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The Mystery of the Four Fingers
by Fred M. White
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"Oh, indeed," Le Fenu responded with uplifted brows. "My sister and you appear to be on very familiar terms—"

"It is only natural," Vera laughed. A vivid blush flooded her face. "Charles, Mr. Venner is my husband."

"I am not in the least surprised to hear it," Le Fenu said. "In fact, I am not surprised at anything. I have quite outgrown all emotions of that kind, but perhaps you will be good enough to tell me how this came about, and why I have not heard it before. As your brother, I am entitled to know."

"Of course, you are. It was just after our father died that I promised myself to Gerald. I had my own ideas why the marriage should be kept a secret. You see, I had more or less thrown in my lot with my uncle, Mark Fenwick, because I had determined to get to the bottom of the business of our father's death. I felt certain that Charles here had nothing to do with it; though, owing to his folly and weakness, he played directly into the hands of the man who was really responsible for the crime."

"We all know who is responsible for the crime," Le Fenu said. "There is no necessity to mention his name."

"Oh, I know that," Vera went on. "The explanation I am making now is more to my husband than either of you. He has been goodness and kindness itself, and he is entitled to know everything. It was within a few minutes of my being married that I learned something of the dreadful truth. I learned that Fenwick had conspired to throw the blame of the tragedy upon Charles Evors. I found out what an effect this conspiracy had had on our poor Beth. There and then I came to a great resolution. I wrote to my husband and told him that in all probability I could never see him again—at any rate, I could not see him for a long space of time. I implored him to trust me in spite of all appearances, and he did so. Now he knows the reason why I acted so strangely. I can see that he has a thousand questions to ask me, but I hope that he will refrain from doing so at present. The thing that troubles me now is what has become of poor little Beth."

"Oh, she is all right enough," Le Fenu said. "I thought of that before I came down. I have left her in the safe hands of the very clever doctor who has my case under his charge, and Beth is with his family. We can have her down here to-morrow if you like."

"Nothing would please me better," Vera said, fervently. "And now, I want to know if you have done anything or formed any plan for getting rid of Mark Fenwick. I shall not be able to breathe here until he is gone."

Le Fenu explained that they had come to no conclusion at present. He was quite alive to the fact that delay was dangerous, seeing that Lord Merton's agents would have to communicate with him by telegram, and that the owner of the house might be back again at any moment. Therefore, it was absolutely necessary that something should be done in the matter of Mark Fenwick without loss of time. Vera indicated her companion.

"That is why I brought Gerald here," she said.

"I thought he might he able to help us. He knows all sorts and conditions of people, and it is probable that he may be able to find an asylum in London where the wretched man upstairs can hide till it is quite safe to get him out of the way."

"I think I can manage that part of the programme," Venner said. "There is an old servant of mine living down Poplar way with his wife who will do anything I ask him. The man has accompanied me all over the world, and he is exceedingly handy in every way. Those people would take a lodger to oblige me, and when you come to think of it, Poplar is not at all a bad place for anybody who wants to get out of the country without being observed. It is close to the river, and all sorts of craft are constantly going up and down. What do you think of the idea?"

"Excellent," Evors cried. "Couldn't be better. Do you think those people would mind if you looked them up very late to-night?"

"Not in the least," Venner said. "There is only one drawback, and that is the danger of traveling."

Le Fenu suggested that the difficulty could be easily overcome by the use of Fenwick's motor, which, fortunately, the detectives had brought back with them when they came in search of the culprit. It was an easy matter to rig Fenwick up in something suggestive of a feminine garb and smuggle him out into the grounds, and thence to the stable, where the motor was waiting. Fenwick came downstairs presently, a pitiable object. His mind still seemed wandering; but he braced himself up and became a little more like his old self when the plan of action was explained to him. Vera drew a deep breath of relief when once the man was outside the house.

"Thank God, we shall never see him again," she said, fervently. "And now, I believe I could eat something. It is the first time that the idea of food has been pleasant to me for days."

Meanwhile, Venner and Fenwick were speeding along in the car towards London. Perhaps it was the knowledge that safety lay before him, perhaps it was the exhilaration caused by the swift motion of the car, but Fenwick became more and more like himself as they began to near the Metropolis.

"This is very kind of you," he said, "considering you are a stranger to me. If you only knew my unfortunate story—"

"I know your story perfectly," Venner said, coldly. "You see, I had the pleasure of the friendship of the late Mr. George Le Fenu, and Mr. Evors and the younger Mr. Le Fenu are also known to me. Not to be behindhand in exchanging confidence for confidence, I may also say that your niece, Vera, is my wife."

Fenwick said no more, for which Venner was profoundly grateful. They came at length to the little house in Poplar, where Fenwick was smuggled in, and a certain part of the story confided to a seafaring man and his comfortable, motherly wife, who professed themselves ready and willing to do anything that Venner asked them.

"Give him a sitting-room and a bedroom," Venner said; "and take this ten-pound note and buy him a rough workman's wardrobe in the morning as if you were purchasing it for yourself. Let him lie low here for a day or two, and I will write you instructions. As to myself, I must get back to Canterbury without delay."

Trembling with a sort of fearful joy, Fenwick found himself presently in a comfortable sitting-room at the back of the house. He noted the cleanliness of the place, and his heart lightened within him. Something of his own stern self-reliant courage was coming back to him; his busy mind began to plan for the future. Presently he was conscious of a healthy desire to eat and drink. In response to his ring, the landlady informed him that she had some cold meat in the house, and that it was not yet too late to send out for some wine if he desired it.

"Very well," Fenwick said in high good-humor. "Give me the cold meat, and ask your husband to get me a bottle of brandy. I shall feel all the better for a thorough wash, and don't be long, my good woman, for I have never been so hungry in my life as I am now."

Fenwick returned to the sitting-room a few minutes later to find a decent meal spread out for him. There was cheese and butter and some cold meat under a metal cover. A bottle of brandy stood by the side of Fenwick's plate, with a syphon of soda-water. He took a hearty pull of the mixture. The generous spirit glowed in his veins. He would cheat the world yet.

"And now for the food," he said. "I trust it is beef. Nothing like beef on occasions like this. Also—"

He raised the cover from a dish. Then he jumped to his feet with a snarling oath. He could only stand there trembling in every limb, with a fascinated gaze on the dish before him.

"God help me," he whispered. "There is no getting away from it. The last warning—the fourth finger!"



