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Title: At Midnight and Other Stories
Author: Ada Cambridge
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Language:  English
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Title:      At Midnight and Other Stories
Author:     Ada Cambridge


At Midnight
A Breath of the Sea
Two Old Fogies
"One of these Little Ones"
A Sweet Day
The Wind of Destiny
At Midnight



They sat in their American buggy at the turn of an English road--an
Australian bride and bridegroom, on their wedding tour.
It was a bit of the "old country" that had not been syndicated and
modernized since the bridegroom had seen it last--when he was a young
fellow at Cambridge, paying visits to the houses of his university chums
because his own home was inaccessible. Tall hedges embraced the ripening
wheat-fields still; brambly ditches yawned beneath them. There were dense
woods hereabouts that made green tunnels of the road, and there were
thickets of fern and wild vines and bushes--acres of unprofitable
beauty--under the useless trees. The spot was a joy to the sentimental
wayfarer, and Mrs. Wingate's gaze meant rapture not expressible in words.

"This," she sighed, "is England, Billy."

She meant that this was the England of her romantic dreams--England as
described to her by exiled parents and in scores of delightful books.

"And this," said Billy, "is the place I told you of."

He pointed with his whip.

Just below and before them rose an ancient gateway, iron and stone, with
much heraldic ornament. An ivy-mantled lodge with curly chimney-stacks
stood immediately within; and beyond, sloping gently upward for a mile or
more, a straight, grassed drive between thick woods--a beautiful green
vista, three times as wide as an ordinary park avenue--was closed, on an
elevated horizon, by the indistinct but imposing mass of a great grey
house, one of those "stately homes of England" which are our pride and
boast. It was a lovely picture, and a lovely atmosphere through which to
view it--tinted with the hues of approaching sunset on a late summer day.
A few head of deer were browsing quietly on the shadow-patterned sward;
thrushes were calling to each other from wood to wood; partridges flying
homeward to their nests in the corn, disturbed by the sound of the
horses' hoofs.

"There it is," said the bridegroom, his eyes kindling, his voice full of
feeling, evoked by thronging memories of the splendid days of youth. "And
you should see it when the pink may is out and those woods full of
rhododendron in flower! Look at that grass ride--the deer like to come out
there to feed, though they hide in the fern to rest--and what a stretch
for a gallop! There wasn't the shooting in my time that there is now, but
many a jolly day have I had with Walter Desailly in those fields over
there, walking up our birds with one old dog through the turnips and
stubble. You see that water shining through the trees? There was duck
there; we shot them with a rook rifle by moonlight out of a bedroom
window, and scared the maids with the row we made; once we caught a
forty-two pound pike on a night-line; Walter had been fishing for it all
his life, and found three sets of his tackle rusted in its jaws. The old
squire had it stuffed for a curiosity. I wonder if Walter has it still,
and whether he ever thinks of those old days?"

The speaker sighed inaudibly. He was a fine man, in his prime, inclining
to stoutness, and with a suspicion of frost upon his short brown beard.
"Those old days" were nearly twenty years ago.

"You ought to call upon him," said Mrs. Wingate, "and remind him of them.
I'm sure he would be delighted, if you were such friends as that. Then
you could show me over. Probably he would invite us to stay with him. At
any rate, he might be able to advise us about a place for ourselves."

This pair, it must be explained, were wealthy, as was the case with many
Australians at that date--a period now indicated in the conversation of
their countrymen is "the good times"--he a lucky Queensland pastoralist,
she an heiress of the Silver Boom, both rather new to prosperity of this
kind, but too naturally nice to be vulgarized by it. Neither had any of
the gross ambitions common to persons in their case, but both desired
keenly to enjoy their money. They had just concluded a most successful
London season, without having been presented at Court or made notorious
in society papers; and they were now touring the country behind their own
horses, mainly for rest and independence, and to see what was to be seen,
but also in search of a good house in a sporting neighbourhood, where
they might make a home and entertain their friends during the shooting
and hunting seasons. Mrs. Wingate's dream of luxury was to live in a
medieval castle, with history around her in the atmosphere of refined,
aristocratic, old-England life, as she had romantically imagined it. Mr.
Wingate craved for gun and rod and a straight run after a stout fox--the
joys of his early manhood, which memory had idealized--but was mainly bent
at present upon pleasing his wife. They gazed together at the most
attractive "place" they had yet seen, with thoughts of proprietorship
that they felt were absurd and vain. Windsor Castle seemed as likely to
be to let as the old mansion of the Desaillys, which had not wanted a
master of the name for at least four hundred years.

"Why don't you call on him?" urged the bride. "To have been college
friends surely is introduction enough?"

"We parted on bad terms," replied Wingate, with an air of reserve.

"What does that matter, after all these hundreds of years? You are not
Corsican vendetta people. English gentlemen quarrel and have done with
it; they don't bear malice for a lifetime. I am sure he has forgotten the
whole thing long ago. Unless," she added, with a glance at her husband's
face, "unless it was something very desperate indeed. Was it? Oh, I
believe it was! A woman, of course. If you don't want to tell me, Billy,
you need not."

Billy's left arm curled round the bride's slim waist.

"You are such a dear, kind little soul, Nettie, that I really don't mind
telling you," he said, after a pause. "You'll believe me, I know, when I
declare on my honour that it wasn't my fault. And, besides, it was before
your time, sweetheart; almost before you were born, indeed."

"Yes, Billy; I know I am not the first, by thousands!"

"Oh, not quite so many as that! Just--well, never mind--there's only you
now, pet--only you for evermore." He kissed her at this point, for it was
a lonely bit of road where they had stopped to look at the view and
breathe the horses. And she returned his caress with a laugh, much
comforted by the reflection that the particular lady referred to, if
still alive, would be forty by this time, if not more.

"She was the daughter of a Cambridge bookseller," confessed Billy. "It
don't sound much, but a truer lady never stepped. We called her 'the
Princess,' because she treated us all with such crushing dignity. Lots of
us were gone on her: really, I think, just because of that; but Walter
Desailly cut me out. At any rate, he said something that made me stop
going there, so that I mightn't seem to be interfering with him. Of
course I imagined it was just a little affair, like others, and never
thought he would dream of marrying her, because the Desaillys are such
great folks and so proud of their pedigree. But he did. I suppose she is
living there now in state as my lady, and forgets that she ever waited in
her father's shop. But, no--she wouldn't; she hadn't an ounce of that
sort of snobbishness in her."

"Go on," said Mrs. Wingate, breaking a meditative pause. "There is no
motive for quarrel, so far. I hope I am not strait-laced, Billy dear, and
you couldn't make me jealous if you tried; but I do hope you did not
elope with her afterwards."

"I did nothing, Nettie, that you would not have approved of, had you been
there and known all the circumstances. Walter did not know all the
circumstances, and a man won't believe the word of his best friend in
these cases, if appearances are against him. Come to that, I don't blame
him. I wouldn't myself. It was a chapter of accidents all through. In the
first place, I never thought of Lexie Baird again after I left Cambridge.
I came home--"

"And got engaged to that fat woman who is now Mrs. Ross."

"She was not a fat woman then. Let us keep to the point, if you please.
But perhaps you don't care to hear about it?"

"Oh, I do--I do! I never was more interested in anything. And I think it
is so good and dear of you, Billy, not to mind telling me."

She slipped her hand within his elbow, and laid her fair young cheek upon
his very large coat sleeve. She really was a sweet little bride,
incapable of a mean thought about her husband, as he well knew.

"I came home, and took to business, and did not return to England for a
couple of years and more. I went then because--no, not because of any
woman, fat or thin, as I see you would insinuate--though it was not nice
to live in a place where a fascinating widow was employing lawyers to
write her letters to you. At any rate--well, look here, Nettie; young men
will be young men, just as boys will be boys--they can't help it; and you
needn't rake up old follies now that I've grown wise. Yes, I'm wise now.
You are a witness to it. All those blunders were teaching me your value,
don't you see? Perhaps I had better not tell you any more. It was stupid
to mention the subject."

She apologized so prettily for having dared to laugh, and urged him with
such obvious sincerity not to tell her any more if he would rather not,
that he proceeded with his little tale immediately.

"I went to shoot at a place not far from here, and a girl in the house
told me that young Desailly had married a low barmaid, and been cut by
his family for it. I was quite staggered by the news, because he'd been a
fastidious sort of fellow, and I wanted to find him and cheer him up a
bit; but no one knew where he was. The girl, Miss Balcombe--her father was
the rector here--she was awfully bitter. It seems Walter had wanted to
marry her at one time, and his people wouldn't have it. She was no end of
a pretty girl, but there was something about her--she reminded me of a
silky cat; and the way she talked of poor Lexie--I didn't know it was
Lexie then--was fiendish. A low barmaid, indeed! No wonder I hadn't a
notion what was coming. By the way, she honoured me with a particular
regard. It's not for me to say it, but if I'd liked--however, I didn't."

"Sure?" Mrs. Wingate questioned cautiously.

"Quite sure. She gave me the creeps sometimes when she used to smile. It
was a perfectly heavenly smile, if you can understand, but she just put
it on and off like a mask, and it was always the same for all purposes.
She'd look really like an angel with that smile on, and her fair hair,
and complexion like a lily; and all the time you'd have a cold feeling
that she was thinking she'd like to strangle you. At least, that's how I
felt when I was trying not to make love to her--I mean to resist her
inducements to--I mean--but you know what I mean."

"Perfectly, Billy dear."

"Oh, she was a little devil, that girl! I know she was, though she was a
parson's daughter. To look at her father, a real old-style rector, fat
and red, fond of good living and not too fond of work--the commonplace
personified--you'd really feel doubts as to whether he could be her
father. Same with her mother, a meek little goose of a woman, who just
fell down before her child and worshipped her. But a dear little soul for
all that. We got on capitally together. She invited me to visit them at
that old rectory over there"--pointing with his whip to a church tower in
the landscape--"and I got a sprained wrist from a hunting fall first time
I went out that season, and she nursed me as if I were a son of her own.
What are you smiling at, Nettie?"

"Nothing, dearest. I didn't know I smiled."

"And it was while I was there that everything happened. The very day I
arrived they told me that Walter had been forgiven and taken back,
because his wife--that low barmaid, you know!--had had a son, and somebody
had reported that it was a fine child, and the old squire, being
naturally anxious about the succession, thought it time to set things
straight. Nobody had seen them yet, but there was to be a small dinner
party that night to meet them, and I had been invited. Well, you can
imagine my feelings when I stood with the others round the fire in the
hall--I wish you could have a sight of that hall, Nettie!--to see, coming
down the stairs by Walter's side, our princess--and looking it too, by
George!--instead of the vulgar creature I had been expecting. I never was
so struck all of a heap in my life. As for Geraldine Balcombe, oh, it was
rich to see her smiling when Mrs. Walter Desailly was introduced to her!
I had walked there with her--up that very grass ride you see before you,
which is a good deal longer than it looks--and all the way she had been
dancing on her toes, as it were, full of the triumph she was going to
have over them all, and especially over the wife Walter had taken instead
of her; she couldn't keep her elation within decent bounds. Dress!--I
believe you. A regular ball gown of white satin, the best she'd got, and
pearls round her neck--a lovely neck it was, too--and flowers out of the
greenhouse. She'd got herself up regardless, thinking how mad Walter
would be when he compared her with the low person, and how old Sir Thomas
and my lady would curse the stratagems they had used so successfully to
keep her out of the family. She quite thought she was going to have a
rich revenge on the lot of them that night. And there was Lexie, looking
like a real princess, in her plain black gown, with hardly any neck
showing, putting everybody in the shade. Oh, she was a beautiful woman,
Nettie! There was no mistake bout it. Even Geraldine, though her vanity
was like a rhinoceros' hide, felt it directly she saw her; and I know she
hated poor Lexie like poison from that moment. There was no love lost on
the other side either. When Lexie heard her calling 'Walter' here and
'Walter' there, like a cooing dove, I understood the look in her eyes.
She was quick enough to smell a rat, and she wasn't the sort of woman to
be trifled with. I can tell you she walked into that house all on fire
with the humiliations they had made her suffer before they knew her, and
if she didn't make them eat humble pie, from the great Sir Thomas
downwards, I'm a Dutchman. Do you think she'd have her child sent for to
be introduced and inspected? Not a bit of it. Everybody was dying to see
the heir, for whose sake she had been condoned and acknowledged, and she
calmly refused to have him disturbed out of his regular habits. Sir
Thomas himself said, with his queer smile--he and she became very good
friends afterwards--that he supposed they'd have to go on their knees at
the nursery door before she'd deign to show it. Oh, she was a match for
Miss Geraldine--except that she was all open and above board, and
Geraldine was so secret and treacherous. I know that girl began to make
mischief between husband and wife--and me--before we'd been an hour
together. Of course Lexie vas very pleased to see me."

"Why? if you don't mind my asking, Billy."

"Well, you see I was an old friend, and I was not so grand as the
Desaillys. Though she was not bit afraid of them, their stately ways
oppressed her Besides, she was angry with them for the way they had
repudiated her, and too proud to submit to be suddenly patronized and
tolerated, and to make herself cheap to them all at once. Moreover,
Walter behaved like an idiot. Instead of keeping near her, to pilot her
about and help her to understand the strange ways, he sat the whole
blessed evening in Geraldine Balcombe's pocket. Her doing, of course, but
that didn't excuse him. He was her husband, and he ought to have backed
her up. I know she felt it. In fact, I could see plainly that they were
not as happy together as they should have been. Walter would have liked
to talk to me about that--he did tell me he'd had a devil of a time
keeping house on a bachelor's allowance--but I always shut him up
straight. He was a selfish fellow, Walter Desailly. She was infinitely
too good for him."

He paused, gazing at the grey pile on the horizon, unconscious of the
creeping twilight that had begun to blot it out. His wife heaved a
pensive little sigh. He did not hear it.

"They asked me to The Chase to stay. By degrees the house filled, for Sir
Thomas tried to make up to her for past slights and to bring the county
families to receive and respect her. Men came to shoot, and there were
parties given. Somehow Geraldine was always there, and she was always
with Walter. The fellow must have been mad, or else the little cat had
some power of witchcraft in her. To neglect a woman like Lexie, and she
his wife, for such an unwholesome, cold-blooded--however, she wasn't
cold-blooded to him. I do think she loved him as far as she could love
anybody. I know she turned against me as soon as ever he came
home--regularly hated me, in fact--partly, I suppose, because I sided with
Lexie, whom she hated more. Why, the very last time I ever saw her, when
I went to say goodbye, she was deliberately burning a fichu thing of
Venetian lace just because I had given it to her--a valuable piece, mind
you, of a rare pattern, that I had been stupid enough to pay a lot of
money for; stuffing it into the fire, she was, and ramming it down with
the poker, as if it was so much dishcloth."

"An extraordinary way to show spite!" Mrs. Wingate ejaculated. "And she
did not scorn your offering in the first instance?"

"It wasn't my offering. She almost wheedled it out of me--admired it so
much that for very shame I had to give it to her. It wasn't meant for her
at all."

"That makes it still more extraordinary. If it had been Mrs. Walter's
lace, I could understand it. For whom did you mean it, dear?"

"I don't know. Not for her, at any rate. But she got it, and seemed to
think no end of it too--always wore it when she wanted to be extra smart.
That very night she had had it on, over a blue silk dress. In a paroxysm
of rage she just tore it off her shoulders and destroyed it. I asked her
why, and she said because she did not want anything that reminded her of
me. When I asked her why again, she said something implying that I had
paid her attentions and then thrown her over. Which was a lie. But I was
so upset myself that I didn't care what she said or what she thought. I
left The Chase that night and went to the Himalayas, and I don't know
where--the farthest off that I could get. And I never heard a word of the
Desaillys from that day to this. Oh, yes, I heard that Sir Thomas was
dead--that's all."

"But you haven't told me what happened, Billy?"

"Oh, nothing much happened. I stayed a little while the first time--not
long; you can't stay in a house when you see your host growing cool to
you--getting utterly unfounded suspicions of you into his head. I went on
to other places, and wandered about a bit; looked up her people at
Cambridge, to tell them about her and how she was settling down. They
were a nice family, none the worse for being tradespeople--three jolly
young sisters, who were so proud of her rise in life; and when they asked
me to stay a few days with them, I did, of course. She didn't know I was
there, but one day--it was winter time, and I'd just come in from my old
college chapel with two of the girls--we found her in the sitting-room,
crying in her mother's lap as if her heart would break. She had come home
because she could not bear it--Geraldine, you know--and said she was going
to stay awhile and have a rest; but they were so awfully afraid she would
make a breach with her husband and offend the Desaillys that they
implored her not to. I went out of the room to leave them together, but
presently they called me back, and she was quite recovered and calm. She
made some excuse for her sudden visit, and said she must return before
night--it was nearly night already--and would I look up the trains for her.
She had the child with her, and, of course, she had remembered about his
being the heir and belonging to The Chase in spite of her; and she was
keener now than anybody to retrieve her false step. For it was a false
step, and she, who was always so sensible and courageous, must have been
fearfully treated to make her take it. I never knew what they did to her.
They, I say. But Walter was a gentleman when not bewitched by that fiend
of a girl.

"Well, I took her home. I had to, because the only man in her family was
ill, and she couldn't be allowed to knock about railway stations alone at
that hour. Besides, she was so perfectly innocent and unconscious of
wrong that she asked me to escort her. We had the child with us, and we
hardly spoke the whole way; she was full of her thoughts, so was I,
neither of us could mention what they were, though we were such old
friends. I wished with all my soul that I could leave her outside her
gates, but I dared not suggest it; I had to go on right to the house, or
put ideas into her head that she was above dreaming of. And Walter
received us, and you can imagine how much he believed of the explanation
we had to give; he just turned on his heel and walked away, leaving us
standing together in the great hall. And I saw Geraldine Balcombe up in
the gallery, looking down and smiling.

"Of course Lexie knew then. She was as white as a sheet. Poor girl! Poor
girl! But I never saw such bravery in a woman, and she was more like a
princess than ever. I had already arranged to sleep at the inn in the
village--the Desailly Arms, where we will put up now, if it is still in
existence--taking on the fly we had got at the station; and she just
quietly bade me good-night, and thanked me for taking such good care of
her; and I left her--left her alone to bear it all.

"However, I went to The Chase next day. I could not rest, and I
determined to have it out with Walter. So I did, and so lost control of
myself that I did her more harm than good, but she forgave me that. Look
here, Nettie, I will make a clean breast of it--it is over and done with
these twenty years, so you needn't be jealous--but I was hard hit. I was
damned hard hit."

"And told her?"

"Good heavens, no! I'd have cut my throat sooner. But seeing her in all
that trouble--burning to help her, and not able to--I think she got a
notion, just at the last She encouraged me to travel. She was so kind,
never reproaching me, but I knew what she meant. She wished me to go
away, and never come back. And I did--for twenty years, at any rate. This
is the first time--what? Oh, you precious little noodle! You don't mean to
tell me you are jealous, after all? Now, Nettie, I'll let you into
another dead secret: for fifteen, at least, out of those twenty years I
haven't cared a single, solitary straw about her, not even enough to
inquire of anybody whether she was alive or dead. And surely to goodness
you don't suppose I am going to do it now?"

"You are a faithless wretch," Mrs. Wingate ejaculated, wetting his cheek
with the tip of an eyelash. "I suppose fifteen other women--oh, I begin to
see what I have done in marrying a handsome husband! But one thing I
insist on, Billy--I will see Lady Desailly with my own eyes before we
leave this place, and so shall you. Call up that man who is going along
the road, and ask him if the family is home."



William Wingate had a feeling that he would rather inquire about his old
sweetheart elsewhere than at the buggy side on the public highway. And
so, finding his wife firm in demanding the immediate satisfaction of her
curiosity, and that he should be confronted at the earliest opportunity
with a woman old enough to be her mother--another Mrs. Ross with an
immeasurable waist--he said he would seek information at the lodge, where
he might find some one who remembered him. She approved, and took the
reins. He jumped down, and the ivied cottage with the Tudor chimneys
swallowed him.
It was all but dark when he reappeared, and yet she saw at once that he
had had a shock.

"Ah," she cried sympathetically, "your Lexie is dead!"

"Worse," he groaned, as he swung himself into the buggy. "Unutterably
worse! But I don't believe it. It's incredible. Nettie, what do you think
they say?--that she eloped years ago with a foreigner who was staying in
the house; that she left the child, who is now a young man, and that she
took one of the most valuable of the family jewels with her--a diamond
necklace, with five star-rubies in it. I remember it well. The old man,
when he was reconciled to her, and wishing everybody to look up to her as
if she had been born to the position, gave it to her and asked her to
wear it; she had it on the very last time I ever saw her. This fellow--he
is only a young keeper, speaking from hearsay and gossip--says Walter
would not have her followed--scorned to interfere with her, both because
he was too proud and because her lover had been his friend--and let the
necklace go with her, and that nothing has been heard of either of them
since. As if Lexie, of all people, would carry off property! I laughed at
the idea. I told the fellow I didn't believe a word of such a story. I
don't. I'll lay my life there's been a mistake somewhere."

"She was an impulsive woman," Mrs. Wingate remarked thoughtfully. "See
how she rushed home in a fit of impatience, and repented the next moment
and rushed back again. And perhaps they drove her to extremities."

"It is conceivable," he returned, "she might have done a mad thing in
sheer desperation, though I should have thought she'd have sooner killed
herself. They say that she and the man were seen going off
together--though, if it was in the night, it may easily have been a case
of mistaken identity. But supposing she left the child--she would have to
do that if she wanted to get free herself, for the heir they must have
recovered--which is sufficiently incredible, seeing what a devoted mother
she was, she would certainly never have taken a scrap of Desailly
property with her. That I will stake my head on, and every penny I

"The man may have been the culprit there, Billy."

"Oh, it's awful!" he moaned, evidently cut to the heart. "I wish I could
see Walter himself. But he's in Scotland with his son. This place is
deserted--has been nearly all the time. The other day they opened it just
to celebrate the boy's coming of age in the great hall, after some
customs of the family; but it was all locked up directly afterwards, and
stands there empty and falling into decay. Walter lives in London and
abroad mostly, and when here, at the Dower House, a house near one of the
other gates, where an aunt of his used to live. The old folks are both
dead. There's a new rector too, but Geraldine Balcombe is alive and
married. Well, my pet, you must be dying of hunger and fatigue. Let's be
off to the Desailly Arms and a good supper, if they can give us one.
After all, it is no concern of ours, I suppose."

"It has occurred to me that it may concern us closely," Mrs. Wingate
said, in a matter-of-fact tone, no longer dreaming of jealousy. "If that
house is empty, Billy, and Sir Walter cares so little what becomes of it,
why shouldn't we try to find out whether it won't suit us? There must be
an agent here somewhere who could give us particulars, and through whom
we might open negotiations for renting it, if we found it to our taste
and not too appallingly expensive."

Billy confessed himself struck by the idea, but inclined to postpone the
consideration of it to a future hour. He was upset and preoccupied, also
wearying for his dinner. So they drove through the beautiful twilight,
tinged now with the haze of a rising moon, to an inn that he remembered,
and were shortly absorbed in beef and bottled porter, and the comforting
sensation of being safe and snug together, with the troubled world shut
out. There are times when happy people cannot be bothered to think of
anything but themselves.

But when the landlady brought the coffee, she was induced to linger and
be interrogated, whereby further details were added to the Desailly

"Yes, sir, I remember when Sir Walter brought his wife and child to The
Chase. I was kitchen-maid there at the time, but I don't call to mind
your face, sir. My husband's father was butler; perhaps he'd remember
you, only he's in his second childhood, and, being paralysed, can't make
himself understood. Mrs. Walter, as she was then, did not stay long; she
ran away within the year. And her husband, he was so set on her and so
cut up that he never was the same man afterwards. He never wanted to
marry again. Though lots of people tried to persuade him to get a
divorce, he wouldn't."

"Was he very much cut up?" inquired Wingate gravely.

"They say so, sir. The servants who saw him were always speaking of it.
He seemed partly to blame himself, and I won't say that he's perfection.
You can't expect it of a gentleman in his position, with no work to do to
keep him out of mischief. He has brought young persons to the Dower House
at times, and we hear of goings-on in London that it's best to take no
notice of. But he did his duty by her, at any rate. He made her an honest
woman, in spite of everything; he wouldn't take the law to her when she
turned against him and disgraced a fine old family that had done her only
too much honour; and as for that poor abandoned child of hers, why, he
dotes on the very ground that Master Thomas walks on. Ah, let's hope that
dear young man will make a better choice than his father did! He's the
finest lad in the whole county, though he does come of a bad mother."

"If you are speaking of Sir Walter's son by his wife, Miss Alexandra
Baird," said Wingate, slowly and with emphasis, "he comes of a mother who
was simply one of the best women that ever lived. I had the privilege of
knowing her well."

"Indeed, sir! But the best o' women don't do what she did--not as a rule,
sir---do they?"

The fat landlady, who regarded the peccadilloes of the male person with
such extreme indulgence, smiled austerely.

"I have yet to be convinced that she did do it," said Billy, who, as he
spoke, felt the hand of his little wife slipped into his, and grasped it

"As to that, sir, there's the evidence of parties that saw them go off
together. A lady staying in the house happened to be standing at her
bedroom window, which she had opened, because it was bright moon-light
and the garden looking so pretty, and she heard voices on the terrace
underneath, close to a door at the foot of a private staircase; and when
she looked down, there was Mrs. Walter and the young man, quite plain, so
as nobody could mistake them. She had on the same white cloak that she'd
left the hall with, the stairs and passages being draughty, and it
slipped off her shoulders, and the lady saw the diamond necklace shining.
The young man, he struck a match to see how to lock the door again, and
that showed their faces clear. And the best proof was that neither of
them was ever seen again, sir."

"And the lady did not give the alarm?"

"She said nothing about it because she hoped they'd come back before they
were found out and scandals made, and because Mrs. Walter was in the
habit of going to her family when she was in a temper with her husband;
and they did have words that day. Sir Walter had his suspicions of the
young man, and taxed her with it. They all thought at first that she'd
gone to Cambridge, and the lady that knew she hadn't said the same, just
out of kindness and to give the woman a chance. Besides, she couldn't
bear to be the one to break the news. However, she had to do it at last,
when they found out by letters that came for Mrs. Walter from her mother
that she'd never been there."

"Poor mother!" Wingate ejaculated. "Nettie, we must go and see her. I
want to hear both sides."

"So do I," cried Nettie, with cordial sympathy.

"Dead, sir; dead, ma'am," said the landlady, "many years ago; both her
father and mother, and the business sold. There are no Bairds in
Cambridge now."

It was Nettie who asked the next and most important question.

"Mrs. Venn, was the lady you mention the only person who saw the
elopement with her own eyes?"

Mrs. Venn said she believed the lady was the only person who actually so
saw it, but a servant in the house--the baby's nurse--heard the door of the
private staircase shut. It was in the wing Mrs. Walter occupied--a whole
wing that old Sir Thomas had set apart for her and her husband's use, so
that they could live independently, as if in their own house, when they
felt disposed. The nurse had gone to bed in the nursery with the child;
the noise of the door woke her, and she thought it was her master going
into his dressing-room. But as it happened, Sir Walter--Mr. Walter as he
was then--had gone to London unbeknown to her, and was away all that
night--came home, poor man, to find the bird flown!"

"And who was that lady?" Mrs. Wingate inquired, in a tone of voice that
made her Billy sit up and prick his ears.

"Mrs. George Desailly, ma'am. She married a cousin of the squire's. A
good-for-nothing he is too, though he does belong to the family, and
stands next to Master Thomas too, worse luck."

Billy had heard already who Mrs. George Desailly was, and he seemed to
spring out of his seat. "Aha! I thought so--I thought so! Which took place
first, Mrs. Venn, her marriage or the elopement--the alleged elopement?"

"The elopement, sir--years and years before. Miss Balcombe married quite
late in life--that is, late for a lady so good looking and attractive."

"Any children?"

"Two, sir, only--a girl and boy. The poor little boy is not quite right,
they say, but of course she thinks the world of him."

"And Walter swallowed all her damned lies? I beg your pardon; I can't
help using strong language. Because I can see, as plainly as that you are
standing there, that Mrs. George Desailly invented that elopement for her
own purposes. Don't you see it, Nettie? You remember what I told
you?"--with a significant nod.

"Sir," said Mrs. Venn, "you are like many other people--speaking, evil of
that lady without knowing anything about her."

"I not know anything about her!" laughed Wingate grimly.

"Without knowing anything of the circumstances that, you say, happened
after your time. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Walter and she were the best
of friends. She has told me so herself."

"Oh," said Wingate. And he seemed to wink at Nettie from the corner of a
sombre eye.

"And she could have had no interest whatever in injuring Mrs. Walter--in
telling lies about her, as you call it."

"Unless her lies caused Mrs. Walter's husband to divorce her."

"Which they didn't."

"No. But she could not have foreseen that."

"And never thought of such disgraceful things. Besides, sir, if her story
was an invention, how do you account for Mrs. Walter's disappearance? She
went away that night, and the young foreign gentleman went away that
night, and they've never been heard of since. That's the truth, at any
rate; and if you can find any explanation of it but the one that anybody
who knows the world--"

"I can find another without any trouble," Wingate broke in. "The fellow
may have been a villain--a foreigner generally is--and enticed her away,
and murdered her for the sake of the necklace."

"Not one who loved her. The whole house knew that he loved her, and that
her husband had quarrelled with both of them because he'd found it out."

Wingate's face fell slowly, and he heaved a restless sigh. "It is
strange--it is indeed strange!" he ejaculated. Then, with an air of sudden
resolution, he asked where Mrs. George Desailly might be found. "I am
going," said he darkly, "to the fountain head."

Mrs. George, he was then informed, had no settled habitation of her own,
her husband being a rolling stone, living by his wits and from hand to
mouth, a frequenter of Continental gaming places and a sponger upon his
friends; but it so happened that she was at this moment staying at the
old rectory which used to be her home.

"They were both at the coming of age," said the landlady, "though they
weren't invited, and the squire was very angry when he saw them there.
He's the best of landlords, and kindness itself to everybody else, but he
does hate those George Desaillys so that it's like a madness with him.
The other squires don't think it looks well at all, seeing that Mr.
George is his own blood, and so near the title too. And his poor
wife--goodness knows she has troubles enough without Sir Walter making
more for her."

"What! Does he hate her too? You don't say so!"

"Like poison, sir. And all for nothing, I'm convinced. She once invited
young Master Thomas to stay with her when he was home for his holidays
and his father was away, and he got a bad cold, and told his father in a
letter that his sheets were that damp you could have wrung them. Well,
supposing they were damp--any careless hussy of a housemaid might have
done it, and the missus never known. Desailly ladies don't make the beds.
But Sir Walter, he got it into his head then that she wanted to kill the
boy so that her own might succeed, and now it's a regular monomania with
him. He keeps Master Thomas always under his eye, and he's given orders
that neither she nor her husband are to set foot on the property. Any
gatekeeper that lets them through even into the park is to lose his place
directly. I call it a shame--though he is Sir Walter and my husband's
landlord. She's a lady, like any other lady, and a Desailly moreover, and
a sweet, gentle creature, incapable of doing such things as she's accused
of. She was sitting in this parlour only. yesterday, talking to me about
it, and saying how she missed her dear mother, and how nice it was to be
in her childhood's home again. For my part, I hate to see people despised
and insulted just because they're poor. Why shouldn't she walk in the
park if she's a mind? And why shouldn't she go into the house as well as
the rats and mice? Now that she's here, she just pines to wander alone
through the old rooms where she had such happy days when she was a girl,
and she was asking me whether I could not manage it for her, through my
husband, who's that trusted by the agent that he could get the keys at
any time he wished. I'm sure I was willing enough, and I did all I could,
but there's no man here that'll go against the squire. It went to my
heart to see her pleading for such a little thing, and having to
disappoint her. She said she supposed Sir Walter was afraid she'd steal
something; but the tears were in her eyes, poor thing, and she trembled
all over. There's nothing to steal except what nobody could carry away.
The valuable small things are all well locked up, or at the Dower House,
or in the bank. A burning shame, I call it."

"It is," said Wingate, smiling strangely. "And she is staying at the
rectory, you say?"

"Yes, sir; at least, she was yesterday. The rector now is Mr. Martin, a
bachelor gentleman; he was tutor to Master Thomas before he went to Eton.
He never saw Mrs. George till the other day, at the coming of age; but he
was told how the squire had treated her, and was very indignant, and
offered her his arm as she was leaving the hall, and asked her to honour
him by making use of his house."

"How did the squire treat her?" inquired Wingate. "I used to know him
pretty well, but I never thought him a man to be rude to ladies."

"This was what he did," said Mrs. Venn. "She and her husband came to The
Chase because it was sort of open house at the coming of age--though the
house is so empty and out of repair that only the great hall, the state
drawing-room, and the kitchens were actually used--and because they hoped,
she said, that on such an occasion the family might be reconciled. They
wanted to congratulate Master Thomas, and to drink his health, and so
make up all quarrels, and start fresh as friends. However, we noticed
they were not at the banquet--the company this time was only the people on
the estate, and a few friends of Master Thomas's, very different from the
coming of ages that used to be--though we had seen them go in amongst the
first, and it appears that Sir Walter didn't know they were there at all.
But while the speeches were going on some one whispered to Master Thomas,
and Master Thomas whispered to his father, and the squire looked as black
as thunder, and as soon as the banquet was over ran up the stairs. They
were not using the upper part of the house, and poor Mrs. George had
taken the opportunity to have a quiet stroll through the rooms, the
scenes of her happy days, poor thing! She was looking out of a window,
and thinking of the past, when she used to be petted by Sir Thomas and my
lady as if she were their own daughter, when up comes Sir Walter, and
orders her out of the place just as if she was a common tramp. And she
without even her husband to defend her. Mr. George had changed his mind
about speaking to his cousin before so many people, and had left while
everybody was at the banquet, and gone back to London, so that she was
all alone by herself. She says he abused her shameful, but there was
nobody to hear what they said till the rector met them in the gallery
over the hall. Master Thomas had told the rector what was going on, for
you must know that he doesn't hold with the way his father treats Mrs.
George, which is real scandalous, though I oughtn't to say it, being an
old servant of the family. Mr. Martin, he ran upstairs to see what he
could do, and there was poor Mrs. George crying, and Sir Walter calling
Mr. Blackett, the agent, to come and lock all the doors, and give the
keys to him. He says he wouldn't trust her not to lay dynamite about the
place, and blow them all up--which shows how mad he is in his spite
against her. For anybody can see that a gentler creature never walked.
Mr. Martin, he says he won't break bread in the house again while Sir
Walter is master, though he did give him the living; and Master Thomas
looked so ashamed, poor young gentleman! They say he had words with his
father afterwards, though they are that fond of each other that they're
more like twin brothers than parent and child."

"This," remarked Wingate, "is strangely unlike the Walter Desailly that I
used to know. However--"

He looked at his watch, and then at his wife, and then at the landlady,
who was so enjoying her own loquacity.

"Can you tell me, Mrs. Venn, whether Sir Walter still keeps the keys?"

Mrs. Venn supposed not, as he was out of the country. She thought Mr.
Blackett would have them, and was sure there would be no difficulty in
getting leave to look over the house, if Mr. Wingate wished to do so. It
was only Mrs. George who was shut out, lest she should plant dynamite
upon the premises.

"Well," said Billy, who craved impatiently for a pipe and a quiet gossip
with his wife, "what do you say to a little stroll before turning in,
Nettie? It is a lovely night, and I don't feel a bit like sleep at

"Nor I," said Nettie, also anxious to dispense with the landlady, and not
knowing how to do it politely. "Supper has made a new creature of me. I
could walk miles. Only I'm afraid we might be keeping Mrs. Venn up."

The landlady offered to leave a key under a doormat, and otherwise to
meet the wishes of a customer who had been at college with the squire,
and whose whole equipment betokened wealth, and of the pretty young wife
who was so considerate for other people She took them, with many
apologies, through back passages and a kitchen to show them the door, the
key, and the mat, and where they would find matches and their bedroom
candle, incidentally bringing to their notice certain members of her
family circle. These the strangers affected to ignore, from motives of
delicacy, until a very old man, who was being helped to bed by a pair of
stalwart grandchildren, actually blocked their path.

"This," said Mrs. Venn, "is my husband's father, that must have been
butler at The Chase when you were there, sir. But I suppose you wouldn't
have known him again. He's close on eighty-four, and was a faithful
servant of the family from the time he cleaned the knives when he was
only ten. Grandpa!"--raising her voice to a loud yell--"this--gentleman--

"Hush-sh!" cried Wingate fiercely. And she stopped.

"We have to bawl at him, sir, to make him hear. But it's not much use. He
gets deafer and deafer, and his memory is quite gone. He won't know you.
Oh, but he does, though! Look at him!"

Grandpa was evidently acting in an unusual way. He pointed a claw-like
finger at Wingate's massive chest, glared up at him with his rheumy eyes,
wagged his head, made strange gabbling sounds, and pulled at the arms
supporting him, evidently in high excitement.

"Well, old gentleman, and how do you do?" Wingate jauntily addressed him,
taking the trembling hand and sawing it up and down. "It is very
flattering to me to think that I've changed so little. Hey? What? Look
here, Mrs. Venn, if I were you I'd get him off to bed as soon as
possible. He looks to me as if he were going to have a fit."

The Venn family removed the patriarch, with soothing words to him and
apologies to the guest, explaining that the old man was quite childish,
and not accountable for his vagaries. And the bride and bridegroom
escaped, to their relief and pleasure, into the calm night.


The Scent Lies

Talking of Lexie Desailly and her fate, in which the one had become as
much interested as the other, Mr. and Mrs. Wingate found their way almost
unconsciously to the gates through which they had gazed, a few hours
earlier, at what they supposed to be her home. It was now invisible
amongst the distant shades, but half a mile of the green ride lay fair
beneath the moon, looking like a lawn for elves to dance on. Nettie held
two of the great bars in her little hands, and peered between them
wistfully. Billy's eyes, over the top of her head, searched the night
with equal eagerness. The Chase was laying a spell upon them both.
The young lodge-keeper heard them talking, and came out to reconnoitre.
Wingate accosted him, asking leave to enter the enclosure. The request
was at once granted to an old friend of the squire's, who was exhorted to
take his own time, and return when it pleased him. The man had some
business of his own on hand, which would keep him up for an hour or two,
and was willing to wait upon the strangers' pleasure.

"We shall have time, then, to get a peep at the house," Nettie joyfully
exclaimed. She was "dying," as she called it, for that satisfaction.

"Perhaps, if we look sharp," said Billy. "But the length of this avenue
is about three times what it looks."

And they set off to walk it at a swinging pace, keeping the middle of the
grass, to be as far as possible from the black shadows of the woods on
either side. Nettie held tight to her stalwart husband's hand, and after
a little only spoke in low tones, glancing hither and thither in a
furtive way, with occasional jumps and starts; for the sense of mystery
was upon her--delightful certainly, enchantingly English, but a little
uncanny, all the same. Bushes to right and left rustled as they passed;
twigs snapped; owls went by with no sound of wings, phantom-like;
couching forms of deer arose, loomed for a moment, and disappeared. These
latter were the most romantic feature of The Chase to her Australian
mind, but an antlered buck in twilight, showing himself unexpectedly and
merely as something alive and large, brings, as she expressed it, one's
heart into one's mouth.

