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


Title: The Silent Woman
Author: Rita (Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys and Mrs W. Desmond Humphreys)
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1800581.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: July 2018
Date last updated: July 2018

This eBook was produced by: Maurie and Lyn Mulcahy

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

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

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

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

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

Title: The Silent Woman
Author: Rita (Eliza Margaret Jane Humphreys and Mrs W. Desmond Humphreys)

THE SILENT WOMAN.


BY "RITA."

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


(Author of "Souls," "The Jesters," "Vanity," "Peg the Rake," &c.)


Published in book form by Hutchinson & Co., London, 1904, and in serial
format in the Australian Star (Sydney, N.S.W.) as 'The Mystery of the
"Headless Woman" Inn' commencing 30 July, 1904 (this text).




CHAPTER I.

Rain poured in a soft grey stream over a dreary stretch of moorland in
one of the dreariest spots in the Peak country. Some of the heights
were capped by low-drooping clouds, others showed a sharp and sudden
outline against the prey sky. The whole aspect was dreary in the
extreme. A wide treeless space of grey and brown; mile upon mile of
uncultured land, with no sign of human habitation. A world-forgotten
nook in a spot that spelt desolation.

A traveller who had climbed one height only to find it meant climbing
another, who had perseveringly faced rain and mist in the hopes of
finding some reward for such perseverance, stood now in the heart of a
small valley and gave vent to his feelings in a prolonged groan.

"If it would only end; if it would only lead to somewhere!" he cried,
despairingly, as the mist swooped down once more from cloud-capped
heights.

As if in answer to the exclamation came the low, piteous bleating of
a sheep. He started and looked round, but there was no sign of the
animal. Still it gave notice of some living creature besides himself,
and meant human ownership, even of a straying piece of foolishness.
Following the direction of the sound he came upon a shivering group
huddled into a corner of broken rocks. They regarded him with forlorn
eyes, and his friendly greeting only occasioned alarm. He wondered if
they were lost, like himself, and whether a possible owner would be
coming in search of them?

The hour was near to sunset; the prospect of spending a night in such a
spot was anything but inviting.

His clothes were soaked; his boots proclaimed diversions in mire and
bog. His felt hat hung limp and shapeless over a face tanned and
healthy and young. A face expressive of endurance and good looks, and
inclined to laughter even under such disadvantages as the present
moment afforded. He perched himself on a fragment of the broken rocks
and summed up the situation in a few words.

"Well! To cross the Atlantic in search of a lost heritage and find
oneself astray in a Derbyshire valley! Rufus Myrthe, you're no better
than these stupid bleaters. Suppose you follow their tracks for a bit.
Maybe there's a farm hereabouts, bad as the land looks."

His eyes, grey and keenly bright, swept the landscape carefully. Then
he rose and, with hands hollowed trumpet fashion, gave vent to a loud
"Hullo-o-o!" The sheep, startled at the sound, scampered wildly from
their shelter, and burst into a chorus of bleats. As answering response
to their frantic cries there sounded from afar the barking of a dog.

"Ah, that's done the trick, has it? All right, sonny, you come along
this way and show us what jackasses we've been."

He whistled loud and clear until the dog came in sight, and watched
him collect and head the sheep with cheerful encouragement. Then he
followed in their wake, putting fatigue aside as a matter for future
consideration. A long and heavy tramp still lay before him. There was
no road; nothing but a narrow, zig-zag track scarcely discernible in
the autumn mist. They left the valley, and ascended another of those
steep peaks that shut it in on every side. A brief gleam of sunshine
struggled through the mists, and for a moment lit up the desolate
scene. It showed a low stone building some distance ahead. It was
sheltered by a hill sparsely-clad with larch and firs; a few fields
of grazing land surrounded it on either side. Some outbuildings,
grey-roofed and grey-stone like the house, stood near it. Very dreary,
very lonely, very ugly it looked. Yet to Rufus Myrthe it was welcome
as spring sunshine, for it told of rest and food at last. His steps
quickened involuntarily, and soon he was near enough to observe the
building more closely. He saw then that it was no farmhouse, as he had
supposed, but an Inn. An old weather-beaten sign swung before the stone
porch which was built out in a square from the wooden doorway. Tired
and hungry as he was, the young man took a survey of the queer old sign
before entering the little hostelry. A strange enough sign it was.
Rudely painted on the swinging board was the figure of a Headless Woman.

Notice as to license and refreshment had long since been obliterated
by wind and weather. There was nothing now to indicate the name of the
Inn or the name of its owner. It stood alone on that lonely height. No
other cottage or farm was in sight as far as eye might travel.

A weird, uncanny place, with a weird, uncanny sign. So it breasted
the great sweep of barren moorland, and faced the loneliness of the
towering peaks.

The sharp barking of the dog had brought out someone from the house; a
girl, who stood in the stone porch and gazed curiously at the absorbed
stranger who was studying the sign.

He became aware of her presence at last and advanced. "I've lost my
way," he explained, going straight to the point in the direct fashion
he had acquired 'out West.' "I'm glad to find an Inn in such an
unlikely spot. I guess I can have a room here, and some food. I'm nigh
on starved. It's all of ten hours since I've had a meal, and if it
hadn't been for your dog I reckon 'twould have been twenty. But what's
the matter? You don't seem in an amazing hurry to welcome a customer.
This is an Inn, I s'pose?"

"It ha' used to be," said the girl slowly. "It ha' gotten a bad name
late years. No one comes nigh us nowadays."

"That so?" queried the young man briskly. "Happen I'll wake you up
then, my lass. Can I have a bed and supper, as I said before?"

She left the porch, and came out. He saw she was very young, scarce
past girlhood, but of a beauty brilliant and redundant beyond her
apparent years. Tall, full-figured, supple, she stood before him, the
faint sunlight lingering on her red gold hair, lighting up the vivid
tints of cream and white and rose that made a complexion and skin for a
goddess.

Silently he regarded her; wonder and admiration in his eyes as they met
and lost themselves in the blue depth of hers. She returned the gaze
calmly and indifferently. Men were unimportant factors in her life as
yet; though a man like this stranger was worthy of some interest and
attention.

"I dunno," she said slowly, answering his question at last. "Beds
there's none and vittals scarce eno'. Still he can't send 'ee away,
surely."

She spoke in the soft, sleepy tongue of the Peak, and, to the stranger,
used to Transatlantic drawl and nasal twang, both voice and accent
seemed charming.

"He--who's he?" he asked, quickly.

"Feyther," she replied. "Best you go in and ask for a drop to wet your
throttle. M'appen he'll let you bide then. It's few eno' customers as
comes this way e'en summer time."

"So I'd imagine," laughed the young fellow cheerfully. "Sort of lost
continent I'd call it. I wish you'd come in and introduce me though.
Perhaps you could soften matters a bit, since your father doesn't seem
quite so set on hospitality as most of his class."

She looked inquiringly at his laughing face, not half comprehending his
words, then shook her head and moved away.

"I mun see to th' sheep," she said. "They've strayed to-day, like the
foolish things they be. Get ye' in, as I told 'ee."

Rufus Myrthe followed her advice and entered the porch. It led straight
into the bar, but no one was there. Neither were there any signs of
such specialities as usually attend on that institution. The young man
knocked two or three times before receiving any notice of his presence.
Then a surly voice demanded his business. He replied soothingly; he had
no desire to travel further that night.

As he finished speaking, a figure advanced from a room beyond, and
the young man found himself confronting as ill-favoured a visage as
had ever been his lot to behold. Coarseness and surliness were its
distinguishing traits. He surveyed the stranger with ill-tempered
curiosity.

"Lost yersel'," he repeated. "What brings ye to these parts then?"

"Business," answered the young traveller. "I'm searching for a family
history, lost somewhere in these Derbyshire wilds. But to the point,
friend. No man's likely to enter a place like this unless he wants
something. I want a bed for the night, and some food. I'll pay you
well. Say--is it done?"

"We've no beds."

"All right. Floor and a blanket'll suit. I'm used to roughing it."

"We don't take in travellers, I tell 'ee."

"What's your sign for, then? Why the--Statue of Washington--do you call
this an Inn if it's not to serve the purpose of an Inn? Anyhow, I'm
going to stay, so make your mind easy. And first I'll take a drop of
whisky neat, for I'm wet to the skin."

"S'pose I ha' no mind to sell?"

"Shucks," exclaimed the traveller, sharply. "You don't look like too
much of a millionaire anyway. Here!"

He tossed some silver down on the counter, as the argument he had found
most useful in dealing with men and things in general. It answered on
this occasion. The inn-keeper took out a bottle from a cupboard behind
the bar, and set it down before his customer.

"Ah! I guess we're coming to business. What about a glass, though?"

The man handed him an old pewter measure, and without more ado the
young fellow half-filled it with the spirit and drank it off.

"There!" he said, as he set down the measure with a bang. "I guess that
ought to keep out rheumatism right enough. Now about accommodation,
friend. Surely, you can give me a shake-down for the night. There seems
room and to spare here. You're not over-burdened with customers, eh!
business slack, isn't that about the way of it?"

"Bain't none hereabouts," said the surly man.

"So I should confidently surmise. The question in my mind is why stay
in such a God-forsaken hole?"

"I han't got no choice. I've allays lived here. Bide there till I can
see what I can do for 'ee."

He retired to the room from whence he had issued, and the young man
heard him calling for someone in his deep, surly tones.

"Moll," rang the cry. "Moll----"

"What is't?" came back the answer.

The voices joined, and sank to murmurings, and presently the man
returned.

"Th' lass says she can fix ye up summat," he announced. "Meanwhile ye
can step into th' kitchen and warm yersel'."

The young fellow needed no second invitation to do that. He was wet and
tired and footsore, and the thought of food and fire was very welcome.

He followed his surly host and found himself in a small but clean
kitchen, where a bright fire of peat and wood was burning on the open
hearth. It threw its warm glow over wooden table and chairs, on delft
and pewter, and also on an old oak settle, set sideways by the deep
stone fireplace.

A woman sat there, stiff and erect; her hands clasped on her lap, her
white hair covered with a white cap, her eyes fixed on the fire. The
young man took off his soaked hat and wished her good evening. She
remained in the same attitude. Neither look nor movement betrayed that
she had heard him.

"Dunn' thee trouble thysel' about her," observed his host. "Deaf she be
as ony log; and stiff o' the jints wi' rheumitiz. Tak' a chair and warm
thysel' till Moll can get 'ee a bit o' supper."

He threw on some furze. The peat turned up brightly. There was no
other light in the place. Then he went away, and Rufus Myrthe took the
ricketty old chair and sat down by the welcome blaze.

From time to time he gazed curiously at the silent figure on the
settle. Had it been carved out of wood or stone it could not have been
more silent, more motionless. The white face, the white hair, the
white cap, threw up into stronger contrast the black dress and the
stiff erect figure. The young man looked and looked and looked again,
watching for some sign of life, some notice of his presence. None
came. The woman might have been dumb as well as deaf, blind as well as
speechless, for any sign of consciousness she gave.

As the blaze died into a dull red glow, and the outer darkness
curtained the one small window, there seemed something uncanny in the
surroundings of this place.

Nerves and fear were things unknown to Rufus Myrthe, but he had to
confess to a feeling of uncomfortableness as the moments passed,
ticked out by an old grandfather's clock in a corner near the door.
The silence grew ominous. To sit there beside a piece of human still
life was an ordeal to one so full of vitality and energy as himself.
He coughed and fidgeted in vain. Not even the flicker of an eyelid
betrayed that the woman was aware of his presence. The steam from his
damp clothes spread like a mist through the space between them. It
made the figure indistinct and ghostly; it seemed to fill the place
with eerie shadows and intensify such slight sounds as emphasised the
stillness. The moments seemed like hours, as he sat on waiting for some
sign from that motionless form, or some sound from the other inmates of
this strange Inn. He thought how very strange it was in situation, in
ownership, in name.

Name? He started suddenly. The swinging signboard flashed before his
wondering eyes.

The significance of the odd title was manifested as abruptly as the
thought that had given it birth. Outside--exposed to the mercy of the
mist and rain and moorland storm, swung that strange figure of the
Silent Woman. Here, within, seated by the hearth, that to her conveyed
no warmth, no glow of human life, was its human counterpart. If the one
had no head, the other had no tongue; both alike seemed dumb, blind,
lifeless.

He started to his feet, and, bending down, stirred the glowing embers
to a fitful blaze. He felt as if the place had grown impossible. What
mystery surrounded it? What tragic fate had condemned their weird
creature to such a life--to such a home? He strode to her side and laid
a hand upon her shoulder and shook her roughly.

"For 'eaven's sake, if you can't speak, look at me! Give me some sign
you're alive!" he exclaimed impulsively.

She raised her eyes to his face then, and as she did so his hand fell,
and he recoiled a step.

So wild, so sad, so haunting, was that glance, that it seemed to him
all the anguish of sorrow, of terror, the secret horror of a poisoned
soul, spoke out for one brief moment.

Then the lids fell again. The white face resumed its marble composure;
the folded hands lay without tremor on the black stiff gown.

She was once again the Silent Woman.




CHAPTER II.

The kitchen door opened abruptly, and the girl he had seen in the porch
entered, carrying a lamp in her hand. She was a welcome sight to Rufus
Myrthe.

"I'm glad to see you, lass!" he exclaimed. "I guess it's a bit lonesome
here. That lady in the chimney-corner's not exactly a powerful
conversationalist. What about a room, eh? Your father as good as
promised you'd find me one. I've got a dry change in my satchel and I
shouldn't object to getting inside of it."

She went to a cupboard and took out a candlestick. "If you follow me,"
she said, "I'll show 'ee the place. M'appen ye're not particular for a
night. There's a power o' things as ye ha' gotten to do wi'out. Not a
soul bides wi' us year's end to year's end."

"Oh, you won't find me particular," he said, cheerily, as he watched
her bend to the flame, and light the candle. She addressed no word to
the silent figure on the settee, but, making a sign to the young man,
led him across a stone passage, and up a narrow staircase, dark and
musty and smelling of damp. They came to a landing, running the length
of the upper part of the house, and on which three doors opened. The
girl unlatched one of them, and he followed her in. The floor was bare
but clean. A small iron bedstead stood against the wall, covered with
a patchwork quilt. A chair, a deal table, on which stood a ricketty
glass, and another, containing a basin and jug to serve as a washstand,
were all the furniture it contained; but a fire had been lit in the
small iron grate, and the cheerful blaze of spluttering logs threw a
welcome glow around the bare and homely place.

"Why, this is grand!" exclaimed the young fellow, delightedly. "Your
father said you had no room for travellers. Why was that?"

"M'appen he didn't want ye to stay. I'd hard work to persuade him. I'll
be getin' 'ee supper now. There's nought but porridge and a bit o'
biled bacon."

"I'm too hungry to grumble at anything, so long as its food," said
Rufus, and, being left to himself, straightway unstrapped the satchel
from his shoulder, took out a few necessaries, and then hung his damp
coat before the fire to dry. Warmed and comfortable once more, his wet,
miry boots replaced by felt slippers, he piled on another log, and then
left the room in search of the much-needed food.

He found the table laid in the kitchen. A bowl of smoking potatoes,
another of stir-about, and a large piece of fat bacon, were flanked by
a coarse meal loaf. The surly landlord was already seated. Moll pointed
to a chair for their guest, and seated herself opposite. Involuntarily
the young man glanced at the settee. The figure was still there. Before
her was placed a small wooden table, on which stood a bowl of porridge
and a cup of milk. Gratified by such a sign of humanity as the ability
to partake of food, Rufus Myrthe fell to work on his own supper, giving
out between whiles such information as to his history and his reasons
for visiting the Peak country as might be of interest to his host. This
was his story.

Fifty years ago, or thereabouts, a family named Marth, or Myrthe, had
left a certain district in the Peak country and emigrated to America.
The head of that family was married to a woman who owned a farm and
some land. It was poor ground, and life meant a struggle, and she was
glad enough to leave the country, taking with her her three children; a
son of eighteen, and two daughters. Before leaving she gave the farm in
charge to her brother. He was unmarried, and he promised to look after
the place and send her money if ever there was any to be made out of
it. From the day she left till the day she died never a word reached
her. Her husband, meantime, prospered, and grew almost a wealthy man.
The son married a Kentucky farmer's daughter. Rufus was their only
child. When the grandmother died, she left a will telling of this place
in England, and leaving it to her eldest grandson. Rufus was but a
boy then, and his father never troubled much about things in the old
country, though he would talk of the will, and chaff and joke about his
son's "heirship."

"We were prosperous folk," continued Rufus, "and I, being by nature
inclined to roving, tried my hands at all sorts of things. Trapping,
hunting buffalo, fighting Indians, didn't seem to settle down nohow.
I'm not two-and-twenty yet; but I guess I've seen and done things as
would make your hair stand on end. Well, one day I took it into my head
to come over to England and look up my property. I wrote and asked
father whereabouts it lay. He said it was away down in a county called
Derbyshire, but he'd mislaid the documents and couldn't quite call to
mind just the spot where the property was located. However, as the
whole county didn't seem to cover more ground than a good-sized ranch
out West, I'd have no difficulty in finding it."

He paused here, and drank off a tumbler of whisky and water that the
landlord proffered.

"To continue my story," he said, putting down the glass, "I've been
just on two weeks tramping this said 'county.' We don't use such names
where I come from, nor split our cleared land up into scraps that fit
like a child's puzzle map. Well, the queer thing is that this farm's
nowhere to be found. Clean disappeared, as if an earthquake had taken a
fancy to it!"

He paused, and looked from the landlord's surly face to Moll's rose and
white one.

"Clean disappeared!" he said slowly. "No such name seems known anywhere
round from Stafford boundary to Kinder Scout. Fifty years is a fairish
space of time, I reckon; enough to live in, die in, and be forgotten
in. Still, it's kind o' queer that neither farm nor owner have left
any tracks. You don't happen to know of any place twenty miles north,
south, east, or west of this Peak district called the Marth Farm, I
suppose?"

The man shook his head slowly. "Na," he drawled. "Niver heerd on't--to
my knowledge."

"It's a bit surprising," said the young fellow thoughtfully. "Land and
house and family don't usually disappear without some trace, generally
speaking. But if this farm had been picked up and dropped straight into
the sea, it couldn't have been lost more completely."

He pushed aside his plate, and the girl rose and began to collect the
supper things to put them aside to wash. The young man moved his chair
out of her way, and by doing so faced half-way to the settle. The
Silent Woman was looking straight at him. Her eyes eager, wondering,
full of question. He was so amazed that he remained staring at her, but
her lids fell swiftly as a dropped curtain; the cold, impassive face
took back its coldness and impassibility once more. So swift was the
transformation that he felt half afraid his imagination was playing
tricks with him. His host's voice broke the momentary silence. He was
lighting his pipe, and asking the young man to follow his example.
Nothing loth, Rufus produced a well-coloured briarwood and tobacco
pouch. The two men drew up their chairs to the wide old chimney-place,
and began to smoke. Moll went on washing the plates and bowls. The old
sheep dog crept in and lay down beside the silent figure on the settle.
Still silent, still motionless, she sat on; the lowered eyes always
on the fire, the clasped hands, white and cold as stone, lying on the
black folds of her gown.

"Your wife, I suppose?" said Rufus Myrthe, at last, curiosity getting
the better of natural politeness.

The surly man nodded.

"Has she--I mean, is she always like this?" he asked, lowering his
voice.

"Allus," said the man. "Don't 'ee take ony count o' it. She's struck."

"Struck!" echoed the young fellow wonderingly. "Do you mean paralysed?"

The surly man lifted his cold blue eyes from the glowing peat.

"I dunno," he said huskily. "It's a matter of ten year or so since
she's spoke a word."

"Perhaps some grief or shock?" hazarded the young man, "I've heard of
such things. Has she seen a doctor?"

"Doctor--no. I don't hold wi' doctors and their meddlin' ways and
poison stuffs. She's had th' ould herb woman, but she couldn't do
naught. 'Let her bide tew hersel',' was all her could say. She sleeps
right eno' and takes her vittals, and bain't no trouble to Moll or I.
We're used to her now."

"Moll is your daughter's name?"

"Yes."

"Rather a lonely life for her in such a desolate place as this?"

"I dunno as she thinks on't. There's work eno' for one pair o' hands,
and time's short whin wark's to dew."

"I suppose you get more custom in the summer time?"

"Custom and this place doan't shake hands too often," said the man.
"Nearest town is fifteen mile. Winter time, when snow do fall, we ha'
to bide to oursels; not a sowl comes nigh to ha' a crack from Candlemas
to St. Mark's Eve."

"If you get no custom, how do you manage to live?"

"That's more my bizness than yourn, I suppose," was the ungracious
retort.

"Oh--ha, of course. I beg your pardon. I was naturally curious----"

He broke off abruptly, and again his eyes turned to the supple figure
in its rough home-spun gown. The girl had put away the dishes and
plates, and now drew out a spinning wheel and began to spin. To Rufus
Myrthe the work and the wheel possessed the classic charm of ancient
history. He had only read of them, never seen them. He smoked on in
silence; his surly companion made no attempt to break it.

It was a strange scene; and one destined to play a part in his memory
in years to come. The silent figure in its place on the ancient settle;
the grim and forbidding face of the owner of the Inn; the wonderful,
vivid beauty of the girl who spun her yarn and plied her distaff. And
strangest of all to Rufus Myrthe was the fact of his own presence
here--his own association with so incongruous a trio, as this family
represented.

A whim had brought him to these wilds. Chance had led him to this Inn.
But he was master of his actions. He could leave on the morrow did he
wish. But this girl, this strangely beautiful product of nature set in
these wild solitudes, what must life mean to her? What would it bring
in the future? How could anything so beautiful have sprung from a pair
so ill-mated and ill-favoured. He puzzled and wondered and surmised
until his brain grew weary, and his tired eyes began to droop drowsily.

"I think I'll go to bed now," he said abruptly. "So good-night to you
all."

"Ye'll be wantin' some breakfast, maybe?" observed his host.

"I shall so. Are you very early birds here?"

"Daybreak mostly finds us about. But there's no need for 'ee to stir
theesel' so early. Moll here 'ull gie 'ye some vittals when ye want.
Ye'll be away on yer travels betimes I daresay?"

"Yes. I have to make inquiries round about, as I told you."

"M'appen that land has changed owners. Things dew git like that i'
course o' years."

"Perhaps," said Rufus Myrthe. "But I mean to try and get to the bottom
of the mystery, if I can."

His eyes were on the gleaming hair of the girl at her spinning wheel.
He did not see the quick glance, surprise and terror commingled,
flashed at him from that motionless figure on the settle.

He did not see how the frozen calm of that strange face was broken up
by the touch of sudden fear.




CHAPTER III.

The sun was shining brightly through the small square window of his
room when Rufus Myrthe awoke. He looked round the unfamiliar place with
a drowsy bewilderment. His dreams had been strange; a troubled memory
mingled with his waking thoughts.

He rose and made a hasty toilet, and then went down the steep,
ladder-like stairs to the kitchen. It was tenantless, but a clean cloth
was laid on one end of the table, and a cup and earthenware teapot, and
a coarse loaf, were placed on it. He wondered if he was to make his
own tea. To be sure of the fact he went to the door and looked out. It
opened on a paved cobble-stone yard, where the sheep-dog lay basking
in the sun. Further on some poultry were scattered about, or perched
on the stone fence surrounding the alternate grass, moor, and bog-land
that made up the inn-keeper's property. Even in the bright sunlight it
looked scarcely less desolate than on the previous night. He saw the
sheep grazing on the brown, level wastes, and marvelled what they could
find to eat. A cow was tethered in a field beyond, and an antiquated
horse kept it company. There was no sign of Moll or her father.

He was returning to the house, when a shambling step, crossing the
yard, attracted his attention. He looked round and saw an old, bent,
queerly-attired figure going towards one of the outhouses.

He called out and the man turned and surveyed him with evident
curiosity. Then he came forward, with the shambling walk of age and
labour. A ragged hat covered his scant grey locks with a generosity of
size that might have been comfortable, but was certainly not becoming.

"Did 'ee call?" he inquired, and his wrinkled old visage spread into an
active map of lines and creases.

"Yes, I did," he answered. "I couldn't see anyone about, and I want my
breakfast. Where's the--the young woman who lives here?"

The ancient personage, whose years might have been anything from four
score to a hundred, peered up at the stalwart figure of the young
giant, and then seemed to lose himself in speculations, as to how much
flesh and blood, and bone and muscle, went to the making up of so
admirable a piece of manhood.

"Young 'ooman," he repeated huskily. "Do 'ee mean Moll?"

"Moll is her name, I reckon."

"Ay. A good wench, and can do a power o' wark. Dick's feyther to her.
Dick o' th' Inn yonder."

"Yes, I know that. But I asked you where she was, not who. I want my
breakfast."

"Canna ye git yer vittals yerself? It's main and helpless ye mun be,
far all yer broad shoulders and yer hulkini' frame."

"Of course I can," said the young man, ignoring the frankness of
the compliment. "But I wanted to know if I was expected to do it. I
couldn't see a kettle anywhere about."

The old man gave vent to a rusty cackle, and shambled into the kitchen.

"What's theer?" he demanded, pointing to a pot swinging by a hook over
the peat fire. "Water eno' to wet th' tea, seems to me. Not that I iver
drink stuff o' that sort. Wimmin's lap, I calls it."

Rufus would have liked to explain that the water was not boiling, nor
likely to do so, swinging there above the dull, red turf. But he wisely
deemed that explanations would be useless, and piled on some loose
furze and brushwood to make a flame. The old man cast a look round
and, seeing no one, took a chair and watched the crackling blaze with
evident satisfaction.

"Missus bain't down yet," he observed, presently, with a glance at
the settee opposite. "A queer, silent female. Hears naught, they say;
speaks naught, I knaw. She'll kim round same as she went. Kind er shock
made a poor fule of her. But I mind her a bright and bonny lass eno'
whin Dick o' the Inn brought her here."

Rufus Myrthe lifted off the pot and made his tea. Then sat down and cut
substantial slices of bread, on which he spread the salt, home-made
butter left beside the loaf.

"Been long in these parts?" he asked, presently.

"Ivir since I rimimber," announced the old man. "Farm lad,
hay-trussin', sheep-herdin', ploughin', quarryin', what not. There's
most nothin' 'ee can tell o' that old Luke Froggart can't turn his hand
to. Times I've got a bit tired o' th' lonesome life and th' barren
moorside, but a wholesome love o' dumb creatures kept me to 't. It dew
seem wonderful how they gits to knaw one, and how one gits to knaw
they. And 'tis a pleasant eno' life summer times."

"I can hardly believe that," said the young man, swallowing his second
cup of tea at a gulp, and setting the cup down with regret at its
limited holding capacity. "I never saw so dreary a place. Moor and
bog and peak; peak and bog and moor! What induced any sane person to
build an Inn in such a God-forsaken spot! And how anyone owning such a
property as it represents can expect to make a living out of it puts
the cap on the whole business. How does Dick, as you call him, make
this pay? Darn me if I can see a red cent profit either in the Inn or
the farm--if you call it a farm."

"I dunno nought 'bout profit," answered the old labourer. "Th' missus
she brought a tidy sum wi' her, so I've heerd, and this place wasn't
allus a Inn. 'Twas a farm till they tuk to diggin' for coal. Yo' can
see th' ould shaft and th' old truck lines still. A power o' money was
made on't while it lasted, so I heerd. I was away down to Castleton
those times at wark i' th' big mine theer. Whin I come back th' old
house had a sign swung afront o' it. Oncanny and ugly it war, but th'
colliers and quarrymen for miles around 'ud come here o' Saturdays
whin they'd got wages to spind. Thin, one day, something strange and
gashly-like happint, and th' place got a bad name, and not a livin'
soul 'ud come nigh it. But Dick, he kep it on; and I've never heerd o'
his wantin' money."

"What was it that happened?" asked the young man curiously.

"I bain't agoin' to tell 'ee. I've had my orders, and I gits my livin'
by 'beying thim. Dunna ye think more on't, young man. M'appen you're
as well wi'out the knowledge. 'Tis a gory and blood-curdlin' tale, and
they dew say as----"

"What be ye doin' here; idlin' yer time wi' gossip, Luke Froggart?"
exclaimed a voice sharply.

At sound of it the old man rose to his feet and with a muttered "beg
pardin" shambled off to the back premises.

Rufus Myrthe saw Moll standing in the doorway that led to the inner
side of the house. On her arm leant the woman whose personality had so
attracted him. The young man rose quickly and gave them greeting. He
noted that the strange creature looked long and earnestly at him, but
she made no sign of acknowledgment. The girl led her to her seat on the
old oak settle, placed a stool stuffed with straw for her feet, and
then approached the table.

"You see, I've helped myself to all I wanted," said the young man
cheerily, "and now I am going to look round the place a bit. I've got
to make inquiries all round the country, so I stop wherever I can get
a bed for the night, and tramp all day, except Sundays, when I have a
rest."

"It's nigh on Sunday," said the girl slowly.

"True. I never thought of that."

He glanced at her, and then at the silent figure by the fire. "I wonder
if I might stop over to-morrow," he said hesitatingly. "Would your
father object, do you think?"

"Like as not he'd niver notice, now you've once bided wi' un."

"Shall I risk it, then? I want to find out about that old coal mine. I
know something about mines, and perhaps this one----"

He stopped speaking. A strange sound, half moan, half cry, struck
across his words. He turned quickly. The girl sprang forward, uttering
an exclamation of terror.

The woman was on her feet, swaying to and fro, her arms outstretched as
if to ward off some threatened assault.

"Why, mother; what's come to 'ee!" cried Moll in alarm. She caught the
falling figure in her strong young arms, and Rufus Myrthe, hastening to
give assistance, helped to reseat her in the accustomed place.

Her face was livid, her brow and hands damp with sweat. She trembled
from head to foot.

"Mother--mother! what's come to 'ee?" repeated the terrified girl, as
she wiped the damp brow, and supported the helpless head against her
warm young breast.

"I think she's fainting," exclaimed Rufus. "Where can I get water?"

"There's some in th' pitcher yonder," answered Moll, regarding the
white face and the closed eyes with alarm.

He hastened to fetch the water, and sprinkled the face of the now
unconscious woman and tried to force a little between the closed teeth.

Presently she drew a long, deep breath, and her eyes opened.

"Ah; she's coming round, I guess," said the young fellow cheerfully.
"Wonder what made her go off like that?"

The expression of the uplifted eyes affected him uncomfortably. Their
dumb agony was like the agony of a wounded animal; their beseeching
prayer a wordless torture. It seemed as if her whole soul longed to
pour itself out; to break the physical charm that held it bound to
silence. So great, so terrible, was the longing, that suddenly her lips
parted in a shriek--a shriek unlike any earthly sound it had been his
lot to hear. Then came a babble of incoherent words; words that fell in
pell-mell haste from a tripping tongue.

"Don't thee go!" she reiterated frantically. "Don't thee, don't thee,
don't thee go to the mine!"

Moll recoiled in sheer fright at what seemed to her a miracle. That the
long-sealed lips should open, the bound tongue find release, were facts
terrifying and inexplicable.

"Dear Lord o' Heaven!" she muttered under her breath. "What do it mean?
Her speech ha' come back!"




CHAPTER IV.

Rufus Myrthe felt instinctively that he looked upon death, as he
supported that stricken figure.

Its dread seal was set upon marble brow and pulseless heart.

The girl's terrified entreaties received no answer. She appealed to
him. "What shall we do? 'Tis another stroke, bain't it?"

"Better carry her up to her own room," suggested Rufus.

Moll led the way, half-supporting the lower limbs up the stairs. They
laid her on the bed. Then the young man bade her loosen her mother's
dress and chafe her hands, while he went to search for the owner of the
Inn.

His loud shout won no response. Its repetition, however, brought into
view the figure of old Luke Froggart.

Rufus Myrthe explained what had occurred, but learnt that there was no
such thing as a doctor within limits of a two hours' drive, nor any
woman in farm or household likely to render assistance save "th' old
herb woman," as Luke called her.

"Could I have the horse and go and fetch her?" demanded Rufus.

"M'appen ye might, m'appen the maister 'ud rage at me for lettin' o'
it out. Ye can plase yersel'. An' trap's lost a wheel sin last market
day," he added, cheerfully.

"Never mind the trap. I'll ride the animal, if you'll put me in the
way. What's the woman's name?"

"Dame Dottery we names her--ah, what's that a-callin' ye? Th' lass,
sure as life."

Moll had appeared at the door, white and trembling.

"She don't speak nor move. She's stone cold. Oh, do 'ee come in and
see! I'm that fearful!"

Her voice broke into the piteous sobbing of a child. The young man
hastened up the stairs to where that stricken form lay stiffening in
its last sleep.

"I fear she's gone, child," he said, softly, as he looked at the rigid
form and face.

"Gone!" echoed the girl. "Gone--where? How can she be gone whin she's
lyin' there same as 'twas sleepin'."

He knew not what to say, and he dreaded feminine grief. "I'll go and
fetch old Dame Dottery," he said at last, turning away from that stiff,
set face with a thrill of awe. "You'd best find your father, my lass. I
couldn't make him hear when I called just now."

"He's gone to Distly i' th' Dale," said the girl slowly. "I canna get
to him. It's good of 'ee to fetch th' ould herb-woman. Moybe she can do
summat. I've seed mother ill, but niver same as this."

He left the room without further word, and finding the old horse
bridled and waiting, sprang on his back regardless of saddle, and rode
away in the direction given by old Luke Froggart.

The animal moved at the pace of an average donkey, despite blows and
persuasions, but at last Rufus Myrthe came in sight of the stone
cottage in a hollow of the moor to which he had been directed.

A few cocks and hens scratched about near the doorway. Huge boulders
of rock and gritstone lay about like remains of some feudal castle.
A solitary ash tree, laden with scarlet berries, was the one thing
that lent any colour or beauty to the surrounding dreariness. The door
was closed, but a vigorous knocking with the stick he had used as a
riding-whip brought an ancient crone to answer his summons.

"Are you Dame Dottery?" he asked, surveying a face and head that
brought to mind the grey moss and lichen of an old apple tree, to which
the gnarled and bent figure lent further resemblance.

"A' believe a' be," she made answer.

"You know the Inn yonder?" he went on, eagerly, "I'm staying there.
This morning the woman--wife of the landlord, you know--was taken with
a sort of fit. I'm afraid it's a stroke, or worse. I've come to fetch
you. The girl's all alone and frightened. Will you come?"

He looked doubtfully at the shrunk, queer old figure, and marvelled how
she was to traverse the miles of rough, uneven ground that lay between
the hovel and the Inn.

"A'll come ower," she said, nodding her head with an emphasis that
threatened dislocation between it and the withered, claw-like neck,
at present it's only support. "Bide ye theer. M'appen ye cud strap a
piller on th' hoss, an' lead un o'er the rough places wi' me a-top?
'Twould hasten things in a manner."

Rufus looked doubtful over the suggestion. Had the matter at issue not
been so grave he could not have restrained his mirth, thinking how
queer a burden would be perched on the back of the animal. However
he bade the old dame bring him the "piller," and he would see what
could be done. She appeared presently, having transformed herself
into a bundle that seemed to have no beginning and no end. She handed
him a pillow and a piece of rope as contributions to a side-saddle.
Then he led the animal to one of the scattered boulders and helped
this extraordinary female to mount. She accomplished the feat with an
agility that spoke of custom, and amazed the young man no less than her
own appearance had done.

On the journey over the moorside she informed him that she had been
used to being fetched in this or other equally unorthodox fashion for
sickness, "layings-in," or "layings-out," some two-score years. He
tried to lead her to speak of the mistress of the Inn, but her stock
of anecdotes and experiences invariably interfered with a direct
narrative. This weakness, added to a catch of the breath at every jerk
of the animal she bestrode, prevented her guide from gaining much
information as to the mysterious dumb creature that had so aroused his
curiosity. Vainly he had tried to keep the old crone's thoughts and
memory on one line. Amidst the vagaries of dialect, and the rumblings
of her brain, he gleaned little that he desired, and much that was
strictly irrelevant. He gave up the task in despair at last, and
contented himself with leading the stumbling animal and its burden as
carefully as might be, so as to lessen any danger of her falling off--a
danger to which she lent plentiful possibilities on every occasion
that offered excuse. It was with a sigh of relief that Rufus, at last,
beheld the Inn and piloted his charge into the yard.

Two hours had passed since he left, and he found the girl watching for
them, pale and awe-struck.

He lifted the ancient equestrienne from her improvised saddle. Moll led
her into the house. He waited below, after leading the horse to its
stable. There was no sign of old Luke, or of the man he only knew as
Dick o' th' Inn. Restless and uneasy, the young man roamed from without
to within, and back again. The silence affected his nerve, and the
suspense began to irritate a nature by no means patient. He stood at
the foot of the ladder-like stairs and listened. A low murmur of voices
reached his ear, but he could distinguish nothing clearly. Unable to
control his impatience, he at last ventured up and knocked softly.

Moll opened the door. Her dry, bright eyes looked vaguely at his
sympathising face.

"How--how is she?" he asked, knowing as he framed the words that they
were empty of sense or meaning.

"Dead," said the girl, in a stiff, strange voice. "There's nought to be
done--Dead!"

* * * * * * * *

Rufus Myrthe went slowly down the stairs and out once more into the
yard. He found his acquaintance, Luke Froggart, astride of an old
wooden stool, munching a slice of bread, to which a layer of fat bacon
lent the semblance of a sandwich.

"Your mistress is dead," said the young fellow, abruptly.

"Eh, be that so?" He conveyed his interrupted meal to the palm of
his hand, and took a survey of the surrounding landscape. "Dead!"
he repeated. "Lord, di 'ee iver hear the like! A young woman, so to
say. Seems but a matter o' weeks, lookin' back on't, since she came
to th' ould place. A bonny creatur' too; well-favoured, as wimmin go
hereabouts. 'Tis a bad affliction for the master and th' lass yonder.
Not that th' puir soul was any manner o' use, so t' say. But 'tis
better or worse wi' matrimony, and a man canna' go back o' that when
he's made choice o' one wench out o' thim as offers."

He shook his head, philosophically and resumed his lunch.

"How long has she lived here?" asked Rufus.

"How long? If ye ban't particular in a matter o' months, I'd put it as
twinty year come Candlemas. I mind I'd been turnip hoein' an harvistin'
that year, and, then tuk up wi' shepherdin' afore lambin' time. A bad
year it were, and th' ewes tuk it hard, an' we scarce saved a lamb i'
six. Yes; she were a bonny eno' lass then, and nought amiss save a
trifle o' wilfulness, and a bit tuk up wi' her pretty face, as was no
wonder, whin ye saw the ugly mawthers o' gals as lived hereabouts."

"And what," asked Rufus, between another mouthful of refreshment. "What
made her lose the power of speech like that?"

"O', that's more'n I can tell 'ee, lad. Suddin-like was the happerin'
o't. None ivir got th' rights o' the story. There was a lad here 'long
o' I, and a wumman to wark i' th' Inn, and Moll just a toddlin' bairn.
We could na' hear the wharfor' o't. Doctor, he came from Distly i'
th' Dale, twelve miles off, but he could do nawthing. Kind o' shock,
he called it. Her husband, he didna' seem to tak on much about it.
Went tew wark same as ivir; tended fair an' wakes, an' horse shows th'
country round. Seemed as if money was allus to be gotten, spite o'
bad land and worse trade. For few folk ivir come nigh th' Inn, and he
didna' seem to want 'em."

"It was a farmhouse once, I heard."

"'Twas so; and whin maister hung up th' gashly ould sign o' that
headless feymale, we thorht 'twas mad he war. But there 'tis. Th'
Headless Woman wi'out, and th' Silent Woman wi'in, and no 'un wud give
a brass farden for th' place now, save 'twas some strayed wayfarin'
man, same as 'ee."

Silence again followed this information. The young fellow's eyes turned
from point to point of the surrounding country before he put the
question that he had put so often and so vainly.

"Do you happen to know of any farm hereabouts that went by the name of
Myrthe or Marth? I'm searching for it, and haven't come across a trace
as yet."

The old labourer finished his last mouthful and gave his customary
deliberate "chaw" to the delicacy. Then he rose slowly and rustily,
like a gate whose hinges need oiling.

"Dew I knaw the Marth Farm," he answered. "There bain't none o' it
left. 'Twere dug up for coal a matter o' twinty year agone or more.
Tunnelled an' dug up, an' messed about by a passel o' fools as called
thesselves a Syndergate or summat. Ruined thesselves. 'Twas all wot
come o't."

Rufus Myrthe stared. "But it wasn't their property. They had no
right----"

"Reet or wrang, 'twas what they did. And arter two or three year they
found 'twudn't wark. Yo' can see th' ould shaft and mouth o' pit
yonder. Four mile, as the crow dew fly."

Rufus looked in the direction of the pointing finger. A natural
indignation surged within his breast.

"Why, it was robbery! Rank robbery! How dared they. The property
belonged to my grandmother. And she left it to me."

The old man's mouth took a curious twist. "Do 'ee say so? Well, now. If
so be 'tis like that, ye'll ha' to reckon wi' th' maister. An' he be a
rough 'un to handle, he be."

"Rough or not," burst out the young man, indignantly. "I reckon he'll
find I'm not afraid of him! There's such a thing as law and justice in
the land, and I'll teach him to meddle with other folk's property, as
sure as my name's Rufus Myrthe."

"If it happen to be nought o' th' sort, what then?" demanded a surly
voice just beside them.

The young fellow started. The master of the Inn was standing there; his
teeth showing between his grizzled beard like those of a snarling dog.

Rufus swung round on him, his face aflame. "Oh, it's you, is it? You
heard my story last night. You knew you had been the means of robbing
me and supplanting me. Yet you held your tongue. You knew this land was
mine--this house."

"Neyther one nor other be yours, young man. Call on law and justice as
ye will, ye canna prove ony lawful right o' heritage. D'ye hear? Lawful
right o' heritage. Try it, an ye will."




CHAPTER V.

With such words of defiance the man walked into the inn.

Rufus remained staring after him in sheer astonishment. Then he made
a hasty step, as if to follow, but remembering the tragedy that had
recently happened, paused midway.

"I can't have a row in there, not with his dead wife lying above," he
thought. "But what can the man mean? No right. No lawful right? It
sounds queer. Am I going to dig up family secrets and family skeletons
in my search? Well, this business has got to be settled, so that's all
about it. This hulking reprobate needn't think I'm to be put off with a
statement without proof!"

The ancient labourer meanwhile had shelved himself into a corner
abutting on the stable. He had a wholesome fear of his master's temper,
and was fearful lest he had been over-communicative to the stranger,
and would suffer for it. Seeing that the young man was seemingly
halting between two opinions, he hailed him with a quavering voice.

"Doan't 'ee go for to cross Maister Dick," he advised. "He be a
terrible hard man; 'tis wonderful how he kin rage whin the mood's on
him. I be goin' to see arter th' sheep, now Moll's taken up w' th' due
settin' out of th' corpse yonder. Best 'ee come 'long o' I, an' if so
be 'ee wants th' landmarks o' th' propitty, ther's ne'er a soul i'
th' place can put 'ee up to 'un better nor ole Luk, as they calls me
hereabouts."

He took up a stout ash stick as he spoke, and straightened his bent
figure with a rusty jerk. Rufus Myrthe decided to accompany him for two
reasons. One, to keep away from the chance of unseemly disturbance,
supposing he again interviewed the master of the Inn--the other, a hope
that he might glean some useful information from the ancient Methuselah
who had sought his company. They went out of the yard-gate, and crossed
the moor in an easterly direction, till it took a sudden dip, and
landed them on a tract of grassland enclosed by a low stone fence. Here
the few sheep belonging to the innkeeper were grazing, the old dog
lying near in placid observance of their movements.

"Now, lad," said the old labourer, "dew 'ee see yonder shaft, broken
an' topply, as if't had two minds to keep itsel' up ony longer? That's
nigh to where the pit be; 'ee can see 't for yer sel'. Ten year or more
ago 'twas warked, an' some sayed there war a fortin' in't; an' some
'twar just waste o' labour an' money. Onyways, it didna last long.
Warks an m'shinery stopped suddin like. Th' vein o' coal war too pore
t' wark, so I heerd tell. An' maister, he swore, an' war that mad as
folks didna dare to go anigh th' place. He'd set up this Inn by then,
un' all th' custom waar gone. Naugaht 'ud make him b'lieve that there
warn't coal i' plenty, an' o' good quality, an' he'd fetch engineers
an' sichlike, an' they'd be a-testin' an' a-pryin', an a-diggin'
ground oop till th' place war like a bog winter times, but warn't no
manner o' use. An' it lays now as it lay then an' as gotten a bad name
to't. Ne'er a livin' soul, man, boy, or wumman, as 'ud go nigh wi'in a
mile o't arter sundown. They dew say as how 'tis haunted. 'Tis a queer
sort o' a tale that's bound up wi' that. A queer sort o' tale!"

He shook his head in a palsied fashion and twisted his mouth into a
tight bundle of folds and wrinkles that seemed to insinuate that he
could be as secret as he had been communicative, did he so determine.
Rufus felt the stirrings of curiosity gaining strength. He plied the
old gaffer with questions. A great deal depended on learning who had
gained possession of the property at that time, and by what means. He
foresaw a considerable amount of trouble threatened by this unexpected
usurpation of rights, and remembered that he had brought no title deeds
with him, nor documents of any sort that might prove his claims.

The old man, however, seemed reluctant to give any more information.
His tongue had wagged freely up to a certain point--now it stopped
obstinately.

All Rufus could gain was a hint that something terrible had occurred
just about the time of closing the mine. Something no one in the
surrounding districts dare speak of save with bated breath. Of its
nature Rufus asked in vain. It had given the mine a bad name; it had
struck the wife of Dick Udale into the dumb and piteous object he had
seen; it had turned Dick Udale himself into the surly, ill-tempered,
ill-spoken individual, for whom no one had a good word, and left the
whole family as pariahs even in this desolate region; shunned and
friendless, victims of a fate whose results had spelt tragedy.

"Well," cried the young fellow at last. "I guess I'll go and have a
look at the place myself. I can't lose my way this time. That old shaft
is a good landmark."

He nodded carelessly to his strange companion, and strode on with the
quick, eager step of youth spurred by curiosity.

The old labourer stood by the grazing sheep leaning on his stick and
watching the departing figure.

"M'appen 'ee wouldna be in sich almighty haste if 'ee know'd all,"
he muttered, shaking his head warily, as at things unutterable. Then
he sank down on a wedge of broken stone and began the arduous task
of minding the sheep. This he accomplished by closing his eyes, what
time he leant hands and chin for support on his stout ash staff,
his head gradually performing a melancholy see-saw movement, to the
accompaniment of occasional snores. Age, like youth, has certain
vagrant tendencies for which due allowance must needs be made.

Meantime, Rufus Myrthe is making slow and arduous progress over waste
ground, rough stones, and huge spaces of bog. The soft, grey sky
wore the misty look of threatened rain; the air blew keen from the
surrounding heights. He was conscious of hunger, and regretted that he
had not thought of providing himself with even the labourer's frugal
fare of bread and bacon. But he was determined to get to the old mine
before returning to the Inn, and tried to forget trivial discomforts.

It took longer than he had believed possible to get within appreciable
distance of his self-set goal, and half-way to it the clouds gathered
darkly overhead, and a sweep of rain blew over the moor. He muttered
something uncomplimentary to the Derbyshire climate, which had
shown its worst and most depressing aspect to him in a three weeks'
experience.

"The twenty first day of rain," he said, turning up the collar of his
rough tweed coat. "Well, I'm so used to soaking now that it can't harm
me. The clouds hereabouts are sort of leaking water-butts, with the
taps left on. You get it all sides, all ways. On the peaks, and under
the peaks, and alongside of the peaks. Valley, wood, or height--just
the same! Reckon I've never had so much to do with promiscuous
shower baths since my poor old mother gave up weeping over her boy's
unregenerate soul, when she took up with the Christian Science folk."
His foot slipped at this moment, and he made further acquaintance
with the qualities of peat soil. Forcible exclamations seemed an
inexhaustible accompaniment to this quagmire, and led to vaunting
the superiority of land methods "out West," as he called it. "Guess
we'd have had this levelled and drained before building an Inn within
two miles of it!" Then he remembered that the house had never been
intended for its advertised purpose, but utilised owing to stress of
circumstances.

These reflections cast his thoughts back into that channel of mystery
to which the strange words of the Silent Woman had been an introduction.

With his eyes on the ground, and his mind at work in wide fields of
conjecture, he plodded on, determined to find out the mystery, if
mystery there was; determined to fight for his heritage, however poor
a thing it looked. Determined, too, to force the truth from that
surly brute who had defied him "whatever the cost." He had braced
his young shoulders and lifted his head to look up to and beyond the
circle of these endless peaks when that last exclamation burst audibly
from his lips. The sound of his own voice on that moorland solitude
came strangely to his ears. Came, too, with that awakening to common
facts of common life that act like an ice douche on the fever heats
of imagination. "Cost!"--that was the trouble. He had some money, but
no immediate means of increasing it to a capital. Home supplies could
not be reckoned on. He had been thrown on his own resources since
boyhood, and his people had grown used to his independence. There were
young ones growing up. The nest was full enough. He could not ask for
money to support what might after all only prove a worthless claim. He
cursed his stupidity in coming over with such scant proof as to his
own rights; without having mastered all the facts appertaining to the
former possessors of the Marth Farm. Fifty years of absence left a wide
margin for wrong doing, and the tracing of a pedigree through female
branches represented no easy task in a place where surnames dropped
out in course of time, and "Tom o' Will's," and "Dick o' th' Dales,"
slipped into recognised titles.

His reflections brought him at last to that portion of rough upheaval,
scattered stones, and rusty iron truck-lines that proclaimed where
the mine had been worked. The grey clouds stooped towards it, heavy
with the burden of rain. A few scattered hovels built of rough blocks
of stone, that had served for the colliers' accommodation, broke or
touched the level of the moorland. Beyond lay the pit mouth; a black,
yawning chasm, rudely barricaded now with blocks of stone and heaps of
coarse, slaty coal, that had been drawn to the surface when it was in
working order.

It was all ugly, bleak, desolate; and, as if to add to the desolation,
the mist of the previous day began to gather slowly from the heights,
and descend valley-wards, closing in the range of peak and hill, and
warning the traveller once again how treacherous and easily lost were
any landmarks hereabouts.

But Rufus Myrthe stood there silent and absorbed, and looked at the
deserted works as if fascinated by their ugliness. Were they really
worked out, useless, profitless? Had the discovery meant so little that
it could be abandoned while the scheme was in working order? He took up
block after block, examining seam and quality with eager eyes. He was
thinking of something a Belgian engineer had told him coming over in
the steamer. Something that, if applied to seemingly worthless coals,
meant a fortune. And these were not worthless. He had seen specimens
far worse. Even among that collection of the foreign engineer.

"I'd try it, if it were mine," he said aloud. "I believe there's money
in it, even now."

As if in response to his exclamation there suddenly echoed across the
misty solitudes a weird, unearthly cry. So uncanny was the sound that
Rufus Myrthe started, with the nearest approach to terror he had ever
confessed.

The cry seemed human, yet he could fancy no human throat its producer.
His glance sped from point to point, but found no living object in
view. With an involuntary shudder the young man turned away. The
rolling mists came swiftly down, and drew their formless curtains over
the desolate scene. They seemed to him to shroud invisible foes, that
were slowly and stealthily marching behind and dogging his hurrying
footsteps.

There was more than a doubt in his mind as to whether he could find his
way back to the Inn. He had but few signs to guide him, and could only
trust to his own instincts and such topographical knowledge as had come
to him through the medium of previous wanderings in wild, rough country.

"What an awful place it is altogether," he thought. "No wonder it's got
a bad name, as old Luke said. I feel as if I could never get rid of the
sound of that awful cry. It haunts me. Perhaps after all, I ought to
have searched."

He started. Again the cry sounded. Close behind him now. Wailing in
his ears as if some visible presence must be within arm's reach. He
looked behind, beside, before. Nothing was to be seen. No living soul,
save himself, stood on that desolate moorside in the gloom of mist and
fading day.




CHAPTER VI.

Within an appreciable distance of the walled-in field, where the sheep
had been grazing, the mist suddenly lifted.

Rufus Myrthe found the sight of the Inn a welcome one, despite its
melancholy situation, and its unpleasant host. He hurried on till he
reached the back entrance, seeing no sign of old "Luk" or any human
creature. As he went within, he found a bright fire blazing in the wide
chimney. Crouched before it was the queer old crone he had brought
thither that morning. Moll was bustling about preparing a meal, and a
fragrant smell of newly-baked oaten cakes pervaded the place. The surly
master of the Inn was not visible, a matter for which Rufus Myrthe felt
devoutly thankful.

"Why, ye're soaked to th' skin!" exclaimed the girl.

"I've never been anything else since I came to this part of the
country," he answered. "And I'm hungry enough to empty your larder," he
continued.

"I'll soon get 'ee summat," she said gravely. "But do 'ee go upstairs
and change first. Feyther's took th' horse an' gone to Distly. He sed
as how 'twere needful t' give notice o' th' death. And Dame theer, she
had to cettify 'twer a fit, same as mither had suffered from afore."

She spoke in calm, measured accents, giving no token of grief. Rufus
wondered if she was unfeeling, or only chilled by the suddenness of
bereavement. He made no further remark, but went upstairs and changed
his soaked garments, thankful that surly Dick Udale was absent, and
wondering if any information respecting the past owners of the farm
could be procured from the queer old crone, who seemed a fitting mate
(as far as antiquity was concerned) for Luke Froggart.

Such types of longevity were quite novel to him, and he could not but
feel interested in their experiences.

He went softly by that closed door, where the silence of years now
meant the silence of eternity. He knew he should never learn the secret
buried in that quiet breast, nor the reason of the terror of his
questions and his name had caused her. The desire for that knowledge
had leaped into a burning curiosity. Enough lay behind it to alter all
his future, and he was young enough to defy Fate and believe in the
impossible.

It was only when he found himself sitting at the table opposite to
Moll that he felt his own history might in some way be destined to
concern hers. The vague interest he had at first felt in her began to
assume a new and responsible aspect. His questions, guarded as they
were, led the old dame's tongue into channels of communicativeness that
were veritable pitfalls. She threw light upon occurrences preceding
Moll's birth, and taking many a queer turn and twist, as memory rambled
between past and present, she slowly and surely came to the point that
he desired. Yet then he only felt himself the poorer for the gain.
Someone whose name in the Peak vernacular was almost unintelligible,
and resembled nothing so much as "Marth's-son," had, at a far-off date,
descended upon the farm and its uninviting acres of bog, and moor, and
stone. No one seemed to have questioned the right of this individual.
He stated he was a relative of the family, who by this time were all
scattered abroad in America. A younger brother of this man lived with
him, and the two worked the farm, with such help as old Luke Froggart
could give. How they made it pay, or how they existed, was a mystery.
Then, suddenly, came the discovery of coal, and a stir and bustle in
the district. The change of the farmhouse into an Inn, with its queer
sign of the Headless Woman, followed, and there the present owner
brought his wife. From that time the place seemed marked for trouble.
The brothers quarrelled continually, and one day the elder disappeared.
Dick, the younger, gave out that he had left the country, having lost
money over the coal venture. Again it seemed that no one disputed the
explanation, or interfered with the new owner of the Inn and property.
But the quality of the coal grew poorer and poorer, and finally the
working of the mine was abandoned. The place was left to desolation,
and the lonely Inn given over to a new loneliness. For the mistress
never spoke, never gave any sign of life or interest, beyond the
mechanical obligations of eating and sleeping. Her love for her child
seemed quenched. The years took cruel toll of her beauty, and it faded
into dull, colourless age. What she suffered, and why she suffered, no
one knew. Her husband paid no heed to her, but lived his own selfish,
dissolute life, absenting himself when the fancy took him, leaving her
and the child to the tender mercies of old Luke, or Dame Dottery, the
herb woman, their only neighbour.

