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Nell, of Shorne Mills - or, One Heart's Burden
by Charles Garvice
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Nell smiled.

"I think that is nonsense, like most copy-book headings. And yet——Yes, I should be content enough if it were not for Dick. After all, one can be happy though one is poor, especially if one lives in a beautiful place like Shorne Mills, and has a boat to sail in the summer, and books in the winter, and knows all the people round, and——"

"And happens to be young and full of the joy of life," he said, with a smile. "And it's only on your mind!"

She nodded gravely.

"Yes, of course I know that it's not right that he should be hanging about the Mills, doing nothing, and wasting his time. I'm always worrying about Dick's future. It's a sin that he should be wasted, for Dick is clever. You may not think so——"

"Oh, yes, I do," he said thoughtfully. "But I wouldn't worry. Something may turn up——"

She laughed.

"That is what he is always saying; but he says it rather bitterly sometimes, and——But I ought not to worry you, at any rate. Those fish are just done."

"Then my life is just saved," he responded solemnly.

"There are two plates; you hold them on the top of the stove to warm—that's it! And now you fill the kettle—oh! I see you've thought of that. It will boil while we eat the fish."

She helped him to some, and they ate in silence for some minutes. Only they who have eaten mackerel within a few minutes of their being caught, and eaten them while reclining in a boat, with a blue sky overhead and a sapphire sea all around, can know how good mackerel can taste. To Vernon, who possessed the appetite of the convalescent, the meal was an Olympian feast.

"No more?" he said, as Nell declined. "Pray don't say so, or I shall, from sheer decency, have to refuse also; and I could eat another half, and will do so if you will take the other. You wouldn't be so heartless as to deprive me of a second serve, surely!"

Nell laughed and held out her plate.

"I consent because I do not think the recently starving should eat too much at first. Didn't you say that you had been in Egypt fighting? You are in the army, then?"

He nodded casually, and she looked at him thoughtfully.

"Then we ought not to call you 'Mr.,'" she said. "What are you—a colonel?"

He laughed shortly as he picked the fish from the bones.

"Good heavens! do I look so old? No, not colonel. I'm a captain. But I'm not in the army now. I left it—worse luck!"

"Why did you leave it?" she asked.

He looked a little bored—not so much bored, perhaps, as reluctant.

"Oh, for a variety of reasons; the most important being the fact that a relative of mine wished me to do so."

His face clouded for a moment or two; then he said, with the air of one dismissing an unpleasant topic:

"This water's boiling like mad. Now is my time to prove my assertion that I am capable of making coffee. I want two jugs, or this jug and the tin will do. The coffee? Thanks. I'm afraid I'll have to get you to hold the tin. This is the native method: You make it in the tin—so; then, after a moment or two, you pour the liquid—not the coffee grounds—into the jug, then back, and then back again, and lo! you have cafe a la Francais, or Cairo, or Clapham fashion."

"It's very good," she admitted, when it had cooled sufficiently for her to taste it. "And that is how you made it on the battlefield?"

"Scarcely," he said. "There was no jug, only an empty meat can; and the water—well, the water was almost as thick, with mud, before the coffee was put in as afterward, and the men would scarcely have had patience to wait for the patent process. Poor beggars! Some of them had not had a drop past their lips for twenty-four hours—and been fighting, too."

Nell listened, with her grave gray eyes fixed on his face.

"How sorry you must have been to leave the army!" she said thoughtfully.

"Does warfare seem so alluring?" he retorted, with a laugh. "But you're right; I was sorry to send in my papers, and I've been sorrier since the day I did it."

Nell curled herself up in the bottom of the boat like a well-fed and contented cat, and Vernon, having washed the plates by the simple process of dragging them backward and forward through the water, stretched himself and felt in his pockets. He relinquished the search with a sigh of resignation, and Nell, hearing it, looked up.

"Are you not going to smoke?" she asked. "Dick would have his pipe alight long before this; and, of course, I don't mind—if that is what you were waiting for. Why should I?"

"Thanks; but, like an idiot, I've forgotten my pipe. I've got some tobacco and cigarette paper."

"Then you are all right," she remarked.

"Scarcely," he said carelessly. "This stupid mummy of an arm of mine prevents me rolling a cigarette, you see."

"How stupid of me to forget that!" she said. "Give me the tobacco and the paper and let me try."

He produced the necessary articles promptly; and showed her how to do it.

"Not quite so much tobacco"—she had taken out enough for ten cigarettes, and spilled sufficient for another five—"and—er—if you could get it more equal along the paper. Like this—ah, thanks!"

In showing her, his fingers got "mixed" with hers, but Nell seemed too absorbed in her novel experiment to notice the fact.

"Like that? Rather like a miniature sausage, isn't it? And it will all come undone when I let go of it," she added apprehensively.

"If you'll be so good as just to wet the edge with your lips," he said, in a matter-of-fact way.

She looked at him, and a faint dash of color came into her face.

"You won't like to smoke it afterward," she said coolly.

He stared at her, then smiled.

"Try me!" he said succinctly.

She gave a little shrug of the shoulders, moistened the cigarette in the usual way, and handed it to him gravely.

"I'll try to make the next better," she said. "I suppose you will want another?"

"I'm afraid I shall want more than you will be inclined to make," he said, "and I shouldn't like to trespass on your good nature."

"Oh, it's not very hard work making cigarettes," she said. "I'd better set about the next at once. How is that?" and she held up the production for inspection.

"Simply perfect," he said. "You would amass a fortune out in the East as a cigarette maker."

She looked up at him, beyond him, wistfully.

"I wish I could amass a fortune; indeed, I'd be content if I could earn my living any way," she said, as if she were communing with herself rather than addressing him. "If I could earn some money, and help Dick!"

Her voice died away, and she sighed softly.

He regarded her dreamily.

"Don't think of anything so—unnatural," he said.

She raised her eyes, and looked at him with surprise.

"Is it unnatural for a woman—a girl—to earn her own living?" she said.

"Yes," he said emphatically. "Women were made for men to work for, not to toil themselves."

Nell laughed, in simple mockery of the sentiment.

"What nonsense! As if we were dolls or something to be wrapped up in lavender! Why, half the women in Shorne Mills work! You see them driving their donkeys down to the beach for sand—haven't you seen them with bags on each side?—and doing washing, and making butter and going to market. Why, I should have to work if anything happened to mamma. At least, she has often said so. She has—what is it?—oh, an annuity or something of the kind; and if she died, Dick and I would have to 'face the world,' as she puts it."

He said nothing, but looked at her through the thin blue cloud of his cigarette. She looked so sweet, so girlish, so—yes, so helpless—lying there in the sunlight, one brown paw supporting her shapely head, the other—after the manner of girls—dabbling in the water. A pang of compassion smote him.

"It's a devil of a world," he muttered, almost to himself.

"Do you think so?" she said, with surprise. "I don't. At any rate, I don't think so this afternoon."

"Why this afternoon?" he asked, half curiously.

"Oh, I don't know. Perhaps it's the sunshine, or—or—do you think it's the mackerel?"

She laughed.

"But I feel so happy and free from care. And yet all the old trouble remains. There's Dick's future—and—oh, all the rest. But this afternoon everything seems bright and hopeful. I wonder why?"

She looked at him wistfully, as if he might perhaps explain; but Vernon said nothing.

"Have you really finished that cigarette? You smoke much less quickly than Dick. Well, there's another ready; and when you've finished that, I think we ought to be getting back. I want—let me see—yes, ten more fish, and I can get them when we get farther out."

They set the sail, and the Annie Laurie glided out of the placid little cove into the open sea.

As Vernon steered for the Head, behind which Shorne Mills sheltered, he sighed unconsciously. He, too, had been happy and free from care that morning, and the afternoon seemed full of indescribable peace and happiness. He, like Nell, wondered why. A day or two ago—or was it a month, a year?—he had been depressed and low-spirited, and firmly convinced that life was not worth living; but this afternoon——

What a pretty picture she made in her jersey, that fitted her like a skin, with the soft black hair rippling beneath the edge of the tam-o'-shanter!

Suddenly the pretty picture called out, "Sail ahead, sir!" and Vernon, taking his eyes from her, saw a yacht skimming along the sapphire waves, almost parallel with the Annie Laurie.

"That's a yacht," said Nell; "and a fine one, too."

He looked at it, shading his eyes with his practicable hand.

"I wonder who she is?" said Nell. "There's a field glass in the locker—get it. Can you see her name?"

He put the glass to his eyes and adjusted it; and, as he got the focus, an exclamation escaped him.

"What did you say?" inquired Nell.

"Nothing, only that she's a fine vessel," he said indifferently.

"Yes. I should like to be on her," said Nell. "Wouldn't you?"

He smiled grimly.

"I am content with the Annie Laurie," he replied.

She stared at him incredulously, then laughed.

"Thank you for the compliment; but you can't seriously prefer this dear old tub to that! I wonder whom she belongs to? How fast she travels. I should like to have a yacht like that."

"Would you?" he said, eying her rather strangely. "Perhaps some day——"

He stopped, and knocked the ash from his cigarette.

Nell laughed.

"Were you going to say that perhaps some day I should own one like her? What nonsense! It is like the things one reads in books, when the benevolent and wise old gentleman tells the boy that perhaps, if he works hard, and is honest and persevering, he may own a carriage and a pair like that which happens to be passing at the moment."

Vernon laughed.

"Life is full of possibilities," he said, with his eyes fixed on the yacht, which, after sailing broadside to them for some time, suddenly put down the helm and struck out for sea.

"I thought they might be making for Shorne Mills," said Nell, rather regretfully. "Yachts put in there sometimes, and I should have liked to have seen this one."

"Would you?" he said, as curiously as he had spoken before.

"It doesn't matter whether I would or wouldn't; she's gone out into the channel now," said Nell.

He stifled a sigh which sounded like a sigh of relief, and steered the Annie Laurie for home.

Nell swept the fish into an old reed basket which had held many such a catch, and held it up to the admiring and anticipatory gaze of a small crowd of women and children which had gathered on the jetty steps at the approach of the Annie Laurie.

As she stepped on shore and distributed the fish, receiving the short but expressive Devonshire "Thank 'ee, Miss Nell, thank 'ee," Vernon looked at the beautiful girlish face pensively, and thought—well, who can tell what a man thinks at such moments? Perhaps he was thinking of the hundred and one useless women of his class who, throughout the whole of their butterfly lives, had never won a single breath of gratitude from the poor in their midst.

"Come along," she said, turning to him, when she had emptied the basket. "I'm afraid we're in for a scolding. I quite forgot till this moment that mamma did not know you had gone out."