CHAPTER XXVII

NEMESIS

For a long space of time Fenwick stood there, his head buried in his hands. All the way through, he had never been able to disguise from himself the feeling that, sooner or later, this dread thing must happen. Years ago he had taken his life in his hands in exploring the recesses of the Four Finger Mine; he had more or less known what he had to expect, for the mine had been a sacred thing, almost a part of the religion of the diminishing tribe which had imparted the secret to Le Fenu, and any intruder was bound to suffer. So far as Fenwick knew, the last survivor of this tribe was Felix Zary. Leaving out of account altogether the latter's religious fanaticism, he had been deeply and sincerely attached to the family of Le Fenu, and now he was playing the part of the avenging genius. All these things came back to Fenwick as he sat there.

He knew full well the character of the man he had to deal with; he knew how clever and resourceful Felix Zary was. Hitherto, he had scorned the suggestion that there was some mysterious magic behind Zary's movements, but now he did not know what to think. All he knew was that he was doomed, and that all the police in the Metropolis could not shield him from the reach of Zary's long arm.

And here, indeed, was proof positive of the fact. Two hours before, nobody, not even Fenwick himself, knew that he would spend the night at the little house in Poplar. And here was Zary already upon his track, almost before he had started on the long journey which was intended to lead to the path of safety. Fenwick never troubled to think what had become of the meal prepared for him, or how the extraordinary change had been brought about. Gradually, as he sat there, something like strength and courage came back to him. Come what might, he would not yield, he would not surrender himself into the hands of the foe without a struggle. He replaced the cover on the dish, and rang the bell for his landlady. She came in a moment later, comfortable and smiling, the very picture of respectable middle-age. As Fenwick glanced at her, he at once acquitted her of any connection with his final warning.

"I am sorry to trouble you," he said, "but I should like to know if you have any other lodgers. You see, I am rather a bad sleeper, suffering a great deal from nightmare, and I should not like to alarm your other lodgers in the middle of the night."

"Lord bless you, sir," the woman said, "we haven't any lodgers at all. We don't need to take them, seeing that my man is comfortably fixed. Of course, we are pleased to do anything we can for you, but we shouldn't have had you here at all if it hadn't been to please Mr. Venner. We'd do anything for him."

"No doubt," Fenwick said, hastily. "I suppose your husband sees a good many of his old friends occasionally?"

"No, he doesn't," the woman replied. "I don't suppose we have had anybody in the house except yourself for the last two months. I hope you have enjoyed your supper, sir?"

"Oh, yes," Fenwick stammered. "I finished all the meat. There is one thing more I should like to ask you. I may have to go out presently, late as it is. Do you happen to have such a thing as a latchkey? If you haven't, the key of the front door will do."

The latchkey was forthcoming, and presently Fenwick heard his landlord and his wife going upstairs to bed. He did not feel comfortable until he had crept all over the house and seen that everything was made secure. Then he sat down to think the matter out. Twice he helped himself liberally to brandy, a third time his hand went mechanically to the bottle—then he drew back.

"I mustn't have any more of that," he said. "It would be simply playing into the hands of the fiend who is pursuing me."

With a resolution that cost him an effort, Fenwick locked the brandy away in a cupboard and threw the key out of the window. In his present state of mind he dared not trust himself too far. Partially divesting himself of his clothing he drew from about his waist a soft leather belt containing pockets, and from these pockets he produced a large amount of gold coins and a packet of banknotes. Altogether there were some hundreds of pounds, and Fenwick congratulated himself on the foresight which had led him to adopt this plan in case necessity demanded it. He had enough and more than enough to take him to the other side of the world, if only he could manage to get rid of Felix Zary.

His mind was made up at length; he would creep out of the house in the dead of the night and make his way down to the Docks. At every hour ships of various size and tonnage put out of the port of London, and, no doubt, the skipper of one of these for a consideration would take him wherever he wanted to go; and Fenwick knew, moreover, that there were scores of public-houses along the side of the river which are practically never closed, and which are run entirely for the benefit of seafaring men. It would be easy to make inquiries at some of these and discover what vessels were leaving by the next tide, and a bargain could be struck immediately, go far as Fen wick was concerned, he inclined towards a sailing ship bound for the Argentine. His spirits rose slightly at the prospect before him; his step was fairly light and buoyant as he proceeded in the direction of his bedroom. There was no light in the room, so that he had to fumble about in his pockets for a box of matches which fell from his fingers and dropped on to the floor.

"Confound it," Fenwick muttered. "Where are they?"

"Don't trouble," a calm, quiet voice said out of the darkness. "I have matches, with which I will proceed to light the gas."

Fenwick could have cried aloud, had he been physically able to do so. There was no reason for a light to be struck or the gas to be lighted so that he might see the face of the speaker. Indeed, he recognised the voice far too well for that. A moment later, he was gazing at the impassive face of Felix Zary.

"You did not expect to see me," the latter said. "You were under the impression that you were going to get away from me. Never did man make a greater mistake. It matters little what you do, it will matter nothing to you or anybody else in twelve hours from now. Do you realise the fact that you have but that time to live? Do you understand that?"

"You would murder me?" Fenwick said hoarsely.

"You may calm yourself on that score. You are unarmed, and I have not so much as a pocket knife in my possession. I shall not lay a hand upon you—I shall not peril my soul for the sake of a creature like you. There are other ways and other methods of which you know nothing."

"How did you get here?" Fenwick asked hoarsely. "How did you put that dreadful thing on my table?"

Zary smiled in a strange, bland fashion. He could have told Fenwick prosaically what a man with a grasp like his could do in connection with a water pipe. He could have told, also, how he had dogged and watched his victim within the last few hours, with the pertinacity of a bloodhound. But Zary could see how Fenwick was shaken and dazed by some terrible thing which he could not understand. It was no cue of Zary's to enlighten the miserable man opposite.

"There are things utterly beyond your comprehension," he said, calmly. "If you look back to the past you will remember how we laid our mark upon the man who stole the Four Finger Mine. That man, I need not say, was yourself. To gain your ends you did not scruple to take the life of your greatest friend, the greatest benefactor you ever had. You thought the thing out carefully. You devised a cunning scheme whereby you might become rich and powerful at the expense of George Le Fenu, and scarcely was the earth dry upon his coffin before your warnings came. You knew the legend of the Four Finger Mine, and you elected to defy it. A week went by, a week during which you took the gold from the mine, and all seemed well with you. Then you woke one morning to find that in the night you had lost your forefinger without the slightest pain and with very little loss of blood. That was the first sign of the vengeance of the genius of the mine. Shaken and frightened as you were, you hardened your heart, like Pharaoh of old, and determined to continue. Another week passed, and yet another finger vanished in the same mysterious fashion. Still, you decided to stand the test, and your third warning came. With the fourth warning, your nerves utterly gave way, and you fled from the mine with less ill-gotten gain than you had expected. It matters nothing to me what followed afterwards, but you will admit that at the present moment you have not benefitted much by your crime. I have nothing more to say to you. I only came here tonight just to prove to you how impossible it is for you to hide from the vengeance of the mine. In your last bitter moments I want you to think of my words and realise—"

As Zary spoke he moved across the room in the direction of the gas bracket; he laid his hand upon the tap, and a moment later the room was in darkness. There was a sound like the sliding of a window, followed by a sudden rush of cold air, and by the time that Fenwick had found his matches and lighted the gas again there was not so much as a trace of Zary to be seen.

