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Title: The Lie Circumspect
Author: Rita (Eliza Humphreys)
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Lie Circumspect
Author: Rita (Eliza Humphreys)



THE LIE CIRCUMSPECT


By


"RITA,"

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

Author of "Peg the Rake," "Kitty the Rag," "The Sin of Jasper
Standish," "The Grinding Mills of God," "The Mystery of the Dark
House," "A Daughter of the People," &c., &c.


Published by Hutchinson & Co., London 1902, and also serialized as "A
CRAVEN HEART" in the Express and Telegraph (Adelaide, S.A.) commencing
12 July, 1902 (this text), as well as in The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld.)
and The Border Morning Mail and Riverina Times (Albury, NSW), and in
the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (Exeter, England).




CHAPTER I.

The waning daylight struggled with an autumn mist that crept coldly
up from the damp ground, and covered the wide expanse of moorland
stretching right and left of a huge stone building shut in by high
walls and iron gates--but something stronger, too, than either wall
or gates, the strength of that great power which the criminal and the
offender have defied, only to fall crushed and broken beneath its
iron-handed justice.

While yet the daylight struggled with the gathering shadows, a side
gate within the dreary building was unlocked and thrown open. Behind
it the light showed a stone-paved square, dreary, and desolate and
deserted. Before and beyond, the moor lay wide and dark, stretching
into phantom space that the brooding autumn sky shut in on every side.
In that gateway a man stood and looked out to freedom, and back to
bondage. Stood for one brief moment, and then with drooped head stepped
forth to freedom and liberty, unknown for four long, awful years.

The warder who accompanied him spoke a few cheery words, but received
no answer. He shrugged his shoulders. "Sullen and silent still," he
said. "Well, good-bye, and better luck. You say you can find your
way--are you sure?"

"Yes, yes," came the hurried answer. "I know. I need no guide." He
almost stumbled in his eagerness.

He lifted his head to the misty sky and drank in the damp, moist air
with thirsting lips. He was free at last--free, he told himself, and
yet again murmured and echoed the word as if its joy and new-given
liberty were something his lips could never tire of repeating. Free to
tread God's earth; to breathe God's air; to see the blessed sunshine
blurred by no prison bars; to taste the sweets of liberty; to walk
unfettered; to speak, laugh, move, breathe once again; to look his
fellows in the face.

His thoughts stopped there abruptly. His head drooped again. The iron
weight of misery rolled back upon his soul and crushed out the delusive
visions hope had begun to weave.

No, never again would he look in men's faces as four years ago he
had looked. The prison taint was in his soul, the prison stamp upon
his brow. Four years of shame and degradation had bowed his form and
embittered his spirit. The crime for which he had suffered seemed light
in comparison with the punishment inflicted. He told himself it was a
fault of impulse--of youth misled and ill-considered. But even as he
told it, he seemed to hear the rattle of dice, the shuffle of cards,
the taunt of voices, urging a last venture with Fortune. Even as he
thrust away self-reproach he seemed to see the hot flush of shame
dyeing a woman's face, and the unutterable rebuke of her gentle eyes.

He stood quite still, his eyes upraised, the air stirred by his labored
breath. Quite still and conscious of nothing save that once again life
offered him a place in the world beyond--that he was free.

A form, shadowy as the mist stepped suddenly forward and a voice spoke
his name--a woman's form, a woman's voice.

"Lawrence?" it said. And once again, as if afraid of his recognition,
"Lawrence, husband, it is you? I waited. I knew the day. I counted the
hours. I had not courage to go there, to that dreadful place, but I
waited here; so that you might feel you were not alone, not forgotten.
Oh, my dear, my dear. Say you are glad to see me."

Her hands clasped his. She was sobbing wildly. The sight of the little
bundle he carried, of his close-cut hair, of his thin, furrowed face,
were all as shocks to her, seen by the light of a memory that had only
shown him handsome, young, beloved.

With the touch of her hands and the sound of her sobs a great change
swept over him.

"You here! You! You came to meet me? Oh, Nell! What can I say to you?"

"Oh, hush!" she cried. "Who should forgive if not I, your wife, for
whom you sinned, for whom you have suffered? But it is all over now. We
will not speak of it. All over, all suffered, all atoned for! Oh! let
us think only of that. Let all the rest be forgotten."

"You are--alone?" he questioned hoarsely.

"I have a carriage waiting for you close by. We will drive to Moortown
to-night. To-morrow we will leave England for a time. Then, when we
return, I have a home for you, Lawrence. God has been good to me, and
I have prospered. We shall have happy years yet, dear, you and I, and
our child. You have never asked about her, Lawrence. But, of course,
you have never seen her. Oh! how you will love her. A mischievous
sprite, but tender for all that. But how I run on! And it so cold; and
you--you are shivering, dear. Oh, come, we are wasting precious time.
The carriage is close by, at the corner of the road. Come! Yet stay one
moment. Lawrence, do you know you have never kissed me yet?"

He thrust aside her clinging arms and a hoarse cry escaped his lips.
"With prison gates in sight," he said. "With the taint upon me? Kiss
you! No, Nell, I could not! Wait till we are away from here, out of
sight and reach and the atmosphere of this cursed place. Then--and yet
not even then. I have forfeited all right to your love. It is pity
that brings you here, pity for a felon--an outcast--a man not worth a
thought of yours."

"A man," she said, "whom I love, and pity, and forgive with all my
heart."

"God for ever bless you!" he cried brokenly. "Your love makes me
ashamed. I never deserved it, even at my best; and now----"

"Say no more, dear," she pleaded. "Only come away. And oh, if you would
try to forget, as I shall, for life is all before us still, and many
happy years and prosperous, God willing. Come."

She linked her arm in his and drew him gently away. The evening shadows
fell behind them. The mist seemed to part as the last red spear of
sunlight pierced it through and through, and so parting, left a track
for them over the stony road. Across this track gleamed the red light
of carriage lamps; the breath of the waiting horses mingled with the
wreathing mist. The figure of the driver standing at their heads looked
ghostly and indistinct. He turned his head at the sound of approaching
footsteps. A natural curiosity was in his eyes. When a carriage was
brought to this lonely spot a good guess might be made at the reason.
The woman hurried forward; she laid her hand on the carriage door and
swung it open. Her companion entered. The driver closed the door,
mounted the box, and whipped up the tired horses.

Wave upon wave the mist rolled back, blotting out the road behind them,
the high stone walls, the gleaming lights of the huge building raised
by convict hands for convict prisoners.

The carriage followed the coach road across the dreary moor. Dreary
at all times, but unspeakably so in this grey haze that, slowly
gliding over vale and hill, left all it touched a deep and shrouded
mystery. The horses strained their heads or started as weird shapes
loomed suddenly out of darkness into the red halo of the carriage
lamps. Steadily they pursued their journey, the driver keeping them at
one even trot. Sometimes they dipped into spectral hollows, only to
emerge and push their way defiantly against misty crests well-known as
obstacles through years of dogged surmounting, sometimes plodded warily
over the wide moor, windswept from every quarter, bending patient heads
to meet the blast that even in summer holds its revels there.

The inmates of the carriage were very silent. Strong emotions do not
readily lend themselves to speech, and both their hearts were full to
breaking point, with thoughts that the one dared not utter, the other
dared not betray.

Their hands were clasped in a close embrace, palm touching palm, an
occasional tremor thrilling them, but otherwise they remained seated
side by side, saying not a word, only gazing out of the windows at the
rolling mist, the straining horses, the weird and spectral shadows on
which the red lamps threw their glow.

On one side that silence was eloquent of suffering, of memory, of pride
smarting at every touch, of dead hopes lifting faces wan and pale from
their shroud of vanished years.

It lasted so long that the moorland and the mist were things of the
past, and the road had lost its dreary outlines and allowed itself
bordered by trees rich in autumnal coloring, arched by a sky in which a
host of stars had gathered and gleamed to light the path of night. So
long that at last, half-frightened, the woman turned and spoke.

"We shall soon be in the town, Lawrence. Our train leaves at midnight.
You can dine and rest----"

She felt him shrink back, and guessed his unspoken thought.

"I have a private room, dear," she urged. "No one need see you, and in
my box are clothes--those you left behind."

His white face hardened.

"You seem to have thought of everything," he said.

"I tried to--spare you," she said gently. "I knew it would seem strange
at first."

"And where does the money come from?" he asked. "There was little
enough left when----"

"I know. Do not say it. But remember I told you I had prospects. I have
money, plenty of money. Enough for both--for all. You need not ever
work again, unless you choose. It is a long story; I cannot tell you
now. I only want you to rest and--forget."

"As if I ever could!" he said bitterly.

"Time heals all sorrows and their memories, dear."

"Not such memories as mine. Disgrace--punishment, chains, bondage.
A wild beast's life for manhood! God above! How can one forget such
things as these?"

She uttered no reproach. She did not tell him that his punishment,
severe as it had been, was a punishment his own reckless actions had
challenged; that his sufferings sharpened with physical agony had yet
been matched by those her own heart had known, and well nigh broken
under. She kept silence; but the hot tears welled in her eyes and
rolled one by one down her pale cheeks.

He went on, unheeding as unseeing her agony.

"Life is only an ugly tangle for me hence forward. Things like this are
never forgotten. Never till one is dead, and even then some evil tongue
finds a time to lash one's memory. Those we leave behind have to suffer
also."

She thought, "If he had remembered this four years sooner!" But still
she was silent, fearing to reproach by seeming to agree.

"I cannot judge you," she faltered at last.

"You never will," he said. "You are one of those women of whom life
makes martyrs; loving, suffering, enduring; dwelling in the inner
darkness of silence--for fear of hurting what you love. It was seeing
your patience, gauging your powers of endurance, feeling that I, by
my selfishness, had robbed you of all that was your right, that drove
me----"

Her hand tightened on his arm.

"Don't, Lawrence," she cried involuntarily. "Don't say it was my fault.
Spare me that, at least!"

He looked at her then and a pang of self-reproach shot through his
selfish heart.

"No," he said moodily, "it was not your fault. You were easily content;
but poverty is a harsh taskmaster." His tone was sullen and his eyes
left her face again and turned to the window with relief. The smallness
of his own nature, measured by the greatness of hers, filled him with a
grudging self-pity. He was ashamed--and yet the consciousness of shame
annoyed him. The news she had brought of prosperity was less welcome
because it was her gift--not his. Had Fortune befriended him, had he
been able to play at princeliness it would have gratified his pride
and seemed a deed of atonement; but to receive benefits from the hand
of the woman whom he had loaded with humiliation was inexpressibly
galling, even in this hour of liberty.

His thoughts had all been of restitution--of amendment--of righting
himself in her eyes--winning some share of the world's prizes to throw
at her feet. Now she was playing the part he had set himself, and her
very magnanimity shamed him.

The carriage stopped at an old-fashioned hotel in the little town she
had named; the lights flashed upon his face and recalled something of
long-forfeited liberty.

The coachman held open the door and the woman entered the wide-open
passage. The man followed her and she led the way up the shallow
stairs and into a room on the first floor. To his dazzled eyes it
seemed almost luxurious; yet it was simple enough. The fire threw out
a welcome blaze, the lamp on the white cloth lit up the bright autumn
flowers, and glass and silver laid ready for a meal.

She opened another door leading from this room and bade him enter.

"You will find all you need there," she said gently. "And dinner can be
served as soon as you are ready."

He understood her meaning and her reticence. Words would have seemed
indelicate to a mind keenly sensitive to the feelings of others, as was
hers. He closed the door and approaching the black leather trunk on the
hearthrug opened it and took out the clothes she had brought for his
use.

He slipped off those he wore and which had been given back to him on
his day of release. They, too, seemed to have the prison taint and
were hateful. A can of hot water stood beside the washstand, and with
almost feverish eagerness he laved face and arms and chest, as if he
sought to cleanse himself from all the hateful stains and memories and
indignities of the past four years.

When he stood again in clean linen, in a gentleman's dress, surrounded
by the comforts and luxuries so long forfeited, a wild sense of
exhilaration rioted in his veins. He drew his slender figure up with
some of the old pride and the old satisfaction. He looked at his face,
about which the hair and moustache had been allowed to grow a short
time before his term of imprisonment ended.

It was a handsome face still, though lined and furrowed, and hardened,
too, by reason of trials undergone, of honor forfeited, of shame
bitter and self-wrought. A handsome face, and yet marred by an
underlying weakness; a certain furtive, half-rebellious defiance, that
spoke of a nature coerced not conquered into penitence. For at heart
Lawrence Latimer was not penitent, though he told himself he was. He
was bitterly ashamed, but he was also bitterly resentful. He blamed
circumstances--Fate--life--everything that could be called blamable for
his own folly and his own sin.

Temptation had overtaken him in a weak moment; he had swerved from the
path of duty--also in a weak moment. Repentance had followed quickly,
but not successfully. Awkward results, discovery, trial, condemnation,
all these had been as sharp-dealt blows of a Nemesis too swiftly on
his track. But he had paid the debt, he told himself. Paid, atoned,
suffered. Man can do no more.

Surely he had wiped his sum of offence off the slate of life by those
four years of humiliation. Surely he was at liberty now to forget, and
make others forget, if their memories threatened inconvenience. As the
thought crossed his mind he heard the entry of dinner and its attendant
service in the room beyond. He caught sight of his own face, as it had
been used to look, his own figure as it had been used to bear itself.

He turned softly to the opening door and the flush that dyed his
cheek was less shamed than exultant now. He stretched his arms out to
the little patient figure standing there, the light shining upon her
uncovered head and in the tender pity of her eyes.

"Come to me, Nell," he said softly. "Come! I can kiss you now."

She closed the door behind her and crept into his outstretched arms,
and with a little sob her head fell upon his breast. For a moment he
let her rest there--a moment that repaid four empty, torturing years.
Then he drew himself away and holding her hands in both his own looked
sternly at her troubled face.

"Nell," he said, in a hard, repressed voice, "we take up life again
to-night where we laid it down. We go out to face the world and defy
it. These four years lie in a grave whose headstone is to be for ever
marked by silence. From this hour your lips must never mention them any
more than my own. Promise this, and swear you will never break that
promise so long as we both shall live."

Startled and white as death, she looked up at his face. It was not the
face she had known and loved in her girlish innocence; not the face
that had haunted her memory for four despairing years. It was the face
of a man into whose soul the iron of suffering had entered, whose heart
had been seared, not purified, in the furnace of sorrow. It takes a
great nature to bear deserved punishment, and Lawrence Latimer's nature
was not great.

"Do you mean," she said slowly, "that you will tell me nothing?--that I
am to ask----"

"You are to ask--nothing," he said. "The pages are torn out and burnt.
If they may not be rewritten, at least they can be destroyed."

Her labored breath came slowly through her parted lips.

"Four years lie between us," she faltered. "Four years of penance--of
atonement. You will tell me nothing of those years?"

"Nothing," he said. "Let them be as if they had had no existence. From
this hour they shall have none."

"Others," she said, "will remember, Lawrence, the shadow of committed
sin never ceases to dog our footsteps. If I read your secret in other
eyes, if its whispers haunt me in the life to which we go, am I still
to keep silent? Must all confidence be closed?"

"On this one point," he said doggedly. "To speak of it--even this
once--taxes all my powers of endurance. I cannot suffer again--I will
not. If you have wealth, as you say, it must purchase peace for me.
Peace and silence--buy them how you may. Promise!"

He laid his hands upon her shoulders, pressing the slight frame with
unconscious force in the earnestness of his own desire.

Her lips moved, but her eyes sought his no longer. The pity of their
gaze was quenched by sudden fear.

"I promise," she said, "but a day may come when it would be better for
us both to speak and to trust, as now--we cannot."

His hands released her then. He lifted his head defiantly and the
mirror gave him back some momentary flash of his old youth and his old
spirit.

But he said nothing, only stretched out his hand and led her into the
room where dinner was awaiting them.




CHAPTER II.

The old manor house of Torbart Royal was ablaze with lights. Fires
burned cheerily in every room and open doors showed pleasant vistas of
comfort and homeliness on which no modern luxury had set its fantastic
seal. The old housekeeper, arrayed in rustling black silk and full of
importance as befitted her position, passed in dignified silence from
room to room, pausing at last in the hall, where the logs crackled and
blazed in the open fireplace.

"They should be here by now," she said, and summoned the staff of
servants she had been told to engage, in order to give a fitting
welcome to the new arrivals.

Her critical glance swept over caps and aprons. The butler was her
own husband, and, like herself, a family retainer, well-seasoned and
of befitting dignity. Housemaids, parlormaids, cook, all bore her
surveillance with equanimity. It had surprised her that no lady's
maid was needed. The omission made her somewhat curious about her new
mistress.

"Where is Connor?" she asked suddenly.

"I'm here, ma'am," answered a voice rich in possibilities of brogue,
held in check by due consciousness of its strangeness in comparison
with the mincing English tongue.

Disapproval shone in Mrs. Burton's' eyes. "You have no cap on," she
said sternly.

"I never wore one in all my life, ma'am," was the reply. "And if her
ladyship the Countess of Cullagh didn't require it of me I'm thinking
I'll do very well for plain 'mistress' in this country."

"That is not the way to speak to me," said Mrs. Burton sternly. "And if
you mean to keep you place you will have to mend your manners; let me
tell you that."

"It was sore need of repair they were in before I came to this country
to mend them," retorted the rebuked person, who was a comely-looking
woman of some thirty years, with a pale face of Madonna-like beauty,
and soft brown hair that rippled on either side of it in a fashion that
scorned the power of caps to humiliate or adorn. The other servants
tittered. Mary Connor had only been two days in the house, but already
had asserted a prerogative of free speech.

"There are the wheels," exclaimed the butler suddenly.

A sense of alertness at once expressed itself in the little crowd,
and Irish Mary (engaged as nurse for the little daughter of the new
arrivals), stepped slightly out of the rank and bent an eager gaze upon
the open door.

The wheels stopped and in another moment the travellers entered. A
party of three. A tall man, whose thick iron-grey hair contrasted oddly
with his youthful face, and a slight, graceful woman, holding by the
hand a little child of some six years of age.

The housekeeper gave a stately curtsey and murmured conventional
greeting.

"I trust you will find everything satisfactory, madam," she concluded.

"I am sure I shall," said her new mistress, with a smile so sweet
that Irish Mary's heart went out to her at once. Her eyes fell from
the mother to the child, and the roguish beauty of the little face
completed her conquest.

She advanced to announce herself--regardless of etiquette. "You are
kindly welcome, ma'am," she said. "And the darling little lady, too,
God bless her; with a face for all the world like sunshine on a May
morning. It's I am to be your nurse, darling. Mary Connor at your
service. Of Waterford county; that's my native place. Oh, we'll be the
great friends intirely when we get to know one another, won't we, me
pretty one? Sure and not one of the little countesses beyant where I've
been living could hold a candle to ye for beauty and style."

"You--you are the nurse?" said the lady, a half smile touching her pale
lips.

"I am, ma'am--as Mrs. Burton here can tell ye."

"Then will you please take my little girl to the nursery and get her
some tea. She is tired, I am sure. Burton, will you see about the
luggage. My little girl's things are in the trunk marked No. II. What
time will dinner be ready?"

"In half an hour, madame, if convenient. Shall I show you your rooms?"

"If you please." She hesitated and glanced at her husband. "Will you
come also, Lawrence?"

His glance had been wandering from point to point, taking in the luxury
and comfort and beauty of the place with critical eye. He had no right
of possession in it whatever save that of owing its inheritor as wife.
Unexpectedly and by a curious chain of circumstances the estate had
come to her. Its late owner had been an uncle whom she had not seen
since childhood. She had never set foot in the house from the time she
was as young as her own little girl--yet it seemed to her familiar and
unchanged.

A sense of pleasure in its possession swept over her as her eyes
wandered from the glowing hall to the richly-carpeted stairs, the oak
seats and tables, the quaint pottery, the tapestry and pictures, and
spoils of chase and hunting field. Involuntarily she stretched out her
hand to her husband. "Do you like it, dear?" she asked softly. "Is it
not homelike and beautiful?"

"Yes," he said, throwing off his fur-lined coat and hat. "A nice old
place. You described it very well."

The housekeeper's eyes flashed a sudden indignant glance at the
indifferent face of the speaker.

"A nice old place!" To hear a house whose age was traditional in the
county, whose family history was renowned, described as "a nice old
place," and by one to whom it only came through marriage with one of
the family. Times were indeed changed.

She led the way up the staircase and across the corridor and showed
her new mistress her bedroom with a silent dignity that she hoped was
impressive. It might have been had that mistress been less preoccupied
by her own thoughts and memories. The housekeeper, bent on maintaining
dignity, merely threw open doors to various announcements. "Your
bedroom, madam. Mr. Haughton's dressing-room--your boudoir--the
bathroom." So she went on. "The nurseries are above, as perhaps you
remember?"

A peal of laughter and the sound of eager feet gave due assurance of
that fact.

"You gave no orders about a lady's maid," continued the housekeeper.
"Shall I assist you for to-night?"

"Thank you--no. I need no one," was the quick answer. "I am used to
wait on myself, and prefer it."

Mrs. Burton's physiognomy expressed faint surprise.

"One of the other maids can do what little I require," continued her
mistress. "At least for the present. Now, if you will see that my
luggage is brought up, I will dispense with your kind offices. We shall
not dress for dinner to-night, we are too fatigued."

The housekeeper curtsied again and retired, murmuring that the new
successor to the family honors was certainly a very strange lady and
apparently unused to the ways of good society.

"No lady's maid, no dressing for dinner. Well, well, what a change for
Torbart Manor."

She discussed the newcomers very seriously with her husband, when
dinner was over and his duties completed.

Their late master had been somewhat of a recluse. A scholarly, silent,
self-absorbed man, caring little for the world around or about him,
going nowhere and entertaining no one. Early in life he had married a
cousin of his own. She had died and left him childless. The brother,
who was next of kin, lived chiefly abroad. They rarely corresponded,
and never met. It was to this brother's only child that the property
had now descended. All that Mrs. Burton knew of her was that she had
married and lived abroad in some part of France ever since. Her husband
had assumed the family name with the family inheritance, but neither
of them had apparently been in undue haste to take possession. Two
whole years had elapsed and only at their expiration had the new owners
appeared on the scene.

Naturally, the housekeeper and butler, with stories of "old families"
and their behaviour in their possession, found plenty to complain of
and criticise here.

"It's being all new and strange to them must make a difference," said
the butler. "Living in them foreign countries must be deteriorating in
its effects."

Harbury Burton loved long words, and affected a certain scholarly style
founded on his late master.

"Deteriorating!--stuff and nonsense. She's married beneath her, that's
what it is," snapped the housekeeper. "And she's lowering her dignity
to keep pace with his. There's something about that husband of Mrs.
Haughton's that I don't like. He don't look you straight in the face.
He don't seem masterful and sure as if he had his own rights and his
own duties, and meant to do them. It's a thousand pities that Mr.
Anthony Haughton hadn't a son. Property in the female line always loses
its value. Strangers stepping in and upsetting what's gone before.
That's how it will be with Torbart Royal. You'll see if I'm not right."

"Little Miss Valerie is a beautiful child," said the old man suddenly.

"She is, I grant you, but a handful, or I'm no judge. Eyes like her's
mean mischief."

"Well, well, it's early days for faulting the family," said the old
man. "After all it's dying out fast. What's left is only in the female
line again."

"Mrs. Haughton is young enough to have a family of sons!" exclaimed
Mrs. Burton. "Though she does look delicate." The old man shook his
head. "There's something weighing on her heart, I'm sure of it. And
there's fear in her face. Fear of--what, Susan?"

"I'm sure I don't know. What should there be?"

"It's not for me to say. But I caught it. It's in her eyes, her voice
sometimes. Perhaps there's a secret in the background of her life."

"Stuff and nonsense. Secret! You're in your dotage Harbury. Secrets!
Why, if ever there was a family open and above board, and straight as
a die, it's the Haughtons. Quiet, well-conditioned folk, not a scandal
among them."

"That's doesn't prevent one coming into their records, Susan."

"Of course it doesn't. But what's the good of looking for it. Sorrows
are none too fond of lagging behind us that we should be whipping them
up for fear of delay."

"True," he answered. "True. I hope you're right, Susan. But what I
saw in her face was fear, I tell you. And when there's fear in the
background there's a reason for it."

"Well, they've taken care to bring no one who can tell tales, if so be
there's any to tell. No valet, no maid, no nurse. Whatever's to find,
Harbury, we've only our own eyes and ears to trust to. Not that I want
to make any discovery that's not to the credit of the family, but, all
the same, if there's one thing on earth I can't do with, it's secrecy
and underhandedness. And I tell you, Harbury, straight, I don't like
the new master of Torbart Royal!"




CHAPTER III.

Lawrence Haughton and his wife sat opposite each other in the great
dining-room, where the polished table gave back reflections of fruit
and wine, and silver and crystal. The butler had withdrawn and the
strain which an unwonted presence had occasioned relaxed to the sound
of the closing door.

"After all position is a great burden," exclaimed Mrs. Haughton. "I
suppose it's not being used to grandeur that makes it so wearisome. One
seems obliged to live for other people, to keep up a pretence in which
one's heart is not. How worried you look, Lawrence. What is it? Shall
I venture to ask our dignified rulers if I may have the Sprite down to
dessert."

"It may make things livelier," he said. "We will have her impressions
by way of relief."

He rose and rang the bell and gave the order.

"We shall get used to it all in time," he said, as he resumed his seat.

"Of all the faces here I like Mary Connor's best," said his wife. "I
hope she and Val will get on."

A peal of laughter, a flash of skirts through the open doorway, and to
the sound of hasty remonstrances the child had flown from her nurse's
restraining hand, and perched herself upon her father's knee.

"I told you I should come down. I always mean to," she said defiantly.
"Mayn't I come to dinner, p'tit papa? like I used to in France. Tell
Mary I may, won't you?"

"You must ask your mother," he said. "She knows what is best and how
little English girls behave."

"Not to dinner, Val," said Mrs. Haughton. "To dessert, if you are very
good, and--and we are alone," she added.

Then she turned to the nurse, who was standing by the door. "I am
afraid Miss Valerie has been rather spoilt," she said. "Being so much
with grown-up people and going wherever we went, she naturally thinks
it must continue."

"Sure, me lady, a bit of wilfulness niver hurt a woman yet," answered
Mary O'Connor. "And 'tis she'll be the lovely girl one of these days.
Six years, she tells me; and the sense of ten. And the ways of her!
Well, I'll niver be saying again an English child is wanting in spirit.
When shall I come for her to go to bed, me lady?"

"At eight o'clock," answered Mrs. Haughton. "And, Mary, I am not 'my
lady.' You must address me as the other servants do."

"I beg pardon, ma'am. It's being used to it, living so long with the
Countess and her granddaughters."

"Why did you leave Ireland?" enquired her mistress.

"I came over with one of the young ladies on a visit. I was acting-maid
for her, and the next thing she does is to get married to an officer in
the army and go off with herself to India. And then I thought I'd take
another situation, and I saw the advertisement of Mrs. Burton, and with
me references she took me at once. And that's all, ma'am."

The child meanwhile had slipped from her father's knee and was
apparently amusing herself by a survey of the room. She flitted to
and fro in a pretty, fantastic fashion that was like a dance set to
the music of her wilful fancies. She curtsied and grimaced at her
reflection in the mirrors and the polished mahogany, tossed rosy
apples to and fro and caught them with elfish laughter, and all the
time her wild bright eyes watched the faces of the speakers, flashing
interrogation from one to the other, as if she was forming some private
judgment of her own from their words and expressions.

Her father tried to coax her back to his knee, but she refused to come,
approaching only to elude his outstretched hand, and laughing softly at
each futile effort.

"Is that always the way with her, ma'am?" asked Mary O'Connor. "For,
indade, it took all me time to catch her, leave alone the dressing of
her, and nothing but that she was set upon seeing the big dining-room
would have kept her steady under me hands for the space of two minutes."

"Val, dear, this will never do," said her mother, gently. "You must be
good and obedient to nurse. It is not possible for me to do everything
for you as I used to do. That is why I have engaged Mary."

The child danced still her airy measure up and down the room, and gave
no answer save a mocking smile.

"You may go now, Mary," said Mrs. Haughton. "And come back at 8
o'clock."

As the door closed she called the child to her side and something in
the voice told the Sprite she meant to be obeyed. She stopped her
fantastic movements and approached. Her mother laid a hand upon her
shoulder, over which the rich brown hair rippled in natural waves.

"Listen to me, Val," she said. "Now that we have come to England and to
our own home I want you to be like other little English girls. You have
run wild long enough. But you are older now, and must learn there is
something in the world besides play and mischief."

"Mais oui; but regard then, maman, explain to me this, when before
I bring to mind we lived in one little home, n'est ce 'pas?--in a
big town full of noise, of people. Do we go there again?--for it is
triste, this great big house, these long galleries, what nurse calls
them. Is it here we stay?"

Her mother's face flushed scarlet and she give a quick apprehensive
glance at her husband. Then the flush died away, leaving only a sickly
pallor behind it.

"You are talking nonsense," she said sharply. "The big town was in
France; where--where we have all come from."

"But he was not with us," answered the Sprite, pointing at her father.
"And you were for always, always sewing. And the people--they spoke
like they do here. It all came to me when we must leave the steamer,
and you say, 'It is England--we are arrived."

Her mother turned away and lifted her half-empty wineglass to her lips.

"Regard but your hand, how it shakes," said the child. "You do not
like that I remember things? But I cannot help it. When I shut
my eyes--so--I see pictures; and I know I have been in them--the
pictures; and you, aussi--but not p'tit papa. Another sort em
monsieur--a kind monsieur--who wore bright things over his eyes and
did bring to me chocolates. Voila!"

"Run away and play," said her mother. "And don't talk foolish nonsense.
It's not possible you can remember; you were only a baby when----"

She stopped abruptly. Her lips tightened. Lawrence rose and pushed back
his chair, and went over to the fireplace. His wife's eyes rested on
the child, who once again commenced her fantastic movements, tossing
the fruit and catching it, and pausing here and there to examine some
article of furniture or ornament that attracted her fancy.

Silence fell upon the strange trio. Silence save for the flitting to
and fro of those fairly-like feet, the rustling of lace and muslin
from the fluttering frock. Such silence was not new in the child's
experience, not new in theirs. At times speech seemed impossible. Words
could not bridge the gulf that lay betwixt their lives, slowly widening
as chill spaces of reserve crept between them day by day. Now, though
their hearts were full to overflowing, speech was impossible.

The woman lifted her eyes at last and glanced at the sombre figure,
standing by the fire with head bent down and folded arms, and something
dogged, self-restrained in attitude and face. From thence her glance
travelled round the room, with all its rich appointments, its promise
of affluence. "And it all means so little," she thought bitterly. "So
little because of one dark stain upon it all--that awful secret he
has sworn to keep. How can he keep it? How hide the stain when even a
little child's foolish hand can touch it?"

She too, left her place by the table and seated herself by the fire.
But neither spoke. They watched the child and the child watched them,
in the midst of her fantastic play.

As the clock chimed the hour she suddenly approached her mother.

"You will come and kiss me good-night in my new nursery, is it not?"
she asked.

"Yes, child."

"And tell me stories?"

"Not to-night, Val. Mother is tired."

A shadow darkened the lovely little face.

"Then I will talk," she cried passionately. "But how I will talk. All
night I will talk. I will tell Irish Mary about the little room, and
the sewing, and you, p'tite maman, and the monsieur with the shining
eyes, and----"

Her mother's hand was on her lips, silencing them, with a force that
was more angry than rebuking.

"Hush, child! You are wicked. You deserve to be punished."

A knock came to the door. The nurse entered.

"It's 8 o'clock, ma'am. Is me young lady ready?"

"Go, Val," her mother said, pushing her away. "I will come upstairs
presently."

"And tell me a story?"

"Yes."

"Then, I will not talk. You don't want that I do what I said?"

"I want you to be good and quiet. And--no--there is no need to talk.
Little children mix things up in their foolish little heads and think
they really happened."

The child said nothing, only kissed her father, and with a quaint grace
gave her hand to the waiting nurse.

"You've not wished your mamma good-night, miss," said Mary.

"It is no matter. She will come to me; she always does. 'Revoir chere
p'tite maman.'"

The door closed. Husband and wife looked at one another.

"It's--true then?" he said hoarsely. "He--it was Dormer, I suppose?"

She bent her head. "Yes," she said quietly.

"He helped you?"

"That question belongs to those four years of which we were never
to speak. You said the past was dead, Lawrence. Mine, as well as
yours--since speaking of the one brings back the reproach of the other."

His brow clouded. "Of course, if Val knows----" he began. Then he
looked at the quiet, impassive face. He longed to ask more of this
friend; the man to whom he also owed a debt, the man whom he feared and
disliked because of his knowledge of a time that was a perpetual shame.
But something in his wife's manner checked the words. His own hand had
closed the gate on those four years and now it refused to open.

"He never writes to you now, does he?" he asked suddenly.

"No. He went abroad just before--before my uncle died. I wrote to him
from Paris, to tell him of the change of name, and--he did not reply.
And I thought it best to write no more."

"That is wise," he said hurriedly. "No use in bringing up old memories.
All that time had best be forgotten. Even the child will soon forget if
she never hears the subject spoken of."

"She does not easily forget," said the mother.

"Well, it need not be alluded to, even indirectly. And here we are
removed from all fear of recognition."

"Yes. You should be safe--if one is ever safe!"

She sighed heavily. Well enough she knew that to the criminal and the
lawbreaker there is no such thing as safety.




CHAPTER IV.

Torbart Manor was situated on the borders of two counties, but it was
remote enough to be exclusive and keep its neighbors at a distance if
so inclined.

It had shown itself so inclined on occasions, and displayed a calm
indifference as to the pursuits and opinions of those neighbors. The
late owner had been counted a selfish recluse, simply because he had
no political opinions, a weak digestion, and a studious disposition.
When he was dead and the vault in the old churchyard of Torbart parish
had duly recorded that fact, there was a brief spell of curiosity as to
the next occupants of the Manor. Month after month drifted by, and that
curiosity burnt itself out from sheer want of fuel to keep it alight.

No one came to the house at all. Servants were dismissed, all save the
old butler and his wife and some outdoor helps, and the place was shut
up, the beautiful grounds scarcely tended. Roses that had tossed gay,
tangled heads to summer skies, bloomed and died unheeded as the seasons
passed. The coverts bred game that no sportsman's gun affrighted. In
the great elms the rooks built and cawed and held their own important
conclaves and seemed striving to atone for the absence of human sounds
and human voices.

Then, suddenly, with no notice or forewarning, life stirred once more
within the old dark walls. Smoke curled above the trees, horses neighed
within the stable-yard, shutters no longer hid the great mullioned
windows. The tangled creepers and rejoicing ivy were cut and clipped
and trimmed to conventional appearance.

The Manor House was occupied once more and the county announced the
fact to its intimates in ceremonious calls and asked itself who should
make the first overtures of friendliness.

Lady Vi Langford, one of the hunting celebrities, was entreated to lead
the way and report results. She had nothing to report. The family were
"Not at home" on the occasion of her visit.

The Dowager Lady Winterton then proceeded to do her duty. The old greys
and the ancient landau, which no "nouveau riche" would have allowed
in stable or coachhouse, crawled up the avenue of Torbart Manor. The
answer was the same, and a further consultation led to a decision that
the manor was again inclined to moroseness and neither cared for nor
invited neighborly attentions. The county would not believe that on
both occasions the answer had been strictly truthful; yet Mr. and Mrs.
Haughton were really out--once on a long walk that embraced miles of
their new possessions, and the second time driving to the little town
of Selbury, ten miles distant, in order to meet a train conveying
important parcels, which in the natural course of events would not have
been delivered till the next day.

They regarded the cards with indifference--the indifference born of an
utter ignorance as to county habits, rules, and obligations. Indeed,
Lawrence Haughton's brows met in the blackest of frowns when he saw the
creamy pasteboards on his hall table. "Callers already---- d--n it!" he
muttered. "Can't people ever leave one alone."

His wife regarded the names with timidity; wondering why titles
honored the Manor House, and forgetful of its attending importance--an
importance dating far back, and disqualified by no mushroom appendage
of knighthood such as distinguished Lady Vi's husband.

"I am glad we were out," she said, and Lawrence answered, "We must be
always out; I wish to know no one in the neighborhood."

"Will that be possible?" she asked. "It will look very strange."

"It may look what it likes," he said. "I am not going to put myself
out for other people. County society means perpetual boredom. I don't
hunt, I'm a wretched shot, and I hate dinner parties. All this spells
unpopularity. Better begin at once as we mean to go on."

"It will look--strange," she said.

"No matter. People will get used to our strangeness. We want nothing
from them. If you need gaiety we can always run up to town."

"I!" she cried. "I--need gaiety? Lawrence, when did you discover that?
When have you found a time that you were not enough for me--you and the
child?"

He drew her suddenly to his side and kissed her.

"My dearest," he murmured, "you are too good to me. Yet I cannot but
ask you to bear with my morbid habits a little while. It is not easy to
live down----"

He broke off abruptly and put her away. "Let the cards lie there," he
said. "We need not return the visits."

"Some day," she urged, "we must cease to be hermits--there is the child
to think of."

His laugh was harsh and unmusical. "How like a woman! Are you providing
a husband and trousseau for her while she is still in the nursery?
Surely there is time and to spare. She has not run the gamut of
childish ailments yet, nor learnt the discipline of the schoolroom."

Her cheek paled. "You are cruel, Lawrence," she said. "My suggestion
was a very natural one. She is young; she has all her life before
her. You cannot condemn her to the isolation that you have chosen for
yourself."

"There is time and to spare for such considerations," he answered
moodily.

"There is a necessity already arising that we must meet--her education.
What I have taught is the mere jargon of childhood. She cannot read or
spell English. She will need a governess."

"I have thought of that. It is a need easily supplied. You can
advertise and then select the most promising. But for heaven's sake
secure one who will keep to herself and live to herself. I want no
third person to sit at my board, and talk, and listen, and----spy."

"Lawrence!" she cried nervously.

A little shadow had flitted suddenly from the dark background of the
tapestried walls.

"Oh, mechant papa!" said a mocking voice. "I heard all you say. I am
to have a gouvernante. V'la. Let it be. I shall only learn what I
like."

"You will learn what you are told and do as you are bid, Val," said her
mother sternly. "And what are you doing here? Where is Mary?"

"I have run away from her. I hide--there!" she laughed softly. "She
search, she call, she cannot find. I hear you come in--and p'tit
papa."

She flitted to the foot of the staircase. "I heard," she repeated, and
the red firelight showed the dancing mischief in her eyes, the mocking
smile on her scarlet lips, "all of the funny words he did say."

She began to ascend the stairs, looking down at the two watching
figures.

"Dites, donc! Say, what is it to spy?" she asked. "And why did mamma
say 'hush?'"

"Valerie, come here," said her father peremptorily. "You are a naughty,
wilful, little girl. You deserve to be punished."

"For why then?" asked the child defiantly. "Because it is so dull, so
triste, in this great dark house, and I run from Mary to hide? I
could not tell you would talk secrets. It was not much, only that I
am to have someone to teach me. I shall be glad. I want to learn. I
will then know everything that is told me; and no one will say, 'Never
mind,' and 'Do not ask questions,' and 'That is not for children, les
petites, to know.' And I shall ask her, first of all things, 'Are
you a spy, mademoiselle?"

Step by step she had advanced until with the last word she had reached
the corridor above. They watched her scarlet frock flash and flutter
into the darkness, they caught the gleam of her mocking eyes as she
peered through the open oak railings of the gallery running round the
hall. They heard the peal of her childish laughter and the challenge
of her childish voice as her nurse came towards her. Lawrence Haughton
turned suddenly to his wife.

The leaping firelight showed the pallor of her face and flashed on the
anger of his own.

"You called her your comfort," he said, in a repressed and wrathful
voice. "A strange comforter indeed! The license of her tongue outstrips
her years. There is something elfish--uncanny--about her at times. Take
care that in years to come she is not more scourge than comfort."

"That must be as God wills," answered the mother. "Her nature, her
soul, are of His giving. I only know she saved me once from madness and
despair."

She turned away then and went slowly up the wide, old stairs and passed
into her room, closing and locking the door behind her. There were
times when repression and silence became a living torture, when the
restraint on words, looks, memories, was beyond passive endurance. It
seemed to her that she was perpetually fighting shadows with straws
that bent and mocked her feeble blows.

The child was at once a puzzle and a torment. She had passed from
infancy into this mocking, elfish sprite with a rapidity which
attendant circumstances scarcely excused. Yet, on the other hand, no
traceable accident of heredity could account for the almost foreign
style of her beauty, her aptitude for languages, and her fantastic
personality.

Her fancy was as swift as a bird's flight, and often as unexpected. Her
mind seized on passing words and circumstances, to magnify, distort, or
play with them as her whim dictated. She seemed to love her mother, yet
at times spent her whole soul on distressing and agitating her. There
was something nervous and timid about this mother which she recognised
and despised, her father she treated with alternate humor, petulance,
and insubordination. He could not influence her even by anger or win
any obedience that was not voluntary. When their wills clashed, his had
to give way. Punishment enforced nothing except an hysterical frenzy
that was too terrifying to risk, once witnessed. Words and threats she
mocked at if the fancy took her, or railed back in the broken French
and English of a dialect peculiar to herself.

In their wanderings to and fro in foreign lands she had picked up an
extraordinary amount of knowledge, to which her natural shrewdness
lent precocious importance. She was childish in all but intelligence.
There she outstripped her years and her prerogatives. Her vivid fancy,
leaping from surmise to certainty, would set its seal of comprehension
on details that were less patent to ordinary observers than herself.
Her mind played for her the part of a magic lantern, and its various
slides held impressions of scenes and events that no one credited her
with noticing, and still less remembering.

Her mother sat now before the fire in her great and somewhat dreary
bed-chamber, thinking out, as she had been compelled of late to think
out, the problem of this child's future.

The passion and force of her own feelings made the task before her
all the more difficult. Her temperament was not of an order that
escapes from suffering or evades its own responsibilities. She must
deal with Val, and Val's future, in the best and wisest fashion that
circumstances allowed.

She had to shield her husband's morbid sensibilities and enforce his
authority--both matters of difficulty, and threatening yet greater
difficulty in the future. His resolution to avoid all intimacy or
exchange of courtesies with his neighbors did not seriously disturb one
by nature unobtrusive and not anxious to shine as a social star of any
importance. But it aroused a new fear--the fear of awakening curiosity
and its attendant gossip. If they lived here secluded and unvisited
people would naturally think there must be a reason. To find a reason
at once sufficient and convincing was the task she set herself.

She lifted her head, and in doing so caught the reflection of her hair,
burnished by the flames; of her face sad and wistful, yet still young
and still lovely. She started slightly, then kept her gaze fixed on
that pictured self, looking into the eyes dark and pain filled; reading
the tragedy of past years in the lines of the brow and the sorrowful
curve of unsmiling lips.

"It rests with me," she thought. "Whatever reason or excuse has to be
made I must make it. No one must think the cause has anything to do
with him."

Her eyes wandered round the room and a faint smile touched her pale
lips. "It won't be a very dreary prison," she thought. "But a prison
it must be. Here I shall stay and spend my days and years, a chronic
invalid, a recluse who shuts herself in from outer sympathy or
friendship. Can I play the part? Can I cheat him also?"

She rose and slowly paced the room, her hands clasped before her, her
head bent.

"Perhaps he will not notice," she went on. "And sometimes we can go
away. There are always spas and cures to be found. The plea can hold
good still. Yes--it must be. I see no other way. But I must find Val's
governess first. It will be less easy to play the part to a woman. I
must evolve the woman I want, and then trust to my own intuition to
detect her likeness in the answers I receive."

She paused, and again her eyes turned to the graceful figure in the
long mirror--to the face whose youth and beauty of womanhood she had
determined to deny.

"It will not be easy," she said slowly. "Not easy and not pleasant.
But at any cost he must be saved. What was that he said once, I have a
genius for martyrdom? . . If so, I must prove it, . . . Perhaps he will
never guess why."




CHAPTER V.


"Dear Madam--

"In answering your advertisement I think it best to be perfectly frank.
I have never been a governess, but circumstances render it necessary
that I should do something for a livelihood, and therefore I have
reckoned up my talents and offer them for your inspection. I am a good
linguist and musician. I have had a splendid education and enjoyed
many social advantages. The death of my husband has left me almost
destitute, and as I must turn my wits and brains to account I have been
studying those columns in the daily press which are specially provided
for the poor and needy.

"Do I seem frivolous? I assure you I am not. Only if I don't laugh I
must cry--I am so nearly heartbroken, and so very, very poor. I don't
know why I write so frankly. This is not at all the sort of letter that
applicants for a governess's situation usually indite. But, as I began
by saying, I will be perfectly frank and open with you. I am conscious
of disqualifications, and yet they may not seem so to you. I am a
widow, and have one child--a boy. The fact of motherhood may present
itself to you as a certificate of merit in the management of your
little girl. Only a mother rightly understands childhood and can blend
authority with comprehension. In any case, this is my story, and here
is my application. Distance renders a personal interview impossible.
I am at present in Dublin; you, I gather, in an English county.
However, I send you my photograph, and it may answer the purpose of
introduction. I regret to hear you are an invalid. That, of course,
adds to my responsibilities. I say 'my.' It seems to me almost that I
am taking your hand and saying 'Madam, I hope I shall suit you.' If I
do not the world is wide, and, I suppose, there is a place for me in it.

"Yours very truly,

"Kathleen Monteath.

"P.S.--My little boy will go to school, of course. He is nine years
old. I should only expect to see him once a year, in my holiday time.

"K.M."


Mrs. Haughton read this epistle at breakfast-time, a week after her
deliberation and its following resolve.

She had received many applications for the post of governess. A salary
of £100 a year to educate a child of six is not offered every day.

As she laid down this frankly characteristic effusion she smiled. "I am
half-inclined to try her," she said aloud.

Her husband looked up from the newspaper he was reading.

"Try whom?" he asked.

She passed the letter across the table. He glanced over it.

"What an odd production. Frank, indeed! Irish, that's plain to see. Do
you think it wise for both attendant and instructress to boast of the
same nationality?"

"I think it is of no importance. Connor is certainly an excellent nurse
and most trustworthy. Already she is bringing Val into something like
order."

He took up the letter again. "What does she mean by this? 'I regret to
hear you are an invalid.' Did you state that in your advertisement?"

She colored faintly. "Yes; it is true in a way. I have never felt
strong since Val's birth; and sometimes I think----"

He dropped the paper. "Well," he cried, "what is it? Why did you never
tell me?"

"Because there is no need for you to be anxious," she said, with a
smile. "If I like to lie on couches and drive instead of walk, it may
be as much laziness as invalidism."

"You must come to town. You must see a doctor!" he exclaimed. "Now that
I look at you, you are paler and thinner than you should be."

"I shall not see any doctor, Lawrence," she answered firmly. "I assure
you I know my own health and my own constitution better than any
stranger could know them. The--the doctor who attended me at Val's
birth cautioned me about--after results. I need only be careful. Come,
don't look so grave. Let us examine Mrs. Monteath's photograph. Here it
is."

He came over to her side and studied the picture she placed on the
table.

It represented a handsome woman of some thirty years, with smiling lips
and large frank eyes and a beautiful figure.

"I like her," exclaimed Nell. "She is just what her letter says. I feel
as if I heard her saying the words: 'Madam, I hope I shall suit you.'"

"It is a fine face," said Lawrence thoughtfully. "Bright, too--like her
letter, as you say." He sighed and put the photograph down. "And God
knows," he added, "we need some brightness here."

Mrs. Haughton made no answer. She folded the letter and replaced it in
its envelope.

"I will write to her and ask her to come to us for a month," she said.
"Of course, paying her expenses. Perhaps, she may not care to stay. The
house is dull, as you say, and she may have been used to society before
this trouble came."

Did she think at all of a time when she, too, had basked in the
sunshine of natural enjoyment and innocent pleasures? Did she throw
a regret to bright days and hours from which she had voluntarily cut
herself adrift?

If Mrs. Haughton's thoughts were full of regrets, it was not apparent
to the eyes that watched her face and read in its tranquil calm only an
assurance necessary to his own selfish peace.

"I am anxious for Val's governess to be thoroughly trustworthy and of
responsible age," continued Mrs. Haughton. "No young, inexperienced
girl would do. I--I am almost sure, Lawrence, that Mrs. Monteath is the
very person I want."

"I hope so, I am sure," he said, and he walked over to the window and
stood looking out.

"How goes on the book?" asked his wife, as she too rose and gathered up
her letters.

"I have got no further than notes yet," he answered. "In an important
work, a work that embraces such a vast subject and its many branches,
one must collect sufficient materials before one can commence to write
even the opening chapter."

"Have you thought of a title for it?"

"Yes." His eyes were still on the lawn, where the autumn leaves had
drifted. The falling rain wove a dull network between him and the
trees, where the drenched birds perched in sodden discomfort.

"May one ask it?" said Nell playfully.

"I shall call it 'The Evolution of Crime,'" he answered.

