Infomotions, Inc.Thelma / Corelli, Marie, 1855-1924



Author: Corelli, Marie, 1855-1924
Title: Thelma
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): thelma; errington; britta; winsleigh; lorimer; lady winsleigh; sigurd; duprez; philip; lord winsleigh; francis lennox
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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Thelma, by Marie Corelli

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Title: Thelma

Author: Marie Corelli

Release Date: October 13, 2006 [EBook #3823]

Language: English

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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THELMA ***




Produced by Charles Franks and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team. Revised edition and HTML version produced
by Victoria Woosley.









THELMA

BY MARIE CORELLI



THELMA.




BOOK I.

THE LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN.




CHAPTER I.

    "Dream by dream shot through her eyes, and each
     Outshone the last that lighted."
                                                       SWINBURNE.


Midnight,--without darkness, without stars! Midnight--and the unwearied
sun stood, yet visible in the heavens, like a victorious king throned on
a dais of royal purple bordered with gold. The sky above him,--his
canopy,--gleamed with a cold yet lustrous blue, while across it slowly
flitted a few wandering clouds of palest amber, deepening, as they
sailed along, to a tawny orange. A broad stream of light falling, as it
were, from the centre of the magnificent orb, shot lengthwise across the
Altenfjord, turning its waters to a mass of quivering and shifting color
that alternated from bronze to copper,--from copper to silver and azure.
The surrounding hills glowed with a warm, deep violet tint, flecked here
and there with touches of bright red, as though fairies were lighting
tiny bonfires on their summits. Away in the distance a huge mass of rock
stood out to view, its rugged lines transfigured into ethereal
loveliness by a misty veil of tender rose pink,--a hue curiously
suggestive of some other and smaller sun that might have just set.
Absolute silence prevailed. Not even the cry of a sea-mew or kittiwake
broke the almost deathlike stillness,--no breath of wind stirred a
ripple on the glassy water. The whole scene might well have been the
fantastic dream of some imaginative painter, whose ambition soared
beyond the limits of human skill. Yet it was only one of those million
wonderful effects of sky and sea which are common in Norway, especially
on the Altenfjord, where, though beyond the Arctic circle, the climate
in summer is that of another Italy, and the landscape a living poem
fairer than the visions of Endymion.

There was one solitary watcher of the splendid spectacle. This was a man
of refined features and aristocratic appearance, who, reclining on a
large rug of skins which he had thrown down on the shore for that
purpose, was gazing at the pageant of the midnight sun and all its
stately surroundings, with an earnest and rapt expression in his clear
hazel eyes.

"Glorious! beyond all expectation, glorious!" he murmured half aloud, as
he consulted his watch and saw that the hands marked exactly twelve on
the dial. "I believe I'm having the best of it, after all. Even if those
fellows get the _Eulalie_ into good position they will see nothing finer
than this."

As he spoke he raised his field-glass and swept the horizon in search of
a vessel, his own pleasure yacht,--which had taken three of his friends,
at their special desire, to the opposite island of Seiland,--Seiland,
rising in weird majesty three thousand feet above the sea, and boasting
as its chief glory the great peak of Jedke, the most northern glacier in
all the wild Norwegian land. There was no sign of a returning sail, and
he resumed his study of the sumptuous sky, the colors of which were now
deepening and burning with increasing lustre, while an array of clouds
of the deepest purple hue, swept gorgeously together beneath the sun as
though to form his footstool.

"One might imagine that the trump of the Resurrection had sounded, and
that all this aerial pomp,--this strange silence,--was just the pause,
the supreme moment before the angels descended," he mused, with a
half-smile at his own fancy, for though something of a poet at heart, he
was much more of a cynic. He was too deeply imbued with modern
fashionable atheism to think seriously about angels or Resurrection
trumps, but there was a certain love of mysticism and romance in his
nature, which not even his Oxford experiences and the chilly dullness of
English materialism had been able to eradicate. And there was something
impressive in the sight of the majestic orb holding such imperial revel
at midnight,--something almost unearthly in the light and life of the
heavens, as compared with the referential and seemingly worshipping
silence of the earth,--that, for a few moments, awed him into a sense of
the spiritual and unseen. Mythical passages from the poets he loved came
into his memory, and stray fragments of old songs and ballads he had
known in his childhood returned to him with haunting persistence. It
was, for him, one of those sudden halts in life which we all
experience,--an instant,--when time and the world seem to stand still,
as though to permit us easy breathing; a brief space,--in which we are
allowed to stop and wonder awhile at the strange unaccountable force
within us, that enables us to stand with such calm, smiling audacity, on
our small pin's point of the present, between the wide dark gaps of past
and future; a small hush,--in which the gigantic engines of the universe
appear to revolve no more, and the immortal Soul of man itself is
subjected and over-ruled by supreme and eternal Thought. Drifting away
on those delicate imperceptible lines that lie between reality and
dreamland, the watcher of the midnight sun gave himself up to the half
painful, half delicious sense of being drawn in, absorbed, and lost in
infinite imaginings, when the intense stillness around him was broken by
the sound of a voice singing, a full, rich contralto, that rang through
the air with the clearness of a golden bell. The sweet liquid notes were
those of an old Norwegian mountain melody, one of those wildly pathetic
_folk-songs_ that seem to hold all the sorrow, wonder, wistfulness, and
indescribable yearning of a heart too full for other speech than music.
He started to his feet and looked around him for the singer. There was
no one visible. The amber streaks in the sky were leaping into crimson
flame; the Fjord glowed like the burning lake of Dante's vision; one
solitary sea-gull winged its graceful, noiseless flight far above, its
white pinions shimmering like jewels as it crossed the radiance of the
heavens. Other sign of animal life there was none. Still the hidden
voice rippled on in a stream of melody, and the listener stood amazed
and enchanted at the roundness and distinctness of every note that fell
from the lips of the unseen vocalist.

"A woman's voice," he thought; "but where is the woman?"

Puzzled, he looked to the right and left, then out to the shining Fjord,
half expecting to see some fisher-maiden rowing along, and singing as
she rowed, but there was no sign of any living creature. While he
waited, the voice suddenly ceased, and the song was replaced by the
sharp grating of a keel on the beach. Turning in the direction of this
sound, he perceived a boat being pushed out by invisible hands towards
the water's edge from a rocky cave, that jutted upon the Fjord, and,
full of curiosity, he stepped towards the arched entrance, when,--all
suddenly and unexpectedly,--a girl sprang out from the dark interior,
and standing erect in her boat, faced the intruder. A girl of about
nineteen, she seemed, taller than most women,--with a magnificent
uncovered mass of hair, the color of the midnight sunshine, tumbled over
her shoulders, and flashing against her flushed cheeks and dazzlingly
fair skin. Her deep blue eyes had an astonished and certainly indignant
expression in them, while he, utterly unprepared for such a vision of
loveliness at such a time and in such a place, was for a moment taken
aback and at a loss for words. Recovering his habitual self-possession
quickly, however, he raised his hat, and, pointing to the boat, which
was more than half way out of the cavern, said simply--

"May I assist you?"

She was silent, eyeing him with a keen glance which had something in it
of disfavor and suspicion.

"I suppose she doesn't understand English," he thought, "and I can't
speak a word of Norwegian. I must talk by signs."

And forthwith he went through a labored pantomime of gesture,
sufficiently ludicrous in itself, yet at the same time expressive of his
meaning. The girl broke into a laugh--a laugh of sweet amusement which
brought a thousand new sparkles of light into her lovely eyes.

"That is very well done," she observed graciously, speaking English with
something of a foreign accent. "Even the Lapps would understand you, and
they are very stupid, poor things!"

Half vexed by her laughter, and feeling that he was somehow an object of
ridicule to this tall, bright-haired maiden, he ceased his pantomimic
gestures abruptly and stood looking at her with a slight flush of
embarrassment on his features.

"I know your language," she resumed quietly, after a brief pause, in
which she had apparently considered the stranger's appearance and
general bearing. "It was rude of me not to have answered you at once.
You can help me if you will. The keel has caught among the pebbles, but
we can easily move it between us." And, jumping lightly out of her boat,
she grasped its edge firmly with her strong white hands, exclaiming
gaily, as she did so, "Push!"

Thus adjured, he lost no time in complying with her request, and, using
his great strength and muscular force to good purpose, the light little
craft was soon well in the water, swaying to and fro as though with
impatience to be gone. The girl sprang to her seat, discarding his
eagerly proffered assistance, and, taking both oars, laid them in their
respective rowlocks, and seemed about to start, when she paused and
asked abruptly--

"Are you a sailor?"

He smiled. "Not I! Do I remind you of one?"

"You are strong, and you manage a boat as though you were accustomed to
the work. Also you look as if you had been at sea."

"Rightly guessed!" he replied, still smiling; "I certainly _have_ been
at sea; I have been coasting all about your lovely land. My yacht went
across to Seiland this afternoon."

She regarded him more intently, and observed, with the critical eye of a
woman, the refined taste displayed in his dress, from the very cut of
his loose travelling coat, to the luxurious rug of fine fox-shins, that
lay so carelessly cast on the shore at a little distance from him. Then
she gave a gesture of hauteur and half-contempt.

"You have a yacht? Oh! then you are a gentleman. You do nothing for your
living?"

"Nothing, indeed!" and he shrugged his shoulders with a mingled air of
weariness and self-pity, "except one thing--I live!"

"Is that hard work?" she inquired wonderingly.

"Very."

They were silent then, and the girl's face grew serious as she rested on
her oars, and still surveyed him with a straight, candid gaze, that,
though earnest and penetrating, had nothing of boldness in it. It was
the look of one in whose past there were no secrets--the look of a child
who is satisfied with the present and takes no thought for the future.
Few women look so after they have entered their teens. Social artifice,
affectation, and the insatiate vanity that modern life encourages in the
feminine nature--all these things soon do away with the pellucid
clearness and steadfastness of the eye--the beautiful, true, untamed
expression, which, though so rare, is, when seen infinitely more
bewitching than all the bright arrows of coquetry and sparkling
invitation that flash from the glances of well-bred society dames, who
have taken care to educate their eyes if not their hearts. This girl was
evidently not trained properly; had she been so, she would have dropped
a curtain over those wide, bright windows of her soul; she would have
remembered that she was alone with a strange man at midnight--at
midnight, though the sun shone; she would have simpered and feigned
embarrassment, even if she could not feel it. As it happened, she did
nothing of the kind, only her expression softened and became more
wistful and earnest, and when she spoke again her voice was mellow with
a suave gentleness, that had something in it of compassion.

"If you do not love life itself," she said, "you love the beautiful
things of life, do you not? See yonder! There is what we call the
meeting of night and morning. One is glad to be alive at such a moment.
Look quickly! The light soon fades."

She pointed towards the east. Her companion gazed in that direction, and
uttered an exclamation,--almost a shout,--of wonder and admiration.
Within the space of the past few minutes the aspect of the heavens had
completely changed. The burning scarlet and violet hues had all melted
into a transparent yet brilliant shade of pale mauve,--as delicate as
the inner tint of a lilac blossom,--and across this stretched two
wing-shaped gossamer clouds of watery green, fringed with soft primrose.
Between these cloud-wings, as opaline in lustre as those of a
dragon-fly, the face of the sun shone like a shield of polished gold,
while his rays, piercing spear-like through the varied tints of emerald,
brought an unearthly radiance over the landscape--a lustre as though the
moon were, in some strange way, battling with the sun for mastery over
the visible universe though, looking southward, she could dimly be
perceived, the ghost of herself--a poor, fainting, pallid goddess,--a
perishing Diana.

Bringing his glance down from the skies, the young man turned it to the
face of the maiden near him, and was startled at her marvellous
beauty--beauty now heightened by the effect of the changeful colors that
played around her. The very boat in which she sat glittered with a
bronze-like, metallic brightness as it heaved gently to and fro on the
silvery green water; the midnight sunshine bathed the falling glory of
her long hair, till each thick tress, each clustering curl, appeared to
emit an amber spark of light. The strange, weird effect of the sky
seemed to have stolen into her eyes, making them shine with witch-like
brilliancy,--the varied radiance flashing about her brought into strong
relief the pureness of her profile, drawing as with a fine pencil the
outlines of her noble forehead, sweet mouth, and rounded chin. It
touched the scarlet of her bodice, and brightened the quaint old silver
clasps she wore at her waist and throat, till she seemed no longer an
earthly being, but more like some fair wondering sprite from the
legendary Norse kingdom of _Alfheim_, the "abode of the Luminous Genii."

She was gazing upwards,--heavenwards,--and her expression was one of
rapt and almost devotional intensity. Thus she remained for some
moments, motionless as the picture of an expectant angel painted by
Raffaele or Correggio; then reluctantly and with a deep sigh she turned
her eyes towards earth again. In so doing she met the fixed and too
visibly admiring gaze of her companion. She started, and a wave of vivid
color flushed her cheeks. Quickly recovering her serenity, however, she
saluted him slightly, and, moving her oars in unison, was on the point
of departure.

Stirred by an impulse he could not resist, he laid one hand detainingly
on the rim of her boat.

"Are you going now?" he asked.

She raised her eyebrows in some little surprise and smiled.

"Going?" she repeated. "Why, yes. I shall be late in getting home as it
is."

"Stop a moment," he said eagerly, feeling that he could not let this
beautiful creature leave him as utterly as a midsummer night's dream
without some clue as to her origin and destination. "Will you not tell
me your name?"

She drew herself erect with a look of indignation.

"Sir, I do not know you. The maidens of Norway do not give their names
to strangers."

"Pardon me," he replied, somewhat abashed. "I mean no offense. We have
watched the midnight sun together, and--and--I thought--"

He paused, feeling very foolish, and unable to conclude his sentence.

She looked at him demurely from under her long, curling lashes.

"You will often find a peasant girl on the shores of the Altenfjord
watching the midnight sun at the same time as yourself," she said, and
there was a suspicion of laughter in her voice. "It is not unusual. It
is not even necessary that you should remember so little a thing."

"Necessary or not, I shall never forget it," he said with sudden
impetuosity. "You are no peasant! Come; if I give you my name will you
still deny me yours?"

Her delicate brows drew together in a frown of haughty and decided
refusal. "No names please my ears save those that are familiar," she
said, with intense coldness. "We shall not meet again. Farewell!"

And without further word or look, she leaned gracefully to the oars, and
pulling with a long, steady, resolute stroke, the little boat darted
away as lightly and swiftly as a skimming swallow out on the shimmering
water, he stood gazing after it till it became a distant speck sparkling
like a diamond in the light of sky and wave, and when he could no more
watch it with unassisted eyes, he took up his field glass and followed
its course attentively. He saw it cutting along as straightly as an
arrow, then suddenly it dipped round to the westward, apparently making
straight for some shelving rocks, that projected far into the Fjord. It
reached them; it grew less and less--it disappeared. At the same time
the lustre of the heavens gave way to a pale pearl-like uniform grey
tint, that stretched far and wide, folding up as in a mantle all the
regal luxury of the Sun-king's palace. The subtle odor and delicate
chill of the coming dawn stole freshly across the water. A light haze
rose and obscured the opposite islands. Something of the tender
melancholy of autumn, though it was late June, toned down the aspect of
the before brilliant landscape. A lark rose swiftly from its nest in an
adjacent meadow, and, soaring higher and higher, poured from its tiny
throat a cascade of delicious melody. The midnight sun no longer shone
at midnight; his face smiled with a sobered serenity through the faint
early mists of approaching morning.




CHAPTER II.

   "Viens donc--je te chanterai des chansons que les esprits des
   cimetieres m'ont apprises!"
                                                         MATURIN.


"Baffled!" he exclaimed, with a slight vexed laugh, as the boat vanished
from his sight. "By a woman, too! Who would have thought it?"

Who would have thought it, indeed! Sir Philip Bruce-Errington, Baronet,
the wealthy and desirable parti for whom many match-making mothers had
stood knee-deep in the chilly though sparkling waters of society,
ardently plying rod and line with patient persistence, vainly hoping to
secure him as a husband for one of their highly proper and passionless
daughters,--he, the admired, long-sought-after "eligible," was suddenly
rebuffed, flouted--by whom? A stray princess, or a peasant. He vaguely
wondered, as he lit a cigar and strolled up and down on the shore,
meditating, with a puzzled, almost annoyed expression on his handsome
features. He was not accustomed to slights of any kind, however
trifling; his position being commanding and enviable enough to attract
flattery and friendship from most people. He was the only son of a
baronet as renowned for eccentricity as for wealth. He had been the
spoilt darling of his mother; and now, both his parents being dead, he
was alone in the world, heir to his father's revenues, and entire master
of his own actions. And as part of the penalty he had to pay for being
rich and good-looking to boot, he was so much run after by women that he
found it hard to understand the haughty indifference with which he had
just been treated by one of the most fair, if not the fairest of her
sex. He was piqued, and his _amour propre_ was wounded.

"I'm sure my question was harmless enough," he mused, half crossly, "She
might have answered it."

He glanced out impatiently over the Fjord. There was no sign of his
returning yacht as yet.

"What a time those fellows are!" he said to himself. "If the pilot were
not on board, I should begin to think they had run the _Eulalie_
aground."

He finished his cigar and threw the end of it into the water; then he
stood moodily watching the ripples as they rolled softly up and caressed
the shining brown shore at his feet, thinking all the while of that
strange girl, so wonderfully lovely in face and form, so graceful and
proud of bearing, with her great blue eyes and masses of dusky gold
hair.

His meeting with her was a sort of adventure in its way--the first of
the kind he had had for some time. He was subject to fits of weariness
or caprice, and it was in one of these that he had suddenly left London
in the height of the season, and had started for Norway on a yachting
cruise with three chosen companions, one of whom, George Lorimer, once
an Oxford fellow-student, was now his "chum"--the Pythias to his Damon,
the _fidus Achates_ of his closest confidence. Through the unexpected
wakening up of energy in the latter young gentleman, who was usually of
a most sleepy and indolent disposition, he happened to be quite alone on
this particular occasion, though, as a general rule, he was accompanied
in his rambles by one if not all three of his friends. Utter solitude
was with him a rare occurrence, and his present experience of it had
chanced in this wise. Lorimer the languid, Lorimer the lazy, Lorimer who
had remained blandly unmoved and drowsy through all the magnificent
panorama of the Norwegian coast, including the Sogne Fjord and the
toppling peaks of the Justedal glaciers; Lorimer who had slept
peacefully in a hammock on deck, even while the yacht was passing under
the looming splendors of Melsnipa; Lorimer, now that he had arrived at
the Alton Fjord, then at its loveliest in the full glory of the
continuous sunshine, developed a new turn of mind, and began to show
sudden and abnormal interest in the scenery. In this humor he expressed
his desire to "take a sight" of the midnight sun from the island of
Seiland, and also declared his resolve to try the nearly impossible
ascent of the great Jedke glacier.

Errington laughed at the idea. "Don't tell me," he said, "that you are
going in for climbing. And do you suppose I believe that you are
interested--_you_ of all people--in the heavenly bodies?"

"Why not?" asked Lorimer, with a candid smile. "I'm not in the least
interested in earthly bodies, except my own. The sun's a jolly fellow. I
sympathize with him in his present condition. He's in his cups--that's
what's the matter--and he can't be persuaded to go to bed. I know his
feelings perfectly; and I want to survey his gloriously inebriated face
from another point of view. Don't laugh, Phil; I'm in earnest! And I
really have quite a curiosity to try my skill in amateur mountaineering.
Jedke's the very place for a first effort. It offers difficulties,
and"--this with a slight yawn--"I like to surmount difficulties; it's
rather amusing."

His mind was so evidently set upon the excursion, that Sir Philip made
no attempt to dissuade him from it, but excused himself from
accompanying the party on the plea that he wanted to finish a sketch he
had recently begun. So that when the _Eulalie_ got up her steam, weighed
anchor, and swept gracefully away towards the coast of the adjacent
islands, her owner was left, at his desire, to the seclusion of a quiet
nook on the shore of the Altenfjord, where he succeeded in making a bold
and vivid picture of the scene before him. The colors of the sky had,
however, defied his palette, and after one or two futile attempts to
transfer to his canvas a few of the gorgeous tints that illumed the
landscape, he gave up the task in despair, and resigned himself to the
_dolce far niente_ of absolute enjoyment. From his half pleasing, half
melancholy reverie the voice of the unknown maiden had startled him, and
now,--now she had left him to resume it if he chose,--left him, in chill
displeasure, with a cold yet brilliant flash of something like scorn in
her wonderful eyes.

Since her departure the scenery, in some unaccountable way, seemed less
attractive to him, the songs of the birds, who were all awake, fell on
inattentive ears; he was haunted by her face and voice, and he was,
moreover, a little out of humor with himself for having been such a
blunderer as to give her offense and thus leave an unfavorable
impression on her mind.

"I suppose I _was_ rude," he considered after a while. "She seemed to
think so, at any rate. By Jove! what a crushing look she gave me! A
peasant? Not she! If she had said she was an empress I shouldn't have
been much surprised. But a mere common peasant, with that regal figure
and those white hands! I don't believe it. Perhaps our pilot, Valdemar,
knows who she is; I must ask him."

All at once he bethought himself of the cave whence she had emerged. It
was close at hand--a natural grotto, arched and apparently lofty. He
resolved to explore it. Glancing at his watch he saw it was not yet one
o'clock in the morning, yet the voice of the cuckoo called shrilly from
the neighboring hills, and a circling group of swallows flitted around
him, their lovely wings glistening like jewels in the warm light of the
ever-wakeful sun. Going to the entrance of the cave, he looked in. It
was formed of rough rock, hewn out by the silent work of the water, and
its floor was strewn thick with loose pebbles and polished stones.
Entering it, he was able to walk upright for some few paces, then
suddenly it seemed to shrink in size and to become darker. The light
from the opening gradually narrowed into a slender stream too small for
him to see clearly where he was going, thereupon he struck a fusee. At
first he could observe no sign of human habitation, not even a rope, or
chain, or hook, to intimate that it was a customary shelter for a boat.
The fusee went out quickly, and he lit another. Looking more carefully
and closely about him, he perceived on a projecting shelf of rock, a
small antique lamp, Etruscan in shape, made of iron and wrought with
curious letters. There was oil in it, and a half-burnt wick; it had
evidently been recently used. He availed himself at once of this useful
adjunct to his explorations, and lighting it, was able by the clear and
steady flame it emitted, to see everything very distinctly. Right before
him was an uneven flight of steps leading down to a closed door.

He paused and listened attentively. There was no sound but the slow
lapping of the water near the entrance; within, the thickness of the
cavern walls shut out the gay carolling of the birds, and all the
cheerful noises of awakening nature. Silence, chillness, and partial
obscurity are depressing influences, and the warm blood flowing through
his veins, ran a trifle more slowly and coldly as he felt the sort of
uncomfortable eerie sensation which is experienced by the jolliest and
most careless traveller, when he first goes down to the catacombs in
Rome. A sort of damp, earthy shudder creeps through the system, and a
dreary feeling of general hopelessness benumbs the faculties; a morbid
state of body and mind which is only to be remedied by a speedy return
to the warm sunlight, and a draught of generous wine.

Sir Philip, however, held the antique lamp aloft, and descended the
clumsy steps cautiously, counting twenty steps in all, at the bottom of
which he found himself face to face with the closed door. It was made of
hard wood, so hard as to be almost like iron. It was black with age, and
covered with quaint carvings and inscriptions; but in the middle,
standing out in bold relief among the numberless Runic figures and
devices, was written in large well-cut letters the word--

          THELMA

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "I have it! The girl's name, of course! This is
some private retreat of hers, I suppose,--a kind of boudoir like my Lady
Winsleigh's, only with rather a difference."

And he laughed aloud, thinking of the dainty gold-satin hangings of a
certain room in a certain great mansion in Park Lane, where an
aristocratic and handsome lady-leader of fashion had as nearly made love
to him as it was possible for her to do without losing her social
dignity. His laugh was echoed back with a weird and hollow sound, as
though a hidden demon of the cave were mocking him, a demon whose
merriment was intense but also horrible. He heard the unpleasant jeering
repetition with a kind of careless admiration.

"That echo would make a fortune in _Faust_, if it could be persuaded to
back up Mephistopheles with that truly fiendish, '_Ha Ha_!'" he said,
resuming his examination of the name on the door. Then an odd fancy
seized him, and he called loudly--

"Thelma!"

"Thelma!" shouted the echo.

"Is that her name?"

"Her name!" replied the echo.

"I thought so!" And Philip laughed again, while the echo laughed wildly
in answer. "Just the sort of name to suit a Norwegian nymph or goddess.
_Thelma_ is quaint and appropriate, and as far as I can remember there's
no rhyme to it in the English language. _Thelma_!" And he lingered on
the pronunciation of the strange word with a curious sensation of
pleasure. "There is something mysteriously suggestive about the sound of
it; like a chord of music played softly in the distance. Now, can I get
through this door, I wonder?"

He pushed it gently. It yielded very slightly, and he tried again and
yet again. Finally, he put down the lamp and set his shoulder against
the wooden barrier with all his force. A dull creaking sound rewarded
his efforts, and inch by inch the huge door opened into what at first
appeared immeasurable darkness. Holding up the light he looked in, and
uttered a smothered exclamation. A sudden gust of wind rushed from the
sea through the passage and extinguished the lamp, leaving him in
profound gloom. Nothing daunted he sought his fusee case; there was just
one left in it. This he hastily struck, and shielding the glow carefully
with one hand, relit his lamp, and stepped boldly into the mysterious
grotto.

The murmur of the wind and waves, like spirit-voices in unison, followed
him as he entered. He found himself in a spacious winding corridor, that
had evidently been hollowed out in the rocks and fashioned by human
hands. Its construction was after the ancient Gothic method; but the
wonder of the place consisted in the walls, which were entirely covered
with shells,--shells of every shape and hue,--some delicate as
rose-leaves, some rough and prickly, others polished as ivory, some
gleaming with a thousand irridescent colors, others pure white as the
foam on high billows. Many of them were turned artistically in such a
position as to show their inner sides glistening with soft tints like
the shades of fine silk or satin,--others glittered with the opaline
sheen of mother-o'-pearl. All were arranged in exquisite patterns,
evidently copied from fixed mathematical designs,--there were stars,
crescents, roses, sunflowers, hearts, crossed daggers, ships and
implements of war, all faithfully depicted with extraordinary neatness
and care, as though each particular emblem had served some special
purpose.

Sir Philip walked along very slowly, delighted with his discovery,
and,--pausing to examine each panel as he passed,--amused himself with
speculations as to the meaning of this beautiful cavern, so fancifully
yet skillfully decorated.

"Some old place of worship, I suppose," he thought. "There must be many
such hidden in different parts of Norway. It has nothing to do with the
Christian faith, for among all these devices I don't perceive a single
cross."

He was right. There were no crosses; but there were many designs of the
sun--the sun rising, the sun setting, the sun in full glory, with all
his rays embroidered round him in tiny shells, some of them no bigger
than a pin's head. "What a waste of time and labor," he mused. "Who
would undertake such a thing nowadays? Fancy the patience and delicacy
of finger required to fit all these shells in their places! and they are
embedded in strong mortar too, as if the work were meant to be
indestructible."

Pull of pleased interest, he pursued his way, winding in and out through
different arches, all more or less richly ornamented, till he came to a
tall, round column, which seemingly supported the whole gallery, for all
the arches converged towards it. It was garlanded from top to bottom
with their roses and their leaves, all worked in pink and lilac shells,
interspersed with small pieces of shining amber and polished malachite.
The flicker of the lamp he carried, made it glisten like a mass of
jewel-work, and, absorbed in his close examination of this unique
specimen of ancient art, Sir Philip did not at once perceive that
another light beside his own glimmered from out the furthest archway a
little beyond him,--an opening that led into some recess he had not as
yet explored. A peculiar lustre sparkling on one side of the shell-work
however, at last attracted his attention, and, glancing up quickly, he
saw, to his surprise, the reflection of a strange radiance, rosily
tinted and brilliant.

Turning in its direction, he paused, irresolute. Could there be some one
living in that furthest chamber to which the long passage he had
followed evidently led? some one who would perhaps resent his intrusion
as an impertinence? some eccentric artist or hermit who had made the
cave his home? Or was it perhaps a refuge for smugglers? He listened
anxiously. There was no sound. He waited a minute or two, then boldly
advanced, determined to solve the mystery.

This last archway was lower than any of those he had passed through, and
he was forced to take off his hat and stoop as he went under it. When he
raised his head he remained uncovered, for he saw at a glance that the
place was sacred. He was in the presence, not of Life, but Death. The
chamber in which he stood was square in form, and more richly ornamented
with shell-designs than any other portion of the grotto he had seen, and
facing the east was an altar hewn out of the solid rock and studded
thickly with amber, malachite and mother-o'-pearl. It was covered With
the incomprehensible emblems of a bygone creed worked in most exquisite
shell-patterns, but on it,--as though in solemn protest against the
past,--stood a crucifix of ebony and carved ivory, before which burned
steadily a red lamp.

The meaning of the mysterious light was thus explained, but what chiefly
interested Errington was the central object of the place,--a coffin,--of
rather a plain granite sarcophagus which was placed on the floor lying
from north to south. Upon it,--in strange contrast to the sombre
coldness of the stone,--reposed a large wreath of poppies freshly
gathered. The vivid scarlet of the flowers, the gleam of the shining
shells on the walls, the mournful figure of the ivory Christ stretched
on the cross among all those pagan emblems,--the intense silence broken
only by the slow drip, drip of water trickling somewhere behind the
cavern,--and more than these outward things,--his own impressive
conviction that he was with the imperial Dead--imperial because past the
sway of empire--all made a powerful impression on his mind. Overcoming
by degrees his first sensations of awe, he approached the sarcophagus
and examined it. It was solidly closed and mortared all round, so that
it might have been one compact coffin-shaped block of stone so far as
its outward appearance testified. Stooping more closely, however, to
look at the brilliant poppy-wreath, he started back with a slight
exclamation. Cut deeply in the hard granite he read for the second time
that odd name--

          THELMA

It belonged to some one dead, then--not to the lovely living woman who
had so lately confronted him in the burning glow of the midnight sun? He
felt dismayed at his unthinking precipitation,--he had, in his fancy,
actually associated _her_, so full of radiant health and beauty, with
what was probably a mouldering corpse in that hermetically sealed
tenement of stone! This idea was unpleasant, and jarred upon his
feelings. Surely she, that golden-haired nymph of the Fjord, had nothing
to do with death! He had evidently found his way into some ancient tomb.
"Thelma" might be the name or title of some long-departed queen or
princess of Norway, yet, if so, how came the crucifix there,--the red
lamp, the flowers?

He lingered, looking curiously about him, as if he fancied the
shell-embroidered walls might whisper some answer to his thoughts. The
silence offered no suggestions. The plaintive figure of the tortured
Christ suspended on the cross maintained an immovable watch over all
things, and there was a subtle, faint odor floating about as of crushed
spices or herbs. While he still stood there absorbed in perplexed
conjectures, he became oppressed by want of air. The red hue of the
poppy-wreath mingled with the softer glow of the lamp on the altar,--the
moist glitter of the shells and polished pebbles, seemed to dazzle and
confuse his eyes. He felt dizzy and faint--and hastily made his way out
of that close death-chamber into the passage, where he leaned for a few
minutes against the great central column to recover himself. A brisk
breath of wind from the Fjord came careering through the gallery, and
blew coldly upon his forehead. Refreshed by it, he rapidly overcame the
sensation of giddiness, and began to retrace his steps through the
winding arches, thinking with some satisfaction as he went, what a
romantic incident he would have to relate to Lorimer and his other
friends, when a sudden glare of light illumined the passage, and he was
brought to an abrupt standstill by the sound of a wild "Halloo!" The
light vanished; it reappeared. It vanished again, and again appeared,
flinging a strong flare upon the shell-worked walls as it approached.
Again the fierce "Halloo!" resounded through the hollow cavities of the
subterranean temple, and he remained motionless, waiting for an
explanation of this unlooked-for turn to the events of the morning.

He had plenty of physical courage, and the idea of any addition to his
adventure rather pleased him than otherwise. Still, with all his
bravery, he recoiled a little when he first caught sight of the
extraordinary being that emerged from the darkness--a wild, distorted
figure that ran towards him with its head downwards, bearing aloft in
one skinny hand a smoking pine-torch, from which the sparks flew like so
many fireflies. This uncanny personage, wearing the semblance of man,
came within two paces of Errington before perceiving him; then, stopping
short in his headlong career, the creature flourished his torch and
uttered a defiant yell.

Philip surveyed him coolly and without alarm, though so weird an object
might well have aroused a pardonable distrust, and even timidity. He saw
a misshapen dwarf, not quite four feet high, with large, ungainly limbs
out of all proportion to his head, which was small and compact. His
features were of almost feminine fineness, and from under his shaggy
brows gleamed a restless pair of large, full, wild blue eyes. His thick,
rough flaxen hair was long and curly, and hung in disordered profusion
over his deformed shoulders. His dress was of reindeer skin, very
fancifully cut, and ornamented with beads of different colors,--and
twisted about him as though in an effort to be artistic, was a long
strip of bright scarlet woollen material, which showed up the extreme
pallor and ill-health of the meagre countenance, and the brilliancy of
the eyes that now sparkled with rage as they met those of Errington. He,
from his superior height, glanced down with pity on the unfortunate
creature, whom he at once took to be the actual owner of the cave he had
explored. Uncertain what to do, whether to speak or remain silent, he
moved slightly as though to pass on; but the shock-headed dwarf leaped
lightly in his way, and, planting himself firmly before him, shrieked
some unintelligible threat, of which Errington could only make out the
last words, "Nifleheim" and "Nastrond."

"I believe he is commending me to the old Norwegian inferno," thought
the young baronet with a smile, amused at the little man's evident
excitement. "Very polite of him, I'm sure! But, after all, I had no
business here. I'd better apologize." And forthwith he began to speak in
the simplest English words he could choose, taking care to pronounce
them very slowly and distinctly.

"I cannot understand you, my good sir; but I see you are angry. I came
here by accident. I am going away now at once."

His explanation had a strange effect. The dwarf drew nearer, twirled
himself rapidly round three times as though waltzing; then, holding his
torch a little to one side, turned up his thin, pale countenance, and,
fixing his gaze on Sir Philip, studied every feature of his face with
absorbing interest. Then he burst into a violent fit of laughter.

"At last--at last?" he cried in fluent English. "Going now? Going, you
say? Never! never! You will never go away any more. No, not without
something stolen! The dead have summoned you here! Their white bony
fingers have dragged you across the deep! Did you not hear their voices,
cold and hollow as the winter wind, calling, calling you, and saying,
'Come, come, proud robber, from over the far seas; come and gather the
beautiful rose of the northern forest'? Yes, Yes! You have obeyed the
dead--the dead who feign sleep, but are ever wakeful;--you have come as
a thief in the golden midnight, and the thing you seek is the life of
Sigurd! Yes--yes! it is true. The spirit cannot lie. You must kill, you
must steal! See how the blood drips, drop by drop, from the heart of
Sigurd! And the jewel you steal--ah, what a jewel!--you shall not find
such another in Norway!"

His excited voice sank by degrees to a plaintive and forlorn whisper,
and dropping his torch with a gesture of despair on the ground, he
looked at it burning, with an air of mournful and utter desolation.
Profoundly touched, as he immediately understood the condition of his
companion's wandering wits, Errington spoke to him soothingly.

"You mistake me," he said in gentle accents; "I would not steal anything
from you, nor have I come to kill you. See," and he held out his hand,
"I wouldn't harm you for the world. I didn't know this cave belonged to
you. Forgive me for having entered it. I am going to rejoin my friends.
Good-bye!"

The strange, half-crazy creature touched his outstretched hand timidly,
and with a sort of appeal.

"Good-bye, good-bye!" he muttered. "That is what they all say,--even the
dead,--good-bye; but they never go--never, never! You cannot be
different to the rest. And you do not wish to hurt poor Sigurd?"

"Certainly not, if _you_ are Sigurd," said Philip, half laughing; "I
should be very sorry to hurt you."

"You are _sure_?" he persisted, with a sort of obstinate eagerness. "You
have eyes which tell truths; but there are other things which are truer
than eyes--things in the air, in the grass, in the waves, and they talk
very strangely of you. I know you, of course! I knew you ages ago--long
before I saw you dead on the field of battle, and the black-haired
Valkyrie galloped with you to Valhalla! Yes; I knew you long before
that, and you knew me; for I was your King, and you were my vassal, wild
and rebellious--not the proud, rich Englishman you are to-day."

Errington startled. How could this Sigurd, as he called himself, be
aware of either his wealth or nationality?

The dwarf observed his movement of surprise with a cunning smile.

"Sigurd is wise,--Sigurd is brave! Who shall deceive him? He knows you
well; he will always know you. The old gods teach Sigurd all his
wisdom--the gods of the sea and the wind--the sleepy gods that lie in
the hearts of the flowers--the small spirits that sit in shells and sing
all day and all night." He paused, and his eyes filled with a wistful
look of attention. He drew closer.

"Come," he said earnestly, "come, you must listen to my music; perhaps
you can tell me what it means."

He picked up his smouldering torch and held it aloft again; then,
beckoning Errington to follow him, he led the way to a small grotto, cut
deeply into the wall of the cavern. Here there were no shell patterns.
Little green ferns grew thickly out of the stone crevices, and a minute
runlet of water trickled slowly down from above, freshening the delicate
frondage as it fell. With quick, agile fingers he removed a loose stone
from this aperture, and as he did so, a low shuddering wail resounded
through the arches--a melancholy moan that rose and sank, and rose again
in weird, sorrowful minor echoes.

"Hear her," murmured Sigurd plaintively. "She is always complaining; it
is a pity she cannot rest! She is a spirit, you know. I have often asked
her what troubles her, but she will not tell me; she only weeps!"

His companion looked at him compassionately. The sound that so affected
his disordered imagination was nothing but the wind blowing through the
narrow hole formed by the removal of the stone; but it was useless to
explain this simple fact to one in his condition.

"Tell me," and Sir Philip spoke very gently, "is this your home?"

The dwarf surveyed him almost scornfully. "_My_ home!" he echoed. "My
home is everywhere--on the mountains, in the forests, on the black rocks
and barren shores! My soul lives between the sun and the sea; my heart
is with Thelma!"

Thelma! Here was perhaps a clue to the mystery.

"Who is Thelma?" asked Errington somewhat hurriedly.

Sigurd broke into violent and derisive laughter. "Do you think I will
tell _you_?" he cried loudly. "_You_,--one of that strong, cruel race
who must conquer all they see; who covet everything fair under heaven,
and will buy it, even at the cost of blood and tears! Do you think I
will unlock the door of my treasure to _you_? No, no; besides," and his
voice sank lower, "what should you do with Thelma? She is dead!"

And, as if possessed by a sudden access of frenzy, he brandished his
pine-torch wildly above his head till it showered a rain of bright
sparks above him, and exclaimed furiously--"Away, away, and trouble me
not! The days are not yet fulfilled,--the time is not yet ripe. Why seek
to hasten my end? Away, away, I tell you! Leave me in peace! I will die
when Thelma bids me; but not till then!"

And he rushed down the long gallery and disappeared in the furthest
chamber, where he gave vent to a sort of long, sobbing cry, which rang
dolefully through the cavern and then subsided into utter silence.

Feeling as if he were in a chaotic dream, Errington pursued his
interrupted course through the winding passages with a bewildered and
wondering mind. What strange place had he inadvertently lighted on? and
who were the still stranger beings in connection with it? First the
beautiful girl herself; next the mysterious coffin, hidden in its
fanciful shell temple; and now this deformed madman, with the pale face
and fine eyes; whose utterances, though incoherent, savored somewhat of
poesy and prophecy. And what spell was attached to that name of Thelma?
The more he thought of his morning's adventure, the more puzzled he
became. As a rule, he believed more in the commonplace than in the
romantic--most people do. But truth to tell, romance is far more common
than the commonplace. There are few who have not, at one time or other
of their lives, had some strange or tragic episode woven into the tissue
of their every-day existence; and it would be difficult to find one
person even among humdrum individuals, who, from birth to death, has
experienced nothing out of the common.

Errington generally dismissed all tales of adventure as mere
exaggerations of heated fancy; and, had he read in some book, of a
respectable nineteenth-century yachtsman having such an interview with a
madman in a sea-cavern, he would have laughed at the affair as an utter
improbability, though he could not have explained why he considered it
improbable. But now it had occurred to himself, he was both surprised
and amused at the whole circumstance; moreover, he was sufficiently
interested and carious to be desirous of sifting the matter to its
foundation.

It was, however, somewhat of a relief to him when he again readied the
outer cavern. He replaced the lamp on the shelf where he had found it,
and stepped once more into the brilliant light of the very early dawn,
which then had all the splendor of full morning. There was a deliciously
balmy wind, the blue sky was musical with a chorus of larks, and every
breath of air that waved aside the long grass sent forth a thousand
odors from hidden beds of wild thyme and bog-myrtle.

He perceived the _Eulalie_ at anchor in her old place on the Fjord; she
had returned while he was absent on his explorations. Gathering together
his rug and painting materials, he blew a whistle sharply three times;
he was answered from the yacht, and presently a boat, manned by a couple
of sailors, came skimming over the water towards him. It soon reached
the shore, and, entering it, he was speedily rowed away from the scene
of his morning's experience back to his floating palace, where, as yet,
none of his friends were stirring.

"How about Jedke?" he inquired of one of his men. "Did they climb it?"

A slow grin overspread the sailor's brown face.

"Lord bless you, no, sir! Mr. Lorimer, he just looked at it and sat down
in the shade; the other gentleman played pitch-and-toss with pebbles.
They was main hungry too, and ate a mighty sight of 'am and pickles.
Then they came on board and all turned in at once."

Errington laughed. He was amused at the utter failure of Lorimer's
recent sudden energy, but not surprised. His thoughts were, however,
busied with something else, and he next asked--"Where's our pilot?"

"Valdemar Svensen, sir? He went down to his bunk as soon as we anchored,
for a snooze, he said."

"All right. If he comes on deck before I do, just tell him not to go
ashore for anything till I see him. I want to speak to him after
breakfast."

"Ay, ay, sir."

Whereupon Sir Philip descended to his private cabin. He drew the blind
at the port-hole to shut out the dazzling sunlight, for it was nearly
three o'clock in the morning, and quickly undressing, he flung himself
into his berth with a slight, not altogether unpleasant, feeling of
exhaustion. To the last, as his eyes closed drowsily, he seemed to hear
the slow drip, drip of the water behind the rocky cavern, and the
desolate cry of the incomprehensible Sigurd, while through these sounds
that mingled with the gurgle of little waves lapping against the sides
of the _Eulalie_, the name of "Thelma" murmured itself in his ears till
slumber drowned his senses in oblivion.




CHAPTER III.

    "Hast any mortal name,
     Fit appellation for this dazzling frame,
     Or friends or kinsfolk on the citied earth?"
                                                           KEATS.


"This is positively absurd," murmured Lorimer, in mildly injured tones,
seven hours later, as he sat on the edge of his berth, surveying
Errington, who, fully dressed, and in the highest spirits, had burst in
to upbraid him for his laziness while he was yet but scantily attired.
"I tell you, my good fellow, there are some things which the utmost
stretch of friendship will _not_ stand. Here am I in shirt and trousers
with only one sock on, and you dare to say you have had an adventure!
Why, if you had cut a piece out of the sun, you ought to wait till a man
is shaved before mentioning it."

"Don't be snappish, old boy!" laughed Errington gaily. "Put on that
other sock and listen. I don't want to tell those other fellows just
yet, they might go making inquiries about her--"

"Oh, there is a 'her' in the case, is there?" said Lorimer, opening his
eyes rather widely. "Well, Phil! I thought you had had enough, and
something too much, of women."

"This is not a woman!" declared Philip with heat and eagerness, "at
least not the sort of woman _I_ have ever known! This is a
forest-empress, sea-goddess, or sun-angel! I don't know _what_ she is,
upon my life!"

Lorimer regarded him with an air of reproachful offense.

"Don't go on--please don't!" he implored. "I can't stand it--I really
can't! Incipient verse-mania is too much for me. Forest-empress,
sea-goddess, sun-angel--by Jove! what next? You are evidently in a very
bad way. If I remember rightly, you had a flask of that old green
Chartreuse with you. Ah! that accounts for it! Nice stuff, but a little
too strong."

Errington laughed, and, unabashed by his friend's raillery, proceeded to
relate with much vivacity and graphic fervor the occurrences of the
morning. Lorimer listened patiently with a forbearing smile on his open,
ruddy countenance. When he had heard everything he looked up and
inquired calmly--

"This is not a yarn, is it?"

"A yarn!" exclaimed Philip. "Do you think I would invent such a thing?"

"Can't say," returned Lorimer imperturbably. "You are quite capable of
it. It's a very creditable crammer, due to Chartreuse. Might have been
designed by Victor Hugo; it's in his style. Scene, Norway--midnight.
Mysterious maiden steals out of a cave and glides away in a boat over
the water; man, the hero, goes into cave, finds a stone coffin,
says--'Qu'est-ce que c'est? Dieu! C'est la mort!' Spectacle affreux!
Staggers back perspiring; meets mad dwarf with torch; mad dwarf talks a
good deal--mad people always do,--then yells and runs away. Man comes
out of cave and--and--goes home to astonish his friends; one of them
won't be astonished,--that's me!"

"I don't care," said Errington. "It's a true story for all that. Only, I
say, don't talk of it before the others; let's keep our own counsel--"

"No poachers allowed on the Sun-Angel Manor!" interrupted Lorimer
gravely. Philip went on without heeding him.

"I'll question Valdemar Svensen after breakfast. He knows everybody
about here. Come and have a smoke on deck when I give you the sign, and
we'll cross-examine him."

Lorimer still looked incredulous. "What's the good of it?" he inquired
languidly. "Even if it's all true you had much better leave this
goddess, or whatever you call her, alone, especially if she has any mad
connections. What do _you_ want with her?"

"Nothing!" declared Errington, though hiss color heightened. "Nothing, I
assure you! It's just a matter of curiosity with me. I should like to
know who she is--that's all! The affair won't go any further."

"How do you know?" and Lorimer began to brush his stiff curly hair with
a sort of vicious vigor. "How can you tell? I'm not a spiritualist, nor
any sort of a humbug at all, I hope, but I sometimes indulge in
presentiments. Before we started on this cruise, I was haunted by that
dismal old ballad of Sir Patrick Spens--"

    'The King's daughter of Norroway
     'Tis thou maun bring her hame!'

"And here you have found her, or so it appears. What's to come of it, I
wonder?"

"Nothing's to come of it; nothing _will_ come of it!" laughed Philip.
"As I told you, she said she was a peasant. There's the breakfast-bell!
Make haste, old boy, I'm as hungry as a hunter!"

And he left his friend to finish dressing, and entered the saloon, where
he greeted his two other companions, Alec, or, as he was oftener called,
Sandy Macfarlane, and Pierre Duprez; the former an Oxford student,--the
latter a young fellow whose acquaintance he had made in Paris, and with
whom he had kept up a constant and friendly intercourse. A greater
contrast than these two presented could scarcely be imagined. Macfarlane
was tall and ungainly, with large loose joints that seemed to protrude
angularly out of him in every direction,--Duprez was short, slight and
wiry, with a dapper and by no means ungraceful figure. The one had
formal _gauche_ manners, a never-to-be-eradicated Glasgow accent, and a
slow, infinitely tedious method of expressing himself,--the other was
full of restless movement and pantomimic gesture, and being proud of his
English, plunged into that language recklessly, making it curiously
light and flippant, though picturesque, as he went. Macfarlane was
destined to become a shining light of the established Church of
Scotland, and therefore took life very seriously,--Duprez was the spoilt
only child of an eminent French banker, and had very little to do but
enjoy himself, and that he did most thoroughly, without any calculation
or care for the future. On all points of taste and opinion they differed
widely; but there was no doubt about their both being good-hearted
fellows, without any affectation of abnormal vice or virtue.

"So you did not climb Jedke after all!" remarked Errington laughingly,
as they seated themselves at the breakfast table.

"My friend, what would you!" cried Duprez. "I have not said that I will
climb it; no! I never say that I will do anything, because I'm not sure
of myself. How can I be? It is that _cher enfant_, Lorimer, that said
such brave words! See! . . . we arrive; we behold the shore--all black,
great, vast! . . . rocks like needles, and, higher than all, this most
fierce Jedke--bah! what a name!--straight as the spire of a cathedral.
One must be a fly to crawl up it, and we, we are not flies--_ma foi_!
no! Lorimer, he laugh, he yawn--so! He say, 'not for me to-day; I very
much thank you!' And then, we watch the sun. Ah! that was grand,
glorious, beautiful!" And Duprez kissed the tips of his fingers in
ecstacy.

"What did _you_ think about it, Sandy?" asked Sir Philip.

"I didna think much," responded Macfarlane, shortly. "It's no sae grand
a sight as a sunset in Skye. And it's an uncanny business to see the sun
losin' a' his poonctooality, and remainin' stock still, as it were, when
it's his plain duty to set below the horizon. Mysel', I think it's been
fair over-rated. It's unnatural an' oot o' the common, say what ye
like."

"Of course it is," agreed Lorimer, who just then sauntered in from his
cabin. "Nature _is_ most unnatural. I always thought so. Tea for me,
Phil, please; coffee wakes me up too suddenly. I say, what's the
programme to-day?"

"Fishing in the Alten," answered Errington promptly.

"That suits me perfectly," said Lorimer, as he leisurely sipped his tea.
"I'm an excellent fisher. I hold the line and generally forget to bait
it. Then,--while it trails harmlessly in the water, I doze; thus both
the fish and I are happy."

"And this evening," went on Errington, "we must return the minister's
call. He's been to the yacht twice. We're bound to go out of common
politeness."

"Spare us, good Lord!" groaned Lorimer.

"What a delightfully fat man is that good religious!" cried Duprez. "A
living proof of the healthiness of Norway!"

"He's not a native," put in Macfarlane; "he's frae Yorkshire. He's only
been a matter of three months here, filling the place o' the settled
meenister who's awa' for a change of air."

"He's a precious specimen of a humbug, anyhow," sighed Lorimer drearily.
"However, I'll be civil to him as long as he doesn't ask me to hear him
preach. At that suggestion I'll fight him. He's soft enough to bruise
easily."

"Ye're just too lazy to fight onybody," declared Macfarlane.

Lorimer smiled sweetly. "Thanks, awfully! I dare say you're right. I've
never found it worth while as yet to exert myself in any particular
direction. No one has asked me to exert myself; no one wants me to exert
myself; therefore, why should I?"

"Don't ye want to get on in the world?" asked Macfarlane, almost
brusquely.

"Dear me, no! What an exhausting idea! Get on in the world--what for? I
have five hundred a year, and when my mother goes over to the majority
(long distant be that day, for I'm very fond of the dear old lady), I
shall have five thousand--more than enough to satisfy any sane man who
doesn't want to speculate on the Stock Exchange. _Your_ case, my good
Mac, is different. You will be a celebrated Scotch divine. You will
preach to a crowd of pious numskulls about predestination, and so forth.
You will be stump-orator for the securing of seats in paradise. Now,
now, keep calm!--don't mind me. It's only a figure of speech! And the
numskulls will call you a 'rare powerful rousin' preacher'--isn't that
the way they go on? and when you die--for die you must, most
unfortunately--they will give you a three-cornered block of granite (if
they can make up their minds to part with the necessary bawbees) with
your name prettily engraved thereon. That's all very nice; it suits some
people. It wouldn't suit me."

"What _would_ suit you?" queried Errington. "You find everything more or
less of a bore."

"Ah, my good little boy!" broke in Duprez. "Paris is the place for you.
You should live in Paris. Of that you would never fatigue yourself."

"Too much absinthe, secret murder and suicidal mania," returned Lorimer,
meditatively. "That was a neat idea about the coffins though. I never
hoped to dine off a coffin."

"Ah! you mean the Taverne de l'Enfer?" exclaimed Duprez. "Yes; the
divine waitresses wore winding sheets, and the wine was served in
imitation skulls. Excellent! I remember; the tables were shaped like
coffins."

"Gude Lord Almighty!" piously murmured Macfarlane. "What a fearsome
sicht!"

As he pronounced these words with an unusually marked accent, Duprez
looked inquiring.

"What does our Macfarlane say?"

"He says it must have been a 'fearsome sicht,'" repeated Lorimer, with
even a stronger accent than Sanby's own, "which, _mon cher_ Pierre,
means all the horrors in your language; _affreux_, _epouvantable_,
_navrant_--anything you like, that is sufficiently terrible."

"_Mais, point du tout_!" cried Duprez energetically. "It was charming!
It made us laugh at death--so much better than to cry! And there was a
delicious child in a winding-sheet; brown curls, laughing eyes and
little mouth; ha ha! but she was well worth kissing!"

"I'd rather follow ma own funeral, than kiss a lass in a winding-sheet,"
said Sandy, in solemn and horrified tones. "It's just awfu' to think
on."

"But, see, my friend," persisted Duprez, "you would not be permitted to
follow your own funeral, not possible,--_voila_! You _are_ permitted to
kiss the pretty one in the winding-sheet. It _is_ possible. Behold the
difference!"

"Never mind the Taverne de l'Enfer just now," said Errington, who had
finished his breakfast hurriedly. "It's time for you fellows to get your
fishing toggery on. I'm off to speak to the pilot."

And away he went, followed more slowly by Lorimer, who, though he
pretended indifference, was rather curious to know more, if possible,
concerning his friend's adventure of the morning. They found the pilot,
Valdemar Svensen, leaning at his ease against the idle wheel, with his
face turned towards the eastern sky. He was a stalwart specimen of Norse
manhood, tall and strongly built, with thoughtful, dignified features,
and keen, clear hazel eyes. His chestnut hair, plentifully sprinkled
with gray, clustered thickly over a broad brow, that was deeply furrowed
with many a line of anxious and speculative thought, and the forcible
brown hand that rested lightly on the spokes of the wheel, told its own
tale of hard and honest labor. Neither wife nor child, nor living
relative had Valdemar; the one passion of his heart was the sea. Sir
Philip Errington had engaged him at Christiansund, hearing of him there
as a man to whom the intricacies of the Fjords, and the dangers of
rock-bound coasts, were more familiar than a straight road on dry lake,
and since then the management of the _Eulalie_ had been entirely
entrusted to him. Though an eminently practical sailor, he was half a
mystic, and believed in the wildest legends of his land with more
implicit faith than many so-called Christians believe in their sacred
doctrines. He doffed his red cap respectfully now as Errington and
Lorimer approached, smilingly wishing them "a fair day." Sir Philip
offered him a cigar, and, coming to the point at once, asked abruptly--

"I say, Svensen, are there any pretty girls in Bosekop?"

The pilot drew the newly lit cigar from his mouth, and passed his rough
hand across his forehead in a sort of grave perplexity.

"It is a matter in which I am foolish," he said at last, "for my ways
have always gone far from the ways of women. Girls there are plenty, I
suppose, but--" he mused with pondering patience for awhile. Then a
broad smile broke like sunshine over his embrowned countenance, as he
continued, "Now, gentlemen, I do remember well; it is said that at
Bosekop yonder, are to be found some of the homeliest wenches in all
Norway."

Errington's face fell at this reply. Lorimer turned away to hide the
mischievous smile that came on his lips at his friend's discomfiture.

"I _know_ it was that Chartreuse," he thought to himself. "That and the
midnight sun-effects. Nothing else!"

"What!" went on Philip. "No good-looking girls at all about here, eh?"

Svensen shook his head, still smilingly.

"Not at Bosekop, sir, that I ever heard of."

"I say!" broke in Lorimer, "are there any old tombs or sea-caves, or
places of that sort close by, worth exploring?"

Valdemar Svensen answered this question readily, almost eagerly.

"No, sir! There are no antiquities of any sort; and as for eaves, there
are plenty, but only the natural formations of the sea, and none of
these are curious or beautiful on this side of the Fjord."

Lorimer poked his friend secretly in the ribs.

"You've been dreaming, old fellow!" he whispered slyly. "I knew it was a
crammer!"

Errington shook him off good-humoredly.

"Can you tell me," he said, addressing Valdemar again in distinct
accents, "whether there is any place, person, or thing near here called
_Thelma_?"

The pilot started; a look of astonishment and fear came into his eyes;
his hand went instinctively to his red cap, as though in deference to
the name.

"The Froeken Thelma!" he exclaimed, in low tones. "Is it possible that
you have seen her?"

"Ah, George, what do you say now?" cried Errington delightedly. "Yes,
yes, Valdemar; the Froeken Thelma, as you call her. Who is she? . . .
What is she?--and how can there be no pretty girls in Bosekop if such a
beautiful creature as she lives there?"

Valdemar looked troubled and vexed.

"Truly, I thought not of the maiden," he said gravely. "'Tis not for me
to speak of the daughter of Olaf," here his voice sank a little, and his
face grew more and more sombre. "Pardon me, sir, but how did you meet
her?"

"By accident," replied Errington promptly, not caring to relate his
morning's adventure for the pilot's benefit. "Is she some great
personage here?"

Svensen sighed, and smiled somewhat dubiously.

"Great? Oh, no; not what you would call great. Her father, Olaf Gueldmar,
is a _bonde_,--that is, a farmer in his own right. He has a goodly
house, and a few fair acres well planted and tilled,--also he pays his
men freely,--but those that work for him are all he sees,--neither he
nor his daughter ever visit the town. They dwell apart, and have nothing
in common with their neighbors."

"And where do they live?" asked Lorimer, becoming as interested as he
had formerly been incredulous.

The pilot leaned lightly over the rail of the deck and pointed towards
the west.

"You see that great rock shaped like a giant's helmet, and behind it a
high green knoll, clustered thick with birch and pine?"

They nodded assent.

"At the side of the knoll is the _bonde's_ house, a good eight-mile walk
from the outskirts of Bosekop. Should you ever seek to rest there,
gentlemen," and Svensen spoke with quiet resolution, "I doubt whether
you will receive a pleasant welcome."

And he looked at them both with an inquisitive air, as though seeking to
discover their intentions.

"Is that so?" drawled Lorimer lazily, giving his friend an expressive
nudge. "Ah! _We_ shan't trouble them! Thanks for your information,
Valdemar! We don't intend to hunt up the--what d'ye call him?--the
_bonde_, if he's at all surly. Hospitality that gives you greeting and a
dinner for nothing,--that's what suits _me_."

"Our people are not without hospitality," said the pilot, with a touch
of wistful and appealing dignity. "All along your journey, gentlemen,
you have been welcomed gladly, as you know. But Olaf Gueldmar is not like
the rest of us; he has the pride and fierceness of olden days; his
manners and customs are different; and few like him. He is much feared."

"You know him then?" inquired Errington carelessly.

"I know him," returned Valdemar quietly. "And his daughter is fair as
the sun and the sea. But it is not my place to speak of them--." He
broke off, and after a slightly embarrassed pause, asked, "Will the
Herren wish to sail to-day?"

"No Valdemar," answered Errington indifferently. "Not till to-morrow,
when we'll visit the Kaa Fjord if the weather keeps fair."

"Very good, sir," and the pilot, tacitly avoiding any further converse
with his employer respecting the mysterious Thelma and her equally
mysterious father, turned to examine the wheel and compass as though
something there needed his earnest attention. Errington and Lorimer
strolled up and down the polished white deck arm-in-arm, talking in low
tones.

"You didn't ask him about the coffin and the dwarf," said Lorimer.

"No; because I believe he knows nothing of either, and it would be news
to him which I'm not bound to give. If I can manage to see the girl
again the mystery of the cave may explain itself."

"Well, what are you going to do?"

Errington looked meditative. "Nothing at present We'll go fishing with
the others. But, I tell you what, if you're up to it, we'll leave Duprez
and Macfarlane at the minister's house this evening and tell them to
wait for us there,--once they all begin to chatter they never know how
time goes. Meanwhile you and I will take the boat and row over in search
of this farmer's abode. I believe there's a short cut to it by water; at
any rate I know the way _she_ went."

"'I know the way she went home with her maiden posy!'" quoted Lorimer,
with a laugh. "You are hit Phil, 'a very palpable hit'! Who would have
thought it! Clara Winsleigh needn't poison her husband after all
in-order to marry you, for nothing but a sun-empress will suit you now."

"Don't be a fool, George," said Errington, half vexedly, as the hot
color mounted to his face in spite of himself. "It is all idle
curiosity, nothing else. After what Svensen told us, I'm quite as
anxious to see this gruff old _bonde_ as his daughter."

Lorimer held up a reproachful finger. "Now, Phil, don't stoop to
duplicity--not with me, at any rate. Why disguise your feelings? Why, as
the tragedians say, endeavor to crush the noblest and best emotions that
ever warm the _boo-zum_ of man? Chivalrous sentiment and admiration for
beauty,--chivalrous desire to pursue it and catch it and call it your
own,--I understand it all, my dear boy! But my prophetic soul tells me
you will have to strangle the excellent Olaf Gueldmar--heavens! what a
name!--before you will be allowed to make love to his fair _chee-ild_.
Then don't forget the madman with the torch,--he may turn up in the most
unexpected fashion and give you no end of trouble. But, by Jove, it _is_
a romantic affair, positively quite stagey! Something will come of it,
serious or comic. I wonder which?"

Errington laughed, but said nothing in reply, as their two companions
ascended from the cabin at that moment, in full attire for the fishing
expedition, followed by the steward bearing a large basket of provisions
for luncheon,--and all private conversation came to an end. Hastening
the rest of their preparations, within twenty minutes they were skimming
across the Fjord in a long boat manned by four sailors, who rowed with a
will and sent the light craft scudding through the water with the
swiftness of an arrow. Landing, they climbed the dewy hills spangled
thick with forget-me-nots and late violets, till they reached a shady
and secluded part of the river, where, surrounded by the songs of
hundreds of sweet-throated birds, they commenced their sport, which kept
them, well employed till a late hour in the afternoon.




CHAPTER IV.

   "Thou art violently carried away from grace; there is a devil
   haunts thee in the likeness of a fat old man,--a tun of man is
   thy companion."
                                                     SHAKESPEARE.


The Reverend Charles Dyceworthy sat alone in the small dining-room of
his house at Bosekop, finishing a late tea, and disposing of round after
round of hot buttered toast with that suave alacrity he always displayed
in the consumption of succulent eatables. He was a largely made man,
very much on the wrong side of fifty, with accumulations of unwholesome
fat on every available portion of his body. His round face was cleanly
shaven and shiny, as though its flabby surface were frequently polished
with some sort of luminous grease instead of the customary soap. His
mouth was absurdly small and pursy for so broad a countenance,--his nose
seemed endeavoring to retreat behind his puffy cheeks as though
painfully aware of its own insignificance,--and he had little, sharp,
ferret-like eyes of a dull mahogany brown, which were utterly destitute
of even the faintest attempt at any actual expression. They were more
like glass beads than eyes, and glittered under their scanty fringe of
pale-colored lashes with a sort of shallow cunning which might mean
malice or good-humor,--no one looking at them could precisely determine
which. His hair was of an indefinite shade, neither light nor dark,
somewhat of the tinge of a dusty potato before it is washed clean. It
was neatly brushed and parted in the middle with mathematical precision,
while from the back of his head it was brought forward in two
projections, one on each side, like budding wings behind his ears. It
was impossible for the most fastidious critic to find fault with the
Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy's hands. He had beautiful hands, white, soft,
plump and well-shaped,--his delicate filbert nails were trimmed with
punctilious care, and shone with a pink lustre that was positively
charming. He was evidently an amiable man, for he smiled to himself over
his tea,--he had a trick of smiling,--ill-natured people said he did it
on purpose, in order to widen his mouth and make it more in pro-portion
to the size of his face. Such remarks, however, emanated only from the
spiteful and envious who could not succeed in winning the social
popularity that everywhere attended Mr. Dyceworthy's movements. For he
was undoubtedly popular,--no one could deny that. In the small Yorkshire
town where he usually had his abode, he came little short of being
adored by the women of his own particular sect, who crowded to listen to
his fervent discourses, and came away from them on the verge of
hysteria, so profoundly moved were their sensitive souls by his
damnatory doctrines. The men were more reluctant in their admiration,
yet even they were always ready to admit "that he was an excellent
fellow, with his heart in the right place."

He had a convenient way of getting ill at the proper seasons, and of
requiring immediate change of air, whereupon his grateful flock were
ready and willing to subscribe the money necessary for their beloved
preacher to take repose and relaxation in any part of the world he
chose. This year, however, they had not been asked to furnish the usual
funds for travelling expenses, for the resident minister of Bosekop, a
frail, gentle old man, had been seriously prostrated during the past
winter with an affection of the lungs, which necessitated his going to a
different climate for change and rest. Knowing Dyceworthy as a zealous
member of the Lutheran persuasion, and, moreover, as one who had in his
youth lived for some years in Christiania,--thereby gaining a knowledge
of the Norwegian tongue,--he invited him to take his place for his
enforced time of absence, offering him his house, his servants, his
pony-carriage and an agreeable pecuniary _douceur_ in exchange for his
services,--proposals which the Reverend Charles eagerly accepted. Though
Norway was not exactly new to him, the region of the Alten Fjord was,
and he at once felt, though he knew not why, that the air there would be
the very thing to benefit his delicate constitution. Besides, it looked
well for at least _one_ occasion, to go away for the summer without
asking his congregation to pay for his trip. It was generous on his
part, almost noble.

The ladies of his flock wept at his departure and made him socks,
comforters, slippers, and other consoling gear of the like description
to recall their sweet memories to his saintly mind during his absence
from their society. But, truth to tell, Mr. Dyceworthy gave little
thought to these fond and regretful fair ones; he was much too
comfortable at Bosekop to look back with any emotional yearning to the
ugly, precise little provincial town he had left behind him. The
minister's quaint, pretty house suited him perfectly; the minister's
servants were most punctual in their services: the minister's phaeton
conveniently held his cumbrous person, and the minister's pony was a
quiet beast, that trotted good-temperedly wherever it was guided, and
shied at nothing. Yes, he was thoroughly comfortable,--as comfortable as
a truly pious fat man deserves to be, and all the work he had to do was
to preach twice on Sundays, to a quiet, primitive, decently ordered
congregation, who listened to his words respectfully though without
displaying any emotional rapture. Their stolidity, however, did not
affect him,--he preached to please himself,--loving above all things to
hear the sound of his own voice, and never so happy as when thundering
fierce denunciations against the Church of Rome. His thoughts seemed
tending in that direction now, as he poured himself out his third cup of
tea and smilingly shook his head over it, while he stirred the cream and
sugar in,--for he took from his waistcoat pocket a small glittering
object and laid it before him on the table, still shaking his head and
smiling with a patient, yet reproachful air of superior wisdom. It was a
crucifix of mother-o'-pearl and silver, the symbol of the Christian
faith. But it seemed to carry no sacred suggestions to the soul of Mr.
Dyceworthy. On the contrary, he looked at it with an expression of meek
ridicule,--ridicule that bordered on contempt.

"A Roman," he murmured placidly to himself, between two large bites of
toast. "The girl is a Roman, and thereby hopelessly damned."

And he smiled again,--more sweetly than before, as though the idea of
hopeless damnation suggested some peculiarly agreeable reflections.
Unfolding his fine cologne-scented cambric handkerchief, he carefully
wiped his fat white fingers free from the greasy marks of the toast,
and, taking up the objectionable cross gingerly, as though it were
red-hot, he examined it closely on all sides. There were some words
engraved on the back of it, and after some trouble Mr. Dyceworthy spelt
them out. They were "_Passio Christi, conforta me. Thelma._"

He shook his head with a sort of resigned cheerfulness.

"Hopelessly damned," he murmured again gently, "unless--"

What alternative suggested itself to his mind was not precisely
apparent, for his thoughts suddenly turned in a more frivolous
direction. Rising from the now exhausted tea-table, he drew out a small
pocket-mirror and surveyed himself therein with a mild approval. With
the extreme end of his handkerchief he tenderly removed two sacrilegious
crumbs that presumed to linger in the corners of his piously pursed
mouth. In the same way he detached a morsel of congealed butter that
clung pertinaciously to the end of his bashfully retreating nose. This
done, he again looked at himself with increased satisfaction, and,
putting by his pocket-mirror, rang the bell. It was answered at once by
a tall, strongly built woman, with a colorless, stolid countenance,--that
might have been carved out of wood for any expression it had in it.

"Ulrika," said Mr. Dyceworthy blandly, "you can clear the table."

Ulrika, without answering, began to pack the tea-things together in a
methodical way, without clattering so much as a plate or spoon, and,
piling them compactly on a tray, was about to leave the room, when Mr.
Dyceworthy called to her, "Ulrika!"

"Sir?"

"Did you ever see a thing like this before?" and he held up the crucifix
to her gaze.

The woman shuddered, and her dull eyes lit up with a sudden terror.

"It is the witch's charm!" she muttered thickly, while her pale face
grew yet paler. "Burn it, sir!--burn it, and the power will leave her."

Mr. Dyceworthy laughed indulgently. "My good woman, you mistake," he
said suavely. "Your zeal for the true gospel leads you into error. There
are thousands of misguided persons who worship such a thing as this. It
is often all of our dear Lord they know. Sad, very sad! But still,
though they, alas! are not of the elect, and are plainly doomed to
perdition,--they are not precisely what are termed witches, Ulrika."

"_She_ is," replied the woman with a sort of ferocity; "and, if I had my
way, I would tell her so to her face, and see what would happen to her
then!"

"Tut, tut!" remarked Mr. Dyceworthy amiably. "The days of witchcraft are
past. You show some little ignorance, Ulrika. You are not acquainted
with the great advancement of recent learning."

"Maybe, maybe," and Ulrika turned to go; but she muttered sullenly as
she went, "There be them that know and could tell, and them that will
have her yet."

She shut the door behind her with a sharp clang, and, left to himself,
Mr. Dyceworthy again smiled--such a benignant, fatherly smile! He then
walked to the window and looked out. It was past seven o'clock, an hour
that elsewhere would have been considered evening, but in Bosekop at
that season it still seemed afternoon.

The sun was shining brilliantly, and in the minister's front garden the
roses were all wide awake. A soft moisture glittered on every tiny leaf
and blade of grass. The penetrating and delicious odor of sweet violets
scented each puff of wind, and now and then the call of the cuckoo
pierced the air with a subdued, far-off shrillness.

From his position Mr. Dyceworthy could catch a glimpse through the trees
of the principal thoroughfare of Bosekop--a small, primitive street
enough, of little low houses, which, though unpretending from without,
were roomy and comfortable within. The distant, cool sparkle of the
waters of the Fjord, the refreshing breeze, the perfume of the flowers,
and the satisfied impression left on his mind by recent tea and
toast--all these things combined had a soothing effect on Mr.
Dyceworthy, and with a sigh of absolute comfort he settled his large
person in a deep easy chair and composed himself for pious meditation.

He meditated long,--with fast-closed eyes and open mouth, while the
earnestness of his inward thoughts was clearly demonstrated now and then
by an irrepressible,--almost triumphant,--cornet-blast from that
trifling elevation of his countenance called by courtesy a nose, when
his blissful reverie was suddenly broken in upon by the sound of several
footsteps crunching slowly along the garden path, and, starting up from
his chair, he perceived four individuals clad in white flannel costumes
and wearing light straw hats trimmed with fluttering blue ribbons, who
were leisurely sauntering up to his door, and stopping occasionally to
admire the flowers on their way. Mr. Dyceworthy's face reddened visibly
with excitement.

"The gentlemen from the yacht," he murmured to himself, hastily settling
his collar and cravat, and pushing up his cherubic wings of hair more
prominently behind his ears. "I never thought they would come. Dear me!
Sir Philip Errington himself, too! I must have refreshments instantly."

And he hurried from the room, calling his orders to Ulrika as he went,
and before the visitors had time to ring, he had thrown open the door to
them himself, and stood smiling urbanely on the threshold, welcoming
them with enthusiasm,--and assuring Sir Philip especially how much
honored he felt, by his thus visiting, familiarly and unannounced, his
humble dwelling. Errington waved his many compliments good-humoredly
aside, and allowed himself and his friends to be marshalled into the
best parlor, the drawing-room of the house, a pretty little apartment
whose window looked out upon a tangled yet graceful wilderness of
flowers.

"Nice, cosy place this," remarked Lorimer, as he seated himself
negligently on the arm of the sofa. "You must be pretty comfortable
here?"

Their perspiring and affable host rubbed his soft white hands together
gently.

"I thank Heaven it suits my simple needs," he answered meekly. "Luxuries
do not become a poor servant of God."

"Ah, then you are different to many others who profess to serve the same
Master," said Duprez with a _sourire fin_ that had the devil's own
mockery in it. "_Monsieur le bon Dieu_ is very impartial! Some serve Him
by constant over-feeding, others by constant over-starving; it is all
one to Him apparently! How do you know which among His servants He likes
best, the fat or the lean?"

Sandy Macfarlane, though slightly a bigot for his own form of doctrine,
broke into a low chuckle of irrepressible laughter at Duprez's levity,
but Mr. Dyceworthy's flabby face betokened the utmost horror.

"Sir," he said gravely, "there are subjects concerning which it is not
seemly to speak without due reverence. He knoweth His own elect. He hath
chosen them out from the beginning. He summoned forth from the million,
the glorious apostle of reform, Martin Luther--"

"_Le bon gaillard!_" laughed Duprez. "Tempted by a pretty nun! What man
could resist! Myself, I would try to upset all the creeds of this world
if I saw a pretty nun worth my trouble. Yes, truly! A pity though, that
the poor Luther died of over-eating; his exit from life so undignified!"

"Shut up, Duprez," said Errington severely. "You displease Mr.
Dyceworthy by your fooling."

"Oh, pray do not mention it, Sir Philip," murmured the reverend
gentleman with a mild patience. "We must accustom ourselves to hear with
forbearance the opinions of all men, howsoever contradictory, otherwise
our vocation is of no avail. Yet is it sorely grievous to me to consider
that there should be any person or persons existent who lack the
necessary faith requisite for the performance of God's promises."

"Ye must understand, Mr. Dyceworthy," said Macfarlane in his slow,
deliberate manner, "that ye have before ye a young Frenchman who doesna
believe in onything except himsel'--and even as to whether he himsel' is
a mon or a myth, he has his doots--vera grave doots."

Duprez nodded delightedly. "That is so!" he exclaimed. "Our dear Sandy
puts it so charmingly! To be a myth seems original,--to be a mere man,
quite ordinary. I believe it is possible to find some good scientific
professor who would prove me to be a myth--the moving shadow of a
dream--imagine!--how perfectly poetical!"

"You talk too much to be a dream, my boy," laughed Errington, and
turning to Mr. Dyceworthy, he added, "I'm afraid you must think us a
shocking set. We are really none of us very religious, I fear, though,"
and he tried to look serious; "if it had not been for Mr. Lorimer, we
should have come to church last Sunday. Mr. Lorimer was, unfortunately,
rather indisposed."

"Ya-as!" drawled that gentleman, turning from the little window where he
had been gathering a rose for his button-hole. "I was knocked up; had
fits, and all that sort of thing; took these three fellows all their
time on Sunday to hold me down!"

"Dear me!" and Mr. Dyceworthy was about to make further inquiries
concerning Mr. Lorimer's present state of health, when the door opened,
and Ulrika entered, bearing a large tray laden with wine and other
refreshments. As she set it down, she gave a keen, covert glance round
the room, as though rapidly taking note of the appearance and faces of
all the young men, then, with a sort of stiff curtsey, she departed as
noiselessly as she had come,--not, however, without leaving a
disagreeable impression on Errington's mind.

"Rather a stern Phyllis, that waiting-maid of yours," he remarked,
watching his host, who was carefully drawing the cork from one of the
bottles of wine.

Mr. Dyceworthy smiled. "Oh, no, no! not stern at all," he answered
sweetly. "On the contrary, most affable and kind-hearted. Her only fault
is that she is a little zealous,--over-zealous for the purity of the
faith; and she has suffered much; but she is an excellent woman, really
excellent! Sir Philip, will you try this Lacrima Christi?"

"Lacrima Christi!" exclaimed Duprez. "You do not surely get that in
Norway?"

"It seems strange, certainly," replied Mr. Dyceworthy, "but it is a fact
that the Italian or Papist wines are often used here. The minister whose
place I humbly endeavor to fill has his cellar stocked with them. The
matter is easy of comprehension when once explained. The benighted
inhabitants of Italy, a land, lost in the darkness of error, still
persist in their fasts, notwithstanding the evident folly of their
ways--and the Norwegian sailors provide them with large quantities of
fish for their idolatrous customs, bringing back their wines in
exchange."

"A very good idea," said Lorimer, sipping the Lacrima with evident
approval--"Phil, I doubt if your brands on board the _Eulalie_ are
better than this."

"Hardly so good," replied Errington with some surprise, as he tasted the
wine and noted its delicious flavor. "The minister must be a fine
_connoisseur_. Are there many other families about here, Mr. Dyceworthy,
who know how to choose their wines so well?"

Mr. Dyceworthy smiled with a dubious air.

"There is one other household that in the matter of choice liquids is
almost profanely particular," he said. "But they are people who are
ejected with good reason from respectable society, and,--it behooves me
not to speak of their names."

"Oh, indeed!" said Errington, while a sudden and inexplicable thrill of
indignation fired his blood and sent it in a wave of color up to his
forehead--"May I ask--"

But he was interrupted by Lorimer, who, nudging him slyly on one side,
muttered, "Keep cool, old fellow! You can't tell whether he's talking
about the Gueldmar folk! Be quiet--you don't want every one to know your
little game."

Thus adjured, Philip swallowed a large gulp of wine, to keep down his
feelings, and strove to appear interested in the habits and caprices of
bees, a subject into which Mr. Dyceworthy had just inveigled Duprez and
Macfarlane.

"Come and see my bees," said the Reverend Charles almost pathetically.
"They are emblems of ever-working and patient industry,--storing up
honey for others to partake thereof."

"They wudna store it up at a', perhaps, if they knew that," observed
Sandy significantly.

Mr. Dyceworthy positively shone all over with beneficence.

"They _would_ store it up, sir; yes, they would, even if they knew! It
is God's will that they should store it up; it is God's will that they
should show an example of unselfishness, that they should flit from
flower to flower sucking therefrom the sweetness to impart into strange
palates unlike their own. It is a beautiful lesson; it teaches us who
are the ministers of the Lord to likewise suck the sweetness from the
flowers of the living gospel, and impart it gladly to the unbelievers
who shall find it sweeter than the sweetest honey!"

And he shook his head piously several times, while the pores of his fat
visage exuded holy oil. Duprez sniggered secretly. Macfarlane looked
preternaturally solemn.

"Come," repeated the reverend gentleman, with an inviting smile. "Come
and see my bees,--also my strawberries! I shall be delighted to send a
basket of the fruit to the yacht, if Sir Philip will permit me?"

Errington expressed his thanks with due courtesy, and hastened to seize
the opportunity that presented itself for breaking away from the party.

"If you will excuse us for twenty minutes or so, Mr. Dyceworthy," he
said, "Lorimer and I want to consult a fellow here in Bosekop about some
new fishing tackle. We shan't be gone long. Mac, you and Duprez wait for
us here. Don't commit too many depredations on Mr. Dyceworthy's
strawberries."

The reason for their departure was so simply and naturally given, that
it was accepted without any opposing remarks. Duprez was delighted to
have the chance of amusing himself by harassing the Reverend Charles
with open professions of utter atheism, and Macfarlane, who loved an
argument more than he loved whiskey, looked forward to a sharp
discussion presently concerning the superiority of John Knox, morally
and physically, over Martin Luther. So that when the others went their
way, their departure excited no suspicion in the minds of their friends,
and most unsuspecting of all was the placid Mr. Dyceworthy, who, had he
imagined for an instant the direction which they were going, would
certainly not have discoursed on the pleasures of bee-keeping with the
calmness and placid conviction, that always distinguished him when
holding forth on any subject that was attractive to his mind. Leading
the way through his dewy, rose-grown garden, and conversing amicably as
he went, he escorted Macfarlane and Duprez to what he called with a
gentle humor his "Bee-Metropolis," while Errington and Lorimer returned
to the shore of the Fjord, where they had left their boat moored to a
small, clumsily constructed pier,--and entering it, they set themselves
to the oars and pulled away together with the long, steady, sweeping
stroke rendered famous by the exploits of the Oxford and Cambridge men.
After some twenty minutes' rowing, Lorimer looked up and spoke as he
drew his blade swiftly through the bright green water.

"I feel as though I were aiding and abetting you in some crime, Phil.
You know, my first impression of this business remains the same. You had
much better leave it alone."

"Why?" asked Errington coolly.

"Well, 'pon my life I don't know why. Except that, from long experience,
I have proved that it's always dangerous and troublesome to run after a
woman. Leave her to run after you--she'll do it fast enough."

"Wait till you see her. Besides, I'm not running after any woman,"
averred Philip with some heat.