"I wish I hadn't thrown away the key of that cupboard," Fenwick said, hoarsely. "I would give half I possess for one drop of brandy now. Still, I won't give in, I won't be beaten by that fellow. At any rate, he can't possibly know what I intend to do. He could not know that I shall be on board a vessel before morning."

Half an hour later, Fenwick left the house and made his way straight to the Docks. At a public-house in the vicinity he obtained the brandy that he needed so badly, and felt a little stiffened and braced up by the spirit. He found presently the thing he wanted, in the shape of a large barque bound for the River Plate. The skipper, a burly-looking man with an enormous black beard, was uproariously drunk, but not quite so intoxicated that he could not see the business side of a bargain.

"Oh, you want to go out with me, mister?" he said. "Well, that's easily enough managed. We've got no passengers on board, and you'll have to rough it with the rest of us. I don't mind taking you on for fifty pounds."

"That's a lot of money," Fenwick protested.

The black-bearded skipper winked solemnly at the speaker.

"There's always a risk in dealing with stolen goods," he said. "Besides fifty pounds isn't much for a man who wants to get out of the country as badly as I see you do, and once I have passed my word to do it, I'll see you safe through, and so will my crew, or I'll know the reason why. Now, my yellow pal, fork out that money, and in half an hour you'll be as safe as if you were on the other side of the herring-pond and not a policeman in London will know where to find you. Now, is it a bargain or not?"

Fenwick made no further demur; he accepted the conditions there and then. There was nothing to be gained by affecting to pose as an honest man, and he was a little frightened to find how easily this drunken ruffian had spotted him for a fugitive from justice.

"I can't give you the money just now," he whispered. "I've got it concealed about me, and to produce a lot of cash in a mixed company like this would be too dangerous."

The skipper nodded, and proposed further refreshment. Fenwick agreed eagerly enough; he was feeling desperate now, and he did not seem to care much what happened to him. He could afford to place himself entirely in the hands of the black-bearded skipper, who would look after him closely for his own sake. After all said and done, he had no cause to doubt the honesty of the seaman, who appeared to be fairly popular with his companions and well-known in the neighborhood. It was the best part of an hour before the commander of the barque staggered to his feet and announced in an incoherent voice that it was time to get aboard. Presently they were straggling down to the dock, Fenwick propping up his companion and wondering if the latter was sober enough to find his way to his ship. It was very dark; a thin rain had begun to fall, and the waters of the river were ruffled by an easterly breeze. The skipper stumbled down a flight of steps and into a roomy boat, which was prevented from capsizing by something like a miracle. Presently they came alongside the black hull of a vessel, and Fenwick found himself climbing up a greasy ladder on to a dirty deck, where two seamen were passing the time playing a game of cards. Down below, the skipper indicated a stuffy little bunk leading out of his own cabin, which he informed Fenwick would be placed at his disposal for the voyage.

"If you don't mind I'll turn in now," the latter said. "I'm dead tired and worn out. My nerves are all jumping like red hot wires. Do you think I shall be safe here?"

"Safe as houses!" the skipper said. "And, besides, we shall be dropping down the river in about an hour."

Just as he was, Fenwick rolled into the bunk, and in a moment was fast asleep. When he came to himself again, the vessel was pitching and rolling; he could hear the rattling creak of blocks and rigging; there was a sweeter and fresher atmosphere in the little cabin. A sense of elation possessed the fugitive. It seemed to him that he was absolutely safe at last. The skipper had evidently gone on deck after having finished his breakfast, for the plates lay about the table and some tepid coffee in a tin had apparently been left for the use of the passenger.

"I don't think much of this," Fenwick muttered. "Still I daresay I can better it if I pay for it. I'll go on deck presently and see what the black-bearded pirate has to say. At any rate, I am absolutely safe now, and can afford to laugh at the threats of Felix Zary. If that man thinks—"

Fenwick paused, and the knife and fork he was holding over the cold bacon fell from his hands. It was too cruel, the irony of Fate too bitter, for there, just in front of him, propped up by the sugar basin, was a cabinet photograph of the very man who was uppermost in his thoughts. It was Felix Zary to the life; the same calm, philosophic features, the same great round eyes like those of a Persian cat. It all came back to Fenwick now, the whole horror of the situation. His head whirled, and spots seemed to dance before his eyes; a string snapped somewhere in his brain. Zary was behind him, he thought, close behind him like an avenging fury.

With a horrid scream, Fenwick tumbled up the stairs on to the slippery deck. All round him was a wild waste of white waters. The ship heeled over as Fenwick darted to the side....



CHAPTER XXVIII

EXPLANATIONS

Night was beginning to fight with morning by the time that Venner returned to Merton Grange. There was no one to be seen; the house was in total darkness, so that Venner placed the motor in the stable and returned to his own rooms. On the whole, he was disposed to congratulate himself upon the result of his night's work. It mattered very little to himself or anybody else what became of Fenwick, now he was once out of the way. He was never likely to trouble them again, and as far as Venner could see, he was now in a position openly to claim his wife before all the world.

Despite his feeling of happiness, Venner slept but badly, and a little after ten o'clock the next morning found him back at Merton Grange. Evors greeted him cordially, with the information that he alone was up as yet, and that the others had doubtless taken advantage of the opportunity to get a good night's rest.

"And you will see, my dear fellow," he said, "how necessary such a thing is. Goodness knows how long it is since I went to bed with my mind absolutely at rest. The same remark applies with equal force to Miss Le Fenu—I mean your wife."

"I can quite understand that," Venner said. "It has been much the same with me, though I must confess that I was so happy last night that I could not sleep at all. By the way, have you any information as to your father's movements? He probably knows by this time that his house has been given over to a gang of swindlers."

