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Title: A Woman of Samaria
Author: Rita (Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1701031.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: October 2017
Date last updated: October 2017

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

A WOMAN OF SAMARIA.


By


"RITA."


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

Author of "Peg the Rake," "Kitty the Rag," "Two Bad Blue Eyes," "A
Woman In It," "Darby and Joan," "The Grinding Mills of God," "A
Daughter of the People," "A Husband of No Importance," etc., etc.


Published in book form by Hutchinson & Co., London, in 1900, and previously 
under the title 'The Mystery of the Dark House' in the Launceston Examiner 
in serial format commencing Saturday 30 September, 1899, (this text), and 
also in the Northampton Mercury (Northampton, England), Friday, January 12, 1900.





PROLOGUE.

A red sky brooded over the sere and bronze of yellowing bracken and
fading heather. On all sides wild moorland spread to the base of gloomy
hills. Then an upward sweep of clouds curved from west to south, and
thickened into gloom. Swiftly it reached the sky line and blotted out
the momentary glow of sunset. The distant woods changed from bronze to
black, and the wide moor was smitten with a sparkle of raindrops. Then
light faded, and mist and darkness took its place, and the sough and
sigh of rising wind swept eerily over the hills.

Two figures stood knee-deep amidst heather and gorse, and watched the
transformation.

They were young, and deeply in love, and wind and weather mattered
little. They had not approached by years or feeling that period of
life when personal discomfort brings sharpness of speech and temper.
The girl merely laid a brown head against a strong young shoulder, and
asked somewhat plaintively:

"What are we to do, Cyril? Haven't you any idea where we are?"

"Not the least," was the answer, given with misgivings, tempered with
appreciation of the feminine helplessness so near his rough Norfolk
jacket. "These moors are all so alike, I can't tell one from another."

"The rain is coming on."

"It's not rain, sweetheart, only a Scotch mist."

"Mist or rain, it's decidedly damping," she said. "What are we to do,
Cyril?"

"Struggle on till we find some habitation or human being, I suppose.
The worst of it is, I can't find a path or track of any sort. Nothing
but this confounded heather."

"Suppose you fired off your gun. Someone might hear?"

He laughed.

"If they did, do you fancy anyone would come searching for us? Not
they. Are you very tired, dear, or can you struggle on a little longer?"

"I'm not very tired. Look here, Cyril, isn't this something like a
foot-track?"

He bent down and examined the ground. Certainly there was a track
leading to the west, beaten down, narrow, but still showing signs of
trampled heather and broken fern.

They followed it amidst many devious windings. They were spent and
wearied when it brought them at last to a small hut, from which came
the gleam of firelight. A dog flew out, and began to bark violently.
Then a man's voice was heard calling it, and demanding who was there,
in a dialect barely comprehensible to English ears.

The young man strode forward, and found himself confronting a
middle-aged, oddly-dressed individual, short of stature, with large
wandering eyes and unkempt straggling locks. He held a lantern in his
hand, and threw its light upon the wayfarers.

"We've lost our way," explained the young man. "Can you direct us to
Calum Lodge--Mr. Macdonald's shooting box, you know?"

The man only gazed at him and shook his head, his lips parting in a
vacant grin. He waved his lantern towards the doorway. "Coom awa' in,"
he said; "and bring the good leddy wi' you."

"I don't think he understands," said the girl.

"Try him, you, then. What barbarians they are in this country!"

The girl advanced and explained that they were in need of a guide--they
had lost their way on the moor. But he only renewed his invitation to
the "gudeman and hersel'," as he termed them, and, despairing of making
him comprehend, they entered the hut or "bothie," where a bright peat
fire was burning on the open hearth, by the side of which sat a woman
knitting.

She had a pleasant, homely face, and the aspect of the little kitchen
was clean and cheerful enough. A kettle was swinging over the fire.
There was a table, scrubbed white and clean as hands could make it. On
the walls were ranged a few pewter dishes and delf plates. The wooden
rafters were black with smoke and age, and an old wooden bedstead stood
against the wall. The woman welcomed them kindly; but according to her
they were a good twelve or thirteen miles from the lodge where they
were staying. The girl was already tired out. She looked despairingly
at her companion.

"You must stay here to-night," he said, "and I'll find my way back--if I
can borrow a lantern."

"No, no," she entreated. "You must stay also. When day breaks we can
set out again. Perhaps these good people can give us something to eat."

Hospitality offered barley bread, a bowl of porridge, and a "dram."

Cyril Grey took the dram, and his young cousin the porridge. Perhaps it
was that draught of spirit, fiery and undiluted, that went to his head
and suggested a plan that otherwise would never have entered it.

The strange couple in the cottage persisted in treating them as man and
wife. Why should they not become so, without all that fuss of form and
ceremony so hateful to lovers, and so far-off a possibility in present
circumstances?

Here were witnesses, here were the consenting parties; one of age,
supposing that to be necessary. The romance of Romeo spurred the
youth's tongue to eloquence and persuasion. Partly in jest, partly in
earnest, the girl listened, argued, coquetted, and consented.

The simple ceremony was explained. They joined hands, they took
each other for husband and wife before these admiring and approving
witnesses. A little "siller" changed hands, a little more whisky was
partaken of. So great and wonderful are the changes which primitive
simplicity can work in human lives.

Donald Macraw, usually known as Donald the Fool, was enriched to the
extent of a couple of sovereigns, and by dint of that gift and much
persuasion conducted the wanderers on their way as soon as dawn broke,
and sunlight had dispersed the mists of the previous evening.

"But am I really your wife?" the girl asked, eagerly yet doubtfully,
as they stood in the doorway gazing out at a golden world of light and
warmth and beauty.

"Really and truly. As much my wife as my heart calls you; as much my
wife as if a hundred bishops had wedded us."

So answered Romeo, ardent and enthusiastic. So believed Juliet,
trusting and passionate. The benison of God's Heaven was upon their
heads as they went on their way, and life was still a jest, and they
were--wedded.

"A new day and a new life," murmured the girl.

"You will keep the secret until I give you leave to speak?" urged the
newly-made husband.

"Of course. I am perfectly content now I know no one can take you from
me."

"You weren't jealous, sweetheart?"

"Horribly jealous, Cyril. Oh, I love you so! I love you so! I don't
mind telling you now."

"And I love you just as much--my wife."

Their eyes met. The glow of the golden dawn was not brighter or more
beautiful than that truthful and passionate light.

The woman stood in the doorway, and watched the retreating figures as
they moved onward, blending with the monotonous colouring of the moor.

"God speed them," she said in her heart. "Aye, but she's a bonny wee
thing, yon lassie. Sae trustful and sae sweet. But I hae my misgivings
there'll be more o' this. And I'm none so sure o' her gudeman, for all
he's sae fair-spoken."

As she spoke, the two figures, following their guide, dipped into a
hollow, passed down the slope of moorland leading to a rough road, and
were lost to sight.

The woman sighed, and passed within the low doorway.

"I doubt I'm fey," she muttered, "or why should I be seeing visions and
hearing warnings? There's trouble ahead. . . I ken that for all the sky
is fair and the sunlight bright. They twa will nae tread life's path
taegither."




CHAPTER I.

"We will sing," said the Vicar, "the 329th hymn, before I read the
usual chapter."

He glanced round at a circle of attentive faces, bent over the
rustling leaves of respective hymn books. If his eyes rested for a
few seconds longer on one down-bent head than on any of the others,
there was no one sufficiently inattentive to note the fact. It was
the hour of family prayer at the Vicarage, and habits of years had
disciplined children and servants alike into deferential attention to
that observance. Even strangers and visitors fell into similar decorous
habits when staying with the Rev. Gideon Webbe.

He was a man whose personality was the outcome of pure and gentle and
generous emotions. A man with the student's dreaminess, the thinker's
absorption, the Christian's patience and long suffering. In daily life
he was more noticeable for a general belief in humanity's best than
worst side. In the exercise of his office he was more faithful than
convincing. He was much beloved, and not at all feared. He kept to
the simplest form of worship compatible with the rubric, and his only
clerical extravagance was an insistence on the best organ and the best
music it was possible to procure in an unfashionable parish, where
collections were not "de rigeur" after every service, and where
"early celebration" was an unheard of ordinance.

The death of his wife after the birth of their second child had left
the Vicar to comparative loneliness. He had loved her as his second
self, relied on her, trusted her, confided in her. Such relationship
cannot come twice into a life, and he did not tempt providence by
any effort to replace her. She had been his boyhood's love and his
manhood's joy, his staff and help-meet in all that appertained to the
duties of his parish. Her loss was terrible to him, and the years,
though they softened the pain of that first agonising blow, yet brought
no possible consolation. Nothing in his life could ever be again as in
those first few happy years, when he had installed her in the quaint
old Vicarage of Dulworth. They had been as one in unity of content and
use and happiness.

The children she had left were sweet and fair and dutiful, but they
were not her, not the sweet helpful other half that had made life
complete for him, and the slow years drifted on, and he grew more
absorbed and absent-minded, and childhood, girlhood, bloomed and grew
beautiful before his dreamy eyes, and yet to him seemed only childhood
still. An unmarried sister of his own had ruled his household and seen
to the girls' education and manners and well-being. He only noted how
like his youngest child was to her mother, and how her voice had the
same thrill and her laugh the same music.

Now, as she sang, his ear detected her voice among the others, though
to-night it sounded strangely faint and uncertain.


"Abide with me, fast falls the eventide,
The darkness deepens, Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me."


He glanced up. The burnished brown head was still bent. The
lamplight shone on a girlish shape somewhat too tall and rounded
for her seventeen years, a contrast to her elder sister's fary-like
proportions. Decidedly she was not singing as usual. The notes were
tremulous; there seemed a pathos as of hidden tears in the words.
Emotion seemed on the verge of breaking some leash of strength that
checked its overflow. There was a tremor of lip, a flutter of the soft
muslin that crossed the girlish breast. Her father watched and wondered.

Near the girl, so near that her white gown touched him, stood the
Vicar's nephew--Cyril Grey. He was leaving on the morrow for China.
He was a handsome though somewhat effeminate-looking youth of
two-and-twenty, and had been staying at the Vicarage for the past
month. The Vicar's wandering glance, combining as it did the two
handsome young figures, the girl's troubled face, the youth's drooped
eyelids and thin lips and beautiful colouring, gathered something of
uneasiness into its expression. They were children no longer, this trio
before him. What was life already meaning for them?

The last verse of the hymn began. His glance turned to the open
page. It seemed to him that the lovely young voice had regained its
accustomed firmness and quality. He thought how misleading fancy might
be on occasion, and joined his own mellow baritone to the beautiful
words:--


"Heaven's morning breaks and earth's vain shadows flee,
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me!"


There came a brief pause. The group seated themselves and looked at him
expectantly. He opened the Family Bible at the place where lay the old
worn book-marker, worked by his dead wife nearly twenty years before.
He cleared his throat and gave out the chapter. "The fourth chapter of
the Gospel according to St. John."

The Vicar had one great gift, not too common to the clerical
profession, and that was a beautiful voice, and one that had been
trained to perfect elocution. It was always a pleasure to hear him read
or preach, and an impossibility to be unimpressed or inattentive. Even
his nephew, to whom the outward and visible signs of the priesthood
meant infinitely more than the inward grace of that holy ordinance,
admired the Rev. Gideon Webbe's reading.

He listened now with the criticism of mature youth and the assured
conviction that it lay in his own power to do equally well what he
criticised.

"Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband."

Cyril Grey was conscious of a sudden stifled sob, a quickened breath in
his vicinity. He glanced at his young cousin. Her face betrayed visible
emotion. A frown darkened his brow, his eye shot an angry rebuke
at feminine weakness. She read the anger, and the rebuke, and grew
suddenly calm. But the effort to attain such composure left her deadly
pale, and gave to her young face a hardness that altered all its bloom
and beauty. Then the gentle "Let us pray," brought individual seclusion
and gave temporary relief to an enforced strain.

The Vicar's prayer was extempore and eloquent. He alluded impressively
to the coming parting. He spoke of the "young traveller preparing his
weapons for the battle of life." He asked a blessing on his spiritual
life, its guidance and direction into right paths, and then with a few
earnest and impressive words closed his petition with a solemn "Amen."

The servants rose and quietly left the room. Miss Sarah Webbe, the
Vicar's sister, drew her spare figure into upright position and
smoothed a crease or two out of her black silk gown. Cynthia, the
eldest girl, crossed the room and put away the books of devotion in
their respective places. The vicar's nephew smoothed back his fair hair
with a languid hand. He alone noticed that a white-gowned figure had
slipped out of the room in the rear of the parlourmaid, a proceeding
unusual enough to excite comment.

There was a general murmur of "Good-nights." Cynthia followed her aunt,
the Vicar retired to his study, and Cyril Grey walked slowly up the oak
staircase to his own room. He put down his candle on the dressing-table
and glanced at the white blind screening his window. Then with a sudden
movement he blew out his light, and, drawing up the blind, opened the
window and leaned out. His room was at the back of the house, and
looked down upon a remote corner of the garden, where stood an old
tumble-down summer-house covered with ivy and creepers.

The bright moonlight silvered the tall stems of sheltering beech trees
that in summer time almost concealed the retreat. Now the leafage was
less a screen than an adjunct. Light and shadow, growth and decay,
there mingled and met in strange companionship. From the doorway came
the white clutter of a handkerchief, waved as if to signal another
presence. The young man turned from the window as he noted it, and
going to a cupboard near the bedstead, he took out a knotted rope of
some length. This he fastened to an iron hook outside the window frame
and let drop to the ground below. Then he changed his coat for an old
Norfolk jacket, kicked off his boots and replaced them with tennis
shoes, and getting out on the broad ledge of the window let himself
down by the rope. He rapidly crossed the intervening space, keeping as
much as possible in the shadow, and presently stood at the entrance of
the little summer-house. A girl sprang forward and threw herself into
his arms.

"Oh, Cyril, I had to do it. I couldn't help myself. Your last night!
Our last night! Oh, you don't know how awful it is to me!"

The unchecked tears were streaming down her face. A passion of sobs
shook her frame. He drew her to a seat and held her closely to his
heart, smoothing her hair and murmuring soothing words from time to
time.

"It won't be such a long parting," he said. "There, there, darling,
don't cry, the time will soon pass. I'll send for you as soon as I am
able."

"Oh, if you could only take me with you!"

"Impossible. You know that as well as I do. My father is a crochety old
beggar, as you know, and I'm quite dependent on him. He's sending me
to the foreign house only out of spite, and because I'd rather be in
England. And he's so rich, it's a shame. . . . Now, sweetheart, don't
cry. Try and be sensible. Tell me you haven't breathed a word of our
secret to anyone."

"Of course not, Cyril. You made me promise that day."

"Yes, brave little girl! Well, you must keep that promise a little
longer. You see it would ruin my prospects altogether, and I've made up
my mind to be a partner in Grey, Lovel, and Co.'s before I marry."

"But we are married."

"Of course, child, but that was a very queer sort of ceremony. It
wouldn't count for much. We'll have to pretend it never happened, and
do the thing properly."

A pale face uplifted itself in sudden terror.

"Oh, Cyril, but you assured me----"

"Of course I did. You and I are satisfied with the form. It was enough
to pledge us to each other, but it's not what would be called a regular
marriage in this country. However, don't you worry. You can live on
here until I see how things are going to turn out. Then I'll break it
to my father. It's a pity your dad and he are such bad friends. I never
could understand why. The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children get
the toothache; eh, childie? Come, that's better. You're smiling."

He breathed a sigh of relief. He hated tears, and his conscience
accused him of having brought a good many to those fond and foolish
eyes.

The moonlight waned. Night and shadow breathed their spells around,
enclosing that charmed recess with the magic of passion, set to music
of throbbing pulse and tender vows and fond caress. It was such an
old story to the night and the springtime. But it was still new and
entrancing to one at least of the story tellers.

"You are my love, my law, my conscience," she murmured passionately.
"If I have done wrong it has been at your bidding--if you change,
regret, repent, it will be my death!"

"I shall not change, Dolores."

"You are going to a new life, a new world. I--I must stay behind, watch
the dreary days, weep out my long nights, fearing I know not what. A
year ago I was a child, Cyril. Your love has made me a woman. I feel
capable of anything--passion, sacrifice, revenge!"

"Revenge!" he said, half-startled by the word and tone. "Revenge, my
pretty one. The word has a hateful sound on your lips. I don't like to
hear it. You are inclined to be tragic, Dolores. I have often told you
so. I fancy sometimes you would have made a good actress."

She laughed mirthlessly.

"I only speak as I feel. My heart is so full to-night I can't say one
half of what I want to say. Cyril, you are so calm. You can't love me."

"I do love you," he said, "as well as it is in me to love. Our natures
differ."

There was a moment's silence. Some passing memory of a sentence he had
read flashed through his mind. Its cynicism affected him uncomfortably.
That he should even think of it at such a moment held a suggestion of
disloyalty. "We love best the woman we never win."

He had won. He had known all the triumph and pride in a girl's first
passionate self-surrender that is so sweet to a lover's heart, but now,
he told himself, the plucked fruit ceased to be quite so desirable.
There is a subtle pleasure in restraint, a happiness in being unhappy,
that one only realises in the "afterwards" of certainty.

She rested in his arms, quiet and subdued, yet a keen sense of misery
filled her heart. The love of youth is ever shadowed by forebodings, no
matter how sure or how absolute its worship.

He lifted her tear-stained face and looked down into her eyes. They
were strangely beautiful. Large, shadowy, full of earnest purpose, self
betraying in what they revealed.

"You won't forget, you won't repent," she entreated once more.

He unloosed the clinging arms and rose to his feet.

"I have promised," he said. "Your question shows you lack faith,
Dolores."

"Oh, it is so hard, so hard," she cried. The chill of fear stole over
her again. A knell of change sounded already in the tones of his voice.
They were less lover-like, less assured, and had an undertone of
impatience.

"Good-night," she said faintly, "and good-by. I shall not see you
to-morrow before you start. I--I could not play a part before the
others."

He was thankful she had recognised the fact. A highly-strung emotional
nature is usually unreliable.

"Better not, dearest," he said, with a tenderness born of relief
and self-reproach. "It would be too hard on us both. We will part
here--here where our love was first confessed, our vows plighted."

The moonlight shone on her uplifted face, and lit the soulful sorrow of
the eyes that matched her name. He drew her arms about his neck. Their
lips met in a parting farewell. A moment later he stood and watched a
white figure flitting towards the house.

"Poor child!" he said, softly. "Poor little girl! But she'll get over
it."

He felt uncomfortable, and told himself he was unhappy. An element of
hypocrisy in his nature mingled with the selfishness of young manhood,
and he tried to persuade himself that it was regret, not relief that
gave him such discomfort.

He sought his room once more. It would be long before he played Romeo
again, he thought. A new life lay before him. One to arouse ambition
and interest. This brief love dream had no part in it. With the morrow
he would march forth towards a life that wore the smile of promise and
worldly success. That he left a shadow behind cost him no pang. If
absence were worth anything as a test of constancy, why then they could
take up their love story where its first volume had ended. Change comes
with the passage of time and ardour cools. No harm was done. She was
so young now, naturally her life's horizon seemed bounded by her first
love. Women were like that. But a man lived for other things. He could
not look out on a limited landscape and call it the world.

At this stage of reflection the philosophic youth lit his candle. His
preparations for the morrow were evident on all sides, in the shape of
portmanteaux, hat box, straps, and walking sticks. He glanced at them
complacently. Then, catching sight of his own face in the toilet glass,
he gave himself up to a few moments' consideration of its good-looking
promises.

"Poor little Dolly!" he murmured. "She certainly was desperately gone
on me. I'm very sorry for her. I suppose she's crying her heart out
now, and I can't comfort her."

A man's pity for what he is unworthy to love is only good-natured
contempt for the weakness of the sex. He knew in his heart he could
not comfort her, because he could not understand the depth of feelings
lavished upon him with youth's prodigal delight in giving.

She lay prone on her bed, conscious of nothing save the intensity of
her own misery. Tears had exhausted her. Prayer died upon her lips with
a sudden sense of its impotence to avert sorrow. She was so young that
in her first grief she felt as if she had reached the extremity of
earthly woe.

"God keep me from thinking," she cried to the silence, and like a cloud
the darkness rolled over her aching senses, and the quick living agony
of the day died out of heart and brain in sudden unconsciousness.




CHAPTER II.

"You have done nothing but mope since Cyril left. Talk of wearing
one's heart on one's sleeve, why anyone could read your secret," said
Cynthia, scornfully.

The tragedy of the parting was ten days old. The sisters were sitting
on the grass under the old cedar tree. It was close on sunset. The air
was full of warmth and fragrance. Birds chirped a last good-night to
day from lilac tree and chestnut bought. Dolores turned a white face
and wistful eyes to the speaker.

"I don't care," she said, slowly.

"I suppose you don't, or you wouldn't make such an exhibition of
yourself."

Cynthia threw herself full length on the green sward, and clasping her
hands behind her head, looked up into the soft blue depths above.

"What's it like?" she asked abruptly.

"What's what like?"

"Being in love, and melancholy over the beloved's absence, and all
that. Tell me, Dolly. It will do you good to unburden your soul. 'Give
sorrow words,' doesn't someone say? Well, I invite confidence. It's too
bad you should take the lead of me when I'm two years older than you
and ever so much better looking, but Cyril was a booby."

The white face flushed scarlet.

"How dare you say that? You know he was ever so much cleverer and--and
nicer in every way than that idiot you have dangling after you. I
wonder you can be civil to him."

"I'm not. That's just why he likes me so much. The worse you treat a
man the fonder he gets of you. Believe me, my dear, there's no greater
mistake than showing your feelings. I'm always preaching that to you."

"I don't believe you've any to show. You flirt with any male thing that
comes in your way, but you couldn't care for one of them. If you love
anyone it's yourself, Cynthia. You were always like that."

"Well, I'm worth loving, judging from all the love letters I get. Bobby
Trevor has turned that old hollow tree by the stile into a post office
for my benefit. Would you like to hear his latest effusion?"

"No. And I don't think it's a nice thing to do to read out what's only
meant for yourself to some other person."

"How badly you speak, Dolly. You'll really have to attend to your
education."

She glanced at a coldly averted cheek, and smiled meaningly.

"Have I hurt your feelings, dear? Never mind. We can't all have
the same tastes. Though what you could see in Cyril passes my
comprehension. Now, when I marry----"

"Here comes Aunt Sarah and the tea table," interrupted Dolores. "I
should hold my tongue if I were you."

Cynthia sat upright. "Poor Aunt Sarah! Wouldn't she be shocked if she
knew that the little god's arrows were already flying about in this
sacred retreat, or that a proposal and ten thousand a year are lurking
in my pocket at this very moment, waiting only for a word of three
letters on father's side."

"What!" exclaimed her sister, glancing round.

"Ah! I thought I'd wake you up. I'm perfectly serious."

"But Bobby----"

"Oh, you little goose, of course it's not Bobby. Calf love and no
prospects are all he has to lay at my feet. No, it's---- But never
mind. I'll tell you after tea. I see dad leaving the drawing-room. How
astonished he'll be to-morrow morning!"

She rose and assisted the maid to set out the tea table. The Vicar
joined his sister, and they came up to the two girls. They always took
tea out of doors when the weather permitted.

The talk was chiefly about parish matters--the ailments of old people,
the vagaries of the young. The Vicar alluded to the forthcoming concert
which Mrs. Ferrers, of the Hall, was getting up for the village
schools. She was a lively elderly widow, with a large income and no
family, and was so socially disposed that she always filled the hall
with visitors when she was in residence there.

"Oh, by the way, I have a letter from her," said the Vicar, putting
down his tea-cup and trying his pockets in succession. "She wants you
to sing, Dolores. I know that is what it is about. Yes--here it is.
Read it yourself, my dear. I suppose you will do as she asks. There's
a sketch of the programme there, too. Her friends seem very talented.
They are all doing something."

"Let me see!" exclaimed Cynthia, taking the slip from her sister's
indifferent grasp.

She rattled off a string of names, with accompanying criticisms on
their proposed performance. She was a great favourite of Mrs. Ferrers,
and knew most of her guests by reason of meetings at luncheons and teas.

"'To Anthea,' Mr. Thomas Lilliecrapp," she read. There was a little
touch of consciousness in her voice. But apparently the listening ears
were not critical. "Fancy Mr. Lilliecrapp singing! Why, he doesn't
know one tune from another. He has positively no ear. And as for Mrs.
Ferrers, of course it's 'Luce di quest anima.' Dad, you ought to
give the 'Vicar of Bray.' The sentiments don't suit, of course, but
it's just your compass. Dolores, shall you appear? For goodness sake
don't sing one of your doleful ditties if you do."

"I'd rather not sing at all," said the girl.

"Why, my dear? I thought you'd be pleased," said the Vicar,
wonderingly. "And you have an excellent voice, you know. It will seem
a little--well, a little impolite, to refuse. Especially when you
consider the object for which the concert is given."

"Of course you must sing, Dolores," said her aunt, sharply. "You have
no possible reason for refusing."

The girl raised her cup to her lips to hide their sudden tremor. She
said no more.

The conversation went on. Cynthia had always plenty to say, and loved
the sound of her own voice. She was a gay butterfly of a girl, totally
unlike her sister, still more unlike either father or mother. She
adored her own small, pretty person, and flirted promiscuously with
all and sundry who were flirtable. She had long ago made up her mind
that a rich marriage and a position in society were to be her portion
in life, and already had achieved their possibility. They took the
form of a middle-aged admirer, a friend of Mrs. Ferrer's, who had done
great things in the manufacturing line, and patented a certain British
industry which had led to fortune.

That he was ugly and commonplace and coarse and stupid were trifles of
no importance to the soulless little beauty. He was 45 years of age,
and, she hoped apoplectic. He would serve her purpose admirably, and he
was quite besottedly in love with herself. She had his proposal in her
pocket, and had authorised him to call on the Vicar the next morning.
It was little wonder she had no sympathy to spare for her sister's
woebegone face and lovelorn listlessness. They were so immeasurably
foolish that she could not even take them seriously as a point of
discussion.

The swing of the garden gate came as an interruption to the
conversation. Miss Webbe looked round. "A gentleman," she said, peering
into the distance with short-sighted eyes.

Cynthia turned her head. "Why, it is Mr. Lilliecrapp!" she exclaimed.
"He must have come about the concert."

A short, thick-set man, with a red face and iron-grey hair, came
towards the group. The Vicar knew him slightly, but that fact made no
difference to his greeting. Cynthia's welcome was tinged with a little
conscious blush, and Dolores simply shook hands, with a conventional
remark, ere retiring into the background.

It appeared Mr. Lilliecrapp had come about the concert. They were
anxious to get the programme printed, and Mrs. Ferrers had commissioned
him to secure the two young ladies of the Vicarage for "something."
Perhaps Miss Cynthia would play and Miss Dolores sing? He gave the
message, looking ardently at Cynthia.

"We were just trying to make up our minds when you appeared," she said.
"At least I was trying to make up my sister's mind for her. I see you
are going to sing 'To Anthea.'"

"I was about to request the favour of your accompanying me. You play so
well."

"It is a very difficult accompaniment," observed the Vicar. "And a
fine song," he added, "though the sentiment has always appeared to me
somewhat exaggerated."

"Love," observed Mr. Lilliecrapp, "cannot be exaggerated when it is
real."

His face grew redder, he rumpled his iron-grey hair in sudden
confusion, and pronounced the weather "very 'ot indeed for the season."
Cynthia rushed into a discussion on the programme, and endeavoured to
include her sister. But Dolores was evasive. She would not promise
anything.

Presently the visitor evinced an admiration for the garden that
impelled his host to suggest further inspection; and they strolled off
together, followed by a suspicious glance from Cynthia. Nature had
formed her coquette, despite all rules of heredity and example. She
knew she had limited her opportunities now by choice of one among her
victims. The reflection caused her some uneasiness. She felt she had
been hurried, and already saw the Vicar puckering an honest brow in
wonderment.

Of course Lilliecrapp would seize the opportunity, and equally of
course would confess himself authorised to do so by the lady of his
desire. At this stage her thoughts wandered to Aunt Sarah, and took
a tinge of triumph. She became less critical respecting the favoured
swain, and revelled in pictures of splendid successes and social
elegance.

The tea things were removed, and Dolores went indoors. Cynthia remained
with her aunt, and awaited events with pardonable impatience.

The world was her golden apple. Lilliecrapp would be the ladder by
whose means the fruit might be reached. Once reached she would make him
a sharer in her triumph's. He must go into Parliament. He would win
a title. "Sir Thomas and Lady Lilliecrapp," had a pleasant-sounding
flavour about it. She murmured it over, and the name seemed less
homely, and smacked less of manufactures, or licensed victualling.

"My dear Cynthia, I have spoken to you three times," exclaimed her
aunt. "What are you thinking about? I want you to take those flannel
petticoats to old Mrs. Babbage. They are quite ready and,----"

The future Lady Lilliecrapp rose impatiently. "Oh, bother Mrs. Babbage!
I don't want to go down to the village this evening. Send Dolly. I'll
tell her."

Aunt Sarah looked dignified. "In my young days----" she began.

"Here comes papa. If he wants me, tell him I'm in the drawing-room."

A lapwing, a swallow, anything airy and graceful, gave its likeness to
her swift flight as a pair of infatuated eyes watched it.

"I have your permission to claim her, then?" was murmured rapturously.

"You say she has accepted you, conditionally to my approval. It seems
to me that means--everything," answered the Vicar. "I am a little
bewildered. It had not dawned upon me that my children were grown
up--marriageable, in fact. But if you are so deeply attached to her,
and your position is all that you have stated, I cannot offer any
objection except that of youth."

"A lovely fault!" said the enamoured swain, "and one I am only too
willing to overlook. Then I may tell her you consent?"

"I--I suppose so."

If Cupid ever lends wings to middle-aged feet, his aid was apparently
invoked, for the last words were addressed only to vanishing coat-tails.




CHAPTER III.

The two girls were dressing for the concert. Two white gowns lay on
the bed in Cynthia's room, and two exquisite bouquets of white flowers
with trails of green foliage lay beside them. Cynthia stood before the
glass, radiant in déshabillé of snowy mysteries and giving finishing
touches to her hair. The door opened and Dolores entered. She moved
with a languid step, and her face was pallid and anxious.

"You look awful!" exclaimed Cynthia, with sisterly candour. "I can't
think what's come over you! For goodness sake, child, try and put off
that melancholy Ophelia business for once. Really, people will begin to
notice you. You're just like a ghost. I declare I'd make you rouge if I
had any. I've heard geranium petals do as well; but it's not the season
for them. Try a rough towel."

Dolores made no reply. She did indeed look ill. Her face had lost its
youthful roundness and grown sharp and thin. Dark circles shadowed her
eyes and intensified the dusky length of lashes. Her step was slow and
languid, and her lips never smiled. She seemed to move and act and
speak by mechanical instinct. The verve and spring of life had gone
from her.

"No letter yet?" observed Cynthia, enquiringly. "Well, after all, he's
not been gone so very long. You'll have to adopt my philosophy, dear.
'If he do not write to me, what care I how nice he be!' Not that
Cyril was ever 'nice' in my opinion. He thought too much of himself.
A conceited man never makes a satisfactory lover. Now my poor old
dear is rather too fond of bringing himself to my notice. See there!"
She pointed to the flowers, and then took up a trinket box from the
dressing-table.

"'This--to my Anthea,'" she read, and opening it showed the sparkle of
a diamond circlet, which was speedily transferred to a slender finger.
"Pretty, isn't it? That's the third ring he has given me. I suppose the
fourth will be the one."

"Miss Tatton has excelled herself," said Cynthia presently, in approval
of her own appearance. "Taste and the 'Lady's Pictorial' can do
wonders even in a country village. These gowns have quite a town-made
touch about them, I assure you. I've not studied Mrs. Ferrers's frocks
for nothing. I hope your bodice will fit, Dolly? Mine is barely
comfortable; but you want singing-room. Goodness! there's Aunt Sarah
calling, and you're not dressed. What a nuisance punctual people are."

"I'll take this into my room," exclaimed Dolores, hurriedly. "She'll
only fuss and detain me. Keep her here for goodness sake. Show her your
ring--anything." She seized her bodice and fled.

A quarter of an hour later the two girls were in the drawing-room of
the Vicarage, undergoing the criticism of father and aunt. Cynthia was
radiant. Her lovely colouring was all the more brilliant in contrast to
her colourless attire. Dolores, too, had no lack of roses to complain
of, but the flush on her cheeks was too feverishly brilliant to last,
and her eyes had a wild strained look that spoke of mental tension.

The Vicar regarded them with admiring interest, their aunt with a due
appreciation of the dressmaker's skill as an adjunct of youth and
beauty.

Her father's eyes rested on Dolly's face with a dawning expression of
wonder, and their gaze growing more intent, noted some change in that
face that gave him a momentary pang; it brought out the likeness to
that dead wife so strongly. But why should the child look ill, and what
had brought that hunted, half-terrified look into her soft eyes? Those
eyes which had always seemed to foreshadow sorrow even in childhood.

Ere he could frame his troubled thoughts into words she had thrown her
cloak over her shoulders and turned away on pretence of finding her
music. Her hands shook, she felt cold and sick. The names and titles of
the songs swam hazily before her eyes. She wondered how she would ever
get through the evening with this new sense of terror weighing upon her
heart.

When she stood on the platform and gazed down on the familiar faces
it seemed to her that they all wore a look of curiosity, or question.
The blood mounted to her brow, the beating of her heart was quick and
painful. Her eyes fell on the flowers she held in her hand, and their
snowy purity seemed to mock her agonised thoughts. As one in a dream
she heard the accompaniment to her song, and knew the bar that gave the
signal for the voice. With a rush of emotion she began,


"The stars shine on his pathway,
The trees bend back their leaves,
To guide him to the meadow
Among the golden sheaves."


The passionate words, the burst of joy that proclaimed the "waiting"
over, sent a thrill through the listeners. It seemed as if the singer's
very soul was in the music, its longings and abandonment and delight,
for it was her own love and longing that she sang, and memory carried
her back to hours when she had waited for a footfall and trembled with
ecstasy in her lover's embrace. Then Hope arose and whispered that as
it had been so it should be again. Her eyes were like stars, and men
looking at her thought that she sang too well of love for one to whom
love was an unknown guest. But they recalled her again and again, for
no voice there was like hers, and the joy and beauty and pathos of it
left strange memories behind.

She was succeeded by Mr. Lilliecrapp, whose performance afforded
intense amusement to all and sundry, and tried his fiancée's nerves
and patience to a degree that the diamond circlet scarcely rendered
passive. However, he was so well satisfied with himself that comment
was superfluous. Certainly none was made.

Dolores had to sing once more, and this time selected the old ballad of
"Robin Gray." There were few dry eyes in the little hall when she
had finished, and her own were wet as she left the platform.

Mrs Ferrers greeted her with enthusiasm. "I wonder you don't go into
the profession," she said. "With a year's training your voice would be
admirable. You'd create a furore in London."

"Nonsense! Don't try to turn the child's head," exclaimed Mr.
Lilliecrapp. He did not particularly desire his future wife's sister to
adopt a public profession. He had the curious middle-class prejudice
against art. It was not a thing by which fortunes were rapidly made;
and therefore of small account, commercially considered. Besides, this
chit of a child had created quite a sensation where his efforts had
only met with polite toleration. It argued badly for country tastes.

To Dolores herself the whole evening was an ordeal from which she was
longing to escape. She refused Mrs. Ferrers's invitation to return to
supper with the rest of the concert party. She declared her head ached,
she was tired, she must go home, and persuasions were useless.

When she was alone in her own room she threw off her pretty frock with
a sudden disregard of everything but relief. Then she sat down at the
little table in her window, and wrote a letter. It was not long, and as
she wrote it all the girlish beauty of her face seemed to harden and
grow cold and fierce and determined. When she had sealed and addressed
it she blew out her light and sat for long by the open window, gazing
out at the starlit garden.

"If I could only stop thought until I get his answer!" she cried to
herself. "I cannot bear this silence and suspense. I feel as if I
should go mad. Has he altered? Has he forgotten? Oh! if he has, what
will become of me!"

She sank down on her knees, her head pillowed against the hard window
seat, alone with the night and desolation.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

The door handle was softly turned. Someone looked in.

"Are you asleep, Dolly?" said a voice. The girl lifted her head and
struggled to her feet.

"Why, good gracious me, I thought you were in bed. Don't tell me you've
been moping in the dark all this time. How silly you are! And we had
such a good time at the Hall. Why wouldn't you come?"

"I didn't want to," said the girl, dully.

"Didn't want to? But why? Surely it was better than sitting up here
alone fretting yourself ill. Why," touching her suddenly, "you're as
cold as death. Really, Dolly, you want a good shaking! I shall tell
father about you. You do nothing but sulk and mope; it's getting
unbearable."

"What did you come in for? To tell me this?"

"No. I just came in to say the day has been fixed. I'm going to be
married the end of next month. Tom declares he won't wait any longer,
and Mrs. Ferrers and I were talking about the bridesmaids' dresses.
I'll only have two, and a page to hold up my train. That pretty boy
of Mrs. D'Arcy's will do. She's promised him. He has been at lots of
weddings, and can be trusted. There's very little time, but it's no use
thinking of a grand wedding here. Now what colours do you say? White
and pink is pretty, and suits the season, too; and you always look well
in pink."

A little uncertain laugh broke from Dolores. "Do I? Well, it's all one
to me; have what colour you wish."

"If a girl cannot take an interest in a wedding, and her own sister's,
too, there must be something radically wrong about her!"

"What do you mean?" cried Dolores, sharply, her face growing suddenly
white.

"Just what I say. You don't show the least interest or sympathy; and
it's very hard, considering how we've been brought up together and had
everything in common."

"Except our sympathies," said Dolores, coldly. "They were always at
variance, to the best of my recollection. And as for your marriage,
what do you expect me to say? I know you don't care a rap for this man.
You are marrying solely for money and position. You can't expect to be
happy. He is vulgar and common and old."

"Thank you; that will do. I might have guessed the sort of things you
would say."

She turned, away with the dignity of wounded feelings. The moonlight,
flooding the room, showed the two white girlish figures, one seated
on the bed with clasped hands and lowered eyes, the other erect and
scornful and offended. As her hand was on the door Dolores spoke.

"Say good-night, don't let us part bad friends. It won't be for so very
long that we shall be together. And we've no mother to wish us Godspeed
on our life's journey, or counsel us by the way."

"No," said Cynthia, suddenly melting. "And I've made my choice and
you've made yours. There's no need to quarrel because they're so
different. We never did think alike about anything."

She came back to the quiet figure. They kissed each other silently
in the moonlight. The tears that were wet on Dolores's cheek were no
tribute of her own aching heart as she turned away from the closed door.




CHAPTER IV.

Days drifted by. Preparations for the wedding were in full swing.
A large order had gone up to a famous London house celebrated for
trousseaux, and Miss Tatton was busy on sundry gowns that were to be
built on styles popularised by ladies' fashion papers. Cynthia was in a
chronic state of excitement.

The honeymoon was to be spent in Paris and Italy, and a promise of a
visit to Worth filled her with rapture, duly dashed by misgivings that
the great Sartorial King has no enthusiasm for figures of the pocket
Venus type. And during these days, flooded with sunshine, perfumed with
Spring, joyous with bird's songs, breaking leafage, budding flowers,
Dolores moved about the house pale, listless, heavy-eyed.

Her thoughts swept to and fro, a restless sea with but one refrain.
She lived in a fevered dream from which Hope gradually withdrew all
promise. Suspense was fastening on her heart, and sapping her life, and
she knew she must soon face a dilemma from which no one could extricate
her.

At last the letter came. It was at breakfast time, and as her father
opened the post-bag and handed out the various missives, a wave of
crimson swept the pallor from her cheek. It had come: she held it in
her hand. Her eyes devoured the familiar writing. Oh! why had she
doubted? It was wrong, it was unworthy.

She would not read her letter at the table. She put it in her pocket
until she should be alone. She could not eat. Food seemed to choke her,
but she drank her tea thirstily and with haste. How long the others
were. It seemed as if they would never finish. Then came prayers, and
at last the moment of escape.

Turning an indifferent ear to the suggestion of household duties, she
escaped into the garden and from thence to the little ivy-coloured
tumble-down summer house which had been the trysting-place of her young
lover and herself. Here there would be no fear of interruption. She
drew out the precious missive, and with trembling fingers tore open the
envelope. It was a long letter. Her eyes swept the first page, taking
in the meaning more than the actual words. As she read her pulses
seemed to grow still. A chill as of death struck her heart and swept
slowly downwards through her limbs. She could not move or rise. She
hardly breathed.

She read on by some mechanical instinct, losing consciousness almost of
her own identity, and seeing nothing before her but a wounded, stricken
creature, who presently must rise and face life despoiled of hope, who
would stagger along the road of a long and shameful journey with a
knife-thrust in her heart.

What she read was the precious reasoning of a selfish passion wearied
of its conquest. "Your fears are fanciful and absurd," he wrote.
"It is impossible for me to acknowledge our marriage at present. I
should wreck my whole career at its outset. I must start free and
untrammelled. Your letter is simply a morbid and hysterical outburst,
the outcome of girlish ignorance. When you grow calmer you will be
ashamed of what you have said, and the foolish accusations you have
made. I am not inconstant, and I love you very dearly. I am also
prepared to carry out my promise to you in proper time, but at my own
discretion. But as matters are at present it would be madness. I can't
wreck all my future to satisfy a whim of yours. Perhaps in two years'
time----"

She gave a gasp. The letter fell from her hand. Two years--two years!
Could he not understand what she had written?

The shock stupefied her for a moment. Thought reeled and surged, her
senses seemed escaping.

Had he ceased to love her? Was she no longer the one dear and desirable
thing in life, as he had called her that night on the moorland? That
night! How long ago was it? Years? Centuries? Surely never a few months
back, an autumn holiday dating a first meeting, a new relationship?

All youth and ardour died out of her heart. She felt old and chill,
and the bare cold prose of life stared her in the face. He was far
away. The ocean rolled between them. It would be a month before another
letter could reach him, and another month ere reply could come.
Months--when weeks were now winged with terror. Even her ignorance told
her that.

She looked at the scattered sheets. "He doesn't love me, he doesn't
want me," she moaned, and again reason whirled itself into a chaos of
suffering.

To be unloved, undesired, at such a crisis in her life. The shame and
humiliation of the thought stung her to fury. She seized the letter and
tore it into fragments, never remembering that it contained the address
at Shanghai, where she was to write. But in her then mood all thought
of further plea or petition was banished.

To be of any use, of any help in her present dilemma, she must have
heard that he would send for her at once. Instead of that he refused
to acknowledge their marriage, and spoke of "a year or two" further
waiting.

She laughed harshly, strangely. The sound of it startled and recalled
her to her senses. Her face was like marble, so stern and cold and
colourless had it grown in this brief time. She raised her clasped
hands heavenwards.

"I promised to keep our secret," she said, whisperingly. "I will keep
it. But as God hears me, Cyril Grey, I will never forgive you these
cruel words!"

With her heel she stamped the torn scraps of paper into the damp
ground, and with one look of despair around that place of many memories
she turned and left it--for ever.




CHAPTER V.

As day followed day Dolores grew paler and more silent. But in the stir
and confusion and preparations for Cynthia's marriage no one noticed
the alteration in her sister save her father. But he attributed it to
sorrow at the coming parting. The sisters had always been together
since childhood, naturally the one left behind would feel lonely and
depressed without her companion.

Meanwhile the prospective bridegroom waxed more jubilant and devoted
every clay. Presents poured in upon Cynthia, and she looked quite
contented with her choice, and accepted congratulations with the
"savoir faire" of one who has listened to the counsels of prudence.

One evening about a week before the wedding Mr. Lilliecrapp strolled
over to the Vicarage after dinner, as was sometimes his wont. The
distance from the Hall was not great. He marched along with head erect;
his light-heartedness sounded in a prolonged and jubilant whistling.
It broke off abruptly as a figure suddenly faced him with startling
abruptness.

"Oh! it's you," he said, recovering his equanimity. "Alone?"

"Yes. I thought you would be coming over, and I wanted to speak to you."

"To speak to me?" He looked surprised. It was not often Dolores
troubled him with any overtures of friendliness.

"Yes." Her voice was nervous and uncertain. She was visibly agitated.
His thoughts flew to his beloved. Had anything happened to her?

"Is anything wrong? Is Cynthia----"

"Oh! Cynthia's all right. Don't look so alarmed. What I want to say has
only to do with myself."

He breathed relief, and took a brotherly survey of an anxious young
face in the clear primrose light. "I am all attention," he said
cheerfully.

"I wanted to ask--to say--I mean Cynthia told me that you were going to
give each of the bridesmaids a present."

"Certainly, my dear. It is the usual thing for one in my happy
position."

"And I thought I would ask, if instead of giving me mine you would let
me have its value in--in money," stammered the girl.

He looked astonished. "In money?" he repeated. "I purposed giving you
each a diamond bangle, value £100. Do you mean you'd rather have the
hundred pounds?"

"Yes. It must seem strange, but I want it to help someone--a friend,
who is it great trouble. I know you are kind and generous, and I
thought I would ask."

"Oh! I don't mind giving the money," he said. "But the bangles are
ordered, you see; and it is too late to change the order. They were
made to a special design. Still, I'll tell you what I'll do. You must
have the bangle, or it will look strange, and I'll give you a cheque
for fifty for your friend. What do you say to that?"

"You are very kind," she faltered. "I--I don't know how to thank you.
If you would look upon it as a loan which I would repay----"

His laugh cut her words short.

"Loan! No, my dear. One of my maxims through life has been never to
lend money, not to nobody. I'd be in Queer Street to-day if I 'adn't
stuck to that. If I give I give, but I don't lend. That's how I stand
to-day master of half a million, and likely to be the whole afore I give
up business. There, don't look as if you were goin' to cry. Have you
said your say, because I'm longin' to get a word with my Cynthy."

"I'm so grateful, pray believe it. And, oh, please, you won't say
anything to Cynthia, will you? She'd be so cross if she knew I had
bothered you about such a thing."

"All right, my dear. Mum's the word. It's our little secret, eh? And
I'm not such a bad un to trust you'll find. A rough husk often hides
a soft kernel, and Thomas Lilliecrapp had always a willing ear for a
pretty girl's confidence."

They had walked on, and were now at the gates of the Vicarage. Dolores
opened it, and left him to pass in by himself. "I'm going down to the
village," she explained. "I'll be home to supper."

He watched her with some curiosity as she turned away.

"Queer girl," he thought; "not a bit like my bonnie bird yonder. Wonder
now what she really wanted the money for. Has some village protégé
got into a scrape? Well, it won't 'urt my pocket. Charity is its own
reward."

Meanwhile Dolores's footsteps took her to the post office, where she
went to purchase some stamps and make usual enquiries for letters if
there should be any.

"A newspaper for you, miss," said the woman. "No letters this last
post."

"I'll take the paper," said the girl.

When she was alone that night she opened it, and studied one
advertisement attentively. She laid the paper down at last, and her
lips set themselves in a hard determined line. "I will go there," she
said. "It is a chance. I have only instinct to guide me. But it sounds
well. I'll risk it."




CHAPTER VI.

The wedding was over. The bride and bridegroom had departed, leaving
the village "en fête" in their honour and the Vicarage in confusion
and loneliness.

Miss Webbe wandered through the disordered rooms with a troubled face
and a mind brooding over the waste of good things unfitted for homely
digestions, and the hours that would have to be spent in washing and
storing the best glass and china. The servants were at the village
feast given by Mr. Lilliecrapp. The Vicar had retired to his study,
and Dolores had vanished, presumably to her own room to change her
bridesmaid's attire.

Could her aunt have seen how she was really engaged, she would have
been filled with astonishment. Attired in a loose dressing-gown, the
girl was kneeling before a small leather bag, packing it with the
plainest and simplest of her store of linen. All the more elaborate
articles, the lace-trimmed petticoats and underwear, the embroidered
stockings and dainty shoes, the frills and ribbons and fantasies
of a girlish toilet, she replaced in her drawers among bunches of
fragrant lavender and dead roses. It was as if she laid by the useless
belongings of one dead and gone from her place for ever, and white
and cold and still almost as death was the face that bent over those
girlish possessions.

But she never flinched from her task. Quiet and self-possessed, she
moved to and fro until her preparations were complete. Then she took
from a cupboard a plain gown of black cashmere and a long cloak. These
she laid on a chair, throwing over them an ordinary linen dress such as
she wore in the morning. Her bag she thrust under the bed.

There was but one thing more to do. It was the task she had left to the
last, and her courage almost failed as she took up her desk and carried
it over to the little table by the window. She sat down, staring
blankly at the sheets of paper before her. Outside the quiet garden lay
bathed in the rose and saffron light of fading day. A late bird sang
to its mate from the drooping cedar boughs, the bloom and beauty of
flowers smiled up to heaven, and the evening star stole out from its
hiding place as if signalling its fellows to follow after.

The girl leant her head on her hand, and her tired eyes gazed sadly
into the odorous dusk. Her thoughts flew to and fro, unconnected,
impossible to seize. She had so much to say, and she must only say
so little. But when she snatched up her pen in the desperation that
often ends in decision, she wrote for many moments without pause or
hindrance. Then she read it over, doing battle with herself lest tears
should break forth and control be lost.

A thousand memories in her heart throbbed and broke against its stony
calm. Sounds and voices reflected perpetual images. The music of
evening hymns, the call of church bells, the deep melodious flow of
prayer, the tender wisdom of Sunday teaching. To each and all of these
she said good-bye in that hour, and said it with a breaking heart that
made no outward sign. The fever of emotion had burned itself out. She
said no longer "I cannot bear it," only "I must." When with white face
and trembling limbs she stole downstairs at last, a letter lay on her
dressing-table, blank and unaddressed.

