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The Secret Power
by Marie Corelli
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"If it were Morgana it would be far worse than if it were Manella!" he said—"The one is too stupid—the other too clever. But the stupid woman would make the best wife—if I wanted one—which I do not; and the best mother, if I desired children,—which I do not. The question is,—what DO I want? I think I know—but supposing I get it, shall I be satisfied? Will it fulfil my life's desire? What IS my life's desire?"

He stood inert—his tall figure erect—his eyes full of strange and meditative earnestness, and for a moment he seemed to gather his mental forces together with an effort. Turning towards the table where the bowl of constantly sparkling fluid danced in tiny flashing eddies within its crystal prison, he watched its movement.

"There's the clue!" he said—"so little—yet so much! Life that cannot cease—force that cannot die! For me—for me alone this secret!—to do with it what I will—to destroy or to re-create! How shall I use it? If I could sweep the planet clean of its greedy, contentious human microbes, and found a new race I might be a power for good,—but should I care to do this? If God does not care, why should I?"

He lost himself anew in musing—then, rousing his mind to work, he put paper, pens and ink on the table, and started writing busily—only interrupting himself once for a light meal of dry bread and milk during a stretch of six or seven hours. At the end of his self-appointed time, he went out of the hut to see, as he often expressed it, "what the sky was doing." It was not doing much, being a mere hot glare in which the sun was beginning to roll westwards slowly like a sinking fire-ball. He brought out one of the wicker chairs from the hut and set it in the only patch of shade by the door, stretching himself full length upon it, and closing his eyes, composed himself to sleep. His face in repose was a remarkably handsome one,—a little hard in outline, but strong, nobly featured and expressive of power,—an ambitious sculptor would have rejoiced in him as a model for Achilles. He was as unlike the modern hideous type of man as he could well be,—and most particularly unlike any specimen of American that could be found on the whole huge continent. In truth he was purely and essentially English of England,—one of the fine old breed of men nurtured among the winds and waves of the north, for whom no labour was too hard, no service too exacting, no death too difficult, provided "the word was the bond." His natural gifts of intellect were very great, and profound study had ripened and rounded them to fruition,—certain discoveries in chemistry which he had tested were brought to the attention of his own country's scientists, who in their usual way of accepting new light on old subjects smiled placidly, shook their heads, pooh-poohed, and finally set aside the matter "for future discussion." But Roger Seaton was not of a nature to sink under a rebuff. If the Wise Men of Gotham in England refused to take first advantage of the knowledge he had to offer them, then the Wise Men of Gotham in Germany or the United States should have their chance. He tried the United States and was received with open arms and open minds. So he resolved to stay there, for a few years at any rate, and managed to secure a position with the tireless magician Edison, in whose workshops he toiled patiently as an underling, obtaining deeper grasp of his own instinctive knowledge, and further insight into an immense nature secret which he had determined to master alone. He had not mastered it yet—but felt fairly confident that he was near the goal. As he slept peacefully, with the still shade of a heavily foliaged vine which ramped over the roof of the hut, sheltering his face from the sun, his whole form in its relaxed, easy attitude expressed force in repose,—physical energy held in leash.

The sun sank lower, its hue changing from poppy red to burning orange—and presently a woman's figure appeared on the hill slope, and cautiously approached the sleeper—a beautiful figure of classic mould and line, clothed in a simple white linen garb, with a red rose at its breast. It was Manella. She had taken extraordinary pains with her attire, plain though it was—something dainty and artistic in the manner of its wearing made its simplicity picturesque,—and the red rose at her bosom was effectively supplemented by another in her hair, showing brilliantly against its rich blackness. She stopped when about three paces away from the sleeping man and watched him with a wonderful tenderness. Her lips quivered sweetly—her lovely eyes shone with a soft wistfulness,—she looked indeed, as Morgana had said of her, "quite beautiful." Instinctively aware in slumber that he was not alone, Seaton stirred—opened his eyes, and sprang up.

"What! Manella!" he exclaimed—"I thought you were too busy to come!"

She hung her head a little shamefacedly.

"I HAD to come"—she answered—"There was no one else ready to bring this—for you."

She held out a telegram. He opened and read it. It was very brief—"Shall be with you to-morrow. Gwent."

He folded it and put it in his pocket. Then he turned to Manella, smiling.

"Very good of you to bring this!" he said—"Why didn't you send Irish Jake?"

"He is taking luggage down from the rooms," she answered—"Many people are going away to-day."

"Is that why you are 'so busy'"? he asked, the smile still dancing in his eyes.

She gave a little toss of her head but said nothing.

"And how fine we are to-day!" he said, glancing over her with an air of undisguised admiration—"White suits you, Manella! You should always wear it! For what fortunate man have you dressed yourself so prettily?"

She shrugged her shoulders expressively—

"For you!"

"For me? Oh, Manella! What a frank confession! And what a contradiction you are to yourself! For did you not send word by that Irish monkey that you were 'too busy to come'? And yet you dress yourself in white, with red roses, for ME! And you come after all! Capricious child! Oh Senora Soriso, how greatly honoured I am!"

She looked straight at him.

"You laugh, you laugh!" she said—"But I do not care! You can laugh at me all the time if you like. But—you cannot help looking at me! Ah yes!—you cannot help THAT!"

A triumphant glory flashed in her eyes—her red lips parted in a ravishing smile.

"You cannot help it!" she repeated—"That little white lady—that friend of yours whom you hate and love at the same time!—she told me I was 'quite beautiful!' I know I am!—and you know it too!"

He bent his eyes upon her gravely.

"I have always known it—yes!"—he said, then paused—"Dear child, beauty is nothing—"

She made a swift step towards him and laid a hand on his arm. Her ardent, glowing face was next to his.

"You speak not truly!" and her voice was tremulous—"To a man it is everything!"

Her physical fascination was magnetic, and for a moment he had some trouble to resist its spell. Very gently he put an arm round her,—and with a tender delicacy of touch unfastened the rose she wore at her bosom.

"There, dear!" he said—"I will keep this with me for company! It is like you—except that it doesn't talk and doesn't ask for love—"

"It has it without asking!" she murmured.

He smiled.

"Has it? Well,—perhaps it has!" He paused—then stooping his tall head kissed her once on the lips as a brother might have kissed her. "And perhaps—one day—when the right man comes along, you will have it too!"



CHAPTER XI

Mr. Sam Gwent stood in what was known as the "floral hall" of the Plaza Hotel, so called because it was built in colonnades which opened into various vistas of flowers and clambering vines growing with all the luxuriance common to California. He had just arrived, and while divesting himself of a light dust overcoat interrogated the official at the enquiry office.

"So he doesn't live here after all,"—he said—"Then where's he to be found?"

"Mr. Seaton has taken the hill hut"—replied the book-keeper—"'The hut of the dying' it is sometimes called. He prefers it to the hotel. The air is better for his lungs."

"Air? Lungs?"—Gwent sniffed contemptuously. "There's very little the matter with his lungs if he's the man I know! Where's this hut of the dying? Can I get there straight?"

The bookkeeper touched a bell, and Manella appeared. Gwent stared openly. Here—if "prize beauties" were anything—was a real winner!

"This gentleman wants Mr. Seaton"—said the bookkeeper—"Just show him the way up the hill."

"Sorry to trouble you!" said Gwent, raising his hat with a courtesy not common to his manner.

"Oh, it is no trouble!" and Manella smiled at him in the most ravishing way—"The path is quite easy to follow."

She preceded him out of the "floral hall," and across the great gardens, now in their most brilliant bloom to a gate which she opened, pointing with one hand towards the hill where the flat outline of the "hut of the dying" could be seen clear against the sky.

"There it is"—she explained—"It's nothing of a climb, even on the warmest day. And the air is quite different up there to what it is down here."

"Better, I suppose?"

"Oh, yes! Much better!"

"And is that why Mr. Seaton lives in the hut? On account of the air?"

Manella waved her hands expressively with a charming Spanish gesture of indifference.

"I suppose so! How should I know? He is here for his health."

Sam Gwent uttered a curious inward sound, something between a grunt and a cough.

"Ah! I should like to know how long he's been ill!"

Manella again gave her graceful gesture.

"Surely you DO know if you are a friend of his?" she said.

He looked keenly at her.

"Are YOU a friend of his?"

She smiled—almost laughed.

"I? I am only a help in the Plaza—I take him his food—"

"Take him his food!" Sam Gwent growled out something like an oath—"What! Can't he come and get it for himself? Is he treated like a bear in a cage or a baby in a cradle?"

Manella gazed at him with reproachful soft eyes.

"Oh, you are rough!" she said—"He pays for whatever little trouble he gives. Indeed it is no trouble! He lives very simply—only on new milk and bread. I expect his health will not stand anything else—though truly he does not look ill—"

Gwent cut her description short.

"Well, thank you for showing me the way, Senora or Senorita, whichever you are—I think you must be Spanish—"

"Senorita"—she said, with gentle emphasis—"I am not married. You are right that I am Spanish."

"Such eyes as yours were never born of any blood but Spanish!" said Gwent—"I knew that at once! That you are not married is a bit of luck for some man—the man you WILL marry! For the moment adios! I shall dine at the Plaza this evening, and shall very likely bring my friend with me."

She shook her head smiling.

"You will not!"

"How so?"

"Because he will not come!"

She turned away, back towards the Hotel, and Gwent started to ascend the hill alone.

"Here's a new sort of game!"—he thought—"A game I should never have imagined possible to a man like Roger Seaton! Hiding himself up here in a consumption hut, and getting a beautiful woman to wait on him and 'take him his food'! It beats most things I've heard of! Dollar sensation books aren't in it! I wonder what Morgana Royal would say to it, if she knew! He's given her the slip this time!"

Half-way up the hill he paused to rest, and saw Seaton striding down at a rapid pace to meet him.

"Hullo, Gwent!"

"Hullo!"

The two men shook hands.

"I got your wire at the beginning of the week"—said Gwent—"and came as soon as I could get away. It's been a stiff journey too—but I wouldn't keep you waiting."