"Oh, I beg your pardon--I forgot. She's not a woman; she's a Sun-angel.
You are rowing, not running, after a Sun-angel. Is that correct? I say,
don't drive through the water like that; you'll pull the boat round."

Errington slackened his speed and laughed. "It's only curiosity," he
said, lifting his hat, and pushing back the clustering dark-brown curls
from his brow. "I bet you that sleek Dyceworthy fellow meant the old
_bonde_ and his daughter, when he spoke of persons who were 'ejected'
from the social circles of Bosekop. Fancy Bosekop society presuming to
be particular--what an absurd idea!"

"My good fellow, don't pretend to be so deplorably ignorant! Surely you
know that a trumpery village or a two-penny town is much more choice and
exclusive in its 'sets' than a great city? I wouldn't live in a small
place for the world. Every inhabitant would know the cut of my clothes
by heart, and the number of buttons on my waistcoat. The grocer would
copy the pattern of my trousers,--the butcher would carry a cane like
mine. It would be simply insufferable. To change the subject, may I ask
you if you know which way you are going, for it seems to me we're bound
straight for a smash on that uncomfortable-looking rock, where there is
certainly no landing-place."

Errington stopped pulling, and, standing up in the boat, began to
examine the surroundings with keen interest. They were close to the
great crag "shaped like a giant's helmet," as Valdemar Svensen had said.
It rose sheer out of the water, and its sides were almost perpendicular.
Some beautiful star-shaped sea anemones clung to it in a vari-colored
cluster on one projection, and the running ripple of the small waves
broke on its jagged corners with a musical splash, and sparkle of white
foam. Below them, in the emerald mirror of the Fjord, it was so clear
that they could see the fine white sand lying at the bottom, sprinkled
thick with shells and lithe moving creatures of all shapes, while every
now and then, there streamed past them, brilliantly tinted specimens of
the Medusae, with their long feelers or tendrils, looking like torn
skins of crimson and azure floss silk.

The place was very silent; only the sea-gulls circled round and round
the summit of the great rock, some of them occasionally swooping down on
the unwary fishes, their keen eyes perceived in the waters beneath, then
up again they soared, swaying their graceful wings and uttering at
intervals that peculiar wild cry that in solitary haunts sounds so
intensely mournful. Errington gazed about him in doubt for some minutes,
then suddenly his face brightened. He sat down again in the boat and
resumed his oar.

"Row quietly, George," he said in a subdued tone "Quietly--round to the
left."

The oars dipped noiselessly, and the boat shot forward,--then swerved
sharply round in the direction,--and there before them lay a small sandy
creek, white and shining as though sprinkled with powdered silver. From
this, a small but strongly-built wooden pier ran out into the sea. It
was carved all over with fantastic figures, and in it at equal
distances, were fastened iron rings, such as are used for the safe
mooring of boats. One boat was there already, and Errington recognized
it with delight. It was that in which he had seen the mysterious maiden
disappear. High and dry on the sand, out of reach of the tides, was a
neat sailing-vessel; its name was painted round the stern--_The
Valkyrie_.

As the two friends ran their boat on shore, and fastened it to the
furthest ring of the convenient pier, they caught the distant sound of
the plaintiff "coo-cooing" of turtle doves.

"You've done it this time, old boy," said Lorimer, speaking in a
whisper, though he knew not why. "This is the old _bonde's_ own private
landing-place evidently, and here's a footpath leading somewhere. Shall
we follow it?"

Philip emphatically assented, and, treading softly, like the trespassers
they felt themselves to be, they climbed the ascending narrow way that
guided them up from the seashore, round through a close thicket of
pines, where their footsteps fell noiselessly on a thick carpet of
velvety green moss, dotted prettily here and there with the red gleam of
ripening wild strawberries. Everything was intensely still, and as yet
there seemed no sign of human habitation. Suddenly a low whirring sound
broke upon their ears, and Errington, who was a little in advance of his
companion, paused abruptly with a smothered exclamation, and drew back
on tip-toe, catching Lorimer by the arm.

"By Jove!" he whispered excitedly, "we've come right up to the very
windows of the house. Look!"

Lorimer obeyed, and for once, the light jest died upon his tips.
Surprise and admiration held him absolutely silent.




CHAPTER V.

   "Elle filait et souriait--et je crois qu'elle enveloppa mon coeur
   avec son fil."--HEINE.


Before them, close enough for their outstretched hands to have touched
it, was what appeared to be a framed picture, exquisitely painted,--a
picture perfect in outline matchless in color, faultless in detail,--but
which was in reality nothing but a large latticed window thrown wide
open to admit the air. They could now see distinctly through the shadows
cast by the stately pines, a long, low, rambling house, built roughly,
but strongly, of wooden rafters, all overgrown with green and blossoming
creepers; but they scarcely glanced at the actual building, so strongly
was their attention riveted on the one window before them. It was
surrounded by an unusually broad framework, curiously and elaborately
carved, and black as polished ebony. Flowers grew all about it,--sweet
peas, mignonette, and large purple pansies--while red and white climbing
roses rioted in untrained profusion over its wide sill. Above it was a
quaintly built dovecote, where some of the strutting fan-tailed
inhabitants were perched, swelling out their snowy breasts, and
discoursing of their domestic trials in notes of dulcet melancholy;
while lower down, three or four ring-doves nestled on the roof in a
patch of sunlight, spreading up their pinions like miniature sails, to
catch the warmth and lustre.

Within the deep, shadowy embrasure, like a jewel placed on dark velvet,
was seated a girl spinning,--no other than the mysterious maiden of the
shell cavern. She was attired in a plain, straight gown, of some soft
white woolen stuff, cut squarely at her throat; her round, graceful arms
were partially bare, and as the wheel turned swiftly, and her slender
hands busied themselves with the flax, she smiled, as though some
pleasing thought had touched her mind. Her smile had the effect of
sudden sunshine in the dark room where she sat and span,--it was radiant
and mirthful as the smile of a happy child. Yet her dark blue eyes
remained pensive and earnest, and the smile soon faded, leaving her fair
face absorbed and almost dreamy. The whirr-whirring of the wheel grew
less and less rapid,--it slackened,--it stopped altogether,--and, as
though startled by some unexpected sound, the girl paused and listened,
pushing away the clustering masses of her rich hair from her brow. Then
rising slowly from her seat, she advanced to the window, put aside the
roses with one hand, and looked out,--thus forming another picture as
beautiful, if not more beautiful, than the first.

Lorimer drew his breath hard. "I say, old fellow," he whispered; but
Errington pressed his arm with vice-like firmness, as a warning to him
to be silent, while they both stepped farther back into the dusky gloom
of the pine boughs.

The girl, meanwhile, stood motionless, in a half-expectant attitude,
and, seeing her there, some of the doves on the roof flew down and
strutted on the ground before her, coo-cooing proudly, as though
desirous of attracting her attention. One of them boldly perched on the
window-sill; she glanced at the bird musingly, and softly stroked its
opaline wings and shining head without terrifying it. It seemed
delighted to be noticed, and almost lay down under her hand in order to
be more conveniently caressed. Still gently smoothing its feathers, she
leaned further out among the clambering wealth of blossoms, and called
in a low, penetrating tone, "Father! father! is that you?"

There was no answer; and, after waited a minute or two, she moved and
resumed her former seat, the stray doves flew back to their customary
promenade on the roof, and the drowsy whirr-whirr of the spinning-wheel
murmured again its monotonous hum upon the air.

"Come on, Phil," whispered Lorimer, determined not to be checked this
time; "I feel perfectly wretched! It's mean of us to be skulking about
here, as if we were a couple of low thieves waiting to trap some of
those birds for a pigeon-pie. Come away,--you've seen her; that's
enough."

Errington did not move. Holding back a branch of pine, he watched the
movements of the girl at her wheel with absorbed fascination.

Suddenly her sweet lips parted, and she sang a weird, wild melody, that
seemed, like a running torrent, to have fallen from the crests of the
mountains, bringing with it echoes from the furthest summits, mingled
with soft wailings of a mournful wind.

Her voice was pure as the ring of fine crystal--deep, liquid, and
tender, with a restrained passion in it that stirred Errington's heart
and filled it with a strange unrest and feverish yearning,--emotions
which were new to him, and which, while he realized their existence,
moved him to a sort of ashamed impatience. He would have willingly left
his post of observation now, if only for the sake of shaking off his
unwonted sensations; and he took a step or two backwards for that
purpose, when Lorimer, in his turn, laid a detaining hand on his
shoulder.

"For Heaven's sake, let us hear the song through!" he said in subdued
tones. "What a voice! A positive golden flute!"

His rapt face betokened his enjoyment, and Errington, nothing loth,
still lingered, his eyes fixed on the white-robed slim figure framed in
the dark old rose-wreathed window--the figure that swayed softly with
the motion of the wheel and the rhythm of the song,--while flickering
sunbeams sparkled now and then on the maiden's dusky gold hair, or
touched up a warmer tint on her tenderly flushed cheeks, and fair neck,
more snowy than the gown she wore. Music poured from her lips as from
the throat of a nightingale. The words she sang were Norwegian, and her
listeners understood nothing of them; but the melody,--the pathetic
appealing melody,--soul-moving as all true melody must be, touched the
very core of their hearts, and entangled them in a web of delicious
reveries.

"Talk of Ary Scheffer's Gretchen!" murmured Lorimer with a sigh. "What a
miserable, pasty, milk-and-watery young person she is beside that
magnificent, unconscious beauty! I give in, Phil! I admit your taste.
I'm willing to swear that she's a Sun-Angel if you like. Her voice has
convinced me of that."

At that instant the song ceased. Errington turned and regarded him
steadfastly.

"Are _you_ hit, George?" he said softly, with a forced smile.

Lorimer's face flushed, but he met his friend's eyes frankly.

"I am no poacher, old fellow," he answered in the same quiet accents; "I
think you know that. If that girl's mind is as lovely as her face, I
say, go in and win!"

Sir Philip smiled. His brow cleared and an expression of relief settled
there. The look of gladness was unconscious; but Lorimer saw it at once
and noted it.

"Nonsense!" he said in a mirthful undertone. "How can I go in and win,
as you say? What am I to do? I can't go up to that window and speak to
her,--she might take me for a thief."

"You look like a thief," replied Lorimer, surveying his friend's
athletic figure, clad in its loose but well-cut yachting suit of white
flannel, ornamented with silver anchor buttons, and taking a
comprehensive glance from the easy pose of the fine head and handsome
face, down to the trim foot with the high and well-arched instep, "very
much like a thief? I wonder I haven't noticed it before. Any London
policeman would arrest you on the mere fact of your suspicious
appearance."

Errington laughed. "Well, my boy, whatever my looks may testify, I am at
this moment an undoubted trespasser on private property,--and so are you
for that matter. What shall we do?"

"Find the front door and ring the bell," suggested George promptly. "Say
we are benighted travellers and have lost our way. The _bonde_ can but
flay us. The operation, I believe, is painful, but it cannot last long."

"George, you are incorrigible! Suppose we go back and try the other side
of this pine-wood? That might lead us to the front of the house."

"I don't see why we shouldn't walk coolly past that window," said
Lorimer. "If any observation is made by the fair 'Marguerite' yonder, we
can boldly say we have come to see the _bonde_."

Unconsciously they had both raised their voices a little during the
latter part of their hasty dialogue, and at the instant when Lorimer
uttered the last words, a heavy hand was laid on each of their
shoulders,--a hand that turned them round forcibly away from the window
they had been gazing at, and a deep, resonant voice addressed them.

"The _bonde_? Truly, young men, you need seek no further,--I am Olaf
Gueldmar!"

Had he said, "I am an Emperor!" he could not have spoken with more
pride.

Errington and his friend were for a moment speechless,--partly from
displeasure at the summary manner in which they had been seized and
twisted round like young uprooted saplings, and partly from surprise and
involuntary admiration for the personage who had treated them with such
scant courtesy. They saw before them a man somewhat above the middle
height, who might have served an aspiring sculptor as a perfect model
for a chieftain of old Gaul, or a dauntless Viking. His frame was firmly
and powerfully built, and seemed to be exceptionally strong and
muscular; yet an air of almost courtly grace pervaded his movements,
making each attitude he assumed more or less picturesque. He was
broad-shouldered and deep-chested; his face was full and healthily
colored, while his head was truly magnificent. Well-poised and shapely,
it indicated power, will, and wisdom; and was furthermore adorned by a
rough, thick mass of snow-white hair that shone in the sunlight like
spun silver. His beard was short and curly, trimmed after the fashion of
the warriors of old Rome; and, from under his fierce, fuzzy, grey
eyebrows, a pair of sentinel eyes, that were keen, clear, and bold as an
eagle's, looked out with a watchful steadiness--steadiness that like the
sharp edge of a diamond, seemed warranted to cut through the brittle
glass of a lie. Judging by his outward appearance, his age might have
been guessed at as between fifty-eight and sixty, but he was, in truth,
seventy-two, and more strong, active, and daring than many another man
whose years are not counted past the thirties. He was curiously attired,
after something of the fashion of the Highlander, and something yet more
of the ancient Greek, in a tunic, vest, and loose jacket all made of
reindeer skin, thickly embroidered with curious designs worked in coarse
thread and colored beads; while thrown carelessly over his shoulders and
knotted at his waist, was a broad scarf of white woollen stuff, or
_wadmel_, very soft-looking and warm. In his belt he carried a
formidable hunting-knife, and as he faced the two intruders on his
ground, he rested one hand lightly yet suggestively on a weighty staff
of pine, which was notched all over with quaint letters and figures, and
terminated in a curved handle at the top. He waited for the young man to
speak, and finding they remained silent, he glanced at them half angrily
and again repeated his words--

"I am the _bonde_,--Olaf Gueldmar. Speak your business and take your
departure; my time is brief!"

Lorimer looked up with his usual nonchalance,--a faint smile playing
about his lips. He saw at once that the old farmer was not a man to be
trifled with, and he raised his cap with a ready grace as he spoke.

"Fact is," he said frankly, "we've no business here at all--not the
least in the world. We are perfectly aware of it! We are trespassers,
and we know it. Pray don't be hard on us, Mr.--Mr. Gueldmar!"

The _bonde_ glanced him over with a quick lightening of the eyes, and
the suspicion of a smile in the depths of his curly beard. He turned to
Errington.

"Is this true? You came here on purpose, knowing the ground was private
property?"

Errington, in his turn, lifted his cap from his clustering brown curls
with that serene and stately court manner which was to him second
nature.

"We did," he confessed, quietly following Lorimer's cue, and seeing also
that it was best to be straightforward. "We heard you spoken of in
Bosekop, and we came to see if you would permit us the honor of your
acquaintance."

The old man struck his pine-staff violently into the ground, and his
face flushed wrathfully.

"Bosekop!" he exclaimed. "Talk to me of a wasp's nest! Bosekop! You
shall hear of me there enough to satisfy your appetite for news.
Bosekop! In the days when my race ruled the land, such people as they
that dwell there would have been put to sharpen my sword on the
grindstone, or to wait, hungry and humble, for the refuse of the food
left from my table!"

He spoke with extraordinary heat and passion,--it was evidently
necessary to soothe him. Lorimer took a covert glance backward over his
shoulder towards the lattice window, and saw that the white figure at
the spinning-wheel had disappeared.

"My dear Mr. Gueldmar," he then said with polite fervor, "I assure you I
think the Bosekop folk by no means deserve to sharpen your sword on the
grindstone, or to enjoy the remains of your dinner! Myself, I despise
them! My friend here, Sir Philip Errington, despises them--don't you,
Phil?"

Errington nodded demurely.

"What my friend said just now is perfectly true," continued Lorimer. "We
desire the honor of your acquaintance,--it will charm and delight us
above all things!"

And his face beamed with a candid, winning, boyish smile, which was very
captivating in its own way, and which certainly had its effect on the
old _bonde_, for his tone softened, though he said gravely--

"My acquaintance, young men, is never sought by any. Those who are wise,
keep away from me. I love not strangers, it is best you should know it.
I freely pardon your trespass; take your leave, and go in peace."

The two friends exchanged disconsolate looks. There really seemed
nothing for it, but to obey this unpleasing command. Errington made one
more venture.

"May I hope, Mr. Gueldmar," he said with persuasive courtesy, "that you
will break through your apparent rule of seclusion for once and visit me
on board my yacht? You have no doubt seen her--the _Eulalie_--she lies
at anchor in the Fjord."

The _bonde_ looked him straight in the eyes. "I have seen her. A fair
toy vessel to amuse an idle young man's leisure! You are he that in that
fool's hole of a Bosekop, is known as the 'rich Englishman,'--an idle
trifler with time,--an aimless wanderer from those dull shores where
they eat gold till they die of surfeit! I have heard of you,--a mushroom
knight, a fungus of nobility,--an ephemeral growth on a grand decaying
old tree, whose roots lie buried in the annals of a far forgotten past."

The rich, deep voice of the old man quivered as he spoke, and a shadow
of melancholy flitted across his brow. Errington listened with unruffled
patience. He heard himself, his pleasures, his wealth, his rank, thus
made light of, without the least offense. He met the steady gaze of the
_bonde_ quietly, and slightly bent his head as though in deference to
his remarks.

"You are quite right," he said simply. "We modern men are but pigmies
compared with the giants of old time. Royal blood itself is tainted
nowadays. But, for myself, I attach no importance to the mere
appurtenances of life,--the baggage that accompanies one on that brief
journey. Life itself is quite enough for me."

"And for me too," averred Lorimer, delighted that his friend had taken
the old farmer's scornful observations so good-naturedly. "But, do you
know, Mr. Gueldmar, you are making life unpleasant for us just now, by
turning us out? The conversation is becoming interesting! Why not
prolong it? We have no friends in Bosekop, and we are to anchor here for
some days. Surely you will allow us to come and see you again?"

Olaf Gueldmar was silent. He advanced a step nearer, and studied them
both with such earnest and searching scrutiny, that as they remembered
the real attraction that had drawn them thither, the conscious blood
mounted to their faces, flushing Errington's forehead to the very roots
of his curly brown hair. Still the old man gazed as though he sought to
read their very souls. He muttered something to himself in Norwegian,
and, finally, to their utter astonishment, he drew his hunting-knife
from its sheath, and with a rapid, wild gesture, threw it on the ground
and placed his foot upon it.

"Be it so!" he said briefly. "I cover the blade! You are men; like men
you speak truth. As such, I receive you! Had you told me a lie
concerning your coming here,--had you made pretense of having lost your
way, or other such shifty evasion, your path would never have again
crossed mine. As it is,--welcome!"

And he held out his hand with a sort of royal dignity, still resting one
foot on the fallen weapon. The young men, struck by his action and
gratified by his change of manner and the genial expression that now
softened his rugged features, were quick to respond to his friendly
greeting, and the _bonde_, picking up and re-sheathing his hunting-knife
as if he had done nothing at all out of the common, motioned them
towards the very window on which their eyes had been so long and so
ardently fixed.

"Come!" he said. "You must drain a cup of wine with me before you leave.
Your unguided footsteps led you by the wrong path,--I saw your boat
moored to my pier, and wondered who had been venturesome enough to
trample through my woodland. I might have guessed that only a couple of
idle boys like yourselves, knowing no better, would have pushed their
way to a spot that all worthy dwellers in Bosekop, and all true
followers of the Lutheran devilry, avoid as though the plague were
settled in it."

And the old man laughed, a splendid, mellow laugh, with the ring of true
jollity in it,--a laugh that was infectious, for Errington and Lorimer
joined in it heartily without precisely knowing why. Lorimer, however,
thought it seemly to protest against the appellation "idle boys."

"What do you take us for, sir?" he said with lazy good-nature. "I carry
upon my shoulders the sorrowful burden of twenty-six years,--Philip,
there, is painfully conscious of being thirty,--may we not therefore
dispute the word 'boys' as being derogatory to our dignity? You called
us 'men' a while ago,--remember that!"

Olaf Gueldmar laughed again. His suspicious gravity had entirely
disappeared, leaving his face a beaming mirror of beneficence and
good-humor.

"So you _are_ men," he said cheerily, "men in the bud, like leaves on a
tree. But you seem boys to a tough old stump of humanity such as I am.
That is my way,--my child Thelma, though they tell me she is a woman
grown, is always a babe to me. 'Tis one of the many privileges of the
old, to see the world about them always young and full of children."

And he led the way past the wide-open lattice, where they could dimly
perceive the spinning-wheel standing alone, as though thinking deeply of
the fair hands that had lately left it idle, and so round to the actual
front of the house, which was exceedingly picturesque, and literally
overgrown with roses from ground to roof. The entrance door stood
open;--it was surrounded by a wide, deep porch richly carved and
grotesquely ornamented, having two comfortable seats within it, one on
each side. Through this they went, involuntarily brushing down as they
passed, a shower of pink and white rose-leaves, and stepped into a wide
passage, where upon walls of dark, polished pine, hung a large
collection of curiously shaped weapons, all of primitive manufacture,
such as stone darts and rough axes, together with bows and arrows and
two-handled swords, huge as the fabled weapon of William Wallace.

Opening a door to the right the _bonde_ stood courteously aside and bade
them enter, and they found themselves in the very apartment where they
had seen the maiden spinning.

"Sit down, sit down!" said their host hospitably. "We will have wine
directly, and Thelma shall come hither. Thelma! Thelma! Where is the
child? She wanders hither and thither like a mountain sprite. Wait here,
my lads, I shall return directly."

And he strode away, leaving Errington and Lorimer delighted at the
success of their plans, yet somewhat abashed too. There was a peace and
gentle simplicity about the little room in which they were, that touched
the chivalrous sentiment in their natures and kept them silent. On one
side of it, half a dozen broad shelves supported a goodly row of
well-bound volumes, among which the time-honored golden names of
Shakespeare and Scott glittered invitingly, together with such works as
Chapman's Homer, Byron's "Childe Harold," the Poems of John Keats,
Gibbon's Rome, and Plutarch; while mingled with these were the
devotional works in French of Alphonse de Liguori, the "Imitation," also
in French,--and a number of books with titles in Norwegian,--altogether
an heterogenous collection of literature, yet not without interest as
displaying taste and culture on the part of those to whom it belonged.
Errington, himself learned in books, was surprised to see so many
standard works in the library of one who professed to be nothing but a
Norwegian farmer, and his respect for the sturdy old _bonde_ increased.
There were no pictures in the room,--the wide lattice window on one
hand, looking out on the roses and pine-wood, and the other smaller one,
close to the entrance door, from which the Fjord was distinctly visible,
were sufficient pictures in themselves, to need no others. The furniture
was roughly made of pine, and seemed to have been carved by hand,--some
of the chairs were very quaint and pretty and would have sold in a
bric-a-brac shop for more than a sovereign apiece. On the wide
mantle-shelf was a quantity of curious old china that seemed to have
been picked up from all parts of the world,--most of it was undoubtedly
valuable. In one dark corner stood an ancient harp; then there was the
spinning-wheel,--itself a curiosity fit for a museum,--testifying dumbly
of the mistress of all these surroundings, and on the floor there was
something else,--something that both the young men were strongly
inclined to take possession of. It was only a bunch of tiny meadow
daisies, fastened together with a bit of blue silk. It had fallen,--they
guessed by whom it had been worn,--but neither made any remark, and
both, by some strange instinct, avoided looking at it, as though the
innocent little blossoms carried within them some terrible temptation.
They were conscious of a certain embarrassment, and making an effort to
break through it, Lorimer remarked softly--

"By Jove, Phil, if this old Gueldmar really knew what you are up to, I
believe he would bundle you out of this place like a tramp! Didn't you
feel a sneak when he said we had told the truth like men?"

Philip smiled dreamily. He was seated in one of the quaintly carved
chairs, half absorbed in what was evidently a pleasing reverie.

"No; not exactly," he replied. "Because we _did_ tell him the truth; we
did want to know him, and he's worth knowing too! He is a
magnificent-looking fellow; don't you think so?"

"Rather!" assented Lorimer, with emphasis. "I wish there were any hope
of my becoming such a fine old buffer in my _decadence_,--it would be
worth living for if only to look at myself in the glass now and then. He
rather startled me when he threw down that knife, though. I suppose it
is some old Norwegian custom?"

"I suppose so," Errington answered, and then was silent, for at that
moment the door opened and the old farmer returned, followed by a girl
bearing a tray glittering with flasks of Italian wine, and long graceful
glasses shaped like round goblets, set on particularly slender stems.
The sight of the girl disappointed the eager visitors, for though she
was undeniably pretty, she was not Thelma. She was short and plump, with
rebellious nut-brown locks, that rippled about her face and from under
her close white cap with persistent untidiness. Her cheeks were as round
and red as lore-apples, and she had dancing blue eyes that appeared for
ever engaged in good-natured efforts to outsparkle each other. She wore
a spotless apron, lavishly trimmed with coquettish little starched
frills,--her hands were, unfortunately, rather large and coarse,--but
her smile, as she set down the tray and curtsied respectfully to the
young men, was charming, disclosing as it did, tiny teeth as even and
white as a double row of small pearls.

"That is well, Britta," said Gueldmar, speaking in English, and assisting
her to place the glasses. "Now, quick! . . . run after thy mistress to
the shore,--her boat cannot yet have left the creek,--bid her return and
come to me,--tell her there are friends here who will be glad of her
presence."

Britta hurried away at once, but Errington's heart sank. Thelma had
gone!--gone, most probably, for one of those erratic journeys across the
Fjord to the cave where he had first seen her. She would not come back,
he felt certain; not even at her father's request would that beautiful,
proud maiden consent to alter her plans. What an unlucky destiny was
his! Absorbed in disappointed reflections, he scarcely heard the
enthusiastic praises Lorimer was diplomatically bestowing on the
_bonde's_ wine. He hardly felt its mellow flavor on his own palate,
though it was in truth delicious, and fit for the table of a monarch.
Gueldmar noticed the young baronet's abstraction, and addressed him with
genial kindness.

"Are you thinking, Sir Philip, of my rough speeches to you yonder? No
offense was meant, no offense! . . ." the old fellow paused, and laughed
over his wine-glass. "Yet I may as well be honest about it! Offense
_was_ meant; but when I found that none was taken, my humor changed."

A slight, half-weary smile played on Errington's lips. "I assure you,
sir," he said, "I agreed with you then and agree with you now in every
word you uttered. You took my measure very correctly, and allow me to
add that no one can be more conscious of my own insignificance that I am
myself. The days we live in are insignificant; the chronicle of our
paltry doings will be skipped by future readers of the country's
history. Among a society of particularly useless men, I feel myself to
be one of the most useless. If you could show me any way to make my life
valuable--"

He paused abruptly, and his heart beat with inexplicable rapidity. A
light step and the rustle of a dress was heard coming through the porch;
another perfumed shower of rose-leaves fell softly on the garden path;
the door of the room opened, and a tall, fair, white-robed figure shone
forth from the dark background of the outer passage; a figure that
hesitated on the threshold, and then advanced noiselessly and with a
reluctant shyness. The old _bonde_ turned round in his chair with a
smile.

"Ah, here she is!" he said fondly. "Where hast thou been, my Thelma?"




CHAPTER VI.

    "And Sigurd the Bishop said,
    'The old gods are not dead,
     For the great Thor still reigns,
     And among the Jarls and Thanes
     The old witchcraft is spread.'"
                                LONGFELLOW'S _Saga of King Olaf_.


The girl stood silent, and a faint blush crimsoned her cheeks. The young
men had risen at her entrance, and in one fleeting glance she recognized
Errington, though she gave no sign to that effect.

"See, my darling," continued her father, "here are English visitors to
Norway. This is Sir Philip Errington, who travels through our wild
waters in the great steam yacht now at anchor in the Fjord; and this is
his friend, Mr.--Mr.--Lorimer,--have I caught your name rightly, my
lad?" he continued, turning to George Lorimer with a kindly smile.

"You have, sir," answered that gentleman promptly, and then he was mute,
feeling curiously abashed in the presence of this royal-looking young
lady, who, encircled by her father's arm, raised her deep, dazzling blue
eyes, and serenely bent her stately head to him as his name was
mentioned.

The old farmer went on, "Welcome them, Thelma mine!--friends are scarce
in these days, and we must not be ungrateful for good company. What!
what! I know honest lads when I see them! Smile on them, my Thelma!--and
then we will warm their hearts with another cup of wine."

As he spoke, the maiden advanced with a graceful, even noble air, and
extending both her hands to each of the visitors in turn, she said--

"I am your servant, friends; in entering this house you do possess it.
Peace and heart's greeting!"

The words were a literal translation of a salutation perfectly common in
many parts of Norway--a mere ordinary expression of politeness; but,
uttered in the tender, penetrating tones, of the most musical voice they
had ever heard, and accompanied by the warm, frank, double handclasp of
those soft, small, daintily shaped hands, the effect on the minds of the
generally self-possessed, fashionably bred young men of the world, was
to confuse and bewilder them to the last degree. What could they answer
to this poetical, quaint formula of welcome? The usual latitudes, such
as "Delighted, I'm sure;" or, "Most happy--am charmed to meet you?" No;
these remarks, deemed intelligent by the lady rulers of London
drawing-rooms, would, they felt, never do here. As well put a gentleman
in modern evening dress _en face_ with a half-nude scornfully beautiful
statue of Apollo, as trot out threadbare, insincere commonplaces in the
hearing of this clear-eyed child of nature, whose pure, perfect face
seemed to silently repel the very passing shadow of a falsehood.

Philip's brain whirled round and about in search of some suitable reply,
but could find none; and Lorimer felt himself blushing like a schoolboy,
as he stammered out something incoherent and eminently foolish, though
he had sense enough left to appreciate the pressure of those lovely
hands as long as it lasted.

Thelma, however, appeared not to notice their deep embarrassment--she
had not yet done with them. Taking the largest goblet on the table, she
filled it to the brim with wine, and touched it with her lips,--then
with a smile in which a thousand radiating sunbeams seemed to quiver and
sparkle, she lifted it towards Errington. The grace of her attitude and
action wakened him out of his state of dreamy bewilderment--in his soul
he devoutly blessed these ancient family customs, and arose to the
occasion like a man. Clasping with a tender reverence the hands that
upheld the goblet, he bent his handsome head and drank a deep draught,
while his dark curls almost touched her fair ones,--and then an insane
jealousy possessed him for a moment, as he watched her go through the
same ceremony with Lorimer.

She next carried the now more than half-emptied cup to the _bonde_, and
said as she held it, laughing softly--

"Drink it all, father!--if you leave a drop, you know these gentlemen
will quarrel with us, or you with them."

"That is true!" said Olaf Gueldmar with great gravity; "but it will not
be my fault, child, nor the fault of wasted wine."

And he drained the glass to its dregs and set it upside down on the
table with a deep sigh of satisfaction and refreshment. The ceremony
concluded, it was evident the ice of reserve was considered broken, for
Thelma seated herself like a young queen, and motioned her visitors to
do the same with a gesture of gracious condescension.

"How did you find your way here?" she asked with sweet, yet direct
abruptness, giving Sir Philip a quick glance, in which there was a
sparkle of mirth, though her long lashes veiled it almost instantly.

Her entire lack of stiffness and reserve set the young men at their
ease, and they fell into conversation freely, though Errington allowed
Lorimer to tell the story of their trespass in his own fashion without
interference. He instinctively felt that the young lady who listened
with so demure a smile to that plausible narrative, knew well enough the
real motive that had brought them thither though she apparently had her
own reasons for keeping silence on the point, as whatever she may have
thought, she said nothing.

Lorimer skillfully avoided betraying the fact that they had watched her
through the window, and had listened to her singing. And Thelma heard
all the explanations patiently till Bosekop was mentioned, and then her
fair face grew cold and stern.

"From whom did you hear of us there?" she inquired. "We do not mix with
the people,--why should they speak of us?"

"The truth is," interposed Errington, resting his eyes with a sense of
deep delight on the beautiful rounded figure and lovely features that
were turned towards him, "I heard of you first through my pilot--one
Valdemar Svensen."

"Ha, ha!" cried old Gueldmar with some excitement, "there is a fellow who
cannot hold his tongue! What have I said to thee, child? A bachelor is
no better than a gossiping old woman. He that is always alone must talk,
if it be only to woods and waves. It is the married men who know best
how excellent it is to keep silence!"

They all laughed, though Thelma's eyes had a way of looking pensive even
when she smiled.

"You would not blame poor Svensen because he is alone, father?" she
said. "Is he not to be pitied? Surely it is a cruel fate to have none to
love in all the wide world. Nothing can be more cruel!"

Gueldmar surveyed her humorously. "Hear her!" he said. "She talks as if
she knew all about such things; and if ever a child was ignorant of
sorrow, surely it is my Thelma! Every flower and bird in the place loves
her. Yes; I have thought sometimes the very sea loves her. It must; she
is so much upon it. And as for her old father"--he laughed a little,
though a suspicious moisture softened his keen eyes--"why, he doesn't
love her at all. Ask her! She knows it."

Thelma rose quickly and kissed him. How deliciously those sweet lips
pouted, thought Errington, and what an unreasonable and extraordinary
grudge he seemed to bear towards the venerable _bonde_ for accepting
that kiss with so little apparent emotion!

"Hush, father!" she said. "These friends can see too plainly how much
you spoil me. Tell me,"--and she turned with a sudden pretty
imperiousness to Lorimer, who started at her voice as a racehorse starts
at its rider's touch,--"what person in Bosekop spoke of us?"

Lorimer was rather at a loss, inasmuch as no one in the small town had
actually spoken of them, and Mr. Dyceworthy's remarks concerning those
who were "ejected with good reason from respectable society," might not,
after all, have applied to the Gueldmar family. Indeed, it now seemed an
absurd and improbable supposition. Therefore he replied cautiously--

"The Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy, I think, has some knowledge of you. Is he
not a friend of yours?"

These simple words had a most unexpected effect. Olaf Gueldmar sprang up
from his seat flaming with wrath. It was in vain that his daughter laid
a restraining hand upon his arm. The name of the Lutheran divine had
sufficed to put him in a towering passion, and he turned furiously upon
the astonished Errington.

"Had I known you came from the devil, sir, you should have returned to
him speedily, with hot words to hasten your departure! I would have
split that glass to atoms before I would have drained it after you! The
friends of a false heart are no friends for me,--the followers of a
pretended sanctity find no welcome under my roof! Why not have told me
at once that you came as spies, hounded on by the liar Dyceworthy? Why
not have confessed it openly? .. . . and not have played the thief's
trick on an old fool, who, for once, misled by your manly and upright
bearing, consented to lay aside the rightful suspicions he at first
entertained of your purpose? Shame on you, young men! shame!"

The words coursed impetuously from his lips; his face burned with
indignation. He had broken away from his daughter's hold, while she,
pale and very still, stood leaning one hand upon the table. His white
hair was tossed back from his brow; his eyes flashed; his attitude
though vengeful and threatening, was at the same time so bold and
commanding that Lorimer caught himself lazily admiring the contour of
his figure, and wondering how he would look in marble as an infuriated
Viking.

One excellent thing in the dispositions of both Errington and Lorimer
was that they never lost temper. Either they were too lazy or too
well-bred. Undoubtedly they both considered it "bad form." This
indifference stood them in good stead now. They showed no sign whatever
of offense, though the old farmer's outbreak of wrath was so sudden and
unlooked for, that they remained for a moment silent out of sheer
surprise. Then rising with unruffled serenity, they took up their caps
preparatory to departure. Errington's gentle, refined voice broke the
silence.

"You are in error, Mr. Gueldmar," he said in chilly but perfectly polite
tones. "I regret you should be so hasty in your judgment of us. If you
accepted us as 'men' when you first met us, I cannot imagine why you
should now take us for spies. The two terms are by no means synonymous.
I know nothing of Mr. Dyceworthy beyond that he called upon me, and that
I, as in duty bound, returned his call. I am ignorant of his character
and disposition. I may add that I have no desire to be enlightened
respecting them. I do not often take a dislike to anybody, but it so
happens that I have done so in the case of Mr. Dyceworthy. I know
Lorimer doesn't care for him, and I don't think my other two friends are
particularly attached to him. I have nothing more to say, except that I
fear we have outstayed our welcome. Permit us now to wish you good
evening. And you,"--he hesitated, and turned with a low bow to Thelma,
who had listened to his words with a gradually dawning brightness on her
face--"you will, I trust, exonerate us from any intentional offense
towards your father or yourself? Our visit has proved unlucky, but--"

Thelma interrupted him by laying her fair little hand on his arm with a
wistful, detaining gesture, which, though seemingly familiar, was yet
perfectly sweet and natural. The light touch thrilled his blood, and
sent it coursing through his veins at more than customary speed.

"Ah, then, you also will be foolish!" she said, with a naive protecting
air of superior dignity. "Do you not see my father is sorry? Have we all
kissed the cup for nothing, or was the wine wasted? Not a drop was
spilt; how then, if we are friends should we part in coldness? Father,
it is you to be ashamed,--not these gentleman, who are strangers to the
Altenfjord, and know nothing of Mr. Dyceworthy, or an other person
dwelling here. And when their vessel sails away again over the wide seas
to their own shores, how will you have them think of you? As one whose
heart was all kindness, and who helped to make their days pass
pleasantly? or as one who, in unreasonable anger, forgot the duties of
sworn hospitality?"

The _bonde_ listened to her full, sweet, reproachful voice as a tough
old lion might listen to the voice of its tamer, uncertain whether to
yield or spring. He wiped his heated brow and stared around him
shamefacedly. Finally, as though swallowing his pride with a gulp, he
drew a long breath, took a couple of determined strides forward, and
held out his hands, one to Errington and the other to Lorimer, by whom
they were warmly grasped.

"There, my lads," he said rapidly. "I'm sorry I spoke! Forgive and
forget! That is the worst of me--my blood is up in a minute, and old
though I am, I'm not old enough yet to be patient. And when I hear the
name of that sneak Dyceworthy--by the gates of Valhalla, I feel as if my
own house would not hold me! No, no; don't go yet! Nearly ten? Well, no
matter, the night is like the day here, you see--it doesn't matter when
one goes to bed. Come and sit in the porch awhile; I shall get cool out
there. Ah, Thelma, child! I see thee laughing at thy old father's
temper! Never mind, never mind; is it not for thy sake after all?"

And, holding Errington by the arm, he led the way into the fine old
porch, Lorimer following with rather a flushed face, for he, as he
passed out of the room, had managed to pick up and secrete the neglected
little bunch of daisies, before noticed as having fallen on the floor.
He put them quickly in his breast pocket with a curious sense of
satisfaction, though he had no intention of keeping them, and leaned
idly against the clambering roses, watching Thelma, as she drew a low
stool to her father's feet and sat there. A balmy wind blew in from the
Fjord, and rustled mysteriously among the pines; the sky was flecked
here and there with fleecy clouds, and a number of birds were singing in
full chorus. Old Gueldmar heaved a sigh of relief, as though his recent
outburst of passion had done him good.

"I will tell you, Sir Philip," he said, ruffling his daughter's curls as
he spoke,--"I will tell you why I detest the villain Dyceworthy. It is
but fair you should know it. Now, Thelma!--why that push to my knee? You
fear I may offend our friends again? Nay, I will take good care. And so,
first of all, I ask you, what is your religion? Though I know you cannot
be Lutherans."

Errington was somewhat taken aback by the question. He smiled.

"My dear sir," he replied at last; "to be frank with you, I really do
not think I have any religion. If I had, I suppose I should call myself
a Christian, though, judging from the behavior of Christians in general,
I cannot be one of them after all,--for I belong to no sect, I go to no
church, and I have never read a tract in my life. I have a profound
reverence and admiration for the character and doctrine of Christ, and I
believe if I had had the privilege of knowing and conversing with Him, I
should not have deserted Him in extremity as his timorous disciples did.
I believe in an all-wise Creator; so you see I am not an atheist. My
mother was an Austrian and a Catholic, and I have a notion that, as a
small child, I was brought up in that creed; but I'm afraid I don't know
much about it now."

The _bonde_ nodded gravely. "Thelma, here," he said, "is a Catholic, as
her mother was--" he stopped abruptly, and a deep shadow of pain
darkened his features. Thelma looked up,--her large blue eyes filled
with sudden tears, and she pressed her father's hand between her own, as
though in sympathy with some undeclared grief; then she looked at
Errington with a sort of wistful appeal. Philip's heart leaped as he met
that soft beseeching glance, which seemed to entreat his patience with
the old man for her sake--he felt himself drawn into a bond of union
with her thoughts, and in his innermost soul he swore as knightly a vow
of chivalry and reverence for the fair maiden, who thus took him into
her silent confidence, as though he were some gallant Crusader of old
time, pledged to defend his lady's honor unto death. Olaf Gueldmar, after
a long and apparently sorrowful pause, resumed his conversation.

"Yes," he said, "Thelma is a Catholic, though here she has scarcely any
opportunity for performing the duties of her religion. It is a pretty
and a graceful creed,--well fitted for women. As for me, I am made of
sterner stuff, and the maxims of that gentle creature, Christ, find no
echo in my soul. But you, young sir," he added, turning suddenly on
Lorimer, who was engaged in meditatively smoothing out on his palm one
of the fallen rose-petals--"you have not spoken. What faith do you
profess? It is no curiosity that prompts me to ask,--I only seek not to
offend."

Lorimer laughed languidly. "Upon my life, Mr. Gueldmar, you really ask
too much of me. I haven't any faith at all; not a shred! It's been all
knocked out of me. I tried to hold on to a last remaining bit of
Christian rope in the universal ship-wreck, but that was torn out of my
hands by a scientific professor, who ought to know what he is about,
and--and--now I drift along anyhow!"

Gueldmar smiled dubiously; but Thelma looked at the speaker with
astonished, regretful eyes.

"I am sorry," she said simply. "You must be often unhappy."

Lorimer was not disconcerted, though her evident pity caused an unwanted
flush on his face.

"Oh no," he said in answer to her, "I am not a miserable sort of fellow
by any means. For instance, I'm not afraid of death,--lots of very
religious people are horribly afraid of it, though they all the time
declare it's the only path to heaven. They're not consistent at all. You
see I believe in nothing,--I came from nothing,--I am nothing,--I shall
be nothing. That being plain, I am all right."

Gueldmar laughed. "You are an odd lad," he said good-humoredly. "You are
in the morning of life; there are always mists in the morning as there
are in the evening. In the light of your full manhood you will see these
things differently. Your creed of Nothing provides no moral law,--no
hold on the conscience, no restraint on the passions,--don't you see
that?"

Lorimer smiled with a very winning and boyish candor. "You are
exceedingly good, sir, to credit me with a conscience! I don't think I
have one,--I'm sure I have no passions. I have always been too lazy to
encourage them, and as for moral law,--I adhere to morality with the
greatest strictness, because if a fellow is immoral, he ceases to be a
gentleman. Now, as there are very few gentlemen nowadays, I fancy I'd
like to be one as long as I can."

Errington here interposed. "You mustn't take him seriously. Mr.
Gueldmar," he said; "he's never serious himself, I'll give you his
character in a few words. He belongs to no religious party, it's
true,--but he's a first-rate fellow,--the best fellow I know!"

Lorimer glanced at him quietly with a gratified expression on his face.
But he said nothing, for Thelma was regarding him with a most bewitching
smile.

"Ah!" she said, shaking a reproachful finger at him, "you do love all
nonsense, that I can see! You would make every person laugh, if you
could,--is it not so?"

"Well, yes," admitted George, "I think I would! But it's a herculean
task sometimes. If you had ever been to London, Miss Gueldmar, you would
understand how difficult it is to make people even smile,--and when they
do, the smile is not a very natural one."

"Why?" she exclaimed. "Are they all so miserable?"

"They pretend to be, if they're not," said Lorimer; "it is the fashion
there to find fault with everything and everybody."

"That is so," said Gueldmar thoughtfully. "I visited London once and
thought I was in hell. Nothing but rows of hard, hideously built houses,
long streets, and dirty alleys, and the people had weary faces all, as
though Nature had refused to bless them. A pitiful city,--doubly pitiful
to the eyes of a man like myself, whose life has been passed among
fjords and mountains such as these. Well, now, as neither of you are
Lutherans,--in fact, as neither of you seem to know what you are," and
he laughed, "I can be frank, and speak out as to my own belief. I am
proud to say I have never deserted the faith of my fathers, the faith
that makes a man's soul strong and fearless, and defiant of evil,--the
faith that is supposed to be crushed out among us, but that is still
alive and rooted in the hearts of many who can trace back their lineage
to the ancient Vikings as I can,--yes!--rooted firm and fast,--and
however much some of the more timorous feign to conceal it, in the tacit
acceptance of another creed, there are those who can never shake it off,
and who never desire to forsake it. I am one of these few. Shame must
fall on the man who willfully deserts the faith of his warrior-ancestry!
Sacred to me for ever be the names of Odin and Thor!"

He raised his hand aloft with a proud gesture, and his eyes flashed.
Errington was interested, but not surprised: the old _bonde's_
declaration of his creed seemed eminently fitted to his character.
Lorimer's face brightened,--here was a novelty--a man, who in all the
conflicting storms of modern opinion, sturdily clung to the traditions
of his forefathers.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed eagerly, "I think the worship of Odin would suit
me perfectly! It's a rousing, fighting sort of religion,--I'm positive
it would make a man of me. Will you initiate me into the mysteries, Mr.
Gueldmar? There's a fellow in London who writes poetry on Indian
subjects, and who, it is said, thinks Buddhism might satisfy his pious
yearnings,--but I think Odin would be a personage to command more
respect than Buddha,--at any rate, I should like to try him. Will you
give me a chance?"

Olaf Gueldmar smiled gravely, and rising from his seat, pointed to the
western sky.

"See yonder threads of filmy white," he said, "that stretch across the
wide expanse of blue! They are the lingering, fading marks of light
clouds,--and even while we watch them, they shall pass and be no more.
Such is the emblem of your life, young man--you that would, for an idle
jest or pastime, presume to search into the mysteries of Odin! For you
they are not,--your spirit is not of the stern mould that waits for
death as gladly as the bridegroom waits for the bride! The Christian
heaven is an abode for girls and babes,--Valhalla is the place for men!
I tell you, my creed is as divine in its origin as any that ever existed
on the earth! The Rainbow Bridge is a fairer pathway from death to life
than the doleful Cross,--and better far the dark summoning eyes of a
beauteous Valkyrie, than the grinning skull and cross-bones, the
Christian emblem of mortality. Thelma thinks,--and her mother before her
thought also,--that different as my way of belief is to the accepted new
creeds of to-day, it will be all right with me in the next world--that I
shall have as good a place in heaven as any Christian. It may be so,--I
care not! But see you,--the key-note of all the civilization of to-day
is discontent, while I,--thanks to the gods of my fathers, am happy, and
desire nothing that I have not."

He paused and seemed absorbed. The young men watched his fine inspired
features with lively interest. Thelma's head was turned away from them
so that her face was hidden. By-and-by he resumed in quieter tones--

"Now, my lads, you know what we are--both of us accursed in the opinion
of the Lutheran community. My child belongs to the so-called idolatrous
Church of Rome. I am one of the very last of the 'heathen
barbarians,'"--and the old fellow smiled sarcastically, "though, truth
to tell, for a barbarian, I am not such a fool as some folks would have
you think. If the snuffling Dyceworthy and I competed at a spelling
examination, I'm pretty sure 'tis I would have the prize! But, as I
said,--you know us,--and if our ways are likely to offend you, then let
us part good friends before the swords are fairly drawn."

"No sword will be drawn on my side, I assure you, sir," said Errington,
advancing and laying one hand on the _bonde's_ shoulder. "I hope you
will believe me when I say I shall esteem it an honor and a privilege to
know more of you."

"And though you won't accept me as a servant of Odin," added Lorimer,
"you really cannot prevent me from trying to make myself agreeable to
you. I warn you, Mr. Gueldmar, I shall visit you pretty frequently! Such
men as you are not often met with."

Olaf Gueldmar looked surprised. "You really mean it?" he said. "Nothing
that I have told you affects you? You still seek our friendship?"

They both earnestly assured him that they did, and as they spoke Thelma
rose from her low seat and faced them with a bright smile.

"Do you know," she said, "that you are the first people who, on visiting
us once, have ever cared to come again? Ah, you look surprised, but it
is so, is it not, father?"

Gueldmar nodded a grave assent.

"Yes," she continued demurely, counting on her little white fingers, "we
are three things--first, we are accursed; secondly, we have the evil
eye; thirdly, we are not respectable!"

And she broke into a peal of laughter, ringing and sweet as a chime of
bells. The young men joined her in it; and, still with an amused
expression on her lovely face, leaning her head back against a cluster
of pale roses, she went on--

"My father dislikes Mr. Dyceworthy so much, because he wants to--to--oh,
what is it they do to savages, father? Yes, I know,--to convert us,--to
make us Lutherans. And when he finds it all no use, he is angry; and,
though he is so religious, if he hears any one telling some untruth
about us in Bosekop, he will add another thing equally untrue, and so it
grows and grows, and--why! what is the matter with you?" she exclaimed
in surprise as Errington scowled and clenched his fist in a peculiarly
threatening manner.

"I should like to knock him down!" he said briefly under his breath.

Old Gueldmar laughed and looked at the young baronet approvingly.

"Who knows, who knows!" he said cheerfully. "You may do it some day! It
will be a good deed! I will do it myself if he troubles me much more.
And now let us make some arrangement with you. When will you come and
see, us again?"

"You must visit me first," said Sir Philip quickly. "If you and your
daughter will honor me with your company to-morrow, I shall be proud and
pleased. Consider the yacht at your service."

Thelma, resting among the roses, looked across at him with serious,
questioning eyes--eyes that seemed to be asking his intentions towards
both her and her father.

Gueldmar accepted the invitation at once, and, the hour for their visit
next day being fixed and agreed upon, the young men began to take their
leave. As Errington clasped Thelma's hand in farewell, he made a bold
venture. He touched a rose that hung just above her head almost dropping
on her hair.

"May I have it?" he asked in a low tone.

Their eyes met. The girl flushed deeply, and then grew pale. She broke
off the flower and gave it to him,--then turned to Lorimer to say
good-bye. They left her then, standing under the porch, shading her brow
with one hand from the glittering sunlight, as she watched them
descending the winding path to the shore, accompanied by her lather, who
hospitably insisted on seeing them into their boat. They looked back
once or twice, always to see the slender, tall white figure standing
there like an angel resting in a bower of roses, with the sunshine
flashing on a golden crown of hair. At the last in the pathway Philip
raised his hat and waved it, but whether she condescended to wave her
hand in answer he could not see.

Left alone, she sighed, and went slowly into the house to resume her
spinning. Hearing the whirr of the wheel, the servant Britta entered.

"You are not going in the boat, Froeken?" she asked in a tone of mingled
deference and affection.

Thelma looked up, smiled faintly, and shook her head in the negative.

"It is late, Britta, and I am tired."

And the deep blue eyes had an intense dreamy light within them as they
wandered from the wheel to the wide-open window, and rested on the
majestic darkness of the overshadowing, solemn pines.




CHAPTER VII.

    "In mezzo del mio core c' e una spina;
     Non c' e barbier che la possa levare,--
     Solo il mio amore colla sua manina"
                                                 _Rime Popolari._


Errington and Lorimer pulled away across the Fjord in a silence that
lasted for many minutes. Old Gueldmar stood on the edge of his little
pier to watch them out of sight. So, till their boat turned the sharp
corner of the protecting rock, that hid the landing-place from view,
they saw his picturesque figure and gleaming silvery hair outlined
clearly against the background of the sky--a sky now tenderly flushed
with pink like the inside of a delicate shell. When they could no longer
perceive him they still rowed on speaking no word,--the measured,
musical plash of the oars through the smooth, dark olive-green water
alone breaking the stillness around them. There was a curious sort of
hushed breathlessness in the air; fantastic, dream-like lights and
shadows played on the little wrinkling waves; sudden flushes of crimson
came and went in the western horizon, and over the high summits of the
surrounding mountains mysterious shapes, formed of purple and grey mist,
rose up and crept softly downwards, winding in and out deep valleys and
dark ravines, like wandering spirits sent on some secret and sorrowful
errand. After a while Errington said almost vexedly--

"Are you struck dumb, George? Haven't you a word to say to a fellow?"

"Just what I was about to ask _you_," replied Lorimer carelessly; "and I
was also going to remark that we hadn't seen your mad friend up at the
Gueldmar residence."

"No. Yet I can't help thinking he has something to do with them, all the
same," returned Errington meditatively. "I tell you, he swore at me by
some old Norwegian infernal place or other. I dare say he's an Odin
worshipper, too. But never mind him. What do you think of _her_?"

Lorimer turned lazily round in the boat, so that he faced his companion.

"Well, old fellow, if you ask me frankly, I think she is the most
beautiful woman I ever saw, or, for that matter, ever heard of. And I am
an impartial critic--perfectly impartial."

And, resting on his oar, he dipped the blade musingly in and out of the
water, watching the bright drops fall with an oil-like smoothness as
they trickled from the polished wood and glittered in the late sunshine
like vari-colored jewels. Then he glanced curiously at Philip, who sat
silent, but whose face was very grave and earnest,--even noble, with
that shade of profound thought upon it. He looked like one who had
suddenly accepted a high trust, in which there was not only pride, but
tenderness. Lorimer shook himself together, as he himself would have
expressed it, and touched his friend's arm half-playfully.

"You've met the king's daughter of Norroway after all, Phil;" and his
light accents had a touch of sadness in them; "and you'll have to bring
her home, as the old song says. I believe the 'eligible' is caught at
last. The 'woman' of the piece has turned up, and your chum must play
second fiddle--eh, old boy?"

Errington flushed hotly, but caught Lorimer's hand and pressed it with
tremendous fervor.

"By Jove, I'll wring it off your wrist if you talk in that fashion,
George!" he said, with a laugh. "You'll always be the same to me, and
you know it. I tell you," and he pulled his moustache doubtfully, "I
don't know quite what's the matter with me. That girl fascinates me! I
feel a fool in her presence. Is that a sign of being in love I wonder?"

"Certainly not!" returned George promptly; "for _I_ feel a fool in her
presence, and I'm not in love."

"How do you know that?" And Errington glanced at him keenly and
inquiringly.

"How do I know? Come, I like that! Have I studied myself all these years
for nothing? Look here,"--and he carefully drew out the little withering
bunch of daisies he had purloined--"these are for you. I knew you wanted
them, though you hadn't the impudence to pick them up, and I had. I
thought you might like to put them under your pillow, and all that sort
of thing, because if one is resolved to become love-lunatic, one may as
well do the thing properly out and out,--I hate all half-measures. Now,
if the remotest thrill of sentiment were in me, you can understand, I
hope, that wild horses would not have torn this adorable posy from my
possession! I should have kept it, and you would never have known of
it," and he laughed softly. "Take it, old fellow! You're rich now, with
the rose she gave you besides. What is all your wealth compared with the
sacred preciousness of such blossoms! There, don't look so awfully
estactic, or I shall be called upon to ridicule you in the interests of
common sense. So you're in love with the girl at once, and have done
with it. Don't beat about the bush!"

"I'm not sure about it," said Philip, taking the daisies gratefully,
however, and pressing them in his pocket-book. "I don't believe in love
at first sight!"

"I do," returned Lorimer decidedly. "Love is electricity. Two telegrams
are enough to settle the business,--one from the eyes of the man, the
other from those of the woman. You and Miss Gueldmar must have exchanged
a dozen such messages at least."

"And you?" inquired Errington persistently. "You had the same chance as
myself."

George shrugged his shoulders. "My dear boy, there are no wires of
communication between the Sun-angel and myself; nothing but a blank,
innocent landscape, over which perhaps some day, the mild lustre of
friendship may beam. The girl is beautiful--extraordinarily so; but I'm
not a 'man o' wax,' as Juliet's gabbling old nurse says--not in the
least impressionable."

And forthwith he resumed his oar, saying briskly as he did so--

"Phil, do you know those other fellows must be swearing at us pretty
forcibly for leaving them so long with Dyceworthy. We've been away two
hours!"

"Not possible!" cried Errington, amazed, and wielding his oar
vigorously. "They'll think me horribly rude. By Jove, they must be bored
to death!"

And, stimulated by the thought of the penance their friends were
enduring, they sent the boat spinning swiftly through the water, and
rowed as though they were trying for a race, when they were suddenly
pulled up by a loud "Halloo!" and the sight of another boat coming
slowly out from Bosekop, wherein two individuals were standing up,
gesticulating violently.

"There they are!" exclaimed Lorimer. "I say, Phil, they've hired a
special tub, and are coming out to us."

So it proved. Duprez and Macfarlane had grown tired of waiting for their
truant companions, and had taken the first clumsy wherry that presented
itself, rowed by an even clumsier Norwegian boatman, whom they had been
compelled to engage also, as he would not let his ugly punt out of his
sight, for fear some harm might chance to befall it. Thus attended, they
were on their way back to the yacht. With a few long, elegant strokes,
Errington and Lorimer soon brought their boat alongside, and their
friends gladly jumped into it, delighted to be free of the company of
the wooden-faced mariner they had so reluctantly hired, and who now, on
receiving his fee, paddled awkwardly away in his ill-constructed craft,
without either a word of thanks or salutation. Errington began to
apologize at once for his long absence, giving as a reason for it, the
necessity he found himself under of making a call on some persons of
importance in the neighborhood, whom he had, till now, forgotten.

"My good Phil-eep!" cried Duprez, in his cheery sing song accent, "why
apologize? We have amused ourselves! Our dear Sandy has a vein of humor
that is astonishing! We have not wasted our time. No! We have made Mr.
Dyceworthy our slave; we have conquered him; we have abased him! He is
what we please,--he is for all gods or for no god,--just as we pull the
string! In plain words, _mon cher_, that amiable religious is drunk!"

"Drunk!" cried Errington and Lorimer together. "Jove! you don't mean
it?"

Macfarlane looked up with a twinkle of satirical humor in his deep-set
grey eyes.

"Ye see," he said seriously, "the Lacrima, or Papist wine as he calls
it, was strong--we got him to take a good dose o't--a vera feir dose
indeed. Then, doun he sat, an' fell to convairsing vera pheelosophically
o' mony things,--it wad hae done ye gude to hear him,--he was fair lost
in the mazes o' his metapheesics, for twa flies took a bit saunter
through the pleasant dewy lanes o' his forehead, an' he never raised a
finger to send them awa' aboot their beeziness. Then I thoet I wad try
him wi' the whusky--I had ma pocket flask wi' me--an' O mon! he was
sairly glad and gratefu' for the first snack o't! He said it was
deevilish fine stuff, an' so he took ane drappikie, an' anither
drappikie, and yet anither drappikie,"--Sandy's accent got more and more
pronounced as he went on--"an' after a bit, his heed dropt doun, an' he
took a wee snoozle of a minute or twa,--then he woke up in a' his
strength an' just grappit the flask in his twa hands an' took the hale
o't off at a grand, rousin' gulp! Ma certes! after it ye shuld ha' seen
him laughin' like a feckless fule, an' rubbin' an' rubbin' his heed,
till his hair was like the straw kicked roond by a mad coo!"

Lorimer lay back in the stern of the boat and laughed uproariously at
this extraordinary picture, as did the others.

"But that is not all," said Duprez, with delighted mischief sparkling in
his wicked little dark eyes; "the dear religious opened his heart to us.
He spoke thickly, but we could understand him. He was very impressive!
He is quite of my opinion. He says all religion is nonsense, fable,
imposture,--Man is the only god, Woman his creature and subject.
Again,--man and woman conjoined, make up divinity, necessity, law. He
was quite clear on that point. Why did he preach what he did not
believe, we asked? He almost wept! He replied that the children of this
world liked fairy-stories and he was paid to tell them. It was his bread
and butter,--would we wish him to have no bread and butter? We assured
him so cruel a thought had no place in our hearts! Then he is
amorous--yes! the good fat man is amorous! He would have become a
priest, but on close examination of the confessionals he saw there was
no possibility of seeing, much less kissing a lady penitent through the
grating. So he gave up that idea! In his form of faith he _can_ kiss, he
says,--he _does_ kiss!--always a holy kiss, of course! He is so
ingenuous,--so delightfully frank, it is quite charming!"

They laughed again. Sir Philip looked somewhat disgusted.

"What an old brute he must be!" he said. "Somebody ought to kick him--a
holy kick, of course, and therefore more intense and forcible than other
kicks."

"You begin, Phil," laughed Lorimer, "and we'll all follow suit. He'll be
like that Indian in 'Vathek' who rolled himself into a ball; no one
could resist kicking as long as the ball bounded before them,--we,
similarly, shall not be able to resist, if Dyceworthy's fat person is
once left at our mercy."

"That was a grand bit he told us, Errington," resumed Macfarlane. "Ye
should ha' heard him talk aboot his love-affair! . . . the saft jelly of
a man that he is, to be making up to ony woman."

At that moment they ran alongside of the _Eulalie_ and threw up their
oars.

"Stop a bit," said Errington. "Tell us the rest on board."

The ladder was lowered; they mounted it, and their boat was hauled up to
its place.

"Go on!" said Lorimer, throwing himself lazily into a deck arm-chair and
lighting a cigar, while the others leaned against the yacht rails and
followed his example. "Go on, Sandy--this is fun! Dyceworthy's amours
must be amusing. I suppose he's after that ugly wooden block of a woman
we saw at his house who is so zealous for the 'true gospel'?"

"Not a bit of it," replied Sandy, with immense gravity. "The auld
Silenus has better taste. He says there's a young lass running after
him, fit to break her heart aboot him,--puir thing, she must have vera
little choice o' men! He hasna quite made up his mind, though he admeets
she's as fine a lass as ony man need require. He's sorely afraid she has
set herself to catch him, as he says she's an eye like a warlock for a
really strong good-looking fellow like himself," and Macfarlane chuckled
audibly. "Maybe he'll take pity on her, maybe he wont; the misguided
lassie will be sairly teazed by him from a' he tauld us in his cups. He
gave us her name,--the oddest in a' the warld for sure,--I canna just
remember it."

"I can," said Duprez glibly. "It struck me as quaint and pretty--Thelma
Gueldmar."

Errington started so violently, and flushed so deeply, that Lorimer was
afraid of some rash outbreak of wrath on his part. But he restrained
himself by a strong effort. He merely took his cigar from his mouth and
puffed a light cloud of smoke into the air before replying, then he said
coldly--

"I should say Mr. Dyceworthy, besides being a drunkard, is a most
consummate liar. It so happens that the Gueldmars are the very people I
have just visited,--highly superior in every way to anybody we have yet
met in Norway. In fact, Mr. and Miss Gueldmar will come on board
to-morrow. I have invited them to dine with us; you will then be able to
judge for yourselves whether the young lady is at all of the description
Mr. Dyceworthy gives of her."

Duprez and Macfarlane exchanged astonished looks.

"Are ye quite sure," the latter ventured to remark cautiously, "that
ye're prudent in what ye have done? Remember ye have asked no pairson at
a' to dine with ye as yet,--it's a vera sudden an' exceptional freak o'
hospitality."

Errington smoked on peacefully and made no answer. Duprez hummed a verse
of a French _chansonnette_ under his breath and smiled. Lorimer glanced
at him with a lazy amusement.

"Unburden yourself, Pierre, for heaven's sake!" he said. "Your mind is
as uncomfortable as a loaded camel. Let it lie down, while you take off
its packages, one by one, and reveal their contents. In short, what's
up?"

Duprez made a rapid, expressive gesture with his hands.

"_Mon cher_, I fear to displease Phil-eep! He has invited these people;
they are coming,--_bien_! there is no more to say."

"I disagree with ye," interposed Macfarlane "I think Errington should
hear what _we_ ha' heard; it's fair an' just to a mon that he should
understand what sort o' folk are gaun to pairtake wi' him at his table.
Ye see, Errington, ye should ha' thought a wee, before inviting pairsons
o' unsettled an' dootful chairacter--"

"Who says they are?" demanded Errington half-angrily. "The drunken
Dyceworthy?"

"He was no sae drunk at the time he tauld us." persisted Macfarlane in
his most obstinate, most dictatorial manner. "Ye see, it's just this
way--"

"Ah, _pardon_!" interrupted Duprez briskly. "Our dear Sandy is an
excellent talker, but he is a little slow. Thus it is, _mon cher_
Errington. This gentleman named Gueldmar had a most lovely wife--a
mysterious lady, with an evident secret. The beautiful one was never
seen in the church or in any town or village; she was met sometimes on
hills, by rivers, in valleys, carrying her child in her arms. The people
grew afraid of her; but, now, see what happens! Suddenly, she appears no
more; some one ventures to ask this Monsieur Gueldmar, 'What has become
of Madame?' His answer is brief. 'She is dead!' Satisfactory so far, yet
not quite; for, Madame being dead, then what has become of the corpse of
Madame? It was never seen,--no coffin was ever ordered,--and apparently
it was never buried! _Bien!_ What follows? The good people of Bosekop
draw the only conclusion possible--Monsieur Gueldmar, who is said to have
a terrific temper, killed Madame and made away with her body. _Voila_!"

And Duprez waved his hand with an air of entire satisfaction.

Errington's brow grew sombre. "This is the story, is it?" he asked at
last.

"It is enough, is it not?" laughed Duprez. "But, after all, what matter?
It will be novel to dine with a mur--"

"Stop!" said Philip fiercely, with so much authority that the sparkling
Pierre was startled. "Call no man by such a name till you know he
deserves it. If Gueldmar was suspected, as you say, why didn't somebody
arrest him on the charge?"

"Because, ye see," replied Macfarlane, "there was not sufficient proof
to warrant such a proceeding. Moreover, the actual meenister of the
parish declared it was a' richt, an' said this Gueldmar was a mon o' vera
queer notions, an' maybe, had buried his wife wi' certain ceremonies
peculiar to himself--What's wrong wi' ye now?"

For a light had flashed on Errington's mind, and with the quick
comprehension it gave him, his countenance cleared. He laughed.

"That's very likely," he said; "Mr. Gueldmar is a character. He follows
the faith of Odin, and not even Dyceworthy can convert him to
Christianity."

Macfarlane stared with a sort of stupefied solemnity.

"Mon!" he exclaimed, "ye never mean to say there's an actual puir human
creature that in this blessed, enlightened nineteenth century of ours,
is so far misguidit as to worship the fearfu' gods o' the Scandinavian
meethology?"

"Ah!" yawned Lorimer, "you may wonder away, Sandy, but it's true enough!
Old Gueldmar is an Odinite. In this blessed, enlightened nineteenth
century of ours, when Christians amuse themselves by despising and
condemning each other, and thus upsetting all the precepts of the Master
they profess to follow, there is actually a man who sticks to the
traditions of his ancestors. Odd, isn't it? In this delightful,
intellectual age, when more than half of us are discontented with life
and yet don't want to die, there is a fine old gentleman, living beyond
the Arctic circle, who is perfectly satisfied with his existence--not
only that, he thinks death the greatest glory that can befall him.
Comfortable state of things altogether! I'm half inclined to be an
Odinite too."

Sandy still remained lost in astonishment. "Then ye don't believe that
he made awa' wi' his wife?" he inquired slowly.

"Not in the least!" returned Lorimer decidedly; "neither will you,
to-morrow, when you see him. He's a great deal better up in literature
than you are, my boy, I'd swear, judging from the books he has. And when
he mentioned his wife, as he did once, you could see in his face he had
never done _her_ any harm. Besides, his daughter--"

"Ah! but I forgot," interposed Duprez again. "The daughter, Thelma, was
the child the mysteriously vanished lady carried in her arms, wandering
with it all about the woods and hills. After her disappearance, another
thing extraordinary happens. The child also disappears, and Monsieur
Gueldmar lives alone, avoided carefully by every respectable person.
Suddenly the child returns, grown to be nearly a woman--and they say,
lovely to an almost impossible extreme. She lives with her father. She,
like her strange mother, never enters a church, town, or
village--nowhere, in fact, where persons are in any numbers. Three years
ago, it appears, she vanished again, but came back at the end of ten
months, lovelier than ever. Since then she has remained
quiet--composed--but always apart,--she may disappear at any moment.
Droll, is it not, Errington? and the reputation she has is natural!"

"Pray state it," said Philip, with freezing coldness. "The reputation of
a woman is nothing nowadays. Fair game--go on!"

But his face was pale, and his eyes blazed dangerously. Almost
unconsciously his hand toyed with the rose Thelma had given him, that
still ornamented his button-hole.

"Mon Dieu!" cried Duprez in amazement. "But look not at me like that! It
seems to displease you, to put you _en fureur_, what I say! It is not my
story,--it is not I,--I know not Mademoiselle Gueldmar. But as her beauty
is considered superhuman, they say it is the devil who is her
_parfumeur_, her _coiffeur_, and who sees after her complexion; in
brief, she is thought to be a witch in full practice, dangerous to life
and limb."

Errington laughed loudly, he was so much relieved.

"Is that all?" he said with light contempt. "By Jove! what a pack of
fools there must be about here,--ugly fools too, if they think beauty is
a sign of witchcraft. I wonder Dyceworthy isn't scared out of his skin
if he positively thinks the so-called witch is setting her cap at him."

"Ah, but he means to convairt her," said Macfarlane seriously. "To draw
the evil oot o' her, as it were. He said he wad do't by fair means or
foul."

Something in these latter words struck Lorimer, for, raising himself in
his seat, he asked, "Surely Mr. Dyceworthy, with all his stupidity,
doesn't carry it so far as to believe in witchcraft?"

"Oh, indeed he does," exclaimed Duprez; "he believes in it _a la
lettre_! He has Bible authority for his belief. He is very firm--firmest
when drunk!" And he laughed gaily.

Errington muttered something not very flattering to Mr. Dyceworthy's
intelligence, which escaped the hearing of his friends; then he said--

"Come along, all of you, down into the saloon. We want something to eat.
Let the Gueldmars alone; I'm not a bit sorry I've asked them to come
to-morrow. I believe you'll all like them immensely."

They all descended the stair-way leading to the lower part of the yacht,
and Macfarlane asked as he followed his host--

"Is the lass vera bonnie did ye say?"

"Bonnie's not the word for it this time," said Lorimer, coolly answering
instead of Errington. "Miss Gueldmar is a magnificent woman. You never
saw such a one, Sandy, my boy; she'll make you sing small with one look;
she'll wither you up into a kippered herring! And as for you, Duprez,"
and he regarded the little Frenchman critically, "let me see,--you _may_
possibly reach up to her shoulder,--certainly not beyond it."

"_Pas possible!_" cried Duprez. "Mademoiselle is a giantess."

"She needn't be a giantess to overtop you, _mon ami_," laughed Lorimer
with a lazy shrug. "By Jove, I _am_ sleepy, Errington, old boy; are we
never going to bed? It's no good waiting till it's dark here, you know."

"Have something first," said Sir Philip, seating himself at the saloon
table, where his steward had laid out a tasty cold collation. "We've had
a good deal of climbing about and rowing; it's taken it out of us a
little."

Thus hospitably adjured, they took their places, and managed to dispose
of an excellent supper. The meal concluded, Duprez helped himself to a
tiny liqueur glass of Chartreuse, as a wind-up to the exertions of the
day, a mild luxury in which the others joined him, with the exception of
Macfarlane, who was wont to declare that a "mon without his whusky was
nae mon at a'," and who, therefore, persisted in burning up his interior
mechanism with alcohol in spite of the doctrines of hygiene, and was now
absorbed in the work of mixing his lemon, sugar, hot water, and
poison--his usual preparation for a night's rest.

Lorimer, usually conversational, watched him in abstracted silence.
Rallied on this morose humor, he rose, shook himself like a retriever,
yawned, and sauntered to the piano that occupied a dim corner of the
saloon, and began to play with that delicate, subtle touch, which,
though it does not always mark the brilliant pianist, distinguishes the
true lover of music, to whose ears a rough thump on the instrument, or a
false note would be most exquisite agony. Lorimer had no pretense to
musical talent; asked, he confessed he could "strum a little," and he
seemed to see the evident wonder and admiration he awakened in the minds
of many to whom such "strumming" as his was infinitely more delightful
than more practiced, finished playing. Just now he seemed undecided,--he
commenced a dainty little prelude of Chopin's, then broke suddenly off,
and wandered into another strain, wild, pleading, pitiful, and
passionate,--a melody so weird and dreamy that even the stolid
Macfarlane paused in his toddy-sipping, and Duprez looked round in some
wonderment.

"_Comme c'est beau, ca!_" he murmured.

Errington said nothing; he recognized the tune as that which Thelma had
sung at her spinning-wheel, and his bold bright eyes grew pensive and
soft, as the picture of the fair face and form rose up again before his
mind. Absorbed in a reverie, he almost started when Lorimer ceased
playing, and said lightly--

"By-bye, boys! I'm off to bed! Phil, don't wake me so abominably early
as you did this morning. If you do, friendship can hold out no
longer--we must part!"

"All right!" laughed Errington good-humoredly, watching his friend as he
sauntered out of the saloon; then seeing Duprez and Macfarlane rise from
the table, he added courteously, "Don't hurry away on Lorimer's account,
you two. I'm not in the least sleepy,--I'll sit up with you to any
hour."

"It is droll to go to bed in broad daylight," said Duprez. "But it must
be done. _Cher Philippe_, your eyes are heavy. 'To bed, to bed,' as the
excellent Madame Macbeth says. Ah! _quelle femme!_ What an exciting wife
she was for a man? Come, let us follow our dear Lorimer,--his music was
delicious. Good night or good morning? . . . I know not which it is in
this strange land where the sun shines always! It is confusing!"

They shook hands and separated. Errington, however, unable to compose
his mind to rest, went into his cabin merely to come out of it again and
betake himself to the deck, where he decided to walk up and down till he
felt sleepy. He wished to be alone with his own thoughts for awhile--to
try and resolve the meaning of this strange new emotion that possessed
him,--a feeling that was half pleasing, half painful, and that certainly
moved him to a sort of shame. A man, if he be strong and healthy, is
always more or less ashamed when Love, with a single effort, proves him
to be weaker than a blade of grass swaying in the wind. What! all his
dignity, all his resoluteness, all his authority swept down by the light
touch of a mere willow wand? for the very sake of his own manhood and
self-respect, he cannot help but be ashamed! It is as though a little
nude, laughing child mocked at a lion's strength, and made him a
helpless prisoner with a fragile daisy chain. So the god Eros begins his
battles, which end in perpetual victory,--first fear and shame,--then
desire and passion,--then conquest and possession. And afterwards? ah!
. . . afterwards the pagan deity is powerless,--a higher God, a grander
force, a nobler creed must carry Love to its supreme and best
fulfillment.




CHAPTER VIII.

    "Le vent qui vient a travers la montagne
     M'a rendu fou!"
                                                     VICTOR HUGO.


It was half an hour past midnight. Sir Philip was left in absolute
solitude to enjoy his meditative stroll on deck, for the full radiance
of light that streamed over the sea and land was too clear and brilliant
to necessitate the attendance of any of the sailors for the purpose of
guarding the _Eulalie_. She was safely anchored and distinctly visible
to all boats or fishing craft crossing the Fjord, so that unless a
sudden gale should blow, which did not seem probable in the present
state of the weather, there was nothing for the men to do that need
deprive them of their lawful repose. Errington paced up and down slowly,
his yachting shoes making no noise, even as they left no scratch on the
spotless white deck, that shone in the night sunshine like polished
silver. The Fjord was very calm,--on one side it gleamed like a pool of
golden oil in which the outline of the _Eulalie_ was precisely traced,
her delicate masts and spars and drooping flag being drawn in black
lines on the yellow water as though with a finely pointed pencil. There
was a curious light in the western sky; a thick bank of clouds, dusky
brown in color, were swept together and piled one above the other in
mountainous ridges, that rose up perpendicularly from the very edge of
the sea-line, while over their dark summits a glimpse of the sun, like a
giant's eye, looked forth, darting dazzling descending rays through the
sullen smoke-like masses, tinging them with metallic green and copper
hues as brilliant and shifting as the bristling points of lifted spears.
Away to the south, a solitary wreath of purple vapor floated slowly as
though lost from some great mountain height; and through its faint, half
disguising veil the pale moon peered sorrowfully, like a dying prisoner
lamenting joy long past, but unforgotten.

A solemn silence reigned; and Errington, watching sea and sky, grew more
and more absorbed and serious. The scornful words of the proud old Olaf
Gueldmar rankled in his mind and stung him. "An idle trifler with
time--an aimless wanderer!" Bitter, but, after all, true! He looked back
on his life with a feeling kin to contempt. What had he done that was at
all worth doing? He had seen to the proper management of his
estates,--well! any one with a grain of self-respect and love of
independence would do the same. He had travelled and amused himself,--he
had studied languages and literature,--he had made many friends; but
after all said and done, the _bonde's_ cutting observations had
described him correctly enough. The do-nothing, care-nothing tendency,
common to the very wealthy in this age, had crept upon him
unconsciously; the easy, cool, indifferent nonchalance common to men of
his class and breeding was habitual with him, and he had never thought
it worth while to exert his dormant abilities. Why then, should he now
begin to think it was time to reform all this,--to rouse himself to an
effort,--to gain for himself some honor, some distinction, some renown
that should mark him out as different to other men? why was he suddenly
seized with an insatiate desire to be something more than a mere
"mushroom knight, a fungus of nobility"--why? if not to make himself
worthy of--ah! There he had struck a suggestive key-note! Worthy of
what? of whom? There was no one in all the world, excepting perhaps
Lorimer, who cared what became of Sir Philip Errington, Baronet, in the
future, so long as he would, for the present, entertain and feast his
numerous acquaintances and give them all the advantages, social and
political, his wealth could so easily obtain. Then why, in the name of
well-bred indolence, should he muse with such persistent gloom, on his
general unworthiness at this particular moment? Was it because this
Norwegian maiden's grand blue eyes had met his with such beautiful trust
and candor?

He had known many women, queens of society, titled beauties, brilliant
actresses, sirens of the world with all their witcheries in full play,
and he had never lost his self-possession or his heart; with the
loveliest of them he had always felt himself master of the situation,
knowing that, in their opinion he was always "a catch," "an eligible,"
and, therefore, well worth winning. Now, for the first time, he became
aware of his utter insignificance,--this tall, fair goddess knew none of
the social slang--and her fair, pure face, the mirror of a fair, pure
soul, showed that the "eligibility" of a man from a pecuniary point of
view was a consideration that would never present itself to her mind.
What she would look at would be the man himself,--not his pocket. And,
studied from such an exceptional height,--a height seldom climbed by
modern marrying women,--Philip felt himself unworthy. It was a good
sign; there are great hopes of any man who is honestly dissatisfied with
himself. Folding his arms, he leaned idly on the deck-rails, and looked
gravely and musingly down into the motionless water where the varied
lines of the sky were clearly mirrored,--when a slight creaking,
cracking sound was heard, as of some obstacle grazing against or bumping
the side of the yacht. He looked, and saw, to his surprise, a small
rowing boat close under the gunwale, so close indeed that the slow
motion of the tide heaved it every now and then into a jerky collision
with the lower framework of the _Eulalie_--a circumstance which
explained the sound which had attracted his attention. The boat was not
unoccupied--there was some one in it lying straight across the seats,
with face turned upwards to the sky--and, walking noiselessly to a
better post of observation, Errington's heart beat with some excitement
as he recognized the long, fair, unkempt locks, and eccentric attire of
the strange personage who had confronted him in the cave--the crazy
little man who had called himself "Sigurd." There he was, beyond a
doubt, lying flat on his back with his eyes closed. Asleep or dead? He
might have been the latter,--his thin face was so pale and drawn,--his
lips were so set and colorless. Errington, astonished to see him there,
called softly--

"Sigurd! Sigurd!" There was no answer; Sigurd's form seemed
inanimate--his eyes remained fast shut.

"Is he in a trance?" thought Sir Philip wonderingly; "or has he fainted
from some physical exhaustion?"

He called again, but again received no reply. He now observed in the
stem of the boat a large bunch of pansies, dark as velvet, and evidently
freshly gathered,--proving that Sigurd had been wandering in the deep
valleys and on the sloping sides of the hills, where these flowers may
be frequently found in Norway during the summer. He began to feel rather
uncomfortable, as he watched that straight stiff figure in the boat, and
was just about to swing down the companion-ladder for the purpose of
closer inspection, when a glorious burst of light streamed radiantly
over the Fjord,--the sun conquered the masses of dark cloud that had
striven to conceal his beauty, and now,--like a warrior clad in golden
armor, surmounted and trod down his enemies, shining forth in all his
splendor. With that rush of brilliant effulgence, the apparently
lifeless Sigurd stirred,--he opened his eyes, and as they were turned
upwards, he naturally, from his close vicinity to the side of the
_Eulalie_, met Errington's gaze fixed inquiringly and somewhat anxiously
upon him. He sprang up with such sudden and fierce haste that his frail
boat rocked dangerously and Philip involuntarily cried out--

"Take care!"

Sigurd stood upright in his swaying skiff and laughed scornfully.

"Take care!" he echoed derisively. "It is you who should take care!
You,--poor miserable moth on the edge of a mad storm! It is you to
fear--not I! See how the light rains over the broad sky. All for me!
Yes, all the light, all the glory for me; all the darkness, all the
shame for you!"

