"Why, Jane, what is it?"
Jane came nearer.
"I don't know," she answered, and her voice also was low. "Perhaps I'm silly and overanxious, because I am so fond of her. But that Ameerah, I actually dream about her."
"What! The black woman?",
"If I was to say a word, or if you did, and we was wrong, how should we feel? I've kept my nerves to myself till I've nearly screamed sometimes. And my lady would be so hurt if she knew. But—well," in a hurried outburst, "I do wish his lordship was here, and I do wish the Osborns wasn't. I do wish it, I tell you that."
"Good Lord!" cried Mrs. Cupp, and after staring with alarmed eyes a second or so, she wiped a slight dampness from her upper lip.
She was of the order of female likely to take a somewhat melodramatic view of any case offering her an opening in that direction.
"Jane!" she gasped faintly, "do you think they'd try to take her life?"
"Goodness, no!" ejaculated Jane, with even a trifle of impatience. "People like them daren't. But suppose they was to try to, well, to upset her in some way, what a thing for them it would be."
After which the two women talked together for some time in whispers, Jane bringing a chair to place opposite her mother's. They sat knee to knee, and now and then Jane shed a tear from pure nervousness. She was so appalled by the fear of making a mistake which, being revealed by some chance, would bring confusion upon and pain of mind to her lady.
"At all events," was Mrs. Cupp's weighty observation when their conference was at an end, "here we both are, and two pairs of eyes and ears and hands and legs is a fat lot better than one, where there's things to be looked out for."
Her training in the matter of subtlety had not been such as Ameerah's, and it may not be regarded as altogether improbable that her observation of the Ayah was at times not too adroitly concealed, but if the native woman knew that she was being remarked, she gave no sign of her knowledge. She performed her duties faithfully and silently, she gave no trouble, and showed a gentle subservience and humbleness towards the white servants which won immense approbation. Her manner towards Mrs. Cupp's self was marked indeed by something like a tinge of awed deference, which, it must be confessed, mollified the good woman, and awakened in her a desire to be just and lenient even to the dark of skin and alien of birth.
"She knows her betters when she sees them, and has pretty enough manners for a black," the object of her respectful obeisances remarked. "I wonder if she's ever heard of her Maker, and if a little brown Testament with good print wouldn't be a good thing to give her?"
This boon was, in fact, bestowed upon her as a gift. Mrs. Cupp bought it for a shilling at a small shop in the village. Ameerah, in whose dusky being was incorporated the occult faith of lost centuries, and whose gods had been gods through mystic ages, received the fat, little brown book with down-dropped lids and grateful obeisance. These were her words to her mistress:
"The fat old woman with protruding eyes bestowed it upon me. She says it is the book of her god. She has but one. She wishes me to worship him. Am I a babe to worship such a god as would please her. She is old, and has lost her mind."
Lady Walderhurst's health continued all that could be desired. She arose smiling in the morning, and bore her smile about with her all day. She walked much in the gardens, and spent long, happy hours sewing in her favourite sitting-room. Work which she might have paid other women to do, she did with her own hands for the mere sentimental bliss of it. Sometimes she sat with Hester and sewed, and Hester lay on a sofa and stared at her moving hands.
"You know how to do it, don't you?" she once said.
"I was obliged to sew for myself when I was so poor, and this is delightful," was Emily's answer.
"But you could buy it all and save yourself the trouble."
Emily stroked her bit of cambric and looked awkward.
"I'd rather not," she said.
Well as she was, she began to think she did not sleep quite so soundly as had been habitual with her. She started up in bed now and again as if she had been disturbed by some noise, but when she waited and listened she heard nothing. At least this happened on two or three occasions. And then one night, having been lying folded in profound, sweet sleep, she sprang up in the black darkness, wakened by an actual, physical reality of sensation, the soft laying of a hand upon her naked side,—that, and nothing else.
"What is that? Who is there?" she cried. "Someone is in the room!"
Yes, someone was there. A few feet from her bed she heard a sobbing sigh, then a rustle, then followed silence. She struck a match and, getting up, lighted candles. Her hand shook, but she remembered that she must be firm with herself.
"I must not be nervous," she said, and looked the room over from end to end.
But it contained no living creature, nor any sign that living creature had entered it since she had lain down to rest. Gradually the fast beating of her heart had slackened, and she passed her hand over her face in bewilderment.
"It wasn't like a dream at all," she murmured; "it really wasn't. I felt it."
Still as absolutely nothing was to be found, the sense of reality diminished somewhat, and being so healthy a creature, she regained her composure, and on going back to bed slept well until Jane brought her early tea.
Under the influence of fresh morning air and sunlight, of ordinary breakfast and breakfast talk with the Osborns, her first convictions receded so far that she laughed a little as she related the incident.
"I never had such a real dream in my life," she said; "but it must have been a dream."
"One's dreams are very real sometimes," said Hester.
"Perhaps it was the Palstrey ghost," Osborn laughed. "It came to you because you ignore it." He broke off with a slight sudden start and stared at her a second questioningly. "Did you say it put its hand on your side?" he asked.
"Don't tell her silly things that will frighten her. How ridiculous of you," exclaimed Hester sharply. "It's not proper."
Emily looked at both of them wonderingly.
"What do you mean?" she said. "I don't believe in ghosts. It won't frighten me, Hester. I never even heard of a Palstrey ghost."
"Then I am not going to tell you of one," said Captain Osborn a little brusquely, and he left his chair and went to the sideboard to cut cold beef.
He kept his back towards them, and his shoulders looked uncommunicative and slightly obstinate. Hester's face was sullen. Emily thought it sweet of her to care so much, and turned upon her with grateful eyes.
"I was only frightened for a few minutes, Hester," she said. "My dreams are not vivid at all, usually."
But howsoever bravely she ignored the shock she had received, it was not without its effect, which was that occasionally there drifted into her mind a recollection of the suggestion that Palstrey had a ghost. She had never heard of it, and was in fact of an orthodoxy so ingenuously entire as to make her feel that belief in the existence of such things was a sort of defiance of ecclesiastical laws. Still, such stories were often told in connection with old places, and it was natural to wonder what features marked this particular legend. Did it lay hands on people's sides when they were asleep? Captain Osborn had asked his question as if with a sudden sense of recognition. But she would not let herself think of the matter, and she would not make inquiries.
The result was that she did not sleep well for several nights. She was annoyed at herself, because she found that she kept lying awake as if listening or waiting. And it was not a good thing to lose one's sleep when one wanted particularly to keep strong.
Jane Cupp during this week was, to use her own words, "given quite a turn" by an incident which, though a small matter, might have proved untoward in its results.
The house at Palstrey, despite its age, was in a wonderful state of preservation, the carved oak balustrades of the stairways being considered particularly fine.
"What but Providence," said Jane piously, in speaking to her mother the next morning, "made me look down the staircase as I passed through the upper landing just before my lady was going down to dinner. What but Providence I couldn't say. It certainly wasn't because I've done it before that I remember. But just that one evening I was obliged to cross the landing for something, and my eye just lowered itself by accident, and there it was!"
"Just where it would have tripped her up. Good Lord! it makes my heart turn over to hear you tell it. How big a bit of carving was it?" Mrs. Cupp's opulent chest trimmings heaved.
"Only a small piece that had broken off from old age and worm-eatenness, I suppose, but it had dropped just where she wouldn't have caught sight of it, and ten to one would have stepped on it and turned her ankle and been thrown from the top to the bottom of the whole flight. Suppose I hadn't seen it in time to pick it up before she went down. Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Mother!"
"I should say so!" Mrs. Cupp's manner approached the devout. This incident it was which probably added to Jane's nervous sense of responsibility. She began to watch her mistress's movements with hyper-sensitive anxiety. She fell into the habit of going over her bedroom two or three times a day, giving a sort of examination to its contents.
"Perhaps I'm so fond of her that it's making me downright silly," she said to her mother; "but it seems as if I can't help it. I feel as if I'd like to know everything she does, and go over the ground to make sure of it before she goes anywhere. I'm so proud of her, mother; I'm just as proud as if I was some connection of the family, instead of just her maid. It'll be such a splendid thing if she keeps well and everything goes as it should. Even people like us can see what it means to a gentleman that can go back nine hundred years. If I was Lady Maria Bayne, I'd be here and never leave her. I tell you nothing could drive me from her."
"You are well taken care of," Hester had said. "That girl is devoted to you. In her lady's maid's way she'd fight for your life."
"I think she is as faithful to me as Ameerah is to you," Emily answered. "I feel sure Ameerah would fight for you."
Ameerah's devotion in these days took the form of a deep-seated hatred of the woman whom she regarded as her mistress's enemy.
"It is an evil thing that she should take this place," she said. "She is an old woman. What right hath she to think she may bear a son. Ill luck will come of it. She deserves any ill fortune which may befall her."
"Sometimes," Lady Walderhurst once said to Osborn, "I feel as if Ameerah disliked me. She looks at me in such a curious, stealthy way."
"She is admiring you," was his answer. "She thinks you are something a little supernatural, because you are so tall and have such a fresh colour."
There was in the park at Palstrey Manor a large ornamental pool of water, deep and dark and beautiful because of the age and hugeness of the trees which closed around it, and the water plants which encircled and floated upon it. White and yellow flags and brown velvet rushes grew thick about its edge, and water-lilies opened and shut upon its surface. An avenue of wonderful limes led down to a flight of mossy steps, by which in times gone by people had descended to the boat which rocked idly in the soft green gloom. There was an island on it, on which roses had been planted and left to run wild; early in the year daffodils and other spring flowers burst up through the grass and waved scented heads. Lady Walderhurst had discovered the place during her honeymoon, and had loved it fondly ever since. The avenue leading to it was her favourite walk; a certain seat under a tree on the island her favourite resting-place.