The spectacle of the old mansion, when they reached the inner enclosure
of garden surrounding it, enhanced this sense of phantasmal things, the
general awesomeness of the expedition and the hour. It was indeed the
ideal haunted house. Nettie said she had seen the very "moral" of it,
under that title, in an old volume of the Illustrated London News. Ivy
cloaked embattled walls and hung ragged wreaths from projections of
ornamental stonework; towers and chimney-stacks rose majestic from the
mass, cutting large blocks out of the pellucid sky. Moss and weeds showed
clear in the chinks of the flagged terraces, and unpruned growths from
the once trim parterres overran the pillared balustrades and short
flights of shallow steps leading from one level to another. A rusty gate
hung awry on a broken hinge; gravel paths were all but obliterated;
storm-strewn twigs and branches of trees lay where the wind had tossed
them, bedded in rank grass; and over all this desolation the broad
windows gazed blankly, from under their stone brows, like open eyes of
the dead.

"What a change!" Wingate muttered, in an awed voice; "oh, what a change!
I cannot understand it. For the boy's sake, if not for his own--for common
decency's sake--he might have kept such a beautiful place from going to
rack and ruin like this! He doesn't deserve to own it. Well, I don't
think we'll try to make a home here, sweetheart."

"Oh, no!" whispered Nettie, shivering within the arm he had thrown around

Nevertheless, he looked about him with a keen business eye, trying to
measure the extent of the dilapidation, and what it would cost to put the
place in habitable repair. And while thus engaged, detached for the
moment from the sentiment of the scene, Nettie startled him with a sudden
cry and a clutch upon his arm. In an instant she was within the rampart
of that arm, as behind a padlocked door.

"Hullo!" he cried; "what's the matter?"

"Look!" she gasped. "Oh, look!"

He looked hurriedly hither and thither, not knowing what she meant.

"Hey? Where? I don't see anything."

"It's gone," she said, in the same dry-throated whisper. "But I saw it
quite plainly--in that great window--the one hanging out on the wall up

"Saw what, child? Oh, this is getting on your nerves!"

"Billy, you may disbelieve me if you like, but I did see it--a light like
a candle--in that window at the end of the wing. Watch; perhaps we shall
see it again."

They stared steadily for several minutes, and saw no light except the
moonlight, which was very clear and bright. In the silence they heard
rustlings in the bushes near them, and, above all other noises, the
thumping of their hearts.

"That," said Billy, in a low voice, "is the wing where Lexie lived. The
big window belongs to what used to be her bedroom--a great room, that was
three parts sitting-room, one of the finest in the house. If you really
saw a candle in it, of course some one must be there. But they certainly
told me it was all shut up."

As he spoke they simultaneously detected a figure gliding across a
moon-lighted corner of the terrace beneath the window. It was such a
shadow of a figure, and came and went so swiftly, that they barely
identified it as human, and were unable to distinguish sex. Nettie
smothered a shriek in her husband's breast.

"I say, this looks very suspicious," he exclaimed excitedly, while trying
to soothe her alarm. "There are some little games going on that the
authorities don't know anything about, evidently.
Poachers--burglars--somebody taking advantage of the empty house for
unlawful purposes."

"Oh, Billy, come away, come away! They might see us, and you are unarmed,
and we are so far from help!"

"Nonsense, pet! Don't be a little goose. Well, we'll go at once,
dear--only just let me run up and see where that fellow went to, first. It
would be cowardly to leave them to do no one knows what mischief, and not
lift a hand to prevent it. You stay here in shelter, and I'll be back in
two minutes."

But Nettie, mustering a fair stock of native courage, declared that if he
must go on such an errand, she would go too. Never would she be separated
from her husband, whatever happened. They would die together, if need

Wingate would have preferred to make a sortie by himself--it would have
been the sooner over, and he could have dealt summarily with any
difficulty encountered; the presence of his wife made an irksome caution
necessary. However, her wish was law; and he lifted her over the rusted
gate upon which they had been leaning, and set her little feet upon a
path that led, by two flights of massive steps, to the terrace under the
wing that had been Lexie's private dwelling, and the particular window in
which Nettie had seen the light. Here they proceeded softly, the man
holding his companion behind him with a firm grip, and keeping one eye on
the window and the other on the bushes to right and left, until they
reached the moonlit corner where the figure had been seen. Here Billy
stopped and pounced upon something--something that lay coiled on the weedy
pavement under the shadow of the balustrade like one of his native
snakes. He pulled it out into the light, and lo, a rope of many fathoms,
new and strong, with a long thin cord attached to it, weighted at the
end--similar to the tackle with which ships make fast to tug or wharf, but
of inferior weight and quality.

"Burglars, of course," he remarked, delighted with his find. "Some of
them must have got in, and others are outside; every window on the ground
floor is barred like a prison, so I suppose they are hauling themselves
into that upper one with the rope. But how the dickens did the first one
get through? It projects so far from the wall that the ivy wouldn't help.
They must have got the line over something, but I can't see what. And the
casements are shut. There are two, in the lower part, opening like doors.
Lexie loved to have them open; she was so fond of fresh air! By the way,
there's the door of the little staircase that they say she eloped by; is
that shut, I wonder?"

It was--hard and fast. And, when he ran half round the house, and ran
back, before Nettie had time to feel deserted, he found all doors and
windows wearing the same impenetrable look. And no sign of life was
visible, nor further trace of the supposed marauders. In spite of which,
common prudence dictated a retreat under the circumstances.

"If I were alone," said Billy, "I'd get to the bottom of this, but I
can't expose you to the tender mercies of a burglar at bay. The best
thing to be done is to get you safe to the inn, and then come back with
what men I can muster, and thoroughly search the place. We will take the
rascals' rope with us, at any rate, and trust they haven't got another."

He quickly made a coil of the rope and slung it over his shoulder. With
the other arm he embraced his wife and propelled her homeward. Along the
cracked and weedy flags, down the moss-grown steps, through the
wilderness of a garden they scurried, as if themselves detected
housebreakers; and neither of them enjoyed the romance of the situation
in the least. Bright as the moon was, their path to the rusty gate,
through the rank, dank shrubberies, was a more fearsome passage than
before; and when, at a spot where the branches closed above their heads,
they heard a rustle and a movement as of some creature tracking them,
Nettie's heart failed her, and she screamed aloud. Billy thereupon
dropped his load of rope, clasped his wife to his breast, planted his
feet firmly, and glared from side to side.

"Who's there?" he called sharply.

No answer. No sound.

"Who's that?" he repeated, in a still louder tone.

They listened with all their tingling ears, but heard nothing.

"A rabbit, or a bird, or perhaps one of the deer out of the woods," he
murmured soothingly. "Why, child, what's come to you?"

But his own voice was a trifle unsteady. Eager to stand and fight any
danger that he could see, this shadow business unnerved him.

A mile in twenty minutes was their rate of travel down the long chase to
the lodge, and the little star that was Abel Rowe's parlour lamp, on
which they kept their eyes fixed steadily all the way, was a great
comfort to them. The young keeper came out to meet them, and speaking
both at once and rather breathlessly, they poured the story of their
adventure into his ears. He received it without visible surprise or
concern, and did not agree with Mr. Wingate that a midnight expedition
was necessary.

"Oh, you saw that light in the window!" he exclaimed, with much gravity.
"I was wondering whether you would. I was out last night, looking at some
traps, and saw it myself; and several other people have seen it. The
conclusion they've come to is that the old house is haunted, sir. I don't
hold with ghosts myself, but that's the common view."

"Haunted be blowed!" was Wingate's rude rejoinder; and he showed the
rope, which was mysterious without being supernatural, and described how
they had seen a man "scoot" round a corner of the house. "Besides," said
he, "if ghosts were allowed to carry matches and candles, they'd burn the
places down."

"I suppose there are ghosts of lights as well as ghosts of people, if
there are ghosts at all," argued Abel Rowe. "Be that as it may, no mortal
hand lit that light you saw, sir, if it was in the big window of the west
wing you saw it. Because why? The day after it was first seen, Mr.
Blackett and a whole posse of people, thinking just as you do that
burglars were in the house, went in and all over it, and tried every lock
and bolt, and thoroughly ransacked the whole place; and they proved that
nobody could possibly have been there. Especially in that room where the
window is; that was locked up tighter than any. Sir Walter doesn't like
to have people prying there. It used to be his wife's room."

"There must be a hiding-place in it," said Wingate.

"There is not, sir, begging your pardon. Every bit of wall and floor was
tapped and tested; some of the boards were ripped up. Mr. Blackett
satisfied himself that there was no hiding-place."

Then they had got out of the window with the rope in the meantime."

"No, sir; for the casements were found fastened on the inside."

"Well, but here's the rope to speak for itself. It was lying close under
the window. It is quite new--just out of the shop--no doubt bought on
purpose. What do you suppose it was doing there? And the fellow we saw
running? Must he be a ghost too?"

"I can't account for him, nor for the rope," Mr. Rowe admitted, fingering
the latter in an abstracted way. "I thought nobody cared to go near the
place of a night, since there's been this talk of the ghost in the
window. I'll see Mr. Blackett about it in the morning--"

"I will see him also," broke in Wingate, with a significant glance at his
wife. "And I will keep the rope, if you please. It is my evidence, you
see. I intend to sift this thing to the bottom, ghost and all."

He was about to leave, when Mrs. Rowe, the keeper's mother, having risen
from bed and dressed in haste, in order to find out what was doing at
this hour of the night, entered the parlour, curtsied, looked from one to
another with an expectant smile, and then caught sight of the coil of
rope and pounced upon it.

"Why, if this ain't the clothes line that was stole last night!" she
ejaculated, with round eyes and uplifted hands. "Why, Abel, wherever did
you find it?"

"This gentleman found it, mother, in the garden at The Chase."

"Lor! Right away up there! Whatever--"

"Was it yours?" interposed Wingate eagerly.

"No, sir, the rector's. His housekeeper bought it new last week, and the
very first time she used it she had it stole. Strange to say, the linen
that was a-hanging on it--for myself, I don't believe in leaving your
clothes out all night--was left on the grass, and only the line took."

"Only the line was required," said Billy. "But how do you know it is the

"Because there wasn't another new clothes line in the place."

"I suppose rope is used for other purposes. Probably this was brought to
The Chase from quite another direction."

"And to The Chase, of all places!"

She desired ardently to enter upon a long discussion, covering the matter
of the ghost, but sudden reticence had fallen upon the visitor. He
affected surprise to find it near upon midnight, and concern that his
wife was so late up after a journey, and took a hasty leave, carrying his
rope with him. As soon as they were both upon the high-road, out of
ear-shot of the lodge, he said to his wife, solemnly,--

"Nettie, either that fellow is in league with the burglars, or Geraldine
Balcombe has some game on hand. One or the other."

"Then it must be Geraldine Balcombe," said Nettie, "for I am convinced
that Abel Rowe is as honest as the day."

"How are you convinced?" her husband asked.

"By the look of his face--the way he speaks--everything."

"Woman's instinct!" laughed Billy. "Now I think his manner most
suspicious: his disinclination to have the matter inquired into--his
preposterous suggestion that the candle-man is a ghost--everything, as you
would say. But things look black against the rector's house too. We will
interview Mrs. George Desailly to-morrow morning, and get particulars
concerning the larceny of the clothes line. I'm awfully curious to see
her, apart from that. I wonder how she'll receive me, and what she looks
like now? She was uncommonly pretty as a girl, in her white-cat style.
And I'll make her tell that story about Lexie before I've done--and watch
how she does it. I can't get it out of my mind somehow that it's all a
pack of lies."

"But what then, Billy?"

"Oh, God knows! I believe she was enticed away by that foreign fellow--on
some charitable errand perhaps--and murdered for the necklace. That, to
me, is far more likely than the other thing. And they never seem to have
thought of it! Fancy, never thinking of it, and never lifting a hand or
taking a step to find her!"

"I suppose they had more reason than you know of," suggested Nettie,
saying to herself, with an inward sigh, "How he harps upon that woman!
How impossible he thinks it for her to have done wrong!"

They found Mrs. Venn's door-key under the mat, and slipped through the
house to bed, and tried to sleep. Nettie succeeded, for she was only
twenty-two and her heart was at rest--she did not seriously concern
herself about her handsome husband's past; Billy declared in the morning
that the feather mattress had defeated him, and that if they stayed
another night in that place he should lie on the floor. He took a nip of
whisky before breakfast, to clear his brain of morbid thoughts that had
haunted him through the dark hours.

Their buggy having no seat for a servant, and the English-feeling
morning--a mixture of delicate mist and sunshine--being more inviting than
usual, they agreed to do their errands to the rectory and the agent's
house on foot. And they set forth early, without confiding their business
and late experiences to their garrulous landlady, Wingate being still
under the impression that a police case impended in which anybody might
be involved.

Their first call was upon the interesting Geraldine Balcombe that was,
and Wingate was almost certain that he saw her face at an upper window as
they passed through the well-remembered garden, where the beech tree
under which she used to make afternoon tea was beginning to turn yellow,
and the myriad chrysanthemum buds opening into bloom. Great, therefore,
was their disappointment when the genial rector, who received them in his
study, presently intimated that she was too unwell to come downstairs.
His mention of the fact that she had seen the linen taken from the lost
line, when gazing at the moon from her bedroom window--unfortunately
assuming that it was the housekeeper who, for fear of thieves, was
bringing it indoors--saved Wingate the awkwardness of introducing her
name, and gave him his opportunity to explain that she was an old friend.
His touching account of his intimacy with her and her family in past
years--of how he had been a guest in this very house, treated like a son,
and how interesting he found it to return to the old scenes and revive
the happy memories connected therewith--caused Mr. Martin to send a
message to Mrs. Desailly, with the expectation that she would make a
special effort in response; but her answer, long delayed, was that she
begged Mr. Wingate would excuse her, and the report of the servant to the
effect that the lady had had a kind of fainting fit at the moment of
hearing his name.

Wingate expressed his sorrow for this state of things, looking becomingly
grave, but revealing a certain elation at the back of his gravity to
Nettie's watchful eye. His air of sympathy and his claim to old
friendship had the anticipated result of drawing confidences from Mr.
Martin which he would not have reposed in a stranger.

"I daresay," said he, "you are aware of the sad dissensions in the
Desailly family?"

Wingate said he was, implying a complete knowledge of all their affairs.

"She suffers terribly," the rector continued, shaking his head; "more
than Sir Walter can have any idea of, or he would never treat her so
cruelly as he does."

"I cannot realize his character, as you and others paint it," said
Wingate. "I was his chosen comrade for years when we were both young men,
and never knew a kinder-hearted fellow. He must have greatly changed."

"He has, evidently. To hound a poor, weak woman into her grave or the
mad-house--no man worthy of the name of man, let alone a gentleman, and
one with a kind heart, could stoop to such cowardly, such infamous

The warmth with which this speech was delivered suggested to Wingate that
the fascinating Geraldine had not yet outgrown her fascinations.

"I am quite sure," he said, "that my old friend could not stoop to that,
however changed. There must be a misunderstanding somewhere. Possibly you
are not acquainted with all the circumstances."

"Pardon me. Mrs. Desailly has herself done me the honour to confide the
whole matter to me, without reserve."

"I see," murmured Billy, with another look at his wife, who sat out of
the discussion as far as her host's politeness allowed.

"And I have the evidence of my own eyes, Mr. Wingate--of her terrible
state of health, the result of these constant trials. They have so preyed
upon a highly nervous constitution that the brain seems to have become
incapable of rest. She is a martyr to insomnia in its most acute form."

"I am really awfully sorry to hear it," remarked Wingate, in a
commiserating tone, and with all his wits on the alert.

"Yes. She has taken to walking in her sleep--when she does sleep--which
greatly alarms me. And one doesn't know what to do in such a case,
especially in my situation. I am afraid to lock her in, lest she should
fall out of the window or have an accident with the candle. She
naturally, objects to have a servant with her at night, and opiates she
has a horror of--so have I. I have known the habit of taking morphia to
entirely destroy all moral principle and self-restraint. I would rather
any one belonging to me poisoned himself outright than take a single dose
of it."

"You have really proved the somnambulism?" Wingate queried gently.

"Beyond a doubt. I met her on the road a few nights ago, hours after she
had retired to bed--I was called from mine to attend a dying
parishioner--and she told me she had no idea how she had got there. It is
a most serious symptom in her case. I have tried to impress this upon
her, and to persuade her to seek medical advice."

"And won't she?"

"She wishes to give herself a fair trial of the country first. She thinks
her native air and the peace and quiet of her present life are doing her
good, and will soon restore her altogether. I am bound to say I don't. I
think the disorganization of the nervous system increases daily. Indeed,
if her husband does not come very soon, I must send for him, or else for
a good doctor, for my own satisfaction."

"Does she expect her husband soon?"

"Any day. But he is rather an erratic person, as perhaps you know. I
proposed to fetch her daughter to keep her company, but she won't hear of
it. She thinks it bad for the child to be shut up with a nervous invalid.
Perhaps it is. But I am sure it is advisable to have some one to stay
with her. It would relieve me of much responsibility, and keep her from
brooding and fretting so much."

"I should insist upon it," said Wingate, "if I were you. By the way, you
don't think she may have taken the clothes line herself, when walking in
her sleep?"

"Oh, no; certainly not. She was awake and looking from the window when
she saw the thief, and that was one of her better nights. But last night
she must have been out again. We did not hear her moving, but my
housekeeper says there is no doubt about it. She judges by the state of
her clothes and shoes. And she seems this morning to be prostrate with
exhaustion, though she stayed in the house all yesterday."

"I should certainly get a doctor at once," said Wingate, rising, "and
make him insist on her being watched at night. Your housekeeper looks a
lady-like person; Mrs. Desailly could not object to her having a bed in
her room, under the circumstances. But the best thing, of course, would
be to send for her husband to come and take her home."

"I cannot be inhospitable," the poor rector faltered, "if the change of
air is really doing her any good. But--well, I must talk matters over with
her when she gets up."

"And pray command me, if I can be of any use," said Wingate. "As an old
friend, you know--"

"Oh, thank you, thank you! Where are you staying? Won't you take lunch
with me? Pray do--you and Mrs. Wingate--and perhaps Mrs. Desailly might
then be well enough to come down. She will be deeply disappointed, I am
sure, to miss seeing you. Everything connected with her happy girlhood is
so intensely interesting to her. And I should like to show you the church
and the improvements I have made. You will find things looking very
different from what they were in poor old Balcombe's time."

The visitors pleaded the pressing nature of their business with the
squire's agent, which turned the conversation upon the burglars, the
ghost, and contingent matters, delaying their departure for another
half-hour. But engagements were entered into for an exchange of
hospitalities when convenient, while the rector walked with them to his
garden gate, gathering flowers for Nettie by the way; and before
separating cordial offers of assistance in their respective difficulties
were provisionally accepted on both sides. As Wingate shook hands with
his new friend, promising to call again later to report progress in the
affair of the rope, he saw a face in an upper window, peeping from behind
a blind. While he tried to draw Nettie's attention to it, it disappeared.

"But I know that profile," he said, when they were again upon the road,
"and I see the whole thing as clear as day. It isn't burglars--it's some
fight going on between Walter and her--I should imagine for the possession
of something he's got locked up at The Chase. Compromising documents,
perhaps. Well, though it doesn't seem exactly chivalrous, and though I
don't owe him any service, but quite the contrary, I am going to be on
Walter's side. And we'll stop here, Nettie, if you have no objection,
till we get through with the affair."

"Oh!, I have no objection," Nettie cried heartily; "far from it! I
wouldn't go away now for fifty pounds. I never was so interested in
anything in all my life."


The Honest Truth

Mr. Blackett was stout and elderly and a good deal crippled by
rheumatism, but he had young, keen eyes, deep set under intellectual
brows, and with those eyes received Wingate as at the muzzle of a
double-barrelled gun. The boyish face of twenty years ago was now lean
and tanned, maturely dignified, wearing a slightly grizzled moustache and
beard that had formerly been absent from it; but the agent--who had been
the agent for more than twenty years, and deserved his reputation for an
almost miraculous sharp-sightedness--instantly knew it for the same,
though he had only seen it once. When the name belonging to it was
announced to him, he concentrated upon the visitor a steely gaze that was
unpleasant and disconcerting. Though Wingate gave himself no airs, it
nettled him to be looked at in this way; he consequently remained
standing, and stated his errand in the briefest terms, Nettie meanwhile
lingering near the door, glancing at bookshelves and affecting not to
listen. The rude master of the house did not rise from his arm-chair, but
it presently appeared that he could only do so with difficulty, owing to
physical ailments.
The story of the rope, the candle in the window, and the visible figure
of the supposed burglar was told again, but the information gathered at
the rectory was withheld. Wingate said he thought it his duty to report
what he had seen; he also desired to assist in the search which he
presumed would immediately be set on foot to discover what was wrong.

"You may not be aware," he said stiffly, "that I am an old friend of Sir
Walter Desailly's."

Mr. Blackett replied that he was quite aware of it, still transfixing the
visitor with steadfast, steely eyes.

"I remember your coming here, Mr. Wingate, rather more than twenty years
ago--it was your last visit, was it not?--and also your departure. Also
your departure, Mr. Wingate."

"You have the advantage of me," Wingate returned, with his easy courtesy;
"I have no recollection of having seen you before."

"I was Sir Thomas's agent, in succession to my father," said the old man.
"I was cognisant, sir, of all the family affairs."

"The family affairs, I hear, took a sad turn after I left," remarked

Mr. Blackett did not answer, but stared more strangely than before.
Wingate thought the look referred to the elopement, and added, with
warmth: "But I, for one, refuse to believe that Mrs. Walter Desailly was
to blame. I knew her well, and never knew a better woman--a perfect
English lady, if ever there was one, in spite of her people being
shop-keepers. The circumstances may be as they have been described to me,
but I am convinced that the popular theory is a wrong one."

The agent seemed much agitated by this reference to the great scandal.
Twice he opened his mouth to speak, and shut it without doing so; the
gnarled hand on his writing table closed and unclosed sharply; he drew
his brows together; his eyes flashed upon Nettie's pretty figure, which
had not yet been invited to rest itself.

"You are married to this lady?" he jerked out.

Wingate bowed, while he wondered if it were not his duty to feel insulted
by the question on her behalf.

"I must apologise for asking it," the old man continued, with a tremble
in his voice, "but will she mind leaving us for a short time? There are
some important matters--the drawing-room is just across the hall--I think
my wife is at home--"

He hoisted himself with difficulty out of his chair to reach a bell
button, but before he could get at it, and before Wingate could explain
that Mrs. Wingate had an equal interest with him in the proceedings, the
lady had disappeared.

"I will wait for you on the road, Billy," said she, with fiery cheeks and
an icy smile, and next minute was out of the house and marching along the
highway in wrath. "If these are your English manners," she intended to
say to Billy when she saw him again, "give me Australia." For it seemed
to her that he was too much in the habit of glorifying England and its
institutions (including its women) at the expense of his own country.

She had promised to wait for him on the road, and did so for nearly
three-quarters of an hour, learning every hedgerow leaf and every blade
of wayside grass by heart, exhausting all the charms of the harvest
landscape. But when the little watch pinned to the breast of her neat
tweed coat, as also an inward monitor of equal infallibility, informed
her that it was one o'clock and lunch time, she decided to leave him to
his devices. Doubtless he and that rude old man were so absorbed in their
reminiscences of the incomparable Mrs. Walter as to forget that a mere
every-day young woman with an appetite existed. She returned to the inn,
ordered the cutlets to be served and the bottle of Bass opened, and sat
down to begin her meal alone--for the first time since she had been
Billy's wife.

"I really could not wait any longer," she called out, when the
sitting-room door opened to admit the laggard. But a glance at her
husband's face caused her voice to change its note. "Oh, my dear boy!
what is the matter with you?"

Instead of falling upon the beer and cutlets, Billy fell in a headlong
fashion upon the horsehair sofa, planted his elbows on his knees, dropped
his face in his hands, and sobbed audibly--one sob only, no more, but
enough to pierce her heart. She was instantly beside him, trying to span
his huge back with her little arm, to pull his strong fingers from their
tight clasp upon his brow.

"Darling! darling! Tell me! Tell your Nettie! What is it, precious one?"
She cooed like a courting turtle-dove, pressing her cheek to his shoulder
and his ear.

"Oh, Nettie, I have had a blow! I have had an awful shock!" he groaned,
with a long up-drawing of the breath. "A bolt from the blue, and no
mistake!" He raised himself and looked at her, with something wild in his
eyes. "Who do you think the foreigner was, Nettie?"

"The--the man she el--"

"Me--me!" he burst out, in the grammar of strong emotion. "They actually
believed that she ran away with ME!"

"And called you a foreigner?" cried Nettie. "What cheek! Just like these
ignorant English people! As if we were not just as much English as they

"But don't you see, child? They have been supposing we went away
together, because it seems we were missed at the same time. That cursed
talk about foreigners has been putting me off the scent; but I might have
known--I did know--that Geraldine's tale was a pack of lies--of a piece
with her tale of how she saw the linen taken off the clothes line. It was
she who swore she had seen us sneaking away together, and made Walter
believe it--when no one knows better how I went than she does, for she
accompanied me part of the way. Oh, that little devil is at the bottom of
it all!"

"But where, then--"

"Ah, that's the point! that's the point! That's the awful part of it! If
Lexie didn't elope with me--as certainly she didn't, and no other man has
been mentioned in the case--what, in the name of God, did become of her?"
He struck his knee with a clenched fist. "But I'll find out, Nettie; I'll
find out, if I take years to do it, and it costs me my last penny."

"Sir Walter will surely see to that," said Nettie softly. "She was his

"We have telegraphed for Walter," said Wingate, for the first time
turning an eye upon the luncheon table. "Yes, of course he will see to
it; for I find he really did appreciate her, appearances notwithstanding,
and from the moment he lost her turned against Geraldine as if he
suspected something, and has shunned and hated her ever since. But we can
help him. There is plenty to do before he comes. That woman is up to
mischief at this moment, though we don't know what. It can't be anything
that concerns poor Lexie now, but it may lead us to a clue. We've got to
hunt for all fresh clues now. And Blackett is as convinced as I am that
our best course is to stick like wax to her. Her story, you see, being
proved untrue, is damning evidence against herself--looks as if she either
put poor Lexie out of the way, or knows who did. I am going to have a
policeman this afternoon to go over the house with me, and I am going to
sleep in that room where we saw the candle--Lexie's room--to-night."

"I with you," said Mrs. Wingate, putting a tumbler of fresh beer into his
unsteady hand.

"My pet, I can't expose you--"

"Now, Billy, let us understand one another," she broke in, with an
inflexible air to which he was unaccustomed; and forthwith she stated a
case in words that made an impression upon him. The result was what
Rudyard Kipling would call an "interlude" of unwonted duration and
intensity--a general concession of her right, as a bride on her honeymoon,
to anything she liked to ask for, on the part of the husband; and on the
part of the wife, a renewed conviction that he was the best and dearest
of living men, despite his little weaknesses. She sat on his knee while
he ate his lunch as best he could with one hand; then she filled his
pipe, and put a cushion under his head.

"Now," said she, "try if you can remember all that happened that night at
The Chase. It may help us to an idea. You never told me before, by the
way, that Miss Balcombe was with you when you left, and that is a most
important detail."

"Well, it was this way, Nettie. You know I had a scrimmage with Walter. I
wanted to explain about the Cambridge journey, and to stand up for Lexie,
and it's always a mistake to begin putting things of that sort into
words, especially as we were situated. I stood up for her too
much--because I saw he was taking it all wrong--and I lost my temper, and
said things I wouldn't forgive myself, if any man said them to me. As for
him, he couldn't have insulted me more than he did. So, of course, there
it stood. That was in the morning. There was nothing for me but to clear
out as soon as possible, and I went back to the inn--this inn, and this
room too, only different people. I packed up for London, had some bread
and cheese, and started to go by the next train. But just as I'd settled
in my corner, I saw Walter's dog-cart tearing along the road, and I knew
he was trying to catch the train too; and I hated the thought of
travelling with him, or near him, after the row we'd had; besides--well,
I'll tell you the honest truth, Nettie--it was a chance to have a word
with Lexie that I could not resist. I didn't do anything behind Walter's
back that I wouldn't have done before his face, but for her sake I
couldn't go near her while he was there misjudging us, and it was a
cowardly thing to make off without even bidding her good-bye--looked like
deserting her in her trouble, and owning to wrong things. At any rate, I
jumped out of the carriage, and kept out of sight until Walter got in.
Then, when the train was gone, I went outside, and spoke to the groom. He
said his master had been called to town on business, but was expected
back next morning. My luggage had gone on in the van, so I telegraphed to
London to have it looked after on arrival, and walked across the fields
to The Chase. I daresay they made capital out of all that afterwards."

"You may be certain that they did," said Nettie, "and you can't blame
them either."

"No, of course. Still, you mustn't forget that The Chase was Sir Thomas's
house then, and not Walter's, and that the old gentleman and I were the
best of friends. He was out when I arrived, and I just asked straight for
Lexie, so as not to waste time. The man took me to her boudoir--she didn't
use it much, because she liked her big bedroom to sit in--and no one came
to disturb us. We had a--a talk--"

He paused absent-mindedly. The silence was broken by a plaintive little

"Ah, Billy! Billy!"

"Yes, pet, I know. But it was twenty years ago, and I've got over it this
many a day."

"I don't believe you have got over it yet, Billy."

"You are the last person who should say that, or think it," he
remonstrated, drawing her to his knee again, and settling her comfortably
in a favourite place and pose. "And, besides, she's dead--I know she is
dead. Nothing but death would have taken her from the child. You can't be
jealous of a dead woman."

"Oh, can't I? But I won't, Billy--indeed, I won't! It was only my
nonsense. You are mine now, and that's all I care about. Listen, dear,
I've thought of something. There is that lake where you caught the big
pike--I expect that, being so unhappy, she committed suicide by drowning
herself in it. That would account for her sudden disappearance, and her
never being seen or traced. Billy, I have thought of another thing.
Perhaps it was because--but, no, I won't say it!"

"Say it, Nettie."

"She might have been broken-hearted at losing you."

Wingate drew in his breath, and went red and pale, but controlled himself

"No," he said, reluctantly impartial, "there was no motive of that sort.
I'll tell the honest truth, Nettie--I did let myself go that last time
that we were together, though I tried my utmost not to. But she never
did; on the contrary, she pulled me up in her firm, kind way, lectured me
like a mother she did--tried to make me see there were good things still
to live for, and that she trusted me for a gentleman, and--and so on. Oh,
she was not the sort of person to play fast and loose with matrimony and
motherhood--not she; nor yet of the flimsy stuff that suicides are made
of. Still, it's an idea. When Walter comes, of course he'll leave no
stone unturned, and the lake must be emptied if necessary. But then why
did Geraldine concoct that elaborate story? She must have had some

"She was staying in the house, you say?"

"Yes; and, unfortunately, knew about my having gone away before lunch,
and come back after Walter had left the house, and being shown up to
Lexie's private sitting-room, and staying such a long time with
her--things she could twist and turn to suit her tale. I did not know how
late it was till I heard the dressing-bell ring, and then, when I tried
to get away quietly, I ran up against the old lady and Geraldine, who
were pacing up and down the terrace in the evening sun. They were both
ready for dinner, and the girl had got that lace on which I afterwards
found her stuffing into the fire--"

"Ah! I want to hear more about that lace," Nettie interposed, with the
air of a detective on a strong scent.

"Oh, that was nothing; I must have offended her in the course of the
evening," said Wingate absently. "I know I was a surly boor, not fit for
ladies' company; but they made me stay. The old people knew nothing of
any quarrel, and couldn't understand why I should make off just before
dinner, and pooh-poohed my excuse that I wasn't dressed. It was weak of
me, I know, but I let myself be tempted; and after all Lexie went
upstairs while the squire and I were talking over our wine, and never
showed again. I particularly wanted to say something to her that I had
forgotten, so I stayed late. I went to the smoking-room with the old man.
At last he proposed that I should remain for the night, and some things
of Walter's were put out for me, and we went to our rooms, and the house
was closed. Oh, yes; I know how contemptible it was! But at the time
every other feeling was swallowed up in my longing to put right a
misunderstanding that I thought Lexie was labouring under--to have all
straight between us before I went away for good; in fact, I wanted to
tell her I meant to try and do, and be, all she wished. I thought, as it
was the last time--but I was an ass and a fool, and very nearly a villain,
too. I might have compromised her worse; perhaps I did. Somebody else
besides Geraldine Balcombe--somebody who wasn't a liar--may have seen me
messing about the west wing at three in the morning--"

"What? You don't surely mean to say--"

"No, of course I don't. All I did was to write a letter to her, and take
it to her boudoir and slip it into a blotting case on her writing table,
walking softly in my socks, so as not to wake anybody. I made sure that
the whole place was dead asleep, for I hadn't heard a sound for hours.
But as I was getting back to my room, I saw a glimmer of light through
the crack of a door--a curtain rather. There's a queer little circular
room at an angle of the stairs where they run into the gallery that goes
round the great hall; it's like one huge bay window with the bay
enclosed; a big portière hangs across the entrance, which you can loop
back or not, as you like; just the little nook for sitting out dances in,
if there were balls in the hall, which would be a magnificent place for
them, with a wooden floor. It isn't a private room, and yet it is; and
they always had a fire there in fire weather. Having windows all
round--the room seemed to be built of the stone mullions, with a little
churchy ceiling--it was beautifully light and cheerful, and it had a
lovely view. We were always meeting there on our way to other rooms, and
going downstairs to dinner, and so on. There were two or three lounge
chairs in it, and a small table--no room for other furniture. Lady
Desailly used to read the Times there of a morning, and sometimes have
afternoon tea there, when there was no company, instead of in the hall.
Well, though it wasn't cold yet, the fires were all going, and there had
been one in this little room that evening. I had been there to look for
Lexie after dinner, and saw it burning. And it was here where I saw the
light at three in the morning. The curtain was down, but just one ray
came through, like a finger. It seemed to me like a finger beckoning me
to her. I made sure that she was there, and I stole up without a sound
and put the curtain back a little. I had not undressed, of course."

"And saw Miss Balcombe burning the Venetian lace?"

"Yes. She was standing over the fireplace, with a candle in one hand and
the lace in the other. She was holding it over the flame, and it was
flaring and frizzling up, very nearly all burnt. I could see she had just
taken it off, because otherwise she was fully dressed as when she left
the drawing-room; the blue bodice was plain and bare, and the silk was
torn where the lace had been stitched on, and wrenched off anyhow--"

"Billy dear, you think nothing of this lace business, but I think it is
the most suspicious of all the features of the case. Why should she have
burnt her own lace that she was so eager to get, and so proud of when she
did get it? And why secretly at three o'clock in the morning? You said
she did it in a fit of rage with you, but she would not have been in a
fit of rage--that sort of rage--for hours and hours all by herself, with
you or anybody. What had she been doing in the meantime, do you suppose?
Billy, do you know how I read the riddle? There was blood on that lace."

Wingate shuddered. "Oh, don't talk of blood!" he implored. "Besides, in
that case, there would have been blood elsewhere. There was none on her
dress, I know, and evidently none was found. Blood is a thing that cries
out anywhere. The least trace would have altered everything and set them

"Did she have a guilty look when you surprised her?"

"I don't know what you call a guilty look. Of course it gave her an awful
start when she heard the curtain move and saw me watching her. Anybody
would have looked scared under the circumstances at that unearthly time
o' night. She gave a loud catch of the breath, and then dashed the lace
into the coals and rammed it in with the poker. There was still a little
red fire left, and it caught, and was consumed directly. I think she was
anxious that I shouldn't see it was my present to her, but I came a
little too soon."

"And how did she explain herself?"

"At first she kept her back to me and said nothing. I was embarrassed
too. I would have crept away when I found it was she and not Lexie; but
when I saw she had seen me, and saw what she was doing, I went in. I made
believe that I was glad of the opportunity to say good-bye to her before
leaving in the morning, as I should probably never come back again. The
fact was, I guessed she knew pretty well about me and Lexie, and I knew
she was furiously jealous at having to play second fiddle, and I wanted,
for Lexie's sake, to square her if I could. So I tried to be friendly,
although I was so sick at heart, and I asked why she was treating my gift
to her in that way. She said--but I told you what she said. If you want
the honest truth, Nettie--it's the first time I ever let on about a woman
in a matter of this kind--she did all she knew to make me believe that it
wasn't Walter after all."

"Made love to you, do you mean?"

"Like the very deuce. Said she was burning the fichu because the sight of
it in the glass over the mantel-piece made her desperate at my treatment
of her, and--and so on. I've known women throw themselves at a fellow's
head, but--by George! And I might have been fool enough, Lord knows! if it
hadn't been for feeling the way I did."

"If I recollect aright, you said she did go with you?"

"But not that way, of course not. Sit still, Nettie, until I've finished.
Oh, I give you leave to be jealous of Geraldine Balcombe all you like.
That won't hurt."

"Billy, you say she asked you to run away with her, and you said--you
distinctly said--you did."

"Madam, I said nothing of the kind. Stay here and be nice to me, and I'll
tell you exactly what occurred. After we had been talking in the little
room for a bit--"

"How much of a bit?"

"I don't know. But the mornings were still early, and all those windows
showed us the dawn coming. There had been a moon, as she says in that
precious tale of hers, but it had set long ago. She was frightened lest
we should be found up, and you may be sure I didn't care about it either.
Indeed, I was raging to get clear of the house and her, and the whole
blessed business, especially when I thought of Walter coming home in a
few hours. As you know, I had no luggage with me. I was free to go
directly I got an opportunity, and I made up my mind to slip off somehow
so as to catch an early train across the fields. She seemed to know that
I was trying to get away from her, for she said if I wanted to go she
could show me how to do so without disturbing the house. I was so glad of
any chance that I accepted the offer, and when I had fetched my boots and
things, she took me down that very staircase and through the door which
she says she saw me and Lexie elope by. She knew that door well,
evidently, for she had the key with her, and locked and unlocked it as
easily as if she did it every day. The nurse may say she heard it bang,
but it didn't bang that time."

"And she locked herself outside as well as you?"

"I thought she would say good-bye there, but she took a hat and cloak
from a peg and threw them on, and said she'd show me how to get out of
the park without passing the lodges. That's the way she's getting in now,
I expect, when Walter fancies he has guarded every point. There's a door
in the park wall where it joins the rectory grounds; it's for the use of
the rector when he likes, and she had the key. That's where she let me
out, and that's where she made her last try; but I mustn't say any more
about that. It still wanted nearly two hours to the train. She said she
could slip into the rectory and up to her room--by another secret way, I
suppose--and get some clothes. She offered to be my servant--my
anything--if I would take her with me. Oh, but I am a cad to tell on her,
though she is what she is! I got away somehow, and struck across country,
and walked I don't know where, picked up the railway a dozen miles off,
and took the train at a little station I'd never been to before. And as
soon as I got to London I fell in with a friend just off to shoot wild
sheep and goats in the Himalayas, and I got my rifles and things ready in
a day and went with him--the beginning of long wanderings. And I hardly
saw an English paper, and never heard any news, and never wanted to.
And--and I think that's all, Nettie."

She put her arms round his neck, and kissed him, and thanked him. She
said she didn't think any husband could have told the honest truth more


The Spirit Of Murder

The Wingates drove in their own buggy to The Chase, where they were met
by Mr. Blackett's policeman, by whom they were escorted over the great
It was a great house, in more ways than one; and Nettie, whose passion
for things English was far greater than that of which she had accused her
husband, walked about with clasped hands and head thrown back, uttering
sighs and "ohs" and other senseless ejaculations, in a state of rapture
too profound for words.