So much Rufus learnt while he ate his supper and watched Moll's serious
face, and felt the young manhood within him stirred to compassion for
a lot so piteous and so unbecoming a maid of beauty and charms such as
hers. Now and then, during the progress of the tale, he had produced
a notebook and jotted down names, places, or incidents. Dates were
beyond the old dame's capacity. She could reckon by such events as
Christmas or Candlemas, a birth or death in the district, or a wake or
a fair at some of the scattered country villages, but that was all.
Such information was comparatively useless to Rufus Myrthe, and only
complicated the facts he had gleaned and separated from the chaff of
straying memories.

The night drew on apace. The old dame had finished and replenished the
teapot placed at her disposal by Moll. She was apparently subject to
sudden dozes, which would overtake her in the midst of a speech, and
from which she would wake with a start, or a new piece of information
not exactly relevant to the point at issue.

The girl sat by the fire knitting, and Rufus talked to her, and tried
to gain some knowledge of her life, and of what it might become. He
found she had received very little education, and that everything she
knew of life beyond her own valley, or its nearest market town, had
been gleaned from the cheap periodicals brought by travelling pedlars
and treasured by her mother and herself for winter recreation in the
long evenings.

"But now?" he questioned. "Now that you are alone, shall you stay on
here? It is a dull, miserable place for one so young and so pretty," he
added, softly.

The compliment did not affect her. Probably her looks had never
awakened comment from men, or jealousy from women. She was quite unable
to appraise them at their true feminine value.

"I s'pose I mun stay 'long o' feyther," she answered. "What else can I
dew? I know nought o' ony trade, or ony sort o' life."

"But you would like to know? You would leave here if you could?"

"That's trew," she answered. "But I'll na' hev th' chance. There's
th' house to mind, an' the hens; a man's a fule 'bout sich things as
thim. I'm no sayin' but I'd love a bit o' schuling, an to read an'
'rite, same as mither cud dew. She war a wonderful clever scholar, I've
heerd, tho' all I ivir seed her do war ta put things down on scraps o'
paper times as feyther war out o' th' house. Scores an' scores o' thim
she had, an' 'ud hide 'em away. I nivir cud see whar she put thim. It
seemed she war timorous like o' bein' found out."

Rufus' brain stood suddenly at "attention."

He thought of the mysterious silence, the mysterious life, and the
mysterious dying words of that strange woman. Might she have left any
explanation behind her? Might it be possible that what she had written
would throw a light on his lost heritage? He was convinced that he had
found the right place at last. But to prove that, and so prove his
own claim to it, was a totally different matter. So long a silence
followed the girl's last words that the ticking of the clock in the
corner became an audible emphasis of the fact. She glanced at him from
time to time, wondering at his absorbed face. The old woman slumbered
soundly in the chimney corner. The fire lapsed from transient spurts
and splashes to a dull red glow.

"Feyther's late," observed Moll, at last, as the clock struck 8.
"M'appen he'll ha' to bide th' night at Distly."

Rufus started. It struck him as odd that he should be left as guardian
of the lonely Inn and its lovely mistress; for the ancient crone could
scarcely be looked upon as a protectress.

"I mun go an' shut oop th' shutters at th' front," continued the girl.

"Let me help you," he said eagerly. And as she made no objection they
proceeded to bolt the door leading into the porch, and shutter the
window of the bar. The girl carried a candle with her, and its faint
light threw up the shadowy corners, and queer, twisting passages, and
lent an added mystery to the quaint old house. He noted that the front
room, once the parlour, had been shut off by a wooden doorway, which
was locked and bolted. The girl told him she had no recollection of its
ever being used since her mother's seizure and subsequent isolation. It
struck Rufus Myrthe that he would like to explore this portion of the
old farmhouse for himself, but Moll had no knowledge of where the key
was kept, and he had to give up the idea. They retraced their steps to
the kitchen, and the girl fastened the outer door, but lit a lamp, and
placed it in the window looking towards the moor.

"M'happen he'll cum; an' if so, 'twill serve to show th' way," she
observed.

"But you'll have to get up to let him in," said Rufus.

"Yes, o' course," she said simply. "I've allus done it, fair times an'
sich like. If he be drunk, he'll lay i' th' kitchen till mornin'. I
bain't feered o' him now, as I'd used to be."

"What a life for you! How can you bear it?"

"I dunno," she said, with a little catch of her breath, that was half a
sob. "I'll miss mither, I'm thinkin'. Tho' she'd nivir speak, yet 'twar
a sort o' comfort to feel she war theer; an' I'd got to know th' look
o' her eyes, an' her ways an' her wants. It 'ull be terrible lonesome
wi'out her."

"I wish you'd come away! I wish you'd let me help you! I hate to think
of leaving you to such a life, to such a father! If I put you to a
school for a year or two, and then had you sent out to America, over
the sea, where I come from, wouldn't you like that?"

"Like it!" Her eyes dilated. She drank in wonders of possibility with
thirsting lips. "But it cudna be. It's tew bootiful to hope for 't."

"It could be; it shall be, if you wish. Your father has no right to
bury you alive in a place like this; to deny you education, freedom,
the rights of womanhood and beauty such as yours. It wouldn't be
allowed in the land I come from. Why should it be allowed here?"

The old crone in the chimney corner stirred herself drowsily, disturbed
by the raised and eager voices. Her bleared eyes surveyed the two
figures, and a cunning gleam came into their depths.

"Th' ould ways is th' new ways," she muttered. "An' th' new is th' ould.
But th' beauties allus get th' best o't."

Moll started and looked round.

"W'har'll ye sleep th' night, Dame?" she asked.

"Mak' me a bed on th' settle yonder. A rug an a blanket be all I want."

"An' I'll stay i' th' chair an' keep 'ee company. Maybe feyther'll come
home. He sayed as 'ow he'd try if 'twar ivir so late."

"He'll na cross th' moor by th' ould mine arter dark, an' I knaw aught
o' him," said the crone. "They dew say as th' horse an' rider ha' bin
seen theer again, an' that bodes mischance, as all hereabouts dew knaw."

Moll shivered and grew pale. The young man turned eagerly. "Do you
really mean that folk believe its haunted?" he cried.

"Folks mun believe what they've seen an' herd o' fur thesselves," said
the ancient dame. "A place dunna get a bad name wi'out a bad cause."

Despite himself, Rufus felt a queer thrill run through his veins. He
remembered the weird aspect of the disused mine; the weird cry that had
startled him. He thought of the dead woman lying upstairs, and of her
warning. Then his eyes fell on the beautiful girl, condemned to live
among such surroundings; a prisoner for life in this dismal place.

"I don't care. I'll stay on. I'll see this thing through," he said to
himself. "If there's wrong been done, I'll set it right. If I'm good
for aught, I'm going to help this poor child to something brighter and
better than her life here has been."

He felt lighter-hearted and more resolute after he had thus determined,
but he said nothing more to Moll. She gave him a candlestick, and he
bade her good-night. As he passed the closed door of the dead woman's
room a vivid desire to look once more on that strange face took
possession of him. He tried the handle and it gave at his touch. He
stood on the threshold, and, holding up the candle on a level with his
head, he looked across the room at the shrouded outline of the silent
figure.

As he looked the desire to see the dead face grew stronger. He went
slowly across to the bed, and with one hand gently lifted the sheet.
Marble white, and strangely beautiful, were the uncovered features, set
in silvery masses of rippling hair, unconcealed now by the disfiguring
cap. Beautiful, yet stamped even in death by a sorrow unutterable, the
dead face lay on the pillow, and through the half-closed lids the eyes
seemed still to gaze as they had gazed in life. A shudder ran through
the young man's frame, strong of nerve as he deemed himself. He hastily
replaced the sheet and turned away. As he did so there thrilled through
the silence a sound, half-moan, half-cry, wholly weird and terrifying.
He started so violently that the candle fell to the ground. Before he
could seize it the flame was extinguished.

He had to grope for a few minutes to find its whereabouts. At last
he seized it, but as he rose to his feet a light flashed through the
window. With a sudden instinct, for which he could not account, he
drew back to the curtained side of the bed. The heavy, old-fashioned
draperies kept him out of sight. Once more the light flashed out. Then
he heard the window tried and opened. Curiosity overpowered his first
alarm. He peered cautiously through the curtain at the head of the bed.

He saw a lantern, evidently held by some hand invisible from his
point of espial. The light stole in, a long, bright ray across the
space between window and bed. It fell on the white sheet and stirless
form. Rufus Myrthe's eyes followed the line of light. Peering through
the open window was a strange, ghastly face. It remained there for a
moment, then, with a repetition of that low wail, it thrust itself into
the opening hollow of the casement. Head and shoulders showed for an
instant; then the light dipped and darkened as the lantern descended.
There fell on the listener's strained ear the soft, uneven hop made by
some creature whose lower limbs were apparently maimed, or wanting.
Two or three of these hops brought the mysterious intruder to the side
of the bed opposite to where Rufus stood concealed by the heavy damask
folds.

He leant back against the wall. Once more the slide of the lantern was
lifted, and the light thrown across the sheeted form. Then Rufus Myrthe
saw a strange, dwarfed creature spring on the bed. With a cry scarcely
human, it snatched away the sheet from the dead woman's face.




CHAPTER VII.

It seemed hours to Rufus Myrthe before his senses steadied themselves;
before that weird visitor departed, even as it had come. With the
closing of the window, he moved from his place of concealment, and
hurried back to his own room. Arrived there, he locked the door and
tried to calm his shaken nerves.

Who or what was it that had paid that strange visit to the death-room?
Someone who had loved or mourned the dead woman, for grief had been
plainly evident. The sad cry, the haunting moan, still wailed through
the very nerve-centres of his brain. He tried to reason, to convince
himself his fancy had played some trick, but the memory of that cry,
the sight of that grotesque, mis-shapen creature, were things too vivid
to have been the product of even an over-excited imagination.

He felt that the mysteries of the mysterious Inn were becoming more and
more profound. The chance which had led him here seemed bent on proving
itself the handmaid of that fate which weaves the web of human destiny
from apparently insignificant threads.

Sleep was impossible. The weird, uncanny atmosphere of the place had
mastered his usual contempt for everything bearing the name of mystery.
Try as he might he could not rid himself of the impression that crime
darkened its repute, that some evil memory enshrouded it. No mere
whim, or bodily ailment, had sealed the lips and taxed the endurance
of that dead woman. Some awful shock must have been the cause of her
affliction. The desire to know its nature was taking slow but sure
possession of him.

He paced the floor restlessly, feeling that sleep had fled for this
night. He wondered if Dick had returned? If Moll slept? Where old
Luke spent his nights? He went to his window and threw it open. Rain
was falling heavily. A grey and starless sky lowered over peak, and
moor, and valley. Not a light showed itself anywhere, and he thought
to himself that it would be no easy matter for the master of the Inn
to find his way, supposing he had chosen to return. He was about to
close the window when something caught his eye. It was a faint moving
light that played in a zig-zag line over the track leading to the old
mine. Now lost; now faint as a glow-worm's spark; now broadening into a
long streak of brightness. He followed its will-o'-the-wisp fantasies
for a considerable time. Then it suddenly disappeared, swallowed up by
the darkness of that desolate region where the old shaft lifted its
melancholy signal to the melancholy landscape.

He closed the window and threw himself upon the bed, tired out with
emotions, yet mentally alert.

The face of Dick Udale haunted him with its surly ruffianism; the
taunts of Dick Udale rang again in his ears--"Lawful heritage."

It had seemed to him the easiest thing in the world to cross the seas
and descend upon possessions to which he had a claim. But the obstacles
that now confronted him bristled with all sorts of difficulty. In this
remote and desolate region, where one man slipped into another man's
shoes apparently unquestioned, where names held little significance,
where even murder might so cloak itself that no one thought of
questioning a mystery, or a disappearance, it would be a hard and
wearisome task to upset a long-unopposed tenure. For aught he knew,
Dick o' th' Inn, as they called him, might be one of his grandmother's
family. Even Moll herself might----

He caught his breath, and sat up, thrilled with a sudden hope. Oh! If
only she might be a relative, even of remote cousinship. If he could
own to himself a right in her future welfare and wrest her from this
ruffian who called himself her father!

But what a task. Prudence, caution, patience--the virtues that
impetuous youth disdains--all would be necessary. He saw an imaginary
chain, whose every link had yet to be forged from the first fragile one
which lay in a dead woman's hand. And even if patience and skill were
the workmen to add to its links, would the result be worth the labour?

That he could not answer. Restless and fevered, and widely wakeful,
so he tossed from side to side, watching for the first sign of dawn
through his little, square window.

The house remained quite silent as the night waned. Evidently Dick had
not returned. He thought of the girl in the kitchen below, keeping
that melancholy vigil. Death above, and age beside her. What a life
for youth and beauty such as hers. "Well, I guess we're pretty well
matched in ill-luck; we ought to meet on common ground so far," he
reflected. . . "What wonderful hair! I wonder what it looks like
unfastened?"

That wonder lasted long enough to induce the despaired-of sleep. It
merged into a dream. A dream in which an Aphrodite rose, not from the
sea, but from a wide, dark space of bog-land, and as she rose billows
upon billows of golden light fell from her lifted head and trailed
upon the dank, wet ground. As he gazed, wondering and half-awed at the
amazing sight the golden locks formed themselves into a ladder, which
the goddess held towards him, smiling the while with mocking lips. He
felt himself spring forward to seize it, but even as hand clasped and
foot touched those silken strands it fell, and he with it. He awoke at
the shock of the fall. Day was come at last. Thankful to welcome it, he
rose and made his toilet and then, taking his boots in his hand, so as
not to awaken the sleepers in the kitchen, he let himself out of the
house.

The old sheep-dog in the yard lifted his head and yawned a sleepy
greeting. He heard the lowing of the cow and the noisy cackling of the
poultry. The moorland air blew sweet and soft from the surrounding
heights, and peak after peak stretched eagerly upwards, as if anxious
to grasp that golden radiance and bathe in its liquid light. Under that
blue tent of sky even the barren moorland took something of beauty
showing gradations of colour, violet glints of heather, deep pools
lying mirror-like among the cut spaces of dug-out turf.

Rufus Myrthe's eyes took in the scene with something of wonder at the
transforming effect of sunshine. He traversed the moor to its highest
point within the Inn boundary, and then tried to discern the possible
extent of what had once been the Marth Farm. From thence he could see
the few fields that offered mute apologies for bad farming. The grazing
land where the sheep were turned out, the narrow grass track leading
to the old coal mine, and farther yet--over the dreary miles of bog
and moor--to where a road crept like a tawny snake towards the hamlet
of Distly-in-the-Dale. The clear light served as a magnifying glass,
and he saw where he had lost himself in the mist two nights before.
At this point his eyes dropped nearer present surroundings, and the
bleat of the sheep caught his ear. Old Luke Froggart was opening the
pen and letting them forth. He, too, seemed cheered by the lovely light
and warmth of the September morning, and gave vent to contentment in
a flickering quaver of unlifted voice, that held all the intention of
song, though lacking absolute intelligibility to the listener.

Rufus left his vantage point and crossed to where the queer old figure
advanced or retired according to the disposition of the scanty flock.
He gave brief but active assistance, and soon the foolish creatures
were headed off in the desired direction. Old Luke's thanks took the
form of a monologue, in which he described sheep as "no wiser nor
wimmin for strayin' off th' straight line, an' no better reason for 't
than that it were straight."

Rufus agreed with this piece of wisdom, to lessen any prolonged
argument, and then tried to get the old labourer back on that track of
information which concerned himself and his interests here. But Luke
was garrulous to-day, and his communications displayed the vagaries of
a winding intellect, as obstinately bent on straying from the straight
road as the foolish ewes he had been satirising.

"I be goin' to ha' my breakfast," he said suddenly. "Time was whin th'
farm wench 'ud get it ready; steamin' hot porridge an' sup o' milk or
ale, which 'un liked, an' a hunch o' home-baked, thick as my arm. But
now I mum do all for mysel'. An' 'tis pore fare I gits often as not,
for Dick, he's that miserly wi' th' brass as tho' th' workhouse door
stood open afore him."

"I'll get your breakfast if you'll show me where the stores are," said
Rufus. "Many's the time I've had to do it at home, and little comes
amiss to one who's had to hunt and kill his food before he can cook it."

"Ah, thee's had stirrin' times, I'll warrant. An' so young o' years,
tew. Wonderful 'tis how travel an' strange countries do sharpen th'
wits o' a man."

He nodded his old head wearily, as if to confirm his own opinion, and
then led the way to a sort of outer kitchen in the yard, where he
appeared to reside. It had a small, open fireplace, where the raked-up
turf of the night before smouldered dully. A rusty iron pot swung over
it, suspended by a hook and chain. A wooden bench, a tin bowl, and a
heap of straw and old rugs in the corner, formed all the furnishing of
the dwelling.

Rufus Myrthe glanced round, but made no comment.

The old man went to a cupboard in the wall and produced a bowl of
coarse oatmeal.

"Whin you've na' bin used to do wi' much, it's wonderful easy to do
wi'out it," he observed, "I ha' na' had time ta milk th' cow this
mornin', but gin ye'll make th' porridge I'll soon settle wi' Sue out
i' th' shed yonder."

He took up a pail and went out. Rufus Myrthe threw off his coat and set
to work on the fire, and fetched in water and put it on to boil, in the
matter of fact manner of one used to be his own servant.

The porridge was ready almost as soon as the old labourer returned with
a pail filled with milk. Rufus had found two delpht bowls, and poured
the contents of the pot into them. They ladled out the milk from the
pail with a tin cup as they needed it.

"It's rare and good," observed Luke, after a few mouthfuls, shovelled
in with a horn spoon.

"I mostly gets it smoked. Thee's a rare young feller to come anigh. I
doubt if I cud teech 'ee more than thee knaw'st."

"So do I," laughed Rufus. "All the same I wish you'd give me some
information about the coal mine. Does anyone live thereabouts?"

The old man put down his spoon and looked keenly at the inquirer. "Live
do 'ee say? I dunno' 'bout livin'. They dew say as how the ill-begotten
divil they calls Dwarf Japes hereabouts has ta'en to hidin' hissel i'
some part o' th' ould pit."

Rufus Myrthe, in turn, put down the spoon. Relief and excitement shone
in his eager eyes. "A dwarf? Can you describe it? What is it like?"

"A skeerie creetur, eno'. Twisted o' limb, an' ugly as th' sire they
sez av' begotten 'un. Canna walk, but hops same as frogs dew hop, an'
gets ower th' ground wi' speed o' horse. Dinna try an' see 't an' ye
can help yersel'. 'Tis bad luck. Wimmin-folk an' childer are as feart
o' Japes as 'twer the evil un' hissel."

"Then that accounts for it!" exclaimed Rufus, eagerly, pleased at being
able to put aside the claims of his last night's visitor to anything
superhuman. "It must have been the dwarf I saw."

"Thee should ha' gotten on th' knees an' said a 'Glory Be,' or summit,"
recommended old Luke, gravely. "Only onst I seed th' dwarf, an' I
nearly lost all sivin senses in th' terror o' 't. 'Twar arter sunset,
I mind, an' dark an' misty I war crossin' th' moor by th' ould pit,
an' summat cum a leppin' an' a flappin' right afore me; a main an'
gashly sight it war! My heart it seemed shrinkin' wi'in me, an' my
knees they shook as 'twer my last hour, an' judgment awaitin'. I fell
right down wi' th' sense o' fearfulness upon me, an' I said th' one
text I cud call to mind ower an' ower like a earnest prayer, keepin'
my eyes shut. I knaw'd I was a lost man if th' ungodly creetur should
touch me. But whin I opened my eyes there war nought to be seen, so
I got on to my feet an' made what haste I cud, not lookin' ta right
or left, but straight afore, till a' got ta Gorse Stone Gate. I war
tremblin' greatly by then, an' feered o' my life, as th' gashly thing
wer' followin' an' I mind, tew, how my ould fingers shook as tho'
thy'd nivir find th' latch. An' what a bang I give th' gate! O! 'twar
a terrible experience for an ancient man o' my years, an' whin I heerd
the bark o' ould Slack theer, an' seed un a runnin' to meet me, 'twar
the joy'filest sight I can call to mind."

He took a few rapid spoonfuls of the cooling porridge and left his
hearer to follow out his own line of conjecture.

"But how does this creature exist?" asked Rufus presently. "He must
have food and fire, and shelter. Where does he get them?"

"From his own kin, o' course. 'Divil's spawn ha' divil's care,' as they
say. Naw one knaws more than I've told 'ee."

He placed the spoon in the empty bowl and signified breakfast was over.

"I mun get ta wark now," he observed. "Maister Dick 'ull surely be
comin' back tha morn. M'appen he'll ha' th' berryin' to-morrow, an'
mak' another Sunday o't. If ye'll tak th' can o' milk wi'in 'twill
lighten my labour, an' do 'ee na hurt. Ay, but ye're well-grown an'
strong for a lad. What might yer age be, traveller?"

Rufus Myrthe laughed. "A long way off four-score, my friend," he said.

"Scarce two, I warrint. Well, well; ye'll reach my years an' ye live
long eno'."




CHAPTER VIII.

It was midday before the master of the Inn returned and brought with
him an undertaker, who was accompanied, in turn, by a melancholy,
red-eyed youth as assistant. These individuals stayed on, and appeared
to make all necessary arrangements for the ceremony.

Rufus kept out of the way as much as possible from a sense of delicacy,
which, had he known it, was quite lost upon his host. He made no
comment on finding the young fellow had stayed on, but absented himself
from meals, as if no way desirous of his company. With nightfall Rufus
wondered how the Inn was to accommodate such an addition to its usual
inmates. He begged Moll to take his room for herself, but she refused.
In the end the undertaker, Samuel Sowkes by name, was accommodated with
a shake-down in the inn-keeper's own room; the melancholy assistant was
relegated to the hospitality of old Luke; and Dame Dottery and Moll
once more shared the kitchen.

That night Rufus slept well and soundly, awakening only when the sun
was fully risen and the Inn astir. He ate his frugal meal at a corner
of the table, and, that finished, offered his services as one of the
bearers.

A strange and melancholy procession filed forth from the desolate place.

The coffin was borne by the four men, and old Luke and Moll walked
behind. The churchyard for which they were bound lay miles distant.
Their way branched off from the main road into a deep ravine, or
"clough," its rocky sides laden with holly and furze bushes. Through
this hollow a small stream ran, first babbling by the footway, then
widening and deepening till it burst into a mimic cataract and went
tumbling and foaming into the valley below. This valley sprang like an
oasis from the breast of the rugged slopes that shut it in on three
sides. It consisted of some dozen stone houses, a few small farms, and,
set in the midst of all, an ancient church with a square tower, green
and grey, and moss-grown with the contributions of centuries.

The bearers halted at the opening of the vale, and waited the arrival
of the other mourners. Rufus Myrthe seated himself on a block of stone
and looked through the mouth of the dell into the lovely circle of
green and blue beyond. It was a surprise to him to find such a gem
of fertility and beauty amidst the barren wastes that had hitherto
represented scenery.

"Is that Distly?" he asked of the red-eyed youth, who was mopping his
damp face with a chequered handkerchief, conveying a discreet hint of
half-mourning by its pattern.

"That? Oh, no, sir," he answered, in a mincing accent that seemed
to have lost its Derbyshire quaintness without gaining the educated
distinction of the southern counties. "Distly lies further south. It
is a market town, and has a considerable population. The valley yonder
is called Endcliff Vale. That old church is almost tumbling down with
age. The roof leaks, and the tower is half a ruin. They do say it ought
to be restored, but no one hereabouts can find the money. Mostly, the
people of Endcliff goes to chapel, but the parson keeps on the church
for buryings, and christenings, and weddings. There bean't--isn't I
mean--more'n fifty all told living hereabouts. These three farms take
up all the ground that's any good, and except sowing and harvest times,
there's nothing much going on."

A reminder from surly Dick that "time were oop," stopped further
conversation; and once again Rufus aided the carrying of that
melancholy burden to the little weed-grown churchyard where it was to
lie at rest.

The sexton held open the gate as the bearers passed in. The
white-gowned figure of the clergyman, an old weather-beaten individual,
his scanty grey locks covered with a velvet cap, led the way, murmuring
huskily the opening formula of the solemn burial service.

It struck Rufus Myrthe as strange that this was the first time in his
life he had stood by a grave and participated in the melancholy offices
pertaining to death. Again he wondered whether there had been a special
purpose in that visit to the melancholy Inn. Again he recalled the
stranger experiences resulting from that visit.

Then his eyes fell on Moll, as she stood opposite in a dark stuff
dress, a black kerchief, lent by Dame Dottery, covering her rich-hued
hair. Her face was very pale; at times he saw her lip quiver; but she
gave no other sign of emotion, even when the coffin was lowered, and
the earth from the sexton's spade fell heavily and dull on its lid.
The ceremony was soon over. The old clergyman closed his book, and
then glanced at the faces of the mourners. They were parishioners of
his, but had never troubled his church with attendance, or himself for
spiritual advice. The man had a bad name; the girl he knew by repute as
"Moll o' th' Inn," a wild, feckless lass, with the manners of a lout,
and the habits of a ploughboy.

It surprised him to see how beautiful the girl was, and how quiet in
manner and appearance. He approached and said a few kindly words to
her, as she stood, half-dazed, looking down into the clayey hollow
where all she had known of motherhood was lying now.

She started slightly as he spoke, but made no response.

The old parson then turned to the ill-looking, taciturn widower. "Dick
Udale," he said, "it has pleased Providence to take your wife into His
own care and keeping. I have heard of you and her. I cannot tell how
much is true or false. But I should like to ask what you mean to do
with your daughter? She is no longer a child. Soon she will be a woman.
You don't send her to school. You suffer her to work like a farm lad;
tending sheep, harvesting, even following the plough, so I've been
told. Now that she has no mother her life will be worse. It is your
duty to atone for previous neglect. I hope you mean to do so."

Surly Dick lifted his eyes for a moment, to the gentle, placid face of
the speaker.

"I doan't see as it's ony concern of yourn," he answered, rudely.
"I doan't come a meddlin' wi' your family; and you'd best dew the
same 'long o' mine. I dunna come to church, for I canna stummack th'
doctrine; you parsons be for givin' all folks to the devil an' hell
fire, if they doan't think as yew think, an' dew as yew tells them.
Yew've done your bizness tha' morn, an' I'll pay ye for't. But I doan't
want yer advice. Whin I does, I'll ax ye for't. I mind ye tellin' folks
as how I was a blas-phe-mous ould heathen, an' if that's Christian
charity, thee'rt welcome to keep it to theysel'. I winna go ta tha
church, an' I'll do wi' my lass yonder jist what I sees fit to dew."

The astonished clergyman got very red and hot, and gave a response more
indignant than Christian. Then, as if remembering the occasion and the
recently performed ceremony, he turned hastily away, pausing a moment
beside Moll to bid her come to the vicarage if ever she needed help or
counsel.

Then the group broke up, the undertaker and his assistant going by a
nearer route to their own place of abode at Distly, and Dick and Moll
and the ancient follower forming a straggling line homewards.

Rufus Myrthe lingered behind. He wished to examine the old tombstones,
and also to inquire of the clergyman as to the family traditions of the
Marth Farm. Surely, here would be records of births or deaths. There
must be a register of such deaths in the vestry, and he determined
to see it. He loitered through the dismal churchyard, pushing aside
the long grass that hid the gravestones, reading names and epitaphs
with eager interest. But he found nothing to reward his search. As he
came round the old tower once more he saw that the sexton was at work
filling up the newly-made grave.

He strolled up, intent on questioning him as to the matter he had at
heart. Learning that the old man had been bell-ringer, grave-digger,
and "clerk o' th' keys an' vestry," and had also seen three "passons"
in and out of office during his life Rufus Myrthe commenced laying
diplomatic siege to his memory. It served much the same purpose as his
questioning Luke Froggart. A rambling narrative, a curious mixture
of fact, hearsay, and deductions therefrom, the fixing of dates by
parochial events, or domestic trails largely connected with the
official calling of the narrator.

The task grew more hopeless as the said narrator grew more garrulous.
Rufus Myrthe shrugged his shoulders at each vain attempt to connect
what he had collected. A suggestion of the vestry brought information
that the keys were at "th' passon's house," and might, or might not, be
given to the applicant.

"But if it's t' ould books 'ee wants to see," continued the sexton, "I
dunno wheer they be presint moment. They war allus kept in th' cupboard
o' th' vestry till Parson Slack, him as I tould 'ee niver couldna
abide Christmas times, he had thim tuk to th' vicarage, as th' lock
warn't considered safe. The new man, him as ye see to-day, he said he
cudna find only th' new one as war bought a matter o' ten or twelve
year back. But maybe they're in the passonage somewhere. 'Tis a mighty
ould house nigh on two hundred or more year. An' full o' corners an'
cupboards, an' dark places. M'appen th' passon 'ull look un oop if it
be a weighty matter o' birth or burial-tracing, as 'ee say."

Rufus decided to seek the clergyman without further delay, and having
presented his informant with half a crown, he left him to complete his
task.

He found the old cleric at home, and was ushered into a dark,
mouldy-looking room, the walls lined with books, and the table covered
with papers. A fire was burning in the grate, and the clergyman himself
sat before it in an old leather armchair. He recognised the young man
at once as a member of that strange funeral party of the morning. His
greeting, perhaps owing to that circumstance, was of a less cordial
description than might have been expected. Rufus took a seat and
explained his errand in a direct, breezy fashion peculiar to himself.

The Reverend David Blore listened, glancing from time to time at the
young fellow's handsome, eager face. When he ceased speaking he removed
the glasses from his eyes, laid them down with the slow, deliberate
movements of one to whom haste is unnecessary, and with equal
deliberation observed that the young American's request was somewhat
unorthodox.

"We do not permit strangers to peruse our registers, unless under
very special circumstances," he said. "If you can give the names of
the parties in whom you are interested, and dates as to the birth or
interment of any of them, I would do my best to trace them, but without
such information I can do nothing. Besides, I am in grave doubt as
to the existence of the old parish registers. My predecessor seemed
somewhat careless in these matters. I found comparatively new ones,
with entries of some half-dozen years only. The sexton informed me that
the old ones had been removed from the vestry owing to the cupboard
lock proving unsafe. The whole church is in a lamentable condition," he
went on. "Shameful neglect on the part of the lords of the manor. And
the parish is so scattered that I have never had anything worth calling
a congregation."

"But these books," persisted Rufus; "surely they must be somewhere in
the house."

"No doubt," said Mr. Blore, oracularly.

"No doubt. But, as I have told you, my young sir, I should require
proof of your bona fides. Your right to the family name and family
history. Fifty years, half a century of absence, leaves space for
unjust, as well as just claims. In the first place, your name is not
the same."

"No," said Rufus. "It got changed in America. I guess Marth easily
twists into Myrthe; it all depends on how you pronounce it. And folks
out West have their own notions of spelling and pronouncing. That's
easily accounted for."

"You believe your grandmother originally owned this farm on which the
Inn stands now?"

"The Inn always stood there. It was the old farmhouse. All this man did
was to rig up a bar and hang up an old sign he'd bought somewhere."

"These facts, of course, are deduced from country gossip?"

"Naturally. What else can I get hold of?"

"Is your pecuniary position such that you could afford legal research
into the matter?" asked the old rector.

"I've just enough to live on at the present time," laughed the young
man. "I had such an almighty opinion of this country, and its liberty
and justice, and all that, you know, that I thought I'd only to come
right away to the place where my people lived and died, and say, 'Look
here, I'm the only legal descendant of such and such a family, and
there's a will, leaving the property to me,' and then I could step
right in and take possession, or sell up, or do what I liked."

The old cleric gave him an indulgent smile.

"How primitive, and how--if you will excuse the phrase--how very
American! You have been taught diligently the uses of free speech and
free action, the shams of monarchy and nobility, the senselessness of
legal obligations, in a land where judge and jury are bought and sold
by the highest bidder! You come over here thinking to move so ponderous
and weighty a machine as the English Law by your unaided efforts. I do
not think you will succeed, my young friend. With all deference to your
country and your own enthusiastic youth, I do--not--believe--you will
succeed."

Rufus sprang to his feet. A just and natural indignation fired his
blood and flashed in his eye.

"I reckon we'll see about that, sir!" he exclaimed. "I had hoped to
find you ready to assist me in what may prove a difficult task, but it
seems more in your line to put obstacles in the way than help to clear
them. Why, I don't know; unless it's sheer perversity of the clerical
nature. I'll not trouble you any more. When I've got what I want, as I
mean to get it, I'll show you if the American system is to be despised,
as you appear to think!"

He took up his hat and left the room in a white heat of indignation.




CHAPTER IX.

Rufus Myrthe slammed the gate and crossed the gravel path leading into
the churchyard, in a royal rage at the result of his interview. But,
after a moment or two, he cooled down and began to laugh.

"The old gentleman was so full of his own dignity and so
self-important. I suppose I wasn't humble or respectful enough. Well,
I can't get over the notion that my idea of reverence is as good for
me as for the man I'm speaking to. I know what I am and what I want,
and I'm legitimately qualified to get it if I can. I shan't go hat in
hand to anyone begging for favours. Their way of doing business over
here isn't mine. We'll see in the end which works best. . . . I wish
this moorland air hadn't such a trick of giving one an appetite. Now,
if I hadn't offended that old numbskull, I might have lunched at the
parsonage or vicarage, or whatever they call it. As it is--well, I
guess I'd best consult my friend the sexton."

The individual in question had finished his task, and was shouldering
his spade to depart. He offered to lead the young stranger to a farm
where he might get some refreshment, and beguiled the way by anecdotes
of the Dale folk and their doings. It seemed odd to Rufus Myrthe
that people living within a twenty-mile radius of one another were
comparatively ignorant of names, or histories, outside their own small
hamlets. The Peak heights above the valley were as distant as the Alps
in impassibility to the simple folk below. Lives passed on, and others
replaced them, and yet scarce one member of a family, or a hamlet,
ever visited one of the big towns beyond. Staffordshire and Yorkshire
were only names to old Reuben Drabb, who could not imagine them as
neighbouring counties. The woods and vales of which Rufus Myrthe could
speak, such as Alderley, Matlock, Bakewell, Hassop, Chee Tor and
Chatsworth, he seemed to regard as other worlds; places he should never
have the luck to see for himself. That one so young as his present
companion should have crossed the ocean and travelled half over the New
World and the old, were facts too amazing for him to credit.

He gazed and gaped and muttered. "To think o't! Did 'ee be so
venturesome now! Lord, ta cross seas in what I've heerd tell is a
monster, carryin' o' steam kettles in it's belly, an' driven, so
to say, by power o' that only!" . . . All of which afforded Rufus
considerable amusement and helped to pass the time till they reached
what he was told was Cowlease Farm. Here he found himself hospitably
entertained at Reuben Drabb's introduction. The old sexton was also
offered bread and cheese and cider in the kitchen. There he regaled
himself joyfully, while relating to such as would listen the wonders he
had heard from the young traveller.

It was long past noon when Rufus Myrthe set out once more to return
to the Inn. His mind was preoccupied now, for he had determined on an
interview with Dick Udale that night. He could hardly prolong a stay he
felt was unwelcome, and yet such weighty matters lay before and around
it that all personal consideration seemed insignificant.

He was tired and somewhat despondent by the time he reached his
destination. The singular dreariness of the place struck him afresh in
contrast with the lovely vale he had left behind, and the thought that
Moll was destined to waste her youth and beauty amid such desolation
again stirred the chivalry of young manhood within his heart to bold
ventures on her behalf. He entered the now familiar kitchen with the
step and mien of one whose object spells "conqueror." However, so brave
a front was wasted for the moment. Not a soul was there.

Wondering where Moll could be, he slowly ascended the stairs and went
into his own room. He had scarcely closed the door before a cautious
tap caused him to open it again. Moll stood on the threshold. Her face
was flushed, her hair in disorder. In her hands she held a bundle
of papers of all sorts and sizes. Hurriedly she came into the room,
closing the door behind her.

"Look!" she cried. "Look! I've found th' papers I was telling 'ee of.
I dunna want feyther to knaw. I canna read mysel', only big printed
words, same as on th' milestones an' gates o' farms an' sic like. Will
'ee keep 'em safe? I dursna hide 'em, for fear he'd find 'em out. An'
I'm certain sure as poor mither nivir wanted him to read what she'd
wrote theer."

Rufus looked bewildered. "But I've no right to her confidence, either,"
he said. "I don't like to take charge of private papers. They may
concern others--you, perhaps?"

"Then if 'ee reads them an' finds aught o' tha' sort thee can tell me
o't," she answered. "Here, for I munna stay." She tossed the package on
the bed and turned to leave the room.

"Where is your father?" asked Rufus.

"He war i' th' bar whin I cum to open th' room yonder. He's sure to be
on th' drink now. An' I dursna cross him sic times. Tell me? Thou'lt
stop on a bit. It's mighty lonesome, an' times I'm afeerd feyther 'll
do me a harm. He's often eno' threatened it."

"I mean to stay till I've done something to help you now, and assure
you a better future," exclaimed the young man, determinedly.

She gazed at him with wondering, incredulous eyes then slipped softly
from the room, leaving the torn and disorderly papers on the bed.

Rufus Myrthe regarded them curiously for a few moments. He was thinking
of that silent figure he had seen seated by the wide old chimney;
thinking of the weight of sorrow that might have lain so heavily on the
suffering heart; thinking too of Moll's words about the hours spent in
writing these selfsame scraps.

What secret did they contain? What might they not shed on the path of
the mystery where his own feet had so strangely wandered?

Rufus Myrthe took up that bundle of papers, and ended his reflections
by action. He rolled the loose leaves together, tying them with a
string he took from his satchel.

He felt he ought not to read them. The right to do so surely belonged
to the writer's own child. Evidently she had desired to conceal them
from her husband. "Well, for the present, I'll take care of them," he
said to himself, and locked the case, and slung it over his shoulders.
"I may have to leave sooner than I intended." He remembered the
unfriendly bearing of his host. "So I'll take charge of my property
right away. Now to face that grizzly bear below."

He found that "grizzly bear," as he called him, sitting by the fire in
the kitchen. On the wooden stool by his side stood a jug and mug. He
was smoking a pipe, and the fumes of strong tobacco filled the place.

He glanced up as the young man entered, and noted the satchel. "Goin'?"
he asked, surlily. "I've made out the reck'nin' for 'ee. Theer 'tis."

He pointed with his pipe-stem to where a dirty bit of paper lay on the
kitchen table.

"I was about to ask leave to stay another night," answered Rufus,
taking up the bill and running a quick eye over the items. "You see,"
he went on, coolly, "night's falling, and I've had considerable
experience of the kind of roads and lighting you give a traveller in
these parts. I'd prefer waiting for daylight--if you wouldn't be too
much inconvenienced," he added, politely.

"Pay th' bill first an' I'll think on't," returned his host.

Rufus took some silver from his pocket and slowly counted out the
sum due. "There," he said, laying the money in the man's rough,
outstretched hand. "And now let's talk."

Without further ceremony he drew up a chair to the fire, and facing the
settle so recently vacated by that strange and silent occupant.

Dick Udale gave no very courteous response to that invitation. A grunt,
and the replacing of his pipe between wolfish, discoloured teeth was
his only recognition of the suggestion made by his guest.

"I'll come to the point at once," continued Rufus. "And if it's all the
same to you I wouldn't object to a glass of your liquor. I've done a
goodish bit of walking to-day."

Dick raised his voice and called to Moll, bidding her bring a glass.
"An' get 'ee off somewhar' else," he added, politely. "Doan't be
messin' about here wi' yer catlap o' tea."

"I've had it," she answered, quietly, and went out, closing the door
behind her.

"It's about your daughter I want to speak," began the young man. "Do
you think it's fair or right to keep her here in this lonely place,
without education, without friends, or companions of her own sex?"

"Be 'ee takin' up th' passon's gab?" inquired Dick. "I can mind my own
bizness, as I tould him."

"No doubt. But would not that business be the better for a mistress
with some education, some knowledge of life? A year or two of schooling
would make all the difference to Moll. Why, the poorest farmer's child
in my country can read, and write, and reckon. The world's marching on
beyond these sleepy hollows, and its watchword is Education."

"Dunna I knaw that, an' th' harm o't! Breedin' discontent; leadin'
hussies to read lyin' books an' b'lieve lyin' tongues. Turnin' their
heads till they be as fractious an' fancifu' as weaned babes. Ye wunna
catch me spendin' my siller o' Moll i' that fashion. Let her bide; it's
no matter ta' 'ee what chances t' her."

Rufus Myrthe set down the glass he had raised to his lips. The blood
seemed to surge in a sudden burning tide to his brow, and his hand
clenched involuntarily.

"No matter to me," he repeated. "What if I say it is? What if I offer
to discharge the duty you neglect? I can put her in the care of people
who will treat her decently. It shan't cost you a farthing, but it will
make a good woman of her, and save her from the fate that has widowed
you to-day!"

That burst of honest indignation seemed to astonish the callous brute
that heard it. He surveyed the speaker from beneath his shaggy brows
with a new interest.

"Do 'ee mean the'll pay?" he asked. "'Tis a suddin freaks what's took
'ee? Th' wench bean't more nor sixteen year, an' childish for that.
Is't her face as ha' made a gaby o' ye, all suddin like?"

"Honestly, I'm sorry for her," answered Rufus. "And I mean what I say.
How do I know, either, that she hasn't a claim upon my kinship? I told
you my story, and I've found out that this Inn, and this property, is
really what used to be the Marth Farm. If I can prove my rights, which
I'm pretty sure I can, I mean to re-work that coal-mine."

Dick Udale started, and an oath escaped him.

"Rights!" he repeated. "Thee talk o' rights! Theer's a bit o' law as
'ull cross tha' rights hereabouts."

"What do you mean? You said something of that sort before."

"I did; an' I'll say summat o' ta' sort again, an' as often as ye talks
that fule talk o' rights! Prove 'em! Prove that thy parents' folk wer'
lawful wedded man an' wife! Thee canna do't. Thee canna find aught save
as Marth o' th' Dale war a misbegotten fly-by-night, as throw'd in wi'
a young farmer an' followed him to Amerikay more'n two score years
agone!"

Rufus' healthy, bronzed face paled. "You'll have to prove your words,
Dick Udale," he said. "Just as much as I shall prove my claim. But I
don't wish you ill for all your hard words, and I won't go back on my
offer."

"You young fule!"

"Fool or nor, will you let me do as I said?"

"Tak th' wench, an' ye will. She's best out of my way. A pretty handfu'
ye'll be gettin'."

"I may send her to a school, and keep her there till she's 18 years of
age!"

"Till she's 50, an't please ye," laughed the man, brutally.

"You must sign a paper giving your permission. It wouldn't be fair if
you changed your mind and ordered her back."

"I'm na' likely to change ma mind. I knaw a strappin' fine wench as
'ull gladly housekeep ta me, an' keep th' Inn goin', an' I wish."

Again he laughed, and again the red blood of indignant youth mantled in
brow and cheek of his hearer.

"Very well. It's a bargain," he said, drawing a deep breath of relief.
"I'll draw up a form and you shall sign it. There's a place I know of,
quiet and respectable, where she'll be quite safe. It's at Torcastle,
near Peak Edge."

"I dunna care if 't be i' th' moon. I say ye must be crazy to dew such
a thing. M'appen next ye'll marry th' wench when she's scholard eno' ta
please 'ee."

The suggestion struck the young Quixote as a piece of mirthful irony.

He pushed aside his chair, and rose to his feet.

"Stranger things than that may happen," he said.




CHAPTER X.

The master of the Inn took himself off after that interview. Where, he
did not choose to say. Rufus, coming back to the kitchen, found Moll
alone. She was sitting, gazing into the fire. Its red glow deepened her
ruddy hair, and threw up the lines of her beautiful form as she bent
towards it.

"I've some news for you," he said, gently, as he came and stood beside
her. "Your father has consented that you shall leave here, and go to
school."

She looked up eagerly. "Is it trew?" she cried, breathlessly. "Sayin'
is one thing wi' him, an' doin' another. I canna b'lieve it."

"I have his written promise, and I'll keep him to it. Do you like the
idea?"

"Like it!" Her face glowed like the heart of a rose. "Like ta leave a
prison house. Like to see summat as bean't bog an' moor, or sheep."

She sprang to her feet, quivering with excitement. "Ye're not fuling
me? It's trew?"

"Every bit. True as that I'm speaking to you. If you like to come along
with me to-morrow, I reckon you're free to do it."

"To-morrow," she gasped. "Sae soon?"

"I'd say it couldn't be too soon to get away from such a place, such a
life. You're not afraid to trust me, are you, Moll?"

She looked up at the handsome bronzed young face, the honest clear eyes
that so frankly met her own.

"No-a," she said, slowly. "I felt first time as I seed ye as ye war
good."

He coloured shamefacedly. "I don't know about being good. I pitied you
so; and I simply couldn't help trying to make your life a bit brighter
and better. And the first step to that, Moll, is a little schooling,
and the company of other girls. I call it a darned shame to bury you
alive in such a place as this."

"But what'll feyther dew? He mun ha' someone to mind the house, an' th'
poultry. Ould Luke does well eno' for th' out-work, but there's ne'er a
soul hereabouts as can cum in ta dew chores," (housework) "an' a man's
naught but a fule at sich things."

"I understood your father that he could find someone able and willing
to mind the place during your absence," answered Rufus, wondering how
long it would take before she dropped her quaint mode of speech, and
whether she would keep the accent when she learnt to pronounce the
words.

"Someone i' ma place," she repeated, slowly. "I dun knaw who't may be.
Ould Dame Dottery be tew ould, an' there's na ither wimmin-folk 'bout
here, save----"

She paused, and half involuntarily her gaze turned to the vacant
settle. "Yes. There be one," she said, slowly. "A bad, trapezin' sort
o' wench, allus arter th' men folk, an' mad for junketin' i' th'
wake-weeks, leavin' her ould mother ta dew as best she can. But, sure,
she wudna put up wi a place like this."

"Well, never mind about who comes, or doesn't come, so long as you can
get away from it. You haven't told me yet if you can put your things
together, and come off to-morrow?"

"I ha' na' sae mony cloes as 'twill be difficult to pack i' a bundle.
But----" she broke off suddenly. "Ha' ye thocht o't? Will na' th'
schule-folk be shamed-like o' me?"

"No," he said gently. "Don't you fear. The lady to whom you go is very
kind and very charitable. You will be taught useful things--reading,
writing, needlework, cooking--so that you could earn your own living
any day, if you wish. I hope you will come out to America when you're
a bit older. My mother would gladly give you a home. You're a sort of
cousin of ours, you know."

"I didna knaw," she said, thoughtfully. "But I'm glad o't."

"And you'll be ready to go to-morrow?"

"Yes. . . if feyther doesna change his mind. I'm feered ta trust him."

"I bet he'll not change his mind," said her champion decisively. "You
needn't fear. And, oh! Moll, about those papers? I'll give them back
into your care, once you get away from here. Very soon you'll be able
to read them for yourself. It is better you should do so. There may be
things in them not meant for strangers to see."

"But if ye be kin ta us, ye're na' a stranger."

"That's true. Yet I'd rather you read them. It won't be long to wait. A
few months, that's all."

"A few months," repeated the girl thoughtfully. "'Tis nigh Lammas now.
Maybe I'll learn quick. I'll try my best. An' as soon as I kin read
print I kin read ritin', can't I?"

"Writing is a bit different, but I guess you'll be able to do it
in--say, three months."

"Three months? And where'll yew be yersel'? Ye winna leave me quite
alone wi' strange folk as may mock my queer tongue, an' my pore close?"

He had made up his mind that her wardrobe should receive due attention,
but he did not mention the fact just then.

"I shall be in the neighbourhood," he answered. "I've business here
that promises to be longer and more troublesome than I expected. I'll
come and see you as often as I can, as often as the rules permit. That
I promise you."

She looked at him again, her eyes deepening and growing misty with
sudden tears.

"I dew think ye be made of goodness," she said. "'Twas more'n luck set
you lost an' strayin' o' th' moor yonder. 'Twas God Almighty hissel,
I'm thinkin'."

* * * * * * * *

The question of youth invariably arouses the sneers or condemnation of
its elders. Yet, oftentimes, a touch of envy lies at the root of both.
For only when the heart is pure, and generous emotions fire the blood,
and to know of wrong is to condemn it for its own vileness, can that
chivalry which defends the weak, and upholds the right, exist.

That its existence is brief, and its designs ridiculed, are at once a
shame and dishonour to the world at large. The voice of youth pleading
for belief, the heart of youth pulsing with brave and pure ideals;
these are drowned and set aside; and, instead of winning a hearing,
the claimant is forwarded to the Courts of Experience, and bidden to
study there the truths of life written in human documents. As yet,
Rufus Myrthe had been his own teacher. His breezy, gay independence,
his belief in himself, his fine physique, untouched by disease or evil
living, had helped him in a great measure to win confidence and make
friends wherever he went. One such friend, whose kindness of heart
had led her to choose a life of large charity, rather than a narrow
sphere of mere domestic self-interest, was at present the subject of
the young man's impetuous confidence. She lived in a lovely old house,
one portion of which was sacrificed to the object for which her life
and wealth had been freely given. She called it a Home for Middle-Class
Girls, whom death or poverty constrained to be their own life-helpers.

Rufus Myrthe had met her during a holiday excursion, which had thrown
them together, and given her an opportunity of playing guide to him on
his first introduction to the Peak country. By aid of the explanations
of Miss Moneyash, he had learned much of the history of this romantic
district; through her eyes he had seen much of its beauties; from her
he had heard many of its quaint legends, and grown to love the varied
charms of tor and river, valley and moor. When they parted company it
was with warm friendliness and an eager request to be informed of his
success in that search for his lost heritage which he had confided to
the philanthropic lady.

He arrived in person one morning, and the subject matter of his call
was to beseech her interest in Molly Udale. As briefly and directly as
he always spoke, the young fellow gave the history of this past week,
and laid before Miss Moneyash the difficulties that had beset his
inquiries. He persisted that Molly was a cousin, and that he felt it a
duty to rescue her from such undesirable surroundings.

The fact of his constituting himself a guardian to the girl; of his
bringing her over the moor and dale in this extraordinary fashion; and,
finally, his desire to place her under the care of his philanthropic
acquaintance, were things only possible for one of his nationality.
A direct method of doing what he wanted to do, and asking for what
he had determined to obtain. He held unorthodox but healthy theories
respecting the duties of men and women, and the true objects of life.
The ingenious mode of his arguments and the force of his reasons left
his auditor defenceless, as indeed they had done on other occasions
less personal than the present instance.

"But, my dear young sir," she remonstrated; "you must allow that this
is a very unorthodox proceeding. In the first place, my girls are all
orphans, so that I have entire control of their welfare. In the next,
you are not the proper person to pay for your cousin's education, as
you suggest. In fact, there is no absolute proof that she is your
cousin. And further----"

"I reckon we'll leave further alone," interrupted Rufus Myrthe. "If you
won't help the girl I must find someone who will. That's just the way
of it!"

A mental picture flashed before Miss Lavinia's eyes of young Quixote
leading beauty in distress all about the country in his search for home
and teachers. She laughed softly, and Rufus felt his cause won.

"Very well. Bring her to me and I'll see what I can do for her. But
there's no question of payment here, as I told you before. It has
pleased Providence to endow me with more wealth than I can possibly
spend on myself. I therefore use it to assist the less fortunate."

"I think you're about the next door to an angel!" exclaimed Rufus,
warmly. "And if I was glad for nothing else that brought me here, I'm
glad because I met such a good woman. There! That's straight, honest
truth. Let's shake! I'm glad the matter's settled."

The little old lady, breathless and flushed from an energetic grip, and
the rapidity of formed conclusions, vainly tried to stay a new torrent
of explanations.

Thinking that enthusiasm must eventually tire itself out, she listened
patiently.

The young man's desire now was to provide his self-appointed charge
with garments suited to her new position, and he wished her entrance
into the house deferred until such arrangements could be carried
out. Here Miss Lavinia came to his aid willingly. She had a stock of
ready-made clothes, neat and useful, and of varied sizes, always on
hand. There would be no difficulty in fitting out the new inmate as
soon as she arrived.

Rufus Myrthe then approached the subject of visits and holidays, and a
fresh battle ensued. The girls were not allowed to go out of the Home
without superintendence, unless to visit relatives. Miss Lavinia was
shocked at such an innovation as Rufus suggested. That Moll should have
every Sunday to herself, and be allowed to walk or spend the day with
him.

"I mayn't be in the neighbourhood very long," he added, by way of
extenuating circumstances. "And she'll be terribly lonely and strange
at first, poor child! You must let me see her and cheer her up a bit,
Miss Moneyash."

"You really are a very extraordinary young man!" exclaimed the little
lady. "I don't know what to say to you! Such a breaking down of rules
will demoralise my whole establishment. I cannot favour one girl at the
expense of the rest. You must see that for yourself."

"You could explain that Molly Udale, not being an orphan, came here as
a parlour-boarder, or something, and was allowed more liberty."

Again she laughed. "But, my dear boy, do be reasonable. If you were her
father, or her brother, well and good, but you are only a young man,
and she--from all accounts--a very pretty girl. Such throwing together
must lead to mischief, and probably gossip. You must think of the
girl's reputation."

He waxed impatient. "Now, look here, Miss Moneyash, I've always thought
that it's a useless waste of time to fancy any particular thing's going
to happen long before it does happen. You just follow my plan and take
things as they are, not for what they might possibly chance to be if
something or other took place that may never take place."

"You mean that you leap first and look afterwards? Most young folk do.
But the consequences are often disastrous."

"All right, I reckon you know best. Girls aren't much in my line. But
it's a bit hard on Moll, poor child. She'll be like a caged bird.
Oh; that reminds me. How long will it take her to learn to read?
Handwriting, as well as print, I mean?"

"How long? That depends on herself, of course. Whether she's quick or
slow; anxious to learn or indifferent. Some girls can read in three
months' time quite fluently. Others take a year."

"I think she's no laggard," he said slowly. "And there's a reason for
her making haste. She's got to learn, and learn as quick as ever she
can. And the queer part of it is, I've got to stay on in this part of
the country till she's able to. Funny, isn't it?"

"Is there a secret?" questioned the old lady, feminine curiosity alert.

He nodded. "Yes. And perhaps a mighty unpleasant one. However, that's a
matter can stand over."

"And when do you return to America?"