Errington listened to these ravings with an air of patience and pitying
gentleness, then he said with perfect coolness--

"You are quite right, Sigurd! You are always right, I am sure. Come up
here and see me; I won't hurt you! Come along!"

The friendly tone and gentle manner appeared to soothe the unhappy
dwarf, for he stared doubtfully, then smiled,--and finally, as though
acting under a spell, he took up an oar and propelled himself skillfully
enough to the gangway, where Errington let down the ladder and with his
own hand assisted his visitor to mount, not forgetting to fasten the
boat safely to the steps as he did so. Once on deck, Sigurd gazed about
him perplexedly. He had brought his bunch of pansies with him, and he
fingered their soft leaves thoughtfully. Suddenly his eyes flashed.

"You are alone here?" he asked abruptly.

Fearing to scare his strange guest by the mention of his companions,
Errington answered simply--"Yes, quite alone just now, Sigurd."

Sigurd took a step closer towards him. "Are you not afraid?" he said in
an awe-struck, solemn voice.

Sir Philip smiled. "I never was afraid of anything in my life!" he
answered.

The dwarf eyed him keenly. "You are not afraid," he went on, "that I
shall kill you?"

"Not in the least," returned Errington calmly. "You would not do
anything so foolish, my friend."

Sigurd laughed. "Ha ha! You call me 'friend.' You think that word a
safeguard! I tell you, no! There are no friends now; the world is a
great field of battle,--each man fights the other. There is no
peace,--none anywhere! The wind fights with the forests; you can hear
them slashing and slaying all night long--when it _is_ night--the long,
long night! The sun fights with the sky, the light with the dark, and
life with death. It is all a bitter quarrel; none are satisfied, none
shall know friendship any more; it is too late! We cannot be friends!"

"Well, have it your own way," said Philip good-naturedly, wishing that
Lorimer were awake to interview this strange specimen of human wit gone
astray; "we'll fight if you like. Anything to please you!"

"We _are_ fighting," said Sigurd with intense passion in his voice. "You
may not know it; but I know it! I have felt the thrust of your sword; it
has crossed mine. Stay!" and his eyes grew vague and dreamy. "Why was I
sent to seek you out--let me think--let me think!"

And he seated himself forlornly on one of the deck chairs and seemed
painfully endeavoring to put his scattered ideas in order. Errington
studied him with a gentle forbearance; inwardly he was very curious to
know whether this Sigurd had any connection with the Gueldmars, but he
refrained from asking too many questions. He simply said in a cheery
tone--

"Yes, Sigurd,--why did you come to see me? I'm glad you did; it's very
kind of you, but I don't think you even know my name."

To his surprise, Sigurd looked up with a more settled and resolved
expression of face, and answered almost as connectedly as any sane man
could have done.

"I know your name very well," he said in a low composed manner. "You are
Sir Philip Errington, a rich English nobleman. Fate led you to _her_
grave--a grave that no strange feet have ever passed, save yours--and so
I know you are the man for whom her spirit has waited,--she has brought
you hither. How foolish to think she sleeps under the stone, when she is
always awake and busy,--always at work opposing me! Yes, though I pray
her to lie still, she will not!"

His voice grew wild again, and Philip asked quietly--

"Of whom are you speaking, Sigurd?"

His steady tone seemed to have some compelling influence on the confused
mind of the half-witted creature, who answered readily and at once--

"Of whom should I speak but Thelma? Thelma, the beautiful rose of the
northern forest--Thelma--"

He broke off abruptly with a long shuddering sigh, and rocking himself
drearily to and fro, gazed wistfully out to the sea. Errington hazarded
a guess as to the purpose of that coffin hidden in the shell cavern.

"Do you mean Thelma living? . . . or Thelma dead?"

"Both," answered Sigurd promptly. "They are one and the same,--you
cannot part them. Mother and child,--rose and rosebud! One walks the
earth with the step of a queen, the other floats in the air like a
silvery cloud; but I see them join and embrace and melt into each
other's arms till they unite in one form, fairer than the beauty of
angels! And you--you know this as well as I do--you have seen Thelma,
you have kissed the cup of friendship with her; but remember!--not with
me--not with me!"

He started from his seat, and, running close up to Errington, laid one
meagre hand on his chest.

"How strong you are, how broad and brave," he exclaimed with a sort of
childish admiration. "And can you not be generous too?"

Errington looked down upon him compassionately. He had learned enough
from his incoherent talk to clear up what had seemed a mystery. The
scandalous reports concerning Olaf Gueldmar were incorrect,--he had
evidently laid the remains of his wife in the shell-cavern, for some
reason connected with his religious belief, and Thelma's visits to the
sacred spot were now easy of comprehension. No doubt it was she who
placed fresh flowers there every day, and kept the little lamp burning
before the crucifix as a sign of the faith her departed mother had
professed, and which she herself followed. But who was Sigurd, and what
was he to the Gueldmars? Thinking this, he replied to the dwarf's
question by a counter-inquiry.

"How shall I be generous, Sigurd? Tell me! What can I do to please you?"

Sigurd's wild blue eyes sparkled with pleasure.

"Do!" he cried. "You can go away, swiftly, swiftly, over the seas, and
the Altenfjord need know you no more! Spread your white sails!" and he
pointed excitedly up to the tall tapering masts of the _Eulalie_. "You
are king here. Command and you are obeyed! Go from us, go! What is there
here to delay you? Our mountains are dark and gloomy,--the fields are
wild and desolate,--there are rocks, glaciers and shrieking torrents
that hiss like serpents gliding into the sea! Oh, there must be fairer
lands than this one,--lands where oceans and sky are like twin jewels
set in one ring,--where there are sweet flowers and fruits and bright
eyes to smile on you all day--yes! for you are as a god in your strength
and beauty--no woman will be cruel to _you_! Ah! say you will go away!"
and Sigurd's face was transfigured into a sort of pained beauty as he
made his appeal. "That is what I came to seek you for,--to ask you to
set sail quickly and go, for why should you wish to destroy me? I have
done you no harm as yet. Go!--and Odin himself shall follow your path
with blessings!"

He paused, almost breathless with his own earnest pleading. Errington
was silent. He considered the request a mere proof of the poor
creature's disorder. The very idea that Sigurd seemed to entertain of
his doing him any harm, showed a reasonless terror and foreboding that
was simply to be set down as caused by his unfortunate mental condition.
To such an appeal there could be no satisfactory reply. To sail away
from the Altenfjord and its now most fascinating attractions, because a
madman asked him to do so, was a proposition impossible of acceptance,
so Sir Philip said nothing. Sigurd, however, watching his face intently,
saw, or thought he saw, a look of resolution in the Englishman's clear,
deep grey eyes,--and with the startling quickness common to many whose
brains, like musical instruments, are jarred, yet not quite unstrung, he
grasped the meaning of that expression instantly.

"Ah! cruel and traitorous!" he exclaimed fiercely. "You will not go; you
are resolved to tear my heart out for your sport! I have pleaded with
you as one pleads with a king and all in vain--all in vain! You will not
go? Listen, see what you will do," and he held up the bunch of purple
pansies, while his voice sank to an almost feeble faintness. "Look!" and
he fingered the flowers, "look! . . . they are dark and soft as a purple
sky,--cool and dewy and fresh;--they are the thoughts of Thelma; such
thoughts! So wise and earnest, so pure and full of tender shadows!--no
hand has grasped them rudely, no rough touch has spoiled their
smoothness! They open full-faced to the sky, they never droop or
languish; they have no secrets, save the marvel of their beauty. Now you
have come, you will have no pity,--one by one you will gather and play
with her thoughts as though they were these blossoms,--your burning hand
will mar their color,--they will wither and furl up and die, all of
them,--and you,--what will you care? Nothing! no man ever cares for a
flower that is withered,--not even though his own hand slew it."

The intense melancholy that vibrated through Sigurd's voice touched his
listener profoundly. Dimly he guessed that the stricken soul before him
had formed the erroneous idea that he, Errington, had come to do some
great wrong to Thelma or her belongings, and he pitied the poor creature
for his foolish self-torture.

"Listen to me, Sigurd," he said, with a certain imperativeness; "I
cannot promise you to go away, but I can promise that I will do no harm
to you or to--to--Thelma. Will that content you?"

Sigurd smiled vacantly and shook his head. He looked at the pansies
wistfully and laid them down very gently on one of the deck benches.

"I must go," he said in a faint voice:--"She is calling me."

"Who is calling you?" demanded Errington astonished.

"She is," persisted Sigurd, walking steadily to the gangway. "I can hear
her! There are the roses to water, and the doves to feed, and many other
things." He looked steadily at Sir Philip, who, seeing he was bent on
departure, assisted him to descend the companion ladder into his little
boat. "You are sure you will not sail away?"

Errington balanced himself lightly on the ladder and smiled.

"I am sure, Sigurd! I have no wish to sail away. Are you all right
there?"

He spoke cheerily, feeling in his own mind that it was scarcely safe for
a madman to be quite alone in a cockle-shell of a boat on a deep Fjord,
the shores of which were indented with dangerous rocks as sharp as the
bristling teeth of fabled sea-monsters, but Sigurd answered him almost
contemptuously.

"All right!" he echoed. "That is what the English say always. All right!
As if it were ever wrong with me, and the sea! We know each other,--we
do each other no harm. _You_ may die on the sea, but _I_ shall not! No,
there is another way to Valhalla!"

"Oh, I dare say there are no end of ways," said Errington
good-temperedly, still poising himself on the ladder, and holding on to
the side of his yacht, as he watched his late visitor take the oars and
move off. "Good-bye, Sigurd! Take care of yourself! Hope I shall see you
again soon."

But Sigurd replied not. Bending to the oars, he rowed swiftly and
strongly, and Sir Philip, pulling up the ladder and closing the gangway,
saw the little skiff flying over the water like a bird in the direction
of the Gueldmar's landing-place. He wondered again and again what
relationship, if any, this half-crazed being bore to the _bonde_ and his
daughter. That he knew all about them was pretty evident; but how?
Catching sight of the pansies left on the deck bench, Errington took
them, and, descending to the saloon, set them on the table in a tumbler
of water.

"Thelma's thoughts, the poor little fellow called them," he mused, with
a smile. "A pretty fancy of his, and linked with the crazy imaginings of
Ophelia too. 'There's pansies, that's for thoughts,' _she_ said, but
Sigurd's idea is different; he believes they are Thelma's own thoughts
in flower. 'No rough touch has spoiled their smoothness,' he declared;
he's right there, I'm sure. And shall I ruffle the sweet leaves; shall I
crush the tender petals? or shall I simply transform them, from pansies
into roses,--from the dream of love,--into love itself?"

His eyes softened as he glanced at the drooping rose he wore, which
Thelma herself had given him, and as he went to his sleeping cabin, he
carefully detached it from his button-hole, and taking down a book,--one
which he greatly prized, because it had belonged to his mother,--he
prepared to press the flower within its leaves. It was the "Imitation of
Christ," bound quaintly and fastened with silver clasps, and as he was
about to lay his fragrant trophy on the first page that opened naturally
of itself, he glanced at the words that there presented themselves to
his eyes.

"Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing
wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or in
earth!" And with a smile and a warmer flush of color than usual on his
handsome face, he touched the rose lightly yet tenderly with his lips
and shut it reverently within its sacred resting-place.




CHAPTER IX.

   "Our manners are infinitely corrupted, and wonderfully incline to
    the worse; of our customs there are many barbarous and
    monstrous."
                                                       MONTAIGNE.


The next day was very warm and bright, and that pious Lutheran divine,
the Reverend Charles Dyceworthy, was seriously encumbered by his own
surplus flesh material as he wearily rowed himself across the Fjord
towards Olaf Gueldmar's private pier. As the perspiration bedewed his
brow, he felt that Heaven had dealt with him somewhat too liberally in
the way of fat--he was provided too amply with it ever to excel as an
oarsman. The sun was burning hot, the water was smooth as oil, and very
weighty--it seemed to resist every stroke of his clumsily wielded
blades. Altogether it was hard, uncongenial work,--and, being rendered
somewhat flabby and nerveless by his previous evening's carouse with
Macfarlane's whisky, Mr. Dyceworthy was in a plaintive and injured frame
of mind, he was bound on a mission--a holy and edifying errand, which
would have elevated any minister of his particular sect. He had found a
crucifix with the name of Thelma engraved thereon,--he was now about to
return it to the evident rightful owner, and in returning it, he
purposed denouncing it as an emblem of the "Scarlet Woman, that sitteth
on the Seven Hills," and threatening all those who dared to hold it
sacred, as doomed to eternal torture, "where the worm dieth not." He had
thought over all he meant to say; he had planned several eloquent and
rounded sentences, some of which he murmured placidly to himself as he
propelled his slow boat along.

"Yea!" he observed in a mild sotto-voce--"ye shall be cut off root and
branch! Ye shall be scorched even as stubble,--and utterly destroyed."
Here he paused and mopped his streaming forehead with his clean perfumed
handkerchief. "Yea!" he resumed peacefully, "the worshippers of
idolatrous images are accursed; they shall have ashes for food and gall
for drink! Let them turn and repent themselves, lest the wrath of God
consume them as straw whirled on the wind. Repent! . . . or ye shall be
cast into everlasting fire. Beauty shall avail not, learning shall avail
not, meekness shall avail not; for the fire of hell is a searching,
endless, destroying--" here Mr. Dyceworthy, by plunging one oar with too
much determination into the watery depths, caught a crab, as the saying
is, and fell violently backward in a somewhat undignified posture.
Recovering himself slowly, he looked about him in a bewildered way, and
for the first time noticed the vacant, solitary appearance of the Fjord.
Some object was missing; he realized what it was immediately--the
English yacht _Eulalie_ was gone from her point of anchorage.

"Dear me!" said Mr. Dyceworthy, half aloud, "what a very sudden
departure! I wonder, now, if those young men have gone for good, or
whether they are coming back again? Pleasant fellows, very pleasant!
flippant, perhaps, but pleasant."

And he smiled benevolently. He had no remembrance of what had occurred,
after he had emptied young Macfarlane's flask of Glenlivet; he had no
idea that he had been almost carried from his garden into his parlor,
and there flung on the sofa and left to sleep off the effects of his
strong tipple; least of all did he dream that he had betrayed any of his
intentions towards Thelma Gueldmar, or given his religious opinions with
such free and undisguised candor. Blissfully ignorant on these points,
he resumed his refractory oars, and after nearly an hour of laborious
effort, succeeded at last in reaching his destination. Arrived at the
little pier, he fastened up his boat, and with the lofty air of a
thoroughly moral man, he walked deliberately up to the door of the
_bonde's_ house. Contrary to custom, it was closed, and the place seemed
strangely silent and deserted. The afternoon heat was so great that the
song-birds were hushed, and in hiding under the cool green leaves,--the
clambering roses round the porch hung down their bright heads for sheer
faintness,--and the only sounds to be heard were the subdued coo-cooing
of the doves on the roof and the soft trickling rush of a little
mountain stream that flowed through the grounds. Some what surprised,
though not abashed, at the evident "not-at-home" look of the farm-house,
Mr. Dyceworthy rapped loudly at the rough oaken door with his knuckles,
there being no such modern convenience as a bell or a knocker. He waited
sometime before he was answered, repeating his summons violently at
frequent intervals, and swearing irreligiously under his breath as he
did so. But at last the door was flung sharply open, and the
tangle-haired, rosy-cheeked Britta confronted him with an aspect which
was by no means encouraging or polite. Her round blue eyes sparkled
saucily, and she placed her bare, plump, red arms, wet with recent
soapsuds, akimbo on her sturdy little hips, with an air that was
decidedly impertinent.

"Well, what do you want?" she demanded with rude abruptness.

Mr. Dyceworthy regarded her in speechless dignity. Vouchsafing no reply,
he attempted to pass her and enter the house. But Britta settled her
arms more defiantly than ever, and her voice had a sharper ring as she
said--

"It's no use your coming in! There's no one here but me. The master has
gone out for the day."

"Young woman," returned Mr. Dyceworthy with polite severity, "I regret
to see that your manners stand in sore need of improvement. Your
master's absence is of no importance to me. It is with the Froeken Thelma
I desire to speak."

Britta laughed and tossed her rough brown curls back from her forehead.
Mischievous dimples came and went at the corners of her
mouth--indications of suppressed fun.

"The Froeken is out too," she said demurely. "It's time she had a little
amusement; and the gentlemen treat her as if she were a queen!"

Mr. Dyceworthy started, and his red visage became a trifle paler.

"Gentlemen? What gentlemen?" he demanded with some impatience.

Britta's inward delight evidently increased.

"The gentlemen from the yacht, of course," she said. "What other
_gentlemen_ are there?" This with a contemptuous up-and-down sort of
look at the Lutheran minister's portly form. "Sir Philip Errington was
here with his friend yesterday evening and stayed a long time--and today
a fine boat with four oars came to fetch the master and Froeken Thelma,
and they are all gone for a sail to the Kaa Fjord or some other place
near here--I cannot remember the name. And I am SO glad!" went on
Britta, clasping her plump hands in ecstasy. "They are the grandest,
handsomest _Herren_ I have ever seen, and one can tell they think
wonders of the Froeken--nothing is too good for her!"

Mr. Dyceworthy's face was the picture of dismay. This was a new turn to
the course of events, and one, more over, that he had never once
contemplated. Britta watched him amusedly.

"Will you leave any message for them when they return?" she asked.

"No," said the minister dubiously. "Yet, stay; yes! I will! Tell the
Froeken that I have found something which belongs to her, and that when
she wishes to have it, I will myself bring it."

Britta looked cross. "If it is hers you have no business to keep it,"
she said brusquely. "Why not leave it,--whatever it is,--with me?"

Mr. Dyceworthy regarded her with a bland and lofty air.

"I trust no concerns of mine or hers to the keeping of a paid domestic,"
he said. "A domestic, moreover, who deserts the ways of her own
people,--who hath dealings with the dwellers in darkness,--who even
bringeth herself to forget much of her own native tongue, and who
devoteth herself to--"

What he would have said was uncertain, as at that moment he was nearly
thrown down by a something that slipped agilely between his legs,
pinching each fat calf as it passed--a something that looked like a
ball, but proved to be a human creature--no other than the crazy Sigurd,
who, after accomplishing his uncouth gambol successfully, stood up,
shaking back his streaming fair locks and laughing wildly.

"Ha, ha!" he exclaimed. "That was good; that was clever! If I had upset
you now, you would have said your prayers backward! What are you here
for? This is no place for you! They are all gone out of it. _She_ has
gone--all the world is empty! There is nothing any where but air, air,
air!--no birds, no flowers, no trees, no sunshine! All gone with her on
the sparkling, singing water!" and he swung his arms round violently,
and snapped his fingers in the minister's face. "What an ugly man your
are!" he exclaimed with refreshing candor. "I think you are uglier than
I am! You are straight,--but you are like a load of peat--heavy and
barren and fit to burn. Now, I--I am the crooked bough of a tree, but I
have bright leaves where a bird hides and sings all day! You--you have
no song, no foliage; only ugly and barren and fit to burn!" He laughed
heartily, and, catching sight of Britta, where she stood in the doorway
entirely unconcerned at his eccentric behavior, he went up to her and
took hold of the corner of her apron. "Take me in, Britta dear--pretty
Britta!" he said coaxingly. "Sigurd is hungry! Britta, sweet little
Britta,--come and talk to me and sing! Good-bye, fat man!" he added
suddenly, turning round once more on Dyceworthy. "You will never
overtake the big ship that has gone away with Thelma over the water.
Thelma will come back,--yes! . . .  but one day she will go never to come
back." He dropped his voice to a mysterious whisper. "Last night I saw a
little spirit come out of a rose,--he carried a tiny golden hammer and
nail, and a ball of cord like a rolled-up sunbeam. He flew away so
quickly I could not follow him; but I know where he went! He fastened
the nail in the heart of Thelma, deeply, so that the little drops of
blood flowed,--but she felt no pain; and then he tied the golden cord to
the nail and left her, carrying the other end of the string with him--to
whom? Some other heart must be pierced! Whose heart?" Sigurd looked
infinitely cunning as well as melancholy, and sighed deeply.

The Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy was impatient and disgusted.

"It is a pity," he said with an air of solemn patience, "that this
hapless creature, accursed of God and man, is not placed in some proper
abode suitable to the treatment of his affliction. You, Britta, as the
favored servant of a--a--well, let us say, of a peculiar mistress,
should persuade her to send this--this--person away, lest his vagaries
become harmful."

Britta glanced very kindly at Sigurd, who still held her apron with the
air of a trustful child.

"He's no more harmful than you are," she said promptly, in answer to the
minister's remark. "He's a good fellow and if he talks strangely he can
make himself useful,--which is more than can be said of certain people.
He can saw and chop the wood, make hay, feed the cattle, pull a strong
oar, and sweep and keep the garden,--can't you, Sigurd?" She laid her
hand on Sigurd's shoulder, and he nodded his head emphatically, as she
enumerated his different talents. "And as for climbing,--he can guide
you anywhere over the hills, or up the streams to the big waterfalls--no
one better. And if you mean by peculiar,--that my mistress is different
to other people, why, I know she is, and am glad of it,--at any rate,
she's a great deal too kind-hearted to shut this poor boy up in a house
for madmen! He'd die if he couldn't have the fresh air." She paused, out
of breath with her rapid utterance, and Mr. Dyceworthy held up his hands
in dignified astonishment.

"You talk too glibly, young woman," he said. "It is necessary that I
should instruct you without loss of time, as to how you should be
sparing of your words in the presence of your superiors and betters--"

Bang! The door was closed with a decision that sent a sharp echo through
the silent, heated air, and Mr. Dyceworthy was left to contemplate it at
his leisure. Full of wrath, he was about to knock peremptorily and
insist that it should be re-opened; but on second thoughts he decided
that it was beneath his dignity to argue with a servant, much less with
a declared lunatic like Sigurd,--so he made the best of his way back to
his boat, thinking gloomily of the hard labor awaiting him in the long
pull back to Bosekop.

Other thoughts, too, tortured and harrassed his brain, and as he again
took the oars and plied them wearily through the water, he was in an
exceedingly unchristian humor. Though a specious hypocrite, he was no
fool. He knew the ways of men and women, and he thoroughly realized the
present position of affairs. He was quite aware of Thelma Gueldmar's
exceptional beauty,--and he felt pretty certain that no man could look
upon her without admiration. But up to this time, she had been, as it
were, secluded from all eyes,--a few haymakers and fishermen were the
only persons of the male sex who had ever been within the precincts of
Olaf Gueldmar's dwelling, with the exception of himself,
Dyceworthy,--who, being armed with a letter of introduction from the
actual minister of Bosekop, whose place, he, for the present, filled,
had intruded his company frequently and persistently on the _bonde_ and
his daughter, though he knew himself to be entirely unwelcome. He had
gathered together as much as he could, all the scraps of information
concerning them; how Olaf Gueldmar was credited with having made away
with his wife by foul means; how nobody even knew where his wife had
come from; how Thelma had been mysteriously educated, and had learned
strange things concerning foreign lands, which no one else in the place
understood anything about; how she was reputed to be a witch, and was
believed to have cast her spells on the unhappy Sigurd, to the
destruction of his reason,--and how nobody could tell where Sigurd
himself had come from.

All this Mr. Dyceworthy had heard with much interest, and as the sensual
part of his nature was always more or less predominant, he had resolved
in his own mind that here was a field of action suitable to his
abilities. To tame and break the evil spirit in the reputed witch; to
convert her to the holy and edifying Lutheran faith; to save her soul
for the Lord, and take her beautiful body for himself; these were Mr.
Dyceworthy's laudable ambitions. There was no rival to oppose him, and
he had plenty of time to mature his plans. So he had thought. He had not
bargained for the appearance of Sir Philip Bruce Errington on the
scene,--a man, young, handsome, and well-bred, with vast wealth to back
up his pretensions, should he make any.

"How did he find her out?" thought the Reverend Charles, as he dolefully
pulled his craft along. "And that brutal pagan Gueldmar, too, who
pretends he cannot endure strangers!"

And as he meditated, a flush of righteous indignation crimsoned his
flabby features.

"Let her take care," he half muttered, with a smile that was not
pleasant; "let her take care! There are more ways than one to bring down
her pride! Sir Philip Errington must be too rich and popular in his own
country to think of wishing to marry a girl who is only a farmer's
daughter after all. He may trifle with her; yes! . . . and he will help
me by so doing. The more mud on her name, the better for me; the more
disgrace, the more need of rescue, and the more grateful she will have
to be. Just a word to Ulrika,--and the scandal will spread. Patience,
patience!"

And somewhat cheered by his own reflections, though still wearing an air
of offended dignity, he rowed on, glancing up every now and then to see
if the _Eulalie_ had returned, but her place was still empty.

Meanwhile, as he thought and planned, other thoughts and plans were
being discussed at a meeting which was held in a little ruined stone
hut, situated behind some trees on a dreary hill just outside Bosekop.
It was a miserable place, barren of foliage,--the ground was dry and
yellow, and the hut itself looked as if it had been struck by lightning.
The friends, whose taste had led them to select this dilapidated
dwelling as a place of conference, were two in number, both women,--one
of them no other than the minister's servant, the drear-faced Ulrika.
She was crouched on the earth-floor in an attitude of utter abasement,
at the feet of her companion,--an aged dame of tall and imposing
appearance, who, standing erect, looked down upon her with an air of
mingled contempt and malevolence. The hut was rather dark, for the roof
was not sufficiently destroyed to have the advantage of being open to
the sky. The sunlight fell through holes of different shapes and
sizes,--one specially bright patch of radiance illumining the stately
form, and strongly marked, though withered features of the elder woman,
whose eyes, deeply sunken in her head, glittered with a hawk-like and
evil lustre, as they rested on the prostrate figure before her. When she
spoke, her accents were harsh and commanding.

"How long?" she said, "how long must I wait? How long must I watch the
work of Satan in the land? The fields are barren and will not bring
forth; the curse of bitter poverty is upon us all: and only he, the
pagan Gueldmar, prospers and gathers in harvest, while all around him
starve! Do I not know the devil's work when I see it,--I, the chosen
servant of the Lord?" And she struck a tall staff she held violently
into the ground to emphasize her words. "Am I not left deserted in my
age? The child Britta,--sole daughter of my sole daughter,--is she not
stolen, and kept from me? Has not her heart been utterly turned away
from mine? All through that vile witch,--accursed of God and man! She it
is who casts the blight on our land; she it is who makes the hands and
hearts of our men heavy and careless, so that even luck has left the
fishing; and yet you hesitate,--you delay, you will not fulfill your
promise! I tell you, there are those in Bosekop who, at my bidding,
would cast her naked into the Fjord, leave her there, to sink or swim
according to her nature!"

"I know," murmured Ulrika humbly, raising herself slightly from her
kneeling posture; "I know it well! . . . . but, good Lovisa, be patient!
I work for the best! Mr. Dyceworthy will do more for us than we can do
for ourselves; he is wise and cautious--"

Lovisa interrupted her with a fierce gesture. "Fool!" she cried. "What
need of caution? A witch is a witch, burn her, drown her! There is no
other remedy! But two days since, the child of my neighbor Engla passed
her on the Fjord; and now the boy has sickened of some strange disease,
and 'tis said he will die. Again, the drove of cattle owned by Hildmar
Bjorn were herded home when she passed by. Now they are seized by the
murrain plague! Tell your good saint Dyceworthy these things; if he can
find no cure, _I_ can,--and _will_!"

Ulrika shuddered slightly as she rose from the ground and stood erect,
drawing her shawl closely about her.

"You hate her so much, Lovisa?" she asked, almost timidly.

Lovisa's face darkened, and her yellow, claw-like hand closed round her
strong staff in a cruel and threatening manner.

"Hate her!" she muttered, "I have hated her ever since she was born! I
hated her mother before her! A nest of devils, every one of them; and
the curse will always be upon us while they dwell here."

She paused and looked at Ulrika steadily.

"Remember!" she said, with an evil leer on her lips, "I hold a secret of
yours that is worth the keeping! I give you two weeks more; within that
time you must act! Destroy the witch,--bring back to me my grandchild
Britta, or else--it will be _my_ turn!"

And she laughed silently. Ulrika's face grew paler, and the hand that
grasped the folds of her shawl trembled violently. She made an effort,
however, to appear composed, as she answered--"I have sworn to obey you,
Lovisa,--and I will. But tell me one thing--how do you know that Thelma
Gueldmar is indeed a witch?"

"How do I know?" almost yelled Lovisa. "Have I lived all these years for
nothing? Look at her! Am _I_ like her? Are _you_ like her? Are any of
the honest women of the neighborhood like her? Meet her on the hills
with knives and pins,--prick her, and see if the blood will flow! I
swear it will not--not one drop! Her skin is too white; there is no
blood in those veins--only fire! Look at the pink in her cheeks,--the
transparency of her flesh,--the glittering light in her eyes, the gold
of her hair, it is all devil's work, it is not human, it is not natural!
I have watched her,--I used to watch her mother, and curse her every
time I saw her--ay! curse her till I was breathless with cursing--"

She stopped abruptly. Ulrika gazed at her with as much wonder as her
plain, heavy face was capable of expressing. Lovisa saw the look and
smiled darkly.

"One would think _you_ had never known what love is!" she said, with a
sort of grim satire in her tone. "Yet even your dull soul was on fire
once! But I--when I was young, I had beauty such as you never had, and I
loved--Olaf Gueldmar."

Ulrika uttered an exclamation of astonishment. "You! and yet you hate
him now?"

Lovisa raised her hand with an imperious gesture.

"I have grown hate like a flower in my breast," she said, with a sort of
stern impressiveness. "I have fostered it year after year, and now,--it
has grown too strong for me! When Olaf Gueldmar was young he told me I
was fair; once he kissed my cheek at parting! For those words,--for that
kiss,--I loved him then--for the same things I hate him now! When I know
he had married, I cursed him; on the day of my own marriage with a man I
despised, I cursed him! I have followed him and all his surroundings
with more curses than there are hours in the day! I have had some little
revenge--yes!"--and she laughed grimly--"but I want more! For Britta has
been caught by his daughter's evil spell. Britta is mine, and I must
have her back. Understand me well!--do what you have to do without
delay! Surely it is an easy thing to ruin a woman!"

Ulrika stood as though absorbed in meditation, and said nothing for some
moments. At last she murmured as though to herself--

"Mr. Dyceworthy could do much--if--"

"Ask him, then," said Lovisa imperatively. "Tell him the village is in
fear of her. Tell him that if he will do nothing _we_ will. And if all
fails, come to me again; and remember! . . . I shall not only act,--I
shall _speak_!"

And emphasizing the last word as a sort of threat, she turned and strode
out of the hut.

Ulrika followed more slowly, taking a different direction to that in
which her late companion was seen rapidly disappearing. On returning to
the minister's dwelling, she found that Mr. Dyceworthy had not yet come
back from his boating excursion. She gave no explanation of her absence
to her two fellow-servants, but went straight up to her own room--a bare
attic in the roof--where she deliberately took off her dress and bared
her shoulders and breast. Then she knelt down on the rough boards, and
clasping her hands, began to writhe and wrestle as though she were
seized with a sudden convulsion. She groaned and tortured the tears from
her eyes; she pinched her own flesh till it was black and blue, and
scratched it with her nails till it bled,--and she prayed inaudibly, but
with evident desperation. Sometimes her gestures were frantic, sometimes
appealing; but she made no noise that was loud enough to attract
attention from any of the dwellers in the house. Her stolid features
were contorted with anguish,--and had she been an erring nun of the
creed she held in such bitter abhorrence, who, for some untold crime,
endured a self-imposed penance, she could not have punished her own
flesh much more severely.

She remained some quarter of an hour or twenty minutes thus; then rising
from her knees, she wiped the tears from her eyes and re-clothed
herself,--and with her usual calm, immovable aspect--though smarting
from the injuries she had inflicted on herself--she descended to the
kitchen, there to prepare Mr. Dyceworthy's tea with all the punctilious
care and nicety befitting the meal of so good a man and so perfect a
saint.




CHAPTER X.

   "She believed that by dealing nobly with all, all would show
   themselves noble; so that whatsoever she did became her."
                                                           HAFIZ.


As the afternoon lengthened, and the sun lowered his glittering shield
towards that part of the horizon where he rested a brief while without
setting, the _Eulalie_,--her white sails spread to the cool, refreshing
breeze,--swept gracefully and swiftly back to her old place on the
Fjord, and her anchor dropped with musical clank and splash, just as Mr.
Dyceworthy entered his house, fatigued, perspiring, and ill-tempered at
the non-success of his day. All on board the yacht were at dinner--a
dinner of the most tasteful and elegant description, such as Sir Philip
Errington well knew how to order and superintend, and Thelma, leaning
against the violet velvet cushions that were piled behind her for her
greater ease, looked,--as she indeed was,--the veritable queen of the
feast. Macfarlane and Duprez had been rendered astonished and bashful by
her excessive beauty. From the moment she came on board with her father,
clad in her simple white gown, with a deep crimson hood drawn over her
fair hair, and tied under her rounded chin, she had taken them all
captive--they were her abject slaves in heart, though they put on very
creditable airs of manly independence and nonchalance. Each man in his
different way strove to amuse or interest her, except, strange to say,
Errington himself, who, though deeply courteous to her, kept somewhat in
the background and appeared more anxious to render himself agreeable to
old Olaf Gueldmar, than to win the good graces of his lovely daughter.
The girl was delighted with everything on board the yacht,--she admired
its elegance and luxury with child-like enthusiasm; she gloried in the
speed with which its glittering prow cleaved the waters; she clapped her
hands at the hiss of the white foam as it split into a creaming pathway
for the rushing vessel; and she was so unaffected and graceful in all
her actions and attitudes, that the slow blood of the cautious
Macfarlane began to warm up by degrees to a most unwonted heat of
admiration. When she had first arrived, Errington, in receiving her, had
seriously apologized for not having some lady to meet her, but she
seemed not to understand his meaning. Her naive smile and frankly
uplifted eyes put all his suddenly conceived notions of social stiffness
to flight.

"Why should a lady come?" she asked sweetly. "It is not necessary? . . ."

"Of course it isn't!" said Lorimer promptly and delightedly. "I am sure
we shall be able to amuse you, Miss Gueldmar."

"Oh,--for that!" she replied, with a little shrug that had something
French about it, "I amuse myself always! I am amused now,--you must not
trouble yourselves!"

As she was introduced to Duprez and Macfarlane, she gave them each a
quaint, sweeping curtsy, which had the effect of making them feel the
most ungainly lumbersome fellows on the face of the earth. Macfarlane
grew secretly enraged at the length of his legs,--while Pierre Duprez,
though his bow was entirely Parisian, decided in his own mind that it
was jerky, and not good style. She was perfectly unembarrassed with all
the young men; she laughed at their jokes, and turned her glorious eyes
full on them with the unabashed sweetness of innocence; she listened to
the accounts they gave her of their fishing and climbing excursions with
the most eager interest,--and in her turn, she told them of fresh nooks
and streams and waterfalls, of which they had never even heard the
names. Not only were they enchanted with her, but they were thoroughly
delighted with her father, Olaf Gueldmar. The sturdy old pagan was in the
best of humors,--and seemed determined to be pleased with
everything,--he told good stories,--and laughed that rollicking, jovial
laugh of his with such unforced heartiness that it was impossible to be
dull in his company,--and not one of Errington's companions gave a
thought to the reports concerning him and his daughter, which had been
so gratuitously related by Mr. Dyceworthy.

They had had a glorious day's sail, piloted by Valdemar Svensen, whose
astonishment at seeing the Gueldmars on board the _Eulalie_ was depicted
in his face, but who prudently forebore from making any remarks thereon.
The _bonde_ hailed him good-humoredly as an old acquaintance,--much in
the tone of a master addressing a servant,--and Thelma smiled kindly at
him,--but the boundary line between superior and inferior was in this
case very strongly marked, and neither side showed any intention of
overstepping it. In the course of the day, Duprez had accidentally
lapsed into French, whereupon to his surprise Thelma had answered him in
the same tongue,--though with a different and much softer pronunciation.
Her "_bien zoli_!" had the mellifluous sweetness of the Provencal
dialect, and on his eagerly questioning her, he learned that she had
received her education in a large convent at Arles, where she had
learned French from the nuns. Her father overheard her talking of her
school-days, and he added--

"Yes, I sent my girl away for her education, though I know the teaching
is good in Christiania. Yet it did not seem good enough for her.
Besides, your modern 'higher education' is not the thing for a
woman,--it is too heavy and commonplace. Thelma knows nothing about
mathematics or algebra. She can sing and read and write,--and, what is
more, she can spin and sew; but even these things were not the first
consideration with me. I wanted her disposition trained, and her bodily
health attended to. I said to those good women at Arles--'Look
here,--here's a child for you! I don't care how much or how little she
knows about accomplishments. I want her to be sound and sweet from head
to heel--a clean mind in a wholesome body. Teach her self-respect, and
make her prefer death to a lie. Show her the curse of a shrewish temper,
and the blessing of cheerfulness. That will satisfy me!' I dare say, now
I come to think of it, those nuns thought me an odd customer; but, at
any rate, they seemed to understand me. Thelma was very happy with them,
and considering all things"--the old man's eyes twinkled fondly--"she
hasn't turned out so badly!"

They laughed,--and Thelma blushed as Errington's dreamy eyes rested on
her with a look, which, though he was unconscious of it, spoke
passionate admiration. The day passed too quickly with them all,--and
now, as they sat at dinner in the richly ornamented saloon, there was
not one among them who could contemplate without reluctance the
approaching break-up of so pleasant a party. Dessert was served, and as
Thelma toyed with the fruit on her plate and sipped her glass of
champagne, her face grew serious and absorbed,--even sad,--and she
scarcely seemed to hear the merry chatter of tongues around her, till
Errington's voice asking a question of her father roused her into swift
attention.

"Do you know any one of the name of Sigurd?" he was saying, "a poor
fellow whose wits are in heaven let us hope,--for they certainly are not
on earth."

Olaf Gueldmar's fine face softened with pity, and he replied--

"Sigurd? Have you met him then? Ah, poor boy, his is a sad fate! He has
wit enough, but it works wrongly; the brain is there, but 'tis twisted.
Yes, we know Sigurd well enough--his home is with us in default of a
better. Ay, ay! we snatched him from death--perhaps unwisely,--yet he
has a good heart, and finds pleasure in his life."

"He is a kind of poet in his own way," went on Errington, watching
Thelma as she listened intently to their conversation. "Do you know he
actually visited me on board here last night and begged me to go away
from the Altenfjord altogether? He seemed afraid of me, as if he thought
I meant to do him some harm."

"How strange!" murmured Thelma. "Sigurd never speaks to visitors,--he is
too shy. I cannot understand his motive!"

"Ah, my dear!" sighed her father. "Has he any motive at all? . . . and
does he ever understand himself? His fancies change with every shifting
breeze! I will tell you," he continued, addressing himself to Errington,
"how he came to be, as it were, a bit of our home. Just before Thelma
was born, I was walking with my wife one day on the shore, when we both
caught sight of something bumping against our little pier, like a large
box or basket. I managed to get hold of it with a boat-hook and drag it
in; it was a sort of creel such as is used to pack fish in, and in it
was the naked body of a half-drowned child. It was an ugly little
creature--a newly born infant deformity--and on its chest there was a
horrible scar in the shape of a cross, as though it had been gashed
deeply with a pen-knife. I thought it was dead, and was for throwing it
back into the Fjord, but my wife,--a tender-hearted angel--took the poor
wretched little wet body in her arms, and found that it breathed. She
warmed it, dried it, and wrapped it in her shawl,--and after awhile the
tiny monster opened its eyes and stared at her. Well! . . . somehow,
neither of us could forget the look it gave us,--such a solemn, warning,
pitiful, appealing sort of expression! There was no resisting it,--so we
took the foundling and did the best we could for him. We gave him the
name of Sigurd,--and when Thelma was born, the two babies used to play
together all day, and we never noticed anything wrong with the boy,
except his natural deformity, till he was about ten or twelve years old.
Then we saw to our sorrow that the gods had chosen to play havoc with
his wits. However, we humored him tenderly, and he was always
manageable. Poor Sigurd! He adored my wife; I have known him listen for
hours to catch the sound of her footstep; he would actually deck the
threshold with flowers in the morning that she might tread on them as
she passed by." The old bonds sighed and rubbed his hand across his eyes
with a gesture half of pain, half of impatience--"And now he is Thelma's
slave,--a regular servant to her. She can manage him best of us all,--he
is as docile as a lamb, and will do anything she tells him."

"I am not surprised at that," said the gallant Duprez; "there is reason
in such obedience!"

Thelma looked at him inquiringly, ignoring the implied compliment.

"You think so?" she said simply "I am glad! I always hope that he will
one day be well in mind,--and every little sign of reason in him is
pleasant to me."

Duprez was silent. It was evidently no use making even an attempt at
flattering this strange girl; surely she must be dense not to understand
compliments that most other women compel from the lips of men as their
right? He was confused--his Paris breeding was no use to him--in fact he
had been at a loss all day, and his conversation had, even to himself,
seemed particularly shallow and frothy. This Mademoiselle Gueldmar, as he
called her, was by no means stupid--she was not a mere moving statue of
lovely flesh and perfect color whose outward beauty was her only
recommendation,--she was, on the contrary, of a most superior
intelligence,--she had read much and thought more,--and the dignified
elegance of her manner, and bearing would have done honor to a queen.
After all, thought Duprez musingly, the social creeds of Paris _might_
be wrong--it was just possible! There might be women who were
womanly,--there might be beautiful girls who were neither vain nor
frivolous,--there might even be creatures of the feminine sex, besides
whom a trained Parisian coquette would seem nothing more than a painted
fiend of the neuter gender. These were new and startling considerations
to the feather-light mind of the Frenchman,--and unconsciously his fancy
began to busy itself with the old romantic histories of the ancient
French chivalry, when faith, and love, and loyalty, kept white the
lilies of France, and the stately courtesy and unflinching pride of the
_ancien regime_ made its name honored throughout the world. An odd
direction indeed for Pierre Duprez's reflection to wander in--he, who
never reflected on either past or future, but was content to fritter
away the present as pleasantly as might be--and the only reason to which
his unusually serious reverie could be attributed was the presence of
Thelma. She certainly had a strange influence on them all, though she
herself was not aware of it,--and not only Errington, but each one of
his companions had been deeply considering during the day, that
notwithstanding the unheroic tendency of modern living, life itself
might be turned to good and even noble account, if only an effort were
made in the right direction.

Such was the compelling effect of Thelma's stainless mind reflected in
her pure face, on the different dispositions of all the young men; and
she, perfectly unconscious of it, smiled at them, and conversed
gaily,--little knowing as she talked, in her own sweet and unaffected
way, that the most profound resolutions were being formed, and the most
noble and unselfish deeds, were being planned in the souls of her
listeners,--all forsooth! because one fair, innocent woman had, in the
clear, grave glances of her wondrous sea-blue eyes, suddenly made them
aware of their own utter unworthiness. Macfarlane, meditatively watching
the girl from under his pale eyelashes, thought of Mr. Dyceworthy's
matrimonial pretensions, with a humorous smile hovering on his thin
lips.

"Ma certes! the fellow has an unco' gude opeenion o' himself," he mused.
"He might as well offer his hand in marriage to the Queen while he's
aboot it,--he wad hae just as muckle chance o' acceptance."

Meanwhile, Errington, having learned all he wished to know concerning
Sigurd, was skillfully drawing out old Olaf Gueldmar, and getting him to
give his ideas on things in general, a task in which Lorimer joined.

"So you don't think we're making any progress nowadays?" inquired the
latter with an appearance of interest, and a lazy amusement in his blue
eyes as he put the question.

"Progress!" exclaimed Gueldmar. "Not a bit of it! It is all a going
backward; it may not seem apparent, but it is so. England, for instance,
is losing the great place she once held in the world's history,--and
these things always happen to all nations when money becomes more
precious to the souls of the people than honesty and honor. I take the
universal wide-spread greed of gain to be one of the worst signs of the
times,--the forewarning of some great upheaval and disaster, the effects
of which no human mind can calculate. I am told that America is destined
to be the dominating power of the future,--but I doubt it! Its politics
are too corrupt,--its people live too fast, and burn their candle at
both ends, which is unnatural and most unwholesome; moreover, it is
almost destitute of Art in its highest forms,--and is not its confessed
watchward 'the almighty Dollar?' And such a country as that expects to
arrogate to itself the absolute sway of the world? I tell you, _no_--ten
thousand times _no_! It is destitute of nearly everything that has made
nations great and all-powerful in historic annals,--and my belief is
that what, has been, will be again,--and that what has never been, will
never be."

"You mean by that, I suppose, that there is no possibility of doing
anything new,--no way of branching out in some, better and untried
direction?" asked Errington.

Olaf Gueldmar shook his head emphatically. "You can't do it," he said
decisively. "Everything in every way has been begun and completed and
then forgotten over and over in this world,--to be begun and completed
and forgotten again, and so on to the end of the chapter. No one nation
is better than another in this respect,--there is,--there can be nothing
new. Norway, for example, has had its day; whether it will ever have
another I know not,--at any rate, I shall not live to see it. And yet,
what a past!--" He broke off and his eyes grew meditative.

Lorimer looked at him. "You would have been a Viking, Mr. Gueldmar, had
you lived in the old days," he said with a smile.

"I should, indeed!" returned the old man, with an unconsciously haughty
gesture of his head; "and no better fate could have befallen me! To sail
the seas in hot pursuit of one's enemies, or in search of further
conquest,--to feel the very wind and sun beating up the blood in one's
veins,--to live the life of a _man_--a true man! . . . in all the pride
and worth of strength, and invincible vigor!--how much better than the
puling, feeble, sickly existence, led by the majority of men to-day! I
dwell apart from them as much as I can,--I steep my mind and body in the
joys of Nature, and the free fresh air,--but often I feel that the old
days of the heroes must have been best,--when Gorm the Bold and the
fierce Siegfried seized Paris, and stabled their horses in the chapel
where Charlemagne lay buried!"

Pierre Duprez looked up with a faint smile. "Ah, _pardon_! But that was
surely a very long time ago!"

"True!" said Gueldmar quietly. "And no doubt you will not believe the
story at this distance of years. But the day is coming when people will
look back on the little chronicle of your Empire,--your commune,--your
republic, all your little affairs, and will say, 'Surely these things
are myths; they occurred--if they occurred at all,--a very long time
ago!"

"Monsieur is a philosopher!" said Duprez, with a good-humored gesture;
"I would not presume to contradict him."

"You see, my lad," went on Gueldmar more gently, "there is much in our
ancient Norwegian history that is forgotten or ignored by students of
to-day. The travellers that come hither come to see the glories of our
glaciers and fjords,--but they think little or nothing of the vanished
tribe of heroes who once possessed the land. If you know your Greek
history, you must have heard of Pythias, who lived three hundred and
fifty-six years before Christ, and who was taken captive by a band of
Norseman and carried away to see 'the place where the sun slept in
winter.' Most probably he came to this very spot, the Altenfjord,--at
any rate the ancient Greeks had good words to say for the 'Outside
Northwinders,' as they called us Norwegians, for they reported us to be
'persons living in peace with their gods and themselves.' Again, one of
the oldest tribes in the world came among us in times past,--the
Phoenicians,--there are traces among us still of their customs and
manners. Yes! we have a great deal to look back upon with pride as well
as sorrow,--and much as I hear of the wonders of the New World, the
marvels and the go-ahead speed of American manners and civilization,--I
would rather be a Norseman than a Yankee." And he laughed.

"There's more dignity in the name, at any rate," said Lorimer. "But I
say, Mr. Gueldmar, you are 'up' in history much better than I am. The
annals of my country were grounded into my tender soul early in life,
but I have a very hazy recollection of them. I know Henry VIII. got rid
of his wives expeditiously and conveniently,--and I distinctly remember
that Queen Elizabeth wore the first pair of silk stockings, and danced a
kind of jig in them with the Earl of Leicester; these things interested
me at the time,--and they now seen firmly impressed on my memory to the
exclusion of everything else that might possibly be more important."

Old Gueldmar smiled, but Thelma laughed outright and her eyes danced
mirthfully.

"Ah, I do know you now!" she said, nodding her fair head at him wisely.
"You are not anything that is to be believed! So I shall well understand
you,--that is, you are a very great scholar,--but that it pleases you to
pretend you are a dunce!"

Lorimer's face brightened into a very gentle and winning softness as he
looked at her.

"I assure you, Miss Gueldmar, I am not pretending in the least. I'm no
scholar. Errington is, if you like! If it hadn't been for him, I should
never have learned anything at Oxford at all. He used to leap over a
difficulty while I was looking at it. Phil, don't interrupt me,--you
know you did! I tell you he's up to everything: Greek, Latin, and all
the rest of it,--and, what's more, he writes well,--I believe,--though
he'll never forgive me for mentioning it,--that he has even published
some poems."

"Be quiet, George!" exclaimed Errington, with a vexed laugh. "You are
boring Miss Gueldmar to death!"

"What is _boring_?" asked Thelma gently, and then turning her eyes full
on the young Baronet, she added, "I like to hear that you will pass your
days sometimes without shooting the birds and killing the fish; it can
hurt nobody for you to write." And she smiled that dreamy pensive smile,
of hers that was so infinitely bewitching. "You must show me all your
sweet poems!"

Errington colored hotly. "They are all nonsense, Miss Gueldmar," he said
quickly. "There's nothing 'sweet' about them, I tell you frankly! All
rubbish, every line of them!"

"Then you should not write them," said Thelma quietly. "It is only a
pity and a disappointment."

"I wish every one were of your opinion," laughed Lorimer, "it would
spare us a lot of indifferent verse."

"Ah! you have the chief Skald of all the world in your land!" cried
Gueldmar, bringing his fist down with a jovial thump on the table. "He
can teach you all that you need to know."

"_Skald_?" queried Lorimer dubiously. "Oh, you mean bard. I suppose you
allude to Shakespeare?"

"I do," said the old _bonde_ enthusiastically, "he is the only glory of
your country I envy! I would give anything to prove him a Norwegian. By
Valhalla! had he but been one of the Bards of Odin, the world might have
followed the grand old creed still! If anything could ever persuade me
to be a Christian, it would be the fact that Shakespeare was one. If
England's name is rendered imperishable, it will be through the fame of
Shakespeare alone,--just as we have a kind of tenderness for degraded
modern Greece, because of Homer. Ay, ay! countries and nations are
worthless enough; it is only the great names of heroes that endure, to
teach the lesson that is never learned sufficiently,--namely, that man
and man alone is fitted to grasp the prize of immortality."

"Ye believe in immortality?" inquired Macfarlane seriously.

Gueldmar's keen eyes lighted on him with fiery impetuousness.

"Believe in it? I possess it! How can it be taken from me? As well make
a bird without wings, a tree without sap, an ocean without depths, as
expect to find a man without an immortal soul! What a question to ask?
Do _you_ not possess heaven's gift? and why should not I?"

"No offense," said Macfarlane, secretly astonished at the old _bonde's_
fervor,--for had not he, though himself intending to become a devout
minister of the Word,--had not he now and then felt a creeping doubt as
to whether, after all, there was any truth in the doctrine of another
life than this one. "I only thocht ye might have perhaps questioned the
probabeelity o't, in your own mind?"

"I never question Divine authority," replied Olaf Gueldmar, "I pity those
that do!"

"And this Divine authority?" said Duprez suddenly with a delicate
sarcastic smile, "how and where do you perceive it?"

"In the very Law that compels me to exist, young sir," said
Gueldmar,--"in the mysteries of the universe about me,--the glory of the
heavens,--the wonders of the sea! You have perhaps lived in cities all
your life, and your mind is cramped a bit. No wonder, . . . you can
hardly see the stars above the roofs of a wilderness of houses. Cities
are men's work,--the gods have never had a finger in the building of
them. Dwelling in them, I suppose you cannot help forgetting Divine
authority altogether; but here,--here among the mountains, you would
soon remember it! You should live here,--it would make a man of you!"

"And you do not consider me a man?" inquired Duprez with imperturbable
good-humor.

Gueldmar laughed. "Well, not quite!" he admitted candidly, "there's not
enough muscle about you. I confess I like to see strong fellows--fellows
fit to rule the planet on which they are placed. That's my whim!--but
you're a neat little chap enough, and I dare say you can hold your own!"

And his eyes twinkled good-temperedly as he filled himself another glass
of his host's fine Burgundy, and drank it off, while Duprez, with a
half-plaintive, half-comical shrug of resignation to Gueldmar's verdict
on his personal appearance, asked Thelma if she would favor them with a
song. She rose from her seat instantly, without any affected hesitation,
and went to the piano. She had a delicate touch, and accompanied herself
with great taste,--but her voice, full, penetrating, rich and true,--was
one of the purest and most sympathetic ever possessed by woman, and its
freshness was unspoilt by any of the varied "systems" of torture
invented by singing-masters for the ingenious destruction of the
delicate vocal organ. She sang a Norwegian love-song in the original
tongue, which might be roughly translated as follows:--

    "Lovest thou me for my beauty's sake?
         Love me not then!
     Love the victorious, glittering Sun,
     The fadeless, deathless, marvellous One!"

    "Lovest thou me for my youth's sake?
         Love me not then!
     Love the triumphant, unperishing Spring,
     Who every year new charms doth bring!"

    "Lovest thou me for treasure's sake?
         Oh, love me not then!
     Love the deep, the wonderful Sea,
     Its jewels are worthier love than me!"

    "Lovest thou me for Love's own sake?
         Ah sweet, then love me!
     More than the Sun and the Spring and the Sea,
     Is the faithful heart I will yield to thee!"

A silence greeted the close of her song. Though the young men were
ignorant of the meaning of the words still old Gueldmar translated them
for their benefit, they could feel the intensity of the passion
vibrating through her ringing tones,--and Errington sighed
involuntarily. She heard the sigh, and turned round on the music-stool
laughing.

"Are you so tired, or sad, or what is it?" she asked merrily. "It is too
melancholy a tune? And I was foolish to sing it,--because you cannot
understand the meaning of it. It is all about love,--and of course love
is always sorrowful."

"Always?" asked Lorimer, with a half-smile.

"I do not know," she said frankly, with a pretty deprecatory gesture of
her hands,--"but all books say so! It must be a great pain, and also a
great happiness. Let me think what I can sing to you now,--but perhaps
you will yourself sing?"

"Not one of us have a voice, Miss Gueldmar," said Errington. "I used to
think I had, but Lorimer discouraged my efforts."

"Men shouldn't sing," observed Lorimer; "if they only knew how awfully
ridiculous they look, standing up in dress-coats and white ties, pouring
forth inane love-ditties that nobody wants to hear, they wouldn't do it.
Only a woman looks pretty while singing."

"Ah, that is very nice!" said Thelma, with a demure smile. "Then I am
agreeable to you when I sing?"

Agreeable? This was far too tame a word--they all rose from the table
and came towards her, with many assurances of their delight and
admiration; but she put all their compliments aside with a little
gesture that was both incredulous and peremptory.

"You must not say so many things in praise of me," she said, with a
swift upward glance at Errington, where he leaned on the piano regarding
her. "It is nothing to be able to sing. It is only like the birds, but
we cannot understand the words they say, just as you cannot understand
Norwegian. Listen,--here is a little ballad you will all know," and she
played a soft prelude, while her voice, subdued to a plaintive murmur,
rippled out in the dainty verses of Sainte-Beuve--

    "Sur ma lyre, l'autre fois
         Dans un bois,
     Ma main preludait a peine;
     Une colombe descend
         En passant,
     Blanche sur le luth d'ebene"

    "Mais au lieu d'accords touchants,
         De doux chants,
     La colombe gemissante
     Me demande par pitie
         Sa moitie
     Sa moitie loin d'elle absente!"

She sang this seriously and sweetly till she came to the last three
lines, when, catching Errington's earnest gaze, her voice quivered and
her cheeks flushed. She rose from the piano as soon as she had finished,
and said to the _bonde_, who had been watching her with proud and
gratified looks--

"It is growing late, father. We must say good-bye to our friends and
return home."

"Not yet!" eagerly implored Sir Philip. "Come up on deck,--we will have
coffee there, and afterwards you shall leave us when you will."

Gueldmar acquiesced in this arrangement, before his daughter had time to
raise any objection, and they all went on deck, where a comfortable
lounging chair was placed for Thelma, facing the most gorgeous portion
of the glowing sky, which on this evening was like a moving mass of
molten gold, split asunder here and there by angry ragged-looking rifts
of crimson. The young men grouped themselves together at the prow of the
vessel in order to smoke their cigars without annoyance to Thelma. Old
Gueldmar did not smoke, but he talked,--and Errington after seeing them
all fairly absorbed in an argument on the best methods of spearing
salmon, moved quietly away to where the girl was sitting, her great
pensive eyes fixed on the burning splendors of the heavens.

"Are you warm enough there?" he asked, and there was an unconscious
tenderness in his voice as he asked the question, "or shall I fetch you
a wrap?"

She smiled. "I have my hood," she said. "It is the warmest thing I ever
wear, except, of course, in winter."

Philip looked at the hood as she drew it more closely over her head, and
thought that surely no more becoming article of apparel ever was
designed for woman's wear. He had never seen anything like it either in
color or texture,--it was of a peculiarly warm, rich crimson, like the
heart of a red damask rose, and it suited the bright hair and tender,
thoughtful eyes of its owner to perfection.

"Tell me," he said, drawing a little nearer and speaking in a lower
tone, "have you forgiven me for my rudeness the first time I saw you?"

She looked a little troubled.

"Perhaps also I was rude," she said gently. "I did not know you. I
thought--"

"You were quite right," he eagerly interrupted her. "It was very
impertinent of me to ask you for your name. I should have found it out
for myself, as I _have_ done."

And he smiled at her as he said the last words with marked emphasis. She
raised her eyes wistfully.

"And you are glad?" she asked softly and with a sort of wonder in her
accents.

"Glad to know your name? glad to know _you_! Of course! Can you ask such
a question?"

"But why?" persisted Thelma. "It is not as if you were lonely,--you have
friends already. We are nothing to you. Soon you will go away, and you
will think of the Altenfjord as a dream,--and our names will be
forgotten. That is natural!"

What a foolish rush of passion filled his heart as she spoke in those
mellow, almost plaintive accents,--what wild words leaped to his lips
and what an effort it cost him to keep them hack. The heat and
impetuosity of Romeo,--whom up to the present he had been inclined to
consider a particularly stupid youth,--was now quite comprehensible to
his mind, and he, the cool, self-possessed Englishman, was ready at that
moment to outrival Juliet's lover, in his utmost excesses of amorous
folly. In spite of his self-restraint, his voice quivered a little as he
answered her--

"I shall never forget the Altenfjord or you, Miss Gueldmar. Don't you
know there are some things that cannot be forgotten? such as a sudden
glimpse of fine scenery,--a beautiful song, or a pathetic poem?" She
bent her head in assent. "And here there is so much to remember--the
light of the midnight sun,--the glorious mountains, the loveliness of
the whole land!"

"Is it better than other countries you have seen?" asked the girl with
some interest.

"Much better!" returned Sir Philip fervently. "In fact, there is no
place like it in my opinion." He paused at the sound of her pretty
laughter.

"You are--what is it?--ecstatic!" she said mirthfully. "Tell me, have
you been to the south of France and the Pyrenees?"

"Of course I have," he replied. "I have been all over the
Continent,--travelled about it till I'm tired of it. Do you like the
south of France better than Norway?"

"No,--not so very much better," she said dubiously. "And yet a little.
It is so warm and bright there, and the people are gay. Here they are
stern and sullen. My father loves to sail the seas, and when I first
went to school at Arles, he took me a long and beautiful voyage. We went
from Christiansund to Holland, and saw all those pretty Dutch cities
with their canals and quaint bridges. Then we went through the English
Channel to Brest,--then by the Bay of Biscay to Bayonne. Bayonne seemed
to me very lovely, but we left it soon, and travelled a long way by
land, seeing all sorts of wonderful things, till we came to Arles. And
though it is such a long route, and not one for many persons to take, I
have travelled to Arles and back twice that way, so all there is
familiar to me,--and in some things I do think it better than Norway."

"What induced your father to send you so far away from him?" asked
Philip rather curiously.

The girl's eyes softened tenderly. "Ah, that is easy to understand!" she
said. "My mother came from Arles."

"She was French, then?" he exclaimed with some surprise.

"No," she answered gravely. "She was Norwegian, because her father and
mother both were of this land. She was what they call 'born sadly.' You
must not ask me any more about her, please!"

Errington apologized at once with some embarrassment, and a deeper color
than usual on his face. She looked up at him quite frankly.

"It is possible I will tell you her history some day," she said, "when
we shall know each other better. I do like to talk to you very much! I
suppose there are many Englishmen like you?"

Philip laughed. "I don't think I am at all exceptional! why do you ask?"

She shrugged her shoulders. "I have seen some of them," she said
slowly, "and they are stupid. They shoot, shoot,--fish, fish, all day,
and eat a great deal. . . ."

"My dear Miss Gueldmar, I also do all these things!" declared Errington
amusedly. "These are only our surface faults. Englishmen are the best
fellows to be found anywhere. You mustn't judge them by their athletic
sports, or their vulgar appetites. You must appeal to their hearts when
you want to know them."

"Or to their pockets, and you will know them still better!" said Thelma
almost mischievously, as she raised herself in her chair to take a cup
of coffee from the tray that was then being handed to her by the
respectful steward. "Ah, how good this is! It reminds me of our coffee
luncheon at Arles!"

Errington watched her with a half-smile, but said no more, as the others
now came up to claim their share of her company.

"I say!" said Lorimer, lazily throwing himself full length on the deck
and looking up at her, "come and see us spear a salmon to-morrow, Miss
Gueldmar. Your father is going to show us how to do it in the proper
Norse style."

"That is for men," said Thelma loftily. "Women must know nothing about
such things."

"By Jove!" and Lorimer looked profoundly astonished. "Why, Miss Gueldmar,
women are going in for everything nowadays! Hunting, shooting,
bull-fighting, duelling, horse-whipping, lecturing,--heaven knows what!
They stop at nothing--salmon-spearing is a mere trifle in the list of
modern feminine accomplishments."

Thelma smiled down upon him benignly. "You will always be the same," she
said with a sort of indulgent air. "It is your delight to say things
upside down? But you shall not make me believe that women do all these
dreadful things. Because, how is it possible? The men would not allow
them!"

Errington laughed, and Lorimer appeared stupefied with surprise.

"The men--would--not--allow them?" he repeated slowly. "Oh, Miss
Gueldmar, little do you realize the state of things at the present day!
The glamor of Viking memories clings about you still! Don't you know the
power of man has passed away, and that ladies do exactly as they like?
It is easier to control the thunderbolt than to prevent a woman having
her own way."

"All that is nonsense!" said Thelma decidedly. "Where there is a man to
rule, he _must_ rule, that is certain."

"Is that positively your opinion?" and Lorimer looked more astonished
than ever.

"It is everybody's opinion, of course!" averred Thelma. "How foolish it
would be if women did not obey men! The world would be all confusion!
Ah, you see you cannot make me think your funny thoughts; it is no use!"
And she laughed and rose from her chair, adding with a gentle persuasive
air, "Father dear, is it not time to say good-bye?"

"Truly I think it is!" returned Gueldmar, giving himself a shake like an
old lion, as he broke off a rather tedious conversation he had been
having with Macfarlane. "We shall have Sigurd coming to look for us, and
poor Britta will think we have left her too long alone. Thank you, my
lad!" this to Sir Philip, who instantly gave orders for the boat to be
lowered. "You have given us a day of thorough, wholesome enjoyment. I
hope I shall be able to return it in some way. You must let me see as
much of you as possible."

They shook hands cordially, and Errington proposed to escort them back
as far as their own pier, but this offer Gueldmar refused.

"Nonsense!" he exclaimed cheerily. "With four oarsmen to row us along,
why should we take you away from your friends? I won't hear of such a
thing! And now, regarding the great fall of Njedegorze; Mr. Macfarlane
here says you have not visited it yet. Well the best guide you can have
there is Sigurd. We'll make up a party and go when it is agreeable to
you; it is a grand sight,--well worth seeing. To-morrow we shall meet
again for the salmon-spearing,--I warrant I shall be able to make the
time pass quickly for you! How long do you think of staying here?"

"As long as possible!" answered Errington absently, his eyes wandering
to Thelma, who was just then shaking hands with his friends and bidding
them farewell.

Gueldmar laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "That means till you
are tired of the place," he said good-humoredly. "Well you shall not be
dull if I can prevent it! Good-bye, and thanks for your hospitality."

"Ah, yes!" added Thelma gently, coming up at that moment and laying her
soft hand in his. "I have been so happy all day, and it is all your
kindness! I am very grateful!"

"It is I who have cause to be grateful," said Errington hurriedly,
clasping her hand warmly, "for your company and that of your father. I
trust we shall have many more pleasant days together."

"I hope so too!" she answered simply, and then, the boat being ready,
they departed. Errington and Lorimer leaned on the deck-rails, waving
their hats and watching them disappear over the gleaming water, till the
very last glimpse of Thelma's crimson hood had vanished, and then they
turned to rejoin their companions, who were strolling up and down
smoking.

"_Belle comme un ange!_" said Duprez briefly. "In short, I doubt if the
angels are so good-looking!"

"The auld pagan's a fine scholar," added Macfarlane meditatively. "He
corrected me in a bit o' Latin."

"Did he, indeed?" And Lorimer laughed indolently. "I suppose you think
better of him now, Sandy?"

Sandy made no reply, and as Errington persisted in turning the
conversation away from the merits or demerits of their recent guests,
they soon entered on other topics. But that night, before retiring to
rest, Lorimer laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, and said quietly,
with a keen look--

"Well, old man, have you made up your mind? Have I seen the future Lady
Bruce-Errington?"

Sir Philip smiled,--then, after a brief pause, answered steadily--

"Yes, George, you have! That is,--if I can win her!"

Lorimer laughed a little and sighed. "There's no doubt about that,
Phil." And eyeing Errington's fine figure and noble features musingly,
he repeated again thoughtfully--"No doubt about that, my boy!" Then
after a pause he said, somewhat abruptly, "Time to turn in--good night!"

"Good night, old fellow!" And Errington wrung his hand warmly, and left
him to repose.

But Lorimer had rather a bad night,--he tossed and tumbled a good deal,
and had dreams,--unusual visitors with him,--and once or twice he
muttered in his sleep,--"No doubt about it--not the least in the
world--and if there were--"

But the conclusion of this sentence was inaudible.




CHAPTER XI.

    "Tu vas faire un beau reve,
     Et t'enivrer d'un plaisir dangereux.
     Sur ton chemin l'etoile qui se leve
     Longtemps encore eblouira les yeux!"
                                                       DE MUSSET.


A fortnight passed. The first excursion in the _Eulalie_ had been
followed by others of a similar kind, and Errington's acquaintance with
the Gueldmars was fast ripening into a pleasant intimacy. It had grown
customary for the young men to spend that part of the day which, in
spite of persistent sunshine, they still called evening, in the
comfortable, quaint parlor of the old farmhouse,--looking at the view
through the rose-wreathed windows,--listening to the fantastic legends
of Norway as told by Olaf Gueldmar,--or watching Thelma's picturesque
figure, as she sat pensively apart in her shadowed corner spinning. They
had fraternized with Sigurd too--that is, as far as he would permit
them--for the unhappy dwarf was uncertain of temper, and if at one hour
he were docile and yielding as a child, the next he would be found
excited and furious at some imaginary slight that he fancied had been
inflicted upon him. Sometimes, if good-humored, he would talk almost
rationally,--only allowing his fancy to play with poetical ideas
concerning the sea, the flowers, or the sunlight,--but he was far more
often sullen and silent. He would draw a low chair to Thelma's side, and
sit there with half-closed eyes and compressed lips, and none could tell
whether he listened to the conversation around him, or was utterly
indifferent to it. He had taken a notable fancy to Lorimer, but he
avoided Errington in the most marked and persistent manner. The latter
did his best to overcome this unreasonable dislike, but his efforts were
useless,--and deciding in his own mind that it was best to humor
Sigurd's vagaries, he soon let him alone, and devoted his attention more
entirely to Thelma.

One evening, after supper at the farmhouse, Lorimer, who for some time
had been watching Philip and Thelma conversing together in low tones
near the open window, rose from his seat quietly, without disturbing the
hilarity of the _bonde_, who was in the middle of a rollicking
sea-story, told for Macfarlane's entertainment,--and slipped out into
the garden, where he strolled along rather absently till he found
himself in the little close thicket of pines,--the very same spot where
he and Philip had stood on the first day of their visit thither. He
threw himself down on the soft emerald moss and lit a cigar, sighing
rather drearily as he did so.

"Upon my life," he mused, with a half-smile, "I am very nearly being a
hero,--a regular stage-martyr,--the noble creature of the piece! By
Jove, I wish I were a soldier! I'm certain I could stand the enemy's
fire better than this! Self-denial? Well, no wonder the preachers make
such a fuss about it, It's a tough, uncomfortable duty. But am I
self-denying? Not a bit of it! Look here, George Lorimer"--here he
tapped himself very vigorously on his broad chest--"don't you imagine
yourself to be either virtuous or magnanimous! If you were anything of a
man at all you would never let your feelings get the better of you,--you
would be sublimely indifferent, stoically calm,--and, as it is,--you
know what a sneaking, hang-dog state of envy you were in just now when
you came out of that room! Aren't you ashamed of yourself,--rascal?"

The inner self he thus addressed was most probably abashed by this
adjuration, for his countenance cleared a little, as though he had
received an apology from his own conscience. He puffed lazily at his
cigar, and felt somewhat soothed. Light steps below him attracted his
attention, and, looking down from the little knoll on which he lay, he
saw Thelma and Philip pass. They were walking slowly along a little
winding path that led to the orchard, which was situated at some little
distance from the house. The girl's head was bent, and Philip was
talking to her with evident eagerness. Lorimer looked after them
earnestly, and his honest eyes were full of trouble.

"God bless them both!" he murmured half aloud. "There's no harm in
saying that, any how! Dear old Phil! I wonder whether--"

What he would have said was uncertain, for at that moment he was
considerably startled by the sight of a meagre, pale face peering
through the parted pine boughs,--a face in which two wild eyes shone
with a blue-green glitter, like that of newly sharpened steel.

"Hello, Sigurd!" said Lorimer good-naturedly, as he recognized his
visitor. "What are you up to? Going to climb a tree?"

Sigurd pushed aside the branches cautiously and approached. He sat down
by Lorimer, and, taking his hand, kissed it deferentially.

"I followed you. I saw you go away to grieve alone. I came to grieve
also!" he said with a patient gentleness.

Lorimer laughed languidly. "By Jove, Sigurd, you're too clever for your
age! Think I came away to grieve, eh? Not so, my boy--came away to
smoke! There's a come-down for you! I never grieve--don't know how to do
it. What _is_ grief?"

"To love!" answered Sigurd promptly. "To see a beautiful elf with golden
wings come fluttering, fluttering gently down from the sky,--you open
your arms to catch her--so! . . . and just as you think you have her, she
leans only a little bit on one side, and falls, not into your
heart--no!--into the heart of some one else! That is grief, because,
when she has gone, no more elves come down from the sky,--for you, at
any rate,--good things may come for others,--but for _you_ the heavens
are empty!"

Lorimer was silent, looking at the speaker curiously.

"How do you get all this nonsense into your head, eh?" he inquired
kindly.

"I do not know," replied Sigurd with a sigh. "It comes! But, tell
me,"--and he smiled wistfully--"it is true, dear friend--good friend--it
is all true, is it not? For you the heavens are empty? You know it!"

Lorimer flushed hotly, and then grew strangely pale. After a pause, he
said in his usual indolent way--

"Look here, Sigurd; you're romantic! I'm not. I know nothing about elves
or empty heavens. I'm all right! Don't you bother yourself about me."

The dwarf studied his face attentively, and a smile of almost fiendish
cunning suddenly illumined his thin features. He laid his weak-looking
white hand on the young man's arm and said in a lower tone--

"I will tell you what to do. Kill him!"

The last two words were uttered with such intensity of meaning that
Lorimer positively recoiled from the accents, and the terrible look
which accompanied them.

"I say, Sigurd, this won't do," he remonstrated gravely. "You mustn't
talk about killing, you know! It's not good for you. People don't kill
each other nowadays so easily as you seem to think. It can't be done,
Sigurd! Nobody wants to do it."

"It _can_ be done!" reiterated the dwarf imperatively. "It _must_ be
done, and either you or I will do it! He shall not rob us,--he shall not
steal the treasure of the golden midnight. He shall not gather the rose
of all roses--"

"Stop!" said Lorimer suddenly. "Who are you talking about?"

"Who!" cried Sigurd excitedly. "Surely you know. Of him--that tall,
proud, grey-eyed Englishman,--your foe, your rival; the rich, cruel
Errington. . . ."

Lorimer's hand fell heavily on his shoulder, and his voice was very
stern.

"What nonsense, Sigurd! You don't know what you are talking about
to-day. Errington my foe! Good heavens! Why, he's my best friend! Do you
hear?"

Sigurd stared up at him in vacant surprise, but nodded feebly.

"Well, mind you remember it! The spirits tell lies, my boy, if they say
that he is my enemy. I would give my life to save his!"

He spoke quietly, and rose from his seat on the moss as he finished his
words, and his face had an expression that was both noble and resolute.

Sigurd still gazed upon him. "And you,--you do not love Thelma?" he
murmured.

Lorimer started, but controlled himself instantly. His frank English
eyes met the feverishly brilliant ones fixed so appealingly upon him.

"Certainly not!" he said calmly, with a serene smile. "What makes you
think of such a thing? Quite wrong, Sigurd,--the spirits have made a
mistake again! Come along,--let us join the others."

But Sigurd would not accompany him. He sprang away like a frightened
animal, in haste, and abruptly plunging into the depths of a wood that
bordered on Olaf Gueldmar's grounds, was soon lost to sight. Lorimer
looked after him in a little perplexity.

"I wonder if he ever gets dangerous?" he thought. "A fellow with such
queer notions might do some serious harm without meaning it. I'll keep
an eye on him!"

And once or twice during that same evening, he felt inclined to speak to
Errington on the subject, but no suitable opportunity presented
itself--and after a while, with his habitual indolence, he partly forgot
the circumstance.

On the following Sunday afternoon Thelma sat alone under the wide
blossom-covered porch, reading. Her father and Sigurd,--accompanied by
Errington and his friends,--had all gone for a mountain ramble,
promising to return for supper, a substantial meal which Britta was
already busy preparing. The afternoon was very warm,--one of those long,
lazy stretches of heat and brilliancy in which Nature seems to have lain
down to rest like a child tired of play, sleeping in the sunshine with
drooping flowers in her hands. The very ripple of the stream seemed
hushed, and Thelma, though her eyes were bent seriously on the book she
held, sighed once or twice heavily as though she were tired. There was a
change in the girl,--an undefinable something seemed to have passed over
her and toned down the redundant brightness of her beauty. She was
paler,--and there were darker shadows than usual under the splendor of
her eyes. Her very attitude, as she leaned her head against the dark,
fantastic carving of the porch, had a touch of listlessness and
indifference in it; her sweetly arched lips drooped with a plaintive
little line at the corners, and her whole air was indicative of fatigue,
mingled with sadness. She looked up now and then from the printed page,
and her gaze wandered over the stretch of the scented, flower-filled
garden, to the little silvery glimmer of the Fjord from whence arose,
like delicate black streaks against the sky, the slender masts of the
_Eulalie_,--and then she would resume her reading with a slight movement
of impatience.

The volume she held was Victor Hugo's "Orientales," and though her
sensitive imagination delighted in poetry as much as in sunshine, she
found it for once hard to rivet her attention as closely as she wished
to do, on the exquisite wealth of language, and glow of color, that
distinguishes the writings of the Shakespeare of France. Within the
house Britta was singing cheerily at her work, and the sound of her song
alone disturbed the silence. Two or three pale-blue butterflies danced
drowsily in and out a cluster of honeysuckle that trailed downwards,
nearly touching Thelma's shoulder, and a diminutive black kitten, with a
pink ribbon round its neck, sat gravely on the garden path, washing its
face with its tiny velvety paws, in that deliberate and precise fashion,
common to the spoiled and petted members of its class. Everything was
still and peaceful as became a Sunday afternoon,--so that when the sound
of a heavy advancing footstep disturbed the intense calm, the girl was
almost nervously startled, and rose from her seat with so much
precipitation, that the butterflies, who had possibly been considering
whether her hair might not be some new sort of sunflower, took fright
and flew far upwards, and the demure kitten scared out of its absurd
self-consciousness, scrambled hastily up the nearest little tree. The
intruder on the quietude of Gueldmar's domain was the Rev. Mr.
Dyceworthy,--and as Thelma, standing erect in the porch, beheld him
coming, her face grew stern and resolute, and her eyes flashed
disdainfully.

Ignoring the repellant, almost defiant dignity of the girl's attitude,
Mr. Dyceworthy advanced, rather out of breath and somewhat heated,--and
smiling benevolently, nodded his head by way of greeting, without
removing his hat.

"Ah, Froeken Thelma!" he observed condescendingly. "And how are you
to-day? You look remarkably well--remarkably so, indeed!" And he eyed
her with mild approval.

"I am well, I thank you," she returned quietly. "My father is not in,
Mr. Dyceworthy."

The Reverend Charles wiped his hot face, and his smile grew wider.

"What matter?" he inquired blandly. "We shall, no doubt, entertain
ourselves excellently without him! It is with you alone, Froeken, that I
am desirous to hold converse."

And, without waiting for her permission, he entered the porch, and
settled himself comfortably on the bench opposite to her, heaving a sigh
of relief as he did so. Thelma remained standing--and the Lutheran
minister's covetous eye glanced greedily over the sweeping curves of her
queenly figure, the dazzling whiteness of her slim arched throat, and
the glitter of her rich hair. She was silent--and there was something in
her manner as she confronted him that made it difficult for Mr.
Dyceworthy to speak. He hummed and hawed several times, and settled his
stiff collar once or twice as though it hurt him; finally he said with
an evident effort--

"I have found a--a--trinket of yours--a trifling toy--which, perhaps,
you would be glad to have again." And he drew carefully out of his
waistcoat pocket, a small parcel wrapped up in tissue paper, which he
undid with his fat fingers, thus displaying the little crucifix he had
kept so long in his possession. "Concerning this," he went on, holding
it up before her, "I am grievously troubled,--and would fain say a few
necessary words--"

She interrupted him, reaching out her hand for the cross as she spoke.

"That was my mother's crucifix," she said in solemn, infinitely tender
accents, with a mist as of unshed tears in her sweet blue eyes. "It was
round her neck when she died. I knew I had lost it, and was very unhappy
about it. I do thank you with all my heart for bringing it back to me!"

And the hauteur of her face relaxed, and her smile--that sudden sweet
smile of hers,--shone forth like a gleam of sunshine athwart a cloud.

Mr. Dyceworthy's breath came and went with curious rapidity. His visage
grew pale, and a clammy dew broke out upon his forehead. He took the
hand she held out,--a fair, soft hand with a pink palm like an upcurled
shell,--and laid the little cross within it, and still retaining his
hold of her, he stammeringly observed--

"Then we are friends, Froeken Thelma! . . . good friends, I hope?"

She withdrew her fingers quickly from his hot, moist clasp, and her
bright smile vanished.

"I do not see that at all!" she replied frigidly. "Friendship is very
rare. To be friends, one must have similar tastes and sympathies,--many
things which we have not,--and which we shall never have. I am slow to
call any person my friend."

Mr. Dyceworthy's small pursy mouth drew itself into a tight thin line.

"Except," he said, with a suave sneer, "except when 'any person' happens
to be a rich Englishman with a handsome face and easy manners! . . . then
you are not slow to make friends, Froeken,--on the contrary, you are
remarkably quick!"

The cold haughty stare with which the girl favored him might have frozen
a less conceited man to a pillar of ice.

"What do you mean?" she asks abruptly, and with an air of surprise.

The minister's little ferret-like eyes, drooped under their puny lids,
and he fidgeted on the seat with uncomfortable embarrassment. He
answered her in the mildest of mild voices.

"You are unlike yourself, my dear Froeken!" he said, with a soothing
gesture of one of his well-trimmed white hands. "You are generally frank
and open, but to-day I find you just a little,--well!--what shall I
say--secretive! Yes, we will call it secretive! Oh, fie!" and Mr.
Dyceworthy laughed a gentle little laugh; "you must not pretend
ignorance of what I mean! All the neighborhood is talking of you and the
gentleman you are so often seen with. Notably concerning Sir Philip
Errington,--the vile tongue of rumor is busy,--for, according to his
first plans when his yacht arrived here, he was bound for the North
Cape,--and should have gone there days ago. Truly, I think,--and there
are others who think also in the same spirit of interest for you,--that
the sooner this young man leaves our peaceful Fjord the better,--and the
less he has to do with the maidens of the district, the safer we shall
be from the risk of scandal." And he heaved a pious sigh.