There was yet another ordeal to face: the evening hymn, the evening
prayer, the good-night that never again would be given in the old
room, among the familiar things of her past life. As she forced her
voice to its accustomed task, as she knelt and hid her agonised face
in her accustomed place, the ignominy of her fate rushed over her like
a fierce wave, and sorrow, struggling with passion, rent from her soul
the last memory of tenderness for the selfish ingrate who had brought
her to this direful pass.

She rose from her knees. She bade her aunt good-night, and turned to
face an ordeal that to her was worse than death. That white head, that
kindly face, those gentle eyes. Oh! what sorrow and shame was she
bringing on them!

"Good night, my darling. We must be more than ever to each other now,
since we have lost our Cynthia," he said.

She hid her face on his breast, a dry choking sob rose to her throat.
Mutely she clung to him for a moment while he stroked her hair and
murmured tender blessings and consolation. She tried to speak,
but no words would come. Her heart ached till the pain seemed to
suffocate her. Death would have been easier to bear than this agony of
self-suppression, this effort to conceal misery and deny despair.

And still the kindly voice murmured of hope and consolation, of duties
and sacrifices. But when he told her she alone was left to comfort
him, to be the staff of his declining years, and the joy of heart and
eyes, she could bear no more. She thrust his arms aside, and with one
frenzied kiss she fled from the room, the tears streaming down her
cheeks and all her frame shaken by a storm of passionate grief. They
heard her close and lock her door.

"Poor child, it is her first grief! She finds it hard to bear,"
murmured her father.

He put his book aside and listened to his sister's vague platitudes,
and wondered why so strange a sense of depression and trouble rested on
his own heart.

Before many hours were over he was to learn the full meaning of a
presentiment he had tried to mistrust as being un-Christian and arguing
want of faith in the dealings of Providence. He held in his hand the
letter found in his daughter's room, and with bewildered eyes tried to
follow its meaning.


"I am leaving home not because I am tired of it, not because I do
not love you, father, but because I intend to follow out my own
inclinations and make a career for myself. I am going on the stage. I
knew you would never consent, so I have not stayed to ask you. When I
am great and famous I will return, and perhaps you will try to forgive
me, knowing that I could not help myself. Do not fear for my welfare.
I am well provided for. I cannot tell you more. Only from time to
time you shall hear from me, and know that I live and am well and do
not forget you. I must seem ungrateful--I feel it. Oh, I am wretched
because I cannot open my heart to you, father, so good and loving and
forbearing as you have always been. If only you would not trouble about
me; but I fear you will. Yet try to think of me as happy, as working
for an object which I feel I shall attain, as thinking of you and
loving you always, loving you more than ever, though I am leaving your
care and must appear ungrateful in your eyes. God bless you, my kindest
and best and dearest, and try to pray that He may forgive me.

"Your unhappy and unworthy child,

"DOLORES."


The more he read those incoherent, blotted sentences the more puzzled
he became. That the girl had seemed low-spirited and unhappy he
remembered; but whence had sprung this sudden determination to tear
herself from home and all the loving care of kindred, and throw herself
on the mercies of the world?

How could she have lived her daily life among them, yet nursed this
project in her heart, and alone and unaided gone forth to secure it.

What to do, how to screen her rashness, and yet serve her best
interests, set his wits wandering in all directions. Such an emergency
had never presented itself before, and he felt helpless to meet it.

Miss Webbe's soul was one ferment of righteous indignation. She was
furious with the girl for her deceit, and the disgrace her action would
bring on the family.

To go on the stage after such training and bringing up. What madness
could have possessed her! It could have been no sudden project. It must
have been carefully planned and thought out. Yet she had seemed to
live with them in perfect content until just the time of her sister's
marriage.

Her father was too broken down to give any assistance or advice. He
could only read and re-read those despairing words and ask himself how
he could have been blind to the change in her. In all this time, living
the quiet home life, fulfilling its simple duties, she must have been
meditating on another, its antithesis in every way. Her thoughts had
not been their thoughts, her tastes and desires had all wandered into
far different channels. She had taken no one into her confidence and
gone to a life of danger and temptation, of meretricious triumphs and
false excitement. The last life he would have desired or chosen for a
child of his.

It was a terrible blow. It met him so unexpectedly that he had no
resource at hand. The child he had loved with such fond and faithful
affection had deserted him for a whim, a fancy, without hint of either
discontent or purpose.

He faced the mystery which every parent has, at some period, to
face. The mystery of character developed under home guidance and
training, and yet proving itself a thing apart and estranged from
all expectations, full of individual force, of feelings and desires
undreamt of by the very being who has given the doubtful blessing of
life to the mystery.

"So young," he muttered, sitting in his study chair and letting his
thoughts run back to days when she had brought her dolls and books
and set them by the window for company, she told him. "Only seventeen
and she has formed her own theories of life. She has gone to face the
world. And I am helpless."

Some thought of wandering off in search of her crossed his mind, but
the uselessness of such a course was made apparent by her letter.

Yet he must give some explanation of her absence. He could not tell the
parish gossips that she had run away from home. But how had she left?
Had anyone seen her? She was so well known that it would have been
impossible for her to have got away unrecognised. He paced his study
floor in ever-increasing dismay.

His sister's voice entreating him to let her in aroused him. She
brought an element of worldly wisdom and common-sense into the dilemma.

"There must be no scandal; it would never do," she said. "Fortunately
I went to her room and read that letter. The servants are so busy they
haven't even noticed she's not been downstairs. I've been thinking it's
best to say she's gone away on a visit, and that I'm to follow. That it
was decided suddenly; and I'll bring her clothes and give an appearance
of probability. In point of fact, Gideon, I will go to my old friend,
Mrs. Sylvester, for a week. I'll start to-night; the 5 o'clock train
gets to Waterloo about 8.30. She lives in Ebury-street. If anyone
can help us she can. She is one of the cleverest women I know, and
trustworthy. Now, my dear brother, let me entreat of you to pull
yourself together. Remember we have the girl's good name to save, and
if she can be found and brought back without scandal what a blessing it
will be!"

"Sarah," said the Vicar, suddenly, "tell me. You don't fear anything
else? No love affair? No--disgrace?"

Miss Webbe shook her head doubtfully. "There is a ring of despair
about that letter of hers," she said. "I don't like it, I confess. And
yet, what could have occurred without our knowing it. She has had no
friends or associates. Certainly no young man friend that we have not
seen. I have noticed a change in her of late. She seemed so absent and
low-spirited. But I put that down to Cynthia's engagement--the prospect
of separation. However, what I want to impress on you is the necessity
of keeping this matter quiet. There may be a way out of it. I'll do
my best to trace her, and if I do find her, rest assured I will talk
common sense, and bring her back with me."

"God bless you, Sarah," said the old man. "You have put new life into
me."

He wrung her hands in both his.

"If you find her, in whatever case," he said slowly, "deal tenderly
with her. She is motherless."




CHAPTER VII.

No one had ever considered Miss Sarah Webbe as a very remarkable
person. A good-natured, honest soul, with no special talents and a
fair amount of common sense, would have seemed a just estimate of her
character. But there are characters which lie dormant, so to speak,
until some strong emergency rouses them to active life. The quiet
routine of months and years had made no call upon faculties that were
not purely domestic or charitable. No breath of trouble or tragedy had
disturbed the even flow of monotonous works. Then suddenly a storm of
both broke over the vicarage roof, and the two old people woke to face
its ravages as best they could.

The woman faced it better than the man. Perhaps her feelings were
less concerned in it, and the sense of feminine propriety outweighed,
temporarily, all other emotion. In any case it was doubtful whether
any amount of experience or consideration would have planned a better
scheme for concealing the real facts of the case than that upon which
Sarah Webbe had hit.

If the servants wondered, they were old family domestics to whom the
honour of the household meant a great deal. They accepted facts as
told them, and when their mistress departed for London kept their
mouths discreetly closed as to the suddenness of another departure
preceding and apparently obliging her own. That the Vicar was in heavy
trouble was less easy to hide. His nature was too simple and open for
concealment. His food was untouched, his face had grown aged and lined
within a few hours. He was more than ever absent-minded and dreamy, but
his gentleness was shadowed by a gloom that had never touched it before.

"Poor master! he do miss the young ladies," said the kindly cook,
whose years of active service had been many in the family. And she
devoted much energy to the manufacture of soups and jellies and "light
nourishment" by way of diverting his attention from his troubles.

But creature comforts cannot mend a broken heart, and the Vicar,
blaming himself for neglect of his dead wife's child, seeing himself
confronted by a total ignorance of the character which had suddenly
flashed out at him in that strange letter, felt as if his heart
was broken. If harm had come to her he should have guessed at its
proximity. He had taken too much for granted, and this was his
punishment.

He thought of that last night when she had clung to him so
passionately, when her white young face had been so eloquent of
suffering, and her voice speechless with tears. Why had he been blind
and careless before such signs?

His sleep was broken. In his dreams he saw always his wife's accusing
face, and heard her ask again and again, "Where is the child with whom
I trusted you?" He awoke in grey dawns and stared at the shadows. He
folded trembling hands in prayer, yet found no words that shaped his
errant thoughts. He faced the day's duties self-accused before his
fellow-men, and people wondered at the change, and asked themselves
what had come to their beloved parson.

Miss Webbe and her niece were blamed for deserting him at such a time,
and the wedding also came in for a share of criticism now that the hall
was deserted and the fine folks flown Londonwards.

So passed a week, and then Sarah Webbe returned--alone. Dolores had
stayed behind, they were informed, and as time drifted on it was hinted
that she had gone abroad to finish her education.

Only her father was silent on the subject. He ministered to them as
of old, but the spirit of such ministry was lacking. It was performed
mechanically, as a duty, and his sermons were always read. It was
noticed also that whenever he could get assistance for the services
he did so. At last a final breakdown of health necessitated a long
absence. An old college friend took his place, and being genial and
easy going and of a lively disposition he suited the parish remarkably
well.

The secret of Dolores's flight had been well kept.

There had been no one present at that interview between the Vicar
and his sister on her return. No one to hear of the tracing of the
girl to London, of a visit to theatrical agents, of the proof that
she had accepted an engagement in a company going to Australia, of
her change of name, of her final departure, authenticated by a letter
from herself, and bidding them farewell for a long time. None of these
things crept out. They knew she was safe; that she lived; that she
had entered upon a career of independence. They could but think her
heartless as their best excuse.

To race to the goal of one's own desires over the broken hearts and
ruined hopes of others is not a meritorious achievement. Even success
has limitations of self glory. They spoke of her but seldom after that
letter. The Vicar's heart was sore, but too tender for blame, and his
sister feared to add to his grief. She devoted her energies to his
comfort, served, and cheered and tended him, but the months scarcely
made a year before she knew his earthly ministry was over.

He "set his house in order," and so in patience and with broken spirit
waited for the call that he knew must come. And when it came it found
him ready. Gladly his feet went forth on that unknown journey, and with
the smile of a little child upon his lips he followed the messenger who
came for him.




CHAPTER VIII.

Sarah Webbe had been left a small income by her brother, also a sum in
trust for his youngest daughter, and a sealed letter which he directed
was to be given her, whenever she returned, or was found.

The Vicar was buried at Mentone, where he died. Then his sister came
back to England to arrange about his personal belongings at the
Vicarage. As soon as matters were settled she left the village, telling
no one where she was going, or her plans for the future.

It was, however, generally believed that she had gone to live with her
niece in London.

In truth Miss Webbe had done no such thing. She had returned to the
little Cornish home which she had left at her brother's desire when his
wife's death had bereft his children and himself of womanly care and
help.

It was such a little out of the world nook that its name had little
meaning in the ears of tourists and travellers. It was near the sea
coast, and had all the beauty and vivid colour of the sweet West
Country. Her little cottage was a bower of fuchsia and escallonia, of
flowering myrtles and wild roses. The latticed windows faced a bay or
cove, where the sea played wild pranks in winter, and was a glory of
blue ripples and feathery spray in the long sunshiny days of summer.

It was an ideal retreat, and she loved it as one loves the resting
place that means home. Save for a few cottagers and fisher folk, and a
scattered mansion at miles of intervals, the place was very solitary.
It had no attractions but its own beauty and quaintness. The nearest
town was several miles away, and there was but one post daily. A small
general shop supplied such homely necessaries as were exclusive of
the market town. Fish, poultry, eggs, and fruit were all to be had at
farms or cottages. Life was a simple idyllic thing, free of turmoil or
distraction, and Sarah Webbe asked no other fate than to end her days
here.

But though she asked it, she had a rooted conviction that such a
request would not be granted. She had long ago set herself a duty,
and never permitted herself to forget its paramount claims. She felt
certain that one day Dolores would be found. She was equally certain
that she would need a friend, and perhaps a home. For her father's sake
she had determined that both friend and home should be at her service.

The conviction in her own mind about the girl was a conviction she had
never breathed to a living soul. A chance word from her friend, Marian
Sylvester, had sown the first seeds of this conviction. She had denied
its possibility, but worldly wisdom in a representative woman had only
nodded mysteriously, and said, "Depend upon it, it's true."

Whether true or false, nothing had been discovered to assure such
suspicion until the return of Cynthia from prolonged Continental
travels. She was shocked and indignant at her sister's flight, less
from affection than fear of scandal in the future. The hint of a family
skeleton was not one to be welcomed by the plutocrat who had honoured
it with an alliance. When he heard of it he remembered the girl's
strange request for money as a present instead of the bangle.

"The baggage! I'll be bound she's turned that into cash also," he said,
as he told his wife of the occurrence.

Cynthia pondered. It struck her once that Cyril Gray might know
something of the girl's whereabouts, might indeed have been the primary
cause of her departure. She wrote and asked his father to forward the
letter to his address in China.

An indignant reply came from China denying all knowledge or influence
in any such extraordinary proceeding. He had been fond of his young
cousin and interested in her talents, but she had given him no hint of
an intention to go on the stage, or leave her home. He begged for news
of her at any time if news reached the family, and desired his love and
sympathy to his uncle in this great trial.

Cynthia read the effusion with an expression that would not have
flattered the writer had he seen it.

"He may know nothing," she said to herself, "but all the same he cannot
convince me that there was not some understanding between them, and if
ever a girl was lovesick and unhappy it was Dolly after his departure
for Shanghai."

She wrote no more to Cyril Gray. He had never been a favourite of hers.
Gradually the interests and excitements of her new life engrossed her,
and she forgot all about her sister. It was such a novelty to have
money to spend, a fine house, servants, carriages, dresses, amusements,
and gaieties without end. The "lovely Mrs. Lilliecrapp" became quite
a person in society, and the seat in the House and the title on which
she had determined were quite approaching possibilities for Mrs.
Lilliecrapp's husband.

The interests and decoration of her pretty little person grew more and
more important; she was of the world worldly: and a "set," made up of
fast, pretty women and reckless extravagant men, caught her in their
toils, and proclaimed her the fashion.

It was surprising with what rapidity she caught the tone, and followed
the examples before her. Her life was a whirl, and being, as yet, a
novelty, she enjoyed it amazingly. A period of enforced rest, compelled
by an event which made Thomas Lilliecrapp the inordinately proud father
of an heir, was also signalised by two important occurrences. They
were the death of her father, and the sudden doubling of her husband's
income by a marvel of mercantile luck. He realised his million, and
retired from active duty. Cynthia already heard herself addressed: as
"my lady."




CHAPTER IX.

Thus time marked its changes in the passage of years that still left
unexplained the mystery of Dolores' fate.

Miss Webbe, in her Cornish cottage, pondered often on the subject.
She lived quite alone with the old servant from the Vicarage as her
housekeeper and attendant, and years of faithful service having given a
certain right to confidence, it happened that mistress and maid talked
often together of the absent girl, whom both had loved and tended from
infancy to that time of sudden disappearance.

Once in every year Miss Webbe went to London to spend a month with
her friend Mrs. Sylvester, and each time returned with a promise that
her friend would come and spend a few weeks with her; but the promise
remained a promise still, either from adverse circumstances or because
Mrs. Sylvester's engagements prevented it.

However, three years after Dolores' disappearance Miss Webbe wrote
to Patience Tremlyn, her servant, saying that Mrs. Sylvester would
come back to Cornwall with her at the end of July and giving certain
directions and orders as to the necessary preparations.

Patience had never seen this friend of her mistress. She was a little
inclined to resent her visit as being that of a fine London lady, who
would give trouble and find fault with homely meals, and country hours,
and plain cooking.

It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find herself confronted by a
pleasant-faced, middle-aged lady, with the most charming of smiles, and
a manner that could only be described as "fascinating." Furthermore she
gave herself no airs, but simply raved about the cottage and view, and
the quaint surroundings. She was full of life and energy. She was up at
extraordinarily early hours, bathed in the sea, walked for miles along
the coast before breakfast, made friends with the fisher-folk even to
the extent of deep-sea fishing excursions, and, in fact, was quite, an
addition to the cottage life. One morning she returned to breakfast
with the news of a discovery she had made.

The coast around was remarkable for a series of coves, divided from
each other by jutting cliffs, each a thing of beauty in point of
silvery sands, blue waters, and shell-strewn caves. Marion Sylvester
had walked along the firm sands for a mile or two, then suddenly came
upon a chine or inlet formed by broken cliffs and leading upward
and inland for a considerable distance. Following this natural road
she found herself skirting a thick hedge of myrtle and escallonia.
Then she came to an iron gate set in heavy grey stonework. It stood
half-open and showed a wild expanse of garden, luxuriant and neglected.
Thickets of fuchsia, dog roses, geranium, and lemon verbena, spread
wild and wide above weed-covered paths. The myrtles were like trees, so
sheltered and so sunny was the situation, and the geraniums towered,
strong of stem and branch, to the height of the outer walls.

Feeling she was an intruder, but impelled by curiosity, Mrs. Sylvester
moved cautiously up the weed-covered paths until she came to an opening
and faced a worn, tumble-down old house, yellow with lichen, green with
moss, its square windows facing the sea with closely shuttered eyes.
Silence reigned everywhere. Silence broken only by the song or flight
of birds, the flutter of a falling leaf, the stir of a bough.

Old and grim and desolate it looked, though the warm sunshine poured
lavish glory over its tiled roof, and Mrs. Sylvester supposed it
untenanted, and moved forward more boldly. She was greeted by a
loud bark, and a huge brindled mastiff leaped suddenly towards her,
startling her into consciousness of intrusion.

She held her ground, not being in the least frightened of dogs, and
the animal surveyed her with the scrutiny of a superior instinct that
apparently recognised the types and grades of trespassers. At the
same time there came from near at hand the soft incoherent chuckle
of a very young child, and from the bushes on her right crept out a
small, yellow-headed mortal newly arrived at the dignity of an elevated
standing-point.

"You darling baby!" exclaimed the intruder, and went down on her
own knees in sudden adoration of anything so small and lovely and
incongruous to present surroundings. The mastiff watched her narrowly.
The small wanderer was quite friendly and permitted itself to be
embraced, and gave incoherent explanation of its presence, which were
perfectly satisfactory to a woman's ears.

But Mrs Sylvester's wonder deepened. Her eyes searched the face of the
desolate mansion with new curiosity. The presence of so young a member
of the human family argued inhabitants in the vicinity; and there was
more than a hint of carelessness in the manner the child was arrayed,
as well as in its unguarded freedom.

The dog, sitting on its haunches and watching the familiar friendliness
of woman and child, could yet offer no solution of the mystery. He
seemed content that they should sit on the grass and entertain each
other for an unlimited space of time. Again Mrs. Sylvester's eyes swept
the front of the house. Two-storied, verandah-shaped, four shuttered
windows closing the rooms to the living world without, so it confronted
her, giving still no hint of life within, though life there must be,
else how account for the child or the dog.

She rose to her feet at last and asked herself what she should do?
The child held up arms of entreaty, so she lifted it from the grass.
The action elicited a low growl from the dog. He evidently suspected
kidnapping intentions. With no further warning he made a spring forward
and seized the hem of the intruder's dress, and firmly and unmistakably
gave her to understand that he objected to her moving.

Mrs. Sylvester was conscious of feeling foolish. It was impossible to
say how long she might be detained in this fashion, and she recognised
the misfortune of possessing ancestry who had made curiosity a female
virtue for all time. The child nestled cosily into her arms, sucked an
apparently nutritive thumb, and gave signs of slumbrous content. At the
feet the dog crouched with her gown between his teeth, and overhead the
sun streamed warm and bright with no limitations of shade. The moments
seemed of quite unwarrantable length. The silence was of a rest and
peace, almost deathlike in significance. She gazed at the windows, at
the chimneys whence came no sign of smoke, at the door, close-shut and
weather-beaten, its peeling paint and blistered wood telling, as the
house told, of long neglect or indifference.

It seemed to her she had better sit down again, when suddenly there
came the harsh creak of a hinge, and a door at the side of the house
opened, revealing the figure of an old woman in a white sun bonnet. She
peered across the space that meant a lawn, and saw the prisoner and the
gaoler, and the child crooning itself to sleep.

When she had recognised the situation she advanced. Her movements were
slow, her face was brown, wrinkled, and weather-beaten as the house.
Her short homespun skirts reached only to her ankles.

"Lord keep us!" she ejaculated. "What be 'ee doin' here, and how do 'ee
come to be nursin' the babe?"

Mrs. Sylvester laughed. "I found it straying about," she said. "I
thought this was an empty house, and came to look at it; and there was
the child running about over the grass, and I took it up, and your dog
seems to object. He won't let me move."

"Gate didn't ought to be open. That's Peter's doin'. Peter Pasco,
servin' man and husband to me. He's down to Penzance now, he be. Now
ma'am, gie me the child, and thee may go. We do'ant care too much for
strangers here at Penharva."

She held out her arms and Mrs. Sylvester placed the child, now fast
asleep, in them. "Perhaps," she said, "you will call your dog off now.
I ask your pardon for intruding, but really the place looked quite
deserted."

The old woman muttered something about the wisdom of folks minding
their own business, and marched away. Marian walked quickly back to the
gate, and made her way home to the cottage.

Miss Webbe listened with interest to the story. "I had no idea there
was a house there," she said. "I must ask my old Patience about it."

But Patience knew nothing of it either, not being given to gossip, and
seldom going beyond her immediate domain, save on errands of marketing
and household matters. The subject, therefore, dropped, though Mrs.
Sylvester promised herself to make enquiries on the matter and find
out what mysterious person lived in those darkened rooms and owned a
golden-haired cherub that claimed the privileges of a rover at the
dignified age of two years--or thereabouts. She even persuaded Miss
Webbe to accompany her one evening to the spot of her discovery, but on
that occasion Peter Pasco, whoever he might be, had not been neglectful
of his duties, and the gate was closed fast.

Sarah Webbe laughed at her friend's disappointed face. "You surely
didn't intend to go in," she said.

"It was such a darling baby. And to think of it shut up in that grim
place," lamented Mrs. Sylvester.

"I suppose it has a mother, or father. I wonder if any of the fisher
folk know the history or mystery of Penharva? There's old Boaz
Trescott, he knows everyone and everything. A regular old gossip. We
might ask him, if you really are very curious."

"Interest is not curiosity, Sarah. By all means let us ask Boaz
Trescott. What names these people have! And you'll have to be
translator, for I can't make out what they say."

Miss Webbe agreed, and they sauntered back in the cool summer twilight
to interview Boaz Trescott on the mysterious tenant of Penharva.




CHAPTER X.

The difficulties of translating modern Cornish into comprehensible
English having been conquered, Sarah Webbe and her friend became
possessed of the following facts:--

The old house of Penharva belonged to a family of that name, all
more or less eccentric. Its present owner was a certain Miss Ursula
Penharva, in whom the family eccentricity seemed to have run more than
ordinary riot.

She had been a comely young woman once, and indeed report went that
she was to marry a handsome Englishman--friend of a cousin--one John
Trevenna, of Truro. The young man, however, jilted her on the very eve
of the wedding, and since then she had elected to shut herself up in
darkness and loneliness in the dismal mansion on the cliff's. Two old
servants attended to her, but no one outside Penharva House had seen
her for many a long year. She refused herself to relatives and friends
alike, and the two domestics were so reticent and surly that the
outside world got neither hints nor help from them.

"But the child--how did that come there?" exclaimed Marian Sylvester,
at this stage of the history.

"The child. Ah, now do 'ee say so? Then my old woman was right."

He waded once more into incomprehensible depths, and Miss Webbe
struggled bravely to get him out. She produced a legend of a veiled
lady, seen twice, who came and went no one knew how or whence.

Mrs. Sylvester grew tragic with despair, and declared Cornish
imagination had no limits. While there were such things as trains and
coaches, ladies, even veiled ladies, couldn't drop from the clouds or
vanish into space; neither to the best of her belief did golden-haired
babies grow on myrtle boughs of deserted gardens.

She went homewards with Miss Webbe more than ever curious about her
discovery. She talked of nothing else for many days, and even succeeded
in inoculating her prosaic friend with a kindred interest in this
mysterious neighbour.

Meanwhile the month of her visit drifted on to a close. By that time
the fascination of the scenery and place had taken strong hold of the
London lady. She had drunk tea in an old farmhouse at Gurner's Head.
She had stood on the Logan Rock, and surveyed the Scilly Isles from
the vantage point of the Land's End. She had revelled in sunshine
and harmony of colour, such as painters loved and sought. The broad
seascape had become familiar to her, and sailing ships and brown sailed
fishing smacks were things of delight and interest. The changing face
of the ocean, the curving coast and fairy bays had thrown their spell
around her. A town looked commonplace and dusty after the lavish
loneliness of nature. Society seemed but a hollow note of imitation
after the charm and music of that wondrous sea.

For this is the spell of the West Country coast. A spell cast by
wizards of old, a witchery breathed out of mystic caves and sounding
in the breath of the soft salt winds and myrtle-scented breezes; a
witchery looking forth from skies of blue and grey, weaving itself into
sight and sound and sense as the eye travels, or the ear listens, or
the fancy roams.

And when the time of departure drew near Marian Sylvester confessed
that she envied her friend her little Cornish home more than she envied
the possessor of Marlborough House, or the denizens of Mayfair mansions.

"Why do you live in London?" asked Sarah Webbe; and common-sense
asserting itself and pushing aside a host of shallow pretences, in
which neither health nor rational reasons held any part, echoed, "Why?"

True, social claims, women's clubs, and various fashionable obligations
of the season loomed in the background, but pitted against a strong
friendship, many mutual interests, and the perfectly inexplicable
fascination of this land of wizard and saint, they dwarfed into
comparative unimportance. In the end Marian Sylvester arranged to let
her town house next season, and, for a time at least, rent a cottage
that would be tenantless the following midsummer. It was not ten
minutes' distance from that occupied by Miss Webbe. She went back to
London, where she stayed till the following August. She then selected
enough furniture to suit her miniature domicile, and despatched it, in
company with Liberty muslins and rugs, art mattings, and basket chairs,
to Penzance. From thence it was to be conveyed, and unpacked under
Sarah Webbe's direction and supervision.

The Ebury-street house had been put in the hands of house agents.
Economy and health rejoiced in the new scheme, and a plentiful store
of books, work, (and sketching materials) uttered protests against
any possible dullness should the winter fail to fulfil Sarah Webbe's
confident predictions.

Laughing at her own enthusiasm Marian Sylvester stepped into a third
class carriage at Paddington one August morning. There was the usual
hustle and confusion of departure on the platform. Porters were
hurrying late arrivals into carriages for Bristol or Exeter or Plymouth.

The Penzance portion of the train was not at all crowded; quite the
reverse. For ten minutes or so it had seemed that Mrs. Sylvester would
have her carriage to herself; but suddenly the guard flung open the
door, a porter threw in a travelling bag and rug strap, and a young
girl followed breathlessly. She was tall and slight, and very simply
dressed in dark serge, and a plain black straw hat, round which a
black gauze veil was twisted and tied under his chin. She selected the
furthest corner of the carriage, opposite to its solitary occupant,
and turned her face at once to the window in a manner that looked like
a decided avoidance of anything suggesting railway acquaintanceship.
Marian Sylvester took out a collection of papers from her travelling
bag, and for a time devoted herself to their perusal. Since trade
enterprise has thought fit to vulgarise country and riverside with
hideous advertisements and vulgar puffing of quack medicines, it is
scarcely worth while for the modern traveller to waste eyesight or
leisure in attempting to admire Nature. Mrs. Sylvester devoted her
attention to the affairs of the nation and Society's plans for the
winter until the train reached Bristol. Then thinking that the girl
must be tired of that monotonous window gazing she leant forward and
offered her the "Queen."

A curt refusal. "Thank you, I never read in a train," somewhat
surprised her. But she was good-natured, and she thought of weak eyes
and overstrained nerves, and suggested that the girl was wise in making
such a resolution. Trains were responsible for much loss of eyesight,
but still, on a long journey what was one to do?

Her voice and manner were so friendly that the girl could not well
maintain her ungracious distance. "It is a long journey," she agreed,
"and the trains are so slow after one leaves Plymouth."

"Do you know Cornwell well?" asked Mrs. Sylvester.

"No. I have only been there on short visits," said the girl. A certain
hardness came into her voice. She turned her face to the window. But
Mrs. Sylvester was not easily discouraged.

"I went there for the first time last summer," she said, "and was so
delighted with the climate that I have taken a cottage about five miles
from Penzance, and am going to live there for a time. I hear the winter
is as enchanting in its way as the summer. Do you happen to have been
there in the winter?"

It seemed a simple question to bring that sudden hot flush to the
girlish cheek, a question to send a tremor through the clasped hands
lying gloveless on her lap.

"Yes, once. It was very beautiful," she said, coldly.

"I suppose you are going to stay with friends?" continued her
companion. "Do you remain at Penzance?"

"No," said the girl abruptly.

Marian felt rebuffed. "Excuse me," she said, "I am afraid I seem rather
a curious person. But pray don't think I meant to intrude on your
affairs."

She turned away, and produced sandwiches and cake, and proceeded to
have her lunch. She offered the girl a sandwich, which--repenting
apparently of her previous discourtesy--she accepted. She had brought
nothing with her in the shape of refreshment, and at such youthful
improvidence Marian Sylvester wondered.

She did not like to study the face too intently, but, as the girl
pushed back her veil, its beauty and yet tragic meaning struck her with
unconquerable interest. It was such a young face, and yet held such a
history. The large brilliant eyes wore that look of tears and rebellion
against fate that is so rarely seen in youth. "Sorrow and she have
made acquaintance," thought Mrs. Sylvester. "I should like to know her
story."

The colouring of the face was delicately lovely, but the strange
stillness and composure of it were unsuited to its beautiful youth. One
looked for dimples in the rounded cheek and dainty chin, for smiles
on the curved red lips, but there was only frozen calm, the calm of
endurance, passionless yet rebellious, the resignation of one worsted
in an unequal battle, yet keeping weapons ready for its renewal.

Marian, than whom few of her sex were more curious, glanced, and
looked, and pondered, and wished the girl could be drawn into
conversation. Meanwhile the train dashed on and reached Exeter almost
up to time. Marian got out, stretched her cramped limbs, bought some
fruit and a local paper, and returned to her carriage. Some more
travellers had got in bound for Plymouth. She therefore made no further
effort at conversation with her silent companion, but read and dozed
or watched the flashes of red earth country, as the train skirted
cliff and river and sea until the boundaries of Devon lapsed into the
beauties of Cornwall.

With the usual courtesy of rival railway companies, the Cornish train
is timed to meet the incoming express at Plymouth. As a rule it misses
it, and passengers find it steaming out of the station, or anticipating
their arrival by four and a half minutes, just as their train draws
up. By some chance or fluke, however, Mrs. Sylvester actually caught
the Cornish so-called express, and again found herself and her silent
companion sole occupants of a carriage. Marian was too delighted and
excited at seeing familiar names, crossing enchanted ground, to keep
quiet. The girl, too, seemed less absorbed and reserved. They talked
of the quaint titles of the stations, and wondered why they had such
apparently foreign derivations. They tried to pronounce Menhenoit and
Doublebois as the porters did, and failed signally.

The last glow of sunset was still lingering over Mount's Bay as the
train ran in. The tide was full, and the blue water swept up almost
to the sleepers of the line. St. Michael's Mount towered against a
sky of rose and gold, weird and majestic as befitted its traditions.
Fishing boats preparing for the night's cruise danced lightly over the
sparkling water. The port was crowded and busy. White sails of yachts
and pleasure craft chased each other in the golden evening light. A
fresh breeze from the sea blew a welcome to the town-worn travellers.

"It is more beautiful than even I thought!" cried Mrs. Sylvester. But
the girl made no response to this. She drew down her veil, reached the
Gladstone bag from the rack and rolled her rug together.

"I am going to the hotel," continued Mrs. Sylvester. "You, I
suppose----"

"No, I am staying with a friend some miles beyond the town. I will say
good-by."

"Good-by, then. I hope we shall meet again. If you are anywhere in the
direction of Lamorna, I wish you would come and see me. My cottage is
called The Myrtles. It stands a little off the high road. You can't
mistake it."

"Thank you. My stay here is very short. I fear I shall have no time for
visits."

Her hand was on the carriage door. She glanced up the platform, then
suddenly shrank back with a faint cry. Marian did not hear it. She had
caught sight of a familiar face, and leaned forward in eager welcome.

"Sarah! Why, Sarah, my dear, you don't mean you have come to meet me?"

She sprang from the carriage. The girl had turned her back, and was
bending over her rug-strap which had come unfastened.

"She here? Of all the people in the world that she should be here!"

Her face had a wild, scared look, and her hands were shaking.

"Any luggage, Miss?" said a porter at the carriage door.

She started. "That bag," she said; "and call me a cab, please. A closed
cab."




CHAPTER XI.

(Extracts from the diary of Dolores Webbe. Being notes and particulars
of certain episodes in her life, written for a purpose, and intended to
be read only by one whom they shall concern.)

* * * * * *

May, 1881.--When I was very young, and life meant no more for me
than it might mean to a bird, a butterfly, a flower, anything that
claimed existence and found the world beautiful, I used to try and
write down my thoughts and impressions of all I saw and experienced.

The other day I found an old blotted, tattered MS. book which held
those valuable records. Only that childhood's folly is so infinitely
pathetic because of its ignorance that it is folly, I should have
laughed over them. Instead of which I cried. For the child who wrote
them looked back at me from a land of shadows, and something in her
eyes spoke of tears yet unshed. They are falling now.

They said at home I was always precocious. I talked and thought beyond
my years. I lived out the stories I read, and made my dolls active
agents in the small domestic tragedies and incidents of my life. It may
be so. One does not make acquaintance with oneself in a day or a year,
or even many years. I think events shape our characters. I am sure they
are not born in us. I had very intense feelings. I could not love or
hate by measure. It was unfortunate for me, as events proved.

I think it was on my sixteenth birthday that I made the acquaintance
of Cousin Cyril. Up to that time my life had been entirely spent at
home, but the mild and somewhat enervating climate of Hampshire and
my own rapid growth had thrown me into a delicate and somewhat morbid
condition of health that alarmed my father.

He had some friends in Scotland, and he arranged with them that I
should spend a couple of months in the bracing air of the Highlands.
Those two months stand out in my life as the sign-post of Fate. For I
met Cyril Grey, and I learnt to love him.

Ignorant, high strung, passionate, and romantic, it was little wonder
that I endowed him with all the attributes of a girl's first hero. He
was handsome, athletic, a good shot, a keen sportsman, and he chose to
single me out for special attention. Attention of the kind so dear and
novel to a very young girl. Attention that drew down the envy of the
fast married women and sporting damsels composing the party at Calum
Lodge.

I did not get on with any of those people. I wondered often if
my father had any notion of the sort of people they were. Minds,
morals, and manners were entirely at variance with any previous
experience of my own, and but for Cyril's kindly sympathy and constant
companionship, I should have fared badly. But he stood between me and
them as interpreter and protector in one. Little wonder that my first
attraction developed into a passionate adoration that left me helpless
in his hands.

It was my nature to adore and worship. I was Juliet and Haidee and
Francesca in feeling, tragic even in mimic griefs and joys, lifted
heavenwards by praise or love, sustaining an equally downward flight
when enthusiasm vanished. My pleasures were never practical. An element
of imagination tinged them all. It was only natural, therefore, that
this element should take my first love into its embrace and set him
forth as godlike, heroic, sublime.

In those two months I had grown immensely. The keen air and constant
exercise had developed my muscles and brought colour to my cheeks
and strength to my limbs. I was out on moor or hillside or loch from
morning till night, and Cyril Grey was almost always with me. How he
excused himself to shooting or fishing parties I cannot tell, but
though he set out with them he invariably escaped and managed to meet
me.

Once, one memorable fateful day, we were overtaken by a Scotch mist
that effectually blotted out all landmarks and kept us wandering
hopelessly until night set in. We found ourselves at last near a
shepherd's cot, tenanted by an old man and his wife, and they persuaded
us to stay in that homely shelter till daybreak. Here it was that Cyril
persuaded me to still further strengthen our love-troth by a secret
marriage of that quaint, informal fashion made famous by Scotch law and
Gretna Green.

It was such a romantic idea, it so suited my own inclination, it
so bridged the coming ordeal of parting that I lent a ready ear to
persuasion, and in presence of the homely old couple who had offered
us hospitality we took each other for husband and wife. How proud and
happy I was, how utterly indifferent to the cold looks and veiled
innuendoes that greeted our return. What did I care for these women any
longer. They might think what they pleased. Cyril was mine--mine only.
So he had sworn, so I believed. No human being could part us now. We
had vowed eternal love and fidelity to each other.

Oh! how happy I was. How rich and glorious was life. Days drifted on,
golden weeks floated me to deeper joys, for Cyril came home with me
to make a long deferred acquaintance with my father. Came home, and
stayed, and still was lover and beloved of mine. Yet no one guessed,
there was no hint of discovery, and while his lips still cautioned
secrecy, they kissed me into dreams from which I neither cared nor
wished to waken.

*  *  *  *  *  *

When did these dreams first crystallise themselves into something of
glory and strength, of restless longing and exaction? When did I awake,
knowing I should sleep the sleep of peace and innocence no longer?
Hard questions to answer. I was under a spell. In its first stage as
yet, and kisses silenced the doubt on my lips, and a voice in my ear
whispered, "Let me be your conscience and your counsellor. Love cannot
wrong love."

*  *  *  *  *  *

Is a girl's love more exacting than a woman's? Does she demand too
much; weary with questioning, anger with doubts? He told me so
sometimes, and I noted signs of change in him long before I could
understand their reason or their portent.

Had I been wiser, more skilled in love's lore, I would have known that
reticence is preferable to display of feeling; that when response is
lacking enquiry only leads to irritation. But I knew nothing; I only
loved. To me he was the dearest thing life held--I thought to be the
same to him and--failed.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Let me look back now on that awful time. Now that I am callous and
hardened and can mock at love and turn with jest and jeer from those
who would have me believe in it again. I cannot! My faith is killed.
To me men are as enemies of the sex I own. Persecutors, deceivers,
tyrants! It is no thanks to them I have won a footing in life.

When I faced desperation a curious struggle took place within my soul.
Should I fling life away, crushed by treachery and shame as it had
become, or should I brace myself to fight and conquest? I was young, I
was inexperienced. My one talent was my voice. My one ambition that of
acting on the real stage in real drama. That, however, was a subject
for the future. A more pressing and terrible emergency had to be faced
first, and, taking my courage in both hands, I set myself to face it.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mrs. Ferrers, of the Hall, was far too important a member of Society
to do without town news and town journals. Her library was always
liberally supplied with newspapers and novels and magazines. In the
intervals of rehearsing for a concert which she and her friends were
getting up I used to peruse those newspapers.

In one I found a strange advertisement. It was oddly worded, and at
first I feared it would prove a hoax. I took note of the name and date
of the journal, and sent for a copy, directing it to be forwarded to
the Post Office. Cynthia was inquisitive. She would want to know why it
had been sent to me.

I wrote to the sender of the advertisement, and in due time I received
an answer. I had thrown myself on a woman's mercy and my inexperience
promised to serve me better than any amount of worldly wisdom would
have done. A refuge, a way of escape showed itself to me.

"What must be, shall be," I said to myself. And so keeping my secret
buried in my heart I stole from the love and shelter of my childhood's
home and went forth to meet the unknown future.

(Many torn and blotted and disfigured pages follow that last entry in
my journal. They relate more to my feelings than to my story, and I
have cast them aside. I have a purpose in writing these records, and I
must try and confine myself to facts and keep an embittered personality
out of them.)

*  *  *  *  *  *

"Money is the root of all things evil," says the proverb. It is also
the root of all things necessary to life. My equipment for independence
consisted of fifty pounds in cash, a valuable diamond bangle, and a few
simple articles of jewellery left by my mother and too insignificant
for my sister's consideration. Not much of an equipment, yet it was
destined to suffice. My first design was to avoid pursuit or discovery
from those I had forsaken.

(How coldly I write that now; but what ache and agony of heart it cost
me to appear the heartless thing I would have them believe me.)

I had left a letter saying I was going on the stage. I did not say
when. I knew therefore that the first search would be among theatrical
agents and managers. That would suit my purpose, for it would be many
months before I would be able to seek such an engagement.

I reached London without hindrance, and then took the train to that
little town in the West of England to which I had been directed. It
was a long and wearisome journey, but I accomplished it. I rested that
night at a little quiet inn, giving my name as Mrs. Dering (the name I
had resolved to adopt for the stage later on).

By 10 o'clock the next morning I was at the address given me. The
discovery that it was a lawyer's office somewhat disconcerted me. I
walked past it, and debated the prudence of entering many times before
in renewed desperation I did so.

I asked an elderly clerk for the name my letter bore. He laid down
his spectacles, looked at me somewhat curiously, and requested me to
take a chair. He then retired into an inner room, and was absent for
some moments. On his return he informed me Mr. Malpas would see me. I
followed him into a dingy room, furnished chiefly with deed boxes and
papers. A thin white-haired man, with a shrewd, but not unkindly face,
greeted me.

"Mrs. Dering?--the--ahem--the young lady with whom I have had this
correspondence?" he questioned, taking up a letter in my handwriting
that lay on his desk in company with many blue envelopes and red-taped
packages. I gave nervous acquiescence.

"I must tell you," he went on, "that I am acting on behalf of a client
in this matter. If it were my duty to express an opinion, I should say
the whole affair is morally wrong, and is quite against my judgment.
That, however, is your affair. Let me see how the case stands. Do we
quite understand each other? 'A lady of means, good family, living a
very lonely life, is desirous of adopting a child, to be brought up
under her direction, and given to her sole care. A girl preferred.
The younger the better. The mother must resign all claim to it from
the moment it enters the charge of the lady. Further particulars on
application.'"

My dry lips tried to form an assent, as he paused and looked at me, but
no sound issued forth.

"To continue," he said. "This is your first letter, explaining your
position, and betraying in every line complete ignorance of life and
the world. Your face, my dear young lady, fully endorses the opinion I
had formed of you from your letter."

"Needless to say, I had numerous other applications. Over a hundred lie
there unanswered. But something in yours impressed me. It is, as I said
before, a foolish business, but if it's folly can assist a helpless
creature of your sex and misfortune, we may put wisdom aside for once."

He then referred to my other letters, and touched upon the particulars
of my case with a delicacy for which I was grateful.

"It happens," he said, "that the very situation which to you is so
painful lends itself to my client's purpose in a special manner.--'A
young widow, left almost without resources, and desirous of going on
the stage.'--I am quoting your letter, you see. Well, my client wishes
for an interview with you. I am to take you there this evening. I
suppose you have no objection?"

"None whatever," I said, calmly.

"You must expect to be astonished," he went on. "She is very eccentric,
and, though rich and of good family, lives quite alone with the
exception of servants. She can leave her money where and how she
pleases, so there is every prospect of your child being provided for in
the future."

"Wait," I said, "one moment. Supposing the--the child is not of the sex
she desires, will that make any difference to this arrangement?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "I should imagine that would be a point for
you to discuss with my client. By-the-bye, just a mere formality, do
you happen to have a copy of your marriage certificate with you?"

I felt my face blanch. "No, I don't possess a copy."

"You should do so," he said, sternly. "A registrar or a clergyman
always hands the certificate to one or other of the contracting
parties. Could you procure it? Your marriage must be recent enough for
you to remember, where it took place."

I shook my head. "There was no question of my producing such a document
in our correspondence."

"True. But it would be more satisfactory. There may be future interests
attaching to the legitimacy of your child. It is your duty to think of
that."

I said nothing. I foresaw a web of difficulty weaving itself round
innocent feet, but I hardened my heart. The present emergency was
all that concerned me. To get out of it by some means or other I was
determined.

How altered I was in the space of a few months from the dreamy romantic
girl who had played Juliet to a false Romeo. How sadly, horribly
altered!

Mr. Malpas talked on, but I felt sure that what he said had nothing to
do with his client's instructions, and I took heart of grace once more.

I left his office after an hour's interview, having arranged to call
back at 5 o'clock and drive to the house of his mysterious client.




CHAPTER XII.

Before leaving the hotel to keep my appointment I ran over once more
in my own mind the particulars of the story I had invented. It seemed
to fit into its place fairly well. I looked at myself in the little
toilet glass. I was very pale, the small neat widow's bonnet, the
simple dress relieved only at the throat and wrist with plain muslin
hands, accentuated my pallor, and, I thought, added years to my age. So
much the better. I took up a long black cloth cloak, one of my recent
purchases, and then left the hotel for Mr. Malpas's office.

It was a warm, bright evening, and when I found a closed carriage
waiting for us I was somewhat annoyed. It was a hired carriage drawn by
two horses, and had the stuffy, strawy smell of stables. I got into it,
and Mr. Malpas followed.

"When we get out into the country," he observed, "I will have the
carriage opened, if you prefer it."

I replied I should very much prefer it, and wondered why he should wish
to delay such a proceeding.

It was a queer little town--ill-paved, narrow streets, a market-place,
a few shops of the usual country town pattern, the inevitable
High-street, leading to an outlying suburb of private houses, gardens,
orchards, fields, then a white, dusty road bordered by trees on either
side, and hedge banks luxuriant in ferns and wild flowers. After
travelling a mile or two of this road, it made a descent into a valley,
then wound up a steep hillside, bringing us a sudden view of the sea.

My companion had been obstinately silent so far, but my enthusiastic
comments seemed to please him, and he condescended to tell me the names
and points of interest that marked our road. A few more miles, then
another dip, another ascent, and the country took a new aspect. It had
lost much of its fertility, and we seemed traversing a land of granite.
Huge boulders lay piled about, the hedges were of grey stone, the soil
hard and rocky. Quaint old cottages of granite were scattered here and
there, poultry and sheep roosted and browsed among the scanty herbage.
Ivy-grown ruins and shafts of disused mines marked the landscape at
constant intervals.

Again we turned, and again we found fertility and beauty, and lovely
peeps of sea shining clear as glass, white sand, curving bays, bold
headlands.

The carriage stopped. It was growing dusk. A faint crescent moon showed
itself in the sky, now and then a star gleamed as the light faded over
land and sea. All was still and peaceful. The only sound was the faint
plash of the sea below, the cry of a gull as it circled round the
outlying rocks.

"We must walk now," said my guide.

He gave some directions to the driver. We left the carriage standing by
the roadside, and took a steep winding path that apparently led to the
base of the cliffs. Here dusky twilight reigned, and I stumbled often
over the uneven ground.

We seemed to have reached a point midway between the descent, when Mr.
Malpas came to a halt. I heard him unlock a gate. It creaked rustily
as it rolled back on its hinges. Before me I saw a pathway, glittering
with powdered shells and hemmed in by massive trees and shrubs. The
faint moonlight lit the way, and we walked on for some distance.

"This is the house," said Mr. Malpas. He halted before a grim-looking
structure, a vast black building with no gleam of light from any
window, and no apparent entrance. My guide, however, seemed to know his
way about, for, telling me to wait where I was, he disappeared into a
space of shadow, and I heard a bell peal in the silence.

After some moments' interval, during which my eyes grew accustomed to
the gloom and enabled me to see that the shadowy space was a verandah
heavily curtained and fringed with creepers and straying ivy, I heard
the sound of bolts withdrawn, a door opened, and a gleam of light shone
from within. It came from a lighted lantern held by an old man. There
was a short colloquy, then I heard Mr. Malpas addressing me.

"Come on, Mrs. Dering," he said. "Can you find your way?"

My proximity was answer sufficient. I had grown somewhat nervous, and
was trembling exceedingly.

The lantern showed me a gloomy entrance hall, oak panelled and bare
of furniture, save an oak table and a long carved seat by the empty
fireplace. The old man led us upstairs, and I noticed how bare and dim
and neglected everything looked. He halted before a curtained doorway
and bade us wait. However, he left the lantern on a table, and I saw
we were in a long dark corridor with several windows, all closely
shuttered.

The eerie, deserted appearance of the place increased my nervousness.
For the first time I felt sorry I had entered upon such an adventure.

"What a dreary house!" I exclaimed. My voice had a strange sound, it
seemed to me, and I shivered with nervous dread.

"It is dreary," assented Mr. Malpas. "I told you my client was
eccentric."

The sound of footsteps became audible once more. The old man appeared,
and bade us enter. He held the curtain aside, and we passed through an
empty room, and across it to another door. Mr. Malpas opened it, and
signed to me to follow. I did so. My eyes took note of nothing save
only a tall, strange figure standing in the middle of the room; the
strangest I had ever seen or ever shall see in this world, I feel sure.

She was very tall, and draped from head to foot in nun-like draperies
of black. Her hair was white as snow, and this it was that made her
look so uncanny. For it was not dressed or arranged, but simply parted,
and fell in a shining silvery waving mass to her knees--a glittering
cloak out of which looked her sallow, colourless face and gleaming
black eyes.

So spectral-like and unearthly was the appearance of the woman that I
could scarcely repress a cry of fear. Steadily and piercingly her eyes
met mine, then turned aside.