Her face blanched. She steadied herself against the table and stared at
him with wide, startled eyes. Then, with a strong effort, she recovered
her composure, and with no further word left the room.

He, recognising her absence, walked slowly to his study--a small,
oak-panelled room opening into the library, with wide windows looking
over the park, and beyond, to where the swelling hills were covered
with a forest of pine and fir.

His table was littered with papers and books of reference. The heavy
brass inkstand looked important as the fire shone on its polished
surface. He drew a chair up before the glowing logs and lit a cigar.
His brow darkened, his moody gaze rested on the bright flames with
brooding discontent.

"If it had all come to me, or if it had only come sooner," he thought.
"To be the recipient of another's bounty is a sorry position. To play
second fiddle in a place like this--where everyone's pedigree is known,
and where, at any moment, popularity means danger. No--the safe path is
the best. Fortunately I have no ambition. The limited triumphs of the
county squire are not in my line. All the spirit has been crushed out
of me by those hateful years. In every stranger's face I seem to see
accusation or suspicion."

He rose abruptly and paused before the scattered sheets on his
writing-table.

"Yet one must do something," he muttered. "Perhaps I shall find a
savage satisfaction in this work--in unearthing the sins of justice,
the weakness of laws, the baleful influence of criminal punishment--in
proving how oft and how cruelly wisdom has miscarried--how many
innocent victims have cried to dumb walls and senseless gaolers for
redress. Perhaps--who knows? On the other hand, the task lashes old
memories to life, embitters me afresh, and barbs my pen to pierce where
it should only point."

Again he seated himself--again relapsed into moody thought. "Other
men have enjoyed life; have drunk its wine and rejoiced in its youth.
What sort of youth had I? Hard, sordid, unloved, unloving. And then
the struggle with fortune--the dread of poverty for her--the incessant
toil, the wretched doling out of every sixpence, and still that spectre
of debt at each year's end. Was it any wonder that I fell before
temptation? It seemed so easy--so possible. With anyone else there
would have been no chance of discovery; but with me--my cursed luck
again."

He threw the cigar aside and once more commenced that restless pacing.

"I must live it down. There is nothing else for me to do. Other men
have their clubs, their friends, their amusements. I--what have I? A
morbid horror of the past--a dread that some chance word or memory will
point scorn's finger at my head. I have scarce touched 30 years, but my
hair is white, my cheek furrowed, my soul dead."

His head sank on his breast. The dark waters of despair and bitterness
engulfed him once again. There was no comfort for him in his inner
loneliness. Minutes turned to hours, hours struck their warning note;
yet still he sat brooding and motionless, forgetful of everything
except the shame that a chance thought had fired to life among the
blackened ashes of memory.

* * * * * *

The child had tried Mary Connor's patience to its utmost that morning.
It was too wet to go out of doors. She refused her playthings, and
nothing would induce her to remain in one place for the space of five
minutes. Another freak had seized her also. She would only speak
French, and Mary particularly objected to what she called "such haythin
nonsense." Fortunately, when affairs were almost at a crisis her mother
appeared on the scene. She held in her hand the photograph of Mrs.
Monteath.

"Come here, Val," she said. "I want to tell you about this lady who is
coming to see you."

She took a low chair by the fire and the child approached cautiously.

"Is it the mademoiselle who will spy?" she asked.

Mrs. Haughton flushed angrily. "I forbid you to use that word," she
said.

"It is not my word," said the imp. "If it is not a proper word, a nice
word, why did papa say it? He was angry, too."

She stood peering at the photograph, just out of reach of her mother's
hand.

"Oh! mais 'c'est charmante. Oh! la belle dame!" she exclaimed.
"How soon is it she arrives, p'tite mere?"

"She will not arrive at all unless you promise to be good and obedient,
and learn your lessons," answered her mother.

"Oh, but I shall. I like her if she laugh like that. You are so
grave, you all here. Papa he never laughs, nor you. And Mary--quoi
donc. How is it with Mary? She pretend to be cross. She cannot
comprehend--make sense of what I say. Is this new mademoiselle of
France?"

"She is not mademoiselle at all. She is madame. She has also a little
boy."

"A little boy!" cried Val eagerly. "Oh! la! la! She will bring him here
with her to play with me, to learn with me? I shall not be alone any
more."

She commenced one of her special evolutions to attest the delight this
new arrangement afforded her.

"Sure, was there ever the likes of it," murmured Mary, in the
background.

"If you will be quiet and come and sit on my knee, as I asked you, I
will tell you all about this lady," said Mrs. Haughton.

"The lady!" Val gave a contemptuous twirl. "Oh, she--c'est
inferieure; it is of no consequence. It is the little boy I must
hear of. Where is his picture? Has it not arrived aussi--also? Oh,
I must see his picture. Will you ask the mademoiselle to send it, so I
see for myself how he is like? A boy--up p'tit garcon. But that is
good, maman. I shall then have someone to talk to--play with--fight
at. Oh, it will be si drôle, si drôle."

Her mother listened in despair as she rattled off these sentences at
railroad speed.

"The little boy will not come," she said. "He is at school."

In her heart she sorely regretted the inadvertent announcement of the
said boy's existence. But then one never knew what Val would do or say.

She paused now in a pirouette and faced her mother wrathfully. "At
school, what then? Let him come away from school. I want to see him.
Ecoute donc." She raised a rebellious finger to emphasise her words.
"If he does not come I will plague the mademoiselle so that she cannot
stay here. I will learn nothing--mais c'est vrai--rien de tout. I
can be stupid if I so please."

"Valerie, you will break my heart with your wilfulness," said her
mother, despairingly. "I am--tired, ill, worn out; and you are more
than I can stand. Sometimes I think you are possessed by some evil
spirit. You are not a bit like a Christian child--like the children I
have seen and know."

"I am good--sometimes," answered Val. "And I do pray to the p'tit
Jesu to make me so--every night. It is so, Mary, is it not? Perhaps
He does not hear me," she added thoughtfully. "There must be so many
little children all praying at the same time and asking the same thing.
So--some of them He does not listen to--or else He does not want to
make them good. If I do not become good soon, p'tite mère, I shall
not ask Him any more. It is that He does not wish it."

Irish Mary crossed herself with righteous horror. The little countesses
had never behaved like this. What was one to do with such a child?




CHAPTER VI.

Mrs. Haughton did not write the letter she had intended. What she did
write was a cordial invitation to Mrs. Monteath to come on a month's
visit and bring her little boy with her. They could then decide as to
mutual suitability. It was quite an unconventional proceeding in the
way of engaging a governess, but Mrs. Haughton neither knew of nor
cared for conventionalities. Her life had been a thing apart from them
so long that they did not occur to her as important.

Mrs. Monteath answered the invitation with an unhesitating acceptance
for her boy and herself.

"You can send him away," she concluded, "if you do not want him. He is
good enough as boys go, but a house is quieter without him--that I must
say."

Lawrence Haughton was somewhat annoyed at the threatened invasion. His
small daughter, however, soon reduced him to order, and the reflection
that he need not concern himself about the visitors speedily restored
his equanimity. He was beginning to find that his position held certain
duties and responsibilities he could not evade. He had a land steward,
certainly--but even a land steward cannot do everything necessary for
an estate of importance.

His wife relegated all matters connected with farms and leases to him,
pleading ill-health as an excuse. He liked the new sense of importance
attached to such powers, liked the respect paid to him by tenants and
laborers, the giving of orders, and suggestions. The steward, Anthony
Hibbs, by name, had grown old in the service of the Haughtons, though
he was to outward appearance hale and strong and good for twenty years'
more work, as he declared. He was not particularly impressed by the new
master of the manor. He liked a man who would ride straight to hounds,
be out all weathers, and have a pleasant word for all, rich, poor, or
vagrant. Mr. Haughton was, in his opinion, standoffish and stiff--too
much concerned about his own dignity and too little about other
people's comfort. Besides, he would not see that the property needed
improvement. His nearest neighbor, Lord Hallington, had done wonderful
things for his tenants--built them model cottages and a model school;
and above all, a model alehouse, which was highly appreciated. But the
manor was quite behind the times, and Anthony Hibbs pointed this out
regretfully, only to receive for answer, "It will do well enough."

"Maybe it's not having a son," reflected the steward, to whom
hereditary rights were all important. "The little lady is well enough
and a picture of beauty, but those who have property don't need
daughters."

The "little lady" indeed was making herself known to all and sundry
without respect of persons. She and Mary Connor drove in a little
pony-cart every day when the weather was fine, and the child attracted
notice wherever she went by reason of her brilliant beauty and her
absolute fearlessness.

Some of the country folk pronounced her talk "a bit outlandish," and
were inclined to pity her on the score of bringing up; but with her
usual quickness Val dropped her foreign tricks in homely company,
seeing they interfered with a due appreciation of herself.

Having won her way with regard to the "boy" companion, she was on her
best behaviour during the week that intervened between the invitation
and its acceptance. But her little brain was busy weaving schemes
for his amusement and entertainment, and possibilities of exquisite
mischief floated through her mind as park and orchard, farms and
granaries, poultry-yards and pigstyes presented themselves in the light
of future playgrounds.

When the all-important day arrived at last she was in a fever of
expectation. In all her life hitherto she had never had a companion of
her own age. Her mother had kept her entirely with herself, with the
result that her ideas and opinions were far in advance of her years.

Mrs. Monteath was expected about 5 o'clock, and Val had herself dressed
in her scarlet frock and hurried down to the hall, where her mother was
reclining in a cushioned lounging-chair.

The tea-table was drawn up near the fire, and the glow of crimson
shaded lamps and ruddy flames was reflected in the antique silver
tea-service. Great bowls of chrysanthemums and autumn leaves and
berries made rich spots of color against the dark panelled walls, and
family portraits stared sombrely from the same background.

It was a charming scene, and one rendered doubly so by contrast with
the chill mist and dull grey clouds of the world without.

At least Kathleen Monteath thought so as the door opened to admit her.
She paused a moment on the threshold, taking in with one quick glance
the luxury and comfort and artistic beauty so suddenly revealed. Then
she swept forward, holding her boy by the hand.

"How can I thank you?" she said, and there were tears in her eyes as
she stooped over the slight figure lying back on the cushions. "I need
not ask who you are," she went on rapidly. Her voice was rich and
full-toned, her whole personality expressive. "And is this your little
girl? Barry, shake hands with Mrs. Haughton, and say 'How do you do?'
to the young lady."

"Oh, I like you," exclaimed Val suddenly, and she threw her arms about
the boy's neck in a manner that evidently discomposed him.

Mrs. Monteath laughed, Mrs. Haughton looked surprised. The boy
colored and struggled in a boyish fashion. But the ice was broken.
No formality could exist where Kathlean Monteath was. She threw off
her furs and drew up a chair to the fire and rattled off remarks,
exclamations, and descriptions with a rapidity that left her hostess
speechless. Yet Nell felt irresistibly attracted by her. She was so
handsome--so brilliant--so full of life and vivacity. Her very presence
was magnetic, and the frail and friendless woman whose whole life had
been burdened with tragedy revived like a drooping flower beneath this
invigorating influence.

"Let me pour out tea and wait upon you," pleaded the new arrival. "I
like to be useful, and you look so very delicate. You really must let
me be of some service."

"If you would kindly ring the bell?" said Nell. "I waited for your
arrival, and there are some hot cakes to come in for the children."

Mrs. Monteath was a little surprised that no liveried footman
appeared--only a neat parlormaid, who placed the teapot on the table
and set the cakes on a brass tripod before the fire. However, she
poured out the tea and did the honors as if she had known Nell all
her life. Yet it would have been impossible to take offence or look
upon her actions as presumptuous. Kathleen Monteath was really a
large-hearted woman, full of kindliness and goodwill. To anything
weak or sickly or helpless she expanded immediately, her bountiful
loving-kindness overflowing all conventional restraints and taking the
sufferer into a warm and ready-made embrace for no other reason but
that there was suffering.

It was impossible to resist her. After the first moment of surprise
Nell made no effort to do so, but laughed and talked and listened as
for years she had never done to anyone from the world external.

The children meanwhile fraternised in their own fashion, sitting side
by side at a small low table, which Val always appropriated to her own
tea service, and eating muffins and tea cakes with the natural healthy
appetite of their years.

Mrs. Monteath wondered that the master of the house did not present
himself, but forebore a question on that matter, being indeed bent
on studying her new surroundings and overthrowing any barrier of
the cold English prejudice she had half expected. She soon assured
herself there was none to overthrow. Mrs. Haughton had no dignity
and self-importance. Kathleen Monteath placed her in the position of
placid, gentle invalid, and saw herself enthroned as an important
member of the household. In a space of time that a less quick
imagination would have occupied in mere question and response, she
learnt that Mrs. Haughton had but recently entered into possession,
that she knew little of the county, less of her neighbors, and seemed
inclined to relegate her position to that of a recluse.

Kathleen Monteath felt that such a proceeding was altogether
ridiculous. What was the use of possessing a beautiful house and a
position of importance if one did not also enjoy their advantages?
She resolved, however, to defer expostulation or judgment until
she had made the acquaintance of her host. She had never dreamt of
placing herself in any position but that of guest after five minutes'
conversation with Elinor Haughton.

"Would you like to see your room? We dine at half-past 7," said Nell at
last.

She rose at the same time. The soft folds of her olive velvet tea-gown
swept around her slight figure. She looked frail and "petite" beside
the Juno-like proportions of the handsome Irishwoman.

"I should indeed; but don't you trouble to come upstairs."

"Oh, I am not quite such an invalid," smiled Nell. "And I should like
to see that everything is comfortable. I have given your little boy a
dressing-room opening out of your bedroom."

"He will come with me now," interposed Val eagerly. "I want to show
to him my toys and my big rocker-horse, and the steam train I did ask
papa--mon pere, to order from London, because I had no boy toys at
my hand. Come, Barry, you do not desire to go with your mamma, is it
so?"

"Not I," said the boy. "I'd rather see the train."

They ran off up the great staircase, watched by their mothers' eyes.

"How soon children understand one another. And how quaintly your little
girl speaks. It's the prettiest thing I ever heard," said Mrs. Monteath.

"She has been abroad so much that French is quite as familiar to her as
English."

"Abroad. How much that word conveys. The happy months I too have spent
abroad. France, Italy, Spain--I know them all. Ah, Mrs. Haughton, a
widow's loss means more than widowhood--the good things of life--its
pleasures and alleviations."

She sighed deeply and Nell's pitying glance spoke sympathy.

"You have had a great sorrow, I fear," she said gently.

"Great--no words can express it," answered her visitor. "I shall walk
in darkness all my days henceforward. The shadow of the grave is over
all that made my life sunshine."

"The shadow may pass one day. Life cannot always give us gloom. And you
have your child to live for."

"That is true, and I love him dearly, but can any child make one's
life? You are a happy woman, Mrs. Haughton. You need not answer that
question."

Nell did not answer it. Her pale face grew a shade paler; at least
so it seemed to those observant eyes. But she only hurried along the
softly-carpeted corridor, and stopping before a door threw it open, and
signed to her companion to enter.

Kathleen Monteath gave an exclamation of rapture.

"Oh, you are too good," she cried, as her fine eyes roved over the
wonders of upholstery, the harmonious blending of color and luxury and
convenience which the apartment expressed.

She stood and gazed with clasped hands and quivering lips.

"You are treating me as a guest--not a governess," she exclaimed.

"I am treating you as the friend I hope you will become," said Nell
gently.

Mrs. Monteath's eyes turned from her luxurious surroundings to the
pale, uplifted face beside her. A wave of color spread from cheek to
brow.

"Indeed," she said, "it would be the hardest task in the world not
to be a friend to one so generous and so kind. And I am only a
stranger. Why----" she broke off abruptly, and then crossed over to the
fireplace, where the wood logs blazed and glowed in warm and welcoming
glow--"you know nothing of me," she continued rapidly. "You took me at
my own valuation, so to speak; not a reference, not a question. For all
you know I may be an adventuress--a woman who ought to have no place
here in your house by your child's side."

"I never thought of questioning your sincerity," said Elinor Haughton
gravely. "When I read your letter I read it as the appeal of a woman in
trouble to--to a woman who has known trouble also. I, too, have been
poor and friendless. I have known the world's scant mercies. Should
such knowledge teach no lesson?"

"It rarely teaches the lesson of such noble charity as yours,"
exclaimed Kathleen Monteath, turning her tear-filled eyes to the
pitying gaze bent on her face. "Usually it hardens or embitters--or
leaves one reckless."

"We will not talk of such results," said Nell gently. "We have escaped
them in our own instance, I hope--their memory or their possibility
need not set us apart. It is an odd thing, but in all my life I have
never had a woman friend. Your letter drew me to you in the strangest
way. But you are your letter embodied. I felt that at once. I could not
treat you as a stranger. Surely you saw----"

"I saw the kindest, dearest, best little woman it has ever been my lot
to meet," exclaimed Kathleen Monteath passionately. "May God bless you
for what you have done this day. You do not recognise, yourself, how
much it means, or may mean; from what shipwreck of soul and body, you
may have saved a fellow-sister. But you have made her your bond-slave
for ever. Perhaps some day she may be able to prove it."

Dramatic emotion was so little in Elinor Haughton's line that she
shrank back from the embracing arms, the tempestuous words.

But only for a moment. The spell this larger, fuller nature exercised
over her own swept her once again into its charmed circle. She returned
the kiss, though somewhat timidly, and then, murmuring that her guest
must need rest after her long journey, she left the room.

*  *  *  *  *  *

For long Kathleen Monteath stood where she had left her, gazing into
the fire, perfectly motionless. With the closing of the door a sudden
apathy fell upon her. Hands, eyes, face, all grew still and blind; dumb
of outward expression. "If she knew me as the woman I am," she was
thinking. "If she could read me as I can read that transparent soul
of hers--if she guessed how, or why, I have done this--would she have
called me--friend?"




CHAPTER VII.

A splendid vision in sombre draperies swept into the dining-room,
dwarfing her hostess both in figure and attire. Elinor Haughton was not
a woman calculated to show off dress, and always attired herself in the
simplest and quietest style compatible with good taste.

Lawrence stared at the beautiful stranger whose dazzling throat and
arms showed milk-white against black silk, guiltless of ornament or
flower, and regally independent of either adornment. He greeted her
with somewhat distant politeness. He scarcely approved of such a
queenly personage for the role of governess. Like his wife, however, he
soon found himself under the spell of Kathleen Monteath's fascination.

It was not what she said, but the way she said it, that made every
topic she chose either amusing or interesting. She had a store of
expressions that were novel, and a picturesque method of treating even
trivial details that made her excellent company. So gay and pleasant a
dinner had never been known since husband and wife had arrived at the
Manor. To both a third person came as a relief to a situation daily
becoming more strained. Frankness between them was a thing of the past.
The cloud, "no bigger than a man's hand," was already assuming larger
and darker proportions. The endeavor to keep past memories and past
events out of their conversation was a perpetual drag on their liberty
of speech. Therefore Kathleen Monteath's flow of talk and light jests
and witty remarks were doubly welcome.

"Do we have the children in at dessert time, or is that against the
rules?" she enquired when the well-served meal drew near its conclusion.

Elinor Haughton smiled involuntarily at that "we." The new guest had
very speedily enrolled herself as one of the family.

"Oh, yes," she answered. "Val always comes down when she is good. I
wonder how they have got on together?" she added.

"Barry is a dear boy," said his mother. "He is not used to girls, but I
do not think he will be rough with your little one. What a lovely child
she is. You should have her portrait painted in that scarlet frock."

The children entered upon that remark, Val in white, and her new
companion in a neat knickerbocker suit of black serge.

She led him up to her father. "This is the boy," she said. "He is
called Barry. It is a funny name, but ca m'est égal. I like him. His
name--what does that matter?"

"Nothing of course," said her father. "How do you do, Barry? You won't
let this imp bully you. She'll try to."

The imp calmly indicated a chair next her own as a seat for the boy,
and gave him her opinion as to the relative merits of apples and
candied fruit.

Barry was a very handsome boy, with his mother's regular features and
dark blue eyes. At first he seemed somewhat embarrassed by his position
and the strange faces, but Val's incessant chatter put him more at his
ease. Their elders watched them with evident amusement. Mrs. Monteath's
keen eyes, however, noted that there was a difference between the
attitude of father and mother towards Val; that Mr. Haughton's position
towards the child was more observant than authoritative. She treated
him in a cool patronising fashion, amusing enough to a spectator, yet
savoring somewhat of insubordination.

If he issued a command the child instinctively turned to her mother; in
any plan or desire it was also to her she appealed and on whom the onus
of the decision rested. Slight things apparently, but Kathleen Monteath
was by nature an observer of trifles, and nothing seemed unimportant
that helped her judgment of character. It struck her also that Lawrence
Haughton was not quite at ease with the child--that he listened to her
random chatter with vague apprehension, as if he were never certain
what she might choose to say.

When she accompanied her hostess to the drawing-room the children
came also. Barry at his mother's request sang some Irish songs to her
accompaniment. He had a lovely clear treble, one of those beautiful
boy-voices whose short-lived perfection is the despair of choirmasters.
Val was enchanted. Music was the passion of her soul; and that the
"boy" should share it and exemplify it in this fashion filled her with
a sort of awe.

Mrs. Monteath treated the accomplishment lightly. "All Irish people
are musical," she said. "They have the soul of it even if the outward
expression is denied."

"Do you sing yourself?" asked Elinor.

"Oh! yes. Only Irish songs, though. I am not accomplished enough for
any other sort. I'll give you 'Kathleen Mavourneen,' if you like?"

"Oh! do. I love singing, and I never hear it."

"That is surely your own fault," exclaimed Mrs. Monteath in surprise.
"In London or Paris you can hear the best music the world has to offer."

"Of course--but my health forbids much excitement," said Elinor, in
slight confusion.

"And here?" enquired her guest. "Have you no neighbors who are musical?"

"I know nothing of my neighbors as yet," answered Elinor, coldly. "We
have been a very short time at the Manor. Scarcely a month."

"A month! Gracious! If you had been in an Irish county a month you
and your neighbors would have known pretty well everything about one
another."

She seated herself at the Broadwood grand and ran her white fingers
lightly over the keys. The children withdrew into a corner to examine
an illustrated Don Quixote.

"I suppose they are all well off, or titled, the people about?" went on
Mrs. Monteath.

"Oh, yes. There are excellent families, but the distances are great,
and I am really not up to entertaining or being entertained. I like
quiet--and so does my husband. His tastes are literary, and he spends a
great deal of time in his study."

"Is it not rather a dull life--for you?" enquired Mrs. Monteath. "You
are too young--and, may I say it, too pretty, to be buried alive in
this fashion. But I suppose I have no business to say so, I forget. You
are so kind to me that I feel less a visitor than a privileged friend."

"I am glad of that," said Elinor earnestly. "You may speak as frankly
as you please. And now, I am waiting for that song."

It was worth waiting for, she told herself, when the power and pathos
of that glorious contralto filled the room. It drew Lawrence Haughton
from his wine and his brooding thoughts, it held Val spellbound. And
one other person seemed fascinated by its charm, and stood white and
wide-eyed at the drawing-room door gazing at the singer. That person
was Mary Connor.

With the last notes Mrs. Monteath turned. In doing so, she faced the
door and the motionless figure standing there. The intent gaze fixed
upon her face somewhat surprised her. She glanced half-enquiringly at
her hostess.

"That is Mary Connor--Val's nurse. She is a countrywoman of yours,"
explained Elinor.

"The name tells me that," said Kathleen Monteath, sending her charming
smile in Mary's direction. "It is odd you should have an Irish nurse
and--an Irish governess," she added.

"It is a coincidence," answered Mrs. Haughton.

"From what part of Ireland are you?" asked Mrs. Monteath of Mary.

"From County Waterford, ma'am," she answered.

"Oh, is that so?" There was just the faintest ripple of surprise
or--was it apprehension?--in the beautiful face. Then she turned away.
"If Val is going to bed, Barry had better go also," she observed. "I
will take him upstairs."

The boy rose at once. He was apparently more obedient than Val.

"Say good-night to Mr. and Mrs. Haughton," continued his mother. "And
thank them for so kindly asking you here."

"We don't need thanks," exclaimed Elinor, as she bent down and kissed
the boy's uplifted face. "I am glad to have a playmate for Val. She
knows no children of her own age and she grows sadly old-fashioned."

"We will go upstairs together," announced that young lady, refusing to
be parted from her new friend, and accompanying him in his 'good-night'
tour. "I wish you were to sleep in my room. Maman comes to tell
me stories--every night. Do you like stories. And does madame, your
mère, tell you of giants and fairies, and the great geni that came
out of a bottle like smoke?"

"No," said the boy. "I've read them though, those stories."

"Ma foi, you can read then. Read for yourself? It will be as good as
that maman tells me the stories."

"Come, Miss Val. I am waiting," said Mary Connor suddenly.

"I come. You always are in such a great hurry. Bon soir, maman; bon
soir, p'tit papa. Is it not that I have been good, all that it is of
the best to-night? Not one scold all the evening."

"There will be one scold if you keep Mary waiting much longer," said
her mother, laughing.

The children ran up the stairs, their hands linked. Slowly the two
women followed, the nurse a step behind the visitor.

At the corridor Mrs. Monteath suddenly turned. "You--remembered me?"
she asked.

"It wouldn't be so easy to forget a face and a figure like yours,
ma'am," answered Mary. "The name, of course, puzzled me a bit, but I
suppose it's to be explained?"

"Nothing--is to be explained," said Mrs. Monteath, in a low hard voice.
"There is no reason for it."

"Does the mistress know?"

"She knows as much as is necessary. Mary Connor, you are my
countrywoman; you have no reason to bear me ill-will. Will you
keep silent about--about what you learnt. If I am driven from here
it means ruin--starvation--death, perhaps. You would not have a
fellow-creature's death on your soul, Mary?"

"'Deed, ma'am, I would not; but all the same it goes hard with me to be
deceiving the mistress. And she so kind and trusting."

"I am doing her no harm, nor anyone else; of that you may be sure. But
I cannot talk more. Come to my room later--make some excuse--I will
tell you the truth, of--of all that happened. In the meantime promise
you will say nothing."

"It's not meself would harm a fellow-creature, leave alone one of me
own country, and me own birthplace. You may rest happy for that, ma'am."

"Thank you. I am sure you mean it. But come to me as I asked--unpacking
will serve as an excuse. It is only right you should know the truth."

Without waiting for reply she entered her room. The communicating door
was open, and Val and Barry were chasing each other to and fro, and
taking flying leaps over the little brass bedstead. She stood a moment
and watched them.

"Even here," she said to herself. "Even here! Can I never escape? Is
that wretched scandal to follow me wherever I go? Powers above send
help to my invention. What lie am I to tell this woman that will seem
most like--truth?"




CHAPTER VIII.

It was close on midnight. Without the rain fell heavily and the wind
shook the loosened leaves in showers upon the ground.

Kathleen Monteath sat before a table drawn near to the fire, reading
the pages of her own life. The book was a journal she had kept by fits
and starts from girlhood. There were breaks in it and intervals, and
loosely jotted notes that would have meant nothing to an outsider. But
to her the whole history was a living, palpitating record--a living,
passionate outburst of the nature it revealed.

She took a pen and added a date on the blank page before her and
commenced to write--


"This date means a new record--the beginning of a new life. I
grasped at a chance. I wrote on an impulse to accept Mrs. Haughton's
advertisement for a governess. I--a governess! Well, Fate has led me
many a dance in my time, and none stranger than the one which has
whirled me over sea and land to this deadly dull corner of Wiltshire--a
corner so remote, so unknown to me that I expected--nothing.

"My host and hostess appear to me as very strange people. They are
rich, yet their establishment is conducted on so simple a basis as
to lead one to suspect meanness. She is a weak, gentle creature, who
looks as if she had known some heavy trouble at some period of her
early life. She is young, without anything of youth--its gaiety, its
inconsequence, its aptitude for pleasure. She pleads ill-health. I say,
pleads, for though fragile she does not look ill. Her husband--what
shall I say of Lawrence Haughton? He puzzles me. He looks like a man
who is hiding a secret. He is never natural or spontaneous. He, too, is
young in years, yet his hair is grey and his eyes speak of an unhappy
soul. This house and property belong to his wife, yet she gives him all
due as master. They puzzle me, these people, as I said. I am determined
to find out everything about them. I am here as a guest--on trial. I
could not have remained in Ireland any longer. In half an hour I knew
my position was secure as far as the mistress of the establishment was
concerned; as for the master--I can snap my fingers. At present I will
not speak of him. The child threatens trouble. But at present I can
leave her also out of this galère. There is Barry. Fancy a governess
bringing her own child with her. If that does not explain my audacity
and Elinor Haughton's weakness nothing will."


* * * * * *

She paused here and laid down the pen to gaze long and thoughtfully at
the fire. An odd smile broke suddenly the firm lines of her beautiful
mouth. She seized her pen once more and wrote across the page.


"THE LIE CIRCUMSPECT."

"There," she said softly. "I have to depend on that. I think it will
hold. But it is an odd coincidence to find here, of all houses and all
places, a woman who knows me, and--my scandal. I wonder how much the
old countess told? She had a bitter tongue. She would not spare me, or,
indeed, any woman for the matter of that."

She traced a few more lines, then read over what she had written. She
blotted and closed the book. Her glance wandered over the luxurious
bed-chamber, the numberless appointments for comfort and convenience.

"It is the best chance," she said, "that life has ever offered me. And
if I make my footing secure it means a theme for years to come. And
Barry, too, will be safe. Why, if I played my cards well that spoilt
little madam would refuse to part with him. If there was a decent
school in the neighborhood I could keep him with me. I must find that
out. I have a month to lay my plans. I have closed Mary Connor's mouth.
There is no one else to fear. Elinor Haughton is too weak, and her
husband----. If his secret is not mine before the month is out, then I
am not the woman who has faced the law and baffled lawyers on her own
account."

* * * * * *

She locked the book away in her desk and proceeded to make her toilet
for the night. Before going to bed she opened the door leading into the
adjoining dressing-room. The boy was sound asleep. She stood a moment
looking down at him. The hard lines of her face softened, her eyes grew
misty.

"If it were not for him," she thought, and suddenly sank on her knees
and buried her face in his coverlet. "I have sworn to fight the world,
to live down the past. But I am only a woman after all--a creature
swayed by every gust of passion and of impulse. My heart is cold and
empty, but for him."

A sob broke suddenly on the stillness. The boy stirred and turned
suddenly on his pillow. She held her breath and kept quite still till
he slept again. Then she rose and stole back to her own room.

The dying firelight alone illumined it. She had put out the candles
long before.

She went over to the window and drew up the blind. A misty moon
struggling through drifting clouds lit up the walks, the leaf-strewn
lawn, and the dripping elm trees.

"It is the sort of place I have always wanted to stay at," she
reflected. "Dull, no doubt, but surely safe. Oh! heaven grant
I have fallen on a little space of rest and peace. I need them
sorely. Still, it is almost too good a thing to have had for
the asking. What a chance! To think that it was balanced by
desperation--starvation--perhaps prison or suicide."

Elinor Haughton had closed her eyes that night in thankfulness,
telling herself that a friend and companion had come into her lonely
life who would brighten all its days. And Lawrence Haughton felt that
his pulses could once more quicken and thrill to a woman's charm as
he recalled her beauty and her voice. And Val, dreaming fantastic
dreams in her quiet nursery, lived over once again the delight of the
"boy's" companionship. And Mary Connor, telling her beads and hearing
the clocks strike for many wakeful hours, murmured again and again,
"The saints between us and all harm. I hope her story was true. And
neither priest nor chapel within a day's journey that I might ease my
conscience and ask advice, and she wheedling the promise out of me, so
that I can't go back on my word! If it's true, sure she's to be pitied
entirely, but by the same token if it's not--well, Mary Connor's the
fool for believing her."

So the darkness descended and slumber wrapped the household in its dumb
helplessness, and each heart hid its secret, and the burden of regret
pressed less heavily through those unconscious hours.

Yet the element of tragedy lurked beside them all, waiting only a word,
a chance, an accident, to hurl peace to the winds of torment and mock
the assuring confidence that whispered safety.

* * * * * *

Kathleen Monteath met host and hostess as if they were old friends.
It was impossible to resist that charm of manner, so frankly cordial,
so delightfully at ease with itself and its surroundings, that is
the secret of Irish popularity. Neither Elinor nor her husband
could stand against that charm. They were full of plans for their
guest's entertainment, and she was made free of the house and park
and carriages and horses as long as her visit lasted. Day by day
strengthened her fascination and held all about her in thrall. Even
Val succumbed. It seemed to Elinor that this splendid gifted person
was conferring an obligation upon them by accepting the position of
governess and she said as much before the month was half-spent.

Mrs. Monteath uttered a warm disclaimer. "It is what I applied for,"
she said. "It stands between me and penury. Without some sort of
employment I must starve."

There was no further question after that as to her remaining.

Meanwhile the devotion of Val to the "boy" was becoming a serious
factor in the situation. They were inseparable companions, Barry
confessing that for a "girl" she was more than creditable in all manner
of enterprise and adventure, such as the country about afforded, and
Anthony Hibbs encouraged.

But as the weeks flew by the question of Barry's schooling threatened a
separation. Not that he need go till after the Christmas vacation, his
mother hinted, but what was to be done with him meanwhile?

"Why not let the children do their lessons together?" suggested Elinor.

It was so desirable a plan that Mrs. Monteath felt it her duty to
oppose it. But the opposition was of a kind to enforce arguments in its
favor. Sooner than seem ungracious Mrs. Monteath gave in.

"It is only a temporary arrangement," she said. "I feel I am too easily
persuaded and you are too generous. Never let anyone say in my presence
again that English people are cold and uncharitable. Such kindness as
you have shown is a national vindication."

"It is a pleasure--a real pleasure, to me to have you here," said
Elinor Haughton warmly. "And I really see no reason why you should be
parted from the boy. There must be some means of educating him in the
neighborhood. I must enquire."

"When are you going to return the visits you have received?" asked Mrs.
Monteath later on that day, when she was driving Elinor along the long
level road that led to Lord Hallington's model village.

"It is not a duty for which I have much inclination," she murmured.

"But it would look so--so odd if you did not; as if there was some
reason."

Elinor's pale cheek flushed suddenly. "Of course I shall call later
on," she said. "But we are not going to entertain--at least not this
year. I see no need for haste."

Mrs. Monteath had noticed the flush and drew her own conclusions. She
sighed. "How strangely Fortune showers her gifts," she said gravely.
"Now I, if I were a rich woman, would love to fill my house with
people--to give splendid entertainments--never to be without company,
life, gaiety, amusement. And you, who can do all this, seem more
inclined for a hermit's life than to be a leader of society."

"It is a matter of disposition, I suppose. I am not cut out by nature
for social success. There are few people I like, and it seems a foolish
waste of money to entertain those for whom I care nothing, and to whom
my existence is equally unimportant. I can quite believe it seems
strange to you--you are so brilliant and so beautiful. No, it's not
flattery. Women don't flatter one another. I never look at you but I
think of a moth beside a lovely fluttering butterfly. I am the moth, a
dull grey stupid thing, shunning the sunlight--you----"

"Indeed I cannot have you say such things. If I could only persuade you
to try your own wings instead of folding them up in the darkness you
would be quite as brilliant a butterfly as any here."

"Lady Vi would not agree with you. She is the social light of the
place. Rides to hounds, joins the shooting parties, and dresses--well,
if you chance to meet her you will be able to judge. I have never seen
her twice in the same gown."

"And what is Lady Hallington like?"

"There is no Lady Hallington; she died ten years ago. And Lord
Hallington has lost both his sons since. It has been a sad trial."

"A widower, and all this splendid property!" exclaimed Mrs. Monteath.
"Surely he will marry again. Is he old?"

"I believe so. I have never seen him. He has done a great deal of good
in the neighborhood and is very popular."

"And what other neighbors have you?"

"The usual thing--clergyman, doctor, retired military, county families
of small property and large importance--the sort of people one feels
bound to know and dislike."

"We are a livelier lot in Ireland," said Mrs. Monteath. "Is this the
model village you spoke of?"

"Yes. It is pretty, is it not?"

"Idyllic. Certainly you would not see anything like that in my country.
Who is this in the carriage facing us?" she asked quickly.

"That," said Elinor, "is Lord Hallington. I do not know him personally.
He has not called yet."

Mrs. Monteath's fine eyes flashed a demure yet interested glance at
the occupant of the passing carriage, with its fine pair of greys and
perfectly appointed liveries. She saw a man considerably past middle
age, with a pale, high-bred face and almost white hair. His cold blue
eyes gave a swift inquisitive glance at her companion and herself. She
would have been flattered had she known that he mistook her for the
mistress of the Manor House.

"A handsome woman--a deuced handsome woman," he said to himself. "I
must really call. I suppose I am their nearest neighbor, and though I
always detested old Haughton, these people may be better. It's odd no
one knows anything about them. But she certainly looks thoroughbred.
Lady Vi will have a dangerous rival, I'm thinking."

"He is not really very old," murmured Mrs. Monteath. "And no son, you
said? Who will inherit the property then?"

"I really do not know. Perhaps my husband can tell you. He gets all the
county gossip from Anthony Hibbs, his steward."

"That's where Barry is so fond of going. I don't know what he finds to
interest himself in, but Val and he are constant visitors."'

"They are quite safe," smiled Elinor. "Mrs. Hibbs is a dear old thing.
I expect she spoils them. Her own family are out in the world--married,
and doing for themselves. She is devoted to children. I wonder if they
are there this afternoon?" she added. "We might call for them."

"Gracious! What's that?" exclaimed Mrs. Monteath suddenly. "Surely----"

"It's the children!" almost screamed Elinor, springing up. "Whatever
has happened?"




CHAPTER IX.

Two dripping figures stood shivering, mud-stained, and abashed as the
carriage drew up.

Mrs. Monteath had opened the door and pounced on her offspring before
Elinor had recovered from the shock of their drenched condition.

"I falled in the stream," explained Val, "and Barry got in to help me
out."

Mrs. Monteath did not waste time in arguments. She lifted the two
culprits into the carriage and wrapped them in the fur-lined rug that
had been put in for Mrs. Haughton's use.

"The nearest house or cottage," she ordered the footman. "They'll catch
their death of cold," she explained to the trembling Elinor. "We must
get them dry before we take them home."

"The nearest house is Mr. Hibbs's, ma'am," said the footman.

"Drive there," said his mistress, as she drew the warm rug closely
round the little shivering figures. "Where is Mary?" she asked suddenly.

Val's head lifted itself defiantly. "She was cross; so we did run away
from her."

"You are very naughty. How did you fall into the water?"

"I saw little poisson--silver fish--swimming, and I leaned down too
far. I was in the water and then Barry he saw me, and jump in and catch
me. Ma foi!" she shrugged her tiny shoulders and nestled to the boy,
"but it was cold, was it not?"

"Not very," said Barry valiantly. "I didn't want you to be drowned, you
know," he added.

"You are a dear brave boy!" exclaimed Elinor, with tears in her eyes.
"I shall never forget that you saved Val's life."

"Here we are," said Mrs. Monteath, as the carriage stopped at a
comfortable-looking stone house, surrounded by a garden in which
fruit trees and flower beds joined company. Dahlias, chrysanthemums,
escallonia, and three fuschia mingled with apple trees, gooseberry,
and currant bushes. The square porch was wreathed in ivy and clinging
tendrils of Virginia creeper, its lovely crimson and gold now
devastated by autumn rains and autumn winds.

Into this house the footman carried the two children, still in their
fur wrappings, and Mrs. Haughton hastened to explain the accident to
the flustered motherly woman who came out in unconcealed alarm at their
appearance.

"Well, well, and Mary O'Connor's been hunting high and low for you,"
she exclaimed. "The kitchen's best, ma'am," she explained to Elinor.
"There's a fine fire blazing there. We'll have them wrapped in blankets
and I'll soon get their clothes dry for them."

"I will send the carriage back for dry clothes," said Elinor, "if you
will kindly let us take off their wet ones and keep them here till the
others arrive."

"Keep them? Bless you, ma'am, let them stay as long as ever you like.
Ain't I the mother of six myself, and don't I know the ways of them?
Mischief is their nature, and mischief they'll be in though you had
bolts and bars to every door and window of the place."

The shivering culprits were speedily undressed, dried, and wrapped in
warm blankets. After which Elinor delivered a sharp scolding to Val,
between sips or hot elder wine administered by Mrs. Hibbs.

Barry drank his at a gulp and declared the whole thing a "jolly lark."
His mother felt inclined to agree with him. Could anything be better
than that he should pose as life-preserver to the little heiress of
Torbart Manor. She felt Fate had done her a good turn when it led Val's
wilful feet to the stream in search of "fishes."

Mrs. Hibbs consoled and soothed Elinor and related histories, more or
less discreditable, in which her "six" had figured. One, the worst and
most troublesome of the lot, it had pleased Providence to take at the
age of ten, but she narrated his ill deeds with becoming pride.

Val sighed and stirred restlessly under her blanket. Her mother
and Mrs. Monteath were drinking tea. The delightful old kitchen
pleased Elinor immensely, and Mrs. Hibbs was so genial and pleasant
a personality that she felt sorry she had so long delayed making her
acquaintance.

She learnt a great deal about her neighbors and the county in general
that afternoon, what time she sipped her well-creamed tea, and played
with morsels of home-made cake, watching her child's flushed face with
anxious eyes, even while she talked and listened.

Mrs. Monteath was less preoccupied, and stored in her excellent memory
the various names, doings, prerogatives, and importance of Mrs. Hibbs's
confidences. In the old Lord of Crampton Park she displayed the most
interest. Mrs. Hibbs hinted that he had been somewhat "gay" in his
youth--in fact, that his good deeds of later years were a sort of
atonement for sins that had pre-dated them.

"I like a sinner," laughed Mrs. Monteath. "They have all my sympathy. A
good sinner, like a good hater, must have some strength of character.
And strength is always interesting."

Mrs. Hibbs regarded the splendid speaker with some surprise. Val had
spoken of a "governess" staying at the Manor House to see how she
would like or be liked. Could this beautiful queenly woman be that
personage "on approval?" She could scarcely believe. It was hard on
Elinor to be dwarfed in appearance, personality, and interest by such
an uncompromising character as her new friend. Yet she was the last to
acknowledge the fact. Lord Hallington had mistaken Kathleen Monteath
for the mistress of Torbart Manor, and Mrs. Hibbs, the steward's
wife, treated her with deference and an unqualified admiration. In
Elinor all self-assertion was utterly absent. She was by nature timid
and shrinking. In hands so clever and ingenious as those of Kathleen
Monteath she would be as wax and that astute lady was not slow in
discovering it.

"Barry's made it all right for himself and for me," she thought as they
all drove home in the cold autumn twilight, Mary Connor having turned
up at last well-nigh worn out with weeping and terror. "'Tis an ill
wind that blows nobody good, and this wind seems just the sort I need
to convey my poor shipwrecked barque into a safe harbor."

That night she sat long by her fire, reading and writing in her journal.


"I am to stay there," she wrote, "and Barry will go to the curate for
lessons every morning. For which lessons the Haughtons are to pay. This
is a proof of gratitude for saving their little girl's life. I don't
know about saving. I'm of opinion the water wasn't deep enough to drown
a kitten in--but that's no matter. We've fallen on our feet, the two of
us, and here's a home ready-made, and all the comforts of life, too, at
my hands. Was Fate tired of persecuting me at last, I wonder? It looks
like it."

"The question now is about teaching Val. I'm new at the business, and
frankly I confess to myself I don't like it. She's a handful to manage.
Wilful, passionate, headstrong. Her mother adores her. I must keep the
mother's friendship at any cost. For Lawrence Haughton I care not a
finger snap! He is nothing in the household--a man of straw--a weak
creature who has some hidden fear lurking in the background of his
life. I can deal with him later, and something tells me I shall do so."


She paused a moment. She rested her head on her hand and read the last
line over again.

"I wonder," she thought, "what made me write that? Why should I trouble
myself about Lawrence Haughton or his secrets--And yet, when I catch
that look in his eyes, when I see his hand shake as he lifts his glass,
when the sudden opening of a door, the announcement of a name, can make
him start and pale as my well-trained nerves can never allow of my
doing, I ask myself, 'What has he done? What does he fear?'"


"So much for the present. Now for the past. I have cut off all
communication with anyone I know at----. No need to write the name.
It is fortunate Barry knows nothing. He was too young. Mary Connor is
the only person whom I need fear, and my story was so well told that
I think I satisfied even her suspicions. A few years and all will be
forgotten. Less than a few years might see me married--and well married.

"Why should I not secure old Lord H----? I saw him to-day. His eye spoke
favor. What a position it would give me. How safe I should feel. With
money at my command I need fear no one--not even that reptile who has
done his best to ruin my life and reputation. He must wonder what has
become of me. He will be cleverer than I take him for if he finds a
clue this time."


Again the pen dropped. Again she sighed.

"Oh! what a hateful life is mine!" she cried passionately. "For ever
deceiving. For ever in fear of that awful time. And how Elinor believes
in me. How easy to win her love and trust. Fancy if she knew. What
horror would fill her soul. How even she would turn against me."

Again she wrote:--


"There is a weak place in every plan; a blot on every landscape. What
is the weak place in my plan? Where lies the blot on my landscape? Is
it Mary Connor's suspicion? Is it Elinor Haughton's trust? Neither of
these, though both hold possibilities of danger. The one braces my
courage, the other disarms me. For I am growing fond of Elinor, and I
pity her. I pity her because she is Lawrence Haughton's wife. Is this
my weak spot? Let me consider before I write down what is at present
only prophetic.

"I am, unfortunately for myself, only too well versed in every shade
and expression of a man's temperament. I am also, unfortunately, the
type of woman who irresistibly attracts men. God knows I neither desire
nor care to do so, but I seem to have no power to prevent it. My days
in this house scarcely run into weeks, and already I have seen the
look I dread in Lawrence Haughton's eyes--heard the falter I know so
well in Lawrence Haughton's voice. He is a man whose passions have
slept under other and more dominating influence. His love for his wife
is a love born of youth, and a youth's clinging to sympathy and need
of companionship. Something roused him to manhood, and in so rousing
split with an earthquake's force the even ground upon which they two
had walked side by side. I may never learn the secret, or I may find
chance play into my hands. Future events may enlighten me, or mislead.
Impossible as yet to say which. When that hour comes I shall look back
here. I shall read what I have written to-night. I shall know----"


A flicker overhead, a sudden splutter of the candles, and then darkness
fell. She had sat there so long that they had burnt out.

She pushed back the chair and rose. At the same moment a spurt of flame
shot up from the burning logs in the grate. Like a crimson tongue it
shot out and flew across the space.

She saw it rest a moment, red as blood, upon the white page. She saw
the words stand out that she had last written,


"I shall know."


Darkness fell once more. The dying firelight alone kept company with
her hurried movements, as she crept into bed, cold, and shivering, and
pale.




CHAPTER X.

"Where is the monsieur--your father, Barry," asked Val.

They were sitting side by side before the nursery fire the day
after their adventure. Val had a slight cold and was in durance in
consequence. Barry had considerately kept her company, partly out of
affection, partly because she had such a "jolly lot of toys," as he
expressed it. Some he played with, some he dissected, out of curiosity,
to see how they worked. He was at present engaged on a clockwork mouse.

At Val's question he lifted his head and looked a little puzzled. "I
suppose you mean my dad," he answered. "Where is he? Why dead and
buried long ago. I don't even remember him."

"Oh!" said Val, hugging her knees and regarding the mouse with some
distrust. It was apt to make unexpected springs while the dissecting
process was progressing, and she was never quite sure where it would
project itself.

"Fathers," she went on, "is funny persons. Je crois qu'il y a. Oh,
pardon, you do not like that I speak French. I mean to say they are not
with one--comme les mamans. Par example--mine. I do not know him at
all--save until two years."

"What do you mean?" asked Barry. "Wasn't he always with you?"

"Mais non! Ecoute--listen, I mean. I have a memory of a time, autre
fois, before we are in France; I had no p'tit papa then. Only
maman, and we live in one little trés petite maison. Then one day
she go away and I am left with one old cross woman who slap me. That I
recall," she nodded her head viciously. "She hurt very much. And then
I am taken away somewhere, and in a big great beautiful house--hotel,
you call it--I find maman and a monsieur. That is my papa, she say.
And we go away over the sea to live in France. And I forget so much my
English talk that they think I forget other things. But it is not so."

The mouse, released suddenly, sprang into her lap. She gave a little
shriek. Barry recaptured it and continued his work. The history of
Val's past did not seem to him of absorbing interest.

"You must have been a very little kid," he observed presently. "I don't
remember anything that happened when I was four years old."

Mary Connor, sitting in the background, busy at needlework, pricked up
suddenly attentive ears. The children chatted on, regardless of her
presence.

"I shall soon have six years," said Val, with importance. "And I have a
very good memory. Far, far away back I can see, like pictures, places
where I was, and people. Maman she was always sad--always crying. Do
you think she looks sad, even now?"

"She looks--well, as if she wasn't strong; didn't care about things,
you know. Not like my mother, is she?"

"Madame? Oh! she is une dame tres magnifique. Her laugh--how she
laughs--is it not, Barry? Oh! no, she is one altogether different. But
it is strange you should have no father."