The hall--the great hall, as it was properly termed--had been left almost
exactly as it was in what Billy called his time, and was impressive
enough for anything--especially in the dull light of a threatening storm
which had unexpectedly followed upon the bright morning. It was not much
unlike a church,--with a fireplace in it and all the pews turned out.
There was a screen like a rood-screen at the lower end, dividing it from
an outer vestibule; at the upper end the massive staircase, down which
Lexie had walked like a princess at her husband's side, branched into
galleries running down the sides. The windows were mullioned and filled
with old glass, partly stained; the floor was of chequered stone; the
roof a mass of oak beams, spreading fan-wise in all directions. From the
latter--very high up and shadowed--hung banners, beautifully dilapidated.
There were trophies of arms on the walls, genuinely mediaeval; rows upon
rows of family portraits, with authentic dates to them, historic and
notorious; heraldic insignia on every hand, indisputably testifying that
the Desaillys were an ancient and a noble family. Altogether, there was a
fine, solemn, feudal air about the place, calculated to awe a colonial
person seeing it for the first time.

Having been so lately used for the coming-of-age festivities, dust and
cobwebs were not conspicuous; but the air struck cold and had a musty,
mouldy taint, causing Nettie to cry "Pah!" and put a perfumed
handkerchief to her nose.

"It is the very smell of murdered bodies," she declared, shivering.

"How do you know what the smell of murdered bodies is like?" her husband
asked her.

"Oh, by instinct," she replied.

"It's the smell of old age," he said, sniffing and peering about him.
"Powers above! It looks as if it might have been like this for a thousand

They opened the shutters of the state drawing-room which had been used in
Lexie's honour on the night Wingate so well remembered--a place of com-
fortless splendour such as may still be found in certain royal palaces
which the changes of fifty years or so have respectfully passed by. Here
was desolation again. The floral carpet and much of the satiny furniture
had been removed, and most of the precious ornaments; what were left
stood shrouded in bags of calico, bulging and shapeless. But the
chandeliers, that weighed tons, and the cunning carved work of the
sumptuous ceiling and doorways, were exposed so were the panels of
tapestry said to be three hundred years old, and the famous pictures that
carried history on their faces--faces of Vandyke ladies in their stately
and beautiful Henrietta-Maria costumes; Lely ladies in flowing and
formless draperies, kept from flowing away altogether by a mere
taper-fingered hand; Gainsboroughs, Sir Joshuas, Romneys, with huge heads
and little scarves and fichus--Lexie's noble predecessors in that most
select of county families.

"Oh!" sighed Nettie Wingate, to all this forsaken beauty, "what a
drawing-room I could make of this! Billy, what do you say--?"

But when they went upstairs she was afraid to repeat the suggestion.
Here, where the rooms had not been opened for the coming-of-age guests,
the utterly undomestic, deserted, haunted-house look of everything made
the thought of the vulgarest Melbourne villa grateful. Anything like a
home seemed inconceivable in that forlorn and fusty wilderness where rats
squeaked in daytime, and spiders' webs, drawn over the heavily leaded
windows, shut wholesome sunshine out. In every room carpets were rolled
up, and only the heavy furniture left in place--except in that most
interesting room of all at the end of the west wing, identified with
Lexie in the past, and with the rope and candle in the present, the place
of the mystery which it was the object of their expedition to solve. Here
what carpet the moth had left still clung to the floor, and curtains of
flowered silk damask, that had been old and faded in her time, still
depended from the canopy of Lexie's bed--a monumental structure of
mahogany that must have been built where it stood--and from the cornice
spanning the bay of the big window, which almost filled one end of the
room and was the only light in it. The great wardrobes and presses, the
bow-legged toilet table, with its oval mirror swinging between tall
shafts, the sofa and the escritoire, the very mattress and pillows of the
vast bed, with the satin quilt drawn over them--everything that she had
used during her brief occupancy of the apartment--seemed to have been left
unaltered; and Billy looked at all with a full heart and eyes that his
wife did not care to meet for a few minutes. The rooms that had been
Walter's dressing-room and the nurseries, adjoining each other in the
passage outside, communicated with hers by one door only, the only one in
the great room, corresponding at the one end to the only window at the
other. The long side walls were unbroken save by the chimney-piece, which
was the usual massive structure, sixteenth-century woodwork, with
ornamentation reaching to the ceiling, the hearth wide and the shaft
spacious, giving a far-off view of a disc of sky. The most casual
inspection showed the impossibility of any living thing, save birds,
being harboured there. The floor, as Wingate had been informed, had been
taken up in various places and put down again, the old carpet now hiding
the scars the window casements were fastened; and when he went along the
wainscot, rapping sharply on every panel, and standing still to listen
for the effect, the sound died immediately, with no hint of inward echo.

"We've done that," the constable observed with a smile. "There's nothing
there, sir. Solid as a rock."

"What!" cried Wingate, "do you believe in ghosts, too?"

"No, sir; but I believe in the evidence of my senses. Those walls don't
hide anything. I've proved it."

They were lined from top to bottom with wood panelling, that had been
painted white and gilded in places, and was now soiled and tarnished. In
five of the panels, three on one side and two on the other, the latter
flanking the central chimney-piece, pictures were embedded as in fixed
frames. They were so old that it was impossible to tell whether, as works
of art, they were good or bad, for hardly an outline was visible under
the varnish, which seemed to be many coats thick. Their blackened hues
contrasted oddly with the white paint, suggesting that the latter was a
recent innovation in the chronology of the house, and probably hid the
beautiful texture and colour of old oak or other valuable wood. The
visitors passed them over with a glance.

"Well," said Wingate to the constable, "I think that's all for the
present. The place is empty now, whatever it may have been last night;
the windows are secure, and we will lock the door behind us safely. When
we have had something to eat, and gathered together a few things that we
may want, we will return here, and stay in this room till morning. And if
you will meet us with the keys, and share our watch, I shall be
infinitely obliged to you. Of course I'll make it well worth your while."

"Don't you think, sir," suggested the constable, "that it'd be as well
for somebody to watch outside as well as in? That fellow with the rope,
that you saw in the garden, wants attending to."

"Certainly. I mean to keep a good look-out from the window. There will be
a splendid moon if these clouds clear off. The fewer we are the better in
a case of this sort. You don't catch fish if you make a splash in the

"No, sir. But I think it's my business to look after the man rather than
the ghost, if it's all the same to you."

Wingate agreed that a policeman must be allowed to know his own business
best, and had a shrewd suspicion that this particular policeman would
rather deal single-handed with fifty corporeal thieves of the most
desperate character than with one indeterminate spectre lighting its way
about the deserted house with a harmless spectral candle. So it was
arranged that he should patrol the garden, with a trusty friend for
company, while husband and wife held the fort within. At six o'clock of a
summer evening the prospect had no terrors for the latter. She was
delighted to have gained permission to share such a brave adventure.

It was slightly otherwise at nine o'clock, however. Night was closing in
then, and with the night came the heavy storm that had been slowly
gathering during the afternoon. Sombre thunder clouds, riven with red
lightning, and a deep and swelling murmur in the air, were the conditions
attendant upon an uncomfortable start from the abode of Mrs. Venn, who,
having supplied certain demands, was wild with curiosity to know what
for--the only fact confided to her being the intention of her guests to
"camp out," which seemed about the last thing likely in the state of the
weather. Half-way up the green chase, the horses, already at their
fastest trot, delighting in the longest stretch of sward they had ever
felt under their feet, were encouraged to break into a gallop; and the
deserted stables were reached just as the furious rain began to fall.
Here they found the constable and Abel Rowe, his chosen mate--declared to
be the best available--looking far from happy. They helped Wingate to
shelter his buggy, and make the horses comfortable, and then to carry the
contents of the vehicle into the house.

How the great hall clanged to the tread of their hob-nailed boots! And
the aspect of the place, in the light of one candle and a bull's-eye
lantern--the hollow silence and darkness filled with the sound of rushing
rain--how eerie it was! When such rain falls on your roof at night,
particularly with trees about, you can always hear voices in it, gabbling
to each other, if you like to listen for them; here they seemed to shout
overhead, like wild birds passing over--a ride of vallkyries above the
storm; and the empty house reverberated till one could well fancy that
kindred spirits within it were answering to the call. Nevertheless, Billy
enticed his evidently uneasy comrades to remain while the downpour
lasted, keeping them in heart with the whisky flask. He earnestly advised
them to remain inside for the night, and watch the terrace from a
ground-floor window; but they preferred the risk of rheumatism and
pneumonia in a damp summer-house outside.

It wouldn't do, they said, with sheepish smiles, to make themselves too
comfortable, since they had to keep awake all night.

"Very well; only if you catch your deaths don't blame me," said Billy
testily. He had scorned to plead nervousness on his own account, but was
more and more conscious that it would have been a satisfaction to have
his guards on the inner side of the locked doors during the witching

"Look sharp that you do keep awake," he besought them, as they turned to
go. "Don't take your eye off that terrace and the window for a moment.
And cooee--that is, call out to me, if you see anything suspicious. I will
do the same. Good-night! Take the mackintosh rug with you."

He let them out into the sweet-smelling, rain-washed night, closed the
heavy door upon them and turned the key with a vindictive wrench,
reflecting with pleasure that their cowardice, as he supposed it, had cut
them off from the support of his courage, companionship and revolver;
then he and Nettie, crowding into each other's pockets, sat down to
hearten themselves with a little supper.

"I've got some more whisky here," he said, rummaging, "and I'm going to
give you some, old girl. I am wishing, do you know, that I'd left you
with Mrs. Venn after all."

"Why, Billy? I am not frightened. I wouldn't have stayed at home, away
from you, for anything; nothing should have induced me. But I do think,"
speaking rather tremulously, "that those men might have kept us company
the first night!"

"I can easily make them, if you wish. I can drive them in by threatening
to shoot them if they won't come. But that wouldn't help much, and I
suppose it really is an advantage to have the house watched outside.
Don't you feel safe with only me, sweetheart?"

He put his arm around her as she sat upon his knee, and she dropped a
package of sandwiches to the floor in order to kiss him adequately.

"Oh, I do, I do!" she cried, and honestly meant it, for never had her
bridegroom shown himself so much of a man and a husband as he was doing
now. "But this place"--they were in the great hall, for the security of a
wide outlook all round them--"oh, Billy dear, this place is so, so

It certainly was--even Billy confessed it; far more so in the moonlight
than in the rain. No ordinary imagination could withstand the effect--the
conjunction of effects--presented.

"We won't stay here any longer," he murmured soothingly. "We'll go to
bed. Here, drink,"--holding a potent tumbler to her lips. "I know it is
nasty, but it will do you good. Now just one little sandwich to please
me. That's right! You feel better now, don't you? You are not nervous
now, are you?"

Gladdened to the heart by his serious anxiety, responsively solicitous
for his ease of mind, she assured him that she feared nothing so long as
her husband was with her. In the silent hug that followed they touched a
deeper note than had yet sounded in the merry music of their joint lives.

"Brave girl! Come along, then; stick close to me. There's nothing
whatever to be afraid of. It's only that the place looks so big and
grand, and feels so full of its old stories somehow. This is the sort of
thing that makes people feel religious in cathedrals, when they are quite
cold and callous in a common modern church. Just imagine that you've been
locked into Melbourne Town Hall by mistake, and see how little you will
care then!"

"I can't. This is like being in another world."

"It's the same old world--the same 'so-called nineteenth century'; and
we're just as safe as--hullo!"


"Confound the thing! All right, all right; it's only one of the buggy
lamps; I didn't see it was there." He had knocked it from a pile of
bedclothes to the floor, and the glass and metal rang upon the bare
stone. Echoes in the roof and galleries were like a flock of startled
birds taking wing at the noise.

"That ought to be a warning to the ghosts," he growled, in a vexed tone;
"the very thing I didn't want to give them. Wait a bit, Nettie; listen a

They stood quite still, in their small island of light, peering into the
sea of shadows round them. The flame of the candle glowed up into their
handsome faces, so alive and alert, but left dark, as in ambush, the eyes
of the dead Desaillys watching the intruders from the wall. Brighter
every moment shone the moon through the blazoned windows, sharper its
embroidery of cross-bars and lattice-work came out upon the pavement
under them; and the lighter it grew, the more like a haunted place it
looked. Oh, how different things appear at night from what they do by
day! Billy wished again that he had left Nettie with Mrs. Venn. "Listen!"
he said, holding her tightly with one hand and the butt of his revolver
with the other. But they heard nothing, except their hearts beating.

So they started on their voyage to the west wing. Their supper had done
them so much good that they dared to blow the candle out and find their
way by the light of the moon; for, as Billy said, if they were to catch
that ghost, it was necessary to stalk him carefully.

"But don't think of such rot," he hastened to add. "If you hear anything,
mind, it will be the dripping of the rain, or the mice and rats, or the
wind in chimneys and keyholes, or the windows shaking, or the old boards
creaking and cracking underfoot. Natural causes, remember--not

"Oh! I'm not afraid of ghosts," boasted Nettie, whom whisky had made
valiant for the moment. "Nor of anything else--with you."

She carried the candlestick and matches, her dressing-bag and wraps;
Billy had loaded himself with all their bedclothes, but kept his right
hand free. They walked in their stockinged feet and talked in whispers.
The first sensation, as of cold water down her spine, came to Nettie as
they passed the little room at the angle of the stairs. No curtain masked
it now, and the moonlight poured through its encircling windows in a
melodramatic way.

"That's where I saw her burning the lace," said Wingate, pointing.

"Oh, don't!" gasped Nettie, seeing in her mind's eye the lace with
blood-stains on it. All the tragical story, as her young fancy composed
it, seemed to act itself again before her; she dared not look into the
little room, lest she should behold the spirit of midnight murder bending
over the hearth. Oh, this was indeed an uncanny place to be astray in at
such an hour!

They reached, or all but reached, their destination in the west wing,
creeping past the little well staircase and the row of doors to the
carefully locked door at the end of the passage. Suddenly both stood
motionless, arrested in the self-same instant; and Nettie uttered an
involuntary exclamation which Wingate instantly suppressed.



"What was that?"

A sound which, if anywhere outside their own imaginations, was inside
the sealed chamber, and not wind or mice or rain-drops now. The noise, a
deep rumble, was as if some one were dragging a solid, smooth piece of
furniture over the floor, rather like the sound of an earthquake, and the
feel of it too. A distinct vibration was communicated to the pair, who
were as yet some dozen yards from the spot whence the movement seemed to
proceed, the air being at the same time filled with a muffled hum,
swelling for a moment and then ceasing suddenly, leaving the tomb-like
silence as before. It might have been an earthquake, or it might have
been thunder, the tail end of the recent storm; but our adventurers did
not think of either possibility.

"They've got in before us," whispered Wingate, dropping the bedclothes
where he stood, and getting a grip of his revolver. "Steady now. Don't be
frightened. Light the candle. Quick!"

He turned the heavy handle of the door, expecting to find it unfastened.
But it was not unfastened; it was just as he had left it. Stooping, with
the candle at his eye, he peered into the keyhole, and saw that no key
obstructed it. Then he snatched his own from his pocket, wrenched it
round in the lock, and threw the door wide open.

No one was visible. The room was silent and empty of everything but what
they had left there in the afternoon; nothing had been moved. They stood
for a minute or two just within the door, which, when they had brought in
the bedclothes, they closed and locked behind them, staring up and down
and from side to side; then, holding his wife's hand, Wingate approached
the fireplace cautiously and looked up the wide shaft of the chimney,
holding the candle high above his head.

"Nothing there," he whispered.

Then he tip-toed to the window, which he examined closely. No one, he
found, could have got out that way. The two casements were both closed.
He took hold of each handle of the iron catches and moved it up and down;
both worked well, but both had been in their sockets, and no draughts
could have displaced them. Opening one door-like lattice, he reached his
head out; the window, resting on a bracket of heraldic stone-work, was
thirty feet up in the wall, at least, projecting into the air, with
nothing under it but flag pavements. Any burglar departing by that route
would do so to certain suicide.

"What could it have been?" faltered Nettie, whose little heart was
pumping violently.

"Thunder, I expect. It must have been thunder."

"It didn't sound like thunder, Billy. It stopped too suddenly."

"Couldn't have been anything else," he insisted, with some impatience;
but he still prowled about uneasily.

"If any of the village people are watching the house," said Nettie, as
she placed the candle on the dressing-table, not far from the window,
"they will say the ghost is here to-night, at any rate."

"Blow it out," cried Wingate, and he extinguished the little flame
himself as he spoke. "Let us watch for an hour or two. The moon is light
enough for anything, and it's as well--ha!"


They stood like statues, listening, and heard the voices of the men from
the terrace beneath. Wingate put his head out of the window and hailed
them. "Cooee! You fellows there--what's up?"

"We've only found another rope, sir. An old one this time."

"Oh, have you? Anything else?"

"Nothing else, sir. We heard a rustling and thought we saw somebody, but
it was a mistake. We'll keep a good look-out, sir."

"Just scour the place well before you settle yourselves down, and report
to me in half an hour."

They did so, but had nothing further to report.

"All right inside, sir?" the constable kindly inquired.

"As right as a trivet," was the ostentatiously cheerful reply.

"Did you light a candle and put it out just now, sir?"

"Of course I did. We like the moonlight best. You had better come along,
you and Rowe, and sleep up here near us."

"Thank you, sir. It's very comfortable outside, sir."

"All right. Please yourselves. Good-night!"

"Good-night, sir!"

Wingate turned from the window, and he and Nettie made their bed by the
light of the moon. They made it within the monstrous four-poster that had
been Lexie's marriage couch for the few sad and splendid weeks that
seemed to have been her last; the hair mattress and the big down pillows
were dry and wholesome-smelling, for something seemed to have preserved
the air in this room fresher than that of the rest of the houses--a
circumstance, however, which did not strike them at the time. As they
spread their inadequate blankets and linen, and tucked the old silk
curtains back behind the bedhead and the wall, they talked of various
matters, but never mentioned Lexie.

When all preparations were made, they were still reluctant to go to bed.
They sat together on Lexie's sofa in the window, and let the cool, clean
air flow over them. They gazed at the high, clear sky and the beautiful
moon-touched clouds, at the wide-branching "English" trees that were such
a constant joy, and those majestic angles of wall with the ivy on them,
the wet leaves twinkling where they caught the light. They sniffed the
perfume of the rain, exhaled from earth and flowers, the sweetest of all
sweet things to an Australian nose. And, with their late unsettled nerves
composed, they remembered they were bride and bridegroom, and that,
wherever they were, they carried their home shrine with them, as the
snails, now coming out in such myriads, carried their shells upon their

"It only wants a nightingale to make it perfect," sighed Nettie, slowly
drawing hairpins from her chestnut plaits.

The nightingale had done his courting for that year; he was gone--only
just gone--and would be heard no more in English gardens till April came
again. But her lover beside her had no difficulty in proving to her that
nightingales were, after all, superfluous.

At about midnight they lit the candle once more Wingate opened the door
to take a last look into the corridor, and before he shut it laid a piece
of paper over the outer keyhole, and stuck it down with some strips torn
from the edge of a sheet of postage stamps. Then, locking it inside with
the greatest care, he placed the key by the bedside, along with candle
and matches and the loaded revolver. They extinguished the light, and,
feeling safe and satisfied, lay down to sleep in each other's arms.


The Catspaw

That first night in the haunted chamber was not so romantic in its
incidents as the second one, and yet it was far from being commonplace.
The occupants found it impossible to feel at home in such surroundings.
They fidgetted through the long six hours, listening, watching, talking,
dozing in brief snatches, waking on the threshold of dreams to cry,
"Phew, how hot it is!" and disturb each other by asking whether he or she
was asleep or not. And the mice were distracting. But for the testimony
of universal experience, it would have been hard to believe they were
mice, rushing and raging over the floor, and scratching and squealing
behind the wainscot in that rampageous manner. The present auditors had
no doubt about it--blessed them in choice language without feeling any
necessity to light the candle. Perhaps it was the familiar domestic
associations of the noise which lulled them into their first sleep, when
their ears had become accustomed to the noise itself.
At any rate, they slept. It seemed to themselves that they had been off
guard for about five minutes, when first Nettie, and then her husband,
awoke to a sensation of something having happened during their absence.
There was a subdued creaking, as when one tries to open a door or window
without being heard--a little cracking noise, then silence, then another

"There's some one in the room," whispered Nettie, her dry tongue cleaving
to the roof of her mouth.

"Hush-sh-sh!" breathed Wingate in her ear, and he drew himself up softly
into a sitting posture. The moon was obscured at this moment, and from
their bed by the fireplace, nearer to the door than the window, they
could see nothing distinctly.

Again they heard the creaking noise--a noise that certainly had not
disturbed them before they went to sleep--and Wingate cautiously felt for
the matches. He was not alarmed, but he trembled with the effort that he
made not to betray himself by an untimely movement. He managed to secure
the match-box without rattling it against the candlestick, and to open
and close it without a tinkle; then he sat up in bed with a match in his
hand, ready to strike the instant he heard the creaking sound again.
After long suspense it was repeated, and, with his straining eyes fixed
upon the door whence he believed it to come, he dashed the match upon the
box, expecting to reveal the form of Geraldine Desailly or an accomplice
in the act of creeping into the room. But he dashed with too much vigour;
the match-head snapped without exploding, and fell off upon the sheet. He
did not swear, as he felt inclined to do, but listened for a moment
eagerly. Again there was the creaking sound, not so loud this time, but
continued for several seconds instead of for one. He seized another
match, struck it successfully, and held the little flame high, rising on
one knee as he did so, and he saw that the door was closed and the room
unchanged. He then lit the candle and got out of bed to explore more
thoroughly, Nettie following close behind him; but the strictest search
discovered nothing. The bit of paper was still over the outside keyhole,
untouched; the passage doors were shut and fastened; the passage and the
little staircase were empty and silent; the haunted room revealed no sign
of any human presence, save their own.

"It must have been the mice," said Wingate, as he locked their own door
afresh; and he bade his wife go back to bed.

"It was not a bit like mice," she objected timidly.

"Well, there's nobody about, at any rate."

So they returned to their pillows, and, listening for a long time, heard
no more noises except such as mice ordinarily make in their nibblings at
dry woodwork and their scamperings to and fro. Rain began to patter down
again, and to tinkle upon the window.

"Perhaps it was the rain," said Wingate.

"Perhaps," suggested Nettie hopefully, "it was the furniture creaking
after being moved and pulled about. I had a wicker chair in my bedroom
once that used to make noises the whole night if I had been sitting in it
before I went to bed."

"Oh, very likely. I daresay that was it."

Wingate turned over to go to sleep.

His wife, less satisfied, lay awake for some time longer, and then she,
too, dozed again; but she had troubled dreams of ghosts and burglars that
startled her into sudden recognition of the white moonlit and black
shadows of the haunted room at very short intervals. On one of these
occasions she crept to Billy, and whispered his name into his ear. He was
slumbering lightly, but in a moment checked his audible breathing and
brought all his senses to attention. There was a noise in the air again,
but not the same noise as before. It was a sort of pulsation, half a sigh
and half a snore, rising and falling gently and evenly, like the heavy
breathing of some sleeping animal, and it seemed to come from under the

"If we were in the bush," said Wingate, "I should say it was an opossum.
It is exactly like the noise they make in the trees at night, just
outside your window."

"It must be a dog," said Nettie.

"Yes. Or--" he was trying to think of an English equivalent for an
opossum, "or a squirrel out of the woods."

They were both sure that it was not man, woman, or ghost; so Wingate
picked up one of his boots and flung it noisily across the floor, crying
"Shoo!" loudly as he did so. Instantly the noise stopped, there was the
sound of a stealthy, creeping movement, and all was still.

"A squirrel," said Wingate again. "An old place like this, deserted for
so long, and standing in the middle of these lonely woods, must be alive
with creatures making a shelter of it. No wonder there are noises."

Then they went to sleep for the last time, and awoke in daylight, safe
and sound, satisfied with the issue of their adventure.

Nettie dressed provisionally, put a tin kettle to boil on a spirit stove,
and made tea, first for her husband and herself, and then for the two men
who had spent the night on the hard boards of the summer-house, and whom
Wingate went in search of as soon as he had hurried on his clothes.

"Well, you fellows," he said airily, "now that you've got the light of
day to reassure you, perhaps you'll come into the house for a little
refreshment. Mrs. Wingate is brewing you a cup of tea; she thinks you'll
be wanting something after all you have gone through. We have been as
comfortable and snug as possible."

"Slept well, sir?" inquired Abel Rowe, as he and his companion walked
stiffly towards the house, having returned respectful greetings and
tendered thanks for the lady's kindness.

"Never better," replied Wingate.

"You didn't keep awake to watch--?"

"Of course I did. When I say I slept well, I mean that everything was
quiet. The mice made a bit of a rumpus, that's all."

"And your lady wasn't frightened, sir?"

"Not a bit. She isn't one of that sort. Besides, there was nothing to
frighten anybody."

Then he fetched his wife downstairs, taking the precaution to lock their
chamber door behind them, because she was leaving silver toilet things
and other valuables about; and she looked very fresh and charming to the
tired men as she stepped into the hall, carrying her tea-basket in her
arms. They saluted her with a shamefaced sense of her moral superiority
over themselves.

"I should like," said Wingate, emptying the remaining contents of his
spirit flask into the men's teacups, "to thoroughly satisfy your minds as
well as my own, to prove to everybody that the house is free of ghosts,
at any rate. It is just possible I may rent the place from Sir Walter for
a time, and I am well aware that we should have trouble with servants,
and so on, if any nonsense of that sort got about. I suppose you won't
object to sleeping with us here to-night, now that a lady has not been
afraid to do it, with only one arm to defend her?"

The men pocketed the insult implied, and professed themselves ready to
spend nights or days wherever duty called them. If the gentleman and Mr.
Blackett thought it better to guard the house from the inside than from
the outside, well and good. They were there to obey orders.

"Then I'll see Mr. Blackett in the course of the day, and let you know
the arrangements later. You can leave the keys with me; I will lock up

They left him the keys, and departed to their homes and breakfasts. Then
Wingate and Nettie enjoyed some hours of perfect independence and
delight; feeding and watering their horses, roaming about the neglected
grounds, where they found fresh footprints--unmistakable woman's
footprints--amongst the marks of the men's boots in the moist earth,
pointing as unmistakably to the rector's sleepwalker; wandering over the
extraordinary house, and rummaging its many nooks and corners, its
cupboards and cabinets, its wonderful relics of the romantic past; until
they felt so hungry as well as so intensely interested that they
determined not to waste time going home to luncheon, but to make shift
with the scraps of the provision basket.

They camped again in the great hall, sitting on their carriage cushions
and spreading a clean towel before them on the stone floor. It reminded
them, they said, of many a picnic in the beloved bush at home, though it
would have been hard to imagine a greater contrast. They lifted baggy
napkins and spread them open, disclosing curly-cornered sandwiches,
crumpled pasties, dry hunks of bread and cheese, with fragments of other
dainties similarly the worse for wear. Only that Billy enjoyed the
continual feast of a contented mind, Nettie would have expected remarks
on her housekeeping; but he was satisfied to eat whatever she gave him,
and only grumbled because there was not enough to drink.

"I will make some tea," she said. "I've got a screw left."

But he said he wanted something better than tea, and retrospectively
begrudged the whisky he had wasted over-night. So she remembered that she
had a medicinal flask in her dressing-bag upstairs, and offered to go and
fetch it.

"I'll go," cried Wingate, springing to his feet. "You couldn't unlock the
door with those bits of hands." And he tramped towards the staircase at
the end of the hall, and pounded up the shallow oak steps to the gallery
above and the western passage leading out of it, singing as he went,
filling the house with hollow noises. When he returned he was holding a
silver-mounted bottle between his eye and the light, laughing

"Well, you're a nice sort of young person!" he exclaimed.

"Am I?" she replied. "And why?"

"Tippling on the quiet in this way, and all the time pretending to your
husband that the smell of spirits makes you sick."

"So it does. What are you talking about?"

"This flask's empty."

"It isn't. It's brimful. I haven't touched it since you filled it for me
in London."

Wingate solemnly turned it upside-down before her eyes. One drop only
splashed upon the pavement.

"Then some one has been at it."

"Since when?"

"I don't know. I have never taken it out of its pocket since we left

"The stopper was hardly screwed on at all."

"Oh dear! I hope it hasn't been leaking into the bag."

"No, I looked to see. The bag is all right. But don't you keep it locked
when you're going about in strange places? You ought. All those fittings
are solid, you know."

"I will in future," said Nettie. "But it's a nuisance. I do hate not to
be able to trust people."

"So do I," said Wingate. And they silently suspected a number of honest
persons, while Nettie strove to pacify the disappointed one with a cup of

It did not pacify him, so they put the horses to the buggy and returned
to the Desailly Arms, where he drank a whole bottle of beer and was
himself again.

Then Nettie, bathed and brushed, with stays off and an empire tea-gown
on, spent a pleasant afternoon with a novel. Wingate, meanwhile, went
to see Mr. Blackett. Mr. Martin, the housekeeper at the Dower House, and
his late colleague the constable, to arrange the programme for the night.
Time was required for the doing of so much business, and Mrs. Venn was
ready to dish up dinner when he returned with his report.

"It's all right," he said. "Walter is hurrying home, but he can't get
here till late to-night; I don't suppose we shall see him till the
morning. He has telegraphed to Blackett that I am to have a free hand.
Dear old fellow! I am thankful he knows it wasn't me, at last. It will be
strange to see him after twenty years, and to see him under these strange
circumstances. He is leaving the boy behind--I'm glad of that; it would
have been difficult to talk of his mother before him, and he might have
hampered us in our dealings with Mrs. George, whom he seems, like the
rector, to regard as a persecuted angel, more or less. By the way, I've
done a good stroke in getting the rector to join our watch to-night. He's
awfully interested in the business, and burning to help--feels, of course,
that it's a parish matter in which he is primarily concerned. But I told
him to be sure and not breathe a word to the lady. I said the mere
suggestion of burglars and ghosts, of anything being the matter, would be
most injurious to her in her nervous state. She's not sleeping any
better, he says, but still refuses to see a doctor or to have any one in
her room. His being away to-night will give her scope for enterprise; we
shall be able to find her out now, if we are very careful. I don't mean
to let anybody watch in the garden, to scare her off; I'll give her a
chance to do whatever it is she wants to do."

"Blow us up with dynamite?" cried Nettie.

"Oh, it isn't dynamite," he rejoined confidently. "There'd be no sense in
that. It's something that doesn't want to make a noise to attract public
attention. And"--with an exultant look--"old Walter will be here to-night."

An unusually hearty dinner and an imperatively necessary cigar took
another hour from the daylight, and by the time Mrs. Venn had replenished
the picnic-basket, and been mercifully made acquainted with a part of the
truth as to the business connected with it, Wingate found himself late
for his appointment with the rector at The Chase. But the horses were
fresh and fast, and the way was short to-night. A groom was in attendance
to drive them back to the comfortable inn stables, for it was not
supposed to be any longer necessary to keep the means of escape at hand;
and husband and wife yawned luxuriously in anticipation of the quiet
night they were going to have. Their nerves were entirely unaffected by
its shadowy approach. It was delightful to hear the owl hoot, and the
stag, with his fighting antlers ready, challenge his rival across a
glimmering pool. The mystery of the thick woods to right and left had no
terrors in it; and the old house, when again it loomed above them, was
even as the Melbourne Town Hall to their placid imaginations.

They found Mr. Martin kicking his heels in the porch, and took him in,
and entertained him, as if the place belonged to them; made him smoke and
drink, and eat delicacies provided on purpose for him out of the basket,
and join in pleasant talk and the telling of adventurous tales; and
Wingate fed Abel and the constable with equal hospitality, after the
manner of Australian hosts. Then, in good heart and condition, they
mounted the grand staircase in a body and dispersed themselves to their
respective posts. The rector was put into what used to be Walter's
dressing-room, the two men had shake-downs on the passage floor, just
outside the door of the large chamber that had been Lexie's, which
Wingate and Nettie had appropriated.

And now this pair felt that the time had come to relax and recruit
themselves after their exhausting day. Wingate sank into an arm-chair, in
slippers and shirt-sleeves, and lit his pipe. Nettie squatted on the bed,
and brushed her hair, and yawned contentedly. And they amused themselves
with plans for renting The Chase--which now seemed altogether
desirable--and discussed furniture and domestic arrangements, and how they
would have a real English Christmas in the great hall, and invite all
available Australians of their acquaintance to come to it.

"Oh, I am so tired!" sighed Nettie at last.

"So am I," said Wingate, getting up to stretch himself "It's the reaction
after so much excitement. Well, we can sleep in peace to-night."

She tumbled into bed, and the heavy lids dropped over her sleepy eyes. He
for the last time stepped to the now unlocked door, and, opening it for
an inch or two, asked if they were "all right out there?"

"All right," the three men responded promptly.

"Good-night, then. Call me if anything is the matter, but don't make more
noise than you can help. Mrs. Wingate is tired, and I don't want her to
be disturbed."

They bade him good-night, and he extinguished the candles on the
dressing-table. In ten minutes he and his wife were slumbering like a
pair of healthy infants. They could not have "gone off" more quickly and
soundly if they had taken opiates for the purpose.

Nevertheless, Nettie awoke in an hour--suddenly, with an unaccountable
sense of shock. Before she was able to think about it, before she opened
her eyes indeed, she knew she was not being roused naturally, but had
been frightened awake by some power of which her physical senses were not
as yet conscious. It was with a heart-shaking thrill that she remembered
where she was--the tragical haunted room, and the pale moonbeams that only
made it more so--and at the same moment realized that she had been
compelled to remember it. While far away in dreamland, fancy free,
something--something awful--had called her back; she had no doubt about it,
even while she did not know what it was, hearing and seeing nothing. Her
husband calmly snored beside her, with his head rolled in the bedclothes;
he had not felt the presence in the air, and she was powerless to lift
hand or voice to stir him.

Opening her eyes--every other muscle of the body being paralysed with
fright--she looked into the darkness straight before her, as with an
instinct for the quarter whence revelation would come. There was nothing
at the foot of the great bedstead, no footboard or rail, to obstruct her
view, but the moonlight was not strong enough to show her the features of
the room immediately. Gradually, however, the main outlines faintly
defined themselves--the division of wall from ceiling and of panel from
panel--until she could see the shape of the recess in which the picture
that faced her was embedded. While her fascinated gaze was rivetted to
this object, she saw a strange effect of broken lights, or rather of
broken shadows, quivering on and off its surface, which still shone with
old varnish; the next instant the picture was gone! Not altogether gone,
but, as it were, cut in two--the fact being that it had been pushed up in
a groove, as one pushes up the sash of a window, leaving the lower half
of the space void.

But not empty. Nettie knew now what it was that had chilled her blood
even while she slept. Peering out from that black hole were a pair of
eyes--there was a head belonging to them, but the eyes were all she
saw--shining fixedly, like those of a hungry wild beast watching the time
to spring; and it was at her they glared, with more and more ferocious
intentness as the power of the moon increased, while she lay like a
terror-stricken rabbit in the cage of a boa-constrictor, unable to
articulate even the little whisper that would have sufficed to arouse her
mate. She knew the eyes belonged to a man and not to a ghost, and felt
sure that she and Billy were going to be murdered, like poor Lexie, as a
penalty for meddling with that ghastly house, and that she would only
precipitate the catastrophe if she spoke or moved.

The eyes and hers confronted each other during a dozen hammer-strokes of
her bursting heart; then a hand became visible, cautiously extended; a
head followed, craning to right and left; a naked foot stole out of the
picture frame, and groped stealthily for the floor. When she saw that,
Nettie concluded that the end had come. The spell that had paralysed her
faculties seemed to snap and free her, and she uttered a ringing shriek
that Sir Walter might have heard at the Dower House, where he had just
arrived--a shriek which was answered by an oath from the mysterious
intruder, who had not seen that she was watching him.

The sound had not died before Wingate was out of bed, the rector, Abel
Rowe, and the constable, stumbling to their feet, bewildered and quaking,
all at sea for the moment as to what had occurred. Then the occupants of
the haunted chamber heard bare feet slapping the floor, the crash of a
chair overturned, the thump of a body against the door, the rattle of the
handle; and Wingate bawled excitedly, "Look out there! Stop him! Stop
him!" And then to the constable, who had the revolver, "Don't shoot!
Don't shoot! He can't get out!"

Even as he spoke the door was flung open, and the fugitive was seen
running down the passage, where a lighted stable lantern had been placed
for the night. Two of the guard, in the condition known as flabbergasted,
looked as if they had been knocked backwards and breathless by the flying
figure, and were not yet certain if it were flesh and blood or ghost; but
the expression of the rector's face as he darted out of his room was even
more astonished and astonishing. All three set off in pursuit as fast as
their legs could carry them; and a strange sound it was in the dead of
night--the echo, reverberating far and wide, of that hurry-scurry through
the hollow house, along the gallery, and down the stairs where the moon
made darkness visible.

Because Nettie held him back, praying not to be left alone with that hole
in the wall and its terrifying possibilities, Wingate did not go for a
minute or two, but he spent that minute in helping her into her
dressing-gown, and then they followed the chase together. A man in his
pyjama suit is already dressed for such emergencies.

The scuffle was over when they appeared upon the scene of action, but a
dramatic picture met their eyes as they came into the gallery at the head
of the grand staircase, and looked down into the hall. The moon and the
stable lantern that Wingate held above his head just, and only just,
revealed the size and sombre splendours of the place; the policeman's
bull's-eye did the rest. It was opened upon the face of the central
figure of the group gathered in the middle of the paved floor, and that
face was the only thing distinct in the vast obscurity. The three men
round it were shadows only. One shadow poured wine from a bottle into a
cup, another flitted about with the provision basket; the third presented
something to the Rembrandt face, and it opened unshaven jaws and snatched
it wolfishly.

"Why, who the dickens is that?" exclaimed Wingate.

"It's all right, Mr. Wingate," the rector called to him. "It's Mr. George
Desailly. He was locked in by accident on the day of the coming of age,
he says, and could not get out."

"And he's clean starved," cried Abel Rowe. "There's nothing at all where
his stomach ought to be."

"He hasn't been without food for a fortnight," Wingate whispered to
Nettie, as they ran down the stairs together. "And he could have got out
at least three days ago, if he had liked."

"Look!" she said breathlessly, and pointed to one of the great hall
windows. With the moon behind it, a figure was dimly visible; a swing of
the stable lantern showed a pair of peering eyes and a white nose
flattened upon the glass.

"Mr. Martin," said Wingate, "your guest is walking in her sleep again.
She is on the terrace there. Go out very quietly so as not to startle
her, which is bad for sleep-walkers, and bring her into shelter, will
you? Perhaps she is awake, and looking for her lost husband; if so, you
can tell her we have found him."

Full of concern for his interesting invalid, the rector bustled towards
one of the two archways through which one passed from the hall to the
vestibule and porch. Wingate hurried after him and threw open a leaf of
the heavy outer doors.

The fresh night air came pouring in, and with it the sound of wheels and
horses approaching rapidly, not over the grass, but along another road
reserved for carriages, entered at a gate near the gate of the Dower
House. The master had arrived.



