"

In her own mind she was considering the possibility of discovering this
same Moll Flannagan. A new and unexpected interest attached itself to
Mickey Croom and his fortunes. Her astute brain followed up a clue,
winding in and out through mazes of speculation, and illumined by the
rosy light of prophecy. She deemed it wise, however, to keep her own
counsel as yet.




CHAPTER XXI.

The real reason of Raemore Clive's visit seemed the last thing anyone
thought of. Brianna at last cleared away the tea things, and made some
attempt to draw attention to the flight of time.

Mickey Croom seemed lost in thought. What he had heard was so
unexpected that he could not credit, and yet could not altogether
disbelieve it. The reading of his hand alone would not have seriously
impressed him, for he had an instinctive dislike of Clive, but
that reading, coupled with the mystery of his own origin, and
his long-rooted discontent with his low and coarse surroundings,
forced him to give it some attention. His rebellion against those
surroundings had been instinctive. His own moral deterioration was
the result of physical misery and physical despair. He had suffered
intensely--suffered in body and in mind. It was such suffering that had
driven him to seek forgetfulness in drunken orgies and the excitement
of the stage. All professions and most employments had been closed to
him. Poverty and deformity have a poor chance in the race of life. He
had been pushed aside, derided, despised, trampled on; the sport of
vicious lives, the Punchinello of an unfeeling crowd, a poor marionette
whom no one wanted, and whose feelings or sufferings were no one's
concern.

He thought of all this now as he sat by the fire, his eyes fixed on the
thin white hands marked with the rugged lines of Fate that had been
read for him. How much credence was he to place on that reading? Could
his destiny really be at the turning-point--his future at that [i]"tide
in the affairs of men which taken at the flood leads on to fortune?"[i]

Clive watched him with curious interest. He knew that his object in
coming here to-night was thwarted by the strange impulse that had led
him on to exercise his clairvoyant powers. But this drama, to which
he had spoken the prologue, promised to be so interesting that he was
content to forego the pleasure of introducing his own.

When Brianna timidly suggested that he should begin to read his play he
shook his head.

"No," he said, "not to-night. Influences are against it. The air is
rife with conflicting passions. Harmony is destroyed. I could not read,
and you could not appreciate. Mr. Croom is unnerved by this strange
news. I am not surprised."

"If it were true--if it were true," muttered Mickey, raising his
gloomy eyes from the hands he had been studying, and searching Clive's
impassive face as if he thought it might aid his distracted senses.
"What is written here that you alone can read?"

"My dear sir," said Clive compassionately, "we do not all possess the
same gifts or abilities. Mine lie in one line, yours in another. I have
spent many years in perfecting a faculty of nature. It is as easy for
me to read human fates by certain signs as for you to read your beloved
Shakespeare. Electricity is a problem whose nature is even now only
partially understood, yet it has been the motive force of space for all
time. Magnetism is only another uncomprehended force. The evolution of
occult science from depths of ignorance is marvellous only to those who
have never cared to consider it as a factor in the scheme of creation.
The revival of cheiromancy and cheirosophy in the present age is only
a sign of enlightenment. To those who profess them, and have made them
a study, they have long ceased to be mysterious. Everything in life
has a meaning and a use. It is only fools who hug ignorance and deride
everything they cannot understand. But the fools are in the majority."

"You talk like a book. It's quite surpassing to hear you," observed
Sally. "And certainly if Mickey gets a fortune I'll believe in
necromancy and chiropody, as you call it, all the rest of my days."

Clive rose abruptly.

"I must wish you all 'good evening,'" he said. "I am afraid my news has
been somewhat disturbing. But when you have calmed down and discussed
possibilities you will acknowledge I was correct."

"But your play--arn't we to hear it, after all?" exclaimed Sally.

"Not to-night, as I explained before."

"Oh, about the inferences--so you did. Well, I am most regretful. I
hope it's no fault of mine. There's nothing would have given me greater
pleasure than to hear you dilate upon it. But perhaps you will come
round again, though postponement is the thief of time, they say."

Clive had turned to Brianna, and was holding her hand in his own.

"You must come to me," he whispered. "Here all is antagonistic,
unsuitable. It clashes. I am not in harmony. Bring Mickey to my rooms
next Sunday evening. This is the address, and meanwhile, if I can be of
any service in these researches, command me."

Mickey rose, and took down the sable-lined overcoat from its nail,
and quietly assisted its owner into it. The girls stood by, Phil in
wondering envy of the luxurious garment, Brianna, perplexed and musing,
thrilled by that touch on her hand, repelled, and yet attracted by the
magnetism of this strange being.

Then suddenly he was gone, accompanied by Mickey, and the three women
looked at each other through a mist of wonder, whilst over the small,
close room swept the living fragrance of violets.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mickey Croom returned in a few moments. The time was at hand for his
evening engagement. The prospects of the future were limited by the
necessities of the present.

Sally Dunne had recovered from her first excitement. Her mind was busy
with a scheme by which her own personal interests might be served. She
felt she must lay claim to Mickey's gratitude, a claim strong enough to
render her latter days independent of the caravan or those histrionic
ambitions which had lately seemed so alluring. The scheme wanted a
good deal of consideration, and she determined to take no one into her
confidence regarding it. When all was ripe for action then she would
tell Mickey. She had but a poor opinion of him, as indeed she had of
most men. Her despotic temper had easily ruled those of the sex with
whom she had been connected, and her somewhat coarse and unillumined
mind prevented her from discovering any difference between tyranny and
influence.

"What is your opinion of all this, Mickey?" she asked him, breaking the
long silence at last. "Come, let's have it out. Do you believe in the
chiropodist's foretelling, or do you not?"

"I can't say," was the curt answer.

"But you must have some opinion. You used to worry enough at one
time as to who you belonged to, and now that a designing Providence
throws the information into your very hands, so to speak, you won't
trouble yourself to follow it up. I'll tell you what, Mickey," she
leant forward and dropped her voice to the key of persuasion, "I
tell you what; I'll take the trouble off your hands if you'll just
provide a reasonable document setting forth what I am to expect for my
investigrinations. I think I know where to begin, and that's more than
you do. The time isn't ripe yet for lawyers interloping. Their fingers
will have a pull out of the pie, of course, but not more than can be
prevented by my altercations, I promise you."

Mickey lit his own briar-root and began to smoke with a serene
indifference to this alluring prospect that, to say the least of it,
was trying to a feminine temperament.

"Do you hear what I'm saying?" persisted Sally. "What are you looking
at Brianna for? She's only a sawdust doll in comparison to me. She
can't help you."

"No," said the girl softly. "I wish I could."

"Do you believe in that man, Brianna?" asked Mickey, suddenly. "Does he
believe in himself? I can't understand him."

"Mr. Lorrimer says he is able to foretell anyone's future by the lines
of their hand," said Brianna. "He is not only a palmist, but he has
what is called the clairvoyant faculty. Have you ever noticed his eyes?
They look through you, and yet beyond you. They seem always to be
seeing something else beside yourself."

Phil D'Eyncourt shivered.

"That is so," she said, "He gave me the creeps."

"Nonsense," interposed Sally Dunne. "The gentleman is quite irrational,
I'm sure. As for his chiropody, as he called it, why I've known gipsies
tell fortunes in the same way. And I remember old Moll Flannagan had
a pretty trick at reading the cards, which brought her in quite a
superfluous income in support of her other occupations."

"Well," said Mickey, sending a cloud of smoke to the dingy ceiling.
"I'll think the matter over. There's no hurry," he added, somewhat
bitterly.

"No hurry!" screamed Sally, rising in her wrath. "No hurry! And you
suffering chancellors and exchequeries to have the use of what might be
your own lawful income. No hurry. And all these years you may have been
disenfranchised of a noble estate."

She started up, her eyes aflame and her face wrathful. The picture she
had drawn appealed so strongly to her fancy that it almost ceased to be
a picture.

Mickey's grim laugh startled her.

"A pretty fool I should look," he exclaimed. "Laying claim to a title
and fortune I never heard of on the strength of some fortune-telling
jargon. I'd like to see a lawyer's face when I came to his office with
the lines of my hand as the title deeds of an estate!"

Sally Dunne shut her lips with a tight snap. There were times when
talking was a waste of breath. She knew what she knew, and it wouldn't
be her fault if Chancery wasn't made to disgorge its ill-gotten gains
in one instance. In her estimation that august Court of Equity and
Justice was nothing but a fraudulent institution that robbed the widow
and the fatherless without compunction, and offered stone for bread to
litigious claimants! She was going to have a tussle with it on her own
account some day, and she plumed herself on the prospect with agreeable
anticipation of results.

For the present the subject dropped, but when Mickey returned that
night, tired and disgusted with attempts to amuse an enlightened music
hall audience, she informed the little community that she was thinking
of going back to her caravan.

"Fogs don't suit my constitution," she added. "And the ways of agents
and stage managers is deletiginous to womanly feelings. The call of art
is stronger than the voice of syrens, and hinstantaneous photography
has superior allurements to my mind. I shall pack my satchel and retire
to my tented home, and make a reformed debutt in my old line. As for
you, Mickey, I leave you to the potential finger of Fate, on whose
threshold you stand. Take care of the girls, and don't let Brianna
there get her head turned with flatterings or epingsodes of an amatory
nature. Phil D'Eyncourt can look after herself. My blessings on you
all. When next you see me it will be at the portentious call of Fate,
if I mistake not!"

This somewhat ambiguous speech left only a sense of relief to the minds
of Brianna and Mickey. They were not sorry to hear of Sally Dunne's
contemplated departure. Phil D'Eyncourt alone expressed any regret, but
then Phil did not consider she had had half enough fun out of her.

But no one attempted to change Sally's determination, and she returned
to her native shores leaving a strange peace and quiet behind her, and
with five pounds in her pockets, borrowed from Mickey Croom.




CHAPTER XXII.

It was the opening night of the Caviare Theatre. Everyone who knew
anything about the mercantile side of the stage had prophesied failure
for the theatre, the piece, and the syndicate of the New Noodles who
were running the whole thing.

The New Noodles were a section of the young nobility who had elected to
raise the stage to the rank of the aristocracy, by marriage and--other
forms of patronage.

Their announcement had crept into newspapers of every grade, and been
discussed in every drawing-room and boudoir. Society had done so many
strange things of late that really it had almost thought of turning
"proper" by way of excitement. Then it heard of the Caviare Theatre,
and grew once more interested. The name of the first piece to be
produced had been kept an entire secret. It was known to be the work
of a new dramatist, and rumour had described it as daring and original
beyond anything the stage had ever seen. Neither bribery nor corruption
had been able to get beyond these bald statements. The rehearsals were
conducted with a privacy that was absolutely indelicate, and the names
of the actors and actresses were almost unknown.

The Noodles had decided on being original, and so the morning
newspapers contained merely the names of the theatre, the play and the
cast, but not the names of the performers. They would appear only in
the programme of the evening.

It had at first been decided that no critics should be admitted; but
the worthlessness of their opinion being too well known for any verdict
to affect either the play or the public the objection was waived, and
the usual stall tickets forwarded. Every newspaper of any standing sent
its representative. The ladies' journals, the fashionable magazines,
the critical reviews, the great dailies, the weekly world-wide
circulators, all were there in the shape of shabby dress clothes,
well-worn black silks, note-books and eyeglasses.

A subtle excitement filled the atmosphere. The rustle of passing
dresses, the perfumes of laces and flowers, the glitter of diamonds in
the boxes, the gleaming busts and shoulders in the grand circle, made
up an impressive picture of beauty and fashion and wealth. Society had
actually altered its dinner hour, or foregone its dessert and coffee in
order to be in time for once. It had been informed that the interest
commenced with the rising of the curtain, and that late comers would
not be permitted to disturb attention by getting to their seats over
the patent leather toes and trailing satins that were in the way. So,
with a laugh and a shrug, and a good deal of grumbling, Society had
emulated the better manners of a less superior class, and been punctual.

Five minutes before the prescribed hour the pretty little theatre
was filled from floor to ceiling. Prohibition prices had kept the
gallery free from the usual riff-raff of orange suckers, and lovers of
picturesque language. It was filled with a critical and attentive and
highly curious audience--an audience who could appreciate Ibsen, and
had learnt to distinguish the subtle difference between Bernhardt and
Duse.

Two boxes on the second tier had been converted into one. Many eyes
turned curiously towards it. It was there that the syndicate would be
enthroned, and a whisper had circulated that among them was the author
of the play.

Six impassive faces moulded into a beautiful vacuity of expression,
six faultlessly fitting dress coats, and white satin cummerbunds, six
exquisite buttonholes of the latest monstrosity in orchids, were framed
by the cream mouldings and gold silk hangings of the box.

The cynosure of all eyes, they bore five minutes of public scrutiny
with the indifference of statues. Not a flutter of interest or
nervousness gave them away. Six tailor's dummies could not have behaved
more creditably, or evinced less excitement. Their languid gaze swept
the house, surveyed that noble army of martyrs yclept "The Critics,"
and then turned approvingly on each other. "This is our work," they
seemed to say, "and yet an ungrateful mobocracy calls us 'useless.'"
Conscious virtue warmed the waxen pallor of cheeks paled by the arduous
tasks of Society. The ghost of a feeble smile lifted, the waxed
moustache ends to a less acute angle.

Then the first bars of the overture sounded, and a hush fell upon the
house. A weird melody throbbed through the darkness, and noiselessly
the curtains parted on either side and showed the stage.

A woman lay on a couch of leopard skins in a room that was the
perfection of modern upholstery in all its details. The couch and the
figure lent a bizarre touch to the prevailing modernity. There was
something fantastic and barbaric about them. Large windows opened on
to a wide balcony, in the background, and beyond gleamed the blue and
gold of an Egyptian sky, while a single palm reared itself against the
paling rose tints of sunset. The music wailed on, now loud, now soft.
On the stage all was silence. Yet so exquisite was the picture, so
intense the interest in the motionless figure, that neither eye nor ear
asked for anything more.

The dreamy repose and artistic stillness of such an opening scene made
people ask themselves if, after all, it had been wise to put up so long
with the conventional servant laying a table, or the pert chambermaid
whisking a feather brush over perfectly dustless furniture, what time
they mouthed or gabbled over the opening business of the play as
directed by the dramatist.

So absorbed was the audience in watching for what was to come that
they failed to notice a seventh figure in the box of the syndicate. A
man had come quietly in as the curtain rose and taken a seat a little
behind that stirless group.

No one spoke. Every eye was bent on that lovely, indolent form, and
a stifled sigh of excitement burst forth as it moved, and raising
itself on one arm, left bare by falling drapery, looked straight at the
crowded house. Even then she did not speak. She seemed as one awakening
from a dream, spell-bound by its memories and half afraid of what the
awakening might mean. Without, the light darkened with the suddenness
of Eastern nights, but the room within grew bright and the gleaming
tissues of the woman's dress flashed into showers of silver as she
suddenly sprang to her feet and rushed to the open window. A Nubian
page, clad in scarlet and gold, entered by another door. He carried
a letter on a golden salver. Glancing round and seeing no one, he
laid the letter on one of the inlaid tables scattered about, and then
retired. People began to look at each other. Was it going to be a dumb
show; a play without words?

There had been something hopeful in the appearance of the page and
the letter. They were old stage friends in a new dress; but when the
picturesque Nubian had nothing to say, and the letter faced them blank
and unaddressed they grew restive, and a few eyes turned inquiringly to
the box of the syndicate. But the very suspicion of a practical joke
was banished by the calm and deep attention of that motionless group.

The vulgarity of mere humour could find no entrance there.

With a sigh of relief, attention returned to the stage, and the
entrance of a man in common-place tweeds struck a note of modernity
that once more aroused expectation. His brief speech, his ordinary
lighting of a cigarette, his stroll towards the open window, and
then the crude challenge of his greeting to the white figure leaning
negligently against the rails, signalised the opening of the play.

It was disappointing that they should talk just like ordinary people,
she from without, he from within the room, but the audience had to
learn, as scene followed scene, that just the very things they had
been accustomed to in the stage translation of human actions were the
things that the new play would have none of. Yet so brilliant was the
dialogue, so subtle the by-play, so skilful the hints of dramatic
interest, of the hidden savagery of human nature underlying the culture
and courtliness and even the conventionality of the principal actors in
the drama, that attention was claimed irresistibly.

The part of the woman was marvellous. It was contradictory, impulsive,
feminine with cruelty, fascinating, yet repellent. A nature swayed by
passing breaths of passion and regret, sowing tragedy with outstretched
hands which men's kisses had seared.

When the curtain fell a storm of applause burst forth, as wild, as
impulsive, and as unlike the usual languid approval of a cultured
audience as the play, and the acting had been unlike any other play, or
any other acting of modern times.

"The woman is a revelation," muttered the critics, thronging the foyer,
thirsty and smoke-famished, by an hour of self-compelled sacrifice. "A
revelation!" they repeated, washing down the verdict with draughts of
whisky and soda.

"The play, of course, is impossible. Oh! quite impossible. But it has
been written round her; anyone could see that. Who is she? Anyone ever
heard of her?"

No one had, until a small, still voice chirruped in the interests of
its special journal that surely she had played something--something
quite unimportant in a play produced at the Delphic some time in the
past year. Then references were made to note-books or memories, and
"Jessica Lynch" might have found herself famous could she have played
the part of listener.

"Wonder why the man calls it 'The Opal'?[i]" observed a tall, thin
individual. "There's nothing about an opal in it?"

"Perhaps that will come out in the second act," suggested another.

"Very bad form." "Utterly against all traditions." "Dead failure on the
face of it." "Neither form nor meaning." "Won't draw after the first
week."

Such was the verdict of the august body who had elected to be the
voice of the public, and believed they alone could feel its pulse and
diagnose its weakness or its strength.

"Splendidly mounted, too, and wonderfully thought out. Couldn't detect
a mistake or anachronism, for a wonder. Who's done that?"

"Oh, the author! He's one of those artistic Johnnies, don't you know,"
lisped a little man who had the ears of the clubs, and was intimately
connected with a large bill-broking firm, whose opinion of society was
scarcely fit for publication.

"Don't know him at all--never heard of him! Raemore Clive--nom de
guerre,[i] of course."

"I met him about a year ago," announced a deep voice. "He came to read
that very play to me, and, bedad, a more conceited and impertinent
fellow I never met in the whole course of me life!"

"What did he want to read it to you for, eh, Rafferty? Or is that one
of your stretchers? You didn't seem to remember the play a bit."

"Because he's altered so much of it. I told him straight it would never
do as he had it."

"It's a wonder you didn't offer to collaborate," sneered the little man.

"Is he in the house to-night?" asked 'The Stage' autocrat. "You might
point him out."

"I will," said Rafferty. "I think I spotted him up in the gallery. He's
trying to keep out of sight."

"People seemed impressed," murmured 'The Era.'[i]

"Oh, anything new goes down, you know," announced the critic of the
'Minerva'[i] languidly. "Just that odd way of beginning gave them
something to talk about."

"There's the bell! It's mighty punctual they are for a first night,"
grumbled Rafferty throwing aside a half-smoked cigarette. "I wonder if
the opening of this act is going to be as queer as the other?"

"I thought you said you had heard the play," observed 'The Era.'[i]

"Only the first act, and, bedad! 'twas near a case of wigs on the green
after it, too. He couldn't argue, and he wouldn't listen, and so he got
abusive. Was it Tom Rafferty would stand being told he didn't know his
own business? Not likely, and by a young upstart who hadn't learnt the
a, b, c of his trade! So he had me opinion, and, be jabers, if it's
done nothing else it's kept him quiet for a twelvemonth."

Then they filed back to their places as the curtain rose. The beautiful
complexity who was beloved by four men and married to one was again on
the stage. The scene represented her boudoir in an hotel at Cairo. She
was going to a fancy ball as an Egyptian dancer, and had taken it into
her lovely erratic head that she must learn a certain dance for the
occasion. In order to acquire its technique with perfect accuracy she
had engaged a professional danseuse from the Khedive's Court to give
her a lesson.

A troupe of female musicians entered, playing strange music on still
stranger instruments. Then a dancer glided in, veiled and shrouded in
semi-transparent tissues. A brief dialogue ensued, then she threw them
aside and stood with bare sandalled ankles, swaying and twisting her
lithe figure to the sound of the weird fantastic music. The strain grew
quicker and more impassioned. The movements of the dancer answered its
demands. She looked like a mist of white and silver, rising, falling,
twisting; her long transparent scarf flying here and there with the
rapid motion of her agile limbs.

Suddenly, a sheet of flame burst forth from the right wing of the
stage. There was a sudden cry, then a wild shriek of horror rent the
stillness. The flying scarf was caught by the fire, and in a moment the
dancer was enveloped in flames. The audience sprang up like one man.
There was a rush for the doors, shrieks of terror rent the air, the
whole stage was a glow of lurid brightness. The shrieks of the burning
girl had been suddenly quelled, for the actress recovering from a
momentary paralysis of terror, had seized the rug that lay on the couch
and wrapped it tightly round the struggling figure. But meanwhile the
flames were spreading. They caught at cobwebby tissues and fantastic
draperies--all the brittle, fragile litter that had looked so artistic
a few moments before.

In the midst of the wild commotion a man suddenly sprang from a box,
and clambered down to the footlights. The fire was yet confined to
one wing only. He pulled down the flimsy tissues, shouting orders and
commands to the panic-stricken scene-shifters, catching up the rugs
which lay on the floor and smothering down the burning mass by their
means. Assistance was at hand, and in a few moments the danger was over.

But the panic-stricken crowd in the house were beyond hearing or
reasoning with. Pushing, crushing, shrieking, they blocked the doors
and crammed the passages, making useless all attempts to assist egress;
mad and blind in the selfish struggle that is the one dominating rule
of panic.




CHAPTER XXIII.

Someone had carried the charred and blackened figure to the actress's
dressing-room. A blissful, unconsciousness had followed the terror and
deadened the agony. The smell of the burnt fabrics and the scorched
flesh seemed to fill the little room. Someone had gone for a doctor.
A few women stood weeping and compassionate by the door, and the
beautiful actress, forgetful of her own injuries, knelt by the couch,
white and pitiful and silent. They dared not touch the sufferer.
The flimsy gauzes still fluttered about the blackened limbs. It was
impossible even to guess at the extent of the injuries. It seemed hours
before a doctor arrived, but it was in reality but a very few moments.
The girl was still unconscious.

"This is no case for private attention," he said. "She must be taken to
the nearest hospital and have these burns properly dressed and attended
to. She is frightfully injured. I doubt if she will ever recover."

He turned to the women and gave some necessary directions.

"And you, Miss Lynch," he said. "I hear you extinguished the flames.
Are you injured at all?"

Brianna looked at her hands and arms for the first time. She had not
felt her own pain in the excitement of the terrible scene.

"I think I am burnt," she faltered, and suffered him to examine her and
apply the remedies he had brought.

"It was very brave of you," he said. "But for your presence of mind she
would have been burnt to death."

"Do you think she will recover?" asked Brianna anxiously.

"Impossible to say. The shock must have been terrible, and she will
suffer a great deal. Fortunately her face has escaped. But I can say
nothing until these burnt rags are removed. Now, if I may advise you,
just change your clothes, and take this dose of sal volatile. I will
return in a few moments."

Brianna summoned the dresser, and by her aid was soon in her ordinary
garments. Shortly afterwards a nursing sister arrived, and under her
charge the charred and disfigured body of the injured girl was removed
to the Charing Cross Hospital.

Meanwhile the stage manager and a host of supernumeraries were on the
stage discussing the accident and furnishing an ever-increasing crowd
of reporters with news of the disaster and its probable cause. One or
two of the syndicate, whose nerves had survived the panic were also
present. All were unanimous in declaring that but for Raemore Clive's
plucky deed the theatre might have been burnt to the ground. As it was
the damage could be repaired, and the building reopened in a few days.

"But that will make no difference!" exclaimed the author, bitterly.
"The public won't come here again. I know what brainless idiots they
are. This opening catastrophe will stamp the theatre as unlucky. That's
quite enough. The play is ruined. There seems a fatality about that
second act," he muttered, under his breath.

The syndicate murmured a duet of hope in voices that belied such
anticipation. Their delicate nerves and susceptibilities had received a
severe shock. The suddenness of the catastrophe and the terror of that
awful rush for life were things that had brought them face to face with
the tragic side of existence and left them unnerved and uncomfortable.

One of them had taken a special interest in the pretty dancer, Phil
D'Eyncourt. It seemed horrible that she was represented by that black
and inanimate mass from which his shuddering sense had recoiled, that
she might never again dance and laugh and jest, and form an excuse for
indigestible suppers and unlimited champagne.

In the midst of the discussion Brianna Lynch appeared on the stage. She
was dressed for the street. Her face was deadly pale, but her voice and
manner had regained composure.

Raemore Clive hastened to meet her.

"You are not injured; you escaped?" he cried, eagerly.

She threw back her cloak, showing her bandaged arm and hands.

"Only slightly," she said. "I heard you were here. I came to know what
was to be done."

"It is impossible to decide anything to-night," he answered. "The stage
has suffered a good deal of damage, and, of course, there is a question
whether the public won't be too scared to come for some time. It was
most unfortunate. Just when everything promised success. And you were
simply magnificent!"

"It is unfortunate," she said, and a sigh escaped her pale lips. "It
was such a glorious chance. One feels it might never come again!"

"I will see you home now," he said. "I am not wanted here; and we must
wait the result of this accident with what patience we can."

He nodded good-bye to the distressed lordlings, and left the scene of
the disaster without more words. A cab was waiting at the stage door.
He put Brianna in and gave the address. For some moments neither of
them spoke. Then she said:

"Do you remember your prophecy about Phil D'Eyncourt? It all rushed
back to me suddenly when I saw her lying there."

"No," he said vaguely. "I can't remember."

"You told her to beware of fire. It was a year ago. The same night you
foretold Mickey's change of fortune. Only a year and both are realised.
There is something terrible about your power."

"Yes," he said gloomily, "and I can't help it. These impressions come
to me at times even without my will. But tell me about Mickey--is the
case decided?"

"He wrote me to say it soon would be. His mother had given the
necessary evidence, so had the nurse, and the old foster mother. The
lawyers say his claim is quite clear. Of course, the legal decision
will take time, but he is with his mother, and they have furnished him
with money. In another six months at least he will be at Croom Castle.
It seems incredible."

"Who found it all out?"

"Oh, Sally Dunne. She left us abruptly without saying a word, and went
to work on a system of her own. I haven't had full particulars yet. But
there's no doubt she set the machinery in motion."

"Ah, well," he said, wearily, "I wish some good luck would fall my way.
The secret of my own fortunes is a sealed book."

His voice suddenly took a note of tenderness. His strange eyes looked
into hers as she leant back pale and suffering under the lighted lamp
of the hansom.

"And yours," he said, "marches with it. Side by side our fates move.
We may not control them. The fires lit in past centuries have not
burned out in either heart. I told you long ago we had met, lived,
loved together. The life of the soul is eternal. Physical existence
claims for itself only a passing passage on this earth plane. But that
is brief--the school time of its life. Our school time was passed
long ago, Jessica. We live now on a plan of cultured and far nobler
emotions. Our dreams and hopes are not bound by any material chains.
They are limitless. Far-reaching as heaven, boundless as space. Your
power and mine are true mates. What I create and what you achieve are
fruits of their union."

A curious sensation of faintness and giddiness came over the girl as
she listened. She longed to tell him that this power of which he spoke
so confidently was only one-sided, that he compelled and she resisted.
But words would not come.

The sky and the stars and the lamps grew suddenly a blurred, chaotic
mass of moving light, then lost themselves in darkness, thick and
shrouding and horrible. All sense of feeling was engulfed in this deep
gloom. Her head fell heavily against his shoulder.

*  *  *  *  *  *

When Brianna regained consciousness she was lying on a couch in her own
little sitting-room.

