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Nell, of Shorne Mills - or, One Heart's Burden
by Charles Garvice
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Drake bent down and held out his hand to help her up.

"You won't be long?" she asked, and she looked up at him shyly, for, after their long separation, he seemed almost strange to her.

"Just as long as you like," he said, understanding the reason for her question, and glancing at the window of Falconer's room. "Dick tells me that he is better this morning. I couldn't say how glad I am, dearest Nell," he whispered, as the mare sprang at the collar and they whirled through the gates and down the road. "Is it you really who are sitting beside me, or am I dreaming?"

Nell's hand stole nearer to his arm until it touched it softly.

"I have asked myself that all night, Drake," she said, almost inaudibly. "It is so much more like a dream than a reality. Are we going through the village?" she asked, suddenly and shyly.

"Yes," he said. "We are. Nell, I want to show my treasure to the good folk who have known me since I was a boy. Perhaps the news has reached the village by this time—for the servants at the Hall know it, and I want them to see how happy you have made me!"

There could be no doubt of the news having got to the village, for as the dogcart sped through it the people came to the doors of the shops and cottages, all alive with curiosity and excitement.

Drake nodded to the curtseys and greetings, and looked so radiantly happy that one woman, feeling that touch of nature which makes all men kin, called out to them:

"God bless you, my lord, and send you both happiness!"

"That's worth having, Nell," he said, very quietly; but Nell didn't speak, and the tears were in her eyes. "A few days ago I should have laughed or sneered at that benediction," he said gravely. "What a change has come over my life in a few short hours! There is no magic like that of love, Nell."

They were silent for some time after they had left the village behind them, but presently Drake began to call her attention to the various points of interest in the view; the prosperous farms, and thickly wooded preserves; and Nell began, half unconsciously, to realize the extent of the vast estate—the one of many—of which the man she was going to marry was lord and master.

"I'm going to take you to a farm which has been held by the same family for several generations," he said. "I think you will like Styles and his wife; and you won't mind if they are outspoken, dearest? I was here to lunch only the other day, and Styles read me a lecture on my duties as lord of Angleford. One of the heads was that I ought to choose a wife without loss of time. I want to show him that I have taken his sermon to heart."

"Perhaps he may not approve of your choice," said Nell.

Drake laughed.

"Well, if he doesn't, he won't hesitate to say so," he said.

They pulled up at the farm, and Styles came down to the gate to welcome them, calling to a lad to hold the mare.

"Yes, we will come in for a minute or two, Styles, if Mrs. Styles will have us," said Drake.

Mrs. Styles, in the doorway, wiping her hands freshly washed from the flour of a pudding, smiled a welcome.

"Come right in, my lord," she said. "You know you be welcome well enough." She looked at Nell, who was blushing a little. "And all the more welcome for the company you bring."

"Sit down, my lord; sit ye down, miss—or is it 'my lady'?" said Styles, perfectly at ease in his unaffected pleasure at seeing them.

"This is Miss Lorton, the young lady who is rash enough to promise to be my wife, Mrs. Styles," said Drake. "I drove over to introduce her to you, and to show that I took your good advice to heart."

The farmer and his wife surveyed Nell for a moment, then slowly averted their eyes out of regard for her blushes.

"I make so bold to tell your lordship that you never did a wiser thing in your life," said Styles quietly, and with a certain dignity; "and if the young lady be as good as she is pretty—and if I'm anything of a judge, I bet she be!—there's some sense in wishing your lordship and her a long life and every happiness."

Drake held out his hand, and laughed like a boy.

"Thanks, Styles," he said. "It was worth driving out for. And I'm happy enough, in all conscience, for the present."

"I've heard of Miss Lorton, and I've heard naught but good of her," said Mrs. Styles, eying Nell, who had got one of the children on her knee; "and to us as lives on the estate, miss, it's a matter of importance who his lordship marries. It may just mean the difference between good times or bad. Us don't want his lordship to marry a fine London lady as 'u'd never be contented to live among us. And there be many such."

Nell fought against her shyness; indeed, she remembered the simple folk of Shorne Mills, who talked as freely and frankly as this honest couple, and plucked up courage.

"I'm not a fine London lady, at any rate, Mrs. Styles," she said, with a smile. "I have lived for nearly all my life in a country village, much farther away from London than you are; and I know very little of London life."

"You don't say, miss!" exclaimed Mrs. Styles, much gratified.

"Oh, yes," said Nell, laughing softly. "And I could finish making this apple pudding, if you'd let me, and boil it after I'd make it."

Mrs. Styles gazed at her in speechless admiration, and Drake laughed with keen enjoyment of her surprise.

"Oh, yes; Miss Lorton is an excellent cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Styles; so I hope you are satisfied?"

"That I be, and more, my lord," responded Mrs. Styles. "But, Lor'! your lordship do surprise me, for she looks no more than a schoolgirl—begging her pardon."

"Oh, she's wise for her years!" said Drake. "Yes, I'll have a glass of your home-brewed, Styles."

Mrs. Styles brought some milk and scones for Nell, and the two women withdrew to the settle and talked like old friends, while Drake, his eyes and attention straying to his beloved, discussed the burglary at the Hall with Styles. As Mrs. Styles' topic of conversation was Drake—Drake as a lad and a young man—Nell was in no hurry to go; but suddenly she remembered Falconer—he might be wanting her—and she got up and went to Drake, who, his beloved brier in his mouth, leaned back in an easy-chair and talked to the farmer as if time were of no consequence. He sprang up as she approached him.

"Well, good-by, Styles. I said you should dance at my wedding, and so you shall," he said.

"Thank you, my lord," he responded. "I'll do my best, but I thought your lordship was only joking. Here's a very good health to you, my lord, and your future lady."

"And God bless ye both," said Mrs. Styles, in the background.

They drove away in grand style, the mare insisting on putting on frills and standing on her hind legs; and Drake, when the mare had settled down to her swinging trot, stole his hand round Nell's waist, and pressed her to him.

"Do you know why I took you there this morning, Nell?" he said, in a low voice.

Nell shook her head shyly.

"I'll tell you. The sudden good fortune has seemed so unreal to me that I haven't been able to realize it, to grasp it. It wasn't enough for the countess to know and congratulate us—it wasn't enough, somehow. I wanted some of the people on the estate to see you, and, so to speak, set their seal on our engagement and approaching marriage. Do you understand, dearest? I'm not making it very plain, I'm afraid."

But Nell understood, and her heart was brimming over with love for him.