"Why strange? People do die, you know."

"Of course," said Val consequentially. "Have I not seen the Pére la
Chaise, the cimetiére? And even to here, where the old church is,
is there not the graveyard also, where the dead people go? Moi, I shall
not like to be put into the cold earth. Never, never, to see the sun,
the sky, the trees. It would be triste--horrible."

"Well, don't talk of it. We're not going to be put in the ground."

"Little children die also, and animals and birds. Why does le Bon
Dieu make things but to let them die?"

"Well," said Barry, ruminating, "I suppose if everything lived they'd
get so old we'd be tired of them."

Val nodded. "Yes, it must be so. And to be old, that is not nice. One's
face all marks and creases, and legs and arms that are no use. It would
be nicer to be always young, always pretty, always happy."

The boy looked at her in surprise. "Fancy a kid like you talking like
that!" he exclaimed. "It's like an old woman."

Val's great brilliant eyes turned from the fire to his face.

"That is what the maman says; I talk too old; I think too old. You must
make me that I talk and think more young, Barry, comme vous êtes--as
yourself I mean. I love to dance and play, to be out in the woods and
fields, but when I sit, to myself alone, I begin to think; and that is
how I talk."

"Tell me," said Barry, in order to change the subject. "What does your
father do all day in his study?"

"He writes a book--one great big clever book!" exclaimed Val.

"Well, whenever I've looked in at the window he's been sitting staring
at the fire, doing nothing at all. It seems funny, don't it? He has
horses and guns and dogs, and could have such jolly larks, and yet he
never goes anywhere or seems to do anything."

"It comes, as I said at one time before, fathers is funny things,"
observed Val. "If we knew some more children we could ask of them, 'How
goes it with your parents. Does monsieur, votre pére, sit by the
fire all day, to mope, mope, and to think, think? And your mother--is
it that she look so pale, so triste, and sigh, so often, commeca?"

She drew a deep breath, and looked at the boy with her head on one side
like a mischievous robin. Barry laughed and spread out the interior of
the mouse on the palm of his hand.

"There!" he said. "Now I see exactly how it's done. I could put it all
together again."

"Don't!" she entreated. "Ca mest affreux--it frightens me. I do not
like it. It run; it spring; it jump. If I want one thing to do that, I
have my real live kitten. Ou est--il, done, mon p'tit chat? Mary,
where then is my pussy?"

She sprang up and commenced a tour of the nursery. Mary put down her
sewing to assist in the search and presently discovered a black fluffy
Persian, sleeping placidly in a doll's bedstead. Val seized it in her
arms and returned to her chair by the fire.

The conversation, however, ceased to be personal, and presently Mary
was wheedled into telling Irish fairy tales, of which she had a store.
By the time she had reached the end of the second the luncheon bell
rang, and Val and Barry went downstairs.

He, dashing into his own room to wash his hands, ran full tilt into his
mother's arms.

"Where have you been all the morning?" she demanded.

"In Val's nursery."

"What were you doing?"

"Talking part of the time, and Mary Connor told us fairy tales."

He seized a towel and gave a perfunctory dab at his face.

"I say, mother, isn't she a rummy kid?" he went on. "Fancy, she can
remember things when she was four years old."

"Oh!" said Mrs. Monteath, turning towards him. "How rough your hair is,
Barry. Give me the brush."

He stood patient under her manipulation of his tousled fair hair.

"What sort of things does she remember?" she asked presently.

"About when she was living with her mother, before they went abroad.
She talks like a regular foreigner, doesn't she? It's funny neither of
us remember our fathers, isn't it?"

The hair brush stopped for a moment.

"Val doesn't remember her father?" she repeated. "What nonsense."

"Oh, I don't mean now. But she says he didn't always live with them.
Not till she was four years old. And her mother was very poor and then
suddenly became rich--like she is now."

"Your hair really requires cutting," observed his mother. "I must
take you into Selbury to have it done. Of course I know the Haughtons
weren't always rich," she went on. "I suppose Val imagines because she
didn't see her father that he wasn't there. But he might have been away
on business or something. You can't rely on children's memories."

"Well, I don't suppose it matters anyhow. I've always thought old
Haughton a rummy sort, shut up in that library all day. Why he might as
well have no money at all as live like he does."

"The money," said Mrs. Monteath, "is his wife's."

"Well, but that comes to the same thing, doesn't it? Oh, I say, there's
the second bell ringing. Won't I do?"

"Yes, yes; run along down. I'm coming in a moment."

She went back, however, into her own room and stood before the glass,
looking at flushed face and sparkling eyes.

"'Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings!'" she quoted softly, and
then laughed. "I should never have thought of that--never. Blessings on
Barry. He has paved the way for my future discoveries!"

Mrs. Monteath was in radiant spirits at luncheon. The rain had cleared
off and Elinor announced her intention of leaving cards on the visitors
who had already called. She asked Lawrence to accompany her, but he
declined in so peremptory a fashion that Mrs. Monteath allowed her face
to express surprise.

"If you only knew how I detest county society," he muttered, half
apologetically.

"True, there is nothing like town for men," she agreed. "Still, if you
live in a position of importance you must take some notice of your
neighbors, otherwise they will think----"

"Think--what?" demanded Lawrence Haughton, as she paused.

"Think there is some reason," she said softly.

His cheek reddened. "Let them think what they please," he said. "I
don't want them, and I'm not going to bother my head about them."

"Of course, after foreign life and society they must seem a little dull
and formal," observed his visitor. "And you had so many years of that,
hadn't you?"

He glanced quickly at her, but her face told him nothing.

"I preferred it to this," he said. "As soon as the winter is over I
shall go to Italy. There is no place like it in the spring."

"Would you like me to accompany you on your drive?" asked Mrs. Monteath
of Elinor.

"Only too delighted," she exclaimed. "I have only three calls to make,
and I shall not get out of the carriage. We might return by Torbart
Mill. It is a lovely spot, well worth seeing."

"Next week," observed Mrs. Monteath, "I must go back to my proper
position, and not allow myself to forget it, as your kindness tempts
me. I shall have to look after my little pupil."

"Indeed," exclaimed Elinor, "you need not fancy I shall permit you to
shut yourself up in the schoolroom all day. Val will only need your
attention in the morning. Your afternoons and evenings are to be quite
free."

Lawrence Haughton had risen from his seat at the table. He was standing
close to Mrs. Monteath.

"If you only knew," he said, in a low, eager voice, "how much these
evenings mean to my dull, dreary days."

She affected not to hear him. She answered Elinor. "You are determined
to spoil me, I see. If many people treated their governesses as you do,
there would be no room for all the applications."

Then she turned to the children. "No more mischief now, Barry, as you
are part culprit (for you ran away also), you must stay and keep Val
company. There can be no lack of amusement in that delightful nursery.
Besides, you might look over your school books. Monday will soon be
here."

Barry made a grimace and Val laughed in sympathy.

"Oh, bother," he exclaimed. "Surely, mother, I needn't begin before
it's actually necessary. I don't mind staying in the house, as Val
can't go out, but lessons----"

"Well--you can get out your books and see they are in order, and do a
little drawing, or something," said his mother vaguely. "You had begun
to draw very nicely when you were at school."

"Oh," cried Val excitedly. "Can you then draw? But how wonderful. Come,
let us find the books at once. We shall have all the afternoon, and you
shall show me also."

There was a breathless race upstairs, a slamming of doors, and the
sound of loud, eager voices.

Mrs. Monteath smiled at Elinor. "Dear children," she exclaimed. "How
they do liven up a house. And your Val is certainly a boy's girl. So
brave and bold, and full of enterprise."




CHAPTER XI.

The cards were duly left and the carriage driven round by Torbart Mill,
as Elinor had suggested. It was a mild afternoon, one of drowsy hours
lapped in golden stupor. Summer had sunk into a trance and feared to
awaken, knowing that its death-knell was ringing in that relentless
soul of nature to which time and seasons appeal in vain.

At the mill the carriage paused. It was a spot to admire, and Mrs.
Monteath did her duty. She even asked to get out of the carriage for a
nearer inspection, and followed a foot-track down to the water's edge
in order to get a better view of the old rustic buildings. She lingered
for a few moments, her eyes on the turning wheel and the churned water.

The mill-house was aglow with red and russet creepers, and the smell
of stacked corn and freshly ground grain came to her through an open
loft above. She looked up at the doorway, and saw standing on the steps
that led to it two figures. One was evidently the miller himself, the
other--she looked again. Yes, there was no doubt about it--it was Lord
Hallington.

Once sure of his identity she remained where she was, gazing
abstractedly into the water at her feet. He must pass her to gain the
path and she resolved to await that moment.

It came sooner than she anticipated. The old lord, having finished
his instructions, turned and came down the steps. She moved aside and
glanced up at his face with becoming shyness. He halted and raised his
hat.

"A lovely spot," he said. "But may I caution you about the footbridge.
It is somewhat insecure and the river has swollen, owing to the heavy
rains."

"Thank you," she said graciously, "but I am not going further than
where I am at present."

"I believe," he said, "I have the honor of addressing Mrs. Haughton, of
Torbart Manor? We are near neighbors, and I should have called before
this, but----"

She stopped further words by a gesture, "Oh, no," she said. "I am not
Mrs. Haughton. Only a--friend--staying with her. But Mrs. Haughton
is waiting in the carriage just beyond, if you would like to repeat
your--apologies to her?"

"I beg your pardon," he said somewhat stiffly. "I remembered seeing
you the other day, and, of course, I know the liveries. I suppose that
delicate-looking lady with you then was the lady of the Manor?"

"She was," said Mrs. Monteath. "I am surprised you mistook me for that
important person."

"Perhaps," he said, with a flash of the cold blue eyes that had not yet
lost power of expression, "it was because you looked more the important
person."

"Is that possible?" she said demurely. "Standing, of course, I have my
inches to help me, but in a carriage----"

"The question of inches," he said, "is a relative one, when air and
grace and distinction are self-evident."

He bowed once more. She half-turned. There was a charming hesitation in
her face and manner. "I am going back to the carriage," she said.

"May I accompany you, and--and pay my respects to the real Mrs.
Haughton? I hope I am excused for a very excusable mistake?"

"I think it was a great compliment," she said. "Of course, Lord
Hallington, I know who you are. It would not be possible to have lived
here three weeks and have been left in such ignorance."

He smiled graciously. "One's county is one's advertisement," he said,
"as well as one's deeds."

"It is no wonder," she answered, "if deeds such as yours are their own
advertisement. Look at all you have done for the people here."

"Given them some decent houses, that's all," he said indifferently.
"It's not much to do for a place where one's ancestors have dwelt since
the days of Cromwell. Not that we had much to thank him for, though he
laid the beginning of our family fortunes. I shall hope to show you my
place some day, madam. Are you making a long stay with your friends?"

"I--I hardly know yet," she answered. "But here is the carriage. It
seems odd that I should have to introduce you after all."

But however odd it seemed she did it with a grace and ease that
appeared to him delightful. And the old lord was a severe critic of
women's manners.

Mrs. Haughton did not appear to any sort of advantage beside this
tactful, beautiful friend of hers, whose name he did not know, but
who might have been a duchess from her appearance. He lingered by
the carriage talking to the two women for some minutes, and assured
Mrs. Haughton of an early call. To Kathleen Monteath's surprise that
assurance was not received with any sort of pleasure.

The surprise found vent in words as they drove homeward. Lord
Hallington had walked to the mill by a short cut through lanes and
ploughed fields, and was returning the same way.

"I cannot make you out, you people," Mrs. Monteath exclaimed. "You
don't seem to want to know anyone about here. Yet who could be more
charming or a greater acquisition than Lord Hallington?"

Elinor colored faintly. "My husband," she said, "has no taste for
country pursuits and is somewhat of a bookworm, and I, as I have told
you, feel physically unable to do much entertaining."

"Still, a small dinner now and then," suggested Mrs. Monteath.

Elinor looked alarmed. "I hate dinner parties," she said. "Of all forms
of social entertainment they seem to me the most dreary."

"That's only when you don't get the right people together," said Mrs.
Monteath. "Now, Lord Hallington would, I am sure, be charming; and Mr.
Knight, your vicar, is a delightful man--so well informed and not a bit
of a toady. For the women, of course, I can't answer; but I hear Lady
Vi Langford is absolutely charming. And she always has lots of people
staying with her--London people--so that they'd be lively enough."

"Are you advocating a dinner party?" asked Elinor, looking surprised at
all this information.

"In your place I should certainly give one. Why, when I was in Ireland,
and I hadn't an income a quarter of yours, I was renowned for my
entertainments. Why shouldn't you be?"

"I have already explained my reasons," said Elinor coldly.

Mrs. Monteath saw she had made a mistake.

"I beg your pardon, so you have. But it is so hard to believe you an
invalid. You seem so bright, and in the evenings you look so young and
so well I am half-inclined to think you are only shy."

Elinor shook her head. "I assure you," she said, "my excuse is a very
real one. Of course, if my husband was anxious to take a prominent
place here I would do my utmost to assist him. But you can judge for
yourself. We are dull sort of people, and we have got into a groove,
and don't wish to get out of it. I told you I feared you would find it
very quiet, but, of course, the decision of putting up with it rests
with yourself."

Mrs. Monteath felt a twinge of alarm. Had she gone a step too far?

"Oh, please don't fancy I am complaining," she exclaimed. "Your home
is delightful--and you and Mr. Haughton so kind--so like old friends
to me, that I am more than happy. It was not unnatural, was it, that I
should wish others to share in my pleasure? It seems selfish to enjoy
it alone."

Elinor was disarmed once more. She was no match for so skilled an
antagonist, and the subject dropped.

Mrs. Monteath exerted all her powers of drollery and entertainment
on that drive home. It was true there was little in her conversation
to specially remember. It consisted principally of frothy nothings,
light-hearted ridicule of people and things, a trick of presenting
them and their foibles in an amusing light, but it was pleasant enough
for all that, and won back the smiles to Elinor's lips and charmed her
afresh. She was no student of character, and therefore took her new
friend very much at her own valuation. To one of Kathleen Monteath's
mental abilities it was an easy matter to play on a nature so simple.
She enjoyed it, too, as she enjoyed anything that assured her of
mastery and triumph and her own powers.

"If I could only win this old lord's fancy," she thought to herself,
even while her tongue was rattling on amusing nonsense for Elinor's
ear. "A conquest to be proud of indeed. It would be the making of me.
No one would say a word once I was married to him. 'Lady Hallington!'
It has a fine flavor. I could play the part well had I the chance. No
keeping in the background, none of the 'modest violet' tricks for me."

She alighted from the carriage and followed Elinor into the hall with
her head held high, a smile on her red lips, and a curious flush on her
cheeks.

The very footman winked approval of her to his staid coadjutor on the
box. "A high stepper--that's what I call her," he allowed. "Tip-top
style--looks as if she ought to have her own carriage and pair. Maybe
she will, too."

"A fine-figured woman," agreed the coachman. "Not the sort to be little
missie's governess, eh, James?"

"She won't be it long, that's what I says," James answered. "There's
gentlemen hereabouts as has eyes in their heads. One as I could name
special. But time will show, Timothy; time will show."

"I wish Time 'ud teach the master to pluck up a bit of spirit and set
things agoin' in style."

"That's what I wish," grumbled James, who was a London importation and
found the country little to his taste, if advantageous to his pocket.
"Seems as if there's never going to be any entertaining here to do one
credit, and as for style, why it's boorjaw, I assure you, Timothy,
quite boorjaw!"

*  *  *  *  *  *

In the hall the family thus disparaged were sitting over afternoon tea,
which Elinor had had brought in immediately on their arrival.

As usual, Kathleen Monteath officiated. Elinor was reclining in her
favorite lounge, her cloak thrown back, the warm firelight playing
on her white, thin cheeks and the delicate ringed hands lying on her
lap. The two children were seated in their accustomed chairs, chatting
eagerly of the afternoon's pleasures.

"I have shown to myself all Barry's books," exclaimed Val. "And we did
draw. I made a little--une p'tite maison--like that of which we
once----"

A log in the open iron grate fell suddenly with a crash, startling them
all. Elinor bent forward to lift it with the brass tongs. Her delicate
face flushed warmly from the exertion.

"Drink your tea and stop chattering, Val," exclaimed her father
sternly. "And why don't you look after Barry? He has nothing to eat."

"Barry, will you have un gateau--cake, you know? I shall not ever
bring myself to say the English of words."

Mrs. Monteath laughed. "Your English of words is very pretty," she
said. "You are quite a little French girl in appearance and talk. Mr.
Haughton, I forgot; I put sugar in your tea. Please give me back your
cup."

Lawrence brought it to her side. His eyes spoke warm admiration of her
appearance; the cool freshness of the autumn evening still lingered on
cheeks and eyes and the ruffled, loose curls about her white brow.

"You drove far to-day?" he said.

"To the old mill," said Elinor.

"We made a new acquaintance for you, too," Mrs. Monteath interpolated,
"your near neighbor--Lord Hallington. He was talking to the miller when
I was admiring the mill. Fancy, he took me for your wife."

An odd flash met her laughing eyes as she looked up at Lawrence
Haughton's face.

"How--was that?" he asked, his voice somewhat unsteady.

"I really cannot say. He saw us both driving the other day, and fancied
I was Mrs. Haughton of the Manor. My extra inches have a great deal to
answer for. I am constantly taken for a person of importance, when I am
nothing of the sort. How I wish I was."

She sighed and lifted her cup to her lips with an air of charming
resignation.

"Do you think you would be any happier?" asked Elinor, a little
bitterly.

"I could make myself think so. Ease and wealth and comfort are very
good things, dear Mrs. Haughton; and worth even some self-sacrifice."

Lawrence Haughton put down his tea-cup hurriedly.

"That means loss of self-respect where a woman is concerned. They are
fond of dignifying ignoble actions by grand names."

"Is it only women who do that?" asked Mrs. Monteath, meeting his glance
unflinchingly. "I have heard of men who were equally capable of the
accomplishment. To cloak a cowardice is not entirely a feminine device,
Mr. Haughton."

It pleased her to see him wince at the thrust. She had meant it to
reach home.

"I hope," she continued presently, "that if Lord Hallington shows
himself friendly you will encourage him for my sake. I am not at all
averse to the mammon of unrighteousness."

"Lord Hallington is old enough to be your father!" exclaimed Lawrence
Haughton impetuously.

"But he isn't my father," she said softly, "and he is unmarried."




CHAPTER XII.


"Let me survey my position," wrote Kathleen Monteath that night. "I
have been here three weeks. What have I learnt--what have I done?

"First--what have I learnt?

"That there is some mystery in Lawrence Haughton's life.

"That his wife's delicacy and indifference to society proceed from
mental, not physical causes.

"That there are some four odd years in her husband's life which are
unexplained.

"That even the most distant allusion to these years is a cause of alarm
to both.

"Therefore something he has done has created this mystery and this
alarm.

"To find out what it is would be to place him in my power. The question
is--Is there anything to be gained by this discovery? Should I make
an enemy of him by threatening it? I am not myself so safe that I can
risk loss of friends or fortune. He is strongly attracted by me and
he is weak. At present my best policy is to make capital out of the
attraction, and--play on the weakness.

"Now for the next point. What have I done?

"I have secured myself a home on very easy terms. I have managed to
keep my boy with me, and to have his education paid for by these
people--out of gratitude.

"I have thrown dust in Mary Connor's eyes and assured her that that
scandal was unfounded--that I am an innocent and an injured woman, who
must fight for bread and maintenance as best she can.

"I have met Lord Hallington, who is old, rich, and a widower. I have
also made a considerable impression on that individual, or I am greatly
mistaken.

"I have made Lawrence Haughton jealous. Perhaps that was imprudent. He
can avoid any intimacy with Lord Hallington and so throw obstacles in
the path of our better acquaintance.

"That I think is all I have accomplished. No bad record in three weeks.

"Will there be any change, I wonder, when I really take up my position
as Val's governess? Not if I can manage Elinor. She is warm-hearted and
utterly unsuspicious. She needs a friend, poor soul, and I would be no
bad one to her, though she could never understand that or believe in me
if she knew. But there's no reason why she, or anyone else, should ever
know. Heaven grant they may not.

"Sometimes I feel tired of always playing a part. In this life drama of
mine it seems as if act succeeded act without one drop of the curtain.
I am always being called upon to appear--no rest, no breathing space.

"How thankful I should be for either! Oh, life is hard on women.
To-night I feel as if it had been a little too hard on me. As if with a
natural inclination to do what is right, I have been constantly forced
to do what is wrong.

"Why do I write this here? Is it for my own satisfaction? To play to
that poor paltry human pride that tries to believe it is not altogether
bad, not entirely to blame, that won't allow its own naked faults to
appear without insisting on a covering however slight? I suppose it
is. One must have an outlet sometimes. It is very well for women to
prose about virtue and excellence who have never known what it is to
face starvation, poverty, and disgrace. Like Becky Sharp, I should have
found it easy to be good on a thousand a year, even less. At present
I am reduced to a hundred. But I have a roof to cover me and a safe
refuse.

"Heaven be thanked for that--if indeed heaven cares or heeds one's
thanks! Why should it? It is on a par with all the rest of our human
vanity to imagine our small paltry affairs interest a celestial
universe!

"How quiet the house is. What early hours these good folk keep. I wish
I could turn into my bed at 10 o'clock and sleep till 7 in the morning.
But it is impossible. I wish I dared introduce cards of an evening. But
I suppose they'd be shocked. At least Elinor would. And cards without
the excitement of money stakes wouldn't interest me.

"Will Lawrence never get tired of hearing me sing? For my part I'd
rather listen to Barry. He will be an acquisition to the choir here and
it will keep him out of mischief on Sundays.

"Poor boy! What a bringing up he's had. For his sake as much as my own
I must try and gain the old lord's heart. I don't care about love or
nonsense of that sort any longer. I live only for ambition--to do the
best for myself at any cost. Why should I mind what sort of bargain I
make, so only I secure safety, wealth, peace?

"Elinor remarked to-day that I received no letters. I told her that I
had positively no friends, now that I had lost money and position.
'Besides,' I said, 'I have not mentioned to anyone where I am.'

"'Have you no relatives?' she asked.

"'None that trouble their heads about me,' I replied.

"'I thought Irish families were so clannish,' she said.

"'No more than other families,' I answered. 'When they are afraid you
will claim assistance they make you none too welcome.'

"It was untrue, as I knew, but I felt bitter, and I could not lay the
blame of estrangement on myself.

"How hard it is to tell a good lie. It always wants bolstering up and
adding to, and a perpetual watchfulness against betrayal or breakdown.

"Mine is becoming a veritable nightmare to me. I have to guard it, and
remember it, and act up to it. The most innocent question throws a
searchlight on my veracity. I have to guard my tongue at every point. I
fear Barry, too--though he knows so little.

"Well, I have reviewed my position from all points. At present I can
only leave it as it is.

"Two courses promise me a future of independence. To find out Laurence
Haughton's secret and force him to buy my silence, or to marry Lord
Hallington. I wonder which course Fate will allow me to pursue?"


*  *  *  *  *  *

Lord Hallington called the next day and was shown into the great
drawing-room, so seldom used and so utterly dreary. Lawrence Haughton
was not very cordial. His wife did not appear, but Mrs. Monteath did,
with tea as an excuse. She soon broke up the ice of stiffness and
formality, and had the two men chattering in quite friendly fashion. It
amused her to play Lawrence's jealousy against the old lord's dawning
admiration. Amused her, too, that he should speak of her as "our
visitor," or "a friend of my wife's," instead of giving her her real
place in the household.

"I regret to hear that Mrs. Haughton is unwell," said Lord Hallington,
when he rose to take leave. "I wanted you all to come and dine with me
on Friday; quite informal; only Knight and his wife. He's bothering me
about some Church alteration he wants me to do. You're a lucky fellow,
Haughton, to be out of parish affairs. But may I hope to see you?"

Lawrence Haughton stiffened perceptibly, "I regret it will be
impossible. My wife's health precludes her from accepting invitations."

"But you're well enough. Couldn't you come and bring Mrs. Monteath. I
so long to hear her charming Irish songs. And I'm such a lonely man,
you might take pity, on me."

Mrs. Monteath's face expressed infinite compassion. "I should be
delighted," she said. "But----"

"Oh, you must come. Do say yes, Haughton. It's so--so unneighborly to
refuse. Besides, your wife might be all right by Friday."

Kathleen's eyes went to the hesitating face.

"Accept," they seemed to say, and with a sudden sense of his own
powerlessness he murmured a conditional "Yes." If Mrs. Haughton felt
equal to it and if Lord Hallington was quite sure there would be no
party. His wife was really unfit for large assemblies.

Mrs. Monteath could have shaken him. "Is this weak fool to spoil
my chance?" she thought savagely. When the door had closed on the
departing visitor she turned suddenly to Lawrence.

"I really think it is very strange of you to be so unfriendly with your
neighbors," she said. "Why, people will soon be saying----"

She paused purposely for the pleasure of seeing that white mark round
his lips, the sudden fear in his eyes.

"Saying--what?" he asked, with an attempt at indifference.

"That you have some reason for this hermit-like existence."

"What reason should there be, except the one I have stated?"

"None, of course. Only you make it so very apparent that you don't
want to receive people or allow them to receive you. I suppose it's
from living so much abroad that you have grown indifferent to society.
Of course, there one always has amusements. Casinos, theatres,
gambling-rooms. Did you ever gamble, Mr. Haughton?"

"N--o," he stammered, growing paler still.

"You have all the virtues of domesticity," she laughed. "You and your
wife are a model couple. You seem quite all in all to one another. Such
matrimonial content is enough to make one envious."

"I think," he said hoarsely, "it need not make you so."

"Oh! but it does. Recalling happier days--as the poet says."

"Your loss rarely seems to affect your spirits."

"We Irish are more or less mercurial in temperament, but we suffer more
perhaps than you even-toned people are capable of doing."

"And inflict suffering," he muttered, as he turned away.

"I really cannot compliment you on your manners, Mr. Haughton," she
said. "When you are not rude to me, you avoid me."

His burning glance swept over her almost savagely.

"Perhaps I have reason to," he said. "You can scarcely be unaware of
your own powers of fascination."

Her eyes drooped. She took a fold of her black dress between her
fingers and pleated it half-consciously as if to hide her confusion.

"Oh, that," he said coarsely. "You seemed to be out of mourning thought
and mourning memories half an hour ago."

"What do you mean?" she asked, with affected anger.

"You know very well what I mean, or Lord Hallington does!" he answered.

He left the room, closing the door with a bang that set her nerves ajar.

"What a brute!" she exclaimed, half aloud. "How dared he speak to me
like that. In common decency he might hide his feelings under his
wife's roof."

Then she laughed. "All the same it is amusing," she said. "And I
planted my sting. I think he will go on Friday; I must now work upon
Elinor. I am no stickler for etiquette, but I suppose it would hardly
do for the master of the house to take his governess to a dinner party,
leaving an invalid wife at home. Oh, prudery and pretence, thy names
are English!"




CHAPTER XIII.

Elinor Haughton might have found life a pleasanter thing had she
possessed, in even a small measure, the saving sense of humor. But she
was a woman easily crushed and unable to look beyond the obstacle in
her path with any degree of hopefulness as to its removal.

Kathleen Monteath had roused her to laughter for the first time for
many years, and pursuing this advantage she now urged upon her the
necessity of coming "out of her shell," as she termed it. To such good
end did she argue that Elinor somewhat reluctantly agreed to accept the
invitation to Lord Hallington's, and on the eventful night permitted
herself to be dressed by Mrs. Monteath's skilful hands, with results
that were eminently satisfactory. A black lace dress set off her fair
skin and slight figure to becoming advantage, indicating but not
exaggerating that fragility which pallor and natural slenderness gave
to her appearance.

When her husband saw her standing before the long glass in her bedroom,
he gave an exclamation of surprise.

"It is all Kathleen's work," said Elinor. She had dropped the formal
"Mrs. Monteath" at its owner's request.

He was silent for a moment and the gravity of his face alarmed her.

"Lawrence," she said, "you are sure you wish to go? It is not too late,
even now, to send an excuse."

"Why should I wish to send an excuse?" he said irritably. "I begin to
think it's a mistake, this idea of yours, of shutting ourselves up and
going nowhere. It looks not only unsociable, but--suspicious."

"This idea of--mine?" she asked quickly.

"Yes--it was yours, you know--just like the going abroad and change of
name."

He was fidgeting with the cut glass bottles on the dressing table,
taking the stoppers out and putting them in again, with restless
fingers.

Elinor looked at him silently. Then she crossed the room and took up a
long velvet cloak. He did not offer to put it round her shoulders, even
when he saw how heavy it was for her slight arms. It occurred to her
suddenly how careless he had become of any of those attentions which
courtesy and custom exact from man to woman.

"Of course, Lawrence," she said, "if you wish to meet and associate
with these people on less formal grounds than were originally
arranged----"

"By you," he said impetuously. "You are the owner of the Manor--its
mistress. I--I am nobody--a shadow dwarfed by the substance of your
wealth, your family, your importance."

She turned to him, her eyes full of surprise. "You speak as if that
fact were an injustice. Surely, Lawrence, it is no such thing. You were
aware of the position from the first. I should be only too happy if
you would accept my place in it. I am neither strong enough nor--nor
brilliant enough to shine in society. It seems odd that you should
reproach----"

"I do not reproach. I merely said that our present tactics seem wrong.
We must--change them."

She turned very pale. As he saw her white face above the rich ruby
velvet of her cloak a sudden shame of himself and yet anger against her
swept over him.

"If you don't go anywhere," he said hurriedly, "I can't. To-night,
even----"

"You might certainly have gone to-night," she answered.

"Then Mrs. Monteath would have had to stay at home."

"Oh, Kathleen?" she laughed softly, "so she would; I forgot that. I
believe she has designs on our neighbor. It would be rather amusing if
she became Lady Hallington instead of Mrs. Haughton's governess."

"Who takes my name in vain?" exclaimed a laughing voice, as Kathleen
swept in through the open door--a vision of imperial beautiful
womanhood that defied the humiliation of her recently expressed
position.

"Mrs. Haughton's governess" swept a blocking curtsey to her employers.
They stood gazing at her with unconcealed admiration. Severely plain as
was her black velvet gown, it had been cut by a master hand of craft.
It revealed all the noble lines of the beautiful figure, the statuesque
throat and shoulders, the white moulded arms. Save for a touch of old
yellow lace on the bodice the dress was untrimmed, and, as usual,
Kathleen wore no ornaments, for the excellent reason that she possessed
none.

"It is my one and only gown--a relic of past glories," she explained,
as Elinor's eyes rested on the costly fabric sweeping the ground with a
train that might almost spell "court."

"It looks magnificent," said Elinor; "almost too----"

"Oh, don't say it's too much. You wouldn't have me go in my dowdy old
silk? Why I've had it three years."

This was untrue, but Kathleen rarely saw the use of putting dates
correctly.

"You look like a veritable goddess," exclaimed Lawrence Haughton.

There was danger in his eyes, and she saw it.

"Thank you," she said. "It doesn't sound very respectable, but I'll
excuse it. Mrs. Haughton, are you sure you're warm enough. Hadn't you
better have something on your head?"

"Oh, I don't take cold easily," said Elinor. "Still, there are some
lace scarves in that drawer. I may as well have one."

Kathleen went to the drawer indicated. She had instituted herself as a
sort of lady's maid to Elinor, and there seemed nothing derogatory in
the request.

Lawrence Haughton, however, appeared to think so. "Why don't you get a
maid to wait on you, Elinor?" he said. "You take too much advantage of
Mrs. Monteath's good nature."

The blood crimsoned Elinor's cheeks. "I am looking out for one," she
said. "Mrs. Monteath's good nature will not be imposed upon much
longer."

"Don't talk such nonsense," exclaimed Mrs. Monteath sharply. "It's
the greatest pleasure to me to do anything for you, and you know it.
But that's just where men are so stupid. They think if a woman makes
herself useful it should be paid for, or else it seems derogatory. Here
is some lace; which piece will you have?"

She threw a filmy scarf over Elinor's head and knotted it loosely under
her chin. "You sweet Puritan," she exclaimed. "You should have been
painted by Romney and hung in the picture gallery."

"Don't you want something yourself?" asked Lawrence Haughton.

"I? Oh, no. I'm a hardened shrub--not a delicate blossom. Why I've
walked home bare-headed after a dance in Ireland many a time."

She glanced at his moody face, reading its meaning well enough. Why
should his wife have stores of lace and jewels and this queenly
creature--nothing? The "queenly creature," however, had made up her
mind that she should have her share of this world's good things before
she said good-bye to it.

The children came running in now. Val all eager to see the two women
"en grande toilette" as she termed it.

Her eyes opened wide with wonder at Mrs. Monteath's splendid
appearance. "Mais comme vous êtes belle, madame!" she murmured
ecstatically. "The chère p'tite maman, she look what Barry say
'snuffed out' on the side of you!"

"Hush, my dear, that is very rude. And you must not copy Barry's slang
expressions," said the pseudo-governess rebukingly.

"But it is true, is it not, little mamma?" said Val. "You don't
mind, do you, chèrie?" she went on coaxingly. "For you are très
charmante also. But madame, she is grand--grand as those great
pictures of the ladies in the Louvre Galleries!"

"You are quite right, Val," said her mother. "Mrs. Monteath looks as
few queens look. Many a one would sacrifice half her income for that
regal carriage and bearing."

"I shall grow vain with so much flattery," said Kathleen, laughing. "We
tall women may carry our clothes to better advantage than you little
ones, but there's one thing we can never do, that is, creep into men's
hearts and win the tenderness and devotion our small sisters gain so
easily. We look too capable to need protecting, and, as a rule, when a
woman can look after herself a man is only too glad to permit her!"

"It is time we left, and I heard the carriage quite five minutes ago,"
interposed Lawrence.

He offered his arm to his wife, but she excused herself from taking it
on the plea of her train and her fan. He went downstairs first, the two
ladies following, and the children bringing up the rear.

"When I am grown up," announced Val, as the hall door closed upon their
elders, "I hope it is for me to be tall, magnifique, comme madame. I
like the way she hold her head, and what you say--sweeps the dust."

Her eyes fell on a piece of Oriental drapery thrown over a screen in
a corner of the hall. She rushed up and snatched it, and with rapid
movements wound it round her tiny figure. Then with yards of the costly
material trailing after her she commenced to strut to and fro, in
imitation of the regal carriage she so admired. Barry watched her with
amusement.

"Now we can play at being grown up," continued Val. "Venez ici. You
are mon mari--the husband, you know. I sit here by the fire, and
you--you have to talk."

Barry looked somewhat sheepish. "But I don't know what husbands talk
about," he said.

Val considered for a moment. "I think they are not very polite," she
said reflectively. "Not comme les étrangers--the strangers I mean.
You say to me, 'My dear, is it that you have the will to go for the
drive this afternoon, because I want the carriage?' Then I say, 'Oh,
no, not if you want it' (because maman, she always gives in to what
papa desires). Moi, I would not do so. I would have that which
pleased myself."

"I think it is a very stupid game," said Barry. "And you do all the
talking. It would be better if you took off that stuff and we had a
game of hide and seek. We can go all over the house now they're out."

"Mary will not permit. She is so tiresome when we are left to her,
seul."

"We might hide from her."

"True for you--as you say, Barry. Let it arrive then that we do it.
Help; help me that I get out of this--vite! vite! I do hear her
calling."

He unwound the wrapping, and hand in hand they stole off into the outer
hall, and concealed themselves until Mary was heard retreating to the
kitchen regions in her search. Then they ran softly up the stairs and
into Mrs. Haughton's bedroom.

"She has left her jewel-case open. Regard them; look, Barry. Are they
not beautiful, these brings and bracelets? Oh! la! la!"

Val handled the shining gems with admiring care.

"Put them on," suggested Barry.

She obeyed without hesitation, sticking brooches and pins all over the
bodice of her scarlet frock, hanging bracelets on her little wrists,
and fastening a necklet of diamonds round her throat. This done, she
commenced one of her fantastic dances before the long mirror. Barry
joining in with a wild Irish jig, which delighted her immensely. The
little figure in its scarlet frock, the flying hair, the flashing
jewels, made up a vivid picture, as Val swayed to and fro before the
glass, her hands clasped at the back of her head.

"Mais voila. That is how I have seen them dance at the Cafés
Chantants--under the trees with the lamps all shining and the noise of
the boulevards, rumble, rumble, all around. Oh, mais c'est beau. I
used to wish I was a dancer. Perhaps I will be one when I have grown
up, big, like that mamma of yours, Barry."

"I don't think a big woman dancing would look as nice as a little one,"
he answered. "Let's act a piece, you and I, like a pantomime. I'll be
the Demon King and you the Fairy Queen. Shall we?"

"I have not ever seen a pantomime. What then is it?"

"Oh," he said, looking about, "I ought to black my face and have my
hair sticking up. Then I jump out of the ground. I'll hide behind the
curtains and spring out on you, as I can't manage a trapdoor. You ought
to be in white transparent stuff, you know."

"I can slip off my frock. My petticoat is quite thin and lacey,
see--will that do?"

"Splendid! Only mind all those brooches. Wouldn't your mother be angry
if she saw you with them?"

"Maman is so good she never is angry. Now, what then is it your demon
king says?"

Barry had been busy blacking his face with coal. He now divested
himself of coat and waistcoat, and stood in his white shirt and serge
knickers, making the most hideous contortions he could think of.

Val screamed in an ecstasy of delight. He retired behind the curtain.
"Stay! you must have a wand," he said, "a long stick, you know. Can you
find anything?"

She pounced upon a small brass poker in the grate, and he approved and
retired. Presently he sprang out from behind the curtain, his hair
ruffled on end, his hands uplifted.

"I am the Demon--kingliest of kings. I come from Demon Land and imps
and--things----" he shouted.

"Now, Val, you say, I am the Fairy Queen and I do defy thy power."

But Val was so terrified at his appearance that she could say nothing.
Her wand fell from her hand and she rushed towards the door, Barry
pursuing her. His antics and grimaces were so diabolical that the child
was really frightened. She shrieked aloud, and the shriek was answered
by Mary Connor's voice on the stairs.

When she saw Val's undressed condition and the alarming object pursuing
she too shrieked. This brought the housekeeper on the scene, followed
by the butler.

"Thieves! robbers! murderers!" cried Mary. "Oh, me blessed child,
whatever monster is frightening you?"

She caught Val, and stood clutching the balustrade and staring at the
figure, which was now stationary.

"It is only Barry," gasped Val. "But he is pantomiming the Demon King,
and it have frightened me fait peur."

"Saints preserve us! It's really you, Master Barry?" cried Mary.

The housekeeper was now at his side and her alarm had vanished.

"Was there ever such children for getting into mischief," exclaimed
Mrs. Burton, angrily. "Look at Miss Val. I do declare she has all her
mother's jewellery on her. Oh, you naughty, naughty child, you deserve
to be put to bed and punished--that you do!"

"If you the Fairy Queen should dare alarm the Demon King will do
you deadly harm," extemporised Barry, commencing a war dance and
incantation at a safe distance.

"Demon King, indeed!" exclaimed Mrs. Burton. "Just you stop that
nonsense, Master Barry, or you'll catch it when your ma comes home!"

"And you come along and take off those jewels," said Mary to Val.
"Wherever on earth did you get them from? And I searching the house
from top to bottom to find you."

She held Val firmly by the arm and conducted her to the bedroom. Barry
had retreated at their approach and was now flying along the corridor
regardless of Mary's commands "to be done with his haythen tricks and
come back and be sensible, or she'd tell the master of him."

Val was ruthlessly despoiled of her finery, and redressed, but still
Barry did not return. Mary tidied up her mistress's room and took the
boy's discarded clothes with her to the nursery. "I'm not going to
waste me time hunting after that young rascal," she affirmed. "And
you'll not be after doing it again either, Miss Val. A pretty handful
you are, the two of ye. It's sorry enough I am that iver Mrs. Monteath
stepped into this house--with her saycrets and her airs, and that young
imp of hers added on to it all."

"Secrets?" Val looked eagerly at the woman's face. "Did you then say
that madame has--secrets? I will ask her of them to-morrow."

"Do," said Mary scornfully, "and get slapped for your pains."

"Oh! mais non. It is you that she will slap, for I shall declare you
told me. And it is true."

"Look here, Miss Val, there's a sayin' that a silent tongue is better
than gold; and you'd better be takin' that to heart, for you're a bit
too fond of chattering and talking. That's the way all the mischief of
the world is made."

"Let me go and search for Barry, and then I will make myself what you
call--silent tongue," said Val.

"No," said Mary firmly. "He knows where we are and he'll find his own
way back. A pretty thing to have you off trapayzing the house again and
givin' me the work of lookin' for the two of ye. No, thank you, Miss
Val, once in an evening is enough."

"You are horrid--cross--cruel; I don't like you. I wish that you had
stayed in your own country with the desmoiselles that were so all that
is proper and good," exclaimed Val passionately. "I love Barry, and I
want him, not you. He amuses me. You--" she stamped her little foot.
"Oh, why must I then obey? It is always so. First one, then another.
Mamma, madame, and you. It is hateful. I shall run away one of the
days, and you will all be then so sorry. Ah, there. Quoi donc. What
do I hear? It is Barry returned."

It was Barry, washed and clothed and in his right mind.

"There's no use in trying to have any fun where there's a lot of
women," he announced. Then he looked contemptuously at Mary. "Fancy,"
he said, "your screaming thieves and murderers! And I only a little boy
and you an Irishwoman. I wouldn't own you as one if I was asked. Val,
come here, and I'll read you a story."

Val flew to him with delight.

"She is horrid," she agreed. "And she did call you an imp, Barry, and
said that madame----"

"Miss Val," cried Mary peremptorily.

"Oh, it is then the silent tongue you remind me of? Bien, I will not
say more at this one moment."

"But do," Barry entreated. "How dare she speak against my mother? Tell
me what she said."

Val looked from one to the other, from Mary's flushed face to the boy's
defiant one.

"No," she said. "I will not tell you, and then she will say nothing of
to-night, and we are not punished."

Barry threw the book of fairy tales across the room. "You are a pair of
sneaks," he cried passionately. "And I won't stop with you." He left
the room, banging the door behind him.




CHAPTER XIV.

For reasons best known to herself Mary kept her own counsel respecting
the escapade of that evening.

The children spent the next day in anticipation of scolding or
punishment, and receiving neither displayed a penitential and
conciliatory spirit towards the nurse which she was not slow to
appreciate.

Their lessons were to commence on Monday, so this Saturday seemed a
sort of last holiday, and they insisted on spending the afternoon and
having tea with Mrs. Hibbs. Mary, of course, accompanied them, and
revenged herself by relating their deeds of the previous evening to the
steward's wife.

"A pair of them is more than I bargained for," she confided, as they
sat by the fire, while Barry and Val made a raid upon the storeroom in
search of apples and nuts and other delicacies with which to play being
squirrels.

"But you've nothing much to do for Master Barry, have you?"

"Not dressing clothes, of course; though betwixt ourselves, Mrs.
Hibbs, that fine lady mother of his would be glad enough to throw it
on my shoulders. If you could have seen her going off to the party
last night, grand as a duchess she was, and yards upon yards of the
finest black velvet ye'd wish to set eyes on trailin' the ground after
her--why it's she looked the Lady of the Manor, not the mistress at
all."

"Really now?" exclaimed Mrs. Hibbs. "Not but what anyone can help
seein' she's a real lady, and a real beauty," she added good-naturedly.

"Beauty enough, I grant you; but give me thim as keeps their own place,
and aren't for ever pushin' their noses into other people's concerns.
Ah! indeed, then, Mrs. Hibbs, its meself could tell a tale or two of
that same lady, only it's not me way to make mischief."

Mrs. Hibbs' good-natured face expressed frank curiosity.

"Do you mean to say, Mary, that she's not quite what she seems?"

Mary Connor nodded oracularly. "Far be it from me, Mrs. Hibbs, to be
spakin' a word, good or bad, of any deservin' creature in this world,
leave alone a widow woman who has known trouble and the black looks of
suspicion. Oh! don't be askin' me what I mean, for my word's given, and
I could not be breakin' it, but time will show who's to be trusted and
who isn't, and I'm wishin' with all my heart that the mistress wasn't
so soft and so believin'. Why, she's just like a bit of putty in Mrs.
Monteath's clever hands."

Martha Hibbs stared breathlessly at the speaker. Her words promised
future scandal and sensation, and the handsome widow had already been
well discussed.

"You think the mistress is too friendly with her?" she hazarded.

"I do. She should keep her in her place. Instead of which the lady goes
out with them to call on the quality and receives visitors, if you'll
believe me, as grand and as at home as if the place and all belonging
to it were her very own."

"Dear, dear, is that so now? But may be, Mary, it's only because she's
a lady, and Mrs. Haughton is too kind-hearted to keep her away in the
schoolroom at teaching all day long?"

"Teaching is it!" Mary's face grew contemptuous. "Fine teaching! and a
mighty lot of it, too. Why, I could do the teaching that Miss Val will
be after having. A child of six, and cute and sharp she is, too. And
can write her little copy-books almost as good as Master Barry there.
And her foreign talk, why she might be Frinch for the ways of her! I
doubt if Mrs. Monteath will be in the situation long, for if ever there
was a sharp child Miss Val is that, and 'tis she would be the first to
find out that the governess didn't know much more than herself."

"I wonder why Mrs. Haughton engaged her?"

"Oh, 'twas the letter of her. The mistress herself told me that she
wrote such a clever one. That's the plausible way of her. Don't I know
her sort? Ah! Mrs. Hibbs, dear, if you ever come over to Ireland--But
there, I'll not be belittling me own country, though there's them there
as could talk the hind leg off a donkey and leave him pleased with
three; and as for tricks and swindles--all with the best of intentions,
though! Sure, 'tis a queer place entirely, and many's the rogue I've
come across, and not among the people where you'd be lookin' for them,
either!"

"Do you think, Mary, you ought to give the mistress yonder a hint?
'Twould be just terrible if Miss Val wasn't brought up quite proper,
for if you think of it, 'tis she will be the lady of the Manor in
course of time."

"That's true enough, but you see, Mrs. Hibbs, it's this way----"

But what way it was Martha Hibbs was not destined to hear just then,
for the entrance of the steward, with the two children hanging on to
his coat tails, effectually stopped further confidences.

*  *  *  *  *  *

At the Manor, meanwhile, the usual group sat round the tea-table in the
hall, Mrs. Monteath officiating.

She was in brilliant spirits and her talent for mimicry was indulging
itself at the expense of the rector's wife, who had apparently regarded
her with disfavor on the preceding evening.

"Clergymen's wives are certainly a type," she said. "I wonder why
they pretend to be different from other women--claim a sort of vested
superiority. I shall never forget Mrs. Charlton-Knight's expression
when she said, after I had asked her to sing--'Everyone to her
vocation; mine is not of the superficial order, I have to administer
to the spiritual and bodily needs of our little flock here, and that
leaves me no time for frivolous amusements.' 'Only for dinner parties,
I suppose,' I said. Then she looked--Did you see how she looked, Mr.
Haughton? I fancied I caught your eye."

"Yes, I saw," answered Lawrence. "It was a very annihilating glance,
but it seemed more directed at your gown than yourself."

"I think she was hoping it was cotton-back velvet and longed to assure
herself of the fact. When a woman can have a thing, and won't have it
from ridiculous good scruples, she never forgives another woman for
possessing what she has denied herself. That sounds a bit involved,
doesn't it. But you understand what I mean, I am sure."

"Its meaning," said Elinor, "is distinctly applicable to Mrs.
Charlton-Knight. For she could well afford a velvet gown, if she
desired one; and the curate does so much of the parish work that I am
sure she should have ample time for keeping up her accomplishments."

"Perhaps she hasn't any," said Lawrence.

"She has cultivated the supreme art of being exceedingly disagreeable
to anyone she considers her social inferior," said Mrs. Monteath. "It
was not exactly charitable of her to inform Lord Hallington that I was
'only your governess.' Of course I should have made no secret of the
matter had he asked me, but she didn't lose a moment in blurting it
out."

"I think the incongruity between that fact and your velvet gown
upset her equanimity," said Elinor, smiling. "You looked quite too
magnificent for the character."

"Well, you see, I possessed the gown before I assumed the character. It
is my only evening one. The county will soon know that, if they honor
me with any more invitations."

"I should think there is no doubt about that," said Lawrence. "Such
singing as yours isn't heard every day."

"My voice is my fortune, sir, she said," laughed Mrs. Monteath. "Do
you know," she went on rapidly, "if I hadn't come here I should have
gone on the stage. When I wrote that letter----" She paused abruptly,
looking at Elinor's quiet face. "It was an audacious letter. You must
have thought so. I wonder sometimes you could have answered it so
kindly."

"I liked it--perhaps because it was so--audacious. One always admires
one's opposites."

"Well, you are meek enough," laughed Kathleen. "I believe a great
trouble would crush you entirely."

Involuntarily Elinor's glance sought her husband's. Her cheeks paled.
Those watchful Irish eyes caught the glance, followed it, and fathomed
it.

