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The Nebuly Coat
by John Meade Falkner
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She got up, and went back to the old fiddler, but her words had a sobering influence on the organist, and cut him to the quick. So all his good resolutions had vanished. His promise to the Bishop was broken; the Bishop would be back again on Monday, and find him as bad as ever—would find him worse; for the devil had returned, and was making riot in the garnished house. He turned to pay his reckoning, but his half-crown had gone to the Creole; he had no money, he was forced to explain to the landlord, to humiliate himself, to tell his name and address. The man grumbled and made demur. Gentlemen who drank in good company, he said, should be prepared to pay their shot like gentlemen. Mr Sharnall had drunk enough to make it a serious thing for a poor man not to get paid. Mr Sharnall's story might be true, but it was a funny thing for an organist to come and drink at the Merrymouth, and have no money in his pocket. It had stopped raining; he could leave his overcoat as a pledge of good faith, and come back and fetch it later. So Mr Sharnall was constrained to leave this part of his equipment, and was severed from a well-worn overcoat, which had been the companion of years. He smiled sadly to himself as he turned at the open door, and saw his coat still hang dripping on the peg. If it were put up to auction, would it ever fetch enough to pay for what he had drunk?

It was true that it had stopped raining, and though the sky was still overcast, there was a lightness diffused behind the clouds that spoke of a rising moon. What should he do? Whither should he turn? He could not go back to the Hand of God; there were some there who did not want him—whom he did not want. Westray would not be home, or, if he were, Westray would know that he had been drinking; he could not bear that they should see that he had been drinking again.

And then there came into his mind another thought: he would go to the church, the water-engine should blow for him, and he would play himself sober. Stay, should he go to the church—the great church of Saint Sepulchre alone? Would he be alone there? If he thought that he would be alone, he would feel more secure; but might there not be someone else there, or something else? He gave a little shiver, but the drink was in his veins; he laughed pot-valiantly, and turned up an alley towards the centre tower, that loomed dark in the wet, misty whiteness of the cloud screened moon.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

Westray returned to Cullerne by the evening train. It was near ten o'clock, and he was finishing his supper, when someone tapped at the door, and Miss Euphemia Joliffe came in.

"I beg your pardon for interrupting you, sir," she said; "I am a little anxious about Mr Sharnall. He was not in at teatime, and has not come back since. I thought you might know perhaps where he was. It is years since he has been out so late in the evening."

"I haven't the least idea where he is," Westray said rather testily, for he was tired with a long day's work. "I suppose he has gone out somewhere to supper."

"No one ever asks Mr Sharnall out. I do not think he can be gone out to supper."

"Oh, well, I dare say he will turn up in due course; let me hear before you go to bed if he has come back;" and he poured himself out another cup of tea, for he was one of those thin-blooded and old-womanly men who elevate the drinking of tea instead of other liquids into a special merit. "He could not understand," he said, "why everybody did not drink tea. It was so much more refreshing—one could work so much better after drinking tea."

He turned to some calculations for the section of a tie-rod, with which Sir George Farquhar had at last consented to strengthen the south side of the tower, and did not notice how time passed till there came another irritating tap, and his landlady reappeared.

"It is nearly twelve o'clock," she said, "and we have seen nothing of Mr Sharnall. I am so alarmed! I am sure I am very sorry to trouble you, Mr Westray, but my niece and I are so alarmed."

"I don't quite see what I am to do," Westray said, looking up. "Could he have gone out with Lord Blandamer? Do you think Lord Blandamer could have asked him to Fording?"

"Lord Blandamer was here this afternoon," Miss Joliffe answered, "but he never saw Mr Sharnall, because Mr Sharnall was not at home."

"Oh, Lord Blandamer was here, was he?" asked Westray. "Did he leave no message for me?"

"He asked if you were in, but he left no message for you. He drank a cup of tea with us. I think he came in merely as a friendly visitor," Miss Joliffe said with some dignity. "I think he came in to drink a cup of tea with me. I was unfortunately at the Dorcas meeting when he first arrived, but on my return he drank tea with me."

"It is curious; he seems generally to come on Saturday afternoons," said Westray. "Are you always at the Dorcas meeting on Saturday afternoons?"

"Yes," Miss Joliffe said, "I am always at the meeting on Saturday afternoons."

There was a minute's pause—Westray and Miss Joliffe were both thinking.

"Well, well," Westray said, "I shall be working for some time yet, and will let Mr Sharnall in if he comes; but I suspect that he has been invited to spend the night at Fording. Anyhow, you can go to bed with a clear conscience, Miss Joliffe; you have waited up far beyond your usual time."

So Miss Euphemia went to bed, and left Westray alone; and a few minutes later the four quarter-chimes rang, and the tenor struck twelve, and then the bells fell to playing a tune, as they did every three hours day and night. Those who dwell near Saint Sepulchre's take no note of the bells. The ear grows so accustomed to them, that quarter by quarter and hour by hour strike unperceived. If strangers come to stop under the shadow of the church the clangour disturbs their sleep for the first night, and after that they, too, hear nothing. So Westray would sit working late night by night, and could not say whether the bells had rung or not. It was only when attention was too wide awake that he heard them, but he heard them this night, and listened while they played the sober melody of "Mount Ephraim." [See Appendix at end for tune.]

He got up, flung his window open, and looked out. The storm had passed; the moon, which was within a few hours of the full, rode serenely in the blue heaven with a long bank of dappled white cloud below, whose edge shone with an amber iridescence. He looked over the clustered roofs and chimneys of the town; the upward glow from the market-place showed that the lamps were still burning, though he could not see them. Then, as the glow lessened gradually and finally became extinct, he knew that the lights were being put out because midnight was past. The moonlight glittered on the roofs, which were still wet, and above all towered in gigantic sable mass the centre tower of Saint Sepulchre's.

Westray felt a curious physical tension. He was excited, he could not tell why; he knew that sleep would be impossible if he were to go to bed. It was an odd thing that Sharnall had not come home; Sharnall must have gone to Fording. He had spoken vaguely of an invitation to Fording that he had received; but if he had gone there he must have taken some things with him for the night, and he had not taken anything, or Miss Euphemia would have said so. Stay, he would go down to Sharnall's room and see if he could find any trace of his taking luggage; perhaps he had left some message to explain his absence. He lit a candle and went down, down the great well-staircase where the stone steps echoed under his feet. A patch of bright moonshine fell on the stairs from the skylight at the top, and a noise of someone moving in the attics told him that Miss Joliffe was not yet asleep. There was nothing in the organist's room to give any explanation of his absence. The light of the candle was reflected on the front of the piano, and Westray shuddered involuntarily as he remembered the conversation which he had a few weeks before with this friend, and Mr Sharnall's strange hallucinations as to the man that walked behind him with a hammer. He looked into the bedroom with a momentary apprehension that his friend might have been seized with illness, and be lying all this time unconscious; but there was no one there—the bed was undisturbed. So he went back to his own room upstairs, but the night had turned so chill that he could no longer bear the open window. He stood with his hand upon the sash looking out for a moment before he pulled it down, and noticed how the centre tower dominated and prevailed over all the town. It was impossible, surely, that this rock-like mass could be insecure; how puny and insufficient to uphold such a tottering giant seemed the tie-rods whose section he was working out. And then he thought of the crack above the south transept arch that he had seen from the organ-loft, and remembered how "Sharnall in D flat" had been interrupted by the discovery. Why, Mr Sharnall might be in the church; perhaps he had gone down to practise and been shut in. Perhaps his key had broken, and he could not get out; he wondered that he had not thought of the church before.

In a minute he had made up his mind to go to the minster. As resident architect he possessed a master key which opened all the doors; he would walk round, and see if he could find anything of the missing organist before going to bed. He strode quickly through the deserted streets. The lamps were all put out, for Cullerne economised gas at times of full moon. There was nothing moving, his footsteps rang on the pavement, and echoed from wall to wall. He took the short-cut by the wharves, and in a few minutes came to the old Bonding-house.

The shadows hung like black velvet in the spaces between the brick buttresses that shored up the wall towards the quay. He smiled to himself as he thought of the organist's nervousness, of those strange fancies as to someone lurking in the black hiding-holes, and as to buildings being in some way connected with man's fate. Yet he knew that his smile was assumed, for he felt all the while the oppression of the loneliness, of the sadness of a half-ruined building, of the gurgling mutter of the river, and instinctively quickened his pace. He was glad when he had passed the spot, and again that night, as he looked back, he saw the strange effect of light and darkness which produced the impression of someone standing in the shadow of the last buttress space. The illusion was so perfect that he thought he could make out the figure of a man, in a long loose cape that napped in the wind.

He had passed the wrought-iron gates now—he was in the churchyard, and it was then that he first became aware of a soft, low, droning, sound which seemed to fill the air all about him. He stopped for a moment to listen; what was it? Where was the noise? It grew more distinct as he passed along the flagged stone path which led to the north door. Yes, it certainly came from inside the church. What could it be? What could anyone be doing in the church at this hour of night?

He was in the north porch now, and then he knew what it was. It was a low note of the organ—a pedal-note; he was almost sure it was that very pedal-point which the organist had explained to him with such pride. The sound reassured him nothing had happened to Mr Sharnall—he was practising in the church; it was only some mad freak of his to be playing so late; he was practising that service "Sharnall in D flat."

He took out his key to unlock the wicket, and was surprised to find it already open, because he knew that it was the organist's habit to lock himself in. He passed into the great church. It was strange, there was no sound of music; there was no one playing; there was only the intolerably monotonous booming of a single pedal-note, with an occasional muffled thud when the water-engine turned spasmodically to replenish the emptying bellows.

"Sharnall!" he shouted—"Sharnall, what are you doing? Don't you know how late it is?"