"He does," Evors said. "I have had a telegram from him this morning to say that he will be home some time in the course of the day; and, to tell the truth, I am looking forward with some dread to meeting my father. But I think I shall be able to convince him now that I am in earnest and that I am anxious to settle down in the old place and take my share in the working of the estate. When my father sees Beth and knows her story, I am sanguine that he will give us a welcome, and that my adventures will be over. I want him to meet Beth down here, and last night after you had gone, and we were talking matters over, Vera promised to go up to town to-day and fetch her sister. By the way, what has become of your friend—Gurdon, I think his name is? I mean the fellow who very nearly lost his life the night he fell down the cellar trap and found himself landed in the house in Portsmouth Square."

"Oh, Gurdon's all right," Venner laughed.

"I hope you will have the chance of making his acquaintance in the course of the day. You seem to have been in Charles Le Fenu's confidence for some time—tell me, why all that mystery about the house in Portsmouth Square? Of course, I don't mean Le Fenu's reason for calling himself Bates, and all that kind of thing, because that was perfectly obvious. Under the name of Bates he was lying low and maturing his plans for crushing Fenwick. As a matter of fact, Fenwick was almost too much for him. Indeed, he would have been if Gurdon and myself had not interfered and given both of you a chance to escape. It was a very neat idea of Fenwick's to kidnap a man and keep him a prisoner in his own house."

"Yes," Evors said. "And he used his own house for illegal purposes. But before I answer your question, let me ask you one. Why was Gurdon prowling about Portsmouth Square that night?"

"That is quite easily explained," Venner replied. "I sent him. To go back to the beginning of things, I have to revert to the night when I first saw Mark Fenwick at the Great Empire Hotel, posing as a millionaire, and having for company a girl who passed as his daughter. Seeing that this pseudo Miss Fenwick was my own wife, you can imagine how interested I was. She has already told in your hearing the reason why she left me on our wedding day, and if I am satisfied with those reasons it is nothing to do with anybody. As a matter of fact, I am satisfied with them, and there is no more to be said; but when I ran against Vera again at the hotel I knew nothing of past events, and I made an effort to find out the cause of her apparently strange conduct. In a way, she was fighting against me; she would tell me nothing, and I had to find out everything for myself. On the night in question I sent Gurdon to Portsmouth Square, and he had the misfortune to betray himself."

"It nearly ended in his death," Evors said, soberly. "Charles Le Fenu was very bitter just about that time. You can quite understand how it was that he mistook Gurdon for one of Fenwick's spies. But why did he go there?"

"He followed my wife, and there you have the simple explanation of the whole thing. But you have not yet told me why those two or three rooms were furnished in the empty house."

"Who told you about that?" Evors asked.

"What a chap you are to ask questions! We got into the empty house after the so-called Bates was supposed to have been kidnapped, and to our surprise we found that all that fine furniture had vanished. There was no litter of straw or sign of removal outside, so we came to the conclusion that it had been conveyed from one house to the other. After a good deal of trouble, we lit upon a moveable panel, and by means of it entered the house where you and Le Fenu were practically prisoners. We were on the premises when you managed to get the better of that man in the carpet slippers and his companion; we heard all that took place in the drawing-room between Fenwick and Beth and Le Fenu. In fact, we aided and abetted in getting the police into the house. You will recollect how cleverly Le Fenu managed the rest, and how he and you got away from the house without causing any scandal. That was very smartly done. But come, are you going to tell me the story of the empty house, and why it was partly furnished?"

"I think I can come to that now," Evors said. "The whole thing was born in the ingenious brain of Felix Zary. He was going to lay some sort of trap for Fenwick, but we shall never know what it was now, because Fate has disposed of Fenwick in some other way. Now, won't you sit down and have some breakfast with me?"

At the same moment Vera came in. Familiar as her features were and well as Venner knew her, there was a brightness and sweetness about her now that he had never noticed before. The cloud seemed to have lifted from her face; her eyes were no longer sad and sombre—they were beaming with happiness.

"I am so glad you have come," she said. "We want you to know all that happened last night after you had gone."

Venner explained that he knew pretty well all that had taken place, as he had been having it all out with Evors. What he wanted now was to get Vera to himself, and presently he had his way.

"We are going for a long walk," he said, "where I have something serious to say to you. Now that you have no longer any troubles on your shoulders, I can be very firm with you—"

"Not just yet," Vera laughed. "Later on you can be as firm as you like, and we are not going for a long walk either. We shall just have time to get to the station and catch the 11.15 to Victoria. I am going up to London to-day to bring Beth down here. I think the change will do her good. Of course, we can't remain in the house, so I have taken rooms for the three of us at a farm close by. When Beth has had everything explained to her and knows that the man she loves is free, you will see a change for the better in the poor child. There is nothing really the matter with her mind, and when she realises her happiness she will soon be as well as any of us. You will come with me to London, Gerald?"

"My dearest girl, of course I will," Venner said. "I will do anything you like. Let us get these things pushed through as speedily as possible, so that we can start on our honeymoon, which has been delayed for a trifling matter of three years, and you cannot say that I have been unduly impatient."

Vera raised herself on her toes and threw her arms round her husband's neck. She kissed him twice. There were tears in her eyes, but there was nothing but happiness behind the tears, as Venner did not fail to notice.

"You have been more than good," she whispered. "Ah, if you only knew how I have missed you, how terrified I was lest you should take me at my word and abandon me to my fate, as you had every right to do. And yet, all the time, I had a curious feeling that you trusted me, though I dared not communicate with you and tell you where you could send me so much as a single line. I was fearful lest a passionate appeal from you should turn me from my purpose. You see, I had pledged myself to fight the battle for Beth and her lover, and for the best part of three years I did so. And the strangest part of it all is that you, my husband, from whom I concealed everything, should be the very one who eventually struck straight to the heart of the mystery."

"Yes, that's all right enough," Venner smiled, "but why could not you have confided in me in the first instance? Do you think that I should have refused to throw myself heart and soul into the affair and do my best to help those who were dear to you?"

"I suppose I lost my head," Vera murmured. "But do not let us waste too much time regretting the last three years; and do not let us waste too much time at all, or we shall lose our train."

"That is bringing one back to earth with a vengeance," Venner laughed. "But come along and let us get all the business over, and we can look eagerly forward to the pleasure of afterwards."

It was all done at length—the long explanation was made in the West End doctor's drawing-room, and at length Beth seemed to understand the complicated story that was told her. She listened very carefully, her questions were well chosen; then she flung herself face downwards on the couch where she was seated and burst into a passion of weeping. Vera held her head tenderly, and made a sign to Venner that he should leave them together.