"There is something in the background. Something to hide or live down,"
she told herself. "I wonder if I shall ever discover it?"

"Then I am fortunate in haying no 'great trouble,' am I not?" said
Elinor, rising from her chair. "If you will excuse me, Kathleen, I'll
go and lie down till dinner time. I am rather tired."

"May I ask for another cup of tea?" said Lawrence Haughton hurriedly.

Kathleen half smiled at the excuse, but it amused her to play with
edged-tools, and this was such a weak one. She seated herself at the
table and poured him out the tea he had asked for. "I am afraid it's
cold," she said, as she handed it.

"You have forgotten the sugar."

"I thought you never took any."

"Sometimes. To-night I am in the mood for sweets."

"You insinuate that last night you were not."

"Last night," he said, "I was bitterly jealous."

"Oh. Of whom--or what? Lord Hallington's attentions to your wife?"

"Lord Hallington's attentions to--someone else."

"Why should that affect you?"

"I hated the way he appropriated you--the way he watched you--the cool
insolence of his manner."

"I found no--insolence," she said haughtily.

"Because women are unable to draw fine distinctions. Attention to them
is flattery. They accept the compliment and ignore the cause."

"You talk as one having experience," she said lightly.

"I talk as I feel and know. Lord Hallington's character for gallantry
gives me a right to criticise and to warn."

She laughed outright. "My dear Mr. Haughton, I am really quite able
to take care of myself; I do not need any warning from you. However
flattering your interest in me, it need scarcely be stretched to the
point of authority."

"Interest," he said. "Well, call it that. It is strong enough to make
me hate the idea of your throwing yourself at the head of that old roué
for the sake of what he possesses."

"I think you are talking unwarrantably," she said, rising from her seat
and confronting him with the majesty of outraged pride.

"You forget your own confession," he said.

"I forget nothing, Mr. Haughton. It is you who do that. You are my
host, and in a way--my benefactor, but neither fact gives you the right
to speak as you have spoken!"

Her anger frightened him. He capitulated.

"I beg your pardon! Of course, I have no right, but I should hate to
have your future unhappiness to reproach myself with. Beauty, talent
such as yours, deserve a better price than you put upon them."

"They deserve," she cried, "the best price I can obtain. And they will
be sold for it when the time comes for such a bargain."

He bit his lip. She saw the flush that mounted to his brow and then
died away. He held out his hand to stay her progress. "Don't be
offended. I should not have spoken like that! But for God's sake don't
do what you said. Price! Is there any price too high to pay? Love,
fame, wealth, honor. Women such as you know their power only too well."

"I have learnt mine in a hard school," she said. "And having learnt,
I mean to exercise it. Your sex has a great deal to answer for, Mr.
Haughton. But their misdeeds come home to them sometimes. What they
teach in jest has often to be learnt in earnest--by the teacher--in
after years."

"You have had a hard life--a cruel teacher. But why wreck possible
peace and happiness--again? This house is yours as long as you need a
home. Does it offer no inducement to remain in it?"

"I have not spoken of leaving it."

"True, but your hints convey that you only wait the first opportunity."

"There are a multitude of deserving females in the world, Mr. Haughton,
who go by the name of governesses!"

"Oh!" he said, "why will you misunderstand me?"

She laughed mockingly. "Would it be better for either of us that I
should pretend to--understand you--that I should say frankly your
interest in me is not on account of my helpless condition, my need of
friends, but solely on account of what you are pleased to consider
my personal attractions? No; do not say another word. We might
both--repent it."




CHAPTER XV.


"The inner workings or a man's mind must be curiously involved," wrote
Kathleen Monteath that night in her confessions. "I wish one could see
it working, examine the mechanism, test the springs. I suppose Lawrence
Haughton is assuring himself that his interest in me is only a friendly
platonic one. He is quite unconscious that every look and every word
betrays that he has fallen madly in love with me--that in warning me
against Lord Hallington he is displaying his own jealousy, his own fear
lest I should really win that old gallant's battered heart, and be
asked to reign over his ancestral acres and his model village. I think
he must have built that village as a sort of peace offering to his
conscience.

"I wish I could make one to mine, escape from myself. My mood is a bad
one to-night. A bad one for any man who loved me.

"Shall I recall here the triumph of yesterday, the triumph of dress, of
beauty, manner, voice, the triumph that drove the clergyman's wife to
sneers and satire, that dazed poor, timid Elinor, that fired the blood
of two men at least out of the four present at dinner? (The fourth was
my lord's secretary--a quiet, inoffensive individual, not worth powder
and shot.) But I am none too sure of the old gentleman's matrimonial
intentions--yet. He will require careful playing before I can land him.
That he admires me is evident; but there is a long way to travel yet
before admiration becomes passion. I should like to be 'my lady,' and
queen it over the Haughtons, though, God knows, I have no need to envy
poor Elinor. There are women one instinctively calls 'poor,' however
rich they may be in this world's goods. Women so weak and yielding that
they seem to pass their lives in offering themselves to tyrants for the
education of their tyrannical instincts; who afford no more resistance
to blows than a feather pillow. It is unfortunate that a woman like
Elinor should have married a man like Lawrence Haughton. Does she
believe in him? I often find myself asking that question.

"What a lottery is marriage. A million blanks for every prize--and
even a prize is only valuable by comparison with the blanks. Oh, dear
old novelists of a bygone age, who made your pretty maiden and her
sighing swain so fond, so tried, so true, you did wisely when you left
them to their fate at the church door. If one only could ever read a
true account of 'the years that came after,' a good many illusions
would be spared, a good many wedding rings go begging. But as long as
women imagine that even a bad husband is better than none there will
be tragedies, suffering, broken hearts, wounded spirits, and seeking
comfort--finding none. The bitterness of love turned to hatred--can
anything exceed it? Nothing--save perhaps the bitterness of the shame
that recalls a self-delusion. What is it that love does to a girl?
Blinds her eyes; stifles her ears; dulls her powers of judgment, so
that she shall neither see, nor hear, nor know the truth of what she
is worshipping until the fuller forces of womanhood come into play.
And when the scales fall from those blinded eyes, when the ears grow
keen to the discord in music's voice, when the brain awakes from sleep,
and the mind challenges the senses, what then? What then, ye pretty
romancers, with your fond and faithful Chloes and Clarissas, your
swains that sigh and die, your blighted hearts, your perpetual song of
adoration? Down tumbles the whole barley-sugar structure. Chloe sees
that Strephon is only an ordinary shepherd lad, with an appetite for
coarse food and a tuneless pipe, and Clarissa knows her own particular
Lovelace is no better than he should be, and certainly neither god nor
hero. To a woman her lover is all in all--till she knows him. To a man
his love is only one among many that he has trifled with and appraised,
and thinks he knows. His education is completed where hers begins. The
results of knowledge are often--curious.

"Sometimes I feel almost tempted to write my own story. To write in
self-defence. To write it in my own vindication of what I have become,
through its influence, through a girl's mistake.

"I look at Elinor, and I know she, too, is the victim of such a
mistake. What is there in Mr. Craven Heart, as I call him? Does she
see him as he is? I wish I could lend her my eyes. If that man has
once sinned, he will sin again. He has no moral force to withstand
temptation. Were I really as bad a woman as circumstances have tried
to make me, I should amuse myself in drawing on Mr. Lawrence Haughton
to that point of folly which a man dignifies by the name of passion.
But I despise him too utterly to feel the slightest temptation even to
make him worthier of my contempt. He has the temperament, the nature,
the inclination of--that other tyrant, whose very name I shrink from
writing; at whose door I lay the wreck of my life, my sins, sorrows,
and desolations, from which only my courage and my temperament have
saved me.

"I never go to a theatre and see a melodrama but it makes me laugh as
never farce or comedy can do. Why? Because my life was nothing else.
Because once out of the 'hurly-burly' I can look back upon storms and
whirlwinds, rows and scenes, quarrels and discussions, tyrannies and
cruelties, as a spectator; and while applauding my own courage for
successfully acting through it all, I almost laugh at the idea of an
adequate presentation of its reality, even in the highest form of stage
drama. Not even a realist would dare to paint the scenes through which
I have lived.

"Such a small stage, too. An unimportant Irish town, and a month of the
Swiss Alps. Two scenes--but ah! my God--the acts--the acts!

"I dare not trust myself to go back to that time, I dare not let my
thoughts dwell upon it. Who was it that wrote the lines, 'That way
madness lies!'? I do not want to tread that way--not yet--not yet."


*  *  *  *  *  *

There were times when Elinor Haughton felt a vague distrust battling
with that fidelity to one object which characterised her nature; times
when a filmy shadow spread itself over the surface of belief; times
when she asked herself if it was possible that a change she realised
was the result of four silent years, or bore a previous date that her
eyes had not cared to decipher.

At those times she whispered to her heart that she had accepted him
as he was, and that she must always go on accepting him. As she had
put the best interpretation even on an action the law had called
criminal, so now she felt herself called upon to put that same
interpretation on reserve and coldness and indifference. Hard as her
position was, he seemed inclined to make it harder. In her eager
desire to shield him from the recognition he dreaded she had prepared
a scheme of self-suppression. Before that winter was over she found
that while taking advantage of her part in the suppression, he chose
to put himself forward in every possible way. She had proposed to
play the role of invalid. He chose to fancy she was one. Weather,
distance, fatigue--all had their part in every suggestion as to her
non-appearance at county functions. But at most of those functions Mrs.
Monteath would be present. Her beauty and her voice had won a distinct
place for her, and Lord Hallington's marked attentions had conferred a
certain amount of importance, which no one felt called upon to ignore,
save perhaps Mrs. Charlton-Knight. But then Kathleen Monteath did not
waste time or thought upon Mrs. Charlton-Knight. She was not necessary
to her schemes.

That she should be so constantly escorted by the Master of the Manor,
while the lady of it rarely put in an appearance, naturally occasioned
a shoulder-shrug, a look of meaning, a chance comment. But the charm
of Kathleen's personality was sufficient to carry all before it when
she was on the scene herself, and her behavior was the essence of
discretion. It annoyed her that Lord Hallington was so hard to bring
to the point. His vacillation piqued, while his unconcealed admiration
flattered. Yet further than the avowal of admiration he would not go,
and she could not spur him.

She wondered often if Lawrence Haughton was to blame. Had he said
or hinted anything to her discredit, or were his own attentions an
obstacle?

She did her utmost to rouse Elinor from her persistent retirement,
but with very small success. As the weather became colder and more
inclement her health seemed really to suffer. She grew paler, thinner
and more silent and listless every day. The burden of her position, the
responsibility of wealth, seemed to crush instead of exhilarate.

Only she herself knew the secret that robbed them of all charm, the
terror that lurked behind friendly faces and friendly smiles, the dread
with which a strange presence filled her, the ever haunting fear that
dogged her steps, and whispered even when she seemed most serene or
most important, "If they knew you were a forger's wife!"

Had Lawrence never insisted on that absolute silence, had she been
able to talk frankly and freely of his sin, his temptation, and his
punishment; had their tears fallen together and blotted out some of the
record of that shameful past, she would not have endured this terror
or suffered this agony of humiliation. But in that grave of dead years
more lay buried than any silence could represent. To ignore was not to
stifle. The Thing lived and breathed. Stirred from its cereclothes in
that unnamed grave, it rose and confronted her in the night watches,
stole to her side in the noonday glow.

Sometimes she thought, "It is more than I can bear." And she would
resolve to leave this place, to beg him to live abroad once more, where
even if recognition chanced it might be easily evaded. But when the
moment came she had no courage.

The little rift had widened so strangely, the first light chill grown
into so cold a barrier that it would have needed courage greater than
her own to win back the music, to thaw the iceberg.

She was faithful to her promise, as she had been faithful to his memory
in those four awful years. When doubt or distrust crept in she tried
her best to drive them away. Single-handed she fought the shadows that
thickened like evil things upon the bright mirror of her wifely faith.

But the shadows grew apace. They could not always be fought or swept
aside.




CHAPTER XVI.

Barry had made a great discovery. He confided it to Val under strict
promise of secrecy. It included the use of the Saturday holiday, which
both had claimed as their right, and it promised unusual excitement.

Val's education was conducted on somewhat peculiar methods. Mrs.
Monteath would work or draw, or write letters, giving the child
something to do in the interim. If Val was so inclined she did it; if
not, she let it alone, and her fancy ran like a truant to some mischief
or occupation prompted by a ready invention.

On the Saturday holiday she was Mary's charge, and the governess had
nothing to do with her. This special Saturday of which Barry had given
mysterious hints dawned bright and sunny, with clear sky and the sharp
crispness of December frost in the air. Val tormented Mary for leave
to run in the grounds until she was at liberty to take her for the
usual walk. Mary limited her permission to a certain time and a certain
spot. An hour restricted the one and the oak avenue the other. "So as
I can be keeping an eye on you," said Mary. For the nursery windows
overlooked this portion of the manor grounds.

Val joined Barry in the avenue, as they had appointed. She was warmly
clad in scarlet coat and frock, and wore a knitted woollen cap on her
russet-hued curls. Her eyes were aglow with excitement and her cheeks
like rosy apples.

Barry whispered mysteries, for no other reason than that it suited the
project he had in view--a project of tactics and manœuvres such as he
loved.

Could Val walk, really walk, say ten miles? Val, ignorant of distances,
declared manfully for twenty. About food then--would it be possible to
procure it unbeknown of the powers that ruled kitchen and larder? This
was a more difficult problem. Cook and housekeeper could not be counted
on for supplies, because an ordinary morning walk scarcely came within
the requirements of a luncheon basket.

Barry reflected. There was a lime tree outside the storeroom. One
branch stretched towards the window. It might not be impossible to open
the window. Val hailed him as champion of the situation; a situation
that presently resolved itself into strategic triumph and left them
with laden pockets. Biscuits and dried fruit--surely a feast for
the gods, and sustenance for a marching army--leave alone two small
stomachs and a ten-mile tramp!

Thus fortified, they escaped through the park by a small gate that was
never locked, and the day's enterprise began.

It commenced with a rush emulative of steam-engines, but proved
short-lived, owing to deficiencies on the part of Val. A moderate pace
ensued, and that, too, was happily aided by a lift in a farmer's waggon
going their way. The driver was old, and had few ideas to jostle as
change with the gold and silver of young and daring minds. But he was
shrewd and kindly and the jog-trot was a rest. Val's curiosity had
grown intense, but Barry always interposed "Not yet" to every question
as to the object of their journey.

Five miles of the waggon had rested her thoroughly, and at a meeting of
two roads they bade the old man good-bye and partook of lunch.

"They'll have missed us by now," said the boy.

Val looked uneasy. "If it should mean that they search--look--follow.
What then, Barry?"

He laughed. "They'll never hit this track. They're sure to think we're
off to old Hibbs' or the miller's. Now, Val, do you see this road,
going straight on over that hill where the group of trees is?"

"But oui--yes, of course, I see it."

"On either side of it are great mounds; they're called 'burrows.'
That's where the Romans and ancient Britons buried their dead after
battles."

"Oh!" murmured Val, somewhat awestruck.

"There's men digging there now; and they've found skeletons and weapons
and old armor, and all sorts of wonderful things. And they're all being
kept in an old house where King John signed the Magnum Charter, or
something." (Barry's knowledge of history was as vague as that of most
boys.) "Anyhow, the King used to stay there and have hunting parties
from it, and that's where we're going, Val."

"A real house of a real king!" Val grew ecstatic. French poured
liberally from her tongue till Barry checked her peremptorily. "Do stop
that lingo. Didn't you promise you'd not talk a word of it the whole
day? What's the use of saying 'Ung vray chattow der roy?' Won't
'king's house' do as well?"

"It's so hard; I forgot," said Val apologetically. Then her glance
wandered over the long road and the rising hills. "It's still one very
long way," she faltered.

"Oh, I've found out that there's a short cut. It's private property,
of course, but we can hide if we see anyone. I believe the house isn't
above a mile off now."

He knew it was two or more, but he felt that the actual statement might
discourage the "kid," as he called her.

"Oh! that is not of much," said Val, avoiding pitfalls of French
expletives.

"No, not at all of much. Let's off. Have you had enough to eat?"

"Mais oui--yes, I mean."

They proceeded on their way. Presently Barry drew an apple out of his
pocket and handed it to her. "Munchez-vous?" he enquired gravely.

"You are a too funny boy! What is it you mean? Eat? Of course I will
eat--munchez, as you call it."

"Seems to make the way shorter, don't you think?" asked Barry,
following her example. "I say, kid, what a wax they're in at home by
this time."

"Of what matter?" queried Val indifferently. "We have our pleasure.
They will scold, punish; of what good? It is over, what we do. They
cannot at least say. 'No, you shall not go!'"

"That's true," said Barry. "I say, it must be prime here in summer,
mustn't it? Oh, kiddy, look at the rabbits scudding over that field;
why, there's dozens of them. And there goes a pheasant. What a beauty.
By Jove, I wish I could shoot!"

His ignorance of the game laws was on a par with that of his historical
knowledge.

They watched the rabbits popping in and out of holes and scurrying over
the fields. Val envied their quickness. "If we could but run as fast,"
she said.

Then once more she braced her energies, and trotted on by Barry's side,
skirting the ploughed fields, driving through thickets of brushwood
or gaps in woody gloom, startling birds who had sought the shelter of
holly bush or fir, and emerging breathless upon a wide grassy hill
where a few sheep were browsing. It was past midday now and the sun
shone with fuller radiance. It lit the grey stone walls of a large
mansion, bowered in trees and showing well-cared terraces, smooth
lawns, the evergreen and floral treasures which winter permitted in a
climate of renowned mildness. Gleams of tawny gold and scarlet ran like
smouldering flame at the base of marble steps or iron colonnade. All
bespoke wealth and importance and the care given to such appendages.

"Is that the King's house?" asked Val pointing.

"No, you little silly! That's new--or at least not more than fifty
years old. The King's house is hundreds of years old--at least, I don't
exactly know when King John was alive, do you? It's in 'Little Arthur.'
You read that?"

"Oh, yes. He reigned from 1166," said Val proudly.

"The house is thirteenth century--I know that. A chap at Mr. Friar's
told me. He lives somewhere out here; a place called Tarrant-Hinton.
He's boarded with Friar and goes home once a month. See, this is the
plan he drew for me. That's how I know the way."

He pulled a sheet of paper out of its company of catgut, knife, string,
keys, apples, and other boyish paraphernalia. Val saw a hieroglyphic of
scrawls, dots, and names. It was so much Greek to her, but it assisted
in upholding the superiority of boys. A superiority which Barry had
of late emphasised in all their games and amusements. He studied the
paper now intently, lifting an occasional glance at the landscape for
verification. Then he put it back and announced that he knew just where
to drop on the old house.

They set off again, Val ignoring fatigue, and fired by her companion's
account of the wonders she was to behold. When at last they came in
sight of the church adjoining the King's House, or rather Lodge, they
uttered a congratulatory sigh. Val felt a little disappointed. It was
so small--so insignificant. Had a great English king ever really lived
there?

Barry explained the hunting parties, the distances to be traversed, the
necessity in certain districts of securing food or lodgings, and rest;
the chief palaces, as he assured her, being sometimes too far off to
start from and get back to the same day. Therefore did Royalty erect
for itself shelters and accommodation in the various hunting districts
they frequented. This lodge was a specimen of one.

They descended a grassy slope and found a narrow footpath leading to
their destination.

Beside the old house was the caretaker's residence. They surveyed it
doubtfully, as an obstacle to that free and informal investigation they
had promised themselves.

"Windows," suggested Val, as they stood under shelter of the church
walls. But Barry looked doubtful. Slits in a wall whose solid thickness
has defied time for six hundred years are scarcely applicable to
19th century uses of light, air, and egress. True the slits had been
desecrated by glass now. Yet he eyed them as possessive of small
inducement to the noble enterprise of marauder and freebooter, and such
forest outlaws as might once have wandered there.

Finally they crept out of their shelter and faced the difficulty on
a bolder footing. It seemed as if Fate was bent on favoring them.
For presently a buxom person, armed with pan and besom, appeared on
the steps and let herself into the Royal building, bent on cleaning
purposes.

"We'll ask her to show us," said Barry eagerly, and they marched
boldly up to the porch. The woman had left the door open. They heard
her ascending the staircase. Delighted at their success, they stood
in the first of the rooms. It was small, and the huge stone fireplace
seemed out of all proportion to its size. Its carved oak mantel and its
decorations of delf and pottery struck a note of anachronism which,
happily, those uncritical minds could ignore.

There was the window with its narrow slits, through which the eyes of
kings and barons, and knights, and mighty hunters might have gazed;
there the walls, whose thickness would have defied the weapons of a
siege, even as they had defied time; there the huge, open fireplace,
where pine logs might have burnt for the supply of light and warmth,
and where a deer might have roasted without incommoding anyone.

The quick young eyes noted it all with just that awed interest awakened
by the reality of historical records and their sudden association with
everyday existence.

They cast longing glances up the oak staircase, wondering if that, too,
had known the tread of kingly feet.

The sound of broom and pail in the distance encouraged further
research. They stole up to the next landing. Three oak-panelled rooms
opened from it. The large one was the principal bed-chamber. All bore
date of the Tudor period and had been additions to the original lodge.

Here their investigations came to an abrupt termination, for a voice
suddenly challenged them.

"Well, young master, what d'ye want here?"

Barry confronted the speaker calmly.

"Oh! Only just looking over the place," he said carelessly.

Her eyes twinkled. "Looking over it, are ye? Well, and who gave you
leave?"

"Leave," said Barry. Oh, no one. The door was open and--and, of course,
we knew it was King John's house--sort or people's property--Magnum
Charter, and all that, you know."

"Ye don't say so?" The tone was ironical, but the eyes were
good-natured. "Well, indeed, what comes o' book learnin'! How long hev
ye known o' King John and Magnum Charter, my little gentleman?"

"It is not your house," interposed Val. "The great king--he so long
dead, what matter who now sees where once he lived?"

"Lived?" echoed the woman. "Ye don't suppose King John ever lived here,
do ye?"

"It's called his house."

"Ay, true enough. But 'twas only for his hunting parties, just a
meetin' place, ye know. And he signed papers, an' deeds, an' things
here, all about the preservin' o' the game, and foresters' rights, an'
them sort. But 'taint no account telling children these things. Who are
ye? Not from anywhere this neighborhood, or I should ha' known ye."

"Oh, we've come from some miles off," said Barry.

"Walked?" she enquired.

"Part of the way."

"Might ye give a guess at the miles?"

"About ten, I fancy."

"Oh; out Lord Hallington's way, then. 'Tis a queer thing for ye to
do. Folks do come here, o' course. It'll be a show place one o' these
days. There's talk even now o' fillin' up the rooms with--curiosities.
'Twon't be in my time, I hope. 'Tis trouble eno' to scrub and clean and
polish all this oak--leave alone a family to mind."

"Do you live here?" asked Val.

"Next door to it. I'm in charge o' the keys, an' people as wants to see
the old house gets permission from the great folk at the Park. That's
why I asks ye what brought ye here by your two selves?"

"Let us see it all, won't you?" said Barry eagerly. "There ought to be
a secret chamber. One of my school chums told me."

"Secret chamber? Nonsense! I never heard o' one. Not but what the walls
in th' old part is thick eno' for a room atween 'em."

"Isn't there something about a ghost--a knight in armor who walks about
one night in the year?"

"I never took no notice o' such tales. There's a tomb in th' old church
with a figure o' one o' they Crusading gentlemen lyin' atop o' it. But
I've never seen him walkin'."

"Oh, what a pity!" said Barry. "If I knew the night I'd come--just
watch if he really did."

"Ye're a brave little master," said the woman. "An' if so be ye'd like
to look over the house ye can do it while I'm cleanin' up this room.
An' if you an' the little lady would like a cup o' tea or summat before
ye go home ye're welcome. Only mind," she cautioned, "don't get into
any sor' o' mischief, for they're mighty set on this place, the family
are, and nothin' must be touched or broke. As I said afore, it's to be
turned into a sort o' museum like, and a sight o' things is stored in
some o' them rooms."

"Oh, we won't touch," said Barry. "It's only the part where the King
lived that I care about."

He and Val strolled off hand in hand. They had an hour of delight;
peering into the old rooms, opening cupboards, sliding down the oak
banisters, standing in the wide old fireplace to gaze up the great
chimney and see the sky above, peopling the hall with all the panoply
of chase and seigneury, and finally, with delightful indifference
to historical records, playing at signing what Barry termed "Magnum
Charter" in the principal room.

From time to time the woman watched and listened. They were so pretty,
so bold, so quaint; she was delighted with them. When her task of
cleaning was over she renewed the invitation to tea, and they were
quite willing to accept it.

A pang of regret shot through Val's mind, however, as she saw the great
door banged and heard the key turned in the lock. It wasn't every day
one had the run of a King's house.

*  *  *  *  *  *

"And how are ye goin' to get home?" asked their friendly entertainer,
when they had taken their fill of bread and butter and home-made cake
and hot weak tea, in company with two small rosy-cheeked children, who
were terribly shy and whose conversational powers were limited

"Get home," echoed Barry. "Oh, walk, of course."

"Walk? You and that little lady there walk ten miles, and it'll be dark
afore ye're out o' these grounds even!"

"Oh, I know the way," said Barry cheerfully. "And Val's rested now,
aren't you, Val?"

"Yes," she answered, somewhat dubiously. "But it is one very long way,
Barry."

"It's a great deal too long a way for a little lady like you to be
a-trampin' night time," said the woman. "I'm just thinkin' what's best
to do. I thought o' course ye'd left your own people up at the great
house. An' they've carnages an' all sorts there. Maybe I'd best send
word to 'em?"

"No, indeed, you mustn't!" exclaimed Barry indignantly. "We're quite
able to take care of ourselves and----"

He stopped abruptly. There was a sound of wheels outside and a loud
knocking at the door.

The woman opened it. The waning light showed Barry a familiar face.

"Mr. Friar!" he gasped.

"You young rascal!" exclaimed an angry voice. "So you did find your way
here. Well, thank goodness, I came on the right track. Do you know your
mother and Mrs. Haughton are nearly distracted with terror? There's
been search made for you everywhere."

"Oh, you grown-up people are so fussy," remonstrated Barry. "You seem
to think children can't do anything for themselves."




CHAPTER XVII.

To be driven home in charge of the curate and to the sound of sharp
reprimands was a somewhat ignominious termination of the day's joy and
freedom. Barry sulked.

"Seems to me that children can't do anything to improve their minds
without getting rowed for it."

"If you wished to come here only to improve your mind you might have
asked me to take you," said Dicky Friar, who was young and good-natured
enough to enjoy the joke of the situation.

"Waited? That's just it. Spoils the pleasure of a thing. It's 'not
to-day' or 'the weather,' or 'I'm busy.' or--Oh, by Jove, Mr. Friar, I
forgot all about the practice."

"Of course you did; and there's that new anthem to-morrow. We can't
trust it now."

Barry was silent. His taste for music was almost a passion, and to sing
the solo in this anthem had been a promised delight as well as a crow
over his predecessor, whose voice had taken to "cracking" on high notes.

Val, wrapped in a warm rug, was well content to have the homeward
journey performed by anything save her own two legs. For scoldings she
cared very little. The missing of the anthem would, however, be a grave
disappointment not only to Barry, but herself. She had listened in
ecstasy to his practising of it at the piano.

"Oh, what a pity that we did forget," she cried penitently.

"It wasn't your fault," said the boy. "I am a bit sorry, though. Let's
have it next Sunday instead."

"It won't be suitable. Next Sunday will he Christmas Day."

"So it will; I forgot that. Well, it can't be helped. I made up my
mind to see old King Johnny's house. And it was a poor sort of place
after all, and ever so much altered. Why can't people let things alone?
If you want to verify a bit of history nowadays you can't. There's a
Tudor addition, or a Norman edition, on an early English something. So
stupid."

Mr. Friar laughed. "Well, unfortunately, things won't last for ever.
And if one didn't restore, or add to, or alter, then there'd be nothing
but ruins left."

He looked down at Val's lovely little face as it nestled so closely to
his side. "Do you mean to say you walked all this way child?" he asked.

"Oh, no. We met with a--with a voiture de campagne. The man who
drive it he ask will we get up and he brought us quite a far way.
N'est-ce pas, Barry?"

"About five miles, Miss Jargon-jabberer," answered the boy.

"I cannot help--I always so forget."

"Good practice for you, Barry," said Mr. Friar. "Only it's odd that
there's nothing a boy is so ashamed of as the knowledge of any language
but his own."

"You were a boy once. I suppose you ought to know," said Barry.

"Whatever you learnt in Ireland, it wasn't proper respect for your
pastors and masters," laughed the young curate.

"No. They've a rough time of it over there. English boys are much
too--too----"

"Subservient to discipline?" suggested Mr. Friar.

"I suppose that is what you'd call it. I meant, they fuss about so
much before doing a thing. I like to go at it slap-dash. The fuss can
come--afterwards."

Mr. Friar tried to improve the occasion by a homily. Val drew attention
to the evening star. Barry remembered approaching holidays and the joy
of Christmas festivities.

"You might be punished for to-day's escapade," said Dicky Friar.

Barry looked across at Val. "I'm afraid, then, ours would not be the
only Christmas that was spoilt," he observed.

"You young rascal," laughed his preceptor. "Whatever's to be done with
you? Insubordination seems bred in your bones. I think you're a very
unsafe companion for this little lady here."

They both flared out at him then. He had hard work to maintain the
dignity of his position.

He delivered no more rebukes until they drove up to the hall door
of the Manor House. Then he lifted Val down from the shrouding rugs
and set her on her numbed, little feet. "Now you can fight your own
battles," he said.

The door flew open. An agitated group awaited the truants, and the
first relief of seeing them safe and sound was soon merged into stern
queries and stormy reprimands. Kathleen Monteath alternately dabbed
her eyes with her handkerchief and displayed a fluency of speech that
stilled Elinor's milder rebukes.

Lawrence Haughton strode to and fro, as angry as a man might well be
who has been set at defiance by two children and worried for the best
part of the day by two mothers. Never a good-tempered man, he now
displayed himself to the worst possible advantage.

In the midst of the turmoil Lord Hallington was announced. He had
called to ask if any news had been obtained of the truants. The butler
showed him in, and Kathleen's motherly agitation took a tender and
semi-reproachful tone.

The culprits were dismissed then in charge of Mary Connor, who muttered
angrily that it was all the fault of "that Master Barry." Her nursling
would be an angel if it weren't for him putting her up to his own
wicked mischief.

Peace being restored, tea was brought in, and to its genial
accompaniment Dicky Friar narrated the adventure.

"But how came you to think they had gone there?" asked Lord Hallington.

"Well, Barry's great chum, Charlie Cottell, lives at Tarrant-Hinton,
and it appeared he had been talking a lot about this old house and had
even drawn a plan of the district for Barry. I naturally imagined he
had gone there in spite of the distance, and had the dog-cart out and
went off to see. I got no word of them on the road, but at this time of
year it's not much frequented. However, I traced them to the village
and then went to the caretaker's cottage. There they were, having
exploited King John's Lodge to their heart's content."

"Children are a dreadful responsibility," sighed Kathleen Monteath,
"and a boy especially. Barry is so high-spirited and so full of life
and energy one never knows what he will do next."

"He seemed so quiet at first," murmured Elinor, on whom the day's
anxiety had left visible traces.

"Wants a stronger hand than a mother's I suppose," said Lord Hallington.

Kathleen sent him a demure challenge from her fine eyes, then dropped
them pensively over her tea-cup.

"He is all I have," she sighed.

"Judging from his capabilities I should imagine he is enough," said the
old lord dryly.

"His faults are only those of youth and temperament," she pleaded.
"Perhaps I have spoiled him a little. It is excusable. A mother's only
boy is the vindication of his sex's right to tyrannise."

Lord Hallington looked a little puzzled. "Mothers would do their boys
more good by letting them face the world and fight their own battles,
than tying them to their apron strings with excuses. School is the
finest leveller possible."

"But he is at school now," said the mother.

"And it certainly possesses no levelling power for his sense of
mischief," added the young curate. "The boys pay high tribute to his
originality in that line. Still, he has many good qualities. He is
frank and truthful. I like a boy who has the courage to confess not
only what he has done, but his reasons for it. To-day, for instance."
He broke into sudden laughter. "Fancy--he excused himself by a desire
to improve his mind; and accused those in authority of interfering with
that laudable determination and checking it by reproof."

"So like him," said Kathleen Monteath.

Lawrence Haughton frowned slightly. "That's all very well," he
said, "but at least he should give due notice of these praiseworthy
excursions into the field of research. Had he told me he wished to go
to this place I would have made no objection."

"Nor I," said Kathleen.

"We might have made up a party and driven them there," added Lord
Hallington. "Well, they've exploited it for themselves now."

"We ought to exploit a suitable penalty," muttered Lawrence Haughton.

"I threatened them with possible loss of Christmas enjoyments," said
Dicky Friar. "Barry was frank enough to hint at reprisals."

Elinor looked up in alarm. "Oh, pray let there be no punishments," she
exclaimed. "After all, it was only the fact of not asking permission
that was blamable. The jaunt itself was quite excusable."

"Meritorious, in fact," said Lord Hallington, rising. "Well, as all's
well that ends well, I leave you my most sincere congratulations."

He turned to Lawrence Haughton. "You've often promised to show me that
original edition of Sheridan Knowles in your library," he said. "Might
I ask you to do so now?"

"Certainly," said his host, looking somewhat surprised. "I shall be
delighted."

They went away together, followed by an uneasy glance from Kathleen
Monteath.

"That--means something," she said.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Arriving at the library, Lawrence Haughton offered a chair to his
visitor, and then went up to the well-lined bookshelves to search for
the volume he had requested.

An abrupt word stayed him. "Never mind, Haughton; that was only an
excuse. I've something to say to you."

So ashy-white was the face turned suddenly towards him that the old
lord uttered an exclamation. "Good God, man! are you ill?"

Lawrence's delicate-veined hand pressed his side. "A--a sort of
stitch," he said. "My heart is not very strong."

"I should think not, if a little exertion turns you that color,"
exclaimed Lord Hallington. "Here, sit down--have you any brandy here?"

"It's not necessary. I shall be all right in a moment."

The color came gradually back. He laughed off the old lord's evident
alarm. "I assure you it's nothing. I often have these attacks."

"You should see a doctor."

"Oh, I have. I'm all right, no organic affection. A little weakness,
that's all."

"Well, I suppose you know best, and a man of your age, means, and
position wouldn't trifle with life."

His keen eyes searched the haggard face before him. Searched it with
an interest and curiosity that he had not felt before in this somewhat
eccentric neighbor. From the face his eyes wandered round the room,
noting various signs of occupation. "You write, I believe?" he enquired.

"I am contemplating a book," answered Lawrence. "It is as yet barely
sketched. It is too ambitious to be easily or readily commenced."

"Um--well, I suppose I'd better get at once to what I have to say.
Look here, Haughton, I want you to tell me all you know about Mrs.
Monteath--your governess."




CHAPTER XVIII.

"About--Mrs. Monteath?" exclaimed Lawrence Haughton, stooping to pick
up a magazine that his elbow had dislodged from the table. "May I ask
your reason for this somewhat strange enquiry?"

"My reason? Well, I suppose you're entitled to do that. The truth is I
have a great, shall we call it--admiration, for this lady. Before that
admiration reaches a further point and threatens, as it almost seems
inclined to do, to become a serious consideration, I should like to
know something about her. Naturally I come to you for the information."

Lawrence Haughton's lips seemed to have become suddenly dry. His voice
had a harsh, almost aggressive accent.

"I really don't see," he answered, "why I should tell you anything
about Mrs. Monteath. Your admiration concerns that lady and yourself.
It has nothing to do with her position in my house, or--or the reasons
that forced her to accept that position. She is not an unattached girl
for whom I might serve as reference. What you desire to know of her
history should come from herself."

"I daresay you're right. But by asking her for such a history I should
stand self-committed. She is a beautiful woman, a clever woman, and
a woman who has lived--so much a man's eyes can see. But, as men of
the world, my dear Haughton, we both know that all women are not
quite what they seem. There are even some indiscreet enough to seem
different from what they are. Of course, I would not insinuate that
Mrs. Monteath possesses a past that is not--immaculate. But I should
like to know--had you any references with her? What part of Ireland did
she come from? Who are her friends or relatives? These are points into
which you must have enquired before entrusting her with the education
of your child, or exposing your wife to her attractive influence. I do
not think there can be any breach of confidence in your assuring me
that such enquiries were--satisfactory?"

A hot flush rose to Laurence Haughton's brow. For the second time in
his life a temptation met him--struck that weak spot in his nature, and
demanded resistance, or incited him to yield.

Lord Hallington noted the change of color, the shifty glance, the
hesitation before his question met response. But whatever he might have
expected he did not expect such an answer as escaped those craven lips--

"The enquiries made were not satisfactory, but----"

The old lord sprang to his feet. "Not satisfactory!" he cried. "Are
you aware what you insinuate, sir? That this lady, who is your wife's
friend and associate, your child's instructress is unworthy of so
responsible a post? That you knew this, and yet permitted it?"

Lawrence Haughton looked up at the angry face. His eyes glistened.

"When I said not satisfactory, I meant that they were not of a nature
to recommend this lady for that place in your affections which you
seem disposed to bestow on her. They have nothing to do with her
qualifications as a governess, or her fitness as companion to an
invalid."

Lord Hallington paced the room with angry strides.

"I am an old fool, I suppose. I could see plainly enough what she was
angling for, and she should have it too, could I convince myself that I
placed my trust in safe hands." He paused suddenly. "Haughton, it seems
a craven thing--two men pulling a woman's character to pieces. I hate
myself for doing it; but I'm too old to suffer indignity or drag my
name into disrepute. Perhaps I'd better say no more. Fortunately, I've
kept from committing myself. Another week of her society, her charm,
and I would not have answered for myself. I must go away--the Riviera,
or somewhere--I must forget her. If any questions are asked here you
can say it was my health--gout, liver--anything. Oh! ----, are we never
so old but that women can make fools of us."

He struck the table fiercely with his hand. His eyes flashed fire at
that wretched "dog in the manger," trying to play at compassionate
friendliness to assure his own heart that he had acted for the best.

"She has not succeeded in your case, my lord," he said. "After all,
the attraction of a pretty woman is excusable at any age. And you must
remember, that your position is a positive temptation."

"True! To anyone of that sort, I suppose. Well, Haughton, you, of
course, understand your own business, but after what has passed between
us I should consider it better taste if you precluded your governess
from those attentions society here seems disposed to press upon her.
She goes about with the assurance of one who has nothing to reproach
herself with and nothing to fear--on a footing with yourself, in fact.
Heavens, man! is that another stitch? How your hand shakes. What was
I saying? Oh, yes, drop a hint to your wife that it is advisable to
keep this beautiful lady in the background. That's all we'll say on the
subject. You really should consult a physician. Heart-attacks are not
to be trifled with. No, pray don't trouble to come to the door. Make my
adieux to the ladies, in case I don't see them again. This is all in
strict confidence, of course."

"In strict confidence," echoed Lawrence.

"And if I'm hurriedly ordered off to Nice, or Mentone, or somewhere,
you'll quite understand?"

"Quite. The explanation is in safe hands."

"Then, good-bye. Perhaps I shan't see you again, but though now I owe
you a grudge, I may one day count it a benefit."

The door closed.

Lawrence Haughton sank back in his chair. Every word had been like
a blow. He cowered there shivering and ashamed before that picture
of himself conjured up by the late scene. Those words:--"Nothing to
reproach herself with, nothing to fear!" "On the same footing as
yourself!" rang still in his ears. Nothing to fear! Why, every day of
his life held fear. Fear of the past and its shame--the Future and its
Nemesis. And in this last hour he had added to both. He had proved
dastard to a woman's faith in him. Ruined her brilliant prospects
for his own selfish ends. She could be nothing to him, therefore he
had resolved that she should be nothing to this other man. But now
how shamed and sickened he felt of that deliberate misleading. What
a paltry, pitiful coward he looked even in his own eyes! Supposing a
day ever came in which he should look so in hers! Great drops of agony
stood out on his brow as he thought of that possibility. He contrasted
his feeble love for the woman whose whole life was a sacrifice to
him, with this devouring, bitter, insensate passion for one who was
supremely indifferent. Therein lay her power--her charm. He could not
move, or provoke, or arouse in her a single feeling he desired. She
played with him as cat with mouse, velvet sheath and piercing claw
alternating; gloried in his agony, his self-suppression, his life of
duplicity, his lap-dog subservience; saw, without seeming to see, every
subterfuge, and mocked at it--laughed in his face at those impassioned
hints and avowals which at times he could not restrain. This--was his
life. The concealment of an ignoble secret. The shame of an ignoble
passion. He sat there weighing the one against the other, and saw them
blotting out the horizon of any future hopefulness. Dishonor had eaten
into his nature. The memory of those shameful years had poisoned all
that was best in manhood. Association with degraded minds had in no
way bettered his moral standpoint or aided a never strong integrity.
His efforts to ignore and stamp out these memories had only had the
effect of burning them deeper into his soul. The fact of his wife's
knowledge, the evidence of her pity, the consciousness of her deserved
contempt, had gradually alienated his feelings towards her. Now he saw
her broken in health and spirits, reserved towards himself, a direct
contrast to the wit and brilliance and beauty of her unconscious
rival. The spiritual forces of the one woman had little power beside
the fascinations of the other. He was at that critical age when a weak
man's passion dominates him as neither honor, nor duty, nor ambition
has power to do. He would let all else go for this one thing. Rivalry
had spurred him to a distinct dishonor. She would never forgive him if
she learnt what he had done to-day. Never. It was not to be expected.
To have stepped between her and such brilliant prospects would be
unpardonable in her eyes. She had made no secret of what she desired. A
wealthy marriage, title, position.

He started suddenly as if an adder had stung him. Two of these things
that she coveted might be in his power to offer her if--ah--that if.
Its subtle suggestions stole like poison through his veins--if he were
only free.

Elinor was sickly--delicate; had but a poor constitution. Why should
he not be free--in time? Time--that was just the obstacle. A waiting
game is as hard to play as a losing one. He could not propose such a
chance--could not expect her to wait on it.

Other suitors would appear. It was unlikely they would all come to him,
as this foolish old lord had done. One of them might be content to take
her on her merits--even as he and his wife had done. Her beauty was
dower enough.

He shuddered apprehensively. Oh, to peer into the future--to learn from
any source when, and where, and how soon this coveted freedom would
come to him. Elinor could leave him all her wealth--make him her heir.
Could--and would. She had promised it.

But oh, the weary waiting for freedom and all its attendant bliss. Oh,
the possibilities, the delights guarded only by that feeble barrier--if.




CHAPTER XIX.

Kathleen Monteath was inclined to view life favorably after that last
escapade of the children. She told herself that her position as an
anxious and much-tried mother had appealed to the chivalry of her
ancient admirer. He could not surely hold out much longer. Yet, as day
followed day, and Christmas Eve brought no greeting, no attention, not
even a hint of a house party or festivities at Crampton Park, she grew
anxious.

A severe cold had confined Elinor to her room. Kathleen and Lawrence
dined alone.

He deemed it a fitting opportunity for allusion to Lord Hallington's
departure. Her start and evident perturbation showed that she had
received no hint of it.

"Gone to Nice--and so suddenly. Surely he might have called or
mentioned it."

It occurred to Lawrence Haughton that the governess in a country family
does not usually receive intimation--at first hand--of the movements or
intentions of county dignitaries. But then all governesses are not Mrs.
Monteaths.

"Oh, he mentioned it to me," he said. "A bad attack of gout was the
prelude to his sudden departure. Lord Hallington is in the fortunate
position of having no one to consult except his own inclinations. He is
an example of the perfectly selfish aristocrat."

"He has not neglected his tenants' interests or the duties of his
position," she said warmly.

Lawrence Haughton shrugged his shoulders. "The one may be a salve to
conscience: the other an enforced obligation."

She gave petulant refusal to a proffered entrée and tried to imagine
reasons for this sudden departure. Why, she had been so sure--almost
felt the tiara on her head--heard herself addressed as "My Lady"--swept
into Buckingham Palace on a Court day--a new peeress introduced as "on
her marriage." And now the golden vision was dispersed. The cold mist
of commonplace duties and present obligations crept between it and her
self-assurance. It was an ordeal so trying that even her trained nerves
could scarcely summon up composure or indifference.

Lawrence Haughton noticed her annoyance with inward satisfaction. He
remarked on her want of appetite, but made no pretence at guessing its
cause. When she passed from silence to that inconsequent talk of which
most Irish tongues possess the secret, he followed her lead eagerly.
The frivolous chatter, the malicious personalities amused him. By the
light of his own knowledge of her disappointment he read her present
efforts at indifference. She was anxious to hide the fact that she was
disappointed. To an ordinary observer she would have seemed just her
usual bright, amusing self. Only when the children came in to dessert
there was an accent of sharpness in her tones, a visible impatience of
the restraint of their presence.

In Elinor's absence she could not linger long at the table, neither
could she dismiss Val or Barry. The occasion, too, brought forth
unusual pleas for indulgence. They accompanied her to the drawing-room
after dinner and insisted on singing carols. Barry had given Val some
instructions in the art, and the results were wonderfully successful.
Lawrence strolled in to listen, and the servants lingered in the hall
to catch the sweet young voices.

There was disapproval of a dull Christmas in their comments. No tree,
no party, nothing different save the appearance of mince pies and
cracker bon-bons. The latter they could have dispensed with. Barry
having an agreeable knack of letting them off at unexpected moments
and in closer proximity to bent heads or unconscious ears than was at
all pleasant. More and more were they convinced that the Manor was
not what it used to be--that no place in the county has so gone down.
The deplorable absence of "style" afforded Mary Connor a glorious
opportunity of lauding the ways and methods of the "Irish gentry,"
illustrated by "My late lady, the Countess," to the great annoyance of
Mrs. Burton, who, claimed pre-eminence for all things English.

Meantime the mistress of the Manor lay weak and ill and alone in the
great bed-chamber above, and wondered why life had been so hard on her.
The room was lit only by a wood fire on the tiled hearth. She had asked
Mary to extinguish her lamp, but through one window, where the blind
was withdrawn, she could see the dark indigo of the sky above a grove
of pine trees, and also one star shining there, clear and bright and
watchful--as a ray of hope shines sometimes in a human life.

"Not in mine," she told herself bitterly. "Never again in mine. I seem
to have come to the end of all. Even the child----"

Thought snapped abruptly. Clear and sweet through the silence of the
house thrilled the echo of young voices. It swept to her ear, spread
wavelike over her throbbing heart, and rebuked its bitterness.


"Let nothing you dismay.
"God rest you, merry gentlemen.


The tears welled into her eyes. "Let nothing you dismay." Alas! how
easily she had been dismayed. How hard she had found it to be hopeful,
or look out on any prospect of future usefulness or future good.

Was it right--was it wise? Life was drifting away from her without
any effort to recall it. Sheer weariness and disgust and secret grief
preyed on her, body and soul, slowly sapping the springs of energy and
hope.

"Let nothing you dismay." Oh! that courage were possible. That she
could once more rise and look life fearlessly in the face, and say, "I
have something yet to do, and I shall not shrink from doing it."

She lifted herself from the pillows. She listened with eager ears to
the ringing joy of the childish voices. If happiness had passed her by
in one form might it not come back to her in another? What mother could
ever be wholly desolate? Did not Nature itself teach that lesson? The
spell of life welling forth from that ever creative spirit communicated
itself everywhere--breathed restoration, unity, reviving force.

"Let nothing you dismay." Yet how easily she had been dismayed. How
ready to cry, "My heart is broken."

Her head dropped on her hands. The tears welled forth, as so often of
late they had welled, from channels of weakness and hopelessness. She
had told herself only a few moments ago that she alone of all that
household was unnoticed, undesired, forgotten. And then this message
came in the ringing notes of that one human creature she loved best.

"Let nothing you dismay." Well, nothing should--henceforward. She had
risen superior to the crushing force of trouble once already. Heaven
had sent her for reward this little joyous life. Once again that life
re-inspired dormant energies, roused her from that apathetic attitude
towards existing duties which was little better than lifelessness. With
that warm gush of tears, that sudden prayer, the frozen channels of her
heart broke up. Duties, obligations, necessities sprang up, a living
phalanx, not a dead army. She saw them marshalled before her, the
offspring of hidden forces checked but unsubdued.

There was something imperative in this sudden demand on her faculties.
Life summoned because life needed her. She lifted her head and looked
around the room. Why was she lying here alone, weak, neglected? Did the
fault lie with herself? A wave of energy warmed her languid pulses and
set her own heart-beats to the music of those youthful hearts below.

A silence had fallen, but as she sat listening for its break a rush of
feet came up the stairs and her door was burst open without ceremony.

She found herself embraced with energy, stormed with questions. "Did
you hear us, pretty maman? Was it not fine? Barry it is who taught me.
And you--ou pauve petite chérie!--al so solitaire, by your own poor
self. But I did think of you. Look!" The little hands showered dainties
on the white coverlet. Fruit, sweets, bon-bons.

"Come, we will have our little dessert together, you and Barry and I.
May he come? He waits out there. I said, 'Attendez. I go and see if
the p'tite maman desire us.'"