He paused, and thought at first that someone was answering him—he thought that he heard people muttering in the choir; but it was only the echo of his own voice, his own voice tossed from pillar to pillar and arch to arch, till it faded into a wail of "Sharnall, Sharnall!" in the lantern.

It was the first time that he had been in the church at night, and he stood for a moment overcome with the mystery of the place, while he gazed at the columns of the nave standing white in the moonlight like a row of vast shrouded figures. He called again to Mr Sharnall, and again received no answer, and then he made his way up the nave to the little doorway that leads to the organ-loft stairs.

This door also was open, and he felt sure now that Mr Sharnall was not in the organ-loft at all, for had he been he would certainly have locked himself in. The pedal-note must be merely ciphering, or something, perhaps a book, might have fallen upon it, and was holding it down. He need not go up to the loft now; he would not go up. The throbbing of the low note had on him the same unpleasant effect as on a previous occasion. He tried to reassure himself, yet felt all the while a growing premonition that something might be wrong, something might be terribly wrong. The lateness of the hour, the isolation from all things living, the spectral moonlight which made the darkness darker—this combination of utter silence, with the distressing vibration of the pedal-note, filled him with something akin to panic. It seemed to him as if the place was full of phantoms, as if the monks of Saint Sepulchre's were risen from under their gravestones, as if there were other dire faces among them such as wait continually on deeds of evil. He checked his alarm before it mastered him. Come what might, he would go up to the organ-loft, and he plunged into the staircase that leads up out of the nave.

It is a circular stair, twisted round a central pillar, of which mention has already been made, and though short, is very dark even in bright daylight. But at night the blackness is inky and impenetrable, and Westray fumbled for an appreciable time before he had climbed sufficiently far up to perceive the glimmer of moonlight at the top. He stepped out at last into the loft, and saw that the organ seat was empty. The great window at the end of the south transept shone full in front of him; it seemed as if it must be day and not night—the light from the window was so strong in comparison with the darkness which he had left. There was a subdued shimmer in the tracery where the stained glass gleamed diaphanous—amethyst and topaz, chrysoprase and jasper, a dozen jewels as in the foundations of the city of God. And in the midst, in the head of the centre light, shone out brighter than all, with an inherent radiance of its own, the cognisance of the Blandamers, the sea-green and silver of the nebuly coat.

Westray gave a step forward into the loft, and then his foot struck against something, and he nearly fell. It was something soft and yielding that he had struck, something of which the mere touch filled him with horrible surmise. He bent down to see what it was, and a white object met his eyes. It was the white face of a man turned up towards the vaulting; he had stumbled over the body of Mr Sharnall, who lay on the floor with the back of his head on the pedal-note. Westray had bent low down, and he looked full in the eyes of the organist, but they were fixed and glazing.

The moonlight that shone on the dead face seemed to fall on it through that brighter spot in the head of the middle light; it was as if the nebuly coat had blighted the very life out of the man who lay so still upon the floor.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

No evidence of any importance was given at the inquest except Westray's and the doctor's, and no other evidence was, in fact, required. Dr Ennefer had made an autopsy, and found that the immediate cause of death was a blow on the back of the head. But the organs showed traces of alcoholic habit, and the heart was distinctly diseased. It was probable that Mr Sharnall had been seized with a fainting fit as he left the organ-stool, and had fallen backwards with his head on the pedal-board. He must have fallen with much violence, and the pedal-note had made a bad wound, such as would be produced by a blunt instrument.

The inquest was nearly finished when, without any warning, Westray found himself, as by intuition, asking:

"The wound was such a one, you mean, as might have been produced by the blow of a hammer?"

The doctor seemed surprised, the jury and the little audience stared, but most surprised of all was Westray at his own question.

"You have no locus standi, sir," the coroner said severely; "such an interrogation is irregular. You are to esteem it an act of grace if I allow the medical man to reply."

"Yes," said Dr Ennefer, with a reserve in his voice that implied that he was not there to answer every irrelevant question that it might please foolish people to put to him—"yes, such a wound as might have been caused by a hammer, or by any other blunt instrument used with violence."

"Even by a heavy stick?" Westray suggested.

The doctor maintained a dignified silence, and the coroner struck in:

"I must say I think you are wasting our time, Mr Westray. I am the last person to stifle legitimate inquiry, but no inquiry is really needed here; it is quite certain that this poor man came to his end by falling heavily, and dashing his head against this wooden note in the pedals."

"Is it quite certain?" Westray asked. "Is Dr Ennefer quite sure that the wound could have been caused by a mere fall; I only want to know that Dr Ennefer is quite sure."

The coroner looked at the doctor with a deprecating glance, which implied apologies that so much unnecessary trouble should be given, and a hope that he would be graciously pleased to put an end to it by an authoritative statement.

"Oh, I am quite sure," the doctor responded. "Yes"—and he hesitated for the fraction of a second—"oh yes, there is no doubt such a wound could be caused by a fall."

"I merely wish to point out," said Westray, "that the pedal-note on which he fell is to a certain extent a yielding substance; it would yield, you must remember, at the first impact."

"That is quite true," the doctor said; "I had taken that into account, and admit that one would scarcely expect so serious an injury to have been caused. But, of course, it was so caused, because there is no other explanation; you don't suggest, I presume, that there was any foul play. It is certainly a case of accident or foul play."

"Oh no, I don't suggest anything."

The coroner raised his eyebrows; he was tired, and could not understand such waste of time. But the doctor, curiously enough, seemed to have grown more tolerant of interruption.

"I have examined the injury very carefully," he said, "and have come to the deliberate conclusion that it must have been caused by the wooden key. We must also recollect that the effect of any blow would be intensified by a weak state of health. I don't wish to rake up anything against the poor fellow's memory, or to say any word that may cause you pain, Mr Westray, as his friend; but an examination of the body revealed traces of chronic alcoholism. We must recollect that."

"The man was, in fact, a confirmed drunkard," the coroner said. He lived at Carisbury, and, being a stranger both to Cullerne and its inhabitants, had no scruple in speaking plainly; and, besides this, he was nettled at the architect's interference. "You mean the man was a confirmed drunkard," he repeated.

"He was nothing of the kind," Westray said hotly. "I do not say that he never took more than was good for him, but he was in no sense an habitual drunkard."

"I did not ask your opinion," retorted the coroner; "we do not want any lay conjectures. What do you say, Mr Ennefer?"

The surgeon was vexed in his turn at not receiving the conventional title of doctor, the more so because he knew that he had no legal right to it. To be called "Mr" demeaned him, he considered, in the eyes of present or prospective patients, and he passed at once into an attitude of opposition.

"Oh no, you quite mistake me, Mr Coroner. I did not mean that our poor friend was an habitual drunkard. I never remember to have actually seen him the worse for liquor."

"Well, what do you mean? You say the body shows traces of alcoholism, but that he was not a drunkard."

"Have we any evidence as to Mr Sharnall's state on the evening of his death?" a juror asked, with a pleasant consciousness that he was taking a dispassionate view, and making a point of importance.

"Yes, we have considerable evidence," said the coroner. "Call Charles White."

There stepped forward a little man with a red face and blinking eyes. His name was Charles White; he was landlord of the Merrymouth Inn. The deceased visited his inn on the evening in question. He did not know deceased by sight, but found out afterwards who he was. It was a bad night, deceased was very wet, and took something to drink; he drank a fairish amount, but not that much, not more than a gentleman should drink. Deceased was not drunk when he went away.

"He was drunk enough to leave his top-coat behind him, was he not?" the coroner asked. "Did you not find this coat after he was gone?" and he pointed to a poor masterless garment, that looked greener and more outworn than ever as it hung over the back of a chair.

"Yes, deceased had certainly left his coat behind him, but he was not drunk."

"There are different standards of drunkenness, gentlemen," said the coroner, imitating as well as he might the facetious cogency of a real judge, "and I imagine that the standard of the Merrymouth may be more advanced than in some other places. I don't think"—and he looked sarcastically at Westray—"I do not think we need carry this inquiry farther. We have a man who drinks, not an habitual drunkard, Mr Ennefer says, but one who drinks enough to bring himself into a thoroughly diseased state. This man sits fuddling in a low public-house all the evening, and is so far overtaken by liquor when he goes away, that he leaves his overcoat behind him. He actually leaves his coat behind him, though we have it that it was a pouring wet night. He goes to the organ-loft in a tipsy state, slips as he is getting on to his stool, falls heavily with the back of his head on a piece of wood, and is found dead some hours later by an unimpeachable and careful witness"—and he gave a little sniff—"with his head still on this piece of wood. Take note of that—when he was found his head was still on this very pedal which had caused the fatal injury. Gentlemen, I do not think we need any further evidence; I think your course is pretty clear."

All was, indeed, very clear. The jury with a unanimous verdict of accidental death put the colophon to the sad history of Mr Sharnall, and ruled that the same failing which had blighted his life, had brought him at last to a drunkard's end.

Westray walked back to the Hand of God with the forlorn old top-coat over his arm. The coroner had formally handed it over to him. He was evidently a close friend of the deceased, he would perhaps take charge of his wearing apparel. The architect's thoughts were too preoccupied to allow him to resent the sneer which accompanied these remarks; he went off full of sorrow and gloomy forebodings.

Death in so strange a shape formed a topic of tavern discussion in Cullerne, second only to a murder itself. Not since Mr Leveritt, the timber-merchant, shot a barmaid at the Blandamer Arms, a generation since, had any such dramatic action taken place on Cullerne boards. The loafers swore over it in all its bearings as they spat upon the pavement at the corner of the market square. Mr Smiles, the shop-walker in Rose and Storey's general drapery mart, discussed it genteelly with the ladies who sat before the counter on the high wicker-seated chairs.