"This is the best thing that could happen," she whispered. "If you will come back in an hour's time you will see an entirely different girl. Don't speak to her now."

It was exactly as Vera had predicted, for when Venner returned presently to the drawing-room, he found a bright, alert little figure clad in furs and eager for her journey. She danced across the room to Venner and held up her lips for him to kiss them.

"I understand it all now," she cried. "Vera has told me absolutely everything. How good and noble it was of her to sacrifice her happiness for the sake of Charles and myself, and how wicked I must have been ever to think that Charles could have been guilty of that dreadful crime. Ever since then there has been a kind of cloud over my mind, a certain sense of oppression that made everything dim before my eyes. I could not feel, I could not even shed a tear. I seemed to be all numb and frozen, and when the tears came just now, all the ice melted away and I became myself again. Don't you think I look quite different?"

"I think you look as if you would be all the better for a lot of care and fussing," Venner said. "You want to go to some warm spot and be petted like a child. Now let us go and say good-bye to these good friends of yours and get down to Canterbury. There is somebody waiting for you there who will bring back the roses to your pale cheeks a great deal better than I can."

"Isn't Mr. Gurdon coming with us?" Vera asked.

"He can't" Venner explained. "I've just been telephoning to him, and he says that he can't come down till the last train. He will just look in presently after dinner—he is sharing my rooms with me. But hadn't we better get along?"

Canterbury was reached at length, and then Merton Grange, where Le Fenu and Evors were waiting in the portico. Lord Merton had not yet arrived: indeed, Evors explained that it was very uncertain whether he would get there that night or not.

"Not that it makes much difference," he said, eagerly. "Of course, you will all dine with me. For my part, I can't see why you shouldn't stay here altogether."

"What?" Vera cried, "without a chaperon?"

"I like that," Le Fenu exclaimed. "What do you call yourself? Have you so soon forgotten the fact that you are a staid married woman? What do you think of that, Venner?"

Vera laughed and blushed softly; she was not thinking so much now of her own happiness as of the expression of joy and delight on the face of her sister. Beth had hung back a little shyly from Evors as they crossed the hall, and he, in his turn, was constrained and awkward. Very cleverly Vera managed to detach her husband and her brother from the others.

"Let them go into the dining-room," she whispered. "It doesn't matter what becomes of us."

"But is she really equal to the excitement of it?" Le Fenu asked, anxiously. "She must have had an exceedingly trying day."

"I am quite sure that she is perfectly safe," Vera said. "Of course, she was terribly excited and upset at first, but she was quite calm and rational all the way down, as Gerald will tell you. All Beth wants now is quiet and change, and to feel that her troubles are over. Let's go and have tea in that grand old hall. If the others don't care to come in to tea we will try not to be offended."

The others did not come in to tea, neither were they seen till it was nearly time to dress for dinner. Assuredly Vera had proved a true prophet, for Beth's shy, quiet air of happiness indicated that she had suffered nothing through the events of the day. It was a very quiet meal they had later on, but none the less pleasant for that. Dinner had come to an end and the cigarettes were on the table before Gurdon appeared. He carried a copy of an evening paper in his hand, and despite his usual air of calmness and indifference, there was just the suspicion of excitement about him that caused Venner to stand up and reach for the paper.

"You have news there for us, I am sure," he said. "I think we are all in a position to stand anything you like to tell us."

"You have guessed it correctly," Gurdon said. "It is all here in the Evening Herald."

"What is all here?" Le Fenu demanded.

"Can't you guess?" Gurdon asked. "I see you can't. It is the dramatic conclusion, the only conclusion of the story. Our late antagonist, Fenwick, has committed suicide!"



CHAPTER XXIX

THIS MORTAL COIL

It cannot be said that Gurdon's announcement caused any particular sensation. To all of those who knew anything about the inner history of the Four Finger Mine the conclusion appeared to be perfectly logical. It was Venner who mentioned the secret of the mine before anybody had even the curiosity to ask to see the paper.

"Do you think that this has been the outcome of anything that Zary did?" he asked Le Fenu. "You see, as far as I am concerned, I was only in the mine once or twice, and before your father's death my knowledge of its romantic history was limited. I can't altogether bring myself to believe that the mine was haunted by avenging spirits and all that kind of thing. In this twentieth century of ours, one is naturally very cynical about such matters."

"I really cannot tell you," Le Fenu replied. "Of course there must be human agency afoot. Zary always declared that he was the last of his tribe, and when he died the secret of the mine would belong to our family alone. As a matter of fact, my father died first, so that Zary alone is in possession of the strange secret of that dread place. One thing is very certain. It was none of us who took vengeance on the Dutchman who murdered my father. Who was responsible for that I do not know. Still, there was something very terrible and awe-striking about the way in which the Dutchman's fingers returned to his wife, one by one. I should like to have known, also, how Fenwick lost his fingers. But Zary would never tell me. I think he professed that it had been done through the agency of the spirits of his departed ancestors, who guarded the mine. Mind you, I don't say that it is impossible, for we are beginning to understand that there are hidden forces in Nature which till quite recently were a sealed book to us. It is no use speculating about the matter, because we shall never know. Zary has been always fond of us, but I have a feeling now that we shall never see him again. I believe he came to England on purpose to accomplish the death of Mark Fenwick, and you may rely upon it that he will vanish now without making any further sign."

"That is more than possible," Gurdon said, thoughtfully; "but so far as I can judge from what this paper says, Fenwick's death seems to have been prosaic enough. Perhaps I had better read you the account in the newspaper."

Without waiting for any further permission, Gurdon began to read aloud:—

"STRANGE SUICIDE IN THE CHANNEL.

"DEATH OF MR. MARK FENWICK.

"Late this afternoon the barque British Queen put back into the Port of London with the schooner Red Cross in tow. It appears that the barque in question was bound for the River Plate, and had dropped down the river with the morning tide. Outside the mouth of the Thames she had encountered exceedingly squally weather, so much so that she had lost a considerable amount of running gear owing to the gusty and uncertain condition of the wind. About eleven o'clock in the morning an extra violent squall struck the vessel, and the skipper, Luther Jones, decided to put back again and wait till the next tide. It was at this point that the Red Cross was sighted making signals of distress. At considerable hazard to himself and his crew the skipper of the British Queen managed to get the schooner in tow, and worked her up the river on a short sail. This in itself is simply an incident illustrating the perils of the sea, and merely leads up to the dramatic events which follow. It appears, according to Captain Jones' statement, that very early this morning a man called upon him in a public-house and demanded to know what he would require for a passage to the River Plate. Satisfactory terms having been arranged, the stranger came aboard the British Queen and immediately repaired to his bunk. So far as the captain could see, his passenger was exceedingly reticent, and desirous of avoiding publicity; in fact, the skipper of the British Queen put him down as a fugitive from justice. All the same he asked no questions; presumably he had been well content to hold his tongue in return for a liberal fee in the way of passage money. So far as Captain Jones knows, his passenger slept comfortably enough, and it is quite evident that he partook of breakfast in the morning. What happened subsequently, it is somewhat difficult to say, for Captain Jones was busy on his own deck looking after the safety of his ship. These events took place shortly before the Red Cross was sighted.