Thelma turned her eyes upon him in wonderment.

"I do not understand you," she said coldly. "Why do you speak of
_others_? No others are interested in what I do? Why should they be? Why
should _you_ be? There is no need!"

Mr. Dyceworthy grew slightly excited. He felt like a runner nearing the
winning-post.

"Oh, you wrong yourself, my dear Froeken," he murmured softly, with a
sickly attempt at tenderness in his tone. "You really wrong yourself! It
is impossible,--for me at least, not to be interested in you,--even for
our dear Lord's sake. It troubles me to the inmost depths of my soul to
behold in you one of the foolish virgins whose light hath been
extinguished for lack of the saving oil,--to see you wandering as a lost
sheep in the paths of darkness and error, without a hand to rescue your
steps from the near and dreadful precipice! Ay, truly! . . . my spirit
yearneth for you as a mother for an own babe--fain would I save you from
the devices of the evil one,--fain would I--" here the minister drew out
his handkerchief and pressed it lightly to his eyes,--then, as if with
an effort overcoming his emotion, he added, with the gravity of a
butcher presenting an extortionate bill, "but first,--before my own
humble desires for your salvation--first, ere I go further in converse,
it behoveth me to enter on the Lord's business!"

Thelma bent her head slightly, with an air as though she said: "Indeed;
pray do not be long about it!" And, leaning back against the porch, she
waited somewhat impatiently.

"The image I have just restored to you," went on Mr. Dyceworthy in his
most pompous and ponderous manner, "you say belonged to your unhappy--"

"She was not unhappy," interposed the girl, calmly.

"Ay, ay!" and the minister nodded with a superior air of wisdom. "So you
imagine, so you think,--you must have been too young to judge of these
things. She died--"

"I saw her die," again she interrupted, with a musing tenderness in her
voice. "She smiled and kissed me,--then she laid her thin, white hand on
this crucifix, and, closing her eyes, she went to sleep. They told me it
was death, since then I have known that death is beautiful!"

Mr. Dyceworthy coughed,--a little cough of quiet incredulity. He was not
fond of sentiment in any form, and the girl's dreamily pensive manner
annoyed him. Death "beautiful?" Faugh! it was the one thing of all
others that he dreaded; it was an unpleasant necessity, concerning which
he thought as little as possible. Though he preached frequently on the
peace of the grave and the joys of heaven,--he was far from believing in
either,--he was nervously terrified of illness, and fled like a
frightened hare from the very rumor of any infectious disorder, and he
had never been known to attend a death-bed. And now, in answer to
Thelma, he nodded piously and rubbed his hands, and said--

"Yes, yes; no doubt, no doubt! All very proper on your part, I am sure!
But concerning this same image of which I came to speak,--it is most
imperative that you should be brought to recognize it as a purely carnal
object, unfitting a maiden's eyes to rest upon. The true followers of
the Gospel are those who strive to forget the sufferings of our dear
Lord as much as possible,--or to think of them only in spirit. The minds
of sinners, alas! are easily influenced,--and it is both unseemly and
dangerous to gaze freely upon the carven semblance of the Lord's limbs!
Yea, truly, it hath oft been considered as damnatory to the soul,--more
especially in the cases of women immured as nuns, who encourage
themselves in an undue familiarity with our Lord, by gazing long and
earnestly upon his body nailed to the accursed tree."

Here Mr. Dyceworthy paused for breath. Thelma was silent, but a faint
smile gleamed on her face.

"Wherefore," he went on, "I do adjure you, as you desire grace and
redemption, to utterly cast from you the vile trinket, I have,--Heaven
knows how reluctantly! . . . returned to your keeping,--to trample upon
it, and renounce it as a device of Satan. . ." He stopped, surprised and
indignant, as she raised the much-abused emblem to her lips and kissed
it reverently.

"It is the sign of peace and salvation," she said steadily, "to me, at
least. You waste your words, Mr. Dyceworthy; I am a Catholic."

"Oh, say not so!" exclaimed the minister, now thoroughly roused to a
pitch of unctuous enthusiasm. "Say not so. Poor child! who knowest not
the meaning of the word used. Catholic signifies universal. God forbid a
universal Papacy! You are not a Catholic--no! You are a Roman--by which
name we understand all that is most loathsome and unpleasing unto God!
But I will wrestle for your soul,--yea, night and day will I bend my
spiritual sinews to the task,--I will obtain the victory,--I will
exorcise the fiend! Alas, alas! you are on the brink of hell--think of
it!" and Mr. Dyceworthy stretched out his hand with his favorite pulpit
gesture. "Think of the roasting and burning,--the scorching and
withering of souls! Imagine, if you can, the hopeless, bitter, eternal
damnation," and here he smacked his lips as though he were tasting
something excellent,--"from which there is no escape! . . . for which
there shall be no remedy!"

"It is a gloomy picture," said Thelma, with a quiet sparkle in her eye.
"I am sorry,--for _you_. But I am happier,--my faith teaches of
purgatory--there is always a little hope!"

"There is none! there is none!" exclaimed the minister rising in
excitement from his seat, and swaying ponderously to and fro as he
gesticulated with hands and head. "You are doomed,--doomed! There is no
middle course between hell and heaven. It must be one thing or the
other; God deals not in half-measures! Pause, oh pause, ere you decide
to fall! Even at the latest hour the Lord desires to save your
soul,--the Lord yearns for your redemption, and maketh me to yearn also.
Froeken Thelma!" and Mr. Dyceworthy's voice deepened in solemnity, "there
is a way which the Lord hath whispered in mine ears,--a way that
pointeth to the white robe and the crown of glory,--a way by which you
shall possess the inner peace of the heart with bliss on earth as the
forerunner of bliss in heaven!"

She looked at him steadfastly. "And that way is--what?" she inquired.

Mr. Dyceworthy hesitated, and wished with all his heart that this girl
was not so thoroughly self-possessed. Any sign of timidity in her would
have given him an increase of hardihood. But her eyes were coldly
brilliant, and glanced him over without the smallest embarrassment. He
took refuge in his never-failing remedy, his benevolent smile--a smile
that covered a multitude of hypocrisies.

"You ask a plain question, Froeken," he said sweetly, "and I should be
loth not to give you a plain answer. That way-that glorious way of
salvation for you is--through _me_!"

And his countenance shone with smug self-satisfaction as he spoke, and
he repeated softly, "Yes, yes; that way is through me!"

She moved with a slight gesture of impatience. "It is a pity to talk any
more," she said rather wearily. "It is all no use! Why do you wish to
change me in my religion? I do not wish to change _you_. I do not see
why we should speak of such things at all."

"Of course!" replied Mr. Dyceworthy blandly. "Of course you do not see.
And why? Because you are blind." Here he drew a little nearer to her,
and looked covetously at the curve of her full, firm waist.

"Oh, why!" he resumed in a sort of rapture--"why should we say it is a
pity to talk any more? Why should we say it is all no use? It _is_ of
use,--it is noble, it is edifying to converse of the Lord's good
pleasure! And what is His good pleasure at this moment? To unite two
souls in His service! Yea, He hath turned my desire towards you, Froeken
Thelma,--even as Jacob's desire was towards Rachel! Let me see this
hand." He made a furtive grab at the white taper fingers that played
listlessly with the jessamine leaves on the porch, but the girl
dexterously withdrew them from his clutch and moved a little further
back, her face flushing proudly. "Oh, will it not come to me? Cruel
hand!" and he rolled his little eyes with an absurdly sentimental air of
reproach. "It is shy--it will not clasp the hand of its protector! Do
not be afraid, Froeken! . . . I, Charles Dyceworthy, am not the man to
trifle with your young affections! Let them rest where they have flown!
I accept them! Yea! . . . in spite of wrath and error and moral
destitution,--my spirit inclineth towards you,--in the language of
carnal men, I love you! More than this, I am willing to take you as my
lawful wife--"

He broke off abruptly, somewhat startled at the bitter scorn of the
flashing eyes that, like two quivering stars, were blazing upon him. Her
voice, clear as a bell ringing in frosty air, cut through the silence
like a sweep of a sword-blade.

"How dare you!" she said, with a wrathful thrill in her low, intense
tones. "How dare you come here to insult me!"

Insult her! He,--the Reverend Charles Dyceworthy,--considered guilty of
insult in offering honorable marriage to a mere farmer's daughter! He
could not believe his own ears,--and in his astonishment he looked up at
her. Looking, he recoiled and shrank into himself, like a convicted
knave before some queenly accuser. The whole form of the girl seemed to
dilate with indignation. From her proud mouth, arched like a bow, sprang
barbed arrows of scorn that flew straightly and struck home.

"Always I have guessed what you wanted," she went on in that deep,
vibrating tone which had such a rich quiver of anger within it; "but I
never thought you would--" She paused, and a little disdainful laugh
broke from her lips. "You would make _me_ your wife--_me_? You think
_me_ likely to accept such an offer?" And she drew herself up with a
superb gesture, and regarded him fixedly.

"Oh, pride, pride!" murmured the unabashed Dyceworthy, recovering from
the momentary abasement into which he had been thrown by her look and
manner. "How it overcometh our natures and mastereth our spirits! My
dear, my dearest Froeken,--I fear you do not understand me! Yet it is
natural that you should not; you were not prepared for the offer of
my--my affections,"--and he beamed all over with benevolence,--"and I
can appreciate a maidenly and becoming coyness, even though it assume
the form of a repellant and unreasonable anger. But take courage, my--my
dear girl!--our Lord forbid that I should wantonly play with the
delicate emotions of your heart! Poor little heart! does it flutter?"
and Mr. Dyceworthy leered sweetly. "I will give it time to recover
itself! Yes, yes! a little time! and then you will put that pretty hand
in mine"--here he drew nearer to her, "and with one kiss we will seal
the compact!"

And he attempted to steal his arm round her waist, but the girl sprang
back indignantly, and pulling down a thick branch of the clambering
prickly roses from the porch, held it in front of her by way of
protection. Mr. Dyceworthy laughed indulgently.

"Very pretty--very pretty indeed!" he mildly observed, eyeing her as she
stood at bay barricaded by the roses. "Quite a picture! There, there! do
not be frightened,--such shyness is very natural! We will embrace in the
Lord another day! In the meantime one little word--_the_ word--will
suffice me,--yea, even one little smile,--to show me that you understand
my words,--that you love me"--here he clasped his plump hands together
in flabby ecstasy--"even as you are loved!"

His absurd attitude,--the weak, knock-kneed manner in which his clumsy
legs seemed, from the force of sheer sentiment, to bend under his
weighty body, and the inanely amatory expression of his puffy
countenance, would have excited most women to laughter,--and Thelma was
perfectly conscious of his utterly ridiculous appearance, but she was
too thoroughly indignant to take the matter in a humorous light.

"Love you!" she exclaimed, with a movement of irrepressible loathing.
"You must be mad! I would rather die than marry you!"

Mr. Dyceworthy's face grew livid and his little eyes sparkled
vindictively,--but he restrained his inward rage, and merely smiled,
rubbing his hands softly one against the other.

"Let us be calm!" he said soothingly. "Whatever we do, let us be calm!
Let us not provoke one another to wrath! Above all things, let us, in a
spirit of charity and patience, reason out this matter without undue
excitement. My ears have most painfully heard your last words, which,
taken literally, might mean that you reject my honorable offer. The
question is, _do_ they mean this? I cannot,--I will not believe that you
would foolishly stand in the way of your own salvation,"--and he shook
his head with doleful gentleness. "Moreover, Froeken Thelma, though it
sorely distresses me to speak of it,--it is my duty, as a minister of
the Lord, to remind you that an honest marriage,--a marriage of virtue
and respectability such as I propose, is the only way to restore your
reputation,--which, alas! is sorely damaged, and--"

Mr. Dyceworthy stopped abruptly, a little alarmed, as she suddenly cast
aside the barrier of roses and advanced toward him, her blue eyes
blazing.

"My reputation!" she said haughtily. "Who speaks of it?"

"Oh dear, dear me!" moaned the minister pathetically. "Sad! . . . very
sad to see so ungovernable a temper, so wild and untrained a
disposition! Alas, alas! how frail we are without the Lord's
support,--without the strong staff of the Lord's mercy to lean upon! Not
I, my poor child, not I, but the whole village speaks of you; to you the
ignorant people attribute all the sundry evils that of late have fallen
sorely upon them,--bad harvests, ill-luck with the fishing, poverty,
sickness,"--here Mr. Dyceworthy pressed the tips of his fingers
delicately together, and looked at her with a benevolent
compassion,--"and they call it witchcraft,--yes! strange, very strange!
But so it is,--ignorant as they are, such ignorance is not easily
enlightened,--and though I," he sighed, "have done my poor best to
disabuse their minds of the suspicions against you, I find it is a
matter in which I, though a humble mouthpiece of the Gospel, am
powerless--quite powerless!"

She relaxed her defiant attitude, and moved away from him; the shadow of
a smile was on her lips.

"It is not my fault if the people are foolish," she said coldly; "I have
never done harm to any one that I know of." And turning abruptly, she
seemed about to enter the house, but the minister dexterously placed
himself in her way, and barred her passage.

"Stay, oh, stay!" he exclaimed with unctuous fervor. "Pause, unfortunate
girl, ere you reject the strong shield and buckler that the Lord has, in
His great mercy, offered you, in my person! For I must warn you,--Froeken
Thelma, I must warn you seriously of the danger you run! I will not pain
you by referring to the grave charges brought against your father, who
is, alas! in spite of my spiritual wrestling with the Lord for his sake,
still no better than a heathen savage; no! I will say nothing of this.
But what,--what shall I say,"--here he lowered his voice to a tone of
mysterious and weighty reproach,--"what shall I say of your most
unseemly and indiscreet companionship with these worldly young men who
are visiting the Fjord for their idle pastime? Ah dear, dear! This is
indeed a heavy scandal and a sore burden to my soul,--for up to this
time I have, in spite of many faults in your disposition, considered you
were at least of a most maidenly and decorous deportment,--but now--now!
to think that you should, of your own free will and choice, consent to
be the plaything of this idle stroller from the wicked haunts of
fashion,--the hour's toy of this Sir Philip Errington! Froeken Thelma, I
would never have believed it of you!" And he drew himself up with
ponderous and sorrowful dignity.

A burning blush had covered Thelma's face at the mention of Errington's
name, but it soon faded, leaving her very pale. She changed her position
so that she confronted Mr. Dyceworthy,--her clear blue eyes regarded him
steadfastly.

"Is this what is said of me?" she asked calmly.

"It is,--it is, most unfortunately!" returned the minister, shaking his
bullet-like head a great many times; then, with a sort of elephantine
cheerfulness, he added, "but what matter? There is time to remedy these
things. I am willing to set myself as a strong barrier against the evil
noises of rumor! Am I selfish or ungenerous? The Lord forbid it! No
matter how _I_ am compromised, no matter how _I_ am misjudged,--I am
still willing to take you as my lawful wife Froeken Thelma,--but," and
here he shook his forefinger at her with a pretended playfulness, "I
will permit no more converse with Sir Philip Errington; no, no! I cannot
allow it! . . . I cannot, indeed!"

She still looked straight at him,--her bosom rose and fell rapidly with
her passionate breath, and there was such an eloquent breath of scorn in
her face that he winced under it as though struck by a sharp scourge.

"You are not worth my anger!" she said slowly, this time without a
tremor in her rich voice. "One must have something to be angry with, and
you--you are nothing! Neither man nor beast,--for men are brave, and
beasts tell no lies! Your wife! I!" and she laughed aloud,--then with a
gesture of command, "Go!" she exclaimed, "and never let me see your face
again!"

The clear scornful laughter,--the air of absolute authority with which
she spoke,--would have stung the most self-opinionated of men, even
though his conscience were enveloped in a moral leather casing of
hypocrisy and arrogance. And, notwithstanding his invariable air of
mildness, Mr. Dyceworthy had a temper. That temper rose to a white heat
just now,--every drop of blood receded from his countenance,--and his
soft hands clenched themselves in a particularly ugly and threatening
manner. Yet he managed to preserve his suave composure.

"Alas, alas!" he murmured. "How sorely my soul is afflicted to see you
thus, Froeken! I am amazed--I am distressed! Such language from your
lips! oh fie, fie! And has it come to this! And must I resign the hope I
had of saving your poor soul? and must I withdraw my spiritual
protection from you?" This he asked with a suggestive sneer of his prim
mouth,--and then continued, "I must--alas, I must! My conscience will
not permit me to do more than pray for you! And as is my duty, I shall,
in a spirit of forbearance and charity, speak warningly to Sir Philip
concerning--"

But Thelma did not permit him to finish his sentence. She sprang forward
like a young leopardess, and with a magnificent outward sweep of her arm
motioned him down the garden path.

"Out of my sight,--_coward_!" she cried, and then stood waiting for him
to obey her, her whole frame vibrating with indignation like a harp
struck too roughly. She looked so terribly beautiful, and there was such
a suggestive power in that extended bare white arm of hers, that the
minister, though quaking from head to heel with disappointment and
resentment, judged it prudent to leave her.

"Certainly, I will take my departure, Froeken!" he said meekly, while his
teeth glimmered wolfishly through his pale lips, in a snarl more than a
smile. "It is best you should be alone to recover yourself--from
this--this undue excitement! I shall not repeat my--my--offer; but I am
sure your good sense will--in time--show you how very unjust and hasty
you have been in this matter--and--and you will be sorry! Yes, indeed! I
am quite sure you will be sorry! I wish you good day, Froeken Thelma!"

She made him no reply, and he turned from the house and left her,
strolling down the flower-bordered path as though he were in the best of
all possible moods with himself and the universe. But, in truth, he
muttered a heavy oath under his breath--an oath that was by no means in
keeping with his godly and peaceful disposition. Once, as he walked, he
looked back,--and saw the woman he coveted now more than ever, standing
erect in the porch, tall, fair and loyal in her attitude, looking like
some proud empress who had just dismissed an unworthy vassal. A farmer's
daughter! and she had refused Mr. Dyceworthy with disdain! He had much
ado to prevent himself shaking his fist at her!

"The lofty shall be laid low, and the stiff-necked shall be humbled," he
thought, as with a vicious switch of his stick he struck off a fragrant
head of purple clover. "Conceited fool of a girl! Hopes to be 'my lady'
does she? She had better take care!"

Here he stopped abruptly in his walk as if a thought had struck him,--a
malignant joy sparkled in his eyes, and he flourished his stick
triumphantly in the air. "I'll have her yet!" he exclaimed half-aloud.
"I'll set Lovisa on her!" And his countenance cleared; he quickened his
pace like a man having some pressing business to fulfill, and was soon
in his boat, rowing towards Bosekop with unaccustomed speed and energy.

Meanwhile Thelma stood motionless where he had left her,--she watched
the retreating form of her portly suitor till he had altogether
disappeared,--then she pressed one hand on her bosom, sighed, and
laughed a little. Glancing at the crucifix so lately restored to her,
she touched it with her lips and fastened it to a small silver chain she
wore, and then a shadow swept over her fair face that made it strangely
sad and weary. Her lips quivered pathetically; she shaded her eyes with
her curved fingers as though the sunlight hurt her,--then with faltering
steps she turned away from the warm stretch of garden, brilliant with
blossom, and entered the house. There was a sense of outrage and insult
upon her, and though in her soul she treated Mr. Dyceworthy's
observations with the contempt they deserved, his coarse allusion to Sir
Philip Errington had wounded her more than she cared to admit to
herself. Once in the quiet sitting-room, she threw herself on her knees
by her father's arm-chair, and laying her proud little golden head down
on her folded arms, she broke into a passion of silent tears.

Who shall unravel the mystery of a woman's weeping? Who shall declare
whether it is a pain or a relief to the overcharged heart? The dignity
of a crowned queen is capable of utterly dissolving and disappearing in
a shower of tears, when Love's burning finger touches the pulse and
marks its slow or rapid beatings. And Thelma wept as many of her sex
weep, without knowing why, save that all suddenly she felt herself most
lonely and forlorn like Sainte Beuve's--

        "Colombe gemissante,
     Qui demande par pitie
         Sa moitie,
     Sa moitie loin d'elle absente!"




CHAPTER XII.

                     "A wicked will,
     A woman's will; a cankered grandame's will!"
                                                     _King John_.


"By Jove!"

And Lorimer, after uttering this unmeaning exclamation, was silent out
of sheer dismay. He stood hesitating and looking in at the door of the
Gueldmar's sitting-room, and the alarming spectacle he saw was the
queenly Thelma down on the floor in an attitude of grief,--Thelma giving
way to little smothered sobs of distress,--Thelma actually crying! He
drew a long breath and stared, utterly bewildered. It was a sight for
which he was unprepared,--he was not accustomed to women's tears. What
should he do? Should he cough gently to attract her attention, or should
he retire on tip-toe and leave her to indulge her grief as long as she
would, without making any attempt to console her? The latter course
seemed almost brutal, yet he was nearly deciding upon it, when a slight
creak of the door against which he leaned, caused her to look up
suddenly. Seeing him, she rose quickly from her desponding position and
faced him, her cheeks somewhat deeply flushed and her eyes glittering
feverishly.

"Mr. Lorimer!" she exclaimed, forcing a faint smile to her quivering
lips. "You here? Why, where are the others?"

"They are coming on after me," replied Lorimer, advancing into the room,
and diplomatically ignoring the girl's efforts to hide the tears that
still threatened to have their way. "But I was sent in advance to tell
you not to be frightened. There has been a slight accident--"

She grew very pale. "Is it my father?" she asked tremblingly. "Sir
Philip--"

"No, no!" answered Lorimer reassuringly. "It is nothing serious, really,
upon my honor! Your father's all right,--so is Phil,--our lively friend
Pierre is the victim. The fact is, we've had some trouble with Sigurd. I
can't think what has come to the boy! He was as amiable as possible when
we started, but after we had climbed about half-way up the mountain, he
took it into his head to throw stones about rather recklessly. It was
only fun, he said. Your father tried to make him leave off, but he was
obstinate. At last, in a particularly bright access of playfulness, he
got hold of a large flint, and nearly put Phil's eye out with it,--Phil
dodged it, and it flew straight at Duprez, splitting open his cheek in
rather an unbecoming fashion--Don't look so horrified, Miss Gueldmar,--it
is really nothing!"

"Oh, but indeed it is something!" she said, with true womanly anxiety in
her voice. "Poor fellow! I am so sorry! Is he much hurt? Does he
suffer?"

"Pierre? Oh, no, not a bit of it! He's as jolly as possible! We bandaged
him up in a very artistic fashion; he looks quite interesting, I assure
you. His beauty's spoilt for a time, that's all. Phil thought you might
be alarmed when you saw us bringing home the wounded,--that is why I
came on to tell you all about it."

"But what can be the matter with Sigurd?" asked the girl, raising her
hand furtively to dash off a few tear-drops that still hung on her long
lashes. "And where is he?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you!" answered Lorimer. "He is perfectly
incomprehensible to-day. As soon as he saw the blood flowing from
Duprez's cheek, he tittered a howl as if some one had shot him, and away
he rushed into the woods as fast as he could go. We called him, and
shouted his name till we were hoarse,--all no use! He wouldn't come
back. I suppose he'll find his way home by himself?"

"Oh, yes," said Thelma gravely. "But when he comes I will scold him very
much! It is not like him to be so wild and cruel. He will understand me
when I tell him how wrong he has been."

"Oh, don't break his heart, poor little chap!" said Lorimer easily.
"Your father has given him a terrible scolding already. He hasn't got
his wits about him you know,--he can't help being queer sometimes. But
what have _you_ been doing with yourself during our absence?" And he
regarded her with friendly scrutiny. "You were crying when I came in.
Now, weren't you?"

She met his gaze quite frankly. "Yes!" she replied, with a plaintive
thrill in her voice. "I could not help it! My heart ached and the tears
came. Somehow I felt that everything was wrong,--and that it was all my
fault--"

"Your fault!" murmured Lorimer, astonished. "My dear Miss Gueldmar, what
do you mean? What _is_ your fault?"

"Everything!" she answered sadly, with a deep sigh. "I am very foolish;
and I am sure I often do wrong without meaning it. Mr. Dyceworthy has
been here and--" she stopped abruptly, and a wave of color flushed her
face.

Lorimer laughed lightly. "Dyceworthy!" he exclaimed. "The mystery is
explained! You have been bored by 'the good religious,' as Pierre calls
him. You know what _boring_ means now, Miss Gueldmar, don't you?" She
smiled slightly, and nodded. "The first time you visited the _Eulalie_,
you didn't understand the word, I remember,--ah!" and he shook his
head--"if you were in London society, you'd find that expression very
convenient,--it would come to your lips pretty frequently, I can tell
you!"

"I shall never see London," she said, with a sort of resigned air. "You
will all go away very soon, and I--I shall be lonely--"

She bit her lips in quick vexation, as her blue eyes filled again with
tears in spite of herself.

Lorimer turned away and pulled a chair to the open window.

"Come and sit down here," he said invitingly. "We shall be able to see
the others coming down the hill. Nothing like fresh air for blowing away
the blues." Then, as she obeyed him, he added, "What has Dyceworthy been
saying to you?"

"He told me I was wicked," she murmured; "and that all the people here
think very badly of me. But that was not the worst"--and a little
shudder passed over her--"there was something else--something that made
me very angry--so angry!"--and here she raised her eyes with a gravely
penitent air--"Mr. Lorimer, I do not think I have ever had so bad and
fierce a temper before!"

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Lorimer, with a broad smile. "You alarm me,
Miss Gueldmar! I had no idea you were a 'bad, fierce' person,--I shall
get afraid of you--I shall, really!"

"Ah, you laugh!" and she spoke half-reproachfully. "You will not be
serious for one little moment!"

"Yes I will! Now look at me," and he assumed a solemn expression, and
drew himself up with an air of dignity. "I am all attention! Consider me
your father-confessor. Miss Gueldmar, and explain the reason of this
'bad, fierce' temper of yours."

She peeped at him shyly from under her silken lashes.

"It is more dreadful than you think," she answered in a low tone. "Mr.
Dyceworthy asked me to marry him."

Lorimer's keen eyes flashed with indignation. This was beyond a
jest,--and he clenched his fist as he exclaimed--

"Impudent donkey! What a jolly good thrashing he deserves! . . . and I
shouldn't be surprised if he got it one of these days! And so, Miss
Gueldmar,"--and he studied her face with some solicitude--"you were very
angry with him?"

"Oh yes!" she replied, "but when I told him he was a coward, and that he
must go away, he said some very cruel things--" she stopped, and blushed
deeply; then, as if seized by some sudden impulse, she laid her small
hand on Lorimer's and said in the tone of an appealing child, "you are
very good and kind to me, and you are clever,--you know so much more
than I do! You must help me,--you will tell me, will you not? . . . if it
is wrong of me to like you all,--it is as if we had known each other a
long time and I have been very happy with you and your friends. But you
must teach me to behave like the girls you have seen in London,--for I
could not bear that Sir Philip should think me wicked!"

"Wicked!" and Lorimer drew a long breath. "Good heavens! If you knew
what Phil's ideas about you are, Miss Gueldmar--"

"I do not wish to know," interrupted Thelma steadily. "You must quite
understand me,--I am not clever to hide my thoughts, and--and--, _you_
are glad when you talk sometimes to Sir Philip, are you not?" He nodded,
gravely studying every light and shadow on the fair, upturned, innocent
face.

"Yes!" she continued with some eagerness, "I see you are! Well, it is
the same with me,--I do love to hear him speak! You know how his voice
is like music, and how his kind ways warm the heart,--it is pleasant to
be in his company--I am sure you also find it so! But for me,--it seems
it is wrong,--it is not wise for me to show when I am happy. I do not
care what other people say,--but I would not have _him_ think ill of me
for all the world!"

Lorimer took her hand and held it in his with a most tender loyalty and
respect. Her naive, simple words had, all unconsciously to herself, laid
bare the secret of her soul to his eyes,--and though his heart beat with
a strange sickening sense of unrest that flavored of despair, a gentle
reverence filled him, such as a man might feel if some little snow-white
shrine, sacred to purity and peace, should be suddenly unveiled before
him.

"My dear Miss Gueldmar," he said earnestly, "I assure you, you have no
cause to be uneasy! You must not believe a word Dyceworthy says--every
one with a grain of common sense can see what a liar and hypocrite he
is! And as for you, you never do anything wrong,--don't imagine such
nonsense! I wish there were more women like you!"

"Ah, that is very kind of you!" half laughed the girl, still allowing
her hand to rest in his. "But I do not think everybody would have such a
good opinion." They both started, and their hands fell asunder as a
shadow darkened the room, and Sir Philip stood before them.

"Excuse me!" he said stiffly, lifting his hat with ceremonious
politeness. "I ought to have knocked at the door--I--"

"Why?" asked Thelma, raising her eyebrows in surprise.

"Yes--why indeed?" echoed Lorimer, with a frank look at his friend.

"I am afraid,"--and for once the generally good-humored Errington looked
positively petulant--"I am afraid I interrupted a pleasant
conversation!" And he gave a little forced laugh of feigned amusement,
but evident vexation.

"And if it was pleasant, shall you not make it still more so?" asked
Thelma, with timid and bewitching sweetness, though her heart beat very
fast,--she was anxious. Why was Sir Philip so cold and distant? He
looked at her, and his pent-up passion leaped to his eyes and filled
them with a glowing and fiery tenderness,--her head drooped suddenly,
and she turned quickly, to avoid that searching, longing gaze. Lorimer
glanced from one to the other with, a slight feeling of amusement.

"Well Phil," he inquired lazily, "how did you get here so soon? You must
have glided into the garden like a ghost, for I never heard you coming."

"So I imagine!" retorted Errington, with, an effort to be sarcastic, in
which he utterly failed as he met his friend's eyes,--then after a
slight and somewhat embarrassed pause he added more mildly! "Duprez
cannot get on very fast,--his wound still bleeds, and he feels rather
faint now and then. I don't think we bandaged him up properly, and I
came on to see if Britta could prepare something for him."

"But you will not need to ask Britta," said Thelma quietly, with a
pretty air of authority, "for I shall myself do all for Mr. Duprez. I
understand well how to cure his wound, and I do think he will like me as
well as Britta." And, hearing footsteps approaching, she looked out at
the window. "Here they come!" she exclaimed. "Ah, poor Monsieur Pierre!
he does look very pale! I will go and meet them."

And she hurried from the room, leaving the two young men together.
Errington threw himself into Olaf Gueldmar's great arm-chair, with a
slight sigh.

"Well?" said Lorimer inquiringly.

"Well!" he returned somewhat gruffly.

Lorimer laughed, and crossing the room, approached him and clapped a
hand on his shoulder.

"Look here, old man!" he said earnestly, "don't be a fool! I know that
'love maketh men mad,' but I never supposed the lunacy would lead you to
the undesirable point of distrusting your friend,--your true friend,
Phil,--by all the Gods of the past and present!"

And he laughed again,--a little huskily this time, for there was a
sudden unaccountable and unwished-for lump in his throat, and a moisture
in his eyes which he had not bargained for. Philip looked up,--and
silently held out his hand, which Lorimer as silently clasped. There was
a moment's hesitation, and then the young baronet spoke out manfully.

"I'm ashamed of myself, George! I really am! But I tell you, when I came
in and saw you two standing there,--you've no idea what a picture you
made! . . . by Jove! . . . I was furious!" And he smiled. "I suppose I was
jealous!"

"I suppose you were!" returned Lorimer amusedly.

"Novel sensation, isn't it? A sort of hot, prickly,
'have-at-thee-villain' sort of thing; must be frightfully exhausting!
But why you should indulge this emotion at _my_ expense is what I
cannot, for the life of me, understand!"

"Well," murmured Errington, rather abashed, "you see, her hands were in
yours--"

"As they will be again, and yet again, I trust!" said Lorimer with
cheery fervor. "Surely you'll allow me to shake hands with your wife?"

"I say, George, be quiet!" exclaimed Philip warningly, as at that moment
Thelma passed the window with Pierre Duprez leaning on her arm, and her
father and Macfarlane following.

She entered the room with the stately step of a young queen,--her tall,
beautiful figure forming a strong contrast to that of the
narrow-shouldered little Frenchman, upon whom she smiled down with an
air of almost maternal protection.

"You will sit here, Monsieur Duprez," she said, leading him to the
_bonde's_ arm-chair which Errington instantly vacated, "and father will
bring you a good glass of wine. And the pain will be nothing when I have
attended to that cruel wound. But I am so sorry,--so very sorry, to see
you suffer!"

Pierre did indeed present rather a dismal spectacle. There was a severe
cut on his forehead as well as his cheek; his face was pale and streaked
with blood, while the hastily-improvised bandages which were tied under
his chin, by no means improved his personal appearance. His head ached
with the pain, and his eyes smarted with the strong sunlight to which he
had been exposed all the day, but his natural gaiety was undiminished,
and he laughed as he answered--

"_Chere Mademoiselle_, you are too good to me! It is a piece of good
fortune that Sigurd threw that stone--yes! since it brings me your pity!
But do not trouble; a little cold water and a fresh handkerchief is all
I need."

But Thelma was already practicing her own simple surgery for his
benefit. With deft, soft fingers she laid bare the throbbing
wound,--washed and dressed it carefully and skillfully,--and used with
all such exceeding gentleness, that Duprez closed his eyes in a sort of
rapture during the operation, and wished it could last longer. Then
taking the glass of wine her father brought in obedience to her order,
she said in a tone of mild authority--

"Now, you will drink this Monsieur Pierre, and you will rest quite still
till it is time to go back to the yacht; and to-morrow you will not feel
any pain, I am sure. And I do think it will not be an ugly scar for
long."

"If it is," answered Pierre, "I shall say I received it in a duel! Then
I shall be great--glorious! and all the pretty ladies will love me!"

She laughed,--but looked grave a moment afterwards.

"You must never say what is not true," she said. "It is wrong to deceive
any one,--even in a small matter."

Duprez gazed up at her wonderingly, feeling very much like a chidden
child.

"Never say what is not true!" he thought. "Mon Dieu! what would become
of my life?"

It was a new suggestion, and he reflected upon it with astonishment. It
opened such a wide vista of impossibilities to his mind.

Meanwhile old Gueldmar was engaged in pouring out wine for the other
young men, talking all the time.

"I tell thee, Thelma mine," he said seriously, "something must be very
wrong with our Sigurd. The poor lad has always been gentle and
tractable, but to-day he was like some wild animal for mischief and
hardihood. I grieve to see it! I fear the time may come when he may no
longer be a safe servant for thee, child!"

"Oh, father!"--and the girl's voice was full of tender anxiety--"surely
not! He is too fond of us to do us any harm--he is so docile and
affectionate!"

"Maybe, maybe!" and the old farmer shook his head doubtfully. "But when
the wits are away the brain is like a ship without ballast--there is no
safe sailing possible. He would not mean any harm, perhaps,--and yet in
his wild moods he might do it, and be sorry for it directly afterwards.
'Tis little use to cry when the mischief is done,--and I confess I do
not like his present humor."

"By-the-by," observed Lorimer, "that reminds me! Sigurd has taken an
uncommonly strong aversion to Phil. It's curious but it's a fact.
Perhaps it is that which upsets his nerves?"

"I have noticed it myself," said Errington, "and I'm sorry for it, for
I've done him no harm that I can remember. He certainly asked me to go
away from the Altenfjord, and I refused,--I'd no idea he had any serious
meaning in his request. But it's evident he can't endure my company."

"Ah, then!" said Thelma simply and sorrowfully, "he must be very
ill,--because it is natural for every one to like you."

She spoke in perfect good faith and innocence of heart; but Errington's
eyes flashed and he smiled--one of those rare, tender smiles of his
which brightened his whole visage.

"You are very kind to say so, Miss Gueldmar!"

"It is not kindness; it is the truth!" she replied frankly.

At that moment a very rosy face and two sparkling eyes peered in at the
door.

"Yes, Britta!" Thelma smiled; "we are quite ready!"

Whereupon the face disappeared, and Olaf Gueldmar led the way into the
kitchen, which was at the same time the dining-room, and where a
substantial supper was spread on the polished pine table.

The farmer's great arm-chair was brought in for Duprez, who, though he
declared he was being spoilt by too much attention, seemed to enjoy it
immensely,--and they were all, including Britta, soon clustered round
the hospitable board whereon antique silver and quaint glasses of
foreign make sparkled bravely, their effect enhanced by the snowy
whiteness of the homespun table-linen.

A few minutes set them all talking gaily. Macfarlane vied with the
ever-gallant Duprez in making a few compliments to Britta, who was
pretty and engaging enough to merit attention, and who, after all, was
something more than a mere servant, possessing, as she did, a great deal
of her young mistress's affection and confidence, and being always
treated by Gueldmar himself as one of the family. There was no reserve or
coldness in the party, and the hum of their merry voices echoed up to
the cross-rafters of the stout wooden ceiling and through the open door
and window, from whence a patch of the gorgeous afternoon sky could be
seen, glimmering redly, like a distant lake of fire. They were in the
full enjoyment of their repast, and the old farmer's rollicking "Ha, ha,
ha!" in response to a joke of Lorimer's, had just echoed jovially
through the room, when a strong, harsh voice called aloud--"Olaf
Gueldmar!"

There was a sudden silence. Each one looked at the other in surprise.
Again the voice called--"Olaf Gueldmar!"

"Well!" roared the _bonde_ testily, turning sharply round in his chair,
"who calls me?"

"I do!" and the tall, emaciated figure of a woman advanced and stood on
the threshold, without actually entering the room. She dropped the black
shawl that enveloped her, and, in so doing, disordered her hair, which
fell in white, straggling locks about her withered features, and her
dark eyes gleamed maliciously as she fixed them on the assembled party.
Britta, on perceiving her, uttered a faint shriek, and without
considering the propriety of her action, buried her nut-brown curls and
sparkling eyes in Duprez's coat-sleeve, which, to do the Frenchman
justice, was exceedingly prompt to receive and shelter its fair burden.
The _bonde_ rose from his chair, and his face grew stern.

"What do you here, Lovisa Elsland? Have you walked thus far from Talvig
to pay a visit that must needs be unwelcome?"

"Unwelcome I know I am," replied Lovisa, disdainfully noting the terror
of Britta and the astonished glances if Errington and his
friends--"unwelcome at all times,--but most unwelcome at the hour of
feasting ad folly,--for who can endure to receive a message from the
Lord when the mouth is full of savory morsels, and the brain reels with
the wicked wine? Yet I have come in spite of your iniquities. Olaf
Gueldmar,--strong in the strength of the Lord, I dare to set foot upon
your accursed threshold, and once more make my just demand. Give me back
the child of my dead daughter! . . . restore to me the erring creature
who should be the prop of my defenceless age, had not your pagan spells
alienated her from me,--release her,--and bid her return with me to my
desolate hearth and home. This done,--I will stay the tempest that
threatens your habitation--I will hold back the dark cloud of
destruction--I will avert the wrath of the Lord,--yes! for the sake of
the past--for the sake of the past!"

These last words she muttered in a low tone, more to herself than to
Gueldmar; and, having spoken, she averted her eyes from the company, drew
her shawl closely about her, and waited for an answer.

"By all the gods of my fathers!" shouted the _bonde_ in a towering
passion. "This passes my utmost endurance! Have I not told thee again
and again, thou silly soul! . . . that thy grandchild is no slave? She
is free--free to return to thee an' she will; free also to stay with us,
where she has found a happier home than thy miserable hut at Talvig.
Britta!" and he thumped his fist on the table. "Look up, child! Speak
for thyself! Thou hast a spirit of thine own. Here is thy one earthly
relation. Wilt go with her? Neither thy mistress nor I will stand in the
way of thy pleasure."

Thus adjured Britta looked up so suddenly that Duprez,--who had rather
enjoyed the feel of her little nestling head hidden upon his arm,--was
quite startled, and he was still more so at the utter defiance that
flashed into the small maiden's round, rosy face.

"Go with _you_!" she cried shrilly, addressing the old woman, who
remained standing in the same attitude, with an air of perfect
composure. "Do you think I have forgotten how you treated my mother, or
how you used to beat me and starve me? You wicked old woman! How dare
you come here? I'm ashamed of you! You frightened my mother to
death--you know you did! . . . and now you want to do the same to me!
But you won't--I can tell you! I'm old enough to do as I like, and I'd
rather die than live with you!"

Then, overcome by excitement and temper, she burst out crying, heedless
of Pierre Duprez's smiling nods of approval, and the admiring remarks he
was making under his breath, such as--"_Brava, ma petite! C'est bien
fait! c'est joliment bien dit! Mais je crois bien!_"

Lovisa seemed unmoved; she raised her head and looked, at Gueldmar.

"Is this your answer?" she demanded.

"By the sword of Odin!" cried the _bonde_, "the woman must be mad! _my_
answer? The girl has spoken for herself,--and plainly enough too! Art
thou deaf, Lovisa Elsland? or are thy wits astray?"

"My hearing is very good," replied Lovisa calmly, "and my mind, Olaf
Gueldmar, is as clear as yours. And, thanks to your teaching in mine
early days,"--she paused and looked keenly at him, but he appeared to
see no meaning in her allusion,--"I know the English tongue, of which we
hear far too much,--too often! There is nothing Britta has said that I
do not understand. But I know well it is not the girl herself that
speaks--it is a demon in her,--and that demon shall be cast forth before
I die! Yea, with the help of the Lord I shall--" She stopped abruptly
and fixed her eyes, glowing with fierce wrath, on Thelma. The girl met
her evil glance with a gentle surprise. Lovisa smiled malignantly.

"You know me, I think!" said Lovisa. "You have seen me before?"

"Often," answered Thelma mildly. "I have always been sorry for you."

"Sorry for me!" almost yelled the old woman. "Why--why are you sorry for
me?"

"Do not answer her, child!" interrupted Gueldmar angrily. "She is mad as
the winds of a wild winter, and will but vex thee."

But Thelma laid her hand soothingly on her father's, and smiled
peacefully as she turned her fair face again towards Lovisa.

"Why?" she said. "Because you seem so very lonely and sad--and that must
make you cross with every one who is happy! And it is a pity, I think,
that you do not let Britta alone--you only quarrel with each other when
you meet. And would you not like her to think kindly of you when you are
dead?"

Lovisa seemed choking with anger,--her face worked into such hideous
grimaces, that all present, save Thelma, were dismayed at her repulsive
aspect.

"When I am dead!" she muttered hoarsely. "So you count upon that
already, do you? Ah! . . . but do you know which of us shall die first!"
Then raising her voice with an effort she exclaimed--

"Stand forth, Thelma Gueldmar! Let me see you closely--face to face!"

Errington said something in a low tone, and the _bonde_ would have again
interfered, but Thelma shook her head, smiled and rose from her seat at
table.

"Anything to soothe her, poor soul!" she whispered, as she left
Errington's side and advanced towards Lovisa till she was within reach
of the old woman's hand. She looked like some grand white angel, who had
stepped down from a cathedral altar, as she stood erect and stately with
a gravely pitying expression in her lovely eyes, confronting the
sable-draped, withered, leering hag, who fixed upon her a steady look of
the most cruel and pitiless hatred.

"Daughter of Satan!" said Lovisa then, in intense piercing tones that
somehow carried with them a sense of awe and horror. "Creature, in whose
veins the fire of hell burns without ceasing,--my _curse_ upon you! My
curse upon the beauty of your body--may it grow loathsome in the sight
of all men! May those who embrace you, embrace misfortune and ruin!--may
love betray you and forsake you! May your heart be broken even as mine
has been!--may your bridal bed be left deserted!--may your children
wither and pine from their hour of birth! Sorrow track you to the
grave!--may your death be lingering and horrible! God be my witness and
fulfill my words!"

And, raising her arms with wild gesture, she turned and left the house.
The spell of stupefied silence was broken with her disappearance. Old
Gueldmar prepared to rush after her and force her to retract her evil
speech,--Errington was furious, and Britta cried bitterly. The lazy
Lorimer was excited and annoyed.

"Fetch her back," he said, "and I'll dance upon her!"

But Thelma stood where the old woman had left her--she smiled faintly,
but she was very pale. Errington approached her,--she turned to him and
stretched out her hands with a little appealing gesture.

"My friend," she said softly, "do you think I deserve so many curses? Is
there something about me that is evil?"

What Errington would have answered is doubtful,--his heart beat
wildly--he longed to draw those little hands in his own, and cover them
with passionate kisses,--but he was intercepted by old Gueldmar, who
caught his daughter in his arms and hugged her closely, his silvery
beard mingling with the gold of her rippling hair.

"Never fear a wicked tongue, my bird!" said the old man fondly. "There
is naught of harm that would touch thee either on earth or in
heaven,--and a foul-mouthed curse must roll off thy soul like water from
a dove's wing! Cheer thee, my darling--cheer thee! What! Thine own creed
teaches thee that the gentle Mother of Christ, with her little white
angels round her, watches over all innocent maids,--and thinkest thou
she will let an old woman's malice and envy blight thy young days? No,
no! _Thou_ accursed?" And the _bonde_ laughed loudly to hide the tears
that moistened his keen eyes. "Thou art the sweetest blessing of my
heart, even as thy mother was before thee! Come, come! Raise thy pretty
head--here are these merry lads growing long-faced,--and Britta is
weeping enough salt water to fill a bucket! One of thy smiles will set
us all right again,--ay, there now!"--as she looked up and, meeting
Philip's eloquent eyes, blushed, and withdrew herself gently from her
father's arms,--"Let us finish our supper and think no more of yonder
villainous old hag--she is crazy, I believe, and knows not what she says
half her time. Now, Britta, cease thy grunting and sighing--'twill spoil
thy face and will not mend the hole in thy grandmother's brain!"

"Wicked, spiteful, ugly old thing!" sobbed Britta; "I'll never, never,
never forgive her!" Then, running to Thelma, she caught her hand and
kissed it affectionately. "Oh, my dear, my dear! To think she should
have cursed you, what dreadful, dreadful wickedness! Oh!" and Britta
looked volumes of wrath. "I could have beaten her black and blue!"

Her vicious eagerness was almost comic--every one laughed, including
Thelma, though she pressed the hand of her little servant very warmly.

"Oh fie!" said Lorimer seriously. "Little girls mustn't whip their
grandmothers; it's specially forbidden in the Prayer-book, isn't it,
Phil?"

"I'm sure I don't know!" replied Errington merrily. "I believe there is
something to the effect that a man may not marry his grandmother--perhaps
that is what you mean?"

"Ah, no doubt!" murmured Lorimer languidly, as, with the others, he
resumed his seat at the supper-table. "I knew there was a special
mandate respecting one's particularly venerable relations, with a view
to self-guidance in case they should prove troublesome, like Britta's
good grand-mamma. What a frightfully picturesque mouthing old lady she
is!"

"She is _la petroleuse_ of Norway!" exclaimed Duprez. "She would make an
admirable dancer in the Carmagnole!"

Macfarlane, who had preserved a discreet silence throughout the whole
scene, here looked up.

"She's just a screech-owl o' mistaken piety," he said. "She minds me o'
a glowerin' auld warlock of an aunt o' mine in Glasgie, wha sits in her
chair a' day wi' ae finger on the Bible. She says she's gaun straight to
heaven by special invitation o' the Lord, leavin' a' her blood relations
howlin' vainly after her from their roastin' fires down below. Ma
certes! she'll give ye a good rousin' curse if ye like! She's cursed me
ever since I can remember her,--cursed me in and out from sunrise to
sunset,--but I'm no the worse for't as yet,--an' it's dootful whether
she's any the better."

"And yet Lovisa Elsland used to be as merry and lissom a lass as ever
stepped," said Gueldmar musingly. "I remember her well when both she and
I were young. I was always on the sea at that time,--never happy unless
the waves tossed me and my vessel from one shore to another. I suppose
the restless spirit of my fathers was in me. I was never contented
unless I saw some new coast every six months or so. Well! . . . Lovisa
was always foremost among the girls of the village who watched me leave
the Fjord,--and however long or short a time I might be absent, she was
certain to be on the shore when my ship came sailing home again. Many a
joke I have cracked with her and her companions--and she was a bonnie
enough creature to look at then, I tell you,--though now she is like a
battered figure-head on a wreck. Her marriage, spoiled her temper,--her
husband was as dark and sour a man as could be met with in all Norway,
and when he and his fishing-boat sank in a squall off the Lofoden
Islands, I doubt if she shed many tears for his loss. Her only
daughter's husband went down in the same storm,--and he but three months
wedded,--and the girl,--Britta's mother,--pined and pined, and even when
her child was born took no sort of comfort in it. She died four years
after Britta's birth--her death was hastened, so I have heard, through
old Lovisa's harsh treatment,--anyhow the little lass she left behind
her had no very easy time of it all alone with her grandmother,--eh
Britta?"

Britta looked up and shook her head emphatically.

"Then," went on Gueldmar, "when my girl came back the last time from
France, Britta chanced to see her, and, strangely enough,"--here he
winked shrewdly--"took a fancy to her face,--odd, wasn't it? However,
nothing would suit her but that she must be Thelma's handmaiden, and
here she is. Now you know her history,--she would be happy enough if her
grandmother would let her alone; but the silly old woman thinks the girl
is under a spell, and that Thelma is the witch that works it;"--and the
old farmer laughed. "There's a grain of truth in the notion too, but not
in the way she has of looking at it."

"All women are witches!" said Duprez. "Britta is a little witch
herself!"

Britta's rosy cheeks grew rosier at this, and she tossed her chestnut
curls with an air of saucy defiance that delighted the Frenchman. He
forgot his wounded cheek and his disfiguring bandages in the
contemplation of the little plump figure, cased in its close-fitting
scarlet bodice, and the tempting rosy lips that were in such close
proximity to his touch.

"If it were not for those red hands!" he thought. "Dieu! what a charming
child she would be! One would instantly kill the grandmother and kiss
the granddaughter!"

And he watched her with admiration as she busied herself about the
supper-table, attending to every one with diligence and care, but
reserving her special services for Thelma, whom she waited on with a
mingled tenderness, and reverence, that were both touching and pretty to
see.

The conversation now became general, and nothing further occurred to
disturb the harmony and hilarity of the party--only Errington seemed
somewhat abstracted, and answered many questions that were put to him at
haphazard, without knowing, or possibly caring, whether his replies were
intelligible or incoherent. His thoughts were dreamlike and brilliant
with fairy sunshine. He understood at last what poets meant by their
melodious musings, woven into golden threads of song--he seemed to have
grasped some hitherto unguessed secret of his being--a secret that
filled him with as much strange pain as pleasure. He felt as though he
were endowed with a thousand senses,--each one keenly alive and
sensitive to the smallest touch,--and there was a pulsation in his blood
that was new and beyond his control,--a something that beat wildly in
his heart at the sound of Thelma's voice, or the passing flutter of her
white garments near him. Of what use to disguise it from himself any
longer? He loved her! The terrible, beautiful tempest of love had broken
over his life at last; there was no escape from its thunderous passion
and dazzling lightning glory.

He drew a sharp quick breath--the hum of the gay voices around him was
more meaningless to his ears than the sound of the sea breaking on the
beach below. He glanced at the girl--the fair and innocent creature who
had, in his imagination, risen to a throne of imperial height, from
whence she could bestow on him death or salvation. How calm she seemed!
She was listening with courteous patience to a long story of
Macfarlane's whose Scotch accent rendered it difficult for her to
understand. She was pale, Philip thought, and her eyes were heavy; but
she smiled now and then,--such a smile! Even so sweetly might the
"kiss-worthy" lips of the Greek Aphrodite part, could that eloquent and
matchless marble for once breathe into life. He looked at her with a
sort of fear. Her hands held his fate. What if she could not love him?
What if he must lose her utterly? This idea overpowered him; his brain
whirled, and he suddenly pushed away his untasted glass of wine, and
rose abruptly from the table, heedless of the surprise his action
excited.

"Hullo, Phil, where are you off to?" cried Lorimer. "Wait for me!"

"Tired of our company, my lad?" said Gueldmar kindly, "You've had a long
day of it,--and what with the climbing and the strong air, no doubt
you'll be glad to turn in."

"Upon my life, sir," answered Errington, with some confusion, "I don't
know why I got up just now! I was thinking,--I'm rather a dreamy sort of
fellow sometimes, and--"

"He was asleep, and doesn't want to own it!" interrupted Lorimer
sententiously. "You will excuse him; he means well! He looks rather
seedy. I think, Mr. Gueldmar, we'll be off to the yacht. By the way,
you're coming with us to-morrow, aren't you?"

"Oh yes," said Thelma. "We will sail with you round by Soroe,--it is
weird and dark and grand; but I think it is beautiful. And there are
many stories of the elves and berg-folk, who are said to dwell there
among the deep ravines. Have you heard about the berg-folk?" she
continued, addressing herself to Errington, unaware of the effort he was
making to appear cool and composed in her presence. "No? Then I must
tell you to-morrow."

They all walked out of the house into the porch, and while her father
was interchanging farewells with the others, she looked at Sir Philip's
grave face with some solicitude.

"I am afraid you are very tired, my friend?" she asked softly, "or your
head aches,--and you suffer?"

He caught her hands swiftly and raised them to his lips.

"Would you care much,--would you care at all, if I suffered?" he
murmured in a low tone.

Then before she could speak or move, he let go her hands again, and
turned with his usual easy courtesy to Gueldmar. "Then we may expect you
without fail to-morrow, sir! Good night!"

"Good night, my lad!"

And with many hearty salutations the young men took their departure,
raising their hats to Thelma as they turned down the winding path to the
shore. She remained standing near her father,--and, when the sound of
their footsteps had died away, she drew closer still and laid her head
against his breast.

"Cold, my bird?" queried the old man. "Why, thou art shivering,
child!--and yet the sunshine is as warm as wine. What ails thee?"

"Nothing, father!" And she raised her eyes, glowing and brilliant as
stars. "Tell me,--do you think often of my mother now!"

"Often!" And Gueldmar's fine resolute face grew sad and tender. "She is
never absent from my mind! I see her night and day, ay! I can feel her
soft arms clinging round my neck,--why dost thou ask so strange a
question, little one? Is it possible to forget what has been once
loved?"

Thelma was silent for many minutes. Then she kissed her father and said
"good night." He held her by the hand and looked at her with a sort of
vague anxiety.

"Art thou well, my child?" he asked. "This little hand burns like
fire,--and thine eyes are too bright, surely, for sleep to visit them?
Art sure that nothing ails thee?"

"Sure, quite sure," answered the girl with a strange, dreamy smile. "I
am quite well,--and happy!"

And she turned to enter the house.

"Stay!" called the father. "Promise me thou wilt think no more of
Lovisa!"

"I had nearly forgotten her," she responded. "Poor thing! She cursed me
because she is so miserable, I suppose--all alone and unloved; it must
be hard! Curses sometimes turn to blessings, father! Good night!"

And she ascended the one flight of wooden stairs in the house to her own
bedroom--a little three-cornered place as clean and white as the
interior of a shell. Never once glancing at the small mirror that seemed
to invite her charms to reflect themselves therein, she went to the
quaint latticed window and knelt down by it, folding her arms on the
sill while she looked far out to the Fjord. She could see the English
flag fluttering from the masts of the _Eulalie_; she could almost hear
the steady plash of the oars wielded by Errington and his friends as
they rowed themselves back to the yacht. Bright tears filled her eyes,
and brimmed over, falling warmly on her folded hands.

"Would I care if you suffered?" she whispered. "Oh, my love! . . . my
love!"

Then, as if afraid lest the very winds should have heard her
half-breathed exclamation, she shut her window in haste, and a hot blush
crimsoned her cheeks.

Undressing quickly, she slipped into her little white bed and, closing
her eyes, fancied she slept, though her sleep was but a waking dream of
love in which all bright hopes reached their utmost fulfillment, and yet
were in some strange way crossed with shadows which she had no power to
disperse. And later on, when old Gueldmar slumbered soundly, and the
golden mid-night sunshine lit up every nook and gable of the farmhouse
with its lustrous glory, making Thelma's closed lattice sparkle like a
carven jewel,--a desolate figure lay prone on the grass beneath her
window, with meagre pale face, and wide-open wild blue eyes upturned to
the fiery brilliancy of the heavens. Sigurd had come home;--Sigurd was
repentant, sorrowful, ashamed,--and broken-hearted.




CHAPTER XIII.

    "O Love! O Love! O Gateway of Delight!
       Thou porch of peace, thou pageant of the prime
     Of all God's creatures! I am here to climb
       Thine upward steps, and daily and by night
     To gaze beyond them and to search aright
       The far-off splendor of thy track sublime."
                     ERIC MACKAY'S _Love-letters of a Violinist_.


On the following morning the heat was intense,--no breath of wind
stirred a ripple on the Fjord, and there was a heaviness in the
atmosphere which made the very brightness of the sky oppressive. Such
hot weather was unusual for that part of Norway, and according to
Valdemar Svensen, betokened some change. On board the _Eulalie_
everything was ready for the trip to Soroe,--steam was getting up prior
to departure,--and a group of red-capped sailors stood prepared to weigh
the anchor as soon as the signal was given. Breakfast was
over,--Macfarlane was in the saloon writing his journal, which he kept
with great exactitude, and Duprez, who, on account of his wound, was
considered something of an invalid, was seated in a lounge chair on
deck, delightedly turning over a bundle of inflammatory French political
journals received that morning. Errington and Lorimer were pacing the
deck arm in arm, keeping a sharp look-out for the first glimpse of the
returning boat which had been sent off to fetch Thelma and her father.
Errington looked vexed and excited,--Lorimer bland and convincing.

"I can't help it, Phil!" he said. "It's no use fretting and fuming at
me. It was like Dyceworthy's impudence, of course,--but there's no doubt
he proposed to her,--and it's equally certain that she rejected him. I
thought I'd tell you you had a rival,--not in me, as you seemed to think
yesterday,--but in our holy fat friend."

"Rival! pshaw!" returned Errington, with an angry laugh. "He is not
worth kicking!"

"Possibly not! Still I have a presentiment that he's the sort of fellow
that won't take 'no' for an answer. He'll dodge that poor girl and make
her life miserable if he can, unless--"

"Unless what?" asked Philip quickly.

Lorimer stopped in his walk, and, leaning against the deck-railings,
looked his friend straight in the eyes.

"Unless you settle the matter," he said with a slight effort. "You love
her,--tell her so!"

Errington laid one hand earnestly on his shoulder.

"Ah, George, you don't understand!" he said in a low tone, while his
face was grave and full of trouble. "I used to think I was fairly brave,
but I find I am a positive coward. I dare not tell her! She--Thelma--is
not like other women. You may think me a fool,--I dare say you do,--but
I swear to you I am afraid to speak, because--because, old boy,--if she
were to refuse me,--if I knew there was no hope--well, I don't want to
be sentimental,--but my life would be utterly empty and worthless,--so
useless, that I doubt if I should care to live it out to the bitter
end!"

Lorimer heard him in silence,--a silence maintained partly out of
sympathy, and partly that he might keep his own feelings well under
control.

"But why persist in looking at the gloomy side of the picture?" he said
at last. "Suppose she loves you?"

"Suppose an angel flew down from Heaven!" replied Philip, with rather a
sad smile. "My dear fellow, who am I that I should flatter myself so
far? If she were one of those ordinary women to whom marriage is the
be-all and end-all of existence, it would be different--but she is not.
Her thoughts are like those of a child or a poet,--why should I trouble
them by the selfishness of my passion? for all passion _is_ selfish,
even at its best. Why should I venture to break the calm friendship she
may have for me, by telling her of a love which might prove unwelcome!"

Lorimer looked at him with gentle amusement depicted in his face.

"Phil, you are less conceited than I thought you were," he said, with a
light laugh, "or else you are blind--blind as a bat, old man! Take my
advice,--don't lose any more time about it. Make the 'king's daughter of
Norroway' happy, . . ." and a brief sigh escaped him. "You are the man to
do it. I am surprised at your density; Sigurd, the lunatic, has more
perception. He sees which way the wind blows,--and that's why he's so
desperately unhappy. He thinks--and thinks rightly too--that he will
lose his 'beautiful rose of the northern forest,' as he calls her,--and
that you are to be the robber. Hence his dislike to you. Dear me!" and
Lorimer lit a cigarette and puffed at it complacently. "It seems to me
that my wits are becoming sharper as I grow older, and that yours, my
dear boy,--pardon me! . . . are getting somewhat blunted, otherwise you
would certainly have perceived--" he broke off abruptly.

"Well, go on!" exclaimed Philip eagerly, with flashing eyes. "Perceived
what?"

Lorimer laughed. "That the boat containing your Sun-empress is coming
along very rapidly, old fellow, and that you'd better make haste to
receive her!"

This was the fact, and Duprez had risen from his chair and was waving
his French newspaper energetically to the approaching visitors.
Errington hastened to the gangway with a brighter flush than usual on
his handsome face, and his heart beating with a new sense of
exhilaration and excitement. If Lorimer's hints had any foundation of
truth--if Thelma loved him ever so little--how wild a dream it seemed!
. . . why not risk his fate? He resolved to speak to her that very day
if opportunity favored him,--and, having thus decided, felt quite
masterful and heroic about it.

This feeling of proud and tender elation increased when Thelma stepped
on deck that morning and laid her hands in his. For, as he greeted her
and her father, he saw at a glance that she was slightly changed. Some
restless dream must have haunted her--or his hurried words beneath the
porch, when he parted from her the previous evening, had startled her
and troubled her mind. Her blue eyes were no longer raised to his in
absolute candor,--her voice was timid, and she had lost something of her
usual buoyant and graceful self-possession. But she looked lovelier than
ever with that air of shy hesitation and appealing sweetness. Love had
thrown his network of light about her soul and body till, like Keats's
"Madeleine,"

    "She seemed a splendid angel newly drest
     Save wings, for heaven!"

As soon as the Gueldmars were on board, the anchor was weighed with many
a cheery and musical cry from the sailors; the wheel revolved rapidly
under Valdemar Svensen's firm hand,--and with a grand outward sweeping
curtsy to the majestic Fjord she left behind her, the _Eulalie_ steamed
away, cutting a glittering line of white foam through the smooth water
as she went, and threading her way swiftly among the clustering
picturesque islands,--while the inhabitants of every little farm and
hamlet on the shores, stopped for a while in their occupations to stare
at the superb vessel, and to dreamily envy the wealth of the English
_Herren_ who could afford to pass the summer months in such luxury and
idleness. Thelma seated herself at once by Duprez, and seemed glad to
divert attention from herself to him.

"You are better, Monsieur Duprez, are you not?" she asked gently. "We
saw Sigurd this morning; he came home last night. He is very, very sorry
to have hurt you!"

"He need not apologize," said Duprez cheerfully. "I am delighted he gave
me this scar, otherwise I am confident he would have put out the eye of
Phil-eep. And that would have been a misfortune! For what would the
ladies in London say if _le beau_ Errington returned to them with one
eye! _Mon Dieu!_ they would all be en desespoir!"

Thelma looked up. Philip was standing at some little distance with Olaf
Gueldmar and Lorimer, talking and laughing gaily. His cap was slightly
pushed off his forehead, and the sun shone on his thick dark-chestnut
curls; his features, warmly colored by the wind and sea, were lit up
with mirth, and his even white teeth sparkled in an irresistible smile
of fascinating good-humor. He was the beau-ideal of the best type of
Englishman, in the full tide of youth, health and good spirits.

"I suppose he is a great favorite with all those beautiful ladies?" she
asked very quietly.

Something of gentle resignation in her tone struck the Frenchman's sense
of chivalry; had she been like any ordinary woman, bent on conquest, he
would have taken a mischievous delight in inventing a long list of fair
ones supposed to be deeply enamored of Errington's good looks,--but this
girl's innocent inquiring face inspired him with quite a different
sentiment.

"_Mais certainement!_" he said frankly and emphatically. "Phil-eep is a
favorite everywhere! Yet not more so with women than with men. I love
him extremely--he is a charming boy! Then you see, _chere Mademoiselle_,
he is rich,--very rich,--and there are so many pretty girls who are very
poor,--naturally they are enchanted with our Errington--_voyez-vous_?"

"I do not understand," she said, with a puzzled brow. "It is not
possible that they should like him better because he is rich. He would
be the same man without money as with it--it makes no difference!"

"Perhaps not to you," returned Duprez, with a smile; "but to many it
would make an immense difference! _Chere Mademoiselle_, it is a grand
thing to have plenty of money,--believe me!"

Thelma shrugged her shoulders. "Perhaps," she answered indifferently.
"But one cannot spend much on one's self, after all. The nuns at Arles
used to tell me that poverty was a virtue, and that to be very rich was
to be very miserable. They were poor,--all those good women,--and they
were always cheerful."

"The nuns! _ah, mon Dieu!_" cried Duprez. "The darlings know not the
taste of joy--they speak of what they cannot understand! How should they
know what it is to be happy or unhappy, when they bar their great
convent doors against the very name of love!"

She looked at him, and her color rose.

"You always talk of _love_," she said, half reproachfully, "as if it
were so common a thing! You know it is sacred--why will you speak as if
it were all a jest?"

A strange emotion of admiring tenderness stirred Pierre's heart--he was
very impulsive and impressionable.

"Forgive me!" he murmured penitently. Then he added suddenly, "You
should have lived ages ago, _ma belle_,--the world of to-day will not
suit you! You will be made very sorrowful in it, I assure you,--it is
not a place for good women!"

She laughed. "You are morose," she said. "That is not like you! No one
is good,--we all live to try and make ourselves better."

"What highly moral converse is going on here?" inquired Lorimer,
strolling leisurely up to them. "Are you giving Duprez a lecture, Miss
Gueldmar? He needs it,--so do I. Please give me a scolding!"

And he folded his hands with an air of demure appeal.

A sunny smile danced in the girl's blue eyes. "Always you will be
foolish!" she said. "One can never know you because I am sure you never
show your real self to anybody. No,--I will not scold you, but I should
like to find you out!"

"To find me out!" echoed Lorimer. "Why, what do you mean?"

She nodded her bright head with much sagacity.

"Ah, I do observe you often! There is something you hide; it is like
when my father has tears in his eyes; he pretends to laugh, but the
tears are there all the time. Now I see in you--" she paused, and her
questioning eyes rested on his, seriously.

"This is interesting!" said Lorimer, lazily drawing a camp-stool
opposite to her, and seating himself thereon. "I had no idea I was a
human riddle. Can you read me, Miss Gueldmar?"

"Yes," she answered slowly and meditatively. "Just a little. But I will
not say anything; no--except this--that you are not altogether what you
seem."

"Here, Phil!" called Lorimer, as he saw Errington approaching, arm in
arm with Olaf Gueldmar, "come and admire this young lady's power of
perception. She declares I am not such a fool as I look!"

"Now," said Thelma, shaking her forefinger at him, "you know very well
that I did not put it in that way. But is it not true, Sir Philip--" and
she looked up for a moment, though her eyes drooped again swiftly under
his ardent gaze, "is it not true that many people do hide their
feelings, and pretend to be quite different to what they are?"

"I should say it was a very common fault," replied Errington. "It is a
means of self-defense against the impertinent curiosity of outsiders.
But Lorimer is free from it,--he has nothing to hide. At any rate, he
has no secrets from me,--I'm sure of that!" And he clapped his hand
heartily on his friend's shoulder.

Lorimer flushed slightly, but made no remark, and at that moment
Macfarlane emerged from the saloon, where the writing of his journal had
till now detained him. In the general handshaking and salutations which
followed, the conversation took a different turn, for which Lorimer was
devoutly thankful. His face was a tell-tale one,--and he was rather
afraid of Philip's keen eyes. "I hope to Heaven he'll speak to her
to-day," he thought, vexedly. "I hate being in suspense! My mind will be
easier when I once know that he has gained his point,--and that there's
not the ghost of a chance for any other fellow!"

Meanwhile the yacht skimmed along by the barren and rocky coast of
Seiland; the sun was dazzling; yet there was a mist in the air as though
the heavens were full of unshed tears. A bank of nearly motionless
clouds hung behind the dark, sharp peaks of the Altenguard mountains,
which now lay to the southward, as the vessel pursued her course. There
was no wind; the flag on the mast flapped idly now and then with the
motion of the yacht; and Thelma found herself too warm with her pretty
crimson hood,--she therefore unfastened it and let the sunshine play on
the uncovered gold of her hair. They had a superb view of the jagged
glacier of Jedke,--black in some parts, and in others white with
unmelted snow,--and seeming, as it rose straight up against the sky, to
be the majestic monument of some giant Viking. Presently, at her earnest
request, Errington brought his portfolio of Norwegian sketches for
Thelma to look at; most of them were excellently well done, and elicited
much admiration from the _bonde_.

"It is what I have wondered at all my life," said he, "that skill of the
brush dipped in color. Pictures surprise me as much as poems. Ah, men
are marvellous creatures, when they are once brought to understand that
they _are_ men,--not beasts! One will take a few words and harmonize
them into a song or a verse that clings to the world for ever; another
will mix a few paints and dab a brush in them, and give you a picture
that generation after generation shall flock to see. It is what is
called genius,--and genius is a sort of miracle. Yet I think it is
fostered by climate a good deal,--the further north, the less
inspiration. Warmth, color, and the lightness of heart that a generally
bright sky brings, enlarges the brain and makes it capable of creative
power."

"My dear sir," said Lorimer, "England does not possess these climatic
advantages, and yet Shakespeare was an Englishman."

"He must have travelled," returned Gueldmar positively. "No one will make
me believe that the man never visited Italy. His Italian scenes prove
it,--they are full of the place and the people. The whole of his works,
full of such wonderful learning, and containing so many types of
different nations, show,--to _my_ mind, at least,--that countries were
his books of study. Why I, who am only a farmer and proprietor of a bit
of Norwegian land,--I have learned many a thing from simply taking a
glance at a new shore each year. That's the way I used to amuse myself
when I was young,--now I am old, the sea tempts me less, and I am fonder
of my arm-chair; yet I've seen a good deal in my time--enough to provide
me with memories for my declining days. And it's a droll thing, too," he
added, with a laugh, "the further south you go, the more immoral and
merry are the people; the further north, the more virtuous and
miserable. There's a wrong balance somewhere,--but where, 'tis not easy
to find out."

"Weel," said Macfarlane, "I can give ye a direct contradeection to your
theory. Scotland lies to the north, and ye'll not find a grander harvest
o' sinfu' souls anywhere between this an' the day o' judgment. I'm a
Scotchman, an' I'm just proud o' my country--I'd back its men against a'
the human race,--but I wadna say much for the stabeelity o' its women. I
wad just tak to my heels and run if I saw a real, thumpin', red-cheeked,
big-boned Scotch lassie makin' up to me. There's nae bashfulness in they
sort, and nae safety."

"I will go to Scotland!" said Duprez enthusiastically. "I feel that
those--what do you call them, _lassies_?--will charm, me!"

"Scotland I never saw," said Gueldmar. "From all I have heard, it seems
to me 'twould be too much like Norway. After one's eyes have rested long
on these dark mountains and glaciers, one likes now and then to see a
fertile sunshiny stretch of country such as France, or the plains of
Lombardy. Of course there may be exceptions, but I tell you climatic
influences have a great deal to do with the state of mind and morals.
Now, take the example of that miserable old Lovisa Elsland. She is the
victim of religious mania--and religious mania, together with
superstition of the most foolish kind, is common in Norway. It happens
often during the long winters; the people have not sufficient to occupy
their minds; no clergyman--not even Dyceworthy--can satisfy the height
of their fanaticism. They preach and pray and shriek and groan in their
huts; some swear that they have the spirit of prophecy,--others that
they are possessed of devils,--others imagine witchcraft, like
Lovisa--and altogether there is such a howling on the name of Christ,
that I am glad to be out of it,--for 'tis a sight to awaken the laughter
and contempt of a pagan such as I am!"

Thelma listened with a slight shadow of pain on her features.

"Father is not a pagan," she declared, turning to Lorimer. "How can one
be pagan if one believes that there is good in everything,--and that
nothing happens except for the best?"

"It sounds to me more Christian than pagan," averred Lorimer, with a
smile. "But it's no use appealing to _me_ on such matters, Miss Gueldmar.
I am an advocate of the Law of Nothing. I remember a worthy philosopher
who,--when he was in his cups,--earnestly assured me it was all
right--'everything was nothing, and nothing was everything.' 'You are
sure that is so?' I would say to him. 'My dear young friend--_hic_--I am
positive! I have--_hic_--worked out the problem with--_hic_--care!' And
he would shake me by the hand warmly, with a mild and moist smile, and
would retire to bed walking sideways in the most amiable manner. I'm
certain his ideas were correct as well as luminous."

They laughed, and then looking up saw that they were passing a portion
of the coast of Seiland which was more than usually picturesque. Facing
them was a great cavernous cleft in the rocks, tinted with a curious
violet hue intermingled with bronze,--and in the strong sunlight these
colors flashed with the brilliancy of jewels, reflecting themselves in
the pale slate-colored sea. By Errington's orders the yacht slackened
speed, and glided along with an almost noiseless motion,--and they were
silent, listening to the dash and drip of water that fell invisibly from
the toppling crags that frowned above, while the breathless heat and
stillness of the air added to the weird solemnity of the scene. They all
rose from their chairs and leaned on the deck-rails, looking, but
uttering no word.

"In one of these islands," said Thelma at last, very softly--"it was
either Seiland or Soroe--they once found the tomb of a great chief.
There was an inscription outside that warned all men to respect it, but
they laughed at the warning and opened the tomb. And they saw, seated in
a stone chair, a skeleton with a gold crown on its head and a great
carved seal in its hand, and at its feet there was a stone casket. The
casket was broken open, and it was full of gold and jewels. Well, they
took all the gold and jewels, and buried the skeleton--and now,--do you
know what happens? At midnight a number of strange persons are seen
searching on the shore and among the rocks for the lost treasure, and it
is said they often utter cries of anger and despair. And those who
robbed the tomb all died suddenly."

"Served them right!" said Lorimer. "And now they are dead, I suppose the
wronged ghosts don't appear any more?"

"Oh yes, they do," said Gueldmar very seriously. "If any sailor passes at
midnight, and sees them or hears their cries, he is doomed."

"But _does_ he see or hear them?" asked Errington, with a smile.

"Well, I don't know," returned Gueldmar, with a grave shake of his head.
"I'm not superstitious myself, but I should be sorry to say anything
against the berg-folk. You see they _may_ exist, and it's no use
offending them."

"And what do ye mean by the berg-folk?" inquired Macfarlane.

"They are supposed to be the souls of persons who died impenitent," said
Thelma, "and they are doomed to wander, on the hills till the day of
judgment. It is a sort of purgatory."

Duprez shook his fingers emphatically in the air.

"Ah, bah!" he said; "what droll things remain still in the world! Yes,
in spite of liberty, equality, fraternity! You do not believe in foolish
legends, Mademoiselle? For example,--do you think you will suffer
purgatory?"

"Indeed yes!" she replied. "No one can be good enough to go straight to
heaven. There must be some little stop on the way in which to be sorry
for all the bad things one has done."

"'Tis the same idea as ours," said Gueldmar. "We have two places of
punishment in the Norse faith; one, _Nifleheim_, which is a temporary
thing like the Catholic purgatory; the other _Nastrond_, which is the
counterpart of the Christian hell. Know you not the description of
_Nifleheim_ in the _Edda_?--'tis terrible enough to satisfy all tastes.
'Hela, or Death rules over the Nine Worlds of Nifleheim. Her hall is
called Grief. Famine is her table, and her only servant is Delay. Her
gate is a precipice, her porch Faintness, her bed Leanness,--Cursing and
Howling are her tent. Her glance is dreadful and terrifying,--and her
lips are blue with the venom of Hatred.' These words," he added, "sound
finer in Norwegian, but I have given the meaning fairly."

"Ma certes!" said Macfarlane chuckling. "I'll tell my aunt in Glasgie
aboot it. This Nifleheim wad suit her pairfectly,--she wad send a' her
relations there wi' tourist tickets, not available for the return
journey!"

"It seems to me," observed Errington, "that the Nine Worlds of Nifleheim
have a resemblance to the different circles of Dante's Purgatory."

"Exactly so," said Lorimer. "All religions seem to me to be more or less
the same,--the question I can never settle is,--which is the right one?"

"Would you follow it if you knew?" asked Thelma, with a slight smile.
Lorimer laughed.

"Well, upon my life, I don't know!" he answered frankly, "I never was a
praying sort of fellow,--I don't seem to grasp the idea of it somehow.
But there's one thing I'm certain of,--I can't endure a bird without
song,--a flower without scent, or a _woman_ without religion--she seems
to me no woman at all."

"But _are_ there any such women?" inquired the girl surprised.

"Yes, there are undoubtedly! Free-thinking, stump-orator,
have-your-rights sort of creatures. _You_ don't know anything about
them, Miss Gueldmar--be thankful! Now, Phil, how long is this vessel of
yours going to linger here?"

Thus reminded, Errington called to the pilot, and in a few minutes the
_Eulalie_ resumed her usual speed, and bore swiftly on towards Soroe.
This island, dreary and dark in the distance, grew somewhat more
inviting in aspect on a nearer approach. Now and then a shaft of
sunlight fell on some glittering point of felspar or green patch of
verdure.--and Valdemar Svensen stated that he knew of a sandy creek
where, if the party chose, they could land and see a small cave of
exquisite beauty, literally hung all over with stalactites.

"I never heard of this cave," said Gueldmar, fixing a keen eye on the
pilot. "Art thou a traveller's guide to all such places in Norway?"

Somewhat to Errington's surprise, Svensen changed color and appeared
confused; moreover, he removed his red cap altogether when he answered
the _bonde_, to whom he spoke deferentially in rapid Norwegian. The old
man laughed as he listened, and seemed satisfied; then, turning away, he
linked his arm through Philip's, and said,

"You must pardon him, my lad, that he spoke in your presence a tongue
unfamiliar to you. No offense was meant. He is of my creed, but fears to
make it known, lest he should lose all employment--which is likely
enough, seeing that so many of the people are fanatics. Moreover, he is
bound to me by an oath,--which in olden days would have made him my
serf,--but which leaves him free enough just now,--with one exception."

"And that exception?" asked Errington with some interest.

"Is, that should I ever demand a certain service at his hands, he dare
not refuse it. Odd, isn't it? or so it seems to you," and Gueldmar
pressed the young man's arm lightly and kindly; "but our Norse oaths,
are taken with great solemnity, and are as binding as the obligation of
death itself. However, I have not commanded Valdemar's obedience yet,
nor do I think I am likely to do so for some time. He is a fine,
faithful fellow,--though too much given to dreams."

A gay chorus of laughter here broke from the little group seated on
deck, of which Thelma was the centre,--and Gueldmar stopped in his walk,
with an attentive smile on his open, ruddy countenance.

"'Tis good for the heart to hear the merriment of young folks," he said.
"Think you not my girl's laugh is like the ripple of a lark's song? just
so clear and joyous?"

"Her voice is music itself!" declared Philip quickly and warmly. "There
is nothing she says, or does, or looks,--that is not absolutely
beautiful!"

Then, suddenly aware of his precipitation, he stopped abruptly. His face
flushed as Gueldmar regarded him fixedly, with a musing and doubtful air.
But whatever the old man thought, he said nothing. He merely held the
young baronet's arm a little closer, and together they joined the
others,--though it was noticeable that during the rest of the day the
_bonde_ was rather abstracted and serious,--and that every now and then
his eyes rested on his daughter's face with an expression of tender
yearning and melancholy.

It was about two hours after luncheon that the _Eulalie_ approached the
creek spoken of by the pilot, and they were all fascinated by the
loveliness as well as by the fierce grandeur of the scene. The rocks on
that portion of Soroe appeared to have split violently asunder to admit
some great in-rushing passage of the sea, and were piled up in toppling
terraces to the height of more than two thousand feet above the level of
the water. Beneath these wild and craggy fortresses of nature a shining
stretch of beach had formed itself, on which the fine white sand, mixed
with crushed felspar, sparkled like powdered silver. On the left-hand
side of this beach could be distinctly seen the round opening of the
cavern to which Valdemar Svensen directed their attention. They decided
to visit it--the yacht was brought to a standstill, and the long-boat
lowered. They took no sailors with them, Errington and his companions
rowing four oars, while Thelma and her father occupied the stern. A
landing was easily effected, and they walked toward the cavern, treading
on thousands of beautiful little shells which strewed the sand beneath
their feet. There was a deep stillness everywhere--the island was so
desolate that it seemed as though the very seabirds refused to make
their homes in the black clefts of such steep and barren rocks.

At the entrance of the little cave Gueldmar looked back to the sea.

"There's a storm coming!" he announced. "Those clouds we saw this
morning have sailed thither almost as quickly as ourselves!"