"It is so still there," she had said to the Osborns. "No one ever goes there but myself. When I have crossed the little old bridge and sit down among the greenness with my book or work, I feel as if there was no world at all. There is no sound but the rustle of the leaves and the splash of the moor-hens who come to swim about. They don't seem to be afraid of me, neither do the thrushes and robins. They know I shall only sit still and watch them. Sometimes they come quite near."
She used, in fact, to take her letter-writing and sewing to the sweet, secluded place and spend hours of pure, restful bliss. It seemed to her that her life became more lovely day by day.
Hester did not like the pool. She thought it too lonely and silent. She preferred her beflowered boudoir or the sunny garden. Sometimes in these days she feared to follow her own thoughts. She was being pushed—pushed towards the edge of her precipice, and it was only the working of Nature that she should lose her breath and snatch at strange things to stay herself. Between herself and her husband a sort of silence had grown. There were subjects of which they never spoke, and yet each knew that the other's mind was given up to thought of them day and night. There were black midnight hours when Hester, lying awake in her bed, knew that Alec lay awake in his also. She had heard him many a time turn over with a caught breath and a smothered curse. She did not ask herself what he was thinking of. She knew. She knew because she was thinking of the same things herself. Of big, fresh, kind Emily Walderhurst lost in her dreams of exultant happiness which never ceased to be amazed and grateful to prayerfulness; of the broad lands and great, comfortable houses; of all it implied to be the Marquis of Walderhurst or his son; of the long, sickening voyage back to India; of the hopeless muddle of life in an ill-kept bungalow; of wretched native servants, at once servile and stubborn and given to lies and thefts. More than once she was forced to turn on her face that she might smother her frenzied sobs in her pillow.
It was on such a night—she had awakened from her sleep to notice such stillness in Osborn's adjoining room, that she thought him profoundly asleep—that she arose from her bed to go and sit at her open window.
She had not been seated there many minutes before she became singularly conscious, she did not know how, of some presence near her among the bushes in the garden below. It had indeed scarcely seemed to be sound or movement which had attracted her attention, and yet it must have been one or both, for she involuntarily turned to a particular spot.
Yes, something, someone, was standing in a corner, hidden by shrubbery. It was the middle of the night, and people were meeting. She sat still and almost breathless. She could hear nothing and saw nothing but, between the leafage, a dim gleam of white. Only Ameerah wore white. After a few seconds' waiting she began to think a strange thing, though she presently realised that, taking all things into consideration, it was not strange at all. She got up very noiselessly and stole into her husband's room. He was not there; the bed was empty, though he had slept there earlier in the night.
She went back to her own bed and got into it again. In ten minutes' time Captain Osborn crept upstairs and returned to bed also. Hester made no sign and did not ask any questions. She knew he would have told her nothing, and also she did not wish to hear. She had seen him speaking to Ameerah in the lane a few days before, and now that he was meeting her in the night she knew that she need not ask herself what the subject of their consultation might be. But she looked haggard in the morning.
Lady Walderhurst herself did not look well, For the last two or three nights she had been starting from her sleep again with that eerie feeling of being wakened by someone at her bedside, though she had found no one when she had examined the room on getting up.
"I am sorry to say I am afraid I am getting a little nervous," she had said to Jane Cupp. "I will begin to take valerian, though it is really very nasty."
Jane herself had a somewhat harried expression of countenance. She did not mention to her mistress that for some days she had been faithfully following a line of conduct she had begun to mark out for herself. She had obtained a pair of list slippers and had been learning to go about softly. She had sat up late and risen from her bed early, though she had not been rewarded by any particularly marked discoveries. She had thought, however, that she observed that Ameerah did not look at her as much as had been her habit, and she imagined she rather avoided her. All she said to Lady Walderhurst was:
"Yes, my lady, mother thinks a great deal of valerian to quiet the nerves. Will you have a light left in your room to-night, my lady?"
"I am afraid I could not sleep with a light," her mistress answered. "I am not used to one."
She continued to sleep, disturbedly some nights, in the dark. She was not aware that on some of the nights Jane Cupp either slept or laid awake in the room nearest to her. Jane's own bedroom was in another part of the house, but in her quiet goings about in the list shoes she now and then saw things which made her nervously determined to be within immediate call.
"I don't say it isn't nerves, mother," she said, "and that I ain't silly to feel so suspicious of all sorts of little things, but there's nights when I couldn't stand it not to be quite near her."
The Lime Avenue was a dim, if lovely, place at twilight. When the sun was setting, broad lances of gold slanted through the branches and glorified the green spaces with mellow depths of light. But later, when the night was drawing in, the lines of grey tree-trunks, shadowed and canopied by boughs, suggested to the mind the pillars of some ruined cathedral, desolate and ghostly.
Jane Cupp, facing the gloom of it during her lady's dinner-hour, and glancing furtively from side to side as she went, would have been awed by the grey stillness, even if she had not been in a timorous mood to begin with. In the first place, the Lime Avenue, which was her ladyship's own special and favourite walk, was not the usual promenade of serving-maids. Even the gardeners seldom set foot in it unless to sweep away dead leaves and fallen wood. Jane herself had never been here before. This evening she had gone absolutely because she was following Ameerah.
She was following Ameerah because, during the afternoon tea-hour in the servants' hall, she had caught a sentence or so in the midst of a gossiping story, which had made her feel that she should be unhappy if she did not go down the walk and to the water-side,—see the water, the boat, the steps, everything.
"My word, mother!" she had said, "it's a queer business for a respectable girl that's maid in a great place to be feeling as if she had to watch black people, same as if she was in the police, and not daring to say a word; for if I did say a word, Captain Osborn's clever enough to have me sent away from here in a jiffy. And the worst of it is," twisting her hands together, "there mayn't be anything going on really. If they were as innocent as lambs they couldn't act any different; and just the same, things might have happened by accident."
"That's the worst of it," was Mrs. Cupp's fretted rejoinder. "Any old piece of carving might have dropped out of a balustrade, and any lady that wasn't well might have nightmare and be disturbed in her sleep."
"Yes," admitted Jane, anxiously, "that is the worst of it. Sometimes I feel so foolish I'm all upset with myself."
The gossip in servants' halls embraces many topics. In country houses there is naturally much to be said of village incidents, of the scandals of cottages and the tragedies of farms. This afternoon, at one end of the table the talk had been of a cottage scandal which had verged on tragedy. A handsome, bouncing, flaunting village girl had got into that "trouble" which had been anticipated for her by both friends and enemies for some time. Being the girl she was, much venomous village social stir had resulted. It had been predicted that she would "go up to London," or that she would drown herself, having an impudent high spirit which brought upon her much scornful and derisive flouting on her evil day. The manor servants knew a good deal of her, because she had been for a while a servant at The Kennel Farm, and had had a great fancy for Ameerah, whom it had pleased her to make friends with. When she fell suddenly ill, and for days lay at the point of death, there was a stealthy general opinion that Ameerah, with her love spells and potions, could have said much which might have been enlightening, if she had chosen. The girl had been in appalling danger. The village doctor, who had been hastily called in, had at one moment declared that life had left her body. It was, in fact, only Ameerah who had insisted that she was not dead. After a period of prostration, during which she seemed a corpse, she had slowly come back to earthly existence. The graphic descriptions of the scenes by her bedside, of her apparent death, her cold and bloodless body, her lagging and ghastly revival to consciousness, aroused in the servants' hall a fevered interest. Ameerah was asked questions, and gave such answers as satisfied herself if not her interlocutors. She was perfectly aware of the opinions of her fellow servitors. She knew all about them while they knew nothing whatsoever about her. Her limited English could be used as a means of baffling them. She smiled, and fell into Hindustani when she was pressed.
Jane Cupp heard both questions and answers. Ameerah professed to know nothing but such things as the whole village knew. Towards the end of the discussion, however, in a mixture of broken English and Hindustani, she conveyed that she had believed that the girl would drown herself. Asked why, she shook her head, then said that she had seen her by the Mem Sahib's lake at the end of the trees. She had asked if the water was deep enough, near the bridge, to drown. Ameerah had answered that she did not know.
There was a general exclamation. They all knew it was deep there. The women shuddered as they remembered how deep they had been told it was at that particular spot. It was said that there was no bottom to it. Everybody rather revelled in the gruesomeness of the idea of a bottomless piece of water. Someone remembered that there was a story about it. As much as ninety years ago two young labourers on the place had quarrelled about a young woman. One day, in the heat of jealous rage one had seized the other and literally thrown him into the pond. He had never been found. No drags could reach his body. He had sunk into the blackness for ever.
Ameerah sat at the table with downcast eyes. She had a habit of sitting silent with dropped eyes, which Jane could not bear. As she drank her tea she watched her in spite of herself.
After a few minutes had passed, her appetite for bread and butter deserted her. She got up and left the hall, looking pale.
The mental phases through which she went during the afternoon ended in her determination to go down the avenue and to the water's side this evening. It could be done while her ladyship and her guests were at dinner. This evening the Vicar and his wife and daughter were dining at the Manor.
Jane took in emotionally all the mysterious silence and dimness of the long tree-pillared aisle, and felt a tremor as she walked down it, trying to hold herself in hand by practical reflections half whispered.
"I'm just going to have a look, to make sure," she said, "silly or not. I've got upset through not being able to help watching that woman, and the way to steady my nerves is to make sure I'm just giving in to foolishness."
She walked as fast as she could towards the water. She could see its gleam in the dim light, but she must pass a certain tree before she could see the little bridge itself.