She and Phil had moved from their lodgings after Sally Dunne's
departure, and rented a tiny flat in a quiet street in Chelsea.
An elderly woman did their housework and lent an air of sober
respectability to the little ménage which, as Phil laughingly said, it
was quite beyond wages to recompense. She was now bending anxiously
over her young mistress, and applying such remedies as were at hand.

Raemore Clive stood a short distance away, quietly anxious, but not
alarmed. He had acquainted Mr. Underwood with the accident. He knew
this sudden fainting was but the natural result of the shock and
excitement of the evening. The good woman was terribly upset by the
recital. Yet amidst all her expressed horror she was glad that the
accident had claimed Phil D'Eyncourt for its victim, not Brianna. The
Irish girl was her favourite, and she had taken a great interest to her
career.

Brianna soon opened her eyes and glanced round with a sigh of relief at
the familiar surroundings.

"What is it? Did I faint?" she asked feebly. "Why I never did such a
thing in my life."

"No, my dear, and no cause too, perhaps," murmured her attendant,
soothingly. "There now, you're better. Let me get you a glass of wine,
and then you must go to bed. What a merciful escape. The Lord be
praised. And to think I was so bent on going to that theatre to-night,
only you wouldn't let me! Well, well, things do happen for the best
sometimes."

Brianna raised herself to a sitting position. They had removed her hat
and heavy cloak. Her hair clung damply about her brow. She still felt
weak and giddy.

"How foolish of me!" she said.

"How natural of you," he answered. "You have few of the weaknesses of
women!"

He threw himself suddenly at her feet and kissed the wounded hands.

"You are brave as you are beautiful. How I adore you!" he cried with
passion.

She looked at him strangely. Fear and anger seemed to gather in her
eyes.

"Ah, no!" she cried passionately, and drew herself away. "You must not
speak like that. It angers me. I hate it."

He rose slowly and looked down at her. His strange eyes glowed like a
flame.

"You will not always hate it," he said. "Love is a woman's sweetest
prize. Even you, with your wonderful gifts, your heaven-born genius,
are but a woman. You give shape and substance to Art, but Art alone
will not content you always. Your heart sleeps still, but it will wake
one day. It will awake for me, Jessica--for me. It is written in the
stars. They cannot lie."

She shivered as with sudden cold. The woman entered with the wine at
that moment and Raemore Clive withdrew to a short distance.

"I will go now," he said, in a voice strangely calm and clear. "Rest
and sleep if you can, and do not come down to the theatre to-morrow
morning. I will let you know what happens."

A sudden gesture of hers arrested him as he was turning away.

"Do you know," she asked eagerly, "if there was any accident among the
audience? There were several people I knew. Did they all escape unhurt?
That rush was so awful."

"Oh," he said indifferently, "they've only their own cowardice to
blame. Why didn't the fools sit still! But if there is anyone about
whose fate you are anxious I will call and make inquires and let you
know. Have you the address?"

"No," she said, and a sudden colour came into her pale checks. "No. I
will not trouble you. I can wait till the morning. The papers will have
full accounts of it."

His eyes searched her as if they would read her soul.

"You are interested in some one," he said slowly. "I wonder who it is?"

She made no answer, and he left the room.

As he walked along the Embankment his face looked hard and almost
cruel in the moonlight. He pushed, aside the begging waifs and whining
match-sellers. His soul was the battleground of conflict, and the
struggle showed itself on his usually impassive features. His heart
was afire with fierce passions, and yet beneath the fire lurked a cold
dread! He was mastered and controlled by something stronger than his
own will.

"And though I read all other fates," he muttered, "to my own I am
blind. I desire and I cannot read the answer. Art, pride, work, fame,
all these I would give, asking but her love in recompense. And will she
give it? Will she answer my claim, and make existence for me the sweet
and hopeful thing it might be it was once?"

He bared his head and stood by the darkly flowing water. He looked from
it to the glittering opal of the sky and sought one by one the planets,
and their shining satellites.

But what he read was no answer to what he sought. The darkness of his
own soul had obscured the book of Fate and closed its pages to his
passion-blind eyes.




CHAPTER XXIV.

It was nine o'clock next morning before Brianna awoke. She rang the
bell and the woman entered with her tea and letters, and a sheaf of
newspapers.

Brianna seized the first one of the pile, scarcely answering the
woman's enquiries as to her own health in her eagerness to read of the
catastrophe.

There it faced her headed in large capitals: 'TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE
AT THE NEW THEATRE!'[b] and then the usual penny-a-liner's account
of the fire, the panic, the accident to poor Phil D'Eyncourt, the
bravery of the leading actress, and a brief summary of the play and its
possibilities.

Paper after paper she scanned eagerly and with haste. The critics
one and all agreed in condemning the play on the ground of
unconventionality.

It was altogether wrong. Wrong in construction, in design, in
probability. No one had ever done anything like it before, and having
no precedent to follow they had come to the conclusion that it must
be pronounced a failure. Brianna's performance, however, was highly
praised, and her bravery in the awful tragedy that had signalised the
evening was spoken of in each journal as a striking proof of courage
and presence of mind.

She threw the paper's aside and drank her tea. The woman chattered
garrulously as was her way, for all things theatrical had a strong
fascination for her. She had once been a wardrobe keeper at a big
theatre, and her interest in the footlight world had never waned since
then.

"I wish I could hear how poor Phil is!" exclaimed Brianna impatiently.
"As soon as the doctor has been I must go to the Hospital."

"Indeed, you'll be doing nothing of the sort," exclaimed Mrs.
Underwood. "You'll lie there and keep quiet to-day. Lord a mussy! I
wonder you're alive after such a shock. There'll be plenty to tell you
how things is going on, and for the matter of that I'll go round and
inquire for Miss Phil presently. But you just take my advice and rest
yourself. You're of more importance than any of them. You've got your
career to think of."

Mrs. Underwood always spoke of the profession as their "career." But
she had a special interest in Brianna, and unlimited faith in her
capabilities.

This catastrophe had quite upset the good woman. It seemed so unlucky;
and "luck" at a first start meant a great deal. However, she did not
wish to discourage her favourite so she made no comment on that side of
the case.

Brianna, despite her reluctance to give in, was soon obliged to confess
that rest and quiet were best for her. Her hands and one arm were very
much burnt, and the excitement of the past night began to tell on her
nerves. Mrs. Underwood attended to her with zealous care. The doctor's
arrival, and examination of the injuries, resulted in an opinion
that confirmed her own. Rest and quiet were absolutely essential and
theatrical matters must stand aside for the present. He brought news
of Phil D'Eyncourt. She was still alive, but serious doubts were
entertained of her recovery.

Brianna was greatly distressed. She and Phil had lived together for
over two years; had shared the struggles and make-shifts of the
profession, taking the rough with the smooth, the hope, and the
despair, the triumphs and disappointments as they came. She had grown
fond of the good-hearted erratic girl, whose experiences had been so
varied, and whose adventures would have filled a good-sized volume.
She was such good company too; and not an atom small-minded. She
never envied Brianna her superior talents or her superior beauty. She
admired both with frank heartiness, and grudged no triumph that befell
her. Their frank comrade help had been quite destitute of spites or
jealousies, and Brianna felt that her absence would make a terrible
blank in her life.

She lay back on the pillows with closed eyes and throbbing head and
pictured the poor girl's sufferings with agonised remorse. For it was
her interest and her persuasion that had procured Phil's engagement.
Indeed that little scene had been added to the original version
specially for the girl. The very dance had been learnt and practised
with untiring patience, and after all what had it resulted in? Brianna
shuddered as she thought of that fateful prophecy. What was the power
of this strange man? Whence came his gift of foretelling? Proof after
proof had been given of its reality--in her own case, in Mickey
Croom's, in Phil D'Eyncourt's. Her heart grew chill within her as she
thought of them. Of occult science she knew nothing. It was bewildering
and incomprehensible, yet she felt what she did not know, and to which
she could give no expression.

The chill oppression of presentiment had been upon her when the curtain
rose on that strange piece. All the succeeding horror had only proved
its reality. Raemore Clive alternately fascinated and repelled her.
She could not understand him. Physically he alarmed her, mentally he
charmed. Wild and strange, and at times incomprehensible, yet he had
that force and fire of something akin to genius that irresistibly
compels attention. He was unlike all other men she had met. The silly
"dudes," the bar-haunting "Johnnies," the moneyed spendthrifts, the
titled noodles, these and such as these she had met and scorned and
affronted a hundred times. The two men who had played important parts
in her life were Max Lorrimer and Raemore Clive.

Both had attracted her in totally different ways. Yet neither had
aroused in her any feeling of sentiment. To Brianna men had as yet
proved only something to despise, or to fear. Those who had "made love"
to her had only succeeded in impressing the tedious idiocy of their sex
upon the indifferences of her own. They had passed through her life
as butterflies of a summer. She scarcely even remembered their names.
Lorrimer alone had treated her with respect. She had not met him often,
but every meeting had possessed a charm inexpressible. She rarely
dwelt on them. They were pushed aside into a secret cell of memory--a
sacred chamber into which her soul entered as a devotee enters a
shrine. He was something afar and apart from her actual life. Even to
call him friend seemed something of a liberty when she remembered the
circumstances of their first meeting.

How much had happened since then!

She thought of it all now as she lay in the darkened room, her eyes
closed to the pale wintry sunshine, and her brain throbbing with the
passage of many thoughts.

The door opened softly, and disturbed her. There came a rustle of
silk-lined skirts across the room, a perfume of violets, and a radiant
vision in furs and velvets met her surprised eyes.

"My dear child! How awful! How terrible! I came at once, directly I
read the papers. Your woman tells me you are badly hurt! Was ever
such a misfortune--and following on such a chance! Poor dear! are you
suffering much?"

The speaker was Ray St. Vincent. Brianna's eyes grew tender as she
looked at the beautiful face.

"How good of you to come!" she said, faintly. "No, I am not much hurt.
My right arm has a bad burn, and both my hands got scorched, but it
might have been a great deal worse. And think of poor Phil!"

"Yes. I sent to inquire about her at once. I'm afraid her career is
done for, even if she ever recovers. What an awful thing! And no one
knows how it happened! Poor Clive's play! Of course it's slated in
every paper, though they had only one act of it to criticise. Shall I
sit with you a while, or is it too much for you?"

"No, indeed. I am delighted to have you. It was good of you to come."

"My dear child, don't talk nonsense! And so you got on splendidly. How
I wish I could have seen you. I had a letter from Max this morning,
telling me he was there. He was nearly crushed to death in the panic.
He had to go with the crowd, and got jammed in a doorway. Oh, the
fools! Why couldn't they sit still? They wouldn't even listen to the
manager's speech."

She had thrown aside her furs, and now took a chair by the bed. Her
eyes rested on Brianna's white face.

"Do you know," she said, "this will be very serious for you? It was
such a splendid chance, too!"

"Perhaps," said Brianna, "the piece will go on again. There wasn't so
very much damage done. It can soon be repaired."

"Yes, but you don't know what the British public is! If it gets into
its head that the theatre isn't safe, or is unlucky, or something
equally idiotic, the place will be shunned. And Clive put such a lot of
money into it, too!"

Brianna raised herself on her uninjured arm and looked anxiously at the
beautiful actress.

"Do you really think it won't be revived? Oh, what shall I do?"

"I can't say positively; don't get discouraged. The syndicate
believe in it, and possibly they mean to prove their independence.
Unfortunately, though, independence never yet spelt 'success.' And
people can't go on losing money for ever. Have you seen Clive since?
But, of course, you couldn't."

"Yes, he came home with me last night. And he was going down to the
theatre this morning."

"What did he think about it?"

"That the piece would be resumed as soon as the damage to the stage
allowed of it."

"He had much better take it to another theatre."

"But he can't. The syndicate bought it, you know."

"True. I'm awfully sorry for Clive. But I knew the piece would never
do."

"Everyone says that," answered Brianna. "But the first act went
splendidly, and the applause was tremendous. I'm sure if the play had
been seen as a whole it would have proved a success."

"My dear child, my experience of the stage is a vast deal longer than
yours. It has and it always will cling to conventionalities. Novelty
may endure for a night, but loss of money comes with the morning--so
says the box office. People may be allured for a time by something
unusual, but if it taxes their brains they'll have none of it. The
first duty of the playhouse is to amuse. It is a recreation ground, not
a school."

Brianna sighed.

"And oh! the rubbish that goes down."

"Precisely. But the rubbish brings an audience. Do you think I care
for the pieces I have to play at the Delphic? They are simply odious,
judged from the standpoint of art. But they pay, and I should never get
such a salary anywhere else. Besides, I know my audience, and only an
actress can tell what a safe feeling that is!"

She drew some of the papers towards her and began to scan them hastily.

"You seem to have done very well," she said. "What a pity if the thing
is withdrawn."

"But they have other plays," said Brianna.

Ray's lips curled scornfully.

"Mostly by unknown dramatists, and of the highly-flavoured sort. Better
come back to me and the Delphic and the 'ills we know.'[i]"

"It may seem presumptuous of me," said Brianna, "but I feel I must act
what is best and truest to art."

"Why, child, we all feel that at first. But by the time we get our
chance we are too tired, or too old, or too 'groovy,' to put any fire
or feeling into it. I drudged for six years in the provinces, as I told
you, playing only small parts, understudying great ones, yet never
getting an opportunity of playing as I could play."

She sighed. Brianna looked gravely and questioningly at her. They had
grown very friendly of late, and yet she often thought how little she
really knew of this woman, or her life.

"It must be very hard--for some," she said, slowly. "And then, the
temptations are so great, and it is hard to be lonely and poor, and
hungry, and see others with everything you crave and yet are denied!"

"Hard!" exclaimed Ray St. Vincent, "it is hell, Brianna! And the worst
of it is no one cares if you are good, and very few believe it. The
worse a woman's life is the more the public rush to see her, hear her,
applaud her."

She sprang to her feet with sudden restlessness, and began to pace the
room.

Brianna watched her silently.

"But, Ray," she said at last, "why trouble your head about such things?
Your position lifts you high above the mire. Let those wallow in it who
please!"

The beautiful actress shook her head.

"You don't understand," she said. "One has to know them. In our
profession we can't afford to give ourselves airs. We must be popular
at any cost, even of self-respect."

The troubled look deepened in Brianna's eyes.

"Is that so?" she said. "I never thought it mattered."

"Everything matters in a profession whose raison d'être is publicity.
Even a small thing is powerful. An unfriendly hand can push you into
the background, and keep you there! Look at the mob who come to my
house. Do you think I like them or respect them? But they are of use,
or were. And if I don't count them as friends I don't want to make them
enemies. Every stupid little ink-slinger has it in his power to snub,
insult, or besmirch you. The press is the public standard of judgment,
and red-haired Rafferty is more powerful in his way than the Prince of
Wales." She stopped suddenly. "How foolish of me to excite myself, and
how bad for you. Underwood said that the doctor had ordered you to be
kept perfectly quiet. Well, I'll be off. Shall I go down to the theatre
for news, or do you expect Clive here?"

"No, I don't expect him. I couldn't see him," said Brianna. "But
I am very anxious to know what will be done. I shall be all right
to-morrow, I'm sure, if--if the theatre is repaired sufficiently for a
performance."

"You would have to appear with your arm in a sling. But perhaps that
would draw. People would rush to see the heroine of the fire. Well,
I'll go and make inquiries, and let you know. Meanwhile, don't let
yourself out of the papers. Puff is everything nowadays. Send in
bulletins of your health, and hints of your intention. . . . . You know
the sort of stuffing that dear old goose, the public, requires! And
now, good-bye. I'll either come back this afternoon, or write."




CHAPTER XXV.

Left alone, Brianna closed her eyes, and gave herself up to
reflections. She followed in thought her varying fortunes, and regarded
herself with a sort of wonder. In a few brief years so much had
happened that the girl of the caravan, the half-wild gipsy creature at
whom people had mocked, looked like a stranger to her own eyes. She
seemed to turn a separate face to each stage of her existence, to gaze
down a long, long road whose end she might not see, or even dimly guess.

Her restless, untamed soul, had escaped coercion, and rejoiced in
freedom as a wild bird rejoices when freed from its captor's hands.
Every impulse of her nature was fired by genius. To achieve and to
conquer, less for fame's sake than for the feeling that spelt "must,"
was like a power that drew her onwards to some hidden goal. In her
veins ran the impetuous blood of an impetuous and hot-headed people.
Culture had not softened, and Time had not yet chilled these impulses.
The wings of her soul beat strongly as ever against any obstacle,
longing only to conquer, never to evade it. Dissatisfaction lay at the
root of her nature, urging her ever onward and forward. Rest and peace
were strangers to her life, the hunger of achievement had never been
appeased save in some small degree.

Now, as she lay and thought, a sort of despair seized her. To be
inert, to lie here like a maimed and helpless creature just when
success had smiled on her, seemed a cruel stroke of misfortune. She had
worked, studied, planned, lived that strange woman's character in "The
Opal."[i] It was her chance at last. And the chance had come and gone,
and the cruel, slighting words of the Press lay like a stone upon its
grave.

Slow hot tears of pain and disappointment welled from her closed lids.
It was so new to her to weep that they trickled down unheeded. The
entrance of Mrs. Underwood drew attention to the fact.

"Why, my dearie, what are you a-frettin' for?" demanded the good
woman. "See, I've just brought you some beef tea; and here's a letter
come. But drink your beef tea first. The doctor said you was to have
nourishment, and letters can wait. Come, come, cheer up. Crying
only spoils your good looks, and then where are you? And lookin'
as pretty as a picture, too, with all that beautiful hair. Talk of
advertisements! What a Lady Godiva you'd make for a pantomime!"

Brianna could not restrain a smile at so unique an appraisal of her
charms. She held out her hand for the letter. It was large and thick,
and her address was traced with elaborate care that made the writing
seem strange. She laid it down and drank the cup of beef tea with an
obedience that delighted the good Underwood. Then she bade her open
the envelope, as her hand was too painful to use. Two large sheets of
notepaper were laid before her.

"Why, it's from Mickey," she exclaimed gladly, and began to read the
closely-covered pages.

For a few moment Brianna read on quietly. Then the blood leaped to her
face, and her eyes sparkled.

"Oh, how wonderful, how splendid!" she cried, impulsively. "Oh, if Phil
was only here to hear this."

The letter was a concise and yet a full account of Mickey's law suit.
It had ended in his favour. His rights had been proved beyond doubt.
His mother had confessed her reasons for concealing this birth after
leaving her husband's house, and his old foster-mother, Moll Flannagan,
had been discovered by Sally Dunne, and had given her evidence, which
went far to prove the truth of his mother's statement. That erratic
lady had been severely reprimanded for an indifference that seemed
absolutely criminal to legal minds. The more so as no direct heir
could be found to the estate, and even a distant one had vanished into
regions that are limited to Polar bears and explorers.

[block]

"Of course," said Mickey, in conclusion, "there is a great deal to
be done yet before I am actually installed at the Castle. It sounds
grand, Brianna, but it is a lonely, dreary place, and one half is
quite uninhabitable. However, Sally Dunne is queening it everywhere
on the strength of her discovery, and I am going to give her one of
the lodges; the only thing she will take in the way of recompense. How
strange it seems to write and talk like this--how strange you will
think it, my dear. And now, there is one thing more I want to say. I
want to make your future bright and easy, Brianna. I want to share some
of my unexpected fortune with you. We have borne so much together, my
child, have shared strange bits of good and ill fortune, that I know
you will see in my offer nothing but what a father or a brother might
propose. For I shall never marry, child. There will be no one in my
life so near and dear as yourself. . . . I have read of your engagement
at the new theatre. . . . it is a great chance. All my heart is with
you. I wish I could have been in London to see you, but I am likely
to be detained here for some time yet. And now, good-bye, my child.
Remember there are to be no more struggles or hardships. What is mine
is yours--home and fortune, and a heart that holds you as the dearest
thing in life.

"Yours ever faithfully,

"MICKEY.

"P.S.--Will you send me Mr. Raemore Clive's address? I have forgotten
it."

[end]

The paper fluttered in the girl's grasp. Her excitement was so great
that she forgot pain, trouble, disappointment, everything, for the
moment. She was so glad and yet so sorry. Mickey had been her friend
ever since she had joined her aunt's wandering life--the associate of
her youth and girlhood. She could not imagine him as raised to rank and
honours. It was like a fairy story.

The generosity of his offer was like himself. To her he had always
been so kind, so considerate. Friend, helper, protector--everything.
She tried to picture him as a lord, the owner of a real castle, and
a real estate. But she only laughed when she thought of it. How
could he be anything else but--Mickey? As for his offer, she shook
her head in imaginary refusal. As long as they had been working and
struggling together a joint commonwealth was all right and fair, but
now--everything was altered. She had no claim on his purse, or his
fortunes. She had chosen her life, won a foothold on the ladder she had
determined to climb, and she would be beholden to no man's charity any
longer. "Even if this fails, I shall get something else," she thought.
"But I could not accept any help from Mickey. He must never think I
need it. It is different with Aunt Sal. Besides, she is getting old,
and must be tired of that wandering life."

She left the letter lying on the white quilt and closed her eyes,
and tried to picture Mickey Croom as a lord, and Sally Dunne as a
lodge-keeper in charge. She could not fancy that erratic person
treating him with any sort of respect; dropping curtsies as he passed
in or out, calling him by his title, receiving and obeying orders. No
doubt her own self-importance would be great, and she would shine out
in the glory shed by Mickey's rank, and her own share in tracing his
right to it. Some day she would pay them a visit in County Waterford,
and judge for herself how far this change of fortune had affected their
respective individuality. As she reached this point in her reflections
Ray St. Vincent came back again.

"I thought I would let you know," she said. "You might be worrying
yourself, lying here so helpless. In the first place, Phil has
recovered consciousness. She is more scorched than burnt, and they hope
she will get over it in a few weeks. Next, the damage to the theatre is
being rapidly repaired, and the piece is to be continued. The syndicate
are going to paragraph and puff in every possible way. I saw Clive
there. He sent all sorts of messages. You can imagine them delivered.
He hopes you'll be all right in a few days, and able to take up your
part. We all told him the play was unlucky, from its name downwards,
but he won't believe it. He seems to think you'll pull it through. What
have you there, my dear? A love letter, or the MS. of a new comedy?"

"Neither," said Brianna, smiling. "Only a letter from dear old Mickey.
Such good news. He has proved his claim. He is really the owner of
Croom Castle. In a short time he'll be living there as its rightful
owner. Isn't it wonderful?"

"It is indeed," she said, gravely. "And do you really think Clive
guessed nothing, knew nothing, when he foretold this? I am very
sceptical, Brianna. I don't believe in these palmists and clairvoyants.
Anyone with a power of reading character, a shrewd knowledge of human
nature, and a knack of piecing circumstances together, can make a very
good guess as to the future of certain people. As for being able to
tell it with absolute certainty that I don't and can't believe."

"I have told you," said Brianna, "that Clive read Mickey's hand, and
from that told him who he was, and what he had to expect. And now it
has all happened."

"He must have known something," said Ray, doggedly. "He had had some
hint of it from someone. You don't know how sharp that class of person
is. It is their business to know everything. They have private sources
of information which their victims can't guess. Nothing is too small or
too unimportant to interest them. They keep a sort of private detective
office. That is really the secret of their knowledge. If you could see
into Clive's mind you would find that he is one-half charlatan and
one-half detective. He is a keen observer and has a marvellous memory.
On these, he trades."

She laughed slightingly as she took out a bunch of violets from her
coat and laid them beside Brianna.

"He will need all his charlatanism now," she said. "For he's gone
into the most money-losing concern of the present day, theatrical
management. It generally spells ruin. However, as long as you get your
salary you needn't care. It's only his own look out."

Brianna sighed and raised the violets in her face!

"Did you bring these? How kind of you."

"Oh, no! Clive sent them. He will come round this evening on the chance
of seeing you. Do you think you'll be able to get up?"

"Of course," said the girl, laughing. "Why, I've never been ill all my
life. I'm not going to play the invalid for this little hurt. I shall
get Underwood to help me dress by and by and go into the next room."

"Be careful," urged Ray, seriously. "It's not so much your injuries as
the shock to your nerves, you know. You'll only feel that afterwards."

"Nerves!" said Brianna, contemptuously. "I don't know what they are.
You must remember I am no fine lady. My life hasn't been one to
encourage delicacy of feeling or fancy, and they make up 'nerves.' I'm
tough and hard. You need have no fear of me. Why I could act to-night
if it was necessary!"

"No doubt," said Ray. "But you wouldn't act to-morrow, or for many
to-morrows afterwards. Don't be foolhardy, my dear. Even the toughest
woman has fibres of sentiment and weakness in her composition. It's
nature. She can't help it. Oh! Brianna, what despicable things we are
at best!"

The girl looked at her surprised.




CHAPTER XXVI.

Brianna was sitting in a big cushioned chair in the tiny sitting-room
of her flat. She wore a loose gown of soft woollen stuff, in hue a
rich crimson, and girdled at the waist by a thick cord. Her arm was
in a sling, and her hair, which it had been quite beyond Underwood's
power to dress, hung in one long, thick plait down her back. Her face
was very pale, she looked strangely young and girlish in the soft
lamplight. So thought the two men who were suddenly ushered in by the
said Underwood; announced merely as "Two gents as wish to see you,
dearie!"

She turned, a little surprised. She saw Clive and Max Lorrimer.

"We met at the door," said Max, half-apologetically. "Clive told me
he was coming in, so I thought I would venture also. I have been so
anxious. I feared you were dreadfully hurt? What a brave thing to do!"

"Not at all," she said, "It was only natural. You must excuse my
shaking hands. You see, I am invalided. But pray sit down, and we'll
have some tea; only you must pour it out for yourselves."

"You are better, I hope," said Raemore Clive's deep voice. "I heard of
you this morning from Miss St. Vincent. Did she tell you I would call?"

"Yes. I was expecting you. What about the theatre?"

"We shall open at the end of the week. Next Saturday, I think, if you
can manage."

"Of course I can. I was telling Ray to-day that I had never known what
it was to be ill."

"But your arm?" said Lorrimer. "Burns don't heal so quickly. You must
be careful. What does the doctor say?"

"I never asked him. I shall be guided by my own feelings."

She turned to Clive.

"I am so glad," she went on, "that the play will go on. It's such
nonsense about it's being unlucky. I believe it will be a great
success; especially after such a sensational introduction."

Lorrimer looked and listened in a sort of admiring wonder. Every time
he saw this girl she astonished him more. Her rapid development, the
quickness and ease with which she had adapted herself to different
circumstances, her mode of speech, the simplicity and naturalness
of her manner, all filled him with amazement. She was so frank and
simple. There was no coquetry or nonsense about her. Cultured women are
almost always artificial. Modesty is often as unreal as complexions.
The mask of bashfulness is as easily adapted as a blush. He had seen
enough of such women to read design behind simplicity, but in Brianna
he failed to detect even the ABC of artifice. She concealed nothing,
because she had nothing to conceal. To all men she showed the same cool
indifference. She cared for none of them. Flattery disgusted her, and
only won what the Irish call "a slap of the tongue" in return. Vanity
and jealousy were alike strangers to her nature. Her profession held
all of heart and soul that she possessed. For that she lived, and
served and worked. It was hard for men to believe this. For to men the
genius and the worker are still the woman before all else--the frail,
tempting, attractive thing, whose very self must needs be theirs, and
to whom any aim or achievement must be secondary to sex and its duties.
So to Lorrimer, as indeed to many others, Brianna was a revelation and
a novelty.