"Thanks,—it's as much your affair as mine"—said Seaton—"The thing is ripe for action if you care to act. It's quite in your hands, I hardly thought you'd come—"

"But I sent you a reply wire?"

"Oh, yes—that's all right! But reply wires don't always clinch business. Yours arrived last night."

"I wonder if it was ever delivered!" grumbled Gwent—"It was addressed to the Plaza Hotel—not to a hut on a hill!"

Seaton laughed.

"You've heard all about it I see! But the hut on the hill is a 'dependence' of the Plaza—a sort of annex where dying men are put away to die peaceably—"

"YOU are not a dying man!" said Gwent, very meaningly—"And I can't make out why you pretend to be one!"

Again Seaton laughed.

"I'm not pretending!—my dear Gwent, we're all dying men! One may die a little faster than another, but it's all the same sort of 'rot, and rot, and thereby hangs a tale!' What's the news in Washington?"

They walked up the hill slowly, side by side.

"Not startling"—answered Gwent—then paused—and repeated—"Not startling—there's nothing startling nowadays—though some folks made a very good show of being startled when my nephew Jack shot himself."

Seaton stopped in his walk.

"Shot himself? That lad? Was he insane?"

"Of course!—according to the coroner. Everybody is called 'insane' who gets out of the world when it's too difficult to live in. Some people would call it sane. I call it just—cowardice! Jack had lost his last chance, you see. Morgana Royal threw him over."

Seaton paced along with a velvet-footed stride like a tiger on a trail.

"Had she led him on?"

"Rather! She leads all men 'on'—or they think she does. She led YOU on at one time!"

Seaton turned upon him with a quick, savage movement.

"Never! I saw through her from the first! She could never make a fool of ME!"

Sam Gwent gave a short cough, expressing incredulity.

"Well! Washington thought you were the favoured 'catch' and envied your luck! Certainly she showed a great preference for you—"

"Can't you talk of something else?" interposed Seaton, impatiently.

Gwent gave him an amused side-glance.

"Why, of course I can!" he responded—"But I thought I'd tell you about Jack—"

"I'm sorry!" said Seaton, hastily, conscious that he had been lacking in sympathy—"He was your heir, I believe?"

"Yes,—he might have been, had he kept a bit straighter"—said Gwent—"But heirs are no good anywhere or anyhow. They only spend what they inherit and waste the honest work of a life-time. Is that your prize palace?"

He pointed to the hut which they had almost reached.

"That's it!" answered Seaton—"And I prefer it to any palace ever built. No servants, no furniture, no useless lumber—just a place to live in—enough for any man."

"A tub was enough for Diogenes"—commented Gwent—"If we all lived in his way or your way it would be a poor look-out for trade! However, I presume you'll escape taxation here!"

Seaton made no reply, but led the way into his dwelling, offering his visitor a chair.

"I hope you've had breakfast"—he said—"For I haven't any to give you. You can have a glass of milk if you like?"

Gwent made a wry face.

"I'm not a good subject for primitive nourishment"—he said—"I've been weaned too long for it to agree with me!"

He sat down. His eyes were at once attracted by the bowl of restless fluid on the table.

"What's that?" he asked.

Roger Seaton smiled enigmatically.

"Only a trifle"—he answered—"Just health! It's a sort of talisman;—germ-proof, dust-proof, disease-proof! No microbe of mischief, however infinitesimal, can exist near it, and a few drops, taken into the system, revivify the whole."

"If that's so, your fortune's made"—said Gwent, "Give your discovery, or recipe, or whatever it is, to the world—-"

"To keep the world alive? No, thank you!" And the look of dark scorn on Seaton's face was astonishing in its almost satanic expression—"That is precisely what I wish to avoid! The world is over-ripe and over-rotten,—and it is over-crowded with a festering humanity that is INhuman, and worse than bestial in its furious grappling for self and greed. One remedy for the evil would be that no children should be born in it for the next thirty or forty years—the relief would be incalculable,—a monstrous burden would be lifted, and there would be some chance of betterment,—but as this can never be, other remedies must be sought and found. It's pure hypocrisy to talk of love for children, when every day we read of mothers selling their offspring for so much cash down,—lately in China during a spell of famine parents killed their daughters like young calves, for food. Ugly facts like these have to be looked in the face—it's no use putting them behind one's back, and murmuring beautiful lies about 'mother-love' and such nonsense. As for the old Mosaic commandment 'Honour thy father and mother'—it's ordinary newspaper reading to hear of boys and girls attacking and murdering their parents for the sake of a few dollars."

"You've got the ugly facts by heart"—said Gwent slowly—"But there's another and more cheerful outlook—if you choose to consider it. Newspaper reading always gives the worst and dirtiest side of everything—it wouldn't be newspaper stuff if it was clean. Newspapers remind me of the rotting heaps in gardens—all the rubbish piled together till the smell becomes a nuisance—then a good burning takes place of the whole collection and it makes a sort of fourth-rate manure." He paused a moment—then went on—

"I'm not given to sentiment, but I dare say there are still a few folks who love each other in this world,—and it's good to know of when they do. My sister"—he paused again, as if something stuck in his throat; "My sister loved her boy,—Jack. His death has driven her silly for the time—doctors say she will recover—that it's only 'shock.' 'Shock' is answerable for a good many tragedies since the European war."

Seaton moved impatiently, but said nothing,

"You're a bit on the fidgets"—resumed Gwent, placidly—"You want me to come to business—and I will. May I smoke?"

His companion nodded, and he drew out his cigar-case, selecting from it a particularly fragrant Havana.

"You don't do this sort of thing, or I'd offer you one,"—he said,—"Pity you don't, it soothes the nerves. But I know your 'fads'; you are too closely acquainted with the human organism to either smoke or drink. Well—every man to his own method! Now what you want me to do is this—to represent the force and meaning of a certain substance which you have discovered, to the government of the United States and induce them to purchase it. Is that so?"

"That is so!" and Roger Seaton fixed his eyes on Gwent's hard, lantern-jawed face with a fiery intensity—"Remember, it's not child's play! Whoever takes what I can give, holds the mastery of the world! I offer it to the United States—but I would have preferred to offer it to Great Britain, being as I am, an Englishman. But the dilatory British men of science have snubbed me once—and I do not intend them to have the chance of doing it again. Briefly—I offer the United States the power to end wars, and all thought or possibility of war for ever. No Treaty of Versailles or any other treaty will ever be necessary. The only thing I ask in reward for my discovery is the government pledge to use it. That is, of course, should occasion arise. For my material needs, which are small, an allowance of a sum per annum as long as I live, will satisfy my ambition. The allowance may be as much or as little as is found convenient. The pledge to USE my discovery is the one all-important point—it must be a solemn, binding pledge—never to be broken."

Gwent puffed slowly at his cigar.

"It's a bit puzzling!"—he said—"When and where should it be used?"

Seaton stretched out a hand argumentatively.

"Now listen!" he said—"Suppose two nations quarrel—or rather, their governments and their press force them to quarrel—the United States (possessing my discovery) steps between and says—'Very well! The first move towards war—the first gun fired—means annihilation for one of you or both! We hold the power to do this!'"

Gwent drew his cigar from his lips.

"Annihilation!" he murmured—"Annihilation? For one or both!"

"Just so—absolute annihilation!" and Seaton smiled with a pleasant air of triumph—"A holocaust of microbes! The United States must let the whole world know of their ability to do this (without giving away my discovery). They must say to the nations 'We will have no more wars. If innocent people are to be killed, they can be killed quite as easily in one way as another, and our way will cost nothing—neither ships nor ammunition nor guns.' And, of course, the disputants will be given time to decide their own fate for themselves."

Sam Gwent, holding his cigar between his fingers and looking meditatively at its glowing end, smiled shrewdly.

"All very well!"—he said—"But you forget money interests. Money interests always start a war—it isn't nations that do it, it's 'companies.' Your stuff won't annihilate companies all over the globe. Governments are not likely to damage their own financial moves. Suppose the United States government agreed to your proposition and took the sole possession and proprietorship of your discovery, and gave you their written, signed and sealed pledge to use it, it doesn't at all follow that they would not break that pledge at the first opportunity. In these days governments break promises as easily as eggshells. And there would be ample excuse for breaking the pledge to you—simply on the ground of inhumanity."

"War is inhumanity"—said Seaton—"The use of my discovery would be no worse than war."

"Granted!—but war makes money for certain sections of the community,—you must think of that!" and Gwent's little shrewd eyes gleamed like bits of steel.—"Money!—money! Stores—food, clothing—transport—all these things in war mean fortunes to the contractors—while the wiping out of a nation in YOUR way would mean loss of money. Loss of life wouldn't matter,—it never does really matter—not to governments!—but loss of money—ah, well!—that's a very different and much more serious affair!"

A cynical smile twisted his features as he spoke, and Roger Seaton, standing opposite to him with his fine head well thrown back on his shoulders and his whole face alive with the power of thought, looked rather like a Viking expostulating with some refractory vassal.

"So you think the United States wouldn't take my 'discovery?'" he said—"Or—if they took it—couldn't be trusted to keep a pledged word?"

Gwent shrugged his shoulders.

"Of course our government could be trusted as much as any other government in the world,"—he said—"Perhaps more. But it would exonerate itself for breaking even a pledged word which necessitated an inhuman act involving loss of money! See? War is an inhuman act, but it brings considerable gain to those who engineer it,—this makes all the difference between humanity and INhumanity!"

"Well!—you are a senator, and you ought to know!" replied Seaton—"And if your opinion is against my offer, I will not urge you to make it. But—as I live and stand here talking to you, you may bet every dollar you possess that if neither the United States nor any other government will accept the chance I give it of holding the nations like dogs in leash, I'll hold them myself! I! One single unit of the overteeming millions! Yes, Mr. Senator Gwent, I swear it! I'll be master of the world!"