The sky had indeed grown darker, and little wrinkling waves disturbed
the surface of the water. But the sun as yet retained his sovereignty,
and there was no wind. By the pilot's advice, Errington and his friends
had provided themselves each with a pine torch, in order to light up the
cavern as soon as they found themselves within it. The smoky crimson
flare illuminated what seemed at a first glance to be a miniature fairy
palace studded thickly with clusters of diamonds. Long pointed
stalactites hung from the roof at almost mathematically even distances
from one another,--the walls glistened with varying shades of pink and
green and violet,--and in the very midst of the cave was a still pool of
water in which all the fantastic forms and hues of the place mirrored
themselves in miniature. In one corner the stalactites had clustered
into the shape of a large chair overhung by a canopy, and Duprez
perceiving it, exclaimed--he listened, and seemed satisfied; then,
turning away, he linked his arm through Philip's, and said,

"_Voila!_ A queen's throne! Come Mademoiselle Gueldmar, you must sit in
it!"

"But I am not a queen," laughed Thelma. "A throne is for a king--will
not Sir Phillip sit there?"

"There's a compliment for you, Phil!" cried Lorrimer, waving his torch
enthusiastically. "Let us awaken the echoes with the shout of 'Long live
the King!'"

But Errington approached Thelma, and taking her hand in his, said
gently--

"Come! let us see you throned in state, Queen Thelma! To please
me,--come!"

She looked up--the flame of the bright torch he carried illumined his
face, on which love had written what she could not fail to read,--but
she trembled as with cold, and there was a kind of appalling winder in
her troubled eyes. He whispered, "come, Queen Thelma!" As in a dream,
she allowed him to lead her to the stalactite chair, and when she was
seated therein, she endeavored to control the rapid beating of her
heart, and to smile unconcernedly on the little group that surrounded
her with shouts of mingled mirth and admiration.

"Ye look just fine!" said Macfarlane with undisguised delight. "Ye'd
mak' a grand picture, wouldn't she, Errington?"

Phillip gazed at her, but said nothing--his head was too full. Sitting
there among the glittering, intertwisted, and suspended rocks,--with the
blaze from the torches flashing on her winsome face and luxuriant
hair,--with that half-troubled, half-happy look in her eyes, and an
uncertain shadowy smile quivering on her sweet lips, the girl looked
almost dangerously lovely,--Helen of Troy could scarce have fired more
passionate emotion among the old-world heroes than she unconsciously
excited at that moment in the minds of all who beheld her. Duprez for
once understood what it was to reverence a woman's beauty, and decided
that the flippant language of compliment was out of place--he therefore
said nothing, and Lorrimer, too, was silent battling bravely against the
wild desires that were now, in his opinion, nothing but disloyalty to
his friend. Old Gueldmar's hearty voice roused and startled them all.

"Now Thelma, child! If thou art a queen, give orders to these lads to be
moving! 'Tis a damp place to hold a court in, and thy throne must needs
be a cold one. Let us out to the blessed sunshine again--maybe we can
climb one of yon wild rocks and get a view worth seeing."

"All right, sir!" said Lorimer, chivalrously resolving that now
Errington should have a chance. "Come on, Mac! _Allons,
marchons_,--Pierre! Mr. Gueldmar exacts our obedience! Phil, you take
care of the queen!"

And skillfully pushing on Duprez and Macfarlane before him, he followed
Gueldmar, who preceded them all,--thus leaving his friend in a momentary
comparative solitude with Thelma. The girl was a little startled as she
saw them thus taking their departure, and sprang up from her stalactite
throne in haste. Sir Philip had laid aside his torch in order to assist
her with both hands to descend the sloping rocks; but her embarrassment
at being left almost alone with him made her nervous and uncertain of
foot,--she was hurried and agitated and anxious to overtake the others,
and in trying to walk quickly she slipped and nearly fell. In one second
she was caught in his arms and clasped passionately to his heart.

"Thelma! Thelma!" he whispered, "I love you, my darling--I love you!"

She trembled in his strong embrace, and strove to release herself, but
he pressed her more closely to him, scarcely knowing that he did so, but
feeling that he held the world, life, time, happiness, and salvation in
this one fair creature. His brain was in a wild whirl--the glitter of
the stalactite cave turned to a gyrating wheel of jewel-work, there was
nothing any more--no universe, no existence--nothing but love, love,
love, beating strong hammer-strokes through every fibre of his frame. He
glanced up, and saw that the slowly retreating forms of his friends had
nearly reached the outer opening of the cavern. Once there, they would
look back and--

"Quick, Thelma!" and his warm breath touched her cheek. "My darling! my
love! if you are not angry,--kiss me! I shall understand."

She hesitated. To Philip that instant of hesitation seemed a cycle of
slow revolving years. Timidly she lifted her head. She was very pale,
and her breath came and went quickly. He gazed at her in speechless
suspense,--and saw as in a vision the pure radiance of her face and
star-like eyes shining more and more closely upon him. Then came a
touch,--soft and sweet as a roseleaf pressed against his lips,--and for
one mad moment he remembered nothing,--he was caught up like Homer's
Paris in a cloud of gold, and knew not which was earth or heaven.

"You love me, Thelma?" he murmured in a sort of wondering rapture. "I
cannot believe it, sweet! Tell me--you love me?"

She looked up. A new, unspeakable glory flushed her face, and her eyes
glowed with the mute eloquence of awakening passion.

"Love you?" she said in a voice so low and sweet that it might have been
the whisper of a passing fairy. "Ah, yes! more than my life!"




CHAPTER XIV.

   "Sweet hands, sweet hair, sweet cheeks, sweet eyes, sweet mouth;
   Each singly wooed and won!"
                                                   DANTE ROSETTI.


"Hallo, ho!" shouted Gueldmar vociferously, peering back into the shadows
of the cavern from whence the figures of his daughter and Errington were
seen presently emerging. "Why, what kept you so long, my lad? We thought
you were close behind us. Where's your torch?"

"It went out," replied Philip promptly, as he assisted Thelma with grave
and ceremonious politeness to cross over some rough stones at the
entrance, "and we had some trouble to find our way."

"Ye might hae called to us i' the way o' friendship," observed
Macfarlane somewhat suspiciously, "and we wad hae lighted ye through."

"Oh, it was no matter!" said Thelma, with a charming smile. "Sir Philip
seemed well to know the way, and it was not so very dark!"

Lorimer glanced at her and read plainly all that was written in her
happy face. His heart sank a little; but, noticing that the old _bonde_
was studying his daughter with a slight air of vexation and surprise, he
loyally determined to divert the general attention from her bright
blushes and too brilliantly sparkling eyes.

"Well! . . . here you both are, at any rate," he said lightly, "and I
should strongly advise that we attempt no more exploration of the island
of Soroe to-day. Look at the sky; and just now there was a clap of
thunder."

"Thunder?" exclaimed Errington. "I never heard it!"

"I dare say not!" said Lorimer, with a quiet smile. "Still _we_ heard it
pretty distinctly, and I think we'd better make for the yacht."

"All right!" and Sir Philip sprang gaily into the long-boat to arrange
the cushions in the stern for Thelma. Never had he looked handsomer or
more high-spirited, and his elation was noticed by all his companions.

"Something joyous has happened to our Phil-eep," said Duprez in a
half-whisper. "He is in the air!"

"And something in the ither way has happened vera suddenly to Mr.
Gueldmar," returned Macfarlane. "Th' auld man is in the dumps."

The _bonde's_ face in truth looked sad and somewhat stern. He scarcely
spoke at all as he took his place in the boat beside his daughter,--once
he raised her little hand, looked at it, and kissed it fondly.

They were all soon on their way back to the _Eulalie_ over a sea that
had grown rough and white-crested during their visit to the stalactite
cave. Clouds had gathered thickly over the sky, and though a few shafts
of sunlight still forced a passage through them, the threatening
darkness spread with steady persistency, especially to the northern side
of the horizon, where Storm hovered in the shape of a black wing edged
with coppery crimson. As they reached the yacht a silver glare of
lightning sprang forth from beneath this sable pinion, and a few large
drops of rain began to fall. Errington hurried Thelma on deck and down
into the saloon. His friends, with Gueldmar, followed,--and the vessel
was soon plunging through waves of no small height on her way back to
the Altenfjord. A loud peal of thunder like a salvo of artillery
accompanied their departure from Soroe, and Thelma shivered a little as
she heard it.

"You are nervous, Mademoiselle Gueldmar?" asked Duprez, noticing her
tremor.

"Oh no," she answered brightly. "Nervous? That is to be afraid,--I am
not afraid of a storm, but I do not like it. It is a cruel, fierce
thing; and I should have wished to-day to be all sunshine--all
gladness!" She paused, and her eyes grew soft and humid.

"Then you have been happy to-day?" said Lorimer in a low and very gentle
voice.

She smiled up at him from the depths of the velvet lounge in which
Errington had placed her.

"Happy? I do not think I have ever been so happy before!" She paused,
and a bright blush crimsoned her cheeks; then, seeing the piano open,
she said suddenly "Shall I sing to you? or perhaps you are all tired,
and would rather rest?"

"Music _is_ rest," said Lorimer rather dreamily, watching her as she
rose from her seat,--a tall, supple, lithe figure,--and moved towards
the instrument. "And _your_ voice. Miss Gueldmar, would soothe the most
weary soul that ever dwelt in clay."

She glanced round at him, surprised at his sad tone.

"Ah, you are very, very tired, Mr. Lorimer, I am sure! I will sing you a
Norse cradle-song to make you go to sleep. You will not understand the
words though--will that matter?"

"Not in the least!" answered Lorimer, with a smile. "The London girls
sing in German, Italian, Spanish, and English. Nobody knows what they
are saying: they scarcely know themselves--but it's all right, and quite
fashionable."

Thelma laughed gaily. "How funny!" she exclaimed. "It is to amuse
people, I suppose! Well,--now listen." And, playing a soft prelude, her
rich contralto rippled forth in a tender, passionate, melancholy
melody,--so sweet and heart-penetrating that the practical Macfarlane
sat as one in a dream,--Duprez forgot to finish making the cigarette he
was daintily manipulating between his fingers, and Lorimer had much ado
to keep tears from his eyes. From one song she glided to another and yet
another; her soul seemed possessed by the very spirit of music.
Meanwhile Errington, in obedience to an imperative sign from old
Gueldmar, left the saloon, with him,--once outside the doors the _bonde_
said in a somewhat agitated voice--

"I desire to speak to you, Sir Philip, alone and undisturbed, if such a
thing be possible."

"By all means!" answered Philip. "Come to my 'den' on deck. We shall be
quite solitary there."

He led the way, and Olaf Gueldmar followed him in silence.

It was raining fiercely, and the waves, green towers of strength, broke
every now and then over the sides of the yacht with a hissing shower of
salt white spray. The thunder rolled along the sky in angry
reverberating echoes,--frequent flashes of lightning leaped out like
swords drawn from dark scabbards,--yet towards the south the sky was
clearing, and arrowy beams of pale gold fell from the hidden sun, with a
soothing and soft lustre on the breast of the troubled water.

Gueldmar looked about him, and heaved a deep sigh of refreshment. His
eyes rested lovingly on the tumbling billows,--he bared his white head
to the wind and rain.

"This is the life, the blood, the heart of a man!" he said, while a sort
of fierce delight shone in his keen eyes. "To battle with the
tempest,--to laugh at the wrath of waters,--to set one's face against
the wild wind,--to sport with the elements as though they were children
or serfs,--this is the joy of manhood! A joy," he added slowly, "that
few so-called men of to-day can ever feel."

Errington smiled gravely. "Perhaps you are right, sir," he said; "but
perhaps, at the same time, you forget that life has grown very bitter to
all of us during the last hundred years or so. Maybe the world is
getting old and used up, maybe the fault is in ourselves,--but it is
certain that none of us nowadays are particularly happy, except at rare
intervals when--"

At that moment, in a lull of the storm, Thelma's voice pealed upwards
from the saloon. She was singing a French song, and the refrain rang out
clearly--

    "Ah! le doux son d'un baiser tendre!"

Errington paused abruptly in his speech, and turning towards a little
closed and covered place on deck which was half cabin, half
smoking-room, and which he kept as his own private sanctum, he unlocked
it, saying--

"Will you come in here, sir? It's not very spacious, but I think it's
just the place for a chat,--especially a private one."

Gueldmar entered, but did not sit down,--Errington shut the door against
the rain and beating spray and also remained standing. After a pause,
during which the _bonde_ seemed struggling with some inward emotion, he
said resolutely--

"Sir Philip, you are a young man, and I am an old one. I would not
willingly offend you--for I like you--yes!" And the old man looked up
frankly: "I like you enough to respect you--which is more than I can say
to many men I have known! But I have a weight on my heart that must be
lifted. You and my child have been much together for many days,--and I
was an old fool not to have foreseen the influence your companionship
might have upon her. I may be mistaken in the idea that has taken hold
of me--some wild words let fall by the poor boy Sigurd this morning,
when he entreated my pardon for his misconduct of yesterday, have
perhaps misled my judgment,--but--by the gods! I cannot put it into
suitable words! I--"

"You think I love your daughter?" said Sir Philip quietly. "You are not
mistaken, Sir! I love her with my whole heart and soul! I want you to
give her to me as my wife."

A change passed over the old farmer's face. He grew deathly pale, and
put out one hand feebly as though to seek some support. Errington caught
it in his own and pressed it hard.

"Surely you are not surprised, Sir?" he added with eagerness. "How can I
help loving her! She is the best and loveliest girl I have ever seen!
Believe me,--I would make her happy!"

"And have you thought, young man," returned Gueldmar slowly, "that you
would make me desolate?--or, thinking it, have you cared?"

There was an infinite pathos in his voice, and Errington was touched and
silent. He found no answer to this reproach. Gueldmar sat down, leaning
his head on his hand.

"Let me think a little," he said. "My mind is confused a bit. I was not
prepared for--"

He paused and seemed lost in sorrowful meditation. By-and-by he looked
up, and meeting Errington's anxious gaze, he broke into a short laugh.

"Don't mind me, my lad!" he said sturdily. "'Tis a blow, you see! I had
not thought so far as this. I'll tell you the plain truth, and you must
forgive me for wronging you. I know what young blood is, all the world
over. A fair face fires it--and impulse makes it gallop beyond control.
'Twas so with me when I was your age,--though no woman, I hope, was ever
the worse for my harmless lovemaking. But Thelma is different from most
women,--she has a strange nature,--moreover, she has a heart and a
memory,--if she once learns the meaning of love, she will never unlearn
the lesson. Now, I thought, that like most young men of your type, you
might, without meaning any actual evil, trifle with her--play with her
feelings--"

"I understand, Sir," said Philip coolly, without displaying any offense.
"To put it plainly, in spite of your liking for me, you thought me a
snob."

This time the old man laughed heartily and unforcedly.

"Dear, dear!" he exclaimed. "You are what is termed in your own land, a
peppery customer! Never mind--I like it. Why, my lad, the men of to-day
think it fair sport to trifle with a pretty woman now and then--"

"Pardon!" interrupted Philip curtly. "I must defend my sex. We _may_
occasionally trifle with those women who show us that they wish to be
trifled with--but never with those who, like your daughter, win every
man's respect and reverence."

Gueldmar rose and grasped his hand fervently.

"By all the gods, I believe you are a true gentleman!" he said. "I ask
your pardon if I have offended you by so much as a thought. But
now"--and his face grew very serious--"we must talk this matter over. I
will not speak of the suddenness of your love for my child, because I
know, from my own past experience, that love is a rapid impulse--a flame
ignited in a moment. Yes, I know that well!" He paused, and his voice
trembled a little, but he soon steadied it and went on--"I think,
however, my lad, that you have been a little hasty,--for instance, have
you thought what your English friends and relatives will say to your
marrying a farmer's daughter who,--though she has the blood of kings in
her veins,--is, nevertheless, as this present world would judge, beneath
you in social standing? I say, have you thought of this?"

Philip smiled proudly. "Certainly, sir, I have _not_ thought of any such
trifle as the opinion of society,--if that is what you mean. I have no
relatives to please or displease--no friends in the truest sense of the
world except Lorimer. I have a long list of acquaintances
undoubtedly,--infinite bores, most of them,--and whether they approve or
disapprove of my actions is to me a matter of profound indifference."

"See you!" said the _bonde_ firmly and earnestly. "It would be an ill
day for me if I gave my little one to a husband who might--mind! I only
say _might_,--in the course of years, regret having married her."

"Regret!" cried Philip excitedly, then quieting down, he said gently.
"My good friend, I do not think you understand me. You talk as if Thelma
were beneath _me_. Good God! It is _I_ who am infinitely beneath _her_!
I am utterly unworthy of her in every way, I assure you--and I tell you
so frankly. I have led a useless life, and a more or less selfish one. I
have principally sought to amuse and interest myself all through it.
I've had my vices to, and have them still. Beside Thelma's innocent
white soul, mine looks villainous! But I can honestly say I never knew
what love was till I saw her,--and now--well! I would give my life away
gladly to save her from even a small sorrow."

"I believe you--I thoroughly believe you!" said Gueldmar. "I see you love
the child. The gods forbid that I should stand in the way of her
happiness! I am getting old, and 'twas often a sore point with me to
know what would become of my darling when I was gone,--for she is fair
to look upon, and there are many human wolves ready to devour such
lambs. Still, my lad, you must learn all. Do you know what is said of me
in Bosekop?"

Errington smiled and nodded in the affirmative.

"You do?" exclaimed the old man, somewhat surprised. "You know they say
I killed my wife--my wife! the creature before whom my soul knelt in
worship night and day--whose bright head was the sunlight of life! Let
me tell you of her, Sir Philip--'tis a simple story. She was the child
of my dearest friend, and many years younger than myself. This friend of
mine, Erik Erlandsen, was the captain of a stout Norwegian barque,
running constantly between these wild waters and the coast of France. He
fell in love with, and married a blue-eyed beauty from the Sogne Fjord,
he carried her secretly away from her parents, who would not consent to
the marriage. She was a timid creature, in spite of her queenly ways,
and, for fear of her parents, she would never land again on the shores
of Norway. She grew to love France,--and Erik often left her there in
some safe shelter when he was bound on some extra long and stormy
passage. She took to the Catholic creed, too, in France, and learned to
speak the French tongue, so Erik said, as though it were her own. At the
time of the expected birth of her child, her husband had taken her far
inland to Arles, and there business compelled him to leave her for some
days. When he returned she was dead!--laid out for burial, with flowers
and tapers round her. He fell prone on her body insensible,--and not for
many hours did the people of the place dare to tell him that he was the
father of a living child--a girl, with the great blue eyes and white
skin of her mother. He would scarce look at it--but at last, when roused
a bit, he carried the little thing in his arms to the great Convent at
Arles, and, giving the nuns money, he bade them take it and bring it up
as they would, only giving it the name of Thelma. Then poor Erlandsen
came home--he sought me out:--he said, 'Olaf, I feel that I am going on
my last voyage. Promise you will see to my child--guard her, if you can,
from an evil fate! For me there is no future!' I promised, and strove to
cheer him--but he spoke truly--his ship went down in a storm on the Bay
of Biscay, and all on board were lost. Then it was that I commenced my
journeyings to and fro, to see the little maiden that was growing up in
the Convent at Arles. I watched her for sixteen years--and when she
reached her seventeenth birthday, I married her and brought her to
Norway."

"And she was Thelma's mother?" said Errington with interest.

"She was Thelma's mother," returned the _bonde_, "and she was more
beautiful than even Thelma is now. Her education had been almost
entirely French, but, as a child, she had learnt that I generally spoke
English, and as there happened to be an English nun in the Convent, she
studied that language and mastered it for the love of me--yes!" he
repeated with musing tenderness, "all for the love of me,--for she loved
me, Sir Philip--ay! as passionately as I loved her, and that is saying a
great deal! We lived a solitary happy life,--but we did not mix with our
neighbors--our creeds were different,--our ways apart from theirs. We
had some time of perfect happiness together. Three years passed before
our child was born, and then"--the _bonde_ paused awhile, and again
continued,--"then my wife's health grew frail and uncertain. She liked
to be in the fresh air, and was fond of wandering about the hills with
her little one in her arms. One day--shall I ever forget it! when Thelma
was about two and a half years old, I missed them both, and went out to
search for them, fearing my wife had lost her way, and knowing that our
child could not toddle far without fatigue. I found them"--the _bonde_
shuddered-"but how? My wife had slipped and fallen through a chasm in
the rocks,--high enough, indeed, to have killed her,--she was alive, but
injured for life. She lay there white and motionless--little Thelma
meanwhile sat smilingly on the edge of the rock, assuring me that her
mother had gone to sleep '_down there_.' Well!" and Gueldmar brushed the
back of his hand across his eyes, "to make a long story short, I carried
my darling home in my arms a wreck--she lingered for ten years of
patient suffering, ten long years! She could only move about on
crutches,--the beauty of her figure was gone--but the beauty of her face
grew more perfect every day! Never again was she seen on the hills,--and
so to the silly folks of Bosekop she seemed to have disappeared. Indeed,
I kept her very existence a secret,--I could not endure that others
should hear of the destruction of all that marvellous grace and queenly
loveliness! She lived long enough to see her daughter blossom into
girlhood,--then,--she died. I could not bear to have her laid in the
damp, wormy earth--you know in our creed earth-burial is not
practiced,--so I laid her tenderly away in a king's tomb of
antiquity,--a tomb known only to myself and one who assisted me to lay
her in her last resting-place. There she sleeps right royally,--and now
is your mind relieved, my lad? For the reports of the Bosekop folk must
certainly have awakened some suspicions in your mind?"

"Your story has interested me deeply, sir," said Errington; "but I
assure you I never had any suspicions of you at all. I always disregard
gossip--it is generally scandalous, and seldom true. Besides, I took
your face on trust, as you took mine."

"Then," declared Gueldmar, with a smile, "I have nothing more to
say,--except"--and he stretched out both hands--"may the great gods
prosper your wooing! You offer a fairer fate to Thelma than I had
dreamed of for her--but I know not what the child herself may say--"

Philip interrupted him. His eyes flashed, and he smiled.

"She loves me!" he said simply. Gueldmar looked at him, laughed a little,
and sighed.

"She loves thee?" he said, relapsing into the _thee_ and _thou_ he was
wont to use with his daughter. "Thou hast lost no time, my lad? When
didst thou find that out?"

"To-day!" returned Philip, with that same triumphant smile playing about
his lips. "She told me so--yet even now I cannot believe it!"

"Ah, well, thou mayest believe it truly," said Gueldmar, "for Thelma says
nothing that she does not mean! The child has never stooped to even the
smallest falsehood."

Errington seemed lost in a happy dream. Suddenly he roused himself and
took Gueldmar by the arm.

"Come," he said, "let us go to her! She will wonder why we are so long
absent. See! the storm has cleared--the sun is shining. It is
understood? You will give her to me?"

"Foolish lad!" said Gueldmar gently. "What have I to do with it? She has
given herself to thee! Love has overwhelmed both of your hearts, and
before the strong sweep of such an ocean what can an old man's life
avail? Nothing--less than nothing! Besides, I _should_ be happy--if I
have regrets,--if I feel the tooth of sorrow biting at my heart--'tis
naught but selfishness. 'Tis my own dread of parting with her"--his
voice trembled, and his fine face quivered with suppressed emotion.

Errington pressed his arm. "Our house shall be yours, sir!" he said
eagerly. "Why not leave this place and come with us?"

Gueldmar shook his head. "Leave Norway!" he said--"leave the land of my
fathers--turn my back on these mountains and fjords and glaziers? Never!
No, no, my lad, you're kind-hearted and generous as becomes you, and I
thank you from my heart. But 'twould be impossible! I should be like a
caged eagle, breaking my wings against the bars of English
conventionalities. Besides, young birds must make their nest without
interference from the old ones."

He stepped out on deck as Errington opened the little cabin door, and
his features kindled with enthusiasm as he looked on the stretch of dark
mountain scenery around him, illumined by the brilliant beams of the sun
that shone out now in full splendor, as though in glorious defiance of
the retreating storm, which had gradually rolled away in clouds that
were tumbling one over the other at the extreme edge of the northern
horizon, like vanquished armies taking to hasty flight.

"Could I stand the orderly tameness of your green England, think you,
after this?" he exclaimed, with a comprehensive gesture of his hand.
"No, no! When death comes--and 'twill not be long coming--let it find me
with my face turned to the mountains, and nothing but their kingly
crests between me and the blessed sky! Come, my lad!" and he relapsed
into his ordinary tone. "If thou art like me when I was thy age, every
minute passed away from thy love seems an eternity! Let us go to her--we
had best wait till the decks are dry before we assemble up here again."

They descended at once into the saloon, where they found Thelma being
initiated into the mysteries of chess by Duprez, while Macfarlane and
Lorimer looked idly on. She glanced up from the board as her father and
Errington entered, and smiled at them both with a slightly heightened
color.

"This is such a wonderful game, father!" she said. "And I am so stupid,
I cannot understand it! So Monsieur Pierre is trying to make me remember
the moves."

"Nothing is easier!" declared Duprez. "I was showing you how the bishop
goes, so--cross-ways," and he illustrated his lesson. "He is a dignitary
of the Church, you perceive. _Bien!_ it follows that he cannot go in a
straight line,--if you observe them well, you will see that all the
religious gentlemen play at cross purposes. You are very quick,
Mademoiselle Gueldmar,--you have perfectly comprehended the move of the
Castle, and the pretty plunge of the knight. Now, as I told you, the
queen can do anything--all the pieces shiver in their shoes before her!"

"Why?" she asked, feeling a little embarrassed, as Sir Philip came and
sat beside her, looking at her with an undoubtedly composed air of
absolute proprietorship.

"Why? _Enfin_, the reason is simple!" answered Pierre. "The queen is a
woman,--everything must give way to her wish!"

"And the king?" she inquired.

"Ah! _Le pauvre Roi!_ He can do very little--almost nothing! He can only
move one step at a time, and that with much labor and hesitation--he is
the wooden image of Louis XVI!"

"Then," said the girl quickly, "the object of the game is to protect a
king who is not worth protecting!"

Duprez laughed. "Exactly! And thus, in this charming game, you have the
history of many nations! Mademoiselle Gueldmar has put the matter
excellently! Chess is for those who intend to form republics. All the
worry and calculation--all the moves of pawns, bishops, knights,
castles, and queens,--all to shelter the throne which is not worth
protecting! Excellent! Mademoiselle, you are not in favor of
monarchies!"

"I do not know," said Thelma; "I have never thought of such things. But
kings should be great men,--wise and powerful, better and braver than
all their subjects, should they not?"

"Undoubtedly!" remarked Lorimer; "but, it's a curious thing, they seldom
are. Now, our queen, God bless her--"

"Hear, hear!" interrupted Errington, laughing good-humoredly. "I won't
have a word said against the dear old lady, Lorimer! Granted that
she hates London, and sees no fun in being stared at by vulgar crowds, I
think she's quite right,--and I sympathize heartily with her liking for
a cup of tea in peace and quiet with some old Scotch body who doesn't
care whether she's a queen or a washerwoman."

"I think," said Macfarlane slowly, "that royalty has its duties, ye see,
an' though I canna say I object to Her Majesty's homely way o' behavin',
still there are a few matters that wad be the better for her pairsonal
attention."

"Oh bother!" said Errington gaily. "Look at that victim of the nation,
the Prince of Wales! The poor fellow hasn't a moment's peace of his
life,--what with laying foundation stones, opening museums, inspecting
this and visiting that, he is like a costermonger's donkey, that must
gee-up or gee-wo as his master, the people bid. If he smiles at a woman,
it is instantly reported that he's in love with her,--if he frankly says
he considers her pretty, there's no end to the scandal. Poor royal
wretch! I pity him from my heart! The unwashed, beer-drinking,
gin-swilling classes, who clamor for shortened hours of labor, and want
work to be expressly invented for their benefit, don't suffer a bit more
than Albert Edward, who is supposed to be rolling idly in the very lap
of luxury, and who can hardly call his soul his own. Why, the man can't
eat a mutton-chop without there being a paragraph in the papers headed,
'Diet of the Prince of Wales.' His life is made an infinite bore to him,
I'm positive!"

Gueldmar looked thoughtful. "I know little about kings or princes," he
said, "but it seems to me, from what I _do_ know, that they have but
small power. They are mere puppets. In olden times they possessed
supremacy, but now--"

"I will tell you," interrupted Duprez excitedly, "who it is that rules
the people in these times,--it is the _Pen_--_Madame La Plume_. A little
black, sharp, scratching devil she is,--empress of all nations! No crown
but a point,--no royal robe save ink! It is certain that as long as
_Madame la Plume_ gambols freely over her realms of paper, so long must
kings and autocrats shake in their shoes and be uncertain of their
thrones. Mon Dieu! if I had but the gift of writing, I would conquer the
world!"

"There are an immense number of people writing just now, Pierre,"
remarked Lorimer, with a smile, "yet they don't do much in the
conquering line."

"Because they are afraid!" said Duprez. "Because they have not the
courage of their opinions! Because they dare not tell the truth!"

"Upon my life, I believe you are right!" said Errington. "If there were
a man bold enough to declare truths and denounce lies, I should imagine
it quite possible that he might conquer the world,--or, at any rate,
make it afraid of him."

"But is the world so full of lies?" asked Thelma timidly.

Lorimer looked at her gravely. "I fear so, Miss Gueldmar! I think it has
a tolerable harvest of them every year,--a harvest, too, that never
fails! But I say, Phil! Look at the sun shining! Let us go up on
deck,--we shall soon be getting back to the Altenfjord."

They all rose, threw on their caps, and left the saloon with the
exception of Errington, who lingered behind, watching his opportunity,
and as Thelma followed her father he called her back softly--

"Thelma!"

She hesitated, and then turned towards him,--her father saw her
movement, smiled at her, and nodded kindly, as he passed through the
saloon doors and disappeared. With a beating heart, she sprang quickly
to her lover's side, and as he caught her in his arms, she whispered--

"You have told him?"

"Your father? Yes, my darling!" murmured Philip, as he kissed her sweet,
upturned lips. "Be quite happy--he knows everything. Come, Thelma! tell
me again you love me--I have not heard you say it properly yet!"

She smiled dreamily as she leaned against his breast and looked up into
his eyes.

"I cannot say it properly!" she said. "There is no language for my
heart! If I could tell you all I feel, you would think it foolish, I am
sure, because it is all so wild and strange,"--she stopped, and her face
grew pale,--"oh!" she murmured with a slight tremor; "it is terrible!"

"What is terrible, my sweet one?" asked Errington drawing her more
closely, and folding her more tightly in his arms.

She sighed deeply. "To have no more life of my own!" she answered, while
her low voice quivered with intense feeling. "It has all gone--to you!
And yours has come to me!--is it not strange and almost sad? How your
heart beats, poor boy!--I can hear it throb, throb--so fast!--here,
where I am resting my head." She looked up, and her little white hand
caressed his cheek. "Philip," she said very softly, "what are you
thinking about? Your eyes shine so brightly--do you know you have
beautiful eyes?"

"Have I?" he murmured abstractedly, looking down on that exquisite,
innocent, glowing face, and trembling with the force of the restrained
passion that kindled through him. "I don't know about that!--yours seem
to me like two stars fallen from heaven! Oh, Thelma, my darling!--God
make me worthy of you."

He spoke with intense fervor,--kissing her with a tenderness, in which
there was something of reverence as well as fear. The whole soul of the
man was startled and roused to inexpressible devotion, by the absolute
simplicity and purity of her nature--the direct frankness with which she
had said her life was his--his!--and in what way was HE fitted to be the
guardian and possessor of this white lily from the garden of God? She
was so utterly different to all women as he had known them--as different
as a bird of paradise to a common house-sparrow. Meanwhile, as these
thoughts flitted through his brain, she moved gently from his embrace
and smiled proudly, yet sweetly.

"Worthy of me?" she said softly and wonderingly. "It is I that will pray
to be made worthy of _you_! You must not put it wrongly, Philip!"

He made no answer, but looked at her as she stood before him, majestic
as a young empress in her straight, unadorned white gown.

"Thelma!" he said suddenly, "do you know how lovely you are?"

"Yes!" she answered simply; "I know it, because I am like my mother. But
it is not anything to be beautiful,--unless one is loved,--and then it
is different! I feel much more beautiful now, since you think me
pleasant to look at!"

Philip laughed and caught her hand. "What a child you are!" he said.
"Now let me see this little finger." And he loosened from his
watch-chain a half-hoop ring of brilliants. "This belonged to _my_
mother, Thelma," he continued gently, "and since her death I have always
carried it about with me. I resolved never to part with it, except to--"
He paused and slipped it on the third finger of her left hand, where it
sparkled bravely.

She gazed at it in surprise. "You part with it now?" she asked, with
wonder in her accents. "I do not understand!"

He kissed her. "No? I will explain again, Thelma!--and you shall not
laugh at me as you did the very first time I saw you! I resolved never
to part with this ring, I say, except to--my promised wife. _Now_ do you
understand?"

She blushed deeply, and her eyes dropped before his ardent gaze.

"I do thank you very much, Philip,"--she faltered timidly,--she was
about to say something further when suddenly Lorimer entered the saloon.
He glanced from Errington to Thelma, and from Thelma back again to
Errington,--and smiled. So have certain brave soldiers been known to
smile in face of a death-shot. He advanced with his usual languid step
and nonchalant air, and removing his cap, bowed gravely and courteously.

"Let me be the first to offer my congratulations to the future Lady
Errington! Phil, old man! . . . I wish you joy!"




CHAPTER XV.

   "Why, sir, in the universal game of double-dealing, shall not the
    cleverest tricksters play each other false by haphazard, and so
    betray their closest secrets, to their own and their friends'
    infinite amazement?"--CONGREVE.


When Olaf Gueldmar and his daughter left the yacht that evening,
Errington accompanied them, in order to have the satisfaction of
escorting his beautiful betrothed as far as her own door. They were all
three very silent--the _bonde_ was pensive, Thelma shy, and Errington
himself was too happy for speech. Arriving at the farmhouse, they saw
Sigurd curled up under the porch, playing idly with the trailing
rose-branches, but, on hearing their footsteps, he looked up, uttered a
wild exclamation, and fled. Gueldmar tapped his own forehead
significantly.

"He grows worse and worse, the poor lad!" he said somewhat sorrowfully.
"And yet there is a strange mingling of foresight and wit with his wild
fancies. Wouldst thou believe it, Thelma, child," and here he turned to
his daughter and encircled her waist with his arm--"he seemed to know
how matters were with thee and Philip, when I was yet in the dark
concerning them!"

This was the first allusion her father had made to her engagement, and
her head drooped with a sort of sweet shame.

"Nay, now, why hide thy face?" went on the old man cheerily. "Didst thou
think I would grudge my bird her summer-time? Not I! And little did I
hope for thee, my darling, that thou wouldst find a shelter worthy of
thee in this wild world!" He paused a moment, looking tenderly down upon
her, as she nestled in mute affection against his breast,--then
addressing himself to Errington, he went on--

"We have a story in our Norse religion, my lad, of two lovers who
declared their passion to each other, on one stormy night in the depth
of winter. They were together in a desolate hut on the mountains, and
around them lay unbroken tracts of frozen snow. They were descended from
the gods, and therefore the gods protected them--and it happened that
after they had sworn their troth, the doors of the snow-bound hut flew
suddenly open, and lo! the landscape had changed--the hills were gay
with grass and flowers,--the sky was blue and brilliant, the birds sang,
and everywhere was heard the ripple of waters let loose from their icy
fetters, and gamboling down the rocks in the joyous sun. This was the
work of the goddess Friga,--the first kiss exchanged by the lovers she
watched over, banished Winter from the land, and Spring came instead.
'Tis a pretty story, and true all the world over--true for all men and
women of all creeds! It must be an ice-bound heart indeed that will not
warm to the touch of love--and mine, though aged, grows young again in
the joy of my children." He put his daughter gently from him to-wards
Philip, saying with more gravity, "Go to him, child!--go--with thy old
father's blessing! And take with thee the three best virtues of a
wife,--truth, humility, and obedience. Good night, my son!" and he wrung
Errington's hand with fervor. "You'll take longer to say good night to
Thelma," and he laughed, "so I'll go in and leave you to it!"

And with a good-natured nod, he entered the house whistling a tune as he
went, that they might not think he imagined himself lonely or
neglected,--and the two lovers paced slowly up and down the garden-path
together, exchanging those first confidences which to outsiders seem so
eminently foolish, but which to those immediately concerned are most
wonderful, delightful, strange, and enchanting beyond all description.
Where, from a practical point of view, is the sense of such questions as
these--"When did you love me first?" "What did you feel when I said
so-and-so?" "Have you dreamt of me often?" "Will you love me always,
always, always?" and so on _ad infinitum_. "Ridiculous rubbish!"
exclaims the would-be strong-minded, but secretly savage old maid,--and
the selfishly matter-of-fact, but privately fidgety and lonely old
bachelor. Ah! but there are those who could tell you that at one time or
another of their lives this "ridiculous rubbish" seemed far more
important than the decline and fall of empires,--more necessary to
existence than light and air,--more fraught with hope, fear, suspense,
comfort, despair, and anxiety than anything that could be invented or
imagined! Philip and Thelma,--man and woman in the full flush of youth,
health, beauty, and happiness,--had just entered their Paradise,--their
fairy-garden,--and every little flower and leaf on the way had special,
sweet interest for them. Love's indefinable glories,--Love's proud
possibilities,--Love's long ecstasies,--these, like so many
spirit-figures, seemed to smile and beckon them on, on, on, through
golden seas of sunlight,--through flower-filled fields of drowsy
entrancement,--through winding ways of rose-strewn and lily-scented
leafage,--on, on, with eyes and hearts absorbed in one another,--unseeing
any end to the dreamlike wonders that, like some heavenly picture-scroll,
unrolled slowly and radiantly before them. And so they murmured those
unwise, tender things which no wisdom in the world has ever surpassed,
and when Philip at last said "Good night!" with more reluctance than
Romeo, and pressed his parting kiss on his love's sweet, fresh
mouth,--the riddle with which he had puzzled himself so often was
resolved at last,--life _was_ worth living, worth cherishing, worth
ennobling. The reason of all things seemed clear to him,--Love, and Love
only, supported, controlled, and grandly completed the universe! He
accepted this answer to all perplexities,--his heart expanded with a
sense of large content--his soul was satisfied.

Meanwhile, during his friend's absence from the yacht, Lorimer took it
upon himself to break the news to Duprez and Macfarlane. These latter
young gentlemen had had their suspicions already, but they were not
quite prepared to hear them so soon confirmed. Lorimer told the matter
in his own way.

"I say, you fellows!" he remarked carelessly, as he sat smoking in their
company on deck, "you'd better look out! If you stare at Miss Gueldmar
too much, you'll have Phil down upon you!"

"Ha, ha!" exclaimed Duprez slyly, "the dear Phil-eep is in love?"

"Something more than that," said Lorimer, looking absently at the
cigarette he held between his fingers,--"he's an engaged man."

"Engaged!" cried Macfarlane excitedly. "Ma certes! He has the deevil's
own luck! He's just secured for himself the grandest woman in the
warld!"

"_Je le crois bien!_" said Duprez gravely, nodding his head several
times. "Phil-eep is a wise boy! He is the fortunate one! I am not for
marriage at all--no! not for myself,--it is to tie one's hands, to
become a prisoner,--and that would not suit me; but if I were inclined
to captivity, I should like Mademoiselle Gueldmar for my beautiful
gaoler. And beautiful she is, _mon Dieu!_ . . . beyond all comparison!"

Lorimer was silent, so was Macfarlane. After a pause Duprez spoke again.

"And do you know, _cher_ Lorimer, when our Phil-eep will marry?"

"I haven't the slightest idea," returned Lorimer. "I know he's engaged,
that's all."

Suddenly Macfarlane broke into a chuckling laugh.

"I say, Lorimer," he said, with his deep-set, small grey eyes sparkling
with mischief. "'Twould be grand fun to see auld Dyceworthy's face when
he hears o't. By the Lord! He'll fall to cursin' an' swearin' like ma
pious aunt in Glasgie, or that auld witch that cursed Miss Thelma
yestreen!"

"An eminently unpleasant old woman _she_ was!" said Lorimer musingly. "I
wonder what she meant by it!"

"She meant, _mon cher_," said Duprez airily, "that she knew herself to
be ugly and venerable, while Mademoiselle was youthful and
ravishing,--it is a sufficient reason to excite profanity in the mind of
a lady!"

"Here comes Errington!" said Macfarlane, pointing to the approaching
boat that was coming swiftly back from the Gueldmars' pier. "Lorimer, are
we to congratulate him?"

"If you like!" returned Lorimer. "I dare say he won't object."

So that as soon as Sir Philip set foot on the yacht, his hands were
cordially grasped, and his friends out-vied each other in good wishes
for his happiness. He thanked them simply and with a manly
straightforwardness, entirely free from the usual affected embarrassment
that some modern young men think it seemly to adopt under similar
circumstances.

"The fact is," he said frankly, "I congratulate myself,--I'm more lucky
than I deserve, I know!"

"What a sensation she will make in London, Phil!" said Lorimer suddenly.
"I've just thought of it! Good Heavens! Lady Winsleigh will cry for
sheer spite and vexation!"

Philip laughed. "I hope not," he said. "I should think it would need
immense force to draw a tear from her ladyship's cold bright eyes."

"She used to like you awfully, Phil!" said Lorimer. "You were a great
favorite of hers."

"All men are her favorites with the exception of one--her husband!"
observed Errington gaily. "Come along, let's have some champagne to
celebrate the day! We'll propose toasts and drink healths--we've got a
fair excuse for jollity this evening."

They all descended into the saloon, and had a merry time of it, singing
songs and telling good stories, Lorimer being the gayest of the party,
and it was long past midnight when they retired to their cabins, without
even looking at the wonders of, perhaps, the most gorgeous sky that had
yet shone on their travels--a sky of complete rose-color, varying from
the deepest shade up to the palest, in which the sun glowed with a
subdued radiance like an enormous burning ruby.

Thelma saw it, standing under her house-porch, where her father had
joined her,--Sigurd saw it,--he had come out from some thicket where he
had been hiding, and he now sat, in a humble, crouching posture at
Thelma's feet. All three were silent, reverently watching the spreading
splendor of the heavens. Once Gueldmar addressed his daughter in a soft
tone.

"Thou are happy, my bird?"

She smiled--the expression of her face was almost divine in its rapture.

"Perfectly happy, my father!"

At the sound of her dulcet voice, Sigurd looked up. His large blue eyes
were full of tears, he took her hand and held it in his meagre and
wasted one.

"Mistress!" he said suddenly, "do you think I shall soon die?"

She turned her pitying eyes down upon him, startled by the vibrating
melancholy of his tone.

"Thou wilt die, Sigurd," answered Gueldmar gently, "when the gods
please,--not one second sooner or later. Art thou eager to see
Valhalla?"

Sigurd nodded dreamily. "They will understand me there!" he murmured.
"And I shall grow straight and strong and brave! Mistress, if you meet
me in Valhalla, you will love me!"

She stroked his wild fair locks. "I love you now, Sigurd," she said
tenderly. "But perhaps we shall all love each other better in heaven."

"Yes, yes!" exclaimed Sigurd, patting her hand caressingly. "When we are
all dead, dead! When our bodies crumble away and turn to flowers and
birds and butterflies,--and our souls come out like white and red
flames,--yes! . . . then we shall love each other and talk of such
strange, strange things!" He paused and laughed wildly. Then his voice
sank again into melancholy monotony--and he added: "Mistress, you are
killing poor Sigurd!"

Thelma's face grow very earnest and anxious. "Are you vexed with me,
dear?" she asked soothingly. "Tell me what it is that troubles you?"

Sigurd met her eyes with a look of speechless despair and shook his
head.

"I cannot tell you!" he muttered. "All my thoughts have gone to drown
themselves one by one in the cold sea! My heart was buried yesterday,
and I saw it sealed down into its coffin. There is something of me
left,--something that dances before me like a flame,--but it will not
rest, it does not obey me. I call it, but it will not come! And I am
getting tired, mistress--very, very tired!" His voice broke, and a low
sob escaped him,--he hid his face in the folds of her dress. Gueldmar
looked at the poor fellow compassionately.

"The wits wander further and further away!" he said to his daughter in a
low tone. "'Tis a mind like a broken rainbow, split through by
storm--'twill soon vanish. Be patient with him, child,--it cannot be for
long!"

"No, not for long!" cried Sigurd, raising his head brightly. "That is
true--not for long! Mistress, will you come to-morrow with me and gather
flowers? You used to love to wander with your poor boy in the
fields,--but you have forgotten,--and I cannot find any blossoms without
you! They will not show themselves unless you come! Will you? dear,
beautiful mistress! will you come?"

She smiled, pleased to see him a little more cheerful. "Yes, Sigurd,"
she said; "I will come. We will go together early to-morrow morning and
gather all the flowers we can find. Will that make you happy?"

"Yes!" he said, softly kissing the hem of her dress. "It will make me
happy--for the last time."

Then he rose in an attitude of attention, as though he had been called
by some one at a distance,--and with a grave, preoccupied air he moved
away, walking on tip-toe as though he feared to interrupt the sound of
some soft invisible music. Gueldmar sighed as he watched him disappear.

"May the gods make us thankful for a clear brain when we have it!" he
said devoutly; and then turning to his daughter, he bade her good night,
and laid his hands on her golden head in silent but fervent blessing.
"Child," he said tremulously, "in the new joys that await thee, never
forget how thy old father loves thee!"

Then, not trusting himself to say more, he strode into the house and
betook himself to slumber. Thelma followed his example, and the old
farmhouse was soon wrapped in the peace and stillness of the strange
night--a night of glittering sunshine. Sigurd alone was wakeful,--he lay
at the foot of one of the tallest pine-trees, and stared persistently at
the radiant sky through the network of dark branches. Now and then he
smiled as though he saw some beatific vision--sometimes he plucked
fitfully at the soft long moss on which he had made his couch, and
sometimes he broke into a low, crooning song. God alone knew the broken
ideas, the dim fancies, the half born desires, that glimmered like pale
ghosts in the desert of his brain,--God alone, in the great Hereafter,
could solve the problem of his sorrows and throw light on his soul's
darkness.

It was past six in the morning when he arose, and smoothing back his
tangled locks, went to Thelma's window and sat down beneath it, in mute
expectancy. He had not long to wait,--at the expiration of ten or
fifteen minutes, the little lattice was thrown wide open, and the girl's
face, fresh as a rose, framed in a shower of amber locks, smiled down
upon him.

"I am coming, Sigurd!" she cried softly and joyously. "How lovely the
morning is! Stay for me there! I shall not be long."

And she disappeared, leaving her window open. Sigurd heard her singing
little scraps of song to herself, as she moved about in the interior of
her room. He listened, as though his soul were drawn out of him by her
voice,--but presently the rich notes ceased, and there was a sudden
silence. Sigurd knew or guessed the reason of that hush,--Thelma was at
her prayers. Instinctively the poor forlorn lad folded his wasted
hands--most piteously and most imploringly he raised his bewildered eyes
to the blue and golden glory of the sky. His conception of God was
indefinable; his dreams of heaven, chaotic minglings of fairy-land with
Valhalla,--but he somehow felt that wherever Thelma's holy aspirations
turned, there the angels must be listening.

Presently she came out of the house, looking radiant as the morning
itself,--her luxuriant hair was thrown back over her shoulders, and fell
loosely about her in thick curls, simply confined by a knot of blue
ribbon. She carried a large osier basket, capacious, and gracefully
shaped.

"Now, Sigurd," she called sweetly, "I am ready! Where shall we go?"

Sigurd hastened to her side, happy and smiling.

"Across there," he said, pointing toward the direction of Bosekop.
"There is a stream under the trees that laughs to itself all day--you
know it, mistress? And the poppies are in the field as you go--and by
the banks there are the heart's-ease flowers--we cannot have too many of
_them_! Shall we go?"

"Wherever you like, dear," answered Thelma tenderly, looking down from
her stately height on the poor stunted creature at her side, who held
her dress as though he were a child clinging to her as his sole means of
guidance. "All the land is pleasant to-day."

They left the farm and its boundaries. A few men were at work on one of
Gueldmar's fields, and these looked up,--half in awe, half in fear,--as
Thelma and her fantastic servitor passed along.

"'Tis a fine wench!" said one man, resting on his spade, and following
with his eyes the erect, graceful figure of his employer's daughter.

"Maybe, maybe!" said another gruffly; "but a fine wench is a snare of
the devil! Do ye mind what Lovisa Elsland told us?"

"Ay, ay," answered the first speaker, "Lovisa knows,--Lovisa is the
wisest woman we have in these parts--that's true! The girl's a witch,
for sure!"

And they resumed their work in gloomy silence. Not one of them would
have willingly labored on Olaf Gueldmar's land, had not the wages he
offered been above the usual rate of hire,--and times were bad in
Norway. But otherwise, the superstitious fear of him was so great that
his fields might have gone untilled and his crops ungathered,--however,
as matters stood, none of them could deny that he was a good paymaster,
and just in his dealings with those whom he employed.

Thelma and Sigurd took their way in silence across a perfumed stretch of
meadow-land,--the one naturally fertile spot in that somewhat barren
district. Plenty of flowers blossomed at their feet, but they did not
pause to gather these, for Sigurd was anxious to get to the stream where
the purple pansies grew. They soon reached it--it was a silvery clear
ribbon of water that unrolled itself in bright folds, through green,
transparent tunnels of fern and waving grass--leaping now and then with
a swift dash over a smooth block of stone or jagged rock--but for the
most part gliding softly, with a happy, self-satisfied murmur, as though
it were some drowsy spirit dreaming joyous dreams. Here nodded the
grave, purple-leaved pansies,--legendary consolers of the heart,--their
little, quaint, expressive physiognomies turned in every direction; up
to the sky, as though absorbing the sunlight,--down to the ground, with
an almost severe air of meditation, or curled sideways on their stems in
a sort of sly reflectiveness.

Sigurd was among them at once--they were his friends,--his playmates,
his favorites,--and he gathered them quickly, yet tenderly, murmuring as
he did so, "Yes, you must all die; but death does not hurt; no! life
hurts, but not death! See! as I pluck you, you all grow wings and fly
away--away to other meadows, and bloom again." He paused, and a puzzled
look came into his eyes. He turned toward Thelma, who had seated herself
on a little knoll just above the stream, "Tell me, mistress," he said,
"do the flowers go to heaven?"

She smiled. "I think so, dear Sigurd," she said; "I hope so! I am almost
sure they do."

Sigurd nodded with an air of satisfaction.

"That is right," he observed. "It would never do to leave them behind,
you know! They would be missed, and we should have to come down again
and fetch them--" A crackling among the branches of some trees startled
him,--he looked round, and uttered a peculiar cry like the cry of a wild
animal, and exclaimed, "Spies, spies! ha! ha! secret, wicked faces that
are afraid to show themselves! Come out! Mistress, mistress! make them
come out!"

Thelma rose, surprised as his gesticulations, and came towards him; to
her utter astonishment she found herself confronted by old Lovisa
Elsland, and the Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy's servant, Ulrika. On both
women's faces there was a curious expression of mingled fear, triumph,
and malevolence. Lovisa was the first to break silence.

"At last!" she croaked, in a sort of slow, monotonous tone "At last,
Thelma Gueldmar, the Lord has delivered you into my hands!"

Thelma drew Sigurd close to her, and slipped one arm around him.

"Poor soul!" she said softly, with sweet pitying eyes fixed fearlessly
on the old hag's withered, evil visage. "You must be tired, wandering
about on the hills as you do! If you are her friend," she added,
addressing Ulrika, "why do you not make her rest at home and keep warm?
She is so old and feeble!"

"Feeble!" shrieked Lovisa; "feeble!" And she seemed choking with
passion. "If I had my fingers at your throat, you should then see if I
am feeble! I--" Ulrika pulled her by the arm, and whispered something
which had the effect of calming her a little. "Well," she said, "you
speak then! I can wait!"

Ulrika cleared her husky voice, and fixed her dull eyes on the girl's
radiant countenance.

"You must go away," she said coldly and briefly; "You and your father,
and this creature," and she pointed contemptuously to the staring
Sigurd. "Do you understand? You must leave the Alten Fjord. The people
are tired of you--tired of bad harvests, ill-luck, sickness, and
continued poverty. You are the cause of all our miseries,--and we have
resolved you shall not stay among us. Go quickly,--take the blight and
pestilence of your presence elsewhere! Go! or if you will not--"

"We shall burn, burn, burn, and utterly destroy!" interrupted Lovisa,
with a sort of eldritch shriek. "The strong pine rafters of Olaf
Gueldmar's dwelling shall be kindled into flame to light the hills with
crimson, far and near! Not a plank shall be spared!--not a vestige of
his pride be left--"

"Stop!" said Thelma quietly. "What do you mean? You must both be very
mad or very wicked! You want us to go away--you threaten to set fire to
our home--why? We have done you no harm. Tell me, poor soul!" and she
turned with queenly forbearance to Lovisa, "is it for Britta's sake that
you would burn the house she lives in? That is not wise! You cursed me
the other day,--and why? What have I done that you should hate me?"

The old woman regarded her with steadfast, cruel eyes.

"You are your mother's child!" she said. "I hated her--I hate you! You
are a witch!--the village knows it--Mr. Dyceworthy knows it! Mr.
Dyceworthy says we shall be justified in the Lord's sight for wreaking
evil upon you! Evil, evil be on those of evil deeds!"

"Then shall the evil fall on Mr. Dyceworthy," said the girl calmly. "He
is wicked in himself,--and doubly wicked to encourage _you_ in
wickedness. He is ignorant and false--why do you believe in such a man?"

"He is a saint--a saint!" cried Lovisa wildly. "And shall the daughter
of Satan withstand his power?" And she clapped her hands in a sort of
fierce ecstasy.

Thelma glanced at her pityingly and smiled. "A saint! Poor thing, how
little you know him!" she said. "And it is a pity you should hate me,
for I have done you no wrong. I would do good to all if I knew
how,--tell me can I comfort you, or make your life more cheerful? It
must be hard to be so old and all alone!"

"Your death would comfort me!" returned Lovisa grimly. "Why do you keep
Britta from me?"

"I do not keep her," Thelma answered. "She stays with me because she is
happy. Why do you grudge her, her happiness? And as for burning my
father's house, surely you would not do so wicked and foolish a
thing!--but still, you must do as you choose, for it is not possible
that we shall leave the Altenfjord to please you."

Here Ulrika started forward angrily. "You defy us!" she cried. "You will
not go?" And in her excitement she seized Thelma's arm roughly.

This action was too much for Sigurd; he considered it an attack on the
person of his beloved mistress and he resented it at once in his own
fashion. Throwing himself on Ulrika with sudden ferocity, he pushed and
beat her back as though he were a wolf-hound struggling with refractory
prey; and though the ancient Lovisa rushed to the rescue, and Thelma
imploringly called upon her zealous champion to desist,--all
remonstrances were unavailing, till Sigurd had reduced his enemy to the
most abject and whimpering terror.

"A demon--a demon!" she sobbed and moaned, as the valiant dwarf at last
released her from his clutches; and, tossing his long, fair locks over
his misshapen shoulders, laughed loudly and triumphantly with delight at
his victory. "Lovisa! Lovisa Elsland! this is your doing; you brought
this upon me! I may die now, and you will not care! O Lord, Lord, have
mercy--"

Suddenly she stopped; her eyes dilated,--her face grew grey with the
sickening pallor of fear. Slowly she raised her hand and pointed to
Sigurd--his fantastic dress had become disordered in the affray, and his
jacket was torn open,--and on his bare chest a long red scar in the
shape of a cross was distinctly visible. "That scar!" she muttered. "How
did he get that scar?"

Lovisa stared at her in impatient derision. Thelma was too surprised to
answer immediately, and Sigurd took it upon himself to furnish what he
considered a crushing reply.

"Odin's mark!" he said, patting the scar with much elation. "No wonder
you are afraid of it! Everybody knows it--birds, flowers, trees, and
stars! Even you--you are afraid!"

And he laughed again, and snapped his fingers in her face. The woman
shuddered violently. Step by step she drew near to the wondering Thelma,
and spoke in low and trembling accents, without a trace of her former
anger.

"They say you are wicked," she said slowly, "and that the devil has your
soul ready, before you are dead! But I am not afraid of you. No; I will
forgive you, and pray for you, if you will tell me, . . ." She paused,
and then continued, as with a strong effort. "Yes--tell me _who_ is this
Sigurd?"

"Sigurd is a foundling," answered Thelma simply. "He was floating about
in the Fjord in a basket, and my father saved him. He was quite a baby.
He had this scar on his chest then. He has lived with us ever since."

Ulrika looked at her searchingly,--then bent her head,--whether in
gratitude or despair it was difficult to say.

"Lovisa Elsland," she said monotonously, "I am going home. I cannot help
you any longer! I am tired--ill." Here she suddenly broke down, and,
throwing up her arms with a wild gesture, she cried, "O God, God! O
God!" and burst into a stormy passion of sobs and tears.

Thelma, touched by her utter misery, would have offered consolation, but
Lovisa repelled her with a fierce gesture.

"Go!" said the old woman harshly. "You have cast your spells upon her--I
am witness of your work! And shall you escape just punishment? No; not
while there is a God in heaven, and I, Lovisa Elsland, live to perform
His bidding! Go,--white devil that you are!--go and carry misfortune
upon misfortune to your fine gentleman-lover! Ah!" and she chuckled
maliciously as the girl recoiled from her, her proud face growing
suddenly paler, "have I touched you there? Lie in his breast, and it
shall be as though a serpent stung him,--kiss his lips, and your touch
shall be poison,--live in doubt, and die in misery! Go! and may all evil
follow you!"

She raised her staff and waved it majestically, as though she drew a
circle in the air,--Thelma smiled pityingly, but deigned no answer to
her wild ravings.

"Come, Sigurd!" she said simply, "let us return home. It is growing
late--father will wonder where we are."

"Yes, yes," agreed Sigurd, seizing the basket full of the pansies he had
plucked. "The sunshine is slipping away, and we cannot live with
shadows! These are not real women, mistress; they are dreams--black
dreams,--I have often fought with dreams, and I know how to make them
afraid! See how the one weeps because she knows me,--and the other is
just going to fall into a grave. I can hear the clods thrown on her
head--thump--thump! It does not take long to bury a dream! Come,
mistress, let us follow the sunshine!"

And, taking the hand she extended towards him, he turned away, looking
back once, however, to call out loudly--

"Good-bye, bad dreams!"

As they disappeared behind the trees, Lovisa turned angrily to the
still-sobbing Ulrika.

"What is this folly?" she exclaimed, striking her staff fiercely into
the ground. "Art mad or bewitched?"

Ulrika looked up,--her plain face swollen and stained with weeping.

"O Lord, have mercy upon me! O Lord, forgive me!" she moaned. "I did not
know it--how _could_ I know?"

Lovisa grew so impatient that she seized her by the shoulder and shook
her violently.

"Know what?" she cried; "know what?"

"Sigurd is my son!" said Ulrika, with a sort of solemn
resignation,--then, with a sudden gesture, she threw her hands above her
head, crying, "My son, my son! The child I thought I had killed! The
Lord be praised I did not murder him!"

Lovisa Elsland seemed stupefied with surprise. "Is this the truth?" she
asked at last, slowly and incredulously.

"The truth, the truth!" cried Ulrika passionately. "It is always the
truth that comes to light! He is my child, I tell you! . . . I gave him
that scar!" She paused, shuddering, and continued in a lower tone, "I
tried to kill him with a knife, but when the blood flowed, it sickened
me, and I could not! He was an infant abortion--the evil fruit of an
evil deed--and I threw him out to the waves,--as I told you, long ago.
You have had good use of my confession, Lovisa Elsland; you have held me
in your power by means of my secret, but now--"

The old woman interrupted her with a low laugh of contempt and malice.

"As the parents are, so are the children!" she said scornfully. "Your
lover must have been a fine man, Ulrika, if the son is like his father!"

Ulrika glared at her vengefully, then drew herself up with an air of
defiance.

"I care nothing for your taunts, Lovisa Elsland!" she said. "You can do
me no harm! All is over between us! I will help in no mischief against
the Gueldmars. Whatever their faults, they saved--my child!"

"Is that so great a blessing?" asked Lovisa ironically.

"It makes your threats useless," answered Ulrika. "You cannot call me
_murderess_ again!"

"Coward and fool!" shrieked Lovisa. "Was it _your_ intent that the child
should live? Were you not glad to think it dead? And cannot I spread the
story of your infamy through all the villages where you are known? Is
not the wretched boy himself a living witness of the attempt you made to
kill him? Does not that scar speak against you? Would not Olaf Gueldmar
relate the story of the child's rescue to any one that asked him? Would
you like all Bosekop to know of your intrigue with an escaped criminal,
who was afterwards caught and hung! The virtuous Ulrika--the zealous
servant of the Gospel--the pious, praying Ulrika!" and the old woman
trembled with rage and excitement. "Out of my power? Never, never! As
long as there is breath in my body I will hold you down! _Not_ a
murderess, you say--?"

"No," said Ulrika very calmly, with a keen look, "I am _not_--but you
_are_!"




CHAPTER XVI.

   "Il n'y a personne qui ait eu autant a souffrir a votre sujet que
   moi depuis ma naissance! aussi je vous supplie a deux genoux et
   au nom de Dien, d'avoir pitie de moi!"--_Old Breton Ballad_.


In a few more days Thelma's engagement to Sir Philip Bruce-Errington was
the talk of the neighborhood. The news spread gradually, having been, in
the first place, started by Britta, whose triumph in her mistress's
happiness was charming to witness. It reached the astonished and
reluctant ears of the Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy, whose rage was so great
that it destroyed his appetite for twenty-four hours. But the general
impression in the neighborhood, where superstition maintained so strong
a hold on the primitive and prejudiced minds of the people, was that the
reckless young Englishman would rue the day on which he wedded "the
white witch of the Altenfjord."

Gueldmar was regarded with more suspicion than ever, as having used some
secret and diabolical influence to promote the match; and the whole
party were, as it seemed, tabooed, and looked upon as given up to the
most unholy practices.

Needless to say, the opinions of the villagers had no effect whatever on
the good spirits of those who were thus unfavorably criticised, and it
would have been difficult to find a merrier group than that assembled
one fine morning in front of Gueldmar's house, all equipped from top to
toe for some evidently unusually lengthy and arduous mountain excursion.
Each man carried a long, stout stick, portable flask, knapsack, and
rug--the latter two articles strapped together and slung across the
shoulder--and they all presented an eminently picturesque appearance,
particularly Sigurd, who stood at a little distance from the others,
leaning on his tall staff and gazing at Thelma with an air of peculiar
pensiveness and abstraction.

She was at that moment busied in adjusting Errington's knapsack more
comfortably, her fair, laughing face turned up to his, and her bright
eyes alight with love and tender solicitude.

"I've a good mind not to go at all," he whispered in her ear. "I'll come
back and stay with you all day."

"You foolish boy!" she answered merrily. "You would miss seeing the
grand fall--all for what? To sit with me and watch me spinning, and you
would grow so very sleepy! Now, if I were a man, I would go with you."

"I'm very glad you're not a man!" said Errington, pressing the little
hand that had just buckled his shoulder-strap. "Though I wish you _were_
going with us. But I say, Thelma, darling, won't you be lonely?"

She laughed gaily. "Lonely? I? Why, Britta is with me--besides, I am
never lonely _now_." She uttered the last word softly, with a shy,
upward glance. "I have so much to think about--" She paused and drew her
hand away from her lover's close clasp. "Ah," she resumed, with a
mischievous smile, "you are a conceited boy! You want to be missed! You
wish me to say that I shall feel most miserable all the time you are
away! If I do, I shall not tell you!"

"Thelma, child?" called Olaf Gueldmar, at this juncture "keep the gates
bolted and doors barred while we are absent. Remember, thou and Britta
must pass the night alone here,--we cannot be at home till late in the
evening of to-morrow. Let no one inside the garden, and deny thyself to
all comers. Dost thou hear?"

"Yes, father," she responded meekly.

"And let Britta keep good guard that her crazy hag of a grandam come not
hither to disturb or fright thee with her croaking,--for thou hast not
even Sigurd to protect thee."

"Not even Sigurd!" said that personage, with a meditative smile. "No,
mistress; not even poor Sigurd!"

"One of us might remain behind," suggested Lorimer, with a side-look at
his friend.

"Oh no, no!" exclaimed Thelma anxiously. "It would vex me so much!
Britta and I have often been alone before. We are quite safe, are we
not, father?"

"Safe enough!" said the old man, with a laugh. "I know of no one save
Lovisa Elsland who has the courage to face thee, child! Still, pretty
witch as thou art, 'twill not harm thee to put the iron bar across the
house door, and to lock fast the outer gate when we have gone. This
done, I have no fear of thy safety. Now," and he kissed his daughter
heartily, "now lads, 'tis time we were on the march! Sigurd, my boy,
lead on!"

"Wait!" cried Sigurd, springing to Thelma's side. "I must say good-bye!"
And he caught the girl's hand and kissed it,--then plucking a rose, he
left it between her fingers. "That will remind you of Sigurd, mistress!
Think of him once to-day!--once again when the midnight glory shines.
Good-bye, mistress! that is what the dead say, . . . Good-bye!"

And with a passionate gesture of farewell, he ran and placed himself at
the head of the little group that waited for him, saying exultingly--

"Now follow me! Sigurd knows the way! Sigurd is the friend of all the
wild waterfall! Up the hills,--across the leaping stream,--through the
sparkling foam!" And he began chanting to himself a sort of wild
mountain song.

Macfarlane looked at him dubiously. "Are ye sure?" he said to Gueldmar.
"Are ye sure that wee chap kens whaur he's gaun? He'll no lead us into a
ditch an' leave us there, mistakin' it for the Fall?"

Gueldmar laughed heartily. "Never fear! Sigurd's the best guide you can
have, in spite of his fancies. He knows all the safest and surest paths;
and Njedegorze is no easy place to reach, I can tell you!"

"_Pardon!_ How is it called?" asked Duprez eagerly.

"Njedegorze."

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders. "I give it up!" he said smilingly.
"Mademoiselle Gueldmar, if anything happens to me at this cascade with
the name unpronounceable, you will again be my doctor, will you not?"

Thelma laughed as she shook hands with him. "Nothing will happen," she
rejoined; "unless, indeed, you catch cold by sleeping in a hut all
night. Father, you must see that they do not catch cold!"

The _bonde_ nodded, and motioned the party forward, Sigurd leading the
way,--Errington, however, lingered behind on pretense of having
forgotten something, and, drawing his betrothed in his arms, kissed her
fondly.

"Take care of yourself, darling!" he murmured,--and then hurrying away
he rejoined his friends, who had discreetly refrained from looking back,
and therefore had not seen the lovers embrace.

Sigurd, however, had seen it, and the sight apparently gave fresh
impetus to his movements, for he sprang up the adjacent hill with so
much velocity that those who followed had some difficulty to keep up
with him,--and it was not till they were out of sight of the farmhouse
that he resumed anything like a reasonable pace.

As soon as they had disappeared, Thelma turned into the house and seated
herself at her spinning-wheel. Britta soon entered the room, carrying
the same graceful implement of industry, and the two maidens sat
together for some time in a silence unbroken, save by the low melodious
whirring of the two wheels, and the mellow complaints of the strutting
doves on the window-sill.

"Froeken Thelma!" said Britta at last, timidly.

"Yes, Britta?" And her mistress looked up inquiringly.

"Of what use is it for you to spin now?" queried the little handmaid.
"You will be a great lady, and great ladies do not work at all!"

Thelma's wheel revolved more and more slowly, till at last it stopped
altogether.

"Do they not?" she said half inquiringly and musingly. "I think you must
be wrong, Britta. It is impossible that there should be people who are
always idle. I do not know what great ladies are like."

"I do!" And Britta nodded her curly head sagaciously. "There was a girl
from Hammerfest who went to Christiania to seek service--she was handy
at her needle, and a fine spinner, and a great lady took her right away
from Norway to London. And the lady bought her spinning-wheel for a
curiosity she said,--and put it in the corner of a large parlor, and
used to show it to her friends, and they would all laugh and say, 'How
pretty!' And Jansena,--that was the girl--never span again--she wore
linen that she got from the shops,--and it was always falling into
holes, and Jansena was always mending, mending, and it was no good!"

Thelma laughed. "Then it is better to spin, after all, Britta--is it
not?"

Britta looked dubious. "I do not know," she answered; "but I am sure
great ladies do not spin. Because, as I said to you, Froeken, this
Jansena's mistress was a great lady, and she never did anything,--no!
nothing at all,--but she put on wonderful dresses, and sat in her room,
or was driven about in a carriage. And that is what you will do also,
Froeken!"

"Oh no, Britta," said Thelma decisively. "I could not be so idle. Is it
not fortunate I have so much linen ready? I have quite enough for
marriage."

The little maid looked wistful. "Yes, dear Froeken," she murmured
hesitatingly; "but I was thinking if it is right for you to wear what
you have spun. Because, you see, Jansena's mistress had wonderful things
all trimmed with lace,--and they would all come back from the washing
torn and hanging in threads, and Jansena had to mend those as well as
her own clothes. You see, they do not last at all--and they cost a large
sum of money; but it is proper for great ladies to wear them."

"I am not sure of that, Britta," said Thelma, still musingly. "But
still, it may be--my bridal things may not please Philip. If you know
anything about it, you must tell me what is right."

Britta was in a little perplexity. She had gathered some idea from her
friend Jansena concerning life in London,--she had even a misty notion
of what was meant by a "trousseau" with all its dainty, expensive, and
often useless fripperies; but she did not know how to explain her-self
to her young mistress, whose simple, almost severe tastes would, she
instinctively felt, recoil from anything like ostentation in dress, so
she was discreetly silent.

"You know, Britta," continued Thelma gently, "I shall be Philip's wife,
and I must not vex him in any little thing. But I do not quite
understand. I have always dressed in the same way,--and he has never
said that he thought me wrongly clothed."

And she looked down with quite a touching pathos at her straight, white
woolen gown, and smoothed its folds doubtfully. The impulsive Britta
sprang to her side and kissed her with girlish and unaffected
enthusiasm.

"My dear, my dear! You are more lovely and sweet than anybody in the
world!" she cried. "And I am sure Sir Philip thinks so too!"

A beautiful roseate flush suffused Thelma's cheeks, and she smiled.

"Yes, I know he does!" she replied softly. "And, after all, it does not
matter what one wears."

Britta was meditating,--she looked lovingly at her mistress's rippling
wealth of hair.

"Diamonds!" she murmured to herself in a sort of satisfied soliloquy.
"Diamonds, like those you have on your finger, Froeken,--diamonds all
scattered among your curls like dew-drops! And white satin, all shining,
shining!--people would take you for an angel!"

Thelma laughed merrily. "Britta, Britta! You are talking such nonsense!
Nobody dresses so grandly except queens in fairy-tales."

"Do they not?" and the wise Britta looked more profound than ever.
"Well, we shall see, dear Froeken--we shall see!"

"_We?_" queried Thelma with surprised emphasis.

Her little maid blushed vividly, and looked down demurely, twisting and
untwisting the string of her apron.

"Yes, Froeken," she said in a low tone. "I have asked Sir Philip to let
me go with you when you leave Norway."

"Britta!" Thelma's astonishment was too great for more than this
exclamation.

"Oh, my dear! don't be angry with me!" implored Britta, with sparkling
eyes, rosy cheeks, and excited tongue all pleading eloquently together,
"I should die here without you! I told the _bonde_ so; I did, indeed I
And then I went to Sir Philip--he is such a grand gentleman,--so proud
and yet so kind,--and I asked him to let me still be your servant. I
said I knew all great ladies had a maid, and if I was not clever enough
I could learn, and--and--" here Britta began to sob, "I said I did not
want any wages--only to live in a little corner of the same house where
you were,--to sew for you, and see you, and hear your voice sometimes--"
Here the poor little maiden broke down altogether and hid her face in
her apron crying bitterly.

The tears were in Thelma's eyes too, and she hastened to put her arm
round Britta's waist, and tried to soothe her by every loving word she
could think of.

"Hush, Britta dear! you must not cry," she said tenderly. "What did
Philip say?"

"He said," jerked out Britta convulsively, "that I was a g-good little
g-girl, and that he was g-glad I wanted to g-go!" Here her two sparkling
wet eyes peeped out of the apron inquiringly, and seeing nothing but the
sweetest affection on Thelma's attentive face, she went on more
steadily. "He p-pinched my cheek, and he laughed--and he said he would
rather have me for your maid than anybody--there!"

And this last exclamation was uttered with so much defiance that she
dashed away the apron altogether, and stood erect in self-congratulatory
glory, with a particularly red little nose and very trembling lips.
Thelma smiled, and caressed the tumbled brown curls.

"I am very glad, Britta!" she said earnestly. "Nothing could have
pleased me more! I must thank Philip. But it is of father I am
thinking--what will father and Sigurd do?"

"Oh, that is all settled, Froeken," said Britta, recovering herself
rapidly from her outburst. "The _bonde_ means to go for one of his long
voyages in the _Valkyrie_--it is time she was used again, I'm sure,--and
Sigurd will go with him. It will do them both good--and the tongues of
Bosekop can waggle as much as they please, none of us will be here to
mind them!"

"And you will escape your grandmother!" said Thelma amusedly, as she
once more set her spinning-wheel in motion.

Britta laughed delightedly. "Yes! she will not find her way to England
without some trouble!" she exclaimed. "Oh, how happy I shall be! And
you"--she looked pleadingly at her mistress--"you do not dislike me for
your servant?"

"Dislike!" and Thelma gave her a glance of mingled reproach and
tenderness. "You know how fond I am of you, Britta! It will be like
having a little bit of my old home always with me."

Silently Britta kissed her hand, and then resumed her work. The
monotonous murmur of the two wheels recommenced,--this time pleasantly
accompanied by the rippling chatter of the two girls, who, after the
fashion of girls all the world over, indulged in many speculations as to
the new and strange life that lay before them.

Their ideas were of the most primitive character,--Britta had never been
out of Norway, and Thelma's experiences, apart from her home life,
extended merely to the narrow and restricted bounds of simple and severe
convent discipline, where she had been taught that the pomps and
vanities of the world were foolish and transient shows, and that nothing
could please God more than purity and rectitude of soul. Her character
was formed, and set upon a firm basis--firmer than she herself was
conscious of. The nuns who had been entrusted with her education had
fulfilled their task with more than their customary zeal--they were
interested in the beautiful Norwegian child for the sake of her mother,
who had also been their charge. One venerable nun in particular had
bestowed a deep and lasting benefit on her, for, seeing her
extraordinary beauty, and forestalling the dangers and temptations into
which the possession of such exceptional charms might lead her, she
adopted a wise preventive course, that cased her as it were in armor,
proof against all the assailments of flattery. She told the girl quite
plainly that she was beautiful,--but at the same time made her aware
that beauty was common,--that she shared it alike with birds, flowers,
trees, and all the wonderful objects of nature--moreover, that it was
nothing to boast of, being so perishable.

"Suppose a rose foolish enough to boast of its pretty leaves," said the
gentle _religieuse_ on one occasion. "They all fall to the ground in a
short time, and become decayed and yellow--it is only the fragrance, or
the _soul_ of the rose that lasts." Such precepts, that might have been
wasted on a less sensitive and thoughtful nature, sank deeply into
Thelma's mind--she accepted them not only in theory but in practice, and
the result was that she accepted her beauty as she accepted her
health,--as a mere natural occurrence--no more. She was taught that the
three principal virtues of a woman were chastity, humility, and
obedience,--these were the laws of God, fixed and immutable, which no
one dared break without committing grievous and unpardonable sin. So she
thought, and according to her thoughts she lived. What a strange world,
then, lay before her in the contemplated change that was about to take
place in the even tenor of her existence! A world of intrigue and
folly--a world of infidelity and falsehood!--how would she meet it? It
was a question she never asked herself--she thought London a sort of
magnified Christiania, or at best, the Provencal town of Arles on a
larger scale. She had heard her father speak of it, but only in a vague
way, and she had been able to form no just idea even to herself of the
enormous metropolis crowded to excess with its glad and sorrowful, busy
and idle, rich and poor millions. England itself floated before her
fancy as a green, fertile, embowered island where Shakespeare had
lived--and it delighted her to know that her future home, Errington
Manor, was situated in Warwickshire, Shakespeare's county. Of the
society that awaited her she had no notion,--she was prepared to "keep
house" for her husband in a very simple way--to spin his household
linen, to spare him all trouble and expense, and to devote herself body
and soul to his service. As may be well imagined, the pictures she drew
of her future married life, as she sat and span with Britta on that
peaceful afternoon, were widely different to the destined reality that
every day approached her more nearly.

Meantime, while the two girls were at home and undisturbed in the quiet
farm house, the mountaineering party, headed by Sigurd, were well on
their way towards the great Fall of Njedegorze. They had made a toilsome
ascent of the hills by the side of the Alten river--they had climbed
over craggy boulders and slippery rocks, sometimes wading knee-deep in
the stream, or pausing to rest and watch the salmon leap and turn
glittering somersaults in the air close above the diamond-clear
water,--and they had beguiled their fatigue with songs and laughter, and
the telling of fantastic legends and stories in which Sigurd had shone
at his best--indeed, this unhappy being was in a singularly clear and
rational frame of mind, disposed, too, to be agreeable even towards
Errington. Lorimer, who for reasons of his own, had kept a close watch
on Sigurd ever since his friend's engagement to Thelma, was surprised
and gratified at this change in his former behavior, and encouraged him
in it, while Errington himself responded to the dwarf's proffered
friendship, and walked beside him, chatting cheerfully, during the most
part of the excursion to the Fall. It was a long and exceedingly
difficult journey--and in some parts dangerous--but Sigurd proved
himself worthy of the commendations bestowed on him by the _bonde_, and
guided them by the easiest and most secure paths, till at last, about
seven o'clock in the evening, they heard the rush and roar of the rapids
below the Fall, and with half an hour's more exertion, came in sight of
them, though not as yet of the Fall itself. Yet the rapids were grand
enough to merit attention--and the whole party stopped to gaze on the
whirling wonders of water that, hissing furiously, circled round and
round giddily in wheels of white foam, and then, as though enraged,
leaped high over obstructing stones and branches, and rushed onward and
downward to the smoother length of the river.

The noise was deafening,--they could not hear each other speak unless by
shouting at the top of their voices, and even then the sounds were
rendered almost indistinct by the riotous uproar. Sigurd, however, who
knew all the ins and outs of the place, sprang lightly on a jutting
crag, and, putting both hands to his mouth, uttered a peculiar, shrill,
and far-reaching cry. Clear above the turmoil of the restless waters,
that cry was echoed back eight distinct times from the surrounding rocks
and hills. Sigurd laughed triumphantly.

"You see!" he exclaimed, as he resumed his leadership of the party,
"they all know me! They are obliged to answer me when I call--they dare
not disobey!" And his blue eyes flashed with that sudden wild fire that
generally foretold some access of his particular mania.

Errington saw this and said soothingly, "Of course not, Sigurd! No one
would dream of disobeying you! See how we follow you to-day--we all do
exactly what you tell us."

"We are sheep, Sigurd," added Lorimer lazily; "and you are the
shepherd!"

Sigurd looked from one to the other half doubtingly, half cunningly. He
smiled.

"Yes!" he said. "You will follow me, will you not? Up to the very top of
the Fall?"

"By all means!" answered Sir Philip gaily. "Anywhere you choose to go!"

Sigurd seemed satisfied, and lapsing into the calm, composed manner
which had distinguished him all day, he led the way as before, and they
resumed their march, this time in silence, for conversation was
well-nigh impossible. The nearer they came to the yet invisible Fall,
the more thunderous grew the din--it was as though they approached some
vast battle-field, where opposing armies were in full action, with all
the tumult of cannonade and musketry. The ascent grew steeper and more
difficult--at times the high barriers of rocks seemed almost
impassable,--often they were compelled to climb over confused heaps of
huge stones, through which the eddying water pushed its way with speed
and fury,--but Sigurd's precision was never at fault,--he leaped crag
after crag swiftly and skillfully, always lighting on a sure foothold,
and guiding the others to do the same. At last, at a sharp turn of one
of these rocky eminences, they perceived an enormous cloud of white
vapor rising up like smoke from the earth, and twisting itself as it
rose, in swaying, serpentine folds, as though some giant spirit-hand
were shaking it to and fro like a long flowing veil in the air. Sigurd
paused and pointed forward.

"Njedegorze!" he cried.

They all pressed on with some excitement. The ground vibrated beneath
their feet with the shock of the falling torrent, and the clash and
uproar of the disputing waters rolled in their ears like the grand,
sustained bass of some huge cathedral organ. Almost blinded by the spray
that dashed its disdainful drops in their faces, deafened by the
majestic, loud, and ceaseless eloquence that poured its persuasive force
into the splitting hearts of the rocks around them,--breathless with
climbing, and well-nigh tread out, they struggled on, and broke into one
unanimous shout of delight and triumph when they at last reached the
small hut that had been erected for the convenience of travellers who
might choose that way to journey to the Altenfjord,--and stood face to
face with the magnificent cascade, one of the grandest in Norway. What a
sublime spectacle it was!--that tempest of water sweeping sheer down the
towering rocks in one straight, broad, unbroken sheet of foam! A myriad
rainbows flashed in the torrent and vanished, to reappear again
instantly with redoubled lustre,--while the glory of the evening
sunlight glittering on one side of the fall made it gleam like a
sparkling shower of molten gold.