"When?" He looked full at her with his frank, boyish eyes. "That's what
I'd like to know myself. I've got to fight for my rights, and I mean to
do it. I shall mail straight home for any papers, letters, or documents
referring to this property. When I get dates I've something to go
upon. Then I'll get to those old registers I told you of, and see what
happened to the earlier branches of the family. Next, I'll turn that
old scrub of a Dick Udale out of the Inn, and see if I can't work that
coal myself. I've got an idea----"

"You will turn Dick Udale out of the Inn?" interposed Miss Lavinia,
calmly. "And Dick Udale is Molly's father. What do you suppose she will
say to such action?"




CHAPTER XI.

There was a moment's silence, born of consideration, at the sudden
facing of an unconsidered result.

Young Quixote looked at the calm, placid face of the little old lady,
but his eyes had travelled from them to her cap, with its trembling
lilac bows, and downwards to such details as muslin apron, black silk
gown, and lace mittened hands, before he recovered power of speech.

"I--don't--know," he then said, letting each word drop slowly, weighted
by its own uncertainty. "I guess I never thought of that. Of course,
I'd find something for him to do. Besides, Molly will be independent
of him. He doesn't care a red cent for her, and I'm sure she looks
upon him more as a gaoler than a father. Oh! that'll be all right," he
added cheerfully. "What a genius you have for inventing difficulties.
Wait till they come. That's my idea. Dick and Molly, and you and I,
have got to live our own lives. No doubt all sorts of things will crop
up by way of excitement, or trouble. Little things of that sort mostly
do go knocking around everybody's way. But, as I said before, thinking
troubles don't save you from having them. I reckon by this time I've
got far enough to claim the Inn and the coal mine, Dick Udale will have
got hold of some other business. That place of his isn't what I should
call lucrative. Seems to me he's not any too popular with customers."

"May I ask where Molly is all this time?" inquired the old lady
suddenly.

"I left her at the Inn, of course."

"You both arrived last night?"

"That's so; just after dark."

"And stayed at the same Inn?"

"Why, of course. You don't suppose I'd leave the child all by herself
in a strange place?"

"My dear boy, you are the most extraordinary young man I've ever come
across."

"Now, look here, Miss Moneyash. In my country the first lesson a boy
learns is to respect women. She learns alongside of him at school,
plays alongside of him at play, works alongside of him at work. He
grows up to regard her as a comrade, and trust her as an equal, as
long as she'll let him. We're catholic and unprejudiced, and we don't
go out of our way to say a girl's this, or a man's that, unless they
prove themselves what they're called. I can see no more harm in my
taking charge of Molly Udale and putting her up at a respectable Inn,
and giving her over to your care, than if I were really her brother. I
hadn't a wrong thought in anything I've done, and I expect people to
believe I hadn't. If they can't, I'd say it's because their own minds
aren't over and above clean. See?"

"I do see, and I think you're very hard to convince, but I admire you
more than ever. I wish some of our English youths could be brought up
on the same principles."

"Teach them to love nature, to fear God, and rely on themselves. That's
what I learnt. It strikes me the Backwoods aren't such a bad school,
after all."

"I think," said Miss Lavinia, presently, "that I'll relax my rule about
visitors, and allow you to see Molly once a week--every Sunday. Will
that suit you?"

"You're just too perfectly sweet! I have always felt there was
something meant by our meeting like we did on the top of that coach
going to Chatsworth. Now, I'm certain of it."

Again he extended his hand. He was brimming over with an enthusiasm
that demanded forcible expression.

The little lady laughed, and rose to her feet. "My dear boy, you've
such a bear's grip that I'll ask you to consider the next 'shake' as
received. I'm going to put on my bonnet and walk down to the Inn and
see Molly Udale. Then I shall bring her back here with me."

"You are----"

"Hush! And, curb your enthusiasm. I'm only an old woman who has missed
much of life's joy. None greater than the lot that might have made her
the mother of a son like you."

* * * * * *

The little old lady and the young man walked side by side down a
sloping path that led from the Home to the town, some quarter of a
mile distant. Miss Moneyash might well have been excused for pride in
her country, for she had lived in one of the loveliest of its many
lovely vales. The quaint little town itself lay between two valleys,
and was surrounded by lofty, heather-clad hills, stretching mile upon
mile, like guardians of the beauty below. Autumn had scarcely touched
the trees with tint of change, and fields and orchards still held
the mellow tributes of departing summer. The groups of houses in the
miniature vales, the scattered farms, the quaint old churches lifting
tower or spire protectingly above their special parish, all helped to
complete a picture of rural beauty and rural peace essentially English.
Here and there ruined hall, or castle keep, gave hint of feudal times,
and stood out as prominent features in the landscape, while above all
glowed the deep, soft blue of the sky, and the golden radiance of
sunlight.

"You were right when you said your home would be hard to beat for
beauty," said Rufus, his eyes sweeping from point to point. "This is
just a living picture. Wish I could frame it and take it away out West
when I go back. Everything's so big out there that one kind of loses
the sense of proportion. A little gem of beauty like this spells 'home'
and peace more'n forests, and cataracts, and mountains thousands of
feet high. And you've lived here all your life?"

"Yes; and my people before me. I should like to take you to see some of
the wonders round about. The caverns, the mines, the petrifying wells,
the old ruined castles, the churches, some dating back to the Norman
Conquest. By the way, that reminds me. Where do you intend to stay
while you are here?"

"I left my traps at Manchester when I began this tramp of discovery.
But that would mean a good bit of running to and fro now. I guess I'll
find a lodging somewhere in the village yonder. This is as good a place
as any for making my inquiries. Cheap, too, I reckon?"

She smiled. "Like John Gilpin's wife, you seem to have 'a frugal soul.'
But you're none the worse for that. I think I know just the place to
suit you. You can have room, board, and pleasant society, and all for
a very moderate sum. You see that large house just outside the town? A
grey stone house, with sycamore trees all round it, and a tower?"

"It's plain enough," he said, "to save more particular description."

"Well, the proprietor is a doctor who receives paying guests, some as
patients, some as friends. There is a wonderful mineral spring attached
to the property, very efficacious in certain complaints. You'd be very
comfortable there, and I should have the pleasure of seeing you as
often as you chose to come."

"It sounds very pleasant. But I guess I'm none too rich to afford such
a luxurious home."

"You wouldn't consider two guineas a week too much for board and a
room?"

"Too much! Jehosh--I beg your pardon. I should rather say I did not.
And if there's one spot in the whole country I'd have picked out for
preference, it's this. I sort of fell in love with it first time I came
along."

"That's settled then. Dr. Quarn is a friend of mine, or rather, his
wife is. She is quite young--but a great invalid. I often think she's
not very happy; but then she's such a sufferer, one cannot wonder at
that. I should think you would do her a great deal of good, do you
know? You are so breezy, and full of life, and spirits and energy.
I have a great belief in physical magnetism. The mind preys on the
body; but if the mind is cheered, vivified, brightened, the body is
correspondingly relieved. You do me good. I'm sure you'll do her the
same."

"I guess you're putting me up to a new business if I'm to go round as a
mind sure," laughed the young fellow gaily. "When shall I make tracks
for the sanatorium, eh?"

"You mustn't call it that. He wouldn't like it. The name is Peak Edge
Hall. I'll give you a note of introduction, and you'll find yourself
treated like a friend. You could send for your baggage, couldn't you?
You're not obliged to go to Manchester again?"

"Oh no. A letter could settle all that. I did want to see a lawyer, but
I guess I'd better wait till I get those papers from America. What do
you think?"

"I should certainly do so. It's no use going to a lawyer without some
proof of what you claim, and why you claim it."

"Just my opinion. I do think, Miss Moneyash, that you're a right down
sensible woman. I'm proud and pleased to have met you, and there's no
one, excepting my own mother, with whom I'd sooner place Molly. Which
brings us both to the old point, doesn't it? And here we are."

They had reached a quaint old street, closed in on either side by white
or grey stone houses. Midway down it stood a little old-fashioned Inn,
facing the market-place. A sign swung before it proclaiming it as
"King o' the Peak." Standing in the porch, gazing down the street with
curious and interested eyes, was Molly Udale. She did not move as she
caught sight of her young champion and his companion. A sense of shame,
of difference to even those of her sex and age who had walked this
street, and laughed and chattered over their errands during the past
hour of Rufus Myrthe's absence, was oppressing her for the first time
in her life.

Miss Lavinia, as she preferred to be called, gave swift yet earnest
criticism to the half-shy, half-sullen creature she had promised to
befriend. Then she greeted her in the pleasant, homely fashion she used
to all her protégées.

"I am sure," she said kindly, "that in a week or two you will be quite
at home with us, and prove as useful and intelligent as my other girls
have done."

"I canna promise aught," said Moll slowly; "but I mean ta try an' do
what he wishes. He's th' only livin' soul as has spoke or treated me
as I were summat more nor a log, or a stone. You dun knaw my life,
ma'am, an' I canna tell 'ee, not yet. Ye mun let me do my best, an' not
worrit an' badger me jist at first. If ye find I canna turn out what ye
wishes, ye mun e'en send me back to th' old life. I canna say more."

Something very like tears stood in the little lady's dark, soft eyes.

"My dear," she said, "you need not fear for your peace or your comfort
while you choose to stay with me. And now we have talked enough. Get
your bundle together, and I will take you home. I like to call it
that. It has been a home, and continues to be one, to creatures more
desolate, more helpless than yourself."

"An' I kin see th' young man as has bin so kind to me?"

"One day a week he will come to see you."

The beautiful eyes grew radiant. "I can live fo' that," she said.




CHAPTER XII.

Late that afternoon Rufus Myrthe took his way through the one principal
street of the little town, and, turning abruptly to the right, found a
newly-made road sloping gradually towards that old building to which he
carried an introduction.

A large iron gateway, flanked by massive stone pillars, led into the
grounds. They were well wooded, and laid out with shrubberies and
flower beds, headed by a tennis lawn, and branching here and there
into winding paths, commanding a view of the quaint old town and the
circling line of purple-clad hills.

The young fellow looked round approvingly. "Miss Moneyash knows a good
thing when she sees it," he observed. "I'm not sorry I gave the Inn the
go-by. This is just the style of thing I like."

He rang at the door, which opened into a wide, comfortably-furnished
hall, at present unoccupied. He handed his letter to the servant, and
sat down on one of the scattered lounges to await an answer.

It appeared in the person of Dr. Quarn himself.

Rufus Myrthe was conscious of two vivid sensations at sight of the
owner of the establishment. The first, surprise; the second, repulsion.

The surprise was occasioned by the very remarkable good looks of the
man; the second by a dislike of the very exaggerated quality of those
same looks. The hair was so very black and glossy, the complexion
so very ivory-clear in its pallor, the lips so deeply crimson, the
features so exquisitely cut, the figure so lithe and supple. Any of
these things, taken singly, would have been sufficient stock-in-trade
for the average man, but this medical Adonis possessed them all. Added
to which his speaking voice was so suave and pleasant that Rufus Myrthe
felt his own tones aggressively loud and coarse by comparison.

"He minds me of a great big tiger cat purring around, with sheathed
claws, ready to scratch or to kill at a moment's notice," thought the
young fellow, what time he answered his host's questions, and was
receiving assurance of the pleasure his intended visit would afford
Peak Edge Hall and its inmates.

Then the doctor informed him they dined at seven, evening dress being
left to the convenience or discretion of the guests. After which
he rang and desired an elderly maidservant (there were no men in
attendance) to show the young American to his room.

He followed the woman up two flights of stairs, and was then ushered
into a good-sized, well-furnished apartment. The square window had a
deep seat, and commanded the now familiar view of vale and hill, as
well as of a portion of the hall grounds. There was an old-fashioned,
old-world appearance about the room, and its contents that appealed
strongly to the American sense of improvement. It was so sternly
indifferent to modern systems of lighting, sleeping, or furnishing. The
old-fashioned bed was curtained with faded damask; the old-fashioned
presses opened out of the wall; the oak chairs had wide rush seats; the
writing table stood on carved massive legs that would have rejoiced the
eye of a collector. A mirror of true old Chippendale pattern stood on
the chintz-draped dressing-table, which was matched by a chintz-covered
chair. A few old prints decorated the plain white-washed, wood-panelled
walls, and short curtains of the same large-flowered chintz draped the
window. A book-case, a bath, and a washstand completed the furniture.

Having finished his survey, Rufus Myrthe unslung his satchel, and took
from thence his scanty toilet articles.

"Evening dress optional, is it? Well, that's a good thing, for I don't
possess any," he thought, whistling cheerily the while, the 'Old Folks
at Home.' "Wonder if any of the people staying here will favour me with
their acquaintance, seeing I've neither clothes, nor wealth, nor title
to favour. Seems as if I can't furnish any line of goods that spells
appearance!"

He laughed as if the joke pleased him. Then glanced at his watch. "Six
o'clock. A whole hour before dinner. Guess I'll go and explore a bit.
I'm not the sort to sit still in an armchair, doing nothing, while
sixty minutes of good square time is waiting to be utilised."

He dived once more into the satchel for a handkerchief and a clean
collar, which he laid out as his sole contribution to evening dress.
As he was closing the bag, a small sheet of paper, covered with minute
writing fluttered near the snap. Carelessly he took it and glanced at
the contents.

It seems to him afterwards as if some power, apart from and beyond
explanation, had held him motionless as he read the brief lines.
They betrayed a whole history, or rather gave such a clue to tragic
incidents that imagination could frame its meaning.

He let the paper flutter to the ground. Into his clear grey eyes came
a look of loathing and disgust. Then he snatched the paper from the
ground, and thrust it into one of the pockets of the satchel.

"And Molly has the rest! Molly has the whole history!" he thought. "And
I've been the one to help her to its knowledge! What blind fools we
are! What blind fools of fate--or chance!"

He locked the bag savagely, and threw himself into the deep old chair
he had despised a few moments earlier. Leaning his head on his hands he
gave himself up to thought.

His clean, honest young mind tried to regain its balance after that
recoil from guilty shame, and a guilty secret. Tried to resume a
sure footing, and grow reconciled to the revelation of sin that had
hitherto been only a name. But the effort was a severe tax on his moral
energies. A demand on resources of whose very existence he had been
unaware.

Had he read the whole story he might have judged it more leniently; but
a bald, ugly fact, set forth in bald, ugly words, unextenuated by plea
of any sort, naturally looked the unsightly thing it was.

It seemed unfortunate that the one scrap of paper left behind out of
that bundle should be just the very worst and most horrible of its
confessions. Yet so fate had decreed.

"There seems no way out of it," he muttered, resentful of his own
helplessness. "I can't ask for those papers back, and before three
months are over our heads she'll know."

He sprang to his feet and paced the room.

Suddenly, the soft, increasing clamour of a gong from below sounded
through the house.

He listened, and as he listened the remembrance of present life,
present duties, rushed back.

He tried to banish this unexpected horror. To think that it concerned
others, not himself. He even for a moment contemplated the possibility
of getting those confessions back from Molly, and leaving her in
blissful ignorance of his own discovery.

"But then she might learn it some other way," he reflected. "I suppose
it's true; it must be true. No woman in her senses would write such a
thing if it wasn't."

He threw off coat and collar, and dipped his burning face into the cold
water of his basin, splashing and cooling it, until reaction set in
and his head ceased to ache. Then he made his simple toilet and went
downstairs.

Lamps were lit on the landing below, and he looked carelessly at the
rows of doors. One stood partly open. It showed a sitting-room, in
which a bright fire burned. It was so quaint, and pretty, and dainty
a nest that he paused in the doorway, and took a long and interested
survey. Suddenly, from somewhere within, a voice sounded. A voice whose
plaintive music thrilled to his very heart.

"Come in, if you like," it said.

The young fellow glanced about the fire-lit room. His eyes fell on a
couch in a somewhat shadowy corner; the back was towards him. He could
distinguish something white and fleecy, and there stole to his senses
an odour faintly fragrant. Never in any after time would that faint
scent fail to bring back this moment and this scene.

Like one half awake he crossed the room in the direction of the couch,
and, as he reached it, stood suddenly still. The face looking up at him
was such a one as had filled dreams where goddess and angel breathed
magic hints of womanhood. The contrast between it and every other type,
or form, of feminine beauty he had hitherto met, struck on his senses
with a sort of wonder, not unmixed with awe.

The woman rested against pillows, scarce whiter than the marble of her
own face. Her fair hair, rich and bright of hue, was swept loosely
back from her brow. Long curved lashes fringed her up-raised eyes,
dark-hued, velvety as pansies; expressing the meaning of the flower,
as well as its hue. Those eyes--mysterious, deep and hauntingly sad,
searched his face, and found it pleasant. The faintest hint of a smile
parted her lips, showing a tiny cleft, exquisite as a dimple, in one
white cheek.

"I think you are our new guest, are you not?" went on the sweet voice.
"Miss Moneyash told me about you long before she sent you here. I
should have known you anywhere from her description."

Rufus Myrthe was not given to shyness or reticence as a rule, yet now
his tongue could only stammer something foolish and evasive; his mind
seemed only capable of taking in the strange and spirituelle beauty
that centred in and around this room and its occupant.

Again she smiled, and moved slightly on her pillows.

"There are ten minutes yet before dinner," she went on. "Sit down on
that chair and talk to me. I am such a recluse. I rarely have strength
to go downstairs, or mix with the people who fill the house. And it is
only occasionally I let anyone into my sanctum here. But this is one of
my good days. I am glad of that. I wanted so much to see you."

Mechanically he muttered that the pleasure was his; mechanically he
took the chair to which her transparent hand pointed. The flames were
alternating between rise and fall. Now throwing a gleam of ruddy light
over the shadowy figure on the couch. Now dropping into a semi-mystic
glow, that left face and form vaguely defined. The next moments were
dream-like.

He heard his own voice speaking in lowered tone; he felt himself
groping, as it were, in the sudden darkness of abashed senses for some
topic of interest, something that would lift him above this boundary
of stupidity; and all the time he knew he only wanted that voice to
speak on, and on; only longed to drink in its lulling music as the most
exquisite draught life had held to his lips.




CHAPTER XIII.

Again the gong sounded. With its dying echoes there stole, soft-footed,
into the room the lithe figure of the doctor. He was in evening dress.
He looked handsomer than ever; and yet, to Rufus Myrthe, more than ever
repulsive.

A warm, lovely glow, whether of the firelight or of sudden pleasure,
illumined the white face on the pillows.

"You see, Felix, I have made friends with Lavinia's young American,"
she said. "We always call you that. I hope you don't mind?" she added
to Rufus Myrthe.

"Not in the least," he said. "I would not pay my country such a poor
compliment as to be ashamed of my own advertisement of it."

"And your people are rather good at that," remarked the doctor. "It has
helped to make you the great and wonderful nation you are."

Rufus Myrthe was not keen on shades of sarcasm. He took the compliment
literally.

"Well, I reckon we don't lack official acknowledgment anywhere," he
said, "though we mayn't be a shining success, taking us all round.
Perhaps you've been in the States yourself, Dr. Quarn?"

"Yes; many years ago."

"He qualified there," said the soft voice of the invalid.

Rufus looked surprised. He had heard opinions of American degrees,
and the sort of status their owners possessed among members of the
profession on the other side of the water.

"My wife means I took one or two unimportant degrees," interposed the
doctor hastily. Then, as if to change the subject, he added, "You are
looking better this evening. Patience. Do you feel equal to coming
down, or shall I send you up some dinner?"

"I guess Mrs. Quarn looks as if she needed a good many dinners, and any
amount of feeding up," interposed Rufus Myrthe, finding tongue now that
a third person had relieved that novel sense of embarrassment.

The lovely invalid smiled. "I am a somewhat troublesome patient, I
fear. But my appetite is the only capricious thing about me. With
everything to tempt me, I yet loathe food. I have done my best to
overcome the repugnance, but in vain."

"Mrs. Quarn has such an extremely delicate digestion," explained her
husband, suavely. "But this is not a subject to interest you, Mr.
Myrthe. And I'm due at my post in the dining-room. Let me show you the
way."

He turned towards the door, yet not before Rufus had had time to see
the faint gesture of that lovely hand outstretched and disregarded. Not
before he caught the changed expression of the face, grown wistful now,
and sad.

"She loves him, and he doesn't care; doesn't understand; doesn't
appreciate."

So he summed up the relations between this strange pair, as he followed
his host down the shallow staircase and into the brilliantly lighted
dining-room.

Quite a number of people of all sorts and conditions of good or
ill-health, beauty and ugliness, were straggling into seats, and moving
and altering chairs. Most of them were women.

Dr. Quarn passed hurriedly down the room, and took his place at the
head of the long table. A servant conducted Rufus to his seat, which,
he was glad to find, was far removed from that of the doctor. Beside
him sat a vivacious lady of some forty summers, who had vainly tried
to convince unappreciative men that gay and giddy youth should be
rigorously evaded for the superior attractions of sense and experience,
and an affection that only asked to be claimed. In spite of hints
and efforts however the fair Arabella Skelmore had not succeeded in
capturing any male heart to which her appeals had been directed. Her
glance fell now with much favour on the handsome young giant whose
chair stood beside her own. She had already learnt his name from the
paper attached to his serviette, and his nationality from the first
sound of his voice, in thanking the neat maid who had piloted him to
his place.

She suffered him to finish his soup before commencing overtures, in the
shape of a remark on the weather.

Rufus greeted her and it with one of his frank, direct glances. "Well,"
he agreed, "I've sampled a good many specimens since I've been over
here. Rainy days, misty days, cold days, that make you think winter's
stolen a march upon the fall, and got ahead of it. But when the sun
does make up his mind to give you a real good time, he doesn't go
half-heartedly about it. That I will say."

"You are from America, I see," observed the lady, with her friendliest
smile.

"That's so. I reckon half a dozen words give me away. Still, it's
so easy to start from that point as another. This is my first visit
to this country. I have been to London and most of your great
manufacturing districts. I think your country beautiful. Your climate
is as uncertain as a woman's temper, and Derbyshire the loveliest
of all your funny, chopped-up bits of land, that minds me most of a
child's puzzle map."

Miss Skelmore giggled delightedly.

"Your people have such a charmingly original way of expressing
themselves. Yes, I suppose England does seem small after the great
American continent."

"Well, I've sampled Kentucky, Virginia, California; had a spell of
prairie life, cowboy, buffalo-hunting, trapping, the Rockies, and all
that. I reckon one can turn round in those places without falling over
one's neighbour's landmark, or trespassing on his back premises."

Miss Skelmore's delight became almost hysterical. "Oh! How very
interesting! How romantic, and you look, if you'll excuse my saying it,
so young, so very young, to have gone through so much."

"I'm twenty-one," he said, with the same enchanting frankness that had
captivated her maiden fancy. "But I'd got hold of as much schooling as
I cared to swallow before I was twelve, and then I a kind of tired of
kicking my heels at a desk, and adding up rows of figures, and playing
tricks on the boss who was cramming us with all the rot that had never
been any use to himself. So I just started life on my own account.
Chose the adventurous line at first, you know, by way of getting my
hand into the other."

"And I suppose you had a great many adventures," she simpered,
formulating in her own mind a new hero on the pattern of Captain Mayne
Reid and Buffalo Bill.

He finished his plate of roast mutton before answering. It was many
days since he had had such a good and satisfactory repast, and he paid
it its full compliment of appreciation.

"That depends on what you'd call adventurous," he answered at last.
"Uncommon good beef and mutton you do breed in this country, Mrs.----,
I didn't catch hold of your name, by the way?"

"Skelmore--Miss Skelmore," she simpered.

"Thank you, Miss Skelmore. Mine is Myrthe, spelt with a 'y' and an 'e.'
Queer sort of name. But my people started life here first. Had property
somewhere round about these valleys, and that's how I come by it."

"It has a Dar-byshire flavour, I think," murmured his fair neighbour,
refusing chicken with an air of magnified indifference.

"How little you do eat!" he said, which was exactly what she wanted him
to say. "Doesn't this mountain air kind of sharpen your appetite? It
does mine."

There was no doubt about that. Even the events of the last two eventful
hours did not seem to affect his appreciation of good food, well cooked
and well served.

"I am not a great eater," said Miss Skelmore, with an air of gentle
deprecation. "In fact, I am staying here on account of my health. Dr.
Quarn is so clever, and the waters here are so beneficial. I've seen
the most marvellous cures."

"Oh, it is a sanatorium, then?"

"He doesn't call it that. He objects to a prefix that would make
it seem an invalid resort. It is really quite a home, where every
comfort is obtainable, combined with treatment and medical advice, if
necessary."

"It's a pity he can't treat his own wife!" said Rufus bluntly. "If
charity starts at home, so ought medical proficiency."

"There's an old proverb says; 'Physician, heal thyself,'" observed Miss
Skelmore, playfully. "And yet even doctors die. Why not their wives?"

He looked at her somewhat sternly. The suggestion had an unpleasantness
that gave temporary check to his appetite.

"Have you seen Mrs. Quarn?" he asked presently. "Isn't she just lovely?"

"Oh, I don't know that I should call her that," answered the fair
conversationalist somewhat less amiably. "Very fragile, very sickly;
deformed, I believe; but, of course, her manner is perfectly sweet.
And she's so accomplished. She was an only child and an heiress when
Dr. Quarn met her. I think her so fortunate to have found a husband so
devoted and so clever."

"Well, I guess he's as much right to be considered fortunate as she
has! He's had the use of her money, and such a beautiful creature
wouldn't need to have gone a-begging for appreciation very long."

Miss Skelmore bridled aggressively. She was one of those women who
never like to hear her own sex praised by a man. She occasionally
praised them herself, but only for qualities that her listeners knew
they lacked.

"Dear me, Mr. Myrthe, you are quite enthusiastic!" she exclaimed. "May
I ask how long you have known Mrs. Quarn?"

"Only since I came here."

"Rather a short space of time in which to form an opinion."

"Perhaps it is," he said thoughtfully. "Perhaps it is. Well, there,
let's move off to new ground. Tell me about some of the people staying
here. What do you do to amuse yourselves?"

"Oh!" she said, with an arch glance. "Of course, we have to depend
on one another a good deal, and on our respective talents. We get up
musical evenings and occasional dances! Then we play progressive whist,
or round games, or 'nap' for penny points. Nothing alarming, you know.
There's a billiard-room, a tennis-court, and a bowling-green. In fact,
all sorts of ways of passing the time. Sometimes we make up parties for
the coaches, or char-a-bancs, and go for the day to some of the places
of interest in the neighbourhood. Oh, I assure you, you won't find it
dull here."

"I'm pretty certain of that," he answered, throwing a comprehensive
glance over the assemblage. "Say, Miss Skelmore, can you tell me who
that is opposite? Sort of bald-headed chicken she looks! Feathers
plucked and quills left behind, don't you know?"

Miss Skelmore giggled with delight. "How quaint you are, Mr. Myrthe! Do
you know, she has always reminded me of that, but I couldn't have put
it so humorously! Her name is Miss Topliss. She's very rich. She's here
with a maid, and has a private sitting-room. She's undergoing special
treatment for neuritis."

"New--how much?"

"Neuritis! A sort of rheumatism of the nerves, I believe. Poor thing,
it's terrible to be so afflicted, don't you think so?"

"Terrible," he said gravely. "Let's hope Dr. Quarn will cure her. Miss
Topless did you say? Seems kind of appropriate, doesn't it?"

The fair Arabella surveyed the opposite lady's scant locks, and
generous scalp view with ecstatic appreciation.

"Topliss," she corrected. "But how clever you are, hitting people off
like that. Only you must promise to be kind to poor little me, or I
shall feel quite alarmed."

His clear and candid eyes just glanced over her dyed golden locks, her
carefully-assorted complexion, her elaborate figure.

"I guess anybody would be kind to you," he said gravely. And what he
meant, or what he thought, the fair Arabella could not imagine. Which
was, perhaps, fortunate.

He kept her at the task of describing the inmates of the Hall, and
their various qualifications, until the end of dinner.

That over, the guests scattered, in groups or couples, into the
drawing-room beyond. A place compounded of chairs and couches, that
spelt comfort in every nook and corner.

Rufus Myrthe was piloted thither by his new acquaintance. Finding the
room at present in possession of the fairer members of the community
the young man stood somewhat bashfully in the doorway, and decided to
"make tracks" for the smoking-room. He communicated this intention in
his usual direct fashion, and was turning away, when the action brought
him face to face with the occupant of a chair that was silently rolling
on its tyred wheels towards the drawing-room. He started and drew
aside. Then burst forth. "You've come down? Oh, that's magnificent! I'm
right glad to see you! Here, miss, let me do that."

He seized the handle of the chair before the stylish maid knew what he
was about. "You tell me where you want to go, Mrs. Quarn, and I'll have
you there less time than you count. Or stay, p'raps, you like going
slow; just you say, and I'll meet your wishes. Don't think of being
reserved or distrustful with me. There's nothing on earth I like better
than helping anyone who's sick or weak. Not that you're going to be
either one or other very long. I've got ideas on the subject of health
that would give any doctor points and beat him." He had turned the
chair and was wheeling it up and down the hall, talking vigorously the
while. "I've studied in the greatest college that was ever started for
the good of man," he went on. "You and I'll have a talk, Mrs. Quarn,
and you just tell me what's the real trouble. When the body takes a
crank it's only to show that it wants something. Well, you've just got
to find out what that something is, and give it either to brain, or
blood, or stomach, and it gets all right again. It's perfectly simple.
I've cured Indians and white folk scores of times. I'm sure I could
cure you."

"Why are you sure?" she asked, softly, looking up at his face, as he
leant over the back of the chair in a momentary pause.

"Why?" His breath seemed to catch. That ineffable exquisite sense of a
new meaning in life, a new consciousness of womanhood, swept over him,
and left him once again awkward and embarrassed. "I ... I don't know
why," he faltered slowly; "unless it's because I want to, more than
I've ever wanted to do anything in all my life!"




CHAPTER XIV.

When Rufus Myrthe sought his room that night, he looked at himself in
the glass with a vague sense of something lost and something gained by
that personality which he recognised as--himself. For, as he knew, no
one ever really sees themselves in life, more especially when motion,
or circumstances, give a new meaning to facial expression. We behold a
reflection in a mirror that faces us under trying ordeals of shaving,
hairdressing, hat-fixing, and full-dress, or un-dress occasions, but
we never see what we really are, what we really mean, to less familiar
eyes.

This present Rufus Myrthe proceeded to divest himself of what he
called his "tramp slops," and to restlessly promenade his apartment
like a sentry on duty, what time he passed in review the events of the
day, and the significance attachable to them. He had a peculiar habit
of marshalling facts; docketing them, and laying them by in mental
pockets, so that on any special occasion he could bring them out and
re-peruse their meaning. But for once he found the task unpleasing and
unsatisfactory. He was no longer on pleasant terms with life, as life
had hitherto shown itself.

Complications, embarrassments, doubts, had left ugly marks on a
hitherto clean slate. He felt compelled to look both the ugliness and
unpleasantness in the face, and weigh their meaning in the balance.
He was in that primeval state of emotion when human passion wears an
aspect of divinity, and human crime the stamp of the devil's own die.
Both were exaggerated by an intensity of feeling, and neither one nor
other had the serious importance to the world at large that he imagined
they had for himself. Youth trips gaily along the "primrose path"
till the day and the hour the sphinx-like figure of fate faces it at
the highway. Then it learns that it may not pass on until a riddle is
propounded and answered. If the guess be right a free road lies before
the fortunate traveller, but if wrong there follows slow torture, cruel
pains, the bearing of a burden for ever pressing on weary shoulders,
bowing down youth to grey, cold manhood, robbing its jaunty step of
lightness, its laughing lips of mirth. Nor does even the successful
guessor quite escape. There are rough places on that high road, and
the stones hurt tender feet, and the miles are longer there than they
seemed in the pleasant paths and lanes to which there is no return.
For the sphinx-like figure bars the way back, even as it barred the
advance. And the traveller has to march on and on, though now he is no
longer alone. The high road is crowded, and he touches a hand here,
and it bids him stay, and he gazes into eyes there, and they hold him
bond-slave, and sometimes he tarries so long that he cares no more to
advance, or seek the goal whither that long road leads. Thus he stands
or loiters, till one day a grey-veiled figure touches him on the arm,
he starts, looking under the shrouding veil, sees but the empty skull
and eyeless sockets of death. Then the long-forgotten meaning of the
riddle he had guessed comes back to his memory; but only for one brief
moment. For the grey figure throws its shrouding veil over him. They
walk side by side a little way further, only a little way now, while
the hollow echoes of his stumbling feet seem but to cry--"Too late! too
late!"

Rufus Myrthe ceased that restless pacing at last, and stood at the open
window, gazing over the shadowy trees to where the moon was slowly
sailing westwards, her bright track followed by a procession of ghostly
clouds. Involuntarily his thoughts turned to Molly. Was she happy,
content, safe?

Had he brought some good into her life? Anything approaching this
sudden, subtle, wholly inexplicable joy that had stolen into his own.
Fervently he hoped it. A dark and terrible mystery lay before her, to
which, all unwittingly, he held the clue. But if, even for a little
space, she were happy, it was something gained, something to which he
had helped her.

A wonderful sense of pity and of tenderness swept over him now. There
was not an atom of mawkish sentimentality in his whole nature. His
feelings, like himself, were strong and true, but to-night he had stood
for a moment on enchanted ground, and the glamour lingered still. The
feelings of pity aroused by the girl and the woman were totally unlike,
though he was not aware of the fact. The cold voice of Providence gave
no warning. The first signal post of Experience had failed to direct
his steps in the safe way. He had passed it, blindly, and now had
forgotten its existence. Everything in the last few hours had been
either chaotic or coloured by newly awakened sympathies. His heart
rushed in a wild gallop towards possibilities that by wiser minds would
have been labelled "Impossible."

He was a piece of genuine and massive simplicity. The sort of nature of
which Life delights to make trial, and of whom Fate delights to take
toll.

Unaware now of the meaning of this new and sweet content with life,
ignorant of the task he had set himself by his self-appointed
guardianship of another entity, he turned away from the window and the
moonlit loveliness it framed, and cast his distraught wits and tangled
fancies into the realms of unreality offered by dreams.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Before three days had passed there was no more popular inmate of the
Peak Hall establishment than Rufus Myrthe.

By that time his luggage had arrived, and the possession of a black
coat made a happy compromise between regulation swallow-tail (which
he observed was too Christy Minstrelised a garment for his fancy) and
the free and easy tweeds which he specially favoured. He learnt tennis
and bowls after one day's practice. What games of cards he did not
know were insignificant by comparison with those he did; and as these
possessed the charm of novelty--besides offering an entertainment of
American humour--poker, and euchre, and "Black Maria" became far more
popular than whist or vingt-et-un.

Every evening between the signals for dressing and dinner he spent
in Mrs. Quarn's pretty boudoir, talking to her in his breezy, boyish
fashion, and happier than any king, could he but bring a smile to her
pensive lips, or a look of delighted interest into her lovely eyes. But
underneath this surface lay the young fellow's whole moral and mental
nature was undergoing a transformation. Thrown for the first time in
his rough and ready life among more complex and less intelligible
forces than he had hitherto faced, he was often at a loss to adjust
himself to altered conditions. Popularity was no uncommon experience.
Given youth, good looks, the physique of an athlete, and a temper
unruffable by feminine caprices, it was little wonder that the owner of
such gifts should be a universal favourite.

The various members of Dr. Quarn's establishment were unanimous in
his praises. The fair Arabella, who was inclined to claim him as
her discovery, soon learnt that exclusive friendship had no meaning
whatever in his eyes. He was as polite, as cordial, as obliging to
one invalid or one guest as to another. The first evening that had
been distinguished by what was called "An Entertainment" found him
ready and helpful as no member of the committee had ever proved. He
confessed himself as devoid of accomplishments; yet he sang a nigger
song to a banjo accompaniment that literally brought the house down
and a furious demand for more. He told stories of the Backwoods and of
Kentucky farm life that absolutely convulsed his audience with mirth.
He declined to dance with any partner, but gave a "coon step" and "cake
walk" that were pronounced the success of the evening. But no one
among his audience ever guessed that he played buffoon for one person
only in the whole assemblage. That, for him, no applause had been so
sweet, no triumph so delicious, as one trill of rippling laughter that
came from an invalid chair in a corner of the room; the chair on which
the fragile figure of Patience Quarn lay back amongst her cushions.
He had only seen her, felt her, spoken to her, the whole time of the
performance. All other faces and forms were dream-like and indistinct.
And as she watched, and smiled, and laughed, she, too, breathed a
new atmosphere, and for a time forgot pain and weariness and the sad
guerdon of a generous love.

Her husband was sitting some distance away. He noted her animated face,
the flush that lent so vivid a beauty to her usually colourless cheek,
the pretty peal of laughter, musical as a child's, that greeted the
young American's efforts. His face darkened, a look where hate and
fear mingled flashed into the glance he cast at the new arrival. From
underneath his lowered lids he watched him as a tiger watches prey. The
set teeth and contracted muscles of his face altered all its surface
good looks, and for a moment it was hideous with devil-born rage. But
no one noticed him. All eyes were fixed on the handsome young giant who
was dancing the ridiculous negro steps, his lithe, athletic figure a
study in black and white, for he had discarded his coat.

The impetuous cry that re-demanded another dance and song irritated the
doctor's unstrung nerves. He rose to his feet and pushed back his chair.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said; "much as I regret to put an end to
so refined and unexpected a performance as that of Mr. Myrthe's, I
have to remind you that this is Saturday night, and of the rule of the
establishment that all lights must be out by 12 o'clock. It is now
half-past eleven."

There was a moment's regretful silence. Then chairs were pushed back,
and, one after another, the strangely assorted guests rose and bade
host and hostess good-night. Rufus Myrthe lingered behind. He wanted to
offer his services in wheeling the invalid chair to Mrs. Quarn's suite
of rooms. But as he approached, the doctor strode quickly to her side
and laid his hand upon the propeller.

"Good-night, Mr. Myrthe," he said, suavely. "You must be tired after
your very remarkable exertions."

"Tired!" The young man laughed aloud. "I guess, Dr. Quarn, I've yet to
learn the meaning of that word. Can't I lend a hand at transporting
your wife? It's a privilege she's allowed me most evenings."

"Thank you, no," answered Dr. Quarn, coldly. "I can do all that is
necessary."

The young man gave him a quick, surprised glance. Then he flushed in a
foolish, school-boy fashion. "I'm sure I'd no intention of intruding on
your privileges," he said.

The doctor waved him aside with an impertinent gesture, and set the
chair in motion. Rufus stepped back out of the way. His eyes met those
violet ones, that meant for him all the soul-mystery of Patience Quarn.
He read in their swift glance something he had never read before--Fear!




CHAPTER XV.

A restless night, broken by troubled dreams, brought Rufus Myrthe to
a sense of warm daylight, of clamouring bells set going by clerical
insistence on the duty of eight o'clock services. He opened his eyes
drowsily. Then sprang up alert and wide-awake. "It's Sunday, by all
that's holy! I am to see Molly to-day."

The first gladness of that thought passed away as his toilet
progressed. The memory of that scrap of paper, hidden now in his
despatch box, returned from the region of undesirable memories to
which it had been relegated. With it there came also the recollection
of his sojourn at the "Headless Woman," and the semi-tragic incidents
following closely upon his visit.

To banish the discomfort inseparable now from retrospection, he hurried
out of doors and into the grounds of the Hall. As yet he had only
explored them with a view of testing their capacity for various forms
of recreation. Now he strode rapidly past the ornamental divisions, and
penetrated into a wilder and more remote region, to which a barricade
of thorny bushes, and tangled bracken, offered a mute announcement that
to female minds had spelt "impassable."

A leap and a plunge brought him into a cleared space beyond the
barrier, and he found himself facing a curious mass of broken rock and
stone. They had evidently constituted some sort of building once, for
portions of the stone were smooth and slab-like, and a ruined wall
could be traced at intervals. Behind the broken fragments a large
rock towered, that might well have formed the natural protection of
a stronghold. It seemed to look down pityingly on all it had once
defended, left now to the careless gaze of speculation, and the rough
embrace of briar and bush.

Rufus Myrthe, after a comprehensive glance, moved a little to the
right of the scattered boulders. As he did so his foot caught in a
bit of uneven ground, and he stumbled, and would have fallen but for
a sudden clutch at a bush near by. It steadied his balance at the
expense of itself. For Rufus Myrthe's strength sometimes surprised him
into unexpected feats, and the present occasion was one of repeated
instances.

He looked at the bush and its earth-covered roots with apologetic
amusements. "Sorry, I'm sure. But I'll re-plant you, and there'll be no
harm done."

As he did so his eye fell on the disturbed ground. He saw lying there
a small glass phial, green in colour. It lay as if thrown among the
bushes by some careless hand.

The incident was insignificant, especially in an establishment where
medicines were the order of the day. He kicked the bottle aside and
began to replant the uprooted shrub. To do so he took a stick and dug
the hole a little deeper. It struck against something hard. He tossed
aside the earth, and he saw before him another green bottle of similar
appearance to the first. He took it up and examined it. At the same
moment he remembered how very easily the shrub had come up in his
grasp. "I guess there's some meaning in this," he said, thoughtfully.
"Who is so keen on burying or hiding their physic bottles, I wonder?"

He bent down and secured the first bottle, and turned it over and over
in his hand. It bore no label. The cork was still inserted. It was
stamped with a green seal. "Well, anyway, it's queer manure for a holly
bush," he reflected.

He removed the cork and then sniffed cautiously at the little phial. A
faint, curious odour greeted his nostrils. It was one that carried him
back on a sudden wave of memory. For scent has one peculiar quality.
It can recall a scene, a place, an incident, with the swiftness of an
electric shock.

Something flashed back to Rufus Myrthe's brain in that moment, at once
startling and disturbing. He still held one bottle, but his eyes rested
on the other. Into them crept a look of gathering horror. Then a spasm
of anger shook him, and he flung the fragile thing aside and heard it
crash to pieces against the great stone boulders.

"What's come to me? What sort of fool's play is this?" he cried, with
sudden savagery. "Am I never to get away from mysteries and suspicions?"

He stooped to take up the second phial and send it to share the company
of the first; but, even as he seized it, exasperation changed to fear.

"If it means anything I can easily find out," he said, slowly. "If
they are hidden here for a purpose, and I learnt who had hidden them,
it might be a clue to the reason. Is it only a coincidence that I
should remember those words about 'qualifying in America,' and then be
reminded of the first and only time I was on an American jury? If so
it's--damnable!"

He seized the remaining bottle and thrust it back into its
hiding-place, covering it again with loose earth, and finally
replanting the bush as he had found it. As he finished his task a sound
boomed out over the quiet air. It startled him as if his employment had
been guilty. Yet it was only the gong summoning the inmates of the Hall
to breakfast.

He gave a last look round the place, then made his way back to where he
had forced an entrance. He hurried towards the house, only delaying to
wash the dirt and dust off his hands before entering the dining-room.
Then he made his way to his usual seat beside Miss Skelmore, exchanging
greetings by the way in a fashion more mechanical than was usual.

His fair companion was in an elaborate Sunday toilet that represented
a chromatic scale of colour, vivid and unbecoming. "Of course, you are
going to church," she said, glancing coyly at him.

"I hadn't exactly thought about it," he answered. He was wondering
whether Molly would be taken there, and what time she would expect to
see him.

"Oh, do come," entreated Arabella. "Such a delicious old world
building. The tower is fourteenth or sixteenth century--I forget
which--and darling gargoyles on each side of it! And sweet old oak
pews, and the quaintest pulpit. And the dear vicar is as old-world as
the place; like Father Christmas, I always think. And he still uses
firstly, and secondly, and thirdly in his sermons. So antiquated, you
know, but so refreshing after the High Church preaching, which, I
always think, resembles a race against time. Gabble, gabble, and then a
sign of the cross and the collection bags. Dear old Parson Moon has no
collection and no bags. Such a nice change. Because one really begins
to think one pays twice over for one's seat, and then if the offertory
isn't large enough the vicar says such insulting things next Sunday. It
makes one quite uncomfortable."

"I guess I haven't troubled church or parson much in my time," observed
Rufus. "Out West, you know, we've about five hundred and fifty-nine
different sorts of religion, and each sort is the right and only one,
according to its samplers. So I concluded it was the best to have none."

"Oh; but that is going quite to the other extreme. Surely, you're not
an Atheist, Mr. Myrthe, or one of those dreadful Free-thinking people,
who say they're a law unto themselves and generally end in a prison or
a penitentiary!"

"No, Miss Skelmore. I'm neither without belief, nor without religion.
But I reckon that's nothing to do with church-going."

"But you'll come this morning. Do say yes, just to please me?"

He laughed good-humouredly. "Well, if you put it like that! Of course,
I couldn't disoblige a lady. Does Dr. Quarn attend service?" he
suddenly asked.

"Oh, yes--always. It would be such a bad example, you know, if he
didn't."

"And--Mrs. Quarn?"

"No, poor thing, she never goes. I suppose she's sensitive, and
wouldn't like to be wheeled into the church in that chair and left in
the aisle for everyone to stare at."

He was silent. But his eyes wore a troubled expression, and, travelling
up the long table, rested a moment on the handsome face of the
proprietor of the Hall.

"I wish I could like him," he was thinking. "But it seems no use to
try; and now, since this fearless suspicion has entered my head, I
just can't believe he's cut on the square. I hate that soft, suave way
of his. It gets round women, I suppose, and sick folk. They all seem
to adore him. But if I tried to weariness I'd never be able to make a
friend of that man!"

* * * * * *

An hour later he was sitting in the old church beside Miss Skelmore and
Miss Topliss, who had linked herself to the party, as Rufus glanced
round at the scantily-filled pews, he saw Lavinia Moneyash enter, and
following her, two by two, came some dozen or more girls, all neatly
dressed in stuff gowns and small, close bonnets. They were marshalled
into their seats by a matronly person, in whose charge they appeared to
be.

His eye detected Molly Udale immediately, and with a sense of wonder he
noted the difference that dress and discipline had already made in her
appearance. She had not perceived him, being too puzzled and too shy to
do aught save follow her companions into the pew set apart for them.
Her position there left her profile only visible. That, and the knot of
her rich and ruddy hair, chained his attention and gave his thoughts
wide scope for rambling during the first part of the service.

He bent his head in an attitude of devotion, but he was asking himself
why Destiny had set him here, and set that girl where she so meekly
knelt, and chosen to knit the tangled threads of her life into the
strong and hitherto common-place strands of his.

The sight of her brought back the memory of a discovered and
disgraceful secret. She disturbed and troubled him, and yet he felt he
could not have acted differently even had he known of the result.

"Seems I've only taken her out of one mess to plunge her into another,"
he thought. And then the warning "thirdly, my dear brethren," fell on
his inattentive ear, and he knew that in a few moments he must greet
and speak to the girl, and yet all the time hide from her what chance
had revealed to him.

As he followed Miss Skelmore's lurid costume down the aisle he lost
sight of the inmates of the home. At the church door Miss Lavinia
herself greeted him. She had been afraid of an impetuosity that might
lead to trouble with other members of the flock.

"Please," she entreated, laying a detaining lavender-gloved hand on the
young man's arm. "Please, my dear Don Quixote, don't rush after her
now. Let her get home first. Will you come back to lunch? I have been
longing to see you. You may have the afternoon with your protégé, if
you wish. She is really a very good girl. Much better than I expected,
and takes to discipline with surprising amiability."

"I am glad to hear that," he answered. "Yes, of course I'll come back
to lunch. I've so much to tell you that I feel as if twelve hours
talking wouldn't get at the bottom of it!"

An imperative cough at his elbow suddenly recalled his attention to the
fact that Miss Skelmore was standing by his side in evident expectation
of escort for the return journey.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, I quite forgot you," he explained in his cool
way. "You see, Miss Skelmore, I'm due at Miss Moneyash's every Sunday
while I'm here, so I'll have to say good-bye. Perhaps you would catch
up alongside of Miss Topliss if you hurried a bit, or--there's Dr.
Quarn."

The alteration in his voice almost surprised himself. The doctor was
greeting Miss Lavinia, answering her inquiries about his wife. Rufus
Myrthe's ears strained to catch the suave, well-modulated tones.

"Brighter . . . and more cheerful. Oh, yes, decidedly that.
But no material change in the other symptoms, I regret to say.
No--material--change."




CHAPTER XVI.

Those words of Dr. Quarn's echoed and re-echoed in Rufus Myrthe's ears
as he walked beside Miss Lavinia through the quaint High-street and up
the sheltered, winding road that led to the house. So preoccupied and
thoughtful did he seem that his companion wondered what had happened
to cause such a change. But she had that rare gift of sympathy which
can understand silence as well as speech, and she asked no questions,
though there was a tranquil expectation in her eyes that at last
impressed him. Then, for pure relief to an over-burdened mind, he spoke
out frankly his troubles.

"Miss Moneyash," he began; "I reckon you've been the kindest friend
I've made in this country. Seems to me as if I'd had to tell you things
from the very beginning, like that day on the coach when all Derbyshire
seemed the same to me, and I'd no notion of a needle-in-a-haystack when
I was searching around for that lost farm. You put me on the track of
that and a pretty fret and fuss it promises. But that's no matter. Only
it does seem kind of queer that you should have plopped me right down
into another difficulty, doesn't it?"

"Another! why, I haven't heard of the first one yet, unless it's----"

"Molly? She's part of it, of course, and the worst is I can't say a
word to her, or you, or anyone, about the real facts. They've tumbled
into my hands in a purely accidental fashion, and they've got to be
sorted out later on."

"You know perfectly well, my dear boy, that anything I can do----"

"But I can't give you a chance. That's just the way of it. It's bad
luck all round. There, don't interrupt, like a dear soul, for once I'm
set off I must keep on the track. What I wanted to say was this. After
I got on to the ground I began to sling my eye round for information.
I came on a nasty bit of private history that sort of complicated
everything. Then I cut the whole business and came here and asked you
to befriend this poor, unfortunate girl. How unfortunate you cannot
possibly imagine. No, Miss Moneyash, if you let your mind take a
balloon flight into the wildest regions of impossibilities, you'd never
guess what's at the back of Molly's life."

"Is it so--awful?"

He nodded. "Well, as I was saying, I found I'd a big enough load to
carry along by this time, taking the difficulties of proving my claims,
and setting that darned skunk, Dick o' the Inn, about his business,
and looking after the girl in a sort of cousinly-brotherly fashion.
But there's where you came in. Just as the biggest crimes grew out of
a grain of bad feeling, no bigger than a mustard seed, as the Bible
says, so you, in your homely, kindly way, have set me up in a private
detective business, that I never asked for, never wanted, and yet
that's gripped me as sure as any trap set for mole, or beaver, or any
other blind critter that goes fooling around in the dark!"

"My dear boy!" gasped the old lady, trying once more to stem the
impetuous torrent of his words. "Do consider what you are saying. Such
an accusation----"

"Oh! I'm not accusing! I know. You couldn't guess what would happen.
You had to do it out of pure kindness of heart."

"Had to do--what?"

"Send me to that sanatorium of Dr. Quarn's."

"But, surely, you don't mean to say there's anything wrong there?"

"Now, that's like a woman! You're letting yourself go, and your
surmises have no ballast. Who says there was anything wrong?"

"Why, you suggested----"

"If I suggest there's sugar in a flour-bag, it don't prove that there's
no flour in it, or hasn't been one time or another. Folks don't always
put the same goods in the same outside covers. Miss Moneyash, don't you
be guessing foolishness, because that's a waste of time, and will wear
out your brain tissue quicker than a Euclid problem."

She laughed, despite a growing uneasiness. "We are nearly home," she
said, "and I haven't yet the faintest idea of what you want to tell me,
or whether you have anything to tell."

"I'm on the inquiry line now," he answered slowly. "So, first of all,
let me ask how long you've known Mrs. Quarn?"

"Oh, five or six years."

"And how long has she been married?"

"About the same time. I only knew her afterwards. Dr. Quarn had bought
Park Edge, as it was then called. He turned it into its present
condition after his marriage."

"His wife had money, I've been told?"

"I believe so. Though we are great friends, Mrs. Quarn rarely refers to
her own private matters."

"Well, one more question. How long has she been an invalid, like she is
now?"

"The illness has come on very gradually. It began with loss of
appetite, then strength. She never complains, and she does not seem to
suffer. I never knew a more lovely nature. Her name expresses it as
well as her face."

"That's so. Have you any notion, Miss Moneyash, whether Dr. Quarn is
unkind to her? I don't mean that he treats her badly, but has she ever
said anything about neglect, or indifference, or----"

"You must really excuse me, Rufus," said the old lady, with gentle
dignity. "But it is my turn to ask you if you have any right, or I
any reason for prying into the private affairs of these people? I am,
as I told you, the friend of Mrs. Quarn, and she, I believe, loves me
as I love her. But friends, even women friends, don't tell each other
everything. Their confidences may embrace many subjects. They may speak
of things to each other of which they would never dream of speaking to
their husbands. Yet there is always a reservation on some point."

"Then, I take it, Mrs. Quarn's reservation begins with her married
life. She is wealthy, and young, and beautiful; yet she is a
desperately unhappy woman. She is attacked by a mysterious illness that
makes her a kind of prisoner, and yet, to you, her chief friend (and I
don't know where she could find a better), she never breathes a word of
the nature of her sufferings; the inner loneliness of her life?"

The surprise in Miss Lavinia's face swept away its usual sweet
tranquillity.

"What do you mean? What has happened? I sent you to Peak Edge Hall
but four days ago. The last thing you seemed to take seriously was
life. You come back to me this morning and talk to me as if you were a
chartered company of experience and had learnt its full value. Again I
ask--what has happened?"

"Absolutely nothing--that I can speak of. That's just the aggravating
part of the whole business. It sounds queer, it sounds mysterious; and
I hate mystery as I hate lies, and treachery, and underground ways. But
there it is--I seem to have gone out walking and got my feet caught in
one of those trailing creeper things that sort of tangle you up the
more you try to get free."

"And you blame me for the entanglement?"

"I said you were a sort of First Cause. I don't blame you. I only
wonder----"

He broke off abruptly. They had reached the gate of Perrycourt as
Miss Moneyash had named her pretty Home, and standing there, her
bonnet swinging from her hand, and her eyes aglow with welcome and
expectation, stood Molly Udale.

Had Miss Lavinia been inclined to administer a rebuke for broken rules,
she could hardly have framed it, so transparent was the joy of the
girls' face, and the surprise and gladness on that of Rufus Myrthe.

"I expect you will have plenty to say to one another," was all she
observed. "There's half an hour yet before the dinner bell rings."

She left them in the garden and went up to her own room.

Mechanically she removed her delicate grey gloves (lilac and grey were
the only two colours Miss Lavinia affected). With equal deliberation
she took off her bonnet and rolled up its broad silk strings. Her
mantle was removed and hung up in the wardrobe. Then she stood
motionless for a few moments, her smooth brow puckered into lines of
troubled thought, and in her gentle eyes a look of anxiety strange to
their usual expression.