The discourse dealt entirely with matters theatrical, and tea was
brought, and the two men waited on her and on themselves, and time sped
swiftly along, and even the most straight-laced of Mrs. Grundys could
have found nothing to cavil at, though probably she would have taken
no one's word for that. They discussed Mickey last of all. His strange
story was full of interest, for the two men, especially Clive. Lorrimer
knew enough of Irish peerages and properties to be less envious than
sympathetic over forthcoming troubles.

"It is certainly a queer story," he said. "By the way, Mickey's quite
old, isn't he?"

"Oh, no!" exclaimed the girl. "At least, I never thought about his
actual age. He isn't much over thirty, so Aunt Sal said."

"I thought he was long past forty," said Lorrimer. "May one smoke?"

"Certainly. I forgot to tell you, but you know I don't mind."

"No use offering you one, Brianna?" he said, taking out his cigarette
case. "You are determined to be uncommon."

"I hate to see women smoking," she said, indifferently. "I have no
particular reason, only I don't like it. If I did, I suppose I should
do the same."

"You allow no guide but your instincts. Yet how true they are!"
murmured Clive.

"Oh! I don't know that. I feel strongly on certain points, and if I
feel I must act in accordance."

"You have given me a new ideal of life," he said. "You represent
something in womanhood that no woman has ever shown me. You are so
strong, too. I wonder if you have a single weakness of your sex?"

She looked at him with grave, unsmiling eyes.

"I don't know much about other women," she said, "and a great deal of
what I do know I dislike."

"They are delightfully fascinating--as theories," he observed. "I
wish you could see some of those who come to my rooms. Dear, timid,
frightened doves! So anxious to know, so afraid to ask. Jove! they go
away with their feathers considerably ruffled sometimes. I give them a
pretty catalogue of committed and uncommitted sins to take back with
them."

"You really make a profession of palmistry then?" said Brianna,
curiously.

"I do. Why not? I have turned the vulgar trade of fortune-telling into
an art. I find human nature in the higher classes just as insatiably
curious about the future as any kitchen Moll who gloats over a
fortune-teller's greasy cards. I have autographs of statesmen, actors,
clergymen, authors, peers of the realm, women of high rank and women
of none. Disguise is no mask, and subterfuge no cloak. I know them and
read them, and they fear me!"

His brow darkened and his eyes flashed strangely.

"It is better to rule by fear than love!" he said. "I wonder how many
reputations I hold in the hollow of my hand--how many secrets have
fluttered forth from pretty frightened lips, unlocked by a chance word,
or a direct accusation."

"But isn't it rather--unmanly?" said Brianna, bluntly.

He took the cigarette from between his lips, and puffed a cloud of
smoke towards the ceiling. A dark flush rose to his cheek--and the lids
drooped over his eyes.

"I don't ask them to come," he said at last, "and for what I tell, they
alone are to blame. The folly of fools is the one sure thing that the
world has always held, and will hold until it ceases to be a world."

"But do you like the life?" asked Lorrimer, suddenly.

He shrugged his shoulders and replaced the cigarette.

"Like it? Does one like anything one has to do? I began as a freak,
and I find myself bound to go on with it. After all, it makes life
more dramatic and uncommon, to deal with its occult instead of its
common-place side." He rose abruptly. "We must not tire you, Jessica,"
he said. "You will have to face another ordeal. Odd, to have a first
night divided into two halves. What rot those idiots of critics
have written! But then I knew they couldn't help themselves. Do you
remember that red-haired Irishman. He has spluttered out a column and
a half of venom in the 'Footlights.'[i] I hope he feels the better
for it. I suppose it paid for half a gallon of whisky, so it did
good to somebody! And then the 'Era'[i] and the 'Stage'[i] and the
'Minerva.'[i] God bless my soul! How seriously they have taken it. It
must have been like indigestion to the poor devils. I don't know how
they'll stand another attack. But I'm not to be beaten easily, and you,
Jessica, if I read you right, are of like spirit."

"Yes," she said, her eyes flashing. "I think it is a fine piece, and I
am sure people will come to see it again and again."

"Especially if they are told not to do so," laughed Lorrimer. "The
critics played into your hands there, Clive, at all events."

He rose also. The two men stood side by side, and the girl's eyes
looked gravely from one to the other. They had entered her life at
the same time. They had both served a purpose in it. The clasp of
friendship held their hands in mutual grasp, and yet how widely
different were her feelings for each.

"I know what you are thinking," said Clive suddenly. "The beginning of
the play we know. What will the end be? Who will be on the stage in the
last scene? It is an interesting question, is it not, Jessica?"

Lorrimer made a sudden impatient movement. He hated that familiar
cynical mode of speech Clive so often employed to this girl.

"Come, Clive," he said, "what is the use of speculating about such
things? What is to be will be.[i] Kismet."

"Yes," said Clive, with a little melancholy smile. "Kismet. Tragedy or
Comedy, it will be all the same one day. The end must be."

Then they left, and she was once more alone, the odour of cigarette
smoke perfuming the tiny room, the memory of Raemore Clive's words
echoing still in her ears: "The End must be."[i] The End. And this was
only the Beginning. How much would have to be lived through before
that end was reached! The end--that meant peace and rest--the sleep of
tired limbs and tired heart. Destiny must fulfil itself. She closed her
eyes and let Fancy show its veiled face, and tried to peer beneath the
covering. Yet something held her back. She feared that shrouded figure.
Words--strange, and mad, and fierce, rushed back to her memory. To hate
and love, to toil and to suffer, was that the fate of womanhood? This
man had said so. He had told her that some strange power drew him to
her, and must in turn draw her to him. She would not believe it. Yet
she had felt the spell of his will and the strength of his fascination.
At times she could escape him, but at others he compelled an unwilling
yielding on her part that vanquished rebellion. Could it be that in
some far-off age, in another existence, they had been mated together,
and yet again must meet and join and complete that unity which is
co-eternal? He had told her that theory of twin-souls, parting but
to meet, severed but to unite. Visiting a lower plane in some brief
birth-struggle, that was but one link in an endless chain. She felt the
thought was unbearable. She was strong and firm of purpose and stubborn
of will. She would not yield herself to this tyrannical force--she
could not.

She opened her eyes, and sprang hastily to her feet and began to pace
restlessly to and fro. The small space of the room seemed like a cage,
and she a wild, untamed thing that longed for freedom.

"Never!" she cried, and then shut her teeth firm, and in her heart
again repeated the passionate denial. "Never! Never! I will not yield.
I will be no man's slave, least of all would I be his, for I hate
him--I hate him."




CHAPTER XXVII.

The theatre was reopened, and by the end of the week all London was
talking of "The Opal"[i] and the wonderful actress who played in it.
For once it mattered not that critics stormed and abused. Clubland
rushed to see it as one man, and the talk of Clubland finds a ready
echo in Society. Besides it was such an extraordinary piece that it
was worth seeing, if only for the sake of being able to abuse it. The
idea of a solitary actress carrying the whole burden of a play on her
shoulders was enough to make everyone anxious to see how she did it.

A new dancer had been found for Phil D'Eyncourt's part. She was slowly
recovering from the effects of her injuries, but the doctor declared
she would never be fit to appear on the stage again. Brianna paid her
constant visits, and tried to cheer her by every means. But the poor
girl was in a very low and despondent state of mind.

She bore no grudge against her more fortunate companion, but her rapid
success and rising fame naturally presented her own misfortune as an
unenviable contrast. After four weeks in the hospital she was allowed
to return to the flat once more, but she was still too much of an
invalid to do anything but lie on the couch and be waited upon. Her
helplessness awoke in Brianna a sympathy and tenderness altogether new
to her.

The call upon her patience and her services never seemed a tax. It
would have surprised the world "before the scenes" to see the brilliant
young actress, about whom the town was raving, tending so patiently
this peevish and suffering girl who had no claim on her save that of
charity, the charity that "suffereth, long and is kind."[i]

Ray St. Vincent came in very often. Brianna's success had surprised her
greatly. She had never expected the piece to "catch on" in theatrical
parlance, but there was no denying that it had done so. The names
of Raemore Clive and Brianna Lynch were on every tongue, and that
capricious fickle thing, the Public, had elected to throne both on high
in its favour.

One night Brianna was half through the first act when she caught sight
of a face, far back in the stalls. Two dark, glowing eyes were fixed
on her, with an eager scrutiny that was familiar and yet strange. Her
heart gave a sudden, quick throb. Her own eyes flashed back greeting.
It was Mickey she saw. She had not known he was in London, but she
felt he had come to see her act. The thought put her on her mettle.
She called forth every energy and impulse, every subtlety and tone
of expression in her beautiful voice. She woke tears and laughter
and dread. She ran through the gamut of every feeling, passion and
emotion in this strange woman's character. Never had she played with
such consummate art; never looked so lovely or held her audience
with so strong a hand. Again and again they called her back. The
storm of applause bewildered her, and the rain of flowers at her feet
transformed the stage into a garden of bloom.

But amidst all those excited faces and waving hands she saw only
Mickey's burning eyes. They wore a look she had never seen in them
before. It pleased and yet it hurt her. She was thankful when the
ordeal was over, and bade her dresser hurry over her toilet with all
possible speed, A note was brought to her. She had half expected it.

[block]

"I will wait for you, Brianna," it said. "I find no words yet to praise
you, dear. Perhaps they will come--later.

MICKEY."

[end]

She smiled the tender pleased smile of a child whose teacher praises
it. So lovely and so radiant she looked that the woman forgot her
duties, and only stood and stared in admiring wonder. When at last she
was ready she hurried to the stage door. Midway in the dingy passage
she found herself confronted by Raemore Clive.

"I had to wait. I felt I must speak to you," he said. "You were
incomparable to-night. An enchantress, a revelation! Jessica, I worship
you. My ideal, my creation lives in you. Nay, rather it is you. Words
are poor thanks, and you care so little for what pleases most women. If
I poured gold and diamonds into your lap you would only throw them back
to me as you have done to others."

"How do you know that?" she asked, flushing beneath his passionate gaze.

"I know it, as I know all that concerns you, Jessica. You can hide
nothing from me. My soul reads yours--near or apart. Have I not told
you so before?"

She moved on hastily.

"Let me pass," she said. "Mickey is waiting for me. I saw him in the
house to-night."

"Mickey!" he said, and his brows frowned darkly. "Is he here? I thought
he was in Ireland?"

"So did I, but I saw him, and he has written to say he will wait for
me."

"He will go home with you, I suppose?"

"Of course--why not? It is more than six months since I have seen him."

"You won't let me come, too, Jessica?"

"No, I would rather not. I want a long, long talk with Mickey. We have
so much to tell one another."

"And he is Lord of Croom now," he muttered, "and I, blind fool of
Destiny, placed such a rival in my path."

He stepped aside.

"Go!" he said bitterly. "But if he was your first friend, remember it
was I who have given you Fame."

"Perhaps Friendship is sweeter and surer," she said in her heart as she
passed into the cool darkness of the night to where a patient figure
stood, as she had so often seen it stand, alone and watchful beside
that little dingy door through which Fame and Beauty, Vice and Virtue,
alike pass, indifferent to or impatient for the realities that claim
them in the world beyond.

The figure moved forward. Their hands clasped.

"Oh, Mickey!" she cried, and then wondered that her voice trembled, and
words failed, and that her eyes only saw a worn patient face through a
mist of tears.

"My dear!" he said, and then was silent, and she felt the tremor of
his hands and gently withdrew her own. "The time has been so long," he
muttered, brokenly. "I know that now when I look at you."

"Let us walk home," she said. "It will be like old times. You must have
so much to tell me, Mickey. Oh, I beg your pardon. Perhaps I should not
call you that any longer."

"Brianna," he said, "that was a false note you struck. You know that
between us nothing is changed--save in the way of worldly fortunes."

"Yes," she said humbly. "I was not true. Forgive me, Mickey. And now,
tell me all. Are your affairs settled. Are you really a lord?"

"Yes," he said, "lord of a half-ruined, dilapidated old castle in a
bleak and remote district; of a name tarnished by debt and dishonour,
of beggarly acres, and an income sorely crippled by legal expenses. Not
much to be proud of, after all, my child."

"Oh, nonsense," she said, laughing. "It sounds quite grand to me,
Mickey. And what does Aunt Sall say to it all? Isn't she proud?"

"You must come and see her," he said. "Your first holiday is to be
spent with us, mind that."

"Indeed, yes. I'll mind it fast enough," she said, gaily. "And poor
Phil. She may come too, mayn't she? She talks of nothing else but you.
It is like a fairy tale to her."

"Never mind me," he said. "I want to hear about yourself. How wonderful
you were to-night, child. I could not believe it was you--sometimes.
How you have worked and improved."

"To hear you say that," she cried, "is worth all. Oh, Mickey, was I
really good? I feel so strongly that I cannot judge myself. It is a
wonderful piece. Who ever had such a chance, such luck as mine? The
first catastrophe seems only an added attraction. The one blot on the
whole thing is poor Phil's accident."

He shuddered.

"If it had been--you!" he said. "Oh, I can't tell you, child, what I
felt when I read the account in the papers."

He did not say that that shock and horror had added those lines to his
brow, those threads of silver to his hair.

"It was very awful," she said softly. "And poor Phil will never be fit
for anything more in that way, so they say. But you must come in and
see her, Mickey. Where are you staying?"

"Charing Cross Hotel," he answered. "Will you come somewhere to supper
with me, or do you wish me to come home with you?"

"Oh, come with me," she said eagerly. "Phil always sits up, and it will
be like the dear old days over again. Here let us take this hansom. We
shall be there in ten minutes."

They jumped into a passing cab, and sped along the embankment,
Chelseawards. They did not speak much. Their hearts were too full. In
these months of separation so much had happened. They had drifted so
far apart that now there seemed a difficulty in taking up the broken
threads of life again.

The cab stopped, and they got out, and he slowly followed the girl as
she ran lightly up the public staircase to her own little tenement. She
opened the door with her key, and they went in.

Phil was lying on a couch drawn up near the fireplace. The small table
was laid for supper, lit by a crimson-shaded lamp. A bright fire burnt
in the tiny grate, and its reflection flashed on the quaint and simple
decorations of the room.

All was so homely and cosy that Mickey stood in the doorway looking at
every detail with glad and welcoming eyes. For it was he who had found
this nest for his wandering birds, and it pleased him by its looks of
home and peace. Phil's cry of amazement woke him from his reverie. She
half rose, and he saw the delight of her face, the eager gesture of her
welcoming hands. All else was forgotten in the gladness of reunion.

Brianna, as hostess, bustled about, bringing in things from the
kitchen, for Underwood never sat up unless specially desired, and
Mickey sat by Phil's side and watched her with wondering eyes. It
seemed hardly possible that this girl in her simple gown, and with her
eager housewifely ways, could be one and the same with that gifted
wayward creature who had held an audience spell-bound by her powers.

When supper was ready she bade Mickey draw up his chair to the table,
and the merry, pleasant meal went on as it had been used to do of
old. He told them stories of his life in Ireland, anecdotes of Sally
Dunne, and of his tenants. He described his old castle, with its gloomy
rooms, and its view of the wild sea coast. He pictured for them that
forthcoming holiday time when they should all be there together. His
mother had promised to come and stay with him, and they must know his
mother. His deep voice took a strange note of tenderness, and Brianna
looked at him eagerly.

"I wish you would tell me about her," she cried. "I have often
wondered----"

"Yes," he said. "I suppose so. I did the same, until I knew her."

There was a humorous twitch about the corners of his mouth.

"There are women," he said, "who have never been young, and there are
others who can never be old. My mother belongs to the latter class."

"Has she left the stage yet?" asked Phil.

"Yes, she is tired of it. At present she is staying at the Castle. She
said she wanted a rest--herself being the antithesis of repose. I often
think she has lost sight of her own identity. That is how she impresses
me. Whatever she does, or says, represents a part she has thought out,
and determined to play. Her present role is that of devoted maternity."

"It is a bit late in the day for that," said Phil, sarcastically.

"I have thought so--sometimes," he said, gravely. "But she is good
at heart. Oh, very good. Her remorse and sorrow were most touching.
And, after all," he added, suddenly, "my life wasn't as bad as it
might have been. There were hardships, certainly, but then there were
compensations."

Brianna's hand went suddenly out to his with an involuntary tenderness.

"Oh, Mickey," she said softly; "it was hard; it was horrible. You
forget----"

"There are things it is best to forget," he said quietly, and he
looked down at the slender hand, grown white now in a life of ease and
comfort. He held it for a moment, but his eyes did not meet hers. Phil
watched him. There was something in his patience and restraint that
were infinitely pathetic. A little space of silence held them all. She
broke it first.

"I am a little tired, Brianna," she said. "I will go to bed and leave
you and Mickey to have your talk out. You must have so much to say to
each other."

"Do you care to wait a little longer?" asked Brianna. "Because I always
help Phil to undress. She is still an invalid you know."

"I will wait, certainly," he said, "if it is not too late."

"We were never famous for early hours," laughed the girl. "Don't let
that bother you. Do you still smoke a pipe, or isn't it grand enough."

She had gone over to the girl's side, and slipped her arm round the
slight figure. Mickey started forward.

"No, I can manage," she said. "I am used to her. Ah, it is the pipe
still, I see. Well, make yourself comfortable. I'll be back in a
quarter of an hour."




CHAPTER XXVIII.

Left alone, Mickey went over to the fireplace, and stood there, looking
down at the dull red glow. He made no attempt to light the pipe that
he had drawn out of his coat pocket. He simply laid it down on the
mantel-board above his head. The room was very quiet; so quiet that
he could hear his own heart-beats--the swift, quick throbs that spoke
of agitation, masked by that outer quiet of face and figure. He never
moved till the opening of the door roused him. Then he lifted his head,
and looked at his reflection in the glass above him.

Brianna was smiling. She pushed aside the table, drew up the big basket
chair to the fire, and then seated herself on the couch.

"Now," she said, "for our talk, Mickey. But why aren't you smoking? You
don't look like yourself somehow without that pipe!"

He took the chair she had placed for him, but he made no attempt to
reach the well-coloured meerschaum on the mantel.

"No," he said, "I won't smoke now, Brianna; not to-night. I have
something more serious to talk about."

"Serious?" she echoed. "Well, I am all attention. You are not going to
scold me, are you?"

The infinite sadness of the smile that hovered round his lips was
answer sufficient.

"All that is over and done with, Brianna. You are far ahead of your
master, now. To-night I can only sit at your feet, and wonder."

Her face paled, and the smile died out of her eyes.

"Oh, Mickey," she said, "not that. You can't mean it."

"You must feel it yourself, my child," he said gently. "The voice that
speaks to you, the impulse you obey--they are the voice and impulse of
your own God-given gifts. I have nothing in common with them. They have
lifted you far above me, Brianna. But if they bring you happiness, all
is well."

She was silent, and the hands resting on her lap trembled slightly. His
anxious gaze forced her eyes to meet his own, and over his face come a
cloud of doubt.

"Do they content you? They say to a man Art means all, but never to a
woman."

"I think they content me," she said. "Only I am never satisfied. I want
to do so much more--not for any vain-glorious reason, but for the sake
of all that is high and great and beautiful. I seem to see it and feel
it, but I can't express it."

"That is always so," he answered. "The divine discontent of genius is
the sign manual of its existence. Brianna, why did you never answer my
letter?"

"Which? I thought I had always answered them all."

"No, not that one. I told you that whatever was mine was yours also.
That wealth and rank were nothing to me unshared by your delight in
them. Oh, child, our lives have been knit together so closely that
severance means torture to me."

His head drooped on his hands. She looked at him, startled and pained.
The attitude showed his deformity in all its terrible plainness, and
the quick beats of his heart were audible as she leant forward.

"I don't quite understand you, Mickey," she said gently. "Do you wish
me to give up my life, my profession--now? Surely not. It has become
second nature. It is everything to me. Besides, I have no claim on you.
It was different when we worked and struggled together. But now, a new
life has come to us; new duties, new hopes, new ambitions. I--I could
not answer that letter, Mickey, because it was so hard to explain what
I felt. I--I thought you would understand my silence."

"Perhaps I did," he said slowly. "Perhaps I did."

His hand dropped, and he lifted his head and straightened himself.

"Brianna," he said suddenly, "tell me. Have you ever cared for
anyone--any man yet?"

"Never!" she said emphatically. "I hope that day is far off, Mickey.
I know who I am. Who would care to marry me, knowing that also? And I
could never deceive, I must speak the plain truth."

"If a man loved you," he said hoarsely, "nothing else would matter;
neither birth, nor position, nor profession--nothing. For you are
yourself. A queen might be proud of your beauty and your gifts. There
are few men worthy of winning them."

She shook her head with a sad little smile.

"No, Mickey," she said. "There are men to whom birth is more than
all these, and I could never be a lady. There is something I
lack--something I recognise in others, yet cannot name. And it says to
me, 'You are not of us. You are only a girl of the people.'[i] And so I
am, Mickey. Nothing can alter that."

"And I?" he said, bitterly. "What better am I?"

"You have never lost your birthright," she answered. "Even in our poor
wretched caravan life, Mickey, I could feel your superiority to others
about us. I couldn't express it, but I felt it. And now," she looked at
him with a loyal, tender pride in her beautiful eyes that went to his
heart, "now, you seem to step naturally into your new place. I--I could
never have done that, Mickey."

"I came to you to-night," he said, slowly, "to ask you to do it. To say
to you, 'Share my life, my home, my name.'[i] It will be but for a few
years, Brianna, for life and I will not long be fellow-travellers; but
you might make those years Heaven for me, if you only would."

He saw the amazement in her face, and read in it an answer more sure
than words. This was all new to her, this history of devotion, of
patient love, of passion that to him had been so long the motive power
of existence.

"Wait," he said breathlessly. "Don't answer me yet. It may be a new
tale to you, dear, that I should love you as--as I think no other man
in all this world will ever love you, but to me it is old enough. I
wonder sometimes you did not guess."

"Never!" she said breathlessly. "Never! Oh, Mickey, what am I to say?"

"Nothing that your heart does not prompt," he answered, gently. "But
think for a little while, Brianna. I force no claim upon your notice.
I only bid you remember how long I have been your friend. How I stood
aside and waited. How I watched your first love given to a worthless
scamp, and suffered. . . . God! how I suffered then."

"Oh, Mickey!" she said, brokenly. "Not even--then."

"Yes," he said, "always--always, Brianna. There has been no other."

He covered his eyes for a moment, and she felt her own grow dim with
the sorrow that she felt and could not express. The moments ticked by
unheeded. With a sudden faint flicker the lamp went out. She half-rose,
but in the gloom his hand stopped her. The flicker of the firelight
shone on his upturned face.

"One moment," he entreated. "There is light enough. And what I have to
say is easier said in the darkness."

She seated herself again, suffering him to retain the hand he had
clasped.

"I know," he said, "how women shrink from all that is painful to their
sight and sense. I know what I must seem to you in your beautiful
youth. But, Brianna, that can be remedied."

His voice grew eager. She felt the nervous tension of his clasp tighten
upon her wrist.

"I might be even as other men," he went on in a low breathless way.
"And I would count suffering as a joy, and laugh at pain, if--if it
would please you to see me so, Brianna."

A sudden quick sob escaped the girl. She had not known how near tears
were, but now their glittering rain streamed down her cheeks, and she
sank on her knees beside him.

"Oh, Mickey!" she cried. "You break my heart. Oh, why do you care? Why
do you give all this great unselfish love to me? And, oh, don't talk
of--of what that accident made you. To me it matters nothing. It never
did. When I was a little child did I love you less because you were not
straight of limb, tall of figure--did I care that others mocked you?"

"No," he said. "You were not of that sort, Brianna."

"And why should I change? You will always be Mickey to me. The same
Mickey, just as I am the same Brianna."

"But not in that one way. You don't love me as I love you."

"It is not in me to love any man, I think," she cried, bitterly. "All
they say and do and are leaves me unmoved. I cannot help it. I want to
be myself; live for myself, my art, my future. Is it selfish? I hope
not, but Nature made me hard of heart, I think. What pleases most women
has no charm for me."

The firelight broke into sudden brightness, and he saw the trouble of
her face, the glitter of her tears. A heavy sigh escaped him.

"I wanted to make life easier for you," he said, "I hate to think of
you fighting its battles unprotected. And all men's friendship is not
safe, Brianna."

"I know that. Believe me, my armour is not fashioned out of ignorance."

"You may need help," he said, "some day. Would you come to me then?"

"Before anyone else in the world," she said. "That I will promise you,
Mickey."

"I must be content with that promise. I shall not fail you, dear, when
you need me."

"I--I want to ask you a question," she said, suddenly.

"Yes," came the quiet response.

"It is only--Do you think it possible that one could be forced to
care for someone whom one really disliked--won even against one's own
feelings? I express it badly, I hardly know how to put it. But take all
there is of fear, and loathing, and distrust, and set them against the
will of someone stronger than yourself. Do you think that in the end
that will would conquer you?"

"No," he said simply. "But I am not a woman."

There was a brief silence. He had released her hand and sat gazing into
the fire. How often they had sat like that in the old days when she
was a child and he was teacher! Now, it seemed to him, positions were
reversed; for all he cared to learn of life or happiness to come could
only be learnt at her feet.

She rose abruptly, and stood up tall and straight, her hand on the
mantel-shelf, her eyes no longer soft or appealing.

"If only a woman could answer that question," she said. "Be thankful
you are not one."

"There is something that troubles you," he said, gently. "Can you tell
me--can I help you?"

She shook her head.

"No, Mickey," she said. "There is nothing to tell, and I need no help.
Now I will light the candles. It must he very late."

He rose then, and watched her as she found matches and candlestick, and
once more illumined the little room.

Then she looked at him. At the worn face softened and made tender by
this great love; at the tragic lines about the mouth, the threads of
silver in the heavy iron-grey hair. With a sudden, uncontrollable
impulse she stretched out both hands and her head drooped upon his
shoulder. He felt the tremor of her yielding figure and the sob that
burst from her lips.

"Oh, Mickey," she cried, "if only I could be--the child again, and you
my friend as of old!"

She could not see the look that came into the wide sad eyes staring
beyond into the shadows and the darkness.

"Your friend I shall always be," he said, gently. "But the child--it is
the child who has changed, Brianna. It had to be--I do not blame her.
Life is so--a thing of chance, of lives that meet and part. And pain is
always lurking in the background, for ourselves, or others."

"I have given it to you," she said, bitterly. "I who would do anything
to make you happy, Mickey."

"It is not to be my fate. I ought to be used to it by this time. But,
child, this confession of mine must make no difference between us. I
have told you all my feelings. That you should return them I never
expected. But you must trust me always, Brianna; remember that. When I
say my life is yours I mean it. For there is nothing in that life of
joy, or beauty, or content, that does not come from you, or breathe
your memory."

She lifted her head. The tears still hung on her lashes, and her
trembling lips were pale.

"You make me ashamed of my ingratitude," she said. "Oh, if I could
trample out this wretched, dissatisfied, heartless thing that is me,
and yet not me. If I could give up my life to you, Mickey, it would be
better, a thousand times. I am sure of it. But I can't--I can't."

"I want no sacrifice," he said. "Some day you will learn the woman's
lesson, and so only that you are happy in the learning I--I can go my
way content."

He turned away and crossed the room, a little unsteadily. After a
moment's pause she followed him into the vestibule beyond. She took his
coat from the stand, and helped him on with it, as she had done scores
and scores of times in the old days of tramp and tour. The memory came
back to both. It touched him inexpressibly. The striking of a clock
somewhere in the quiet house fell on the empty silence. "One, two."

"'The day breaks, and the shadows flee away,'[i]" he quoted, and looked
at her with a smile that could not quite banish the shadow of his own
pain.

"I shall think of that, Brianna, as I go home in the grey dawn."

"'The shadows flee away.'[i]"

He closed the door, and she went back to the room.

It looked strangely empty. She sank on her knees beside the empty
chair, and folded her arms, and laid her head upon them.

There the grey dawn found her, pale and sleepless, the tears still wet
upon her cheeks.