Dr Ennefer was betrayed into ill-advised conversation while being shaved, and got his chin cut. Mr Joliffe gave away a packet of moral reflections gratis with every pound of sausage, and turned up the whites of his eyes over the sin of intemperance, which had called away his poor friend in so terrible a state of unpreparedness. Quite a crowd followed the coffin to its last resting-place, and the church was unusually full on the Sunday morning which followed the catastrophe. People expected a "pulpit reference" from Canon Parkyn, and there were the additional, though subordinate, attractions of the playing of the Dead March, and the possibility of an amateur organist breaking down in the anthem.

Church-going, which sprung from such unworthy motives, was very properly disappointed. Canon Parkyn would not, he said, pander to sensationalism by any allusion in his discourse, nor could the Dead March, he conceived, be played with propriety under such very unpleasant circumstances. The new organist got through the service with provokingly colourless mediocrity, and the congregation came out of Saint Sepulchre's in a disappointed mood, as people who had been defrauded of their rights.

Then the nine days' wonder ceased, and Mr Sharnall passed into the great oblivion of middle-class dead. His successor was not immediately appointed. Canon Parkyn arranged that the second master at the National School, who had a pretty notion of music, and was a pupil of Mr Sharnall, should be spared to fill the gap. As Queen Elizabeth, of pious memory, recruited the privy purse by keeping in her own hand vacant bishoprics, so the rector farmed the post of organist at Cullerne Minster. He thus managed to effect so important a reduction in the sordid emoluments of that office, that he was five pounds in pocket before a year was ended.

But if the public had forgotten Mr Sharnall, Westray had not. The architect was a man of gregarious instinct. As there is a tradition and bonding of common interest about the Universities, and in a less degree about army, navy, public schools, and professions, which draws together and marks with its impress those who are attached to them, so there is a certain cabala and membership among lodgers which none can understand except those who are free of that guild.

The lodging-house life, call it squalid, mean, dreary if you will, is not without its alleviations and counterpoises. It is a life of youth for the most part, for lodgers of Mr Sharnall's age are comparatively rare; it is a life of simple needs and simple tastes, for lodgings are not artistic, nor favourable to the development of any undue refinement; it is not a rich life, for men as a rule set up their own houses as soon as they are able to do so; it is a life of work and buoyant anticipation, where men are equipping for the struggle, and laying the foundations of fortune, or digging the pit of indigence. Such conditions beget and foster good fellowship, and those who have spent time in lodgings can look back to whole-hearted and disinterested friendships, when all were equal before high heaven, hail-fellows well met, who knew no artificial distinctions of rank—when all were travelling the first stage of life's journey in happy chorus together, and had not reached that point where the high road bifurcates, and the diverging branches of success and failure lead old comrades so very far apart. Ah, what a camaraderie and fellowship, knit close by the urgency of making both ends meet, strengthened by the necessity of withstanding rapacious, or negligent, or tyrannous landladies, sweetened by kindnesses and courtesies which cost the giver little, but mean much to the receiver! Did sickness of a transitory sort (for grievous illness is little known in lodgings) fall on the ground-floor tenant, then did not the first-floor come down to comfort him in the evenings? First-floor might be tired after a long day's work, and note when his frugal meal was done that 'twas a fine evening, or that a good company was billed for the local theatre; yet he would grudge not his leisure, but go down to sit with ground-floor, and tell him the news of the day, perhaps even would take him a few oranges or a tin of sardines. And ground-floor, who had chafed all the day at being shut in, and had read himself stupid for want of anything else to do, how glad he was to see first-floor, and how the chat did him more good than all the doctor's stuff!

And later on, when some ladies came to lunch with first-floor on the day of the flower-show, did not ground-floor go out and place his sitting-room completely at his fellow-lodger's disposal, so that the company might find greater convenience and change of air after meat? They were fearful joys, these feminine visits, when ladies who were kind enough to ask a young man to spend a Sunday with them, still further added to their kindness, by accepting with all possible effusion the invitation which he one day ventured to give. It was a fearful joy, and cost the host more anxious preparation than a state funeral brings to Earl-marshal. As brave a face as might be must be put on everything; so many details were to be thought out, so many little insufficiencies were to be masked. But did not the result recompense all? Was not the young man conscious that, though his rooms might be small, there was about them a delicate touch which made up for much, that everything breathed of refinement from the photographs and silver toddy-spoon upon the mantelpiece to Rossetti's poems and "Marius the Epicurean," which covered negligently a stain on the green tablecloth? And these kindly ladies came in riant mood, well knowing all his little anxieties and preparations, yet showing they knew none of them; resolved to praise his rooms, his puny treasures, even his cookery and perilous wine, and skilful to turn little contretemps into interesting novelties. Householders, yours is a noble lot, ye are the men, and wisdom shall die with you. Yet pity not too profoundly him that inhabiteth lodgings, lest he turn and rend you, pitying you in turn that have bound on your shoulders heavy burdens of which he knows nothing; saying to you that seed time is more profitable than harvest, and the wandering years than the practice of the master. Refrain from too much pity, and believe that loneliness is not always lonely.

Westray was of a gregarious temperament, and missed his fellow-lodger. The cranky little man, with all his soured outlook, must still have had some power of evoking sympathy, some attractive element in his composition. He concealed it under sharp words and moody bitterness, but it must still have been there, for Westray felt his loss more than he had thought possible. The organist and he had met twice and thrice a day for a year past. They had discussed the minster that both loved so well, within whose walls both were occupied; they had discussed the nebuly coat, and the Blandamers, and Miss Euphemia. There was only one subject which they did not discuss—namely, Miss Anastasia Joliffe, though she was very often in the thoughts of both.

It was all over now, yet every day Westray found himself making a mental note to tell this to Mr Sharnall, to ask Mr Sharnall's advice on that, and then remembering that there is no knowledge in the grave. The gaunt Hand of God was ten times gaunter now that there was no lodger on the ground-floor. Footfalls sounded more hollow at night on the stone steps of the staircase, and Miss Joliffe and Anastasia went early to bed.

"Let us go upstairs, my dear," Miss Euphemia would say when the chimes sounded a quarter to ten. "These long evenings are so lonely, are they not? and be sure you see that the windows are properly hasped." And then they hurried through the hall, and went up the staircase together side by side, as if they were afraid to be separated by a single step. Even Westray knew something of the same feeling when he returned late at night to the cavernous great house. He tried to put his hand as quickly as he might upon the matchbox, which lay ready for him on the marble-topped sideboard in the dark hall; and sometimes when he had lit the candle would instinctively glance at the door of Mr Sharnall's room, half expecting to see it open, and the old face look out that had so often greeted him on such occasions. Miss Joliffe had made no attempt to find a new lodger. No "Apartments to Let" was put in the window, and such chattels as Mr Sharnall possessed remained exactly as he left them. Only one thing was moved—the collection of Martin Joliffe's papers, and these Westray had taken upstairs to his own room.

When they opened the dead man's bureau with the keys found in his pocket to see whether he had left any will or instructions, there was discovered in one of the drawers a note addressed to Westray. It was dated a fortnight before his death, and was very short:

"If I go away and am not heard of, or if anything happens to me, get hold of Martin Joliffe's papers at once. Take them up to your own room, lock them up, and don't let them out of your hands. Tell Miss Joliffe it is my wish, and she will hand them over to you. Be very careful there isn't a fire, or lest they should be destroyed in any other way. Read them carefully, and draw your own conclusions; you will find some notes of mine in the little red pocket-book."

The architect had read these words many times. They were no doubt the outcome of the delusions of which Mr Sharnall had more than once spoken—of that dread of some enemy pursuing him, which had darkened the organist's latter days. Yet to read these things set out in black and white, after what had happened, might well give rise to curious thoughts. The coincidence was so strange, so terribly strange. A man following with a hammer—that had been the organist's hallucination; the vision of an assailant creeping up behind, and doing him to death with an awful, stealthy blow. And the reality—an end sudden and unexpected, a blow on the back of the head, which had been caused by a heavy fall. Was it mere coincidence, was it some inexplicable presentiment, or was it more than either? Had there, in fact, existed a reason why the organist should think that someone had a grudge against him, that he was likely to be attacked? Had some dreadful scene been really enacted in the loneliness of the great church that night? Had the organist been taken unawares, or heard some movement in the silence, and, turning round, found himself alone with his murderer? And if a murderer, whose was the face into which the victim looked? And as Westray thought he shuddered; it seemed it might have been no human face at all, but some fearful presence, some visible presentment of the evil that walketh in darkness.

Then the architect would brush such follies away like cobwebs, and, turning back, consider who could have found his interest in such a deed. Against whom did the dead man urge him to be on guard lest Martin's papers should be spirited away? Was there some other claimant of that ill-omened peerage of whom he knew nothing, or was it—And Westray resolutely quenched the thought that had risen a hundred times before his mind, and cast it aside as a malign and baseless suspicion.

If there was any clue it must lie in those same papers, and he followed the instruction given him, and took them to his own room. He did not show Miss Joliffe the note; to do so could only have shaken her further, and she had felt the shock too severely already. He only told her of Mr Sharnall's wishes for the temporary disposal of her brother's papers. She begged him not to take them.

"Dear Mr Westray," she said, "do not touch them, do not let us have anything to do with them. I wanted poor dear Mr Sharnall not to go meddling with them, and now see what has happened. Perhaps it is a judgment"—and she uttered the word under her breath, having a medieval faith in the vengeful irritability of Providence, and seeing manifestations of it in any untoward event, from the overturning of an inkstand to the death of a lodger. "Perhaps it is a judgment, and he might have been alive now if he had refrained. What good would it do us if all dear Martin hoped should turn out true? He always said, poor fellow, that he would be 'my lord' some day; but now he is gone there is no one except Anastasia, and she would never wish to be 'my lady,' I am sure, poor girl. You would not, darling, wish to be 'my lady' even if you could, would you?"