"My goodness! What's that?" she said suddenly. It was something white, which rose up as if from the ground, as if from the rushes growing at the water's edge.
Just a second Jane stood, and choked, and then suddenly darted forward, running as fast as she could. The white figure merely moved slowly away among the trees. It did not run or seem startled, and as Jane ran she caught it by its white drapery, and found herself, as she had known she would, dragging at the garments of Ameerah. But Ameerah only turned round and greeted her with a welcoming smile, mild enough to damp any excitement.
"What are you doing here?" Jane demanded. "Why do you come to this place?"
Ameerah answered her with simple fluency in Hindustani, with her manner of not realising that she was speaking to a foreigner who could not understand her. What she explained was that, having heard that Jane's Mem Sahib came here to meditate on account of the stillness, she herself had formed the habit of coming to indulge in prayer and meditation when the place was deserted for the day. She commended the place to Jane, and to Jane's mother, whom she believed to be holy persons given to devotional exercises. Jane shook her.
"I don't understand a word you say," she cried. "You know I don't. Speak in English."
Ameerah shook her head slowly, and smiled again with patience. She endeavoured to explain in English which Jane was sure was worse than she had ever heard her use before. Was it forbidden that a servant should come to the water?
She was far too much for Jane, who was so unnerved that she burst into tears.
"You are up to some wickedness," she sobbed; "I know you are. You're past bearing. I'm going to write to people that's got the right to do what I daren't. I'm going back to that bridge."
Ameerah looked at her with a puzzled amiability for a few seconds. She entered into further apologies and explanations in Hindustani. In the midst of them her narrow eyes faintly gleamed, and she raised a hand.
"They come to us. It is your Mem Sahib and her people. Hear them."
She spoke truly. Jane had miscalculated as to her hour, or the time spent at the dinner-table had been shorter than usual. In fact, Lady Walderhurst had brought her guests to see the young moon peer through the lime-trees, as she sometimes did when the evening was warm.
Jane Cupp fled precipitately. Ameerah disappeared also, but without precipitation or any sign of embarrassment.
* * * * *
"You look as if you had not slept well, Jane," Lady Walderhurst remarked in the morning as her hair was being brushed. She had glanced into the glass and saw that it reflected a pale face above her own, and that the pale face had red rims to its eyes.
"I have been a bit troubled by a headache, my lady," Jane answered.
"I have something like a headache myself." Lady Walderhurst's voice had not its usual cheerful ring. Her own eyes looked heavy. "I did not rest well. I have not rested well for a week. That habit of starting from my sleep feeling that some sound has disturbed me is growing on me. Last night I dreamed again that someone touched my side. I think I shall be obliged to send for Sir Samuel Brent."
"My lady," exclaimed Jane feverishly, "if you would—if you would."
Lady Walderhurst's look at her was nervous and disturbed.
"Do you—does your mother think I am not as well as I should be, Jane?" she said.
Jane's hands were actually trembling.
"Oh no, my lady. Oh no! But if Sir Samuel could be sent for, or Lady Maria Bayne, or—or his lordship—"
The disturbed expression of Lady Walderhurst's face changed to something verging on alarm. It was true that she began to be horribly frightened. She turned upon Jane, pallor creeping over her skin.
"Oh!" she cried, a sound of almost child-like fear and entreaty in her voice. "I am sure you think I am ill, I am sure you do. What—what is it?"
She leaned forward suddenly and rested her forehead on her hands, her elbows supported by the dressing-table. She was overcome by a shock of dread.
"Oh! if anything should go wrong!" in a faint half wail; "if anything could happen!" She could not bear the mere thought. It would break her heart. She had been so happy. God had been so good.
Jane was inwardly convulsed with contrition commingled with anger at her own blundering folly. Now it was she herself who had "upset" her ladyship, given her a fright that made her pale and trembling. What did she not deserve for being such a thoughtless fool. She might have known. She poured forth respectfully affectionate protestations.
"Indeed, I beg your pardon, my lady. Indeed, it's only my silliness! Mother was saying yesterday that she had never seen a lady so well and in as good spirits. I have no right to be here if I make such mistakes. Please, my lady—oh! might mother be allowed to step in a minute to speak to you?"
Emily's colour came, back gradually. When Jane went to her mother, Mrs. Cupp almost boxed her ears.
"That's just the way with girls," she said. "No more sense than a pack of cats. If you can't keep quiet you'd better just give up. Of course she'd think you meant they was to be sent for because we was certain she was a dying woman. Oh my! Jane Cupp, get away!"
She enjoyed her little interview with Lady Walderhurst greatly. A woman whose opinion was of value at such a time had the soundest reasons for enjoying herself. When she returned to her room, she sat and fanned herself with a pocket handkerchief and dealt judicially with Jane.
"What we've got to do," she said, "is to think, and think we will. Tell her things outright we must not, until we've got something sure and proved. Then we can call on them that's got the power in their hands. We can't call on them till we can show them a thing no one can't deny. As to that bridge, it's old enough to be easy managed, and look accidental if it broke. You say she ain't going there to-day. Well, this very night, as soon as it's dark enough, you and me will go down and have a look at it. And what's more, we'll take a man with us. Judd could be trusted. Worst comes to worst, we're only taking the liberty of making sure it's safe, because we know it is old and we're over careful."
As Jane had gathered from her, by careful and apparently incidental inquiry, Emily had had no intention of visiting her retreat. In the morning she had, in fact, not felt quite well enough. Her nightmare had shaken her far more on its second occurring. The stealthy hand had seemed not merely to touch, but to grip at her side, and she had been physically unable to rise for some minutes after her awakening. This experience had its physical and mental effects on her.
She did not see Hester until luncheon, and after luncheon she found her to be in one of her strange humours. She was often in these strange humours at this time. She wore a nervous and strained look, and frequently seemed to have been crying. She had new lines on her forehead between the eyebrows. Emily had tried in vain to rouse and cheer her with sympathetic feminine talk. There were days when she felt that for some reason Hester did not care to see her.
She felt it this afternoon, and not being herself at the high-water mark of cheerfulness, she was conscious of a certain degree of discouragement. She had liked her so much, she had wanted to be friends with her and to make her life an easier thing, and yet she appeared somehow to have failed. It was because she was so far from being a clever woman. Perhaps she might fail in other things because she was not clever. Perhaps she was never able to give to people what they wanted, what they needed. A brilliant woman had such power to gain and hold love.
After an hour or so spent in trying to raise the mental temperature of Mrs. Osborn's beflowered boudoir, she rose and picked up her little work-basket.
"Perhaps you would take a nap if I left you," she said. "I think I will stroll down to the lake."
She quietly stole away, leaving Hester on her cushions.
A few minutes later a knock at the door being replied to by Hester's curt "Come in!" produced the modest entry of Jane Cupp, who had come to make a necessary inquiry of her mistress. "Her ladyship is not here; she has gone out." Jane made an altogether involuntary step forward. Her face became the colour of her clean white apron.
"Out!" she gasped.
Hester turned sharply round.
"To the lake," she said. "What do you mean by staring in that way?"
Jane did not tell her what she meant. She incontinently ran from the room without any shadow of a pretence at a lady's maid's decorum.
She fled through the rooms, to make a short cut to the door opening on to the gardens. Through that she darted, and flew across paths and flowerbeds towards the avenue of limes.
"She shan't get to the bridge before me," she panted. "She shan't, she shan't. I won't let her. Oh, if my breath will only hold out!"
She did not reflect that gardeners would naturally think she had gone mad. She thought of nothing whatever but the look in Ameerah's downcast eyes when the servants had talked of the bottomless water,—the eerie, satisfied, sly look. Of that, and of the rising of the white figure from the ground last night she thought, and she clutched her neat side as she ran.
The Lime Avenue seemed a mile long, and yet when she was running down it she saw Lady Walderhurst walking slowly under the trees carrying her touching little basket of sewing in her hand. She was close to the bridge.
"My lady! my lady!" she gasped out as soon as she dared. She could not run screaming all the way. "Oh, my lady! if you please!"
Emily heard her and turned round. Never had she been much more amazed in her life. Her maid, her well-bred Jane Cupp, who had not drawn an indecorous breath since assuming her duties, was running after her calling out to her, waving her hands, her face distorted, her voice hysteric.
Emily had been just on the point of stepping on to the bridge, her hand had been outstretched towards the rail. She drew back a step in alarm and stood staring. How strange everything seemed to-day. She began to feel choked and trembling.
A few seconds and Jane was upon her, clutching at her dress. She had so lost her breath that she was almost speechless.
"My lady," she panted. "Don't set foot on it; don't—don't, till we're sure."
Then Jane realised how mad she looked, how insane the whole scene was, and she gave way to her emotions. Partly through physical exhaustion and breathlessness, and partly through helpless terror, she fell on her knees.
"The bridge!" she said. "I don't care what happens to me so that no harm comes to you. There's things being plotted and planned that looks like accidents. The bridge would look like an accident if part of it broke. There's no bottom to the water. They were saying so yesterday, and she sat listening. I found her here last night."
"She! Her!" Emily felt as if she was passing through another nightmare.
"Ameerah," wailed poor Jane. "White ones have no chance against black. Oh, my lady!" her sense of the possibility that she might be making a fool of herself after all was nearly killing her. "I believe she would drive you to your death if she could do it, think what you will of me."
The little basket of needlework shook in Lady Walderhurst's hand. She swallowed hard, and without warning sat down on the roots of a fallen tree, her cheeks blanching slowly.
"Oh Jane!" she said in simple woe and bewilderment. "I don't understand any of it. How could—how could they want to hurt me!" Her innocence was so fatuous that she thought that because she had been kind to them they could not hate or wish to injure her.