"Desire you!" Elinor's eyes brimmed again, but her voice held joy.
"Come in, of course, both of you. It is a delight to watch your pretty
play and hear you talk."

"Barry says you are much more of a mother, than his own mother. If only
you were not so often ill and sad." She gave the frail figure another
hug. "Mais, we shall have a little happy bright time up here, is it
not? Do not let us go to bed for quite a long time. We will be--oh, so
very extremêment bon!"

Elinor laughed--such happy heart-whole laughter that the child looked
at her amazed.

"What is it that has come to you?" she asked. "You look quite young
and pretty and gay. Say then you are not ill--not to be always in your
room--no use, as papa says."

The stream of joy froze suddenly. The color faded from Elinor's cheeks.
"Papa said that?"

"Mais yes. To madame--but it is a short while ago--after we have
sung the carols. Then I remember and feel so sorry, for you are ill and
alone and in bed, and I whisper to Barry and we steal away--we two. And
they--they take no notice--they sit by the fire and talk. But how they
talk! Heads so close and whisper and look. It is papa who looks--and
how his eyes shine, ma foi! Is it then one great secret he have to
tell madame?"

Paler still grew Elinor's cheek. The heart-beats were dull once more.
Pain dragged her labored breath.

"Dear--you must run away. Tell Mary to come and help me dress. I am
going downstairs."

Val sprang to the floor. "Downstairs! Are you then well?"

"I am well enough," she said, "for that. Send Mary to me."

Somewhat reluctantly the child turned away. "You need not stay," she
said to Barry, as she opened the door. "Maman comes down herself. I go
to call Mary to assist her toilette. Mais listen--attendez. We,
you and I, will not return. It is stupid downstairs. Let us find some
fun for ourselves."

"We will play ghosts," suggested Barry. "Ghosts always walk about on
Christmas Eve, specially in old houses like this."

"But if we do frighten someone."

"Well, that would be a jolly lark. I'd like to terrify old Burton. Why
there is Mary. I suppose she's looking for you. Catch her forgetting 8
o'clock."

"I send her to maman. Mary, you are to go at once to maman then. She
will dress and come downstairs. Depêchez-vous, done."

Mary Connor looked incredulous.

"Dress! Why she's quite ill. In bed all day."

"All the same she get up. She want you tout de suite--at once.
Allezvous en."

Mary, still incredulous, knocked at her mistress's door. She found
Elinor already out of bed.

"I am much better. I am going down to the drawing-room for an hour
or two. Cold? Oh, no. I shall not catch cold. Give me that blue silk
wadded gown that came from Allison's the other day. And just coil up my
hair loosely."

A few minutes later she opened the drawing-room door. Two figures were
seated, one each side the fire; they looked round as the handle turned.
The slight form, in its pale blue wrapper, the face so strangely
flushed, the eyes so strangely bright, won an astonished greeting, a
smothered oath.

"My dear Elinor, were you wise to leave your bed and come down?"
exclaimed Kathleen, rising and wheeling a big cushioned chair in front
of the fire.

"Wise--yes, I think so," said the soft voice. A little ambiguous smile
touched the speaker's lips. "It would be rather hard if I were not here
to welcome the first Christmas in my new home. I am a little tired of
playing the invalid, Kathleen."




CHAPTER XX.


"What does it mean? Again I ask myself, as I write these words, what I
have been asking myself all this evening--What does it mean? Can Elinor
suspect her husband of philandering? Does she mistrust me? Assuredly
I have no desire to play the role of domestic traitor, and for such a
weak fool as this. But also assuredly I am in no mind to be the butt
of jealousy. It will be too bad if the folly of the husband sets the
wife against me and ousts me out of my comfortable position. For I am
comfortable--extremely so; and I have no desire--yet--to part company
with such good fortune.

"As a day may come when the history of events here may be of use to me,
I will just commit to these pages the events of to-night.

"Lawrence Haughton and I were dining alone. Elinor had been suffering
from a feverish cold and had kept her bed. At dinner Lawrence informed
me that Lord Hallington had departed suddenly for the Riviera. To say
that the news was a shock is to say very little. I had felt as sure
as a woman can feel that he would ask me to be his wife. He had said
everything except just the one thing. His actions had aroused comment
on all sides. I was, in a measure, compromised by such actions and such
attentions. Then, without a word of warning or farewell, he took his
departure, leaving me to hear of it through any source of gossip that
might chance.

"I tried to keep my temper; I hope I did. It was not easy, more
especially as I had to remember the role of governess, and it is not
usual for that humble individual to receive p.p.c. cards from a peer
of the realm. But what roused my ire was Lawrence Haughton's quiet
complacency. He had known perfectly well what I had expected. He showed
a mean sense of triumph at the overthrow of those hopes.

"I did not pursue the subject. It was Christmas Eve, and we had to
have the children with us. After dinner they sang carols in the
drawing-room, and he and I played at 'domestic felicity' in approved
fashion. However, they took themselves off suddenly and then he asked
me to sing.

"I refused. I was in a vile temper by now, and the necessity for hiding
it made me feel in a worse one.

"I sat down by the fire. He drew a chair up opposite. I recommended
him to smoke. He refused. 'And leave you?' he murmured, with that
voice and look I hate. I hinted amiably that I could put up with
that deprivation. He became maundering; I let him go on. It amuses
me sometimes to see a man make a fool of himself. They do it so
completely, poor things.

"I was not even favoring him with special attention. I only wanted to
entrap him into any sort of confession as to Lord Hallington's plans or
his knowledge of them. Suddenly the door opened. I turned my head and
saw--Elinor. As she stood there wrapped in a semi-invalid gown, that
was excusably pretty, her eyes flashed from her husband's face to mine,
with a look I had never seen in them before. A look that sent the blood
to my face, so sharp was its jealous accusation.

"But I am apt at self-control and my voice never betrayed me. I rose
and spoke in the most natural manner. I wheeled her favorite chair to
the fire. I was pleased to see her, and sympathetic and apprehensive
all in a moment. That booby of a husband only stared and said nothing.
Her excuse for her unexpected appearance was a very natural one. It
was her first Christmas Eve in her new home. She did not appreciate
an enforced absence from her family. That was all very well, but why
had it not occurred to her before? It would have been as easy to come
down to dinner as to make this dramatic entry, without notifying her
intention to anyone. Besides, her manner to me was entirely different.
Of course I would not notice the change, would not even seem to see
a shade of difference. I was exactly as I had always been--and poor
Elinor is not hard to deceive. If only that fool Lawrence had backed
me up, all would have been well. But he sulked--absolutely and plainly
sulked. Instead of appearing delighted to welcome her, instead of doing
his best to wile the waiting hours until the Christmas chimes should
sound, he showed himself morose, dull, and unsympathetic.

"I could have boxed his stupid ears. Had I been his wife I believe I
should have done so. There we sat, talking spasmodically, and trying to
appear at ease, while all the time two at least of the three gathered
round that fire were mentally cursing conventionalities.

"At last I could stand it no longer. Besides, one must be 'de trop'
sometimes with husband and wife. I rose and begged they would excuse
me. I would prefer to hear the Christmas bells in my own room. It was
always a sad time for me, &c., &c.

"And here I am writing up my journal, while they are doubtless
exchanging confidences by their own fireside. I feel sorry for Elinor
Haughton if, to her own hidden sorrows and troubles, she chooses to add
wifely jealousy. God knows she needn't be jealous of me, but I cannot
tell her so.

"A woman placed in my position is always in the wrong. What force or
conviction lie in my coldness, my indifference, if she has detected her
husband's infatuation? How could I hope to prove it is only one-sided?
How am I to live on here and please both?

"These are the thoughts that torment me--that set my nerves warring and
jangling--that fill the air with discords, maddening as those chiming
bells! I hate Christmas! I hate those bells! I hate every memory and
association connected with this season!

"There! I feel better, even for writing that--even for seeing the black
lines that wreathe my own black thoughts facing me on the white paper.
God above! What maddening forces sometimes work within a woman's soul,
driving her with goads sharp as knives to the verge of desperation.
Only a few months ago I thanked heaven for this peaceful haven. I
called Elinor Haughton friend--and I meant it. Yet now the haven has
shown itself an unsafe port, the friend threatens to become an enemy.
And this time it is through no fault of my own.

"A thought has suddenly flashed through my brain. I have been looking
back on the various meetings and communications I have had with Lord
Hallington, trying to remember whether in any of them I said or did
anything to alarm his caution or arouse his suspicion. Memory and these
pages both assure me I am innocent. The last time I saw him was on that
evening when the children had played truant and taken themselves off
for the day.

"He was here in the evening. I remember it perfectly. He has not been
here since. Yet on that occasion he talked of spending Christmas at the
Park and having a small house party. Now he has left country and party
all in a lurch, without any intimation, as far as I am concerned, or
Elinor. Lawrence alone knew of it.

"Lawrence! I go back on the track of that night. I remember how Lord
Hallington and he were closeted together in his study for nearly an
hour. The dressing-bell had rung, and I was in my own room, before I
heard the carriage drive away. Why did I never think of this before?
Why did it never occur to me to wonder what important matter the two
men had to discuss? Had it anything to do with myself? If I only
knew----.

"The bells have ceased at last. The house is quiet, still I sit here,
restless, miserable, perturbed. If I have to leave the Manor, if I
have to face the cold world again, what is to be done? I know the old
hateful business so well; the struggling, the writing, the insults
of fine ladies who think I look 'above my position,' the impertinent
curiosity, the needless questions as to references and reasons for
seeking a situation! Where again could I hope to find a woman like
Elinor Haughton? Poor, trusting soul. Why can't she believe that at
least I would not make her so poor a return for her kindness--that I
might be a truer and better friend than ever she imagines? Can she love
that man? To me he is so unworthy--so despicable--a creature without
honor, or strength, or courage. She is fifty thousand times too good
for him, and yet she gives him everything, including her love, and does
me the honor to be jealous of my superior attractions.

"Oh! these masks we wear to each other and dare not lift! If but for
five minutes I could show her my soul, and she would show me hers,
surely we might stretch hands across that gulf that now divides us, and
say. 'I understand.'

"But let me return to that evening. Could the two men possibly have
discussed me? If so, was Lawrence Haughton dastard enough to utter some
aspersion on my character? To relate how and why I came here? Or was he
content with merely stating where I came from, and my own version of my
antecedents?

"Fool that I was not to foresee what he might do in his jealousy.
Fool--doubly, trebly, fool--to show to him of all people the scheme I
had in view. Fool, and again fool, to shut my ears to the warning of
experience.

"But what use to rage and fume like this? It is not like me to lament
the inevitable; on the contrary, my energies usually brace themselves
afresh. Twice have I done this! Twice!

"The shadow of that old terror creeps over me. The memory of that other
Christmas Eve. In this quiet room, shut away from all eyes, I and my
enemy stand once more face to face. Why can't I kill memory? Does even
Death do that?

"Oh, that quiet face, that chill, cold smile upon the silent lips,
those half-closed eyes, and the grey dawn creeping in through the open
window, and his despairing call on me--and then the tragedy that ended
it!

"Perhaps some whisper of that it was that reached the old lord's ears.
Perhaps Mary O'Connor had broken her promise. Why should I expect her
to keep faith with me? I am not rich enough to bribe her, nor powerful
enough to persuade. I am at the mercy of her word, or her tongue. True,
she can prove nothing, assert nothing, but a hint is as dangerous as
accusation, and a lie that is only half a lie can work as much mischief
as the truth.

"Such truth as I might speak would convince no one.

"Shall I state it baldly here for my own reasoning powers to sit in
judgment upon? I am tempted to do so.

"What I have shut up in my own soul for four silent years rushes back
on me to-night like an imprisoned torrent.

"What do I behold? Again a man's insane passion, again a woman's
insensate jealousy. A double suicide. And I--a young, beautiful,
friendless--accused--accused of purchasing the poison administered by
the husband to the wife and--then taken by himself.

"I live again the terrors of the awful time. I see myself confronted by
such legal penalties as might well wreck a woman's life. I see one hand
stretched out to save me, and I cling to it with all the passion of
despair.

"That hand did save me. But for what purpose--for what end?"




CHAPTER XXI.

When Kathleen Monteath left husband and wife together Lawrence Haughton
relapsed into sulky silence. He was angry with Elinor for coming
downstairs; doubly angry at the frankly expressed desire to which she
gave utterance--a desire to leave England and winter abroad.

"I should get well and strong in sunshine, under bright skies," she
said. "And now there is no difficulty in the way, as we need not
consider expense."

"What about Val?" he asked.

"She would, of course, remain here under charge of Mrs. Monteath. We
would return in the spring."

His brow contracted. "We." How readily she took his consent for
granted. What a helpless tool was a rich woman's husband--obliged to
give in to her whims and fancies--never independent, never his own
master. Truly, there were things to endure in life for which no money
could compensate.

"It's a long time to leave home and--and everything," he objected. "And
you have had proof of the children's capacity for mischief. It's--it's
a great responsibility for Mrs. Monteath."

Elinor smiled. "Oh, Kathleen is quite capable of managing them, I
think. There is no reason, of course, why Barry should not be a weekly
boarder with Mr. Friar and only come home on Saturdays. That would
lessen her anxieties."

"Where do you wish to go?" he asked.

"I thought of Cairo. It would be new ground, and I hear a winter there
is delightful."

"Cairo! Good heavens, what a distance!"

"In these days distance is no obstacle. Everything is made easy. The
short sea voyage would be beneficial to--both of us."

"You might leave me to answer for myself, I think."

"Certainly I will. But I have noticed that you, too, have seemed out
of sorts and out of spirits lately. My suggestion, therefore, embraces
both of us."

His cowardice took alarm. Anything was better than that she should
suspect. But then to leave Kathleen. Supposing Lord Hallington
returned--supposing they met--supposing that his part in this timely
separation came out?

He rose and paced the room, as was usual with him when disturbed,
weighing pros and cons, and possibilities with every yard he paced.

"I don't fancy you would like Cairo," he said. "Why not try the
Riviera?"

"We know that. Besides--so many undesirable English go there."

He colored--knowing what she meant.

"One has to take one's chance wherever one goes. The same risk attends
every place. I thought for a year or two you might have been contented
here?"

She looked at him and her eyes' quiet earnestness revealed more of her
reason for standing between him and future temptation than he had power
or inclination to read.

Her thin hands clasped one another as they lay on her lap; the wedding
circlet turned loosely on the finger that she touched. How content she
would have been here she told herself--how well and perfectly content,
but for him!

"You--you look very well," he went on. "Although, with that cold it was
foolish to leave your warm room and come downstairs."

"Women are always doing foolish things," she said. "Perhaps they do
them sometimes to veil a purpose."

"I fail to see----."

"Dear Lawrence, I meant no particular instance. Shall we leave further
discussion till to-morrow? I want to have the children in. I only gave
them leave to sit up till 10 o'clock. It will soon be that."

He crossed the room and rang the bell.

"I'm going to have a smoke," he said. "I should not advise you to sit
up late. It's such nonsense waiting for Christmas bells and things of
that sort. A lot of false sentiment--as if Christmas wasn't just as
dreary as any other time of the year!"

He closed the door roughly. Was it only the jar to sensitive nerves
that sent that hot smart of tears to those patient eyes, that brought
that stifled sigh to her lips?

All the brightness of her face clouded now in the solitude of that
great, splendid room. What could its splendor do for her, the owner and
mistress of it all? It could not lift the shadow from her life, the old
sad shadow of what had been. Nor could any wealth or splendor restore
that image of beloved and noble manhood to its place in a girl's mind,
or compensate for a broken ideal, a crushed and wounded heart?

Her thoughts turned to him still; turned with pity because of the
gentle womanliness of a nature that never could be braced to sternness
or harsh judgment; turned with excuse, with even self-blame, seeing so
little merit or charm in that self she blamed for sake of him.

In what he said, in his whole bearing of late, there lurked a threat
of coming division between lives so closely linked as theirs. With
sorrowful unwillingness she had been forced to acknowledge it, though
the whole tragic possible truth had only flashed upon her in her
child's innocent words.

"I must save him," she thought. "It may be only a passing
fascination--pardonable enough, she is so beautiful--but there is so
much at stake. I cannot leave this inheritance to one unworthy of it. I
cannot see my child doubly dishonored."

The sound of hasty feet, of laughing voices, dried her tears. She
drew herself up, and her arms opened wide with a mother's hunger that
demanded some satisfaction for the woman-suffering behind it.

The children hurled themselves upon her with boisterous gratitude for
such long liberty.

"We played at ghosts up and down the corridor," said Barry. "But no one
was frightened. Where's mother?" he added, glancing round the great
room.

"She went upstairs about half an hour ago. Now I want you children to
sing me that Christmas carol again; I only heard it in the distance.
After that you must really go to bed."

"But who's to play for us?" asked Barry, marching up to the piano for
the music.

"Perhaps I can," smiled Elinor. "There are a few things still that I
can do, although I am supposed to be only capable of lying in bed or
taking a carriage drive."

She seated herself at the piano. The two young voices began, faltered,
then with surprised zest took up air and words, as a sweet clear
soprano steadied them.

"Why, you can sing, too," exclaimed the boy.

"A little--yes."

"But it is beautiful," cried Val, enthusiastically. "How does it
arrive--happen, you say--that I never have heard you before?"

Elinor looked at the bright face and laid one gentle hand on the pretty
russet head. "I think," she said, "you may have heard me before, Val,
when you were only a tiny child and I would sing you cradle songs. But
it's long ago, dear--so long ago that I surprised myself to-night."

Lawrence Haughton, sitting by his study fire in black and gloomy
thought, had shared that same surprise; and listening to the long
silent voice that rang so true and sweet across the intervening space,
he asked himself the question Kathleen was writing in her journal--What
does it mean? Had she grown suddenly tired of her inactive part in
life? Was she really stronger than she had pretended? The thought
brought no gladness, no relief. His brow grew darker; impatience and
irritation showed in every line of his face.

Whatever false hope had whispered of freedom, to-night had given it
the lie. Not that way would he win what he coveted, and the years
were so long and might be so many. His eyes rested on the well-filled
bookshelves--on that neat pile of MSS. containing his notes for that
book he had now no inclination to write. Wasted days, wasted dreams,
wasted labor all.

What was the use of writing? Money he did not need, for fame he did not
care. The interest he had first taken in his subject had long since
given way to a more engrossing and human interest. It startled him now
to see how engrossing it had become. And for a sick woman's whim he
was ordered to give it up--to cut himself adrift from a companionship
whose danger was half its charm. How could he bear the empty days, the
silence, the ignorance as to her welfare or pursuits?

Then suddenly, by a strong effort, he checked these thoughts and turned
his mind into another channel. He thought of his wife's love--her
patient devotion--the gifts of fortune she had lavished so ungrudgingly
upon him. In what way was he repaying them?

Shame smote him at the memory of his ingratitude. Yet neither shame nor
remorse were strong enough to hold him back. The tide of passion swept
him off his feet once more. This woman had taken complete possession of
his soul. Put her aside he could not.

"I am a weak man, but I am as Fate made me," he said. "Weak and false
too. If Elinor knew me as I am, would she send me out of her life?
It would be only what I deserve. I came out of that hell poisoned in
mind and body; hating law and justice and right; afraid to face my
fellow-man; afraid of the secret that leaves me the sport of chance;
afraid of my wife's pity, and ashamed of her love. I shut myself out
from her sympathy. I forbade allusion to those awful years, and the
shame of them and the bitterness of them have eaten like a canker into
my very soul, destroying honor and strength. Better, I often think,
that I had cut myself adrift from her, taken my evil presence out of
her life; and I would do it now if I could take Kathleen with me. She
has no fine feelings, I am sure of that. Self binds her desires. If I
only had in my own right what I share by right of the marriage tie I
would not hesitate. But I have nothing; I can do nothing; and to-night
I almost feared that Elinor began to suspect. If she did she would
dismiss Kathleen, I suppose, without a moment's hesitation. God, what a
tangle it all is. In whatever way I act there is danger--to her, to me,
to all of us. How to get out of it?"

His restless feet had brought him to a standstill before the book-case.
Hardly conscious of what he was doing his eyes wandered up and down the
serried ranks of volumes it contained. Wandered, then stayed at one
shelf, arrested by the sight of a title, gold lettered on calf binding.

He turned, moved away to the window, looked out at the darkness, at the
wintry sky and shining stars, then dropped the blind, and once again
came back and let his furtive glance stray over that shelf. But now his
hand followed the direction of his eye, touched the volume undecidedly,
then drew it out. He went back to his chair, laid the book deliberately
on the table, and opened it at the title-page--

"FAMOUS POISONING CASES."

*  *  *  *  *  *

The bells were chiming and clashing when Lawrence Haughton at last
lifted his head from that long and studious perusal. All vestige of
color had left his face; his eyes had a strange, wild glitter.

"How easy it seems," he said, half aloud; "how easy! And how many have
escaped detection?"




CHAPTER XXII.

The Manor House people never went to church. Lawrence stubbornly
refused, and Elinor's plea of ill-health served her as excuse.

On Christmas Day, however, she ordered the carriage and asked Kathleen
to accompany Val and herself. Too surprised to refuse and reluctant to
ask a reason Mrs. Monteath said, "Yes," with a briskness that seemed to
welcome the opportunity. Church attendance was not much in her line,
and on the one or two occasions she had presented herself there it had
been more as a critic of congregation and service. Both had suffered
considerably at her caustic tongue, but she had not indulged herself
in Elinor's presence. To-day, the flutter of plumes, and rustling of
satins, and general air of ceremony and occasion afforded her infinite
entertainment. So, apparently, they did Val, who had come reluctantly
to the service and envied Barry's freedom of will in the matter.

During the drive home Elinor alluded to her intended departure. "Would
you have any objection to remaining here in charge of Val?" she asked.

"Certainly not. I should be only too delighted."

"Mr. Haughton feared you might consider the responsibility too great."

"Not in the least. The household arrangements, I suppose----"

"Oh, Mrs. Burton would see to them. Of course the large reception rooms
would be closed. But the rest of the house would be at your disposal."

Kathleen laughed. "You don't suppose I should be entertaining on my own
account? The hall and the library are all and enough for me. But isn't
this a rather sudden determination?"

"Yes," answered Elinor. "But I think my husband and I would both be
better for a change."

"You have not been here very long."

"No. But I am never well in the winter. The cold does not suit me. I
want to try the swallow's plan and fly to summer climes. I am thinking
of Cairo."

"How delightful! And it will be such a change of life as well as scene."

"You have never been there in your wanderings, I suppose?"

"No. France and Italy embrace my travels."

"We should probably be away till April," continued Elinor. "If you have
the slightest objection to remaining here alone, do not hesitate to say
so."

"My dearest Mrs. Haughton, objection! Did I not tell you how forlorn
and homeless I was? I should be ungrateful, as well as foolish, to
cavil at any plan you made."

"I thought," said Elinor gravely, "that you would miss the
attentions--the society. Of course our absence precludes your
acceptance of invitations."

"Of course. You don't suppose I should be asked to dinners and dances
when your sheltering wings were withdrawn, or that even if the county
forgot its duty to the governess, the governess would forget hers to
the county."

In her heart she was saying, "If you want to get rid of me, my dear
lady, you must say so straight out. No one can be denser at taking an
unpalatable hint than your humble servant."

But Elinor was only feeling her ground. She had no absolute reason to
mistrust Kathleen Monteath, no absolute fault to find with her attitude
towards the position she held, yet the vague uneasiness of yesterday
was far from being dispelled. She might exonerate her governess from
blame, but she could not deny her attractions.

"When do you start?" asked Kathleen presently.

Elinor glanced at the child, who was listening to the conversation with
evident misgivings.

"Nothing is decided yet," she said hurriedly.

"Oh! but chérie, you will take me!" cried Val suddenly. "It is not ever
that you go without your poor little child who loves you so?"

"But, dear, you will be quite happy here. You will have Mrs. Monteath
to take care of you, and Barry to play with, and you are to learn to
ride. I have bought you a little pony, as a Christmas present, and the
coachman will teach you. Think of that."

Val did think of it. Such an event in her small life was of a
significance that dwarfed a shadowy sorrow. A pony of her own to ride.
She went into ecstasies. Then suddenly remembered facts.

"But I cannot ride alone, and Thomas he is old and stupid. I want Barry
to ride with me. I do not care for my pony if I do have him alone. May
not Barry have one, too, p'tite maman?"

"Dear child!" exclaimed Kathleen. "You must not expect that Barry is to
share all your joys and pleasures. As it is, your parents have been far
too considerate."

"I also wanted to say," continued Elinor, "that I should prefer you to
arrange for Barry to be a weekly boarder with Mr. Friar. It will not
distract your attention so much--and Val is more manageable when by
herself."

Kathleen felt the color rise to her brow. This was certainly unexpected.

"Of course, if you wish it," she said stiffly. "I am sorry you think
his companionship harmful for your little girl."

She scarcely recognised the timid, soft-spoken Elinor in this cold,
decided woman. More and more she wondered what had passed between
husband and wife.

"Not harmful," said Elinor, in the same measured tones. "But it is a
little injudicious to throw them so much together. And a boy is so
different."

"Barry is certainly a handful to manage," sighed his mother. "I often
fear you have not forgiven him for taking Val off to that place--where
was it?--King's Chase? King's House?"

"King John's House," chimed in Val. "It was one most lovely day. I wish
there was another of it."

"I shall look after you a little more carefully in future. Another of
it would be a little too much," said Mrs. Monteath.

Her eyes were on the wintry landscape. She sat by Elinor's side and
wished the long, uncomfortable drive was over.

"You are quite by yourselves to-night?" she asked suddenly.

"Yes. But the children will dine with us. I think Christmas Day
entirely a day for one's family."

"You prim little thing, I should like to shake you," thought the
governess. "A very melancholy day, I always think it," she said aloud.

"Most anniversaries are that. They always mean looking back on the
changes Time has made."

"In ourselves?"

"Yes, and in others too. We all have our landmarks."

"I think it is better not to look back on them."

Elinor's eyes rested on the child. Kathleen Monteath watched them.
"That is 'your' landmark," she said to herself. "I wonder what it
means?"

*  *  *  *  *  *

Luncheon meant a period of forced gaiety. Kathleen tried her best to
keep the ball of conversation rolling, but it was hard work. The change
in Elinor's demeanor made her uneasy, and kept her on her guard towards
Lawrence. He, on the other hand, resented secretly his wife's apparent
return to health and duty, and her evident determination to leave the
Manor.

Could she possibly suspect him? He watched her furtively, yet avoided
her eyes and rarely spoke. The situation was decidedly strained, and
all Kathleen's tact scarcely bridged a threatened impasse.

She persisted in alluding to the proposed tour, planning the journey,
suggesting plans of travel, the necessary outfit, the wonders and
delights in store for Elinor. Val listened in dismay. The idea of her
mother going to this wonderful land, to those pyramids which towered
to an indigo sky from a desert of flame-colored sand, of which she
had read in the big illustrated Bible she had discovered. Wild ideas
of pursuit rushed to her brain--of hiding under the carriage seat and
having to be taken, whether or no, on this journey of marvels--of
appeal and insubordination, or dire vengeance on these opposing powers
who had decreed home and schoolroom for her instead of liberty.

When luncheon was over she consulted Barry as to plans, but for once
met with no encouragement. "Let them go. I shouldn't bother. We'll have
no end of a jolly time without 'em," was his response.

Val thought of measured play hours--of one Saturday only in a long
week--of the constant supervision of Mary Connor or Madame, and grew
restive.

"For you--oh, it will be all very well for you, but what of myself?
You are not to come home but once of a week, Saturday, and you return
yourself on the Monday morning. Viola; that is all. Not much of a
'jolly time,' as you say, in that."

"Better than nothing. At least we'll have two whole days to ourselves."

Kathleen Monteath meanwhile was longing for the pronouncement of
liberty. She wished discussion would give place to decision; that
everything was settled and she left in possession, no one to order, no
one to fear, no one to consult. Oh, why wouldn't that hateful, foolish
Lawrence see that it was the very best thing that could happen. She
longed to have a few moments talk with him, but dared not run the risk.
On no account must she strengthen suspicion. The whole fabric of her
safety lay in Elinor's hands. She could tear it to pieces in a moment
if she chose.

But the thought of Lawrence, sullen, and unwilling, and driven
desperate, held a fair amount of uneasiness. Who could ever trust a man
or be sure how he would act? The highest code of honor has been broken
by a mere flesh and blood temptation. And he was so weak. She knew his
mental fibre well. It could scarcely bear any strain, any opposition,
any tempting.

To get him away from here, to be relieved of his presence, his pursuit,
was her present idea of happiness. The air was poisoned by subterfuge,
rent by jealous frenzies, the ground on which she walked was a network
of pitfalls.

Oh, if he would only go, only leave her to that promised freedom. Would
anything bribe him, supposing he proved obstinate? She went over to
her window and stood there for long, debating this point. She watched
the red glow of sunset through the bare tree boughs, and saw the great
spaces of open country between their leafless gaps.

Oh, for even a month of leisure and safety and peace. A month in which
brain and nerve might recover mental balance. A month in which she
would not have to act, but could play at being her own mistress and
live in peace.

As the thought whirled through her brain she saw a figure moving in the
distance--a man's figure that passed between the gaunt tree-trunks and
then crossed a space of grass and entered a small plantation of young
firs.

"It looks like Lawrence Haughton," she said. "Oh, what a chance. If I
could see him alone--speak to him--persuade----"

Swift in her actions, as in her moods, she rushed to the wardrobe and
seized a hat and cloak. A quarter of an hour later another figure
disappeared into the fir plantation.




CHAPTER XXIII.

Beyond the plantation was a thick pine-wood, through which a little
track zigzagged amongst dense straggling undergrowth of weeds and
withered bracken. It ended abruptly at a low stone wall, one of the
boundaries of the park.

Lawrence Haughton was close to this wall when he heard the sound of
quick steps and panting breath. He looked round and saw Mrs. Monteath.
The blood leaped quickly to his face, then seemed to ebb back to his
heart in a swift current of pain. For a moment he grew dizzy and faint,
as if by some acute mental shock. When he steadied himself again he
could hear the heavy labored beats like hammer strokes in the silence.
The hand that pressed his side pressed a spasm of agony that spoke its
own warning.

"I saw you walking along," cried Kathleen. "What a pace! One would
think you were entering for a foot race."

His eyes flashed. His face regained its normal color. Time, scene,
suffering, all merged into that one dominant joy of her presence.

"I want a chat with you," she went on. "Shall we walk here? It is a
dreary place, though."

"Not now," he said, and his breath quickened, and the color flushed his
cheek hotly. "Not now."

She laughed lightly.

"Oh, you mean that for a compliment! But I'm in no mood for nonsense.
I have something serious to say to you, and you have to listen to it.
Yes, and agree to it. Promise!"

"I can't promise till I hear what it is."

"Then, shortly and simply, it is that you are to do what your wife
desires and put her suspicion to rest. It is not fair that I should
suffer for your, let us call it, temporary interest in Mrs. Haughton's
governess. Not fair, and not kind to me. I have had a hard life, Mr.
Haughton; I have faced trials and enmities such as few women have had
to face; I do not choose to bear any more, if I can prevent it. A
little plain speaking sometimes saves a great deal of after sorrow.
Let me speak plainly. I like your wife, and I do not wish to make her
unhappy. She suspects me of--shall we call it--flirtation with you?
Nothing more. Well, for that suspicion you are to blame. You must
destroy it--nip it in the bud. When we drove home from church this
morning I read a change in her manner, a change in her thoughts. She is
bent on taking you away from what she considers a danger. I think she
is right. I don't profess to be a good woman or a very virtuous one;
but at one thing I do draw the line. I will not have any wife lay her
husband's sins at my door. I will not step between a man and his duty
to the woman he has married!"

Lawrence Haughton listened with something of wonder and anger combined.
That poor shadow of duty and honor to which she appealed gained no
firmer substance; his shallow nature was incapable of comprehending her
reasons for speaking so boldly.

"It is a little late in the day," he said, "to talk to me of duty. You
should have thought of that before you drove me to forget it."

"I--drove you?" she cried, angered and amazed.

"Yes, you! Who else? How could I help contrasting you with that poor
milk-and-water thing who claims what you call--duty? What should I
care for duty? Every smile and look, every word and wile of yours,
has driven me further and further away from it. Now, all my life is
bounded for you, and you alone. All else is poor and weak. No; I will
speak--you have forced me to it. I love you, Kathleen, and only you;
you know it, as well as I do. That love is driving me to desperation.
I think, breathe, live, only for you and those hours in which I see
you. Were I a free man, all that wealth and position can bestow should
be flung at your feet, and nothing of their worth would weigh with me
against a smile of yours!"

She stamped her foot with sudden anger.

"Will you cease? These words are the words of a madman. I refuse to
listen."

"You have made me a madman, then, and you must listen!" he cried
fiercely.

With all her coolness and courage she grew alarmed. But she was too
wise to show any sign of fear.

"If it's any satisfaction to you to rave like this," she said, "pray do
so. Only, I assure you, it hasn't the slightest effect on me."

"You mean to say that you don't care----."

"Not the tiniest atom! Why should I? You hare no such unfortunate
attraction for me as I appear to have for you. But I so value my
position here, and I care for your wife's peace of mind. You shall not
jeopardise either, if I can help it."

His sullen brows lowered over the anger in his eyes. He could have
killed her then as she faced him in her fearlessness and lashed him
with the cool insolence of her words.

"If--you can prevent it," he repeated slowly. Then he paused and faced
her. "But you cannot. I refuse to leave the Manor. If my wife wishes to
go abroad, she can go--without me!"

Kathleen's cheek paled. Her lips set themselves firmly. "Are you
aware," she said, "that your words are a deliberate insult? I came here
trusting you as a gentleman and a man of honor, expecting under your
roof the courtesy and protection usually afforded to a lady, whatever
her position. Have you no sense of what is due to me, to your wife, to
yourself?"

"None," he said--"none. You have destroyed all--everything, except my
love for you. It is all my life; I have no thought or wish or hope
apart from that."

She turned away impatiently. Every word he spoke, every sign of her
mastery over his craven heart, annoyed and disgusted her. Accustomed
as she was to deal with men's passions, she found this man a tougher
subject than she had bargained for--a more difficult case to handle.

"You poor wretched coward," she muttered. "What am I to do with you?"

He caught the last low-breathed words and construed them as an appeal,
instead of a menace. He saw her pause suddenly and lean against the low
stone wall, resting on her folded arms, while her eyes gazed moodily
into the woodland depths that stretched away to a red and brooding sky.
So she stood motionless for a space of moments, and on her face was a
look that changed all its soft alluring beauty to desperation. She saw
in him an enemy and an obstacle. His obstinacy threatened her with ever
recurring dangers; his infatuation was impossible to deal with.

"I wish," she said viciously, "that your wife could hear you. That she
knew you as you are."

"It would make no difference," he said.

"It would make the difference of proving who was master here," she
said, with a sweeping gesture of her upraised hand. "She would have
every right to banish you as unworthy to share her honors or to spoil
them."

He grew ashy white. She noted the change, and wondered what random shot
had struck home to him. She remembered her always present suspicion of
something in his past life, some secret or shame, whose discovery he
dreaded.

"What do you mean?" he whispered hoarsely.

He was close behind her now, his hand closed on her wrist with sudden,
savage fierceness. She turned; her eyes ablaze, her lips quivering.

"I mean," she said, "that you have a secret to hide, Lawrence
Haughton--a secret I have discovered!"

"You?" he faltered guiltily, and the ashen hue crept like a grey shadow
over his face. Then he roused himself to an effort of denial, but she
had seen the fear in his eyes and pushed her advantage.

"Yes--I. If it were known here by your neighbors your position would
suffer materially. Even your wife could not screen you."

"It's a lie!" he cried. "You can't know--anything."

She did not--but she found guesswork an admirable substitute.

"I know enough," she said, "to humiliate you--to place you under my
feet."

"Yet--you wish to stay on here--under my roof."

"Your wife's roof, you mean--you are only a tenant at will. Yes, I have
my own reasons for wishing to remain here. But I don't desire a scandal
about it."

"I know your reason," he sneered. "You think that old dotard will come
back--that you can bring him to your feet again. You still hope to be
'my lady' queen up at the Park yonder. But you won't find it so easy to
fool him a second time. Peeresses need a clean family record, and he
knows you cannot show that."

"He knows! Then it was you who told him."

She flung off his hand, as if its touch scorched her. The flame and
wrath of her hot Irish temper blazed out at last and terrified him.
The flood of her words held him dumb, marvelling at the source of so
eloquent a torrent. It was useless to try to stop its flow of abuse
and defiance. He shrank back, conscious still of a wild and passionate
admiration of this force of hers, thrilled with a mad desire to seize
this tigress in his arms and kiss the quivering lips into silence or
submission. She roused in him a sense of manhood. A longing to master
her, to conquer her defiance, set every force of his nature quivering
with a passion hitherto unknown.

Oh! for one moment to hold her, conquered and subdued, that lovely form
crushed to his breast, those mocking lips silenced by his own; to throw
back that taunt of cowardice, to force acknowledgment of strength,
even the strength of mere sex against sex, and then--come death, come
madness, it mattered not.

In moments such as these the pagan man leaps all boundaries of
civilisation and creed and the tutoring of generations. He is still the
savage who fought his enemy for food, and captured his love for lust,
and bore her, even as he bore his prey, to some primitive retreat,
there to be tamed and subdued to his mastery in the solitude of
primeval forests.

He felt the blood race through his veins, a red mist swam before his
eyes. For a moment silence reigned. Her rage had exhausted her; her
breath came in swift, uneven gasps, and one choking, hysterical sob
caught her throat and proved her still but woman.

Then, with a sudden loud laugh, he threw his arms around her. "You
beautiful termagant," he cried savagely. "At least you shall pay for
your insolence."

She felt the brutal force of those compelling arms, the fever passion
of the lips that crushed her cry to silence. Then, with every pulse of
outraged womanhood stung to desperation, she forced her own arms to
freedom and struck wildly, blindly, at his down-bent face.

She had some dim memory of a gasp, a sudden relaxation, then she had
wrenched herself away from the outrage of his clasp, and was flying at
headlong speed, neither knowing nor heeding where her feet bore her, so
long as she was free of that hateful presence.




CHAPTER XXIV.

The dinner bell had rung for the second time and yet the master of the
house had not appeared.

Kathleen Monteath had purposely delayed her own entrance and
safeguarded that with Val's company.

She stood by the fireplace talking to Elinor, a feverish flush on her
cheek, a strange brightness in her restless eyes. Every nerve was
strained listening for that footstep she hated and dreaded to hear, and
as moment succeeded moment the tension was almost unbearable. Elinor
gave audible expression to her wonder. It was unusual for Lawrence to
be late. She sent a servant to the library: but he was not there nor in
his dressing-room. His evening clothes were laid out, so it was evident
he had not dressed for dinner. Could he possibly be still out of doors?

"He told me he was going for a walk after lunch," said Elinor uneasily.
"But I never knew him to remain out so late as this--Christmas night,
too!"

The dinner was put back for another quarter of an hour--a miserable 15
minutes, spent in alternate surmises or gaps of silence, to which every
passing sound lent ominous suggestion.

The children were manifestly impatient and hungry. Yet Elinor could
not bring herself to commence dinner on such an occasion without the
ostensible head of the house. The drawing-room windows faced the
avenue. She stood gazing out or walking between them and the fireplace,
ears and eyes alike keen for every sound that might mean Lawrence.

Her movements, her restlessness, her perpetual comments irritated
Kathleen's overstrung nerves almost to breaking point. The dread of the
approaching ordeal was bad enough without all this suspense. Elinor
began to talk of accidents at last, and was not to be convinced that
an absence extending over so important a function as a Christmas Day
dinner could be otherwise explained. If it had been an ordinary day she
would have dispatched some of the men servants in different directions;
but they, too, had their plans for Christmas enjoyment and she felt
reluctant to break them up.

The children at last persuaded her to have dinner, but as the meal
passed through its courses she showed but poor pretence of enjoyment.
With every additional five minutes her anxiety increased; she could
scarcely sit still. She could not talk about any other subject, and at
sight of the plum pudding begged Kathleen to excuse her. She must give
some orders about a search. She felt sure an accident had happened.

Kathleen Monteath breathed more freely when she had left the room. A
vague uneasiness was creeping over her own distracted and outraged
feelings. What had he done--where had he gone? She had some remembrance
of a fall, a crash of the brushwood and bracken, but her rage and
indignation had only left the idea of flight in her mind, and she had
never supposed that Lawrence would do anything save pick himself up and
get back to the house.

He had not done so evidently. Was he frightened to face her, or fearful
of his wife, or did he suppose Kathleen was tactless enough to go
straight to Elinor and inform her of that mad confession?

That anything had happened to him she did not believe. Perhaps shame
or cowardice had prevented his return. It might be harder for him to
act indifference than for her. He might have felt the ordeal of facing
two women he had wronged to be beyond his powers of deception. She
counted up all these possibilities, yet could not name them to his
wife. Perhaps he was walking off his rage and would turn up when the
household had retired.

It was a miserable evening. Even Val began to share her mother's
uneasiness and took less pleasure in Barry's company. Music was
impossible; even the talk of the children became irksome, and Kathleen,
growing compassionate for the poor, nervous woman's sufferings,
suggested they should go upstairs to the nursery and she would amuse
them. She was wearied of Elinor's perpetual, "Do you think this?" or
"Suppose that," or "Perhaps the other." Wearied and yet anxious. Surely
the man had done nothing foolish? He was desperate enough, and there
had been a look on his face that might well have cowed a stronger woman
than herself. However, she was used to violent tragedies and better
able to cope with them than Elinor. She resolutely thrust aside that
one fear of suicide, and read to the children and told them stories
until it was time to go to bed.

When persuasion had effected this difficult matter she rang for Mary
Connor to take charge of Val.

The face of that personage brimmed with mysterious excitement.

"It's mortal queer what's after happening to the master," she said.
"Search parties have been through the park with torches and the dogs
let loose to track him, and never sight nor sound anywhere. Mr. Hibbs,
he hasn't seen nor heard of him, nor anyone at the vicarage, nor the
farmers round about. The stable boys, they've been riding round for the
last hour. The mistress is getting mighty uneasy at last. She's mortal
sure there's been an accident."

"Nonsense!" cried Kathleen sharply. "What accident? A strong, healthy
man--and one who knows every mile of the country."

"He may have been set upon by tramps, or robbed--or something worse,"
said Mary, as if desirous of finding comforting suggestions.

"Not likely. There are few bad characters round here. And he is so well
known, there'd be a hue and cry directly."

"I mind me," said Mary Connor slowly, "of a sayin' that some people
always brings the bad luck with 'em. Wherever they go something
terrible is bound to happen. It's not their fault, in a way, only their
misfortune; same as cross-eyes, and clubfoots, and such like troubles.
(God's pity on them, poor souls!) But as I was sayin', ma'am, with the
memory of what passed between the two of us on the night you first put
foot in the place, it's not comfortable I feel in my own mind."

Kathleen turned her white face to the speaker.

"You mean that I am to blame again?"

"Begging your pardon, ma'am, and without wishing to be disrespectful,
it's more than a little queer that another family should be plunged
into trouble so soon after your coming to stay in the house, and it's
the master again. And I'm sure to see that poor white ghost of a
creature below there, cryin' and sighin' and worryin' herself into a
fever. Well, it's not very cheerful company for Christmas time, and you
must allow that yourself, ma'am."

"I don't allow that I'm to blame for it," said Kathleen.

"Not by your own will or making, I wouldn't be saying that. But sure,
ma'am, you known as well as I do that 'tis the ill-luck you have; and
it follows you even across sea and land. I said as much when I found
you were here--though with a different name and the old story forgotten
by reason of the time, and no one to bring it up to your disfavor. For
never a hint would I give after my promise."

"I am glad you kept your promise. It was hard enough for me to struggle
on against that load or suspicion. If it had broken out again----"

"But that's what I'm saying. It can't be buried. It can't help
following you. It's as sure as Saint Patrick's Day, that those that
cause the ill-luck must carry it with them to their graves. When I saw
you here I said to myself, 'There's misfortune to follow,' and sure,
here it is right upon us. And if my own memory serves me, ma'am, it's
on another Christmas time, same as before! No wonder I trembled in my
bed this same midnight when the bells began clashing and ringing, for
the feeling came over me that there was trouble in the air, and in
the house, and even when I saw you and the mistress driving off with
yourselves to church this morning I could not get it out of my head
that the black shadow was over us."

"I think you are talking foolishly. It will be time enough to speak of
misfortune when something more than a few hours' absence is accountable
for your forebodings."

"You don't think then that anything has happened to the master?"

"I'm sure there hasn't. He probably went for a longer walk than he
intended, or has lost his way, or finding it was too late for dinner
stopped at some friend's. There might be a dozen reasons without a
catastrophe."

"You ought to know, ma am," said Mary significantly. "Yes, and you're
right maybe. 'Tis you saw the last of him."

Kathleen started. Her eyes met those calm, shrewd Irish ones with a
look of sudden terror.

"I--What on earth do you mean--woman?"

"Nothing on earth or under Heaven but the truth. I saw you go into the
fir plantation this afternoon."

"Well--what of that?"

"Only just this, ma'am, that the master was there first, and you was
walking mighty fast for one as had no special need to hurry. It's not
unnatural to suppose you came up with him or passed a word together.
Yet--you said nothing of that matter to the mistress?"

"There was no need. Mr. Haughton was going for a long walk. I came home
by the--avenue."

"True for you, for I saw you. And in mighty haste you was--and your
face all flushed and wild looking."

"You spy. How dare you watch me--accuse me--insult me. What right have
you to insinuate----"

She stopped abruptly, ashamed of herself betrayal. But what nerves
could stand such tortures as hers had undergone this day.

She sank into a chair and a storm of hysterical sobs shook her from
head to foot; a storm of mingled anguish and terror and remorse. The
woman by her side looked pityingly at her. Such distress appealed
to her more than the "queenly airs" of which she had accused this
distraught creature.

"There, ma'am, stop now. I wasn't meaning to distress you like this,"
she said soothingly. "You'll be waking the child; and then there's eyes
and ears for you as would get through the mystery of a stone wall.
Calm yourself--do now. Maybe I shouldn't have said what I did. It was
the thought of that other time and all it brought back. But sure it's
past and gone now. And maybe the master will be on his way home by this
time; and what's the use of working yourself into a fever like this?
Take a gulp o' water, now do--and sure, if I haven't forgot me message
all this time. The mistress herself was asking for you to come down to
her bedroom and stay with her."

Kathleen drank the water and by a strong effort choked back those
strangling sobs.

"It was silly of me," she said. "But I am a little overwrought, and
your words----"

"Sure, you needn't be minding them at all. I'm not meaning any harm to
ye. Only, putting things together, it did look a bit--queer."

Kathleen lifted her head and dashed away the tears.

"That's just the worst of it--it does look queer. And I can't explain.
I did see Mr. Haughton for a few moments, but then--I left him and went
my own way. Where he has gone or what has happened I know no more than
you do."

"I'm not saying you do know, but it's the keeping of that meeting a
secret from my lady that looks strange. If you had said to her----"

"Oh, hush! I really can't bear any more. I see it now, of course. But
at the time--why, every moment I thought he would turn up. However, I
had better tell Mrs. Haughton that I saw him in the plantation."

She rose unsteadily. She looked so worn and ill that Mary's reluctant
sympathy went out to her.

"Indeed, then, it's meself that hopes, for all our sake," she said,
"that nothing has really happened to the master. A new scandal has
a mighty unpleasant way of raking up an old one along with it. 'Tis
best that sleepin' dogs lie when they're sleepin'! I'm thinking of
you, ma'am. If anything should have gone wrong here, as it did at the
Roche's, that time----"

A shudder ran through the stately figure; the white hand clenched the
chair back as if for support.

"For God's sake, don't hint at such a thing. It would mean my ruin."

"It would that same," said Mary Connor slowly. "And I'm sorry for you,
ma'am, if the other story has to come out."

"Why--why should it?"

"Ah, God knows why. It's the queer way of things--and their
contrariness. But my mouth's closed accordin' to promise--unless----"

The quick look asked a question that the lips could not utter.

"Unless," went on Mary Connor steadily, "I'm forced to speak. Not for
you, ma'am, nor any living creature, though I pitied them from my soul,
could I lie about--that!"




CHAPTER XXV.

Night closed in; the men returned. Each told the same tale--no one had
seen Lawrence Haughton. No news was to be gleaned from any farm, or
village, or house, within a reasonable radius.

Elinor sat in stony silence now, neither weeping nor speaking. From the
moment that Kathleen Monteath had told her of a chance meeting, a few
words, and then that "parting of the ways," she felt a conviction of
the truth. Her husband had left her.

That weak nature had been unable to withstand a second temptation. What
had the mild tenderness of domestic love in common with a passion fiery
and unprincipled? His desperation had driven him to desert home and
wife and child; of that she felt as assured as if his own lips had told
her. The question now was of her own course of action.

Some scandal was inevitable, the news of Lawrence's disappearance
would be common talk next day. People would call--the Manor was too
important to be disregarded, although it had held itself aloof from the
county--there would be enquiry, discussion, wonder. How were they to be
met?