"What can he mean?" she asked herself. "No mere curiosity prompted
those questions. It is more than coincidence that a suspicion I
have hardly dared to formulate to myself should have taken shape
and substance in that boy's words. He, too, dislikes that suave and
honey-tongued man. He, too, has fathomed the secret of Patience Quarn's
lonely life. Her illness is more of the mind than the body. I have
always felt that. And there is a mystery about it. Why won't he call
in other advice, seeing that his own skill is baffled? Why doesn't she
insist upon it? Up to two years ago she was well and strong as I am;
now she has sunk into hopeless, helpless invalidism. . . If only I
could do anything. . . . If only I could put her own life-value before
a foolish sense of professional etiquette. No great English specialist
will meet her husband, so she says. But that need not prevent her
from seeking an opinion independent of consultation. Yet her foolish,
fond loyalty bars the way. . . Poor angel! She is too good for such a
world--for such a man!"

With a heavy sigh she turned to the mirror and began to arrange her
pretty white curls and her pretty lace cap.

"I had so looked forward to to-day," she was thinking. "That boy is
like a breath of fresh, vigorous life. One can't help loving and
admiring him. And I, all unwittingly, as he says, have set him on the
track of trouble. There comes in another of the mysteries of life. We
do a kind deed, and the results are evil. We try to clear the rough
stones from the path of our beloved, and, lo, he falls over a precipice
we have never descried. Of all natures I have ever known, that of Rufus
Myrthe seems to me the least fitted for dealing with anything complex
or unusual. He is so straightforward and outspoken. His worst is as
apparent as anyone else's best. Now, take this affair of Molly."

Involuntarily she glanced out at the garden. Under a sycamore tree
stood a wooden bench, and there her new charge was sitting beside
Rufus. He was talking earnestly, and she was listening as earnestly.
Her face so lovely in its grave attention that Miss Lavinia's eyes
took in other meanings and other possibilities. "Have I done right
even here?" She questioned. "Yet, what else could I do? Such beauty as
that deserved better fate than ruffianism and ignorance were inclined
to give it. If I do my best for her, and she becomes a good and useful
woman, the reward for his interests and her own will be in her power
to bestow. As yet he is perfectly heart-whole, and she perfectly
unconscious. I wonder how long it will last?"

She went downstairs then, and into the long white-washed dining-hall,
where every Sunday she took the head of the table at the early dinner.
A place had been set for Rufus by her own. The girls sat each side of
the table, and the matron, who had charge of them, faced Miss Lavinia
at the foot. All was orderly and well-appointed, for the founder of
the Home believed that refined methods were capable of producing
refinement, and insisted on forming habits on this principle. Thus,
somewhat to the surprise of Rufus Myrthe, the girls ate, and drank, and
spoke in a manner he was far from expecting.

Uncouthness of accent or quaintness of phraseology did not destroy
polite meaning. The habitual use of glass and china, and knife and
fork, had soon lent to novelty the grace of custom.

Molly Udale was, as yet, the only girl present to whom such luxuries of
appointment and service were unfamiliar. It was not easy to forget that
a wooden bowl or a broken jug had hitherto served for table appliances,
or that horn-handled knives and three-pronged forks had proved as
capable of yeoman's service as ivory and electro-plate. But she had the
gift of observance, and imitated readily if what her more self-assured
companions did.

It seemed strange to Rufus Myrthe to be the only male creature among
so many of the other sex, but he took the accident as cheerfully as he
had taken most events in life. He was thinking how Molly was improved
by her neat dress and neatly arranged hair, and what a contrast she
must find between this comfortable home, and plentiful fare, and that
miserable Inn with its scanty resources. But the Inn and all connection
with it had become so troublous a subject that he thrust it hurriedly
aside.

"I may take her for a walk this afternoon?" he asked Miss Lavinia, as
the meal, which had consisted of soup, joint, and pudding, drew to a
conclusion.

"Certainly; though I don't know what the other girls will think."

"Do you mean I ought to take them all?"

"Good gracious, no! What an idea. I might as well give up the home at
once. I only meant it is unusual. In fact, it will be the first time
such a thing has happened."

"Oh! I understand. But, then, the circumstances are a bit different,
aren't they? I feel as if I'd got to look after Molly. Kind of
responsible, and all that."

"I suppose," said Miss Lavinia, softly, "that you don't recognise what
we call here a difference in social position, between Molly Udale and
yourself?"

"Difference! Bless your soul--no. I've come from a land which teaches
the true meaning of equality. Besides, come to think of it, I'm one
of a stock of farmers myself. It's true I've been brought up better
than if I'd stayed in this country, felt my feet, so to say; wasn't
afraid of wanting means, or making a living. But there's not a stiver
of difference between our positions. Don't ever put that idea into her
head."

Miss Lavinia smiled, and gave the signal of dismissal by saying grace.
It struck her as distinctly quaint that Rufus Myrthe should have
supposed it was into Molly's head she had desired to put that idea!




CHAPTER XVII.

Rufus Myrthe took Molly for the promised walk, and learnt from her
that she was well content with the change in her circumstances and
condition of life. The rules of the Home were few but strict. The girls
were expected to observe them, and by doing so gained certain extra
privileges. Their education was of a useful description, such as would
serve them in after life, and open their minds to more rational forms
of enjoyment than "junketting," flirting, and wasting time or money.
Of Miss Lavinia's special kindness to herself, the girl spoke with
passionate gratitude; and her avowed willingness to do anything her
benefactress desired pleased Rufus mightily. That is to say, it pleased
him until the disagreeable memory of what lay before the girl in the
future rushed across his mind. Try as he might he could not forget
that. But he gave Molly no hint. He was determined that some peace and
comfort should fall into her hapless lot. If his hand had to dash it
aside in the future, at least that same hand should build a barricade
for the present. On the whole, he went away that evening well content
with the promised success of his project. Come ill, come well, Molly
Udale would at least face life on better terms than those she had
resigned.

He left her in the peace of the Sabbath evening, and walked home in a
mood that was new to himself. It never struck him until he was within
sight of the Hall gates that he had forgotten to bid Miss Lavinia
good-bye, but that omission held no sting of regret, or, rather, was
saved from it by the discovery that Miss Lavinia was at the hall
herself, having selected the afternoon to pay a visit to Patience Quarn.

The boudoir door was ajar as usual when Rufus passed up the stairs, and
his knock for admission received its usual response. He was astonished
to find his old friend established there; her chair drawn up to the
fire, and she busy with teacups and hot cakes.

"Just in time," she exclaimed. "Mrs. Quarn was wondering whether you
would drop in for your usual chat."

"I guess Mrs. Quarn hasn't any need to wonder about that," he answered
readily. "People don't turn their backs on pleasures--as a rule."

He took the frail hand extended to him, and Miss Lavinia, glancing up
at the same moment, caught the expression of his face. He said no more.
He even wondered that he had been capable of blurting out that half
foolish, wholly mean, compliment. To be in this lovely presence meant
so much that he could only feel so little that he could express, that
his usual ready tongue and ready wit failed him under stress of such
novel and inexplicable emotion.

He had longed all the way home for this half-hour, as every day he had
grown to long for it. Now that it was here, a reality instead of an
expectation, he was only conscious of an absolute unworthiness of its
privileges.

Something about the room and its occupants affected him as nothing
apart from them had ever done. He could not define or express it, but
the consciousness became almost tangible, and anything disturbing
it gave him a mental start. There was no effort in his usual speech
or manner, because he never stopped to think how they affected his
hearers. But here, beside this exquisite piece of feminine intelligence
he was in perpetual dread of seeming rough or coarse, of offending
feelings too delicate and too rare for anything but a sensitive plant
to own! There was no way of explaining how such a state of things had
come about. He only felt that there they were, neither to be evaded nor
banished; and capable of enduring for just thirty exquisite minutes out
of the twenty-four hours.

That he was embarrassed, stupid, tactless, often occurred to him during
those thirty minutes, and sometimes at successive intervals after they
had passed. So it was that to-night he hailed Miss Lavinia's presence
with a sense of relief. He could talk easily enough to her, and the
addressing of Mrs. Quarn through a third person presented a felicitous
method of amusing her that the first person singular lacked. He was
conscious of the fact that his history and his quixotic protectorship
of Molly Udale had been communicated to Patience Quarn that afternoon,
and that she on her side, was studying him from quite a new point of
view. Studying him with that wonder women invariably experience for a
man's knack of keeping his private affairs and feelings exclusively in
the background when he chooses. Before to-day he had seemed to her but
a healthy, handsome young animal, unbroken to civilised manners and
habits, and as amusing in his frisks and gambols as a wild colt in a
fenced paddock. But when Miss Lavinia began to talk of him, allowing
the warmth of feminine admiration to tinge the picture her words
painted, Patience Quarn was conscious of a singularly vital interest
aroused by her friend's description.

"It is good to have such a genuine piece of unspoilt humanity once in
one's life!" Miss Lavinia had said. "It's a queer thing, Patience, but
women are always trying to pretend a man is what they want him to be.
He is generally something quite different, but they hug their illusions
all the closer, and merely allow for 'variations' on the original
theme. If they were only sensible they would take him for what he is, a
queer mixture of good and bad, which he is always trying to balance."

"But when we love him we never think of faults or shortcomings. His
simplest action has a flavour of heroism."

"I suppose I never loved a man like that," said Miss Lavinia
thoughtfully; and upon her answer tea had been introduced, and
following it came Rufus Myrthe.

The new interest that had attached to him after hearing his story
made Patience Quarn more sympathetic even than her wont. The gracious
sweetness of her manner, the intent look in her deep eyes, were
dangerous revelations to the young Quixote, as Miss Lavinia called him.
Dangerous, because for the first time he knew himself as the object of
that interest. Hitherto he had been an outside quantity to her mind,
the recipient of mere conventional greetings; an acquaintance, to whom
the word amusing gave a qualifying terminology, and for whose use, or
deeper importance, no circumstance had arisen. All this had now changed.

Set before her as the simple, brave, strong-hearted creature whom
Miss Lavinia was on a fair way to idolise, he held a clear claim to
higher recognition. Frankly she gave it. Treating him for once to the
outpouring of much that meant her cultured, thoughtful, imaginative
self, so that the conversation between Miss Lavinia and herself
brought him into its confidence, its themes, and its speculations, and
spiritual area, in a way that no woman's converse had ever brought
him. Miss Lavinia he knew as well-read, well-educated, and a highly
intelligent woman, yet womanly withal, and large-hearted enough to
embrace many objects that appealed to her time, her sympathy, and her
wealth.

But of Patience Quarn he had formed no definite opinion as yet. She had
been visionary and illusive; a dream of exquisite beauty and exquisite
feelings that held all a vision's entrancement and all its need of
explanation. To-day he became suddenly conscious that explanation was
blending with the entrancement, and that the beauty and illusiveness
were shaping themselves into form, even as a rainbow suddenly draws its
arch of colour from a nebulous mist of cloud. He had little desire to
break this spell by the intrusion of his own voice framing an opinion,
or giving agreement to hers. Listening had suddenly become a charm, and
yet he seemed to have talked too much and too often.

It is only once in a lifetime that young manhood takes off its shoes,
so to say, in the presence of Woman the Divinity, knowing that it
treads on holy ground. Only once that she becomes to him saint and
shrine together, and all the world of woman outside and beyond her are
simply the unconsidered mass of sexual forces of which she is the one
and sole exponent.

Usually he is very young, and very ignorant, and very trustful when he
first stands, unshod and trembling, on that holy ground aforesaid. It
is seldom or never his fate to do more than touch it. Perhaps that is
well.

The sterner needs of life recall him from that dream. The harsh truths
of life clash and clamour against its tender melody. The cold hands of
Fate or circumstances draw him back to realities. The golden moment has
passed. He can only be thankful in after years that it was golden--for
a moment.

Sometimes woman herself is his disillusionist. Sometimes it is she
who suggests the ground may not be quite so holy as he imagines, the
shrine not quite so sacred. If that be so poor youth fares worse at
her hands than at the cruelty of that Fate against which he had raged.
For such an awakening has the agony, and not the peace, of death. Such
disillusion colours all his future life, and even repenting Magdalene
wins no more charity than the Phrynes or Circes he satirises with his
scorn.

Rufus Myrthe was in that first glorified stage that only asks to adore.
No one, not the gentle, motherly woman who had grown to love him as
her own son, not even the unconscious object of his adoration herself,
could have blamed him for his feelings. They were the gift of true
reverence more than of absolute knowledge. The throbbing melody was so
sweet that his listening ear caught no echoing thunder from the waves
of disaster beyond. He only knew that if through all the days to come
he might claim just such a half-hour of bliss in each, life would be
full, and complete, and satisfying.

Which, alas! only shows that he must have been very young!




CHAPTER XVIII.

The advent of a girl of such rare beauty as Molly Udale possessed could
not pass unremarked or unenvied by a community of less favoured members
of her age and sex.

Of the fifteen girl inmates of Perrycourt fourteen had considered
themselves passably comely until the arrival of the fifteenth. Then, by
reason of those comparisons which an old proverb wisely assures us are
"odious," they became gradually conscious of defects, or neglect on the
part of Nature, hitherto unnoticed.

The two girls who shared Molly's room were pleasant, good-hearted
creatures enough; one the orphaned child of a dairy farmer in Suffolk,
the other belonging to that class of workers who favour towns. She was
a Manchester girl, and this quiet retreat, whither Miss Moneyash had
brought her, savoured somewhat of dullness.

These girls were not in the least degree reticent as to particulars
of their own lives and experiences, or their ideas of future good
fortune when they should leave the Home. They somewhat resented the
new inmate's reserve. Molly never spoke of her father, or the Inn, or
the circumstances of her previous life. To all hints and questionings
she turned a deaf ear. After that Sunday, however, which had placed
her before them as a specially-favoured individual, possessing the
acquaintance of a young man, their curiosity grew rampant.

"What relation was he?" "How long had she known him?" "What was his
business?" "Why did he talk so differently from folks hereabouts!"
"Were they keeping company?"

These, and other similar questions, disturbed Molly's rest that night,
and kept up an atmosphere of insistent whisperings in the room.

"Keeping company" had no meaning for her, and she demanded one from her
better-informed companions.

The information was such as to bring warmer roses into the girl's
cheeks than those already blooming there. To make her thankful for the
darkness, and angry--yet glad--that her veil of ignorance was for ever
rent asunder.

"Yo' be quite wrong," she said, fiercely. "He's nothin' to me more'n
a brother might be. Nor wud I want it. It's naught but kindness an' a
memory o' far-off relationship as makes him kind o' pity my loneliness."

"Dear heart! Now, there's a tale," said black-eyed Jess from
Manchester. "It's silly to pretend young men don't mean nothing by
coming after a girl, and taking her walks and all that. 'Tis the way
courting always commences. You take my word for 't."

"I've heard so from my married sister," observed the Suffolk girl, who
was named Martha Dilley. "She told me as how Tom Naggett used to be
always hanging round the cowsheds, milking-time, as a beginning, and
then he took courage, and asked her to walk with him o' Sundays. And
arter a time it came to a talk o' a cottage, and holy matrimony."

Molly kept silent, but her ears burnt now as well as her cheeks.

"He's a fine set-up young man--gentlemanly, I should say, but for
some o' his words," continued Jess. "I've heard folk talk like that
in Manchester. Mostly they comes from Merriky. Is your friend," (with
marked emphasis) "from those parts, Molly Udale?"

"Yes," she answered, briefly.

"You don't mean to tell us much," continued the girl. "And I don't
hold it's friendly for Martha and me han't kept any o' our secrets to
ourselves. You might try to be a bit more up-spoken."

"I ha' nothin' to tell ye," said Molly. "He's just what I sed; no more
nor that. An' I dunna wish to talk. I'm nigh dead wi' sleep."

She turned on her pillow and relapsed into unsociability, despite hints
and innuendoes. The girls gave up their efforts at last. Evidently
Molly was not to be "drawn," and they in turn talked drowsiness into
sleep, and the room grew quite still, save for the sound of soft,
long-drawn breaths, or the unromantic snoring of the Suffolk girl, on
whom the indulgence of cheese at supper had always a disastrous effect.

But Molly was not asleep. Wide-eyed, thought-stirred, she lay, amidst
the still novel comforts of snowy linen and warm covering.

Her heart was fluttering like a bird in her breast. She could not
forget what these girls had insinuated. For the first time in her life
she was face to face with the first problem of womanhood. The why and
wherefore of that subtle attraction which lend a new meaning to the
seeming innocence of comradeship. As usual, too, with innocence, it
was one of her own sex who had acted interpreter. There had been no
question on her part as to why she had won interest from the handsome
young stranger. But the insight afforded into men's character by the
Suffolk girl suggested a new meaning underlying the friendliness of
her own special friend. And that meaning was so wholly wonderful that
it seemed to overthrow her whole mental balance for the time being.
These few days of a changed life, of kindly words and kindly counsel,
of decent clothes, food, and general surroundings, had left her thirsty
for its continuance. She was perfectly sure that a return to that old,
degrading life would be impossible, and all her crushed and dormant
energies merged into one determination, that of making the very best
of her present good fortune, and astonishing and pleasing her young
champion.

It was what they had talked of under the sycamore tree when Miss
Lavinia had seen them through the window. He had expressed approval of
her changed appearance, and commended her behaviour in church, which
considered as a first experience had been a prospective ordeal, only
relieved by the friendly nudges and tugs of Suffolk Martha at critical
parts of the service, demanding sudden alterations of position. But the
singing and prayers had appealed strongly to a semi-religious strain
in her nature, compounded of long days and hours of loneliness and a
large acquaintance with strange and solemn dawns and nights on the open
moor. Such things as these bring to the untutored soul some sense of
their own mysteries, and some questions as to its relative place in the
scheme of creation.

Though Molly could not have given outward expression to such feelings,
they had had their use and taught their meanings. So when prayer and
praise voiced them for the first time, she thrilled with a sense of
God's presence and God's gifts of life, and sense, and intelligence.
And Rufus Myrthe had seemed to understand this and the reason of it,
before her stumbling tongue had half-expressed it. It was this ready
comprehension that had lifted him still higher in the scale of her
grateful thoughts. Comparison with other girls had left her shamed at
her ignorance; abashed by the difference between her past and present.
Yet he had never drawn any comparison between them, never found fault
with what she knew she lacked, and feared she might never gain.

Her heart had gone out to him in a wave of passionate gratitude. She
knew that for six days she could work from dawn to night, if need
be, only to win a word of praise from him on the seventh. And these
feelings had wanted no translation. Like nestling birds, they had
hovered round her heart and then sunk to rest there with folded wings
of deep content. Why had these girls disturbed that nest with their
foolish talk and questions? Why, made it a difficulty henceforward to
meet Rufus Myrthe, seeing that laughing eyes would watch and laughing
lips jest at what to her was sacred and untellable.

Differing from one another in moods, tastes, and natures, yet the whole
fourteen girls met on common ground when they hinted at "sweethearts."
The topic, as yet impersonal was the one topic of engrossing interest
that pushed all others aside. And here was a case at hand to speculate
about. Their "beauty," as they called Molly, wore quite a halo of
superiority since the advent of the "young man," who had so coolly
marched into their cloistered existence and claimed brotherly or
cousinly rights without any legal claim to either. For Miss Lavinia
had spoken to the matron, and the matron had mentioned the "peculiar
circumstances" to the eldest girl, who was also monitress of her
dormitory, and thus a hint had dropped from one to another, with the
result of to-night's outburst of curiosity.

Much of this Molly could not know, but what she did know left her
wretched and sleepless, and gave to Monday morning a wholly different
meaning to that it had held on Saturday night.

But she braced herself to stoicism, and went about her duties and her
tasks, regardless of what her companions might think.

Miss Lavinia herself directed what she should learn, and the simplest
methods of doing so. The girl's ignorance was appalling. She had the
merest smattering of elementary subjects, and her attempts at writing
would have disgraced a child of six. Her attendance at the hamlet
school had been of a desultory and unwilling description until such
time as her mother's helplessness gave sufficient excuse to abandon
it altogether. The regret for wasted opportunities spurred her now to
an expenditure of time and attention almost painful. She even won the
Manchester girl over to her aid, she being the most brilliant scholar
of the whole fourteen.

"I mun' learn ta read writin' an' ta' speak better," she said,
wistfully. "An' I've no more'n two or three months ta do it in."

The good-natured Jess agreed to help her all she could, and kept her
word, too, in hopes of gaining her confidence, and learning what was
the reason of that young man's Sunday visits.

The season "young man" meanwhile was awaiting the results of his
letters home, and increasing his popularity at Peak Hall every
successive day and week he remained.

The said "young man" meanwhile was supposed to be over, but various
invalids and boarders still clung to "the treatment," and believed that
the efficacy of the waters and the skill of Dr. Quarn would sooner or
later result in the expected miracle of "a cure."

Miss Skelmore was among the boarders and Miss Topliss among the
patients. There were also various married couples, of little interest
to anyone but themselves, who had narrowed life into a regulation drill
of "baths, waters, massage, diet and sleep." There was an impecunious,
elderly Adonis, who was devoted to Miss Topliss; and a sickly youth
given to reciting poetry badly, and playing Chopin a degree worse
than he recited. There was also a fussy individual, with a deep bass
voice and a cast in his eye, who seemed to have no absolute reason for
staying on save a desire to inflict Shakespearian readings upon the
assemblage whenever offered. A lady who had once been a professional
singer, and a throaty tenor who hadn't, but always lamented the fact,
on the score of constitutional delicacy, made up the party. As the
autumn closed in Rufus Myrthe felt that the said party had a depressing
influence even upon his spirits, by reason of what Arabella Skelmore
had described as "being dependent on each other."

Added to this, a grave and horrible problem was tormenting his mind.
Whether he evaded, or argued, or doubted its existence, there was no
getting away from its haunting capabilities. He dared breathe no word,
give no hint. He felt that a barrier was being slowly but surely raised
between his protective devotion and its unconscious object. Rarely now
were those half-hours allowed to him. Excuses of "weakness," "illness,"
"engagements," met him again and again at the threshold of that sacred
room. Even when permission was given, he, as often as not, found the
doctor also there; lounging in the easy-chair by the fire; interfering
subtly between anything that tête-à-tête and turning the thirty
expected moments of bliss into an exquisitely-designed torture.

Yet Rufus Myrthe lingered on with a dogged patience that was itself
worthy of all praise. He bore sweet indifference and subtle sarcasm
with equal imperturbability. He knew that the one was dictated by
policy, and the other by fear. Yet he told himself with a secret pride
in the telling, Dr. Quarn had begun to fear him, and before very long
he should have good reason to do so.

At present there was but the shadowy instinct of animosity between the
two men. The one envied the "handsome young brute," as he called him,
his superb vitality, his unflagging energy, and his strong, wholesome
manliness. And the other despised that mawkish sentimentality that
appealed to sickly and hysterical women. He hated the suave smile, the
soft walk, the watchful, tigerish eyes. Instinctively he felt that the
man had a secret to hide, and that a sense of fear was never very far
removed from the apparent tranquillity of his life.

But the days had drifted into weeks, and Rufus Myrthe had become so one
with this strange household, and so engrossed by the new feelings at
work within his soul, that he was in a fair way of forgetting the very
matter that had paved the way to his presence here; the very object
for which he had visited this special county, and become entangled in
a double mystery. The expected letters had not arrived, and though he
puzzled over the circumstance, he could only wait on in hope that each
"next mail" would bring what the present one had failed to do.

Meanwhile he walked or rode about the country, picking up stray bits
of information, exploring the wonders of cavern or mine, getting more
topographical and historical information than most tourists ever
troubled about.




CHAPTER XIX.

One afternoon Rufus Myrthe returned to the Peak Hall somewhat earlier
than his wont. The day was clouding in; the sky looked a stormy
prophecy of rain and wind. He entered the fire-lit hall, and a sense
of comfort and peace fell upon him. The group before the fire greeted
him with a warm welcome, and little as he cared individually for any of
them, he felt the gratitude of a stranger in a strange land for their
appreciation of himself.

He suffered them to draw him into their midst, and give him tea and hot
cakes, and other delicacies, which, as a rule, he despised, and made
himself agreeable in his own fashion, until the fair Arabella let fall
a piece of information which had an unexpected effect.

Yet she only said that Dr. Quarn had gone to Derby, and would not
return till the next day.

To Rufus Myrthe the news was at once a relief and a perplexity. It
paved the way for a confidential talk that he had vainly sought this
past week, and yet it left the means of obtaining it both doubtful and
indefinite. Miss Skelmore, rallying him on his silence, gained nothing
except a brief excuse for abrupt departure on the plea of important
letters to write before dinner. Then he left the group to themselves,
and hurried up the stairs, his mind grown suddenly intent on one
special object.

The boudoir door was shut. He knocked gently, and the faint familiar
voice bade him enter. Mrs. Quarn was in her usual place on the couch.
A neat maid sat beside her at needlework. Rufus advanced with that
subdued eagerness of step she knew so well, and bending over the frail
figure put his usual question as to how she felt. "I've not seen you
for two days," he added.

"No," she said. "I didn't feel equal to going downstairs. But I'm
better to-day. Won't you sit down?"

He took the chair to which she pointed, and wondered how long the neat
maid was going to hang on to the situation. What he had to say was
difficult enough. A third person rendered it impossible. Whether Mrs.
Quarn also recognised the fact, or whether she was indifferent, she
bade the girl go down to her tea, and not return till she rang. When
the door closed she turned her full, sad gaze upon the young American.

"I have seen better actors than you," she observed. "What is the
important matter that is tormenting your sense of restraint?"

"How did you come to guess!"

"Your face has not yet learnt to mask either its desires or its
emotions."

That face flew a red flag of embarrassment at such candid speaking. He
took his courage in both hands and blurted out.

"It may seem a preposterous sort of thing to say, but will you tell me,
Mrs. Quarn, why you don't get hold of some other medical advice? Why
you don't try some new treatment? Why you are content to just go on day
for day, week for week, losing strength, that you don't regain? It's
right down terrible to me to see a woman, so young and beautiful as
you, content to let her life slip from her grasp for want of a little
courage; a little common-sense."

He stopped suddenly. The look in her face was like a shock to his
excited sympathy, so sad it was, and so unutterably hopeless.

"I shall never get any better. Perhaps--I don't want to."

"If that's so," he said, in a husky, subdued voice, "there must be some
very strong reason in the background. You were well, and strong, and
lovely two years ago; Miss Moneyash told me that. All of a sudden you
changed; and you have let go of one thing after another."

"Yes," she said, mechanically. "The hope of happiness, the hope of
motherhood, the hope of life."

"And all for this," he cried suddenly, with a sort of breathless
passion that startled her. "For all this you have one person only to
thank."

The look of terror in her uplifted eyes smote him to the heart. He
sprang to his feet. "My God!" he cried. "Can't you see? Can't you
understand? Why do you go on trusting? Why do you suffer unorthodox
treatment--experiments--God knows what? Why don't you go away from
here--go anywhere--anywhere, and let an English doctor see you and
find out what's the matter? Oh! I knew you'd look indignant. But just
hear me out. Days and weeks now I've been waiting to speak, and I must
speak! Mrs. Quarn, you've no right to be ill. You wouldn't be ill if
you refused to take the medicine I've seen in your room!"

The white face lifted itself from pillows scarcely whiter. "What do you
mean? Are you aware of what your words--suggest?"

"They suggest," he said, struggling for calmness, "the fear in my own
heart. It's no use pretending otherwise. I can't get away from it! Mrs.
Quarn, may I tell you a story? A true one. Something that happened to
me not above a couple of years ago. A story I shall never forget."

She let her head sink back to its old position, and made a faint
gesture of assent.

"I was away out on a rough bit of work in a rough enough country," he
said hurriedly. "And I, and the men with me, settled for a space in one
of those mushroom towns that spring up out West, while your builders
here would be fooling around with a yard measure and a truck of bricks.
I calculate there were a score or two of buildings, including a store,
and a printing office, and an hotel, not much class, any more than the
folk themselves. Still, there it was, and did a trade. One day the
whole place was in a fine taking! An ugly story was whispered, and grew
and grew, until it just had to be confirmed, or scouted for a lie. No
two ways about it. It's not a pleasant story for a lady to hear, Mrs.
Quarn, and I respect you too much to go into all the ways of it. I'll
only say conjugal infidelity, jealousy, unhappiness, had had an awful
sequel. I was called on the jury at the inquest. They don't trouble
much out there about your age or your birth certificate, or such like
foolishness, when they want sense and strength and a bit of educated
respectability thrown in. I found myself among eleven other free-born
citizens, and we'd got to determine about a quack remedy given by a
husband to his wife with the very best intentions, and--the very worst
results."

The figure of the listening woman stirred uneasily. "It is not, as you
said, a very pleasant story. I would rather----"

"Don't stop me now," he entreated; "I must go on. It won't take long.
We tried the man, and for a time it was a toss-up as to our verdict.
But at last we had to agree. He had murdered his wife slowly, and quite
unsuspectedly. Murdered her because he had fallen in love with another
woman, and he'd done it so cautiously and carefully that even the
friend who attended her only fancied it was a natural sort of ailment.
She was just a trifle suspicious at the end, because he was so set
on giving her a curious sort of drug, and always had to travel to a
town, a good hundred miles away, to get it. Yet, when it was analysed,
it couldn't be proved exactly harmful. It was only when taken under
certain physical conditions, and in conjunction with another drug, that
it became dangerous."

"Why," she said, very low--"Why do you tell me this?"

He rose to his feet, and stood up, tall and straight, before her
shrinking eyes.

"Mrs. Quarn," he said, sternly, "you are taking that same drug!"

A blow could not have struck the horrified woman more surely.

"Oh! how dare you!" she gasped. "Do you know what you insinuate?"

Rufus Myrthe turned aside. He could not meet those terrified eyes with
any sort of composure.

"Yes, I know," he answered unsteadily. "And I know this too that if my
own life could have been given to save you such knowledge, there would
have been no two words about giving it. But I can't save you that way,
and I can't shut my eyes to your danger, and I can't see you fading
away day by day and keep silence, Mrs. Quarn. Proof is easy enough. I
only ask you not to take that physic in the bottle with the green seal!"

"You must be mad! You have let your imagination run away with you. Why,
what possible reason could--oh! I can't say it! . . . I can't think it!
Oh! why--why have you told me this horrible story! Was my life so happy
before that you should have snatched away from it my belief in the love
and honour at the man you accuse!"

"I thought you'd take it hard," he said, bitterly. "I couldn't expect
anything else. Sometimes I've wished I'd never set foot in this
house--never made the discovery I did. And yet--look here, Mrs. Quarn,
I'm as downright as a sledge-hammer, and you know it by this time! If
I hadn't all the weight of truth on my side I'd never have spoken one
word to disturb your faith. Sooner than that I'd have cut my tongue
out! But, I tell you, I know what's being done to you just as surely
as I know I'm speaking it. I don't know how many bottles of that stuff
you've taken already. But I'm 'sure if you take another--you're a dead
woman!"

She shuddered. The hue of face and lips grew almost deathlike.

"Oh, go!" she moaned. "Go! You have said enough."

"I'll not go," he said doggedly, "unless you'll let me give you some
brandy. If you faint----"

She had fainted.

Hurriedly he rang the bell, but as his eyes searched desperately for
restoratives they fell upon the bottle he had warned her against. In a
sudden blind rage and fury he seized it and dashed it into the fire. A
moment later the maid appeared.

"Your mistress is ill," he said, resigning his place with a feeling of
helplessness.

"Faint," said the girl quietly. "Just rub her hands, sir, and lay her
flat. Take those pillows away. I'll fetch her salts. I've seen her go
off like this many a time. That's why master said she was never to be
left alone."

"Many a time," Rufus Myrthe echoed that phrase through the miserable
hours that followed this scene. "Many a time." And one time would come
when that weak heart would refuse to flutter a signal of returning
life; when the breath for which he had sought in agonised fear would
issue no more through the sealed portals of existence.

Memory showed him the picture of another figure, silent and still, and
for ever to be silent now. The face before him bore too the grey shadow
he had learnt to know and dread. With a sudden passionate force he
gathered the frail form in his arms, and strove to lend it warmth and
vitality with all the power of will. It was but a momentary impulse;
but the wave of his own strong feelings beat and surged against the
passive misery he embraced; surged at the closed portals of sense and
suffering, and by sheer domination won the citadel of life.

Her eyes opened. She sighed softly. He laid her gently back on the
pillows as the maid re-entered the room.




CHAPTER XX.

Miss Lavinia sat in her cosy sitting-room at Perrycourt, busy with
the housekeeping accounts of the week. She was too good a business
woman, and had too conscientious views respecting the responsibility of
wealth, ever to let waste or extravagance interfere with her charities.

A loud knock at the hall door made her lift her pretty white head with
a sudden start. It was so imperative a summons, and so unlike the
application of any ordinary visitor. Then a quick, firm tread echoed
on the polished oak floor of the hall, her door was flung impetuously
open, and she was confronted by a dripping figure, whose white set face
and eyes of despair gave a new meaning to its personality.

"My dear Rufus!" she said wonderingly. "Why, you're soaked from head to
foot! What on earth has happened?"

He stood suddenly still, midway in the room. He was trying to collect
his disordered senses. Trying, too, to account for his presence there,
seeing that only vague instinct had guided him. He had no clear
recollection of why he had come, why he had suddenly burst from the
Hall like a distraught creature, and rushed on through wind and rain,
heart throbbing and brain afire, until the calm, sweet presence of
the little lavender-clad lady forced upon him some sense of necessary
explanation.

Mechanically he shook himself like a water dog, and pushed off the
curly wet hair from his brow. "I'm in great trouble," he said; and she
noted that all the glad, hopeful notes of youth seemed to have deserted
his speech. It rang weary, mechanical, as if age or heavy grief weighed
it.

"Come to the fire; or wait--take off that wet coat first--and then tell
me all about it," she said, anxiously.

He came forward in the same dazed, mechanical way. He made no effort
to remove the soaked garment. She rose and pushed a chair forward for
him, and when he was seated she herself unbuttoned the coat and hung
it on another chair, with that curious attention to trifles that women
evince, even in moments of grave importance. The fact that his shirt
was of flannel relieved her of immediate anxiety; though her material
instincts took a wild gallop over the ground of possible ailments,
beginning with rheumatic fever and ending with congestion of the lungs.

"Now, what has happened?" she repeated.

"I've just come from the Hall," he said, hoarsely. "Mrs. Quarn is very
ill. She oughtn't to be alone. I want you to go to her and stay till
she's well."

Miss Lavinia looked the astonishment she was incapable of expressing.

"Stay! What do you mean? How could I stay unless she or her husband ask
me?"

"It's no time for standing on senseless ceremony like that!" he
exclaimed, passionately. "I've suspected what's been going on from
the first week I was there. I know now I was right--See here, Miss
Moneyash, if Mrs. Quarn isn't removed from the medical treatment of
that devil, if someone who is a friend, and can watch her night and
day, can't live with her and guard her from his diabolical skill,
she'll be a dead woman before the year's out."

To say that Miss Lavinia was startled and horror-struck conveys very
little of the feelings that held her aghast and speechless, gazing at
the young fellow as if she doubted his sanity.

"My dear boy! consider what you're saying! Dr. Quarn--and Patience!
Why, it's impossible. Such a thing couldn't be. It's too horrible to
think of!"

"It may be that--to you," he answered, doggedly. "But I'm not afraid to
give it a name. And I've warned her, even as I'm warning you. If you
want to save a scandal in the future, you'd better stir yourself now
and do as I've advised."

"Do you mean to tell me that you've actually told Patience what you
suspect the doctor of. Oh! I can't believe it."

"No more could she at first. But I had my case clear enough before I
made up my mind to trouble her. If she hadn't been warned now it would
soon have been too late."

"What did you tell her?" asked Miss Lavinia, faintly.

He gave in brief, clear words the history of that momentous interview.

"I left her with the maid," he concluded, "And I've thrown the accursed
stuff away, so that she won't have a chance of taking any more of it.
She'll be very ill for a few days, and then, if I'm any judge, she'll
rally. She'll want food, which must be given very cautiously. In a
fortnight she'll be able to walk, and in a month she'll be as well
as ever she was. I'd stake every dollar I possess, and all my future
fortunes, on that. But someone must be with her. She must be watched
night and day, and there's no one I can think of who could do all this
but you."

The little lady's face was so pale, and so distressed that it made
demands on his sympathy. "I'm sorry I've frightened you. But, surely,
you see the thing in the same light as I do."

"It's not that," she faltered, in a shaken voice. "Not that at all.
Your words have only opened my eyes to a danger I've been trying to
believe imaginary. What I ask you now is what I've often asked myself.
The reason? She is devoted to him. He has the use of her wealth----"

"Are you sure of that?"

Miss Lavinia hesitated. Brought face to face with the question, she was
not at all sure. Patience had never told her under what conditions she
held her fortune, or in what way she was at liberty to dispose of it.

"I am not absolutely sure. But even supposing he desired the full
benefit of it, surely--oh! Rufus, surely, he could not be slowly taking
her life as you say! It is horrible, horrible! I can't believe it."

"The money," went on the young man, ruthlessly, "is only the motive,
though a strong one. But there may be another. Supposing he got tired
of his wife--supposing he has taken a fancy--elsewhere?"

The old lady's clear, soft cheeks grew rosy red.

"I have no suspicion, and Patience, I am sure, has none either, of such
a state of things."

"Probably not. When a man's got that sort of card up his sleeve he
don't, as a rule, put it on the table. But I really can't see why we
should be troubling to find out what he may be doing, when we've got
on the track of what he is. Let Mrs. Quarn get well, as she will, if
my directions are carried out, and see then if her recovered health
wakes up in him the relief and gratitude one would expect from a
husband. This business he's got on hand is a slow one. That's how it
can go unsuspected. You say no English physician would meet him for
a consultation, so he's pretty safe. He can ask any or all of them.
There's nothing to hinder that. And he can tell folks so, and lament
like Job himself over the senseless, idiotic, life-sacrificing nonsense
that you call professional etiquette in this country. Thank Heaven we
don't have any of that sort of foolishness where I come from! Seems to
me it's been created so as to give employment to coroners and judges,
and keep up the price of funerals! But to go back to what I was saying.
Being a slow business, he won't at first understand why she's getting
better. If you're on the ground he'll put it down to your nursing, or
fancy she's not having so much of the drug. Then he'll begin to worry.
Now, you see how easy it'll be for you to prove whether I am right or
not, and to prove it while safeguarding Mrs. Quarn at the same time."

She was silent. It was no easy matter to nerve her simple,
clean-souled, God-fearing self to face such an ordeal as a month under
the conditions prescribed. Her frightened eyes searched the young man's
face. It seemed to her to have aged by years since she had last seen
it. Evidently he was in deadly earnest, and had every reason to ask her
belief in this horrible tale. Every word he had spoken besought her
confidence; if uncertain of others, he was essentially sure of himself
and what he knew.

He waited for her answer with desperate eagerness. It seemed to him
that two lives hung in the balance while she was deliberately holding
the scales, and mentally adding or subtracting the infinitesimal
weights of her own theories. The failure of his project would mean a
life-failure to himself. The overthrow of something whose proportions
were no longer adjustable to mere kindly interest. All previous aims
and objects had suddenly dwarfed before the intense longing to save and
help this one woman. For her sake he had possessed himself of patience;
had waited like a humble beggar at the door for chance crumbs of
notice; become a discreet and unimportunate slave.

Only with the vivid terror of danger near at hand had he torn her from
her nest of self-delusion, and left her shivering, terror-struck,
awake, before the threshold of doom.

Every moment that still kept Miss Lavinia silent was torture to him. In
the present crisis he was helpless if she would not fall in with his
scheme. To watch over this threatened life would be impossible to him.
Equally impossible would be warning or threat to the smiling traitor,
under whose roof crime stalked disguised as skill.

He moved restlessly in his chair. The mute appeal in his eyes was like
the dumb entreaty we see sometimes in those of a dog. Miss Lavinia
caught the look; the ready tears sprang to her eyes.

"I will go," she said, simply.

He threw himself at her feet, boy-like, and seizing her hands he kissed
them passionately. His relief was so great he could find no words to
meet the situation. "God in Heaven bless you," he whispered at last;
"she'll be saved!"

* * * * * *

The fact of Dr. Quarn's absence gave Miss Lavinia every excuse needful
for her appearance on the scene, and her expressed determination to
stay until Patience was out of danger. The prolonged fainting fits had
been followed by an hysterical seizure which had alarmed the maid and
the resident nurse, and yielded to none of the usual remedies. But when
Rufus Myrthe returned in a hired carriage, that conveyed Miss Moneyash
also, a feeling of relief swept away their terrors.

Miss Lavinia at once set to work to prove herself the useful and
determined person that previous emergencies had always found her. She
scolded her patient into quietude, and then soothed her disordered
nerves by a powerful sedative. When sleep at last came, and the crisis
was over, she began to think of suitable arrangements for herself.
The dressing-room adjoining Mrs. Quarn's bedroom was large enough
to admit of a bed, and a door opened from one to the other. Thus it
would be possible to keep the invalid under strict surveillance. But
she had also determined on securing the services of a trained nurse
from Manchester. She was more inclined to trust a stranger than even
Patience's own maid. Also, she felt sure that the doctor, on his
return, would scarcely dismiss a professional attendant without good
reason, though he might object to Miss Lavinia's own self-invited
presence. If he did, there would be nothing for it but to give a hint
to the nurse, and bid her watch carefully that her patient received no
medicine from her husband.

All these arrangements she planned that night while Patience slept
on, exhausted. Little sleep came to Miss Lavinia herself. She was too
horror-struck by the tragedy so suddenly evoked; too full of anxiety
for what might yet happen. She lay wide-eyed watchful, listening to
the storm without, and wondering what could be the real reason for Dr.
Quarn's abominable action; at times hardly able to convince herself of
the reality of all that had passed.

It was like some horrible revelation such as now and then leapt into
the pages of the press, showing the fangs of the beast in Nature, under
the smiling mask of civilised life.

One had read of such things, of course, but they seemed to belong to
another class of humanity. A class beyond the pale of education or
refinement.

The morning brought sunshine and beauty to the outer world, and
still further enhanced the contrast between its fresh and wholesome
loveliness and the black cloud resting upon the house and its inmates.

Patience Quarn at last awoke, and saw the anxious loving face of
her friend bent over her. She stared blankly at it, and then at the
familiar things around.

It seemed to her as if for hours she had been standing on an abyss,
gazing down, down, into fathomless depths. Then a hand, strong and
rough, but saving, had caught her back, and set her on firm ground.
What had it meant. Who had saved her?

She closed her eyes again. Miss Lavinia's gentle voice besought her to
look up, to take the nourishment she held; but the very thought brought
back the old nausea.

She turned languidly away. "Leave me alone," she implored. "I know
all . . . I remember . . . It is best I should die."




CHAPTER XXI.

The hen is a timorous enough creature, usually considered, but the hen
with her chickens to defend becomes a fierce and fearless antagonist,
fully conscious of claws, and ruffled feathers, and sharp beak. In like
manner, Lavinia Moneyash had been the simplest and least aggressive of
maiden ladies until a sudden emergency showed her the duty of defending
two human things she loved. Those words of Patience Quarn acted like an
electric shock, bracing brain and heart, and bringing every energy to
bear upon the situation. Instead of a pitying, sympathetic listener,
she became a stern and upbraiding judge.

The invalid was arraigned for her indifference to life as a sin.
She was told history of other sad, and deserted, and broken-hearted
creatures, who yet had been brave and strong enough to take up their
allotted burden and struggle along the great highway to the goal
of promised rest. She heard that individual life has more than an
individual stake in the larger issues of time. The other lives claim it
for help, for sustenance, for example, for sympathy. That weakly to lay
down arms at the first obstacle is to cry "coward" for ever after.

She listened nerveless and beaten, with the look of a creature that has
abdicated its own rights to life's kingdom. She listened, and knew that
throughout the listening a still, small voice within her own heart bade
her be of good courage, and turn back from the road on which Despair
had sent her; turn back and hope once more.

Bravely Miss Lavinia fought that battle, for fear lay heavy at her
heart. She did not know when Dr. Quarn might return, but she knew that
only a supreme effort could nerve this suffering woman to assert her
claims to the life he was destroying. This knowledge it was that gave
her that quiet sternness of demeanour, the firm resolve to combat all
complaints, all opposition, and force her patient into rallying her
exhausted strength, her mental energies.

And she succeeded. By nightfall, when the professional nurse arrived,
Patience Quarn had turned from those opening gates she had so nearly
reached, and watched them slowly, slowly close, and had held out her
hands of gratitude to her saviour.

"I shall not die--yet," she said. "There is something more to do."

Then, the fighting over and done, her faithful friend proved a true
woman after all, and needing woman's one relief and safeguard, she beat
a hasty retreat and cried herself to sleep.

The battle had raged twenty-four hours. Victor and vanquished were
alike exhausted.

The critical eye of the experienced nurse saw something a little
unusual about case and patient. She thought it strange enough at
a first glimpse, but stranger still when she was interviewed by a
young man who proclaimed himself merely a friend of the patient, yet
proceeded to lay down the law to a professional attendant. Guarded as
he was, and cautious as to what he hinted, or avoided, yet the nurse
gathered plainly enough there was some mystery lurking behind this
strange illness. The fact of there being no doctor, no medicine, and
a strict and constant guard over the sick room, were hints that she
was wise enough to accept and to leave unquestioned. If the patient's
own husband, a medical man, had deserted her at a crucial stage of her
malady, it certainly looked--suspicious. Either he had misunderstood
the case, or was indifferent to its serious possibilities. But being of
the sensible order of that somewhat overrated sisterhood, she made her
own diagnosis, drew her own conclusions, and brought with her such a
sense of relief and helpfulness that Rufus Myrthe and Miss Lavinia felt
as if a heavy load had been removed from their shoulders. The night
passed tranquilly and uneventfully. Rufus Myrthe assured the inmates of
the Hall that all danger was at an end, and that being the case, they
wondered at his unusual gravity. He seemed indifferent to all jests,
games, and contrivances for passing the evening hours.

The truth was that the young fellow was feeling the weight of the
natural reaction after all he had gone through. He had known no sleep
or rest, had scarcely touched food, had been racked with torturing
fears and doubts. But now had come a breathing space. He knew of course
that in time to come a far worse battle would have to be waged, but
for the present he was content with an armistice. Worn out, he threw
himself on his bed that night, and before many moments was in the deep,
dreamless slumber that is Nature's blessed gift to youth.

That second night Patience Quarn lay awake; wide-eyed, thought-racked.

Her gaze took in the luxuries and dainty appointments of her room. When
she had first been introduced to them she had expressed all a young
bride's admiration and gratitude. Now, she could only remember her
friend's caustic question: "With whose money were they bought?"

Again she remembered her interest in her husband's plans for enlarging
and beautifying the old Hall. The fitting up of his own surgery. The
lavish expenditure on scientific books, instruments, and chemical
appliances. The amusement caused by patients who flocked to him, or
the paying guests whose money gave him an income apart from her own
resources. That income was rigidly kept to himself. Never once had he
offered to repay even a portion of the large sums she had originally
expended for his advantage. Never--she remembered now--expressed even
gratitude for her lavish gifts. He had taken them as a right, used them
for his own purpose, and then perpetually tried to get at her capital.
But on this point she had been firm. Not so much for her own sake as
from some womanly instinct, some latent hope, that one day there might
be another claimant. That hope had been again and again frustrated. She
remembered that also now, and how she had longed for sympathy instead
of brutal jest, and coarse derision of the shrinking, delicate feminine
instincts that are rarely understood of man. But lack of understanding
need not create lack of sympathy. She had felt that of late, that when
brought face to face with a piece of natural, clean-souled manhood.

"He would have understood," she thought; and then grew crimson from
head to foot that such a thought should dare to intrude itself even in
this hour of feminine isolation. But memory's slate was not emptied yet
of bitter records, and as she raised her feeble hand to wipe out one
cruelty, another took its place. Purity that had been mocked, endurance
that had been scorned, generosity that had been ignored; these came
forward in turn and held that slate towards her, covered still with the
writing she had tried to erase. Soft-veiled figures, fragile as those
threads of complex feelings that weave for woman her inner garment
of reserve, stole out from this misty darkness of the room and stood
there at the foot of the bed with eyes that spoke reproach. She knew
what such reproach meant; knew that her hands had weakly resigned one
right after another. Knew now what she had only guessed before, that
some reason she was too loyal to question had added a new bitterness
to estrangement; that all the world of lavished love counted as naught
when the fickle senses of the man she had lavished it upon caught flame
at some new, unholy shrine, and there worshipped unashamed. "I have
pardoned. I have condoned," she thought. "Laying blame to myself for
failure, and all for what?"

The surging wave of bitterness within her heart answered that question.
Others might seek the cause of dastardly purpose that had only just
stopped short of criminality, but she knew it. There was no riddle
in it for her. She had served him so loyally that to all other eyes
he bore title to the loyalty she gave. But all the time her heart
had ached beneath the burden of its own bitter knowledge. "And now
I am sure," she told herself; "sure that he regarded me as a clog,
an incubus, a something for ever interposed between himself and his
desires. I have never questioned the reason of absences whose very
regularity might have aroused suspicions. I have borne the deadweight
of that dishonour in silence. But even this has not been enough. Nature
would have answered his purpose in time. My heart was too surely broken
to resist much longer."

The wakeful eyes grew a little dazed. From point to point of the
familiar, beautiful things in that chamber of semi-widowhood they
wandered again, and yet again. Slow tears gathered beneath the aching
lids.

"It must end at last," she told herself. "Instead of helping to screen
him I have become a temptation to crime. And I know his nature as few
know it. Thwarted desire maddens him. It is not wise, or right, or
safe, to oppose my poor self against this overmastering vice. Lavinia
was right. We owe a duty to ourselves that even misery must not
disregard. Of my own free will I took my place here. Having done so, it
seemed impossible to break the tie. But endurance has led only to fresh
difficulty. Instead of saving him, what has it done for me? Made me the
unconscious tool that would surely have shaped his own destruction."

Her eyes closed wearily. The past seemed to heap itself into a mass of
unsightly memories before which she vainly longed to draw a curtain
of oblivion. But a hand stronger than her own held her back. A power
stronger than her own forced her to look down upon those impurities.

"It is you good women who make sinners of man!" Miss Lavinia had
sternly told her. "Because you haven't the courage to see them as they
are! Because to hide, to pardon, to extenuate, is your sole idea of
love."

Throughout long, wakeful hours that followed she gave herself up to
forming plans that might mean safety for herself, yet bring no open
scandal upon him. Even now she would spare him--if she could.

* * * * * *

Four days had passed, and Dr. Quarn had not returned. His absence made
no material difference to the routine of life at the Hall. Everything
was too well regulated for that. A few "pet" patients grumbled at the
absence of their physician-in-ordinary, but even they had their baths,
and their "massage," and their physio to fall back upon, besides the
advice or attendance of the resident nurse, a stately and important
person, who considered her knowledge and experience equal to that of
any doctor in the three kingdoms.

To Rufus Myrthe those four days were an epoch even in a life, by no
means uneventful.

To have plucked "a brand from the burning" is a feat distinctly
meritorious in the eyes of Evangelicalism, but to have snatched a life
from the jaws of death was a feat that gave to Destiny a new meaning.

He too wondered why Dr. Quarn did not return, but his wonder was
of a totally different kind from that of the fair Arabella, or the
exacting Miss Topliss, or any other of the interesting inmates of the
establishment.

The fourth day brought to Rufus Myrthe the long-expected "mail"
from America. It was with some surprise that he recognised that it
had already become of secondary importance. The tragedy into whose
action he had flung himself had a deafening or deadening effect upon
previous farcical curtain-raisers. They were swept aside now by a
paramount interest he could not dethrone. Still, he read his letters
attentively, though with an ever-increasing sense of wonder at the gulf
that had suddenly yawned between himself, as an important claimant for
information, and the present apathy that set so limited a boundary to
future ambitions.

In the solitude of his own room he read them, having first interviewed
Miss Lavinia and learnt of her patient's progress and the results of
quiet, rest, and careful nourishment.

His father's letter was as follows:--


"My dear son Rufus,

"It is my painful duty to announce to you that your late grandfather
and grandmother brought no title deeds of any consequence with them
when they left that played-out old country where you are at present
located. (They aren't needed out here, if you come to think of it.)
With regard to what you say concerning registers, certificates,
warrantry, and other titular appendages, I only answer, you are sole
heir and legatee by your said grandmother's own bequest, and to you,
as by right aforesaid, are assigned such lands, tenements, crops,
cattle, horses, poultry, and other goods, as your lamented relatives
left behind them fifty years ago. So, my dear son, just you fix up
your claim; tell the usurpers to 'Get.' I've shoved in a few letters
of the old man, but I'm not exactly certain whether they have any
bearing on the case at issue. However, they'll do to show to the
fraudulent interloper, now enjoying your peculiar British privileges
with that illegal effrontery only possible to a nation owning the
idiotic institution of a House of lords (I put a small 'l' to show my
contempt for their blamed foolishness); and wishing you all success
in your efforts to resurrect our claim as a family whose rights are
contemporarily vested in yourself, and not more fussing and fretting
over precedents than is adjudged lawful and necessary.

"I am, my dear son,

"Your attached father,

"William Rufus Ashmore Myrthe.

"P.S.--I'm not certain I'd swear as to Marth, Myrth, or Myrthe; but
that could be settled afterwards. There's a family strain about them
all to any unprejudiced mind."




CHAPTER XXII.

Rufus Myrthe put down that letter with a faint smile.

"Same old moonshiney, good-hearted piece of impossibility as ever,"
he said to himself. "This won't be much use, I reckon. I must try my
friend the parson again about those registers. Maybe I'll find some
dates in the old man's letters that'll help me. It's all very fine for
father to say I'm only to tell the usurper to 'get,' but I guess it'll
take something more than telling to make Dick Udale clear out."

Then he hustled the letters together, and leaning his elbows on the
table, and his head on his hands, began to think.

The question at issue was whether he should leave Peak Hall altogether
now that his work was done? He had given the warning, he had
safeguarded Patience Quarn so far as it was possible. He had placed
Miss Moneyash in charge. There was nothing more for him to do unless
he wished to linger on, and act ignorance or indifference, while he
watched results. But Rufus Myrthe was not a good actor, and he felt
that the task of meeting the doctor, and taking his hand, and appearing
on the same friendly terms, was one too unpalatable for his taste. Yet
to turn his back on the roof that sheltered her, to leave her again
in the power of this inhuman fiend, how could he bring himself to do
that? He was nervous and distraught and unlike himself. The events
of the last four days formed a crowd of incidents, and surmises, and
experiences that hemmed in his usual straightforward procedure. There
seemed no way of separating them. No way of clear single-hearted action
possible. He must live on here and act a lie, or leave the place
altogether, and so cut himself adrift from what was gradually becoming
the sweetest and most beautiful part of life. Here he cut analysis
short. He did not want to know why this companionship was so sweet
and so beautiful. The fact was all-embracing and sufficed for present
explanation. It might be unreal, or unreasonable. He might be the sport
of illusion, "such stuff as dreams are made of." Yet none the less he
hugged it closer than reality.