CHAPTER XXIX.

When Brianna awoke on the morning, after Mickey's visit, she was
conscious still of pain and remorse. She had not been as kind to him as
she might have been. The thought of that faithful and protecting love
oppressed her with a sense of ingratitude.

"But who would have thought it?" she said to herself, lying awake, and
watching the pale sunlight tracing patterns on the blind. "Who would
have thought that he too would care for me in that way? The one way I
do not wish any man to care for me."

She sighed heavily. Life seemed to have gained another burden since
yesterday and she was still young enough to believe that dejection
would be enduring.

Underwood came in with her letters and tea, and set open the door
between her room and Phil D'Eyncourt's, so that they might talk to
one another as usual during that lazy, pleasant half-hour before
dressing-time.

"Did Mickey stay long?" asked Phil, piling up her pillows behind her
and looking across at Brianna, who was opening her letters.

"About an hour, I think," she answered. "Did you think he was much
altered, Phil?"

"Very much. He looks older; but there is something in his face quite
different. I don't know how to express it. It is something noble, and
yet hopeless; like a soldier going to battle who knows he carries his
death-warrant with him. I never thought Mickey handsome, but there was
something splendid about him last night. The curious part, too, is that
no one would say he was not a gentleman. All that past life seems as if
it had never belonged to him."

"It never did," said Brianna. "He was always far above it."

"I should love to see his mother," continued Phil. "She must be an
extraordinary woman."

"We are both invited to Croom for the summer," said Brianna. "That will
put strength into you again, Phil. Sea air, sea-bathing, out-door life,
that is what you need. I'm sure it will do you more good than physic or
doctors."

"How good you have been to me, Brianna," cried the girl suddenly. "What
should I have done but for you?"

"Nonsense. Between us there must never be any question of that sort. If
it had been my fate to suffer you would have helped and looked after
me."

"If I could," said the girl, eagerly. "But, oh, my dear, where and
how could I earn such a salary as you do? You are miles ahead of me,
Brianna, and yet, I was on the stage long before you ever thought of
it."

Brianna was silent. She had thrown aside her letters; none of them were
of any importance, and she looked now across the intervening space to
where that eager face was resting on its frilled and snowy pillows.

"Yes, that is true, Phil," she said. "But our lines were different. And
I had such a chance. Not one girl in a thousand gets the opportunity I
did that night at Cork. Of course, everything must have a beginning,
but then there are different kinds of beginnings. Luck has befriended
me from that moment."

"Yes," said Phil. "Luck meaning Mickey and Raemore Clive. Brianna,
I wonder if you will ever fall in love? You are--how old?
Eighteen--nineteen is it? Why, my dear, long before that I had had one
serious affair, and half-a-dozen ordinary ones."

"But you," went on Phil, with persistent curiosity. "Have you cared for
no one, Brianna . . . really? You are surrounded by men. I am sure two
or three love you--in--in well, in a perfectly good way. There'd be no
use trying on the other. But what about yourself?"

"If prayer, and will, and strength, and desire could keep me from ever
committing that fatal error of falling in love, as you call it, none
would be spared," said Brianna, bitterly. "I have tried to make you
understand that. Is it quite impossible?"

"When I look at you, yes. You are so beautiful I can't help telling
you. No one could be blind to it. And you'll never be able to keep men
in the background, try as you may. Of course, you are fortunate in not
really wanting anything from them, even criticism. But there, I musn't
talk like this. I know you hate it. Tell me about Mickey. Ought I to
call him that, or 'My Lord'? It seems so funny."

Brianna pushed aside the clothes and sprang out of bed.

"I'm going to dress now," she said. "I can't talk any more. Do you know
it's half-past nine, and the doctor is coming to see you this morning."

She closed the door on Phil and her questions. They grated on her ear.
She and life were out of tune. She heard nothing but discords. The
little trivial duties, the claim on her time and attention, worried her
as the day went on.

She half expected Mickey to call, but he did not do so. Time drifted
on towards five o'clock. She and Phil were, as usual, in the little
sitting-room, Phil on the couch, supported by cushions, Brianna in the
big chair beside the little tea-table, waiting for the appearance of
Underwood, and hot cakes and bread and butter.

It was the pleasantest hour of the day for the two girls. Sometimes it
was unshared by any visitor, but oftener Clive, or Lorrimer, or some
member of the theatrical world, would drop in to drink a cup of "Indian
or Ceylon," and chat over professional matters.

The clock was on the stroke of five when an unusually loud clamour of
the electric bell startled the two girls. Brianna's heart gave a quick
throb. Surely it was Mickey at last.

The door was opened, but Underwood's announcement of a name was lost in
a rustle of skirts and the sweep of a vigorous presence.

"Me dear, Miss Lynch--me dear Brianna, if I may call you that. I seem
to know you so well. Isn't your name in me dear boy's mouth from
morning till night. And how are you? I must introduce myself. I'm
Mickey's mother. There, that saves a heap of trouble, and names, too;
for I've had a good share of them in my day!"

Brianna rose hastily. She was astonished at such an unexpected
visitor, but her outstretched hand was seized and shaken, and her new
acquaintance's voluble tongue rattled on apace before she could say a
word.

"Delighted to meet you at last! Why, I seem to have known you for
years. And where's me boy? What have you done with him? He was to
meet me here at five o'clock. But there, sure we're not needing any
ceremonies to make us known to one another. And is this your friend?
I know her, too--name and fame, and all that! We've trodden the same
boards many a time, metaphorically speaking. How are you, me dear? What
a terrible accident. Sure, don't I know the way of those scene-shifters
and people. It's many a narrow escape I've had me own self. And so
Mickey's not here, Brianna? You don't mind me calling you Brianna?
No, I thought not. I've always heard of you as that, you know. And a
wonderful creature you are. But I'm not envious. I had my day, and I
had my ambitions also. But luck isn't for everyone. You've had a good
slice of it, though, me child."

"Yes," said Brianna, in a breathless pause that barely allowed of
response.

"Oh, it's a grand life. Grand! Nothing ever equals it. The sight of
the stage is to me like the trumpet call to the war horse. I'll take
a chair, me dear, if you don't mind. I'm a little bit fatigued. I
travelled over from Ireland yesterday. Only arrived at six o'clock
this morning, and what with trains and steamers, and the noise of the
streets outside me window, for the wretches gave me one of their worst
apartments, I've not closed my eyes all the time. I'll be glad of a
cup of tea; or indeed a glass of wine, if it comes handier, while the
kettle boils. Feelings are as exhausting as legitimate art. That's your
line, isn't it, me dear? Mine had a tendency to the tighter side of the
drama. This sort of thing, you know."

She sprang up, caught a silken skirt in one hand, and made a quick
pirouette, ending with a kick that allowed a good deal of lingerie to
escape from the background of imagination.

Phil meanwhile was regarding her with a sort of awed amazement.

A golden head, a toreador hat, a waist of twenty-two inches, and a face
of sixty summers represented Mickey's mother. An odour of vitality and
restlessness made an atmosphere about her, and gave her presence an
importance all its own. To see her was to lose all sense of repose or
stillness, and be launched on a sea of wonder. Face, voice, movements,
gestures were as veering winds that blew her to all points of the
compass without warning.

She suddenly released her skirts, kissed her hand to an imaginary
audience, and sank gracefully into the chair vacated by Brianna.

"Not legitimate, of course," she said, panting slightly. "But, oh, my
dears, it pays so much better. Thank you, me dear. That's as good a
glass of port as ever I tasted. Your own selection or--a friend's?"

"It's a present to Phil," said Brianna, bluntly. "I rarely drink wine
myself, but I'm glad to have some to offer my friends."

"Of course, me dear." The still bright eyes actually winked at Phil
D'Eyncourt. "Why, the real worth of anything is just the pleasure it
brings to ourselves or others. There are--others, of course, as the
Americans say. Now, where is that boy of mine, I wonder. Did you ever
know an Irish person, Brianna, who wasn't famous for unpunctuality?
I don't mind it myself, but I object to it in anyone who keeps me
waiting. My late dear husband and I often fell out over that matter,
among other trifles. My dear girls, if either of you intend to get
married try and find out how long he intends to wait for you when
you're going anywhere together! Half the women shipwreck their lives on
that one point. Impatience, anger, rudeness, reproach, recrimination,
then--ructions! That's the way of it. Ah, Brianna, do I see tea? And
mighty welcome it is, too. I'm not a great hand at meals. I take them
when the fancy takes me. But those cakes look good. I'll peck at them
en passant;[i] which reminds me I'm on my way to Paris, and I want
Mickey to come with me. But he won't decide one way or other. I wish
you'd come, too, me dear. Let us make up a party of pleasure, as the
Cook's people say. Is that shake negative? You've got a fine head of
hair of your own, Brianna; is it all--ahem! don't blush, me dear. I'm
sure it never bought a guinea 'switch' in its life. Hard to match, I
should say. Stay, what's that?"

"The bell, I think," said Brianna, smiling. "Perhaps it is Mickey."

"Ah, then, let me give him a surprise," cried the playful sexagenarian,
springing up and rushing behind the door.

"But suppose----" began Brianna.

Her words were cut short abruptly. Underwood threw open the door, and
the visitor had scarcely made a step forward when he was overwhelmed
in a confusion of clasping arms, laces and silks, breathing a stifling
odour of opoponax.

"Naughty, naughty truant, would it keep it's mamsey waiting?" breathed
a fond voice, in soft reproach.

There came a peal of laughter from Phil, as the toreador hat was
somewhat roughly displaced from a manly shoulder and with a gesture,
more forcible than polite, the clinging arms were shaken from the neck
of Raemore Clive!




CHAPTER XXX.

"I'm overwhelmed with confusion, pray believe me, sir. Oh! me dear
Brianna, what shall I do? I thought 'twas Mickey. I mistook this
gentleman for me own dear boy."

"Pray don't distress yourself. I see it was a mistake," said Clive,
regarding this fascinating vision with undisguised amazement.

"Let me introduce you," said Brianna, hurriedly. "Mr. Clive, this is
Lady Skibbereen; you know--the mother of Mickey Croom."

"Yes, the mother of Mickey. It has such a sweet and homely sound,"
murmured the lady, plaintively. "The wronged and injured mother of a
long-lost son. The heroine of a tragedy and the wife of a villain.
Excuse these personalities, but I believe I am addressing a friend of
the family."

"Certainly," said Clive. "I have the pleasure of knowing your son;
indeed, if I mistake not, I was the first person who enlightened him on
the point of his legal expectations."

"What a blessing in disguise you must have seemed," cried Lady
Skibbereen, ambiguously. "And so you sent him to me arms once more. Let
me hail you as a benefactor. Really, now, it's quite a pleasant party.
I feel among old friends. If only Mickey would drop in we should be
complete."

Almost on her words the bell sounded hopefully. This time the lively
syren did not attempt hiding behind the door. She waited for it to
open, and then pounced on the unfortunate Mickey with a hawk-like swoop
that rendered him invisible for a moment or two.

"Have you been here long?" he asked, when he could elude the waving
arms, and sweeping draperies of his affectionate relative.

"Long! Half-an-hour at the least, isn't it, Brianna! Oh, you see we
quite made friends, Brianna and meself. And Mr. Clive, too--the friend
of the family I call him. Our preserver, Mickey, or at least something
in that line. I know, it was a stroke of luck your meeting him. Well,
now, we'll sit down and have our tea. Brianna, me dear, I'm sure you
love a good Irish gossip. You shall tell us all the theatrical news. By
the way, I'm going to see you act to-night. Mickey, did you get a box?
That's right. Perhaps Mr. Clive will honour us with his company?"

"Considering it is Mr. Clive's play," said Mickey, drily, "he has the
theatre at his disposal, I presume, as far as a seat is concerned."

"Mr. Clive's play! How interesting!" She clasped her hands and leant
forward in an appealing attitude. "Do tell me all about it. I've been
buried in the wilds of Ireland, you know, attending to this naughty
boy's business, and not a paper or a book, or a bit of London news to
be had! I know the name of your piece, but nothing more."

"If you see it to-night you will he able to give an unbiassed opinion
of its merits," said Clive, looking at Brianna.

"Indeed, I'm sure it's very fine," said Lady Skibbereen. "Ah, Mr.
Clive, it's sorry I am that my stage days are over. There's no life
like the footlights. Brianna, me dear, another cup of tea, if the pot
will run it. As I was saying, Mr. Clive, the changes and chances of
this mortal stage are numerous indeed. But there, I've had my day, and
I musn't complain. Though I'd go back to-morrow if it wasn't for my
boy there. He thinks it's hardly the right thing for me, eh, Mickey,
darling? He says the stage is a wicked place, and, indeed, I could tell
some stories; but there, never mind, no tales out of school. There's
black sheep everywhere, in society and out of it, and people always
look at the stage with a magnifying glass for its vices."

"Mother!" interrupted Mickey, suddenly, "are you aware you never locked
your room door at the hotel, and that your jewel case was on the
dressing-table?"

Lady Skibbereen looked slowly round at the circle of faces, and gave a
portentous wink.

"Stage jewellery," she murmured, tragically. "The real things are safe
in my bank."

"Well," said Mickey, "I took the box and locked it up in my own trunk.
I thought it was very careless of you."

"Ah, now, me dear boy, I was ever giddy and thoughtless. You will
have to look after me, I see. Still, in the weary march of life it's
something to have kept a youthful heart; mine is as keen for a frolic,
and a bit of divarsion as ever it was. Why 'tis Mickey there is the
sobersides. Sure he might be my own father with his solemn ways,
and his lectures. But I'm always saying there's no youth in people
nowadays."

"No," said Clive, gravely. "You are right. It is only one's
grandparents who are young. They lived life, and never studied it. We
study, and never live it."

"Dear me, Mr. Clive! Now, that's very well said. It's what you call an
epigram, I suppose. Modern plays are full of things like that, and I
notice the actor says them in just that slow, cool way, and waits for
the laugh to come in. Have you ever been 'on,' Mr. Clive?"

"In a certain sense," he answered, "I have never been 'off.' I am a
public character. My stage is absolutely unlimited. It holds all the
scenery of modern life as represented by superstition, and all its
tragedy as represented by faith."

"Indeed, you seem very clever, and quite enigmatical too!" observed the
lady. "It must be so nice to go about saying things no one can quite
understand. I'm sure I shall enjoy your play, to-night. Brianna, me
dear, how quiet you are. Are you tired? I should take a nip of brandy
and lie down till it was time for the theatre, if I were you. Dear,
dear! How I do envy you, child. It makes me long to be on the boards
once more."

"You haven't given Brianna a chance of speaking," observed Mickey.
"It's no wonder she looks tired."

"Oh," laughed, the girl, "I'm not in the least tired, I assure you. I
have enjoyed listening to your mother. She tells me you are both going
to Paris. Is that so?"

A dark flush swept the pallor from Mickey's face.

"I am not sure now," he said, very low. "I told you my reason."

He saw her lips quiver slightly. She gave no answer.

The irrepressible Lady Skibbereen burst forth again. She possessed more
than the average loquacity of her race, and to hold her tongue was a
task she had never been able to accomplish.

Raemore Clive leant back in his chair and studied her in his usual
fashion. She represented both a new interest and a verification of his
powers. He read her character with unusual facility--the good-hearted
recklessness, the spendthrift extravagance, the utter lack of moral
principle and moral strength, the foolish vanity counterbalanced by
a certain shrewd knowledge of her own value, the whole curious and
complex contradictions that went to make up her personality. After
coolly deserting her child and ignoring his rights she had as coolly
accepted and upheld both, shaking off any possible blame as lightly as
a duck shakes the water from its feathers. Clive wondered what Mickey
himself thought of this strange parent. It was not easy to read that
inscrutable face. It gave no clue to his feelings. He sat there by
the fire apparently indifferent to the conversation or to his frisky
mother's anecdotes.

The latter appeared to afford boundless delight to Phil D'Eyncourt, and
she capped them from her own stores whenever there seemed a chance.
Lady Skibbereen and herself had graduated for the profession on very
similar lines. Their confessions were naturally full of mutual interest.

In the midst of the hubbub Mickey bent closer to Brianna.

"I hope," he said, softly, "you will forget what I was foolish enough
to say last night. Let all be as of old between us. I could not bear to
think I had lost your friendship."

"You could never do that, Mickey," she answered.

"I hoped to have a little quiet talk with you, but I see it is
impossible. Will you come back with us to supper to-night, and then
I'll see you home?"

"It's so long to leave Phil," she objected, a little unspoken dread of
another tête-à-tête lurking in her heart.

"But Phil you have always with you, and I am soon going away, Brianna."

"Very well, I will come."

"Thank you."

"Brianna, me dear," burst forth the lively dowager, "I forgot to give
you some of your aunt's messages. She's a queer creature is Sally
Dunne, and mighty hot-tempered, too, in the matter of rights and
wrongs. What with the priests and the tenants she was keeping herself
comfortably warm when I left her. But let me see, what was I to tell
you? Oh, yes! Now she has a settled home, and only the caravan in the
yard behind the lodge, just for old acquaintance sake, she wants you to
give up the stage, and live with her. That's off my mind. But don't you
do it, my dear. You'd be moped to death in that old, rat-eaten ghastly
place. I know it nearly sent me out of my mind when I lived there as
a young woman. And we'd an elegant household, too. But, indeed, I
barely kept meself alive, and that was by quarrelling with me old lord,
your father, Mickey, and a cantankerous piece of goods he was, too,
let me tell you that. 'Twas very well as long as the jealousy and the
gout didn't attack him together, but if they did, Holy St. Bridget!
No woman could stand him, Why stone-breaking was an easy life to what
I had. Small wonder if I bolted at last and went back to my native
heath--I mean profession. And indeed it was a great temptation to use
me name--such a draw. Lady Skibbereen. But I knew the old man would
be mad, and I didn't want any scenes, beyond the set ones, of course.
Ah! me dear girls, never you get married, either one of you! What's
the love and sympathy of one man to a woman who has had the adoration
of hundreds! It's like playing to a solitary creature in the stalls
instead of to a full house. When you've once drawn the full house you'd
like to pelt the audacious 'one' who thinks his applause is sufficient.
But dear me, I'm forgetting the time. And we've got to dine and I must
dress. I'll be very resplendent to-night, me dear Brianna, in your
honour. And don't be nervous, child. I've always been an indulgent
critic of me own sex."

Brianna laughed.

"I am afraid I shall be nervous," she said, "unless I forget you're
there."

"You needn't look at the box, you know. Only I'd like your opinion
on me gown afterwards. It's from Manners, in Dublin; and a pretty
penny it cost, but I was determined to do Mickey honour, though the
ungrateful boy does say I'm too fond of exposing me charms. But when a
woman has a fine pair of shoulders--eh, Brianna? Well, well, Mickey,
don't be frowning at me. I'm quite ready to go, and a most pleasant
visit it has been, and we must see a great deal of each other, Brianna.
I won't forget your epigrams, Mr. Clive. I really have enjoyed your
conversation immensely."

"Perhaps observation would be a better word, my dear Madam," said
Clive, bowing over an outstretched hand. "It expresses--limitations."

"Ah, now, don't be poking fun at me. You're too clever for my poor wits
to take you in all at once. Now, Brianna, don't forget about Paris.
Take a week's holiday and give your understudy a chance."

"I fear I should object to that," said Clive. "When you have once seen
Miss Lynch act in The Opal[i] you will recognise the peculiar unfitness
of the part for any--understudy."

"Ah! Is that so? Well, there were some pretty things written for me,
too, in my time. Brianna, be wise, me dear, and make hay while the sun
shines. It won't be always May for you any more than it was for me. I
am aware of the disparity between us--not in feeling, of course--but in
the matter or a few years on the wrong side."

"I'm ready, mother," interposed Mickey. "Brianna will come to supper
with us after the performance, so you will have plenty of opportunity
for discussing disparities."

"Indeed, that's good news. How London does wake one up. I was a perfect
Rip Van Winkle at Croom. Talk of self-sacrifice, but then I never did
like rural life except as a stage scene with painted harvest fields
and a limelight moon. Good-bye, Brianna, for the present. Good-bye,
Miss D'Eyncourt, and--au revoir,[i] Mr. Clive. You must come to our
box. I insist on it; and do be as epigrammatic as you can. It makes one
feel so absolutely brainless to listen to you. Clever people always do
affect me like that."

She took herself off at last; a whirlwind of rustling skirts and
rippling laughter.

Clive looked at Brianna, and sank back into his chair as the door
closed.

"Interesting," he said. "But exhausting."

"And to think," exclaimed Phil D'Eyncourt, "that that[i] is Mickey's
mother!"

"'That,'[i] is vague, but expressive," said Clive, dreamily. "Yes.
Truth is always stranger than fiction. To think that--that[i]--is
Mickey's mother!"




CHAPTER XXXI.

When the individuality of an actress once stamps a part, it is subject
to subtle variations--to changes for which her mood, her health, or her
feelings are responsible. People who have seen a piece three or four
times begin to note this.

"To-night she was incomparable." "To-night she was not so good." "She
acted better than ever." "She alters the part every time I see it," are
remarks that are frequently heard on leaving a theatre. But these very
variations are the strongest proofs of genius. To strike the dead level
of sameness is fatal to Art.

When, Brianna saw that old-young face, in a box on the first tier, and
felt herself focussed by a tortoise-shell lorgnette, she was conscious
of a nervous discomfort that made her voice uncertain and her actions
stagey. The weird music of the orchestra sounded like a monotonous
discord. She thought of the sea breaking on the wild Irish coast; of a
lonely dreary house, and a lonely man whose stooping figure made one
with the shadows that peopled it.

Her voice trembled and grew uncertain. The audience were conscious of a
vague surprise. Raemore Clive drew back into the dimness of the stage
box, and asked himself if she were going to break down for once in her
life. What had happened? He thought of her lively visitor, but surely
Brianna was not nervous of appearing before her. He glanced up to where
she sat; a vision in white satin and black velvet; a glitter of mock
stones emphasising her ample charms, her golden head nodding, and her
painted lips smiling is absolute self-approval. No, he told himself. It
could have nothing to do with her. Perhaps the girl would pull herself
together presently. She was listless, nervous, unlike herself. But
she had never looked more lovely. She moved to and fro, the silvery
transparent tissues swaying with every movement of her swaying form.
The curves of her throat were like the curves of a statue. Her arms and
hands looked like ivory: their gestures were exquisite. Yet in some way
she failed to touch or thrill her audience, and the curtain fell on a
sense of disappointment.

"She's as beautiful as an angel, Mickey," said his mother. "But I don't
call her a fine actress."

"She's different to-night, somehow. I can't understand it. There seems
no life, no soul in her. I wouldn't know her for the same creature whom
I saw last night."

"Ah, well, perhaps, she'll wake up later on. 'Tis a very strange play,
Mickey. Just a lot of men saying clever things, and one woman between
them all. I don't know what it means at all. Whose wife is she?"

"Lord Ingersoll's, the grey-haired man."

"But what a strange way he treats her. And such things as he says.
'When you wish to be faithful to a woman it is a sure sign you are
going to be faithless.'[i] And, again, when he tells Mr. Vane that they
have only met at Society dinner tables during their married life. And
then about Art being cosmopolitan, 'which accounts for so many foreign
Englishmen.'[i] Of course, that's Mr. Clive. He is really very clever.
If I were Brianna I should be quite in love with him."

Mickey sat very still. A curious grey haze floated momentarily between
him and the stage. Then it passed away, and he knew his eyes were on
the curtain, and had been fixed on it for many moments. All the while
some words were sounding on and on in his ears. "In love with him!"[i]
In love with the genius, the charlatan, the odd incomprehensible being
who had come so strangely into their lives! Oh, impossible! Yet as
he thought of Clive's singular charm, his undoubted cleverness, his
interest in the girl, and the fame that interest had bought for her, he
asked himself why it should be impossible?

In this past year she had drifted into a totally different life. A life
that was an education in itself. She was associated with men who were
publicly famous, or privately infamous, and with women whose lives
knew no wider boundary than a stage success, no, deeper tragedy than a
"first night's" failure. She had become the friend of Ray St. Vincent,
and he knew well the sort of people she would meet at her house.

In love with Clive! Well, why not? Clive or another. It must come to
that some day. She must share the common fate of womanhood. She was too
lovely and too gifted to escape. The surging passions of his own soul
swept self-control away as he thought of it. He felt within him the
giant strength of a mighty love, that cared nought for obstacles; that
had staked its all on one woman's heart and meant to win it.

"No one can love her as I love her," he thought, and while his mother
babbled on like a noisy water brook he closed his eyes and went back
in fancy to the old days. He saw the wild, half-tamed creature he
had befriended, and watched her answer to his training, and live,
and laugh, and mock and love, now as Rosalind, now as Juliet, now as
Portia, delighting in a school so enchanting, forgetful of the common
things of life when he threw open for her the gates of romance. How
much they had been to one another. It was impossible to forget it. She
had been like a wilful sunbeam dancing through grey days of gloom and
unhappiness. She had embodied all he had ever known of tenderness or
joy. And could he see her drift from him now? Drift away on the sea of
another man's fascination to a life beyond the touch of his own?

"Certainly, me dear Mickey, you are not worth the trouble of
entertaining," said his mother at last, giving an impatient tap at his
arm. "Not a word have you had to throw at me by way of answer. I have
asked you where we are to go for supper at least a dozen times. I don't
know why it is, but the play always make me hungry. The Café Royal--Oh!
All right. I prefer the Criterion myself, but it's all a matter of
taste, and the champagne's equally dear at any of them. I told Brianna
I'd go behind and fetch her. Oh! is this the second act? Be quiet now,
Mickey. I want to reserve all my attention for the epigrams. Sure, the
play's a perfect plum pudding of them. I wish I could remember half."

Mickey drew back. His heart was beating with mingled dread and hope.
He wondered how Brianna would acquit herself in the test scene of this
act. She had simply electrified him on the previous night. He was aware
that the door of the box opened softly. Someone came in and dropped
into the chair behind his own. A glance showed him Raemore Clive. They
greeted each other with a silent nod. Lady Skibbereen was leaning over
the front of the box, too absorbed in the dancing scene to notice
Clive's entrance.

"I don't know what is the matter with her to-night," he whispered
softly, to Mickey. "Never knew her act so tamely."

Mickey shook back his hair with an impatient gesture. He hated to
discuss Brianna with this supercilious playwright. He said nothing, and
both men turned their attention to the stage. The first movement, the
first word of Brianna showed that the old power, the old magnetism,
were in full force once more. She had shaken off her previous apathy,
and now rose, newly strung, to the work before her. The dreary dawn of
suspicion, the subtle pretence of indifference that masked a heart's
agony, the outburst of grief ruthlessly stifled, the doubts and terrors
of a woman's love, down to the lurid climax of self-destruction, all
these she painted on the living canvas of her own personality. The
house sat still and breathless, held in mute wonder by this perfect
art. A wave of visible emotion swept all criticism into a passion of
sympathy. A breathless sob beat on the silence when at last the curtain
fell. It came from Lady Skibbereen. She had forgotten everything for
the moment, even the destructive effects of tears upon rouge-tinted
cheeks.

"Oh, Mickey, she's grand! Grand!" That was all she could say for a
moment as she stood back in the box listening to the thunders of
applause. Mickey was quite silent. Only his full heart ached and
throbbed with a pain that was actually physical.

The curtains were swept aside. He saw her standing there, lovely,
smiling, trembling. Saw her eyes turn eagerly to where he sat, and
then a wave of hopelessness swept over his brain, and all the mockery
of life, the inexorable decrees of Fate, the surging agony of memory,
rushed like a tide over his desperate soul, and for a moment he was
overwhelmed by misery.