CHAPTER XII

Gwent was silent. With methodical care he flicked off the burnt end of his cigar and watched it where it fell, as though it were something rare and curious. He wanted a few minutes to think. He gave a quick upward glance at the tall athletic figure above him, with its magnificent head and flashing eyes,—and the words "I'll be master of the world" gave him an unpleasant thrill. One man on the planet with power to destroy nations seemed quite a fantastic idea—yet science made it actually possible! He bethought himself of a book he had lately read concerning radio-activity, in which he had been struck by the following passage—"Radio-activity is an explosion of great violence; the energy exerted is millions of times more powerful than the highest explosive substance yet made in our laboratories; one bomb loaded with such energy would be equal to millions of bombs of the same size and energy as used in the trenches. One's mind stands aghast at the thought of what could be possible if such power were used for destructive purposes; a single aeroplane could carry sufficient to annihilate a whole army, or lay the biggest city in ruins with the death of all its inhabitants." The writer of the book in question had stated that, so far, no means had been found of conserving and concentrating this tremendous force for such uses,—but Gwent, looking at Roger Seaton, said within himself—"He's got it!" And this impression, urging itself strongly in on his brain, was sufficiently startling to give him a touch of what is called "nerves."

After a considerably long pause he said, slowly—"Well, 'master of the world' is a pretty tall order! Now, look here, Seaton—you're a plain, straight man, and so am I, as much as my business will let me. What are you after, anyway? What is your aim and end? You say you don't want money—yet money is the chief goal of all men's ambition. You don't care for fame, though you could have it for the lifting of a finger, and I suppose you don't want love—"

Seaton laughed heartily, pushing back with a ruffling hand the thick hair from his broad open brow.

"All three propositions are nil to me"—he said—"I suppose it is because I can have them for the asking! And what satisfaction is there in any one of them? A man only needs one dinner a day, a place to sleep in and ordinary clothes to wear—very little money is required for the actual necessaries of life—enough can be earned by any day-labourer. As for fame—whosoever reads the life of even one 'famous' man will never be such a fool as to wish for the capricious plaudits of a fool-public. And love!—love does not exist—not what I call love!"

"Oh! May I have your definition?"

"Why yes!—of course you may! Love, to my thinking, means complete harmony between two souls—like two notes that make a perfect chord. The man must feel that he can thoroughly trust and reverence the woman,—the woman must feel the same towards the man. And the sense of 'reverence' is perhaps the best and most binding quality. But nowadays what woman will you find worth reverence?—what man so free from drink and debauchery as to command it? The human beings of our day are often less respectable than the beasts! I can imagine love,—what it might be—what it should be—but till we have a very different and more spiritualised world, the thing is impossible."

Again, Gwent was silent for some minutes. Then he said—

"Apparently the spirit of destructiveness is strong in you. As 'master of the world'—to quote your own words, I presume that in the event of a nation or nations deciding on war, you would give them a time-limit to consider and hold conference, with their allies—and then—if they were resolved to begin hostilities—"

"Then I could—and WOULD—wipe them off the face of the earth in twenty-four hours!" said Seaton, calmly—"From nations they should become mere dust-heaps! War makes its own dust-heaps, but with infinitely more cost and trouble—the way of exit I offer would be cheap in comparison!"

Gwent smiled a grim smile.

"Well, I come back to my former question"—he said—"Suppose the occasion arose, and you did all this, what pleasure to yourself do you foresee?"

"The pleasure of clearing the poor old earth of some of its pestilential microbes!"—answered Seaton, "Something of the same thankful satisfaction Sir Ronald Ross must have experienced when he discovered the mosquito-breeders of yellow fever and malaria, and caused them to be stamped out. The men who organise national disputes are a sort of mosquito, infecting their fellow-creatures with perverted mentality and disease,—they should be exterminated."

"Why not begin with the newspaper offices?" suggested Gwent—"The purlieus of cheap journalism are the breeding-places of the human malaria-mosquito."

"True! And it wouldn't be a bad idea to stamp them out," here Seaton threw back his head with the challenging gesture which was characteristic of his temperament—"But what is called 'the liberty of the press'(it should be called 'the license of the press') is more of an octopus than a mosquito. Cut off one tentacle, it grows another. It's entirely octopus in character, too,—it only lives to fill its stomach."

"Oh, come, come!" and Gwent's little steely eyes sparkled—"It's the 'safe-guard of nations' don't you know?—it stands for honest free speech, truth, patriotism, justice—"

"Good God!" burst out Seaton, impatiently—"When it does, then the 'new world' about which men talk so much may get a beginning! 'Honest free speech—truth!' Why, modern journalism is one GREAT LIE advertised on hoardings from one end of the world to the other!"

"I agree!" said Gwent—"And there you have the root and cause of war! No need to exterminate nations with your destructive stuff,—you should get at the microbes who undermine the nations first. When you can do THAT, you will destroy the guilty and spare the innocent,—whereas your plan of withering a nation into a dust-heap involves the innocent along with the guilty."

"War does that,"—said Seaton, curtly.

"It does. And your aim is to do away with all chance or possibility of war for ever. Good! But you need to attack the actual root of the evil."

Seaton's brow clouded into a frown.

"You're a careful man, Gwent,"—he said—"And, in the main, you are right. I know as well as you do that the license of the press is the devil's finger in the caldron of affairs, stirring up strife between nations that would probably be excellent friends and allies, if it were not for this 'licensed' mischief. But so long as the mob read the lies, so long will the liars flourish. And my argument is that if any two peoples are so brainless as to be led into war by their press, they are not fit to live—no more fit than the mosquitoes that once made Panama a graveyard."

Gwent smoked leisurely, regarding his companion with unfeigned interest.

"Apparently you haven't much respect for life?" he said.

"Not when it is diseased life—not when it is perverted life;"—returned Seaton—"Then it is mere deformity and encumbrance. For life itself in all its plenitude, health and beauty I have the deepest, most passionate respect. It is the outward ray or reflex of the image of God—"

"Stop there!" interrupted Gwent—"You believe in God?"

"I do,—most utterly! That is to say I believe in an all-pervading Mind originating and commanding the plan of the Universe. We talk of 'ions' and 'electrons'—but we are driven to confess that a Supreme Intelligence has the creation of electrons, and directs them as to the formation of all existing things. To that Mind—to that Intelligence—I submit my soul! And I do NOT believe that this Supreme Mind desires evil or sorrow,—we create disaster ourselves, and it is ourselves that must destroy it, We are given free-will—if we 'will' to create disease, we must equally 'will' to exterminate it by every means in our power."

"I think I follow you"—said Gwent, slowly—"But now, as regards this Supreme Intelligence, I suppose you will admit that the plan of creation is a dual sort of scheme—that is to say 'male and female created He them'?"

"Why, of course!" and Seaton smiled—"The question is superfluous!"

"I asked it," went on Gwent—"because you seem to eliminate the female element from your life altogether. Therefore, so I take it, you are not at your full strength, either as a scientist or philosopher. You are a kind of eagle, trying to fly high on one wing. You'll need the other! There, don't look at me in that savage way! I'm merely making my own comments on your position,—you needn't mind them. I want to get out of the tangle-up of things you have suggested. You fancy it would be easy to get the United States Government to purchase your discovery and pledge themselves to use it on occasion for the complete wiping out of a nation,—any nation—that decided to go to war,—and, failing their acceptance, or the acceptance of any government on these lines, you purpose doing the deed yourself. Well!—I can tell you straight away it's no use my trying to negotiate such a business, The inhumanity of it is to palpable."

"What of the inhumanity of war?" asked Seaton.

"That PAYS!" replied Gwent, with emphasis—"You don't, or won't, seem to recognise that blistering fact! The inhumanity of war pays everybody concerned in it except the fellows who fight to order. They are the 'raw material.' They get used up. YOUR business WOULDN'T 'pay.' And what won't 'pay' is no good to anybody in this present sort of world."

Seaton, still standing erect, bent his eyes on the lean hard features of his companion with eloquent scorn.

"So! Everything must be measured and tested by money!" he said—"And yet you senators talk of reform!—of a 'new' world!—of a higher code of conduct between man and man—"

"Yes, we talk"—interrupted Gwent—"But we don't mean what we say!—we should never think of meaning it!"

"'Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!'" quoted Seaton with passionate emphasis.

"Just so! The Lord Christ said it two thousand years ago, and it's true to-day! We haven't improved!"

With an impatient movement, Seaton strode to the door of his hut and looked out at the wide sky,—then turned back again. Gwent watched him critically.

"After all," he said, "It isn't as if you wanted anything of anybody. Money is no object of yours. If it were I should advise your selling your discovery to Morgana Royal,—she'd buy it—and, I tell you what!—SHE'D USE IT!"

"Thanks!" and Seaton nodded curtly—"I can use it myself!"

"True!" And Gwent looked interestedly at his dwindling Havana—"You can!" There followed a pause during which Gwent thought of the strange predicament in which the world might find itself, under the scientific rule of one man who had it in his power to create a terrific catastrophe without even "showing his hand." "Anyway, Seaton, you surely want to make something out of life for yourself, don't you?"

"What IS there to be made out of it?" he asked.

"Well!-happiness—the physical pleasure of living—"

"I AM happy"—declared Seaton—"and I entirely appreciate the physical pleasure of living. But I should be happier and better pleased with life if I could rid the earth of some of its mischief, disease and sorrow—"

"How about leaving that to the Supreme Intelligence?" interposed Gwent.

"That's just it! The Supreme Intelligence led me to the discovery I have made—and I feel that it has been given into my hands for a purpose. Gwent, I am positive that this same Supreme Intelligence expects his creature, Man, to help Him in the evolvement and work of the Universe! It is the only reasonable cause for Man's existence. We must help, not hinder, the scheme of which we are a part. And wherever hindrance comes in we are bound to remove and destroy it!"

The last ash of Gwent's cigar fell to the floor, and Gwent himself rose from his chair.

"Well, I suppose we've had our talk out"—he said; "I came here prepared to offer you a considerable sum for your discovery—but I can't go so far as a Government pledge. So I must leave you to it. You know"—here he hesitated—"you know a good many people would consider you mad—"

Seaton laughed.