"What about you?" he said, remembering for the first time that he had spent so many hours with this girl alone and unchaperoned.

Nell laughed.

"Oh, she would not be anxious about me. Mamma is used to my going out for a ride—when I can borrow a horse from some one—or sailing the Annie Laurie with old Brownie; but she'll be anxious about you. You're an invalid, you know."

"Not much of the invalid about me, saving this arm," he said.

As they climbed the hill, they came upon Dick mounted upon a horse the like of which Nell had never seen; and she stopped dead short and stared at him.

"Hallo, Nell! Hallo, Mr. Vernon! Just giving him a run, after being shut up in that stuffy railway box."

"That's right," said Vernon. "Like him?"

"Like him?" responded Dick, with the superlative of approval; "never rode a horse to equal him, and the other is as good. And"—in an undertone—"the sidesaddle has come."

But Nell, whose ears were sharp, heard him.

"Who is the sidesaddle for?" she asked, innocently and ungrammatically.

Vernon took the bull by the horns.

"For you, if you will deign to use it, Miss Nell," he said.

It was the first time he had addressed her as "Miss Nell," but she did not notice it.

"For me?" she exclaimed.

They were opposite Sandy's stables, and Dick dropped off his horse and brought out the other.

"Look at her, Nell!" he exclaimed, with bated breath. "Perfect, isn't she?"

Nell looked at her with a flush that came and went

"Oh, but I—I—could not!" she breathed.

Mr. Drake Vernon laughed.

"Why not?" he said argumentatively. "Fair play's a jewel. You can't expect to have all the innings your side, Miss Nell. You've treated me—well, like a prince; and you won't refuse to ride a horse of mine that's simply spoiling for want of exercise!"

Nell looked from him to the horse, and from the horse to him.

"I—I—am so surprised," she faltered. "I—I will ask mamma."

"That's all right," said Vernon, who had learned to know "mamma" by this time.

Nell left Dick and Vernon standing round the horses in man fashion. Dick was all aglow with satisfaction and admiration.

"Never saw a better pair than these, Mr. Vernon," he said. "I should think this one could jump."

She had just won a military steeplechase, and Vernon nodded assent.

"You must persuade your sister to ride her," he said.

As he spoke, he seated himself on the edge of the steep roadway which led to the jetty.

"Take the horses in," he said. "I'll come up in a few minutes."

But the minutes ran into hours. He looked out to sea with a meditative and retrospective mind. He was going over the past which seemed so far away, so vague, since he had gone sailing in the Annie Laurie this morning.

Then suddenly the past became the present. There was a stir on the jetty below him. Voices—the voice of fashionable people, the voices of "society"—rose in an indistinguishable sound to his ears. He moved uneasily, and refilled and lit the pipe that he had borrowed of Dick. He heard the footsteps of several persons climbing the steep stairs. One seemed familiar to him. He pulled at his pipe, and crossed his legs with an air of preparation, of resignation.

The voices came nearer, and presently one said:

"I certainly, for one, decline to go any farther. I think it is too absurd to expect one to climb these ridiculous steps. And there is nothing to see up there, is there?"

At the sound of the voice, clear and bell-like, yet languid, with the languor of the fashionable woman, Mr. Drake Vernon bit his lips and colored. He half rose, but sank down again, as if uncertain whether to meet her, or to remain where he was; eventually he crossed his legs again, rammed down his pipe, and waited.

"Oh, but you'll come up to the top, Lady Lucille!" remonstrated a man's voice, the half-nasal drawl of the man about town—the ordinary club lounger. "There's a view, don't you know—there really is!"

"I don't care for views. Not another step, Archie. I'll wait here till you come back. You can describe the view—or, rather, you can't, thank Heaven!"

As she spoke, she mounted a few steps, and turned into the small square which offered a resting place on the steep ascent, and so came full upon Mr. Vernon.

He rose and raised his hat, and she looked at him, at first with the vagueness of sheer amazement, then with a start of recognition, and with her fair face all crimson for one instant, and, the next, pale, she said, in a suppressed voice, as if she were afraid of being overheard:

"Drake!"

He looked at her with a curious smile, as if something in the tone of her voice, in her sudden pallor following upon her; blush, were significant, and had told himself something.

"Well, Luce," he said; "and what brings you here?"



CHAPTER VI.

The girl who, with changing color, stood gazing at Lord Drake Selbie might have stepped out of one of Marcus Stone's pictures. She was as fair as a piece of biscuit china. Her hair was golden, and, strange to say in these latter days, naturally so. It was, indeed, like the fleece of gold itself under her fashionable yachting hat. Her eyes, widely opened, with that curious look of surprise and fear, were hazel—a deep hazel, which men, until they knew her, accepted as an indication of Lady Lucille's depth of feeling. She was slightly built, but graceful, with the grace of the fashionable modiste.

She was the product of the marriage of Art and Fashion of this fin-de-siecle age. Other ages have given us wit, beauty allied with esprit, dignity of demeanor, and a nobility of principle; this end of the nineteenth century has bestowed upon us—Lady Lucille Turfleigh.

It is in its way a marvelous product. It is very beautiful, with the delicate beauty of excessive culture and effete luxury. It has the subtle charm of the exotic, of the tall and graceful arum, whose spotless whiteness cannot bear a single breath of the keen east wind.

It is charming, bewitching; it looks all purity and spirituality; it seems to breathe poetry and a Higher Culture. It goes through life like a rose leaf floating upon a placid stream. It is precious to look at, pleasant to live with, and it has only one defect—it has no heart.

We have cast off the old creeds like so many shackles; we are so finely educated, so cultivated, that we have learned to do more than laugh at sentiment; we regard it with a contemptuous pity.

There is only one thing which we value, and that is Pleasure. Some persons labor under the mistaken notion that Money is the universal quest; but it is not so. The Golden God is set up in every market place, it stands at every street corner; but it is not for himself that the crowd worship at the feet of the brazen image, but because he can buy so much.

It is Money which nowadays holds the magician's rod. With a wave he can give us rank, luxury, power, place, influence, and beauty. This is the creed, the religion, which we teach our children, which is continually in our hearts if not on our lips; and it is the creed, the religion, in which Lady Lucille was reared.

Her history is a public one. It is the story of how many fashionable women? Her father, Lord Turfleigh, was an Irish peer. He had inherited a historic title, and thousands of acres which he had scarcely seen, but which he had helped to incumber. All the Turfleighs from time immemorial had been fast and reckless, but this Turfleigh had outpaced them all, and had easily romped in first in the race of dissipation. As a young man his name had been synonymous with every kind of picturesque profligacy. Every pound he could screw out of the land, or obtain at ruinous interest from the Jews, had been spent in what he and his kind call pleasure.

He had married for money, had got it, and had spent it, even before his patient and long-suffering wife had expiated the mistake of her life in the only possible way. She had left Lady Lucille behind, and the girl had matriculated and taken honors in her father's school.

To Lady Lucille there was only one thing in life worth having—money; and to obtain this prize she had been carefully nurtured and laboriously taught. Long before she left the nursery she had grown to understand that her one object and sole ambition must be a wealthy and suitable marriage; and to this end every advantage of mind and body had been trained and cultivated as one trains a young thoroughbred for a great race.

She had been taught to laugh at sentiment, to regard admiration as valueless unless it came from a millionaire; to sneer at love unless it paced, richly clad and warmly shod, from a palace. She had graduated in the School of Fashion, and had passed with high honors. There was no more beautiful woman in all England than Lady Lucille; few possessed greater charm; men sang her praises; artists fought for the honor of hanging her picture in the Academy; the society papers humbly reported her doings, her sayings, and her conquests; royalties smiled approvingly on this queen of fashion, and not a single soul, Lady Lucille herself least of all, realized that this perfection was but the hollow husk and shell of beauty without heart or soul; that behind the lovely face, within the graceful form, lurked as selfish and ignoble a nature as that which stirs the blood of any drab upon the Streets.

"Drake!" she said. "Why! I'd no idea! What are you doing here?"

He motioned her to a seat with a wave of his pipe, and she sank down on the stone slab, after a careful glance at it, and eyed him curiously but with still a trace of her first embarrassment.

She looked a perfect picture, as she sat there, with the steep, descending wall, the red Devon cliffs, the blue, glittering sea for her background; a picture which might have been presented with a summer number of one of the illustrated weeklies; and all as unreal and as unlike life as they are. It is true that she wore a yachting costume exquisitely made and perfectly fitting; and Drake, as he looked at it, acknowledged its claims upon his admiration, but he knew it was all a sham, and, half unconsciously, he compared it with the old worn skirt and the serviceable jersey worn by Nell, who had gone up the hill—how long ago was it? Nell's face and hands were brown with the kiss of God's sun; Lady Lucille's face was like a piece of delicate Sevres, and her hands were incased in white kid gauntlets. To him, at that moment, she looked like an actress playing in a nautical burlesque at the Gaiety; and, for the first time since he had known her, he found himself looking at her critically, and, notwithstanding her faultless attire—faultless from a fashionable point of view—with disapproval.

"You are surprised to see me, Luce?" he said.

"Of course I am," she replied. "I'd no idea where you were. I've written to you—twice."

"Have you?" he said. "That was good of you. I've not had your letters; but that's my fault, not yours. I told Sparling not to send any letters on."

She looked down, as if rather embarrassed, and dug at the interstices of the rough stone pavement with her dainty, and altogether unnautical, sunshade.

"But what are you doing here?" she asked. "And—and what's the matter with your arm? Isn't that a sling?"

"Yes, it's a sling," he said casually. "I'd been hunting with the Devon and Somerset; I found London unbearable, and I came down here suddenly. I meant to write and tell you; but just then I wasn't in the humor to write to any one, even to you. I lost my way in one of the runs, and was riding down the top of the hill here, riding carelessly, I'll admit, for when the horse shied, I was chucked off. I broke my arm and knocked my head. Oh, don't trouble," he added hastily, as if to ward off her commiseration. "I am all right now; the arm will soon be in working order again."

"I'm very sorry," she said, lifting her eyes to his, but only for a moment. "You look rather pulled down and seedy."

"Oh, I'm all right," he said. "And now, as I have explained my presence here, perhaps you will explain yours."

"I've come here in the Seagull," she said. "Father's on board. He said you'd offered to lend the yacht to him—you did, I suppose?"

Drake nodded indifferently.

"Oh, yes," he said. "The Seagull was quite at your father's service."

"Well, father made a party; Sir Archie Walbrooke, Mrs. Horn-Wallis and her husband, Lady Pirbright, and ourselves."