"It was at this time that Captain Jones believes that he heard a shrill scream coming from the cabin, as if his passenger had met with an accident, or had been frightened by something out of the common. He came on deck a moment later, looking like a man who had developed a dangerous mania. He seemed to be flying from some unseen terror, and, indeed, gave every indication suggestive of the conclusion that he was suffering from a severe attack of delirium tremens. Captain Jones does not share this view, though it is generally accepted by his crew. Before anybody could interfere or stretch out a hand to detain the unfortunate man, he had reached the side of the vessel and thrown himself into the tremendous sea which was running at the time. It was absolutely out of the question to make any attempt to save him, though, naturally, Captain Jones did what he could. Then occurred one of the strange things which so frequently happen at sea. Five minutes later a great wave breaking over the foredeck cast some black object at the feet of Captain Jones, which object turned out to be the body of the unhappy suicide. The man was quite dead; indeed, he had sustained enough bodily injuries to cause death, without taking drowning into consideration.

"As before stated, Captain Jones came in contact with the Red Cross a little later, and on reaching the safety of the Pool he immediately communicated with the police, who took possession of the body of the suicide. On Scotland Yard being communicated with, a detective was sent down and immediately recognised the body as that of Mr. Mark Fenwick, the American millionaire.

"No doubt is entertained that the police officer is right, as Mr. Fenwick was well-known to thousands of people in London, not only on account of his wealth, but owing, also, to his remarkable personal appearance. At the present moment the body lies in a public-house by the side of the Thames, and an inquest will be held in the morning.

"Later.—Since going to press, we hear that startling developments are expected in the matter of the suicide of Mr. Mark Fenwick. On excellent authority we are informed that the police hold a warrant for the arrest of Fenwick and others, on a series of criminal charges, among which that of uttering counterfeit coin is not the least prominent. If these facts prove to be correct, it will be easy to see why Mr. Fenwick was attempting to leave the country in fugitive fashion. Further details will appear in a later edition."

"That is the whole of the story," Gurdon said when he had concluded. "On the whole, I should say that Mark Fenwick is very well out of it. He has had a pretty fair innings, but Fate has been too strong for him in the long run. It is just as well, too, that he has escaped his punishment—I mean, for your sakes, more than anything else. If that man had been put upon his trial, a charge of murder would have been added sooner or later, and you would have all been dragged from police court to criminal court to give evidence over and over again. In fact, you would have been the centre of an unpleasant amount of vulgar curiosity. As it is, the inquest will be more or less of a formal affair, and the public will never know that Fenwick has been anything more than a common swindler."

Venner was emphatically of the same view; personally, he was exceedingly glad to think that the knot had been cut in this fashion and that the unpleasant business was ended. He discussed the matter thoughtfully with Gurdon as he and the latter walked in the direction of his rooms, for he had refused to spend the night at Merton Grange, though Vera, of necessity, had arranged to stay there.

"I suppose one ought to be thankful," he said, "that matters are no worse. Still, at the same time, I must confess that I should like to have a few words with Zary. I wonder if we could get him to take us back to Mexico with a view to exploring the Four Finger Mine. After all said and done, it seems a pity that that rich treasure house should be lost to the world."

"Better leave it alone," Gurdon said. "It makes me creep when I think of it. All the same, I am with you in one thing. I should certainly like to see Zary again."

Gurdon and his companion were destined to have their wish gratified sooner than they had expected. They let themselves into the farmhouse where they were staying, and Venner turned up the lamp in the big rambling sitting-room. There, half-asleep in a chair before the fire, sat the very man whom they had been discussing. He appeared to be heavy with sleep—his melancholy eyes opened slowly as he turned to the newcomers.

"You have been thinking about me," he said—"you have been wondering what had become of me. We are strangers, and yet we are not strangers. Mr. Venner is known to me, and Mr. Venner's wife also. I was aware that my dear young mistress was his wife when it was still a secret to everybody else. You are puzzled and mystified over the death of Mark Fenwick. Mr. Gurdon has been reading an account to you from a newspaper."

"You are certainly a very remarkable man," Gurdon said. "As a matter of fact, that is exactly what I have been doing. But tell me, Zary, how did you know?"

"You have a great poet," Zary said, calmly and deliberately. "He was one of the noblest philosophers of his time. I have read him, I hope to read him again many times. His name is Shakespeare, and he says 'there are more things in Heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.' Gentlemen, that is so, as you would know if you possessed the powers that I do. But I could not explain—you would not understand, for your minds are different from mine. I am going away; I shall never see my dear friends again—for the last time we have met. And because I could not endure a formal parting I have come to you to give them all a message from me. It is only this, that I shall never cease to think of them wherever I may be—but I need not dwell upon that. As to Fenwick, I did not design that he should die so peaceful a death. I had gauged his mind incorrectly; I had goaded him into a pitch of terror which drove him over the border land and destroyed his reason. Therefore, he committed suicide, and so he is finished with."

There was a pause for some time, until it became evident that Zary had no more to say. He rose to his feet, and was advancing in the direction of the door when Gurdon stopped him.

"Pardon me," the latter said, "but like most ordinary men, I am by no means devoid of my fair share of curiosity. What is going to be done in the matter of the Four Finger Mine?"

Zary's large round eyes seemed to emit flashes of light. His face had grown hard and white like that of a statue.

"Well," he demanded, "what about the mine?"

"Why, you see, it practically belongs to Mr. Le Fenu's children," Gurdon said. "In which case it should prove an exceedingly valuable property."

"The mine belongs to us, it belongs to me," Zary cried. "I am the last of my tribe, and the secret shall die with me. Man, do you suppose that happiness lies in the mere accumulation of money? I tell you that the thing is a curse, one of the greatest curses that ever God laid on humanity. To hundreds and thousands of us this life of ours on earth is a veritable hell through the greed for gold. Of all the wars that have brought pain and suffering to humanity, none has done a tithe of the harm wrought by the incessant battle for the yellow metal which you call gold. If there had been no such thing on earth, the tribe to which I belong would to-day walk as gods amongst ordinary men. No, I shall do nothing to pander to this disease. When I die the secret of the mine perishes with me. Never more will man work there as long as I have the health and strength to prevent it."