But something for the first time made her begin to quail. She sat, and tried to recover herself. She put out a shaking hand to the basket of sewing. She could scarcely see it, because suddenly tears had filled her eyes.
"Bring one of the men here," she said, after a few moments. "Tell him that I am a little uncertain about the safety of the bridge."
She sat quite still while Jane was absent in search of the man. She held her basket on her knee, her hand resting on it. Her kindly, slow-working mind was wakening to strange thoughts. To her they seemed inhuman and uncanny. Was it because good, faithful, ignorant Jane had been rather nervous about Ameerah that she herself had of late got into a habit of feeling as if the Ayah was watching and following her. She had been startled more than once by finding her near when she had not been aware of her presence. She had, of course, heard Hester say that native servants often startled one by their silent, stealthy-seeming ways. But the woman's eyes had frightened her. And she had heard the story about the village girl.
She sat, and thought, and thought. Her eyes were fixed upon the moss-covered ground, and her breath came quickly and irregularly several times.
"I don't know what to do," she said. "I am sure—if it is true—I don't know what to do."
The under-gardener's heavy step and Jane's lighter one roused her. She lifted her eyes to watch the pair as they came. He was a big, young man with a simple rustic face and big shoulders and hands.
"The bridge is so slight and old," she said to him, "that it has just occurred to me that it might not be quite safe. Examine it carefully to make sure."
The young man touched his forehead and began to look the supports over. Jane watched him with bated breath when he rose to his feet.
"They're all right on this side, my lady," he said. "I shall have to get in the boat to make sure of them that rest on the island."
He stamped upon the end nearest and it remained firm.
"Look at the railing well," said Lady Walderhurst. "I often stand and lean on it and—and watch the sunset."
She faltered at this point, because she had suddenly remembered that this was a habit of hers, and that she had often spoken of it to the Osborns. There was a point on the bridge at which, through a gap in the trees, a beautiful sunset was always particularly beautiful. It was the right-hand rail facing these special trees she rested on when she watched the evening sky.
The big, young gardener looked at the left-hand rail and shook it with his strong hands.
"That's safe enough," he said to Jane.
"Try the other," said Jane.
He tried the other. Something had happened to it. It broke in his big grasp. His sunburnt skin changed colour by at least three shades.
"Lord A'mighty!" Jane heard him gasp under his breath. He touched his cap and looked blankly at Lady Walderhurst. Jane's heart seemed to herself to roll over. She scarcely dared look at her mistress, but when she took courage to do so, she found her so white that she hurried to her side.
"Thank you, Jane," she said rather faintly. "The sky is so lovely this afternoon that I meant to stop and look at it. I should have fallen into the water, which they say has no bottom. No one would have seen or heard me if you had not come."
She caught Jane's hand and held it hard. Her eyes wandered over the avenue of big trees, which no one but herself came near at this hour. It would have been so lonely, so lonely!
The gardener went away, still looking less ruddy than he had looked when he arrived on the spot. Lady Walderhurst rose from her seat on the mossy tree-trunk. She rose quite slowly.
"Don't speak to me yet, Jane," she said. And with Jane following her at a respectful distance, she returned to the house and went to her room to lie down.
There was nothing to prove that the whole thing was not mere chance, mere chance. It was this which turned her cold. It was all impossible. The little bridge had been entirely unused for so long a time, it had been so slight a structure from the first; it was old, and she remembered now that Walderhurst had once said that it must be examined and strengthened if it was to be used. She had leaned upon the rail often lately; one evening she had wondered if it seemed quite as steady as usual. What could she say, whom could she accuse, because a piece of rotten wood had given away.
She started on her pillow. It was a piece of rotten wood which had fallen from the balustrade upon the stairs, to be seen and picked up by Jane just before she would have passed down on her way to dinner. And yet, what would she appear to her husband, to Lady Maria, to anyone in the decorous world, if she told them that she believed that in a dignified English household, an English gentleman, even a deposed heir presumptive, was working out a subtle plot against her such as might adorn a melodrama? She held her head in her hands as her mind depicted to her Lord Walderhurst's countenance, Lady Maria's dubious, amused smile.
"She would think I was hysterical," she cried, under her breath. "He would think I was vulgar and stupid, that I was a fussy woman with foolish ideas, which made him ridiculous. Captain Os-born is of his family. I should be accusing him of being a criminal. And yet I might have been in the bottomless pond, in the bottomless pond, and no one would have known."
If it all had not seemed so incredible to her, if she could have felt certain herself, she would not have been overwhelmed with this sense of being baffled, bewildered, lost.
The Ayah who so loved Hester might hate her rival. A jealous native woman might be capable of playing stealthy tricks, which, to her strange mind, might seem to serve a proper end. Captain Osborn might not know. She breathed again as this thought came to her. He could not know; it would be too insane, too dangerous, too wicked.
And yet, if she had been flung headlong down the staircase, if the fall had killed her, where would have been the danger for the man who would only have deplored a fatal accident. If she had leaned upon the rail and fallen into the black depths of water below, what could have been blamed but a piece of rotten wood. She touched her forehead with her handkerchief because it felt cold and damp. There was no way out. Her teeth chattered.
"They may be as innocent as I am. And they may be murderers in their hearts. I can prove nothing, I can prevent nothing. Oh! do come home."
There was but one thought which remained clear in her mind. She must keep herself safe—she must keep herself safe. In the anguish of her trouble she confessed, by putting it into words, a thing which she had not confessed before, and even as she spoke she did not realise that her words contained confession.
"If I were to die now," she said with a touching gravity, "he would care very much."
A few moments later she said, "It does not matter what happens to me, how ridiculous or vulgar or foolish I seem, if I can keep myself safe—until after. I will write to him now and ask him to try to come back."
It was the letter she wrote after this decision which Osborn saw among others awaiting postal, and which he stopped to examine.
Hester sat at the open window of her boudoir in the dark. She had herself put out the wax candles, because she wanted to feel herself surrounded by the soft blackness. She had sat through the dinner and heard her husband's anxious inquiries about the rotten handrail, and had watched his disturbed face and Emily's pale one. She herself had said but little, and had been glad when the time came that she could decently excuse herself and come away.
As she sat in the darkness and felt the night breath of the flowers in the garden, she was thinking of all the murderers she had ever heard of. She was reflecting that some of them had been quite respectable people, and that all of them must have lived through a period in which they gradually changed from respectable people to persons in whose brains a thought had worked which once they would have believed impossible to them, which they might have scouted the idea of their giving room to. She was sure the change must come about slowly. At first it would seem too mad and ridiculous, a sort of angry joke. Then the angry joke would return again and again, until at last they let it stay and did not laugh at it, but thought it over. Such things always happened because some one wanted, or did not want, something very much, something it drove them mad to think of being forced to live without, or with. Men who hated a woman and could not rid themselves of her, who hated the sight of her face, her eyes, her hair, the sound of her voice and step, and were rendered insane by her nearness and the thought that they never could be free from any of these things, had before now, commonplace or comparatively agreeable men, by degrees reached the point where a knife or a shot or a heavy blow seemed not only possible but inevitable. People who had been ill-treated, people who had faced horrors through want and desire, had reached the moment in which they took by force what Fate would not grant them. Her brain so whirled that she wondered if she was not a little delirious as she sat in the stillness thinking such strange things.
For weeks she had been living under a strain so intense that her feelings had seemed to cease to have any connection with what was normal.
She had known too much; and yet she had been certain of nothing at all.
But she and Alec were like the people who began with a bad joke, and then were driven and driven. It was impossible not to think of what might come, and of what might be lost for ever. If the rail had not been tried this afternoon, if big, foolish Emily Walderhurst had been lying peacefully among the weeds to-night!
"The end comes to everyone," she said. "It would have been all over in a few minutes. They say it isn't really painful."
Her lips quivered, and she pressed her hands tightly between her knees.
"That's a murderer's thought," she muttered querulously. "And yet I wasn't a bad girl to begin with."
She began to see things. The chief thing was a sort of vision of how Emily would have looked lying in the depths of the water among the weeds. Her brown hair would have broken loose, and perhaps tangled itself over her white face. Would her eyes be open and glazed, or half shut? And her childish smile, the smile that looked so odd on the face of a full-grown woman, would it have been fixed and seemed to confront the world of life with a meek question as to what she had done to people—why she had been drowned? Hester felt sure that was what her helpless stillness would have expressed.
How happy the woman had been! To see her go about with her unconsciously joyous eyes had sometimes been maddening. And yet, poor thing! why had she not the right to be happy? She was always trying to please people and help them. She was so good that she was almost silly. The day she had brought the little things from London to The Kennel Farm, Hester remembered that, despite her own morbid resentment, she had ended by kissing her with repentant tears. She heard again, in the midst of her delirious thoughts, the nice, prosaic emotion of her voice as she said:
"Don't thank me—don't. Just let us enjoy ourselves."
And she might have been lying among the long, thick weeds of the pond. And it would not have been the accident it would have appeared to be. Of that she felt sure. Brought face to face with this definiteness of situation, she began to shudder.
She went out into the night feeling that she wanted air. She was not strong enough to stand the realisation that she had become part of a web into which she had not meant to be knitted. No; she had had her passionate and desperate moments, but she had not meant things like this. She had almost hoped that disaster might befall, she had almost thought it possible that she would do nothing to prevent it—almost. But some things were too bad.
She felt small and young and hopelessly evil as she walked in the dark along a grass path to a seat under a tree. The very stillness of the night was a horror to her, especially when once an owl called, and again a dreaming bird cried in its nest.
She sat under the tree in the dark for at least an hour. The thick shadow of the drooping branches hid her in actual blackness and seclusion.
She said to herself later that some one of the occult powers she believed in had made her go out and sit in this particular spot, because there was a thing which was not to be, and she herself must come between.
When she at last rose it was with panting breath. She stole back to her room, and lighted with an unsteady hand a bedroom candle, whose flame flickered upon a distorted, little dark face. For as she had sat under the tree she had, after a while, heard whispering begin quite near her; had caught, even in the darkness, a gleam of white, and had therefore deliberately sat and listened.
* * * * *
There could be, to the purely normal geniality of Emily Walderhurst's nature, no greater relief than the recognition that a cloud had passed from the mood of another.
When Hester appeared the next morning at the breakfast-table, she had emerged from her humour of the day before and was almost affectionate in her amiability. The meal at an end, she walked with Emily in the garden.
She had never shown such interest in what pertained to her as she revealed this morning. Something she had always before lacked Emily recognised in her for the first time,—a desire to ask friendly questions, to verge on the confidential. They talked long and without reserve. And how pretty it was of the girl, Emily thought, to care so much about her health and her spirits, to be so interested in the details of her every-day life, even in the simple matter of the preparation and serving of her food, as if the merest trifle was of consequence. It had been unfair, too, to fancy that she felt no interest in Walderhurst's absence and return. She had noticed everything closely, and actually thought he ought to come back at once.
"Send for him," she said quite suddenly; "send for him now."
There was an eagerness expressed in the dark thinness of her face which moved Emily.
"It is dear of you to care so much, Hester," she said. "I didn't know you thought it mattered."
"He must come," said Hester. "That's all. Send for him."
"I wrote a letter yesterday," was Lady Walderhurst's meek rejoinder. "I got nervous."
"So did I get nervous," said Hester; "so did I."
That she was disturbed Emily could see. The little laugh she ended her words with had an excited ring in it.
During the Osborns' stay at Palstrey the two women had naturally seen a good deal of each other, but for the next two days they were scarcely separated at all. Emily, feeling merely cheered and supported by the fact that Hester made herself so excellent a companion, was not aware of two or three things. One was that Mrs. Osborn did not lose sight of her unless at such times as she was in the hands of Jane Cupp.
"I may as well make a clean breast of it," the young woman said. "I have a sense of responsibility about you that I haven't liked to speak of before. It's half hysterical, I suppose, but it has got the better of me."
"You feel responsible for me!" exclaimed Emily, with wondering eyes.
"Yes, I do," she almost snapped. "You represent so much. Walderhurst ought to be here. I'm not fit to take care of you."
"I ought to be taking care of you," said Emily, with gentle gravity. "I am the older and stronger. You are not nearly so well as I am."
Hester startled her by bursting into tears.
"Then do as I tell you," she said. "Don't go anywhere alone. Take Jane Cupp with you. You have nearly had two accidents. Make Jane sleep in your dressing-room."
Emily felt a dreary chill creep over her. That which she had felt in the air when she had slowly turned an amazed face upon Jane in the Lime Avenue, that sense of the strangeness of things again closed her in.
"I will do as you wish," she answered.
But before the next day closed all was made plain to her, all the awfulness, all the cruel, inhuman truth of things which seemed to lose their possibility in the exaggeration of proportion which made their incongruous ness almost grotesque.
The very prettiness of the flowered boudoir, the very softness of the peace in the velvet spread of garden before the windows, made it even more unreal.
That day, the second one, Emily had begun to note the new thing. Hester was watching her, Hester was keeping guard. And as she realised this, the sense of the abnormalness of things grew, and fear grew with it. She began to feel as if a wall were rising around her, built by unseen hands.
The afternoon, an afternoon of deeply golden sun, they had spent together. They had read and talked. Hester had said most. She had told stories of India,—curious, vivid, interesting stories, which seemed to excite her.
At the time when the sunlight took its deepest gold the tea-tray was brought in. Hester had left the room a short time before the footman appeared with it, carrying it with the air of disproportionate solemnity with which certain male domestics are able to surround the smallest service. The tea had been frequently served in Hester's boudoir of late. During the last week, however, Lady Walderhurst's share of the meal had been a glass of milk. She had chosen to take it because Mrs. Cupp had suggested that tea was "nervous." Emily sat down at the table and filled a cup for Hester. She knew she would return in a few moments, so set the cup before Mrs. Osborn's place and waited. She heard the young woman's footsteps outside, and as the door opened she lifted the glass of milk to her lips.
She was afterwards absolutely unable to describe to herself clearly what happened the next moment. In fact, it was the next moment that she saw Hester spring towards her, and the glass of milk had been knocked from her hand and rolled, emptying itself, upon the floor. Mrs. Osborn stood before her, clenching and unclenching her hands.
"Have you drunk any of it?" she demanded.
"No," Emily answered. "I have not."
Hester Osborn dropped into a chair and leaned forward, covering her face with her hands. She looked like a woman on the verge of an outbreak of hysteria, only to be held in check by a frenzied effort.
Lady Walderhurst, quite slowly, turned the colour of the milk itself. But she did nothing but sit still and gaze at Hester.
"Wait a minute." The girl was trying to recover her breath. "Wait till I can hold myself still. I am going to tell you now. I am going to tell you."
"Yes," Emily answered faintly.
It seemed to her that she waited twenty minutes before another word was spoken, that she sat quite that long looking at the thin hands which seemed to clutch the hidden face. This was a mistake arising from the intensity of the strain upon her nerves. It was scarcely five minutes before Mrs. Osborn lowered her hands and laid them, pressed tightly palm to palm, between her knees.
She spoke in a low voice, such a voice as a listener outside could not have heard.
"Do you know," she demanded, "what you represent to us—to me and to my husband—as you sit there?"
Emily shook her head. The movement of disclaimer was easier than speech. She felt a sort of exhaustion.
"I don't believe you do," said Hester. "You don't seem to realise anything. Perhaps it's because you are so innocent, perhaps it's because you are so foolish. You represent the thing that we have the right to hate most on earth."
"Do you hate me?" asked Emily, trying to adjust herself mentally to the mad extraordinariness of the situation, and at the same time scarcely understanding why she asked her question.
"Sometimes I do. When I do not I wonder at myself." The girl paused a second, looked down, as if questioningly, at the carpet, and then, lifting her eyes again, went on in a dragging, half bewildered voice: "When I do not, I actually believe it is because we are both—women together. Before, it was different."
The look which Walderhurst had compared to "that of some nice animal in the Zoo" came into Emily's eyes as two honest drops fell from them.
"Would you hurt me?" she faltered. "Could you let other people hurt me?"
Hester leaned further forward in her chair, widening upon her such hysterically insistent, terrible young eyes as made her shudder.
"Don't you see?" she cried. "Can't you see? But for you my son would be what Walderhurst is—my son, not yours."
"I understand," said Emily. "I understand."
"Listen!" Mrs. Osborn went on through her teeth. "Even for that, there are things I haven't the nerve to stand. I have thought I could stand them. But I can't. It does not matter why. I am going to tell you the truth. You represent too much. You have been too great a temptation. Nobody meant anything or planned anything at first. It all came by degrees. To see you smiling and enjoying everything and adoring that stilted prig of a Walderhurst put ideas into people's heads, and they grew because every chance fed them. If Walderhurst would come home—"
Lady Walderhurst put out her hand to a letter which lay on the table.
"I heard from him this morning," she said. "And he has been sent to the Hills because he has a little fever. He must be quiet. So you see he cannot come yet."
She was shivering, though she was determined to keep still.
"What was in the milk?" she asked.
"In the milk there was the Indian root Ameerah gave the village girl. Last night as I sat under a tree in the dark I heard it talked over. Only a few native women know it."
There was a singular gravity in the words poor Lady Walderhurst spoke in reply.
"That," she said, "would have been the cruelest thing of all."
Mrs. Osborn got up and came close to her.
"If you had gone out on Faustine," she said, "you would have met with an accident. It might or might not have killed you. But it would have been an accident. If you had gone downstairs before Jane Cupp saw the bit of broken balustrade you might have been killed—by accident again. If you had leaned upon the rail of the bridge you would have been drowned, and no human being could have been accused or blamed."
Emily gasped for breath, and lifted her head as if to raise it above the wall which was being slowly built round her.
"Nothing will be done which can be proved," said Hester Osborn. "I have lived among native people, and know. If Ameerah hated me and I could not get rid of her I should die, and it would all seem quite natural."
She bent down and picked up the empty glass from the carpet.
"It is a good thing it did not break," she said, as she put it on the tray. "Ameerah will think you drank the milk and that nothing will hurt you. You escape them always. She will be frightened."
As she said it she began to cry a little, like a child.
"Nothing will save me," she said. "I shall have to go back, I shall have to go back!"
"No, no!" cried Emily.
The girl swept away her tears with the back of a clenched hand.
"At first, when I hated you," she was even petulant and plaintively resentful, "I thought I could let it go on. I watched, and watched, and bore it. But the strain was too great. I broke down. I think I broke down one night, when something began to beat like a pulse against my side."
Emily got up and stood before her. She looked perhaps rather as she had looked when she rose and stood before the Marquis of Walderhurst on a memorable occasion, the afternoon on the moor. She felt almost quiet, and safe.
"What must I do?" she asked, as if she was speaking to a friend. "I am afraid. Tell me."
Little Mrs. Osborn stood still and stared at her. The most incongruous thought came to her mind. She found herself, at this weird moment, observing how well the woman held her stupid head, how finely it was set on her shoulders, and that in a modern Royal Academy way she was rather like the Venus of Milo. It is quite out of place to think such things at such a time. But she found herself confronted with them.
"Go away," she answered. "It is all like a thing in a play, but I know what I am talking about. Say you are ordered abroad. Be cool and matter-of-fact. Simply go and hide yourself somewhere, and call your husband home as soon as he can travel."
Emily Walderhurst passed her hand over her forehead.
"It is like something in a play," she said, with a baffled, wondering face. "It isn't even respectable."
Hester began to laugh.
"No, it isn't even respectable," she cried. And her laughter was just in time. The door opened and Alec Osborn came in.
"What isn't respectable?" he asked.
"Something I have been telling Emily," she answered, laughing even a trifle wildly. "You are too young to hear such things. You must be kept respectable at any cost."
He grinned, but faintly scowled at the same time.
"You've upset something," he remarked, looking at the carpet.
"I have, indeed," said Hester. "A cup of tea which was half milk. It will leave a grease spot on the carpet. That won't be respectable."
When she had tumbled about among native servants as a child, she had learned to lie quickly, and she was very ready of resource.
As she heard the brougham draw up in the wet street before the door, Mrs. Warren allowed her book to fall closed upon her lap, and her attractive face awakened to an expression of agreeable expectation, in itself denoting the existence of interesting and desirable qualities in the husband at the moment inserting his latch-key in the front door preparatory to mounting the stairs and joining her. The man who, after twenty-five years of marriage, can call, by his return to her side, this expression to the countenance of an intelligent woman is, without question or argument, an individual whose life and occupations are as interesting as his character and points of view.
Dr. Warren was of the mental build of the man whose life would be interesting and full of outlook if it were spent on a desert island or in the Bastille. He possessed the temperament which annexes incident and adventure, and the perceptiveness of imagination which turns a light upon the merest fragment of event. As a man whose days were filled with the work attendant upon the exercise of a profession from which can be withheld few secrets, and to which most mysteries explain themselves, his brain was the recording machine of impressions which might have stimulated to vividness of imagination a man duller than himself, and roused to feeling one of far less warm emotions.
He came into the room smiling. He was a man of fifty, of strong build, and masculine. He had good shoulders and good colour, and the eyes, nose, and chin of a man it would be a stupid thing to attempt to deal with in a blackguardly manner. He sat down in his chair by the fire and began to chat, as was his habit before he and his wife parted to dress for dinner. When he was out during the day he often looked forward to these chats, and made notes of things he would like to tell his Mary. During her day, which was given to feminine duties and pleasures, she frequently did the same thing. Between seven and eight in the evening they had delightful conversational opportunities. He picked up her book and glanced it over, he asked her a few questions and answered a few; but she saw it was with a somewhat preoccupied manner. She knew a certain remote look in his eye, and she waited to see him get up from his chair and begin to walk to and fro, with his hands in his pockets and his head thrown back. When, after having done this, he began in addition to whistle softly and draw his eyebrows together, she broke in upon him in the manner of merely following an established custom.
"I am perfectly sure," was her remark, "that you have come upon one of the Extraordinary Cases."
The last two words were spoken as with inverted commas. Of many deep interests he added to her existence, the Extraordinary Cases were among the most absorbing. He had begun to discuss them with her during the first year of their married life. Accident had thrown one of them into her immediate personal experience, and her clear-headed comprehension and sympathy in summing up singular evidence had been of such value to him that he had turned to her in the occurrence of others for the aid straightforward, mutual logic could give. She had learned to await the Extraordinary Case with something like eagerness. Sometimes, it was true, its incidents were painful; but invariably they were absorbing in their interest, and occasionally illuminating beyond description. Of names and persons it was not necessary she should hear anything—the drama, the ethics, were enough. With an absolute respect for his professional reserves, she asked no questions he could not reply to freely, and avoided even the innocent following of clues. The Extraordinary Case was always quite enough as it stood. When she saw the remotely speculative look in his eye, she suspected one, when he left his chair and paced the floor with that little air of restlessness, and ended with unconscious whistling which was scarcely louder than a breath, she felt that evidence enough had accumulated for her.
He stopped and turned round.
"My good Mary," he owned at once, "its extraordinariness consists in its baffling me by being so perfectly ordinary."
"Well, at least that is not frequent. What is its nature? Is it awful? Is it sad? Is it eccentric? Is it mad or sane, criminal or domestic?"
"It is nothing but suggestive, and that it suggests mystery to me makes me feel as if I myself, instead of a serious practitioner, am a professional detective."
"Is it a case in which you might need help?"
"It is a case in which I am impelled to give help, if it proves that it is necessary. She is such an exceedingly nice woman."
"Good, bad, or indifferent?"
"Of a goodness, I should say—of a goodness which might prevent the brain acting in the manner in which a brutal world requires at present that the human brain should act in self-defence. Of a goodness which may possibly have betrayed her into the most pathetic trouble."
"Of the kind—?" was Mrs. Warren's suggestion.
"Of that kind," with a troubled look; "but she is a married woman."
"She says she is a married woman."
"No. She does not say so, but she looks it. That's the chief feature of the case. Any woman bearing more obviously the stamp of respectable British matrimony than this one does, it has not fallen to me to look upon."
Mrs. Warren's expression was intriguee in the extreme. There was a freshness in this, at least.
"But if she bears the stamp as well as the name—! Do tell me all it is possible to tell. Come and sit down, Harold."
He sat down and entered into details.
"I was called to a lady who, though not ill, seemed fatigued from a hurried journey and, as it seemed to me, the effects of anxiety and repressed excitement. I found her in a third-class lodging-house in a third-class street. It was a house which had the air of a place hastily made inhabitable for some special reason. There were evidences that money had been spent, but that there had been no time to arrange things. I have seen something of the kind before, and when I was handed into my patient's sitting-room, thought I knew the type I should find. It is always more or less the same,—a girl or a very young woman, pretty and refined and frightened, or pretty and vulgar and 'carrying it off' with transparent pretences and airs and graces. Anything more remote from what I expected you absolutely cannot conceive."
"Not young and pretty?"
"About thirty-five or six. A fresh, finely built woman with eyes as candid as a six-year-old girl's. Quite unexplanatory and with the best possible manner, only sweetly anxious about her health. Her confidence in my advice and the earnestness of her desire to obey my least instructions were moving. Ten minutes' conversation with her revealed to me depths of long-secreted romance in my nature. I mentally began to swear fealty to her."
"Did she tell you that her husband was away?"
"What specially struck me was that it did not occur to her that her husband required stating, which was ingenuously impressive. She did not explain her mother or her uncles, why her husband? Her mental attitude had a translucent clearness. She wanted a medical man to take charge of her, and if she had been an amiable, un-brilliant lady who was a member of the royal house, she would have conversed with me exactly as she did."
"She was so respectable?"
"She was even a little Mid-Victorian, dear Mary; a sort of clean, healthy, Mid-Victorian angel."
"There's an incongruousness in the figure in connection with being obviously in hiding in a lodging-house street." And Mrs. Warren gave herself to reflection.
"I cannot make it as incongruous as she was. I have not told you all. I have saved to the last the feature which marked her most definitely as an Extraordinary Case. I suppose one does that sort of thing from a sense of drama."
"What else?" inquired Mrs. Warren, roused from her speculation.
"What respectable conclusion could one deduce from the fact that a letter lay on the table near her, sealed with an imposing coat of arms. One's eye having accidentally fallen on it, one could, of course, only avoid glancing at it again, so I recognised nothing definite. Also, when I was announced unexpectedly, I saw her quickly withdraw her hand from her lips. She had been kissing a ring she wore. I could not help seeing that afterwards. My good Mary, it was a ruby, of a size and colour which recalled the Arabian Nights."
Mrs. Warren began to resign herself.
"No," she said, "there is no respectable conclusion to be drawn. It is tragic, but prosaic. She has been governess or companion in some great house. She may be a well-born woman. It is ten times more hideous for her than if she were a girl. She has to writhe under knowing that both her friends and her enemies are saying that she had not the excuse of not having been old enough to know better."
"That might all be true," he admitted promptly. "It would be true if—but she is not writhing. She is no more unhappy than you or I. She is only anxious, and I could swear that she is only anxious about one thing. The moment in which I swore fealty to her was when she said to me, 'I want to be quite safe—until after. I do not care for myself. I will bear anything or do anything. Only one thing matters. I shall be such a good patient.' Then her eyes grew moist, and she closed her lips decorously to keep them from trembling.
"They're not usually like that," Mrs. Warren remarked.
"I have not found them so," he replied.
"Perhaps she believes the man will marry her."
There was odd unexpectedness in the manner in which Dr. Warren suddenly began to laugh.
"My dear wife, if you could see her! It is the incongruity of what we are saying which makes me laugh. With her ruby and her coronets and her lodging-house street, she is of an impeccableness! She does not even know she could be doubted. Fifteen years of matrimony spent in South Kensington, three girls in the schoolroom and four boys at Eton, could not have crystallised a more unquestionable serenity. And you are saying gravely, 'Perhaps she believes the man will marry her.' Whatsoever the situation is, I am absolutely sure that she has never asked herself whether he would or not."
"Then," Mrs. Warren answered, "it is the most Extraordinary Case we have had yet."
"But I have sworn fealty to her," was Warren's conclusion. "And she will tell me more later." He shook his head with an air of certainty. "Yes, she will feel it necessary to tell me later."
They went upstairs to dress for dinner, and during the remainder of the evening which they spent alone they talked almost entirely of the matter.