She gave no greeting to Mr. Malpas or to me, only signed us to a seat,
which I for one was glad enough to take.

"Have you explained--everything?" she then asked.

Her voice was harsh and unmusical, and she seemed to speak with effort,
as if words were unusual.

"I have," answered Mr. Malpas.

"She quite understands the terms?"

"Yes," he said.

"Then leave us for a few moments."

He rose, and retired without any comment.

I sat there trembling and unnerved, facing that strange and ghastly
figure. Her piercing eyes seemed to read my soul.

"Let me tell you at once," she said, "I do not believe your story."

I remained dumb. I could neither have defended nor excused myself.

"I did not believe it when I read your letter. I know why now that
I see you. But that makes no difference. Happy wives, even unhappy
widows, do not part with their children in so cold-blooded a fashion.
I knew what I must expect. I have found it. I only wish to give you
one caution. Do not attempt to deceive me by word or deed. It will
be useless. You have been wronged, I know. You have suffered. You
are enduring womanhood's keenest pangs of shame and misery, and you
clutched at my offer as a helping hand. I shall not withdraw it. Our
compact remains. Stay here, safely sheltered from all who seek or have
wronged you. Stay here and brood over those wrongs, even as I have
brooded over mine, till all of softness and compassion withers and
decays, till vengeance usurps the place of Love, and Fate gives it into
your hands. For so I read your future."

She closed her eyes a moment, then sank back into the chair beside
her. I had not spoken a word. I could not. I sat like a stone figure,
passively watching and listening and wondering if I were not the victim
of some strangely vivid dream. She lifted her head and looked at me
again.

"Have you a heart?" she asked. "A heart that throbs and beats, that
loves and hates? Or has it turned to stone--like mine? Are you tired of
life? Does the grave look sweet? No--not yet. You are young. Why, you
are a mere child. Yet the troubles of womanhood claim you. Do you hate
mankind, as I do? They are our enemies--always--remember that. You have
proved it once. Treasure that lesson in your heart. Crush from it all
softness, all pity, all tenderness. So best, so best!"

She fell into a fit of brooding silence, and waiting on her mood I was
silent too.

She lifted her head at last, and asked a question. I answered it, my
face burning as I spoke. Then she touched a bell by the fireplace, and
a moment later a door at the opposite side of the room opened, and a
quaint figure showed itself.

It was an old woman with a wrinkled face, a large flapping cap, and
bright, shrewd eyes that shot notes of interrogation in my direction.

"Ruth Pasco," said my strange acquaintance, "this is the lady who is
coming to stay with me. Her room is ready, is it not?"

"Ready and waitin' this two days, mistress."

"You hear? Are you prepared to stay?"

"I--I brought no luggage," I stammered. "It is at the hotel, where I
slept last night."

"It can be fetched," she said, "to-morrow. For to-night Ruth Pasco can
make you comfortable."

For the life of me I could make no objection. I seemed to have lost all
power of will. I sat helplessly in my chair looking at the old serving
woman. She had a kindly face, and I thought I read in it compassion for
my lonely and sad condition.

Her mistress bade her call Mr. Malpas, and I heard her tell him that
the necessary arrangements had been made, and that I would remain where
I was. My box was to be brought to some place whose name I could not
catch, and an individual of the name of Peter Pasco was to fetch it
thence on the morrow. The old lawyer listened in silence, his eyes on
my face.

"You are satisfied?" he asked at last.

"Yes," I answered.

"Satisfied to stay here, seeing no one, going nowhere beyond this house
and its boundary until such time as you are free to leave it in pursuit
of your own career?"

"Yes," I said again.

"Then my part in the business is over."

He turned to his client. Her face had a watchful, brooding expression.
She leant her cheek upon her hand, and the silver waves of her
wonderful hair fell over her arm and over the little table on which it
rested.

"I hope," he said, "you will have no cause to repent this whim of
yours. Remember, I give it no sanction."

"You are paid to do my bidding, not to approve or disapprove of it,"
she answered.

He bowed.

"That is true," he said. "You have no further instructions--at present?"

"None."

He turned to me. I rose somewhat unsteadily. I felt as if I were taking
leave of a friend. When once he was gone, how should I endure this
lonely, dreary place--this self-chosen prison? I suppose my face showed
some signs of what I felt, for he took my hands and held them in a
close, comforting grasp.

"There is nothing to fear," he said with emphasis. "You will be cared
for and attended to. And on the first day of every month I come here.
If you can stand loneliness and want of companionship for a few months,
you may even enjoy an uneventful existence. Life at Penharva is like a
dream--passive, stagnant, from which all emotions and all interests are
shut out. Can you bear this? If not there is yet time to draw back."

Something, some remnant of that lost girlhood, that sweet past when
life was sorrow-less, swept wave-like over my memory. A horror of
my deception, a sense of what my present action might mean for some
innocent future, broke upon me.

"Not too late," I thought, "not too late."

Alas! like a flood that sense of what I had done, of what I yet was
bound to do, rushed back. My momentary softness vanished. The fever of
my desperate situation fired my veins with new courage.

"I do not repent," I said firmly; "and I have no intention of drawing
back."

He dropped my hands. He looked once more at my face, at the false
pretence of mourning, at the ring that circled my finger.

Then he turned away, and in another moment I heard his step on the
uncarpeted corridor and followed it with strained ears until the clang
of the closing door shut it out from this desolate abode.




CHAPTER XIII.

June 21st.

If nothing else had driven me to keeping a journal, the loneliness of
this new life of mine would have done so. No moated grange, no tower of
prisoned princess could have matched for loneliness and isolation this
dreary Cornish house.

Nature itself has defended it from all external intrusion. In a cleft
of the winding cliff its foundations have been hollowed out, and the
house is invisible, I believe, from the top or bottom of the chine.
Seen by daylight, it is a dreary place, though the kindly hand of
nature has given its walls and casements lavish decoration. The garden
has suffered from neglect. The one old serving-man, husband to Ruth
Pasco, could not possibly compete with the ever-springing luxuriance of
weed and branch and tangling creepers. The paths are moss-grown, the
flower beds present a wild magnificence of riotous beauty; the grass
grows rank and high, save only in that space which once meant the lawn.

The rooms inhabited by Miss Penharva are three in number, and open out
of the corridor I have before described. They are always kept closely
shuttered. No gleam of daylight enters there, and if air is given it is
only at night. To my knowledge no window is ever opened. She has her
meals alone. I am served in the great bleak dining-room below, and so
dreary and weird it is, with the old family portraits looking down in
grim questioning at such an intruder, that I often long to snatch up
my plate and retreat to the homely and less ceremonious regions of the
kitchen. Yet Ruth Pasco is not very lively company, and old Peter is
more grim and silent even than his wife.

The grounds are spacious, but the mere fact of being limited to their
extent gives me a feeling of imprisonment. In a short time I knew every
nook and corner of them, every aspect of their wild beauty, every
advantage taken by nature of long neglect.

Then a weariness and horror of them overtook me. I longed to be away
from these gloomy thickets, to scale the cliffs, to float seawards, to
bathe in the blue waves, to roam at will over the firm white sands. But
I had given my word, and here I must remain.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I sewed diligently, though I had never been over fond of my needle.
I ransacked the bookshelves for anything of interest, but the musty
old volumes were not of a kind to allure my taste, or charm away the
dullness of long blank hours. Of papers or magazines, anything that
brought news of the outer world, we had none. Days, weeks, passed, and
monotony claimed me as its victim, and now I scarcely note the passage
of time. In the evenings Miss Penharva sends for me. Sometimes we play
picquet or écarté. Sometimes she watches me working, as speechless and
motionless as a marble figure. Sometimes she talks strange, bitter talk
of wrongs and vengeance, and a fierce fire glows in her eyes, and she
rises and paces the room with the savage swift step of a caged animal.

It is a dreary life, a terrible life, yet I must go through with it.
This melancholy abode seems to me a City of Refuge; and I can hope to
find no other so safe and so secure.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It is late afternoon, and I have been sitting at my window watching the
storm. There is a grim red light in the west, bursting through piled
masses of dark clouds. The noise of the sea is like distant thunder.
The grass below is strewn with the wreckage of broken boughs and
scattered leaves. Forlorn birds perch in sodden misery on the tossing
branches. The sweep of rain and wrath of wind chain my eyes and ears
with a melancholy fascination.

The unutterable loneliness and dreariness of my life appal me as I
realise them afresh. The future has no hope, no ambition in which I may
indulge. A few months, and I must leave my present refuge and face the
world on my own account, with little money, without friends, without
hope. "Perhaps I may die," I say to myself. "It would be best, it would
be a way out of all this trouble."

A knock at the door, and the voice of old Ruth Pasco telling me that
Miss Penharva wished to see me, interrupted me here. I closed the book,
and obeyed the summons.

Miss Penharva was sitting in her usual place. The sound of the storm
was audible even in that closed room. The rain beat on the shutters,
and the wind howled and moaned like a beast awaiting its prey. The
solitary occupant of the lonely room seemed to me more ghostly than
usual. Two candles on the mantelshelf threw a straggling light around,
but the distant spaces were dim and shadowy.

I approached. "You wished to see me, Miss Penharva?" I said.

She looked up. Something in her eyes touched me. They were more human
so to speak; and the cold whiteness of her face seemed touched and
warmed by some inner feeling.

"Yes," she said. "I wished to see you. Is there a storm without?"

"Yes, a fearful one. You can hear the wind, can you not?"

"Yes," she said, drearily. "It wakens all the echoes here--the echoes
in the house, in my heart, in my life."

I took the chair opposite her own. I made no answer; only looked at her
with that curious sense of wonder and interest that she always roused.

"Was he cruel to you? Do you hate him?" she said, suddenly.

"He--who?" I answered, vaguely, for my thoughts had wandered far away.

"The man who wronged you."

"There are no words to express my hate," I said, fiercely. "I see my
whole life laid desolate; misery and humiliation on every side. And my
only fault was--trust."

She rubbed her thin white hands together. A look of fiendish exultation
was in her eyes. "Hate him! Hate him with all your heart and soul!" she
cried. "Let hate spur your thoughts to vengeance. Man has no mercy on a
woman. She is his prey, his victim, his sport and pastime. Why should
she be merciful when her chance and her hour comes. Look here! Look at
this!"

She seized her long white tresses and tore at them. She beat her
withered hands against her withered breast in a sudden fury. Her face
was convulsed. Her eyes gleamed with manifest ferocity.

"A man did this. A man turned me from flesh and blood to stone. A man
whom I loved, whom I trusted. If he stopped short of greater wrong
it was not from want of will. Child, a mutual sorrow draws us into
sympathy. But be warned in time. Fool them, lie to them, hurt them,
play with them, but never believe in their love, never trust their
honour!"

With a moan she hid her face in her hands, and all that silver veil of
hair fell over her like a garment. I watched her wonderingly, started
by this sudden outburst of rage and passion. She had never spoken
like this to me, never betrayed such intensity of feeling. I remained
silent, waiting on her mood, and the sound of the storm filled the
gloom, and its eerie echoes moaned through the corridors without.

When she lifted her head again, it was to speak of the reasons that
accounted for my presence here, and I began to understand them in the
light of those disjointed phrases. A child to be reared and nurtured
in such fashion that it would be the instrument of her own revenge;
a child who should drink in hatred and contempt of men as it drank
in food and light and air; a child who should go forth to the world
dowered with this hatred, and owning vast wealth, yet be the minister
of hate, and the scourger of passion.

I shuddered as I listened, and yet remembered that this child would be
mine. Its heritage contumely, its birthright shame. Yet, with sudden
terror, I asked myself had I any right so to dispose of any human
thing, even a life for which I might have to give my own? Had I any
right to barter freedom of action, possible peace of mind, all or
any of those gifts of physical existence which Nature claims for her
offspring? The wrong done to myself could not be righted by the further
wrongdoing of another, even if that other was the victim of a tragic
fate, and wholly innocent of the misery its prospective existence was
causing.

In the long silence that followed that passionate outburst thought was
merciless to me, and I lived through spaces of both past and future in
vivid flashes of what had been and what might be.

When she spoke again her voice was weak and tremulous, it held the
echoes of some unexpressed misery, but I lacked courage to ask of its
nature. The storm raged on without, and the stress and fury of human
passions and human griefs raged on within, and we two sat in the
deepening gloom nursing our vengeance in the very impotence of despair.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Was ever anything stranger than the circumstances of my present life.
Sometimes it seems like a dream from which I shall waken to find myself
once more in the dear old Vicarage. Sleep itself, with its visions and
phantasies, is more real at times than this existence.

I wander through the ghostly corridors, I listen in the silence of
night to the whisperings and stirrings that fill the gloom with
mystery. I see the moonlight stream through my uncurtained window in
the warm summer nights, and I listen to the sea's untiring murmurs and
the owl's weird hooting. I am not afraid of the loneliness now. I have
grown used to it, and to all the void and darkness that have surrounded
my life's once passionate fullness.

But I know it is not good for me. I know that my years are yet too
young for the sap of joy to be wrung out of them, and when I rise
listlessly to meet each new day and see my hollow eyes and pale cheeks
I turn away from the too candid truth-teller that confronts me, and
wonder dimly if this pale ghost can really be myself.

*  *  *  *  *  *

There is nothing to tell, nothing to record. One day is like another
as the summer drifts along. The echoes of the harvest fields cannot
penetrate here. The failures or successes of the fishing boats are
unheard or unheeded by any inmate of Penharva.

The only voice from the outer world that ever reaches us is that of Mr.
Malpas. On the first of every month he appears and has an interview
with Miss Penharva. Sometimes I see him in the gloomy dining-room, but
oftener I avoid him. He makes me uncomfortable.

Day follows day, week drifts after week. The leaves turn from green
to gold. Fruit and grain have been gathered and reaped. The tints
and scents of autumn sharpen into chilliness at dawn and nightfall.
I note a look of question and anxiety in old Ruth's face, and I am
surprised when she tells me that she is going to sleep in the little
room that opens out of my own. Then I know that the hour of my trial is
approaching, and my courage begins to fail.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was midnight. I woke from a troubled sleep and looked about me.
There was a fire in the grate, and a shaded lamp on the table near by.
Ruth Pasco was sitting by the fire on a low chair crooning dreamily to
something she held in her arms. Something that made a little odd funny
noise, a feeble wail that to me sounded the oddest and most pitiful
thing I have ever heard. I lifted myself from the pillows and peered
forward.

"Ruth," I said.

She glanced round. "Lie down," she commanded. "You'll have a fever
sartin and sure if you be so venturesome."

I sank back. "Have I been ill long?" I asked feebly.

"Long eno'," she answered. "A week or so you've been wandering like,
but I be'ant afraid for 'ee now!"

"And--and it--she?" I asked.

"A fine child, eno'. But not exactly what we though her'd be. Don't 'ee
let theeself get excited though. For 'tis a boy not a girl babe you've
given us."

"A boy!" I started up again, forgetful of warning. "Good heavens! What
does Miss Penharva say?"

"She was mazed. She didn't say anything, but she looked at it and sure
as fate, my dear life, what do 'ee think? The babe smiled in her face
quite knowin' like, and now her has it brought to her own room every
day, and 'twill lie on her lap quiet and smilin', and holding av a
finger her will be givin' it."

"But didn't she say anything?" I persisted.

"Narra a word. Don't 'ee fluster theeself. 'Tis a child right eno', and
the will o' Providence sent it of a different sex to our requirements,
but look, my dear life, don't 'ee vex theeself over that."

"May I--see it?" I asked timidly.

"If thee'll lie down and keep still. I've had a rare piece of work wi'
thee these seven days."

I obeyed, and she came towards me, the small flannel bundle in her
arms. She put it into mine, and I looked wonderingly at the tiny
puckered face, the wide-opened blinking eyes, the soft dusky hair.

An odd feeling of pity for its smallness and helplessness was the only
sensation of which I was conscious. I saw no beauty in this small
parcel of humanity. It was the outward and visible sign of a false
love. It perfected my misery, and yet I could not harden my heart
against it. The one love common to all things feminine stirred my
stagnant soul. The tears were warm on my cheeks as I bent over this
small, frail thing. A rough touch, the merest accident, would have
arrested the life that was so new and profitless a gift. I felt that,
even as I recognised the warring of those new and strange emotions.
Hurriedly I gave the child back to Ruth. Then I turned my face to the
wall and wept the bitterest tears I had shed yet in all these miserable
months.

The time of expectation and dread was over. The waiting at an end. I
should soon be free to take up life on my own responsibility, to face
the world, and ask its mercy or its scorn as I pleased.

Then once more the feeble wail broke forth, and I felt my heart thrill,
and a strange unreasoning tenderness woke to life in place of my
hardness and bitterness. My child--mine! Undesired and dowered with
shame, and yet claiming me and calling on me by right of that very
dower. Mine--and I had bartered its future for my own security, and
traded its forlorn innocence for my own selfish purpose.

Yet when the helpless thing had rested in my arms all the womanhood
within called out in sympathy. Sin, shame, and despair seemed of less
account before this outward and visible sign. The child's touch brought
me within sight of heaven's mercy, and lifted me above even sorrow and
indifference.




CHAPTER XIV.

I am well enough now to leave my bed. I can write or read, or work,
or sit by the fire with the little one on my knee, watching him curl
his rosy toes before the bright flames, and making those odd little
choking, chuckling noises that are musical only to a mother's ears.

I have not left my room yet, consequently have not seen Miss Penharva.
Old Ruth brings me messages from her, and I answer them, but I shrink
with dread from the interview that must take place. I have formed no
plans for the future. Yet I know I must soon leave this refuge. My idea
has been to go on the stage, but I am quite ignorant how to set about
it.

My voice had been considered wonderful in my old home, and in the light
of friendly criticism, but I have yet to compare it with voices that
have won the favour of the public. Also I have a good memory, and I can
learn quickly. But this is all the stock-in-trade with which I have to
face the world and earn a livelihood.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The child grows and thrives. His rosy prettiness enchants me. The
golden down on his head, the beauty of his skin, the roundness and
firmness of his limbs, the wide wondering gaze of his deep blue
eyes--all of these have become a wonder and delight. My heart thrills
at the touch of his tiny hands, or the sound of his cry.

I could write pages and pages about him, but I won't. Only it seems
as if some miracle has been wrought in me. I am so changed. Instead
of hate has come love. I feel it in me to face the world and defy it,
strong in the joy of motherhood. That feeling has humanised me once
more. I could almost forgive Cyril. If he returned to me now, if he was
penitent, I would forgive him. The child unites us once more. A living
tie that makes us more than lovers.

I break off here with impatience. Cyril has deserted and forgotten me.
Even if I told him of--this, I feel it would make no difference. And I
don't want his pity, or his help. I only want his love.

The days fly by. To-morrow I am to see Miss Penharva. I have spent the
evening alone here with my child. For the first time it comes home to
me that I am going to forsake him. To give him up to strangers. For the
first time my selfishness looks criminal in my eyes. It is true I am
without means to support him, but have I the right to rob him of the
love and care such as motherhood teaches? The promises wrung from me in
my helplessness torment me now with living rebuke. Through the shadowy
distraction of my mind they wander like pitiless accusers. I cannot
give him up. I must see him. I feel I would rather take him away to
starve or die with me than yield him to a stranger's care.

The wrangle in my brain has culminated in a passion of tears. Some of
them fall on that little gold-fluffed head. It is ill-luck to cry over
a young babe--so says Ruth. But what have I brought my innocent but
ill-luck from first to last!

*  *  *  *  *  *

With difficulty I restrain my feelings. I try to pray, but my thoughts
wander vaguely from familiar petitions to present anxieties. I will lie
down beside my little one and try to sleep. To-morrow will be here soon
enough. Why anticipate its troubles?

*  *  *  *  *  *

I have just returned from the interview with Miss Penharva. While it is
fresh in my mind I will write it down here.

There was a change in her. Something softer, more human, I thought. She
greeted me with an interest I had never seen her display. The child was
in my arms asleep. She looked at it long, and a sigh escaped her. I
plunged breathlessly into the subject near my heart.

"Miss Penharva," I said, "as it is not a girl I suppose our compact can
be broken. This child can be of no use to your schemes."

She looked at me and then at the babe, in his lovely, innocent slumber.

"What can you do for him?" she asked.

I was silent. The blood ebbed from my face. A sort of despair seized me.

"Very little," I said, "except love him."

"That won't feed and clothe him," she answered. "Tell me--has his birth
been any consolation? Has he brought with him that love and compassion
one reads of as belonging to mothers?"

"I love him," I said. "I cannot help it."

"And he will be your scourge," she said bitterly. "He will care nothing
for a love that bears the stigma of shame. Better he never knows you as
his mother than that he should live to break your heart with reproach
in years to come."

I was silent. Her words called up in my mind a dread that had not
entered it as yet. Of what avail would be love or self-sacrifice if in
the end I was to stand self-condemned before my child's eyes?

"Sit down," she said abruptly, "and listen to me. Do you wish to
withdraw from your contract? Answer me frankly."

"I have learnt to love him so," I answered weakly. "It is all different
now. I made that promise before I had any right to make it. A child is
so helpless. He needs a mother's love and--and patience."

"This is maudlin and sentimental," she said coldly. "You can do nothing
for him. You are destitute when you leave here. Either necessity will
drive you to worse shame than is now your portion, or despair will
force you to end a miserable life. I know the world--you don't."

"But there, don't cry, like a foolish baby. We have grown friendly
towards one another in these lonely months. You have awakened some
feeling in this starved heart of mine. I am not going to keep you to
the strict letter of our bargain. I should think badly of you had you
proved heartless enough to desire it. Leave the child here. He will be
well tended and cared for, and you may come to see him sometimes--not
often. For I wish to awaken no curiosity or comment. Besides, you have
to work for your own livelihood.

"Until such time as you procure employment I am willing to make you an
allowance, conditional on your leaving the child to my guardianship.
I am willing also to provide for his education. If you have any real
regard for his welfare you will agree to this."

"I cannot help agreeing," I said, gratefully. "It is most kind, most
generous. I only wonder why you should do all this for a stranger."

"Say a fellow victim," she interposed. "The scheme I built up has
fallen all to pieces, but another has arisen in its place. I want an
object, an interest, and this young fresh life will give it me."

I looked at her and then at the babe on my knee. It seemed impossible
to associate the one with the other. As I looked I noted the cause of
change in her. The loose flowing hair was coiled and twisted round her
head. She had lost much of the weird appearance so characteristic of
her. There was something more human, more womanly about her, and I felt
less afraid of possible eccentricities on her part in time to come. Had
the child worked this magic in her, even as it had broken up the hard
crust of misery and hatred about my own heart? What magic lay in his
helpless innocence, in the light and smile of his eyes?

I marvelled, but even as I marvelled I could only recognise that my own
martyrdom had become a joy, and that in this new life my sorrow was
chastened and made light.

Miss Penharva said a great deal more, but the gist of it remained the
same. I left her with my mind at rest and my heart overflowing with
gratitude. True, I should not have my child much with me. I was only to
visit him twice a year, but I had the satisfaction of knowing he would
be well cared for, and my immediate anxiety was over. I felt Fate had
been kinder than I deserved, and I began to equip myself for the battle
before me with a strength born of hope and trustful of results.

When the child is two months old I am to leave him. My plans are still
somewhat indefinite. I mean to go to London, seek a quiet lodging,
and then commence to search for an engagement. There surely must be
plenty of openings for a good voice and quick "study," as they call
it. I don't expect much of an engagement. I am content to begin at the
beginning and work up as others have done before me. I shall go to a
dramatic agent, let him hear my voice, and put myself into his hands.
The result I must await with patience.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Meanwhile the quiet and rest and beautiful air have quite brought
back my strength and colour. I look like my old self once more, and
the misery of the past months is almost forgotten. I spend long sunny
hours in the garden, walking to and fro with the child in my arms. The
days are never long or wearisome now. He gives me as much occupation
as I need, and fills the empty hours with new interest. I dread the
time of parting, and yet sometimes I long for it. The pulses of life
are active in my veins, and I want to be "up and doing." I am tired of
dreamings and idleness. I long to throw myself into work, and see if it
is possible to realise my ambition.

Sometimes a wild longing comes over me for news of home; of those I
left in ignorance of my fate. I wish it were possible to let them know
of my well-being, but I dare not--yet.

I look up at the shuttered windows--I think of that strange, lonely
life, martyred by a man's faithlessness, and I register a vow within my
own heart to have nothing more to do with that life-wrecking passion
called Love, to hold all men in cold abhorrence, to look upon them
as enemies. It seems quite possible now. I feel dead mentally and
emotionally to all sexual influences. The only warmth or softness in my
nature is what my helpless child has called forth, and it only lives
for him.

But I suffer less, and I am thankful. I have learnt a bitter lesson.
The future will prove what fruit it has borne, or may bear.

*  *  *  *  *  *

My last night here.

I have come to my room after a long talk with Miss Penharva. I look
round on all that has now become familiarised by association. It has
been a home to me, and God knows when I shall find another.

My box is packed. There is nothing more to do save make these last
entries in my journal, and gather my child to my breast and seek for
sleep.

How long it will seem till I hold him there again! My heart aches as
I look at him and know that my eyes will not watch the changes of his
baby life, the little subtle signs of awakening intelligence, the
variations and differences that mark the passage of months in the
all-important first year. I wonder if he will miss me? Old Ruth is
very kind, but she is old and crabbed, and cannot enter into those
infinitesimal interests which are of so much consequence to a mother's
eye.

A wave of bitterness follows the wave of softness. What have I done
that Fate should have dealt so harshly with me? Only loved too blindly,
trusted too entirely to a man's vows and a man's false heart. Surely
I am more sinned against than sinning, more fitted for pity than for
blame. Yet I know the world would never say so. Miss Penharva has left
me in no doubt of that. Her words to-night flashed the lurid gleam of
unwholesome truth upon me, swept away every delusive fallacy, filled my
mind with misgivings.

Such form my equipment for the battle before me. And to-morrow sees the
dawn of that battle morn.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I will close these pages. I am weary, and my eyes are heavy. Let me
creep into my bed and hold my little one in my arms, and draw from his
innocent contact such comfort as I can.

Dear, dear little hand, your touch holds a magic that the world is
empty of. For to-night it shall charm me to forgetfulness.

The dreary house is morbidly still and sad, but here, here at my side,
are sunshine, and laughter, and love. Here, where I can dream and hope.
Here, where my treasure looks at me with sweet and sleep-filled eyes.


Lie still, my darling, sleep awhile,
And when thou wakest sweetly smile,
But smile not as thy father did.


*  *  *  *  *  *

"As thy father did!" O God, forbid that one trait or semblance of that
father has found root in this guiltless soul.




CHAPTER XV.

Is there any loneliness on earth like the loneliness of a great city?

To walk through crowded streets, to gaze at hundreds and hundreds
of unfamiliar faces, to meet cold and indifferent eyes in a passing
glance, to feel that among these crowds of human beings you yourself
are an unnoticed and uncared-for unit, your fate a matter of
indifference, your wants and sorrows unimportant. Surely this is as
melancholy a thing as the return of a wandering ghost to the scenes of
its earthly pilgrimage. To the living soul as to the dead comes the
sense of being undesired or unmissed. The busy world can do without
you, the place you filled is occupied by another.

I had had my fill of such loneliness since I came to London. I lived
in a quiet lodging in the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury. It was a
bed-sitting room at the top of the house. The rent was moderate, and my
meals were charged for when I had them, at a stated price. The first
thing I had done was to provide myself with the leading theatrical
papers and copy out the addresses of various agents. To these I applied
in due course, entered my names in the books, paid a fee in advance,
and retired more or less hopeful according to the reception they gave
me. In my secret heart I did not like any of these gentlemen. There was
a certain boldness and familiarity in their looks and questions that
annoyed me greatly.

I objected to being addressed as "My dear" or "Ducky," or paid
coarse compliments as to my eyes, complexion, or figure. I wanted an
engagement from them purely as a matter of business, and expected to be
treated in a business-like manner. This, however, was the last thing
they seemed inclined to do. When I stated I was unfamiliar with the
stage they advised me to "chuck it up" or "go into keeping and get
someone to run me."

This was so much Dutch to my ignorant ears, and I frankly suggested
that my voice and my knowledge of music were surely worth something.
They wouldn't hear my voice, that was the duty of a manager, or someone
"bossing a show in the provinces," they informed me. However, I might
call again and see if anything had turned up. I did call again, and yet
again. I always saw a crowd of untidy-looking girls, with awful hats
and made up faces, of men of all ages, on whom the genus "actor" was
stamped as indelibly as a brand. This crowd were always laughing, and
chaffing, and exchanging broad jokes and witticisms. They called each
other by their Christian names, and abused the agents, or recounted
wonderful "successes" on tour, which fully entitled them to a London
engagement in their own eyes, but apparently the agents differed from
them in that respect. They would look at me with critical curiosity,
and exchange opinions as to my appearance or my "line" with audible
frankness.

I told myself that these were the brothers and sisters of my
self-chosen profession, and tried to feel friendly towards them. I did
not wish to be prejudiced in advance, but it was hard work to avoid it.
They were so loud, so vulgar, so atrociously dressed, and powdered, and
"made-up." The men, too, looked as if they had slept in their clothes,
so crushed and creased were collars and shirts and coats, and their
unshaven, unwashed faces aided this impression.

Sometimes I sat in the office with a "Stage" or an "Era" before me,
and listened to the conversation. It was as remarkable for its blunt
egotism as the advertisements in these journals.

I used to read these same advertisements with a frank wonder at their
unblushing conceit. Miss Viola Delaney would head hers "Our Prize
Packet of Ability," and thank Mr. Somebody for an offer which a present
first-class engagement prevented her accepting. Miss Ivy St. Claire
invited offers, "lead or principal parts preferred." Various other
ladies quoted themselves a "terrific success," "amazingly clever," or
"specially engaged." A few leading lights added half a dozen press
notices to their name and title role. Some were "starring," some were
"resting," but none were silent as to their qualifications or modest
as to their deserts. Some were so beset by offers and engagements that
they employed a private or special agent, to whom all communications
were referred; others less fortunate gave a post office or a box office
in case their services were in requisition.

After a month of this experience I began to grow impatient. The columns
of the papers assured me of vacancies in companies, of incompleted
tours, of the need of "good voices," of willingness to take novices or
amateurs and bestow on them stage experience and small salaries, but
the agents assured me none of these would do. The sort of thing they
had in their eye for me would be sure to turn up in a day or two. I
must call again.

So I would trudge home through the streets, lonely and heartsick, and
wonder if there was anything else I could do while the weary waiting
went on. I bought penny papers and studied their contents. Surely it
must be easy enough to write stories for them. I resolved to try. I
noted the style and kind of fiction they offered their readers, and
I had a fluent pen. I made up a "moated grange" tale, with a lovely
heroine and a mystery. I wrote it in a couple of days, and sent it to
the "Home Tattler." I expected it to be taken at once, so informed
them that my terms for such a contribution were five guineas. To my
surprise I got the MS. back next day. They were overcrowded with MS.,
and my story was quite unsuitable. Nothing daunted, I went through
all the series of those penny leaflets, and spent my evenings writing
"down" to what I considered their level. At the end of another month I
had quite a collection of soiled and tumbled MSS., but not one had been
accepted, even though I had become magnanimous enough to leave terms to
their editor's discretion.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I am conscious of a growing indignation. My stories may not be works of
genius, but certainly they are quite up to the average of those I read.
If their authors have found acceptance, why should, not I? I can gain
no answer to the question.

This is the history of my London life so far. It brings me back to that
dissertation on loneliness with which I commenced this chapter of my
journal. For I am very lonely; there is no denying it, and the very
excess and abundance of life around and about me intensify that sense
of desolation.

Every morning I call on one or other of the agents. Then I wander
through streets, lunch at an A.B.C. shop, go to a picture gallery or
the British Museum, then home for tea, and spend the evening writing or
sewing. This is my life, and I am but eighteen years old.

I wonder sometimes if I had better turn governess; but then governesses
nowadays must all possess certificates or have passed examinations, and
in fact have received a superior education altogether. I cannot boast
of accomplishments; besides, I should hate the drudgery of teaching,
and the anomalous position in the household given to the unfortunate
teacher. No, I must command my soul in patience. Surely before another
month I shall have something to do.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I have just come back from a long morning at the agents. It is
remarkable enough to chronicle. They wrote asking me to call at 11
o'clock. They had something for me at last.

I attired myself in my well-worn black gown and plain sailor hat. I
took especial care that my hair should be neat and simply dressed, in
contrast to the peroxidised and tousled heads I was so sick of seeing.
I did not look fast or smart, but simply what I was--a lady, none too
well off in this world's goods and anxious for employment.

Needless to say, I was punctual. I sent in my name and waited patiently
amidst the usual crowd in the outer office until I should be summoned.
They seemed unusually agitated this morning. I heard the name Leverson
repeated very often, and when a voice exclaimed, "Why, here he is?" I
looked up with some curiosity. A short, dark, Jewish-looking man had
come in. He did not remove his hat, but glanced around, gave a curt
nod of recognition here and there, and finally passed into the inner
sanctuary, where Messrs. Broadbow and Jupp gave their interviews.

A hush of expectation followed his departure. I gathered from scraps of
disjointed talk that the dark little man was the manager of a theatre,
where he was running comic opera. The fact of his presence here showed
he was in need of additions to his company, and expectation ran high
among this crowd of the disengaged. Presently the office door opened.
A head looked out. "Mrs. Dering!" called a voice, the voice of Mr.
Jupp. I rose to my feet. A row of astonished faces confronted me. I
was beckoned forward by the agent, and entered the room with some
trepidation.

The little manager was sitting crossways on a chair, his hat tilted to
the back of his head and a cigarette in his mouth.

"This is the young lady," observed Mr. Jupp. "Good soprano, excellent
musician; appearance, you can judge; but no stage experience."

The manager looked at me with half-closed eyes.

"Ah," he said, "no experience. Just like 'em. Well, my dear, what makes
you want to go on the stage?"

"I want to earn a livelihood," I answered.

He laughed.

"Are you going to trust to your face?" he said, "or your
talents--supposin' you've got any? Or does a friend back you?"

I felt the colour rising to my face.

"I must learn as others have done, I suppose. I am content to begin at
the beginning. And I have no friends."

"Know French?" he asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Good limbs?"

"What!" I exclaimed, not quite understanding his question.

"Have you good limbs?--for tights, you know; boys' parts; short skirts,
all that."

The colour deepened by several shades.

"I--I never thought of taking such parts," I said.

"Then, pray why do you apply for comic opera? Don't you know how the
chorus dress?"

"She's just come from a Sunday-school, I imagine," remarked Mr.
Broadbow, the senior partner of the firm.

"Well, well," said the manager, noticing my distress, "what about your
voice? I want a good steady soprano for front rank of chorus. There's a
piano over there. Go and sing something; run up a scale, that'll do."

I drew off my gloves and went over to the piano, horribly nervous. My
throat was dry, and my lips were tremulous. I struck a chord or two to
gain time, and then ran up the scale of G, gave a few roulades, and
finished with a prolonged trill. I looked towards the three men as I
finished.

"That'll do," remarked the manager. "Are you quick at learning? Can you
read at sight?"

"Oh, yes," I answered.

"Well, of course, you'll want a lot of training, but you may be worth a
pound a week. I'm inclined to give you a trial."

He lighted another cigarette, and Messrs. Broadbow and Jupp examined me
curiously. I was astonished and delighted.

He wrote something on a card and handed it to me.

"Come round to-morrow," he said. "I'll see your part is sent to you
to-night. What's your address?"

I gave it him.

"Mrs. Dering. Are you a widow, then?"

"Yes," I said quietly.

"That'll never do. You must appear as 'Miss' on the stage. What's your
Christian name?"

"Dolores."

"Miss Dolores Dering. Yes, that sounds very well. Of course your name
won't appear while you're in the chorus, but it'll be known to the
company and agents. This opera will go on tour soon. I've an interest
in it, but it won't have a long run at the Eden. We're obliged to
change constantly. Well, that's all. Ten o'clock to-morrow morning for
rehearsal, and bring a song. The musical director will want to try your
voice."

I thanked him briefly, and retired with heart and face aglow.

This was the beginning, and a somewhat insignificant one, but it was
something. I should learn, and I should gain experience. I might
achieve success. Hope surged within me. I passed through the crowd in
the waiting-room with head erect and smiling lips. I felt on good terms
with all the world, and my modest lunch seemed a feast of delicacies.

I am still jubilant as I write these lines. I expect the music by every
post, and long for its arrival.

Quite suddenly I remember I have no piano, besides being terribly
out of practice. It will be a hard matter to learn the different
choruses simply from the written notes. I know I have seen one in
the drawing-room, but the drawing-room is let, and I fear to ask my
landlady's permission to use it when the lodger is out. I wonder if I
could possibly afford to hire one? I fear not. I have no desire to be
dependent on Miss Penharva longer than is absolutely necessary, and
when I give up her allowance I must live on a pound a week.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A knock at the door interrupted me here.

Enter Emma, the maid of all work. ("Hemma," as my landlady calls her.)
She brought me some tea and bread and butter, and a roll of music.
I clutched delightedly at the latter. It was the chorus part of the
opera. Emma (who is good-natured, and takes great interest in me)
watched as I opened the wrapper.

I glanced over the parts.

"Oh for a piano!" I exclaimed involuntarily.

"A pianner!" exclaimed Emma. "Well there's one in the parlour, ma'am.
And Mr. Hericson, 'e don't never come 'ome till height o'clock. Why
don't you practise on it?"

I shook my head.

"No, no, I couldn't do that. He might return and catch me, or he might
hear of it."

"'Tain't his pianner, 'tis the missus's."

"All the worse. She would be very angry.'"

"Not 'er," said Emma, scornfully. "I'll lay she won't mind. Besides,
she's howt to-night. Gone to a theayter with 'er niece. You don't be a
fool. Just go down and try your songs if you've a mind to. What's your
line? The 'alls, or the dramer, as they calls it?"

"Neither," I said, laughing. "Comic opera. I've got an engagement at
last."

"My, that's good. I'm real glad of it," she said, heartily. "I'll come
and 'ear you if I gets a chance. But lor, 'ere I am a-chattering, and
your tea gettin' cold."

"Never mind," I said. "It's not often I have anyone to talk to. Look
here, Emma, do you really think I might venture to try that piano for
half an hour?"

"Do I think? Lor, yes, of course I do! I tell you Mr. Hericson don't
come 'ome to dinner. Goes to 'is club. 'E's a barrister, you know. A
nice spoken gentleman, too, and free with 'is shillings, which the
dining-room ain't."

Mr. Ericson didn't interest me, but the piano did. I drank my tea and
then somewhat timidly crept down stairs to the drawing-room floor,
and looked in. It was a large double room, divided by folding doors,
and comfortably furnished. A bright fire burnt in the grate. The gas
was lit. A large easy chair stood by the fire, and a table near by
was covered with books and papers. There was a litter of pipes and
cigarette cases on the mantelshelf, also a quaintly fashioned tobacco
jar, and some old Flemish pottery. The piano stood in a recess by
the fireplace. It was open, and as I surveyed it, hesitatingly, Emma
appeared on the scene.

"It's just gone six," she said. "'E won't be home till height, if then.
Go ahead. I'll be on the look-out."

I called up the courage of audacity, and went over to the instrument,
seated myself, and began to play over the opening chorus of "The Isle
of Consequences."




CHAPTER XVI.

The music was bright and taking, but singing it alone gave me but
slight idea of the effects. However, in half an hour I had got the air
of the two choruses in the first act into my head, and considered that
would pass me at the first rehearsal. I gathered up the music sheets
and closed the piano. As I did so the door suddenly opened and a man
came in. I started, and my face grew crimson. He looked at me with
unfeigned surprise.

"I--I beg your pardon," I stammered. "I have no piano in my room, and I
was told I--I might use this for half an hour."

Then I paused, overwhelmed with confusion, and ready to consign Emma to
the furthest regions of the earth.

A pleasant voice answered me. "You are perfectly welcome, I assure
you. The piano is not mine, you know, and you are at liberty to use it
whenever you wish. I am seldom here."

"You are very kind, but it won't be necessary after to-night. I had to
learn a part for rehearsal to-morrow."

"I see. You are on the stage, then?"

His eyes glanced over me. I thought the glance compassionate, but
perhaps that was only fancy.

"I am going on the stage," I said.

"Oh, you have not begun the life yet. What made you select it?"

"I had to do something," I answered, "and my only available talent
seems to be my voice."

"You look very young to be facing the world on your own account," he
observed. "Have you no relatives or friends?"

He flashed a look at my black dress, and then his eyes turned to my
face. As I met their kindly sympathy I almost forgot he was of that
hateful sex I had determined to regard as enemies.

"I am quite alone," I said, coldly, "and I have to work for my living.
You may be sure it is necessity that prompts me to become a chorus girl
in comic opera."

I rolled the sheets of MS. together again, and made a step forward. I
thought our conversation had lasted long enough.

"May I ask the name of the opera?" he said, not attempting to move from
the doorway.

"'The Isle of Consequences,'" I answered. "It is quite new. It has
never been performed. It is to be brought out at the Eden Theatre. And
if successful is to go on tour. That's all I know about it."

"Well, I know a little more," he said, smiling, "for I am part author
of the libretto."

I stared.

"You! I thought you were a barrister."

"So I am. But a barrister has a great deal of leisure on his hands, and
employs it in quite illegal pursuits. Some of us write books and some
plays, and some compose lyrics, and some write libretti. I am one of
the last class of criminals. Odd that you should be going to take part
in my first accepted piece of work. I shall feel a new interest in it
now."

"My part is very insignificant," I answered.

He smiled. "Every little helps to make up the whole," he said.
"Besides, you are only a beginner. I suppose you wouldn't sing for me
now, would you? I have some influence in the theatrical world. I might
be of service to you."

I hesitated, but a feeling of shyness and nervousness came over me. I
felt I could not sing, and said so. He moved away then from the door,
and, with a slight bow and a "good evening," I passed him, and hurried
upstairs to my own room.

I was somewhat excited. The day had been full of surprises, and this
last was by no means least. It did seem strange to have for neighbour
the very man who had composed this same opera. I wondered whether he
had written the lyrics as well as the dialogue. The verses of the
chorus had not struck me as being particularly brilliant, but then the
choruses of comic opera are about the most idiotic compositions that
have ever been wedded to music. They should all be divorced if common
sense or poetic justice had any say in the matter. Perhaps it is as
well they haven't. And the public is long-suffering!

*  *  *  *  *  *

Ten o'clock! I push away the sheets of MS. at last, and take up my
pen instead. I have to record another incident in this eventful day.
The late post is in, and brings me a letter from one of the "Home
Blessings," whose periodical issue is of such vital interest to the
domestic and family circle. A letter containing a cheque for one guinea
for a story I had sent, "Mamie's First Love."

I could hardly believe my eyes. I am so accustomed now to rejections
that I almost fancied this was a practical joke. However, the cheque
lies there, and a little printed slip which I am requested to sign and
return.

I feel quite triumphant. True, a guinea is not much; but still it is
the price of a pair of boots, and I sadly need them! I sign the slip,
put the cheque in my purse, and end up my evening by a letter to Miss
Penharva, telling of my success and asking for news of the little one.
She never writes herself, but dictates a few formal lines to old Ruth
Pasco, which come to me once a week, and are all the food my hungry
heart can hope for. It is not much, but it is better than nothing.

Oh, will a day ever come when I can claim him as my own, have him under
my roof, support him by my earnings. Actresses do get rich, I believe.
I have heard snatches of conversation in the agent's waiting rooms
which told of flats, broughams, jewels, all owned by leading stars in
the profession, successful dancers, favourite singers. My ambition does
not soar to luxuries. I only want a sufficient income to keep my child
and myself. Dresses and broughams and jewels hold no temptation for me.

"It must come, it shall," I tell myself. "Success, and then the fruits
of success--money. And money means power and independence. My every
energy must be set upon their achievement."

*  *  *  *  *  *

I suppose there are people who like comic opera. Perhaps some even
understand it. I only know that judging by a rehearsal it is the
silliest and most incomprehensible thing I can imagine. No one seemed
to know what the libretto was about. The principals just hummed
their airs, and the speaking parts were omitted. The chorus had been
through their duties several times. I was the only novice. The musical
director first tried my voice, and then the stage manager grouped us
in position, and we were ordered to sing the opening chorus to the
accompaniment of the piano. About every three or four bars we were
stopped.

It was wearisome in the extreme. The stage was cold and draughty, the
body of the theatre was lost in gloom. Gas jets flickered above our
heads amidst ropes and pulleys and canvas. Supers and scene-shifters
were constantly moving about. The footlights threw ghastly reflections
on the crowd of faces and dealt mercilessly with "make up." I soon lost
my nervousness, and, thanks to my knowledge of music, kept my place
firmly. Some of the voices wavered and wobbled and went out of tune in
a manner that drove the conductor frantic.

At last after some dozen repetitions we got through sufficiently
well to allow of action. The stage manager told us how to stand, and
when to move, or raise our hands, or turn our heads. It was horribly
mechanical, but necessary, I suppose. Then we had to sing again under
the direction of the two men, and I felt painfully awkward and wooden.
However, the steadiness and power of my voice pleased the conductor,
and I was less bullied than I deserved.

The rehearsal lasted three hours. Then we were dismissed and told
to come the following morning at the same time. The opera was to be
produced in three weeks' time, and I wondered how it could possibly
be ready, judging from present circumstances. Some of the girls now
chatted freely to me. They spied "novice" in face and manner, and
were sympathetic and cheery and confidential. They laughed at my
astonishment and fear of incompletion. "We've seen things as bad as
this within a week of production," said one girl. "Of course it's a
nuisance, because we're worked to death. I've rehearsed from ten till
four or five in the afternoon; and then had to perform another part at
night. Talk of African slavery, wait till you've had a year or two of
chorus work!"

This was not inspiriting, and I am afraid my face fell. A year or two!
But perhaps at the end of that time I should have risen a step. I might
have a solo or a small part. Time would soon pass, and hard work and
perseverance were bound to tell in the long run. I went home tired and
somewhat dispirited. On the table of my room I found a letter awaiting
me. I opened it and glanced with some admiration at the beautiful clear
handwriting. The signature was Harold Ericson.


"Dear Madam," (it said)--"Pray make use of the piano in my sitting-room
whenever you please. I have told the landlady you are to do so. You
need not be afraid of interfering with me. I am absent all day till
eight or nine o'clock. I shall really feel hurt (in the interests of my
forthcoming work) if you will not grant me this favour.

"Faithfully yours,

"HAROLD ERICSON."


"It is very kind of him," I thought. "I am sure he means it too. Well,
why shouldn't I accept the offer? I could learn my part very much
better and in less time if I had a piano. Chance is befriending me, and
I should be foolish to quarrel with it."

I had my tea, and then wrote a few lines to Mr. Ericson, thanking him
for his offer, and accepting it as frankly as it had been made. I
took the letter downstairs with me, and left it on his writing table,
and had a good hour's practice afterwards. I wished I had the plot or
libretto of the opera. I could form no idea of what it was like from
the music. I wondered whether Mr. Ericson had a copy he could lend
me so that I could familiarise myself with the piece as a whole. I
resolved to ask him.

When I went up to my room again I felt so tired that I could scarcely
keep my eyes open. It was barely 8 o'clock, and it seemed absurd to go
to bed so soon. I drew the shabby old armchair up to the fire, and lay
back and closed my eyes. It seemed to me but a few moments had passed
when a knock at the door roused me. I started up. It was ten o'clock,
and Emma came in with a parcel and some letters. She handed me the
parcel. "With Mr. Hericson's compliments," she observed.

"Mr. Ericson?" I echoed.

"Yes'm. 'E called me into 'is room just now and give it me. 'Take it
hup at once,' ses 'e."

I opened the parcel. There before me, neatly typed and bound, lay the
libretto of the "Isle of Consequences." I was astonished. He seemed
to have divined my thoughts. "Oh, how kind!" I exclaimed, and Emma the
sympathetic grinned broadly at me as I looked up.

"That's right," she said. "You're getting quite cheery, mum. Things is
a pullin' round, I can see; so don't be so ready to lose 'eart as you
was a week ago. And 'ow did you get on at the theaytre, if I may ask.
Spiffin' fine, warn't it? Hoften and hoften I says to myself, 'Oh, if I
could but hact, I'd go on the stage to-morrer.' That's the life. Hall
fun and jollity, and gents a-fallin' in love with you, and throwin'
bookays, and people clappin' and applaudin' when you come on. Grand! I
henvy you, mum. That's what I do."

I laughed. Servant-girlism is consoling after all. This unblemished
frankness found its way to my sympathies as no more elaborate
philosophy could have done.

"You needn't envy me for a long time yet, Emma," I answered her. "I am
only at the very beginning. It will be a long time before I get the
bouquets and applause."

"You've got a lovely voice, though," said this naïve flatterer. "I
listened when you was a-singin' to-night, and so did missus. 'Twas as
good as a music 'all, and nothink to pay."

"There's the bell ringing for you," I said, desirous to end these
confidences and get to bed.

"Drat it," she cried viciously. "I never gets a quiet moment, and I do
enjoy a chat with you, mum. You're so different to the parlours, and
I've always 'ad such a leanin' towards the theaytrical purfesshon."




CHAPTER XVII.

I have been so busy all this week and come home so tired that my
journal has been entirely neglected.

The rehearsals are very arduous and most uninteresting. How can anyone
form any idea of what the piece will be like from interrupted choruses,
scraps of dialogue, incessant disputes as to "cuts," positions, and
"business?" The music is tuneful and pretty, but not remarkable. Of
course I dare not say so, but that is my private opinion. The dialogue,
however, is good and very amusing, and the principal comedian, who has
no voice but is exquisitely funny, makes us laugh heartily over it and
his "gag." He is a popular favourite, and seems to do pretty much as he
likes with manager, composer, and company.