Anastasia looked up from her book with a deprecating smile, which lost itself in an air of vexation, when she found that the architect's eyes were fixed steadfastly upon her, and that a responsive smile spread over his face. She flushed very slightly, and turned back abruptly to her book, feeling quite unjustifiably annoyed at the interest in her doings which the young man's gaze was meant to imply. What right had he to express concern, even with a look, in matters which affected her? She almost wished she was indeed a peeress, and could slay him with her noble birth, as did one Lady Clara of old times. It was only lately that she had become conscious of this interested, would-be interesting, look, which Westray assumed in her presence. Was it possible that he was falling in love with her? And at the thought there rose before her fancy the features of someone else, haughty, hard, perhaps malign, but oh, so powerful, and quite eclipsed and blotted out the lifeless amiability of this young man who hung upon her lips.

Could Mr Westray be thinking of falling in love with her? It was impossible, and yet this following her with his eyes, and the mellific manner which he adopted when speaking to her, insisted on its possibility. She ran over hastily in her mind, as she had done several times of late, the course of their relations. Was she to blame? Could anything that she had ever done be wrested into predilection or even into appreciation? Could natural kindness or courtesy have been so utterly misunderstood? She was victoriously acquitted by this commission of mental inquiry, and left the court without a stain upon her character. She certainly had never given him the very least encouragement. At the risk of rudeness she must check these attentions in their beginning. Short of actual discourtesy, she must show him that this warm interest in her doings, these sympathetic glances, were exceedingly distasteful. She never would look near him again, she would keep her eyes rigorously cast down whenever he was present, and as she made this prudent resolution she quite unintentionally looked up, and found his patient gaze again fixed upon her.

"Oh, you are too severe, Miss Joliffe," the architect said; "we should all be delighted to see a title come to Miss Anastasia, and," he added softly, "I am sure no one would become it better."

He longed to drop the formal prefix of Miss, and to speak of her simply as Anastasia. A few months before he would have done so naturally and without reflection, but there was something in the girl's manner which led him more recently to forego this pleasure.

Then the potential peeress got up and left the room.

"I am just going to look after the bread," she said; "I think it ought to be baked by this time."

Miss Joliffe's scruples were at last overborne, and Westray retained the papers, partly because it was represented to her that if he did not examine them it would be a flagrant neglect of the wishes of a dead man—wishes that are held sacred above all others in the circles to which Miss Joliffe belonged—and partly because possession is nine points of the law, and the architect already had them safe under lock and key in his own room. But he was not able to devote any immediate attention to them, for a crisis in his life was approaching, which tended for the present to engross his thoughts.

He had entertained for some time an attachment to Anastasia Joliffe. When he originally became aware of this feeling he battled vigorously against it, and his efforts were at first attended with some success. He was profoundly conscious that any connection with the Joliffes would be derogatory to his dignity; he feared that the discrepancy between their relative positions was sufficiently marked to attract attention, if not to provoke hostile criticism. People would certainly say that an architect was marrying strangely below him, in choosing a landlady's niece. If he were to do such a thing, he would no doubt be throwing himself away socially. His father, who was dead, had been a Wesleyan pastor; and his mother, who survived, entertained so great a respect for the high position of that ministry that she had impressed upon Westray from boyhood the privileges and responsibilities of his birth. But apart from this objection, there was the further drawback that an early marriage might unduly burden him with domestic cares, and so arrest his professional progress. Such considerations had due weight with an equally-balanced mind, and Westray was soon able to congratulate himself on having effectually extinguished any dangerous inclinations by sheer strength of reason.

This happy and philosophic state of things was not of long duration. His admiration smouldered only, and was not quenched, but it was a totally extraneous influence, rather than the constant contemplation of Anastasia's beauty and excellencies, which fanned the flame into renewed activity. This extraneous factor was the entrance of Lord Blandamer into the little circle of Bellevue Lodge. Westray had lately become doubtful as to the real object of Lord Blandamer's visits, and nursed a latent idea that he was using the church, and the restoration, and Westray himself, to gain a pied-a-terre at Bellevue Lodge for the prosecution of other plans. The long conversations in which the architect and the munificent donor still indulged, the examination of plans, the discussion of details, had lost something of their old savour. Westray had done his best to convince himself that his own suspicions were groundless; he had continually pointed out to himself, and insisted to himself, that the mere fact of Lord Blandamer contributing such sums to the restoration as he either had contributed, or had promised to contribute, showed that the church was indeed his primary concern. It was impossible to conceive that any man, however wealthy, should spend many thousand pounds to obtain an entree to Bellevue Lodge; moreover, it was impossible to conceive that Lord Blandamer should ever marry Anastasia—the disparity in such a match would, Westray admitted, be still greater than in his own. Yet he was convinced that Anastasia was often in Lord Blandamer's thoughts. It was true that the Master of Fording gave no definite outward sign of any predilection when Westray was present. He never singled Anastasia out either for regard or conversation on such occasions as chance brought her into his company. At times he even made a show of turning away from her, of studiously neglecting her presence.

But Westray felt that the fact was there.

There is some subtle effluence of love which hovers about one who entertains a strong affection for another. Looks may be carefully guarded, speech may be framed to mislead, yet that pervading ambient of affection is strong to betray where perception is sharpened by jealousy.

Now and then the architect would persuade himself that he was mistaken; he would reproach himself with his own suspicious disposition, with his own lack of generosity. But then some little episode would occur, some wholly undemonstrable trifle, which swept his cooler judgment to the winds, and gave him a quite incommensurate heartburn. He would recall, for instance, the fact that for their interviews Lord Blandamer had commonly selected a Saturday afternoon. Lord Blandamer had explained this by saying that he was busy through the week; but then a lord was not like a schoolboy with a Saturday half-holiday. What business could he have to occupy him all the week, and leave him free on Saturdays? It was strange enough, and stranger from the fact that Miss Euphemia Joliffe was invariably occupied on that particular afternoon at the Dorcas meeting; stranger from the fact that there had been some unaccountable misunderstandings between Lord Blandamer and Westray as to the exact hour fixed for their interviews, and that more than once when the architect had returned at five, he had found that Lord Blandamer had taken four as the time of their meeting, and had been already waiting an hour at Bellevue Lodge.

Poor Mr Sharnall also must have noticed that something was going on, for he had hinted as much to Westray a fortnight or so before he died. Westray was uncertain as to Lord Blandamer's feelings; he gave the architect the idea of a man who had some definite object to pursue in making himself interesting to Anastasia, while his own affections were not compromised. That object could certainly not be marriage, and if it was not marriage, what was it? In ordinary cases an answer might have been easy, yet Westray hesitated to give it. It was hard to think that this grave man, of great wealth and great position, who had roamed the world, and known men and manners, should stoop to common lures. Yet Westray came to think it, and his own feelings towards Anastasia were elevated by the resolve to be her knightly champion against all base attempts.

Can man's deepest love be deepened? Then it must surely be by the knowledge that he is protector as well as lover, by the knowledge that he is rescuing innocence, and rescuing it for—himself. Thoughts such as these bring exaltation to the humblest-minded, and they quickened the slow-flowing and thin fluid that filled the architect's veins.

He came back one evening from the church weary with a long day's work, and was sitting by the fire immersed in a medley of sleepy and half-conscious consideration, now of the crack in the centre tower, now of the tragedy of the organ-loft, now of Anastasia, when the elder Miss Joliffe entered.

"Dear me, sir," she said, "I did not know you were in! I only came to see your fire was burning. Are you ready for your tea? Would you like anything special to-night? You do look so very tired. I am sure you are working too hard; all the running about on ladders and scaffolds must be very trying. I think indeed, sir, if I may make so bold, that you should take a holiday; you have not had a holiday since you came to live with us."

"It is not impossible, Miss Joliffe, that I may take your advice before very long. It is not impossible that I may before long go for a holiday."

He spoke with that preternatural gravity which people are accustomed to throw into their reply, if asked a trivial question when their own thoughts are secretly occupied with some matter that they consider of deep importance. How could this commonplace woman guess that he was thinking of death and love? He must be gentle with her and forgive her interruption. Yes, fate might, indeed, drive him to take a holiday. He had nearly made up his mind to propose to Anastasia. It was scarcely to be doubted that she would at once accept him, but there must be no half-measures, he would brook no shilly-shallying, he would not be played fast and loose with. She must either accept him fully and freely, and at once, or he would withdraw his offer, and in that case, or still more in the entirely improbable case of refusal, he would leave Bellevue Lodge forthwith.

"Yes, indeed, I may ere long have to go away for a holiday."

The conscious forbearance of replying at all gave a quiet dignity to his tone, and an involuntary sigh that accompanied his words was not lost upon Miss Joliffe. To her this speech seemed oracular and ominous; there was a sepulchral mystery in so vague an expression. He might have to take a holiday. What could this mean? Was this poor young man completely broken by the loss of his friend Mr Sharnall, or was he conscious of the seeds of some fell disease that others knew nothing of? He might have to take a holiday. Ah, it was not a mere holiday of which he spoke—he meant something more serious than that; his grave, sad manner could only mean some long absence. Perhaps he was going to leave Cullerne.

To lose him would be a very serious matter to Miss Joliffe from the material point of view; he was her sheet-anchor, the last anchor that kept Bellevue Lodge from drifting into bankruptcy. Mr Sharnall was dead, and with him had died the tiny pittance which he contributed to the upkeep of the place, and lodgers were few and far between in Cullerne. Miss Joliffe might well have remembered these things, but she did not. The only thought that crossed her mind was that if Mr Westray went away she would lose yet another friend. She did not approach the matter from the material point of view, she looked on him only as a friend; she viewed him as no money-making machine, but only as that most precious of all treasures—a last friend.