"You have been accepted this morning into the—family, as it were," he said. "And now I feel as if it were impossible that I should lose you again. Styles will go down to the inn to-night and talk about our visit, and give a detailed account of the 'new ladyship,' and everybody on the estate will know of my good fortune. It is almost as if"—he paused, and the color rose to his face—"as if we were married, Nell. I feel that nothing can separate us now."

She said not a word, but she pressed a little closer to him, and he bent and kissed her.

"You don't mind my taking you to the Styles', dearest?" he asked.

"No, oh, no!" she replied. "I would rather have gone there than to any of the big houses—I mean the county people, Drake. I like to think I am not the sort of person they dreaded. What was it? 'A fine London lady.' Perhaps it would be better for you if I were; but for them—well, perhaps for them it will be better that I am only one of themselves, able to understand and sympathize with them. Drake, you will not forget that I am only a nobody, that I am only Nell of Shorne Mills."

He smiled to himself, for he knew that this girl whom he had won was, by virtue of her beauty and refinement, qualified to fill the highest place in that vague sphere which went by the name of "society."

"Don't you worry, dearest," he said. "You have won the heart of the Styles family; and that is no mean conquest. That farm on the right is the Woodlands, and that just in front is the Broadlands. You will learn all the names in time, and I want you to know them; I want you to feel that you have a part and lot in them. Nell, do you think you will ever be as fond of this place as you are of Shorne Mills?"

"Yes," she said; "because—it is yours, Drake."

He looked down at her gratefully.

"But you shan't lose Shorne Mills," he said resolutely. "I mean to buy some land there, and build a house, just on the brow of the hill—you know, Nell; that meadow above The Cottage?—and we'll go there every summer, and we'll sail the Annie Laurie."

So they talked, with intervals of silence filled with his caresses, until they reached the lodge. And as they came up to it, they heard the strains of a violin.

Nell awoke with a start.

"Oh, I had almost forgotten!" she said remorsefully.

"Listen!" Drake whispered.

Nell, in the act of pushing the dust cloak from her, listened.

Falconer was playing the "Gloria in Excelsis."

"Oh, how happy I have been!" she murmured, half guiltily.

"And how happy you will be, Heaven grant it, dearest!" Drake murmured, as he released her hand and she got down.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

"Nell, I believe you are nervous! You're not? Very well; then stand up and look me in the face, and say 'Mesopotamia' seven times!"

It was the night of the dinner party at the Hall, at which, as Dick put it, she was to be "on view" as the fiancee of my lord of Angleford, and Nell had come down to the little sitting room dressed and ready to start.

Dick and Falconer were also ready, for Falconer had recovered sufficiently to be present, and had voluntarily offered to take his violin with him.

"Don't tease her, Dick," said Falconer, with the gentle, protective air of an elder brother. "She does not look a bit nervous."

"But I am!" said Nell, laughing a little tremulously; "I am—just a little bit!"

"And no wonder!" said Falconer promptly. "It is rather an ordeal she has to go through; to know that everybody is regarding you critically. But she has nothing to be afraid of."

"Now, there I differ with you," said Dick argumentatively. "If I were in Nell's place I should feel that everybody was thinking: 'What on earth did Lord Angleford see in that slip of a girl to fall in love with?' Ah, would you?" as Nell, laughing and blushing, caught up the sofa cushion. "You throw it and rumple my best hair, if you dare."

Nell put the cushion down reluctantly.

"It's a mean shame; you know I can't fight now."

"Though you have your war paint on," said Falconer, looking at her with a half-sad, half-proud admiration and affection.

"It's not much of a war paint," said Nell, but contentedly enough. "It's the dress I made for a party at Wolfer House—Dick, you know that the Wolfers have had to go? Lord Wolfer's brother was ill. I am so sorry! She would have made me feel less nervous, and rather braver. Yes, I'm sorry! It's an old dress, and I'm afraid Drake's jewels must feel quite ashamed of it," and she glanced at the pearls which he had given her a day or two ago, and which gleamed softly on her white, girlish neck and arms.

"You hear her complaining, Falconer!" said Dick, with mock sternness and reproval. "You'd find it hard to believe that I offered to remain at home and pop my dress suit, that she might buy herself fitting raiment for this show. Oh, worse than a serpent's tooth, it is to have an ungrateful sister!"

"I thought it was a new dress," remarked Falconer, still eying it and the wearer intently.

Nell shook her head, coloring a little, as she said:

"No; I wanted to wear this one. I didn't want to appear in a grand frock as if I were a fashionable lady."

"Fine feathers do not always make a fine lady," observed Dick, addressing the ceiling. "No one would mistake you for anything but—what you are, a simple ch-e-ild of Nachure."

"Don't tease her, Dick," remonstrated Falconer; but Nell laughed with enjoyment.

"I don't mind in the least, Mr. Falconer. It's quite true, too; my plain frock is more suitable than anything Worth could turn out."

"My dear Falconer, I'm sorry to see you so easily imposed on. Don't you see that she's as vain as a peacock, and that she's only playing at the humble and meek? Besides, I expect that idiot Drake—who slipped out just as we came down—he'll be late for dinner if he doesn't mind!—has been telling her that she looks rather pretty——"

Nell blushed, for Drake had indeed told her that she looked more than pretty.

"And, of course, she believes him. She'd believe him if he told her that the moon was made of green cheese. Put that cushion down, my child, or it will be worse for you. And I hope you will behave yourself properly to-night. Remember that the brother who has brought you up with such anxious care will be present, to say nothing of the friend to whose culture and refined example you owe so much. Don't forget that it is bad manners to put your knife in your mouth, or to laugh too loudly. Remember we shall be watching you closely and anxiously."

"It is time we started," said Falconer. "Let me put that shawl more closely round you, Miss Lorton. It's a fine night, but one cannot be too careful."

It was so fine that they had decided to walk the short distance to the Hall; and they set out, Falconer with his precious violin in its case under his arm, and Dick smoking a cigarette. They were all rather silent as they approached the great house, and Dick, looking up at it, said with a gravity unusual with him:

"It's hard to realize that you are going to be the mistress of this huge place, Nell."

Nell made no response; but she, too, looked up at the house with the same thought.

Indeed, it was hard to realize. But the next moment Drake came out to meet them, and took her upon his arm, with a whispered word of loving greeting for her, and a warm welcome to the two men.

"I needn't say how glad I am to see you, Falconer," he said, "or how delighted the countess and the rest of them will be. You must be prepared for a little hero worship, I'm afraid, for the countess has been diligent in spreading the story of your pluck."

As he lovingly took off Nell's shawl, he whispered:

"Dearest, how sweet and beautiful you look! If you knew how proud I am—how proud and happy!"

Then he led them into the drawing-room. A number of guests had already arrived, and as the countess came forward and kissed Nell, they looked at her with a keen curiosity, though it was politely veiled.