"Oh, that goes without saying! Did you ever hear of any scientist possessing a secret drawn from the soul of nature that was not called 'mad' at once by his compeers and the public? I can stand THAT accusation! Pray Heaven I never get as mad as a Wall Street gambler!"

"You will, if you gamble with the lives of nations!" said Gwent.

"Let the nations beware how they gamble with their own lives!" retorted Seaton—"You say war is a method of money-making—let them take heed how they touch money coined in human blood! I—one man only,—but an instrument of the Supreme Intelligence,—I say and swear there shall be no more wars!"

As he uttered these words there was something almost supernatural in the expression of his face—his attitude, proudly erect, offered a kind of defiance to the world,—and involuntarily Gwent, looking at him, thought of the verse in the Third Psalm—

"I laid me down and slept; I awaked for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of the people that have set themselves against me round about."

"No—he would not be afraid!" Gwent mused—"He is a man for whom there is no such thing as fear! But—if it knew—the world might be afraid of HIM!"

Aloud he said—"Well, you may put an end to war, but you will never put an end to men's hatred and envy of one another, and if they can't 'let the steam off' in fighting, they'll find some other way which may be worse. If you come to consider it, all nature is at war with itself,—it's a perpetual struggle to live, and it's evident that the struggle was intended and ordained as universal law. Life would be pretty dull without effort—and effort means war."

"War against what?—against whom?" asked Seaton.

"Against whatever or whoever opposes the effort," replied Gwent, promptly—"There must be opposition, otherwise effort would be unnecessary. My good fellow, you've got an idea that you can alter the fixed plan of things, but you can't. The cleverest of us are only like goldfish in a glass bowl—they see the light through, but they cannot get to it. The old ship of the world will sail on its appointed way to its destined port,—and the happiest creatures are those who are content to sail with it in the faith that God is at the helm!" He broke off, smiling at his own sudden eloquence, then added—"By-the-by, where is your laboratory?"

"Haven't got one!" replied Seaton, briefly.

"What! Haven't got one! Why, how do you make your stuff?"

Seaton laughed.

"You think I'm going to tell you? Mr. Senator Gwent, you take me for a greater fool than I am! My 'stuff' needs neither fire nor crucible,—the formula was fairly complete before I left Washington, but I wanted quiet and solitude to finish what I had begun. It is finished now. That's why I sent for you to make the proposition which you say you cannot carry through."

"Finished, is it?" queried Gwent, abstractedly—"And you have it here?—in a finished state?"

Seaton nodded affirmatively.

"Then I suppose"—said Gwent with a nervous laugh—"you could 'finish' ME, if it suited your humour?"

"I could, certainly!" and Seaton gave him quite an encouraging smile—"I could reduce Mr. Senator Gwent into a small pinch of grey dust in about forty seconds, without pain! You wouldn't feel it I assure you! It would be too swift for feeling."

"Thanks! Much obliged!" said Gwent—"I won't trouble you this morning! I rather enjoy being alive."

"So do I!" declared Seaton, still smiling—"I only state what I COULD do."

Gwent stood at the door of the hut and surveyed the scenery.

"You've a fine, wild view here"—he said—"I think I shall stay at the Plaza a day or two before returning to Washington. There's a very attractive girl there."

"Oh, you mean Manella"—said Seaton, carelessly; "Yes, she's quite a beauty. She's the maid, waitress or 'help' of some sort at the hotel."

"She's a good 'draw' for male visitors"—said Gwent—"Many a man I know would pay a hundred dollars a day to have her wait upon him!"

"Would YOU?" asked Seaton, amused.

"Well!—perhaps not a hundred dollars a day, but pretty near it! Her eyes are the finest I've ever seen."

Seaton made no comment.

"You'll come and dine with me to-night, won't you?" went on Gwent—"You can spare me an hour or two of your company?"

"No, thanks"—Seaton replied—"Don't think me a churlish brute—but I don't like hotels or the people who frequent them. Besides—we've done our business."

"Unfortunately there was no business doing!" said Gwent—"Sorry I couldn't take it on."

"Don't be sorry! I'll take it on myself when the moment comes. I would have preferred the fiat of a great government to that of one unauthorised man—but if there's no help for it then the one man must act."

Gwent looked at him with a grave intentness which he meant to be impressive.

"Seaton, these new scientific discoveries are dangerous tools!" he said—"If they are not handled carefully they may work more mischief than we dream of. Be on your guard! Why, we might break up the very planet we live on, some day!"

"Very possible!" answered Seaton, lightly—"But it wouldn't be missed! Come,—I'll walk with you half way down the hill."

He threw on a broad palmetto hat as a shield against the blazing sun, for it was now the full heat of the afternoon, while Gwent solemnly unfurled a white canvas umbrella which, folded, served him on occasion as a walking-stick. A greater contrast could hardly be imagined than that afforded by the two men,—the conventionally clothed, stiff-jointed Washington senator, and the fine, easy supple figure of his roughly garbed companion; and Manella, watching them descend the hill from a coign of vantage in the Plaza gardens, criticised their appearance in her own special way.

"Poof!" she said to herself, snapping her fingers in air—"He is so ugly!—that one man—so dry and yellow and old! But the other—he is a god!"

And she snapped her fingers again,—then kissed them towards the object of her adoration,—an object as unconscious and indifferent as any senseless idol ever worshipped by blind devotees.



CHAPTER XIII

On his return to the Plaza Mr. Sam Gwent tried to get some conversation with Manella, but found it difficult. She did not wait on the visitors in the dining-room, and Gwent imagined he knew the reason why. Her beauty was of too brilliant and riante a type to escape the notice and admiration of men, whose open attentions were likely to be embarrassing to her, and annoying to her employers. She was therefore kept very much out of the way, serving on the upper floors, and was only seen flitting up and down the staircase or passing through the various corridors and balconies. However, when evening fell and its dark, still heat made even the hotel lounge, cooled as it was by a fountain in full play, almost unbearable, Gwent, strolling forth into the garden, found her there standing near a thick hedge of myrtle which exhaled a heavy scent as if every leaf were being crushed between invisible fingers. She looked up as she saw him approaching and smiled.

"You found your friend well?" she said.

"Very well, indeed!" replied Gwent, promptly—"In fact, I never knew he was ill!"

Manella gave her peculiar little uplift of the head which was one of her many fascinating gestures.

"He is not ill"—she said—"He only pretends! That is all! He has some reason for pretending. I think it is love!"

Gwent laughed.

"Not a bit of it! He's the last man in the world to worry himself about love!"

Manella glanced him over with quite a superior air.

"Ah, perhaps you do not know!" And she waved her hands expressively. "There was a wonderful lady came here to see him some weeks ago—she stole up the hill at night, like a spirit—a little, little fairy woman with golden hair—"

Gwent pricked up his ears and stood at attention.

"Yes? Really? You don't say so! 'A little fairy woman'? Sounds like a story!"

"She wore the most lovely clothes"—went on Manella, clasping her hands in ecstasy—"She stayed at the Plaza one night—I waited upon her. I saw her in her bed—she had skin like satin, and eyes like blue stars—her hair fell nearly to her ankles—she was like a dream! And she went up the hill by moonlight all by herself, to find HIM!"

Gwent listened with close interest.

"And I presume she found him?"

Manella nodded, and a sigh escaped her.

"Oh, yes, she found him! He told me that. And I am sure—something tells me HERE" and she pressed one hand against her heart—"by the way he spoke—that he loves her!"

"You seem to be a very observant young woman," said Gwent, smiling—"One would think you were in love with him yourself!"

She raised her large dark eyes to his with perfect frankness.

"I am!" she said—"I see no shame in that! He is a fine man—it is good to love him!"

Gwent was completely taken aback. Here was primitive passion with a vengeance!—passion which admitted its own craving without subterfuge. Manella's eyes were still uplifted in a kind of childlike confidence.

"I am happy to love him!" she went on—"I wish only to serve him. He does not love ME—oh, no!—he loves HER! But he hates her too—ah!" and she gave a little shivering movement of her shoulders—"There is no love without hate!—and when one loves and hates with the same heart-beat, THAT is a love for life and death!" She checked herself abruptly—then with a simplicity which was not without dignity added—"I am saying too much, perhaps? But you are his friend—and I think he must be very lonely up there!"

Mr. Senator Gwent was perplexed. He had not looked to stumble on a romantic episode, yet here was one ready made to his hand. His nature was ill attuned to romance of any kind, but he felt a certain compassion for this girl, so richly dowered with physical beauty, and smitten with love for a man like Roger Seaton who, according to his own account, had no belief in love's existence. And the "fairy woman" she spoke of—who could that be but Morgana Royal? After his recent interview with Seaton his thoughts were rather in a whirl, and he sought for a bit of commonplace to which he could fasten them without the risk of their drifting into greater confusion. Yet that bit of commonplace was hard to find with a woman's lovely passionate eyes looking straight into his, and the woman herself, a warm-blooded embodiment of exquisite physical beauty, framed like a picture among the scented myrtle boughs under the dusky violet sky, where glittered a few stars with that large fiery brilliance so often seen in California. He coughed—it was a convenient thing to cough—it cleared the throat and helped utterance.

"I—I—well!—I hardly think he is lonely"—he said at last, hesitatingly—"Perhaps you don't know it—but he's a very clever man—an inventor—a great thinker with new ideas—"

He stopped. How could this girl understand him? What would she know of "inventors"—and "thinkers with new ideas"? A trifle embarrassed, he looked at her. She nodded her dark head and smiled.

"I know!" she said—"He is a god!"

Sam Gwent almost jumped. A god! Oh, these women! Of what fantastic exaggerations they are capable!

"A god!" she repeated, nodding again, complacently; "He can do anything! I feel that all the time. He could rule the whole world!"

Gwent's nerves "jumped" for the second time. Roger Seaton's own words—"I'll be master of the world" knocked repeatingly on his brain with an uncomfortable thrill. He gathered up the straying threads of his common sense and twisted them into a tough string.