"I may have to leave you for awhile," he said again, with the same portentous solemnity.

"I hope not, sir," she interrupted, as though by her very eagerness she might avert threatened evil—"I hope not; we should miss you terribly, Mr Westray, with dear Mr Sharnall gone too. I do not know what we should do having no man in the house. It is so very lonely if you are away even for a night. I am an old woman now, and it does not matter much for me, but Anastasia is so nervous at night since the dreadful accident."

Westray's face brightened a little at the mention of Anastasia's name. Yes, his must certainly be a very deep affection, that the naming of her very name should bring him such pleasure. It was on his protection, then, that she leant; she looked on him as her defender. The muscles of his not gigantic arms seemed to swell and leap to bursting in his coat-sleeves. Those arms should screen his loved one from all evil. Visions of Perseus, and Sir Galahad, and Cophetua, swept before his eyes; he had almost cried to Miss Euphemia, "You need have no fear, I love your niece. I shall bow down and raise her to my throne. They that would touch her shall only do so over my dead body," when hesitating common-sense plucked him by the sleeve; he must consult his mother before taking this grave step.

It was well that reason thus restrained him, for such a declaration might have brought Miss Joliffe to a swoon. As it was, she noticed the cloud lifting on his face, and was pleased to think that her conversation cheered him. A little company was no doubt good for him, and she sought in her mind for some further topic of interest. Yes, of course, she had it.

"Lord Blandamer was here this afternoon. He came just like anyone else might have come, in such a very kind and condescending way to ask after me. He feared that dear Mr Sharnall's death might have been too severe a shock for us both, and, indeed, it has been a terrible blow. He was so considerate, and sat for nearly an hour—for forty-seven minutes I should say by the clock, and took tea with us in the kitchen as if he were one of the family. I never could have expected such condescension, and when he went away he left a most polite message for you, sir, to say that he was sorry that you were not in, but he hoped to call again before long."

The cloud had returned to Westray's face. If he had been the hero of a novel his brow would have been black as night; as it was he only looked rather sulky.

"I shall have to go to London to-night," he said stiffly, without acknowledging Miss Joliffe's remarks; "I shall not be back to-morrow, and may be away a few days. I will write to let you know when I shall be back."

Miss Joliffe started as if she had received an electric shock.

"To London to-night," she began—"this very night?"

"Yes," Westray said, with a dryness that would have suggested of itself that the interview was to be terminated, even if he had not added: "I shall be glad to be left alone now; I have several letters to write before I can get away."

So Miss Euphemia went to impart this strange matter to the maiden who was ex hypothesi leaning on the architect's strong arm.

"What do you think, Anastasia?" she said. "Mr Westray is going to London to-night, perhaps for some days."

"Is he?" was all her niece's comment; but there was a languor and indifference in the voice, that might have sent the thermometer of the architect's affection from boiling-point to below blood-heat, if he could have heard her speak.

Westray sat moodily for a few moments after his landlady had gone. For the first time in his life he wished he was a smoker. He wished he had a pipe in his mouth, and could pull in and puff out smoke as he had seen Sharnall do when he was moody. He wanted some work for his restless body while his restless mind was turning things over. It was the news of Lord Blandamer's visit, as on this very afternoon, that fanned smouldering thoughts into flame. This was the first time, so far as Westray knew, that Lord Blandamer had come to Bellevue Lodge without at least a formal excuse of business. With that painful effort which we use to convince ourselves of things of which we wish to be convinced in the face of all difficulties; with that blind, stumbling hope against hope with which we try to reconcile things irreconcilable, if only by so doing we can conjure away a haunting spectre, or lull to sleep a bitter suspicion; the architect had hitherto resolved to believe that if Lord Blandamer came with some frequency to Bellevue Lodge, he was only prompted to do so by a desire to keep in touch with the restoration, to follow with intelligence the expenditure of money which he was so lavishly providing. It had been the easier for Westray to persuade himself that Lord Blandamer's motives were legitimate, because he felt that the other must find a natural attraction in the society of a talented young professional man. An occasional conversation with a clever architect on things architectural, or on other affairs of common interest (for Westray was careful to avoid harping unduly on any single topic) must undoubtedly prove a relief to Lord Blandamer from the monotony of bachelor life in the country; and in such considerations Westray found a subsidiary, and sometimes he was inclined to imagine primary, interest for these visits to Bellevue Lodge.

If various circumstances had conspired of late to impugn the sufficiency of these motives, Westray had not admitted as much in his own mind; if he had been disquieted, he had constantly assured himself that disquietude was unreasonable. But now disillusion had befallen him. Lord Blandamer had visited Bellevue Lodge as it were in his own right; he had definitely abandoned the pretence of coming to see Westray; he had been drinking tea with Miss Joliffe; he had spent an hour in the kitchen with Miss Joliffe and—Anastasia. It could only mean one thing, and Westray's resolution was taken.

An object which had seemed at best but mildly desirable, became of singular value when he believed that another was trying to possess himself of it; jealousy had quickened love, duty and conscience insisted that he should save the girl from the snare that was being set for her. The great renunciation must be made; he, Westray, must marry beneath him, but before doing so he would take his mother into his confidence, though there is no record of Perseus doing as much before he cut loose Andromeda.

Meanwhile, no time must be lost; he would start this very night. The last train for London had already left, but he would walk to Cullerne Road Station and catch the night-mail from thence. He liked walking, and need take no luggage, for there were things that he could use at his mother's house. It was seven o'clock when he came to this resolve, and an hour later he had left the last house in Cullerne behind him, and entered upon his night excursion.

The line of the Roman way which connected Carauna (Carisbury) with its port Culurnum (Cullerne) is still followed by the modern road, and runs as nearly straight as may be for the sixteen miles which separate those places. About half-way between them the Great Southern main line crosses the highway at right angles, and here is Cullerne Road Station. The first half of the way runs across a flat sandy tract called Mallory Heath, where the short greensward encroaches on the road, and where the eye roaming east or west or north can discern nothing except a limitless expanse of heather, broken here and there by patches of gorse and bracken, or by clumps of touselled and wind-thinned pines and Scotch firs. The tawny-coloured, sandy, track is difficult to follow in the dark, and there are posts set up at intervals on the skirts of the way for travellers' guidance. These posts show out white against a starless night, and dark against the snow which sometimes covers the heath with a silvery sheet.

On a clear night the traveller can see the far-off lamps of the station at Cullerne Road a mile after he has left the old seaport town. They stand out like a thin line of light in the distant darkness, a line continuous at first, but afterwards resolvable into individual units of lamps as he walks further along the straight road. Many a weary wayfarer has watched those lamps hang changeless in the distance, and chafed at their immobility. They seem to come no nearer to him for all the milestones, with the distance from Hyde Park Corner graven in old figures on their lichened faces, that he has passed. Only the increasing sound of the trains tells him that he is nearing his goal, and by degrees the dull rumble becomes a clanking roar as the expresses rush headlong by. On a crisp winter day they leave behind them a trail of whitest wool, and in the night-time a fiery serpent follows them when the open furnace-door flings on the cloud a splendid radiance. But in the dead heats of midsummer the sun dries up the steam, and they speed along, the more wonderful because there is no trace to tell what power it is that drives them.

Of all these things Westray saw nothing. A soft white fog had fallen upon everything. It drifted by in delicate whirling wreaths, that seemed to have an innate motion of their own where all had been still but a minute before. It covered his clothes with a film of the finest powdery moisture that ran at a touch into heavy drops, it hung in dripping dew on his moustache, and hair, and eyebrows, it blinded him, and made him catch his breath. It had come rolling in from the sea as on that night when Mr Sharnall was taken, and Westray could hear the distant groaning of fog-horns in the Channel; and looking backwards towards Cullerne, knew from a blurred glare, now green, now red, that a vessel in the offing was signalling for a coastwise pilot. He plodded steadily forward, stopping now and then when he found his feet on the grass sward to recover the road, and rejoicing when one of the white posts assured him that he was still keeping the right direction. The blinding fog isolated him in a strange manner; it cut him off from Nature, for he could see nothing of her; it cut him off from man, for he could not have seen even a legion of soldiers had they surrounded him. This removal of outside influences threw him back upon himself, and delivered him to introspection; he began for the hundredth time to weigh his position, to consider whether the momentous step that he was taking was necessary to his ease of mind, was right, was prudent.

To make a proposal of marriage is a matter that may give the strongest-minded pause, and Westray's mind was not of the strongest. He was clever, imaginative, obstinate, scrupulous to a fault; but had not that broad outlook on life which comes of experience, nor the power and resolution to readily take a decision under difficult circumstances, and to abide by it once taken. So it was that reason made a shuttlecock of his present resolve, and half a dozen times he stopped in the road meaning to abandon his purpose, and turn back to Cullerne. Yet half a dozen times he went on, though with slow feet, thinking always, Was he right in what he was doing, was he right? And the fog grew thicker; it seemed almost to be stifling him; he could not see his hand if he held it at arm's length before his face. Was he right, was there any right or any wrong, was anything real, was not everything subjective—the creation of his own brain? Did he exist, was he himself, was he in the body or out of the body? And then a wild dismay, a horror of the darkness and the fog, seized hold of him. He stretched out his arms, and groped in the mist as if he hoped to lay hold of someone, or something, to reassure him as to his own identity, and at last a mind-panic got the better of him; he turned and started back to Cullerne.

It was only for a moment, and then reason began to recover her sway; he stopped, and sat down on the heather at the side of the road, careless that every spray was wet and dripping, and collected his thoughts. His heart was beating madly as in one that wakes from a nightmare, but he was now ashamed of his weakness and of the mental debacle, though there had been none to see it. What could have possessed him, what madness was this? After a few minutes he was able to turn round once more, and resumed his walk towards the railway with a firm, quick step, which should prove to his own satisfaction that he was master of himself.