The rector, engaged in what he considered his first duty, did not return.
Nettie, after some talk and a hasty toilet, was sent home to the Desailly
Arms in Sir Walter's carriage. The constable and his mate retired from
the hall, by order of their master. And so only the two old friends, so
strangely reunited, were left there, sitting side by side on an oaken
settle, with the prisoner sobbing and grovelling at their feet.
The lord of the manor, at eight and forty, looked older than his years--he
had lived fast--and his person, superficially considered, was not
imposing. Nature steadily refuses to be subservient to the otherwise
all-powerful; wherefore we behold princes who are physically
indistinguishable from peasants, and millionaires whom the diseases of
low people have rendered incapable of enjoying money. The great Desaillys
were of the best blood in the land, from a Heralds' College point of
view. Their pedigree was blue throughout as a teetotal ribbon, until a
bookseller's daughter came into it; yet the old Sir Thomas, Walter's
father, had been meagre and undersized, sandy-haired, rat-nosed,
puffy-eyed, pimply-skinned; in fact, just as common to look at as common
could be; and Walter's son, by the bookseller's daughter aforesaid, was
like a young king in a fairy tale. Walter himself might have been taken
for a prosperous butcher or publican, at a first glance. But when you
came to know him--only to know him for five minutes--you perceived that
breeding is not altogether a matter of personal beauty, nor of manners
either. That plain-featured, bull-necked, beefy and beery man had a way
of looking at people that made them feel as worms before him. Race was
potent, after all. Sir Walter was Sir Walter, in short; throughout
Norfolk, at any rate, this sufficed to explain him.

Once upon a time his kinsman, George, had worn that distinguished air,
and possessed some of the moral qualities that almost necessarily go with
it; but a bad life and a bad woman had corrupted and destroyed all, or
nearly all. At this moment, overwhelmed with the effect of his late
terrible experiences, a trace of the lost virtue reappeared.

"In the name of God, don't ask me any questions," he implored
hysterically, kneeling up on Wingate's buggy cushions, which had been
made a couch for his exhausted frame. "My mouth is shut, Walter. I simply
can't explain. For your own sake, for Tom's sake, for the sake of the old
family, don't try to understand anything! Oh, why didn't I throw myself
out of the window and break my neck! My God, what I've gone through! I
think I'm mad! I hadn't bite or sup for three days and nights, till I got
a thimbleful of brandy this morning. I dropped the rope--I hadn't anything
to get out by--and she couldn't throw another up. Walter, old Walter--we
were boys together--give me enough to go out of the country with, and I'll
never let you see my face again, nor hers either."

"I understand," Sir Walter said, gravely studying the wild-eyed, bristly,
grimy face before him. "You won't turn dog on your own wife. That's all
right. But I know, without having to ask anybody, that she's at the
bottom of it. She knew of that cupboard, which is more than I did, and
that something worth having was in it."

"Nothing, Walter; nothing, nothing, I swear!"

"What! You had your labour for your pains? Or was there any other little
game on? But we'll find all that out for ourselves when we've time to go
into things. I'll just ask you one question, one that's easy to answer.
Have you been doing any mischief to the house or to anything belonging to
the house? Dynamite, or anything of that sort, hey? On your honour,
George, as a man and a gentleman and a Desailly of The Chase, if you've
got such a thing as honour left."

Mr. George Desailly hoped, dramatically, that he might die in slow
torment, and be damned for ever, if he had done a single mortal thing. "I
know you don't believe me," he said, "but it's as true as that you are
sitting there."

Sir Walter did believe him, and dismissed such trifles as ropes and
cupboards from his mind. "Very well," said he. "Now look here; I'll let
you go, and I'll give you enough to get out of the country with, and an
income to live on while you keep out, on one condition."

The face of the degraded wretch who had once been a gentleman shone with
hope, then clouded with sudden fear.

"What's that?" he muttered.

"On condition," said Sir Walter slowly and emphatically, "that you tell
me all you know about my wife's disappearance."

A pause followed this sentence, during which the two judges looked at the
culprit closely. He moistened a dry throat, and returned answer to the
effect that Mr. Wingate was the person to question on that point.

"Pass Mr. Wingate, if you please. That's played out."

The blanched cheek went whiter under its film of grime, but the man,
seeing the corner he was being driven to, did the best his shattered
condition allowed of to avoid it.

"Why should Mr. Wingate be passed? Everybody knew that he went off with
her. You knew it yourself, and had good reason to."

"I know now that he didn't, as I ought to have known from the first. I
did him and her a gross and fatal injustice, for which I shall never
forgive myself, and never be able to make amends."

"Who says so?"

"He does."

The fellow cackled in a ghastly way, but his face was grey with fright.
"And you take his word against the testimony--"

"Of Mrs. George Desailly? I should rather think so."

"Well, it's your business, not mine. I know nothing of what happened,
except what I've been told. How on earth should I? I was in Paris all the
time. I never so much as set eyes on your wife. I was in Paris all the

"I know you were; but other people were not--other people in whose
confidence you are, or you would not be in your present situation. Look
here, George, Lexie met with foul play that night--there is no doubt that
she did, either in my mind or Mr. Wingate's--otherwise she would have come
back, or we should have heard of her somewhere; and you've got to tell us
just what you know about it. You understand me?"

The wretched man understood well enough, but said to himself that he was
still man enough not to turn dog on his own wife--blind, like all users of
that figure of speech, to the fact that meanness and treachery are the
attributes of men, never of dogs. Wingate, watching him steadily, said,
in a quiet voice,--

"Where did you say you dropped the rope, Mr. Desailly?"

Mr. Desailly gasped audibly, "What rope?"

"You said you had a rope, and dropped it, and therefore could not let
yourself out."

"I don't know what I've been saying. I've been all but starved to death,
and I think my mind's going. I hadn't any rope. I said my wife tried to
throw a rope up to me, when she found I'd been locked in--"

"Oh, come, George, let's have done with that farce of being locked in!"
his cousin angrily interrupted. "Answer Mr. Wingate's question."

"I'll not answer any of his damned questions!" was the excited retort.
"If it hadn't been for him--oh, my God!--I should have been safe in France
by this time."

"Tell me," said Wingate, with the same calmly concentrated air, "was it
out of the window that you dropped your rope, when trying to descend by
it through the only exit left to you?"

"Of course it was--only you confuse me so that I don't know what I'm
saying. I was trying to carry it through one casement to the other, so as
to get it round the stone, don't you know, and the reach was too long,
and it slipped clean out of my hands, and dropped on to the terrace. You
found it there your self."

"Well, of all the cool liars that ever I came across--!"

"Hush, Wingate! let me conduct this business will you?" his friend
whispered. "Lies won't serve him; we can test them all. Come, George,
either here or in a court of justice--whichever you like. Never mind about
ropes and rubbish now. Tell me, what has become of my wife?--that's the
point I want cleared up first."

"Excuse me, Walter," said Wingate earnestly, I must know where he dropped
that rope."

"Why, out of the window, man! Didn't he just say so?"

"And you could see he was lying as plain as the nose on his face. He
didn't drop it out of the window; he dropped it somewhere else, and he
doesn't want to say where."

"There's no other place where he could have dropped it, since the door of
that room was locked."

"Exactly; that's what struck me. He knows of a place that we don't know
of; and, perhaps, if we find that place we shall find out something about
Lexie. We will explore your closet, sir, and see for ourselves whether
it's as empty as you say it is--whether it's a closet at all, in fact, or
an entrance to one of those secret passages, or secret chamber places--"

He stopped dead, with a sharp exclamation, for he saw that his random
shot had hit the bull's-eye. Sir Walter saw it, too. Both men rose in
their stern excitement and stood over the swooning figure on the buggy
cushions, and forced a confession out of it as one squeezes water from a
flabby sponge.

Yes, there was a passage out of the closet, and it led to a--a--a place.
Walter might remember that there was always a tradition in the family
about a secret chamber, though no one believed it because it could not be
found. That, perhaps, was on account of old Sir Thomas coming
unexpectedly into the property, inheriting from an uncle he had never
seen. Doubtless that uncle knew, but, dying suddenly, took the secret
with him. He (George) hadn't an idea of it up to a fortnight ago, and
never was so knocked all of a heap in his life as he was when Jerry told
him about it. How had she found it out? He was sure he didn't know. It
was when she was a girl, and used to potter about The Chase to amuse
herself when the family was away, with only a housekeeper in charge. She
was always fond of nosing round, and poking into things, and there wasn't
much that escaped her eye. She noticed a little hole under the moulding
of a panel, close to the floor, and she had the curiosity to stick a
hairpin up and, when she found it went all the way, a skewer or
something, till she saw the picture shake--that was how it came about, he
thought. At any rate she did make the discovery, and she kept it to
herself, because it was a convenient place to stow letters and things in
that she didn't want anybody to find. Unfortunately, she showed it to
Mrs. Walter. Odd? Oh, well, perhaps she couldn't help herself. He thought
she had been getting something out of it, or putting something in, when
Mrs. Walter came into the room and surprised her. It was Mrs. Walter's
bedroom, and Jerry thought it would never do to let her see the closet
without warning her what a dangerous place it was to go into. It looked
just like an ordinary closet from the outside, but it ran off to the left
into the dark, and some way along there was a--a place. It had a trap-door
over it, like a cellar door, flush with the floor, and not showing when
it was closed unless you looked for the cracks carefully. Yes, perhaps,
an oubliette, only the flap opened upwards in the ordinary way, instead
of sinking treacherously underfoot--fortunately, because Jerry only found
it out by feeling it shake as she stepped on it. The hinges had got rusty
and loose--one was gone altogether now; so that it couldn't be fixed up as
it was before. It was not a sewage drain, or well, or place for running
water from the roof, because it was dry all through, and the bottom hard.
Deep? Oh, very--going right down below the cellars, apparently, like a
mine shaft. Jerry, after no end of trouble in prising the trap-door up,
and lodging it against the wall, tried to sound its depth with a long
fishing-line and sinker, and couldn't find it. It was she who put the
thing out of gear, messing there by herself, and once she had shifted it
up, it was too heavy to move again.

So the hole was always open after that; and when Jerry had shown it to
Mrs. Walter, and gone to bed, she couldn't rest for the fear that Mrs.
Walter would commit suicide by throwing herself down it Why? Because the
poor woman was mad with grief about something or other, and just in the
state of mind to make away with herself. Oh, he didn't know anything
about Mrs. Walter's disposition--whether she was the sort of person to do
such a thing, or whether she wasn't; he could only tell the tale as it
was told to him. She certainly was awfully cut up--there was no need for
him to say more in present company--and poured out her troubles to her
friend, as was only natural. What friend? Why, the only one she had at
The Chase, so far as he could make out. People might pretend to think a
lot of her now, but when she was alive--all right: if the cap fitted, well
and good. As he was saying, Jerry went to bed, but could not sleep for
worrying about the poor thing she had left sobbing fit to break her
heart; so she got up to go and see if she was all right. And there she
found her just rushing into the closet, calling out that her husband had
cast her off, and she could not live any longer, and was going to throw
herself down the well, and have done with it. Likely? Anything and
everything was likely with a woman in hysterics; you never could tell
what they'd do in a moment of desperation. Those that weren't there to
see could not possibly know. Yes, it was a pity they were not there, as
much for Jerry's sake as for Mrs. Walter's. It was because she was alone,
with no witness to prove that she hadn't murdered Mrs. Walter herself,
that Jerry was obliged to invent the tale of the elopement. He did not,
of course, justify her in the course she took--far from it; but he
expected that if they, Sir Walter and Wingate, had been in her cruel
position, they would have done the same.

What happened? He could see they knew well enough what happened. An awful
thing; but those who drove her to it were responsible, not he. Jerry ran
after her to try to save her, but was just a second too late. On the very
edge of the hole she caught hold of her, but Mrs. Walter fought to get
loose, and very nearly carried Jerry down too. In the struggle Jerry's
dress was torn--some trimmings on the sleeve, or something--and that, as
well as all the other circumstances, when she came to think of them, made
the affair look so black against her that she simply daren't tell anybody
about it. She had been having tiffs with Mrs. Walter, and nobody knew
they had made their quarrel up; and nobody knew about the closet and the
hole; and altogether--well, one could understand her being afraid to
speak. It would have taken a brave person to do it; and, if not done at
the first moment, every moment that passed made it more impossible. The
house was quiet as the grave; she was certain no one would believe her,
especially with a bit of her dress in the hole; and so she shut the
picture, and she took the torn stuff off her dress and burnt it--oh, Mr.
Wingate might well smile! Mr. Wingate knew something about that. He,
George Desailly, could inform Mr. Wingate that it was owing to his
conduct that night, in insulting a lady whom he found alone and
unprotected in a deserted part of the house, that those who had made a
scapegoat of him had done so without the slightest shadow of compunction
or regret.

"Have you anything to say to that, Billy?" Sir Walter inquired at this

Wingate said he had not--at present--and urged his friend to proceed to the
investigation of those circumstances in which the prisoner was directly

But here it was most difficult to get him to be frank. These, evidently,
were the damning circumstances from his point of view. He squirmed and
sobbed, and cursed his madness and folly, and pleaded the bitter poverty
that alone could have driven him to such deeds as he had been found out
in. Walter had never known, and never would know, what it was to be
dunned by Jew cads at every turn--to have no means to bring up his
children properly--to see disgrace and ruin staring him in the face. It
was not for one who had rolled in luxury all his life to understand the
temptations of a man driven desperate by misfortunes that were no fault
of his own. And so on.

At last it came out. Poor Lexie had gone to her doom in evening dress,
with a jewel of great value round her beautiful neck; and Mr. and Mrs.
George Desailly, in the extremity of their needs and as a last resource,
had proposed to retrieve that jewel, dissect it, and turn the stones into
money. Jerry had disclosed the dread secret of twenty years, and, when he
had somewhat recovered from the shock, her husband had consented to the
fearful enterprise which he never, never, never would have entered upon
or dreamed of but for the straits that he was in. They prepared food,
lights, and a suitable rope--the latter concealed under the lady's
skirts--and got into the house on the coming-of-age morning, mingling with
the invited guests. While the banquet was in progress, and the coast
consequently clear, they successfully surmounted what they had supposed
their greatest difficulty. Jerry opened the closet, showed the hole,
explained the mechanism of the picture and the details of the business
generally, and shut her accomplice up, before Sir Walter, being made
aware of her proximity, found her, turned her out of his wife's room, and
locked the door behind her. Anticipating this locking of
doors,--instructing her husband not to proceed until he was sure of having
the house to himself,--she had arranged that he was to let himself out of
the window by the rope he had used to let himself down the hole, if no
better means of exit were available, when his job was done.

His job! Great heavens, what a job! He did not realize the horror of it
until it was too late. When the revels of the day were over--when night
came, and that voiceless solitude, filled with spirits of the dead--his
nerve failed him. Trying to fasten a rope to an iron ring just within the
mouth of the well, evidently put there on purpose to fasten ropes
to--hurrying to get the thing over and done with as quickly as possible--he
fumbled and bungled, and it slipped out of his hands. It slipped and fell
to the bottom of the shaft--he heard it hit the bottom--and there he was,
helpless. The bottom, he declared, in reply to questions, was at least
sixty feet from the top, and no one falling that distance could possibly
have lived an instant.

He thought of tearing up curtains or carpet to make another ladder, but
he had plenty of food then, and was afraid to do anything until he had
conferred with Jerry, who came in a few days to see what had delayed him.
She came by night, to escape observation, and spoke to him from the
terrace. She was very angry when she heard of his accident, but forbade
him on any account to leave traces of his errand in the house, or to
leave the house without the necklace. She said she would manage somehow
to throw up a line with another rope attached, and that he was to wait
where he was until she did so, taking every care not to betray himself or
her. But she was hindered in various ways, and when. at last things
seemed to be going right, the sudden interposition of the Wingates
frustrated and ruined all.

"My last hope," said George Desailly, "was to slip out while the doors
would open from the inside, even if I had to do it by degrees, from one
hiding-place to another; and to-night I was too hungry to wait any
longer. I thought Mr. and Mrs. Wingate both asleep, and didn't know of
the fellows in the passage. And--and that's all, Walter. And I wish you'd
take your revolver and put a bullet through my head!"

A few minutes later, Sir Walter and Wingate, with hands that did not
fumble and bungle, fastened a rope to the iron ring in the well-mouth,
and went down into Lexie's grave. It was not an oubliette, after all, but
a perpendicular route to another secret passage, a subterranean tunnel,
the door to which was found at the base of the shaft. That door had been
locked for, perhaps, hundreds of years, and the mystery on the further
side of it does not belong to this story. Lexie never got so far. The
light of two candles, waved slowly to and fro, revealed her poor bones
lying before it, flattened out upon the slimy floor--flattened by a heavy
rope that had fallen upon and disjointed them. An eyeless skull, that
kept no record of her lovely face except the white teeth that grinned so
horribly, still adhered to the thing that had been a neck of snow; and
there, between the jaw and the mouldy garments, the diamonds and the
star-rubies glittered resplendent, alive and immortal in the dust of
death. The famous jewel, the strands of chestnut hair, the yet
identifiable colour and texture of the silken gown and the embroidered
slippers--above all, the thick wedding ring with the initials inside
it--proved to her old lovers, as they would have to prove to the world at
large, that a part, at least, of the story they had just heard was true.
But when they disentangled from the bones of one skeleton hand a
much-torn fragment of Venetian lace--

"Am I," said Sir Walter, "to consent to the theory this piece of evidence
so plainly gives the lie to? To let it be supposed that she was the woman
to commit suicide in a fit of hysterics, and I the brute to drive her to

"I have been thinking it over," said Wingate, "and I don't see what else
is to be done. There were no witnesses."

And, in the final result, Mrs. George Desailly's word was taken as
against all evidence to the contrary. There were protracted and
sensational legal proceedings, in the course of which she had to un-
dergo a trial that must have crushed and ruined--socially ruined, at the
least--an ordinary woman, with the witness of a bad conscience against
her; but she was no ordinary woman. Even Nettie Wingate, on first
beholding her in the flesh, falling under the spell of that beautiful
smile (tempered with tears and a black dress), exclaimed, "What! Is that
the she-devil you have been telling me about? Impossible!" Everybody said
"impossible," or thought it. Sir Walter himself--Wingate also--were glad to
the heart when they found she was not to be put in prison, or otherwise
openly degraded, although they knew they had no justification for such
weakness, and that her victory had cost them dear.

When all was over, and the excitement of the affair allayed, Wingate and
Nettie still thought they would like to rent The Chase and make an
English Christmas in it. But the owner, when approached on the subject,
announced an intention to put his old house in order and go to live there
himself immediately. He was about to be married again, with a view to
having several more sons, if possible, the engagement of young Thomas to
do likewise being already satisfactorily arranged. Sir Walter sits now in
the chancel of his parish church on Sundays with quite a family around
him, and "Sacred to the Memory of Alexandra Desailly" shines from a
marble tablet over his head. She had, of course, been virtually
supplanted for many a year before her bones were coffined in state and
laid in the vault underfoot with those of his noble ancestors.

* * * * * * * * * *


Lizzie Dawson's friends sat in the drawing-room over the bank offices,
and talked about Emma. For Emma had excused herself from coming in.
"She's got one of her bad headaches," said Lizzie, "and doesn't feel up
to seeing people."

"It was the same on your last day," remarked Mrs. Dean, who suspected
"airs" on Emma's part. "She seems to be always having headaches."

"How different from what she used to be!" another lady ejaculated. "I
don't believe she ever had a thing the matter with her before she was

"Different!" echoed the hostess, nearly smashing a cup with the teapot as
she banged it down. "You wouldn't know her for the same! And all through
that--that--that beast! I can't help it--it's impossible to call him
a man."

The visitors drew their chairs closer.

"Now, tell us, Lizzie--you can trust us--it won't go any further--did he
really throw her downstairs, and give her concussion of the brain?
Everybody says so, you know."

It was the champion scandalmonger of the town who asked this question,
with all her soul in her pretty, eager face.

"No, I don't think he went quite so far as that," Miss Dawson admitted,
with evident reluctance. "At any rate, Emma says he didn't. She was very
angry when somebody asked her. But then, she's so soft! Sometimes I get
really out of patience with her--standing up for him, when everybody knows
he was too bad to live with. Why, he'd have killed her if we hadn't taken
her away from him. She has been home six months, living in peace and
comfort, and even now she hasn't got over it. She's nothing but a bag of
bones, and her spirit broken--crushed"--Lizzie stopped pouring out the tea
to blow her nose savagely--"so that you wouldn't know her for what she
used to be before she fell into his hands. Brute!"

"But," urged the young matron, who was always anxious to get to the
bottom of these things, "if he did not throw her downstairs and injure
her brain, how comes she by these constant headaches? She never used to
have headaches."

"Anybody's head would ache, if they were always crying like she is,"
replied Lizzie, as gloomy as she was ungrammatical. "Though what she has
to fret for now--!"

"But he did throw the soup-plate at her, with all the hot soup in it?"

"It didn't hit her--it didn't actually touch her. He knocked it over in
one of his rages with her, all over a nice clean tablecloth just fresh
from the wash."

"What a wretch!"

"But he was quite capable of throwing it at her. I myself saw him throw a
thing at her once. It hit her in the face."

"No! did you really? What was it?"

"It was a bank-note--a five-pound note. He bought her a dress once--a
hideous thing--and gave it to her in such a way that she wouldn't accept
it as a gift. She wanted to pay him for it, and gave him the note; and he
took it and flung it in her face, using the most dreadful language. She
put up her hand to ward off the blow, and the note went flying into the
fire, and was burnt up in an instant before our eyes. As it happened,
those were the good times, when we were all well off--when five-pound
notes were more plentiful than they are now."

Lizzie sighed. The other ladies sighed. For the moment they became
indifferent to Emma Knox and her affairs. It was the beginning of
December, '92, and the depression was still deepening and deepening,
instead of getting lighter; and everybody felt it. The great financial
scandals were still in their most scandalous stage, and these little
country people had lost their little savings, or their friends and
relatives had lost theirs, through a mistaken confidence in
balance-sheets. Therefore they found a private and local scandal less
supremely interesting than it used to be. They fell to talking of their
afflicted colony, their disreputable Government, their personally altered
circumstances, the sad, sad blight that was over all. When they wanted to
cheer themselves, they returned to a discussion of the iniquities of
Emma's husband.

Meanwhile, Emma lay on the narrow bed that had been hers in the happy
years when she had no husband, glad to be out of the way of their
talk--glad, even, to be out of the way of Lizzie's talk for once, dear and
devoted as Lizzie was. It seemed to Mrs. Knox that nobody remembered she
was Mrs. Knox; they seemed to imagine that she could come back just as
she went away, and take her old place as if nothing had happened. It was
a great mistake. When you have been married--even if married miserably--you
have been spoilt for any other life. You can't be a girl again, occupied
with the trivial affairs of girlhood, if you would. You can't stand
having your father lord it over you, as if you were still nothing but his
child. It is maddening to hear people--when it is no concern of
theirs--discussing your husband, who, after all, is your husband, before
your face, and making him out to be the lowest cad on the face of the
earth. In short, the whole position is intolerable--particularly if you
are not well. Emma was not well. She had no strength, and her nerves had
gone to pieces. Her father and sister were beginning to get cross about
it, and to talk of sending for the doctor. The doctor--pooh! She knew what
would do her good better than any doctor could tell her--as she confided
to Tommy, when he came, on his return from school, to ask if her headache
was better.

Tommy was merely a rough, ugly, dirty, untidy schoolboy; but he was fond
of his sister Emma, and worried to see her so out of health and spirits.

"What is it you think would do you good?" he asked her, as he sat by her
bedside, his hat and books scattered over the floor. "If it's anything
from the shop, I'll run and get it."

"It is nothing from the shop," said Emma, drawing herself up into a
sitting posture, with unusual animation. "It is nothing that can be got
here, Tommy. It's something better than doctor's stuff--something that I
have been longing for for weeks and months past."

"I know--a letter from David," said the boy brightly.

Emma's pale young face flushed crimson, and one could see the signs of a
haughty spirit behind it. She pretended to be both surprised and angry at
this audacious suggestion. For David was the wicked husband from whose
clutches she had been rescued by an indignant family.

"David!" she exclaimed. "What are you thinking of? Why should I want a
letter from David? I have not written to him; I don't even know where he
is. He--he is nothing to me. Pray don't run away with the idea that I am
fretting about him."

"Oh!" faltered Tommy, with an abashed and disappointed air; "I didn't
know. I thought perhaps--"

"Don't think, dear boy. The less we all think on that subject, the
better--and the less we talk, too. I can't"--with a sudden change of
front--"oh, I can't bear to hear them all discussing him and abusing him
behind his back, when he can't defend himself. I do think it is so mean!"

"So do I," said the boy promptly. "But I don't do it. I never did think
he was as bad as they made out. You know you've got a bit of a temper
yourself, Emmie. Perhaps you riled him sometimes--without knowing it, you

"Perhaps I did," said Mrs. Knox. "I often wonder--however, it is no use
thinking about that now. The thing is done, and it can't be helped." She
sighed; then, with an effort, roused herself. "I'll tell you what I want,
Tommy--a breath of the sea! You know how I love the sea, and what good it
always does me. I feel, if I could have just one day on it, away from all
these people--say a run down to Sorrento in the Hygeia--I should be set up
for the summer. I should begin to get strong at once. I do want to get
away for a little, Tommy--I do want to get strong." Her voice quivered.

"Then, why don't you go?" he asked her.

"If only for a couple of days!" she ejaculated longingly. "Even one
day--one sight of the sea--one breath of it--would make a new creature of
me. I know it would. Of course, it is expensive, and I haven't much
money, and I won't ask father now--now that I am married; but just a
couple of days would not cost much, would it? I could go second-class,
for that matter."

"You wouldn't go alone, would you?"

"I don't want to. It's lonely enough at the best of times; I don't want
to make it worse. But I would not like to drag Lizzie away; I'd rather
not do that. I was thinking--you haven't got examinations next week, have

"Not till the week after," the boy replied, breathless with delighted
anticipation. "Oh, I say! you don't mean you would take me?"

"You could look after me very well," said Mrs. Knox, who, unfortunately
for one in her position, had no vocation for independence. "I want
somebody, and yet I don't want to be bothered. Suppose you and I go
together--shall we? It wouldn't put you off your examinations?"

"Not the least little bit," he assured her fervently. "If you stew up to
the last moment, your head only gets muddled. It is far better to try and
forget everything for a few days--freshens the brain, you know--puts you
regularly into form."

"I believe it is the best plan," she said, when she had thought it over.
"Then we'll do it, Tommy."

"Good egg!" he cried in rapture. This was the correct form of expression
with schoolboys at that date.

Lizzie, when she came to hear of the projected enterprise, was
dissatisfied with it.

"I should have thought," she remarked, "that the sea, and Sorrento
particularly, would have been the last place you'd wish to go to." And
she said so because it was near the sea that Emma had lived her
disastrous married life, and at Sorrento that she had spent the honeymoon
which began it. Emma assured her that, on the contrary, the sea was the
first and only thing she longed for; and it seemed like pure perversity
to Lizzie's mind. Lizzie then declared that she must go too, to take
charge of her sister, who was not strong enough to travel alone. She
ridiculed the idea of Tommy as a protector, to his great wrath. "That
child!" she called him.

"He is fourteen, and he is devoted to me," protested Emma. "He is all the
protector I want, and I have promised him, Lizzie. And of course father
cannot do without you. It is only for a couple of days."

"A couple of days is not long enough to do you any good; and then
suppose--just suppose you were to come across that man?"

"Well? What if I did?"--blushing furiously. "He would not kill me."

"You don't know what he wouldn't do. I would not have you run such a risk
for the world, without me with you."

"There's no fear of that," said Emma, with set lips. "Not the slightest
fear. I should think he'd be like the snakes, and get as far out of one's
way as possible."

"A very good name for him," said Lizzie: "a snake. He is just like a
snake--that snake in the fable that was warmed in somebody's bosom and
then turned to bite. Little we thought what we were doing when we let him
into this house!"

Emma's flush deepened, and the hard line of her mouth grew harder.

"You may be sure," she said bitterly, "that he regrets the day he entered
it quite as much as we do. I've no doubt he hates the very thought of
me--loathes it--would not touch me with a pair of tongs if he could help

She had her way about going to Melbourne, with Tommy for an escort. On
Monday night he scrubbed himself all over in a hot bath, and on Tuesday
morning went to have his hair cut and to buy himself a new necktie; for
it was not until Tuesday that Mr. Dawson gave his married daughter leave
to please herself.

Then, on Tuesday afternoon, brother and sister set off by the slow train,
Tommy gravely elated over his responsibilities, and Emma in better
spirits than he had seen her at any time since her separation from her
husband. They did not travel second-class, which in Australia is thought
a low thing to do, even by the little shopkeepers; Mr. Dawson had
forbidden it. "For we have not come to that yet," he said, "poor as we
are these times." And Lizzie would not hear of eight hours of hard seat
for a weakened back. They wanted Emma to wait until next morning for the
express, but she could not wait. That was the one thing about which she
was irresistibly obstinate.

"Father might change his mind, or the weather might change; let us go
while we can," she urged Tommy confidentially; and the boy sincerely
assured her that he was "on."

They left, therefore, at 3.30, and reached Melbourne before 11. It was a
delightful journey to both; weather warm, without sultriness or dust, and
the country, that looks so lonesome to un-Australian eyes, beautiful to
theirs, after the heavy rains of the cool spring. The grass was seeding,
of course, and therefore taking its tawny summer tints, but never had
they seen it so thick and fresh in the last month of the year. The corn
was being cut in the cultivated fields, scattered like isles in the sea
of bush. The plenteous harvest was almost the single sign of prosperity
left to the country in its day of unexampled adversity, and it was easy
for the most superficial eye to read it. Emma's eyes, having looked on a
landscape of wild hills only since she fled home from her cruel husband,
feasted upon the scene, so full of associations of other times and

"My word!" was the bush boy's frequent comment, "do look at that grass!
Won't there be some bush fires presently!"

Yes, she supposed there would. She talked to Tommy from time to time, but
for the most part she sat silent, thinking her own thoughts. It was in
December, she remembered, that she had gone on her honeymoon over this
same line, by this same slow train. Then the grass had been burnt up by
weeks of blazing weather. What a roasting day it was! and how strange and
home-sick she had felt, how heart-broken at parting with Lizzie, how
terrified at the prospect before her! She smiled as she recalled her
girlish foolishness, and Tommy thought it made her look like her old self
again. Now she could not disguise from herself that she was home-sick in
quite a different way. It was homesickness that was drawing her from her
father's house back to Sorrento and the sea. She was beginning to feel,
though she did not understand the fact--which really is a fact, though it
is the fashion to deny it--that it is not only better to have loved and
lost than never to have loved at all, but better to have even a bad
husband than to have none; meaning, of course, a bad husband like David,
who was still a man--not a brute-beast in human shape, like Neill and

I don't think I have mentioned that Emma Knox was pretty--very pretty--and
only twenty-five last birthday. In her dark serge skirt and jacket and
striped cotton blouse, with the neatest sailor hat on her curly fringe
and protuberant Clytie knot, and a trim little veil to keep all in order,
she was a charming figure--that kind of figure which you see, as soon as
you look at it, was never meant to go about the world without a man to
take care of it. Emma had never known what it was to want a man--certainly
not at a railway station in the night--and so felt a little timorous, a
little of the castaway, on stepping upon the platform at Spencer Street.
But Tommy rose to the occasion, shaking himself from the fetters of
untimely sleep. He shouldered the bag they shared between them, thrust
his arm gallantly between his sister and the crowd, and escorted her to
the tram and the Victoria Coffee Palace with the air of a father in
charge of a toddling babe. He had not seen the lights of Melbourne since
he was a petticoated child himself, but nothing daunted him.

They had little bedrooms side by side, in one of which they shared a
frugal supper of Lizzie's sandwiches and wine and water from a travelling
flask and the toilet bottle. In the old days David used to put up at
Menzies', and she remembered how he once brought her the most delicious
trayful after she had gone to bed, with his own hands.

"How odd it feels," she mused aloud, "to be in a place like this without

"I should think it does," said Tommy, knowing whom she meant by him. "I
should think you'd miss him awfully sometimes."

She was not angry. She sighed, and looked tired. "Well, you are a good
substitute, dear," she rejoined, gathering the crumbs of their repast
into a screw of paper. "But now we must get to sleep as fast as we can,
so as to be fresh for our trip in the morning."

She saw him to bed and tucked him up, and he was asleep in five minutes.
But she could not get away from her thoughts of David--David at his good
times--for hours. It was four o'clock before she ceased to hear the
post-office chimes. At seven she awoke, and the first sound she was
conscious of as the pattering of rain.


Tommy heard her groan and came running in.

"It won't be much--it can't be--so lovely as it was yesterday," he cried.

"Even if it is, we must go, Tommy."

"Of course we must."

They dressed themselves, and found their way through a public
drawing-room to a balcony overlooking the street.

"Hurrah!" cried the boy. "It's left off! I told you so!"

It had; but the sky had a dull and stormy look, and a fierce, muggy wind
was blowing.

"North," remarked Emma gloomily, with her hands over her hair, and her
eyes screwed up. "Just my luck!"

"Well, a north wind will be much better on the sea than on the land."

"If Lizzie were here, she'd make me wait till tomorrow."

"Oh, I wouldn't wait, if I were you."

"I can't! I must go! I feel as if something was drawing me--that I can't
resist. But I know all my pleasure is going to be spoilt. It is my

Tommy continued to combat this point of view, and they went to breakfast.
Before breakfast they bought a paper from the little girl on the
doorstep, to assure themselves that nothing had happened to prevent the
Hygeia from keeping her engagements. No; that was all right. She was to
start at 10.30, as usual.

They were ready to set off by a little after nine, and then it was
raining again. "A few heat drops," said Tommy; adding, when they soon
ceased to fall, the inevitable and triumphant "I told you so!" When they
sat down on a bench at the railway station, tickets in hand, to wait for
a Port Melbourne train, a little sheltered from the howling blast, they
persuaded themselves that it was really going to be a fine day, and
Emma's spirits rose. She began to think of the Back Beach, and the ocean
rollers, and the sweet little bowery paths cut in the scrubby cliffs,
where she and David used to wander, yawning for weariness of them and of
each other (a disagreeable detail that she chose to forget), in the first
long week of their married life. How she longed to see them again! And it
was going to be fine, after all.

The wind blew them on to the pier and up the gangway of the boat, Tommy
holding on to his hat and his bag of bananas, Emma trying to keep her
hair and her skirts together; and then they reached a haven of peace in
two of the Hygeia's little chairs, on her spacious covered deck. There
the wind, if only it had been not quite so boisterous, was beautiful.
Wind and sea go naturally together. The bay was lumpy and ruffled, full
of little waves; they lapped and splashed against the piles of the pier,
and seethed along the vessel's side; and Emma's ears drank in the sound
like music, and her heart swelled as if with the exhilaration of strong

"This is what I wanted!" she said, settling herself in a quiet corner by
the open rails. "Oh, I know it is going to do me such a lot of good! Oh,
Tommy, you don't know what the sight of the sea is to me after all this
long time!"

She caught her breath hysterically, and was silent for a minute; then,
with cheerful calmness, urged the boy to walk about and amuse himself,
and not mind her. She was all right now. She had her book. She wanted
nothing more.

Tess of the D'Urbervilles, in one volume, lay ostentatiously open on her
knee, and she turned the pages over. But never a word, even of that new
and notorious work, did she read, or want to read, to-day. However, Tommy
was satisfied, and went to look at the saloon and the machinery, and to
make friends with the ship's officers, who fed his country curiosity and
entertained him gloriously for the whole voyage.

Even after the last train had arrived there were not many passengers--a
mere handful, compared with the hundreds that used to crowd the bay boats
in the old times--the good old times, when she and David took trips
together. And the ships were few at the port piers, not jammed together
from end to end, and overflowing into the open, as she had always seen
them. And all was changed! Where life used to be bright and stirring, it
was now flat and dull--"stale," to use the expressive schoolboy adjective
so much in vogue--stale as soda-water uncorked since yesterday. The fizz
was gone out of everything. But then a north wind always predisposes you
to look on the dark side; and not only did the wind keep in that
detestable quarter, and blow as it always does blow therefrom, but the
rain came on before the boat reached Queenscliff, destroying all hope of
a fine day.

Tommy came to tell his sister when Queenscliff was in sight--the pretty
hill of trees, and the town that rises so charmingly out of the water on
a fine day. In its sad, wet veil she did not want to look at it. She sat
still where she was, with her face to the sea, while Tommy watched, with
deep interest, the debarking passengers scrambling under their umbrellas
down to the streaming pier. "After all," he said, when this sensation was
past, "it's a pity we did not wait another day. I can see you are not
enjoying yourself a bit."

"Oh, but I am--I am!" she responded to the reproach in his voice. "And
there's plenty of time for it to clear before we reach Sorrento. The wind
is going down. I daresay it will be delightful when we get there."

And when they got there it did not rain much, not enough to wet them
seriously between the pier and the hotel. Dinner at the Continental was
an essential part of the programme. She and David had lived at the
Continental during their honeymoon, and she had been tantalising Tommy
with descriptions of the meals they used to have.

When they reached the house, the feeling of things being changed came
back in force. There were no gay visitors flocking around, as they used
to do at this hungry hour; and, having been accustomed to walk into
hotels under the wing of a big husband, Emma felt vaguely small and
mean--as if she had greatly come down in the world--when she entered this
one without him. The large dining-room, where they had eaten so many nice
things together, had the air of desolation that prevailed elsewhere. All
its tables were fully set, with flowers in the middle and spiky napkins
sticking out of the wine-glasses, as for a hundred guests; but no guests
were there. Yes--five; so few that they were lost in the expanse, but
enough to show that the dinner had not vanished, if the company had. Mrs.
Knox sat down in the wilderness of white damask, and drew off her gloves.
A silent waiter stole up with a couple of soup plates, and Tommy fell to
with all his heart. And gradually the room grew so dark that they could
hardly see the end of it, and the rain swept past the windows in an
opaque sheet.

"Isn't it too, too bad!" wailed Emma, under her breath. "My one day!"

"Perhaps we might come again to-morrow," suggested Tommy, with his mouth
full of fish.

"I can't afford two days," she sighed. "And we shall never, never get to
the Back Beach!"

"Oh, yes, we shall," he replied comfortingly. "This won't last. It is too
heavy. Have some beer, old girl--it'll cheer you up."

"I really believe I will," she said, with a tearful laugh. And she
ordered some. "Well, at any rate, whatever else goes wrong, the dinner is
all right, isn't it?"

"Rather!" assented Tommy, with all the emphasis at his command. He had
got hold of the bill of fare, and found that he could go on for as long
as he liked without adding to the necessary fee.

They had enjoyed an excellent ragout of beef and olives, and Emma had
finished, and Tommy was starting a course of poultry, when a belated
guest entered--making eight. It was still raining heavily, and the room
was a cave of shadows; but this person, by reason of his size, the light
colour of his clothes, and the bright redness of his beard, shone in the
doorway like the sun through clouds. It was impossible to overlook him,
unless your back was turned, like Tommy's. Emma sat against the wall,
with her face to the door, and had nothing to do but to gaze about her;
consequently she saw him the moment he entered, and to the best
advantage. Also, he saw her. But whereas she started as if she had been
shot, turned crimson as a peony and then white as milk, his cold eyes
travelled calmly over her, and he walked to his seat, shook out his
napkin, and signalled for his dinner, as indifferent to her presence,
apparently, as if she had been a piece of furniture.

In a dry voice she said to Tommy, as soon as she could speak, "Make
haste, dear; I want to go."