Kathleen Monteath watched her with ever deepening pity. It was hard,
indeed, that this gentle soul should be tortured by one so undeserving
of affection or even respect as Lawrence Haughton.

All that was best in her own undisciplined nature went out in a great
surging wave of sympathy as she shared with her that lonely midnight
vigil. He was so unworthy--so utterly unworthy. That was the sting of
the whole matter--the thought that roused her soul to bitterness and
resentment, that made her long to tell the whole dishonoring truth, and
bid this patient sufferer see him for what he was.

But Kathleen Monteath did not know that it was because his wife knew
the unworthiness of this life linked with her own that she suffered so
intensely.

It is given strongly to some women that protecting tenderness for what
is weak and unstable, the feeling that the burden must be borne, not
shared, that the feeble arms must lift it for the feeble nature, and
yet march beside it, holding in silence for peace sake.

Better than Kathleen herself did Elinor Haughton know the shallowness
and cowardice of the man to whom her young life had been given, by whom
that life had been disgraced. But who, beside herself, could know how
deep had pierced the iron of his ingratitude; the base return for her
patient love, her forgiveness of his crime, her lavish bounty, and her
many acts of self-sacrifice. Yet all these had been as nothing beside
the mere beauty of a woman who had come into his life for scarce as
many months as she had claimed years.

"If only I could make you believe that I am not to blame," Kathleen had
cried, with passionate reiteration. And in her heart Elinor felt that
this was true. Felt it, too, with a new sharp sting of self-reproach.

In trying to save her husband in one way, she had harmed him in
another. Her plea of ill-health, her many absences, her avoidance
of society, for his sake, had only exposed him to the charm of new
companionship and thrown him into a new temptation.

She was far too sensible to blame Kathleen for her unconscious rivalry,
and jealousy was a passion too ignoble to touch her heart or fire her
to a recriminating word. In a way she felt sorry for this woman, who
had known trials and troubles also, who had come here as to a haven of
rest, and now found herself in a position that was both compromising
and difficult.

The night wore on and Kathleen still shared her watch, still tried to
cheer her with hopes of tidings that the coming day might bring. It
was she who kept in the fire and wrapped the slight form in warmer
garb, and insisted on administering hot soup and wine at intervals of
that long night vigil; she who, when sleep came at last and the weary
lids drooped over the tired and burning eyes, placed the pillows so
comfortably and watched so patiently by the sleeper's side.

Her own stronger physique rendered her impervious to fatigue and
indifferent to rest. But for all her apparent hopefulness her own mind
was on the rack, and the new day brought no news of any description to
relieve it.

It dawned wet and dismal, with the wind sighing an ever dreary anthem
among the treetops, the cawing rooks added their own chorus as they
rocked on bare boughs or flitted from one swaying elm to another.

The post brought no news, and when the steward called, full of anxiety
and surmise, Elinor entreated Kathleen to see him. That was only one
of many interviews the day produced, all more or less trying, but each
and all comparatively fruitless so far as any real knowledge of the
absentee was concerned.

"Of one thing I am sure," said Kathleen, as dusk drew on and the
welcome sight of the tea-table, set in Elinor's dressing-room, struck a
cheerful note in the day's despondent dirge. "Of one thing I am sure,"
she repeated, "and it is that no accident has happened to him. All our
fears of tramps were needless. We should have heard by this time if any
outrage had been committed."

Elinor was lying on a couch, pale and wan, her eyes circled by dark
shadows. But not even anxiety or a sleepless night had robbed Kathleen
Monteath of physical charm. If her cheek owned to a shade less color,
that rather added to the brilliance of her eyes and enhanced the lustre
of her crowning hair. It struck Elinor again, as it had struck her at
intervals during those past months, what a wonderfully beautiful woman
this was.

As she took the carefully-prepared cup of tea (every detail of special
taste in its manipulation had long since been mastered by Kathleen) she
signed involuntarily.

"You look," she said, "as radiant and as beautiful as if sorrow and you
had never been acquainted."

"I!" exclaimed Kathleen. "Oh, my dear Elinor, never judge an Irish
person by their looks. They may die with a heartbreak, but they'll die
with a smile and a jest all the same. I suppose it's their nature. But
don't suppose that we suffer any the less, individually, or that our
dark moods are less black because we pretend to think the sunshine
lasts 24 hours in the day."

"The sunshine--" a little pale smile touched the wan face--"one gets to
be thankful if it lasts even an hour as life goes on."

"I should like to bathe you in it, for weeks at a time, if I could!"
exclaimed Kathleen energetically. "Heart, body, soul, all of you! God
knows you deserve it."

Her eyes were brimming with sudden swift tears as she looked at the
patient face, the haggard lines that grief and watching had drawn
already above the delicate arched brows.

Elinor looked at her in surprise.

"Do you mean to say that you really care for me?" she asked.

"You're about the only woman I've ever known who's worth caring for!"
exclaimed Kathleen. "And I mean that with all my heart. When I think
of your spontaneous kindness to me, and all you have done, and your
fondness, and then see what a return I seem to have made, I could----"

Her voice broke. The sincerity of her emotions for once defied
concealment.

"I am glad you say 'seem,'" answered Elinor softly. "For I have
many memories of you that have nothing to do with this--unfortunate
occurrence. And I should like to think that we are still friends."

Kathleen started, the cup shook in her trembling hand, and she put it
back on the table.

"Friends? Do you mean--Oh, but that's impossible!'"

"Impossible for two women with whom life has dealt hardly to
be--friends? Why should it be?'"

"Because--Oh, don't you know what will be said of me?"

"I do not know, and I am not very likely to hear. You have been with me
in my trouble, it is surely not strange that I should desire to keep
you--perhaps until there will be no need to fear the touch of trouble
ever again."

"Oh, my dear, but it can't be! A little while ago there was nothing I
dreaded so much as the thought of leaving here, of facing the world
again. But now it seems the right, the only thing to do. Why should I
throw the evil shadow of my life over yours?"

"Why should the shadow of your life be evil?"

"It is. I can't help it. It's Fate I suppose. Wherever I go I bring
misfortune. My influence is not a good one. Ask Mary Connor, if you
don't believe me. She would tell you that I ought never to have come
here."

"Kathleen--what are you saying? I took you on trust because I pitied
you so because that frank lovely face of yours appealed to me as no
other woman's face had ever done. Don't tell me I was deceived, that my
trust was misplaced."

Again Kathleen's only reply was that dogged one--"Ask Mary Connor."

"Is it possible you can so misjudge me? Do you think I would ask from a
servant the secret that a friend withholds?"

"Have I been a friend to you in any way? I entered your house under
misrepresentation. I have broken up your peace. I have done you the
greatest wrong one woman can do another. Oh, Elinor. Why do you force
me to speak? God knows the wrong was an unwilling one, but all the
same, it is done, and I am the doer. Any woman but yourself would have
ordered me out of the house without an hour's notice."

Elinor smiled faintly. "My life has never been ordered on the lines
of any other woman. I am glad of that. I could not help liking you,
Kathleen, from the first moment I saw you. Perhaps by force of contrast
to myself; I so weak and frail, you so strong and glorious. Nothing
could alter my feeling except your own confession that you had wronged
me with a purpose. But--that you have not done. If even a woman can't
help loving and admiring you, surely a man may be excused."

Kathleen slipped on to her knees beside the low chair and put her
strong, warm arms about the little figure. "It is women like you," she
said, "who make one believe in God and life, and--and better things.
But I have only done you harm, and in the future--what is left for me
to do?"

"Help me to bear my burden," said Elinor, with sudden passion. "Stand
between me and my heart emptiness! Prove that a woman's love has some
meaning in it, since a man's has failed so utterly."

Kathleen drew herself away, then rose and stood silent for a moment,
gazing down at the pleading face. "I--I cannot," she went on
tempestuously, "Supposing he--returns?"

A wave of crimson swept the pallor of Elinor's transparent cheek.

"Is that--likely?" she asked.

"I think it is. Remember all he has left. All he will miss and need.
Perhaps a day, a week, may bring tidings. Then--this would be no place
for me."

"Would it be strange to live our lives together until that return?"

"Strange? Well, I think so. I never expected you would exonerate me
from blame or regard me without suspicion. Besides----"

"You need not mention Mary Connor again. What you choose to tell I will
listen to--no more, no less. But from no one else would I ask or accept
confidence."

"How generous you are. I hardly know what to say."

"As yet, there is no need to say anything except that you will remain
on here. Anything further we can decide when circumstances force us."

Kathleen dashed the tears from her eyes. It seemed so strange that what
she desired, what she would almost have schemed to obtain, was freely
and spontaneously given.

When she spoke her voice was low and broken. "I will stay," she said,
"and with all my heart I will help you and try to cheer your life. You
have not been treated well, and I am the cause. The only thing left for
me is to atone. If I could only feel sure that in your heart you do not
blame me for this awful trouble!"

"I should not ask you to remain if I did. Besides, for both our sakes,
it is best to hide the real truth from the world outside these walls."

"That is true, and wise too!" exclaimed Kathleen eagerly. "Some day I
am sure he will write and explain. Until then it is best to let things
remain as they are."

"I think he will write," said Elinor. "But I hardly fancy he
can--explain. I wish the suspense was over. It is the not knowing where
he is, what he intends to do, that is so trying."

"Tell me," entreated Kathleen, turning towards her with sudden passion.
"Is your heart bound up in this man? Do you really love him? Oh, don't
say 'He is my husband, therefore I owe him duty.' Love is better than
any duty, because it makes its own right or wrong. And how can one
love what is unworthy--despicable? Men win us and sin against us, and
hurt and humiliate us, and consider we should sit silent and bear it
all because the law has made us their property. What law can recreate
love? What law can blind our eyes and senses to the offence and
outrage a man's whole life may become? What law can force us to accept
moral dishonor and excuse moral treachery? Were Lawrence Haughton my
husband----"

She paused. That white face, those sad, imploring eyes, smote her lips
to silence as a blow might have done.

"I--I beg your pardon," she faltered. "I had no right to speak so.
Forgive me."

Elinor held out her hand. "It is all quite true," she said, "but we do
not look at things in quite the same way--you and I. Because one fails
in a bargain, must the other also prove false? Because one forgets
honor and obligation? must the other prove equally base? Duty stands
first in my estimation, Kathleen. The right thing seems to me the
only thing to do. What I have excused and forgiven in my husband is a
stronger tie than any romantic feeling. That died long ago. I vowed to
stand between him and a life long penance. I must keep my vow. The day
may come when he will be glad of home and shelter and peace. And those
he will always find where I am."

"You are a true wife," exclaimed Kathleen. "But also," she added,
half-indignantly, "a true martyr. You are too good for these degenerate
days."

Elinor shook her head, smiling through a sudden mist of tears.
"Good--oh, no. I suppose I am faithful because I cannot help it.
Because I share his secret."

The word slipped out unconsciously. Its significance reached her in
the wondering look that flashed from Kathleen's eyes.

She grew suddenly pale, then hurried on. "His secret--heart," she said.
"I know him--his weakness and his faults; but a mother does not love
her child less because of faults or weakness, and there are men who,
if we love them, seem to us only as children. Their mental nature is
dwarfed, their sins are those of an undeveloped character. They never
reach the fuller, nobler growth of manhood, yet none the less they are
men--the men we call husbands, but to whom always, in a way, we are
only mothers."

A sharp knock at the door interrupted her. Kathleen hurried to open it.
Mary Connor stood there.

"The footman gave me this to bring the mistress," she said. "'Twas left
at the back entrance by a boy, who gave it in and ran straight off with
himself."

"This," was a dirty-looking envelope. It was addressed to Elinor.

Kathleen brought it to her and watched her fingers trembling over the
fastening.

"It is--his--handwriting," she gasped.




CHAPTER XXVI.

A swift word of thankfulness burst from Kathleen's lips. She had
scarcely known how deep her anxiety had been till that moment.

Elinor's eyes flashed over the words, taking in the sense more than the
actual expression. The note was short. Yet no brevity could have been
more callous or less brutally indifferent to the pain inflicted.


"Dear Nell," it said--

"Doubtless you've been wondering what's become of me. The truth is
I fell in with some rather jolly fellows I know on Christmas night,
and drove to the town and stayed at the hotel and made a night of it.
Haven't had such a glorious time since I was a bachelor. Rather knocked
me up, though. I'm off to London to-day, I've some business there. Send
me a cheque for £100, care of your London bankers. I'll write again.

"Yours Lawrence."


The paper dropped from Elinor's hand. She looked at Kathleen's eager
face and a little bitter smile crept to her lips.

"Only a storm in a tea-cup," she said. "He is quite safe--in London."

"In London! But Christmas Day--that awful evening!"

"I was foolish to be so anxious. You may read what he says."

Kathleen's eyes flamed as she scanned the pencilled words.

"A jolly night of it!" she echoed. "And you----"

"It wasn't exactly hilarious for me, or you, was it?" said Elinor. "But
it only proves what foolish, fussing things women are."

*  *  *  *  *  *

An hour later Elinor was sleeping the deep dreamless sleep of
exhaustion, and Kathleen Monteath, relieved of further anxiety, went
back to her own room.

She opened her journal and read its last entries. Her brain was in a
whirl of excitement. The callous brutality of this man seemed to her
an outrage on all decency and honor. How could Elinor be so meek and
forbearing? What was there in this secret they shared that linked
their lives in such unequal bondage? In passionate, forcible sentences
she dashed down the story of that scene in the woods, her compact of
friendship, the arrival of the letter, and her opinion of the man's
brutal indifference to all his wife had undergone.


"As for me," she wrote, "I am only sorry he didn't end his useless
life as he was about it. Heavens above! Who can respect men? Even
their highest attitude of feeling holds them no longer than its frenzy
of desire. The grief for which they claim our pity can find solace
in a brutal orgie! Here is a man indifferent to every sense of moral
obligation, able to half-kill his wife with suffering and suspense,
bent only on dissipation and self-indulgence, and without even an
apology for his action demanding her money as his right. If I were your
wife, Mr. Lawrence Haughton, I hardly think you would find that cheque
you so coolly ask for. I should leave you to your own resources for a
while.

"I wonder if he intends to remain in London? I wonder if that plan of
wintering abroad will hold good now? Only in that case can I remain.
It wouldn't be possible to stay on if he returned. Even Elinor could
hardly expect that. Poor woman! Driven between the shafts of duty and
friendship; clinging so steadfastly to her ideal of what is right, no
matter how hard it is. I wonder at her, and I pity her; and as much as
it is in me to love another of my unhappy sex I love her. And yet again
I sigh--Poor Woman!"

*  *  *  *  *  *

"How I pray that Lawrence Haughton may remain away. Surely his wife
cannot have any strong desire to accompany him, or go to him, after all
this? Her health might well excuse her now, for she seems quite broken
down. Where does she get that stock of beautiful patience--that power
of extenuating faults--that wonderful faith in what is best in human
nature? I declare, to-night, I felt quite Christianised, and almost
inclined to believe myself. She--believes in me; thank God for that!
I may need the sheet-anchor of a woman's trust ere many years go by.
Such small things, such mere accidents, might plunge me into desperate
straits once more--and where in this callous world shall I find another
Elinor?

"Well, my conscience absolves me for once. I gave her the opportunity
of finding out all about me, did she choose. She wouldn't do it. Was
anything ever so sublimely Quixotic as that little speech of hers
to-night? 'What you choose to tell I will listen to; no more, no less.
From no one else would I accept confidence.'

"Oh, dear little woman, I wish I was worthier of your trust. I wish
I could feel that in accepting it I need fear no reproach in days to
come. And, above all, I wish the more desperately because the more
vainly, that you were not tied to that cowardly brute whose very
presence in your house seems a desecration."


*  *  *  *  *  *

She blotted the page and closed it. Then her head fell on her folded
arms, and she sat in that attitude for long, thinking--only thinking.
Perhaps it was as well that in all those thoughts and the maze through
which they dragged her she yet gained no suspicion of the course
Lawrence Haughton intended to pursue--of the form his vengeance was
about to take.

For some days the two women kept to the house and grounds, dreading
curiosity or enquiry, which even Elinor felt would be inevitable.

She sent Lawrence the cheque he had requested, wondering somewhat that
his quarterly allowance had not sufficed for his needs. She had heard
no more after that brief letter, although she wrote, telling him of the
anxiety and suspense his unexplained absence had given her.

A week later he wrote again, to the effect that if she still intended
to winter abroad she had better make her own arrangements as to a
travelling companion. He was going to stay with some friends in Ireland
for the winter. The letter arrived at breakfast time. It so surprised
Elinor that she quoted the last paragraph to Mrs. Monteath.

"Spend the winter in Ireland," echoed Kathleen, and something of the
rich bloom paled in her cheek. "I thought he knew no one there?"

"They must be recent acquaintances. I never heard him speak of any
Irish friends."

"Does he mention what part of Ireland?" asked Kathleen.

"No." She folded up the letter and went on with her breakfast.

"I feel as if I ought not to discuss him," she said presently, "and
yet, how can I help it? You know my unhappy position. You see how every
day, every week, intensifies it. I cannot remain here. I propose that
for a year, we, Lawrence and myself, should live apart. That will give
us both time to consider the position into which we have drifted. It
will also silence scandal, for people will imagine I am with him. Of
course I cannot go abroad alone. Will you come with me, and we will
take Val? Barry is safe enough with Mr. Friar. But I should not object
to his accompanying us, if you would prefer it."

"My dear Elinor," exclaimed Kathleen. "You certainly are the most
generous of women. Your scheme is so admirable that my only feeling is
I ought not to accept it. Yet--how can I refuse. As you say, you cannot
go alone; and I--well, if I can do nothing else I understand you and
can look after your comfort--and we get on well, don't we?"

"I wish I could tell you how much you have added to my comfort," said
Elinor earnestly. "I wish words were not such poor things when one
wants to express feeling."

"And I--I wish you had a little less feeling and a much greater sense
of your own good qualities, dear little woman. But as you'll never
recognise yourself as the 'house angel' you are, I can only rest
content under the shadow of your beneficent wings, and thank Heaven for
them."

"A truce to pretty speeches," smiled Elinor. "You are a true daughter
of Erin with that flattering tongue. But we don't need words, my dear.
I think you are inspiring me with a little of your own spirit. I am
becoming rebellious."

"It is about time," said Kathleen significantly.

"So I shall make my own plans, and you shall help me to carry them out.
The Manor House must be shut up once more, and Mr. Hibbs can look after
the tenants. I'll leave Burton and his wife in charge, and we and Val
will go abroad."

"To Cairo?"

"No. I have altered my mind. We will go to the Riviera. There are some
lovely spots where the tourist and the restless English never intrude.
There I will find me a villa and we will make a home for a year. When
the weather gets too warm, there is Switzerland to fly to."

"It sounds delightful," said Kathleen.

"We will try and make it what it sounds. Also, I propose relieving you,
for a time, of the charge of Val. I will engage a French governess for
her. I am selfish enough to wish to keep you to myself."

Kathleen's eyes brimmed suddenly. "Well might I call you an angel!" she
said.

"That is scarcely wise--yet," said Elinor, with her slow, sweet smile.

She turned again to the letter by her side. "This puzzles me more than
I can say. Of all places in the world, with the continents of Europe
and America at his disposal, to go to--Ireland!"

A sudden hot flush crept to Kathleen's brow. She bent over the tea-cups
to hide her face. A hateful suspicion sprang to life, fired by those
chance words.

"I know why he has gone," she thought in her heart. "He wants to find
out my story. And if he does----"

She rose abruptly from the table. "Elinor," she said, "before your
plans are decided, before I agree, there must be perfect confidence
between us. I must tell you all there is to tell about--myself. Even if
I forfeit your good opinion, even if it means our eternal severance. I
must speak."

Elinor rose also, pale and startled. "Do not talk of severance," she
said. "Better you should never tell me than destroy my faith in you."

"It is because of that faith I must tell you. If it can stand the test,
then, indeed, Elinor Haughton, you are what I called you--'an angel
among women.'"

Very grave, very pale, was the face that looked up at her own, but the
clear eyes held still then gentle trust.

"Come with me then," she said, "and I will hear your story. Perhaps it
is best there should be perfect confidence between us at last."




CHAPTER XXVII.

When Val's music lesson was over Kathleen sent her for a walk with Mary
Connor. Then she went to Elinor's room and knocked for admission.

As she entered she gave one long look around the pretty apartment, half
boudoir, half dressing-room, which was the favorite retreat of the
mistress of the Manor. Its big chintz-covered sofa, its deep-cushioned
chairs, its writing-table and book-case, and pictures and china, its
general old-fashioned air of comfort, appealed to Kathleen Monteath on
this morning as they had never appealed before. Perhaps, for the first
time she saw herself regarding them under a new aspect.

Elinor was lying back on the couch among cushions of rose-patterened
chintz, with huge frills, which she had employed herself in making
during long hours of lonely invalidism. She had some work now in her
hands and smiled as Kathleen entered.

"Sit there," she said, pointing to a chair beside the fire, "and let
me hear this dreadful confession. You see, there are no adjuncts to
help you. It is cold unromantic daylight, and I am doing plain sewing!"

For once Kathleen did not smile. She avoided Elinor's eyes. Then she
took the chair and seating herself, kept her face somewhat averted and
her eyes on the fire.

"And I," she said, "must do some plain talking--the plainer the better.
I don't wish to appeal to your sympathies. I wish only to show you
that my sins have not been entirely of my own bringing about. To begin
with, I had to earn my own living from the time I left school. I had
two situations--one in Ireland, one in France--before I was engaged as
governess by a Mrs. Roche. She, like yourself, had one child--a girl.
She, also like yourself, was extremely delicate. They lived in a very
lonely part of Ireland, in the county of Waterford, and saw little
society.

"Before I had been there very long I saw that she and her husband were
not living on very good terms. He was a hot-headed, passionate man,
she a vain, fanciful, and imaginative woman. He chose to pay more
attention to me than she approved of, and she chose to be jealous of
me in consequence. My position grew daily more difficult. I was unable
to avoid misconception, and yet most anxious to be friends with both
husband and wife. Elinor, you have spoken sometimes of my looks--my
appearance--what you call my beauty. Oh, there have been hours in my
life when I have cursed that beauty; when I have wished that God had
made me the plainest of women, so only that I might have kept myself
free from men's shameful pursuit, from men's whispered dishonor. Again
and again have such things been my fate, leading me on to danger,
proving me guilty of intent when I have only been thoughtless or
indifferent.

"This man, Sharman Roche, spread a net for my feet that I was too
heedless to perceive. He played on my sympathy for his loneliness--my
appreciation of his many considerate attentions and generous thought.
We were much together, partly on account of his wife's inability to
enjoy outdoor pursuits, partly because I could ride, walk, play tennis,
do all or any of the things natural to young healthy girlhood, and she
could not."

"The result," interposed Elinor, "was inevitable."

"The result," exclaimed Kathleen Monteath, with sudden passion, "was
disgrace and horror; a tragedy; a something that has overshadowed
my whole life--that placed me in a criminal dock for twenty-four
hours--that killed all my girlhood's faith and youth out of me, and
left me a woman, desperate and hardened--her hand, her heart, her
soul in wholesale revolt against the sex whose cruel persecution of a
woman's beauty had stopped at nothing short of her moral destruction."

The work had fallen now from Elinor's hands. She was sitting, pale and
anxious-eyed, gazing intently on the passionate quivering face and
clasped hands of the woman she had desired as friend.

"Tragedy!" she echoed.

"Yes. He chose to think he loved me. Coldness and avoidance only fanned
his passion. His wife, she could not but see. Then came a day--an
awful scene. She--she was found dead, Elinor. Her last words had been
an accusation. I too--what could I do but accuse him. He, that same
night, committed suicide. Scandal was rife in the household, servants
talked. There was a public enquiry--a doubt whether I had not poisoned
the woman. I! Think of it, Elinor. Imagine the horror and disgrace
enveloping my life; stamping my future with infamy. One man came to
my rescue. He paid all expenses and engaged a famous barrister, who
undertook the case. He won it, and I was safe and set free, but with a
name smirched by scandal and a story ringing throughout the country.
This man offered to marry me--to give me his name--to hush up the
scandal--to relieve me from future need to work for my living. I did
not care for him. But I was grateful for all he had done, and I--I
consented."

The faint exclamation that fell from Elinor's lips brought Kathleen's
eyes to her pitying face.

"You are sorry for me?"

"Oh, my dear--my dear."

"Wait, Elinor, wait. You have not heard all. I--I only lived with my
husband one year. I--I came here under a false name. I--I am not a
widow, only a divorced woman."

There was a moment's breathless silence. Then she went on pitilessly
still, as if determined to tell the worst of herself.

"Wherever I have lived, whatever I have done, my face has always been
my enemy. It seems to attract the worst men, or the worst side of them
to me, and plunge me into fresh troubles. Even here----"

Elinor shuddered. "I know that was not your fault."

"But it has not saved you from suffering; it has not averted another
tragedy. Think of that Christmas night--and now, even though you seem
so brave and calm, you suffer. It seems my fate. Wherever I go a shadow
follows me. The shadow of trouble and evil fortune. Ask Mary Connor--as
I told you. She has the superstition of her race, and to her I am as
much an omen of ill as a magpie or a banshee, or any other Irish symbol
of bad luck."

"Yet in all this story," said Elinor, "I cannot see that you are
guilty. You have been the victim of other's sins, not of your own."

"The distinction is too fine to be apparent to most people, Elinor. No
woman's shame can withstand so many scandals as mine has drawn upon
it. Do you see now what a godsend your advertisement was, and why I
wrote that audacious letter? I wanted to get out of Ireland, away from
everything connected with my past life. The quiet, the peace, the
remoteness of this place promised me at least safety. Yet only three
months have passed and once again my evil fate has brought trouble
upon the roof that has given me shelter. You, dearest and kindest of
women as you are, have not been able to escape. No one will--I begin
to think. I am cursed by some malignant power. It is like the evil
eve--the mal occhi, as the Italians call it. Don't you see now,
Elinor, that it would be best for us to part--best for me to go my own
way, reckless of what may chance at last."

Elinor Haughton bent forward and touched the hands that had suddenly
clasped themselves together with a force of suppressed passion.

"No," she said, "I do not see it. Certainly you have been more than
commonly unfortunate, but you are no sinner, Kathleen--yet. Heaven
forbid that I should help to make you so."

Kathleen looked at her with swimming eyes. Then she began to tremble.
She rose from her chair and stood against the mantle-piece trying to
steady herself.

"Oh," she cried weakly, "I don't deserve it. Elinor, I could bear your
sorrow, your coldness, but not--not that you should think well of me.
I was not even true to you--at first. No--not in that way. God knows I
never tried to draw your husband from his allegiance, but I--Oh, how
can I say it."

She threw herself on her knees beside the couch, covering her face with
her hands.

Elinor paled with sudden fear. What more was there to hear to forgive?
"Tell me--all!" she entreated. "Let there be no half-measures. I can
bear anything except--deceit."

"But it was deceit. I was not open with you. I looked upon you as weak.
I thought you would help me to my own ends--the subjugation of Lord
Hallington. I wanted to be mistress of Crampton Park, so as to queen
it over you. Think how base and mean I am, and hate me, Elinor. More
than this, even; I felt sure there was something in the background of
your life that you were trying to conceal, and I meant to find it out.
I--oh! if you don't believe me, I can show you all my wicked ungrateful
self, written down in the pages of my journal. I can show you every
mood, date, hour, in which I wrote in the journal; the suspicion I had
of--your husband's past life--the very words whose force of prophecy
has flung me at your feet now, in moral self-abasement. Have I said
enough yet to convince you of my unworthiness? The veil is rent with a
vengeance. I don't seem to care, to pretend, to seem one whit better
than my actions must make me appear!"

Elinor's face was deadly pale. She had not looked for this, had not
dreamt of half that Kathleen had suspected, or fancied the commonplace
surface of her own life held any suggestion of undercurrents.

She was silent so long that the kneeling woman at last lifted her
tear-stained face and looked up, as one expecting hope's death-sentence.

"You know now how unworthy I am," she faltered.

"I know that you were justified in those suspicions," said Elinor
bitterly. "But I am also sure you kept them to yourself."

"I did, indeed. I have never discussed you or your husband with anyone
except my own thoughts. That journal answers to my other self. I wonder
often why I keep so foolish a habit. But I have never made a confidant
of anyone, man or woman, except yourself, Elinor, and feeling--a
woman's feeling must have some outlet. What I can say to no one else I
say to those pages. They hold the history of that awful year whose end
was--what I have told you. They hold some, not all, of the miserable
months of my married life. They give glimpses of straits to which I
have been reduced, indignities I have suffered, my struggles with
poverty, the growing desperation that made me reckless. Sometimes it
has seemed that life was too hard for me to bear it any longer. But
then the child would save me."

"Only a true woman would say that; only a mother would feel it."

"You have felt it, I know. You are never demonstrative, but one feels
what Val is to you, and what you are to her."

"And all my love cannot shield her from harm to come. From a danger
the future holds!" cried Elinor passionately. "Think how I have to
suffer--brooding, thinking, unable to speak of what I dread and hope
for even, of what I suffer!"

Kathleen rose slowly to her feet.

"Through no fault of your own," she said. "Of that I am sure."

"That is what makes it so hard. The fault was never mine. And I make
but a poor hypocrite. How can I blame you for discovering that I was
one?"

"Oh, no, no--a thousand times no! Never that!"

"Well, that I was acting a part. And I must always act it, Kathleen.
That is the worst of it. I cannot quit the stage, I cannot forget the
play--never, till my life is over!"

She spoke with a quiet despair more convincing than any passion.
Kathleen stood there, looking at her in wondering pity. This small,
frail thing, how brave she was--how strong!

"You poor child!" she cried involuntarily. "Now I know why you are so
tender to sinners--to me. It is because you have suffered so much,
for another, that you cannot find it in your heart to blame me for my
sins. I am glad I have told you all. There is nothing now between us
for me to fear. Thank goodness, you accepted me so frankly in the first
instance--that there was no need to deceive you by a false reference, a
false history."

"I think," said Elinor, smiling faintly, "that I accepted you for your
own sake from the first hour I saw you."

"And now--now that you know me?"

"I accept you still."

"You are sure that this has made no difference? Can you look upon me as
your friend, even if your husband returns here?".

"I shall always look upon you as my friend, whatever happens. But if my
husband returns----"

"That," said Kathleen, "would be the end as far as I am concerned. I
should have to go."

"You shall never be homeless again," said Elinor earnestly, "never have
to face the world's cruel indifference while I can help it. Of that
rest assured."

The shadow of a smile that was infinitely sad touched Kathleen's lips.
"I know you mean it," she said, "but remember, Elinor, that no one can
be another person's providence, however much they love or desire it.
For just so long as Fate permits I am happy to be with you; happy that
it is your roof that shelters me, not your husband's; your money that
pays my salary, your kindness that has served my child."

Elinor made a slight gesture. "I have done very little good with my
money. Situated as I am, it has hardly been possible. There is none of
that poverty and misery and sickness here that abound in great cities.
Charity is a word of wide meaning. To me it means helpfulness, and I
have shown little of that as yet."

"I cannot agree with you, there. Think how you helped me. And I am
ashamed when I think----"

"We will not speak of that any more. And now that his dreaded
confession is over, Kathleen, what do you expect me to say?"

Their eyes met--a long questioning gaze, a gaze that seemed to ask and
answer more than speech could have expressed.

"Whatever you expect," continued Elinor softly, as she stretched out
her hands, "I only know this--I have no blame for you, only a great,
great pity. There is nothing in your story that prevents me saying, 'Be
my friend--still.'"

For once in Kathleen Monteath's life fluent tongue and ready wits were
silenced by an emotion too deep and heartfelt for any words to convey.




CHAPTER XXVIII.

"Be my friend still."

Deep into Kathleen's stormy heart those words sank. "The first woman
who has ever asked me that," she thought. "I wonder if she knows how
much it means?"

A passionate revulsion of feeling, a sense of safety and relief, set
the full tide of her impulsive nature flowing towards Elinor. Love and
gratitude, till now uncalled for, welled deep and strong from hidden
springs. She vowed herself in faithful amity to this gentle, trusting
soul, who had stood between her and despair, who had aroused in her
some desire to make life a better thing.

With Elinor's mercy to herself she saw also some of the hidden sorrow
that was so bravely and silently borne, and she felt ashamed of that
early and hasty judgment that had pronounced her weak. Weak, because
she was patient and long-suffering; weak, because of the blameless
purity of her life; weak, because she chose to withdraw herself from
the privileges of position so that she might shield another's cowardly
fears. In the long hours of that day, which had witnessed a mutual
confession, the two women fought each a silent battle. They had not yet
arrived at a perfect understanding. It would want years of trial, not
an hour of emotion, to prove the strength of each nature. At present no
public or individual interest threatened interference. They sat apart,
and thought of self-revelation and how much it would mean in the future.


"My mind feels like a clean-swept room," wrote Kathleen in her journal.
"Fresh and sweet and purified; the windows open, the dust and cobwebs
gone, the ugly shadows driven forth by sunlight. Oh, the relief; the
peace--the blessed peace!

"Of course I know this cannot last. It is too good. All my glimpses
of happiness have been brief. Some storm, some fierce, howling wind
is bound to spring up and sweep me out of my haven. Yet, for once, I
feel that even that will not terrify, or madden, or harden me, as it
has done before. I have an anchor to hold to. Someone has faith in me
someone trusts me. Truly the power of human love is a mighty one. Had I
known it sooner I might have been a better woman.

"Lawrence Haughton is in Ireland. I seem to know what that portends.
It would not take him long to glean the facts which have made my name
notorious, if he knew that name. Fortunately he does not. The name I
bear now will tell him nothing, even if he traces me to Waterford. I
wrote from Dublin and no one there knows me, except through the files
of the 'Irish Times' ten years back. Besides, even if he found out
the story, if he believed the worst, as some people still do, what
difference could it make? Elinor knows now, and Elinor believes in me.
Her friendship is my sheet anchor. Why should I fear--him? Yet I do.
For the first time to my life I do fear a man. I cannot forget the
awful look of his face--the awful passion of his words. I have made him
my life-long enemy--what mercy can I expect?

"Elinor is writing to tell him we are leaving the Manor and going
abroad. She says it is her duty to inform him of her movements and
her plans. Doubtless she is right. She is one of the dutiful wives.
Were I in her place my lord might find out for himself, after her
cavalier treatment. She also said she intended to tell him that she was
perfectly aware of his reasons for leaving home, and that under the
circumstances a year's separation would do neither of them any harm and
give due time for reflection. Poor, sweet Elinor! (She does like to
sermonise a little, though.)

"A year! That is all I have to look forward to now. It stands to reason
that Lawrence Haughton will return some day. He has everything to gain
by doing so. His return will be the signal for my departure. The same
roof cannot shelter us both, though I am his wife's friend and he--my
enemy.

"A year! Well, a great deal may happen in a year. And my years have a
trick of being eventful."


*  *  *  *  *  *

The preparations for departure went on apace. Elinor was anxious to
get away, and Kathleen had no reason to dissuade her. At the last Val
persuaded the two mothers to take Barry also, and the glee and delight
of the children served in a great measure to lend a new excitement to
the journey. They travelled slowly and luxuriously.

Mary Connor was the only one of the servants who accompanied them, in
the dual position of maid and attendant to Val.

The strong and sudden friendship between the two women had occasioned
that worthy person an enormous amount of anxiety. Once even the anxiety
had bubbled into an indefinite warning, as she brushed her mistress's
hair. But after the first hint Elinor sternly silenced her. "I know
everything concerning Mrs. Monteath that is necessary to know," she
said. "I have heard it from her own lips."

Mary was astonished. Had the governess really confessed her scandalous
history, or only glossed over a few of its prominent facts? She could
scarcely believe that Kathleen Monteath would have declared herself a
suspected poisoner, a destroyer of married happiness, a woman who had
been in the Divorce Court. If so, and Mrs. Haughton considered such a
person fit to be her friend and companion and the instructress of her
child--well--The usual apostrophe to saints in glory concluded the
mental argument.

When the party arrived at Nice they went to one of the quieter hotels,
where they had engaged rooms. Elinor had decided that Nice was a good
centre from which to make her researches for a suitable villa. Their
name is legion in that resort, where the Corniche-road winds above the
blue gulfs of Villefranche and Eze. The few miles parting the brilliant
capital of the Riviera from its more brilliant and wicked sister
under the frowning Tete de Chien, offered resorts of all sizes and
distinctions.

The day after their arrival they drove to see two or three selected
from a house agent's list.

"How lovely it must be to be rich," sighed Kathleen, enviously, as the
carriage swept along the famous promenade. The brilliant crowd, the
wonderful toilettes, the air of luxury, enjoyment, and abandonment lent
passing emphasis to her words. Her own beautiful face, rising from the
well-cut severity of a tailor-made gown, and framed in sables that
were Elinor's gift, was attracting no inconsiderable attention. But
for once she was indifferent to admiring eyes. A feeling of anxiety
was uppermost in her mind. She had remembered that Lord Hallington was
here also. She wondered if by any chance they would meet. If so----. A
throb of anger stirred her heart. Would she ever know, ever be able to
discover what Lawrence Haughton had really told the old man? What hint
of her unworthiness to be his wife had driven him so suddenly from her
side?

Elinor's touch on her hand startled her. "Look, my dear, isn't that
Lord Hallington driving towards us. How surprised----"

The carriage, drawn by its two well-matched greys, was abreast of their
own more modest hired equipage. The surprise of its occupant was indeed
unmistakable. He started and gazed at the two figures as if unable to
credit their reality. Perhaps that surprise lent formality to his bow.
It certainly was of the oldest and stiffest order.

Kathleen felt her face grow warm. "I was right," she said to herself.
"He has been told--something. I have lost my chance."

"Not a very cordial greeting from so near a neighbor," exclaimed
Elinor. "He didn't even smile. And now I remember, when he went away he
never called or sent a card. Surely----"

She paused. Her eyes rested on her companion's lovely face.

"Kathleen," she said, "was it you who set him away?"

"No, indeed. It was as much a mystery to me as to you. I--I liked him
so much, and he was so cordial and pleasant whenever we met. And then
suddenly he went off without a word of explanation."

"It was rather strange, though I believe he has a character for
eccentricity."

Elinor's face grew thoughtful as she spoke. Her mind was busy with
memories of that time--with theories respecting the old lord's
attentions and wonder as to their ultimate results.

"Kathleen," she said presently, "was your liking strong enough to let
you marry him, if--if he had asked you?"

"I can't profess to any nobler or more exalted feelings than those my
position has forced upon me. If I had had the chance of marrying Lord
Hallington I should have done so."

"Without caring for him?"

"I have seen so many miserable marriages that began with people
'caring' for one another that I should not have been afraid of the
opposite experiment."

"I could hardly blame you," said Elinor. "The world has chosen to make
marriage the one aim and object of a woman's life, so I suppose she is
entitled to do the best she can for herself."

"I should have tried to make him happy, and I believe it would not have
been difficult," said Kathleen. "I am of an age when romance is over;
and I could appreciate an honest affection and such good fortune as
becoming Lady Hallington would mean."

"It may not be--impossible, even now."

"Oh, my dear, there was a chill in that stately salute; and the
surprise of those keen eyes was not one of pleasure. It seemed, indeed,
to me to savor of--alarm. What did you think?"

"I am not a very quick observer," said Elinor evasively.

"No, you dear brown mouse, you're not," laughed Kathleen. "Well, I am.
And I said to myself, as his stately lordship went by, 'you've lost
your chance.' And so I have, Elinor. I feel sure of it."

There was a moment's silence. Then Elinor said diffidently, "Would you
have married him, allowing him to think you a widow?"

Kathleen flushed. "I--I never thought about it--then. I suppose it
would be better to be straightforward; but, oh, my dear, what man on
earth would show me your generous trust and give me your generous
forgiveness?"

"One would forgive if he loved you, Kathleen. Your sins are not of your
own making."

"No, but I must bear the consequences all the same."

"I have often wished to ask you about your marriage," said Elinor
presently. "You were unhappy; you conveyed as much?"

"Unhappy?" Her eyes went to the blue sky and the lovely bay, with its
crowd of yachts at anchor. "It was worse than that, a great deal. There
must always be some element of unhappiness in every relationship of
life; but in marriage we voluntarily take up a relationship for which
blood or birth are not responsible. That fact, I suppose, makes us
less tolerant. We are not only angry with the bargain, but angry with
ourselves for making it. I bartered away one sort of liberty to satisfy
a man's passion, and gained another sort of bondage. I had to pay my
price, Elinor. No words could tell you what a price it was!"

She shivered, even in the warm sunshine, and all the bloom and
brilliance of her face grew cold and hard.

"Was he so cruel?" asked Elinor gently.

"I would rather face death than go through that year again."

"But he allowed you to gain your freedom?"

A little bitter laugh escaped the scornful lips. "He had to. There was
no choice. Such freedom as it is. Fortunately, for myself, I never,
even in my weakest moments, believed I loved him."

"Then why----"

"I knew you would ask that. He led me to believe that he alone could
save me from the suspicion that that tragedy cast over me. But oh!
Elinor, all your wealth would not have paid the price that my poor
beauty had to pay for such safety; the shame, the torture, the
degradation. Once"--she laughed again--a laugh that chimed harshly
on the air--"once--well, will you believe it?--I bruised my face on
purpose from chin to brow, so that it might be black and blue and
hideous only to avoid his kisses."

Even at the words she passed her handkerchief swiftly over that face as
if to wipe off some polluting stain.

"Can you wonder now that I despise men?" she went on rapidly. "That to
me they appear in only one shape--beasts of prey, devouring all that is
defenceless? Not one of them has ever roused in me an emotion worthy to
be called love."

"But you are young enough and beautiful enough to meet a man whom you
could love, and who would atone for all that has gone before."

"I hope I am not," she cried passionately. "Oh, with all my heart I
hope I am not. I do not want to care, Elinor. I know enough; I have
suffered enough. I only ask peace."

"Peace," said Elinor, "is for the old--the world-weary. It does not
seem to suit your characteristics at all."

"Oh! I don't mean stillness or stagnation. It is more the desire to be
left alone--to have no tormenting fears, no dread for the future, no
terrors of the past."

"And to gain this would you marry Lord Hallington?"

"I would, Elinor; and I believe I should make him a better wife than
many a better woman."

Elinor sighed.

"You certainly are a strange creature, Kathleen," she said, "but a very
lovable one. I almost hope you will win Lord Hallington."




CHAPTER XXIX.

One of the villas amongst those olive woods and orange groves, set in a
romantic solitude of its own, pleased Elinor Haughton's fancy. It was
too small, and too remote from the town below, and the charms of Monte
Carlo beyond to find a tenant among the rank and fashion of the Riviera.

By taking it for six months, furnished as it was, she secured it at
a fairly moderate rental. Servants could be engaged in the town, and
there was nothing to prevent the new tenants entering at their own
convenience.

Elinor left the engagement of servants and the hiring of carriages to
Kathleen, while she interviewed French governesses and tutors on behalf
of the children.

The little bustle and strangeness of the next few days were pleasantly
exciting. But when the excitement was over the routine of their lives
promised to be uneventful enough for that "peace" which Kathleen craved.

No word came from Lawrence Haughton in reply to the letter explaining
his wife's intentions; but Elinor had adopted a philosophic attitude
towards the matter and ceased to worry herself over his silence. She
was very well content with the peace and pleasantness of her present
life. Her health benefited greatly by the fine mild air and constant
sunshine. The children almost lived out of doors; even their studies
were carried on at tables brought out on to the wide terrace, where the
blue of the sea gleamed jewel-like through the screening woods, and
every breeze brought them the scent of violets or narcissus blossoming
in millions under the sheltered hills above.

Life was idyllic, restful, calm; and the two women, thrown into even
closer companionship uttered no complaint of dullness, or heeded
the gay crowds who filled the city and châteaux around with all the
extravagance and frivolity of fashion's caprices.

Kathleen Monteath alone watched each day glide by with apprehensive
dread of morrows to come. Such a life was too good to last. No calm
on her horizon but had boded storm and shipwreck. "It will come, even
here, I suppose!" she told herself. "I feel sure of it."

The lovely days of February opened in fuller sunshine, with warmer
winds and yet more fragrant sweep of color, as they drove through
blossoming woods or under over-hanging boughs of auracarias, and
acacia, and palms. On one of those days Elinor suggested they should
drive to Monaco, lunch there, and return in the afternoon.

Kathleen laughed. "Monaco always means 'the tables,' you know," she
said. "It has a more virtuous sound than Monte Carlo, but who could
resist paying a visit to the one and ignoring the other?"

"I have never seen gambling in any shape," said Elinor. "I cannot
realise the fascination it appears to possess."

"You will realise it if you peep into its pretty paradise," said
Kathleen. "And you will find the fascination claims both sexes equally."

The carriage came round and they drove off, still discussing the point.
They took the lower road, which passes through La Condamine to Monte
Carlo, skirting the precipitous cliffs and lovely hills with peeps of
the curving bays that fringe the coast-line.

The water was blue as the sky it mirrored, and dotted with white sails
of the yachts or the red ones of the cargo boats. Above all poured the
golden warmth of sunshine--a thing to make one glad and hopeful and
renew life, Nature's lavish gift to this favored clime. The two women
were silent for sheer enjoyment.

Now that conversation was no longer a disguise to her real feelings
or opinions, Kathleen was much more silent than she had been on first
acquaintance. The truest test of friendship is the enjoyment of one's
own thoughts in sympathetic company, and this morning she felt only
equal for that sympathy. Elinor glanced at her absorbed face from time
to time, noting its unusual gravity, and wondering, as she so often
found herself wondering, where lay the secret of this woman's charm.

When they reached La Condamine they left their carriage at the hotel
and proceeded on foot to the quaint old town, which, like an eagle's
nest, occupies its isolated rock, with the sea 200 feet below. They
were shown that part of the palace open to the public, and roamed to
and fro in company with a few interested or curious tourists.

"Out of evil may come good," said Kathleen, as they stood on the
highest point of the promontory and gazed over the castellated towers
of the Grimaldi, on to where the marble beauty and palm-girt terraces
of Monte Carlo lay glittering in the sunshine. "Think of it, my dear!
And read a satire on the human race epitomised by your surroundings.
Some 30 years ago a prince of ancient lineage, whose ancestors had
fought in the Holy Wars, lived here, supporting his family and people
on the produce of a few small vineyards and orchards. The slopes of
the mountains were covered with scanty herbage, barely sufficient to
sustain life in the miserable cattle and half-starved goats. The town
itself was a poor dreary place. That cathedral was represented by a
humble little chapel, whose only merit was its 13 centuries of age.
Those palatial hotels, those marble terraces, those magnificent roads
were undreamt of. Then arrives a magician with gold in his pockets, a
magic wand in his hand, and lo! the arid cliffs become verdant, the
rugged mountain sides are planed into white broad roads, the untenanted
slopes are beautified with miniature palaces. A new populace springs
up; gold pours its lavish floods into the empty treasuries of the
magnificent principality, society flock in its thousands and tens of
thousands, to waste its wealth, barter its honor, destroy soul, body,
mind, health, youth, everything that life has lavished upon it, in
adoring sacrifice to the Goddess of Play! That lives are ruined, souls
cursed, honor slain, matters nothing to the magician. He can point
to the wonders performed and say, 'Look at my work; the desert has
become a garden, the waste land blossoms like a rose!' And well it
might--watered of human life. There, Elinor! I have preached my homily,
and it is worth about as much as other homilies."

"Do you ever think," asked Elinor, "of the utter uselessness of trying
to convince people of anything about which they don't want to be
convinced?"

"It's the most maddening thing in life. Think? Of course I do. Thinking
of all that has been said and shown of the evils of gambling, of drink,
of Mammon-worship, of false religions, false creeds, false codes of
honor, made me say what I did. But have all the words and arguments
made one gambler forsake the tables that lure him to perdition, one
drunkard become sober, one hypocrite honest, one worshipper of forms
and ceremonies a Christian--unless their own interests led them? I
don't believe it. What a sermon in face of a Gambler's Paradise. But
sometimes, Elinor, I feel mad; mad at the obtuseness and silliness and
blindness of the fools around one. Madder still at the uselessness of
trying to make them different. Look at that splendid denunciation of
society in Ouida's 'Moths.' Has it deterred one mother from forcing
her young daughter into a loveless marriage, or held back one husband
from the pursuit of a dishonoring passion? I doubt it. Every year the
society she satirised so scathingly goes on just in the same way--the
extravagant, vicious, foolish way that it sees and knows is harmful,
but has no desire or strength to resist. Shame! Pollution! Vice! Can
such things be? Well, my sermon is over. You shall read its moral
presently. How astonished you look, my dear. Do you suppose I never
think out any of the problems of life for myself?"

"You have shown me a new side to yourself. That is what surprised me."

"Oh! I am a chameleon in that respect. The worst of it is, though, my
colors change so rapidly and are so short-lived."

Then she laughed. "What possessed me just now, I wonder? Come and let
us have some lunch, my dear, and then we'll spend a profitable hour in
the rooms, and you shall see if my satire is justified or not."