There is suppressed indignation one morning when the musical conductor
orders me to sing a brief twenty bars solo in the last chorus, because
mine is the only trustworthy voice. I am delighted, needless to say;
but when I get black looks, tosses of tousled heads, and hear audible
mutterings of "favouritism" and "backing up," I feel very uncomfortable.

I am going through a series of rapid disillusions respecting the stage.
It is brimful of jealousies and animosities. Every chorus girl is an
embryo "star" in her own estimation, and no success is attributed to
merit so much as to "luck." Luck seems the titular divinity of the
profession, especially the feminine branch of it. Considering my total
inexperience, and my excessive nervousness, it does seem rather strange
that I should be selected for this coveted solo bit. I wonder sometimes
if Mr. Ericson has had anything to do with it. I know he and the
musical composer are great friends.

The latter is a mild-looking young German with a strong foreign accent,
and long fair hair. He comes to the rehearsals, and listens with a face
of vague distress to our performance. He has his own band rehearsals at
other times. We are to go through the music with the band next week,
when the piano has drummed it into our heads sufficiently. It appears
that the little German has produced another opera, which was a great
success, so this one found ready acceptance. I suppose it holds the
germs of popularity, for a certain tuneful resemblance to other airs
and a certain familiarity of phrasing are what the public like best.
They are recognisable, and demand no strain of the mind.

I know every note of the choruses by heart now. But I practise my voice
every evening in Mr. Ericson's room, and am pleased to find how strong
and flexible it has become. I never see him. But then I take good care
to leave the piano before his hour of coming home.

I am generally very tired, for it is a long way from the Eden Theatre
to Bloomsbury, and 10 o'clock rarely finds me out of my bed. I wonder
sometimes what I shall do when the piece is "on," and it will be eleven
or twelve o'clock before I can leave the theatre. Sometimes I think
I will take lodgings nearer it, but I have got used to my room, my
landlady is kind, and Emma is most considerate of my welfare. Then
there is the piano.

My life is too monotonous to chronicle daily events. I will write no
more until after the opening night of the opera.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The piece was produced last night with immense success. I have
some half-dozen papers before me which the thoughtful Emma ordered
beforehand, and which she brought up with my morning tea. She pulled up
my blind, and lingered for a gossip. Nothing would convince her that
I had not some important part in the opera, so I bade her read the
notices and see for herself. They were pretty much as follows:--"The
chorus were all that could be desired." "A slight hesitation in the
attack was noticeable in the chorus. They grew firmer after the first
act, and the finale was admirably given." "The choruses are bright and
taking, if not very original. The costumes were a dream of beauty and
artistic colouring." And so on, and so on.

Finally she gave a chuckle of triumph.

"There!" she cried. "There you are. Didn't I know you'd get a line to
yourself. Look and see if I'm not right."

I did look. I was incredulous, but there certainly, staring me in the
face, was my name. "Miss Dolores Dering showed herself the possessor
of a charming soprano voice of great power and flexibility. Her few
bars of solo in the last chorus of Act I. were noticeable. This young
lady has a good stage presence, and should be a useful member of the
profession as she gains experience."

I could scarcely believe my eyes. I looked at the name of the journal.
It was a leading daily. More and more I wondered why I should have been
singled out for special notice, and thought of the spiteful comments I
should hear to-night at the theatre.

Emma was radiant. The good-hearted little soul was far more
enthusiastic than I was. I had a suspicion of favouritism somewhere,
and wondered who had written that notice. It seemed to me that I, a
novice, and a total stranger in professional circles, ought not to
have received such special commendation; neither could I have done so
but through a "friend at court." I had seen and heard enough in this
short time to convince myself that "pars," "praise," and "interviews"
were not always so entirely deserved as a guileless public imagined.
They could be bought and sold and arranged for various considerations.
Though ignorant why I was so favoured, I never for a moment attributed
such praise to a genuine feeling on the part of the critic.

However, I let Emma babble on, and laughed at her enthusiasm, and
wondered what I should do with myself all day now that there were no
more rehearsals. The strain and fatigue made themselves felt now the
excitement was over. I was almost inclined to take Emma's advice and
stay in bed. However, after reading all the notices carefully over once
more I rose and dressed and put on my hat to go out. I felt a longing
for fresh air and sunshine. My small room was like a prison.

I went downstairs, and half-way met someone advancing towards me. As
he looked up I saw it was Herr Elderhof, the musical composer. He
recognised me with an eager greeting.

"Ah, my dear mees, I just komm to see you. It is a leetle favour I have
to ask, a leetle alteration in ze phrasing of your small solo. It may
be much improved. Have you a piano? Yes? Just spare me five moments,
and I will show you how it is I mean."

"I have no piano of my own," I said, "but Mr. Ericson allows me to use
his. Shall we go into his room?"

"Of course, of course. He is my very goot friend is Ericson. I am quite
at home here while I was composing to his libretto. It make great
success I think. Not fame, it will never be great, you understand, but
it will go. . . Oh, yes, there is no fear about zat. And it will put
money in our pockets, that is ze best."

He had talked me into the room by this time, and went unceremoniously
up to the piano and opened it.

"This is what I mean," he said. "You sing alone, so: La, la, la,
la, la. . . ," and he rattled off the phrase. "Now I wish to alter
that--so: go up, then down. It makes all the difference. More
melodious, don't you think? And dwell a little more on the last bar.
You hurry too much last night, but then of course you were nairvous.
But you have a fine voice, a good ear. Oh, yes, you will do goot work
yet; in a leetle time of course, when you get experience. Who knows you
may be prima donna to me one of these days!"

I laughed. It seemed rather a preposterous idea just then. But I
thanked him for his kindly hint.

"How long is the opera to run?" I asked.

"At ze Eden? One, two, tree week perhaps. It goes on tour. It is what
you call 'syndicated.' There is money in it, oh yes. My friend Ericson,
he has many friends and influence. You will go north, south, west of
London, zen the provinces. It is taking--light, funny, fantastic. Not
great, not of genius. Oh, no! That is not to be popular. Ze great
English public are not musical. They like tunes easy to remember. Zis
sort of thing."

He played a succession of popular melodies.

"So. All tinkle, tinkle, catchy to the ear," he resumed. "But not
music. No matter. He is wise who understands his public, and gives them
what they ask. You are new to the stage, I hear, Mees Deering?"

"Yes, last night was my first appearance."

"You have a good deal to learn. But if you have ze feeling, ze
instinct, all ze rest comes easy. Your voice is too good for chorus. Do
not stay in it. You will spoil the timbre, the delicacy, the finish of
it. Chorus is for those who cannot do better. You can do much better.
Would you allow that I give you a few lessons? It would be of use to
you and of great pleasure to me. For instance, here--" he played over
an air in his opera. "That," he said, "is but one small part. You know
Paulette, ze village girl. But you understudy her in ze tour, and if
your chance come, you sing this song. And far better you sing than Mees
Viola Tancredi, as she call herself. Let me hear you now. Never mind
the words. Just sing the air."

"Oh, I know the words," I said. "I am not quite so sure of the music,
though."

"I give you ze note if you forget. Now stand a leetle to the back. I
play ze prelude six bar, ze chord, zo!"

I commenced. I was quite at home, and the ballad was very pretty and
simple. He heard me through without interruption.

"Very good, very good," he said with an elongation of the vowel. "But
just not quite enough--what is the word? Sprightly. It must be as if
your heart was light; your eyes dancing, your lips on ze laugh. Now,
once more, if you please."

I tried it again, throwing more self-forgetfulness into the part, and
he professed himself satisfied.

He rose from the piano.

"I have interrupt your walk. It is good of you to gif me so much time.
I hope we shall be great friends. Meanwhile, say you permit I gif you
some leetle instruction while we are in London. To zing for ze stage is
not to sing for ze room or ze concert platform. You are quick to learn.
It will be to me a great pleasure."

"You are very kind," I repeated, "but I do not feel justified in taking
up your time. It is not as if I could afford lessons at present.
Perhaps in the future----"

He interrupted me with a gesture.

"Between artists," he said, "there should be no sense of obligation,
none whatsoever. If I help you now it is only for my own help in ze
future. I have ze ambition to create a part for an artist that shall
be all her own, and all mine also. Not tinkle, tinkle, as is this, but
good, and to ze glory and not ze shame of art. You have just ze voice I
dream of. Pure, sweet, full of sympathy; it goes to ze heart, not only
to ze ear. It is to favour me that you accept my tuition. You should
not be too proud yet, dear mees."

I felt myself colour. His young, enthusiastic face, his glowing eyes,
all spoke of sincerity. I was sure he meant what he said, and I knew it
was an offer entirely to my own advantage.

"You put it very kindly, very generously," I said. "But really, Herr
Elderhof, it is you who are conferring an obligation on me."

"Zen we will say agreed, and we shall commence soon. Ze sooner ze
better, is it not?"

"If you wish," I said, "and if Mr. Ericson does not mind our using his
piano."

"Ericson is my very goot friend. It will be all right as I put it to
him. That is quite settled, zo. We get on as ze house on fire. You
will get good parts, you see. I have ze dramatic sense. I never make a
mistake."

He bowed himself out, and I was free to take my walk.

I felt considerably elated. My good star must certainly be in the
ascendant. Chance had thrown me into the company of the author and
composer of this opera, and both were kindly interested in me. Yet I
was only a chorus girl in the eyes of the company, only on the lowest
rung of the ladder. Still I was young and hopeful, and full of energy
and determination. No bad stock in trade to start life with. Here my
past was no one's business but my own.

These thoughts were running through my brain while I trod the
pavements, and drifted on with the crowd. I paid little heed as to
where I was going, and it was with some surprise that I found myself at
last close to the Temple Gardens.

I had only been there once or twice before. Their quaint old-world
surroundings have a great fascination for me. I walked along, beside
the dim dingy houses with their endless lists of legal tenants, and
past the fountain immortalised by little Ruth Pinch's love story. The
birds were chirping in the newly budding boughs, glints of sunshine
fell across the grass. It was so restful, so peaceful that it soothed
and rested me. I sat down.

The place was quite deserted. I and the chirping sparrows seemed
the only living things. I must have been there half an hour or more
when I was conscious of footsteps approaching. A figure crossed the
intervening space. It was Harold Ericson.




CHAPTER XVIII.

Ericson, robed and wigged in barrister fashion, stopped and regarded me
with amazement.

"You here?" he said.

His brown eyes smiled down at me in friendly fashion; he held a roll of
papers in his hand.

"It is so quiet and restful. I passed that archway, and I could not
resist the temptation."

"I am going to my chambers. I have just come from the Courts. What a
deep study you were in! Thinking of last night's triumph?"

"No, of lost illusions," I answered, bitterly.

"You are too young to have lost all yours."

"Oh, no. Years don't age one. It is experience."

"Experience! But surely--I mean I never can regard you as a married
woman. You look such a child still."

A sudden desperate courage seized me. Why should I deceive him? What
did I care for his opinion, for any man's? They were all equally
detestable. No doubt he too had wronged some woman, had whispered false
vows, played at sentiment. No doubt those kindly eyes had looked love
and then forsworn it, those lips had held the taint of false kisses.

"Your eyes are full of accusations," he said suddenly. "What is it you
have against me?"

"Not more than I have against your sex as a whole," I answered
bitterly. "Why should I deceive you? I don't wish to play on your pity.
I am not a widow: I was never legally married. I was tricked, fooled,
betrayed--because I loved. That is my story. It is common enough. You,
in your profession, must hear of such and their sequels every day."

His face changed. The kindly eyes grew stern.

"I am glad you have been candid," he said. "For in truth I did not
quite believe in your first story. But your wrongs may end in making
you unjust. You cannot judge all men by a specimen of one, and one with
whom you were in love. Love blinds a girl's eyes to all defects, or
only glorifies them. You have the ignorance and passion and heart of
youth. Remember, men must be judged by a different standard to women.
They can stray with their senses, yet be true of heart. Inconstancy
with them is often a fault of temperament, or temptation. Are you quite
sure that this--this man you accuse has willingly wronged you? Might he
not return, penitent, to make amends?"

I laughed. It sounded strange in that quiet place. It rang false in my
own ears.

"I parted from him in that belief," I said. "But I know I was mistaken.
Do you know anything about Scotch marriages?"

"Not much, I confess. But I can read up the subject and let you have
the benefit of my information."

I shook my head.

"It would make no difference. He denies the legality. The fact of his
doing so annuls the marriage, in my mind. I could never hold a man
bound by a quibble when his own feelings and inclinations were false."

The kindly face grew stern.

"It was a cowardly and disgraceful action. Someone ought to act on your
behalf. Tell me his name and the circumstances, and I----"

"No," I said, firmly. "I would not permit it. What is the use of
legalising what is denied by the whole actions and intentions of a man?
It would only add to my humiliation. I should not have believed him. I
see that. But I was so young, and he seemed to care--so much."

My voice broke. The frown deepened on Ericson's brow.

"Poor little girl!" he said, tenderly.

"Oh, don't pity me. It was partly my own fault. I showed my feelings
too plainly. He knew he was my faith--my soul--everything! I have
learnt now how little men value what is so easily won."

"It has hurt you very much."

"Naturally; but it will be a safeguard and a warning."

"You will need both in the life you have chosen. You will find men less
honest than they appear. There will be no fear that you will listen to
their flatteries, or succumb to the first temptation."

"I wish I could neither see nor speak to them," I cried in a sudden
fury. "Every look, every word recalls the past, and makes my sex a
thing of scorn and contumely. I work because I must, because I have
an object for which to work; but," and I laughed bitterly, "the work
I have chosen brings me into contact with men who are certainly not
calculated to give me nobler ideas of the sex than those you blame me
for holding!"

"I suppose not," he said, gently. "You are bound to be distrustful,
and distrust breeds resentment. I hope, however, you are not going
to quarrel with me. I absolutely decline to be placed on the Index
Expurgatorius of yours."

I looked at him searchingly, and he bore the scrutiny with calmness.

"You have been very kind," I said. "I certainly have no reason to
quarrel with you. My life is cold and empty enough. I have no friends.
I cut myself adrift from love and sympathy. It is winter with me where
it should be spring. Winter within and without my soul."

"I cannot bear to hear you speak so hopelessly," he said.

"I speak only as I feel. I don't know why I have told you this. Perhaps
I shall be sorry for it to-morrow."

"You need not. No thought of mine wrongs you. Your eyes have kept their
innocence. No sin has spoiled your soul. Don't repent your confidence.
I know how to respect it. Treat me just as you wish, but let us be
friends. You are not strong enough yet to stand alone, and the fight
has only begun."

I sighed wearily. I was very tired. The strain of feeling and
excitement began to make itself felt.

He looked at me again.

"You are very pale," he said. "I suppose you have had nothing to eat,
and been living on your nerves. Oh, you irrational women! Let me advise
you to go to the ladies' dining-room of some restaurant, have a plate
of good strong soup, a chop, and a glass of wine. Otherwise you'll
break down to-night. I'd take you and see you obeyed me only I can't
leave chambers for the next two hours. Will you do this?"

I remembered I had had no lunch; nothing since my roll and cup of tea
in the morning.

"Yes," I said, rising from my seat, "I think it is very sensible, and I
have no wish to break down to-night."

I suddenly thought of Ernst Elderhof's visit and the singing lessons. I
told him about the occurrence.

"Elderhof is a good boy, and a genius, too. Clean-souled and honest as
the day. He'll get you on, and we shall see you at the top of the tree
soon. Of course, make any use you wish of my room and the piano. I wish
it was a better instrument. By the way, one of the dailies gives you a
notice about that little bit. I hope it will do you good."

"It will make the other girls very spiteful."

"That--you must of course expect. Every chorus girl nurses a private
ambition, and sees herself a future prima donna. You need not pay any
attention to them. I'm sure you'll rise speedily from their ranks.
Voices like yours aren't heard every day."

This was very encouraging and very pleasant. We shook hands and parted
then; and I went back to the Strand and found my restaurant, and had a
good meal, according to Mr. Ericson's advice, and felt all the better
for it. Then I went home and rested myself for the ordeal of my second
appearance.




CHAPTER XIX.

I meet many black looks, and hear many disagreeable remarks in the
dressing-room when it gets known that the musical composer has altered
my few bars into quite a little melody. He is conducting the music at
present, but he is not going on tour with us. The piece seems to have
"caught on," and the manager is pleased with his venture.

Meanwhile I keep eyes and ears open, and try to gain hints as to
"business" from all sources. I have no doubt that from the front of the
house it looks the easiest thing possible to move, gesticulate, dance,
smile, or laugh as the various requirements of stage parts demand. But
in reality it is extremely difficult. Gesture is apt to be stiff, or
stilted, the laugh and the smile, the expressive movements, the walk,
the position, the modulation of the voice, all these are matters of
constant study.

I am fortunate, or unfortunate, in having gained the interest of
two potent factors in theatrical success, the stage manager and the
composer of the opera. The one gives me many valuable hints on the art
of acting, and the other conducts my musical education with a zeal
and enthusiasm which surprise me. I love music passionately, and the
improvement in my voice is an endless delight.

Ernst Elderhof is a born musician. Yet, sorely against his will, he
has had to sacrifice art to popularity in order to win a place among
modern composers. The first opera he wrote, and the score of which
he has played to me, was on grand lines. It cost him two years'
incessant labour--a year for each act. No one would produce it. In
a fit of petulance he vowed he would be heard, and wrote down to
the British level of "tuneyness," airs that catch the ear, and are
certain of "piano-organ popularity," choruses that jingle with the
swing of a dance measure, ballads for the tenor and soprano that allow
of eye-lifting to the centre chandelier, of "tip-toe" expression, of
quavering "tremolo," and that shrieking termination on a high note
which seems to delight the musical public.

The tenor's throbbing appeal to the gallery, and the soprano's tuneless
shriek at the end of her aria never fail to bring the house down, and
win encores which more often than not the composer accepts with a
frowning brow and an expression which speaks volumes of his own private
opinion.

But the opera runs smoothly on. It is a medley of nonsense, its light
comedy becomes buffoonery in the hands of a "popular" comedian,
whose mannerisms have never varied from the first hour he faced the
footlights. But he is dear to the gods and the pittites, and their
approval spells success for a piece. He is as great a favourite behind
the scenes as before, but, candidly, I hate him.

I am not popular with the company. I feel that more and more every
day. They call me "The Duchess," which may be flattering, but has its
drawbacks. Some of them have left me in no doubt of their opinion on
my art of "sneaking into favour." A girl who has never appeared on the
stage before and is given every opportunity of displaying voice or
figure is almost a criminal in their opinion.

However, I go on my way and sing my thirty bars every night with more
or less nervousness, and watch keenly the girl I am to understudy,
between whom and myself exists an incipient antagonism.

Since the day of our talk in the Temple Gardens I have not spoken
to Mr. Ericson. I see him sometimes in the house, and I hope he is
learning to appreciate the comedian's "improvements" of his part. It
bears less and less resemblance to its original form. The lines are so
cut and altered, and the part is so full of "gag," which again is never
two nights the same, that the author must be in doubt as to who really
wrote it.

However, the days come and go, and the piece runs merrily on, and I
devote all my spare time to hard study. I watch the principals and
spend hours in my own room, trying to imitate the tricks and mannerisms
necessary to convey the meaning of the stage to an ignorant audience.
At least that is what this elaborate exaggeration seems to mean.

No one is natural. No one moves, laughs, weeps, listens, faints, or
dies, or, in fact, does anything on the stage as they would do it in
real life. It seems to me absurd and ridiculous, but I am told it must
be done, and the audience seem to like it, judging from their applause.
So I make up my mind to follow conventional lines lest I should seem
conceited or desirous of teaching the public any new lesson when they
are apparently content with what they have already learnt. Perhaps some
day--but no, that is far in the future. Let it remain so.

*  *  *  *  *  *

The manager, Mr. Leverson, complimented me to-night on my quickness and
capability. He told me to take care of my voice. It was well worth it.
"If you get on," he said, "I hope to offer you a London engagement
in a year or two. I'll keep my eye on you in the meantime. You want
experience, but you'll pick that up in the provinces soon enough."

He smiled somewhat meaningly. I thanked him. He is a person of great
importance, for the manager of a theatre is a king supreme in his own
kingdom, and his subjects are the most submissive and abject in the
world. I should have been better pleased if he had contented himself
with these remarks, but he began a string of personalities which were
very coarse, and led me to regret that "chorus girl" was the present
advertisement of my costume. My natural indignation was apparently so
very far removed from my position that he could not understand it.

I tried to make it plain. He called me a "silly little fool," and
advised me to get rid of such "thin-skinned nonsense" with as little
delay as possible.

I dressed and came home too enraged for once to feel fatigued. My
simple meal seemed to choke me. The scales had fallen from my eyes
with a vengeance, and I saw my position clearly. I could be kept in
the background all my life by underhand means. To be unpopular in the
profession spelt failure, especially at the very outset of a career.
There was nothing to prevent Mr. Leverson cutting out my little solo
and relegating me to the back ranks of chorus only, nothing to prevent
him cancelling my engagement for the tour. He was all powerful. I had
neither money nor influence, and I had offended him.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I threw down my pen here, put away my journal, and went to bed more
miserable and more hopeless than when I had first come to this great
city to seek fortune at the hands of agents and managers.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Three days have passed. I am hoping I alarmed myself unnecessarily.
I have seen Mr. Leverson once or twice, but a curt nod was his only
recognition. Meanwhile I am feeling more at home with my work, and
(according to Ernst Elderhof) singing my thirty bars better every night.

His lessons are of immense advantage to me, and I am learning the part
of Paulette for the tour under his directions. I wonder if by any
chance I shall ever play it. The girl who is to do it is very pretty,
and acts well, but has no voice worth speaking of. She says her throat
is delicate, and she is constantly catching cold. On the principle that
one person's misfortune is another's benefit I may hope for that "happy
chance" to turn up.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Mr. Leverson spoke to me again to-night. I was standing at a corner of
the wings, watching Paulette, when he came up.

"Elderhof tells me you play that part a great deal better than Miss
Tancredi," he said, abruptly. "Come round here to-morrow at eleven, and
I'll hear you go through it."

I was astonished. I stammered consent, of course, wondering if he had
forgiven or forgotten our little scene. He made no allusion to it, at
all events. That he should wish to hear me do the part augurs well.
Perhaps he intends to give it to me for the tour. I was so elated that
my companions in the dressing-room noticed it, and commenced making
sarcastic remarks. I only laughed good-humouredly. They had been at the
business so long, and no chance had favoured them! A little spite was
excusable.

One of my chief difficulties had been the art of painting and whitening
my face, and doing up my eyes so as to meet the exigencies of the
footlights. It was so easy to overdo it, and so hard to decide whether
what looked all right in the dressing-room would be effective under
limelight and gas. I watched the others closely, but could never make
up my mind to use grease paint and rouge and eye black as lavishly
as they deemed necessary. They used to call me "whitewash;" but as I
heard no complaint from any other quarter I concluded I was presentable
enough from the house. The manager, I knew, used to go to all parts
to see how the stage looked, and had singled out one or two girls for
rebuke in the matter of attire, or exaggerated make-up. I should not
have escaped had there been necessity for fault-finding.

My unusual good temper to-night led to audible surmises that something
was up. I gave them no satisfaction, however. It would have been all
over the place in no time had I said I was going to rehearse "Paulette"
for the manager's opinion.

As I left the theatre by the now familiar stage door I was surprised
to find Mr. Ericson waiting. It was raining heavily, and I had no
umbrella. He came forward as I sheltered hesitatingly in the doorway.

"Let me take you home," he said. "I have a hansom here."

I accepted the offer with delight. It was too welcome to be refused.
We bowled swiftly along through the wet streets, and he chatted in his
frank and friendly fashion. He was interested in my success and more
hopeful of my future than I was myself. We talked of Elderhof, and he
told me of his struggles and difficulties, of their long friendship,
beginning at Heidelberg in student days and resumed in London. Of how
they had worked at this opera together and what difficulties had beset
its production. He made no allusion to our last conversation in the
Temple Gardens, nor to that impetuous confession I was now inclined to
regret.

I felt instinctively that he was too chivalrous to take advantage of
such a confession, even by reference. I knew he was a different sort of
man to Cyril Grey, and it struck me that in classifying men as a "sex"
I might have made a mistake. The feeling of trust and rest and safety
with which his companionship impressed me was an intense relief after
the insults of the theatre.

When we reached our lodging he helped me out of the cab and wished
me good-night. I ran up to my own room with a grateful remembrance
of his courtesy. How unlike most men he was! No forcing of unwelcome
attentions, no intrusion. Nothing but that simple helpful friendliness.

I slept well, and dreamt that I was acting Paulette before a London
audience, and a crowded house, and that a great personage threw me a
bouquet from a box. I lifted the flowers to my face, and then dropped
them with a cry of horror, for out of them darted a thin black snake,
whose forked tongue shot out at me.

I woke cold and trembling. The sun was shining into my room, and
the welcome sound of Emma's housework banished the effects of this
nightmare-like vision.




CHAPTER XX.

Punctually to the moment I was on the deserted stage of the theatre.
The orchestra was practising some new music under the direction of
a very youthful conductor. A few carpenters and scene painters were
about. As yet Mr. Leverson had not appeared.

The sheeted space of the empty house looked misty in the gloom. The
stage itself bore the usual murky, dingy appearance made familiar now
by many rehearsals. As I stood listening to the waltz and watching the
juvenile conductor with some amusement, Elderhof appeared. I greeted
him with delight. I had feared I was to trust myself to the long-haired
boy, whose beat was faulty, and who suffered agonies of nervousness.

"You are in good time," said my German friend. "You have the part? Ja,
that is goot! You must do me, what you call, credit. Ah, mein Gott!
What does that man do with that valse? How can he take such a tempo!"

He glared at the boy, and waved his hand in quick imperative fashion.

"Excuse, but zat is wrong. You have ze tempo in ze wrong place. It
should be zo: 'La, la, la-la, la, la, la!"

He hummed a few bars, while the orchestra ceased their interpretation
to listen.

"I wish you'd take them through once, Mr. Elderhof," suggested the boy
meekly. "You see I'm new at this sort of thing."

"New! Ah! that needs not to say," laughed Elderhof. "But you must
learn. You must do your best. It is not my work, this. Ah! here comes
Herr Leverson. We go to turn you away now, my young vriend. I want ze
piano."

Leverson had appeared. He shook hands with us, and informed me that he
had only a short time to spare, and hoped I was ready.

Elderhof jumped into the orchestra, and opened the piano. Mr. Leverson
passed round at the back into the stage box, and I, trembling and
nervous, and horribly conscious of the difficulties of singing and
acting alone in this great empty space, awaited the signal for
Paulette's entrance.

My first lines were almost inaudible, but the music gave me courage,
and I dashed into the bright catchy melody of the village girl's song
with all the courage I could summon.

She had two songs, a long recitative, a part in a quartette, and
some rather good dialogue. The latter I read, as I could not act it
alone. Mr. Leverson never interrupted or made any comment until I had
finished. Then he leant forward in his box.

"A great deal better," he said, "than I expected. Certainly it's the
very thing for your voice. Well, you must wait your chance. If Miss
Tancredi isn't a success, you can have the part. But you must conquer
your nervousness, especially in speaking. Your voice is unequal, and
your gestures stiff."

He left the box and came round to the stage. Elderhof vaulted lightly
from the piano chair over the footlights, and shook me warmly by the
hand.

"Good! Very good! Excellent! Your voice rings well in zis space. I
could not hear Paulette more better sung. Zat leetle Mess Tancredi she
have no power, no force, no expression. Then also she have no chest
notes. You have ze production; it come straight, full; ze chest and
lungs open, through ze lips. Good! Good! Sehr gut. Ah! Herr Leverson,
keep vat you cal ze eye on zis young lady. She will be worth much one
day, not so far off. When she learn also to act. It will come all in
good time. I am not often mistaken."

Leverson paced to and fro, his arms behind him, his eyes roving from
Elderhof's face to mine.

"Ah! well," he said at last, "time will show. This tour is a good
chance for her. Then we'll see."

He took out his watch, glanced at it, then at me.

"Come and have lunch with me," he said: "and we'll talk things over."

I coloured hotly. I did not wish to go, but also I hardly liked to
refuse. It would look so prudish. Half-consciously I glanced at
Elderhof.

"A good idea!" he exclaimed eagerly. "Lunch! I, too, am hungry. We will
all go lonching. Vere shall it be? Has Mees Dering any choice?"

"None," I said, oblivious to Leverson's scowl.

I could have hugged that dear little German.

To-morrow we start on tour with the "Isle of Consequences," and
to-night Ericson and Elderhof invited some of the company to a farewell
supper after the performance. I was asked also.

It was very pleasant. Just Bohemian enough to hold the charm of
freedom and unconventionality without degenerating into licence. Ina
Fancourt (the girl who is to take the principal part on tour) was not
the same who had performed it at the Eden. I liked her very much. She
was clever, and, best of all, gave herself no airs. Of all my stage
companions she was the only one with whom I felt at ease or could make
a friend of. Harold Ericson was a delightful host, full of fun and good
humour. He singled no one out for special attention, and he listened
to the inevitable "shop" of the profession with an expression of the
keenest interest.

Elderhof, under the influence of champagne, was exquisitely comical,
and mixed idioms, tenses, and expressions in a bewildering fashion. He
was not to accompany us. He is at work on another opera, less frivolous
than the present. He assured me I should have a part in it, and Ina
Fancourt also. This was very reassuring, and led us to hope our absence
from London would not be a long one.

Ericson came home with me after supper. He stopped the cab at the end
of the street, and we walked slowly up and down in the clear moonlight.
He gave me much good advice, many valuable hints. He warned me that the
life I had chosen might soon disgust and annoy me; that I should be
beset by more temptations and dangers than in any other vocation.

I laughed grimly. "Do you suppose I don't know that?" I said. "It
didn't take long to discover that actors and actresses live a life of
their own, in a world of their own. They care surprisingly little for
what goes on in the world around them, and seem to interest themselves
in nothing that is unconnected with the personality or success of stage
life."

"Life is no longer a sealed book to me. I am not afraid to read its
pages."

"I wish you were," he said earnestly. "Or rather, I wish the evil ones
might be shut away from your eyes. And this brings me to what I want to
say to you. Don't get bitter; don't get hard. Don't let one unfortunate
experience blunt your feelings. There is much good in life, as well as
much harm. There are clean-souled men, even as there are evil ones.
Your instincts are your best guide I am sure. Only when I look at you,
so young, so friendless, so beautiful----"

He stopped abruptly once more. I felt annoyed and a little impatient. I
failed to see what right he had to lecture me.

"You are very good to give me all this advice," I said, "but indeed I
can take care of myself. I am not afraid. For one thing, I hate all
men, when I don't despise them. It is fortunate that I am thrown into a
life which makes either alternative easy, is it not?"

"I hope," he said gently, "that that very sweeping denunciation does
not include me. I assure you my friendship is absolutely disinterested.
Were you my sister, I could not feel a warmer interest nor a keener
desire to surround you with all care and consideration. Can you look
upon me as a friend--trust me as one--appeal to me, or consult me in
any difficulty? I solemnly assure you you shall never have cause to
repent it."

There was such a ring of earnestness in his voice that I felt he
meant every word he said. I looked up at him under the light of the
gas lamps. The grave face, the kind soft eyes were eloquent of real
feeling. He held out his hands, and I placed mine in them, and for
a moment we stood there looking into each other's faces. A wave of
bitterness swept over my heart. I found myself saying, "Had Cyril been
as this man, what a different fate would have been mine at this present
moment."

"Say you will trust me," he said, bending slightly towards me.

"Yes," I answered. "I think I can, and I will."

"Thank you." He dropped my hands. We said nothing more, but turned
and walked to our own dwelling. He opened the door, and I wished him
good-night. I think I heard a "God bless you, child," under his breath,
as I ascended the dark and narrow stairs to my own room.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Again I finish a record. Again I close a page of my life. I have found
work. I have accomplished independence. I have gained a friend. No bad
things any of these, and a brief space of time has sufficed to achieve
them.

The sense of blank indifference has left me, and even suffering
has lost its sharp sting. I turn my thoughts to what "may be" with
something of hopefulness. I fancy success winning me friends, and
forgiveness too, when courage leads me back to those I so recklessly
deserted.

For long I have schooled myself to forget them, but to-night my
thoughts will go back to the old home, the old love, the happy safe
protection that yet could not guard me from one subtle tempter.

I feel the tears rise, and I do not check them. Something softer and
gentler is within my soul to-night than it has held for long miserable
months.

"So long as I close my heart, so long as I do not let myself feel
anything, I shall conquer difficulties," I tell myself. "But if once
again I grow tender of soul God help me!"

*  *  *  *  *  *

How long have I been sitting here, staring at this blotted page, living
over and over again a spring time of joy and delight, the hopes and
fears of dawning passion, the utter self-forgetfulness of a girl's
first love? I lost myself in a dream. I wake to frenzy.

"Do you know what you have done?" I cry to my betrayer. "Murder!
Murder! Of trust, innocence, hope!"

I paced to and fro. I lived once more those hateful hours and days and
months in Cornwall, when I was blind to Nature's kindly beauty, and
Despair tempted me to death! Why had I chosen to live? Why given myself
and my secret to the mercies of Chance? There lay the wrong, for ever
in the background. There stood my accuser, the innocent life I had
branded with shame. The veil of apparent forgetfulness was rent in a
moment like a filmy cobweb. Crushed, abased, horror-struck, I lived
another hour of agonised remembrance.

Something whispered: "He may die young. A child's life is a frail
thing. He may never live to know the secret of his birth." The whisper
held the mockery of a fiend's voice, for I knew that what is expedient
is often criminal in design if not in deed!

*  *  *  *  *  *

I am calm now. I must put this book away and try to get some sleep.
The dawn is here already. Grey, cold, shadowy, creeping in through the
closed blinds, chilling me with its ghostly presence. The grey dawn,
colourless as my own life.

Sorrow has no speech. I take myself and my broken heart and my aching
memories to the Land of Dreams.




CHAPTER XXI.

Down at Penharva the old dim house lay in its accustomed gloom. No
change of season or of time looked welcome through those closed
windows. No sunshine ever brightened the dull dreariness of the rooms.

Yet a young life grew and throve within, and waxed strong and beautiful
as the months slipped by. The pattering feet, the lisping tongue, the
pretty laughter of babyhood, chased away the shadows of depression,
gave imperative summons at closed doors, and changed the brooding
horrors of a morbid life into passive endurance, that in time might
reach forgetfulness.

The throb of the mother-heart wakes sometimes in a forlorn breast that
actual motherhood has left unblessed. A child's hand holds a magic key
that unlocks the stoniest door, be the bars of wrong and grief never so
strong.

The down on the baby head had thickened into curls, the helpless
limbs grown strong and independent, the cooing tongue expressive,
the indefinite nature a thing of character and self-will tempered by
excessive sweetness. A happy content in trifles made life full of
delightful surprises, and the change from passive to active existence
was one brilliant kaleidoscope to those blue deep eyes.

It was a strange life for a child, a life holding nothing akin to
its own youth, its own intelligence. Of motherhood it knew nothing,
but Nature is human enough for those that trust and love her, and
the flowers and the trees, the birds and insects, the sunlight and
twilight, the dawns and sunsets, had all a part in educating and
companioning this lonely little mortal.

And what better teachers could dawning intelligence desire than the
flute-like carols of birds' thanksgivings, the kiss and warmth and
glory of the life-giving sun, the mystery of twilight with its shadowy
changes, the glitter and dazzle of stars, as one by one they crept from
their mystic hiding-place to gem a space of sky on which a wide-seated
window looked. From that seat the wondering eyes watched those
beautiful lights gleam and glow in widening belts of glory. Often when
the old woman who tended him was asleep the child would creep out and
lift the blind and gaze untiringly at the sky with its starry host, and
the baby brain wove its own fancies about them before ever the tongue's
quaint speech could question their nature or import.

The flowers spoke to him, the leaves whispered weird stories of forest
and wood, of storm that wrecked and sun-light that wooed. The grass
amidst which his unsteady steps first stumbled, was full of life and
wonder and delights, its every blade a thing of joy as it danced and
waved to the wind's behest.

The little life was beautiful as a dream in its simplicity, and that
trustful


"Infantine
Familiar clasp of things divine"


only possible to childhood, and that childhood one sacred to Nature's
teaching and development.

Hints of this development, brief comments on growth and intelligence,
went forth from time to time, gladdening his mother's heart, but
stabbing it with ever-recurrent remorse for what seemed like neglect.
But it was an inevitable neglect.

The profession Dolores had adopted proved very exacting. She had rarely
more than a week's freedom from tours, rehearsals, performances, and
the routine of theatrical education which was fitting her for a higher
branch of the profession.

Brief visits at long intervals, and those visits conducted with the
greatest secrecy, had been all she could spare from her arduous tasks.
Her first long holiday, which was to last a month, was to introduce her
to a comparative stranger. To something intelligent and independent,
something as enchanting as it was companionable, something on which her
passionate love could expend itself freely, something which made that
tireless delight of "giving" a pleasure uninfluenced by any thought of
duty.

The season was over. She had kept August free for once, declining all
offers for tours, and resolved to wait a London engagement which had
been half promised, and to secure which she had tried very hard.

She wanted the principal part in a new comic opera. It was one of those
brilliant amusing medleys made fashionable by Paris. She knew the
composer, and his influence was thrown into the scale. The music suited
her to perfection. The acting part presented really more difficulties
than the vocal. But she had studied assiduously in those three years,
and felt little fear of her powers should she get the engagement.
Meanwhile, pending the important decision, she resolved to visit the
Cornish retreat sacred to the secret of her girlhood.

She had learnt of her father's death. She knew of her sister as a star
in the fashionable firmament. But it seemed to her she had drifted far
away from them all. Those few actual years of separation had been so
filled with incidents, anxiety and excitement, that they represented
half a life time.

She marvelled often that she looked so young still. It seemed that the
passage of time should have branded her even as her own feelings and
experience had done. Of the feelings of youth she had practically none.
The life of the stage is a liberal education, and leaves few illusions
behind. If a woman cannot rely on her own strength and fortitude it
will not help her.

The word "actress" from time immemorial has had a fascinating sound
about it. A sound of temptation, of allurement, of Delilah-like snares,
and sensuous attraction. Beauty secures a wide field for display, a
magnificent advertising ground, and all the aid that art can lend to
natural charms. Great genius may uplift her far above the head of
talent, or wealth, or beauty, but genius is a thing distinct from the
world, and the world never has, and never will, understand it. So
it comes that the stage has a life and a law of its own, with which
no mere outsider may intermeddle. Its language and its habits are
things apart from the routine of domesticity. It cannot be hampered by
conventional scruples, or weighted with social obligations. It soon
discovers that illusions are a sentimental inconvenience. All this
Dolores had found out quickly enough, and if the discovery created a
natural disgust it also quickened suspicion, and sharpened her wits.

Dolores made no secret of her own reason for entering the profession.
It was business pure and simple, and as such she persisted in treating
it. Hard work, constant study, untiring zeal were bound to win their
destined end, and she resolved they should win it.

She might have reached the end in half the time had she chosen to
accept outside assistance, but neither ambition nor despondency could
render her self-forgetful. She kept wrong and right strictly defined.
There was no medium course to tread. She won a great deal of ridicule,
raised no small amount of enmity, but also gained a grudging sort of
respect even from her would-be protectors.

Still she felt convinced that it would be a hard battle to win her way
to the front, or oust even the least of those "popular" favourites.

The only influence she could bring to bear upon her claims was her own
talent and the friendship of two men. One, a barrister, who dallied
prettily with journalism and had written two or three libretti for
comic opera, the other a musician who had won a success d'estime
with opéra bouffe, and whose new piece of work was about to be heard
in the forthcoming season at a West End theatre. If she appeared in the
title role of this opera her fame would be secured. The music had been
written with a view to her doing so. It suited her voice to perfection,
and the composer had sent her fragments from time to time that she
might keep pace with his own work.

Unfortunately, however, the manager of a theatre has more to do
with the engaging of a company than the individual who supplies
the entertainment for that company. Dolores had had some previous
acquaintance with this manager, and had turned a deaf ear to various
little pleasantries on his part. She hardly expected he would give her
such an important engagement as she desired, but hope dies hard in the
young and aspiring, and she came to Penharva full of it.

The journey from London had been made in company with one fellow
passenger, a lady, who seemed somewhat curious as to the girl's affairs
and destination. She was pleasant enough, and inclined to be friendly,
but Dolores resented her attempts at acquaintanceship and was almost
ungracious. They were both bound for Penzance.

As the train ran into the terminus Dolores caught sight of a face that
startled her into a momentary dread of recognition. It was the face of
her Aunt Sarah, and she had apparently come to meet the girl's fellow
traveller. The fact of her being in the same neighbourhood, within a
certain number of miles of that mysterious house of Penharva, alarmed
Dolores not a little. It was possible they might meet--that she would
be recognised. In that case what was she to say? How explain her long
absence, her cruel silence, or her presence here? These tormenting
thoughts filled her mind all through the long drive that led to her
destination.

The sun had long set when she reached the place at which she always
left the carriage. Here old Peter Pasco, Miss Penharva's serving man,
awaited her and took her travelling bag. She never encumbered herself
with much luggage on the occasion of her visits, knowing the mystery
that enshrouded this drear abode, and in obedience to the wishes of its
strange mistress.

The steep road or track leading down the cliff side was almost in
darkness. The old man had grunted a surly greeting, then stumbled on
ahead, leaving the girl to follow as she best could.

The house lay in its dark setting of tree and cliff, untouched by
change, unillumined from within. The old man took a lantern from its
hook by the gate and lit it. Then he led the way across the untrimmed
lawn and weed-grown paths to the door.

Here he left the girl, who was admitted by his wife, from whom she
received a somewhat kindlier welcome.

"Would 'ee go to the mistress when thee'st rested and had summat to
eat?" said the old woman as she followed her up the stairs.

"I must see the child first, before I eat, or rest, or anything. How is
he, Ruth ?"

"He be just fitty," said the dame, her grim face lighting and a smile
softening her lips. "A fine, bould cheeld, and pooty as a posy, and
makin' good use of his tongue, as 'tis only natiral."

The girl ran across the corridor impatiently, and entered the room
she always occupied. In one corner stood a little iron cot. Its small
occupant lay there sound asleep, his golden curls like floss silk upon
the pillow, his dimpled fists doubled up on the white quilt. She stood
and gazed at him in wonder. He was so grown, so altered, she could
scarcely believe he was the same.

As she stood there, breathless and almost awestruck by this beauty and
development, the door softly opened and another figure entered and came
up to the girl's side.

Dolores started. "Miss Penharva--you!" she cried.

"I heard your step. I came to welcome you. Somehow, child, I miss you
more and more. Or, perhaps, he has humanised me. I cannot tell. You
will hardly know him. He talks and prattles so prettily, and he is so
strong and well. How soundly he sleeps. We must not disturb him."

"Did he know I was coming?"

"No, I told him nothing. He may not even remember you. It is a year
since you were here."

"Yes, a year. Naturally he would not remember. A child's memory is
short."

She turned away, a touch of the old heart-ache troubling her previous
joy. Wondering, she gazed at her benefactress. Humanised? Indeed
she was! Her long wild locks were smoothly coiled, her dress in its
nun-like simplicity seemed admirably adapted to her tall spare figure.
Her eyes had lost their fierceness, and her face had gained flesh and
colour.

She made a gesture of silence as Dolores was about to speak.

"Not here," she said, "not now. Our voices might waken him. Come to me
after you have supped. I have much to say to you."

And she glided from the room as noiselessly as she had entered.




CHAPTER XXII.

"Now tell me everything," said Miss Penharva, as Dolores joined her in
her own room half an hour later, refreshed by strong tea and one of old
Ruth's famous Cornish pasties. The girl glanced round as she took a
seat by the fire. It seemed to her the room looked less gloomy, even as
its mistress seemed less austerely eccentric.

There were bowls of flowers and bright-hued berries on table and
mantelshelf. There was a huge Noah's ark in one corner, a tiny chair,
some gay-covered picture books. A change indeed from the dreary chamber
where they had first made acquaintance.

"By everything, do you mean the events of this past year?" asked
Dolores.

"Yes. Have you got on? Do you still like the life?"

"I like it, and I dislike it," she answered. "The stage would be all
very well if it were not for the people who are connected with it."

Miss Penharva smiled grimly. "That might be said of many professions
and occupations, I fancy."

Dolores agreed and gave a rapid account of her doings, struggles,
and successes during the past twelve months. She ended up with the
expression of that cherished hope respecting the London engagement, and
mentioned some of its attendant difficulties.

Miss Penharva listened eagerly.

"It must be done," she said. "I have set my mind on your success. You
deserve it. You have worked hard, and you have proved yourself capable
of heroism and endurance. You refused my assistance once, but you must
waive pride now. I have no influence, but I have wealth, and this man,
what do you call him?--Leverson?--is not above the racial weakness of
his kind, I suppose. He will give you the part if it is made worth his
while."

"That I don't doubt," said the girl, bitterly. "But I should hate to
feel that I owe my place to money, not my own worth."

"Don't be foolish, child. In this world we get what we desire less by
merit than by luck. I have left you entirely to yourself hitherto,
because I respected your independence. You have come out of the
conflict bravely. The fight has lasted long enough. It is time you had
some reward. But first--look me straight in the eyes. Now the truth.
Has there been any man--any fancy or foolishness all this time?"

The scorn of the girl's flashing eyes was answer enough. "Never!" she
cried. "Never for one single instant. Surely, you don't suspect me to
be capable of a second folly?"

"You are young. You have a fair face. You are thrown amongst constant
temptations."

"Say that I have no heart; that what may seem tempting to others has
for me no meaning."

"No heart? Perhaps it only sleeps. It may wake again."

"It will never wake," said the girl firmly. "It has lost all sentiment,
softness, belief. If it loves one earthly thing it is that small atom
of humanity yonder."

A faint quiver came over the watchful face. "He is worth your love. He
has a charm, a grace, a way of winning hearts." She glanced around, and
her lips curved into smiles. "You see there are traces of presence even
here. I haven't the power to deny him entrance. He has made life less
lonely, more human. You will understand better what I mean to-morrow."

"He can really talk?"

"Oh! yes. And quite intelligibly. And he is so well and healthy and
always even-tempered. A quaint creature, but inexpressibly winning."

"He has grown fairer. He is not like me," said the mother, sighing.

"You are sorry for that? To me it matters nothing. It is he--himself,
who has the charm. By the way, what do you intend to call him? You
evaded registration. In this out-of-the-way place it doesn't matter.
His existence is unknown beyond our walls. But he should have a name.
You must think of one."

"I can't fancy him of such importance yet. Only the other day he was a
tiny, helpless mite."

"He is not helpless any longer."

"Does he call you anything?" asked the girl, faintly.

"Oh! he gave me a name of his own. You know Ruth Pasco always calls me
Miss Ursy, and he twisted it into 'Mis'ry,' and 'Mis'ry' I am to him. I
never rebuke the little tongue. There might have been less appropriate
names to hit upon than that."

"You look less unhappy than you did," said the girl, gently.

"I look what I am then, and I owe it to him. There is a magic in his
pretty voice, in his clinging hands, in his deep wistful eyes."

"Oh! to keep him a child always--always!" cried the mother,
passionately. She clasped her hands and leant forward, the firelight
gleaming on her bright hair and flushed cheeks. "There is a thought
that tortures me," she went on. "I can't get away from it. He will grow
up. He will want to know who he is--why he is here--in what relation we
stand to one another--and then----"

The flush died out of the fair young face and left it ashy white. "Oh!"
she went on. "If he should despise me, hate me! What a Nemesis awaits
me in the future."

"He will be a man," she said, bitterly. "And he is the son of a coward
and a hypocrite. Can stronger virtues outlive that heritage?"

"It may pass him by. A child need not inherit his father's nature. A
thousand things may discipline and teach him. Give him woman's training
and woman's influence. Then let him stand forth as their champion."

"It would be glorious, if it might be," said the girl, breathlessly,
her eyes on the kindling face, so strangely different to the passive
mask of old.

"It shall be, if you choose. Leave it to me. I will mould him,
discipline, teach him as I think fit. Had he been a girl, she might
have avenged our wrongs in another way; but as it is I am not sure we
have not a better weapon to our hand."

Her face whitening under strong emotion was startling in its new
aspect of resolve. Dolores gazed at her, fascinated and repelled. Yet
something in the scheme attracted her. It might be possible to revenge
their joint wrongs in years to come if they could rear and train a
spirit that would defeat the injustice of man and bear witness against
his villainy.

Miss Penharva saw her face change, and the fire die out of her
expression.

"What is it?" she asked.

But the girl remained staring into vacancy, her brain trying to steady
itself amidst the shifting sands of many troubled thoughts.

Presently she spoke. Her voice was tired, like her face.

"It must be your work, not mine. My life claims so much, and if I have
to choose between those claims and the stagnation of days passed here,
you know what my choice must be. For a little time I might endure, but
it could not last. I know it. In work alone I find safety, excitement,
relief. Inactivity is maddening. I can't exist passively."

"I never expected it. But you need not give up all your time. And as
you succeed better you can give less. Your guerdon will be richer. You
can choose your hours of leisure as well as of work. There is a home, a
resting-place always at your service."

"I wonder why you are so good to me--I, who came to you a stranger, an
outcast, under the ban of social degradation. At times it hardly seems
credible. It would read like a wild romance."

"There are truths in life that no romance could equal; even as there
are sorrows and sins that only the human breast can hide. The misery of
my own experience made me pitiful to your extremity. I could not push a
drowning sister under the waves of despair. I have felt their strength,
their chill, gazed at their inky blackness. If I have done little worth
remembering in my paralysed, soul-wrecked life, at least I comfort
myself with the thought that one perishing soul owes to me its rescue."

"I owe you--everything," said the girl, hoarsely. She sank on her
knees, and hid her face in the folds of the nun-like gown, and a sob
shook her slight young frame. "My debt can never be paid. Ask what you
will of me. I cannot refuse."