"It's no use going while it pours like this," he answered reasonably.
"Where could you go? Better stay under shelter till it holds up. And I
want some lemon tart, if you don't mind--and some maraschino jelly, and
cheese. Wouldn't you like some cheese and salad? You haven't had half a

"I can't eat any more," she whispered faintly. "But you have what you
like. Only don't be long."

She leaned back against the wall, and tried to look indifferent and calm,
like David. But she felt sick. Was this what she had made such frantic
efforts to get to Sorrento for? To meet her husband like a stranger, and
to be spurned in that insulting manner, as if she were the dirt under his
feet--as if he were the injured instead of the injurer! She should have
listened to Lizzie. Oh, if Lizzie were here, how she could pay him out
for that! But she had no Lizzie--she was alone and defenceless. That was
his opportunity. That was what he had always done--taken advantage of her
helplessness to be cruel to her. Oh, it was cruel! How could he do
it--when she was not well--when he could see how solitary she was, straying
about unattended and uncared for, save by a little schoolboy, too little
to defend her against a big, strong man. Tears of self-pity came into her
eyes, but she got rid of them quickly, terrified lest he should see her
letting herself down to care. She did not care--not she. But a great lump
stuck fast in her throat, and she could not keep her eyes off him.

Of course he had turned his back on her, or nearly turned it. She could
just see the tip of his blunt nose and the line of his hairy cheek. What
a fine man he was! She thought he was a little stouter than of old--their
troubles had not told on him as they had on her--and his rough grey suit
was very becoming. Positively he was handsome. They used to jeer at his
red beard, but it was a beautiful beard. Auburn--not red. His severe
tranquillity, under the circumstances, was astounding. He ate his dinner
as calmly as if she were a hundred miles away from him--as, doubtless, he
wished she was. No, it was a matter of perfect indifference to him. He
didn't care where she was or what she did. He would not care if she were
dead. Perhaps he wished she was, so that he could marry somebody else.
And she wondered with terror--for it had never occurred to her
before--whether he had begun to love somebody else. She wondered what he
had come to Sorrento for. Not with any idea of seeing her, and making the
quarrel up, clearly. With her heart swelling and thumping in every part
of her body at once, burning through and through with mortification and
resentment, she wondered whether she could sit out Tommy's dinner without
bursting into tears.

Fortunately, she managed that. When, with a satisfied sigh, he announced
that he had done, there was nothing in her veiled face to attract the
attention that was again wholly at her service. He was quite happy and
comfortable, and assumed that she was, too. And now all her desire was to
get him out of the room in ignorance of his brother-in-law's presence
there, and to get herself past that maddening person with a proper show
of dignity. This, also, she managed fairly well, by keeping her nose very
much up in the air, and hustling the boy along at a run. And great was
her satisfaction, when out of doors again, to feel that she had not made
a fool of herself for David's amusement.

Out of doors it rained still, and she did not know where to go. In the
bright and stirring old days the trams would be running to and from the
Back Beach every few minutes, but now they had stopped, and the cabs were
at the pier. She could walk to the Back Beach, but it would tire her
dreadfully, and there would hardly be time to walk there and back too.
Besides, she would be soaked; not that that mattered. There was no one to
care whether she took her death of cold or not. It would be the best
thing that could happen. But in the first place it was necessary to get
out of the path that David would traverse when he had finished his

She stepped over a magnificent dog lying on the door-mat, and led Tommy
round the house to a quiet corner that she knew of, where a verandah
sheltered them, and they were out of view from the public approach. Here
they stood and watched the rain, until the grey sky lightened, and Emma
calculated that David must have finished his meal and gone.

Then she said to her brother: "Tommy, dear, go to the Back Beach I must!
It is clearing up, and we have over an hour still. Run, like a good boy,
and find out if any trams are starting. If not, get a cab and bring it
here. I am a little tired, and you'll go quicker without me."

Off went Tommy at full speed. Emma stood on the steps of the paved path
to the hotel dining-room, to wait for his return. And David quietly came
down that path behind her.

As soon as she knew that it was he--and she knew it the moment she heard
his step--she moved aside to let him pass, and stood very rigidly, staring
at the sky. And he did pass her--almost. Just as she was seized with an
insane impulse to beg him to take some notice of her, he checked his
stride and spoke. His voice was abrupt and cold, but she had never before
been so glad to hear it.

"Won't you get wet?"

She answered, without looking at him, "Oh, no; I have my ulster on"--and
then wished she had not been so familiar. She remembered how she had been
humiliated, and pressed her lips together.

"I think you had better stand under the verandah. There's no use in
catching cold for nothing."

"I shall do very well where I am, thank you."

"Where's Tommy gone?"

"To get me a cab or a tram. I want to go to the Back Beach."

"I'll see about it. Perhaps he doesn't know where to find them."

"Pray don't trouble. He knows perfectly. We don't require any

She was quite pleased with her lofty tone and demeanour. But when he took
her at her word, and then and there walked off, without even a good-bye,
she raged at herself for having spoken so nastily, and was seriously
upset. "That was my first chance," she said, "and perhaps it will be my
last. It would serve me right." Yet she looked eagerly for the coming cab
or tram, making sure--almost sure--that David would return with it. He had
evidently noticed that she was not strong, and was alive to the fact that
she was not adequately protected. He really had a kind heart at bottom.
And he must care something about her still. He was not anxious for her to
die, so that he might marry somebody else.

It was the tram that came, and she ran across the road to meet it. But
only Tommy sat in the open carriage, and she saw by his face that he had
not seen David. She was absurdly disappointed, and could not speak when
the boy pointed out to her that it had quite left off raining. She
thought of the times when she and David had gone spinning together over
the bosky tram-road to the ocean shore. Could he have forgotten them? He
had heard her say that she was going now; had he no wish to return to
those old haunts with her? But of course he had not. And it was all her

The little engine whisked them through the wet bushes, and set them down
upon the lovely headland overhanging the sea--the real outside sea, with
breakers spouting round the big rock, and foaming like whipped cream
along the sands; and as she gazed at the familiar scene her throat ached,
and her eyes burned, and her excited pulses shook her all over, worse
than ever. The wind had died down, and the rain cleared off; beyond the
breakers and the rock the waters seemed almost calmer than the bay. And
the colours were too wonderful for words. A wide band of dove-blue
sky--herald of another squall--lay over the horizon, and under it a breadth
of peacock-purple sea that no painter would dare to imitate, because the
critics, people who don't notice atmospheric effects, would turn up their
noses and exclaim, "Who ever saw sea like that?" And the sea in the
middle, under the clearer sky, was more artistically unnatural still--a
metallic, translucent, bright pea-green, with pinky-lilac shadows under
the clouds. It had almost a stagey glare and gaudiness about it--or that
is what a faithful picture of it would have had; the real thing was so
exquisitely beautiful that no one in a pensive mood could stand it. Emma
stumbled down the winding paths a little way, until she came to a bench
where she could sit at ease and look out, as from a lighthouse tower,
upon the scene, and there she dropped, feeling as if her heart would
break. It had come to this--cry she must. She had borne up gallantly,
considering that she had no health to support her, but she could bear up
no longer. So she said to her brother, "Tommy, dear, I feel as if I
should like to be alone a little while. I'm--I'm tired. You go down to the
beach and amuse yourself. Get some shells and things for Lizzie. I'll sit
here and rest till it is time to start."

This, of course, was Tommy's natural impulse, and down he went, promising
to be back by a quarter to four, when the last tram started for the
steamer. He was out of sight immediately, and not another soul was to be
seen. She looked all round to satisfy herself of that, and then took out
her pocket-handkerchief, laid her two arms on the back of the bench,
buried her face in them, and thoroughly enjoyed a good hearty
outburst--got the lump out of her throat, and the swelling out of her
breast, and felt better after it than she had done for months.

While still abandoned to this paroxysm, but over the first violence of
it, the big grey man from the hotel came down upon her, and this time she
did not hear him. For not only did she indulge in tears, she also moaned
aloud, because that was a luxury denied her in her father's house, where
Lizzie was for ever watching her. She cried, "Oh--oh--oh-h-h!" in
long-drawn wails and sighs, which filled her ears to the exclusion of
other sounds. Thus the noise of solid steps on the soft sand of the
winding footpaths was lost.

David saw her while yet some yards away, and paused to look at her. He
had fully intended to cut her if he met her again--to cut her with
particular precision and emphasis--but now he changed his mind. He had the
temper of a fiend, no doubt, but there was a little something of the
angel under it, if one took the trouble to look deep enough, and that
part of him was touched by her forlorn attitude. It was a very pretty
attitude for a slender figure, particularly about the waist. She sat as
on a horse, only much more gracefully, and under her twisted shoulders
and upraised arms the curves of her girlish shape were very dainty. Her
jacket was under her, for the bench was wet, and the simplicity of a
cotton blouse and close-clinging serge skirt exactly suited her. She had
an instinct for dress, and therefore her clothes always suited her; they
were quite simple, but never lacked distinction and style. People are
born with this attribute in all classes of life.

Presently she lifted her head to dab her red eyes and set her hat
straight, and then she saw her husband. He was behind the seat, but not
behind her face, which looked thunderstruck for the moment. As there was
not time to think how she should behave, she did not behave at all. She
cried out, piteously, "Oh, David, why do you torment me?"

He came forward at once.

"I have no thought of doing such a thing," he said stiffly. "I did not
know you were here, or I would have taken another path."

There was a little pause, and then she burst out vehemently, "One would
think I had the plague!"

He raised his brows. "Isn't that what you wish?"

"Oh," she cried, "I don't know what I wish! I'm miserable!"

Then she turned round upon the seat, and sat up primly, giving hasty
twitches to hat and veil. He hesitated for a moment, and boldly sat down
beside her.

"That cloud," said he, "is getting thicker. There's another storm

"I am afraid so," she answered, looking at the dove-blue belt, which had
a more slaty hue and a greater width than when she last noticed it. "But
it doesn't matter. There is more shelter here than there used to be."

"Yes. They've built that shed since our time."

The mention of "our time" was paralysing. She racked her brains for
another topic, but could not find one. A terrible silence ensued.

David broke it--with a thunderbolt. "What makes you miserable?" he asked
her. And, though he looked quite away from her when he spoke, she cowered
and cast her eyes upon the ground. Of course she gave the inevitable

"People don't say they are miserable, and cry their hearts out, for

"How do you know I was crying?"

"I saw you. I heard you."

"Have you been watching me?"

She took on her indignant tone, and he disdained to reply. Upon which she
veered round hastily.

"Everything makes me miserable! How can I be otherwise than miserable?"

"Why, I thought it was only being with me that made you miserable. I have
been imagining you quite enjoying yourself--with that dear, amiable sister
of yours."

"Say what you like to me, but don't sneer at her," she exclaimed in a
quarrelsome tone, and again--since he did not "answer back"--repenting. She
had no real heart for quarrelling now; nor, it appeared, had he. Lest he
should get up and go--lest this brief but precious opportunity should be
wasted like the last--she hastened to make herself more agreeable.

"Are you--are you quite well, David? You look well."

"Yes, thanks. I'm all right." He silently poked the damp ground with his
umbrella, and, having rooted up a weed or two, stole a side glance at
her. "I'm afraid I can't return the compliment," he remarked. "I don't
think you are looking well at all. I noticed it directly I saw you."

"Just now?"

"No--at lunch."

"Did you really take the trouble to notice me at lunch?"

"I did." Another palpitating pause. "What's been the matter with you,

"Oh, nothing."

"Of course. I expected you would say that. Well, I suppose it is no
business of mine--"

"I mean, nothing serious; I haven't been really ill. It's--it's more mind
than body, I think."

"How's that?"

He poked five holes in the gravel while he waited vainly for an

"I daresay," she presently continued, "I shall be ever so much the better
for this little change. The sea always does me good."

"Are you staying here?"

"No. We came by the boat this morning, and are going back now. It must be
nearly time, by the way."

"More than half an hour yet," he said, looking at his watch. "Who are

"Tommy and I. He has gone down to the beach to look for shells."

"Only Tommy? Are the rest of them in town?"

"No--at home. We came by ourselves, just for the trip--just because I pined
so for a breath of sea. We shall return to-morrow. Are you--?"

But she could say no more. Both jerked their heads sharply towards the
sound of an approaching step hurrying up an unseen path beneath them. In
a moment Tommy's freckled face appeared above the bushes.

"Oh, here you are!" exclaimed Emma weakly. She pretended to be much
relieved, but she was ready to cry with chagrin.

"Well, my boy," said David, with assumed heartiness, "how are you?"

Tommy stopped dead with amazement, red and breathless; then came forward
to shake hands with his brother-in-law, accepting his presence without
comment--for even a rough school-boy has a wonderful knack of behaving
like a gentleman at times in such awkward crises. His first idea was to
make himself scarce immediately.

"It's coming on to rain," he stammered. "Hadn't I better run up and see
if there's a tram about?"

He looked at David, and David looked at him, with shy affection. They had
always been good friends.

"Perhaps you'd better," said David, as Emma's reluctance to move kept her
silent. "Yes, it is coming on to pour badly. Put on your jacket, Emma."

She stood up, and he helped her on with her light coat, just as he used
to do in the honeymoon days. Perhaps he would have done something more,
and so would she, had not the storm cloud burst in a fierce shower and
driven them to seek instant shelter. They scrambled up the hill to the
long shed that was a strange place to them, and there stood side by side
behind David's umbrella--for the rain drove from the sea; and Emma began
to wonder, with a shaking heart, how the adventure was going to end.
Tommy was at the tram platform, skipping up and down with glee.

"You needn't," said David, "hug that damp thing against your thin skirt,
need you? Give it to me." He alluded to her ulster, which hung over her
folded arms.

"It is all right, thank you."

"Give it to me."

She handed it over with a smile--her first smile--pleased to hear the
imperious tone at which she used to be so absurdly offended. When he had
carefully felt it all over, he bade her put it on. He also helped her to
adjust it with the hand that was not holding the umbrella. As his big
fingers fumbled with a button near her throat, she cast down her eyes,
and blushed and trembled, as if she were being tentatively wooed again.
The old girl bashfulness prompted her to frustrate their mutual ends by a
stupid and commonplace remark:--

"What a day for a bay excursion!"

"Yes," he said slowly. "What made you choose such a day?"

"I did not choose it." And she went into explanations. "I might say,"
looking at him almost archly, "how came you to choose such a day?"

"I? Oh--business."

"Not pleasure?"

"No, indeed. I haven't been thinking much about pleasure these days. I'm
like the rest, as I suppose you know--pretty nearly stone-broke."

"What? You don't mean that! No; I never, never knew!"

"Well, I've lost a good two-thirds of the income I had when you were with
me, and Heaven knows whether I am going to save the rest. So you see,"
with sudden bitterness, "you timed it very well."

She moved closer, and looked squarely up at him, and there were tears in
her eyes. "Oh, David, how can you speak so? Do you suppose I cared for
money--for anything--"

"You certainly did not care for me," he broke in roughly. "That's all I

"But, if you come to that, did you care for me?"

"I never deserted you, at any rate."

"But, Davie--"

Alas! At this critical juncture they were interrupted again. Tommy came
running to inform them that the tram was about to start. Stern duty
compelled him.

"Oh!" Emma faintly ejaculated; and then a deadly silence fell.

When all three were in the car, exposed to a rush of rain that was like a
volley of bullets, she whispered under David's umbrella, held broadside
to the gale, "Are you going by the Hygeia too?"

He said "Yes." And then they spoke no more, except to Tommy, until they
reached the boat. On the way thither they had to shelter for some minutes
in the tram-shed on the bay side. When they walked down the pier and
climbed on board, the air was clear and soft, and a pallid sky gleaming
over a mauve and pea-green sea.

On deck David picked up a chair, and asked his wife where she preferred
to sit. She chose a place astern, between two of the fixed seats, where
there were fewest people. There, being comfortably settled, with her feet
upon the rail, and her back to everybody, she felt that all she wanted in
the world was to have him in another chair beside her, to talk to her all
the way to Melbourne, which would be for two hours and a half. In that
time, surely, she would be able to explain away some of the
misapprehensions that he evidently laboured under. She burned to explain
them--to justify herself. No, not to justify herself exactly; perhaps not
even to excuse herself; but to disabuse his mind of the idea that she had
left him because she did not care for him--to make him understand, above
all things, that she was not the woman to seek comfort for herself while
those she loved were in difficulty and poverty--to wholly reconsider the
situation, in short, with a view to better arrangements.

But, instead of sitting down with her in that deliciously quiet corner,
which she had chosen on purpose, he strayed away with Tommy. They
disappeared together before she was aware of it, and did not come back.
She kept her ears pricked and her eyes turned over her left shoulder for
a long time; but the Hygeia is a boat on which one can easily lose and be
lost to one's friends, and for nearly the whole distance between Sorrento
and Queenscliff she never saw a sign of them. The fact was that David had
a great many vital questions to submit to his small brother-in-law before
he could proceed further; but this she did not think of. She imagined
that Tommy had gone off to leave the coast clear for a lover's
tête-à-tête, and that David had gone off to avoid that tête-à-tête. As
time went on, and hope and patience failed, and it seemed evident to her
that he was quite implacable, she ceased to make any pretences to
herself. She admitted that she could never bear now to go back to the
country as she had come away from it--that if he refused to let her
retrace the mad step she had taken six months ago, her heart would break,
and her life become wholly valueless to her.

A very miserable woman she was as she sat forlornly alone in her nook
between the empty seats, watching the rough tumble of the water that
could hardly shake the floor beneath her, and the floods of swirling foam
that ran past her feet, tucked between the open rails. Listening to the
sound she loved--the sweetest music in the world--and gazing on the scene
for which her soul had hungered as an exile for its home, she said to
herself that she wished she was dead--that she would like to jump up from
her chair and throw herself overboard. "If I were dead, past troubling
him any more, perhaps he would care for me a little," she thought, with
tear-filled eyes and a bursting heart. "Oh, I wish I was drowned and dead
at the bottom of the sea!"

Then something occurred whereby she nearly had that wish. The Hygeia was
nearing Queenscliff--where Emma was convinced that David would get off and
finish his journey by train, so as to be finally rid of her--and the
Flinders, on its way to Launceston, was making for the Heads. The two
fast boats, like long-lost brothers hastening to embrace each other, kept
their respective courses at full speed until they met, and the bows of
the Tasmanian boat were only a few yards from the side of the bay
steamer, rather more than a few yards from the end. To err is human, even
in the case of ships' officers, who, it must be admitted, err less,
professionally, than any body of known men; and the navigator of the
excursion boat had the apparently reasonable idea that he could get past
in time. So he did; but an "imminent collision" was spoken of in the
evening papers, and the Marine Board, not having enough to do with
inquiring into things that did happen, gladly took note of those that
might have done so, and decided, in sundry forms and ceremonies lasting
over a fortnight, that the Hygeia had incurred penalties for violating--or
nearly violating--the rules of the road. Certainly a collision did seem
imminent for a moment--even inevitable. Romantic reporters described the
Hygeia's people as rushing for life-belts and cork jackets in a panic of
fright; but there was no time for that--no time even to turn the button
which would have showered those articles upon all in need of them. They
simply got up from their chairs and stood for a breathless instant with
their hearts in their mouths. Then, the Flinders having already backed
her engines, the Hygeia ported her helm, whisking round with the light
speed of a waltzing lady; and, sideways to each other, they swept apart,
and went their ways as if nothing had happened. In fact, nothing had
happened. It was all over in a breath.

But in that breath things changed for Emma. She sat facing the Flinders
as it came up, exactly in the path of the towering bows; and as she
sprang from her chair an arm was flung round her, and she was whirled
from that dangerous place.

"Don't be frightened, dear; stick to me," said David, And the boat slewed
round, and they saw they were not going into the water. Emma, though she
did not want to drown now, had a moment's keen disappointment. She
thought how beautiful it would have been to be shipwrecked, and saved by
her gallant husband; for, of course, he would have saved her. Next moment
he was leading her back to her seat, laughing confusedly; she, hanging on
his arm, bathed in delicious blushes from head to foot.

"Ha! I say, that was a narrow shave! I really thought she was into us,"
he said, as he handed her a chair.

"Yes; and wasn't it odd?"--her voice quivered and her eyes filled--"I was
just wishing I was at the bottom of the sea."

"Don't talk nonsense," he rejoined, very roughly, but with no unkindness
in his tone.

"It isn't nonsense. I don't care a bit for my life--as things are now."
There was a wail in her voice. "David, you are not going away again, are

"Only to get a chair."

He fetched a chair, and sat down beside her, very close. Flanked by the
two empty seats, and with their backs to the deck, where all the
passengers, Tommy included, were looking towards Queenscliff pier with
their backs to them, they enjoyed some minutes of welcome privacy.

"And so you haven't found it so very jolly, after all?"

He smiled a little to himself, but did not let her see it.

"Oh, David, I have been so miserable--so utterly miserable--without you!"

"And you were utterly miserable with me. So what's to be done?"

"It was my fault, David. I know I don't deserve to be forgiven--"

Too overcome to proceed, she looked at him with swimming eyes, and put
out her hand appealingly. He took it and held it, gently kneading it
between his own.

"I think it was mostly mine," he said. "I know I've got a vile temper,
and you did use to rile me, old girl, now didn't you?"

"I was a beast."

"No, no, you weren't. But--well, we didn't understand each other, did we?
We were both too new to it, I suppose. I should have been gentler with a
delicate little thing like you. I have been awfully sorry about it many a

"You never wrote to me, David!"

"You never wrote to me, Emmie."

"I didn't like to."

"And I couldn't, after your telling me--"

"Oh, don't speak of that! If you knew how I have regretted those hasty,
wicked words, how I've wanted to come back--"

"There, there!" he whispered soothingly, for her emotion was so great
that it threatened to attract notice. "Let's say no more about it. Come
back, if you feel you want to; if you think you can put up with such an
ogre as I am--a ruined man, into the bargain."

"Oh, I don't mind your being poor--all the better! I can work for you, as
well as you for me. I can do without a servant--"

"No, no; I'm not so badly off as that. I'm not going to let you slave and
fag, and wear yourself out. It's for me to take care of you, pet. And I
mean to do it--a little better than I did last time. When I get you again,
I'll see if I can't fatten you up a bit, and put the roses back into your
cheeks. You are looking wretched."

"No wonder! No wonder!"

"Only you must promise not to throw me over again, Emmie, if we happen to
quarrel. I daresay I shall be obstreperous sometimes--I'll try not--"

"Darling! Darling!"

She leaned against his bent shoulder, put an arm across his breast, which
she could hardly span, and her lips to his prickly red moustache. He
clasped her for a moment, and they snatched an eager kiss. Of course
people saw them, even with their backs. turned, and were visibly
scandalized. But Emma, while blushing for her indiscretion, refused to be
ashamed of it.

"Are we not husband and wife?" she demanded bridling.

"Thank God we are!" he replied; "and what we've got to do now is to keep
so. But, Emmie, let us behave ourselves in a public place. Put your hat
straight, my dear. I am going now to get you a cup of tea."

He lent downstairs, leaving her, in her palpitating happiness, to tuck up
her loose hair, arrange her veil, and otherwise compose herself. When he
returned, Tommy was with him, grinning from ear to ear, and capering for

"My word," he whispered audibly, "you little thought what you were coming
to the seaside for, did you? And on such a bad day too! Wasn't it a bit
of luck?"

Emma looked at him with solemn, impassioned eyes.

"I believe," she said, breathing deeply, "that I was led."

It came on to rain and blow again harder than ever--a gale fierce enough
to snap hawsers wholesale, according to later reports; but the Hygeia,
with weather awnings down, slipped calmly through it, and David and Emma,
when they had moved forward a little, were perfectly dry and comfortable.
Never in all their lives had they been so comfortable before. Then, at
about five o'clock, the colour came into the sea again, and the loveliest
rainbow into the sky.

David pointed to it.

"The world is not to be drowned any more, Emmie."

"Not by me," she answered, with a chastened smile.

Tommy had left them for a long time, and now came creeping back to give
them the encouragement of his opinion that it was going to be a fine
evening after all.

"I believe so," said David. "And I was just regretting that we hadn't
stayed at Sorrento. We could have had a nice long ramble before dark."

"Oh, but we couldn't have stayed, you know. We promised to go home
to-morrow. I've got my examinations next week."

"Well, my boy, you can go. I'll see you off safely, and get somebody to
look after you on the journey. But Emma had better stay with me. One day
of the sea isn't enough for her--she wants a longer change. Tell Lizzie I
don't think, by the look of her, that she has been at all well taken care
of up there--"

"David, hush!"

"And that I think she's safer in my charge. We go back to Sorrento,
Emmie, and stop there over Sunday, since the sea does you so much good."

* * * * * * * * * *



"Tuesday next being Prince of Wales' birth--being--er--er--the Feast of All
Saints, there will be Divine Service in this church at seven o'clock in
the evening."
Anna Paine was sitting in the choir, nearly fronting her father, when he
gave out this notice. She looked at him with steely eyes that transfixed
him like daggers. The girls beside her tittered; the men behind her
nudged each other, and whispered, and fluttered leaves of music noisily.
A smile rippled over the faces in the body of the church. One decorous
maiden lady in a front pew hung her head and blushed.

"Certainly," thought Anna Paine, "he is falling into his second
childhood. Last Sunday he gave out the wrong hymn, and the Sunday before
he put his hood on inside out. Nothing but the infirmities of age can
explain this increasing absent-mindedness."

She totted up his sum of years, and saw that he was indeed growing an old
man--fifty-five next birthday.

The lady who had blushed and not laughed at the parson's blunder--she also
was quite an old woman, forty at the least--emerged upon the footpath
after service in company with a youthful niece and nephew. They dawdled
as they walked, for the brother of the lady and father of the girl and
boy was counting the offertory in the vestry, and it was their habit to
wait for him. It had been their habit since the boy came home. The boy,
by the way, was a smart, moustached young man, taking a little holiday
between his labours at the University, which were over, and the labours
of his profession, which were yet to come. But, of course, he was a boy
to his aunt, just as she was an old maid to him.

He pounced upon Anna Paine as she was sedately walking towards the
parsonage. Her severe young face, full of trouble and responsibility
about her aged and erring father, melted into smiles.

"Oh, is it you?" she cried, as if she had not been lingering on purpose
to let him catch her up. "Good-morning."

"Good-morning, Miss Paine. Oh, I say, did you hear what your father said
when he gave out the notice? Prince of Wales' birthday, by Jove! You
should have seen aunt's face. I nearly had a fit. Now, if it had been
me--! I've done nothing but think of Prince of Wales' birthday ever since
he asked me to come and see the fireworks from the church tower."

"What?" cried Anna.

"Don't you know? He said we shouldn't want to be in the crush of the
street, and that we could see everything from the tower beautifully; and
he proposed that we should all go up and spend the evening there. I think
it's the jolliest idea, don't you? Didn't he tell you he had asked us?"

"Not a word," said Anna. "He is getting dreadfully forgetful. I am really
afraid that he is losing his faculties a little--that his memory is

"I daresay. But don't you think it a delightful way of seeing the
fireworks? I believe he did ask us to tea; but, of course, he had no
business to do that without speaking to you."

"Oh, do come; come to tea, of course--all of you. We shall be delighted."

"Thanks--thanks; it's too good of you. My father never goes out to tea, as
you know; but poor old aunt will be charmed, and Eve too."

"I ought to go and speak to your aunt."

"You needn't. She's got Toby."

They glanced back towards the church, and laughed to see aunt staggering
in the embraces of the parsonage dog, a mongrel collie, strong and ardent
enough to knock the little woman down.

"How can she let him?" exclaimed Anna, who permitted no such liberties
herself. "He will tear that lace mantle to rags. I can't understand why
he is so fond of her, can you?"

"Cupboard love. She's a soft-hearted old dear, and gives him cakes and
bones when he comes to the house."

"Then no wonder he almost lives there."

"Is he too much away? She shall leave off encouraging him. I will tell

"You need not; I don't want him. I hate dogs about the place; they are so
messy, especially in wet weather."

"I hope to goodness it won't be wet on the ninth."

"I hope not, indeed."

The treasurer came out from the vestry, with the morning's takings in his
pocket, and his young daughter claimed him. Mr. Paine hurried to release
aunt from Toby's loving persecutions.

"Down, sir! down this minute! How dare you, sir?"

He would have cuffed the collie had not aunt protected him.

"Do not scold him," pleaded she, looking at the tall grey man with the
softest woman's eyes. "It is just pure affection, Mr. Paine, and we old
folks don't get too much of that."

"I hope you don't call yourself old, Miss Ransome," said the parson

"Oh, yes," she rejoined, with a fluttered laugh and blush; "a most
ancient person."

"Then what must I be?" he inquired tragically.

She blushed a little more as she tried to make him believe that he was in
the golden prime; and the young people--the real young people--came up.

"Well, Miss Ransome," said Mr. Paine, "I hope we are to have the pleasure
of seeing you on Prince of Wales' birthday. By the way, what a stupid
mistake I made this morning! Yes, my dear"--to Anna--"I know you are going
to read me a lecture, but I assure you it was the purest accident. I
can't think how I came to do it. So many things just now--Prince of Wales'
birthday, Guy Fawkes, and so on--that I suppose I got confused amongst
them. I wonder I did not say 'Guy Fawkes' Day,' with all the boys in the
town coming to beg subscriptions for their bonfires and crackers."

"One does not," said Anna gravely, "connect things of that sort with the
services of the Church. At least, I am glad you did not say, 'Tuesday
next being Cup Day'--for it is Cup Day, more's the pity."

"I should hardly have made that mistake," said Mr. Paine, with dignity,
"seeing how much I disapprove of racing and gambling--one of the curses of
this country."

"Yes," murmured aunt, glancing at her nephew, who had sunk a pound of
precious money in Tattersalls' Sweep.

"I should hope you disapprove of Guy Fawkes, too," said Anna. "Anything
so absurd as to preserve a custom of that kind as a British institution,
in a new country, and at this time of day! No wonder the Catholics are

"But, my dear," said aunt gently, "no one thinks of its origin now. It is
only kept up as an excuse for bonfires. Boys do so love bonfires!"

Aunt loved boys, and was kind to their little weaknesses; but Anna was
for doing what was right and reasonable, regardless of human whims. "They
should be taught better," said she. "It is ridiculous to give them a good
education with one hand, and with the other to encourage them in a
display of ignorance and bigotry that would disgrace the most uncivilized
nation. Don't you think so, Mr. Ransome?"

She spoke to Mr. Ransome junior. Mr. Ransome senior had been dragged into
the church tower by his daughter Eve, who desired to assure him that the
ladders were safe.

"Certainly," said young Ransome, in his cheerful way. "But since bonfires
are to be--it's idiotic, of course--but as they will be lit, in spite of
us, wouldn't it be nice to go up the tower to look at them? I know of six
at the least. They would look very pretty at night, burning on the

He had, in fact, helped to build one of those six bonfires; he had given
his oldest hat and trousers to the straw man who was to crown its
apex--instigated by aunt.

"Saturday is your father's busy night," suggested aunt.

"But I could get forward," said Mr. Paine eagerly. "I could spare an hour
or two."

"No need for that, sir; I'd look after them," said Alan Ransome, with an
exulting look at Anna.

"Then suppose you all come round before it gets dark?"

This plan was agreed to, in addition to the plans for Prince of Wales'
birthday; and then the party separated. Old Ransome (he, too, was over
fifty), a bank manager of standing in the town, led the way home with his
daughter, a bouncing girl of fifteen. Young Ransome followed, escorting
his little aunt. He wanted to give her his arm, to aid her feeble steps;
but the umbrella skirt of her Sunday gown required a hand to hold it up
behind, and the other was occupied with her parasol and Prayer-Book. In
the rear of the party Toby trotted stealthily, sniffing the beloved
footsteps on the pavement. He always liked to see her safely home, even
when his sense of duty to his own family prevented him from staying there
with her.

It was the loveliest day, that 30th of October, and promised settled
weather for the great events. Both aunt and nephew were thinking of this
as they paced the street towards their dinner.

"It isn't often we have a really all-fine Cup Week," said Alan at last,
"but I do think we are safe for it this time."

"Yes," said aunt, smiling at the intense blue sky. "I am so glad! I hate
to think of poor holiday-makers having their pleasure spoiled."

She did not allude only to the racing folks, on whom the good Church
people desire that rain should fall. Cup Day being a public holiday
through the length and breadth of Victoria, and all the trains and
steamboats running at excursion fares, the Y.M.C.A. and Sunday Schools
innumerable disport themselves in pious games, and shopkeepers and
postmen, with all representatives of industrious respectability, go a
holiday-making in their best clothes as a social duty, and in a more
thorough manner than at any other time of the year--even Christmas. And
the sun must shine upon just and unjust together. Perhaps, however, aunt
was not even alluding to these.

In the parsonage Mr. Paine sat down to his dinner, vis-à-vis with his
daughter, who kept house for him so admirably. She was a very pretty
girl, and looked charming in her new summer frock of pink zephyr and the
neat apron she had put on to preserve it. No one would have guessed, from
her appearance, how severe she could be. She caused her father to shake
in his shoes at times like the present, when he knew he had failed in his
duty as a clergyman and a rural dean. Anna, somehow, never failed in

"What delightful weather!" remarked the parson, with affected
light-heartedness, beginning to carve the cold lamb set before him. "The
collection was double what we had last Sunday morning."

Anna turned the salad over thoughtfully.

"It is very unfortunate that Cup Day should fall on the first," she said.
"I am afraid we shall have no congregation. I think, father, you ought to
have said something about it in your sermon. How many will remember All
Saints' Day when their heads are full of the winner and their gains and

"Perhaps I ought. But I will have a choir practice after service. That
always brings a few. I will give it out to-night."

"I am afraid even the choir will not come on a Cup Night. But I will go
and see some of them, and ask them to set an example. And, by the way, my
dear father, do please write down your notices in future, and read them
from the paper. Your memory is not as good as it used to be, and a
mistake such as you made this morning is too, too dreadful. The whole
church was giggling. All the young clergy will hear about it, and make
fun of you. I dare say it will come to the bishop's ears."

"I know, my dear. I am extremely sorry. But we are all liable to blunder
sometimes. I suppose I was thinking of your young friends coming to see
the fireworks from the tower, or something of that sort."

"We might have thought of it," said Anna, "though not in church, I hope.
But such things can't interest you."

Mr. Paine attacked his dinner resolutely. He was an old man, grey and
bald, with lines in his thin, large-featured face; but his teeth and his
appetite for food (amongst other things) were as good as hers. She
lectured him throughout his meal, gently, but firmly. Then she made him a
nice cup of tea, and sent him forth to his afternoon bush service with a
great coat and comforter in the buggy; for she was a devoted child.

"My dear," he protested, "I don't want wraps this summer day."

"That is just where you careless people make a mistake," she replied
calmly. "You think that one warm day, like one swallow, makes a summer.
It may turn cold at any moment, and will when the sun goes down. It is
very well for us young folks to run risks--though I never do it, for I
think it is wrong--but not for people of your age. The first heat is worse
for giving colds than winter weather."

So he drove off, with his wraps under the seat, accompanied by Toby, who
had returned from his visit to aunt to join the expedition; and Miss
Paine went to Sunday School. She was a terror at Sunday School. Of course
I mean that she was a terror to misbehaving boys and girls. To the school
itself she was foundation and coping stone; it never could have got
along, not to say excelled in good management as it did, without her.

The first of November came. The first of November is All Saints' Day,
and when it falls on a Tuesday it falls naturally on the first Tuesday of
the month, and the first Tuesday of the month is Cup Day. The
combination, as sadly anticipated, was fatal to the success of Mr.
Paine's service. A morning week-day service never had a chance, save on
Good Fridays and Christmas Days, but an evening one, especially with a
choir practice tacked on to it, did sometimes come off, to flatter the
poor parson that the church was still what it used to be in the good old
times. On this occasion there was no congregation--only Anna and another;
and the verger was furious at having to pull the bell on Cup Night. He
rang for ten minutes instead of the regulation quarter of an hour, and
then plunged into the street and was lost to sight and use. Mr. Paine
waited dejectedly for the girls of the choir; was then commanded by Anna
to read the prayers and give a short address, as a duty to the solitary
parishioner who had been led to expect them, but who would gladly have
let him off; he then put out the lights himself, and locked the western
door. Before he left the vestry he wrote down in his sermon book that a
service had been held, and had been poorly attended on account of rain.
But it was not the rain that killed that service; it was the Cup. The
great race had been run two hundred miles away, and the astonishing
victory of Glenloth had been known for hours; but still the excitement of
the event reverberated through the little town, and so absorbed the
thoughts of nearly every man, woman and child in it that they never
noticed the lighted windows of the church on the hill. The bell tinkled
to deaf ears.

"I did think," said Mr. Paine, "that Miss Ransome would have come, if
nobody else."

"Yes," said Anna, who was aggrieved because Alan had not brought his
aunt--though, indeed, even she acknowledged that it was too much to expect
of any young man who had not a pronouncedly pious bent. "She, at any
rate, might have set an example."

Though it was with no idea of setting an example that she did it, aunt
had duly prepared for church. To her it was a blessed privilege to sit
under Mr. Paine, and the Cup was nothing; she did not even know that
Glenloth had been last horse but one in the betting, until Alan told her
at tea. But just as she was creeping downstairs in waterproof and
goloshes, her niece intercepted her, and loudly forbade her to go out on
such a night.

"The idea of your thinking of such a thing, with a cold already!" cried
Eve. "You naughty old woman! I will not allow you to risk your precious
health, so don't imagine it. Take off your things this minute."

"My dear, I am quite protected from the weather," pleaded aunt; "look at
me!" She displayed her rubber-shod feet and the wings of her Russian
cloak. "How can I take harm with these?"

Eve called her brother, who had just rushed in to give his father the
latest news of sweep winnings, and she put the case to him.

"Look here, Alan! are we to let this old lady go out and catch her death
of cold, just for the sake of making up a congregation for Mr. Paine?"

"Certainly not," said Alan. "Most decidedly not. If she doesn't know how
to take care of herself better than that, we must teach her. A little
woman, under seven stone, as thin as tissue paper, with a chest as
delicate as I don't know what--I daresay we are going to let her get cold
and catch her death, just to please Mr. Paine!"

"Dear boy," murmured the object of his solicitude with a hand on his arm,
"to think so much of his old aunt! But I am well wrapped up, love, and I
do so want to go!"

"You are not to go," he declared firmly.

And the end of it was that she took off her waterproof and goloshes, and
sat down to listen to his story of the rainy Cup--rainier than in
Assyrian's year--and the fortune that would have been his had he drawn
Glenloth in Tattersall's. She made a bad listener, which was not often
the case. The sound of the church bell, faint and thin in the distance,
distracted her.


This was the first disappointment. And the sad Cup Day, taking its colour
from the general aspect of public affairs, seemed to have set the key for
all the November holidays. On the fifth it rained again, and harder than
before. There should have been an eclipse of the moon on Friday night,
and the astronomers had their turn of frustrated hopes, for no moon could
show itself through such density of cloud. All Saturday it poured so
continuously as to preclude the possibility of bonfires burning, as it
was thought, though boys might be expected to try to light them. Mr.
Paine got forward with his sermon, and aunt was all day putting her head
out of doors to see how the sky looked; but at seven o'clock it was
dripping still, and they had to resign themselves to fate. Aunt knew she
would not be allowed to go out in the rain, and was not so foolish as to
propose it. Eve, also, was ordered by her father to remain at home. Only
Alan, who was a young man and could do as he liked, shook himself into
his caped ulster, set a flannel cap on the back of his curly head, and
marched off to the parsonage.
"I came, sir," said he at the study door, "to say that aunt and Eve are
very sorry, but it was too wet for them to come out to-night."

"Yes," said Mr. Paine, "I was afraid so. Well, we must hope for better
luck next week. There would be nothing to see, I suppose. Bonfires will
never burn after being soaked like this."

"I don't know," said Alan; "I expect they'll pour buckets of kerosene
over them. Trust the boys not to be done, when they've set their minds on
having them."

"But it's too wet to go out to them. The parents would not allow it."

"It is not as bad as it was. I think it is holding up. More like a Scotch
mist than actual rain. You can hear them letting off their crackers. I'm
sure, if it doesn't actually pour in sheets, they will have the bonfires
somehow. Shall we just take a run up the tower and look?"

This was not the same thing to Mr. Paine as escorting a party which
included aunt, and he begged to be excused. "But you go, if you like, my
boy," he said hospitably. "You know the way. Anna will give you a

"And would--would Miss Paine?"

"You can ask her. I don't suppose she would, on such a night; but you can
see what she says. You will excuse me now; I am rather occupied. Saturday
is my busy night, you know."

He retired within his sanctum, and shut the door. Anna, he knew, would do
all that was right in the entertainment of the young man. He never
thought of her as needing a chaperon or parental protection of any kind.
She never thought of it either, young and pretty as she was.

She was sitting in the dining-room, delicately darning a rent in her
father's cassock. He had torn it on a nail last Sunday, and said nothing
to her about it until Sunday had nearly come again--for which she had
severely reprimanded him. She thought it another proof that the
forgetfulness of old age was creeping on. But he had not forgotten; he
had merely put off telling her to the last moment because he was afraid
of what she would say. When Alan Ransome returned from his mission to the
study door, she snipped the silk thread, folded up the garment, tucked
all her implements into her neat work-basket, and gave herself up to a
girl's enjoyments.

"Well," she said, with a welcoming smile, "you have not persuaded him to
do anything so foolish?"

"No," said Alan, sitting down comfortably and spreading his arms on the
table. "But he said I might go up, and that you would give me a lantern."

"Certainly. But are you really so set on seeing a bonfire? Not that there
will be any to-night--"

"There will," he interposed. "Listen! it has left off raining."

He held up his hand, and they listened, looking into each other's eyes.
It did not seem to be raining now, but they could hardly have heard rain,
in any case, for the constant popping of Chinese crackers in the street.

"Are you really so keen to see a boy's bonfire that you would toil up
those ladders in the dark and wet alone--?"

"Not alone," he again interrupted. "I'll go if you'll go; if not, I shall
stop down, of course."

"And do you think I am going to be so silly?"

"I don't see anything silly about it. It is not raining. They are sure to
light up. And the effect will be very pretty seen from there."

"I have not your passion for bonfires. I disapprove of them."

"I know. It's just the artistic effect. You can imagine they are the
beacons those old Scotch fellows used to burn to summon the clans to war.
Do come! You promised that you would on Sunday."

"Yes, if fine. And when I thought we were going to be a party."

"You and I are party enough. Your father told me I might ask you."

The colour rose in her pretty face. She got up and went out to look at
the night. Alan promptly followed her.

"It is pitch-dark," she said falteringly.

"All the better," he declared. "They will show up splendidly. Far better
than if it were clear."

"It does seem so idiotic," she continued, laughing. But there was
indecision in her voice, and he felt his point was gained.

"Go and wrap yourself up and get the lantern," he urged. "If you don't
like to climb the tower, we can just have a look from the church gate."

Still protesting, she fetched a cloak and hat, and procured a lantern
from the kitchen. The maid-of-all-work was out for the evening, like all
bush-town maids on this day of the week, when shops closed at ten instead
of at six, and a faint flavour of Continental boulevard made the lighted
pavements attractive, even in wet weather; so there was no one to spy and
make remarks upon the young lady's proceedings. It is needless to say
that she would have indignantly scouted the idea of doing anything, at
any time, that the whole world might not see and know of; but we all have
our weak moments, and the unacknowledged feeling that she was taking
rather an extreme liberty with conscience and the convenances caused Anna
Paine to respect her father's judgment and prerogatives a little more
than usual. She was glad that he had told Alan to ask her to go with him,
and that he saw no harm in her doing so.

Of course they did not stop at the church gate. A glow in the distant
darkness showed that one bonfire, at least, had been started
successfully, by kerosene or otherwise; and Alan believed it was the one
that he had built, and insisted that they must go up the tower to prove
it. Anna said, "Oh, well, just for a moment"; and the sudden thumping of
her heart seemed to presage the fate that she thereby rashly invited.

The key was in the vestry door--"as usual!" Anna interjected--and they let
themselves into the church, the intense silence of which was almost
audible. It was, by the way, a superior church for a bush town; large and
strong, built of the white granite that formed the hill on which it stood
and the wooded ranges that surrounded it. The tall, square, battlemented
tower was a particularly rare distinction, of which the parish was very
proud. It had three storeys, the middle one being the bell chamber; and
on the leaded roof stood a tall flag-staff, from which the royal standard
flew on Queen's birthdays and other national occasions. The ascent was
made by very long and extremely shaky ladders, which, however, were
guaranteed to bear.

At the bottom of the lowest of these, in the porch behind the great west
door, Alan halted.

"I will go first and open the trap," he said. "Stay here till I get up.
Don't start till I am off the ladder, and can hang down the lantern for
you to see by. Are you sure you don't feel nervous?" His tone was very

"Not a bit," she replied; "I have been up too often to feel nervous."

But still her hands trembled as she grasped the rungs, one after another,
and slowly hoisted herself after him towards the square hole overhead.

His eager, handsome face overhung the hole, and his arms were
outstretched to receive her as soon as her hat was on a level with it.
The trial to women's nerves was at these points, because the ladders
stood against the wall, and one had to clamber sideways over a little
chasm to reach the floor; and he was resolved to take every care of her.

"Don't bother," she cried, hurriedly scrambling to her feet; "I am used
to it. I don't want help. It's your poor aunt whom we shall have to look
after, if she is really determined to come up on Wednesday."

"She is quite determined," said Alan. "You would think she was a girl
looking forward to a ball the way she is counting on it. Poor old thing!"

He lowered the cover over the trap door, and they ascended the second
ladder, past the beam that supported the bell, which projected rather
dangerously "Mind the beam! Mind the beam!" he kept calling out, until
the little figure had passed it, and was near him once more. Then he
dashed aside the lantern and was in time to half lift her from the ladder
to the floor.

"I told you I wanted no help," she protested shaking out her skirts. But
she said it with a friendly laugh, and her face, gleaming for a moment in
the little haze of lantern light, was lovely with girlish blushes.

Again he made the trap-door safe, and they ascended the third ladder,
which came out upon the roof. This time he set the lantern upon the edge
of the opening, and when she came up he seized her in both arms, and
dragging her and himself to their feet together, stood on the leads and
held her to his breast, and kissed her face and hair under her hat brim.

She uttered a cry of consternation. "Oh! oh was this what you enticed me
up for? Oh, Mr. Ransome, don't--you forget yourself--"

"But you don't mind--you do care for me," he murmured, continuing to kiss
her with all the ardour of a lover of his years. "I know it--and you are
not angry with me really--not really, Anna? I couldn't help it--it had to
come some time. Well, I won't tease you, if you'd rather not. Let us look
at the bonfires. Yes, there they are--two of them--and that biggest one is
mine. At least, I helped some little fellows to build it."

They stood, silent and trembling, in an embrasure of the granite
battlements, and looked out upon the world. It was one limitless sea of
gloom, save where the street lamps and the torches of the Salvation Army
defined the broken outlines of the town below them, and where the
bonfires blazed upon the black hills that ringed them round. One of the
fires soon went out; the other lasted longer, and made a brave show to
the end.

"That's mine," said Alan.

But it was useless to pretend to be interested in trifles of that sort
now. They were two young things, as nature made them, and it was all dark
night around, and they were absolutely alone in it. Lovers never could
have found a place better fitted for love-making than the top of that
church tower, with the three trap-doors shut down. Before they knew it
they were leaning against each other, like two shocks of corn in a summer
field. And Alan asked his companion whether she loved him, and she
confessed frankly that she did.

"But, dear," she said solemnly, "I am very sorry that this has happened.
I have been hoping--praying--that you might not come to care too much for

"Oh, Anna! Why?" Her head was resting on his shoulder, and his moustache
upon her lips, so he could not understand it. "Because, Alan, I can never
marry you."

"Oh, why?" he cried again. "Not just yet, perhaps, until I have begun to
make a living--"

"Never!" she reiterated, in a tragic voice. And she stood away from him,
and leaned upon the breast-high parapet of stone, which was wet with
unheeded rain.

"That's nonsense," said Alan Ransome.

"No," said she; "it is duty."

How should it be duty, he wanted to know. For his part, he couldn't for
the life of him see it.

"I will never leave my father, Alan. He is getting infirm, and he has no
one but me to take care of him. While he lives I must not think of making
a home for myself."

"But, dearest, other girls do it. Every day they do. It is what fathers

"Other girls may be selfish, but you would not wish me to be so, Alan."

"At any rate, he won't live for ever. He is getting old, as you say."

"People sometimes live to be eighty and ninety, and so may he. We will
not count on his death, please, dear."

"No, of course not. Still--well, we need not bother about the future
yet--one never knows what may turn up. Let us be happy in the present,
darling," drawing her again into his young arms.

"But if I let you be happy in the present," she urged, "I shall be laying
up unhappiness for you in the future. No, Alan, I will not drag you into
a long engagement, that might last till I am an old maid--as old as your
aunt. You shall be free to marry and to live your life. I am not free. I
am dedicated to my father for as long as he lives. You must give me up,
dear." And here she sobbed a little, and kissed him.

"I won't give you up," said the boy tempestuously.

"You must, darling. You shall not sacrifice yourself for me."

"I tell you I won't," said Alan.

Then the cruel rain came down, and they had to go down too. At every
trap-door they stopped to hug and kiss each other, to say that they must
part, and to declare they could not. On the bench in the porch, at the
foot of the last ladder, they sat down to repeat the process. They did so
again in a pew in church, and once more in the vestry. There they did
indeed part for the moment, for they could not bear to re-enter the house
together, as if nothing had happened.


And the old man and the old maid had no luck at all. On Prince of Wales'
birthday it simply rained in torrents from morning till night, without
stopping once. The flag on the church tower clung like a wet dish-cloth
to the staff, from the time it was run up at what should have been
sunrise until it was taken down at dusk. And at dusk the town crier went
round with his bell, and announced that the display of fireworks was
postponed to a future date. It would have been something to have a little
tea-party at the parsonage, without the fireworks and the tower. But it
was too wet even for that. The old man was depressed and dyspeptic, and
the old maid went to bed at nine o'clock and cried herself to sleep,
though such very old fogies were certainly old enough to have known
But at last it all came right. The town was not to be defrauded of its
holiday, and Tuesday, the 15th, was appointed, by advertisement in the
local papers, as the day when shops would close, sports be celebrated in
the public park, fireworks let off and torchlight procession take place,
all as they would have done on the 9th had weather been favourable. And
Tuesday was just as perfect a day for the purpose as the previous
Wednesday had been the reverse.

Mr. Paine sent a note to aunt before he had his breakfast.


"Will you and your young people give us the pleasure of your
company to tea to-night? The weather does seem settled at last,
and it will be pleasant on the church tower, if you think you can
manage the ascent. I am told the fireworks are to be very fine.
With our united kindest regards,

"Yours very sincerely,


Aunt hastened to return an answer by Eve as she went to school.


"Thank you very much for your kind invitation. Tell dear Anna
that we shall be delighted to come. We are quite looking forward
to our little excursion up the tower, especially in such
beautiful weather. I shall be able to get up quite well, I am
sure. I have always been fond of fireworks, and it will be so
nice to see rockets go up without cricking one's neck.

"Believe me, dear Mr. Paine, most truly yours,


The recipient of this note spread it on the breakfast-table, beside his
plate of egg and bacon, and read it again and again, as if it were some
choice bit of literature.

"How would it be," he suggested diffidently, "to ask one of Eve's
schoolgirl friends? She is so much younger than the rest of us. She might
be dull without a companion of her own age to talk to."

"A good idea," said Anna graciously. "I will do so. Then," she thought,
"there will be six of us. Father looking after aunt, and Eve having
another child to keep her company, Alan and I will have a chance to talk
over our affairs. And the table will be balanced properly."

She set the table with her own hands at half-past five. There was a nice
cold fowl, and a tongue, and a veal pie, and delicious cakes that she had
made herself, and a salad, and a dish of strawberries, with cream. She
was a sparing housekeeper, as a rule, so that Mr. Paine, when he came out
of his room from dressing, was surprised to see so handsome a repast, and
his pleasure equalled his surprise. Aunt had not had a meal in the house
for years, and he had been anxious lest Anna should think less of aunt's
entertainment than of the keeping qualities of food in warm weather.

It was quite warm weather--full summer--now, and aunt came at six o'clock,
in the prettiest new crépon gown, grey, with a puffy vest of white silk,
that gave quite a style to her little figure. She had iron-grey hair,
which had once been black, and her thin, small face was ivory-white; but
her eyes were dark and brilliant still, with something of the expression
of Toby's: very sweet and earnest, if you took the trouble to notice
them. Her hair was drawn plainly back into a knot of braids behind, as an
old woman's hair should be; but she had pinned a red rose into the lace
at her neck, which was an anachronism, a false note, to Anna's mind.

"I think, Miss Ransome," said that prudent young lady, "you would have
been better advised to put on an old gown to-night. The tower is a dusty,
cobwebby place, and you will spoil that pretty new one."

"Oh, no," said aunt carelessly, patting her hair before the glass in the
spare bedroom. "It won't hurt."

"You had better let me lend you an old one of mine."

Aunt would not hear of such a thing. She was like poor father, who
thought nothing of tearing a good cassock on a nail.

They went into the drawing-room, which was profusely decked with roses,
and almost immediately into the dining-room, which was similarly adorned,
several vases of them standing about in the interstices of the
well-filled table. Alan, with a bud in his button-hole, sat by his
hostess, and aunt at Mr. Paine's right hand. The two old folks beamed as
they settled themselves in their chairs and opened their napkins, but the
four young ones were too occupied with their own interests to notice it.
The French windows stood wide to the exquisite light and air, and on the
verandah Toby lay at full length on his stomach, with his nose between
his paws, keeping an eye cocked upward in the direction of aunt's face.
Now and then she threw him a confidential smile, which set his fringed
tail thumping vigorously.

"You are not eating," remarked the host, breaking off a little story of a
quarrel in the choir--aunt was so sympathetic and understanding about
these things--to note the condition of her liver wing.

"Oh, I am getting on beautifully! It is a delicious fowl--I am enjoying it
so much," she assured him; and urged him on with his absorbing narrative.
But the fact was she had the very least sore throat, which somehow seemed
to have taken away her appetite. No one, of course, was allowed to
suspect this.

"And so I went to the girl, and told her I was sure Miss Lomax had not
intended to insult her, and begged her to take the solo, since there was
no one else able to sing it; and I had a talk with Miss Lomax to try and
persuade her to explain. But they would neither of them listen to me.
Each said she would never come into the choir again while the other
belonged to it. So they are both staying away--which means that we have
not a reliable soprano at all. The others will not open their mouths
without some one to lead them, and Anna cannot do everything."

"It is too bad," said aunt warmly, "that you should be worried with those
petty squabbles, when you have so much else, so many more important
things to think of. It is a pity I am not a young girl, with a good
treble voice."

"Yes--no, no, I don't mean yes. It would be a pity if you were anything
but just what you are. Do let me take your plate and give you some pie.
Some strawberries, then? Anna, Miss Ransome's cup is empty."

"I beg your pardon, Miss Ransome," said Anna, with a start. She was
forgetting her duties for the moment in a semi-private discussion with
Alan on the great subject of individual responsibility. The pair of
schoolgirls were chattering across the table about the affairs of their
school, their approaching examinations, the holidays, the matric., and so
on. It was a most successful tea-party.

After tea, it being still broad daylight, the children sat down to a game
of tiddledy-winks, to pass the time until it was dark enough for the
fireworks. Tiddledy-winks looks a silly game to those who do not play it,
but to those who do it becomes strangely fascinating; so that even after
the lamps were lighted it was difficult to make those players leave off.
Anna took Alan for a stroll round the garden, but before she did so gave
proper heed to the question of what was to be done for aunt.

"I think, father," she said, "that Miss Ransome ought not to go up the
tower in the dark, for the first time. If you were to take her now, while
it is still daylight, and make her go gently and take plenty of time, she
would not be nearly so nervous. Al--Mr. Ransome would see after us."

"That is a good idea," cried Mr. Paine. "Come, Miss Ransome, we will lead
the expedition. What wraps have you?"

Aunt's little mantle was fetched, and declared to be inadequate. Mr.
Paine insisted on an old furred jacket and woollen hood, provided by his

"It will be chilly up there, though it is so mild now," he said, "and you
must be careful of that delicate chest. Put on all the warmth you can
carry, Miss Ransome. Be on the safe side."

"Perhaps I had better," she said, submitting meekly to Anna's resolute
hands. "I seem to have just a little touch of cold hanging about me from
the damp weather."

"If I had known that," said Alan menacingly, "I wouldn't have allowed you
to come. I've a great mind to forbid your going up."

"Dear boy, it is nothing," she answered in a panic, and hastened out
before he could say more. Alan was going to be a doctor, and was
beginning to practise on his aunt. She thought it so sweet of him to take
such care of her, and to give her pills and potions when she was not
well; but to-night she preferred to be taken care of by Mr. Paine.
Luckily, Alan desired her room at that moment, and not her company; so he
let her go.

Happiness is not the prerogative of youth, whatever the young may think.
Those two old fogies, left to their own devices for three-quarters of an
hour, were perhaps as happy as they had ever been in their lives. When
they had shut themselves into the vestry, and shut out the dutiful
children who loved to keep them in order, they felt young themselves;
and, though they treated each other with a delicate respect that is
somewhat out of date, the same light was in their eyes, the same glow in
their hearts, as had been kindled in those of the girl and boy now
walking round the garden.

"This is my new chalice-veil," said the parson eagerly, "that I got out
from London last mail. I have been wanting to show it to you. Is not the
work perfect? And here's the illustrated catalogue--I want you to tell me
which of these altar cloths you like best. I must manage somehow to get a
new one before next Easter, and I have such faith in your taste; I am
always wishing for you to consult with and to decide for me, Ah, it is
too dark to see properly! Put it in your pocket and look at it when you
are by yourself at home."

This was the sort of thing they talked about. Trumpery, doubtless, to
people who are not old fogies, but heart-satisfying to them.

The dusk was gathering fast when they passed down the church to the front
porch and the ladders, and Mr. Paine began to be anxious about aunt's
nerves, and she anxious to show him how intrepid (under certain
circumstances) she could be. He reproached himself for not having rigged
up certain appliances to make the ascent easier, and she skipped up the
trembling rungs while he was talking about it, so that his heart came
into his mouth. Anna would have been scandalized to see an old lady so
conducting herself had she been there.

They reached the top safely, but slowly. The rapid twilight had become
night by the time they emerged upon the roof, and when aunt was led to
the battlemented parapet to look out upon that view for the first time,
she cried, "Oh--h--h!" in rapture.

It was indeed a beautiful picture, well worth the waiting for. There was
no rain or mist to spoil it now. The sky was clear of cloud, full of its
own deep Australian night colour, and thick with stars. Like waves along
the horizon rolled the forest-covered ranges, all distinct in the
transparent air; shadows of velvet, with here and there a house-light,
like a diamond twinkling out of them. The town beneath lay suffused in
Rembrandtish glows from lamps, seen and unseen, and red torches beginning
to flare under the new-leaved English trees. The atmosphere was pure and
fine to an intoxicating degree, for no factory chimney, no coal smoke, no
mud, no dust, no anything that was unclean, defiled it; it was the
atmosphere of the hills and of an early summer night washed in plenteous
spring rains and perfumed with the wholesome breath of gum-trees and
flowers. In short, perfect.

Aunt sighed a long sigh once or twice in silence. When she spoke there
were tears in her voice.

"This makes one feel," she said--and stopped, unable to express herself.

"Yes," said her companion softly.

The torches were all lit, and glowed redly down the street like an
invisible house burning. Out of the glare the clock-tower of the
post-office rose, pallid and unsubstantial, into the upper darkness, like
something in a lime-lighted transformation scene. Little foreshortened
figures, mere ants upon the ground, were moving hither and
thither--members of the fire-brigade, in their smart uniforms, arranging
the torchlight procession.

"I must call the children," said Mr. Paine.

He went to the trap-door and listened; then he went to the parapet
overlooking his own house and grounds, and signalled with a gentle
"cooee" over the tree-tops. Presently the young ones, heralded by the
lantern, which was extinguished as soon as possible, came scrambling up,
laughing and calling to one another; and as the last one--Eve--put her head
out of the hole, whish--sh--sh--the first rocket shot into the sky, burst
with a little hollow noise like a bursting pea-pod, and rained down its
enchanting stars.

"Those rockets," said Eve to her companion, "cost five shillings apiece."

"I think it a wicked waste of money," said Anna.

"In these bad times, too," said Alan sympathetically.

But aunt whispered, to the grey man beside her, that she simply loved to
look at them; and he said, so did he.

The procession was formed, and began its march round the streets, to the
stirring music of the town band. They could not see it for a long time,
but saw where it was by the illumination of the trees above it as it
passed. Every now and then it emitted a spray of little rockets, that
died upon the roofs and roads, and, like great chords in a merry tune,
another and another of those soaring big ones, which would have beckoned
the souls of spectators like aunt to the infinities they seemed to pierce
if Eve had not persisted in stating how much they cost. At last it came
flaring and clanging into the street beside the church, along by the
tree-walled church garden, and round the corner, and past the gate; and
just in front of the tower it halted, spread, re-formed, and lit itself
up in the most amazing blood-red flame--a wizard light, celestial or
infernal, anything but earthly, transfiguring the world, "just as if
Biela's comet had run into us," Eve Ransome said. The grey-white granite
of the tower wall blushed crimson as a rose, and the faces on the top of
it were the faces of angels or ghosts. The church trees glittered, leaf
by leaf, like the jewelled trees of fairy-land.

"I would not," said aunt, in a low tone of rapture, "have missed this for

"I am so glad," said Mr. Paine earnestly, "so devoutly glad that it is a
fine night. I did so want you to enjoy it."

Then the red light died out, and the cool, clear, blue darkness came
back, with all the quiet hills lying out in it. The procession marched
back into the town, with its Liliputian rabble after it, and worked its
magic in other streets. Four more great rockets--another pound, as
somebody remarked--leaped, hissing, into the empyrean, and dropped each
its handful of coloured stars in space. Then all was still, the church
tower was left alone, and the night suddenly began to feel cold.

"It's over," said Eve, jumping up from where she lay on the flat of her
back along the sloping leads. "Polly, let's go down and have another game
of tiddledy-winks."


Next morning aunt awoke with a very sore throat. But a maiden aunt is not
privileged to be ill on account of so ordinary a complaint as that, and
she got up and dressed and pursued the trivial round and common task as
First she went into her nephew's room, picked his slimy sponge out of his
soapy hand-basin, and his towel--very wet--from the floor, where he had
flung it, on top of his pyjama trousers. Also she removed his hair-brush,
which he had plunged into the ewer before using, from the book--the good,
new, medical book--on which he had left it, face downwards, to drain.
Though she had brought him up, she had never been able to make him keep
his things tidy--nor Eve either. She, too, liked to throw her nightgown on
the floor, and anything wet that might be handy upon it, or upon the bed.
She would never hang up frock or jacket by its loops, nor upon a knobbed
hook if there happened to be a sharp-ended one available. She would never
wear her "sets" in rotation, but always took the garment that came first
out of the drawer; and she forgot to change her things on the right days,
and to put them into the wash when they were changed. Also, she never
brushed her teeth when she could help it, nor thought it necessary to do
more to her hair than have it superficially smooth for meal-times. Aunt
did not blame them, for they had had a slatternly mother. She just did
their tidying for them. This, of course, was worrying work at times, and
worry tells upon you when you are not well. To-day, somehow, she did not
feel as if she could stand too much of it.

Going into her niece's room, before descending to breakfast, she found
Eve dressed in the white frock she had taken off last night--by no means a
frock to go to morning school in. She was ordered at once to change it.

"It's cool," said Eve mutinously, "and all my others are hot ones.
Besides, it's dirtied out, going up that tower."

"It is scarcely soiled at all," said aunt, "and will last some time for
afternoons. Take it off, my dear, when I tell you."

Eve pulled it off tempestuously, dashing about the room. She had a
writing-table of her own--a birthday present from aunt--and on it stood the
travelling ink-bottle which she persisted in using rather than the solid
vessel that had been provided for her. The two halves of the travelling
ink-bottle were nearly equally heavy, and she mostly left it open. It was
open now, and as she ill-temperedly flung herself about she knocked it
over, and the ink streamed across the pretty table-cloth. She hastened to
mop it up with one of her best cambric pocket-handkerchiefs.

"Oh, Eve! Eve!" wailed aunt. "When shall I teach you sense!"

"I'm awfully sorry--I didn't mean to do it," pleaded Eve. "Don't be cross,
there's an old dear. It's all right now. And I'll put my old frock on,
though it is such a fearfully hot day."

"I will try to get your new print finished, darling," said aunt,

Eve took off the too-smart white dress, and stood in the coloured
petticoat which had been showing through. On the breast of that petticoat
was a large dark patch. Aunt saw it, and touched it; it was sopping wet.

"Well, aunt, there was a slug got upstairs and crawled over my clothes in
the night. I only saw the slimy mark where it had been after I had put on
my petticoat, and I just took a sponge and cleaned it."

"Child, take it off directly--take everything off. You will catch your

"I can't, aunt dear. I haven't got another petticoat. It's in the soiled
clothes-basket. I forgot to put it in the wash. And the other one is slit
all down the front."

"Give it to me to mend," said aunt, in a voice of despair.

The troubles of the day came thick and fast, and before noon the little
woman broke down under them. Alan, hunting for biscuits to stay his
stomach until dinner-time, found her crying in the pantry, where she was
trying to fill a glass jug from an empty filter.

"Hullo, old woman, what's the matter?" he cried, affectionately

"Did you ever see such a minx as Sarah?" moaned aunt bitterly. "You would
think she did it on purpose. Empty again--and in this weather! And I have
just found the big kettle cracked right across the bottom! She left it to
go dry on the fire, and when it was red-hot poured cold water into it."

Aunt dropped her head on her nephew's stalwart arm and sobbed aloud.

He put the arm round her. "Here, you are not going to cry about a
rubbishy thing like that, surely! Give me that jug--I'll fill it at the
bank filter. Why, you're all of a tremble! And how hot your hand is!" He
grasped the little hand, and laid his large, cool fingers on the flurried
pulse. "Aunt, you're ill--that's what's the matter with you--not kettles
and filters. Come along and sit down and tell me how you feel. It's that
beastly tower business, I expect. I just thought you'd catch cold,
exposed so long to the night air."

"I had it before, darling. I could not have caught it there, wrapped up
as I was--so well taken care of."

He took her to the family sitting-room, and there looked at her tongue,
listened to her breathing--which was decidedly heavy--and put a clinical
thermometer into her mouth. Temperature, 101°.

"You go straight off to bed, old lady," he said sternly. "That's the
place for you."

"I can't, dear boy. I must get Eve's print frock finished. Now that the
weather has turned hot, she has nothing to wear."

"Off to bed," he repeated, with the inflexible air of the professional
adviser. "If you don't go of your own accord, I shall call the Governor
to make you. I shall send for a doctor whom you won't like half as well
as you do me."

Aunt went to bed, and Eve put on a poultice--in a great hurry--before going
to afternoon school, and Alan administered a dose from a bottle he had
procured at the chemist's. Then the patient was ordered to go to sleep,
and no one thought anything more about her until tea-time. The boy went
to the club tennis-ground, and the girl, on her return from school,
practised exercises on the piano. Aunt, propping herself on pillows, and
with her work-basket beside her, sewed at the print frock all the
afternoon, and finished it.

She was accustomed to a cup of tea at four o'clock, and to-day pined for
it desperately, choked with the scorching thirst of a fever now at 103°.
She heard the rattle of the tray as Sarah carried it to the sitting-room,
and trembled with suspense as Eve strummed on and on, regardless of its
arrival. After five minutes' waiting, aunt called aloud; she waited,
weeping a little, and called again; but she was too far off for her voice
to be heard, and she had no bell. At last, in desperation, she got out of
bed and went down the passage in her nightgown--a thing strictly forbidden
by her medical man. Eve heard her then, and came flying to scold her for
disobeying Alan's orders.

"You bad old woman! What's the use of doctoring you, when you undo it all
like this?"

"I want my tea, love; and I want it hot," said poor aunt.

"All right. I thought you were asleep. Go to bed, and I'll bring it to

Aunt retreated to her room, and Eve brought the tea. But now it was tepid
and nasty, the milk a brown scum upon the top--no comfort at all. However,
aunt bore the disappointment, rather than trouble Sarah and Eve to make a
fresh cup, since they did not volunteer to do so. She drank the wretched
stuff, while her niece eagerly turned about the print frock and urged her
to finish it if she could, so that it might be put on in the morning.

When the girl had gone, having been called for to take a walk with a
school friend, the little hot hands sewed on desperately until their job
was done. Then aunt got out of bed again to put away her work-basket,
lest Alan should suspect what she had been doing and scold her; and,
returning, lay down in the pensive dusk to realize how solitary she was,
and how much more ill she felt than she had done in the morning. "Oh, how
happy they are that have their own dear husbands to take care of them!"
she thought, with her handkerchief at her fevered eyes.

However, she was not without some one to care for her. In the evening,
when the family were making merry with a casual guest over a game of
cards, and Sarah was talking to her young man at the yard door, a
shrinking, slinking form came gliding through the passages and up the
stairs and straight into the darkened room. Toby seemed to have foreboded
that aunt was ill, and felt impelled to come and see, the reason of which
unusual solicitude on the part of a dog for a person not belonging to his
own household being due to his instinctive knowledge that she ought to
have belonged to it, and virtually did so. He laid his damp nose on the
edge of the mattress and whimpered under his breath, begging her to
reassure him. Then, after standing still for a long time, while she
embraced his head and let him lick her face as much as he liked, he
stealthily climbed upon the bed and stretched himself at full length
beside her. He was full of fleas, but she did not mind that now. They lay
there together in silent sympathy until Mr. Ransome, learning that his
sister was not well, came to ask her how she felt, on his way to bed.
Then Toby was kicked downstairs and bundled out into the street.

All next day Mr. Paine kept audibly wondering what on earth was the
matter with that dog. Toby left the house, and came back, whining and
restless; left it again, and returned in the same perturbed condition, as
if vainly looking for something.

"What is it, old dog? What is it, then?" he demanded cheerily, slapping
Toby's sides.

Toby yapped, jumped with all his feet at once and made little runs to the

"Do you want me to take you for a walk, old fellow? Very well; let us go
for a walk." Mr. Paine went to get his hat and stick, and Toby shrieked
with eagerness. So the object of his desire seemed understood.

The parson, who was an inveterate gossip, saw and stopped a few
parishioners in the street; then he remembered that he had something to
say to his treasurer about a Church meeting, and called at Mr. Ransome's
bank. The manager was at home, but seemed less interested in Church
matters than usual.

"I hope," said Mr. Paine, "that your family are all well."

"Thank you," said Mr. Ransome, "they are, with the exception of my
sister, who has managed to pick up a nasty sort of feverish cold."

"I am sorry for that. She is not seriously indisposed, I trust?"

"I trust not," said Mr. Ransome. "For the house all seems to go to pieces
when she is laid up."

He said no more, and Mr. Paine, feeling that he was not wanted
particularly, got up to go. "Here, Toby! Toby!" he called. "Where is that
dog of mine off to?"

"I daresay he is in my sister's room," said the banker, with wonderful
toleration, for he had been heard to threaten that he would shoot Toby
some day. "You might leave him, if you don't mind. It amuses her to have

"Certainly," said Mr. Paine, "if he is not a nuisance. Give her my kind
regards, and tell her I hope she will soon be herself again."

That evening, when he was in his study, looking up a subject for Sunday's
sermon, Toby came and clawed at the door, and whined more urgently than

"He can't want a walk now," thought the parson, annoyed by the
disturbance; "and if he goes on like this, he will have to be punished.
Quiet, sir!" he thundered.

Then Toby gave up asking him to come and help poor aunt in her extremity,
and went back to do what he could for her by himself. He found the bank
shut up, and lay on its street doorstep till morning.

In the morning the town rang with the news that aunt was in a critical
state with inflammation of the lungs. The veriest nobody becomes a
somebody under these circumstances. Mr. Paine, breakfastless, was rushing
off to make inquiries, when a note was put into his hand.


"My poor aunt has had a very bad night, and the doctor seems to
consider her case a serious one. Father thinks it would be a
comfort to her to see a clergyman, so will you kindly come round
to-day, if quite convenient? They are trying to get her to sleep
now, so perhaps you had better not call until after dinner.

"Yours sincerely,


Mr. Paine called four times, but it was not until late in the afternoon
that he was let in, though his daughter had been assistant nurse all day.
It was Anna who withheld, and then gave permission to admit him, and who
gravely escorted him to aunt's room.

"She is a little better now," said the young clergywoman, in her
business-like way, "but it will not last. You had better urge her to take
the sacrament while she can. I suggested it for this afternoon, and that
we should join, but she seems to wish to see you alone first. I am afraid
she does not realize how short her time is likely to be."

The clergyman, leaving behind him his prayer-book for the sick, and all
concern for the viaticum, to which Anna attached so much importance,
crept into aunt's room. What a change, in three days, from that happy,
happy night! She had just rallied from a sort of half-drowned state, out
of seas of stupefying pain and narcotic insensibility, and she smiled at
him wistfully with her heavy, dark eyes. But death was in her face. He
saw it the moment he looked at her, and she knew that he saw it.

He sat down in the chair by the bed--on the far side of her lay Toby,
looking from one to the other with solemn satisfaction--and he took her
poor hand in his, and wept over it and kissed it. It was the first
lover's kiss that aunt had ever had.

"Lock the door," she whispered, panting.

He stumbled across the room, blind with tears, and turned the key in the
lock. Going back to her, he dropped on his knees, put one arm under the
pillow and the other over her labouring little breast, and kissed her
again--on the lips this time. She kissed him back, moaning, with shut
eyes, holding him to her as well as she could with hands so fast losing
their power to hold anything. Toby gently stretched forward from where he
lay beside them, and licked the two grey heads.

"I have chosen the altar-cloth," gasped aunt, when she was able to speak.
"Number fifty-two--the Latin cross--with the three stars--on the
super-frontal--in silk velvet--the best--"

"Oh, my dear," he groaned, "don't mind those trifles now!"

"Yes. You must get it--for Easter. I want a lawyer--to come and make a
codicil. I want to leave--the money to buy it--number fifty-two. Then--when
you go--into the church--and see it--you will remember me."

"Oh, my God! As if I shall need anything to remember you by!"

A bursting sob broke from him, hushed down quickly, lest the people in
the house should hear. Aunt's face screwed up for a moment, and two tears
rolled down. Toby rose to his feet in alarm, and sniffed and whined.

"Don't--darling!" breathed aunt. "Oh, I never knew--I never thought--that
you cared--like that!"

"Didn't you? You must have known. But the children, dear--the children--"

"They would never have allowed it," sighed aunt.

"I might have had you all this time to take care of, to nurse--"

"And I could have been such a comfort to you--William--"

"Elizabeth! Oh, what a different life! What a home--"

"But the children--wouldn't let us. They would have said--we were mad. They
would never--never have allowed it, William."

"And now--now we have lost the chance!"

"Yes--no, not quite. This has been--our chance. Kiss me, William. Oh,
William! I never thought--to call you William--to have you kiss

"Oh, Elizabeth! Elizabeth!"

Toby whined again, begging them to command themselves. But they could

Anna looked at the clock in the sitting-room about this time. "Father
must have finished his prayers and reading by now," she said. "I must
take her some nourishment."

She took it, and firmly administered it. Mr. Paine witnessed the
operation in mute anguish, hovering between the bed and the door, while
the patient did her best to show him that she could swallow still. Then
he was ordered to go home and do his sermon. For it was Friday night.

On Sunday night she died, while he was preaching a sermon that was
several years old. And, of course, he had not been allowed to nurse her
in her last hours, though Toby was privileged to stay by her nearly all
the time. Toby would have been turned out often, but whenever he saw a
chance of that happening he got under the bed, and so evaded notice. He
also learned that he must not open his mouth, though his heart should
burst with grief; so he lay and watched in passive patience, or with
pricked ears and quivering nose, until his friend ceased to see that he
was there, ceased to respond to his surreptitious licks, ceased to be
visible to his yearning eyes. Then he did lament most dismally. They
overlooked him, lying under the bed, when they left her in a long box
with a sheet over it, hidden in a nest of cut paper frills; and the noise
he made gave Sarah such a turn that she declared she durs'n't sleep in
the house till the corpse was out of it. A corpse that a dog howled over
in that fashion was something out of nature, she said.

They tied Toby up with a strong chain all Monday, so that he might not
disturb the funeral.

The weather changed on Monday--in that sudden way that is peculiar to
Australian weather--from summer to winter, in a night. And the hundreds of
mourners that "followed," in cabs and buggies, and on horseback and on
foot, after the kindly Australian custom, felt an unusual grey dreariness
in the familiar function, and were glad to get it over and get back to
the warm precincts of home and the public-house. By four o'clock--twenty
hours from the time when she had belonged to the living world--poor aunt
was in her grave, with the raw earth heaped above her; and the gates of
the cemetery were shut, and not a soul within them.

But one came back. Mr. Paine, having gone through the ordeal of getting
his tea, could no longer endure the proximity of his daughter, with her
untimely questions and advice. On a pretext of parochial business, he
went out while it was still daylight, and took Toby off the chain to go
with him. The dog sprang forward, wagging an expectant tail, as if there
were still hopes that aunt might be somewhere whence she could be brought
back. But when he stood beside her grave, and saw how his master looked
at it, he seemed to understand what had been done that day, though he had
not been to the funeral. He lifted up his nose and howled on a long note;
then he fell upon the new-made mound, and began to rake away the earth
with his fore-paws.

"No use, Toby!" said his weeping master. And he stopped the dog's
proceedings, replacing the scattered mould with his hands, and patting it
smooth. Dogs were not allowed in the cemetery, by order of the trustees,
but the print of Toby's body was discernible upon that mound as long as
the soil was loose enough to take it. The caretaker laid wait with his
gun for the desecrating beast, until the matter was explained to him.
Then he and the trustees gave Toby the freedom of the city--that city of
the dead.

The Ransomes wanted to buy him, for aunt's sake, and the enticements of
pats and bones were offered from many other quarters. But a dog like Toby
is not to be bought, though men and women are. He stuck to his
fellow-mourner, making more of him than he had ever done, seeing a new
need for his devotion--a double need. The parish did not see it, but Toby
saw it--the change that the 20th of November had worked in William Paine.
The children might call him an old man now, for he was an old man. But he
had not been old before.

* * * * * * * * * *


"I am going," said Mrs. Atcheson to her young friend, Minna Smith, "to
have tea on board the Seamew this afternoon, and the captain has asked me
to bring you. Will you come?"
She looked up, suffused with smiles, from a note she had been reading.
This was the note:


"Bring your visitor by all means. I shall have no difficulty in
finding some one to help us to entertain her. The children, I
fancy, can amuse themselves.

"Yours very faithfully,


John Brent was the captain of the Seamew, and the Seamew was not that
sort of ship which makes a business of afternoon teas. She did not fly
the white ensign, nor even the blue; she was merely an old merchant
sailing vessel of about sixteen hundred tons, unloading steel rails and
loading wheat at Williamstown. Williamstown, it may be remarked, still
felt the stir of commerce in her veins, and the pier over the way did not
lie naked as a breakwater for half the week, as it does now.

Miss Smith was delighted. She was a bush girl, to whom ships were a
novelty; at the same time she had cultivated a romantic passion for the
sea, having sailor blood in her. She thought it was so very kind of
Captain Brent to think of asking her.

At three o'clock she put her pretty little sailor hat on her pretty
little curly head, and tied a sailor knot in the coquettish necktie that
finished off her navy-blue serge gown. Mrs. Atcheson--whose husband was a
pilot, cruising outside at this moment in a gale of wind--put on her beady
bonnet and a little veil that ended at the tip of her nose, and they set
forth on their expedition. The children did not go; they did not even
know they had been invited. Mrs. Atcheson preferred the freedom of her
own arrangement. She wished to do what was quite proper, but she did not
wish to have her tête-à-tête with the captain interfered with.

The Seamew lay near the end of the pier, and a sister ship, called the
Penguin, of the same company, chanced to lie beside her at the extreme
end. The former had but recently arrived, the latter was ready for
departure; her sails were bent, her flying jib-boom run out, her sides
glossy with new paint, all spick and span as she could be, a foil to her
neighbour, rusty and weather-beaten, whose toilet was still to make. The
yards of the Seamew swung bare and lop-sided, her deck was in confusion
with the open hatch and swinging cargo and clanking windlass, and her
grimy hull was only made grimier by the stripes of gleaming scarlet that
men on hanging platforms were beginning to daub upon it. But ships, and
captains of ships, must not be judged by these outward appearances.

No sooner were the two ladies in view of their destination than two men
cast themselves over the side of the Seamew, disappeared amongst railway
trucks, and, emerging, saluted.

"There they are!" cried Mrs. Atcheson joyfully.

"Which is your captain?" inquired Minna Smith.

"Oh, the fair man, the fair man, of course. Such a nice fellow! But I
never knew a fair man who wasn't," said Mrs. Atcheson, who was
thirty-nine, and had had a vast experience of both sorts.

Minna pointed out that the other gentleman was dark. Having tawny locks
of her own, inclining to the fieriness of Captain Brent's beard, she
rather preferred dark men. As yet, however, they were only pictures to
her mind--not men.

"So he is. And a handsome fellow too! I don't suppose all dark men are
bad," the matron allowed, smiling her sweetest smile upon this one, whom
she had never seen before.

Cordial greetings ensued, and the stranger was introduced as Captain
Spurling of the Penguin. Mrs. Atcheson had not seen him before because
his ship had spent her time in port at a Yarra wharf. She had loaded in
the river, and was only touching at Williamstown on her way out. Her
master was as much smarter than his host as she now was to the Seamew--a
fine, tall, full-bearded, straight-nosed, black-eyed fellow, young for a
sea captain, but not so young as he looked. Despite his colour, Mrs.
Atcheson was strongly tempted to annex him, but she remained faithful to
her older friend, who, having made Miss Smith's acquaintance, desired to
know why the children had not turned up.

"Dear Captain Brent, it was so good of you to ask them! But Maudie had a
little cold, and Jacky was awake half the night with toothache, and the
weather was so bad."

They walked on together. Captain Spurling and Minna followed. The latter,
being unaccustomed to society and the other sex, wore a modest blush and
smile that were very becoming; and the bold eyes of her gallant escort
dwelt admiringly upon her. "I am decidedly in luck," he thought. "I don't
think I ever saw a prettier young creature." Which was quite true. And
her great charm lay in the evident fact that she was not yet quite old
enough to know how pretty she was.

He helped her with much tender care up the somewhat rude gangway of the
Seamew, steadying her with his arm; and in a very short time they were
left to their devices by the chaperon and the host. Mrs. Atcheson cared
for captains, one at a time, but not for ships, and when the wind seemed
likely to tear her best bonnet to pieces she retired to the saloon,
whence she refused to budge until it was time to return to her family;
but Minna was eager to see everything that was to be seen, and revelled
in the merry blast that brought the dew of the salt sea to her fresh
young lips, and the bloom of a carmine rose-petal to her cheeks.
Wherefore she stayed outside, and Captain Spurling stayed with her.

From the poop he showed her his own ship first of all, pointing out
wherein she was superior to other ships of her kind, and especially to
the Seamew; then he directed her gaze to the ships across the water and
the St. Kilda and Brighton shores, through a telescope that he held
steady for her. He walked her out upon the bridge, merely an open
platform between the boats, and explained the working of the compass and
the wheel, while the freshening wind blew her up against him, and, but
for him, might have blown her off. He showed her the little engine room,
with the forge and tools in it, the bo'sun's and the sailmaker's lockers,
the cook's galley, and the tiny forehouse shared by these men and the
carpenter, one of whom was performing a rough toilet in it; and, further
on, he did the honours of the cavernous fo'c's'le, the modesty of whose
inmates was protected by its dense gloom. He introduced her to the fowls,
hanging in a huge bird-cage under the boat skids aft of the deckhouse,
and to the pigs in their sty forward; and he instructed her in the matter
of running and standing rigging, and mysteries of that kind. She did not
understand the half of it, but was charmed with everything, and above all
with him, the most devoted and delightful showman. When the rain came
along on the back of the wind, slanting and stinging, and shelter was
desirable, neither of them felt drawn cuddy-wards. Captain Spurling's
suggestion that a descent into the Seamew's stomach--'tween-decks and the
hold--might possibly be an interesting excursion, was considered a most
happy one, and unhesitatingly jumped at.

The men were ceasing work, having sent up the last of those
dangerous-looking bundles of railway iron, and only a part of the main
hatch was left unclosed. She was lowered to him through this and down the
perpendicular ladders with great care, and found herself in an awesome
place of shades astonishingly vast. Of course she had no fears--with
him--but when that black cavern suddenly rang to a blood-curdling yell
that she did not know the cause of, she jumped and gasped, and clutched
her companion's arm.

"Don't be frightened," he murmured, locking hand and arm together. "It is
only a cat. Here, puss! puss! puss!"

A pair of yellow eyes glared out of the gloom forward and disappeared.

"Oh--h--h!" sighed Minna, with her hand upon her heart.

It was certainly a creepy place, to one unaccustomed to it, in that owl's
light; and the ship cat was as wild as any Bengal tiger. She was supposed
to visit the cook at a certain hour daily, but otherwise lived in
solitude, under hatches, waging savage warfare with the rats. Disturbed
and startled by the apparition of a lady, she moved about in the
mysterious distance with stealthy creepings and scamperings, rending the
silence at intervals with that sudden snarling "yowl," which is
distressing to the human ear at the best of times, and now echoed through
the ship's emptiness in a most dismal manner.

"Shoo!" cried Captain Spurling; and he pressed his left arm to his side.
"We might have had a little more light upon the subject. However, I can
see, if you can't. You trust to me."

"It is like a witch's cave," she laughed tremblingly, "with that creature
mewing. How uncanny it sounds in this great hollow place! I had no idea
the Seamew was so enormous."

He led her into the bows, and they stood invisible, looking back to where
the light filtered down from above, dim with rain, on so small a portion
of the enclosure. The girl's heart was beating fast, as the heart of
seventeen is bound to do under such circumstances. The man felt it, like
an electric thrill in the air.

"I suppose that is the mast?" she queried breathlessly.

"The foremast--yes; and the main beyond it. You can't see the iron-work
under the deck, bracin' it across and across? No, that's not a rat. Don'
be alarmed; I will take care of you. By-and-by all this will be filled
with bags of wheat, right up to the top--"

He was interrupted by an agonized wail, as of soul in torment, and
Minna's hand on his arm contracted for a moment. He laid his own right
hand upon it soothingly.

"It is so dark!" she faltered. "Hadn't we better go back to the others?"

He drew her--or rather, she drew him--forward, where the light was better.
There the sailmaker, since the lower deck was cleared of cargo, had been
at work; his implements and a heap of weather-worn sails were spread upon
the spacious floor, a bolt of new canvas near them.

"Sit here," said Captain Spurling, kicking the latter article to a safe
distance from the yawning mouth of the hold and the feeble daylight; "sit
and rest yourself a little before you go up. It is raining still; wait
till it leaves off, so that you don't get wet."

She seated herself on the bundle, and he presently lowered himself into a
nest of sail-cloth, whence he could see into her pretty face and watch
the play of her innocent emotions as she listened and talked to him--the
stirrings of the young womanhood which had come into being so recently
that he was the first man to recognise it.

It was a full half-hour before they climbed back into the world, and they
were summoned by a hail from Captain Brent.

"It's hard lines," said Captain Spurling--and from this remark the reader
will infer the preceding conversation--"it's awfully hard lines that I've
got to go, just when I have begun to know you."

"Yes," she sighed, with her foot upon the ladder. "But you will come back
again some day?"

"I hope so. One never knows. You will give a thought to me sometimes when
I am away upon the sea?"

She looked at him eloquently, too deeply moved for speech, imagining the
blissfulness of companionship with such a man in all the perils of his
noble work and romantic solitude: the rapture of tropical cyclones and
Cape Horn icebergs, which would have no terrors in such a case. Never had
she loved the sea and all belonging to it as she loved it now.

They emerged upon the windy deck and entered the little saloon in
silence. On a table by the rudder-trunk was spread the captain's
equivalent for afternoon tea--port wine, and almonds and raisins, dried
figs, and English fancy biscuits--and he sat beside it. Mrs. Atcheson
lolled upon a red velvet sofa that curved with the curve of the ship's
blunt stern, under a row of portholes, and she was too much absorbed in
her companion and conversation to notice, as she ought to have done, the
colour and expression of Miss Smith's face.

She lay awake all night, dreaming finer dreams than ever come in sleep;
and in the morning her hostess gave her a commission.

"Oh, my dear, I am so frightfully busy!" Mrs. Atcheson explained. "You
know that I have asked Captain Brent to come in to-night for a game of
whist, and I must have two or three to meet him. That means supper. I
have a fowl to dress, and oyster patties to make, and I don't know what
else; otherwise I would go myself. But I really don't see how I can spare
the time."

"What is it? Let me do it," urged Minna, anxious to be useful.

"Oh, my dear girl, would you? Oh, I should be so much obliged to you! It
is just to go to the pier with this parcel for Captain Spurling. The
Penguin is still there, I see, and I'm so afraid of being too late with
it. He kindly offered to take anything for me to England, and I thought
it a good opportunity to send some cast-off clothes for my sister's

Minna blushed from top to toe. Even Mrs. Atcheson could not fail to see

"Are you too shy?" she laughed. "But of course you need not go on board.
And Jacky shall escort you. I would not ask you, Minna, to do anything
that was improper, my dear. You have only to hand the parcel to Captain
Spurling, and come away directly. I dare not trust Jacky alone with it,
or I would not trouble you."

Terrified, but exulting, Miss Smith presently set forth upon this errand,
Jacky, aged ten, accompanying her. He gathered a few friends by the
way--Saturday-morning schoolboys, loafing about the streets--so that by the
time she reached the Penguin she had four cavaliers; none too many for
the support she needed. Jacky, who had the cheek of a dozen, shouted,
"Skipper, ahoy!" for which she could have boxed his ears, and Captain
Spurling responded in person, to her mingled mortification and delight.

"Give him the parcel, Jacky," she implored, in a frantic undertone. "Give
it to him, with mother's message, and come away."

But no; this was not how Fate and Captain Spurling meant to deal with
such a chance. Off went the skipper's cap, and his handsome face shone
transfigured when he recognised the bashful girl, shrinking away from the
group of brazen boys. But it was only a looking-glass to reflect the
light in hers, which magenta blushes could not hide from him. He was down
the gangway in two seconds.

"What, Miss Smith! And you have brought the parcel yourself? How kind of
you! How good of you! Come up and have a little rest after your walk."

"Oh, no! oh, no!" she replied, with tragic gravity. "I must not stay,
indeed. I should not have come, only there was no one else. We are very
busy at home, and Mrs. Atcheson wants me."

"Just for five minutes--just to have a look at my ship before we go. The
boys will like to see it--eh, boys? And you have no objection to
gingerbread nuts, I suppose?"

Jacky jumped to the bait, and was over the side in a twinkling, his mates
at his heels. It appeared to Minna that she could not stand on the pier
by herself, nor seem ungracious to and suspicious of a man like this man.
And, after all, she had an escort--four escorts--which made it all quite
proper. So, with downcast eyes and fluttering heart, she ascended the
wobbling plank that served for gangway, steadied by the strong hand; and
she stood on the Penguin's deck in the morning sunlight, slim and sweet,
with her hair shining, the prettiest young creature that had ever been
seen there--to Captain Spurling's mind.

And what became of the four escorts? Unlimited gingerbread was placed at
their disposal, and then the bo'sun was called and instructed to show
them round. He performed his duty thoroughly. He showed them everything.
And they were too much taken up with the mysteries of pantry and
store-room, with the medicine chest and the flag-locker, with cutlasses
and shark hooks, with harpoons and scientific instruments, to remember
that Miss Smith existed. When they went forward, out of sight and sound,
she forgot that they did.

The captain entertained her in his smart little cuddy. He showed her the
two or three empty cabins available for chance passengers, with his own
small suite on one side and the berths of officers and apprentices on the
other; and that was all the sight-seeing they did on this occasion. She
had not the zest of yesterday, and seemed afraid even to peep through the
doors. The only apartment which her modesty permitted her to enter was
his little sitting-room astern. He had cut off with a partition his red
velvet sofa and private table, preferring the dignity of seclusion where
Captain Brent preferred fresh air. Behind that partition, which made the
outer cabin seem cramped and stuffy, he had not only his sofa and table
and his arm-chair, but a number of fancy trifles--pictures and Japanese
storks, and brackets with little ornaments on them--in the boudoir style;
and the general effect was one of great elegance, to the taste of the
bush girl. There were several photographic portraits--one of a dark-eyed
boy that she concluded was Captain Spurling's brother, it was so like
him; but he did not tell her whose the faces were, and she thought it
would be rude to ask him. The ports were open, and ripples of light
played over the low ceiling, reflected from the rippling tide.

"I must not stay," she ejaculated, hurried and breathless, and yet she
found herself sitting on the red velvet sofa, with a cushion at her back
(Captain Brent would have despised a cushion even more than he would have
scorned a paper fan). And presently she found Captain Spurling sitting
beside her, with his arm around her waist. Had he been required to defend
his conduct, he would have pleaded the irresistible circumstances--for
there are men who see a natural validity in this excuse, and a chaperon
of thirty-nine has no business to ignore the fact; while as for Minna's
conduct, she was a young thing, and knew no better. As young things do,
when fine fellows provoke them to it, she had fallen frantically in love;
and of course she took this particularly fine fellow for a god in human
shape, a king who could do no wrong. If he put his arm round her waist,
it was because--oh, bliss unspeakable!--because he loved her too. Such had
been her bringing up--strange as it may appear, in a land of precocious

She fluttered in his embrace like a wild bird in a snare, and then
yielded to it, dropping her head upon his shoulder.

"Oh," she wailed in tears, "when--when shall I ever see you again?"

At noon the Penguin was towed out. At night Miss Smith's headache was so
bad that she could not join the whist party. A few days later she went
home to her mother, who thought her very little benefited by her seaside
trip. She was pale and absent-minded; she shunned companionship; she
confessed to sleeping poorly. When asked what was the matter, or whether
anything was the matter, she, of course, said, "Nothing." Mrs. Smith, who
had a family of ten, every one of which was cherished as if an only
child, knew better, but would not force the confidence that was not
freely given. A girl growing up does not realize that her mother is far
more accustomed to being young than she is, and shuts her out as one who
cannot possibly understand. So Minna's parent, homely and hard-working,
erroneously supposed to have no soul above poultry and butter, could only
watch her pretty first-born, of whom she was so fond and proud, with an
aching heart, and contrive little treats and outings, beaten-up eggs and
cups of beef-tea, to cheer her. The instinct that is so rarely at fault
in such a case divined a love affair at once, and Mrs. Atcheson, in
strict confidence, was written to. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Atcheson had been
at school together.

The reply of the latter was emphatic.

"Certainly not. She met nobody at my house, and even if she had, she is
too much of a child to think of such things at present. Do not, my dear
Eliza, put ideas of love and marriage into her head; she will grow up and
have her woman's troubles quite soon enough. Keep her innocent as long as
you can. I daresay she has a little indigestion, or some irregularity of
that sort. I should consult a doctor if I were you."

Mrs. Smith did not consult a doctor. She knew a nice young squatter, a
good son and an excellent man of business, with an honest eye for a
pretty girl; and she asked him to come and see them. He came, nothing
loth, and came again, and yet again--until the expected result ensued. And
then Minna refused him. As it would have been an excellent match, Mr.
Smith reasoned and remonstrated; in fact, he wanted to lock her up on a
diet of bread and water until she repented of her contumacy. But Mrs.
Smith drew the Jovian lightning upon her own head. She would not have the
child worried, she declared, and threw over her candidate without
hesitation, though with many inward pangs.

Other young men were beckoned to--good, clean, solid bush fellows--and
responded readily; for Mrs. Smith, who was said to be a drudge and a
slave to her own family, could think of no better cure for her girl's
complaint than the old-fashioned "comfortable home" and contingent
babies. Not every young woman, by a long way, has a choice of husbands in
this so-called favoured land; a vast number do not get the chance of one;
but Minna was so exceptionally sweet and pretty that it would have been
an easy matter to "settle" her satisfactorily had she been inclined to
settle. But she would not hear of it. She refused her third offer as
resolutely as she had done the first. And the third, from a father's
point of view, was the best of them all.

"What in the name of fortune do you want?" roared Mr. Smith, justifiably
exasperated--nay, fit to dance with rage--at this childish folly and the
placid obstinacy of the culprit's face.

"Don't be angry with me, father," she returned, with a pale smile. "I
don't wish to be married. And if I did, I don't want a man of that sort."

"Of that sort!" he shouted. "Of that sort! The only fault he has is that
he's a thousand times too good for you."

And then the mother interposed.

"Let her alone, Jimmy. She is over-young for husbands yet, and I'm sure
we are in no hurry to get rid of her, bless her!" And she paused in her
search for a son-in-law, and reproached herself for having, perhaps, "put
ideas" into her child's head before it was old enough to receive them.

Meanwhile, Minna's heart was away upon the sea. She thought of the sea
all day and dreamed of it all night, and read of it in as many of Clark
Russell's novels as the local Mechanics' Institute could supply; and of
course she had made up her young mind that only a sailor could satisfy
her. Also that her love for the particular sailor responsible for this
state of things was "that love which only comes once in a
lifetime"--peculiar, as we know, to young people in their teens.

She looked in many newspapers for tidings of the Penguin, but found none.
At long intervals she would come upon the name of the Seamew, and of the
Albatross, and the Petrel, and other boats of that line in the columns of
shipping news, but she never happened to discover the whereabouts of the
most precious of all vessels after the sad Saturday when she stood alone
on the back beach of Williamstown to watch it fade upon the horizon,
homeward bound. She had fits of fever over this matter, alternating with
fits of cold despair when she convinced herself that the Penguin had gone
down with all hands, leaving none to tell the tale.

At last she saw that the Seamew had returned to Melbourne. Immediately
she resolved to repair thither in order to question Captain Brent about
his friend. She confessed for the first time that she was out of health,
and said that only sea air could restore her.

"Sea air did not do you much good when you tried it before," Mrs. Smith
remarked, but allowed the child to have her own way, as usual. Maria
Atcheson was written to, and Minna was consigned to her, with an
equivalent for her "keep" in the shape of a noble hamper of farm produce.

The chaperon expressed herself as quite shocked by the girl's appearance
when they met on the Spencer Street platform.

"Why, how thin you've got!" she exclaimed. "I should hardly have known
you. I expect you've just been moped to death up there. How people can
stand the bush year in and year out I can't conceive, especially a girl
of your age. I know it would kill me in no time. But you'll soon get all
right now you are in my hands, Minna. It is not beef-tea that you want,
with all due deference to your mother, but a few theatres and parties,
and things of that sort."

"Like we had last time," said Minna, with averted face. "Do you remember
our afternoon on board the Seamew? By the way, the Seamew is in again,
isn't she?"

"I believe so. Is this your portmanteau?"

"Yes; that's all. I suppose you have seen Captain Brent?"

"Not yet."

"Not yet? The ship has been here for more than a week!"

"Oh, I am sick of ships! Come along; let us get home. I am going to take
you to a chrysanthemum show this afternoon, and we shall only just have
time to lunch and dress."

The fervour of Mrs. Atcheson's friendships was only equalled by their
brevity, and, as Minna presently discovered, Captain Brent had had his

So it was a little while before she found an opportunity to get sight and
speech of him. Three days of passionate anxiety intervened. Then she
excused herself from certain calls, caught Jacky on his return from
school, bribed him to go for a walk with her, and flattered his pride as
escort by asking him to show her the ships at the railway pier.

"Do you remember the gingerbread nuts that Captain Spurling gave you,

"Oh, yes; he wasn't a bad sort, was he?"

"I wonder where he is now? I suppose you don't know?"

"Never heard a word of him from that day to this. But I'll tell you who
is here, Miss Smith--old Captain Brent--and he's worth a dozen Spurlings
any day."

"Why?" asked Miss Smith, indignant and concerned.

"Oh, he's awfully kind, you know. Since he's been in this time he's given
us boys the best tuck-out we ever had in our lives."

Minna laughed, and her step grew brisk.

"Perhaps we might pay him a little call now, Jacky. What do you say?"

Jacky said, in all sincerity, that he was "on."

It was a late call. The distance from the Strand at Williamstown to the
railway pier is much longer than it looks, and this was a time of year
when the shades of evening fell early--soon after five o'clock, in fact.
The ships, when they were reached, loomed vast and vague, infinitely
majestic and imposing, in the brooding hush of a sea-foggy night that had
quite closed in. All work for the day was over, and the old pier was
deserted, the few yellow gleams on its rail metals and the hulls that
lined it serving but to deepen its air of solitude and make darkness
visible. Nevertheless, Captain Brent was at home--contrary to the custom
of captains in port--and he welcomed his visitors cordially. He wanted
them to stay and dine with him, and was much disappointed when Miss Smith
reluctantly refused, on the ground that Mrs. Atcheson did not know where
they were. "We were just having a little walk," she explained, "and being
so near we thought we might as well say 'How d'ye do.'" Which, Captain
Brent declared, was a most friendly act on their part. And he brought out
his port wine, and the bush girl, not to hurt his feelings, sipped a
little of it, not at all understanding how good it was.

Over the nauseous glass she found an opportunity to mention Captain

"I hope he is quite well," she said, in a casual way. "I have not seen
his ship mentioned in the papers. I hope he reached home safely after
leaving here?"

"Oh, yes," said Captain Brent. "He got home all right. Found a new baby
added to the family circle."

"A baby!" gasped Minna, petrified.

"Three weeks old. And, what was a great deal worse, found that his
daughter had run away and got married. Eloped with a music-master."

"His daughter! Do you mean his daughter?"

"The eldest. Nothing but a child, of course. But that's the worst of
being a sailor, Miss Smith. You can't take care of the young girls when
they want protection most, and they won't mind their mothers these times.
Why, she couldn't have been a day older than you are. Not nineteen till
May, I think they said. Young hussy! And as for that music-master, I
believe Spurling pretty nearly killed him, and serve him right."

"I," said Minna, in a dazed way, as if talking in her sleep--"I shall be
nineteen in May."

* * * * * * * * * *


Lord Thomas De Bohun had been married twice--and more. In fact, he was
sick and tired of womenkind. And that is why he came out to Australia. He
thought a year or two of travel in a savage country, free of all the
trammels of civilization, would give him a rest. Besides, the second Lady
Thomas had been rather nice to him, and she had died pathetically, and he
missed her. Wherefore he loathed the British matchmaker for the present,
and was glad to get as far away from her as possible.
He was not a roué and a reprobate, such as this introduction might imply.
Nothing of the sort. A better-natured or more charming young man--he was
on the right side of forty still--was not to be found in London. But he
was the son of a duke, poor fellow, with a great deal of money, and no
work to do--misfortunes for which the fair-minded reader will make a large

In the beginning, Australia did not quite answer his expectations.
Whereas he had imagined a dress-suit to be a thing unknown, he found
himself obliged to wear one nightly, and he was just as ducal in our city
clubs and drawing-rooms as he would have been at home--indeed, a great
deal more so. But as soon as he escaped into the country he was all
right. Clad in moleskins and a Crimean shirt, with a soft felt hat on his
head, and big spurs on his heels, he galloped about at kangaroo hunts and
cattle musters, a simple bushman of the bush (while his servant played
the gentleman in Melbourne), enjoying health and happiness and the
unrivalled charm of novelty to a degree unknown before. Anybody could get
him who had no right to get him. The great country houses, flattering
themselves that they alone could entertain him suitably, found it a most
difficult matter to drop salt on his elusive tail.

He was at a bush hotel one evening, spending a convivial hour with
perfect strangers, who did not know he was Lord Thomas. Having heard his
name was De Bohun, they called him Mr. Bone, and were quite satisfied
with that. So was he. The talk turned upon agricultural machinery, as
used by English and Australian farmers respectively; and a member of the
latter class, as Lord Thomas supposed, was most anxious to show him a
five-furrow plough and various modern implements--American "notions" of
the labour-saving kind.

"You come home with me," said the jolly old man, "and you shall see 'em
working. Now do, Mr. Bone. Pot-luck, you know, but a hearty welcome."

Lord Thomas jumped at the chance, for, amongst other delightfully novel
pursuits, he had set himself to the improvement of his mind in these
matters, as a responsible landlord and potential duke.

"But your family?" he objected. "Would it not inconvenience them to
receive a stranger without warning, and at so late an hour?"

"Not a bit of it, Mr. Bone. There's always a bed ready for anybody that
may turn up. Mrs. Kemp will be charmed to see you."

"In that case," said Lord Thomas, "I accept with pleasure."

A pair of rough horses, in a ramshackle American wagon, were brought
round, and they set forth on a ten-mile voyage through the bush, with
neither lamps nor moon to steer by. At a long, swinging trot, never
hastening and never loitering, the shabby animals did it in an hour
without making a false step, and were as fresh at the end as at the
beginning. The mysterious, illimitable gloom and the romantic solitude
were very refreshing to the London man, and so was his host, who was full
of merry tales and valuable information. Lord Thomas, in short, enjoyed
his adventure thoroughly.

But he was taken aback by the sight of Mr. Kemp's house. Instead of the
shanty of his anticipations, he beheld a tall and imposing structure,
cutting a great block out of the starry midnight sky. A sweet place by
daylight--ivied, virginia-creepered, grape-vined all over its mellow brick
walls and decaying verandahs, with a great garden and magnificent trees
around it.

"Built by my father in the early days," said Mr. Kemp. "The first big
house in this district, and the only one for nigh twenty years. We've
been rich folks in our time, Mr. Bone, but the ups and downs, you
know,--things ain't what they used to be, especially since the Boom.
However, we've still got a roof over us, thank God, and a crust to share
with a friend."

The family had retired, and the guest, having been warmed with whisky,
was escorted to his bedroom by the host. It was a kind of bedroom to make
him feel slightly nervous about meeting the hostess next morning. The bed
creaked with age, and so did the carpetless floor beneath it; but the
linen was fine and the pillows soft, the handsome old rosewood furniture
shone like glass, and there was an impalpable air about everything that
bespoke the house of a lady.

"I don't know whether you like the windows shut?" said Mr. Kemp,
hospitably bustling about. "We always keep them open, and the blinds up.
Nobody to overlook us here, you know." He tried to pull down a sash which
stuck in the frame, but at Lord Thomas's request desisted.

"Leave it as it is," said the guest. "I like them open. It's so

And he presently lay down on his lavender-perfumed couch, feeling--after
his experience of bush inns--that it was the nicest bed he had ever
occupied. And that scent of the earth and of the night, coming in through
open windows, how exquisite it was! He blew out his candle--a home-made
candle in an old chased silver candlestick--and slept like a baby.

Not for long, however. Voices called him through those open windows, and
before six o'clock he was leaning out of one of them, awake and alive as
he had rarely been at such an hour.

What an Arcadian world was this, in which he felt like a man new born!
Air as clear as crystal, and dew shining on shrubs and trees; giant
acacias and native white cedars, and pink and white oleanders that could
have swallowed an ordinary bush house; the morning moon still gleaming
like a jewel over the saffron sunrise and the intensely dark-blue hills.
He had heard curlews in the night and frogs at the break of dawn; now the
magpies were fluting all over the place, cheerful fowls were crowing,
laughing jackasses shouting "Ha-ha-ha!" and "Hoo-hoo-hoo!" to one
another. Delicious sounds! But none so acutely audible as the immense
silence at the back of them.

"This," said he to himself, "is the real bush, that we have heard so much
about, at last."

He looked down from his window, and saw the sparrows at the ripe grapes
now loading the eaves of the verandah; saw a hare limping along the
gravelled paths, where no hare should be. He looked over the garden
hedges to the peaceful fields outside, where cows were feeding quietly,
throwing shadows on the wet grass; flocks of cockatoos were screaming
amongst them, and sprinkling themselves like white flowers over the
fresh-ploughed land; and an army of dusky jays held the vineyard on the
hill, whence their joyous gabble rose continuously. It was not his
property they were destroying, and he saw and heard them with
delight--those denizens of the wild bush--that was healing him, body and
soul, of the ills of excessive civilization.

The pink dawn spread and glowed, quenching the horned moon and dimming
the sapphire hues of the distant ranges. Then some white bee boxes
gleamed conspicuously to the right of the flower garden--an orderly
encampment, like tents on a field of battle--and he could see the busy
swarms going forth to their day's labour. He could even hear them
humming, they were in such myriads. And another thing he heard--a faint,
muffled clatter--which he traced to a little building near the gate of the
bees' enclosure; a shed made of reeds, with two windows and a door in
it--doubtless the honey-house, in which some one was early at work. As he
listened to the noise within, he watched the door, which faced his view,
and presently he saw a girl come out of it. She wore a pink cotton
sun-bonnet, veiled with a bushman's fly net, and an all-embracing tight
apron, which made her look like the toy figures of a Noah's ark. In each
hand she carried a long tin box, one heavier than the other, by rough
loops of fencing wire; and she marched with them down an alley between
the bee hives. Mr. Kemp had casually mentioned his daughter, who, at the
time, Lord Thomas had not regarded as affecting him in any way. Evidently
this was she, and the circumstances of the house disposed him to take
another view of her.

He saw her put the boxes on the grass and set the lids open, then lift
the roof from one of the wooden hives. A cloud of angry insects rose to
her stooping face and buzzed about her; it made him tingle to see them,
but she heeded them no more than if they had been motes in the sun-rays
that now lighted up her figure so effectively. She puffed something that
smoked into the open hive from a sort of little bellows arrangement, and
then lifted out the frames of comb, held them dangling in the air while
she brushed black masses of bees off them, and placed them edgewise in
one of the boxes on the grass until she had quite filled it. Out of the
other she took similar frames, which she dropped into the emptied
chamber, and shut down there. Then he saw her labouring towards the honey
house with the weighted box, and was exasperated to note how it dragged
her down. She passed it from hand to hand to ease the strain, but could
not carry it without a twist of her supple body, a staggering gait, and
pantings that he seemed to hear, though of course he could not.

"What a shame!" he inwardly ejaculated. And he withdrew into his room,
emptied a can of water into a battered old bath, and dressed in haste.
The clatter in the honey-house, which had ceased while she was amongst
the bees, showing that she worked single-handed, began again.

"I wonder," quoth Lord Thomas, "what she's doing in there?"

He thought he would go down to see, and went, stepping softly, so as not
to disturb the rest of the family, who did not seem to rise so early as
she. As usual in the bush, no locks or bolts impeded him; he turned the
handle of the hall door, and noiselessly slipped out.

What a morning indeed! Freshly autumnal--for it was the end of
March--though the day would be all summer until the sun was low again;
cool almost to coldness, with an air that washed the lungs and
invigorated the heart in a manner to make mere living an ecstasy, even to
a lord--the air of the spacious, untainted bush, and of nowhere else in
the wide world. He stood a moment on the steps of the verandah to drink
it in--to sniff the wholesome odour of gum trees and the richer scent of
the perennial orange flower starring the thick green walls of the orchard
paths. Then he strolled down one of those perfumed lanes--the one that
divided the back garden from the front--and presented himself at the gate
of the bee enclosure just as Miss Kemp, with one of her tin boxes, dashed
out of the honey-house and slammed the door behind her, disappointing the
expectations of a cloud of besieging bees.

She saw him and stopped short, evidently taken aback, and conscious of
her coarse apron and limp sun-bonnet, not worn for company. He hesitated
for a moment in sympathetic confusion, but, being immediately aware that
the form thus plainly outlined was a charming one, as also the pink face
in the frame of pink calico, stood his ground and modestly accosted her.
He lifted his cap gracefully, and a bee got under it.

"Good morning--you brute!" was what he said.

"Don't come," she cried in answer, waving him back. Then she pulled off a
sticky glove and held a bare hand over the gate, regardless of bees,
expressing a polite astonishment at his being up so soon.

"I heard of your arrival, Mr. Bone," said she. "I hope you slept well. I
hope you like Australia, as far as you have seen it."

They chatted conventionally for some minutes. He apologised for his
presence, and she reassured him, on behalf of the family, with an easy
frankness that seemed to say he was but one of dozens of Mr. Bones
flowing in a continuous stream through the house, like tramps through a
casual ward. And then he begged to be allowed to help her in her work. "I
am sure," said he, "you must want somebody to carry that heavy box--oh,
conf--! They knew I am a stranger, evidently."

"Go away," she laughed. "You have no business here. I don't want help--I
am quite used to doing it all--and you'd better go and sit on the
verandah, where you can be at peace. Or wouldn't you like a stroll round?
With a pipe, perhaps?"

"Will you show me round?"

"I'm sorry I can't; I must be busy here. The honey is coming in so fast
this weather--which may break at any moment--that I can't gather it quickly
enough. I get on an average nearly a quarter of a ton per day."

She looked at him with an air of professional pride, forgetting her
costume; and he looked at her. The closer view showed freckles and a
retroussé nose, without at all detracting from her charm. He could gaze
full into her face without being rude, because her eyes were continually
following the movements of the bees that buzzed about him. Every now and
then her fingers skirmished round his head like a flight of butterflies.

Five minutes more, and she was tying a large apron round his waist, over
a very old coat that did not fit him, and he was planting on his
aristocratic head an aged straw hat, flounced with mosquito netting. In
this costume, finished off with a pair of good gloves of his own,
cheerfully sacrificed, he was allowed to pass through the gate and take
up the box by its handles of fencing-wire. The sun was well above the
ranges now, and every dewy leaf and blade of grass glittering.

"What a heavenly morning!" he sighed ecstatically.

"Isn't it?" she assented, and then fell to work again with an energy
interesting to contemplate in a person of her sex and years. She walked
between the rows of hives till she came to the one to be operated on; he
walked after her, inwardly nervous, but with an air of utmost valour.

"Now be careful," said she, as she seized her little bellows. "Tuck that
net into your waistcoat in front, and then lift the lid off for me."

He did as she bade him, and gasped at the spectacle presented. How all
those bees managed to breathe and move, let alone work, in the space they
occupied, was more than he could understand. She had no time to explain
just now. While he stood rigid, and imagined bees under the hems of his
trousers--for they were thick in the grass he stood on--she rapidly smoked
the hive and drew out the frames of comb, heavy with honey, brushed
thousands of stinging things off them, and placed them in the empty tin.
From the full one she took the frames, filled only with hollow cells,
which she had brought from the honey house; and these she dropped into
the hive amid the masses of bees, leaving less than an inch between one
wall of comb and another.

"And you make the same wax do again?" he inquired, thirsting for

"Many times," she replied, pleased to inform his ignorance. "That comb
will be refilled in about ten days. Put the lid on again, please.
Gently--don't crush more than you can help. Now--"

She straightened her back and looked at him.

"Now what?" he inquired eagerly.

"Well, if you would, you might be filling the other box while I

But this was rather more than his courage was equal to. He said he was
afraid he did not know enough about it yet.

"Very well; we will go and extract the lot we have."

They went to the honey-house together, and she quickly shut the door as
soon as both were in. He smiled to himself as he saw her do it. The
situation to him was--well, noticeable; to her it was absolutely without
sentimental suggestions. The honey-house was the place for work, not for

It was a stuffy and a sticky place, for its little windows, as well as
the door, had to be closed to keep the bees out. Ventilation depended on
the loosely-woven canvas lining the reed-thatched walls. Half of the
floor was raised above the other half, so that the honey from the
extractor, pouring from the spout upon a fine sieve, could flow downwards
to the great tank, and from that into the tins which conveyed it to
market. Five tons' weight of these tins were stacked on the lower floor,
all filled and soldered up; and many more, Miss Kemp stated, were stored
in the house.

"I used to get sixpence a pound for it," she informed him, with an
anxious, business look in her pretty grey eyes; "but now the stores won't
give more than threepence. It really doesn't seem worth while, at that
price, taking railway charges and all do you think it does?"

Lord Thomas did not, emphatically.

"So I am going to try exporting. I have the regulation boxes and
tins--fifty-six pounds in a tin, and two tins in a case--and, as soon as I
can get my hands free here, I shall prepare a consignment for the London
market. I do hope that will pay! You are an Englishman, Mr. Bone--what is
your opinion of the chances of a trade in Australian honey?"

With the confidence of utter ignorance, Lord Thomas assured her that
there was a splendid opening. He knew people--heaps of people--who would
snap it up gladly; and proposed to himself to be her purveyor to those
people, comprising all the De Bohuns and his numerous lady friends.

"Oh, I am so thankful to hear you say that!" Miss Kemp ejaculated, with a
heave of the chest. "You see wool is down, and cattle selling for nothing
and the value of places like this dropped to less than what they are
mortgaged for; therefore something must be done. I've begun with honey,
so I want to go on with it. I can increase to any extent, if I can only
get a regular and paying market."

He was oddly touched, and more interested and amused than he had ever
been in his life, to see a pretty girl regarding her destiny from such a
point of view. It was something quite out of his experience. She really
wanted to work, and not to flirt--to do something for men, instead of
being done for by them. And yet there was nothing of the new woman about
her. She was sweetly old-fashioned.

For instance, it gave her a visible shock to learn, in the course of
miscellaneous conversation, that he had a baby ten months old and had
left it behind in England.

"What!" she exclaimed tragically, "without either father or mother to
look after it?"

"Oh," said he, "there are plenty of people to look after it."

"Who will--who could--like its own parents?"

"Well, you wouldn't have a fellow travel about the world with a nursery
in his train--now would you?"

"I don't know how you can travel, under such circumstances."

He thought this very funny. And yet he liked it. Lady Thomas the first
had detested children; Lady Thomas the second, a mother for a day, had
shown no feeling for them. This girl's evident concern for his virtual
orphan--who, as she said, might die of croup or convulsions without his
knowing it, while he idly gadded about like an irresponsible
bachelor--struck him as very interesting. She asked questions about it in
an earnest way, and made him feel quite fatherly and serious. He wondered
if the poor little brat was really being cared for properly, and
determined to make strict inquiries by the next mail.

Conversation was not allowed to hinder business. While she talked in this
friendly, human fashion, Miss Kemp worked as he had never seen a lady
work before, as he had never worked himself since he was born. With a
frame of comb in one hand, and in the other a big knife, kept hot in a
tin of water standing on an oil-fed flame, she sheared off the capsules
from the cells that had been filled and closed, leaving those that had
bees in them, with the rapidity and dexterity of a performing conjuror.
Then she dropped the frames into the wheel arrangement inside the
extractor, and turned the handle violently--no, he turned it for her while
she prepared more frames, full ones for the machine and empty ones for
the tin box, and cleared up the shreds of wax, and so on. She had no
regard for attitudes, nor for the state of her complexion, and it was
clearly evident that she valued Lord Thomas for his services and not for
himself. He had never been in such a position since he was a fag at
school; in relation to a woman, never. It chagrined him a little, but
pleased him much. He determined to remain Mr. Bone for the present.

Called to breakfast, he made the acquaintance of just such a hostess as
he had expected--a faded woman, with a refined face and voice, English
born, and homesick for her own country. He exercised upon her that art of
pleasing, of which he was a master, and she was so charmed with him that
she begged him to stay a little, not to run away immediately, unless
bored by the dulness of the place. Her husband abetted her, with the
unquestioning hospitality of the bush, which asks no more of a guest than
that he shall know how to behave himself.

"And I'll show you all my improvements," said Mr. Kemp. "A good deal more
than you could run through in an hour or two, or even in a day."

"Thanks, thanks," Lord Thomas murmured. "Just at present I am more
interested in the honey industry than in anything else. I intend to keep
bees myself when I get back, and it is a great chance for me to see all
the working of the thing as it is done here. Er--er--how clear and
beautiful that is!" He looked at a dish containing a square block of
honey in the comb, neatly removed from the wooden frame it was made in.
Letty hastened to pass it to him.

"Isn't it?" she crooned, surveying it with a maternal air. "And this is
what I get only threepence for in the local market! I can't but think
there must be ways of exporting it in sections, with careful packing.
Don't you think if it could be brought on English breakfast tables in the
comb like this there would be a great demand for it? I am sure they
haven't honey to surpass our honey."

Lord Thomas was equally sure of it--convinced, indeed, that benighted
England never tasted anything like it in its life. Mrs. Kemp smiled a
superior British smile. Mr. Kemp pooh-poohed the fuss his daughter made
over comparative trifles. What was honey, as a topic of interest for an
Englishman anxious to improve his mind, compared with ensilage, and
irrigation, and six-furrow ploughs?

For two precious hours Lord Thomas found himself obliged to attend to
these latter subjects with what interest he could muster, and he only got
away from them so soon by force of misleading insinuations to the effect
that bees were his natural hobby and bee-keeping his proposed profession.
At eleven o'clock he resumed his sticky apron and gloves, his old coat
and his veiled old hat, with more delight than he had ever taken in
clothes before--ridiculous as it seemed, even to himself--and rushed to the
heated and messy honey-house as he had never rushed to a royal garden

Letty's hot face lighted up at sight of him. Beads of perspiration lay
like dew under her clear eyes and over her pretty lips, but she cared
not, neither did he. This sort of thing did not spoil the effect, as

"Oh, how good of you!" she exclaimed. And at once she set him to work. He
buckled to with might and main, as if his life and hers depended on the
amount of honey they could extract in a given time. They had two hours
together, talking while they worked, growing better friends every minute.

"Labour-saving machines," said she, still harping on the one string, "are
splendid, I know; but they run away with money when there isn't any
money. My plan is just the opposite of father's. It mightn't be such good
economy in other circumstances, but as things are it is my idea of
economy. I don't know what you think."

He told her what he thought, and she told him it was beside the point. So
it was. So he wanted it to be. Hard as he worked at the handle of the
extractor, he worked still harder at trying to change the subject. But,
though she might be led aside a step or two, she could not be wholly
drawn from it.

It was worse after lunch. She said to him, with the firm air of a general
directing military manoeuvres, "Now you know all that is to be done in
the house, so you can attend to that while I am changing the frames in
the hives. Oh, never mind the box; I can carry it quite easily. And we
shall get on twice as fast."

He found he had to do it--the uncapping with the hot knife, and all the
rest of it--while she went back and forth outside. It was a long
afternoon, and the little shed was stifling. The perspiration poured from
his brow and trickled down his neck as he strained every nerve to be
ready for her each time she brought the full box in. And his wages were
next to nothing.

But at last the sun went down, and his long struggle to get the better of
his rivals seemed over. They came straggling home in the golden twilight
to their well-earned rest, and Letty Kemp prepared to follow their
example when it was too dark to work any more.

"There," said she, with a sigh of utter weariness and satisfaction, "we
have done well, haven't we? I can't tell you how much obliged to you I
am, Mr. Bone."

Suddenly he felt tired of being Mr. Bone and a casual labourer, so he
said awkwardly, "Er--er--I think you haven't got my name quite correctly.
It is De Bohun--Thomas de Bohun."

"Oh, I beg pardon," she returned, in an airy manner; and he perceived
that she was not enlightened. "You know, Mr. de Bohun, there is a little
talk and movement about eucalyptus honey just now. Some chemist people at
home have been praising its medicinal properties. And it is everything
in these cases to strike while the iron is hot."

"Ye--es," drawled Lord Thomas absent-mindedly. Actually she had been so
absorbed in those blessed bees as not to have heard of him in his proper

They took off their sticky overalls and returned to the house to prepare
for the evening meal. And when Miss Kemp came downstairs, washed and
brushed, in a pale-blue frock, a white muslin fichu, and a rose, Lord
Thomas thought her beautiful. Yes, in spite of freckles and a turned-up
nose. Never had he seen in woman's shape such pure health and such an
absence of self-consciousness. Of all the charming novelties surrounding
him, these were the most charming.

"I suppose she's too busy to notice what a sweet creature she is," he
thought, as he sat down to the juicy slice of mutton for which he had
earned so keen an appetite. And he anticipated with joy the leisure hours
he now expected to spend with her, undisturbed by bees, in the somewhat
threadbare drawing-room.

All went thither together at the conclusion of the meal--the comfortable
tea-dinner of the bush. Mr. Kemp, desiring to talk ploughs and ensilage,
proposed a smoke. His guest, yearning for tobacco, aching in every limb,
declined. Mrs. Kemp sent her daughter to the piano, and Letty
played--admirably Lord Thomas thought--the intermezzo from Cavalleria, and
a few things of that sort; and while he tried to listen, and to feed his
sense of the girl's many-sided excellence, his hostess babbled about
London as she remembered it, and wanted a thousand and one details of the
dear city as it was now. During a laborious description of the Thames
Embankment, Letty rose from the music-stool, and softly moved about the
room. Her admirer flattered himself that she was listening to him, but
was shortly undeceived. She vanished at a moment when his face was turned
from the door, and never came back.

"Does she actually leave me!" he dumbly groaned. "Is she so lost to all
the feelings of her sex as to imagine that I won't miss her while I have
this old woman to talk to?" It was enough to drive any titled gentleman
to extremities.

Soon he was hunting the dim verandahs round and round, in search of the
fugitive. He explored the passages of the house; he walked about the
garden, smelling so strongly of orange blossom, in the pure night air;
and he used bad language under his breath. At last he was drawn to a
light shining like a thread of incandescent wire through a certain
outhouse door. He lifted the latch and looked in.

There she was. Kneeling on a piece of sacking in the middle of the floor,
with her blue skirt pinned up round her waist under a large apron, and
with all the mess of a station workshop and lumber-shed around her, she
was busily engaged in painting her brand on honey tins. A kerosene lamp
shed effective rays on her dainty figure, her fair, clear skin, her
shining chestnut hair. In short, Lord Thomas stood and looked at her,
fascinated. Of the thousands of pretty women that he had admired in his
time, not one had ever appeared to such advantage in the matter of
background and grouping. Yet he protested at the sight.

"Oh, I say! Haven't you done enough work for one day, Miss Kemp? Are you
trying to kill yourself?"

She looked up at him with a laugh; and her eyes, focussing the light,
were like stars in the grubby gloom.

"Oh, I beg your pardon, Mr. de Bohun! I thought as you were talking to
mother, you would not notice if I slipped away for half an hour."

"Did you?" said Lord Thomas, entering and shutting the door behind him.

"I want so badly to get my consignment away next week. And I thought if I
painted the tins to-night, they would be dry for packing in the morning."

She continued to dab her black brush upon a slip of perforated zinc, but
her quick hand became slightly unsteady, and she blushed visibly, even in
that bad light. The fact was that Lord Thomas--not as Lord Thomas, but as
a man--was a delightful fellow, and it was not in nature that a healthy,
heart-whole girl could spend a long and intimate day with him without
being more or less affected in the usual way. As yet her bees were of
more consequence than lovers--he was resentfully aware of it--but that did
not prevent her feeling hourly more conscious that toil was sweetened by
his participation therein. She was pleased that he had found her. She was
more pleased when he took the black brush from her, asked leave to remove
his coat, turned up his cuffs, and began to paint honey tins himself.

"I am not a very practised hand at this sort of thing," he confessed.
"You must tell me if I don't do it right."

"You are quite as practised at that as I am at looking on while others do
my work," she replied.

"So I suppose," he rejoined thoughtfully.

They had a happy hour, unmolested by the parents, who never supposed that
their practical Letty could lend herself to foolishness. Lord Thomas
painted all the tins successfully. He could not well go wrong while she
held the lettered label straight. Their two heads were within an inch of
touching as they bent over their job; a handkerchief might have covered
their four hands while the branding was in process. They looked at each
other's fingers continually.

"Mine," said Letty, "are quite rough compared with yours. I don't think I
ever saw such beautiful nails. It's my belief you never did a stroke of
work in your life until you came here."

"Well," said Lord Thomas, colouring a little, "I am afraid I haven't done
much. You make me awfully ashamed of myself, Miss Kemp."

They fell into serious talk at this stage--the first serious talk Lord
Thomas had ever had with a young lady, all his experiences

"I wish," he abruptly remarked, "you'd teach me to be as useful as you
are." There was much feeling in his voice.

She seemed to think the matter over. Then she asked him when he intended
to return home. He said he was not sure.

"Soon, I suppose?"

"Oh, I suppose so."

"You must go soon," she urged. "You must, for the sake of that poor baby,
left to the tender mercies of hired people."

"Well," he said, "I will."

"Then you will have an opportunity to be very, very useful. You can look
after my honey for me in London--oh!"

He flung the paint-brush into the pot.

"I suppose it is useless," he exclaimed, through grinding teeth, "to
expect you to care a straw for anything except honey and bees!"

There were but two courses open to a self-respecting man, titled or
otherwise--to make her do it, or die in the attempt.

She is Her Grace the Duchess now. And an excellent duchess into the
bargain. The smart folks laugh at her for not "knowing her way about,"
but the duke does not. He thoroughly realizes that she knows it better
than they do. When, as a surprise present to her, he established a
magnificent apiary in the castle grounds, and then found she did not care
for it, he was a little disappointed; but he soon woke to the fact that
bees had been merely the make-shift of circumstance until worthier
objects for the exercise of her splendid abilities were provided. With
great households to administer and young dukes to rear--not to speak of a
thousand matters of more public moment--she advisedly transferred her
interest in honey to the wives of her husband's tenants.

"But they will never make honey like mine," she says, shaking her
coroneted head. "It wants the taste of the eucalyptus in it."

* * * * * * * * * *


The yachtsmen of the bay had been jubilant for months: this morning they
were simply in ecstasies. Aha! it was their turn now. The sporting
landsmen, magnates of the Melbourne Club and the great stations, who had
had all the fun of the fair hitherto, were out of it this time. Oh, no
doubt the new Governor was fond of his "bike," and of a good horse, and
of golf and polo, and the usual things; and, of course, he would be
pleased with the triumphal arches and many gorgeous demonstrations of
civic welcome and goodwill. But it was here that his heart would be--here,
on the blue water, with the brethren of his craft. The country might not
know it, but they knew it--mariners all, with their own freemasonry--they
and he.
Every yacht of any consequence had been on the slips quite lately--as
lately as was compatible with having paint and varnish dry. One or two of
the newer models, wanting extra depth for their bulbous keels, were all
but too late in their desire to be spick and span for the great occasion,
but happily got a west-wind tide to float them up in time. And here they
all were, scores and scores of them, as smart as they could be, with
their beautiful sails going up, burgee and ensign flying in the breeze of
the loveliest morning that could possibly have been provided for a
national festival depending wholly on the weather for success. Yesterday
it had been cloudy and gloomy, threatening rain; and to-morrow the north
wind was to blow a sultry hurricane, opaque with dust; but to-day was
heavenly. No other adjective, as Fanny Pleydell remarked, could describe
its all-round perfection.

She was putting on her new white drill with the blue sailor collar, and
her new straw hat with Kittiwake in gold letters on its new blue ribbon,
and joyously addressed her brother through a passage and two open doors.
He shouted back that it--the day--was "ripping," which meant the same
thing. The only doubt about it was whether there would be wind enough.
There is always that doubt in yachting forecasts--that and the lesser fear
of having too much; without which, however, yachting would be no fun at
all. The Kittiwake (once the property of Adam Drewe, Esq.) was one of the
crack boats, and Herbert Lawson--familiarly "Bert"--was skipper and owner;
and he had no mind to make himself a mere St. Kilda decoration, as the
land-lubbers in authority desired. Let the others tug at moorings if they
chose, like wild birds tied by the legs, for hours and hours; the
Kittiwake intended to fly when she opened her wings--weather
permitting--and not submit to be treated as a slab in a canvas wall. She
was going to meet the Sunbeam on free water, half-way down the bay,
which, with any sort of wind, she could easily do, and still be back in
time for the landing ceremony. And so Captain Bert kept an eye on tree
branches and the set of anchored craft, while giving keen attention to
his toilet, arraying himself in ducks like the driven snow and flannels
like milk, waxing the curly points of his moustache till they tapered
smoothly as a ram's horns, trimming his nails, and choosing a silk
handkerchief to foam out of his breast pocket, as with a view to being
inspected at close quarters through a strong telescope from the Sunbeam's

But he was not dressing himself for the eyes of his vice-sovereign lady.
It was for the sake of Lena Pickersgill and Myra Salter that he took such
pains to render his handsome person as attractive as possible--and he did
not quite know which.

Let me briefly explain. Old Lawson had died not long ago, leaving Herbert
master of a good business in Melbourne, a good old family house at
Williamstown (with the Kittiwake attached), and a most comfortable and
even luxurious income for these post-boom days. Sister and brothers were
sufficiently provided for--the former married, the latter studying for
professions--and there was no widowed mother to take care of and defer to.
Herbert was a man of domestic instincts, and turned thirty, and an
arbitrary housekeeper bullied him. In short, every circumstance of the
case cried aloud to him to take a wife, and he was as ready as possible
to do so. But, of course, he wished to be a lover before becoming a
husband, and fate had not yet clearly indicated the object he sought. He
was a particular young man, as he had every right to be, and much in
dread of making a mistake.

To-day he had arrived at the stage of choosing Lena and Myra, out of all
the girls he knew, as the only possibles. Before night he hoped to have
made up a distracted mind as to which of the two was the right one.
Chaperoned by young Mrs. Pleydell, both were to be guests of the
Kittiwake for a long, fine day; and surely no better opportunity for the
purpose could possibly have been devised.

Miss Salter was a Williamstown young lady, a schoolmate of Fanny
Pleydell's, and was to embark with her hostess early. She was Fanny's
candidate for the vacancy in the family, and rather suffered as such from
the advocacy of her friend. Miss Pickersgill, belonging to a somewhat
higher rank of life, lived in town, and was to be taken off from the St.
Kilda pier. Fanny had not wanted to have Lena asked, and for that reason
Bert had firmly insisted on it. For that reason also he was inclined to
promote her to the place of honour, rather than a girl whom he felt was
being thrust down his throat.

But when he presently met the latter, and helped her into his dinghy with
the tenderest air of strong protection, he thought her very sweet. She
was a fair, slim thing, shy, unaffected, and amiable, and looked
delicious in her white garb. All the ladies on board had to wear white
to-day, to harmonize with the pearly enamel of the boat and her snowy new
Lapthorn sails; and Myra had the neatest frock, and the prettiest figure
to set it off. And, moreover, as he very well knew, she did not run after
him when she was let alone.

He rowed her and his sister to the yacht, on which a numerous
white-uniformed crew had made all ready for the start, and he sent the
dinghy back in charge of his brother to pick up three more lady guests.
These three were nobodies as regards this story--a homely aunt and two
plain cousins, who had a family right to the suddenly valuable favours at
their kinsman's disposal. They made up the number he thought would fill
the cockpit comfortably--three on each side.

Mrs. Pleydell, as soon as she had gained the deck, plunged below to
investigate the matter of supplies; Miss Salter sat down to survey the
scene, and the skipper sat down beside her. They had quite twenty minutes
of quiet tête-à-tête, and to that extent placed Miss Pickersgill at a

"Isn't it a heavenly morning?"--or "a ripping day," as the case might
be--was what they said; and "I wonder will the breeze hold?" and "Didn't
you feel certain last night that it was changing for rain?"--conversation
that had no literary value to make it worth reporting. However, it is not
in words that incipient lovers explain themselves, but in the
accompaniment to words played by furtive eyes and the corners of lips,
and other instruments of nature inaudible to the outward ear. Myra's
varying complexion confessed a lot of things, and the amount of
intelligence in the horns of that moustache which had been waxed so
carefully was wonderful. Indeed, it really seemed, thus early in the day,
as if the die were cast. Both looked so handsome and felt so happy, and
the weather and all the circumstances were so specially favourable to the
development of kindly sentiments.

"I am so glad you were able to come," the young man remarked, whenever
they fell upon a pause, changing the emphasis to a fresh word each time.
And the young woman put it in all sorts of modest but convincing ways
that he was not more glad than she was. Oh, it was a heavenly morning,
truly! And Mrs. Pleydell and the crew were more and more careful to do
nothing to mar the prospect.

But soon the fat aunt and excited cousins arrived, all in white, and as
conscious of it as if dressed for a fancy ball, and it was time to make
for the rendezvous across the bay. Thither were the yachts of all clubs
converging in dozens and scores, like an immense flock of seabirds
skimming the azure water, their sails like silver and white satin in the
sun. As Bert Lawson steered his own, proudly convinced that she was queen
of the company, he named his would-be rivals to his guest, keeping her so
close to him that he had to apologise for touching her elbow with the
tiller now and then. Occasionally he exchanged an opinion with the crew
that the old so-and-so didn't look so bad, and they continually cocked
their eyes aloft to where the blue ensign waved in the languid breeze. It
wasn't every boat that could dip that flag to the new Governor--no,

"Isn't it a pretty sight?" the ladies cried to one another--and it
certainly was. Even the prosaic shore was transfigured and glorious--in
one place, at least. The St. Kilda pier and the hotel, and the steep
slope connecting them, smothered all over in green stuff and bunting, and
packed with what appeared to be the whole population of the colony, was a
striking spectacle as viewed from the sea. The most bigoted Englishman
must acknowledge it.

"Oh," exclaimed Fanny Pleydell, staring through a strong pair of glasses,
"I wouldn't have had you miss it for the world, Myra dear."

"And yet I nearly did," the girl replied, glancing at Bert from under her
hat brim as he stood over her, intent on business "If mother had not been
so much better this morning, I could not possibly have left her."

The skipper ceased shouting to his too numerous men not to crowd the
boat's nose so that he could not see it, and dropped soft eyes on his
sister's friend. "Dear, dutiful, unselfish little soul!" he thought.
"That's the sort of woman to make a good wife. That's the girl for me."
It was still not more than twenty minutes to eleven, and he had got as
far as that.

But now Miss Pickersgill intervened. She put off from the gorgeous pier,
which was not yet closed to the public, in the dinghy of a local friend,
in order that the Kittiwake should not be burdened with its own. It
afterwards transpired that she had engaged to grace the yacht of the
local friend, and had thrown him over for Bert Lawson, having no scruples
of pride against making use of him, nevertheless. She was a radiant
vision in tailor-made cream serge, a full-blooded, full-bosomed,
high-coloured, self-confident young beauty, with bold eyes and a
vivacious manner, calculated to make any picnic party lively. As she
approached, like a queen enthroned, all the male creatures hung forward
to gaze and smile, Bert springing to the side to help her over--which was
only what she expected and was accustomed to. And she jumped into the
midst of the group around the cockpit,--four humble-minded admirers and
one firm adversary,--chose her place and settled herself, nodding and
waving salutations around, as if she were Mrs. Bert already.

Myra's heart sank in presence of so formidable a rival. Myra was the
daughter of a retired sea-captain in rather narrow circumstances; Lena's
father was a stock-broker, and reputed to roll in money. She had fat gold
bangles on her wrists, and a diamond in each ear. She lifted her smart
skirt from a lace-frilled petticoat, and the serge was lined with silk.
The dejected observer moved to make way for so unquestionable a superior.
But Bert detained her with a quiet hand.

"Sit still," he said. "There is plenty of room."

To her surprise and joy, she found he still preferred her near him. It
was not money and gold bracelets that could quench her gentle charm.

And now the fun began. The yacht, with every stitch of canvas spread, set
out upon her course, determined to be the first to salute her future
commodore. There was just enough wind to waft her along with a motion as
soft as feathers, as airy as a dream, and the heavenly morning, on the
now wider waters, was more heavenly than ever.

"It's our day out, and no mistake," quoth Miss Pickersgill, in her hearty
way. "Let's have a song, old chap"--to Bert--"or do some thing or other to
improve the occasion. What do you say, Mrs. Pleydell?"

"I," said the hostess cheerfully, but with tightened lips, "am going to
get you all something to eat."

"And I'll go and help you," said Myra, rising hastily.

"Oh, all right--go on; I'll keep 'em alive till you come back. Now then,
tune up, everybody! I'll begin. What shall I sing, Mr. Lawson?" with a
languishing glance at him over her shoulder. "You shall choose."

"I think you'd better whistle," said Bert, whose eyes were on his sails,
and his nose sniffing anxiously.

"All serene. I can do that too. But why had I better whistle?"

"Wind's dying away to nothing, I grieve to say."

"By George, it is!" his young men echoed, in sympathetic concern. "If we
don't mind, we shall fall between two stools, and be out of everything."

"What's the odds, so long as you're happy?" was Miss Lena's philosophic
response. And they adopted that view. With every prospect of being
ignominiously becalmed, out of the track of events in which they had
expected to take a leading and historic part, they lolled about the deck
and sang songs with rousing choruses--popular ditties from the comic
operas of the day--and professed themselves as jolly as jolly could be.

"How fascinating she is!" sighed Myra Salter, listening from the little
cabin to the voice of the prima donna overhead. "I don't wonder they all
admire her so much!"

"I am quite sure my brother does not admire her," said Mrs. Pleydell with
decision. "He thinks, as I do, that she is a forward minx--he must."
Bert's laugh just then came ringing down the stairs. In an interval
between two songs, he and Miss Pickersgill were enjoying a bout of
"chaff"--rough wit that crackled like fireworks. "Of course she amuses
him," said Fanny grudgingly.

"And isn't it lovely to be able to amuse people?" the girl ejaculated,
envious still. "She charms them so that they forget about thee wind and
everything. She is just the life and soul of the party, Fanny."

"I think she spoils it, Myra. If we don't look out, we shall be having
her serenading the Governor with 'He's a jolly good fellow,' or something
of that sort. If she attempts to disgrace us with her vulgarity before
him, clap your hand over her mouth, my dear. I shall."

Myra laughed, and was somewhat comforted. But she still thought how
lovely it would be to be able to amuse people and take them out of
themselves. "He would never be dull with her," she thought sadly. "I am
so stupid that I should bore him to death."

One of Miss Salter's unusual charms, perfectly appreciated by sensible
Mrs. Pleydell, and not overlooked by Bert, was a sweet
humble-mindedness--a rare virtue in these days.

The first of several light luncheons was served on deck, without
interrupting the concert. Between gulps of wine and mouthfuls of
sandwich, Miss Pickersgill continued to raise fresh tunes, and the crew
to shout the choruses, and the audience of fat aunt and simpering cousins
to applaud admiringly. It was a case of youth at the prow and pleasure at
the helm, and an abandonment of all responsibility. A dear little catspaw
came stealing along, and hardly excited anybody. The yacht gathered way,
and began to make knots again, faster and faster, but even that did not
draw the light-hearted young folks from their frivolous pastime. Thanks
to the syren of St. Kilda, they had almost forgotten the errand they were
on. It really did not seem to matter much to any one whether he or she
met Lord Brassey or not; he had become an incident of the day, rather
than its main feature.

Still, the eyes of the crew continually searched the horizon, and
presently one man saw smoke where no one else saw anything, and out of
that spot a faint blur grew which resolved itself into the Aramac with
the Governor on board, and the Ozone and Hygeia, its consorts. The three
boats in a row advancing steadily, under all the steam they could make,
were not unimpressive in their way, but the only thing the Kittiwake
cared to look at was the lovely pillar of white cloud, shining like a
pearl, which was recognised as the Sunbeam with all sail set. She was
bearing off from the Government flotilla, dismissed from their company,
superseded and discarded; but to yachtsmen's eyes she was a sort of
winged angel, a spirit of the sea, and they but grubby mortals by
comparison, common and gross.

"Why, why," they exclaimed, with groans of regret, gazing on the fairy
column as if that were all the picture, "why didn't they let him come up
in her, and let us bring him? What does he want with a lot of cheap-jack
politicians here? They just spoil it all."

"It wouldn't be them if they didn't," some one said, voicing a rather
prevalent opinion. And in fact they were spoiling it rather badly on the
Aramac just then, if all tales be true. They had not wanted Miss
Pickersgill to show them how to do it.

It was past the hour fixed for the landing ceremonies--and the poor
sun-baked crowds ashore would have been dropping with fatigue if there
had been room to fall in--when Bert Lawson shouted "Dip! dip!" to his
brother, who held the ensign halliards, and was confused by the
excitement of the moment. After all, the Kittiwake was first, and proud
was every heart aboard when the cocked-hatted figure on the Aramac's
bridge saluted her and the flag as if he had known and loved the one as
long as the other. Every man and woman was convinced that he stood lost
in admiration of her beauty and the way she was manoeuvred. Bert brought
her as close as was compatible with proper respect, and they all posed to
the best advantage for the Governor's eye, Miss Pickersgill in front.

"Now, you fellows," she panted breathlessly. "All at once--'See-ee the
conq-'ring he-e-e-e-ero'--"

But Mrs. Pleydell's hand was up like a flash, and there was a
"Hsh-sh-sh!" like the protest of a flock of geese. The fair Lena was so
taken aback that she nearly fell into the captain's arms. The captain did
not seem to mind; his arm went round her waist for a moment almost as if
it had the habit of doing it; and he whispered an apology that restored
her self-control. At the same instant he signalled to the crew, and they
burst into three great solid British cheers. Another signal stopped them
from further performances, and the steamers swept by. The crisis of the
day was over.

Then the Kittiwake turned and followed the fleet, and realized her
remaining ambitions. She was back at St. Kilda, with the yachts that had
been lying there all the morning, by the time his great excellency,
transhipped once more, arrived there. Through their glasses the ladies
could see the procession of little figures along the pier, and the
departure of the carriages after the guns had fired the salute; and they
could hear the school children singing. When all was over, a sigh of vast
contentment expressed the common thought, "What a day we're having!" The
turn of the landsmen had come, but no one at sea could envy them.

"Now we'll have a look at the Sunbeam as she lies," said Bert, and then
headed back for Williamstown.

"And we want some refreshment after what we have gone through," said the
hospitable hostess.

Luncheon was served for the third time, and subsequently two afternoon
teas. The yachts, dissolving all formation, swam aimlessly about the bay,
more like seabirds than ever, and took snap-shots at each other with
their kodak cameras. Miss Pickersgill's singing powers failed somewhat,
but she continued to chaff and chatter with the young men, breaking off
at intervals to hail her friends on passing boats. Good-natured Fanny
Pleydell laughed with the rest at the fun she made; the admiring aunt and
cousins could not remember when they had been so entertained; and Myra
Salter was satisfied at heart because Bert had never allowed her to feel
"out of it." And so the happy day wore through. They had had seven hours
together when they began to look for Lena's dinghy, and before separating
they testified with one consent that they had never had a more delightful
holiday, or, as Lena neatly phrased it, "such a jolly high old time."

"Then I'll tell you what we must do," said the gratified host. "Go out
together--the same party, since we suit each other so well--on the
sixteenth of next month. That's our opening day, Miss Pickersgill, as of
course you know; and, with the Governor for commodore, it ought to be the
best we've ever had."

"All who are in favour of this motion," chanted Lena, "hold up your

Every hand went up at once, except Myra's. The shy girl looked to Fanny
for an endorsement of the free and easy invitation, and Mrs. Pleydell was
knitting her brows. But soon she smiled consent, to please her brother,
who, stealing behind Miss Salter unobserved, seized her two hands and
lifted them into the air.

They imagined they were going to have their good time over again. They
even anticipated a better one, though only of half the length. For
whereas the wind had been too light on the 25th of October, it blew like
business on the 16th of November, when it was of the last importance that
it should do so. No more auspicious opening day had ever dawned upon
Victorian yachtsmen. The Governor, who was their Governor for the first
time in history, had consented to direct their evolutions in person. This
alone--this and a good wind--assured laurels to the clubs of Hobson's Bay
which all other clubs would envy them. The Sunbeam had been towed to the
chosen anchorage; Government House was on board. All the swells, as Miss
Pickersgill termed them, indigenous to the soil, would be lone and lorn
at the races, because their Lord and Lady were away. If they offered
their ears for a place in viceregal company, they could not get it.
"Aha!" said the yachtsmen one to another, "it is our turn now."

This time the Kittiwake took her own dinghy to St. Kilda. She towed it
along with her all the afternoon, as a brake upon the pace, which
threatened to carry her beyond the position assigned to her in the
wheeling line, for she was faster than the boats before and behind her.
And so the services of local friends were not required on Miss Lena's
behalf. Bert himself, in a very ruffled sea indeed, went off to the pier
to fetch her. But not altogether for the sake of paying her special
honour; rather, because it was most difficult to bring anything alongside
to-day without bumping off fenders and on to new paint. He had had the
kindest feeling for both girls during the past three weeks, but what
little love he had fallen into was love for Myra Salter. He had just left
her deeply in love with him. He had given her the card of sailing
directions, taught her how to read the commodore's signals, and told her
she was to be his captain for the day, as he was to be the crew's. Down
in the small cabin, picking pecks of strawberries, with the assistance of
the aunt and cousins, Mrs. Pleydell's prophetic eye saw visions of an
ideal home and family--that comfortable and prosperous domestic life which
is the better and not the worse for having no wildfire passions to
inflame and ravage it--and a congenial sister-in-law for all time. Myra
lingered on deck to follow the movements of the tossing dinghy through
the captain's strong field-glasses, also assigned to her exclusive use
for this occasion. He had another pair--not quite so strong--for Miss

Little did that young lady suppose that she was to play second fiddle for
a moment. She wore another new dress and a ravishing peaked cap, much
more becoming than the sailor straw. She smiled upon the skipper,
struggling to hold the dinghy to the pier, as at a faithful bond-slave
merely doing his bounden duty.

"It is our opening day!" she sang, as she flourished a hand to him.
"It--is--our--opening da-ay!"

"It is, indeed," he shouted back. "Made on purpose. Only I think we shall
have too much of a good thing this time, instead of not enough. Wind
keeps getting up, and we've reefed already."

"Oh, it's stunning!" she rejoined, gaily skipping into the boat; she was
a heavy weight, and nearly tipped it over. "Let it get up! The more the

"Yes, if there were going to be racing. I wish there was! We should just
run away from everything."

"Then let's race," quoth Miss Pickersgill, as if commanding it to be
done. "Let's show the old buffer"--I grieve to say it was his sacred
lordship she referred to--"what the Kittiwake can do."

Bert had to explain. It took him until they reached the yacht to make the
young lady who looked so nautical understand what she was talking about.
And after all she was inclined to be sentimentally hurt because he would
not do such a little thing to please her.

The wind got up, more and more, showing that there was to be no
monotonous repetition of the former circumstances. The Kittiwake danced
and pranced as if the real sea were under her, and half a dozen dinghies
trailed astern would hardly have made any difference. There was no
sitting round the cockpit, as on drawing-room chairs, to flirt and sing;
one side was always in the air, and the other all but under water,
see-sawing sharply at uncertain intervals; and the ladies had to give
their attention to holding on and keeping their heads out of the way of
the swinging boom. Lena shouted to the men, who had to stick to business
in spite of her, that it was the jolliest state of things imaginable, and
said "Go it!" to rude Boreas when he smacked her face, to encourage him
to further efforts. But her five companions were more or less of the
opinion that they had liked the first cruise better. The poor fat aunt
was particularly disconcerted by the new conditions; she said she
couldn't get used to the feeling of having no floor under her, and the
sensation of the sea climbing up her back.

She was the first to say, "No, thank you," to strawberries and cream, and
"Yes, please," to whisky.

Is there anything funny in having the toothache that people should laugh
at the victim as at some inexhaustible joke? Ask the poor soul whose
nerves are thus exquisitely tortured what his opinion is. He will tell
you that it is one of the gravest elements in the tragedy of human pain;
also that the heartless brute who sniggers at it ought to have
thumbscrews put on him and twisted tight. Is there anything disgraceful
in being sea-sick in rough weather, that those who don't happen to feel
so at the moment should turn up their noses at the sufferers in
contemptuous disgust? Emphatically not. It is a misfortune that may
befall the best of us, and does, instead of being, as one would suppose,
the penalty of a degrading vice, like delirium tremens. Why, even the
Sunbeam was ill that afternoon--the first folks of the land, fresh from
the discipline of a long and stormy voyage--which sufficiently proves the

But when Myra Salter was observed to sit silent and rigid, with bleached
lips and a corpse-like skin, it was with eyes that slightly hardened at
the sight. Yes, even the captain's eyes! It is true he smiled at her, and
said, "Poor child!" and peremptorily ordered the useless stimulant, and
was generally concerned and kind; but the traditional ignominy of her
case affected him; her charm and dignity were impaired--vulgarized; and
the flavour of his incipient romance began to go. Of course young men are
fools--we all are, for that matter--and young love, just out of the ground,
as it were, is like a baby lettuce in a garden full of slugs. And it is
no use pretending that things are different from what they are. And if
you want to be an artist, and not a fashionable photographer, you must
not paint poor human nature, and leave the moles and wrinkles out. It is
a pity that an estimable young man cannot be quite perfect, and that an
admirable young woman should be unjustly despised; but so it is, and
there's no more to be said.

Myra shook her head at the suggestion of whisky; only to imagine the
smell of it was to feel worse at once--to feel an instant necessity to
hide herself below. But Fanny Pleydell, coming upstairs at the moment
when she was beginning to stagger down, caught her in her arms and held
her back--a fatal blunder on Fanny's part.

"No, my dear, no!" she cried, on the spur of a humane impulse; "you must
not go into that horrible hole; it would finish you off at once. Besides,
there isn't room for you; aunt and the girls are sprawling all over the
place. Have a little spirits, darling--yes, you must; and keep in the
fresh air if you want to feel better."

She pressed whisky and water on the shuddering girl, and cruel
consequences ensued. Bert turned his head away, and tried to shut his
ears. Lena smiled at him in an arch and confidential manner. She was as
bright and pretty as ever--more so, indeed, for the wind exhilarated her
and deepened her bloom.

"I think," she said, "it is a great mistake for people who are not good
sailors to go to sea in rough weather, don't you?"

Well, Bert almost thought it was. He was a very enthusiastic yachtsman,
especially to-day, when he wanted the Kittiwake and all her appurtenances
to be as correct as possible.

The drill was over, and the regiment of yachts disbanded. The Sunbeam had
gone to a pier at Williamstown, and the commodore was receiving his new
colleagues and entertaining them. The Kittiwake was off St. Kilda, with
her freight of sick on board. The aunt filled up one tiny cabin, the
cousins another, and they groaned and wailed and made other unpleasant
noises, to the amusement of a callous crew. Myra Salter, too helplessly
ill to sit up without support while the boat rushed through the water
with a slice of deck submerged, had sagged down to the floor of the
cockpit, and now lay there in a limp heap, propped against Fanny's knees.
She had not spoken for an hour, and during that time Bert had hardly
noticed her. He had been devoting himself to Miss Pickersgill, so far as
the duties of his official post allowed, as was only natural when she had
become practically his sole companion, and when, as a lover of a good
breeze and proper sailoring, she had proved herself so sympathetic.

Now he was rowing her home from the yacht to the shore. She sat facing
him in the dinghy, with the yoke lines round her waist, and he could not
keep his eyes from her brilliant person, nor keep himself from mentally
comparing it with that sad wisp on the cockpit floor. She met his glance,
and held it. They were both excited by the wind, the inspiring flight of
the yacht, the varied interests of the opening day.

"Oh, it was splendid!" she exclaimed. "Whatever the others may think
about it, I know I never enjoyed myself so much in my life. And I am so
much obliged to you for taking me, Mr. Lawson."

"You are the right sort to take," replied Bert with enthusiasm; and he
imagined a wife who would enter into his favourite pursuits like a true
comrade. "And I hope we shall have many a good cruise together."

"It won't be my fault if we don't," she said promptly.

"It won't be mine," he returned. "Consider yourself asked for every day
that you'll deign to come."

"What, for ever?"

"For ever."

She looked at him archly, pensively, meaningly, with her head on one
side. She was really very handsome in her coquettish peaked cap, and he
reflected that she was evidently healthy and probably rich.

"You don't mean that, Mr. Lawson?"

"I do mean it, literally and absolutely."

"For every yachting day as long as I live?"

"For every yachting day, and every day that isn't a yachting day."

She was so joyously flustered that she ran the dinghy into the pier. He
had to catch her in his arms to prevent her going overboard. As there
were people watching them from above, he could not kiss her, but he gave
an earnest of his intention to do so at the first opportunity.

Of course she was the wrong one. He knew it no later than the next day,
in his heart of hearts, though never permitting himself to acknowledge
it, because he flatters himself that he is a gentleman. Equally, of
course, he will go on to render his mistake irrevocable, and be miserable
ever after, and make her so, from the highest motives. Already the
wedding gown is bought, and they go together to ironmongers and
upholsterers to choose new drawing-room furniture and pots and kettles
for the kitchen. The marriage will surely take place when the bride has
made her preparations, and anybody can foretell what the consequences
will be. They will pull against each other by force of nature, and tear
their little shred of romance to bits in no time. And then they will sink
together to that sordid and common matrimonial state which is the despair
and disgrace of civilization. She will grow fat and frowsy as she gets
into years--a coarse woman, selfish and petty, and full of legitimate
grievances; and he will hate her first, and then cease to care one way or
the other, which is infinitely worse than hating. And so two lives will
be utterly spoiled, and possibly three or four--not counting the children,
who will have no sort of fair start.

And all because there was a bit of a breeze on the opening day of the

But such is life.


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