Drake nodded as indifferently as before. He knew the persons she had mentioned; members of the smart set in which he had spent his life—and his money; and Lady Lucille continued in somewhat apologetic fashion:

"We went to the Solent first, for the races; then, when they were all over, everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves so much that father—you know what he is—suggested that we should sail round the Devon coast. It hasn't been a bad time; and Sir Archie has been rather amusing, and Mrs. Horn-Wallis has kept things going. Oh, yes; it hasn't been so bad."

"I'm glad you've been amused, Luce," he said, his eyes resting upon the beautifully fair face with a touch of cynicism.

"We'd no idea you were anywhere here," she said, "or, of course, I would have written and asked you to join us; though, I suppose, under the circumstances——"

She hesitated for a moment, then went on with a little embarrassment, which in no way detracted from her charm of voice and manner:

"I told father that, after what had happened, it was scarcely in good taste to borrow your yacht. But you know what father is. He said that though things were altered, your offer of the Seagull stood good; that you told him you didn't mean to use her this season, and that it was a pity for her to lie idle. And so they persuaded me—very much against my will, I must admit—to join them, and—and here I am, as you see."

Drake puffed at his pipe.

"I see," he said. "I needn't say that you are quite welcome to the yacht, Lucille, or to anything that I have. As you say, things are—altered. How much they are altered and changed, perhaps your letters, if I had received them, would have told me. What was it that you wrote me? Oh, don't be afraid," he added, with a faint smile, as she turned her head away and poked with her sunshade at the crack in the pavement. "I am strong; I can bear it. When a man has come a cropper in every sense of the word, his nerves are braced for the receipt of unwelcome tidings. I beg you won't be uncomfortable. Of course, you have heard the news?"

She glanced at him sideways, and, despite her training, her lips quivered slightly.

"Of course," she said. "Who hasn't? All the world knows it. Lord Angleford's marriage has come upon us like a surprise—a thunderbolt. No one would ever have expected that he would have been so foolish."

Drake looked at her as he never thought that he could have looked at her—calmly, waitingly.

"No one expected him to marry," she went on. "He was quite an old man—well, not old, but getting on. And you and he were always such great friends. He—he always seemed so fond and so proud of you. Why did you quarrel with him?"

"I didn't quarrel with him," said Drake quietly. "As you say, we have always been good friends. He has always been good to me, ever since I was a boy. Good and liberal. We have never had a cross word until now. But you know my uncle—you know how keenly set he is on politics. He is a Conservative of the old school; one of those old Tories whom we call blue, and who are nearly extinct. God knows whether they are right or wrong; I only know that I can't go with them. He asked me to stand for a place in the Tory-Conservative interest. It was an easy place; I should have been returned without difficulty. Most men would have done it; but I couldn't. I don't go in very much for principle, either political or moral; but my uncle's views—well, I couldn't swallow them. I was obliged to decline. He cut up rough; sent me a letter with more bad language in it than I've ever read in my life. Then he went and married a young girl—an American."

Lady Lucille heaved a long sigh.

"How foolish of you!" she murmured. "As if it mattered."

Drake filled his pipe again, and smiled cynically over the match as he lit it.

"That's your view of it?" he said. "I suppose—yes, I suppose you think I've been a fool. I dare say you're right; but, unfortunately for me, I couldn't look at it in that way. I stuck to my colors—that's a highfalutin way of putting it—and I've got to pay the penalty. My uncle's married, and, likely enough—in fact, in all probability—his wife will present the world with a young Lord Angleford."

"She's quite a young woman," murmured Lucille, with the wisdom of her kind.

"Just so," said Drake. "So I am in rather a hole. I always looked forward to inheriting Anglemere and the estate and my uncle's money. But all that is altered. He may have an heir who will very properly inherit all that I thought was to be mine. I wrote and told you of this, though it wasn't necessary; but I deemed it right to you to place the whole matter before you, Lucille. I've no doubt that the society papers have saved me the trouble, and helped you thoroughly to realize that the man to whom you were engaged was no longer the heir to the earldom of Angleford and Lord Angleford's money, but merely Drake Selbie, a mere nobody, and plunged up to his neck in debts and difficulties."

She was silent, and he went on:

"See here, Luce, I asked you to marry me because I loved you. You are the most beautiful woman I have ever met. I fell in love with you the first time I saw you—at that dance of the Horn-Wallises. Do you remember? I wanted you to be my wife; I wanted you more than I ever wanted anything else in my life. Do you not remember the day I proposed to you, there under Taplow Wood, at that picnic where we all got wet and miserable? And you said 'Yes'; and my uncle was pleased. But all is changed now; I am just Drake Selbie, with very little or no income, and a mountain of debts; with no prospects of becoming Lord Angleford and owner of the Angleford money and lands. And I want to know how this change—strikes you; what you mean, to do?"

She glanced up at him sideways.

"You—you haven't got my letters?" she said.

He shook his head.

"I'm—I'm sorry," she said. "It isn't my fault. Father—you know what he would say. He may be right. He said that—that you were ruined; that our marriage would be quite impossible; that—that our engagement must be broken off. Really, Drake, it is not my fault. You know how poor we are; that—that a rich marriage is an absolute necessity for me. Father is up to his neck in debt, too, and we scarcely seem to have a penny of ready money; it's nothing but duns, and duns, and duns, every day in the week; why, even now, we've had to bolt from London because I can't pay my milliner's bill. It's simply impossible for me to marry a poor man. I should only be a drag upon him; and father—well, father would be a drag upon him, too; you know what father is. And—and so, Drake, I wrote and told you that—that our engagement must be considered broken off and at an end."

She paused a moment, and looked from right to left, like some feeble animal driven into a corner, and restlessly conscious of Drake Selbie's stern regard.

"Of course I'm very sorry. You know I'm—I'm very fond of you. I don't think there is any one in the world like you; so—so handsome and—and altogether nice. But what can I do? I can't run against the wish of my father and of all my friends. In fact, I can't afford to marry you, Drake."

He looked at her with a bitter smile on his lips, and a still more bitter cynicism in his eyes.

"I understand," he said; "I quite understand. When you said that you loved me, loved me with all your heart and soul, you meant that you loved Drake Selbie, the heir of Angleford, the prospective owner of Anglemere and Lord Angleford's money; and now that my uncle has married, and that he may have a child which will rob me of the title and the money, you draw back. You do not ask whether I have enough, you do not offer to make any sacrifice. You just—jilt me!"

"You put it very harshly, Drake," she said, with a frown.

"I put it very truly and correctly," he said. "Can you deny it? You cannot! The man who sits here beside you is quite a different man to the one to whom you had plighted your troth. He is the same in bone and body and muscle and sinew, but he doesn't happen to be Lord Angleford's heir. And so you throw him over. No doubt you are right. It is the way of the world in which you and I have been bred and trained."

"You are very cruel, Drake," she murmured, touching her eyes with a lace handkerchief, too costly and elaborate for anything but ornament.

"I just speak the truth," he said. "I don't blame you. You are bred in the same world as myself. We are both products of this modern fin de siecle. To marry me would be a mistake; you decline to make it. I have only to bow to your decision. I accept your refusal. After this present moment you and I are friends only; not strangers; men and women in our set are never strangers. But I pass out of your life from this moment. Go back to the Seagull with Archie and Mrs. Horn-Wallis, and find—as I trust you will—a better man than I am."

She rose rather pale, but perfectly self-possessed.

"I—I am glad you take it so easily, Drake," she said. "You don't blame me, do you? I couldn't run against father, could I? You know how poor we are. I must make a good marriage, and—and——"

"And so it is 'good-by,'" he said.

He looked so stern, so self-contained, that her self-possession forsook her for a moment, and she stood biting softly at her underlip and looking by turns at the ultramarine sea and the stern face of the lover whom she was discarding. He held out his hand again.

"Good-by, Luce," he said. "You have taught me a lesson."

"What—do you mean?" she asked.

He smiled.

"That women care only for rank and gold, and that without them a man cannot hold you. I shall take it to heart Good-by."

She looked at him doubtfully, hesitatingly.

"You will take the Seagull south?" he said. "Be good enough to ask your father to wire me as to her whereabouts. I may need her. But don't hurry. I'm only too glad that you are sailing her. Good-by."

She murmured "Good-by," and went down the steps slowly; and Drake, Viscount Selbie, refilled his pipe. Then he rose quickly and overtook her. She stopped and turned, and if he had expected to see signs of emotion in her beautiful face, he was doomed to disappointment; indeed, the look of apprehension with which she heard his voice had been followed by one of relief.

"One moment," he said. "I want to ask you not to mention that you have seen me here."

She opened her soft hazel eyes with some surprise and a great deal of curiosity.

"Not say that I have seen you?" she said. "Of course, if you wish it; but why?"

"The reason will seem to you inadequate, I am afraid," he said coldly; "but the fact is, I am staying here under another name—my own is being bandied about so much, you see," bitterly, "that I am a little tired of it."

"I see," she said. "Then I am not to tell father. How will he know how to address the wire about the yacht?"

"Send it to Sparling," he said. "I am sorry to have stopped you. Good-by."

She inclined her head and murmured "Good-by" for the second time, and went on again; but a few steps lower she stopped and pondered his strange request.

"Curious," she murmured. "I wonder whether there is any other reason? One knows what men are; and poor Drake is no better than the rest. Ah, well, it does not matter to me—now. Thank goodness it is over! Though one can always count upon Drake; he is too thorough a gentleman to make a scene or bully a woman. Heaven knows I am sorry to break with him, and I wish that old stupid hadn't made such a fool of himself; for Drake and I would have got on very well. But as things are——As father says, it's impossible. I wonder whether they are coming back; I am simply dying for tea."

Before she got down to the jetty, her fellow voyagers caught her up. They were in the best of spirits, and hilarious over the fact that Sir Archie had slipped on one of the grassy slopes and stained his white flannel suit with green; and Lady Lucille joined in the merriment.

"I'm sorry I didn't come, after all," she said. "It was rather boring waiting there all alone; but perhaps Sir Archie will kindly fall down again for my special benefit," and she laughed with the innocent, careless laughter, of a child.



CHAPTER VII.

The laugh floated up to Drake as he sat and finished his pipe, waiting until the party should get clear away, and his lips tightened grimly. Then he sighed and shrugged his shoulders, as he rose and went slowly up the hill.

After all, Lucille had only acted as he had expected. As he had said, she had engaged herself to Viscount Selbie, the heir to Angleford—not to Viscount Selbie, whose nose had been put out of joint by his uncle's marriage. He could not have expected a Lady Lucille Turfleigh to be faithful to her troth under such changed circumstances. But her desertion made him sore, if not actually unhappy. Indeed, he was rather surprised to find that he was more wounded in pride than heart. It is rather hurtful to one's vanity and self-esteem to be told by the woman whom you thought loved you, that she finds it "impossible" to marry you because you have lost your fortune or your once roseate prospects; and though Drake was the least conceited of men, he was smarting under the realization of his anticipations.

"She never loved me," he said bitterly. "Not one word of regret—real regret. She would have felt and shown more if she had been parting with a favorite horse or dog. God! what women this world makes of them! They are all alike! There's not one of them can love for love's sake, who cares for the man instead of the money. Not one, from the dairymaid to the duchess! Thank Heaven! my disillusionment has come before, instead of after, marriage. Yes, I've done with them. There is no girl alive, or to be born, who can make me feel another pang."

As he spoke, he heard a voice calling him: "Mr. Vernon! Mr. Vernon!" And there, in the garden, which stood out on the hill like a little terrace, was Nell. She had taken off her hat, and the faint breeze was stirring the soft tendrils on her forehead, and her eyes smiled joyously down at him.

"Tea is ready!" she said, her voice full and round, and coming down to him like the note of a thrush. "Where have you been? Mamma is quite anxious about you, and I have had the greatest difficulty in convincing her that there has not been an accident, and that I had not left you at the bottom of the bay."

He smiled up at her, but his smile came through the darkness of a cloud, and she noticed it.

"Has—has anything happened?" she asked, as she opened the gate for him; and her guileless eyes were raised to his with a sudden anxiety. "Are you ill—or—or overtired? Ah, yes! that must be it. I am so sorry!"

He frowned, and replied, almost harshly:

"Thanks. I am not in the least tired. How should I be? Why do you think so?"

Nell shrank a little.

"I—I thought you looked pale and tired," she said, in a voice so low and sweet that he was smitten with shame.

"Perhaps I am a bit played out," he said apologetically, and passing his hand over his brow as if to erase the lines which the scene with Lady Lucille had etched. "Your convalescent invalid is a trying kind of animal, Miss Nell, and—and you must forgive it for snapping."

"There is nothing to forgive," she said quietly. "It was thoughtless of me to let you stay out so long, and I deserve the lecture mamma has been giving me. Please come in to tea at once, or it will be repeated—the lecture, I mean."

They went into the drawing-room, where Mrs. Lorton sat with due state and dignity before her tea table; and, having got him into the easy-chair, the good lady began at once:

"So thoughtless of Eleanor to keep you out so long! You must be exhausted, I am sure. I know how trying the first days of recovery from illness are, and how even a little exertion will produce absolute collapse. Now, will you have a little brandy in your tea, Mr. Vernon? A teaspoonful will sometimes produce a magical effect," she added, as if she were recommending a peculiarly startling firework. "No? You are quite sure? And what is this Richard is telling me about two horses? He came rushing in just now with some story of horses that he had brought from Shallop."

Drake looked up with a casual air.

"Yes; they're mine. I was obliged to have them sent down. They were spoiling for want of exercise. I must turn them out in some of the fields here, or get some one to ride them, unless Dick and Miss Nell will be good-natured enough to exercise them."

Nell laughed softly.

"That is one way of putting it, isn't it, mamma? But I tell Mr. Vernon that I really must not, ought not, to take advantage of his good nature. It's all very well for Dick to——"

"What's all very well for Dick? And don't you take my name in vain quite so freely, young party," remarked that individual, entering the room and making for the tea table. "Don't you be taken in by all this pretended reluctance, Mr. Vernon. It's the old game of Richard III. refusing the crown. See English history book. Nell will be on that mare to-morrow morning safe enough, won't you, Nellikins? And I say, sir, you must get your arm right and ride with her. Perhaps she would not be too proud to take lessons from a stranger—from you, I mean—though she does turn up her nose at her brother's kindly meant hints, an operation which, as I am perpetually telling her, is quite superfluous, for it's turned up quite sufficiently as it is."

Nell glanced at Mrs. Lorton, who smiled with the air of a society lady settling a point of etiquette.

"If Mr. Vernon has really been so kind as to offer to lend you a horse, it would be ungrateful and churlish to refuse, Eleanor," she said.

"That's all right," said Dick. "Though you might say 'Thank you,' Nell. But, there; you'll never learn manners, though you may, after some long years, learn to ride. Did you see that yacht, sir?" he asked, turning to Drake.

Drake nodded carelessly.

"A spanker, wasn't she?" continued Dick. "Now, that's what I call a yacht. And hadn't she some swells on board! I met some of them coming up the hill. Talk about stylish togs!"

"No one talks of 'stylish togs' but savages in the wilds of London, and vulgar boys," remarked Nell.

Dick regarded her wistfully, and raised the last piece of the crust of his slice of bread and butter to throw at her, then refrained, with a reluctant sigh.

"I never saw anything like it out of a fashion plate. You ought to have been there, mamma," he put in, parenthetically. "You'd have appreciated them, no doubt, whereas I wasn't capable of anything but staring. They were swells—real swells, too; for I spoke to one of the crew who had Strolled up from the boat. The yacht's that racer, the Seagull. Do you know her, Mr. Vernon?"

"I've heard of her," said Drake.

"I forget the name of her owner; though the man told me; but he's a nobleman of sorts. There were no end of titled and fashionable people on board. A Sir—Sir Archie something; and a Lord and Lady Turfleigh, father and daughter—perhaps you know them?"

Drake looked at him through half-closed eyes.

"Yes, I've heard of them," he said. "May I have another cup of tea, Mrs. Lorton? Thanks, very much. The sail this morning has made me ravenous."

"I am so delighted," murmured Mrs. Lorton. "What name did you say, Richard? Turfleigh! Surely I have heard or seen that name——"

"I beg your pardon," said Drake, "but if Dick has quite finished his tea, I think I'll stroll down to the stables and look at the horses."

"Oh, right you are! Come on!" exclaimed Dick, with alacrity.

Mrs. Lorton looked after the tall figure as it went out beside the boy's.

"Mr. Vernon must be very well off, Eleanor," she said musingly, and with a little, satisfied smile at the corners of her mouth. "Three horses. And have you noticed that pearl stud? It is a black one, and must have cost a great deal; and there is a certain look, air, about him, which you, my dear Eleanor, are not likely to notice or understand, but which, to one of my experience of the world, is significant. Did he seem to enjoy his sail this morning?"

"Yes, I think so," absently replied Nell, who was watching the tall figure as it went down the hill.

Mrs. Lorton coughed in a genteel fashion, and her smile grew still more self-satisfied.

"He could not be in a better place," she said; "could not possibly, and I do trust he will not think of leaving us until he is quite restored to health. I must really impress upon him how glad we are to have him, and how his presence cheers our dull and lonely lives."

Nell laughed softly.

"Mr. Vernon does not strike me as being particularly cheerful," she remarked; "at least, not generally," she qualified, as she remembered the unwonted brightness which he had displayed in the Annie Laurie.

"In-deed! You are quite wrong, Eleanor," said Mrs. Lorton stiffly. "I consider Mr. Vernon a most entertaining and brilliant companion; and I, for one, should very deeply deplore his departure. I trust, therefore, you will do all you can to make his stay pleasant and to induce him to prolong it. Three horses; ahem!"—she coughed behind her mittened hand—"has he—er—hinted, given you any idea of his position and—er—income, Eleanor?"

Nell flushed and shook her head.

"No, mamma," she said reluctantly. "Why should he? We are not curious——"

"Certainly not!" assented Mrs. Lorton, bridling. "I may have my faults, but curiosity is certainly not one of them. I merely thought that he might have dropped a word or two about himself, or his people, and the—ahem!—extent of his fortune."

Nell shook her head again.

"Nary a word—I mean, not a word!" she corrected herself hastily; "and, like yourself, mamma, I am not curious. What does it matter what and who he is, or who his people are? He will be gone in a day or two, and we shall probably never see him again."

She moved away from the window as she made the response, and began to sing, and Mrs. Lorton looked after her, and listened to the sweet young voice, with a smile on her weakly shrewd face.

"Eleanor has grown a great deal lately," she murmured to herself; "and I suppose some men would consider her not altogether bad-looking. I am quite certain he is a single man—he would have mentioned his wife; he couldn't have avoided it the first night I was talking to him. Three horses—yes; I suppose Eleanor really is good-looking. No one is more opposed than I am to the vulgar practice of matchmaking, which some women indulge in, but it really would be a mercy to get the girl settled. Yes; he must not think of leaving us until he is quite strong; and that won't be for some weeks, for some time, yet."

Drake went down to the stables with Dick and "looked at" the horses, every now and then casting a glance through the open door at the Seagull as it sailed across the bay.

Did he regret the woman who had jilted him? Did he wish that he were on board his yacht with his friends, with the badinage, the scandal of the women, the jests and the doubtful stories of the men? He scarcely knew; he thought that he was sorrowing for the fair woman who had deserted him; but—he was not sure. From the meadows above there came the tinkle of a sheep bell, a lowing of a cow calling to her calf; the scent of the tar from a kettle on the beach rose with sharp pungency; the haze of the summer evening was blurring the hills which half ringed the sapphire sea. There was peace at Shorne Mills—a peace which fell upon the weary man of the world. He forgot his troubles for a moment; his lost inheritance, his debts, and difficulties; forgot even Woman and all she had cost him.

Then suddenly, faintly, there came floating down to him the clear, sweet voice of Nell. What was it she was singing?

"Though years have passed, I love you yet; Do you still remember, or do you forget?"

A great wave of bitterness swept over him, and, between his teeth, he muttered:

"They are all alike—with the face and the voice of an angel, and the heart of the Man with the Muck-rake. God save me from them from this time henceforth!"



CHAPTER VIII.

The weeks glided by, Drake's arm got mended, but he still lingered on at Shorne Mills.

There was something in the beauty, the repose, of the place which fascinated and held him. He was so weary of the world, sore with disappointment, and shrinking from the pity of his friends who were, as he knew, dying to commiserate with him over his altered prospects.

The weather was lovely, the air balmy, and for amusement—well, there was sailing in the Annie Laurie, lounging with a pipe on the jetty, listening, and sometimes talking, to the fishermen and sailors, and teaching Miss Nell Lorton to ride.

"Not that you need much teaching," he said on the first day they rode together—that was before his arm was quite right, and Mrs. Lorton filled the air with her fears and anxieties for his safety. "But you have 'picked it up,' as they say, and there are one or two hints I may be able to give you which will make you as perfect a horsewoman as one would wish to see."

"Isn't 'perfect' rather a big word?" said Nell.

She turned her face to him, and the glory of its young beauty was heightened by the radiance of the smile which was enthroned on her lips and shone in her eyes.

He looked at her with unconscious admiration and in silence for a moment.

"There is no reason why you shouldn't be perfect," he said. "You've everything in your favor—youth, health, strength, and no end of pluck."

"I ought to curtsy," said Nell, laughing softly. "But one can't curtsy on a horse, alas! Please let me off with a bow," and she bent low in the saddle, with all a girl's pretty irony. "But don't be sparing of those same hints, please. I really want to learn, and I will be very humble and meek."

He laughed, as if amused by something.

"I can scarcely fancy you either humble or meek, Miss Nell," he said. "Hold the reins a little nearer her neck. Like this. See? Then you've room to pull her if she stumbles; which, by the way, isn't likely. And you might sit a little closer at the canter. Don't trouble; leave the pace to the horse."

Nell nodded.

"I know!" she said. "How just being told a thing helps one! I should like to ride as well as you do. You and the horse seem one."

He was not embarrassed by the compliment.

"Oh, I've ridden all my life," he said, "and under all sorts of circumstances, on all sorts of horses, and one gets au fait in time. Now, let her have her head and we'll try a gallop. Don't bear too hard on her if she pulls—as she may—but ride her on the snaffle as much as possible."

They had climbed the hill, and were riding along a road on the edge of one of the small moors, and after a moment or two of inspection of the graceful figure beside him, he motioned with his hand, and they turned on to the moor itself.

As they cantered and galloped over the springy turf and heather, Drake grew thoughtful and absent-minded.

The beauty of the scene, the azure sky, the clear, thin air, all soothed him; but he found himself asking himself why he was still lingering in this out-of-the-way spot in North Devon, and why he was content with the simple amusement of teaching a young girl to sit her horse and hold her reins properly.

Why was he not on board the Seagull, which Lord Turfleigh had left in Southampton waters, or in Scotland shooting grouse, with one of the innumerable house parties to which he had been invited, and at which he would have been a welcome guest, or climbing the Alps with fellow members of the Alpine Club?

So they were silent as they rode over this green-and-violet moor, over which the curlew flew wailingly, as if complaining of this breach of their solitude.

And Nell was thinking, or, rather, musing; for though she was taking lessons, she was too good a rider to be absorbed in the management of her horse.

Had she not scampered over these same moors on a half-wild Exmoor pony, bare-backed, and with a halter for a bridle?

She was thinking of the weeks that had passed since the man who was riding beside her had been flung at her feet, and wondering, half unconsciously, at the happiness of those weeks. There had scarcely been a day in which he and she had not walked or sailed, or sat on the quay together. She recalled their first sail in the Annie Laurie; there had been many since then; and he had been so kind, so genial a companion, that she had begun to feel as if he were an old friend, a kind of second Dick.

At times, it was true, he was silent and gloomy, not to say morose; but, as a rule, he was kind, with a gentle, protective sort of kindness which, believe me, is duly appreciated by even such a simple, unsophisticated girl as Nell.

As she rode beside him, she glanced now and again at the handsome face, which was grave and lined with thought, and she wondered, girllike, upon what he was musing.

Suddenly he turned to her.

"Yes, you don't need much teaching," he said, with a smile. "You ride awfully well, as it is. With a little practice—you won't forget about holding the reins a little farther; from you?—you will ride like Lady Lucille herself."

"Who is Lady Lucille?" she asked.

He looked just a shade embarrassed for a moment, but only for a moment.

"Oh, she's the crack fashionable rider," he said casually.

"I feel very much flattered," said Nell. "And I am very grateful for your lesson. I hope you won't discontinue them because I show some promise."

He looked at her with sudden gravity. Now was the time to tell her that he was going to leave Shorne Mills.

"You won't want many more," he said; "but I hope you will let me ride with you while I'm here. I must be going presently."

"Must you?" she said.

Girls learn the art of mastering their voices much earlier than the opposite sex can, and her voice sounded indifferent enough, or just properly regretful.

He nodded.

"Yes, I must leave Shorne Mills, worse luck."

"If it is so unlucky, why do you go? But why is it so unlucky?" she asked; and still her tone sounded indifferent.

"It's bad luck because—well, because I have been very happy here," he said, checking his horse into a walk.

She glanced at him as she paced beside him.

"You have been so happy here? Really? That sounds so strange. It is such a dull, quiet place."

"Perhaps it's because of that," he said. "God knows, I'm not anxious to get back to London—the world."

She looked at him thoughtfully with her clear, girlish eyes; and he met the glance, then looked across the moor with something like a frown.

"There is a fascination in the place," he said. "It is so beautiful and so quiet; and—and—London is so noisy, such a blare. And——"

He paused.

She kept the high-bred mare to a walk.

"But will you not be glad to go?" she asked. "It must be dull here, as I said. You must have so many friends who—who will be glad to see you, and whom you will be glad to see."

He smiled cynically.

"Friends!" he said grimly. "Has any one many friends? And how many of the people I know will, I wonder, be glad to see me? They will find it pleasant to pity me."

"Pity you! Why?" she asked, her beautiful eyes turned on him with surprise.

Drake bit his lip.

"Well, I've had a piece of bad luck lately," he said.

"Oh, I'm sorry!" murmured Nell.

He laughed grimly.

"Oh, it's no more than I had a right to expect. Don't forget what I told you about holding your reins—that's right."

"Is it about money?" she asked timidly. "I always think bad luck means that."

He nodded.

"Yes; I've lost a great deal of money lately," he replied vaguely. "And—and I must leave Shorne Mills."

"I am sorry," she said simply, and without attempting to conceal her regret. "I—we—have almost grown to think that you belonged here. Will you be sorry to go?"

He glanced at her innocent eyes and frowned.

"Yes; very much," he replied. "There is a fascination in this place. It is so quiet, so beautiful, so remote, so far away from the world which I hate!"

"You hate? Why do you hate it?" she asked.

He bit his lip again.

"Because it is false and hollow," he replied. "No man—or woman—thinks what he or she says, or says what he or she thinks."

"Then why go back to it?" she asked. "But all the people in London can't be—bad and false," she added, as if she were considering his sweeping condemnation.

"Oh, not all," he said. "I've been unfortunate in my acquaintances, perhaps, as Voltaire said."

He looked across the moor again absently. Her question, "Then why go back to it?" haunted him. It was absurd to imagine that he could remain at Shorne Mills. The quiet life had been pleasant, he had felt better in health here than he had done for years; but—well, a man who has spent so many years in the midst of the whirl of life is very much like the old prisoner of the Bastille who, when he was released by the revolutionary mob, implored to be taken back again. One gets used to the din and clamor of society as one gets used to the solemn quiet of a prison. Besides, he was, or had been, a prominent figure in the gallantry show, and he seemed to belong to it.

"One isn't always one's own master," he said, after a pause.

Nell turned her eyes to him.

"Are not you?" she said, a little shyly. "You seem so—so free to do just what you please."

He laughed rather grimly.

"Do you know what I should do if I were as free as I seem, Miss Nell?" he asked. "I should take one of these farms"—he nodded to a rural homestead, one of the smallest and simplest, which stood on the edge of the moor—"and spend the rest of my life making clotted cream and driving cows and pigs to market."

She laughed.

"I can scarcely imagine you doing that," she said.

"Well, I might buy a trawler, and go fishing in the bay."

"That would be better," she admitted. "But it's very tough weather sometimes. I have seen the women waiting on the jetty, and on the cliffs, and looking out at the storm, with their faces white with fear and anxiety for the men—their fathers and husbands and sweethearts."

"There wouldn't be any women to watch and grow white for me," he remarked.

"Oh, but don't you think we should be anxious—mamma and I?" she said.

He looked at her, but her eyes met his innocently, and there was not a sign of coquetry in her smile.

"Thanks. In that case, I must abandon the idea of getting my livelihood as a fisherman," he said lightly. "I couldn't think of causing Mrs. Lorton any further anxiety."

"Shall we have another gallop?" she asked, a moment or two afterward. "We might ride to that farm there"—she pointed to a thatched roof just visible above a hollow—"and get a glass of milk. I am quite thirsty."

She made the suggestion blithely, as if neither her own nor his words had remained in her mind; and Drake brightened up as they sped over the springy turf.

A woman came out of the farm, and greeted them with a cordial welcome in the smile which she bestowed on Nell, and the half nod, half curtsy, she gave to Drake.

"Why, Miss Nell, it be yew sure enough," she said pleasantly. "I was a-thinkin' that 'eed just forgot us. Bobby! Bobby! do 'ee come and hold the horses. Here be Miss Nell of Shorne Mills."

A barefooted, ruddy-cheeked little man ran out and laughed up at Nell as she bent down and stroked his head with her whip. Nell and Drake dismounted, and she led the way into the kitchen and living room of the farm.

The room was so low that Drake felt he must stoop, and Nell's tall figure looked all the taller and slimmer for its propinquity to the timbered ceiling. The woman brought a couple of glasses of milk and some saffron cakes, and Nell drank and ate with a healthy, unashamed appetite, and apparently quite forgot Drake, who, seated in the background, sipped his milk and watched and listened to her absently. She knew this woman and her husband and the children quite intimately; asked after the baby's last tooth as she bent over the sleeping mite, and was anxious to know how the eldest girl, who was in service in London, was getting on.

"Well, Emma, her says she likes it well enough," replied the woman, standing, with the instinctive delicacy of respect, with her firm hand resting on the spotlessly white table; "leastways her would if there was more air—it's the want o' air she complains of. Accordin' to she, there bean't enough for the hoosts o' people there be. Oh, yes, the family's kind enough to her—not that she has much to do wi' 'em; for she's in the nursery—she's nursemaid, you remembers, Miss Nell—and the mistress is too grand a lady to go there often. It's a great family she's in, you know, Miss Nell, a titled family, and there's grand goin's-on a'most every day; indeed, it's turnin' day into night they're at most o' the time, so says Emma. She made so bold, Emma did, to send her best respects to you in her last letter, and to say she hoped if ever you came to London she'd have the luck to see you, though it might be from a distance."

Nell nodded gratefully.

"Not that I am at all likely to go to London," she said, with a laugh. "If I did, I should be sure to go and see Emma."

Emma's mother glanced curiously at Drake; and he understood the significance of the glance, but Nell was evidently unconscious of its meaning.

"And this is the gentleman as is staying at the cottage, Miss Nell?" she said. "I hope your arm's better, sir?"

Drake made a suitable and satisfactory response, and Nell, having talked to the two little girls, who had got as near to her as their shyness would permit, rose.

"Thank you so much for the milk and cakes, Mrs. Trimble," she said. "We were quite famishing, weren't we?"

"Quite famished," assented Drake.

Mrs. Trimble beamed.

"You be main welcome, Miss Nell, as 'ee knows full well; I wish 'ee could ride out to us every day. And that's a beautiful horse you're on, miss, surely!"

"Isn't it?" said Nell. "It's Mr. Vernon's; he is kind enough to lend it to me."

Mrs. Trimble glanced significantly again at Drake; but again Nell failed to see or understand the quick, intelligent question in the eyes.

"Speakin' o' Emma, I've got her letter in my pocket, Miss Nell; and I'm thinkin' I'll give it 'ee; for the address, you know. It's on the top, writ clear, and if you should go to London——"

Nell took the precious letter, and put it with marked carefulness in the bosom of her habit.

"I shall like to read it, Mrs. Trimble. Emma and I were such good friends, weren't we? And I'll be sure to let you have it back."

The whole of the family crowded out to see Miss Nell of Shorne Mills drive off, and Drake had to maneuver skillfully to get a coin into Bobby's chubby, and somewhat grubby, hand unseen by Nell.

They rode on in silence for a time. The scene had impressed Drake. The affection of the whole of them for Nell had been so evident, and the sweet simplicity of her nature had displayed itself so ingenuously, that he felt—well, as he had felt once or twice coming out of church.

Then he remembered the woman's significant glance, and his conscience smote him. No doubt all Shorne Mills was connecting his name with hers. Yes; he must go.

She was singing softly as she rode beside him, and they exchanged scarcely half a dozen sentences on the way home; but yet Nell seemed happy and content, and as she slipped from her saddle in front of the garden gate, she breathed a sigh of keen pleasure.

"Oh, I have enjoyed it so much!" she said, as he looked at her inquiringly. "Is there anything more beautiful and lovable than a horse?"

As she spoke, she stroked the mare's satin neck, and the animal turned its great eyes upon her with placid affection and gratitude. Drake looked from the horse to the girl, but said nothing, and at that moment Dick came out to take the horses down to the stables.

"Had a good ride, Nell?" he asked. "Wants a lot of coaching, doesn't she, Mr. Vernon? But I assure you I've done my best with her; girls are the most stupid creatures in the world; and the last person they'll learn anything from is their brother."

Nell managed to tilt his cap over his eyes as she ran in, and Dick looked after her longingly, as he exclaimed portentously:

"That's one I owe you, my child."

Nell laughed back defiantly; but when she had got up to her own room, and was taking off the habit, something of the brightness left her face, and she sighed.

"I am sorry he is going," she murmured to her reflection in the glass. "How we shall miss him; all of us, Dick and mamma! And I shall miss him, too. Yes; I am sorry. It will seem so—so dull and dreary when he has gone. And he does not seem glad to go. But perhaps he only said that to please me, and because it was the proper thing to say. Of course, I—we—could not expect him to stay for the rest of his life in Shorne Mills."

She sighed again, and stood, with her habit half unbuttoned, looking beyond the glass into the past few happy weeks. Yes, it would seem very dull and dreary when he was gone.

But he still lingered on; his arm got well, his step was strong and firm, his voice and manner less grave and moody. He rode or sailed with her every day, Dick sometimes accompanying them; but he was only postponing the hour of his departure, and putting it away from him with a half-hesitating hand.

One afternoon, Dick burst into the sitting room—they were at tea—with a couple of parcels; one, a small square like a box, the other, a larger and heavier one.

"Just come by the carrier," he said; "addressed to 'Drake Vernon, Esquire.' The little one is registered. The carrier acted as auxiliary postman, and wants a receipt."

Drake signed the paper absently, with a scrawl of the pen which Dick brought him, and Dick, glancing at the signature mechanically, said:

"Well, that's a rum way of writing 'Vernon'!"

Drake looked up from cutting the string of the small box, and frowned slightly.

"Give it me back, please," he said, rather sharply. "It isn't fair to write so indistinctly."

Dick handed the receipt form back, and Drake ran his pen quickly through the "Selbie" which he had scrawled unthinkingly, and wrote Drake Vernon in its place.

Dick took the altered paper unsuspectingly to the carrier.

"So kind of you to trouble, Mr. Vernon!" said Mrs. Lorton. "As if it mattered how you wrote! My poor father used to say that only the illiterate were careful of their handwriting, and that illegible caligraphy—it is caligraphy, is it not?—was a sign of genius."

"Then I must be one of the greatest geniuses that ever lived," said Drake.

"And I'm another—if indifferent spelling is also a sign," said Dick cheerfully; "and Nell must cap us both, for she can neither write nor spell; few girls can," he added calmly. "Tobacco, Mr. Vernon?" nodding at the box.

By this time Drake had got its wrapper off and revealed a jewel case. He handed it to Mrs. Lorton with the slight awkwardness of a man giving a present.

"Here's a little thing I hope you will accept, Mrs. Lorton," he said.

"For me!" she exclaimed, bridling, and raising her brows with juvenile archness. "Are you sure it's for me? Now, shall I guess——"

"Oh, no, you don't, mamma," said Dick emphatically. "I'll open it if you can't manage it. Oh, I say!" he exclaimed, as Mrs. Lorton opened the case, and the sparkle of diamonds was emitted.

Mrs. Lorton echoed his exclamation, and her face flushed with all a woman's delight as she gazed at the diamond bracelet reposing on its bed of white plush.

"Really——My dear Mr. Vernon!" she gasped. "How—how truly magnificent! But surely not for me—for me!"

He was beginning to get, if not uncomfortable, a little bored, with a man's hatred of fuss.

"I'm afraid there's not much magnificence about it," he said, rather shortly. "I hope you like the pattern, style, or whatever you call it. I had to risk it, not being there to choose. And there's a gun in that case, Dick."

Dick made an indecent grab for the larger parcel, and, tearing off the wrapper, opened the thick leather case and took out a costly gun.

"And a Greener!" he exclaimed. "A Greener! I say, you know, sir——"

He laughed excitedly, his face flushed with delight, as he carried the gun to the window.

"Is it not perfect, simply perfect, Eleanor?" said Mrs. Lorton, holding out her arm with the bracelet on her wrist. "Really, I don't think you could have chosen a handsomer one, Mr. Vernon, if you had gone to London to do so."

"I am glad you are pleased with it," he said simply.

"Pleased? It is perfect! Eleanor, haven't you a word to say? No; I imagine you are too overwhelmed for words," said Mrs. Lorton, with a kind of cackle.

"It is very beautiful, mamma," she said gravely; and her face, as she leaned over the thing, was grave also.

Drake looked at her as he rose, and understood the look and the tone of her voice, and was glad that he had resisted the almost irresistible temptation to order a somewhat similar present for her.

"I say, sir, you must get your gun down, and we must go for some rabbits," said Dick eagerly. "And I can get a day or two's shooting over the Maltby land as soon as the season opens. I'm sure they'd give it me."

"That's tempting, Dick," said Drake; "and it adds another cause to my regret that I am leaving to-morrow."

"Leaving to-morrow!" exclaimed Mrs. Lorton, with a gasp. "Surely not! You are not thinking, dreaming of going, my dear Mr. Vernon?"

"It's very good of you," he said, picking up his cap and nearing the door. "But I couldn't stay forever, you know. I've trespassed on your hospitality too much already."

"Oh, I say, you know!" expostulated Dick, in a deeply aggrieved tone. "I say, Nell, do you hear that? Mr. Vernon's going!"

"Miss Nell knows that I have been 'going' for some days past, only that I haven't been able to tear myself away. It's nearly five, Miss Nell, and we ordered the boat for half-past four, you know," he added, in a matter-of-fact way.

She rose and ran out of the room for her jacket and tam-o'-shanter, and they went out, leaving Mrs. Lorton and Dick still gloating over their presents.



CHAPTER IX.

Nell walked rapidly and talking quickly as they went down to the jetty, and it was not until the Annie Laurie was slipping out into the bay that she grew silent and thoughtful. She sat in the stern with her arm over the tiller, her eyes cast down, her face grave; and Drake, feeling uncomfortable, said at last:

"Might one offer a penny for your thoughts, Miss Nell?"

She looked up and met the challenge with a sweet seriousness.

"I was thinking of something that you told me the other day—when we were riding," she said.

"I've told you so much——" "And so little!" he added mentally.

"You said that you had been unlucky, that you had lost a great deal of money lately," she said, in a low voice.

He nodded.

"Yes; I think I did. It's true unfortunately; but it doesn't much matter."

"Does it not?" she asked. "Why did you give mamma so costly a present? Oh, please don't deny it. I don't know very much about diamonds, but I know that that bracelet must have cost a great deal of money."

"Not really," he said, with affected carelessness. "Diamonds are very cheap now; they find 'em by the bucketful in the Cape, you know."

She looked at him with grave reproach.

"You are trying to belittle it," she said; "but, indeed, I am not deceived. And the gun, too! That must have been very expensive. Why—did you spend so much?"

He began to feel irritated.

"Look here, Miss Nell," he said; "it is true that I have lost some money, but I'm not quite a pauper, and, if I were, the least I could do would be to share my last crust with—with your people for their amazing goodness to me."

"A diamond bracelet and an expensive gun are not crusts," she said, shaking her head.

"Oh, dash it all!" he retorted impatiently. "The stupid things only very inadequately represent my——Oh, I'm bad at speech making and expressing myself. And don't you think you ought to be very grateful to me?"

She frowned slightly in the effort to understand.

"Grateful! I have just been telling you that I think you ought not to have spent so much. Why should I be grateful?"

"That I didn't buy something for you," he said.

She colored, and looked away from him.

"I—I should not have accepted it," she said.

"I know that," he blurted out. "If I thought you would have done so—but I knew you wouldn't. And so I've got a grievance to meet yours. After all, you might have let me give you some trifle——"

"Such as a diamond bracelet, worth perhaps a hundred pounds?"

"To remember me by. After all, it's only natural I should want to leave something behind me to remind you of me."

"We shan't need such gifts to—to remind us," she said simply. "I think we had better luff."