"That's all nonsense!" he said, as gruffly as he could—"He's not a god by any means! I'm afraid you think too much of him, Miss—Miss—er—"

"Soriso," finished Manella, gently—"Manella Soriso."

"Thank you!" and Gwent sought for a helpful cigar which he lit—"You have a very charming name! Yes—believe me, you think too much of him!"

"You say that? But—are you not his friend?"

Her tone was reproachful.

But Gwent was now nearly his normal business self again.

"No,—I am scarcely his friend"—he replied—"'Friend' is a big word,—it implies more than most men ever mean. I just know him—I've met him several times, and I know he worked for a while under Edison—and—and that's about all. Then I THINK"—he was cautious here—"I THINK I've seen him at the house of a very wealthy lady in New York—a Miss Royal—"

"Ah!" exclaimed Manella—"That is the name of the fairy woman who came here!"

Gwent went on without heeding her.

"She, too, is very clever,—she is also an inventor and a scientist—and if it was she who came here—(I daresay it was!) it was probably because she wished to ask his advice and opinion on some of the difficult things she studies—"

Manella snapped her fingers as though they were castanets.

"Ah—bah!" she exclaimed—"Not at all! No difficult thing takes a woman out by moonlight, all in soft white and diamonds to see a man!—no difficult thing at all, except to tempt him to love! Yes! That is the way it is done! I begin to learn! And you, if you are not his friend, what are you here for?"

Gwent began to feel impatient with this irrepressible "prize" beauty.

"I came to see him at his own request on business;" he answered curtly—"The business is concluded and I go away to-morrow."

Manella was silent. The low chirping of a cicada hidden in the myrtle thicket made monotonous sweetness on the stillness.

Moved by some sudden instinct which he did not attempt to explain to himself, Gwent decided to venture on a little paternal advice.

"Now don't you fly off in a rage at what I'm going to say,"—he began, slowly—"You're only a child to me—so I'm just taking the liberty of talking to you as a child. Don't give too much of your time or your thought to the man you call a 'god.' He's no more a god than I am. But I tell you one thing—he's a dangerous customer!"

Manella's great bright eyes opened wide like stars in the darkness.

"Dangerous?—How?—I do not understand—-!"

"Dangerous!"—repeated Gwent, shaking his head at her—"Not to you, perhaps,—for you probably wouldn't mind if he killed you, so long as he kissed you first! Oh, yes, I know the ways of women! God made them trusting animals, ready to slave all their lives for the sake of a caress. YOU are one of that kind—you'd willingly make a door-mat of yourself for Seaton to wipe his boots on. I don't mean that he's dangerous in that way, because though I might think him so, YOU wouldn't. No,—what I mean is that he's dangerous to himself—likely to run risks of his life—-"

Here he paused, checked by the sudden terror in the beautiful eyes that stared at him.

"His life!" and Manella's voice trembled—"You think he is here to kill himself—-"

"No, no—bless my soul, he doesn't INTEND to kill himself"—said Gwent, testily—"He's not such a fool as all that! Now look here!—try and be a sensible girl! The man is busy with an invention—a discovery—which might do him harm—I don't say it WILL—but it MIGHT. You've heard of bombs, haven't you?—timed to explode at a given moment?"

Manella nodded—her lips trembled, and she clasped her hands nervously across her bosom.

"Well!—I believe—I won't say it for certain,—that he's got something worse than that!" said Gwent, impressively—"And that's why he was chosen to live up on that hill in the 'hut of the dying' away from everybody. See? And—of course—anything may happen at any moment. He's plucky enough, and is not the sort of man to involve any other man in trouble—and that's why he stays alone. Now you know! So you can put away your romantic notions of his being 'in love'! A very good thing for him if he were! It might draw him away from his present occupation. In fact, the best that could happen to him would be that you should make him fall in love with YOU!"

She gave a little cry.

"With ME?"

"Yes, with you! Why not? Why don't you manage it? A beautiful woman like you could win the game in less than a week?"

She shook her head sorrowfully.

"You do not know him!" she said—"But—HE knows!"

"Knows what?"

She gave a despairing little gesture.

"That I love him!"

"Ah! That's a pity!" said Gwent—"Men are curious monsters in their love-appetites; they always refuse the offered dish and ask for something that isn't in the bill of fare. You should have pretended to hate him!"

"I could not pretend THAT!" said Manella, sadly—"But if I could, it would not matter. He does not want a woman."

"Oh, doesn't he?" Gwent was amused at her quaint way of putting it. "Well, he's the first man I ever heard of, that didn't! That's all bunkum, my good girl! Probably he's crying for the moon!"

"What is that?" she asked, wistfully.

"Crying for the moon? Just hankering after what can't be got. Lots of men are afflicted that way. But they've been known to give up crying and content themselves with something else."

"HE would never content himself!" she said—"If she—the woman that came here, is the moon, he will always want her. Even I want her!"

"You?" exclaimed Gwent, amazed.

"Yes! I want to see her again!" A puzzled look contracted her brows. "Since she spoke to me I have always thought of her,—I cannot get her out of my mind! She just HOLDS me—yes!—in one of her little white hands! There are few women like that I think!—women who hold the souls of others as prisoners till they choose to let them go!"

Mr. Senator Gwent was fairly nonplussed. This dark-eyed Spanish beauty with her romantic notions was almost too much for him. Had he met her in a novel he would have derided the author of the book for delineating such an impossible character,—but coming in contact with her in real life, he was at a loss what to say. Especially as he himself was quite aware of the mysterious "hold" exercised by Morgana Royal on those whom she chose to influence either near or at a distance. After a few seconds of deliberation he answered—

"Yes—I should say there are very few women of that rather uncomfortable sort of habit,—the fewer the better, in my opinion. Now Miss Manella Soriso, remember what I say to you! Don't think about being 'held' by anybody except by a lover and husband! See? Play the game! With such looks as God has given you, it should be easy! Win your 'god' away from his thunderbolts before he begins havoc with them from his miniature Olympus. If he wants the 'moon' (and possibly he doesn't!) he won't say no to a star,—it's the next best thing. Seriously now,"—and Gwent threw away the end of his cigar and laid a hand gently on her arm—"be a good girl and think over what I've said to you. Marry him if you can!—it will be the making of him!"

Manella gazed about her in the darkness, bewildered. A glittering little mob of fire-flies danced above her head like a net of jewels.

"Oh, you talk so strangely!" she said—"You forget!—I am a poor girl—I have no money—"

"Neither has he,"—and Gwent gave a short laugh. "But he could make a million dollars to-morrow—if he chose. Having only himself to consider, he DOESN'T choose! If he had YOU, he'd change his opinion. Seaton's not the man to have a wife without keeping her in comfort. I tell you again, you can be the making of him. You can save his life!"

She clasped her hands nervously. A little gasping sigh came from her lips.

"Oh!—Santa Madonna!—to save his life!"

"Ah, just that!" said Gwent impressively—"Think of it! I'm not speaking lies—that's not my way. The man is making for himself what we in the European war called a 'danger zone,' where everybody not 'in the know' was warned off hidden mines. Hidden mines! He's got them! That's so! You can take my word! It's no good looking for them, no one will ever find them but himself, and he thinks of nothing else. But if he fell in love with YOU—-"

She gave a hopeless gesture.

"He will not—he thinks nothing of me—nothing!—no!—though he says I am beautiful!"

"Oh, he says that, does he?" and Gwent smiled—"Well, he'd be a fool if he didn't!"

"Ah, but he does not care for beauty!" Manella went on. "He sees it and he smiles at it, but it does not move him!"

Gwent looked at her in perplexity, not knowing quite how to deal with the subject he himself had started. Truth to tell his nerves had been put distinctly "on edge" by Seaton's cool, calculating and seemingly callous assertion as to the powers he possessed to destroy, if he chose, a nation,—and all sorts of uncomfortable scraps of scientific information gleaned from books and treatises suggested themselves vividly to his mind at this particular moment when he would rather have forgotten them. As, for example—"A pound weight of radio-active energy, if it could be extracted in as short a time as we pleased, instead of in so many million years, could do the work of a hundred and fifty tons of dynamite." This agreeable fact stuck in his brain as a bone may stick in a throat, causing a sense of congestion. Then the words of one of the "pulpit thunderers" of New York rolled back on his ears—"This world will be destroyed, not by the hand of God, but by the wilful and devilish malingering of Man!" Another pleasant thought! And he felt himself to be a poor weak fool to even try to put up a girl's beauty, a girl's love as a barrier to the output of a destroying force engineered by a terrific human intention,—it was like the old story of the Scottish heroine who thrust a slender arm through the great staple of a door to hold back the would-be murderers of a King.

"Beauty does not move him!" she said.

She was right. Nothing was likely to move Roger Seaton from any purpose he had once resolved upon. What to him was beauty? Merely a "fortuitous concourse of atoms" moving for a time in one personality. What was a girl? Just the young "female of the species"—no more. And love? Sexual attraction, of which there was enough and too much in Seaton's opinion. And the puzzled Gwent wondered whether after all he would not have acted more wisely—or diplomatically—in accepting Seaton's proposal to part with his secret to the United States Government, even with the proviso and State pledge that it was to be "used" should occasion arise, rather than leave him to his own devices to do as he pleased with the apparently terrific potentiality of which he alone had the knowledge and the mastery. And while his thoughts thus buzzed in his head like swarming bees, Manella stood regarding him in a kind of pitiful questioning like a child with a broken toy who can not understand "why" it is broken. As he did not speak at once she took up the thread of conversation.

"You see how it is no use," she said. "No use to think of his ever loving ME! But love for HIM—ah!—that I have, and that I will ever keep in my heart!—and to save his life I would myself gladly die!"

Gwent uttered a sound between a grunt and a sigh.

"There it is! You women always run to extremes! 'Gladly die' indeed! Poor girl, why should you 'die' for him or for any man! That's sheer sentimental nonsense! There's not a man that ever lived, or that ever will live, that's worth the death of a woman! That's so! Men think too much of themselves—they've been killing women ever since they were born—it's time they stopped a bit."

Manella's beautiful eyes expressed bewilderment.