The curtain fell. The audience rose. The noise of rustling silks and
trampling feet and murmuring voices passed on and left the house to
emptiness and gloom. He looked round as one in a dream. His mother
had rushed off on Clive's arm. She was going behind the scenes. He
remembered the supper party to come, and stood there for a moment
longer, fighting for self-control.

Long habits of suppression and endurance came to his aid as he fought
down the raging demon of jealousy within his breast. The fierce
heart-throbs grew quiet, his face took back its natural hue. Only
within his eyes was pain. Pain that thrilled each quivering nerve, and
spoke as the eyes of dumb brutes speak of agony well-nigh unendurable.

He turned away, the lights were nearly all extinguished, the coverings
were being drawn over the cushions and seats and curtains of the boxes.

The house had a chill and ghostly look in the dim light. It seemed to
him emblematic of his own life as he passed out to where the waiting
brougham stood at the stage door.

Raemore Clive had found a new element of amusement in Lady Skibbereen.
She gave the supper a zest far beyond the powers of caviare or devilled
oysters. She discussed his play from a totally novel point of view, and
took it so seriously that she seemed positively enchanting. The manner
in which she found fault with his epigrams, and abused his lack of
stage conventions was a supreme joy to the author. He drew her out and
threw her off her guard, and made her the butt of his cynical wit, in a
manner that would have annoyed Mickey at any other time. But to-night
he was too absorbed by the sense of Brianna's presence and the dull
ache of his own misery to pay much heed to the discussion. Besides, he
knew Clive's views on the drama so well.

"If I wanted to be that most obnoxious of beings, a popular dramatist,"
he observed, filling his glass with the "très sec"[i] of Deutz and
Gelderman, "I should, of course, write my play round a company, and
never expect a company to suit itself to my play. I should study the
principal actor and his leading lady, and give them the same parts
that they have performed in ninety-nine out of every hundred plays
they have appeared in. The one sure thing about a play is that it will
be discussed not on its merits as a piece of dramatic art, but on the
grounds of suitability to the particular cast who revolve as satellites
round the actor-manager. That is why modern plays are in the hands of
a clique of writers who have public permission to repeat themselves
ad nauseam. Repetition is the public idea of style. It is so easily
recognised; and has a nice familiar sound about it as comforting as
'God Save the Queen'[i] and 'Home, Sweet Home.'[i]"

"Really, Mr. Clive, you are too severe," exclaimed Lady Skibbereen.
"Meself I know I've played many entirely new parts in my theatrical
days, and many's the poor play-writer to whom I've given a helping hand
and a word of encouragement. Yes, indeed, you needn't be looking at me
in that quizzical way of yours. And I say again about your own play,
Mr. Clive, that if it wasn't for Brianna there it wouldn't hold the
boards a week. It's so absolutely unreal, and unlike anything else."

"I intended it to be so," said Clive. "In recognising my meaning, dear
lady, you display an acumen I could scarcely have credited you with
possessing. Nothing dulls the critical faculty like a long experience
of melodrama, unless indeed it be a brief experience of burlesque."

"Well, I've had a good deal of both in my time," said Lady Skibbereen
complacently. "And they've not spoilt my appreciation of a good play,
or good acting. But Brianna, me dear, have you thought what you'll do
next, for I'm sure this piece won't have a long run, and it's a part
that will spoil you for most others? You have it all in your own hands
here entirely, I may say."

Clive's eyes swept Brianna's face with a strange embracing look.

"She has many other chance's in her own hand," he said. "Her future is
quite safe."

"Indeed, then, it's well to be so assured. I wish you'd tell me of my
own luck, Mr. Clive. I've often wanted to ask you. Do you turn the
cards now, or what?"

"I read human destinies from humanity itself."

"Do you now? Well, you must be very clever," said Lady Skibbereen. "All
the same, I think I like the cards the best. It's wonderful the things
I've heard from them, and all true; and indeed, as I was telling Mickey
there, before we left Ireland, I knew I'd find him again. Yes, indeed,
Mickey, and if I'd only have known how to set about it, 'twould have
all happened long ago. But that's no matter now Brianna, how pale you
look. Are you tired, me dear? Ah, give the creature some more wine,
Mickey, and don't be staring at her as if you were a raw gossoon from
the bogs of Kerry."

"I'm not at all tired," said Brianna. "And I'd rather not have any more
champagne. It makes my head ache."

"Ah! that's a pity now. Well, well, the mercies of Providence are
wasted on some people. Divil a headache did I ever get (saving your
presence, Mr. Clive, but me Irish will out sometimes) except the first
time, and then I was just a little queer if I remember, and me boots
next morning in the wash-hand basin! But sure, use is second nature,
and I didn't want to be beat, and so I just went on until I got the
better of me weakness; and me own conscience is me reward now, though
there are people who look at virtues through a fog, and won't give
anyone credit for perseverance."

Clive was leaning back in his chair smiling quietly.

"Your son does not appear to inherit your remarkable virtue," he said.
"He has scarcely touched his wine."

"Oh! I know he's a poor hand at the drink. Why, 'tis only mineral
waters at the Hotel; and the best of everything to be had for the
ordering."

"Which you do very liberally, mother," said Mickey.

"And why shouldn't I? It's for the credit of the family. Why, they
wouldn't think we were a lord and lady at all if we drank water with
our dinner or luncheon. But aren't you gentlemen going to smoke? Oh,
not allowed here, isn't it? Well, you've my permission, if that's any
satisfaction. Getting late is it? That's no matter, Mickey. Haven't I
turned night into day the best part of my life? But, of course, there's
Paris to-morrow. I wish I could take you, Brianna, and you, Mr. Clive.
How are you going home, child? Oh, with Mickey. That's all right. Mr.
Clive, is a seat in the brougham any use to you?"

"Thank you, no. I have only to cross to Piccadilly, and I'm at my
rooms."

"Well, we're sure to meet again soon. And it's given me a great deal
of pleasure to make your acquaintance, and yours too, Brianna. Just
give me a hand with my cloak, will you, Mr. Clive? Indeed, then, you're
quite the cavalier. It's a pity Mickey there can't learn some of your
pretty ways. He generally knocks me coiffure to one side, or steps on
me train, or catches me cloak collar on his button; but you've quite
the art, Mr. Clive."

Then they all went downstairs, and Mickey put his mother into the
waiting carriage, and called a hansom for Brianna.

Clive stood on the pavement and watched them drive off. Then he lit a
cigarette, and sauntered across the street.




CHAPTER XXXII.

The hansom sped smoothly on. Brianna leant back with a tired sigh that
held a strange pathos for Mickey. For some moments neither spoke.

"I did very badly to-night, I'm afraid," she said, at last. "Somehow,
when I came on first I could not act. I felt heavy and stupid.
Something seemed to have gone out of me."

"You were unequal," he said, frankly, "but you made up by that last
scene. You perfectly electrified my mother. What do you think of her,
Brianna?"

"She is very--Irish," said the girl, with a faint smile.

"Which means eccentric, in English minds. She is a warm-hearted, good
creature, though, in spite of her eccentricities. You know she was only
a second-rate burlesque actress when my father married her. He was very
old then, and they were utterly unsuited to one another. She has led a
strange life. I never saw anyone so stage mad. I believe she would go
back to the theatre to-morrow if anyone would take her. Fortunately,
she is beyond the age and the figure for burlesque. I am glad you know
her, though. She has taken a great fancy to you, Brianna. When you can
come to us--to stay I mean--you will understand each other better. She
shows to more advantage in her own house, and her own country, than
here, where every second person breathes contrast."

"Dear Mickey," said the girl, earnestly, "you, surely, are not excusing
your mother to me. Why should you?"

"I hardly know. Unless it is that you have acquired a refinement she,
with double your opportunities, has never been able to adopt. No one
could make you their butt or sport, Brianna."

"Ah, you think Mr. Clive was making fun of her. I am sure he wasn't,
Mickey. It's just his way of drawing people out. And she is really very
amusing."

"I suppose so," he said, gloomily. "Still, one doesn't care to see
one's own performing poodle called out to do tricks for a stranger.
Brianna, tell me--do you like this man, Clive?"

The girl hesitated a moment. "Yes, and no," she answered. "I can hardly
express the feeling. He attracts and yet repels me. I am half afraid
of him sometimes. He fills me with a strange terror. He has a way
of treating women as if they were slaves; as if some barbaric taint
lingered in their blood. He compels, without seeming to command."

"I dislike him," said Mickey, coldly. "I dislike his looks and his
character. He is half-charlatan, half-mystic. He is unscrupulous, too,
Brianna."

His voice faltered. He looked at her leaning back, the light of the
lamp above her head showing the pale troubled beauty of her face.

"My child," he went on, steadying his voice by an effort, "don't trust
this man too far. I know he has done a great deal for you, but that
gives him no claim save that of gratitude, for have you not equally
benefited him? Is there another woman in London could act that play of
his as you act it? My dear, you don't know what it is to me to have to
leave you unprotected, unguarded--I, who know men's vileness, and the
snares and pitfalls of public life. Dear, it is very hard. If I could
only guard you, protect you, as I have done hitherto."

"Nonsense, Mickey," she said, with some impatience. "Remember, I am no
child. I have not walked through life blindfold. My natural distrust
of men almost amounts to dislike. You forget what I hear behind the
scenes, what I have heard even in Ray St. Vincent's drawing-room. But
it makes no difference to me. None whatever. My heart and soul are
given to my art. It can have no rival. Do you think I care for praise
or flattery of myself? I am glad I possess beauty, as they say, because
that tells in the picture. But, to the public I am only the picture,
and to myself the sad-hearted, dissatisfied, cold-blooded girl who
turned from the racecourse to the theatre, and could forget that her
lover lay dead while the praises of the mob rang in her ears!"

"Do you remember that still, Brianna? I never heard you mention Pat
Rooney since that day."

"Do you think a woman forgets because she doesn't speak of what is in
her heart? I knew later that he had never really loved me--that there
was another worse off than myself--but still I had loved him. He was
the first who had brought sunshine into my life, who had seemed to care
for me. And afterwards--afterwards it all came back."

There were a few moments of silence. The thoughts of both were back in
the past. How far away it looked now. What strange vicissitudes they
had faced and conquered. Mickey turned his eyes from the street and
the moving figures and the lamps that flitted hazily by. Their sad
gaze rested on the girl beside him, and her own returned it with equal
sadness. He had learned many lessons in the school of sadness, but he
was learning the hardest now, in his own helplessness to avert sorrow
from the girl he loved.

The cab stopped. He sprang out and assisted here to alight.

"May I come in, just for a moment?" he asked. "I can't say good-bye to
you here."

She nodded, and passed in as the porter opened the door.

Phil had gone to bed long since. The fire had burnt low in the grate,
and the lamp shone on the tidy loneliness of the little room. Brianna
threw off her wrap and stirred the coals to a sudden blaze.

"I have nothing to offer you," she said, smiling. "But sit down, and
warm yourself. You look quite pale and cold."

She herself took her usual chair, and leant forward, stretching her
hands to the blaze.

"Not 'brown' any longer," he said, looking down at the white shapely
fingers through which the red glow flamed. "How changed you are,
Brianna!"

She looked at her hands somewhat wistfully.

"Nothing could make them a lady's," she said. "I read that in Ray St.
Vincent's eyes whenever she looks at them."

"I wish you were not so friendly with her," said Mickey, abruptly. "I
don't like her."

"She has been a very good friend to me," said Brianna. "And I never
forget old friends. I may be cold-hearted, but I am not ungrateful."

"No," he said, "that was never a failing of yours. Now, Brianna, for
a few last words. I may not see you for many months after to-night. I
want before I go, to have one promise from you."

"Yes?'" she said, and looked up at him with her lovely questioning eyes.

"It is that in any trouble, in any emergency, you will at once write
to me. I have the first and chief right to help you. Above all, do not
enter into any engagement with Raemore Clive. I mean that he may wish
to marry you for a purpose of his own. May try to bind you to himself
so that your genius may aid his career. Let your instincts guide you,
my child, and remember that always through life, to death itself, I
am at your service, body and soul. These are no light words, dear. A
man, such as I am, cannot love half-heartedly. It is all, everything--I
told you so last night. If my life were of any use to you not one hour
of its service would be grudged. If by dying I could save you a pang
or a sorrow, I would welcome death as a friend. You can ask nothing I
would deny, and I want nothing in return. Only your memory, for it is a
faithful one, Brianna, and my place in it can yield to none."

"You are right, Mickey," she said. "No one has such a place in it, or
ever can."

He rose abruptly.

"You must forget what I said last night. It was only a dream of
madness, but unhappiness makes one mad sometimes. How could I hope to
win youth and beauty like yours, Brianna? I----"

"Oh!" she said. "It was not that--not that. It is the same with anyone.
I cannot love. And I would rather die than give myself to any man
for--for just mere safety, or convenience, or wealth, or any of the
foolish things for which women sell themselves every day!"

"You are right," he said. "For you hold a treasure that is sacred. The
treasure of genius. It must not be bartered, or sold, or lightly shared
with any of life's passions. Be true to it, and you will be true to
yourself. A queen of womanhood, daughter of the people as you are!"

Her heart throbbed. His words stirred in her some pulse of feeling that
no words could express. He stood there a moment longer, looking down at
her bent head, and the clasped hand lying idly in her lap.

"If I could see the end," he thought. "The end for her."

His hand smoothed her rich hair with the embracing tender touch of old.
She looked up, then suddenly rose and seized the caressing hand, and
held it close to her throbbing heart.

"Oh," she cried bitterly, "what an ungrateful wretch I am! I have taken
everything from you all my life, and I can't even give you hope or
comfort. Mickey, you ought to hate me. Why don't you?"

"It would be a little beyond my power," he said, sadly. "Though hate
and love they say are near akin. No, child, I have no blame for you.
Why should I? Had Nature made me as other men I might have persevered
in the struggle, for a man often knows what is best for a woman when
she does not know it herself. But as things are, Brianna, it is best
that we remain only friends--only friends."

A sigh escaped her. She released his hand.

"That--always," she said, "whatever comes."

"I will not speak again of foolish hopes," he said. "They are buried
in the grave of yesterday, and the dreams of many yesterdays lie with
them. A new life has begun for me, my child. We may not share it, as of
old, but who shall say that it may not hold some joy or some sweetness?
Meanwhile, I have your promise."

"Yes," she said.

"And you know you can trust me, whatever happens. There is no more to
be said, Brianna, except good-bye. All is dark and cold about us now,
but when we meet again, it will be summer-time. Summer-time in my own
home, and you will be there to make it sunshine for me."

That there were tear's in her eyes he scarcely knew for the sudden
dimness of his own.

A mist rose between him and that short space between the door and where
he stood. When it cleared he was alone, and deep down in his heart
ached the pain of a dull foreboding.




CHAPTER XXXIII.

The night porter handed Mickey a card as he entered the hotel.

"The gentleman said it was important. He is waiting for you in the
coffee-room, sir."

Mickey glanced at the card and started slightly. Then he nodded to the
man and passed on. The coffee-room was deserted at that hour. Its only
occupant rose as Mickey entered, and stood awaiting his approach.

"I suppose you are surprised to see me," he said. "But you know I do
strange things. I am ruled by impulses. When I left you to-night I
fully intended going to my own rooms--yet I am here. Being here, I
suppose you will listen to what I have to say to you."

"Certainly. Won't you sit down? Come over to the fire."

They moved over in that direction, and both seated themselves.

"It is too late, or too early rather, for conventionality. I will go
straight to the point. You remember writing me a letter from Ireland
asking for the address of a certain doctor in Paris whom I once
mentioned to you?"

"Yes."

"I refused to give it you without your reasons."

"And I refused to give them."

"Yes, you did. Well, to-night, when I heard you were going to Paris, it
struck me that you had that purpose still in your mind. Am I right?"

Mickey's face paled. His eyes sought the dull glow of the firelight.

"Why do you ask? I can find the address without your aid If I wish to."

"Of course, I know that. But you will have some difficulty. This man
has a strange practice. He is not a favourite with his confrères. You
will not find his name in any medical directory. You may find him, for
to the obstinate seeker nothing is impossible, but it will be a work of
time and trouble. I have resolved to give you the address and leave you
free to follow out your own inclinations."

"Why have you changed your mind, Mr. Clive?"

"I am not accountable for my impulses. The rules that guide my life are
unlike those that control ordinary mortals. Here is the address, but I
believe you are about to do a very unwise thing, and one that places
your life in jeopardy."

Mickey took the slip of paper and glanced at the address. His hand
shook, and the pallor of his face looked ghastly in the firelight.

"Can he do--what you said?" he asked, hoarsely.

"He can do anything short of a miracle. And, indeed, some of his cures
are almost miraculous. Still, if l were you----"

"If you were me!" The fierce tone, the blaze of fiery wrath, cut short
the words. For a moment the black eyes challenged that cruel, sleepy
glance of Raemore Clive's. "If you were me!" came in quick, hissing
breaths. "Thank God, if you believe in God, that you're not! Thank Him
every day of your life for your height, your strength, your manhood.
Think, if you can, what a man is without such things. Think what it
is to be stunted, misshapen, hideous, and yet to hold within that
shapeless form a soul that dreams of and covets all that is noblest,
fairest, best. Oh, could one hide the vile covering and show only that
soul, who would dare to scoff and make mock of God's handiwork? I have
been in hell all my life, I tell you; and now, to get out of it, to be
as you, as others are, for even one year, I would sell my very soul as
Faust of old!"

"Faust desired a woman. Are you of the same mind?"

Mickey clenched his teeth with sudden savagery. He felt as if some
barrier had been broken down, as if some long pent-up torrent was
rising, rushing; lashed to fury by past obstacles but now strong to
overwhelm them in a new and mighty strength. And the cruel green eyes
seemed to draw it forth, to hold and fascinate and dominate him so that
he must speak what was in his mind--what had held his soul in thrall
for long and bitter years.

"Go on; tell me all," said that compelling glance, and the wild words
poured out in a flood of passionate resentment.

"Mine was no dwarf soul, imprisoned in a like body. I worshipped
beauty, greatness, nobility, strength. I have longed to do what was
in man to do; what physical imperfection forbade; and I was held in
chains, imprisoned by circumstances! So have my years drifted on. Now
it seems as if light, the light of hope, shone feebly in my path. If by
any pain, any sacrifice, I could cast aside this misshapen body, take,
for ever so brief a space, the semblance of what I desire, I would not
count the cost, nor weigh the suffering in the balance with release."

"And if even that did not win you the woman?"

A sudden tremor shook the hunchback's frame. He sank into the chair
from which he had risen. He covered his face with his hands. Pitiless
as ever, Raemore Clive's eyes watched him, and Raemore Clive's will
compelled the confession of his weakness.

"I have loved her so long. All her life--when no other was her friend,
when poverty and misery were all she knew. In common gratitude she
would listen to my prayer, once I stood before her as something of
which she need feel no shame."

"A woman's gratitude is not a woman's love. It is but a chill draught
at best."

"No man will win more from her."

The green eyes grew black and stormy. A sudden silence fell between the
two men.

"You are determined then?" Clive said, in a low, harsh voice.

"Yes. What is life that I should fear to stake it on one last chance of
joy?"

"You believe women are won only through their eyes? It is the outward
man for whom they care? I think you are right--though, unlike you, I
have not had to wade through seas of misery to discover that fact.
Well, I wish you luck. It is hard you should not have your chance. But,
have you calculated how long this business will take? No cure I know
of has ever been completed under from six to twelve months. Much may
happen in that time. Women are caught like moths in a flame. Love has
scorched their wings ere they even acknowledge the flame is Love. Have
you told her of your intention?"

Mickey shook his head. His hands dropped listlessly to his side, and in
the dim light his face looked lined and haggard.

"You will take your chance? Do you fear no rival?"

"No. She is heart-whole. She belongs only to Art. For men she cares
nothing."

"Not yet--not now perhaps. But she will care. She will love as other
women have loved. That untamed, restless heart will seek it's mate, and
nestle to his side with folded wings that care no more for flight. It
is the common fate of womanhood. It will be hers. Why should she alone
escape?"

Mickey rose. They faced each other, and eye searched eye as if it
sought to read the very depths of the soul beyond.

Something in that mocking face struck chill on the hunchback's excited
nerves. What he read there filled him with a sudden fear.

"You, too," he said. "You care for her?"

"It is a poor word. It doesn't convey much. But it will serve. Yes, my
friend, I, too, care for this woman. And what is more, mean to win her.
But I am in no haste. I will take no unfair advantage of you. I can
wait until we are more equally matched. Life has been a sorry thing for
you, and as I first waved the magic wand of change over its surface I
have a curiosity to see the result. After all, it will be amusing to
watch the game."

"It is life and death to me," muttered Mickey. "But her hand gives or
withholds. I only ask a fair chance."

"You shall have it. I will be honest with you, I swear."

He held out his hand. Mickey took it. A moment later he was alone,
holding in a fierce grasp a little slip of paper on which was written:

[block]

"Dr. Jules Chapuye,

"17 Rue du Petit Champs,

"Paris."

[end]

*  *  *  *  *  *

Clive sat alone in his room till the daylight was brightening the
opposite roofs and the stir and noise of waking life had begun to fill
the streets. In his hand he held the crystal ball and into its clear
depths his eyes had plunged again and again with thirsty longing.

Scenes, figures, a long procession had come and gone as he gazed, but
the one face he craved to see there had still refused to appear.

Restless and fevered, he had passed the sleepless hours, holding that
strange vigil with himself and the mysteries of his craft. Now in the
grey, wintry morning he looked pale, and old, and feeble. A sense of
exhaustion and helplessness was upon him.

"To think that I, even I, should be no wiser, no stronger, than that
miserable fool yonder," he cried aloud. "I who vowed that love should
never rule my life, to be drawn by a woman's eyes into this poisoned
whirlpool; to lose sense and reason, in the witchery of her presence,
to lie, strangled as a trapped hare in his net, in the meshes of her
hair! To feel strong brain and pulse quickened by a look, maddened by
a smile! Yet for me the past and the present are alike brewers of this
potent spell. She was mine once, and again, and yet again, shall be. I
need fear no rival. Love me she must. It is written."

He thrust the crystal aside into its drawer in the cabinet, and went
over to the window and drew aside the silk hangings and looked out.
With an impatient longing for air he threw up the sash and leaned
forwards, gazing down at the misty street and the passing figures.
The street lamps were still alight, and cast fantastic shadows on the
closed windows of the shops. A chill wind sighed through the great
thoroughfare, deserted now by all that made its life and fashion to the
sleeping world.

Raemore Clive threw back his heavy locks, and drew in thirsty gulps of
the damp air. It seemed to soothe the fever of nerve and brain, and a
curious calmness stole over him.

"It is no fault of mine," he said, half to himself. "I do not send him
to his fate. He will die, and I--Oh! if I could only see that. But the
curtain always falls between. Yet I am sure--I am sure. Life must be
full, complete, exquisite before I reach its end, and she will complete
it. This wild, untamed thing, this genius I have wooed and wedded to
my own art, she will give me the joy my senses crave, for which I have
sacrificed heart and soul so that I might conquer self, and learn the
mysteries of Nature."

He drew back suddenly and closed the window. His pallid face and sunken
eyes looked back at him from one of the mirrors. He gazed at himself
with a sense of unreality. Everything in the room looked shadowy and
grotesque in the dull, chill light, and in every corner a filmy shadow
lurked. A sort of horror of this place and of his life in it crept over
him. The powers on which he had prided himself took a threatening form.
He was haunted by secrets more or less shameful. By a sense of loss
in his own part in life, an incompleteness that left an ache behind
his memory. He had lived, studied laboured for such little purpose. He
was lonely and unloved. He was feared, and also he was despised. He
thought of the men and women whose lives lay entangled in the meshes
of his own, whose fates he had read, whose futures he knew. How easily
he had read them, save only in that one instance. By some irony the
special fate with which his own was interwoven defied his closest
scrutiny. He passed them all in review. Lorrimer, Mickey Croom, his
mother, Phil D'Eyncourt, Ray St. Vincent; Brianna, last, yet chief of
all. The year to come lay before him, like a chessboard, and these were
the figures who would play the game. A year--a strange, eventful year,
and yet the crystal told him nought of his own fate. He thought, too,
of that fearful curiosity which had set him on this path, and led him
on by skilful hints of ultimate gratification. The curiosity was still
unappeased. His life knew moments of ardent craving hunger that nothing
could satisfy. The veil was still too thick for his eye to pierce; the
cloud of mystery too dense for his hand to lift.

There was always a Beyond. He stood on its Borderland, but further he
could not pass.

Like one in a dream he moved across the room, and passed the shadowy
phantoms his fancy had conjured up. All was strangely still. But
suddenly through the chamber of his brain swept the echoes of a stormy
sea. He saw white cliffs and heard the beating of paddle wheels, and
the movement of pacing unsteady feet.

A strange smile crept to his lips. "The battle to the strong," he
muttered. "To the strong. He will give his life for the poor semblance
of manhood Fate has denied. But I--I have a power beyond even that. I
will teach her what Love is while that poor tortured frame is stretched
upon the rack. And when he returns it will be too late, though I have
kept my word--to the letter."




CHAPTER XXXIV.

A late afternoon on the west coast of Ireland. Storm and rain and gusty
winds were heralding the birth of September. A grim, red light, where
the sunset lingered, gave a sinister glow to masses of dark clouds
plied up in the west like far-reaching mountain tops. The woods had
been ravaged by gales, and branches and leaves strewed the damp ground
in dismal wreckage. Crested waves rode high over a heaving sea, and
broke in echoing thunder against the cliffs. Tangled heaps of seaweed
strewed the beach, and all the air held the wild warfare of mysterious
forces waging destruction, with that supreme indifference to life and
property and beauty that is one of Nature's ironies.

The woods sloped to the cliff edge, and a narrow zig-zag path led
downwards to the shore. On the summit of the cliff stood a little brown
wooden hut. Its door was open to the wild seascape, yet the thick trees
gave it shelter. Within it sat a girl watching the stormy scene with
eyes that held something of its storm and unrest.

The fierce gusts shook the little structure. The withered autumn leaves
lay in heaps at her feet, blown in by vagrant breezes. The air was
briny with spray, and chill with autumn's breath. A sense of desolation
brooded over the whole wild scene.

The girl's eyes turned from the gloom and the tossing sea to a letter
in her hand. She had read it many times, but she read it again now,
here in this wild solitude, while sky and sea and land held high
festival of mingled powers.

There was no glow or fervour in her face, only a dull calm, and that
hopelessness of indecision, which is almost despair.

"What to say? What to do?" she thought, and then, with sudden
impatience, crushed the sheets of paper together and thrust them into
the pocket of her dress.

Then she rose and went to the doorway and stood looking right and left
as if in expectation. The glow in the west had deepened to crimson.
Fiery bars of gold crossed the clouds at intervals. The moan of the
sea was like a dirge in her ears. Listening intently she caught the
sound of approaching footsteps, and instinctively shrank back into the
shelter of the little structure. A moment later a shadow darkened the
entrance and a man's tall figure stooped beneath it and passed within.

"You are here? When I saw the storm increasing I feared you would not
come. I should have remembered you have no foolish womanly fears,
Jessica."

"Of wind and rain I certainly have no fear," she said. "They were nurse
and cradle to me, and friends too. But why did you wish me to meet you
here? When did you arrive?"

"Early this morning. Mickey will be here to-night. I was determined not
to enter the Castle (save the mark) until his arrival. I promised as
much."

"Promised--who?"

"Our host, of course. Not all Lady Skibbereen's blandishment could make
me break my word and join your party. There is a compact between us,
Jessica; did you know it? No; how should you? We are rivals for your
favour. That, of course, is no news. But we are each to have a fair
chance. Why do you look so scornful? We have worked for you each in our
own way. May I sit down? I have a great deal to say to you. It is long
since we met, you know. You don't ask where I have spent those months,
Jessica?"

"It does not concern me."