Lady Walderhurst's departure from Palstrey, though unexpected, had been calm and matter-of-fact. All the Osborns knew was that she had been obliged to go up to London for a day or two, and that when there, her physician had advised certain German baths. Her letter of explanation and apology was very nice. She could not return to the country before beginning her journey. It seemed probable that she would return with her husband, who might arrive in England during the next two months.
"Has she heard that he is coming back?" Captain Osborn asked his wife.
"She has written to ask him to come."
"He will be obliged to her. He is tremendously pleased with his importance at this particular time, and he is just the sort of man—as we both know—to be delighted at being called back to preside over an affair which is usually a matter for old women."
But the letter he had examined, as it lay with the rest awaiting postal, he had taken charge of himself. He knew that one, at least, would not reach Lord Walderhurst. Having heard in time of the broken bridge-rail, he had been astute enough to guess that the letter written immediately after the incident might convey such impressions as might lead even his lordship to feel that it would be well for him to be at home. The woman had been frightened, and would be sure to lose her head and play the fool. In a few days she would calm down and the affair would assume smaller proportions. At any rate, he had chosen to take charge of this particular letter.
What he did not know, however, was that chance had played into his hands in the matter of temporarily upsetting Lord Walderhurst's rather unreliable digestion, and in altering his plans, by a smart, though not dangerous, attack of fever which had ended in his being ordered to a part of the hill country not faithfully reached by letters; as a result of which several communications from his wife went astray and were unduly delayed. At the time Captain Osborn was discussing him with Hester, he was taking annoyed care of himself with the aid of a doctor, irritated by the untoward disturbance of his arrangements, and giving, it is true, comparatively little thought to his wife, who, being comfortably installed at Palstrey Manor, was doubtless enjoyably absorbed in little Mrs. Osborn.
"What German baths does she intend going to?" Alec Osborn inquired.
Hester consulted the letter with a manner denoting but languid interest.
"It's rather like her that she doesn't go to the length of explaining," was her reply. "She has a way of telling you a great many things you don't care to know, and forgetting to mention those you are interested in. She is very detailed about her health, and her affection and mine. She evidently expects us to go back to The Kennel Farm, and deplores her inhospitality, with adjectives."
She did not look as if she was playing a part; but she was playing one, and doing it well. Her little way was that of a nasty-tempered, self-centred woman, made spiteful by being called upon to leave a place which suited her.
"You are not really any fonder of her than I am," commented Osborn, after regarding her speculatively a few moments. If he had been as sure of her as he had been of Ameerah—!
"I don't know of any reason for my being particularly fond of her," she said. "It's easy enough for a rich woman to be good-natured. It doesn't cost her enough to constitute a claim."
Osborn helped himself to a stiff whiskey and soda. They went back to The Kennel Farm the next day, and though it was his habit to consume a large number of "pegs" daily, the habit increased until there were not many hours in the day when he was normally sure of what he was doing.
The German baths to which Lady Walderhurst had gone were nearer to Palstrey than any one knew. They were only at a few hours' distance by rail.
When, after a day spent in a quiet London lodging, Mrs. Cupp returned to her mistress with the information that she had been to the house in Mortimer Street and found that the widow who had bought the lease and furniture was worn out with ill-luck and the uncertainty of lodgers, and only longed for release which was not ruin, Emily cried a little for joy.
"Oh, how I should like to be there!" she said. "It was such a dear house. No one would ever dream of my being in it. And I need have no one but you and Jane. I should be so safe and quiet. Tell her you have a friend who will take it, as it is, for a year, and pay her anything."
"I won't tell her quite that, my lady," Mrs. Cupp made sagacious answer. "I'll make her an offer in ready money down, and no questions asked by either of us. People in her position sometimes gets a sudden let that pays them better than lodgers. All classes has their troubles, and sometimes a decent house is wanted for a few months, where money can be paid. I'll make her an offer."
The outcome of which was that the widowed householder walked out of her domicile the next morning with a heavier purse and a lighter mind than she had known for many months. The same night, ingenuously oblivious of having been called upon to fill the role of a lady in genteel "trouble," good and decorous Emily Walderhurst arrived under the cover of discreet darkness in a cab, and when she found herself in the "best bedroom," which had once been so far beyond her means, she cried a little for joy again, because the four dull walls, the mahogany dressing-table, and ugly frilled pincushions looked so unmelodramatically normal and safe.
"It seems so home-like," she said; adding courageously, "it is a very comfortable place, really."
"We can make it much more cheerful, my lady," Jane said, with grateful appreciation. "And the relief makes it like Paradise." She was leaving the room and stopped at the door. "There's not a person, black or white, can get across the door-mat, past mother and me, until his lordship comes," she allowed herself the privilege of adding.
Emily felt a little nervous when she pictured to herself Lord Walderhurst crossing the door-mat of a house in Mortimer Street in search of his Marchioness. She had not yet had time to tell him the story of the episode of the glass of milk and Hester Osborn's sudden outburst. Every moment had been given to carefully managed arrangement for the journey which was to seem so natural. Hester's cleverness had suggested every step and had supported her throughout. But for Hester she was afraid she might have betrayed herself. There had been no time for writing. But when James received her letter (of late she had more than once thought of him as "James"), he would know the one thing that was important. And she had asked him to come to her. She had apologised for suggesting any alteration of his plans, but she had really asked him to come to her.
"I think he will come," she said to herself. "I do think he will. I shall be so glad. Perhaps I have not been sensible, perhaps I have not done the best thing, but if I keep myself safe until he comes back, that really seems what is most important."
Two or three days in the familiar rooms, attended only by the two friendly creatures she knew so well, seemed to restore the balance of life for her. Existence became comfortable and prosaic again. The best bedroom and the room in which she spent her days were made quite cheerful through Jane's enterprise and memories of the appointments of Palstrey. Jane brought her tea in the morning, Mrs. Cupp presided over the kitchen. The agreeable doctor, whose reputation they had heard so much of, came and went, leaving his patient feeling that she might establish a friendship. He looked so clever and so kind.
She began to smile her childlike smile again. Mrs. Cupp and Jane told each other in private that if she had not been a married lady, they would have felt that she was Miss Fox-Seton again. She looked so like herself, with her fresh colour and her nice, cheerful eyes. And yet to think of the changes there had been, and what they had gone through!
People in London know nothing—or everything—of their neighbours. The people who lived in Mortimer Street were of the hard-worked lodging-house keeping class, and had too many anxieties connected with butcher's bills, rent, and taxes, to be able to give much time to their neighbours. The life in the house which had changed hands had nothing noticeable about it. It looked from the outside as it had always looked. The door-steps were kept clean, milk was taken in twice a day, and local tradesmen's carts left things in the ordinary manner. A doctor occasionally called to see someone, and the only person who had inquired about the patient (she was a friendly creature, who met Mrs. Cupp at the grocer's, and exchanged a few neighbourly words) was told that ladies who lived in furnished apartments, and had nothing to do, seemed to find an interest in seeing a doctor about things working-women had no time to bother about. Mrs. Cupp's view seemed to be that doctor's visits and medicine bottles furnished entertainment. Mrs. Jameson had "as good a colour and as good an appetite as you or me," but she was one who "thought she caught cold easy," and she was "afraid of fresh air."
Dr. Warren's interest in the Extraordinary Case increased at each visit he made. He did not see the ruby ring again. When he had left the house after his first call, Mrs. Cupp had called Lady Walderhurst's attention to the fact that the ring was on her hand, and could not be considered compatible with even a first floor front in Mortimer Street. Emily had been frightened and had removed it.
"But the thing that upsets me when I hand him in," Jane said to her mother anxiously in private, "is the way she can't help looking. You know what I mean, mother,—her nice, free, good look. And we never could talk to her about it. We should have to let her know that it's more than likely he thinks she's just what she isn't. It makes me mad to think of it. But as it had to be, if she only looked a little awkward, or not such a lady, or a bit uppish and fretful, she would seem so much more real. And then there's another thing. You know she always did carry her head well, even when she was nothing but poor Miss Fox-Seton tramping about shopping with muddy feet. And now, having been a marchioness till she's got used to it, and knowing that she is one, gives her an innocent, stately look sometimes. It's a thing she doesn't know of herself, but I do declare that sometimes as she's sat there talking just as sweet as could be, I've felt as if I ought to say, 'Oh! if you please, my lady, if you could look not quite so much as if you'd got on a tiara.'"
"Ah!" and Mrs. Cupp shook her head, "but that's what her Maker did for her. She was born just what she looks, and she looks just what she was born,—a respectable female."
Whereby Dr. Warren continued to feel himself baffled.
"She only goes out for exercise after dark, Mary," he said. "Also in the course of conversation I have discovered that she believes every word of the Bible literally, and would be alarmed if one could not accept the Athanasian Creed. She is rather wounded and puzzled by the curses it contains, but she feels sure that it would be wrong to question anything in the Church Service. Her extraordinariness is wholly her incompatibleness."
Gradually they had established the friendship Emily had thought possible. Once or twice Dr. Warren took tea with her. Her unabashed and accustomed readiness of hospitality was as incompatible with her circumstances as all the rest. She had the ease of a woman who had amiably poured out tea for afternoon callers all her life. Women who were uncertain of themselves were not amiably at ease with small social amenities. Her ingenuous talk and her fervent italics were an absolute delight to the man who was studying her. He, too, had noticed the carriage of her head Jane Cupp had deplored.
"I should say she was well born," he commented to his wife. "She holds herself as no common woman could."
"Ah! I haven't a doubt that she is well born, poor soul."
"No, not 'poor soul.' No woman who is as happy as she is needs pity. Since she has had time to rest, she looks radiant."
In course of time, however, she was less radiant. Most people know something of waiting for answers to letters written to foreign lands. It seems impossible to calculate correctly as to what length of time must elapse before the reply to the letter one sent by the last mail can reach one. He who waits is always premature in the calculation he makes. The mail should be due at a certain date, one is so sure. The letter could be written on such a day and posted at once. But the date calculated for arrives, passes,—the answer has not come. Who does not remember?
Emily Walderhurst had passed through the experience and knew it well. But previously the letters she had sent had been of less vital importance. When the replies to them had lingered on their way she had, it is true, watched eagerly ', for the postman, and had lived restlessly between the arrivals of the mails, but she had taught herself resignation to the inevitable. Now life had altered its aspect and its significance. She had tried, with the aid of an untried imagination, to paint to herself the moments in which her husband would read the letter which told him what she had told. She had wondered if he would start, if he would look amazed, if his grey-brown eyes would light with pleasure! Might he not want to see her? Might he not perhaps write at once? She never could advance farther in her imagined reading of this reply than the first lines:
"MY DEAR EMILY,—The unexpected good news your letter contains has given me the greatest satisfaction. You do not perhaps know how strong my desire has been—"
She used to sit and flush with happiness when she reached this point. She so wished that she was capable of depicting to herself what the rest would be.
She calculated with the utmost care the probable date of the epistle's arrival. She thought she made sure of allowing plenty of time for all possible delays. The safety of her letters she had managed, with Hester's aid, to arrange for. They were forwarded to her bankers and called for. Only the letters from India were of any importance, and they were not frequent. She told herself that she must be even more than usually patient this time. When the letter arrived, if he told her he felt it proper that he should return, no part of the strange experience she had passed through would be of moment. When she saw his decorous, well-bred face and heard his correctly modulated voice, all else would seem like an unnatural dream.
In her relief at the decent composure of the first floor front in Mortimer Street the days did not seem at first to pass slowly. But as the date she had counted on drew near she could not restrain a natural restlessness. She looked at the clock and walked up and down the room a good deal. She was also very glad when night came and she could go to bed. Then she was glad when the morning arrived, because she was a day nearer to the end.
On a certain evening Dr. Warren said to his wife, "She is not so well to-day. When I called I found her looking pale and anxious. When I commented on the fact and asked how she was, she said that she had had a disappointment. She had been expecting an important letter by a mail arriving yesterday, and it had not come. She was evidently in low spirits."
"Perhaps she has kept up her spirits before because she believed the letter would come," Mrs. Warren speculated.
"She has certainly believed it would come."
"Do you think it will, Harold?"
"She thinks it will yet. She was pathetically anxious not to be impatient. She said she knew there were so many reasons for delay when people were in foreign countries and very much occupied."
"There are many reasons, I daresay," said Mrs. Warren with a touch of bitterness," but they are not usually the ones given to waiting, desperate women."
Dr. Warren stood upon the hearthrug and gazed into the fire, knitting his brows.
"She wanted to tell or ask me something this afternoon," he said, "but she was afraid. She looked like a good child in great trouble. I think she will speak before long."
She looked more and more like a good child in trouble as time passed. Mail after mail came in, and she received no letter. She did not understand, and her fresh colour died away. She spent her time now in inventing reasons for the non-arrival of her letter. None of them comprised explanations which could be disparaging in any sense to Walderhurst. Chiefly she clung to the fact that he had not been well. Anything could be considered a reason for neglecting letter writing if a man was not well. If his illness had become serious she would, of course, have heard from his doctor. She would not allow herself to contemplate that. But if he was languid and feverish, he might so easily put off writing from day to day. This was all the more plausible as a reason, since he had not been a profuse correspondent. He had only written when he had found he had leisure, with decent irregularity, so to speak.
At last, however, on a day when she had felt the strain of waiting greater than she had courage for, and had counted every moment of the hour which must elapse before Jane could return from her mission of inquiry, as she rested on the sofa she heard the girl mount the stairs with a step whose hastened lightness wakened in her an excited hopefulness.
She sat up with brightened face and eager eyes. How foolish she had been to fret. Now—now everything would be different. Ah! how thankful she was to God for being so good to her!
"I think you must have a letter, Jane," she said the moment the door opened. "I felt it when I heard your footstep."
Jane was touching in her glow of relief and affection.
"Yes, my lady, I have, indeed. And they said at the bank that it had come by a steamer that was delayed by bad weather."
Emily took the letter. Her hand shook, but it was with pleasure. She forgot Jane, and actually kissed the envelope before she opened it. It looked like a beautiful, long letter. It was quite thick.
But when she had opened it, she saw that the letter itself was not very long. Several extra sheets of notes or instructions, it did not matter what, seemed to be enclosed. Her hand shook so that she let them fall on the floor. She looked so agitated that Jane was afraid to do more than retire discreetly and stand outside the door.
In a few minutes she congratulated herself on the wisdom of not having gone downstairs. She heard a troubled exclamation of wonder, and then a call for herself.
"Jane, please, Jane!"
Lady Walderhurst was still sitting upon the sofa, but she looked pale and unsteady. The letter was in her hand, which rested weakly in her lap. It seemed as if she was so bewildered that she felt helpless.
She spoke in a tired voice.
"Jane," she said, "I think you will have to get me a glass of wine. I don't think I am going to faint, but I do feel so—so upset."
Jane was at her side kneeling by her.
"Please, my lady, lie down," she begged. "Please do."
But she did not lie down. She sat trembling and looking at the girl in a pathetic, puzzled fashion.
"I don't think," she quavered, "that his lordship can have received my letter. He can't have received it. He doesn't say anything. He doesn't say one word—"
She had been too healthy a woman to be subject to attacks of nerves. She had never fainted before in her life, and as she spoke she did not at all understand why Jane seemed to move up and down, and darkness came on suddenly in the middle of the morning.
Jane managed by main strength to keep her from falling from the sofa, and thanked Providence for the power vouchsafed to her. She reached the bell and rang it violently, and hearing it, Mrs. Cupp came upstairs with heavy swiftness.
Chapter Twenty one
Naturally a perceptive and closely reasoning woman, Mrs. Warren's close intellectual intimacy with her husband had, in giving her the benefit of intercourse with a wide experience, added greatly to her power of reasoning by deduction. Warren frequently felt that his talk with her was something like consultation with a specially clever and sympathetic professional confrere. Her suggestions or conclusions were invariably worth consideration. More than once his reflection upon them had led him to excellent results. She made one night a suggestion with regard to the Extraordinary Case which struck him as being more than usually astute.
"Is she an intellectual woman?" she inquired.
"Not in the least. An unsparingly brilliant person might feel himself entitled to the right to call her stupid."
"Is she talkative?"
"Far from it. One of her charms is the nice respect she seems to feel for the remarks of others."
"And she is not excitable?"
"Rather the reverse. If excitability is liveliness, she is dull."
"I see," slowly, "you have not yet thought it possible that she might—well—be under some delusion."
Warren turned quickly and looked at her.
"It is wonderfully brilliant of you to have thought of it. A delusion?" He stood and thought it over.
"Do you remember," his wife assisted him with, "the complications which arose from young Mrs. Jerrold's running away, under similar circumstances, to Scotland and hiding herself in a shepherd's cottage under the impression that her husband was shadowing her with detectives? You recollect what a lovable woman she was, and what horror she felt of the poor fellow."
"Yes, yes. That was an Extraordinary Case too."
Mrs. Warren warmed with her subject.
"Here is a woman obviously concealing herself from the world in a lodging-house, plainly possessing money, owning a huge ruby ring, receiving documents stamped with imposing seals, taking exercise only by night, heart-wrung over the non-arrival of letters which are due. Every detail points to one painful, dubious situation. On the other hand, she presents to you the manner and aspect of a woman who is absolutely not dubious, and who is merely anxious on the one point a dubious person would be indifferent to. Isn't it, then, possible that over-wrought physical condition may have driven her to the belief that she is hiding from danger."
Dr. Warren was evidently following the thought seriously.
"She said," reflecting, "that all that mattered was that she should be safe. 'I want to keep safe.' That was it. You are very enlightening, Mary, always. I will go and see her again to-morrow. But," as the result of another memory, "how sane she seems!"
* * * * *
He was thinking of this possible aspect of the matter as he mounted the staircase of the house in Mortimer Street the next day. The stairway was of the ordinary lodging-house type, its dinginess somewhat alleviated by the fact that the Cupps had covered the worn carpet with clean warm-coloured felting. The yellowish marbled paper on the walls depressed the mind as one passed it; the indeterminate dun paint had defied fog for years. The whole house presented only such features as would encourage its proprietors to trust to the sufficing of infrequent re-decoration.
Jane had, however, made efforts in behalf of the drawing-room, in which her mistress spent her days. She had introduced palliations by degrees and with an unobtrusiveness which was not likely to attract the attention of neighbours unaccustomed to lavish delivery by means of furniture vans. She had brought in a rug or so, and had gradually replaced objects with such as were more pleasant to live with and more comfortable to use. Dr. Warren had seen the change wrought, and had noted evidences that money was not unobtainable. The maid also was a young woman whose manner towards her mistress was not merely respectful and well-bred, but suggestive of watchful affection bordering on reverence. Jane Cupp herself was a certificate of decorum and good standing. It was not such young women who secluded themselves with questionable situations. As she laid her hand on the drawing-room door to open it and announce him, it occurred to Dr. Warren that he would tell Mary that evening that if Mrs. Jameson had been the heroine of any unconventional domestic drama it was an unmistakable fact that Jane Cupp would have "felt it her duty as a young woman to leave this day month, if you please, ma'am," quite six months ago. And there she was, in a neat gown and apron,—evidently a fixture because she liked her place,—her decent young face full of sympathetic interest.