There was a moment's silence, broken only by the fall of the wood ash
on the hearth, the tick of the clock in the corridor without. In that
silence Dolores heard her answer. "If I ask--your child?"

She lifted her head with a quick, frightened gesture.

"What do you mean?"

"You know my scheme, you agreed to it. But then when nature spoke out
to your heart you drew back. I pitied you, young and so forlorn. The
child gave you comfort, and I made no claim."

"But as the years go on I see many difficulties. The influence brought
to bear on him must be constant; single, not divided. Let him imagine I
am his mother. He is fond of me, used to me. I will do everything for
him as if he were my own son, but I want his love. I want the authority
that springs from close relationship."

The girl was silent. She rose slowly to her feet and stood clasping and
unclasping her hands, while her thoughts rocked to and fro on a tide of
restless emotions. Waive her rights--let him call another woman mother!

A cold trickle of revulsion chilled the warm flow of her blood.
Could she yield her rights to a stranger? Take second place in the
child's young heart? Watch him as the years flew on apace giving duty,
obedience, love to one who has not Nature's holy rights to them? Could
she kill out the mother-sense just beginning to stir her long-stagnant
pulse? Her instincts, developed through suffering, warned her of the
difficulty yet before her. A vision of ineffable delight floated across
her memory; something called up in dark hours of loneliness; something
associated with the joy born of pain and agony and dread that makes the
martyrdom of motherhood its best reward.

"I--I cannot answer you now," she said. "Not till I have seen him,
watched the change in his baby mind. It won't be easy to hear the name
I've longed to hear him speak given to an other."

"No sacrifice is easy," said the mistress of Penharva, gloomily. "But
it is inevitable sometimes." Her head dropped, her hands clasped
themselves in a sudden tremor. "I was starved, dying, for want of some
human love. Now new life wells up within this frozen bosom. I feel I
could glorify my barren existence under the spell and strength of this
feeling. But I am exacting. I want to be first. You asked me how you
could repay your debt. I have told you."




CHAPTER XXIII.

Dolores knelt by the little cot and gazed at the face of her sleeping
child. She had been living over again that interview, with its strain
of suppressed passion, and its strange request. In this year of absence
the links had evidently strengthened between a lonely woman and a
budding life. The mother had been keen to notice the change, and its
cause had puzzled her until that demand had sounded both claim and
defiance. Now she took counsel with her own heart, and asked herself
what was the best course to pursue.

There had been a time when the possibility of shelving her difficulties
on to the shoulders of another would have filled her with thankfulness;
but then she had been wild with terror, distraught with frenzy at
her inability to combat life's manifold problems. Now, the years had
brought calmness and wisdom, and Nature had spoken to her out of the
anguish of her soul.

"To deny my motherhood!" she repeated to herself as she knelt there
beside the little unconscious form, "to put myself out of his life, to
see tenderness and duty given to another and stand silently by--ought I
to do it? Can I do it?"

She rose, and stood silently there, her hands pressed against her
temples. Prudence whispered worldly counsel to her, showed her the work
and ambitions of her life, pointed out how much easier it would be to
live it unhampered by responsibility. Against such counsel she held
only the argument of a foolish fancy that had beguiled lonely moments.

But a child soon ceases to be a child. This boy would need education,
companionship, freedom. If she took him with her she would only have
to part with him to strangers. She could not expect him to put up
with restless changes, the long absences, the discomforts, shifts,
and annoyances inseparable from theatrical life. In this safe shelter
he would be well cared for, and she could still visit him when she
pleased. Only she must not ever confess their relationship.

"It is odd that she should wish that," the girl thought, as she turned
away at last and began to undress. "But I owe everything to her. She
has a right to make conditions."

Her sleep was troubled. Sometimes the child moved, but he never woke.
It was full daylight when she opened her eyes after a restless doze,
and found him sitting up in his cot, gazing curiously at herself.

She, too, rose and stretched out eager arms.

"Baby," she cried, "come to me."

But the child only stared, with wide-eyed wondering gaze. He had
forgotten her.

She came over to the cot and talked and coaxed, but won never a word,
only the shy turning aside of a golden head, the droop of unkissable
lips that refused to be cajoled. A sense of bitterness and anger stole
over her. Her longings and thoughts during the past year seemed such
wasted foolish things. She had remembered so much but he nothing.

She went back to bed, seeing that persuasion was no use, and lay
resting against the pillows watching to see what he would do. He seemed
to have a morning programme of his own, which he began to carry out.

He clambered out of his cot with no apparent difficulty, and then
ran steadily across the floor to the broad window seat. Here he
seated himself, and, raising the blind, gave vent to audible chuckles
of delight at the scene without. Birds were chirping in the thick
growth of ivy that framed the casement, a rain of sunbeams danced and
fluttered through the narrow panes, the sound of the sea was distinctly
audible through the opening above, for Dolores never slept with closed
casements.

The chuckling ceased, and the child began to talk to himself with
a fluency that astonished the listener. He seemed oblivious now of
her presence, and took birds and sunshine, and sea and air into his
confidence, chattering to and of each in a quick inconsequent fashion,
as though they were playmates of long standing.

Dolores listened to his quaint conceits and fluent words with a beating
heart. His development amazed her as much as his beauty. He seemed
perfectly happy and at home; adjuring the birds, trying to catch the
sunbeams, laughing and chuckling as he clambered up and down the wide
seat.

She did not attempt to speak, but remained watching his antics until a
knock at the door startled her. Old Ruth Pasco entered with some tea
for her and a cup of milk for the child.

He ran eagerly to her, and the grim, gnarled old face grew soft and
almost tender. She took him on her lap and gave him his milk, and the
two chattered loudly, if somewhat unintelligibly.

Then she bathed and dressed the child, and prepared to take him
down-stairs. Dolores made another effort at a better understanding.
The little fellow, however, clung shyly to the old woman's gown, and
refused to make friends with one whom he considered a stranger. Dolores
saw it was best to adopt old Ruth's advice and "leave 'ee to 'eezelf."
All the same she suffered a pang as she saw him trot off contentedly
with the old woman, and absolutely indifferent to her own blandishments.

"I needn't have worried myself," she said, as she threw aside the
bedclothes and began her morning toilet. "He has quite forgotten me,
and seems perfectly happy. After all, I wonder if the affection between
parent and child is only a sentimental idea? If a stranger brought up a
child and treated it kindly I believe it would be just as fond of the
stranger as of its own mother. Nature doesn't speak to the selfishness
of the young half so eloquently as comfort."

While she was dressing she could see the little one playing on the lawn
with a large dog for companion. "He certainly is a splendid child,"
she thought, as she watched his sturdy limbs, his quick movements, and
heard his clear voice and merry laugh. "I forgot how changed he must
be; I expected to find my toddling baby still. I wonder if this is the
answer to my perplexities. I have become a mere nonentity in his life,
and I fancied myself all-important."

The bitterness of that disappointment stung her to the quick. It is
always in mothers to give so much to gain so little. There was the
smart of tears in her eyes as she turned from the open window and
fastened her gown, and then went downstairs. The front door was wide
open. Brilliant sunshine streamed through and lit up the once gloomy
hall with its welcome radiance. Without, the great trees stood in all
their bravery of colouring, green and gold of screening leafage decking
their boughs right loyally.

She stepped out, and stood there bare-headed, and watched the child and
the dog running races together over the grass, waking the long silent
echoes with their gleeful noise.

Presently the little fellow stopped, tired out and breathless. She
resolved to make another effort at friendliness. She crossed the space
between them and held out her hands. He seated himself on the grass
with startling abruptness, and put his own behind him. "Who you?" he
demanded. "You's not Mis'ry."

Dolores hesitated. Under the circumstances she could not say exactly
who she was until she had given her decision to Miss Penharva.

"I've come to play with you," she said. "Don't you remember me?"

He shook his head. It was evident he had no recollection of their
previous acquaintance. His restless eyes turned to the dog. "My
bow-wow," he informed his mother.

Deeming it as well to make friends through the animal's mediumship, she
patted it on the head and murmured words of approbation as to character
and virtues. The child watched and listened. Evidently the dog's
acceptance of these favours impressed him. He began to chatter. He
used so many old expressions and phrases that she had some difficulty
in understanding him. Probably he had been a good deal in the Pasco's
company.

The ice once broken they grew quite friendly together. He told her
quaintly of the birds, and what they said to him morning and evening,
of the butterflies he chased, of fairies that lurked in the flower
bells, and pixies that danced in the moonlight; of wonderful things
that the sea washed up and old Peter Pasco brought him; of how he was
to go on the sea in a boat one day when he was big.

It seemed to her his life was full of childish pleasures, some born of
vivid imagination and some of the elements that were Nature's prodigal
gifts. When he had chattered himself out they went in to breakfast. He
usually had his in the kitchen; but old Ruth brought in his chair and
set it at the dining-room table opposite his mother.

Dolores could scarcely attend to her own meal for watching and
wondering at the small sprite. He ate his bread and milk with the
zest of a youthful appetite, and with a speed that lacked somewhat of
"company manners." When it was finished he slid down from his chair and
trotted off to the door, announcing his intention of "going to Mis'ry."

"But she is in her own room; you mustn't go, it's too early,"
remonstrated Dolores.

"Always go," he asserted. "Mis'ry never mind boy."

He got the handle turned, opened the door, and went off.

"Well!" exclaimed Dolores; "he seems at home, I must say. I can't
understand it. And he's so fearless and knows his own business so
decidedly, I see now why Miss Penharva wishes to adopt him. He has
evidently won her heart."

She left the room, passed softly through the hall and up the dark oak
stairs. The gay chatter of a childish voice sounded distinctly through
the closed door of Miss Penharva's room. Dolores hesitated before
passing it, but she had not courage to enter without the customary
summons. It was odd that the child should be so much at home, and she
so strange.

The doubts in her mind began to resolve themselves into a decision. If
she had ceased to be anything to the child, why hamper him or herself
with a false sentiment of duty? Her absences must be constant and
often for long periods. Every such absence would only weaken the tie
between them. Better the wrench should be made while he was young and
indifferent. If he ever needed her, if a time came when the truth must
be told, she would not flinch. Meanwhile it should be as Miss Penharva
desired.

She fetched her hat, and went out into the grounds alone. She had taken
her part of the new opera with her to study, but her mind that morning
refused to concentrate itself on either words or music. She found a
seat on the trunk of a fallen tree, amidst the golden wealth of bracken
that spread to the cliff's edge. Below rolled the sea in its beautiful
bay. She caught its gleam and heard its song. The lulling music soothed
her, as did the beauty and the peace of her surroundings. For a time it
seemed to her such beauty and such peace were worth all the feverish
excitement and successes of her life in the world. "But they could
not content me for long," she thought. "Work is the only panacea for
trouble. It takes one out of one's own small self; it shows one's
unimportance. It deadens thought."

Her eyes wandered dreamily to the tangle of russet and gold, the
brilliance of weed and flowers abloom in this warm nook. Life was
alert even in the silence of solitude. Gay-winged beetles crawled from
unseen hiding places, a group of ants paused over the preparation of
winter stores, the birds chirped and twittered self-congratulations
over family matters. The details of the scene crept to her brain, and
set themselves into a picture, demanding her attention. The book lay
unheeded on her lap. She listened to Nature, and let its lulling charm
steep her senses as it would.

Once unhappiness had sickened her to all love of life, and dulled her
brain and closed her eyes to the magic of the great Earth-Mother. Now
youth and hope reasserted themselves. There was something in the future
to be achieved, something in the past to outlive. Her pulses quickened,
her ambition revived. Again her thoughts centred in the work before
her, and the music became as a sentient thing. Its melodies sounded in
her ear, and she heard her own voice giving them life and meaning. It
was not art at its highest, but it was art in the form of giving one's
best and fullest interpretation to another's creation.

When she rose at last from her resting-place her mind was made up. She
went straight to Miss Penharva's room, and sought admission.

The child was still there, playing with his toys in a corner. His
strange guardian sat in the great chair, her hands folded on her stick,
her head bent forward, watching him. But the room was no longer in
gloom. The long-closed shutters were thrown back. The window was open
to light and air. The glory of sunlight played at will over the child's
golden head, and the quaint old-fashioned furniture and china.

Dolores stood on the threshold amazed. What a little thing had wrought
this miracle in that strange self-centred life. Only a little child's
influence. As she stood there silently, he left his toys and trotted
over to the quiet figure and climbed into her lap.

"Misery, tell boy story," he said.

She put one arm round him and looked at his mother. The child's eyes
followed her glance.

"Go away along," he commanded. "We's don't want you."

The colour left her face. Her heart gave a quick throb of pain.

"No," she said, "you don't want me. I will go away."

Then she looked straight into the eager eyes, flashing a hungry
searching glance at her impassive face.

"I came to tell you, Miss Penharva, that it shall be as you wish."

"You mean----"

"You know what I mean. He has forgotten. I am nothing. An affection
that would have to be perpetually recalled, that every incident of his
life and surroundings would weaken year by year, would be but poor
comfort. You have been to him more than I could hope to be. He loves
you. I will not coerce or interfere with that love."

Even while she was speaking a childish arm had wandered round that
withered neck, a little hand was patting the inattentive face.

"Misery tell boy story," repeated an imperative voice. "Send her away!"

A finger pointed at the doorway. A frown puckered the white brow.
Without another word Dolores closed the door and left them there
together.




CHAPTER XXIV.

A rain of devouring kisses fell upon the child's face as the door shut
them in.

There was something almost terrible in the fierceness and passion of
those caresses, that pouring out of long restrained heart-hunger. It
frightened and displeased the boy. He pushed aside the strange face,
and hid his lips from those eager kisses. His hands beat impatiently
against her embracing arms.

She ceased her impulsive caresses, and quieted herself by a violent
effort. He settled himself once more in her lap and demanded the story
of a two-headed Cornish giant who came to grief under the valiant
onslaughts of a bold youth named Jack.

The narrator for once combated his eagerness and made an effort at
bargaining. She would tell the story on condition he would try and say
something--a mere word. "Boy," as he called himself, demurred, finger
to lip, rebellion in his glance. At last he promised an effort, and
demanded the new word.

"I want you to say 'mother,'" explained his tyrant.

"What's that--to eat?"

"No, child. Something one calls a person one loves very much."

"I love Misery," he graciously announced. "Is she my--muvver?"

Those clear eyes of heaven's own blue and heaven's own lighting looked
eager question into the sombre orbs above, long darkened by sorrow and
pain. It was hard to lie to them. Yet she said "yes" with a meaning
fuller than many a mother's answer to such an appeal.

Then he acceded to the request, pronouncing it in his own fashion, and
adding, "Boy like Misery best."

The story was told with quite new energy after this performance, and
was barely concluded when old Ruth came to fetch him to his dinner. He
was dismissed with another request, and an injunction not to forget
the new title. He had his dinner in the kitchen, and the visitor was
served in the dining-room. He perplexed old Ruth by questions as to
the nature, species, and qualifications of a "muvver," announcing
that "Misery" stood in that relationship to him. She listened in
astonishment, wondering what had occurred between her mistress and
Dolores. She did not accept the child's statement seriously, neither
did she correct it. The wisdom of a silent tongue in any matter she
could not understand was a wisdom that had served her in many years of
life, and gained her the credit of being unusually knowledgeable.

"There's zummat amiss," she told herself, "and I can't catch un's
meaning."

She adored the child, but in a grim, undemonstrative fashion.
Endearments and caresses were not in her way, and she marvelled greatly
at their appearance in her mistress. It was, however, a new freak if
she was to set herself up for mothering this child, sent thither by
chance, and evidently constituting himself a permanent guest. She
wondered what his real mother thought of it. Probably she did not care.
She was young, and pretty, and foolish, and a child meant only a burden
to life. Finally she dismissed the little fellow to the garden, with
the dog for company, and a large rosy apple for sustenance.

Dolores watched him from the room within. She was hurt and sore at
heart. She had understood too little of children to take this desertion
as lightly as it deserved, and could not realise that a year's absence
at his age meant a lifetime, every month of which had been crowded with
incidents and fruitful with dawning intelligence.

She marvelled at his perfect content with his own company. The dog
stretched himself lazily under a tree, but the child was never still.
He seemed to invent games or amusement out of everything; he kept up an
incessant dialogue with himself and some imaginary person, ran races,
played with sticks and leaves, hid behind the great myrtle bushes, and
then pounced out on his drowsy four-footed friend with a glee that was
the spontaneous expression of pure enjoyment.

"He is quite happy," thought the girl bitterly, and then the memory
of all he had cost her, of the bitter shame and agony and anguish
of that awful time, swept over her soul. This was her reward. She
knew not whether to blame Nature or Fate, or herself. All the same,
the bitterness was there. There was no sweetness to it, no hope for
the future. Her dream of motherhood was as futile as her dream of
love. Those vague, beautiful, exquisite feelings were only a fool's
imaginings. Life itself was hurt and sore at heart. She knew herself
to be loyal, passionate, courageous, but these feelings applied to
love had won no return. Her mood recoiled upon herself, and she threw
herself into the wide arms of the old leather chair by the fireplace,
and sobbed heart-brokenly.

That night she sought Miss Penharva, and found her alone, sitting
by the fire, which was always kindled every evening. She took her
accustomed chair in silence. The elder woman glanced at her absorbed
face and noted its pallor and its new sternness.

"Have you come to tell me your decision?" she asked.

"I told you it this morning."

"In a way, yes. But I must have a written promise or guarantee. I
cannot wait on caprice. How do I know that you may not change your
mind?"

"I shall not do that," said the girl, wearily. "But have your own way.
I am not in a position to make terms. I had no idea when we discussed
the matter yesterday that your hold on the child's affection was so
strong. It is I who am the stranger, not you."

"You need not grudge me the first pure human love I have ever known.
You saw what I was, you see what he has made me. Yet I did nothing to
win this affection. It seemed a natural tribute of his childish heart,
and----" she paused, and her eyes turned to the fire, "I should have
been more than human to resist it," she added softly.

"I think you would," said Dolores, bitterly. "But now what is it you
wish? Am I to be a stranger to him always? To stand outside of his
life? Is he never to know I am his mother?"

"I have thought that out. It could hardly be possible. A day might come
when it would be absolutely necessary to reveal the truth to him. I
leave that to your discretion. But now, I am all to him that he needs.
He is perfectly content. And I love him as if he were my own. . . Do
you remember when I told you I had no heart? I thought so then. It is
strange--more strange than you can imagine--to find it is not dead,
that all these years of misery could not kill it." She laid her hand
against her side, and looked wistfully at the lovely face beside her.
"A man struck out its life, a child called it back. You will not grudge
me that rebirth, knowing something of what I have endured."

"No," said the girl, "I do not grudge it you. Perhaps I envy you.
I hardly know. I have to stand aside and see myself of no account.
It comes as a surprise, but I suppose it is only natural. He owes
everything to you, why should he not love you best?"

"I will send for Mr. Malpas to-morrow, and he shall arrange everything
in proper form," said Miss Penharva. "I must alter my will. I have no
near relatives, a few distant cousins, that is all. The child will have
everything. I shall simply call him my adopted son. . . . . Oh! the
name. We have not decided upon that. What was his father's?"

"Not that--never that," cried the girl, fiercely. "I'll have no memory
of that false life shadow this innocent one."

"Have you any choice?"

"None. Why should I care? You had better give him that, as you give him
everything."

"I had a brother; he died very young. I scarcely knew him, his name was
David. Shall it be that."

"If you wish. It matters little to me."

"Very well, David Penharva he shall be. It is a good name. A name of
strength and endurance, and the boy has both. Is he not beautiful,
manly, bold! He has never cried nor flinched yet for any accident or
pain."

"He is a beautiful child. I hope his nature may accord with his face.
It seldom happens."

"It shall happen. He will be so safe, so sheltered, so happy. And the
first years count for much. Let Nature be your first love none other
will hurt or coarsen her charm. He is a creature of air, and sunlight,
of the seasons, the woods, the sea. They all speak to him, and he loves
them all. What he learns now no school could ever have taught, and no
money could purchase."

Dolores' mind flew back to a happy childhood, a time of liberty and
innocent joys, and days glad as sunshine. They had been hers, and she
had set little value on them till now on looking backward through the
misty valley of trouble she caught their glad reflection.

"You are right," she said, hoarsely. "No money could purchase such a
time, let him enjoy it as he will."

Then she rose, but an imploring gesture stayed her. "Don't leave me
yet. I have so many lonely hours."

The girl looked surprised. "I thought you liked to be alone."

"Not now, not any longer." She glanced round at the dreary room. "I
have let the sunshine in," she said, slowly. "I shall never bar it out
again, unless the new love prove as false as the old."

"A child's love is never false," said Dolores, bitterly. "It can't
betray, it can't cheat you. In its sincerity lies its worth, for the
smile or the kiss can't be bought. If it loves you, its love makes your
beauty, your virtues, your merits. You will hold all these for him.
What man or woman could so endow you?"

"True," said the old woman, dreamily. "Has life taught you that
already?"

"Life--I don't know; Nature, I think; 'tis she makes us mothers,
whatever makes us wives."

"And you were such a girl, so young, so ignorant," and the dark
piercing eyes gazed curiously into the lovely face. "Yet that small
helpless creature taught you all this?"

"Yes, I wonder sometimes at myself."

"Do you ever think you will marry--someone else?"

"Do I think? God forbid! I see so much of men that I can afford to
despise them. You can't idealise what you know."

"Your face does not agree with your speech, my child. You will never
get men to believe your heart is as cold as your words."

The bitterness of the faint smile that was the girl's only answer
spoke eloquently of the uselessness of argument. What the older woman
had suffered the younger could avenge, and would do it unsparingly if
opportunity offered.

The one life-softening influence withdrawn, who should say what other
could take its place!

A long silence followed. Silence filled to the brim with memories and
emotions, beside which words would have seemed useless.

The quick living agony of thought has no fit speech to frame it. What
language could have expressed the passion of anger and repudiation
whirling through that girlish soul.

Miss Penharva, watching the stormy changes of her face, thought
to herself, "Her wrongs have been greater than mine, so have her
sufferings. Where will she find consolation?"

A pang of remorse shot through her own heart as she remembered the
new sacrifice demanded. But she consoled herself by thinking she had
not willingly influenced the child. She could not blame herself or
him because he loved her best. Neither could she force that love into
another channel.

Her lips had been parched with thirst for some human love. The first
draught only intensified the longing for more. The windows of her
soul had opened to life's sunshine once again, and this new happiness
was greater, even in its elements of terror and foreboding, than the
passion of her youth. Suddenly the girl roused herself.

"I think I ought to go," she said. "I mean from here. As soon as the
paper is signed I will leave. It would only be a daily pang to watch
him, and be with him, and know I am nothing to his life."

"But you came here for a rest--a holiday?'"

"There are other places. I could go to the Scillys. I have often wanted
to. I have this new opera to study too. Work is the best cure for
suffering."

"All I can do for you in that matter shall be done. I have told Mr.
Malpas to arrange it."

The girl started and flushed.

"You have--already?"

"There was no time to lose. I am determined you shall get on, if it is
in my power."

"It is in the power of money and influence," said Dolores, bitterly. "I
need not have waited until now had I chosen to accept offers of both."

"Very well. Let the manager think you have powerful friends--so much
the better."

Dolores thought resentfully of that same manager's desire to be himself
one of those powerful friends, and of the consequent annoyance and
trouble she had experienced.

"If I get this I will repay you every penny. I don't mind how simply I
live. I have no ambition to drive to the stage-door in a brougham, or
outshine a duchess in diamonds. I love work for its own sake, and if I
am ambitious, it is because I know it is in me to do something better
than the trashy nonsense it has been my fate to interpret. Once let me
be heard, in a good part, by an impartial audience, and I have no fear.
The public can defy both critics and managers."

"You are fortunate to have one enthusiasm left. Your life can never be
empty."

"It feels empty enough, I assure you. I drifted hither and thither on a
sea of misery till I had almost forgotten hope. I had the good chance
to find a friend. And though he is a man, I am inclined to believe in
him."

"A man? You never told me----"

"No. I don't know why I tell you now. I hardly expect you to believe in
a friendship disinterested on one side and passive on the other."

"Who is he? What profession?"

"A barrister, I believe. But he does theatrical work--criticisms of
plays, libretti, farces. His name is Harold Ericson."

"Ericson!" There was a startling change in the usually impassive face.
"And your friend, you say?" Her eyes gleamed under her snowy hair.

"He calls himself so. Do you know anything of him?"

"If he is like his father. I once knew that name. A bad breed,
child--false, traitorous. Have nothing to do with them." She was
trembling greatly. "Is it Fate?" she cried, hoarsely. "You call the son
friend. It must be the son. Harold Ericson would be older than myself.
And he is dead. He perished miserably, as he deserved."

Dolores looked wonderingly at the agitated face.

"I think this man is about thirty," she said. "He is clever, very kind,
very trustworthy. He has been a good friend to me."

"Can the fruit be good and the tree poisonous? What miracle allows the
son of a villain to lay claim to virtue?"

"Perhaps his mother----"

"His mother!" The low voice was harsh and strained. "Do you care to
hear who she was? A low actress--a creature of paint and infamy, for
whom he deserted me on the eve of our wedding day. I was struck down by
a double blow. What was killed in me was all that made me woman. I shut
myself up here alone; too ashamed and humiliated to meet the eyes of my
fellows, hating the very daylight because it had filled the room when
they brought me his insulting message. And this man you call friend is
the son of a traitor and a wanton!"

She laughed aloud. Her face looked grey and terrible in the firelight,
and all her frame seemed one quiver of passion. Dolores felt alarmed.

"How could I know?" she said entreatingly. "He never mentioned his
parents. I had never heard his name from you. But if you saw him you
would know he is all I say. Whatever his parents were, their vices
don't live in him."

"Take care," said Miss Penharva warningly, and raised a shaking finger
in grim mockery of the chivalrous defence. "Already you see, another
man has entered your life. Don't prate to me of friendship. Friendship
between a man and a woman is a myth--an impossibility. No man is your
friend unless in his heart he hopes to be your lover. Ericson comes of
a bad stock, I tell you. Have nothing to do with him or his friendship,
if you would keep your own life clean, and your name unsmirched."

Her voice grew weaker, her hands rested more heavily upon her stick.
Dolores saw her head droop. She sprang forward, thinking she was about
to faint. The old woman waived her aside.

"Leave me!" she said. "You have opened a grave at my feet to-night. In
it lies lost youth, lost beauty, lost faith. I am their only mourner;
they are the dead children of my unfruitful womanhood!"




CHAPTER XXV.

"The son of a traitor, and a wanton!" With those words ringing in her
ears, Dolores went to her room.

Well, whatever Ericson might owe to his parentage, at least the laws of
heredity had left no trace in his own character. She knew him noble and
steadfast and clean of heart and mind. A man whom she could trust above
all others.

Her friendship for him stood out clear and distinct from any other
interest of her life. It was a true and honest feeling, unmarred by
false sentiment. There had never been a word of his to disturb its
serenity, never a thought in her own heart of the exactions of sex.
Miss Penharva's outburst had come to her as something of a shock.

The gathering of grapes from thistles had not presented itself as a
possible feat, and yet in the present instance there was little, if
any, sign of the parent crop. She remembered that Ericson had never
spoken of his people, and had always seemed to be free from any
trammels of relationship. True, she had evinced no curiosity in the
matter, still there had not been wanting opportunities of confidence
had he wished to avail himself of them.

Her restless thoughts cost her more sleepless hours. She dreaded the
idea that her nature was awakening again to the possibilities of an
emotional crisis. One could never attain to peace and serenity while
one's heart concerned itself with other people. And she desired peace
above all things. She would rather harden herself to all emotions than
yield to one.

The child slept peacefully in his cot, but to-night she could not kneel
by his side or kiss his sleeping lips. A barrier lay between them
henceforth. Her life must deny itself all foolish common weakness of
womanhood, so best would she serve Art and hold sway over others.

"The less I feel the better," she told herself. "Selfishness and
success always go hand in hand. To let your strength go out to others
is to make your heart a target for any arrow of ingratitude or malice
that flies your way. Those who give most gain least. If I can take any
of life's favours with pure heartlessness so much the better for me.
Even this woman who stood my friend turns robber in her claims upon
gratitude. Until I become numb to my own identity I shall never cease
to be unhappy, for I shall feel that others can hurt me. I found that
out again when I came here full of joy and expectation. Love is not for
me in any shape or form. The sooner I grow accustomed to that fact the
less shall I suffer."

But morning brought a new trial to her in the shape of quite surprising
overtures of friendship on the part of the child. Whether some memory
of her part in his life had dawned upon him, or whether twenty-four
hours of her presence had established her among his experiences,
certain it is that he claimed her attention as soon as his eyes were
opened. He climbed out of his cot and got into her bed, and entertained
her with ceaseless chatter till Ruth Pasco appeared on the scene. That
Dolores was unresponsive did not seem to affect him in the least.
His little life was so brimful of importance that it sufficed him to
relate its marvels, even to unappreciative ears. His unasked kiss, the
careless wave of his little hand from the lawn as she opened the window
and looked out, these small things touched her to-day with that sting
of regret for coming loss that she had ignored the previous evening.

It was too late now to retract her promise. She must put away those
foolish sentiments as she was putting away the child himself. The
moment those papers were signed she would leave Penharva, and not
return for years. Not until she had quite disciplined herself into
playing her own unimportant part in the boy's life.

*  *  *  *  *  *

When breakfast was over she put on her hat and went out to her retreat
on the cliffs. But to-day she could not rest. She strolled hither and
thither, forcing a way through the wilderness of bracken, and finally
coming to the very edge of the cliff itself. It sloped down irregularly
to the silver-sanded bay. A foot track of rough slaty stones, met here
and there by rugged boulders, descended steeply to the little cove.

It was a tiring and difficult descent, but the girl was in the mood for
conquering obstacles, and soon found herself at the foot. The sands
were hard and firm, and strewn with shells of various beauty and size.
She sat down beside a jagged piece of rock and watched the tide as it
gradually receded.

The little inlet was very lonely, and very peaceful. It seemed as
if the busy world of men and matters must be far removed from such
tranquil isolation. Not a sound of life was here, save the flash of
the waves, or the cry of a passing sea-bird. The base of the cliff was
honeycombed with caverns and recesses, hollowed by the force of the
very waves that now played with such lazy indifference among the rock,
and shell, and seaweed.

Unconscious of time, the girl sat on, wrapped in dreamy and somewhat
melancholy musings. At last with a start of surprise she woke to the
consciousness of another presence. A woman was standing a few feet away
looking at her, her face lit by pleasant recognition. Dolores saw it
was her train companion of two days before. As their eyes met the woman
advanced.

"Ah! it is you!" she said, cordially. "I thought I recognised you.
What a lovely retreat you have found. I discovered it by the merest
accident. The chine, or whatever they call that hollow in the cliff
that breaks off from the coach road, seems to stop midway--I say seems.
I discovered that it is possible to get further down, though not easy.
By the way, what a curious old house that is shut in there. I hear
it is occupied by a very eccentric old lady, who lives the life of a
recluse, I suppose you don't know anything about her?"

"I am staying with her," said the girl, quietly.

"Staying with her!" The voice grew eager. "Oh! then you know of that
darling little child who is shut up in the grim old place. I saw him
once, by pure accident--such a lovely little fellow. Why is he shut up
in that dreary prison? Can you tell me?"

The girl's face hardened.

"He is Miss Penharva's adopted son," she answered. "And he seems very
happy in that prison, as you call it. As happy as a child need be."

"Ah! You must think me very curious, but indeed I am only interested.
My name is Sylvester--Mrs. Sylvester. I have taken a little cottage
near here. I quite fell in love with the spot when I first saw it."

"It is very pretty," agreed the girl, with less expansion than her new
acquaintance seemed to expect.

"Of course you have been to the Logan rock?"

"No. I don't feel any special interest in it."

The listless voice and indifferent face drew the elder woman's notice.
How came anyone so young and so very beautiful to be so impassive? Her
puzzled glance rested on the girl with unexpressed wonder, and for a
few moments they were both silent.

"Do you find it very lonely there?" asked Mrs. Sylvester at last, with
a glance in the direction of the hidden house.

"Not very. I came for a rest. I have been working hard."

She stopped abruptly, and for the first time her eyes met those frank
kindly eyes of her questioner.

"I am an actress," she continued.

Pleasure and surprise dawned in the expressive, kindly face beside her.
"Indeed. But you look so young. I wonder if I have ever seen you play.
I am a great theatre-goer when in London."

"I have never appeared in London yet."

"Oh! I see. What is your line? Isn't that the correct word?"

"Yes. I am in light opera--comic opera. I have been working for three
years."

Mrs. Sylvester's thoughts flew to many little hints and histories of
stage "stars." Was there a mystery here? The lonely house and its
strange old occupant? The little child? She was far too much a woman of
the world to be shocked, but curiosity burned afresh.

"Three years!" she echoed. "And do you hope to appear in London?"

"Of course. We all hope that. I am now trying for an engagement next
season."

"I hope you will get it," said Mrs. Sylvester, cordially. "I wish I
could do something to further your wishes. I am keenly interested in
all matters appertaining to the theatrical world. Indeed I have reason
to be, for a nephew of mine has given me a great deal of 'behind the
scenes' information. He writes plays and lyrics himself. I often tell
him he wastes good time, instead of following his proper profession. He
is a barrister."

"A barrister!" The girl's face showed interest for the first time. "I
happen to have a friend a barrister also. He writes for the stage. It
is a coincidence, I suppose."

"My nephew's name is the same as my own."

"Oh! then they are not the same."

"A great many barristers seem to devote their leisure moments to
writing either books or plays, so my nephew tells me. I suppose their
own work is rather dry and disinteresting."

"I don't think that. They must come across many strange histories and
romances too. The law lets daylight into innumerable follies and crimes
in human nature."

"You are right. It has its interesting side. May I ask if you are
making a long stay here?"

"No, very short. I am going to spend my holiday in the Scilly Isles."

"Why, my nephew is there, too! I wonder if you will meet? They mean a
very circumscribed area, you know."

"I have never been there before. I as going to study a new opera. I
shall not make any acquaintances."

Her face had grown cold and hard again. Mrs. Sylvester wondered what
her history was. Something there must be in the background to have
chilled that lovely warmth of youth into such impassive calm. But
Dolores' manner set bounds to curiosity, and gave no hope of satisfying
it. The talk became desultory. Mrs. Sylvester expressed a wish that the
girl would come and see her before she left for Scilly, or when she
returned to Penharva. Dolores excused herself, however. She feared she
would have no time. She intended to go back direct when she left the
Isles. It was plain that she wished for no further intimacy, and Mrs.
Sylvester felt somewhat annoyed at the rebuff.

But in reality Dolores' coldness was due to extreme nervousness. She
knew that this kindly-disposed person was a friend of her aunt's.
She longed to hear some word of her, but prudence forbade any
questioning--yet. One day--a day when she was famous, independent,
free--then she would seek them again; the sister and aunt she had left
in ignorance of her fate. But not now, not while fortune was uncertain
and success a far-off dream. So when Marian Sylvester bade her good-by
and took her way up the cliff for her five mile tramp, she took with
her also a baffled, but still keen interest in this strange girl.

Dolores herself remained for some time longer. She was passing the
facts of her life in review, and thinking how hard it was to really
sever the links of that strange chain that bound relationships and
friendships together. Even in this out-of-the-way nook her past pursued
her.

She dreaded any chance of meeting Sarah Webbe. It would be wiser to
keep strictly within the boundaries of Penharva, as of yore, for the
short time that intervened between her leaving for Scilly. She rose
at last, passed round the rock, and saw advancing towards her another
figure.

It was that of an elderly lady, wiry of figure, ruddy of face, her
head capped by a shady straw hat. A boat rocking idly by a natural
landing-stage formed by a jutting indicated that she had come to the
cove by sea.

She came straight towards the girl, stopped short, and gave a cry of
astonishment. Dolores faced her, white and trembling. There was no
possibility of escape or pretence. She and Sarah Webbe had met at last.




CHAPTER XXVI.

The situation was dramatic; tense with the surprise of the unexpected
and the emotional. Astonishment, delight, natural indignation, and
terror played their part in the greetings and questionings that
followed.

Sarah Webbe, however, was not satisfied with any of the explanations
the girl gave for her disappearance, her long silence, and her unfilial
neglect of the father who had worshipped her with love so faithful and
steadfast. His sufferings and his death lost nothing in the telling,
made eloquent by long suppressed indignation.

Dolores listened, her eyes downcast, her face set like a mask of
marble, her heart beating wildly and painfully with the surging of
grief and remorse.

The change in the face, expression, and manner, astonished her aunt as
much as the girl's reticence annoyed her. She would only give the very
briefest account of her doings, and her reasons for leaving home as she
had left it. A certain coldness and indifference displayed themselves
in place of former girlish tenderness.

She heard of Cynthia and her heir and her success in the great world
with so little interest that Sarah Webbe was deeply hurt. Her pride in
one niece made her inclined to be sharply critical of the other. Here
was no history of brilliance or success, only a certain embittered hint
of failure, of hardships, struggles, and difficulties.

To say "It serves you right" would have relieved the listener's
feelings, and might have been considered a privileged utterance; but
something in the girl's sad face and hopeless voice appealed to an
unexpressed compassion. There could be no doubt that she had suffered.
Her neglect of duty and apparent indifference to home ties had brought
their own punishment upon her. Life had taught her some hard lessons
since she had last knelt in the old Vicarage parlour and joined her
voice in the evening hymn.

But Sarah Webbe was less a stern moralist than her looks and words
conveyed, and she had always had a warm corner in her heart for this
pretty, wayward niece. Therefore she uttered fewer reproaches than she
had once intended, should chance throw them across each other's path as
it had done.

Her brow clouded again when she heard where Dolores was staying. Her
voice held a note of sharpness in its queries.

"How did you know this woman?" she demanded. "For years she has never
been seen outside her own gate. She is a sort of hermit. It is odd you
should be acquainted with her."

"I am not at liberty to explain how," answered the girl, the colour
rising in her cheeks. "She had proved a very good friend to me--that is
all I can say."

"But now, now that we have met again, surely you will make your home
under my roof," urged Miss Webbe.

Dolores shook her head. "No, I cannot. I leave here to-morrow. I have
to study a new part, and can only do that when I am alone and have
perfect liberty."

"Oh, well, you must do as you choose, I suppose," said her aunt,
huffily. "You have certainly changed in every way from what you were. I
have always heard that the stage had a very bad effect on people, and
you don't disprove it. You seem dead to natural affections, and bound
up only in this foolish nonsense of play-acting. And you might have
lived a respectable life and married well, like your sister."

Dolores laughed for the first time.

"I hope," she said, "my life is respectable. As for Cynthia, well, such
a marriage as she made would never commend itself to me. What matter
position, or wealth, or social distinction when you owe them to a man
you cannot love or respect?"

"She is very happy, and I am sure she is an excellent wife," exclaimed
Miss Webbe. "Why should you think she does not love or respect Mr.
Lilliecrapp--Sir Thomas, he is now. He was knighted a year ago
for--for----"

"For giving a very large sum of money to a popular charity. A sum wrung
out of workmen's toil and trade chicanery. I know; I read all about it.
I hope Cynthia is proud of her empty honours."

Miss Webbe looked annoyed. A title in a family is always a subject of
gratification. No one has any right to cavil at the means by which it
is obtained, or peer too closely into the merits of the receiver.

"You were always so hard on Cynthia," she said, sharply. "But I fail to
see that you have done better for your family or yourself than she has."

"Perhaps not. I did not take that into consideration. I chose my life
because it suited my inclination; because I felt drawn to it; and the
harder I work the more I appreciate rest when it comes."

"I suppose you will marry some day," said her aunt.

Dolores' face grew cold and stern. "I don't see the necessity. I have
all I want. And marriage would only take from me the independence I
have gained."

"You are very changed, Dolores."

"Am I? Well, one can't always revel in the ignorance of girlhood."

"I brought you up so carefully. I always felt as if your dear mother
was watching to see how I fulfilled my duties," lamented Miss Webbe,
"and I shall never forget my amazement when you left home in that
extraordinary manner. At first I thought it was a love affair; that you
had eloped. Even Cynthia thought so. She fancied you and Cyril were
fond of one another."

The girl's face whitened, her eyes turned seawards to where the little
boat was idly rocking on the soft swell of the incoming tide.

"Is that your boat?" she asked.

"Yes; I often go out in it for an hour or two. This morning I came here
half-expecting to meet a friend."

"Mrs. Sylvester?" queried Dolores.

"Why, how do you know?"

"We made acquaintance in the train coming from London. I met her again
this morning. She has gone up the cliff path there."

"She is very curious about that old house and its mysterious owner,"
she said. "It is certainly very strange that you should be staying
there. Why is she such a recluse? Would it be any use to call?"

"Not the least. She will see no one."

"Most extraordinary. And yet you----"

"I am her guest," said the girl, with an odd little smile.

"That is what I mean. And I can't understand why you won't explain how
you became acquainted with her."

"She has her own reasons for living as she does. I cannot accept her
hospitality and betray her secrets."

"Ah, then there is a secret!" exclaimed Miss Webbe eagerly. "I thought
so. And Marian declares it has something to do with a child. A little
creature she saw there one morning."

Dolores' face flushed slightly.

"Your friend is certainly very inquisitive. What can it matter to her
whether Miss Penharva has one child, or half a dozen children, staying
with her? There's nothing so very extraordinary in adopting one for
companionship, is there?"

"I suppose not," said Miss Webbe doubtfully. "But it must be a very
young companion; and what a life for the little creature! That lonely
house, those closed, dark rooms! The people say she never lets daylight
in. Is that true?"

"No, it is not true," said Dolores sharply; "and the child is perfectly
happy, whatever gossip chooses to say."

"Oh! I see you are quite one with her. Well, it's hard to see one's own
flesh and blood preferring strangers! But now I must be getting home.
You won't come, even to see my cottage?"

"I cannot to-day; and I am leaving for Scilly to-morrow."

"The idea of burying yourself alive in that Robinson-Crusoe-like place!
Well, I am both glad and sorry to have met you, Dolores. I must say you
are very changed. Still, blood is thicker than water, and my home is
always open to you, even though I don't approve of actresses as a rule.
When shall I see you again? Can't you stay a day or so with me when
you leave the islands? I'm only six miles from Penzance. I'll meet you
at the pier and drive you to my cottage if you'll let me know when you
return."

"Thank you," said the girl, more cordially than she had yet spoken. "It
is good of you to ask me. I will try and come, but it depends very much
on whether I get an engagement I'm trying for. If I do I shall have to
return to London very soon for rehearsals and dresses."

"You'll go and see Cynthia, won't you?" urged her aunt. "She has been
so anxious about you. She will be delighted to see you again."

"I'm not sure of that. Her position and mine are very different now."

"Oh, I don't suppose she would ask you to her parties," said Miss
Webbe, frankly. "They're always mentioned in the 'Morning Post,' and
scarcely an untitled person in the list. But still as you don't act
under your own name no one would know that you were on the stage."

The girl laughed a little bitterly.

"Titled people are not at all so prejudiced as you seem to imagine,"
she said. "They are the greatest supporters of the drama, in more
senses than one."

Miss Webbe tried to look shocked. "But patronage does not mean
intimacy," she said. "A certain exclusiveness must be observed."

"Are you quoting Cynthia?" enquired the girl with some bitterness.
"Don't be alarmed, I shall not intrude upon her."

"No, no, I didn't mean that. Indeed, she'll be as delighted to see you
as I am."

They were close to the rock which had served as landing-place. Miss
Webbe suddenly embraced her niece, and her eyes grew tearful.

"Now mind, my dear, you are to come and see me. Myrtle Cottage is my
address. I shall be quite offended if you don't; and I'm so relieved,
you can't imagine, to find you have got on so well. I must tell Cynthia
at once. She will want to see you when you go to London, I'm sure.
Promise you'll go."

"I'll go if she asks me."

"Your own sister! Of course she'll ask you."

Dolores said nothing, only lent her hand to assist at the embarkation,
which the slippery seaweed and rocking boat made no easy matter. Then
she stood watching its gradual disappearance until it rounded the next
point.

So silent, so absorbed, so still she was, that the gulls circled round
her, and the foam swept about her feet, and she seemed unconscious of
either. Her thoughts flew to and fro from past to present, converging
towards one point of fear. The old claims of the old life reasserted
themselves, and the softness of tears was in her eyes when she thought
of Cynthia. How widely their ways had diverged! The one had all this
world's good things, the other had learnt but its evil.

If they should meet they would be as strangers now. The experience of
life is the one thing that divides the ties of relationship, making it
of non-effect despite all obligations. Parent and child, brother and
sister, each have had to recognise this fact and deplore its truth.

Dolores knew that the two girls who had stood at the parting of the
ways but three years before would not be the two women who would meet
when fate or chance should bring them face to face again.




CHAPTER XXVII.

The Isles of Scilly possess an element of romance all their own.

The sunshine loves them, the moon-light weaves for them its tenderest
spells. For ever and for ever round broken headland and granite rock
does the sea murmur its weird stories. The breath of the storm and the
tumult of tossing waves sound there their wildest songs of fury or
of victory. But in summer-time storms are few, and the sea takes its
loveliest hues, and the white surge and the trembling waves are things
of beauty, not of terror.

To the tired brain and aching heart of Dolores the charm and wonder of
these fairy-like isles were as a dream of peace. Never in all her life
had anything so sweet and calm and restful weaved its spell for her,
taken her out of herself, girt her round with so exquisite a sense of
pure content in the mere fact of living.

There are times in life when to do nothing becomes a positive virtue by
reason of necessity. Nature demands a pause in the march, a rest in the
pilgrimage. Wise are they who grant the demand without rebellion.

Too tired to care very much, or feel very acutely, the girl simply
let existence drift her onwards in a slow and sleepy fashion hitherto
unknown. Time became a passive, not an active admonition. Day followed
day, night succeeded night. All was peaceful, dreamy, non-expectant.
The fret and fever, the harass and toil, of the world beyond seemed
foolish and undesirable things. Everything here gave the lie to their
necessity, and proclaimed the dignity of perfect rest.

Seven days and nights of this tranquil idleness had done more for her
than any medicine of any cult. Even sorrow had become chastened, and
the future held no anxious visions. She lay on the hill sides and
watched the sails pass to and fro, and listened to the ocean's tireless
song, or hired a boat and was rowed or drifted among the inland seas of
this delightful archipelago. And all those seven days and nights she
had had but her own self for company. On the eighth a change came.

She had stayed at Tresco and not visited St. Mary's, in spite of its
attractions to tourists, or rather because of those attractions, for
"tripper" patronage is only another term for desecration of all things
beautiful and simple in Nature. On this particular morning Dolores
hired a boat and directed the man to the principal island. She got off
at the landing-steps of Hugh Town, and stood a moment or two looking
about and wondering to which point of interest her steps should be
directed.

The morning was bright and sunny. A faint breeze blew from the sea. She
looked out towards Bishop's Rock and the Longships, and watched the
foam breaking over the distant barriers, and then turned towards the
garrison ascent. She mounted the steep hill in leisurely fashion. When
time is one's own, anything like haste is unseemly.

She stood for some moments at St. George's Battery to view the town
and harbour. A man was standing at the great barometer signal, looking
up at the crossbars that marked the degrees. Something in the figure
struck her as familiar, in spite of straw hat and light tweeds. As
she watched he turned and glanced around. Their eyes met in surprised
recognition, and he advanced with an exclamation of welcoming delight.
It was Harold Ericson.

"I suppose I should say, 'What on earth brings you here of all places
in the world?'" he said, as he held her hand in his own. "One expects
to meet one's friends picnicking on Mont Blanc, taking photographs at
Damascus, or drinking tea in yachts on Norwegian fiords, but in the
Scilly Islands--no. They are unknown to globe-trotters and fashionable
explorers. Of course neither term applies to you. Still----"

She laughed. It was almost the first time he had heard her laugh. Her
moods had usually been sombre and subdued.

"I suppose you are right. But what an idyllic place for a holiday. It
is quite unlike any other."

"Are you staying here--at St. Mary's? I wonder we haven't met before."

"I am at Tresco. I came here to-day for the first time. I have been too
indolent to do any sightseeing yet."

"I wish you would let me be your guide, then. I know all the islands.
From my boyhood I have spent my holidays here whenever I could manage
it. Let us go onto Woolpeck Battery. You have the best view there."

She was quite content. It was pleasant and unexpected to meet a friend,
and the friend whom she would have chosen had choice been hers. Her
cheeks were flushed, her eyes shone, her step was light. Ericson
thought he had never before recognised how beautiful she was till now.

Woolpack lies at the southernmost point of the garrison, and is
triangular in form. It commands St. Mary's Sound, and the view of St.
Agnes, the Bishop, and the Western Isles is one of the best obtainable.
Dolores admired and listened while her companion explained such
mysteries as the use of coast-guards, also of wind gauges, and the
various insignia of the Meteorological Office, and told her tales of
wreck and disaster, for which the coast is renowned.

They followed the path round the shore, and on to Star Castle. Ericson
told her all about that also, and showed her the E.R. (Elizabeth
Regina) over the entrance way. The morning drifted on. They were both
happy and content. They lunched together and saw all there was to be
seen of St. Mary's, and then took boat and were rowed to Peninis.

It was close on sunset when Dolores returned to Tresco, after promising
that the morrow should bring about another joint excursion. She had not
yet heard whether Leverson would give her the engagement she desired,
neither did it appear of such intense importance while time drifted
on in this Lotus land. It seemed foolish to worry over possibilities.
Sufficient unto the day was the good or ill it brought.

So passed another week.

The weather was glorious. Blue skies, light breezes, long hours of
delicious sunshine. Every day they went somewhere. To Bryher, and
Sampson, and St. Helen's, and St. Martin's. To the uninhabited islands
washed by the Atlantic billows, and ravaged by Atlantic storms, to
Cromwell's Castle, and to beautiful bays and beaches where no tourist
ever went, because they were not of guide-book celebrity. And they
talked a great deal, and got to know each other very well, and found
life a pleasant holiday for the time being.