"Njedegorze!" cried Sigurd again, giving a singularly musical
pronunciation to the apparently uncouth name. "Come! still a little
further,--to the top of the Fall!"

Olaf Gueldmar, however, paid no attention to this invitation. He was
already beginning to busy himself with preparations for passing the
night comfortably in the hut before mentioned. Stout old Norseman as he
was, there were limits to his endurance, and the arduous exertions of
the long day had brought fatigue to him as well as to the rest of the
party.

Macfarlane was particularly exhausted. His frequent pulls at the whiskey
flask had been of little or no avail as a support to his aching limbs,
and, now he had reached his destination, he threw himself full length on
the turf in front of the hut and groaned most dismally.

Lorimer surveyed him amusedly, and stood beside him, the very picture of
a cool young Briton whom nothing could possibly discompose.

"Done up--eh, Sandy?" he inquired.

"Done up!" growled Macfarlane. "D'ye think I'm a Norseman or a jumping
Frenchy?" This with a look of positive indignation at the lively Duprez,
who, if tired, was probably too vain to admit it, for he was strutting
about, giving vent to his genuine admiration of the scene before him
with the utmost freshness and enthusiasm. "I'm just a plain Scotchman,
an' no such a fule at climbin' either! Why, man, I've been up Goatfell
in Arran, an' Ben Lomond an' Ben Nevis--there's a mountain for ye, if ye
like! But a brae like this, wi' a' the stanes lyin' helter-skelter, an'
crags that ye can barely hold on to--and a mad chap guidin' ye on at the
speed o' a leapin' goat--I tell ye, I havena been used to't." Here he
drew out his flask and took another extensive pull at it. Then he added
suddenly, "Just look at Errington! He'll be in a fair way to break his
neck if he follows yon wee crazy loon any further."

At these words Lorimer turned sharply round, and perceived his friend
following Sigurd step by step up a narrow footing in the steep ascent of
some rough, irregular crags that ran out and formed a narrow ledge,
ending in a sharp point, jutting directly over the full fury of the
waterfall. He watched the two climbing figures for an instant without
any anxiety,--then he suddenly remembered that Philip had promised to go
with Sigurd "to the top of the Fall." Acting on a rapid impulse which he
did not stop to explain to himself, Lorimer at once started off after
them,--but the ascent was difficult; they were some distance ahead, and
though he shouted vociferously, the roar of the cascade rendered his
voice inaudible. Gaining on them, however, by slow degrees, he was
startled when all at once they disappeared at the summit--and,
breathless with his rapid climb, he paused, bewildered. By-and-by he saw
Sigurd creeping cautiously out along the rocky shelf that overhung the
tumbling torrent--his gaze grew riveted with a sort of deadly
fascination on the spot.

"Good God!" he muttered under his breath. "Surely Phil will not follow
him _there_!"

He watched with strained eyes,--and a smothered cry escaped him as
Errington's tall figure, erect and bold, appeared on that narrow and
dangerous platform! He never knew how he clambered up the rest of the
slippery ascent. A double energy seemed given to his active limbs. He
never paused again for one second till he also stood on the platform,
without being heard or perceived by either Sigurd or Philip. Their backs
were turned to him, and he feared to move or speak, lest a sudden
surprised movement on their parts should have the fatal result of
precipitating one or both into the fall. He remained, therefore, behind
them, silent and motionless,--looking, as they looked, at the terrific
scene below. From that point, Njedegorze was as a huge boiling caldron,
from which arose twisted wreaths and coiling lengths of white vapor,
faintly colored with gold and silvery blue. Dispersing in air, these
mists took all manner of fantastic forms,--ghostly arms seemed to wave
and beckon, ghostly hands to unite in prayer,--and fluttering creatures
in gossamer draperies of green and crimson, appeared to rise and float,
and retire and shrink, to nothingness again in the rainbow drift and
sweep of whirling foam. Errington gazed unconcernedly down on the
seething abyss. He pushed back his cap from his brow, and let the fresh
wind play among his dark, clustering curls. His nerves were steady, and
he surveyed the giddily twisting wheels of shining water, without any
corresponding giddiness in his own brain. He had that sincere delight in
a sublime natural spectacle, which is the heritage of all who possess a
poetic and artistic temperament; and though he stood on a frail ledge of
rock, from which one false or unwary step might send him to certain
destruction, he had not the slightest sense of possible danger in his
position. Withdrawing his eyes from the Fall, he looked kindly down at
Sigurd, who in turn was staring up at him with a wild fixity of regard.

"Well, old boy," he said cheerfully, "this is a fine sight! Have you had
enough of it? Shall we go back?"

Sigurd drew imperceptibly nearer. Lorimer, from his point of vantage
behind a huge bowlder, drew nearer also.

"Go back?" echoed Sigurd. "Why should we go back?"

"Why, indeed!" laughed Errington, lightly balancing himself on the
trembling rocks beneath him. "Except that I should scarcely think this
is the best place on which to pass the night! Not enough room, and too
much noise! What say you?"

"Oh, brave, brave, fool!" cried the dwarf in sudden excitement. "Are you
not _afraid_?"

The young baronet's keen eyes glanced him over with amused wonder.

"What of?" he demanded coolly. Still nearer came Sigurd--nearer also
came the watchful, though almost invisible Lorimer.

"Look down there!" continued Sigurd in shrill tones, pointing to the
foaming gulf. "Look at the _Elf-danz_--see the beautiful spirits with
the long pale green hair and glittering wings! See how they beckon,
beckon, beckon! They want some one to join them--look how their white
arms wave,--they throw back their golden veils and smile at us! They
call to _you_--you with the strong figure and the proud eyes--why do you
not go to them? They will kiss and caress you--they have sweet lips and
snow-white bosoms,--they will love you and take care of you--they are as
fair as Thelma!"

"Are they? I doubt it!" and Errington smiled dreamily as he turned his
head again towards the fleecy whirl of white water, and saw at once with
an artist's quick eye what his sick-brained companion meant by the
_Elf-danz_, in the fantastic twisting, gliding shapes tossed up in the
vaporous mist of the Fall. "But I'll take your word, Sigurd, without
making the elves' personal acquaintance! Come along--this place is bad
for you--we'll dance with the green-haired nymphs another time."

And with a light laugh he was about to turn away, when he was surprised
by a sudden, strange convulsion of Sigurd's countenance--his blue eyes
flashed with an almost phosphorescent lustre,--his pale skin flushed
deeply red, and the veins in his forehead started into swelled and
knotted prominence.

"Another time!" he screamed loudly; "no, no! Now--now! Die, robber of
Thelma's love! Die--die--_die_!"

Repeating these words like quick gasps of fury, he twisted his meager
arms tightly round Errington, and thrust him fiercely with all his might
towards the edge of the Fall. For one second Philip strove against
him--the next, he closed his eyes--Thelma's face smiled on his mind in
that darkness as though in white farewell--the surging blood roared in
his ears with more thunder than the terrific tumble of the
torrent--"God!" he muttered, and _then_--then he stood safe on the upper
part of the rocky platform with Lorimer's strong hand holding him in a
vice-like grasp, and Lorimer's face, pale, but looking cheerfully into
his. For a moment he was too bewildered to speak. His friend loosened
him and laughed rather forcedly--a slight tremble of his lips was
observable under his fair moustache.

"By Jove, Phil," he remarked in his usual nonchalant manner, "that was
rather a narrow shave! Fortunate I happened to be there!"

Errington gazed about him confusedly. "Where's Sigurd?" he asked.

"Gone! Ran off like a 'leapin' goat,' as Sandy elegantly describes him.
I thought at first he meant to jump over the Fall, in which case I
should have been compelled to let him have his own way, as my hands were
full. But he's taken a safe landward direction."

"Didn't he try to push me over?"

"Exactly! He was quite convinced that the mermaids wanted you. But I
considered that Miss Thelma's wishes had a prior claim on my regard."

"Look here, old man," said Errington suddenly, "don't jest about it! You
saved my life!"

"Well!" and Lorimer laughed. "Quite by accident, I assure you."

"_Not_ by accident!" and Philip flushed up, looking very handsome and
earnest. "I believe you followed us up here thinking something might
happen. Now didn't you?"

"Suppose I did," began Lorimer, but he was interrupted by his friend,
who seized his hand, and pressed it with a warm, close, affectionate
fervor. Their eyes met--and Lorimer blushed as though he had performed
some action meriting blame rather than gratitude. "That'll do, old
fellow," he said almost nervously. "As we say in polite society when
some one crushes our favorite corn under his heel--don't mention it! You
see Sigurd _is_ cracked,--there's not the slightest doubt about
that,--and he's hardly accountable for his vagaries. Then I know
something about him that perhaps you don't. He loves your Thelma!"

They were making the descent of the rocks together, and Errington
stopped short in surprise.

"Loves Thelma! You mean as a brother--"

"Oh no, I don't! I mean that he loves her as brothers often love other
people's sisters--his affection is by no means fraternal--if it were
only _that_--"

"I see!" and Philip's eyes filled with a look of grave compassion. "Poor
fellow! I understand his hatred of me now. Good Heavens! how he must
suffer! I forgive him with all my heart. But--I say, Thelma has no idea
of this!"

"Of course not. And you'd better not tell her. What's the good of making
her unhappy?"

"But how did _you_ learn it?" inquired Philip, with a look of some
curiosity at his friend.

"Oh, I!" and Lorimer laughed carelessly; "I was always an observing sort
of fellow--fond of putting two and two together and making four of them,
when I wasn't too exhausted and the weather wasn't too hot for the
process. Sigurd's rather attached to me--indulges me with some specially
private ravings now and then--I soon found out his secret, though I
believe the poor little chap doesn't understand his own feelings
himself."

"Well," said Errington thoughtfully, "under the circumstances you'd
better not mention this affair of the Fall to Gueldmar. It will only vex
him. Sigurd won't try such a prank again."

"I'm not so sure of that," replied Lorimer; "but you know enough now to
be on your guard with him." He paused and looked up with a misty
softness in his frank blue eyes--then went on in a subdued tone--"When I
saw you on the edge of that frightful chasm, Phil--" He broke off as if
the recollection were too painful, and exclaimed suddenly--"Good God! if
I had lost you!"

Errington clapped one hand on his shoulder.

"Well! What if you had?" he asked almost mirthfully, though there was a
suspicious tremble in his ringing voice.

"I should have said with Horatio, 'I am more an antique Roman than a
Dane,'--and gone after you," laughed Lorimer. "And who knows what a
jolly banquet we might not have been enjoying in the next world by this
time? If I believe in anything at all, I believe in a really agreeable
heaven--nectar and ambrosia, and all that sort of thing, and Hebes to
wait upon you."

As he spoke they reached the sheltering hut, where Gueldmar, Duprez, and
Macfarlane were waiting rather impatiently for them.

"Where's Sigurd?" cried the _bonde_.

"Gone for a ramble on his own account," answered Errington readily. "You
know his fancies!"

"I wish his fancies would leave him," grumbled Gueldmar. "He promised to
light a fire and spread the meal--and now, who knows whither he has
wandered?"

"Never mind, sir," said Lorimer. "Engage me as a kitchen-boy. I can
light a fire, and can also sit beside it when it is properly kindled.
More I cannot promise. As the housemaids say when they object to assist
the cook,--it would be _beneath_ me."

"Cook!" cried Duprez, catching at this word. "I can cook! Give me
anything to broil. I will broil it! You have coffee--I will make it!"
And in the twinkling of an eye he had divested himself of his coat,
turned up his cuffs, and manufactured the cap of a _chef_ out of a
newspaper which he stuck jauntily on his head. "Behold me, _messieurs_,
_a votre service_!"

His liveliness was infectious; they all set to work with a will, and in
a few moments a crackling wood-fire blazed cheerily on the ground, and
the gipsy preparations for the _al fresco_ supper went on apace amid
peals of laughter. Soon the fragrance of steaming coffee arose and
mingled itself with the resinous odors of the surrounding
pine-trees,--while Macfarlane distinguished himself by catching a fine
salmon trout in a quiet nook of the rushing river, and this Duprez
cooked in a style that would have done honor to a _cordon bleu_. They
made an excellent meal, and sang songs in turn and told stories,--Olaf
Gueldmar, in particular, related eerie legends of the _Dovre-fjelde_, and
many a striking history of ancient origin, full of terror and
superstition,--concerning witches, devils, and spirits both good and
evil, who are still believed to have their abode on the Norwegian
hills,--for, as the _bonde_ remarked with a smile, "when civilization
has driven these unearthly beings from every other refuge in the world,
they will always be sure of a welcome in Norway."

It was eleven o'clock when they at last retired within the hut to rest
for the night, and the errant Sigurd had not returned. The sun shone
brilliantly, but there was no window to the small shed, and light and
air came only through the door, which was left wide open. The tired
travellers lay down on their spread-out rugs and blankets, and wishing
each other a cheerful "good night," were soon fast asleep. Errington was
rather restless, and lay awake for some little time, listening to the
stormy discourse of the Fall; but at last his eyelids yielded to the
heaviness that oppressed them, and he sank into a light slumber.

Meanwhile the imperial sun rode majestically downwards to the edge of
the horizon,--and the sky blushed into the pale tint of a wild rose,
that deepened softly and steadily with an ever-increasing fiery
brilliance as the minutes glided noiselessly on to the enchanted midnight
hour. A wind began to rustle mysteriously among the pines--then
gradually growing wrathful, strove to whistle a loud defiance to the
roar of the tumbling waters. Through the little nooks and crannies of
the roughly constructed cabin, where the travellers slept, it uttered
small wild shrieks of warning or dismay--and, suddenly, as though
touched by an invisible hand, Sir Philip awoke. A crimson glare
streaming through the open door dazzled his drowsy eyes--was it a forest
on fire? He started up in dreamy alarm,--then remembered where he was.
Realizing that there must be an exceptionally fine sky to cast so ruddy
a reflection on the ground, he threw on his cloak and went outside.

What a wondrous, almost unearthly scene greeted him! His first impulse
was to shout aloud in sheer ecstasy--his next to stand silent in
reverential awe. The great Fall was no longer a sweeping flow of white
foam--it had changed to a sparkling shower of rubies, as though some
great genie, tired of his treasures, were flinging them away by giant
handfuls, in the most reckless haste and lavish abundance. From the
bottom of the cascade a crimson vapor arose, like smoke from flame, and
the whirling rapids, deeply red for the most part, darkened here and
there into an olive-green flecked with gold, while the spray, tossed
high over interrupting rocks and boulders, glittered as it fell like,
small fragments of broken opal. The sky was of one dense uniform
rose-color from west to east,--soft and shimmering as a broad satin
pavilion freshly unrolled,--the sun was invisible, hidden behind the
adjacent mountains, but his rays touched some peaks in the distance, on
which white wreaths of snow lay, bringing them into near and sparkling
prominence.

The whole landscape was transformed--the tall trees, rustling and
swaying in the now boisterous wind, took all flickering tints of color
on their trunks and leaves,--the grey stones and pebbles turned to lumps
of gold and heaps of diamonds, and on the other side of the rapids, a
large tuft of heather in a cleft of the rocks glowed with extraordinary
vividness and warmth, like a suddenly kindled fire. A troop of witches
dancing wildly on the sward,--a ring of fairies,--kelpies tripping from
crag to crag,--a sudden chorus of sweet-voiced water-nymphs--nothing
unreal or fantastical would have surprised Errington at that moment.
Indeed, he almost expected something of the kind--the scene was so
eminently fitted for it.

"Positively, I must wake Lorimer," he thought to himself. "He oughtn't
to miss such a gorgeous spectacle as this."

He moved a little more in position to view the Fall. What was that small
dark object running swiftly yet steadily along on the highest summit of
those jutting crags? He rubbed his eyes amazedly--was it--could it be
_Sigurd_? He watched it for a moment,--then uttered a loud cry as he saw
it pause on the very ledge of rock from which but a short while since,
he himself had been so nearly precipitated. The figure was now
distinctly visible, outlined in black against the flaming crimson of the
sky,--it stood upright and waved its arms with a frantic gesture. There
was no mistaking it--it _was_ Sigurd!

Without another second's hesitation Errington rushed back to the hut and
awoke, with clamorous alarm, the rest of the party. His brief
explanation sufficed--they all hurried forth in startled excitement.
Sigurd still occupied his hazardous position, and as they looked at him
he seemed to dance wildly nearer the extreme edge of the rocky platform.
Old Gueldmar turned pale. "The gods preserve him!" he muttered in his
beard--then turning he began resolutely to make the ascent of the rocks
with long, rapid strides--the young men followed him eager and almost
breathless, each and all bent upon saving Sigurd from the danger in
which he stood, and trying by different ways to get more quickly near
the unfortunate lad and call, or draw him back by force from his point
of imminent deadly peril. They were more than half-way up, when a
piercing cry rang clearly above the thunderous din of the fall--a cry
that made them pause for a moment.

Sigurd had caught sight of the figures advancing to his rescue, and was
waving them back with eloquent gesture of anger and defiance. His small
misshapen body was alive with wrath,--it seemed as though he were some
dwarf king ruling over the glittering crimson torrent, and grimly
forbidding strangers to enter on the boundaries of his magic territory.
They, however, pressed on with renewed haste,--and they had nearly
reached the summit when another shrill cry echoed over the
sunset-colored foam.

Once more they paused--they were in full view of the distraught Sigurd,
and he turned his head towards them, shaking back his long fair hair
with his old favorite gesture and laughing in apparent glee. Then he
suddenly raised his arms, and, clasping his hands together, poised
himself as though he were some winged thing about to fly.

"Sigurd! Sigurd!" shouted Gueldmar, his strong voice tremulous with
anguish. "Come back! come back to Thelma!"

At the sound of that beloved name, the unhappy creature seemed to
hesitate, and, profiting by that instant of irresolution, Errington and
Lorimer rushed forward--Too late! Sigurd saw them coming, and glided
with stealthy caution to the very brink of the torrent, where there was
scarcely any foothold--there he looked back at his would-be rescuers
with an air of mystery and cunning, and broke into a loud derisive
laugh.

Then--still with clasped hands and smiling face--unheeding the shout of
horror that broke from those who beheld him--he leaped, and fell! Down,
down into the roaring abyss! For one half-second--one lightning
flash--his twisted figure, like a slight black speck was seen against
the wide roseate glory of the tumbling cascade--then it disappeared,
engulfed and lost for ever! Gone,--with all his wild poet fancies and
wandering dreams--gone, with his unspoken love and unguessed
sorrows--gone where dark things shall be made light,--and where the
broken or tangled chain of the soul's intelligence shall be mended and
made perfect by the tender hands of the All-Wise and the All-Loving One,
whose ways are too gloriously vast for our finite comprehension.

"Gone, mistress!" as he would have said to the innocent cause of his
heart's anguish. "Gone where I shall grow straight and strong and brave!
Mistress, if you meet me in Valhalla, you will love me!"




CHAPTER XVII.

   "Do not, I pray you, think evilly of so holy a man! He has a sore
   combat against the flesh and the devil!"--_The Maid of Honor_.


The horror-stricken spectators of the catastrophe stood for a minute
inert and speechless,--stupefied by its suddenness and awful rapidity.
Then with one accord they hurried down to the level shore of the
torrent, moved by the unanimous idea that they might possibly succeed in
rescuing Sigurd's frail corpse from the sharp teeth of the jagged rocks,
that, piercing upwards through the foam of the roaring rapids, were
certain to bruise, tear, and disfigure it beyond all recognition. But
even this small satisfaction was denied them. There was no sign of a
floating or struggling body anywhere visible. And while they kept an
eager look-out, the light in the heavens slowly changed. From burning
crimson it softened to a tender amethyst hue, as smooth and delicate as
the glossy pale tint of the purple clematis,--and with it the rosy foam
of the Fall graduated to varying tints of pink, from pink to tender
green, and lastly, it became as a shower of amber wine. Gueldmar spoke
first in a voice broken by deep emotion.

"'Tis all over with him, poor lad!" he said, and tears glittered thickly
in his keen old eyes. "And--though the gods, of a surety, know
best--this is an end I looked not for! A mournful home-returning shall
we have--for how to break the news to Thelma is more than I can tell!"

And he shook his head sorrowfully while returning the warm and
sympathizing pressure of Errington's hand.

"You see," he went on, with a wistful look at the grave and
compassionate face of his accepted son-in-law--"the boy was no boy of
mine, 'tis true--and the winds had more than their share of his
wits--yet--we knew him from a baby--and my wife loved him for his sad
estate, which he was not to blame for. Thelma, too--he was her first
playmate--"

The _bonde_ could trust himself to say no more, but turned abruptly
away, brushing one hand across his eyes, and was silent for many
minutes. The young men, too, were silent,--Sigurd's determined suicide
had chilled and sickened them. Slowly they returned to the hut to pass
the remaining hours of the night--though sleep was, of course, after
what they had witnessed, impossible. They remained awake, therefore,
talking in low tones of the fatal event, and listening to the solemn
_sough_ of the wind through the pines, that sounded to Errington's ears
like a monotonous forest dirge. He thought of the first time he had ever
seen the unhappy creature whose wandering days had just ended,--of that
scene in the mysterious shell cavern,--of the wild words he had then
uttered--how strangely they came back to Philip's memory now!

"You have come as a thief in the golden midnight, and the thing you seek
is the life of Sigurd! Yes--yes! it is true--the spirit cannot lie! You
must kill, you must steal--see how the blood drips, drop by drop, from
the heart of Sigurd! and the jewel you steal,--ah! what a jewel! You
shall not find such another in Norway!" Was not the hidden meaning of
these incoherent phrases rendered somewhat clear now? though how the
poor lad's disordered imagination had been able thus promptly to conjure
up with such correctness, an idea of Errington's future relations with
Thelma, was a riddle impossible of explanation. He thought, too, with a
sort of generous remorse, of that occasion when Sigurd had visited him
on board the yacht to implore him to leave the Altenfjord. He realized
everything,--the inchoate desires of the desolate being, who, though
intensely capable of loving, felt himself in a dim, sad way, unworthy of
love,--the struggling passions in him that clamored for utterance--the
instinctive dread and jealousy of a rival, while knowing that he was
both physically and mentally unfitted to compete with one,--all these
things passed through Philip's mind, and filled him with a most profound
pity for the hidden sufferings, the tortures and inexplicable emotions
which had racked Sigurd's darkened soul. And, still busy with these
reflections, he turned on his arm as he lay, and whispered softly to his
friend who was close by him--"I say, Lorimer,--I feel as if I had been
to blame somehow in this affair! If I had never come on the scene,
Sigurd would still have been happy in his own way."

Lorimer was silent. After a pause, Errington went on still in the same
low tone.

"Poor little fellow! Do you know, I can't imagine anything more utterly
distracting than having to see such a woman as Thelma day after
day,--loving her all the time, and knowing such love to be absolutely
hopeless! Why, it was enough to make him crazier than ever!"

Lorimer moved restlessly. "Yes, it must have been hard on him!" he
answered at last, in a gentle, somewhat sad tone. "Perhaps it's as well
he's out of it all. Life is infinitely perplexing to many of us. By this
time he's no doubt wiser than you or I, Phil,--he could tell us the
reason why love is such a blessing to some men, and such a curse to
others!"

Errington made no answer, and they relapsed into silence--silence which
was almost unbroken save by an occasional deep sigh from Olaf Gueldmar
and a smothered exclamation such as, "Poor lad, poor lad! Who would have
thought it?"

With the early dawn they were all up and ready for the homeward
journey,--though with very different feelings to those with which they
had started on their expedition. The morning was dazzlingly bright and
clear,--and the cataract of Njedegorze rolled down in glittering folds
of creamy white and green, uttering its ceaseless psalm of praise to the
Creator in a jubilant roar of musical thunder. They paused and looked at
it for the last time before leaving,--it had assumed for them a new and
solemn aspect--it was Sigurd's grave. The _bonde_ raised his cap from
his rough white hair,--instinctively the others followed his example.

"May the gods grant him good rest!" said the old man reverently. "In the
wildest waters they say there is a calm underflow,--maybe the lad has
found it and is glad to sleep." He paused and stretched his hands forth
with an eloquent and touching gesture. "Peace be with him!"

Then, without more words, and as though disdaining his own emotion, he
turned abruptly away, and began to descend the stony and precipitous
hill, up which Sigurd had so skillfully guided them the day before.
Macfarlane and Duprez followed him close,--Macfarlane casting more than
once a keen look over the rapids.

"'Tis a pity we couldna find his body," he said in a low tone.

Duprez shrugged his shoulders. Sigurd's death had shocked him
considerably by its suddenness, but he was too much of a volatile
Frenchman to be morbidly anxious about securing the corpse.

"I think not so at all," he said. "Of what use would it be? To grieve
_mademoiselle_? to make her cry? That would be cruel,--I would not
assist in it! A dead body is not a sight for ladies,--believe me, things
are best as they are."

They went on, while Errington and Lorimer lingered yet a moment longer.

"A magnificent sepulchre!" said Lorimer, dreamily eyeing for the last
time the sweeping flow of the glittering torrent. "Better than all the
monuments ever erected! Upon my life, I would not mind having such a
grave myself! Say what you like, Phil, there was something grand in
Sigurd's choice of a death. We all of us have to get out of life somehow
one day--that's certain--but few of us have the chance of making such a
triumphant exit!"

Errington looked at him with a grave smile. "How you talk, George!" he
said half-reproachfully. "One would think you envied the end of that
unfortunate, half-witted fellow! You've no reason to be tired of your
life, I'm sure,--all your bright days are before you."

"Are they?" And Lorimer's blue eyes looked slightly melancholy. "Well, I
dare say they are! Let's hope so at all events. There need be something
before me,--there isn't much behind except wasted opportunities. Come
on, Phil!"

They resumed their walk, and soon rejoined the others. The journey back
to the Altenfjord was continued all day with but one or two
interruptions for rest and refreshment. It was decided that on reaching
home, old Gueldmar should proceed a little in advance, in order to see
his daughter alone first, and break to her the news of the tragic event
that had occurred,--so that when, after a long and toilsome journey,
they caught sight, at about eight in the evening, of the familiar
farmhouse through the branches of the trees that surrounded and
sheltered it, they all came to a halt.

The young men seated themselves on a pleasant knoll under some tall
pines, there to wait a quarter of an hour or so, while the _bonde_ went
forward to prepare Thelma. On second thoughts, the old man asked
Errington to accompany him,--a request to which he very readily acceded,
and these two, leaving the others to follow at their leisure, went on
their way rapidly. They arrived at, and entered the garden,--their
footsteps made a crunching noise on the pebbly path,--but no welcoming
face looked forth from any of the windows of the house. The entrance
door stood wide open,--there was not a living soul to be seen but the
kitten asleep in a corner of the porch, and the doves drowsing on the
roof in the sunshine. The deserted air of the place was unmistakable,
and Gueldmar and Errington exchanged looks of wonder not unmixed with
alarm.

"Thelma! Thelma!" called the _bonde_ anxiously. There was no response.
He entered the house and threw open the kitchen door. There was no
fire,--and not the slightest sign of any of the usual preparations for
supper.

"Britta!" shouted Gueldmar. Still no answer. "By the gods!" he exclaimed,
turning to the astonished Philip, "this is a strange thing! Where can
the girls be? I have never known both of them to be absent from the
house at the same time. Go down to the shore, my lad, and see if
Thelma's boat is missing, while I search the garden."

Errington obeyed--hurrying off on his errand with a heart beating fast
from sudden fear and anxiety. For he knew Thelma was not likely to
have gone out of her own accord, at the very time she would have
naturally expected her father and his friends back, and the absence of
Britta too, was, to say the least of it, extraordinary. He reached the
pier very speedily, and saw at a glance that the boat was gone. He
hastened back to report this to Gueldmar, who was making the whole place
resound with his shouts of "Thelma!" and "Britta!" though he shouted
altogether in vain.

"Maybe," he said dubiously, on hearing of the missing boat--"Maybe the
child has gone on the Fjord--'tis often her custom,--but, then, where is
Britta? Besides, they must have expected us--they would have prepared
supper--they would have been watching for our return. No, no! there is
something wrong about this--'tis altogether unusual."

And he looked about him in a bewildered way, while Sir Philip, noting
his uneasiness, grew more and more uneasy himself.

"Let me go and search for them, sir," he said, eagerly. "They may be in
the woods, or up towards the orchard."

Gueldmar shook his head and drew his fuzzy white brows together in
puzzled meditation--suddenly he started and struck his staff forcibly on
the ground.

"I have it!" he exclaimed. "That old hag Lovisa is at the bottom of
this!"

"By Jove!" cried Errington. "I believe you're right! What shall we do?"

At that moment, Lorimer, Duprez, and Macfarlane came on the scene,
thinking they had kept aloft long enough,--and the strange disappearance
of the two girls was rapidly explained to them. They listened astonished
and almost incredulous, but agreed with the _bonde_ as to Lovisa's
probable share in the matter.

"Look here!" said Lorimer excitedly. "I'm not in the least tired,--show
me the way to Talvig, where that old screech-owl lives, and I'll go
there straight as a gun! Shouldn't wonder if she has not forced away her
grandchild, in which case Miss Thelma may have gone after her."

"I'll come with you!" said Errington. "Let's lose no time about it."

But Gueldmar shook his head. "'Tis a long way, my lads,--and you do not
know the road. No--'twill be better we should take the boat and pull
over to Bosekop; there we can get a carriole to take two of us at least
to Talvig--"

He stopped, interrupted by Macfarlane, who looked particularly shrewd.

"I should certainly advise ye to try Bosekop first," he remarked
cautiously. "Mr. Dyceworthy might be able to provide ye with valuable
information."

"Dyceworthy!" roared the _bonde_, becoming inflammable at once. "He
knows little of me or mine, thank the gods! and I would not by choice
step within a mile of his dwelling. What makes you think of him, sir?"

Lorimer laid a hand soothingly on his arm.

"Now, my dear Mr. Gueldmar, don't get excited! Mac is right. I dare say
Dyceworthy knows as much in his way as the ancient Lovisa. At any rate,
it isn't his fault if he does not. Because you see--" Lorimer hesitated
and turned to Errington. "You tell him, Phil! you know all about it."

"The fact is," said Errington, while Gueldmar gazed from one to the other
in speechless amazement, "Thelma hasn't told you because she knew how
angry you'd be--but Dyceworthy asked her to marry him. Of course she
refused him, and I doubt if he's taken his rejection very resignedly."

The face of the old farmer as he heard these words was a study. Wonder,
contempt, pride, and indignation struggled for the mastery on his rugged
features.

"Asked--her--to--marry--him!" he repeated slowly. "By the sword of Odin!
Had I known it I would have throttled him!" His eyes blazed and he
clenched his hand. "Throttled him, lads! I would! Give me the chance and
I'll do it now! I tell you, the mere look of such a man as that is a
desecration to my child,--liar and hypocrite as he is! may the gods
confound him!" He paused--then suddenly bracing himself up, added. "I'll
away to Bosekop at once--they've been afraid of me there for no
reason--I'll teach them to be afraid of me in earnest! Who'll come with
me?"

All eagerly expressed their desire to accompany him with the exception
of one,--Pierre Duprez,--he had disappeared.

"Why, where has he gone?" demanded Lorimer in some surprise.

"I canna tell," replied Macfarlane. "He just slipped awa' while ye were
haverin' about Dyceworthy--he'll maybe join us at the shore."

To the shore they at once betook themselves, and were soon busied in
unmooring Gueldmar's own rowing-boat, which, as it had not been used for
some time, was rather a tedious business,--moreover they noted with
concern that the tide was dead against them.

Duprez did not appear,--the truth is, that he had taken into his head to
start off for Talvig on foot without waiting for the others. He was fond
of an adventure and here was one that suited him precisely--to rescue
distressed damsels from the grasp of persecutors. He was tired, but he
managed to find the road,--and he trudged on determinedly, humming a
song of Beranger's as he walked to keep him cheerful. But he had not
gone much more than a mile when he discerned in the distance a carriole
approaching him,--and approaching so swiftly that it appeared to swing
from side to side of the road at imminent risk of upsetting altogether.
There seemed to be one person in it--an excited person too, who lashed
the stout little pony and urged it on to fresh exertions with
gesticulations and cries. That plump buxom figure--that tumbled brown
hair streaming wildly on, the breeze,--that round rosy face--why! it was
Britta! Britta, driving all alone, with the reckless daring of a
Norwegian peasant girl accustomed to the swaying, jolting movement of
the carriole as well as the rough roads and sharp turnings. Nearer she
came and nearer--and Duprez hailed her with a shout of welcome. She saw
him, answered his call, and drove still faster,--soon she came up beside
him, and without answering his amazed questions, she cried
breathlessly--

"Jump in--jump in! We must go on as quickly as possible to Bosekop!
Quick--quick! Oh my poor Froeken! The old villain! Wait till I get at
him!"

"But, my _leet-le_ child!" expostulated Pierre, climbing up into the
queer vehicle--"What is all this? I am in astonishment--I understand not
at all! How comes it that you are run away from home, and Mademoiselle
also?"

Britta only waited till he was safely seated, and then lashed the pony
with redoubled force. Away they clattered at a break-neck pace, the
Frenchman having much ado to prevent himself from being jolted out again
on the road.

"It is a wicked plot!" she then exclaimed, panting with excitement--"a
wicked, wicked plot! This afternoon Mr. Dyceworthy's servant came and
brought Sir Philip's card. It said that he had met with an accident and
had been brought back to Bosekop, and that he wished the Froeken to come
to him at once. Of course, the darling believed it all--and she grew so
pale, so pale! And she went straight away in her boat all by herself! Oh
my dear--my dear!"

Britta gasped for breath, and Duprez soothingly placed an arm round her
waist, an action which the little maiden seemed not to be aware of. She
resumed her story--"Then the Froeken had not been gone so very long, and
I was watching for her in the garden, when a woman passed by--a friend
of my grandmother's. She called out--'Hey, Britta! Do you know they have
got your mistress down at Talvig, and they'll burn her for a witch
before they sleep!' 'She has gone to Bosekop,' I answered, 'so I know
you tell a lie.' 'It is no lie,' said the old woman, 'old Lovisa has her
this time for sure.' And she laughed and went away. Well, I did not stop
to think twice about it--I started off for Talvig at once--I ran nearly
all the way. I found my grandmother alone--I asked her if she had seen
the Froeken? She screamed and clapped her hands like a mad woman! she
said that the Froeken was with Mr. Dyceworthy--Mr. Dyceworthy would know
what to do with her!"

"_Sapristi!_" ejaculated Duprez. "This is serious!"

Britta glanced anxiously at him, and went on. "Then she tried to shut
the doors upon me and beat me--but I escaped. Outside I saw a man I knew
with his carriole, and I borrowed it of him and came back as fast as I
could--but oh! I am so afraid--my grandmother said such dreadful
things!"

"The others have taken a boat to Bosekop," said Duprez, to reassure her.
"They may be there by now."

Britta shook her head. "The tide is against them--no! we shall be there
first. But," and she looked wistfully at Pierre, "my grandmother said
Mr. Dyceworthy had sworn to ruin the Froeken. What did she mean, do you
think?"

Duprez did not answer,--he made a strange grimace and shrugged his
shoulders. Then he seized the whip and lashed the pony.

"Faster, faster, _mon chere_!" he cried to that much-astonished,
well-intentioned animal. "It is not a time to sleep, _ma foi_!" Then to
Britta--"My little one, you shall see! We shall disturb the good
clergyman at his peaceful supper--yes indeed! Be not afraid!"

And with such reassuring remarks he beguiled the rest of the way, which
to both of them seemed unusually long, though it was not much past nine
when they rattled into the little village called by courtesy a town, and
came to a halt within a few paces of the minister's residence.
Everything was very quiet--the inhabitants of the place retired to rest
early--and the one principal street was absolutely deserted. Duprez
alighted.

"Stay you here, Britta," he said, lightly kissing the hand that held the
pony's reins. "I will make an examination of the windows of the house.
Yes--before knocking at the door! You wait with patience. I will let you
know everything!"

And with a sense of pleasurable excitement in his mind, he stole softly
along on tip-toe--entered the minister's garden, fragrant with roses and
mignonette, and then, attracted by the sound of voices, went straight up
to the parlor window. The blind was down and he could see nothing, but
he heard Mr. Dyceworthy's bland persuasive tones, echoing out with a
soft sonorousness, as though he were preaching to some refractory
parishioner. He listened attentively.

"Oh strange, strange!" said Mr. Dyceworthy. "Strange that you will not
see how graciously the Lord hath delivered you into my hands! Yea,--and
no escape is possible! For lo, you yourself, Froeken Thelma," Dyceworthy
started, "you yourself came hither unto my dwelling, a woman all
unprotected, to a man equally unprotected,--and who, though a humble
minister of saving grace, is not proof against the offered surrender of
your charms! Make the best of it, my sweet girl!--make the best of it!
You can never undo what you have done to-night."

"Coward! . . . coward!" and Thelma's rich low voice caused Pierre to
almost leap forward from the place where he stood concealed.
"You,--_you_ made me come here--_you_ sent me that card--_you_ dared to
use the name of my betrothed husband, to gain your vile purpose! _You_
have kept me locked in this room all these hours--and do you think you
will not be punished? I will let the whole village know of your
treachery and falsehood!"

Mr. Dyceworthy laughed gently. "Dear me, dear me!" he remarked sweetly.
"How pretty we look in a passion, to be sure! And we talk of our
'betrothed husband' do we? Tut-tut! Put that dream out of your mind, my
dear girl--Sir Philip Bruce-Errington will have nothing to do with you
after your little escapade of to-night! Your honor is touched!--yes,
yes! and honor is everything to such a man as he. As for the 'card' you
talk about, I never sent a card--not I!" Mr. Dyceworthy made this
assertion in a tone of injured honesty. "Why should I! No--no! You came
here of your own accord,--that is certain and--" here he spoke more
slowly and with a certain malicious glee, "I shall have no difficulty in
proving it to be so, should the young man Errington ask me for an
explanation! Now you had better give me a kiss and make the peace!
There's not a soul in the place who will believe anything you say
against me; _you_, a reputed witch, and I, a minister of the Gospel. For
your father I care nothing, a poor sinful pagan can never injure a
servant of the Lord. Come now, let me have that kiss! I have been very
patient--I am sure I deserve it!"

There was a sudden rushing movement in the room, and a slight cry.

"If you touch me!" cried Thelma, "I will kill you! I will! God will help
me!"

Again Mr. Dyceworthy laughed sneeringly. "God will help you!" he
exclaimed as though in wonder. "As if God ever helped a _Roman_! Froeken
Thelma, be sensible. By your strange visit to me to-night you have
ruined your already damaged character--I say you have ruined it,--and if
anything remains to be said against you, I can say it--moreover, I
_will_!"

A crash of breaking window-glass followed these words, and before Mr.
Dyceworthy could realize what had happened, he was pinioned against his
own wall by an active, wiry, excited individual, whose black eyes
sparkled with gratified rage, whose clenched fist was dealing him severe
thumps all over his fat body.

"Ha, ha! You will, will you!" cried Duprez, literally dancing up against
him and squeezing him as though he were a jelly. "You will tell lies in
the service of _le Bon Dieu_? No--not quite, not yet!" And still
pinioning him with one hand, he dragged at his collar with the other
till he succeeded, in spite of the minister's unwieldly efforts to
defend himself, in rolling him down upon the floor, where he knelt upon
him in triumph. "_Voila! Je sais faire la boxe, moi!_" Then turning to
Thelma, who stood an amazed spectator of the scene, her flushed cheeks
and tear-swollen eyes testifying to the misery of the hours she had
passed, he said, "Run, Mademoiselle, run! The little Britta is outside,
she has a pony-car--she will drive you home. I will stay here till
Phil-eep comes. I shall enjoy myself! I will begin--Phil-eep with
finish! Then we will return to you."

Thelma needed no more words, she rushed to the door, threw it open, and
vanished like a bird in air. Britta's joy at seeing her was too great
for more than an exclamation of welcome,--and the carriole, with the two
girls safely in it, was soon on its rapid way back to the farm.
Meanwhile, Olaf Gueldmar, with Errington and the others, had just landed
at Bosekop after a heavy pull across the Fjord, and they made straight
for Mr. Dyceworthy's house, the _bonde_ working himself up as he walked
into a positive volcano of wrath. Finding the street-door open as it had
just been left by the escaped Thelma, they entered, and on the threshold
of the parlor, stopped abruptly, in amazement at the sight that
presented itself. Two figures were rolling about on the floor,
apparently in a close embrace,--one large and cumbrous, the other small
and slight. Sometimes they shook each other,--sometimes they lay
still,--sometimes they recommenced rolling. Both were perfectly silent,
save that the larger personage seemed to breathe somewhat heavily.
Lorimer stepped into the room to secure a better view--then he broke
into an irrepressible laugh.

"It's Duprez," he cried, for the benefit of the others that stood at the
door. "By Jove! How did he get here, I wonder?"

Hearing his name, Duprez looked up from that portion of Mr. Dyceworthy's
form in which he had been burrowing, and smiled radiantly.

"Ah, _cher_ Lorimer! Put your knee here, will you? So! that is well--I
will rest myself!" And he rose, smoothing his roughened hair with both
hands, while Lorimer in obedience to his request, kept one knee
artistically pressed on the recumbent figure of the minister. "Ah! and
there is our Phil-eep, and Sandy, and Monsieur Gueldmar! But I do not
think," here he beamed all over, "there is much more to be done! He is
one bruise, I assure you! He will not preach for many Sundays;--it is
bad to be so fat--he will be so exceedingly suffering!"

Errington could not forbear smiling at Pierre's equanimity. "But what
has happened?" he asked. "Is Thelma here?"

"She _was_ here," answered Duprez. "The religious had decoyed her here
by means of some false writing,--supposed to be from you. He kept her
locked up here the whole afternoon. When I came he was making love and
frightening her,--I am pleased I was in time. But"--and he smiled
again--"he is well beaten!"

Sir Philip strode up to the fallen Dyceworthy, his face darkening with
wrath.

"Let him go, Lorimer," he said sternly. Then, as the reverend gentleman
slowly struggled to his feet, moaning with pain, he demanded, "What have
you to say for yourself, sir? Be thankful if I do not give you the
horse-whipping you deserve, you scoundrel!"

"Let me get at him!" vociferated Gueldmar at this juncture, struggling to
free himself from the close grasp of the prudent Macfarlane. "I have
longed for such a chance! Let me get at him!"

But Lorimer assisted to restrain him from springing forward,--and the
old man chafed and swore by his gods in vain.

Mr. Dyceworthy meanwhile meekly raised his eyes, and folded his hands
with a sort of pious resignation.

"I have been set upon and cruelly abused," he said mournfully, "and
there is no part of me without ache and soreness!" He sighed deeply.
"But I am punished rightly for yielding unto carnal temptation, put
before me in the form of the maiden who came hither unto me with
delusive entrancements--"

He stopped, shrinking back in alarm from the suddenly raised fist of the
young baronet.

"You'd better be careful!" remarked Philip coolly, with dangerously
flashing eyes; "there are four of us here, remember!"

Mr. Dyceworthy coughed, and resumed an air of outraged dignity.

"Truly, I am aware of it!" he said; "and it surpriseth me not at all
that the number of the ungodly outweigheth that of the righteous! Alas!
'why do the heathen rage so furiously together?' Why, indeed! Except
that 'in their hearts they imagine a vain thing!' I pardon you, Sir
Philip, I freely pardon you! And you also, sir," turning gravely to
Duprez, who received his forgiveness with a cheerful and delighted bow.
"You can indeed injure--and you _have_ injured this poor body of
mine--but you cannot touch the _soul_! No, nor can you hinder that
freedom of speech"--here his malignant smile was truly diabolical--"which
is my glory, and which shall forever be uplifted against all manner of
evil-doers, whether they be fair women and witches, or misguided
pagans--"

Again he paused, rather astonished at Errington's scornful laugh.

"You low fellow!" said the baronet. "From Yorkshire, are you? Well, I
happen to know a good many people in that part of the world--and I have
some influence there, too. Now, understand me--I'll have you hounded out
of the place! You shall find it too hot to hold you--that I swear!
Remember! I'm a man of my word! And if you dare to mention the name of
Miss Gueldmar disrespectfully, I'll thrash you within an inch of your
life!"

Mr. Dyceworthy blinked feebly, and drew out his handkerchief.

"I trust, Sir Philip," he said mildly, "you will reconsider your words!
It would ill beseem you to strive to do me harm in the parish were my
ministrations are welcome, as appealing to that portion of the people
who follow the godly Luther. Oh yes,"--and he smiled cheerfully--"you
will reconsider your words. In the meantime--I--I"--he stammered
slightly--"I apologize! I meant naught but good to the maiden--but I
have been misunderstood, as is ever the case with the servants of the
Lord. Let us say no more about it! I forgive!--let us all forgive! I
will even extend my pardon to the pagan yonder--"

But the "pagan" at that moment broke loose from the friendly grasp in
which he had been hitherto held, and strode up to the minister, who
recoiled like a beaten cur from the look of that fine old face flushed
with just indignation, and those clear blue eyes fiery as the flash of
steel.

"Pagan, you call me!" he cried. "I thank the gods for it--I am proud of
the title! I would rather be the veriest savage that ever knelt in
untutored worship to the great forces of Nature, than such a _thing_ as
you--a slinking, unclean animal, crawling coward-like between earth and
sky, and daring to call itself a _Christian_! Faugh! Were I the Christ,
I should sicken at sight of you!"

Dyceworthy made no reply, but his little eyes glittered evilly.

Errington, not desiring any further prolongation of the scene, managed
to draw the irate _bonde_ away, saying in a low tone--

"We've had enough of this, sir! Let us get home to Thelma."

"I was about to suggest a move," added Lorimer. "We are only wasting
time here."

"Ah!" exclaimed Duprez radiantly--"and Monsieur Dyceworthy will be glad
to be in bed! He will be very stiff to-morrow, I am sure! Here is a lady
who will attend him."

This with a courteous salute to the wooden-faced Ulrika, who suddenly
confronted them in the little passage. She seemed surprised to see them,
and spoke in a monotonous dreamy tone, as though she walked in her
sleep.

"The girl has gone?" she added slowly.

Duprez nodded briskly. "She has gone! And let me tell you, madame, that
if it had not been for you, she would not have come here at all. You
took that card to her?"

Ulrika frowned. "I was compelled," she said. "_She_ made me take it. I
promised." She turned her dull eyes slowly on Gueldmar. "It was Lovisa's
fault. Ask Lovisa about it." She paused, and moistened her dry lips with
her tongue. "Where is your crazy lad?" she asked, almost anxiously. "Did
he come with you?"

"He is dead!" answered Gueldmar, with grave coldness.

"Dead!" And to their utter amazement, she threw up her arms and burst
into a fit of wild laughter. "Dead! Thank God! Thank God! Dead! And
through no fault of mine! The Lord be praised! He was only fit for
death--never mind how he died--it is enough that he is dead--dead! I
shall see him no more--he cannot curse me again!--the Lord be thankful
for all His mercies!"

And her laughter ceased--she threw her apron over her head and broke
into a passion of weeping.

"The woman must be crazy!" exclaimed the _bonde_, thoroughly
mystified,--then placing his arm through Errington's, he said
impatiently, "You're right, my lad! We've had enough of this. Let us
shake the dust of this accursed place off our feet and get home. I'm
tired out!"

They left the minister's dwelling and made straight for the shore, and
were soon well on their journey back to the farm across the Fjord. This
time the tide was with them--the evening was magnificent, and the
coolness of the breeze, the fresh lapping of the water against the boat,
and the brilliant tranquility of the landscape, soon calmed their
over-excited feelings. Thelma was waiting for them under the porch as
usual, looking a trifle paler than her wont, after all the worry and
fright and suspense she had undergone,--but the caresses of her father
and lover soon brought back the rosy warmth on her fair face, and
restored the lustre to her eyes. Nothing was said about Sigurd's fate
just then,--when she asked for her faithful servitor, she was told he
had "gone wandering as usual," and it was not till Errington and his
friends returned to their yacht that old Gueldmar, left alone with his
daughter, broke the sad news to her very gently. But the shock, so
unexpected and terrible, was almost too much for her already overwrought
nerves,--and such tears were shed for Sigurd as Sigurd himself might
have noted with gratitude. Sigurd--the loving, devoted Sigurd--gone for
ever! Sigurd,--her playmate,--her servant,--her worshiper,--dead! Ah,
how tenderly she mourned him!--how regretfully she thought of his wild
words! "Mistress, you are killing poor Sigurd!" Wistfully she wondered
if, in her absorbing love for Philip, she had neglected the poor crazed
lad,--his face, in all its pale, piteous appeal, haunted her, and her
grief for his loss was the greatest she had ever known since the day on
which she had seen her mother sink into the last long sleep. Britta,
too, wept and would not be comforted--she had been fond of Sigurd in her
own impetuous little way,--and it was some time before either she or her
mistress, could calm themselves sufficiently to retire to rest. And long
after Thelma was sleeping, with tears still wet on her cheeks, her
father sat alone under his porch, lost in melancholy meditation. Now and
then he ruffled his white hair impatiently with his hand,--his
daughter's adventure in Mr. Dyceworthy's house had vexed his proud
spirit. He knew well enough that the minister's apology meant
nothing--that the whole village would be set talking against Thelma
more, even than before,--that there was no possibility of preventing
scandal so long as Dyceworthy was there to start it. He thought and
thought and puzzled himself with probabilities--till at last, when he
finally rose to enter his dwelling for the night, he muttered
half-aloud. "If it must be, it must! And the sooner the better now, I
think, for the child's sake."

The next morning Sir Philip arrived unusually early,--and remained shut
up with the _bonde_, in private conversation for more than an hour. At
the expiration of that time, Thelma was called, and taken into their
confidence. The result of their mysterious discussion was not
immediately evident,--though for the next few days, the farm-house lost
its former tranquility and became a scene of bustle and excitement.
Moreover, to the astonishment of the Bosekop folk, the sailing-brig
known as the _Valkyrie_, belonging to Olaf Gueldmar, which had been
hauled up high and dry on the shore for many months, was suddenly seen
afloat on the Fjord, and Valdemar Svensen, Errington's pilot, appeared
to be busily engaged upon her decks, putting everything in ship-shape
order. It was no use asking _him_ any questions--he was not the man to
gratify impertinent curiosity. By-and-by a rumor got about in the
village--Lovisa had gained her point in one particular,--the Gueldmars
were going away--going to leave the Altenfjord!

At first, the report was received with incredulity--but gained ground,
as people began to notice that several packages were being taken in
boats from the farm-house to both the _Eulalie_ and the _Valkyrie_.
These preparations excited a great deal of interest and
inquisitiveness,--but no one dared ask for information as to what was
about to happen. The Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy was confined to his bed
"from a severe cold"--as he said, and therefore was unable to perform
his favorite mission of spy;--so that when, one brilliant morning,
Bosekop was startled by the steam-whistle of the _Eulalie_ blowing
furiously, and echoing far and wide across the surrounding rocky
islands, several of the lounging inhabitants paused on the shore, or
sauntered down to the rickety pier, to see what was the cause of the
clamor. Even the long-suffering minister crawled out of bed and applied
his fat, meek visage to his window, from whence he could command an
almost uninterrupted view of the glittering water. Great was his
amazement, and discomfiture to see the magnificent yacht moving
majestically out of the Fjord, with Gueldmar's brig in tow behind her,
and the English flag fluttering gaily from her middle-mast, as she
curtsied her farewell to the dark mountains, and glided swiftly over the
little hissing waves. Had Mr. Dyceworthy been possessed of a
field-glass, he might have been able to discern on her deck, the figure
of a tall, fair girl, who, drawing her crimson hood over her rich hair,
stood gazing with wistful, dreamy blue eyes, at the last receding shores
of the Altenfjord--eyes that smiled and yet were tearful.

"Are you sorry, Thelma?" asked Errington gently, as he passed one arm
tenderly round her. "Sorry to trust your life to me?"

She laid her little hand in playful reproach against his lips.

"Sorry! you foolish boy! I am glad and grateful! But it is saying
good-bye to one's old life, is it not? The dear old home!--and poor
Sigurd!"

Her voice trembled, and bright tears fell.

"Sigurd is happy,"--said Errington gravely, taking the hand that
caressed him, and reverently kissing it. "Believe me, love,--if he had
lived some cruel misery might have befallen him--it is better as it is!"

Thelma did not answer for a minute or two--then she said
suddenly--"Philip,--do you remember where I saw you first?"

"Perfectly!" he answered, looking fondly into the sweet upturned face.
"Outside a wonderful cavern, which I afterwards explored."

She started and seemed surprised. "You went inside?--you saw--?"

"Everything!"--and Philip related his adventure of that morning, and his
first interview with Sigurd. She listened attentively--then she
whispered softly--

"My mother sleeps there, you know,--yesterday I went to take her some
flowers for the last time. Father came with me--we asked her blessing.
And I think she will give it, Philip--she must know how good you are and
how happy I am."

He stroked her silky hair tenderly and was silent. The _Eulalie_ had
reached the outward bend of the Altenfjord, and the station of Bosekop
was rapidly disappearing. Olaf Gueldmar and the others came on deck to
take their last look of it.

"I shall see the old place again, I doubt not, long before you do,
Thelma, child," said the stout old _bonde_, viewing, with a keen, fond
glance, the stretch of the vanishing scenery. "Though when once you are
safe married at Christiania, Valdemar Svensen and I will have a fine
toss on the seas in the _Valkyrie_,--and I shall grow young again in the
storm and drift of the foam and the dark wild waves! Yes--a wandering
life suits me--and I am not sorry to have a taste of it once more.
There's nothing like it--nothing like a broad ocean and a sweeping
wind!"

And he lifted his cap and drew himself erect, inhaling the air like an
old warrior scenting battle. The others listened, amused at his
enthusiasm,--and, meanwhile, the Altenfjord altogether disappeared, and
the _Eulalie_ was soon plunging in a rougher sea. They were bound for
Christiania, where it was decided Thelma's marriage should at once take
place--after which Sir Philip would leave his yacht at the disposal of
his friends, for them to return in it to England. He himself intended to
start directly for Germany with his bride, a trip in which Britta was to
accompany them as Thelma's maid. Olaf Gueldmar, as he had just stated,
purposed making a voyage in the _Valkyrie_, as soon as he should get her
properly manned and fitted, which he meant to do at Christiania.

Such were their plans,--and, meanwhile, they were all together on the
_Eulalie_,--a happy and sociable party,--Errington having resigned his
cabin to the use of his fair betrothed, and her little maid, whose
delight at the novel change in her life, and her escape from the
persecution of her grandmother, was extreme. Onward they sailed,--past
the grand Lofoden Islands and all the magnificent scenery extending
thence to Christiansund, while the inhabitants of Bosekop looked in vain
for their return to the Altenfjord.

The short summer there was beginning to draw to a close,--some of the
birds took their departure from the coast,--the dull routine of the
place went on as usual, rendered even duller by the absence of the
"witch" element of discord,--a circumstance that had kept the
superstitious villagers, more or less on a lively tension of religious
and resentful excitement--and by-and-by, the rightful minister of
Bosekop came back to his duties and released the Reverend Charles
Dyceworthy, who straightway returned to his loving flock in Yorkshire.
It was difficult to ascertain whether the aged Lovisa was satisfied or
wrathful, at the departure of the Gueldmars with her granddaughter Britta
in their company--she kept herself almost buried in her hut at Talvig,
and saw no one but Ulrika, who seemed to grow more respectably staid
than ever, and who, as a prominent member of the Lutheran congregation,
distinguished herself greatly by her godly bearing and uncompromising
gloom.

Little by little, the gossips ceased to talk about the disappearance of
the "white witch" and her father--little by little they ceased to
speculate as to whether the rich Englishman, Sir Philip Errington,
really meant to marry her--a consummation of things which none of them
seemed to think likely--the absence of their hated neighbors, was felt
by them as a relief, while the rumored fate of the crazy Sigurd was of
course looked upon as evidence of fresh crime on the part of the
"pagan," who was accused of having, in some way or other, caused the
unfortunate lad's death. And the old farm-house on the pine-covered
knoll was shut up and silent,--its doors and windows safely barred
against wind and rain,--and only the doves, left to forage for
themselves, crooned upon its roof, all day, or strutting on the deserted
paths, ruffled their plumage in melancholy meditation, as though
wondering at the absence of the fair ruling spirit of the place, whose
smile had been brighter than the sunshine. The villagers avoided it as
though it were haunted--the roses drooped and died untended,--and by
degrees the old homestead grew to look like a quaint little picture of
forgotten joys, with its deserted porch and fading flowers.

Meanwhile, a thrill of amazement, incredulity, disappointment,
indignation, and horror, rushed like a violent electric shock through
the upper circles of London society, arousing the deepest disgust in the
breasts of match-making matrons, and seriously ruffling the pretty
feathers of certain bird-like beauties who had just began to try their
wings, and who "had expectations." The cause of the sensation was very
simple. It was an announcement in the _Times_--under the head of
"Marriages"--and ran as follows:

"At the English Consulate, Christiania, Sir Philip Bruce-Errington,
Bart., to Thelma, only daughter of Olaf Gueldmar, _bonde_, of the
Altenfjord, Norway. No cards."




BOOK II.

THE LAND OF MOCKERY




CHAPTER XVIII.

   "There's nothing serious in mortality: All is but toys."
                                                         MACBETH.


"I think," said Mrs. Rush-Marvelle deliberately, laying down the
_Morning Post_ beside her breakfast-cup, "I think his conduct is
perfectly disgraceful!"

Mr. Rush-Marvelle, a lean gentleman with a sallow, clean-shaven face and
an apologetic, almost frightened manner, looked up hastily.

"Of whom are you speaking, my dear?" he inquired.

"Why, of that wretched young man Bruce-Errington! He ought to be ashamed
of himself!"

And Mrs. Marvelle fixed her glasses more firmly on her small nose, and
regarded her husband almost reproachfully. "Don't tell me, Montague,
that you've forgotten that scandal about him! He went off last year, in
the middle of the season, to Norway, in his yacht, with three of the
very fastest fellows he could pick out from his acquaintance--regular
reprobates, so I'm told--and after leading the most awful life out
there, making love to all the peasant girls in the place, he married one
of them,--a common farmer's daughter. Don't you remember? We saw the
announcement of his marriage in the _Times_."

"Ah yes, yes!" And Mr. Rush-Marvelle smiled a propitiatory smile,
intended to soothe the evidently irritated feelings of his better-half,
of whom he stood always in awe. "Of course, of course! A very sad
_mesalliance_. Yes, yes! Poor fellow! And is there fresh news of him?"

"Read _that_,"--and the lady handed the _Morning Post_ across the table,
indicating by a dent of her polished finger-nail, the paragraph that had
offended her sense of social dignity. Mr. Marvelle read it with almost
laborious care--though it was remarkably short and easy of
comprehension.

"Sir Philip and Lady Bruce-Errington have arrived at their house in
Prince's Gate from Errington Manor."

"Well, my dear?" he inquired, with a furtive and anxious glance at his
wife. "I suppose--er--it--er--it was to be expected?"

"No, it was _not_ to be expected," said Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, rearing her
head, and heaving her ample bosom to and fro in rather a tumultuous
manner. "Of course it was to be expected that Bruce-Errington would
behave like a fool--his father was a fool before him. But I say it was
not to be expected that he would outrage society by bringing that common
wife of his to London, and expecting _us_ to receive her! The thing is
perfectly scandalous! He has had the decency to keep away from town ever
since his marriage--part of the time he has staid abroad, and since
January he has been at his place in Warwickshire,--and this
time--observe this!" and Mrs. Marvelle looked most impressive--"not a
soul has been invited to the Manor--not a living soul! The house used to
be full of people during the winter season--of course, now, he dare not
ask anybody lest they should be shocked at his wife's ignorance. That's
as clear as daylight! And now he has the impudence to actually bring her
here,--into _society_! Good Heavens! He must be mad! He will be laughed
at wherever he goes!"

Mr. Rush-Marvelle scratched his bony chin perplexedly.

"It makes it a little awkward for--for you," he remarked feelingly.

"Awkward! It is abominable!" And Mrs. Marvelle rose from her chair, and
shook out the voluminous train of her silken breakfast-gown, an
elaborate combination of crimson with grey chinchilla fur. "I shall have
to call on the creature--just imagine it! It is most unfortunate for me
that I happen to be one of Bruce-Errington's oldest friends--otherwise I
might have passed him over in some way--as it is I can't. But fancy
having to meet a great coarse peasant woman, who, I'm certain, will only
be able to talk about fish and whale-oil! It is really _quite_
dreadful!"

Mr. Rush-Marvelle permitted himself to smile faintly.

"Let us hope she will not turn out so badly," he said soothingly,--"but,
you know, if she proves to be--er--a common person of,--er--a very
uneducated type--you can always let her drop gently--quite gently!"

And he waved his skinny hand with an explanatory flourish.

But Mrs. Marvelle did not accept his suggestion in good part.

"You know nothing about it," she said somewhat testily. "Keep to your
own business, Montague, such as it is. The law suits your particular
form of brain--society does not. You would never be in society at all if
it were not for me--now you know you wouldn't!"

"My love," said Mr. Marvelle, with a look of meek admiration at his
wife's majestic proportions. "I am aware of it! I always do you justice.
You are a remarkable woman!"

Mrs. Marvelle smiled, somewhat mollified. "You see," she then
condescended to explain--"the whole thing is so extremely disappointing
to me. I wanted Marcia Van Clupp to go in for the Errington stakes,--it
would have been such an excellent match,--money on both sides. And
Marcia would have been just the girl to look after that place down in
Warwickshire--the house is going to rack and ruin, in _my_ opinion."

"Ah, yes!" agreed her husband mildly. "Van Clupp is a fine girl--a
_very_ fine girl! No end of 'go' in her. And so Errington Manor needs a
good deal of repairing, perhaps?" This query was put by Mr. Marvelle,
with his head very much on one side, and his bilious eyes blinking
drowsily.

"I don't know about repairs," replied Mrs. Marvelle. "It is a
magnificent place, and certainly the grounds are ravishing. But one of
the best rooms in the house, is the former Lady Errington's boudoir--it
is full of old-fashioned dirty furniture, and Bruce-Errington won't have
it touched,--he will insist on keeping it as his mother left it. Now
that is ridiculous--perfectly morbid! It's just the same thing with his
father's library--he won't have that touched either--and the ceiling
wants fresh paint, and the windows want new curtains--and all sorts of
things ought to be done. Marcia would have managed all that
splendidly--she'd have had everything new throughout--Americans are so
quick, and there's no nonsensical antiquated sentiment about Marcia."

"She might even have had new pictures and done away with the old ones,"
observed Mr. Marvelle, with a feeble attempt at satire. His wife darted
a keen look at him, but smiled a little too. She was not without a sense
of humor.

"Nonsense, Montague! She knows the value of works of art better than
many a so-called connoisseur. I won't have you make fun of her. Poor
girl! She _did_ speculate on Bruce-Errington,--you know he was very
attentive to her, at that ball I gave just before he went off to
Norway."

"He certainly seemed rather amused by her," said Mr. Marvelle. "Did she
take it to heart when she heard he was married?"

"I should think not," replied Mrs. Marvelle loftily. "She has too much
sense. She merely said, 'All right! I must stick to Masherville!'"

Mr. Marvelle nodded blandly. "Admirable,--admirable!" he murmured, with
a soft little laugh, "A _very_ clever girl--a very bright creature! And
really there are worse fellows than Masherville! The title is old."

"Yes, the title is all very well," retorted his wife--"but there's no
money--or at least very little."

"Marcia has sufficient to cover any deficit?" suggested Mr. Marvelle, in
a tone of meek inquiry.

"An American woman _never_ has sufficient," declared Mrs. Marvelle. "You
know that as well as I do. And poor dear Mrs. Van Clupp has so set her
heart on a really brilliant match for her girl--and I had positively
promised she should have Bruce-Errington. It is really too bad!" And
Mrs. Marvelle paced the room with a stately, sweeping movement, pausing
every now and then to glance at herself approvingly in the mirror above
the chimney-piece, while her husband resumed his perusal of the _Times_.
By-and-by she said abruptly--

"Montague!"

Mr. Marvelle dropped his paper with an alarmed air.

"My dear!"

"I shall go to Clara Winsleigh this morning--and see what she means to
do in the matter. Poor Clara! She must be disgusted at the whole
affair!"

"She had rather a liking for Errington, hadn't she?" inquired Mr.
Marvelle, folding up the _Times_ in a neat parcel, preparatory to taking
it with him in order to read it in peace on his way to the Law Courts.

"Liking? Well!" And Mrs. Marvelle, looking at herself once more in the
glass, carefully arranged the ruffle of Honiton lace about her massive
throat,--"It was a little more than liking--though, of course, her
feelings were perfectly proper, and all that sort of thing,--at least, I
suppose they were! She had a great friendship for him,--one of those
emotional, perfectly spiritual and innocent attachments, I believe,
which are so rare in this wicked world." Mrs. Marvelle sighed, then
suddenly becoming practical again, she continued. "Yes, I shall go there
and stop to luncheon, and talk this thing over. Then I'll drive on to
the Van Clupps, and bring Marcia home to dinner. I suppose you don't
object?"

"Object!" Mr. Marvelle made a deprecatory gesture, and raised his eyes
in wonder. As if he dared object to anything whatsoever that his wife
desired!

She smiled graciously as he approached, and respectfully kissed her
smooth cool cheek, before taking his departure for his daily work as a
lawyer in the city, and when he was gone, she betook herself to her own
small boudoir, where she busied herself for more than an hour in writing
letters, and answering invitations.

She was, in her own line, a person of importance. She made it her
business to know everything and everybody--she was fond of meddling with
other people's domestic concerns, and she had a finger in every family
pie. She was, moreover, a regular match-maker,--fond of taking young
ladies under her maternal wing, and "introducing" them to the proper
quarters, and when, as was often the case, a distinguished American of
many dollars but no influence offered her three or four hundred guineas
for chaperoning his daughter into English society and marrying her well,
Mrs. Rush-Marvelle pocketed the _douceur_ quite gracefully, and did her
best for the girl. She was a good-looking woman, tall, portly, and with
an air of distinction about her, though her features were by no means
striking, and the smallness of her nose was out of all proportion to the
majesty of her form--but she had a very charming smile, and a pleasant,
taking manner, and she was universally admired in that particular "set"
wherein she moved. Girls adored her, and wrote her gushing letters, full
of the most dulcet flatteries--married ladies on the verge of a scandal
came to her to help them out of their difficulties--old dowagers,
troubled with rheumatism or refractory daughters, poured their troubles
into her sympathizing ears--in short, her hands were full of other
people's business to such an extent that she had scarcely any leisure to
attend to her own. Mr. Rush-Marvelle,--but why describe this gentleman
at all? He was a mere nonentity--known simply as the husband of Mrs.
Rush-Marvelle. He knew he was nobody--and, unlike many men placed in a
similar position, he was satisfied with his lot. He admired his wife
intensely, and never failed to flatter her vanity to the utmost excess,
so that, on the whole, they were excellent friends, and agreed much
better than most married people.

It was about twelve o'clock in the day, when Mrs. Rush-Marvelle's neat
little brougham and pair stopped at Lord Winsleigh's great house in Park
Lane. A gorgeous flunkey threw open the door with a virtuously severe
expression on his breakfast-flushed countenance,--an expression which
relaxed into a smile of condescension on seeing who the visitor was.

"I suppose Lady Winsleigh is at home, Briggs?" inquired Mrs. Marvelle,
with the air of one familiar with the ways of the household.

"Yes'm," replied Briggs slowly, taking in the "style" of Mrs.
Rush-Marvelle's bonnet, and mentally calculating its cost. "Her ladyship
is in the boo-dwar."

"I'll go there," said Mrs. Marvelle, stepping into the hall, and
beginning to walk across it, in her own important and self-assertive
manner. "You needn't announce me."

Briggs closed the street-door, settled his powdered wig, and looked
after her meditatively. Then he shut up one eye in a sufficiently
laborious manner and grinned. After this he retired slowly to a small
ante-room, where he found the _World_ with its leaves uncut. Taking up
his master's ivory paper-knife, he proceeded to remedy this slight
inconvenience,--and, yawning heavily, he seated himself in a velvet
arm-chair, and was soon absorbed in perusing the pages of the journal in
question.

Meanwhile Mrs. Marvelle, in her way across the great hall to the
"boo-dwar," had been interrupted and nearly knocked down by the playful
embrace of a handsome boy, who sprang out upon her suddenly with a shout
of laughter,--a boy of about twelve years old, with frank, bright blue
eyes and clustering dark curls.

"Hullo, Mimsey!" cried this young gentleman-"here you are again! Do you
want to see papa? Papa's in there!"--pointing to the door from which he
had emerged--"he's correcting my Latin exercise. Five good marks to-day,
and I'm going to the circus this afternoon! Isn't it jolly?"

"Dear me, Ernest!" exclaimed Mrs. Marvelle half crossly, yet with an
indulgent smile,--"I wish you would not be so boisterous! You've nearly
knocked my bonnet off."

"No, I haven't," laughed Ernest; "it's as straight as--wait a bit!" And
waving a lead pencil in the air, he drew an imaginary stroke with it.
"The middle feather is bobbing up and down just on a line with your
nose--it couldn't be better!"

"There, go along, you silly boy!" said Mrs. Marvelle, amused in spite of
herself. "Get back to your lessons. There'll be no circus for you if you
don't behave properly! I'm going to see your mother."

"Mamma's reading," announced Ernest. "Mudie's cart has just been and
brought a lot of new novels. Mamma wants to finish them all before
night. I say, are you going to stop to lunch?"

"Ernest, why are you making such a noise in the passage?" said a gentle,
grave voice at this juncture. "I am waiting for you, you know. You
haven't finished your work yet. Ah, Mrs. Marvelle! How do you do?"

And Lord Winsleigh came forward and shook hands. "You will find her
ladyship in, I believe. She will be delighted to see you. This young
scapegrace," here he caressed his son's clustering curls tenderly--"has
not yet done with his lessons--the idea of the circus to-day seems to
have turned his head."

"Papa, you promised you'd let me off Virgil this morning!" cried Ernest,
slipping his arm coaxingly through his father's. Lord Winsleigh smiled.
Mrs. Rush-Marvelle shook her head with a sort of mild reproachfulness.

"He really ought to go to school," she said, feigning severity. "You
will find him too much for you, Winsleigh, in a little while."

"I think not," replied Lord Winsleigh, though an anxious look troubled
for an instant the calm of his deep-set grey eyes. "We get on very well
together, don't we, Ernest?" The boy glanced up fondly at his father's
face and nodded emphatically. "At a public-school, you see, the boys are
educated on hard and fast lines--all ground down to one
pattern,--there's no chance of any originality possible. But don't let
me detain you, Mrs. Marvelle--you have no doubt much to say to Lady
Winsleigh. Come, Ernest! If I let you off Virgil, you must do the rest
of your work thoroughly."

And with a courteous salute, the grave, kindly-faced nobleman re-entered
his library, his young son clinging to his arm and pouring forth boyish
confidences, which seemingly received instant attention and
sympathy,--while Mrs. Rush-Marvelle looked after their retreating
figures with something of doubt and wonder on her placid features. But
whatever her thoughts, they were not made manifest just then. Arriving
at a door draped richly with old-gold plush and satin, she knocked.

"Come in!" cried a voice that, though sweet in tone, was also somewhat
petulant.

Mrs. Marvelle at once entered, and the occupant of the room sprang up in
haste from her luxurious reading-chair, where she was having her long
tresses brushed out by a prim-looking maid, and uttered an exclamation
of delight.

"My dearest Mimsey!" she cried, "this is quite too sweet of you! You're
just the very person I wanted to see!" And she drew an easy fauteuil to
the sparkling fire,--for the weather was cold, with that particularly
cruel coldness common to an English May,--and dismissed her attendant.
"Now sit down, you dear old darling," she continued, "and let me have
all the news!"

Throwing herself back on her lounge, she laughed, and tossed her waving
hair loose over her shoulders, as the maid had left it,--then she
arranged, with a coquettish touch here and there, the folds of her pale
pink dressing-gown, showered with delicate Valenciennes. She was
undeniably a lovely woman. Tall and elegantly formed, with an almost
regal grace of manner, Clara, Lady Winsleigh, deserved to be considered,
as she was, one of the reigning beauties of the day. Her full dark eyes
were of a bewitching and dangerous softness,--her complexion was pale,
but of such a creamy, transparent pallor as to be almost brilliant,--her
mouth was small and exquisitely shaped. True,--her long eyelashes were
not altogether innocent of "kohl,"--true, there was a faint odor about
her as of rare perfumes and cosmetics,--true, there was something not
altogether sincere or natural even in her ravishing smile and
fascinating ways--but few, save cynics, could reasonably dispute her
physical perfections, or question the right she had to tempt and arouse
the passions of men, or to trample underfoot? with an air of insolent
superiority, the feelings of women less fair and fortunate. Most of her
sex envied her,--but Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, who was past the prime of life,
and, who, moreover, gained her social successes through intelligence and
tact alone, was far too sensible to grudge any woman her beauty. On the
contrary, she was a frank admirer of handsome persons, and she surveyed
Lady Winsleigh now through her glasses with a smile of bland approval.

"You are looking very well, Clara," she said. "Let me see--you went to
Kissingen in the summer, didn't you?"

"Of course I did," laughed her ladyship. "It was delicious! I suppose
you know Lennie came after me there! Wasn't it ridiculous!"

Mrs. Marvelle coughed dubiously. "Didn't Winsleigh put in an appearance
at all?" she asked.

Lady Clara's brow clouded. "Oh yes! For a couple of weeks or so. Ernest
came with him, of course, and they rambled about together all the time.
The boy enjoyed it."

"I remember now," said Mrs. Marvelle. "But I've not seen anything of you
since you came back, Clara, except once in the park and once at the
theatre. You've been all the time at Winsleigh Court--by-the-by, was Sir
Francis Lennox there too?"

"Why, naturally!" replied the beauty, with a cool smile. "He follows me
everywhere like a dog! Poor Lennie!"

Again the elder lady coughed significantly.

Clara Winsleigh broke into a ringing peal of laughter, and rising from
her lounge, knelt beside her visitor in a very pretty coaxing attitude.

"Come, Mimsey!" she said, "you are not going to be proper at this time
of day! That would be a joke! Darling, indulgent, good old Mimsey!--you
don't mean to turn into a prim, prosy, cross Mrs. Grundy! I won't
believe it! And you mustn't be severe on poor Lennie--he's such a
docile, good boy, and really not bad-looking!"

Mrs. Marvelle fidgeted a little on her chair. "I don't want to talk
about _Lennie_, as you call him," she said, rather testily--"Only I
think you'd better be careful how far you go with him. I came to consult
you on something quite different. What are you going to do about the
Bruce-Errington business? You know it was in the Post to-day that
they've arrived in town. The idea of Sir Philip bringing his common wife
into society!--It's too ridiculous!"

Lady Winsleigh sprang to her feet, and her eyes flashed disdainfully.

"What am I going to do?" she repeated, in accents of bitter contempt.
"Why, receive them, of course! It will be the greatest punishment
Bruce-Errington can have! I'll get all the best people here that I
know--and he shall bring his peasant woman among them, and blush for
her! It will be the greatest fun out! Fancy a Norwegian farmer's girl
lumbering along with her great feet and red hands! . . . and, perhaps,
not knowing whether to eat an ice with a spoon or with her fingers! I
tell you Bruce-Errington will be ready to die for shame--and serve him
right too!"

Mrs. Marvelle was rather startled at the harsh, derisive laughter with
which her ladyship concluded her excited observations, but she merely
observed mildly--

"Well, then, you will leave cards?"

"Certainly?"

"Very good--so shall I," and Mrs. Marvelle sighed resignedly. "What must
be, must be! But it's really dreadful to think of it all--I would never
have believed Philip Errington could have so disgraced himself!"

"He is no gentleman!" said Lady Winsleigh freezingly. "He has low tastes
and low desires. He and his friend Lorimer are two _cads_, in my
opinion!"

"Clara!" exclaimed Mrs. Marvelle warningly. "You were fond of him
once!--now, don't deny it!"

"Why should I deny it?" and her ladyship's dark eyes blazed with
concentrated fury. "I loved him! There! I would have done anything for
him! He might have trodden me down under his feet! He knew it well
enough--cold, cruel, heartless cynic as he was and is! Yes, I loved
him!--but I _hate_ him now!"

And she stamped her foot to give emphasis to her wild words. Mrs.
Marvelle raised her hands and eyes in utter amazement.

"Clara, Clara! Pray, pray be careful! Suppose any one else heard you
going on in this manner! Your reputation would suffer, I assure you!
Really, you're horribly reckless! Just think of your husband--"

"My husband!" and a cold gleam of satire played round Lady Winsleigh's
proud mouth. She paused and laughed a little. Then she resumed in her
old careless way--"You must be getting very goody-goody, Mimsey, to talk
to me about my husband! Why don't you read me a lecture on the duties of
wives and the education of children? I am sure you know how profoundly
it would interest me!"

She paced up and down the room slowly while Mrs. Marvelle remained
discreetly silent. Presently there came a tap at the door, and the
gorgeous Briggs entered. He held himself like an automaton, and spoke as
though repeating a lesson.

"His lordship's compliments, and will her la'ship lunch in the
dining-room to-day?"

"No," said Lady Winsleigh curtly. "Luncheon for myself and Mrs. Marvelle
can be sent up here."

Briggs still remained immovable. "His lordship wished to know if Master
Hernest was to come to your la'ship before goin' out?"

"Certainly not!" and Lady Winsleigh's brows drew together in a frown.
"The boy is a perfect nuisance!"

Briggs bowed and vanished. Mrs. Rush-Marvelle grew more and more
restless. She was a good-hearted woman, and there was something in the
nature of Clara Winsleigh that, in spite of her easy-going conscience,
she could not altogether approve of.

"Do you never lunch with your husband, Clara?" she asked at last.

Lady Winsleigh looked surprised. "Very seldom. Only when there is
company, and I am compelled to be present. A domestic meal would be too
_ennuyant_! I wonder you can think of such a thing! And we generally
dine out."

Mrs. Marvelle was silent again, and, when she did speak, it was on a
less delicate matter.

"When is your great 'crush,' Clara?" she inquired, "You sent me a card,
but I forget the date."

"On the twenty-fifth," replied Lady Winsleigh. "This is the fifteenth. I
shall call on Lady Bruce-Errington"--here she smiled scornfully--"this
afternoon--and to-morrow I shall send them their invitations. My only
fear is whether they mayn't refuse to come. I would not miss the chance
for the world! I want my house to be the first in which her
peasant-ladyship distinguishes herself by her blunders!"

"I'm afraid it'll be quite a scandal!" sighed Mrs. Rush-Marvelle.
"Quite! Such a pity! Bruce-Errington was such a promising, handsome
young man!"

At that moment Briggs appeared again with an elegantly set
luncheon-tray, which he placed on the table with a flourish.

"Order the carriage at half-past three," commanded Lady Winsleigh. "And
tell Mrs. Marvelle's coachman that he needn't wait,--I'll drive her home
myself."

"But, my dear Clara," remonstrated Mrs. Marvelle, "I must call at the
Van Clupps'--"

"I'll call there with you. I owe them a visit. Has Marcia caught young
Masherville yet?"

"Well," hesitated Mrs. Marvelle, "he is rather slippery, you know--so
undecided and wavering!"

Lady Winsleigh laughed. "Never mind that! Marcia's a match for him!
Rather a taking girl--only _what_ an accent! My nerves are on edge
whenever I hear her speak."

"It's a pity she can't conquer that defect," agreed Mrs. Marvelle. "I
know she has tried. But, after all, they're not the best sort of
Americans--"

"The _best_ sort! I should think not! But they're of the _richest_ sort,
and that's something, Mimsey! Besides, though everybody knows what Van
Clupp's father was, they make a good pretense at being well-born,--they
don't cram their low connections down your throat, as Bruce-Errington
wants to do with his common wife. They ignore all their vulgar
belongings delightfully! They've been cruelly 'cut' by Mrs.
Rippington--she's American--but, then, she's perfect style. Do you
remember that big 'at home' at the Van Clupp's when they had a band to
play in the back-yard, and everybody was deafened by the noise? Wasn't
it quite too ridiculous!"

Lady Winsleigh laughed over this reminiscence, and then betook herself
to the consideration of lunch,--a tasty meal which both she and Mrs.
Marvelle evidently enjoyed, flavored as it was with the high spice of
scandal concerning their most immediate and mutual friends, who were,
after much interesting discussion, one by one condemned as of
"questionable" repute, and uncertain position. Then Lady Winsleigh
summoned her maid, and was arrayed _cap-a-pie_ in "carriage-toilette,"
while Mrs. Marvelle amused herself by searching the columns of _Truth_
for some new tit-bit of immorality connected with the royalty or
nobility of England. And at half-past three precisely, the two ladies
drove off together in an elegant victoria drawn by a dashing pair of
greys, with a respectably apoplectic coachman on the box, supported by
the stately Briggs, in all the glory of the olive-green and gold
liveries which distinguished the Winsleigh equipage. By her ladyship's
desire, they were driven straight to Prince's Gate.