*  *  *  *  *  *

That it was justified Elinor could not but acknowledge when she stood
an hour later in one of the three rooms of the Casino sacred to
roulette. She looked round the tables, with the surprise and almost
awe of a first acquaintance with the World's Great Passion. From
the outside beauty of sea and sky and orange groves and olive-clad
mountains to this meretricious, heated place, with its seething crowd
of humanity, was a strange contrast.

The two women stood silent behind a double row of players and
lookers-on, watching the impassive face of the croupier, the flushed
and eager or vice-hardened countenances and glittering eyes of the
gamblers. Men and women were alike too absorbed in watching their
stakes, or the rapid gyrations of the little ivory ball, to pay heed
to the sauntering crowd around, or the watching faces that marked the
favors or reverses of Fortune.

Kathleen's eyes travelled quickly from one to another. From the stoical
calm of the professed gambler to the eager, excitement of the novice.
From the wrinkles and decrepitude of age to the bloom and beauty of
youth. From the meretricious charms of Parisian cocottes to the quieter
graces of other nationalities. From the extravagances of fashion,
jewels, and bijouterie, to the nervous outstretched hand that claimed
or clutched its gains according to temperament.

The moral of the scene needed no zealot to preach it. Self-evident,
self-confessed, lay the vileness of a vice confined to no nation, no
social grade, no special race. In all its unmasked fascination the
face of the glittering Goddess of Play smiled from the heaps of gold
and silver coins, leered in the monotonous "Faites vos jeux" of the
croupier's cry, and tempted in the luck that endowed at one moment, to
desert the next.

"It is awful," said Elinor under her breath. She turned from watching
the giddy spinning of the ball in its revolving wheel to the eager
faces also watching it. One, a man's, suddenly lifted itself, pushed
the soft felt hat back from a heated forehead, glanced up at the crowd
standing around, and met her gaze.

It was her husband's face.




CHAPTER XXX.

For a moment Elinor stood transfixed, so amazed was she at the
unexpected meeting.

Lawrence was less surprised. It had not seemed impossible to him, when
he heard of the Riviera trip, that chance would bring them face to
face. He had been in Monte Carlo a fortnight--spending most of his time
at the roulette tables in company with one or two choice spirits whose
acquaintance he had made at the hotel.

In fact, he had entered on a career of recklessness that threatened
disastrous consequences. That haunting fear of being recognised as
Latimer, the forger, had quite left him. He called himself "fool" for
a hermit's existence that had once seemed safety, and threw caution
to the winds. Baffled passion and a woman's undisguised scorn had but
goaded his weak nature to greater evil. The fact that his wife knew,
or guessed at, her purposed dishonor, made him afraid of any personal
explanation, Yet he had been unable to withstand the temptings of this
paradise of sin, unable to resist the fascination of that other passion
which had once already led him to disgrace, and might do so again.

Fortune had favored him, and his run of luck had been so great that he
was remarked, and his choice of color or number greedily followed. Now,
as he looked up and saw the white, startled face of his wife, the turn
of the wheel brought him his first heavy loss. He saw his stake swept
away by the croupier's greedy rake, and a spasm of anger shook him. He
pushed back his chair and rose from the table.

Elinor turned to Kathleen. "Did you see?" she asked.

"See--what? Whom?"

"Lawrence--my husband. He was playing. I think he is coming to speak to
me."

"Then I will go into the concert-room and wait," said Kathleen, coldly.
"You know it--facing, the entrance?"

Elinor nodded. She was less agitated now. In fact, a feeling of
indignation was uppermost in her mind. That he should be here, so close
to her own quarters, and yet have given no hint of his intentions,
seemed an unpardonable rudeness. He claimed her money to spend among
gamblers and roues, yet had coolly deserted and ignored herself.

Even patience and submission have limits, and she felt within touch of
hers at last.

She withdrew from the crowd, and presently saw Lawrence approaching.
He had changed--and not for the better. His face bore traces of
dissipation, his eyes were dull and sunken, and the flush on his cheek
accentuated its hollowness and lines.

"Well, Elinor?" he said, extending his hand. "So you have put your
saintly airs aside? This is hardly the place for a woman to come
to--alone?"

He glanced round a little nervously.

"I am not alone," she answered. "Mrs. Monteath is with me."

"A fitting companion," he sneered. "I congratulate you on your choice."

"Will you come out into the grounds?" she said in a low, restrained
voice. "I have something to say to you."

"Oh, for goodness' sake don't ask me to listen to your reproaches and
sermons. I've had enough of them. I know all you want to say. I had no
business to leave home, and all the rest of it. Well, I got sick of
the infernal place, that's the truth--and you were certainly not very
lively company."

"Was that the reason you transferred your attentions?" she asked.

They were out in the grounds now, pacing up and down one of the quiet
alleys, deserted at this time of day.

His lips twitched. "Oh, has she told you I paid her a few compliments,
to which she was certainly not averse? Perhaps I could turn the tables,
and tell you a few truths respecting her life and antecedents."

"You may spare yourself the trouble. I know everything about Mrs.
Monteath's life."

"By Jove, do you? Then all I can say is, if you know that you know also
that she isn't fit to be in any decent household. Yet you bring her
here as your companion."

"It is on a par with the rest of your unmanly deeds, Lawrence, that you
should try to blacken a woman's character. You thought it no shame to
insult and persecute her under my roof, and because she treated you as
you deserve you wish to poison my mind against her. Happily, that is
beyond your power."

His face grew livid. "Is it? What if I can prove she is nothing but an
adventuress, living under a false name--that she is not a widow, as she
pretends."

"I should answer in return that I know all that."

He stopped abruptly from sheer astonishment.

"Know it!--know her character and choose to have her under your
roof--your companion--your child's teacher? I don't believe you,
Elinor; or, if this is so, I absolutely decline to come back to you
unless this women goes."

She smiled somewhat bitterly.

"Don't you think, Lawrence, it would be wiser to wait until I ask your
return before making it a thing of conditions? Do you suppose I have no
pride? Do you forget the way in which you left 'my roof,' as you term
it? Do you think scandal has not been rife with my name--that I have
not suffered bitter shame and anxiety? If anyone has failed in duty
it is yourself. You did not choose to answer my letter or acquaint me
with your whereabouts, yet I find you here--claimed by the old vice
you forswore when you came out of prison. Are you always to break your
oaths, and am I always to forgive? Is not that expecting too much at my
hands?"

His sullen eyes drooped, he kicked the gravel impatiently with his
heels.

"You were always good at sermonising. I'm a bit sick of it. I grant I
ought not to have gone away as I did, but, after all, a man has some
right to freedom of action."

"Has not a woman?"

"I never interfered with yours."

She thought of the hundred and one indirect methods in which she had
been coerced and controlled. She remembered sacrifices made, and
ingratitude and faithfulness her only return. A sudden spasm of hot
anger shook her meek nature to its foundations. That he should dare
reproach her.

"Never interfere," she echoed. "That is what all tyrants say. But if
we begun to discuss the past, Lawrence, time and patience would be
exhausted. The present is all with which we are concerned. You chose to
leave me in a manner at once cruel and insulting. I had a perfect right
to refuse to maintain you in idleness as I had been doing. But I could
not forget that you had some claim on my forbearance, and so I agreed
to your demands. However, if the only use you make of my concession is
to resume your old vice, I consider I am justified in leaving you to
yourself. You ruined my life once, and I forgave you and took you back.
I cannot do it a second time."

"You are a d----d prig, Elinor," he said, insolently. "As for taking
me back, as you call it, I should go back if I chose, because it's my
right. However, life with you is not an alluring prospect, and I would
rather live apart and enjoy myself in my own fashion. But I mean to
have the means to do it, and you will have to supply them or----"

"Yes," she said, quietly, "or--what?"

"Or I'll come and pitch your precious companion out neck and crop, as
she deserves. She----"

As the evil word left his lips, Elinor turned, and walked swiftly back
to the Casino.

He gazed after her in dumb surprise. Then in a few rapid strides he
gained her side.

"Where are you going?" he asked hoarsely.

"To the friend who is waiting for me," she said, quietly.

"You choose to associate with her after what I have said?"

"I chose to believe her word against yours, her actions against your
broken promises."

"Then, by Heaven!" he muttered fiercely, "one or other of you shall
suffer for it!"

Elinor shook off his hand and walked back into the entrance hall, and
from thence to the concert-room. Her cheek was aflame with indignation;
her eyes dark with anger. Kathleen started as she saw the changed and
passionate face. She went swiftly towards her. "What is it? What has
happened?"

"I cannot tell you now, or here," announced Elinor. "Let us leave this
horrible place. I wish, oh, how I wish we had never come here!"




CHAPTER XXXI.

Val and Barry had found their sphere of active mischief considerably
limited in their new quarters.

The pardons of the Villa Paillon were very insignificant in comparison
with the park at home. Besides, the mornings were always given up to
lessons, and a considerable portion of the evenings to music practice
or home work. When they saw Kathleen and Elinor drive off on that
expedition to Monaco they were conscious that life was not dealing
fairly with them. It was hard to have to sit at home, grinding at
French verbs and Latin declensions, when other people were taking
their pleasure in the lovely sunshine of a brilliant city just beyond.
Restlessness worked upon their nerves, and then upon the nerves of
the old madame and the young abbé, who were their sole relative
instructors. The lessons were a source of trouble to all concerned, and
the usual half-hour for recreation which divided the morning came none
too soon to be welcome.

"Val," whispered Barry, as they found themselves in the garden at last,
"I vote we don't go back. Let's walk into the town, and get an omnibus
from the Pont Neuf and go to Villefranche. It only costs half a franc
each. I've got two. How much have you?"

Val could only boast of one, which had been given her by her mother
that morning.

"Oh! that'll do," exclaimed Barry. "We've been good such a long time
that they can't be very angry--and I know the way this time; there's no
fear of getting lost. But I say, we must make haste. If we get twenty
minutes' start we're all right. They can't catch us up."

Val agreed eagerly. The burden of "goodness" sat heavily upon her
conscience. It was a relief to get rid of it. They were soon out of
the grounds and racing down the hillside. They kept up a good speed
until they neared the town, when they slackened to walking pace. Coming
towards them was a handsome carriage, and they stood on one side of the
narrow street to watch it pass. The occupant, an elderly man with a
pale and discontented face, happened to be looking at that side of the
road. As he saw them he leant forward; then called to the coachman to
stop.

"If it isn't Lord Hallington. Fancy his being here!" exclaimed Barry,
with his usual disregard of grammar.

"Well, you pair of monkeys, are you playing truant again?" enquired the
old lord, as they slowly approached.

"We are only going into Nice for--for a message," explained Barry.

"Oh--what part? Does your mother trust you alone?"

They exchanged glances. What an objectionable habit old people had of
interfering in matters that couldn't possibly concern them.

Lord Hallington noted their hesitation. "Come," he said, genially.
"Jump in here and I'll drive you to the shop--if it is a shop."

"It's not," interposed Val. "It is to where the omnibus goes to
Villefranche."

"Oh. And you are going to Villefranche by yourselves? Where is your
governess?"

"My mother isn't her governess any longer," explained Barry. "She has
an old lady now--Madame Clèry."

The old lord grew interested. He naturally supposed that Mrs. Monteath
had returned to England.

"Well, if you are bent on going to Villefranche I'll drive you," he
said. "A carriage is preferable to an omnibus, and I promise not to
interfere with your plans. I suppose they include lunch?"

Barry looked doubtful, but a footman opened the carriage door, and Val,
to whom liveries and fine horses appealed, sprang in. He had no choice
but to follow.

The old lord's eyes twinkled. He gave an order, and the carriage turned
and drove rapidly toward the east of the town, making for the fortress
and port which stand at the head of the bay. He knew a portion of the
French squadron were anchored there, and gave a guess at the boy's
intentions.

The children were inclined to suspicion, and for the first mile he
gained little of their confidence. Barry, in fact, was extremely
annoyed at Val's acceptance of this undesirable escort. "But then," he
told himself, "girls are always doing foolish things like that. You can
never trust them to carry out a plan satisfactorily."

In order to put them at their ease Lord Hallington affected to believe
they were on a licensed expedition, and dilated on the glories of the
bay and the opportunity of seeing real men-of-war. Barry grew excited.
He had a passion for the sea and everything belonging to it.

"Would they allow me on board of one?" he asked.

The old lord thought it just possible he might gain permission. "If
you took a boat and rowed up to one of the battleships and asked the
official in charge," he said.

"I suppose they only speak French," said Barry dubiously. "Couldn't Val
come, to do the talking?"

"But you can speak French too, can't you?" asked Lord Hallington.

"Oh, the sort of rot they call 'The Child's First French Primer.'"
exclaimed Barry indignantly. "A lot of good that is. 'Charles a un
fusil et un sabre.' Just as if that helped one to get any reasonable
information from any French person. And Val too. You should have heard
her this morning. How did it go, Val? I thought I'd have choked.
'Tiens, qu'y atil? Arthur has fallen.'"

"Then 'Arthur has fallen on the drum,'" continued Val.

"Then 'He burst the drum,'" added Barry.

"And then 'He was in the drum,' and the whole thing ended up with
'Arthur is not pleased.' I should rather think he wasn't."

"No more was pleased the person to whom the drum belonged," added Val.

Lord Hallington laughed. Really children were very amusing.

"Now, I ask you," continued Barry, "how learning all that stuff helps
you to carry on a sensible conversation. I want to hire a boat; and I
want the boatman to let me have it for a franc, and take me to the ship
of the French admiral. Well, if I was to go and tell him that Arthur
had fallen on a drum and burst it, and wasn't pleased, he'd think I was
an idiot. Books never do teach you anything sensible."

"It is a pity," said Lord Hallington, "that with this project in your
mind you didn't ask your teacher to confine his instructions to matters
connected with men-of-war ships and boatmen's fares."

"Then he'd have known where we were going," said Barry, incautiously.

"Oh, then, it is another unauthorised expedition?"

The boy's face crimsoned. "Well, mother's away and Mrs. Haughton too.
We didn't ask, certainly--but we'll be home before they're back from
Monaco."

"Monaco!" echoed Lord Hallington. "I thought you said your mother had
left altogether."

"Did I? No, I think I said Val had a new governess."

"Well, that seemed to imply----"

"Tiens--but you are stupid, Barry," interposed Val. "I have a new
governess, an old madame; but it is not therefore necessary that Mrs.
Monteath should depart. She is the companion of maman, who cannot be
left always too much alone. That is all."

"Then Mr. Haughton, your father, is he not here?" asked Lord
Hallington, more and more mystified.

"Papa? Mais non. He went away--there is some long time now, from
Christmas. There was much trouble; but he wrote to explain, so maman
told me, and then he was going over the sea somewhere, and we--we came
here for the winter, because maman likes where the sun shines and it is
warm and bright."

Lord Hallington listened in ever increasing bewilderment. Evidently
there had been an upset of some sort in the Manor household. Had the
beautiful governess----? But then he remembered he had seen the two
women driving on the Promenade des Anglais; they were to-day at Monaco.
No disagreement could exist on that score. He did not like to question
the children too closely, for fear they would report his part of the
conversation, yet he felt eager to get at the truth of the mystery.

Having conquered their first diffidence, the young truants commenced an
eager dialogue on their own account; the purport off which was that Val
should bear Barry company in order to prompt him with the proper words,
and she insisted that if her services were to be made use of she meant
to be paid in kind by also seeing what was to be seen on board the
vessel.

Absorbed in his own thoughts, Lord Hallington allowed them to argue
out the matter to their heart's content. He was trying to avoid
a temptation to renew his suddenly broken intimacy with Kathleen
Monteath, assuring himself that a woman so good and spiritual as Elinor
Haughton would never have made a friend of one unworthy to be respected
and loved.

The fact of her being no longer in a dependent position served also to
convince him that Lawrence Haughton had deceived him on the point of
her history. He had evidently had some motive for doing so, and the one
possible motive suddenly flashed to his mind. "What a fool I was to
take his word, instead of going to the woman herself! And I've no doubt
he has told her--a nice opinion she must have of me! No wonder she
looked so cold and haughty the other day when I met them."

So ran his thoughts while the carriage bowled swiftly along the dusty
road, and the children still held excited argument.

"I ought to have called long before this," he said to himself.
"However, I'll take these youngsters back and see if I can make my
peace. Mrs. Haughton was always my friend. I've half a mind to confide
in her. I suppose she'll think I'm an old fool, but I've been so
restless and unhappy ever since I left England that upon my word I
wouldn't mind what she thought--if only my doubts were set at rest."

He grew quite genial and cheery after this long process of
self-examination. He gave the children a delightful luncheon at the
hotel, engaged a boat and a safe responsible boatman, and sent them
off to navigate the bay and interview the sentries on the decks of the
lordly battleships, what time he indulged in a cigar and coffee and a
chasse in the smoking-room of the hotel.

He rested and reflected, and finally argued himself into quite a humble
frame of mind. A condition only possible to a very young or a very old
lover.

He painted for himself, by light of memory, the lovely face, the
queenly figure, the inexplicable fascination of the Irish widow. He
told himself that all other loves and passions he had known were feeble
in comparison with this, the last he might know. How could he have
doubted her--how believe without proof--how steeled himself all these
wretched lonely months? He had suffered keenly--gone through the fevers
and chills, and hopes and doubts, and miserable hesitations of a first
love-dream. And the suffering might have been unnecessary after all.
There was still the barrier of his age. But might he not weight against
that the rank and wealth he could offer? True, it was a humiliating
thought that she could not love him for himself, but if she would give
him some consideration--put up with him--let him have the delight of
her presence, the charm of her companionship, he would be content.

Through the long, quiet afternoon hours he thought of nothing else but
Kathleen and the delight of meeting her. He forgot he had determined to
ask Mrs. Haughton the question he had asked her husband; that Kathleen
herself might not view his proposal in a favorable light; that some
explanation was due to her respecting that abrupt departure of his.
With a hopefulness creditable to younger years than those he boasted of
he took only the brightest view of the subject. He resolved to brave
Fate, to make his peace without more delay, and beg Kathleen to become
his wife. "I am a romantic old fool," he said to himself as he rose,
with the intention of strolling down to the Mole to see if the children
had returned. "Of course everyone will say I am one--still, it is hard
if I can't please myself for once in my life. One's friends always
seem to consider that one's marriage is their concern; and criticise,
approve, or disapprove it as seems best. Still, if I could gain that
bright presence to cheer my last years I should be an enviable person,
even if a foolish one. I've been fighting against ennui so long that I
fear to be beaten single-handed--I needn't trouble about the world's
opinion for once."

An hour later the carriage stopped at the villa gates, and Lord
Hallington was shown into the drawing-room.

Kathleen and Elinor had returned by train and were listening to
the distracted laments of Madame Clery, who had remained all day,
in hopes of the truants' return. When they walked coolly in, under
the protection of their new champion, there was a moment's startled
silence. Kathleen Monteath stood calm, and rather pale, in the
background. Lord Hallington took Elinor's hands in both his own. "Dear
Mrs. Haughton, permit me to explain. I met our young friends just
beyond your own gates. I was going to Villefranche, and offered to take
them with me. Hearing you were away for the day I thought there was no
need to return and explain. I hope--I trust--there has been no anxiety?"

"A great deal, I fear," said Elinor coldly. "Still, it was very kind of
you to trouble yourself with their charge. It seems a hard matter to
teach them obedience or consideration for other people's feelings. Go
now, children," she added. "I will speak to you presently."

The culprits disappeared with becoming alacrity and little penitence.

Elinor turned towards the silent figure in the background. "Kathleen,
you have not forgotten Lord Hallington?"

"On the contrary," came the clear, quiet voice, "I fear Lord Hallington
has forgotten so unimportant a person as myself."




CHAPTER XXXII.

No weapon in the whole feminine armory could have been at once so
useful and so disarming as that quiet indifference of Kathleen
Monteath's.

Lord Hallington had never before seen her anything but bright,
talkative, gay. This self-possessed woman, who met his excuse with cold
dignity and scarcely paid the least attention to his conversation,
was almost a stranger, with whom he must become acquainted--a new
introduction that met him behind barriers of conventionality.

He lingered on, accepting Elinor's offer of tea, puzzled beyond
expression by the change in both women.

He had hitherto regarded Elinor as an interesting invalid--always
tied to a sofa or an armchair, indifferent to life and its social
distractions or manifold obligations. He found now a comparatively
pretty woman, charmingly dressed, full of information, and well able
to baffle his half-expressed curiosity as to present circumstances. He
alluded to Lawrence and was informed he preferred Monte Carlo to Nice,
"as more fashionable husbands seemed to do," added his wife.

"I don't play--myself," said Lord Hallington, "but I confess I like to
look at the tables occasionally. Was this your first visit?"

"Yes, and I hardly think I shall repeat it."

"The spectacle is not morally instructive, you think?"

"Indeed it is not--although I have heard of clergymen going there in
order to find a subject for sermons."

"But they generally leave the insignia of their office behind them,"
said Kathleen.

"They are not the only hypocrites, I am afraid," answered Lord
Hallington. "Society is rather fond of going where it ought not to go,
and doing the things it ought not to do, for very excellent reasons.
The morality of the reason excuses the immorality of the act."

"I suppose you know most of the fashionable world here, Lord
Hallington?" said Elinor.

"I know more than I care for. I came for my health's sake, but people
seem to think that gout, like charity, covers a multitude of motives,
though only one appears."

Kathleen glanced up very quickly at him. "Was--gout the cause of your
very sudden departure?" she asked.

"Yes," he answered mendaciously. "If you knew what a bad-tempered brute
it can make of a man----"

He stopped abruptly. He felt he was scarcely painting himself in
attractive colors. "But I'm all right now," he hastened to add. "And
I trust I may be permitted to offer my escort to Mrs. Haughton and
yourself on some of the charming excursions in the neighborhood. The
children have forestalled you in the matter of the French squadron. But
if you feel interested in ships of war I can promise you the run of
one, at least. The French admiral who happens to be at Villefranche is
a personal friend of mine."

Kathleen glanced at Elinor. "I think it would be very pleasant," she
said demurely, "especially as I want to get Barry into the navy. He is
mad about ships."

"So he confided to me to-day," said Lord Hallington genially.

"I feel as if I had not sufficiently thanked you for taking charge of
those naughty truants," said Elinor. "We really don't know what to do
with them. The moment our backs are turned they are in mischief. To-day
I thought there was no fear. Every hour was planned out for them, and
Madame Clèry was to look after Val and the Abbé after Barry--yet they
escaped."

He laughed. "They are full of spirits, one can see that, and neither of
them takes kindly to control. However, I am their debtor for some very
amusing hours."

Kathleen began to think she, too, was their debtor if they had
innocently brought about the renewed subjugation of her old admirer.
But she maintained an attitude of indifference. Her experience of men
had been learnt in a hard school. She knew how best to profit by its
lessons. She felt glad Lord Hallington had returned of his own accord.
Whatever reason had occasioned his previous flight, it had evidently
not been strong enough to keep him long away from her side. She read
the meaning of his glances, the hesitation or eagerness of his tones,
the courtly, half-apologetic deference of his manner by the light of
her own feminine wisdom. She felt a conscious thrill of triumph when he
murmured, "Am I forgiven?" as he bent over her hand.

To ask that argued that he knew he had erred and she punished him by a
cool, "For what, my lord?"

He sighed. "If my sin is unknown, then so much the greater is my
remorse."

She smiled frankly. "I never thought you self-conscious before. And
remorse is a terrible thing to suffer from."

"It is," he said, "unless relieved by confession. If I thought--if I
dared----"

She gave him no help. The art of letting things alone when they had
reached a certain point was also one of her rare accomplishments.

He felt chilled by her unresponsiveness, and yet it only aroused his
feelings to new fervor. As he drove back to Nice in the fragrant dusk
that evening he told himself the die was cast. He must and would win
this woman. He reviewed their past acquaintance and convinced himself
that she had never made any attempt to entrap him, never sought to
monopolise his society, never used any of the shallow artifices by
which women sometimes seek to allure a rich or desirable wooer. And
to-day how absolutely charming and natural her manner had been. No
coquetry, no pretence, no affectation of being offended by his abrupt
departure, no question as to the delay of his visit since it would
have been an easy matter to find out where they were. Just the same
delightful natural woman who had so attracted him in England. Could
he risk a question to Mrs. Haughton before irretrievably committing
himself? They seemed such friends--so intimate. He hardly dared imperil
his fate a second time. If Elinor Haughton told Kathleen that he had
asked for references as to her respectability she would naturally take
offence. No; the best thing would be to trust her--to confess his
feelings and let her simple "Yea" or "Nay" suffice.

After all, her history and life must be reputable or a woman like
Elinor Haughton would not treat her as a friend and equal.

As he thought of Elinor and her changed appearance there flashed upon
him the memory of Lawrence Haughton. Why was he not here with his wife?
It seemed odd that one should be at Monte Carlo, the other at Nice.

He recalled his last interview with Lawrence, remembered his distaste
and distrust of this man. Has anything happened? Was the relationship
strained in some manner? It certainly looked odd. He thought of his
words respecting Kathleen--the hateful insinuation that lurked in them.
Could it be that he had had some strong motive behind that cowardly
traducing of a women's character? That he, himself----?

He started as the thought flashed through his brain. Why had it never
occurred to him before? Lawrence Haughton was not the sort of man to
be thrown into daily companionship with a beautiful and fascinating
woman and remain unmoved--more especially when circumstances forced
him to contrast her with a feeble invalid to whom he was tied by honor
and obligation. What light this idea threw upon the whole matter--upon
Haughton's desire to be rid of so formidable a rival, upon his
departure from his wife's roof; his present proximity, yet difference
of domicile.

Lord Hallington told himself he had at last hit upon the clue to the
problem, and the clue only served to place in clear, unblemished
light the character of the woman he loved. He felt as if a weight had
rolled off his shoulders, as if years had been swept from his life.
Jealousy had been at the bottom of the whole matter, and this noble,
splendid creature had, almost, been its victim. She had been true to
the friendship she professed for the wife and had doubtless screened
the husband. Hence the divided households. But now--what an opportunity
was afforded to himself. How easy it would be to put the whole matter
straight. He would remove his beloved queen from her compromising
position and throne her on high before this coward who had dared to
traduce her. Then, he might settle affairs with his own wife as he
chose. Kathleen would be Lady Hallington.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Meanwhile the woman who so occupied his thoughts was standing by
Elinor's side, looking with passionate sympathy at the white, quivering
face, stirred to a passion hitherto unknown.

"You say he told you to choose between us," she repeated.
"Between--us--your husband and a woman of whom you only believe what
your generous heart has told you! Elinor, dear little woman, have you
acted rightly? Better a thousand times that you should escape the
world's criticism and the scandal of evil tongues than that I should
part your husband and yourself."

"It is his own actions that have parted us," said Elinor. "There
is something behind all this that I can't tell even you, Kathleen.
A broken promise. Something that threatens once again to overwhelm
my whole life with misery. Surely there is such a thing as carrying
self-sacrifice too far? I have done everything for this man--given
him my love, my youth, to be trampled on and disgraced, received him
back, screened him, helped him, thrown fortune at his feet, martyred
myself for sake of his safety. What return have I met? Ingratitude and
disloyalty first, and now insult. Surely I owe something to myself, my
womanhood? He flung all he had of passion at your feet. You best know
how much of it was real--what worth that empty shell of manhood would
possess for me, his wife. No, Kathleen, no! There are some things a
woman can't bear. He has tried me too far. That he should use threats
and insults at last----"

She broke down into passionate sobbing. This sudden yet gradually
forced revolt of her gentle, loving nature seemed to tear up patience
by the roots and scatter its worthless seeds on a desert of wasted
feeling. To have borne so much, to have sacrificed so much, and to have
met with such a return.

A contemplated dishonor struck at herself, as well as at the woman she
called friend: a contemptible endeavor to destroy that friendship by
defaming its character; a brutal threat, at whose memory her soul rose
in a passion of indignation; this was her reward. The reward of all
those martyred years during which she had waited for the opening of a
prison door? The reward of that generous trust which had forgiven a
criminal and re-dowered him with all that she possessed. The reward of
patient endeavor to hide his secret and screen his cowardice. No wonder
she declared that patience had its limits.

There is a point to be reached in self-sacrifice when Nature itself
asserts, "Thus far, and no further"--when he who has forgiven not only
"till seven times but till seventy times seven" feels that it may be
more courageous to deny a demand that to follow a precept.




CHAPTER XXXIII.

Life alone disciplines character, and the experiences of life are
sometimes capable of creating self-surprise.

Certainly Kathleen Monteath, reviewing herself by the light of a past
conception, found an alteration in material points of that personality
she had hitherto considered her own.

While she had waited for Elinor in the concert-room of the Casino her
mind had presented a chaos of possibilities. Sometimes she saw herself
the scapegoat for Lawrence Haughton's infidelity. Again she confronted
him with defiance, to be crushed by his proofs of her past life. Who
would be capable of Elinor's trust? Who would show her again that sweet
wide charity which had accepted her at her best and judged her only
with tolerant excuses? Could the world hold another woman capable of
such charity? It made her eyes swim and her throat swell, even here,
as she thought of it, among surroundings so out of keeping with any
emotion unconcerned with their avowed object. The time had seemed long
while that interview between husband and wife was being carried on. She
could not attend to the music of the admirable orchestra or interest
herself in the limited audience. She could only watch the door and
wonder when Elinor would return.

When she saw her--alone, a sense of relief swept over her previous
anxiety. She rose eagerly.

Elinor's face was flushed, her lips quivered.

"Let us go--at once," she said. "There is a train going back to Nice
in five minutes. The carriage can put up at La Condamine and return
to-morrow."

Kathleen put no questions. She had never seen Elinor so disturbed, and
she deemed it best to await a return of composure.

They found the train waiting at the little station below the terrace
and were soon flying swiftly along the beautiful coast.

Elinor sat by a window looking on to the sea. There were other people
in the carriage and she never spoke a word to her companion. When they
reached Nice she hired a cab to drive them to their villa. Still she
only uttered a few commonplace sentences. Their arrival at the house
was the signal for a joint confession from nurse and governess as to
the flight of the children. This formed a temporary excitement, ended
by the arrival of Lord Hallington. Not until he had departed could
Elinor unburden her soul at last. When that outburst and its passion
of tears had exhausted her, Kathleen persuaded her to retire to her
room and lie down till dinner time. Then she sent for the children and
demanded an explanation of their conduct.

Both culprits professed penitence as usual. "We were only going to
Nice," said Barry. "And when Lord Hallington stopped the carriage and
offered to drive us to Villefranche, why--we went. That's all."

"That's all!" echoed Val. "He was of the most kind. We had a
déjeuner at the hotel and he sent us in a boat to one of the big
ships."

Barry took up his parable then. "And an officer showed us all over.
He was the only sensible Frenchman I've ever met. He could speak
English; so I hadn't to jabber any of the tomfoolery I learn in French
dialogues."

"And--where was Lord Hallington all this time?" enquired Kathleen
casually.

"He stayed at the hotel," said Val. "He asked of you, and I said I had
a new madame to teach me, and I think he was supposing you had returned
to England. But Barry he said no--that you were with maman, and go here
and everywhere to her company."

"And I thought the old buffer cheered up wonderfully," said Barry.
"He said he'd come back with us and explain; of course, and then
I remembered we might have asked him to send a telegram from
Villefranche. But those are just the sort of things that always pop
into one's head too late."

"You really are very haughty children," exclaimed Kathleen. "Poor
Madame Clery was nearly in hysterics with alarm, and as for Mary
Connor, she's given notice; and if she goes you'll have to put up with
a French nurse, Val, and they're very, very strict."

"Oh, Mary won't go!" said Barry reassuringly. "There's much too jolly
a Cathedral here, and she likes a town and lots of shops. Tell Mrs.
Haughton to give her a new dress and she'll stay right enough!"

"And we did not be so very naughty," added Val. "Maman did not say
we must not take one little promenade, only that we do not get into
mischief."

"It's Lord Hallington you should blame; he said so," interpolated Barry.

Kathleen felt inclined to laugh. She was more disposed to bless than to
blame, so she dismissed them with a caution, and then, somewhat tired
with the day's excitement, got into a loose wrapper and lay down before
the cheerful wood-fire to rest and to think.

Her mind was fully occupied. She felt certain that Lord Hallington
would return to his allegiance; but now, strangely enough, she did not
desire it. That sight of Lawrence Haughton had revived her dislike as
well as her fear of him. Elinor had not told her his exact words, but
felt no doubt that they had been threatening enough. At any moment he
might meet Lord Hallington and repeat them, represent her as a schemer
and adventuress, who had wormed herself into the confidence of a weak
credulous woman; place himself in the light of a victim instead of an
offender.

She dared not accept Lord Hallington now, only to face a constant
danger, a too possible humiliation. Either she must tell him her story
and trust to his generosity, or place herself in Lawrence Haughton's
power.

The crisis was grave. The point at issue meant danger or safety. Try
as she might to argue for the one, there was no blinding herself to
the probability of the other. Only in one way might Lawrence Haughton
be effectually silenced. If she could get at his secret and hold over
him a terror that would place him in her power, then she would be in a
position to dictate terms, not to hear them.

A sense of the old excitement thrilled her: she could not rest quiet
any longer. Her hatred and loathing of the man rendered her indifferent
to everything but revenge for his cowardly persecution. He was to
her a type of the sex she hated; one more among the many who had
persecuted, insulted, and betrayed her. Even to think of him seemed to
turn her into the fierce and reckless woman who had gained her present
position by sheer audacity and had given to deceit a new title--that of
circumspection. She walked up and down, up and down, trying to quell
the storm of newly aroused passion, but unable to do so. To have met a
foe face to face and defended herself openly would have stimulated her
energies; but to feel that some lurking devil was lying in wait, ready
and eager to do her any injury for sake of a paltry spite, that was
maddening.

All the good that Elinor had done seemed undone by this half-hour's
reflection. Elinor was this man's wife. In time she would forgive and
take him back, as she had done before.

In time--it might be long, but it would come inevitably. And the same
roof could never shelter her foe and herself, and if Lord Hallington
failed her a second time----

She stopped in her rapid pacing. A thought had struck her. She unlocked
her travelling bag and took out her journal. Rapidly she turned the
leaves till she reached those first entries made on her arrival at
the Manor. Even then, she had suspected that Lawrence Haughton had
something in his past to fear--something that made him shun his
fellow-men, avoid society, rush to the excitement of drink or gambling
for distraction. Fear! Yes, that was why she had seen in his face,
read in his ashy cheek and trembling lip. Fear! What did he fear? The
revelation of a crime? a folly of youth? a sin unexpiated?

Elinor in that first and only burst of self-forgetfulness had said some
strange words: "Received him back," "screened him," "helped him!"

What did they mean?

Either he had left her voluntarily, or something had compelled him. The
blood seemed to fly from her heart to her cheeks in a sudden surging
flood. There was only one "something" that could do that. The Law! Had
he outraged, or offended, or broken it?

Back went some more leaves. Val's babbling words that so innocently
betrayed an absence of years were here, written down; facts that helped
the chain of suspicion by another link. Her father had come back to her
in a foreign town--a stranger! Why? There must have been a reason, and
as the mystery thickened her convictions helped her on to the road of
possible discovery.

Elinor would never betray him. Besides, she would not ask Elinor.
Whatever was to be learnt, she must learn herself. She must silence
those vindictive lips, hold over that craven heart a rod of terror.
For herself she had no absolute sin whose revelation she feared. But
a woman on whom the shadow of disgrace falls is always a woman whose
position is insecure, whose days are passed in a mental pillory, where
the stones of chance are for ever aimed.

She closed the book and went over to the dressing-table and looked at
herself.

Her beauty shone serene and triumphant over the storms of passion,
the chills of fear, the wild, hot anger that every memory of Lawrence
Haughton inspired.

"Only yesterday," she said bitterly, "and I told myself I was on
the way to becoming a 'good woman' once again. Now I feel as that
unfortunate creature must have felt out of whom were cast seven devils,
so that seven worse might find an entrance place!"




CHAPTER XXXIV.

The children were not permitted to put in an appearance at dessert that
evening, by way of marking their disgrace, yet both women would have
felt their presence a relief.

Kathleen, being the better actress of the two, carried off the
situation with greater ease. But her excitement was almost feverish and
her tongue certainly lacked charity. That desperate half-hour she had
passed in company with her old self had roused a good deal of the old
reckless spirit whose confessions had filled the pages of her journal.
Her tongue lashed unsparingly the follies of the world, and the sex who
rule that world.

Elinor listened wonderingly. Her own intensity of emotion had left her
weak and spiritless. Her passity made her as wax in the hands of this
more dominating nature.

They sat through the long hours of that evening, sometimes talking,
sometimes thinking, and all the time Kathleen Monteath was turning
over in her own mind the possibility of getting a clue to Lawrence
Haughton's secret through some chance admission of his wife.

Elinor never suspected how she was being led to reveal incidents of her
girlhood--her early love-story, her marriage, her foreign wanderings.
Neither did it occur to her that this clever mind was able to trace out
a plan of the history concealed by help of history revealed.

It discovered that a certain number of years in Elinor's early married
life had been shadowed by a great tragedy. Of its nature, however, it
could gain no hint. A barrier of reserve had been built around, and the
most skilful questioning met only silence, or denial.

The fact of being able to localise Elinor's whereabouts during those
years was something gained. But Kathleen Monteath knew that to pursue
this search she would have to leave her present quarters, would require
money and patience and time. Once only was Elinor on the point of
self-betrayal. Kathleen had spoken of the impossibility of a man's
friendship for a woman being disinterested.

"Ah! don't say that," was the answer, and a new and wonderful
tenderness came over the gentle face. "For I had once a friend whose
sympathy and help have left me his life-long debtor. And never, never
in all the years during which he served me was there a word of claim
to even a thought of mine. I had to seem ungrateful and forgetful. Oh!
how it hurt me. But I think in my heart he knows the reason, and has
forgiven me long ago."

"Why was the friendship broken off?" asked Kathleen.

"Because of my husband's selfishness and senseless jealousy. He--he had
been absent for--for a long time. He did not choose that I should enjoy
another man's companionship, another man's sympathy. It is as you said,
Kathleen. What our lawful owners cannot give, we must never receive
from any other source. If they choose to starve our hearts, our minds,
our natures, we must perish slowly of that starvation though food be
within reach."

"True enough," said Kathleen bitterly. "The dog in the manger has a
fine matrimonial application."

"I lost my friend," went on Elinor slowly. "I could not see him, but
I wrote. He never answered the letter. Sometimes I wonder if he ever
received it. I used to be very lonely. There is a heart emptiness that
no duty can fill or satisfy. It is not love, not passion--only a deep
longing, a something that craves sustenance from one other heart that
understands. Oh! how rare it is--that understanding. One may go through
life and never find it; but if one does and is forbidden to respond--it
is harder than never to have found it at all!"

"I," said Kathleen, "have never found it. You, Elinor, are the nearest
approach to friend and comforter my life has chanced upon, but even
you, my dear, knock at some closed doors--hear 'not at home' for
answer."

"I think that hurts less than hearing what is false. 'No admission' is
at least truthful. And there must always be a closed door to someone,
Kathleen."

Kathleen looked long and seriously at the quiet face, so tired and
wistful, and so full of pain. "I wonder what is beyond yours?" she
thought.

*  *  *  *  *  *

For long Kathleen's journal had been neglected. In the ease of
untroubled days, in the gradual sense of power and influence, there
had been nothing to chronicle. Smoothly and pleasantly life had rolled
on until that rencontre at Monte Carlo. Now face to face with a new
problem she resorted to her old habit.

She transcribed Elinor's admissions. She read and re-read them,
wondering if that clue would ever lead to the discovery she so eagerly
desired. The whole mystery lay enshrouded in a space of four years.
Quite unconsciously Elinor had permitted her to date those years. It
was no difficult matter. She knew Val's age.

When she had written the account of that evening's conversation,
Kathleen wrote underneath her own reflections the purport of the
conversation, and then the course of action left for her to follow.


"If I knew the name of the street where she had lived I might be able
to discover this mysterious friend," she wrote. "There are two ways
by which I might make the discovery--first by employing a detective,
secondly, by questioning Val. She was very young at the time, but also
she was constantly with her mother. If she knows the part of London
they lived in I could institute enquiries there. If she remembers the
name of the mysterious friend I might gain from him----

"But would he tell me anything that would seem to betray confidence?
It depends entirely on the nature of the man and of his friendship.
Myself, I believe in no man's friendship for a woman--unless she is
twenty years older than himself. Perhaps, however, I am wrong. There is
a type of woman who can make a friend of a man and keep him. Elinor is
one. She is so good and pure and gentle that no impure thought could
smirch her innocence, no selfish passion humiliate by its confession.
This man may be her friend, really--in the best sense of the word.
Would he serve her by breaking through her silence, by confessing to me
the secret of Lawrence Haughton's life?

"I stop here and look at myself--my old self, the self whose weapon is
her beauty, and who has proved its power so often. Would that weapon
serve me in this new battle with a woman's reserve and a man's fidelity?

"I hate myself for thinking of it. I hate myself for the change that
has come over me. I hate to think that if I am again thrust forth to
fight the world and life in the old hateful, bitter warfare I shall go
hence a worse woman, because a more desperate one.

"The change Elinor's companionship, Elinor's friendship has wrought is
not a lasting one, I suppose. I had hoped it was. But it is easy to be
good when one is happy; easier when one is safe!

"There still remains the alternative of frankly revealing to Lord
Haughton the history I confessed to Elinor. But I am afraid to do
that. Afraid because so much depends on it. She accepted my word. He
might ask for proof--and there is none. Could I expect him to read the
records of that trial and still believe in me? It would be asking too
much of human nature.

"Oh! why have I never been able to live a free, healthy woman's life?
Why have I been denied all that goes to make up that life? Wherever I
go the breath of intrigue follows me; to plot, and plan, and deceive,
seem as essential to my existence as air and light. Even now--even
here!"


She dashed down the pen and flung the book aside. She was trembling
like a leaf. For the first time since Elinor had claimed her
friendship, her own interests clashed with the fidelity she had
promised.

"She has believed in me; she refused to turn me adrift as that coward
bade her. Can I be disloyal to her? She has suffered so much already."

Thus she argued, for and against her own interests, one moment resolved
to find out the mystery Elinor's silence concealed, the next hating
herself for the desire to do so. "If she would only speak! What holds
her back?" she cried again and again. "Not love, not even pity. Her
words to-day showed me that she despises this man with all her heart,
yet she screens him so loyally!"

Too restless to write, too unhappy to sleep, Kathleen passed hour
after hour pacing her room or brooding over her fire. Yet even when
the chill dawn was at hand she was no nearer a conclusion. Perhaps if
Lord Hallington called again she would be able to make up her mind. She
would await that chance.

Worn out and dispirited, she got into bed at last and fell asleep.

When she awoke the sun was streaming into the room and Mary Connor was
standing by her side. She held a tray, with her morning tea. Beside the
cup lay a letter. Kathleen's correspondents were few and far between.
She took it up with a feeling of uneasiness. The handwriting was
unknown. When Mary Connor had left the room she tore open the envelope.
These lines met her eye:--


"My wife may, or may not, have told you the purport of our interview
yesterday. I wish you clearly to understand that you will gain nothing
by setting her against me. I intend to take up my abode under her roof
within twenty-four hours of the time you receive this intimation. I
hope you will make it convenient to leave before then. Another meeting
between us is extremely undesirable. As long as I have the rights and
authority of a husband I intend to decide who is, as well as who is
not, to be my wife's companion and my child's instructress. Kathleen
Ollier is certainly not the person I should select."


The letter fell from Kathleen's nervous fingers.

"Ollier!" she repeated. "So he knows me; he has found out! And I am
to go, am I? Go--that he may resume his place and his influence with
Elinor?"

Her teeth clenched. A passion of rage and indignation shook her. She
flung the letter on to the floor as if its very touch were pollution.

"Trapped, cornered, and by that coward!" she muttered in a fury. "The
man who insulted me openly by his hateful passion; who dishonored his
wife by every thought. In one way he is right. The same roof could
not possibly shelter us--but I, the weakest, am to go to the wall.
Very well, Lawrence Haughton, come back here, and take your place and
torment your poor victim a little longer--but the day will come when
you will rue having made an enemy of me, when it may be my turn to make
you bite the dust!"




CHAPTER XXXV.

"Elinor," said Kathleen abruptly, "I am going away from you. I must."

"Going away!"

"My dear, I spent nearly the whole night in arguing for a right to stay
here, to keep you and your husband apart. I did my best to convince
myself that it was almost a moral action. But the morning has brought
me wisdom. I see plainly that this state of affairs cannot last. What
will people say if you live on here and your husband remains at Monte
Carlo? Lord Hallington's polite surprise was only a suggestion of more
openly-expressed wonder on the part of others. Someone will be blamed.
Do you choose that it should be yourself?"

Elinor's startled eyes met the question doubtfully. She faltered.

"It must be either you or he. When married people live separate lives
the blame has to fall on one of them."

Elinor's face grew paler still. "This has only just occurred to you?"
she asked.

"Oh, no. It occurred to me when I reviewed our long conference of last
evening. My heart is traitor to your interests, dear; for I long and
want to stay with you, just as I feel sure you desire to have me. But
it won't do, Elinor; it mustn't be. Your husband has a right and I have
none. For the child's sake, as well as your own, it would be better to
receive him back, even if the moral difference between you can never
be bridged. Scandal is a burr that clings to a woman's skirts. A man
can shake it off. Why should I become this burr and cling to you, dear
little woman? A poor return, indeed, for all your kindness to me."

"It is not--you. It is his own actions that have parted us," said
Elinor gravely.

"That may be. But are you going to tell the world that? And if you keep
him away, and keep silence, can't you guess what will be said?"

Elinor shivered as with sudden cold. "To have him back--to live under
the same roof--to banish you? Kathleen, surely you do not advise this?
This? What has made you veer round in such a contradictory fashion?"

"Because I am a weathercock, I suppose. Because, as I told you; I
have devoted the night to solving a problem--for you. Because two
things stand out as plain as daylight. First--If I remain here your
husband cannot return. Second--If your husband does not return there
will be scandal. You best know, Elinor, how such scandal would affect
you. You have greater interests at stake than I; a position--a
name--responsibility, that you cannot evade. You see, I have considered
the subject very carefully."

"You have not considered that you are being driven out to face the
world again. A cold and cheerless place, Kathleen--you found it so
before."

"I know. Don't suppose I have allowed a single 'pro or con' of the
subject to evade me."

"What about Lord Hallington?"

"There you touch me on a weak point. But if I fly he will
pursue--supposing he is really serious. I only say supposing."

"Oh, Kathleen, don't jest. There is something underlying all this. You
don't want to go; something is forcing you. What is it?"

She grew very pale. "Don't ask me, Elinor. If I could tell you I would.
Rest assured only a very strong reason drives me from such a shelter as
this. I shall never find such another."

"You don't take my feelings into consideration. I told you yesterday I
was ordered to choose between Lawrence and yourself, and I chose you."

"Dear, that was yesterday; and you were not your sweet calm good
self. The Elinor of Monte Carlo was a revelation to me; those bitter
indignant feelings were not natural to her. Before all things, my dear,
you are a woman who forgives--and sooner or later you are bound to
forgive your husband, be he ever such a sinner. And, as yet, he has
only sinned in words, not deeds?"

"Oh! if you knew, if you knew!"

The words burst out with a sudden irresistible passion, startling
Kathleen by their revelation of a long hidden sorrow. Yet the mastery
of a promise checked further revelation and held back the burning words
that longed for utterance.

"If you leave me," said Elinor, desparingly, "I dread to think what my
life must be. No one to speak to, to trust, to look for sympathy. The
day is past when my husband could give me such things. We are estranged
beyond all power of unity. Such poor pretence of duty as is left to
give I must give, as you say. But, oh, Kathleen, the empty days--the
unhappy hours--the sickening shame of such a life. How am I bear it?"

"Have you not borne--worse?"

She started. "How do you know?"

"I know nothing except what your face has betrayed, your life
confessed. Perhaps, Elinor, they were less loyal than your
tongue--though why should either be loyal to what is base and unworthy?"

Elinor was silent. Her thoughts travelled back on a long desolate road
and stopped at one memory. "Kathleen," she said, "if you are determined
on leaving me, at least I must help you. Unfortunately I know so few
people, but you must use me as a reference and--shall I--do you think
it would be of any service if I gave you the address of that--friend,
of whom I told you? He has a great deal of influence--he is a
barrister--and oh! the best and kindest man the world holds, I think."

Kathleen looked at her. A queer ambiguous little smile touched her
lips. "Elinor," she said; "do you know you remind me of a story I
read somewhere about a little child who faced an army, cruel and
bloodthirsty, bearing against their weapons only a single lily.
Sweetheart, your lily has disarmed me. What use to plot and plan
against transparent purity. Yes, give me the address of that friend. It
may serve you better than you fancy. But, oh, Elinor----"

The sob that choked back further words was the outcome of that
other self of which she had written--the better, purer self, whose
resurrection had been the miracle wrought by love. She stood now,
holding Elinor's hands, looking down at the white sad face, the
drooping figure, and her heart swelled with pity and regret.