Ericson was a first-rate boatman, as one need be who ventures among
the channel currents and shoals of Scilly and its surroundings. He
took her out every day on the water, he managing sail and oar and she
the tiller. She grew rosy and sunburnt with the salt air and brilliant
sunshine, and as perfect health is conducive to mental beatitude she
was at times almost happy. She was perfectly frank and at ease with
Ericson. The hypocrisies of civilised life were not needed here,
neither were they remembered. The simple pleasant comradeship went on,
and both were content it should go on.

After the second week, however, of Dolores' stay in the islands there
came a letter for her--the long-expected London letter. She opened
it, breathless with expectation. She had almost made up her mind
for disappointment. If that were realised she thought seriously of
abandoning her profession and dwelling in Scilly for the rest of her
days.

The first few lines, however, were reassuring. Leverson offered her the
principal part in the new opera that Ernst Elderhof had written and
which he would bring out in November. As she read her heart throbbed
with pride and excitement. It seemed incredible that it really had
happened, and the chance she had longed and prayed for was really to be
hers. A London engagement, and at a good theatre, and in a part that
was specially suited to herself.

"How pleased he will be," she said to herself, and put the letter in
her pocket, and went off to meet Ericson as usual.

He was waiting for her with the boat. They were to go sailing to the
outer islands, and he had with him an old boatman who knew every shoal
and channel of this scattered archipelago. This would give them leisure
to talk, and even after a week of daily meetings it was surprising how
much they had still to say to one another.

As their eyes met, the young barrister read good news, and also some
hint of change. A trumpet call from the busy world beyond had reached
Lotus-land at last.

When they were out on the blue water, the boat dipping and dancing over
the waves, she handed him her letter. He read it seriously and slowly.
He had never expected Leverson would make her such an offer. Indeed, he
knew very well that that gentleman must have had some strong influence
brought to bear upon him before he would have done so.

"It seems all very satisfactory," he said, when he had come to the end
of the page. "I suppose you are pleased?"

"Pleased? I should think so! It is the one thing I have prayed for and
desired. It seems too good to believe. Why do you look so grave?"

"Do I look grave? Well, I was wondering why Leverson has done this.
When I saw him last he was bent on having Flora St. Clair. She is a big
draw always, and very popular."

"And very unsafe. You know how she drinks."

"Yes, that's true enough. But somehow she's always pulled through. The
public don't suspect. And she's such a dare-devil. They love her. They
never know what she'll be up to. You know, they say it's one thing for
the licenser of plays to pass a thing, it's another to see Flora act
it."

"You seem to think I won't carry this off, then, because I haven't
Flora St. Clair's audacity. You've not seen me act for two years,
remember."

"True. But I'd rather not see you act, if Flora is to be your model."

"It can't possibly matter to you whether I am audacious. One's stage
life is quite a thing apart from one's private existence."

"Not always. The speck of rust eats into the steel in time."

"You talk as if I were an innocent, ignorant novice. Will you never
remember----"

"Ah, hush!" he entreated. "I don't wish to remember. It is impossible
to associate you with anything that is not pure and womanly."

"For God's sake, don't idealise me. It is my knowledge of the dark side
of human nature that has kept me safe. I distrust everyone till I know
I can trust them."

"Tell me," he said, with sudden eagerness, "did you do that with me?"

"No," she said, slowly, and meeting his eyes with steady gaze. "Strange
to say, I did not. I often look back at that time and wonder--why?"

"It is a great compliment. All the more so because I'm sure you
wouldn't say it as a compliment."

"No," she said. "There are few men I like, still fewer I trust. But we
are drifting from our point. Of course I shall accept this. It means a
great deal to me--everything in fact--and you know Elderhof wrote the
part expressly for me. The music just suits my voice."

"Yes, he told me so. He will be delighted. I shall have no share in
your triumph this time."

"Except to write of it. Only you must not praise me unless I deserve
it."

He laughed softly. "I was never told that before," he said. "In all
my experience of journalism, self-praise has been the universal
recommendation. However, I will treat you on strictly professional
lines. Criticism must be impartial to be of any worth, so don't suppose
that these enchanted weeks will count when I write of Miss Dolores
Dering. By the way, you won't shorten your holiday, will you, on
account of this? You can study here as well as in town."

"Much better. Oh, I don't wish to go back until I am obliged. Of course
it depends on the rehearsals."

"But being the principal----"

"That makes it imperative I should know the opera as a whole. I
hate piecemeal work. When I see how the whole thing goes I feel at
home with it. I know artistes to whom their own part means all and
everything--but I'm not like that. You can't judge a book by one
chapter."

"Critics often do," he said, laughing.

"Oh! Critics!" Her voice grew contemptuous. "I don't care for them.
I've seen and heard too much of their ways and methods."

"Madam," he said, "your insinuations are personal."

"You know as well as I do that the press can be bought. You know how
advertising counts. You know how certain directions accompany certain
tickets. You know, too, that heaps of notices are written in London and
appear in provincial papers."

"I know--none of these things," he said, still smiling. "I may have
heard of them."

"Ah! well, let us change the subject. Where are we now?"

"We are rounding Sampson. There is great Minalto yonder on our lee, and
there, with those two high points, is Mincarlo. We will land there,
if you like, and explore. It is quite deserted. It is so small and so
complete. I call it a doll's island. I should like to build a tiny
house between those peaks, and lay out a tiny garden in that miniature
valley."

"And live there?"

"It would be lonely I confess, unless one found an ideal companion for
the doll's house."

"And ideal weather, and an ideal cook, and a few other necessaries."

"You are sacrificing my romance to your prose. One could almost fancy a
mermaiden on yonder rock."

"I see only puffins and seagulls."

"If we land, will you sing to me while I prepare lunch?"

"Certainly, if you wish. Perhaps, if I let down my hair and sat on that
rock you might imagine me the mermaiden of your fancy."

"I wish you would," he said gravely. "Your hair must be beautiful. But
perhaps it would be dangerous. Your spells are potent enough. And we
are on enchanted ground, you know; for this is the land of Lyonesse."

His eyes looked into hers with a look she had never seen in them yet.
It angered, and yet disturbed her.

"Even he!" she thought, resentfully. "Can no man be a friend to a
woman? Must there always be this folly underlying the pleasure of
companionship?"




CHAPTER XXVIII.

They landed with some difficulty. Then the old boatman fastened his
boat to a rock, and handed out the luncheon basket. They climbed up the
steep ascent until they reached a high peak. From thence they could
see all the surrounding islands, set here and there in the blue of
glittering water. There was no sign of life except the flight and call
of sea-birds circling and screaming round their rocky home.

The sun poured down its warmth and splendour, and the great stones
glittered in its rays; brown turf covered with massive boulders making
soft cushions and seats, ferns grew in hollows and crannies. The little
down between the peaks was covered with gorse and heather. It was there
they had left their basket. They stood and looked around from north to
south, from east to west, across the shining water.

"It is a perfect dream of islands, is it not?" said Ericson.

"An idyll of peace and rest," answered Dolores.

"Ah, if you saw a storm you would not call it that. There are no such
storms, I often think, as I have witnessed here. These tranquil-looking
waters are full of perils. What tragedies they hold, what secrets, and
what sorrows they have buried."

His eyes grew grave. He seemed lost in thought for several moments.
Dolores, after a glance at his absorbed face, turned her eyes seawards
again.

Presently he spoke. "It was here," he said, "I lost my mother. I was
only a lad. We had lived together for some years at St. Mary's. That is
how I know the islands so well. I have never told you anything about
myself, have I, Dolores?"

The name slipped out so naturally that she scarcely remembered it was
unusual.

"No," she said. "Why should you? I never told you about my home, or my
people either."

Then she flushed hotly, remembering the story she had told in the
Temple Gardens three years before.

"My name," he went on, "is not really Ericson. I only assumed that as
a nom de plume. I found it written in one of my mother's books, and
adopted it. But my real name is Sylvester."

The girl started. "Why," she exclaimed, "how extraordinary! A lady--an
aunt of yours--is living near Penzance. We made acquaintance in the
train. She told me of you when she heard I was coming here; at least,
she said a nephew of hers was staying in the islands--that the name was
the same."

"It must have been Aunt Marian. I knew she came to Cornwall this
summer. She wanted me to stay with her. But my heart hankers for my
early home, and I come here whenever I get a chance. She is a dear,
kind soul, Aunt Marian. She has been very good to me. Indeed, I owe my
education in a great measure to her."

"Your father is dead also?"

"Yes. It was after his death my mother came here to live."

Dolores looked puzzled. She was trying to fit in Miss Penharva's story
with Harold Ericson's own account of himself. Somehow the two were
widely at variance.

"Had your mother anything to do with the stage?" she asked.

"Nothing whatever. At least, not in my recollection. She was very
lovely, but very sad. She seemed always suffering the remembrance of
some great sorrow. I don't know what it was. She never spoke of her
past, or of my father. But let us sit down. You will be tired standing
so long."

She seated herself on one of the mossy boulders, and he threw himself
down beside her. "You promised to sing, you know," he said.

"Yes, so I will, but not now. Tell me some more about yourself--your
youth. It interests me."

"Does it really? It seems to me there is very little to tell. I was
rather a lonely boy, and had no special gifts or talents. Life here,
too, was not eventful. Most of my days were spent on the sea, rowing,
sailing, fishing, climbing crags for birds' eggs, watching the seals,
growing weather-wise in the matter of storm signals. It was healthy. I
owe my strength and sound constitution to it, also perhaps a certain
love of nature and sympathy with her moods and memories that no city
life can ever give. Yet I often think I must have seemed a raw youth,
rough, moody, intolerant. I wanted a lot of licking into shape when I
went to a public school. Aunt Marian looked after me. She wanted me to
be a barrister, and so I tried to oblige her. I managed the exams, well
enough; somehow learning came easy to me. I was fond of books always. I
ate my dinners, and took my degree; and that is all."

"All? No romance; no love episodes?"

"Oh!" he said, colouring slightly, "that of course. It always happens,
I suppose. I had an experience. I was a fool. All men are at least once
in their lives. It was the usual thing."

"You mean she did not come up to your expectations?"

"I mean she led me on to believe she cared, and then threw me over. She
is married to a rich man now."

"Poor thing!" said Dolores.

He looked at her quickly.

"Oh! she doesn't need pity, I assure you. She is perfectly happy. Her
nature was purely material. She got all she bargained for."

"Still I say--poor thing. She does not know how much she may have
missed."

"Well, I survived it, you see; and I am not unhappy, or even
embittered. I can afford to be thankful that she did not choose to
share my crust and my garret. I have learnt the blessings of freedom."

"I wonder why marriage is so rarely satisfactory," said Dolores. "Is it
that one gives too much and gains too little, or expects more than is
possible, or what?"

"I think it is the expecting more than is possible. Love is terribly
blind, and as love is the prelude to marriage, as English morality
would have us believe, well, the bandage is bound to come off, and
then, nothing is left but disillusion. Patience and forbearance may
help us along, but there is no real consolation."

Dolores was silent. She sat with her hands clasped round her knees, her
eyes turned seawards. He watched her in silence. He never wearied of
watching her face. It was a book of endless meanings and variations.

He thought, as he looked, of her own story. The story she had told him
with such impetuous scorn. No word of it had ever again escaped her.
He could almost have fancied it forgotten, but for the sadness of her
eyes, and the bitterness of her words.

The spell of silence lasted long. It was no unfrequent occurrence. The
very perfection of true friendship lies in its sympathy with moods, and
its comprehension of such spells of silence.

Sometimes their thoughts were very near each other, sometimes they
drifted far away. Both were content that it should be so amidst this
peaceful, sea-girt solitude. When Dolores turned at last and looked at
her companion, her eyes were dark and misty with unshed tears.

"If life could be just like this," she said, passionately. "A dream and
a forgetting. Oh, why is it so hard, so cruel, so unjust?"

"Because it is life, I suppose," he answered gently. "The storm and
stress must come before we reach the haven, the battle before the
victory, the struggle before the rest. And you could not stagnate. You
would never be content with a mere passive existence."

She rose abruptly. "We have talked enough," she said. "Let us have our
luncheon now, and then we will do some more exploring."

They left their rock and descended to where the basket had been left.
The meal seemed less cheerful and merry than they usually found it.
Both were absorbed, and a little restraint had crept into their
friendly intimacy.

He was thinking of the man of whom she had once told him. She, of the
story of his youth and love. To both had come early disillusion, keen
suffering. It helped them to a mutual understanding, and united them in
a bond of stronger sympathy.

When they were once more in the boat and sailing from point to point
as fancy took them, the restraint vanished. Ericson so loved the sea
and these isles in particular, and had so much still to tell of them,
their history, people, shipwrecks, disasters, that the personal element
dropped out of sight for a time, and they were only listener and
speaker.

To the mere visitor Scilly is a small and unimportant group of some
half dozen islands; to one who knows and loves and has dwelt there, it
is a veritable fairyland--a place of strange and mystic and beautiful
treasures; of ancient lore and wondrous marvels; of caves and cromlechs
and burial places of ancient kings, of white-sanded fairy coves and
wild headlands, and towering granite that nature has chosen for
fortress or barrier. But the key to understanding these marvels and
appreciating these beauties lies not to everyone's hand. Dolores knew
this, for her second week was a perpetual and wonderful revelation. But
then she had found a true guide, one who not only knew but loved each
place they visited.

She tried sometimes to associate this man with his London life, his
work, friends, and ambitions. It seemed impossible. She told him so,
while they were sailing homewards in the glow of sunset. He laughed.

"Oh, we all live a double life," he said. "It won't do to be our
real selves always, and to everyone. Even you are very different
here--gentler, more womanly, more natural. Nature takes the starch out
of us very effectually. It is no use bringing civilized hypocrisies to
bear on her."

She smiled. "I feel very different, I know," she said.

"It will be no use to try and shut yourself up from me again," he went
on softly. "I know you, and I shall see through the pretence. Even when
you are great and famous you will not be able to forget these enchanted
weeks. Oh, Dolores----"

He stopped abruptly. He saw her face turn very pale, and she shivered
as if a cold wind chilled her.

"What is it?" he asked, anxiously.

"I don't know. The strangest feeling, as if someone had cried to
me--called me." She looked round, her eyes wide and anxious. "Something
has happened; I feel it. Some terrible misfortune. Oh! the sensation is
awful."

She pressed her hands to her heart. The colour had fled from cheek and
lip. He grew uneasy. No mere fancy could have conjured up such terror
and such emotion.

He spoke soothingly, but her agitation only increased.

"I shall know when I land," she said. "There will be bad news."

"Then I shall land, too, and return to St. Mary's later. I should like
to prove the worth of a presentiment. I have had them often, and found
they proceeded chiefly from indigestion. That pastry at lunch, now----"

"Don't jest," she implored; "I cannot bear it. I am convinced something
is wrong."

Her thoughts flew to the child, and terror overmastered her. If he
should be ill--dead perhaps! A hundred accidents threaten the life of
childhood perpetually. Ericson saw she was seriously disturbed, and
left her to herself.

When they landed he walked with her to her lodgings. She never
addressed a word to him the whole time. She seemed in another world.
Her face was cold and white. He could not understand the change, and it
frightened him.

She entered her little sitting-room. Her eyes fell on the table. A
letter lay there, white and square on a space of crimson cloth.

She took it up and glanced at the writing, then tore it open. He
watched her intently. The first page apparently contained nothing
special. The colour returned to her face and her hand steadied itself.
She turned the page, then suddenly gasped, and sank into a chair.

"My God! it can't be true," she cried hoarsely. "Murdered! Oh, read
it--read it, and tell me!"

She covered her face, and rocked herself to and fro in an agony of
mind. He took up the sheet and read on. It was from Sarah Webbe, and
began thus:--


"My dear Niece,--I am writing to you on the chance of your getting a
letter in Robinson Crusoe land. You only said Tresco, Scilly Islands,
but I suppose there aren't more than half a dozen inhabitants. We
are all convulsed by a terrible catastrophe that has happened at the
mysterious house of Penharva. The old lady was found murdered in her
bed yesterday morning. Her ancient servant discovered her. Robbery is
said to be the reason of the crime, as the house had been broken into
from below. The wildest confusion reigns there. The old man and woman
seem dazed and idiotic, and can tell nothing.

"Mrs. Sylvester has taken the little child, and he is with her. The
police, of course, were summoned, and the house is in their charge.
There will be an inquest and enquiry into the matter, but at present
all is a profound mystery. I write you at once, as you seemed so
friendly with the old lady. What a mercy you were not there. You might
have been murdered too."


He stopped, and looked at her white face uplifted from shaking hands.

"Is she a relative of yours?" he asked. "What an awful thing!"

"She is only a friend, but such a good friend. She saved me in my
deepest trouble. Oh, how terrible! How could anyone have done such a
cruel thing?" She shuddered. "I must go back at once," she exclaimed,
"at once. There is the child."

He looked astonished. "What child? She was an old woman, the letter
says. Besides, you must wait for the steamer. You cannot leave till
to-morrow."

She wrung her hands. "Oh, how dreadful to be so helpless! It will seem
an eternity. Why did I ever come here? Why didn't I stay as she asked
me?"

"It is a terrible thing," said Ericson gravely. "But do not agitate
yourself so much. Even if you had been there you could not have helped."

"I am a light sleeper. I might have heard--have raised an alarm."

"And probably shared her fate. There seemed no one there capable of
protection. Why did she live in that strange fashion?"

"It was her whim." The tears filled her eyes. She rose and held out her
hand for the letter.

"And who is the child spoken of here?" he went on as he gave it to her.

She made no answer.

Suddenly, like a shock, he felt he needed none. There was another
mystery about the strange house of Penharva besides the mystery of
murder.




CHAPTER XXIX.

Murder!

It has an ugly sound. A sound that terrifies and sickens the heart and
chills the pulse. Murder! It echoed and re-echoed in Dolores's ears, as
she sat sleepless and solitary through the hours of the long night. She
could not rest. The thought of bed was hateful. She was haunted always
by the sight of that strange face, that helpless form. She could think
only of the tragedy of that lonely house, whose mistress lay dead.

She had a confused idea that Ericson was to accompany her back; that he
had been helpful and compassionate in that first dazed hour when she
stood face to face with this horror. But everything seemed vague and
dreamlike. She could only picture the murdered woman and the little
helpless child.

Of the passage over to Penzance, of any detail or incident of the
journey she was quite unconscious. She only knew she found herself
driving along with Ericson by her side, and that the carriage stopped
at a small pretty cottage surrounded by myrtles, that a childish voice
rang gleefully out from the miniature shrubbery, and that she was being
kindly and warmly greeted by Marian Sylvester and her aunt.

The child was playing in the garden. He ran to meet her. He was
unconscious of the tragedy connected with her appearance here, and
gave her the friendly greeting of previous acquaintanceship. Then it
seemed to her that the dazed bewilderment of that mental shock passed
away. She was very pale, and trembled greatly, but her brain grew clear
at last. She found herself in her aunt's pretty bow-windowed parlour,
drinking tea, and listening with eager ears to further details of the
tragedy.

As yet no trace of the murderer had been discovered. The motive, so
far, seemed to have been robbery, for the cash box in the dead woman's
room had been broken open, so had a jewel case, the contents of which
were unknown. Entrance had been procured through a window of the
kitchen; a pane of glass was found broken, and the inside shutter had
been forced open. Old Ruth Pasco was dazed with fright and the shock of
her mistress's death. Peter was not much better. They could or would
give no information respecting Miss Penharva, and the authorities were
at a deadlock.

"Did no one send for Mr. Malpas?" demanded Dolores. "He was Miss
Penharva's man of business. He lives at Penzance. Surely he must have
heard."

"Perhaps he has heard by this time," said her aunt. "I don't know.
Marian brought the child here. He could not be left in that dreadful
old place."

Dolores shuddered.

"I must go there," she said. "To-night--at once."

She looked vaguely round. Her eyes met Ericson's.

"I will go with you," he said. "I told the man to put up the carriage.
I fancied it might be wanted."

"Really, Dolores," remonstrated her aunt, "I don't see any necessity
for you to rush off there. It's not as if you were a relation. You can
do no good. The inquest will be to-morrow, and those two old creatures
are the only ones who can give evidence. It is a mercy you weren't
there. You might have been murdered also!"

But the girl was obdurate. She must go, she could not rest. It seemed
to Ericson as if she feared some discovery; as if her anxiety held a
personal element of alarm. Marian Sylvester watched her with curious
and troubled eyes. There was plainly a mystery about this girl. She
could not fathom its meaning, or extent, but it existed. It annoyed her
to witness her nephew's unconcealed interest in her, his deference and
devotion to her service. But there was no opportunity for explanation.
She could only wait and trust to time for an elucidation of these
recurring mysteries.

As soon as tea was over the carriage was summoned and Dolores and
Ericson were driven in the jog-trot, unhurrying fashion of Penzance
fly-men to that point on the main road where she usually left the
carriage.

The dusk had now closed in. Ericson took one of the carriage lamps in
his hand, and together they descended to the lonely old house in its
concealed nook.

The gate was unlatched. A policeman was on guard in the porch, and
made rustic objection to their unofficial entrance on the strength of
"orders" from a superior.

Ericson, however, ascertained that Mr. Malpas was within, and sent a
message explaining their visit. The door was at last opened by the old
lawyer himself, and he invited them to enter. They followed him into
the dreary dining-room, made ready for the inquest of the following
morning. It appeared that Mr. Malpas was staying for the night at the
house.

"No clue yet," he said, in answer to Ericson's anxious enquiries.
"Robbery, of course, was the reason. The old lady must have been
alarmed; probably she cried out, and the wretch strangled her. I always
cautioned her about the way she lived. So helpless; and those two old
and decrepit servants, what use were they? The worst of it was I was
here the previous night and brought her some money. She wrote for it,
and also showed, me a will she had made. I took it away to put it into
shape, and was to bring it back for signature to-night. Business called
me to Falmouth. When I got home I read of this awful occurrence in the
morning paper. I was shocked."

He looked at Dolores. "The will is valueless now," he said. "I am
sorry, for your sake."

She grew very white. "For mine?" she asked.

He nodded. "I will tell you later on. It is fortunate that she had
secured the money necessary for your engagement in London. That is all
settled, but her will would have been of still more advantage."

Ericson with some murmured excuse rose and left them. He detected
anxiety on the girl's face, and guessed that the old lawyer might have
a private communication to make.

When they were alone Mr. Malpas answered the questioning eyes. "The
will was in favour of the child, her adopted son, and she appointed
me guardian. Now, it is of no use. Twenty-four hours makes a pauper
instead of an heir. It is unfortunate, but it is, alas, only another
proof of Fate's irony. You, too, were provided for. That goes for
nothing."

"Who will inherit her wealth?" asked Dolores.

"A distant relative--a nephew--if he's alive. I shall have to advertise
for him. She had cut herself adrift from all living ties for so long
that I don't know where they have been scattered, or who are left in
the shape of legal descendants. By the way, what will you do now about
the child?"

For one moment the girl's face glowed rosily with love and hope. The
next moment brought her face to face with new complications. Marian
Sylvester had taken the boy away. He was domiciled under her roof at
the present moment. To claim him meant the disclosure of her secret.
Could she brave such an ordeal? Who would believe that story of the
Scotch marriage? What could she prove except Cyril Grey's denial and
desertion? How endure the publicity and obloquy of such an announcement?

She turned imploringly to the old lawyer. "I don't know what to do,"
she said. "Miss Penharva had adopted him. She was to provide for
him--to make him her heir."

"And Fate steps in, in the shape of some starving or desperate outcast,
and puts an end to her benevolent intentions! My dear young lady, you
are in a very serious predicament. You must prove the legality of
your marriage or else suffer the reproaches of society at large by
introducing the child as your own. There is, of course, the chance of
this charitable lady taking the little fellow into her care; it is a
chance, and one you would do well to accept. . . I could act for you.
That is to say, state Miss Penharva's intentions, and then use any sum,
or sums, for his support that you choose to send."

Her face brightened. "That," she said, "has been made easier for me.
My father left me a small sum of money. I intend to settle it on the
child. I can support myself once I get a footing, and that is now
secure."

"Your father?" queried the lawyer. "Did he then know of this--incident?"

Her lips quivered. "No. He only knew I had adopted the theatrical
profession. He died abroad. If I determined to continue this life he
did not forbid it. The money makes me independent."

"And you will not use it for yourself?"

"No," she said. "It has come just in a moment of need. I want it all
made over to the child."

"Give me your instructions," he said drily.

"Will you still act as his guardian, taking my money instead of Miss
Penharva's?"

"Certainly. But I won't offer to look after the boy. I am old and I am
not a family man. It would not suit me."

"I don't ask that. I am sure Mrs. Sylvester or my aunt would take
charge of him."

"Of course they know--nothing?"

She flushed. "No. What could I say? It is the old story--proof, and
what proof have I?"

"You should get someone to look up those witnesses," he said. "Scotch
marriages are very queer things, and very difficult to prove. But as
there is no question of heirship, or money----"

"Do you think I would force myself upon a man who has falsified every
promise? Do you think I have no pride?"

"A woman's pride sometimes leads her into quagmires and pitfalls. Every
year between your acceptance of dishonour and your acknowledgement of
your child leads also to misconception and estrangement. It is policy
in one way, but also you are doing harm to him and yourself by every
day of unacknowledged relationship. You should set to work to prove
your marriage, as I said."

She shook her head. "Impossible. What use to claim what is practically
useless?"

"That, excuse me, is sentiment, not common sense. You have not to
consider yourself only--there is the boy. A boy needs a father."

"Better no father than such a father as his!" she cried passionately.
"Do you think I could submit to his claims or place the child under
his authority? Never! What he owns he shall owe to me only. He has no
father, even as I----"

Her voice broke. Hurt pride, shattered hopes, the misery of loneliness
swept over her like a wave of desolation, yet she held her ground.
No argument or persuasion moved her. The man who had wronged her was
nothing to her now, still less should he be anything to the child he
had ignored, to the ties he had denied. If she saw the hand of Fate in
this sudden alteration of circumstances she, none the less, resolved
on that battle of wills and consequences whose issue was lost in the
future.

All the careful schemes of her child's protectress had been annulled by
this stroke of Destiny. He was left to the mercy of chance once more.
But she felt her courage equal to the emergency, and entered into the
old lawyer's proposal with eager zest. He showed her the carefully
drawn-up document, now alas! valueless as waste paper for want of that
one tremulous signature. She read for herself the loving thought and
prescience that death had set at nought.

Her soul hardened itself. "What she would have done, that I will do,"
she vowed. "My love shall be the unseen Providence of his life, from
this day forward."




CHAPTER XXX.

The mysterious house of Penharva had long been left to gloom and
solitude. The rooms were closed and locked, the windows barred. The
silence of death reigned everywhere, and rumour pronounced it haunted.
The heir had been advertised for in vain, and though one or two distant
links of the broken family chain put in claims, Mr. Malpas pronounced
them valueless. No clue had been found to the murderer. The two
witnesses, Ruth and Peter Pasco, were reduced to semi-imbecility by
the terror of that night, and the local police were at a deadlock very
soon. Arrests had been made, but no proof could be actually brought,
and wanderers and tramps, despite auspicious appearances, are not of
necessity criminals. Month followed month, and the mystery of Miss
Penharva's death remained a mystery still, and sufficed for local
gossip in many a farmhouse or fisherman's cottage as time went by.
Meanwhile the child lived on at Mrs. Sylvester's rural domicile, and
grew rosy and strong and beautiful, and was the idol of her heart, and
equally adored by Sarah Webbe.

When Marian went to town for a taste of the season's gaieties she left
the boy to her friend's charge, and the cats and dogs and prim old
Patience had a lively time of it.

Sarah Webbe obstinately refused to accompany her friend on any of these
expeditions. She knew Dolores had won a brilliant success. She read
her name in the London papers, but nothing would induce her to witness
a stage performance, and she was still convinced that a playhouse was
the road to ruin for anyone of the weaker sex. She invited her niece
on periodical visits, but they had little in common, and Dolores'
holidays were brief and much taken up with the study of new parts. Life
for her had suddenly become a brilliant and engrossing thing, but also
it was full to the brim of work and anxiety. She lived now in a small
flat, whose dainty appointments boasted of no luxury. Neither did she
entertain in any way that demanded the accessories of champagne and
cigars and Fortnum and Mason's delicacies.

At five o'clock she was usually to be found in her little drawing-room
dispensing tea to such callers as chose to drop in on business or
pleasure, but further than this she never went. No after-theatre
suppers tempted her, no dinners at Richmond, or festive parties on
steam launch or houseboat. Occasionally she accompanied Ericson and
Elderhof on a Sunday to some quiet river nook, and allowed herself to
be rowed or punted to Cookham, or Windsor, or Henley; but dearly as
she loved such excursions she often denied them to herself and the two
friends who adored her in their different ways.

As yet her name was in a measure respected. The money paid for her
debut in the new opera had convinced Leverson that she had some
powerful "backer," but her success and undoubted talent won a sullen
acknowledgement from him that she was not overestimated by this unknown
influence. The Public--that great, strange, mysterious power which
makes itself at times an independent force--hailed her as favourite
with one accord. The months of anxious study, the care and weariness
of hours spent on seeming trivialities, had their reward at last.
Her beauty and her voice would not alone have sufficed for success.
On the stage she evinced a gaiety, a chic, a charm that was quite
apart from her natural character. So those said who only found in
her a seriousness and culture which are not the usual qualifications
of an actress of the opera bouffe type. The truth was that all
that Dolores had missed, the sunny girlhood, the carelessness and
vivacity and single-heartedness of youth, came to her in her stage
representations. When alone she was a saddened woman with a burdened
conscience and much natural bitterness of heart. On the boards she was
free, careless, enchanting, indifferent, but capable of charm and able
to let herself go with a supreme abandonment of pleasure in all she
did, and pride in the success she won. She loved her work. It engrossed
and delighted her, and she loved the applause she gained for it.

Elderhof had done her a good service in writing for her voice and
style, and the two became firm friends on the strength of their
mutual helpfulness. The piece had an exceptional "run," and he was
commissioned to do another.

But Dolores had no rest allowed her. Leverson knew a "good thing" when
he got it, and did not intend rival managers to secure his "star." He
engaged her for three years at a salary that amazed her, and made her
promise that she would enter into no new arrangements without giving
him the option of a re-engagement. Thus all fear for the immediate
future was set at rest. She had only to nurse her health and strength,
and she saw herself on the way to fortune. She studied much, and read
much. She had few friends, though she never closed her doors to any
members of her own profession. They amused and astonished her, but she
felt there was between their recklessness and her own sorrows a gulf
fixed that they would not and she could not cross.

The quietness of her way of living, and the superior class of men
allowed in her rooms, astonished the more lively of her actress
friends. They could not understand it. But even the most reckless of
these be-jewelled and be-photographed celebrities felt themselves in
another sphere when they entered the little flat in Chelsea and took
their afternoon tea from the hands of the beautiful woman whose sad
eyes held a history they vainly tried to fathom.

She never checked their impulses of gaiety, never, save by a look of
surprise, stopped a risky story or a naughty jest. But neither did she
encourage them. Some of the more daring spirits declared those teas
too "toney" altogether for their taste, and dropped out of attendance;
but a great many others pronounced them charming and good style, and
recognised that they met with an altogether different reception from
Dolores Dering to what they did at Marian Stom's, or Magdalena Ord's,
or Phyllis St. Claire's, also leading lights in the theatrical world.

The general idea was that Dolores was a bit "near." It was known
she had a good salary, yet she lived very simply, with an elderly
housekeeper as sole attendant. She never wore a jewel, her dresses were
of the plainest, and she usually walked to the theatre in fine weather,
or took a 'bus in bad. All this was quite at variance with stage
traditions, and they could not understand it. What was she saving for?
Why didn't she support Bond-street dresses, and give champagne suppers,
and generally enjoy herself in approved "Cigale" fashion? They could
not understand it, but not even the boldest spirit among them dared put
the question. One thing was evident. Their respective admirers were
safe. For men, rich or poor, titled or shoddy, Dolores cared not a
whit. No callow lordling nor Stock Exchange autocrat laid his fortune
at her feet, or his banking account at her disposal.

She was proudly, coldly, indifferent to all classes of men. The boldest
could not boast of a favour, nor the richest of encouragement. It was
marvellous, but it was true, and after these years of public life no
scandal had made her name public property.

Every penny she could spare Dolores sent to Mr. Malpas, and by him it
was used for little David's benefit.

He professed to be the child's guardian, as Miss Penharva had decreed,
but allowed him to remain with Mrs. Sylvester for the present, paying
for his board, clothing, and later on for his education, which was
conducted by a governess who came daily from Penzance to initiate his
juvenile mind in the mysteries of the three R's.

The boy had an ideal child's life. Dolores had declared he should, and
she could have chosen no one more capable of carrying out her wishes
than was Marian Sylvester.

He was out in the open air in all weathers. The fishermen taught him to
row and sail a boat. His mother had sent him a small sure-footed pony,
through his guardian's mediumship, and his bright face and golden curls
were a well-known sight between Land's End and Penzance.

He was on friendly terms with everyone in the district, but it was only
when Dolores came to stay that he had unlimited holiday. The two were
sworn friends now. They would spend the whole day out of doors, sailing
from bay to bay, or riding or driving to the many picturesque districts
around the coast.

When he was seven years old she took him to the Scilly Isles for a few
weeks. She had never been there since that brief stay, cut short by the
tragedy of Miss Penharva's death. It may have been that reason that
brought the memory of the murder so keenly to her mind that she one day
questioned the boy on the matter.

They were on the water as usual, sailing on a ruffled sea of crystal
blue towards the Western Isles. The boy had been demonstrating to the
admiring boatman that he knew perfectly how to set a sail, and now had
returned to his mother's side, hot and ruddy and important, and thrown
himself down with his head leaning against her knee.

"Davy," she said, "do you remember when you were a little boy and lived
in a house that was always dark, with a white-haired lady who was very
fond of you?"

He drew his brows together in a puzzled frown.

"Was it Mis'ry, you mean?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes," she said eagerly. "That was what you called her."

"Of course, I remember her," he said. "Why, she comes to see me night
times often."

"What!" exclaimed Dolores, breathlessly.

"Yes," he went on gravely. "I never tell no one, but she sits on my bed
and looks at me exactly just as she used to do. I know her quite well.
Only she won't speak; not ever she won't speak. But she looks so sad,
as if she had something to tell me and couldn't. Just before I go to
sleep she comes; same as always she did in the Dark House, you know."

Dolores' heart beat fast. She knew the stories told of Penharva. She
knew, too, the popular belief that Miss Ursula "walked," and would
so walk until her murder was avenged. The child spoke so frankly and
simply she had no need to doubt his own belief in what he said, neither
did she; but her faith in ghosts and spirits was far removed from the
strength of Cornish superstitions, and his simple declaration filled
her with wonder.

"Every night does she come, Davy?" she asked.

"Oh, no! not every night. Sometimes it's a long time I don't see her;
then she will be there, two or three nights. Dolly, where is she? Do
they shut her up in that dark house all alone? She is so white, just
as if she never saw the sun, or the sea, or walked in the garden as I
made her. And I'm not ever allowed to go to Penharva. The gates are
all barred and rusty, and it looks so dark. I peep through the bars
sometimes, but no one's there, and old Ruth she says Mis'ry has gone
away. But if she's gone away, why does she come and see me, Dolly?"

He always called his mother by the name her aunt and Marian Sylvester
used, and she loved to hear it.

At that strange question she felt her cheek pale, and a chill of terror
stilled her throbbing pulses.

"Are you--sure?" she asked hoarsely.

"Of course I'm sure. I know she comes."

"Then, ask her--ask her if she has anything to say--she may be in
trouble, in sorrow--and if she would tell you."

Her voice broke. What was she talking about? How could the dead speak?
What could this vision, this voiceless form be but a phantasm of the
brain, a dream-picture impressed on the child's memory?

Yet for all her scepticism this simple belief claimed her attention.
She gazed into the boy's deep eyes and remembered that what was hidden
from the wise was sometimes revealed to babes.

"Davy, dear," she said again, "when did she come to you last?"

"Last night," he answered.

Dolores started. "What--here?--in your room here? Where was I?"

"I think you was asleep," he answered. Grammar was not Davy's strong
point. "It was all dark and I woke, and there she was sitting; and she
seemed light somehow, and I could see her quite plain. But I was so
sleepy I only said, 'Good-night, Mis'ry,' and went to sleep again."

Dolores clasped her hands together tightly. Her agitation increased.

"Davy, if she should come again will you ask her something? Will you
ask her this? 'Have you anything to tell me?'"

He raised his head, and looked surprised. "Oh, yes, but I don't s'pose
she will, she never does. But I'll tell you what. I'll call you in, and
you talk to her."

"Oh, no. It might--I mean she wouldn't like it. It is you she wants,
I'm sure. She was so fond of you, dear."

Half-musingly the words escaped, but the child's quick intelligence
gave them meaning.

"She is fond of me," he said. "But she's not my right own mother, is
she?"

"No," said Dolores, huskily. "No, Davy. She only took you when you
were a little friendless baby, and gave you home and shelter and love
because--because your own mother couldn't."

"That's what Aunty Sylvester says, and Aunty Sarah." He called them
aunts promiscuously. "Then I had an own mother, Dolly, somewhere, like
other children?"

"Yes--and she loved you very, very dearly. But she had to give you up
to Miss Penharva because she was very poor and friendless, and could
not have you with her."

"Did you know her?" asked the boy, with the startling abruptness that
marks a child's aptitude for jumping at conclusions.

"Yes," said Dolores.

He sat bolt upright now, and looked into her face.

"Then where is she now?" he asked. "Can't she never come back and take
care of me, and let me help her, and work for her same as other boys
work? I could fish and----"

She stopped him with a touch on his eager lips.

"Dear child, you are happy, cared for, why should you want her?"

He considered a moment.

"It seems right to have one's own mother," he said. "But I daresay
she'll come back some day. Look here"--with a new eagerness--"suppose,
I ask Mis'ry next time I see her where my mother is?"

"No," said Dolores, with sudden passion, and there was fear in her eyes
and in her voice. "No, Davy, not that. Ask her only if we shall go to
the Dark House, you and I. Perhaps we shall find something, some clue
the secret of what she wants to say, Davy--the secret of her death."

She paused abruptly. The child's face looked white and strange.

"But she's not dead," he said, in a queer little puzzled way. "Not like
old Peter was when they put him in the wooden box. Ruth says she's at
Penharva still. She's seen her walk. Dead folks don't walk, Dolly, do
they?"

She shook her head. "No, child, perhaps she's not dead, only shut up
there in those grim, dark rooms. We'll go and see her, dear, you and I.
It is not kind to have left her in that dark loneliness so long."

"You're crying, Dolly!" exclaimed the child. "Your eyes are all wet."

"It is only the spray," she said, and smiled. But when he gave back his
attention to the sail and the dancing waves, she turned her head aside
and wiped away those sudden tears from eyes grown anxious and troubled
within these brief last moments.




CHAPTER XXXI.

The child's words haunted Dolores with strange persistence. There could
be no doubt about his own belief in this fancy of Miss Penharva's
visits. Yet how could his mother credit the truth? Had she not seen
the dead woman laid in her coffin, the marks of that murderous hand
upon her throat, the horror of an unexpected and tragic doom in her
staring eyes? And now to hear from those childish lips that this same
person was to him a living reality, that he was familiar with it, spoke
to it, looked for its visits as naturally as for those of any other
personality about him, affected her with a strange dread.

She had only the strength of mind of scepticism. Before a child's faith
it wandered and lost balance and became a question, not a conviction.
He had no fear, why should she have any? Were there not histories
innumerable in all countries and in all tongues of apparitions seen
and spoken to, of unquiet spirits bound to walk their way of earthly
pilgrimage until peace was given them and vengeance meted out to their
wrong-doer his just deserts? She thought and thought, and the shadowy
spaces of twilight grew peopled with imagined shapes, and the impetuous
resolve to go to Penharva became a fixed and resolute purpose.
Something imposed it on her. She could not tell what, but she felt it
growing stronger with every day.

The child looked oddly at her one morning as she came in to breakfast.
He had been up and out for hours.

As she kissed him she noticed the look, and her heart-beats quickened.
She sat down at the table and waited for him to speak, but he ate his
breakfast in an absorbed, dreamy fashion, and she left him alone and
busied herself with her letters.

When she laid them down she glanced at him again. "You are very silent,
Davy," she said.

He suddenly left his place and came to her, and leant his head against
her shoulder.

"Dolly," he said, "I saw Mis'ry last night."

"Yes?'" she answered, quietly.

"I was not quite sleepy," he went on, "so I sat up and looked at her
for a long time. Then I remembered what you said, and I asked her, like
so, 'Mis'ry, have they left you all alone in the Dark House?' And she
nodded her head--like that," (he nodded his own). "And I said, 'Are you
very lonely? and she said 'Yes.'"

"She--spoke?" gasped Dolores, quickly.

"Of course. What makes you go so white, Dolly?"

"Nothing, nothing. Go on, child, what more?"

"Then I fell asleep."

Dolores looked at him. His face was all truth and innocence.

"Was that all?"

"Yes, but we'll go to the Dark House and see her, won't we, soon? She
must be tired of being all alone so long."

His face grew strangely wistful. A sudden terror seized Dolores, as she
looked at him. Stories of obsession, of unseen and occult influences,
of weird and horrible legends rushed to her memory. The thought of
the boy pursued by this dark phantom, yet treating it so fearlessly,
frightened her.

"We will go. Of course, we'll go," she said, rising hastily from her
chair. "But not till our holiday is over. I am expecting a friend
to-day." She paused, smiling softly, as at some pleasant thought. "And
we will go to watch for the steamer, and meet him at the pier."

"A man?" asked the boy. "I'm so glad, Dolly. I seem to be always with
women."

She stood still, as if struck by some new fear. Her voice when she
spoke again was cold and constrained. "Be thankful," she said, "that
you have women to guard you, to keep your heart pure. God knows what
you'll learn from your own sex. Little that's good, if I am any judge."

He looked puzzled.

"Boys like boys," he said. "I want to go to school."

"Oh, Davy!" she cried, "already?"

The tears rushed to her eyes. She saw at last how true had been the old
lawyer's words, how vain it was to try and soften and domesticate the
innate force of masculinity.

School! To associate with others--to learn the boisterous games, the
hateful mannerisms, the rough and ready ways of that class of being
yclept "schoolboys." Davy, with his beautiful face, his charming
manners, his well-trained pride in personal cleanliness and order, to
become one of the fighting, loud-voiced, dirty mob she had seen rushing
out of school gates, shouting themselves hoarse over football, playing
practical jokes, inventive of cruelty, and eager for a liberty that led
on to worse things than these.

It came to her as a shock that the natural instincts of the boy must
always be instincts.

Sex cannot he denied. All mothers have to learn that fact. They may
dress their boy in petticoats and keep him in the seclusion of home if
they choose, but a day comes when the strings are broken and the skirts
sent flying, and he demands his rights, and will have them, trampling
all things feminine under foot, and treating with lordly contempt the
suggestions of prudence and natural care.

"Go to school!" She had looked upon that as a far-off possibility. He
was still so young, and had seemed so happy.

She could say nothing. She felt helpless for the moment. Only when
they were out in the sweet cool air, and watching the approach of the
Penzance steamer, she said in her heart, "Oh, I am glad Ericson is
coming. He will know what to do."

For a moment she had forgotten that Ericson was quite ignorant of her
relationship to the boy, that their present introduction would also be
their first intimation of each other's existence.

*  *  *  *  *  *

As the steamer touched the pier at Hughtown she caught sight of the
familiar figure. It was long since they had met. He had been to
France on some intricate law business, and had now only a very brief
holiday before him. They had corresponded regularly, so he knew always
where she was and how matters went with her. The restraint he had at
first put upon himself had become more natural by force of habit.
He had learnt the hopelessness of looking for any return of his own
love--for love it was, and he had long ceased to deny it. She called
him friend, and friend he had proved himself in every situation or
emergency that needed a man's help or counsel. She owed him more than
she ever imagined, and the care with which he protected her name from
any misrepresentation of this well-known intimacy was itself a good
proof of rare unselfishness. Perhaps she had grown too accustomed to
this chivalrous devotion to heed its sign or suspect its sufferings.
Her life was full, and she allowed in it no place for sentiment or
love-dalliance.

As she met him now after an interval of months there was only calm
friendliness in her eyes and voice, and a little nervous hesitation of
manner that the child's presence occasioned.

"Are you Dolly's friend?" was Davy's immediate greeting, and Ericson's
surprised eyes turned from his beautiful little face to the girl's
conscious one.

He read at last the secret of her life.

It was not the likeness between them that struck so keenly to his
heart, that woke so keen a pang of jealousy, and made the dead weight
of long-borne hopelessness a heavier burden, but it was the look in the
girl's eyes--the half-proud, half-tender, wholly possessive lovingness
that glorifies all true motherhood.

He could not speak for a moment, and the boy looked wonderingly into
his white face.

Then, with an effort, he recovered himself. He took the brown friendly
hand and looked at the glowing face with sad wonder.

"Yes," he said, "I am her friend, and yours, too, if you will have me."

Then he met Dolores' eyes, and saw the warm colour fly from throat to
cheek and cheek to brow.

"I understand," he said, simply. "You need not tell me--anything."




CHAPTER XXXII.

They walked up the pier silently. His words had helped her out of a
dilemma. She felt grateful. The boy ran on before them, eager to reach
the Garrison. Ericson had sent his luggage to the hotel.

"This is my first visit to the Isles since we were here together," said
Dolores.

"And mine," he answered.

"Oh! I thought you came every year."

"Not now." There was a ring of sadness in his voice, and she noted it.

"I have wanted to see you so much," she said suddenly. "I have
something strange to tell you. I know you will think it's absurd, or
impossible, but it has taken hold of me strangely; I can't shake it
off." And then she told him the child's story in few simple words.

"It seems natural she should come to him, for she loved him so; and
then death cut short her intentions respecting him. I have a fancy
always that when a person is prevented from doing anything--I mean
taken from life by crime or accident--they are bound to come back.
They can't rest. The link between body and soul has been too suddenly
broken. It was not worn out in the natural course of events."

He looked thoughtfully. "There is something in your theory," he said.
"And we have excellent authority for haunted houses and apparitions in
all countries. Still, this is very strange. You say the child thinks
it's Miss Penharva herself."

"Yes. He has no fear whatever--seems to think it quite natural."

Ericson paused a moment, his eyes looking out over the tumbling waters
of the Sound.

"There has been no clue, no discovery?"

"Nothing," she answered. "You see it was no one's business except the
police to follow it out after the first. No reward was offered; no heir
has appeared. I doubt if anyone on earth took the interest in Miss
Penharva or knew as much about her as I did."

"She was a good friend to you?"

"In the greatest sorrow of my life she came to my assistance. She gave
me a hope; she adopted my child."

"Ah!" He drew his breath sharply. "I thought so. He is your child. Does
he know?"

She shook her head. "I could not tell him at first. It was part of our
compact, and now. . . . ." She looked at him with sudden earnestness.
"Have you ever noticed," she said, "how hard it is to go back on a road
of life when you have made one false turning? The way gets blocked with
obstacle after obstacle. You want to climb them and can't. It is the
same if you speak falsely; one lie demands another to bolster it up.
You find yourself entangled in a network of deceit before you are aware
of it. . . . It is so with me."

"I feared as much. And you have foregone the love of your child, the
companionship, and pleasure, and pride of such relationship because
of----"

"Of one false word. To speak now would be impossible. Fate has worked
so strangely. The very last person who could understand or excuse my
story is part guardian of my child."

"You don't mean Aunt Marian?"

"Her friend, my aunt--Sarah Webbe."

"That's strange," he said.

"Yes. She knows nothing of that marriage; nothing of my real reasons
for leaving home as I did."

"But why don't you tell her?"

A swift flush dyed the girl's check with vivid red. "She wouldn't
understand; she would not believe. How could I expect it? What was
there in just a few words spoken in that shepherd's hut to constitute a
legal or binding ceremony? How could I have believed it?"

"The legality of Scotch marriages has been found binding on quite as
informal grounds," he answered. "Give me leave to go to Edinburgh to
make enquiries from some leading authority on Scotch law. At least it
can do no harm."

"And less good," she said. "Could I go back to a man who has denied
me, who cast me aside in my helpless, ignorant youth--could I call him
'husband'? No, though a hundred lawyers bade me. Let the matter rest. I
will not have it interfered with."

"You must reckon with your child some day," he said. "What then?"

"I will tell him the truth. He shall be our arbitrator. I will leave
the matter in his hands."

"And all the intervening years you weaken your hold on his duty and
respect. Believe me, you are acting foolishly."

"Perhaps I am. But I cannot help it."

Ericson was silent.

"It seems strange to you, no doubt," she said presently. "But to a
woman feeling means so much. No fate could be so hateful to me as
to proclaim myself Cyril Grey's wife, knowing in my heart that I am
undesired, that he has ceased to love me--that I have ceased to love
him."

Ericson's gaze remained fixed on the shining, heaving water, but his
heart beat stormily. Everything danced and swam before his eyes. Did
she know what dangerous tempting her words held? Had she never guessed
what foe he had been fighting in these years when she had called him
friend?

Slowly, imperceptibly, they had glided into their present relation with
each other. He had assisted her career, watched over her, befriended
her on every possible occasion, and she had accepted all in the spirit
of a frank and fearless camaraderie, never dreaming that harm might
come of it, never caring if her name was linked with his, to the injury
of her fame and future.

Now, suddenly, he saw what the situation meant if no tie held her true
to her betrayer, if once she put herself under the guidance of feeling,
and told him so with unconsidered frankness.