"We may as well leave our cards together," said Clara, with a malicious
little smile, "though I hope to goodness the creature won't be at home."

Bruce-Errington's town-house was a very noble-looking mansion--refined
and simple in outer adornment, with a broad entrance, deep portico, and
lofty windows--windows which fortunately were not spoilt by gaudy
hangings of silk or satin in "aesthetic" colors. The blinds were
white--and, what could be seen of the curtains from the outside,
suggested the richness of falling velvets, and gold-woven tapestries.
The drawing-room balconies were full of brilliant flowers, shaded by
quaint awnings of Oriental pattern, thus giving the place an air of
pleasant occupation and tasteful elegance.

Lady Winsleigh's carriage drew up at the door, and Briggs descended.

"Inquire if Lady Bruce-Errington is at home," said his mistress. "And if
not, leave these cards."

Briggs received the scented glossy bits of pasteboard in his
yellow-gloved hand with due gravity, and rang the bell marked "Visitors"
in his usual ponderous manner, with a force that sent it clanging loudly
through the corridors of the stately mansion. The door was instantly
opened by a respectable man with grey hair and a gentle, kindly face,
who was dressed plainly in black, and who eyed the gorgeous Briggs with
the faintest suspicion of a smile. He was Errington's butler, and had
served the family for twenty-five years.

"Her ladyship is driving in the Park," he said in response to the
condescending inquiries of Briggs. "She left the house about half an
hour ago."

Briggs thereupon handed in the cards, and forthwith reported the result
of his interview to Lady Winsleigh, who said with some excitement--

"Turn into the Park and drive up and down till I give further orders."

Briggs mutely touched his hat, mounted the box, and the carriage rapidly
bowled in the required direction, while Lady Winsleigh remarked
laughingly to Mrs. Marvelle--

"Philip is sure to be with his treasure! If we can catch a glimpse of
her, sitting, staring open-mouthed at everything, it will be amusing! We
shall then know what to expect."

Mrs. Marvelle said nothing, though she too was more or less curious to
see the "peasant" addition to the circle of fashionable society,--and
when they entered the Park, both she and Lady Winsleigh kept a sharp
look-out for the first glimpse of the quiet grey and silver of the
Bruce-Errington liveries. They watched, however, in vain--it was not yet
the hour for the crowding of the Row--and there was not a sign of the
particular equipage they were so desirous to meet. Presently Lady
Winsleigh's face flushed--she laughed, and bade her coachman come to a
halt.

"It is only Lennie," she said in answer to Mrs. Marvelle's look of
inquiry. "I _must_ speak to him a moment!"

And she beckoned coquettishly to a slight, slim young man with a dark
moustache and rather handsome features, who was idling along on the
footpath, apparently absorbed in a reverie, though it was not of so deep
a character that he failed to be aware of her ladyship's presence--in
fact he had seen her as soon as she appeared in the Park. He saw
everything apparently without looking--he had lazily drooping eyes, but
a swift under-glance which missed no detail of whatever was going on. He
approached now with an excessively languid air, raising his hat slowly,
as though the action bored him.

"How do, Mrs. Marvelle!" he drawled lazily, addressing himself first to
the elder lady, who responded somewhat curtly,--then leaning his arms on
the carriage door, he fixed Lady Winsleigh with a sleepy stare of
admiration. "And how is our Clara? Looking charming, as usual! By Jove!
Why weren't you here ten minutes ago? You never saw such a sight in your
life! Thought the whole Row was going crazy, 'pon my soul!"

"Why, what happened?" asked Lady Winsleigh, smiling graciously upon him.
"Anything extraordinary?"

"Well, I don't know what you'd call extraordinary;" and Sir Francis
Lennox yawned and examined the handle of his cane attentively. "I
suppose if Helen of Troy came driving full pelt down the Row all of a
sudden, there'd be some slight sensation!"

"Dear me!" said Clara Winsleigh pettishly. "You talk in enigmas to-day.
What on earth do you mean?"

Sir Francis condescended to smile. "Don't be waxy, Clara!" he urged--"I
mean what I say--a new Helen appeared here to-day, and instead of 'tall
Troy' being on fire, as Dante Rossetti puts it, the Row was in a burning
condition of excitement--fellows on horseback galloped the whole length
of the Park to take a last glimpse of her--her carriage dashed off to
Richmond after taking only four turns. She is simply magnificent!"

"Who is she?" and in spite of herself, Lady Winsleigh's smile vanished
and her lips quivered.

"Lady Bruce-Errington," answered Sir Francis readily. "The loveliest
woman in the world, I should say! Phil was beside her--he looks in
splendid condition--and that meek old secretary fellow sat
opposite--Neville--isn't that his name? Anyhow they seemed as jolly as
pipers,--as for that woman, she'll drive everybody out of their wits
about her before half the season's over."

"But she's a mere peasant!" said Mrs. Marvelle loftily. "Entirely
uneducated--a low, common creature!"

"Ah, indeed!" and Sir Francis again yawned extensively. "Well, I don't
know anything about that! She was exquisitely dressed, and she held
herself like a queen. As for her hair--I never saw such wonderful
hair,--there's every shade of gold in it."

"Dyed!" said Lady Winsleigh, with a sarcastic little laugh. "She's been
in Paris,--I dare say a good _coiffeur_ has done it for her there
artistically!"

This time Sir Francis's smile was a thoroughly amused one.

"Commend me to a woman for spite!" he said carelessly. "But I'll not
presume to contradict you, Clara! You know best, I dare say! Ta-ta! I'll
come for you to-night,--you know we're bound for the theatre together.
By-bye, Mrs. Marvelle! You look younger than ever!"

And Sir Francis Lennox sauntered easily away, leaving the ladies to
resume their journey through the Park. Lady Winsleigh looked vexed--Mrs.
Marvelle bewildered.

"Do you think," inquired this latter, "she can really be so wonderfully
lovely?"

"No, I don't!" answered Clara snappishly. "I dare say she's a plump
creature with a high color--men like fat women with brick-tinted
complexions--they think it's healthy. Helen of Troy indeed! Pooh! Lennie
must be crazy."

The rest of their drive was very silent,-they were both absorbed in
their own reflections. On arriving at the Van Clupps', they found no one
at home--not even Marcia--so Lady Winsleigh drove her "dearest Mimsey"
back to her own house in Kensington, and there left her with many
expressions of tender endearment--then, returning home, proceeded to
make an elaborate and brilliant toilette for the enchantment and
edification of Sir Francis Lennox that evening. She dined alone, and was
ready for her admirer when he called for her in his private hansom, and
drove away with him to the theatre, where she was the cynosure of many
eyes; meanwhile her husband, Lord Winsleigh, was pressing a good-night
kiss on the heated forehead of an excited boy, who, plunging about in
his little bed and laughing heartily, was evidently desirous of
emulating the gambols of the clown who had delighted him that afternoon
at Hengler's.

"Papa! could you stand on your head and shake hands with your foot?"
demanded this young rogue, confronting his father with towzled curls and
flushed cheeks.

Lord Winsleigh laughed. "Really, Ernest, I don't think I could!" he
answered good-naturedly. "Haven't you talked enough about the circus by
this time? I thought you were ready for sleep, otherwise I should not
have come up to say good-night."

Ernest studied the patient, kind features of his father for a moment,
and then slipped penitently under the bedclothes, settling his restless
young head determinedly on the pillow.

"I'm all right now!" he murmured, with a demure, dimpling smile. Then,
with a tender upward twinkle of his merry blue eyes, he added,
"Good-night, papa dear! God bless you!"

A sort of wistful pathos softened the grave lines of Lord Winsleigh's
countenance as he bent once more over the little bed, and pressed his
bearded lips lightly on the boy's fresh cheek, as cool and soft as a
rose-leaf.

"God bless you, little man!" he answered softly, and there was a slight
quiver in his calm voice. Then he put out the light and left the room,
closing the door after him with careful noiselessness. Descending the
broad stairs slowly, his face changed from its late look of tenderness
to one of stern and patient coldness, which was evidently its habitual
expression. He addressed himself to Briggs, who was lounging aimlessly
in the hall.

"Her ladyship is out?"

"Yes, my lord! Gone to the theayter with Sir Francis Lennox."

Lord Winsleigh turned upon him sharply. "I did not ask you, Briggs,
_where_ she had gone, or _who_ accompanied her. Have the goodness to
answer my questions simply, without adding useless and unnecessary
details."

Briggs's mouth opened a little in amazement at his master's peremptory
tone, but he answered promptly--

"Very good, my lord!"

Lord Winsleigh paused a moment, and seemed to consider. Then he said--

"See that her ladyship's supper is prepared in the dining-room. She will
most probably return rather late. Should she inquire for me, say I am at
the Carlton."

Again Briggs responded, "Very good, my lord!" And, like an exemplary
servant as he was, he lingered about the passage while Lord Winsleigh
entered his library, and, after remaining there some ten minutes or so,
came out again in hat and great coat. The officious Briggs handed him
his cane, and inquired--

"'Ansom, my lord?"

"Thanks, no. I will walk."

It was a fine moonlight night, and Briggs stood for some minutes on the
steps, airing his shapely calves and watching the tall, dignified figure
of his master walking, with the upright, stately bearing which always
distinguished him, in the direction of Pall Mall. Park Lane was full of
crowding carriages with twinkling lights, all bound to the different
sources of so-called "pleasure" by which the opening of the season is
distinguished. Briggs surveyed the scene with lofty indifference,
sniffed the cool breeze, and, finding it somewhat chilly, re-entered the
house and descended to the servant's hall. Here all the domestics of the
Winsleigh household were seated at a large table loaded with hot and
savory viands,--a table presided over by a robust and perspiring lady,
with a very red face and sturdy arms bare to the elbow.

"Lor', Mr. Briggs!" cried this personage, rising respectfully as he
approached, "'ow late you are! Wot 'ave you been a-doin' on? 'Ere I've
been a-keepin' your lamb-chops and truffles 'ot all this time, and if
they's dried up 'taint my fault, nor that of the hoven, which is as good
a hoven as you can wish to bake in. . . ."

She paused breathless, and Briggs smiled blandly.

"Now, Flopsie!" he said in a tone of gentle severity. "Excited again--as
usual! It's bad for your 'elth--very bad! _Hif_ the chops is dried, your
course is plain--cook some more! Not that I am enny ways particular--but
chippy meat is bad for a delicate digestion. And you would not make me
hill, my Flopsie, would you?"

Whereupon he seated himself, and looked condescendingly round the table.
He was too great a personage to be familiar with such inferior creatures
as housemaids, scullery-girls, and menials of that class,--he was only
on intimate terms with the cook, Mrs. Flopper, or, as he called her,
"Flopsie,"--the coachman, and Lady Winsleigh's own maid, Louise Renaud,
a prim, sallow-faced Frenchwoman, who, by reason of her nationality, was
called by all the inhabitants of the kitchen, "mamzelle," as being a
name both short, appropriate, and convenient.

On careful examination, the lamb-chops turned out
satisfactorily--"chippiness" was an epithet that could not justly be
applied to them,--and Mr. Briggs began to eat them leisurely, flavoring
them with a glass or two of fine port out of a decanter which he had
taken the precaution to bring down from the dining-room sideboard.

"I _ham_, late," he then graciously explained--"not that I was detained
in enny way by the people upstairs. The gay Clara went out early, but I
was absorbed in the evenin' papers--Winsleigh forgot to ask me for them.
But he'll see them at his club. He's gone there now on foot-poor
fellah!"

"I suppose _she's_ with the same party?" grinned the fat Flopsie, as she
held a large piece of bacon dipped in vinegar on her fork, preparatory
to swallowing it with a gulp.

Briggs nodded gravely, "The same! Not a fine man at all, you know--no
leg to speak of, and therefore no form. Legs--_good_ legs--are beauty.
Now, Winsleigh's not bad in that particular,--and I dare say Clara can
hold her own,--but I wouldn't bet on little Francis."

Flopsie shrieked with laughter till she had a "stitch in her side," and
was compelled to restrain her mirth.

"Lor', Mr. Briggs!" she gasped, wiping the moisture from her eyes, "you
are a regular one, aren't you! Mussy on us, you ought to put all wot you
say in the papers--you'd make your fortin!"

"Maybe, maybe, Flopsie," returned Briggs with due dignity. "I will not
deny that there may be wot is called 'sparkle' in my natur. And
'sparkle' is wot is rekwired in polite literatoor. Look at 'Hedmund' and
''Enery!' Sparkle again,--read their magnificent productions, the
_World_ and _Truth_,--all sparkle, every line! It is the secret of
success, Flopsie--be a sparkler and you've got everything before you."

Louise Renaud looked across at him half-defiantly. Her prim, cruel mouth
hardened into a tight line.

"To spark-el?" she said--"that is what we call _etinceler_--_eclater_.
Yes, I comprehend! Miladi is one spark-el! But one must be a very good
jewel to spark-el always--yes--yes--not a sham!"

And she nodded a great many times, and ate her salad very fast. Briggs
surveyed her with much complacency.

"You are a talented woman, Mamzelle," he said, "very talented! I admire
your ways--I really do!"

Mamzelle smiled with a gratified air, and Briggs settled his wig, eyeing
her anew with fresh interest.

"_Wot_ a witness you would be in a divorce case!" he continued
enthusiastically. "You'd be in your helement!"

"I should--I should indeed!" exclaimed Mamzelle, with sudden
excitement,--then as suddenly growing calm, she made a rapid gesture
with her hands--"But there will be no divorce. Milord Winsleigh is a
fool!"

Briggs appeared doubtful about this, and meditated for a long time over
his third glass of port with the profound gravity of a philosopher.

"No, Mamzelle," he said at last, when he rose from the table to return
to his duties upstairs--"No! there I must differ from you. I am a close
observer. Wotever Winsleigh's faults,--and I do not deny that they are
many,--he is a gentleman-that I _must_ admit--and with _hevery_ respect
for you, Mamzelle--I can assure you he's no fool!"

And with these words Briggs betook himself to the library to arrange the
reading-lamp and put the room in order for his master's return, and as
he did so, he paused to look at a fine photograph of Lady Winsleigh that
stood on the oak escritoire, opposite her husband's arm-chair.

"No," he muttered to himself. "Wotever he thinks of some goings-on, he
ain't blind nor deaf--that's certain. And I'd stake my character and
purfessional reputation on it--wotever he is, he's no fool!"

For once in his life, Briggs was right. He was generally wrong in his
estimate of both persons and things--but it so happened on this
particular occasion that he had formed a perfectly correct judgment.




CHAPTER XIX.

    "Could you not drink her gaze like wine?
     Yet in its splendor swoon
     Into the silence languidly,
     As a tune into a tune?"
                                                  DANTE ROSSETTI.


On the morning of the twenty-fifth of May, Thelma, Lady Bruce-Errington,
sat at breakfast with her husband in their sun-shiny morning-room,
fragrant with flowers and melodious with the low piping of a tame thrush
in a wild gilded cage, who had the sweet habit of warbling his strophes
to himself very softly now and then, before venturing to give them
full-voiced utterance. A bright-eyed, feathered poet he was, and an
exceeding favorite with his fair mistress, who occasionally leaned back
in her low chair to look at him and murmur an encouraging "Sweet,
sweet!" which caused the speckled plumage on his plump breast to ruffle
up with suppressed emotion and gratitude.

Philip was pretending to read the _Times_, but the huge, self-important
printed sheet had not the faintest interest for him,--his eyes wandered
over the top of its columns to the golden gleam of his wife's hair,
brightened just then by the sunlight streaming through the window,--and
finally he threw it down beside him with a laugh.

"There's no news," he declared. "There never _is_ any news!"

Thelma smiled, and her deep-blue eyes sparkled.

"No?" she half inquired--then taking her husband's cup from his hand to
re-fill it with coffee, she added, "but I think you do not give yourself
time to find the news, Philip. You will never read the papers more than
five minutes."

"My dear girl," said Philip gaily, "I am more conscientious than you
are, at any rate, for you never read them at all!"

"Ah, but you must remember," she returned gravely, "that is because I do
not understand them! I am not clever. They seem to me to be all about
such dull things--unless there is some horrible murder or cruelty or
accident--and I would rather not hear of these. I do prefer books
always--because the books last, and news is never certain--it may not
even be true."

Her husband looked at her fondly; his thoughts were evidently very far
away from newspapers and their contents.

As she met his gaze, the rich color flushed her soft cheeks and her eyes
drooped shyly under their long lashes. Love, with her, had not yet
proved an illusion,--a bright toy to be snatched hastily and played with
for a brief while, and then thrown aside as broken and worthless. It
seemed to her a most marvellous and splendid gift of God, increasing
each day in worth and beauty,--widening upon her soul and dazzling her
life in ever new and expanding circles of glory. She felt as if she
could never sufficiently understand it,--the passionate adoration Philip
lavished upon her, filled her with a sort of innocent wonder and
gratitude, while her own overpowering love and worship of him, sometimes
startled her by its force into a sweet shame and hesitating fear. To her
mind he was all that was great, strong, noble, and beautiful--he was her
master, her king,--and she loved to pay him homage by her exquisite
humility, clinging tenderness, and complete, contented submission. She
was neither weak nor timid,--her character, moulded on grand and simple
lines of duty, saw the laws of Nature in their true light, and accepted
them without question. It seemed to her quite clear that man was the
superior,--woman the inferior, creature--and she could not understand
the possibility of any wife not rendering instant and implicit obedience
to her husband, even in trifles.

Since her wedding-day no dark cloud had crossed her heaven of happiness,
though she had been a little confused and bewildered at first by the
wealth and dainty luxury with which Sir Philip had delighted to surround
her. She had been married quietly at Christiania, arrayed in one of her
own simple white gowns, with no ornament save a cluster of pale
blush-roses, the gift of Lorimer. The ceremony was witnessed by her
father and Errington's friends,--and when it was concluded they had all
gone on their several ways,--old Gueldmar for a "toss" on the Bay of
Biscay,--the yacht _Eulalie_, with Lorimer, Macfarlane, and Duprez on
board, back to England, where these gentlemen had separated to their
respective homes,--while Errington, with his beautiful bride, and Britta
in demure and delighted attendance on her, went straight to Copenhagen.
From there they travelled to Hamburg, and through Germany to the
Schwarzwald, where they spent their honeymoon at a quiet little hotel in
the very heart of the deep-green Forest.

Days of delicious dreaming were these,--days of roaming on the emerald
green turf under the stately and odorous pines, listening to the dash of
the waterfalls, or watching the crimson sunset burning redly through the
darkness of the branches,--and in the moonlit evenings sitting under the
trees to hear the entrancing music of a Hungarian string-band, which
played divine and voluptuous melodies of the land,--"lieder" and
"walzer" that swung the heart away on a golden thread of sound to a
paradise too sweet to name! Days of high ecstacy, and painfully
passionate joy!--when "love, love!" palpitated in the air, and struggled
for utterance in the jubilant throats of birds, and whispered wild
suggestions in the rustling of the leaves! There were times when
Thelma,--lost and amazed and overcome by the strength and sweetness of
the nectar held to her innocent lips by a smiling and flame-winged
Eros,--would wonder vaguely whether she lived indeed, or whether she
were not dreaming some gorgeous dream, too brilliant to last? And even
when her husband's arms most surely embraced her, and her husband's kiss
met hers in all the rapture of victorious tenderness, she would often
question herself as to whether she were worthy of such perfect
happiness, and she would pray in the depths of her pure heart to be made
more deserving of this great and wonderful gift of love--this supreme
joy, almost too vast for her comprehension.

On the other hand, Errington's passion for his wife was equally
absorbing--she had become the very moving-spring of his existence. His
eyes delighted in her beauty,--but more than this, he revelled in and
reverenced the crystal-clear parity and exquisite refinement of her
soul. Life assumed for him a new form,--studied by the light of Thelma's
straightforward simplicity and intelligence, it was no longer, as he had
once been inclined to think, a mere empty routine,--it was a treasure of
inestimable value fraught with divine meanings. Gradually, the touch of
modern cynicism that had at one time threatened to spoil his nature,
dropped away from him like the husk from an ear of corn,--the world
arrayed itself in bright and varying colors--there was good--nay, there
was glory--in everything.

With these ideas, and the healthy satisfaction they engendered, his
heart grew light and joyous,--his eyes more lustrous,--his step gay and
elastic,--and his whole appearance was that of man at his best,--man, as
God most surely meant him to be--not a rebellious, feebly-repining,
sneering wretch, ready to scoff at the very sunlight,--but a being both
brave and intelligent, strong and equally balanced in temperament, and
not only contented, but absolutely glad to be alive,--glad to feel the
blood flowing through the veins,--glad and grateful for the gifts of
breathing and sight.

As each day passed, the more close and perfect grew the sympathies of
husband and wife,--they were like two notes of a perfect chord, sounding
together in sweetest harmony. Naturally, much of this easy and mutual
blending of character and disposition arose from Thelma's own gracious
and graceful submissiveness,--submissiveness which, far from humiliating
her, actually placed her (though she knew it not) on a throne of almost
royal power, before which Sir Philip was content to kneel--an ardent
worshipper of her womanly sweetness. Always without question or demur,
she obeyed his wishes implicitly,--though, as has been before mentioned,
she was at first a little overpowered and startled by the evidences of
his wealth, and did not quite know what to do with all the luxuries and
gifts he heaped upon her. Britta's worldly prognostications had come
true,--the simple gowns her mistress had worn at the Altenfjord were
soon discarded for more costly apparel,--though Sir Philip had an
affection for his wife's Norwegian costumes, and in his heart thought
they were as pretty, if not prettier, than the most perfect triumphs of
a Parisian _modiste_.

But in the social world, Fashion, the capricious deity, must be
followed, if not wholly, yet in part; and so Thelma's straight, plain
garments were laid carefully by as souvenirs of the old days, and were
replaced by toilettes of the most exquisite description,--some
simple,--some costly,--and it was difficult to say in which of them the
lovely wearer looked her best. She herself was indifferent in the
matter--she dressed to please Philip,--if he was satisfied, she was
happy--she sought nothing further. It was Britta whose merry eyes
sparkled with pride and admiration when she saw her "Froeken" arrayed in
gleaming silk or sweeping velvets, with the shine of rare jewels in her
rippling hair,--it was Britta who took care of all the dainty trifles
that gradually accumulated on Thelma's dressing table,--in fact, Britta
had become a very important personage in her own opinion. Dressed neatly
in black, with a coquettish muslin apron and cap becomingly frilled, she
was a very taking little maid, with her demure rosy face and rebellious
curls, though very different to the usual trained spy whose officious
ministrations are deemed so necessary by ladies of position, whose lofty
station in life precludes them from the luxury of brushing their own
hair. Britta's duties were slight--she invented most of them--yet she
was always busy sewing, dusting, packing, or polishing. She was a very
wide-awake little person, too,--no hint was lost upon her,--and she held
her own wherever she went with her bright eyes and sharp tongue. Though
secretly in an unbounded state of astonishment at everything new she
saw, she was too wise to allow this to be noticed, and feigned the
utmost coolness and indifference, even when they went from Germany to
Paris, where the brilliancy and luxury of the shops almost took away her
breath for sheer wonderment.

In Paris, Thelma's wardrobe was completed--a certain Madame Rosine,
famous for "artistic arrangements," was called into requisition, and
viewing with a professional eye the superb figure and majestic carriage
of her new customer, rose to the occasion in all her glory, and resolved
that Miladi Bruce-Errington's dresses should be the wonder and envy of
all who beheld them.

"For," said Madame, with a grand air, "it is to do me justice. That form
so magnificent is worth draping,--it will support my work to the best
advantage. And persons without figures will hasten to me and entreat me
for costumes, and will think that if I dress them I can make them look
as well as Miladi. And they will pay!"--Madame shook her head with much
shrewdness--"_Mon Dieu!_ they will pay!--and that they still look
frightful will not be my fault."

And undoubtedly Madame surpassed her usual skill in all she did for
Thelma,--she took such pains, and was so successful in all her designs,
that "Miladi," who did not as a rule show more than a very ordinary
interest in her toilette, found it impossible not to admire the artistic
taste, harmonious coloring, and exquisite fit of the few choice gowns
supplied to her from the "Maison Rosine"--and only on one occasion had
she any discussion with the celebrated modiste. This was when Madame
herself, with much pride, brought home an evening dress of the very
palest and tenderest sea-green silk, showered with pearls and
embroidered in silver, a perfect _chef-d'oeuvre_ of the dressmaker's
art. The skirt, with its billowy train and peeping folds of delicate
lace, pleased Thelma,--but she could not understand the bodice, and she
held that very small portion of the costume in her hand with an air of
doubt and wonderment. At last she turned her grave blue eyes inquiringly
on Madame.

"It is not finished?" she asked. "Where is the upper part of it and the
sleeves?"

Madame Rosine gesticulated with her hands and smiled.

"Miladi, there is no more!" she declared. "Miladi will perceive it is
for the evening wear--it is _decolletee_--it is to show to everybody
Miladi's most beautiful white neck and arms. The effect will be
ravishing!"

Thelma's face grew suddenly grave--almost stern.

"You must be very wicked!" she said severely, to the infinite amazement
of the vivacious Rosine. "You think I would show myself to people half
clothed? How is it possible! I would not so disgrace myself! It would
bring shame to my husband!"

Madame was almost speechless with surprise. What strange lady was this
who was so dazzlingly beautiful and graceful, and yet so ignorant of the
world's ways? She stared,--but was soon on the defensive.

"Miladi is in a little error!" she said rapidly and with soft
persuasiveness. "It is _la mode_. Miladi has perhaps lived in a country
where the fashions are different. But if she will ask the most amiable
Sieur Bruce-Errington, she will find that her dress is quite in keeping
with _les convenances_."

A pained blush crimsoned Thelma's fair cheek. "I do not like to ask my
husband such a thing," she said slowly, "but I must. For I could not
wear this dress without shame. I cannot think he would wish me to appear
in it as you have made it--but--" She paused, and taking up the
objectionable bodice, she added gently--"You will kindly wait here,
madame, and I will see what Sir Philip says."

And she retired, leaving the _modiste_ in a state of much astonishment,
approaching resentment. The idea was outrageous,--a woman with such
divinely fair skin,--a woman with the bosom of a Venus, and arms of a
shape to make sculptors rave,--and yet she actually wished to hide these
beauties from the public gaze! It was ridiculous--utterly
ridiculous,--and Madame sat fuming impatiently, and sniffing the air in
wonder and scorn. Meanwhile Thelma, with flushing cheeks and lowered
eyes, confided her difficulty to Philip, who surveyed the shocking
little bodice she brought for his inspection with a gravely amused, but
very tender smile.

"There certainly doesn't seem much of it, does there, darling?" he said.
"And so you don't like it?"

"No," she confessed frankly--"I think I should feel quite undressed in
it. I often wear just a little opening at the throat--but this--! Still,
Philip, I must not displease you--and I will always wear what you wish,
even if it is uncomfortable to myself."

"Look here, my pet," and he encircled her waist fondly with his arm,
"Rosine is quite right. The thing's perfectly fashionable,--and there
isn't a woman in society who wouldn't be perfectly charmed with it. But
your ideas are better than Rosine's and all society's put together. Obey
your own womanly instinct, Thelma!"

"But what do _you_ wish?" she asked earnestly. "You must tell me. It is
to please you that I live."

He kissed her. "You want me to issue a command about the affair?" he
said half laughingly.

She smiled up into his eyes. "Yes!--and I will obey!"

"Very well! Now listen!" and he held her by both hands, and looked with
sudden gravity into her sweet face--"Thelma, my wife, thus sayeth your
lord and master,--despise the vulgar indecencies of fashion, and you
will gratify me more than words can say;--keep your pure and beautiful
self sacred from the profaning gaze of the multitude,--sacred to me and
my love for you, and I shall be the proudest man living! Finally,"--and
he smiled again--"give Rosine back this effort at a bodice, and tell her
to make something more in keeping with the laws of health and modesty.
And Thelma--one more kiss! You are a darling!"

She laughed softly and left him, returning at once to the irate
dressmaker who waited for her.

"I am sorry," she said very sweetly, "to have called you wicked! You
see, I did not understand! But though this style of dress is
fashionable, I do not wish to wear it--so you will please make me
another bodice, with a small open square at the throat, and
elbow-sleeves,--and you will lose nothing at all--for I shall pay you
for this one just the same. And you must quite pardon me for my mistake
and hasty words!"

Maladi's manner was so gracious and winning, that Madame Rosine found it
impossible not to smile in a soothed and mollified way,--and though she
deeply regretted that so beautiful a neck and arms were not to be
exposed to public criticism, she resigned herself to the inevitable, and
took away the offending bodice, replacing it in a couple of days by one
much prettier and more becoming by reason of its perfect modesty.

On leaving Paris, Sir Philip had taken his wife straight home to his
fine old Manor in Warwickshire. Thelma's delight in her new abode was
unbounded--the stately oaks that surrounded it,--the rose-gardens, the
conservatories,--the grand rooms, with their fine tapestries, oak
furniture, and rare pictures,--the splendid library, the long, lofty
drawing-rooms, furnished and decorated after the style of Louis
Quinze,--all filled her with a tender pride and wistful admiration. This
was Philip's home! and she was here to make it bright and glad for
him!--she could imagine no fairer fate. The old servants of the place
welcomed their new mistress with marked respect and evident astonishment
at her beauty, though, when they knew her better, they marvelled still
more at her exceeding gentleness and courtesy. The housekeeper, a
stately white-haired dame, who had served the former Lady Errington,
declared she was "an angel"--while the butler swore profoundly that "he
knew what a queen was like at last!"

The whole household was pervaded with an affectionate eagerness to
please her, though, perhaps, the one most dazzled by her entrancing
smile and sweet consideration for his comfort was Edward Neville, Sir
Philip's private secretary and librarian,--a meek, mild-featured man of
some five and forty years old, whose stooping shoulders, grizzled hair,
and weak eyes gave him an appearance of much greater age. Thelma was
particularly kind to Neville, having heard his history from her husband.
It was brief and sad. He had married a pretty young girl whom he had
found earning a bare subsistence as a singer in provincial
music-halls,--loving her, he had pitied her unprotected state, and had
rescued her from the life she led--but after six months of comparative
happiness, she had suddenly deserted him, leaving no clue as to where or
why she had gone. His grief for her loss, weighed heavily upon his
mind--he brooded incessantly upon it--and though his profession was that
of a music master and organist, he grew so abstracted and inattentive to
the claims of the few pupils he had, that they fell away from him one by
one--and, after a bit, he lost his post as organist to the village
church as well. This smote him deeply, for he was passionately fond of
music, and was, moreover, a fine player,--and it was at this stage of
his misfortunes that he met by chance Bruce-Errington. Philip, just
then, was almost broken-hearted--his father and mother had died suddenly
within a week of one another,--and he, finding the blank desolation of
his home unbearable, was anxious to travel abroad for a time, so soon as
he could find some responsible person in whose hands to leave the charge
of the Manor, with its invaluable books and pictures, during his
absence.

Hearing Neville's history through a mutual friend, he decided, with his
usual characteristic impulse, that here was the very man for him--a
gentleman by birth, rumored to be an excellent scholar,--and he at once
offered him the post he had in view,--that of private secretary at a
salary of 200 pounds per annum. The astonished Neville could not at
first believe in his good fortune, and began to stammer forth his
gratitude with trembling lips and moistening eyes,--but Errington cut
him short by declaring the whole thing settled, and desiring him to
enter on his duties at once. He was forthwith installed in his
position,--a highly enviable one for a man of his dreamy and meditative
turn of mind. To him, literature and music were precious as air and
light, he handled the rare volumes on the Errington book-shelves with
lingering tenderness, and often pored over some difficult manuscript, or
dusty folio till long past midnight, almost forgetful of his griefs in
the enchantment thus engendered. Nor did he lack his supreme comforter,
music,--there was a fine organ at the lower end of the long library, and
seated at his beloved instrument, he wiled away many an hour,--steeping
his soul in the divine and solemn melodies of Palestrina and Pergolesi,
till the cruel sorrow that had darkened his life seemed nothing but a
bad dream, and the face of his wife as he had first known it, fair,
trustful, and plaintive, floated before his eyes unchanged, and arousing
in him the old foolish throbbing emotions of rapture and passion that
had gladdened the bygone days.

He never lost the hope of meeting her again, and from time to time he
renewed his search for her, though all uselessly--he studied the daily
papers with an almost morbid anxiety lest he should see the notice of
her death--and he would even await each post with a heart beating more
rapidly than usual, in case there should be some letter from her,
imploring forgiveness, explaining everything, and summoning him once
more to her side. He found a true and keenly sympathizing friend in Sir
Philip, to whom he became profoundly attached,--to satisfy his wishes,
to forward his interests, to attend to his affairs with punctilious
exactitude--all this gave Neville the supremest happiness. He felt some
slight doubt and anxiety, when he first received the sudden announcement
of his patron's marriage,--but all forebodings as to the character and
disposition of the new Lady Bruce-Errington fled like mist before
sunshine, when he saw Thelma's fair face and felt her friendly
hand-clasp.

Every morning on her way to the breakfast-room, she would look in at the
door of his little study, which adjoined the library, and he learned to
watch for the first glimmer of her dress, and to listen for her bright
"Good morning, Mr. Neville!" with a sensation of the keenest pleasure.
It was a sort of benediction on the whole day. A proud man was he when
she asked him to give her lessons on the organ,--and never did he forget
the first time he heard her sing. He was playing an exquisite "Ave
Maria," by Stradella, and she, standing by her husband's side was
listening, when she suddenly exclaimed--

"Why, we used to sing that at Arles!"--and her rich, round voice pealed
forth clear, solemn, and sweet, following with pure steadiness the
sustained notes of the organ. Neville's heart thrilled,--he heard her
with a sort of breathless wonder and rapture, and when she ceased, it
seemed as though heaven had closed upon him.

"One cannot praise such a voice as that!" he said. "It would be a kind
of sacrilege. It is divine!"

After this, many were the pleasant musical evenings they all passed
together in the grand old library, and,--as Mrs. Rush-Marvelle had so
indignantly told her husband,--no visitors were invited to the Manor
during that winter. Errington was perfectly happy--he wanted no one but
his wife, and the idea of entertaining a party of guests who would most
certainly interfere with his domestic enjoyment, seemed almost abhorrent
to him. The county-people called,--but missed seeing Thelma, for during
the daytime she was always out with her husband taking long walks and
rambling excursions to the different places hallowed by Shakespeare's
presence,--and when she, instructed by Sir Philip, called on the
county-people, they also seemed to be never at home.

And so, as yet, she had made no acquaintances, and now that she had been
married eight months and had come to London, the same old story repeated
itself. People called on her in the afternoon just at the time when she
went out driving,--when she returned their visits, she, in her turn,
found them absent. She did not as yet understand the mystery of having
"a day" on which to receive visitors in shoals--a day on which to drink
unlimited tea, talk platitudes, and utterly bored and exhausted at the
end thereof--in fact, she did not see the necessity of knowing many
people,--her husband was all-sufficient for her,--to be in his society
was all she cared for. She left her card at different houses because he
told her to do so, but this social duty amused her immensely.

"It is like a game!" she declared, laughing, "some one comes and leaves
these little cards which explain who _they_ are, on _me_,--then I go and
leave _my_ little cards and yours, explaining who _we_ are on that some
one--and we keep on doing this, yet we never see each other by any
chance! It is so droll!"

Errington did not feel called upon to explain what was really the
fact,--namely, that none of the ladies who had left cards on his wife
had given her the option of their "at home" day on which to call,--he
did not think it necessary to tell her what he knew very well, that his
"set," both in county and town, had resolved to "snub" her in every
petty fashion they could devise,--that he had already received several
invitations which, as they did not include her, he had left
unanswered,--and that the only house to which she had as yet been really
asked in proper form was that of Lady Winsleigh. He was more amused than
vexed at the resolute stand made by the so-called "leaders" of society
against her, knowing as he did, most thoroughly, how she must conquer
them all in the end. She had been seen nowhere as yet but in the Park,
and Philip had good reason to be contented with the excitement her
presence had created there,--but he was a little astonished at Lady
Winsleigh's being the first to extend a formal welcome to his unknown
bride. Her behavior seemed to him a little suspicious,--for he certainly
could not disguise from himself that she had at one time been most
violently and recklessly in love with him. He recollected one or two
most painful scenes he had had with her, in which he had endeavored to
recall her to a sense of the duty she owed to her husband,--and his face
often flushed with vexation when he thought of her wild and wicked
abandonment of despair, her tears, her passion, and distracted,
dishonoring words. Yet she was the very woman who now came forward in
the very front of society to receive his wife!--he could not quite
understand it. After all, he was a man,--and the sundry artful tricks
and wiles of fashionable ladies were, naturally, beyond him. Thelma had
never met Lady Winsleigh--not even for a passing glance in the
Park,--and when she received the invitation for the grand reception at
Winsleigh House, she accepted it, because her husband wished her so to
do, not that she herself anticipated any particular pleasure from it.
When the day came round at last she scarcely thought of it, till at the
close of their pleasant breakfast _tete-a-tete_ described at the
commencement of this chapter, Philip suddenly said,--"By-the-by, Thelma,
I have sent to the bank for the Errington diamonds. They'll be here
presently. I want you to wear them to-night."

Thelma looked puzzled and inquiring. "To-night? What is it that we do? I
forget! Oh! now I know--it is to go to Lady Winsleigh. What will it be
like, Philip?"

"Well, there'll be heaps of people all cramming and crowding up the
stairs and down them again,--you'll see all those women who have called
on you, and you'll be introduced to them,--I dare say there'll be some
bad music and an indigestible supper--and--and--that's all!"

She laughed and shook her head reproachfully. "I cannot believe you, my
naughty boy!" she said, rising from her seat, and kneeling beside him
with arms round his neck, and soft eyes gazing lovingly into his. "You
are nearly as bad as that very bad Mr. Lorimer, who will always see
strange vexations in everything! I am quite sure Lady Winsleigh will not
have crowds up and down her stairs,--that would be bad taste. And if she
has music, it will be good--and she would not give her friends a supper
to make them ill."

Philip did not answer. He was studying every delicate tint in his wife's
dazzling complexion and seemed absorbed.

"Wear that one gown you got from Worth," he said abruptly. "I like
it--it suits you."

"Of course I will wear it if you wish," she answered, laughing still.
"But why? What does it matter? You want me to be something very splendid
in dress to-night?"

Philip drew a deep breath. "I want you to eclipse every woman in the
room!" he said with remarkable emphasis.

She grew rather pensive. "I do not think that would be pleasant," she
said gravely. "Besides, it is impossible. And it would be wrong to wish
me to make every one else dissatisfied with themselves. That is not like
you, my Philip!"

He touched with tender fingers the great glistening coil of hair that
was twisted up at the top of her graceful head.

"Ah, darling! You don't know what a world it is, and what very queer
people there are in it! Never mind! . . . don't bother yourself about
it. You'll have a good bird's-eye view of society tonight, and you shall
tell me afterwards how you like it. I shall be curious to know what you
think of Lady Winsleigh."

"She is beautiful, is she not?"

"Well, she is considered so by most of her acquaintances, and by
herself," he returned with a smile.

"I do like to see very pretty faces," said Thelma warmly; "it is as if
one looked at pictures. Since I have been in London I have seen so many
of them--it is quite pleasant. Yet none of these lovely ladies seem to
me as if they were really happy or strong in health."

"Half of them have got nervous diseases and all sorts of things wrong
with them from over-much tea and tight lacing," replied Errington, "and
the few who _are_ tolerably healthy are too bouncing by half, going in
for hunting and such-like amusements till they grow blowsy and fat, and
coarse as tom-boys or grooms. They can never hit the _juste milieu_.
Well!" and he rose from the breakfast-table. "I'll go and see Neville
and attend to business. We'll drive out this afternoon for some fresh
air, and afterwards you must rest, my pet--for you'll find an 'at home'
more tiring than climbing a mountain in Norway."

He kissed, and left her to her usual occupations, of which she had many,
for she had taken great pains to learn all the details of the work in
the Errington Establishment,--in fact, she went every morning to the
little room where Mistress Parton, the housekeeper, received her with
much respect and affection, and duly instructed her on every point of
the domestic management and daily expenditure, so that she was
thoroughly acquainted with everything that went on.

She had very orderly quiet ways of her own, and though thoughtful for
the comfort and well-being of the lowest servant in her household she
very firmly checked all extravagance and waste, yet in such a gentle,
unobtrusive manner that her control was scarcely felt--though her
husband at once recognized it in the gradually decreasing weekly
expenses, while to all appearance, things were the same as ever. She had
plenty of clear, good common sense,--she saw no reason why she should
waste her husband's wealth simply because it was abundant,--so that
under her mild sway, Sir Philip found himself getting richer without any
trouble on his own part. His house assumed an air of lighter and more
tasteful elegance,--flowers, always arranged by Thelma herself, adorned
the rooms,--birds filled the great conservatory with their delicious
warblings, and gradually that strange fairy sweet fabric known as "Home"
rose smilingly around him. Formerly he had much disliked his stately
town mansion--he had thought it dull and cold--almost gloomy,--but now
he considered it charming, and wondered he had missed so many of its
good points before.

And when the evening for Lady Winsleigh's "crush" came,--he looked
regretfully round the lovely luxurious drawing-room with its bright
fire, deep easy chairs, books, and grand piano, and wished he and his
wife could remain at home in peace. He glanced at his watch--it was ten
o'clock. There was no hurry--he had not the least intention of arriving
at Winsleigh House too early. He knew what the effect of Thelma's
entrance would be--and he smiled as he thought of it. He was waiting for
her now,--he himself was ready in full evening dress--and remarkably
handsome he looked. He walked up and down restlessly for a minute or
so,--then taking up a volume of Keats, he threw himself into an easy
chair and soon became absorbed. His eyes were still on the printed page,
when a light touch on his shoulder startled him,--a soft, half-laughing
voice inquired--"Philip! Do I please you?"

He sprang up and faced her,--but for a moment could not speak. The
perfection of her beauty had never ceased to arouse his wonder and
passionate admiration,--but on this night, as she stood before him,
arrayed in a simple, trailing robe of ivory-tinted velvet, with his
family diamonds flashing in a tiara of light on her hair, glistening
against the whiteness of her throat and rounded arms, she looked
angelically lovely--so radiant, so royal, and withal so innocently
happy, that, wistfully gazing at her, and thinking of the social clique
into which she was about to make her entry, he wondered vaguely whether
he was not wrong to take so pure and fair a creature among the false
glitter and reckless hypocrisy of modern fashion and folly. And so he
stood silent, till Thelma grew anxious.

"Ah, you are not satisfied!" she said plaintively. "I am not as you
wish! There is something wrong."

He drew her closely into his arms, kissing her with an almost pathetic
tenderness.

"Thelma, my love, my sweet one!" and his strong voice trembled. "You do
not know--how should you? what I think of you! Satisfied? Pleased? Good
Heavens--what little words those are to express my feelings! I can tell
you how you look, for nothing can ever make _you_ vain. You are
beautiful! . . . you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, and
you look your very best tonight. But you are more than beautiful--you
are good and pure and true, while society is--But why should I destroy
your illusions? Only, my wife,--we have been all in all to each
other,--and now I have a foolish feeling as if things were going to be
different--as if we should not be so much together--and I wish--I wish
to God I could keep you all to myself without anybody's interference!"

She looked at him in wonder, though she smiled.

"But you have changed, my boy, since the morning," she said. "Then you
did wish me to be particular in dress,--and to wear your jewels, for
this Lady Winsleigh. Now your eyes are sad, and you seem as if you would
rather not go at all. Well, is it not easy to remain at home? I will
take off these fine things, and we will sit together and read. Shall it
be so?"

He laughed. "I believe you would do it if I asked you!" he said.

"But, of course! I am quite happy alone with you. I care nothing for
this party,--what is it to me if you do not wish to go?"

He kissed her again. "Thelma, don't spoil me too much! If you let me
have my own way to such an extent, who knows what an awful domestic
tyrant I may become! No, dear--we must go tonight--there's no help for
it. You see we've accepted the invitation, and it's no use being
churlish. Besides, after all"--he gazed at her admiringly--"I want them
to see my Norwegian rose! Come along! The carriage is waiting."

They passed out into the hall, where Britta was in attendance with a
long cloak of pale-blue plush lined with white fur, in which she
tenderly enveloped her beloved "Froeken," her rosy face beaming with
affectionate adoration as she glanced from the fair diamond-crowned head
down to the point of a small pearl-embroidered shoe that peeped beneath
the edge of the rich, sheeny white robe, and saw that nothing was
lacking to the most perfect toilette that ever woman wore.

"Good-night, Britta!" said Thelma kindly. "You must not sit up for me.
You will be tired."

Britta smiled--it was evident she meant to outwatch the stars, if
necessary, rather than allow her mistress to be unattended on her
return. But she said nothing--she waited at the door while Philip
assisted his wife into the carriage--and still stood musingly under the
wide portico, after they had driven away.

"Hadn't you better come in, Miss Britta?" said the butler
respectfully,--he had a great regard for her ladyship's little maid.

Britta, recalled to herself, started, turned, and re-entered the hall.

"There will be many fine folks there to-night, I suppose?" she asked.

The butler rubbed his nose perplexedly. "Fine folks at Winsleigh House?
Well, as far as clothes go, I dare say there will. But there'll be no
one like her ladyship--no one!" And he shook his grey head emphatically.

"Of course not!" said Britta, with a sort of triumphant defiance. "We
know that very well, Morris! There's no one like her ladyship anywhere
in the wide world! But I tell you what--I think a great many people will
be jealous of her."

Morris smiled. "You may take your oath of that, Miss Britta," he said
with placid conviction. "Jealous! Jealous isn't the word for it! Why,"
and he surveyed Britta's youthful countenance with fatherly interest,
"you're only a child as it were, and you don't know the world much. Now,
I've been five and twenty years in this family, and I knew Sir Philip's
mother, the Lady _Eulalie_--he named his yacht after her. Ah! she was a
sweet creature--she came from Austria, and she was as dark as her
present ladyship is fair. Wherever she went, I tell you, the women were
ready to cry for spite and envy of her good looks--and they would say
anything against her they could invent. That's the way they go on
sometimes in society, you know."

"As bad as in Bosekop," murmured Britta, more to herself than to him,
"only London is a larger place." Then raising her voice again, she said,
"Perhaps there will be some people wicked enough to hate her ladyship,
Morris?"

"I shouldn't wonder," said Morris philosophically. "I shouldn't wonder
at all! There's a deal of hate about one way or another,--and if a lady
is as beautiful as an angel, and cuts out everybody wherever she goes,
why you can't expect the other ladies to be very fond of her. 'Tisn't in
human nature--at least not in feminine human nature. Men don't care much
about their looks, one way or the other, unless they're young
chaps--then one has a little patience with them and they come all
right."

But Britta had become meditative again. She went slowly up into her
mistress's room and began arranging the few trifles that had been left
in disorder.

"Just fancy!"--she said to herself--"some one may hate the Froeken even
in London just as they hated her in Bosekop, because she is so unlike
everybody else. _I_ shall keep my eyes open,--and _I_ shall soon find
out any wickedness against her! My beautiful, dear darling! I believe
the world is a cruel place after all,--but _she_ shan't be made unhappy
in it, if I can help it!"

And with this emphatic declaration, she kissed a little shoe of Thelma's
that she was just putting by--and, smoothing her curls, went down to her
supper.




CHAPTER XX.

   "Such people there are living and flourishing in the
   world,--Faithless, Hopeless, Charityless,--let us have at them,
   dear friends, with might and main!"--THACKERAY.


Who can adequately describe the thrilling excitement attending an
aristocratic "crush,"--an extensive, sweeping-off-of-old-cores "at
home,"--that scene of bewildering confusion which might be appropriately
set forth to the minds of the vulgar in the once-popular ditty, "Such a
getting-up-stairs I never did see!" Who can paint in sufficiently
brilliant colors the mere _outside_ of a house thus distinguished by
this strange festivity, in which there is no actual pleasure,--this
crowding of carriages--this shouting of small boys and policemen?--who
can, in words, delineate the various phases of lofty indignation and
offense on the countenances of pompous coachmen, forced into contention
with vulgar but good-natured "cabbys"--for right of way? . . . who can
sufficiently set forth the splendors of a striped awning avenue, lined
on both sides with a collection of tropical verdure, hired for the
occasion at so much per dozen pots, and illuminated with Chinese
lanterns! Talk of orange groves in Italy and the languid light of a
southern moon! What are they compared to the marvels of striped awning?
Mere trees--mere moonlight--(poor products of Nature!) do not excite
either wonder or envy--but, strange to say, an awning avenue invariably
does! As soon as it is erected in all its bland suggestiveness, no
matter at what house, a small crowd of street-arabs and nursemaids
collect to stare at it,--and when tired of staring, pass and repass
under it with peculiar satisfaction; the beggar, starving for a crust,
lingers doubtfully near it, and ventures to inquire of the
influenza-smitten crossing-sweeper whether it is a wedding or a party?
And if Awning Avenue means matrimony, the beggar waits to see the guests
come out; if, on the contrary, it stands for some evening festivity, he
goes, resolving to return at the appointed hour, and try if he cannot
persuade one "swell" at least to throw him a penny for his night's
supper. Yes--a great many people endure sharp twinges of discontent at
the sight of Awning Avenue,--people who can't afford to give parties,
and who wish they could,--pretty, sweet girls who never go to a dance in
their lives, and long with all their innocent hearts for a
glimpse,--just _one_ glimpse!--of what seems to them inexhaustible,
fairy-like delight,--lonely folks, who imagine in their simplicity that
all who are privileged to pass between the lines of hired tropical
foliage aforementioned, must perforce be the best and most united of
friends--hungry men and women who picture, with watering mouths, the
supper-table that lies _beyond_ the awning, laden with good things, of
the very names of which they are hopelessly ignorant,--while now and
then a stern, dark-browed Thinker or two may stalk by and metaphorically
shake his fist at all the waste, extravagance, useless luxury, humbug,
and hypocrisy Awning Avenue usually symbolizes, and may mutter in his
beard, like an old-fashioned tragedian, "A time _will_ come!" Yes, Sir
Thinker!--it will most undoubtedly--it _must_--but not through you--not
through any mere human agency. Modern society contains within itself the
seed of its own destruction,--the most utter Nihilist that ever swore
deadly oath need but contain his soul in patience and allow the seed to
ripen. For God's justice is as a circle that slowly surrounds an evil
and as slowly closes on it with crushing and resistless force,--and
feverish, fretting humanity, however nobly inspired, can do nothing
either to hasten or retard the round, perfect, absolute and Divine Law.
So let the babes of the world play on, and let us not frighten them with
stories of earthquakes; they are miserable enough as it is, believe
it!--their toys are so brittle, and snap in their feeble hands so
easily, that one is inclined to pity them! And Awning Avenue, with its
borrowed verdure and artificial light, is frequently erected for the use
of some of the most wretched among the children of the earth,--children
who have trifled with and lost everything,--love, honor, hope, and
faith, and who are travelling rapidly to the grave with no consolation
save a few handfuls, of base coin, which they must, perforce, leave
behind them at the last.

So it may be that the crippled crossing-sweeper outside Winsleigh House
is a very great deal happier than the master of that stately mansion. He
has a new broom,--and Master Ernest Winsleigh has given him two oranges,
and a rather bulky stick of sugar candy. He is a _protege_ of
Ernest's--that bright handsome boy considers it a "jolly shame"--to have
only one leg,--and has said so with much emphasis,--and though the
little sweeper himself has never regarded his affliction quite in that
light, he is exceedingly grateful for the young gentleman's patronage
and sympathy thus frankly expressed. And on this particular night of the
grand reception he stands, leaning on his broom and munching his candy,
a delighted spectator of the scene in Park Lane,--the splendid
equipages, the prancing horses, the glittering liveries, the excited
cabmen, the magnificent toilettes of the ladies, the solemn and resigned
deportment of the gentlemen,--and he envies none of them--not he! Why
should he? His oranges are in his pocket--untouched as yet--and it is
doubtful whether the crowding guests at the Winsleigh supper-table shall
find anything there to yield them such entire enjoyment as he will
presently take in his humble yet refreshing desert. And he is pleased as
a child at a pantomime--the Winsleigh "at home" is a show that amuses
him,--and he makes sundry remarks on "'im" and "'er" in a meditative
_sotto voce_. He peeps up Awning Avenue heedless of the severe eye of
the policeman on guard,--he sweeps the edge of the crimson felt
foot-cloth tenderly with his broom,--and if he has a desire ungratified,
it is that he might take a peep just for a minute inside the front door,
and see how "they're all a'goin' it!"

And how _are_ they a'goin' it! Well, not very hilariously, if one may
judge by the aspect of the gentlemen in the hall and on the
stairs,--gentlemen of serious demeanor, who are leaning, as though
exhausted, against the banisters, with a universal air of profound
weariness and dissatisfaction. Some of these are young fledglings of
manhood,--callow birds who, though by no means innocent,--are more or
less inexperienced,--and who have fluttered hither to the snare of Lady
Winsleigh's "at home," half expecting to be allowed to make love to
their hostess, and so have something to boast of afterwards,--others are
of the middle-aged complacent type, who, though infinitely bored, have
condescended to "look in" for ten minutes or so, to see if there are any
pretty women worth the honor of their criticism--others again (and these
are the most unfortunate) are the "nobodies"--or husbands, fathers, and
brothers of "beauties," whom they have dutifully escorted to the scene
of triumph, in which they, unlucky wights! are certainly not expected to
share. A little desultory conversation goes on among these
stair-loungers,--conversation mingled with much dreary yawning,--a
trained opera-singer is shaking forth chromatic roulades and trills in
the great drawing-room above,--there is an incessant stream of people
coming and going,--there is the rustle of silk and satin,--perfume,
shaken out of lace kerchiefs, and bouquets oppresses the warm air,--the
heat is excessive,--and there is a never-ending monotonous hum of
voices, only broken at rare intervals by the "society laugh"--that
unmeaning giggle on the part of the women,--that strained "ha, ha, ha!"
on the part of the men, which is but the faint ghostly echo of the
farewell voice of true mirth.

Presently, out of the ladies' cloak-room come two fascinating
figures--the one plump and matronly, with grey hair and a capacious neck
glittering with diamonds,--the other a slim girl in pale pink, with dark
eyes and a ravishing complexion, for whom the lazy gentlemen on the
stairs make immediate and respectful room.

"How d'ye do, Mrs. Van Clupp?" says one of the loungers.

"Glad to see you, Miss Marcia!" says another, a sandy-haired young man,
with a large gardenia in his button-hole, and a glass in his eye.

At the sound of his voice Miss Marcia stops and regards him with a
surprised smile. She is very pretty, is Marcia,--bewitchingly
pretty,--and she has an air of demure grace and modesty about her that
is perfectly charming. Why? oh, why does she not remain in that
sylph-like, attitude of questioning silence? But she speaks--and the
charm is broken.

"Waal now! Dew tell!" she exclaims. "I thought yew were in Pa-ar--is!
Ma, would yew have concluded to find Lord Algy here? This is _too_
lovely! If I'd known _yew_ were coming I'd have stopped at home--yes, I
would--that's so!"

And she nods her little head, crowned with its glossy braids of chestnut
hair, in a very coquettish manner, while her mother, persistently
beaming a stereotyped company smile on all around her, begins to ascend
the stairs, beckoning her daughter to follow. Marcia does so, and Lord
Algernon Masherville escorts her.

"You--you didn't mean that!" he stammers rather feebly--"You--you don't
mind my being here, do you? I'm--I'm _awfully_ glad to see you again,
you know--and--er--all that sort of thing!"

Marcia darts a keen glance at him,--the glance of an observant,
clear-headed magpie.

"Oh yes! I dare say!" she remarks with airy scorn. "S'pect _me_ to
believe _yew_! Waal! Did yew have a good time in Pa-ar--is?"

"Fairly so," answers Lord Masherville indifferently. "I only came back
two days ago. Lady Winsleigh met me by chance at the theatre, and asked
me to look in to-night for 'some fun' she said. Have you any idea what
she meant?"

"Of course!" says the fair New Yorker, with a little nasal
laugh,--"don't _yew_ know? We're all here to see the fisherwoman from
the wilds of Norway,--the creature Sir Philip Errington married last
year. I conclude she'll give us fits all round, don't yew?"

Lord Masherville, at this, appears to hesitate. His eye-glass troubles
him, and he fidgets with its black string. He is not intellectual--he is
the most vacillating, most meek and timid of mortals--but he is a
gentleman in his own poor fashion, and has a sort of fluttering chivalry
about him, which, though feeble, is better than none.

"I really cannot tell you, Miss Marcia," he replies almost nervously. "I
hear--at the Club,--that--that Lady Bruce-Errington is a great beauty."

"Dew tell!" shrieks Marcia, with a burst of laughter. "Is she really
though! But I guess her looks won't mend her grammar any way!"

He makes no reply, as by this time they have reached the crowded
drawing-room, where Lady Winsleigh, radiant in ruby velvet and
rose-brilliants, stands receiving her guests, with a cool smile and nod
for mere acquaintances,--and a meaning flash of her dark eyes for her
intimates, and a general air of haughty insolence and perfect
self-satisfaction pervading her from head to foot. Close to her is her
husband, grave, courtly, and kind to all comers, and fulfilling his duty
as host to perfection,--still closer is Sir Francis Lennox, who in the
pauses of the incoming tide of guests finds occasion to whisper trifling
nothings in her tiny white ear, and even once ventures to arrange more
tastefully a falling cluster of pale roses that rests lightly on the
brief shoulder-strap (called by courtesy a sleeve) which, keeps her
ladyship's bodice in place.

Mrs. Rush-Marvelle is here too, in all her glory,--her good-humored
countenance and small nose together beam with satisfaction,--her
voluminous train of black satin showered with jet gets in everybody's
way,--her ample bosom heaves like the billowy sea, somewhat above the
boundary line of transparent lace that would fain restrain it--but in
this particular she is prudence itself compared with her hostess, whose
charms are exhibited with the unblushing frankness of a
ballet-girl,--and whose example is followed, it must be confessed, by
most of the women in the room. Is Mr. Rush-Marvelle here? Oh yes--after
some little trouble we discover him,--squeezed against the wall and
barricaded by the grand piano,--in company with a large album, over
which he pores, feigning an almost morbid interest in the portraits of
persons he has never seen, and never will see. Beside him is a
melancholy short man with long hair and pimples, who surveys the
increasing crowd in the room with an aspect that is almost tragic. Once
or twice he eyes Mr. Marvelle dubiously as though he would speak--and,
finally, he _does_ speak, tapping that album-entranced gentleman on the
arm with an energy that is somewhat startling.

"It is to blay I am here!" he announces. "To blay ze biano! I am great
artist!" He rolls his eyes wildly and with a sort of forced calmness
proceeds to enumerate on his fingers--"Baris, Vienna, Rome, Berlin, St.
Betersburg--all know me! All resbect me! See!" And he holds out his
button-hole in which there is a miniature red ribbon. "From ze Emberor!
Kaiser Wilhelm!" He exhibits a ring on his little finger. "From ze
Tsar!" Another rapid movement and a pompous gold watch is thrust before
the bewildered gaze of his listener. "From my bubils in Baris! I am
bianist--I am here to blay!"

And raking his fingers through his long locks, he stares defiantly
around him. Mr. Rush-Marvelle is a little frightened. This is an
eccentric personage--he must be soothed. Evidently he must be soothed!

"Yes, yes, I quite understand!" he says, nodding persuasively at the
excited genius. "You are here to play. Exactly! Yes, yes! We shall all
have the pleasure of hearing you presently. Delightful, I'm sure! You
are the celebrated Herr--?"

"Machtenklinken," adds the pianist haughtily. "Ze celebrated
Machtenklinken!"

"Yes--oh--er,--yes!" And Mr. Marvelle grapples desperately with this
terrible name. "Oh--er--yes! I--er know you by reputation
Herr--er--Machten--. Oh, er--yes! Pray excuse me for a moment!"

And thankfully catching the commanding eye of his wife, he scrambles
hastily away from the piano and joins her. She is talking to the Van
Clupps, and she wants him to take away Mr. Van Clupp, a white-headed,
cunning-looking old man, for a little conversation, in order that she
may be free to talk over certain naughty bits of scandal with Mrs. Van
Clupp and Marcia.

To-night there is no place to sit down in all the grand extent of the
Winsleigh drawing-rooms,--puffy old dowagers occupy the sofas, ottomans,
and chairs, and the largest and most brilliant portion of the assemblage
are standing, grinning into each other's faces with praiseworthy and
polite pertinacity, and talking as rapidly as though their lives
depended on how many words they could utter within the space of two
minutes. Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, Mrs. Van Clupp and Marcia make their way
slowly through the gabbling, pushing, smirking crowd till they form a
part of the little _coterie_ immediately round Lady Winsleigh, to whom,
at the first opportunity, Mrs. Marvelle whispers--

"Have they come?"

"The modern Paris and the new Helen?" laughs Lady Clara, with a shrug of
her snowy shoulders. "No, not yet. Perhaps they won't turn up at all!
Marcia dear, you look _quite_ charming! Where is Lord Algy?"

"I guess he's not a thousand miles away!" returns Marcia, with a knowing
twinkle of her dark eyes. "He'll hang round here presently!
Why,--there's Mr. Lorimer worrying in at the doorway!"

"Worrying in" is scarcely the term to apply to the polite but determined
manner in which George Lorimer coolly elbows a passage among the heaving
bare shoulders, backs, fat arms, and long trains that seriously obstruct
his passage, but after some trouble he succeeds in his efforts to reach
his fair hostess, who receives him with rather a supercilious uplifting
of her delicate eyebrows.

"Dear me, Mr. Lorimer, you are quite a stranger!" she observes somewhat
satirically. "We thought you had made up your mind to settle in Norway!"

"Did you really, though!" and Lorimer smiles languidly. "I wonder at
that,--for you knew I came back from that region in the August of last
year."

"And since then I suppose you have played the hermit?" inquires her
ladyship indifferently, unfurling her fan of ostrich feathers and waving
it slowly to and fro.

"By no means! I went off to Scotland with a friend, Alec Macfarlane, and
had some excellent shooting. Then, as I never permit my venerable mamma
to pass the winter in London, I took her to Nice, from which delightful
spot we returned three weeks ago."

Lady Winsleigh laughs. "I did not ask you for a categorical explanation
of your movements, Mr. Lorimer," she says lightly--"I'm sure I hope you
enjoyed yourself?"

He bows gravely. "Thanks! Yes,--strange to say, I _did_ manage to
extract a little pleasure here and there out of the universal dryness of
things."

"Have you seen your friend, Sir Philip, since he came to town?" asks
Mrs. Rush-Marvelle in her stately way.

"Several times. I have dined with him and Lady Errington frequently. I
understand they are to be here to-night?"

Lady Winsleigh fans herself a little more rapidly, and her full crimson
lips tighten into a thin, malicious line.

"Well, I asked them, of course,--as a matter of form," she says
carelessly,--"but I shall, on the whole, be rather relieved if they
don't come."

A curious, amused look comes over Lorimer's face.

"Indeed! May I ask why?"

"I should think the reason ought to be perfectly apparent to you"--and
her ladyship's eyes flash angrily. "Sir Philip is all very well--he is
by birth a gentleman,--but the person he has married is not a lady, and
it is an exceedingly unpleasant duty for me to have to receive her."

A feint tinge of color flushes Lorimer's brow. "I think," he says
slowly, "I think you will find yourself mistaken, Lady Winsleigh. I
believe--" Here he pauses, and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle fixes him with a stony
stare.

"Are we to understand that she is educated?" she inquires freezingly.
"Positively well-educated?"

Lorimer laughs. "Not according to the standard of modern fashionable
requirements!" he replies.

Mrs. Marvelle sniffs the air portentously,--Lady Clara curls her lip. At
that moment everybody makes respectful way for one of the most important
guests of the evening--a broad-shouldered man of careless attire, rough
hair, fine features, and keen, mischievous eyes--a man of whom many
stand in wholesome awe,--Beaufort Lovelace, or as he is commonly called.
"Beau" Lovelace, a brilliant novelist, critic, and pitiless satirist.
For him society is a game,--a gay humming-top which he spins on the palm
of his hand for his own private amusement. Once a scribbler in an attic,
subsisting bravely on bread and cheese and hope, he now lords it more
than half the year in a palace of fairy-like beauty on the Lago di
Como,--and he is precisely the same person who was formerly disdained
and flouted by fair ladies because his clothes were poor and shabby, yet
for whom they now practise all the arts known to their sex, in fruitless
endeavors to charm and conciliate him. For he laughs at them and their
pretty ways,--and his laughter is merciless. His arrowy glance discovers
the "poudre de riz" on their blooming cheeks,--the carmine on their
lips, and the "kohl" on their eyelashes. He knows purchased hair from
the natural growth--and he has a cruel eye for discerning the artificial
contour of a "made-up" figure. And like a merry satyr dancing in a
legendary forest, he capers and gambols in the vast fields of
Humbug--all forms of it are attacked and ridiculed by his powerful and
pungent pen,--he is a sort of English Heine, gathering in rich and daily
harvests from the never-perishing incessantly-growing crop of fools. And
as he,--in all the wickedness of daring and superior intellect,--
approaches, Lady Winsleigh draws herself up with the conscious air of a
beauty who knows she is nearly perfect,--Mrs. Rush-Marvelle makes a
faint endeavor to settle the lace more modestly over her rebellious
bosom,--Marcia smiles coquettishly, and Mrs. Van Clupp brings her
diamond pendant (value, a thousand guineas) more prominently
forward,--for as she thinks, poor ignorant soul! "wealth always
impresses these literary men more than anything!" In one swift glance
Beau Lovelace observes all these different movements,--and the inner
fountain of his mirth begins to bubble. "What fun those Van Clupps are!"
he thinks. "The old woman's got a diamond plaster on her neck! Horrible
taste! She's anxious to show how much she's worth, I suppose! Mrs.
Marvelle wants a shawl, and Lady Clara a bodice. By Jove! What sights
the women do make of themselves!"

But his face betrays none of these reflections,--its expression is one
of polite gravity, though a sudden sweetness smooths it as he shakes
hands with Lord Winsleigh and Lorimer,--a sweetness that shows how
remarkably handsome Beau can look if he chooses. He rests one hand on
Lorimer's shoulder.

"Why, George, old boy, I thought you were playing the dutiful son at
Nice? Don't tell me you've deserted the dear old lady! Where is she? You
know I've got to finish that argument with her about her beloved Byron."

Lorimer laughs. "Go and finish it when you like, Beau," he answers. "My
mother's all right. She's at home. You know she's always charmed to see
you. She's delighted with that new book of yours."

"Is she? She finds pleasure in trifles then--"

"Oh no, Mr. Lovelace!" interrupts Lady Clara, with a winning glance.
"You must not run yourself down! The book is exquisite! I got it at once
from the library, and read every line of it!"

"I am exceedingly flattered!" says Lovelace, with a grave bow, though
there is a little twinkling mockery in his glance. "When a lady so
bewitching condescends to read what I have written, how can I express my
emotion!"

"The press is unanimous in its praise of you," remarks Lord Winsleigh
cordially. "You are quite the lion of the day!"

"Oh quite!" agrees Beau laughing. "And do I not roar 'as sweet as any
nightingale'? But I say, where's the new beauty?"

"I really do not know to whom you allude, Mr. Lovelace," replies Lady
Winsleigh coldly. Lorimer smiles and is silent. Beau looks from one to
the other amusedly.

"Perhaps I've made a mistake," he says, "but the Duke of Roxwell is
responsible. He told me that if I came here to-night I should see one of
the loveliest women living,--Lady Bruce-Errington. He saw her in the
park. I think _this_ gentleman"--indicating Sir Francis Lennox, who
bites his moustache vexedly--"said quite openly at the Club last night
that she _was_ the new beauty,--and that she would be here this
evening."

Lady Winsleigh darts a side glance at her "Lennie" that is far from
pleasant.

"Really it's perfectly absurd!" she says, with a scornful toss of her
head. "We shall have housemaids and bar-girls accepted as 'quite the
rage' next. I do not know Sir Philip's wife in the least,--I hear she
was a common farmer's daughter. I certainly invited her to-night out of
charity and kindness in order that she might get a little accustomed to
society--for, of course, poor creature! entirely ignorant and uneducated
as she is, everything will seem strange to her. But she has not come--"

"SIR PHILIP AND LADY BRUCE-ERRINGTON!" announces Briggs at this
juncture.

There is a sudden hush--a movement of excitement,--and the groups near
the door fall apart staring, and struck momentarily dumb with surprise,
as a tall, radiant figure in dazzling white, with diamonds flashing on a
glittering coil of gold hair, and wondrous sea-blue earnest eyes, passes
through their midst with that royal free step and composed grace of
bearing that might distinguish an Empress of many nations.

"Good heavens! What a magnificent woman!" mutters Beau Lovelace--"Venus
realized!"

Lady Winsleigh turns very pale,--she trembles and can scarcely regain
her usual composure as Sir Philip, with a proud tenderness lighting up
the depths of his hazel eyes, leads this vision of youth and perfect
loveliness up to her, saying simply--

"Lady Winsleigh, allow me to introduce to you--my wife! Thelma, this is
Lady Winsleigh."

There is a strange sensation in Lady Winsleigh's throat as though a very
tight string were suddenly drawn round it to almost strangling
point--and it is certain that she feels as though she must scream, hit
somebody with her fan, and rush from the room in an undignified rage.
But she chokes back these purely feminine emotions--she smiles and
extends her jewelled hand.

"So good of you to come to-night!" she says sweetly. "I have been
longing to see you, Lady Errington! I dare say you know your husband is
quite an old acquaintance of mine!"

And a langourous glance, like fire seen through smoke, leaps from
beneath her silky eyelashes at Sir Philip--but he sees it not--he is
chatting and laughing gaily with Lorimer and Beau Lovelace.

"Indeed, yes!" answers Thelma, in that soft low voice of hers, which had
such a thrilling richness within it--"and it is for that reason I am
very glad to meet you. It is always pleasant for me to know my husband's
friends."

Here she raises those marvellous, innocent eyes of hers and smiles;--why
does Lady Winsleigh shrink from that frank and childlike openness of
regard? Why does she, for one brief moment, hate herself?--why does she
so suddenly feel herself to be vile and beneath contempt? God only
knows!--but the first genuine blush that has tinged her ladyship's cheek
for many a long day, suddenly spreads a hot and embarrassing tide of
crimson over the polished pallor of her satiny skin, and she says
hurriedly--

"I must find you some people to talk to. This is my dear friend, Mrs.
Rush-Marvelle--I am sure you will like each other. Let me introduce Mrs.
Van Clupp to you--Mrs. Van Clupp, and Miss Van Clupp!"

The ladies bow stiffly while Thelma responds to their prim salutation
with easy grace.

"Sir Francis Lennox"--continues Lady Winsleigh, and there is something
like a sneer in her smile, as that gentleman makes a deep and courtly
reverence, with an unmistakable look of admiration in his sleepy
tiger-brown eyes,--then she turns to Lord Winsleigh and adds in a casual
way, "My husband!" Lord Winsleigh advances rather eagerly--there is a
charm in the exquisite nobility of Thelma's face that touches his heart
and appeals to the chivalrous and poetical part of his nature.

"Sir Philip and I have known each other for some years," he says,
pressing her little fair hand cordially. "It is a great pleasure for me
to see you to-night, Lady Errington--I realize how very much my friend
deserves to be congratulated on his marriage!"

Thelma smiles. This little speech pleases her, but she does not accept
the compliment implied to herself.

"You are very kind, Lord Winsleigh"--she answers; "I am glad indeed that
you like Philip. I do think with you that he deserves every one's good
wishes. It is my great desire to make him always happy."

A brief shadow crosses Lord Winsleigh's thoughtful brow, and he studies
her sweet eyes attentively. Is she sincere? Does she mean what she says?
Or is she, like others of her sex, merely playing a graceful part? A
slight sigh escapes him,--absolute truth, innocent love, and stainless
purity are written in such fair, clear lines on that perfect countenance
that the mere idea of questioning her sincerity seems a sacrilege.

"Your desire is gratified, I am sure," he returns, and his voice is
somewhat sad. "I never saw him looking so well. He seems in excellent
spirits."

"Oh, for that!" and she laughs. "He is a very light-hearted boy! But
once he would tell me very dreadful things about the world--how it was
not at all worth living in--but I do think he must have been lonely. For
he is very pleased with everything now, and finds no fault at all!"

"I can quite understand that!" and Lord Winsleigh smiles, though that
shadow of pain still rests on his brow.

Mrs. Rush-Marvelle and the Van Clupps are listening to the conversation
with straining ears. What strange person is this? She does not talk bad
grammar, though her manner of expressing herself is somewhat quaint and
foreign. But she is babyish--perfectly babyish! The idea of any
well-bred woman condescending to sing the praises of her own husband in
public! Absurd! "Deserves every-one's good wishes!"--pooh! her "great
desire is to make him always happy!"--what utter rubbish!--and he is a
"light-hearted boy!" Good gracious!--what next? Marcia Van Clupp is
strongly inclined to giggle, and Mrs. Van Clupp is indignantly conscious
that the Errington diamonds far surpass her own, both for size and
lustre.

At that moment Sir Philip approaches his wife, with George Lorimer and
Beau Lovelace. Thelma's smile at Lorimer is the greeting of an old
friend--a sun-bright glance that makes his heart beat a little quicker
than usual. He watches her as she turns to be introduced to
Lovelace,--while Miss Van Clupp, thinking of the relentless gift of
satire with which that brilliant writer is endowed, looks out for "some
fun"--for, as she confides in a low tone to Mrs. Marvelle--"she'll never
know how to talk to that man!"

"Thelma," says Sir Philip, "this is the celebrated author, Beaufort
Lovelace,--you have often heard me speak of him."

She extends both her hands, and her eyes deepen and flash.

"Ah! you are one of those great men whom we all love and admire!" she
says, with direct frankness,--and the cynical Beau, who has never yet
received so sincere a compliment, feels himself coloring like a
school-girl. "I am so very proud to meet you! I have read your wonderful
book, 'Azaziel,' and it made me glad and sorry together. For why do you
draw a noble example and yet say at the same time that it is impossible
to follow it? Because in one breath you inspire us to be good, and yet
you tell us we shall never become so! That is not right,--is it?"

Beau meets her questioning glance with a grave smile.

"It is most likely entirely wrong from _your_ point of view, Lady
Errington," he said. "Some day we will talk over the matter. You shall
show me the error of my ways. Perhaps you will put life, and the
troublesome business of living, in quite a new light for me! You see, we
novelists have an unfortunate trick of looking at the worst or most
ludicrous side of everything--we can't help it! So many apparently lofty
and pathetic tragedies turn out, on close examination, to be the meanest
and most miserable of farces,--it's no good making them out to be grand
Greek poems when they are only base doggerel rhymes. Besides, it's the
fashion nowadays to be _chiffonniers_ in literature--to pick up the rags
of life and sort them in all their uncomeliness before the morbid eyes
of the public. What's the use of spending thought and care on the
manufacture of a jewelled diadem, and offering it to the people on a
velvet cushion, when they prefer an _olla-podrida_ of cast-off clothing,
dried bones and candle-ends? In brief, what would it avail to write as
grandly as Shakespeare or Scott, when society clamors for Zola and
others of his school?"

There was a little group round them by this time,--men generally
collected wherever Beau Lovelace aired his opinions,--and a double
attraction drew them together now in the person of the lovely woman to
whom he was holding forth.

Marcia Van Clupp stared mightily--surely the Norwegian peasant would not
understand Beau's similes,--for they were certainly incomprehensible to
Marcia. As for his last remark--why! she had read all Zola's novels in
the secrecy of her own room, and had gloated over them;--no words could
describe her intense admiration of books that were so indelicately
realistic! "He is jealous of other writers, I suppose," she thought;
"these literary people hate each other like poison."

Meanwhile Thelma's blue eyes looked puzzled. "I do not know that name,"
she said. "Zola!--what is he? He cannot be great. Shakespeare I
know,--he is the glory of the world, of course; I think him as noble as
Homer. Then for Walter Scott--I love all his beautiful stories--I have
read them many, many times, nearly as often as I have read Homer and the
Norse Sagas. And the world must surely love such writings--or how should
they last so long?" She laughed and shook her bright head archly.
"_Chiffonnier! Point du tout! Monsieur, les divines pensets que vous
avez donne au monde ne sont pas des chiffons._"

Beau smiled again, and offered her his arm. "Let me find you a chair!"
he said. "It will be rather a difficult matter,--still I can but try.
You will be fatigued if you stand too long." And he moved through the
swaying crowd, with her little gloved hand resting lightly on his
coat-sleeve,--while Marcia Van Clupp and her mother exchanged looks of
wonder and dismay. The "fisherwoman" could speak French,--moreover, she
could speak it with a wonderfully soft and perfect accent,--the "person"
had studied Homer and Shakespeare, and was conversant with the best
literature,--and, bitterest sting of all, the "peasant" could give every
woman in the room a lesson in deportment, grace, and perfect taste in
dress. Every costume looked tawdry beside her richly flowing velvet
draperies--every low bodice became indecent compared with the modesty of
that small square opening at Thelma's white throat--an opening just
sufficient to display her collar of diamonds--and every figure seemed
either dumpy and awkward, too big or too fat, or too lean and too
lanky--when brought into contrast with her statuesque outlines.

The die was cast,--the authority of Beau Lovelace was nearly supreme in
fashionable and artistic circles, and from the moment he was seen
devoting his attention to the "new beauty," excited whispers began to
flit from mouth to mouth,--"She will be the rage this season!"--"We must
ask her to come to us!"--"_Do_ ask Lady Winsleigh to introduce
us!"--"She _must_ come to _our_ house!" and so on. And Lady Winsleigh
was neither blind nor deaf--she saw and heard plainly enough that her
reign was over, and in her secret soul she was furious. The "common
farmer's daughter" was neither vulgar nor uneducated--and she was
surpassingly lovely--even Lady Winsleigh could not deny so plain and
absolute a fact. But her ladyship was a woman of the world, and she
perceived at once that Thelma was not. Philip had married a creature
with the bodily loveliness of a goddess and the innocent soul of a
child--and it was just that child-like, pure soul looking serenely out
of Thelma's eyes that had brought the long-forgotten blush of shame to
Clara Winsleigh's cheek. But that feeling of self-contempt soon
passed--she was no better and no worse than other women of her set, she
thought--after all, what had she to be ashamed of? Nothing,
except--except--perhaps, her "little affair" with "Lennie." A new
emotion now stirred her blood--one of malice and hatred, mingled with a
sense of outraged love and ungratified passion--for she still admired
Philip to a foolish excess. Her dark eyes flashed scornfully as she
noted the attitude of Sir Francis Lennox,--he was leaning against the
marble mantel-piece, stroking his moustache with one hand, absorbed in
watching Thelma, who, seated in an easy chair which Beau Lovelace had
found for her, was talking and laughing gaily with those immediately
around her, a group which increased in size every moment, and in which
the men were most predominant.

"Fool!" muttered Lady Winsleigh to herself, apostrophizing "Lennie" in
this uncomplimentary manner. "Fool! I wonder if he thinks I care! He may
play hired lacquey to all the women in London if he likes! He looks a
prig compared to Philip!"

And her gaze wandered,--Philip was standing by his wife, engaged in an
animated conversation with Lord Winsleigh. They were all near the grand
piano--and Lady Clara, smoothing her vexed brow, swept her ruby velvets
gracefully up to that quarter of the room. Before she could speak, the
celebrated Herr Machtenklinken confronted her with some sternness.

"Your ladyshib vill do me ze kindness to remember," he said, loftily,
"zat I am here to blay! Zere has been no obbortunity--ze biano could not
make itself to be heard in zis fery moch noise. It is bossible your
ladyshib shall require not ze music zis efening? In zat case I shall
take my fery goot leave."

Lady Winsleigh raised her eyes with much superciliousness.

"As you please," she said coolly. "If _you_ are so indifferent to your
advantages--then all I can say is, so am I! You are, perhaps, known on
the Continent, Herr Machtenklinken,--but not here--and I think you ought
to be more grateful for my influence."

So saying, she passed on, leaving the luckless pianist in a state of the
greatest indignation.

"_Gott in Himmel!_" he gasped, in a sort of infuriated sotto voce. "Ze
Emberor himself would not have speak to me so! I come here as a
favor--her ladyshib do not offer me one _pfenning_,--ach! ze music is
not for such beoble! I shall brefer to blay to bigs! Zere is no art in
zis country!--"

And he began to make his way out of the room, when he was overtaken by
Beau Lovelace, who had followed him in haste.