Nell was a little pale as the countess introduced her to one after another of the county people; but Drake stood near her; and everybody, prepossessed by her youth, and the girlish dignity and modesty which characterized her, was very kind and pleasant; and soon the threatened fit of shyness passed off, and she felt at her ease.

The room, large as it was, got rather crowded. Guests were still arriving. Some of the women were magnificently dressed in honor of the occasion, but Nell's simple frock distinguished her, as the plain evening dress of the American ambassador is said to distinguish him among the rich uniforms and glittering orders of the queen's levee; and the women recognized and approved her good taste in appearing so simply dressed.

"She is sweetly pretty," murmured the local duchess to Lady Northgate. "I don't wonder at Lord Angleford's losing his heart. Half the men in the room would fall in love with her if she were free. And I like that quiet, reticent manner of hers; not a bit shy, but dignified and yet girlish. Yes, Lord Angleford is to be congratulated."

"So he would be if she were not half so pretty," said Lady Northgate; "for he is evidently too happy for words. See how he looks at her!"

"Who is that bright-looking young fellow?" asked the duchess, putting up her pince-nez at Dick.

"That is her brother. Isn't he like her? They are devoted to each other; and that is Mr. Falconer, the great violinist. Of course, you've heard the story——"

"Oh, dear, yes," said the duchess. "And I want to congratulate him. I wish you'd bring the boy to me, dear."

Lady Northgate went after him, but at that moment a young lady with laughing eyes came into the room, and Dick started and actually blushed.

Drake, who was standing near him, laughed at his confusion.

"An old friend of yours, I think, Dick, eh? Miss Angel. She's stopping in the house; came to-day. If you're good, you shall take her in to dinner."

"I'll be what she is by name, if I may!" said Dick, eagerly. "I'll go and tell her so," and he made his way through the crowd to her.

"Afraid you've forgotten me, Miss Angel," he said. "Hop at the Maltbys', you know!"

Her eyes danced more merrily, but she surveyed him demurely for a moment, as if trying to recall him, then she said:

"Oh, yes; the gentleman who was so very—very cool; I was going to say impudent; pretty Miss Lorton's brother."

"You might have said Miss Lorton's pretty brother!" retorted Dick reproachfully. "But you'll have time to say it later on, for I'm going to take you in to dinner."

"'Going to have the honor' of taking me in to dinner, you mean!" she said, with mock hauteur.

"No; 'pleasure' is the word," said the unabashed Dick. "I say, how delighted I am to see you here——"

"Thank you."

"Because I know so very few of this mob."

"Oh, I see. I'll recall my thanks, please."

Dick grinned.

"I thought you were rather too previous with your gratitude. But isn't it jolly being here together!"

"Is that a question or an assertion? Because, if it's the former, I beg leave to announce that I see no reason for any great delight on my part."

"Oh, come now! You think! You can resume the lesson on manners you commenced at the Maltbys'. I want it badly; for I have been among a rough set lately. I'm a British workingman, you know—engineer. Come into this corner, and I'll tell you all about it."

"I don't know that I want to hear," she retorted. "But, oh, well, I'll come after I've spoken to your sister. How lovely she looks to-night! If I were a man, I should envy Lord Angleford."

"Would you? So should I if he were going to marry another young lady I know."

"Oh, who is that?" she asked, with admirably feigned innocence and interest.

"Oh, you can't see her just now. No looking-glass near," he had the audacity to add, but under his breath.

The dinner hour struck, the carriages were setting down the last arrivals, and Lady Angleford was looking round and smilingly awaiting the butler's "Dinner is served, my lady!" when a footman came up to her and said something in a low voice.

The countess went out of the room, and found her maid in the hall.

The woman whispered a few words that caused Lady Angleford to turn pale and stand gazing before her as if she had suddenly seen a ghost.

"Very well," she said.

The maid hurried upstairs, but the countess stood for quite half a minute, still pale, and gazing into vacancy.

Then she went back to the drawing-room, and, with a mechanical smile, passed among the guests until she reached Drake, who was talking to the duke and Lord Northgate.

"You want me, countess?" he said, feeling her eyes fixed on him, and he followed her to a clear space.

"Drake," she said, lifting her eyes to his face pitifully, "Drake, something dreadful has happened—something dreadful. I don't like to tell you, but I must. She is here!"

She whispered the announcement as if it were indeed something dreadful.

Drake looked at her in a mystified fashion.

"She! Who?" he asked.

"Luce!"

He did not start, but his brows came together, and his face grew stern, for the first time since his reconciliation to Nell.

"Luce!" he echoed. "Impossible!"

"Oh, but she is!" she murmured, in despair. "She arrived a quarter of an hour ago."

"But I wrote, telling her," he muttered helplessly.

The countess made a despairing gesture.

"Then she did not get your letter. She sent a telegram this morning, saying that she was able, unexpectedly, to come, but I have not had it. And if I had received it, there would not have been time to prevent her coming." She glanced at the slim, girlish figure of Nell, where it stood, the center of a group, and almost groaned. "What shall we do?"

At such times a man is indeed helpless, and Drake stood overwhelmed and idealess.

"She says that we are not to wait—that she will come down when she is dressed. She—she——Oh, Drake! she does not know, and she will think that—that you still—that she——"

He nodded.

"I know. But I am thinking of Nell," he said grimly. "Luce must be told. She—yes, she must go away again. She will, when she knows the truth."

"But—but who is to tell her?" said the poor countess, aghast at the prospect before her.

Drake shook his head.

"Not you, countess. I will tell her."

"You, Drake!"

"Yes—I," he said, biting his lips. "She found little difficulty in telling me, there at Shorne Mills——No, no; I ought not to have said that. But I am anxious to spare Nell, and my anxiety makes me hard. Wait a moment."

He went to the window, and, putting aside the curtains, looked out at the night, seeing nothing; then he came back.

"Put the dinner back for a quarter of an hour, and send word to her and ask her to go into your boudoir. I will wait her there."

"Is there no other way, Drake?" she asked, pitying him from the bottom of her heart.

"There is none," he said frankly. "It is my fault. I ought to have found out her address; but it is no use reproaching oneself. Send to her, countess!"

She left the room, and Drake went back to the duke, talked for a moment or two, then went up to the countess' room and waited. He had to face an ordeal more severe than any other that had hitherto fallen to his not uneventful life; but faced it had to be; and he would have gone through fire and water to save Nell a moment's pain. Besides, Luce was to be considered, though, it must be confessed, he felt little pity for her.

Presently the door opened; but it was Burden who entered. She was looking pale and emaciated, as if she were either very ill, or recovering from illness, and Drake, even at that moment of strain and stress, noticed her pitiable appearance.

"How do you do, Burden?" he said. "I am afraid you have not been well."

Burden curtsied, and looked up at him with hollow eyes.

"Thank you, my lord," she faltered. "My lady sent me to tell your lordship that she will be here in a minute or two."

She left the room, and Drake leaned against the mantelshelf with his hands in his pockets, his head sunk on his breast; and in a minute or two the door opened again, and Luce glided toward him with outstretched hands.

"Drake! How sweet of you to send for me—to wait!" she murmured.

He took one of her hands and held it, and the coldness of his touch, the expression of his face, startled her.

"Drake! What is the matter?" she asked. "Are—are you not glad to see me? Why do you look at me so strangely? I came the moment I could get away. There has been so much to do; and father"—she paused a moment and shrugged her shoulders—"has been very bad. The excitement and fuss——You know the condition he would be in, under the circumstances. I told Burden to wire this morning to say I was coming, but she forgot to do so. She seems half demented, and I am going to get rid of her. What is the matter, Drake?"

She had moved nearer to him, expecting him to take her in his arms and kiss her; but his coldness, his silence, was telling upon her, and the question broke from her impatiently.

"Haven't you had my letter?" he asked.

"Your letter? No. Did you write? I am sorry! What did you write?"

"I wrote"—he hesitated a moment, but what was the good of trying to "break" the news? "I wrote to tell you of my engagement——"

She started and stared at him.

"Your engagement! Your——Drake! What do you mean? Your engagement! To—to whom?"

"Sit down, Luce," he said gravely, tenderly, and he went to lead her to a chair; but she shook her hand free and stood, still staring at him blankly, her face growing paler.

"I wrote and told you all about it. I am engaged to Miss Lorton. You do not know her; but she is the young lady I met at Shorne Mills, the place in Devonshire——I was engaged to her then, but it was broken off, and we were separated for a time; but we met again——I am sorry, very sorry, that you did not get my letter."

Her face was perfectly white by this time, her lips set tightly. He feared she was going to faint; but, with a great effort she fought against the deadly weakness which assailed her.

"So that was what you wrote!" she breathed, every word leaving her lips as if it caused her pain to utter. "You—you—have deceived me."

"No, Luce," he said quickly.

"Yes, yes! When I left here you——Is it not true that you intended asking me to be your wife, to renew our engagement? Answer!"

She glanced up at him, her teeth showing between her parted lips.

He inclined his head.

"Yes, it is true; but I had not met—I had not heard——Oh, what is the use of all this recrimination, Luce? I am engaged to the girl I love."

She raised her hand as if to strike him. He caught it gently, and as gently released it.

"I will go," she panted. "I will go at once. Be good enough to order my carriage——"

She put her hand to her head as if she did not know what she was saying; and Drake's heart ached with pity for her—at that moment, at any rate.

"Don't think too hardly of me, Luce," he said, in a low voice. "And you have not lost much, remember."

She clasped her hands and swayed to and fro for a moment.

"I see! It is your revenge. I once jilted you, and now——"

"For God's sake, don't say—don't think——No man could be so base, so vile!" he said sternly.

She laughed.

"It is your revenge; I see it. Yes, you have scored. I will go—at once. Open the door, please!"

There was nothing else to be done. He opened the door for her, and she swept past him. Outside, she paused for a moment, as if she did not know where she was, or in which direction her room lay; then she went slowly—almost staggered—down the corridor, and, bursting into her room, fell into a chair.

So sudden was her entrance, so tragic her collapse, that the nervous Burden uttered a faint shriek.

"Oh, my lady! what is the matter?" she cried, her hand against her heart.

Lady Luce sat with her chin in her hands, her eyes gleaming from her white face, in silence for a moment; then she laughed, the laugh which borders on hysteria.

"Congratulate me, Burden!" she said bitterly; "congratulate me! Lord Angleford is engaged!"

Burden stared at her.

"To—to your ladyship?" she said, but doubtfully. "I do congratulate you."

"You fool!" cried Luce savagely. "He is engaged to another woman. He has jilted me! Oh, I think I shall go mad! Jilted me! Yes, it is that, and no less. Oh, my head! my head!"

Burden hurried to her with the eau de Cologne, but Lady Luce pushed it away.

"Keep out of my sight! I can't bear the sight of any human being! Engaged! 'I am engaged to Miss Lorton!'"—she mimicked Drake's voice in bitter mockery.

Burden started, and let the eau de Cologne bottle fall with a soft thud to the floor.

"What—what name did your ladyship say?" she gasped, her face as white as her mistress's, her eyes starting.

Lady Luce glared at her.

"You fool! Are you deaf? Lorton! Lorton!" she almost snarled at the woman.

Burden stooped to pick up the bottle, but staggered and clutched a chair, and Lady Luce watched her with half-distraught gaze.

"What is the matter with you? Why do you behave like a lunatic?" she demanded. "Do you know this girl? Answer!"

Burden moistened her lips.

"Is it the young lady—who helped catch Ted—I mean the burglar, my lady?" she asked hoarsely.

"I suppose so. Yes. Well? Speak out—don't keep me waiting. I'm in no humor to be trifled with. You know her—something about her?"

Burden tried to control her shaking voice.

"If—if it is the same young lady who was at Lady Wolfer's——I was her maid, you remember——"

"I remember, you fool! Quick!"

"Then—then I know something. She's very pretty—and young, with dark hair——"

Lady Luce sprang to her feet.

"You idiot! You drive me mad. I've not seen her. But if it be the same——Well—well?"

"Then—then Lord Angleford is to be pitied. He has been deceived—deceived cruelly," said Burden, in gasps.

Lady Luce caught her by the shoulders and glared into her quailing eyes.

"Listen to me, Burden: pull yourself together. Tell me what you know—tell me this instant! Well? Sit there in that chair. Now!" She pressed the shoulders she still held with the gesture of an Arab slave driver. "Now, quick! Who is she? What do you know against her?"

In faltering accents, and yet with a kind of savage pleasure, Burden spoke for some minutes; and as Lady Luce listened, the pallor of her face gave place to a flush of fierce, malicious joy.

"Are you sure? You say you saw, you listened? Are you sure?" she said—hissed, rather—at the end of Burden's story.

"I—I am quite sure," she responded. "I—I could swear to it. I was just outside the library."

Lady Luce paced up and down with the gait of a tigress.

"If I could only be sure," she panted; "if I could only be sure! But you may be mistaken. Wait!" Her hand fell upon Burden's shoulder again. "Go downstairs, look at the people, and tell me if you see her there. Quick!"

Burden, wincing under the savage pressure of her hand, rose, and stole from the room.

In less than five minutes she was back.

"Well?" demanded Lady Luce, as Burden closed the door and leaned against it.

"It—it is the same. I saw her," she said suddenly.

Lady Luce sank into a chair, and was silent and motionless for a moment; then she sprang up and laughed—a hideous laugh for such perfect lips.

"Get out my pale mauve silk. Dress me, quick! I am not going to leave the house. I am going downstairs to make Miss Lorton's acquaintance! Quick!"

Burden got out the exquisite dress. The flush which had risen to her mistress' face was reflected in her own. This Miss Lorton had helped to capture her beloved, her "martyred" Ted, and he was going to be avenged!



CHAPTER XL.

After Luce had swept from the room, Drake remained for a minute or two thinking the thoughts that a man must think under such circumstances; then he went slowly down to the drawing-room.

The countess was watching and waiting for him, and she looked up at his grave countenance anxiously as he came toward her.

"It is all right," he said, in his quiet way; "she is going at once."

His composure, the Angleford impassiveness which always came to their aid in moments of danger and difficulty, impressed her; she drew a breath of relief, and signed to the butler, who was hovering about awaiting her signal. "Dinner is served, my lady," he announced solemnly; and Drake gave the duchess his arm, and the company went into the dining room in pairs "like the animals into Noah's Ark," as Dick whispered to Miss Angel, who, to his great delight, he was taking in.

It was a large party, and a brilliant one. The great room in the glory of its new adornment was worthy of the house and its guests. If the truth must be told, Nell was at first a little nervous, though it was not her first experience, as we know, of an aristocratic dinner party. She was seated on the left of Drake, and on pretense of moving one of her glasses, he succeeded in touching her hand, and, as he did so, he looked at her as a man looks who sees joy before him and an abiding happiness; then he turned and talked to the duchess, for he knew that Nell would like to be left alone for a few minutes.

It was impossible for any party, however large and aristocratic, over which the countess presided, to be dull, and very soon they were all talking, and some of them laughing, for there were two young persons present, at any rate, who were by no means overawed by the splendor of the appointments or the rank of the guests. Dick would have found it possible to be merry at a Quakers' meeting, and Miss Angel, though she tried to preserve a demure, not to say repressive, mood, very soon yielded to Dick's light-hearted influence; and not only she, but those near them, were kept by him in ripples of laughter.

It was just what Drake wanted, and he looked down the table toward Dick with approval and gratitude.

"Dick hasn't changed a bit—thank Heaven!" he said to Nell.

"Your brother's the most charming boy I've met for a very long time," remarked the duchess. "Of course, he will come with you and the rest to me on the ninth. I am so glad to see Mr. Falconer here, and I hope he will be well enough to join us!"

Nell glanced at Falconer with a sisterly regard, and Drake said:

"We'll bring him, if we have to pack him in cotton wool!"

The dinner was, inevitably, a lengthy one; but it was never for a moment dull, and the countess almost forgot Lady Luce as she realized the success of her party. She felt as a captain of a vessel feels when he has left behind him the perilous rocks on which he had nearly struck. Drake, too, almost forgot the ordeal through which he had just passed. How could he do otherwise when his darling was within reach of his hand, under his roof, at his table? The ladies remained some time after the appearance of the dessert, but the countess rose at last, and led the way to the drawing-room. There, of course, Nell was made much of. Some of the younger women drew their chairs near her, and showed as plainly as they could—and how plainly women can show things when they like!—that they were eager to welcome her into the county's social circle; and it required no effort on their part, for Nell's charm, which Drake had found so potent, was irresistible. There was some playing and singing, and the countess wanted Nell to do one or the other; but she shook her head.

"Mr. Falconer will want me to play his accompaniments presently," she said. Not even in this full tide of her happiness did she forget him.

Meanwhile, the men were having a very pleasant time in the dining room. Drake, like all the Anglefords, was a capital host. Anglemere was famous for its claret and its port, as we know, and Dick and the other young men waxed merry; and the duke voiced the general sentiment when, leaning back in his chair and sipping his claret, he said:

"The gods might be envious of you, Angleford. If I were asked to spot a happy man, I should pitch upon you. I congratulate you upon your engagement. She's one of the prettiest and most charming girls I've ever met. That sounds rather banal, but I mean it. I hope you'll let us see a great deal of her, for Mary"—Mary was the duchess—"has, I can see, taken a great fancy to her. And I'm very glad to hear that you intend to make this your home; at least, so I hear from Styles, who appears to be in your confidence."

And he laughed.

And Drake laughed.

"Oh, yes, Styles and I are old friends," he said. "We mean to live here a great deal. I shall keep up the Home farm; they've offered me the mastership of the hounds, and I think I shall take it. Nell's a capital horsewoman. In fact, we shall lead a country life most of the time, and see as much as we can of our people."

"You're right," said the duke emphatically. "It's the best of all lives. If we all lived on our estates and looked after our people, we should hear very little of socialism, and such like troubles. It's the absenteeism which is answerable for most of the mischief."

They discussed county affairs, "horses, hounds, and the land," for some minutes; then Drake, who was anxious to go to Nell, asked the men if they would have any more wine, and, receiving a negative, rose, and made for the drawing-room.

Miss Angel was singing; Dick of course, was turning over her music. There was a little hushed buzz of conversation which is not too loud to permit the song to penetrate, and which indicates that things are going well. Drake went to Nell and leaned over the tall back of her chair without a word. When the song was finished, the countess went up to Falconer and asked him to play. A footman brought the precious violin, and Nell went to the piano and struck up the piece which they had chosen. Conversation ceased, and every one prepared to listen with eager anticipation.

Falconer may have played as well in his life, but he certainly never played better. One could have heard a pin drop during the softer notes of the exquisite music, so intense and almost breathless was the silence of the rapt audience. When the last note had died away, the countess went up to him.

"It is useless trying to thank you, Mr. Falconer," she said, "but if you will play again——"

"Certainly," said Falconer. He turned to Nell. "What shall I play next?" he asked, as if the choice must naturally rest with her.

She turned over the music and set up a Chopin, and he had placed the violin in position, when the door opened, and Lady Luce swept slowly in. She was superbly dressed, her neck and arms and hair were all a-glitter with diamonds. Though she was rather pale, her face was perfectly serene, and she smiled sweetly as she crossed the room.

Her entrance caused a surprise; the countess happened to be standing with her back to the door, and did not see her come in; but she felt the sudden silence and turned to ascertain the cause. For a moment she was rooted to the spot, and the color left her face. It says much for her aplomb that she did not cry out. Her confusion lasted only for a moment, then she went toward Lady Luce with outstretched hand.

"I am so sorry to be so late," said Luce, in her sweetest tones, "but my maid, who is a perfect tyrant, refused to dress me until I had rested——"

"Your dinner?" almost gasped the countess.

"I had some sent up to my room," said Lady Luce sweetly.

She looked round. Drake stood by the piano, his face sternly set. Why had she remained? What was she going to do? He glanced at Nell, and saw that she had gone white, and that her eyes were fixed on Lady Luce. What should he do?

Instinctively, he went to meet Luce, who was advancing with a placid smile, and the ease of a woman who is at peace with all the world, and sure of her welcome.

"How do you do, Lord Angleford?" she said, as if this were their first meeting for some time. "I am so glad that I was able to get here to-night, though I wish that I could have arrived earlier. But I am interrupting the music! Please don't let me!"

She moved away from him with perfect grace, and, greeting one and another, went and seated herself in a chair beside the duchess—and opposite Nell at the piano. There was a little buzz of conversation round her, then she herself raised her fan as a sign for silence, and Falconer began to play again.

It was well for Nell that she knew every note of the nocturne by heart, for the page of music swam before her eyes, and she could not see a note. She felt Lady Luce's gaze, rather than saw it, and her heart throbbed painfully for a while; but presently the influence of the music stole over her and helped her—if only Falconer could have known it!—and she said to herself: "What can it matter to me if she is here? I know that Drake loves me, and me alone; that she is nothing to him and I am everything. It is she who should feel confused and embarrassed, not I. And yet how calm, how serene she is! Can she have forgotten that night on the terrace? Can she have forgotten all that has happened? Yes, it is she whose heart should be beating as mine is now."

When the nocturne came to an end, and the applause which greeted it broke out, Lady Luce, still clapping her hands, rose and went toward Drake.

"Will you please introduce me to Miss Lorton?" she said. "I am all anxiety to know her."

She smiled at him so placidly that even Drake, who knew her better than did any other man, was completely deceived.

"She means to forget the past," he said to himself. "She is behaving better than I had any reason to expect."

He drew a breath of relief, and his stern face relaxed somewhat as he nodded slightly and went toward Nell, who had risen from the piano and stood near Falconer. She looked at Drake and Lady Luce as calmly as she could, and Drake made the introduction in as ordinary a tone as he could manage. Lady Luce held out her hand with a sweet smile.

"I am so glad to meet you, Miss Lorton," she said. "I have heard so much about you; and I dare say you have heard something about me, for Lord Angleford and I are very old friends. How charmingly you played that difficult accompaniment! Shall we go and sit down somewhere together and have a chat?"

What could Nell say or do? Both she and Drake were helpless. Nell stood with downcast eyes, the color coming and going in her face, and Drake looked from one to the other, half relieved, half in doubt.

"Let us go and sit on that ottoman," said Lady Luce, indicating one in the center of a group of ladies.

Nell, as she followed, glanced at Drake as if she were asking, "Must I go?" He made a slight gesture in the affirmative, returning her glance with one of tender love and trust.

The countess stood at a little distance, watching them, though apparently absorbed in conversation, and no one would have guessed the condition of her mind as she saw the two women seated side by side. Presently she went up to Drake.

"What does it mean?" she asked. "Why has she not gone? Why is she so—so friendly with Nell?"

Drake shrugged his shoulders with a kind of smiling despair.

"I can't tell you," he replied. "I think she is going to behave sensibly. At any rate, there is no need for anxiety. I have told Nell everything. She will trust me."

"Yes; but I wish she had gone," said the countess, in a low voice.

Drake smiled grimly.

"So do I. But she hasn't."

"She is too serene and contented," murmured the countess.

Drake shrugged his shoulders again.

"I know," he said significantly. "But what does it matter? She can do no harm. Nell knows everything."

"I like the way you say that," said the countess. "But don't leave her."

He nodded as if he understood, and gradually made his way toward the group among which Luce and Nell were sitting. As he approached, Lady Luce looked up with a smile.

"I have been telling Miss Lorton that if there is one thing I adore upon earth, it is a romantic engagement, and that I quite envy her, and you, too, Lord Angleford! A glamour of romance will surround you for the rest of your lives. As I have often said to Archie, life without sentiment would not be worth having. By the way, Miss Lorton, you know Sir Archie Walbrooke?"

Nell had scarcely been listening, for she had been wondering whether she could now rise and leave Lady Luce; but at the name of Sir Archie Walbrooke, she turned with a sudden start, and the color rose to her face. Lady Luce looked at her sweetly; then, as if she had suddenly remembered something, exclaimed, in a low voice:

"Oh, I beg your pardon! I quite forgot. How stupid of me!" Then she laughed softly and looked from Nell to Drake. "But of course you've told Lord Angleford? It is always the best way."

The color slowly left Nell's face; a look of pain, of doubt, even of dread, came into her eyes. Drake glanced from one woman to the other.

"What is it Nell must have told me, Lady Luce?" he asked easily.

Lady Luce hesitated, seemed as if in doubt for a moment, and smiled in an embarrassed fashion.

"Have you told him?" she asked Nell, in a low, but perfectly audible voice.

Nell rose, then sank down again. She saw in an instant the trap which Lady Luce had set for her; and it seemed to her a trap from which she could not escape. It was evident that Lady Luce had become informed of the scene that had taken place between Sir Archie, Lord Wolfer, and Nell in the library at Wolfer House, and that Lady Luce intended to denounce her in the drawing-room before Drake and the large party gathered together in her honor.

For one single instant there rose in her heart a keen regret that she had not told Drake; but it was only for an instant; for Nell's nature was a noble one, and she knew that at no time and under no circumstances whatever could she have sacrificed her friend, even to save her life's happiness—and Drake's.

That chilly morning in the dim library she had taken her friend's folly and sin upon her own shoulders, scarcely counting, scarcely seeing the cost, certainly not foreseeing this terrible price which she would have to pay for it. And now—now that the terrible moment had come when Drake—she cared little for any other—would hear her accused of that which a pure woman counts the worst of crimes, she would not be able to rise, and, with uplifted head, exclaim: "I am innocent!"

She felt crushed, overwhelmed, but she could not remain silent; she had to speak; the eyes of those who were near were fixed upon her waitingly.

"I have not told him," she said at last, in a low but clear voice.

Lady Luce bit her lip softly, as if very much confused.

"I am so sorry I spoke!" she said, in an apologetic whisper. "It was very foolish of me—I am always blurting out awkward things—it is the impulsive Celtic temperament! Pray forgive me, Miss Lorton, and try and forget my stupid blunder."

There was an intense silence. Nell looked straight before her, as one looks who hears the knell of the bell which signals the hour of her execution. Drake stood with his hands clasped behind him, his face perfectly calm, his eyes resting on Nell with infinite love and trust. The others glanced from one to the other with doubtful and half-suspicious looks. It seemed as if no one could start a conversation; the air was heavy with suspense and suspicion. The countess was quick and clever. She saw that for Nell's sake the matter must not be allowed to rest where it was; she knew that Lady Luce would have effected her purpose and cast a shadow of scandal over Nell's future life if not another word was spoken. Convinced that Nell was innocent of even the slightest indiscretion, she felt that it would be wiser to force Lady Luce's hand.

So she came forward with a smile of tolerant contempt on her pretty, shrewd face, and said slowly, and with her musical drawl:

"Oh, but, Lady Luce, we cannot let you off so easily. What is this interesting story in which Miss Lorton and Sir Archie Walbrooke are concerned?"

Lady Luce rose with well-feigned embarrassment.

"Pardon me, Lady Angleford," she said. "I have blundered and have asked forgiveness; I have not another word to say."

She was crossing the room in front of Drake, and he saw her lip curl with a faint sneer. He laid his hand upon her arm gently but firmly.

"We will hear the story, if you please, Lady Luce," he said.

She bit her lip, as if she were driven into a corner, and did not know what to do.

"Not here, at any rate!" she said, in a low voice, and looking round at the silent group.

Some of them rose and moved away; but Drake held up his hand.

"Oh, do not lose an amusing story!" he said, with a smile eloquent of contempt. "Now, Lady Luce, if you please."

She looked from him to Nell.

"What am I to do?" she asked, as if in great distress. "Miss Lorton, you see my predicament; please come to my aid, and help me to escape. Tell Lord Angleford that you do not wish me to say any more."

Still looking straight before her, Nell responded, almost inaudibly:

"Speak! Yes—tell them!"

Lady Luce still seemed reluctant; at last she said, with an embarrassed laugh:

"After all, it may amount to nothing, and you'll be very much disappointed. Indeed, it is very likely not true."

Her reluctance was not altogether feigned, for it needed even her audacity and assurance to make such an accusation as she was about to bring against the future Countess of Angleford, and under her future roof; but she braced herself to a supreme effort, and, though she was really as white as Nell, she looked round boldly, as if confident of the truth of the thing she was going to say.

"Everybody knows what Sir Archie is," she began. "He's the worst flirt and the most dangerous man in England. Everybody has heard stories of his delinquencies; some of them are true, but many of them, I dare say, are false, and I've not the least doubt that Miss Lorton will tell us that the story that she was about to elope with him from Wolfer House one morning, but that she was stopped by Lord Wolfer, is an absurd fable. The story goes that she did not know, until Lord Wolfer told her at the very moment that she and Sir Archie were leaving the house, that Sir Archie was a married man. Now that's the whole affair, and I really think Miss Lorton will be grateful to me for giving her an opportunity of rising in true dramatic fashion and exclaiming: 'It is not true!'"

She nodded at Nell and laughed softly.

There were many who echoed her laugh, for, indeed, the story did sound like an absurd fable. All eyes were turned on Nell, and all waited for her to bring about with a denial the satisfactory denouement. Drake did not laugh, for his heart was burning with fury against the audacity, the shameless insolence, of Lady Luce; but he smiled in a grim fashion as his eyes still rested on Nell's face.

A moment passed. Why did she not rise? Why did she not, at any rate, speak? Four words would be enough: "It is not true!"

But she remained motionless and silent. A kind of consternation began to creep over those who were watching, Drake went up to her and laid his hand on her shoulder.

"Pray relieve Lady Luce's anxiety, Nell, and tell her that she has amused us with a canard too ridiculous to be anything but false," he said tenderly.

She looked up at him, her brows drawn, her eyes pitiful in their agony of appeal, her lips quivering.

"It is true!" she said, in a voice which, though low, was perfectly audible.

There was an intense silence. No one moved; every eye was fixed on her in breathless excitement. They asked themselves if it were possible they had heard aright. Drake's hand pressed more heavily on Nell's shoulder; she could hear his breath coming heavily, could feel him shake. A faint cry escaped Lady Angleford's parted lips.

"Nell!" she cried.

Nell rose and looked at her with the same agony of appeal in her eyes, but with her face firmly set, as if she were buoyed up by an inflexible resolution.

"What Lady Luce has said is true," she said. "I will go——"

Drake was by her side in an instant. He took her cold hand and drew it within his arm.

"No!" he said. "You will not go——"

He looked at Lady Luce, and there was no need to finish the sentence.

She smiled, and fanned herself slowly.

"Of course, Miss Lorton can explain it all," she said. "I am very sorry to have been the cause, the innocent cause, of such an unpleasant scene. But really you forced me to speak; and we all know that though Miss Lorton has admitted her—what shall I call it?—little escapade, there must be some satisfactory explanation. No one will believe for a moment that she really intended to elope with Sir Archie."

While she had been speaking, some of the guests had edged toward the door. At such moments the kindest thing one can do is to remove oneself as quickly as possible. When a sudden death happens in a ballroom, the dancing ceases, the music stops, the revelers vanish. Something worse than death had happened in this drawing-room. The happiness of more than one life had been blasted as by a stroke of lightning.

There was a general movement toward the door. A group of old friends—county neighbors, real friends of Drake and the countess—gathered round the little group. Falconer and Dick pushed their way through them none too ceremoniously.

"I'll take my sister home, Lord Angleford," said Dick hotly; while Falconer took her hand, his face white, his eyes flashing.

Nell would have drawn away from Drake and turned to them; but he put his arm round her waist and held her by sheer force.

"I beg that no one will go," he said; and his voice, though not loud, rang like a bell. Everybody stopped. "I think every one has heard Lady Lucille's accusation against my future wife," he said. "For reasons which concern herself and me only, my future wife"—he laid an emphasis on the words—"has seen fit not to deny this accusation. I am quite content that it should be so. If we have any friends here let——"

Before he could finish his appeal, the door opened, and Lord and Lady Wolfer entered the room. They were in traveling dress, and Lady Wolfer looked pale and in trouble, while Wolfer's face was grave and stern.

"If any friend, whether it be man or woman, deems an explanation due to them, I will ask Miss Lorton if she can give it to them," continued Drake. "If she should not think fit to do so——"

Lady Wolfer, until now unnoticed except by a very few, came through the circle which at once had formed round the principal actors in this social tragedy. She went straight up to Nell, and took her hand and drew her into her embrace, as if to shelter and succor her. With a faint cry, Nell's head fell on Lady Wolfer's bosom. Lady Wolfer looked round, not defiantly, but with the air of one facing death bravely.

"I will explain," she said. "It was not she who was going to elope with Sir Archie Walbrooke. It was I!"

"No, no; you must not!" panted Nell.

The living circle drew closer, and listened and stared in breathless silence.

"It was I!" said Lady Wolfer.

"You!" exclaimed Lady Luce. "Then Burden——"

"Burden lied," said Lady Wolfer. "I want to tell every one; it is due to this saint, this dear girl, who sacrificed herself to me. I only heard this morning from my husband that he had found a note which Sir Archie had sent me, asking me to leave England with him. He placed this note on a pedestal in my drawing-room. Both my husband and Nell saw it, not knowing that the other had seen it. It never reached me; but this dear girl kept the appointment which Sir Archie had made for the library the next morning. She wanted to save me. I know, almost as if I had been there, how she pleaded with him, how she strove for my honor. While they were there my husband came upon them. The letter was not addressed to me, and he leaned to the conclusion that it was intended for Nell. She permitted him to make the hideous mistake, and, to save me, she left the house with her reputation ruined—in his eyes, at least. Until this morning he has never breathed a word of this to a soul. I am confident that Sir Archie Walbrooke, who went away full of remorse and penitence, has also kept silent. It was reserved for a woman to strike the blow aimed at the honor and happiness of an innocent and helpless girl—a girl so noble that she is ready to lay down her life's happiness and honor rather than betray the friend she loves. Judge between these two, between us three, if you will."

It was not a moment for cheering, but sudden exclamations burst from the men, most of the women were in tears, and Nell was sobbing as she lay on her friend's bosom.

Lady Luce alone remained smiling. Her face was white, her breath came in quick, labored gasps.

"What a charming romance!" she exclaimed, with a forced sneer. "So completely satisfactory!"

At the sound of her voice, the countess' spirit rose in true Anglo-Saxon fashion. She checked her sobs, wiped her eyes with a morsel of lace she called a handkerchief, and, sweeping in a stately manner to the door, said, with the extreme of patrician hauteur:

"A carriage for Lady Lucille Turfleigh, please!"

Lady Luce shrugged her shoulders, turned, and slowly moved toward the door; and, as she went, the crowd made way for her, and left her a clear passage, as if she had suddenly become infectious.

Nell did not see her go, did not hear the mingled expressions of indignation and congratulation which buzzed round her.

All she heard was Drake's "Nell! Nell! My dearest! my own!" as he put his arms round her and drew her head to his breast.

Those persons who are fortunate enough to receive invitations to the summer and shooting parties, which Lord and Lady Angleford give at Anglemere, have very good reason to congratulate themselves; but those who are still more fortunate to receive a letter from Nell, asking them to spend a fortnight at the picturesque and "cottagy" house which Drake has built at a certain out-of-the-way spot in Devonshire called Shorne Mills, go about pluming themselves as if they had drawn one of the prizes in life's lottery. For only very intimate and dear friends are asked to Shorne Mills.

The house is not large. With the exception of the grooms, there are no menservants; there is no state, and very little formality; life there is mostly spent in the open air, in that delicious mixture of sea and moorland air in which everyday worries and anxieties do not seem able to exist.

At The Cottage no one finds time hanging heavily on his or her hands; no one is bored. It is a small Liberty Hall. There are horses to ride; there are tramps to be taken across the heather-scented hills; there are yachting and fishing in the bay, and there is always light-hearted laughter round and about the house—especially when her ladyship's brother, Mr. Dick Lorton, is present; and he and the famous musician, Mr. Falconer, always come down together, and remain while the family occupy The Cottage. There, too, the dowager countess is always a regular visitor; indeed, Nell and she are very seldom apart, for, if the countess could tear herself away from Nell, she certainly could not leave the baby son and heir, who is as often in her arms as in his mother's.

Here, too, come, every year, the Wolfers. In fact, to sum it up, the party is composed of Nell's and Drake's dearest and tried friends, and they one and all have grown to love Shorne Mills almost as keenly as Nell and Drake themselves do. Nell is proud of Anglemere, and the other places which her husband has inherited, but there is a certain corner in her heart which is reserved for the little fishing place in which she first saw, and learned to love, "Drake Vernon."

Watch them as they go down the steep and narrow way to the pier. It is a July evening; the sun is still bright, but the shadows are casting a purple tint on the hills beyond the moor; a faint breeze ripples the opaline bay; the fishing boats are gliding in like "painted ships on a painted ocean"; the tinkle of the cow bells mingles with the shrill cry of the curlew and the guillemot. The Seagull lies at anchor in the bay ready to sail at a moment's notice. But Drake does not signal for the dinghy as Nell and he reach the pier, for, though they are going for a sail, it is not in the stately yacht.

By the slip lies an old herring boat, with Annie Laurie painted on its stern, and Brownie has got the sail up and stands waiting with a smile to help his beloved "Miss Nell" into the old boat. Nell lays her hand upon his shoulder as of old, and steps in and takes the tiller; Drake makes taut the sheet, and the old boat glides away from the slip and sails out into the open.

Drake looks up at the wind with a sailor's eye, and glances at Nell. He does not speak, but she understands, and she steers the Annie Laurie for the little piece of smooth beach which leads to the cave under the cliff. It is to this point they nearly always make; for was it not here that Drake Vernon told Nell Lorton of his love, and drew the confession of hers from her lips? To this place they always come alone, for it is sacred.

As, on this afternoon, they approach the spot, Drake utters an exclamation of surprise.

"Why, Nell, there's another boat there!" he says.

"Not really, Drake?" she says, with a little disappointment in her voice.

For the moments they spend in this spot are sweet and precious to her.

"Yes, there is," he says; "and, by George; there are two persons sitting on the bowlder—our bowlder!"

Nell looks with keen eyes; then she blushes, and laughs softly.

"Drake, it's Dick and Lettie Angel!" she says, in a whisper, as if they could hear her.

But she need not be afraid; the two young people who are seated on the spot sacred to Nell and Drake's love, have no ears nor eyes for any but themselves. The girl's face is downcast and blushing, and Dick's is upturned to hers. He has got hold of her hand; he is pleading as—well, as a certain Drake Vernon once pleaded to a certain Nell Lorton.

Nell and Drake exchange glances full of tenderness, full of sympathy.

"Ourselves over again, dearest!" he says, in a low and loving voice. "Put her round; we won't disturb them. God bless them, and send them happiness like unto ours!"

And "Amen!" whispers Nell, her eyes full of tears.

THE END

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