For the rest of his journey he dismissed bewildering questions of right and wrong, of prudence and imprudence, laying it down as an axiom that his emprise was both right and prudent, and busied himself with the more material and homely considerations of ways and means. He amused himself in attempting to fix the sum for which it would be possible for him and Anastasia to keep house, and by mentally straining to the utmost the resources at his command managed to make them approach his estimate. Another man in similar circumstances might perhaps have given himself to reviewing the chances of success in his proposal, but Westray did not trouble himself with any doubts on this point. It was a foregone conclusion that if he once offered himself Anastasia would accept him; she could not be so oblivious to the advantages which such a marriage would offer, both in material considerations and in the connection with a superior family. He only regarded the matter from his own standpoint; once he was convinced that he cared enough for Anastasia to make her an offer, then he was sure that she would accept him.

It was true that he could not, on the spur of the moment, recollect many instances in which she had openly evinced a predilection for him, but he was conscious that she thought well of him, and she was no doubt too modest to make manifest, feelings which she could never under ordinary circumstances hope to see returned. Yet he certainly had received encouragement of a quiet and unobtrusive kind, quite sufficient to warrant the most favourable conclusions. He remembered how many, many times their eyes had met when they were in one another's company; she must certainly have read the tenderness which had inspired his glances, and by answering them she had given perhaps the greatest encouragement that true modesty would permit. How delicate and infinitely gracious her acknowledgment had been, how often had she looked at him as it were furtively, and then, finding his passionate gaze upon her, had at once cast her own eyes shyly to the ground! And in his reveries he took not into reckoning, the fact that through these later weeks he had scarcely ever taken his gaze off her, so long as she was in the same room with him. It would have been strange if their eyes had not sometimes met, because she must needs now and then obey that impulse which forces us to look at those who are looking at us. Certainly, he meditated, her eyes had given him encouragement, and then she had accepted gratefully a bunch of lilies of the valley which he said lightly had been given him, but which he had really bought ad hoc at Carisbury. But, again, he ought perhaps to have reflected that it would have been difficult for her to refuse them. How could she have refused them? How could any girl under the circumstances do less than take with thanks a few lilies of the valley? To decline them would be affectation; by declining she might attach a false and ridiculous significance to a kindly act. Yes, she had encouraged him in the matter of the lilies, and if she had not worn some of them in her bosom, as he had hoped she might, that, no doubt, was because she feared to show her preference too markedly. He had noticed particularly the interest she had shown when a bad cold had confined him for a few days to the house, and this very evening had he not heard that she missed him when he was absent even for a night? He smiled at this thought, invisibly in the fog; and has not a man a right to some complacence, on whose presence in the house hang a fair maiden's peace and security? Miss Joliffe had said that Anastasia felt nervous whenever he, Westray, was away; it was very possible that Anastasia had given her aunt a hint that she would like him to be told this, and he smiled again in the fog; he certainly need have no fear of any rejection of his suit.

He had been so deeply immersed in these reassuring considerations that he walked steadily on unconscious of all exterior objects and conditions until he saw the misty lights of the station, and knew that his goal was reached. His misgivings and tergiversations had so much delayed him by the way, that it was past midnight, and the train was already due. There were no other travellers on the platform, or in the little waiting-room where a paraffin-lamp with blackened chimney struggled feebly with the fog. It was not a cheery room, and he was glad to be called back from a contemplation of a roll of texts hanging on the wall, and a bottle of stale water on the table, to human things by the entry of a drowsy official who was discharging the duties of station-master, booking-clerk, and porter all at once.

"Are you waiting for the London train, sir?" he asked in a surprised tone, that showed that the night-mail found few passengers at Cullerne Road. "She will be in now in a few minutes; have you your ticket?"

They went together to the booking-office. The station-master handed him a third-class ticket, without even asking how he wished to travel.

"Ah, thank you," Westray said, "but I think I will go first-class to-night. I shall be more likely to have a compartment to myself, and shall be less disturbed by people getting in and out."

"Certainly, sir," said the station-master, with the marked increase of respect due to a first-class passenger—"certainly, sir; please give me back the other ticket. I shall have to write you one—we do not keep them ready; we are so very seldom asked for first-class at this station."

"No, I suppose not," Westray said.

"Things happen funny," the station-master remarked while he got his pen. "I wrote one by this same train a month ago, and before that I don't think we have ever sold one since the station was opened."

"Ah," Westray said, paying little attention, for he was engaged in a new mental disputation as to whether he was really justified in travelling first-class. He had just settled that at such a life-crisis as he had now reached, it was necessary that the body should be spared fatigue in order that the mind might be as vigorous as possible for dealing with a difficult situation, and that the extra expense was therefore justified; when the station-master went on:

"Yes, I wrote a ticket, just as I might for you, for Lord Blandamer not a month ago. Perhaps you know Lord Blandamer?" he added venturously; yet with a suggestion that even the sodality of first-class travelling was not in itself a passport to so distinguished an acquaintance. The mention of Lord Blandamer's name gave a galvanic shock to Westray's flagging attention.

"Oh yes," he said, "I know Lord Blandamer."

"Do you, indeed, sir"—and respect had risen by a skip greater than any allowed in counterpoint. "Well, I wrote a ticket for his lordship by this very train not a month ago; no, it was not a month ago, for 'twas the very night the poor organist at Cullerne was took."

"Yes," said the would-be indifferent Westray; "where did Lord Blandamer come from?"

"I do not know," the station-master replied—"I do not know, sir," he repeated, with the unnecessary emphasis common to the uneducated or unintelligent.

"Was he driving?"

"No, he walked up to this station just as you might yourself. Excuse me, sir," he broke off; "here she comes."

They heard the distant thunder of the approaching train, and were in time to see the gates of the level-crossing at the end of the platform swing silently open as if by ghostly hands, till their red lanterns blocked the Cullerne Road.

No one got out, and no one but Westray got in; there was some interchanging of post-office bags in the fog, and then the station-master-booking-clerk-porter waved a lamp, and the train steamed away. Westray found himself in a cavernous carriage, of which the cloth seats were cold and damp as the lining of a coffin. He turned up the collar of his coat, folded his arms in a Napoleonic attitude, and threw himself back into a corner to think. It was curious—it was very curious. He had been under the impression that Lord Blandamer had left Cullerne early on the night of poor Sharnall's accident; Lord Blandamer had told them at Bellevue Lodge that he was going away by the afternoon train when he left them. Yet here he was at Cullerne Road at midnight, and if he had not come from Cullerne, whence had he come? He could not have come from Fording, for from Fording he would certainly have taken the train at Lytchett. It was curious, and while he was so thinking he fell asleep.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

A day or two later Miss Joliffe said to Anastasia:

"I think you had a letter from Mr Westray this morning, my dear, had you not? Did he say anything about his return? Did he say when he was coming back?"

"No, dear aunt, he said nothing about coming back. He only wrote a few lines on a matter of business."

"Oh yes, just so," Miss Joliffe said dryly, feeling a little hurt at what seemed like any lack of confidence on her niece's part.

Miss Joliffe would have said that she knew Anastasia's mind so well that no secrets were hid from her. Anastasia would have said that her aunt knew everything except a few little secrets, and, as a matter of fact, the one perhaps knew as much of the other as it is expedient that age should know of youth. "The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a hell of heaven, a heaven of hell." Of all earthly consolations this is the greatest, that the mind is its own place. The mind is an impregnable fortress which can be held against all comers, the mind is a sanctuary open day or night to the pursued, the mind is a flowery pleasance where shade refreshes even in summer droughts. To some trusted friend we try to give the clue of the labyrinth, but the ball of silk is too short to guide any but ourselves along all the way. There are sunny mountain-tops, there are innocent green arbours, or closes of too highly-perfumed flowers, or dank dungeons of despair, or guilty mycethmi black as night, where we walk alone, whither we may lead no one with us by the hand.

Miss Euphemia Joliffe would have liked to ignore altogether the matter of Westray's letter, and to have made no further remarks thereon; but curiosity is in woman a stronger influence than pride, and curiosity drove her to recur to the letter.

"Thank you, my dear, for explaining about it. I am sure you will tell me if there are any messages for me in it."

"No, there was no message at all for you, I think," said Anastasia. "I will get it for you by-and-by, and you shall see all he says;" and with that she left the room as if to fetch the letter. It was only a subterfuge, for she felt Westray's correspondence burning a hole in her pocket all the while; but she was anxious that her aunt should not see the letter until an answer to it had been posted; and hoped that if she once escaped from the room, the matter would drop out of memory. Miss Joliffe fired a parting shot to try to bring her niece to her bearings as she was going out:

"I do not know, my dear, that I should encourage any correspondence from Mr Westray, if I were you. It would be more seemly, perhaps, that he should write to me on any little matter of business than to you." But Anastasia feigned not to hear her, and held on her course.

She betook herself to the room that had once been Mr Sharnall's, but was now distressingly empty and forlorn, and there finding writing materials, sat down to compose an answer to Westray's letter. She knew its contents thoroughly well, she knew its expressions almost by heart, yet she spread it out on the table before her, and read and re-read it as many times as if it were the most difficult of cryptograms.

"Dearest Anastasia," it began, and she found a grievance in the very first word, "Dearest." What right had he to call her "Dearest"? She was one of those unintelligible females who do not shower superlatives on every chance acquaintance. She must, no doubt, have been callous as judged by modern standards, or at least, singularly unimaginative, for among her few correspondents she had not one whom she addressed as "dearest." No, not even her aunt, for at such rare times of absence from home as she had occasion to write to Miss Joliffe, "My dear Aunt Euphemia" was the invocation.