The sail swung over as she put the helm down; there was silence for a moment or two, then he said:

"I'm sorry I've offended you, Miss Nell. Perhaps it was beastly bad taste. I see it now. But just put yourself in my place——" He slid over the thwart in his eagerness, and coiled himself at her feet. "Supposing you had broken your confounded arm—I beg your pardon!—your arm, and had been taken in and tended by good Samaritans, and nursed and treated like a prince for weeks, and had been made to feel happier than you've been for—for oh, years, would you like to go away with just a 'Oh, thanks; awfully obliged; very kind of you'? Wouldn't you want to make a more solid acknowledgment? Come, be fair and just—if a woman can be fair and just!—and admit that I'm not such a criminal, after all!"

She looked down at him thoughtfully, then turned her eyes seaward again.

"What do you want me to say?" she asked.

"Oh, well; I see that you won't change your mind about these things, so perhaps I'd better be content if you'll say: 'I forgive you.'"

A smile flitted across her face as she looked down at him again, but it was rather a sad little smile.

"I—I forgive you!" she said.

He raised his cap, and took her hand, and, before she suspected what he was going to do, he put his lips to it.

Her face grew crimson, then pale almost to whiteness. It was the first time a man's lips had touched her virgin hand, and——A tremor ran through her, her eyes grew misty, as she looked at him with a half-pained, half-fearful expression. Then she turned her head away, and so quickly that he saw neither the change of color nor the expression in her eyes.

"I feel like a miscreant who had received an unexpected pardon," he said lightly, and yet with a touch of gravity in his voice, "and, like the miscreant, I at once proceed to take advantage of the lenity of my judge."

She turned her eyes to him questioningly; there was still a half-puzzled, half-timid expression in them.

"I want to be rewarded—as well as pardoned—rewarded for my noble sacrifice of the desire to bestow a piece of jewelry upon you."

"Rewarded?" she faltered.

He nodded.

"Yes. After the awful rebuke and scolding you have administered, you cannot refuse to accept some token of my—some acknowledgment of my gratitude, Miss Nell. See here——"

He felt in his waistcoat pocket, then in those of his coat, and at last brought out a well-worn silver pencil case.

"I want you to be gracious enough to accept this," he said. "Before you refuse with haughty displeasure and lively scorn, be good enough to examine it. It is worth, I should say—shall I say five shillings? That, I should imagine, is its utmost value. But, on the other hand, it is a useful article, and I display my natural cunning in selecting it—it's the only thing I've got about me that I could offer you, except a match box, and, as you don't smoke, you've no use for that—because you will never be able to use it, I hope and trust, without thinking of the unworthy donor and the debt of gratitude which no diamond bracelet could discharge."

During this long speech, which he had made to conceal his eager desire that she should accept, and his fear, that she should not, Nell's color had come and gone, but she kept her eyes fixed on his steadily, as if she were afraid to remove them.

"Are you going to accept it—or shall I fling it into the sea as a votive offering? It would be a pity, for it is useful, a thing of sorts, and has been my constant companion for many a year. Yes, or no?"

He held the pencil up, as if he were offering it by auction.

Nell hesitated, then she held out her hand without a word. He dropped the battered pencil case into it, and his bantering tone changed instantly.

"Thank you!" he said gravely, earnestly. "I—I was afraid that you were going to refuse, and—well, that would have hurt me. And that would have hurt you; for I know how gentle-hearted you are, Miss Nell."

Her hand closed over the pencil case tightly until the silver grew warm, then she slipped the thing into her pocket.

"Please observe," he said, after a pause, during which he lit a cigarette, "that I am not in need of any token as a reminder. I am not likely to forget—Shorne Mills."

He turned on his elbow and gazed at the jetty and the cottages which straggled up from it in the narrow ravine to the heights above, to the unique and quaint village upon which the still hot sun was shining as the boat danced toward it.

"No. I shan't find it difficult to remember—or regret."

He stifled a sigh. A sigh rose to her lips also, but she checked it, and forced a smile.

"One does not break one's arm every day, and it is not easy to forget that," she said; "and yet, I dare say you will remember Shorne Mills. I don't think you will see many prettier places. Isn't it quite lovely this evening, with the sun shining on the cliffs and making old Brownie's windows glitter—like—like the diamonds in mamma's bracelet?"

She laughed with a girlish mischievousness, and ran on rapidly, as if she must talk, as if a pause were to be averted as a peril.

"I've heard people say that there is only one other place in the world like it—Cintra, in Portugal, isn't it?"

He nodded. He was gazing at the picturesque little place, the human nests stuck like white stones in the cleft of the cliffs; and something more than the beauty of Shorne Mills was stirring, almost oppressing, his heart. He had stayed at, and departed from, many a place as beautiful in other ways as this, and had left it with some little regret, perhaps, but never with the dull, aching feeling such as weighed upon him this evening.

"And at night it's lovelier still," went on Nell cheerfully, after a snatch of song, just sung under her breath, to show how happy and free from care she was at that moment. "To sail in on the tide of an autumn evening when the lights have been lit, and every cottage looks like a lantern; and the blue haze hangs over the village, and the children's voices come floating over the water as if through a mist; then, on nights like that, the sea is all phosphorescent, and the boat leaves a line of silvery light in its wake; and one seems to have all the world to oneself——"

She stopped suddenly and sighed unconsciously. Was she thinking that, when that autumn night came, and Drake Vernon was not with her, she would indeed have all the world to herself, and that all the world is all the nicer when one has a companion? He lowered his eyes to her face.

"That was a pretty picture," he said, in a low voice. "I shall think of that—wherever I may be in the autumn."

Nell laughed as the boat ran beside the jetty slip, and she rose.

"Do you think you will? Perhaps you will be too much amused, engrossed with whatever you are doing. I know I should be, if—if I were to leave Shorne Mills, and go into the big world."

"You do yourself an injustice," he said, rather curtly; and she laughed, and flushed a little.

"I deserve that," she said. "Of course, I should not forget Shorne Mills; but you——Ah, it is different!"

She sprang out before he could get on shore and offer his hand.

"I shall want her to-morrow morning at eleven, Brownie," she said to the old fisherman who was preparing to take the Annie Laurie to her moorings.

He touched his forehead.

"Aye, aye, Miss Nell! And you'll not be wanting me?" he asked, as a matter of form, and with a glance at Drake, who stood waiting with his hands in his pockets.

"Oh, yes, please," she said. "I forgot; Mr. Vernon is going away to-morrow," she added cheerfully; and she began to sing under her breath again as they climbed upward. But Drake did not sing, and his face was gloomy.

Throughout that evening, Mrs. Lorton contributed to the entertainment of her guest by admiring her bracelet and deploring his departure.

"Of course I am aware that you must be anxious to go," she said, with a deep sigh. "It has been dull, I've no doubt, very dull; and I am so sorry that the state of my health has prevented me going out and about with you. There are so many places of interest in the neighborhood which we could have visited; but I am sure you will make allowances for an invalid. And we will hope that this is not your last visit to Shorne Mills. I need not say that we shall be glad, delighted, indeed, at any time——"

Every now and then Drake murmured his acknowledgments; but he made the due responses absently. He was left entirely at Mrs. Lorton's mercy that evening—for Nell had suddenly remembered that she ought really to go and see old Brownie's mother, a lady whose age was set down at anything between a hundred and a hundred and ten, and Dick was in his "workshop" cleaning the new and spotless gun.

Nell did not come in till late, was full of Grandmother Brownie's sayings and wonderfully maintained faculties, and ran off to bed very soon, with a cheerful "Good night, Mr. Vernon. Dick has ordered the trap for nine o'clock."

Drake got up early the next morning; there were the horses to be arranged for—he was going to leave two behind, for a time, at any rate, in the hope that Dick and Miss Nell might use them; and he had to say good-by—and tip—sundry persons. He performed the latter operation on so liberal a scale that amazement sat upon the bosom of many a man and woman in Shorne Mills for months afterward. Molly, indeed, was so overcome by the sight and feel of the crisp ten-pound note, and her face grew so red and her eyes so prominent, that Drake was seriously afraid that she was going to have a fit.

Nell had got up a few minutes after him, and had prepared his farewell breakfast; but she was not present, and Mrs. Lorton presided. It was not until the arrival of the trap that she came in hurriedly. She had her outdoor things on, and explained that she had had to go to the farm to order a fowl; and she was full of some story the farmer's wife had told her—a story which had made her laugh, and still seemed to cause her so much amusement that Mrs. Lorton felt compelled to remind her that Mr. Vernon was going.

"Ah, yes! I suppose it is time. The train starts at ten-forty-five. Have you got some lunch for Mr. Vernon, Dick?"

She had packed a neat little packet of sandwiches with her own hands, but put the question casually, as if she hoped that somebody had considered their departing guest's comfort.

The girl's bright cheerfulness got on Drake's nerves. His farewell to Mrs. Lorton lacked grace and finish, and he could only hold out his hand to Nell, and say, rather grimly and curtly:

"Good-by, Miss Nell."

Just that; no more.

Her hand rested in his for a moment. Did it tremble, or was it only fancy on his part? She said, "Good-by, and I hope you will have a pleasant journey," quite calmly.

Dick burst in with:

"Now, Mr. Vernon, if you've kissed everybody, we'd better be starting," and Drake got into the trap.

Mrs. Lorton looked after the departing guest, and waved her hand with an expression of languid sorrow; then turned to Nell with a sigh.

"I might have known that he would go; but still I must say that it is a disappointment—a great disappointment. These trials are sent for our good, and——I do wish you would not keep up that perpetual humming, Eleanor. On an occasion like this it is especially trying. And how pale you look!" she added, staring unsympathetically.

"I've—I've rather a headache," said Nell, turning toward the door. "I suppose it was hurrying up to the farm. It is very hot this morning. I'll go and take off my hat."

She went upstairs slowly, slipped the bolt in her bedroom door, and, taking off her hat, stood looking beyond the glass for a moment or two; then she absently drew an old and somewhat battered pencil case from her pocket. She gazed at it thoughtfully, until suddenly she could not see it for the tears that gathered in her eyes, and presently she began to tremble. She slipped to her knees besides the bed, and buried her forehead in the hands clasped over Drake's "token of remembrance and gratitude."

And as she struggled with the sobs that shook her, she still trembled; for there was something in the feeling of utter, overwhelming desolation which frightened her—something she could neither understand nor resist, though she had been fighting against it all through the long and weary night.

Oh, the shame of it! That she should cry because Mr. Drake Vernon had left Shorne Mills! The shame of it!



CHAPTER X.

All the way up to town Drake felt very depressed. It is strange that we mortals never thoroughly appreciate a thing until we have lost it, or a time until it has slipped past us; and Drake only realized, as the express rushed along and took him farther and farther away from Shorne Mills, how contented, and, yes, nearly happy, he had been there, notwithstanding the pain and inconvenience of a broken limb.

As he leaned back and smoked, he thought of the little village in the cleft of the cliffs, of the opaline sea, of the miniature jetty on which he had so often sat and basked in the sunlight; but, more than all, he thought of The Cottage, of the racketing, warm-hearted Dick, and—and of Nell of Shorne Mills.

It seemed hard to realize, and not a little painful, that he should never again sit in the parlor which now seemed to him so cozy, and listen to the girl playing Chopin and Grieg; or ride beside her over the yellow and purple moor; or lie coiled up at her feet as she sailed the Annie Laurie.

He began to suspect that he had taken a greater interest in her than he was aware of; he had grown accustomed to the sweet face, the musical voice, the little tricks of manner and expression which went to make up a charm which he now felt she certainly possessed. He looked round the carriage and sighed as if he missed something, as if something had gone out of his life.

They had been awfully good to him; they had in very truth played the part of the good Samaritan; and in his mind he compared these simple folk, buried in an out-of-the-way fishing village, with some of his fashionable friends. Which of them would have nursed him as he had been nursed at The Cottage, would have treated him as one of the family, would have lavished upon him a regard nearly akin to affection? It was a hollow world, he thought, and he wished to Heaven he had been born in Shorne Mills, and got his living as a fisherman, putting in his spare time by looking after, say, the Annie Laurie!

He had wired to his man, and he found his rooms all ready for him. He wondered as he looked round the handsome and tastefully furnished sitting room, while Sparling helped him off with his coat, whether he should be able to afford to keep them up much longer.

"Any news, Sparling?" he asked. "Hope you've been all right," he added, in the pleasant and friendly way with which he always addressed those who did service for him.

"Thank you, my lord," said Sparling, "I've been very well; but I was much upset to hear of your lordship's accident, and very sorry you wouldn't let me come to you."

The man spoke with genuine sympathy and regret, for he was attached to Drake, and was fully convinced that he had the best, the handsomest, and the most desirable master in all England.

"Thanks; very much," said Drake; "but it was nothing to speak of, and there was no reason for dragging you down there. There wasn't any accommodation, to tell the truth, and you'd have moped yourself to death."

"You're looking very well, my lord—a little thinner, perhaps," said Sparling respectfully.

Drake sighed at the naive retort, then sighed unaccountably.

"Oh, I've done some fishing, boating, and riding," he said, "and I'm pretty fit—fitter than I've been for some time. There's an awful pile of letters, I see."

"Yes, my lord; you told me not to send them on. Will your lordship dine at home to-night?"

Drake replied in the affirmative, had a bath, and changed, and sat down to one of the daintily prepared dinners which were the envy and despair of his bachelor friends. It was really an admirable little dinner; the claret was a famous one from the Anglemere cellars, and warmed to a nicety; the coffee was perfection; Sparling's ministrations left nothing to be desired; and yet Drake sank into his easy-chair after the meal with a sigh that was weary and wistful.

There had never been anything more than soup and a plain joint, with a pudding to follow, at the dinners at The Cottage; but the simple meal had been rendered a pleasant one by Dick's cheerful and boyish nonsense; and whenever Drake looked across the table, there had been Nell's sweet face opposite him, sometimes grave with a pensive thoughtfulness, at others all alight with merriment and innocent, girlish gayety.

His room to-night seemed very dull and lonely. It was strange; he had never been bored by his own society before; he had rather liked to dine alone, to smoke his cigarette with the evening paper across his knee or a book on the table beside him. He tried to read; but the carefully edited paper, with its brilliant articles, its catchy little paragraphs, and its sparkling gossip, didn't interest him in the least. He dropped it, and fell to wondering, to picturing, what they were doing at that precise moment at The Cottage. Mrs. Lorton, no doubt, was sitting in her high-backed chair reading the Fashion Gazette; Dick was lounging just outside the window, smoking a cigarette, mending his rod, and whistling the last comic song. And Nell—what was Nell doing? Perhaps she was playing softly one of the pieces he had grown fond of; or leaning half out of the window squabbling affectionately with the boy.

Or perhaps they were talking of him—Drake. Did they miss him? At the thought, he was reminded of the absurd song—"Will They Miss Me When I'm Gone?" And, with something like a blush for his sentimental weakness, as he mentally termed it, he sprang up and took his letters. They consisted mostly of bills and invitations. He chucked the first aside and glanced at the others; both were distasteful to him. He felt as if he should like to cut the world forever.

And yet that wouldn't do. Everybody would say that he was completely knocked over by the ruin of his prospects, and that he had run away. He couldn't stand that. He had always been accustomed to facing the music, however unpleasant it might be; and he would face it now. Besides, it would never do to sit there moping, and wishing himself back at Shorne Mills; because that was just what he was doing.

He turned over the gilt-edged cards and the scented notes—there seemed to be a great many people in town, notwithstanding the deadness of the season—and he selected one from a certain Lady Northgate. She was an old friend of his, and she had written him a pretty little note, asking him to a reception for that night. It was just the little note which a thorough woman of the world would write to a man whom she liked, and who had struck a streak of bad luck. Most of Drake's acquaintances who were in town would be there; and it would be a good opportunity of facing the situation and accepting more or less sincere sympathy with a good grace.

It was a fine night; and he walked to the Northgates' in Grosvenor Square; and thought of the evening he and Nell had sailed in to Shorne Mills with the lights peeping out through the trees, and the stars twinkling in the deep-blue sky. It already seemed years since that night, but he saw the girl's face as clearly as if she were walking beside him now.

The face vanished as he went up the broad staircase and into the brilliantly lighted room; and Shorne Mills seemed farther away, and all that had happened there like a dream, as Lady Northgate held out her hand and smiled at him.

She was an old friend, and many years his senior; but of course she looked young—no one in society gets old nowadays—and she greeted him with a cheerful badinage, which, however skillfully, suggested sympathy.

"It was a good boy to come!" she said. "I scarcely half expected you, and Harry offered to bet me ten to one in my favorite gloves that you wouldn't; but, somehow, I thought you would turn up. I wrote such a pretty note, didn't I?"

"You did; you always do," said Drake. "It was quite irresistible."

Lord Northgate, who was the "Harry" alluded to, came up and gave Drake a warm grip of the hand.

"What the deuce are you doing here?" he asked. "Thought you were shooting down at Monkwell's place, or somewhere. Jolly glad Lucy didn't take my bet. And where have you been?"

"With the Devon and Somerset," replied Drake, with partial truth.

"Wish I had!" grumbled Northgate. "Kept at the Office." He was in the Cabinet. "There's always some beastly row, or little war, just going on when one wants to get at the salmon or the grouse. I declare to goodness that I work like a nigger and get nothing but kicks for halfpence! I'd chuck politics to-morrow if it weren't for Lucy; and why on earth she likes to be shut in town, and sweltering in hot rooms, playing this kind of game, I can't imagine."

"But then you haven't a strong imagination, Harry, dear," said his wife pleasantly.

"I've got a strong thirst on me," said Northgate, "and a still stronger desire to cut this show. Come down to the smoking room and have a cigar presently, old chap."

Drake knew that this was equivalent to saying, "I'm sorry for you, old man!" and nodded comprehendingly.

"You're looking very well, Drake," said Lady Northgate, as her husband, struggling with a fearful yawn, sauntered away. "And not at all unhappy."

Drake shrugged his shoulders.

"What's the use? Of course, it's a bad business for me; but all the yowling in the world wouldn't better it. What can't be cured must be endured."

Lady Northgate nodded at him approvingly.

"I knew you'd take it like this," she said. "You won't go down to Harry for a little while?"

"Oh, no," said Drake, with a smile. "I'm going the round; I'm not going to shirk it."

He was one of the most popular men in London, and there were many in the room who really sympathized with and were sorry for him; and Drake, as he exchanged greetings with one and another, felt that the thing hadn't been so bad, after all. He made this consoling reflection as he leaned against the wall beside a chair in which sat a lady whom he did not know, and at whom he had scarcely glanced; and he was roused from his reverie by her saying:

"May I venture to trouble you to put this glass down?"

He took the glass and set it on the pedestal of the statuette beside him, and, as in duty bound, returned to the lady. She was an extremely pretty little woman, with soft brown hair and extremely bright eyes, which, notwithstanding their brightness, were not at all hard. He felt, rather than knew, that she was perfectly dressed, and he noticed that she wore remarkably fine diamonds. They sparkled and glittered in her hair, on her bosom, on her wrists, and on her fingers.

He had never seen her before, and he wondered who she was.

"You have just come up from the country?" she said.

The accent with which she made this rather startling remark betrayed her nationality to Drake. The American accent, when it is voiced by a person of culture and refinement, is an extremely pretty one; the slight drawl is musical, and the emphasis which is given to words not usually made emphatic, is attractive.

"Yes," said Drake. "But how did you know that?"

"Your face and hands are so brown," she replied, with a frankness which was robbed of all offense by her placidity and unself-consciousness. "Nearly all the men one meets here are so colorless. I suppose it is because you have so little air and sun in London. At first, one is afraid that everybody is ill; but after a time one gets used to it."

Drake was amused and a little interested.

"Have the men in America so much color?" he asked.

"Well, how did you know I was an American?" she inquired, with a charming little air of surprise. "I suppose my speech betrayed me? That is so annoying. I thought I had almost entirely lost my accent."

"I don't know why you should want to lose it," said Drake, honestly enough. "It's five hundred times better than our London one!"

"I didn't say I wanted to exchange it for that," she remarked.

"Don't exchange it for any other, if I may be permitted to say so."

"That's very good of you," she said; "but isn't it rather like asking the leopard not to change his spots? And after all, I don't know why we shouldn't be as proud of our accent as you are of yours."

"I'm quite certain I'm not proud of mine," said Drake.

She smiled up at him over her fan; a small and costly painted affair, with diamonds incrusted in the handle.

"You are more modest than most Englishmen," she said.

"I don't know whether to be grateful or not for that," remarked Drake. "Are we all so conceited?"

"Well, I think you are all pretty well satisfied with yourselves," she replied. "I never knew any nation so firmly convinced that it was the pick of creation; and I expect before I am here very long I shall become as fully convinced as you are that the world was made by special contract for the use and amusement of the English. Mind, I won't say that it could have been made for a better people."

"That's rather severe," said Drake. "But don't you forget that you were English yourself a few years ago; that, in a sense, you are English still."

"That's very nicely said," she remarked; "more especially as I didn't quite deserve it. I was wanting to see whether I could make you angry."

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