When he at last lifted his face from his hands he had come up to the
only decision that seemed possible. He would seek her and ask her
advice. After what had passed she could not refuse to see him, if only
for a few moments. If she wished his protection it was hers. He was
ready to fling down the gauntlet before her husband's face, and tell
him what he had discovered. For scandal or exposure his honest young
soul cared nothing. But, like a cold douche, came the thought of what
such exposure would mean to her. Of the difficulty of proof; the ordeal
she must face should matters progress too far. For her, and her only,
his brain became a rendezvous for terrors of every kind. It seemed to
him sacrilege to even think of drawing her from her cloistered purity,
and bidding her stand before the world as victim and accuser. He would
have hated any man, or woman, who would do such a thing. He doubly
hated himself for its suggestion. In mental flashlights he saw scenes
of horror, terror, shame, confusion, heaped pell-mell upon a stage
half-cleared for action. His whole desire now was to keep the action
back, yet give the villain of his piece his due. He sprang up at last
from his chair by the window, and still the victim of unformed resolve,
stood looking out at the wet walks of the desolate garden. As he did
so the sound of wheels grated on the gravelled drive. Through the open
casement came the sound of voices. At the sound of one he started, then
stood suddenly motionless, all his senses concentrated, yet alert.

Only too well he knew those suave tones, that mirthless affected laugh.

"He's come back," he thought. "Well, there's no help now. I must stay
here."

* * * * * *

What was taking place in that room, safeguarded by the nurse on one
side, and Miss Lavinia on the other? Rufus Myrthe had no means of
knowing, though he felt he would have perilled his life to do so.

He resumed his seat. Mechanically he read and re-read his letters, but
his will seemed to have become cataleptic. It was incapable of active
force. All the uproar of indecision that buzzed in his brain, and kept
him in chaos, now died into a chill calm. He was here, and here he must
remain, until "she bade him go." Over and over again he repeated those
bald words as if there were stringent need to impress them upon his
dormant faculties.

Would she see her husband? Would he insist upon an interview? No one
had sufficient authority to prevent it, if he chose to do so. On the
other hand he might not choose, having the knowledge in his own mind of
what he had left behind to work its fatal results. If the nurse would
only say her patient was asleep and must not be disturbed. If----. A
low tap at the door arrested further surmisings. He opened it, and saw
Miss Lavinia. She entered hurriedly, closing the door behind her.

"Quarn has returned," she said, breathlessly.

"I know. I heard him."

"I have not seen him--yet. The nurse told him what we had arranged. A
severe hysterical seizure, great consequent weakness, the necessity for
quiet. He did not press for an interview."

"Does he know you are here?"

"Yes. She told him. He seemed surprised."

"What about the change of rooms?"

"He was annoyed. But of course he could not alter them. He bade the
nurse tell him when Patience was awake. He wished to see her."

"What are we to do--now?"

"I came to ask you that. I was so taken aback I really could not think
out a plan."

"The wisest plan would be to keep on pretending she is worse until the
day comes that she is better. But I doubt if she'd agree to that, and
then there's the nurse."

"We should have to trust her. I often think she suspects as it is."

"He did not ask any questions about medicine?"

"No, he really said very little. I heard through the door. It was ajar.
He went down to his consulting room and shut himself in."

Rufus Myrthe rose and squared his shoulders. A look of determination
came into his face that contrasted strangely with his youth.

"I don't know what I would not sooner do than meet that man; sit at his
table; touch his hand. I had almost made up my mind to clear out. But I
wanted to see Mrs. Quarn first, and ask her if she'd like me to stay.
She needs some protector. I wish to God she had a father, a brother.
Hasn't she?"

"No. She was an only child, and her father died before she married.
But, Rufus, you don't suppose he'd try that stuff again? Whatever he
orders shall go into the fire, or out of the window. That I promise."

"I'd be sorry to prophesy what he'll do. It's better to let him suppose
she's still taking his drug. Great Scott! I forgot, though; I've
smashed the bottle."

"Well?"

"Don't you see if he goes sneaking about the room he'll find out she
hasn't any of it, and ask where the bottle is. The doses were measured
by a strip of paper marked at intervals. Naturally if he finds the
bottle has gone he'll suspect something, or--go on another tack."

"We can prevent her from taking anything he orders."

"Not anything he gives."

"Patience herself would refuse to take anything from his hand now."

"I hope so," he said gravely. "But what reason will she give him for
refusal?"

"That she has not said. She is very quiet. She seems always thinking.
When her mind is made up she will tell me, I am sure, what she has
determined upon. Oh!----" And Miss Lavinia broke off into a sudden
passion of indignation. "To think that anything so abominable, so
awful, should be carried on under one's very eyes. Why can't we
denounce him at once? Why should we pretend we are deceived?"

"It's not worth while for us to argue over that, I reckon. It rests
with Mrs. Quarn. And she's not fit yet to bear up against such a scene
as would have to be played between them. Don't suppose that I'm not
feeling pretty mad at having to knuckle down to his game. But I see
it's the only thing to do. Policy and I haven't shook hands yet over
any business. I guess we've got to do it over this one."

Miss Lavinia sighed. She looked up admiringly at that combination of
youth, strength, and fearlessness, which had so attracted her towards
Rufus Myrthe from their first chance meeting.

"I hate to think you have to tread a crooked path to get into a
straight road," she said.

"Well----," and he looked at her affectionately out of his clear, grey
eyes. "If it comes to that, little lady, I guess you've got to tread a
bit of it alongside of me. We must just grip hands and make the best of
things."

"Pretending it's only a short cut," she said, rising, for she was
anxious to be back "on duty."

"Just so. It's not only the present we've to consider, but the future.
He's a dangerous customer to meddle with, Miss Moneyash."

"I have faith in you, Rufus," said the little old lady simply. "It
seems as if Providence had sent you here at a critical moment.
Certainly I consider you have saved her life."

She went away then, and Rufus Myrthe gathered up his letters and
locked them away. A distrust of men and things in general had suddenly
overwhelmed him. In the last month he had lived half a life time--the
worst half. The half that brings to honesty the knowledge of corrupt
dealing; to truth, the meaning of falsehood; to sincerity, the
consciousness of treachery and deceit.

"I can't ever go back and pretend to be the same as I was when I came
over here," he thought sadly. "This weight on my heart kind of stifles
me. They say the chief active forces in life are gold and woman. Well,
gold didn't count for much with me when I went searching out about that
old property. As for woman----"

He thought of Molly, the loveliest piece of simple, natural girlhood
he had ever met; all the virtues of primeval womanhood budding into
flower, even under the antagonism of circumstances. And then, by
contrast, came the memory of that undefined and half-visionary goddess,
whom his adoration had fused into a unity of the divine and the human.

Was it one or both of these feminine influences that had broken the
sleep of adolescence, and stirred its peace into wakeful distractions?

Some exterior force had come into play for which, as yet, he could
not clearly account. Not being given to self-analysis, he pushed both
subject and argument roughly into the background for the present, and
seizing his hat, went out. He needed air, space, nature. The atmosphere
of the Hall seemed to stifle him.




CHAPTER XXIII.

Dr. Quarn had no suspicion of what had occurred during his absence.

That Patience should be very ill was an expectation as much as a
relief. He was a man for whom Duty had never possessed any meaning.
A compound of selfishness, coldness, and vice, to whom anything not
exactly touching his personal interests, was a matter of complete
indifference. He had married Patience Forde for the sole reason that
her infatuation for himself (the self he could reveal as fascinating,
when he so chose) left her a prey to his own schemes and desires.

He possessed a furious ambition that poverty and opposition had
conspired to delay. He desired some place in the world of science
that should place scoffers at his feet, and give him the laugh over
those high and mighty dignitaries who had turned a cold shoulder and
an indifferent ear to his claims of fellowship. Below all this, and
apart from it, burnt a lawless sensuality; passions that owned no
self-governance, that were quick to live and quicker to die, and had
left the epitaph of Victim on many a dishonoured grave.

Such was the man to whom Patience Forde had given her pure young life,
her heart, her wealth, her trust.

Like most women who have to learn the true meaning of marriage by an
experience nothing can avert, she had tried to stifle the whispers
of a possible mistake. Tried to screen the cold light of disillusion
with rosy curtains of her own weaving. To no living soul, scarcely
even to her own, would she allow that the man she had idolised was
utterly unworthy, and when flagrant instances had been forced upon her,
sometimes by his own coarse words, sometimes by vengeful anonymity, she
still pardoned, still excused until the strong tyrannical nature of the
man had wearied of so passive a slave.

Turbulent animosity, revenge, invective, these might have had some
effect upon one so brutally indifferent, but such things were
absolutely unknown to Patience Quarn.

It is ever the fate or the meek of the earth to be trampled under
foot. Patience proved no exception to the rule. She gave her cheek to
the smiter, her back to the bearing of burden after burden. She even
fancied that her prayers, her tears, her sweet forgiveness of repeated
errors, might in time complete that miracle of reformation in which
wives sometimes believe. Needless to say they did nothing of the sort
with Felix Quarn. He had never loved her; he now despised her. Day by
day, month by month, he set her further away from the confidence and
the consideration that are assuredly a wife's rights, even when passion
has vanished into the cold limbo of dead dreams.

To Patience Quarn nothing was left but the dead dreams. A pitiful
catalogue they made? Love blinds, but also alas! Love binds! She was at
last too weak, too wretched, too hopeless to do more than endure; that
last and saddest fate of suffering womanhood who has shipwrecked her
whole life for one man's love!

But endurance meant a long and wearisome penance to the man who had
wronged her, and he had little taste for such bitter fruit. Her
very presence was a reproach, her delicate health made her odious
to a nature whose tastes lay in the direction of the bold and the
voluptuous--something rich-hued, passionate, untamed. His senses were
fickle as they were coarse, but even their fickleness had at last been
brought to book. The snare he had so often set for others had caught
his unwary feet. The knowledge had been a shock such as sometimes
sobers a drunkard. It held him baffled, beaten, enraged. For the first
time that poor, loving offender in his home became also an encumbrance.
Sometimes he hated her for the mere fact of existence. Something it
seemed both necessary and expedient to sweep her for ever from his path.

His medical knowledge had been gained in the byways of science, and his
repute was one of boldly forced advancement, from whose path of "New
and Unorthodox methods" the phalanx of his professional brethren stood
coldly aloof.

It was in his student days, and while prosecuting his studies in
America, that Felix Quarn learnt of the existence and properties of a
certain curious drug, little known and less used in his own country.
He had proved its efficacy in certain complaints, and under certain
conditions, but had never thought of using it since his establishment
as the head of Peak Edge Hall. When he did think of it, it was with
a curious sense of unholy joy; the joy of one lighting upon means of
escape from some loathed prison house. There was delay and difficulty
in procuring the stuff, and its use had to be curiously disguised, as
its professed virtues were really a deadly danger. But all this only
appealed the more to that psychological perversity that made cruelty
delicious and crime exhilarating. He began to take a fearful pleasure
in his experiments. He even proved himself capable of pretending
affection, interest, regard for his victim. He played with her
sufferings, and followed up the growth of symptoms with such diabolical
delight as a cat must feel while yet the warm and palpitating mouse
flees from her velvet paw, to be clutched again and again by the fierce
claws she has temporarily sheathed.

Rufus Myrthe had been reminded of feline subtlety the first moment he
set eyes on Felix Quarn. He had been right. All that was suave, genial,
polished, was merely the superficial covering of the vicious nature
beneath. A very thin crust of veneer, only needing slight cause to
break asunder into self-betrayal.

Such was the man who sat now in his own luxurious study, busied
over the accumulation of letters and papers that were the growth of
four days' absence. To most of them he gave indifferent attention.
Two or three he tossed into the fire. The bills and accounts and
demands he pushed into a letter clip and thrust into a drawer in his
writing-table. Then he took out a cheque-book and went through its
counterfoils. A frown gathered upon his brow. The amounts duplicated
there were rather startling.

"It can't go on much longer," he thought. "If I were only sure she had
made that will, I should not trouble my head about borrowing; but I've
only her word for it. I wonder if Lavinia Moneyash would give her a
hint as to setting her affairs in order. I know she's not over fond of
me, and doubtless I've been well discussed and abused in their idiotic
bursts of female confidence! . . . .How wise the Turks are! . . . . the
only race in the world who know how to treat women."

He locked away the cheque book, and then strode across to the window.
The sun was showing to pierce through drifting clouds of grey. The rain
had ceased, and faint gleams of blue showed over the bare branches
of the trees. He watched the mists lifting from the lower range of
hills, blown upwards by the chilling autumn wind. From his window he
commanded a wide, extensive view, but he had little admiration for the
beauties of nature. A heart must needs possess some poetic instinct
to appreciate her handiwork, and there was not a grain of poetry or
romance in the composition of Felix Quarn. His thoughts now dwelt
persistently on the topic of future inconvenience that might possibly
accrue to himself should Patience die without having made him her
executor and sole legatee.

Suddenly he turned and rang the bell. "Ask Miss Moneyash to favour me
with a few minutes' conversation here," he said to the maid.

"I'll have to risk it," he told himself, as he waited impatiently for
the little old lady's appearance. "Things are pretty near a crisis,
and. . . . Well, there'll be the devil to pay if I can't handle some
money soon. Laura is so damned extravagant, and I daren't offer Dolly
Featherleigh anything but diamonds. Even then she's barely civil."

He threw himself into the chair by his table again, and drawing pen and
paper toward him pretended to be writing a letter. He did not wish Miss
Lavinia to find him unemployed, and in moments of stress or anxiety he
could never keep his hands still. His features were perfectly under
control, but those long white fingers had a knack of restlessness that
he usually tried to provide against.

His "Come in," was closely followed by the entrance of his wife's
friend. He rose with his invariable courtesy and gave her a chair,
apologising the while for his summons.

"I wish to hear," he concluded, "the facts of this seizure, as the
nurse calls it. Hysteria, was it not? Ah, I thought so. Poor Patience!
She has been a great sufferer!"

"She has indeed," said Miss Lavinia, dryly. "I sometimes wonder if a
change of----" His glance stayed her words, and made her hesitate.
"----Of air, of scene," she hurried on, "would not be of some benefit.
For five years she has never left the place, hardly even this house.
Are you--I mean do you not think----"

Again she trembled and broke down. He half smiled, and taking up an
ivory paper-knife from the costly trifles scattered about his table,
proceeded to balance it carefully on his slender forefinger while he
answered.

"I certainly do not think change of air or scene would be of the
slightest benefit," he said coolly. "Not the slightest. The quiet
restful life she has had here, and the treatment I have given her
should have been successful in completing a cure; if anything could
be--that."

"You--you have your doubts--as to her recovery?" stammered Miss Lavinia.

He shook his head with acquired professional solemnity. "Grave
doubts. . . . Very grave doubts."

He turned aside as if to conceal a natural agitation, and Miss
Lavinia's face grew crimson with suppressed indignation.

"Dr. Quarn," she said abruptly, "I think it is my duty to say that as
the only friend my poor dear girl possesses I should be relieved by
hearing another opinion."

The glance in his angry eyes shot terror to her heart, quickly as he
veiled them. "I really fail to understand you," he said. "This is a
very--extraordinary idea, Miss Moneyash. Do you mean to say you are
throwing doubts on my capacity as a medical man? That you believe a
stranger who knows nothing of my wife's constitution or idiosyncracies
could be of more service in the present crisis than I? Really I must
protest against so unfair and unwarrantable an insinuation. You are
here under my roof self-invited. You have also taken upon yourself
to engage a professional nurse on your own authority. Now you go a
step further and accuse me of improper treatment!? With all deference
to your sex and age and claims to friendship I protest against such
unwarrantable interference! I must ask you to retract your words
or--take the consequence."

Like a little ruffled bantam Miss Lavinia sprang from her chair strong
in her purpose of defence, and stronger in the momentary indignation
and hatred of the man who had so much to gain by driving her from an
insecure position. It was not in this wise she had determined on saving
her friend's life, not in this wise she had planned to entrap or defy
this wily foe.

"I think I understand your meaning Dr. Quarn," she said. "This is
ostensibly your house, and you are master and can deny its access to
anyone who is displeasing to yourself!"

"Exactly my meaning," he answered insolently.

"That being the case, if you choose to punish my plain speaking I have
no choice but to go."

He bowed ironically. "The loss of such delightful company would of
course be mine."

"If--I go," she continued in a low suppressed voice--"if I go remember
one thing, Dr. Quarn--should Patience get worse, should she die, I
shall have the matter investigated by the proper authorities."

His face grew livid. The paper-knife fell to the ground. He stooped to
pick it up and then his light, satirical laugh rang out over the stream
of her excited words.

"Really, my dear lady, this is almost--melodramatic! We are absolutely
on the point of quarrelling and for--what? A little difference of
opinion on a matter of professional etiquette. Absurd, quite absurd!"

He tapped the leather-covered table with the paper-knife, and again
laughed.

"I was perhaps somewhat hasty, but you must remember that professional
pride is a very porcupine of touchiness. I have done everything that
science can do for my poor wife; my years have been a sacrifice to her
helpless invalidism. It hurts me deeply, most deeply, to hear my skill
called in question. As far as I am concerned I am willing to have the
first authority in the land here to consult over the strange symptoms
Patience has developed. Perfectly willing. Write to anyone you please.
There is a Medical Dictionary at your disposal. But I tell you plainly
he can do no more than I have done."

Miss Lavinia stood silent. Her anger was still at fever point, but
prudence cautioned her to veil suspicion. That permission to call in
another opinion for consultation was absolutely useless. She remembered
the familiar Shakespearian quotation:


"I can call spirits from the vasty Deep--

But--will they come."


Dr. Quarn's suggestion was as feasible. He knew well enough that no
medical man of any consequence, or whose opinion was really valuable,
would meet him in his own, or any other house. He was perfectly safe
in agreeing to her suggestion, and his pretence of just indignation
had only been a piece of consummate acting. But all the same her words
had struck with a chill of fear to his heart. All the same, he called
policy to his aid, and permitted her to think she had won the victory
and might crown herself with its laurels did she please. Felix Quarn
was not the man to hurl himself into a perilous position. He had no
desire to put a rope round his neck, or hasten a catastrophe that would
spoil his well-laid plans.

The true meaning of fear is only a dread of the Unknown. And he was
unconscious of what Miss Lavinia had guessed or meant. Her words might
have been a mere vague outburst of anger at threatened dismissal. They
could hardly mean that she had absolutely discovered----

He thrust aside the thought with the contempt of a great mind for a
lesser. The General's opinion of the soldier, the architect's of the
stone-hewer. That the battle might never be won, the edifice never
built but for the humble skill they affect to despise never enters into
their calculations. The real meaning of Miss Lavinia's words had not
entered into the supreme egotism of Felix Quarn. They were the foolish
utterance of a foolish little woman. A woman who had actually spent her
life and her wealth in benefiting less fortunate mortals, instead of
endowing some needy member of the opposite sex with both!

So he compromised the situation, and became his old suave polished
self. Not for worlds would he interfere with the good intentions of his
wife's friend. She must remain as long as she pleased; do exactly what
she thought best. Miss Lavinia temporised also with the "powers that
be." Only too thankful that she might remain on guard. Only too fearful
by some hint or imprudence she had betrayed the suspicion she had been
so determined to conceal. But as the door closed behind her the mask
fell from Felix Quarn's face. It looked the fiendish, evil thing that
meant his real self. A fear coiled about his heart, touching that inner
sanctuary of selfishness that for him was all in all. He wiped the cold
sweat from his brow with a shaking hand.

"That I should have forgotten that!" he muttered again and again.
"Forgotten that one suspicious circumstance would lead to a public
inquiry. And then----"




CHAPTER XXIV.

To avoid the possibility of meeting Dr. Quarn at luncheon, Rufus Myrthe
tramped on and on.

At first with no special goal, but after a time determining on one of
the high Tors to the west of the valley as his destination. To reach
the road he had to return part of his way, and by doing so came within
sight of the posting house where the passenger coach changed horses.

The sound of the horn echoed clearly on the quiet air, and he saw the
coach turn in from the road into the little town with its usual speed
and noise and importance.

The sight of it arrested his step as suddenly as if a hand had checked
him.

The coach should have met the train at the terminus. How came it then
that Dr. Quarn had reached home at least an hour before its arrival?

He puzzled over that fact while he walked mechanically onwards. If the
doctor had travelled from Derby he could not possibly have reached Peak
Edge at the hour Rufus knew he had reached it. Even supposing he had
hired a posting carriage it would have been scarcely possible to arrive
so early in the morning.

Rufus took his pocket map from his coat and studied the routes and
scales of miles, and made a rapid calculation. He folded it up again.
"He never came back from there at all," he thought. "Another lie! But
why let himself be found out so easily? . . . . . Perhaps he thought
no one would inquire, I guess. I'll have some fun out of this at
dinner-time to-night."

But the stern, young face showed little appreciation of "fun" at that
moment, and his reflections were not calculated to lift the shadow.

In sober truth Rufus Myrthe found himself entangled in a network of
troubles. It seemed curious to him now, as he glanced back along the
line of events, that he had been inclined to scoff at the primitive
ways, the behind-the-time methods of these quiet valleys, and yet found
in them materials for a drama, stirring, cruel, blood-curdling, as the
heart of a sensationalist could desire. The mood he was in presented
only fresh complications. Each new event as it replaced the last filled
him with surmises, and gave no direct clue to either continuance or
result. Care and worry kept step with him to-day, and by the time he
reached the distant mountain he felt that even Nature's kindliest mood
had no spell to charm them away.

The sky had again darkened with rainclouds, and there was an almost
wintry chill in the wind. Yet he climbed doggedly on up the massed
shale and sandstone that gave the Tor its second name, and finally he
reached the entrenchment of the ruined camp which crowned its summit.

He drew a deep breath and looked around. It was by no means his first
visit, and the view was familiar, but there was always something
exhilarating about standing on this height, and gazing down on the hive
of human life below, and the sweep of the hill river, dale, and valley
around. He made a half circuit and gained the southern slopes, and then
proceeded through a narrow cleft in the hills. This opened into a pass
some mile and a half long. On either side rose steeply scoured cliffs
of fantastic form and from four to five hundred feet in height. The
wild and dramatic beauty seen through the great portals of rock were
reminiscent of other grand and wonderful freaks of nature in his own
land, and had rendered this region specially attractive to the young
American.

Even in his present perturbed condition the one consoling thought stole
back--"Since these things are and have been, and shall continue to be,
is human life so small a thing in the scale of Creation that it should
but exist to suffer and to perish."

* * * * * *

It was late when Rufus Myrthe returned to the Hall, wet and tired and
footsore, for with the decline of day rain had again fallen heavily. He
was, however, getting used to the vagaries of climate, and drenchings
did him no harm.

He lit the candles in his own room and changed his clothes. His toilet
was nearly complete when he heard the maid bringing the usual hot water
for dressing time. She knocked at his door.

"A letter for you, sir," she said. "Miss Moneyash wished me to bring it
at once."

He flung open the door. Sudden fear gripped his heart and made his hand
tremble.

He shut himself in and tore open the envelope at once.


"My dear Rufus," he read,

"I write this to prepare you for any contingencies. I was summoned by
Dr. Quarn, and we had a long interview. I expressed my wish to have
another opinion, and he accused me of insulting him professionally, and
gave a very decided hint that my company here was not desired by him. I
am afraid that I lost my temper. I have not your power of self-control,
my dear boy. Something I said seemed to alarm him. For once I saw fear
in his face. Then he temporised. I was to stay as long as I liked, and
to do what I pleased. I give this hint to you, Rufus, so that you may
know how to meet him to-night.

"Your affectionate friend,

"L.M."


"Now!" exclaimed Rufus Myrthe impatiently. "If that isn't just like a
woman! Why couldn't she tell me what it was she said. Then I'd have a
clue to follow up."

He turned the sheet over. It was written on the first and outer side
of ordinary note paper. Suddenly he opened the inside. There he saw
some more of the fine delicate writing, as much a thing of neatness and
lavender as the little old lady herself.


"P.S.--What I said was that if I left, and anything happened to
Patience, I should have inquiries made by the proper authorities.

"L.M."


"Great Scot! . . . . Well, I guess you have given the show away!"
exclaimed the young man. "Why it's as good as telling him straight
that we suspect him! I wonder how he took it? What he thinks? Pretty
wild I guess. But I don't like it. Miss Moneyash should have been more
careful. Forewarned's forearmed, thy say. And I told her to keep it
dark until Mrs. Quarn's better. Complications, eh? It's like something
in a novel. She's been too frank though. Side lights on his game aren't
exactly desirable until we know how we're going to fight him. That
rests with Mrs. Quarn."

His puzzled thoughts held him till the gong sounded for dinner. Then he
burnt the letter by holding it to the candle. "Best not to keep it," he
reflected. He glanced at the looking-glass as the flame spread into the
brilliant circle. His face was unusually pale and stern. His eyes had a
hard glitter.

"I suppose I arn't no sort of beauty beside him," he thought. "Perhaps
it's all labour wasted. He'll get round her again and she'll only hate
me for what I've done."

So wretched and haggard did the young face grow at the possibility that
it might have told him had he stayed to question, what reflection of
heart agony it bore. But he blew the light out with a hurried breath
and went away slowly down the stairs.

In the hall, chatting and laughing with his female adorers, smiling,
handsome, triumphant as ever, stood Felix Quarn.

A murderous rage smote heart and brain of Rufus Myrthe like a physical
blow. It seemed to him as if a blood-red mist swam before his eyes,
blotting out everyone and everything except that one face. It looked
up at him as he came step by step down to where that eager group
stood idly talking while she lay battling for life above their heads.
That was his only thought, that and his sudden murderous hate for the
smiling villain who had plotted this dastardly thing.

Then he heard his name and the mist cleared and he seemed to stand in
an atmosphere of physical cold.

"Ah, Mr. Myrthe, and how are you? American mail come in yet?"

Not for worlds could Rufus have touched that outstretched hand. He
saved himself by a somewhat clumsy device of stumbling over the
trailing silk of Miss Topliss' amber skirts. When he had apologised,
and was standing upright, the hand had dropped. He looked straight in
the face at the smiling Judas.

"So you've come back, doctor! Yes, my mail has arrived at last. I guess
'twas a little more up to time than your coach this morning."

"My--coach?" echoed Dr. Quarn.

"The coach that meets the early train from Derby," said Rufus. "Odd it
should have come in an hour after you'd got home."

"I didn't come by the coach."

He spoke quietly; his eye looked straight into the unflinching eyes of
the young American. Whether he read antagonism, or that new-born hate,
he betrayed nothing. His nerves were well under control now. He was
playing for too heavy a stake to risk anything. The very thought that
suspicion had entered these doors had a sobering effect upon previous
recklessness. All had looked so safe, so easy, a week ago. But now it
seemed to him that discovery had already shown its hideous face on the
threshold. By every means in his power he must bar the door.

Without taking any more notice of Rufus Myrthe he led the way into the
dining-room. Rufus followed to his old place beside Miss Skelmore. Of
late she had not found him so amusing, and to-night he was unusually
silent. She began to question him as to his news from home. She was
inclined to attribute the change in him to some trouble there. Rufus
had made no secret of the reason why he was staying on in this part
of the county. The search for the lost heritage had made him quite a
hero of romance to Arabella. But though he had talked about it, he had
mentioned no names and given no details. Dr. Quarn had a very vague
idea of the young fellow's purpose. In fact neither he nor his business
had appeared to be of much importance of late, since the visits to the
boudoir had been discontinued. He could not understand to-night why he
found himself listening for that ringing hearty voice with its somewhat
quaint phraseology. But he was conscious that he did so, even while
affecting to be absorbed in the confidences of the old lady on his
right hand.

"No, Miss Skelmore," he heard Rufus say, "there's nothing cleared up
yet. But I'm going to set to work about it. I don't let grass grow
where I'm treading, not as a rule. My trouble hitherto has been that
I can't find out where certain members of my family were married. I
applied to see the Parish Registers at the parish official's. I reckon
you can call him the parson, but he refused to let me see them."

"Oh, but if you have the names and the year, or somewhere near the
year, you can easily find that out. Every incumbent of a parish is
bound to send a copy of the registrations to the Bishop of the diocese.
So that, even if anything happens to the original register, you can
ascertain what you want from those transcripts."

Rufus Myrthe for once began to look upon Arabella as the possessor of
some sense and intelligence.

"Is that so? Well, now really, Miss Skelmore, you've done me a service.
And I thank you. I had an idea that if I could not prove things by the
original Parish Registers I could not support my claim. I guess now I
see another way. The letters I had to-day give me some important dates.
The only thing that bothers 'em is the change of name. The man at
present in possession calls himself Dick Udale. Now----"

He stopped abruptly. An exclamation from the head of the table broke
across his words. Dr. Quarn had been pouring out a glass of claret for
the garrulous old lady. By some accident the decanter clashed with the
glass. The contents were dyeing the white cloth with ruddy stains. The
old lady had given the startled cry, and drawn her chair back to save
her gown. A servant approached and hastened to wipe up the liquid, and
place a clean napkin over the spot.

The old lady still babbled on. "So foolish of me, but I can't help it,
doctor. So like blood, wasn't it? and I have a horror of blood stains.
They make me quite sick. Now as I was saying----"

Rufus Myrthe felt no particular interest in what she was saying. He
wondered in his own mind if there was any reason for the unsteadiness
of Dr. Quarn's hand. But the incident was over and he went on with his
story.

"Well, Miss Skelmore, this man seems to have taken possession of this
place by some unexplained right. He turned the old farm house into an
Inn, the ghastliest, dreariest, most inhospitable sort of a spot that
ever mortal set eyes on. Why, the sign's enough to frighten any hungry
or thirsty soul from ever crossing the threshold."

By this time three or four attentive faces had turned to Rufus. Dr.
Quarn kept his studiously averted.

"What is the sign?" asked Miss Skelmore.

"A Headless Woman. Silent because she can't help herself. A safe enough
sort of person to keep a secret. Eh, Miss Skelmore?"

The fair Arabella shuddered. "How gruesome, how horrid! Where is this
Inn?"

"Buried in a wild bit of moorland some 20 miles from here."

"And this--is your heritage?"

"I believe so. The Inn was the original farm house. But that's not all.
It appears that someone got a notion there was coal to be found in a
certain part of the property. And they set to work, sinking and putting
up machinery, and all the rest of it. However, after a time it turned
out to be poor sort of stuff, not worth working out. So there it lies.
A gruesome place. Desolation branded on every square yard--bog and moor
around it. Haunted they say."

"Haunted! Oh delicious!" And Miss Skelmore gave a little affected
scream. "You don't mean to say so. What by?"

He shrugged his shoulders indifferently. Then drank off his glass of
uniced water and set it down. In doing so his glance strayed to the
head of the table. Dr. Quarn had turned slightly. He was now looking
at Rufus. His face was paler than its wont, his eyes had a look of
strained attention. When he met the young man's direct gaze he smiled
somewhat affectedly.

"Quite exciting, really. Pray continue, Mr. Myrthe. I believe you are
on the brink of a ghost story."

Dessert was on the table now, and all faces turned towards the young
American, as if in expectation of one of his usual amusing anecdotes.

What prompted him he could not tell. What strange power unlocked his
lips and set him to pour forth that tragic story of death and silence,
now--and in this place--he never asked. With his elbow leaning on the
table, with his eyes on the ashen face of Felix Quarn, he painted in
brief and simple words the tragedy of that wrecked life.

So clear and distinct was the portrait that it seemed to live before
the eyes of each listener. But before none so clearly, so distinctly,
as before the silent figure at the head of the table. He affected mere
polite attention to a wearisome tale. He even took out his watch, and
looked at the figures as if asking himself how long his attention would
be taxed. But only himself knew that the hand that held it was shaking
like an aspen leaf, that the eyes saw nought of dial, or figures,
but were gazing back and back over a space of sinful years. Gazing
at despair so terrible that for a moment even his callous heart had
quivered and grown afraid. Listening to a vow kept with mute fidelity;
hearing even now across the spaces of time a cry for mercy to which he
had been deaf, and brutal, and relentless. Yet his face was blank of
all expression. Not even the keen eyes watching it could be positive
as to any feeling or emotion behind its mask of stillness. Only in
his throat a tell-tale muscle quivered, and he knew that, for these
moments, speech would have been beyond his power.

Rufus Myrthe ceased. A shudder of sympathetic horror ran round the
listening circle. Then a deep-drawn breath spoke of tension, of relief.
A chair was pushed back. The doctor had risen with some murmured excuse
to his neighbour.

He walked steadily, slowly, to the door. But it seemed to himself as
if miles spread between him and the liberty of solitude beyond. Like
one dazed he passed through the hall, passed too the new nurse, who
was crossing it to return to her patient's room. He saw no one. Heard
nothing. Only when he reached his study and had locked the door he
fell, a huddled heap, into the first chair.

"Silent--to the end!" he cried in a faint voice that seemed to issue
unconsciously from his white lips. "To the end!"




CHAPTER XXV.

Rufus Myrthe found himself a person of considerable importance that
evening. In the drawing-room he was surrounded by the present inmates
of the Hall, clamouring eagerly for more particulars about the
mysterious Inn and the Silent Woman. However, a fit of reticence had
overtaken him, and he would add nothing more to the bare outlines of
the story already given.

His uncanny experiences the night of the woman's death; the weird voice
whose cry had echoed over the moor on the occasion of his visit to
the deserted mine, and the existence and present conditions of Molly
Udale, he kept to himself. He had no wish to submit the girl to prying
eyes, or make his championship of her forlorn condition the subject for
curious tongues and idle speculations.

He seemed to have grown older by leaps and bounds since the day she had
tramped so willingly beside him to her present refuge, talking in her
quaint and simple fashion of her life and experiences, seeming to him
no more than a beautiful, ignorant child. Inspiring him with no warmer
feeling than intense pity, and a philosophical interest in a novel and
exceedingly natural piece of womanhood. When he saw her now on each
successive Sunday he found her somewhat shyer than at first she had
appeared. But his mind was so preoccupied by other matters, and she
seemed so much a thing apart from his life and interests in the Hall,
that he took little notice of such dawning change.

To-night as Miss Skelmore and Miss Topliss and old Mrs. Montgomery (the
doctor's most important patient) plied him with questions, he was glad
that he had kept his own counsel on that one subject. He suddenly felt
that they would never have understood his reasons, and that Molly might
have been intruded upon in order to furnish fresh incidents of the
mysterious Inn for their own idle amusement.

Weary of parrying questions he at last begged for cards, offering to
teach them yet another new American game. The proposal was greeted
with acclamation. Of late the popular favourite had taken to absenting
himself from the social circle, and had favoured billiard-room or
library. They were delighted to keep him in their midst for this
evening, and he seemed quite his old breezy, amusing self. In reality
he was all speculation and concern. But he had grown accustomed to
keep his private affairs and feelings in the background, and the habit
served him in good stead to-night. He had decided to remain in the
drawing-room in order to watch the doctor should he return. But Felix
Quarn gave no sign of doing so. As it drew on towards 10 o'clock, the
invalid members of the establishment began to show signs of weariness
and a disposition to retire to their own private domains. Cards were
finally abandoned, and "good-nights" exchanged.

"I wonder why our dear doctor has deserted us," then observed Mrs.
Montgomery. "I hope he is not ill. He seemed so preoccupied at dinner,
and I noticed how tremulous his hands had become. He upset my claret,
too! Such a bad omen. I have always noticed that to spill wine is a
sure sign of quarrelling or disturbance. I do hope that nothing of that
sort will happen here. We are all so happy, and comfortable, just like
a family party."

"I know a good many family parties that are anything but happy or
comfortable," observed Miss Topliss, who spoke feelingly and from an
experience that was personally painful.

"Well, of course, there are exceptions," said the old lady cheerfully.
"But as far as I am concerned I ask nothing better than things to
remain as they are."

"Nothing remains as it is--for long," interposed the deep, sepulchral
voice of the Shakespearian reciter. "Change is the order of nature. 'To
be, or not to be,' is generally answered by 'not.'"

"Oh, dear, dear," chimed in the fair Arabella. "What a dreadfully
gloomy person you are, Mr. Whackles. Positively, you frighten me!"

"And now I come to think of it," interposed the elderly Adonis, who was
still paying deferential court to Miss Topliss. "I saw a single magpie
fly over the garden just before sunset. You know the old adage about
them. 'One for sorrow, two for mirth, three a marriage, four a----'"

"Ahem," coughed the fair Arabella, in blushing confusion. "It really is
getting late, isn't it, dear Mrs. Montgomery?"

"And I'm to have a spinal bath before I go to bed," growled the bass
inflections of Mr. Whackles' voice.

Which remark was so very upsetting to the bashfulness of the two maiden
ladies that they beat an immediate retreat.

In another couple of moments the room was deserted by all but Rufus
Myrthe. He still stood by the fireplace, looking down at the dull red
glow as though he saw pictured there the busy fancies and tangled
memories of his brain.

The door opened softly, and the anxious face of Miss Lavinia peered in.
Seeing he was alone she hurriedly closed the door, and came to his side.

"Rufus," she said. "I have good news for you to-night. She is
better--much better. I came down in the hopes of meeting you or finding
you alone." She glanced quickly round. "Where was the doctor all the
evening?" she asked, lowering her voice.

"I don't know. I haven't seen him since dinner."

"Nurse Ida met him crossing the hall to his study, as she was coming
up after her dinner. She told me he looked very strange and ill. I
wondered if you had said anything, Rufus?"

"No; not about this business, Miss Moneyash."

He relapsed into thought, and she watched him silently, wondering why
be was so uncommunicative.

Presently her soft voice went on, taking up the thread of her first
speech. "She is in a beautiful natural sleep, and to-night actually
asked for food. I can rest in peace at last. Nurse Ida has the first
watch, I come on at 5 o'clock to-morrow morning."

"Then you'll want all you can get of sleep," he said, rousing himself
by an effort. "I mustn't keep you here."

"Rufus, you had my letter?"

"Of course. Oh! was that what you came in about? Yes, I had it all
right. I'm not quite sure it wasn't a bit premature your letting out
what you did. Sort of giving him a hint, you know. However, can't be
helped now. The point gained is that you're on the ground."

"Do you think he will guess that we suspect something about this
illness of Patience."

"Why certainly. The man would be a darned fool if he didn't take your
threat to mean something. You've put him on his guard. It will be his
plan now to let Mrs. Quarn get well. Then--we have to leave her at his
mercy."

"Oh, my dear boy. I never thought of that. But stay, think a moment,
Rufus. When she gets well, of which there's every chance now, she may
decide on leaving him. I shall try my utmost to persuade her. She has
been very unhappy--oh! for years past. She must surely see that it is
no longer safe for her to stay under the same roof with this man."

"I hope she will see it, Miss Moneyash, or we've had our work for
nothing. Seems to me you can never count on what a woman will do. She's
loved him, and married him, and sacrificed herself for him. Perhaps,
once she's well again, she'll believe it was all a mistake. He may
persuade her to it. You forget she hasn't seen him yet. It strikes me
that after what you said to-day he'll want an interview to put himself
straight with her. If he talks her round--and I wouldn't bet against
the chance, Miss Moneyash--well, if he does, she'll be none too fond of
me, will she? It'll seem a poor climax. But it's a possible one."

Miss Lavinia shuddered. "Don't let us dream of such a thing, Rufus.
I think I know Patience better than that. I don't say she hasn't
forgiven, excused, condoned, again and again. But a woman, even a
loving woman, can't go on doing that for ever. There comes one stage at
which even pity halts. She knows it spells--Final."

The young man turned, and took both her hands in his, and stood for a
moment looking down at the sweet, kindly face, the gentle up-raised
eyes.

"I believe, Miss Moneyash," he said huskily, "that women like you
and--and Mrs. Quarn, don't ever reach that stage. If any hand writes
Final on your pages of Pity, it's the hand of death--no other."

He saw the tears rise and her eyelids fall. He released her hands,
and then moved across the room, and opened the door. She followed him
without a word. He too was silent.

They crossed the hall side by side. As they did so, the study door was
suddenly opened, and the face of Dr. Quarn looked out. Its curious
pallor and jet black hair were thrown up, cameo-like, by the lamplight
behind him. It seemed but a second that they saw the face and the
staring eyes. Then the door closed. They went on and up the stairs.

"That was strange," said Miss Lavinia, in a whisper.

"Very strange," answered Rufus Myrthe.

* * * * * *

The next day was Sunday. The first Sunday that Miss Lavinia had been
absent from her post of duty at Perrycourt. That being the case she
asked Rufus, in the morning, to limit his visit to an afternoon walk
with Molly. He agreed. Neither did he go to Church.

The girl's wistful eyes saddened as she noted his absence, and she was
unwontedly silent as they marched back to the Home.

Her companion Jess, who laid nearer claims to friendship than any of
the other girls, rallied her on being "down" on account of the absence.

"Don't you take it to heart," she consoled. "That's the way o' them.
Fever one day and don't-care-if-I-never-see-you-again the next. Treat
'em the same as they treat you or a bit worse. We usually have the
worst of it once it comes to matrimony. 'Tis only fair they should have
a taste of scornful dealings beforehand."

Molly Udale coloured. She was still sensitive to remarks based on
the girl's interpretation of Rufus Myrthe's attentions. "I wish 'ee
woudin't talk so foolish, Jess," she answered. "I've told ye he's
nought o' that sort. 'Tis just brotherly kindness, no more."

Jess laughed satirically.

"'Tis what we all says, Molly Udale, but not what we thinks. Each o'
us in our hearts keeps that sort o' feelin' a secret, till he says
plump and outspoken what he's feelin' about us. 'Tis no manner o' harm
bein' in love. A pleasant pastime. I wish I'd your chance, Molly. So
we all do, plain and pretty, dark and fair alike. But then, such luck
don't fall everyone's way. Handsome young bachelor-men comin' along and
havin' you schooled and trained to a becomin' knowledge of wifehood; I
suppose you'll go out to Meriky with him?"

"I've told 'ee there's nought o' that sort about it," returned Molly
sharply. "And I do wish 'ee wouldn't keep on talking 'bout Mr. Myrthe.
He's far above my station, and 'tis pure kindness only as made him take
any manner o' notice o' me. Miss Lavinia told me that, and ne'er a
thought otherwise 'ud ha' entered my head but for you gells keepin' on
talkin' of him as you do."

"That's as good as sayin' it have entered your head."

"I don't think anything o' him save that he's been too kind to me. When
he larnt what he's come hereabouts to larn there'll be nothin' more o'
comin' to see me, or goin' Sunday walks."

"He's got to larn somethin' then; somethin' that you know, Molly?"

She nodded. "Maybe, and maybe not. 'Tis all written in letters like. I
wanted him to read it for hissel, but he were too honorable. That's why
I'm tryin' so hard to larn all readin' that isn't print."

"Well, I've wondered times enough why you was spellin' out an' pourin'
over them old copy books. 'Tis a queer tale, Molly. How came you to
have any writings as consarn him?"

"That don't consarn 'ee at all events, Jess Marlott," answered Molly,
relapsing into her old way of talking as she always did when angered,
or strongly moved. "Thee've asked questions eno'--now shut up."

Jess was about to retort, but she looked at her companion's face. It
was so pale, so distressful, there was such a tremour and quiver about
eye and lip that it silenced both wrath and curiosity. She had grown
really fond of Molly Udale, and had no desire to spoil friendliness by
an unimportant difference of opinion.

"Very well," she said, "keep your own counsel. Only I did think as we
was friends eno' by now for secrets to be commonly discussed atween us.
I'd not tell a word o' what you say to me to any other o' the gells. My
word on't."

"I've nothin' to tell 'ee," repeated Moll wearily. "And I don't think,
Jess, as I'm o' the talkin' sort. I've had none in my life afore to
listen to me, nor care, and I've got used to thinkin' me own thoughts,
and holdin' them to mysel'. When I look at you gells here, and listen
to ye a-chirpin' and a-chatterin' for all the world like birds at
seed-sowin', I know ye're just 'light-hearted 'cause ye're young, and
ha'nt no dark years o' trouble at the back o' ye. But I'm different.
And I can't change."

"No--don't," answered Jess earnestly. "For it seems to me, Molly, that
there's plenty o' the likes o' us in the world, light and foolish, to
be had for the askin', but you're not like that. And if ever it came to
a matter o' choice between our sort and you, we'd ha' no chance at all.
It's not only you're so beautiful, but there's the makin' o' a lady in
you. Didn't I hear Miss Moneyash sayin' to the Matron that in two years
time, if you went on improvin' as you're doin', no one would know ye
for the girl o' the Peak that came here a month ago. I tell ye that
straight for all ye're so secret to me!"




CHAPTER XXVI.

Though Molly made no response to that last flattering observation it
was sweet as honey to the lips of incipient vanity. Not any unbelieving
vanity, but one born of dawning intelligence, the open discussion of
her various "points," the assurance that met her in the reflection
of her mirror, or the envious looks of less favoured companions.
Of beauty, as the one charm par excellence of her sex, the one
prerogative that defies fate, fortune and circumstance, she had had no
consciousness whatever. But lately she had learnt what beauty meant,
and what it might win. The love and admiration of men; a place in the
world; gifts of fortune. All good things in their way she was assured,
and all in the power of her sex to win and hold, when well-favoured by
nature.

When Jess helped her to comb out the tangles of her rebellious
hair, and showed her its lovely tints by holding up a tress for the
candle-light to shine through, when Suffolk Martha gazed enviously at
her milk-white skin and the curves of her rounded arms, it began to
mean something more than mere "fulishness." She noted other hair, other
skins, other arms, and figures. There was truly a balance in her favour
at such times! But that these prodigal gifts of nature should have any
influence upon Rufus Myrthe, or win from him such frank, outspoken
admiration as given by these roommates of hers, she never for a moment
imagined. Yet on this Sunday afternoon when he had failed to put in an
appearance at church or dinner, she found herself for the first time
in a critical attitude. After all, what was she? Only a common girl,
ignorant, uneducated, rough, course of speech. Why should he trouble to
seek her society? What pleasure or interest could these Sunday walks
have for him?

*  *  *  *  *  *

The girls were all in the recreation-room after dinner, with books or
Sunday magazines to pass away the time. They were not allowed to walk
out unless the matron accompanied them, and to-day she had pleaded a
bad cold as an excuse for not braving the sharp north wind a second
time. Molly was sitting apart, trying to fathom the mysteries of "The
Pilgrim's Progress" by the illustrations.

Suddenly there was a flutter in the dovecote. "Why here he is after
all!" exclaimed one of the girls by the window. "Molly Udale, you're in
luck again. Here's your young man called for ye."

Molly rose hurriedly and approached the window. The girls grouped
themselves round her.

"He do look a fine, well-set-up young fellow!" said Martha Dilly. "I
wish he was my cousin, that I do."

"Pity he hain't a soldier," added another girl, "so tall and straight
as that. He'd be quite an ornament to regimental clothing."

"My tastes don't lean to soldiers," said Jess Marlott. "A stuck-up,
untrustful lot! Thinking that every woman that turns an eye their way
is bound to fall in love wi' them. No--a sailor's more to my fancy, or
failin' that, a perliceman."

"Meanwhile, your cousin's awaitin' for you, Molly Udale. I s'pose
you'll go walkin' as usual. Hard on us as we've no one to squire us
about, Sundays or any other days."

Molly turned to leave the room. She made no reply to these remarks. She
was conscious of a new and embarrassed feeling as she greeted Rufus,
but he seemed to notice no difference. She thought he looked older,
graver, sterner than when she had seen him last.

"You're not dressed to go out?" he said. "Didn't you expect me?"

"I didn't know," she answered. "There was nothin' said, an' you weren't
at Church."

"No. I didn't go. And of course I didn't come to dinner as Miss
Moneyash is away. But won't you run along and get your bonnet fixed,
Molly? There's a rousing wind, but I surmise you're used to that. No, I
won't come in. I'll wait here."

She ran upstairs to her own room, and tied the neat, prim little bonnet
under her rounded chin, and hastily threw on the warm cloak that made
the uniform of the Home. How good it was to have these two hours of
freedom before her! For once she could afford to pity her imprisoned
companions, and rejoice at her own meed of liberty.

She and Rufus Myrthe turned into the twisting lane that led towards the
valley. The boisterous wind sent her cloak flying, and loosened her
hair into lovely ripples about her white forehead, and curled it round
the rim of her close bonnet, and blew richer roses into her cheeks.
From time to time Rufus looked at her, but there was abstraction in his
gaze, and he scarcely spoke.

When they reached a more sheltered spot he suddenly remembered he had
not put the usual questions as to progress.

"How's school going, Molly?" he asked. "I hope it don't make any
difference Miss Moneyash not being there. She told me to say she'd
expect you to be as diligent as ever."

"I think I've bin that," answered the girl. "I can really read plain
writing now. And since I've took to speak slower-like I get round the
words better. It's hard to drop into new talk all at once, but I'll not
give up tryin'."

"No--don't," he said. "There's an amazing difference already. I like
your voice, Molly, and the way you say some words is quaint. I'd be
sorry you should alter. But all the same nice-spoken speech has a charm
of its own."

"Same as ladies speak?" inquired Molly.

"Oh! that's a natural born thing. I don't ever expect you to get as far
as that. Besides it wouldn't be any use, would it?"

"I s'pose not," she answered slowly. "I wanted to tell 'ee--you, I
mean, that I've learnt a lot o' writin' words, by the gells old copy
books. So t'other night I took up some o' those scraps o' paper as
mother was allays scriblin', and I could make out some words quite
plain."

There was apprehension in his quick look, but her eyes held no history
of shame or trouble yet.

"Was there anything very particular," he asked, with assumed
indifference.

"There were a name came two or three times into the writin'. It seemed
to me kind o' strange cause I--I remember----"

She paused for a struggle with a boisterous gust of wind that suddenly
whirled her cloak above her head. His hands caught and pulled it down,
and folded it about her.

It was the first time he had touched her in so close proximity. The
feel of his hands on her shoulder made her heart throb in a sudden
wild tumultuous fashion that frightened her. She drew herself sharply
away. The colour flowed into her cheek, and ebbed back through every
thrilling vein. Then she felt sick and cold, and wretched all in one.

He noticed both look and action, but had no comprehension of their
meaning.

"Your bonnet's gone crooked," he said simply, and stood still beside
her while she straightened it, and tried to push the red gold curls and
tendrils under its protecting brim.

"I'd let them be," he said. "I never saw such beautiful hair as your's,
Molly. Many a great lady would envy you for it!"

Again she blushed. He was actually saying the very words the girls had
spoken; saying them as they had told her any young man with eyes in his
head would be "certain sure" to say them. But she had no answer ready.
Her embarrassment was new and painful, and left her what she afterwards
termed "a shaken fule."

"But you were saying," he continued, moving on once more to suit her
suddenly quickened step.

"I--forget," stammered the girl.

"It was about something you had read--a name."

"Oh--yes--yes. I do mind it now, but this wind seems blowing words and
senses out o' me."

"Wait then till we get into a more sheltered place," he suggested.

She hurried on, her head bent, her eyes seeking the ground. To him she
had now become only part of a narrative. A page he longed yet feared to
turn. His mind was troubled also, but for a totally different reason.
The throbbing personality beside him concerned him less than the
mystery centreing in and about her life. He waited until the winding
road dived suddenly into a little dell, sheltered by rocky boulders,
that were again hemmed in by a serried row of pines. A little stream
trickled by the footpath, ferns and moss and undergrowth clothed the
sloping banks.

Then he slackened his steps. "Now, Molly," he said. "I'd like to hear
your story? Don't think me curious. There's more behind it than you or
I dreamt of that time I got wet, and found you, like a guardian angel,
waiting there in the Inn porch. Do you remember?"

Remember! Should she ever forget it, she thought. Ever cease to look at
it as the birthday of her life!

"I mun--must--go back to what I were sayin'," she began hesitatingly.
"The papers is all huddled up in a bundle, as you gave 'em to me.
I took but one, the one with the biggest writin', thinkin' 'twould
be easiest to read. So far as I can bring to mind it was a sort o'
lamentin' like, an' over and over again it sed the name o' a poor
mis'rable dwarf crittur, as I had used to see when I were but a little
child an' mother 'ud take me walks along the moorside by oursen'. I'd
clean forgotten all about him. But when I see--saw--the name, an' cud
make it out, it all seemed to cum back. Japes 'twas. J-a-p-e-s. I felt
that proud when I read it."

"And," he asked, "can you remember what more the writing said?"

"'Twas mostly about poor Japes, an' wrong done to him, an'
a callin' down vengeance on summun' as wasn't named. An'
then, small written, at th' end o' th' page came this piece:
'He--will--be--at--my--window--to-night--shall--I--tell--him?"

Rufus Myrthe was silent.

"I've got 'em written out at home," went on the girl. "Big, of course,
same as I write the copies they give us schule-time. But you're comin'
sudden-like to-day put it out o' my head. If so as--as you be comin'
back----"

"No--no," he said hurriedly. "I guess, I'd better not see it, Molly.
It's for your eyes if for anyone's. When your mother wrote that story
she must have had a reason. You'll find out that reason some day.
If--when you know it--you think you ought to tell me, then I'll promise
to hear, and to help if I can. Sometimes I think I'll have to know it
whether by your means or not. Sometimes, I feel, Molly, that no mere
chance led my feet astray on that wild moor. But if anything's going to
come of it--well, it'll come. That's sure."

"I often think," she said slowly, "what a happy chance 'twas
for me that you did get astray that time. 'Twas the alt'ring o'
everything--everything. An' I dunno why. You'd no call to trouble
yoursel' about me. I've sed that always. I know more now than l know'd
then. I've larnt some things as I never thought to larn, an' heerd
others as puts th' meanin' o' life different to what I'd thought it.
An' what it's meant I canna say. There's feelin's as springs up in
one's heart, an' you can't name them. I've heerd what your kindness
means by other lips--I want to speak o' my gratitude but--it doesn't
seem deep enough----"

"Ah! Don't, Molly," he broke in quickly. "For heaven's sake don't get
into any sort of fix that means sentiment and all that. I don't want
you to look upon what I've done as any way out of the ord'nary. Had
anyone else come round same way they might have done just the same
thing. I only want to act fair and square to you, same as a brother
might. For God's sake don't get notions into your head. Don't let those
girls be sort o' heroising me in your eyes. It will be the greatest
mistake you've ever made if you go setting me up, and thinking me
a small Almighty in your life. There's no call for any such blamed
foolishness. And don't you begin it. I do believe I'm a sort o'
relation of yours. That's enough. If relations can't hang together, and
help one another, why what in thunder was the good of giving us any?"

He spoke warmly, without choice of words, for he was excited, and in
some measure annoyed. Of all things he wanted no superlative gratitude
for his Quixotic actions. Of all things he desired no such sentiment as
trembled on the girl's quivering lips, and showed in her uplifted eyes.

"That's the worst of women. They feel so much, and say so much," he
thought. "A man just gives you a grip of the hand, and a look, and
all's understood. I don't know why it is, perhaps because I've had so
little to do with women, but I just can't bear them to get sentimental
over things."

Her voice speaking again, but measured and controlled now, broke across
that space of silence.

"I'll not tell you more o' th' story then, until I've made out its
meanin'."

He looked at her, remembering that forgotten scrap in his satchel,
remembering too what a tragedy it foretold.




CHAPTER XXVII.

The forces of life, long, stagnant, and inert, suddenly clamoured for
re-admission within that half-shattered citadel representing Patience
Quarn. She lifted herself on her pillows with new-born strength. She
watched the daily miracle of sunrise and sunset with new interest, and
new hope. She felt the warm and vital flood of health set loose in
languid limb and pulse, and rejoiced in it. In five days she seemed to
have regained what she had lost for five years. She slept, and sleep
held no terrors, but was deep and dreamless. Food and nourishment
were given her, and the dreaded nausea vanished. For a while she held
thought and memory back by sheer force of will. Their time was not
yet. With every throb of returning strength came return of resolution.
Life had crystallised itself into a hard, clear-cut fact. She could no
longer dream or dally with it.