"Yes, it does. What if I told you I had been in Paris? That I had seen
Mickey. Mickey, who disappeared so mysteriously; who has sent no word
or sign of his existence to his anxious friends; whose very mother has
been in ignorance of his fate? What then, Jessica?"

"He has no doubt had good reasons for his silence."

"How trustful you are. I wish you believed in me as you do in Mickey--I
beg his pardon, Lord Skibbereen, Master of Croom Castle and a noble
estate of pigstyes and hovels. How long since you came here, Jessica?"

"Only two weeks," she said.

Her face was resentful, her manner impatient. The old dislike and fear
of this man showed themselves plainly. He suddenly dropped his mocking
voice, and his face adopted an aspect of gravity.

"Jessica," he said. "I am tired of suspense. For two years I have
waited on your moods. For the first hour of our meeting was the hour
of our soul's betrothal. I told you so. You would not listen, but now,
Jessica, now--you must. You shall! Patience has limitations, and I am
man as well as fatalist."

He rose and drew himself up to his full height. The faint red glow from
without fell on his face and lit the depths of his flaming eyes.

For the first time in all their strange acquaintanceship the girl felt
afraid. Old haunting thoughts leaped hack to memory; a numbing terror
held her in its grasp. His gaze held her fascinated and still; the
gaze of the hypnotist on the subject; the subtle force of one will
exercising its masterful power over another.

"What is it you want?" she asked mechanically.

"I want you--you, Jessica--you only; you, who were mine in the past
of dead ages. Have I not told you so again and again? You, whom Fate
led to me in such strange fashion. You, whose genius compels all men's
adoration; even mine, to whom genius so long meant but a crank of
brain organisation. Yes, Jessica, the time has come at last. I am your
master. You must acknowledge it. I gave you Fame, and I withheld it.
You have known success, and failure; for, after my play was withdrawn,
you could act no other. Is not that true, Jessica?"

A sob broke from her swelling throat, rage and weakness struggled for
the mastery. Her hatred of this man strained and fought against the
leash with which he held her faculties, yet strained in vain.

"It was you then," she cried passionately; "you who paralysed my force
and weakened my power, held me up to ridicule, saw me trampled in the
dust of men's scorn! Oh, shame on you. Shame! It was the work of a
fiend!"

"It was the work of my will, and the fault of your obstinacy. I warned
you, Jessica, it was useless to rebel, and you gave the warning no
heed. Do you think I have sacrificed so much to gain this power of
mine, only to know it vanquished by a woman's whim? Do you think I have
not read your heart like an open book? No, Jessica, no, it cannot be.
Fate is too strong for you, and Fate has decreed you shall be mine."

Their eyes met in the gathering gloom. In hers glowed the fire of
rebellion, in his lay the deep calm of assurance.

"I hate you!" she muttered, sullenly.

He shrugged his shoulders and smiled.

"I know you do. It makes no difference. In barbaric times I was your
master--you my slave. I need my slave again. There is a future before
us, Jessica. A future in which my power shall mould your genius, and
together we shall rule the poor fools who claim the world's good things
and leave us beggars. We shall be rich, Jessica--rich and great and
powerful. The magic of gold shall make the world an enchanted garden,
and all its pleasures and delights will be as fruit our hands may
gather at will. Cease to frown, and teach your wild heart obedience.
Believe me, it is useless to fret and chafe against my power, useless
as the spent fury of those waves on the shores below! Are you content?
Do you believe it now?"

She tried to speak, but no words would come. Yet the look in her
flashing eyes and the stormy beats of her pulsing heart were not
eloquent of submission.

"I do not believe it," she said, at last.

Again he made a gesture of indifference.

"You are hard to convince, yet I do not despair. I have held Love at
bay so long that I did not expect an easy conquest. But I mean to win
you, and what I mean I always do; Jessica, you will reach greatness
through my power alone. I can place you on a pedestal of gold for the
world to worship. Who among the men you have known have wooed you
honourably, save only this poor hunchbacked deformity to whom your
position and birth meant nothing. But they mean a great deal in the
world you have known, Jessica. They are barriers few care to cross even
to possess beauty such as yours."

The colour ebbed from her face. It grew cold and still as a mask.

"Let me pass," she said, hoarsely. "I will not listen to you," and she
rushed wildly into the wooded gloom beyond.




CHAPTER XXXV.

The least gloomy of all the gloomy old rooms of the Castle was the hall.

On this stormy autumn night a huge fire leaped and roared in the wide
old fireplace. The flames shone on carved oak and faded tattered
tapestries; on rugs and seats and gay-coloured cushions, on autumn
spoils of berry and leaf and trailing ivy. They showed up the contrast
of modern comfort and ancient picturesqueness--the low chairs, the
Turkish rugs, the great blue china jars, and the background of quaint
carving, and antiquated picture frames.

Three women and one man were seated round the fire chatting and
laughing over their teacups. The women were Lady Skibbereen, Ray St.
Vincent, recently married to old Lord Farningham, and Phil D'Eyncourt.
The man was Max Lorrimer.

"How late Brianna is," exclaimed Phil, suddenly. "And what could have
possessed her to go out in such a storm?"

"Indeed, yes; and a bad journey it must have been for my poor boy.
He's an hour late already. Not that the trains are ever punctual, and
then there's the ferry if he came by Cork. The saints have him in
their keeping! Though I don't know why I should ask them for I'm a bad
Catholic at the best of times, according to Father McFadyean."

Lady Skibbereen shook her golden head and laughed her airy laugh and
glanced round the circle as if for approval.

"And why hasn't Mr. Clive come in, as he promised? 'Twas the strangest
idea of his, staying at the lodge instead of coming here. But no, wild
horses wouldn't draw him. 'Not till Mickey's there to welcome me,' he
said; and sure, what would Mickey care one way or another? Now, me dear
Lady Farningham, have another cup of tea. Do. It will sustain you; and
goodness knows when we shall have dinner to-night, for I said to keep
it back for Mickey, and--Ah! wasn't that the bell I heard? Here he is
at last!"

A footman crossed the outer hall, and a moment later the door opened,
and Raemore Clive entered half-leading, half-carrying, a drenched and
fainting figure. The women sprang to their feet with a simultaneous cry.

"It's Brianna. What's happened?"

"I found her in the woods. I think a bough had struck her. She was
unconscious," said Clive. "There, she's coming round. She'll be all
right in a moment. Have you some brandy? That will pull her together.
Don't crowd round her like that. She wants air."

He laid the girl's helpless figure on an oaken settle. Her hat had
fallen off, her loosened hair swept the ground. Her face looked like
death! Her clenched teeth had closed on her under lip, and the blood
was slowly trickling down the white chin and neck. On her temple was a
large purple bruise.

"My God! she looks like death," muttered Lorrimer, as he bent over her,
the glass with brandy in his trembling hand.

"Nonsense! Stand aside, and leave her to me," said Clive, sternly.

His commanding voice, his fierce gaze, struck awe into the startled
group. They drew aside, and watched him as he raised the girl's head,
and tried to force the spirit through her clenched teeth.

The smart of the liquid on her wounded lip seemed to recall her senses.
With a faint moan she opened her eyes, and gazed at the faces around
her.

"Drink this," said Clive, in her ear. And his hand made a quick gesture
that drew her eyes to his own.

She obeyed without a word, then sank back against the cushions they had
piled behind her head. The lids fell over her eyes. A long shuddering
sigh shook her frame, her nerveless hands fell one on either side, and
she lay still and inert as one in a trance. Clive drew back.

"Leave her alone," he said. "She will be all right in a few moments.
She was caught in the storm. It was fearful. You have no idea in here
what the force of the wind is like. I thought we should never reach the
Castle. She had no right to go out on such a day!"

"I told her so, my own self," said Lady Skibbereen. "But, you know
Brianna; when she means to do a thing it's as good as done. Ah, she's
sitting up, the darling! How are you now, Brianna--better?"

"Yes, quite well, I think," said the girl, raising herself to a sitting
position. "What was the matter? You all look frightened."

"Well we may," said Ray. "You looked more like a corpse than a living
woman when Clive brought you in."

"Mr. Clive?" Her voice faltered. A puzzled distressed look crept over
her white face. She lifted her arm and pushed back her disordered hair.
It was all wet with rain, and among its loosened tangles glistened the
gold and crimson of autumn leaves. She made an effort to rise, then
sank back once more and closed her eyes and seemed to think. Lorrimer,
standing a little to one side, saw the colour waver, then leap like a
burning flame to her cheek and brow, saw the sudden quiver of her lip,
and then the blank, wide terror of her gaze as she met Clive's eyes.

"I will go to my room. I--I want to be alone," she muttered. "No, not
you," as Lorrimer approached. "Ray, come with me--come."

Fear and entreaty rang in her voice, fear so strange and awful that
Lorrimer felt its echo in his own heart, and stood like one turned to
stone. Ray had advanced and put her arm round the girl and supported
her to her feet.

"You poor dear!" she murmured tenderly. "Why, you are wet to the skin."

Brianna rose. Her trailing skirts hung limp and soaked about her tall,
slight figure. She shook as with an ague fit. Lady Skibbereen, all
sorrow and concern and fussy sympathy, followed them out of the hall.
Clive turned to the fire and stretched his hands to the blaze. The heat
acting on the damp of his clothes enveloped him in a sudden mist of
steam.

"You are wet also. Hadn't you better change your clothes? They are
here. Sally Dunne sent them up this afternoon," said Phil D'Eyncourt.

"Yes," he said, absently. "I will. Give me some tea. No, stay; I'll
have brandy. I feel chilled to the bone. Has--has Mickey arrived yet?"

"No. We think the storm has delayed him."

He crossed over to one of the tables where the spirit decanter stood
and poured himself out half a tumbler of brandy. It was so unusual for
him to touch any stimulant that Lorrimer was conscious of a thrill of
surprise.

He went back to the fire, apparently forgetful of his wet clothes. The
fiery liquid coursed through his veins, his blood began to glow, and
the colour sprang to his face. He stood for a few moments gazing into
the leaping flames, then suddenly, without a word to either, he turned
on his heel and left the hall. A servant showed him his own room. He
locked the door and then lit the candles on the dressing-table and
stood looking at his own reflection in the glass.

"I know myself, villain as well as knave. How do I look? No, nothing
is changed; strange that one's sins should not stamp their footprints
as they pass!" He passed his hand over his brow and swept the dark
hair back. "Mickey will be here in an hour. In one hour. Sixty minutes
in which to learn my part and teach her hers. Well, I have had harder
tasks than that in my time and never quailed. I fear no one but him.
The eye of love is keen as second sight. He will know I have broken
faith after all. Why did I? It is but a year's life he has purchased. A
year--twelve little months--at what a cost! I might have given him his
chance of happiness. What possessed me?"

Again he scrutinised his face. It seemed to him that a devil mocked in
either eye. That a new touch of cruelty lurked about the mouth. With a
shudder of loathing he turned away, and began to divest himself of his
wet clothing.

"She must come down to dinner. She must seem as usual. No one must
guess. After to-night it will be all plain sailing. Everyone may know
that she will be my wife. My Wife! . . . . I suppose it must come to
that. Conventional scruples must be appeased. Well, I have won her from
these fools who love her. That is triumph enough."

A loud reverberating ring sounded suddenly through the stillness of the
gloomy old house. He started. His keen ears strained every power of
hearing, his very heart-beats seemed to cease.

"It is Mickey--the transformed, glorified Mickey whom I scarcely
recognised. What will she say? How will they meet? I must be present.
Not for a fortune would I leave those two alone to-night!"

With quick strong fingers he unstrapped the leather portmanteau, and
took out his evening clothes. Rapidly his toilet was made. Then he
stood still in the centre of the room and closed his eyes and stretched
his arms out with that gesture of command that seemed a part of
himself. So still and motionless he seemed that anyone entering would
have taken him for a statue. Yet it was only the stillness of supreme
effort directing all his will force towards one object.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Brianna lay on the bed in the room she shared with Phil. Ray stood
beside her, her face full of alarm. She had removed the girl's wet
clothes and wrapped her in a warm dressing-gown, and piled blankets
upon her, but nothing seemed to bring heat to her chilled frame or stay
her shivering. Her eyes were closed, the bruise on her temple stood out
black and swollen above her arched brows.

"It looks like a blow," thought Ray.

As the loud peal that had startled Clive rang through the silence,
Brianna suddenly sprang up. Her eyes, wide and terrified, turned to Ray.

"It is Mickey," she cried. "How can I meet him--how can I?"

"My dear child, what has happened?" exclaimed Ray in deep concern. "You
look as full of tragedy as a Siddons. If you don't want to meet Mickey,
you need not come down. Indeed, you don't look fit for it. I wish you'd
get right into bed, and I'll tell our worthy hostess to send you up
something hot. Good strong soup and a glass of wine--that will do you
good. You've taken a chill, I'm sure."

But Brianna only shook her head.

"I must go down," she repeated. "I promised."

"Well, dinner isn't for an hour yet," said Ray. "I'll run off and dress
and then come back and help you. Put on that white tea-gown of yours;
it's less trouble, and warmer too, than evening dress. Lie still now,
and try and get warm. How foolish of you to go out in that storm."

"I had to go," moaned the girl. She pressed her hands to her brow as if
to still its throbbing. "Had to go!" she repeated. "And it is the same
now. I feel I must go downstairs and meet Mickey. And, oh, I don't want
to. What has happened, Ray? What has he done to me?"

"He--who?"

"Raemore Clive," she whispered. "I feel so weak. All my power has gone.
It left me in the woods. He said I was--his slave. Oh, Ray! It isn't
true, it isn't true?"

Her voice had a ring of terror, and her eyes held a look of despair.

"What isn't true? My dear, you are feverish and excited. Do try and
calm yourself or you will be ill. There, lie back on the pillows.
Promise me you won't attempt to get up till I come back."

"Yes, I promise you," said the girl wearily. "I feel too tired to
move. But I know I shall have to get up presently. Something is
drawing--forcing--willing me. He said it should be so again--and it is."

"Who said? Has Clive been at any of his hypnotic tricks. I told you
he had come back from Paris, nine parts demon and one part man. Was I
right?"

"I think you were. How strange I feel! As if nothing mattered. As if I
had reached the end of everything. My heart seems frozen in my bosom.
Oh, this deadly, deadly cold."

She shivered again, but then suddenly a warm glow stole over her, a
slumbrous calm enveloped her senses. The colour came back to her face
and lips, and her hands grew less chill. "I shall sleep," she murmured
drowsily, and before Ray could answer she fell into a deep child-like
slumber. Her breath came evenly, her limbs grew perfectly still, and
all the pain and trouble left her face.

Ray watched her for a few moments in deep perplexity. Then seeing that
she really was asleep, she left the room and went into her own, which
adjoined it.

"It is most extraordinary," she repeated. "Brianna, usually so strong
and self-possessed to be like this! What can have happened?"

She dressed very hurriedly, making an unusually simple toilet. She
had joined the party at the urgent invitation of Lady Skibbereen, and
also because Lorrimer was to be at the Castle. Lord Farningham had
absolutely declined to set foot in Ireland. It represented to him a
country of savages, who left dynamite in the cellars, and fired guns
from behind hedges at any passer-by who had the misfortune to be
mistaken for a landlord.

Ray had been at Croom only a week. She had not found it particularly
attractive, and Lorrimer spent most of his time shooting, and seemed to
have grown morose and indifferent. Brianna, too, was changed. She had
come there pale and spiritless. A reverse of fortune had followed the
brief success of "The Opal,"[i] and the two pieces which had succeeded
that strange production had been utter failures. For three months she
had done nothing, and when she came to Ireland it was in a mood of
despondency, from which even Lady Skibbereen's liveliness could not
rouse her.

In vain that good lady assured her that such reverses were the life and
soul of the profession; were in reality a benefit to it, because they
made hope doubly alluring, and gave a fresh zest to the next success.
Brianna only listened apathetically. Her pride and delight seemed
utterly vanquished, and that hopelessness which is the worst feature of
failure, seemed to have marked her for its prey.

All this Ray remembered, and thanked her stars that her days of toil
and reverses, of fluctuating fortune and hard-won triumphs were over.
It was true matrimony had not proved an exhilarating exchange for
life of the stage. Her social triumphs had not been in any degree
as brilliant as those of certain music-hall rivals, but still she
had a fine home, plenty of money, and her father's blessing to boot.
Reconciliation had been easily brought about. The Church is less
obdurate to the peerage--even in a damaged edition--than to the stage.

For a brief period of grass-widowhood Ray meant to enjoy herself.
It was somewhat hard that the enjoyment did not promise a ready
fulfilment. She looked at herself when her toilet was completed, and
was conscious that she was handsomer than ever. Excitement lent a flush
to her cheeks, a sparkle to her eyes. The pale pink and shimmering
green of her gown made a delicious and becoming contrast. To-night she
felt she had no need to fear even Brianna's rivalry. With a satisfied
smile she returned to the girl's room.

Phil D'Eyncourt was just putting the finishing touches to her luxuriant
fringe. Brianna was standing by the fire dressed in a loose tea-gown of
white serge. Her face had the flush of fever, her eyes looked wild and
strange. She answered Ray's questions absently and as if her mind was
far away. She seemed to have recovered from the shock and chill of the
afternoon, and Ray felt that her anxiety was groundless. As the second
bell rang the three women left the room together, and went down the
broad staircase to the hall. Clive was there alone, standing with his
back to the flaming logs.

"Well," cried Ray, gaily, "what of our truant? Have you seen him?"

"No. But I hear he has arrived. I was in my room----"

A slight noise, the sound of an opening door, and involuntarily they
all turned. It was the library door that had opened, and standing
within the light falling on his iron-grey hair and pale grave face,
was--Mickey. And yet, was it Mickey? The three women stared. Could this
be the man they remembered; the man who eight months before had left
them deformed and misshapen? Why, this man was taller by inches. He
held himself straight and erect as even Clive, his eyes had lost their
gloom, his lips smiled welcome.

He came forward, and his outstretched hands went to Brianna, and his
eyes sought hers as if to read something in their startled depths.

"Child," he whispered, "are you well--happy? Ah, I needn't ask."

For the flush and joy of her face were answer enough, and he turned to
the others, leaving her bewilderment unanswered.

Clive stepped forward.

"Dr. Chapuye has done his work well," he said. "I congratulate you,
Lord Skibbereen."

"Is it really--really you, Mickey?" faltered Brianna.

His answer was cut short. A whirling avalanche of skirts descended
the staircase, and he was suddenly clasped in his mother's impetuous
embrace.

"It is me boy--me own noble, handsome boy! And indeed I'm the proud
mother to-day, Mickey, darling, and not one out of the many hundreds
of pound notes I've sent that French medecin, as they call him, do I
begrudge. It's the grandest miracle since the days of Moses. Now isn't
it?" She turned and faced the group. "Look at him all of you. There's
me own true, handsome son for you again; and the very living image
of his father and his grandfather, if the family portraits are to be
believed!"

"Oh, hush mother!" interposed Mickey, sternly, "you won't give me an
opportunity to explain."

"And what would you be explaining, I'd like to know? Can't they see for
themselves that you're a new creature? And never a word did I breathe
of it, Mickey, as I promised. No, not even to Sally Dunne; who's as
curious as Eve herself before she ate the apple. There, me dears, now
you all know about it. The French doctor put him in a frame, wasn't it,
Mickey?--and his limbs were stretched, and some tendons or something
cut. But that's neither here nor there. It was a wonderful operation,
though mighty risky, all the same; but sure the boy's heart was set on
it, and that's all about it."

She was laughing and crying, and kissing Mickey at intervals.

The group behind only stared at them in utter silence. It did
indeed seem as if a miracle had been performed; this pale, slight,
aristocratic-looking man was so unlike the Mickey Croom they had known.

But Brianna, as she met the deep sadness of his eyes, shuddered and
shrank aside. For in them was the look of one who sees his doom and
goes bravely forth to face it.




CHAPTER XXXVI.

It was a strange uncomfortable dinner. Lady Skibbereen talked enough
for a dozen people, and grew affectionately maudlin over the champagne.
Brianna was flushed and feverish. She could eat nothing. Food seemed to
choke her, and she started and trembled when anyone spoke to her. Never
once did she look at Mickey. Lorrimer and Ray conversed in low tones
together, under cover of Clive's devoted boisterous talk. He, too,
ate little and devoted himself to the champagne. His eyes rarely left
Brianna, and she seemed uneasily conscious of their watchfulness.

Mickey sat at the head of the table, beside his mother, trying to stem
the tide of her garrulity while the servants were present.

It was a relief when they withdrew, and the conversation became
general. Phil's improved health, Brianna's theatrical experiences, Ray
St. Vincent's marriage, Lorrimer's sudden retirement from the army,
Clive's mystical popularity, these formed the topics of discussion.
Mickey listened with the interest and ardour of one to whom news of the
outside world has long been denied.

For long months he had lived isolated in that strange hospital
where Dr. Jules Chapuye worked his cures and performed his terrible
operations. For those months life had been blank of all save pain and
terror and uncertainty. Now, like a prisoner released, he sat there
in painless freedom and gazed at familiar faces and heard familiar
tongues. He longed to speak to Brianna, but it was impossible. Well, he
must have patience. He had been patient so long, and now it need only
be a question of hours. Surely that was not so very hard. Meanwhile his
eyes gazed their full at her beauty, noting its changes, and wondering
a little at the new look of fear, almost, indeed, of terror, that at
times shadowed her face.

Raemore Clive talked on in his usual mocking, irrelevant way. That
mingling of cynicism and brutality, wit and coarseness, were second
nature to him now. He was relating some hypnotic experiments he
had seen in Paris, and held the table in breathless silence as he
described a murder committed as one of these experiments. He painted
a tawdry room, a girl asleep, the dawn creeping in through tattered
window curtains. They almost saw the scene, so graphic was his
description--saw the bed and the half-nude figure, the clothes in an
untidy heap upon the floor, and the candle flickering in its socket
beside an empty bottle and a broken glass. They seemed to hear the
opening of the door, and catch the glitter of cruel eyes in a white,
cruel face. He made them see a lean, brown hand holding something in
its clasp. He made them hear the stealthy footsteps, and shudder at
the murderous purpose in those gleaming eyes. They caught the flash
of the upraised knife, its sharp, keen blade, its swift descent, the
rush of blood that stained the white flesh, the quiver, and the awful
stillness. So real and so awful was the scene that even Lorrimer turned
white, and sick, and Phil D'Eyncourt fainted. Mickey rose suddenly from
the table.

"You should not tell such horrible tales before ladies," he said. "You
have made my mother quite hysterical."

He led Lady Skibbereen sobbing and trembling from the room, and Ray
tried to revive her fainting neighbour. Brianna alone sat still and
white and calm.

"What a scene in a play!" she said. "Only it should be the woman who
killed the man!"

"You would act it well," said Clive. "Perhaps I may write the play one
day--who knows?"

Lorrimer shuddered visibly.

"I hope you won't," he said. "The story is bad enough without being put
into living shape. You've frightened the wits out of Phil D'Eyncourt."

The girl did, indeed, look scared, as, leaning on his arm, she tottered
from the table, Ray supporting her on the other side.

Clive crossed over to Brianna. His hand clasped her arm.

"Tell me you forgive me," he muttered. "I warned you not to drive me
desperate. Now, you know why."

Like a hunted thing her head turned from side to side, her eyes looked
piteous as those of a child, imploring help where no help is. A sense
of injustice, of cruel wrong, of rage, and yet of feebleness, filled
her heart. A new feeling struggled for birth, amidst throes of fierce
agony. It was the desire for revenge. Revenge, ruthless and brutal
as the nature that sought to coerce her own. Unbound passions, the
fruits of seed sown in her neglected and brutalised childhood, sprang
into hot, quick life, beneath the sun of hate. Yet to give them any
expression was beyond her power.

"Let me go!" she cried fiercely, and wrenched her arm from his grasp
and rushed from the room.

His first impulse was to follow her, but he restrained it. The door
closed. He returned to his seat, and taking out his cigarette case lit
one and commenced to smoke.

"What a wild cat she is at heart," he muttered. "But I shall tame her
yet. The harder the fight the sweeter the triumph. Now--for Mickey."

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mickey and Lorrimer returned in a few moments. They found Clive
smoking, cool and impassive as ever.

"How are our hysterical friends?" he asked. "I really did not intend to
produce such an effect. It was absolutely unrehearsed. Why, Lorrimer,
you look quite upset. What's the matter?"

"Nothing much. Only I should like a few words with you alone presently."

"That sounds mysterious. I hope you are not going to challenge me to
mortal combat. I never fired a pistol, or handled a rapier in my life."

"No. You employ other weapons as deadly, and far less scrupulous."

"I don't understand you."

"Then by heaven you shall!" thundered Lorrimer. "I can't sit at table
with you and hear your diabolical stories, and your sneers at virtue
and honour, and not ask what you mean by--this."

He threw a crumpled letter down on the table. Clive snatched it. Mickey
made a quick step forward.

"Mr. Lorrimer," he said, "you appear to forget that this is my house. I
demand an explanation of such a scene with one of my guests."

"You shall have it soon enough," said Lorrimer, watching Clive's white
face with blazing eyes. "I found that letter on the floor of the hall
by the settle where he had laid Brianna. I remembered his words that
she had no business to be out in that awful storm to-day, yet who wrote
that letter? Who was with her for hours in the summer-house on the
cliffs, yet pretended only to have met her by accident? Who wrote that
masterful order? 'Come to me. I command you!'[i]"

"I wrote it," said Clive, coolly. "Since you are not above reading
other people's letters with all your professions of honour, I may as
well tell you that your surmise is correct. I bade Brianna come to me.
I had something of importance to communicate to her. Since when have
you constituted yourself the guardian of her actions, may I ask?"

Cold and still, his face like death, Mickey leant against the chair at
the head of the table and looked at the two men.

"There is something--something behind all this!" cried Lorrimer
furiously. "Brianna is not the sort of girl to make appointments
with--with any[i] man!"

"Not with you, perhaps, lady-killer as you are, but with me--that's a
different matter. Permit me to say, however, that I object to being
catechised in this fashion. I am not responsible to you for my actions.
Kindly remember that in future."

He turned away and poured himself out some more champagne. But Mickey's
enforced calm gave way as he noticed the cool insolence of face and
action.

"Stop, Mr. Clive," he said. "I at least have a right to an explanation.
Brianna is in my house, under my charge, in a way. By what right do you
force her to keep appointments with you?"

"I will it," said Clive.

"Faugh! The old hateful sickening phrase. The story of your power--your
cursed compelling influence. Your devilish arts working on her will and
overmastering it."

A flash of pain shot across Mickey's face. The horror in his eyes awoke
a thrill of pity in Lorrimer's heart as he caught its flash. Then there
was a cry, a spring, a horrible choking sound, and ere Max could move
to intervene, he had thrown himself on Clive, and his strong, sinewy
hands were at his throat.

"Villain!" he cried, "and again villain! Is it thus you keep your word?"

"My God, Mickey! Stop! You'll kill him!"

Panting, gasping, Clive reeled forward into a chair. His face was
horrible, and yet amidst its horror there lingered something grotesque,
as if he marked the inartistic effects of so crude an outburst of men's
passions.

"You--you might have listened," he said, between panting breaths. "But
you Irishmen are so impetuous. She is--my promised wife!"




CHAPTER XXXVII.

Those words fell like a blow on the hearts of the two men who heard
them.

They stood and looked at that panting, disordered figure in absolute
silence. Was it true, or had he spoken out of the vain boastfulness so
much a part of himself.

Mickey first broke the painful silence.

"Is it true?" he said.

"Yes. Ask her."

"Then you have broken your word to me."

"Love is stronger than honour. She was helpless, alone, in trouble. She
came to me. I consoled her."

"That is a lie, and you know it," cried Lorrimer, fiercely. "She fears
you--she dislikes you. It is not by fair means you have won her."