From that hour he knew the fight would be harder. Many a man possesses
honour without morality; but Ericson had a full share of both. To wrong
anything weak, ignorant, trusting seemed to him nothing short of a
crime. And this girl was no conscious sinner, though the world might
hold her so, for sake of a quibble. He reverenced her because he knew
her worthy of a man's reverence. He hated to think that a moment's
self-betrayal might spoil all, that the frank, innocent eyes would
cease to regard him as true friend and worthy comrade.

So he held himself in leash and suffered silently.

"Do you propose going to Penzance, then?" he asked, after that long
pause.

"I do," she said. "And, what is more, I am compelled to do so by some
feeling I can't explain. I feel drawn there. It would be odd if we
discovered something, wouldn't it?"

"Yes," he said, "it would. But do you wish me to accompany you?"

"Of course. You and I and Davy."

"And when are we to go?"

"I leave here next week," she said. "But I don't wish anyone to know of
our visit. It will only set people talking. I must get the keys, too,
from Mr. Malpas. He will wonder why I want them, but I think he won't
refuse. I thought if you stayed at old Trewavis's farm for a night, and
then met us at the top of the cliff road next morning?"

"Yes, I could manage that, if Mrs. Trewavis will give me house room."

"I'm sure she would."

"Well, we'll consider the matter settled. Here comes the boy running
back. What a fine little fellow. How can you bear to keep yourself
unknown?"

"Oh! hush," she said. "It is hard enough without talking about it."

"Dolly," cried the child as he joined them, "are we going for a sail?
You promised I should go to the lighthouse when Mr. Ericson came."

She glanced at Ericson. It cost him an effort to meet her eyes, to
watch her hand as it rested so proudly and tenderly on her boy's bright
head.

"What do you say?" she asked. "The sky looks fair enough. We will get a
luncheon basket from the hotel and be off. It will be like old times,
Harold, won't it, for you and me?"

He smiled and agreed, but in his heart he knew that those old times
would never come again for him. Life never goes back on itself. The
sweetness of dead yesterdays makes the sorrow of to-morrows yet to come.




CHAPTER XXXIII.

There were long intervals of storm and rain after that first day of
Ericson's arrival. Days when the wind was so fierce Dolores could not
stand on any elevated point of the islands. Days when the channel
was turned into a raging torrent, through which the water rushed and
foamed, and into which no boat might venture. Days when Ericson at Hugh
Town and Dolores at Tresco were as apart as if the ocean divided them.

She fretted somewhat at this enforced separation. Her holiday was brief
and she had wanted his companionship. But that time of five years back
was not to be repeated. Such days do not come twice in a lifetime, as
he had said.

The last day, however, made amends for all. The sea was clear and
blue, the sky without a cloud, the sunlight warm and radiant. Every
cove and headland and carn stood outlined clear as a cameo against the
brilliance of the sky. It was a joy to live and breathe such air on
such a day. They met early, resolved on one of their old picnics, and
took their old boatman with them. It did not displease Ericson that the
boy found his conversation more to his taste than that of his mother's
or her friend. It was pleasant to have Dolores to himself once more, to
cheat life out of a few hours' happiness again, for though he set stern
seal on his lips his eyes held their own love feast, and it seemed to
him she had never worn so radiant a beauty as on this day of days.

Their talk was probably not very wise, or very clever. It dealt with
things chiefly touching themselves, their mutual interests, and
thoughts and fancies. Of the future neither spoke. A cloud of fear
dimmed it. There would be troubled times to face, the harsh duties and
jealousies and indignities of life. Both were wise enough to accept
such gifts as the gods sent them, in shape of dreams that cheated care
out of its weariness, and set the idle hours to Nature's tender music.

That night, when the child was asleep, Dolores put on her hat and
wandered out. The way she took was quiet and unfrequented. The
moonlight made it bright as day. The sound of the sea was all about,
and the air distilled the soft salt breath of ocean. She went up to
Cromwell's Castle, that grim and silent relic of the past. From there
she could see the vast expanse of water, quiet now, as though no storm
had ever wakened it to fury and destruction.

She seated herself on a block of stone, her eyes wandering to the
enchanting scene of isle and rock, of towering granite and rugged reef.

She sighed. There comes a time in a woman's life when the beauty of
Nature saddens instead of delights her. She wants an answer to her
thoughts, a response to her joy. She feels the loneliness as an echo
of her loneliness. Her heart aches, and the tears rise unconsciously
to her eyes. Something of this melancholy touched her. "It is the last
night," she said to herself. "That is why. Everything one does for the
last time is sad."

She dashed aside the tears at the sound of an approaching footstep.
Even before she spoke she felt Ericson's presence.

"What made you come here?" she questioned, as he took a place by her
side, with no conventional greeting.

"It is a favourite spot of mine. I came to say good-by to it."

"But you will be here again--next year?"

"Does one ever know what one will do--next year?" he said, sadly. "Life
is uncertain and unkind. I'm old enough now to fear chance glimpses of
happiness. They are like promises unfulfilled."

She was silent. Her eyes were on the wide sweep of the Atlantic, her
clasped hands rested on the ledge of the rock against which she leaned.

The sight of those small hands bathed in moonlight, the glitter of
the one ring on the marriage finger, suddenly shook his long enforced
composure to the quick. His strong warm hands clasped hers, and her
face turned to meet his own. She looked startled. Her usual calm had
vanished.

"Dolores," he said, "have you ever thought how hard this is for me?
Must I always stand aside, repressed, silenced, hurt----"

"Not that," she cried, suddenly. "Oh, Harold, don't say I have hurt you
in all this time."

"You have and you do," he said, doggedly. "I ought not to complain. I
have no right to do so, but suffering wears one out in time, and no
man's strength is stronger than his weakest link. You are--mine."

She looked up, and in the moonlight her face had a soft weariness, and
her eyes the mistiness of tears.

"You too?" she said. "Even you. Oh, can a woman never find a friend to
whom she is just enough?"

"Very few, I am afraid. Certainly, you are not such a woman."

"But you know my story," she said. "You know I can be nothing more to
you."

"Yes, I know your story. That is why I speak so frankly. Things cannot
rest as they are. You must either claim your husband, or free yourself."

"I have told you I do not wish to claim him, and if I were free----"

"Yes?"

"It would make no difference."

"You mean there is no hope?"

"I mean," she cried, bitterly, "that I have killed all softness out of
my heart where men are concerned. Listen."

She drew aside, and he saw the blood flush her temples, and the scorn
flash from her beautiful eyes.

"Before my child became to me a living reality I lived through such a
time of agony as only a betrayed and broken-hearted woman can realise.
No words could paint it or the change wrought in me. How I lived, why
I lived, I don't know. There were times when the sea held an awful
tempting, when life was--nothing. Yet I battled on. I have come out of
it. I am still alive, but all that was best in me was killed then. It
can never live again."

"Not what was best. Only what was unworthy; what had been betrayed and
wronged."

She shook her head.

"I have told you the truth."

"No," he said. "That is not you, your real self speaking. It was the
result of some strange dream--some horrible nightmare."

"It is--myself," she said, coldly. "Myself--broken-hearted and schooled
by one whom Fate had served even worse."

"You mean Miss Penharva?"

"Yes. I never told you under what circumstances I went to her; of our
compact, of what I--a mother--promised to do with my innocent child. I
will tell you now. Then say whether I am such a woman as any man should
love, should wish to make his wife."

He tried to stay her, but the passion in her soul was beyond staying
now, and she told him of that compact which Fate had broken, of that
strange, cold-blooded bargain that Nature had set at naught and crime
had punished.

It stood self-revealed in all the naked horror of unsparing truth. She
spared herself nothing. It was as if she had resolved he should think
the worst of her, and then cast her out of his life for ever.

But he stood even that test. He thought only of the girl on life's
threshold, mad and blind with misery. He was still only her defender,
not her judge.

The pity of his eyes, the tender smile that told her she had spoken in
vain, soothed the storm within her, and held her mute and wondering.

"You may have been what you say, you may have done all this. It makes
no difference to me," he said. "I love you. When a man loves as I do
it is not because he is blinded by passion, but because he sees the
nobility behind the error, the strength behind the weakness; because he
can excuse and pardon, and still love."

Then she broke down. She turned away, and her bent head fell upon the
cold stone parapet, and she sobbed without restraint. He too could have
kept those tears company, but he held himself in leash. He only stood
quietly there and watched her, while the moon climbed up the stairway
of the heavens and looked down at both.

*  *  *  *  *  *

She looked up at last. "I am ashamed," she faltered.

"There is no need to be. And cry your fill. It will do you good. Tears
were made easy for women lest the nerve strength should fail them. I
wish, often, they were so easy for men."

He took her hand, and held it close against his heart. She could hear
its hurried beating. She dried her eyes, and with a great effort calmed
herself.

"You are too good," she said. "When I set myself so resolutely against
all men I never dreamt of meeting one like you. It is like coming face
to face with an unknown possibility."

"I only want to serve you," he said. "But--it seems hard to look
forward to long, empty years, and at the end--no reward. I could be as
Jacob for my Rachel, but she must be mine at last."

"You have chosen to serve a very unworthy Rachel."

"That," he said, "is my affair. No man's love looks what it is to him,
to any other eyes."

"What am I to do?" she asked simply, as she turned her face towards
him, the tears still heavy on her lashes.

"Do?" he said. "Let me fight your battle for you, free you from this
false position. It is a man's work, and not easy. But I am the man and
I will do it, if only to cut the Gordian knot in the end."

"You mean my name would be----"

"Would be set in honour. Your child's birth legitimised. No more. You
can divorce your husband the next day if you please."

"On what grounds?"

"I should say they would not be hard to find. Desertion and infidelity.
He has never supported you?"

"No; never even tried to find out what has become of me."

"He deserves no mercy. Let him find none."

She shivered suddenly.

"I never thought you could be so hard."

"To treachery and unworthiness, yes," he said. "The law never spares
the offender, once he is found guilty."

"And if--he is found guilty?"

"You will be free, this link for ever broken."

"And still dishonoured," she said. "A deserted wife, then a divorced
one. Do you like the picture?"

"The picture is of my love--the sweetest, bravest of women."

She shook her head. "Not the woman to be your wife, to bear your name,
to take her place beside you in that world we know of."

"Give me but hope, and the world will honour you as I do."

"How can I love?" she cried, passionately. "I have grown hard and
bitter. Between me and all the magic of life's sweetness lies the
barrier of my past."

"But if I break down the barrier?"

"Oh, if you only could!"

"I can, and will--God helping me," he said solemnly; and his eyes went
up to the heavens, and the swell of the sea seemed the echo of that vow.




CHAPTER XXXIV.

Into the old house of Penharva, darker now and with an added gloom and
mystery about its closed rooms and silent corridors, came a strange
trio. Man--woman--child. All bent on some discovery. Each face pale and
earnest and set with resolute purpose.

Ericson turned the key in the door of that long-closed room. It was
morning, and even through its gloom a sun-ray pierced through a crack
in the closed shutters. He threw them open, and for a moment or two
they all stood silently gazing around.

The door communicating with the bedroom was open, and the child ran
through it and entered the scene of the tragedy with his young uncaring
feet.

They did not follow, being occupied in noting the alterations in the
room where she had passed most of her time. To Dolores it was full of
memories, and most of them were painful. She almost expected to see
that strange figure in its nun-like garments walk in and seat itself in
the accustomed chair.

A cry from the child startled them. They moved to go forward, but as
they did so he appeared in the doorway.

"It's so dark," he said, "and I can't open the shutters, Dolly."

Ericson entered the room. There stood the bed as when she had lain
there in her ghastliness, with staring eyes that had seemed full of
horror, with dumb lips silenced by the tyranny of force. The light
straggled in but faintly. Thick creepers shrouded the outer glass, and
formed a veil between it and the living sunshine beyond. The dust lay
thick on everything. The carpet was rolled up and lay in a corner, the
toilet-ware was piled on the washstand. A table with a framed mirror,
a couple of chairs, and an old-fashioned wardrobe and bureau completed
the furniture.

"The room has been searched again and again," said Ericson. "There can
be no further clue here."

The child pulled at his mother's arm. "Where is Mis'ry?" he asked. "She
told me she would be here; and she isn't here."

"She has gone away," said Dolores, looking helplessly round.

It seemed to her that this visit would be of no service in the
discovery, and yet that impulse to come had been overmastering.

The boy moved restlessly about the room. Ericson was making notes of
the possibilities of entrance and exit. It was supposed the criminal
had got into the house from the lower regions. He wondered how he had
known so well to find this special room, for Dolores had mentioned that
the door was always locked on the inside. He went carefully round now,
examining the high oak wainscot and pausing now and again to tap at
any suspicious crack or cranny. The bed stood against one portion. Its
carved mahogany back touched the panelling. He tried to move it, but
its great weight prevented him. The boy watched him curiously.

"How funny," he said. "It was behind the bed that the little door was.
She showed it me."

"A door!" exclaimed Dolores.

"Yes, like a cupboard. Mis'ry opened it once when I was playing here."

Ericson got up on the frame of the bed and began to examine the
headboard. It moved into a groove, and at pressure slid down so that
it rested on the floor. Behind it was the same oak panelling that ran
round the room. He sounded it. It gave out a hollow echo.

"There is a space behind this," he said to Dolores.

She approached him. Her face was very pale.

"Can you open it?"

He took out his knife and inserted it in the crack. It seemed to have
been carelessly fastened for it yielded at once. A small square panel
moved back, and revealed a flight of stairs. Ericson lit a match and
peered down.

"They seem to lead to the foundations," he exclaimed. "It is pitch
dark. I wish we had brought candle or lantern."

"There should be a lantern somewhere down stairs," said Dolores,
excitedly. "I'll go and look for it. There might chance to be a bit of
candle in it, too."

She moved away, but ere she reached the door a cry from Ericson made
her turn. He had moved away from the opening. He was deadly pale, and
holding a handkerchief to his face.

"The stench is unbearable," he exclaimed. "Open the window for God's
sake."

She rushed to do his bidding. He sprang down from the bed and went to
the casement.

"Ugh!" he said. "If its drains or rats I don't know, but there's
pestilence breeding in that black hole, I'll swear."

"Perhaps you had better not go in," she said.

His brow was wet and clammy. A deadly nausea overcame him. He waved her
aside, and she turned and called to the child who was trying to climb
up on the high old-fashioned bedstead.

"Don't go there, Davy."

"I must," he said, "I must. Mis'ry gone. She wants me."

"Call him back for God's sake," cried Ericson. "It's enough to poison
him."

She rushed forward and seized the boy and dragged him back, but he
struggled violently, insisting that Mis'ry was beckoning to him.

Ericson turned again from the window. "There must be a way out from
there as well as a way in," he said. "Let us try to find the exit. I've
got the plan of the rooms in my head. I think I can discover where this
secret stair leads. To go down it would be a risk."

They left the window open, and made their way to the kitchen and
basement. All was damp and mildewed, the woodwork rotting to decay, the
locks and hinges falling from the doors. They found the lantern, but
Ericson was hopeful of discovering the other outlet, and after many
efforts and many failures he came upon the clue.

An outer passage ran along by the kitchen parallel with the walls.
Guided by his knowledge of where the secret stairway led he found
the panel or doorway, after much sounding. To open it, however, was
impossible. He could not discover the spring.

"I must break it open if we are to finish our search," he said. "That
kitchen poker would serve. Shall I venture?"

"Yes, do," entreated Dolores. "I'm sure Mr. Malpas wouldn't mind."

He seized the heavy kitchen poker and battered the panel. For long
it resisted, then suddenly gave way, and opened inwards on a mass of
mortar and stones--the debris of a broken wall. He lit the fragment
of candle in the lantern, and held it up in the cavity thus revealed.
Part of the stairway had evidently given way. A huge gap lay between
the revealed portions, and in the hollow of this gap lay a dark mass. A
something gruesome and horrible. A something to which Harold Ericson's
exclamation gave meaning still more horrible, as he moved away from the
opening, and waved the curious woman and wondering child aside.

"Keep off, keep away, for God's sake," he entreated. "This is no sight
for you."

Dolores shrunk aside. She guessed instinctively what lay there. A heap
of rotting clothes, and rat-eaten flesh and mouldering bones. The body
of the murderer given back to human ken at last, but given back when
no eye could identify him, when no clue should be found to his name or
place on earth. Given back by God's judgment to man's mercy, with his
ill-gotten gains by his side, and the jewels, for which an innocent
life had been sacrificed, scattered in mockery over that broken mass of
earth and stones where he had fallen and perished amidst living life
around.




CHAPTER XXXV.

Horror-struck by the discovery, Ericson drew Dolores away from the
secret entrance.

They had no need of words. The story proclaimed itself. Whoever had
planned this robbery must have had complete knowledge of the old house,
and made his way by the secret stairway to its mistress's bedchamber in
order to accomplish his crime. In all probability she had awakened at
the noise of the opening partition, and he had strangled her for fear
of alarm. The work of robbery complete, he had made his return by the
same method.

Here surmise had to play the part of detective, and prove by inference
what was impossible of other proof. During his absence the stairs long
unused and probably undermined by damp and decay had fallen away,
leaving this huge gap, yawning for the criminal's unsuspecting feet.
He had never thought of looking before him, but plunged head foremost
into the chasm, and either injured or killed himself by the fall. The
jewel box had fallen open; its contents lay scattered around. The gold
was probably on his person. Of that Ericson had no desire to make any
examination. It was a matter for the police now, and he arranged with
Dolores to go straight to Mr. Malpas and tell him of the discovery.

The child, perched upon the table in the dreary kitchen, listened to
their talk eagerly. He had to be assured again and again that Mis'ry
was not there, having a suspicion in his own mind that she had vanished
down the secret staircase.

Ericson closed up the panel, then they retraced their steps to the
upper regions and fastened the shutters. After this they left the old
house once more to its gloom and solitude, and went their respective
ways--Dolores to Myrtle Cottage, Ericson to Penzance.

The story was told to Miss Webbe and her friend, and filled them with
horror. They were full of curiosity as to whether any clue would be
found to the murderer's identity, even at this late date. Dolores,
however, had no hope of that. What could there be about that heap of
mouldering bones to afford anyone the slightest hint of who he had been
in life?

Yet strange revelations were to follow on the heels of this discovery.

* * * * * *

Ericson accompanied Mr. Malpas and the police officials to the Dark
House on the following day. Slowly the horrible work was done, and bit
by bit the stolen property amassed. Among other things brought out was
the thick leather jewel box, which Dolores recognised at once when Mr.
Malpas showed it her. It had escaped all injury, though, owing to the
bursting of the lock, most of its contents were scattered amidst the
debris of bones, rotting clothes, and earth and stones.

As the jewels were found Mr. Malpas replaced them in the box; the money
he placed in another receptacle.

By the end of the day the work was completed. A free current of
air flowed through the passage. The remains were placed in a rough
coffin to await the inquest, and the house left to the charge of the
constables.

The next morning's post brought Dolores a letter. It was from Mr.
Malpas.

"I want to see you as soon as you can call here," he wrote. "It is
important."

She wondered what had happened, but midday found her in the old dingy
office. Mr. Malpas received her in his private room. His usually
impassive face looked eager and interested. On the table before him
stood the jewel case, and beside it a large parchment. He motioned
Dolores to a seat.

"Something very strange has turned up--very strange."

He tapped the parchment, and adjusted his glasses.

"This," he said, "is Miss Penharva's will--the unsigned will--that made
your child a beggar."

"Yes?" she acquiesced. "It is of no use, you said."

"None whatever; waste paper--mere waste paper. We may as well tear it
up. Only parchment isn't easy to tear."

He smiled oddly, and crushed up the sheet, and tossed it aside. Dolores
watched him with ever-increasing wonder.

He turned next to the jewel-case, and opened it. Dirty, mildewed, and
even in some places gnawed by the sharp teeth of rodents, yet the
inside was quite unharmed.

He took out the jewels--an old watch, two or three gold chains, some
quaint old Marquise rings, a heap of brooches, some uncut rubies, a
diamond necklet, strings of pearls, hair bracelets--a queer assortment
of jewelry that would not have made much show beside the resplendent
coffers of a modern "mondaine." Yet they were valuable. They were
antique old family jewels with histories attached; and the old lawyer's
fingers lingered about them with a certain reverence as he placed them
on the table before Dolores.

She watched him with some wonder in her eyes, but she asked no
questions.

When the box was quite empty he closed it and handed it to her.

"Yours?" he said, with a queer twinkle in his eye.

"Mine?" she exclaimed, turning it from side to side, and then looking
at him for explanation.

"Yours!" he repeated. "It doesn't look much of a legacy, yet it brings
you good news and good fortune. Try if you can discover the secret."

She opened the lid; she sounded the bottom and the sides; she shook
it, turned it upside down, and then looked back at the old lawyer's
watchful face.

"No, there seems nothing here," she said.

Still smiling, he took the box again into his hands.

"You see this lid?" he asked her. "It looks solid, doesn't it? A mere
accident revealed its secret to me, Look!"

He passed his forefinger slowly up the side, close against the outer
edge. A leather flap flew back, revealing a square hollow compartment.
Fitted into it was a thin leather case. Mr. Malpas drew it out.

"How dearly you women love writing down your secrets," he said. "Look
here." He opened the case. Within lay a sealed packet of thin paper. It
was addressed in the small cramped writing that Dolores knew so well.


"To Dolores Dering. For her private use, perusal and warning, after I
shall be dead and my history forgotten."


She turned it over thoughtfully, her heart full of memories of that
time when that strange, lonely woman had told her of the past tragedy
in her blighted life.

"There is more than that," said Mr. Malpas. "I told you I had good
news. Do you see this?"

He showed her a single sheet of notepaper. It was covered with writing,
and bore at the end of the page three signatures.

"Her will!" exclaimed the old lawyer triumphantly. "Signed and
witnessed, and perfectly legal! She made it herself pending my arrival
with the more formal document. It is dated the same day. It merely
repeats in simple words her intentions. Everything is left to your boy,
and you are his guardian!"

For a moment Dolores could not speak. The room went whirling round,
the shadows and sunbeams chased each other in giddy circles. It seemed
hardly possible that this could be true.

The voice of the old man reached her dazed senses. "Come, come, take
it calmly. It is quite right, it is just what she intended. By some
strange foresight she made this herself and had it witnessed, and then
put it into that hiding-place along with her journal. That feminine
document was evidently written for your perusal only, I have no doubt.
Meanwhile, what is more to the purpose is the proving of this will, and
the settling of your claim. These jewels are yours by the way. There
is no reason why you should not take them away with you. The will I
will take steps to prove, and then you can decide what to do with the
property."

"But if any of her legal relatives turn up?"

"That's of no moment now. She had full power to act as she pleased.
And I'm inclined to think the family has died out. You see, our
advertisements never met with any response. Don't make difficulties
for goodness' sake, my dear young lady. The Penharva property has been
the bane of my existence. I am heartily glad to see it pass out of the
Penharva line."

He replaced the jewels in the box, tied it securely and sealed it. Then
he handed it to Dolores. The sealed packet still lay unopened on the
table.

She felt an odd dislike to take it--a fear lest what she should read
there might have some unpleasant effect upon her life or future.

She could not explain why this feeling overcame her, but it was there,
and remained with her during the drive back to her aunt's cottage. Not
even then did it leave her, but haunted the remaining hours of the
day until night came and she was alone and undisturbed, and could set
herself to examine those closely covered pages.

In some the ink was dull, and the writing blurred as if by tears.
Others were fresh and clear as if they had been recently added.

While the child slept peacefully in his little bed, and the soft air
blew the perfume of rose and verbena through the open window, she
unfolded, one by one, those long, thin slips of foreign paper, placed
them in sequence, and began to read.




CHAPTER XXXVI.

EXTRACTS COPIED FROM THE JOURNAL OF URSULA PENHARVA.

March 6th, 1844.

Seventeen to-day, and they kept my birthday for me in right good style
at Penharva. It was my grandfather's wish, and that was ever law to
my mother, who was a timorous body, and stood in great awe of her
husband's family. I wore a new silk gown, and we drove away from St.
Just in a chariot and pair, my mother and I, while my father rode at
our side for company.

The morning was fine and bright with the coming of spring, and full of
scents and sweetness. I envied my father on his horse. I would have
loved to ride, too; but my little mare had been left behind, because,
for sooth, I must be dressed in fine gown and hat and feathers to do
honour to the day and meet my cousin John Penharva from Truro, with
whom I am to make a match one of these days. So my mother has hinted,
and having been brought up in duty and obedience I listen demurely,
and say nothing. For indeed I have little wish to be married. I think
girlhood should be free and happy, and have space and time for study
and for judgment before it is given away to a man's keeping, and
burdened with other cares. Still I do not speak such things even to my
mother--good patient soul, who has, I confess here, little will of her
own, and no riotous imagination, such as rules me at times, and makes
me a wild, rebellious maid whom none may rule or check, save perhaps my
grandfather.

*  *  *  *  *  *

We are to stay the night at Penharva. There is to be a lot of company
in the evening, and I hear that my cousin John has brought a friend
with him from London.

*  *  *  *  *  *

I have spent a most pleasant evening. I will just write of it before I
go to bed. I have little inclination for sleep.

I have seen Cousin John's friend. He is a fine tall young man, with
handsome face and black sparkling eyes. We danced together several
times, and he said many pretty things of my light foot and gracefulness
of figure. (I fear these London gentlemen are sad flatterers, for what
could an ignorant country girl like myself know of manners?) I blushed
and stammered when he spoke to me, but I danced with him whenever he
asked, for Cousin John is heavy and clumsy, and I found him by no means
so entertaining as his friend.

*  *  *  *  *  *

March 8th.

Home again. I feel tired and out of spirits after so much gaiety. We
stayed all day yesterday at my grandfather's request, and went out on
the sea and walked to the Logan stone in the afternoon. I was not at
all tired.

Yet to-day I feel heavy of limb and heart, and care for nothing. My
mother has been busy scolding the maids, who it appears have done
nothing right in our absence.

I wandered out in the garden and thought of Cousin John, good, stupid,
honest youth. He is to pay us a visit at midsummer. I wish----

I was going to write something foolish. What could have put into my
head that a fine London gentleman would ever care to stay in our dull
West Country? I cannot tell for the life of me!

*  *  *  *  *  *

May 1st.

What made me begin to keep a journal? Perhaps it was reading Clarissa
in my grandfather's library. I have been much at Penharva of late.
The old man has been ill and strange, and would have me with him to
read and talk or play at picquet. He loves me in his way, but it is
a somewhat trying way. I must do all he wants, and have no will nor
opinion of my own.

*  *  *  *  *  *

May 5th.

Great sorrow and misfortune have befallen us. I was recalled to my
own home yesterday. My dear father had been thrown from his horse and
killed on the spot. No one knows how it happened, whether Crab Apple
stumbled or took fright. My poor father was picked up by a farming man
near the mine of Balleswidden. He may have been cantering over the
downs near that strange circle of stones, nineteen in number, whose
history is unknown. My mother is distraught with grief. I feel too
dazed and pained for much show of sorrow. We fear that the shock of his
son's death will have a disastrous effect on my grandfather. His mind
is already much impaired, and his moods get stranger every day.

*  *  *  *  *  *

May 20th.

At Penharva. My mother and I are staying here. The old man would have
me, and I would not leave her. We laid my dear father to rest in the
old churchyard, where many a generation of the family lie buried.
My mother tells me that owing to this I may be the heiress of my
grandfather. It is therefore probable that they will urge me to marry
my cousin, John Penharva. In this manner the name and the property
will be kept together. I cannot but confess here, and to my own heart,
that the idea does not please me. I have nought but cousinly affection
for John Penharva. I do not wish to be his wife. I do not tell my
grandfather this. It would vex him, and in his frail condition that
would be scarcely kind.

The old house is very melancholy. My bedchamber is in the oldest part
of it, and the casements look out on the kitchen garden and orchard,
and all the fields of corn and rye now waving green and beautiful in
the warm sunshine. The front of the house faces the sea, but is sunk
too deep in the hollow of the cliff to allow of more than the sound of
it. And weird and melancholy it is in time of storm, such as our coast
knows.

How I miss my dear father. He was cheery, and full of good humour
and good spirits. My mother is ever weeping and melancholy and my
grandfather full of strange fancies and cranks. They say we Penharvas
always get crazed as we grow old. If that is so, I am glad my dear
father died in his prime, for it would have broken my heart to see him
thus. I fancy the old house accounts for it.

It is full of mystery and gloom, of weird sounds and shadows. They
say it is haunted, but of that I am supposed to know nothing. Yet I
doubt if any ghost would frighten me. I am not timorous or weak like
my mother. And if I met some long-passed-away ancestor on ancestress
in these gloomy corridors I should but feel a curious and intense
interest in their reasons for revisiting Penharva. I would dearly love
to question such a ghost.

*  *  *  *  *  *

June 1st.

I have made a strange discovery.

The maids were engaged in cleaning and arranging my bedchamber this a
morning. It necessitated the moving of the great mahogany four-poster
from its place, and once moved I bade them leave in its new position
facing the window, thus allowing me some chance glimpse of morning
sun and waving trees in the grounds beyond. This afternoon, while my
grandfather slept, I went up to my newly-arranged chamber to inspect
its alterations.

The gardener had cut away a good portion of the screening creepers.
The window stood wide open to the sweet fresh air. Curtains of bright
chintz framed it on either side, matching those of the bedstead, from
which the old, heavy moreen had been removed. The old chairs had
been beeswaxed and polished, and the same chintz covered their faded
cushions. My writing-table stood under a bookshelf, well filled with my
own cherished volumes of Scott, and Milton, and Jane Austen, and Mrs.
Gaskell, mostly presents from my father. The room looks transformed,
and I feel quite pleased with it.

The new position of the bedstead left a portion of the high panelled
wainscot revealed. On this hung a picture. I approached it in order to
see what it represented.

It was a portrait of an ancient dame. Some Penharva ancestress, I make
no doubt. It did not interest me, and I turned away. I made a few
alterations in the arrangement of the furniture, then took a book and
seated myself on the wide old window seat, and gave myself up to a
quiet hour, with "Marmion" and "The Lady of the Lake" for company.

Now, whether it was the continuous monotony of the metre (for Scott
rarely varies) or the slumberous warmth of the air, or the soothing
drone of the bees in the garden beyond, any or all of these, I cannot
tell but gradually my eyes closed and I fell asleep.

What is more, I dreamt a dream. So strange and weird it was that I
started up, rubbing my eyes and gazing at the wall, as if what had
happened was real.

It seemed to me that I was looking at the old lady in the picture. As
I looked she stepped out of the frame and stood by the wall; more, the
open space left by her departure from the frame seemed to widen and
deepen until a great cavity showed itself. She turned and looked at me,
and pointed to this cavity, and impelled by curiosity I left my seat
and went over to her. She pointed with one hand into the dark hollow,
and I stood on tip-toe and looked in.

I saw to my surprise a narrow stairway of stone. It was dark and
winding. I could not see its direction or its length. In spite of the
darkness I saw it, and yet that did not appear strange. Full of wonder,
I turned to the old lady to ask her what this meant, and awoke.

So vivid and so real it had been that I remained for several minutes
staring at the portrait and the wall. I felt half inclined to approach
and try the panel for myself, but the striking of a clock reminded me
it was the hour to drink tea in my grandfather's room, and I resolved
to defer my investigations till I was at liberty.

*  *  *  *  *  *

June 2nd.

I could not get that strange dream, or rather vision, out of my head. I
have written it in my journal so that I may remember it in the future.

After all there is nothing so very strange in the existence of a
secret stairway in such an ancient house as Penharva. Doubtless it
has histories and tragedies of Cromwell's time and long before, of
political intrigues, wanderers and exiles from court favours. Its
very position marks it for secrecy and stronghold combined. No, there
was nothing singular in hiding-place or refuge connected with its
seventeenth century history, but the method of my discovery impressed
me all the same.

When I went to bed I lit my two wax candles and approached the
portrait, holding them so as to get a good view of the face. It
suddenly struck me that it bore a great resemblance to myself.

True, the hair was white and severely banded under a Puritan-like cap,
but the colour of the eyes, the features, the long throat, all of these
were characteristics of my own. I gazed long and earnestly at the
portrait, and the more I gazed the more I seemed to see myself at some
future period of time, the living counterpart of this ancestress.

"I must learn her history," I told myself; and, turning from her
face to the panel, I began the scrutiny on which I had determined. I
searched in vain for opening or crack. Whatever lay behind it was well
guarded and well concealed.

"Madam must tell me herself how to discover this seeming stairway,"
I said half aloud, and my voice struck strangely on the silence, it
seemed to me.

I went to bed, and the dream repeated itself.




CHAPTER XXXVII.

June 3rd.

I have found the clue. There is a spring--a tiny, almost imperceptible
knob, more like an unevenness in the wall than anything else. After
much pressure and trial it yielded. The panel opens into a recess, and
there, leading down to depths unknown, is the winding stairway.

I have not the courage to go down. The air is damp and mouldy, and it
is horribly dark. I am quite content to have proved my dream correct.
I shall sleep in peace to-night, I hope, and to-morrow I will ask my
grandfather if he knows aught of any secret chamber in the basement, or
any exit into the grounds through a subterranean channel. These stairs
may go down to the foundations, and then lead to the cliffs for aught
I know. A fine method of escape when changing dynasties and the iron
rule of the Commonwealth made traitors of the good and loyal nobles of
England.

*  *  *  *  *  *

June 14th.

I have got hold of the story by scraps and bits. It is far too long
and intricate to put down here. It is sufficient for me to know that
the old lady is not only an ancestress but a namesake; that she also
was one Ursula Penharva, that her life held a great sorrow and a great
tragedy.

What makes me pause here, and ask myself shall I resemble her in more
than name, and will my life also hold a great sorrow and culminate in a
great tragedy? God knows!

*  *  *  *  *  *

(A great portion of the diary following these entries consisted only of
fragments--odd disjointed scraps concerning the illness of old Michael
Penharva, and histories, more or less incoherent, respecting the family.

Dolores hurried over these or omitted them. She wanted to reach the
modern portion of the journal.)

*  *  *  *  *  *

Midsummer Day, June, 1847.

Three years since my grandfather died. Three years since Penharva
became mine, and two since I refused John Penharva for the third time.

I cannot marry him. I have no inclination towards marriage at all.

I did ask him once if his friend from London was never again coming
to visit us as he had promised, but he answered curtly that he knew
nothing of him, and that he bore by no means such a character as should
interest a lady. Upon which my colour rose, and I told him haughtily
that a lady's interest concerned no one but herself and the person on
whom it was bestowed, and so we parted on no better terms than ever did
part us. For he was always rebuking, and I always impatient.

'Tis full summer now, the sky of a glory beyond all words to paint,
the orchards and gardens fragrant with ripening fruits and full-blown
roses, the hayfields ripe for the gleaners, the sea a blue and waveless
mirror, stretching far and wide to the dim horizon line.

'Tis a great day for Cornish maids, this 24th of June. At noon they try
charms to prove who shall have swain or sweetheart, and who go without.
I hear much chattering and ado, but I leave my mother to chide their
wasted hours. It has nought to do with me.

I feel strange lack of interest in this old house; I grow pale and
languid, and time hangs heavy on my hands.

I wish I could get away to some new place, some new life. I am twenty
years of age, and rich--so they say--and yet. . . Heigh-ho! how weary I
feel at times, and how old!

Ruth Chirgwyn came running across the orchard path, as I wandered there
seeking for ripe cherries. She is a pretty girl, and helps in the
kitchen and laundry. When she saw me she stopped and looked confused. I
knew what she had been doing, and laughed at her blushes. Peter Pasco
the gardener is after her, and I doubt not she had been trying charms
to find out when they would be wed--if at all.

"Try to-night again," I said, half in jest, for indeed it is no light
matter to be out at midnight on Midsummer Day, since fairies and pixies
are seen, not to mention his majesty Tregeagle, who is a mighty tricky
spirit, and blamed for many an evil deed through the length and breadth
of Cornwall.

"To-night!" gasped the girl, and all her blushes faded into waxen
whiteness. "Awk! My dear Miss Ursy, you do never mean the hempseed?"

"I do mean the hempseed."

She began to shake.

"La! La! Miss, I couldn't, were it ever so. I should be skeered of my
life. I never did do more than bake a cake on the kitchen hearth, nor
more did any of the maids. We han't narra of us goet the sperrit. All
the saam, miss, I'd be dearly lovin' to see if he would cum a-followin'
I. Do 'ee believe in thicky charm, Miss Ursy?"

"I've never tried it," I said, gravely. "But suppose I come with you?"

"Awk! My dear life!" she gasped. "Would 'ee dare now? And tell not a
soul. They do say sure as fate the young man that's to wed wi' un will
follow."

"Yes," I said, "I'll come. I'll go down to the kitchen at a quarter
before midnight. Wait for me there, but be sure you tell no one."

She promised solemnly, and then ran off to her own regions and her own
work, while I ate fruit under the shade of the great pear tree, and
asked myself if I had not been very foolish to encourage this silly
maid in her superstition.

I soon forgot all about it, but it happened that in the evening I was
in the library, looking for a special book I desired to read. On one
shelf, thrust into a corner, I came upon an old volume that bore the
title, "Cornish Superstitions." I drew it out and began to read it.

Heavens! What a record of legends and charms, witches and wizards,
it contained. If one half were true, well, Cornwall must be the most
ghost-ridden, witch-bepeopled county in all England.

At some I laughed, at others wondered. But, having saturated myself
with this lively literature for some hours, I was doubtless in a
fitting frame of mind to test some of its best-known and vouched for
superstitions.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Not an hour ago I staggered into this room more dead than alive. Now
I tell myself how foolish, and worse than foolish, I am, and oh, how
bitterly ashamed. Let me see if I can write down here what really
happened.

I found Ruth waiting for me. We both wore cloaks, with hoods drawn over
our heads. We both carried in our hands a small basket of hempseed.

Noiselessly we crept out into the garden, and up the winding path, and
so into the high road, stretching white and clear, under the moonlight,
to the town of Penzance.

It was quite empty of human figure or living object.

"Ruth," I said, "we will walk on, say, twenty paces, then turn, and
scatter the hempseed behind us."

But she objected that we must not be together. So I left her at the
twenty paces, and went on further myself for some twenty or thirty
more. Just where I paused a group of beech trees, ancient and tall,
threw a shadow over the white road. I turned hastily. At the same
moment the stillness was broken by the sound of footsteps approaching
from behind, and, a voice hailed me.

Now what foolishness overcame me at that moment I cannot tell, but
down fell my basket, and I flew like one possessed over the white
road, reaching Ruth in a moment, and dragging her with me down the
narrow cliff path that led to the back entrance of the house. We had
left the gate open, and through it we flew, fast as feet could carry
us, slamming the door behind and turning the key in the lock. There we
stood a moment to regain breath, trembling and panting, and Ruth, for
one, ready to faint with terror.

"Who was it?" she gasped.

"I don't know," I said. "I never waited to see."

"Hush!" she cried. "He do be a folloin' 'ee. O Lord! O Lord! What iver
shall us do?"

I clapped my hand to her mouth and listened. Sure enough footsteps were
coming down the glen. Quick, firm footsteps--those of a young man,
without doubt.

We were too frightened to move. We held each other by the arm and
listened.

The footsteps stopped at the gate, and a loud knocking began. Ruth,
little fool, dropped on her knees. I, regaining courage and knowing the
gate was strong, demanded who was there.

"A belated traveller," said a voice--and what was in its tones that
should thrill me, and set my heart beating so wildly? "My carriage
broke down midway between Penzance and here, or I should have reached
the place hours ago. Are the family all gone to rest for the night?"

"Say 'yes,'" I cried imperatively in Ruth's ear. "I know who the
gentleman is."

She staggered to her feet.

"It be no ghaist, miss, then?"

"Ghost--no. It is a friend. He must be admitted. I'll slip upstairs.
You let him in, and I will waken my mother."

"I can't e'en daur to open the gate," she cried below her breath.

"Nonsense!" I said, and shook her sharply. "You must wait until I reach
the kitchen door, and then turn the key."

She rose to her feet, and I sped silently over the grass, reached the
kitchen, and flew upstairs.

I knocked at my mother's door, telling her I had heard someone at the
gate--a traveller who had been on his way to see us and met with an
accident. She bade me go down as soon as I was dressed, and she would
follow. I returned to my room to await Ruth's summons. It would never
do to confess myself one of the foolish maids he had pursued. He must
only think it was the servants. What should the mistress of Penharva be
doing at night, working midsummer charms on the high road?

Pale and demure in my black gown, I went down into the small parlour
my mother and I used for meals some quarter of an hour after Ruth had
summoned me.

He was sitting by the open window, looking at the mystic whiteness of
the moonlit garden. He--I had no need to name him. My heart had done
that at the first sound of his voice.

He rose. I saw then how changed he was in these three years. His face
was lined and pale. His eyes had lost their brightness and grown dull
and lustreless. He wore a moustache and short pointed beard, which gave
him the look of one of the Royalists in our picture gallery, and was
quite an unknown fashion in our part of the world.

"I--I can hardly flatter myself that you remember me, Miss Penharva,"
he said. "And what must you think of my disturbing your household at
this untimely hour! But my carriage broke down midway between Penzance
and here, or I should have arrived hours ago."

"I remember you very well," I said.

He looked at me earnestly.

"You have changed since I saw you last, but the change is only to your
advantage," he said.

I drew my hands away from his, and, blushing, asked him to be seated.

I tried to conquer my foolish confusion, to talk naturally, but it was
strangely difficult. I welcomed the appearance of Ruth with a tray of
refreshment and a jug of cider. She was speedily followed by my mother,
who did the duties of hostess in her own kind, simple fashion. Then
he told us of London and its gay doings, and spoke touchingly, of our
bereavement, of which he had heard from Cousin John. I wondered what
business had brought him to our out-of-the-world dwelling, but he did
not explain, saying only that he would but trespass on our hospitality
the matter of two or three days.

I spoke very little. It was pleasure enough to listen. I noted, though,
that when my mother told him the house and everything at Penharva was
mine, he looked at me with a new attention, and after that was somewhat
silent.

When he had finished his supper, my mother herself showed him to his
room. I lingered to give some orders to Ruth, who came in to remove the
tray.

"Remember," I said, pressing hard her arm. "Not a word of who was with
you on this night's foolish business to anyone."

She promised faithfully, and I went to my own bedchamber.

It was flooded with moonlight. I needed no candle to undress. As I
stood and looked at the familiar things around me, beautified now by
this silver flame that poured in from the open window, my eyes rested
on the portrait. I started. It seemed for a moment as if it looked at
me with strange earnestness, with something of warning, as if it fain
would speak.

A great fear overcame me. I seized the matches and lit my candles
quickly, then drew down the blind.

Truly imagination plays us strange tricks at times.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.

June 30.

The two or three days have lapsed into a week, and he is still here.
We are much together. We ride, and sail in the bay, and loiter in the
garden and the glen. We are great friends, and I have lost my shyness
with him. He professes himself in love with our country ways, and the
beauty of the coast, and this quaint dwelling-house. He has explored it
from garret to basement with the strangest interest. I showed him the
secret stair, and he is now keen on discovering the outlet. He thinks
it is in some other portion of the house; but among all the deeds and
papers and plans relating to Penharva, we have found no clue.

*  *  *  *  *  *

July 2.

My mother has been sick the last few days, and kept her room. So he and
I have been much thrown together. He speaks now of leaving. But speaks
always with regret and sadness of voice, as though his heart was not
with the intention. Yet what charm can there be here to keep a fine
London gentleman content?

*  *  *  *  *  *

July 4.

I am in a terrible fright. To no living soul dare I speak of what
happened to-day. But I shall write it here for my own satisfaction.

I was sitting alone in my room this afternoon, not caring to go out of
doors in the great heat, when it seemed to me there came a tapping at
the wall in the direction of the portrait.

I was startled, then frightened. I made no movement, only sat still,
and gazed like one dumb with fear and expectation. The noise ceased,
then there was a groping and scraping as of a hand seeking somewhat.
Too terrified almost to breathe, I watched the portrait move, the panel
sink back, and a face look at me through the opening. Then I screamed
as one distraught. A voice cried to me entreatingly to have no fear,
and as I saw to whom face and voice belonged I rose, pale and angry and
amazed.

"A thousand pardons," he cried. "You gave me leave to find the outlet,
if I could, and I have done so. I came to a dead stop here, so tried
the wall. Have I frightened you?"

"You have indeed," I said, trembling still.

"May I come in and ask pardon?"

"No, no," I said, hastily. "You did not know, of course." And,
curiosity overcoming terror I approached and looked down the secret
passage. He had a lantern in his hand, and showed me how it winded and
twisted into the darkness below.

"There is but room for one," he said. "Are you afraid to venture before
or after me?"

"I am afraid of rats and vermin," I said. "Besides, the stair has no
interest for me; I am not likely to use it."

"It is plain," he said, "that country morals are unlike those of town
ladies. This would be found mighty useful by some of them."

I told him it was very venturesome of him to have come thither, not
knowing whence the stair might have led, and he answered--no matter
what. Fine phrases doubtless come easy to town folk. . . . For long he
stayed there talking, and as my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom I saw
what seemed a small chest or case standing on a shelf just above his
head.

I drew his attention to it, and he put up his hand and drew it down. It
proved to be an iron box with a strong lock, and was of great weight.
Full of curiosity to see its contents I made him bring it within my
room. Just as we were examining it I heard my mother's voice calling
from hers.

He seized my hand. "Say nothing of this, I implore," he whispered.
"What would she think if she found me here?"

I nodded acquiescence and withdrew, leaving him there with the box.

My mother detained me some time. When I was free to return to my room
again I found it deserted. The box stood in the same place, and the
panel was closed, but on the table was a sheet of paper addressed to
me. It said:--


"Dear Miss Penharva,

The lid was ill-secured. I leave you to examine it at your leisure. Do
not, I entreat you, fear that I shall make any use of this knowledge,
and, keep it a secret, I beseech you. I will show you the other
entrance whenever you desire.


I put the paper in my pocket, and turned my attention to the box. The
lid opened easily, somewhat to my surprise. I knelt down to see what
treasure had been so carefully hidden. There were some old silver
flagons with the Penharva crest, some fragments of lace, yellow and
torn, and a miniature or two set in gold.

"No great treasure, after all," I thought.

I closed the lid and stooped to push the box aside into a corner of the
room. Remembering its great weight I put forth all my strength. To my
surprise it moved with ease now. As I pushed it I noted a slip of paper
lying on the floor. It was yellow with age, and the writing faded and
almost illegible. I took it to the light of the window, and made out
that it was a list of the contents of this said box or chest, as it was
called, bearing the date of 1650, and purporting to be an account of
the hidden wealth of one Humfrey Penharva, secreted here for fear of
discovery on the part of Cromwell's Ironsides.

I read the list as well as I could. Amazement held me motionless. There
should have been bags of gold pieces, bars of silver, melted down into
this form for security, coins and gold pieces, and jewels and rich
plate. Where had it all vanished? Certainly the present contents of the
box did not in any way correspond with the list I held in my hand.

"Someone must have helped themselves to this treasure," I said to
myself. I glanced round. Someone----

But it is so old. Generations of Penharvas have lived and died since
first it was placed in that secret cupboard. I crossed the room slowly,
the list in my hand. I had intended to replace it in the box, but
some stronger feeling seemed to counsel me not to do so. As I stood
halting between two opinions I glanced up. The portrait was in its
accustomed place now. The eyes looked down at me. Was it fancy, or did
some stronger light gleam in them? Triumph; the triumph of one who has
foreseen or warned, and finds that foresight was prophetic, and the
warning has been verified.

A sudden anger swept over me. (I grow fanciful and foolish in this
chamber of mine. I must fight this foe of superstition, or change my
room for one less uncanny and historical.)

Meanwhile I locked away the list in a drawer of my bureau, and went
downstairs to the parlour.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Midnight.

My mother came down to supper this evening. She looked ill and weak,
and I was much concerned about her. She ate scarcely anything, nor did
she seem able to join in our conversation.

He, too, was more silent than his wont. We said nothing of our
discovery that afternoon, and it surprised me when he told my mother
formally that important business called him to London next day, and he
must bid us farewell. I tried to betray no emotion. I fear I did not
succeed. It came to me as a shock, the feeling his words aroused. For
a moment his eyes met mine, and they seemed full of sorrow and regret.
A blush of fire stole to my face--it seemed as if the world had grown
suddenly old and sad.

I left the room hurriedly, saying I would give the orders for the
conveyance of his luggage and himself to Penzance, there to meet the
coach. He rose to open the door. "Meet me in the garden in half an
hour's time," he whispered: "I must speak to you."

My heart throbbed, my brain seemed in a whirl of confusion. I made no
answer, but the pressure of his hand on mine sent the blood to my face
once more.

I hurried away, and told the servants of the necessary duties for the
morning departure, and then assisted my mother to her room, and left
her in charge of her faithful old maid, who was Ruth Chirgwyn's mother,
and had been in our family since her widowhood.

I went downstairs, and saw that the house was shut up for the night,
and the windows closed, all save those belonging to the summer parlour,
as we called it. These opened on to the old stone verandah, and led
from thence to the lawn and garden.

In half an hour's time the house had grown silent. The light from my
mother's room and that from the parlour where I sat were the only
lights in its whole dark frontage.

I waited a few moments, then moved over to the window, and from thence
crossed the soft grass and turned into the shrubbery beyond. He was
there.




CHAPTER XXXIX.

July 5.

How does one write of that which changes and transfigures one's whole
life? I cannot tell. Words will not come to me now. I am too happy. I
sit here in the stillness of my own room, and I know that all the world
is changed. I drink in the odour of rose and jessamine and myrtle, and
the sound of the sea is like a magic song, and the night is full of
music and passion and beauty, such as no night before or since has ever
known, can ever know.