Sometimes she awoke, and her serious eyes looked skywards where her
windows faced; or she watched the changing space of blue and grey,
or listened to the rain sweeping downwards to beat against her
window-panes. And as she listened and watched she wondered why her
very soul seemed still now; without a thrill, a hope, a passion. She
had undergone a change so complete that as yet it defied expression.
Nothing in her previous experience of unhappiness had in any way
approached this desolate calm. It was as if nothing could ruffle
its ice-bound surface or pierce the depths below. Imagination and
self-deception were dismissed from the stage they had so long
monopolised. Plain fact, plain sense, plain truth, came trooping in
their place. She was glad, she thought, to sweep the stage of those
imaginary figures, glad to hear simple words and look clear facts in
the face for once.

The scales had fallen from her eyes. She saw with shamed wonder the
worthlessness of her long-worshipped idol. Saw, too, the girl she had
been lying dead and cold; recognised the woman-birth within her that
accepted life with a calm despair that yet was not altogether desperate.

After all, it is not well for women to have faith in ideals, though men
seem to think so. The primal impulse of her nature is to worship the
best in what she loves, and believe in it at all costs. When storm and
distress and cruel disillusion would sweep away her clinging grasp, she
fain would cover her eyes, and cry aloud to the darkness to hide her,
lest she should see the shipwreck she herself had caused. Rather would
she believe there was no wreck, that the ship had sailed on leaving her
behind for some good and sufficient reason that she will know--some day.

But she is rarely suffered to cherish even that foolish hope. A man
prefers to complete his work thoroughly. He leaves her in no doubt of
the finality of the shipwreck, and then expects her to gather up the
broken fragments and be content.

Sometimes she is. But also sometimes she is vouchsafed a flash of
prophetic insight amidst all the chaos around. Then she stands aghast
and wonders what she could have seen in that battered, rudderless,
drifting hulk to have imagined it seaworthy even at its best.

But so strange and so complex is woman all in all, that it is not well
to condemn her, even as it is impossible to analyse her.

Given ten women and one situation, it would be impossible to say
exactly how nine would behave or take it. Even then the tenth might
prove a striking variation.

Thus with Patience Quarn. A week back she had been content to die
because of broken faith and love falsified. Also in a great measure
because the man she had worshipped desired her death. Now, life had
suddenly shown itself in a less personal and more important aspect.
Also a tender friendship and a chivalrous service made some demands
upon returning reason, placed her in a new position of responsibility;
argued--"Are we nothing because he is worthless!"

One evening she was alone with Miss Lavinia. The nurse was resting
in the adjoining room. The two friends had been sitting watching the
firelight, and talking in soft, subdued tones. Patience had been moved
that day from the bed to the couch. She was half-sitting, half-lying,
against her cushions. The pink of her dressing-gown caught a rosy glow
from the flames, and reflected itself in her cheeks, already fuller and
less transparent than they had been for long.

"Lavinia," she said, suddenly. "How we have fenced and played with that
question of which we both think incessantly. Let us face it at last. I
must see him soon. He cannot always be put off with excuse, or look in
when I am supposed to be asleep. Shall it be to-morrow!"

Miss Lavinia gave a little cry of horror. "Oh, no--no! You are far too
weak. Why a month hence----"

"You think he will wait a month?"

"As long as you decide he must wait."

"I am not afraid any longer," Patience went on, in a low firm voice.
"Not one atom afraid. Only utterly cold; utterly indifferent."

"Are you sure of that? Remember the power he has always had over
you. Be certain he will endeavour to explain all this away. He will
misrepresent us to you, Rufus Myrthe, and myself. Outwardly he seems
the same, and treats us in the same manner, but I feel he hates us. And
it makes me afraid, Patience. Afraid for you."

"It need not. I am so changed I hardly know myself again. He can never
make me feel again, Lavinia. Love, fear, jealousy, pity--all are dead
utterly, and for ever dead."

"And have you formed any resolution--any plan for the future?"

"Yes."

"I--I must not ask its nature?"

"Not yet, dear old friend, not yet. You shall know after I have seen
him. But be sure I am not acting rashly, or without due thought. I
have weighed the matter carefully, as well as possible results. In
these days when I have fought my way back to life once more, I think I
also found out what a narrow view of life a certain Patience Quarn has
hitherto taken. She was never a woman of moods or changes. She walked
rather in one path, with her eyes on a single landmark. But that path
has widened and shown her the vastness and importance of the world
around; and the landmark--has disappeared."

"But she was always forgiving," said Miss Lavinia, gently. "And when a
specious penitent falls on his knees--what then?"

"Forgiveness is possible; but not forgetfulness, not extenuation. Not
the resuming of life on the old ground of fellowship. That is where the
new Patience comes in. The one with whom he has to make acquaintance."

Miss Lavinia looked earnestly at the pale and serious face. Yes--this
was a new Patience. New to her as she would be new to her wrong-doer. A
spirit brave and simply strong, that had come out of stress and storm
winged with new courage.

She laid her hand on those clasped slender fingers, where glittered
only the thick gold badge of a dishonoured and broken union.

"My dear," she said, gently, "I am sure you will do right. God help
you! There is no easy task before you. You will need more than woman's
courage to face it."

She felt the tremor of the slender fingers within her own. There was a
long silence. For great emotions words are poor exponents.

To Miss Lavinia the marriage tie had always seemed a sacred and binding
thing, not lightly to be taken up, not ever to be broken. Yet in this
present instance what course could Patience follow? Would she break
the tie? Free herself once and for ever? Surely, yes. In the delicate
meshes of another person's difficulty decision is so easily arrived
at. Caught within the meshes of one's own there seems to be a hundred
courses of action, and not one feasible.

"Sometimes I have thought I would write," persisted Patience, following
out the thread of her own thoughts. "But that might seem like
cowardice. No, I will see him face to face."

They had been so engrossed by their conversation and their own thoughts
that neither of them had heard the soft turning of the door handle from
without. Neither of them were in any way prepared for the voice that
chimed in with those last words.

"If that is your wish, my dear Patience, I am all attention."

Miss Lavinia's start was personified nervousness. Patience never moved.
It even seemed to her that she was not surprised, but rather--relieved.
Expectation has its hour of dread as well as of self-promised bliss.

"I heard you were sitting up to-day," continued the doctor's suave
voice. "Needless to say, I wished to offer my congratulations. At this
hour, our fireside hour, Patience, they seem especially appropriate."

She loosened her hand then from Miss Lavinia's clasp. The firelight,
lower than her face, threw its lifted beauty into strong relief. The
calm, steady gaze of the eyes that met his own struck with a feeling of
strangeness to Felix Quarn's heart. For once they held no softness, no
welcome, no love.

"Perhaps it is as well you came," she said. "I have something to speak
about. I intended asking you for an interview. Will you--sit down?"

Miss Lavinia rose hurriedly. Since events were marching apace she felt
her presence might mean embarrassment.

"I will leave you, Patience," she said. "Ring if you want--anything.
The hand bell is beside you. Shall I light the lamp?"

"No," said Dr. Quarn, quickly. "There's light enough to talk by. I
promise not to detain your patient long."

There was sarcasm in both voice and face as he took the chair Miss
Lavinia had vacated. He bent towards the fire, and roughly broke the
glowing coal to flame. A red light flashed upwards and forwards,
dyeing his face, and his long, white hands. He threw himself back as
if to evade its tell-tale betrayal, and again his eyes turned to the
reclining figure. The door closed on Miss Lavinia. They were alone for
the first time since his momentous absence.

"So you are really better, stronger? Well, that is good news!" he
commenced, with forced cheerfulness of tone.

The pallor of strong feeling tinged her face and lips. Her eyes rested
for a moment upon him. It seemed to her as if they looked at an empty
frame that had once held a cherished photograph. All substance, light
and shade that had meant "likeness" had vanished. Her mind's eye filled
in the portrait and knew itself a false artist.

Then suddenly she caught the echo of his words, and seized upon them to
control her straying thoughts.

"Is it--good news?" she asked. "I can hardly believe your heart voices
your congratulations, Felix."

"What do you mean? I suppose you have been listening to that
chattering old maid, and accepting all sorts of false statements,
misrepresentations? She came and bullied me about your illness as if I
were the cause of it! Only that she was your friend, Patience, and that
you were in a critical condition, I should have ordered her out of the
house."

"You allow that I was in a critical condition?"

"I was told so."

"And for saving me, and helping me when you had left me to die, for
indeed I have looked death in the face, you would have banished the one
human creature who came to my aid?"

"I--I do not understand you," he said, huskily.

"I think you do, Felix."

Her voice was calm, unmoved, but tense with firmness of purpose.

"I think you do. Is it not somewhat strange that my health began to
improve the moment I ceased taking your medicine?--submitting to your
treatment?"

Though he had expected, schooled himself for some such accusation, he
could not quite conceal the quiver of fear that flickered over his face.

"Do you know what you are saying?" he blustered. "Is this meant as an
accusation of improper treatment, or merely some hysterical fancy,
fostered in your mind by foolish women--your friend, and that nurse she
brought? I defy them--you--anyone to prove such a thing! My treatment
was perfectly correct. My remedies absolutely harmless. Your own
hysterical condition was alone responsible for--for----"

"Almost--fatal consequences?" she suggested.

"Nonsense! There was no such danger! Had I been here----"

"It has occurred to me to thank Providence more than once that you were
not here," she said. "But let us not waste time over idle fencing,
Felix. I am not yet strong enough to bear prolonged agitation. The
question is easily settled. You, I suppose, have no objection to my
sending that last bottle of medicine (I think half remains) to an
analyst, and requesting a report of it."

His face changed then. The pallor turned to livid grey, awful to
behold. Cowardice and self-preservation were important factors in the
nature of Felix Quarn. She saw his eyes glance furtively to shelf and
table, and her heart grew sick and cold within her. In sixty seconds of
silence she lived a lifetime of pain.

"You--you don't answer?" she said. "Am I to believe--oh, I can't say
it. It is too horrible!--Felix, what have I ever done that you should
have treated me as an enemy? That you should have put your own life
in jeopardy for the sake of freedom? There were other ways--safer
ways. I--I would have given you your liberty had I known you so
keenly desired it. You might have had my money, even more than I have
already given. Had you frankly said to me I was an obstacle in your
path, something you hated, and were weary of, I--I think I could have
understood. But in all these years with you I can recall nothing that
deserved such a crime as you plotted against my harmless life."

He rose then. Shame and anger made him fierce and desperate too, since,
now there was no possible concealment, nor subterfuge, nor lie that
could convince her.

"I--I was sick of you!" he cried. "I confess it. You poor puling,
white-faced thing. I had wasted enough of my life with you.
Self-sacrifice is not my ideal of marriage. I would have thrown all up,
left you, but for----"

"You need not tell me," she said. "I am dishonoured by many rivals. But
only one of them has had the power of changing you from an indifferent
husband into a dastardly criminal. Be thankful, Felix, that you have
been saved in time. A week--another week, only seven little days, and
I should have been beyond the reach of your hatred, and you beyond the
power of my help."

"I--I fail to see that," he said brutally.

"Someone--knew what you were giving me. Purest accident, but to me
God-given chance, put that person on the track of discovery; the only
one who could prove the nature and effects of that drug."

He stood quite still, his face averted. Between his teeth he muttered,
"That damned American!"

"Well," he said again. "What's to be done? How do you propose, to
act? Let's throw all this damned sentimentality out of the question.
Only first I'll swear that drug isn't poisonous. It suits some
constitutions. I--I can't tell why it shouldn't suit yours. But let
that go by."

"Yes," she interposed. "It is such a mere detail to consider why you
did not cease administering it when you found I possessed one of the
constitutions it did not suit."

"You were always great at words," he sneered. "Fine sentiments make up
for poor actions. Anyhow, there's no harm done. Perhaps it is as well
things have come to a climax. I--I couldn't have borne this life much
longer."

She thought bitterly of her life, of what it had been, and how she had
borne it. Into her eyes crept that look of unfathomable sadness which
of late had replaced tears. Then they drooped and fell upon her clasped
hands, and the shining gold of her marriage ring. What false words,
false love, false vows, it represented now! Quietly she removed it from
her finger and held it out to him.

"There is no need for you to bear that life another day, another hour,
Felix," she said calmly. "If I had become only a temptation to crime,
the sooner I am out of your reach, your sight, the better. Had I been
strong enough I should have left here before this, and all future
arrangements would have been communicated to you through my lawyers.
You must leave----"

He started. Anger and hate flamed into his eyes. He caught her
outstretched wrist with a vice-like grasp. "You turn me out. You shame
me publicly? You give this story to the world!"

His face was so horrible with rage and malevolence that she shuddered
back from it and tried to free her hand. The ring fell to the ground
and rolled softly away.

"You--hurt me," she gasped. "I am not strong yet."

"You were strong enough to plot all this, damn you!" Suddenly he
released her hand.

He tried to calm himself, to choke back the furious words that surged
to his brain. "Is it divorce you mean?" he asked savagely.

She shook her head. "You have put that beyond my power and your own.
Freedom I will have; but it must be freedom without scandal; if
possible without shame."

He grew calm. A possible salvation still loomed ahead. "Put it plainly,
if you can," he said.

"Not now," she said faintly. "I will write. I have formulated a plan.
But go now, Felix, I am exhausted. I can bear no more."

He saw her sink helplessly back on the pillows. A spasm of murderous
rage seized him. One hand was at her throat. But the other struck by
chance the little table on which Miss Lavinia had placed the silver
hand-bell. It fell to the ground, ringing clearly as it did so. In
another moment the dressing-room door was flung open. Nurse Ida stood
there, a candle in her hand. She held it up, and threw its light across
to where that bending figure stooped above the couch. Then she came
quickly forward.

"I thought Mrs. Quarn called me," she said.

He drew back. He strove for calmness, for speech, for self-control.

"She seemed a little faint," he stammered. "Have you restoratives at
hand?"

Without a word she pushed him aside, and bent over the motionless form.
The head lay back, with the white throat exposed above the falling
laces of her gown. On its snowy, ivory surface was stamped the impress
of that frenzied grip. A red swollen mark that told its own tale.

The nurse turned, and looked him in the face.

"Send Miss Moneyash here," she said. "It's no place for you!"

Like a beaten hound he crept away towards the door.




CHAPTER XXVIII.

The nurse and Miss Moneyash talked in hushed and indignant voices over
the averted catastrophe.

The nurse had nothing but horror and indignation to express. "I was
half asleep," she said. "The sound of talking roused me. Angry words
and her pleading, so it seemed to me. And then the fall of the table.
His hand was at her throat as I came in. Another moment and it would
have been too late."

The little old lady shuddered and paled. "He is more like a savage
brute than a man," she said. "Well, we have had a lesson. He must not
see her alone again. Ah! my poor Patience!"

Her tears fell rapidly. She looked at the pale, exhausted face on the
pillows. Horror and hatred of Felix Quarn overpowered all expression.

Meanwhile Felix Quarn was shut up in his own study. All feeling save
that of murderous hatred submerged by that temporary madness that makes
men criminals for the time being.

There was no one connected with this overthrow of his, whom he would
not willingly have consigned to unutterable torments at that moment.
Rufus Myrthe, Miss Lavinia, the nurse, Patience herself. They were, to
his frenzied brain, all enemies, schemers, obstacles, that he longed to
sweep from his path. A crowd of opposing forces deserving nothing less
than annihilation.

He was a man of far too violent passions to be controlled by reason
when these fits of savagery overtook him. At such times he was indeed
nothing less than a dangerous lunatic. Physical violence would have
relieved him at the present moment, but only inanimate objects offered
themselves for the purpose.

He broke the ivory paper-knife that his wife had given him, and thrust
it and many another pretty gift and trifle on his writing-table, into
the fire. He heaped prescriptions, letters, and bills on the top at
them, and the roaring of the flames only seemed to fan his fury into
fiercer torment. Like a caged animal he paced the room, overthrowing
every article that impeded his progress. To and fro, to and fro, his
hands clenched, his eyes fiercely glaring from side to side; all the
costly, beautiful things gathered here for his comfort by her love and
thoughtfulness, speaking out but one word, "Fool!"

Fool he knew himself; utter, immeasurable fool! He had gained nothing
and lost all. He was dependent on the bounty of a woman, and he had
turned that woman into a relentless foe. Twice he had essayed her life,
and twice failed. Fool! and fool again. For now he had lost all chance
of making terms. Now he and his wrecked fortunes and dishonoured life
were again cast to the winds of chance. There was little hope that the
capricious goddess would favour so ungrateful a suitor twice over. He
had flouted her too outrageously. Reckoned too surely on success, while
yet the victory hung trembling in the balance of events.

From red heat to white, from fury to self-pity, his wild thoughts
ranged, and his wild blood beat in heart and pulse and throbbing
temples! Baffled, yet still irresolute, he threw himself down on his
familiar chair, his sullen eyes beat sullenly on the coals, his lips
quivering with a weight of muttered words.

Across that insensate outburst fell the familiar sound of the
dressing-gong. Through the silence of the hall came hurrying steps, and
chattering voices. Again he gnashed his teeth with silent rage. This
time to-morrow where would he be? Dethroned, exiled, cast out. Held up
to scorn and opprobrium, saved only from a worse fate by the mercy of
the woman he had so deeply wronged.

He remembered Miss Lavinia's words. He remembered that look in the
nurse's eyes, the cold contempt in the nurse's voice. Oh, fool, fool!
And yet again fool! in that he had so betrayed and condemned himself,
when policy and prudence counselled such a different course. He had
not only suffered discovery, but he had burnt his few remaining boats
behind him.

He stamped on the floor, and curse and oath burst forth again. The
coarser and more brutal in that they were the one sincere utterance of
his heart, and flew and echoed round the room like evil birds seeking
resting-place and finding none.

"She will write; she will dictate terms! Faugh! Has it come to this!
The poor, weak toy I despised too much even for a plaything! To face me
with her decision, to crush me with her scorn! Damnation take her, and
all the canting crew who have put her up to this."

He flung up his head suddenly. Then once more rose and commenced that
feverish pacing. His thoughts were on a new track now. There was
still someone in the background on whom vengeance might fall. He was
recalling by a strong effort certain words Patience had uttered. They
came back with a meaning attached. "Someone knew what you were giving
me!"

His mind ranged from one to another of possible informers. Invariably
it stopped at one.

There was no proof. Nothing but an incipient hatred dating from
acquaintance of cunning with candour, treachery with honest dealing.
Nothing but suspicion. Yet his darkest glance fell on that face he
conjured up, and the foot he stamped and ground into the carpet,
crushed and trod all semblance of life and youth from its imaginary
helpfulness.

"Curse his damned meddling. From the first I distrusted him. He was for
ever hanging round her. She was a different creature from the day he
came here. And it was that officious old maid sent him. Her spy--maybe.
God! If Patience should have given him that last bottle of stuff to be
analysed--I'm lost."

Terror once more usurped the place of anger. He grew cold and sick.
"And everything's lost with me. Money, fame, position, love. I can't
cheat myself into any other belief."

Again the gong sounded. He lifted his head and swore at its senseless
summons. He saw his distraught face in the glass, and met his own gaze
as if it were that of a stranger. They would be all trapesing into the
hall, chattering, laughing, like foolish jays. Ignorant of the tragedy
that he was facing in this dreadful solitude.

He knew they would wait for him, wonder he did not appear. But to-night
it was beyond even his powers of dissimulation to face and meet them
on the old ground of doctor and patient. To-night he felt that if he
sat there at the head of his table, and caught sight of that young,
purposeful face, and heard the ringing tones of Rufus Myrthe, he would
rise and stab him to the heart in one overmastering impulse of jealous
rage such as already had seized him in its grip. The idea pleased
him. He toyed with it, clasping and unclasping his fingers about an
imaginary weapon. The knife that lay before his vacant place. He was a
murderer by intent. By every force of will. Passion surged wildly up
once more, and beat aside the craven fears that had thrust it away.

In that moment something whispered to him how sweet was revenge, and
how easy. He seemed to be once more listening to that tale of the Inn.
To see before him the dreary expanse of barren moor, the deserted mine
with its evil reputation.

And like a flash he seemed to see one spot amidst all that blank
and desolate region. One place where crime might stalk unknown and
unsuspected. Had it not done so for years? Might it not do so again?

His hand swept the disordered hair from his wet brow. The voice came
closer. It seemed as if a visible presence were at his side, its
sibilant whispers pierced to his clouded brain.

He turned his eyes from side to side.

"Dare I?" he was answering the voice. "Dare I--again?"

A knock at the door startled him. He turned white as if some power he
had blindly invoked had chosen to answer the summons.

"What is it?" his muffled voice asked.

"Dinner, sir. They are all waiting. They wish to know----"

"I cannot come," he cried hoarsely. "I am not well. Let them dine
without me."

He heard retreating steps. The room seemed to grow suddenly dark. But
it was only for a moment that his senses swam, and he reeled like a
drunken figure on a stage. Then as suddenly he was cool and calm once
more.

"At least I can have my revenge--on both!" he cried with a sort of
savage triumph. "And now for rest, sleep. I must keep hold on my senses
to-night. I shall need them at their best to-morrow."

He unlocked a drawer in his table, and took out a bottle containing a
dark liquid. He measured some drops into a medicine glass and drank it
off and threw himself on the couch. In a few moments there was no sound
in the room save his laboured breathing.




CHAPTER XXIX.

There was openly expressed wonder at the doctor's absence. Rufus
Myrthe alone felt it to be a relief. As yet he was ignorant of the
scene between Patience and her husband. Miss Lavinia had not left her
friend's side for a moment, even after recovery of consciousness.
Patience made no allusion to what had passed. She had, in fact, no
recollection of the frenzied violence that had so nearly been fatal.
Strong emotion had taxed her yet feeble strength. She was mentally and
physically exhausted.

The nurse got her back to bed and administered a soothing draught. Then
sleep came mercifully to her aid and her watchful attendants lowered
the light, and sat by the fire talking in whispers over the averted
catastrophe. Miss Lavinia felt for once that concealment was useless.
She told Nurse Ida what indeed she had long guessed, that the doctor
had attempted his wife's life by means of some slow and subtle poison.
Horrified as the nurse was, she had seen and heard too much of the
seamy side of matrimonial life to be altogether surprised.

For physician and attendant the sick room holds no illusions and few
secrets. Nurse Ida was a quiet, self-restrained woman. One who had
suffered heavy trouble, and known the bitterness of loss and sorrow.

"She ought not to live under the same roof with the man," she said, as
Miss Lavinia ceased speaking. "Why, in her weak state, had I been half
a moment later she would have been dead."

The little old lady shuddered. Such horrors as these were altogether
too tragic for her simple life. Her nerves were already suffering from
the shock and strain. A masked foe stalked ever between these locked
doors and threatened her vigilance at any moment. She would have given
anything to get Patience away out of the house or reach of her would-be
murderer. But in her present condition she felt that to be impossible.

She and Nurse Ida had their dinner sent up to the dressing-room. Miss
Lavinia was too nervous to be left alone, and they did not wish to take
the resident nurse into their confidence.

After the dinner-hour was over the little old lady despatched a note
to Rufus, begging him to come to her. He received it as the party were
entering the drawing-room. A swift presentiment connected its hurried,
anxious words with the fact of the doctor's absence. He left the
circle abruptly, and ran upstairs to the boudoir, as Miss Lavinia had
desired. It adjoined the bedroom on one side. The three rooms had all
communicating doors so as to suit the invalid when she passed from one
to the other.

The little lady fluttered in before he had had time to signify his
presence. Her very cap betokened agitation.

In a few broken words she related what had occurred. The recital held
him speechless with indignant horror. His handsome young face grew
ghastly as he pictured the narrowness of the escape--the dastardly
attempt of the man for whom his hatred had been instinctive from the
first.

"What's to be done?" Miss Lavinia concluded. "My nerves are quite
shattered. I tremble at every sound. I think of trapdoors, and hands
from behind the curtains dropping poison in her glass, and every
imaginable horror like one reads of in Dumas' novels. I wish you would
stay near us to-night, Rufus. In this room, will you?"

"Certainly I will. I don't care what anyone says, or thinks."

"But, stay," she went on. "The other people would think it so strange.
Don't please let them know. It seems dreadful to think of appearances,
but for her sake we must. Let all be as usual till eleven o'clock. You
say the doctor did not come in to dinner?"

"No. I guess even his brazen effrontery couldn't face us all to-night."

Suddenly his voice changed. Its calmness was shaken by the suppressed
storm of emotion welling within his heart. "Miss Moneyash, I can't
bear this much longer. Someone should stand up in her defence. You say
there's no man to do it. Then by----"

Her hand lightly pressed his arm.

"No, Rufus. No, my dear boy, not yet. Not unless she desires it.
Remember she has a reputation to keep up, and then this establishment
must be considered. Think of all the money sunk in it! And the awful
scandal it would be. No, no! Patience has a plan, and we must wait to
hear it. There's only one day more, one night indeed, between us and
that knowledge. Better he should learn his sentence from her. No one
can interfere between husband and wife unless one or other appoints
such interference."

"I'm getting sick of this game of caution. What's the opinion of a
handful of people, of anyone, the whole world, in comparison with her
life!"

The little lady gave him a quick, startled glance. Something in his
voice, his face, struck to her heart with a fear as yet unknown. Could
interest, friendship, concern, work such misery as this?

The gay, good humour, the self-reliance, so characteristic of Rufus
Myrthe had quite deserted his expression. He looked aged by years of
anxiety. Why should he care so much, she asked herself?

Then she spoke. "To us, Rufus, it may seem so. But one incautious
action may do immense harm, harm that we can never again undo. It
is for her to speak, for us to obey. You must not let a natural
indignation run away with your common-sense, my dear boy. Heaven knows
what I have felt, borne, through all these dreadful days, but I can
still wait, still trust in God. His hand will show us the way, Rufus,
depend upon it."

Rufus was silent. He felt too deeply for words to be easy now. He
recognised that the part he was playing in Patience Quarn's life was no
longer a thing for impersonal consideration. It touched him more nearly
than any previous experience.

His primitive impulse was to challenge the man with his infamy. The
fact that he had no right to do so was a secondary consideration. Was
any right necessary save the natural indignation of justice and common
sense?

"Well, look here, Miss Moneyash," he said at last. "Will you ask her
if I may act for her in this matter? Tell her to look upon me as a
brother. I'd do anything, anything she wishes. But to sit here in cold
blood, and see that villain making one attempt after another on her
life, well, that's too hard a task. It's not in my line, Miss Moneyash.
I was never patient."

"So much the more reason you should not make a mistake, Rufus. I
promise to tell her all you have said when she wakes to-morrow. The
sedative should bring her eight or ten hours sleep. It usually does.
Then she will be stronger, and able to hear what I must say. I doubt if
she knows of his attempt to-night."

"I wonder what the beauty is doing?" exclaimed Rufus Myrthe savagely.
"Locked up there with his poisons and his schemes. It is getting
intolerable to me to remain under his roof."

"Try and remember it is her roof. That will make it easier."

He looked at the gentle old face, and his own softened. "You are good,"
he said, "You seem to carry about a stock of consolation for everyone."

"If I've consoled you, Rufus, I'm content. You're nothing but a big,
lovable, impetuous school-boy, for all you're so strong, and think
yourself so wise. And now I'm going to send you away. I don't want
those people downstairs to imagine anything has happened out of the
common. I shall expect you here at eleven o'clock. You can put up with
that couch, can't you, if you want to sleep?"

"Miss Moneyash--now I do say!"

She laughed despite her trouble.

"I know, my dear. I wasn't really in earnest. The feeling that you are
there will give me the greatest comfort. Oh! I hope and pray, Rufus,
this may be the last night of anxiety. I'm simply a bundle of nerves.
Surely to-morrow she will insist on his leaving the Hall, at least
until she can do so herself."

* * * * * *

That was a strange night to Rufus Myrthe. It was so wonderful that he
should be in that sanctuary of hers, the holy of holies, where his
heart had lingered in many a sacred memory. He looked at the couch
where he had so often seen her lying. Her table, her books, her work,
the faint perfume lingering about the cushions, all spoke of her with
that eloquence of silent things at once sweet and painful.

For only in absence, or sorrow, or death do we recognise their
eloquence.

Rufus would not have dishonoured couch or cushion by using them. They
were far too sacredly hers not to be sacred to him.

The fire had been made up. A shaded lamp stood on the table. A large
easy chair was on one side of the fireplace. There were books and
papers put ready for him by Miss Lavinia's thoughtfulness. A sheet
of paper on the mantelpiece bore the words--"Smoke if you wish"--and
brought a smile to his lips. He remembered that special feminine
and motherly trait of the little lady's. Consideration of trifles
concerning health or comfort even in critical situation's. All the same
he knew it would seem to him little short of sacrilege to smoke his
briarwood in Patience Quarn's boudoir.

He took the chair by the fire, and sat down with a book in his hand.
But he made no attempt to read it. The brain was too excited, his
thoughts too preoccupied, for the mere perusal of any printed matter
to induce attention worthy of the name. Besides, every nerve was
strained and alert. He could not understand why Dr. Quarn had made
no sign. He had never left his study, for Rufus had inquired of the
servant whether her master had retired. "No," she had said. And the
study door was still locked, and the light burning. But the doctor had
always given strict orders that he was not to be disturbed, so no one
had knocked since dinner-time.

His eyes turned to the communicating door between the rooms where
Patience lay, guarded by her faithful friend, and this one, where
he sat alert and watchful. It was midnight now, and the house was
wrapped in silence. The light burnt still in the corridor without, and
illumined the stairs sufficiently for anyone to come up or go down
should it be necessary. He knew that if Dr. Quarn left his study he
must hear him pass this room, and ascend the next flight of stairs to
the bedroom he had occupied during his wife's recent illness. But as
yet there had been no sound, no sign.

The clock in the hall chimed one. Rufus Myrthe rose and stretched
himself, and then softly opened the door and looked out. The lamp still
lit corridor and staircase. He leant over the balustrade. The hall was
in darkness. A faint streak of light, like a phosphorescent line shone
across one portion of it. It was the reflection of the light within
the study, stealing underneath the door. Rufus watched it for a few
moments in fascinated silence. It showed the occupant of the room was
still there. And again that curiosity as to what he was doing, and what
had kept him there these many hours, crossed the young man's mind, and
became a tormenting riddle he longed to solve.

Tired of watching he at last crept back to the boudoir, and closed the
door softly behind him. But soft as was the noise it must have reached
Miss Lavinia's ears. She stole to her side of the communicating door,
and opened it about an inch.

"Are you there, Rufus?" she whispered.

"Yes. I hope I didn't disturb you?"

"I heard the door shut. I was afraid you might have gone downstairs."

"No. I only looked over them."

He was standing close beside the opening. He too only spoke in a
whisper. "He has not come up. The light in the study still burns. How
is--she?"

"Sleeping soundly. She hasn't moved. Why don't you turn the key in the
outer door, and get a nap, Rufus?"

"I can't sleep to-night. The air seems charged with electricity."

"Well, good-night," she whispered, "or rather good morning. It will
soon be daylight."

He went back to his chair, and put another pine-log on the fire. Then
he took up a magazine from the pile beside him, and idly turned the
leaves, looking at the illustrations. He was interested enough to
commence a tale. It engrossed him, and he read on page after page to
the final denouement. As he reached the end the distant sound of the
clock, lessening another hour of his vigil, struck again on the silence.

Two!

He leant forward and mended the fire, using no poker for fear of
disturbing the inmates of the room beyond. It was chilly now, and the
lamp seemed burning dimly. Also, for the first time, a feeling of
drowsiness began to creep over him. He shook himself and rose and tried
to fight against it. He had determined to take no sleep that night.
He was annoyed that his powers of resistance should prove weaker than
his will. He would have liked to take advantage of that permit on the
chimney-piece, but he resolved on self-sacrifice on that point. To
make it less a temptation he took up a strip of paper and threw it on
the fire. In a moment it was burnt to ashes. Then he commenced a slow,
measured walk up and down the room. His felt slippers made no noise. As
he approached the door leading to the bed-chamber he paused to listen.
All still, all quiet.

Suddenly he heard the noise of rain pattering against the window. Then
the wind rose, and there was a sound of rustling branches, and moaning
sighs. He lifted the blind and looked out into pitchy darkness. Sky and
stars were blotted out. Only a veil of black stretched between him and
what meant garden, and grounds, and the wide range of hills beyond. He
was about to drop the blind when a little trickle of luminance caught
his eye. Something bright, snaky, waving over the ground. A light
thrown forth, and patterned by moving boughs, and streaming rain.

"It must be the study light," he thought. "He too is not going to bed.
What a dismal night--and how long!"

He dropped the blind with a little shiver, and again commenced his
pacing.

"I shall always associate this place with rain," he thought. "Almost
everything of importance that has occurred to me, has occurred in this
sort of weather. Dripping skies, howling winds; that swirl and splash
of water."

He stopped again. It seemed to him his ear had caught some sound apart
from the pattering of the rain drops. He listened intently. But all
was still. The first storm gust had died away into the distance; a
temporary lull ensued. He resumed his seat, and again went on reading
as before that feeling of drowsiness swept over him. The day's
excitement was reacting on his nerves. His eyes closed despite his will.

* * * * * *

One--two. Three.

At the last stroke Rufus woke with a violent start. Had he been
dreaming? What sound had crept in between his benumbed senses and the
sound of wind and rain.

He sprang to his feet.

"Someone opened a window--I'd swear----"

Rufus Myrthe stood perfectly still, every nerve strained to listen to
any repetition of the sound that had aroused him.

All was silent.

He shivered. The room was cold, despite the fire, and the light of the
lamp was failing. Again he bethought himself of the lighted corridor.
Suppose he set the door open--well, even if the doctor should pass,
should question his presence, he had an answer ready.

Acting on the impulse, with his usual impetuosity, he crossed the room
again. He opened the door. The welcome light showed itself as before.

As before also he crossed the corridor, and looked down into the empty
hall. Still, all dark; all silent. Further he leant; more intently he
listened. The little narrow thread of light was no longer visible. Had
it been suddenly extinguished, or had the doctor left the room, and
come upstairs unnoticed, unheard by him.

His strained ears tried to catch a sound. He could have sworn they did
catch one. So deep, so intense was the stillness of the house that
everything seemed intensified by contrast. With an impulse he could
not restrain Rufus ran swiftly down the staircase, and crossed towards
that long-locked door. He reached it. He stood listening. There was a
movement within.

His heart seemed to stand still, then it beat and throbbed like hammer
strokes. The sound he heard was of laboured, stifled breathing, yet
subdued and stealthy, came another sound, stranger, more horrible. The
patter as of feet softly shod, yet moving as no human feet ever move.
And then a moment's silence, and a low, chuckling laugh.




CHAPTER XXX.

Rufus Myrthe stepped back a pace or two from the door at that uncanny
sound.

Had Quarn gone mad?

The laugh betrayed no human mirth. In fact, it had scarce a human
sound. He stood eyeing the door, striving to rid himself of an idea
that some mystery lurked behind it.

"He must be there," he told himself. "I heard movements--steps. Yet
there seems no light."

He was paralysed by indecision. Should he knock and ask if the doctor
was there? Yet what business was it of his? As he stood arguing the
point he remembered that one window of the study looked out on the
grounds at the back of the house. It was low enough to be reached by
any ordinarily tall man. If he went out, and round the house he might
get a glimpse of the interior of the room. It was a chance, but perhaps
better than disturbing the man himself.

Familiar now with all modes of egress, Rufus stole softly back and
across the hall to where a swing door covered with baize shut off the
servants' quarters. He struck a match, and by its light went down a
stone passage. Finding a candle on a shelf there, he lit it, and left
it burning. Then he softly drew the bolts of the back door, and opened
it. The rain was falling heavily. All beyond was black and void.

He set the door open, and fastened it back by a catch at the bottom.
Then he groped his way down the path, and round to where that window
might be reached. He had only memory and instinct to guide him as
he groped his way, touching here a bush, or there a tree, in the
all-effacing obscurity. The Hall looked only a shapeless mass of black,
little less black than the brooding darkness that shrouded it. But he
crept on till suddenly a faint streak of light told him he had reached
what he sought.

The window was before him, the blind was down, and it seemed as if
a curtain had been drawn. A little glow of light showed through an
opening between window and sill. Evidently it had not been shut down or
fastened.

He raised himself on tiptoe and looked through the tiny aperture. But
the heavy folds of the curtain hid the interior of the room.

Cautiously he passed his hand to the end of the window, and tried
to draw away a fold of the heavy screening stuff. He found that
impossible, owing to its weight and the smallness of the aperture.

His next thought was to climb on the stone ledge, but he feared the
noise would attract attention. He bent his ear to the aperture to
listen, but the noise of wind and rain and rustling branch made a
conflict of confusion, and he could distinguish nothing. Uncertain what
to do he stood there. A moment or two passed. Then the wind lulled.
He strained every nerve to hear a movement within. But nothing was
audible. Then quite suddenly the light was extinguished. He stood
in darkness looking up at darkness. But as he looked the window was
abruptly opened. Thrown wide as if for air or egress. Something leant
out. Something indistinguishable in the darkness. Wondering if it
was Quarn, Rufus remained motionless where he stood. Before he could
formulate curiosity into certainty, the form seemed to gather about
it some hideous human likeness, vague, indescribable, gigantic, yet
dwarfed. It stood a moment on the stone sill filling up the aperture of
the half-opened window. Then a cry broke from Rufus Myrthe. He dashed
forward, but the thing with resistless strength met him, repulsed, and
forced him back, and with a cry, horrible and haunting, sped away as if
winged, clearing every obstacle by leaps and bounds that would have set
pursuit at defiance.

Rufus sprang to his feet dizzy and half-stunned. The open window, the
flapping curtain seemed eloquent of some horror within. He sprang up on
the sill and dropped into the room, which was all in darkness.

He called Quarn's name. There was no answer. Instinctively he groped
his way to the door, stumbling over furniture at every step. He found
handle and key and unlocked it. But the light from the upper corridor
was too indistinct to enable him to see anything in the room. He
thought of his matchbox and struck a light. The little glow showed him
a disordered room, a litter of torn papers, and a motionless figure on
the couch.

But also he had seen candles on the high mantel-shelf, and hurriedly
striking another match, he lit one and approached the couch.

The doctor lay there motionless as the dead. His white face, his
staring eyes, his half-opened mouth, gave him a ghastly and horrible
aspect.

Rufus set down the candle on the nearest table, and tore open the man's
shirt and lifted his head. The head was heavy as lead, the skin he
touched was icy cold.

Rufus laid him back on the cushion.

"Dead," he said. "From appearances I should say--strangled."

It was a gruesome sight; a gruesome situation. The muscles of the neck
were swollen; deep marks lay pressed and stamped upon the livid flesh.
Even now they were changing and growing dark like bruises, showing
where a merciless hand had choked out life for ever.

With a shudder of natural horror Rufus Myrthe stepped back from the
body. He asked himself what was best to be done. That this was murder
there could be no doubt, and he alone knew the murderer. But a deeper
horror underlaid his knowledge, for the secret of the wretched monster
was in his possession. The secret of a cherished hatred for human life,
for any male creature gifted with strength or good looks, or those
attributes of physical perfection denied to himself.

What to do--now?

He asked himself that question helplessly, as he glanced towards the
open door, from the disordered room to the motionless figure. The
servants slept at the top of the house. They were all women, and
would necessarily be hysterical or useless. He dared not disturb Miss
Lavinia. The nurse, whom he knew as capable and strong-minded, was
asleep in the dressing-room. To call her up would be to alarm the
little old lady, perhaps to awake Patience. The gardeners only worked
by the day, and he had no idea where the stableman slept.

He knew someone ought to be despatched for medical assistance. He could
go himself, but meanwhile----

A noise at the door made him start. He turned and saw the resident
nurse standing there. She held a candle in her hand.

"Mr. Myrthe--why, what's happened? I thought I heard a noise. The light
was burning in the corridor. I came down and then saw the study door
open."

"Something awful has happened," said Rufus. "I found Dr. Quarn lying
here--dead."

She gave a little cry of horror, and hastily put down her candle. She
went over to the couch and bent, as he had done, over the motionless
figure, touching wrist and breast with mechanical impulse.

"Yes," she said. And then looked at the throat and the gruesome marks
upon it. "My God! sir, do you see. The man hasn't died a natural death.
He's been strangled."

"I know," said Rufus.

Her eyes turned from him to the open window, to his wet hair, and
clothes.

"How did you get in?" she asked, suddenly.

"Through there." He nodded towards the window. "I was sitting up in the
boudoir--Miss Moneyash had asked me--I wondered the doctor hadn't come
to bed. I came down to listen at his door. It must have been three or a
little past. I heard a strange noise and grew suspicious. I went round
the back way, and came to his window. Suddenly it was thrown open, and
someone jumped out. At first I thought it might be the doctor himself.
Then I looked through the open window. The room was all dark. I called
to him. There was no answer. I sprang through and lit a light. He lay
there on the couch as you see him."

"You didn't call for assistance--do anything?"

"There was nothing to be done. I was just deliberating when you
appeared. You know Mrs. Quarn is very ill. That Miss Moneyash is a
nervous little person. If--if possible I didn't want them to know this
till the morning."

The keen, cold eyes of the woman, scrutinised him coldly.

"It's a very strange story," she said. "Not but what there's been
strange enough things going on at the Hall for some time. Well, sir,
all I can suggest is that you go for Dr. Transom as soon as it's
daylight. Nothing can be done. Of course, there'll have to be an
inquest."

"I--suppose so," said Rufus.

"Didn't you try to stop the--the man who escaped? Couldn't you describe
him, identify him?"

"I couldn't stop him for the very good reason that he threw me down,
and when I picked myself up there wasn't a sign of a living creature. I
thought perhaps it was the doctor himself at first."

"How could you have mistaken him for the doctor?"

"I'm not aware I've any call to answer your cross-examination," said
Rufus, coldly. "I told you what had happened, and I reckon that's all I
mean to tell--at present."

She was an officious and important person and the reply nettled her.
Furthermore, she had been devoted to Dr. Quarn.

"It's very strange, that's all I can say," she answered. "But of
course you know, Mr. Myrthe, you'll be questioned pretty closely.
You're the only one who can throw any light on the subject. I cannot
quite understand your not calling for assistance, even at the risk of
disturbing Mrs. Quarn. Though of course we all know how devoted you are
to--her."

"That was a nasty speech," thought Rufus Myrthe. "I wonder what she
meant."




CHAPTER XXXI.

Whether Miss Lavinia had been asleep or not she certainly gave no sign
of hearing the conversation below.

Rufus Myrthe went back to the boudoir and found the lamp had gone out.
He closed the door softly, and went upstairs to his own room. In a few
moments he returned, carrying his boots in his hand. It was now past 4
o'clock but there was no sign of dawn in the inky blackness of the sky.

He found the nurse had lit the gas in the hall and the dining-room. She
was standing there when he came down.

"I'll go for the doctor," he said. "I'm pretty good at finding my way.
But is there such a thing as a lantern? It would be a help."

"I'll see," she said, briefly, and went through the baize door into the
passage beyond.

In a few moments she returned, a lantern swinging from her finger.

"I found a candle burning in the passage," she said, "and the outer
door open."

"I know. I opened it," answered Rufus. "That's the way I went round.
The study door was locked from inside as I told you."

She made no answer, but handed him the lantern. "I put a candle in,"
she said, as he took it. "Do you know the house where Dr. Transom
lives?"

"Yes, the one with green shutters, standing back from the road."

He took his cap from the hat-stand, and went away.

He did not trouble himself about the woman, or her opinions. If she was
infatuated with Dr. Quarn, like the other inmates of the Hall, there
was no use in trying to convince her that he was infamous, and that,
shocking as was his end, it held a measure of retribution.

He swung lightly and rapidly along the gravelled drive, and was at his
destination in less than a quarter or an hour. The doctor answered his
summons from the window, and then came to the door.

He listened in astonishment to the young man's story of the tragedy.
Dr. Quarn was no favourite among his compeers, but to hear of his awful
end was something of a shock, even to an indifferent acquaintance. He
dressed hurriedly, and accompanied Rufus back to the Hall.

The young man told his story of the discovery as frankly as he had
done to the nurse. That there should be anything unusual or improbable
about it never occurred to him. Dr. Transom was a kindly, elderly, and
unsuspicious individual. He listened, and wondered whether there had
been any reason for Quarn shutting himself in in that fashion, till
such an untoward hour. He also questioned Rufus as to the nature of the
outrage. Had the motive been robbery, and was Felix Quarn the victim
of resistance? But Rufus could not agree to that. The murdered man was
lying quietly on the couch. The crime seemed to have been committed for
its own sake. Of course, there was no knowing whether any money had
been taken. But save for scattered papers on the floor the room had
been undisturbed.

As soon as Dr. Transom entered the Hall, the nurse met him. She was
well known to him, and after a word or two he followed her to the fatal
room.

The body of the murdered man lay as Rufus had found it. Only the marks
were more apparent now that the icy chill of death had stiffened limb
and muscle. An examination was supererogatory. One glance told the
history.

"There'll have to be an inquest," said the doctor. "I will give notice
at the police station. Of course, Mr. Myrthe, as you alone witnessed
the escape of the criminal, your evidence will be required. Can you
give any clue as to his identity?"

Rufus hesitated for a moment. Then he looked up, and caught the
cold, watchful gaze of the nurse. Something in that look made him
uncomfortable.

"I think I can," he said. "But you must remember it was pitch dark. The
figure threw up the window quite suddenly, and sprang out. I rushed
forward, but was thrown back by the violence of the contact. When I
recovered it had disappeared."

"It?" questioned Dr. Transom. "Surely you said a man sprang out!"

"No. A figure," answered Rufus. "And a queer one, too. A short, squat,
dwarfish creature."

The doctor's eyes turned on him with surprise. Their survey of his
herculean frame and splendid proportions gave forcible expression to
the glance.

"Perhaps you had better reserve all particulars for the inquest," he
said, stiffly. "Meanwhile everything had better remain exactly as it is
till the Police Inspector has been here. I can do nothing more."

He stood for a moment looking at the rigid figure and marble face. Then
he turned away.

The room looked dreary and cold. The table by which the dead man had
sat so often seemed a silent witness of violence, for papers were
scattered, blotting-paper torn, ink spilt. But the drawers were locked.
A small iron safe fixed in the wall was also locked.

The doctor's thoughtful gaze took in these details, and turned again to
the dead man. His coat was open. The glitter of watch-chain and seals
caught the light, as did the ring on one finger of the hand that lay
upon the breast.

"Evidently not robbery," he said, softly. "Ah! what does this mean!"

He had caught sight of the little medicine glass and took it up.

"Opium!" He turned to the nurse. "Was he in the habit of taking drugs,
do you know?"

"I never knew him to take any all the years I have been here."

The doctor looked round again, searching for the phial that should have
been visible.

"The keys are in that drawer!" exclaimed Rufus, suddenly.

He pointed to the lower drawer but one, where a bunch of keys was
hanging. The doctor went up and opened it. The little bottle containing
the stuff was there, just as Felix Quarn had thrown it. Dr. Transom
held it a moment in his hand. Then he looked at the nurse.

"You can see how many doses have been taken," he said. "Evidently it
was a habit. If so--well, he may have been sleeping there, an easy prey
enough. It's certainly very--mysterious."

"Very," said the nurse. "There seems no object in anyone coming in
through that window just to murder a sleeping man. What reason could he
have?"

"That," said Dr. Transom, "is not our business. The whole affair is
shocking and painful in the extreme. His poor wife! She is such an
invalid, I have always heard. Of course she doesn't know?"

"Not yet," said the nurse, pursing up her thin lips. "But it can't be
kept from her for long, I should say, however much people may wish it."

Again she looked at Rufus Myrthe, and this time the old doctor caught
the look. He wondered what it might possibly mean. But he told himself
it was no business of his. He had only had a superficial acquaintance
with the owners of the Hall. Whatever mystery lurked behind this tragic
death would be unfolded soon enough.

He took his leave, and went home as the grey chill dawn broke at last
over that night of horror and crime.

* * * * * *

Day had broken rosy and clear, banishing rain clouds, and sweeping with
swift cold breath over the sodden grass and shrubs.

Miss Lavinia opened the bedroom door and looked in at Rufus Myrthe.
His face was so pale, so haggard and changed in aspect that she felt
alarmed. Shutting the door behind her, she came to his side.

"You are tired, my dear," she said.

She caught his eyes. "Rufus, what is it?" she cried in terror.

"Try to bear what I've got to tell you--bravely," he said huskily.
"It's pretty bad. And yet, kind of seems to me Providence has chosen
His own instrument to work out her deliverance."

"Her--who? What has happened?"

"Promise me you won't scream, or faint, or anything. There you
go,--you're as white as death already. Here, sit down. I wish I had
some hot tea or something to give you, but I haven't."

He put her gently into the big chair, and took one of her hands and
held it. Then in measured, careful words he repeated the story of that
fateful night.

Save that the little lady shuddered, and her hand grew very cold, Rufus
had no cause to complain of feminine weakness. Her face was awed and
solemn. It seemed so impossible that freedom had come--like this.

Just as if any important event in life ever happens in the way we have
looked, or planned for it to happen.

"Dead----" she faltered, as Rufus ceased speaking. "Is it
possible--only a few hours since he attempted her life, and now----"

"His own has paid the penalty," said Rufus sternly. "It's but justice
after all, if you but look at it. Can we say we're sorry--you or I? We
may regret his awful fate, but who would have him back again here, to
torment, and to lie, and to torture that poor martyr!"

The little lady shuddered. "You say there must be an inquest! How
dreadful! Can you really swear to the criminal?"

"I can give a very good guess," he said.

"But why should anyone have come in in that way to attempt his life?"

"That life held many secrets, Miss Moneyash. We don't know how much
cause he has given for vengeance, even as terrible as this. But don't
you worry your head over this business more than you can help. You've
got to bear up, and help Mrs. Quarn to bear up. And we must try and
keep her out of the matter--and--and that interview between them.
There's just a chance he may have poisoned himself by an overdose of
that opium stuff found in the drawer--just a chance."

"But the marks you spoke of, the marks on the throat? Surely no one but
a maniac would strangle a man already dead!"

"That's true enough. If--if the creature--ugh!" and he shuddered
himself with the physical loathing that memory brought back, "--who
did this can be found, it's not responsible. It's scarcely human.
A monstrosity such as no nightmare ever conceived. I've seen it
twice. Both times under horrible conditions, and I don't call myself
a physical coward, but there's something scarcely human about
this--thing. Almost it seems unjustifiable to track it down."

"What a task lies before you," she faltered.

"Yes, pretty stiff, isn't it? Inquest, information, capture,
prosecution--God knows what! I've often wondered----" he broke off,
then gave a little mirthless laugh. "Well, it's no good talking about
it. Things have got to be as I've always told you. Only I ask myself,
times, why I was brought here, to this country, to be plunged right
into the midst of battle, murder, and sudden death, and--and a few
other little things thrown in. I've asked it pretty often of late, Miss
Moneyash. Seems I shan't get an answer for a long spell yet."

"The answer may come sooner than you expect. But don't rebel, my dear.
Bear on a little while longer. What would two unfortunate women have
done without you? I and Patience Quarn."

"Don't tell her till you can't possibly help," he urged.

"Of course I shall not. I will say he is ill first. Then break it by
degrees. Surely her evidence won't be required?"

"I--I hardly think so. But you see I don't know how they fix these
things up in this country. It's all so different. But now we've talked
enough. You must go right away and get to bed and get some sleep."

"I'm afraid I slept last night," she said shamefacedly. "It was the
thought you were near that made me feel so safe. I never heard a sound
of any sort. It seems incredible such horrors should have been going
on, and three people--Patience, Nurse Ida, and myself, all unconscious
of the fact."

"Be glad you were," he said grimly. "I don't care if I never come
across such a lurid collection again! There's plenty to come, and
plenty that's been that I could very well spare."




CHAPTER XXXII.

Seated at their desks in the pleasant sunny schoolroom of the Home, the
girls were working on steadily at various tasks, under direction of the
mistress, who came at 10 and left at 4 o'clock each day.

But this was Saturday, and a half-holiday in prospect lent a little
additional impetus to work.

Of them all none worked so seriously or with such a dogged facing
of the obstacles scattered judiciously on the path of learning as
Molly Udale. Saturday was always a day of joy to her. Was it not the
forerunner of that other most blessed day in all the week? A day that
touched some helpful pulse of life within her. That made the hateful
drudgery of the past only a black shadow, receding further and further
before the breaking of the dawn.

The passage of each week had marked the passage of change. Her soul
had grown quickly in this new and peaceful atmosphere, and its growth
was attended by no turbulent experiences. Nothing harsh, unlovely, or
unkind. Friendly looks and words, friendly encouragement had all aided
her in that struggle to rearrange her mind, and manners and opinions,
consequent upon changed circumstances. Yet, as one side of her nature
opened and enlarged, and flowed smoothly forth into pleasant channels,
another was as sternly repressed. The wealth of passionate devotion,
unconsciously called forth, and as unconsciously given, was still
thrust into a secret chamber of her heart. She was afraid of it. Afraid
of dazzling possibilities that might never approach her own mental
standpoint, and yet were--possibilities.

To-day, when the signal of dismissal was given and the girls filed out
one by one, she lingered a moment to ask some question of the teacher.

When it was answered she still stood hesitating. "Is there anything
else you want to know, Molly?" asked the instructress kindly.

She had been watching the expression of the girl's face, the curl of
the lashes sweeping the soft rose of her cheek, the lovely curves of
the parted lips, and she was conscious of a little pang of feminine
envy at so much beauty. Why was Nature so obtuse? What use were charms
like these to one whose life lay amongst workers and plodders, sprung
from the soil like herself.

The girl lifted her eyes shyly. "I seem so slow," she said, "and so
fulish like. There's so much to be read and learnt and seen, and I'm
naught but just a stupid piece, outside o' it all."

"Learning takes time. And you have a long pull up hill yet. But don't
be discouraged. I think, considering the short time you have been at
work, you have done very well."

"Thank you, ma'am. The writing do seem a bit easier."

"Does, Molly."

"Does, I mean, ma'am."

"There are other things beside writing. Why are you so very keen on
that?"

She was silent for a moment. Then she said: "I've summat--something to
find out by means o' writing that consarns one who's dead. That's why."

"I see. And you cannot read the papers--or whatever it is, for
yourself."

"No, ma'am, not yet."

"But surely someone, some friend--or Miss Moneyash herself--have you
ever asked her?"

"I couldn't, ma'am. They seem a trust like, and I was told only to read
them with my own eyes."

"Well, you must work a little harder at this special study. I am glad
you told me. I may be able to simplify the means. It is only necessary
to familiarise your eyes with the look of written words in order
to read them, unless, of course, the hand-writing should be a very
difficult one."

"It's small and close and skeery-like," said Molly. "But I've made out
some, and each week I get more used to th' looks o't."

"Of it, Molly."