"Killing women? Is that what they do?"

"Yes, my good girl!—that is what they do! The silly trusting creatures go to them like lambs, and get their throats cut! In marriage or out of it—the throat-cutting goes on, for men are made of destructive stuff and love the sport of killing. They are never satisfied unless they can kill something—a bird, a fox or a woman. I'm a man myself and I know!"

"YOU would kill a woman?" Manella's voice was a horrified whisper.

Gwent laughed.

"No,—not I, my child! I'm too old. I've done with love-making and 'sport' of all kinds. I don't even drive a golf-ball, in make-believe that it's a woman I'm hitting as fast and far as I can. Oh, yes!—you stare!—you are wondering why, if I have such ideas, I should suggest love-making and marriage to YOU,—well, I don't actually recommend it!—but I'm rather thinking more of your 'god' than of you. You might possibly help him a bit—"

"Ah, I am not clever!" sighed Manella.

"No—you're not clever—thank God for it! But you're devoted—and devotion is sometimes more than cleverness." He paused, reflectively. "Well, I'll have to go away tomorrow—it wouldn't be any use my staying on here. In fact, I'd rather be out of the way. But I've a notion I may be able to do something for Seaton in Washington when I get back—in the meantime I'll leave a letter for you to give him—"

"You will not write of me in that letter!" interrupted the girl, hastily. "No—you must not—you could not!—-"

Gwent raised a deprecating hand.

"Don't be afraid, my girl! I'm not a cad. I wouldn't give you away for the world! I've no right to say a word about you, and I shall not. My letter will be a merely business one—you shall read it if you like—-"

"Oh no!"—she said at once, with proud frankness; "I would not doubt your word!"

Gwent gave her a comprehensively admiring glance. Even in the dusk of evening her beauty shone with the brilliance of a white flower among the dark foliage. "What a sensation she would make in New York!" he thought—"With those glorious eyes and that hair!"

And a vague regret for his lost youth moved him; he was a very wealthy man, and had he been in his prime he would have tried a matrimonial chance with this unspoilt beautiful creature,—it would have pleased him to robe her in queenly garments and to set the finest diamonds in her dark tresses, so that she should be the wonder and envy of all beholders. He answered her last remark with a kindly little nod and smile.

"Good! You needn't doubt it ever!"—he said—"If at any time you want a friend you can bet on Sam Gwent. I'm a member of Congress and you can always find me easily. But remember my advice—don't make a 'god' of any man;—he can't live up to it—-"

As he spoke a sudden jagged flash of lightning tore the sky, followed almost instantaneously by a long, low snarl of thunder rolling through the valley. Great drops of rain began to fall.

"Come along! Let us get in!" and Gwent caught Manella's hand—"Run!"

And like children they ran together through the garden into the Plaza lounge, reaching it just before a second lightning flash and peal of thunder renewed double emphasis.

"Storm!" observed a long-faced invalid man in a rocking-chair, looking at them as they hurried in.

"Yes! Storm it is!" responded Gwent, releasing the hand of his companion—"Good-night, Miss Soriso!"

She inclined her head graceful, smiling.

"Good-night, Senor!"



CHAPTER XIV

Convention is still occasionally studied even in these unconventional days, and Morgana Royal, independent and wealthy young woman as she was, had subscribed to its rule and ordinance by engaging a chaperone,—a "dear old English lady of title," as she had described her to the Marchese Rivardi. Lady Kingswood merited the description thus given of her, for she was distinctly a dear old English lady, and her title was the least thing about her, especially in her own opinion. There was no taint of snobbery in her simple, kindly disposition, and when her late husband, a distinguished military officer, had been knighted for special and splendid service in the war, she had only deplored that the ruin of his health and disablement by wounds, prevented him from taking any personal pleasure in the "honour." His death followed soon after the King's recognition of his merit, and she was left with his pension to live upon, and a daughter who having married in haste repented at leisure, being deserted by a drunken husband and left with two small children to nourish and educate. Naturally, Lady Kingswood took much of their care upon herself—but the pension of a war widow will not stretch further than a given point, and she found it both necessary and urgent to think of some means by which she could augment her slender income. She was not a clever woman,—she had no special talents,—her eyes would not stand her in good stead for plain sewing, and she could not even manage a typing machine. But she had exquisitely gentle manners,—she was well-bred and tactful, and, rightly judging that good-breeding and tact are valuable assets in some quarters of the "new" society, she sought, through various private channels, for a post as companion or "chaperone" to "one lady." Just when she was rather losing hope as to the success of her effort, the "one lady" came along in the elfin personality of Morgana Royal, who, after a brief interview in London, selected her with a decision as rapid as it was inexplicable, offering her a salary of five hundred a year, which to Lady Kingswood was a small fortune.

"You will have nothing to do but just be pleasant!" Morgana had told her, smilingly, "And enjoy your self as you like. Of course I do not expect to be controlled or questioned,—I am an independent woman, and go my own way, but I'm not at all 'modern.' I don't drink or smoke or 'dope,' or crave for male society. I think you'll find yourself all right!"

And Lady Kingswood had indeed "found herself all right." Her own daughter had never been so thoughtful for her comfort as Morgana was, and she became day by day more interested and fascinated by the original turn of mind and the bewitching personality of the strange little creature for whom the ordinary amusements of society seemed to have no attraction. And now, installed in her own sumptuously fitted rooms in the Palazzo d'Oro, Morgana's Sicilian paradise, she almost forgot there was such a thing as poverty, or the sordid business of "making both ends meet." Walking up and down the rose-marble loggia and looking out to the exquisite blue of the sea, she inwardly thanked God for all His mercies, and wondered at the exceptional good luck that had brought her so much peace, combined with comfort and luxury in the evening of her days. She was a handsome old lady; her refined features, soft blue eyes and white hair were a "composition" for an eighteenth-century French miniature, and her dress combined quiet elegance with careful taste. She was inflexibly loyal to her stated position; she neither "questioned" nor "controlled" Morgana, or attempted to intrude an opinion as to her actions or movements,—and if, as was only natural, she felt a certain curiosity concerning the aims and doings of so brilliant and witch-like a personality she showed no sign of it. She was interested in the Marchese Rivardi, but still more so in the priest, Don Aloysius, to whom she felt singularly attracted, partly by his own dignified appearance and manner, and partly by the leaning she herself had towards the Catholic Faith where "Woman" is made sacred in the person of the Holy Virgin, and deemed worthy of making intercession with the Divine. She knew, as we all in our innermost souls know, that it is a symbol of the greatest truth that can ever be taught to humanity.

The special morning on which she walked, leaning slightly on a silver-knobbed stick, up and down the loggia and looked at the sea, was one of rare beauty even in Sicily, the sky being of that pure ethereal blue for which one can hardly find a comparison in colour, and the ocean below reflecting it, tone for tone, as in a mirror. In the terraced garden, half lost among the intertwining blossoms, Morgana moved to and fro, gathering roses,—her little figure like a white rose itself set in among the green leaves. Lady Kingswood watched her, with kindly, half compassionate eyes.

"It must be a terrible responsibility for her to have so much money!" she thought. "She can hardly know what to do with it! And somehow—I do not think she will marry."

At that moment Morgana came slowly up the steps cut in the grass bordered on either side by flowers, and approached her.

"Here are some roses for you, dear 'Duchess!'" she said, "Duchess" being the familiar or "pet" name she elected to call her by. "Specially selected, I assure you! Are you tired?—or may I have a talk?"

Lady Kingswood took the roses with a smile, touching Morgana's cheek playfully with one of the paler pink buds.

"A talk by all means!" she replied—"How can I be tired, dear child? I'm a lazy old woman, doing nothing all day but enjoy myself!"

Morgana nodded her golden head approvingly.

"That's right!—I'm glad!" she said. "That's what I want you to do! It's a pretty place, this Palazzo d'Oro, don't you think?"

"More than pretty—it's a perfect paradise!" declared Lady Kingswood, emphatically.

"Well, I'm glad you like it"—went on Morgana—"Because then you won't mind staying here and looking after it when I'm away. I'll have to go away quite soon."

Lady Kingswood controlled her first instinctive movement of surprise.

"Really?" she said—"That seems a pity as you only arrived so recently—"

Morgana gave a wistful glance round her at the beautiful gardens and blue sea beyond.

"Yes—perhaps it is a pity!" she said, with a light shrug of her shoulders—"But I have a great deal to do, and ever so much to learn. I told you, didn't I?—that I have had an air-ship built for me quite on my own lines?—an air-ship that moves like a bird and is quite different from any other air-ship ever made or known?"

"Yes, you told me something about it"—answered Lady Kingswood—"But you know, my dear, I am very stupid about all these wonderful new inventions. 'Progress of science' they call it. Well, I'm rather afraid of the 'progress of science.' I'm an old-fashioned woman and I cannot bear to hear of aeroplanes and air-ships and poor wretched people falling from the sky and being dashed to pieces. The solid earth is quite good enough for my old feet as long as they will support me!"

Morgana laughed.

"You dear Duchess!" she said, affectionately—"Don't worry! I'm not going to ask you to travel in my air-ship—I wouldn't so try your nerves for the world! Though it is an absolutely safe ship,—nothing"—and she emphasised the word—"NOTHING can upset it or drive it out of its course unless natural law is itself upset! Now let us sit here"—and she drew two wicker chairs into the cool shadow of the loggia and set them facing the sea—"and have our talk! I've begun it—I'll go on! Tell me"—and she nestled down among the cushions, watching Lady Kingswood seat herself in slower, less supple fashion—"tell me—what does it feel like to be married?"

Lady Kingswood opened her eyes, surprised and amused.

"What does it feel like? My dear—?"

"Oh, surely you know what I mean!" pursued Morgana—"YOU have been married. Well, when you were first married were you very, very happy? Did your husband love you entirely without a thought for anybody or anything else?—and were you all in all to each other?"