It was curious that this same word "Dearest" had occasioned Westray also considerable thought and dubiety. Should he call her "Dearest Anastasia," or "Dear Miss Joliffe"? The first sounded too forward, the second too formal. He had discussed this and other details with his mother, and the die had at last fallen on "Dearest." At the worst such an address could only be criticised as proleptic, since it must be justified almost immediately by Anastasia's acceptance of his proposal.

"Dearest Anastasia—for dearest you are and ever will be to me—I feel sure that your heart will go out to meet my heart in what I am saying; that your kindness will support me in the important step which has now to be taken."

Anastasia shook her head, though there was no one to see her. There was a suggestion of fate overbearing prudence in Westray's words, a suggestion that he needed sympathy in an unpleasant predicament, that jarred on her intolerably.

"I have known you now a year, and know that my happiness is centred in you; you too have known me a year, and I trust that I have read aright the message that your eyes have been sending to me.

"'For I shall happiest be to-night, Or saddest in the town; Heaven send I read their message right, Those eyes of hazel brown.'"

Anastasia found space in the press of her annoyance to laugh. It was more than a smile, it was a laugh, a quiet little laugh to herself, which in a man would have been called a buckle. Her eyes were not hazel brown, they were no brown at all; but then brown rhymed with town, and after all the verse might perhaps be a quotation, and must so be taken only to apply to the situation in general. She read the sentence again, "I have known you now a year; you too have known me a year." Westray had thought this poetic insistence gave a touch of romance, and balanced the sentence; but to Anastasia it seemed the reiteration of a platitude. If he had known her a year, then she had known him a year, and to a female mind the sequitur was complete.

"Have I read the message right, dearest? Is your heart my own?"

Message? What message did he speak of? What message did he imagine she had wished to give him with her eyes? He had stared at her persistently for weeks past, and if her eyes sometimes caught his, that was only because she could not help it; except when between whiles she glanced at him of set purpose, because it amused her to see how silly a man in love may look.

"Say that it is; tell me that your heart is my own" (and the request seemed to her too preposterous to admit even of comment).

"I watch your present, dear Anastasia, with solicitude. Sometimes I think that you are even now exposed to dangers of whose very existence you know nothing; and sometimes I look forward with anxiety to the future, so undecipherable, if misfortune or death should overtake your aunt. Let me help you to decipher this riddle. Let me be your shield now, and your support in the days to come. Be my wife, and give me the right to be your protector. I am detained in London by business for some days more; but I shall await your answer here with overwhelming eagerness, yet, may I say it? not without hope.

"Your most loving and devoted

"Edward Westray."

She folded the letter up with much deliberation, and put it back into its envelope. If Westray had sought far and wide for means of damaging his own cause, he could scarcely have found anything better calculated for that purpose than these last paragraphs. They took away much of that desire to spare, to make unpleasantness as little unpleasant as may be, which generally accompanies a refusal. His sententiousness was unbearable. What right had he to advise before he knew whether she would listen to him? What were these dangers to which she was even now exposed, and from which Mr Westray was to shield her? She asked herself the question formally, though she knew the answer all the while. Her own heart had told her enough of late, to remove all difficulty in reading between Mr Westray's lines. A jealous man is, if possible, more contemptible than a jealous woman. Man's greater strength postulates a broader mind and wider outlook; and if he fail in these, his failure is more conspicuous than woman's. Anastasia had traced to jealousy the origin of Westray's enigmatic remarks; but if she was strong enough to hold him ridiculous for his pains, she was also weak enough to take a woman's pleasure in having excited the interest of the man she ridiculed.

She laughed again at the proposal that she should join him in deciphering any riddles, still more such as were undecipherable; and the air of patronage involved in his anxiety to provide for her future was the more distasteful in that she had great ideas of providing for it herself. She had told herself a hundred times that it was only affection for her aunt that kept her at home. Were "anything to happen" to Miss Joliffe, she would at once seek her own living. She had often reckoned up the accomplishments which would aid her in such an endeavour. She had received her education—even if it were somewhat desultory and discontinuous—at good schools. She had always been a voracious reader, and possessed an extensive knowledge of English literature, particularly of the masters of fiction; she could play the piano and the violin tolerably, though Mr Sharnall would have qualified her estimate. She had an easy touch in oils and water-colour, which her father said she must have inherited from his mother—from that Sophia Joliffe who painted the great picture of the flowers and caterpillar, and her spirited caricatures had afforded much merriment to her schoolfellows. She made her own clothes, and was sure that she had a taste in matters of dress design and manufacture that would bring her distinction if she were only given the opportunity of employing it; she believed that she had an affection for children, and a natural talent for training them, though she never saw any at Cullerne. With gifts such as these, which must be patent to others as well as herself, there would surely be no difficulty in obtaining an excellent place as governess if she should ever determine to adopt that walk of life; and she was sometimes inclined to gird at Fate, which for the present led her to deprive the world of these benefits.

In her inmost heart, however, she doubted whether she would be really justified in devoting herself to teaching; for she was conscious that she might be called to fill a higher mission, and to instruct by the pen rather than by word of mouth. As every soldier carries in his knapsack the baton of the Field Marshal, so every girl in her teens knows that there lie hidden in the recesses of her armoire, the robes and coronet and full insignia of a first-rate novelist. She may not choose to take them out and air them, the crown may tarnish by disuse, the moth of indolence may corrupt, but there lies the panoply in which she may on any day appear fully dight, for the astonishment of an awakening world. Jane Austen and Maria Edgworth are heroines, whose aureoles shine in the painted windows of such airy castles; Charlotte Bronte wrote her masterpieces in a seclusion as deep as that of Bellevue Lodge; and Anastasia Joliffe thought many a time of that day when, afar off from her watch-tower in quiet Cullerne, she would follow the triumphant progress of an epoch-making romance.

It would be published under a nom de plume, of course, she would not use her own name till she had felt her feet; and the choice of the pseudonym was the only definite step towards this venture that she had yet made. The period was still uncertain. Sometimes the action was to be placed in the eighteenth century, with tall silver urns and spindled-legged tables, and breast-waisted dresses; sometimes in the struggle of the Roses, when barons swam rivers in full armour after a bloody bout; sometimes in the Civil War, when Vandyke drew the arched eyebrow and taper hand, and when the shadow of death was over all.

It was to the Civil War that her fancy turned oftenest, and now and again, as she sat before her looking-glass, she fancied that she had a Vandyke face herself. And so it was indeed; and if the mirror was fogged and dull and outworn, and if the dress that it reflected was not of plum or amber velvet, one still might fancy that she was a loyalist daughter whose fortunes were fallen with her master's. The Limner of the King would have rejoiced to paint the sweet, young, oval face and little mouth; he would have found the space between the eyebrow and the eyelid to his liking.

If the plot were still shadowy, her characters were always with her, in armour or sprigged prints; and, the mind being its own place, she took about a little court of her own, where dreadful tragedies were enacted, and valorous deeds done; where passionate young love suffered and wept, and where a mere girl of eighteen, by consummate resolution, daring, beauty, genius, and physical strength, always righted the situation, and brought peace at the last.

With resources such as these, the future did not present itself in dark colours to Anastasia; nor did its riddle appear to her nearly so undecipherable as Mr Westray had supposed. She would have resented, with all the confidence of inexperience, any attempt to furnish her with prospects; and she resented Westray's offer all the more vigorously because it seemed to carry with it a suggestion of her own forlorn position, to insist unduly on her own good fortune in receiving such a proposal, and on his condescension in making it.

There are women who put marriage in the forefront of life, whose thoughts revolve constantly about it as a centre, and with whom an advantageous match, or, failing that, a match of some sort, is the primary object. There are others who regard marriage as an eventuality, to be contemplated without either eagerness or avoidance, to be accepted or declined according as its circumstances may be favourable or unfavourable. Again, there are some who seem, even from youth, to resolutely eliminate wedlock from their thoughts, to permit themselves no mental discussion upon this subject. Though a man profess that he will never marry, experience has shown that his resolve is often subject to reconsideration. But with unmarrying women the case is different, and unmarried for the most part they remain, for man is often so weak-kneed a creature in matters of the heart, that he refrains from pursuing where an unsympathetic attitude discourages pursuit. It may be that some of these women, also, would wish to reconsider their verdict, but find that they have reached an age when there is no place for repentance; yet, for the most part, woman's resolve upon such matters is more stable than man's, and that because the interests at stake in marriage are for her more vital than can ever be the case with man.

It was to the class of indifferentists that Anastasia belonged; she neither sought nor shunned a change of state, but regarded marriage as an accident that, in befalling her, might substantially change the outlook. It would render a life of teaching, no doubt, impossible; domestic or maternal cares might to some extent trammel even literary activity (for, married or not married, she was determined to fulfil her mission of writing), but in no case was she inclined to regard marriage as an escape from difficulties, as the solution of so trivial a problem as that of existence.

She read Westray's letter once more from beginning to end. It was duller than ever. It reflected its writer; she had always thought him unromantic, and now he seemed to her intolerably prosaic, conceited, pettifogging, utilitarian. To be his wife! She had rather slave as a nursery-governess all her life! And how could she write fiction with such a one for mentor and company? He would expect her to be methodic, to see that eggs were fresh, and beds well aired. So, by thinking, she reasoned herself into such a theoretic reprobation of this attempt upon her, that his offer became a heinous crime. If she answered him shortly, brusquely, nay rudely, it would be but what he deserved for making her ridiculous to herself by so absurd a proposal, and she opened her writing-case with much firmness and resolution.

It was a little wooden case covered in imitation leather, with Papeterie stamped in gold upon the top. She had no exaggerated notions as to its intrinsic worth, but it was valuable in her eyes as being a present from her father. It was, in fact, the only gift he ever had bestowed upon her; but on this he had expended at least half a crown, in a fit of unusual generosity when he sent her with a great flourish of trumpets to Mrs Howard's school at Carisbury. She remembered his very words. "Take this, child," he said; "you are now going to a first-class place of education, and it is right that you should have a proper equipment," and so gave her the papeterie. It had to cover a multitude of deficiencies, and poor Anastasia lamented that it had not been a new hair-brush, half a dozen pocket-handkerchiefs, or even a sound pair of shoes.