"'Tis main and hard, ma'am, rememberin' of correct ways o'--of--speech.
But I thank you all the same for your trouble wi' me."

"That's all right. You're a very diligent girl. And I hope you won't
fall off, for Miss Moneyash takes a special interest in you. Indeed I
wonder your companions aren't jealous of your many privileges."

Molly went away then. She found an excited group of girls clustered in
the entrance to the dining-room. The matron was there. The servant who
was bringing in the dinner stood gaping and aghast. There was a whisper
of horror, and yet of that unholy curiosity attending horrors, amongst
them all.

"What is it?" asked Molly quickly.

They looked at her as if she were suddenly a person of interest,
specially concerned in the matter.

"There's bin a murder!" gasped Martha Dilley. "Murder up at the Peak
Hall beyond. The doctor, they dew say."

"Hush girls!" exclaimed the matron sternly "I didn't mean it to get
to your ears if possible, not in this sort of way. The town is full
of rumours. We--we can't believe them until the coroner's verdict is
known. But it's quite true that Dr. Quarn was found dead in his study
the day before yesterday. The inquest is to be held this morning. That
is all that concerns you. Now go in to your places."

Silent and awed they moved away and into the room. The shock of the
news was evident in many a paling cheek and quivering lip. Murder.
Murder in this peaceful valley, and the murdered one well known and
important. It seemed incredible at first. Molly Udale, who sat near the
matron, longed to question her. But she looked so stern and preoccupied
that she feared to do so.

The girls all knew that Miss Lavinia had been staying at the Hall to
help to nurse her friend, Mrs. Quarn. It would not have surprised
them to hear that it was the doctor's wife who was dead. But he,
the handsome, picturesque figure that they knew so well, had met so
often in the street, or lane, or church, that he should be dead . .
worse--the victim of violence . . . it seemed incredible.

The meal was eaten in almost total silence, and it was a general
relief when it was over. Then they went for their afternoon walk, but
the matron took them right away from the town, or the possibility of
hearing any more rumours or particulars.

"When your young man comes to-morrow, Molly, he's sure to tell you
all about it," said Jess. "My! I'd give my two ears to know how 'twas
done--and why. Such a handsome, proper man as he was, too! And so kind
to that poor, sickly wife. Well, well, now it's one thing and now 'tis
another. Aren't you dyin' wi' curiosity, Molly Udale? I know I am."

"Yes," said Molly, slowly. "It do seem so strange. I can't get round
the manin' o't. A death, by nat'ral manner o' means is understandable,
but--murder!"

She shuddered, and Jess kept her company. Thus conjecture went on as
the short day closed in, and work and books filled up the evening hours.

Supper, prayers, bedtime. The old routine went on, and they took their
well-ordered parts in it. But a consuming curiosity devoured their
young minds. Who had committed the murder?

"I'll tell 'ee what, Molly--I've a thought in my mind as'll put us
out o' suspense," said Jess Marlott, when she and Martha and Molly
were at last in their bedroom alone. "I know as Jane Crickett had her
evening out to-night, and she's sure to get hold o' the rights, and the
inquest, and all that. I'll just slip up to her room when the lights
are out and make her tell me. She and the kitchen-maid ha' the little
attic-room up above. I'll find my way there. The matron won't hear; she
sleeps so sound. Close my eyes this blessed night I couldn't unless I
got the rights o' the story, and the murderer's name, if so be they've
found out."

"'Tis given sometimes as 'person or persons unknown,'" said Martha
Dilly. "I've read o' such cases in the papers."

"Well, known or otherwise, I be goin' to find out the full partic'lars
o't."

Molly was sitting on the side of the bed listening. After all she had
one concern only in the matter--Rufus Myrthe was at the Hall. Would
this tragic occurrence affect him, or detain him. Would there be no
red-letter day for her in this week?

She undressed, brushed and plaited her long hair, and got into bed.
The girls stopped chattering and whispering. They heard the matron
pass along the outer passage and extinguish the lights. They heard the
sounds of bars and locks, of hurrying feet, of closing doors. Then
silence fell, and with it the voices of Jess and Martha commenced anew
their whispered confidences.

Molly was suddenly conscious of increasing drowsiness, and with it an
indifference as to the result of the proposed breach of rules. She
turned her back on the other beds, and in another moment was asleep.

* * * * * *

How long was it that she had indulged that blissful unconsciousness?
It seemed to her as if hours had passed, when suddenly the sound of a
voice startled her into wakefulness. She heard her own name, soft, then
loud and insistent.

"Molly! Molly Udale!"

"Who's calling?" She sat upright, and looked across the darkened room.

"'Tis only Jess. Were you sleepin' or pretendin'? Molly, just do
listen. I've been to see Jane Crickett and she's heard all. The town's
agog wi' the story, she said. If it hadn't concerned you I'd not have
woke you up. But there 'tis. I couldn't go to sleep to-night wi' such a
weight o' untold terribleness on my mind."

"Stop so much explainin', do," exclaimed Molly pettishly. "Can't 'ee
say what ee've got to say and be done wi' it."

"Well, then, listen. Dr. Quarn was murdered i' the dead o' night as he
lay sleepin' in his own library-room at the Hall. And the Coroner's
jury's sat to-day for examination so to speak o' th' cause and
circumstance. And t'was brought in 'Wilful Murder.' Molly Udale, 'twas
a terrible great shock and I'm feared you'll feel it. The folks say as
how 'twas your young man, Rufus Myrthe, as done the deed!"

"What!"

The girl sprang from the bed to the floor and stood there trembling in
a passion of indignation and disbelief.

"How dare 'ee, Jess Marlott? Rufus Myrthe--Murder! Why ye'll be sayin'
as you or I, or Miss Moneyash, be murderers next."

"Don't ye speak so loud, Molly, and do get back to bed, or else come
into mine while I tells the tale. You'll catch cold standin' there."

The girl came forward and seated herself at the foot of the bed.
She was shivering, but not with cold, only with rage and suppressed
feelings, and a longing to give the lie to anyone who should dare
assert what Jess Marlott had told her was rumour.

Jess threw the quilt over the shaking figure, and drew a blanket round
herself.

She continued: "It do seem a ghastly and a fearful thing, Molly, but
sartin is 'tis true. They say as young Mr. Myrthe never liked the
doctor and was allays a findin' fault wi' his treatment o' his wife.
And there was black looks and words given, and this night when the
doctor was sittin' up in his study, Mr. Myrthe wouldn't go to bed but
was prowlin' like round th' house and openin' doors and things as he'd
no call to meddle wi'. And the nurse heerd noises and she came down and
seed him a standin' bent like over the dead man, and he had some queer
sort o' story 'bout bein' in the garden and hearin' voices, and that a
queer figure lepped thro' the study window and threw him backwards and
when he got up 'twas nowhere to be seen. That he got in through the
window and found the doctor a-lyin' on the couch, strangulated. The
nurse she couldn't believe it, and she sent him for old Dr. Transom
in the High Street, and he com'd all of a hurry. And 'twas true. The
doctor lay a dead corpse on th' couch, and finger marks were printed on
his throat. There was no robbery, nothin' in the room touched, and the
nurse and the doctor they giv' evidence o' that, so Jane Crickett says.
'Twas altogether mazin' strange and suspicious. All seemed tellin' like
against the poor young man. Anyways he's tuk up on suspicion, so Jane
Crickett says."

Molly had listened in stoney silence. Now that the recital was finished
she gave a short contemptuous laugh.

"M'appen ye're all a set o' fules! Mr. Myrthe 'ud no more do murder
than a babe at the breast 'ud do it! Ye've gotten t'wrong end o' th'
story, Jess, for sure. Mr. Myrthe must ha' given testimony as someone
else ha' done the deed. No one in their senses cud look at him and
think him such a masterful piece of villainy as 'ud tak human life!"

She laughed scornfully. Jess again implored silence. Then Martha Dilley
spoke up. "I don't b'lieve it--for one," she affirmed. "There's bin
some mistake. They've gotten the wrong man same as has happened scores
o' times before now. I've heerd it often eno'. You cheer up, Molly.
They can't hurt him."

"I don't need you nor any other to tell me that, gells! He's--he's so
brave, and strong, and good! 'Tis sin and shame to think as he cud harm
a living soul!"

"So 'tis," said Jess. '"And I told Jane Crickett that I didn't believe
a word o' it. But she said b'lieve or not, there war a warrint out for
him arter th' inquest; and folks think he was tuk away and lodged in
th' prison till the magistrates inquire into it."

"Tuk away! D'ye mean to say as they cud do that to an innocent man?"
exclaimed Molly indignantly.

"The law is a terrible powerful thing. 'Tis no use a tryin' to
understand or get away from it, so I've heerd."

"Tell me that other bit again, Jess, and slower like--till I get it
into my head. The bit about the other man that sprang out o' th' room.
He mun be the true murderer, ye tak my word for it."

"So Mr. Myrthe said, but no one 'ud b'lieve him. They do say as the
nurse up at th' Hall was most awful hard on him. 'Twas her evidence as
made the jury tak up th' case agin Mr. Myrthe."

Molly leant her head on her hands and rocked herself to and fro, while
Jess went back over the old ground and repeated the mode of discovery
and its attendant details.

"They do say as all the murders is from one or other o' two causes.
Robbery, or jealous hate. Now, 'twasn't robbery at the Hall. So they
tuk up t'other point o' th' law."

"But why should Mr. Myrthe hate the doctor?"

"'Tisn't rightly' known, only guessed at. Jane Crickett do say that he
was uncommon tuk up wi' Mrs. Quarn, and he an' the doctor had words
o't."

Molly's heart seemed to grow suddenly cold and heavy as stone. She
lifted her head, and sat rigid, looking straight at the window. The
light of the full moon streamed through it into the room, and across
the floor, almost to her feet.

"Wonderful took up wi' Mrs. Quarn."

Why should these words hurt her so? She could not understand "Wonderful
took up."

"You look dazed like, Molly, or maybe it's th' moonlight. How it do
shine in to be sure. Be ye cold? your hands are like stone. I'd get
back to bed if I were you. Th' mornin' will be here soon eno', and
ye'll be sure to hear th' truth. Jane said as Miss Moneyash was comin'
over for th' day. If so, we'll ha' th' rights o't."

Molly rose mechanically and groped her way across to her own bed, and
lay down. It seemed to her that all power of feeling had left her. She
was numb to her heart's core.

What dreadful thing was this that had happened, freezing the blood of
hope and joy in her veins in their first springtime? What had suddenly
made the sun, the moon, the stars, the round world, and all that was
living in their midst, bound as if by a chain of iron to a wheel of
torture--What? What? therein of no account--yet set her suffer--What?

Presently the cords about her brain began to loosen. A chance thought
crept here and there through the frozen crannies. A little warmth came
to her still heart. She stared wide-eyed at that silver lino across
the floor, a pathway leading heavenward. A little thing enough. A mere
streak of moonlight, but somehow it held a message for her. It spoke
of other things. Of a world beyond, a world above this passive misery,
of life and its manifold meanings. Of something, some way in which she
might help or serve one who had so well served her. Very still she lay,
watching that silver streak. She was too ignorant to speculate upon the
various chances of the tragedy that filled her mind. She could only
think that Rufus was innocent, yet endangered. That there would be no
walk on the morrow. Perhaps not for many, many good morrows to come.
Yet the sadness of that thought was less overpowering than the cruel
pain that had struck heavy-handed on one cherished hope, crushing it
to the ground as a stone crushes a flower. It was no fault of his. She
laid no shadow of blame on any word, or action, that memory had made so
dangerously dear. Only--only--it would be memory hence-forwards.

For a brief while the sun had shone, the flowers had bloomed, her feet
had trod the primrose path. Now all was darkness, shadow, loneliness.

All the long night she lay there, thinking the same thoughts to very
weariness, yet unable to banish them into any region of sleep, or
dreams.

She saw the cold, grey down replace the night's long hours. Its prosaic
light deepened and grew rosy, yet her eyes still remained fixed on
white blind and window pane. It was Sunday morning. A Sunday morning
without meaning. A forecast of days and weeks to come--all one dull,
even level.

She sat up and looked across at her companions. How soundly they slept.
How rosy and common-place they looked.

Then, like a sharp stab, there cut across her seeming indifference the
question she had been evading all to no purpose.

Sunday was here. Her day; their day. Oh! where was he? What had set her
brain jangling? Whence had come this terrifying whisper for ever at her
ear?

An accused criminal. . . In gaol. . . . . So some cruel tongue had
whispered.




CHAPTER XXXIII.

The routine of the day went on as ever, despite the tragedy that filled
the air and filled one human heart amongst that crowd of careless
girl-life.

The hours of church service were full of agony to Molly. And when the
Vicar made brief and touching allusion to the awful crime that had
been committed in their peaceful town; and spoke of the good deeds and
useful life of the victim, there was scarcely a dry eye among the whole
congregation.

Miss Moneyash was not present, but she was at the Home when the girls
returned for early dinner. She spoke to them kindly, and interestedly
as ever. They thought she looked worn and ill, and the sweet placidity
of her face had changed to a sad perplexity. Indeed the little old lady
was well nigh distraught. One shock after another, one tragedy treading
swift upon its predecessor!--It was enough to overthrow the balance
of a much stronger mind than her own. Only her love for Patience, and
her implicit faith in Rufus Myrthe had kept her from breaking down. He
had implored her to be brave and strong, and keep up her courage for
all their sakes. This would come out all right. He had no fear. It was
all a mistake of addled brains and country prejudices. This and other
cheering words made up their last interview. He did not see Patience at
all. She had only been told that her husband had died suddenly, from an
overdose of laudanum, it was feared. After the first shock of horror
and surprise she had been strangely calm. She asked no questions. Felix
and herself had parted irrevocably before ever life had ended for him.
Death, as an Angel of Mercy, brooded over the first sense of peace she
had known for many years. She could not play the hypocrite now. Could
not weep and moan. All that had been done. The man she had loved so
devotedly had himself struck a murderous blow at that love, and in
killing it had also given himself a grave.

Very quiet, very still, she lay back against her pillows in that
darkened room. Its shadowy spaces had held so many shameful memories,
that one more was scarcely to be noted among them. The silence in her
soul was unassailable by external forces. Hence forward, against Love's
closed doors was written only "Peace." She asked no more--desired
no more. The future was no longer terrible. She could think of it
painlessly, as one under an anaesthetic is robbed of consciousness of
present suffering.

She lay alone in quiet hours of passing day and dreamless night;
isolated from the dark tragedy below; gazing at the restored gift
of life wrung from that tragedy. Even thought was lulled. She had
passed through suffering, and oh! relief was sweet. The horrors of the
operating table, the instruments, the interlude of drugged senses, of
awful, helpless passivity, were all over. The stage was clear once
more. It held no shadows. They had rolled away with the up-rolling of
the curtain.

"I am free," she told herself, and then slept and woke--and remembered.
And again murmured: "Be still. I am free!"

* * * * * *

"I must leave you for a few hours," Miss Lavinia had whispered that
Sunday morning. Patience only looked at her with eyes grown larger and
softer since Hope had dawned.

"I am quite safe, quite content," she had answered.

Miss Lavinia had hurried away. She had told herself that Patience was
not quite strong yet, had not fully taken in the meaning of this awful
thing that had happened. But she was wrong. Patience could have told
her why she was so unmoved, so--apparently unnatural. Love can only
die--once.

* * * * * *

The early dinner of the Home had passed off in an atmosphere of
repressed excitement. The girls noted how pale Molly was, how poor her
appetite. As soon as the meal was over Miss Lavinia summoned the girl
to her own private room. She had a message to give to her from Rufus
Myrthe.

"Sit down, Molly," she said, glancing kindly at the white young face.
"I am very sorry that it is necessary to tell you a very painful and
horrible story. But I find I must do it. Of course, you have heard of
what has happened at the hall?"

"Yes, ma'am. You mean the death o' Dr. Quarn?"

"Yes. Is that all you know? Have you heard it was not a natural--death,
that his life was taken by violence?"

"I heerd o' that!"

"Ah, rumour flies apace. I'm sorry even our quiet home here cannot shut
its door to horrors. Well, Molly, I have sent for you for a special
purpose. First--I must tell you the story of the murder as I had it
from the lips of Mr. Myrthe. Next, I am to give you his message."

The girl's lips trembled. "He thought o' me. In spite o' trouble an'
shame an' all that's come to him, he thought o' me," she was telling
herself.

She made no audible comment and Miss Lavinia, in quiet, unsensational
words, gave her the history of that night of the crime.

"Of course," she concluded, "anyone who knows Rufus Myrthe must
feel that it is all a hideous mistake. That he is the victim of
circumstantial evidence only. A thing always, more or less, to be
distrusted. But the law is a terrible thing, Molly. Rufus himself told
me that he could hardly understand how the case had been made to look
so black against him. Dr. Transom and the nurse at the Hall, Mrs.
Tadgate, gave very startling evidence. On the strength of it he has
been arrested. At first I could not believe it. And the result is he is
in prison. I'm sure it won't be for long. But there's another court,
another inquiry, to face, and meantime the poor fellow is subjected to
all this humiliation. But enough of that. What I have to say is this,
Molly. He asked me to tell you the story, and to say that the figure he
saw escaping through the window was the figure of a small, mis-shapen
man. A dwarf, in fact. He wishes to know if you can remember anything
about this creature, so as to identify it. If you are aware of its
habits, or the place it frequents. If so, I am to give you leave to
pursue any inquiries, or lay any information that might lead to its
capture before the proper authorities. He told me, in fact, that you
are the only one who can help him in the matter. Is that so, Molly?"

The girl lifted her face. A warm, lovely colour swept it like a flash
of dawn on a wintry sky. Her eyes glowed with passionate joy. She--she
of all whom he knew, and who loved him, and called him friend, she was
elected to do this service.

She rose hurriedly. Then, as suddenly sank back into her seat. She
wrung her hands.

"Oh!" she cried, "I could, and yet I can't. I know what he means. 'Twas
what I made out o' mother's writing. The dwarf as she spoke o'--Japes.
But I canna make out th' story. I've tried, but th' writin's all torn,
and twisted, and seems to ha' no sense. 'Twould take time and more
cleverness nor I'd ever ha' gotten to make out sense or meanin'. An' he
said I was to show the story to no one elese. 'Twas my mother's secret,
an' meant for no one save I to know."

Miss Lavinia's delicate, sweet face grew very troubled.

"There is such a being--one scarcely knows how to describe it--as this
dwarf then? You know of it, Molly?"

"Long ago, whin I was a little child. I seems to mind a kind of terror
o' some such thing," she answered. "Mother 'ud go out an' I'd be wi'
her. An' she'd take a basket o' vittals, an' he'd cum limpin' o'er
moorside to fetch it. But 'tis years agone. I've seen naught o' him for
long and long eno'."

"But the fact of there being such a creature in existence proves
Rufus Myrthe's story. What went against him was its improbability.
If any human creature at all answering his description lives in
the neighbourhood it must have attracted notice if only for its
strangeness. You, Molly, say you know of such a creature?"

"I think it must be Japes," she said.

"But why should he do such an awful thing!" exclaimed Miss Lavinia
suddenly. "How could he know of Dr. Quarn, or have planned his murder?
The thing only gets more mysterious. You say you haven't seen the dwarf
for years?"

"No--only heerd o't. Old Luk Froggart, as was our sheep minder, and
farm help up to home, he told me as how an ill-looking critter haunted
th' moorside, an' was accounted ill-lucky, to folk."

"That sounds like the actor in this tragedy. Rufus Myrthe told me he
saw it only once. That was when he was at the Inn, your old home,
Molly. Come, this looks more hopeful. Would it be possible to capture
this dwarf? If so, Rufus Myrthe's story is proved."

"I dunno," Molly said slowly. "He has no bidin' place they say,
leastwise none that any mortal foot can tread or find th' way o'. Old
Luk he sayed 'twas in th' haunted mine, that Japes bode. But,"--she
paused, and then went on excitedly. "There's Old Dame Dottery th' herb
woman. She might knaw. There's nothin' she don't know. She's wonderful
wise. If so be as I cud go to her."

The old lady rose in profound agitation. "Molly, child, you and I are
only two helpless women, and the law, the hateful, one-eyed, cruel law,
has him in its grip. We'll get him out of it between us if it's to be
done. But we must be very careful. We must lay our plans and carry them
out so that no one will guess what we're doing till we cry victory!
If you or I went and laid information of this dwarf's existence, and
repute before those stupid local police, ten to one they wouldn't
believe, or would pursue, inquiries in such a manner that this--Japes,
is it? would escape. He must be cunning, and it will be no easy task
I'm afraid. To track him out he should not be able to suspect that
anyone is looking for him. That you, and you only, could do, Molly.
Then, if the case goes against Rufus, if he is committed for trial, I
shall get some clever detective down from London, and give him all the
information necessary, and engage a lawyer to defend my poor boy. It
mayn't sound very clever," she added, half to herself, "or be the legal
way of acting, or the way a man would act, but I can't help thinking it
is the best way, Molly, for the present."

The girl had drunk in every word with eager attention. "It seems
wonderful clever and easy-like," she said. "Only, if we can't find
Japes, what's to do then?"

"We must, we must!" cried the little lady feverishly. "You must leave
here to-morrow, Molly, and get back to your old home and see these
people, and make the inquiries. You must not, of course, say why you
make them, or let this creature get wind of it. He might suspect a
stranger. He wouldn't suspect you. I'll give you money. It may be
necessary to bribe, to pay. Oh, Molly! Molly! let us hope we have hit
upon something to clear his dear name, to get him out of this awful
predicament!"

The girl lifted her face. It was white and solemn; her lips moved as if
registering a vow. "There's naught in heaven, or earth, or hell-fire's
self, as I wouldn't face for sake o' Rufus Myrthe!" she said slowly.

Miss Lavinia looked a little scared. To what new destiny was she
engaging herself to play Providence?




CHAPTER XXXIV.

The cold was bitter up on the Peak heights. In no place more bitter
than in that barren region where the grey-stoned Inn swung its
ill-omened sign to the fierce winds that seemed to blow from every
quarter. The sky was steely grey above, and heavy banks of cloud,
ominous of snow, lay piled on the horizon line. Nothing more dreary
or less inviting could be imagined. Molly Udale toiled wearily along
the well-known footpath, and saw once again the familiar places to
which she had said farewell so gladly scarce two months before. In the
diminishing daylight the place seemed smaller, darker, more desolate
than it had lived in her remembrance. Perhaps it was the change from
the fertile valley that give these swarthy and abrupt slopes so
menacing an aspect. She bent her head to the fury of the blast, and
climbed yet another point of steepness. A round red disc of light shone
from the Inn window. It brought a sense of home and nearness, though
she expected no welcome.

"He'll be at home," she said to herself, stopping for a moment to
regain breath, and fasten the strap of her bundle more securely. She
had slung it across her shoulders to have her arms free. Miss Lavinia
had sent her to Endcliff Dale in a spring cart, but there Molly had
dismissed the driver and walked the remaining seven miles.

The first sense of freedom after discipline was not unpleasant. Her
brisk young limbs stretched like a greyhound's over the first mile.
She felt as if she could walk for ever. Life had a purpose in it now
that made existence dear. As she skimmed over the ground she called
to mind all Miss Lavinia's instructions as to caution. She planned
what she must say to her father, to old Luke, to Dame Dottery. Her
own purpose was to spend as brief a time as possible here. She could
not communicate with her protectress in the interim. She could tell
nothing, and hear nothing. Her own energies would be her only support,
and her own wits her only counsellors.

She reached the Inn at last, and went to the back of the premises as
she had used to do. There seemed more light about than in her days, and
when she opened the kitchen door she found it aglow with blazing fire
and lamplight. Seated either side the wide old chimney-place were her
father and a big, coarse, frowsy-looking woman, whose face and figure
brought some swift, unpleasant memory to the girl's mind.

They turned and stared at her, as she stood in the doorway, shading her
eyes from the vivid light, her hair tumbled and loose under the scarlet
kerchief she had tied over her bonnet to keep it firm against the wind.

"Why, 'tis Moll, sure as I live!" exclaimed the woman.

"Moll! What the devil brings 'ee here?" said her father, turning his
ill-natured glance upon her glowing beauty. "I thought as how I'd sayed
good-bye to 'ee for good an' all. Ha' yer new friends got sick o' 'ee
alreddy."

"I've come home for a little time; for the Christmas holidays," said
Molly timidly.

She was looking at the full blown Blowsabella by the fire, seated in
her mother's place on the settle. What was she doing here?

Her father greeted her announcement with a hoarse laugh. "Thee's room
'ud ha' bin more welcome than tha company," he said frankly. "But since
thee art here, thee mun stay I tak' it. Come along in. Thee look'st as
skeart as if 'twas a stranger speakin'. Ye mind Lil o' th' Moorside.
She's my wife, leastways we agrees to call her so. We are na' too
partik'lar, she an' I. Shake hans an' be friends, an' gie us the news
o' the town yonder. There's ne'er a soul bin nigh for a crack or a drop
this week an' more."

Molly advanced slowly, and took the woman's rough extended hand.
She never remembered saluting her father in her life, and did not
attempt to do so now. That he should have put someone here in place
of her mother scarcely surprised her. She accepted the fact with the
philosophy of "what's done, why 'tis done," and made no comment.

"Can I have my room?" she asked presently.

The woman jumped up with alacrity. Any new company was preferable to
the dull monotony of Dick Udale, his surly ill-humour, or his scarce
more genial sottishness.

She lit a candle, and took Molly upstairs, and opened the door of her
little bare chamber, the one she had relegated to Rufus Myrthe, though
he had been unaware of the fact.

"'Tis all of a mess, but ye can set it t' right yersel," observed the
new step-mother hospitably. "We'd ne'er a thocht o' yer cummin' home
like this. My! but ye're fine set up wi' yer stuff gown and yer straw
bonnet. Be they given to ye at tha' Home where ye wrote of?"

For Molly had dutifully indited one letter to her father, telling him
of her new home, its duties, and its comforts.

"Yes, Lil," she said. "We gells be all dressed the same there."

"'Tis plain eno'. I'd ha' had a ribbon or a flower i' that bonnet.
Well, I'm main glad to see 'ee, Moll. This place is eno' to kill me wi'
dullness. An' yer feyther ain't none too pleasant company, drunk or
sober. I wonder at ye comin' home at all. Ye wern't none too fond o'
each other, I've heerd."

"I told ye 'twas holiday times," answered Molly, taking off her cloak
and hanging it behind the door. "The gells as has no homes stop, an'
them as has, goes. That's all. An' now, Lil, I'll have to clean and
sweep this place up. I canno abide dirt. An' ye'll ha' to gie me a
sheet. There's nought o' t' sort here."

"Na. I knaws that. Ye've grown mighty partik'lar sin ye've been away.
M'appen ye'll want roasted chickens an' vegetables for yer supper same
as the gentry, ha'. Just gie yer orders. Ye're sure to ha' them carried
out!"

She laughed scornfully, but Molly's serene indifference was impervious
to sarcasm.

"Come, Lil, git along wi' ye," she said. "An' as for supper--why, I'll
cook it same as I used to do. Ye needn't work for me, or yersels, an'
ye dunna like. As far as my mem'ry goes 'twere always 'dunna like.'"

"That's true eno'," said the woman. "Save for t' bar, an' th' chance
o' a man or two droppin' in to wet his throstle, or th' pedlar chap as
cums twice i' th' year, there's naught ta hear or see i' th' place, an'
so I does my chores to help pass time away. But I never tuk ta wark
same as some du."

After that night Molly Udale found that she might work as much as she
pleased, and welcome. To get the meals, to clean the house, seemed
entirely relegated to her as duties. Her step-mother would loll by the
fire reading "pennies," as she called a store of trashy literature,
sentimental as to illustration, and immoral as to contents, which the
pedlars hawked to the farms and cottages with their more substantial
wares. The first two days the girl was kept indoors, sorely against her
will, by a terrific snowstorm. She chafed inwardly at her detention,
but dared give no sign of what it meant. She was not sorry therefore
to clean and cook and tidy up the house, though she got no thanks for
her trouble, and had generally her evenings enlivened by the drunken
disputes between her father and his new helpmate. For Lil o' Moorside
was a good "second" at the glass, and the Inn was a degree worse in
manners and morals than when Molly had left it.

The girl got a word now and then with old Luke, but he could give her
no information respecting what she desired, the whereabouts of the
dwarf, or how he lived, and occupied himself.

The third day, however, was clear and fine, though the cold was
intense. The frozen snow made walking possible, and as soon as Molly
had cleared the breakfast and tidied the kitchen she put on her bonnet
and cloak and set out for the cottage of the old herb woman.

* * * * * *

Dame Dottery was at home.

The girl found her crouched over her peat fire, huddled up in ragged
shawls till she looked like an indiscriminate rag bundle. Her eyes red
and bleared with smoke glanced curiously at the figure of her visitor.

"Why, for sure!" she ejaculated. "It b'ain't never you, Molly Udale?
I heerd as you'd left us for good an' all. Weel, weel, what brings ye
this way?"

"I thought I'd come an' see how ye were, Dame. It's main an' lonesome
here winter times."

"Ay, 'tis so. An' ye ha' na forgott'n t'old woman, Moll. Where's yer
gran' friends? Ha' ye tired o' em? Lord! To think ye'd be skerlin' agen
th' mo'orside, an' arter leavin' us for iver, sae 'twere said by yer
ain feyther. There, lass, sit ye doon. I'll be glad eno to ha' a crack
wi' ye."

Molly took a ricketty three-legged stool and drew it up beside the old
crone. She was uncertain how to begin her questions, having a previous
memory of the Dame's "closeness," when she thought her secrets were
demanded, and her contrasting power of expansion when she was in a mood
to gossip.

"Ye went off mighty suddin-like," continued the old dame, throwing
a bundle of furze on the top of the peat to make a blaze. "Ne'er a
good-bye to one as was nurse an' help to ye' whin ye were but a bairn
just bared, an' a friend to yer puir mither as none knawed better nor
she."

"I went away in great haste," said Molly, pacifically. "That young man,
as war stayin' at the Inn, he got feyther's consint to put me to a
school-place down Peak Edge way. An' there I've bin ivir since, larnin'
ta read an' write, an' cook an' sew, wi' a kind lady as has founded a
place called a 'Home.' 'Tis that, Dame, I tell 'ee. The first home I've
ivir known."

"Ye's got a grander way o' speakin', Moll, an' now I cum to look at ye,
there'e a difference atween what ye was and yersel' now, I canna say
exactly what. Ye're tidier-lookin', ay, an', bonnier, too. Tell me,
lass, ha' ye gotten a sweetheart o' yer own? Any man might well be soft
on ye, wi' yer gowd hair, and yer lissom figure."

"No, Dame. I nivir give thought to sich fulishness. I'm set on learnin'
all I can. 'Tis sad eno', the waste o' years behind me. There's many a
child o' ten as cud beat me i' th' way o' readin' an' writin'."

"What need ye care for that? A bonnie face is worth all th' books in
th' warld to a man's thinkin'."

Molly shook her "gowd" head. "I don't care 'bout men an' their
thoughts, Dame. I want to mak' a better thing o' life than gie in'
mysel' to matrimony. I ha' my ain poor mother i' my mind. 'Tisn't
allays happiness to call a man yer husband, Dame."

"That's true eno', Moll, tho' 'tain't a sayin' as is often on a young
maid's lips. An' speakin' o' yer mither minds me she were a puir
feckless thing whin she were young, but bonnier than yersel', Moll.
Ay, settin' men folks by th' ears weriver she were, that's what she
did! . . . I mind me o' a terrible scrape I helped her thro'. 'Twere
life an' death almost, an----"

She stopped abruptly, and gave the girl a quick, suspicious glance. Was
she being led on to confidences, or simply unburdening her overflowing
soul?

Molly's quiet face gave no sign of too vivid interest. She simply moved
a little away, and produced from a basket she had placed on the brick
floor a large flat bottle.

"Here's summat I've brought thee, Dame," she said. "'Twill keep th'
cold out this bitter weather. I mind how ye used to like yer hot glass
whin ye've bin stayin' at th' Inn. Shall I bile th' kettle, an' make ye
some now?"

The old woman's eyes glistened. "Ay--ay. Do 'ee then. Do 'ee. A kind
lass. An old woman's blessin' on ye, child, for th' thocht o' her these
terr'ble hard times. Sure me old bones ache wi' rheumatiz as I canna
lie nor sit wi' ony comfort."

She watched the preparations with greedy eyes. Loaf sugar, spice,
rum--why what treasures were these, and how long they had been
strangers in this wretched hovel.

"The Inn is well stockit now," observed Molly, watching the kettle's
advance to boiling point. "Lill o' Moorside, she's th' mistress, an'
takes mighty care there be vittals an' drink goin' all th' time."

"They quarrels terr'ble, I dew hear say," said the Dame. "An' they
hain't man an' wife afore th' parson, an' only makes a scorn o't. I
didna think, Moll lass, as ye'd ivir be back there to see such a gay
trapezin mawther i' thy puir mother's place."

"Nor I," said Molly, "but I came----"

She stopped short. The time was not yet ripe to say why she had come.
She rose and went to the cupboard in search of a glass and spoon among
all the odds and ends of Dame Dottery's collection. She came back with
a large thick tumbler of a strength to defy all accidents short of an
earthquake, and set it down.

"The kettle's just on the boil," she said. "Well, as I was saying,
Dame, my comin' was unexpected. 'Tis nigh on Chris'mas time, ye know.
An' th' schules finish an' ha' holidays. Them as kin go to their own
homes they go. An' th' lady seemed to think as how I'd best be here for
a spell."

The old woman nodded complacently. Since "bein' here" meant such a
welcome store of comfort for herself she was not inclined to criticise
the fact.

She watched the girl's deft fingers prepare her hot drink with
gluttonous joy. And then taking the steaming fragrance into her own
charge felt that the world and she were once more at peace with one
another.

Molly watched her prolonged sips in breathless silence. Would this
potent potion unlock the old crone's lips? Might she adventure a
question on the all-engrossing subject, that had brought her here.

When the tumbler was half-finished the old woman again made reference
to her many storied memories.

"I wer talkin' o' thy mither, Moll, lass, an' sayin' as how I'd helped
her out o' a bit 'o' trouble once. Ay, 'twas a pitiful sad thing, but
theer, we're nane o' us sae wise whin we're young."

She nodded her palsied old head, and took a deep draught of the
steaming liquid.

"It be mighty comfortin'. I are na' hungered these times so much as I'm
dry. A good lass ta think o' an ole woman. Ay, a good lass!"

"Ye've lived these parts allays, Dame, ha'nt ye?" asked Molly, as a
first venture.

"Nigh o' four-score year. Ay, lass, there bain't much o' weddin', or
burryin', an' chilebearin', as I na' ha' a footin' o't. Times war whin
I'd tramp th' country round fo' miles an' miles. Th' whole Peak-side
war knawn to me, from the Axe Edge ta th' Winnans. I mind me o' th' big
mines, an' th' quarries, an' a' th' fearsome things as ha' happened
theer-bouts. An' th' names o' all they queer gritstone Tors, as wise
folks cum a hammerin' an' a speerin' round. Ay--ay, I knawed them a'. I
knaw'd a murder or two an' cud ha' gien law-notice o' thim, an' ha' th'
gift money. But I wadna do't. I war terr'ble soft-hearted when I war
young, Moll."

"An' about here, Dame?" said Molly, taking advantage of the quaffed
goblet. "Ha' ye ony tales an' stories about these parts too?"

"Stories?" The old woman set down the tumbler on her shaking knees once
more, cherishing it between two grimed and wrinkled hands. "Pack o'
'em, lass," she chuckled. "Stories as 'ud chill th' blood, ay--an' warm
it too. Stories as 'ud mak ivery hair o' th' head stan' upright wi'
fear."

Molly's face flushed eagerly. Was the garrulous old creature coming
near the point at last.

"I knaw o' a murder as no livin' soul save I, an' he who done it
knaws," she went on. "I knaw wheer th' bones o' thy feyther's brother
dew lie, Moll Udale, and I cud tell how they cum theer. An' I knaw th'
trew story of the qeer lil' man as tramps the moorside, and is th'
onluckiest gowk ta meet for chilecarrying' wimmin, or little chillern.
Thee canna mind 'un, Moll, but 'ee were't terrible skeert o' un' whin
ye was littler."

Molly trembled with suppressed agitation. But she dared betray no
curiosity, put no question. The old woman again raised the "comforter"
to her lips, and the geniality of its effects showed itself in a
further unloosening of tongue and secrets.

"I an' thy mither," babbled the crone. "'Twas we only as cud tell the
rights o' that. A pitiable sad tale o' wrong, an' man's wickedness."

Her head began to nod. The strength of the potion was having effect.

"Cud ye not tell it me?" said Molly insidiously. "If 'tis a secret I
kin keep one well. I ha' one or two o' my own, dame, that ne'er a soul
dreams o'."

"Ay! Ha' ye now? An' ye so young. But what's one or twa, cum ta
hundreds. Ask yersel that, my lass. Hundreds!--As I was sayin'. But
this here drops nigh finished, Moll, dearie. Ha' ye got na more?"

"Presently, Dame, presently. Ye must tell me a bit o' a story as
payment out o' thim hundreds ye knaws. Just one, Dame, th' one 'bout
th' little man o' th' moorside. Sounds summat like a fairy tale."

"Fairy tale!" The old crone straightened herself in her bundle of rags,
and looked straight at the girl. "Divil's tale be more like't. I dun
knaw if it be right sort o' story for a young maid ta heer. Well--did
'ee say ther war a drop more o' th' stuff handy, Moll?"

"Yes, yes; I'll give it ye as soon as ye tell me th' story o' Japes."

"How do 'ee knaw th' name o' th' lil' man?" asked the old creature
sharply.

"I've heard it from mother."

"Oh, ay. M'appen she spoke afore th' blow that maimed her speech. 'Tis
trew eno'; thee'st gotten it. Japes 'tis."

"He lives--hereabouts?" adventured the girl, softly.

"He has ne'er tould a livin' soul wheer he lives, nor how he gets th'
food that keeps life in him. Yet I knaw. He canna hide sae close that
ole Nan Dottery canna find his burrow. But tho' ither folks spint years
searchin' for't they'd ne'er come anigh it."

"Why do he hide?" insinuated Molly cautiously.

"He tain't like no livin' creetur as walks ta earth. He war born
accursed, child, that's trew eno'. Cursed afore life was rightly his'n.
Cursed afore he'd drawn breath and suck. Cursed as I knawd whin I hid
him fra' sight o' day an' mortal eyes. He was like no mortal chile.
He'd stay wi' bird or beast sooner nor wi' humans. He'd live i' th'
forest or where th' teal an' wildfowl hide, an' tame th' birds an talk
to 'em i' th' strangest way. An' sure all livin' critters from the
heron i' the sedges to the field mouse an' th' rabbits were friendly ta
him. Spiteful he war at times an' cruel, but he'd nivir harm th' things
o' wood an' water. Yet he got a bad name, an' all th' folk shunned him.
Most on 'em thinks he's an evil spirit. Devil-spawn they dew call him."

She shook her head warily.

"But old Nan Dottery knaws better nor that. Ill-begotten 'tis trew, an'
cursed afore birth by reason of terror an' shame an' th' horrors o'
strange hap'nins. That's his story. An' now, Moll, lass, do 'ee brew
anither drop o' th' comfortin' stuff for a puir old soul an' m'appen
she'll tell 'ee some more."

"Will ye tell me who was his mother?" asked the girl, breathlessly.

The old woman glanced up at the anxious face above her, and shook her
own head two or three times.

"Dinna ask that, Moll. Dinna. 'Twar better 'ee shouldn't knaw."




CHAPTER XXXV.

It was dusk before Molly returned to the Inn.

Her step-mother, huddled as usual before the fire, gave her an angry
greeting. "Where ha' ye bin all th' day? Leavin' me to get th' dinner,
an' thy feyther like a sot gone fathoms deep i' drink, an' bundled up
ta bed. Why, what's come ta 'ee, Moll? Thee'rt white an' whist as if
'eed seen a ghoast."

"I'm tired," answered the girl. Her voice was mechanical, the spring
and nerve seemed all gone out of the face and figure. She dropped into
a chair by the fire and sighed heavily.

"Tired. Well, why do 'ee go wanderin' all th' country over sich weather
as this? 'Twarn't as if ye'd folks ta visit either. Th' whole place is
dismal as a churchyard. I bain't goin' to stand th' life much longer,
an' so I told thy feyther."

Molly paid no heed to the querulous voice. Everything here seemed
so petty, so insignificant now. She had emerged from an hideous
phantasy, something outside reality it seemed to her, and even her own
personality wore a changed aspect.

The fire was only a dull red blur amidst the gathering darkness. She
noted it with wide unseeing eyes. She heard Lil's querulous babble,
as though it were apart from the woman herself. The monotonous "burr"
of a stream, whose course was no concern of hers. "Why was she here
at all?" she asked herself. How had she passed the long hours of that
day. Surely eternity could be no longer than the space that stretched
between a girl's curiosity and its gratification. Between Moll Udale
who had teazed out the secret of the half-tipsy crone with four-score
years of life behind her and Moll Udale creeping homewards over the
barren moorside, gathering the darkness and silence of the outer world
to her stricken heart; questioning some ironical god as to the why
and wherefore of all the manifold perplexities that lay before her
stumbling feet.

"It was to be. I had to know--someday." Over and over again she found
herself saying these words. And whether that "someday" met her prepared
or ignorant, in no way altered the vital force of the blow it dealt.
Underneath the azure of the sky lie blacker clouds, in waiting. Over
fair green valleys mist and rain may sweep without warning. Where sweet
birds sing the cruel kite may hover, and over life's young ignorance
change as cruel and as unforeseen may swoop with portents tragic as are
these signs of nature.

So small a thing had altered everything: and that thing meant all that
life and the future meant henceforward.

Dazed and dumb, and stupid, she sat on paying no heed to her
companion's gabble, wondering passively when she would find strength to
gather together these aching limbs and muscles, and that dead weight
of apathy that meant herself, and carry them to bed, and the welcome
silence of the night.

She wanted to think. She wanted to form some plan, but her dazed
brain refused all help. She was conscious of having dragged herself
to and fro over rough earth and harsh gorse; amidst all the moorland
loneliness that had meant past memories. Sheer instinct had brought
her home. The day had gone at last. Its departure seemed to her the
expression of an unexpressed secret that lay close to her aching heart.
The sign manual of that inevitable law which she had to face; old as
life and cruel as doom.

"On the heads of the innocent shall fall the sins of the guilty, until
the penalty be paid even to the uttermost farthing!"

She rose at last, and with some muttered words she stumbled up the
narrow stairs that led to her own room. It seemed to her that a shadowy
figure stalked beside her. That the two things always associated with
her mother--whiteness and silence--were here once more, hovering in the
darkened spaces, standing before the closed doors.

Shivering and aghast she lit her candle, and then threw herself down
upon the narrow bed. All sensation of life was a sensation of misery.
All hopes of to-morrow blotted out by despair of to-day.

Whether sleep or unconsciousness took her and her sorrows into their
soft care she scarcely knew. Passively she lay and drifted into some
vague unknown, where all was dark and still, and even dreams could not
intrude.

* * * * * *

Cold, and grey, and chill the day broke. On the distant heights the
light glanced, and then withdrew, and then looked forth again as if
uncertain whether to bestow further favours.

Chilled and half-frozen, Molly Udale stirred, and then sat up and
looked about her, questioning the reason of being still dressed and
too dazed to answer it. She rubbed her hands, and stamped her numbed
feet upon the floor. With movement came a quick return of memory, of
conscious and far-reaching trouble.

She pushed back her heavy fallen hair, and turning to the window looked
out at the greyness that meant day. No warm glint of sun came as yet
to stir the frozen mists. With a feeling that action was preferable to
remaining in her drear bed-chamber, she made her simple toilet and went
downstairs to the kitchen.

She raked the blocks of turf together and blew them into flame, and
piled on furze and brushwood. Then she cleaned the kitchen, and set the
breakfast.

Lil never came down till the sun was up, and sometimes later than that,
now Molly was here and the work done.

The girl made herself some tea, and then went out into the yard. The
old sheep dog came to her, and thrust his nose into her warm palm,
and wagged a tail of joyful greeting. But her response was purely
mechanical for once. She went into Luke Froggart's shed, and found the
old man making his stir-about himself, in an atmosphere of smoke and
mist.

With the swiftness and deftness of long custom Moll mended his fire,
and helped prepare his breakfast. She had something to ask him, but
deemed it best to wait until he was warmed and fed, and less unamiable
of speech than he had shown himself hitherto.

"I wonder thou'rt not grown too fine an' gran' to help th' likes o'
us," observed the old man. "Fra' all I heerd I thocht ye war'na comin'
back ter these parts ony more. I wish th' young fellow ha' cum back wi'
'ee. He war that kind, an' helpfu'. My! he war a traveller, too, by the
talk o' him. Where be he now, lass, do 'ee know?"

"Yes," said the girl quickly. "I know."

"Well, thees't mighty close about it. He winna be this way again, I tak
it."

She shook her head, and he noticed how pale she looked.

Suddenly she took her courage into desperate hands, and asked him the
question she had come to ask.

He stared at her, lifting grizzled eyebrows to the wrinkled furrows
above their arch. "What for de 'ee want to knaw that?"

"Never mind why. I do want to know. I thocht maybe ye might ha' some
knowledge o't."

"Ne'er a livin' soul ha' that," said old Luke emphatically. "An' nane
'ud be wantin' to. 'Tis bad luck eno' to see th' lil' toad wi'out
tryin' to find his hidin' place."

"Is he so--so very terrible?" faltered the girl.

"He be that, lass. I dunno wish ta see him mysel', ivir again."

"Is it long sin' ye did see him, Luke?"

The ancient man pondered. "A goodish bit," he said. "But thin I don't
favour ta mine nor ta moorside arter sunset."

"You think 'tis somewhere near the mine he's always seen?"

"I knaw 'tis. A gashly lonsome spot. How he do live, or get food or
drink, no mortal hereabouts du knaw."

Molly was silent. Her intent gaze was on the fire by which she stood.
Quiet though she looked, her heart was beating quickly, and fear beyond
expression held her in thrall. "I must do it," she was telling herself.
"Whatever comes of it I must see him and soon."

Beyond the open door of the shed Moll saw the sunlight gleaming. A warm
hue of daylight kindled in the sky and ever the intervening uplands and
heights stretching to far spaced distances. She saw it even here, and
knew that some hours of fine weather were to be safely counted on.

Her eyes turned to the gnarled visage of the old labourer. He would
have been company, even if no possible protection, but she durst not
ask him to go with her on her quest.

"Well, I mun be about my wark," he said, "I dunno how 'tis thy feyther
bain't harryin' an' swearin' at me an hour agone. Get thee in, lass,
an' ha' thy own vittals. I hear that food an' drink be main an'
plentifu' wi' th' new missus's rule. It ha' na made ony difference to
me--yet."

He shuffled away and Molly followed.

The delay of breakfast was something. She clutched at its straw of
detention with a sense of relief. Scolding voices, quarrels, what
mattered they? For aught she knew it might be the last time she would
hear even these unwelcome signals of disunion. The last time she should
sit in her old place in the old kitchen. The task she had set herself
demanded more than woman's courage, and brave and resolute as was her
heart she yet shrank with unacknowledged terror from what lay before
her.

If she had had any hope of good results she could have faced the ordeal
with greater fortitude. But all was uncertain. The series of actions
had brought about this catastrophe in which she was involved. Incidents
as fantastic as a dream had woven a web around her freedom. She could
not break away from them. She must go on, blindly on, hoping only for
results that should mark their limits. The sorrows of life seemed
suddenly measureless; only less so than its shames. Both had fallen on
her unawares, to torture and pursue, and with the hideous alchemy of
fate change simple girl into suffering woman.

Her father's rough voice scarce roused her to respond. Lil's peevish
sneers and complaints fell on unheeding ears. They seemed miles away
now. For ever apart from her life and its complex meanings.

Without the sun rose higher. Mist and cloud cleared rapidly. She must
soon be on her way. There was nothing to detain her.

She put on her bonnet and cloak, and answering Lil's querulous inquiry
as to "gallivantin" by saying she was going for a walk, she left the
house.

Her quondam step-mother called to her to be back to dinner, and not
serve her the trick of the previous day, but the girl gave no answer.

Lil watched her from the window with a sullen curiosity as to her
intentions. The fact of a girl wandering off for country tramps meant
to her a male attraction in the near distance. But though she could
keep the girl's figure in view for miles, and though from time to time,
she threw a glance at the receding speck it was still solitary, still
trudging on and on over barren moor and bog.

The day wore on to noon. The sunlight faded, and a rising wind laden
with snowflakes swooped down upon the lower levels, and whistled
ominously round the building. Lil made up a roaring fire, and sat
there in the kitchen buried in the romance of high life that seems so
fascinating to low. Hour succeeded hour. The warmth of the gloom made
her drowsy. She slept peacefully till the entrance of Dick aroused her.
Then to the cheerful accompaniment of his oaths and complaints she lit
the lamp and prepared the tea.

There was no sign of Molly. To the surly questioning of her father, Lil
made surlier response. She was off on some affair of her own. Doubtless
to meet a sweetheart. What else should take one tramping miles of
moorland in such weather.

The remark led to more words, and recriminations flew from mouth to
mouth, for Lil's fondness for "company-walks" was unfortunately of too
recent date to be forgotten.

Meanwhile, the sky darkened ominously. Thicker and thicker fell
the snow, whirling and twisting in misty circles over the whitened
landscape. Track and road had become invisible. In the wide spaces of
earth and sky there was no guiding light or landmark visible. And still
Moll Udale tarried.

Hour followed hour. The quarrelsome pair made up their differences over
a bottle of strong liquor. The night had fallen; but the whirling war
went on apace.

The snow was deeper now, and lay in heavy masses and drifts as far as
eye could see. Here and there a star peeped out warily, soon to be
hidden by the wild rush of wind-driven clouds.

And still Moll Udale tarried.




CHAPTER XXXVI.

The inmates of Peak Edge Hall had scattered like a flock of sheep at
the first trumpet blast of tragedy. The resident nurse however still
remained in charge, there being no authority for her dismissal until
Patience Quarn should assume the reins of government. Miss Lavinia came
to and fro daily. Nurse Ida looked after the patient, and this gave the
little old lady more freedom. Besides, all sense of danger was past and
over, and she had no further anxiety on her friend's behalf.

A few days after Molly Udale's departure a terrific snowstorm burst
over the whole district. All communication between outlying hamlets and
villages was cut off. Roads were rendered impassable, sheep were lost
in the drifts, the mail carts were snowed up and had to be temporarily
abandoned. The little town of Peak Edge was transformed into a huge
bride-cake with a multitude of fantastic ornamentation.

The inmates of the Home looked wistfully out of frosted window-panes.
"What was the use of holidays if one was caged up in this fashion?"

Day followed day, and the ice-bound country still lay locked in frozen
calm, and rumours of accidents were rife on all sides.

Miss Lavinia was unable to get to the Hall, unable to ascertain any
news of Rufus Myrthe, still under detention; unable to hear a word of
Molly Udale, who had been absent a week.

She grew anxious and worried. The hitherto peaceful calm of her life
had been submerged by a flood of unexpected catastrophies. Inaction,
and ignorance of what was forthcoming, only doubled her anxiety.

Dr. Quarn had been buried in the old churchyard, followed to the
grave by a very small group of mourners, and a large number of
curious spectators. In the room where he had met his death all was
locked and sealed, and shut away. The first formal inquiry before the
magistrate had brought forth no new evidence, except an admission from
a stableman, who averred he had seen "something" get into the room by
the window, but had taken no notice as it wasn't the first time he had
known the doctor go in and out by that means.

Asked if he could identify the suspected man as the midnight intruder,
he stated it was impossible, owing to the darkness and the rain.

Rufus Myrthe was again remanded, and Miss Lavinia wrote to London
asking her solicitor to recommend a first-class criminal lawyer to
whom she could entrust the case. Meanwhile there was no news of Molly,
and the bitter weather closed in around hamlet and vale, shutting in
anxious hearts and harrowing suspense with its mists and snow.

Rufus Myrthe was chafing like a wounded lion under this unwarrantable
deprivation of freedom. In his outspoken fashion he said sharp
truths of law and justice that were not calculated to please those
in authority. Least did they please the fussy and self-important old
magistrate, newly honoured by a title, and entertaining deep-rooted
prejudices against all form of radical or republican government. He had
known Dr. Quarn only in his professional capacity, and was entirely
ignorant of his moral character. But to him the doctor was an important
and useful member of the community, and Rufus Myrthe nothing but an
idle young scamp from the backwoods of America, who had come over with
some cock-and-bull story of lost property, and having planted himself
down coolly at the Hall, had proceeded to interfere and disorganise all
matters connected therewith. He had even taken the doctor to task for
the treatment of his wife (the nurse had told him this), and had openly
betrayed his dislike. Besides his whole manner of comporting himself
during the inquest and subsequent inquiry had been such as to rouse the
irate old gentleman's deepest wrath. He might not have believed in the
young fellow's actual guilt, but he believed in teaching him a lesson
as to respect due to those in authority. But Rufus Myrthe after a week
of incarceration held opinions somewhat the reverse of respectful.
All news of the outside world came to him through Miss Lavinia's
letters. At his second appearance she was not in the court. His dogged
antagonist, the resident nurse, again repeated her statements, and
Dr. Transom confirmed them. The servants were called out, but their
evidence was immaterial. The story of the dwarf was treated as an
invention of the prisoner, and the magistrate formally committed him to
the county gaol to await trial.

Things began to look serious for the young man, and he chafed
accordingly. Public interest in himself was not sufficiently sustaining
to compensate for these annoyances. A letter from his faithful friend
assured him that Molly had started on her quest, and that a first-class
lawyer had been engaged on his behalf. No more could be done at present.

Rufus felt that that was true. He was in a tight place, but he must
make the best of it. It couldn't last for ever, and he supposed it was
possible to get used even to a prisoner's cell.

He was fairly comfortable, and very well treated, the prison officials
having a keen sense that in this instance "someone had blundered."
His own special attendant in particular was quite won over by the
young American's humorous views of the situation, and the ingenuous
vocabulary he unloosened in its honour. But despite his attempts at
cheerfulness the time dragged heavily, and a certain uneasiness long
held at bay began to clutch at his heart.

If the dwarf could not be found? If, even if found, it was impossible
to bring the guilt home to him--what then?

He spent long hours in considering and writing down every detail of his
case. To him it looked clear and simple enough. How was it that it had
been made to represent guilt so horribly.

Even his little lady had been unable to prove that he had remained in
the boudoir all those hours. She had fallen asleep. When she awoke it
was morning, and--the tragedy was already old.

Some days after he had entered the county gaol, the lawyer engaged
by Miss Lavinia sent down his clerk to interview the young man, and
get all particulars for framing the case. He was a brisk and cheerful
personage, and advised perfect frankness on the part of his client.

"Frankness!" echoed that individual. "Well I guess you can turn me
inside out if you care to. I haven't anything to hide, and precious
little to tell. It gets over me to know why I'm accused, and how I come
to be here, but I reckon brainless idiocy is a going concern in this
blamed old country!"