Love has come to me. Love that makes of woman slave and mistress and
goddess all in one. Out of all the world of men, one has stooped to
me, and called me queen of his heart, and holder of his life. Oh! glad
world. Kind Heaven! Happy blessed Fate that made me woman, since by
that charm of womanhood I have gained such a king of men for lover and
beloved.

He has gone. And the days are sad and dull and desolate. He binds me to
secrecy for a time. There are reasons why we may not marry for a year
or two. What do I care for secrecy or reasons so only he loves me? And
he does--he does.

*  *  *  *  *  *

(Here came a long interval in the extracts from the diary, as if many
pages had been omitted. The entries were brief, and spoke of sorrow and
doubts as to a lover's truth, yet then again were full of blame for
such doubts. There were some, too, that spoke of sums of money he had
borrowed, with promise of repayment never kept.

At last came a page of sudden rapture. The wedding day was fixed, was
at hand. He was once more a guest at Penharva, and peace and harmony
reigned.

Then came one single extract. Dolores read it and shuddered. It was
a curse. Thus it ran margined around, and interlined with ink red as
blood, the words seeming alive, even at this date, with a scorn and
hatred that had only died with life itself):--


THE CURSE.

"Traitor, Dastard, Liar! On you who have taken all that was best to
me, and given but false payment of flatteries and broken vows--on you
who have betrayed and dishonoured me in all men's sight--on you whom
to my eternal shame and misery I loved, with a woman's passionate
self-forgetful devotion--on you, coward and deserter, do I breathe
this curse on this day that should have seen me bride and happy wife!
May misfortune pursue you. May riches fail you, since for them you
have forfeited honour. May she for whom your idle fancy has left me to
loneliness and despair betray and desert you. May never child be born
to give you love or duty, and may Hell's curse blight your dying hours
that so their horror and misery may recall mine!"


Dolores shuddered as she read. There was something so awful, so
relentless in the words--their despair and their unpardoning hate.

What she next read bore a comparatively resent date, and was addressed
to herself:--


"I shall be dead, and my miserable life ended when you read these
lines. I have copied the preceding pages out of an old journal kept
by me in my girlhood. It is burnt now, and when you have read these
extracts I ask you to burn them also, because I wish no other eyes to
read of my folly, and none but you to know the name of my false love.
False surely, as never man before. He won my love, he betrayed my
trust, he stole my very heritage, and begged of my wealth to pay debts
of so-called 'honour'--honour that represented gambling, mistresses,
dissipation of every sort, and then, not content with this, he played
this last dastardly trick. He led me to believe we were to be wedded
at last, and on the very eve of that wedding day ran off with some low
actress--a vile, notorious, hateful thing who, for the time being,
ruled his life with imperious passion. And my money helped him!

"The shame, the bitterness of it all ate into my very soul. I shut
myself away from all eyes, lest their pity or their triumph, should
drive me mad. Indeed, I trod so nearly on the borderland of fancy that
very little more would have crossed it, and left me bound in the outer
darkness of a mind distraught.

"How the years have come and gone I know not. I would hear nothing of
the outer world, see neither kith nor kin, neither friend nor foe.

"Sick and weary, I shut myself into utter darkness, brooding in lonely
grief, calling oft on death for comfort or release. But death, though
he took one by one those of my race and kinship, passed me by. I heard
of such things only from the family lawyer, who managed the property,
and brought me money at stated times.

"Money! What was it to me? Less than nothing now, for my hard heart
shut itself in from all the misery and sorrow as well as the happiness
and love of the world beyond Penharva. Money! What could I do with
these rentals and payments, save shut them in that box which had once
held the stolen treasure of dead ancestors. To me gold was nought. My
life was laid waste, so might lie the lands, the house, the glen, all
that had once meant the beauty of Penharva.

"I kept but three rooms of all the rambling old mansion for my use--the
dressing-room that had been my mother's, a sitting-room adjoining it,
and my own bedchamber communicating with the old secret stairway.
Servants, too, had been dismissed or left or died as time went on. I
would not replace them. I had a horror of new faces. Of all that had
once served and loved us, none remained but Ruth Chirgwyn, who had
married Peter Pasco, the gardener. They did all that was necessary.
She took charge of the house and waited on me. He worked at the garden
as the mood took him. My shuttered windows were closed to all that lay
beyond. It had no interest for me. My life was over.

"And now, child, I reach that portion of my history wherein you play
a part. Your coming here was due to many talks and arguments with Mr.
Ephraim Malpas, who I think greatly feared for my mind and health in
the lonely unemotional life I led. Some chance words of his one day
started the idea of adopting a child, to train and bring up as my own.
I never thought of the cruelty of immuring a young life in my prison
house, of harm that might chance to it in the future. I only seized
upon the idea with what morbid strength of brain I had left to me and
bade me find what I desired.

"Of how you came, of my eagerness and cruel joy in recognising in you
another victim to man's perfidy, of how we lived and brooded over your
sad history, and how I dreaded your hour of peril, and watched with
Ruth by your side during those days of fever and unconsciousness, of
the child and the change he wrought in us, we both know. There is no
need to say more. But what you do not know, Dolores, is what I am now
about to write, for some presentiment of ill or evil chance is upon me,
and the portrait of my ancestress has visited my slumbers once again,
to point with warning finger at the secret stairway--always a portent
of ill.

"Malpas has warned me often of the danger of living as I do, of the
risk of robbers and thieves and bad characters. But the house is always
securely barred. The outer walls are high, the gate that leads to the
glen locked. I have no fear.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"To-night a strange thing happened. I will write it here, on this
paper, for though its terror has passed, its memory remains.

"Ephram Malpas has been with me and brought me the usual sum of
money. Also he read to me the terms of my will, and I copied them for
reference on a sheet of paper by my side. An ordinary person would have
signed and witnessed and delivered them there and then; but Ephraim
Malpas is like all his fraternity, a stickler for form and binding, red
tape and parchment, and so took the notes away to put into proper form
and phraseology, promising to bring or send the deed the next day.

"When he has gone I re-read my slip of paper. It was a will to all
intent and purpose, and I resolved to sign it myself, and was about to
do so when I remembered that witnesses of my signature were necessary.
I summoned Ruth Pasco and her husband, and they duly signed their
names, as I told them, below mine.

"I was pleased when all was done. Should anything prevent Malpas from
bringing over that more formal document, or should anything happen to
me, the child is provided for, and you, Dolores, you will be his best
guardian.

"I feel to-night that strange premonition of evil to come, of
misfortune near at hand, that overtakes us Penharvas, and is never to
be despised. I will lock this paper away with these extracts of my
journal. This box, soon or late, will fall into your hands, my child.
The jewels are my last gift to you. These papers I beg you to destroy.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"Not half an hour ago I went to my room. I took my jewel case out of my
bureau and placed these papers in the false lid. A plan of it lies at
the bottom, Dolores. You will find it among----"

"I broke off here, overcome by a feeling of such intense terror that
my hair seemed to stiffen and my limbs grow cold. I looked over my
shoulder. I had forgotten to close the casement. It stood wide open to
the soft August night, and looking in upon me was a face--an awful,
haggard face, unshaven, fierce, with bloodshot eyes that stared at me
hungrily from out grey shaggy hair.

"My hands fell numb and powerless at my side. I tried to scream, but
could make no sound.

"How long had it been there? How long had those eyes watched me? I had
locked away the gold Malpas had brought in the secret cupboard behind
the portrait. Had he seen me?

"Slowly the sickening terror waned. I looked again. The face was gone.
Had I only fancied it? Had I been the slave of some delusion? For in
the eyes, and about the haggard brow, there had seemed to me a likeness
to that false lover of mine--that Harcourt Ericson upon whom I had laid
my curse, and whom with all my soul I hated.

Yet that haunted, criminal-looking being, unshaven, ragged, desperate,
could that be the courtly, handsome man at whose feet I had lain my
life, and for whom my heart had broken?

"As strength and feeling returned I rushed to the window. No one was
there. The moonlight slept on flower and leaf, and on the quiet orchard
and the paths beyond. With frenzied, trembling hands I closed the
windows and barred the shutters within. I locked the outer door of the
room leading to the corridor, then my own.

"My courage returned. I felt safe from all intrusion. The bell beside
my bed rings into Ruth Pasco's own bedchamber. A touch would call her
and her husband had I need of them. Yet what need should I have?"

"Truly, my wits are weakening, and I shall grow to believe Penharva is
haunted, as they say.

"I will lock these papers away, and replace the jewel case.

"No, the morning will do for that. Somehow I am too shaken in my wits
and nerves to open the secret cupboard."




CHAPTER XL.

The last slip fluttered from Dolores' hand. The whole tragedy of that
lonely life stood revealed at last. Whether the face seen at the
casement had been that of Miss Penharva's false lover or not, certainly
it was the face of her murderer. No stronger proof was needed than what
these papers contained, than the stolen booty for which his life had
paid the penalty.

A miserable life--a miserable end. She shuddered as she thought of it.
And this man was Harold Ericson's father, so Miss Penharva had said,
and these papers seemed to testify the truth of that saying.

She rested her head on her hands, and gave herself up to long and
anxious thought. It seemed impossible to connect the Ericson she knew
with this treacherous, degraded criminal. Impossible, too, to associate
the mother his loving words had painted with the low, unprincipled
actress of Ursula Penharva's description. Then she remembered that
Ericson's real name was Sylvester. He had told her that the other was
only assumed as a nom de plume for the lighter work with which he
varied the stern day work of his profession. But once again her heart
grew chill with sudden remembrance. How account for the strong instinct
that had drawn him towards the dramatic profession, except by that
taint of heredity in his blood. The links seemed to strengthen the
chain of proof, and the memory of the father overshadowed the son.

She rose and gathered up the thin slips of paper, and locked them away
in her own despatch box. "I will not destroy them until I have read
them once again," she thought. Then she replaced the jewels and put
them aside, and crossed the room to where the child lay sleeping.

How fair he looked, and innocent and beautiful. Tears dimmed her eyes
as she gazed.

"Yet they once looked as fair and innocent to their mothers' eyes,
these men who have poisoned and destroyed my life and hers!" she cried
in her heart. "Ah! heaven, if we only knew what lay before these
creatures of our flesh and blood, could we dare be mothers. . . . What
prayer, what teaching of mine, will keep this child holy? Blindly I
must let him tread the pathway of life, taking his chance as others
have taken it, ruled by a fate stronger than any mother's love!"

She sank down by the little low bed, and buried her head in the snowy
quilt. She could not weep, she could not pray. She could only kneel
there in dumb patient misery, thinking the old bitter thoughts of long
ago.

The day was breaking when she rose from her knees. In her eyes was a
look that had never been there before. And from her face, drawn and
white, as if by inward suffering, the look of youth had departed for
ever.

That night's martyrdom had brought to her resolution and strength. She
resolved to tell her aunt in what relation she stood to the child.
Deception had lasted long enough. It looked to her the worst form of
cowardice. Whatever chanced, whatever befell, the child should know its
mother, and acknowledge her authority and claims.

It was close upon noon when Dolores came slowly down the stairs. Miss
Webbe's household tasks were finished. Her bustling energy had subsided
into an armchair by the open window. Her work-basket lay close at hand.
The "Western Morning News," sent daily from Penzance, lay open on
her lap.

She looked up as her niece entered. "I hope your headache is better?"
she said. "Dear me, I don't wonder at your being upset. This Penharva
mystery, as the papers call it, is enough to try anyone's nerves. I am
positively alarmed--and so is Marian. Our cottages are so unprotected.
What use are shutters and bars? This dreadful miscreant got into the
house in spite of all."

Dolores came slowly forward. She now laid her hand upon the newspaper
and gently removed it.

"Aunt Sarah," she said, "I want you to give me half an hour of your
time and attention. Can you do so?"

"Certainly, my child. Why, how pale you look. Nothing is the matter, I
hope; no bad news?"

"No," said the girl, seating herself on the low old-fashioned window
seat. "No bad news, dear, for me. What it may be for you remains to be
seen."

She looked at the pleasant homely face, the keen eyes, the erect figure
which the passing years had touched so lightly.

"Aunt Sarah," she said, "the first time we met after--after my leaving
home, you told me you had a letter from my father to give me."

"Yes, a sealed letter. And also a copy of his will, leaving you that
money."

"I have used the money. The letter I have not dared open."

"Not dared?"

"No. My reasons for leaving home were not the reasons I gave in my
letter to him. I deceived him. I deceived him, you, all who knew
me--there."

"Dolores!"

"Oh, hush! aunt let me tell you my miserable story in my own way, then
you may say what you please."

She clasped her hands tightly together, her sad unyouthful eyes turned
towards the garden, with all its wealth of summer beauty and perfume.

"I went away from home because--I dared--not stay. Do you understand?"
Her voice was firm and unfaltering. She never looked at the shocked
face opposite her own. "I was soon to become a mother and my husband
had denied the legality of our marriage."

Miss Webbe gave a gasp, but she said nothing.

The sad voice hurried on, omitting no detail, glossing over her
youthful indiscretion with no sophistry.

"I loved him blindly and devotedly. I trusted his word as I trusted
in the Holy Book, on which he swore his troth. I am his wife, by the
quibble of that strange law which makes a mere informal compact binding
in that one country; but I cannot prove it, and he has denied it. Will
you believe it, or call my child what the world would call him?"

"Your child? Do you mean this boy--Marian's adopted child?"

"Yes. He is mine, and Cyril Grey is his father."

Miss Webbe's speech and breath failed her utterly at such an
announcement. She turned crimson and gasped again.

"I--it seems impossible. Yet now I remember. Cynthia gave me a hint."

"Cynthia knew I loved him. She must have guessed--something."

"She would not say. I know she wrote to Cyril and told him of your
disappearance, but he professed the greatest astonishment."

"He is a coward and a traitor," cried the girl, her eyes flashing
stormily. "I cannot think of him with patience. What I have suffered,
endured--Aunt Sarah, you can never know. I cannot tell."

"But Dolores--try, my dear, to explain. God knows I won't judge you
harshly. You were so young----"

"Yes," she said, drearily. "So--young. I think to have killed that
youth was in itself a crime beyond all other!"

Tears rushed to the shrewd, keen face that watched hers. Mutual
womanhood responded to the touch of mutual wrong.

"Poor child, poor unhappy child! Why did you not tell us, Dolores? Your
father would have been no harsh judge."

"Oh! I couldn't--I couldn't. I was mad, and desperate, and terrified at
the thought of what I had brought upon myself. My only desire was to
escape. To get away from all who knew me, or had loved me. Can't you
understand! The word 'shame' was branded on me by the hand of the man I
loved. How could I bear that other lips should echo--or that I should
read it in the eyes of those so honoured and so loved!"

"Then this was how you came to know Miss Penharva?"

"Yes. I saw an advertisement in a West of England paper. It was so
curious that I took note of it. I replied. That reply"--she hesitated.
"She was a stranger, but her story was sadder and more tragic than my
own. She gave me refuge. She adopted my child. Then I went out into the
world to fight the battle of life for myself. I succeeded, partly by
her aid, partly by that of friends true and steadfast and most helpful.
All that you know; I have told you before. But what you do not know is
this. A will has been found. She has left all her wealth, and Penharva
too, to Davy."

By this time Miss Webbe could not even gasp. No romance she had read
had ever held so many marvels as did this history and its sequence.

Dolores hurried on. "I have never told the child I am his mother. But
now it seems to me he must know. I am left guardian of this money. It
will provide for his education, start him in life, and relieve me of
all responsibility."

"You must tell him," said Miss Webbe, tragically. "And, Dolores, you
must take steps to prove your marriage."

"I know," she said; "for his sake. I would never have done it for my
own."

"I call that very foolish. Why should you rest under a cloud? But you
were always headstrong, even as a child."

And it seemed as if some remembrance of that headstrong period brought
the tears to her eyes in a flood. Dolores looked at her in sad
wonderment. It seemed to her now that nothing mattered; nothing in all
the wide world of sorrow and misfortune could ever bring such tears to
her eyes again, with their bitter sad relief.

They sat on, exchanging question and answer at intervals. Miss Webbe
could not comprehend this strange calm and patience that held the once
passionate, wilful girl in thrall. It frightened her, and yet made her
proud and thankful that such strength of character should rest with one
so young. How little she had known of this niece, always the wild and
wayward and rebellious one of the family. She could not find words to
suit an emergency so unexpected. She could only look and wonder.

"When shall you tell the child the truth?" she asked at last.

"To-night, I think. The sooner the better. A friend, a
barrister--indeed he is no other than Mrs. Sylvester's nephew--is going
to make enquiries into the legality of the marriage. He himself has no
doubt that it is perfectly valid."

Miss Webbe shook her head. "Disgracefully informal," she said. "I have
heard of these Scotch marriages. Dreadful! It seems you may be legally
married without knowing it, and illegally married when you do. Still,
Dolores, you are not so much to blame. Cyril is the offender from every
point of view. But if he gives in--if he takes you back!"

"Takes me back!" The girl started to her feet, her face ablaze with
passionate scorn. "Do you think I would ever consent to be the wife of
the man who left me to such a fate?--who condemned my unborn child to
the stigma of illegitimacy?"

"Oh! hush, my dear, don't be so--so tragic," entreated her aunt. "If he
is proved to be your husband, why he must be your husband; and for the
child's sake let bygones be bygones."

Dolores' face grew white as marble. She said not a word.

At that moment the boy's voice sounded from the garden, gay and
jubilant, challenging his "Aunty Sarah," as he caught sight of her
familiar cap. She looked out and nodded. When she turned her head
Dolores had left the room.




CHAPTER XLI.

"You, Dolly?" said the boy, sleepily.

He was sitting up in bed regarding the highly-coloured pictures in a
book. He still adhered to his childish fancy for giants, especially
Cornish giants, they seeming, by right of all legends and traditions,
to have been the most blood-thirsty of any of their kind.

"Yes, Davy," she said. "I have come to talk to you."

"To tell me a story?" he asked, eagerly, sleep banished by anticipation
of a treat in store for him.

"Yes, a story," she said, and seated herself on the edge of the low
iron bedstead. He climbed into her lap and laid his head against her
shoulder.

"'Bout giants?" he asked.

"Not this time," she answered, in the same low repressed voice that
told of hidden pain. "It's a real story, dear, about a little boy--like
yourself."

He glanced at her enquiringly. "I hope he went to school," he said,
"and fought a big boy, and beat him. But then women don't know those
sort of stories."

"This little boy," she said, "came to his mother in a time of great
grief and trouble. And his mother was very poor and friendless, and had
to go out in the world and earn her own living; and she could not take
the little baby with her, he was so small and so helpless."

"I s'pose even I was a baby once," he remarked, discontentedly.

She assured him gravely that he had not escaped that humiliating fate,
upon which he bade her get on to the "grown up" part.

"So the mother not being able to take him with her left him in charge
of a kind old lady who promised to look after and adopt him."

"What's that?"

"It means take him for her own--bring him up, and look after him, and
be a mother to him."

"Yes, but a boy can't only have one mother, you know," said Davy,
wisely. "What was the real one to do?"

"The real one thought it best that the child should live a child's
happy life, well fed, well housed, well cared for. She could give him
nothing but her love, but love, however great, wouldn't feed even a
little baby, Davy; and he soon ceased to be a baby and grew strong and
big and rosy."

"Like me?" enquired the listener, proudly.

"Yes, dear, like you."

"And didn't she never come to see him any more?"

"She came--when she could, but he had forgotten her. She was not in his
life, and children's interests are only centred in what is around and
about them."

"Where was his father?" suddenly demanded the child. "All the boys I
know have fathers; though mostly their mothers work as well."

"His father," she said, coldly, "was a bad man. He did not care that
the mother had to work, or that the little child might starve. He left
them and went away to a strange country far across the sea."

"I wish the giants had found him and eaten him," said Davy gravely.

She smiled faintly. "No, they left him alone," she said. "He was quite
safe all the time. But as the little boy grew older his mother thought
of him more and more, and it seemed to her that she ought to tell him
his history and take him to be her own little boy, and give him all
the love that was in her heart and that he knew nothing of. Yet always
something held her back, and he did not seem to want--her."

The boy's straight brows suddenly drew together in a little puckered
frown. He lifted his head and looked at her. "It's a queer sort of
story, Dolly," he said.

"Is it?" she said, faintly. "Well, I will get on to the end of it. One
day a dreadful thing happened to the kind lady who had taken care of
the little boy, and he had to leave the house that had belonged to her,
and--and his mother knew this, but still she did not claim him, or say
he was her child because--because----"

"Dolly," he cried, breathlessly, "you're crying. Was it your own little
boy?"

"Yes!" she said, and the tears fell on his upturned face. "It was my
own--little boy. It was you, Davy--you. I am our mother."

He sat erect, quite still, as if puzzling out some problem in his own
young brain.

"I'm very glad," he said at last. "Because now I shall always live with
you, shan't I, Dolly?"

She smiled amidst her tears. "Yes," she said. "My home is yours now,
Davy, as long as you want it----But, dear, the story is not finished
yet. I have something more to say."

"What?" he asked, for she paused for a moment.

"It is this. Your father may return from that strange country some day,
and he may claim you as his son; for you will be rich, my dear--and any
father would be proud of you," she added suddenly. "But, Davy, when
that day comes, if it ever does, you will have to choose between us,
between him and me; between the man who wronged your mother and the
mother who loves and has loved you, for all her seeming indifference.
Oh! child, child, it breaks my heart to think of it. You are so young,
and I can't explain. I can't make you understand!" She strained him to
her heart with sudden passion of grief and love combined. "If I could,"
she said, "you would know more than your young heart could bear. Oh!
Davy, Davy, let me cry my fill. Some day you will remember these tears
and pity me."

His little bright face grew very grave. He slipped off her knee and
stood barefooted by her side, regarding her with those wondering eyes
of childhood that look on grief as one of life's unexplained puzzles.

"Don't cry, dolly," he said at last. "I will be good, and I'll take
care of you, and if that bad man ever wants to take me away I won't go.
I'll always stay with you, now I know I'm your own little boy."

She dried her eyes and looked at him, at the bright hair, the deep blue
eyes, the earnest little face, the strong sturdy little figure. "God's
blessing on you, child, my life's comforter."

She held out her arms again. "Davy," she said, "do you ever say
prayers?"

"I said them to Mis'ry every night," he said. "But no one came to hear
me since."

"Say one with me now," she whispered, for the hard crust of years had
broken like ice beneath the sun of love renewed. "Say just this:--'God
bless me, and the mother who loves me, and give me health and strength
and love for her.'"

He repeated the words solemnly, his face very grave, his hands folded
tightly in her own. "And if I see Mis'ry to-night," he added, "I'll tell
her we're quite happy now. For ever and ever, Amen!"

She laid him back in his little bed. She sat beside him till he fell
asleep. Her heart was at rest, as it had not been for many years. The
thought of wrong and revenge melted slowly away, as ice before the
warmth of spring sunshine. Through all that had chanced she recognised
some guiding power, some ruling force. It had brought her back to duty
and to motherhood, and to some memory of the godly teaching of her
youth, the love of home, the kindly discipline, the patience she had
mocked and tried, the sheltering care she had regarded so lightly.

"Oh! I hope he knows. I hope he has forgiven," she cried in her heart,
and then she drew out that letter written in the dear familiar hand
long since lying cold and still. She drew it out and looked at it, not
with failing courage, as she had looked so often, but with eyes radiant
and hopeful, and humanised by love.

"I will read it--at last," she said.




CHAPTER XLII.

The nine days' mystery had sprung to life again. But the real name of
the criminal was destined to remain a mystery for ever. Dolores said
no word of that fateful diary, nor did Ephraim Malpas ask its nature.
There was no need. The man had met his deserts and perished in his own
trap.

There had been no difficulty in proving the will, and the house and
the hoarded wealth, which had cost Ursula Penharva her life, became
the heritage of little Davy. Dolores put it aside in the safe keeping
of the Devon and Cornwall Bank, to be invested and used only in her
child's name, and for his benefit.

Marian Sylvester and Sarah Webbe talked much together of the strange
history and its complications, but neither uttered a word of reproach
to Dolores.

Of Ericson she saw nothing. She wondered if he had set out on that
journey of discovery. She had given him the only clue she could. She
was ignorant even of the name of the old shepherd and his wife.

The time of her appearance in the new opera was at hand, and she was
obliged to return to London. Davy went also. She intended to place
him at school within reasonable distance, so that from Saturday to
Monday he might be with her in her own home. It seemed unwise to part
from him altogether. She wanted him to feel her influence and her love
around his life as long as possible. The previous years could never
be recalled, but she had faith in the strength of love such as she
felt; a love watchful, yet never exacting, tender yet wise, patient
yet tolerant, and large-minded enough to allow of boyish freaks and
follies, and sports and plans. She watched keenly for any likeness to
his father, but as yet her fears seemed groundless.

The boy was bold and fearless, generous to a fault. He never told a
lie, nor did a mean action. His school fellows adored him for his pluck
and courage, his wonderful good temper, and the utter absence of "side"
or airs, that unlimited pocket money might have produced.

He was indeed just what his mother had desired--a wholesome, healthy,
happy schoolboy, of average intelligence, high spirits, and keen
appreciation of life's good things.

Meanwhile her success steadily increased. She was one of the best known
and most famous artistes in her own line, and London hailed her as a
popular favourite. She saw very little of Ericson now. Whatever had
been the result of those enquiries in Scotland they had not led her to
open any communication with Cyril Grey. In vain her aunt urged, in vain
did Lady Lilliecrapp entreat, holding out the bait of social favours
and distinction. On this point she was obdurate. The past was past. Her
boy's future was safe. Let Cyril go his way. She would not claim him.

"A day will come," said Ericson, "when you will have to act. Suppose
Grey marries--and your marriage can be proved legal."

"That is his own affair," she said. "He must take the risk."

The fear in her own heart that he might, out of revenge, claim the boy,
and that the law, ever cruel to feminine weakness, might give him to
that father, was year by year becoming a new terror.

Cyril was still abroad. Of what he did, or how he lived, she had no
certain knowledge. Never a word from him had reached her since that
cruel letter which had denied her claims. Pride, gathered and garnered
in years of suffering, formed now a barrier between them that nothing
could break down, so she told herself, neither his penitence, nor
remorse, nor atonement.

That Ericson suffered cruelly she knew. But she saw no way to end his
suffering. Between them stood that shadow, which neither could remove,
and if at times he cursed its feeble opposition, yet none the less he
felt its power.

Endless consultations and discussions between legal authorities only
deepened the quagmire of doubts and difficulties. The two chief parties
were at variance. No one could say whether the marriage was one to be
proved, or disproved. One of the witnesses was dead, the other could
not be found. The supposed wife would do nothing, the supposed husband
was not to be reached, and had denied all claims.

Ericson had grown morose and almost fierce over many a discussion
that simply seemed to lead to a blank wall of nowhere. He had perused
volumes on Scotch Marriage Law to convince Dolores that she was a legal
wife, if only she would consent to act. But she had reverted to the
old objection, and the old fear. So the matter stood, and the months
drifted on and another year dropped into the gulf of the past, leaving
him still the faithful friend and silent lover.

It was the first night of the new opera at the new Eden Theatre, and
Dolores was to play the leading part.

The house was crammed, the boxes filled, the stalls brilliant with
fashion and beauty and sparkling jewels. Through the brilliant array,
stepping carefully among trains and satin shoes, and seats gorgeous
with the temporary drapings of evening cloaks, came a sallow-faced,
tired-looking man. A man about whose age it would have been difficult
to guess, though "foreign climes" was writ large on the unhealthiness
of cheek and lip, and dull and clouded eye.

He found his seat, and dropped into it as the curtain drew up on the
usual gaudily-dressed chorus, whose business it is in comic opera
to announce a marriage, or an arrival, or the return of victorious
troops--such apparently being the main object in life of peasant girls
and village maidens throughout the continent.

The music was bright and sparkling, the scene beautifully unreal, and
the voices wonderfully well trained. The languid eyes of the stranger
looked lazily at the spectacle, and then swept the theatre as if
searching for one familiar face among the many.

His eye had rested on box after box, swept right and left over the
grand circle, when suddenly there fell on his ear a sound of rippling
notes. Their brilliance, their light-souled delicious mirth, startled
him into immediate attention, while a thunder of applause rent the
house. Evidently the singer was a favourite.

She took no notice of the applause, but sang on, flitting to and fro,
pursued by the chorus; a laughing, lovely maid who would satisfy none
of their melodious questioning. It was impossible to catch more than
a momentary glimpse of her, but her voice, with its notes like golden
rain, thrilled him with a sense of novel delight. He wondered who she
was.

The make-up of the stage was misleading. Flushed cheeks, snowy throats,
eyes flashing under curling lashes, a form all grace and verve and
abandon, a voice the very soul of youth and joy--those were baffling
things. Yet through all a haunting memory thrilled him--the memory of
a voice as gay, a smile as bright, a form as graceful. It annoyed him,
and yet it recurred again and again.

He turned to a man sitting in the next stall. A man with a face more
remarkable for strength and purpose than actual good looks, clean
shaven, of middle age apparently, judging from the iron-grey hair, the
lines of brow and mouth.

"Who is that--lady?" he asked, in a brief pause between her
disappearance and the advent of barbaric adventurers from a foreign
country.

The man glanced at him, then handed a programme. His finger pointed to
a name--Miss Dolores Dering.

The stranger glanced, bowed, and returned it. He longed to put a
question, but he felt he could not well do so until the conclusion of
the act.

More and more intently he watched the lovely actress. The frown
deepened, his face paled and flushed, a certain nervous irritation
betrayed itself in his restless movements and his twitching fingers.

"It can't be the same--impossible!" he muttered once. The fact that
he had spoken aloud was made apparent by a look of surprise from the
iron-grey man. Their eyes met.

When the act was over and the popular favourite was recalled again and
again, the stranger noted that his neighbour drew a small notebook and
proceeded to make sundry entries.

"Ah! a critic, I suppose," and emboldened by the fact that there was a
fountain head to tap, ready and waiting at his side, the stranger put a
question.

"Can you tell me anything about that singer? I am quite a stranger in
London. I only arrived from China two days ago."

"That--young lady," said the iron-grey man, pausing and looking
searchingly at the speaker, "is a very great favourite--an excellent
artiste, and a very beautiful and estimable woman."

"You know her?" he asked, eagerly. "Is that her real name?" pointing to
the programme.

"No; actresses as a rule adopt different names for the stage. Their
godfathers and godmothers never seem to consider the exigencies of
nomenclature as called forth by after life, or a public career."

"I suppose you are not at liberty to tell me her real name?" persisted
the stranger. "I assure you I am not prompted by mere curiosity. I
have a feeling I once knew her--many years ago--before she adopted
this--profession I suppose you call it."

The sneer gave an ugly look to his lip, and the steely glitter of his
eyes betokened something more than idle curiosity.

"The young lady is a personal friend of my own. I naturally object to
give her name to a stranger. However," he paused. His deep grey eyes
searched the face behind him, and a sudden change came over his own. He
replaced the pencil in his notebook with an unsteady hand. "I was about
to say that if you will inform me of your own name, I will give you
this information."

The stranger drew a card case from his pocket, opened it, and handed a
card to the speaker.

He was not prepared for the sudden change in the face he watched, nor
did he understand why the hand that held the card suddenly closed and
crushed it in unconquerable agitation.

"May I ask," he began--but the stern gaze, the white face, checked
further speech.

"Come out of this. I must speak to you."




CHAPTER XLIII.

The momentary intention of defiance flashed and died out like a damp
match. Impelled by strong constraint, by the dominating power of a will
that forced his own to compliance, the stranger left his stall and
followed the other man. Followed him through passage, and cloak-room,
and out into the entrance way, until they stood in the street under the
lamps, and it would have been hard to say which face looked the paler
and most astonished. Then a hand of steel clasped the thin nerveless
arm of the giver of that card. "Mr. Cyril Grey," said the voice of
Ericson, "you and I have a long account to settle. Fate has played this
game strangely enough, but I thank her for sending you to me first,
before you intruded on the woman you have wronged."

"I--I don't understand."

"No. But you soon will. We can't talk in the street like this. You must
come with me."

He hailed a hansom. Again that overmastering struggle of weak will
against strong purpose. Again the victory lay with Harold Ericson.
Neither spoke a word. The drive was short. Ericson's rooms were no
longer in Bloomsbury.

He handed the driver his fare through the trap, sprang out, and opened
the street door with his latchkey, then stood aside, and waved the
other man to enter. The stairs were dimly lit. At the first landing
they paused. Ericson opened the door facing them, and then strode in.
He turned up the gas, and then faced his new acquaintance.

"I offer you no apology," he said. "When you hear what I have to tell
you, you will understand my conduct."

"I hope I shall."

"Sit down," commanded Ericson, curtly. "I will make this interview as
short as possible, but it is necessary to go into certain details that
will occupy some time."

"I confess I am puzzled as to your business or your meaning."

"I suppose so. Your mind will soon be relieved."

He walked across the room to a large writing-table with many drawers,
and opened one. Out of it he took a number of documents tied in a neat
package, and labelled with various data. "Now, Mr. Cyril Grey," he
said, "for our business."

He took a chair and drew it to the opposite side of the table.

"First and foremost," he said, "allow me to inform you I am a
barrister. Therefore I have excellent authority for what I am about
to reveal. I am going to lay certain facts before you which may have
escaped your memory. I ask you not to interrupt me until such time as I
pause for you to question. Do you agree?"

"Certainly."

"Very well. I must begin by informing you that on a certain date in
the year 1880 you contracted what is called a Scotch marriage with one
Dolores Webbe, daughter of Gideon Webbe, of Dulworth Vicarage, Hants."

He paused for the first time, and looked at the ashy face and quivering
lips before him.

"It was no--marriage," was the muttered reply.

"A matter of opinion. It may be yours. It is not mine, nor that of some
of the leading authorities on such matters. But to proceed. On the
strength of this ceremony, which you declared legal and binding, you
had no scruples in treating this girl of 16 as your wife, while all the
time you bound her to secrecy."

"Sir, I protest. This is an unwarrantable intrusion. My private
affairs----"

"Your private affairs!"

Never a lash cut into a criminal's quivering flesh as those words cut
into the mean pitiful vanity of the unmasked scoundrel in broadcloth,
sitting there before an accused as pitiless as justice itself.

"Learn that your private affairs," repeated Ericson, "are now public
property. Learn, too, that the law is on the side of the woman you have
wronged--that she is your legal wife, the moment she chooses to assert
her claim!"

"But, good God, man, what are you saying? I am married. I married years
ago. I have two children. I looked upon that affair in Scotland as a
mere joke--a boy's love affair. How dare you tell me----"

Ericson leaned back in his chair and laughed bitterly.

"Just what I expected," he said. "You are caught in your own trap. It
lies with your wife now to appeal to the laws you have outraged, not
only for her own freedom, but your conviction for--bigamy."

Cyril Grey started to his feet. His face was livid.

"I don't believe it. You and she are in league. How comes it that you
are in her confidence? Who is to prove that her conduct has been so
correct all these years? I know her now. She is your friend; you are
her defender and protector. And you expect to trick me with this story
of a marriage."

He laughed aloud, but the laugh was not long. An iron hand thrust him
back into his chair, and the face that looked down upon him was one to
strike terror into any coward's heart--so full it was of strong purpose
and honest truth.

"I always thought you must have been a villain, Cyril Grey--now I know
it. I'll waste no words with you. The time has come for action. Take
your case into any court in England or Scotland, and we will prove
this marriage lawful. Introduce your new--wife, as you call her, into
society, and society proclaims her but your mistress! Leave property
to your nameless children (God pity them!) and the law calls them
bastards----"

"Oh, stop, for God's sake! You kill me!"

"Did you spare the innocent girl you wronged? Did you care for her
sufferings, her shame? Did you pause to think of your crime in heaven's
sight, if not in man's, when you left her and her unborn child to the
mercies of a cruel world? Did you do one or any of these things before
you called on God's name, as now you call on it?"

The ashy face was hidden from sight. Those flashing, accusing eyes were
like a flaming sword.

"There was no child," he protested feebly.

"There was, and is. She wrote and told you so. What was your answer?"

His arms dropped. "I didn't know. I thought she said that to force my
hand. I could not possibly acknowledge her--marry her. On my soul I
never believed that nonsense in the Scotch bothie meant anything; could
possibly be held binding."

"Scotch marriages have been held up to the world's ridicule for many a
day," said Ericson, scornfully. "They have but one recommendation; they
cost nothing, and so are dear to the hearts of that frugal race. But
occasionally they have an awkward knack of entrapping the unwary. That
is your present situation. What have you to say to it?"

He was silent. His shaking hand twirled a feeble moustache in feeble
fashion. He found himself confronted by a difficulty that, to give
him his due, he never had anticipated. That sudden marriage on the
moor-side, born of hot passion, of easy consent, of ungoverned impulse,
had never meant any binding tie for his selfish heart. That Dolores
had not written again only convinced him that she had come to the same
conclusion, and got over her love frenzy, as he himself had got over it.

To return now, rich, respected, the head of the great firm by his
father's recent death, and find himself confronted by the consequences
of that youthful folly, seemed more than hard--a dastardly trick played
by Fate.

His hands fell to his side. His face, horrible and distorted by anguish
and despair, looked wildly up at his accuser.

Something in that noble face held him dumb. His own accusations fell
back unuttered. Here was indeed a man, strong and pure and steadfast. A
man for woman's reverence, and all men's respect.

"God help me! What am I to do?" he muttered. "The woman I have
married is the daughter of a leading minister of foreign affairs. Her
father--he would kill me if he knew I had wronged his child, even
unwittingly. And my poor little girls!"

"You have no thought for your son?" said Ericson.

"A son! My God, how I prayed for a son!"

"Your prayer is granted in Fate's sweet ironic fashion. You are flung
upon the horns of a dilemma."

"What shall I do? What can I do? Have you no advice, no help?"

"Seek your wife," said Ericson, sternly. "Ask her."

"My----Do you mean Dolores?"

"Yes."

Great drops stood out on his pallid forehead. Fear and shame quivered
on his ashen lips.

"I am not strong," he faltered. "It was on account of my health I had
to come home. If I go through such another scene as this it will kill
me!"

"Cowards don't die easily," said Ericson, with a scorn that brought a
flush to the sallow, sickly face before him.

He walked across to the door and threw it open.

"This is her address. I have said all that is necessary. Go!"

Cyril staggered to his feet. His hair clung limp and damp about his
forehead. His eyes sought the ground. All the bravado had died out
in that one spurt of defiance. He held the card containing Dolores'
address in his hand. Under the street lamp he paused and looked at it.
A passing hansom claimed his notice. He got in mechanically, never even
heeding the restlessness of the horse, the kick and plunge that marked
departure. He had an impression of speed, of cool air upon his brow.
Then suddenly the street grew hideous with noise and blare and shout.
It seemed to him like a hurricane of fiery sparks, of rushing feet, and
flashing helmets.

Voices were filling all the night with hideous din. A huge engine
dashed by, and the horse in his cab commenced to plunge and rear. The
man tried to hold it in, in vain. The splash-board flew in splinters.
There was a rush swift as lightning, and he saw streets and faces and
vehicles in a sudden nightmare of terror.

Then came a crash, and amidst broken glass and splintered wood and
plunging hoofs he was flung senseless into the crowded street, still
clutching in his unconscious hand that small crushed pasteboard Ericson
had given him.




CHAPTER XLIV.

It was long after midnight, and Dolores' eyes were closing in the
sleep of intense fatigue, when a violent ring at the door of the flat
startled her into sudden wakefulness. She sat up and listened, but the
maid did not answer the summons. A second peal rang out. She slipped
into a dressing-gown and slippers, and crossed the little hall and
unfastened the door.

The night porter and a policeman stood there. She started back in
affright. He touched his hat. "Beg pardon, mum, does anyone of the name
of Dering live here?"

"Yes," she said faintly. Her heart seemed to stand still. What had
happened? She thought of Ericson, of Cynthia.

"There's been a--a sort of accident," said the man bluntly. "Gent
pitched out of a cab--badly hurt--lying now at Charing Cross Hospital.
He had a card in his hand when he was picked up. It had your name and
address--leastwise if your name is Mrs. Dering."

"Yes," she said again. It must be Ericson. Who else would have had her
name about him?

"Is he much injured?" she faltered.

"The doctors said he was pretty bad," answered the man. "Advised me
to let you know. If so be he's a friend o' yours I'd just pop into my
clothes and go round there."

"Will they admit me? Who am I to ask for?"

"House surgeon. The case is in the accident ward. You could get round
in half an hour, or thereabouts."

"Yes," she said. "Thank you for coming. I'll be as quick as I can."

She went back to her room, and dressed with such speed as her trembling
hands allowed. Then she aroused the servant, and told of her sudden
summons.

"I don't know how long I may be detained," she said. "If anyone comes
for me from the theatre in the morning send word to the hospital."

Then she left the flat, and was soon on her way. She sprang into the
waiting cab, and bade the man drive her with all speed, promising him
double fare. Her heart was throbbing violently, every nerve in her body
quivering with excitement and suspense.

"Oh, Pray God it's not Harold; my one friend, my one hope!" she sobbed,
with broken breath and strained eyes that saw nothing but the haze of
passing lights, whirling like stars as the horse flew onwards.

When they reached the hospital she did as the policeman had directed.
The house surgeon came to meet her. At sight of that lovely face,
pallid with fear and agitation, his eyes gave a man's tribute to
distress, case-hardened as he was to agonising scenes.

"He is conscious," he said gently, "but that is all. I fear there is no
hope of recovery."

"No hope!" Her lips stiffened. "And I have been so unmindful," she
thought, as the memory of his long and chivalrous devotion rushed to
her mind.

"Can you bear it? May I offer you a glass of wine?" asked the voice at
her side.

She shook her head, "I am quite well. Take me to him," she said.

Then nothing seemed quite real, or quite right, until she found herself
standing beside a low bedstead, on which lay a figure strapped and
bandaged. A figure from which low moans of pain burst at intervals,
as if endurance could no longer bear the strain of agony. A figure,
but not Ericson's. One glance told her that--one look at the deathly
features, the fair hair, clotted and bloodstained, escaping from the
linen bandage.

Not Ericson. Yet who--who was this?

The staring eyes looked back to her. Their agony was that of some dying
creature, impotent and pitiful.

"Dolores," muttered the white lips. "You! How did you come?"

"I was sent for. You sent, did you not?"

"I! No," he whispered. "You--last of all. Oh, my God! I can't bear
this, I can't bear this! Tell them to give me something--something. I'm
dying. Can't science make death easy?"

She turned to the nurse. "Is there nothing you could do to ease him for
a moment?" she asked.

The woman held a glass to his pallid lips. He drank its contents, and
in a moment his brow relaxed, and the agony left his staring eyes.

"He will sleep now," said the nurse.

"No," he cried hurriedly. "Not yet. Not till I have told her all."

Dolores knelt down by the bedside. "It's you, Cyril?" she said. "Almost
I doubt it, save for your voice."

"It is I. I was on my way to you when this happened. Your friend gave
me your address. He'll tell you all I can't."

She could not understand. How had he and Ericson met? Had she not seen
him in the theatre amongst the critics that very evening. It was all a
mystery. She knelt there passive and dumb in her great bewilderment.
The nurse withdrew a short distance. A screen shut them in from other
sufferers and other tragedies around.

"I must try and tell you," he went on. "Now the pain is gone I can
speak. I met Ericson at the theatre to-night. I had not recognised you.
He made me go to his rooms. He told me all your history and that he had
proved our marriage. Dolores, you are my wife. Our son----"

His voice broke again. He was growing weaker.

"You can never forgive me," he said. "How can I expect it? But I am
dying, and my soul is burdened with the sin to you--and to them.
Others, who are innocent----"

"Others?"

"It would take too long to tell you. But he knows--ask him. Only if
I die--But there is no 'if,' I must die--die in my sins, with all my
idle, selfish life as my last memory; and no one to say 'God give you
peace and pardon.'"

She lifted her head then and looked at him--this poor, broken wreck,
this maimed, disfigured, blighted manhood that she had loved once
for its beauty and its strength. She looked and remembered her long
bitterness, her harsh and unforgiving thoughts. Then slowly she rose
to her feet, and a great pity welled within her heart, and a woman's
awakening tenderness blotted out past wrongs.

"Oh, Cyril," she said, "if I could think you had not meant to be so
cruel. Yet what matters all that now? The past is past. The dead years
are my love's grave, and yours. Yet what is love worth if it does not
bring forgiveness in one hand and pity in the other?"

"Forgive!" he entreated. "Say you forgive----"

"Even as I hope to be forgiven."

She laid her hand on his. Crime and wrong and shame were all forgotten.
She plucked the pride from her heart, and flung it by its bleeding
roots aside into the cold dishonoured years that she need never more
remember.

He could not move, he could not even clasp the hand that lay upon his
own. But he looked up at her, and she saw the great tears well up from
his heart into his eyes, and bending down she kissed their bitterness
away.

So quiet moments passed, and he lay passive with closed eyes and her
hand upon his own. She felt them growing colder, and over the quiet
face crept a strange grey look.

She turned to summon the nurse. A sudden terror chilled her heart. The
woman came up, looked--then slowly parted the clasped hands, and drew
the sheet over the quiet face.

*  *  *  *  *  *

It was morning, bright and golden, with spring's fresh breath and
April's sunny smiles.

In the room where he had so often sat, Ericson awaited Dolores. A
telegram had summoned him, but what he was to learn he could not guess.

The door opened and a quiet figure entered. Her simple black gown
enhanced her paleness and the dark circles round her eyes. He rose. He
gave her no formal greeting. There was something in her face and look
that forbade it.

"I want you to tell me everything," she said; "from the hour he was at
your rooms."

He resumed his seat and obeyed her. She listened without interruption
till that part of the story which spoke of Cyril's other marriage. That
seemed to startle her.

When Ericson had finished she took up her portion of the story, and he,
in his turn amazed and shocked at so disastrous a termination, remained
silent till the end.

"What do you intend to do?" he asked her at last.

"Nothing," she said.

He started to his feet. "You mean to keep silence, to let the other
woman----"

"Mourn him as widow and as wife--yes. Oh! dear friend, surely you
won't misjudge me. Why should I condemn another to suffer as I have
suffered?--make of her innocent children what the world would have made
of mine? Let the miserable story be buried with him. It is enough for
me that those who love me know me blameless. For the rest--what need I
care?"

"And the child--your child?"

"He need never know. His father is dead. That ends all--all the wrong,
the doubts, the misery. And oh! Harold, the weight has rolled off my
heart at last. I am free--free. Thank God for that."

"Him first, and you next, for your freedom gives me hope--the hope you
once whispered. Do you remember that night, Dolores?"

"Yes," she said gravely.

"I have been very patient. Allow that. And now--I shall ask my reward?"

"So like a man," she said, smiling faintly.

"You would not have me otherwise, sweetheart. I was your friend when
you needed one. I gave you all and asked--nothing. But it is your turn
now to give what I crave. This little hand I have not dared to kiss.
This great loyal heart that has proved itself true womanly to the
end----"

He held out his arms. She came to him and laid her head on his breast
with one deep-drawn sigh of perfect content.

"If I was not first loved at least I am last," he said, softly. "You
were worth waiting for--my Rachel."

"And Davy will never miss a father--now," she answered.

And in her heart she knew she had given her child a better father than
his birthright had bestowed. For here was honour and true dignity, and
love such as it is given to few women to gain or to deserve.

*  *  *  *  *  *

With Cyril Grey was buried the story of his sin, and his widow lived on
undisturbed by any doubts as to her right to bear his name. There are
sacrifices that no law can make or unmake. There are wrongs sanctified
by higher and nobler rules than ever earthly justice created. And such
sacrifice is born only of love, and such wrongs are righted only by
forgiveness.


THE END.




Transcriber's Note:

The following Article appeared in the Daily Telegraph, London, 23 Mar. 1900.

RECENT LITERATURE.


Transcriber's Note:

The following Article appeared in the Daily Telegraph, London, 23 Mar.
1900.

A WOMAN OF SAMARIA. (HUTCHINSON.)

Scotch marriages have not only bred innumerable law-suits fraught with
issues of the utmost importance to the litigants engaged in them, but
have furnished the theme to many a thrilling story of tarnished honour
and disputed inheritance. By no means the least sensational romance
of this class has just been given to publicity by the lady who has
so largely contributed, of late years, to fictional literature under
the pseudonym of "Rita." Its heroine is an unsophisticated girl, the
younger daughter of a beneficed clergyman. During an afternoon stroll
on a Highland moor with her cousin-germane, Cyril Grey, Dolores Webbe
and her companion lose their way, and wander about until they are
quite overcome by physical fatigue. Entering a casual bothie with the
object of taking a few minutes' rest and obtaining some trustworthy
information respecting their itinerary, they learn that they are at
least a dozen miles distant from the shooting-box at which they are
staying, where-upon Cyril persuades Dolores to go through the ceremony
of marriage with him in the presence of the cottagers, who consent to
put them up for the night and guide them to their destination early
next morning. Accordingly, they join hands before witnesses, and take
each other for husband and wife. From this rash and inconsiderate
proceeding, one party to which is an unscrupulous knave and the other
a credulous fool, spring all sorts of tragical complications, too
numerous to recount in this place. Finding herself forsaken by Cyril,
who promptly goes to India, and burdened with a baby, whose existence
she is unable to justify, Dolores quits her home, changes her name,
accepts a misanthropical old maid's offer to adopt the nameless infant,
and goes upon the stage, where--being clever and persevering, as well
as uncommonly pretty--in the course of a few toil-some years she
works her way up to high and remunerative professional distinction.
Eventually, through the intervention of a friendly barrister, she
obtains proof of her marriage, and when Cyril Grey returns to England,
having committed bigamy during his sojourn in Hindostan, she is about
to legitimise her son, with the aid of the law, when her husband is
opportunely killed in a street accident. His timely death enables
Dolores to espouse, "en secondes noces," the man who has stood by her
throughout the vicissitudes of her dramatic career, and who is the only
really sympathetic person figuring in the story.

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