Clive sprang suddenly to his feet.

"Enough of this melodramatic nonsense," he cried. "Let him win who may,
and keep who can. You had your chances and I had mine. If I have made
better use of them than you I deserve my success."

"You are a trickster, a charlatan, and a liar," shouted Mickey,
fiercely. "You have not won Brianna's heart; you could not. You have
terrorised and coerced her. You to marry! You, who have made a mock
and sport of the marriage tie all your life! It is monstrous. It shall
never be."

The old evil gleam showed itself through the narrowed slit of Clive's
drooped eyelids.

"It shall be," he said coolly. "Who can prevent it? Whether she loves
or hates me makes no difference. Our destinies are united. I knew it
from the first hour we met. She knows it, too, at last. I bear you no
ill-will. The natural savage in man rather commands my respect when
it leaps the bounds of civilisation. I can make allowance for your
indignation, but indeed I kept faith with you till to-day. You should
have returned yesterday, Mickey. The time was up."

The insolence of his tone and look stung Mickey like the touch of a
lash. He turned away. As he reached the door he paused. Then he looked
back to where Clive still stood, that smile of triumph on his lips.

"You will leave this house to-night," he said. "The same roof cannot
shelter us."

"I regret that courtesy has not found a place in your new honours,"
said Clive, in the same mocking voice. "Perhaps they are too--new. One
cannot, of course, adopt the habits and instincts of a gentleman as
rapidly as his position. I came here as your mother's guest. Will you
kindly convey to her my regrets for such an abrupt departure? And I
must also trespass on your hospitality half an hour longer. I cannot
leave without an interview with Brianna. In what room may I see her
alone?"

The white rage of Mickey's face was awful. Lorrimer glanced from one
to the other, fearful of another outburst. But suddenly, with a great
effort, Mickey calmed himself. His face grew hard and still as beaten
iron.

"I will give her your message," he said, and left the room.

Without a word Lorrimer followed.

Clive seated himself, and rested his arms on the polished mahogany
table, with its dishes of fruit and bowls of wild flowers, and
cut-glass decanters. He was shaking from head to foot. Absolute
physical cowardice mastered him now. He had faced a murderer's
desperate hate when Mickey's hands had well nigh choked the life out of
him. He could not forget it.

"If there is a hell I have looked on it to-night," he thought. "What
fools men can be, and for a woman's sake!"

His hands went to his throat. It ached and throbbed still as if that
awful pressure held it unreleased.

"Supposing he had killed me," he reflected. "But, no, I should have
read it. My hour is not yet."

The opening of the door roused him. He lifted his head. A servant stood
there.

"Miss Lynch will see you in the library, if you plaze, sir," he said,
"I was sint to tell you."

Clive rose languidly. He still felt dazed and weak. He caught sight of
his face in the glass and started. He stopped a moment to arrange his
collar and tie, and smooth back his disordered hair. Then he followed
the man to the library.

It was a dingy, dreary room. Neither fires nor lights could make it
cheerful. High oaken bookcases ran round the walls, and almost touched
the celling. The carpet was threadbare, the chairs of hard, stiff
leather. Hangings of musty, moth-eaten tapestry hung in desolate folds
before the long windows. A neglected-looking fire was burning itself
out on the hearth, and seated on one of the stiff leather-backed chairs
was Brianna.

His heart gave a quick throb as he saw her. It seemed to him that he
both loved and hated her in that moment. Two passions were struggling
for the mastery in his breast, and neither was certain of victory. Her
face was as white as her gown, and the deep scorn in her eyes, as she
lifted her head and looked at him, was more eloquent than any words.

"I was told that you were leaving her to-night, otherwise I would not
have seen you," she said.

"You would have seen me to-night, or any night, had I wished it," he
said. "But come, I have no wish to waste words. I want to know when you
will marry me?"

"Marry you! Marry----"

"It is conventional, and respectable, and all that," he said. "And not
a very alluring prospect. But we must bow to prejudices, I have told
your self-constituted guardian that you will be my wife, and he is
quite content. I shall have to return to London to-morrow. When may I
expect you?"

"You have told Mickey?" she faltered.

"And Mr. Lorrimer--have they not offered congratulations yet? How
remiss."

The blood flushed to her brow. She sprang to her feet, and faced him.

"I shall not marry you," she said. "Do you hear? Never--never!"

"Very well," he said, coolly, "if you prefer----"

"How dare you!" she panted. "You know what I feel--what I said--I hate
you! Can you never understand?"

"Nonsense!" he said. "It is you who don't understand your own feelings;
and even if you do hate me, it is of no use."

"What shall I do?" she moaned. "Oh, what shall I do? Have you no mercy?"

"Where you are concerned, no. It is not so much that I love you as that
I need you. My life is incomplete. There is something it lacks, and I
told you long ago you were my fate, even as I am yours, Brianna."

"Oh, no!" she cried, and then her hands dropped, and her wild eyes
turned to his face. "Fate you may call it, but for me it has another
meaning. You are not a man. You have given yourself to some evil power
that makes you half-brute, half-devil. What you claim and force from me
is not myself. It is only a weakness that hates and loathes and rebels,
and will rebel all my life."

"I like that rebellion," he said, "it gives the zest of the Sultan to
my rights in my slave. You poor frightened thing, even your genius is
at my mercy."

She shuddered. Her lips grew hard and firm, and her eyes took back some
of their old defiance.

"There is wild blood in me," she said. "Take care how you rouse it."

"I love that wild blood, my beautiful panther. It shall beat and throb
with mine, even as your will shall bend and bow to my bidding. The
world will be the richer for a union like ours."

His mocking voice maddened her. Her brain grew dizzy with the force and
stress of emotion. She felt the loud beats of her heart, and pressed
her hand against her side as if to stifle them.

"What do you want with me?" she said, fiercely.

"I have told you as much as I dare tell. The rest you will learn when
your life is linked with mine, as linked it must be."

"Links can be broken," she said. "I have warned you."

"I am not afraid of risk. When will you come to me, Brianna?"

His glance compelled her, his strange face came nearer, nearer, as in
that awful moment in the summer house. She flung out her arms, but he
caught them, and drew them round his throat, and kissed her on the lips.

"Mine!" he said, triumphantly. "Did I not tell you rebellion was
useless!"

But there was something stronger than rebellion, more terrible than
hate. In the face that suddenly flashed back its white and desperate
fury to his own.

That kiss seemed the seal of desecration. She flung him from her with
a force that had naught of woman in it. He staggered and clutched the
chair on which she had been seated. With one swift movement she was at
the door, and turned and looked at him.

"The hour you touch me again, the hour I feel your hateful power
compelling me," she cried, "is your last hour of life--or mine!"

Then the door closed, and his bloodshot eyes gazed in baffled fury at
the place where she had stood and defied him.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Blind and mad, scarce knowing what she did, she flew up the wide oak
stairs and reached her room. She locked and double locked the door, and
then flung her arms above her head, and like a wild thing paced the
room in maddened frenzy. The fetters of restraint, the schooling of
discipline, she threw aside as once she had thrown her childish foes
to right and left on the Coal Quay. Nothing mattered. Nothing held her
save that sense of outrage and disgust, the loathing of that forced
embrace.

"That his lips should have touched me," she cried, and wiped her own
lips with her handkerchief with a force that made them bleed, and then
tore the flimsy cambric to shreds, and flung it into the fire in very
impotence of rage.

The awful tempest swept over her unchecked. To and fro she paced the
room with the fierce striding of a madwoman. Curses, words awful and
unwomanly, leapt to her lips. The graces of civilisation shrank abashed
into some dim retreat. She wanted none of them now. She had gone back
to the old, wild, untutored savagery that Sally Dunne had rescued, and
Mickey had restrained.

How long she raved thus, how long that passionate madness held her, she
never knew. Only she found herself at last staring hopelessly in the
glass at something that faced her. Something white and wild with eyes
like flame, from which great tears rolled helplessly down.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.

In honour of Mickey his mother had decreed that the chill, comfortless
drawing-room should be used instead of the more comfortable hall.
The three women sat round the fire after Brianna had left, and made
spasmodic attempts at conversation. They had heard nothing of the scene
in the dining-room, and Mickey's message to Brianna had conveyed no
special meaning to any one except Ray.

She looked keenly at Lorrimer, and noticed signs of disturbance on his
face. Mickey had drawn a chair up beside his mother, and was listening
patiently to her affectionate tattle. His eyes were fixed on the fire.
That mask of iron stillness still seemed to hold his features in its
expressionless calm. His ears were strained for the sound of a closing
door, for the echo of the light step that had once made his life's
music.

How had this awful thing come to pass? How had she been brought to
accept this man's love? Was it for sake of ambition, for wealth, for
future fame, for any of the incomprehensible reasons that make women
sell themselves into bondage? Underlying his outward calm raged the
fires of fierce jealousy.

It was less pain that he had lost her than that this man should have
won her. His latent distrust of him increased tenfold in his absence.
Clive's visit to him in Paris had been unwelcome, and Dr. Chapuye had
hinted that he was in that city for no very good purpose. Still, it was
a purpose that detained him three months from Brianna's side. Yet now
this was the outcome of it. An increase of his strange powers, a wider
field of development for his fiendish knowledge. As he sat there in
the home that this man had, in a way, restored to him, he felt he had
behaved like the savage his enemy had called him; that the traditions
of his ancestry had no root in his nature; that only the brute instinct
had recognised a rival and thirsted for his destruction.

"What makes you so low-spirited, Mickey, darling?" asked his mother at
last. "Is it in love you are with some of those French ladies you've
been meeting? Don't be bringing a foreign daughter to my arms, if you
love me, Mickey. Their country can't be my country, nor their ways my
ways. But, indeed, we seem all in the dumps together. Perhaps it's the
room. I hate this room. I always did. It's full of ghosts. There's
a story of a lady who haunts the Castle and walks through here at
midnight with her throat cut and the blood trickling down her white
gown. Mighty uncomfortable I should say. And how the blood can be
flowing still when she was murdered a hundred years ago puzzles me.
But then ghosts always were contrary creatures. They won't do anything
that's comfortable or rational. Where's Brianna all this time? And Mr.
Clive, too? Surely he's proposing to her, for what else would they be
talking about so long?"

Mickey sprang suddenly to his feet.

"Mother," he said, "you invited that man here as your guest.
Circumstances render it impossible that he should stay on as mine. He
is leaving Croom to-night, if, indeed, he has not left already."

"But, Mickey," she gasped, "what's the meaning of it? Why, you wouldn't
turn a dog out on such a night."

"Perhaps not," he said. "There are dogs far nobler than many men."

"Have you quarrelled?"

"Never mind. I can answer no questions. He recognises the impossibility
of staying under my roof. No more need be said."

"Indeed, that's very well for you, but it doesn't satisfy me at all.
Mr. Clive and I were great friends, and he amuses me more than anybody.
What's he done to be treated in this uncivil fashion? And, indeed,
Mickey, it's very strange conduct on your part I must say, and not the
way a gentleman should act at all, leaving alone an Irish gentleman,
who, as your poor father used to say, is the model of courtesy all the
world over."

"You'll drive me mad, mother," exclaimed Mickey. "Once for all, I'm
master here, and I mean to show myself so. This cowardly villain has
insulted Brianna. I have avenged that insult in my own fashion. No more
need be said."

"But, sure, isn't Brianna with him now?"

The loud reverberating clang of the great door rang suddenly through
the house. Someone had evidently passed through, closing it violently.

"Is that him--gone? And I never to say good-bye?" exclaimed Lady
Skibbereen, and she rushed impetuously into the hall.

No one was there. Mickey followed her, and laid his hand on her arm.

"Go up to Brianna's room," he said, sternly. "See if she's there. And
for God's sake don't worry her with questions! Come back and let me
know. I'll wait here."

Awed by his look and tone she went silently up the stairs. He stood by
the fireplace looking down into the heart of the dull red embers. His
face had the calm of death, but not its painlessness.

It seemed a long time before Lady Skibbereen returned.

"She won't let me in. She was crying; I heard her. But nothing would
induce her to open the door."

Mickey raised his head.

"Crying? Well, what of it? Women cry for so little." Yet the ache in
his heart took the sharpness of a new pain as he turned silently away.

"Indeed, it's a perfect Castle of Otranto[i] with mysteries and
quarrels, and one thing and another," exclaimed his mother, as she
watched him move slowly down the hall. All his movements were slow now.
A certain mechanical effort seemed to direct them. All physical energy
was gone.

She made one of her impetuous swoops in the direction of the
drawing-room.

"Come out, all of you!" she said. "We've had enough of ghosts and
gloom and horrors. Let's make up the fire and sit in the hall and give
ceremony the go-by! It doesn't seem to agree with any of us. Here, I'll
ring for Murphy, and he shall bring up the punch bowl and we'll brew
it ourselves and forget our troubles. Indeed, if I thought Mickey's
home-coming was to be like this I'd have as lief had him postpone
it. What's come to the men? I'm sure I don't know! Look even at Mr.
Lorrimer! His face is as gloomy as a churchyard."

Phil and Lady Farningham rose with alacrity. The evening had certainly
been most depressing, and Lorrimer was a perfect wet blanket overlying
that depression. To exchange the stiff gloomy drawing-room for the
warm and familiar hall was a welcome relief. Equally welcome was the
entrance of the footman with big silver bowl and tray of glasses,
lemons and spirits necessary for the "brew" on whose manufacture their
hostess specially prided herself.

"Now, where's that boy of mine gone?" she exclaimed as she began to
ladle out the steaming beverage into the waiting tumblers. "Did anyone
ever know the like of him? If these are all the manners he learnt in
Paris, it's sorry I am he ever went there."

"And where's Brianna?" exclaimed Ray. "Don't tell me she has eloped
with Clive."

"No, I can answer for that. She's in her room; suffering from lowness
of spirits, too. But, indeed, I'm forgetting about her accident in the
storm. No wonder she's a little bit upset."

"That was a horrid bruise on her forehead," said Phil, suddenly. "I had
to do her hair! for her, and she complained of the pain. It didn't show
much because I cut one lock of hair to cover it. It only made her look
prettier."

"Yes, indeed. She's a rare beauty, is Brianna," exclaimed Lady
Skibbereen, "and as good and honest a girl as ever drew breath. I'm as
fond of her as if she was my own child. Only I wish she wouldn't be so
mysterious with herself. Mr. Lorrimer, do go and find Mickey, will you?
Tell him he's entirely neglecting the duties of hospitality, and we're
all ashamed of him!"

Lorrimer, nothing loth, put down his glass and left. He found Mickey in
the library. He was standing in the middle of the room, his eyes fixed
on a vacancy. He started visibly as Lorrimer entered.

"I've been sent to fetch you. They are all in the hall----" He paused
and glanced round. "Has he gone--really?"

"Yes. I wonder what happened?"

"You've not seen Brianna?"

"No, but I must. Things cannot rest as they are. Perhaps to-morrow----"

He put his hand to his forehead in a vague uncertain way. Lorrimer sank
into a chair. For the moment his errand was forgotten.

"Tell me," said Mickey, hoarsely, "what the scene this afternoon
conveyed to you."

"You mean when he brought her home?"

"Yes."

Lorrimer averted his eyes. A spasm of pain shot across his usually
impassive face.

"I think," he said, in a low even tone, "you stand to her in place
of guardian by virtue of all you have done for her in the past. Ask
her--what happened."

Mickey said nothing. Only he seated himself by the table and covered
his eyes with his hands. Lorrimer glancing up at last saw that his
teeth had clenched on his lower lip as if they would bite it through.

"No," he said, hoarsely, and his hand fell and struck the table as if
in utter helplessness, "I can't do that. She--she must speak herself."

Lorrimer rose, and began to pace the room with restless strides.

"It seems impossible that she can mean to marry him," he said. "Of
course I can understand his eagerness. He wants a subject for hypnotic
experiments. She is an admirable one. By marriage he can secure her
legally. The question is, who can break the spell that binds her will
to his?"

"Only a man she loved," said Mickey, slowly.

"But does she love anyone? That is the question. I confess she has
always given me the impression that all men are alike indifferent to
her. You, who know her so well, what is your opinion?"

"I can form no opinion. It is long since I last saw her. I know nothing
of her life or what friends she has made during that time. It doesn't
seem very long, but time counts for so little when----" His voice
broke. "You, Lorrimer," he said presently, "you--too,[i] love her?"

"I have been fighting against it these two years. I would not
acknowledge it. I--was afraid. It was the old story of position. My
father is so proud, and I his only son. But I knew to-night that I had
been a fool. You remember what Clive said: 'You have had your chances.
Let him keep who--wins.'"

"But, she--she?" repeated Mickey, restlessly.

"I have never said a word that could betray myself. And she has always
treated me with the same calm friendliness. Always said that for her
Art meant, and should be, all. She is so utterly unlike other women."

"That has not saved her," said Mickey, bitterly. "What I read in her
eyes to-night told me so much. It made me long to kill the brute who
has made her suffer."

"What can we do?" asked Lorrimer, helplessly. "If he meant what he said
he will marry her, even against her will. And, oh, to think of the
life."

"Hush!" cried Mickey, stormily. "There must be a way out of it. There
shall. She must be saved from such a fate. Think of her. Think of her
beauty, her genius, her undeveloped powers. God! it's maddening!"

"Hark!" cried Lorrimer. "What's that?"

It was a soft tap at the door. A voice, broken and entreating.

"Mickey," it said. "Mickey, are you there?"

He started to his feet, and the blood rushed in a warm torrent to
his face. He was at the door ere the soft voice ceased its plaintive
questioning. He threw it open, and Brianna entered.

She wore still the white gown, but her long hair was unloosed, and hung
in wavy ripples to her feet. Her face was colourless, and her eyes
had the spent and woeful look of one weary with weeping. When she saw
Lorrimer she started, and a faint colour swept her cheeks.

"I wanted to see Mickey," she faltered.

"I--I am just going," Lorrimer answered; and he crossed to the door. He
closed it, and went slowly away.

The noise of voices in the hall broke on his ears, and reminded him of
an unfulfilled mission.

"I must tell them I could not find Mickey," he thought, "and then keep
them away from--there."

He looked at the closed door of the library. As he looked he heard the
sound of a key turned in the lock.




CHAPTER XXXIX.

Brianna had sunk down on her knees before the fire as the door closed.

Mickey turned the key and then came slowly back and drew a chair up to
the fire and stirred the smouldering logs. She stretched out her hand
to the blaze, and he saw her shiver.

"Are you cold, dear?" he asked gently. "Won't you sit down?"

"No. Let me be here," she said. "I have been fighting against coming to
you, Mickey, but it was no use. I had to do it."

"I am glad of that. I wanted to hear all from your own lips."

"All? Do you mean from when you left, Mickey? It is a long story."

"I am very patient," he said.

He took the chair he had placed for her, and she leant against his knee
in the old attitude of her childish days.

"I must try to remember," she said. "But to-night my thoughts seem all
confused. . . Do you recollect, Mickey, how, from the first, I always
spoke of that strange power Clive had over me? I felt it that very
first night I met him, when the mere glance of his eye forced me to
accept that supper invitation. Again and again I felt it--when I acted
or when he was anywhere near. He always sat in that stage box every
night of 'The Opal,'[i] and I could feel him influencing me in the
strangest way. Yet all the time I disliked him so. . . . I told you
that, Mickey?"

"Yes. But you promised to let me know if----"

"I know. I know. But I couldn't. There seemed nothing to lay hold
upon. Then the piece was withdrawn, and everything I did turned out
a failure, and he went away, and for many months it was the old
thing--trying agents and managers without success. Ray had married
and left London, Phil was helpless, your mother was in Ireland, and
you--you told me that you had to stay in Paris."

She suddenly lifted her head and looked at him.

"Was it worth while?" she asked. "You must have suffered cruelly."

"I paid my price," he said; "I do not regret it. Go on."

"Money began to get scarce," she continued. "Of course we had our home
secure--that you had done for us, Mickey, but still--Well, I was not
sorry when your mother made us come here. Phil was almost well, and
even talked about going back to the stage. I thought you would soon
be with us again. Every day we looked for you. And then a letter came
from Mr. Clive saying he would be here on a certain date. He would not
stay at the Castle, but at the lodge with Aunt Sal, because you were
not here. I thought it strange, and your mother was vexed; but then he
never did things like anybody else."

She began to tremble, and he put his arm round her. She leant back
against it with a sigh of utter weariness.

"Oh, Mickey!" she said. "It is hard to go on."

He smoothed back the loosened shower of her hair. As he did so the
large black bruise on her temple became visible.

"How did that happen?" he said hoarsely, and his finger touched the
discoloured flesh.

"If I could remember," she sobbed; "if I could be sure. He sent me a
letter. It was so strange, so incomprehensible, and yet I felt I must
obey it. In vain I said I would not go. I had to go. I met him in the
little hut on the cliffs; you know?"

"Yes. Go on."

"It was the old tale over again--his love for me, the power of destiny,
the futility of my resistance. For I have always resisted him, Mickey.
I hate him even as I fear him. And to-day I felt stronger, for I knew
you were on your way and would help me. We were there in all that wild
storm. He raved and swore and I grew terrified. I remember trying to
pass him as he stood in the entrance, and that he seized me, and that
something struck me, and all grew black and void, and when I recovered
he was carrying me through the woods and I was soaked with the falling
rain. And then I think I must have fainted again; for I don't remember
getting to the Castle or anything till they were all round me in the
hall and I met his eyes, and then----"

A fierce sob racked her frame, her head fell against his knees, and the
silence of dumb agony completed her story.

"Shall you marry him then?"

"I would sooner die. I told him so to-night."

"Then, Brianna," he said, and his voice was strangely calm, "there is
only one thing I can do to help you. You must take my name. You must
give me the right to protect you."

She grew still as death. Then she lifted her head and looked up at his
face.

"You!" she said. "You would do this for me?"

"There is nothing in the world I would not do for you, child," he
answered. "Nothing: even though it cost my life here, or my soul
hereafter."

"Oh, Mickey, Mickey!" she cried, and the blinding tears shut out his
face with its patient tenderness and deep unfathomable love. "I can't
bear it," she said. "I'm not worth such love, such sacrifice. And
now----"

She shook back her hair and looked up at him.

"Now--when you might win any woman's love."

"I told you I should never want any love but yours, Brianna. But--there
need be no question of that. You can trust me surely now. I shall make
no claim on you, dear. Only help and protection you must have, and who
would give them to you as l can, and will--asking nothing in return?"

"Nothing?" she gasped, incredulous.

"Save what you choose to give. Dear, will you never believe that my
love for you seeks only what is for your happiness? Had you loved this
man, or any other----"

"Or any other," she cried, with sudden passion. "Or any other!" And she
laughed wildly.

"Hush!" he said, sternly. "You are overwrought. Lie quiet there a
little while. Try and think you are a little child again, Brianna, and
I only your faithful old Mickey--faithful to the end."

"To the end!" she echoed, and laid her head against his knee once more,
and covered her face from his sight.

The time slipped on. They neither moved nor spoke.

"Dear, it is almost midnight," he said at last.

She rose suddenly and stood there slim and straight, her face white as
her gown, her eyes piteous as a child's in their perplexity.

"The day is dead!" she said, and counted the strokes from the chiming
timepiece. "The black, horrible day of torture. To-morrow----"

"You must decide now," he said sternly. "It is already to-morrow."

"Oh, I can't, I can't," she cried piteously. "It is unfair to you,
Mickey."

"You are not very merciful," he said, as he rose and faced her with
that new gain of height and strength that seemed so strange, and had
been purchased at a cost so terrible. "You need not be shamed of me
now," he went on. "And you will be safe, Brianna. Neither man nor devil
shall have power to wrench you from my keeping, once you give me that
charge."

"Can I come to you," she cried, "bankrupt of all men crave from women
they love? Take love, honour, safety at your hands and give you nothing
but gratitude and a child's faithful memory? Oh, Mickey, it is too
little."

"It is enough," he said, and his eyes met hers with that passionate
fidelity one sees sometimes in the eyes of a dog. It is rare to
humanity.

"I told him," she said huskily, "that it meant death to him or me
should he force me again to his side. Death! and it will be death,
Mickey. But I am young, and life is sweet, and it meant--oh, what did
it not mean just a few months ago?"

"It shall mean all that again," he said. "Have no fear."

"Can you keep him from me, Mickey? Shall I be safe?"

"Safe as love and human strength and human power can make you."

"Then--let it be as you wish, Mickey."

The triumph and the glory, and yet the deep strange sorrow of his face,
were hidden in the gold of loosened hair that swept his breast as his
arms drew her head to rest against his heart.

Then he released her. Such glory and such rapture were in his eyes that
she could scarcely bear their gaze.

"You must go now," he whispered. "Have no fear. Get to your room by the
other staircase, no one will see you then. And say nothing, Brianna, to
anyone. You are in my hands now. I will act only in your interests."

"You are too good--far too good. What have I ever done that you should
sacrifice yourself for me? And yet, as far back as I can remember, it
was always the same with you, Mickey."

He crossed to the door and opened it. Words were beyond him. She passed
out, and from sight; one long look exchanged as she reached the further
passage. Then he returned and stood for a moment where they had stood
together, and lived again that scene.

The vehement emotion through which he had passed had left him weak.
Every nerve ached and throbbed. Sheer physical pain held him in its
power, and to think clearly became impossible.

"I must try to sleep," he said to himself. "I can do nothing more
to-night."

A sigh so deep and heavy burst from him that it startled him almost
as another person's presence might have done. He unlocked the door
and looked out. All was quiet. Evidently everyone had retired for the
night. Lorrimer must have excused his absence very effectually.

He extinguished the lights in the library, and went into the hall. A
lamp still burned there, and Lorrimer was sitting by the fire smoking.
He looked eagerly up at Mickey's step, and rose.

"Well?" he said.

A little enigmatic smile touched Mickey's lips.

"Well?" he echoed. "Yes, I hope it is well. That man's story was a lie,
Lorrimer. Brianna will never marry him."

"Thank God!" burst involuntarily from Lorrimer's heart. "But how dared
he say so if he knew that it was untrue?" he added.

"His reasons need not concern us any longer. Brianna has given me the
right to guard her honour and her fame. She will be my wife."

Lorrimer stared at him; his face grew suddenly white.

"Yours?"

"Mine," said Mickey; "and in future her traducers will have a man to
deal with, not a weak girl. And now, Lorrimer, if it's all the same to
you, I'll be going to bed. I'm deadly tired. You must acknowledge my
home-coming has been a somewhat exciting one."

He held out his hand, and the young man took it, and for a moment their
eyes read each other's face in silent questioning. No word was uttered.
That strong quiet pressure said enough.

If the pain in Lorrimer's breast changed from sharp agony to a dull,
ceaseless ache that was his own affair. He went up to his own room, but
he lay awake the whole night through--and the whole night only held for
him a dark and unsatisfied wonder.




CHAPTER XL.

Silence and melancholy brooded over the old castle as the dark and
stormy months passed on. Anything less like a bridal home could not
well be imagined. The shadow of tragedy and of doom seemed to flit
across the dreary rooms and lurk in the depths of the woods where
sunlight never penetrated.

Mickey's mother had long since departed to gayer scenes, Brianna and
Mickey lived as of old, and Phil D'Eyncourt, who had remained at
their urgent persuasion, often declared it was the old "Happy Family"
existence over again. But there was a difference--a perceptible
difference. Mickey's devotion held something of fear in its protecting
tenderness, and Brianna had grown strangely listless and melancholy.
She missed the excitement of her footlight life, the noise and clamour
of London, the sense of living each hour of the day that comes with
work. Her present peaceful existence meant mental starvation; and all
the reading and studying which Mickey insisted on, as part of her
future education, could not charm her into forgetfulness of the living
triumphs she had known.