Lady Kingswood was quite taken aback by the personal directness of these questions, but deciding within herself that Morgana must be contemplating marriage on her own behalf, answered simply and truthfully—

"My husband and I were very fond of each other. We were the best of friends and good companions. Of course he had his military duties to attend to and was often absent—"

"And you stayed at home and kept house,"—interpolated Morgana, musingly—"I see! That is what all wives have to do! But I suppose he just adored you?"

Lady Kingswood smiled.

"'Adore' is a very strong word to use, my dear!" she said—"I doubt if any married people 'adore' each other! If they can be good friends and rub along pleasantly through all the sorrows and joys of life together, they should be satisfied."

"And you call that LOVE!" said Morgana, with a passionate thrill in her voice—"Love! 'Love that is blood within the veins of time!' Just 'rubbing along pleasantly together!' Dear 'Duchess,' that wouldn't suit ME!"

Lady Kingswood looked at her with interested, kind eyes.

"But then, what WOULD suit you?" she queried—"You know you mustn't expect the impossible!"

"What the world calls the impossible is always the possible"—said Morgana—"And only the impossible appeals to me!"

This was going beyond the boundary-line of Lady Kingswood's brain capacity, so she merely remained agreeably quiescent.

"And when your child was born"—pursued Morgana—"did you feel a wonderful ecstasy?—a beautiful peace and joy?—a love so great that it was as if God had given you something of His Own to hold and keep?"

Lady Kingswood laughed outright.

"My dear girl, you are too idealistic! Having a baby is not at all a romantic business!—quite the reverse! And babies are not interesting till they 'begin to take notice' as the nurses say. Then when they get older and have to go to school you soon find out that you have loved THEM far more than they have loved or ever WILL love YOU!"

As she said this her voice trembled a little and she sighed.

"I see! I think I quite understand!" said Morgana—"And it is just what I have always imagined—there is no great happiness in marriage. If it is only a matter of 'rubbing along pleasantly together' two friends can always do that without any 'sex' attraction, or tying themselves up together for life. And it's not much joy to bring children into the world and waste treasures of love on them, if after you have done all you can, they leave you without a regret,—like the birds that fly from a nest when once they know how to use their wings."

Lady Kingswood's eyes were sorrowful.

"My daughter was a very pretty girl,"—she said—"Her father and I were proud of her looks and her charm of manner. We spared every shilling we could to give her the best and most careful education—and we surrounded her with as much pleasure and comfort at home as possible,—but at the first experience of 'society,' and the flattery of strangers, she left us. Her choice of a husband was most unfortunate—but she would not listen to our advice, though we had loved her so much—she thought 'he' loved her more."

Morgana lifted her eyes. The "fey" light was glittering in them.

"Yes! She thought he loved her! That's what many a woman thinks—that 'he'—the particular 'he' loves her! But how seldom he does! How much more often he loves himself!"

"You must not be cynical, my dear!" said Lady Kingswood, gently—"Life is certainly full of disappointments, especially in love and marriage—but we must endure our sorrows patiently and believe that God does everything for the best."

This was the usual panacea which the excellent lady offered for all troubles, and Morgana smiled.

"Yes!—it must be hard work for God!" she said—"Cruel work! To do everything for the best and to find it being turned into the worst by the very creatures one seeks to benefit, must be positive torture! Well, dear 'Duchess,' I asked you all these questions about love and marriage just to know if you could say anything that might alter my views—but you have confirmed them. I feel that there is no such thing in the world as the love I want—and marriage without it would be worse than any imagined hell. So I shall not marry."

Lady Kingswood's face expressed a mild tolerance.

"You say that just now"—she said—"But I think you will alter your mind some day! You would not like to be quite alone always—not even in the Palazzo d'Oro."

"YOU are quite alone?"

"Ah, but I am an old woman, my dear! I have lived my day!"

"That's not true," said Morgana, decisively—"You have not 'lived your day' since you are living NOW! And if you are old, that is just a reason why you should NOT be alone. But you ARE. Your husband is dead, and your daughter has other ties. So even marriage left you high and dry on the rocks as it were till my little boat came along and took you off them!"

"A very welcome little boat!" said Lady Kingswood, with feeling—"A rescue in the nick of time!"

"Never mind that!" and Morgan waved her pretty hand expressively—"My point is that marriage—just marriage—has not done much for you. It is what women clamour for, and scheme for,—and nine out of ten regret the whole business when they have had their way. There are so many more things in life worth winning!"

Lady Kingswood looked at her interestedly. She made a pretty picture just then in her white morning gown, seated in a low basket chair with pale blue silk cushions behind her on which her golden head rested with the brightness of a daffodil.

"So many more things!" she repeated—"My air-ship for instance!—it's worth all the men and all the marriages I've ever heard of! My beloved 'White Eagle!'—my own creation—my baby—SUCH a baby!" She laughed. "But I must learn to fly with it alone!"

"I hope you will do nothing rash!"—said Lady Kingswood, mildly; she was very ignorant of modern discovery and invention, and all attempt to explain anything of the kind to her would have been a hope less business—"I understand that it is always necessary to take a pilot and an observer in these terrible sky-machines—"

She was interrupted by a gay little peal of laughter from Morgana.

"Terrible?—Oh, dear 'Duchess,' you are too funny! There's nothing 'terrible' about MY 'sky-machine!' Do you ever read poetry? No?—Well then you don't know that lovely and prophetic line of Keats—"

'Beautiful things made new For the surprise of the sky-children.'

"Poets are always prophetic,—that is, REAL poets, not modern verse mongers; and I fancy Keats must have imagined something in the far distant future like my 'White Eagle!' For it really IS 'a beautiful thing made new'—a beautiful natural force put to new uses—and who knows?—I may yet surprise those 'sky-children!'"

Lady Kingswood's mind floundered helplessly in this flood of what, to her, was incomprehensibility. Morgana went on in the sweet fluting voice which was one of her special charms.

"If you haven't read Keats, you must have read at some time or other the 'Arabian Nights' and the story of 'Sindbad the Sailor'? Yes? You think you have? Well, you know how poor Sindbad got into the Valley of Diamonds and waited for an eagle to fly down and carry him off! That's just like me! I've been dropped into a Valley of Diamonds and often wondered how I should escape—but the Eagle has arrived!"

"I'm afraid I don't quite follow you"—said Lady Kingswood—"I'm rather dense, you know! Surely your Valley of Diamonds—if you mean wealth—has made your 'Eagle' possible?"

Morgana nodded.

"Exactly! If there had been no Valley of Diamonds there would have been no Eagle! But, all the same, this little female Sindbad is glad to get out of the valley!"

Lady Kingswood laughed.

"My dear child, if you are making a sort of allegory on your wealth, you are not 'out of the valley' nor are you likely to be!"

Morgana sighed.

"My vulgar wealth!" she murmured.

"What? Vulgar?"

"Yes. A man told me it was."

"A vulgar man himself, I should imagine!" said Lady Kingswood, warmly.

Morgana shrugged her shoulders carelessly.

"Oh, no, he isn't. He's eccentric, but not vulgar. He's aristocratic to the tips of his toes—and English. That accounts for his rudeness. Sometimes, you know—only sometimes—Englishmen can be VERY rude! But I'd rather have them so—it's a sort of well-bred clumsiness, like the manners of a Newfoundland dog. It's not the 'make-a-dollar' air of American men."

"You are quite English yourself, aren't you?" queried her companion.

"No—not English in any sense. I'm pure Celtic of Celt, from the farthest Highlands of Scotland. But I hate to say I'm 'Scotch,' as slangy people use that word for whisky! I'm just Highland-born. My father and mother were the same, and I came to life a wild moor, among mists and mountains and stormy seas—I'm always glad of that! I'm glad my eyes did not look their first on a city! There's a tradition in the part of Scotland where I was born which tells of a history far far back in time when sailors from Phoenicia came to our shores,—men greatly civilised when we all were but savages, and they made love to the Highland women and had children by them,—then when they went away back to Egypt they left many traces of Eastern customs and habits which remain to this day. My father used always to say that he could count his ancestry back to Egypt!—it pleased him to think so and it did nobody any harm!"

"Have you ever been to the East?" asked Lady Kingswood.

"No—but I'm going! My 'White Eagle' will take me there in a very short time! But, as I've already told you, I must learn to fly alone."

"What does the Marchese Rivardi say to that?"

"I don't ask him!" replied Morgana, indifferently—"What I may decide to do is not his business." She broke off abruptly—then continued—"He is coming to luncheon,—and afterwards you shall see my air-ship. I won't persuade you to go up in it!"

"I COULDN'T!" said Lady Kingswood, emphatically—"I've no nerve for such an adventure."

Morgana rose from her chair, smiling kindly.

"Dear 'Duchess' be quite easy in your mind!" she said—"I want you very much on land, but I shall not want you in the air! You will be quite safe and happy here in the Palazzo d'Oro"—she turned as she saw the shadow of a man's tall figure fall on the smooth marble pavement of the loggia—"Ah! Here is the Marchese! We were just speaking of you!"

"Tropp' onore!" he murmured, as he kissed the little hand she held out to him in the Sicilian fashion of gallantry—"I fear I am perhaps too early?"

"Oh no! We were about to go in to luncheon—I know the hour by the bell of the monastery down there—you hear it?"

A soft "ting-ting tong"—rang from the olive and ilex woods below the Palazzo,—and Morgana, listening, smiled.

"Poor Don Aloysius!" she said—"He will now go to his soup maigre—and we to our poulet, sauce bechamel,—and he will be quite as contented as we are!"

"More so, probably!" said Rivardi, as he courteously assisted Lady Kingswood, who was slightly lame, to rise from her chair—"He is one of the few men who in life have found peace."

Morgana gave him a keen glance.

"You think he has really found it?"

"I think so,—yes! He has faith in God—a great support that has given way for most of the peoples of this world."

Lady Kingswood looked pained.

"I am sorry to hear you say that!"

"I am sorry myself to say it, miladi, but I fear it is true!" he rejoined—"It is one sign of a general break-up."