The two forces at war within her breast waged a terrible battle in that
moment. She dropped Elinor's hands.

"To think," she said, "that we were once girls, and happy, and all life
before us--a playground for experiments. How cruel it all is, Elinor.
How cruel."

"I will give you that address," said Elinor, her lip quivering.

She went to a writing-table, sat down and wrote a few words on a sheet
of paper. Then she rose and handed it to Kathleen. Her eyes scanned
it rapidly. It seemed strange that the very name she had schemed to
discover should be freely given for her use and service. As she thought
of those wasted hours the previous night she laughed bitterly.

"I feel," she explained, meeting Elinor's surprised look, "like a
person who has made a long and tedious journey, with one object--and at
the end of it finds the object could have been attained by remaining
quietly at home."

She folded the paper and put it into her leather porte monnaie. "Thank
you for your trust," she said.

"There is one thing more," said Elinor, flushing nervously. "You know,
Kathleen, I am a rich woman; too rich for foolish pride to stand
between us in any form of debtor or creditor. Let me advance you the
sum necessary for your journey and Barry's, and--until you secure
something else."

Kathleen looked at her. "You disarm me," she said. "You put an
obligation so sweetly that it seems I am conferring a favor, not
accepting one. Elinor, I am not a fool, and I know a woman can't live
decently and respectably on nothing a year. Still less when she has a
child to support. I owe you a great deal, more than money can repay. I
suppose money has to come into the debt at last. I am sorry I cannot
say no--but it would be foolish to pretend that a hundred or two would
materially affect your convenience. They would mean--everything to me,
for a time."

"I will give you a draft on my London bankers," said Elinor. "It makes
me happy to be of use. I couldn't bear to think of you alone in that
great city and in poverty. When must you go, Kathleen?"

"By to-night's Continental express. No good can come of staying longer."

Her voice was hard and bitter. To be thrust away like this by a
cowardly traitor--a man to whom honor and decency were alike unknown. A
just or deserved condemnation would not have hurt her, but there was no
justice in Lawrence Haughton's action, and she was the sufferer.

As she left the room and went back to her own, to commence the labor of
packing, Val came running along the corridor. Her cheeks were wet with
tears, her voice broken as she burst into her grievance----

"Oh, madame! Say, it is not true that Barry leaves here to-day, to
return to England, so he tells. Oh, what shall I do? I cannot, cannot
bear that we say adieu. Oh, do not make him go."

"I am sorry, my child, but I have to return to England, and Barry must
go with me. Don't cry so, little Val. Perhaps he'll soon see you again.
You must remember, boys are not like girls; they have to make their way
in the world. He is to be a sailor, and I must soon part with him, as
well as you."

The pretty eyes, drowned in tears, looked up at her wonderingly. "A
sailor! On a big, great ship like that in the bay at Villefranche? Oh,
how fine it is to be a boy. I wish I were one, I would go with him."

"I've no doubt you would," said Kathleen. "How with such a
meek-spirited mother and----father do you come by such a spirit, I
wonder?"

The word checked was "craven." So alone he stood at the judgment bar of
her angry mood. A craven heart--a soul whose smallness and weaknesses
was only balanced by its capacity for evil.

*  *  *  *  *  *

A few hours later a telegram was dispatched from the post-office at
Nice to the Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo. It ran thus:--

"I leave to-night for Paris."




CHAPTER XXXVI.

In a room of a somewhat dingy set of chambers in Gray's Inn a man was
sitting alone, listening to the storm of wind and rain, as the chill
February day drew to a close.

He was not working. The piles of taped documents, the deed boxes, the
letter-files, bespoke his profession, but at present the insignia of
that profession alone reminded him of work undone or to do.

He was resting in a shabby old leather chair. Everything about and
around him had the same touch of shabbiness as the chair--a shadow of
the manifold fogs, the atmosphere of soot, and grime, and mustiness
inseparable from the old houses of this debilitated region. It seemed
to have crept in at the dingy window and never been able to find its
way out again. It rested even on the man's face, emphasising its
tiredness and haggardness, touching the lines on the brow, the thin
locks on the temples, the patient, short-sighted eyes from which the
double eye-glasses had fallen unnoticed. Those eyes were fixed on the
dull fire, a thing of spasmodic jets and flickers, finding their way
through a great deal of dusty coal and raked-up ashes.

The old clerk, who occupied the outer office and had been in Julian
Dormer's employment for over twenty years, had just made up the said
fire before leaving for the day. It was a bad grate and smoked or
sulked alternately. The fire seemed to burn with a sullen resentment of
its surroundings and a sullen refusal to cheer them by any brightness
it might have contributed. The man who sat there in the loneliness and
gloom had grown too used to such surroundings to trouble about them.

They were part and parcel of his life--a lonely, dreary life on which
no sun of hope had ever deigned to shine. Once he had had a great
career before him--this sad, quiet man with the patient face. But
somehow he had let it slip. His friends had accused him of want of
energy--of lack of self-confidence--of hesitation in pushing himself
forward among the striving, pushing crowd who care nothing for what
simple flowers they trample under foot, so that one or many of its
glittering prizes be seized.

Not to seize as many as possible seemed worse than folly, and Julian
Dormer had not seized one. Worse, had actually dropped behind in the
race--to gather, instead of crush, one of those simple wayside flowers.
He had loitered so long tending and caring for it that Fortune had
determined to punish him for neglect of her own more brilliant chances.
Who but a fool would choose the beauty of a blossom before the glitter
of gold--cultivate a field daisy instead of a banking account?

Thus, it happened that Julian Dormer found himself out-distanced,
poor, forgotten at an age when most men sign themselves successes--or
failures. His monotonous days were so much alike that he scarcely noted
the passage of time. The seasons appealed to him only as comfort or
discomfort touched extremes of heat or cold. The sun rarely shone into
those dismal chambers.

The moonlight never threw but a few gleams of light across that
wilderness of blackened roofs and dismal buildings. Only the stars, in
a little patch of sky, which his windows showed him, gazed sometimes
in at the quiet figure, stooping over book or papers, or smoking
thoughtfully by an empty fireplace. The stars had seen so many sad and
lonely and pathetic sights in that great city--yet shunned none.

His clerk had left; the outer office door was closed. Until it was time
to go out for his solitary dinner in a quiet little Holborn restaurant
Julian Dormer had no need to fear intruder, or visitor. He reached up
for a pipe from the rack above the mantelshelf, filled it slowly and
deliberately, as he did most things, and began to smoke.

Suddenly there came a rap at the door; sharp, imperative, as if the
intruder were impatient of delay. He lifted his head, listened a
moment, then crossed the outer passage, and opened the door.

A woman stood there. Her waterproof cloak glistened with raindrops,
her dripping umbrella had already left a shining track on the dingy,
uncarpeted boards.

"Does Mr. Dormer live here?" she asked.

The man who had answered her summons took the pipe from his lips and
stared with short-sighted gaze at the visitor.

"My name," he said, "is Dormer."

"Oh, I'm glad you're in. I want to speak you--particularly."

He drew aside. "Will you kindly follow me? It is rather dark, I'm
afraid. I'll get a light."

She left the umbrella to drip in the dreary passage, unloosened her
cloak, and threw it on a chair in the clerk's room, then followed him
into the office, where the fire was attempting one of its spasmodic
flickers. Her quick glance took in the poverty and depression and
shabbiness of her surroundings, and then fell on the figure of the man
who was lighting the gas jet near his dusty writing-table. "What a
place!" she thought.

"Will you take a seat," enquired Julian Dormer, "and acquaint me with
you business?"

He picked up his glasses and adjusted them, and took a long, steady
look at her.

The brilliance of her beauty and the style of her dress surprised him.
A visitor so radiant and bringing such an atmosphere of the fashionable
world was rare in these chambers.

"I must first of all introduce myself," she said. "Through the medium
of an old friend of your own. She gave me your address. Mrs. Haughton."

"Haughton?" he repeated. "I--I fancy there must be some mistake. I know
no one of that name."

"But--I assure you, she gave me your address. She told me you were an
old and valued friend. Surely there cannot be two barristers in these
chambers of the name of Dormer?"

"I hardly think so. I have lived here for twenty years."

She took a slip of paper from her purse and handed it to him.

"Do you know that writing?" she asked.

He glanced down. A slight shadow crossed his face. "Yes," he said. "I
know it."

"But this is Elinor Haughton's writing! Surely you remember her now?"

"Elinor," he faltered. "I know nothing of any--Elinor. The handwriting
on that paper is Nellie Latimer's--a friend who--who died long ago."

It was his visitor's turn to stare now.

"We seem to be at cross purposes. I know no one of the name of Latimer.
This lady, Mrs. Haughton, is a rich woman who engaged me as governess
to her little girl."

"Tell me," he said, with sudden eagerness. "What was the child's name?"

"Valerie. We always called her Val."

A look of painful bewilderment crept into his eyes. He seemed as one
trying to recover a lost memory, a clue to facts that had eluded his
grasp.

"Val--little Val," he murmured absently. "A dark-eyed dancing
sprite--Nell's little child. But why do you give her this name? It is
an unknown one to me."

"That sounds mysterious. I can only repeat what I said before. My name
is Monteath. Mrs. Monteath. I came to Elinor Haughton as governess, I
stayed on as friend. Circumstances have arisen that forced me to leave.
She suggested my calling on you and asking you to interest yourself in
finding me something to do. A barrister has generally a wide circle of
acquaintances."

"I have none," he said drearily. "None."

She started. Once more her glance went round the desolate room, once
more it came back and traced a history in his face.

"You only know Elinor as Nell Latimer?" she went on. "That, I suppose,
was her maiden name?"

"No," he said slowly. "Oh, no. She was married. Her husband----" Again
he stopped, again groping in long-closed chambers for that clue he had
lost.

Kathleen Monteath waited breathless. Would she learn at last something
of Lawrence Haughton's life--some reason for changed name?

"If you are her friend," continued the barrister, "doubtless you know
her history--some portion of it. When you tell me she is a rich woman
living under a changed name you surprise me. She must have known that
if she sent you here----"

"I should learn that secret. Perhaps that is why she sent me?"

"You know of its existence?"

"Naturally. Was I not her friend?"

"That is her writing. She has sent you to me. Tell me of her. Is she
well, happy, content? Has the dark cloud passed? My poor little Nell!"

Such pathos and sadness came into his voice that the eager woman,
trembling on the threshold of discovery, heard in the sad tones the
echoes of another secret--his secret--this sad and lonely man who had
once served and befriended the rich woman--still to his mind only "poor
little Nell."

"She is a most unhappy woman," she replied. "If ever a woman needed a
friend, a helper, an adviser, it is Elinor Haughton."

"Latimer," he repeated.

"I know nothing of Latimer. The change of name may have been occasioned
by circumstances."

"Of course. Yet I wonder she never told me. She never wrote."

"She did write, but you never answered the letter; she told me so."

"I had no letter," he answered. "I waited, and waited, and waited, but
it never came. From the moment her husband was released she dropped out
of my sight, my life. To-night I have heard her name at last--and you
say she is unhappy. Is it her husband's fault--again?"

"Entirely."

"He has not brought more shame upon her head? When I think of her
beautiful forbearance----" He sprang to his feet. The patience of
silent years snapped suddenly. "I defended him--I tried to save him.
But for me his term of imprisonment would have been far longer. Why did
I? Why was I so eager to help her to more misery? Oh, fool! fool! Even
then I distrusted him, even then I hated him for the curse he had laid
on that sweet young life."

Kathleen listened with every sense. At last she had reached the goal
of her desire, had come within touch of the knowledge that should
humiliate her too. Imprisonment! Then Lawrence Haughton had committed a
crime. Had known the prison taint. Had made his wife screen him, serve
him, and then for reward given her back his dishonored, cowardly self.

"A criminal rarely stops at one crime, an offender at one offence,"
went on Julian Dormer. "But I could not counsel Nell to go against her
own gentle instincts. And then there was the child--the child who came
while its father was in prison--whose innocent life is forever stamped
with one shameful memory."

"Did this--trial appear in the papers?" enquired Kathleen warily.

"Of course. Forgery was his crime. The name of Laurence Latimer is on
the prison records. His youth pleaded for him. That--and his young
wife. They had only been married a year. She was left to face the
world, the shame, the scandal--left friendless and in poverty. I--I
tried to help her, to get her employment. And then there was the child.
It was a cruel ordeal, a pitiful time. Yet she forgave all and took him
back. You say she is rich? How is that?"

"She inherited some property unexpectedly. I think that occasioned the
change of name. They had to take the family name."

"It was a fortunate thing for Latimer," he said. "A thrice fortunate
thing."

He seated himself again. His momentary indignation had passed and left
him once more what time and weariness and a lonely heart had made him.
He pushed the scanty iron-grey locks back from his temple and looked at
Kathleen.

"You," he said, "are also her friend. I am glad she found another. She
was not a woman to make many, my poor little Nell. I hope you were
always good to her. If I can serve you for her sake I will gladly do
so. But first, is there nothing she requires of me herself?"

Kathleen drew a long deep breath. Was this to be her chance? Could she
confront Lawrence Haughton, strong in the championship of a man who
knew him for what he was?

"I think," she said, "that Nell, as you call her, will certainly
need protection soon. Her husband is not only a gambler, but he is
unfaithful to her. Her married life is a sham, yet still she sacrifices
herself to him. He has free use of her wealth and her roof, and he
repays her with--brutality."

"Not that?" he entreated, and his face grew livid.

But Kathleen was in no mood to spare a foe. "Yes--that," she repeated.
"I----" her head drooped, and the blush she could command at will stole
into her cheeks. "I--her friend, who loved her as a sister--I have been
driven from her side by this man."

He sprang to his feet. He was not a man used to consider consequences.
A dreary self-centred life left him unprepared for great emergencies.
His one desire at this moment was to serve the woman he had loved
silently and hopelessly for many sad years. If he could not give her
happiness he might spare her some misery.

"Tell me," he said abruptly, "the whole truth. Why are you here--of
your own free will, or because she sent you?"

"I had never heard of you until she told me to come here."

"She is unhappy? She has no friend you say?"

"I have been driven from her side by the insulting proposals of her
husband."

A great hot wave of color crept up to the man's brow, touching even the
thin wisp of iron-grey hair that his rapid strides had shaken forward.

"The hound!" he said. "Well, tell me what is best to be done. Shall I
go to her? Where is she now?"

"At present in a villa on the outskirts of Nice. She has rented it for
six months."

"That is within easy distance of the world's gambling hell! Does he go
there?"

"Every day," said Kathleen.

He pushed the fallen lock of hair impatiently aside. "Then he has
broken a solemn promise made to both of us! I need not spare him any
longer."

Kathleen looked up eagerly.

"You know something?" she exclaimed.

"I know enough," said Julian Dormer, "to save his wife from his
persecution."

"Enough to silence his tongue--to hold him at your mercy?" she cried,
starting to her feet and trembling with eagerness.

He looked at her gravely and attentively. "Enough to serve even your
purpose, Mrs. Monteath," he said.




CHAPTER XXXVII.

When Lawrence Haughton received that telegram a sinister smile played
over his lips. "Checkmate at last, my lady!" he thought; and all the
ignoble part he had played seemed to him only as fair warfare with an
enemy inclined to be dangerous.

"She shall not share Nell's fortune, or catch that titled dotard, or
stand between me and my rights," he told himself viciously. "Had she
chosen the other course it would have been different."

In what manner it would have been different he did not pause to ask
himself. How he had hoped to maintain himself and a mistress by the
fortune of his wife, to deceive the woman under whose roof he lived
and to whom he owed everything, were not questions that he cared to
propound. It was sufficient that he had the power to pay back her scorn
and her brief spell of victory, crush her as she had crushed him, turn
her adrift on the world, holding over her always that knowledge of her
past which he had unearthed and paid for--and, in part, secured.

"A divorced woman!" That was enough to close the doors of most feminine
institutions to her entreaties. Lord Hallington would not marry her,
Elinor should not maintain her. Society should not receive her, as
long as he had the whip hand and could drive her forth to the world's
mercies, just as he chose.

"Some day she will be sorry," he told himself. "Some day she will cringe
at my feet and beg for mercy. Some day that blow shall be repaid by a
kiss; and this time it is she who will kiss and I who may, or may not,
strike!"

So consoling did he find these reflections that he was in no hurry
to return to the conventional simplicity of home. It was enough to
know that he could return when the fancy took him; that he had turned
Kathleen out and left Elinor lonely and helpless as she had always been.

It had pleased him to keep her so; it pleased him doubly now that she
could not alter the situation. His will and her own desire to shield
his secret had held her for long in an ambiguous position. He told
himself that she should remain in it as long as seemed good to himself.

Then he put the telegram away and went to the tables.

To-day Fortune refused to smile on him. All his previous winnings were
dissipated by one fell swoop of ill-luck. In vain he backed number or
color. Both deserted him as the wheel spun and the little ball fell
obstinately where the wrong color and the wrong number marked its
resting-place. The next day brought no better results. One or two of
his Casino friends advised a little rest until Fortune should choose to
smile once more. But by this time the fever was hot in his veins. He
could not stop. The third morning proved worse than ever. He went back
to his hotel in a vile temper. He dined luxuriously as was his wont and
after dinner returned once more to try his luck. He knew he ought to be
on his way back to Nice, that Elinor must have expected some word from
him, but he felt no inclination to face reproaches or tears. Neither
was he disposed to take up domestic life, as he would doubtless be
expected to do. Mind, mood, and character were thoroughly unhinged. He
had been so long used to consider Elinor a weak fool, spiritless, and
long-suffering, that he only put down her outburst of passion on their
last meeting to a spurt of ill-temper.

This night he played on and on, sometimes winning, more often losing.
He only left the rooms when the croupier's announcement, "On ne jouera
plus ce soir," forced a general exit from the tables.

He went from the Salle de Roulette with empty pockets and an aching
head. Went out into that paradise of moonlight and flowers, balmy air,
and starry sky and placid sea, which seem as Nature's protest to men's
vilest passions.

Lawrence Haughton paused a moment on the terrace, looking seawards,
lit a cigar, and then thrusting his hands in his empty pockets began
strolling slowly up and down.

To-morrow he would have to go back to Nice and to his wife. More, he
would have to ask her for supplies.

Elinor's income averaged about £12,000 a year. She paid all the
household expenses and allowed Lawrence a thousand, whose use she never
questioned. This year's allowance had been squandered in the last
month. He was absolutely penniless. If he went to Nice on the morrow he
must leave his belongings at the hotel there. He had not even the means
to pay his bill.

It was not a pleasant thought, especially when he remembered that scene
with his wife and their very unceremonious parting. "And if she's
sore at Kathleen's departure she'll visit it upon me," he reflected.
"Besides, I promised I'd never play, and she caught me at it. If I
tell her I owe this bill at the hotel I've no doubt she'll be equal to
coming over and settling it herself, but devil a stiver need I expect
to amuse myself with. Hang women! What a nuisance they are. They've no
business to be allowed to hold property in their own right. Matters
were much simpler and more comfortable when a husband had a claim on
what his wife earned or inherited."

With which magnanimous speech he returned to the palatial and expensive
"Paris" and ordered a bottle of champagne to console himself for his
evening's losses. An item more or less in the bill would not matter.
Elinor would have to pay it.

About noon the next day he strolled in through the iron-gates of the
Villa Paillon and rang the bell.

Madame was in, he was told, but somewhat indisposed. Would monsieur
leave his card?

Monsieur sent up his card instead, and armed with martial authority
entered the salon. Here the spectacle greeted his eyes of a small,
huddled-up figure, weeping mournfully in the recesses of a big armchair.

"Why, Val!" he cried, and a momentary spasm of affection warmed his
callous heart. "What's the matter? Here--I've come to see you. Haven't
you a word for the p'tit papa?"

"Oh, you!" she said, indifferently. "Have you come to stay? Will you
then call back my dear Barry? Madame took him away and would not say
why, and maman she cries and cries and is desolee, and I--I am all
that is of the most unhappy and have no one to speak to. Oh, why is it
so, papa? Can't you make all right again?"

She had left the chair and slowly crossed the room. Now she stood
before him, looking up at his face.

"No," he answered. "Madame, as you call her, had to go. She was not
nice. Good--to use your own word, Val, convenable. As for Barry, you
can soon find other playmates, nicer too. He was a rough, wild boy."

"He was Barry, and I love him!" cried Val passionately. "And I think
it is you who are méchant and unkind. You spoil everything. I would
rather you would go away. The maman does not cry and madame takes care
of her, and I--I am happy with Barry."

"Go to your mother," said Lawrence, curtly. "Tell her I am here and
want to see her."

Val retreated a step or two, her dark eyes fixed on his face. "She will
not see you," she affirmed. "Of that I am sure. But I will tell her you
are here."

"I am going to stay here," he answered. "Isn't there a room ready for
me?"

"There is the room of madame," said Val, dubiously, "and the little
chamber of my dear Barry." The tears rose in her eyes once more. "And I
wish they were back to here, and you gone away!" she added. "You were
never nice and kind to us, or made us merry, like the good, kind friend
of maman with the glass eyes."

Lawrence started. A frown gathered darkly over his angry eyes. "So he
is still spoken of--still remembered," he muttered, as the child left
the room, her usual buoyant step heavy now, as if the spirit of her
life had forsaken it. "I thought he had been shaken off with all those
other horrors. Could he by any means have found out----"

The thought of that chance discovery was evidently not a pleasant one.
He turned to the window and stood looking moodily out at the garden.

"This is a hateful place. How the devil am I to pass the time," he
exclaimed suddenly. "I'll be driven to Monte Carlo or suicide, in spite
of myself."

He heard Val enter again and looked round.

"Maman, she is trés malade; she cannot see you," explained the
child. "Her head it aches badly and she can hardly speak. But if you
wish to stay I am to tell Mary, and you shall have a room--you are too
late for déjeuner. We take it at twelve and a half hours; but there
will be dinner at 7 o'clock, if you choose. Maman may be better then
and able to come down."

"Oh, may she?" he repeated scornfully. "Then go back and tell her
I return to Monte Carlo. I promised some friends to meet them this
evening--and--Oh, look here. Val, could you find your mothers purse and
get me some money?--a few napoleons would do."

The child looked at him wonderingly. "I will go to ask her," she said
in her quaint way.

He seized her arm. "No, don't do that. Don't trouble her. You know
where her money is.'

"Mais oui--but I--it is impossible to take it out of her
porte-monnaie and not to tell her."

"Oh, then, tell her and be d----to you!" he muttered savagely. "Such a
wife and child are enough to make a man curse the folly that ever drove
him to marriage. I must have some money. Go and get it. That's enough!"

But evidently Val did not agree with him. She had not the least
intention of disturbing her mother, who was prostrate with grief and
trouble and anxiety as to her future course of action.

The child went slowly out of the room and up the stairs to her own
little chamber. She possessed a single gold piece, a present from her
mother a few weeks before, and as yet unspent. This she took out of
her netted silk purse and contemplated fondly. So many schemes and
associations were linked with its possession. But now all the savor had
gone out of them. She could not enjoy truancy or confectionery alone.

"It was for Barry," she said softly. "But he is far away, and I do not
seem to care for anything any more. I may as well give it to papa--it
will save la pauvre maman a little worry."

Very slowly and reluctantly she returned to the room and handed the
piece of gold to her father.

"The purse is empty but of that," she said ambiguously. "And maman she
sleeps, and no one must disturb her."

He looked at the money contemptuously, then suddenly bent his head and
touched a thread of scarlet silk that had adhered to the coin.

"You are sure," he exclaimed eagerly, "this was all? The only money in
the purse?"

"The only single coin," repeated Val emphatically.

"By Jove, then I'm off to try my luck! The very number I dreamt of--the
first number I saw as I stepped out of the train, and--the color, my
lucky color wound about it. If only I win--good-bye to puling invalids
and petticoat government. I'll be my own man for the future!"

He snatched up his hat and was off, leaving the child staring after
him. How and in what guise she should see him again, it was well she
did not guess.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.

Lord Hallington had called at the Villa Paillon the day succeeding
Kathleen's departure.

He found Elinor alone and very dispirited. When he knew the cause he,
too, looked troubled. It would not be so easy to regain lost ground as
he had supposed.

"Had--to go?" he repeated. "But surely it was unexpected? Why, on the
last occasion of our meeting Mrs. Monteath said she would stay here as
long as yourself."

"It was her intention," said Elinor. "But a summons came from England
and she had to leave quite hurriedly."

"England? If it had been Ireland now. Mrs. Monteath is an old friend of
yours, I believe?"

"Old--oh, no! My acquaintance with her is of barely six months' date.
But that does not prevent my affection from being a very sincere one."

"She is a charming woman. I really cannot help confessing to you, Mrs.
Haughton, that I have quite lost my heart to her. I was unwise enough
to try to resist her fascination and fly from her, but it has only made
matters worse. When I saw her again I knew that her attraction for me
was no ephemeral fancy, but a reality. Indeed, it may surprise you to
hear that I called to-day with the intention of asking her to be my
wife. And you say she has left for England. How very unfortunate. There
is no one--no one else in the field, I hope?"

Elinor smiled faintly. "I believe not. Her departure had to do with
trouble of quite another sort."

"I suppose you could not assure me that I had any hope?" he questioned.

Elinor felt somewhat embarrassed. "She has a great regard for you, Lord
Hallington, but I am sure she never expected you would ever ask her to
be your wife."

"I confess I hesitated at first. But I am sure she would grace any
position, and my feelings have strengthened in absence to such a degree
that I can afford to disregard your husband's well-meant cautions."

"My husband's!" exclaimed Elinor.

"Yes. Did he never tell you the subject of our conversation respecting
Mrs. Monteath before I left Crampton Park?"

"No-o," faltered Elinor. "At least, I merely thought he had spoken
about my having no references when I engaged Kathleen as governess."

"That was it. I questioned him on the matter, and perhaps unconsciously
he gave me an impression that there was something mysterious in the
background."

"You must have misunderstood him," said Elinor, flushing hotly and
indignantly.

"Dear lady, if you only knew how anxious I was to think and hear the
best of your friend, you would credit me with more sense than to take
up a wrong inference."

"Then--you mean to convey that my husband was answerable for your
unexplained departure from England?"

"He was. I had fully intended to acquaint Mrs. Monteath with my
feelings. He persuaded me that it would be unwise."

"No wonder!" thought Elinor bitterly. Aloud she said, "My dear Lord
Hallington, this is a very delicate subject to discuss, but I regret
you did not put your questions to me instead of my husband. I know Mrs.
Monteath's past history. She has had a hard and troubled life. She
has gone through enough to break some women's hearts, yet bravely and
cheerfully she has borne her burden. I know that her nature is pure and
good, despite appearances."

"Thank you," he said gratefully. "Your testimony, Mrs. Haughton, would
outweigh in my mind a thousand scandals."

"Would it weigh in your mind if I told you--one?" asked Elinor.

"I would rather hear nothing. If you know, and your opinion is
unchanged, I am satisfied?"

"I do know," said Elinor gravely. "But what might make no difference
to a woman's friendship might mean a great deal to a man's love. Mrs.
Monteath would never deceive you voluntarily, and it is therefore no
breach of confidence to tell you what you would have to hear from her
own lips. She is not a--widow, Lord Hallington."

He started. "Is it possible--do you mean that her husband still lives?"

"She had to divorce him. She was only married a year."

He grew somewhat agitated. "This is quite unexpected," he said. "I am
deeply distressed."

"Kathleen would have told you herself had you asked her. For my part,
Lord Hallington, and speaking as a woman, I think it need not prejudice
you. The man was one with whom no woman could possibly live and keep
her own self-respect. Poor Kathleen has suffered terribly. You know how
beautiful she is, how fascinating."

"Ah!" he cried quickly, "what need to remind me. All of heart I have to
give has gone out to those fascinations."

"She has suffered for them, I can assure you. There are men, Lord
Hallington, to whom a beautiful and friendless and unprotected woman
seems fair game, as they call it. Kathleen has had to evade the shots
and snares and pitfalls that such men deem their prerogative. But she
is a good woman, despite it all. Better than many a one who wears a
robe of virtue only for the world's eyes."

"It does me good to hear you speak," he said. "Your words drive all my
doubts away. I hate to think I have been induced to discuss her affairs
at all, but discussing them with so staunch a champion is reassuring.
One thing more, Mrs. Haughton. Is there any hope that she could care
for me irrespective of my position? I don't want to be married for
that, yet I am not vain enough to believe a beautiful, brilliant
creature like Kathleen Monteath could think of me as I do of her. It is
not possible."

Elinor smiled faintly. "Ah! there I cannot help you," she said. "You
must decide that matter for yourself. I fancy Kathleen is too honest
to deceive you on a point so important to both. And I also think, Lord
Hallington, that trust and devotion and gratitude are no unsafe basis
for a marriage where disparity of years comes into consideration."

"You are right," he said, "and I should be very grateful. I have no
right to ask more. If she will be truthful, if she will say she is
content to marry me, I hope I may win these at her hands. I mean to
try."

"You have my best wishes, for your success," said Elinor.

"And will you give me her address in England, that I may write at once?"

She smiled. "Are you, indeed, in such haste?"

"I wish to ask her to give up a life of toil and dependence. I hate to
think of her bearing it an unnecessary moment. Besides, my dear lady, a
man of my years knows that happiness can only be a short-lived thing at
best. You will give me that address?"

She crossed over to her writing-table and wrote something on a sheet of
notepaper. "Here it is," she said.

He took it with a smile. He looked so hopeful and eager that ten years
seemed cut off from that age he had deplored as a barrier to love.
After he had gone Elinor sat for long at the table, thinking over the
interview. Finally she wrote to Kathleen, telling her about it and
urging her to be perfectly frank with Lord Hallington.

"He knows enough," she concluded, "to be trusted with more. I am sure
you will have no cause to regret your confidence."

The letter reached Kathleen in the somewhat dingy boarding-house in
Bedford-square where she had taken up a temporary abode, and where
Barry was making life pleasant all round to such inmates as a Parsee
professor, two old maiden ladies, an octogenarian traveller, whose
stories of adventure were culled from the "Strand Magazine," and some
lively students of the University Hospital. When these inmates were
absent or shut up in their respective rooms, the boy found his way
into dark and mystic regions rendolent of soup flavorings, onions, and
black beetles. Here he made friends with an ancient cook, who had a
partiality for gin and a great love for cats. She had a family of three
about her, of all sorts and sizes. Barry was then perfectly happy and
wrote an ecstatic letter to Val descriptive of a London boarding-house
kitchen. His mother was too much occupied with her own affairs to pay
much heed to him in those first days of enforced banishment.

Her mind was absorbed by one idea. Julian Dormer had left for Nice. He
had put her in possession of Lawrence Haughton's secret. Would it be
possible for her to confront her enemy at last, saying, "Silence for
silence!"

She could understand now his avoidance of society, the retired life
he led at the Manor. Why, every moment was attended with danger of
recognition, and recognition meant the insults or the scorn paid to one
who has known the interior of a criminal prison.

A criminal prison! She thought of Elinor Haughton--a young wife, an
expectant mother, and bearing all this shame and terror. Bearing it,
forgiving it, taking back the man and screening him by every means in
her power. What a return she had met with. And all the time this other
man had loved her. Had let her go back to duty, and stood aside while
the slow, sad years drifted on, and every year left him more sad, more
lonely, more desolate. Could he help her now, she wondered?

She would have given a great deal to follow him to Nice, to know what
it was he held in his power, by what means he purposed to disarm
Lawrence Haughton. However, that was impossible. She must remain on
here and await the issue of events.

The Parsee professor was very polite to the handsome widow. He took
Barry and herself to the theatre, and offered to instruct that young
gentleman in the mysteries of Sanscrit and Hindustanee. But in
compliance with Barry's strong objections Kathleen politely intimated
that such studies were scarcely necessary for a youth whose choice of
profession was the navy.

In due time came Lord Hallington's letter, accompanied by Elinor's. She
opened Elinor's first, but after the first page threw it down, and tore
open the other envelope. Her eyes sparkled and a cry of incredulous
delight escaped her. Barry, who was in the room, looked up from some
mechanical construction of cork, cigar box, and twine, which he called
a "three-decker," and enquired what was the matter.

"Oh, my boy--my boy. We are saved. What luck. Was ever the like of it."
She waved the flimsy sheet above her head and seized and hugged the
boy in ecstacy of triumph. "Oh, Barry, only think of it. Your mother a
countess, my dear. All the worries and struggles and make-shifts over.
No more screwing and pinching, no more hateful women bargaining for
services and screwing you down to a pittance they wouldn't dare offer
their cooks. Oh, my darling child, think of it. Merchant service, navy,
whichever you like. Your education, your future, all secure. Oh, what a
providential thing that I went to Torbart Manor."

"What's it all about, though?" asked Barry, disengaging himself from an
ecstatic embrace with a boy's disapproval of affection.

"About? Why--Lord Hallington wants to marry me. Think of that. Marry
me. Make me the owner of that lovely place of his--carriages, horses,
footmen. Why--I shall go to court. I shall have the famous Hallington
diamonds."

She stopped breathless with possible expectations. She had been so
long in the grip of poverty that she had in some manner lost the finer
feelings that regulate obligations. It was perfectly right and fair
that the rich should give and the needy should take. Each helped the
other--in different ways. The spirit and the life that had made her an
adventuress were to blame for any deterioration of character during the
process. There was no longer any necessity to be anything but a lady in
future. She felt perfectly equal to that necessity, once her excitement
had abated. But just at first a natural enthusiasm burst the bounds
of mere satisfaction, and she and Barry rejoiced over this changed
prospect of affairs with less of gratitude to the benefactor than the
benefits.

When Kathleen was calmer, she returned to the perusal of Elinor's
letter. As she read the tender sympathy, the gentle counsel, as she
recognised how wisely and kindly this one friend had served her cause
her heart swelled with gratitude towards her.

"Dear little woman, best and kindest of Elinors," she murmured, and
then sat down and wrote her some of the overflowing joy and love of her
impulsive soul.

To know such happiness, such relief, was like coming out of a dungeon
into God's glad sunshine--from prison to freedom. The struggles, the
make-shifts, the experiments, the humiliations of those past years were
absolutely forgotten, swept from memory by a sudden flood of joy.

The grace and beauty of face and form were intensified a hundredfold by
this sudden stroke of good fortune. Had Lord Hallington seen her then,
radiant as a goddess, smiling like a happy child, utterly, blissfully
content, he would have felt deeply repaid for his magnanimity.

As it happened, the letter written under stress of these feelings was
to the woman who had befriended her in the past--not to the man who had
saved her in the future.




CHAPTER XXXIX.

Lawrence Haughton returned to Monte Carlo by the next train. That
evening found him once more at the tables. He was calm and cool to
all outward appearance but excitement was raging within his heart.
Anyone looking at the white face and the strangely glittering eyes
would have known that the gambler's fever had him in its grip. His
head throbbed, his hand burnt like a hot coal. One and one object only
held him possessed, and enthralled. He had come here to-night to make
his fortune, to be forever independent of the woman whom he had grown
to hate. He was early at the Casino. He secured a chair and for a few
moments watched the play with careless eyes. He asked a question of a
weird, pallid individual, whose card registered a system that could
scarcely have been advantageous. The answer was in the negative.

Lawrence took a single gold piece from his pocket. He looked at it
furtively.

"Fortunate I took a return ticket," he thought. "Just as it came into
my possession, so it leaves it. Here goes!"

He leant forward as the inviting "Faites vos jeux" sounded. He
placed his coin on the color and No. 1.

Round went the wheel, off flew the tiny ball, gyrating in giddy
circles, slackening, stopping, falling at last into its little well.
"Numero un!" cried the croupier. "Rouge impair et manque!" He had
won.

He gathered up his coup. His inspiration had been right. The luck had
changed at last. The blood flushed to his pallid cheek. He resolved to
try again. This time he staked on the color only. Again he won. The
number was twelve.

The combination of the one and two attracted his attention. The fever
was at its height now. Nothing could stop him. One was the number
that had been brought under his notice by two circumstances just as
he had turned his back on fortune. He determined to try their chances
for all they were worth. To the born gambler nothing is unimportant,
and Chance, his favoring goddess, has no freak too fantastic to seem
unimportant.

He played next on the numbers one and two. Two won and the color again
favored him. He preserved his self-control and went steadily on,
finally staking the maximum allowed on 12.

Again he won. Faces began to turn in his direction. A little buzz of
excitement went round the table. A man paused at the outer circle of
the crowd and leant forward to look at the successful player.

The hot nervous hand was thrust forward to grasp a pile of gold and
notes just counted out by the croupiers. For the first time since he
had begun to play Lawrence Haughton's eyes were lifted to the circle
of watchful faces. They paused, arrested by one compelling gaze that
seemed to chill and terrify him. His nerveless hand lay passive on the
piled-up heap he had just won. The color faded from his face, leaving
it grey and ashen-hued. He gave a little gasp and sank back in his
chair.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Julian Dormer stood alone in a room of the Hotel de Paris. Alone, save
for a stirless sheeted figure stretched on the bed.

"Did I come too late?" he said. "Or just in time?"

The doctor had left, the Sœur de Charité had performed her duties. The
man who had arrived that night and had followed Lawrence Haughton from
the hotel to the gambling rooms was the only one who seemed to know
anything about him or his affairs.

He had died from sudden failure of the heart, accelerated by excitement
and the sudden shock of success, so the doctor said, and certified.
Julian Dormer alone knew the cause of that shock, coming, as it did, on
the tide of feverish excitement, which was carrying the gambler to his
own destruction.

He knew that the moment Lawrence Haughton looked up and met his eyes
was a moment when he felt himself again a criminal in the prisoner's
dock, a man from whom all honorable and just-dealing men would shrink
in horror, a man whose solemn promise had been broken, and who stood
confronted now by the exactor of that promise, the holder of its signed
and witnessed record.

"Will she grieve, very much?" thought Julian Dormer, as he turned away
at last. "Women are strange creatures, but surely even her patience and
forgiveness had limits. Well, I can do no more. Death took my promised
vengeance out of my hands. Now the secret that has gone with him to his
grave will go with me to mine. To-morrow I shall see--Nell."

The old name came tenderly to his heart as it had always done to his
lips. The name he loved, the memory he treasured. The name of the woman
he had worshipped with a reverent tenderness, for whose sake he had
spared Lawrence Haughton because by so sparing him he saved her a worse
shame.

For only Julian Dormer knew that Elinor had never had a legal right
to the name she bore, that in a London slum lived a drunken, degraded
creature who was Lawrence Latimer's wife. He had believed her dead
before marrying Elinor, and when the truth came to him he dealt with
it as with most things that demanded honor or self-sacrifice, put it
aside--tampered with it. He came out of prison to find a rich woman as
well as a forgiving one awaiting him, and knowing that his secret was
safe for her sake, he troubled no more about its consequences. He had
taken care that Elinor should not acquaint her friend with her changed
name; should believe him indifferent or forgetful. He did not know
that that friend had exacted a promise that if ever she needed help or
protection she would apply to him.

Thus Julian had taken Kathleen for her messenger, and Kathleen's words
of accusation as a summons to himself.

Before Lawrence Haughton's release from his term of imprisonment Julian
had forced him to sign a document in which he promised never again to
indulge in the vice of gambling. When he found that that promise was
broken he resolved that Elinor should be released from this traitor's
claims. He travelled to Monte Carlo with all speed, and found that
Lawrence was staying at the Hotel de Paris. From the hotel he proceeded
to the gambling rooms, and watched with stern resentment that last
deal with Fortune. When Lawrence looked up from his winnings and met
that accusing face the shock precipitated results of a long-standing
weakness.

In the hour of his triumph Fate confronted him with the consequences of
a broken vow. His life paid the penalty.

Julian Dormer went over to Nice by the early train and made his way to
the Villa Paillon. He was met by a dancing sprite, who, after one long
gaze, recognised him as that friend of whom her baby lips had spoken,
and welcomed him with an ecstasy of delight that brought the tears to
his eyes.

"Oh, but maman will be glad!" she cried, dragging him into the deserted
salon. "She is not well, the poor maman; but I will tell her of you and
she will get up from bed, toute suite, and be down to see you!"

She had danced out of his arms and up the stairs and down again almost
before he recovered composure.

"She is astounded--delighted--the little maman!" she exclaimed. "Oh,
but so glad! Why is it you never came before?"

"I did not know where you were," he said.

"Not know! But maman, she wrote, is it not?"

"No, little Frenchy," he said. "It is not. She promised to write, but
she must have forgotten!"

"Maman never forgets," said Val gravely. "If she makes one promise, she
does always keep it."

"Then the letter got lost, or something," he said. "But, tell me, Val,
why do you speak like this? You never used to when you were my little
girl, and I was--what was it you called me in those days?"

"Mr. Glass Eyes," she laughed. "And so you are still. I used to pull
them off--did I not?"

"Yes, indeed, and hide them. You were a tricky sprite always, Val."

"We went away to a foreign place after that time," said Val gravely.
"And then I spoke no more the English, and papa, he came to us, and
he made that I speak always the French; and one, two years go on, and
I could not then remember half the English words--that is how I came
to speak so. But I get better now. Only, since that Barry has gone I
forget myself for the old way. He did used to tease me so that I was
more--more comme il faut, you know."

"Barry," echoed Julian Dormer. "Who is Barry?"

"He is the dearest boy of all the world," said Val. "It is madame who
is gone to England, and was one time my governess, that is his maman."

"Mrs. Monteath?"

"Mais oui. Yes--I mean. How do you know the name of her?"

"I--she came to see me in London," he answered. "That is how I knew
where to find you."

Val nodded her head. The explanation was quite satisfactory. "And my
dearest boy? Did you then see him?"

"I am sorry to say no. How you have grown, Val. But you are not much
changed. I believe I should have known you anywhere."

She laughed merrily. "I hope," she said, "you will do poor maman some
good. She is so pale, so triste, she eats not, and she do cry so often.
And papa--oh, but he is mechant--wicked. I told him so yesterday." She
lowered her voice and came nearer. "He was here--and maman, she would
not see him--and he did want some money. He asked me would I go to the
purse of the poor p'tite maman and get out from it some gold, as he
was to return to Monte Carlo. We know of Monte Carlo, Barry and I. It
is where the people play at wheel for money. Maman and madame, they
go one time there, and never has anything been the same since. Maman
she is always sick and madame departs herself for England. Therefore
I do not like Monte Carlo. When papa say he goes there I do not think
it is well. But n'importe. I do not say so or tell the p'tite
maman--no. But this is what I do. I go to my own port-monnaie,
and I take my own piece of gold, that maman gave me as a present, and
bring it to papa. I do not say that it is of mine. I say, 'That is all
there is in the purse.' And he look so funny--so funny. Pleased and
angry and impatient all of one! Then he go--vite--at once, and he
never come back no more as yet."

Julian Dormer listened to the quick flow of words, emphasised by those
gestures of hand and head that made Val so unlike an English child. The
simple incident related by lips unconscious of the tragedy at which
they hinted struck him with horror. To take this child's money; to
have made it the stepping-stone to those gains his fevered hands had
clutched even in the death-spasm! It seemed to add a new horror to that
tragic death.

He put the child down from his knee and turned to the window--the same
window at which Lawrence Haughton had stood, only twenty-four hours
before. He was still looking out on the garden when the rustle of
skirts attracted him. He turned and saw Nell. For a moment he stood
rooted to the spot, watching her as she slowly advanced. Then their
eyes met. What he saw in hers and the face uplifted to his own arrested
any power of speech.

That slight fragile figure in its plain grey dress struck him as more
pathetic than anything he had dreamt of.

"Oh, well!" he said, below his breath, and the pity and the wonder in
his eyes went to her heart like a stab of pain. She held out her hands.
They were trembling like her self.

"Little friend," he said, and he held them close and stood looking down
into her flushing face. "Dear little Nell--who forgot me so soon!"

"Forgot!" she said. "Oh, no, Julian! Surely you know me better than
that. It was you who were silent. I wrote as I promised; but no answer
came, and then I thought it best to keep the silence unbroken."

"I had no letter," he said simply, "nor any sign. I am here now----" He
stopped abruptly, remembering why he was here, what he had come to tell.

"Because Kathleen sent you?" she asked.

"No," he said. "Not because she sent me. Because I owed a duty to you
and I came to fulfil it."

She drew her hands away and crossed the room to where Val was perched
upon the arm of a chair. "Go upstairs or in the garden for a little
while, dear," she said. "I have something very serious to talk about
with Mr. Dormer."

For once Val was obedient. Something in her mother's face, and in that
other face also, touched an instinct of her childish nature and told
her of something sad and strange in this meeting.

Elinor seated herself in the chair. The warm sunlight streaming through
the window lit up her soft fair hair and lent a little warmth to the
pallor of her cheeks.

"Will you tell me," she said, "or shall I guess? I think you came
out of kindness, think you heard of a broken silence; but you can do
nothing to help me now--any more than you could in those other days."

"Did I never help you--then?" he asked reproachfully.

"Oh, yes, in all ways but--but the one in which I needed help. The
circumstances are the same Julian, again."

"Perhaps not," he said. "Perhaps not--quite the same."

"You mean that I am now a rich woman; that I can afford to see money
wasted, flung to the winds of caprice for an hour's excitement. That is
true--but--do you think I suffer less?"

"I hope," he said very gently, "that you will suffer less in the
future!"

"Julian!" she whispered, half-frightened by something behind the words,
behind the face whose grave tenderness held a new compassion.

"In the future," he repeated. "Try and compose yourself, Nell, to hear
something that it has fallen to my fate to tell you. Somehow I have
always been the messenger of ill-news to you--to-day it is my fate
again. I came here because the friend you sent to me told me enough of
your life and your sufferings to give me courage to end them. I ought
to have ended them long ago. I held a written promise from Lawrence, as
you know, in which he foreswore gambling and cards from the hour of his
release. You were to tell me if ever that promise was broken."

"I know. Indirectly I did so. You learnt it from Mrs. Monteath."

"Yes--and I came here at once. I went to Monte Carlo; I found him
at the roulette table. He was winning rapidly. He was in a fever of
excitement. I think he had won something like ten thousand francs.
Suddenly he looked up and met my eyes. God knows, Nell, what accusation
or reminder he read in that brief instant, but he fell back in his
chair in a--in a sort of stupor. They carried him out of the room
and back to his hotel. I went there with him. He--he never regained
consciousness."

She had not removed her eyes from his face. She read there now what his
lips had not spoken.

"He is dead!" she said, very low.

"Yes," said Julian Dormer.

There was a long silence. Then she looked up. "Ought I to say I am
sorry? Julian--I cannot."

"You ought and need say nothing your heart does not bid you. There was
never anything of the hypocrite about you, Nell."

"I did my duty," she went on. "He made it very hard; but I tried my
best. Often I thought if it had not been for the child----"

He thought of that time, of his discovery; how, but for the child she
should never have gone back to the man who had wrecked her young life.

"You did more than your duty," he broke out, with sudden passion. "I
thank heaven he can bring no more suffering upon you."

She looked up. "Dear friend," she said softly. "Dear, faithful friend."

"Always that, little Nell, always that," he answered. "It means less to
you than to me, perhaps; for the book of my life is nearer its end than
yours."

"It may have many chapters yet," she said. "Happier ones--brighter
ones."

His smile was as sad as her voice. "There will always be the same words
written in them. Do you remember the little poem you used to read to
me, Nell--the one you set to music? How often in the twilight I have
listened to your voice singing it! How well I seemed to know even
then----!"

He broke off abruptly. Her questioning gaze met his eyes--asked and
answered what the lips feared to speak. She, too, saw a fire-lit room,
the dusk of twilight, a shadowy form. She, too, heard a voice rising
and falling to the rhythm of a simple melody. What did the voice say?
What were the words that lived in every chapter of that book of life of
which he spoke?--the brave, unselfish life dedicated to her memory and
her service.

They spoke afresh in the patient eyes, in the warm hand-clasp that
closed upon her own, outstretched to his beseeching.

"Write at the end of the chapter, 'Always the heart of my heart.'"

That was what she was, and had been, and would be till life should end.


THE END.


=========================================

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, N.S.W.) on 6 December, 1902 reports:

"Rita" is an industrious penwoman, and one whose novels are acceptable
to many readers, without reaching a high level of merit. Her latest,
"The Lie Circumspect" (London: Hutchinson and Co.) is a healthy,
satisfying story of man's steadfast devotion and woman's self-sacrifice
at the shrine of duty. Julian Dormer, a solicitor, defends a forger,
who is justly sentenced to four years' imprisonment, protects the wife
of the latter, and secures her a fortune of £1000 per annum, to which
she is entitled. The husband, whose crime was the result of gambling
propensities, is a worthless fellow who on his release renders his
wife's life a burden. He makes dishonorable advances to his daughter's
governess, and in revenge and baffled passion, seeks vainly to prevent
the governess from marrying a lord. He compels his wife to live in the
strictest seclusion, breaks his promise to never gamble again, and dies
of heart failure at Monte Carlo. So the tale ends with prospect of
well-being and happiness — after long years of honorable waiting — to
the deserving Julian and Nell. Pleasantly written fiction it is. "Rita"
has the knack of keeping the threads of her story to-gether, and fairly
presenting the good and the evil of human nature. From George Robertson
and Co.


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