Their strange marriage had not pleased the county, and they were
left severely alone in their dismal retreat. Not that that fact
troubled either of them; for Mickey had no strong affection for his
country-folk, and Brianna frankly detested that class of persons to
whom birth and position meant the only social gods worth worshipping.

Yet she grew more and more restless as time went on, and melancholy
gave way to fierce resentment against the man who had spoilt her life
out of sheer wanton brutality. She loathed and yet she feared him. The
fact that he had made no sign, that never a word had come from him
since his abrupt departure, puzzled her.

At times she slipped out of the dreary house and wandered off to that
hut on the cliffs, and stood looking out at the wild sea with eyes as
wild and passionate as itself. She hated the place, and yet, ever and
again, she felt herself drawn to it as by a compelling hand. It was as
if he was once more near her, as if the old fatal power swayed and bent
her hostile resistance as the wind bends the bough of the strongest
tree. She grew thin, and the bloom and freshness of her beauty began
to pale, and Mickey's watchful eyes noted every change in the beloved
face, and his heart ached with a dull foreboding.

For human love is so powerless after all. It cannot avert one sorrow,
or turn aside one blow, and though it may wait on every wish, and
fathom every desire, and give all its own deep abundance of tender
devotion, yet there will always be something it cannot do. And as the
days drifted by Mickey heard his own warning sound in every hastening
day. He asked himself again and again what would happen to her when he
could no longer serve or protect her, but the answer of his own dread
was all he heard.

He had not had courage to approach the subject with her. From the hour
of their marriage there had been a tacit agreement that one name should
never be spoken between them; yet had there been more frankness there
had also been less harm. In his morbid dread of anything happening to
her Mickey had entreated her to limit her walks and rambles to the
extent of his own domains. The only exception he granted was to her
riding; for she and Phil would sometimes go for wild, mad gallops that
lasted half a day, returning tired and yet exhilarated to the dull
routine of the Castle. Mickey could not share in those rides. He had
not the strength; and what little he could yet claim he stored and
treasured with miserly care; for he knew his hours were numbered. As
he had once said to Lorrimer, "Science demands a heavy price for its
experiments."

One dull grey afternoon in February Brianna had gone for a ride alone.
Phil D'Eyncourt was laid up with a severe cold, and could not leave her
room. Brianna had dressed and gone down to the stables, and ordered out
her little Irish blood mare, refusing the attendance of any of the men
who occasionally acted as unliveried grooms. She rode far and long, and
only the waning daylight warned her that she must be a score of miles
from her home.

She drew rein and looked about. To the right were ploughed fields,
showing a faint feathering of green. The far-off hills were touched by
violet shadows. A soft sound of dripping rain from a recent shower came
from the swaying branches above the hedge. Faint filmy clouds drifted
seawards; the sun showed darkly crimson against the lowering sky. She
turned her little mare's head seawards, resolving to take the cliff
road back. It was rough, and not very safe, but it was quicker, and
would save some miles.

She held the reins loosely; her thoughts were absorbed. The silence
around her was unbroken by sound of living creature. She reached the
cliffs, and looked through the bare branches to where the sea rolled
shore-wards in unbroken monotony. A flock of gulls wheeled lazily
over the broken rocks. The sun was sinking rapidly. She quickened her
horse's pace to a canter. It would be better to be out of the wood
before it grew quite dark.

Suddenly the animal started and reared, nearly unseating her. Her
strong wrist tightened on the rein, and held the excited creature
well in hand, as her eyes peered through the gloom to see what had
frightened it.

Then she saw before her another horse drawn across the pathway, and
looking straight at her was the white hated face of Raemore Clive.
For a moment she caught her breath, and all her body grew nerveless
and inert. Then her heart began to beat with quick painful throbs. In
one hateful instant she seemed to live a lifetime of mental agony and
intolerable shame.

"Let me pass," she said. "What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for you. Confess I have been very patient. But the farce has
lasted long enough. I have come to claim my own."

"Your own?" she echoed, and laughed aloud. There was a mocking defiance
in her voice and in her eyes; the blood in her veins seemed like a
throbbing torrent struggling for release.

"You have been a long time making your claim," she said. "Perhaps you
will present it in the proper quarter. Are you aware that I am married?"

"Perfectly," he said. "I did not wish you joy of your bargain, because
I knew why you did this thing. You sought to defy me--to escape. I
chose to let you believe you were doing so. Besides, as I told you
before, I was not particularly desirous of marrying you. However, I
am leaving London. I am going to the East. I want a companion, and so
I----"

"You have spied on me, followed me to tell me this?"

"Yes. Did you particularly wish for an audience?"

"Do you remember my last words to you?"

"I remember you were in a very pretty rage which, after all, was
excusable. But a woman's threats are but soap bubbles. What man ever
heeded them?"

"I think," she said, "you will find mine worth heeding. I would not
advise you to try."

Her left hand tightened on the rein, her right clutched her riding
whip, and slowly drew the tapering end up into her palm. Her eye
measured the road, but to pass him was impossible unless he moved his
horse.

"No," he said, mockingly, "you don't escape. You'll have to listen.
Have I not told you that I am your fate and you are mine? You may fret
and fume and writhe as you will, but you cannot evade me. I gave you
freedom. I gave you fame. Love alone I withheld, but that love you
shall know, and know for me."

"Never!" she panted. "Hate and hate alone."

"So you say now, because you are strong and you think you don't know
fear. But the beaten dog creeps back to lick the hand that has beaten
it, the restive horse loves best the master that has tamed it, and so
in like manner the weakest loves what is strongest. The time has come
for me to prove my strength, Brianna, and I mean to do it."

She laughed aloud. The hand that held the whip travelled swiftly down,
and the silver-headed top now rested against her saddle.

"You may laugh," he said, "but you will come to me--when I bid you."

She grew cold and faint as she met his eyes, and the blood seemed to
surge to her brain. She swerved as if about to faint; and seeing her
sway so giddily he drew his horse beside her own, and his arm went out
to support her. Swift as thought she straightened herself and lifted
the whip.

She was blind and mad with rage and the indignity of his words and
look. The whip flashed, and fell with all the force that passion
could lend to womanly strength. It missed his head, but struck the
wrist that held his bridle, and the horse, stung by the shock, reared
and snorted, and in a second was dashing riderless along the road.
Something--something dark and very still, lay before her horse's feet,
and as the startled creature rushed forward she knew its hoof had
struck that inert mass. But to stop or control it was impossible. Like
a whirlwind it swept along, following the flying hoofs that echoed far
ahead. She clung with desperate effort to the saddle and the reins. Her
breath came in panting gasps, and her eyes were like a flame. She had
no fear, but the pace was terrific, and the road one of danger. Her hat
had fallen, her loosened hair streamed behind her. She wondered dimly
how long strength would last, or if Death was to meet her in this wise.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mickey had grown strangely restless as the daylight waned. Some love
has a magnetic consciousness of danger threatening what it loves, and
this consciousness had been with him ever since he learnt that Brianna
had started on that lonely ride. He had haunted the woods and paced the
avenue with restless steps since sunset. He felt keenly alert to every
sound. He seemed to himself to be hanging in space, with nerves strung
to highest tension, and ever and always in the growing darkness sounded
the bent of flying hoofs.

Suddenly he rushed to the lodge gates and threw them open. A riderless
steed was galloping towards them with trailing reins, its neck flecked
with foam, its nostrils blood-red in the fading light.

As it saw the open gate it slackened speed. It seemed well nigh
exhausted. Mickey caught the reins, and the creature stood trembling
by his side. His heart seemed to stop beating as the icy hand of fear
touched it coldly. Then he started, and a voiceless cry surged to his
lips. The saddle was a man's saddle, and the horse none of his. He
called one of the lodge-keeper's boys and bade him take the exhausted
creature round to the stables, and once again his strained ears
listened for that long delayed sound.

It came at last, slowly, haltingly. Yet never was music sweeter than
its echoes. But he saw something had happened. The animal was lame and
in a state of exhaustion equalling that of its predecessor, and Brianna
hung limply in the saddle, her hat off, her hair like a veil around
her. As his eager arms went out she fell forwards, and her eyes closed.
He bore her into the lodge and laid her down and called hoarsely for
water.

She soon revived, however, and sat up, gazing in bewilderment around
her.

"It was an accident," she said, faintly, and then again her eyes
closed, and she rested helplessly against Mickey's shoulder.

She could feel the throbs of his heart, and the tremor of his
encircling arms. A sense of peace and security came back, and the
deadly faintness left her.

The lodge-keeper was pouring out ejaculations and inquiries. Mickey
waved her aside. In all his life it seemed to him he had known no
sweeter moment than this. Brianna was safe, was nestling in his arms as
a child in some loved shelter. He did not speak. Life had given him but
one or two rare moments of happiness where others had counted joy by
years. He could not afford to spoil one moment rarer and sweeter than
all.

Suddenly she moved, and turning hid her face on his breast, and the
ache of his strained arms seemed but one throb of glad content.

"I am safe," she said. "I--I never thought I should see you again,
Mickey. I looked Death in the face, for myself, and I thought--I
thought----"

She trembled so that he could hardly hold her, then swiftly pushed
aside his arms and sprang to her feet.

"Is he dead?" she said, and glanced around, and he saw fear in her eyes
and in her trembling lips.

"Who--the horse? It was Colleen Bawn you were riding, dear," he said.
"She is lame, slightly. But don't distress yourself. So long as you are
safe, nothing else matters."

She looked round, and saw the woman in the background watching her.

"Let us go home," she said. "I can walk now. I am only shaken. The mare
bolted. Something frightened her. Another horse."

"That must be the one that returned first. I was wondering to whom it
belonged," said Mickey. "Are you sure you can walk? Your hat is gone,
will you have a shawl?"

"No," she said, "the air won't harm my head. It will do me good."

She twisted her hair up in a loose coil, and then after a word or two
to the lodge-keeper they left. She leant on Mickey's arm, and they
moved slowly up the avenue. She was debating in her own mind whether
she would tell him. Finally she decided not to do so. It would only
anger and distress him. If--if the worst had happened it would appear
as an accident. She need only repeat the story of the runaway horse
that had suddenly dashed past and startled her own.




CHAPTER XLI.

News from the outer world rarely reached the recluses of Croom Castle.
To local papers and local gossip they were alike indifferent. The story
of a gentleman who had been living quietly at a little inn in Ardmore,
and had hired a horse for a week, and spent most of his time scouring
the country, yet who had never hunted and knew no one, was not a story
they were likely to hear.

The disappearance of the man and horse did, however, reach the
hangers-on at the stables, and one of them sought his master's
permission to take the animal back to the inn and ascertain if he
was the missing steed. This being proved beyond doubt, a search was
instituted for the rider; but being conducted in the most approved
method of Irish procrastination the result was not successful until
a sufficient period had elapsed to render identification a matter of
extreme difficulty. He had given the name of Mr. Clarke, had brought
very little luggage, and had never received any letters. The inquest
held on the body proved death from injuries, caused by a fall from his
horse; and as no one appeared to claim the rights of interment his
clothes and watch and one valuable ring were sold, and the proceeds
applied to pay his debt at the inn and his funeral expenses. But of
all this Mickey knew nothing, and Brianna shrank in morbid horror from
asking a question on the subject.

Since that afternoon of the accident there had come a change over her
attitude towards Mickey that touched and startled him often. She was so
gentle, so solicitous, so watchful, of his strength, that at times he
felt himself wondering if it could be possible that she had grown less
cold, and was beginning to care as women do care--sometimes--when a
great love is laid at their feet, and by its very patience and silence
compels their own at last. But it was only fear for him that lent her
this new tenderness. For she saw that each day took something from his
strength, and made the effort to appear his usual self a harder trial.

The June days came bright with sunshine, blue of sky, and sweet with
soft falling showers. And then the change became more marked. His frame
was racked with incessant pain. It seemed to shrink and waste as with
some wasting fever, and she watched him with an hourly dread of coming
parting--a parting that would leave her lonely and desolate as never
yet had she been left.

One afternoon he had been writing letters, and the exertion had tried
him greatly. He left them on the library table and asked her to address
them for him. She noted one was to Lorrimer at his club in London. She
wished she knew the contents of that one envelope, but her very anxiety
kept her silent.

She finished the addresses and took the letters away and dropped them
into the postbag. When she returned Mickey was lying back on the couch
drawn up to the open window, his great sombre eyes gazing yearningly
at the blue sky and waving tree tops. She sat down by his side, and
followed his gaze, looking out perhaps at a horizon well-nigh as
hopeless as his own. As the sun sank and the shadows lengthened he
turned suddenly towards her.

"I have asked Lorrimer to come here," he said, abruptly. "Do you mind?"

"Mind!" she said, and her eyes met his wonderingly. "Of course not. Why
should I?"

"It was a foolish question. I don't know why I asked it. Only--I should
like to see him once more. There are very few men I have ever liked in
my life. He is one of the few. I think he is true. A woman might well
trust him."

She felt her face grow warm. Her heart echoed that belief so strongly
that she could not speak.

"Lying here," went on Mickey, dreamily, "one sees life so differently.
Things that were once all-important seem insignificant; troubles--well,
they look not worth fretting over. Dear, you have been very good and
patient with me. Was it altogether unhappiness?"

"Never!" she said, and her voice trembled--trembled and broke into a
fuller sweetness. "Never!" she repeated, "for one single moment!"

"I am well repaid," he said. "It has been a dull and lonely time,
Brianna, but at least you were safe. I broke that fatal power for you.
Never let it re-assert itself. Never give that brute and trickster the
chance of coming within reachable distance."

"If I can help it I never will," she said. But she trembled, and her
heart grew sick as she remembered that last meeting, the fall of the
heavy body, the fierce blow of a spurning hoof she could no longer
guide.

"I wonder where he is," went on Mickey. "I thought he would have made
some sign. He isn't one to take a beating patiently. And in this race
he came in a bad second. Lorrimer will know," he added, vaguely.

She rose. She could not bear to speak of this man, for always she saw
him lying face downwards in that wood, and asked herself what had
happened--afterwards.

When some days later Lorrimer appeared he was startled at the change
in Mickey. In vain he urged the necessity of medical treatment. Mickey
only shook his head.

"I knew it must come," he said. "I told you I had paid the price. I
have nearly come to my year's end. Three more months--perhaps not even
so long. It is good of you to come," he added. "I wonder if you guess
why I asked you?"

Lorrimer's eyes met his full and straight.

"It was to speak about her?"

"You are right. By my will I have done all I can for her, but, of
course, the property goes to a cousin, who, by the way, has never
seemed to recognise my existence. I fear, I am almost sure, she will
want to go back to the stage. I dread it; less for the life--though God
knows that is bad enough for a woman--than because she will once more
become a target for that brute's hateful powers. What has become of
him? Do you know?"

"He disappeared rather suddenly. There was some rumour about the
police--I don't know exactly. Only one day his rooms were shut up, and
it was announced that he had gone to the East. Since then nothing has
been heard of him."

"That is welcome news, if true. I must tell Brianna. How long ago since
he left?"

"Last February, I believe. I can't be quite sure."

"It was in February she met with that accident. She has never mounted
a horse since. She says her nerves are quite gone. The very sight of a
horse makes her tremble."

"What accident? I never heard----"

Mickey told the story of the runaway horse, and Lorrimer listened
intently.

"But what became of the other rider?" he asked. "Someone must have been
on the animal. Was he thrown? Did you never hear any more?"

"No," said Mickey, indifferently. "The horse was claimed and taken back
to Ardmore. We heard no more about it."

No more was said on the subject. The two men sat silent and thoughtful
until the sound of the dinner bell roused them.

It often amused the "Happy Family" to recall the contrast of
lodging-house meals and irate landladies, and the general "pigging" of
touring companies with their present surroundings. Not that Croom was
kept up with anything approaching "style" as translated by the Irish
mind, but there was an ancient butler and several maids, and gardeners,
and stable helps. The table was a liberal one, and the servants' hall
offered little ground for complaint. Mickey's mother had set all the
domestic machinery going before she gave up the reins of government.
Sometimes Brianna thought of instituting Sally Dunne as housekeeper;
but as she and Mickey avowed a partiality for "quiet life" she gave
up the idea. A vivid remembrance of Sally's disquieting possibilities
aided her in the self-sacrifice.

To-night the shabby old dining-room was looking its best. Flowers and
wax lights and cut glass and old-fashioned silver made an attractive
display. The shabby livery of the ancient butler looked less a
discredit than a distinction. It harmonised with the faded splendours,
and contrasted with the vivid beauty of the young hostess, the manly,
handsome face of Lorrimer, and the stylish figure of Phil D'Eyncourt
who had "dressed the part" of non-paying guest very effectively.

The conversation dwelt much on matters theatrical, that being the main
part of London life to the two girls. Lorrimer introduced the name of
Raemore Clive in connection with the Caviare Theatre, and mentioned
his sudden disappearance. In speaking he chanced to look across at
Brianna, and saw her face grow wan and colourless with a suddenness
that surprised him. It gave him a shock, and as he met her frightened
yet defiant glance a great fear thrilled to his heart and turned him
cold.

"She knows--something," he said to himself, and he stammered and tried
to change the subject, and rushed into a description of Lady Farningham
and her entertainments and splendours and the way in which she set the
county by the ears and mocked at the Mrs. Grundys of social importance,
who held that the very word "stage" spelt immorality, if not worse.

But he saw that Brianna spoke with effort and the ease of her manner
had gone, and in her brilliant eyes lurked the shadow of a fear as yet
unbreathed.

After dinner they had chairs brought out on the lawn, and sat there
until late, the men smoking, the women talking or listening.

Mickey seemed better than he had been for long; but Lorrimer noted the
passionate longing of his gaze as it rested upon Brianna's face, and
read its meaning all too well. When, however, she insisted that it was
time to go within he gently refused. Dews and night air could not hurt
him, he said, besides, he wanted to talk to Lorrimer. Brianna and Phil
took this as a hint and left them together.

"I can speak better out here, under sky and moon, than between four
walls," said Mickey. "You remember what I was telling you before
dinner?"

"Yes. You fear Clive's power over Brianna. But how is it to be averted?
Even here she would not be safe if he were determined to exercise it."

Mickey laughed grimly.

"He knew I would kill him if he did. I should have no more compunction
about that than if he were a mad dog. He is as dangerous in a way."

Lorrimer was silent. In his heart he agreed with Mickey, but he felt he
could not have carried out his threat.

"I sent for you," continued Mickey, presently, "because I--I want to
give up this trust to you. That you love her I know; that you will
shield her as safely as lies in man's power I know also. And, perhaps,
you may win from her what no man yet has won--her love. It would be
worth the winning. Child, girl, woman, I have known her; her heart is
pure as it is strong. Happy the man who gains it."

"You think you failed to do that?"

"She loves me as a child loves a father, a sister a brother. More I
never asked, nor expected."

"But--if she does not love me? I have never had cause to believe
otherwise."

"She would not be likely to wear her heart on her sleeve. I cannot read
her--quite. But I have an instinct strong as faith that she loves you,
Lorrimer."

His heart gave a sudden, quick throb. His whole nature seemed to break
and burst the iron chains of habit and reserve, and float out like a
vessel freed from its moorings on to the deep sweet sea beyond.

"Loves me--me? Why, should she? What am I to deserve it?"

"That is for her to answer. Women love because they must; not because
what they love is worthy of what they give."

He closed his eyes and lay back in sudden weariness. "I have said
enough; it is for you to answer, Lorrimer."

"My life and soul and all my heart's worship are at her service. More I
cannot say."

"You know all?" continued Mickey, huskily. "You know why I saved her
from the fate that brute threatened?"

"Yes," said Lorrimer, in a faint, uncertain voice, "I think it was the
noblest thing that ever man did."

"Not nobler than you would have done, for it will be the same for you,
Lorrimer."

"Yes, if she wills it."

"I should like to know before--before my last hour comes. It is a
strange thing to ask, that you should take my wife to your heart, and
I be content to let her go. But I have looked on death so long that
sometimes I think that I am already dead. Yet, being conscious of
thought and feeling, I would look on her happiness while I can see it."

"You are too noble. You shame mere men."

"I am as God made me, and as my love for her has taught me to be. That
is all."

He rose, somewhat unsteadily, and stood with one hand resting on the
back of the chair, his eyes turned to where the slivered radiance of
the moon touched the tree tops. In the silence they could hear the
sound of the sea. That, and the quivering leaves, and the beating of
their own full hearts, filled the night with solemn meaning.

Mickey stretched out his hand. The look in his eyes was one of peace,
deep and full, beyond all earthly expression.

"I have fought the fight," he said. "It has been long, and I am tired.
The crown is for--others."

And he turned and went within, dragging his limbs painfully and slowly
along, through what seemed to him a gathering mist that shut out all
but living consciousness of pain.




CHAPTER XLII.

"Mickey has sent me to you. He said you had a message for me."

Lorrimer started and looked round at the white figure standing under
the sliver radiance of moonlight.

"Already?" he said. Then something leaped into his eyes, and she saw
and shrank back trembling like a leaf. "Brianna," he whispered, "I know
why Mickey married you."

The crimson of her face swept in so hot and shamed a flood to brow and
throat that a reflection of its own touched the man, and the pain and
anger and humiliation of her heart fired his own.

"I would I had killed the villain," he said, fiercely. "But perhaps
Fate has done that for us. He will not trouble you again."

"No . . . he will not," she said. "What no man had courage to do this
weak hand of mine has done." And she stood up straight and tall and
told him all the story.

He heard, and thrilled and grew hot and cold by turns, and when she
told of the blow and the rearing horse and the fall of that dastardly
body his heart held no thought of blame.

"I would have done it, too!" he cried. "God! my blood boils to think
you should have suffered such insults."

"It could not happen twice," she said. "It was more than woman could
endure. And Fate has rid me of him."

"You know that?" he questioned.

"I learnt it a few weeks ago. I heard the maids speaking of some story,
and I asked, and they brought me a newspaper, and it told me of the
discovery and the inquest. He is buried at Ardmore. That is all."

"And enough," he cried. "For you are safe now, and I may speak of what
has been in my heart so long."

"Oh, not yet," she said. "Remember----"

"I do remember. I am not disloyal, any more than yourself, Brianna. But
he bade me speak. It will not make him unhappy to know that you are
loved and cared for when he has resigned the charge."

Her large deep eyes met his wonderingly, and in them he read the
struggle of her heart.

"Dear," he said, softly, "I have so much to say, and I hardly know
where to begin, or how to tell it you. Come and walk with me under the
trees yonder, and let me speak at last. We wrong neither the dead nor
the living now."

"But I----" she said. "Oh, you must blame me! I have taken all he
gave--always. His life has been sacrificed for me. Oh, was ever love so
great, and yet I gave him nothing--nothing."

"Love cannot be compelled, even by gratitude," said Lorrimer, sadly.
"He told me all, and now, knowing that his days are numbered, he gave
me leave to speak of what he has long known. He wants to be sure that
your happiness is complete, Brianna, and if my love can make it so----"

Her face grew white.

"You love me--you! I always thought you cared for Ray--no other."

"For Ray!" he said, and laughed aloud. "Never for one single moment. We
were friends--friends only. And you filled my heart from the first hour
I saw you. It has been a long struggle with pride, and circumstance,
and Fate. I have thought sometimes I would never have courage to tell
you. Mickey knew, always. He told me so to-night. And there is no cloud
between us now. Choose your life, dear, give your genius freedom. I am
too proud of your great gifts to wish to hide them from the world. But
tell me once that your heart has some place for me, and I am content."

She held out her hand, and in her face was a look that no living man
had ever seen yet. He took the hand and drew it within his arm, and
they passed together over the lawn, and all the splendour of sky and
moon seemed to fall like a radiant blessing on their path.

Above, from a window, a pale face looked out and watched their progress
to the shrubbery beyond. The lips twitched involuntarily; then the
tired frame seemed suddenly to relax, and the weak knees bent, under it.

So, kneeling, with bowed head, and lips on which a strange smile yet
hovered, the master of Croom looked his last on happiness through
another's eyes.



THE END.



Review of "Petticoat Loose" as published in The Era (London) 7 January,
1899:

"PETTICOAT LOOSE." A Novel, by "RITA." London: Hutchinson and Co.,
Paternoster-row. The h eroine of this novel is an Irish girl who
becomes a famous actress. We first meet her at a race gathering in
Ireland, her occupation being that of assistant to her aunt, an
eccentric character who had come over from the States and "ran" a
travelling photographic "show," as its owner called it. She was
well-known throughout the country towns, race courses, and seaside
resorts of Ireland. So was the girl, whose flowing wild hair and untidy
garments had gained her the nickname of 'Petticoat Loose.' Brianna
Lynch has a sweetheart, Pat Rooney, a dare-devil jockey, who gets
killed at the beginning of the story; and very soon after this event
the girl leaves her tyrannical, loud-voiced relative and becomes a
play-actress, to that lady's intense annoyance and indignation. Brianna
is indebted for this important change in her life to Mickey Croom, a
hunchback, employed by the lady photographer as a "handy man." He is
deeply attached to the girl into whose society he is constantly thrown,
and he had acted as her tutor. In reply to a question, Brianna says
"'He has taught me a great deal. Do you know he can repeat any play
of Shakespeare's? and he has made me learn them too. It's saying over
those grand words, I think, that's made me speak correctly. I know all
Romeo and Juliet and part of Hamlet and Twelfth Night and The Merchant
of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing, and ever so many bits out of
other plays. Sometimes Mickey and I act them.' Her eyes sparkled, her
whole face changed. 'I love that,' she said, 'and sometimes he takes me
to the theatre. Then I feel as if I want to act myself. Ah! the life
seems so splendid. To play to all those people, to make them forget
you are you and only see what you make them see. All the sorrow and
the joy and the pain of it. Ah! that would be life indeed!' Mickey
obtains for Brianna an engagement with a touring company, and in the
part of Jessica, in The Merchant of Venice, she achieves a marked
success. There was no sign of nervousness or timidity. Her voice was
perfectly modulated, her gestures natural and full of grace. The brief
scene won the audience at once; though none recognised her in her
new dress and make-up for 'Petticoat Loose' of the caravan." After a
year's experience with the touring company Brianna comes to London,
and, by a rare stroke of good luck, is engaged to appear in a new
piece at the Delphic Theatre, where the leading lady is a Miss Ray St.
Vincent, who befriends the young actress, and is quick to discover
her talent. Brianna makes a triumphant debut on the London stage; and
her next engagement is at the Caviare Theatre, where she undertakes
the principal role in a curious play written by a new author, Raemore
Clive, a mysterious being who gains a living as a professional
clairvoyant. He exercises a subtle, but powerful, influence over
Brianna Lynch. On the night of the production of the new play a fire
breaks out in the theatre at the beginning of the second act, and
the Irish actress bravely saves the life of her friend and fellow
performer, Phil D'Eyncourt, whose clothes have caught alight, while
Clive, by his presence of mind and pluck, prevents the house from being
burned to the ground. Raemore, in order to compel Brianna to become
his wife, devises a dastardly scheme, but defeats his own object,
and finally the clairvoyant meets with a tragic end. Brianna marries
Mickey Croom, whose deformity has been removed by the treatment of a
wonderful Paris specialist, but after a year of wedded bliss he dies.
He, however, first obtains from his friend Max Lorrimer an admission of
the younger man's love for Brianna, and a promise that he will marry
her if she will consent to become his wife. The story is interesting,
but that portion of the novel which relates to the stage must not be
taken too seriously. Rita seems to have adopted a pessimistic attitude
towards the theatre. The leading lady, who is a prominent character
in the novel, is the mistress of an aged lord, but achieves her
ambitious purpose by becoming a countess. Brianna's actress friend Phil
D'Eyncourt is a lifelike sketch, but the heroine's voluble aunt, Mrs
Dunne, with her Malapropisms, becomes after a time very tiresome.

* * * * *


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia