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Title: The girl from nowhere

Author: Mrs. Baillie Reynolds

Release date: February 16, 2024 [eBook #72969]

Language: English

Original publication: New York: George H. Doran Company, 1910

Credits: Al Haines




Author of "The Notorious Miss Lisle," "Out of the
Night," "A Doubtful Character"


Copyright, 1910


A Doubtful Character
The Notorious Miss Lisle
The Girl from Nowhere
Out of the Night
A Make-shift Marriage




I.  Despair
II.  Flight
III.  A Refuge of Straw
IV.  Up River
V.  Separation
VI.  The Outcast's Brother
VII.  The First Letter
VIII.  A Touch of Sympathy
IX.  The Squire Defies Conventions
X.  The Hunt is Up
XI.  Felix Takes Advice
XII.  Rona's Knight
XIII.  The Finished Product
XIV.  "You Never Were Mine"
XV.  A Difficult Situation
XVI.  Happenings in a Strange Land
XVII.  "I was the Man Selected"
XVIII.  The Kirgiz Yourtar
XIX.  The Despair of Vronsky
XX.  What is this Love?
XXI.  Denzil Does His Duty
XXII.  Forebodings
XXIII.  The Escape of Aunt Bee
XXIV.  Veronica "On Her Own"
XXV.  The Convalescence of Denzil
XXVI.  Strangers Yet
XXVII.  Two in the Campagna
XXVIII.  The Primrose Path
XXIX.  A Double Dilemma
XXX.  Veronica is Surprised



The sense that every struggle brings defeat,
    Because Fate holds no prize to crown success:
That all the oracles are dumb, or cheat,
    Because they have no secret to express:—
That none can pierce the vast black veil uncertain
    Because there is no light behind the curtain,
That all is vanity and nothingness!
                                                        The City of Dreadful Night.

The curtain rises on an empty stage.

Managers assure those of us who try to write plays nowadays that we must lay our scenes in well-to-do circles if we wish to attract an audience.

The scene before us now has few recommendations, either as a romantic or a tragic background. It is not quite wretched enough to suggest dark deeds; it is not nearly old enough to convey a hint of mystery: it is merely the back parlor of a London lodging-house of the meaner kind.

On a certain murky day in March it lay bare to the eye of anyone who was desirous of exploring.

The street of which it formed a narrow section was small and dreary. The front parlor window of this particular house was discreetly veiled with curtains which had once been white. Between them stood an artificial aspidistra in a ginger-colored pot, envied by some of the other dwellers in the immediate neighborhood.

This front parlor, at the date in question, was unlet. It had folding-doors, affording the sole entrance to a very small room behind, generally let as a bedroom, with the front room as sitting-room. For the past month this back parlor had been tenanted by one who was far too poor to think of needing more than one room in which to starve. Moreover, he was there on the understanding that he would vacate should a better let offer itself.

Had the curtain risen on that back room, the eye would have taken but one glance to feel assured of destitution on the part of the absent occupier. There was a bed, a washstand, a table, a chair. There was a cupboard, the door hanging open on one hinge, revealing the fact that an empty mug formed its sole contents. There was no carpet on the floor, no cloth on the rickety table—the only trace of occupancy was in a penny bottle of ink and a few sheets of paper which lay upon the table.

The smoke-dimmed window looked sheer down upon a mazy labyrinth of railway lines. Day by day trains rumbled by, and sent up each its contribution of soot and grime to choke the atmosphere and darken the unlovely prospect.

This window—it was more correctly a glass door—was open; and without was a mean iron railing, with a flight of corroded steps, which, at the time the house was built, probably led to the garden. The encroaching line had shorn away all the garden, leaving the iron steps overhanging the abyss with a futility that moved to pity the soul of the present occupier when he had a thought to spare from the anguish of his own condition.

So much for the stage. The actor, when at last he made his abrupt appearance, bursting in, as an actor should, dramatically, through the center doors—seemed to have been cast by Nature for a leading part.

He was still young, and somewhat tall; and, though his cheeks were sunken, his eyes rimmed with red, his hair rough, his beard some days old, and his clothes soiled and ragged, he yet kept that air of the dominant race, that carriage of the head and movement of the shoulders that tells of the public school if not the university.

But it was not merely this air of incongruity with environment which made him noticeable. It was a certain atmosphere that clothed him—a peculiar expression which cut him off from any other young man of his age and class—a quality of isolation which hung about him like some poisonous exhalation.

The eyes of the young look forward. Not always with hope or eagerness; sometimes with apprehension, or terror, or anxiety. But, in some wise, they do look forward. Life, whether it be good or bad, is still to come.

This man's eyes had ceased to travel on. He had done with life. He came into the room, as the last flicker of a flame may leap up in burnt paper. Though he still existed, hope and fear were alike dead in him. All was over: he had given up the contest with Fate.

In no sense was he any longer a part of his surroundings. He had severed himself, by an act of will, from the struggle and the fret. His pilgrimage—evil and brief—was ended.

He fastened the folding-doors behind him with deliberation, and, advancing to the table, laid down one or two packages upon it.

The largest of these must have been instantly recognized by any expert as rejected manuscript. Some irate publisher, at the end, probably, of a morning's fruitless search for something worth publishing, had scrawled in blue pencil upon the outside of the parcel: "Why the deuce don't you get your stuff typewritten?" In addition to this derisive question, the title of the bulky package was clearly legible, printed in large ink letters: "THE TRUMPET CALL TO REVOLUTION."

Seating himself by the table, the owner of the despised treasure drew from his pocket a very small bottle, labeled "Laudanum." He rose, searched the mattress of his bed, and extracted from various holes three other small bottles of the same size. Then he produced a paper from his pocket, smoothed it out, and spread it upon the table. A letter, upon good, thick writing-paper, stamped with an address—Normansgrave, Cleveshire.

The writing upon the bluish-tinted sheet was fine and clear:

"DEAR FELIX,—Bearing in mind the circumstances which led to your disgrace, you cannot, I think, upon your first emergence from prison, reasonably expect me to intrust you with money. I have placed a certain sum in the hands of the police-court missionary, with instructions to him to pay you so much a week from it, so as to give you time to seek honest employment. I have made it clear to him that, should you hold any kind of communication with the murderous gang of anarchists who have brought you to this pass, you are to forfeit all further right to your allowance.

"Once again let me entreat you to make a fresh start, and endeavor to atone, by a future of steady work, for the aberrations of your early manhood. Should you show any signs of a real effort to improve, I shall not refuse to receive you here once more as my father's son. But to do so now, before you have proved yourself, would be an injustice both to myself and you.—I remain, your brother, DENZIL VANSTON."

After carefully reading through this letter Felix Vanston took up a sheet of paper from among two or three lying near, and wrote as follows:

"DEAR PHARISEE,—You have sent the publican to his just doom. He goes to it with the publican's old prayer upon his lips. 'God be merciful'—for certainly man is not. You may continue to fast twice in the week and give tithes of all you possess to other objects than your disreputable brother—FELIX."

This letter he folded, addressed, and arranged with the other in the center of the table, marked thus:

(N.B.—No room for suspicion of insanity)."

This done, he took his bundle of MS. in his arms and went to the empty grate. Tearing off a few leaves, he pushed them through the bars, produced a box still containing two or three matches, and set them alight. He sat by on the grimy floor tearing off more and feeding the flames with it until the whole book was consumed.

The world, he found, was an oyster that he could not open. He had declined to try the usual kind of knife—that provided by custom for him, in the shape of an office stool. He had imbibed socialistic theories somehow in early boyhood, and his half-brother, Denzil Vanston, had from that moment assured him that he was lost.

The late Squire Vanston, of Normansgrave, had made a foolish second marriage. He had been caught by a designing young woman whom he met at a Brighton hotel. While Felix was still a child, his father died, leaving the widow a life interest in the property. Poor Denzil had cause to feel displeasure. The second Mrs. Vanston filled the house with a crew of very second-rate journalists, music-hall artistes, and sporting men. Her son, Felix, was most imprudently indulged; her stepson, Denzil, had no home as long as she lived. His own mother had been the exact reverse of his father's second wife—a good, rather dull woman, affectionate and sincere, but hard and prim. Denzil, brought up on these lines, was unspeakably shocked by the proceedings which at Normansgrave followed his father's death.

Mrs. Vanston was killed in a carriage accident, after a reckless ten years of very frivolous widowhood. This is putting the case with an extreme mildness, which the inhabitants of the neighborhood might class as euphemism. She died intestate, and was found to have spent the whole of the money which the Squire had left to her, with a view to its coming to Felix after her death. His will bequeathed all the property and all the money, with the exception of this sum, to his elder son. Felix was unprovided for.

At this time he was eighteen years old, and studying at a Continental university. Oxford and Cambridge were not Bohemian enough for him. His brother was willing to make him an allowance, on condition of his qualifying for some profession; and although the only profession for which he would show interest was journalism, and though Denzil profoundly, and perhaps excusably, mistrusted journalism after his experience of his stepmother's set, he did help him, and did make him an allowance, until debts and irregular habits and bad associates convinced him that Felix would do no good until he had actually to work for his living.

Actuated by the best intentions, the elder brother said he would stop supplies until Felix really buckled down to work. The next thing was that the police raided a Dynamite Club in Soho, and Felix was arrested, brought to trial, and convicted. He had served the greater part of his two years' sentence. And now the end had come. At the age of twenty-three Felix Vanston decided that life was not worth living.

It is possible that journalism was not his destined medium. It is certain that nobody would pay him for what he wrote. With hunger comes depression. Moreover, Felix, from the moment when he donned his prison garb, had lost his self-respect. There was nothing to hold him back from the thing he contemplated. He had nothing to lose.

His book was burnt. The incoherent ravings of a boy caught by catchwords, not understanding what he thought or wished or hoped, knowing little, comprehending less—it was all ashes now. The wild heart of him had gone out into its formless sentiments. Nonsense as it was, he had burned with the necessity of expressing it. Now it was gone; and the world finally went out with it. The last flicker, oddly enough, took him back to a boyish episode, when the gardeners had a big bonfire at Normansgrave in the autumn long ago. He saw, as he crouched by the rusty grate, a dream-picture of October woods, rising in billows of color upon the swelling uplands that cradled the old red-brick house. He saw the drift of blue smoke between his eyes and the distance, smelt the aromatic fragrance of burning wood and smoldering leaf. He could feel again the warmth of his big brother's hand as he stood, in his fur and velvet and plumed cap, shouting to Denzil to make it blaze. He saw his mother coming along the garden walk, somewhat hurried. She had a smile for the men who fed the fire, and for the two boys—the little and big—watching. Then she ordered them away. She said Felix must not be out in the cold air. Denzil, kindly enough, tried to draw away the small boy, who, spoilt and uncontrolled, declined to go—stamped, shrieked, and fought. In the midst of his fighting the fire blazed up higher—just near where they were standing. He saw his mother, with a furtive, sweeping look round at the men, whose backs were turned as they lifted more fuel on the flames with a fork—he saw her make a swift movement and fling into the glowing red part of the fire some letters which she had clasped in her hand.

The fire was very fierce; they were ashes in a moment; and, stroking her boy's smooth cheek, she said, laughingly: "Let him stay a while, Denzil, if he cares so much."

Then the child was conscious of a silence—an interchange of glance between his mother and her step-son. Denzil knew that Mrs. Vanston had come down to the bonfire to burn something—that she had desired to send him and Felix away that they might not see her do so; that the sudden opening of a glowing hot hole in the fire quite near had made her risk detection and toss in what she came to destroy. Felix had not understood. He thought Denzil looked severely at "Ma" because she spoilt him, Felix, and let him have his way when he roared. But as his paper fire flared and died down and blackened, the memory of the little scene floated to him through the mist of years; he saw the sweet place, the faint sunlight, the privet hedges and green archways of the vegetable garden; and for one moment there swept over him a desire to live—a desire to see the Cleveshire hills again.

It expired with the last red glow in the flapping ash of paper. Life was over. Nobody there at Normansgrave wanted him. Nay, more, they would be devoutly thankful to know that he was dead.

He rose from his crouched attitude and straightened himself as well as he could for the gnawing pains of hunger. Then he took the mug from the cupboard and carried it to the table. He paused, looking round. The bed was unmade, its unwholesome grayish linen crumpled and tossed. Since he was to lie there to sleep his last sleep, it might as well be smooth. He made it hurriedly, for the wolf that gnawed him was growing clamorous, and came back to the table, where stood the bottles of oblivion. Pouring the brown syrup into the mug, he raised it to his lips.

"A health to Denzil Vanston, of Normansgrave!" he cried aloud; and then, just as the rim of the mug touched his mouth, a shadow fell before his eyes, some dark thing passed swiftly across the window, there was a heavy thud, and a muffled shriek.

The suicide started as if he had been shot. He trembled in every limb. What, in Heaven's name, could it be? Something, someone, was hanging doubled over the sooty iron railing outside his open window.

He put down the cup. He staggered forward. A human body was hanging across the rail. It writhed; in one instant more it would have fallen, and it must fall upon the railway lines below.

That human instinct which comes into action before thought sent him flying to the rescue. He seized the limp, twisting body, and drew it with difficulty, for he was very weak, back over the rail till the feet rested upon the small iron balcony beside him.

It was a girl—a girl about sixteen, with a torrent of bright brown hair. She was very thin; her face seemed to him of a bluish tinge. The moment he touched her she began to cry out. When she was on her feet she began to struggle.

"Let me go! Let me go! Don't touch me, I must kill myself! How dare you hold me! Let me go, I say!"

Stupefaction held Felix mute for a minute or two. To be consistent, he should have helped her over the verge. The bare thought of so doing made his head swim. With no words, but still obeying imperious instinct, he pulled her, struggling feebly against him, into his desolate apartment. He dragged her to the bed, so recently prepared for the accommodation of another guest, and having pushed her upon it, ran to the window and fastened it, with an overmastering dread lest she should make a dash for her freedom, and he not have the strength to stop her.

Seated on the edge of the bed, she doubled herself together and moaned. Her rescuer, sinking dizzily upon the one chair, stared in dumb contemplation. The girl was evidently in terrible pain. Probably she had broken all her ribs. Ought he to go and fetch a hospital ambulance? Dare he leave her alone within reach of that window? Whence had she fallen, and why did she want to kill herself? In spite of hunger, he almost thought he must postpone his own exit until he knew what prompted this child to attempt hers.

After two or three bewildered minutes he went up to her, sat down beside her, and said weakly, "There, there! Tell me where you have hurt yourself."

She uncovered her face and shot a look at him. They had a simultaneous impulse of surprise. Looking at each other, they knew, intuitively, each that the other was not the kind of person you would expect to find in Hawkins Row, Deptford.

For the first time since the gates of the jail closed behind him, Felix forgot to be lonely. He had a sudden, wholly ridiculous sense of being wanted. The moment he saw the face of the girl beside him he knew that she must be saved.

Cautiously he lowered her to the pillow, lifted her legs upon the bed, laid her flat, and bent over her.

"Where do you feel the pain?" he urgently asked.

"Everywhere—all over me. Oh, what shall I do? Why couldn't you let me die?"

"I don't know," said Felix, staring stupidly.

She sobbed aloud, drawing each breath with a groan. He sat by, his mind hardly working, vaguely wondering what would happen next. Presently he was conscious that her moaning had ceased, and he looked up with a sudden leap of his heart in his exhausted frame lest she should be dead. But her eyes were wide open, and roaming round the room.

"Do you live here?" she asked, timidly.

He laughed miserably. "I have contrived to support existence here for ten days," he said. "Now I can't stick it any longer. I was just going to take poison, that very moment that you—came."

She turned her head right round on the dirty pillow to look at him with horror. "You were going to kill yourself? How wicked!" she said, with tremendous emphasis.

He peered at her from under his heavy lashes with a real curiosity. "You say wicked? But you were going to do the same thing yourself?"

"Yes, but that was different. If I had been a man I wouldn't. It is cowardly for a man to bolt. It is the only thing a girl can do—sometimes."

He took a long look at her. There were so many things to say—such crushing replies to make to her artless philosophy. But he was too weak and shaken to make them.

"Come," he said, "shall I take you to a hospital, or will you wait here while I go and see if I can find the parish doctor?"

She waved her small frail hand to the mug on the table. "I'll share that stuff with you."

Felix sat reflecting. He could not give her poison. Why could he not? Which was wrong—his former despair, or his new-found sentiment? He could not determine, but he was bracing himself up to resist her. "There's not enough to kill us both," he said, weakly, "and I am not going to let you throw yourself on those lines down there."

She made no reply to this, but lay with her eyes closed. He ventured a question, "How far did you fall?"

"Only from the room just above this. He locked me in."

"Who did?"

"The man who calls himself my uncle." She pushed up her sleeve, showing a livid bruise upon her arm. "Look," she said, "there are worse on my back and shoulders."

Felix clenched his hands, quite instinctively.

"If he comes back," she sobbed, "he'll—he said he'd do worse than kill me. And you're not strong enough to fight him, are you?"

"Let's run away," said Felix, without an instant's reflection.

She sat up, propping herself upon her arms, while she stared at him. "Have you got any money?"

"Not a halfpenny." He sank back in despair. This hunger of his must be appeased, or he must die.

"I've got a shilling and three-halfpence," said the girl. "It would get us something to eat. But I won't go to those night refuges; I had much rather jump down on the railway lines. And I won't go to a reformatory, or any institution place; so it is no use to try and persuade me...." She reflected a while. "It would be no good to try and get more poison; they wouldn't sell any to me or to you."

Felix had in his pocket the doctor's prescription which had enabled him to purchase what he already had. But he did not say so. She should not know. His eyes had lit up at the bare mention of food.

"See," he said, "I am really, actually starving. I'm in such pain, I hardly know what I am saying just now. Let us go out together and get some food, and then think what we can do afterwards. Do you feel as if you could walk?"

She slipped off the bed and stood up. "I feel very bad," she said, hesitatingly; "but I can walk. Yes—let us get away from here and have something to eat; And then we can jump off a bridge to-night, if there seems nothing else to do."



                In her utter helplessness
Sent forth a sudden sharp and bitter cry,
As of a wild thing, taken in a trap,
Which sees the trapper coming through the wood.

Outside, the raw March day was drawing to its unbeautiful close. They crept together along by the railings, as sorry a couple of cripples as ever started forth into the world together. Young Vanston could not walk without reeling—the only thing that held him in control was his anxiety respecting the girl, whose face was still ashen, and who gasped and panted as she moved. He had solicitously felt her ribs—a proceeding rendered easy by her thinness and emptiness, poor child. He had ascertained that no bones were broken, though the pain was severe, and he vaguely diagnosed it to himself as "something internal."

But she was driven by some overmastering impulse of flight which blotted out even the physical distress. To get away was her idea. She had been willing to do so at the cost of life itself. But now that life persisted, and she had escaped from her prison, the desire to live returned in some obscure, muffled fashion. As for him, his apprehensions on her account had for the moment driven clean out of his mind his own desperate intention.

Coming out of Hawkins Row, they crawled along a dark, dreary alley, which brought them out into a main thoroughfare, where traffic of all kinds roared and seethed. Just at the corner a cocoa-room poured its blaze of newly-lit gas across the street.

"Pull yourself together and get across the floor steady," whispered Felix; and the two crept in, and with a last effort sank down into seats in a far corner, near the stove.

It was not a cold evening, except to the starving, and the table which stood inconveniently near the stove was vacant. The girl wore no hat, but, except for this deficiency, they were, in point of costume, rather above than below the average of those present.

Felix had the sense to know that he must not "wolf" his food, or he would increase, and not allay, the pain that rent him. He sat forcing himself to sip the warm cocoa, which tasted like the nectar of the gods. The girl was not so ravenous as he; she had been fed the day before. She was very scared and timid, starting at each new customer that entered, in fear lest it should be the man she dreaded. She sat with her eyes upon the door, keeping a ceaseless guard. For about a quarter of an hour they did not speak.

But when the first demands of bodily craving were satisfied they began to talk.

"Tell me your name," said the girl, peremptorily.

He considered a moment. "My name is David—David Smith," he said at last. He felt unable to give away the name he loved and had dishonored.

"Mine is Veronica—Veronica Leigh, but I am always called Rona." She gazed into his face with some kind of wistful intentness. "You are the first young man—I mean, of the real human kind—that I have ever spoken to," she said earnestly.

The color sprang up under his white face. "I'm not the human kind—that is—I'm all wrong," he said hastily. "No respectable person would speak to me. I have no right to talk to you, or to any good girl. Are you a good girl?"

"I want to be," said Rona, looking at him with startled eyes. "What have you done? You seem—I don't know how to say it, but to me you seem—right—the kind of person I understand—not a beast—not a demon. The men in London," she concluded seriously, "are all beasts and demons."

"I don't know which class I am," said Felix, "but you had better know the worst of me. I have served a term of two years' imprisonment. That means that hardly any walk of life is open to me. I am a man without a character."

She looked at him with a shrinking horror. "In prison! Oh! What did you do?"

"I was in prison for my political opinions, not for theft or anything of that kind."

She seemed to ponder this. "I didn't know they could put people in prison for their political opinions. I thought they passed an Act—the Mother Superior taught us that in England everybody was free."

The young man's eyes darkened. "We won't talk about it," he said shortly. "I have confessed to you the sort I am. Are you sorry you did not leave me to starve?"

She still sat considering him gravely. Her eyes were very dark blue, and the intensity of their gaze was embarrassing. "Are you sorry now for having done the thing they put you in prison for?" she asked at last.

He gave a brief, scoffing laugh. "Well, if you must know, I am," he said. "I was young, and a fool, and I got carried away. I am still a red-hot socialist, but I don't believe in dynamite as I used to do. I find the belief has not a pretty effect upon men's characters."

The admission was a visible relief to his companion. "I am glad," she said.

"How are you feeling?" he asked, suddenly leaning forward. "Is the pain getting at all less?"

"Yes," she returned, "it is less. It hurts a great deal, but I am beginning to feel as if I might be only badly bruised. I did not fall far, and I broke my fall with my arms, somehow." She showed two livid bruises, caked with dried blood, under her sleeves.

"Before we leave here," said Felix, "I wish you would try to tell me a little more. I mean," he broke off in great embarrassment, "perhaps you are not going to tell me anything, nor to trust me. There is nobody in the world who either likes or trusts me, and if you don't either, I shall not be surprised. But if you feel that you could trust me, I would like to help you if I can."

"I don't see how you are to help me," she replied in a hopeless kind of way. "My uncle brought me to London. At least, he says he is my uncle. I have been brought up at a convent school in the north of England. I never saw or heard from any relative until a month ago. I was always there, terms and holidays too, except once or twice when a girl asked me to her home for a few days. You see, I am as lonely as you!"

"Yes," said Felix, "I have a step-brother, but he hates me."

"Well," continued Rona, "about a month ago the Mother Superior told me my uncle had written to say he was coming to fetch me away. He wanted to see me, to judge what I was best fitted for, as I should have to earn my own living. I was rather pleased, for I had always been so lonely. You don't know what it is like to live in a school where letters come, and presents, and parcels, for everybody but you; and visitors and holidays for everybody but you. I had not even known that I had an uncle. But the Mother Superior said it was all right; the letter came from the firm of solicitors who had always paid my school bills. So he came, and I was sent for, and the very first moment I saw him I knew he was all wrong. I knew I should hate him. I could see the Reverend Mother was miserable too. She did not like to let him take me away. But of course she had to. She could not prevent it."

She broke off, as at some recollection which turned her sick. She shuddered.

Felix had had a bowl of porridge and an egg. He was now able to give her his undivided attention.

"Till he came," slowly said Rona, fixing her eyes, heavy with unshed tears, upon the tablecloth, "I had never spoken to a man, except Father Lawson. But I had an idea that men were young, and handsome, and good, and that it was their mission to care for women and protect them." Suddenly she laughed harshly, pushing her cup from her, leaning her elbows on the table and hiding her face. "I know better now," she said in an undertone. "I know better now! They are creatures that sell girls, body and soul, for money. They only care for money and what it will get. My uncle said he was going to train me for the stage. He heard me sing, and said I should have my voice trained, and be taught to dance.... He has taken me every day to a place where they handle girls as if they were apes or pet dogs. I have been made to put on horrible clothes—to dance with hardly any clothes on at all, while men stood and made remarks about the way I was made. Other girls," she said, looking up in a pitiful wonder—"there were others who didn't seem to mind—others who laughed at me for minding. But, you see, I have been taught to say my prayers, and to shrink from all immodesty. Oh, if you could know what I have undergone!"

Felix growled. He clenched his hands and cursed his own physical weakness. "Well," he said—"well, what then?"

"A few days ago a man came to the dancing school who offered to buy me from my uncle. He was a man with an oily face and black curls, and had a grin like the demons that are carrying off the lost souls in the altarpiece at the Convent. He hung about all day watching me, and in the evening he said to uncle that he could train me, but he should want to take me over entirely. My uncle was in a savage mood, for he and I had battles every evening. I said I would earn my living in any honest way he liked. I would sit in a workroom ten hours a day, I would scrub or do anything he told me; but he said there was no money in such work, and I had got to make money for him. I think he was beginning to find out that he could not manage me, and was afraid I should run away. So—though at first he refused the man's offer, and said he knew a good thing when he saw it, and that in twelve months I should be setting London ablaze—still, after a bit, they came to terms. He was to pay my uncle a sum down, undertake the whole care of me, and my training, and he bound himself to pay some percentage on my earnings to my uncle when I came out. If you will believe it, all the other girls seemed to think I was fortunate. But I made up my mind that I would run away. However, my uncle suspected that, so when we got home he gave me a thrashing, and locked me in with bread and water, and said I should stay there until I had come to my senses. He had not beaten me before that, and it turned me into a tiger. I held out for five days—think of it—five days in that room, staring down on those trains, all alone, nothing to do, nothing to read, hardly anything to eat! And I was getting weak—so weak that I began to be afraid I should give in. I felt that if my uncle were to come in with a cane in his hand I should be too sick with fear to resist. So I said my prayers, and decided the only thing I could do was to kill myself. I knew that if I got into the power of the man with the black curls I should be—lost—and it was better to die. So I jumped—that's all. Oh, do let us go out! I am so nervous, I fancy every moment they may walk in—my uncle and he."

"From what you tell me," said Felix, "they are most unlikely to come here. They would go to a bar, not a cocoa-house."

"I suppose so," she said, faintly, her face livid, either with pain or fear.

Felix folded his arms, leant back, and thought profoundly. "I should think," he said, "the best thing—the only thing—would be for me to take you back to the Convent, would it not?"

She considered this, her wide gaze once more intent upon his face. "But he might go there and ask for me, and what could the Mother say?"

"She could not keep you there, of course, because you could not pay her. But she would find you some honest way to earn your living."

She nodded. "I believe she would—and not tell him that I had come to her. Yes!"—laying her two hands upon the table before her she looked him bravely in the eyes. "I will go with you," she said.

They paid their reckoning, rose with difficulty, for both were stiff, and reluctantly left the warmth of the fire and crept out into the street. Dusk had fallen, and the air was thick, but not what Londoners would call a fog. As they came out of the door an omnibus stopped close to the curb, and two men descended.

One was middle-aged, heavily built, fleshy, and well dressed; he looked like the proprietor of a low-class music-hall. The other was lean, shabby, wolf-like—a debased type: a man who had evidently sunk in the social scale.

Felix felt upon his arm the grip of a desperate thing. "Run—run—never mind if we are killed, run," she uttered, gaspingly. "It's they—it's they!"



                                                                A blur
Of gilded mist—'twas morn's first hour—
Made vague the world: and in the gleam
Shivered the half-awakened stream.

Through tinted vapors looming large,
    Ambiguous shapes obscurely rode.
She gazed where many a laden barge
    Like some dim-moving saurian showed.
                                                —WILLIAM WATSON.

In after days, whenever he was sleeping badly, or felt ill or feverish, Felix was able to recapture the exact feeling of that moment when he stood, with the defenseless girl, in the glare of the gas on the London pavement, and saw the two pursuers close to them, almost within arm's length. He knew that if the girl was recognized the sympathy of the crowd would be on the side of her uncle, and against the disreputable youth with whom she had run away. And he saw, too, that if she tried to run, recognition was almost inevitable.

Inspiration came with extremity. It flashed upon him that if they stood quite still they might escape notice. The girl's dark blue serge frock and coat were of the kind one sees everywhere. Her back was not distinctive. Her companion was an utter stranger. The street was the last place in which her uncle would expect to see her. In a moment Felix knew what to do. Snatching off his cap, he pushed it firmly down over her bare head, hissing in her ear as he did so, "Stand still—turn your back—look in at the window—hold your handkerchief to your face."

It is long in the telling, but it occupied an instant. By the time the two heavy men had gained the pavement the huddled girl, with stooping shoulders, was staring at the pies.

He of the oily face and black locks was looking at his watch in the light of the lamps, not three feet from where Felix stood at bay. Two or more gem rings flashed on his fat hand.

"Half-past six," he said, in the thick, smooth tones of the German Jew. "How far have we to go?"

"Two minutes' walk," replied his companion.

"We arrange then—I go in first," said the Jew, "and I soothe the child, and take her out to dine at the Tuscany. You do not appear. You comprehend? You do not appear?"

"All right, all right," said the other man, testily. "That's all arranged. You take her to dine in a private room——"

They moved off together. The last words audible from the Jew were, "A bottle of champagne—after starving all these hours——"

It was true. They were gone. They had stood within a few feet of their prey, and had not seen her. How should they expect to see her in that place, and with that companion? The promptness of Felix, joined to her instantaneous, convent-bred obedience, had saved them.

It seemed to him, and to her, hours that they stood so, hand gripped in hand, he facing towards the street and she towards the shop window, when he said, his voice tumbling over a sob, "They have turned the corner."

She moved slightly towards him—tottered on her feet. He took her by the shoulders, not roughly, but with sternness. "Look here," he said, under his breath, "you can't faint—there isn't time. You have got to pull yourself together and walk—do you hear?"

She nodded blindly, still clinging to his hand, and he dragged her across the road, dived into a dark side street, and moved along, as fast as he could induce her wavering feet to follow, for half a mile or more. By that time she was sobbing aloud in her pain and distress, and, fearful lest passers-by should think he was ill-treating her, and interfere, he stopped and sat down upon a doorstep, drawing her to rest her poor battered body against him.

"I can only give you just time to draw your breath," he said. "I must get you into some hiding-place. We are not going to be taken now."

"Oh, no! No!" She clutched him in terror.

"By this time they have found out that you are gone," he said, "and they will be racking their brains to think how. They will find the door locked. They will find the window leading into my room bolted on the inside. They will think that you have fallen upon the lines, and been found—the first thing they are dead certain to do is to go to the railway station to make inquiries. That gives us a bit of a start. If nobody saw us go away together, they will be very hard up for a clew. I left my letters on the table, and I poured away the laudanum out of the mug. They will be fairly puzzled to know what has happened."

She had recovered her breath, and she asked tremulously, "What are you going to do?"

"The only thing I can think of is to take you to a friend of mine, who is at times in charge of the hay wharf at the canal basin at Limehouse. If he is there he will let us sleep in the hay, and to-morrow I must turn to and earn a few coppers. Have you any change left out of your shilling?"


"That will do us. We will have two halfpenny 'bus rides down this road, close by, and, after that, it is only five minutes' walk to the wharf."

"And what if your friend is not there?"

"We must try and hide somewhere," he replied. "But let us hope for the best."

"I will pray that he may be there," said Rona, with simplicity.

When they emerged from the omnibus, at the end of their ride, one halfpenny represented the joint capital of the firm.

The wharf was dark and muddy, the black water of the basin reflecting the light of rather few lamps. But there was a warm, pleasant odor of dry hay permeating the listless atmosphere like a suggestion of sunny meadows. Felix felt in his heart that what he ought to do was to take his helpless companion to a hospital. Yet somehow the conviction was in him that, were he bereft of her, the old temptation to suicide would return with full force the moment he grew hungry again.

He had had enough of it—enough of seeing the look of suspicion on the faces of those to whom he applied for help. Here was one pair of eyes which spoke trust, one innocent creature, who clung to him as her sole refuge. He could not deny himself the new, strange solace.

Leaving Rona seated upon a trolley, he groped his way along the stumpy jetty to where the light in the night watchman's cabin gleamed across the dark, lapping wavelets.

A man in a blue jersey was seated, smoking a pipe, on a capstan, his ugly face in shadow.

"What ho, Comrade Dawkes!" said Felix, in a low tone.

The man started. "You!" he said, in tones of astonishment. He turned round so as to see Felix fully. Then, rising with the difficult movement of one whose joints are crippled with rheumatics, took the young man by the sleeve and drew him a little forward, to bring his face into the light of his lamp.

"'Tis yourself," he said at last; "who would have thought it? Where have you been since they let you loose?"

Felix gave a short laugh. "I'm still on ticket-of-leave, mate," he said; "and if the police know I am in communication with any of the old lot, I score a black mark. But who cares? I'm desperate."

The night-watchman again seated himself upon his capstan. He puffed once or twice at his pipe before he replied. "Oh, you're desperate, are you? That's how we like 'em. Always got a job on hand for desp'rate men, we have."

"I'm not taking any to-night, old man," said Felix. "I'm saving a girl."

This was so surprising that Dawkes turned round so as to face him completely, and took his pipe out of his mouth.

"Saving a girl, are yer? What d'yer mean by that? Got religion? Ministers been at yer?"

"No. But a girl dropped into my arms out of nowhere—a girl fleeing from the black wolves they call men in this city—a girl who had been trapped—a good girl, Dawkes. I've got this thing to do—just to put her somewhere, where she'll be safe."

Dawkes gazed upon him with small blear eyes, deliberately. "Good-lookin', I suppose?" he remarked at length.

"Well, no, that's the odd part of it to me," said Felix. "She says that two men wanted her to train for the stage, singing and dancing. But she's not a bit pretty—just a kiddie, all legs and arms, with the most sorrowful eyes—like a lost dog."

Dawkes shrugged his shoulders, and turned away as if from a hopeless idiot. "What d'you want to do with her?" he asked.

"She's been hurt—pretty badly," said Felix, timidly. "I want you to let her spend the night here in the hay."

"Where is she?"

"Close by here."

"Bring her along, so's I can 'ave a squint at her."

Felix obeyed. A fire blazed in the night-watchman's cabin, and by his instructions he seated Rona on a chair in front of it. She was scared and nervous, hardly able to control herself, what with bodily pain and mental apprehension.

"You tyke my tip," said Comrade Dawkes, after a prolonged scrutiny. "Tyke and get shut of 'er to-night, and now. Send her to the orsepital, they'll look after 'er there. Go an' saddle yourself with a girl, there'll never be no end to it."

Rona did not speak, but her "lost dog" eyes besought Felix.

"If she's no better in the morning, I must," he said, reluctantly. "But, you see, if she goes to the hospital, ten to one those ruffians will find her; and he's her uncle—they would have to let him take her away. There's nobody but me to speak for her, and nobody will believe me on oath in a police-court. The end of it would be my being jugged again, for abduction, and she handed over to ruin."

Dawkes nodded slowly. He saw the desperate nature of their plight. Once caught, they would have no chance at all.

"If that's the way of it, and you go to be off, my advice to you both is—be off, and look sharp about it," said he. "Don't hang around here all night."

Felix made a gesture of despair. "But she can't travel, and we have no money," he said, resentfully. "We'd better chuck ourselves in there, and have done with it."

"She can travel," said Dawkes.

"How, then?"

"In a canal boat."

They regarded him earnestly.

"Anywhere you thought of making for?" he asked.

Felix told him of the Convent School in the North Riding.

"First place they'll look for her," said Dawkes, reflectively. "Get there slow, is my advice. It'll do you no 'arm if you go a bit roundabout, what I can see of it. My son-in-law is starting to-night for Basingstoke. His boy's took and got pneumony. If you drove the boss," he said to Felix, "I expect he'd pay yer syme as he paid 'im. And you'd get to Basingstoke with a few shillin's in yer pocket—which would be all to the good, seemin'ly."

For the first time a glimmer of hope lit up the heart of Felix. The suggestion was eminently practical. Unless some quite unlooked-for clew were given nobody would think of searching for them in a canal barge.

"Think he'd take me on, Comrade? I'm a green hand," he said, "but I can manage horses all right. I'm used to them."

"Looks as if we might fix you up, then," returned the man, unemotionally. He stepped, with some difficulty, to the hob, removed a tea-pot, and, turning to a shelf, poured out a cup of tea, mixed in a spoonful of condensed milk from a tin near, and handed it to the girl. "Stop a bit," he said, withdrawing the cup as at a sudden thought. He went to a tiny corner cupboard, took out a square black bottle, and poured something into the cup. "Drink that up, it'll put heart into yer," he said. Then, to Felix, "When she's 'ad all she wants, you take a ditto, and never mind emptying the pot; I can make some more."

With this he disappeared, and they heard him stumping along the jetty. The cognac was really good, and the hot drink pulled the young man together. Rona and he sat by the fire side by side, gazing at the red coals, with a drowsiness born of fatigue and excitement.

Felix had an illusion of being separated from the world which was to him so detestable a spot, and placed in a new setting, in a universe where there was clearly a post for him, and a work which he alone could do. He looked, in a fervor of compassion, at the figure of the waif beside him. Rona was gripping the arms of the hard wooden chair upon which she sat to hold herself upright. Her breath came broken and uneven; there was a glaze of perspiration upon her pale forehead, where little locks of bronze hair lay damp. He could see that she was wretchedly uncomfortable, and that she was too dazed with misery to see how her discomfort could be lessened. Every minute or so the lids half-sunk over her filming eyes, the pupils turned up, as if sleep were overcoming her. Then her limbs relaxed a little, and the torture startled her awake once more. When he had watched this for some minutes, he saw that she would be easier lying down. But the floor was impossible. He glanced down at the mud and expectoration which defiled it, and then at the fragile girl, who was daintily clean, except for the dust and mire of her breathless escape.

The young man rose, placed his arms under her, and lifted her upon his knees. He laid her head against the shabby coat, which, with a shirt, was all that protected him from the March wind, and rested her feet upon the chair in which she had been sitting. She moaned a little as he lifted her; but evidently the relief of the change of position was immediate. She seemed to breathe more easily, and after a moment she raised her eyes to his with a gratitude which he found very moving. As he cradled her there, before the cinder fire, in that strange refuge, he vowed himself to her service, as one of Arthur's knights may have vowed life and loyalty to the lady for whom he fought.

There was satisfaction in seeing the blue-veined lids once more descend, as unconsciousness enfolded the suffering girl.

The long minutes ticked on, and now and then a shouting, or sudden noise out of the night, set his nerves a-quiver. But nothing happened. More than an hour went by, and still he sat so, almost past caring what might next befall them. That Rona should continue to sleep, with her head upon his shoulder, seemed the one important thing.

The footfall of Comrade Dawkes returning, and the flood of cold air which accompanied his entrance, brought back the necessity for action with a pang.

"Come along, and look slippy," he said.

Rona was so stiff that Felix could hardly lift her, and he had almost to carry her along to where there loomed out of the darkness the dim bulk of a barge, lying low in the water, with her cargo of tarpaulin-covered hay.

Dawkes had arranged with his son-in-law, an unamiable-looking person with a wall eye, to take Felix on in place of the boy left behind with "pneumony," and to pay him the princely sum of seven shillings for the trip, which he expected would last four days, and during which he undertook to feed both Felix and the girl. The night-watchman had, moreover, bestowed upon the eloping pair a truss of hay, such as formed his perquisite from the barges mooring at the wharf, and which he usually disposed of to carters and van-owners of his acquaintance. This truss he had opened, and disposed so as to make a comfortable couch for Rona, with a tarpaulin canopy, stretched upon a hurdle, cunningly inserted between the tightly piled trusses of the cargo.

It was an ingeniously planned bed; and though the son-in-law, who was very deaf, in addition to the imperfection of his vision, seemed to dislike the notion of his female passenger, Felix felt that it was all far better arranged than he could have hoped for. His sole discomfort lay in the notion that, to secure this freedom, he had been obliged to put himself under obligations to a "Comrade"—one of the old lawless gang—and one never quite knew what form payment to the Brotherhood might have to take. However, so far, all was clear gain. He wrung the hand of the night-watchman and stepped aboard, while with shouts and oaths the barge got itself attached to the tail of another, which was tied to a third, which depended upon a dirty, noisy, squat steam-tug, the owner of which poured forth his language in a torrent which could hardly be equaled, one would think, even in California.

They were to be towed, it appeared, as far as the beginning of the Wey navigation, so Felix's stable duties would not yet begin. The son-in-law, whose name was Doggett, took the tiller during the critical night hours. Felix went to see how fared his charge. The hay was clean, warm, and fragrant, and she, worn out with misery, relieved at their escape, bemused by her first taste of stimulant, sank off to sleep in a few minutes, and left the young man free to go aft, and take lessons in steering a barge, which is an art not to be acquired in five minutes, even by one who has stroked his College eight.

The waters of the dirty river, slapped and churned by the passage of the tug, bumped and billowed in light and darkness. The yellow, sickly lights of the shore mingled with the riding lights of the craft around, until the young man's brain reeled. The night was cold, and he was dog tired. His head sank from time to time on his chest. At last Doggett seized him by the arm and shook him.

"Go, sleep it out," he bawled, as if Felix, like himself, was hard of hearing. "I'll call yer when I want yer."

Dizzily the would-be suicide stumbled into the little dingy cabin, found the thing that purported to be a bed, and in half a minute was sound asleep, deaf even to the torrent of language which the appearance of the tug and her barges seemed to provoke all along the great watery highway.



Bordered by cities, and hoarse
With a thousand cries, is its stream.
And we on its breast, our minds
Are confused as the cries which we hear,
Changing and shot as the sights that we see.
                                                    —MATTHEW ARNOLD.

The dawn was misty gray and the cold piercing when Doggett awoke his second-in-command. The barge flotilla was just passing under Hammersmith Bridge.

Felix, dazed with sleep, arose, and, as directed, lit a paraffin stove, boiled a kettle, and made tea. Then he frizzled bacon in a frying-pan, an accomplishment which was by no means new to him. He took his own breakfast, a few hurried mouthfuls, and then, carrying his mug and plate, went to relieve his master at the tiller.

As he passed, he stooped to where Rona slept, motionless in her nest of hay. She was lying quite still, her lashes, with a bronze luster on their blackness, penciled sharply upon her cheek, flushed with warm slumber. The rosy tint made the face appear far more pleasing than it had seemed last night. She panted now and then, as if it hurt her to draw breath. But, as far as he could tell, she was not feverish.

He went on to his post, wrapped himself up in old sacks, and set himself with determination to his work. The steersman of the barge immediately in front hailed him, and wanted to know, in a particularly rich vernacular, whether he were going to pursue the Old Man's policy of steering in the one exact way most calculated to annoy the man ahead. Felix had been in queer places, and though bargees were not among his experiences, convicts, it was to be presumed, ran them pretty close in the way of language. His reply was of the right kind, and given in the right tone. When Doggett, munching his bacon, heard it, he gave a hoarse, inward chuckle, and decided that his new "boy" was not such a green hand after all.

Having finished his breakfast, the Old Man turned in; and from that time until ten o'clock, when he had been bidden to call him, Felix sat guiding the heavy, sulky barge upstream. The mist cleared away little by little, the sun came up, and the day broke out clear and gay, though very cold. Just as he came off his watch, Rona awoke and called him. He hurried to her side, knelt down, and took the warm little hand thrust out to him.

"How do you feel?" he asked.

They looked at each other with curiosity. Felix was not an engaging object, with the lower half of his gaunt face shrouded in stubbly black beard. He had discarded his collar and tie, and Comrade Dawkes had lent him a very dirty blue jersey. The girl had the soiled, rumpled aspect of one who has slept in her clothes. Her hair was rough and tumbling down, and full of bits of hay. There were purple marks under her eyes, and her lids were red with the unavailing tears of many days.

The friendliness of the young man's heart was curiously unmixed with any feeling of sex attraction. Sex only entered into the question in so far that he was more sorry for Rona than he would have been for a boy in her case, on account of her greater helplessness.

"I feel very queer," said Rona, shyly, "and terribly stiff."

"I daren't let you get up and move about yet," he returned. "It is so cold, the wind cuts like a knife. I'll go and make you some hot tea. Could you eat some bacon?"

She said "No" to that, with an expression of loathing. He went to the cabin, and with infinite labor managed to make a bit of toast, which he took to her, fervently hoping that it did not taste of paraffin. She earnestly asserted that it did not, but could not eat it nevertheless. She drank the tea, however, and declared herself refreshed. But Felix could see that she felt very ill. He could not stay long with her, for he had to wash up, make the so-called bed, put the cabin tidy, etc.; all the time parrying with difficulty the intense interest and pointed questions of the steersman of the barge ahead.

When he next went to her, she wished to know where they were going. He told her Basingstoke, and that from thence they would have to tramp to Sempleton, where the Convent was situated. She was glad she had not to walk that day. She was sure she should be better to-morrow, if she lay quite still. She was warm, and not very uncomfortable.

They reached Teddington Lock at midday, and below it they waited forty-five minutes by Mr. Doggett's watch; which delay provoked a cataract of comment which left the listener stunned. At this place Felix bought a paper, which, to his relief, said nothing of any abduction or elopement, nor made any comment upon the disappearance of two such obscure persons as themselves. He cheered Rona with this news. Here he also persuaded the lock-keeper's wife to sell him a fresh egg for the sum of one halfpenny, since "his sister" was ill, and found herself quite unable to eat the pork chops which were, with fried greens, to form the midday repast of himself and Mr. Doggett.

His cooking gave his new master great satisfaction. Mr. Doggett consumed his succulent repast in full view of the envious crew of the George Barnes, who had some cold meat of the least appetizing description, and to whom the savory odor from the cabin of the Sarah Dawkes was a provocation hard to be endured.

The lock-keeper's wife, charmed by Felix's persuasive tongue, herself toasted bread for Rona, who, stimulated by the fresh air and the rest cure she was undergoing, managed to eat both egg and toast, to the relief and triumph of the young man, whose only interest in life she had suddenly become.

He developed powers of ready invention, coupled with artistic restraint, in informing the crew of the George Barnes, in answer to their vast and avid desire for personal information, how his sister had worked in a pickle factory, and how the air was so bad that she had been attacked with anæmia, and how the doctors recommended a trip up the canal as the finest cure for this same dread complaint. The man had never heard of anæmia, and treated it with the awe-struck respect entertained by the scolding lady of Theodore Hook's story, for a parallelogram.

The process of getting the barges out of the lock was one which threatened to last forever. It was done at last, however, and they proceeded up the river reaches, passing slowly below the long red wall of Hampton Court. Mr. Doggett, his good dinner eaten, and his pipe in his mouth, was quite content to sit at the tiller all day. In fact, he never believed that anybody but himself could induce the Sarah Dawkes to take the right course—an opinion which was not confined to his barge, but extended to the lady who was his wife, and in whose honor the craft was named.

His devotion to duty left Felix free, after washing up the dinner things, to try the effect of walking Rona up and down the deck. This was, however, so painful to her, that he was obliged to desist. The idea was growing in him that there was, as he at first feared, internal mischief. What were they to do?

Mr. Doggett presently confided to him his intention to part from the tug at Sunbury, and remain there that night, going on thence with a horse. A few more questions extracted a piece of information which was somewhat agitating to the young man. In his eagerness for flight the previous day he had jumped at the idea of going to Basingstoke, without having any clear notion of the waterway which would lead them thither. Now he ascertained that, at Weybridge, they would follow the Wey Navigation to the point where the Guildford and Basingstoke Canal flowed in—and afterwards, the sinuous curve of the quiet water would lead them within sight of the very uplands where Normansgrave stood among its pinewoods.

His heart leaped up at the idea of passing so near to his old home. His brow crimsoned with shame to think how any one of the villagers who in old days had petted him, would now pass him on the towing-path without recognition.

He plunged deeply into thought, into unavailing bitterness of heart towards his sorely tried half-brother. But in his thought was a new element. For the first time he began to see that Denzil might have some right on his side—that it was conceivable that their father's son might legitimately object to the use he had made of their father's name.

He was glad he had not told Rona who he was. The old name at least was not associated in her mind with the notion of a suicide and a convict.

He longed for, yet dreaded, the moment when they should reach the spot to which the poor heart that thought itself weaned from all ties now discovered that it clung with passionate desire.

It was dark by the time they were moored at Sunbury. Mr. Doggett went ashore to pass the evening with a few kindred spirits at the Waterman's Rest. As he would probably return to seek his couch in the cabin later on in the night hours, Felix made himself a shake-down with hay not far from where Rona lay, with the benevolent design of hearing her, should she call during the night.

But he slept like a log. The strain of body and mind through which he had passed was relaxed to the extent of permitting him to yield to an overmastering fatigue. There were clouds ahead. He still apprehended the necessity of depositing Rona in some hospital or infirmary. Every mile traversed by the barge was taking them farther from the north of England, and would increase the length, and consequently the expense, of their journey thither. Moreover, he was on ticket-of-leave for another fortnight, and he did not quite know what the police would make of his deserted room, his letter to his brother, and the empty mug. But, in spite of these things—in spite of the knowledge that his present route was slow and winding, and that pursuit might catch up at any moment—still, the fresh air and the food and the relaxation of tension had had their effect, and he slept ten hours without a break, and would have slept longer but for the ungentle touch of the Old Man's boot against his sparsely-clad ribs.

All that day he was tramping along the tow-path. They nearly went aground at the shallow just opposite Halliford, but, fortunately for the Old Man's state of mind, not more than a good shove with the pole would counteract.

Up to Weybridge, past Shepperton and the Island, and on to the narrow black mouth of the Wey between the old gaping lock gates into the deep jaws of the newer one. After that, they were in the region of locks which they had to work themselves, and progress was very slow.

Felix had hardly a moment in which to think of Rona, though he felt that she was growing worse instead of better. He had never been so tired in his life as he was when they moored near a small village called Dunhythe, where the night was to be spent.

Doggett had an errand for him. He was to go up to the village, which lay half a mile from the little hythe or wharf, and get the blacksmith to re-fix the iron point of the long pole, damaged at Halliford. Before starting on his errand he went to look at the girl, who had been unable to eat or drink anything but water at dinner-time. She was now delirious. To his horror, she did not know him. Her face was bright red, and her eyes preternaturally bright.

Felix determined that he must call in a doctor, if he could persuade one to come without a fee. He said nothing of his intention to the Old Man, but set out for the village as fast as he could go, with the long pole over his shoulder.

Having deposited his burden with the blacksmith, and promised to call for it, he asked the way to the doctor's house, and found himself obliged to run nearly a mile. A smart motor was at the door when he arrived, and the maid said the doctor was seeing a patient, but would speak to him when disengaged. The minutes seemed hours to Felix as he sat in the hall, filled with a vast and overwhelming depression. It was of no use to struggle against his destiny. Rona, the sole thing for which he was making this last stand, was going to die.

The door opened, the doctor came out, and advanced across the hall, accompanied by an elderly lady with a plain, humorous face, and a natural charm of manner.

"Well," she said, "that is reassuring, doctor. But mind, nothing is to be spared. Let the poor fellow have port wine or tonic, or anything he ought to have, and send in the bills to me."

"You are splendid!" was the reply, in a tone of deep feeling. "What would happen without you, I wonder? Hullo, my good man, what can I do for you?"

He spoke to Felix, who could not immediately reply. He was seized with a fit of trembling, and grew white. He had seen the lady from time to time in his boyish days. She was only sister to his father's first wife—her name was Miss Rawson. She lived at Normansgrave, and kept house for Denzil Vanston.



I loved and love you—here is simple speech;
I loved and love you, who are out of reach.
                                                        —WILLIAM WATSON.

For a minute or two the possibility that Denzil's aunt might recognize him rose up and flooded out everything else in the mind of Felix. That would be the culminating point of shame. Yet, as he thought it over, he felt nearly certain that she could not. She had not seen him since he was a Rugby boy. He was changed out of all knowledge, and he had never been considered like his father, so there would be no family likeness to guide her. And then there was the safeguard of his disreputable appearance.

Choking down his nervousness, and by a great effort avoiding looking at Miss Rawson, he mumbled out, with as thick a Cockney accent as he could assume, the fact that his sister was ill aboard a canal boat at the wharf. She had had an accident cleaning "winders." She fell out over the rail of a balcony. He faltered out his story, aware of very formidable gaps in it, should he be called upon to substantiate it. But if the doctor was to help the suffering child he must know what had happened to her. The pickle-factory story and the anæmia were no good here, though they had served the George Barnes. He added the fact that they had no money.

Felix became aware that Miss Rawson was looking at him with her kind face charged with pity. She laid her hand upon the arm of the doctor.

"Here is my motor," said she; "jump in. What do you say is the name of the barge? The Sarah Dawkes? Yes, thank you, you will follow on foot, will you not?"

He assented, relieved beyond measure to think of the approaching help for Rona. The two got into the car, which whizzed out of sight in a moment, and Felix stumbled back, limping in his worn-out boots, along the mile to the village.

He had forgotten the windings of the river. He had not realized that, though ten miles or more along the water to Normansgrave, Dunhythe was only a very few miles by road.

He was all wrapped up in the thought of what he was to do. He could not face Denzil—Denzil would know him in a moment. And if Miss Rawson were to take an interest in the case, who knew but that Denzil might at any moment appear?

He could not tell what feeling was uppermost, as at last he came in sight of the wharf. A small crowd of natives was collected on the landing-stage, the motor was still in waiting, and several people seemed to be picking their way about the encumbered deck of the Sarah Dawkes.

As he approached he made out the figure of the doctor, moving along with a huge bundle in his arms, which at once he knew to be the muffled form of Rona.

His girl! They were taking her away! A rebellion now tore at his heart, as unlike as possible to that despair of lethargy which had filled his soul before the coming of Rona into his life. In spite of his sore feet he ran as hard as he could, crossed the bridge, and came panting up, just as the doctor was carefully placing the sick girl in the motor.

"What are you doing?" cried Felix, in a voice that did not belong to a barge-boy.

It surprised the doctor, but, as it happened, Miss Rawson was out of earshot. She had remained to offer Mr. Doggett half a sovereign for his humane care of the invalid. "Lord love yer, I'd 'a done twice as much if I'd 'a bin arst," said he, with a geniality few were privileged to perceive in his usual manner. "Love the gal as if she was me own I do, and 'er brother'll tell yer jest the syme if you was to arst 'im."

The brother at the moment was standing there all a-quiver, his extremely beautiful dark gray eyes appealing to the doctor in a passion of protest.

"It's all right, my man, your sister will be nursed and taken care of like a Princess," said Dr. Causton. "Miss Rawson runs a cottage hospital at Aylfleet, and we are taking her there. I fear there is internal inflammation. The bargee says you and he are going to Basingstoke, and coming back by the same route. Well, she won't be wanting to see you for some days to come, I'm afraid; and you can stop on the way back and come up to find out how she is."

There was one master question at the back of Felix's mind, and he asked it straight out, and with no hesitation, "Will she die?"

The doctor looked at him with a puzzled interest. But he had seen a good deal in his London hospital days, and he knew that such a thing as a deep fraternal devotion is not unknown, though certainly rare, among the lowest classes. "No, I hope not," he said; "she has a fine constitution, and I don't see why she should not pull through."

Felix turned to look at the girl, moaning and tossing in her wrappings. She knew nobody, she had no need of him, she was going to be taken care of—he must let her go. With a rush the conviction came to him that he should never see her again. He had not wept for years, but tears blinded him now. They overflowed his eyes, and, to his fury, he had to lift his hand and dash them away.

Who was he, the acquaintance of a moment, to have any claim upon her? Perhaps when she was rational again she would not remember that she had ever seen him. He had read of such things in books. Miss Rawson hurried up.

"There, poor fellow," said she, with deep pity, "how glad I am that I just chanced to be down at the surgery when you called. It seems providential for your poor little sister! We shall take such care of her up at our sweet little hospital you won't know her when next you see her. Let me see, Smith you say the name is?"

"Yes, miss. Rona Smith."

Her kind hand was outstretched. He suddenly became aware that there was a coin in it. With a tremendous effort he resisted the impulse to push it away, and accepted it thankfully. He would be able to buy pen, ink, paper, stamp, and write a few lines for Rona to have when she was no longer delirious—words telling her the story he had fabricated, and coaching her in what she must say when she was questioned.

"Thank you, miss," said he, meekly, adding, as he shut the carriage door, "and Gawd bless yer," with as thick an accent as he could assume. He had much more to say, but there was no time, the motor was off in two twos, as a member of the interested throng around remarked.

"Ah! she's a good 'un, is Miss Rawson," pronounced a woman who was wiping her hands on a corner of her canvas apron. "A little bit of all right she is, and no mistake. Not like that last 'un they had up at Normansgrave, a painted Jezebel no better than a ——" She used a foul word vigorously. "Seemed queer a man of old Vanston's sort should 'a married such as her."

"And the son no better, seemin'ly," chimed in a man leaning on a post. "I did 'ear 'e 'ad gone to the deuce as clean as a whistle; but, Lord! I ain't one to believe all I 'ear."

"Not even your ears wouldn't be large enough down in these parts," said the woman, cheerfully, waddling into her cottage door.

Felix, who had overheard this conversation, mooned down to the water's edge, his face set hard to prevent tears, and went aboard the Sarah Dawkes.

"An' now she's gorn, glory be," observed Doggett gayly. "Now you an' me can be comfortable, and if you come over to the Flower-pot with me, I don't mind standin' yer a sorsidge an' mashed. 'A good deed,' says the lydy, 'never goes without its reward, my man'; and I tell yer stryte, I ain't sorry I took yer sister aboard, though at the time it went all agin me."

Felix had no reply to make. He turned his back, and went along to where the empty lair which had contained Rona lay upon the deck. What should he do? Wait till the darkest hour of night and then drop into the smooth black water?

No! She still lived; and, though it was not likely, it was still possible that she might want him again.



When the drunken comrade mutters and the great
            guard-lantern gutters,
    And the horror of our fall is written plain,
Every secret, self-revealing, on the aching, whitewashed ceiling,
    Do you wonder that we drug ourselves from pain?
                                                                                —RUDYARD KIPLING.

The master of Normansgrave had come in from his golf, had been upstairs, made the necessary change in his dress, and returned to the hall, where he stood in the light of the fire, reading the Spectator. He was a young man of medium height, medium complexion, and medium looks. If it were added that his intellect also was of a medium quality, it would describe him pretty accurately. He was neither good nor bad, able nor foolish, handsome nor ugly. Just one of those men whose bent is determined largely by circumstances.

Circumstances had made him master of a comfortable though not extensive property. Circumstances had placed him always in strong and virtuous opposition to a rowdy stepmother and an impossible half-brother. Circumstances also made him one of the county eligibles. And this, perhaps, was the unkindest trick that Circumstance had played him.

The ruling motive of his conduct was a terrible fear of throwing himself away. He did not put it like that. He would have said, to anybody who might be interested, that, with the sad example of so good a man as his father before him, and the risk of the old estates descending to Felix, it behoved him to be peculiarly careful. But the real truth was that he thought nobody good enough to be mistress of himself and Normansgrave combined. He used to lament the inadequacy of modern young ladies from time to time to Miss Rawson, who gave her sympathy with a twinkle in her eye, and longed to see the correct young man deeply in love with an unsuitable person.

In fact, she had lately begun to be of the opinion that it was high time her nephew, who was now past thirty, ranged himself. That very day, before going out in her motor, she had arranged a little house-party, to include one or two nice girls, and determined to urge Denzil to permit her to invite them forthwith.

But now the clock was moving perilously near the sacred dinner-hour; and Miss Rawson was not in, said the correct butler, who was, like his master, a study in mediocrity.

As he decorously swept a few ashes from the red tiles of the warm hearth, the purring of the motor sounded without; and in a minute or so Miss Rawson came in, a few flakes of snow powdering her furs.

"My dear boy, I am more than sorry. A case of sickness, and I used the motor to take it to the Cottage Hospital——"

Denzil's eyes expressed horror—almost dismay.

"My dear Aunt Bee—was it infectious?"

"Infectious? Oh, no, it was an accident. Such a curious, mysterious thing—such a wonderful, simply wonderful girl—I must tell you all about it! I found her lying among some hay in a canal barge. Wait a few minutes—I'll not keep you," and she went flying upstairs like a young woman, calling her maid as she ran.

"You have quite stimulated my curiosity," said Denzil later, as he helped her to soup. "A wonderful girl in a canal barge? Tell me all about it."

"Smith is the name—not very romantic," said Miss Rawson between her spoonfuls. "The brother rushed up for Dr. Causton, just as I was in the surgery talking to him about old Lambert. He—the brother—was a dirty young ruffian, but seemed in great distress, and said his sister had fallen from a window while cleaning it, and that she had injured herself, he feared, internally. They had, apparently, no idea that the injury was so serious, and he thought if he took her out into the country and the fresh air, and she rested, it would get well. She had a horror, it seems, of going to a hospital; that would have meant leaving her alone in London, as he had to go with the barge. So I went on board with the doctor, and there she was lying among the hay in a high fever—104 point two, Dr. Causton says—and we saw she must be taken to the hospital, so off we rushed in the motor. Then, when Sister Agnes undressed her, she told me the girl was no common girl—her underclothes were beautiful, she was carefully nurtured. She keeps on talking of a convent school, and calling for the Reverend Mother. Sister Agnes and I believe that she has run away, and probably got hurt in escaping from a window. Don't you think that sounds probable?"

"Possible, certainly," said Denzil. "But what about the man?"

"Well, he looked a regular ruffian to me, but the doctor says some of that was put on. He says once, when he was off his guard, he spoke with a clear, educated accent."

"Why, you have got hold of a romance," said Denzil, with interest. "Shall I go down to the wharf and have a look at him?"

"Oh, you won't find him! They go on to Basingstoke at once. But on his return journey he will come to see if she is well enough to be moved. You ought to go and look at her, Denzil, she is most remarkable. She is not grown up yet, but she is going to be a lovely woman—such hair—a dark, rich chestnut, not a bit red, but like Romney's 'Lady Hamilton.' And dark blue eyes—what a novelist might call violet, I should think—and very remarkable, expressive features. When she is conscious and out of pain, she ought to be worth looking at."

"Were they alone on the barge?" asked Denzil.

"Oh, no, the master was there too. He said the boy had worked for him three years, and was a very good boy. Poor old man, he seemed quite upset; he said he was as fond of the girl as if she had been his own."

"Well, that doesn't seem to favor your escape theory."

"No, it doesn't," said she, thoughtfully; "but there is something odd about them, I feel sure."

The subject was of such interest that they talked of it all dinner-time. The Cottage Hospital was as much his hobby as it was hers, and they were full of simple pleasure and self-congratulation that its walls should have been waiting, in all their new and dainty cleanliness, to shelter the pretty stranger girl in her extremity. Miss Rawson promised her nephew that he should visit her as soon as the doctor would permit—and then she resolutely changed the subject to that of inviting a few people to stay.

Denzil was willing to consent. He usually went abroad for a month in March and April, because he had an idea that persons of means and culture were in the habit of visiting Italy and the South of Europe at that time. But his chief friend, a parson of independent means, upon whose art opinion he depended in great measure, would not be able to accompany him that spring. So the invitations were to go out, and Denzil dwelt with pleasure upon the prospect of once more meeting Myrtle, daughter of Colonel Bentley, a nice-looking girl who did district visiting and read Tennyson, a blend which seemed to Denzil eminently suited to his notions of what might fitly become the future mistress of Normansgrave.

It was the custom of the aunt and nephew to drink their coffee in the hall, before going to the little drawing-room in which they passed the evenings when alone. Aunt Bee sipped her coffee and looked at the papers, while Denzil smoked one cigarette—at times two—and also looked at the papers. In this way, if anybody happened to come to the door during this quarter of an hour, they were in full view. But, as a rule, nobody ever came to the front door between half-past eight and nine. To-night was an exception. The bell rang. Chant, the correct manservant, came with an expression of martyrdom from the servants' hall, where he had just sat down to supper. He was heard talking, somewhat eagerly they thought, to somebody in the porch; and after a pause, in which the master of the house stood with his coffee-cup raised and his attitude that of suspense, he came back with a disturbed countenance and nervous manner.

"It's Mr. Gregory, sir, to see you."

"Gregory!" This was the village constable.

"Yes, sir, it's important, please, sir, I understood him to say."

Denzil turned swiftly to Miss Rawson. "Something about your mysterious Lady of the Barge," he said, with a smile. "Tell Gregory to step inside, please, Chant."

The constable entered, buttoned up tight in his uniform, which had apparently been constructed when he was less stout. He made his bow, and glanced diffidently at Miss Rawson.

"Well, Gregory, is your business with me very private?"

Gregory grew red. His message distressed him, for the Vanstons were respected in the village. "It's about Mr. Felix, sir."

Denzil's heart turned over. He might have guessed. This was not the first time the shadow of police-courts had overspread the home of his ancestors. The bitterness of what he had been through—the memory of his first hearing the news of his brother's arrest—his hurried journey to London to retain counsel for the defense—the fiery and insolent demeanor of the foolish young culprit—the horror of those days in the close, stifling air of the Law Courts—and the final humiliation of hearing Felix Vanston sentenced. All broke at once upon the memory of the young man with a stroke like that of a whip falling on bare flesh. He grasped the high mantel, felt a sickness creep over him, sank into a chair, and looked stonily at his aunt. "About Felix!" he said, hoarsely.

Aunt Bee laid aside her paper and turned to face poor Gregory, who stood miserably toying with some folded papers.

"Dear, dear, Gregory," she said, nervously, "have you bad news for us?"

"I'm afraid so, miss. Mr. Felix, since he came out on his ticket-of-leave"—Denzil winced—"he's been trying to make a little money by—by writing of books, sir, what I can make of it in the account here." He adjusted his spectacles with what seemed like maddening slowness to the two watching. "He's lodged, sir, in Poplar, in Bow, in the Borough, and now at last in Deptford—No. 6, Hawkins Row. He was there a matter of ten days, and on Monday last he paid his rent. The woman thinks he pawned an overcoat and one or two things to pay it. He also, sir—he also bought some laudanum."

"Denzil!" cried Miss Rawson, appealing. "I told you your last letter was too hard!"

"Too hard!" Denzil turned eyes of dignified reproach upon his aunt. "You say, too hard! After what he has called upon me to endure! I have many things with which to reproach myself, but being hard upon Felix is not one of them."

Gregory had been fumbling with his papers, and now at last succeeded in extracting and bringing out the one he sought. "They have sent down an officer from Scotland Yard, sir," he said, "but me knowing the family, if I may venture to say so, I thought you would maybe be better pleased if I came along myself with the noos, sir. There's no such thing as breaking noos, sir, I know that. But a stroke comes easier sometimes if brought by one that has the welfare of the family at heart."

Denzil did not hear the tremulous speech. He had snatched the letter—the terrible letter—which Felix had left upon the table in his room. "Dear Pharisee."

The epithet thundered at him. He read the reckless, unjust words over and over.

He read it once—twice—then he rose, held it out to Miss Rawson, and, slowly turning, sank in his chair with his face hidden upon his arms.

"Oh, heavens!" he cried aloud, "I have not—no, I have not deserved this!"

It was a characteristic cry. What had he done, he the blameless, the well-conducted; he who had endured at his stepmother's hand treatment that might well have soured a sweeter nature than his own; he who knew, concerning that same stepmother, things that might have wrecked her chance of inheriting anything, had he told his father of them! He had behaved, so it seemed to him, with a wonderful Christian fortitude and forbearance. And this horrible suicide, this outrageous indictment, was his reward.

The constable was speaking. "He seems to have burnt all his papers, sir, in the grate first. The grate was full of burnt paper and the hearth, too. The officer thinks he burnt the manuscript of a book, sir. The empty bottles of laudanum, and the empty mug out of which he drank it, sir, were on the table. There was not a morsel of food, nor any clothes at all in the room, nor any luggage."

Vanston made an effort, and managed to say, "I told the police-court missionary to look after him. I put money in his hands for him."

"He had not seen him, sir, for two months. He offered Mr. Felix work, and he declined it."

There was a silence. Miss Rawson could not speak. She had read the letter, and was inexpressibly shocked. Knowing what she did of Felix, she had thought Denzil quite justified in declining to receive him until he should have shown some signs of regretting the dishonor he had brought upon the family.

Denzil sat staring straight before him into the fire. He remembered what a pretty little chap Felix used to be, and that he had been glad to have a small admiring brother to trot after him round the gardens and imitate all he did, and take his word for law. A sharp pain constricted his heart; he felt inclined to break down and weep like a woman.

"What time—when—is the inquest?" he asked. "I must go to town at once."

"This is the strange part of the story, sir," said Gregory. "The inquest can't be held until they find the body."

Denzil had risen, and stood with his hand stretched out towards the bell. He stared at the constable in a dazed fashion.

"Until they find the body?"

"Yes, sir. Mr. Felix was not there, in his room, when they searched it."

Denzil still stared.

"What they think, sir, is that Mr. Felix, after drinking his dose, went out and jumped into the river. Same as the young man did last Tuesday was a month, at Norwich. Perhaps you read about it, sir. Took the stuff, went out, and as soon as he got sleepy rolled into the water. Laudanum don't always act, sir, not by itself. The water makes sure."

Denzil raised his hand and looked at the letter. That left no doubt at all as to the intentions of the writer. He meant to commit suicide. His destruction of everything, the purchase of the little bottles, which had taken a fortnight to collect, told of the extreme deliberation of the plan. The fact that, so far, the body had not been recovered did not seem to him to leave much hope. Gregory said the London police had not much hope, either. He said nothing about the disappearance of the girl from the room above, for the excellent reason that the police knew nothing of it. To bring themselves into prominence in the matter was no part of the programme of the two worthies who were interested in Rona's future career. The landlady of the house whence the disappearance took place was also only too glad to hold her tongue. She and the two men both thought that the girl's vanishing must be connected with that of young Vanston. But as they dared ask no questions, they had no clew. As long as there was no inquest the landlady could not be put into the witness-box, and nothing could appear in the Press which would give to the fugitives, should they be alive and together, the very least idea that they were associated in the mind of anybody.

Levy, the scoundrel who had purchased Rona, argued that young Vanston was a gentleman, and had relatives who would make an effort to find him. Let them do this. If they found him, ten to one they found her. Money and time would be saved to himself and Rankin Leigh. They could remain in the background, and reap the benefit of anything the police discovered.

As to what had actually happened they themselves were in a state of uncertainty. The window of Felix's room had been found fastened on the inside. Nobody had seen the two or either of them leave the house. The door of the room wherein the girl had been confined was locked. There were no traces of her having fallen out of the window, though this must have been her way of escape. But had she thrown herself out she must have been killed or seriously injured; and of her having lowered herself by a rope or any other means there was no trace. Their exhaustive inquiry into accident cases at adjacent hospitals had led to nothing. A young man could not have carried off a badly injured girl without attracting notice. Had she fallen upon the railway lines her body would certainly have been found.

The morning papers all published the curious story of the disappearance of a suicide. They printed in full the two letters—that of Denzil to Felix; that of Felix to Denzil. The evening papers even had leading articles arguing as to whether the elder brother had or had not behaved with harshness to the younger.

No information was forthcoming as to where Felix had spent the last few hours of his life. For the newspapers did not know, and the police did not know, that all-important fact, which would have meant so much to Denzil and his aunt, that there had been two suicides, and not only one. And Comrade Dawkes was not one to court publicity.

If the crew of the George Barnes had but known the story of the girl who dropped out of the window! But they did not know it. So in London the police searched, and Denzil advertised, and Levy and Rankin Leigh waited for the upshot of it all. But nothing happened. No body was discovered in the Thames; no young man under the influence of laudanum was to be found in any police-station or hospital.

The invitations for the house-party at Normansgrave were not dispatched. The Squire retired in bitterness of spirit to his study, where he sat up half the night, and departed to London next morning by an early train.

And down in the cottage hospital at Aylfleet lay Veronica Leigh, for two days delirious, for two or three days more weak and hardly conscious; and then, again, for some days slowly gaining strength and grip on life.

An interest in her recovery and in hearing reports of her progress was the only thing which at that time could divert the mind of Denzil Vanston from its continual preoccupation concerning his brother's fate. Awful as suicide is, it yet almost seemed to him as if he would rather be sure of the worst than continue in uncertainty. If Felix were dead, he would have to alter his will. There were very few Vanstons living, but there were two or three descendants of his grandfather in a remote county. The dissatisfaction with which he thought of them brought clearly home to him the fact that he must marry. As soon as it should be decent, that house-party must be collected. As soon as people had left off talking to him about his brother's fate and the unkind publication of the two letters left upon the table, he would turn his attention to his duties in providing an heir to rule after him at Normansgrave. He would not put on mourning, nor allow Miss Rawson to do so until he had some proof that Felix was actually dead. But his restlessness and depression grew from day to day; and at last, to distract him and give his thoughts a new turn, Miss Rawson said to him:

"Drive me down to Aylfleet this afternoon, and we will look in upon the little Smith girl. I want to know whether you agree with me as to her being unusually fascinating. Dr. Causton does."

The motor was ordered, and they went off.

The spring was coming, and the trees beginning to tremble into leaf. In the pretty red-gabled cottage hospital the windows were open, and the sweet air flooded the place.

The walls of the room where Veronica lay were tinted like a hedge-sparrow's egg. The coverlet of her narrow bed was scarlet, and she wore a bed-jacket the collar of which was embroidered with briar roses. Sister Agnes was so proud of her lovely hair that she had brushed it all out and left it unfilleted, showering over the pillow. In spite of an air of great fragility, there was a delicate bloom on the oval face, and the eyes were preternaturally large and clear.

She was lying very still, as she mostly did, neither reading nor speaking. Her eyes turned wistfully to the door every time it was opened. The sight of Miss Rawson was a pleasure, evidently. Her face lit up. But when she saw that a young man followed, there flew into her thin cheeks a flag of pure rich color; she raised herself in the bed, though with difficulty. Her lips parted in a smile of eager welcome, she stretched out her hand.... Then it all died away. She realized, with a stab of disappointment, that this was a stranger who came. But how curious—she could have declared!

Now, why? This man was of a different height, complexion, and manner. He did not even resemble the man whom she expected, whom she wished to see. Why was it, how could it have happened, that when he first appeared she actually mistook him for the other?

Her agitation and bewilderment made her prettier and shyer than Miss Rawson had ever seen her.

Denzil, as he approached and looked down upon her, felt such an access of emotion as never in all his staid existence had visited him before. This was no barge girl, but a dainty lady, for whose high birth he would have gladly vouched—no young servant injured in cleaning windows, but a princess out of a fairy tale!



"I consecrated my life to you from the moment when I first saw you, and I feel a certain pleasure in sacrificing it to you."—Letters of a Portuguese Nun.

In all his well-conducted life Denzil Vanston had never stood at the bedside of a beautiful young girl. His staid imagination had not foreshadowed anything like this maiden, with her double halo of mystery and suffering. His brother Felix, younger, harder, and more callous, had felt compassion for the child's feminine helplessness, but no perception of her rare charm.

Denzil, who never thought about women as a rule, perceived it at once. He perceived also the flickering, wistful look, the varying color with which she marked his entrance. Misunderstanding it altogether—for how could he tell that she had been conscious of that elusive, subtle, indescribable thing which we call family likeness?—he sat down by the bedside with everything that was honest and natural about him thoroughly stirred. He took the invalid's hand and held it in his own, as he said they felt glad to know that she was making a good recovery. Even as he spoke he was conscious of some awkwardness. His aunt, he felt, had made a mistake. This was no charity case, to be visited by anybody who was humane enough to take the trouble—this was a young gentlewoman, whose privacy should be respected. He grew scarlet with the feeling that he ought not to be there.

He asked if she were quite content at Aylfleet; if everything was being done for her comfort that could be done. Did she want books, work, games, a kitten?—there were some charming kittens in a basket at Normansgrave.

On that the grave lips smiled, and revealed a row of small milky teeth—teeth which Levy had believed to be unique in the profession for which Rona had been destined. Yes, she would like a kitten. She liked books, too. Yes, she liked to be read aloud to. They had often had books read to them in the Convent School. She felt better; they were very kind. There was only one thing—she wanted to see her brother, David Smith.

Denzil explained. David had gone to Basingstoke with the barge. They had told him she could not be moved for some days. Complete rest was necessary for the complaint from which she suffered. No doubt she would hear from him soon. Would she tell them how her accident happened?

She said, quite simply and without embarrassment, that she did not know how much David would wish her to say. Bursting with curiosity, Denzil had to curb it and ask no more. His imagination had never been so piqued. His heart was on fire when he took leave, having promised to come the following day and bring an interesting book and read aloud to her.

On the way home he could talk of nothing else but the mysterious unknown.

His aunt agreed that it was ridiculous to suppose her a member of the lower classes. There was a mystery somewhere. They would find out when the young man appeared. In her inmost heart Miss Rawson was highly amused. Who would have thought of the sober-minded Denzil being thus suddenly moved out of his ordinary groove? She thought it would do him no harm, and with twinkling eyes saw him depart next morning with Shirley in his pocket and hurry down through the grounds, the short way to Aylfleet.

Meanwhile, Rona had received a letter. It was written in a very labored hand, more like printing than writing, and dated simply Basingstoke. Thus it ran:

"Private.—Not to be shown to anybody.

"MY DEAR RONA,—I am tormenting myself with the idea that you might think I had deserted you. Indeed, that is not so. The lady that took you away did not ask my leave. And I knew it was the only hope for you. The people about the wharf at Dunhythe say that Miss Rawson is kind. So I hope they are being good to you.

"You were too ill for me to explain anything to you.

"I think about you simply all the time. I am ready to do anything for you that a man can do, if they will just keep you at the hospital till you are well enough to travel, and I have earned the money to take you to S....

"I got work in a timber-yard here, directly. Old Doggett spoke for me. Miss Rawson tipped him well, so he has been very civil ever since. He said I was well known to him, and they took me on, and the old bad story of my having been in jail didn't have to come up. I am working like anything, and Old Doggett says in three weeks' time he will bring me back to Dunhythe for nothing.

"Of course, these people who are looking after you will ask you questions. I have been thinking out the best way for you to answer them. There is all about me in the papers, but not about you. Your brute of an uncle has thought best to keep it dark. So it looks as if we had got clear off, but it does not do to be too sure. How much do they know? Do they guess that we escaped together? Sometimes they will lie low, to tempt one out into the open. Our not being together just now is the best thing to draw them off the scent.

"I think our line is to tell as little as possible, because we can't tell the truth.

"It is no use to pretend we belong to the lowest class, because nobody could believe it of you. Say that we are orphans, brother and sister, and that our guardian, who is our uncle, took you from school and got you a place as nursery governess, but that I found you were not kindly treated, and were expected to work like a servant, and they made you clean windows and you turned dizzy and fell and hurt yourself, and that we settled to bolt together, and we don't intend to be caught, so we will say no more.

"Don't give the name of the uncle, nor the school, nor the place where you were when you had your accident.

"I inclose paper and a stamped addressed envelope for you to write to me. I am working for you only. When they took you away I felt like throwing myself into the canal, but I did no such thing, because I have you to take care of. Keep up hope, get well as fast as you can, and I will find out a way to keep you safe. Mind you let me know if these people will let you stay three weeks, because if not I must arrange to come for you sooner. But another week would be best, as I must get some decent clothes, and my wages aren't much.

"I do fervently trust you are better.

"Your affect. brother,
                "DAVID SMITH.

"P.S.—On no account ask to see the papers, nor say anything of my being in them. You had better tear up this letter."

This document was, upon the whole, most reassuring to Rona.

The situation was of such an unprecedented sort that it was consoling to find that the memory of her flight was not a dream—that the young man who had saved her had an actual existence, that he had not forgotten her—that he was still prepared to stand by her.

The sole thing which puzzled her was a wonder why her new friend should not wish them to tell the truth.

On this difficulty she bent her mind. They had done nothing of which they need be ashamed. The kind lady who visited her, and the benevolent Squire, would never think of handing back a young girl into the power of such a man as Rankin Leigh. Then why not confess their whole adventure?

Ah, of course, because of the sad secret in David Smith's past! Naturally he did not like to be known as having been in jail. And if, as he said, the account of his disappearance was in the papers, to describe the circumstances fully would be to reveal his disgrace.

This seemed to explain the difficulty, and with all her warm, unsophisticated heart, the young girl vowed that no word of hers should ever betray the man who had done so much for her.

She lay making plans for the future, telling herself how hard she would work, what she would do and be, for gratitude to the hand which had snatched her out of the abyss. The knowledge that he was in the world, working for her, coming to fetch her, eager to take charge of her, just made all the difference. Her sleep was sounder and more sweet that night than since her coming to the hospital. She looked quite radiant next day when Denzil arrived, bearing, according to promise, a story-book and a kitten in a basket.

It pleased him to see how the exquisite face lit up, and the lips parted and the glorious eyes dilated at sight of the bundle of chinchilla-colored fur. Sister Agnes, summoned to admire, provided a rose-colored ribbon for the kitten's neck, and Rona, though not yet allowed to sit upright, yet managed to adjust the bow, with hands which were a delight to watch, so graceful, so adept were they.

Joyously she said that her brother had written, that he had found work, and that he was going to fetch her in three weeks' time, or if she could not be kept so long, a fortnight. Denzil had no doubt about her being kept three weeks. He told Sister Agnes that so it was to be. She was to be quite well by then. She must write to her brother to-day and say there would be no difficulty at all.

Then he sat down to read, Rona busy with some knitting for which she had begged, as she had been brought up never to have idle fingers. But the kitten had a mind to a share in the proceedings, and the reading was punctuated with childish squeals of delight from Rona, and struggles between her and her new pet for the possession of the ball of wool.

Before leaving, Denzil made another attempt to find out more respecting the mystery surrounding the girl. But she told him simply that her brother wished her not to say in what part of London she had been employed, as they had run away together and did not wish to be tracked.

"I expect he will tell you more when he comes," she said. "We have nothing to be ashamed of; but we are hiding, for all that."

Denzil could not but feel deep disapproval of the situation. He urged Rona to write and relieve the anxiety of those she had left. He told her he feared her brother was not a good adviser for her, and hinted that this was a post for which he himself was eminently qualified, and which he would be glad to accept.

Rona was grateful, but stood firm. Much as he desired to know more, he felt the fine quality of faith and loyalty in so young a girl. He did wish that he could feel quite certain that there was nothing discreditable in the mystery that surrounded her. People are not usually in hiding without a reason, he reflected. He was beginning to realize that this girl was having a curious, powerful, unprecedented effect upon him. It would be terrible should it turn out that she was really the sister of a youth who led a canal horse along the towpath. Like most persons of mediocre ability, he was much influenced by the dread of ridicule. He feared to make himself ridiculous concerning the unknown maiden. His judgment approved her; but he lacked confidence in his own judgment.

He walked back to Normansgrave, his mind occupied not as to the tragic circumstances of his brother's disappearance, but about the flight of a young servant girl from a harsh mistress with her brother, a bargee!



"This son of mine was a self-willed youth, always too ready to utter his unchastised fancies.... He got the spur when he should have had the rein.... He, therefore, helped to fill the markets with that unripe fruit which abounds in the marts of his native country."—OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES.

Felix had been sent by his employers up to Basingstoke Station to bring down some parcels of rivets and special nails arriving by goods train that evening. As he stood on the platform waiting, the boat train from Southampton came rushing in, and stopped to put down a solitary passenger. This was a tall, wiry, hatchet-faced man, of about forty, with black hair, brown skin, and soft, melting dark brown eyes—eyes you would not have expected to see in that face, unless you were familiar with the Slav type.

This man gave his directions to the porters in very hesitating English. He was so like the type to which Felix had been accustomed in the dynamite brotherhood, that the sight of him was actively unpleasant. And yet the young man could not help being fascinated, too.

The stranger said, in painstaking English, "I wish this trunk put upon the hotel omnibus."

The porter, understanding this, cheerfully shouldered the trunk and disappeared, the traveler meanwhile lighting a cigarette and gazing round the station at the town beyond with a look of interest.

"Now, sir," said the porter, returning, "what are we to do with all this stuff?"

It looked like machinery—curiously shaped, spiky packages sewn up in canvas.

"I wish that put—how do you say?—ah, yes—en consigne, s'il vous plait—pardon, I would mean—en consigne—hein?"

The porter looked blank. "No parly frongsay," he remarked, resentfully.

"Wants you to cloak it, fathead," said Felix, unable to hold his tongue.

"To cloak it—eh? Why in blazes don't 'e say so, then. This way, mounseer."

"Le mettre en consigne pendant quelques jours, monsieur," cried the foreigner, eagerly pouncing on Felix. "Malheureusement je ne puis pas dire—je ne sais pas pour quel temps—combien faut-il payer maintenant?"

Felix turned good-naturedly to him. "You want to cloak it, and you do not know for how long?" he said in French. "That's all right, you take a ticket now, nothing to pay, and when you want it out, you produce the ticket and pay so much for each day."

The man was delighted. "I am indebted to you, sir, I am truly. I was told my English was enough to take me through; but it breaks down at every turn. You speak French admirably—that is not so with all your countrymen—hein?"

"No," said Felix, "we are not great linguists, taken as a nation. But I have lived abroad."

"Ah! By chance now—you speak German also?"

"Assez bien, monsieur."

The stranger literally clutched him. Was he at liberty? Would he come up to the hotel and make terms for him? Could he do some translating—a letter, the sense of which he could not discover, though he had looked out all the words in a dictionary?

Felix explained that he was anything but at leisure, but that he had to await the arrival of a goods train, and while waiting was very glad to translate the letter in question into comprehensible French. After safely consigning the luggage, which, so the stranger said, consisted of models of machinery, they repaired to the bar—since the weird regulations of England forbade one to smoke in the waiting-room—and Felix made all plain to the perplexed inventor, who described himself as a Russian,—an engineer employed in a vast mining enterprise in Siberia. He had perfected an invention for the ventilation of deep-level mines, by which he hoped to make his fortune. He had appointed to meet, at Basingstoke, the manager of one of the largest Welsh mines, who happened to be returning from abroad, and promised to break his journey there, in order to have an interview.

He launched into a description of his invention, and Felix, who had always had a fancy for machinery, grew deeply interested. Finally, the eager inventor extracted a promise from his new friend to come to supper with him at the hotel, though Felix owned with regret that he had no decent clothes; and they parted for a time with a mutual desire to meet again.

Mr. Doggett, in the expansion of his heart, had offered Felix his "grub" free if he would sleep aboard the Sarah Dawkes and mind her while the owner spent these few nights in the bosom of his family—a thing he could not have done otherwise. Thus obtaining free, though rough, board and lodging, the young fellow had all his wages as clear profit, and he had ventured upon the purchase of such trifles as a comb and a tooth-brush, and even six pocket-handkerchiefs. He was, however, very doubtful as to how he should obtain the suit of decent clothes which he felt to be indispensable if he was to convey Rona by train to the North of England. He was plunged into the consideration of the problem of how to buy a suit out of three weeks' wages at fifteen shillings a week, and leave enough for railway fares, when chance sent him running up against the Russian engineer.

The fee paid by lawyers for the translation of a letter is ten shillings; and after Felix had translated four or five for his new friend he did not refuse this fee when warmly pressed upon him.

As the evening passed the two grew very friendly. Felix said he had known many Russians. He had been a member of a society in London many of whose adherents belonged to that nationality. One had been quite a pal of his.

The engineer—whose name was Vronsky—eagerly begged to know the name of Felix's friend. It was Loris Levien Ivanovitch.

Vronsky was much agitated. "Why, he was imprisoned, in London, for belonging to a dynamite society—unhappy boy, not to be warned!" His mother was Vronsky's own cousin. It had been heartbreak to her. But she had left her home and country and gone to meet her son in Styria, when he came out of prison. There they had made a home together, and the young man had found work. He had a fine tenor voice.

Felix made a gesture, as of one smitten by an overpowering memory. He began to sing, at first with hesitation, but with increasing confidence, a Russian song, full of the essential melancholy of the Slav peoples. A certain thrilling tenderness, mingled with the plaintive despondency of the national outlook, found expression in the strange cadences. The Russian sat with his head bowed, his clenched hand lying on the table. His eyes were heavy with tears, his whole heart was wrung by this song of his native land. When it was done he raised his head and looked intently at the singer.

"You must often have heard Loris sing that song?"

"Often and often. Very often," said Felix, his mind traveling back across old memories. He set his lips firmly, and looked his new friend straight in the eyes. "I was there—in prison—with Loris Ivanovitch," he said, steadily.

Vronsky gazed at him in pure sympathy. His eyes were still soft with tears. "My poor lad," he said, softly. "Poor, misguided child. You have suffered."

It was the first time that any soul had pitied Felix Vanston for his downfall. The whole world had said to him: "You have sinned." Not one human soul had said: "You have suffered."

"I have suffered," he said, slowly, "and through all my future I must suffer. I am branded, I am a marked man. I have disgraced my father's name. And yet I meant no harm. I entered upon the thing not knowing what I did. I was full of compassion and of thoughts about brotherhood. Brotherhood!"—he broke off with a sneer that was half a cry. "Do you know that now the very word brotherhood means to me something that is ruthless, terrible, secret—something that strikes in the dark—something that will reach you and punish you, however distant. That was what it seemed to Loris and to me. We were caught and held in its meshes. We might struggle, we could not get free. His sentence was six months shorter than mine. He went away to Styria the moment his ticket-of-leave expired. The Brotherhood let you alone as long as the ticket-of-leave lasts, for they do not want the police to know anything of their movements; and as long as you are under surveillance they lie low. I shall be free of the police in a week from now. And then—then I have to reckon with the Brotherhood."

"Go abroad," said Vronsky. "You are a good linguist, you should do well abroad."

"Yes," said Felix, "but there is something I must do first; something that counts before my own safety."

The Russian looked sympathetic. "A woman?"

"My sister," said Felix, laying the stump of his cigarette down in his plate, and watching it sedulously. "She got into bad hands during my imprisonment. I have to put her in a place of safety. She is in hospital now—the result of an accident."

"Take her abroad with you—why not?"

"The old unanswerable argument—£ s. d.," said Felix, with a sad smile. "It costs twice as much—more than twice as much—to take a girl about with you."

The conversation had been in French from the beginning.

Now the young man stood up. "I must go," he said. "My job is not over. I have to be on the premises at night and keep watch. Many thanks for your good entertainment. This dinner has bucked me up."

"Yes," said Vronsky, in an interested way. "They told me that in England they never cook at all, and that one eats food raw or goes without. But I have dined here well to-night."

"So have I; and as it is the first time for very many nights, it leaves me most grateful to you for all your kindness."

"Shall I see you again? I hope so. Stroll down after your work to-morrow, and have coffee with me and a smoke."

"It ought to be my turn to-morrow," said Felix. "I don't like sponging. But I literally have not a halfpenny to spend just now. Good-night. I was glad to hear that about Loris Levien. About his being safe with his mother. But chiefly I am grateful to you for not looking on me as an outcast. Here, in my own country, I have done for myself, once and for all. My own brother won't speak to me. It is—but there! how can you tell what it feels like, to be taken by the hand by a man who knows your record and does not despise you for it?"

"My boy, in Russia one has more sympathy for these things. In England, I own, it is hard to see why boys take up such notions. But with us few families are altogether free of the taint. For myself I was never touched with the desire to make men good and happy by burning and killing. I do not think terror ever begot love. I know that it always begets hate. I am an engineer and a rough fellow. But I believe in God and in Him I put my trust for Russia and her future. Want of faith, my boy, that is what ails Russia. Good-night. God keep you. Come to me to-morrow."

Felix walked home to his couch in the cabin of the Sarah Dawkes with his heart full of gratitude to the new friend so accidentally thrown in his way.

The next morning, on his way to work, he went to the post-office, and, to his joy, was handed a letter addressed to David Smith.

"DEAR DAVID,—Thank you for your letter. I was so very glad to get it, and I am pleased to say that I am getting better very fast now. I am still in bed, but they let me sit up and do knitting, and Mr. Denzil Vanston comes to see me. He is the Squire, Sister Agnes says, and she thinks I am a lucky girl. He has given me a kitten, and he reads to me out loud. Do you know the first day he came in I thought he was you! I can't think what made me so silly, for he is not a bit like you really, but fair, with a little neat light brown mustache. He is very kind.

"They say yes, I may certainly stay three weeks, and by that time I ought to be quite well. I shall look forward to seeing you and starting for Sempleton. Do you think it would be best to write to the Reverend Mother or not? I think not, because it is just possible she might think she ought to tell Uncle Rankin.

"Miss Rawson is making me a new frock; it is brown. I think this is all my news, so I will only add my love, and my thanks too, for all you did for me. When I think how you wanted to die, and went on living to take care of me, I do feel ashamed of myself. I hope you are quite well. Mind and tell me when to expect you, and write again soon. I have not let anybody see your letter, though they are all most inquisitive about our affairs!—With my love, I remain your affectionate sister—RONA SMITH."

This letter lifted David right up to the clouds. Since Rona was carried away from him in Miss Rawson's motor, he had not felt such a lightening of his spirits. She was happy; she was getting well; she wanted to see him again. His heart swelled up in a gush of tenderness, hitherto unknown to him. In his solitary youth, full of queer cults and crazes, and stunted by his lamentable prison experience, he had never thought about girls. This one, so unlike the girls in love stories, appealed to him on a side where he was easily touched. All the protective manhood had awoke in him when first he felt her desperate clutch upon his arm, and looked up to see her enemies in pursuit.

He could not help being disquieted by the idea of his brother's attentions to her. But he decided that there was nothing at all to connect David Smith with Felix Vanston in the mind of the owner of Normansgrave. He had followed the papers with eagerness ever since his flight, and had noted with great interest that the police had had no notification of the disappearance of Rona. On thinking it over, he was not much surprised. He could understand that the two villains would prefer to hold their tongues respecting her incarceration. But doubtless they were putting detectives on the job on their own account; and might they not be watching for the moment when the girl emerged from hospital and was joined by him?

He was very doubtful as to what would be their best way of getting off, and inclined to think that he should advise Rona to slip away at night and meet him at some given spot close to the hospital. He did not want to appear, both because of any possible watchers and because of his brother Denzil.

Miss Rawson had not recognized him, as was natural enough. But no disguise, no counterfeit Cockney talk, could prevent Denzil from knowing him, if they met face to face. And if Denzil knew him the first thing that he would decree would be that Felix was no fit companion for his supposed "sister."

For the first time the delicate nature of the situation occurred to him. It filled him with a queer tumult of indignation and championship. He was to be trusted to take care of her, this white flower, which a tempest had blown against his heart! He felt himself filled with the spirit of knight-errantry. His courage rose and a new sense of joy filled all his veins. Perhaps the hard work, the country air, and Vronsky's hospitality had something to do with the dawning of his new interest in life. But to him it seemed that it was all Rona.

He did a fine day's work that day, and when it was over he bought his usual halfpenny paper, saw that there was no mention in it of himself or the girl, and went on to the hotel, where he found Vronsky happy over a telegram from the mine manager whom he expected, to say that he was crossing to Southampton the following day.

Meanwhile, he had received letters from two mine owners in England, full of cruelly hard words. His dictionary lay before him, and a transcript of the frantic attempt he had made to decipher their contents. It was very evident that he needed not only a translator but an amanuensis, if he was to reply to his correspondents.

Felix buckled down to the work. He translated with care, wrote out a French version of the letters received, and drafted answers in English from the engineer's French dictation.

Then he turned his attention to a German letter, which proved to be the most interesting of all. The writer of this was extremely anxious to be first in the field, and to make all the new machinery if the market were fairly sure. He was too busy to come to England, but implored Vronsky to come over to Hamburg at his expense, that they might converse together over the matter.

This was a difficult journey for Vronsky, who, though he spoke French fluently, and could also speak Turkish and Arabic, knew hardly a word of either German or English. He said he would go if Felix would come with him as his secretary. He was not a rich man, but he would give him a pound a week, and advance money for clothes. It would take him out of the country, away from the Brotherhood—it would give him a new start.

Felix was terribly tempted. But he stood firm. He should not be here, where he was, were it not for Rona. It was she who had kept him back from the miserable, cowardly end he had planned for himself. As he sat, in the cheerful coffee-room, a good cigar in his mouth, a glass of fine ale at his side, and watched the prosperous life of the quiet town flowing along in the irregular, unpretending street, he felt that the world was a pleasant place, and wondered that he could have thought of quitting it. Here he was, and, such as he was, he was hers.

He looked sadly at the kind, intense face of Vronsky and shook his head. He could not go without his sister.

"Tiens!" replied Vronsky, "let us not be rash. Who knows? My business may detain me here longer than I expect. Then you may go and fetch your sister and bring her too."

Felix's eyes lit up. But almost immediately clouded again. He felt there might be inconveniences in traveling about with a sister who is not your sister. He accepted the fee for his secretarial work, and after much pressing consented to dine again with his friend, as it seemed churlish to decline, thereby condemning him to an evening of solitude and silence. They parted on more friendly terms than ever.

There was no moon that night, the dark face of heaven was powdered with stars, Jupiter hanging like a diamond low in the sky as Felix made his way down to the canal wharf. It was not until he got close up to the barge that he noticed a man standing by her, smoking, his hands in his pockets.

"Fine night," said the man, pleasantly.

"That's quite right," replied Felix, heartily, aloud. Inwardly he told himself, "London man—look out."

"Know much of the barge owners down these parts—eh?" said the stranger, wistfully.

"Can't say as I do," replied Felix in his natural tones, with no assumed accent. "Want work?"

The man sighed. "P'raps I do."

"Better go to the Company's office," suggested Felix.

"So I did. They told me old man Doggett, of the Sarah Dawkes, was wanting a boy. But there's nobody aboard her."

"No. His boy's ill. I'm sleeping in her to oblige the Old Man."

"Oh!" The stranger could not wholly keep his sudden access of interest out of his voice. "Are you the chap that took on the boy's job?"

Felix laughed his scorn. "No, thank yer, mate. I work up in the town. I only oblige the old man while he's ashore."

"Humph! Suppose you don't know what become of the chap as he brought down from Limehouse with him, do yer?"

Felix was quite sure now. He betrayed no surprise. "Want a character of the old man out of him before you sign on to the job?" he said, playfully.

"That's about the size of it—yes."

"Well, I did hear he was tramping it to Plymouth. Wanted to get out of England," said Felix, slowly.

There was a pause. "Got a light?" said the stranger at last.

Felix produced a match. "So long, mate," said he, moving to the gang-plank.

"Say—you couldn't let me sleep aboard, could you?" asked the unemployed.

"Daren't risk it, mate. Hope you won't take it hard, but I can't. Clean against orders, and the night-watchman is a terror. I don't mean losing my job, even if it was to help you to get one."

"Not likely. Hold hard a minute. Tell me—did you see the chap that came up on the Sarah Dawkes?"

"Never. Casual, picked up in the streets, I gather."

"And his sister with him?" said the man, urgently, in a low tone. "See here, there's money in this—what can you tell me about 'em?"

Felix was aboard of the barge, and looked up from the deck with a smile. "Money from a right-to-worker?" he mocked. "Plank it down, and I'll invent sisters for you as fast as you like."

"Thanks," said the man, with a change of tone. "I got out of you what I want without the money. She wasn't here when they got to Basingstoke. That's just what I thought. But where in thunder is she?"

"Oh, go to blazes—you're drunk," said Felix.

He turned on his heel and entered his dark sleeping-hole, trembling in every limb.



Spring is here, with the wind in her hair
    And the violets under her feet.
All the forests have found her fair,
    Lovers have found her sweet.
Spring's a girl in a lovely gown,
    Little more than a child.
                                                        —ALICE HERBERT.

A fortnight after her arrival at the Cottage Hospital Veronica was wholly convalescent. The air, the first-rate nursing, the sense of peace and well-being which she experienced, all helped, and came to the aid of a naturally fine constitution. The color she had lost returned to her pale face, her eyes were clear and luminous.

The doctor was fairly certain that the injury she had received, though it had been violent enough to cause inflammation, was not more than nature would triumph over. He did not anticipate lasting effects. She was now to be found on the sofa in the sitting-room, and the nurse held out hopes of a walk round the garden on Sunday next. She had been the sole comfort of Denzil's misery during this time of strain, when day after day passed by, and no news was forthcoming. Each day he grew more certain that Felix was not dead, but alive—and a further certainty followed.

If his brother were really not dead, then the pretense of suicide must have been deliberate. He must have determined to cast off his own identity, and wipe himself out of the list of the living. With what object? Doubtless that he might return to his anarchical pursuits, under some alias.

For this the master of Normansgrave felt secretly grateful to him. The name of Vanston would at least be protected. He did not believe Felix capable of leading a life of decorous rectitude such as his own. The bad blood inherited from his mother must, he thought, come out, and show itself in a wild, ill-regulated life. The fact that his half-brother had now, by his own carefully planned action, cut himself off from all communication with his family, was, in the secret depths of his heart, a satisfaction to him.

But he knew that a longer time must be allowed to elapse before he could feel certain. He could not agree with the police view of the young man having drugged himself, and then proceeded to drown himself. This theory was, however, very strongly held at first by the police, for the reason that such a case had actually occurred, and had been recorded in the newspapers; experience taught them that criminals have a curious habit of imitating one another's methods, and that a certain form of suicide, in particular, frequently provokes others of a similar character. The non-recovery of the body was not, in their minds, an insuperable objection; for so determined a suicide might well have weighted his pockets with bricks—and one cannot drag the Thames.

Not a word had Denzil breathed to his romance-princess of the private grief which tormented him. To her he seemed always cheerful, serene, and bent on pleasing her. To-day he was approaching the door of the hospital with a basket of primroses and violets from the woods, which it would amuse the patient to arrange in a soup-plate full of moss. Spring was beginning to bud and blossom in the beautiful land, and in spite of anxiety his heart was warm in him, and his pulses tingled with a feeling he had never previously experienced.

Dr. Causton's small brougham was at the door as he came up, and almost at once the doctor came out, and stood in the sunny garden talking to Sister Agnes. His face and hers were both full of worry.

"Ah, there is Vanston," said the doctor, "in the nick of time. I was going to drive over to you, but now we can settle things at once, and there is no time to lose. We want you to come to the rescue as usual, Vanston. Three cases of scarlet fever in the National Schools."

"Scarlet fever?" said Denzil, looking scared.

"Yes. And the Albert Hospital can't take them, it has too many critical cases, and can't turn them out. To cut the whole thing short, I want you to let us have the Cottage Hospital for the epidemic. Of course, the County Council will pay all the expenses of disinfecting and so on, and give you a handsome donation. But it would save endless bother and fuss. If these three cases are isolated at once, the whole thing may be restricted to those who have been in immediate contact. It will be the saving of the village, so I venture to hope we may count upon you."

"But what about your present case here?" said Denzil, not at all pleased.

"Quite well enough to go out, if her people are careful of her," said the doctor, who was not blind, and thought the patient had been there long enough. "Write to them, or wire, and say she must be fetched away."

"That is not so easy," said Denzil, in tones of ruffled dignity. "Her brother is at Basingstoke, and has been promised that she shall be kept three weeks."

"Well," said the doctor, "you can't foresee a fever epidemic."

Mr. Vanston looked much disturbed. "The risk of leaving her exposed to infection is, of course, not to be thought of," he said. "And I suppose you want to bring in your cases at once?"

"At once, if you and Miss Rawson would be so kind as to put the girl in your motor and drive her to the station. Wire to the brother to meet her, and you have done all that could possibly be expected."

Denzil stood considering. The idea of losing Rona—of losing her at once, that very day—gave him a curious internal jolt for which he was quite unprepared.

"Thank you," he said at last. "I will bring the motor at half-past two. May I ask that Miss Smith be not informed that she is leaving the Cottage Hospital, but simply told that my aunt is calling to take her for a drive this afternoon? I would rather explain matters myself. Sister Agnes, kindly give Miss Smith this basket, with my kind regards."

They promised him his own way in the matter; and after a short discussion of the outbreak of fever, and the adequate staffing of the Cottage Hospital, he departed, and hurried up through the park to Normansgrave, his brain evolving an idea as he went.

Miss Rawson was in the garden, pottering round to gloat over her bulbs, which were doing admirably that year. She gazed with some amusement upon her nephew's perturbed countenance. "She can't have refused him—yet," was the thought that lurked behind her twinkling eyes.

"Aunt Bee, I want you to do something for me—that is, I wish to desire you to do something——"

"Are you giving me an order, Denzil dear? Because there is no need to beat about the bush. What is it?"

"They have got scarlet fever down at Dunhythe. They want us to lend the Cottage Hospital to the County Council—they want to turn out Miss Smith to-day, within an hour or two—and I want to bring her here for the final week of her promised convalescence."

"My dear Denzil! This is a little too fast. My poor old brain will hardly take it all in. Lead me to a garden seat. That's right—thanks. Yes, now let us hear it all over again."

Denzil sat down and explained in detail. He was very fond of his aunt, and had never yet discovered that she was laughing at him.

"Well, but, Denzil dear," said she, when she thoroughly understood the position, "have you considered that there may be some awkwardness? I don't quite understand what this young girl's position is to be. Is she to have her meals in the servants' hall?"

"Aunt!" said the nephew in horror. "She is a lady, you must see that."

"Yes, I know, Denzil. She is a lady, and you, I am proud to find, have the wit to perceive it. But, for all that, she was extricated from a truss of hay on a canal barge, and all our servants know it. If she comes here, and we treat her as an equal, I fear there may be just a wee scrap of scandal in the village respecting our noble but unconventional conduct. Please understand that I shall not mind. But, as your chaperon, it is my duty to point out to you that people will talk. You are usually just a little bit of a coward about talk, you know."

Denzil sat quite still. His face took on a new, dogged look. It very much resembled the look worn by his brother Felix in his mood of championship.

"Aunt Bee," he said, in a low voice, "tell me your own honest opinion of Rona Smith. Tell me what you think of her."

"I think she may grow up to be a fine woman some day, dear. She is, I believe, thoroughly honest and loyal. She is also religious, and grateful for kindness without any cringing. These are fine qualities, and rare in our days."

"Should you think me a—a regular jackass if I told you that I had the idea of paying for the completing of her education? She has, so she tells me, nobody to take care of her but this one brother, and he must be penniless, or he would not have been found at such rough work. I—I cannot but think that these two have been injured by some unscrupulous relative or guardian. Would not the brother be grateful if we offered to keep his sister and complete her education?"

Miss Rawson looked fixedly at Denzil. Never before had she seen him so confused, so little sure of himself. He stammered; he was, so to speak, at her mercy. Her face was quite grave; her manner calmly sympathetic. She knew that there are some men with whom there must always be the protective instinct to excite love. The notion of playing Providence to that lovely young girl was full of an exquisite seductive charm to young Vanston. He really did not know that he was in love with her. It might take him a couple of years to find out.

"Well, dear boy," said she, kindly, "it is a fine idea, but it sounds a little risky. We do not know who the girl is, nor how she came to the plight in which we found her. She may have relations who have a claim upon her, and it would be uncomfortable for you to be asked what right you had to take her under your wing."

"Yes," he said, thoughtfully, digging tiny holes in the gravel with the tip of his stick, "I have thought of that. It seems to me that, if we make the offer I suggest, we ought to do it on condition that the brother speaks out and tells the truth, so that we may know where we are. What do you think of that? My notion is, bring her here to complete her cure. We promised her three weeks—let her have three weeks. By that time we shall know better what we think of her, and consider the desirability of making further offers of assistance."

"Very well, dear boy, I have nothing against that. It will take off your thoughts from this long, wearing suspense. I conclude that you want me to go and fetch your little protégée at once—eh?"

"I said the motor would be round at half-past two, and they were merely to tell her that you were coming to take her driving. I did not want her to be fussed."

"That was thoughtful of you, Denzil," said his aunt.

* * * * * * *

The motor duly appeared at the pretty white porch at two-thirty, and Rona, warmly wrapped up, was placed beside Miss Rawson in the comfortable closed tonneau, the Squire acting as chauffeur. The doctor and Sister Agnes, who had been informed of the fact that she was going to Normansgrave to complete her convalescence, looked at each other with a half-frightened smile and arching of the brows.

"Well," said Dr. Causton, "if I had known, or dreamt, that I was not getting her out of his way, but pitching her into his arms, I would not have done it—I declare I would not! However, what will be, will be; and we know his own father chose for his second wife a far more unsuitable person. But Denzil has always seemed such a sanctimonious kind."

"Just so," said Sister Agnes, deprecatingly. "That's the kind that does it."

During the drive Miss Rawson gradually told the girl that she was going to Normansgrave, as the hospital was about to receive infectious cases, and she could not be kept there without risk to herself. Rona was immensely interested, and, as Miss Rawson had previously noted, her interest swallowed up her girlish shyness. They went first for a drive among the lovely woods and moors that surround Normansgrave, and it was tea-time when they at last stopped before the door of the old mellow brick house with its air of comfort and well-being.

Miss Rawson saw with relief, but without much surprise, that Rona had no kind of doubt as to the position she would be asked to occupy. Evidently no such idea as being relegated to the servants' hall crossed her mind. She walked on Denzil's arm with pleasure, but without any embarrassment, to what was known as the little drawing-room, where tea was cosily set forth, and took her seat in an armchair with cushions carefully arranged, and a footstool for her feet, as to the manner born.

The kitten, which had traveled from Aylfleet packed in a basket, was let out upon the floor, and, to the amusement of all, swore and spat at his own sister, from whom he had been but ten days parted. The putting down of a saucer of milk, and the humors of the two graceful little creatures, sent Rona into fits of merriment, in which childish fun Denzil joined, with a readiness which astonished and touched his aunt.

"I hope I shall not behave so to my brother when he comes for me," said Rona. "And that reminds me, I must write to him this very day, must I not, to let him know that I have changed my address?"

"By all means, my dear," said Miss Rawson.

To herself she mused: "If only people do not begin chaffing him, it will take Denzil a long time to find out just what is the matter with him. At present it is all quite harmless, and as long as she is here to his hand, I verily believe that he may continue unconscious until she is grown up. I don't see the end of this matter, unless the brother comes next week and marches her off. Would that be a good thing or a bad thing for Denzil, I wonder?"



There then, awhile in chains we lay
In wintry dungeons, far from day;
But risen at last, with might and main,
Our iron fetters burst in twain.

Then all the horns were blown in town;
And to the ramparts clanging down,
All the giants leaped to horse,
And charged behind us, through the gorse.
                                    —ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON.

Every faculty in Felix was sharpened to its highest pitch as he lay down that night upon his comfortless bed aboard the Sarah Dawkes. The man on the wharf was a detective, and he was looking for Veronica. His source of information was doubtless some one of the men aboard the George Barnes. He was in the employment of the two wolves, and he had that invaluable clew which the police lacked. He knew that he had to hunt two runaways. There were sure to be persons who had seen them limping along towards the docks that night of terror, of lurid excitement and breathless escape. So long as you knew what you were looking for, they were not hard to trace.

"But what beats me," said Felix to himself, "is how it is he did not find out that she was put ashore at Dunhythe. If he has followed up our trail, how could he have missed that? The whole village saw her go."

A spasm of fear shook him, lest the shelter of the Cottage Hospital should be inadequate. If her uncle came to fetch her, they would have to hand her over. He raged in his heart, rolling over and over sleepless, wondering whether the detective was "pulling his leg," whether he knew, all the time, where Rona was—whether she was no longer where he left her, but gone, taken away, out of his reach. He yearned to know. But how? The idea crossed his mind that he might steal out, borrow the bicycle of a fellow-workman at the timber-yard, and ride over, before morning, to ascertain that she was safe. But that would be to reveal his secret, were the detective still on the watch.

The question was: What would the detective do? Would he go off on that false clew and follow up David Smith to Plymouth? Or had he known all along that Felix was he, in spite of lying? Would he stay in Basingstoke or leave the town? Was he out there watching on the wharf, or had he departed?

After a time the suspense grew intolerable. It was a mild night, and David sweated as he lay. After bearing it as long as he could he noiselessly rolled out of bed, and crawled snake-wise along the deck, which was in deep black shadow, took up a post of vantage behind a pile of the timber with which the barge was being gradually loaded, and peeped forth. He saw no man, but he did see from among the bales and trucks that encumbered the wharf a faint glimmer, which meant the bowl of a pipe. He saw it move, as the smoker took it from his mouth, rammed it down with his thumb, and replaced it.

It was just out of sight of the night-watchman, whose cabin was clearly to be seen from the deck of the Sarah Dawkes. It was the detective, and he was keeping an eye upon the barge. Felix wondered whether he was alone or had a confederate. He did not think it would be hard to give him the slip, if that were all.

But, on further reflection, he decided that his proper course was to take no notice at all. He must behave as if the man and his movements were absolutely nothing to him. The weak spot was Doggett. If the detective got on to him, the Old Man was bound to give away the fact that Felix was the chap who had traveled from London with him. How could he warn him, without exciting suspicion? He bitterly blamed himself for sleeping upon the barge. He might have had the common intelligence to reflect that, if inquiries were made, it was likely the barge would be traced, and that the place to which anybody in need of information would come would be that precise spot.

What would happen in the morning? Doggett usually appeared when Felix had done breakfast, and was starting for the wood-yard at half-past six. To reach his barge, he must pass the man on the wharf, and he would be questioned. On the other hand, if Felix pushed matters forward and hurried off in time to intercept Doggett, the man on the wharf might join him, and insist on walking beside him. He thought over this, long and carefully, and a brilliant idea suggested itself.

Rising in the gray dawn, he washed and dressed carefully. He put on a collar and tie, a height of elegance which the wood-yard had hitherto never dreamt of. No matter, it was easily removed when he got there. The suit he had purchased with the money earned by his secretarial labors was tidy and quiet, and gave him the appearance of a very respectable young clerk. He was not at all like the gaunt, starved scarecrow in his grimy jersey and greasy trousers. His hair and beard were trim, though he had not shaved. He cooked his bloater, made his tea, and set all ready for breakfast. But before beginning it he slipped out upon the wharf, and approached the cabin of the night-watchman, whose habit was to breakfast at six before leaving his post for home and bed.

It was half-past five when Felix peeped into his cabin, and not yet fully light. The detective's form could be dimly seen for a moment, huddled a little sideways. He had yielded for an hour to an ungovernable drowsiness.

"There's a poor chap out there," said Felix, softly, "who's what they call a right-to-worker. He wants a job on this wharf. We ain't got no jobs, but you might, when your coffee's ready, mate, give him a bite if you felt like it. I would meself, only I'm afraid of getting hindered and fined up at the yard."

The night-watchman sat staring. He was a stupid man, but kind. "A'right," said he, huskily, at last. "In a quarter of a hour."

"Look here, mate, thankye kindly for that. I'm buying baccy to-day, and I won't forget you. But your ear one moment. Don't let him get pumping you about the work on this here wharf, or Old Man Doggett'll be jumping on us. Just tell him there's no work going, and if there is you don't know anything about it. Last night he wanted to know the family history of every barge owner in the place."

The night-watchman nodded. "I know his sort," he remarked, with sarcasm. "But I'll give 'im a bit to stay his stomach, for all that."

Felix nodded, and slipped away. His stockinged feet made no noise on the wharf; and for a moment, as he saw the attitude of the sleeping detective, he had a mind to leave his breakfast and walk past him then and there. But two reasons withheld him—hunger for one thing, and the fear that the man might be shamming. Ten minutes later, peering through his tiny window, he saw that the spy was sitting up and stretching himself, after which he rose slowly and began to stamp about on the wharf, and to flap his arms vigorously, to restore the circulation. Then he came to the edge, close to the barge, and whistled.

Felix took no notice. He had taken the precaution to push the Sarah Dawkes off from the wharf, when embarking, so that the gang-plank would be required by anyone trying to board her. He breathed a devout thanksgiving that he had done so, for otherwise he would have been invaded, without doubt.

The man loafed along, stooping his head, trying to see in through dirty windows, and whistling from time to time. But Felix made no sign. When the stranger had occupied about five minutes wandering up and down, the night-watchman was seen to emerge from an open door whence came a smell of fried fish, appetizing enough to one who had passed the night in the open. The supposed tramp was accosted—halted—and as Felix had hoped, succumbed, and was drawn into the cabin, and the door shut.

"Want to speak to 'im?" he heard the night-watchman say, as they moved away. "Well, you'll 'ave time for that, 'e don't turn out not till just on the 'arf-hour."

He waited three minutes—just until the two were sitting down to their feast—and then stepped ashore, and walked off quietly until he was round the corner where the huge piles of timber hid him. Then he took to his heels and ran until he came to the Doggett mansion, situated in Marsh Lane.

Now, Doggett had known that they were fugitives, though he saw no reason to disbelieve the story that Rona was his sister. Felix asked him straight out not to give him away. He told him a detective was hanging about on the wharf pretending to be out of work; and that if he asked what became of the boy who came from London with him, he was to say that he was tramping towards Plymouth, in order to leave the country, and had taken his sister with him.

Felix impressed this with some urgency upon the Old Man, and added that his best course would be to be so abusive and disagreeable that the man would not stay to question. This was an accomplishment in which the Old Man excelled; and it was pretty certain to flare forth in him when accosted by loafers in search of a job. Felix went on to say that he was now earning good money, and that he was thinking that some slight return for the service Mr. Doggett had rendered him, and was now further about to render him, would not be out of place. He proposed to have a chat, later on, respecting the form this should take. Mr. Doggett was pleased. He had done well that trip. He had paid Felix not more than half what he had to pay to his boy ordinarily. He had got his barge minded at nights for nothing—not to mention Miss Rawson's munificent tip—and it was being suggested that he should be still further rewarded, for services of a kind so attenuated that even he hardly recognized them to be worth paying for.

"Clawss they are; I thought it from the fust," he said to his wife, after Felix was gone. "And if you helps anyone as is real clawss, somehow, you never lose by it. I'm a match for a 'tec, don't you worry, mother. A match for any blooming 'tec in Scotland Yard or out of it."

One wishes, for the sake of fidelity to nature, that the exact conversation, which did actually take place between these two worthies later, when the Old Man went loafing down to his Sarah, could be recorded. But it must be in some other and less blameless chronicle than this.

The detective was put into a bad temper to start with, by being savagely warned to be off and not to put his adjective soles in Mr. Doggett's beautiful clean barge. They never got within measurable distance of any point at which the inquirer after truth could pump the bargee, or ask any intimate question. He was completely routed, and there was nothing for it but to stand by, glean what gossip he could in the town, and attack Felix when he appeared that night. He was furiously angry with himself that he had yielded to the breakfast invitation of the night-watchman, so that the young man had got away before he was aware. He was convinced that the Old Man had been warned, and this to excellent effect. He made inquiries all about as to whether a girl had been on board the barge, and was told as many different stories as the persons he questioned. As, first, that this was true; that she was taken to the smallpox hospital on the other side of the county; secondly, that it was not true, but that the individual then speaking could and would introduce the detective to as good, or better, than ever old Doggett had aboard; thirdly, that if Mrs. Doggett had a hint, she'd make it her duty to find out; and fourthly, that there were two girls who paid their passage home that way, but it was a year ago come next June.

It had certainly been a hard fate which took him, at Dunhythe, to inquire of one of the few natives who had been out of the way when the Sarah Dawkes went by, but who cheerfully informed him that the barge had gone straight through without stopping at the wharf.

The detective was misled by the extreme probability that this was true. Persons escaping would not tarry all night at Dunhythe. He had been surprised that they stopped, as they undoubtedly had done, at Sunbury. The moon had been bright—why not go on as fast as they could? He could get no definite assurance of a sick girl on board at Sunbury, and for a week had been under the impression that it was at this point that she had been removed from the barge. His pursuit of this idea delayed him long, and brought him to Dunhythe when the scent was stale, and the small incident beginning to fade from the foreground of people's minds owing to the scarlet-fever scare.

His only trustworthy clew, so far, was the report of the George Barnes men; and in the absence of any confirmation of it he was inclined to look upon the clew as worthless, except for the slipping away of Felix that morning—which might, after all, have been accidental.

Felix's head swam all day long with a sense of new and complicated responsibilities. All the morning as he worked the idea was growing stronger in his mind that he would confide in his Russian friend, whose ignorance of English made him very safe. He might be able to tell him how to baffle the sort of shadowing to which he was being subjected. At least, he might come down with him to the wharf that night and prevent his being worried by the watcher.

As soon as they knocked off work at the yard he hastened away. The detective was in the High Street, idling near a tavern. He was not quick enough. Felix saw him as he went by. It was a surprise to the spy to see the young fellow, trim and neat after his day's work, go calmly and openly into the best inn in the place.

Felix hurried in, and was at once pounced upon by the waiter.

"Mr. Vronsky wants you badly, sir; he said I was to catch you as you went by. He has got a gentleman from Wales in there, and they can't understand either one a word of what the other says."



The Pilgrim said, "Peace be with you,
Lady"; and bent his knees.
    She answered, "Peace."

Her eyes were like the wave within;
    Like water-reeds the poise
Of her soft body, dainty thin;
    And like the water's noise
        Her plaintive voice.
                                                    —D. G. ROSSETTI.

The scene as Felix entered the parlor of the hotel was of a most unusually animated description. The models had all been taken out of "consigne" earlier in the day, and Vronsky had laid them out upon the table.

Although he could not succeed in making the mine owner understand his English, he left him in no doubt of his engineering ability. The model was of so ingenious a nature that everybody present in the place was attracted to the scene, and quite a crowd stood round the table, where, by means of a cord, switched to the electric light button, the blast from the wonderful fans was successfully driven through miniature galleries and tunnels, and the strong draught blew upon the offered cheeks of the amused and admiring spectators.

The deep, soft eyes of the Russian glowed with the creative pride of the inventor, as his dexterous hands manipulated his mechanism.

He hastened to the young man as he entered, with a cry of relief, and seizing him by the arm, dragged him forward to be introduced to the Great Man, and poured out a volley of French explanation which was to be passed on to the mystified Briton.

Felix had no difficulty in making an intelligent translation. The mine owner asked a few questions—questions which showed how far he had made up his mind; and upon hearing the answers, given by Vronsky and translated by Felix, he said he had determined to try the experiment, and that, if it were successful, he would like the complete system installed as soon as it could be produced.

It became evident that Vronsky would have to proceed forthwith to Hamburg, to arrange for the manufacture of his patent.

But that he should go without Felix was to him a thing impossible. Not only was the young man indispensable, owing to his linguistic proficiency, there was more. Vronsky had taken a fancy to him; and he was a man who made friends with difficulty, being shy, and slow to adapt himself to any strange person or custom.

When the mine owner, who had been traveling for forty-eight hours, had tramped heavily upstairs to bed, the Russian turned to his secretary with a passionate gesture.

"It is simply that it must, that thou accompaniest me."

Felix stood breathing hard in excitement. The sight of the detective had jarred him more than he felt able to explain. To leave England at once and without warning seemed likely to be the safest plan for the protection of the girl who was the pivot of all his thought. He was quite certain that, the hunt being up, she would not be safe in the north, at the Convent School. That was, as Comrade Dawkes had justly observed, the very place where they would be likely to look for her. In fact, it was the only place she might conceivably make for, since it was the only place in wide England which she knew.

"Will you walk down with me to the wharf?" asked he hesitatingly and wistfully of Vronsky. "I am going to make a clean breast of things to you."

Ever since he had realized how simple and affectionate a soul the Russian was, he had been approaching nearer and nearer to the conviction that it would be best to confide in him. The appearance of the detective made him desperate. He literally must have somebody with whom to discuss the engrossing and difficult subject.

To his relief, Vronsky, with the remark that a breath of air was what he wanted, willingly took down his hat from the peg, and together they sauntered through the quiet town, which already, though it was not much past nine o'clock, showed signs of going to bed.

As they walked, Felix told him his whole story, from beginning to end. He told him his real name, and how, by a curious coincidence, the girl Rona was being befriended by his own people. He gave him the chronicle of his gradual drawing in to the toils of the Brotherhood—of his despair and attempted suicide; and of the fateful precipitation of Rona into the horizon of his landscape.

Vronsky listened with a deep and absorbed interest. His mind was itself of so simple and romantic a turn, that he believed instinctively and without difficulty everything that Felix said, and thus went right where a much cleverer man might have blundered. He comprehended the temperament which would be likely to err as Felix had erred—he sympathized with it and understood it, as not one Englishman in a thousand could have done.

With all his simplicity, he was a citizen of the world; and the jail stigma was nothing to him, the revolutionary tendencies less than nothing. Thus, in his experience, were most young, ardent, generous souls at such an age as that of Felix.

As the recital went on his heart went out more and more towards the boy who had never been understood. He loved his eager voice, his quick sensitive moods, the candor with which he avowed that his worst fault was the cowardly attempt to turn his back upon his difficulties.

But, the story told, there came the further question, What were the runaway boy and girl to do?

Having heard the circumstances, Vronsky was as convinced as Felix that to cast Rona to the wolves was a thing not to be considered for a moment.

But, the uncle was Rona's guardian. The only witness to his cruel intentions was a youth whose ticket-of-leave had just expired, and who was believed by the police to have made away with himself.

Thus it was vital that young Vanston should leave England—should get clear away before the police left off assuming his death: and Rona could be saved only by a secret flight.

Vronsky was wise enough to see that his own nationality was a complication of the difficulty.

"In your country," he remarked simply, "they think all Russians are Nihilists. If you are in close company with a Russian, this spy will think that you are certainly the man whom he seeks, with exactly the companion one would imagine that you would choose. There is one good thing: you speak French so uncommonly well. All the men in the hotel parlor this evening heard you. They will all find it hard to believe that you are English. If I am questioned, I shall say you are my nephew."

Felix eagerly promised to adhere to this statement, if necessary; and an outline of their imaginary history and proceedings for the past few months was then agreed upon.

As regards the more complex question of Miss Leigh, the Russian felt that he must have more time to reflect upon this. She was, apparently, too young to be married, yet old enough to make it unseemly that she should go about under the protection of two men, both of whom were strangers to her.

It was a matter upon which he would find it difficult to decide.

The serious way in which he started to grapple with it gave Felix a feeling of deep satisfaction. Vronsky seemed to assume, with artless directness, that his affairs and those of the friendless young English couple were bound up together. There was no impatience of an inconvenient complication, of an obstacle to their plans. He sincerely contemplated and carefully weighed the whole situation: and nothing could have more availed to endear him to Felix than his attitude upon this delicate question.

There was no sign of the spy hanging about the wharf; and after thoroughly talking out the subject, they said good-night; and when he had seen Felix safely aboard, and the gang-plank taken up, Vronsky walked back to the hotel, his mind still wrestling with the problem.

When he entered the parlor he found that three or four men were still left, hanging absorbed above his model mine, and discussing the details of its working with the interest for mechanics so strongly developed in Englishmen.

Vronsky was a man brought up in an atmosphere of spying and police surveillance. His glance traveled with mildness but keen observation over the figures round the table. They were all strangers to him, and none answered very exactly to the description given by Felix of the detective. But this was nothing. To elicit information at a superior inn, the make-up must be very different from that required as a loafer in search of a job.

He sat down, and quietly but easily entered into chat. The first remark made by a man with a fair mustache, upon the knowledge of French displayed by the young man who had acted as interpreter, put him on the alert.

"Ah, yes," he said, smiling with innocence. "He ver' good speak tongues. He vat-you-call my neveu—you unnerstan' that vord?"

Yes, the man understood. Nephew was near enough.

"Smeet, de name. My seester make marriage wid Mons. Smeet. He my neveu."

"Indeed? Was he brought up in England, then?"

"Brought up" was too idiomatic for Vronsky. When it had been explained he said, "Part one, part de oder. Part England, part France. His moder veuve depuis longtemps."

This likewise had to be explained.

"I would say she have no more a man," said Vronsky, making confusion worse confounded by his explanation.

This difficulty, however, was also solved. And he went on to mention casually that his nephew and he had come from France together about six months before—a time when, as the detective, whose name, by the bye, was Burnett, knew, Felix Vanston was in jail. There was an air of genial simplicity about Vronsky, a kindliness in his beautiful soft dark eyes, which was misleading. Burnett had found out from inquiries that he was an engineer, an inventor, who had come to push his patent. He did not see how he could be a member of the Anarchist gang which had sucked poor Felix in. Moreover, probabilities considered, he could hardly be at Basingstoke by appointment.

He owned candidly that he had risked all he had in order to bring his patent to the notice of prominent English mine owners, so that his "neveu" had been obliged to find work meanwhile to support himself. Now he hoped that all was plain sailing. Then he wished them good-night and went to bed, leaving Burnett pretty sure that he had missed the clew somewhere, and determined to take the last train to Plymouth, and try to pick it up there, before wasting more time in Basingstoke.

He was nowhere to be seen when Felix stepped ashore next morning. The young man hurried to his work, for he had sat up to write to Rona and overslept in consequence. At the dinner-hour he went to the post-office to see, before posting his letter, whether there was one for him. The spy was still not in sight, and the glorious idea that he had departed rejoiced the heart of Felix. There was a letter for him. It was written on very thick paper, with a crest in purple upon the envelope. He stared at the crest, which was his own. Rona's clear, immature hand had addressed the letter; but it was obviously written on Normansgrave stationery.

He had promised to look in on Vronsky at dinner-time, and have some bread and cheese with him, so he hastened to the inn without opening the letter, or posting his own. At the first possible moment he broke the seal, and read the contents with surprise.

Rona was in his brother's house. She described it with rapture. She was evidently treated as an equal, and as evidently found this quite natural. They were very kind, she had never been so happy. She was glad and thankful that David had pulled her back when she tried to fling herself upon the railway.

Inclosed with her letter was a brief, kind note from Miss Rawson, saying that they were much interested in Rona, and could see that the two young people were guarding some kind of a secret. They were ready to befriend the girl in a substantial way, but this must be upon condition of perfect frankness on his part. They hoped that he would come, on his return from Basingstoke, and explain to them in confidence how he and his sister came to be in such a plight, as they saw quite well that Rona was a well-brought-up girl, carefully educated, and they realized that some strong reason for her unaccountable destitution must exist.

Here was a dilemma for poor Felix. Rona urged him to allow her to make a clean breast of things. He knew that she could not tell her story without Denzil's becoming aware of his identity, since he must have received the letter he had left for him upon the table of his room at Hawkins Row.

He sat plunged in disquieting thought.

Vronsky was out, at the post-office, and Felix was alone in the parlor, among the shrouded and bulky packages of model machinery.

With a new clear-sightedness, born of harsh experience, the young man faced the thought of taking the girl away with him, out of England. Every pulse in his newly-stirred manhood was urging him to this course.

Till Rona fell into his arms he had had no object in life. Now she was his object in life. A new kind of excitement, white and blazing, flamed up in him. Let them be once married, no police, no interfering uncles could part them. She was young, but not too young for love. He could cherish her....

On a pound a week?

For a moment he saw the other side of the medal—saw the slender figure bowed with household toil, the hands—which to him had seemed like a child's hands—roughened with hard work.

Could he propose such a course? Would she agree? Suppose she refused to marry him, what could be done in that case? Feeling as he did, could he act the big-brotherly rôle? He told himself that he could. He could do anything for her that she demanded of him.

... And she was there, at Normansgrave, under the roof which had sheltered his infancy and boyhood! Why, she might even be sleeping in his old room, for aught he knew to the contrary!

He could picture her, moving through the rooms, sitting in the hall, crossing the trim lawns. It was the right home for her.

And it appeared that it was actually offered to her! Denzil and Miss Rawson were willing, he gathered, to keep her there. If, as seemed fairly certain, the detective Burnett did not know where she was, were not their hands far more competent than his to guard her from evil?

With such thoughts he was struggling when Vronsky came in. He unreservedly told him all, and translated Miss Rawson's letter to him. The Russian listened gravely, and was silent for a while. Then he said, "But this seems the solution of the problem, does it not?"

"How?" asked Felix, hoping against hope, yet guessing that Vronsky's answer would be:

"They offer to befriend her—ask them to do so—accept their offer, until such time as you can keep the girl better than you can now." He saw the light fade out of the young man's sensitive face, and he sat down near him.

"My son, she is too young to marry you and to rough it. But she cannot go about with you and me, unless you and she are married. You see that?"

"I have been trying not to see it for the past hour," faltered Felix.

Then Vronsky grew eloquent. There was no doubt that these kind English people had taken a fancy to the girl. Then he, Felix, with his miserable record and doubtful prospects, had no right to interfere. At Normansgrave she would be safe and happy. What he had to do was just to disappear from view until he had retrieved himself.

He fought against argument, but he was contending against his own better sense all the time.

By a most fortunate chance, the detective had missed the clew. And, as he had done so, Veronica was most probably safer at Normansgrave than anywhere else in England.

It may as well be mentioned here, that Mr. Burnett, on arriving at Plymouth, heard of the embarkation of a couple answering with some exactitude to those of whom he was in search, in a cargo boat, for America. He asked his employers whether he should go to America in a fast steamer and intercept them on landing; but this was too great an expense for Rankin Leigh to undertake. The girl was gone. Well, he was relieved of the necessity for keeping her. He called off the pursuit, and there the matter rested.

Felix naturally did not know this. But he could see that, if he were out of England, the risk of Veronica's being tracked was halved.

But on one point he was obstinate. He would, at all costs, see the girl once more before he went away out of her life.

How could he know how she felt about it? Suppose she did not wish to be left behind? If that were so, he vowed emphatically that he would take her with him, prudence or no prudence.

Vronsky thought him mad, but sympathized with him in every fiber of his emotional being. Together they evolved a plan. Felix knew every nook and corner of the home which now sheltered his waif. He knew the place where it would be safest to meet, he knew the hour when it could be done with least risk.

Down at the far end of the shrubbery which skirted the paddock was an old summer-house, long since passed out of use, which the gardener each winter filled with the brushwood intended for pea-sticks next year. It was in the most solitary part of the grounds, and the approach to it, for one who knew as he knew every inch of the way, was covered, all along from the entrance to the park. Every soul at Normansgrave went to evening service at six o'clock on a Sunday evening, except those who were left in charge of the house. He knew Rona could not yet walk as far as the church, and that no power could induce Denzil to have out the motor on Sunday evening.

He wrote to her, careful not to betray his own knowledge of the grounds, skilfully suggesting that there might be some arbor wherein a meeting could take place.

She sent a line in reply, describing what he knew so well, and saying she would do her best to be there, should the evening be fine.

He received her answer on Saturday morning, and set about making his final arrangements.

It became evident during the day that Burnett had left the town, and this gave greater freedom to his movements.

He received his wages, told them at the timber-yard that he should not be coming back on Monday, and went down to the abode of Old Man Doggett, to make him a present and take leave of him. Doggett was cordially pleased to hear of his good fortune in being given work by the Russian engineer, and told him he would always do him a good turn if it came his way.

That being so, Felix's request was at once preferred. Comrade Dawkes was to know nothing of his movements. If he inquired, as he surely would do, upon the next arrival of the Sarah Dawkes at Limehouse wharf what had become of the runaways, the story was to be the same that he had given to the detective; namely, that Felix and the girl had tramped to Plymouth and there embarked for America.

He earnestly assured Mr. Doggett that a consistent adherence to this story might be worth quite a considerable amount of whisky and tobacco.

The force of the argument seemed great, as thus stated; and Felix wrote down the exact address of his late employer, in order to be able to send a postal order when circumstances connected with his exchequer should enable him to do so.

On Sunday morning Vronsky and he left Basingstoke with the model machinery and all their other effects. At Weybridge the young man left the train, Vronsky proceeding to London without him; and Felix started upon his ten mile walk in some trepidation.

He was now respectably dressed, and might be recognized by any native in the regions of his old home. But he was greatly altered. He had not been to Normansgrave, except on the occasion of his mother's funeral, since he was seventeen. He was now twenty-three, but looked far older, with the strain of his disgrace printed in deep lines upon his sensitive features. He had been clean-shaven, but the difficulties connected with shaving on board the barge had induced him to allow his beard and mustache to grow. The young, soft dark beard gave him a foreign look.

The only thing upon which he ventured in the way of disguise was a pair of blue-tinted spectacles. As a matter of fact, his eyesight was perfect, and no one who had known him in boyhood would have connected the idea of Felix and weak eyes.

He put on a necktie of a kind which in his own proper person he would never have worn; and though he could not suppose that he could be seen at close quarters by anybody who had known him well without recognition, ultimate, if not instantaneous, he yet felt it possible that even a friend should not know him at a glance.

From the police he thought the risk not great. He did not suppose that Rankin Leigh had more than one agent, and his agent had left the neighborhood. The police were not looking for Felix Vanston alive, but for a corpse, which, if their theories were true, could not be in the place where he now was. And even were they seeking for him alive, they would not seek anywhere near his old home.

If he could pass unrecognized by any of the natives round about Normansgrave, all would be well.

And well he knew the habits and haunts of the natives upon a fine spring Sunday!

If he could not keep out of people's way, with his foot upon his native heath, it was a pity!

And moreover, there was a point in his meditations, when risk ceased to count, and a mounting excitement took his breath and made the lovely landscape reel before his dazzled eyes. He was going to see Rona—the girl who was a stranger—the girl who was everything—the girl whom he had snatched from the wolves. Nothing else really mattered. No considerations of prudence must be allowed to intervene. Who knew what might, or might not, happen when they actually met?

He had taken some food in his pockets, and on leaving the station he made for the woods. They were full of Sunday strollers; but these, like a flock of sheep, kept all to beaten tracks, and Felix knew every wild hollow and deep thicket in the countryside. He plunged away deep in the glorious spring woodland, amid a white smother of wild cherry bloom, contrasting with the delicate bronze and purple of the bursting hazel bushes. The pale green tips of the larches rose as feathery and faint, as an exquisite dream. It was a wood of fairyland.

There, hidden away, he lay in solitude, eating his bread and cheese, drinking from a tiny spring which he knew like an intimate friend, and trying to still the wild thoughts in his heart by reading a book he had brought in his pocket. But his heart refused to be stilled. He had had nothing to love for so long—nothing ever to love much, for his feeling for his mother had been merely instinctive, and had grown less with advancing intelligence. Now all of a sudden, he loved—for no reason than because a helpless creature had sought his protection. He was going to look once more into her "lost dog" eyes. And to say good-by, after ... that was the bitter thing.

As afternoon faded into evening, he walked by hidden ways down to the old home. The air was full of church bells. He knew every note, and they cried out to him of his boyhood, of his days of innocence and youth. He shook with emotion, he could have wept for the thought of those two dread years cut from his wayward life.

As he approached the corner of the shrubbery he did not meet a soul. All was whelmed in Sabbath peace and stillness. Then he noticed something fresh. A young plantation of healthy-looking beech and copper beech, fenced round from the cattle in the park. He stopped to look at that; and as he halted he saw someone strolling along through the pasture grass, apparently bound for an inspection of this very plantation. It was his brother Denzil. He wore his Sunday clothes, and a decorous hat, and held his Prayer Book under his arm. He stood in contemplation of the promising growth of his new venture—and his reprobate brother stood behind the trees of the shrubbery in contemplation of him.

Then a voice called, "Denzil! Denzil! Are you coming?"

The sound of steps on the gravel sounded, not at all far from where he stood. Miss Rawson was coming down the long drive, and by her side, walking slowly, was a girl as tall as she herself, with chestnut hair falling below her waist, and with a cloak wrapped about her to shelter her from the keen air of the April evening.



"Lady," he said, "your lands lie burnt
    And waste: to meet your foe
All fear: this have I seen and learnt.
    Say that it shall be so,
        And I will go."

    * * * *

And there the sunset skies unseal'd
    Like lands he never knew,
Beyond to-morrow's battlefield
    Lay open out of view
        To ride into.
                                                —D. G. ROSSETTI.

This was something new—something for which Felix, unused to women, to society, to youth and charm, was oddly unprepared. Was that Rona? That young immortal, with faintly blooming cheeks, elastic tread, and all those burnished locks? As frequently happens to girls of her age, she had grown considerably taller during the weeks of her illness.

The young man gazing at her felt his heart shaken by a pain which was worse than anything he had suffered yet. He was a skulking fugitive, a disgraced man, one who had taken dark oaths against society and authority, and was seeking to flee from the men who would have held him to them. What link was there between him and Veronica Leigh?

He bitterly recalled the proverb, "Necessity makes strange bed-fellows." Necessity had obliged the maiden, in the throes of her desperate struggle for liberty, to trust herself to him for a few short hours. Those hours had changed the face of the world for him. For her they were no doubt already half-forgotten. She had, as it were, set her foot upon his neck to climb out of the pit. Here she was once more, seated at her ease among the elect, safe, cherished, and no more in need of her slum companion. He thought of the kindly, peremptory, half-patronizing letter he had written to her, and grew hot all over to think that he had dared.

The figures of the three were disappearing down the drive together. He crept into the summer-house, where there were not so many pea-sticks as usual, sat down upon the dusty bench, and let his head drop into his hands. There was a swelling at his throat as if he must choke. The air was full of the tossing chimes, which, as he sat there, changed to the monotonous stroke of the five minutes bell. It was a knell, ringing for him, he thought—the knell of Felix Vanston, now forever dead and lost.

Ask her to run away and marry him, upon a pound a week!

Only in that bitter moment did he realize that he had meant to beg and pray her to do so.

One sometimes has no measure by which to gauge height, except the violence of one's fall.

* * * * * * *

A sound, slight but distinct—the rattle of gravel beneath a light foot, the rustle—indescribable—of a woman's apparel—and he lifted his dim eyes to see Rona standing in the doorway. With no word spoken she slipped inside the hut, round behind the bunches of sticks, to where he sat. "David—here I am," she said, timidly.

He made her no reply, but let his craving eyes rest upon her. She flushed, and began to tremble. His evident misery pained her. Also, the surprise was not only upon his side. This young man was not the ragged, famished outcast who had grappled with her in his weakness and extremity, dragging her back to safety as she overhung the abyss. She, too, was smitten with the feeling that they were strangers.

Into his soul were thronging all kinds of desires and consciousnesses, for the first time. He wished he were shaved. He wished he had a better suit; he wished he were handsome; he longed to be rich.

True, the disfiguring blue glasses were hidden in his pocket; but even so, what kind of a champion was he, dusty pilgrim that he was, for this princess?

He stood up awkwardly, and his face was dyed crimson, with a shame the more awful because it was wholly inarticulate. His first words left his lips before he had time to consider them.

"Forgive me. I ought not to have come."

She gazed at him pitifully, her trouble growing. "Ought not to have come? Oh, David, why? I—I thought you were—my brother."

She was overswept with a sudden consciousness—much like that which had just overtaken the young man. After all, what was the link that bound them? A few hours of common danger, of frantic flight? She felt curiously friendless, and as though she had lived these past weeks under a comforting delusion. "Why ought you not to have come?"

He said, brokenly, "I have no right." Then, with passion, "I have no right, have I? You are happy, and among kind people of your own class. You have no need of a ruffian like me."

He turned away his face, lest she should see the working of his features, which he could not control. But Rona, with woman's swiftness of apprehension, had now the key to his unexpected mood. "David," she said, reproachfully, "are you jealous? Did you think I had forgotten you? How silly of you! You—you can't have a very high opinion of me."

She took his hand, in a steadfast, trustful grasp. She sat down upon the bench, and with a gentle pull drew him to sit by her. "Have I deserved it? Am I ungrateful?" she asked, wistfully.

He held on to the hand as if he had been drowning. Its warm contact sent comfort thrilling along his veins.

"Why should you have anything to do with me? Nobody else ever wanted me, or cared what became of me," he stammered, incoherently.

She lifted to his her shadowy eyes, full of understanding. "Perhaps you have not saved other people's lives at the risk of your own," she sweetly said.

"Then you do feel—you do consider that there is a kind of link between us," he faltered. "You don't wish me to resign you entirely? Oh—let us have no doubt about it! I haven't much heart for life, but if I thought you would not forget me it would make such a difference—such a difference——"

She broke in, "Forget you? Are you going away, then?"

He held his breath, for there was dismay in her clear tones. All the emotions that in his wild youth had never been called forth till now, woke to life and filled him with an ecstasy which made his heart pound, and his breath pant, and the currents of his being flow together till his head swam. "You care?" he gasped. "It matters to you whether I go or stay?"

"Matters? Oh, David! how can you?"

She turned to him impulsively. His arms went round her; and in a moment—exalted, unlooked for, sweet with a sweetness unbelievable—her head, with all its tumbled curls, was on his shoulder, and he was holding her close, close, as though again she was striving to hurl herself into eternity.

"Rona," he said at last. "Rona, I ought not to let you. I am not a fit man for you to love!"

"You are the man that saved me," said Rona, clinging to him. "How strange it seems. I never thought of you as a young man, somehow, until I saw you sitting here with such a sad, grave face."

"And I," said Felix, with a depth of wonder that was almost stupefaction—"I actually never knew that you were beautiful until this evening. But now I know. I see everything with a new clearness. I am a man, and you are going to be a woman in a year or two. And I want you for my wife."

She was silent, hushed with a new awe. "For your wife? Oh, David!"

"Will you?" he urged, beseeching her with eyes and hands and voice. "Will you promise that, if I can make a home for you, you will come and live in it? Will you give me something to work for, something to keep me from despair? Oh, Rona, I ought not to ask it! How can I be mad enough to ask it?"

"But of course I shall promise, if you wish it," said the girl, in her youth and immaturity eager to promise she knew not what, eager to give joy to the being who, apparently, depended upon her for all his hopes in life.

Even at the moment, even holding her against his heart, and feasting his famished nature with the sweetness of her womanhood and the brilliancy of his new hopes, her dutiful words, emphatic though they were, sent a chill through him. In spite of his inexperience, there is an insight which love gives; and he knew that Rona did not love him, but was merely willing that he should love her. She was not grown up, he told himself. When she came to be completely a woman she would love, as he now loved, with that surrender which to him was so new, so unexampled a sensation. It was long before he could calm down the turbulence of his emotions to anything like a consideration of the situation. But their time was short, and after ten minutes of more or less incoherent bliss and shy caresses, he began to explain to Rona some of his thoughts and plans. Now that they understood each other, these were far more easily explained than he had thought possible.

It appeared that the girl had not been informed of the extent of the benevolent intentions of the Squire and Miss Rawson on her behalf.

But she was quite sensible enough to understand that, as she and David were not really brother and sister, but desired another sort of relationship, it would not be fitting for them to travel about together, until the time came when they could be husband and wife.

Felix explained to her, fully and with care, the good prospect opened out to him by the patronage of Vronsky. He was also able to make her see clearly that it was dangerous for him to stay in England, seeing that the police supposed him to be dead.

He ascertained, by guarded and careful questioning, that neither Denzil nor his aunt had said a word to Rona concerning the black sheep of the family, nor his disappearance. As far as Normansgrave was concerned, it appeared that he was as though he had never been.

The main difficulty which Felix had foreseen in this interview, was that of convincing Rona that they must not make a clean breast of their circumstances, without giving her the true reason for his silence.

But on this point he found her unexpectedly amenable.

He began, with much diffidence.

"You know, Rona, you asked me in your letter, whether you might not tell Miss Rawson everything?"

"Yes," said the girl impulsively, "but I am sorry for that. As soon as I had written, I was sorry. Because, of course, I see that we can't do that."

He was puzzled. "You do see that we can't?"

"Certainly we can't. Because, if we did, they would have to know that you had been in—prison—and that they shall never know through me."

He gazed at her with ever-increasing admiration. "You see that?"

"Yes. I am growing up, you see. I think and hope I grow more sensible every day. I am learning, learning, every minute. Oh, David, you can't think how ignorant and foolish I am, or was. Inside those convent walls there was no world, only the circle of our everyday life, and the question of lessons and punishments, and being good, and being naughty, and fasts and festivals and penances and so on. But I believe that really I have plenty of brains, and I have a strong will too——"

—"That you have, or you never would have escaped, the determined way you did——"

—"And I know that, if these people, who are as kind as the people in a fairy-tale, do give me a chance to learn more, I shall take full advantage of it. Oh, David, by the time you come back, I shall be so changed! Twice as sensible and better instructed, and able to help you—to earn my own living, or help you earn yours."

"You are happy here?" he wistfully asked.

"Happy? I should think so. It is such a nice place, and they are so good. I don't mean only kind to me, but good to everyone. They do their duty all day long, and the priest and the doctor seem to come to them for everything they want."

"And you like the Squire?"

"Oh, very much. Not as much as I like Miss Rawson, of course. Miss Rawson is more—more—I don't think I can describe it. She has more mischief in her, somehow. He is fussy over little unimportant things, and he is rather prosy sometimes. But he is very kind, and he takes such an interest in me."

He sat gazing upon her as she spoke out her innocent thought. The idea of her being there, in his own home, until he came to summon her forth into the world with him, was so surpassingly sweet that it was with the utmost difficulty that he refrained from telling her how he had first seen the light within the walls that now sheltered her.

"It—it would disappoint you very much if they should decide not to keep you?"

She looked earnestly at him. "What would that mean? Would it mean that you would take me away at once?"

"Yes. They demand that I should make a clean breast of things to them. I can't do that. I will tell them all I can. But not everything. If they say, 'Very well, we can't keep her'—then I should have to fetch you, and we should have to fare into the wide world together. And I swear that I would take the same care of you that your own brother might."

He leaned forward, fervently, gazing deep into her eyes; and her lips curved into an adorable smile. "I don't think I should be so very much disappointed," she slowly said. "I believe you would let me learn as much as we could afford—wouldn't you?"

"I'd worship you—you should be to me like a saint—like a thing apart from the world," he whispered.

And she smiled happily.

After a few moments' thought, he asked her:

"You never heard of any other relative of yours, with the exception of this one uncle?"

"No, never."

"What did the Reverend Mother tell you?"

"That both my parents were dead. That was all she knew."

"You have no sort of clew to their family? Have you nothing that belonged to your mother?"

"I had one or two things—a pearl ring, a gold watch and chain, and a few other things, such as a cashmere shawl and some lace. But my uncle took them all away. There were no letters or papers of any kind: nothing that one could find out anything from."

"Then it appears that nobody but this brute has any claim upon you?"

"As far as I know, nobody at all."

"They would not run much risk in keeping you," said Felix, his brows knit in thought.

"I expect that was what Mr. Vanston was thinking of when he asked if I had ever been abroad," remarked Rona. "Suppose they should let me go abroad to be educated?"

"You would like that?"

She assented. "I want to see the world," she announced, very simply.

Felix smiled at the thought of Denzil's benevolence. He knew of old his pleasure in a certain tepid, but always well-meant philanthropy. The resentment and hatred of his half-brother, which for years back had filled his heart, seemed to him a thing to be ashamed of, now that, in love's light, he saw his own career with new eyes. He pitied Denzil, in an impersonal kind of way, for having such an unsatisfactory brother. No wonder they never spoke of him—the scapegrace for whom the old honorable family must blush when his name was mentioned.

And then came an idea which caused him to smile to himself. What would Denzil say, did he know that he was befriending that same scapegrace brother's future wife? He had no scruple in the feeling that money was being expended for such a purpose. But it reminded him of another matter.

"Listen, Rona," he said. "I shall send you money whenever I can. At first it will not be much. But as soon as I am in regular work, I should like to send you enough to buy your own clothes, and so on—so that you should not be beholden to these good people for absolutely everything. I have brought you half a sovereign to-day, just for pocket-money, and I shall send more at the first opportunity. That will make me feel as if you were real—as if, one day, you really would belong to me."

As he spoke, the church clock chimed a quarter to eight. In ten minutes, folks would be coming out of church. Their enchanted interview was almost over.

He looked at her with a kind of despair. "Rona, I must go! I never thought that it could be as terrible as this to say good-by!"

She looked at him helplessly, her eyes swimming in tears.

—"And I have nothing to give you—nothing to offer but my wretched self——"

He dived into his pocket, brought out a sixpence, and with a pair of pocket-pliers, divided it neatly in two pieces. Then, with a piercer in his pocket-knife, he drilled a tiny hole in each half, and made her promise that she would suspend the charm about her own neck, as he would about his—as the only tangible sign of their plighted vows.

There was but a moment, after this ceremony, to be spent in leave-taking. Felix, to his own utter astonishment, broke down completely.

"You'll be true to me, Rona—you won't fail me?" he gasped, half-blinded by the choking tears; and Rona, with those tears wet upon her cheek, promised, knowing no more than a kitten what she was promising, nor why.

For one instant their lips were together, the young man trembling, ashamed of his weakness, his hot heart filled with a surge of emotion so unexpected as to be to him alarming; and then he was running from her, not daring to look back, stumbling away in the evening dusk with a heart more joyful, but with pangs more dire than he had imagined possible.

And now the future lay before him, like the battle-field upon which to-morrow's conflict should take place. To the old Felix he had bidden farewell. He had now no mind to regenerate society, only to make one woman happy. Rona, who knew the worst of him—Rona, who had come to him at the moment when he touched bottom—Rona loved him.

Then to conquer the world was a mere detail. It could be done, and he, Felix, was the man to do it.

* * * * * * *

In the course of the ensuing day, Miss Rawson received the following letter.

It was typewritten, and dated from a London hotel.

"Miss Rawson (Private).

"DEAR MADAM,—I must begin this letter with some attempt to express my deep sense of the great kindness you have shown to my young sister. I scarcely know how to write. Words mean so little. But as I have nothing else, I must, all the same, make use of them to tell you of my undying gratitude to you and Mr. Vanston for a help so prompt and so effectual as that you have already bestowed. But, madam, not only am I your debtor for all these favors—you actually speak of interesting yourself further in my sister's case—upon conditions.

"I cannot tell you how much it would mean to me to know that she was safe, and in trustworthy hands, during the next year or two. I have thrown up my old work, and, for reasons I shall explain, I cannot return to it. I have now the offer of work which will, I trust, turn out well for me, but of such a character—involving residence abroad and much movement from place to place—as would make it very difficult at first to have my sister with me.

"But now, madam, we come to the crucial point. You most naturally stipulate that the kind offer you make is contingent upon my frankness. Before we go further, let me avow, without disguise, that I dare not be perfectly frank with you. The reason for this is that we are fugitives. We have an uncle, who was in charge of my sister, and from whose wicked hands she was escaping when she met with her accident. Should he find out where she now is, he would no doubt try to repossess himself of her.

"We are orphans; and in justice to your kindness, and relying on your secrecy, I will own to you that our name is not Smith in reality, but Leigh. My uncle made an unjustifiable attempt to compel my sister to adopt as her profession the music-hall stage—to which she was strongly averse. He paid a premium for her complete training to a man who was neither more nor less than an unprincipled scoundrel. On my sister's declining to submit to his treatment, he tried to starve her into submission by locking her up and leaving her without food. In rescuing her from this terrible position—only just in time—I was so unfortunate as to allow her to fall from a considerable height, with the result that, as you know, she was seriously hurt.

"We made our escape, penniless and without resources, in the canal barge.

"You will see that I am being frank with you as regards the circumstances. I refrain only from the mention of names and places. I am fully aware that, by so doing, I put it out of your power to verify any part of my story. But what can I do? My uncle is furious at having paid down a large sum for my sister's training, only to lose her. He will leave no stone unturned to recapture her. He has set detectives upon our track, though he has not allowed the newspapers to make our flight known. I cannot even give you the address of the school at which my sister was educated, as this is the first place in which my uncle would make inquiries; and the lady-principal might think it her duty to answer them, should you let her know where we are.

"My uncle is my sister's legal guardian until she comes of age. Any court of law would, on his application, restore her to his care, unless we could adduce satisfactory proof of his brutality, which would be very difficult.

"I hope you will see that there are strong reasons for my reticence. Nevertheless, on reading this over, I feel that it is very likely that you may, even if you believe what I say, wish to disembarrass yourself of a charge who might quite possibly prove a difficulty should her guardian discover her place of refuge.

"But I am perfectly determined that, whatever happens, she shall not go back to a life she justly loathes—a life in which she would be ruined, body and soul. Should you decide not to keep her, I will fetch her away, take her abroad with me, and manage as best I can for her.

"I will add no more to a letter already long enough to need apology. Accept, then, madam, my profound thanks, and my assurance that, however you decide, I consider myself deeply your debtor. If you feel that you do not care to accept further responsibility in the matter, please let me know at once, as I must then make arrangements to fetch my sister.—I am, madam, your grateful and obliged servant,


"P.S.—With the exception of the uncle in question, we have no relations."



But on a day whereof I think
One shall dip his hand to drink
In that still water of thy soul,
And its imaged tremors race
Over thy joy-troubled face...
From the hovering wing of Love
The warm stain shall flit roseal on thy cheek.
                                                        —FRANCIS THOMPSON.

Summer sunshine lay broad and calm upon the lawns at Normansgrave.

Over all brooded that peace and well-being, that calm which is like the hum of well-oiled machinery, or the sleeping of a top which, nevertheless, spins on in the apparent repose. It is pre-eminently a characteristic of English country life, this regulated prosperity, the result of long centuries of experiment, issuing in perfect achievement.

In England we have thoroughly acquired the art of domestic comfort. And we have the means to carry our knowledge into effect.

All other nations feel it. There is hardly a civilized person in the world who would not own that in England we have solved the riddle of making ourselves perfectly comfortable.

Aunt Bee's competent hands still ruled over Normansgrave. During the two years which had elapsed since the disappearance of his brother Felix, the Squire had not married, neither was he engaged to be married.

During the first months following the bereavement, with its curious and mysterious surrounding circumstances, it had been natural that Denzil should withdraw himself somewhat from society. But as weeks rolled by, and the police found no clew, there was nothing for it but to acquiesce in the uncertainty, and to assume either that Felix was dead, or that he wished to be thought so.

The newspapers had, of course, made the most of the mystery. They had flung it forth in flaming headlines, they had printed the letters written by the suicide, they had striven to whip up flagging interest by suggesting clews which the police had not really found. One enterprising journal actually had a competition, "Where is Felix Vanston?"

All kinds of letters and answers were sent in, and the Editor promised a prize, when the truth should at last be brought to light, to the competitor who had guessed nearest to the truth.

In the December of that year, when the trees lost their leaves, and a man's decomposed corpse was found in a thicket in one of the London parks, the whole hateful discussion leapt from its ashes and revived in full force. Was it, or was it not, Felix Vanston?

The police thought that it was. No identification was possible, the thing had had too many months in which to decompose. But in what had been a pocket was a newspaper; and this, being folded very small, the date was legible on one of the innermost pages: and it was the date of the disappearance from the Deptford lodging.

Denzil and Miss Rawson, in the absence of more cogent proof than this, declined to accept the remains as being those of the missing youth.

The Editor of the paper who had started the competition, however, awarded the prize to the candidate who had foreshadowed such a discovery.

And thereafter, silence fell upon the Press, and the Case of the Disappearance of Felix Vanston was over.

The world slipped back by degrees into its groove, and after a while Denzil grew less shy of going to London hotels, and began to lead his usual life, without the dread of being interviewed. But time flowed on, and he was still a bachelor, having apparently acquired a habit in that direction—or—as his aunt in her heart believed—because he was waiting.

If that were so, the period of his waiting was at an end. Two days ago, Rona Smith, the girl for whom his benevolence had done so much, had returned from her two years abroad.

She was coming slowly along the graveled terrace, a book in her hand, a rose-colored sunshade over her head tinging her white gown with reflected color. Miss Rawson, seated by the tea-table under the big beech, watched her approach with eyes full of interest, wonder, and amusement.

Denzil, who had been yachting with a friend, was expected home that afternoon; and his aunt was more than curious to see the meeting.

The letter which the soi-disant David Smith had written with so much anxiety and care and hesitation—the letter upon which Rona's future had hung—had been the cause of much doubt and deliberation between Miss Rawson and her nephew. Aunt Bee was inclined to advise that they should hold out—should stipulate for frankness under seal of secrecy. She believed that, had they done so, the young man would have made a clean breast of the whole affair. And she was probably right. Felix would, most likely, have acknowledged his true name, and relinquished all hope of calling Rona his, sooner than do her the injustice of dragging her about Europe in company of two men, neither of whom was related to her, when but for his selfishness she might be living the sheltered life of the English upper classes. He could have been forced into avowal. But they did not force him. Denzil, with that curious streak of romance which lurks in most Englishmen, was, perhaps, rather pleased that there should be a mystery about Rona. The notion that she was to be protected against secret enemies appealed to a mild vein of plotting which existed in him. He undertook the risks so vaguely hinted at by Felix, not merely readily, but with eagerness.

The smuggling of Miss Smith out of England was the first thing which helped to turn his mind off the distressing case of his brother.

Miss Rawson and he took the girl abroad. They traveled here and there, from one place to another in Germany, visiting the educational centers, seeking a place where they could with confidence leave their charge.

They found, at last, in a pretty south German town, an English lady, widow of a German officer, who took a few girls to board, and gave them a sound education, having masters for music and drawing. Here Rona, whose health was completely re-established, was left; and from that day to this she and Denzil had not met.

The girl developed a great ambition to learn. She was happy and content with Frau Wilders, and willingly remained there during the Christmas holidays. The following summer Miss Rawson journeyed out to see her, and found her thoroughly proficient in German, and most anxious to be allowed to pass her second year in France. This was satisfactorily arranged. Aunt Bee traveled with her to Rennes, where Frau Wilders knew a lady in the same line as herself. Rona lived with this lady and attended the public day-school in the university town.

And now she was educated. Moreover, she was a woman grown. And Miss Rawson had brought her home from France, wondering not a little as to what the outcome of the situation was to be.

During all these two years there had been, so far as she was aware, no attempt to gain possession of the girl, certainly no annoyance of her, on the part of the uncle who was supposed to be so malign a being.

Had it not been for the girl's own personality, Miss Rawson, who was a sensible, unimaginative woman, would have been inclined to think that the tale of persecution was the invention of the brother, as a way of extricating his sister and himself from destitution. But, in some manner wholly indescribable, Rona refuted this theory, simply by being Rona.

Miss Rawson, who had been her companion for four or five weeks each summer, had seen a good deal of her, and was not an easy person to deceive. She knew well enough that the girl believed herself to have cause to dread something, or someone. Under the keen scrutiny of Miss Rawson's criticism, there had never appeared one trait, one phrase, which was out of harmony with Rona's claim to gentle birth and breeding. Her tastes were innately fastidious. In all the small minutiæ of a refined girl's habits, she was above reproach. Her convent breeding had given her an atmosphere of purity and simplicity, upon which the modern culture of her later education sat with a curious charm. But there was more than this underlying the fascination which the elder woman felt but could not classify. She was only conscious of thinking that Rona was the most attractive maiden she had ever seen. There was not a girl of their acquaintance who could hold a candle to her. She was more than pretty, she was truly beautiful, with a somewhat grave beauty, as of one over whom hung some menace or anxiety.

But at the nature of this anxiety Miss Rawson could make no guess.

Rona had left the gravel now, and her feet trod the shorn turf, her white gown slipping over its verdure like lake-foam over water-weed. She had dignity, she had poise, those things now most rare in the modern girl, who is generally ill-assured, in spite of her free-and-easy pose. But under the fine calm of her manner there was a shadow.

Rona carried a secret in her heart. This secret, at first half-delightful, had gradually grown to be a distress, a burden—at last an out-and-out nightmare. Within a few days of her parting from Felix in the summer-house she was feeling strongly the discomfort of the situation in which he had placed her.

She was secretly betrothed to the young man who posed as her brother!

She saw plainly that David must naturally be unwilling that his own prison record should be known. But why should he insist upon her adhering to the brother-and-sister fiction? She thought the deceit unnecessary and unwise, since when he returned to claim her promise, their true relations must be avowed, and she would stand convicted of a long course of deception and untruth.

For the first week or so after her promise, so readily, so ignorantly given, she had suffered horribly. And the climax of her revolt came when she received, from Hamburg, his first wild love-letter.

Poor Felix! He let himself go, in that letter, as only a young man in his first love can fling himself prone upon the love he imagines in the beloved one.

There was, in the girl, no passion to kindle at the breath of his: the unveiled vehement thing almost paralyzed her with apprehension.

In her first panic fear she wrote and bade him never so to address her again. Did he not realize that her letters might be overlooked? Miss Rawson might reasonably, naturally expect to be shown her letters from her brother. They must be such as she could produce if necessary—the kind of letter a brother might write to a sister.

Felix never admitted, even to himself, how cruelly this reproof flung him back upon himself. Her appeal touched his tenderest feeling, and overwhelmed him with self-reproach. He answered meekly, abjectly, imploring forgiveness for his rashness, vowing never so to offend again; and inclosing more money than he could conveniently spare that she might have all she needed.

Veronica graciously accepted both the apology and the remittance.

She was not at that time old enough to see how the mere acceptance of his money bound her to him. But it was not long before this dawned upon her—this, and many other things.

She was a girl of fine intelligence, and she took full advantage of all the culture put within her reach. Her mind developed apace. She read books, she saw plays. The world as it is began to emerge before her vision, heretofore bounded by convent walls; and soon she saw clearly that a girl under seventeen has no right to promise herself in marriage. She knew that she had given a promise that meant nothing. She formed, in her secret heart, an Ideal of marriage, which was not in the least like the gaunt young man, with the hunted eyes, who had implored her to be true to him. Looking back upon the little scene in the arbor she could not but think that he had taken an unfair advantage of her gratitude and friendlessness. By the end of her first vacation the thought of her secret engagement was a millstone round her neck.

She still kept to her habit of writing to him. He stood for something in her life, after all. He was sympathy, kindness, a creature to whom she could turn for fellow-feeling in joy or trouble. He was as interested as she in her powers of mind, in her improvement in languages, her music, and her reading. He wrote more and more hopefully of his own prospects. Always he kept to her commands, and his letters might have been shown to anybody. Yet sometimes there breathed through them a current of feeling which sent a chill foreboding through her. What was she to say when at last he came to claim her promise—she who knew she had nothing to give?

Her obligation to him weighed upon her far more heavily than her debt to Mr. Vanston. She became deeply, feverishly anxious to earn her own living. She had a record of every remittance that David had ever sent, that one day she might repay him.

Her own complete change of mind encouraged her to hope at times that he might have changed his. It seemed impossible that he, a grown man, in a world full of women, could remain faithful to the memory of a girl whom he had only seen two or three times—a girl of whom he knew so little.

What if his heart were as empty towards her as hers towards him? What if he still wrote, still paid, only from a sense of duty, and because he had given his word?

One day it was borne in upon her to try in a letter to ascertain his real feeling; and she wrote to him, about six months before her final return to England, after this fashion:

"We write to one another, you and I, of what we do, but not of what we think. Yet, since we last met, we must have changed, both of us. At least, I have changed, and it seems foolish to believe that you alone, of all men, have stood still in a world full of movement, of interest, of men, and of women too.

"I wonder—I often wonder—and at last my curiosity is so great that I feel I must let it out—what you seriously think, now, of the little comedy of our betrothal in the garden that Sunday evening?

"I wonder if you have realized how rash we were to promise any lifelong bond—we who knew nothing of either life or bonds: we who knew nothing of each other, of our respective characters and tastes?

"It seems to me impossible that you should not have traveled as far since then, in mind, as you have done in body. And I want to tell you this. If you have come to the conclusion—as it is borne in upon me that you must have—that we were a couple of silly, unreflecting things; please be sure that I, too, am growing up, that I, too, shall soon be able to work for myself, and to repay your goodness to me financially, if not in other ways; and finally, that I, too, see how unreasonable it would be for one of us to hold the other to such a compact in the future."

After the dispatch of this letter, she had awaited a reply in some trepidation.

It did not arrive for some weeks, since Felix and Vronsky, out in Siberia, were much occupied with certain happenings hereafter to be recorded fully. When at last a letter was received, it was inconclusive. Felix wrote that he hoped, before the end of the year, to get leave to come and see her. Until then he thought it best not to discuss the nature of their feelings for each other. For himself, if he wrote of what he did, and not of what he thought, that, as she must know, was out of deference to her commands. What he desired was, as always, her happiness. Just now he was not in a position to write more definitely, but as soon as his plans cleared, she should hear from him again.

That letter had reached Rona towards the end of February. She had not heard since, and it was now July. A remittance had arrived, however, regularly each month as usual.

The ceasing of letters from David had not troubled her much. Its effect had been to relegate the whole affair more and more to the background of her young eager mind, full of plans for the future and not eager to busy itself with the past.

Such was the Veronica now moving over the grass towards Aunt Bee.

"Come, child, tea will be cold," said Miss Rawson.

"Nothing could be cold to-day," laughed back Rona, raising her eyes from her book, but quickening her steps obediently.

The stable clock chimed a quarter past four.

"Denzil ought to be here soon if he comes by that train," said Aunt Bee.

"I am impatient to see him again," said Rona, in tones of candid interest. "I owe him so much, I feel inclined to act like a young person in a novel of a century ago, and fall on my knees, seizing and kissing my benefactor's hand! Wouldn't he be astounded!"

"Indeed he would! Denzil never gave way to an impulse in his life."

"No. I remember well how dignified and proper he always was. But think how good he has been to me!" She sat down in a low chair and took her tea from Miss Rawson's hands.

As David had been so careful to keep her in funds, her dress had always been her own affair. And she had a style of her own.

It was daring to wear a rose-lined hat with the warm chestnut of her abundant locks; but she achieved it.

Aunt Bee caught herself thinking that, if Denzil really wanted her, he had better make up his mind at once. Nameless and dowerless though she was, the Girl from Nowhere was not likely to go long a-begging.

Even as the thought crossed her mind, the puffing of the arriving motor could be heard upon the still air.

"There he is!" cried Aunt Bee, rising from among her tea-things. Rona did not rise. She leaned forward with an air of interest, but quite controlled. Miss Rawson was halfway across the lawn when Denzil stepped out through the drawing-room window, joined her on the terrace, greeted her with affection, and strolled with her towards the table in the shade.

Then Veronica rose, slowly, to her full height. The moment lent a slight added glow to the carnation of her smooth cheek. But the shy dignity of her attitude was almost condescending, as Aunt Bee noted with relish.

Denzil was looking his best. Yachting suited him. He was tanned and healthy-looking, his blue eyes very clear, as if with the reflection of the seas whereon he had lately sailed. He was in the midst of a sentence when he perceived the young regal creature rising from the low chair to greet him. His voice died away, and for a moment he stopped short just where he was, upon the grass.

"Is that—Rona—Miss Smith?"

He corrected himself with haste, with sudden, helpless confusion. He dare not call her Rona; and that such a goddess could be called Smith!

His appearance pleased the girl. This was a man of wisdom and character, she told herself—a man who knew the world—not a mad boy who went tilting at windmills. The gratitude in her heart welled up into her glorious eyes as she laid her hand in his without a word.

"So you are grown up!" said Denzil, wondering and gazing, and drinking her in.

"Thanks to you," she responded, in a sweet, rather low-pitched voice, "I am grown up and ready to face the world."

"To face the world!" echoed the Squire. "I wonder what you mean by that! How well you look! I was not sure that you and Aunt Bee were home, or I should have hurried back yesterday."

"Rona does look well, and so do you, Denzil. I don't think I ever saw you look better," said Miss Rawson, handing him his tea. "We got home the day before yesterday. The heat in London and Paris was too great for us to wish to stay there."

"And what do you mean by facing the world?" persisted Denzil, sitting down luxuriously, tossing his straw hat upon the grass, and lifting his dazzled eyes once more upon the princess of Thule who stood before him.

"I mean," said Rona, turning with composure and once more seating herself, "that, owing to you, I have a first-rate education and the means to earn my living. I am ready to begin, as soon as possible. I want to repay you all that my schooling has cost you."

Her manner in speaking was one of perfect simplicity. There were no protestations, no asseverations. Yet her gratitude and her independent pride were both apparent, and both, coming from her, seemed subtly wonderful.

Miss Rawson looked up in surprise. Strange as it may seem, this idea had not occurred to her. She was not a modern woman, and had no idea of woman's vocations. She had fancied that Rona would be abundantly content to remain at Normansgrave until Denzil married her or David fetched her away. So had Denzil. He gazed at her in perplexity, in wonder, in vast admiration. He might have known she would show this fine spirit.

"Surely," she said, earnestly, "you did not think that I was a sort of bottomless gulf, swallowing all your money and kindness with no hope of returning it? I can work, and I wish to work. I could not live here as a pauper, dependent on your charity, could I?"

"What do you propose to do?" asked Denzil.

"To write stories for the magazines. There was a girl at Rennes whose elder sister earned about a hundred and fifty pounds a year in that way."

"But, my dear child," said Aunt Bee, "how do you know that you have the capacity to write stories?"

"Because I have already written one," said Rona, calmly. "I wrote it and sent it to this girl's sister to dispose of. She sold it at once, and I got three guineas for it!"

They sat staring at her.

"I had to have it typed, so that I did not get the full price for it," she went on. "I shall be obliged to learn to use a typewriter, as it costs too much to pay to have things typed. That will all be by degrees."

"I should think so!" gasped Aunt Bee.

"And," she went on, quite calmly, "it is in my mind to ask you if I might stay here with you six months? I am afraid it will take me six months to earn enough money to set up in London, even in one room."

Denzil laid down his plate of strawberries and cream, and cleared his throat.

"One swallow does not make a summer!" he remarked, profoundly. "You must not expect, because one of your stories got published, to be able to sell others."

"The editor who bought the last said he would take more of the same kind," she replied, unmoved. "I sent him another last week, and I expect soon to hear from him."

"I don't see why you should not write stories, dear," said Aunt Bee, in amusement. "But is it absolutely necessary that this should be done in one room in London? Could you not write your stories just as well here, without depriving us of our girl?"

"Exactly!" broke in Denzil, warmly; so warmly that his aunt had much ado not to laugh. "She has done it," was her inner thought. "He knows now that he cannot let her go."

The unaccustomed feeling was almost more than Denzil could cope with. He became quite absent-minded, and seemed as if some curious oppression lay upon him.

He rose, after a few minutes, and stood squarely before Rona, his hands behind him. "What is your last news of your brother?" he asked.

Rona looked up, startled. "He—he has not written at all lately," she said. "You know Mr. Vronsky and he went back to Siberia, to the mines there, after establishing his patent in Europe."

"What do you think he would say to me if I allowed you to go off and live alone, without consulting him? I hope you won't think me a tyrant, but I don't see how I can sanction your going off alone without his written permission."

Aunt Bee murmured assent. "Strange how necessity spurs the wit!" she thought.

"You know, I feel you would not be safe alone in London," said Denzil, seriously. "No—not simply because you are a girl; I know girls do these things now. But because you have enemies, and they might find you out. Remember you are not yet of age. What if your uncle should try to recapture you?"

He saw that this shot had told. Rona grew white. "Oh!" she said, irresolutely, "but I should think that is safe now. He has left me alone all this time."

"But he may be watching for just such a chance."

She lifted her liquid eyes to his face. "I do not want to go away," she said frankly, "but I do not want to be a burden—a sponge. You have been so kind, I want you to know that I am very far from expecting you to do more."

Her look fell away from the expression in his.

"Write stories, by all means," said Denzil, his eyes resting fascinated on the brim of her lowered hat. "But save your money for future emergencies. Meanwhile, it is holiday-time. Shall we postpone the discussion for a few weeks? I feel, in this weather, as if I did not want to talk business. Give me my holiday—you take yours. Stay here meanwhile, and when the summer days are over we can decide upon future plans. Come—show me the stables, the kitchen-garden, the palm-stoves—I have been away an age, and I want to look at everything!"

He held out his hand to her, and, with a hesitation which Miss Rawson remarked, she gave him hers. He raised her to her feet, and they stood together a moment, looking into each other's eyes.

Rona would not have been human had she failed to read the admiration in his. His heart swelled with the true Cophetuan delight. He had all, she had nothing but her beauty. He was master of his actions and his fortune; there was nobody to dictate to him, should he marry the beggar maid. And now the idea, which had so shyly nestled in his heart for two years, suddenly shook its wings and soared. He would marry this interesting girl, whose grace and dignity were worthy of being raised to his throne.

And for the first time the same idea struck Rona—struck her with a shock. Never till that moment had she thought of Denzil as a man who might love and wish to marry her. He had seemed older, too staid—as she said to David—too fiddle-faddly. But now that she was grown, up, she knew that the disparity between them was by no means too great—the difference between nineteen and thirty-three.

They wandered into the old walled fruit garden, down past a long strip of border, garnished in one place with bits of quartz in strange devices.

"I never come past here," said Denzil, falteringly, "without thinking of my dead brother."

"Your brother?" said the girl, in speechless amazement. "I never knew you had a brother!"

"No," he replied, in a deep voice, stopping before the bits of quartz—"I never speak of him. It is too distressing a subject; and, by my orders, nobody has ever mentioned him to you. But one day, perhaps, I shall be able to tell you about him. This was his garden, when he was a little chap. Old Penton, the gardener, keeps it up, as he used to like it kept. Do you see the rockery? He made it all himself. Poor fellow!" As he stood looking down upon the bits of stone, and the little ferns that grew still, though the stormy, wayward heart of the young man was dust, his eyes filled with tears. Here was he, Denzil, in possession of wealth, land, love, everything that makes life glorious; and his brother had crowned a career of folly by a death of crime.

The old gardener was working not far off. He came up to greet his master and say how well he looked.

"Aye," he said, "and there's poor Master Felux's bit o' garden. I always keeps it, so I do. I was rare and fond o' him when he wor a little lad. And I see his spirit walk, I did, one evening in spring, two year and more back. Soon after the noos of his death came it wor—and a Sunday evening. I see him as plain as I sees you two now—walking along the avenue. But the light was bad, and he slipped away, and I didn't see him no more." He brushed the back of his hand over his eyes, and his voice broke. "I says to my missus that night, 'No fear but what he's gone,' I says. 'For I've a-just seen him'; and she says, 'Tummus, you be a gawp!'—just like that. But for all her gawps I seen him—I seen him right enough—and his face as white as if he'd been in his coffin."

They smiled tenderly upon the old man's delusion.



            —You have taken from me
The Present, and I murmur not, nor moan;
    The Future too, with all her glorious promise;
But do not leave me utterly alone!
    Spare me the Past.
                                                        —ADELAIDE A. PROCTER.

For Denzil Vanston the days which ensued upon his homecoming were days of charm and wonder. Life for him took on new colors, the presence of Rona in the house gave an unwonted zest even to the most trivial things.

Miss Rawson watched, well pleased, the intercourse between the two.

They played tennis and golf, they rowed and punted together. Rona's physical health was perfect, and she was apparently never tired.

But when a fortnight of such dalliance had gone by, the vigilant aunt began to think that, if anything were to come of it, she had better take some steps to force the pace.

Denzil had never been a hot-blooded young man, and he was no longer in his first youth. He seemed quite satisfied with what his aunt impatiently characterized to herself as "philandering" with the beautiful girl with whom his generosity had enabled him to be on terms of intimacy. He did not make love to Veronica. He complacently played a semi-paternal part, treating her indulgently, as a beloved child; and he was, to all appearance, abundantly content with the situation as it was.

But the looker-on knew that this apparently stable and well-balanced position must of necessity be of a most temporary and elusive character. Veronica had not been a week in the house, when the young men of the neighborhood took to coming to call in a persistent and unusual manner; and invitations to dinner arrived, pointedly including "the young friend who is staying with you."

It should be remarked that Mr. Vanston possessed in a marked degree one valuable quality—the virtue of discretion. He had held his tongue about the waif girl whom his aunt had rescued from the canal barge. One or two of the old servants at Normansgrave—Chant, the butler, for example—knew of the circumstances of Rona's first appearance. So also did Dr. Causton. The nurse who had then been employed at the Cottage Hospital had since married and left the neighborhood; and as Rona had not been seen for two years, and nobody had spoken of her, she was not, upon her reappearance, associated in people's minds with the circumstances of her first arrival. This had taken place just at the time when poor Felix's suicide, or disappearance, had been in the foreground of everybody's thoughts concerning the Vanstons. Everybody who called upon Miss Rawson during the sad period had been so eager to be informed upon the subject, that the topic of the girl from the barge had not been necessary in order to maintain conversation.

And now that Rona had come to stay at Normansgrave for an indefinite term, Denzil decided that she should use her own name, of Leigh, and not be called Smith any longer, as for safety's sake, and in case anybody should be making inquiries for her, she had been called during her two years abroad. Nobody was likely to associate the tall, graceful, well-dressed Miss Leigh, now visiting her friends, with the pale, half-grown creature who had been the first patient at the now popular Cottage Hospital.

Denzil had taken an opportunity of telling Dr. Causton that he wished no mention of the barge episode to be made. He said that there was a reason for silence. Dr. Causton, who possessed both brains and eyes, had naturally perceived that Rona was not among her accustomed surroundings when he first found her upon the Sarah Dawkes. He concluded that the secret had been confided to the Vanstons, who had so generously befriended her, and kept his counsel accordingly.

To inquiring friends Miss Rawson simply said that Denzil was acting as guardian to Miss Leigh for her brother, who was in Siberia; a statement which, as far as she knew, was perfectly true.

If Miss Rawson had found Rona interesting in her youth and helplessness, she was now amazed at the character and ability developed by the foundling. She knew that this was a most unusual girl: she believed that she was the very woman for Denzil, could she but be induced to think so. And at this point in her career—before she had discovered her power—and while the glow of her gratitude to Denzil, and the fact of her having known no other young men, conspired to make him acceptable in her eyes—it seemed this might be compassed.

To Aunt Bee's acute intelligence, the fact of the girl's nameless, homeless condition was by no means altogether a drawback. She had been most carefully trained from early childhood; she seemed to have no undesirable relatives, with the one exception of the Wicked Uncle; and having no mother or sisters of her own to interfere, she would be more dependent upon Miss Rawson. And this dear lady would hardly have been human had she not felt that she would like a certain amount of influence with Denzil's wife.

But, if it were to be done, it must be done at once. She felt this keenly. Rona was already longing to stretch her wings. Her second story had been bought by the editor who took her first. She had, apparently, a play of fancy of that graceful, iridescent kind which suits the pages of the modern magazine. And here was a source of income, likely to become considerable. And no doubt Rona had imbibed, with her modern education, modern ideas of womanly independence, though at present these were tempered by the conventual upbringing.

The uncle who had designed the girl for the stage had been a man of penetration. She was not only beautiful, she was beautiful in a dramatic style. Soon—very soon—somebody would tell her so. Soon she would awake to the consciousness of Power. And then good-by to Denzil's chances!

Miss Rawson had no wish to entrap the girl before she was old enough to judge for herself. She sincerely thought that, if it could be brought about, she would be happy with Denzil, that the career of being mistress of a house, and a personage in the county, would occupy her talents in a safe and satisfactory manner. She would kindle her husband's ambitions, she would be the mother of splendid children. In her the traditions of the family would blossom once more.

Such was the earnest ambition of Aunt Bee. She knew the good in Denzil. He was capable of being an excellent husband and father. But he must secure Rona before passion awoke in her.

To this end she plotted. She invited a house-party to stay at Normansgrave. Among them was that same Miss Myrtle Bentley whom Denzil had once thought that he could like well enough to bestow upon her the priceless treasure of his heart. There is little doubt that she would have accepted it, most gratefully; for she was twenty-eight, and the slight primness which endeared her to Denzil was not an attraction in the eyes of other men.

She came; and Denzil marveled that he could ever have been drawn towards her. Others came too. Several young men. Aunt Bee asked none whom she thought likely to be dangerous to Rona; but several to whom she thought Rona would inevitably be dangerous.

As a few days fleeted by, she congratulated herself upon the success of her maneuver. The young men surrounded Rona as flies hover about honey. Denzil was no longer able to monopolize her. He felt the change acutely. His aunt had strong hopes that, before long, his calm must give way, and he be driven over the verge of a declaration.

It was to her unaccountable that he should be so slow to move. But she had to admit that Veronica gave him no help. Veronica was not the least bit in love. She was reveling, with all her intense physical capacity, in the pleasure which life gave her. Surrounded by summer weather, pleasant people, and beautiful country, she gave herself up to holiday happiness—picnics by river, picnics by motor, garden-parties, golf, and dancing—each thing in turn was new, was absorbing, was delightful.

She seemed fast slipping into that daughterly attitude towards Denzil which Aunt Bee dreaded and strove to avert.

The girl was living in the golden present moment. There was a dark background to her thought. Now and then, even in the midst of her mirth, the shadow of her secret betrothal flapped its black wings in the sunshine. But she turned her mind and her heart away from it. She was gloriously amused, she was glowing with the pride of life and youth. She was not going to think upon any disagreeable subject.

And then, one morning, there lay upon her plate a letter. A letter with the usual Russian stamps and the usual typewritten address. For Felix never dared risk his handwriting, for fear of recognition.

Veronica gazed upon that envelope as a man may look upon the Black Hand which is the secret summons of some nefarious society, and calls upon him to prepare for death. A gust of loathing memory swept over her. Again she saw the dun half-daylight of a London winter; again the endless lines of railway far below. She smelt the odor of hay and tarpaulin, and saw the dizzy lights upon the black, slow river.

She resented being reminded of the terrible moment of her despair, her escape, her accident, her privations. She looked down the breakfast-table at the well-looking, prosperous people who were feeding there. What had she and they in common with anarchy and jail, and all the other awful things that lie out of sight, in the darker corners of life?

Whatever happened, she could not open and read her letter then. She slipped it into her pocket unnoticed. She intended to read it as soon as she should be alone. But immediately after breakfast all was bustle and movement, since they were going to scull up the Wey to the ruins of Newark Abbey for a picnic. There was no leisure to break the fatal seal.

One person had noted the arrival of the letter. This was Miss Rawson. She welcomed it. This might bring matters to a climax, where she had failed to do so. If Rona's brother was coming to fetch her away, then surely Denzil would find out the nature of his own complaint, and take steps to prevent her departure.

She watched Veronica with some keenness, as she went to and fro, playing assistant hostess very prettily under Aunt Bee's directions, and seeing that everybody was comfortably seated in the various motors and traps, with rugs, cushions, and so on. Miss Rawson had slightly sprained her knee, and was in consequence unable to go that day's expedition. She stood in the hall superintending the departure.

Denzil was driving his own dogcart, and by a little gentle maneuvering, Myrtle Bentley had secured the seat beside him. This made him rather cross, though he knew quite well that Rona and he, in consideration of their guests, could not well drive down together. His face was moody as he sought for a missing whip among the contents of a stand in the hall.

His aunt's eyes twinkled. "I suppose," she very softly remarked, in a pensive way, "that it is, after all, a good thing that Rona will so soon be leaving us."

Denzil looked up with great suddenness. "What do you mean?" he demanded.

"Well, I conclude her brother will be coming for her very shortly. I saw she heard from him this morning, and he seems to be doing very well. I am glad she will have a home, for she could not well stay here after you are married, could she?" with a mischievous inclination of her head towards the open door, where, in the sunshine, sat the decorous Myrtle, in a somewhat starchy white washing frock.

"What do you mean?" repeated Denzil, vacantly, a second time, standing as if rooted to the spot.

Aunt Bee shrugged her expressive shoulders. "I have to consider the future, you know, dear boy. And if Rona decides upon a literary career in London, I think I shall go and share her one room. Good-by, and good luck!"

She laughed, in the teasing way that poor Denzil never understood.

He was as nearly rude to Miss Bentley on the drive down as he ever permitted himself to be to a lady. She described him to herself, with some ladylike resentment, as grumpy. He did not seem to think the day fine, nor the drive pleasant, nor to admire the lovely view of the river, which moved her to unusual warmth of expression.

Down at the canal side, just where once the Sarah Dawkes had been moored, with a delirious, broken girl aboard her, stood Rona, upright as a dart, her punt-pole in her hand. She wore a pale silvery green washing silk. The masses of her hair were glorious under the shade of her sweeping hat.

"You are never going to punt to-day, Rona?" cried the Squire, quite sharply. "Do you realize that we have to get up to Newark?"

She raised her glorious eyes, full of astonishment at his unwonted petulance—an astonishment which made him hot all over.

"Of course not. I am only steadying the boats," she said, with a chill in that voice that was, to him, the barometer of his happiness. "I had arranged to scull this boat with you."

His heart leaped.

"Oh, Miss Leigh, I don't think that is fair," broke in Captain Legge, a young man who admired Rona considerably. "You and Vanston are such swells, you must not pull together. I will go in your boat, and he had better come here."

"Yes," cried the lady in this boat, "and here is room for Miss Bentley in the stern."

Legge swiftly stepped into Rona's boat, and it would have been hard to dislodge him without more commotion being made than the Squire approved. He had to go with the other party, and to start for the day with the remembrance that he had spoken sharply to his adored, and had no chance to apologize. Myrtle could not scull; well and good. But she thought she could steer, and was deceived in her opinion. This was very bad indeed. All the way up, the temper of the young man was continually chafed, and he had to go on smiling at her well-meant apologies, as she bumped the boat under every one of the tiny bridges which span the stream thereabouts, and must be shot, sculls shipped, by an experienced "cox."

It was nearly a quarter to two when they at last piloted their tiny fleet up the deep dykes, once cut by the monks for the due supply of their Abbey, placed with rare felicity among the windings of many streams. Little as survives of the fabric, the situation of Newark renders it a particularly pathetic ruin. On this day the sun poured down upon the meadow-sweet, drawing up its fragrance in gusts of perfume; the track of each rill was marked by a fringe of purple loose-strife; and among the forget-me-nots darted dragon-flies, like moving gems, over the surface of the quiet waters.

It took long to discuss the excellent fare provided by Miss Rawson; and then, in the golden afternoon, people grew drowsy, smoked, talked, told stories, or teased and joked among themselves. In the midst of it all the thought of her letter darted into Rona's mind. Her conscience smote her. She told herself that she was a selfish, unfaithful friend, a girl whom, were she to read about her in a book, she would unhesitatingly condemn. With the excuse of hunting for flowers, she slipped away, and seeking shelter from the burning sun, wandered into the inclosure where the ruins stand, and sat herself down by a wall, among the grass. She thought of David as she had last seen him. For the past two years she had hardly thought of him at all. Now it seemed as if his very voice spoke—"You will be true to me? You won't fail me—will you?"

The hot blood dyed her face. She was not conscious of unfaithfulness, in the sense of having preferred anyone else to David. But she was conscious of a complete change of mind with regard to him. She wished he had not written. But the letter must be opened. She drew it from her pocket with reluctant fingers, and broke the seal.

"Savlinsky Copper Mines,
                "Siberia, via Moscow.

"MY DEAR RONA,—I have not written to you for many, many weeks, and this for two reasons. The first of these is that, since you told me of your change of feeling towards me, I have found it very difficult to know what to say to you. The other concerns my own personal safety.

"I do not know whether it will interest you. Since your letter I have several times thought that my best course would be to disappear and let you hear no more of me. But the desire in me for a kind word from you is too strong for that.

"If you are not interested, simply do not read this.

"As I have told you, for a period of nearly two years I was let alone by the Brotherhood so completely that I began to think that I had shaken them off. Most of the men who had had to do with me were killed during the Russian Revolution. But one man, a Pole called Cravatz, bore me a special grudge. He has tracked me in all my movements, and at last, when he found me in Siberia, settled in a position of responsibility and trusted everywhere, he found means to communicate with me. The Governor of this Province of Barralinsk is obnoxious to the Brotherhood. He was in command of a regiment in St. Petersburg during the rising, and it was believed that he had urged the severe treatment of rebels. Knowing him as I do, I think this most unlikely; but however, he is on the proscribed list. Cravatz brought me the official command from the Brotherhood, that I was to be the instrument of their vengeance upon this man. That means that I am under orders to commit a murder. If it is not done by the last day of August my own life will not be safe for an instant.

"This was a crushing blow to me for more reasons than one. To begin with, the Governor is my personal friend. From him I have always received the utmost kindness, as well as from his daughter.

"But in addition to this, I have got on so well, and my prospects are so good, that I am in a position to gratify the only wish I have in the world, were the woman I love only brave enough to face a life in this lonely place. But I could not, of course, think of asking you to encounter the risk of my being murdered, perhaps before your eyes.

"However, Vronsky, my well-loved Vronsky, who is a second father to me, thinks he sees a way out. Cravatz is a thorough-paced scoundrel, and he has put himself within reach of the law out here.

"If we can get him arrested all will be well; there is no other member of the Brotherhood to follow the thing up.

"And now comes the question. If I can arrange this matter—will you come to me? I would travel to England, for I can get three months' leave—and marry you and bring you out here. It is a desolate village, but lovely in summer-time. You would have a comfortable house and good servants.

"But what is the use of writing this? Even as I do it, I laugh at myself. Is it likely that such a thing as this should happen to me?

"You are not mine, and never will be. You never were mine. It was your sweet child-sympathy that made you think for a few minutes—a few minutes of pity and regret—that you could love me. You repented almost at once—did you not?

"Don't think that I am going to reproach you. The thing was inevitable. I had no right to suggest to you what I did.

"You must not reproach yourself. I am older, harder, stronger now. I shall not take laudanum, even though I have to live without hope.

"I have delayed the sending of this letter for three awful months of consuming impatience, in order to be pretty certain that we had a reasonable chance of laying hold of Cravatz. That assurance Vronsky now gives me. I therefore write. My feeling for you has never changed. I am, as always, your lover, and would-be husband.

"But should you send to me the words I dare not think of as possible—should your answer be 'Yes, I will come to you'—then there are things about myself that I must tell you.

"Don't keep me waiting, will you? Decide quickly, write, put me out of my pain. Life here is long, days pass slowly, and I am starving for a word. Remember that, and be merciful.—I am your devoted DAVID SMITH."

Rona sat, with this letter in her hands, staring across at the pine-covered hill which fronts the Abbey; and it seemed as if her world were turning upside down. It had come. The thing which had loomed in the dim future, the thing that during the past months she had almost forgotten, was now upon her. She had received from David a definite offer of marriage, and it must be answered, one way or another.

And, in the passionate revolt of her whole nature, she felt that she could not do it. Her home was here—here at Normansgrave, where first she had known happiness in all her lonely, unfriended life.

Meanwhile, she had given her promise. She had given it fully, freely, without hesitation, to the young man who was as friendless, as forlorn as she. But in the time which had passed since then she had found home and friends, life was opening before her—while he was lonely still. Lonely and wanting her. What was she to do?

With a passion of terror and repulsion she contemplated the idea of going off with this stranger, whom she had known only for three wild days—of leaving for his sake, England, and all that England means. Oh—she could not do it; as he said in his letter, he ought not to demand it!

In the agony of her feelings she bowed her head upon her hands; and it seemed as if some inner barrier broke so that the tears came. She was a girl who seldom wept, and having once given way, she grieved with an abandonment which frightened her. To her horror she found that she could not control herself. She was obliged to bend before the storm which shook her. It was half shame. By all the rules, she should be ready to die for this man who had saved her; and she, on the contrary, recoiled with shuddering from the mere thought of him.

It was upon this desolation of grief that Denzil, wandering in search of her, came, with a thrill of horror unspeakable. With a leap into life of something within him, he flung himself down upon the grass beside her. He lifted her up, he held her in his arms, he found himself kissing away her tears before he knew what he was about—and the only words that came into his head as he clasped her close were:

"My darling, my own darling, what has made you cry?"



Does every man who names love in our lives
Become a power, for that? Is love's true thing
So much best to us, that what personates love
Is next best? ...
My soul is not a pauper; I can live
At least my soul's life, without alms from men.
                                                                —E. BARRETT BROWNING.

The distress which had overmastered Rona was so extreme that for a few moments it seemed to her a natural thing that Denzil should be consoling her. Her need of just that—just the comfort that mere petting brings in overwhelming trouble—was so intense, that there was fitness in the thought that he, the generous man who had done so much for her, should be the one to offer comfort in her perplexity.

But to the Squire, after the impetuous outrush of sympathy which had carried him, as it were, off his feet for a moment, there came an acute attack of self-consciousness which could not fail to communicate itself to the girl whom he still held in his arms.

How the fact that there was something not in the least paternal in the pressure of those arms was conveyed to Rona is not to be explained. But the fact remains that, in a very short time, she did realize it; and, sitting upright, drew herself away, and covered her quivering mouth with her drenched handkerchief.

"Oh, what an object I must be!" she gasped, shakily, with a sudden foolish laugh, forced and unreal.

He could not at once reply. He was moved and shaken to a surprising degree by his plunge into so new an experience. But he made a manful effort to answer her rationally. He thought he knew the cause of her tears, and was not merely astonished, but frightened at their vehemence. "Oh, do forgive me!" he stammered. "I—it was most unintentional. You are crying because I spoke to you so harshly at the landing-stage, are you not?"

This remarkable idea had the immediate effect of turning her thoughts and drying her tears. "Oh!" cried she, "how could you think me so silly? No, indeed, it is not that. It is a trouble, a real one, that has come upon me all in a minute. I ought to have expected it—I have always known that it must come. But, somehow, one forgets—one hopes. And now it has happened, and I must go away—away from everything that I—love."

The last word was almost inaudible, by reason of the tears which threatened to flow again. Denzil's spirits rose with a leap. That was it—Jealousy! Clever Aunt Bee, who had given him a hint! She was jealous of Myrtle Bentley, and this most natural feminine feeling had shown her the true state of her own heart. He snatched her hands.

"Darling, I know, I know! But you are quite mistaken! How could you have got such a preposterous notion into your head? And yet it was natural, too; for before I fell in love with you I had some thoughts of Miss—ah—Bentley. But it was nothing. And you must not go, my Rona, but stay here always, in your true home, with me. You will, won't you? Say that you will, Rona?" His pulses bounded as he saw how completely he had surprised her. "Have you not guessed?" he tenderly asked, stooping to look into her troubled, drooping face.

"Have you not known always that I was most awfully fond of you? I think I fell in love at first sight. But, of course, I would not speak until you were a woman grown, and able to decide for yourself."

The words affected Rona. She contrasted his behavior with that of his brother, as was inevitable. The rich man, who had so much to offer, had held back, in order that her choice might be free and deliberate. Her other suitor, the almost beggar, caught her, worked upon her gratitude, bound her by a promise at an age when she was not able to give a valid one. The thought of the deception which she had practiced upon this good, generous friend for two years weighed down her spirit. How little he had known her—the chivalrous, unworldly man, who had taken her on trust, knowing nothing of her antecedents! The real King Cophetua can never have seen, in the eyes of his beggar maid, a look of more fervent gratitude and admiration than Rona lifted to her suitor's face.

Of love, as between man and woman, she knew nothing at all. His gentle and affectionate interest was just the thing to appeal to her. And marriage with him would mean life at Normansgrave—life in safety and honor, and clean, open-eyed peace: life undisturbed by secrets, and dark Brotherhoods, and sinister memories. It seemed to her that Denzil stood in sunlight, beckoning her; while, from some dark tunnel, David stretched out hands to drag her down.

There was bewilderment and vain regret in her voice as she told her lover:

"Oh, you are good, you are good to me! There never was such a good man as you!"

No words could have been more sweet in his ears. He thought her quite right. He felt sure that he was a good, just man. And she had the insight to perceive it. No doubt marriages are made in heaven. Rona had been sent, bruised and maltreated, lying in a canal barge, to his door, to be the consolation of Providence for his undeserved misfortune in having a suicide brother. Ah, what a relief it would be to tell her all about his early manhood, and the tragedy of Felix's disgrace!

"Then—then—you do? You will?" he stammered. "Thank Heaven, my darling! I feared perhaps you might think me too old and grave. But with you I shall grow young again——"

She checked him as, taking her hands, he made a movement as if to draw her nearer.

"Oh, stop! Wait!" she gasped, falteringly, her head spinning with the excitement of the situation, which seemed to be carrying her away. "There is something I must tell you first—something you must hear. I don't know how to tell you.... Oh, Mr. Vanston, if only I had been perfectly frank with you from the first! You will be so—so disappointed in me. I feel as if—as if I dare not tell you!" She stopped, for the effort to speak seemed likely to choke her.

Denzil's face grew pale with apprehension. His heart knocked loudly. What was he about to hear?

"Wait," he said, kindly, but with a slight difference from his former tenderness of manner; "don't speak until you can do so without distressing yourself——"

Something in his tone—an indefinable drawing-back—caused her to cry out with urgency. "Listen! Had I guessed—had I had the least idea that you were going to say—what you said to me just now, I would have stopped you. Let us pretend that you did not say it! We are as we were this morning—you my kindest friend, I your most devoted child. Now listen. I am engaged already. I have been secretly engaged ever since I—almost ever since I first came into your house."

He was so surprised that for a few moments he sat quite still, while a dull brick-red surged up under his fair skin. Rona lowered before him the proud head she had always carried so high. At last he brought out: "Engaged! To whom?"

"To the young man who called himself my brother—to David Smith."

There was silence. Denzil took in and digested this new view of the girl at his side. He had thought her every idea and tendency known to him. He had believed that he himself had formed her tastes and decided her bent. And now he was faced by the awful thought that in her tender girlhood another man had kissed her—held her in his arms.... He remembered the conditions under which she had been found—on board a canal barge—with this wild youth who was not her brother! A horrible despondency assailed him, darkening the face of the fair landscape. All that he said was: "I could not have believed it of you, Rona."

She winced, but maintained her composure. For long had she dreaded this moment. It was almost with relief that she found herself living through it. In all her forecastings of the scene, she had pictured herself as making her avowal to Miss Rawson also.

Denzil alone was unquestionably easier to deal with.

She continued her confession.

"I have had a letter from him—to-day!"

"Indeed!" Denzil's voice sounded as though dashed with ice.

Its coldness was ominous, and stung her.

"Listen!" she urged. "If you turn from me, what is to become of me? You are the only person in all the world who cares—except him! You are the only person who could advise me, who could help—who could—could—save me from him."

There was a moment's tense silence; then he said, in a softer tone, "So you do not—love this—er—this young man to whom you are plighted?"

She shook her head. "I was a child, you know," she faltered. "And I—I hardly knew him. But, you see, he had saved my life. He had saved me from—worse than death, I think. I was very grateful to him." She mused for a moment, and then timidly asked, "Will you read his letter?"

Denzil was not a great-minded man, nor a clever man, but he had his code of honor. "Are you pledged to secrecy?" he asked. "I gather that this young man has claims upon your gratitude, if not your affection. Ought you to show me his letter?"

His integrity made her admire him afresh.

"Yes," she said, "I can hardly do otherwise, now. For he asks me to make a decision. He wants to come over and marry me, and take me out there to—to Siberia to live."

"To Siberia!" echoed Denzil in horror.

In truth, the idea of this brother of Rona's had occupied but a very small niche in his mind. He was abroad, he was poor, he hardly counted, except in so far as he would be overcome with joy at the marvelous condescension of Mr. Vanston in raising his sister to the rank and dignity of his wife.

And now he faced the idea that this man was a living power, to be reckoned with; that he could, if he chose, take Rona away, to the ends of the earth, and leave him bereft of all that made life pleasant to him. And, on that, another thought shot swiftly into his mind. If David Smith were no relative, then David Smith had no legal claim. To such claim as gratitude may give, Denzil had a far better right than he.

"You see," said Rona, "if he comes home to marry me, everything must be known. There cannot be any more secret-keeping. David can tell you nothing of me; when you found me, I had only known him a day or two; he knows no more than I do of my family or position. I have never been told who my mother was, nor my father. I was brought up in a convent school. I had been there ever since I was a baby. My uncle, Rankin Leigh, who took me away, was a perfectly detestable person—a person you would not speak to, nor have any dealings with. Oh," she wound up, with a sort of grim desperation, "it is of no use! You could never marry a girl like me. He had better come and fetch me away. I did promise him, and he—he—poor boy, he has nobody but me."

After a minute's helpless silence, "Will you show me his letter?" asked Denzil, wearily.

She drew the letter from her pocket and held it to him, keeping her face hidden. She heard him draw the paper from the envelope, and sat on in miserable humiliated silence while he read. The sunshine was no longer bright to her—the gray ruins were a warning of the decay of all earthly things, however strong. Before her lay a pilgrimage into the wilderness, a dark frowning future, and separation from all home ties.

He took a long time to read the letter—so long that at last she raised her head to look at him. He was seated, staring straight before him, his brows knit, and on his face a most curious expression of perplexity.

"Rona," he said, with a gravity such as she had never heard from him—"I judge from this letter that this young man who wishes to marry you is entangled with some gang of Nihilists."

She assented.

Denzil swallowed hard, once or twice, and then said, "Could you tell me how you came to make acquaintance with him?" In his mind was a cold chill, a sudden, awful thought. Cravatz, the Pole, had been tried and acquitted at the time of Felix's condemnation.

"Yes," said Rona, simply, "I will tell you. You know something about it—how my uncle shut me up in a room, because—because—well, chiefly because I would not let the dreadful man, Levy, kiss me. I knew, somehow, that that man meant to do me harm—I could see in his eyes that he was wicked. But, of course, I was helpless—as helpless as a rabbit; and they were starving me, so that I was weak, and I was so afraid that I should not be able to refuse food if they brought it to me—at any price. So I decided that the only thing I could do was to commit suicide. There were railway lines outside the window, where I was locked up. So I said my prayers, and then I opened the window, stood upon the sill, shut my eyes, and jumped."

Denzil uttered a cry. "Rona!" He dropped his head into his hands, and hid his face.

"Yes," she said, quietly, "what else was there for me to do? But just below my room there was an iron balcony, and I fell upon that, all doubled up over the railing. Inside that room," solemnly continued the girl, "was David Smith. What do you think he was doing? He was in the act of drinking laudanum, with the very same idea. He, too, was in the hands of his enemies. He, too, like me, was starving. He had nobody in the world but his half-brother, who did not love him, and was ashamed of him. He saw only one way out, and he was going to die. But when I fell, he rushed out and dragged me in. I fought and struggled to get away, for, of course, I did not know who he was. But when I was quieter, and looked at him, I could see that he was a gentleman, though he was so terribly thin and starved. So we ran away together. I managed, with his help, to get down to the canal wharf, where he knew a man, who helped us to hide aboard a barge. But I had been so badly hurt that the effort was too much for me, and I don't remember much else, until I woke up in the Cottage Hospital."

Silence, broken only by the humming of summer insects among the grass. Then Denzil asked, without raising his hidden face:

"And have you never seen him since?"

"Yes, once," replied Rona.

"When?" asked the hollow voice.

"One Sunday evening, just before he went away with Mr. Vronsky. He asked me to meet him, and I went to the old arbor while you were at evening service. He was unhappy and lonely, craving for love. He had been good to me, and I was sorry for him. And when he asked me to promise to be his wife when I grew up, I promised, because it seemed a little thing to do for him. I was happy with you, and he was all alone——" Her voice broke.

At last Denzil spoke. "Then it was really he whom the old gardener saw, as he told us. Rona, the man who saved you is not called David Smith at all. He is my younger brother, Felix Vanston."

The shock of these words brought the girl to her feet with a spring. "Your brother? Your brother?" she cried, incoherently. "Oh, no, for his brother was hard and merciless, and you—you are always so good and generous! That can't be true—it simply can't!"

The Squire, too, rose. "Let me tell you something of our early life," he said, with urgency. "You have told me the truth—the truth which I ought to have heard when first you came to us. If I had known—but I do my brother justice. He did not wish me to know that it was he until he had had a chance to show that he meant to try and do better. He has done better. He has apparently put in two years of good, steady work, and conquered a position for himself. But his discreditable past still drags at his heels. What did he tell you of his past, if I may ask the question?"

She answered, softly and low, "He told me that he had been in prison. But he said he was very sorry. He was misled, enticed, by bad men, who were too clever for him. He was young, and his head was full of great ideas."

"Let us walk along, away from the others," said Denzil, "and I will try and tell you something about Felix's mother."



—I ventured to remind her,
    I suppose with a voice of less steadiness
Than usual, for my feeling exceeded me,
    —Something to the effect that I was in readiness
Whenever God should please she needed me.
                                                                —ROBERT BROWNING.

To the English imagination, Siberia is mainly a land of cold and darkness, through which gangs of despairing convicts are driven with the lashings of governmental whips.

But its beauties and its resources are being by degrees revealed through that wonderful agency for the uniting of the isolated and the rejoining of the divided, which we call the railway.

The province of Barralinsk is one of the most beautiful, lying, as it does, not far east of the Ural Mountains and being well wooded in its southern part.

To reach the Savlinsky Copper Mines one must leave the Trans-Siberian railway at Gretz and drive for five hundred miles in a northwesterly direction. The last three hundred miles of the journey are, for the most part, across a treeless, rolling steppe, like some heaving sea transformed into dry land without losing its rise and fall. But Savlinsky itself lies not more than ten miles from a beautifully wooded district, known as Nicolashof, where the present Governor of the province, Stepan Nikitsch, or as he was usually called, Stepan Stepanovitch, had built himself, not far from a woodland village, a summer residence, in which he was accustomed to pass the hot weather, his solitude being shared by his only and motherless daughter, Nadia Stepanovna.

The foothills of the Urals begin to rise, very gradually, out of the plain at this point. In the distance faint blue summits and gleaming snow peaks border the western horizon. The summer climate is delicious, and but for the isolation Nadia would have enjoyed her Siberian summers. With her was an English lady, Miss Forester, formerly her governess, now her companion.

Stepan Stepanovitch was by no means the traditional Russian despotic governor, grinding the faces of the poor. He was a just man, if a somewhat hard one. He knew the people with whom he had to deal, and was respected for his steady justice. He was a man with a hobby, and the nature of his enthusiasm was one which is rare among his race.

He greatly desired to see the resources of this vast tract of practically useless country opened up and developed. He saw in Siberia the future of Russia. To anyone who did anything for the furtherance of his great idea he showed the utmost encouragement and kindness. And within driving distance from Nicolashof there was such a man established.

Vronsky had bought the mining rights of the copper which had been newly discovered at Savlinsky, and in the midst of the steppe had called into being a center of industry.

For this reason Stepan Stepanovitch loved him. His burly figure was constantly to be seen, side by side with Vronsky's tall, thin one, among the wooden huts, not unlike Swiss cottages, which clustered thickly where Vronsky had gashed the plain with his excavations. And Vronsky was at all times a welcome guest at Nicolashof, where also went constantly his secretary and adopted son, Felix Vanston; for the young man had abandoned his alias upon passing into Asia.

Vronsky was on the way to become a rich man. He had a genius for the development of industry—a genius which the delighted Governor could not sufficiently admire.

His workmen were all Kirgiz, among whom there is practically no Nihilism and no treachery. In fact, these things attract but small attention in the remote province. The Kirgiz, besides being a more reliable person, works for lower wages than the Russian. Work in those parts—good, regular work with good, regular wages—was not easy to come by. The venture had prospered exceedingly.

One glorious summer day, about two o'clock Vronsky was in bed, a most unwilling victim of a bout of fever. He lay in his pleasant room, under his mosquito net, smoking lazily and glancing at the papers. Presently, with a tap on the door, a young man entered in an English suit, brown shoes, and straw hat. A racquet was in his hand.

"Well, old man, I suppose you can't go to Nicolashof to-day? I must make your excuses to the Governor?" he said, lightly.

Vronsky grunted. "They won't mind my absence, if you don't fail them," he remarked, grimly, but with a twinkle in his eye. "Take my apologies to the Governor. He knows what fever is; and there is something else which you must take—something of more importance to you than my regrets—of a confounded deal more importance! Give me my dispatch-box."

The time which had elapsed since Felix Vanston and Vronsky first met at Basingstoke railway station had made a vast difference in the younger man. Felix had, even at that time, looked older than his age. Now this trait was more marked. But the lines upon his face were those traced by experience and discipline. This was a man who had himself well in hand. His boyhood lay far behind him; he had learnt in the school of adversity. The result was that Felix had become, in the fullest sense of the word—a Man. You looked at him, and instinctively you trusted him. There was strength in the expression of his mouth and truth in the steady light of his deep-set gray eyes. These eyes had humor in them of a quiet sort. They were the eyes of one who knew the harder side of life, and did not fear it: unlike those of the elder man. Vronsky's were the eyes of a dreamer, and beamed with the idealistic love which is the virtue of the Slav race. To him this young man was as a son. He had found him, taken him up out of despair, restored to him his self-respect, and given him, into the bargain, the love for lack of which the young man's soul had starved until that hour. Felix had satisfied the warmest hopes of his adopted father. He had proved clever, persevering, trustworthy. Together they had accomplished much, and meant to accomplish more.

Felix placed upon the bed the black tin dispatch-box. Vronsky felt under his pillow, drew forth a key, opened with care, and took out a far smaller box of the same kind. This he set down, and drew from his own neck a string upon which was suspended another key with which he opened the smaller box.

There was a sharp knock upon the door, and before Vronsky could cry out "Who's there?" a clerk had entered abruptly.

The man paused just inside the door, while Vronsky cried, angrily, "Get out, you fool! I am busy! Wait outside!"

Felix rose, went to the door, and closed it behind him. "What is it? Is it important?" he asked.

"They rang up from the mine to know if the No. 40 was dispatched," said the clerk, sulkily.

"When Mr. Vronsky is in bed, and I am in his room, you are never to enter without permission," said Felix, severely. "It is an order—do you understand?"

"Yes, sir. I am sorry," mumbled the young clerk, who was new to his work, and possibly over-zealous. He went off, and Felix returned to where Vronsky sat, flushed and disturbed, grasping a folded paper.

"Is that it?" whispered Felix, having locked the door.

"Yes—and he saw it. He saw the key round my neck," replied Vronsky, furiously, though under his breath. "It was intentional. I have suspected him ever since he entered my service. Now, the question is, What am I to do?"

Felix made a motion of his head towards the paper.

"That is the evidence of the guilt of Cravatz?"

"It came late last night."

"And I am to take it to the Governor to-day?"

"Yes; he told me that the moment it was in his hands he would have Cravatz arrested. There is ground enough for hanging him here."

Felix stood immovable, while the blood came slowly into his face. He might be nearer death than he knew, and the thought showed him that life was sweeter than at times he was wont to think.

The entrance of Streloff, the new clerk, in that summary way, was the first evidence he had had of Cravatz's spies among their own people. It shook him a little.

"I wonder where he is—Cravatz, I mean?" he slowly said.

"Not too near, but near enough to keep in touch with your movements, you may depend. At Gretz, I daresay."

Felix pondered. "What I have to do is to leave the house in safety with these papers. The clerk must be detained until I have started."

"Yes," said Vronsky, after a moment's thought. "I will have him in to take down a typed statement from my dictation. Summon him, and let Hutin come with him—a man I thoroughly trust. I will keep them until you are an hour upon your journey. By that time you will be out of reach. But, Felix, will it not be more prudent for you to remain at Nicolashof to-night? Not to return?"

"Oh, no," said Felix, impatiently. "What good would it do to waylay me on the way back? I shall not then have the thing they want. And besides, who is to do it? Even if this man Streloff is a traitor—and we have no proof that he is—what could he do against me? I am a match for any two of them, and so far as we know, he has no accomplices. No fear! He is here to steal if he can, but not to fight. Fighting is not in the line of the Brotherhood. Assassination is safer, far." He spoke with the slow, concentrated bitterness which came into his voice whenever he thought of the toils in which he had been caught in his hot youth.

"Give me the papers, little father," he said, "and I will put them in the inner pocket that is upon my shirt, and button my coat and vest over them. They will be safe enough then. There! That is all right. Shall I summon Streloff and Hutin?"

Vronsky sighed. "I suppose so. Heaven bless you, little son." He paused a long minute, and then added, while the blood rose under his olive cheek, "Make my compliments to Nadia Stepanovna."

Felix looked at him with sudden sympathy, made a movement to speak, but thought better of it. "I will do so, most certainly," he said, very gently. He bent over Vronsky and kissed him, gave him a drink of iced lemonade, and with a wave of his hand, bright and full of confidence, he left the room. Crossing a wide passage he pushed open a door on the other side and entered an office where two or three clerks sat busy.

"Streloff!" he cried. There was no reply. "Hutin, where is Streloff?"

"The master sent him to carry a message to the mines, sir."

"The master did nothing of the kind," cried Felix, angrily. "He is lying, for some reason of his own. How did he go? Horse, or on foot?"

Hutin rose. He was a strong-looking young man. "He can hardly be gone yet, sir. He went to the stables to saddle a horse."

"Run after him and bring him back," commanded Felix.

Hutin ran swiftly out. Felix fumed, but commanded himself. He would not go back and distress Vronsky until he knew that the spy had got clear off. For three long, endless minutes he stood there frowning by his own table in the office, turning over sheets of figures in an aimless way, until there was a sound in the doorway and Hutin came in, followed by the truant Streloff, with a scowl upon his dark features. Felix turned to him a face full of kindness and tinged with amusement.

"You are too zealous, Streloff," said he. "It is quite true, the message for the mines was somewhat urgent, but don't go off without express orders, for, you see, as it happens, you are wanted at once by the master. I will not tell him that you were absent, as he is apt to be a good deal vexed by that sort of thing."

Streloff was young, and he could not quite conceal the look of malevolence which he cast upon the man who had foiled him. Felix watched him collect his things and go across the passage to Vronsky's room. He said, low, in Hutin's ear, "Don't let him out of your sight till I come back, if you can help it."

Hutin lifted big, dog-like eyes to the young man's face, and squared a huge fist with an amiable smile.

Felix waited a moment, shrugged his shoulders, and went out to where his tarantasse waited at the door, in the brilliant sunshine. Max, his driver, nodded gayly as the young master appeared, seated himself in the elegant little carriage, took the reins from his servant, shook them lightly, and with the sound of bells they shot off along the good road that led straight from the mines to Nicolashof.

For the first three miles still the bare, treeless plain, of coarse grass, in undulations like the waves of a dirty gray-green sea suddenly solidified, and overblown with dust. But on the western horizon was a dark purple line which, as they approached it, showed itself to be the edge of the huge black forest, stretching for miles and miles. Straight into the trees led the white ribbon of road. First there were birch trees, light and fanciful, a wood full of sunshine and wild-flowers. But in another mile or so their place was taken by the black firs, the straight, unbending shafts of the dim mysterious pines. Still, the forest was not here so deep. Glades intervened and broke the monotony. After a while they came out upon a large clearing, whereon was built a prosperous-looking village, with its church and school: just beyond it, the park gates of Nicolashof. Max opened them, and the tarantasse shot lightly up the well-kept road, and came to a standstill before the door of a long, low house, built of wood, but massive and comfortable-looking.

Felix's face, as he threw the reins to Max and alighted from his carriage, bore a look of preoccupation. For several months there had hung over his head the malign shadow of the Brotherhood. The order sent to him to remove the Governor was, of course, merely a pretext for his own murder. Cravatz knew well that Felix would not, at the command of any secret society, assassinate his friend. But after the lapse of the appointed time, Cravatz would be justified in accomplishing the murder of Felix himself.

That the sinister order should have been conveyed to him was a part of the policy of the Brotherhood. They knew that the young man had thrown off their influence. To them he was a renegade, though he had not, by any overt action, proved himself so. As he went about at all hours, quite fearlessly, he could have been shot many times over by some lurking conspirator with practical certainty of immunity. But the Brotherhood knew its own business. It had to keep together a number of desperate men, of all nationalities, in faithful subservience. The way to do this was by fear, the fear of a vengeance that could not fail to fall upon the traitor; and it is well known that there is one sort of fear which more than any other will weaken the courage, even of a strong man, and wear down the resolution even of the most determined. It is the policy of the Sword of Damocles.

They worked by means of the threat of a fate that never failed to overtake, perhaps sooner, perhaps later, but certainly: the threat of a concealed power always on the watch. After a few weeks the strongest nerves are frayed by these tactics.

A message is received; the victim disregards it. Days pass; nothing happens. Then, one day, upon dressing-table, or pillow, or through the post, there is some small reminder of the existence of the deadly machinery which can compel obedience.

Such a jolt had the mind of Felix Vanston received that day. The brusque irruption of Streloff into the sleeping-room of Vronsky at the moment when the fatal papers were being dealt with was like the flash of the bull's-eye of a dark lantern. Cravatz was on the watch.

It was not so much the presence of the spy in the place which disturbed him. It was practically certain that Cravatz must be keeping him under observation. But Streloff's action of that day seemed to suggest the fact that Vronsky's own movements against Cravatz were known to the enemy. And this was serious.

Ever since the deadly message first came to Felix, Vronsky had been at work. Acting upon secret information which had come to him, he had been busily, privately, with the aid of the first detectives in Gretz, in Petropavlosk, in St. Petersburg, tracking down Cravatz to his just end. And now the threads of the case were all in his hands. In Felix's pocket lay the complete indictment. Acting upon the Governor's order, Cravatz could be at once arrested.

The young man had a moment of triumph in thinking that for the time he had outwitted the enemy. Streloff the spy was shut up in Vronsky's room, in charge of the vast and formidable Hutin; and Felix, the papers safely in his coat, was entering the cool, dim hall at Nicolashof, where the abundant flowers, the Persian rugs, the elegant furniture, showed traces of the English influence of Miss Forester.

"The ladies are in the garden," said the old man-servant who opened the door.

"Thank you, Petro Petrovitch," said Felix. "But first, please ask the Governor to give me ten minutes in his library."

He was shown into the big comfortable room, which overlooked a beautiful garden. Its walls were decorated with the antlers and wolf-skins and wild-boar tusks which Stepan Stepanovitch had secured as the spoils of his rifle. On the writing-table, where the father's eye could always rest upon it, stood a panel portrait of a beautiful young girl—Nadia Stepanovna, as she appeared when she made her first bow to the Czar at Court.

Felix stood where he could see the photograph, and gazed upon it while he waited.

It was a vivid face, truly Russian in its intensity. The great eyes seemed to hold almost too much expression: a woman who would both love and hate with passionate fervor, to whom the sober tenor of existence which comes natural to English girls would be a thing impossible.

This was the second summer in which she and Felix had seen one another constantly. But there was an image upon the young man's heart which Nadia's had by no means availed to shake. Though his feeling rested upon so small a basis of actuality—though the hours he had spent in the society of Rona were hardly more than the years of his life in number—he yet was hers, body and soul. You cannot pour wine, however fine the vintage, into a vessel already full.

His impassivity was a marvel to Vronsky, who worshiped at the shrine of Nadia with the hopeless intensity of disparity of years and rank intervening to prevent his love from ever descending from the clouds into an atmosphere of practical reality.

He adored her as a saint is adored by her votary. He loved her, but would have rejoiced to see her beloved and possessed by his dearly cherished adopted son, Felix. It was, to him, an inexplicable thing that young Vanston should remain constant to the memory of a girl who was apparently far from reciprocating his devotion. Vronsky was working, slaving, that Felix might be wealthy. He knew that his birth was good. Why should he not become suitor for this lovely young lady? What a couple they would make! He had, however, the good sense not to confide his desires to Felix, who was himself, as a rule, most reserved upon the subject in which all his heart was involved.

The door opened, and the Governor came in, with cordial greeting. "Where is my friend Vronsky?" he cried, wringing the young man's hand.

Felix explained. "I have brought a message from him," he continued, bringing out the papers from his coat pocket. "These documents, sir, are of the very gravest importance. They contain the evidence upon which Vronsky wishes you to order the arrest of Gregor Cravatz."

The Governor, instantly full of attention, sat down by the table. "The man whom he suspected of Nihilism?"

"The same. The justification is here. Not merely Nihilism, but murder; and that not once nor twice. But now, sir, comes a point at which I wish to be perfectly frank with you. There are two strong reasons why Vronsky would urge you to have this man put out of the way. The first will, I believe, seem enough to you. It is simply that the society to which he belongs has determined to remove you from your Governorship. In other words, while he lives your own life is in danger——"

He broke off short, and both men turned towards the garden with a simultaneous movement; for there was a cry of horror. And they saw, too late, that Nadia stood in the open window, in her white dress and straw hat, her lovely face blanched with apprehension.



O thou young man, the air of Heaven is soft,
And warm and pleasant; but the grave is cold!
Heaven's air is better than the cold dead grave.
                                                            —MATTHEW ARNOLD.

Stepan Stepanovitch started forward, and caught his daughter in his arms as she fell. He carried her to a couch and hung over her in some alarm. She had fainted quite away. After a minute or two of fruitless effort to rouse her, her father departed in search of Miss Forester; and Felix was left alone in charge. For a while he gazed, with a troubled face, upon the strongly marked brows, the olive complexion, and night-black hair of the young beauty. How different from the girl whose memory he carried with him from England—the pale, appealing face, in its chestnut halo, the expressive mouth, and eyes of deepest blue.

Nadia stirred and awoke. Felix bent over her, fanning her with a screen of feathers. Her large, eloquent eyes rested intently upon his face. He felt himself coloring under her scrutiny. Abruptly she sat up.

"I fainted," she said, as if angry that she should so have given way. "How weak of me! Because I heard you say that my father was in danger. I—I—when I was a child, I heard terrific tales of the inhuman conduct of Nihilists. I used to lie awake in my bed at Moscow, fearing to hear the shrieks of murder, the call of Revolution, in the streets at night. And when I grew up, my father said he was going to a province where such things never happened. All my old nightmares were swept away. We live secure from day to day; the peasants here are kind and faithful, and not surly and treacherous. I have grown to look upon all those terrors as past, like a dark night when it is morning. And the shock of hearing you say those words—of hearing you tell my father that his life was in danger—was too great. It seemed to stop my heart."

"I would have given much to keep such knowledge from you," said Felix, remorsefully. "Forgive me. I had no idea that you were there."

"It is true?" she asked, fixing her eyes upon his face, as if to compel him to deny his former words.

"It was true," said Felix; "but it is not serious, for the man who has devised the scheme is a criminal, and he will be brought to justice and put out of the way. I have with me the proof of his guilt, and upon that your father will proceed at once to take steps against him."

"Where is he?" gasped Nadia.

"I do not know. But I think not within a hundred miles of this place."

Miss Forester and the Governor then entered, and there was much petting and consoling of the girl, who was completely reassured by what they told her.

"How came my good friend Vronsky to know of this traitor, Cravatz?" asked the Governor, when they were all seated and talking the thing over.

"That is part of what I have come to-day to tell you," replied Felix. "If I have your permission, sir, I will tell it to both these ladies as well as to yourself. I have no wish to sail under false colors. I wished Vronsky to tell you when first I had the honor of being presented to you. But at that time he thought it better not, little dreaming that circumstances would later arise which would bring me into such a strange position with regard to your Excellency."

The Governor looked curiously at the young man, who stood up before them with pride and composure, though his confession would evidently cost him an effort. "You have my permission to speak, if you think what you have to say is necessary for me to hear," he replied, kindly.

"Then I will speak," said Felix, "and if, after you have heard, you think it better for me to take my leave at once, and not again to accept your hospitality, nor visit your house, as it has been my delight and privilege to do, I shall feel that you are justified in your decision." He hesitated a moment. There was a deep silence, which showed how much his unexpected words had impressed his three auditors.

"You are an Englishman, I have always understood?" asked Stepan Stepanovitch, abruptly.

"I am," replied Felix, in some distress. "Both my parents were English, and on my father's side I come of a good old family. As you may know, the English county gentry hold themselves the equals of the Continental nobility. The Vanstons trace back their pedigree to a Flemish noble, one Van Steen, who came to the Court of England with Queen Anne of Cleves, married an Englishwoman, and founded a family."

"Yet you seem to imply that you yourself have been in some sort involved with this miscreant Cravatz. I ask your pardon if I have misunderstood you."

Felix crimsoned, like a boy. Nadia, who had never till that moment seen his face express emotion, gazed with a thrill of excitement at the feeling which he evidently found it hard to control. He spoke low and rapidly. "When I was quite a young man I unhappily became imbued with revolutionary notions. There are in London plenty of desperate characters who are ready and waiting to take advantage of the enthusiasm of young lads such as I was. I fell into the hands of an Anarchist Brotherhood. I was put on by them to do the more dangerous part of their propaganda. The police interfered, I was sent to prison for a term of two years, and have actually served my sentence in an English jail."

He paused, his head sinking upon his chest. Nobody spoke. The face of Nadia had turned from crimson to chalk-white.

"My only brother," went on Felix, "disowned me. It is not to be wondered at. But what was to become of me? When I came back to the world, my prison record stood between me and every effort I made to earn a living. I was pretty well in despair when Vronsky found me, and by God's goodness, conceived an affection for me. He brought me out of England, and for a time it seemed as if the Brotherhood, who dogged my steps, had been thrown off the scent. But this man, Cravatz, was determined to track me down. He had a grudge against me, for I had exposed a slight piece of dishonesty of which he had been guilty. He found out where I was, and came to me secretly, bearing the order from the Brotherhood for your removal. I was the man selected for the business."

Nadia had sprung to her feet. She rushed to her father, flung her arms about his neck, and sank to the ground beside him. Felix waited a moment, but as nobody spoke he went on:

"When first I saw myself again in their toils, I felt I would struggle no more. I made up my mind that only death awaited me. But Vronsky's courage and faithfulness never wavered. He made a careful examination of the paper, the order which Cravatz had handed me; and he discovered, with infinite pains and the use of a microscope, that the name of the person ordered to murder you had been changed. There is a law in the Brotherhood that any brother who has been exposed to conspicuous danger, and has in consequence suffered imprisonment or other punishment for the cause, shall not again be called upon to do dangerous work for a period of seven years, except in very exceptional cases. This made Vronsky doubt whether the Council would have sanctioned my being appointed to a mission which meant almost certain death. He became convinced that it was Cravatz himself who had been appointed by the Council to execute their command, and that he was using me as his tool, intending to take the credit of your assassination to himself afterwards. He determined that Cravatz should be handed over to justice. The matter has taken him long, but all is now complete. Within the last few months Cravatz has committed murder of a peculiarly cold-blooded kind in this very province. But one more thing remains to be said. In some way unknown to us, Cravatz seems to have been informed that Vronsky was making plans against him. He is on his guard. If you wish to lay hands upon him, you must act speedily, and in the manner he is least likely to expect. We believe him to be at Gretz, or somewhere on the road between that and here, as we think it unlikely that he will venture into this neighborhood until the time for the execution of your sentence draws nearer."

The Governor looked up. "How long do they give me?" he asked, with a smile.

"Until the 31st of August, your Excellency."

Nadia, who had been clinging to her father with her face hidden, now raised it and shot a glance at Felix. "Why did you not, when you came out of prison, fling off all connection with such fiends?" she cried, in a passion of protest.

"Mademoiselle, you might as well ask the son of a drunkard why he does not fling off all connection with such a father. The answer simply is that it is not in my power to free myself. They bound me by an oath, and they hold me to it. I repudiate it, but what matters that if they do not?"

"If Cravatz wants to get rid of you it is a cleverly devised trap," said the Governor, thoughtfully.

"It is a cleverly devised trap, for I die either way. Cravatz argues that I, seeing death is before me in any case, shall choose rather to take the extreme risk and kill you, thereby earning for myself some glory among the miscreants who call themselves friends of liberty, than to be secretly made away with as a traitor by them. But even were I to commit this incredible baseness, as he expects, he would take to himself the credit of your murder, since hardly anybody but himself knows that I am here at all. He would have the glory of achieving your death, and would get this glory without risk to himself. It was worth trying for." He paused a minute—a long minute. Then he took up his hat.

"Shall I go, your Excellency?" he asked, quietly.

The Governor held out his hand. "Accept my sympathy," he said, gravely. Felix knelt, took the offered hand, and kissed it with gratitude.

Stepan Stepanovitch, without a word, turned to his table, opened the package sent him by Vronsky, and began to examine the contents. Among these were one or two photos—snapshots. "These are pictures of Cravatz?" he asked.

Felix assented, and drawing near the table, told him the story of Streloff's behavior that day.

The Governor listened with attention. "But this means," he said, "that until Cravatz is arrested your life is not safe. If so much is known one must move very warily. You could hardly arrest the man Streloff on the evidence you have. But if there is one spy, there may be others, and you go in danger. They will not give you till August 31st."

Felix pondered. "That is true," he said. "I am hoping to take a short holiday in England before long, but I should not be safe there. Several things combine to make me sure that Cravatz has not made known at headquarters the fact of my presence here; because he is playing his own game. But were I to attempt to leave the country, he could telegraph to a dozen places to have me waylaid and disposed of. While he is at large, I can think of no place in which I should be safe."

"I can imagine a way to insure your safety," said the Governor, thoughtfully, "but I do not like to suggest it, because it might seem to you as if I do not trust you."

Felix made a movement of gratitude. "Your Excellency," he said, with a sincerity which carried conviction, "I am in your hands. Do what you think best. You have every reason to distrust a man with such a record as mine. How could I complain? I will not protest my loyalty, my hatred of assassination. I will only say that I am ready, not merely to give my life for yours if necessary—that would be quite simple—but to fall in with any plan you may have to suggest, in deepest gratitude to you for thinking of my safety."

The Governor smiled. Nadia, who stood near, impulsively held out both hands to Felix, and the young man bent his head above them, the hot color suffusing his face. He was only twenty-five, after all.

"You may rely upon him, your Excellency," quietly said Miss Forester, the English governess. "My countrymen are not traitors—still less are they assassins."

The Governor smiled. "Had Mr. Vanston harbored designs against my life," he said, "he would not have told us the things we have just heard. I am going to save him from the power of his tyrants. Let me consider."

There was deep silence in the pleasant room.

"Well, this is my plan," said Stepan Stepanovitch, after a few minutes' thought. "You have a man with you to-day?"

"Max, my coachman——"

"Only he?"

"Only he, your Excellency."

"Is he faithful?"

"Entirely. He is not a Russian, though he speaks Russian well. He is a German Pole, and came to this country with me. He will do anything I tell him."

"Then," said the Governor, "I will send out two or three of my own private police—men I can trust—to waylay you on your homeward journey. They shall be stationed in the darkest part of the wood, And when you drive up, you must let there be as many signs of a scrimmage as you can. The cook shall give them a little blood to scatter, and you must drop a torn handkerchief, or something by which you can be identified. Am I right in supposing that the horses, if frightened, will gallop back to Savlinsky?"

"Yes, I am pretty sure they would."

"Then you must all of you return here by different ways, very privately. You must on no account be seen. You had better be waylaid on the farther side of the village, that all may see you pass through. But you must, of course, not go through it on your way back here. I will make arrangements to admit you and your man by the little postern door in the grounds which opens upon the forest. And you must remain here in hiding until Cravatz is secured. The only thing against the plan is that I must give my good Vronsky a severe fright. For it is most important that he should be as surprised as anybody by your disappearance. What do you say? You and I know enough of these secret societies to feel sure that their threats are not empty. If we can put our hands upon Cravatz at once, you can be released in a few days. But we are not sure of doing so. And as long as he is at large, so long will he manage some kind of communication with his man, Streloff. I could, of course, merely detain you here, without going to the risk and trouble of a feigned abduction. But this would show Streloff that you and I understand each other. They would know that we are on the alert, and they would take measures accordingly. By my plan, Streloff will be puzzled. He will see that Vronsky is not in the secret of your disappearance; and I can think of a way of getting you off afterwards to Gretz in such a manner that nobody shall know where you come from, or where you have been."

Felix nodded his head slowly two or three times. "It is a clever plan," he said, "but I fail to see in what respect it seems as though you did not trust me."

"Silly fellow, I shall have you under lock and key," said the Governor, with a smile. "And if so minded, I can keep you there, can I not? And nobody will know that you are there—will they? So that if we want to feel extra secure, Nadia and I—to sleep the sounder in our beds—we might send and have you murdered in yours—might we not?"

Felix smiled. He also bowed. "If the plan looks as if you did not trust me, it will also show whether or no I trust your Excellency," he said gallantly.

"Ah, well said! Well said!" cried Nadia, clasping her hands together in admiration. "Papa, you and Mr. Vanston are two! Two of a kind, I mean! Two men, each honorable enough to understand the other!"

"You think so?" said the Governor, laying his hand fondly a moment upon the dark hair. "Then take this young man away with you and play tennis diligently with him, that all may see we are upon just our usual terms. Until the time comes!"



—I found it a terrible thing. These villains set on me, and I beginning to resist, they gave but a call, and in came their master. I would, as the saying is, have given my life for a penny: but that, as God would have it, I was clothed with armor of proof.—JOHN BUNYAN.

In the northern parts of Siberia, in summer time, it seems as if the night would never come. At midsummer, it is almost true to say that there is no night—nothing but a veil of sapphire twilight, which lasts three or four hours. It was a month past midsummer when Felix drove to play tennis and dine at the Governor's house; but even then the dark was long in coming, and Vronsky did not expect his darling home until midnight. There was no moon that night; but the sky was cloudless, and the North burnt as if with the glow of a furnace hidden just below the horizon.

Out on the Steppe, between Savlinsky and the Forest of Nicolashof, there stood, some quarter of a mile from the road, and hidden from view by one of those undulations of the ground too low to be called hills, a Kirgiz yourtar, or tent. From a distance these yourtars look more like haystacks than anything else—round, fat haystacks, bound together by strips of hide. The material of which they are really made is thick, warm felt; and they afford a most efficient protection from cold and wet.

By the door, all that afternoon, sat three men, in the dress of Kirgiz peasants—long linen shirts, such as one may imagine Abraham to have worn as he sat in his tent door. The woman also, in her long white robe, with a white handkerchief bound round her head, going to and fro with her waterpails to a pond at a short distance, was very like a figure from the Old Testament.

From a hillock on the way to the pond she could just see a glimpse of the white highroad, her own head not being a conspicuous object upon the landscape, and all the rest of her being hidden from view by intervening swells of ground. From an hour before mid-day until an hour or so after, her avocations seemed to necessitate almost constant passing to and fro for water. Soon after half-past one a carriage shot past upon the quiet road. The woman at once reported this unusual event to her male companions. She added the information that the tarantasse contained Felix only, and that Vronsky was not with him. The statement was evidently of interest to one of the men, whose features did not seem to be of the true Kirgiz type, and who was smoking a pipe that suggested Western civilization. He consulted in low tones with the two other men. They seemed to come to some arrangement, and then fell silent. The long afternoon hours passed away, and they sat on like graven images. About five o'clock the woman again grew restless, and remained long at her coign of vantage, watching the road. But nothing stirred upon its empty expanse. After a while the woman brought supper, and they ate in silence, while the children, unwashed, untended, crept inside to sleep. It was about nine o'clock when a solitary figure appeared over the top of the low hillock which protected the yourtar from view of the road.

The men at the tent door made no movement nor sign that they had seen this man. He came on, quite alone; and when he had come near enough to speak, he greeted them in Russian. It was Streloff.

Evidently he bore disturbing news. He directed most of his talk to Cravatz, who, in his disguise, sat immovable, his eyes alone glittering in the dusk, showing his deep concern in the affairs related. There followed much urging, discussion, argument. At last a decision was arrived at. Cravatz was to depart southward at once, and alone. He must walk during the greater part of the night, not touching the highroad, straight to a yourtar which belonged to the brother of the man who now sheltered him. This man was a political refugee—no Kirgiz, but living as one, and married to a Kirgiz woman. As soon as Cravatz was gone, the other two men took off the Kirgiz shirts they wore, armed themselves, and with Streloff proceeded quietly westward, towards Nicolashof, not walking by the road, but keeping as far possible parallel with it, though out of sight of it, and using great caution until they were lost in the beginnings of the forest.

They disappeared—Cravatz to the south, they to the west—and the woman and children remained in the yourtar alone.

Soon they were sound asleep, while the deep rich blue of the northern summer night grew deeper and more intense, and the stars glowed like drops of fire.

Streloff carried the dagger of the Brotherhood. He had received his orders. Felix, in spite of Streloff's attempt to prevent it, had carried to the Governor the arraignment of Cravatz. Felix was to die that night. It was the first mission of the kind upon which the young man had been engaged, and he relished it.

In the wood all was very quiet. No living soul was astir. The village was long ago hushed into slumber, no light glimmered in all its extent. But Streloff and the two men with him did not go as far as the village. They passed the outer skirting of birch trees, where too much light fell upon the road, and entered with precaution the deeper depths of the pine trees, intending to halt at a certain spot where there was a dense thicket into which a body might with ease be dragged and hidden.

Suddenly one of the two men—a genuine Kirgiz—halted, his finger on his lip. The other two halted also, and crouched where they stood. They had heard a noise—very, very slight. It sounded like the striking of a match. Streloff felt his heart in his mouth. A moment later, and the unmistakable flicker of a light gleamed among the trees some distance ahead. It died down. The very, very faint sound of a voice, a whisper, broke the stillness. Someone was there. They held their breath, listening intently. They looked from one to the other blankly. What was to be done? Someone was there, and meant to stay there, for no movement was perceptible. Streloff considered. If there were but a solitary wayfarer it was awkward. They did not want to murder anybody unnecessarily; but this was not a solitary wayfarer, since they had heard someone speak. One does not talk to oneself—as a rule.

The one thing supremely important to the young spy was that he should not be seen. And he doubted whether it were now possible even to retreat, without making some slight noise to put those mysterious others upon the alert. They had almost walked into an ambush. His brain ached with the wonder. Who could they possibly be? What conceivable object, save to stop Felix Vanston's tarantasse, could lead men to hide in the wood at that hour? And he could not think of any others besides himself who would be likely to wish to do that. He was horribly agitated. For these men, no doubt, were as desirous as himself of being unobserved. They made no noise. In the intense silence of the forest he could not hear a sound. And he dared not make one.

Nothing was less desired by this young man than any kind of a fight. He wanted a murder, that was all. One accomplice to hold the horse, one to hold the coachman—and himself to knife Felix, who would almost certainly be unarmed. This sudden, wholly unexpected check upset his nerves. His subordinates looked to him for orders. He had none to give. But a few minutes' reflection steadied his nerves. They must somehow retreat, unobserved. They must cross the road lower down, and re-enter the wood on the other side of the road. Then they must rapidly work their way along, to a point between the village and the spot where the ambush lay, and there await the coming of their victim.

With inconceivable precaution they crept away. Among pine trees there is little undergrowth, few dead twigs to crack beneath the foot. Nevertheless, in that silence, for three men to retreat unheard was something of a feat; and Streloff, when after a quarter of an hour that seemed an eternity they stood out of sight and earshot, at the edge of the road, felt that he was proving himself a born spy.

They listened. Not a sound broke the calm of the summer night except the sigh of the wandering breeze in the tops of the pines. Like three flitting shadows, they crossed the road; and entered the wood upon the farther side. Streloff was immensely anxious to go on for at least half a mile—to meet the tarantasse at as great a distance as possible from where the ambush waited. But he was bothered, for the unknown others had chosen the very place he had decided to occupy—in the deep part of the wood, yet far enough from the village to prevent sounds from being heard. Who could they be? As they pushed along, he told himself that he was a fool. Doubtless these men were but three or four tramps, perhaps on their way from the harvest of one village to that of another—sleeping in the woods on their journey. But, whoever they were, they must not be witnesses of what was to take place.

And then, before he and his followers had reached a spot parallel to that where they had seen the lighted match, they heard the ringing of the harness-bells upon Felix's carriage.

For a moment they paused, simultaneously, while the musical ting, ting, ting, sounded each second clearer. This sudden destruction of his plans caused Streloff to hesitate—to hesitate three or four long, endless seconds, before he said: "Run back—back—as far down the road as we can."

They ran. But behind them the bells of the tarantasse rang more and more piercing sweet. And then there was a long, wild shout, and Streloff faced suddenly round, to see that a man had sprung from the other side of the road and caught the horse's head, and that Felix Vanston was standing up in the tarantasse, and had just hurled a second man down upon the ground; while two or three others were winding ropes about the prostrate form of Max, whom they had dragged from his seat.

Streloff gave no orders to his followers. He forgot all about them. Without a second thought he sprang into the mêlée. He never doubted that these men, though unknown to him, were his allies, for manifestly they were hostile to Felix; and he ran forward, his knife bare, shouting wildly, "Kill him—kill him! What is the use of taking him prisoner?"

He had brought no revolver, for he had meant to do his work silently, and shots carry on a still night. But his sudden appearance from nowhere seemed to strike the other men for a breathing space still with amazement. He saw then that they were masked.

"Help! Help!" cried Felix, writhing in the grip of three of them.

But the man who led had recovered from his bewilderment. "Stand, or I fire!" he called out, covering Streloff with the muzzle of his revolver.

"Streloff!" shouted Felix. "What are you doing here? Help me, you young fool! Knock that fellow down!"

"He has a knife! Look out!" cried another of the masked men, springing behind Streloff and pinioning his elbows.

The young man guessed himself in a trap, though unable to understand its nature. They were gagging Felix—he saw that—they could not understand that he, Streloff, was on their side—they might think him a rescue party, since they probably knew him to be in Vronsky's service. He struggled like a panther in the hold of his captor, writhed himself free, and hurled himself, knife in hand, upon Vanston. There could be no doubt of his murderous intent, and the man who covered him with his revolver fired without hesitation. The sound died away upon the quiet air, a light smoke drifted between the horrified eyes of Felix and the black trunks of the surrounding trees. Streloff dropped forwards, a strangled word upon his lips, a grin of rage upon his features. His blade had actually grazed young Vanston's ribs.

"Please God," said the policeman who had shot Streloff to Felix, "you'll never be nearer death than that again—until your time comes."

"Are there any more of them?" asked one of his colleagues, moving cautiously along the edge of the wood.

"I saw only him," replied a subordinate.

They raised the young fellow's body. He was quite dead.

"But he never could have started out alone to grapple with Mr. Vanston and Max," thoughtfully said the policeman. He gave an order, suddenly and sharp. "Search the wood thoroughly on both sides."

The men went off, searching up and down. But the two Kirgiz had got a couple of minutes' start, and they made the most of it. Like streaks of shadow they fled, down by-ways they knew well, and never paused until they stood before the yourtar, and roused the sleeping wife and children. By morning all was gone. There was no trace of yesterday's camp, except the brown circle of downtrodden grass where the tent had stood. The two men, the woman and the children, were tramping harmlessly along the highroad southward, towards the yourtar whither Cravatz had withdrawn.

It was past midnight when, with a rush and a crash of breaking wood, the horses galloped madly into the stableyard at Savlinsky, having broken one wheel off the tarantasse against the gate-post. Vronsky, who was restless and feverish, heard the uproar, and sent his servant, who slept in his room, to find out what had happened.

The man returned, chalk-white, and shaking as with ague. The carriage had returned, but it contained neither Felix nor Max. Its only occupant was—was the corpse of Streloff, the young clerk, murdered by a bullet wound in the temple.

The single shot fired by the policeman—the shot that killed Streloff—did not rouse the sleeping village. There was nobody to see the party of kidnappers slip in among the trees with their bound victims, nor to watch them unloose their bonds as soon as darkness covered them.

There was not, nevertheless, a moment to be lost, for the dawn was hard upon their heels, and all must re-enter the Governor's domain unseen. They separated. Only one remained as a guide with Felix and his servant, the others melted away into the forest in various directions. The guide kept them going at a swift trot, along a wood-cutter's path, and in several places over tracts where there was no path. If they came to a place where footmarks were perceptible he covered them up before proceeding. But in most places, on the hard, dry summer ground, their feet left no trace. On they went, on and on, the dawn shimmering down each instant with a more direct threat of daylight. Soon the north-east was on fire with rose-red light, as if it must burst into flame in a few minutes more. Trails of gossamer drifted across the eyes of Felix as he ran, the gray Siberian squirrels ran up the smooth trunks, the birds began to chatter and call. At last, when it seemed they had run for hours, they found themselves breasting a steep hill, where their feet slipped perpetually in the pine needles, and their guide, with infinite labor, had to obliterate their tracks by brushing them with a branch of pine foliage.

At last they reached the high wall or palisade of untrimmed fir trunks which protected the Governor's grounds from the forest.

Along it they moved, battling here with rank undergrowth which grew in profusion wherever trees had been cut down. At last came a door; their guide inserted a key. They slipped through, and found themselves in a long dim green alley.

It seemed to Felix that it reached to the end of the world. His head was swimming, his feet sticky with something that ran down his legs into his boots. But he staggered on, holding on to Max, who did not seem at all distressed; and at last dragged himself into a small room, where stood a table with food and drink, and the Governor himself advanced, with hand outstretched.

"All well?" he asked. "I was a little anxious. You are later than you should have been by nearly an hour."

"There was more than one ambush," began Felix; but, to his own surprise, his voice failed, and the room rocked round him. He made a dizzy step forward and lurched. But the arms of Max behind upheld him.

"Unfasten his coat," said the servant, himself still breathless with the flight. "Unless I am much mistaken he has been losing blood all the way."

"Blood!" echoed the Governor. "Was there an accident, then?"

"There were real murderers afoot, your Excellency, as well as sham ones," said Max. "If your men had not been there, who can tell what might have happened?"

He had opened Felix's shirt at the throat. The whole of his clothing was soaked and saturated with blood. A handkerchief which the policeman had hurriedly pushed in was scarlet and dripping.

"Good heavens! This was not my fault?" cried the Governor, in horror.

"No, indeed, my Lord. As I say, it is a good thing your men were in the way. They have saved his life," said Max, gathering his master into his arms. "Before they tell you more may we carry him to bed, and stop this bleeding?"



Old men love, while young men die.
                                        —RUDYARD KIPLING.

The Governor, his daughter, and Miss Forester were all at breakfast, in a charming room into which the sunshine was streaming, when, unannounced, Vronsky staggered into the room, a piteous figure.

The pallor of fever was still upon him; his eyes were wild, his demeanor agitated. He greeted nobody; his usually courtly manners had deserted him completely. His head fell upon his chest as he sank down on a chair, ejaculating hoarsely, "My boy! I have lost my boy!"

The three breakfasting rose simultaneously to their feet. The Governor looked disconcerted, Miss Forester as though amused, and ashamed that she should feel amused; and Nadia's eyes were swimming with tears of pure pity.

They had but that moment been speaking of Felix, and Stepan Stepanovitch had been impressing upon them both the absolute necessity of complete reticence at present. He had not confided to the ladies the plight in which the young man had returned to the castle. They only knew that he had returned, and that he was resting—under lock and key, as the Governor had threatened!

But, as it happened, Miss Forester had heard more. She knew that Felix had been wounded, though the wound was quite superficial. She knew other things as well—things she must not let the young girl know.

They all simulated astonishment; sympathy they had no need to simulate. For it would have been a hard-hearted woman who was not moved by the extremity of Vronsky's trouble.

"He was everything to me—my whole future—and if they have taken him," he vowed, "I will spend the rest of my life and my fortune in hunting down and torturing every member of that vile Brotherhood as if they were vermin."

"But give me all the details," said Stepan Stepanovitch. He had been displeased at the dramatic action of his subordinates in placing the corpse of Streloff in the tarantasse. But nothing, as a matter of fact, could more completely have put not only Vronsky, but others, off the scent.

Vronsky explained, in shaken tones. He told how Streloff had behaved the previous day; how his suspicions had been awakened; how the great, strong Hutin had been told off to watch the spy; how the spy had managed to drug Hutin's coffee, and had got off unseen between nine and ten in the evening. He told how he had been asleep, for the first time in forty-eight hours, and how his own servant had declined to allow him to be disturbed by Hutin upon a matter of business; and how an hour later he had started up out of his slumbers, at sound of the maddened horses dashing into the yard.

"All is mystery," said Vronsky. "Who shot Streloff? Not Felix, for he had no revolver with him. In this peaceful province we no more think of carrying firearms than we should in London. But if Felix did not shoot him, who did? And where is my boy? Ah! where? I shall never see him again."

"Have you searched the road carefully?" asked the Governor, after a pause.

"Yes. The spot is obvious—a mile on the Savlinsky side of the village, in the forest. There is blood on the ground, and the trampling of many feet. I found, also, the small amber mouthpiece in which my boy smokes his cigarettes." He laid it on the table, and his voice broke in a sob.

The Governor rose. "I shall go myself at once," he said, "and examine the ground. If Mr. Vanston was really kidnapped there, and carried off helpless, there must be some sign of the way he was taken. Find Cravatz, and we find him—that is my notion." He laid a kindly hand upon Vronsky's shoulder. "Courage!" he said. "I leave you here with the ladies. You must not go back yet awhile to Savlinsky to eat your heart out. Wait here and rest until I bring you tidings."

"Yes, do," said Nadia, with all the ardent impetuosity of her nature, deeply moved by the sight of the man's grief. She came and stood by Vronsky, holding out her hand, and he let his craving eyes feed upon her beauty. He even dared to carry the sympathizing little hand to his lips. It was astonishing how much it comforted him.

"There never was such a boy," he said, "and all his life he has had such misfortune to contend against! His father was a good man; but I fear his mother was not exemplary. His half-brother never understood him. Then he got involved with these thrice-accursed tyrants who call themselves friends of liberty. And then he performed an heroic action—he saved from worse than death a young girl ... and with her he fell deep, deep in love. She promised to wait for him, and his heart is altogether hers. But I do not think she is faithful to him. He could marry now, and he longs to do so. He was to have his holiday and go to England and see what his chance was. But now, where is he? Once again his evil fate has been too strong for him."

Nadia withdrew her hand somewhat precipitately as he spoke, and went to the window. Miss Forester, watching her curiously, saw the red color mount to her very brow, and pitied her. Miss Forester thought Felix a most attractive young man, and marveled that Stepan Stepanovitch should allow him to be so freely in his daughter's company. It had seemed almost impossible that these two young creatures, thrown so exclusively into each other's society, should not fall in love with each other. Yet all along the Englishwoman had been doubtful whether Felix returned the feeling which she was positive he had aroused in Nadia. And this morning, when she had received the whispered confidences of Kathinka, the woman who had been summoned to wash and bind up Felix's wound, there had been a small thing said:

"And though he is a heretic, he wears around his neck a charm or a token. It is the half of a small silver coin."

Miss Forester's heart contracted with a sharp pang. She did not like the notion that her darling Nadia should be made unhappy.

Vronsky saw the withdrawal of Nadia, and rose to his feet. He followed her. "Alas!" he said, "men are selfish things! I am bewailing my loss, and cutting you to your sympathetic heart. I am lamenting, and I do not reflect that my Felix, who is to me wife and son and all I have to love in a desolate world, is nothing to others—nothing!" He covered his face. "Mademoiselle, I cannot control my feeling. Let me go out into the garden until I have got the better of this weakness." His tears were actually falling, and he shook with emotion. To the astonishment of her governess Nadia went up to him, and laid her hands upon his shoulders; it seemed as if she almost embraced him, as though he had been a father.

"Oh!" she cried, and her sweet voice—the Slav voice, with tears in it—quivered and vibrated with emotion. "Oh! is it possible that he should love a girl who—who cannot keep faith with him?"

Vronsky grew suddenly very still. His sobs ceased. As though he were touching some sacred thing, he put his arms about the girl's shoulders. A curious succession of feelings played over his fine, expressive face. It was as if he knew that she felt towards him as towards an elderly relative—him, who was quivering with the true passion of a man for her—and as if, in the moment of his hopeless craving and bitter sadness, some other idea, new and sweet, had dawned upon his unselfish soul.

"Dorogaya (dearest)," he faltered, hardly knowing that he used the word—"these English girls are not like ourselves. They are selfish and grasping. They think of their own feeling, the gratifying of their own desire. They do not think of what a man may suffer in their cruel hands." He had grown very white. The girl's face, trustful, uncomprehending, was very near his own lips. He turned, with a supreme effort of strength, and seated her in a chair near. "The comfort of knowing that I have your sympathy," he muttered, brokenly.

Miss Forester, watching, thought she had seldom seen anything more delicate, more touching, than his handling of the situation. Nadia was very young, and her whole heart went out to the man who thus wonderfully responded to her inmost feeling. She let her hand lie in his hold, while she leant languidly back in her chair and let him talk to her of Felix—of the young man's excellencies, and his own hopes and fears. Then suddenly she started up.

"My friend," she said, with a beautiful earnestness and confidence, "I have a vision—I have a presentiment. Your son, whom you love so much, is safe! He is safe! I know it! He will come back to you—my father will restore him to you safe and sound! Will you share my faith?"

Vronsky, who had been kneeling by her chair, rose slowly to his feet. His wondering eyes were fixed upon her glowing, kindled face. "Yes," he said, slowly, "I will share your fine faith. I will not despair, since you—you, Nadia Stepanovna, tell me to hope."

The girl turned impulsively to where a huge and beautifully carved Eikon hung upon the wall. Side by side, Vronsky and she knelt before it, and their united prayer for Felix arose in the deep silence which followed.



Elle songeait—"C'en est fini de la vie heureuse!—Quelle est donc cette loi cruelle qui régit le monde? Pourquoi l'homme ne peut il vivre avec la femme ou même la voir simplement sans la convoiter? Qu'est-ce que cette nourriture misérable dont ne peuvent se passer les cœurs, ce pain de l'amour, toujours pétri de larmes et quelquefois de sang?"—ANATOLE LE BRAZ.

Aunt Bee awaited with a good deal of humorous anticipation the return of the picnic party from Newark. She had, as she well knew, shot an arrow into the heart of the slowly-moved Denzil by suggesting to him the imminent departure of Rona under certain circumstances. She felt almost sure that upon this hint he must realize what was the matter with him, and speak.

She eyed the various members of the party with some care during the evening, and became pretty certain that something had happened, for Denzil was unusually flushed; and the heaviness of Rona's eyelids seemed to suggest that she had been weeping.

No word was said, however, and no announcement made. The evening passed off a little heavily. Rona, hitherto the life and soul of the party, was the victim of a depression she could not shake off. Rallied upon her silence, she owned to being very tired; said she thought the sun had made her head ache, and slipped away early to bed.

But, when she had gained her room—the pretty, dainty nest, with its rose chintzes, and its air of subdued luxury—she did not attempt to undress nor to lie down to rest.

Pushing wide the casement of her window, she sat down upon the window seat, joined her hands beneath her chin, and gazed upon the stars. The drifting by of the soft night wind, like an impatient sigh, lifted her loosened hair from her brow. The beauty of the velvet darkness, the perfume of the roses that clustered upon the wall outside her room were all unnoticed. Her life was torn with the pain of having to decide.

In spite of her convent rearing, in spite of a childhood so sheltered, this young creature had come into contact with much that maidens of her age never know.

Most girls begin life cradled in the soft lap of sentiment. As a rule, the sentimental and diluted version of sex feeling which they call love, comes to them first. They pass out from their world of dreams into real life, through a fairy archway built up of the pretty accessories which go to make a wedding.

But Veronica had no such initiation. Hardly had the door of her convent closed upon, her than the wolves of life were upon her heels. The shock which she had received, when first a glimmering of what was meant by her uncle's arrangement with Levy dawned upon her, had as it were flung her violently away from the mood of shy and artless pleasure with which the average young girl awaits her destiny.

Rona had no idea what being in love meant.

Her nature was essentially an honest one. She wanted to do right. But she felt as if, in her present distress, she had no rudder.

Denzil and Felix! Brothers! One had saved her life, the other had preserved it. To which did she owe her allegiance?

As a matter of fact, she loved neither. But she knew she did not love Felix, and she did not know that she did not love Denzil. The elder brother was known to her, he was her daily companion, her kind friend. She was very fond of him, and this was more than she could say of any other man she had ever seen.

She was not fond of Felix—she feared him. She had preserved a memory as of a great force—of something in him that might compel her to do as he wished. This she resented, and hated.

All her own wishes inclined to the side of Denzil. But this very fact made her anxious that Felix should have full justice.

Small things sometimes modify the feelings in a quite unexpected way. Thus, the discovery that the cruel brother whose image she had detested for two years—the brother whose brutal indifference had goaded Felix to suicide—was none other than the moderate, sensible, benevolent Denzil Vanston, had in some measure impaired her belief in Felix's judgment, if not his accuracy. She felt so sure, so convinced that Denzil would in all circumstances be reasonable, and treat his younger brother with fairness; that she was shaken in her sympathies, and doubtful of Felix's wisdom.

Denzil had to-day told her something of Felix's mother. She had learned how, for the years ensuing on his father's death, the second Mrs. Vanston had practically turned him out of doors. He told her of the pain and anxiety which the light woman had caused her elderly husband, and of the "goings-on" at Normansgrave after his death. She discovered that family affairs have usually two sides, and that Felix was by no means the injured innocent which, in her inexperience, she had thought him.

But, all the more for this change of mind in herself, she was determined that Felix must have fair play. Her notion of fair play for him was that she should write to him and explain the whole situation, as far as she herself understood it. If she were sure that it was right, she would go out and marry Felix, and sacrifice the rest of her life to him. But she did not believe that it was right to marry a man without loving him, unless he clearly understood that this was so. And Denzil manifestly had his claims, as well as Felix. To her, his claims appeared the stronger.

Felix was now doing well. He had a good friend, in the person of Mr. Vronsky, who was devoted to him. He was still quite young, and would doubtless marry somebody else.

She thought out the thing in her own mind as clearly as she could, and then went to her writing-table, sat down, and wrote to Felix before she slept. After explaining to him the situation as well as she could—

"—I do not love you," she wrote. "I own it. I do not wish to marry you. I admit it. I do not think that this is my fault. One cannot compel the feelings. To me you are almost a stranger. But your brother is my friend. He is splendidly unselfish, and after he had recovered from the shock of finding that I had been deceiving him all the time that he has been benefiting me, he said that of course there could be nothing between us unless you released me.

"But I admit that I promised I would marry you. And I will keep that promise if you hold me to it, and do all I can to make up for the fact that I have not love to give. And perhaps I ought to tell you that I do not believe I shall ever be in love. Sometimes I think that the agony I went through, before my attempt to kill myself, has seared my feelings and made me hard and stupid. If you think of marrying me it is right that you should know this.

"I am not including in this letter a word of thanks for all that you have been to me. I feel that, were I in your place, thanks would seem an insult if the love that ought to wing them were lacking.

"But do ask yourself honestly whether you really love me any more than I love you. What could your feeling be but just a sentiment, a figment of the imagination? You do not know me, or my tastes, or my temper, or my habits. How can you desire my daily companionship? Am I doing you a real wrong or only an imaginary one?

"I write far more coldly than I feel. My heart is aching with sympathy for you. But if I were you sympathy would madden me, and I do not offer it.

"I do ask forgiveness for my—what must I call it?—my involuntary inconstancy."

At the back of her mind rankled the thought of all the money of his which she had accepted and spent. But she did not dare allude to it in the letter. She must await his answer to her confession. If she were to accept Denzil, and marry him, this money must be repaid. She wondered at herself now, to think how simply she had accepted it.

So she wrote her letter, and went to bed with a mind slightly more at ease. And meanwhile, downstairs, Denzil and Aunt Bee sat together in the billiard-room, discussing the extraordinary revelation made by their protégée that day.

Aunt Bee had guessed that there had been some kind of avowal on her nephew's part, and that it had been met by some corresponding confession of an unexpected nature on that of the girl. But she was far from being prepared for the surprising truth.

Denzil put into her hands his brother's letter, which Rona had given him leave to show, and related to the astounded lady the true story of the escape of the young man and the girl from the power of Rankin Leigh and Levy.

Miss Rawson sat for some time silent, taking it all in. The young canal bargeman, the handsome, unkempt tramp, whose tragic face had dwelt with her ever since her short interview with him—he was actually Felix Vanston, the black sheep—the boy whom she had last seen in riding breeches, mounted on his pony before the door of Normansgrave, and arrogantly declining to take off his hat to her at his mother's peevish bidding.

"Why," she burst out, "he must have known me! Why did he not tell me who he was? But, of course, that was the last thing he would have been likely to do. He was not long out of prison—out of prison! Oh, think of it! He was actually starving, in despair, a suicide in all but actual accomplishment, and yet he was straining every nerve, defying the law, eluding pursuit, to put this unknown child into safe keeping! He is a hero, Denzil."

Denzil's face grew sullen. "If she had not been so sweet, so lovable, would he have been so willing?" he asked, resentfully. "Who that saw her could resist the desire to help her, to do all in their power for her? What did I do?" His voice broke—only rage enabled him to go on speaking. "I have done for her a thousand times as much as he did. If gratitude constitutes a claim——"

"Oh, Denzil!"

The reproof in her voice brought him up short. "I beg your pardon. I am a brute, I know. I am jealous of him, bitterly jealous! I believe I always have been. My father loved him better than he loved me. My father loved that woman—I daren't trust myself to talk of her—better than ever he loved my poor good mother. I have always been jealous of Felix. In the light of what I am suffering now, I know that much, But—but"—his eyes gleamed, and he set his teeth—he looked a different man—"but he has not got her love. She likes me best—and I am going to have her, too. She asked me to save her from him."

Miss Rawson viewed him steadily. She was desperately sorry for him.

"I am in favor of keeping one's word," went on Denzil in an exculpatory tone. "I would never urge anybody, man or woman, to back out of a promise given. But a promise of this kind stands on a different footing. A girl of Rona's age at that time cannot give a promise that shall be binding when she is grown up. Look how human beings change! And nobody could urge her to keep the letter of a promise which in spirit she not only has already broken, but which she has never, in fact, kept."

"That is true," said Miss Rawson slowly. And after some consideration she asked him, "What are you going to do?"

"I am going to write to him to come home at once, at my expense, and we will have this thing decided," said Denzil, in a voice which told that his mind was made up. "She must not, of course, give me any promise until he has released her: though from this letter I judge that he understands pretty well the state of her feeling for him. But let him come—let it be fair and square between him and me. He must have his chance."

Miss Rawson was still very thoughtful. After another pause she went on: "There is another aspect of the case, you know, Denzil, which, in your absorption over this curious complication, you have put on one side. Did Rona tell you nothing of her birth or parentage?"

He started, as if the idea occurred to him for the first time. "Nothing," he said; "as you say, the subject was not touched upon."

"Yet it will be impossible or most unwise for a marriage to take place, dear Denzil, without further details," said Aunt Bee. She spoke hesitatingly, loath to wound, but with a gravity which fixed his attention. "If this man is still alive—this Rankin Leigh—I suppose he would be fairly certain to hear of his niece's marriage. You cannot marry her under any but her true name. Veronica Leigh is not a common name; and the wedding of Denzil Vanston of Normansgrave must be publicly announced. You would not like ugly facts to crop up about your wife."

Denzil crimsoned. "Why, what facts?" he asked. "What could turn up?"

She replied cautiously: "If, as you tell me, this man was intending to hand her over to the kind of life that is implied by such a training, he must be a person on a very different social level from ourselves. Remember, Felix rescued her from a lodging-house in Deptford. I am not a snob, my boy, and I know that lilies-of-the-valley are now and then found on dust-heaps. I acknowledge with all my heart that Rona is a lily of a girl. But it will not be pleasant for you to have undesirable people coming about you, perhaps blackmailing you to have facts about your wife's origin kept dark. However dearly we love Rona, the fact remains that we do not know who she is. Remember, Denzil, it is a question of the mother of your children—of future Vanstons, dear boy."

The young man hid his hot face in his hands. "You," he said, in smothered tones, "you did not dissuade me—we have acted together in this—you and I."

"Yes, Denzil. I willingly shoulder the blame. The girl herself was her own passport; and her brother's letter convinced me of his own gentle birth and education. But remember, I thought them brother and sister. That made all the difference. Had I known that they were almost strangers—that he took her from such a place—had I known, in short, what I know now—I might have acted differently. I might have given other advice. For it is well for a man to marry his equal; it makes for happiness."

"One can see," said Denzil, in a hollow voice, "why he dare not let it out. If we had known he was not really her brother, we should not have allowed him to take her away. We should have considered him utterly unfit to be the guide or helper of such a girl. What do you advise, Aunt Bee? Shall I write to the Convent School and see whether the Reverend Mother can tell me anything?"

"An excellent idea," said Miss Rawson, "though, judging from what you say Rona told you, the Reverend Mother does not know much. Still, she might give us a clew. I do think we ought to inform ourselves as far as we can."

"There is one thing," remarked the Squire, "if the uncle knows the girl is to make a really good marriage, and be off his hands, he would not be likely to object, would he?"

"No," said his aunt; "one would think not. But such a man would make something out of you if he saw his way to do it. If he knew you to be much in love, he might impose conditions."

"Such as——?"

"Well, such as that you should ask him down here to stay, or subsidize him to keep quiet, or something of the kind——"

Denzil shuddered involuntarily.

"—He must be a pretty nefarious villain not to have made public the fact of the girl's disappearance," continued Aunt Bee. "He must have had good and strong reasons himself for keeping dark. I wish we could find out something which would give us a hold over him, so that in case of his being troublesome we could keep him quiet."

"That is not a bad idea," said Denzil, thoughtfully. "It gives one something to do—something to take off one's thoughts from the disappointment—the anxiety." He fell silent, twisting his hands in his nervous misery. "Aunt Bee," he brought out, at last, "whatever happens—whatever should come out—I must marry her. I feel towards her as I never thought to feel towards any woman in the world. I always thought all the stuff in books about being in love was such nonsense. But now——" He could not go on.

"God bless you, old man; it will do you all the good in the world," said his aunt, heartily. "A thing like this shows one how far one's feeling is really genuine and deep. It is a good thing the path of your happiness is not too smooth. I do think myself, though I am not in love with her—I do think the girl is fine, and worth a fight. I have always known she had some secret anxiety, but have put it down to the fact that she could not be candid with me about her birth and so on. That she was actually engaged all this time to your remarkable brother has been a heavy burden to be borne by such young shoulders. Her courage and prudence are both wonderful."

"Think," said Denzil, hardly able to speak for a feeling which threatened to choke him. "Think of her actually throwing herself out of a window down upon railway lines, sooner than suffer degradation! You are right. She is wonderful. Good-night, my dear aunt."

They separated, feeling more in sympathy than ever in their lives before.



But did she love him?—what and if she did? ...
Love has no spell can scorching winds forbid,
Or bring the help which tarries near to hand,
Or spread a cloud for curtaining fading eyes
That gaze up dying into alien skies.
                                                                            —JEAN INGELOW.

A fortnight passed at Normansgrave, in doubt and discomfort. It was fortunate that the house was full of visitors, for their entertainment served to take off the thoughts of the master of the house from his own interrupted and absorbing romance.

Upon the day following his proposal to Veronica in the Abbey ruins he wrote to Felix, a letter which seemed to him of a dignified and most fraternal character. He said, in effect—"All is known, but at the same time all is forgiven. Come home and let us settle things up. I wish to treat you quite fairly, though I do not think that you have so treated me."

His next care was to go to London, and, with the utmost secrecy and precaution, set on foot a private inquiry for the man Rankin Leigh. He likewise spent some time in Somerset House, searching the register for the entry of Rona's birth. She knew the exact year, month, and day, but, for safety's sake, he also investigated the corresponding month in the years following and preceding. There was no entry of any Veronica Leigh during the three years studied by him.

He found himself continually lost in speculation as to who the girl was. He wrote to the Mother Superior of the Convent, and her reply disturbed him greatly. She asked him, if he could possibly arrange it, to come and visit her personally. She had very little to tell him, but should be most grateful to hear good news of the girl, over whose fate she had grieved many times since she left the Convent.

Glad of any pretext to be upon the move, Denzil did as she asked him. He pleaded sudden and very important business connected with his ward, Miss Leigh, and left his visitors for a couple of days to the care of Aunt Bee and Rona.

But he wished afterwards that he had not gone, since all that the Reverend Mother could tell him went to confirm the suspicion which had lain at the bottom of his mind ever since he first saw the girl—namely, that Rona had no legal father.

A firm of solicitors, said the good lady, had written to her, asking her to receive a girl child, of the age of six months. It was said that she was doubly an orphan, and that it was believed that she had been duly baptized, but, as her mother was suddenly dead, nobody knew by what name. A sum for her maintenance was guaranteed. When the baby arrived at the Convent, the good nuns thought it best to be upon the safe side, and re-baptized her, under the name of Veronica; the record of this provisional baptism was shown to him in the register of their private chapel. They were told that the child's parents both belonged to the Roman Catholic faith. The sum promised them was duly paid, every quarter, through the same firm, until Rona was sixteen. The lawyers then wrote to the Convent, saying that their client, who had paid the money, was dead. He had left no instructions in his will as to the continuance of the payments, and they found no member of his family willing to sanction such a course. Nobody knew who the child was, and, so far as was known, she had no claim upon the man who had hitherto supported her. As she had attained the age of sixteen, the legatees thought she should now support herself. In these circumstances, the firm had communicated with Mr. Rankin Leigh, who was, they were informed, uncle to the child, upon her mother's side; and he had replied to the effect that he would travel down to the school and see his niece, with a view to making some provision for her future.

This Mr. Leigh had, after some weeks, presented himself. He was a seedy-looking individual. He declared, in conversation with the Reverend Mother, that he was wholly unable to support Veronica, who must earn her own living, but that, if she were a well-grown, nice-looking girl, he thought he might put her into a very good situation. Having seen his niece, he was evidently much struck by her beauty. "She is beautiful, do you not think?" asked the Mother, eagerly, of Denzil. "We all thought she promised to be lovely; though at that time, she was in the awkward stage. I have often wondered whether she has grown up as beautiful as we thought she would."

Denzil was able to produce a good photo of Veronica, taken within the last few weeks, and was touched at seeing the joy of the kind woman at her grace, and her happy look.

Denzil then, as well as he could, confided to her the terrible experience through which Rona had passed. He told of her rescue, and of their taking her into the Cottage Hospital. "Of course," he said, "we could see at once that she was no common girl."

The Mother agreed. She expatiated on the subject of Veronica. She had been an exquisitely pretty baby, and the joy of the nuns' hearts. Her clothes had been good and carefully made. She had evidently been the child of someone who cherished her tenderly.

But there was the significant fact that she seemed to be called by her mother's surname. It all contributed to the idea that Rona was nobody's child. And, deeply in love though Denzil was, he did not like the notion at all.

Rankin Leigh, it appeared, was an elderly man, and he had owned to the Mother that he was not the child's own uncle, but her great-uncle—her mother had been his niece. He had pumped hard to find out whether anything was known of the child's father, but, of course, had ascertained nothing.

Denzil asked if there was any reason to suppose that Rankin Leigh was the girl's legal guardian. Nothing was known on this head; but, as he was apparently the only living relative, and as there was no more money to support the child, they had felt bound to let her go.

"I really did not know what to do with her," said the good woman. "I thought her much too handsome to be in business, and much too refined for service, and, of course, she was too young to teach."

The Squire returned to Normansgrave with much food for thought. He had obtained from the Mother one thing which he thought of great importance, and that was the name and address of the firm of solicitors who had arranged for the child's reception at the Orphanage.

To them he wrote, at the earliest possible moment. His letter came back to him through the dead-letter office, marked "Gone away." And no search of Postal Guides revealed any address for a firm of that name. He began to wonder whether the simple-seeming nun had played him false after all. Yet, what motive could she have had for doing so?

The visit brought him home, restless and dissatisfied. He determined to say nothing to Rona of where he had been. On his way home in the train he had serious doubts as to whether he should not disentangle himself altogether from this intricate affair of his brother and the Girl from Nowhere. It was completely out of his line to be thus mixed up in questionable matters.

But the moment he saw her again—the moment, when, standing on the terrace, he beheld her drifting across the lawns with an armful of flowers, walking without a hat, the boisterous wind ruffling her hair back from her flawless forehead—there awoke in him the long ignored natural desires. His heart beat, his eyes filled, his being grew big with the craving to take her, to make her his at any price he might afterwards be called upon to pay.

Rona, when she saw him standing there, stopped short. She blushed as she met his gaze. She could not now encounter him without confusion. She felt certain that she did not love Felix. But she was anything but certain that she did love his brother.

Since his declaration at Newark there had been something in the quality of his affection which she disliked. His eyes were always seeking hers, he tried to take her hand when occasion offered. If they were alone he would seat himself beside her, closer than she liked. She was growing very shy of him. The virginal instinct to fly from pursuit was strong in her.

He began to wonder how much longer he should be able to bear the present situation. It was anomalous. They could not expect a letter from Felix for another ten days or more. And it might not be a letter which came. It might be Felix himself.

As he hastened down from the terrace, and relieved her of the tall delphiniums and golden rod and dahlias which she carried, it was in his heart to catch her and hold her close, and cry to her that she was his, and that Felix should not come between them. Instead, he merely smiled upon her, and asked affectionately, but somewhat tritely, if she had missed him. She replied, with lowered eye-lids and a charming dignity, that she had.

He meant to say something to the effect that he chafed against the restraints imposed upon him by their waiting, by their scrupulous regard for the absent man. Instead of that, he burst forth without reflection—

"Come and let us sit on the stone seat and talk! It is about a hundred years since I left you."

Veronica did not look at all delighted, but she obediently turned with him, and they went slowly across the lawn to a distant part of the garden, where there was an Alpine rockery. They sat down together upon a small bench, let into the rocks which bordered the path. They had sat there often, during the few golden weeks since her return. But this afternoon Rona felt a restless insecurity, a desire to rise up and go and leave Denzil to himself. What could they say to each other? There was nothing to be said. Her heart was empty of any feeling for him, beyond the grateful affection which by no means craves stolen interviews.

As for Denzil, for the first time in his life his impulses were galloping off with his reason. The very aloofness and gentle coolness of the maiden spurred him on.

"Rona," he said feverishly, "I feel as if all my life I had been waiting to know that you are free."

She smiled ambiguously. "Don't let us talk of that."

"Of what, then? I don't feel at this moment as if I care a pin for anything else in the world."

She regarded him with curiosity. "Do you really feel that?"

"Indeed I do. Don't you?"

She was gazing straight before her, and she shook her head. "Not a bit. I must tell the truth, you know. I feel the world is big, and very—frightfully—interesting. And there are many things I want to know about, and talk about."

He sat very silent. "Then—then—you don't—er—return my feeling? You are not in love with me, as I am with you, Rona?" he wistfully demanded, at length.

After a pause, "I don't know," she replied.

He felt dashed and piqued, both at the same moment.

"I wonder if you have any idea of how cruel it is of you to say that?" he asked, half pleading, half annoyed.

"Oh, I don't want to be cruel," she hastily answered. "I want to be very kind to you, Mr. Vanston."

"Say Denzil—give me my name, Rona."

"Oh!" said Rona, quite as if the suggestion shocked her. He leaned forward, staring at her, taking in the beauties of her with thirsty eyes—the quality of her skin, the modeling of the corners of her lips, the bend of her lashes, the heaving of her throat under her embroidered muslin bodice.

"Why not?" he asked, in a low, hoarse voice. The voice warned Rona, for it was unnatural. She stood up. "It is chilly in the wind," she said, standing there, her face and, hair gilded by a long sun ray which struck upon her through the trees.

He sprang to his feet, and his eyes glittered. "Oh!" he said, "Oh, how beautiful you are!" He caught both her hands in his hot grasp. "You must tell me," he panted, "do you hear? You must tell me what you feel? Did you mean what you said, that you don't care for me? Oh, you couldn't mean that—Rona!"

He was close to her—so close that he could feel the contact of her slim form. Some instinct warned her that to move suddenly would provoke further demonstration. She grew white, and took his hand in her own. "Have I not asked you," she said, in a very still voice, "not to talk of this—yet?"

It was the woman's device to gain time. But it did not seem to have succeeded. "Not yet?" he cried, on a high note. "Is that what you mean, really? That we ought not to speak freely yet? I can wait—or I thought I could, half an hour ago! But give me a word, just a word, Rona."

He followed her up, his arm ready to go round her waist. She but just eluded him. "The word is—wait," she said: and in her fear she began to lose the control which had subdued him. "You must wait, if I say wait," she cried imperiously. And her next words sounded curiously irrelevant. "After all, I am only nineteen," she urged, indignantly.

He felt like a man pushing against a closed door—felt a deep desire to batter it down with force. Yet he could not risk her displeasure.

"Oh, Rona," he said, "it is too bad of you to torture me."

She retorted quickly, "It is you who are torturing me"—and broke off upon the word, for there was the sound of a voice raised, calling Mr. Vanston.

Impatiently Denzil went to the flight of steps which led down into the little garden where they sat. "Who is there? What do you want?" he cried testily.

"Oh, there you are, sir," cried Chant, the butler. "I knew you had come in, but couldn't find you. A cablegram, sir. Is there any answer?"

Rona's heart seemed to stop. She stood where she was, still as a statue, while Denzil opened the envelope. He seemed to grope, to fumble, to take incredibly long over the simple process.

A cablegram! Doubtless to announce that Felix was on his way. That flimsy bit of paper showed how terribly near, how accessible he was and always had been, though he had seemed so far away as not to count in one's scheme of life. And now he was coming! When? How much respite yet before she must look upon his strong, reproachful face?

Denzil glanced up, white as ashes, from the paper he held. "There is no answer," he said to Chant; and the man went away.

The Squire came up to Rona and held the paper to her. She took it and gazed for a moment with blurred eyes. Then her vision cleared and she saw:—

"Felix missing. Fear foul play. Vronsky."

She stared upon the message, her heart contracting till the pain was physical. Was this to be the way out for her? Was the man who had rescued her, and trusted her, and loved her to die at last a violent death at the hand of inhuman wretches who called themselves brothers to humanity? The oppression of her spirits threatened to choke her. She cried out, in a tone she hardly knew to be her own.

"Denzil! Denzil? Tell me it isn't true!"

He ran to her, his arms held out, his sympathy ready to be poured forth upon her.

"Oh, don't! oh, don't!" she pleaded, not choosing her words. "Don't behave so, when we have this to consider! What are we doing here in England safe and happy, when perhaps they are torturing him to death!"

Denzil drew out a handkerchief, passed it across his face, and collected himself. "I beg your pardon. This—this is terrible. But he has brought it upon himself—as a man soweth——"

"Oh!" cried Rona, unable to repress a strong shudder of disgust.

He stood silent a moment, surprised and confused. The news, following upon his moments of unrestraint, had unstrung him somewhat.

"What," he asked vacantly, "what ought we to do?"

"Do?" cried the girl. "There is only one thing to be done! You must go there, and move heaven and earth! You must appeal to the Government, you must spare no money, no effort, to find him; if he is dead, to avenge him, and if he is alive to deliver him from the hand of these brutes."

Denzil stood sullenly brooding. For the second time Felix had disappeared, and left him in doubt as to whether he was alive or dead. In a flash it came to him! Rona was right!—This time there should be no doubt. If he was, now free of his disreputable younger brother, the fact should be known, ascertained beyond dispute!

And for many reasons he had better go. This afternoon's experience had shown him to himself in a new light. He feared that he could not trust himself much with Rona until the knotty situation was unraveled. And if he left her she would become aware of the state of her own affections. He was a firm believer in the adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Never in his life had Denzil Vanston made up his mind so quickly. Never perhaps had he been called upon to decide so important a matter. He saw the whole thing with a clearness born of his own vital interest in the case. His going out would obviate the necessity for Felix to come home at all. And it was obviously far better that Felix and Rona should not meet.

Short as was his musing, it was too long for Rona's impatience.

"You must go, you must go," she reiterated, "or we shall have it on our consciences till we die! You must send cables to the Russian police, you must let them see that he has powerful friends, that he cannot be spirited away with impunity! Oh," she burst out, in anguish, "never in all his life has anybody helped him! And now I, the one creature that he thought was his own, the one object for which he lived—I have failed him! But if you will go, Mr. Vanston, you may be in time! By God's help you may not be too late to let him know that he is not all alone in the world."

Her lover raised his eyes and looked firmly upon her. He also folded his arms. "Rona," he said solemnly, "I have made up my mind. To go is my duty; and it shall be at once."

She gave a gasp of relief. "Do not try to hinder me," continued Denzil, with unnecessary heroism.

"To hinder you? I should think not," cried Rona. "As you say, to go is your duty, and at once. I will not try to prevent you. Every minute is precious." She moved, as if to leave the spot.

Denzil gazed at her with wistful reproach. "You agree—you think," he faltered, "that I should set out literally at once?"

"Of course I do! There can be no doubt! Come, let us go to the house and tell Aunt Bee, and arrange about the guests and so on. Each moment that we stand talking here may increase your difficulties when you get out there."

He tried once more. "Rona! Will you really send me away like this?"

She stopped short, looking blank. "I thought you had decided that it is your duty."

His voice was broken by emotion. "But I thought—I thought—that you would have been sorry to let me go."

"Forgive me," said Rona, "but I don't seem able to think about that. I feel so guilty, my own heart has been such a traitor, I can't bear to think of him out there, alone, unwanted ... when I think that I have wished so earnestly to be free from him I could—Oh, I tell you I could kill myself!"

She turned away, hiding her face in her hands. And Denzil, after a moment's hesitation, chose the wiser part, and turning, went away and left her to wrestle with her remorse.



She was 'ware of a shadow that crossed where she lay,
She was 'ware of a presence that withered the day.
                                                    The Lay of the Brown Rosary.

Miss Rawson had frequently before been left, while Denzil was away, in sole charge at Normansgrave. She was a woman of courage, and it had never occurred to her before to be nervous in the absence of the master of the house. But now she was nervous, and for a reason which she could not define.

She told herself that she was no longer young, and that she had been unduly shaken by the surprising turn of events. The knowledge that Felix still lived, the tidings of his danger, the sudden departure of her nephew, the break-up of the house-party, and the waiting for news in the forsaken house, broke her rest and gave her bad dreams.

The sight of Rona's white face and dilated eyes affected her uncomfortably. Rona was in a very highly-strung condition, and would start at the least sound. She had seemed feverishly anxious to let Denzil go—had displayed a curious reserve on bidding him farewell; but her manifest depression since he went could be attributed, thought Miss Rawson, to but one cause.

Rona was so restless that it was painful to see her. She wandered from garden to park, and back into the house, aimlessly. Her usual occupations, reading, writing, gardening, cycling, golfing, were all laid aside. Nothing interested her, far less contented her. And she either would not or could not confide in the elder woman who had been so good to her. Her wide, unseeing eyes, her tightly folded lips, kept Miss Rawson at a distance. She could see that the girl was desperately unhappy—she would have said more unhappy than even the circumstances satisfactorily accounted for—but she could do nothing for her but leave her free to indulge her melancholy.

On Sunday, after breakfast, she asked whether she thought of going to church. Rona said "No" hastily, rose from the table abruptly, and seemed as if she would go out of the open French window upon the lawn. Miss Rawson felt that she ought to remonstrate.

"Rona," she said, "I think you should go. Denzil would wish it; I am sure we stand in need of help at this moment."

The girl stood in the window, her eyes fixed, her attitude tense.

"I feel afraid to go," she said, after a minute's pause.

"Isn't that rather a foolish thing to say?" asked Miss Rawson, gently.

"Something dreadful is going to happen—don't you feel it?" said Rona, in a whisper. "I feel as if it might happen in church."

Miss Rawson stared. She knew that she, too, was under the influence of that strange idea that something was about to happen. She looked upon it as a thing that should be fought against. "Surely," she said, kindly, "church is the safest place."

Rona looked at her wistfully, and heaved a sigh. "Very well, dearest," said she, affectionately, "if you think so." So saying, she crossed the room and went upstairs to get ready.

It was a lovely morning, and the pretty little church was very full. But it seemed that Rona could not fix her mind upon what she was doing. She sat all the time like one in a dream, furtively glancing behind her, over her shoulder, as though she expected to see something alarming.

During the sermon it was painful to watch her difficulty in remaining quiet. She was usually full of repose, but to-day she changed her position, fidgeted, looked up, looked down, looked around; until the irritation of Miss Rawson's nerves grew almost unbearable.

At last the service was over. They rose from their places, and moved slowly down the central space, between the chairs. Three parts of the way down, an elderly man, coarse and stout, but dressed like a gentleman, stood hat in hand, his eyes fixed upon them both, something that was not quite a smile, nor quite a sneer, lurking in his eyes and unpleasant mouth.

As they passed him, he spoke quietly, but quite audibly.

"Well, Veronica," he said, smoothly, "have you nothing to say to your Uncle Rankin?"

In that awful moment Miss Rawson was the more agitated of the two. It seemed that, now the blow had fallen, the strange tension and restlessness of the girl had passed away, and her spirit leaped up to wrestle with this realization of her vague forebodings. She gravely shook hands with her uncle, and said, in an undertone, "Let us wait to talk until we are outside."

They moved with the thinning stream of people to the porch, and out into the oppressive heat of a gray day that threatened thunder.

There Rona turned to Miss Rawson, and said, still very quietly, "This is my mother's uncle, Rankin Leigh."

Aunt Bee had had a moment in which to collect herself. She bowed to the disagreeable looking man who stood truculently there in the road, his hat slightly pushed back upon his head, his eyes full of an odious triumph, as thinking he had the whip hand of the situation.

"Pleased to meet any friend of my niece's, ma'am," said he, familiarly. "And who may you be, if I may take the liberty to inquire?"

"My name is Rawson," said Aunt Bee, with a valiant attempt not to display the distaste she felt. "Are you—are you—staying near here?"

The man grinned unpleasantly. "Oh, yes, quite near," he said—"most convenient indeed."

"It is convenient," said Miss Rawson, whose mind, working with velocity under the stress of the moment, had determined that, as the man was there, he must be more or less propitiated and made use of. How thankful she felt that Denzil had so lately heard all of the affair that Rona and the Mother Superior could tell them! "I have been wishing to meet you, as your niece begins to feel that it is time she knew her own history."

The man looked at Rona. He looked at her from head to foot. It was a look that made Miss Rawson burn with disgust—such a look as the owner of a beautiful slave might cast over her points when bringing her to the slave market. The girl was charming. From head to heel she was worth looking at. Her form, her head, her wrists and ankles, her hands, and even such details as finger-nails and eye-lashes, were all exceptionally good. He gazed with the eye of the expert, appraising everything.

"She looks very well," he said, evidently trying to speak civilly.

"I think she is very well. She never ails anything," said Miss Rawson.

"May I ask how long she has lived with you, ma'am?" asked Mr. Leigh.

"For more than two years," replied the lady. She had by now decided what to say. "I came across her case in a hospital, and was much interested in her. She had been very badly hurt."

The man, still peering at Rona, licked his lips. "And you have taken upon yourself the burden of her ever since?" he said, with evident surprise. "I assure you, madam, you should have been relieved of your charge before this, had I known where to find my niece. She ran away from me. Perhaps she did not tell you that?"

"Oh, yes, she did," replied Miss Rawson, steadily. "She is a very good girl, and I have no wish to be relieved of the care of her."

"That is very kind of you, ma'am. But unfortunately, the young woman has her living to earn," he said.

"I know," replied Miss Rawson, "and she has been so educated that I hope she can do so without difficulty. Her plans are made. Come, Mr. Leigh," she went on, briskly, "we must have some further talk on this matter, and, I think, not in the middle of the road. When can you come to see me?"

He was evidently surprised and pleased at her tone. "Any time, practically, would do for me," he replied, more politely than he had yet spoken.

Miss Rawson reflected. "Well," she said, "I should like you to dine with me, if you will be so kind. But to-day and to-morrow we are, unfortunately, particularly engaged. Will you come to dinner with us on Tuesday, at seven-thirty?"

As she spoke, the victoria, which had been waiting at the side of the road, drove up quickly at a slight signal from herself. The man was evidently taken aback by her manner, and flattered—perhaps a little fluttered—by her invitation.

"I am obliged to you," he said. "Dinner on Tuesday at seven-thirty."

He was not used to dealing with women of her class, and though he was ready to bully or bluster, he found nothing in her self-possessed, impersonal manner which he could take hold of. Besides, he reflected, it was far better not to frighten her. If he did, she might produce lawyers, or such other undesired persons, to take part in the proceedings. He knew, far better than she, the flimsiness of his own claims. He was not the girl's legal guardian, and never had been. A moral claim was all that he could urge, joined to a cunning by means of which he hoped to attain his end, for he was convinced that it would be well worth his while to get hold of Rona. She had grown into just such a woman as he had foreseen. He did not feel any doubt of being able, with little difficulty, to reconcile her to the way of life he had in view for her, when once she realized her own power, and what a splendid time she could have if she were but sensible. But he knew well that the tactics he had formerly adopted were woefully mistaken. Of all things now, he must not scare her. As his mind flew rapidly over his intended course, he felt that he could not do better than accept this dinner invitation. He helped the two ladies into the carriage, little dreaming how the heart of the haughty-looking Miss Rawson was knocking against her side.

"If you would kindly give me the address," he said.

Miss Rawson was seated in the victoria. She opened her card-case. "Home," said she to the coachman, in the act of handing the card to Mr. Leigh, with a bow and a condescending smile. The man touched his hat, and started. They glided away, leaving Mr. Leigh staring fixedly at the card, with a face suddenly crimson.

"Normansgrave!" he repeated over and over to himself. "Why, that's the Vanstons' place! His brother's place! Well, of all the fools, that detective of mine, Burnett, was the worst! And yet, of all the places that I should have thought he would not have taken her to, his brother's place was certainly the one." He was so thoroughly disconcerted that he actually grinned. "I thought they had slipped through his fingers somewhere," he reflected. "He said he was certain that he sent her across from Plymouth—such stuff! I told him. I said, 'He left her somewhere between London and Basingstoke, or my name's not Rankin Leigh.' But they always think they know best, these blooming detectives! Well, it's a queer thing! Young Vanston must have brought her here, yet I'll swear that he never went near the place himself, and, what's more, I can swear that his brother didn't know where he was, unless Denzil Vanston, Esq., is the most finished liar on the face of the earth. Why, at that very time, he was paying the police a pretty penny to find the ticket-of-leaver—or his corpse! Humph! Well, I thought I had only a woman to deal with, but if the two Vanstons are in it the difficulties will be greater than I had foreseen. What did become of the other one, after all? Well, there may be some information to be got up at the hotel yonder, that's one thing."

He hurried back to the second-rate inn where he had put up, and, in the course of an hour or two, had found out something of some importance. The Squire had just gone abroad—very unexpectedly. It was even known at the post-office that he had had a cable from Siberia. This was good news. Leigh determined upon his plan of action. He would ask humbly, but with firmness, so as to imply that he could enforce obedience if he chose—he would ask that his niece be allowed to come and stay with him in his flat in London, to show that all was right between them. He would speculate; he would hire a furnished flat in a good position for a month, no matter at what cost. And he would take the girl about—give her clothes and a few jewels; take her to the theater and to race-meetings—he believed that the men to whom he could introduce her would do the rest.

For all the latter part of his life, the man had been a hanger-on at stage doors, a theatrical agent, a go-between of the profession. He believed all women to be like those with whom he was in daily contact—greedy, grasping, pleasure-loving, non-moral. To him, the life he found Rona living—going to church with a maiden lady—was a life from which any handsome young girl would escape, if she could.

If she once found that her beauty would bring to her—and incidentally to him—diamonds, motors, life on the champagne standard, he literally could not conceive that she could hesitate. What was the good of having a girl like that in your power if you could not make her keep you? He was determined to have an old age of comfort, as a result of the earnings of Rona. He knew all the ropes. He knew all there was to know about the "Profession." He knew that, given material of the quality of that girl, success, with the right steps taken, the right course adopted, was quite certain.

He sat smoking, and thinking it over, with his whisky on the table beside him. He considered what, or how much, he could or should tell Rona of what he suspected of her parentage. He was himself the son of a solicitor, and had received a good education. But there was a bad strain in the blood. Both he and his brother had gone to the bad, and his brother had died young, leaving an orphan girl, whose early associations were those of a life of discreditable shifts, but who had developed the backbone lacking in her father and uncle, had insisted upon qualifying to teach, and when her education was complete, had obtained a post as governess in the family of Mauleverer, a well-known old house of the Roman faith in the North of England. But it seemed as if this girl, too, were infected by the obliquity of the family morals, for, after a time, she disappeared from her uncle's view, his letters being returned to him marked "Gone away. Address unknown." One day he received a letter with a London postmark, written at her dictation. It said that she was married, that she had just become a mother, that she was dying. The letter, which bore no address, was only to be posted in case of her actual death, and then not until after a month had elapsed. She did not reveal the name of her husband, but said that her tiny daughter was to be brought up in a certain convent—the address of which she gave him—under the name of Leigh. She begged him to inquire from time to time of the child's health.

Her uncle and she had never been in sympathy. Evidently she had nobody else at all to whom she could appeal for her baby's sake to take some interest in her. She had always been a good and very quiet, steady girl, yet her uncle found it a little hard to believe in the story of her marriage.

There was a young man at Vane Abbey—John Mauleverer, the eldest son. But he was a shy, retiring, delicate youth, by no means the kind of man whom one suspects of making love to the governess. Rankin Leigh had made a few inquiries at the time, but had learnt nothing to confirm such a suspicion.

Other young men had come and gone, visitors at the Abbey; and as all these were Roman Catholics, the fact of the baby's being sent to a convent was not of much significance. Young Mauleverer married, a wife of his own rank, not long after the death of Veronica's mother. If he were the man, this gave some color to the dead girl's solemn assertion that she had been actually married. The fact that the supplies for Veronica's maintenance stopped upon John Mauleverer's death made Rankin Leigh morally certain that he was, after all, the father. He left a family of several children. Had Veronica been a boy, it would have been worth her uncle's while to incur the expense and trouble of hunting up evidence, and establishing her claims on the property. But since she was a girl, and her father had sons, he did not care to follow up the clew. And when, summoned to the convent by a letter from the solicitors explaining that the supplies had ceased, he saw his niece, he felt that she would be a more lucrative and less risky source of income than the levying of blackmail.

But what he had not cared to set on foot, he had little doubt that the Vanstons might be willing to undertake, if he told them the truth. Should he? He was still meditating on the subject, when the waiter looked in.

"Mr. Leigh! Gentleman of the name of Burnett to see you, sir."

"Burnett! Well, that's a coincidence! Burnett, by all that's wonderful! The very man!"

Burnett, the detective, came in with a twinkle. He sat down, and when he had refreshed himself at his host's invitation, he produced a letter from his pocket. "You're wanted, Leigh, seemin'ly," he remarked, with humor.

"I'm wanted, am I?" said Rankin, with a stare. "And who wants me?"

"No less a person than Squire Vanston, of Normansgrave, has written to me to trace you out."

"Well, I'm——" remarked Leigh, in amazement.

"Here's the letter, if you don't believe me. Got it yesterday. So I've come to ask—do you want to be traced or don't you?"

"No need, my dear friend," said Leigh, in an off-hand way. "I introduced myself this morning to Mr. Vanston's aunt, and to my own niece, who has lived with them ever since I had the pleasure of putting you on her track. If ever there was a confounded fool, it is you, Burnett, if you'll give me leave to pass the remark. I'm dining there Tuesday," he added, with nonchalance.



I should have cleaved to her who did not dwell
In splendor, was not hostess unto kings,
But lived contented among simple things,
And had a heart, and loved me long and well.
                                                            —WILLIAM WATSON.

The victoria fled swiftly along the pretty country road for some moments without either occupant saying a word. Rona sat as if the falling of the long-expected blow had stunned her. Aunt Bee, watching her set lips and tragic eyes, felt vaguely alarmed.

"Rona," she said, in low tones, almost a whisper, "had you any sort of idea that he was in the neighborhood—before we set out for church?"

The girl hesitated. At last—"I thought I saw him," she said, reluctantly, "at the station the other day, when we went to see Denzil off. A race train came in from Virginia Water, and I turned, glancing idly along the carriage windows, and felt almost sure that I saw his face. I had the idea that he had suddenly risen from his seat, and was looking at me. But at that moment the train moved, and I—I could not be sure. But he must have been sure, and he must have spent all these days searching the neighborhood for me. It was a clever idea to go to church, wasn't it?"

Aunt Bee remained silent for a swift moment or two. Then she turned suddenly, stooping, her lips close to the girl's ear. "Rona—how long shall you take to pack?"

The girl started, a light came into her eyes and color into her cheeks. "For how long?" she rejoined, with bated breath.

"For a journey,—one hardly knows how long. One trunk, a hat-box, a hand-bag."

"Two hours, if there is time. Twenty minutes if there isn't."

"Good girl. I expect we can have our two hours. But I must study a time-table. I see nothing for it but flight, and before he can suspect us of anything of the sort. I cannot deal with him in Denzil's absence."

"No," said Rona, her eyes glowing. "You are simply splendid! Oh, what a relief! I have been so sick with fear. I am not a coward, really, but my nerves cannot bear the sight of him. If you could know the things he recalls! I feel like a thrashed slave when you show her the whip."

Miss Rawson caught her hand and held it tight. "Courage, darling! You know Denzil does not think he can really do much. Of course, it depends a great deal upon the exact terms of your father's will. But even if he is legally your guardian, I don't think he can actually force you to live with him. If he is not, Denzil says we can snap our fingers. But, for all that, I dare not tackle him alone. We must be off, and at once. And nobody must know, not even the servants, that we are going beyond London. I have about fifteen pounds in the house here, and I will write to my bankers, with a check, instructing them to cable out more money to me to Paris, or Brussels, or wherever it is we start from—I'll look out the route."

"Where are we going?"

"To St. Petersburg, I think—don't you?"

Rona gasped. She repeated the words mechanically. "To St. Petersburg! Oh, Aunt Bee!"

"It seems to me the safest course. The man looked to me as if he were prepared to be very disagreeable. If we simply go to Paris, he might follow us. But I should judge that the state of his exchequer would render Russia quite out of the question——"

"Oh, how wonderful you are! But we shall want a passport for Russia, shall we not?"

"I could get that anywhere where there is an English Embassy. Let me see, we had better take Gorham, I think."

Gorham was Miss Rawson's maid, a middle-aged, superior woman, attached to her mistress, and fond of Rona. "We will not tell anyone our destination until we are safely off," went on Miss Rawson; "Gorham must be told that we shall be away for a month, at least, but the servants here must be left under the impression that we return without fail on Tuesday evening. I will even order the dinner for that night before I go, and tell cook that I expect a gentleman to dine with us. Then if he does hear that we are away, and makes inquiries, his suspicions will be lulled."

Upon consulting the time-table, they found that all Was easy. By driving to Weybridge they could catch a 5.56 train, reaching Waterloo at 6.49, in plenty of time to dine comfortably and catch the 9 p.m. boat train, by which means they would arrive in Paris at five o'clock next morning.

Miss Rawson had a cousin—one Mrs. Townsend, known in the family as Cousin Sophy—who lived in Kensington and was in feeble health. Aunt Bee unblushingly told her household that she had news that this good lady was suddenly taken worse, and that she must go at once. As she did not like to leave Miss Rona at home alone, she should take her; and as they must put up at an hotel, she should also take Gorham. As they should probably stay only a night, or perhaps two, she wished nothing said in the village of their absence; and, as the Squire was known to dislike Sunday traveling, she wished Jones to drive the luggage cart out by the back way and go along the lane, and not by the high road, that the village might not be scandalized.

"I don't think," said the newly fledged conspirator, "that he will suspect us of bolting, after my asking him to dinner like that. Was it not a good thought of mine to say we were engaged to-day and Monday? Conspiracy comes terribly easy when once one tries it! Cheer up, darling, we shall get off with no trouble at all. And on Tuesday afternoon I will dispatch a telegram to him, saying that I am sorry to have been suddenly called away. Mercifully, I have a balance of several hundred pounds in the bank just now, which I have been saving up to buy furniture with when Denzil and you turn me out! We shall do admirably."

Rona flung her arms about her neck. "I think it is too much," she said, in a choked voice. "Let me go—let me disappear! Why should you lavish money, time, health, on me? Who am I? Nobody knows. And I have done nothing but harm. I have made them both unhappy. Give me ten pounds and let me go away and hide, and earn my own living—ah, let me!"

Her mouth was stopped with a kiss, and an injunction not to be a little fool. "I enjoy it," said Aunt Bee, with an air of evident sincerity. "I never got a chance to do a desperate thing like this before. Who would think of staid old Miss Rawson, the mainstay of the Girls' Friendly Society and the Clothing Club, telling tarradiddles to her servants, and rushing off across Europe, in defense of a helpless beauty with villains in pursuit! I feel as if I were in a book by Stanley Weyman!"

In fact, her capacity and energy carried all before them, and triumphed even over Gorham's consternation when, upon arriving in London, she found that, so far from having reached their goal, they were but at the starting-point of their journey.

The obtaining of their passport and waiting for their money delayed them in Paris for four-and-twenty hours. But they felt fairly safe, and made up their minds not to worry. They arrived at St. Petersburg absolutely without adventure, and found themselves in a spacious, well-appointed hotel, where English was spoken, and in a capital which did not seem to differ much from other foreign capitals, except in the totally unknown character of the language, and a curious Oriental feeling which seemed to hover in the air rather than to express itself in any form of which me could take note.

Miss Rawson was much inclined to plume herself upon her successful disappearance. They had written to Denzil to inform him of the step they had taken, and why. On reaching St. Petersburg, they telegraphed to him their arrival and address. If all had gone well with his journey, he should have been almost a week at Savlinsky by now, and might have important news for them.

A telegram arrived the following morning. "No news Felix. Please await letter—Denzil."

That was all. They could not tell, from its necessary brevity, whether he was displeased at their daring dash or no. But there was nothing for it but to stay on in their hotel for a week or two, until the arrival of the letter alluded to.

And in truth there was plenty to see, plenty to interest them. It disappointed Rona that the ice and snow which she had associated with the idea of Russia were absent—that the weather was fine, and, if anything, too hot to be comfortable. But this enabled them to go about and to enjoy the sights of the place.

And then their first misfortune suddenly befell them. Miss Rawson, in stepping out of a droshky, wrenched the knee which had been troubling her that summer, displacing the bone in its socket, and tearing and bruising the ligaments, so as to produce acute inflammation.

It was the kind of accident which happens one hardly knows how or why. One may get out of a cab every morning for five-and-twenty years, and the following day injure oneself seriously in so doing. The doctor called in—an English doctor was at once forthcoming—thought very gravely of it. It was a far worse matter than a simple fracture, he said. Absolute rest was the only thing possible. He used every effort to reduce the inflammation. But the pain was so great and so continuous that the patient could not obtain any sleep; and the day after the accident she was so ill that Rona was very anxious about her.

That same day came a letter from Denzil. He said he was very glad to hear that they had come out, though he could hardly have advised so extreme a course had he known it to be in contemplation. As they were there, he hoped they were fairly comfortable, and would not mind staying on until he had some idea as to what was best to be done. He said that the place where he was was far from civilization, and though the Russian, Vronsky, did all he could for his comfort, he found himself very unwell, as a result, he supposed, of his long journey, or the difference in climate, or way of living, or anxiety. There was no news of Felix. He related the circumstances of his disappearance, and of the pursuit of Cravatz. He said that Vronsky was far from hopeless, for the Governor suggested that Felix was perhaps keeping out of harm's way until he heard that the Nihilist was laid by the heels. He himself could not but think that had Felix intended to go into hiding, he would have informed Vronsky, and not left him to fret and distress himself. Vronsky's devotion to his brother was touching. He meant to leave him everything of which he died possessed. He was in a large way of business. He had confided to Denzil that he believed Nadia Stepanovna, the Governor's daughter, was interested in Felix——

("Dear me, what a good way out of our difficulty that would be!" sighed Aunt Bee.)

They had every hope of hearing of the arrest of Cravatz in a few days. The police had been put on his track by a wandering Kirgiz. ("What on earth is a Kirgiz?" said Aunt Bee.) When his arrest was a known fact, they might hope to ascertain where Felix was, unless he had been the victim of foul play. But an exhaustive search all along the route between Nicolashof and the mines had resulted in no discovery; and his attached servant, Max, was missing also. He concluded by remarking how fortunate it was that, owing to the proximity of the Governor's summer residence, they had a line of telegraph in so remote a spot. He recounted his own journey there, and added that he would write more, but that he felt increasingly unwell, and was afraid he should have to go and lie down.

It was a disquieting letter. They did not like to think of Denzil being ill, so far from them, or from a doctor, or from any friends. He could not speak a word of Russian; and though Vronsky had improved in his English under the tuition of Felix, he had had of late little use for that tongue, and it had grown rusty.

Aunt Bee almost forgot her pain in discussing the hard case in which Denzil must find himself. They talked of little else all day.

Next morning, when poor Miss Rawson awoke from the only nap she had been able to snatch during a night of agony, it was to hear that another telegram had arrived.

"Vanston very ill, wishes you to come.—Vronsky."

Miss Rawson buried her face in the pillow and sobbed. What was to be done? It was an impossibility for her to think of traveling. Yet the idea of Denzil alone and ill in that awful place was torment to her. Rona made up her mind.

If she could not offer to the man who loved her the devotion which he craved, she could at least offer service. She remembered his extreme kindness when she, the frightened, penniless little fugitive, had lain ill at the Cottage Hospital.

The least she could do would be to hasten to him, ill as he was, and lonely among aliens.

"I shall go, Aunt Bee," she said, quietly. "It is of no use your trying to stop me. I can manage quite well. I have Denzil's letter here, giving a full account of his journey. I have only got to get into the right train at Moscow, get out of it at Gretz, and hire a carriage to take me on. You have Gorham here to stay with you, and I shall be all right, I have plenty of common sense."

"Rona, it is impossible—impossible, and you know it! A girl of your age and appearance to go a drive of five hundred miles, alone, with these savages—what would Denzil say?"

"Denzil will not know until it is over," was the quiet answer. "Now, dear, it is of no use to fuss. What have the two Vanstons done for me? What have I ever done in return? Here is a thing I can do. Why, women do such things every day. I know a girl who went back to her husband from England to Japan, right along this trans-Siberian line, by herself. You must not hinder me, for I am going, dearest."

It was in vain to argue with her. Her mind was quite made up. She went out to Cook's Office, took her ticket, made her passport arrangements, and came back triumphant to pack her trunks. The doctor, when called into consultation, thought the plan a little daring, but by no means beyond the bounds of possibility. He had, as it chanced, a patient, a lady who lived farther along the line, and who was, by a fortunate coincidence, going that way, so that she could travel with Rona as far as Gretz. "As for the drive," he said, "it is a main road almost all the way; there are posting-stations and good horses. I think the drivers are an honest set of men; and I do not see why she should not be safe."

In short, the girl's determination carried the day. "Do not let us think of Mrs. Grundy," said she; "let us only think that Denzil is ill, and wants me. He has every right to have me, if I can get to him by any means in my power."



And so I look upon your face again.
What have the years done for me since we met?
Which has prevailed, the joy of life or pain?
Do you recall our parting, or forget?

Show me your face. No! Turn it from my sight!
It is a mask. I would lay bare your heart.
You will not show me that? I have no right
To read it? ... Then I know my doom. We part.
                                                                    Words for a Song.

In after days, when Veronica looked back upon that journey, it seemed to her as if it had lasted for months.

As its slow hours crept by, she grew to have a feeling that she had been traveling ever since she could remember, and must go on traveling till she died. The train moved on, and on, and on, like a thing which, once started, can never stop again. After the first twelve hours she had a bad attack of train sickness, an ailment from which she had never before suffered; and she lay sleepless during the night hours, with aching head and parched mouth, tossing about on her berth, and with her mind unable to detach itself, even for a moment, from a thought so dreadful that never, till faced by this dreary solitude, had she dared to put it into words.

She knew, she had known, ever since their interview in the rock garden, that she no more loved Denzil than she loved his absent brother. She did not love him, and she vehemently desired not to marry him. Yet, somehow or other, she had caused him to believe that she returned his affection. She was, practically, engaged to him. She had deceived both brothers, and it seemed to her that, search as deeply as might be into her own heart, she had not done so wittingly.

The case simply was that her heart had never been aroused. Her hour had not come. She did not know love. Each of these two young men had wanted of her something which she had not to bestow. To each she had offered in return something else. There was, however, one notable distinction between the two affairs. Felix had excited her best feelings. She had felt for him pity, sympathy, the instinctive womanly desire to comfort and sympathize with the lonely, the unfortunate. Denzil, on the other hand, had stood in her imagination for home, peace, safety, well-being. It had been her selfishness which had responded to his call. He could give her an assured position, and life in the surroundings which she loved. Felix was the asker, Denzil the bestower. To marry Felix demanded sacrifice; to marry Denzil was to accept benefits at his hands.

But, if she considered which of the two had the more claim upon her allegiance, she found herself bewildered, divided. Felix had saved her life, but Denzil had preserved it. As she envisaged the situation, she felt that the die was cast. Her letter to Felix had bound her to Denzil. She wondered, over and over to herself, whether Felix had received that letter, and what he had felt upon reading it. Here, in her isolated loneliness, far from Aunt Bee, far from Denzil, she began to have an inkling as to what letters would mean to the exile, and to realize what Felix might have experienced, upon seeing her writing, snatching open the envelope, and reading the complete extinction of her own feeling for himself....

Was his present disappearance—could it be—the result of her cruelty? Had it made him reckless?

Such thoughts poisoned the weary hours of the endless night. And through them all beat upon her brain the knowledge that Denzil was ill, so ill that he had wired for them to come to him. He would not have taken so extreme a course, had his sickness not been serious—had he not been in danger.

What should she do, if after the bitter strain of her long journey, she found him dead when she arrived at Savlinsky?

She pictured herself alone, in the mining village, with no woman near, with nobody but Vronsky, the Russian! Was it, after all, mad of her to undertake such a journey?

She was thankful to rise from her sleepless couch, and shake off the wild dreams which visited her with every moment of unconsciousness. The varying country, the dim Ural Mountains, into the heart of which they ascended, the increasingly strange garb of the people, left hardly any impression upon her usually active mind. But during the day she rallied from her misgivings of the previous night, and girded at herself for a coward.

There was nothing to take off her mind from its treadmill of apprehensions. The lady who was her fellow-traveler spoke English, but was very dull, and most likely herself thought the girl unresponsive. It had proved impossible to get English books for the journey, and she was without refuge from the harassing thoughts which yelped about her like snapping wolves.

As the train bore her along the endless road, as day faded into night and morning dawned again along the illimitable plain, and sun shone and wind blew and clouds drifted, and meal-times came and passed like telegraph posts, the thought of her treachery—her double treachery—was ever in her mind, aching, desolating.

Her fellow-traveler's encouraging assurance that they would be at Gretz in an hour or two was an untold relief. At Gretz she hoped for tidings of Denzil. She had telegraphed, before leaving St. Petersburg, that she was starting, and asked to have news wired to Gretz. Her telegram, in its brevity, said nothing of the fact that she was coming alone.

Of itself, the idea of escape from the noise and motion of the train was something to be eagerly anticipated. To walk upon firm ground, to stand still, to sit upon a chair—these were boons indeed.

But when the train had departed, bearing with it the one creature with whom she was on speaking terms, and she stood upon the platform at the station and looked around at the dull, dirty town and the wild-looking people, she had a moment of sheer panic. How isolated she was! How the days had rolled by, without her being able to hear, either from the beloved aunt she had left, or the lover to whom she journeyed!

She shivered as she stood, for a heavy rainstorm had but just passed over the town, and everything seemed dank and dripping.

She drew out her paper, upon which the doctor had written down for her, "Drive me to the Moscow Hotel." "I want to stop at the post-office." "I want a carriage and horses to go to Savlinsky," and various such necessary formulæ.

It was only half-past ten o'clock in the morning, so she was determined, if a carriage could be secured, to stay only for lunch at the hotel, and start upon her journey at once. The friendly St. Petersburg doctor had seen that she had a store of tinned food with her, but it was with a sharp pang that she realized that however much she wished to supplement her stores she could not do so, as she could not say one word of Russian.

She found herself the center of a gesticulating crowd of men, all proffering unintelligible service, saying to her things which she could not understand. She could not pronounce the words the doctor had written down for her, though she had tried to learn. She had to show the written paper to the barbarian crowd that surrounded her. Its purport was, apparently, understood, for, with many gesticulations, and noises which she hoped and believed were of a friendly nature, she found herself conducted to a curious-looking vehicle in waiting outside; and, earnestly repeating "Hotel, Post Office, Posting-house," she got in, and was driven through such a slop of mud as she had never before encountered. Pausing presently, she found they were at what looked like a stable doorway. Her driver made signs for her to alight, and she concluded that he was explaining that he had brought her first to the posting-house to give her order, as it was on the way. She dismounted trembling, almost slipping in the filth, and, peeping through the half-open gate, saw a dirty courtyard within, where one or two ostlers were at work; and, facing her, across an incredible swamp of stable refuse, the door of a house, which was presumably the place where she must give her order. Gathering her skirts about her, she entered the disgusting place, and stood wavering, glancing round in desperation, and despising herself for her want of resource.

She saw that she had been imprudent in trusting herself, with no knowledge of the language, in such regions. But she was in for this journey now, and meant to win through to Denzil if she died in the attempt. She must not be deterred by the smells nor the mire of the stable yard: and she advanced with determination.

Just as she did so, two men came out from the door-way which she was approaching, and stood upon the stone step in the full light of day. One was presumably the Russian stable-keeper, a wild kind of person, but apparently amiable. He was in eager converse with a tall man, very well dressed, who held a cigar between his fingers.

The clouds were breaking, and a watery sun at this moment lit up the squalid scene. It shone upon this unexpected figure, and it shone also upon the far more surprising appearance of the English girl, in her dainty apparel, picking her way through the muck.

The stranger's keen, alert gray eyes grew fixed, and for a moment he stood, rigid and still as a stone, while his bronzed, finely-cut face turned pale.

Rona stopped short. There was no recognition at first upon her face. But something in the change which passed over his struck a wild conviction into her mind.

It was the missing man—Felix Vanston.

* * * * * * *

How changed! That was her first thought. The image in her memory of a gaunt, pale, bearded youth, thin and stooping, faded and died away. This was a Man, in the fullest sense of all that word can mean. It was fortunate that his own recognition of her had been instantaneous. Even now she was not sure, until he came towards her, through the rotting straw.

His color had not changed, while hers was now fading visibly from the cheeks to which it had rushed in tumult. He was wholly self-possessed and dignified, though his surprise must have been greater than hers. As he came nearer she had a conviction, deep and certain. He had received and read her letter. She could have declared that the lines of his mouth expressed a light, scornful contempt.

Without a word said, she knew and felt herself condemned.

But, whatever the young man's feelings at the meeting, hers must be predominantly those of relief. In spite of the violent shock which his appearance gave her, she was conscious of almost frantic joy, at sight, in that weird place, not merely of a compatriot, but of a friend.

"David!" she uttered at length, using in her confusion the name by which she had always known him. "Then you are alive—you are safe, after all."

He was quite close to her now. She felt dizzy, and as though she could hardly bear such nearness. She thought, suddenly and irrelevantly, of the way in which they had clung together, she and he, in the little arbor at Normansgrave—clung each to each, and felt that to part was terrible.

... He was speaking. She must listen, must bear herself rationally. He was holding her hand, lightly—for an instant—then he had dropped it, and she heard his voice. That, too, was changed, with the subtle transmutation which had passed over him.

"I am sorry," he said, "that my disappearance has apparently caused far more anxiety and trouble than I could have anticipated." He hesitated, rather as if he expected her to explain her miraculous appearance in Siberia. But she could not have uttered a word. After a pause he went on—"Surely it cannot be—on my account?—I mean, I am at a loss to explain your being here."

She made a mighty effort then, and brought out a few gasping words.

"Denzil—he is at Savlinsky. He is very ill. I am on my way—to him."

He looked oddly enlightened. The lines of contempt, or indifference, deepened about his almost too expressive mouth. "May I ask if my brother has any idea of the—er—remarkable course you are pursuing?"

She assented eagerly. "He is expecting me. I—I must go on directly." For a moment she wrestled with her feelings, then commanded herself. "You don't know what it is to see you—to see the face of a friend," she faltered. "I feel so lost, so bewildered. You will help me, will you not? I want a tarantasse."

"No," he replied, "what you must have is a povosska—a thing with a hood. I was just ordering one for myself. I, too, am going to Savlinsky—" he paused, eying her doubtfully. She forestalled him.

"Then, for pity's sake, let me travel with you! I—I will try not to be troublesome. I hope you don't mind, but it would be such a relief—I feel much less courageous than I expected. I can't understand a single word, and it makes me feel helpless."

Felix bowed. "At what time would you wish to start?" he asked.

"As soon as I have had some lunch. I am very hungry. Eating upon the train made me feel ill."

"Let me put you into your carriage, and, if you will wait a minute for me, I will give the order and escort you to the inn."

He piloted her through the dirt, seated her in her carriage with a few words to the driver, whose manner at once became more respectful, and, having returned to the stable-keeper, soon rejoined her, and in a few minutes they were seated, side by side, clattering through black, gluey mud, among swarms and swarms of excited people, who thronged the streets in dense crowds.

"What quantities of people," she said wonderingly, glad to have something upon which she could remark naturally. "I never knew that such a place could be so thickly populated."

"Oh," he answered, with a certain frigid reluctance, "it is not always like this. To-day is exceptional. These are sightseers."

"Indeed!" she replied, anxious only to avert silence, "what was the sight they have come to see?"

There was a perceptible pause before he replied: "An execution."

She grew crimson, and flashed a look at him. He was staring in the opposite direction. "Was it—was it Cravatz?" she asked, under her breath.

"It was." The words seemed to issue from a steel trap.

"Then you are free?" she breathed.

"And unattached," he responded, dryly.

She was silenced, and they drove on some little distance, until a thought flashed into her mind.

"Oh," she said, "I was forgetting! Please ask him to drive to the post-office. I must see if there is a message from Mr. Vronsky about Denzil."

Felix called an order to the driver, and then turned to her. "Do you really tell me that my brother demanded of you that you should take this formidable journey to him alone?"

"Oh, no, no! Please don't imagine that! He thought Miss Rawson would come too. We were both at St. Petersburg, but Aunt Bee had an accident, and hurt herself so seriously that she could not move. So I determined to come alone. Mr. Vronsky's telegram was alarming."

"I congratulate you upon your devotion," remarked Felix, as the carriage stopped at a wooden house. "My brother is a lucky man."

"He is a very good man," said the girl, nettled by the sneer. "Please ask for the name of Rawson," she added, pettishly.

He soon came out, with a message. "Condition much improved."

She gave a sigh of relief, and handed him her purse. "How thankful I am! Will you please dispatch a message to say—'Safely arrived Gretz, coming on.' Don't say I'm alone, or Denzil will be nervous."

Felix ignored the purse, but went once more within the building, sent off the desired words, and soon emerged. "Any further orders?" he asked.

"No," said Rona, faintly.

Her feelings were a most curious mixture of joy and pain. It was wonderfully consoling, after her nightmare journey, her loneliness and helplessness, to find herself in charge of a strong man. But it was horrible to have the relation between herself and Felix so acutely strained. She only ventured one more question.

"Did you know, before I told you, that Denzil had gone to Savlinsky to seek you?"

"Yes; I heard that."

"From Mr. Vronsky?"


"Does Mr. Vronsky—does Denzil know that you are safe?"

"I think so, by now."

"You have not seen them?"


She dared not pursue the subject, and spoke no more until they reached the place known as the Hotel Moscow. And then, indeed, when she saw the edifice which called itself a hotel, marked the wild crowds surging about the doors, and heard their strange tongue, she felt so thankful for the presence of Felix that for a space she forgot all other discomforts.



You saw her fair, none else being by,
Herself poised with herself, in either eye:
But in that crystal scales let there be weighed
Your lady's love against some other maid
That I will show you shining at this feast,
And she shall scant show well, that now shows best.

Vronsky had been wholly unprepared for the burst of indignation which descended upon his devoted head when Stepan Stepanovitch heard that he had telegraphed the disappearance of Felix to England.

The English relatives of young Vanston had not entered into the calculations either of the Governor or Felix, when they planned their little coup to bring Cravatz into the trap. Of all things which they did not desire, it was that publicity should be given to their movements.

Once the news of the disappearance of a young Englishman, with a suspicion of Nihilist terrorism, had flashed over English wires, there was the risk of some enterprising journalist taking up the matter—the risk that the lost man's brother should appeal to the Government of his country—the risk of questions in Parliament!——

The mind of Stepan Stepanovitch rapidly reviewed all the possibilities which this new complication suggested.

It was a pity that they had not taken Vronsky into confidence from the first. But it had seemed to them essential that he should be, at least for a time, in the dark. Any such desperate step as this had not occurred to them. He could, of course, be kept quiet by being given a hint; but what of the forces he had let loose?

They did what they could. They telegraphed to Denzil the need of secrecy, begging him to come first to Savlinsky, and hear all details, before putting the matter before the representatives of either the British or Russian Government.

Cravatz was still at large, and the Governor trembled lest he might have such information as should lead to any interference with Denzil upon his journey. He actually sent an English-speaking official to Moscow, to intercept the traveler and bring him on, and this was so successfully accomplished that Denzil arrived at Savlinsky having had everything made easy for him during the journey, and not having spoken a word to anybody except such persons as his escort considered safe.

When he arrived both the Governor and Vronsky were much relieved to find what manner of person he was. He had but a moderate intelligence, they soon agreed, and his desire to find his brother seemed also to be of a conspicuously limited nature. He spoke of Felix with a subdued and resigned pity, as of a brand snatched from the burning, a reformed ne'er-do-weel, a person of whom it was to be expected that he might suddenly break out into discreditable conduct, though his behavior latterly had shown distinct signs of improvement.

Vronsky disliked him from the first. He had an unfortunate manner, possessed by many of our nation, a manner which seemed to suggest that no foreigner could be considered as truly the equal of an Englishman. Even with the Governor there was a distinct tinge of condescension in his politeness. But Stepan Stepanovitch, less sensitive than Vronsky, and less devoted to Felix, got on better with him.

Nadia was very anxious to see him. In her eyes, the man who had undertaken such a difficult journey, to try and rescue his brother from danger, was a chivalrous figure. She was disappointed to hear that he had fallen sick—that too, she thought, was a sign of his anxiety of mind respecting Felix.

The next news from the mines was that the Englishman was not merely ill, but very ill indeed.

By this time the main features of the case, as regards the conspiracy, had changed altogether. Cravatz was arrested, and Felix, disguised as one of the Governor's police, had left the Castle, and was reported safely arrived at Gretz. With Cravatz was arrested the man who had posed as a Kirgiz, and who had sheltered him. This disposed of all the suspected persons in the province, since Streloff was dead. There was no longer any need to keep Mr. Vanston in ignorance of the fact of his brother's safety.

The Governor rode over to Savlinsky, and when he saw the patient, ill and shaken, his heart smote him for all the unnecessary strain of mind which he imagined him to have undergone. In an impulse of hospitality he begged him to come up with him to Nicolashof as his guest, and allow his daughter and Miss Forester to do what they could to counteract the ill-effects of their climate, and obliterate the memory of the unhappy circumstances of his first coming to the province.

The idea of going to a place where there would be an English lady was delightful to Denzil, who was exceedingly sorry for himself. A domestic man, and one used to a woman in the house, he had been miserable with Vronsky, with whom he was not in sympathy; and dimly conscious that this inferior person presumed so far as to think anything but highly of himself.

He was so weak that he had to be carried to the carriage, and laid down among the rugs and pillows. Thus he was driven swiftly across the plain, into the birch-wood, and on through the pines to Nicolashof.

In the higher air of the woodland place he awoke next morning feeling strangely invigorated. After breakfast he arose, with the help of the manservant detailed to wait upon him, and was helped downstairs, out upon the terrace overlooking the lovely garden, one bower of flowers and beauty.

There was something very familiar, even home-like, in the English arrangement of this house. When he was seated upon a luxurious lounge chair, there was a table at his elbow, with English books and magazines upon it. Miss Forester had welcomed him upon his arrival the previous evening, but they had had no talk. Nadia he had not seen. In this place he felt as though he should soon recover. The deadly depression, which had been largely nostalgia, though of this he was not aware, was dispelled as if by magic.

A new, dreamy, blissful content overspread him. He almost wished he had not sent for Aunt Bee and Rona. It seemed unnecessary expense and trouble for them. He thought of it, in a fashion more and more broken, as sleep stole over his eyelids. Even the slight effort of dressing and coming downstairs had made him weary. He slept.

When he opened his eyes he thought he was still dreaming. For over him there stooped a face, lovely, vivid, delicately flushed. It seemed to rise above a bank of flowers, of every gorgeous hue. To gaze into its eyes was like looking into deep wells. He lay there taking in the vision, saying nothing; and by degrees he saw that it was a real girl, whose rounded throat rose above an embroidered white gown, which was without the high collar which is usual in England, and that she held a sheaf of blossoms in her arms.

When he had looked for a moment which seemed endless, her lips parted in a smile which gave the effect of a glow of hot sunshine. "Oh," she said in fluent English, and a voice of a timbre which he then heard for the first time—"Oh, are you awake?"

"I think so," said Denzil vaguely. The tones of the voice moved him strangely. Then, aware of the stupidity of his remark, he sat up, and reddened a little.

"I am Nadia Stepanovna," said she. "You look very ill. I hope you are feeling a little better this morning?"

"I feel a different man altogether," he responded with warm cordiality. "My mind is at rest since I knew of my brother's safety. And then this place—this fine air, this peace and repose—how good of you to let me be here!"

"I have wanted to see you for some days," said she, frankly. "I was so interested when I heard that you had come. Of course, I know your brother quite well. He is often here."

"Of course," said Denzil, a little coldly.

"But then he has lived so long with Vronsky, he is more like a continental," went on Nadia, seating herself upon a chair nearby, and laying down her flowers upon a table. "But I have read quantities of English books, and the men in them are so unlike our Russian men, and I have always wanted to see a real, genuine Englishman—a man like you."

She rested her two elbows upon her knees, and her delicate chin upon her palms, gazing her fill upon the real Englishman.

"I'm a poor specimen of my race just now," said Denzil, in some confusion. "When I have been here a day or two I shall be very different, I hope."

"Father ought to have gone and fetched you before," she remarked. "I told him so. I said that dear old Vronsky has no more idea of nursing than a kangaroo. And we would have taken such care of you!"

"I could not have troubled you," he replied. "This is unheard-of kindness. I feel sorry now that I sent for my aunt. You know she is at St. Petersburg, with my—my——" he hesitated painfully, and at last said, "My ward, Miss Leigh."

"And you sent for them—to come to Savlinsky?" cried Nadia, in surprise.

"I did. I was so frightfully ill the night before last, I thought I was dying. And you see, there is no doctor to be had."

"Oh!" said Nadia, "I wish we had known!"

His eyes roamed round the garden. "I had no idea there could be a place like this in this country," he said. "Nor—nor anyone so—anyone like you."

"Like me?" cried Nadia, with animation, glowing upon him. "How do you mean—anyone so what?"

"Anyone so perfectly beautiful." It was out before he knew it. He, Denzil, had said it—he, who never in his life previously had paid a compliment to a woman. In England he would no more have said such a thing than have taken his coat off and sat in his shirtsleeves in her presence. But here all was different. And she was not angry, but on the contrary, much pleased. She smiled slowly, mysteriously, with lowered lashes, and Denzil, leaning forward, took up her childishly small, delicately tended hand, and kissed it. "Forgive me," he said. "My heart is full. Your great kindness!"

She raised her lids, very slowly, letting her night-deep eyes rest full upon him. The look dazzled him like strong sunshine. "Oh, you are just right," she said. "Just like the Englishmen in books. I have always wanted to meet one. And now—I have."

There was a delicious silence between them. Nadia sat passive, the hand which he had kissed resting lightly upon her lap, just as he had laid it there. Her skin was warm and clear, with a glow of carmine in either cheek. From each tiny ear hung a drop-shaped pearl. She wore no color at all. The contrast of her beauty with her white dress and the softly looped masses of her night-black hair was exquisite.

Stock doves cooed in the trees, and the summer breeze wandered by. The young man's eyes never left that astonishing little face, with its rosy, pouted child lips, and eyes almost too large for proportion.

Then she asked a question. It slipped over the edge of her lip quite harmlessly, but it made him tingle all over.

"Are you married?"

He sat bolt upright. "No," he said. And at the moment he was more glad than words can say that this was so.

"I suppose"—again the heavy fringes came down to veil the eyes—"I suppose there are many, many beautiful girls in England?"

"I daresay," replied Denzil.

"And yet you have not married any of them? Or—forgive me—perhaps you have been married, and have lost? ..."

"Oh, no." He hastily reassured her. "The beauty of English girls is—is different," he said. "They are—they are—I don't know how to describe it. They run about, and get sunburnt, and hot, and untidy. Or they are very sensible, and read a great deal, and improve their minds. Very few of them are like a princess in a fairy tale."

"Am I?" said Nadia, with a half-smile, eying him sidelong under her lids.

"Like the Princess that was a witch too," said Denzil, dreamily.

"A witch!" She reflected upon it, as not quite knowing herself gratified or not. "I have always wanted to be like an English girl. I am very fond of Miss Forester."

"You are just perfect. Don't try to change," said Denzil. "And you are a witch. I will tell you how I know. It is because strength is flooding back into me since I began to talk to you. I feel so much better I believe I could get up and walk round the garden."

She leaned forward with the prettiest concern. "Oh, I don't think you are strong enough yet! Do be careful, won't you?"

"I should do anything if you asked me like that! I am all the more certain that you are a witch."

As he spoke, Miss Forester came out upon the veranda, and greeted him very kindly. She, too, was delighted to welcome an Englishman, and still more delighted to find that Mr. Vanston was undeniable—the right kind of Englishman. Moreover, she was pleased to see Nadia interested, for she had been moping considerably since the departure of Felix.

"He says I am a witch," said the girl, half-pouting, half-laughing, to her friend, when the greetings were over.

"What! Does he know that already, even before he has heard you sing?" was the amused reply.

"Do you sing, Mademoiselle?" asked Denzil, wondering much how he ought to address a young Russian lady of good birth.

"You shall sing to him this evening, when it is getting dark, and see whether he does not want to light candles, and scare away the creatures of the night," said Miss Forester.

Denzil sighed with pleasure. Here were two delightful women ready to pet him. One of them more fascinating than he had believed a human woman could be. He was in a whirl. He hardly knew where he was, or what he said. He was sure that he said many things that in England he would never even think. Some of them were brilliant, he believed; but, as in a dream, he forgot one thing before the next bubbled up from the soil of his fancy.

In the afternoon they took him driving, and Nadia sat by his side. It was more like flying upon a rosy cloud.

And then, in the gloaming, as she had promised, Nadia sang.

Denzil, as we know, was not an emotional person. But in the friendly dusk, his tears overflowed his eyes and slipped down his cheeks. This, indeed, was music. This, indeed, was magic. It was as though, until now, he had been insensate clay, and that some potent spell had brought him, in a flash, to life. He was not physically strong—let it be remembered in his defense. In this enchanted palace his life of former days ceased to exist.

The white-robed girl, a miracle of slenderness, sang as she stood by the piano, and the light of the two wax candles by which Miss Forester played just gilded the edges of her outline and her features, as he sat in the dark distance gazing, gloating, trembling with the force of his feeling.

When that evening was over, and he retired to his room, he had ceased to reflect. He had begun to live solely in the present, as those in the clutch of a passion usually do. He gave no thought to his life in England, nor to the fact that the girl to whom he was virtually engaged was on her way to him by a difficult and dangerous route. He thought merely that he would see Nadia Stepanovna the following morning, and that he would pass the whole day in her company. Nothing else mattered.



She looked upon him with an almost smile
And held to him a hand that faltered not....
She did not sigh, she never said "Alas!"
Although he was her friend.
                                                                —JEAN INGELOW.

The town of Gretz stands upon a hill, and there was something very exhilarating in the wild way in which the "troika" (team of three horses) dashed down into the plains with all its harness bells merrily ringing.

The povosska was a curiously long carriage, quite long enough to lie down in at full length with comfort, and having a hood to shelter one from sun and rain. Felix, as an old traveler who knew the road, had all his arrangements, even to mosquito netting, to let down back and front at night. The luggage was secured behind, but the hand luggage was all stowed easily inside with the two passengers; and had she been in spirits for laughter, Rona would have laughed heartily at the number of provisions which Felix had procured. There was no danger of their starving!

The weather, which had been bad for the preceding two days, had now cleared up, and the sun poured down upon the wide expanse of steppe, heaving and undulating all around. By the time they had gone ten miles there was no sign of human habitation, except the road they followed. No house, no cultivation, no travelers, no cattle, nothing but widespreading desolation.

And there they sat together, in this remarkable vehicle, as once before they had sat together upon a canal barge. The past rolled back acutely upon the girl's mind. She recalled the breathless rush together through the mean streets, his upholding grasp about her. She remembered the relief of nestling down into his arms by the fire in the night-watchman's cabin, and the stupor of exhaustion in which she had sunk down upon her hay bed, while the smooth, gliding motion of the Sarah Dawkes soothed her pain into unconsciousness.

Then she recalled the awakening in the dainty white bed of the Cottage Hospital, Denzil's visit, and Denzil's extraordinary kindness; and so her mind flitted on to the final scene in the old summer-house. She had vowed to be this man's wife!

Oh, no, it was a very different man to whom her promise had been given. Somebody who was humble and fervent, not cold and mocking. Somebody who loved her very much, not somebody who despised her. She turned and looked at Felix. Having made her as comfortable as he could, he was seated in his corner reading a Russian newspaper. He had asked her just such questions as seemed necessary, but no more. He had not, in so many words, asked her whether she were engaged to Denzil. Apparently he accepted as final the letter she had written to him. She began thinking, striving to remember exactly what she had said in that letter. And as she gazed at him, at the firm line between his lips, the squareness of his jaw, the breadth of his well-modeled forehead, she thought that had he come in person to claim her, instead of writing, she would hardly have found courage to say him nay.

In a sudden access of indignation she resolved not to let her mind dwell upon a person who, evidently, was not concerning himself with her at all. She turned her eyes upon the ribbon of road that wriggled like a snake before them, away into the unknown. She marked the glowing sun move downward toward the west. She watched the gesticulations of the uncouth driver, and the lines of the far horizon. How would she have been feeling had the evening been stealing down upon her all alone in the wild plain, with that man as her sole companion? She knew that she should not have dared to close her eyes.

She felt thankful that she had met Felix before seeing Denzil—before the brothers had met. Yet now that she saw her former lover, she found him so unlike her memory of him, that it was almost like beginning all over again with a stranger. Yet not quite. That glittering vein of vivid memory which danced before her eyes in the dull rock of the past—surely he shared it? How much—how little did he remember?

As the slow hours rolled by she began to wonder whether he meant to send her altogether to Coventry. He was now no longer reading his paper, but sat gazing upon the distance with fixed eyes, and lips so firmly folded that it seemed they could never unclose. She felt that at all costs she must break this weird silence. It was charged with too much feeling.

"David," she said, pitifully, "talk to me a little."

He turned slowly towards her. His eyes rested upon her face, severely critical, she thought. "My conversation can be of very little interest to you, Miss Leigh, I fear. We live quite out of the world at Savlinsky."

"But," said Rona, battling with a most unusual sensation of being snubbed, "the news we last heard of you was such as to cause us profound anxiety"—she snipped her sentence off short, because of the satirical curve of the young man's lips.

"That is surprising, though gratifying," he said, with irony. "But I have no adventures to recount to you. I have spent the last month and more in prison."

Rona was startled out of her attitude of reserve. "In prison!" she cried in horror.

"Again—you were about to add," he suggested with a sneer.

She quivered at the unjust taunt. But she dared not reproach him. She dare not trench upon any subject which would unlock the past. Her letter lay like an iron bar between them. She guessed that he felt it as strongly as she did.

"Do you wish not to tell me anything about it?" she asked with quiet pride, when she had swallowed her feeling.

"I am really more than sorry to have given poor Denzil another false scare," said Felix. "By the way, I hardly like to ask it—but do you object to my smoking?"

"Of course not," she said, impatiently.

"I was forgetting. Perhaps you will join me?" he went on, with elaborate politeness, offering a silver box of cigarettes.

She shook her head without a word, with nothing but a gesture of refusal. He lit up, tossed away his match, and leaning forward, remarked, with his eyes fixed upon the side of the road, "This is the second time he has thought that he has got rid of me—that I was safely and permanently out of his way. And once more I turn up! I assure you I pity him. And, really, I am not so much to blame as one might think, either this time or last time. In Deptford, you know how it was that I failed to eliminate myself. This time, I could not have ceased to exist without pretty well breaking up dear old Vronsky. But it's rough on Denzil, all the same."

Rona was filled with indignation. "You do your brother great injustice," she said, warmly.

"I always did, I fancy," was the cool response. "My opinion can, however, matter very little to him, who has so much besides."

There was a pause, the girl too much hurt to speak. Perhaps he felt that he had been cruel, for after a while, he went on—"But what is it that you wish to know?"—and his voice was more gentle. "About my disappearing? Well, to say the truth, that was a plot, arranged between the Governor and myself. Let me see—I believe I have mentioned to you a person called Cravatz?—Ah, of course, you already know that he was executed this morning. Well, we found out that Cravatz had a spy in Vronsky's service, and I disappeared in order to throw them off the scent. Everything depended upon Vronsky not being in the know. So I was waylaid upon the road, between the Governor's house and Savlinsky, and ostensibly kidnapped. But I was all the time at Nicolashof, within a few miles of the poor old chap. After a while, the Governor contrived to give him a hint, though too late, unfortunately, to prevent his stirring up Denzil about the matter. As soon as Cravatz was taken, the Governor sent down a party to Gretz, on Government business, and I went with them, disguised as one of the police. It was well managed. Nobody but Vronsky knows where I have been all the time. Quite a plot, was it not?"

"Most romantic," said Rona, copying the coldness of his tone. "I understand that the Governor's daughter is charming, so that, no doubt, relieved the dullness of your captivity. The anxiety of your brother and—and your other friends was a small matter."

He regarded her with some surprise before he replied.

"When I fell in with the Governor's plan, there was, to the best of my belief, no human creature but Vronsky who would feel the least concern about me. I had not then realized that I was supposed to stand between my brother and—his happiness." He paused a moment. "Perhaps, to avoid returning to an awkward subject, I had better say at once that I duly received your letter, though not until I emerged from my captivity; and that, of course, I resign all claim to—to something that is not mine, and never was."

She made no reply. She looked upon the broad, dusty back of the driver, who inquisitively glanced round every second minute, wondering what the foreigners were saying to one another. It was impossible to break through the wall that Felix had erected. She stared straight in front of her, and wondered how she could bear the long days of companionship which stretched before them.

He turned from her, to search in a bag, which he carried. "I have some English books here," he said, coolly. "Possibly you may not have read them all. Nadia Stepanovna has an English lady living with her, and they lent me some books to beguile the tedium of the journey."

"You are very kind. I will try to keep quiet for the future, and not annoy you with attempts to converse," said Rona, with slow, but fierce emphasis. He held out some English novels towards her, and she took them, without looking at them. Picking up one at random, she began to read it, the type dancing before her eyes, her brain absorbing no word of the sense. If this were his attitude, she could play at it too. She had been so steeped in compassion and compunction that she had yearned to tell him something of what she felt, of her difficulties, her anxieties. But since he bore her so bitter a grudge she would not try to explain, far less to apologize. How unlike he was to Denzil! How differently Denzil would have behaved, she told herself furiously. She did not look at him again until the first stage was over, and they were stopping at a post-house for a fresh team.

She saw, in the lovely, lingering northern twilight, the outline of a dark wooden house, surrounded by a somewhat filthy yard, the floor of which was formed of pine logs laid down side by side.

"We can get good tea here," said Felix, "but I think, as the house is pretty dirty, it would be pleasanter to eat our supper on the grass. If you think so, I will go and see about it, but if you prefer to go in, there is a guest-room."

She preferred to stay without. Never in all her life had she seen anything so beautiful as the starry sky which enveloped the Steppe from marge to marge.

The color ranged from rose tint upon the west, to deepest sapphire on the eastern side. The north was shot with pale amethyst, and the south was turquoise. She sat upon a rug whose under surface was mackintosh, her arms round her knees, reflecting bitterly how glorious this night, this adventure, this picnic would have been had she had a congenial companion.

Felix and the landlady of the little place brought out a delicious meal, and she was surprised to find how sharp her appetite was in the invigorating air.

"The man will go on as soon as we have done eating," said Felix. "They always drive all night. I shall make you comfortable, and you will sleep, I hope, with the protection of the mosquito net. Then, to-morrow morning, when you are rested, I will take possession, and have my sleep, though I daresay I shall get a nap sitting beside the driver."

She made some polite objections, but he did not seem to hear them. He went about, when he had finished his meal, arranging all for her comfort, and when the horses were ready they mounted into the povosska, and she lay down upon the soft rugs he had prepared. She thought at first that the motion would prevent her sleeping; but it was surprising how quickly she sank into profound slumber, though first she relieved her feelings by a flood of tears. When she awoke, it was only with the stopping of the carriage. It was early morning, and there greeted her the sight of a large village, with cottages and a tall church, and a delicious scent of coffee upon the air.

Here the woman was cleaner, and had plenty of hot water. Rona had brought her own soap and towels, so she retired into the guest-room by the advice of Felix, and made her toilet. They were off again, however, with but small delay, and Felix took her place and slept until about ten o'clock, when he woke, and produced an appetizing second déjeuner of tongue, rolls and butter, with excellent wine from his stores.

The day was radiant. Through its hot hours Felix slept, and Rona admired the view, read her book, and amused herself by asking the driver the names of such things as horse, whip, road, knife, plate, etc., and trying to repeat them after him.

When again the sun set, Felix and she had hardly interchanged a word all day, except upon the subject of stoppages, meals, and so on.

The young man looked after her comfort in all possible ways, and showed her every consideration. But his idea of sleeping alternately left them but little of each other's society; and he was evidently determined not to address to her one unnecessary word.

When they made their evening stoppage she realized, with astonishment, that all day long her disturbed thoughts had been fixed upon the younger brother. Her anxiety about Denzil had faded from her mind: she had barely remembered him.

It occurred to her to picture her reflections as they would have been had she made the journey alone. The image of Denzil, ill, suffering, lonely, craving for her, would have been continually evoked, to give her courage to complete her enterprise. She would have arrived at Savlinsky with her whole heart full of the thought of him.

The presence of Felix, in his mood of disapproving criticism, changed all. It was he upon whom her consideration was fixed: he and his relation to herself.

He inspired her with a feeling of self-condemnation, which she angrily repudiated, but from which she could not escape. She argued the thing in and out to herself all day, with increasing perturbation. Argue as she might, she came to no conclusion. Exonerate herself as she might, she could not shake off her unreasonable sense of guilt.

Felix, who had perhaps not fallen asleep at once, nor easily, awoke only with the cessation of motion, and, hastily arising, stumbled into the rest-house to make his toilet.

Rona, left to herself, descended from the povosska, and strolled about to stretch her cramped limbs, gazing with interest upon the little village which here surrounded the post-house. There was a cluster of wooden chalets, and, upon a mound hardly to be called a hill, a small church, also of wood, lifted its unpretentious finger to Heaven, gilded by the evening sunbeams.

The girl walked up to it, and noticed that a flight of steps led up, outside the tower, to a wooden balcony surrounding the base of the spire, whence, probably, the bell was rung, as in many of the old churches in Brittany.

It occurred to Rona that there must be a fine view of the surrounding country from the balcony, and that it would be interesting to ascend, and gaze upon the rolling steppe from its not very considerable altitude. She did so, and stood there in the effulgent light, looking down upon the tiny cluster of human occupation, which seemed merely to punctuate, without breaking, the vast encompassing solitude.


There it lay outspread at her feet, the minute section of the huge land which her finite human vision could embrace.

How hard, when sitting upon the lawn at Normansgrave, to realize that Siberia existed all the time; that the sun was shining upon these strange places, illuminating the paths of these weird members of the great human family in their isolation!

The sounds that rose to her from below—the voices of children, the trampling of horses, the faint stir village life—had the effect of drops of water falling into an abyss of encircling silence, a measureless void. It was almost terrible.

In that wide setting, she and Felix!

And they were unwilling, uncongenial companions.

The whole meaning and value of human companionship seemed to be revealed by the touch of the infinite desolation. The inter-dependence of two human beings must be, in such a place, their sole refuge. How foolish, how petty, to let injuries rankle, in circumstances so profound, in spaces so immense!

She saw the sun-steeped champaign through a mist of unshed tears.

Two or three village children, filled with curiosity, had trotted after her to the church, and were at play below, with half their attention fixed upon the almost unparalleled sight of the foreign lady on the tower. Rona felt in her purse for some copper coins for them, and she descended the steps, purse in hand, looking at her money, and not where she placed her feet.

The children had been playing with a ball, which had fallen upon one of the steps. In the absorbing interest of watching the lady descend, they dare not advance to pick it up. Rona trod upon it, slipped, and, her hands being occupied, was unable to recover herself. She fell with some violence, and as the steps were not straight, but turned a corner, she was precipitated against the rail, and struck her side with such force as to take away her breath for a moment, and to render her unable to pick herself up from the place where she fell, or to do anything but gasp and struggle to keep back tears.

The pain was acute; so much so as to render her for a time unconscious of anything else. She sat doubled together in her agony, a cold sweat broke out upon her, she could only draw her breath with difficulty, and she was beset with a deadly fear. This was much the fashion of her fall of two years ago. Suppose she had set alight any lurking mischief that was there? Dread of having done so combined with the pain to make her sick and faint.

For some agonizing minutes there was no diminution of her suffering. The children, as children will do all the world over, stood solemnly staring at the course of events, as at things they had not power to alter.

Rona lay and sobbed and hugged herself, until by degrees the intolerable nature of the pain began to lessen. She could draw her breath more easily. The sick, trembling faintness slowly dissipated itself.

The beautiful breeze of the evening wandered by and fanned her white face. Presently she felt able to slip a hand into her pocket for her handkerchief and wipe her forehead and lips with it. She leaned her head against the rough wood of the upright of the balustrade and closed her eyes.

Thank God, the pain was subsiding, and she began, almost at once, to school herself, and resolve that nobody should know what had happened. Nobody! In all her world just then there was but one body, namely—Felix.

Holding by the rail, she very slowly raised herself to her feet.

There, below her on the ground, lay her purse, the scattered coins in it strewn in every direction. The children had not touched it.

She crept down the few remaining steps, and, still obliged to support herself, made signs that they should pick up the money and purse and restore it to her. But the wild things took fright the moment they saw her take notice of them. They fled, and she sat down despairingly, not liking to go away and leave her wealth upon the ground, yet feeling that if she stooped she would faint away.

At the moment she saw Felix approaching. He looked surprised to find her seated upon the dusty step. "Supper is ready," he said. "Will you come?" Then he saw that she was very white, and added hastily, "Are you ill?"

She shook her head without speaking. He came nearer. "Something is the matter," he said.

She spoke with difficulty. "I'm shaken. I fell down these stairs. I trod upon something that—rolled. I am so sorry. If you will excuse me, I will come—soon."

His expression changed, and grew concerned. "You have hurt yourself. You can hardly speak," he asserted.

"It's getting better, fast—only it was a shock," she said, bravely trying for a smile. "I wonder if you would be so very kind as to pick up my—purse for me."

"Shall I get you some water or something?" he asked, anxiously.

She shook her head. "I am getting better. I shall be able to walk directly."

"Where are you hurt?" he inquired, kneeling beside her. His face expressed more than concern.

She felt a troubling of the senses, a commotion of the heart as she replied, "Oh, nowhere in particular. I—fell—against the railing. Just bruised a little—and it took away my breath."

He knelt there, gazing upon her with an intensity which she felt she could hardly bear. In the stillness each of them, in fancy, was back in the Deptford lodging. She guessed something of the thoughts in his mind.

"I shall be all right—I'm quite, perfectly strong," she eagerly assured him.

It seemed that he was unable to speak. To hide his emotion he turned from her, and began to collect the coins and put them back in the pretty silver-mounted purse.

"I suppose," he asked presently, speaking with his back to her, "that you don't remember how much you had?"

"I remember there were four—no, five—pieces of gold, and about a pound's worth of silver."

"Then I think I have got most of it." Still kneeling with his back to her, he opened the central division of the purse to put the gold inside it. Something lay there, safely shut in. It was a slender silver chain with half a broken sixpence attached to it by a ring.

Feelings such as he could not name shook the young man from head to foot. In his male selfishness, or not realizing what the girl was suffering, he turned round upon her, swift and keen, an angry glitter in his eyes because of the tears in his heart.

"I had better throw this away, had I not?" said he.

"Throw what away?" faltered Rona in surprise, and then in an instant realized what he had found. And again she blushed—blushed furiously—the stain of her former emotion having hardly faded from her cheeks. She turned away her head to hide the mingled feeling in her face. She was desperately hurt, she was ashamed, she was indignant ... she was something else too. What was it?

She knew not. There was no name for the strange force which shook her, as she managed to reply.

"Certainly not. Put it back where you found it."

There was a suggestion of his having pried unwarrantably into her purse's secret compartment.

"Let me give it to one of the children in the village," he said, in a low voice, urgently. "As long as you keep it you are acting a lie; you are acknowledging my claim. If I throw it away you are free."

She managed to speak at last. "I do acknowledge your claim. It is you who have renounced me. Denzil said there could be nothing binding between us until you and he had met—face to face."

She spoke with difficulty, with anguish, with a curious intensity. "It is you who will not listen," she said, "who have settled that we are to be ... as we are. I am perfectly miserable."

She stopped abruptly. If she died for it, Felix should not see her cry.

He knelt before her, the broken coin in his hand. "I am a brute," he said. "Oh, what a brute I am! And you are in pain! Forgive me!"

He hastily replaced the little token, fastened her purse, and handed it to her.

"Let me help you up," he said, stooping over her, with a voice most different from the hard, flippant tones he had used hitherto.

She looked up bravely. "I am——" she began, but broke off. She was not feeling well enough to have things out with him. "Yes, I fear I must hold on to you," she admitted. She grasped his arm with both hands, and so drew herself slowly to her feet.

"I can walk," she said firmly, "if I may hold on tight."

"As tight as you like," he replied. "Shall I—might I—carry you?"

"I don't think I could bear it," she replied, and then, seeing a double meaning in her own words, "I mean"—hastily—"that I have hurt myself, and could not bear to be touched."

"I would touch you gently."

"Yes," she answered, low. "I know you would. I remember that you did. I remember—very well."

He answered absently, as they moved slowly along together. "How it all comes back!" He stopped, gazing round. "What is it, just here, that brings the wharf and the Thames, and everything, flashing back like a snap-shot on my mind?"

They were standing just beside a rick of newly-cut steppe grass. "The scent of the hay," she whispered.

With a touch of her hand she urged him on. He said no more. No further word passed his lips until they reached the rest-house.



All alone, thou and I, in the desert,
In the land all forgotten of God.
                                                    —HENRY KINGSLEY.

Aunt Bee had insisted upon supplying Veronica, when she started upon her perilous enterprise in the wilderness, with all kinds of medicaments; and she was able to assure Felix that she had Pommade Divine to apply to her bruises. He made her bed up for her with an ingenious arrangement of cushions, and, when he had hung a lamp up inside, under the tilt, and lowered a curtain between them, she had a little private chamber to herself, where she could safely investigate the extent of her hurt.

There was a bruise and some swelling, and no doubt the pain had been sharper on account of the mischief done two years ago in her far more perilous fall. But as far as she could tell, it was merely external; and when she was snugly curled up among her pillows it gave her little discomfort. Her ensuing wakefulness was not due to pain, but to a disturbance of feeling which took long to subside to a point which would allow of her sleeping.

The fine air, however, came to her help, and now that she was used to it, the motion of the carriage also lulled her. She slept, and soundly, until past seven o'clock next morning.

On this day the weather, which had been fine from the first, became absolutely perfect. From sunrise to sunset no cloud appeared upon the face of the blue heavens; yet it was not too sultry. A tiny zephyr blew with seductive sweetness, and the late heavy rain prevented there being too much dust.

It was a day charged with oppressive silence between the traveling pair. Until last night Felix had been the one to hold off—Rona had been wistfully anxious to be friends. But now her coldness redoubled his own. She was as reluctant to speak as he, and what she said was more frozen. In truth, her own thoughts, her own emotions, were a greater puzzle to herself than they could be to anyone else.

She hardly dared look at Felix, except when she felt sure that his back was turned. But once, while they were eating their breakfast, she surprised his eyes upon her, and with an intentness which made her positively faint. She shuddered, with a kind of agony which was half bliss. Had she known it, her beauty that radiant day was enough to make a strong man weak.

The warm color of her hair, the rose stain upon her cheeks, and the new, strange light within her eyes, made her perilously attractive. They were young together, in so fair a world! Ah, if the barrier might but be swept away, so that they could talk heart to heart!

His questions as to her health, and whether her injury had prevented her sleeping, were miserably constrained, and her replies but just escaped the charge of rudeness.

They ate, almost in silence, and as soon as they started again, he lay down to sleep, upon the couch where she had rested all night, and which was still fragrant with a memory of her, in some hardly perceptible perfume.

Again it was long, very long, before the young man's eyes closed; and then he fell so soundly asleep, that he exceeded his usual six hours, and it was past four o'clock when at last he awoke.

That evening they came to a forest. It is the only one upon the route; and it makes a grateful change from the endless waste of treeless steppe.

Felix had been awake for the past hour, seated with his chin propped upon his hands, gazing before him with white face and glittering eyes.

It was now within two hours of sunset, and the rose-colored rays from the west burnt in among the foliage of the graceful birches, till they seemed like trees of silver and gold, seen in vision. One of the horses of their troika had been going badly for some time; and when they were in among the trees the driver turned to Felix and said something to him.

Felix turned to Rona, who, since he awoke, had been deeply immersed in her book, and said, in a manner which suggested an apology for addressing her, "The man thinks that unless we rest the horse a bit, it will not make the next stage. Do you mind stopping for an hour in this wood? We could eat our supper while we wait."

"Of course not. It is lovely," she said.

He gave an order, they stopped, and he helped her down—with great care to avoid shaking her. Then he turned to the driver, and gave his help in unspanning and rubbing down the ailing horse. Rona stood a while watching, then, turning, roamed away a little distance into the fairy wood.

It was indeed like an enchanted land. The Siberian stag-horn moss curled and furled itself about the roots of delicate fern, and the slanting sun-rays gilded it with effulgence indescribable. She sat down upon the warm, fragrant couch it made. The passion of sadness which too much beauty brings mixed with the feelings in her distracted heart. She had played both brothers false. She had said she loved Denzil—and she did not. She had said she did not love Felix—and she did!—Ah, she did!

She could not stop to ask why. She knew that it was so. She had not loved him, but now she did—now she knew what love was.

She felt herself near to breaking down, and, remembering the way in which she had given way and wept on the day of the picnic at Newark Abbey ruins, she fought to keep herself from tears.

But the long strain of the journey, the shock of her accident the evening before, and the strange influence of the desert place, all combined to overcome her control. She was obliged to weep, the tears flooded her eyes and streamed down her cheeks, and for a while there was nothing for it but to give way.

Her surrender was short—a few minutes only; but her little handkerchief was soaked through and through. The knowledge that she must very soon go back and face Felix with a composed aspect, availed to call her to order speedily.

Just as her sobs began to die down, she heard his distant voice calling her through the wood.

It sounded very far away; she must have strayed farther from the path than she had been aware of. She must reply, or Felix would continue to advance, and find her with those tell-tale stains upon her face. She rose to her feet and cried back an answer—"Coming!"

Then she looked round in distress. Close to where she had lain a tiny brook rippled through the wood. She knelt down by it, held her handkerchief in it, and bathed her hot eyes repeatedly in its comforting coolness. Then she washed her hands also, passed her pocket comb through her locks, and slowly took her way back to the road she had left.

There was the povosska, and the driver munching at a plateful of supper. There was the cloth spread beneath a huge oak tree—but no Felix. However, as she appeared, he dashed out from a thicket, disturbance plainly written on his face. "Oh, there you are! I was afraid you had been too far," he said.

She shook her head, smiling, and they sat down to eat.

She tried valiantly to swallow the food he had so carefully laid out, but her throat seemed half closed, with a great lump which prevented appetite. He watched her. He saw the heavy lids, hardly able to lift themselves above the tear-dimmed eyes. He knew that she must have been weeping in solitude, unconsoled. He was pierced with the thought of his own selfishness. Here she was, all alone. The man she loved—the man to whom she journeyed through such difficulties—was ill. Her heart was full of anxiety; he had filled it, too, with self-reproach. He loathed himself. What had she done that he could fairly resent? Was it the action of anyone but a mad boy to ask a girl of sixteen, who had only seen him two or three times, to remain faithful to his memory? And if there was one thing more certain than another, it was that Denzil was blameless. He had never known the girl to be pledged in any way. He had not known who Felix was; he had believed him her brother. He, Felix, was responsible for the false position in which these two had been placed; he had invented the brother and sister fiction, and for his own selfish reasons. Yet, in his pride and revengeful anger, he was making her suffer desperately—he knew it. But he would beg her to forgive him.

As soon as they had finished supper—but she hardly ate anything—he said, "Let us stroll in among these trees. It is a relief to move one's limbs after the confinement of that old povosska."

Rona wavered. It were better for her not to walk with this man, not to be on terms with him. But something in her drove her on—made it impossible to refuse. She assented mutely. They passed together in among the silver trunks. The sun was dropping low. The clear call of a flight of herons came to them—and they saw the birds wheeling in the faint blue air above them. They reached a pool, starred with water strawberry, and, with a common impulse, they stood still upon its verge.

"Rona!" said the young man, hoarsely.

It was the first time he had uttered her name. The sound of his voice was low and strained. It raised feelings inexplicable in the girl's confused mind and newly-awakened heart.

She had an impulse that to listen would be dangerous; that she ought to avoid anything like a confidence from him. Yet a power much stronger than she held her there mute and waiting—waiting for the words from his lips. She did not speak; her eyes were raised for a moment to his, full of such unhappiness as he could hardly bear to see. But he knew that the look conveyed permission to continue. "I want," he said, under his breath, "to tell you I am ashamed of myself. I have been behaving like an unforgiving brute. I know I have made you unhappy; and you have enough to bear without that. Forgive me, will you? I'm—I'm beastly sorry."

She made no reply; she was wholly unable to speak.

"Of course," he began again, "I can see that you have been crying. And I can't stand it. So let us have it out, shall we? I know I was wrong, that time, when I clutched at your love, like a starving man at a loaf of bread. I had no right. It was unjustifiable. But like all men, I only thought of myself. I did want you so."

There was silence, except for the chirp of a sedge-warbler.

"And now," said Rona, half choking—"and now—you don't?"

He turned towards her in sharp surprise. "What do you mean?" he said. "You are engaged to Denzil." He stood there looking at her, until she thought his eyes would burn her. "How can I have any claim, when you have decided in his favor?"

She turned away, for her face was quivering. "I could not bear it," she faltered lamely, "unless I felt sure you would be—happy."

"Thank you," said Felix, ironically. "If I am not I can always go back, you know, to the point from whence you and I started."

In the pang which darted through her at this allusion she turned from him, and, in fear of a breakdown, leant against a birch tree trunk to hide her face. "Oh! Felix!" she sobbed, "Felix—don't!"

He was very white. It tore his heart to see her grief. The faint perfume of her handkerchief or her clothes came to him on the evening air, as to-day it had bewildered his senses when he lay in the povosska. She was saying something—something incredible—among her sobs. "You should not have written; you should have come to me. How could I tell until I had seen you? I did not know."

He caught his breath. "What are you saying?" he asked, huskily.

Something in his voice warned her. She checked her tears with a great effort. "Help me!" she craved. "Help me to be true to one of you! I have been false to you; but Denzil is different! He has loved me so long—he has done so much for me. Oh, I know what you did—everything! But, after all, we barely knew each other.... While I feel as if I belong to him and Aunt Bee! They have been home, love, everything ... you see, I could not betray him after all he has been through!"

He felt the blood rush to his forehead. "Are you asking me to stand on one side, and owning in the same breath that you love me best?" he said, through his teeth.

She held her breath. This was putting the thing plainly. Yet it was the truth. It made her angry to hear it. It goaded her on to fight yet.

"You only thought you loved me," she brought out, vehemently. "You had not seen me, you did not know me ... and there is a Russian girl—Nadia Stepanovna...."

He took her by the shoulders, gently, but with firmness, turning her round so as to face him; still she held her handkerchief to her eyes. "Rona, do you really believe that?"

She took away the handkerchief, and lifted her wet lashes; and she felt as though her soul were drowning in the mysterious compulsion of his look. For a space all strength left her. She was drained of power. This young man was her master; his claim could not be denied....

Still holding her with one hand, he slipped the other down inside his collar, and drew out a chain, with his half sixpence strung upon it. "Look here," he said. "Since I first saw you there has been no other thought in me."

"Oh!" the words seemed forced from her. "Oh, if I had been great enough to be loyal too!"

"No, no," he said, hastily, "that was my part. I to be loyal, the queen to reward or not, as she would. But if she will"—he held both her hands—"if she will, then nobody on earth—not Denzil, nor any other man..."

He was drawing her nearer, and how sweet, as well as how easy, to yield to that pressure, to feel the clasp of his arms about her, to rest in the knowledge that love had come to her indeed! But that must not be; and she collected all her strength to tell him so.

"David!" Somehow that name came to her lips when she would appeal to him. "Have pity, wait—Oh, I must say something to you...."

He saw, by the prayer in her eyes, by the urgency of her voice, that she was in earnest, and he held himself in check with an effort.

"Help me," she faltered, "to be faithful to my word. I did promise—just before he started for Siberia, I did tell him I would be—his wife. You saved me once ... save me again! This time from myself. I am so tossed about, I can hardly see what I ought to do. But I am not free—you see that, don't you? I am bound; I—we—we ought not to do this. Have pity on me, be good to me, be my brother till we reach our journey's end!"

He drew a long breath, and passed a shaking hand over his knocking temples. But she had, in her desperate fear, touched the right note with him. She was in his power. For two more days they must fare together; and she appealed to him for forbearance. To that appeal he could not turn deaf ears.

"It's a puzzle," he said, heavily; "and I don't see the rights of it. But don't be afraid of me, Rona. I—I am to be trusted. I would give my life for you. Make yourself easy; I promise not to distress you."

And as she lifted to him her quivering face, her suffused eyes, and her mouth just touched by a smile of complete trust, he knew that he was taking the very course that would make her love him more than ever.

"I must just say this," he muttered. "You ought not to marry him until he—knows."

She winced; but she stood firm.

"I shall tell him—as soon as I can," she replied, tremulously.



Ye are not bound! The soul of things is sweet,
The Heart of being is celestial rest,
Stronger than woe is will: that which was good
Doth pass to better—best.
                                                                —EDWIN ARNOLD.

The shadows of that same exquisite evening fell very softly across the walled-in pleasance at Nicolashof. Dinner was over, and the Governor sat upon the terrace with his cigarette, and Vronsky as his companion. From within the drawing-room, which was but faintly lighted, came the sound of Nadia's singing. Miss Forester played, and the two men—Denzil Vanston within, and Vronsky without—listened spellbound to the magic of that mysteriously appealing voice.

The evening was untroubled even by a breath of wind. The tops of the forest trees, visible beyond the garden bowers, were motionless in the warm air. The hues of the sky were such as must have been seen to be imagined.

Denzil sat with a kind of helplessness in his whole attitude, his eyes devouring the girl who sang to him.

He had been in a pitiable condition when the kindness of Stepan Stepanovitch had carried him off to the luxurious simplicity of Nicolashof, and the unforeseen seductions of the life there. Fresh from his lonely journey, his heart full of sensations to which he had till then been a stranger, torn with anxiety respecting the fate of his brother, and uncertain as to the extent of the danger with which the reappearance of her uncle menaced Rona—he had been in dire need of sympathy.

He found himself received with a cordiality for whose charm he had been utterly unprepared. The change from foreign ways, discomfort, loneliness, and sickness, to the delightful atmosphere of sympathy, and the perfect comfort of a well-regulated household, modeled upon the English standard, was astounding, and its effects much greater than could have been foreseen.

In truth, his own frame of mind at this crisis of his history was a sealed mystery to himself.

Rona had touched in him springs of feeling of a kind different from anything in his previous experience. She had—all unconsciously—called these sensations into being; but she had not satisfied them. This last fact, so all-important, his intelligence did not recognize, though his physical instinct knew it well enough.

To his passion there had been, in Veronica Leigh, no response. No pulse in her had thrilled in concert with his own. This he felt, without knowing it. He had quitted England with a fierce desire unsatisfied.

And, all unknown to both of them, Nadia was bestowing what Rona had withheld.

This girl was very woman to her finger-tips. No intellectual education had trained her in the ways that Rona had gone. She lived in a world of emotions, with no actual knowledge of life.

The dream of her youth had always been to be English. She loved Miss Forester better than anyone else in the world. She absorbed the literature, the customs, of her beloved land. She read English novels, and longed to come in contact with an English gentleman.

It was not surprising that, when she met Denzil, she should idealize him.

In his quiet manner, his pleasant appearance, his outwardly calm bearing, she thought she perceived all the greatness, the depth, of the English character. She saw him through a haze of rosy dreams, just as he saw her in a circle of mystic light. Each was to the other a perfectly new type, with all the fascination of the unknown.

She had fancied herself in love with Felix, and had been thrown back upon herself in much the same manner as Denzil.

The feeling with which she inspired the bewildered young man was entirely mutual. Each to the other was the central figure of a romance in real life.

Everything in the circumstances of their association conspired to make the dream perfect. They were isolated from all the world. Each formed for the other the paramount interest of the moment.

Nadia differed essentially from the girls he knew in England. Her physical beauty appealed to his own thin blood with a force that shook him. The witchery of her voice, the splendor of her eyes, the atmosphere of mystery which seemed to radiate from her, acted like a narcotic upon his enfeebled system. For days past he had lived, steeped in a dream whose awakening he simply refused to picture. Just as Felix and Rona, in the forest, were longing that the journey might never end, so the blameless Denzil, who had lived so many years in the prosaic groove of a country gentleman of quiet habits and few tastes, was positively yearning that he might remain forever, slowly convalescing within the magic walls of that romantic inclosure where the outside world could be so completely forgotten that it might never have existed.

The notion that Miss Rawson and Rona, the two links with his own steady-going everyday life, were traveling to him, and must arrive in two or three days, was a notion which he put from him. He could not—would not think. He was steeped to the lips in a fairy tale, which he would read on to the end. He did not say this, even in his own heart. He was conscious of nothing of the kind. He drifted, like one floating out upon a warm current, carrying him away, whither he neither knew nor cared.

Outside upon the terrace the Governor took his cigar from his mouth, and said to Vronsky, "Your Felix assures me that in England those whom he calls the county gentlefolk are equal in their own eyes with us of the aristocracy in Russia."

"I believe that is true," said Vronsky, with a huge sigh.

After some minutes' musing:

"Life in Russia is uncertain for us of the upper classes," pursued Stepan Stepanovitch, who seemed to be thinking aloud. "I have an idea that my child would be happier in a country so secure as your England. If she were to decide to love an Englishman—I am not sure that I should say no to her. He has means, this Vanston—hein?"

"He is not what they in England call very rich," said Vronsky. "But he has enough to be very comfortable, and will have more when his aunt dies, I believe." He was glad that Nadia's father could not see his face as he answered these torturing questions. "But I am not sure that this young man's affections are free," he said, making his voice sound calm with great difficulty. "I understand from Felix that his brother has cut him out in the love of the young girl to whom he, Felix, was betrothed."

"So?" said the Governor, in astonishment. "He does not seem to me like a man who would do such things."

"There was some misunderstanding. What do I know?" said Vronsky, wearily.

The Governor moved slightly upon his chair, so as to look into the drawing-room. Nadia had left the piano, and was sitting upon a sofa, very much in the shadow. Denzil had left his big chair, and was seated beside her.

Her father lowered his voice almost to a whisper. "I have never seen her so with anyone else," he confided. "He is unlike any man she has met—a different type, as you say. She does not care for the men of her own country. By St. Isaac! it would not be a bad thing. It would not do to frighten her; but of course I realize that if I am proscribed, I shall be taken off sooner or later. And I tell you the truth, her brothers are extravagant. I shall not have much power to leave her well dowered, when my pay from this province ceases. You think her attractive, Vronsky, my friend—hein?"

The tears were running down Vronsky's face in the darkness as he answered, "Yes, I do."

"Well," said the Governor, "then I do not interfere. As to the other girl, this can, perhaps, be arranged. In England that is so, is it not? They do break betrothals, and think no shame of those that do so. Felix should be back in a few days now. He cannot be far behind the ladies upon the road."

Vronsky drew a deep breath. His heart was full of rage. His Felix had been jilted for this little straw puppet—this man who did not know his own mind for a month together! He thought of the long months during which Felix had been exposed to the charms of Nadia. During all that time his allegiance to the girl in England had never wavered. And now this little sneak came, having gained the one woman, and succumbed without a struggle to the charm of the other.

The two upon the sofa rose and passed together out of the room, and away into the starlit garden.

"I hope," said the Governor, "that you will not be hurt if I express my strong desire that the two English ladies should be my guests here. I do not mean to disparage your own well-known hospitality."

Vronsky growled. "He had no right to send for them—what are English ladies to do here at the world's end?" he muttered. "He is as selfish as false"—but the final words were in his beard, and the Governor did not catch them.

"He was, however, very ill for a few days," he remarked.

"If he had died it would have simplified matters," said Vronsky, brutally.

The Governor looked slightly hurt. "You do not then think highly of him?"

"I? Oh, I know very little of him. It was plucky of him to come out here after his brother. He was quite sure, when he arrived, that his brother was dead. But he wanted to see the corpse, actually."

This speech, in the ears of the man who heard it, sounded like absolute nonsense, but Vronsky had been nervy and uncertain in his temper ever since Felix disappeared, and he was pardoned.

"Ah, well," said Stepan Stepanovitch. "A few days more will decide all. But it would please me well that Nadia Stepanovna should be the wife of an Englishman, if he is a man of position."



                    —Blame or praise
What was the use then? Time would tell,
And the end declare what man for you,
What woman for me was the choice of God.
                                                        —ROBERT BROWNING.

In the bright sunshine the povosska sped on towards Savlinsky.

They sat together, the man and the girl, staring out upon a formless future.

They no longer read. But neither did they talk. What could be said between them?

Minute after minute, mile after mile. The road stretched before and behind, mocking them with a false suggestion of being endless. If but it were! If but it were! If this could go on forever—this closeness of undisturbed companionship!

Rona felt a kind of resentment against that cruelty of fate which seems to blind a young girl to her own feelings until it is too late. She recalled her sober fondness for Denzil, her eager clutching at any arrangement which would secure to her the continuance of her happy life. And the shock of repulsion which had seized her when some new feeling leaped to life in her at the touch of the man's lips in leave-taking, and she knew that she not only did not share his feeling, but that it excited in her the most complete distaste.

While, for this other, whom she had denied, whom she had forgotten, whom she had feared ... the intoxication of joy which she experienced in the mere fact of being there, side by side with him, would break in upon all her rueful thoughts, and shake her with a great emotion that had no resemblance to anything she had previously known. Scorning herself, she remembered that she had actually flinched from the idea of going out to Siberia, to banishment, to live with him. She gazed around, at the boundless, free, rolling country, that seemed but just wide enough to contain her love, her joy in his company. Banishment! Life here with him would be the garden of Eden!

Yet she had bound herself hand and foot. She had appealed to Denzil to save her from Felix. It was done, and to this she must stand, if he wished it. There must be no drawing back. Her very soul sickened at the thought of the pain she must inflict, did she confess to him that she did not love him, and never could love him, but that she could and did love another.

No, she could not, must not, do it. What, after all, was love? A mere emotion. She would go back with Denzil to England, and never see Felix again. The profound trouble which she now experienced would grow to be only a memory. Surely there lay the path of her duty. Perhaps, after all, it had been better had her leap for freedom landed her lifeless upon the railway lines at Deptford.

The reflections of Felix were even more somber. He knew Denzil. He knew him well, in and out. He felt sure that he would not release Rona.

The reasons for his refusal would be of the highest character. He would be quite sure that no good girl could ever be happy with a convicted felon, with a man with such a record as his unfortunate brother. He would deem her fancy for Felix a passing phase, and would carry her off, working upon her gratitude, using the claims he had upon her—and marry her to himself as soon as it could be done with decency, in order the sooner to efface the image of Felix from her heart.

And, after all, would not this be best? He looked longingly upon the grave profile of the girl beside him. He noted the fastidious curve of her mouth, the depth of expression in her eyes. Was it for him to imprison such a creature in Siberia?

What a mistress she would make for Normansgrave!

No. There was no chance of Denzil's giving her back. Her life was fixed. She was not his, she never had been, never would be. He had only these few minutes in which to realize her, these few minutes of agony and futile regret.

Was it not all absurd? Suddenly his heart rose up within him and shouted, and his passion mocked his sense of right and justice. Why bring her back to the man who would part them forever? She preferred him—he knew it. Why not tell the driver to turn his horses' heads, and dash away together into the unknown?

He felt the blood rush to his head, his heart began to beat with great slow thumps.

How much money had he? Enough to keep them for some weeks. He could communicate secretly with Vronsky, and tell him where they were, and as soon as Denzil had departed bring her back to Savlinsky.

That was surely the true way to cut the knot. Let him have courage, and take what was his own.

He breathed fast and with difficulty.

"Rona!" he said, in a whisper.

She started from her own sad, absorbed meditations. She turned her eyes to him, with a dumb appeal in them for mercy. There was something so sorrowful in the look that it acted like fire upon his senses.

"I can't—I can't!" he said, under his breath. "It's too hard. I can't let you go. I shall tell him to turn the horses, and we will go away—together."

She looked at him, all the blood in her body rushing to her heart. They were sitting side by side, but not close together. Now her body seemed to lean towards him; her eyes were alight, her lips parted slightly. But a look of mortal fear clouded the eagerness of her sweet face. She raised her hands with a pitiful gesture of entreaty.

"Oh, hush, don't! No, Felix, no, I trust you. You can't——"

She broke off with a gulping sob, snatching her handkerchief to her mouth lest the driver should hear, and turn his keen black eyes upon her weakness and misery. But the driver was gazing along the road ahead, his eyes shaded. Something had attracted his attention. Felix was too absorbed to notice. He did not speak, but he leant towards her, one clenched hand upon the seat between them, and relentlessly held her eyes with his own. His teeth were set. He knew she could not hold out for long if he set his will upon it.

"You said," she voiced, almost inaudibly—"you said—that I might trust you."

"Yes," he answered, in the same tone. "Will you? Trust me altogether? For always?"

The driver dropped his hand, and, making a violent motion along the road, pointed, shouting something in an excited way.

The movement, the unexpected shout, snapped the hypnotizing influence. Rona, startled, uttered a low cry. Felix gazed ahead as the driver bade him, and saw a mounted man approaching.

Even at that distance he was able to recognize Vronsky's ungraceful form. His moment was over. He let his head drop upon his breast, defeated.

Vronsky came on, feeling very shy. Two English ladies were under that hood, and he hardly knew how to meet them. He felt so severely himself towards Denzil, towards his selfish cowardice in sending for his womenkind to undertake so fatiguing a journey, that his attitude was one of abject apology. Then, as he drew nearer, he saw a handkerchief waved. The povosska drew up, and his own adored Felix leaped lightly to earth and ran forward.

Vronsky leant down from his saddle, caught his boy about the neck, and showered kisses upon the top of his head, quite unashamed of the possible amusement of the spectators.

He had come, he explained, not to meet Felix, whose arrival he had not certainly expected, but to greet the ladies, bear to them the Governor's pressing invitation, and escort them to Nicolashof. It was better luck than that coxcomb of a brother deserved. He had telegraphed in a fit of panic. Had he been going to die he would have been three times dead before they could reach him. He had merely been ill. What would you? Men got well again. Was it a journey for ladies? It was thanks to the saints that Felix had been at hand to protect them. A mad scheme. He grumbled on.

"Miss Leigh has taken no harm," said Felix, dully, "so why make such a song about it? All is well."

"Is all well?" said Vronsky, sulkily. "This girl who has come so far, who has preferred him to you—she is to find out something if she has eyes. Does she love him? Is her happiness bound up in him? For, if so, she is to be made very miserable."

Felix turned crimson. "What do you mean?"

"I mean what I say. But why did you not have two carriages? I suppose you sent back the other at the last posting-house?"

"No, little father, we have come in one. Miss Rawson has not come at all. She lies ill at St. Petersburg. Miss Leigh has come alone. I don't know what would have happened to her, had I not chanced upon her at Gretz."

Vronsky stared. "Is it possible?"

Felix, with a thousand questions fighting to be uttered, choked and was silent. "Come and see her," he said, after a minute or two.

He went up to the carriage, said a word, and Rona rose, gave him her hand, and alighted to greet Vronsky. There was a hint of something tragic in her beauty which made an instant appeal to the emotional heart of the Russian. Ah, here indeed was the woman for his Felix! Yet she had preferred the ignoble little neat-mannered man up at Nicolashof—the man who was flirting deeply, dangerously, with Nadia, while he awaited the coming of this courageous girl.

"Madam, I greet you. You are a brave lady," he said, gravely, in English; and the girl's eyes filled with tears as she grasped his hand.

"I hope—I trust—that Mr. Vanston is quite recovered?" she faltered. "I mean, that he is much better? I have been in deep anxiety."

"He is as well as ever he was in his life," said Vronsky, "and as well amused. That is the truth. The Governor and his daughter have truly Russian notions of hospitality. They bade me bring you to them, mademoiselle. Will you go?"

"No," said Rona. "Unless you say that I must, I will not go. I would rather stay with you, please, if you are so kind as to make room for me. Mr. Vanston can come and see me at your house. I have no claim upon the kindness of these strangers."

"Our house will be more dear to us ever after if its roof has sheltered your beautiful head, mademoiselle," said Vronsky, with deep conviction.

Rona acknowledged this with a shy smile. "Let Felix ride your horse awhile, and come and sit with me in the carriage and let us make friends."

The suggestion completed the conquest of the big, affectionate fellow. And in this order they made the rest of the journey.

* * * * * * *

Denzil had opened his eyes that morning to the awful conviction that every dream must have an awakening, and that his awakening was come.

Until dawn he had not slept. He had lain awake staring at the ceiling, asking himself helplessly whether it could be true that he, the blameless, the well-conducted, the young man whose sober pulses knew not what it was to quicken, could really be false, could really be shamelessly in love, pushed out of his usual decorum and moderation, carried along upon the swift current of his senses, caring for nothing but this wondrous girl, hoping for nothing but some catastrophe which should keep him forever away from England, and happy at her side.

Wild thoughts of offering Normansgrave to Felix, if only he would take Rona away and leave him happy with Nadia, coursed through his mind. Absurd he knew such thoughts to be. But he had cast to the winds all sense, all propriety. He was as much out of himself as a man hopelessly drunk for the first time in his life.

Why had he hitherto led so jog-trot, so narrow a life? How could a man, ignorant of the possibilities of existence, judge of what was necessary for his own happiness? Had he only gone forth earlier to see the world, instead of staying at home, reflecting upon his own virtues, he would not have been tempted into that sickly and tepid course of sentiment with a half-grown girl like Rona.

And who was Rona? The curtain of romance that had veiled her had been in part drawn back by the Reverend Mother, and her mysterious uncle was now an established fact. Miss Rawson reported him to be woefully second-rate, apart from his moral defects. "Remember," that wise aunt had said, "Felix took her from a lodging in Deptford."

And he might have had this creature of fire and magic, this Russian aristocrat, with the blood of Royal Princes in her veins! He was Vanston of Normansgrave, proud of his old, clean name. How could he have indulged so unworthy a dream these last two foolish years?

He thought of Nadia, standing in the hall at home, walking in the gardens, learning the ways and customs of an English lady of position. How he would love to show her all the superiorities of his own beloved country! To see her the admired of all the countryside! Mr. Vanston's beautiful wife would have been the talk of the neighborhood. Poor Denzil!

He kept away from Nadia all that day, wandering alone, in moody meditation. His thoughts never dwelt for a moment upon the idea of the girl who was coming to him, so long a journey, at so great a fatigue. She was to him merely a disagreeable duty, which would have to be faced. He did not realize this. Had he really known what he felt, he would have hid his face in shuddering shame. As it was, he was conscious only of the pain he was suffering. Towards evening, Nadia, wandering alone, found him, seated in the shadow of a huge tree, his face hidden in his hands.

She seated herself beside him, her impulsive heart moved to keen pity. All day long she had been feeling hurt and angry. It had been charming to wield undivided sway over this curious, self-contained man for these last delightful days. She had no idea of the true state of affairs—no idea that the English girl now on her way to Savlinsky was, as an actual fact, the betrothed of Denzil Vanston. But she felt that the new arrivals would put an end to a companionship which had been strangely delightful.

She reflected with cold wonder that she had once thought herself in love with Felix—Felix, whose color had never changed, whose breath had never quickened at her coming—whose manner to her was as his manner to Miss Forester, civil, pleasant, neutral. She could not look at Denzil without becoming aware of his intense consciousness of her look. He was her slave. He reddened and paled, smiled or frowned, as she willed. Nadia was a young woman who loved her own way. Her intelligence had always warned her that with Felix she would not have had it. She had the same instinctive knowledge that she would be able to twist Denzil round her finger.

Now, she knew not why he suffered, but she could well see that he was suffering. A new feeling, of tender pity, a mother-feeling, took possession of her heart. She was at bottom a very simple-minded, domestic young woman, impulsive, and a little spoilt, but wholly feminine.

"Something is wrong with you," she said. "And I am grieved if you grieve."

He took her hand, and, hardly knowing what he was about, held it to his lips. The girl smilingly allowed it. The misery of thwarted passion rushing through his veins filled the touch of his lips with fire. As he held and kissed her small, soft hand, the contented smile faded from her face, her cheeks flushed, her eyes grew deep and troubled. She trembled, and made an effort to draw back her hand. He let it go at once, and in a kind of despair, resting his elbows on his knees, dropped his head into his hands.

"Oh," said Nadia, breathlessly, "what is it? Tell me, tell me, you make me so unhappy."

"To-day is the last," he brought out, thickly. "I am counting each second of it. My friends will arrive in an hour or two. We shall leave for England in a day or two, and you—you will forget me, the poor wretch who all his life will never be able to forget you."

She gave a little delicious sigh. "Ah," she said, "then you will feel it too. I thought you would be so glad to have your own countrywomen with you—to turn your back upon this desert place."

He lifted his head, showing her his eyes suffused with tears. "Desert!" he said. "This is the garden, and the King's daughter. I am the unfortunate stranger whom your bounty has succored. Now he must be driven forth again into the wilderness."

She laughed, with an assumption of lightness. "Wilderness! That is very unlike Miss Forester's description of England! She says it is the fairest place on earth. I have always"—her sweet, emotional voice dropped to its lowest notes—"I have always wished that I could go there. It is a land of peace, of safety, as well as beauty."

It was as if the voice, the words, touched a spring. He turned to her. "Come," he articulated, almost inaudibly; and his craving sounded in his broken voice. "Come to England—with me—Nadia."

He felt that he simply could not help it. It had to be said. It was bald, bare, it needed softening, it needed much explaining. But something in Nadia's heart apparently bridged all the gaps. In a moment he had her in his arms. And as he held her, there leaped upon him, out of the past, a memory of the moment in which he had so held Rona, in the Abbey ruins at Newark.

The thought went nigh to poison his ecstatic hour. Rona had not yielded herself to him. She had not exactly rejected, but she had by no means responded to his mood. But Nadia responded with a rush of feeling which astounded her lover. It almost frightened him. For the moment it carried him away completely. He had a dim feeling that all the careful maxims of centuries were borne away and swept down by the current upon which he was carried. Through it all was a sense that Nemesis must overtake him—that this could not last. Something was coming upon him—what was it? Remorse for treachery? Stuff! How could one be a traitor to a thing one had never felt? Yet, surely the avenging moment was at hand! Surely there was a hand outstretched to dash away this heady cup from his lips?

Yes—and close by.

As at last he lifted his burning face, and loosened the clasp of his arms from about Nadia's form, he saw, standing there before him, in bodily shape, his brother Felix. There stood the scapegrace, and there before him sat the virtuous elder brother, caught in the treacherous act. Felix had indeed changed since their last meeting. Tall, handsome, and altogether at his ease, he fixed a glance of ironic amusement upon the situation for a brief half-moment, and then, turning silently and swiftly, walked off among the trees of the garden, unseen by Nadia, whose face was hidden against her lover; leaving Denzil writhing in the pangs of a shame far more acute than the most scathing criticism in words of his conduct would have produced in him.



I yielded, and unlocked her all my heart,
Who, with a grain of manhood well resolved,
Might easily have shook off all her snares.

Vronsky had reluctantly decided, in spite of the young girl's own wishes, that it would not be well for Veronica to stay at Savlinsky, all unchaperoned as she was. The Governor's cordial invitation to Nicolashof must be accepted.

The girl was sensible of a distinct unwillingness to become the guest of Nadia Stepanovna. But she could not, of course, voice this sentiment, and obediently submitted, when she had rested an hour at Vronsky's house and had tea, to take her place, with him and Felix, in their own tarantasse, with the devoted Max to drive them, and to be conveyed to the Governor's house.

To Vronsky the drive was most painful. He felt that it would be inhuman to allow this girl to arrive with no inkling of the blow that awaited her when she should meet Denzil Vanston. It was in vain that he told himself that the girl deserved such a fall to her pride—that he tried to think of her as a heartless jilt, who had spoiled the best years of his beloved Felix's life, and then deserted him. There was that in Veronica's face which disarmed him.

He looked from her to Felix, and back again, continually, with his restless, keen dark eyes. He thought for the fiftieth time what a pair they would have made. He wondered that Felix did not seem more broken, more miserable than he did. But he knew the young man's strength and pride, and concluded that he intended to put a bold front upon the matter. He who knew him so well could see that he was laboring under some kind of suppressed excitement; and he could see, also, that Rona's emotions were on the very brink of being too much for her. She avoided the eye of Felix, who sat facing her; but her varying color and expression, the quivering of her mouth, the absent manner in which she replied to his mild small talk, convinced the good man that her anxiety to behold her lover safe and well was extreme. All the drive he was striving anxiously to give her a hint; but in vain. She had almost the mien of one being driven to execution, to whom the things of the world were all past; and Vronsky ended by thinking it unkind and unmanly of Felix to be so openly reproachful, almost resentful, in his manner towards her.

When they arrived at Nicolashof the old butler told them that the Governor was out, and the ladies and Mr. Vanston in the garden. They were shown into the drawing-room, and Felix went out into the garden, telling the old man that he would find the ladies and bring them in.

This seemed to give Vronsky his opportunity. Before the defaulting lover appeared, he must give the girl a hint—he must not let her meet him entirely unprepared for his defection.

But for a while, although the minutes were few, he could not speak. His throat felt hot and dry, and as though there were a lump in it.

Rona, all unintentionally, came to his rescue, by going to a table and taking up a photograph of Nadia that stood upon it. "Is this Miss—is it the Governor's daughter?" she asked.

"It is. She is attractive, you think—eh? What you call very pretty?"

His quaint accent made the girl smile. "She is beautiful," she replied, as if grudgingly.

"Her attraction is of the kind that some men find too much—not to be resisted," he said, hurriedly. "I know but one who gave not a thought to her. That was my poor, good Felix. His heart was filled with another—with the image of you, mademoiselle. But his brother——" he came and stood before Veronica, almost menacingly, "His brother—yes, it is right that you should know it. His brother has fallen—in—love with Nadia Stepanovna. You say that, hein? Fall-in-love?"

Veronica smiled a little sadly. "No such luck," was the thought in her heart. "Yes, that is what we say; but it cannot be what Mr. Vanston has done," she said, gently. "He is engaged to me, and he has loved me for two years and more. Besides, we English are not—not like that. We have our feelings under control. Particularly English gentlemen, such as Mr. Vanston."

She was really amused. The girl whose picture she held, beautiful as she undoubtedly was, was hardly Denzil's style. She gazed upon the sumptuous face, the pouting, childish mouth, the foreign suggestion given by the drop earrings, the somewhat extravagant arrangement of the hair. It was, however, quite likely that, Nadia being the only girl of her class within a thousand miles, she should seem to Vronsky to be quite irresistible. "I think you are mistaken, Mr. Vronsky," she said, very gently. The absolute incredulity expressed by her face and her voice staggered him.

"Mademoiselle," he urged, appealingly, "I entreat you to believe what I say. I wish you well. I bear you no grudge, though you have ruined my boy's life. Young girls have not always the control of their hearts. But I tell you that those two—Nadia and the Englishman—are in love—deep in love, the one with the other. Do I not know? Have I not sat here night after night and watched them? Do you think a passion like that can be hid?"

There was in his manner an intensity, an urgency, which carried weight.

"If I did not know that it was true, do you think I would stand here to stab you with such cruel words?" he vehemently asked her. "It is that I wish to prepare you—that you obtain a moment's warning—that when they come in from the garden you have the key of the situation in your hands."

Veronica turned towards him. It was growing dusk, and in the half-light her face was very pale. "If it should be true!" she murmured, with a catch of the breath; and then the notion of how ridiculous it all was, came over her. She collected herself, and laughed lightly. "You do not know Mr. Vanston," she said, with an air of gentle reproof. "I do. He could never feel any deep admiration for a young lady of this type. He is—he is—well, he is himself, and I cannot explain what I mean—only I know that what you think cannot be true." She thought a moment as to how she could best convince him. "Our ways in England are so different," she kindly told him. "Our intercourse is so much more free. Mr. Vanston is accustomed to be as natural in his manner to ladies as he is to his own sex. That is what makes you think——" she broke off. Felix was approaching the window across the lawns.

He was walking rapidly, and his face, visible in the fading light, which was stronger out of doors, showed signs of great agitation.

Veronica, urged by some nameless impulse, went to the window. Vronsky was in the shadow, and Felix either did not see him or forgot his existence. He entered precipitately:—

"Rona! Rona! We are free!" he cried, in a transported voice.

"What do you say?" she faltered, suddenly dizzy, and putting both hands upon his arm to steady herself.

"Denzil has played you false," he broke out, as if the news could not be withheld. "I found him and her in the garden. He held her in his arms—he was kissing her! After that—after that—whose is your allegiance, my beloved?" He caught her two hands, and drew them up to encircle his own neck, folding her in his arms.

"Felix!" she uttered; and, after a moment's whirling pause, during which she looked into his kindled eyes, she pleaded, "Let me sit down. I am faint!"

He supported her with his arms to a chair, in which he placed her; and was about to kneel upon the floor at her side, when she faintly said, "Felix! You forget Mr. Vronsky."

"By Jove!" said Felix, wheeling round. "But it doesn't matter. Come here, old man," he went on, "and hear the good news. Denzil has cut the knot for us. He has found a way out."

Vronsky, bewildered, said something very volubly in Russian.

"Yes, yes, I know all that," replied Felix, "but we found out the truth in our five-hundred-mile drive. I was right from the first. I always knew I was right. But it was natural that Rona should be bewildered. My brother had been conspicuously good to her, and it is not uncommon for a very young girl to mistake gratitude for love. But this is not gratitude—is it, Rona?"

On the last words his voice dropped to a lower key and shook with intensity. Rona let him take her hand, and with devotion he raised it to his lips.

"Felix," she urged, almost in a whisper, for she was profoundly shaken, "we did keep faith, did we not?"

"Thanks to you, not to me, we did," he replied thankfully.

She laughed a little hysterically. "I have just been explaining to Mr. Vronsky how impossible it all is," she cried. "Of all the women that I could not imagine Denzil to be in love with.—I always thought it was you, Felix!"

"It might have been," put in Vronsky. "Felix might have been her favored suitor, had he so willed."

"That cannot be said, since such a thing was never contemplated by me," replied Felix, promptly.

"Hush, someone is coming," whispered Rona, suddenly; and Felix rose with alacrity, as the door was opened, and Miss Forester entered, followed by two menservants with lamps.

* * * * * * *

She stopped short as soon as the persons present became apparent to her. "Miss Rawson?" she began, as if bewildered.

Felix stepped forward, to be greeted by her with kind cordiality. "Miss Rawson has not come. She had an accident—she was ill," he explained. "This is Miss Leigh, my fiancée."

He led Rona across the room, and presented her. "By great good fortune I found Miss Leigh quite unexpectedly at Gretz, and brought her on," he said. "The journey was one which she should never have attempted alone. But she thought my brother was dying."

Rona had recovered her wonted control by now. "Mr. Denzil Vanston has been like an elder brother to me ever since Felix was obliged to go away," she explained. "When he telegraphed for us to come to him, it did not seem to me possible to disregard the message. But I fear that I have inadvertently given a great deal of trouble, for there is no inn at Savlinsky where I could stay. Please forgive me. A telegram sounds so peremptory. When Denzil telegraphed 'Come,' I concluded that he must have made arrangements for our reception."

"All arrangements are made for your reception, my dear child," said Miss Forester, warmly. "I tremble to think of your undertaking such a journey; but what a good thing that Felix met you! And now that you are safely here, all is well."

She could afford to say, "All is well."

A short week ago it would have been otherwise. The story of the broken sixpence about the neck of Felix had then been a thorn in her memory, for she feared that the girl she loved might have to suffer.

But since the coming of Denzil all was changed. She was able to welcome Rona without reservations, and to feel thankful that the two girls were not rivals; for, even in her traveling garb, Veronica was beautiful enough to strike the eye of any unprejudiced person.

"My friend, I congratulate you," said Miss Forester, turning with a mischievous smile to Felix.

His eyes were upon the face of the woman so incredibly surrendered to him, and he smiled gravely. He had not yet had time to realize his happiness—to appreciate what it all meant. The one supreme fact that Rona loved him was destroying the proportions of everything else.

Vronsky had not spoken since Miss Forester's entrance. He had a divided heart. He loved Felix, and he was assured of his happiness; but also he loved Nadia, and wanted to feel secure of hers. At the moment the steps of the other pair of lovers sounded in the veranda, and the Governor's daughter, in her white gown, her eyes full of light, pushed open the window and stepped inside, followed by Denzil.

The Squire's brow was wet with the dews of apprehension. His heart was in his mouth. What kind of situation was this? He had played the traitor, and he stood confronted by the two girls—his old love and his new.

Blindly he had followed Nadia to the house, unable to utter a word of warning, unable even to own to her that he had seen Felix. He had a confused idea that nothing that might now happen could be worse than the expression of his brother's eyes when lately they had met his own.

And behold, that same brother stood just within the room with the mien of a conqueror, his head high, his glance confident, his mouth smiling.

"Ah," said Nadia, drawing a long breath, "I told you that they had arrived—they must have arrived——" She came slowly forward.

"It is delightful to meet again," said Felix, taking her two hands. "May I present to you my fiancée, Miss Leigh?"

Denzil started visibly. It was upon his tongue to cry "No!"

Even as the impulse arose it was smothered. In his dazed condition he yet took in one point, namely, that apparently the dilemma from which he shrank existed no longer. He was free to avow himself the suitor of the Russian girl.

Was not this the summit of his desires?

Nadia smiled rapturously. Snatching her hands from Felix, she held them impulsively to Rona.

"Oh," said she, "I have wanted so long to see an English girl! And you are—you are—like the girls in story books, just as Mr. Vanston is exactly like the men!"

"Why," cried Rona in astonishment, "how well you talk English!"

Over the heads of the two girls the glance of the brothers met. There was no malice in Felix's steady gaze. He went to Denzil and took his hand. "It is long since we met," he said, kindly. "Am I to congratulate you, Denzil?"

The Squire made an effort to speak, but no words came. He licked his dry lips. Was this some device of his younger brother to torture him?

"Where is Aunt Bee?" he asked, that being the sole non-contentious remark that occurred to him at the moment.

"Lying up, lame, at St. Petersburg," said Felix. "But you need not be anxious. I met Veronica at Gretz, and have taken care of her. She has not felt the journey at all."

Denzil stammered, "That—that was good of you. I—er—feel that I was inconsiderate to suggest it. Of course, I did not contemplate her coming alone."

"Naturally," was the calm reply. "If it was an indiscretion on your part, it was a blessed one for me. I was able to renew my acquaintance with Miss Leigh, which had been of the briefest, in the favorable circumstances of a five-hundred-mile tête-à-tête; and now we understand each other perfectly."

As he spoke Nadia and Rona turned to them.

"Look at him," said Nadia, prettily. "He is quite convalescent, don't you think? Miss Forester and I have done our poor little best for him."

"He will be all right now," said Rona, extending her hand with a smile that certainly was unmixed with any resentment, "now that he knows that Felix is safe and well and—and happy—won't you, Denzil?"

He could not speak. He wrung her hand and turned away, crimson. Miss Forester was a little surprised, but Nadia thought tenderly of the Englishman's proverbial taciturnity under pressure of emotion. These people were heroes and heroines of romance to her.

She flung her arm caressingly about Rona's shoulders and led her from the room. Miss Forester followed, and the three men were left in a gulf of silence.

* * * * * * *

It was as though Felix, like some champion of old entering an enchanted castle, had cut with his sword clean through the many-hued curtain which shut out the world. The moment his eye and that of his brother met scales fell from Denzil's sight—the spell was broken: he emerged, as it were, once more into a life in which men were responsible for their actions, and wherein gentlemen did not break faith, however strong the temptation.

What was this magic which had held him chained? Was it love, or sorcery? He had never asked himself. He only knew that it was too strong for him. It had blinded him to constancy, to honor, to his plighted word. He stood aghast at the power of it.

It is one thing to feel; it is quite another to be carried away by the strength of one's feelings. He still thrilled with the memory of the scene in the twilight garden; and yet underlying his joy there was a profound misgiving.

The passion which possessed him was real enough; but he was no boy, and even as he felt it he knew it could not last. What was worse, he knew that he did not even wish it to last. He was a steady-going prosaic person, and he foresaw that he could not dwell continuously upon the heights to which his infatuation had drawn him.

His present ecstasy was not real life. It was illusion. The moment he saw Felix he realized this.

What was he to say? And then, in the midst of his confusion, light leapt to his mind. He had broken plight; but then, so had Rona!

The notion went far to restore his self-respect to him.

"Well," he said, hurriedly, addressing Felix, who stood regarding him critically, "so Rona changed her mind upon the journey here?"

"As you did upon your arrival," was the instant retort.

Denzil looked crestfallen.

"Rona discovered," went on Felix, "upon the way here, that she had done what many a very young girl does—she had mistaken gratitude for love. But, having made this mistake, she was determined to abide by it, and at all costs to keep her faith to you. She is, however, absolved from her allegiance I think, by the scene I witnessed just now in the garden."

There was a pause. "Come, Denzil," said Felix, composedly, "do you suppose that I want to quarrel with you for a slip which gives me my happiness? Let us never speak of this again. And let me assure you that never, in all the future, shall you hear a word from either of us of what has happened. Nobody but Vronsky, Rona, and I know that any engagement existed between you; and we shall never speak of it to anybody. I wish you happiness with all my heart."

* * * * * * *

The Governor had, as we know, previously received a hint from Vronsky. But, in his satisfaction at the engagement, he willingly accepted the Russian's assurance that he had been completely mistaken.

To Aunt Bee, at St. Petersburg, the news came as a shock.

Upon the previous day she had received a letter, forwarded from Normansgrave, and written by no less a person than Rankin Leigh himself. He wrote to say that he felt sure, judging by Miss Rawson's action in removing his great-niece from the vicinity directly she found that he was there, that his hopes of an old age soothed by her care and affection were destined to remain unrealized. As it might, however, be important to the family, in view of the deep interest they seemed to take in the girl, to know more of her antecedents, he offered to go into the matter thoroughly, if his expenses were guaranteed, and a certain sum over and above paid to him.

At the time of receiving this letter Aunt Bee was fully persuaded that Denzil would marry Rona; and it seemed to her most desirable that all that could be ascertained about her should come to light before things were irrevocable. She considered that Rankin Leigh had most probably means of coming at the truth, or sources of information, which they had not; and she wrote empowering him to make inquiries, and mentioning the sum she was prepared to pay for his services.

Hardly had she done this, when she received the startling news of Denzil's faithlessness and the double engagement.

It was an occasion upon which the good lady became vividly sensible of the mixture of motives which exists in the best of us.

She was really attached to Rona; yet it was impossible to deny that there was a certain sensation of pleasure or gratified family pride that the new mistress of Normansgrave would bring a suitable dower, and that she boasted a noble pedigree, instead of being, however attractive, a Girl from Nowhere.

It was arranged that the two couples, with Miss Forester as chaperon, should all come to St. Petersburg together. There Felix and Rona would be married, and Nadia and Miss Forester accompany Denzil and his aunt to England, that the Russian girl might have a sight of her new home before returning to Russia in the winter for her own wedding.

Before they arrived Miss Rawson was in possession of all that could ever be known of Veronica's origin.

Rankin Leigh succeeded in ascertaining that her mother had been secretly married to John Mauleverer. The young man had taken this step, as is frequently done by the weak, hoping against hope that some chance of avowing his marriage without incurring the displeasure of his parents might arise. He was a delicate, timid young man. The strain of the position, the anguish of knowing that the unconscious parents were arranging another match for their son, was too much for the unacknowledged wife, who fretted herself ill in her solitude, and died when her baby was six months old.

The young father, thus released, married almost immediately the lady chosen by his parents. He placed his daughter in the Convent School, keeping her existence a secret to the last. He probably intended to provide for the child, but took no steps to do so. He was still a young man when his death occurred, very unexpectedly. He left two sons by his second wife.

The discovery of the marriage certificate putting it beyond doubt that Rona was legally his daughter, Rankin Leigh thought that the Mauleverers, if approached, must be willing, if not to acknowledge her, at least to make her some allowance.

Over this information Miss Rawson pondered much in the solitude which she had to endure before the young people joined her.

The Girl from Nowhere was then, as she had always felt, of good blood. The race instinct had not deceived Aunt Bee, and she felt a pardonable pride in realizing this.

She wondered how far Denzil had, unconsciously, been influenced by the obscurity of origin of the girl he had befriended. His aunt, reflecting as we have seen upon the mixed nature of human motive, thought it possible that the fact might have turned the scale for him without his being conscious of its weight.

She laid side by side the photo of Nadia and the photo of Rona, and marveled as she reflected that Denzil had chosen the alien type.

She could not tell whether Rona was happy. She was haunted by the idea that she must have stood aside upon finding that Denzil had changed his mind, and that it had not been possible for her to evade an engagement with the younger brother.

Altogether, in her lonely sojourn in the Russian capital the maiden aunt went through a good deal.

It was with more agitation than she remembered to have experienced in her sixty years that she awaited the arrival of the party from Savlinsky.

A very brief survey, however, sufficed to convince her of the happiness of Felix and Rona. There was no mistaking the light in the girl's eyes, nor the significance of her added bloom and sweetness.

With regard to Denzil she was not so sure. When she actually saw the lady upon whom he had fixed his mature affections, she was invaded with a wonder as to what they would make of a life together in England in the provinces.

Nadia was lovely, and in her presence he was evidently so moved out of himself that he could not reason, he could only feel. But his temperament was wholly unromantic, because unimaginative. As time went on, would he be able to sustain the standard of feeling which the highly-wrought, emotional girl demanded?

Aunt Bee fell back upon the comforting thought that such girls, when touched by marriage and motherhood, often settle down into quite humdrum persons. Meanwhile, the troubling of his whole being which the Squire was undergoing was no doubt an excellent thing for him. Had he married Rona, he would—nay, he must—have remained King Cophetua to the end of the chapter, horribly pleased with himself. If anything would ennoble his character, the experience of being Nadia's husband would be likely to do it. It was better so.

Before their marriage Miss Rawson took an opportunity privately to tell Felix and Rona all that she had learned from Rankin Leigh.

They listened with interest, and Rona was evidently gratified to ascertain that she had no need to be ashamed of her mother.

Aunt Bee suggested that it might be well to announce her existence, or in some way approach her father's family, since there was no doubt at all of her being the eldest daughter of John Mauleverer.

Rona turned to Felix, as usual; he to her. Their eyes met, and they smiled.

"As Rona likes, of course," said Felix, "but I hardly see any reason for our troubling them. The present Mrs. Mauleverer apparently knows nothing at all of her late husband's former marriage. Would not the disclosure wound her, cruelly and unnecessarily? We have nothing to ask from them. Affection they are not likely to bestow, money we do not want. Were Rona's father living, it might be her duty to go to him. As it is, there does not seem to be a question of duty. Moreover, if they are such a high and mighty set of people, how would they like to know that she was married to a man of my record?"

Rona turned to him, her face alive with championship.

"I want nothing," said she, "from my father's people. My name is neither Leigh nor Mauleverer: it is Vanston. But, for all that, one day I shall go and see them, and let them know who I am, simply in order that they may have the privilege of knowing—my husband."