Still it had stood in good stead, for with it she had written all her letters ever since, and being the only receptacle with lock and key to which she had access, she had made it a little ark and coffer for certain girlish treasures. With such it was stuffed so full that they came crowding out as she opened it. There were several letters to which romance attached, relics of that delightful but far too short school-time at Carisbury; there was her programme, with rudely-scribbled names of partners, for the splendid dance at the term's end, to which a selection of other girls' brothers were invited; a pressed rose given her by someone which she had worn in her bosom on that historic occasion, and many other equally priceless mementoes. Somehow these things seemed now neither so romantic nor so precious as on former occasions; she was even inclined to smile, and to make light of them, and then a little bit of paper fluttered off the table on to the floor. She stooped and picked up the flap of an envelope with the coronet and "Fording" stamped in black upon it which she had found one day when Westray's waste-paper basket was emptied. It was a simple device enough, but it must have furnished her food for thought, for it lay under her eyes on the table for at least ten minutes before she put it carefully back into the papeterie, and began her letter to Westray.

She found no difficulty in answering, but the interval of reflection had soothed her irritation, and blunted her animosity. Her reply was neither brusque nor rude, it leant rather to conventionalism than to originality, and she used, after all, those phrases which have been commonplaces in such circumstances, since man first asked and woman first refused. She thanked Mr Westray for the kind interest which he had taken in her, she was deeply conscious of the consideration which he had shown her. She was grieved—sincerely grieved—to tell him that things could not be as he wished. She was so afraid that her letter would seem unkind; she did not mean it to be unkind. However difficult it was to say it now, she thought it was the truest kindness not to disguise from him that things never could be as he wished. She paused a little to review this last sentiment, but she allowed it to remain, for she was anxious to avoid any recrudescence of the suppliant's passion, and to show that her decision was final. She should always feel the greatest esteem for Mr Westray; she trusted that the present circumstances would not interrupt their friendship in any way. She hoped that their relations might continue as in the past, and in this hope she remained very truly his.

She gave a sigh of relief when the letter was finished, and read it through carefully, putting in commas and semicolons and colons at what she thought appropriate places. Such punctilio pleased her; it was, she considered, due from one who aspired to a literary style, and aimed at making a living by the pen. Though this was the first answer to a proposal that she had written on her own account, she was not altogether without practice in such matters, as she had composed others for her heroines who had found themselves in like position. Her manner, also, was perhaps unconsciously influenced by a perusal of "The Young Person's Compleat Correspondent, and Guide to Answers to be given in the Various Circumstances of Life," which, in a tattered calf covering, formed an item in Miss Euphemia's library.

It was not till the missive was duly sealed up and posted that she told her aunt of what had happened. "There is Mr Westray's letter," she said, "if you would care to read it," and passed over to Miss Joliffe the piece of white paper on which a man had staked his fate.

Miss Joliffe took the letter with an attempt to assume an indifferent manner, which was unsuccessful, because an offer of marriage has about it a certain exhalation and atmosphere that betrays its importance even to the most unsuspicious. She was a slow reader, and, after wiping and adjusting her spectacles, sat down for a steady and patient consideration of the matter before her.

But the first word that she deciphered, "Dearest," startled her composure, and she pressed on through the letter with a haste that was foreign to her disposition. Her mouth grew rounder as she read, and she sighed out "Dear's" and "Dear Anastasia's" and "Dear Child's" at intervals as a relief to her feelings.

Anastasia stood by her, following the lines of writing that she knew by heart, with all the impatience of one who is reading ten times faster than another who turns the page.

Miss Joliffe's mind was filled with conflicting emotions; she was glad at the prospect of a more assured future that was opening before her niece, she was hurt at not having been taken sooner into confidence, for Anastasia must certainly have known that he was going to propose; she was chagrined at not having noticed a courtship which had been carried on under her very eyes; she was troubled at the thought that the marriage would entail the separation from one who was to her as a child.

How weary she would find it to walk alone down the long paths of old age! how hard it was to be deprived of a dear arm on whose support she had reckoned for when "the slow dark hours begin"! But she thrust this reflection away from her as selfish, and contrition for having harboured it found expression in a hand wrinkled and roughened by hard wear, which stole into Anastasia's.

"My dear," she said, "I am very glad at your good fortune; this is a great thing that has befallen you." A general content that Anastasia should have received a proposal silenced her misgivings.

To the recipient, an offer of marriage, be it good, bad, or indifferent, to be accepted or to be refused, brings a certain complacent satisfaction. She may pretend to make light of it, to be displeased at it, to resent it, as did Anastasia; but in her heart of hearts there lurks the self-appreciating reflection that she has won the completest admiration of a man. If he be a man that she would not marry under any conditions, if he be a fool, or a spendthrift, or an evil-liver, he is still a man, and she has captured him. Her relations share in the same pleasurable reflections. If the offer is accepted, then a future has been provided for one whose future, maybe, was not too certain; if it is declined, then they congratulate themselves on the high morale or strong common-sense of a kinswoman who refuses to be won by gold, or to link her destiny with an unsuitable partner.

"It is a great thing, my dear, that has befallen you," Miss Joliffe repeated. "I wish you all happiness, dear Anastasia, and may all blessings wait upon you in this engagement."

"Aunt," interrupted her niece, "please don't say that. I have refused him, of course; how could you think that I should marry Mr Westray? I never have thought of any such thing with him. I never had the least idea of his writing like this."

"You have refused him?" said the elder lady with a startled emphasis. Again a selfish reflection crossed her mind—they were not to be parted after all—and again she put it resolutely away. She ran over in her mind all the possible objections that could have influenced her niece in arriving at such a conclusion. Religion was the keynote of Miss Joliffe's life; to religion her thought reverted as the needle to the pole, and to it she turned for an explanation now. It must be some religious consideration that had proved an obstacle to Anastasia.

"I do not think you need find any difficulty in his having been brought up as a Wesleyan," she said, with a profound conviction that she had put her finger on the matter, and with some consciousness of her own perspicacity. "His father has been dead some time, and though his mother is still alive, you would not have to live with her. I do not think, dear, she would at all wish you to become a Methodist. As for our Mr Westray, your Mr Westray, I should say now," and she assumed that expression of archness which is considered appropriate to such occasions, "I am sure he is a sound Churchman. He goes regularly to the minster on Sundays, and I dare say, being an architect, and often in church on week-days, he has found out that the order of the Church of England is more satisfactory than that of any other sect. Though I am sure I do not wish to say one word against Wesleyans; they are no doubt true Protestants, and a bulwark against more serious errors. I rejoice that your lover's early training will have saved him from any inclination to ritualism."

"My dear aunt," Anastasia broke in, with a stress of earnest deprecation on the "dear" that startled her aunt, "please do not go on like that. Do not call Mr Westray my lover; I have told you that I will have nothing to do with him."

Miss Joliffe's thoughts had moved through a wide arc. Now that this offer of marriage was about to be refused, now that this engagement was not to be, the advantages that it offered stood out in high relief. It seemed too sad that the curtain should be rung down just as the action of a drama of intense interest was beginning, that the good should slip through their fingers just as they were grasping it. She gave no thought now to that fear of a lonely old age which had troubled her a few minutes before; she only saw the provision for the future which Anastasia was wilfully sacrificing. Her hand tightened automatically, and crumpled a long piece of paper that she was holding. It was only a milkman's bill, and yet it might perhaps have unconsciously given a materialistic colour to her thoughts.

"We should not reject any good thing that is put before us," she said a little stiffly, "without being very certain that we are right to do so. I do not know what would become of you, Anastasia, if anything were to happen to me."

"That is exactly what he says, that is the very argument which he uses. Why should you take such a gloomy view of things? Why should something happening always mean something bad. Let us hope something good will happen, that someone else will make me a better offer." She laughed, and went on reflectively: "I wonder whether Mr Westray will come back here to lodge; I hope he won't."

Hardly were the words out of her mouth when she was sorry for uttering them, for she saw the look of sadness which overspread Miss Joliffe's face.

"Dear aunt," she cried, "I am so sorry; I didn't mean to say that. I know what a difference it would make; we cannot afford to lose our last lodger. I hope he will come back, and I will do everything I can to make things comfortable, short of marrying him. I will earn some money myself. I will write."

"How will you write? Who is there to write to?" Miss Joliffe said, and then the blank look on her face grew blanker, and she took out her handkerchief. "There is no one to help us. Anyone who ever cared for us is dead long ago; there is no one to write to now."



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

Westray played the role of rejected lover most conscientiously; he treated the episode of his refusal on strictly conventional lines. He assured himself and his mother that the light of his life was extinguished, that he was the most unhappy of mortals. It was at this time that he wrote some verses called "Autumn," with a refrain of—

"For all my hopes are cold and dead, And fallen like the fallen leaves,"

which were published in the Clapton Methodist, and afterwards set to music by a young lady who wished to bind up another wounded heart. He attempted to lie awake of nights with indifferent success, and hinted in conversation at the depressing influence which insomnia exerts over its victims. For several meals in succession he refused to eat heartily of such dishes as he did not like, and his mother felt serious anxiety as to his general state of health. She inveighed intemperately against Anastasia for having refused her son, but then she would have inveighed still more intemperately had Anastasia accepted him. She wearied him with the portentous gloom which she affected in his presence, and quoted Lady Clara Vere de Vere's cruelty in turning honest hearts to gall, till even the rejected one was forced to smile bitterly at so inapposite a parallel.

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