"Oh, you are right! You are very right!" exclaimed Morgana suddenly, and with emphasis—"We know that when even one human being is unable to recognise his best friend we say—'Poor man! His brain is gone!' It's the same thing with a nation. Or a world! When it is so ailing that it cannot recognise the Friend who brought it into being, who feeds it, keeps it, and gives it all it has, we must say the same thing—'Its brain is gone!'"

Rivardi was surprised at the passionate energy she threw into these words.

"You feel that deeply?" he said—"And yet—pardon me!—you do not assume to be religious?"

"Marchese, I 'assume' nothing!" she answered—"I cannot 'pretend'! To 'assume' or to 'pretend' would hardly serve the Creator adequately. Creative or Natural Force is so far away from sham that one must do more than 'assume'—one must BE!"

Her voice thrilled on the air, and Lady Kingswood, who was crossing the loggia, leaning on her stick, paused to look at the eloquent speaker. She was worth looking at just then, for she seemed inspired. Her eyes were extraordinarily brilliant, and her whole personality expressed a singular vitality coupled with an ethereal grace that suggested some thing almost superhuman.

"Yes—one must be!" she repeated—"I have not BEEN A STUDENT OF SCIENCE SO LONG WITHOUT LEARNING that there is no 'assuming' anything in the universe. One must SEE straight, and THINK straight too! I could not 'assume' religion, because I FEEL it—in the very depths of my soul! As Don Aloysius said the other day, it is marvellous how close we are to the Source of all life, and yet we imagine we are far away! If we could only realise the truth of the Divine Nearness, and work WITH it and IN it, we should make discoveries worth knowing! We work too much WITH ourselves and OF ourselves." She paused,—then added slowly and seriously—"I have never done any work that way. I have always considered myself Nothing,—the Force I have obeyed was and is Everything."

"And so—being Nothing—you still made your air-ship possible!" said Rivardi, smiling indulgently at her fantastic speech.

She answered him with unmoved and patient gravity.

"It is as you say,—being Nothing myself, and owning myself to be Nothing; the Force that is Everything made my air-ship possible!"



CHAPTER XV

Two or three hours later the "White Eagle" was high in air above the Palazzo d'Oro. Down below Lady Kingswood stood on the seashore by the aerodrome, watching the wonderful ship of the sky with dazzled, scared eyes—amazed at the lightning speed of its ascent and the steadiness of its level flight. She had seen it spread its great wings as by self-volition and soar out of the aerodrome with Morgana seated inside like an elfin queen in a fairy car—she had seen the Marchese Giulio Rivardi "take the helm" with the assistant Gaspard, now no longer a prey to fear, beside him. Up, up and away they had flown, waving to her till she could see their forms no longer—till the "White Eagle" itself looked no bigger than a dove soaring in the blue. And while she waited, even this faint dove-image vanished! She looked in every direction, but the skies were empty. To her there was something very terrifying in this complete disappearance of human beings in the vast stretches of the air—they had gone so silently, too, for the "White Eagle's" flight made no sound, and though the afternoon was warm and balmy she felt chilled with the cold of nervous apprehension. Yet they had all assured her there was no cause for alarm,—they were only going on a short trial trip and would be back to dinner.

"Nothing more than a run in a motor-car!" Morgana said, gaily.

Nothing more,—but to Lady Kingswood it seemed much more. She belonged to simple Victorian days—days of quiet home-life and home affections, now voted "deadly dull!" and all the rushing to and fro and gadding about of modern men and women worried and distressed her, for she had the plain common sense to perceive that it did no good either to health or morals, and led nowhere. She looked wistfully out to sea,—the blue Sicilian sea so exquisite in tone and play of pure reflections,—and thought how happy a life lived after the old sweet ways might be for a brilliant little creature like Morgana, if she could win "a good man's love" as Shakespeare puts it. And yet—was not this rather harking back to mere sentiment, often proved delusive? Her own "good man's love" had been very precious to her,—but it had not fulfilled all her heart's longing, though she considered herself an entirely commonplace woman. And what sort of a man would it be that could hold Morgana? As well try to control a sunbeam or a lightning flash as the restless vital and intellectual spirit that had, for the time being, entered into feminine form, showing itself nevertheless as something utterly different and superior to women as they are generally known. Some thoughts such as these, though vague and disconnected, passed through Lady Kingswood's mind as she turned away from the sea-shore to re-ascend the flower-bordered terraces of the Palazzo d'Oro,—and it was with real pleasure that she perceived on the summit of the last flight of grassy steps, the figure of Don Aloysius. He was awaiting her approach, and came down a little way to meet her.

"I saw the air-ship flying over the monastery,"—he explained, greeting her—"And I was anxious to know whether la Signora had gone away into the skies or was still on earth! She has gone, I suppose?"

"Yes, she has gone!" sighed Lady Kingswood—"and the Marchese with her, and one assistant. Her 'nerve' is simply astonishing!"

"You did not think of venturing on a trip with her yourself?"—and the priest smiled kindly, as he assisted her to ascend the last flight of steps to the loggia.

"No indeed! I really could not! I feel I ought to be braver—but I cannot summon up sufficient courage to leave terra firma. It seems altogether unnatural."

"Then what will you do when you are an angel, dear lady?" queried Aloysius, playfully—"You will have to leave terra firma then! Have you ever thought of that?"

She smiled.

"I'm afraid I don't think!" she said—"I take my life on trust. I always believe that God who brought me HERE will take care of me THERE!—wherever 'there' is. You understand me, don't you? You speak English so well that I'm sure you do."

"Yes—I understand you perfectly"—he replied—"That I speak English is quite natural, for I was educated at Stonyhurst, in England. I was then for a time at Fort Augustus in Scotland, and studied a great many of the strange traditions of the Highland Celts, to which mystic people Miss Royal by birth belongs. Her ancestry has a good deal to do with her courage and character."

While he spoke Lady Kingswood gazed anxiously into the sky, searching it north, south, east, west, for the first glimpse of the returning "White Eagle," but there was no sign of it.

"You must not worry yourself,"—went on the priest, putting a chair for her in the loggia, and taking one himself—"If we sit here we shall see the air-ship returning, I fancy, by the western line,—certainly near the sunset. In any case let me assure you there is no danger!" "No danger?"

"Absolutely none!"

Lady Kingswood looked at him in bewildered amazement.

"Surely there MUST be danger?" she said—"The terrible accidents that happen every day to these flying machines—"

"Yes—but you speak of ordinary flying machines," said Aloysius,—"This 'White Eagle' is not an ordinary thing. It is the only one of its kind in the world—the only one scientifically devised to work with the laws of Nature. You saw it ascend?"

"I did."

"It made no sound?"

"None."

"Then how did its engines move, if it HAD engines?" pursued Aloysius—"Had you no curiosity about it?"

"I'm afraid I hadn't—I was really too nervous! Morgana begged me to go inside, but I could not!"

Don Aloysius was silent for a minute or two, out of gentle tolerance. He recognised that Lady Kingswood belonged to the ordinary class of good, kindly women not overburdened with brains, to whom thought, particularly of a scientific or reflective nature, would be a kind of physical suffering. And how fortunate it is that there are, and always will be such women! Many of them are gifted with the supreme talent of making happiness around themselves,—and in this way they benefit humanity more than the often too self-absorbed student of things which are frequently "past finding out."

"I understand your feeling";—he said, at last—"And I hardly wonder at your very natural fears. I must admit that I think human daring is going too fast and too far—the science of to-day is not tending to make men and women happier—and after all, happiness is the great goal."

A slight sigh escaped him, and Lady Kingswood looked at his fine, composed features with deep interest.

"Do you think God meant us to be happy?" she asked, gently.

"It is a dubious question!" he answered—"When we view the majesty and loveliness of nature—we cannot but believe we were intended to enjoy the splendid treasures of beauty freely spread out before us,—then again, if we look back thousands of years and consider the great civilisations of the past that have withered into dust and are now forgotten, we cannot help wondering why there should be such a waste of life for apparently no purpose. I speak in a secular sense,—of course my Church has but one reply to doubt, or what we call 'despair of God's mercy'—that it is sin. We are not permitted to criticise or to question the Divine."

"And surely that is best!" said Lady Kingswood, "and surely you have found happiness, or what is nearest to happiness, in your beautiful Faith?"

His eyes were shadowed by deep gravity.

"Miladi, I have never sought happiness," he replied; "From my earliest boyhood I felt it was not for me. Among the comrades of my youth many started the race of life with me—happiness was the winning post they had in view—and they tried many ways to reach it—some through ambition, some through wealth, some through love—but I have never chanced to meet one of them who was either happy or satisfied. MY mind was set on nothing for myself—except this—to grope through the darkness for the Great Mind behind the Universe—to drop my own 'ego' into it, as a drop of rain into the sea—and so—to be content! And in this way I have learned much,—more than I consider myself worthy to know. Modern science of the surface kind—(not the true deep discoveries)—has done its best to detach the rain-drop from the sea!—but it has failed. I stay where I have plunged my soul!"

He spoke as it were to himself with the air of one inspired; he had almost forgotten the presence of Lady Kingswood, who was gazing at him in a rapture of attention.

"Oh, if I could only think as you do!" she said, in a low tone—"Is it truly the Catholic Church that teaches these things?"

"The Catholic Church is the sign and watchword of all these things!" he answered—"Not only that, but its sacred symbols, though ancient enough to have been adopted from Babylonia and Chaldea, are actually the symbols of our most modern science. Catholicism itself does not as yet recognise this. Like a blind child stumbling towards the light it has FELT the discoveries of science long before discovery. In our sacraments there are the hints of the transmutation of elements,—the 'Sanctus' bell suggests wireless telegraphy or telepathy, that is to say, communication between ourselves and the divine Unseen,—and if we are permitted to go deeper, we shall unravel the mystery of that 'rising from the dead' which means renewed life. I am a 'prejudiced' priest, of course,"—and he smiled, gravely—"but with all its mistakes, errors, crimes (if you will) that it is answerable for since its institution, through the sins of unworthy servants, Catholicism is the only creed with the true seed of spiritual life within it—the only creed left standing on a firm foundation in this shaking world!"

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