The lawyer's clerk had never enjoyed himself so much. He went back
to his chief so assured that the young man was innocent, and that a
grave act of magisterial injustice had been committed, that it seemed
hardly worth while to get up a defence. It surely would not be a matter
of great difficulty to secure the dwarf described by Rufus Myrthe. A
creature so extraordinary must attract notice wherever it appeared.
In order to commit the crime it must have lurked in the neighbourhood
awaiting an opportunity. Surely it had been seen by someone!

The great lawyer, however, had no knowledge of the district he was
criticising. Of its marvellous hiding places, its vast tracts of
unexplored and half impassable country. Of ignorance and superstition,
and last of all of the fact that the very few persons who knew of
Japes's existence were so firmly convinced of his satanic origin, that
they would not have dared offend him.

However to all concerned, except the unlucky prisoner, there seemed
plenty of time before the assizes, and the said prisoner had to summon
to his assistance such powers of fortitude and endurance as might best
help him in his plight.

The snow at last began to melt on height and moor and valley. A thaw
set in rapidly after Christmas, and Miss Lavinia looked daily for
Molly's reappearance. But though word came of cleared roads and renewed
traffic, no news of or from the girl reached the Home.

The little lady became terribly anxious. What had happened to her? Had
she been wise in permitting her to go to that awful place alone?

In despair she wrote to Molly at the Inn, sending the letter by special
messenger with instructions to await an answer. The man returned the
next day. He delivered a dirty, ill-written scrawl to the old lady.

She tore it open, and read it with some difficulty.


"Dear Maddum,--

"Moll bain't t'here. She lef afore Chrismas, an' nivir sed wher not
whyfore. We thocht as how she wur back at t'Home.

"Your respekful,

"Lil Udale."


Miss Lavinia fell into a chair, white and speechless. Molly not at the
Inn! Where could she be? What had chanced to her?

She stared at the dirty, ill-written note as if it could tell her
something more. The signature puzzled her. It was a woman's, yet Molly
had said her father lived alone at the Inn.

It seemed the last straw added to her load of long-borne misery, for
Molly had the clue to the mystery. It was to Molly Rufus had trusted.
To Molly she had confided her scheme to save him. And now--Molly had
disappeared.




CHAPTER XXXVII.

From point to point, each with a vivid date of improvement, the
convalescence of Patience Quarn had advanced till it touched recovery.

Sheltered from all the storms of confusion that had disorganised the
household, she lay at peace, resting body and mind in a tranquil
atmosphere, and passively submissive to the new conditions that faced
her.

It was on the day that she could rise and dress and go downstairs once
more that Miss Lavinia had received the news of Molly's disappearance.
She had promised to go to the Hall. She knew that Patience Quarn must
be told the truth of her husband's death at last. It was impossible to
keep it any longer from her knowledge, and she had arranged with Nurse
Ida that her patient should remain in the boudoir until her arrival.
And now this perplexing news had reached her!

It was some time before she could steady her nerves to face the ordeal
before her with necessary composure. Nothing but the fact that Patience
would be waiting for her and might perhaps learn the story roughly and
harshly from other lips gave her courage. She drove to the Hall in
a frame of mind that made piteous contrast to the sweet serenity of
bygone years. It seemed to her as if everything Fate had spared her in
the past had accumulated into a species of malicious avalanche, and was
bent on crushing her to death.

In those past years her affection had been less personal, her life less
self-centred. She had loved all humanity, so she thought, and taken no
special unit into any closer embrace than friendship. Since she had
known Patience Quarn, and later, Rufus Myrthe, that impersonal capacity
for placid affection had been disturbed. The disturbance only proved
what she had hitherto denied, that to love another is to suffer with
that other, as well as rejoice. One is never quite free again.

When she reached the Hall she went straight upstairs to the boudoir.

She found Patience sitting by the fire. She wore a plain black dress,
but no cap or other form of widow's mourning. Her face had lost much of
its waxen pallor. It wore a faint tinge of recovered health; her eyes
seemed larger and deeper. They cast a mystery over the whole beauty of
the face. They seemed the abode of suffering and pathos too deep for
its beauty, too sad for its youth.

She looked up with a faint smile of welcome as her faithful friend
entered the room.

"You are half an hour behind time, Lavinia," she said. Then catching
sight of the troubled expression on the familiar face, she paled
slightly. "Something has happened? You have bad news?"

"You read me too quickly, Patience," said Miss Lavinia. "Yes, I have
heard some bad news. But I had not meant to tell you. I see no use in
burdening a third person with unnecessary worries. . . . You look quite
your old self, my dear. Are you feeling really strong?"

"Better than I had ever hoped to feel. Come and sit down by the fire.
Do you know I feel strangely disinclined to go downstairs, although I
am perfectly well? I suppose I am so used to my nest here that I don't
care to leave it."

Miss Lavinia took off her cloak and unloosened the strings of her
bonnet. Then she seated herself in the comfortable chair opposite her
friend.

"Patience," she said gravely, "I wonder if you are strong enough to
bear something very painful; something--no one has yet dared to tell
you?"

The beautiful face grew very white.

"Is it about Felix?"

"Yes. He did not die quite as you suppose."

"Suicide?" questioned Patience faintly.

"No--worse. His life was taken by violence."

"Ah!"--she shuddered. "I felt there was something kept back. I thought,
perhaps, he had destroyed himself. Tell me all, Lavinia. I--I ought to
have known before now."

"My dear, you could have done nothing, and I feared the shock might
retard your recovery. Do you really wish to hear the whole thing,
Patience?"

"From the beginning to the end," she answered.

Miss Lavinia took up the dropped threads one by one, and simply and
gently as possible gave the history of that awful night--of Rufus
Myrthe's discovery, and of his present condition.

Patience listened in dead silence, interrupting neither by look, nor
sign, nor word. When the story was ended she still sat in the same
rigid attitude, her eyes fixed on the fire, her hands tightly clasped.

"It is very terrible," she said at last. "But tell me, why are they so
sure it was--murder? Might he not have taken an overdose of laudanum,
and died before--before----"

Miss Lavinia looked up quickly.

"That theory was considered. But the marks on the throat proved
strangulation."

"What of revenge--hatred? The spite of an ignorant mind spending itself
on an inanimate object, out of sheer lust of destruction?"

"Is it possible, but why do you suggest it, Patience? Do you know
anything? Have you ever heard of this--creature described by Rufus
Myrthe? No one believes in its existence!"

"I have--seen it," she said very low.

"You! Patience, where?"

"It was long ago, when I was able to be out, and walk and drive myself.
I was in the pony carriage. It was growing dusk--an August evening.
I seemed to have lost my way, got into a wrong road. Sitting by the
wayside I saw a small figure. I thought at first it was a child's, but
the face was old and weird, and oh, so inexpressibly sad. It haunted me
for days. It was all huddled up, as I tell you, and in the dusk I could
not quite make out the deformity. But I could see it was deformed. I
spoke two or three times, but could get no answer, so I drove on. I
was out of sight when I heard a low melancholy wail, inexpressibly
weird and sad. I stopped the pony and listened. Again it sounded. I
felt sure it was from the poor creature I had seen. I turned and drove
back. When I came near I saw it was leaning up against the hedge,
holding something in its hands. An animal, I think. And, oh! Lavinia,
the look on the face was awful! It gripped and shook the thing it held,
as I have seen a dog shake a rat. The whole aspect of the creature was
changed. I was so terrified I hardly knew what to do. But suddenly it
looked up and saw me. In a moment it was gone. I can't describe how.
It seemed to leap over the hedge and disappear. I managed to find the
road and drive home again. I told Felix what I had seen. He treated it
as a joke; said I must have imagined it all. When I persisted, he grew
angry. I could not think why, but naturally I dropped the subject."

"And you have never seen it again?"

"Yes--I--I thought so. It was When Felix was away those four days in
Derby, as he said. My couch was drawn up near the window. I was looking
out into the garden, the wild part, you know, that is shut in by those
high rocks. I thought something was moving, an animal it seemed, it
gave quick, short leaps and bounds. It disappeared in the bushes. Then
presently I saw a face looking up at the house. It was the same weird,
pathetic face of the little dwarf I had seen by the Pike Tor-road. I
wondered how the unfortunate creature could have found its way here. My
window was partly open, and I leant forward and raised it higher. The
noise seemed to alarm the poor thing. It sprang back into the bushes
and disappeared."

"You never told me?"

"No. You may remember at that time my memory was somewhat uncertain. I
would forgot things for days, and then suddenly remember them again."

"But you could, if necessary, swear to the existence of this strange
dwarf, as described by Rufus?"

"I certainly could."

"Then--then, Patience, it may lie in your power to save him. I have not
told you the whole story yet, but I must now. It is Rufus Myrthe who is
accused of murdering your husband. He has been arrested. He is waiting
his trial now in the county gaol at Derby."

Patience stared at Lavinia as if she doubted her sanity. Was ever
anything so preposterous, so inane, so absolutely unbelievable!

"Rufus Myrthe--accused of murdering--Felix." She let the words fall as
if each were difficult to grasp, or fit into an inconceivable puzzle.

"Yes, it sounds like a huge joke to us, who know him, but indeed,
Patience, it is very deadly earnest for the poor fellow himself. They
wouldn't accept bail, they wouldn't believe in his innocence. They
said it was purely circumstantial evidence, but it convicted him
sufficiently for arrest. So he was arrested."

"Why was I not told. I could have proved----"

"My dear, you were too ill to be told. He would not hear of it. He said
he'd face a thousand things worse than temporary imprisonment sooner
than have you bothered. He made Nurse Ida and myself swear solemnly to
keep the matter from you until you were well and strong. But I have
counted the days, Patience. I have counted the very hours, I think, of
late."

Patience sat quite still, but her mind was at work. She guessed well
enough why he wanted to spare her this knowledge. He wished to keep
her secret from the world. No one had heard of her husband's shameful
life, of her own sufferings. He was trying to save her name from being
dragged through the mire of public enquiry. Trying to spare her the
ordeal of appearing in the witness-box to prove the terms on which she
and Felix Quarn had lived--the character of the man she had so lovingly
screened; for whose sake she had faced death.

But it could not be. She was not afraid of the truth, and she could not
let this quixotic enterprise go further.

"Surely if I can prove that such a creature as this dwarf does exist,
and so bear out the statement of Rufus Myrthe, he will be set free!"
she said at last.

"I don't know," said Miss Lavinia doubtfully. "If we could have
had your evidence at the inquest it might have been of use. But,
by-the-way, Patience, can you tell me why the head nurse was so hard
on the poor fellow. It was almost like spite. I consider she set Dr.
Transom against him also."

Patience Quarn coloured faintly. "She was devoted to Felix," she said,
"and she never liked me. Still, these facts need not have made her
unjust."

"It was more than injustice, it was a deliberate endeavour to
incriminate an innocent man! Then Sir John Goyt backs her up. I thought
it was disgraceful to grant a warrant on such scanty evidence, but he
did."

"Still," repeated Patience, "we can easily prove his innocence; but of
course we must find this dwarf."

Then Miss Lavinia related her plan to do so, and Molly Udale's sudden
disappearance. "I am quite alarmed about her. I cannot imagine what has
happened."

"Perhaps she is following up some clue," suggested Patience. "She must
be quite at home in those regions. I scarcely think anything serious
could have happened to her."

They talked the matter over, discussing every possibility, and yet
discarding each as impossible.

But Patience Quarn was formulating a plan in her own mind while
she listened, and discussed the drift of each predicament that had
culminated in this last disaster.

All her lost energy revived under the spur of circumstance. The real
had developed, the imaginary was dead. At any cost to herself the truth
must be told. And yet, she never asked herself whether her championship
of Rufus Myrthe might not really be an added proof of his guilt.
She and her husband had lived unhappily, Rufus Myrthe had been her
devoted slave. He had discovered the attempt on her life. In his sight
Felix Quarn was a murderer by instinct, from whom he had snatched his
victim. Might not crime, in such a case, take upon itself the stamp and
authority of justice? Or had they quarrelled; in a fit of rage blows
been exchanged--a hand to hand struggle? Yet against this came the
medical evidence as to the sleeping draught. Dr. Transom had said Felix
Quarn had been strangled whilst asleep. Rufus Myrthe would never have
stooped to such a deed. Never! His face, his whole attitude towards
life, truth, honesty, gave the lie to such a supposition.

That he had been found there at that hour of night, or rather
morning, was certainly a strange circumstance, but--it was capable of
explanation.

She lifted her pale face suddenly, and looked at Miss Lavinia. Courage
and determination lived in her glance.

"He shall not suffer for me," she said. "If the story has to come
out--why, it must. Lavinia, I will go to Derby. I will see Rufus. I
have wealth, influence. Oh! he must be set free. He must!"

"There are three women working for that now!" said Miss Lavinia, with a
little choking sob that had been meant for a laugh.




CHAPTER XXXVIII.

The monotony of those long, miserable days seemed endless to Rufus
Myrthe.

He was only an accused, not a convicted prisoner, and therefore he had
no very great hardships to complain of. He was not obliged to mix with
criminals. His cell was fairly comfortable. The gaoler, a genial and
kind-hearted Irishman, gave him much cheering counsel. Food was good
and plentiful. He had books and writing materials, and stated hours for
exercise; but still the restraint was terrible for one used all his
life to out-door freedom.

Sometimes as he reviewed the strange happenings of those past months he
wondered whether Fate was playing off a huge joke at his expense, or
really had owed him a grudge and taken this opportunity of paying it.
There seemed no end to the complications arising out of his search for
the Marth Farm. He had answered his father's letter before this last
catastrophe had overtaken him. He was determined not to tell him of it,
as long as it was possible to keep the matter secret.

"Why the old man would be equal to bearding the American Consul,
and bringing him here in person, besides writing to every paper and
bombarding every authority. Reckon there'd be a pretty lively time if
he heard of my being in an English prison. Yes, William Rufus A. Myrthe
would be a mighty embarrassing person in a civilisation like this!
Talking of the Consul though, why shouldn't I----"

He stopped pacing his cell to follow up a train of speculation. But it
always led to the same dead-lock; and, as always, he relinquished it
with a sigh.

The noise of his door being unlocked gave welcome interruption. The
good-humoured visage of Patrick Mallory was smiling at him. "There's
a visitor for you, sir," he said politely. "Sure, 'tis yourself's in
luck! You're to be allowed to see her in the Governor's room. 'Tis a
special order she's got."

Rufus felt the blood rush to his temples. He could not ask a question.
In agitated silence he followed his guide through one unlocked door
after another, out of passages, across a yard. Then into a room where a
bright fire burnt, and a tall, slight figure, dressed in black, turned
to greet him, Patience Quarn.

The room seemed to rock and sway before his eyes. He could scarcely
believe their evidence. Yet it was--Patience. The low, tremulous music
of her voice stole to his dizzied brain with the old spell of peace. He
steadied himself by a strong effort.

"Oh, Rufus!" he heard her say. "What must you have thought of my
silence? But I never knew. Till yesterday I was told--nothing."

Her hands were stretched out to him. He took them silently. His own
were shaking, but those he held were steady, though cold.

"It is so--so wonderful," he said brokenly. "To see you. To see you
like this. Why, you are--well--again."

"I am quite well," she said, softly. "And I owe my life to you, Rufus.
But sit down. Why, you are trembling like a girl. I have not come here
to talk about myself. It is you I think of. You. How has it all come
about? Could you not have proved your innocence as well as owned it?"

He seated himself as soon as she had taken a chair also. In his heart
was no other feeling than that of sudden, delicious peace. What
mattered those past weeks of disaster, and anxiety? She was well. She
owed her life to him, and she was here.

She began to speak rapidly and with deep seriousness. Swiftly she ran
over the whole case of tragic circumstance. She told him of her own
knowledge. She assured him the case should never come to trial with him
as the criminal. It must be stopped. Justice must be won for him at any
cost.

He let her speak. He let her plead. It was all so novel; so wonderful.
Never could such an hour be repeated in his life. It made that life
worth living for, dying for, he thought. When she ceased, he lifted his
head and looked at her.

"Why, Mrs. Quarn," he said, gently, "there's no need for so much
trouble on your part. I have no fear. They could not possibly convict
me."

"Then--why are you here?"

"Through some blundering piece of stupidity. That's all."

She thought the "blundering piece of stupidity" had taken a good deal
of the youth from his face, the spring and nerve from his frame, the
buoyant ring from his voice. She thought, as her deep sad eyes met his,
that there was something in their depths that in a woman might have
meant tears. How could she know that in a man's eyes it meant only joy.

He could take in little except the delight of her presence, the
sweetness of her anxiety, the tremulous, half fearful wonder of seeing
her restored to a woman's natural claims on health and strength and
beauty.

It was that semi-mysterious, solemn beauty of her face and her
deep, deep eyes, that so enthralled him. Unlike and apart from all
other women she had always seemed. To-day in her sweet concern and
earnestness she was a goddess stooping to inferior mortal, that so she
might bless and comfort his worshipping soul.

But all this, strongly as he felt it, was unexpressed. Never had
Patience known him so quiet, so self-restrained. Never had she so
admired that repressed yet vivid sense of manhood's rights and
manhood's determination. It was impossible to fear disaster before that
tranquil smile of his. It was doubly impossible to believe that any
sane or clear judgment could have placed innocence in such a critical
position. And yet--and yet she told herself Rufus Myrthe was in prison,
awaiting trial for the most heinous of crimes in the calendar of
criminality.

Their interview lasted an hour. Patience told him of Miss Lavinia's
exertions on his behalf, of the search for the dwarf. Last of all of
Molly's mysterious absence. That fact awoke Rufus to a sense of the
old responsibility. For the first time he chafed at his bondage. Had
he been free he would have explored every inch of ground around that
ill-omened region till he found or gained news of the girl. When he
learned that Miss Lavinia was herself going to the Inn, in company with
a detective from London, who had been telegraphed for, his mind was
somewhat relieved. Surely Japes would at last be tracked to his lair,
and the mystery cleared up.

When he was summoned by Mallory's intimation of "Time's up!" Rufus still
lingered. The old protective interest asserted itself.

"It is such bitter weather for you to be travelling," he said. "And you
look so delicate still."

"Oh! I am not travelling," she said, quietly. "I am staying in the town
at the hotel. Nurse Ida is with me, so you need have no anxiety on my
behalf."

"Time's up, sir."

"Oh, damn you, Pat Mallory."

"Sure, and don't I know 'tis that you're doing in your sowl all the
time. But I must obey me orders."

"Good-bye once more," said Patience, giving him both her hands. "Keep
up your courage. Believe me, it won't be for very much longer that you
are detained here. And--I'll come again."

He dropped her hands and turned away. She thought how proudly and
calmly he bore himself. How, in face of humiliating facts, the last
thing to touch him was humiliation.

Then the door closed, and she went her way; every energy, desire, and
impulse of her heart set on one thing, the proving of his innocence.

* * * * * *

Miss Lavinia had been very much averse to such a project as Patience
Quarn had in view. She could see nothing to be gained by her staying
in Derby, and was fearful lest excitement and fatigue should affect
her scarcely regained strength. But Patience evinced a determination
quite foreign to her usual character and the little old lady could only
beseech Nurse Ida to take every possible care of the wilful invalid.
Meanwhile she herself, grown desperate, and half fearful that something
had happened to Molly Udale, she telegraphed to London for a detective
officer.

When the man arrived she was in a ferment of agitation. She felt like
a heroine in one of Miss Braddon's murder and mystery stories. What
she expected to see was not very definite to herself, but something
strikingly different from the quiet, ordinary looking, self-possessed
man who had answered her summons. Her first idea was to feed him well;
her next to explain his work, or what she considered his work ought to
be.

The man listened with respectful attention, but his eyes twinkled as if
the whole matter was something of a joke. However, he set off to track
Molly Udale with very little delay, and a map of the country as guide.
Besides this Miss Lavinia had furnished him with a liberal supply of
provisions, and as much money as he modestly requested.

He promised to communicate with her daily by some means--a messenger,
if no post or telegraph was handy. Then primed with all the information
she could give he set forth, so certain of discovering the missing girl
that Miss Lavinia wondered if he had not already some occult knowledge
of her doings.

She tried to resume her old life, her old duties, but it was no longer
possible. Her mind was for ever on the rack, wondering about Patience
Quarn, about Rufus, about the imperturbable detective, whose notes
came daily as promised, sent from outlying quarters within a radius of
twenty miles, and all more or less vague.

He had gained no information at the Inn, save that Molly had gone for a
walk in the direction of the disused coal mine, and never returned. He
interrogated old Luke Froggart, but gleaned nothing that was any clue
to the girl's actions. He set forth to examine the road she must have
taken, but came back as wise as he went. It was nothing but a zig-zag
track leading to the old shaft. The closest examination produced no
sign of the girl's having reached or left that spot. Patiently he
tramped, and explored, and questioned. No one had seen Molly go except
her step-mother. No one at all had seen her return. Had she been
overtaken by the snow and lost the track? Then surely by this time
her body would have been discovered. Dick Udale, old Luke, and the
detective, James Knapp, explored and examined the region for miles
and miles around, but not a trace of the missing girl rewarded their
efforts.

Knapp spent his time between the Inn and the little hamlet and Distley.
In none of these places did he secure any information. Now and then
he pursued his second quest and tried to glean some knowledge of the
mysterious dwarf and his abode. But he found this a tabooed subject,
and one that led to a perpetual dead-lock, even under congenial
circumstances. He was a shrewd man, and had a professional pride in his
successes. It nettled him not a little to be baffled by these blunt
country wits. To work and tramp and question all in vain. At last
there seemed nothing for it but a return to Peak Edge. He was vexed at
his ill-success and resolved to stay at the Inn one more night, and
work on Lil's loquacious tongue as a last resource. When he made this
resolution he was on his way back from a prolonged examination of the
dreary district round the old coal mine and its disused works. He sat
wearily down on one of the huge blocks scattered about, and mopped his
heated face with a flowered bandana. It was cold in these high regions,
but he had been energetic enough to raise his temperature to some
degrees above "normal." He scanned the sky warily, being accustomed
to its rapid changes, and blissful uncertainty. He thought it fairly
settled, and that he might trust himself to reach the Inn without being
drenched by rain or blinded by mist.

"Ugh!" he muttered, as his eyes swept the unlovely prospect. "It beats
me how any man or woman can live in such a place. You might as well be
in the churchyard at once, for all of life or human interest you find
here."

He took out his pipe and was about to light it when his glance fell on
an object some distance off. He regarded it for a moment or two with
his keen eye, sitting quite still, his rough grey clothes blending with
the landscape till he seemed a part of it. "I wonder I never noticed
that before," he thought. He put his pipe back in his pocket and
advanced cautiously.

The ground was abrupt and uneven, and soft in places as a bog. He
used his stout stick both to try its firmness and support his steps.
The brightness of the winter sun, now near to setting, threw a rosy
pink hue over the bleak unpicturesque expanse. It was a living warmth
embracing even this dreary spot. James Knapp approached the place
that had attracted his attention, still keeping his eye on the object
he had noted. It was a small, shapeless figure huddled together, and
seemingly intent upon some occupation. The man stood still and watched
its proceedings with some curiosity. Was it digging, or----

Suddenly, like a flash, a suspicion came to him. The Dwarf! His search
was at last rewarded.

Fearful of disturbing the creature and so losing trace of it again, he
crouched down among the broken boulders. His feet had evidently made no
noise in that pathless morass, for though he was quite close the dwarf
went on with his occupation as if alone.

The rosy glow did not last long. It changed to fainter and yet fainter
tints. At last a dull, grey monotony made up all there was of light.

Then the dwarf suddenly lifted his head and glanced quickly around.
Whether suspicion or fear touched him to consciousness, James
Knapp could not guess, but in a moment he was flying with quick,
squirrel-like bounds over the ground.




CHAPTER XXXIX.

Ink-black darkness, sleep, unconsciousness, strange dreams,--and then
again sleep. Through each and all of those, thought deadened, brain
benumbed, Molly Udale had passed and struggled back to life.

Was it night? Was it day? Where was she, or what had represented
herself?

She turned uneasily, and the movement caused her intense pain. Every
limb and bone in her body ached. A groan of agony escaped her lips.
They were parched and dry. Intense thirst consumed her, and in this
terrible gloom she could see nothing, could give no guess as to where
she was. Sudden terror seized her. She called aloud. Then she heard
a sound as of someone moving. Presently a faint light shone in the
distance like a star twinkling in the gloom of a midnight sky. It
wavered unsteadily, then drew nearer and yet nearer. She watched it
with dull wonder. Pain and weariness held her so closely that even
fear could not touch her now. She half-closed her eyes. Then the
consciousness of some near presence forced itself upon her. She looked
up.

The face gaping down at her was a weird yet not unkindly one. Between
the mists of pain and swooning senses, she recognised the pity and the
kindness, and whispered of her thirst. Cool water touched her aching
lips, and revived her, but that pain in her limbs revived also. Every
joint seemed suddenly to hold a living agony on its own.

"Oh, where am I? What has happened?" she groaned.

A voice, uncouth, yet gentle, answered she was safe, and bade her
rest, but the girl suddenly roused herself, and supported by one elbow
looked around. She saw an irregular, rocky cavern, stretching away
into darkness and feebly illuminated by a solitary light. She herself
was lying on a pile of moss and furze covered by some ragged, woollen
blankets. Crouched by her side, indistinct, yet visible as her wide and
frightened eyes grew used to the gloom, was a small, dwarfed figure.

White and still as death the girl gazed, and looked into the face so
near her own. The puzzle of how she came here was still unanswered.
Her brain was, as yet, too dazed to gather up the broken threads that
severed memories. When she knew who was beside her she shrank suddenly
away.

Then a voice spoke gently.

"Don't 'ee fear--don't 'ee. I winna harm a hair o' thy gowden head,
Molly Udale."

"How do 'ee knaw me?" she gasped, surprise overcoming terror.

"M'appen I ha' knawed 'ee more years than 'ee kin count. Watched 'ee as
I ha' promised th' dead. There ba'int no enmity twixt us two, child.
Had na' 'ee bin so fear't an' skeer'd o' me I'd ha' told 'ee so, lang
syne."

The voice was so gentle, so infinitely sad, that the girl's terror
subsided. A wondering pity took its place.

"Art thee--are thee, Japes?" she faltered, in the old vernacular.

"I be called so. All I knaw o' life i' th' world outside is what I've
heerd fra' t'ould woman, Nan Dottery. I ha' na knawn but twa friends i'
all my life, Moll. One was thy mither, whom I luved dear,--t'other th'
old herb seller o' moorside as nussed an' cared me when I was a child.
Th' affliction I ha' gotten ta bear was na fault o' mine, but it ha'
set wide space atween me an' all livin' folk. Nane ha' had a kind word,
or a pitiful thocht o' the puir dwarf as ha' only had his maimed body
an' his sair heart to prove him human. Nane ha' greeted him with aught
but screech o' terror, or blow o' spite. An' times he war mad wi' rage
against all humans. Cruel, bad, an' evil spoken as he'd awnly knawed
'em to be. O' lovin' kindness he's knawn nane; o' speech or ony sort o'
learnin' he's had but hissel to teach, wi' scraps o' book-readin' or
pictures as t'ould herb-woman 'ud bring ta him. That beasts an' birds
lia' bin his awnly frinds; tha wild an' barren moors his awnly hame."

"How--how did I come here?" asked Molly, faintly.

"I found 'ee half dead i' t' snaw, an' I carried 'ee to by cave.
Thee'st bin nigh death I fear. Soon as 'twas clearer o' th' drifts, I
got t'ould Dame ta come to 'ee. She be here still, so dinna ha' ony
fear, lass. She be a rare good nuss, an' she's tuk all care o' thee.
She be asleep prisint time, an' so I came whin I heerd 'ee callin'. But
I'll wake her an' ye will."

"No, no," said Molly, faintly. "Let her bide. I be only thirsty, and my
limbs are all o' an ache. But my head seems clearin' like at last."

For a moment she lay still. Then suddenly she asked how long she had
been here. He could not tell the days, or weeks. But when she spoke of
Christmas he said that was long past; the old Dame had told him so.
Molly grew uneasy at this. So long it seemed since she had set out
on her voyage of discovery, and she had done nothing. Had lain here
helpless, her fate unknown.

She tried to raise herself, but every movement meant a renewal of pain.
What was to be done, she thought. Rufus Myrthe in prison; Miss Lavinia
waiting for news of her; and here she lay unable to move; or send any
word to either.

Then suddenly, as her brain grew steadier, she remembered that at least
her quest was ended. She had found the dwarf. But even as she thought
of that came rushing over her like a whirlwind the whole tragic,
awful story told her by old Nan Dottery. How could she have forgotten
it--even for one moment?

As she lay, shivering with pain and terror, and confused thoughts,
a vision swept before her. She saw once more the old settee and the
silent figure writing, writing, that endless story.

Alas! alas! It needed no written words to bring the truth home.
Instinct told the girl what those frenzied scraps contained. And
instinct set her shuddering from the voluntary task she had recklessly
set herself to accomplish. Yet her sense of antagonism had vanished
before the sad, weird face, and the pathetically-told story of this
creature, cursed by fate and the wrong-doing of others.

Could he be indeed the terrible monster folk had fled from; the enemy
of Rufus Myrthe; the murderer of Felix Quarn?

She heard him speaking again. The inexpressible pathos of his voice
wrung her very heart. How could she accomplish her task now? How
deliver up to justice one whom a relentless Fate had hounded on to
madness? In whose veins ran the blood that filled her own; whose
helpless tongue had babbled to the same ears of motherhood. How could
she do it?

Even to use him as a messenger, to bid him seek out her protectress,
and give news that she lived, would be to throw him into danger, to
snare his helplessness. Again she groaned. How could she?

He thought bodily pain tormented her, and gave her a soothing potion
the old herb-woman had brewed. Mercifully it deadened physical
suffering and mental perplexity. The girl slept.

The poor mis-shapen creature watched her with pitying and most tender
eyes, bedewed by tears of human sympathy.

* * * * * *

Again she woke.

A faint light shone throughout the cavern showing that daylight had
some method of illumining it. It was large and vaulted, and seamed,
with glistening spars, and branched off into smaller caverns or
galleries. High above the light streamed in; a mere, faint speck it
was, yet an active agent amidst so much gloom and blackness.

Memory was quick and vivid now. The girl raised herself despite aching
limbs, and glanced eagerly about. From a branch cave to the right came
a dull red glow; as of firelight. She called, and the figure of old Nan
hobbled forward quickly.

Her greeting was kindly, and her satisfaction evident. It had been a
"troublous job," but her efforts were rewarded. After a brief talk she
assisted Molly into the inner cave, where a smouldering fire of peat
was burning. Here she prepared a hot bath, medicated with many strange
herbs and powders. She had half-stewed the girl's aching limbs in this
preparation, and then rubbed them with some strange pungent ointment
that set them tingling and glowing, and wore out the sense of aching.

After this treatment Molly could stand and move, though not without
some sense of stiffness and pain. Yet to feel her limbs, to be once
more conscious and self-helpful was a delight.

The old Dame talked busily all the time. She narrated the girl's
discovery, buried and half-frozen in the snow. How the "lil' man" had
carried her--the Lord knew how--to his own hiding place, this unknown
cavern; and then come to her for aid, and kept her here snug and warm,
till Moll showed signs of recovery.

"This cave be a mighty queer place," the old woman went on. "Japes dew
say as how one part leads ta th' ould pit wheer th' miners used ta
work. An' I dew knaw meself that theer's a underground passage comes
out nigh ta my ould hut a-top o' th' moor. 'Twas that way he brought
me. Skeert I war too; but the lil' man had his lantern an' helped
me wonderful. I dunna knaw how he gets th' food, but he awnly laffs
an' says he takes fra fear what he's ne'er gotten fra love. Anyways,
I've had na stint o' comfort, an' cud boil an' bake as 'twar a proper
kitchen. I've wondered times tha' smoke has na bin seen, but Japes dew
say as how it twists an' travels along tha' roof o' th' cave so that
whin it gits ta upper earth 'tis like a wisp o' mist o'er th' moorside.
Wunnerful warm an' comf'llbe it be down ta here, tew. I ha' na' much
wish ta leave it. Tha' lil' man he hav' made wunnerful wark wi' th'
place. His parler, an' his kitchen, an' his sleepin' room, whar you be.
Years an' years he ha' bin here an' ne'er a sowl above ground knaws o'
it."

"'Tis amazin'," said Molly.

"It be a' that," answered old Nan, nodding her palsied head, oracularly.

"But I must be gettin' out o't," continued Moll. "I canna bide here
longer, Dame. I ha' something to do above ground, an' nane too much
time ta do it."

"Thee canna stir a day or more yet, Moll, lass; so dinna fash yersel'
o'er th' matter. 'Twud be no manner o' use did 'ee try ta walk. Thee
cud na' get half-way ta' th' Inn."

"I wonder what they think has become of me?" said the girl, suddenly.
"Dame, sure I ought ta send word I'm safe."

"M'appen Lil or thy feyther care so much as 'twuld spile a night's
rest," said the old woman, sarcastically. "Bide thee, bide thee, child.
Theer's na need ta fret thysel' o'er kith or kin. An' now thee'lt go
back ta bed an' lay theesel' down, an' drink a sup o' barley broth an'
sleep. How thee'st 'scaped th' rheumatick fever's more nor I kin tell."

"Must I go back to bed?" rebelled Molly. "I feel quite well."

But the old woman was inexorable, and Molly was fain to obey her. She
found, too, when she tried to walk that she was still very weak and
shaky. The old dame shook up what represented the bed, and wrapped the
girl up in her own warm cloak, and gave her the hot fragrant soup she
had prepared. After which Molly again dropped off to sleep.

Whether her slumbers had been long or short she could not tell. She was
suddenly aroused by a sound of voices, a flash of light, and starting
up saw two figures advancing from the end of the cavern, each carrying
a lantern. They waved the light from side to side as if uncertain how
to proceed.

Slowly and cautiously they came forward, and as the foremost figure
held its lantern aloft Molly recognised her father.




CHAPTER XL.

With a faint cry the girl started up. The cry echoed through the
cavern, and sounded again and again in weird repetition.

The lantern swung to and fro. A hoarse voice shouted back.

Again she called. "Father! Here--'tes I,--Molly!"

She saw two figures advancing through the gloom of the huge cave.
Treading warily as if on insecure ground. One was Dick Udale, the other
a stranger.

"Hell an' thunder, gell, how cum'd 'ee here?" cried Dick's voice, less
surly than its wont by reason of new surprises.

The girl laughed and cried hysterically. It was all so extraordinary,
and she was still so weak and helpless.

"There, there, dunnot 'ee be so fulish," cried Dick. "Tell us how 'ee
cum 'ere, an' if ye ha' seen ought o' th' Dwarf, name o' Japes? He
lives somewhere hereabouts."

"Japes," faltered Moll, looking at the face of the strange man who held
the lantern. "What do 'ee want him for, father?"

"Nivir ye mind. Is it here anyways he lives?" demanded her father.

The girl shrank back on her rude couch. "I--I dun knaw," she faltered.

"Come, my lass," said the other man cheerily. "We wish him no harm.
'Tis pure chance we discovered this cave in looking for you. Does he
dwell here, do you know?"

"Yes," she said. "'Tis he who saved my life; who found me in the snow
nigh dead. Oh! you winna harm him, will ye, sir?"

"Harm him! Of course not. Don't scare yourself, is he hereabouts?"

He looked in the direction of the flickering light in what Nan Dottery
called her "kitchen." Moll made no reply. But Dick and the detective
had drawn their own conclusions. They whispered together for a moment,
and then moved stealthily down the twisting paths of the cave. The girl
lay back in silent terror. What could they want with Japes? Was it
possible----

A savage cry cut short her surmises. Shouts, scuffling, the feeble
remonstrance of the old herb-woman sounded and re-echoed in bewildering
confusion.

Then the light flashed forth again. She saw the strange man stumble
forward. His face was bruised, his hat had fallen off, but a certain
triumph as of hard-won victory shone in his eyes. His hand gripped the
shoulder of the unfortunate dwarf, now a handcuffed prisoner.

* * * * * *

Life once so tame and uneventful flew now on tragic wings for Molly
Udale.

She had been conveyed back to the Inn, and found that Miss Lavinia had
sent there many comforts and luxuries in readiness for her arrival. But
question as she might, the girl could learn nothing of the dwarf or of
Rufus Myrthe.

Lil was brief on the former subject. The lil' man had gotten hissel'
into a scrape as the law took count o', and had therefore been captured
and imprisoned. More she did not know.

It seemed to Molly that the capture of Japes must lead to the immediate
freedom of Rufus Myrthe. Here was proof that his story was correct. If
indeed a crime had been committed, the arrest of the supposed murderer
by legal authority surely meant that no further suspicion could
possibly attach itself to the young American.

She puzzled and tortured herself over the matter until she was in
danger of falling ill again.

Wild weather raged over the moorside. No communication was possible
owing to heavy snow falls, but within the Inn was a good store of
creature comforts. Blazing fires roared up the old chimney, and in
the quaint settle, sacred so long to that sad figure of Silence, now
crooned and crouched the old herb-woman, who had kept her secret so
faithfully.

Moll's bedroom had been made comfortable by rugs and curtains, and a
cushioned folding-chair; all sent by Miss Lavinia. There the girl sat
during those long wintry days, listening to the wailing blast, watching
the heavy-falling snow, gazing with wistful, wearying eyes over those
dim peaks, beyond whose desolate chain lay the one object of her
thoughts.

She rarely spoke. Never by any chance did she let fall her secret. Bit
by bit she was piecing the puzzle together in her own mind. Sometimes
impatient of an ignorance that held back truth, sometimes shuddering at
thought of what those scattered papers might reveal. The threads of her
life were twisted into a double strand of pain and dread. What she had
learnt from the poor maimed dwarf had so overwhelmed her with pity that
her intention had been to warn, not to betray him. She was thankful
that the matter of his arrest had passed entirely out of her hands. She
tried to believe that he was not guilty of the murder of Dr. Quarn. The
sad face, the pleading voice the unutterable pathos of his history, all
spoke to her of misfortune, but not of guilt. She was consumed with
anxiety to see Rufus Myrthe once more, and tell him this. She could
not forget the dumb misery of the poor creature's look as he was led
handcuffed and helpless through his cavern home.

That look had seemed to beseech her help. Conscience had decided for
her that such help was obligatory on her part.

She wished now that she had spoken to Japes about the murder on that
one opportunity. He had seemed so gentle and tractable. It might have
been possible to have won his confidence. The tragedy that linked
their lives was only partly known to her. But it was a terrible one.
Too terrible for her innocent mind to follow to a final issue. Since
that first shock and agony had come to her, her mind had regained
a more even balance. She could take many things into account, she
could believe that her mother's past history held tragedy, yet not
absolute guilt. The truth was still hidden; locked away in those
unread confessions. Sometimes she determined that they always should
be--unread.

She knew enough. To know more would but mean more unhappiness. The past
could never be undone, and the deeper note of tragedy associating this
unfortunate being with the murder of Dr. Quarn struck now an answering
note of retribution.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Meanwhile the subject of her troubled meditations was proving a
difficult one to deal with. Brought face to face with Rufus Myrthe,
the latter at once identified him, and described his attitude as
seen through the window on the night of the murder. But the dogged
silence of the dwarf and the impossibility of securing any witness to
substantiate the young man's statement still acted as obstacles in the
way of his release.

Though the law has a happy theory of believing in innocence till guilt
is proved, it rarely carries out that theory to the satisfaction
of--innocence.

Rufus Myrthe's case was no exception.

The story given out to the country far and near by press, and public
gossip, was arousing wide interest. Excitement and speculation were
rife on all sides. Patience Quarn had confided to Dr. Transom the
story of that dastardly attempt on her life. She had also interviewed
the wise old magistrate who had sent Rufus into custody. Before him
she laid so many surprising facts, that only professional obstinacy
prevented him from acknowledging an error, unwarrantable and gross.

But he would not acknowledge it until forced to do so, and the two
faithful women knew that the only thing to force him would be the
confession of the real criminal.

Neither Patience nor Miss Lavinia had had the courage to interview the
dwarf. But they knew of him, his appearance, his silence, his dogged
obstinate manner. They spoke timidly to each other of a possible visit.
Yet neither felt inclined to give that visit a definite date. While
still hovering on the brink of decision, the matter was settled for
them by a letter from Molly Udale to Miss Lavinia.

The little old lady was not disposed to be critical as to writing or
spelling. Both had presented grave difficulties, and had taken up much
time. But the contents were gravely important. For in the letter Molly
declared that she believed that she could induce the dwarf to speak on
the subject of the murder if only she could manage to see him.

Armed with the letter Miss Lavinia came straight to the county town,
where Patience still remained. The Hall was shut up and left to the
charge of a caretaker, all the servants having refused to stay under
such ghastly circumstances. Patience herself had dismissed the resident
nurse, paying her a quarter's salary in lieu of notice. What she knew
of that amiable person she hinted plainly enough to avert future
misunderstandings. With Dr. Transom on her side she had less fear of
the one malicious witness to whom Rufus owed his present incarceration.

Miss Lavinia sent a carriage for Molly as soon as she heard she was
able to travel. The girl came first to the Home, where the girls made a
heroine of her afresh. The next day she travelled to Derby.




CHAPTER XLI.

The fact of the Governor of the county gaol being a family friend gave
Patience Quarn various privileges. She had little difficulty therefore
in procuring Molly an order to visit the dwarf.

The girl faced the ordeal with a courage born of new experiences and
emotions. Perhaps the newest and most startling of any was her brief
interview with Patience Quarn.

She had never seen her before. When she did she could scarcely attend
to her instructions or advice, so startled was she by her wonderful
beauty and that exquisite charm of speech and manner so peculiarly her
own. Never had Molly so fully recognised the wide difference between
class and class. Never felt so vivid a sense of her own roughness, and
boorishness, and lack of culture.

She left that presence half dazed. She counted all the signs and tokens
of interest betrayed for Rufus Myrthe. The echo of that tremulous
voice, and the words, "He saved my life, I can never repay the debt,
but I must try,"--still filled the girl's ears. Rufus Myrthe was the
friend of this beautiful woman. He had done her a great service, and
now every energy was being spent on proving his innocence. If she
succeeded----?

A strangely cold, sick, feeling swept over the girl as she asked that
question. It ought not to concern her, and yet it did. Her activity
and her energies suddenly dropped to zero. She was not working for him
as she had fondly imagined. She was only helping a fairer and more
privileged assistant.

When at last she found herself in the prison audience-room, confronting
the poor, defenceless wretch, who had suddenly become an important
factor in her history, she felt as if all power of speech had left her.
She looked at the pinched, cadaverous face, the lack-lustre eyes, the
feeble, shapeless form, and dumbly wondered why Providence had ever
dowered it with human life or human claims.

Some gleam of pleasure and intelligence lighted the weird face as Molly
spoke. The warder stood away by the door. They could converse freely.
She told him she was well again, and thanked him brokenly for saving
her life, but he made no reply.

Then she spoke of his capture, and gently and warily conveyed that if
he would but speak out the truth of that awful night he might be set
free.

The word "free" brought some sign of gladness to the poor wretch. All
his life had been spent in wild wanderings on moor and height; amongst
the forest creatures he had loved and known, and by whom he had been
neither shunned nor feared.

This close air and confinement had had a disastrous effect upon him.
What intellect he possessed seemed to have forsaken him. His physical
condition was one of suffering and terror.

But by slow degrees the girl won him to speak. It was wonderful how she
roused him and guided his wandering thoughts into the desired channel.
But after reaching a certain point he grew obstinate again. He would
not say whether he had been at the Hall on the night of the murder, or
forced his way through the window of the study.

In vain she hinted, questioned, and suggested. He remained dumb as on
the occasion of his examination. Only when with a sigh of despair the
girl turned to go did he display some sign of relenting.

"Why do 'ee ask?" he said. "It canna be concern o' thine?"

"It is," said Molly. "It means saving the life of one who has been the
best friend I ha' ever known."

Japes shook his shaggy head in a queer tremulous fashion. "One that
ha' bin good to 'ee, Moll?" he repeated slowly. "An' how be his life
consarned wi' ony doin's o' mine?"

"Because ye could show that he didna do some cruel, fearful deed as
folks do say he's done. Ah, Japes, think a bit; do 'ee try. Thee wadna
harm the birds or beasts that roam th' forest. Why should'ee harm a
human creature that's ne'er harmed thee?"

"I'd like to kill an' hurt all men folk as dew live, an' shame me' wi'
their strong, straight limbs, their bold looks, their smirkin' faces,"
he said sullenly. "Why do I be a sport an' a mock to 'em. Why ha' I
ne'er heerd a word fra ony man save oath, or abuse, or craven fear? An'
he----"

Suddenly he clenched his hands, and a look of vicious rage made him
terrible. Molly's face grew white. She stepped back a pace or two.

"What had he--ivir done?" she faltered.

"Bin my curse an' creator," said the dwarf savagely. "Done cruel wrong
to her as bore me. Dinna ask me how I dew knaw, Moll. I dew. A piteous
tale o' wrong be layed at his door. An' I ha' swore over her dead body
as i 'ud revenge it--soon or late. But whin the time cum----"

He stopped abruptly. Molly was trembling with anxiety. If he would only
speak on, only confess. But he stood staring in a dazed fashion around,
moving his head slowly from side to side.

"Did it cum?" he went on hoarsely. "Seems as I wer waitin' years an
years to find him. An' thin whin I seed him lyin' asleep, an' crep in
by the windy, an' stood by his side--he wudna move nor speak."

"Was he--was he dead?" faltered the girl, breathlessly.

Again there was silence. The warder who had turned slightly towards
them, gave the girl a warning look.

"He wer dead, an' be domm'd ta him!" said the dwarf savagely. "I
seized his throat, and shook him till a' th' teeth in his handsome
head rattled-like. I couldna make him wake nor hear. Then I layed him
back, an' tuk his things an' flung 'em o'er th' flure o' his room, an'
I mockt and jeert at him lyin' theer so helpless. I wud ha' lept on
his body, an' stampt out th' smiles o' his cruel lips wi' blows, but I
heerd a sound as skeert me, an' I scramblit thro' th' windy an' away. I
war' glad o' what I'd seen an' done. Glad that nivir again wud he rise
an' dew th' harm an' evil deeds he done sae often. I will say na more,
Molly. I will na."

"Thee'lt say this whin they axes ye, Japes, winna ye? For then they'll
set 'ee free. Think o't. Free and happy, and ne'er a inimy any more.
Oh! Japes, ye'll say it--promise for--thy mother's sake?" cried the
girl eagerly.

"Thin--I promise."

She burst into a sudden sobbing, her heart was so full. Relief was so
great that her over-strung nerves gave way beneath long tension.

The warder approached and led his prisoner back to his cell. An office
excessively repugnant, for the dwarf seemed to him piteously unlike
any human thing of moral responsibility. He was physically weak and
helpless. He scarce touched food. Prison life was nothing short of a
living death to him.

Moll wiped her streaming eyes.

"You heard what he said?" she asked the man when he returned.

He nodded. "Yes. He's confessed. Get him to do it afore legal
authority, and t'other chap can be released."

"But there was no murder!" exclaimed the girl. "Didn't ye hear? Dr.
Quarn was dead already!"

"I hain't got nothing to say to that," said the man. "The inquest
should have found it out. But there, I never seed such a muddle of a
case as this be."

* * * * * *

The three women working every energy on Rufus Myrthe's behalf gave the
rusty machinery of the law scant rest until they had achieved their
object.

Perhaps no one suffered so much at their hands as did Dr. Transom. The
case had mainly depended on medical evidence. Whether Felix Quarn had
died from an overdose of the sleeping draught or from violence? The
confession of the dwarf set that matter at rest, and also effectively
proved Rufus Myrthe's account of that night to be correct. The noise,
the chuckling laugh, the escape through the window, his own entrance
and discovery.

He was released at last, though bound over to appear when the case came
for trial. But long before the Assizes were due the unfortunate dwarf
had paid the penalty that all free wild life pays for the trap or cage
of human kindness! He pined and sickened, and was removed to the prison
infirmary, where he died. With him the nine days wonder was over, and
Felix Quarn's dishonoured memory left to the contempt or the pity of
his fellows.

Patience Quarn, who had taken a horror of the Hall and its
associations, left it shut up, and went to stay with Miss Lavinia,
pending a period of travel they had both promised themselves.

Molly Udale came back to the Home in her old position, and was
considered quite a heroine of adventure by the girls. But she would
seldom speak of that time and of her sufferings, though the story of
the strange dwarf was now openly discussed.

The Sundays were no longer red-letter days, for Rufus Myrthe made
no attempt to take up those long broken threads. As ever, he was
kind and friendly and brotherly, but that awful time of suspense had
left indelible marks upon his nature. Had sobered and matured it,
and shown him more of his heart and feelings than anyone outside of
his confidence supposed. He had resolved to trouble no further about
that lost heritage. For this reason he sought Dick Udale, and after a
lengthy and stormy interview succeeded in placing Molly in what by law
and right meant his own position. The matter was made less difficult as
Lil had tired of her temporary honours and forsaken the Inn for a place
as barmaid in a commercial hotel at Macclesfield. Dick Udale being in a
fair way of drinking himself to death agreed to leave all he possessed
to Moll, in consideration of Rufus Myrthe's resignation of claims.

Miss Lavinia was somewhat disposed to cavil at this behaviour on the
part of her favourite. But he affirmed he had had enough of law to last
him a lifetime. And if seeking for missing registers and title deeds,
the finding of proofs, and the fighting for rights, was to mean his
life in England, he preferred to return to his own country.

The night he announced this determination he had been dining at the
Home with Patience and Miss Lavinia.

There was surprise, but unfeigned regret, on the two faces, as he
finished his statement.

"Then you are returning to America? Oh, Rufus!"

The little old lady's eyes and voice were eloquent of bereavement.

"It's very kind of you to be so sorry," he answered. "But I've had a
pretty rough spell here, taking one thing with another, and, but for
your kindness, I'd have been glad to be quit of it long ago. Taken as a
spectacular drama my experiences would have made a pretty fair show. As
a personal memory I'm not exactly keen on them."

He caught sight of Patience Quarn's face, and saw it suddenly whiten.
With a rush of vivid penitence he burst out again: "Don't think, Mrs.
Quarn, that I wouldn't do it all over again for your sake and your
happiness. I can never tell you how proud I am that I've had the good
luck to be of any service. But--I'd best go back--home."

Her eyes met his. She did not speak. A silence filled to the brim with
sorrow and pain, and longing, and regret filled each heart, and seemed
to hold the room in a spell of restraint.

Then Patience Quarn spoke. "We shall be more sorry to lose you than we
can say, Rufus. But you will return one day. You will not go out of our
lives with your 'good-bye' to the Peak country?"

"I hope not," he said, somewhat huskily. "But what's in my mind is
another sort of plan, Mrs. Quarn. You and Miss Moneyash are going to
have a spell of travel. Why don't you leave the old world for a look at
the new? My people aren't what you'd call grand folk, but they're good,
core through, and kind and hospitable. They'd be proud to know you; and
I'd be more proud to introduce the two best friends I've ever had in
this or any country."

He looked pleadingly from one face to the other. Miss Lavinia seemed a
little startled, but Patience Quarn's eyes held a deep and tender light
that was new to them.

"Let me answer for myself," she said. "In a year from this day, Rufus
Myrthe, I promise you shall find me in New York, if--you care to look
for me."

"Care?"--something leaped into eyes, face, voice. He felt like one
trembling on the edge of a great precipice. Dizzy, afraid to glance
before him for fear. But was it fear, or joy--a possible joy?

For this precipice was Happiness!

When he spoke again his voice thrilled with hope. Miss Lavinia looked
at his face, and kindling eyes, and followed them to the magnet of
attraction with a sort of breathless wonder.

This--had been happening under her very eyes and she in ignorance of
it. She thought with a sudden heart pang of Molly. Poor Molly--and her
plans for her. And yet--this was better. How strange it should never
have occurred to her before!

There was nothing abnormal in the situation. Her young Quixote had
but borne out his aforetime character. He had served valiantly,
chivalrously, for the moral and physical salvation of this object of
his worship. Was it wonderful that a stronger and more passionate
emotion should be the outcome of his service, and her gratitude.

Presently she left the room, and left them to themselves.

It was partly instinct, partly her natural sympathy, that led her to
seek Molly Udale.

The girl came to her in the little official room where another
momentous interview had taken place. She looked older, sadder, paler,
than on that occasion. A great change had come over her since that
terrible adventure in the snow. Since she had heard of the tragedy that
linked so many lives with that of Felix Quarn. It was partly of that
time Miss Lavinia wished to speak, remembering what the girl had told
her of the papers she held, and yet of whose contents she was ignorant.

It occurred to the old lady that they might bear also upon the heritage
of the farm. Might throw some light upon all that Rufus Myrthe had
resigned.

She told the girl of this, and of what her young champion had done for
her, and of his intention of returning to America. Of that intention
she spoke gently and guardedly, with a knowledge of the girl's heart,
and a woman's desire to spare her humiliation, or self-betrayal. But
Molly was perfectly self-possessed. From the hour she had seen Patience
Quarn she had instinctively felt why Rufus Myrthe had so plainly kept
to cool friendliness and brotherly interest in all matters appertaining
to herself. She was far too simple-minded, and too conscious of her
many shortcomings to blame him for any misleading interpretation put
upon his actions by others. To her he had always been the same.

To hear that he was leaving the country for "good and all" hurt her
less than the thought that she might have had to learn that harder
lesson of womanhood--concealment of feelings. In time she would grow
reconciled to this heart loneliness. In time she would learn that the
cruelty of self-enlightenment is less hard to bear than a prolonged
self-deception.

The interview was nearly over, and Miss Lavinia was priding herself
upon its diplomatic success, when there came a knock at the door. A
well-known voice asked, "May I come in to wish you good-night, Miss
Moneyash?"

Molly's face flushed scarlet and then grew white, as Miss Lavinia
answered the inquiry with a placid, "of course."

"Why, Molly, you here?" exclaimed the young man. "How's that? I thought
all you girls were sent to bed at hen-roost."

"I have been having a long talk with Molly," said Miss Lavinia. "I have
told her all you have done for her future prior to your leaving this
country. She is overwhelmed with gratitude and surprise."

He laughed. "I guess she looks it. But don't be too grateful, Molly.
'Tis easy generosity giving back something you've never had, and don't
care to fight for."

"You've allays been good to me," faltered the girl. "And if Miss
Moneyash will excuse me, I'd like to tell 'ee--you, I mean, sir,
something as I've tried to say often, and couldn't. It's--it's about
those papers--of mother's."

Rufus Myrthe's face grew very grave. For how long had he forgotten this
link in the chain of their histories. For how long had that scrap of
paper told so much, and yet held back--more?

"I know what you mean, Molly," he said. "But there's no hurry now. I
have even thought--sometimes, that there might be no need for you to
read--those confessions."

Her face grew white and eager. Her lips trembled. "Oh!" she cried. "If
only I need not read them--ever--ever! If only what I've heerd might
rest unspoken--in my heart--as it lay in her's."

Rufus Myrthe held out his hand and took her clasped and trembling
fingers into its strong grasp.

"I thank God you've said that, Molly," he said gravely, almost
solemnly. "She chose silence as her portion. We--will not break it."



THE END.


This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia