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Stella Fregelius
by H. Rider Haggard
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"Why did you not wait for me?" he asked in an irritated voice, "I told you I was coming, and you know that I do not like you to be tramping about these lonely cliffs at this hour."

"It is very kind of you," she answered, smiling that slow, soft smile which was characteristic of her when she was pleased, a smile that seemed to be born in her beautiful eyes and thence to irradiate her whole face; "but it was growing dreary and cold there, so I thought that I would start."

"Yes," he answered, "I forgot, and, what is more, it is very selfish of me to keep you cooped up in such a place upon a winter's day. Enthusiasm makes one forget everything."

"At least without it we should do nothing; besides, please do not pity me, for I have never been happier in my life."

"I am most grateful," he said earnestly. "I don't know what I should have done without you through this critical time, or what I shall——" and he stopped.

"It went beautifully to-day, didn't it?" she broke in, as though she had not heard his words.

"Yes," he answered, "beyond all expectations. We must experiment over a greater distance, and then if the thing still works I shall be able to speak with my critics in the gate. You know I have kept everything as dark as possible up to the present, for it is foolish to talk first and fail afterwards. I prefer to succeed first and talk afterwards."

"What a triumph it will be!" said Stella. "All those clever scientists will arrive prepared to mock, then think they are taken in, and at last go away astonished to write columns upon columns in the papers."

"And after that?" queried Morris.

"Oh, after that, honour and glory and wealth and power and—the happy ending. Doesn't it sound nice?"

"Ye—es, in a way. But," he added with energy, "it won't come off. No, not the aerophones, they are right enough I believe, but all the rest of it."

"Why not?"

"Because it is too much. 'Happy endings' don't come off. The happiness lies in the struggle, you know,—an old saying, but quite true. Afterwards something intervenes."

"To have struggled happily and successfully is happiness in itself. Whatever comes afterwards nothing can take that away. 'I have done something; it is good; it cannot be changed; it is a stone built for ever in the pyramid of beauty, or knowledge, or advancement.' What can man hope to say more at the last, and how few live to say it, to say it truly? You will leave a great name behind you, Mr. Monk."

"I shall leave my work; that is enough for me," he answered.

For a while they walked in silence; then some thought struck him, and he stopped to ask:

"Why did Layard come to the Dead Church to-day? He said that he was going home, and it isn't on his road."

Stella turned her head, but, even in that faint light, not quickly enough to prevent him seeing a sudden flush change the pallor of her face to the rich colour of her lips.

"To call, I suppose; or," correcting herself, "perhaps from curiosity."

"And what did he talk about?"

"Oh, the aerophone, I think; I don't remember."

"That must be a story," he said, laughing. "I always remember Layard's conversation for longer than I want; it has a knack of impressing itself upon me. What was it? Cemetery land, church debts, the new drainage scheme, or something equally entrancing and confidential?"

Under this cross-examination Stella grew desperate, unnecessarily, perhaps, and said in a voice that was almost cross:

"I cannot tell you; please let's talk of something else."

Then of a sudden Morris understood, and, like a foolish man, at once jumped to a conclusion far other than the truth. Doubtless Layard had gone to the church to propose to Stella, and she had accepted him, or half accepted him; the confusion of her manner told its own tale. A new and strange sensation took possession of Morris. He felt unwell; he felt angry; if the aerophone refused to work at all to-morrow, he would care nothing. He could not see quite clearly, and was not altogether sure where he was walking.

"I beg your pardon," he said in a cold voice, as he recovered himself; "it was most impertinent of me." He was going to add, "pray accept my congratulations," but fortunately, or unfortunately, stopped himself in time.

Stella divined something of what was passing in his mind; not all, indeed, for to her the full measure of his folly would have been incomprehensible. For a moment she contemplated an explanation, then abandoned the idea because she could find no words; because, also, this was another person's secret, and she had no right to involve an honest man, who had paid her a great compliment, in her confidences. So she said nothing. To Morris, for the moment at any rate, a conclusive proof of his worst suspicions.

The rest of that walk was marked by unbroken silence. Both of them were very glad when it was finished.

It was five o'clock when they reached the Abbey, so that there were two hours to be spent before it was time to dress for dinner. When she had taken off her things Stella went straight to her father's room to give him his tea. By now Mr. Fregelius was much better, although the nature of his injuries made it imperative that he should still stay in bed.

"Is that you, Stella?" he said, in his high, nervous voice, and, although she could not see them in the shadow of the curtain, she knew that his quick eyes were watching her face eagerly.

"Yes, father, I have brought you your tea. Are you ready for it?"

"Thank you, my dear. Have you been at that place—what do you call it?—the Dead Church, all day?"

"Yes, and the experiments went beautifully."

"Did they, did they indeed?" commented her father in an uninterested voice. The fate of the experiments did not move him. "Isn't it very lonely up there in that old church?"

"I prefer to be alone—generally."

"I know, I know. Forgive me; but you are a very odd woman, my dear."

"Perhaps, father; but not more so than those before me, am I? Most of them were a little different from other people, I have been told."

"Quite right, Stella; they were all odd women, but I think that you are quite the oddest of the family." Then, as though the subject were disagreeable to him, he added suddenly: "Mr. Layard came to see me to-day."

"So he told me," answered Stella.

"Oh, you have met him. I remember; he said he should call in at the Dead Church, as he had something to say to you."

Stella determined to get the conversation over, so she forced the pace. She was a person who liked to have disagreeable things behind her. Drawing herself up, she answered steadily:

"He did call in, and—he said it."

"What, my dear, what?" asked Mr. Fregelius innocently.

"He asked me to marry him, father; I think he told me with your consent."

Mr. Fregelius, auguring the very best from this openness, answered in tones which he could not prevent from betraying an unseemly joy.

"Quite true, Stella; I told him to go on and prosper; and really I hope he has prospered."

"Yes," said Stella reflectively.

"Then, my dear love, am I to understand that you are engaged to him?"

"Engaged to him! Certainly not," she answered.

"Then," snapped out her justly indignant parent, "how in the name of Heaven has he prospered?"

"By my refusing him, of course. We should never have suited each other at all; he would have been miserable if I had married him."

Mr. Fregelius groaned in bitterness of spirit.

"Oh, Stella, Stella," he cried, "what a disappointment!"

"Why should you be disappointed, father dear?" she asked gently.

"Why? You stand there and ask why, when I hear that my daughter, who will scarcely have a sixpence—or at least very few of them—has refused a young man with between seventeen and eighteen thousand pounds a year—that's his exact income, for he told me himself, a most estimable churchman, who would have been a pillar of strength to me, a man whom I should have chosen out of ten thousand as a son-in-law——" and he ceased, overwhelmed.

"Father, I am sorry that you are sorry, but it is strange you should understand me so little after all these years, that you could for one moment think that I should marry Mr. Layard."

"And why not, pray? Are you better born——"

"Yes," interrupted Stella, whose one pride was that of her ancient lineage.

"I didn't mean that. I meant better bred and generally superior to him? You talk as though you were of a different clay."

"Perhaps the clay is the same," said Stella, "but the mind is not."

"Oh, there it is again, spiritual and intellectual pride, which causes you to set yourself above your fellows, and in the end will be your ruin. It has made a lonely woman of you for years, and it will do worse than that. It will turn you into an old maid—if you live," he added, as though shaken by some sudden memory.

"Perhaps," said Stella, "I am not frightened at the prospect. I daresay that I shall have a little money and at the worst I can always earn a living; my voice would help me to it, if nothing else does. Father, dear, you mustn't be vexed with me; and pray—pray do understand that no earthly thing would make me marry a man whom I dislike rather than otherwise; who, at least, is not a mate for me, merely because he could give me a fine house to live in, and treat me luxuriously. What would be the good of such things to me if I knew that I had tarnished myself and violated my instincts?"

"You talk like a book—you talk like a book," muttered the old gentleman. "But I know that the end of it will be wretchedness for everybody. People who go on as you do about instincts, and fine feelings, and all that stuff, are just the ones who get into some dreadful mess at last. I tell you that such ideas are some of the devil's best baits."

Stella began to grow indignant.

"Do you think, father, that you ought to talk to me quite like that?" she asked. "Don't you know me well enough to be sure that I should never get into what you call a mess—at least, not in the way I suppose you mean? My heart and thought are my own, and I shall be prepared to render account of them; for the rest, you need not be afraid."

"I didn't mean that—I didn't mean anything of the sort——"

"I am glad to hear it," broke in Stella. "It would scarcely have been kind, especially as I am no longer a child who needs to be warned against the dangers of the world."

"What I did mean is that you are an enigma; that I am frightened about you; that you are no companion; because your thoughts—yes, and at times your face, too—seem unnatural, unearthly, and separate you from others, as they have separated you from this poor young man."

"I am what I was made," answered Stella with a little smile, "and I seek company where I can find it. Some love the natural, some the spiritual, and each receive from them their good. Why should they blame one another?"

"Mad," muttered her father to himself as she left the room. "Mad as she is charming and beautiful; or, if not mad, at least quite impracticable and unfitted for the world. What a disappointment to me—what a bitter disappointment! Well, I should be used to them by now."

Meanwhile, Morris was in his workshop in the old chapel entering up his record of the day's experiments, which done, he drew his chair to the stove and fell into thought. Somehow the idea of the engagement of Miss Fregelius to Stephen Layard was not agreeable to him; probably because he did not care about the young man. Yet, now that he came to think of it quietly, in all her circumstances it would be an admirable arrangement, and the offer undoubtedly was one which she had been wise to accept. On the whole, such a marriage would be as happy as marriages generally are. The man was honest, the man was young and rich, and very soon the man would be completely at the disposal of his brilliant and beautiful wife.

Personally he, Morris, would lose a friend, since a woman cannot marry and remain the friend of another man. That, however, would probably have happened in any case, and to object on this account, even in his secret heart, would be abominably selfish. Indeed, what right had he even to consider the matter? The young lady had come into his life very strangely, and made a curious impression upon him; she was now going out of it by ordinary channels, and soon nothing but the impression would remain. It was proper, natural, and the way of the world; there was nothing more to be said.

Somehow he was in a dreary mood, and everything bored him. He fetched Mary's last letter. There was nothing in it but some chit-chat, except the postscript, which was rather longer than the letter, and ran:

"I am glad to hear the young lady whom you fished up out of the sea is such an assistance to you in your experiments. I gather from what I hear—although you haven't mentioned the fact—that she is as beautiful as she is charming, and that she sings wonderfully. She must be something remarkable, I am sure, because Eliza Layard evidently detests her, and says that she is trying to ensnare the affections of that squire of dames, her brother Stephen, now temporarily homeless after a visit to Jane Rose. What will you do when you have to get on without her? I am afraid you must accustom yourself to the idea, unless she would like to make a third in the honeymoon party. Joking apart, I am exceedingly grateful to her for all the help she has given you, and, dear, dear Morris, more delighted than I can tell you to learn that after all your years of patient labour you believe success to be absolutely within sight.

"My father, I am sorry to say, is no better; indeed, although the doctors deny it, I believe he is worse, and I see no prospect of our getting away from here at present. However, don't let that bother you, and above all, don't think of coming out to this place which makes you miserable, and where you can't work. What a queer menage you must be at the Abbey now! You and the Star who has risen from the ocean—she ought to have been called Venus—tete-a-tete, and the, I gather, rather feeble and uninteresting old gentleman in bed upstairs. I should like to see you when you didn't know. Why don't you invent a machine to enable people at a distance to see as well as to hear each other? It would be very popular and bring Society to utter wreck. Does the Northern star—she is Danish, isn't she?—make good coffee, and how, oh! how does she get on with the cook?"

Morris put down the letter and laughed aloud. Mary was as amusing as ever, and he longed to see her again, especially as he was convinced that she was really bored out there at Beaulieu, with Mr. Porson sick, and his father very much occupied with his own affairs. In a moment he made up his mind; he would go out and see her. Of course, he could ill spare the time, but for the present the more pressing of his experiments were completed, and he could write up his "data" there. Anyway, he would put in a fortnight at Beaulieu, and, what is more, start to-morrow if it could be arranged.

He went to the table and began a letter to Mary announcing that she might expect to see him sometime on the day that it reached her. When he had got so far as this he remembered that the dressing bell had already rung some minutes, and ran upstairs to change his clothes. As he fastened his tie he thought to himself sadly that this would be his last dinner with Stella Fregelius, and as he brushed his hair he determined that unless she had other wishes, it should be as happy as it could be made. He would like this final meal to be the pleasantest of all their meals, and although, of course, he had no right to form an opinion on the matter, he thought that perhaps she might like it, too. They were going to part, to enter on different walks of life—for now, be it said, he had quite convinced himself that she was engaged—so let their parting memories of each other be as agreeable as possible.

Meanwhile, Stella also had her reflections. Her conversation with her father had troubled her, more, perhaps, than her remarks might have suggested. There was little between this pair except the bond of blood, which sometimes seems to be so curiously accidental, so absolutely devoid of influence in promoting mutual sympathies, or in opening the door to any deep and real affection. Still, notwithstanding this lack of true intimacy, Stella loved her father as she felt that he loved her, and it gave her pain to be forced to cross his wishes. She knew with what a fierce desire, although he was ashamed to express all its intensity, he desired that she should accept this, the first chance of wealthy and successful marriage that had come her way, and the anguish which her absolute refusal must have entailed upon his heart.

Of course, it was very worldly of him, and therefore reprehensible; yet to a great extent she could sympathise with his disappointment. At bottom he was a proud man, although he repressed his pride and kept it secret. He was an ambitious man, also, and his lot had been confined to humble tasks, absolutely unrecognised beyond his parish, of a remotely-placed country parson. Moreover, his family had been rich; he had been brought up to believe that he himself would be rich, and then, owing to certain circumstances, was doomed to pass his days in comparative poverty.

Even death had laid a heavy hand on him; she was the last of her race, and she knew he earnestly desired that she should marry and bear children so that it might not become extinct. And now this chance, this princely chance, which, from his point of view, seemed to fill every possible condition, had come unawares, like a messenger from Heaven, and she refused its entertainment. Looked at through his eyes the position was indeed cruel.

Yet, deeply as she sympathised with him in his disappointment, Stella never for one moment wavered in her determination. Marry Mr. Layard! Her blood shrank back to her heart at the very thought, and then rushed to her neck and bosom in a flood of shame. No, she was sorry, but that was impossible, a thing which no woman should be asked to do against her will.

The subject wearied her, but as brooding on it could not mend matters, she dismissed it from her mind, and turned her thoughts to Morris. Why, she did not know, but something had come between them; he was vexed with her, and what was more, disappointed; she could feel it well enough, and—she found his displeasure painful. What had she done wrong, how had she offended him? Surely it could not be—and once again that red blush spread itself over face and bosom. He could not believe that she had accepted the man! He could never have so grossly misunderstood her, her nature, her ideas, everything about her! And yet who knew what he would or would not believe? In some ways, as she had already discovered, Mr. Monk was curiously simple. How could she tell him the truth without using words which she did not desire to speak? Here instinct came to her aid. It might be done by making herself as agreeable to him as possible, for surely he must know that no girl would do her best to please one man when she had just promised herself to another. So it came about that quite innocently Stella determined to allay her host's misgivings by this doubtful and dangerous expedient.

To begin with, she put on her best dress—a low bodice of black silk relieved with white and a single scarlet rose from the hothouse. Round her neck also, fastened by a thin chain, she wore a large blood-red carbuncle shaped like a heart, and about her slender waist a quaint girdle of ancient Danish silver, two of the ornaments which she had saved from the shipwreck. Her dark and waving hair she parted in the middle after a new fashion, tying its masses in a heavy knot at the back of her head, and thus adorned descended to the library where Morris was awaiting her.

He stood leaning over the fire with his back towards her, but hearing the sweep of a skirt turned round, and as his eyes fell upon her, started a little. Never till he saw her thus had he known how beautiful Stella was at times. Quite without design his eyes betrayed his thought, but with his lips he said merely as he offered her his arm,—

"What a pretty dress! Did it come out of Northwold?"

"The material did; I made it up, and I am glad that you think it nice."

This was a propitious beginning, and the dinner that followed did not belie its promise. The conversation turned upon one of the Norse sagas that Stella had translated, for which Morris had promised to try to find a publisher. Then abandoning the silence and reserve which were habitual to him he began to talk, asking her about her work and her past. She answered him freely enough, telling him of her school days in Denmark, of her long holiday visits to the old Danish grandmother, whose memory stretched back through three generations, and whose mind was stored with traditions of men and days now long forgotten. This particular saga, she said, had, for instance, never been written in its entirety till she took it down from the old dame's lips, much as in the fifteenth century the Iceland sagas were recorded by Snorro Sturleson and others. Even the traditional music of the songs as they were sung centuries ago she had received from her with their violin accompaniments.

"I have one in the house," broke in Morris, "a violin—rather a good instrument; I used to play a little when I was young. I wish, if you don't mind, that you would sing them to me after dinner."

"I will try if you like," she answered, "but I don't know how I shall get on, for my own old fiddle, to which I am accustomed, went to the bottom with a lot of other things in that unlucky shipwreck. You know we came by sea because it seemed so cheap, and that was the end of our economy. Fortunately, all our heavy baggage and furniture were not ready, and escaped."

"I do not call it unlucky," said Morris with grave courtesy, "since it gave me the honour of your acquaintance; or perhaps I may say of your friendship."

"Yes," she answered, looking pleased; "certainly you may say of my friendship. It is owing to the man who saved my life, is it not,—with a great deal more that I can never pay?"

"Don't speak of it," he said. "That midnight sail was my one happy inspiration, my one piece of real good luck."

"Perhaps," and she sighed, "that is, for me, though who can tell? I have often wondered what made you do it, there was so little to go on."

"I have told you, inspiration, pure inspiration."

"And what sent the inspiration, Mr. Monk?"

"Fate, I suppose."

"Yes, I think it must be what we call fate—if it troubles itself about so small a thing as the life of one woman."

Then, to change the subject, she began to talk of the Northumberland moors and mountains, and of their years of rather dreary existence among them, till at length it was time to leave the table. This they did together, for even then Morris drank very little wine.

"May I get you the violin, and will you sing?" he asked eagerly, when they reached the library.

"If you wish it I will try."

"Then come to the chapel; there is a good fire, and it is put away there."

Presently they were in the ancient place, where Morris produced the violin from the cupboard, and having set a new string began to tune it.

"That is a very good instrument," said Stella, her eyes shining, "you don't know what you have brought upon yourself. Playing the violin is my pet insanity, and once or twice since I have been here, when I wanted it, I have cried over the loss of mine, especially as I can't afford to buy another. Oh! what a lovely night it is; look at the full moon shining on the sea and snow. I never remember her so bright; and the stars, too; they glitter like great diamonds."

"It is the frost," answered Morris. "Yes, everything is beautiful to-night."

Stella took the violin, played a note or two, then screwed up the strings to her liking.

"Do you really wish me to sing, Mr. Monk?" she asked.

"Of course; more than I can tell you."

"Then, will you think me very odd if I ask you to turn out the electric lamps? I can sing best so. You stand by the fire, so that I can see my audience; the moon through this window will give me all the light I want."

He obeyed, and now she was but an ethereal figure, with a patch of red at her heart, and a line of glimmering white from the silver girdle beneath her breast, on whose pale face the moonbeams poured sweetly. For a while she stood thus, and the silence was heavy in that beautiful, dismantled place of prayer. Then she lifted the violin, and from the first touch of the bow Morris knew that he was in the presence of a mistress of one of the most entrancing of the arts. Slow and sweet came the plaintive, penetrating sounds, that seemed to pass into his heart and thrill his every nerve. Now they swelled louder, now they almost died away; and now, only touching the strings from time to time, she began to sing in her rich, contralto voice. He could not understand the words, but their burden was clear enough; they were a lament, the lament of some sorrowing woman, the sweet embodiment of an ancient and forgotten grief thus embalmed in heavenly music.

It was done; the echoes of the following notes of the violin fainted and died among the carven angels of the roof. It was done, and Morris sighed aloud.

"How can I thank you?" he said. "I knew that you were a musician, but not that you had such genius. To listen to you makes a man feel very humble."

She laughed. "The voice is a mere gift, for which no one deserves credit, although, of course, it can be improved."

"If so, what of the accompaniment?"

"That is different; that comes from the heart and hard work. Do you know that when I was under my old master out in Denmark, who in his time was one of the finest of violinists in the north of Europe, I often played for five and sang for two hours a day? Also, I have never let the thing drop; it has been the consolation and amusement of a somewhat lonely life. So, by this time, I ought to understand my art, although there remains much to be learnt."

"Understand it! Why, you could make a fortune on the stage."

"A living, perhaps, if my voice will bear the continual strain. I daresay that some time I shall drift there—for the living—not because I like the trade or have any wish for popular success. It is a fact that I had far rather sing alone to you here to-night, and know that you are pleased, than be cheered by a whole opera house full of strange people."

"And I—oh, I cannot explain! Sing on, sing all you can, for to-morrow I must go away."

"Go away!" she faltered.

"Yes; I will explain to you afterwards. But please sing while I am here to listen."

The words struck heavy on her heart, numbing it—why, she knew not. For a moment she felt helpless, as though she could neither sing nor play. She did not wish him to go; she did not wish him to go. Her intellect came to her aid. Why should he go? Heaven had given her power, and this man could feel its weight. Would it not suffice to keep him from going? She would try; she would play and sing as she had never done before; sing till his heart was soft, play till his feet had no strength to wander beyond the sound of the sweet notes her art could summon from this instrument of strings and wood.

So again she began, and played on, and on, and on, from time to time letting the bow fall, to sing in a flood of heavenly melody that seemed by nature to fall from her lips, note after note, as dew or honey fall drop by drop from the calyx of some perfect flower. Now long did she play and sing those sad, mysterious siren songs? They never knew. The moon travelled on its appointed course, and as its beams passed away gradually that divine musician grew dimmer to his sight. Now only the stars threw their faint light about her, but still she played on, and on, and on. The music swelled, it told of dead and ancient wars, "where all day long the noise of battle rolled"; it rose shrill and high, and in it rang the scream of the Valkyries preparing the feast of Odin. It was low, and sad, and tender, the voice of women mourning for their dead. It changed; it grew unearthly, spiritualised, such music as those might use who welcome souls to their long home. Lastly, it became rich and soft and far as the echo of a dream, and through it could be heard sighs and the broken words of love, that slowly fell away and melted as into the nothingness of some happy sleep.

The singer was weary; her fingers could no longer guide the bow; her voice grew faint. For a moment, she stood still, looking in the flicker of the fire and the pale beams of the stars like some searcher returned from heaven to earth. Then, half fainting, down she sank upon a chair.

Morris turned on the lamps, and looked at this fair being, this chosen home of Music, who lay before him like a broken lily. Then back into his heart with a chilling shock came the thought that this woman, to him at least the most beautiful and gifted his eyes had seen, had promised herself in marriage to Stephen Layard; that she, her body, her mind, her music—all that made her the Stella Fregelius whom he knew—were the actual property of Stephen Layard. Could it be true? Was it not possible that he had made some mistake? that he had misunderstood? A burning desire came upon him to know, to know before he went, and upon the forceful impulse of that moment he did what at any other time would have filled him with horror. He asked her; the words broke from his lips; he could not help them.

"Is it true," he said, with something like a groan, "can it be true that you—you are really going to marry that man?"

Stella sat up and looked at him. So she had guessed aright. She made no pretence of fencing with him, or of pretending that she did not know to whom he referred.

"Are you mad to ask me such a thing?" she asked, with a strange break in her voice.

"I am sorry," he began.

She stamped her foot upon the ground.

"Oh!" she said, "it hurts me, it hurts—from my father I understood, but that you should think it possible that I would sell myself—I tell you that it hurts," and as she spoke two large tears began to roll from her lovely pleading eyes.

"Then you mean that you refused him?"

"What else?"

"Thank you. Of course, I have no right to interfere, but forgive me if I say that I cannot help feeling glad. Even if it is taken on the ground of wealth you can easily make as much money as you want without him," and he glanced at the violin which lay beside her.

She made no reply, the subject seemed to have passed from her mind. But presently she lifted her head again, and in her turn asked a question.

"Did you not say that you are going away to-morrow?"

Then something happened to the heart and brain and tongue of Morris Monk so that he could not speak the thing he wished. He meant to answer a monosyllable "Yes," but in its place he replied with a whole sentence.

"I was thinking of doing so; but after all I do not know that it will be necessary; especially in the middle of our experiments."

Stella said nothing, not a single word. Only she found her handkerchief, and without in the least attempting to hide them, there before his eyes wiped the two tears off her face, first one and then the other.

This done she held out her hand to him and left the room.



CHAPTER XIV

THE RETURN OF THE COLONEL

Next morning Morris and Stella met at breakfast as usual, but as though by mutual consent neither of them alluded to the events of the previous evening. Thus the name of Mr. Layard was "taboo," nor were any more questions asked, or statements volunteered as to that journey, the toils of which Morris had suddenly discovered he was after all able to avoid. This morning, as it chanced, no experiments were carried on, principally because it was necessary for Stella to spend the day in the village doing various things on behalf of her father, and lunching with the wife of Dr. Charters, who was one of the churchwardens.

By the second post, which arrived about three o'clock, Morris received two letters, one from his father and one from Mary. There was something about the aspect of these letters that held his eye. That from his father was addressed with unusual neatness, the bold letters being written with all the care of a candidate in a calligraphic competition. The stamps also were affixed very evenly, and the envelope was beautifully sealed with the full Monk coat done in black wax. These, as experience told him, were signs that his father had something important to communicate, since otherwise everything connected with his letters was much more casual. Further, to speak at hazard, he should judge that this matter, whatever it might be, was not altogether disagreeable to the writer.

Mary's letter also had its peculiarities. She always wrote in a large, loose scrawl, running the words into one another after the idle fashion which was an index to her character. In this instance, however, the fault had been carried to such an extreme that the address was almost illegible; indeed, Morris wondered that the letter had not been delayed. The stamps, too, were affixed anyhow, and the envelope barely closed.

"Something has happened," he thought to himself. Then he opened Mary's letter. It was dated Tuesday, that is, two days before, and ran:

"Dearest,—My father is dead, my poor old father, and now I have nobody but you left in the world. Thank God, at the last he was without pain and, they thought, insensible; but I know he wasn't, because he squeezed my hand. Some of his last words that could be understood were, 'Give my love to Morris.' Oh! I feel as though my heart would break. After my mother's death till you came into my life, he was everything to me—everything, everything. I can't write any more.

"Your loving "Mary."

"P.S. Don't trouble to come out here. It is no good. He is to be buried to-morrow, and next day I am going 'en retraite' for a month, as I must have time to get over this—to accustom myself to not seeing him every morning when I come down to breakfast. You remember my French friend, Gabrielle d'Estree? Well; she is a nun now, a sub-something or other in a convent near here where they take in people for a payment. Somehow she heard my father was dead, and came to see me, and offered to put me up at the convent, which has a beautiful large garden, for I have been there. So I said yes, for I shan't feel lonely with her, and it will be a rest for a month. I shall write to you sometimes, and you needn't be afraid, they won't make me a Roman Catholic. Your father objected at first, but now he quite approves; indeed, I told him at last that I meant to go whether he approved or not. It seems it doesn't matter from a business point of view, as you and he are left executors of my father's will. When the month is up I will come to England, and we will settle about getting married. This is the address of the convent as nearly as I can remember it. Letters will reach me there."

Morris laid down the sheet with a sad heart, for he had been truly attached to his uncle Porson, whose simple virtues he understood and appreciated. Then he opened his father's letter, which began in an imposing manner:

"My Dear Son (usually he called him Morris),—It is with the deepest grief that I must tell you that poor John Porson, your uncle, passed away this morning about ten o'clock. I was present at the time, and did my best to soothe his last moments with such consolations as can be offered by a relative who is not a clergyman. I wished to wire the sad event to you, but Mary, in whom natural grief develops a self-will that perhaps is also natural, peremptorily refused to allow it, alleging that it was useless to alarm you and waste money on telegrams (how like a woman to think of money at such a moment) when it was quite impossible that you could arrive here in time for the funeral (for he wouldn't be brought home), which, under these queer foreign regulations, must take place to-morrow. Also she announced, to my surprise, and, I must admit, somewhat to my pain, that she intended to immure herself for a month in a convent, after the fashion of the Roman faith, so that it was no use your coming, as men are not admitted into these places. It never seems to have occurred to her that under this blow I should have liked the consolation of her presence, or that I might wish to see you, my son. Still, you must not think too much of all this, although I have felt bound to bring it to your notice, since women under such circumstances are naturally emotional, rebellious against the decrees of Providence, and consequently somewhat selfish.

"To turn to another subject. I am glad to be able to inform you—you will please accept this as an official notice of the fact—that on reading a copy of your uncle's will, which by his directions was handed to me after his death, I find that he has died much better off even than I expected. The net personalty will amount to quite 100,000 pounds, and there is large realty, of which at present I do not know the value. All this is left to Mary with the fullest possible powers of disposal. You and I are appointed executors with a complimentary legacy of 500 pounds to you, and but 100 pounds to me. However, the testator 'in consideration of the forthcoming marriage between his son Morris and my daughter Mary, remits all debts and obligations that may be due to his estate by the said Richard Monk, Lieutenant-Colonel, Companion of the Bath, and an executor of this will.' This amounts to something, of course, but I will not trouble you with details at the moment.

"After all, now that I come to think of it, it is as well that you should not leave home at present, as there will be plenty of executor's business to keep you on the spot. No doubt you will hear from your late uncle's lawyers, Thomas and Thomas, and as soon as you do so you had better go over to Seaview and take formal possession of it and its contents as an executor of the will. I have no time to write more at present, as the undertaker is waiting to see me about the last arrangements for the interment, which takes place at the English cemetery here. The poor man has gone, but at least we may reflect that he can be no more troubled by sickness, etc., and it is a consolation to know that he has made arrangements so eminently proper under the circumstances.

"Your affectionate father,

"Richard Monk.

"P.S. I shall remain here for a little while so as to be near Mary in case she wishes to see me, and afterwards work homewards via Paris. I expect to turn up at the Abbey in a fortnight's time or so."

"Quite in his best style," reflected Morris to himself. "'Remits all debts and obligations that may be due to his estate by the said Richard Monk.' I should be surprised if they don't amount to a good lot. No wonder my father is going to return via Paris; he must feel quite rich again."

Then he sat down to write to Mary.

Under the pressure of this sudden blow—for the fact that Mr. Porson had been for some time in failing health, and the knowledge that his life might terminate at any time, did not seem to make it less sudden—a cloud of depression settled on the Abbey household. Before dinner Morris visited Mr. Fregelius, and told him of what had happened; whereon that pious and kindly, but somewhat inefficient man, bestowed upon him a well-meant lecture of consolation. Appreciating his motives, Morris thanked him sincerely, and was rising to depart, when the clergyman added:

"It is most grievous to me, Mr. Monk, that in these sad hours of mourning you should be forced to occupy your mind with the details of an hospitality which has been forced upon you by circumstances. For the present I fear this cannot be altered——"

"I do not wish it altered," interrupted Morris.

"It is indeed kind of you to say so, but I am happy to state the doctor tells me if I continue to progress as well as at present, I shall be able to leave your roof——"

"My father's roof," broke in Morris again.

"I beg pardon—your father's roof—in about a fortnight."

"I am sorry to hear it, sir; and please clear your mind of the idea that you have ceased to be welcome. Your presence and that of Miss Fregelius will lessen, not increase, my trouble. I should be lonely in this great place with no company but that of my own thoughts."

"I am glad to hear you say so. Whether you feel it or not you are kind, very kind."

And so for the while they parted. When she came in that afternoon, Mr. Fregelius told Stella the news; but, as it happened, she did not see Morris until she met him at dinner time.

"You have heard?" he asked.

"Oh, yes," she answered; "and I am sorry, so sorry. I do not know what more to say."

"There is nothing to be said," answered Morris; "my poor uncle had lived out his life—he was sixty-eight, you know, and there is an end."

"Were you fond of him? Forgive me for asking, but people are not always fond—really fond—of those who happen to be their relations."

"Yes, I was very fond of him. He was a good man, though simple and self-made; very kind to everybody; especially to myself."

"Then do not grieve for him, his pains are over, and some day you will meet him again, will you not?"

"I suppose so; but in the presence of death faith falters."

"I know; but I think that is when it should be strongest and clearest, that is when we should feel that whatever else is unreal and false, this is certain and true."

Morris bowed his head in assent, and there was silence for a while.

"I am afraid that Miss Porson must feel this very much," Stella said presently.

"Yes, she seems quite crushed. She was his only living child, you know."

"Are you not going to join her?"

"No, I cannot; she has gone into a convent for a month, near Beaulieu, and I am afraid the Sisters would not let me through their gates."

"Is she a Catholic?"

"Not at all, but an old friend of hers holds some high position in the place, and she has taken a fancy to be quiet there for a while."

"It is very natural," answered Stella, and nothing more was said upon the subject.

Stella neither played the violin nor sang that night, nor, indeed, again while she remained alone with Morris at the Abbey. Both of them felt that under the circumstances this form of pleasure would be out of place, if not unfeeling, and it was never suggested. For the rest, however, their life went on as usual. On two or three occasions when the weather was suitable some further experiments were carried out with the aerophone, but on most days Stella was engaged in preparing the Rectory, a square, red-brick house, dating from the time of George III., to receive them as soon as her father could be moved. Very fortunately, as has been said, their journey in the steamer Trondhjem had been decided upon so hurriedly that there was no time to allow them to ship their heavy baggage and furniture, which were left to follow, and thus escaped destruction. Now at length these had arrived, and the unpacking and arrangement gave her constant thought and occupation, in which Morris occasionally assisted.

One evening, indeed, he stayed in the Rectory with her, helping to hang some pictures till about half-past six o'clock, when they started for the Abbey. As it chanced, a heavy gale was blowing that night, one of the furious winter storms which are common on this coast, and its worst gusts beat upon Stella so fiercely that she could scarcely stand, and was glad to accept the support of Morris's arm. As they struggled along the high road thus, a particularly savage blast tore the hood of Stella's ulster from her head, whereupon, leaning over her in such a position that his face was necessarily quite close to her own, with some difficulty he managed to replace the hood.

It was while Morris was so engaged that a dog-cart, which because of the roar of the wind he did not hear, and because of his position he could not see until it was almost passing them, came slowly down the road.

Then catching the gleam of the lamps he looked up and started back, thinking that they were being run into, to perceive that the occupants of the dog-cart were Stephen and Eliza Layard.

At the same moment Stephen recognised them, as indeed he could scarcely help doing with the light of the powerful lamp shining full upon their faces. He shouted something to his sister, who also stared coldly at the pair. Then a kind of fury seemed to seize the little man; at any rate, he shook his clenched fist in a menacing fashion, and brought down the whip with a savage cut upon the horse. As the animal sprang forward, moreover, Morris could almost have sworn that he heard the words "kissing her," spoken in Stephen's voice, followed by a laugh from Eliza.

Then the dog-cart vanished into the darkness, and the incident was closed.

For a moment Morris stood angry and astonished, but reflecting that in this wind his ears might have deceived him, and that, at any rate, Stella had heard nothing through her thick frieze hood, he once more offered his arm and walked forward.

The next day was Sunday, when, as usual, he escorted Stella to church. The Layards were there also, but he noticed that, somewhat ostentatiously, they hurried from the building immediately on the conclusion of the service, and it struck him that this demonstration might have some meaning. Eliza, whom he afterwards observed, engaged apparently in eager conversation with a knot of people on the roadway, was, as he knew well, no friend to him, for reasons which he could guess. Nor, as he had heard from various quarters, was she any friend of Stella Fregelius, any more than she had been to Jane Rose. It struck him that even now she might be employed in sowing scandal about them both, and for Stella's sake the thought made him furious. But even if it were so he did not see what he could do; therefore he tried to think he was mistaken, and to dismiss the matter from his mind.

Colonel Monk had written to say that he was coming home on the Wednesday, but he did not, in fact, put in an appearance till the half-past six train on the following Saturday evening, when he arrived beautifully dressed in the most irreproachable black, and in a very good temper.

"Ah, Morris, old fellow," he said, "I am very pleased to see you again. After all, there is no place like home, and at my time of life nothing to equal quiet. I can't tell you how sick I got of that French hole. If it hadn't been for Mary, and my old friend, Lady Rawlins, who, as usual, was in trouble with that wretched husband of hers—he is an imbecile now, you know—I should have been back long before. Well, how are you getting on?"

"Oh, pretty well, thank you, father," Morris answered, in that rather restrained voice which was natural to him when conversing with his parent. "I think, I really think I have nearly perfected my aerophone."

"Have you? Well, then, I hope you will make something out of it after all these years; not that it much matters now, however," he added contentedly. "By the way, that reminds me, how are our two guests, the new parson and his daughter? That was a queer story about your finding her on the wreck. Are they still here?"

"Yes; but the old gentleman is out of bed now, and he expects to be able to move into the Rectory on Monday."

"Does he? Well, they must have given you some company while you were alone. There is no time like the present. I will go up and see him before I dress for dinner."

Accordingly Morris conducted his father to the Abbot's chamber, and introduced him to the clergyman. Mr. Fregelius was seated in his arm-chair, with a crutch by his side, and on learning who his visitor was, made a futile effort to rise.

"Pray, pray, sir," said the Colonel, "keep seated, or you will certainly hurt your leg again."

"When I should be obliged to inflict myself upon you for another five or six weeks," replied Mr. Fregelius.

"In that case, sir," said the Colonel, with his most courteous bow, "and for that reason only I should consider the accident fortunate," by these happy words making of his guest a devoted friend for ever.

"I don't know how to thank you; I really don't know how to thank you."

"Then pray, Mr. Fregelius, leave the thanks unspoken. What would you have had us—or, rather, my son—do? Turn a senseless, shattered man from his door, and that man his future spiritual pastor and master?"

"But there was more. He, Mr. Monk, I mean, saved my daughter Stella's life. You know, a block or a spar fell on me immediately after the ship struck. Then those cowardly dogs of sailors, thinking that she must founder instantly, threw me into the boat and rowed away, leaving her to her fate in the cabin; whereon your son, acting on some words which I spoke in my delirium, sailed out alone at night and rescued her."

"Yes, I heard something, but Morris is not too communicative. The odd thing about the whole affair, so far as I can gather, is that he should have discovered that there was anybody left on board. But he is a curious fellow, Morris; those things which one would expect him to know he never does know; and the things that nobody else has ever heard of he seems to have at his fingers' ends by instinct, or second sight, or something. Well, it has all turned out for the best, hasn't it?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so," answered Mr. Fregelius, glancing at his injured leg. "At any rate, we are both alive and have not lost many of our belongings."

"Quite so; and under the circumstances you should be uncommonly thankful. But I need not tell a parson that. Well, I can only say that I am delighted to have such a good opportunity of making your acquaintance, which I am sure will lead to our pulling together in parish affairs like a pair of matched horses. Now I must go and dress. But I tell you what, I'll come and smoke a cigar with you afterwards, and put you au fait with all our various concerns. You'll find them a nice lot in this parish, I can tell you, a nice lot. Old Tomley just gave them up as a bad job."

"I hope I shan't do that," replied Mr. Fregelius, after his retreating form.

The Colonel was down to dinner first, and standing warming himself at the library fire when Stella, once more in honour of his arrival arrayed in her best dress, entered the room. The Colonel put up his eyeglass and looked at her as she came down its length.

"By Jove!" he thought to himself, "I didn't know that the clergyman's daughter was like this; nobody ever said so. After all, that fellow Morris can't be half such a fool as he looks, for he kept it dark." Then he stepped forward with outstretched hand.

"You must allow me to introduce myself, Miss Fregelius," he said with an old-fashioned and courtly bow, "and to explain that I have the honour to be my son's father."

She bowed and answered: "Yes, I think I should have known that from the likeness."

"Hum!" said the Colonel. "Even at my age I am not certain that I am altogether flattered. Morris is an excellent fellow, and very clever at electrical machines; but I have never considered him remarkable for personal beauty—not exactly an Adonis, or an Apollo, or a Narcissus, you know."

"I should doubt whether any of them had such a nice face," replied Stella with a smile.

"My word! Now, that is what I call a compliment worth having. But I hear the gentleman himself coming. Shall I repeat it to him?"

"No, please don't, Colonel Monk. I did not mean it for compliment, only for an answer."

"Your wish is a command; but may I make an exception in favour of Miss Porson, who prospectively owns the nice face in question? She would be delighted to know it so highly rated;" and he glanced at her sharply, the look of a man of the world who is trying to read a woman's heart.

"By all means," answered Stella, in an indifferent voice, but recognising in the Colonel one who, as friend or foe, must be taken into account. Then Morris came in, and they went to dinner.

Here also Colonel Monk was very pleasant. He made Stella tell the story of the shipwreck and of her rescue, and generally tried to draw her out in every possible way. But all the while he was watching and taking note of many things. Before they had been together for five minutes he observed that this couple, his son and their visitor, were on terms of extreme intimacy—intimacy so extreme and genuine that in two instances, at least, each anticipated what the other was going to say, without waiting for any words to be spoken. Thus Stella deliberately answered a question that Morris had not put, and he accepted the answer and continued the argument quite as a matter of course. Also, they seemed mysteriously to understand each other's wants, and, worst of all, he noted that when speaking they never addressed each other by name. Evidently just then each of them had but one "you" in the world.

Now, the Colonel had not passed through very varied experiences and studied many sides and conditions of life for nothing; indeed, he would himself explain that he was able to see as far into a brick wall as other folk.

The upshot of all this was that first he thought Morris a very lucky fellow to be an object of undoubted admiration to those beautiful eyes. (It may be explained that the Colonel throughout life had been an advocate of taking such goods as the gods provided; something of a worshipper, too, at the shrine of lovely Thais.) His second reflection was that under all the circumstances it seemed quite time that he returned home to look after him.

"Now, Miss Fregelius," he said, as she rose to leave the table, "when Morris and I have had a glass of wine, and ten minutes to chat over matters connected with his poor uncle's death, I am going to ask you to do me a favour before I go up to smoke a cigar with your father. It is that you will play me a tune on the violin and sing me a song."

"Did Mr. Monk tell you that I played and sang?" she asked.

"No, he did not. Indeed, Mr. Monk has told me nothing whatsoever about you. His, as you may have observed, is not a very communicative nature. The information came from a much less interesting, though, for aught I know, from a more impartial source—the fat page-boy, Thomas, who is first tenor in the Wesleyan chapel, and therefore imagines that he understands music."

"But how could Thomas——" began Morris, when his father cut him short and answered:

"Oh, I'll tell you, quite simply. I had it from the interesting youth's own lips as he unpacked my clothes. It seems that the day before the news of your uncle's death reached this place, Thomas was aroused from his slumbers by hearing what he was pleased to call 'hangels a-'arping and singing.' As soon as he convinced himself that he still lingered on the earth, drawn by the sweetness of the sounds, 'just in his jacket and breeches,' he followed them, until he was sure that they proceeded from your workshop, the chapel.

"Now, as you know, on the upstair passage there still is that queer slit through which the old abbots used to watch the monks at their devotions. Finding the shutter unlocked, the astute Thomas followed their example, as well as he could, for he says there was no light in the chapel except that of the fire, by which presently he made out your figure, Miss Fregelius, sometimes playing the violin, and sometimes singing, and that of Morris—again I must quote—'a-sitting in a chair by the fire with his 'ands at the back of 'is 'ead, a-staring at the floor and rocking 'imself as though he felt right down bad.' No, don't interrupt me, Morris; I must tell my story. It's very amusing.

"Well, Miss Fregelius, he says—and, mind you, this is a great compliment—that you sang and played till he felt as though he would cry when at last you sank down quite exhausted in a chair. Then, suddenly realising that he was very cold, and hearing the stable clock strike two, he went back to bed, and that's the end of the tale. Now you will understand why I have asked you this favour. I don't see why Morris and Thomas should keep it all to themselves."

"I shall be delighted," answered Stella, who, although her cheeks were burning, and she knew that the merciless Colonel was taking note of the fact, on the whole had gone through the ordeal remarkably well. Then she left the room.

As soon as the door closed Morris turned upon his father angrily.

"Oh! my dear boy," the Colonel said, "please do not begin to explain. I know it's all perfectly right, and there is nothing to explain. Why shouldn't you get an uncommonly pretty girl with a good voice to sing to you—while you are still in a position to listen? But if you care to take my advice, next time you will see that the shutter of that hagioscope, or whatever they call it, is locked, as such elevated delights 'a deux' are apt to be misinterpreted by the vulgar. And now, there's enough of this chaff and nonsense. I want to speak to you about the executorship and matters connected with the property generally."

Half an hour later, when the Colonel appeared in the drawing-room, the violin was fetched, and Stella played it and sang afterwards to a piano-forte accompaniment. The performance was not of the same standard, by any means, as that which had delighted Thomas, for Stella did not feel the surroundings quite propitious. Still, with her voice and touch she could not fail, and the result was that before she had done the Colonel grew truly enthusiastic.

"I know a little of music," he said, "and I have heard most of the best singers and violinists during the last forty years; but in the face of all those memories I hope you will allow me to congratulate you, Miss Fregelius. There are some notes in your voice which really reduce me to the condition of peeping Thomas, and, hardened old fellow that I am, almost make me feel inclined to cry."



CHAPTER XV

THREE INTERVIEWS

The next day was a Sunday, and the Colonel went to church, wearing a hat-band four inches deep. Morris, however, declined to accompany him, saying that he had a letter to write to Mary; whereon his father, who at first was inclined to be vexed, replied that he could not be better employed, and that he was to give her his love. Then he asked if Miss Fregelius was coming, but somewhat to his disappointment, was informed that she wished to stay with her father.

"I wonder," thought the Colonel to himself as he strolled to the church, now and again acknowledging greetings or stopping to chat with one of the villagers—"I wonder if they are going to have a little sacred music together in the chapel. If so, upon my soul, I should like to make the congregation. And that pious fellow Morris, too—the blameless Morris—to go philandering about in this fashion. I hope it won't come to Mary's ears; but if it does, luckily, with all her temper, she is a sensible woman, and knows that even Jove nods at times."

After the service the Colonel spoke to various friends, accepted their condolences upon the death of Mr. Porson, and finally walked down the road with Eliza Layard.

"You must have found that all sorts of strange things have happened at the Abbey since you have been away, Colonel Monk," she said presently in a sprightly voice.

"Well, yes; at least I don't know. I understand that Morris has improved that blessed apparatus of his, and the new parson and his daughter have floated to our doors like driftwood. By the way, have you seen Miss Fregelius?"

"Seen her? Yes, I have seen her."

"She is a wonderfully captivating girl, isn't she? So unusual, with those great eyes of hers that seem to vary with the light——"

"Like a cat's," snapped Eliza.

"The light within—I was going to say."

"Oh! I thought you meant the light without. Well, she may be fascinating—to men, but as I am only a woman, I cannot be expected to appreciate that. You see we look more to other things."

"Ah. Well, so far as I am a judge she seemed to me to be pretty well set up in them also. She has a marvellous voice, is certainly a first-class violinist, and I should say extremely well-read, especially in Norse literature."

"Oh! I daresay she is a genius as well as a beauty."

"I gather," said the Colonel with a smile, "that you do not like Miss Fregelius. As my acquaintance with her is limited, would you think me rude if I asked why?"

"How can I be expected to like her, seeing——" and she paused.

"Seeing what, Miss Layard?"

"What, haven't you heard? I thought it was common property."

He shook his head. "I have heard nothing. Go on, pray, this is quite interesting."

"That she led on that silly brother of mine until he proposed to her—yes, proposed to her!—and then refused him. Stephen has been like a crazy creature ever since, moaning, and groaning, and moping till I think that he will go off his head, instead of returning thanks to Providence for a merciful escape."

The Colonel set his lips as though to whistle, then checked himself.

"Under the circumstances, presuming them to be accurately stated, I am not prepared to say who is to be congratulated or who should thank Providence. These things are so individual, are they not? But if one thing is clear, whatever else she is or is not, Miss Fregelius cannot be a fortune-hunter, although she must want money."

"She may want other things more."

"Perhaps. But I am very stupid, I am afraid I do not understand."

"Men, for instance," suggested Eliza.

"Dear me! that sounds almost carnivorous. I am afraid that there are not many about here to satisfy her appetite. Your brother, Morris, the curate at Morton, and myself, if at my age I may creep into that honourable company, are the only single creatures within four miles, and from these Stephen and Morris must apparently be eliminated."

"Why should Morris be eliminated?"

"A reason may occur to you."

"Do you mean because he is engaged? What on earth does that matter?"

"Nothing—in the East—but, rightly or wrongly, we have decided upon a monogamous system; a man can't marry two wives, Miss Layard."

"But he can throw over one girl to marry another."

"Do you suggest that Morris is contemplating this experiment?"

"I? I suggest nothing; all I know is——"

"Well, now, what do you know?"

"If you wish me to tell you, as perhaps I ought, I know this, Colonel Monk, that the other night, when I was driving along the Rectory road, I saw your son, Mr. Monk, kissing this wonderful Miss Fregelius; that is all, and Stephen saw it also, you ask him."

"Thank you; I think I would rather not. But what an odd place for him to choose for this interchange of early Christian courtesies! Also—if you are not mistaken—how well it illustrates that line in the hymn this morning:

"'How many a spot defiles the robe that wraps an earthly saint.'

Such adventures seem scarcely in Morris's line, and I should have thought that even an inexperienced saint would have been more discreet."

"Men always jest at serious things," said Eliza severely.

"Which do you mean—the saints or the kissing? Both are serious enough, but the two in combination——"

"Don't you believe me?" asked Eliza.

"Of course. But could you give me a few details?"

Eliza could and did—with amplifications.

"Now, what do you say, Colonel Monk?" she asked triumphantly.

"I say that I think you have made an awkward mistake, Miss Layard. It seems to me that all you saw is quite consistent with the theory that he was buttoning or arranging the young lady's hood. I understand that the wind was very high that night."

Eliza started; this was a new and unpleasant interpretation which she hastened to repudiate. "Arranging her hood, indeed——"

"When he might have been kissing her? You cannot understand such moderation. Still, it is possible, and he ought to have the benefit of the doubt. Witnesses to character would be valuable in such a case, and his—not to mention the lady's—is curiously immaculate."

"Of course you are entitled to your own opinion, but I have mine."

Suddenly the Colonel changed his bantering, satirical tone, and became stern and withering.

"Miss Layard," he said, "does it occur to you that on evidence which would not suffice to convict a bicyclist of riding on a footpath, you are circulating a scandal of which the issue might be very grave to both the parties concerned?"

"I am not circulating anything. I was telling you privately;" replied Eliza, still trying to be bold.

"I am glad to hear it. I understand that neither you nor your brother have spoken of this extraordinary tale, and I am quite certain that you will not speak of it in the future."

"I cannot answer for my brother," she said sulkily.

"No, but in his own interest and in yours I trust that you will make him understand that if I hear a word of this I shall hold him to account. Also, that his propagation of such a slander will react upon you, who were with him."

"How?" asked Eliza, now thoroughly frightened, for when he chose the Colonel could be very crushing.

"Thus: Your brother's evidence is that of an interested person which no one will accept; and of yours, Miss Layard, it might be inferred that it was actuated by jealousy of a charming and quite innocent girl; or, perhaps, by other motives even worse, which I would rather you did not ask me to suggest."

Eliza did not ask him. She was too wise. As she knew well, when roused the Colonel was a man with a bitter tongue and a good memory.

"I am sure I am the last person who would wish to do mischief," she said in a humble voice.

"Of course, I know that, I know that. Well, now we understand each other, so I must be turning home. Thank you so much for having been quite candid with me. Good morning, Miss Layard; remember me to Stephen."

"Phew!" reflected the Colonel to himself, "that battle is won—after a fashion—but just about forty-eight hours too late. By this time that vixen of a woman has put the story all over the place. Oh, Morris, you egregious ass, if you wanted to take to kissing like a schoolboy, why the deuce did you select the high road for the purpose? This must be put a stop to. I must take steps, and at once. They mustn't be seen together again, or there will be trouble with Mary. But how to do it? how to do it? That is the question, and one to which I must find an answer within the next two hours. What a kettle of fish! What a pretty kettle of fish!"

In due course, and after diligent search, he found the answer to this question.



At lunch time the Colonel remarked casually that he had walked a little way with Miss Layard, who mentioned that she had seen them—i.e., his son and Miss Fregelius—struggling through the gale the other night. Then he watched the effect of this shot. Morris moved his chair and looked uncomfortable; clearly he was a most transparent sinner. But on Stella it took no effect.

"As usual," reflected the Colonel, "the lady has the most control. Or perhaps he tried to kiss her and she wouldn't let him, and a consciousness of virtue gives her strength."

After luncheon the Colonel paid a visit to Mr. Fregelius, ostensibly to talk to him about the proposed restoration of the chancel, for which he, as holder of the great tithes, was jointly liable with the rector, a responsibility that, in the altered circumstances of the family, he now felt himself able to face. When this subject was exhausted, which did not take long, as Mr. Fregelius refused to express any positive opinion until he had inspected the church, the Colonel's manner grew portentously solemn.

"My dear sir," he said, "there is another matter, a somewhat grave one, upon which, for both our sakes and the sakes of those immediately concerned, I feel bound to say a few words."

Mr. Fregelius, who was a timid man, looked very much alarmed. A conviction that the "grave matter" had something to do with Stella flashed into his mind, but all he said was:

"I am afraid I don't understand, Colonel Monk."

"No; indeed, how should you? Well, to come to the point, it has to do with that very charming daughter of yours and my son Morris."

"I feared as much," groaned the clergyman.

"Indeed! I thought you said you did not understand."

"No, but I guessed; wherever Stella goes things seem to happen."

"Exactly; well, things have happened here. To be brief, I mean that a lot of silly women have got up a scandal about them—no, scandal is too strong a word—gossip."

"What is alleged?" asked Mr. Fregelius faintly.

"Well, that your daughter threw over that young ass, Stephen Layard, because—the story seems to me incredible, I admit—she had fallen violently in love with Morris. Further that she and the said Morris were seen embracing at night on the Rectory road, which I don't believe, as the witnesses are Layard, who is prejudiced, and his sister, who is the most ill-bred, bitter, and disappointed woman in the county. Lastly, and this is no doubt true, that they are generally on terms of great intimacy, and we all know where that leads to between a man and woman—'Plato, thy confounded fantasies,' etc. You see, when people sit up singing to each other alone till two in the morning—I don't mean that Morris sings, he has no more voice than a crow; he does the appreciative audience—well, other people will talk, won't they?"

"I suppose so, the world being what it is," sighed Mr. Fregelius.

"Exactly; the world being what it is, and men and women what they are, a most unregenerate lot and 'au fond' very primitive, as I daresay you may have observed."

"What is to be done?"

"Well, under other circumstances, I should have said, Nothing at all except congratulate them most heartily, more especially my son. But in this case there are reasons which make such a course impossible. As you know, Morris is engaged to be married to my niece, Miss Porson, and it is a contract which, even if he wished it, honour would forbid him to break, for family as well as for personal reasons."

"Quite so, quite so; it is not to be thought of. But again I ask—What is to be done?"

"Is that not rather a question for you to consider? I suggest that you had better speak to your daughter; just a hint, you know, just a hint."

"Upon my word, I'd rather not. Stella can be so—decided—at times, and we never seem quite to understand each other. I did speak to her the other day when Mr. Layard wished to marry her, a match I was naturally anxious for, but the results were not satisfactory."

"Still, I think you might try."

"Very well, I will try; and, Colonel Monk, I cannot tell you how grieved I am to have brought all this trouble on you."

"Not a bit," answered the Colonel cheerfully. "I am an old student of human nature, and I rather enjoy it; it's like watching the puppets on a stage. Only we mustn't let the comedy grow into a tragedy."

"Ah! that's what I am afraid of, some tragedy. Stella is a woman who takes things hard, and if any affection really has sprung up——"

"——It will no doubt evaporate with the usual hysterics and morning headache. Bless me! I have known dozens of them, and felt some myself in my time—the headaches, I mean, not the other things. Don't be alarmed if she gets angry, Mr. Fregelius, but just appeal to her reason; she will see the force of it afterwards."

An hour or so later the Colonel started for a walk on the beach to look at some damage which a high tide had done to the cliff. As he was nearing the Abbey steps on his return he saw the figure of a woman standing quite still upon the sands. An inspection through his eyeglass revealed that it was Stella, and instinct told him her errand.

"This is rather awkward," he thought, as he braced himself to battle, "especially as I like that girl and don't want to hurt her feelings. Hullo! Miss Fregelius, are you taking the air? You should walk, or you will catch cold."

"No, Colonel Monk, I was waiting for you."

"Waiting for me? Me! This is indeed an honour, and one which age appreciates."

She waved aside his two-edged badinage. "You have been speaking to my father," she said.

Instantly the Colonel assumed a serious manner, not the most serious, such as he wore at funerals, but still one suited to a grave occasion.

"Yes, I have."

"You remember all that you said?"

"Certainly, Miss Fregelius; and I assume that for the purposes of this conversation it need not be repeated."

She bowed her head, and replied, "I have come to explain and to tell you three things. First, that all these stories are false except that about the singing. Secondly, that whoever is responsible for them has made it impossible that I should live in Monksland, so I am going to London to earn my own living there. And, thirdly, that I hope you will excuse my absence from dinner as I think the more I keep to myself until we go to-morrow, the better; though I reserve to myself the right to speak to Mr. Monk on this subject and to say good-bye to him."

"She is taking it hard and she is fond of him—deuced fond of him, poor girl," thought the Colonel; but aloud he said, "My dear Miss Fregelius, I never believed the stories. As for the principal one, common sense rebels against it. All I said to your father was that there appears to be a lot of talk about the place, and, under the circumstances of my son's engagement, that he might perhaps give you a friendly hint."

"Oh! indeed; he did not put it quite like that. He gave me to understand that you had told him—that I was—so—so much in love with Mr. Monk that on this account I had—rejected Mr. Layard."

"Please keep walking," said the Colonel, "or you really will catch cold." Then suddenly he stopped, looked her sharply in the face, much as he had done to Eliza, and said, "Well, and are you not in love with him?"

For a moment Stella stared at him indignantly. Then suddenly he saw a blush spread upon her face to be followed by an intense pallor, while the pupils of the lovely eyes enlarged themselves and grew soft. Next instant she put her hand to her heart, tottered on her feet, and had he not caught her would perhaps have fallen.

"I do not think I need trouble you to answer my question, which, indeed, now that I think of it, was one I had no right to put," he said as she recovered herself.

"Oh, my God!" moaned Stella, wringing her hands; "I never knew it till this moment. You have brought it home to me; you, yes, you!" and she burst out weeping.

"Here are the hysterics," thought the Colonel, "and I am afraid that the headache will be bad to-morrow morning."

To her, however, he said very tenderly, "My dear girl, my dear girl, pray do not distress yourself. These little accidents will happen in the best regulated hearts, and believe me, you will get over it in a month or two."

"Accident!" she said. "It is no accident; it is Fate!—I see it all now—and I shall never get over it. However, that is my own affair, and I have no right to trouble you with my misfortunes."

"Oh! but you will indeed, and though you may think the advice hard, I will tell you the best way."

She looked up in inquiry.

"Change your mind and marry Stephen Layard. He is not at all a bad fellow, and—there are obvious advantages."

This was the Colonel's first really false move, as he himself felt before the last word had left his lips.

"Colonel Monk," she said, "because I am unfortunate is it any reason that you should insult me?"

"Miss Fregelius, to my knowledge I have never insulted any woman; and certainly I should not wish to begin with one who has just honoured me with her confidence."

"Is it not an insult," she answered with a sort of sob, "when a woman to her shame and sorrow has confessed—what I have—to bid her console herself by marriage with another man?"

"Now that you put it thus, I confess that perhaps some minds might so interpret an intention which did not exist. It seemed to me that, after a while, in marriage you would most easily forget a trouble which my son so unworthily has brought on you."

"Don't blame him for he does not deserve it. If anybody is to blame it is I; but in truth all those stories are false; we have neither of us done anything."

"Do not press the point, Miss Fregelius; I believe you."

"We have neither of us done anything," she repeated; "and, what is more, if you had not interfered, I do not think that I should have found out the truth; or, at least, not yet—till I saw him married, perhaps, when it would have been no matter."

"When you see a man walking in his sleep you do your best to stop him," said the Colonel.

"And so cause him to fall over the precipice and be dashed to bits. Oh! you should have let me finish my journey. Then I should have come back to the bed that I have made to lie on, and waked to find myself alone, and nobody would have been hurt except myself who caused the evil."

The Colonel could not continue this branch of the conversation. Even to him, a hardened vessel, as he had defined himself, it was too painful.

"You said you mean to earn a living in London. How?"

"By my voice and violin, if one can sing and play with a sore heart. I have an old aunt, a sister of my father's, who is a music mistress, with whom I daresay I can arrange to live, and who may be able to get me some introductions."

"I hope that I can help you there, and I will to the best of my ability; indeed, if necessary, I will go to town and see about things. Allow me to add this, Miss Fregelius, that I think you are doing a very brave thing, and, what is more, a very wise one; and I believe that before long we shall hear of you as the great new contralto."

She shrugged her shoulders. "It may be; I don't care. Good-bye. By the way, I wish to see Mr. Monk once more before I go; it would be better for us all. I suppose that you don't object to that, do you?"

"Miss Fregelius, my son is a man advancing towards middle age. It is entirely a point for you and him to decide, and I will only say that I have every confidence in you."

"Thank you," she answered, and turning, walked rapidly down the lonely beach till her figure melted into the gathering gloom of the winter's night. Once, however, when she thought that she was out of eyeshot, he saw her stop with her face towards the vast and bitter sea, and saw also that she was wringing her hands in an agony of the uttermost despair.

"She looks like a ghost," said the Colonel aloud with a little shiver, "like a helpless, homeless ghost, with the world behind her and the infinite in front, and nothing to stand on but a patch of shifting sand, wet with her own tears."

When the Colonel grew thus figurative and poetical it may be surmised by anyone who has taken the trouble to study his mixed and somewhat worldly character that he was deeply moved. And he was moved; more so, indeed, than he had been since the death of his wife. Why? He would have found it hard to explain. On the face of it, the story was of a trivial order, and in some of its aspects rather absurd. Two young people who happened to be congenial, but one of whom was engaged, chance to be thrown together for a couple of months in a country house. Although there is some gossip, nothing at all occurs between them beyond a little perfectly natural flirtation. The young man's father, hearing the gossip, speaks to the young lady in order that she may take steps to protect herself and his son against surmise and misinterpretation. Thereupon a sudden flood of light breaks upon her soul, by which she sees that she is really attached to the young man, and being a woman of unusual character, or perhaps absurdly averse to lying even upon such a subject, in answer to a question admits that this is so, and that she very properly intends to go away.

Could anything be more commonplace, more in the natural order of events? Why, then, was he moved? Oh! it was that woman's face and eyes. Old as he might be, he felt jealous of his son; jealous to think that for him such a woman could wear this countenance of wonderful and thrilling woe. What was there in Morris that it should have called forth this depth of passion undefiled? Now, if there were no Mary—but there was a Mary, it was folly to pursue such a line of thought.

From sympathy for Stella, which was deep and genuine, to anger with his son proved to the Colonel an easy step. Morris was that worst of sinners, a hypocrite. Morris, being engaged to one woman, had taken advantage of her absence deliberately to involve the affections of another, or, at any rate, caused her considerable inconvenience. He was wroth with Morris, and what was more, before he grew an hour older he would let him have a piece of his mind.

He found the sinner in his workshop, the chapel, making mathematical calculations, the very sight of which added to his father's indignation. The man, he reflected to himself, who under these circumstances could indulge an abnormal talent for mathematics, especially on Sunday, must be a cold-blooded brute. He entered the place slamming the door behind him; and Morris looking up noted with alarm, for he hated rows, that there was war in his eye.

"Won't you take a chair, father?" he said.

"No, thank you; I would rather say what I have to say standing."

"What is the matter?"

"The matter is, sir, that I find that by your attentions you have made that poor girl, Miss Fregelius, while she was a guest in my house, the object of slander and scandal to every ill-natured gossip in the three parishes."

Morris's quiet, thoughtful eyes flashed in an ominous and unusual manner.

"If you were not my father," he said, "I should ask you to change your tone in speaking to me on such a subject; but as things are I suppose that I must submit to it, unless you choose otherwise."

"The facts, Morris," answered his father, "justify any language that I can use."

"Did you get these facts from Stephen Layard and Miss Layard? Ah! I guessed as much. Well, the story is a lie; I was merely arranging her hood which she could not do herself, as the wind forced her to use her hand to hold her dress down."

The thought of his own ingenuity in hitting on the right solution of the story mollified the Colonel not a little.

"Pshaw," he said, "I knew that. Do you suppose that I believed you fool enough to kiss a girl on the open road when you had every opportunity of kissing her at home? I know, too, that you have never kissed her at all; or, ostensibly at any rate, done anything that you shouldn't do."

"What is my offence, then?" asked Morris.

"Your offence is that you have got her talked about; that you have made her in love with you—don't deny it; I have it from her own lips. That you have driven her out of this place to earn a living in London as best she may, and that, being yourself an engaged man"—here once more the Colonel drew a bow at a venture—"you are what is called in love with her yourself."

These two were easy victims to the skill of so experienced an archer. The shaft went home between the joints of his son's harness, and Morris sank back in his chair and turned white. Generosity, or perhaps the fear of exciting more unpleasant consequences, prevented the Colonel from following up this head of his advantage.

"There is more, a great deal more, behind," he went on. "For instance, all this will probably come to Mary's ears."

"Certainly it will; I shall tell her of it myself."

"Which will be tantamount to breaking your engagement. May I ask if that is your intention?"

"No; but supposing that all you say were true, and that it was my intention, what then?"

"Then, sir, to my old-fashioned ideas you would be a dishonourable fellow, to cast away the woman who has only you to look to in the world, that you may put another woman who has taken your fancy in her place."

Morris bit his lip.

"Still speaking on that supposition," he replied, "would it not be more dishonourable to marry her; would it not be kinder, shameful as it may be, to tell her all the truth and let her seek some worthier man?"

The Colonel shrugged his shoulders. "I can't split hairs," he said, "or enter on an argument of sentimental casuistry. But I tell you this, Morris, although you are my only son, and the last of our name, that rather than do such a thing, under all the circumstances, it would be better that you should take a pistol and blow your brains out."

"Very probably," answered Morris, "but would you mind telling me also what are the exact circumstances which would in your opinion so aggravate this particular case?"

"You have a copy of your uncle Porson's will in that drawer; give it me."

Morris obeyed, and his father searched for, and read the following sentence: "In consideration of the forthcoming marriage between his son Morris and my daughter Mary, the said testator remits all debts and obligations that may be due to his estate by the said Richard Monk, Lieutenant Colonel, Companion of the Bath, and an executor of this will."

"Well," said Morris.

"Well," replied the Colonel coolly, "those debts in all amounted to 19,543 pounds. No wonder you seem astonished, but they have been accumulating for a score of years. There's the fact, any way, so discussion is no use. Now do you understand? 'In consideration of the forthcoming marriage,' remember."

"I shall be rich some day; that machine you laugh at will make me rich; already I have been approached. I might repay this money."

"Yes, and you might not; such hopes and expectations have a way of coming to nothing. Besides, hang it all, Morris, you know that there is more than money in the question."

Morris hid his face in his hands for a moment; when he removed them it was ashen. "Yes," he said, "things are unfortunate. You remember that you were very anxious that I should engage myself, and Mary was so good as to accept me. Perhaps, I cannot say, I should have done better to have waited till I felt some real impulse towards marriage. However, that is all gone by, and, father, you need not be in the least afraid; there is not the slightest fear that I shall attempt to do anything of which you would disapprove."

"I was sure you wouldn't, old fellow," answered the Colonel in a friendly tone, "not when you came to think. Matters seem to have got into a bit of a tangle, don't they? Most unfortunate that charming young lady being brought to this house in such a fashion. Really, it looks like a spite of what she called Fate. However, I have no doubt that it will all straighten itself somehow. By the way, she told me that she should wish to see you once to say good-bye before she went. Don't be vexed with me if, should she do so, I suggest to you to be very careful. Your position will be exceedingly painful and exceedingly dangerous, and in a moment all your fine resolutions may come to nothing; though I am sure that she does not wish any such thing, poor dear. Unless she really seeks this interview, I think, indeed, it would be best avoided."

Morris made no answer, and the Colonel went away somewhat weary and sorrowful. For once he had seen too much of his puppet-show.



CHAPTER XVI

A MARRIAGE AND AFTER

Stella did not appear at dinner that night, or at breakfast next day. In the course of the morning, growing impatient, for he had explanations to make, Morris sent her a note worded thus:

"Can I see you?—M. M."

to which came the following answer:

"Not to-day. Meet me to-morrow at the Dead Church at three o'clock. —Stella."

It was the only letter that he ever received from her.

That afternoon, December 23, Mr. Fregelius and his daughter moved to the Rectory in a fly that had been especially prepared to convey the invalid without shaking him. Morris did not witness their departure, as the Colonel, either by accident or design, had arranged to go with him on this day to inspect the new buildings which had been erected on the Abbey Farm. Nor, indeed, were the names of the departed guests so much as mentioned at dinner that night. The incident of their long stay at the Abbey, with all its curious complications, was closed, and both father and son, by tacit agreement, determined to avoid all reference to it; at any rate for the present.

The Christmas Eve of that year will long be remembered in Monksland and all that stretch of coast as the day of the "great gale" which wrought so much damage on its shores. The winter's dawn was of extraordinary beauty, for all the eastern sky might have been compared to one vast flower, with a heart of burnished gold, and sepals and petals of many coloured fires. Slowly from a central point it opened, slowly its splendours spread across the heavens; then suddenly it seemed to wither and die, till where it had been was nothing but masses of grey vapour that arose, gathered, and coalesced into an ashen pall hanging low above the surface of the ashen sea. The coastguard, watching the glass, hoisted their warning cone, although as yet there was no breath of wind, and old sailormen hanging about in knots on the cliff and beach went to haul up their boats as high as they could drag them, knowing that it would blow hard by night.

About mid-day the sea began to be troubled, as though its waves were being pushed on by some force as yet unseen, and before two o'clock gusts of cold air from the nor'east travelled landwards off the ocean with a low moaning sound, which was very strange to hear.

As Morris trudged along towards the Dead Church he noticed, as we do notice such things when our minds are much preoccupied and oppressed, that these gusts were coming quicker and quicker, although still separated from each other by periods of aerial calm. Then he remembered that a great gale had been prophesied in the weather reports, and thought to himself that they portended its arrival.

He reached the church by the narrow spit of sand and shingle which still connected it with the shore, passed through the door in the rough brick wall, closing it behind him, and paused to look. Already under that heavy sky the light which struggled through the brine-encrusted eastern window was dim and grey. Presently, however, he discovered the figure of Stella seated in her accustomed place by the desolate-looking stone altar, whereon stood the box containing the aerophone that they had used in their experiments. She was dressed in her dark-coloured ulster, of which the hood was still drawn over her head, giving her the appearance of some cloaked nun, lingering, out of time and place, in the ruined habitations of her worship.

As he advanced she rose and pushed back the hood, revealing the masses of her waving hair, to which it had served as a sole covering. In silence Stella stretched out her hand, and in silence Morris took it; for neither of them seemed to find any words. At length she spoke, fixing her sad eyes upon his face, and saying:

"You understand that we meet to part. I am going to London to-morrow; my father has consented."

"That is Christmas Day," he faltered.

"Yes, but there is an early train, the same that runs on Sundays."

Then there was another pause.

"I wish to ask your pardon," he said, "for all the trouble that I have brought upon you."

She smiled. "I think it is I who should ask yours. You have heard of these stories?"

"Yes, my father spoke to me; he told me of his conversation with you."

"All of it?"

"I do not know; I suppose so," and he hung his head.

"Oh!" she broke out in a kind of cry, "if he told you all——"

"You must not blame him," he interrupted. "He was very angry with me. He considered that I had behaved badly to you, and everybody, and I do not think that he weighed his words."

"I am not angry. Now that I think of it, what does it matter? I cannot help things, and the truth will out."

"Yes," he said, quite simply; "we love each other, so we may as well admit it before we part."

"Yes," she echoed, without disturbance or surprise; "I know now—we love each other."

These were the first intimate words that ever passed between them; this, their declaration, unusual even in the long history of the passions of men and women, and not the less so because neither of them seemed to think its fashion strange.

"It must always have been so," said Morris.

"Always," she answered, "from the beginning; from the time you saved my life and we were together in the boat and—perhaps, who can say?—before. I can see it now, only until they put light into our minds we did not understand. I suppose that sooner or later we should have found it out, for having been brought together nothing could ever have really kept us asunder."

"Nothing but death," he answered heavily.

"That is your old error, the error of a lack of faith," she replied, with one of her bright smiles. "Death will unite us beyond the possibility of parting. I pray God that it may come quickly—to me, not to you. You have your life to lead; mine is finished. I do not mean the life of my body, but the real life, that within."

"I think that you are right; I grow sure of it. But here there is nothing to be done."

"Of course," she answered eagerly; "nothing. Do you suppose that I wished to suggest such a treachery?"

"No, you are too pure and good."

"Good I am not—who is?—but I believe that I am pure."

"It is bitter," groaned Morris.

"Why so? My heart aches, and yet through the pain I rejoice, because I know that it is well with us. Had you not loved me, then it would have been bitter. The rest is little. What does it matter when and how and where it comes about? To-day we part—for ever in the flesh. You will not look upon this mortal face of mine again."

"Why do you say so?"

"Because I feel that it is true."

He glanced up hastily, and she answered the question in his eyes.

"No—indeed—not that—I never thought of such a thing. I think it a crime. We are bid to endure the burden of our day. I shall go on weaving my web and painting my picture till, soon or late, God says, 'Hold,' and then I shall die gladly, yes, very gladly, because the real beginning is at hand."

"Oh! that I had your perfect faith," groaned Morris.

"Then, if you love me, learn it from me. Should I, of all people, tell you what is not true? It is the truth—I swear it is the truth. I am not deceived. I know, I know, I know."

"What do you know—about us?"

"That, when it is over, we shall meet again where there is no marriage, where there is nothing gross, where love perfect and immortal reigns and passion is forgotten. There that we love each other will make no heart sore, not even hers whom here, perhaps, we have wronged; there will be no jealousies, since each and all, themselves happy in their own way and according to their own destinies, will rejoice in the happiness of others. There, too, our life will be one life, our work one work, our thought one thought—nothing more shall separate us at all in that place where there is no change or shadow of turning. Therefore," and she clasped her hands and looked upwards, her face shining like a saint's, although the tears ran down it, "therefore, 'O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?'"

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