The latter part of Zary's speech had sunk almost to a whisper; he made a profound bow to Venner and Gurdon, then left the room softly. He seemed to vanish almost like the spirit of one of his departed ancestors, and his place knew him no more.

"Curious man," Gurdon said, thoughtfully. "Very quiet and gentle as a rule, but not the kind of person you would care to have as a foe. I have a very strong feeling that none of us will ever see Felix Zary again. Now, don't you think we can begin to forget all about this kind of thing? Surely we have had enough horrors and mysteries, and I can only wonder at the way in which those girls have borne up against all their troubles. Tell me, what are you going to do? I mean as to your future."

"Upon my word, I really haven't given it a thought," Venner said. "It is not very often that a man has the unique experience of being married three years without a honeymoon, and without more than half an hour in his wife's company. You can but feebly guess, my dear fellow, how terribly I have suffered during the time to which I refer. Still, I trusted my wife implicitly, though all the dictates of common-sense were against me, and I am sincerely and heartily glad now that I took the line I did. As soon as possible, I intend to take Vera away for a long tour on the Continent. When I come back I shall have the old house done up again, and, I suppose, settle down to the life of a country gentleman. But, of course, I can't do anything till Beth's future is settled. I suppose, for the present, she will go back again to Le Fenu's doctor friends, pending her marriage with Charles Evors."

"The programme is all right," Gurdon said. "But suppose Lord Merton objects to the arrangement?"

"I don't fancy that he will do that, from what I hear," Venner said. "All the Evors have been wild in their youth, and the present lord is no exception to the rule. Depend upon it, he will be very glad to have his son back again, happily married, and eager to become domesticated. Besides, from what I understand from Vera, her father worked the Four Finger Mine to considerable advantage during his lifetime, and Beth is something quite considerable in the way of an heiress. On the whole, I am not disposed to worry. Now let us have one quiet cigar, and then go to bed like a pair of average respectable citizens."



CHAPTER XXX

A PEACEFUL SUNSET

"Upon my word," Evors was saying to Beth, "I feel as nervous as an Eton boy sent up to the head for a flogging. It is just the same sensation as I used to enjoy in my schooldays; but I don't care what he says, I am going to marry you whether he likes it or not, though, of course, he is bound to like it. No one could look at that dear sweet little face of yours without falling in love with you on the spot."

Beth demurely hoped so; she pretended an easy unconcern, though, on the whole, she was perhaps more anxious than Evors, for the latter had written to his father at some length explaining how matters stood, and Lord Merton had telegraphed to say that he would be at home the following afternoon. The afternoon had arrived in due course, and now the wheels of his carriage might be heard at any moment. Vera and her husband were not far off; they had promised to come in and give their moral support if it became necessary.

"I don't see how he can possibly help liking you," Evors went on. "Thank goodness, we shall be spared the trouble of making a long explanation. If my father had been against the arrangement he probably would have done something else besides telegraphing that he was coming; but I don't care, it doesn't matter what he says, I have quite made up my mind what to do."

"But you couldn't go against your father," Beth said, timidly.

"Oh, couldn't I? My dear girl, I have been doing nothing else all my lifetime. I have been a most undutiful son, and I have no doubt that I have come near to breaking my father's heart many a time, as he nearly broke the heart of his father before him. In common fairness he will have to admit that we Evors are all alike as young men; and, in any case, I couldn't give you up, Beth. Just think how faithful you have been to me all these years, when all the time it has seemed as if I had a terrible crime on my conscience. Your father's death—"

Beth laid her little hand upon the speaker's mouth.

"Oh, hush, hush," she whispered. "I implore you never to speak of that again. They told me, or, at least, that dreadful man told me, that you had committed that awful deed. He gave me the most overwhelming proofs, and when I demanded a chance to speak to you and hear from your own lips that it was all a cruel lie, you were nowhere to be found. This, Fenwick told me, was proof positive of your guilt. It was such a shock to me that, for the time being, I lost my reason—at least, I did not exactly lose my reason, but my brain just seemed to go to sleep in some strange way. And yet, from first to last, I never believed a word that Mark Fenwick said. There was always present the knowledge that your name would be cleared at last, and the most gratifying part of it all is the knowledge that there can be no scandal, no slanderous tongues to say that there is no smoke without fire, and those wicked things that sound so small and yet imply so much."

"Don't let us think of it. Let our minds dwell only on the happy future that is before us. We shall be able to marry at once; then we can go and live in the old Manor House by the park gates. The place is already furnished, and needs very little doing up. Sooner or later you will be mistress of this grand old home, though I hope that time may not come for many years. It seems to me—"

But Beth was not attending. She seemed to be listening with more or less fear to the sound of wheels crunching on the gravel outside. Evors had hardly time to reassure her, when the door opened and Lord Merton came in. He was a tall man of commanding presence, a little cold and haughty-looking, though his lips indicated a genial nature, and he could not altogether suppress the grave amusement in his eyes.

"This is an unconventional meeting," he said. "I received your letter, Charles, and I am bound to say the contents would have astonished me exceedingly had they been written by anybody but an Evors. But our race has always been a law unto itself, with more or less disastrous consequences. We have been a wild and reckless lot, but this is the first time, so far as I know, that one of the tribe has been accused of murder."

"It is a wicked lie," Beth burst out, passionately. She had forgotten all her fears in her indignation. "My father was killed by the man Fenwick and his colleagues. That has all been proved beyond a doubt!"

Lord Merton smiled down upon the flushed, indignant face. It was quite evident that Beth had made a favorable impression upon him.

"I admire your loyalty and your pluck," he said. "My dear child, many a woman has risked her happiness by marrying an Evors—not one of them did so except in absolute defiance of the advice of their friends. In every case it has been a desperate experiment, and yet, I believe, in every case it has turned out perfectly happily. It was the same with Charles's mother. It was the same with my mother. No Evors ever asked permission of his sire to take unto himself a wife; no Evors ever cared about social position. Still, at the same time, I am glad to know that my boy has chosen a lady. When he was quite a young man, I should not have been in the least surprised if he had come home with a flaunting barmaid, or something exquisitely vulgar in the way of a music hall artiste."

Beth laughed aloud. She had quite forgotten her fears now; she was beginning rather to like this caustic old gentleman, whose cynical words were belied by the smile in his eyes.

"I am very glad to know that you are satisfied with me," she said, timidly: "It is good to know that."

"I suppose it would have been all the same in any case," Lord Merton replied with a smile. "You would have married Charles and he would have had to have earned his own living, which would have been an excellent thing for him."

"Indeed, he wouldn't," Beth laughed. "Do you know, Lord Merton, that I am quite a large heiress in my way. I am sure you won't mind my speaking like this, but I feel so happy to-day that I hardly know what I am saying. If you only knew the dread with which I have been looking forward to meeting you—"

"Oh, they are all like that," Lord Merton laughed. "To strangers, I am supposed to be a most terrible creature, but everybody on my estate knows how lamentably weak I am. They all take advantage of me and bully me, even down to the lads in the stable, and I won't disguise from you the satisfaction I feel in the knowledge that you have money of your own. For some considerable time past I have been severely economising with a view to paying off some alarming mortgages on the estate, so that I should not have been in a position to allow Charles much in the way of an income. It will be my ambition when my time comes to hand you over the property without a penny owing to anybody."

"May that day be a long way off, sir," Charles said, with feeling. "I hope to assure you how I appreciate the noble manner in which you have forgiven—"

"Say no more about it, say no more," Lord Merton said. He seemed to have some little difficulty in the articulation of his words. "Let us shake hands on the bargain and forget the past. I was profoundly interested in your long letter, and I must confess to some little curiosity to see your other friends, especially Mrs. Venner, who seems to have played so noble a part in the story. I understand that she and her husband are down here. I suppose you made them more or less comfortable, which must have been a rather difficult undertaking in the circumstances. However, I have arranged to have all the old servants back to-morrow, and it will be some considerable time before I let the old house again. Now run away and enjoy yourselves, and let us meet at dinner as if nothing had happened. I don't want it to appear that there has been anything like a quarrel between us."

So saying, Lord Merton turned and proceeded to his own room, leaving Beth in a state of almost speechless admiration. It was so different from anything she had expected, that she felt as if she could have cried for pure happiness. The sun was shining outside; through the window she could see the deer wandering in the park. It was good to know that the old dark past was gone, and that the primrose path of happiness lay shining before them. Presently, as they wandered out in the sunshine, Vera came on the terrace and watched them. There was no need to tell her that the interview with the master of the house had been a smooth one. She could judge that by the way in which the lovers were walking side by side. Venner came and stood by his wife's side.

"So that's all right," he said. "As far as one can judge, they have managed to propitiate the ogre."

"What do you mean by calling a man an ogre in his own house?" the voice of Lord Merton asked at the same moment. "For some few minutes I have been keeping an eye on you two, but I suppose I must introduce myself, though you will guess who I am. Mr. Venner, will you be good enough to do me the honor of introducing me to your wife? I have heard a great deal of her from my son. Mrs. Venner, if you will shake hands with me I shall esteem it a great favor."

"Then you are not annoyed with us?" Vera asked. "You are not displeased at the way we have taken possession of your house? I am afraid that indirectly we have been the cause of a great scandal."

"Oh, don't worry yourself about that," Lord Merton, said breezily. "There have been far worse scandals than this in great houses before now; and, at any rate, it does not touch us. I am afraid you have been rather inconvenienced here, and that the Grange has not upheld its reputation for hospitality. Still, I hope it will be all right to-morrow, and I sincerely trust that you can see your way to stay here for some little time to come. I am going to ask my sister, Lady Glynn, to come down and act the part of hostess. Somebody will have to introduce Beth to the county as my future daughter-in-law."

"You are pleased with the arrangement?" Vera asked, demurely.

"Indeed, I am," Lord Merton cried. "You do not know what an eccentric lot we are. I should not have been at all surprised if Charles had come home with some curiosity in the way of a bride, and I am only too profoundly grateful to find that he has made so sweet a choice. But, tell me, you will stay here some little time—"

"I am afraid not," Venner, said regretfully. "If you will allow us to come back a little later on, I am sure that my wife and myself will be very pleased. I have no doubt that Evors will be impatient to claim his bride, but I hope he will wait for a month or two at least. You see, I have a bride of my own, though, in a way, we are old married people. I don't know whether Charles told you anything of our story, but if you would like to hear it—"

Lord Merton intimated that he had already done so. He expressed a hope that Venner and his wife would return again a little later on; then, making some excuse, he returned to the house, leaving Venner and Vera together. For some little time they wandered across the park very silently, for the hearts of both were full, and this was one of those moments when words are not necessary to convey thought from one mind to another. Presently Evors and Beth appeared in the distance and joined the others.

"Well," Venner said with a smile, "it is some time since I saw two people look more ridiculously happy than you two. But I am sincerely glad to find that the ogre is only one in name. My dear Charles, your father is quite a delightful person. I quite understood from what you told me that we had a lot of trouble in store for us. On the contrary, he seems to be as pleased with the course of events as we are."

"He seems to have altered so much lately," Evors said. "At any rate, he has been particularly good to me, and I am not likely to forget it. Behold in me a reformed character, ready to settle down to a country life with Beth by my side—"

"Not quite, yet," Venner said, hastily. "You will have to curb your impatience for a bit; you must not forget how Vera has suffered for the sake of you both, and how patiently I waited for my happiness. You must promise us that the marriage will not take place under two months, or I give you a solemn warning that we shall not be there. Our own honeymoon—"

"Of course Charles will promise," Beth said, indignantly. "Oh, I could never dream of being married unless Vera were present. And, after all, what are two months when you have a whole lifetime before you? I am sure that Charles agrees with me."

"I don't, indeed," Evors said, candidly. "Still, I am not going to be disagreeable, and Beth knows that she has only to look at me with those imploring eyes of hers to get absolutely her own way."

They left it at that, and gradually drifted apart again. When Vera and her husband returned to the Grange, the setting sun shone fully in their faces, flinging their shadows far behind. Venner paused just for a moment under the sombre shadow of a clump of beeches, and drew his wife to his side.

"One moment," he said. "We have not yet decided where we are going. I have everything in readiness in London, and I suppose that you are not lacking in the matter of wardrobe. Don't tell me, while having everything that woman can want in the way of dress, that you have nothing to wear."

"I won't," Vera said, softly. "My dear boy, cannot you see how glad I shall be to be alone with you at last? Everything is going well here, and Beth is entirely happy. You have been very good and patient, and I will keep you waiting no longer. If you so will it, and I think you do, let it be tomorrow."

Venner stooped and kissed the trembling lips held up to his. Then very silently, their hearts too full for further speech, they turned towards the house.

THE END

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