"Where are you off to, Hermann?" he asked good-naturedly. "We want you
to play. There is a lady here who heard you in Paris quite recently--she
admires you immensely. Won't you come and be introduced to her?"

Herr Machtenklinken paused, and a smile softened his hitherto angry
countenance.

"You are fery goot, Mr. Lofelace," he remarked--"and I would do moch for
_you_--but her ladyshib understands me not--she has offend me--it is
better I should take my leave."

"Oh, bother her ladyship!" said Beau lightly. "Come along, and give us
something in your best style."

So saying, he led the half-reluctant artist back to the piano, where he
was introduced to Thelma, who gave him so sweet a smile that he was
fairly dazzled.

"It is you who play Schumann so beautifully," she said. "My husband and
I heard you at one of Lamoureux's concerts in Paris. I fear," and she
looked wistfully at him, "that you would think it very rude and selfish
of me if I asked you to play just one little piece? Because, of course,
you are here to enjoy yourself, and talk to your friends, and it seems
unkind to take you away from them!"

A strange moisture dimmed the poor German's eyes. This was the first
time in England that the "celebrate" had been treated as a friend and a
gentleman. Up to this moment, at all the "at homes" and "assemblies," he
had not been considered as a guest at all,--he was an "artist," "a good
pianist,"--"a man who had played before the Emperor of Germany"--and he
was expected to perform for nothing, and be grateful for the "influence"
exercised on his behalf--influence which as yet had not put one single
extra guinea in his pocket. Now, here was a great lady almost
apologizing for asking him to play, lest it should take him away from
his "friends"! His heart swelled with emotion and gratitude--the poor
fellow had no "friends" in London, except Beau Lovelace, who was kind to
him, but who had no power in the musical world,--and, as Thelma's gentle
voice addressed him, he could have knelt and kissed her little shoe for
her sweet courtesy and kindness.

"Miladi," he said, with a profound reverence, "I will blay for you with
bleasure,--it will be a joy for ze music to make itself beautiful for
you!"

And with this fantastic attempt at a compliment, he seated himself at
the instrument and struck a crashing chord to command silence.

The hum of conversation grew louder than ever--and to Thelma's surprise
Lady Winsleigh seated herself by her and began to converse. Herr
Machtenklinken struck another chord,--in vain! The deafening clamor of
tongues continued, and Lady Winsleigh asked Thelma with much seeming
interest if the scenery was very romantic in Norway?

The girl colored deeply, and after a little hesitation, said--

"Excuse me,--I would rather not speak till the music is over. It is
impossible for a great musician to think his thoughts out properly
unless there is silence. Would it not be better to ask every one to
leave off talking while this gentleman plays?"

Clara Winsleigh looked amused. "My dear, you don't know them," she said
carelessly. "They would think me mad to propose such a thing! There are
always a few who listen."

Once more the pianist poised his hands over the keys of the
instrument,--Thelma looked a little troubled and grieved. Beau Lovelace
saw it, and acting on a sudden impulse, turned towards the chattering
crowds, and, holding up his hand, called, "Silence, please!"

There was an astonished hush. Beau laughed. "We want to hear some
music," he said, with the utmost coolness. "Conversation can be
continued afterwards." He then nodded cheerfully towards Herr
Machtenklinken, who, inspired by this open encouragement, started off
like a race-horse into one of the exquisite rambling preludes of Chopin.
Gradually, as he played, his plain face took upon itself a noble,
thoughtful, rapt expression,--his wild eyes softened,--his furrowed,
frowning brow smoothed,--and, meeting the grave, rare blue eyes of
Thelma, he smiled. His touch grew more and more delicate and
tender--from the prelude he wandered into a nocturne of plaintive and
exceeding melancholy, which he played with thrilling and exquisite
pathos--anon, he glided into one of those dreamily joyous yet sorrowful
mazurkas, that remind one of bright flowers growing in wild luxuriance
over lonely and forsaken graves. The "celebrate" had reason to boast of
himself--he was a perfect master of the instrument,--and as his fingers
closed on the final chord, a hearty burst of applause rewarded his
efforts, led by Lovelace and Lorimer. He responded by the usual
bow,--but his real gratitude was all for Thelma. For her he had played
his best--and he had seen tears in her lovely eyes. He felt as proud of
her appreciation as of the ring he had received from the Tsar,--and bent
low over the fair hand she extended to him.

"You must be very happy," she said, "to feel all those lovely sounds in
your heart! I hope I shall see and hear you again some day,--I thank you
so very much for the pleasure you have given me!"

Lady Winsleigh said nothing--and she listened to Thelma's words with a
sort of contempt.

"Is the girl half-witted?" she thought. "She must be, or she would not
be so absurdly enthusiastic! The man plays well,--but it is his
profession to play well--it's no good praising these sort of
people,--they are never grateful, and they always impose upon you."
Aloud she asked Sir Philip--

"Does Lady Errington play?"

"A little," he answered. "She sings."

At once there was a chorus of inanely polite voices round the piano,
"Oh, _do_ sing, Lady Errington! Please, give us one song!" and Sir
Francis Lennox, sauntering up, fixed his languorous gaze on Thelma's
face, murmuring, "You will not be so cruel as to refuse us such
delight?"

"But, of course not!" answered the girl, greatly surprised at all these
unnecessary entreaties. "I am always pleased to sing." And she drew off
her long loose gloves and seated herself at the piano without the least
affectation of reluctance. Then, glancing at her husband with a bright
smile, she asked, "What song do you think will be best, Philip?"

"One of those old Norse mountain-songs," he answered.

She played a soft minor prelude--there was not a sound in the room
now--everybody pressed towards the piano, staring with a curious
fascination at her beautiful face and diamond-crowned hair. One
moment--and her voice, in all its passionate, glorious fullness, rang
out with a fresh vibrating tone that thrilled to the very heart--and the
foolish crowd that gaped and listened was speechless, motionless,
astonished, and bewildered.

A Norse mountain-song was it? How strange, and grand, and wild! George
Lorimer stood apart--his eyes ached with restrained tears. He knew the
melody well--and up before him rose the dear solemnity of the Altenguard
hills, the glittering expanse of the Fjord, the dear old farmhouse
behind its cluster of pines. Again he saw Thelma as he had seen her
first--clad in her plain white gown, spinning in the dark embrasure of
the rose-wreathed window--again the words of the self-destroyed Sigurd
came back to his recollection, "Good things may come for others--but for
you the heavens are empty!" He looked at her now,--Philip's wife--in all
the splendor of her rich attire;--she was lovelier than ever, and her
sweet nature was as yet unspoilt by all the wealth and luxury around
her.

"Good God! what an _inferno_ she has come into!" he thought vaguely.
"How will she stand these people when she gets to know them? The Van
Clupps, the Rush-Marvelles, and others like them,--and as for Clara
Winsleigh--" He turned to study her ladyship attentively. She was
sitting quite close to the piano--her eyes were cast down, but the
rubies on her bosom heaved quickly and restlessly, and she furled and
unfurled her fan impatiently. "I shouldn't wonder," he went on
meditating gravely, "if she doesn't try and make some mischief somehow.
She looks it."

At that moment Thelma ceased singing, and the room rang with applause.
Herr Machtenklinken was overcome with admiration.

"It is a voice of heaven!" he said in a rapture.

The fair singer was surrounded with people.

"I hope," said Mrs. Van Clupp, with her usual ill-bred eagerness to
ingratiate herself with the titled and wealthy, "I hope you will come
and see me, Lady Errington? I am at home every Friday evening to my
friends."

"Oh yes," said Thelma, simply. "But I am not your friend yet! When we do
know each other better I will come. We shall meet each other many times
first,--and then you will see if you like me to be your friend. Is it
not so?"

A scarcely concealed smile reflected itself on the faces of all who
heard this naive, but indefinite acceptance of Mrs. Van Clupp's
invitation, while Mrs. Van Clupp herself was somewhat mortified, and
knew not what to answer. This Norwegian girl was evidently quite
ignorant of the usages of polite society, or she would at once have
recognized the fact that an "at home" had nothing whatsoever to do with
the obligations of friendship--besides, as far as friendship was
concerned, had not Mrs. Van Clupp tabooed several of her own
blood-relations and former intimate acquaintances? . . . for the very
sensible reason that while she had grown richer, they had grown poorer.
But now Mrs. Rush-Marvelle sailed up in all her glory, with her
good-natured smile and matronly air. She was a privileged person, and
she put her arm round Thelma's waist.

"You must come to me, my dear," she said with real kindness--her
motherly heart had warmed to the girl's beauty and innocence,--"I knew
Philip when he was quite a boy. He will tell you what a dreadfully old
woman I am! You must try to like me for his sake."

Thelma smiled radiantly. "I always wish to like Philip's friends," she
said frankly. "I do hope I shall please you!"

A pang of remorse smote Mrs. Rush-Marvelle's heart as she remembered how
loth she had been to meet Philip's "peasant" wife,--she
hesitated,--then, yielding to her warm impulse, drew the girl closer and
kissed her fair rose-tinted cheek.

"You please everybody, my child," she said honestly. "Philip is a lucky
man! Now I'll say good night, for it is getting late,--I'll write to you
to-morrow and fix a day for you to come and lunch with me."

"But you must also come and see Philip," returned Thelma, pressing her
hand.

"So I will--so I will!" and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle nodded beamingly, and
made her way up to Lady Winsleigh, saying, "Bye-bye, Clara! Thanks for a
most charming evening!"

Clara pouted. "Going already, Mimsey?" she queried,--then, in a lower
tone, she said, "Well! what do you think of her?"

"A beautiful child--no more!" answered Mrs. Marvelle,--then, studying
with some gravity the brilliant brunette face before her, she added in a
whisper, "Leave her alone, Clara,--don't make her miserable! You know
what I mean! It wouldn't take much to break her heart."

Clara laughed harshly and played with her fan.

"Dear me, Mimsey! . . . you are perfectly outrageous! Do you think I'm an
ogress ready to eat her up? On the contrary, I mean to be a friend to
her."

Mrs. Marvelle still looked grave.

"I'm glad to hear it," she said; "only some friends are worse than
declared enemies."

Lady Winsleigh shrugged her shoulders.

"Go along, Mimsey,--go home to bed!" she exclaimed impatiently. "You are
_insense_! I hate sentimental philosophy and copy-book platitudes!" She
laughed again and folded her hands with an air of mock penitence,
"There! I didn't mean to be rude! Good-night, dear old darling!"

"Good-night, Clara!" and Mrs. Marvelle, summoning her timid husband from
some far corner, where he had remained in hiding, took her departure
with much stateliness.

A great many people were going down to supper by this time, but Sir
Philip was tired of the heat and glare and noise, and whispered as much
to Thelma, who at once advanced to bid her hostess farewell.

"Won't you have some supper?" inquired her ladyship. "Don't go yet!"

But Thelma was determined not to detain her husband a moment longer than
he wished--so Lady Winsleigh, seeing remonstrances were of no avail,
bade them both an effusive good-night.

"We must see a great deal of each other!" she said, pressing Thelma's
hands warmly in her own: "I hope we shall be quite dear friends!"

"Thank you!" said Thelma, "I do hope so too, if you wish it so much.
Good-night, Lord Winsleigh!"

"Let me escort you to your carriage," said her noble host, at once
offering her his arm.

"And allow me to follow," added Beau Lovelace, slipping his arm through
Errington's, to whom he whispered, "How dare you, sir! How dare you be
such a provokingly happy man in this miserable old world?" Errington
laughed--and the little group had just reached the door of the
drawing-room when Thelma suddenly turned with a look of inquiry in her
eyes.

"Where is Mr. Lorimer?" she said. "I have forgotten to say good-night to
him, Philip."

"Here I am, Lady Errington," and Lorimer sauntered forward with rather a
forced smile,--a smile which altogether vanished, leaving his face
strangely pale, as she stretched out her hand to him, and said
laughingly--

"You bad Mr. Lorimer! Where were you? You know it would make me quite
unhappy not to wish you good-night. Ah, you are a very naughty brother!"

"Come home with us, George," said Sir Philip eagerly. "Do, there's a
good fellow!"

"I can't, Phil!" answered Lorimer, almost pathetically. "I can't
to-night--indeed, I can't! Don't ask me!" And he wrung his friend's hand
hard,--and then bravely met Thelma's bright glance.

"Forgive me!" he said to her. "I know I ought to have presented myself
before--I'm a dreadfully lazy fellow, you know! Good-night!"

Thelma regarded him steadfastly.

"You look,--what is it you call yourself sometimes--_seedy_?" she
observed. "Not well at all. Mind you come to us to-morrow!"

He promised--and then accompanied them down to their carriage--he and
Beau Lovelace assisting to cover Thelma with her fur cloak, and being
the last to shake hands with Sir Philip as he sprang in beside his wife,
and called to the coachman "Home!" The magic word seemed to effect the
horses, for they started at a brisk trot, and within a couple of minutes
the carriage was out of sight. It was a warm star-lit evening,--and as
Lorimer and Lovelace re-entered Winsleigh House, Beau stole a
side-glance at his silent companion.

"A plucky fellow!" he mused; "I should say he'd die game. Tortures won't
wring his secret out of him." Aloud he said, "I say, haven't we had
enough of this? Don't let us sup here--nothing but unsubstantial pastry
and claretcup--the latter abominable mixture would kill me. Come on to
the Club, will you?"

Lorimer gladly assented--they got their over-coats from the officious
Briggs, tipped him handsomely, and departed arm in arm. The last glimpse
they caught of the Winsleigh festivities was Marcia Van Clupp sitting on
the stairs, polishing off with much gusto the wing and half-breast of a
capon,--while the mild Lord Masherville stood on the step just above
her, consoling his appetite with a spoonful of tepid yellow jelly. He
had not been able to secure any capon for himself--he had been
frightened away by the warning cry of "Ladies first!" shouted forth by a
fat gentleman, who was on guard at the head of the supper-table, and who
had already secreted five plates of different edibles for his own
consumption, in a neat corner behind the window-curtains. Meanwhile, Sir
Philip Bruce-Errington, proud, happy, and triumphant, drew his wife into
a close embrace as they drove home together, and said, "You were the
queen of the evening, my Thelma! Have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Oh, I do not call that enjoyment!" she declared. "How is it possible to
enjoy anything among so many strangers?"

"Well, what is it?" he asked laughingly.

She laughed also. "I do not know indeed what it is!" she said. "I have
never been to anything like it before. It did seem to me as if all the
people were on show for some reason or other. And the gentlemen did look
very tired--there was nothing for them to do. Even you, my boy! You made
several very big yawns! Did you know that?"

Philip laughed more than ever. "I didn't know it, my pet!" he answered;
"but I'm not surprised. Big yawns are the invariable result of an 'at
home.' Do you like Beau Lovelace?"

"Very much," she answered readily. "But, Philip, I should not like to
have so many friends as Lady Winsleigh. I thought friends were rare?"

"So they are! She doesn't care for these people a bit. They are mere
acquaintances."

"Whom does she care for then?" asked Thelma suddenly. "Of course I mean
after her husband. Naturally she loves him best."

"Naturally," and Philip paused, adding, "she has her son--Ernest--he's a
fine bright boy--he was not there to-night. You must see him some day.
Then I think her favorite friend is Mrs. Rush-Marvelle."

"I do like that lady too," said Thelma. "She spoke very kindly to me and
kissed me."

"Did she really!" and Philip smiled. "I think she was more to be
congratulated on taking the kiss than you in receiving it! But she's not
a bad old soul,--only a little too fond of money. But, Thelma, whom do
_you_ care for most? You did tell me once, but I forget!"

She turned her lovely face and star-like eyes upon him, and, meeting his
laughing look, she smiled.

"How often must I tell you!" she murmured softly. "I do think you will
never tire of hearing! You know that it is you for whom I care most, and
that all the world would be empty to me without you! Oh, my husband--my
darling! do not make me try to tell you how much I love you! I
cannot--my heart is too full!"

The rest of their drive homeward was very quiet--there are times when
silence is more eloquent than speech.




CHAPTER XXI.

   "A small cloud, so slight as to be a mere speck on the fair blue
   sky, was all the warning we received."--PLINY.


After that evening great changes came into Thelma's before peaceful
life. She had conquered her enemies, or so it seemed,--society threw
down all its barricades and rushed to meet her with open arms.
Invitations crowded upon her,--often she grew tired and bewildered in
the multiplicity of them all. London life wearied her,--she preferred
the embowered seclusion of Errington Manor, the dear old house in
green-wooded Warwickshire. But the "season" claimed her,--its frothy
gaieties were deemed incomplete without her--no "at home" was considered
quite "the" thing unless she was present. She became the centre of a
large and ever-widening social circle,--painters, poets, novelists, wits
savants, and celebrities of high distinction crowded her rooms, striving
to entertain her as well as themselves with that inane small talk and
gossip too often practiced by the wisest among us,--and thus surrounded,
she began to learn many puzzling and painful things of which in her old
Norwegian life, she had been happily ignorant.

For instance, she had once imagined that all the men and women of
culture who followed the higher professions must perforce be a sort of
"Joyous Fraternity," superior to other mortals not so gifted,--and,
under this erroneous impression, she was at first eager to know some of
the so-called "great" people who had distinguished themselves in
literature or the fine arts. She had fancied that they must of necessity
be all refined, sympathetic, large-hearted, and noble-minded--alas! how
grievously was she disappointed! She found, to her sorrow, that the tree
of modern Art bore but few wholesome roses and many cankered buds--that
the "Joyous Fraternity" were not joyous at all--but, on the contrary,
inclined to dyspepsia and discontentment. She found that even poets,
whom she had fondly deemed were the angel-guides among the children of
this earth,--were most of them painfully conceited, selfish in aim and
limited in thought,--moreover, that they were often so empty of all true
inspiration, that they were actually able to hate and envy one another
with a sort of womanish spite and temper,--that novelists, professing to
be in sympathy with the heart of humanity, were no sooner brought into
contact one with another, than they plainly showed by look, voice, and
manner, the contempt they entertained for each other's work,--that men
of science were never so happy as when trying to upset each other's
theories;--that men of religious combativeness were always on the alert
to destroy each other's creeds,--and that, in short, there was a very
general tendency to mean jealousies, miserable heart-burnings and utter
weariness all round.

On one occasion, she, in the sweetest simplicity, invited two lady
authoresses of note to meet at one of her "at homes,". . . she welcomed
both the masculine-looking ladies with a radiant smile, and introduced
them, saying gently,--"You will be so pleased to know each other!" But
the stony stare, stiff nod, portentous sniff, and scornful smile with
which these two eminent females exchanged cold greetings, were enough to
daunt the most sympathetic hostess that ever lived--and when they at
once retired to different corners of the room and sat apart with their
backs turned to one another for the remainder of the evening, their
attitude was so uncompromising that it was no wonder the gentle Thelma
felt quite dismayed and wretched at the utter failure of the
_rencontre_.

"They would _not_ be sociable!" she afterwards complained to Lady
Winsleigh. "They _tried_ to be as rude to each other as they could!"

Lady Winsleigh laughed. "Of course!" she said. "What else _did_ you
expect! But if you want some fun, ask a young, pretty, and brilliant
authoress (there are a few such) to meet an old, ugly and dowdy one (and
there are many such), and watch the dowdy one's face! It will be a
delicious study of expression, I assure you!"

But Thelma would not try this delicate experiment,--in fact, she began
rather to avoid literary people, with the exception of Beau Lovelace.
His was a genial, sympathetic nature, and, moreover, he had a winning
charm of manner which few could resist. He was not a bookworm,--he was
not, strictly speaking, a literary man,--and he was entirely indifferent
to public praise or blame. He was, as he himself expressed it, "a
servant and worshipper of literature," and there is a wide gulf of
difference between one who serves literature for its own sake and one
who uses it basely as a tool to serve himself.

But in all her new and varied experiences, perhaps Thelma was most
completely bewildered by the women she met. Her simple Norse beliefs in
the purity and gentleness of womanhood were startled and outraged,--she
could not understand London ladies at all. Some of them seemed to have
no idea beyond dress and show,--others looked upon their husbands, the
lawful protectors of their name and fame, with easy indifference, as
though they were mere bits of household furniture,--others, having
nothing better to do, "went in" for spiritualism,--the low spiritualism
that manifests itself in the turning of tables and moving of
side-boards--not the higher spiritualism of an improved, perfected, and
saint-like way of life--and these argued wildly on the theory of matter
passing through matter, to the extent of declaring themselves able to
send a letter or box through the wall without making a hole in it,--and
this with such obstinate gravity as made Thelma fear for their reason.
Then there were the women-atheists,--creatures who had voluntarily
crushed all the sweetness of the sex within them--foolish human flowers
without fragrance, that persistently turned away their faces from the
sunlight and denied its existence, preferring to wither, profitless, on
the dry stalk of their own theory;--there were the "platform-women,"
unnatural products of an unnatural age,--there were the great ladies of
the aristocracy who turned with scorn from a case of real necessity, and
yet spent hundreds of pounds on private theatricals wherein they might
have the chance of displaying themselves in extravagant costumes,--and
there were the "professional" beauties, who, if suddenly deprived of
elegant attire and face-cosmetics, turned out to be no beauties at all,
but very ordinary, unintelligent persons.

"What is the exact meaning of the term, 'professional beauty'?" Thelma
had asked Beau Lovelace on one occasion. "I suppose it is some very poor
beautiful woman, who takes money for showing herself to the public, and
having her portraits sold in the shops? And who is it that pays her?"

Lovelace broke into a laugh. "Upon my word, Lady Errington,--you have
put the matter in a most original but indubitably correct light! Who
pays the 'professional beauty,' you ask? Well, in the case of Mrs.
Smith-Gresham, whom you met the other day, it is a certain Duke who pays
her to the tune of several thousands a year. When he gets tired of her,
or she of him, she'll find somebody else--or perhaps she'll go on the
stage and swell the list of bad amateurs. She'll get on somehow, as long
as she can find a fool ready to settle her dressmaker's bill."

"I do not understand!" said Thelma,--and her fair brows drew together in
that pained grave look that was becoming rather frequent with her now.

And she began to ask fewer questions concerning the various strange
phases of social life that puzzled her,--why, for instance, religious
theorists made so little practical use of their theories,--why there
were cloudy-eyed eccentrics who admired the faulty drawing of Watts, and
the common-place sentence-writing of Walt Whitman,--why members of
Parliament talked so much and did so little,--why new poets, however
nobly inspired, were never accepted unless they had influential friends
on the press,--why painters always married their models or their cooks,
and got heartily ashamed of them afterwards,--and why people all round
said so many things they did not mean. And confused by the general
insincerity, she clung,--poor child!--to Lady Winsleigh, who had the
tact to seem what she was not,--and the cleverness to probe into
Thelma's nature and find out how translucently clear and pure it was--a
perfect well of sweet water, into which one drop of poison, or better
still, several drops, gradually and insidiously instilled, might in time
taint its flavor and darken its brightness. For if a woman have an
innocent, unsuspecting soul as delicate as the curled cup of a Nile
lily, the more easily will it droop and wither in the heated grasp of a
careless, cruel hand. And to this flower-crushing task Lady Winsleigh
set herself,--partly for malice pretense against Errington, whose
coldness to herself in past days had wounded her vanity, and partly for
private jealousy of Thelma's beauty and attractiveness.

Within a short time she had completely won the girl's confidence and
affection,--Sir Philip, forgetting his former suspicions of her, was
touched and disarmed by the attachment and admiration she openly
displayed towards his young wife,--she and Thelma were constantly seen
together, and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, far-sighted as she generally was,
often sighed doubtfully and rubbed her nose in perplexity as she
confessed she "couldn't quite understand Clara." But Mrs. Rush-Marvelle
had her hands full of other matters,--she was aiding and abetting Marcia
Van Clupp to set traps for that mild mouse Lord Masherville,--and she
was too much absorbed in this difficult and delicate business to attend
to anything else just then. Otherwise, it is possible she might have
scented danger for Thelma's peace of mind, and being good-natured, might
have warded it off before it approached too closely,--but, like
policeman who are never within call when wanted, so friends are seldom
at hand when their influence might be of real benefit.

The Van Clupps were people Thelma could not get on with at all--she
tried to do so because Mrs. Rush-Marvelle had assured her they were
"charming"-and she liked Mrs. Marvelle sufficiently well to be willing
to please her. But, in truth, these rich and vulgar Yankees seemed to
her mind less to be esteemed than the peasants of the Altenfjord, who in
many instances possessed finer tact and breeding than old Van Clupp, the
man of many dollars, whose father had been nothing but a low navvy, but
of whom he spoke now with smirking pride as a real descendant of the
Pilgrim Fathers. An odd thing it is, by the way, how fond some Americans
are of tracing back their ancestry to these virtuous old gentlemen! The
Van Clupps were of course not the best types of their country--they were
of that class who, because they have money, measure everything by the
money-standard, and hold even a noble poverty in utter contempt. Poor
Van Clupp! It was sometimes pitiable to see him trying to be a
gentleman--"going in" for "style"--to an excess that was
ludicrous,--cramming his house with expensive furniture like an
upholsterer's show-room,--drinking his tea out of pure Sevres, with a
lofty ignorance of its beauty and value,--dressing his wife and daughter
like shilling fashion-plates, and having his portrait taken in precisely
the same attitude as that assumed by the Duke of Wrigglesbury when his
Grace sat to the same photographer! It was delicious to hear him
bragging of his pilgrim ancestor,--while in the same breath he would
blandly sneer at certain "poor gentry" who could trace back their
lineage to Coeur de Lion! But because the Erringtons were rich as well
as titled persons, Van Clupp and his belongings bent the servile knee
before them, flattering Thelma with that ill-judged eagerness and
zealous persistency which distinguish inborn vulgarity, and which, far
from pleasing her, annoyed and embarrassed her because she could not
respond sincerely to such attentions.

There were many others too, not dollar-crusted Americans, whose
excessive adulation and ceaseless compliment vexed the sincere, frank
spirit of the girl,--a spirit fresh and pure as the wind blowing over
her own Norse mountains. One of these was Sir Francis Lennox, that
fashionable young man of leisure,--and she had for him an instinctive,
though quite unreasonable aversion. He was courtesy itself--he spared no
pains to please her. Yet she felt as if his basilisk brown eyes were
always upon her,--he seemed to be ever at hand, ready to watch over her
in trifles, such as the passing of a cup of tea, the offering of her
wrap,--the finding of a chair,--the holding of a fan,-he was always on
the alert, like a remarkably well-trained upper servant. She could not,
without rudeness, reject such unobtrusive, humble services,--and
yet--they rendered her uncomfortable, though she did not quite know why.
She ventured to mention her feeling concerning him to her friend Lady
Winsleigh, who heard her timid remarks with a look on her face that was
not quite pleasant.

"Poor Sir Francis!" her ladyship said with a slight, mocking laugh.
"He's never happy unless he plays puppy-dog! Don't mind him, Thelma! He
won't bite, I assure you,--he means no harm. It's only his little way of
making himself agreeable!"

George Lorimer, during this particular "London season," fled the field
of action, and went to Paris to stay with Pierre Duprez. He felt that it
was dangerous to confront the fair enemy too often, for he knew in his
own honest heart that his passion for Thelma increased each time he saw
her--so, he avoided her. She missed him very much from her circle of
intimates, and often went to see his mother, Mrs. Lorimer, one of the
sweetest old ladies in the world,--who had at once guessed her son's
secret, but, like a prudent dame, kept it to herself. There were few
young women as pretty and charming as old Mrs. Lorimer, with her
snow-white parted hair and mild blue eyes, and voice as cheery as the
note of a thrush in spring-time. After Lady Winsleigh, Thelma liked her
best of all her new friends, and was fond of visiting her quiet little
house in Kensington,--for it was very quiet, and seemed like a sheltered
haven of rest from the great rush of frivolity and folly in which the
fashionable world delighted.

And Thelma was often now in need of rest. As the season drew towards its
close, she found herself strangely tired and dispirited. The life she
was compelled to lead was all unsuited to her nature--it was artificial
and constrained,--and she was often unhappy. Why? Why, indeed! She did
her best,--but she made enemies everywhere. Again, why? Because she had
a most pernicious,--most unpleasant habit of telling the truth. Like
Socrates, she seemed to say--"If any man should appear to me not to
possess virtue, but to pretend that he does, I shall reproach him." This
she expressed silently in face, voice, and manner,--and, like Socrates,
she might have added that she went about "perceiving, indeed, and
grieving and alarmed that she was making herself odious." For she
discovered, by degrees, that many people looked strangely upon her--that
others seemed afraid of her--and she continually heard that she was
considered "eccentric." So she became more reserved--even cold,--she was
content to let others argue about trifles, and air their whims and
follies without offering an opinion on any side.

And by-and-by the first shadow began to sweep over the fairness of her
married life. It happened at a time when she and her husband were not
quite so much together,--society and its various claims had naturally
separated them a little, but now a question of political ambition
separated them still more. Some well-intentioned friends had persuaded
Sir Philip to stand for Parliament--and this idea no sooner entered his
head, than he decided with impulsive ardor that he had been too long
without a "career,"--and a "career" he must have in order to win
distinction for his wife's sake. Therefore, summoning his secretary,
Neville to his aid, he plunged headlong into the seething, turgid waters
of English politics, and shut himself up in his library day after day,
studying blue-books, writing and answering letters, and drawing up
addresses,--and with the general proneness of the masculine mind to
attend to one thing only at a time, he grew so absorbed in his work that
his love for Thelma, though all unchanged and deep as ever, fell
slightly into the background of his thoughts. Not that he neglected
her,--he simply concerned himself more with other things. So it happened
that a certain indefinable sense of loss weighed upon her,--a vague,
uncomprehended solitude began to encompass her,--a solitude even more
keenly felt when she was surrounded by friends than when she was quite
alone,--and as the sweet English June drew to its end, she grew languid
and listless, and her blue eyes often filled with sudden tears. Her
little watch-dog, Britta, began to notice this, and to wonder concerning
the reason of her mistress's altered looks.

"It is this dreadful London," thought Britta. "So hot and
stifling--there's no fresh air for her. And all this going about to
balls and parties and shows--no wonder she is tired out!"

But it was something more than mere fatigue that made Thelma's eyes look
sometimes so anxious, so gravely meditative and earnest. One day she
seemed so much abstracted and lost in painful musings that Britta's
loving heart ached, and she watched her for some moments without
venturing to say a word. At last she spoke out bravely--

"Froeken!"--she paused,--Thelma seemed not to hear her. "Froeken!--has
anything vexed or grieved you today?"

Thelma started nervously. "Vexed me--grieved me?" she repeated. "No,
Britta--why do you ask?"

"You look very tired, dear Froeken," continued Britta gently. "You are
not as bright as you were when we first came to London."

Thelma's lips quivered. "I--I am not well, Britta," she murmured, and
suddenly her self-control gave way, and she broke into tears. In an
instant Britta was kneeling by her, coaxing and caressing her, and
calling her by every endearing name she could think of, while she wisely
forbore from asking any more questions. Presently her sobs grew
calmer,--she rested her fair head against Britta's shoulder and smiled
faintly. At that moment a light tap was heard outside, and a voice
called--

"Thelma! Are you there?"

Britta opened the door, and Sir Philip entered hurriedly and
smiling--but stopped short to survey his wife in dismay.

"Why, my darling!" he exclaimed distressfully. "Have you been crying?"

Here the discreet Britta retired.

Thelma sprang to her husband and nestled in his arms.

"Philip, do not mind it," she murmured. "I felt a little sad--it is
nothing! But tell me--you _do_ love me? You will never tire of me? You
have always loved me, I am sure?"

He raised her face gently with one hand, and looked at her in surprise.

"Thelma--what strange questions from _you_! Love you? Is not every beat
of my heart for you? Are you not my life, my joy--my everything in this
world?" And he pressed her passionately in his arms and kissed her.

"You have never loved any one else so much?" she whispered, half
abashed.

"Never!" he answered readily. "What makes you ask such a thing?"

She was silent. He looked down at her flushing cheeks and tear-wet
lashes attentively.

"You are fanciful to-day, my pet," he said at last. "You've been tiring
yourself too much. You must rest. You'd better not go to the Brilliant
Theatre to-night--it's only a burlesque, and is sure to be vulgar and
noisy. We'll stop at home and spend a quiet evening together--shall we?"

She raised her eyes half wistfully and smiled. "I should like that very,
very much, Philip!" she murmured; "but you know we did promise Clara to
go with her to-night. And as we are so soon to leave London and return
to Warwickshire, I should not like to disappoint her."

"You are very fond of Clara?" he asked suddenly.

"Very!" She paused and sighed slightly. "She is so kind and clever--much
more clever than I can ever be--and she knows many things about the
world which I do not. And she admires you so much, Philip!"

"Does she indeed?" Philip laughed and colored a little. "Very good of
her, I'm sure! And so you'd really like to go to the Brilliant to-night?"

"I think so," she said hesitatingly. "Clara says it will be very
amusing. And you must remember how much I enjoyed 'Faust' and 'Hamlet.'"

Errington smiled. "You'll find the Brilliant performance very different
to either," he said amusedly. "You don't know what a burlesque is like!"

"Then I must be instructed," replied Thelma, smiling also, "I need to
learn many things. I am very ignorant!"

"Ignorant!" and he swept aside with a caressing touch the clustering
hair from her broad, noble brow. "My darling, you possess the greatest
wisdom--the wisdom of innocence. I would not change it for all the
learning of the sagest philosophers!"

"You really mean that?" she asked half timidly.

"I really mean that!" he answered fondly. "Little sceptic! As if I would
ever say anything to you that I did _not_ mean! I shall be glad when
we're out of London and back at the Manor--then I shall have you all to
myself again--for a time, at least."

She raised her eyes full of sudden joy,--all traces of her former
depression had disappeared.

"And _I_ shall have _you_!" she said gladly. "And we shall not
disappoint Lady Winsleigh to-night, Philip--I am not tired--and I shall
be pleased to go to the theatre."

"All right!" responded Philip cheerfully. "So let it be! Only I don't
believe you'll like the piece,--though it certainly won't make you cry.
Yet I doubt if it will make you laugh, either. However, it will be a new
experience for you."

And a new experience it decidedly was,--an experience, too, which
brought some strange and perplexing results to Thelma of which she never
dreamed.

She went to the Brilliant, accompanied by Lady Winsleigh and her
husband,--Neville, the secretary, making the fourth in their box; and
during the first and second scene of the performance the stage effects
were so pretty and the dancing so graceful that she nearly forgot the
bewildered astonishment she had at first felt at the extreme scantiness
of apparel worn by the ladies of the ballet. They represented birds,
bees, butterflies, and the other winged denizens of the
forest-world,--and the _tout-ensemble_ was so fairy-like and brilliant
with swift movement, light, and color that the eye was too dazzled and
confused to note objectionable details. But in the third scene, when a
plump, athletic young woman leaped on the stage in the guise of a
humming-bird, with a feather tunic so short that it was a mere
waist-belt of extra width,--a flesh-colored bodice about three inches
high, and a pair of blue wings attached to her fat shoulders, Thelma
started and half rose from her seat in dismay, while a hot tide of color
crimsoned her cheeks. She looked nervously at her husband.

"I do not think this is pleasant to see," she said in a low tone. "Would
it not be best to go away? I--I think I would rather be at home."

Lady Winsleigh heard and smiled,--a little mocking smile.

"Don't be silly, child!" she said. "If you leave the theatre just now
you'll have every one staring at you. That woman's an immense
favorite--she is the success of the piece. She's got more diamonds than
either you or I."

Thelma regarded her friend with a sort of grave wonder,--but said
nothing in reply. If Lady Winsleigh liked the performance and wished to
remain, why--then politeness demanded that Thelma should not interfere
with her pleasure by taking an abrupt leave. So she resumed her seat,
but withdrew herself far behind the curtain of the box, in a corner
where the stage was almost invisible to her eyes. Her husband bent over
her and whispered--

"I'll take you home if you wish it, dear! only say the word."

She shook her head.

"Clara enjoys it!" she answered somewhat plaintively. "We must stay."

Philip was about to address Lady Winsleigh on the subject, when suddenly
Neville touched him on the arm.

"Can I speak to you alone for a moment, Sir Philip?" he said in a
strange, hoarse whisper. "Outside the box--away from the ladies--a
matter of importance!"

He looked as if he were about to faint. He gasped rather than spoke
these words; his face was white as death, and his eyes had a confused
and bewildered stare.

"Certainly!" answered Philip promptly, though not without an accent of
surprise,--and, excusing their absence briefly to his wife and Lady
Winsleigh, they left the box together. Meanwhile the well-fed
"Humming-Bird" was capering extravagantly before the footlights,
pointing her toe in the delighted face of the stalls and singing in a in
a loud, coarse voice the following refined ditty--

    "Oh my ducky, oh my darling, oh my duck, duck, duck!
     If you love me you must have a little pluck, pluck, pluck!
     Come and put your arms around me, kiss me once, twice, thrice,
     For kissing may be naughty, but, by Jingo! it is nice!
         Once, twice, thrice!
         Nice, nice, nice!
         Bliss, bliss, bliss!
         Kiss, kiss, kiss!
     Kissing may be naughty, but it's nice!"

There were several verses in this graceful poem, and each one was hailed
with enthusiastic applause. The "Humming-Bird" was triumphant, and when
her song was concluded she executed a startling _pas-seul_ full of
quaint and astonishing surprises, reaching her superbest climax, when
she backed off the stage on one portly leg,--kicking the other in
regular time to the orchestra. Lady Winsleigh laughed, and leaning
towards Thelma, who still sat in her retired corner, said with a show of
kindness--

"You dear little goose! You must get accustomed to this kind of
thing--it takes with the men immensely. Why, even your wonderful Philip
has gone down behind the scenes with Neville--you may be sure of that!"

The startled, pitiful astonishment in the girl's face might have touched
a less callous heart than Lady Winsleigh's,--but her ladyship was
prepared for it and only smiled.

"Gone behind the scenes! To see that dreadful woman!" exclaimed Thelma
in a low pained tone. "Oh no, Clara! He would not do such a thing.
Impossible!"

"Well, my dear, then where is he? He has been gone quite ten minutes.
Look at the stalls--all the men are out of them! I tell you Violet Vere
draws everybody--of the male sex after her! At the end of all her
'scenes' she has a regular reception--for men only--of course! Ladies
not admitted!" And Clara Winsleigh laughed. "Don't look so shocked for
heaven's sake, Thelma,--you don't want your husband to be a regular
nincompoop! He must have his amusements as well as other people. I
believe you want him to be like a baby, tied to your apron-string!
You'll find that an awful mistake,--he'll get tired to death of you,
sweet little Griselda though you are!"

Thelma's face grew very pale, and her hand closed more tightly on the
fan she held.

"You have said that so very, very often lately, Clara!" she murmured.
"You seem so sure that he will get tired--that all men get tired. I do
not think you know Philip--he is not like any other person I have ever
met. And why should he go behind the scenes to such a person as Violet
Vere--"

At that moment the box-door opened with a sharp click, and Errington
entered alone. He looked disturbed and anxious.

"Neville is not well," he said abruptly, addressing his wife. "I've sent
him home. He wouldn't have been able to sit this thing out." And he
glanced half angrily towards the stage--the curtain had just gone up
again and displayed the wondrous Violet Vere still in her "humming-bird"
character, swinging on the branch of a tree and (after the example of
all humming-birds) smoking a cigar with brazen-faced tranquillity.

"I am sorry he is ill," said Thelma gently. "That is why you were so
long away?"

"Was I long?" returned Philip somewhat absently. "I didn't know it. I
went to ask a question behind the scenes."

Lady Winsleigh coughed and glanced at Thelma, whose eyes dropped
instantly.

"I suppose you saw Violet Vere?" asked Clara.

"Yes, I saw her," he replied briefly. He seemed irritable and
vexed--moreover, decidedly impatient. Presently he said--

"Lady Winsleigh, would you mind very much if we left this place and went
home? I'm rather anxious about Neville--he's had a shock. Thelma doesn't
care a bit about this piece, I know, and if you are not very much
absorbed--"

Lady Winsleigh rose instantly, with her usual ready grace.

"My dear Sir Philip!" she said sweetly. "As if I would not, do anything
to oblige you! Let us go by all means! These burlesques _are_ extremely
fatiguing!"

He seemed relieved by her acquiescence--and smiled that rare sweet smile
of his, which had once played such havoc with her ladyship's sensitive
feelings. They left the theatre, and were soon on their way home, though
Thelma was rather silent during the drive. They dropped Lady Winsleigh
at her own door, and after they had bidden her a cordial good night, and
were going on again towards home, Philip, turning towards his wife, and
catching sight of her face by the light of a street-lamp, was struck by
her extreme paleness and weary look.

"You are very tired, my darling, I fear?" he inquired, tenderly
encircling her with one arm. "Lean your head on my shoulder--so!"

She obeyed, and her hand trembled a little as he took and held it in his
own warm, strong clasp.

"We shall soon be home!" he added cheerily. "And I think we must have no
more theatre-going this season. The heat and noise and glare are too
much for you."

"Philip," said Thelma suddenly. "Did you really go behind the scenes
to-night?"

"Yes, I did," he answered readily. "I was obliged to go on a matter of
business--a very disagreeable and unpleasant matter too."

"And what was it?" she asked timidly, yet hopefully.

"My pet, I can't tell you! I wish I could! It's a secret I'm bound not
to betray--a secret which involves the name of another person who'd be
wretched if I were to mention it to you. There,--don't let us talk about
it any more!"

"Very well, Philip," said Thelma resignedly,--but though she smiled, a
sudden presentiment of evil depressed her. The figure of the vulgar,
half-clothed, painted creature known as Violet Vere rose up mockingly
before her eyes,--and the half-scornful, half-jesting words of Lady
Winsleigh rang persistently in her ears.

On reaching home, Philip went straight to Neville's little study and
remained with him in earnest conversation for a long time--while Thelma
went to bed, and lay restless among her pillows, puzzling her brain with
strange forebodings and new and perplexing ideas, till fatigue
overpowered her, and she fell asleep with a few tear-drops wet on her
lashes. And that night Philip wondered why his sweet wife talked so
plaintively in her sleep,--though he smiled as he listened to the drift
of those dove-like murmurings.

"No one knows how my boy loves me," sighed the dreaming voice. "No one
in all the world! How should he tire? Love can never tire!"

Meanwhile, Lady Winsleigh, in the seclusion of her own boudoir, penned a
brief note to Sir Francis Lennox as follows--

  "DEAR OLD LENNIE,"

  "I saw you in the stalls at the theatre this evening, though you
  pretended not to see me. What a fickle creature you are! not that I
  mind in the very least. The virtuous Bruce-Errington left his
  saintly wife and me to talk little platitudes together, while he,
  decorously accompanied by his secretary, went down to pay court to
  Violet Vere. How stout she is getting! Why don't you men advise her
  to diet herself? I know you also went behind the scenes--of course,
  you _are_ an _ami intime_--promising boy you are, to be sure! Come and
  lunch with me to-morrow, if you're not too lazy."

                                                "Yours ever, CLARA."

She gave this missive to her maid, Louise Renaud, to post,--that
faithful attendant took it first to her own apartment where she ungummed
the envelope neatly by the aid of hot water, and read every word of it.
This was not an exceptional action of hers,--all the letters received
and sent by her mistress were subjected to the same process,--even those
that were sealed with wax she had a means of opening in such a manner
that it was impossible to detect that they had been tampered with.

She was a very clever French maid was Louise,--one of the cleverest of
her class. Fond of mischief, ever suspicious, always on the alert for
evil, utterly unscrupulous and malicious, she was an altogether
admirable attendant for a lady of rank and fashion, her skill as a
_coiffeur_ and needle-woman always obtaining for her the wages she so
justly deserved. When will wealthy women reared in idleness and luxury
learn the folly of keeping a trained spy attached to their persons?--a
spy whose pretended calling is merely to arrange dresses and fripperies
(half of which she invariably steals), but whose real delight is to take
note of all her mistress's incomings and outgoings, tempers and
tears--to watch her looks, her smiles and frowns,--and to start
scandalous gossip concerning her in the servants' hall, from whence it
gradually spreads to the society newspapers--for do you think these
estimable and popular journals are never indebted for their "reliable"
information to the "honest" statements of discharged footman or valet?
Briggs, for instance, had tried his hand at a paragraph or two
concerning the "Upper Ten," and with the aid of a dictionary, had
succeeded in expressing himself quite smartly, though in ordinary
conversation his h's were often lacking or superfluous, and his grammar
doubtful. Whether he persuaded any editor to accept his literary efforts
is quite another matter--a question to which the answer must remain for
ever enveloped in mystery,--but if he _did_ appear in print (it is only
an if!) he must have been immensely gratified to consider that his
statements were received with gusto by at least half aristocratic
London, and implicitly believed as having emanated from the "best
authorities." And Louise Renaud having posted her mistress's letter at
last, went down to visit Briggs in his private pantry, and to ask him a
question.

"Tell me," she said rapidly, with her tight, prim smile. "You read the
papers--you will know. What lady is that of the theatres--Violet Vere?"

Briggs laid down the paper he was perusing and surveyed her with a
superior air.

"What, Vi?" he exclaimed with a lazy wink. "Vi, of the Hopperer-Buff?
You've 'erd of 'er surely, Mamzelle? No? There's not a man (as is worth
calling a man) about town, as don't know _'er_! Dukes, Lords, an' Royal
'Ighnesses--she's the style for 'em! Mag-ni-ficent creetur! all legs and
arms! I won't deny but wot I 'ave an admiration for 'er myself--I bought
a 'arf-crown portrait of 'er quite recently." And Briggs rose slowly and
searched in a mysterious drawer which he invariably kept locked.

"'Ere she is, as large as life, Mamzelle," he continued, exhibiting a
"promenade" photograph of the actress in question. "There's a neck for
you! There's form! Vi, my dear, I saloot you!" and he pressed a sounding
kiss on the picture--"you're one in a million! Smokes and drinks like a
trooper, Mamzelle!" he added admiringly, as Louise Renaud studied the
portrait attentively. "But with all 'er advantages, you would not call
'er a lady. No--that term would be out of the question. She is wot we
men would call an enchantin' female!" And Briggs kissed the tips of his
fingers and waved them in the air as he had seen certain foreign
gentlemen do when enthusiastic.

"I comprehend," said the French maid, nodding emphatically. "Then, if
she is so, what makes that proud Seigneur Bruce-Errington visit her?"
Here she shook her finger at Briggs. "And leave his beautiful lady wife,
to go and see her?" Another shake. "And that _miserable_ Sieur Lennox to
go also? Tell me that!" She folded her arms, like Napoleon at St.
Helena, and smiled again that smile which was nothing but a sneer.
Briggs rubbed his nose contemplatively.

"Little Francis can go ennywheres," he said at last. "He's laid out a
good deal of tin on Vi and others of 'er purfession. You cannot make
enny-think of that young feller but a cad. I would not accept 'im for my
pussonal attendant. No! But Sir Philip Bruce-Errington--" He paused,
then continued, "Air you sure of your facts, Mamzelle?"

Mamzelle was so sure, that the bow on her cap threatened to come off
with the determined wagging of her head.

"Well," resumed Briggs, "Sir Philip may, like hothers, consider it 'the
thing' you know, to 'ang on as it were to Vi. But I _'ad_ thought 'im
superior to it. Ah! poor 'uman natur, as 'Uxley says!" and Briggs
sighed. "Lady Errington is a sweet creetur, Mamzelle--a _very_ sweet
creetur! _Has_ a rule I find the merest nod of my 'ed a sufficient
saloot to a woman of the aristocracy--but for _'er_, Mamzelle, I never
fail to show 'er up with a court bow!" And involuntarily Briggs bowed
then and there in his most elegant manner. Mamzelle tightened her thin
lips a little and waved her hand expressively.

"She is an angel of beauty!" she said, "and Miladi Winsleigh is
jealous--ah, _Dieu!_ jealous to death of her! She is innocent too--like
a baby--and she worships her husband. That is an error! To worship a man
is a great mistake--she will find it so. Men are not to be too much
loved--no, no!"

Briggs smiled in superb self-consciousness. "Well, well! I will not
deny, Mamzelle, that it spoils us," he said complacently. "It certainly
spoils us! 'When lovely woman stoops to folly,'--the hold, hold story!"

"You will r-r-r-emember," said Mamzelle, suddenly stepping up very close
to him and speaking with a strong accent, "what I have said to-night!
Monsieur Briggs, you will r-remember! There will be mees-cheef!
Yes--there will be mees-cheef to Sieur Bruce-Errington, and when there
is,--I--I, Louise Renaud--I know who ees at the bottom of eet!"

So saying, with a whirl of her black silk dress and a flash of her white
muslin apron, she disappeared. Briggs, left alone, sauntered to a
looking-glass hanging on the wall and studied with some solicitude a
pimple that had recently appeared on his clean-shaven face.

"Mischief!" he soliloquized. "I des-say! Whenever a lot of women gets
together, there's sure to be mischief. Dear creeturs! They love it like
the best Clicquot. Sprightly young pusson is Mamzelle. Knows who's at
the bottom of 'eet,' does she! Well--she's not the only one as knows the
same thing. As long as doors 'as cracks and key'oles, it ain't in the
least difficult to find out wot goes on inside boo-dwars and
drorin'-rooms. And 'ighly interestin' things one 'ears now and
then--'ighly interestin'!"

And Briggs leered suavely at his own reflection, and then resumed the
perusal of his paper. He was absorbed in the piquant, highly flavored
details of a particularly disgraceful divorce case, and he was by no
means likely to disturb himself from his refined enjoyment for any less
important reason than the summons of Lord Winsleigh's bell, which rang
so seldom that, when it did, he made it a point of honor to answer it
immediately, for, as he said--

"His lordship knows wot is due to me, and I knows wot is due to
'im--therefore it 'appens we are able to ekally respect each other!"




CHAPTER XXII.

        "If thou wert honorable,
     Thou would'st have told this tale for virtue, not
     For such an end thou seek'st; as base, as strange.
     Thou wrong'st a gentleman who is as far
     From thy report, as thou from honor."
                                                     _Cymbeline._


Summer in Shakespeare Land! Summer in the heart of England--summer in
wooded Warwickshire,--a summer brilliant, warm, radiant with flowers,
melodious with the songs of the heaven--aspiring larks, and the sweet,
low trill of the forest-hidden nightingales. Wonderful and divine it is
to hear the wild chorus of nightingales that sing beside Como in the hot
languorous nights of an Italian July--wonderful to hear them maddening
themselves with love and music, and almost splitting their slender
throats with the bursting bubbles of burning song,--but there is
something, perhaps, more dreamily enchanting still,--to hear them
warbling less passionately but more plaintively, beneath the drooping
leafage of those grand old trees, some of which may have stretched their
branches in shadowy benediction over the sacred head of the grandest
poet in the world. Why travel to Athens,--why wander among the Ionian
Isles for love of the classic ground? Surely, though the clear-brained
old Greeks were the founders of all noble literature, they have reached
their fulminating point in the English Shakespeare,--and the
Warwickshire lanes, decked simply with hawthorn and sweet-briar roses,
through which Mary Arden walked leading her boy-angel by the hand, are
sacred as any portion of that earth once trodden by the feet of Homer
and Plato.

So, at least, Thelma thought, when, released from the bondage of London
social life, she found herself once more at Errington Manor, then
looking its loveliest, surrounded with a green girdle of oak and beech,
and set off by the beauty of velvety lawns and terraces, and
rose-gardens in full bloom. The depression from which she had suffered
fell away from her completely--she grew light-hearted as a child, and
flitted from room to room, singing to herself for pure gladness. Philip
was with her all day now, save for a couple of hours in the forenoon
which he devoted to letter-writing in connection with his Parliamentary
aspirations,--and Philip was tender, adoring and passionate as lovers
may be, but as husbands seldom are. They took long walks together
through the woods,--they often rambled across the fragrant fields to
Anne Hathaway's cottage, which was not very far away, and sitting down
in some sequestered nook, Philip would pull from his pocket a volume of
the immortal Plays, and read passages aloud in his fine mellow voice,
while Thelma, making posies of the meadow flowers, listened entranced.
Sometimes, when he was in a more business-like humor, he would bring out
Cicero's Orations, and after pondering over them for a while would talk
very grandly about the way in which he meant to speak in Parliament.

"They want dash and fire there," he said, "and these qualities must be
united with good common sense. In addressing the House, you see, Thelma,
one must rouse and interest the men--not bore them. You can't expect
fellows to pass a Bill if you've made them long for their beds all the
time you've been talking about it."

Thelma smiled and glanced over his shoulder at "Cicero's Orations."

"And do you wish to speak to them like Cicero, my boy?" she said gently.
"But I do not think you will find that possible. Because when Cicero
spoke it was in a different, age and to very different people--people
who were glad to learn how to be wise and brave. But if you were Cicero
himself, do you think you would be able to impress the English
Parliament?"

"Why not, dear?" asked Errington with some fervor. "I believe that men,
taken as men, _pur et simple_, are the same in all ages, and are open to
the same impressions. Why should not modern Englishmen be capable of
receiving the same lofty ideas as the antique Romans, and acting upon
them?"

"Ah, do not ask _me_ why," said Thelma, with a plaintive little shake of
her head--"for _I_ cannot tell you! But remember how many members of
Parliament we did meet in London--and where were their lofty ideas?
Philip, had they any ideas at all, do you think? There was that very fat
gentleman who is a brewer,--well, to hear him talk, would you not think
all England was for the making of beer? And he does not care for the
country unless it continues to consume his beer! It was to that very man
I said something about _Hamlet_, and he told me he had no interest for
such nonsense as Shakespeare and play-going--his time was taken up at
the '_'Ouse_.' You see, he is a member of Parliament--yet it is evident
he neither knows the language nor the literature of his country! And
there must be many like him, otherwise so ignorant a person would not
hold such a position--and for such men, what would be the use of a
Cicero?"

Philip leaned back against the trunk of the tree under which they were
sitting, and laughed.

"You may be right, Thelma,--I dare say you are. There's certainly too
much beer represented in the House--I admit that. But, after all, trade
is the great moving-spring of national prosperity,--and it would hardly
be fair to refuse seats to the very men who help to keep the country
going."

"I do not see that," said Thelma gravely,--"if those men are ignorant,
why should they have a share in so important a thing as Government? They
may know all about beer, and wool, and iron,--but perhaps they can only
judge what is good for themselves, not what is best for the whole
country, with all its rich and poor. I do think that only the wisest
scholars and most intelligent persons should be allowed to help in the
ruling of a great nation."

"But the people choose their own rulers," remarked Errington
reflectively.

"Ah, the poor people!" sighed Thelma. "They know so very little,--and
they are taught so badly! I think they never do quite understand what
they do want,--they are the same in all histories,--like little
children, they get bewildered and frightened in any trouble, and the
wisest heads are needed to think for them. It is, indeed, most cruel to
make them puzzle out all difficulty for themselves!"

"What a little sage you are, my pet!" laughed Philip, taking her hand on
which the marriage-ring and its accompanying diamond circlet, glistened
brilliantly in the warm sunlight. "Do you mean to go in for politics?"

She shook her head. "No, indeed! That is not woman's work at all. The
only way in which I think about such things, is that I feel the people
cannot all be wise,--and that it seems a pity the wisest and greatest in
the land should not be chosen to lead them rightly."

"And so under the circumstances, you think it's no use my trying to
_pose_ as a Cicero?" asked her husband amusedly. She laughed--with a
very tender cadence in her laughter.

"It would not be worth your while, my boy," she said "You know I have
often told you that I do not see any great distinction in being a member
of Parliament at all. What will you do? You will talk to the fat brewer
perhaps, and he will contradict you--then other people will get up and
talk and contradict each other,--and so it will go on for days and
days--meanwhile the country remains exactly as it was, neither better
nor worse,--and all the talking does no good! It is better to be out of
it,--here together, as we are to-day."

And she raised her dreamy blue eyes to the sheltering canopy of green
leaves that overhung them--leaves thick-clustered and dewy, through
which the dazzling sky peeped in radiant patches. Philip looked at
her,--the rapt expression of her upward gaze,--the calm, untroubled
sweetness of her fair face,--were such as might well have suited one of
Raffaelle's divinest angels. His heart beat quickly--he drew closer to
her, and put his arm round her.

"Your eyes are looking at the sky, Thelma," he whispered. "Do you know
what that is? Heaven looking into heaven! And do you know which of the
two heavens I prefer?" She smiled, and turning, met his ardent gaze with
one of equal passion and tenderness.

"Ah, you _do_ know!" he went on, softly kissing the side of her slim
white throat. "I thought you couldn't possibly make a mistake!" He
rested his head against her shoulder, and after a minute or two of lazy
comfort, he resumed. "You are not ambitious, my Thelma! You don't seem
to care whether your husband distinguishes himself in the 'Ouse,' as our
friend the brewer calls it, or not. In fact, I don't believe you care
for anything save--love! Am I not right, my wife?"

A wave of rosy color flushed her transparent skin, and her eyes filled
with an earnest, almost pathetic languor.

"Surely of all things in the world," she said in a low tone,--"Love is
best?"

To this he made prompt answer, though not in words--his lips conversed
with hers, in that strange, sweet language which, though unwritten, is
everywhere comprehensible,--and then they left their shady resting-place
and sauntered homeward hand in hand through the warm fields fragrant
with wild thyme and clover.

Many happy days passed thus with these lovers--for lovers they still
were. Marriage had for once fulfilled its real and sacred meaning--it
had set Love free from restraint, and had opened all the gateways of the
only earthly paradise human hearts shall ever know,--the paradise of
perfect union and absolute sympathy with the one thing beloved on this
side eternity.

The golden hours fled by all too rapidly,--and towards the close of
August there came an interruption to their felicity. Courtesy had
compelled Bruce-Errington and his wife to invite a few friends down to
visit them at the Manor before the glory of the summer-time was
past,--and first among the guests came Lord and Lady Winsleigh and their
bright boy, Ernest. Her ladyship's maid, Louise Renaud, of course,
accompanied her ladyship,--and Briggs was also to the fore in the
capacity of Lord Winsleigh's personal attendant. After these, George
Lorimer arrived--he had avoided the Erringtons all the season,--but he
could not very well refuse the pressing invitation now given him without
seeming churlish,--then came Beau Lovelace, for a few days only, as with
the commencement of September he would be off as usual to his villa on
the Lago di Como. Sir Francis Lennox, too, made his appearance
frequently in a casual sort of way--he "ran down," to use his own
expression, now and then, and made himself very agreeable, especially to
men, by whom he was well liked for his invariable good-humor and
extraordinary proficiency in all sports and games of skill. Another
welcome visitor was Pierre Duprez, lively and sparkling as ever,--he
came from Paris to pass a fortnight with his "cher Phil-eep," and make
merriment for the whole party. His old admiration for Britta had by no
means decreased,--he was fond of waylaying that demure little maiden on
her various household errands, and giving her small posies of jessamine
and other sweet-scented blossoms to wear just above the left-hand corner
of her apron-bib, close to the place where the heart is supposed to be.
Olaf Gueldmar had been invited to the Manor at this period,--Errington
wrote many urgent letters, and so did Thelma, entreating him to
come,--for nothing would have pleased Sir Philip more than to have
introduced the fine old Odin worshipper among his fashionable friends,
and to have heard him bluntly and forcibly holding his own among them,
putting their feint and languid ways of life to shame by his manly,
honest, and vigorous utterance. But Gueldmar had only just returned to
the Altenfjord after nearly a year's absence, and his hands were too
full of work for him to accept his son-in-law's invitation.

"The farm lands have a waste and dreary look," he wrote, "though I let
them to a man who should verily have known how to till the soil trodden
by his fathers--and as for the farmhouse, 'twas like a hollow shell that
has lain long on the shore and become brown and brittle--for thou
knowest no human creature has entered there since we departed. However,
Valdemar Svensen and I, for sake of company, have resolved to dwell
together in it, and truly we have nearly settled down to the peaceful
contemplation of our past days,--so Philip, and thou, my child Thelma,
trouble not concerning me. I am hale and hearty, the gods be
thanked,--and may live on in hope to see you both next spring or
summer-tide. Your happiness keeps this old man young--so grudge me not
the news of your delights wherein I am myself delighted."

One familiar figure was missing from the Manor household,--that of
Edward Neville. Since the night at the Brilliant, when he had left the
theatre so suddenly, and gone home on the plea of illness, he had never
been quite the same man. He looked years older--he was strangely nervous
and timid--and he shrank away from Thelma as though he were some guilty
or tainted creature. Surprised at this, she spoke to her husband about
it,--but he, hurriedly, and with some embarrassment, advised her to "let
him alone"--his "nerves were shaken"--his "health was feeble"--and that
it would be kind on her part to refrain from noticing him or asking him
questions. So she refrained--but Neville's behavior puzzled her all the
same. When they left town, he implored, almost piteously, to be allowed
to remain behind,--he could attend to Sir Philip's business so much
better in London, he declared, and he had his way. Errington, usually
fond of Neville's society, made no attempt whatever to persuade him
against his will,--so he stayed in the half-shut-up house in Prince's
Gate through all the summer heat, poring over parliamentary documents
and pamphlets,--and Philip came up from the country once a fortnight to
visit him, and transact any business that might require his personal
attention.

On one of the last and hottest days in August, a grand garden-party was
given at the Manor. All the county people were invited, and they came
eagerly, though, before Thelma's social successes in London, they had
been reluctant to meet her. Now, they put on their best clothes, and
precipitated themselves into the Manor grounds like a flock of sheep
seeking land on which to graze,--all wearing their sweetest propitiatory
smirk--all gushing forth their admiration of "that _darling_ Lady
Errington"--all behaving themselves in the exceptionally funny manner
that county people affect,--people who are considered somebodies in the
small villages their big houses dominate,--but who, when brought to
reside in London, become less than the minnows in a vast ocean. These
good folks were not only anxious to _see_ Lady Errington--they wanted to
_say_ they had seen her,--and that she had spoken to _them_, so that
they might, in talking to their neighbors, mention it in quite an easy,
casual way, such as--"Oh, I was at Errington Manor the other day, and
Lady Errington said to me--." Or--"Sir Philip is _such_ a charming man!
I was talking to his lovely wife, and he asked me--" etc., etc.
Or--"You've no idea what large strawberries they grow at the Manor! Lady
Errington showed me some that were just ripening--magnificent!" And so
on. For in truth this _is_ "a mad world, my masters,"--and there is no
accounting for the inexpressibly small follies and mean toadyisms of the
people in it.

Moreover, all the London guests who were visiting Thelma came in for a
share of the county magnates' servile admiration. They found the
Winsleighs "so distingue"--Master Ernest instantly became "that _dear_
boy!"--Beau Lovelace was "so dreadfully clever, you know!"--and Pierre
Duprez "quite _too_ delightful!"

The grounds looked very brilliant--pink-and-white marquees were dotted
here and there on the smooth velvet lawns--bright flags waved from
different quarters of the gardens, signals of tennis, archery, and
dancing,--and the voluptuous waltz-music of a fine Hungarian band rose
up and swayed in the air with the downward floating songs of the birds
and the dash of fountains in full play. Girls in pretty light summer
costumes made picturesque groups under the stately oaks and
beeches,--gay laughter echoed from the leafy shrubberies, and stray
couples were seen sauntering meditatively through the rose-gardens,
treading on the fallen scented petals, and apparently too much absorbed
in each other to notice anything that was going on around them. Most of
these were lovers, of course--intending lovers, if not declared
ones,--in fact, Eros was very busy that day among the roses, and shot
forth a great many arrows, aptly aimed, out of his exhaustless quiver.

Two persons there were, however,--man and woman,--who, walking in that
same rose-avenue, did not seem, from their manner, to have much to do
with the fair Greek god,--they were Lady Winsleigh and Sir Francis
Lennox. Her ladyship looked exceedingly beautiful in her clinging dress
of Madras lace, with a bunch of scarlet poppies at her breast, and a
wreath of the same vivid flowers in her picturesque Leghorn hat. She
held a scarlet-lined parasol over her head, and from under the
protecting shadow of this silken pavilion, her dark, lustrous eyes
flashed disdainfully as she regarded her companion. He was biting an end
of his brown moustache, and looked annoyed, yet lazily amused too.

"Upon my life, Clara," he observed, "you are really awfully down on a
fellow, you know! One would think you never cared two-pence about me!"

"Too high a figure!" retorted Lady Winsleigh, with a hard little laugh.
"I never cared a brass farthing!"

He stopped short in his walk and stared at her.

"By Jove! you _are_ cool!" he ejaculated. "Then what did you mean all
the time?"

"What did _you_ mean?" she asked defiantly.

He was silent. After a slight, uncomfortable pause, he shrugged his
shoulders and smiled.

"Don't let us have a scene!" he observed in a bantering tone. "Anything
but that!"

"Scene!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Pray when have you had to complain
of me on that score?"

"Well, don't let me have to complain now," he said coolly.

She surveyed him in silent scorn for a moment, and her full, crimson
lips curled contemptuously.

"What a brute you are!" she muttered suddenly between her set pearly
teeth.

"Thanks, awfully!" he answered, taking out a cigarette and lighting it
leisurely. "You are really charmingly candid, Clara! Almost as frank as
Lady Errington, only less polite!"

"I shall not learn politeness from _you_, at any rate," she said,--then
altering her tone to one of studied indifference, she continued coldly,
"What do you want of me? We've done with each other, as you know. I
believe you wish to become gentleman-lacquey to Bruce-Errington's wife,
and that you find it difficult to obtain the situation. Shall I give you
a character?"

He flushed darkly, and his eyes glittered with an evil lustre.

"Gently, Clara! Draw it mild!" he said languidly. "Don't irritate me, or
I _may_ turn crusty! You know, if I chose, I could open
Bruce-Errington's eyes rather more widely than you'd like with respect
to the _devoted affection_ you entertain for his beautiful wife." She
winced a little at this observation--he saw it and laughed,--then
resumed: "At present I'm really in the best of humors. The reason I
wanted to speak to you alone for a minute or two was, that I'd something
to say which might possibly please you. But perhaps you'd rather not
hear it?"

She was silent. So was he. He watched her closely for a little--noting
with complacency the indignant heaving of her breast and the flush on
her cheeks,--signs of the strong repression she was putting upon her
rising temper.

"Come, Clara, you may as well be amiable," he said. "I'm sure you'll be
glad to know that the virtuous Philip is not immaculate after all. Won't
it comfort you to think that he's nothing but a mortal man like the rest
of us? . . . and that with a little patience your charms will most
probably prevail with him as easily as they once did with me? Isn't that
worth hearing?"

"I don't understand you," she replied curtly.

"Then you are very dense, my dear girl," he remarked smilingly. "Pardon
me for saying so! But I'll put it plainly and in as few words as
possible. The moral Bruce-Errington, like a great many other 'moral' men
I know, has gone in for Violet Vere,--and I dare say you understand what
_that_ means. In the simplest language, it means that he's tired of his
domestic bliss and wants a change."

Lady Winsleigh stopped in her slow pacing along the gravel-walk, and
raised her eyes steadily to her companion's face.

"Are you sure of this?" she asked.

"Positive!" replied Sir Francis, flicking the light ash off his
cigarette delicately with his little finger. "When you wrote me that
note about the Vere, I confess I had my suspicions. Since then they've
been confirmed. I know for a fact that Errington has had several private
interviews with Vi, and has also written her a good many letters. Some
of the fellows in the green-room tease her about her new conquest, and
she grins and admits it. Oh, the whole thing's plain enough! Only last
week, when he went up to town to see his man Neville on business he
called on Vi at her own apartments in Arundel Street, Strand. She told
me so herself--we're rather intimate, you know,--though of course she
refused to mention the object of his visit. Honor among thieves!" and he
smiled half mockingly.

Lady Winsleigh seemed absorbed, and walked on like one in a dream. Just
then, a bend in the avenue brought them in full view of the broad
terrace in front of the Manor, where Thelma's graceful figure, in a
close-fitting robe of white silk crepe, was outlined clearly against the
dazzling blue of the sky. Several people were grouped near her,--she
seemed to be in animated conversation with some of them, and her face
was radiant with smiles. Lady Winsleigh looked at her,--then said
suddenly in a low voice--

"It will break her heart!"

Sir Francis assumed an air of polite surprise. "Pardon! Whose heart?"

She pointed slightly to the white figure on the terrace.

"Hers! Surely you must know that?"

He smiled. "Well--isn't that precisely what you desire Clara? Though,
for my part, I don't believe in the brittleness of hearts--they seem to
me to be made of exceptionally tough material. However, if the fair
Thelma's heart cracks ever so widely, I think I can undertake to mend
it!"

Clara shrugged her shoulders. "You!" she exclaimed contemptuously.

He stroked his moustache with feline care and nicety.

"Yes--I! If not, I've studied women all my life for nothing!"

She broke into a low peal of mocking laughter--turned, and was about to
leave him, when he detained her by a slight touch on her arm.

"Stop a bit!" he said in an impressive _sotto-voce_. "A bargain's a
bargain all the world over. If I undertake to keep you cognizant of
Bruce-Errington's little goings-on in London,--information which, I dare
say, you can turn to good account,--you must do something for me. I ask
very little. Speak of me to Lady Errington--make her think well of
me,--flatter me as much as you used to do when we fancied ourselves
terrifically in love with each other--(a good joke, wasn't it!)--and,
above all, make her _trust_ me! Do you understand?"

"As Red Riding-Hood trusted the Wolf and was eaten up for her
innocence," observed Lady Winsleigh. "Very well! I'll do my best. As I
said before, you want a character. I'm sure I hope you'll obtain the
situation you so much desire! I can state that you made yourself fairly
useful in your last place, and that you left because your wages were not
high enough!"

And with another sarcastic laugh, she moved forward towards the terrace
where Thelma stood. Sir Francis followed at some little distance with no
very pleasant expression on his features. A stealthy step approaching
him front behind made him start nervously--it was Louise Renaud, who,
carrying a silver tray on which soda-water bottles and glasses made an
agreeable clinking, tripped demurely past him without raising her eyes.
She came directly out of the rose-garden,--and, as she overtook her
mistress on the lawn, that lady seemed surprised, and asked--

"Where have you been, Louise?"

"Miladi was willing that I should assist in the attendance to-day,"
replied Louise discreetly. "I have waited upon Milord Winsleigh, and
other gentlemen in the summer-house at the end of the rose-garden."

And with one furtive glance of her black, bead-like eyes at Lady
Winsleigh's face, she made a respectful sort of half-curtsy and went her
way.

Later on in the afternoon, when it was nearing sunset, and all other
amusements had given way to the delight of dancing on the springy green
turf to the swinging music of the band,--Briggs, released for a time
from the duties of assisting the waiters at the splendid
refreshment-table (duties which were pleasantly lightened by the
drinking of a bottle of champagne which he was careful to reserve for
his own consumption), sauntered leisurely through the winding alleys and
fragrant shrubberies which led to the most unromantic portion of the
Manor grounds,--namely, the vegetable-garden. Here none of the
butterflies of fashion found their way,--the suggestions offered by
growing cabbages, turnips, beans, and plump, yellow-skinned marrows were
too prosaic for society bantams who require refined surroundings in
which to crow their assertive platitudes. Yet it was a peaceful
nook--and there were household odors of mint and thyme and sweet
marjoram, which were pleasant to the soul of Briggs, and reminded him of
roast goose on Christmas Day, with all its attendant succulent
delicacies. He paced the path slowly,--the light of the sinking sun
blazing gloriously on his plush breeches, silver cordons and
tassels,--for he was in full-dress livery in honor of the fete, and
looked exceedingly imposing. Now and then he glanced down at his calves
with mild approval,--his silk stockings fitted them well, and they had a
very neat and shapely appearance.

"I've developed," he murmured to himself. "There ain't a doubt about
it! One week of Country air, and I'm a different man;--the effecks of
overwork 'ave disappeared. Flopsie won't know these legs of mine when I
get back,--they've improved surprisingly." He stopped to survey a bed of
carrots. "Plenty of Cressy there," he mused. "Cressy's a noble soup, and
Flopsie makes it well,--a man might do wuss than marry Flopsie. She's a
widder, and a _leetle_ old--just a leetle old for me--but--" Here he
sniffed delicately at a sprig of thyme he had gathered, and smiled
consciously. Presently he perceived a small, plump, pretty figure
approaching him, no other than Britta, looking particularly charming in
a very smart cap, adorned with pink-ribbon bows, and a very elaborately
frilled muslin apron. Briggs at once assumed his most elegant and
conquering air, straightened himself to his full height and kissed his
hand to her with much condescension. She laughed as she came up to him,
and the dimples in her round cheeks appeared in full force.

"Well, Mr. Briggs," she said, "are you enjoying yourself?"

Briggs smiled down upon her benevolently. "I am!" he responded
graciously. "I find the hair refreshing. And you, Miss Britta?"

"Oh, I'm very comfortable, thank you!" responded Britta demurely, edging
a little away from his arm, which showed an unmistakable tendency to
encircle her waist,--then glancing at a basket she held full of grapes,
just cut from the hot house, she continued, "These are for the
supper-table. I must be quick, and take them to Mrs. Parton."

"Must you?" and Briggs asked this question with quite an unnecessary
amount of tenderness, then resuming his dignity, he observed, "Mrs.
Parton is a very worthy woman--an excellent 'ousekeeper. But she'll no
doubt excuse you for lingering a little, Miss Britta--especially in _my_
company."

Britta laughed again, showing her pretty little white teeth to the best
advantage. "Do you think she will?" she said merrily. "Then I'll stop a
minute, and if she scolds me I'll put the blame on you!"

Briggs played with his silver tassels and, leaning gracefully against a
plum-tree, surveyed her with a critical eye.

"I was not able," he observed, "to see much of you in town. Our people
were always a' visitin' each other, and yet our meetings were, as the
poet says, 'few and far between.'"

Britta nodded indifferently, and perceiving a particularly ripe
gooseberry on one of the bushes close to her, gathered it quickly and
popped it between her rosy lips. Seeing another equally ripe, she
offered it to Briggs, who accepted it and ate it slowly, though he had a
misgiving that by so doing he was seriously compromising his dignity. He
resumed his conversation.

"Since I've been down 'ere, I've 'ad more opportunity to observe you. I
'ope you will allow me to say I think very highly of you." He waved his
hand with the elegance of a Sir Charles Grandison. "Very 'ighly indeed!
Your youth is most becoming to you! If you only 'ad a little more
_chick_, there'd be nothing left to desire!"

"A little more--_what_?" asked Britta, opening her blue eyes very wide
in puzzled amusement.

"_Chick_!" replied Briggs, with persistent persuasiveness. "_Chick_,
Miss Britta, is a French word much used by the aristocracy. Coming from
Norway, an 'avin' perhaps a very limited experience, you mayn't 'ave
'erd it--but eddicated people 'ere find it very convenient and
expressive. _Chick_ means style,--_the_ thing, _the_ go, _the_ fashion.
For example, everything your lady wears is _chick_!"

"Really!" said Britta, with a wandering and innocent air. "How funny! It
doesn't sound like French, at all, Mr. Briggs,--it's more like English."

"Perhaps the Paris accent isn't familiar to you yet," remarked Briggs
majestically. "Your stay in the gay metropolis was probably short. Now,
I 'ave been there many times--ah, Paris, Paris!" he paused in a sort of
ecstacy, then, with a side leer, continued--"You'd 'ardly believe 'ow
wicked I am in Paris, Miss Britta! I am, indeed! It is something in the
hair of the Bollyvards, I suppose! And the caffy life excites my
nerves."

"Then you shouldn't go there," said Britta gravely, though her eyes
twinkled with repressed fun. "It can't be good for you. And, oh! I'm so
sorry, Mr. Briggs, to think that _you_ are ever wicked!" And she
laughed.

"It's not for long," explained Briggs, with a comically satisfied, yet
penitent, look. "It is only a sort of breaking out,--a fit of 'igh
spirits. Hall men are so at times! It's _chick_ to run a little wild in
Paris. But Miss Britta, if _you_ were with me I should never run wild!"
Here his arm made another attempt to get round her waist--and again she
skillfully, and with some show of anger, avoided it.

"Ah, you're very 'ard upon me," he then observed, "Very, very, 'ard! But
I won't complain, my--my dear gal--one day you'll know me better!" He
stopped and looked at her very intently. "Miss Britta," he said
abruptly, "you've a great affection for your lady, 'aven't you?"

Instantly Britta's face flushed, and she was all attention.

"Yes, indeed!" she answered quickly. "Why do you ask, Mr. Briggs?"

Briggs rubbed his nose perplexedly. "It is not easy to explain," he
said. "To run down my own employers wouldn't be in my line. But I've an
idea that Clara--by which name I allude to my Lord Winsleigh's lady,--is
up to mischief. She 'ates _your_ lady, Miss Britta--'ates 'er like
poison!"

"Hates her!" cried Britta in astonishment. "Oh, you must be mistaken,
Mr. Briggs! She is as fond of her as she can be--almost like a sister to
her!"

"Clara's a fine actress," murmured Briggs, more to himself than to his
companion. "She'd beat Violet Vere on 'er own ground." Raising his voice
a little, he turned gallantly to Britta and relieved her of the basket
she held.

"Hallow me!" he said. "We'll walk to the 'ouse together. On the way I'll
explain--and you'll judge for yourself. The words of the immortal bard,
whose county we are in, occur to me as _aprerpo_,--'There are more
things in 'evin and 'erth, 'Oratio,--than even the most devoted domestic
can sometimes be aweer of.'"

And gently sauntering by Britta's side, Briggs began to converse in low
and confidential tones,--she listened with strained and eager
attention,--and she was soon receiving information that startled her and
set her on the alert.

Talk of private detectives and secret service! Do private detectives
ever discover so much as the servants of a man's own household?--servants
who are aware of the smallest trifles,--who know the name and position
of every visitor that comes and goes,--who easily learn to recognize the
handwriting on every letter that arrives--who laugh and talk in their
kitchens over things that their credulous masters and mistresses imagine
are unknown to all the world save themselves,--who will judge the morals
of a Duke, and tear the reputation of a Duchess to shreds, for the
least, the most trifling error of conduct! If you can stand well with
your servants, you can stand well with the whole world--if not--carry
yourself as haughtily as you may--your pride will not last long, depend
upon it!

Meanwhile, as Briggs and Britta strolled in the side paths of the
shrubbery, the gay guests of the Manor were dancing on the lawn. Thelma
did not dance,--she reclined in a low basket-chair, fanning herself.
George Lorimer lay stretched in lazy length at her feet, and near her
stood her husband, together with Beau Lovelace and Lord Winsleigh. At a
little distance, under the shadow of a noble beech, sat Mrs.
Rush-Marvelle and Mrs. Van Clupp in earnest conversation. It was to Mrs.
Marvelle that the Van Clupps owed their invitation for this one day down
to Errington Manor,--for Thelma herself was not partial to them. But she
did not like to refuse Mrs. Marvelle's earnest entreaty that they should
be asked,--and that good-natured, scheming lady having gained her point,
straightway said to Marcia Van Clupp somewhat severely--

"Now, Marcia, this is your last chance. If you don't hook Masherville at
the Carringten fete, you'll lose him! You mark my words!"

Marcia had dutifully promised to do her best, and she was not having
what she herself called "a good hard time of it." Lord Algy was in one
of his most provokingly vacillating moods--moreover, he had a headache,
and felt bilious. Therefore he would not dance--he would not play
tennis--he did not understand archery--he was disinclined to sit in
romantic shrubberies or summer-houses, as he had a nervous dread of
spiders--so he rambled aimlessly about the grounds with his hands in his
pockets, and perforce Marcia was compelled to ramble too. Once she tried
what effect an opposite flirtation would have on his mind, so she
coquetted desperately with a young country squire, whose breed of pigs
was considered the finest in England--but Masherville did not seem to
mind it in the least. Nay, he looked rather relieved than otherwise, and
Marcia, seeing this, grew more resolute than ever.

"I guess I'll pay him out for this!" she thought as she watched him
feebly drinking soda-water for his headache. "He's a man that wants
ruling, and ruled he shall be!"

And Mrs. Rush-Marvelle and Mrs. Van Clupp observed her manoeuvres with
maternal interest, while the cunning-faced, white-headed Van Clupp
conversed condescendingly with Mr. Rush-Marvelle, as being a nonentity
of a man whom he could safely patronize.

As the glory of the sunset paled, and the delicate, warm hues of the
summer twilight softened the landscape, the merriment of the brilliant
assembly seemed to increase. As soon as it was dark, the grounds were to
be illuminated by electricity, and dancing was to be continued
indoors--the fine old picture-gallery being the place chosen for the
purpose. Nothing that could add to the utmost entertainment of the
guests had been forgotten, and Thelma, the fair mistress of these
pleasant revels, noting with quiet eyes the evident enjoyment of all
present, felt very happy and tranquil. She had exerted herself a good
deal, and was now a little tired. Her eyes had a dreamy, far-off look,
and she found her thoughts wandering, now and then, away to the
Altenfjord--she almost fancied she could hear the sigh of the pines and
the dash of the waves mingling in unison as they used to do when she sat
at the old farm-house window and span, little dreaming then how her life
would change--how all those familiar things would be swept away as
though they had never been. She roused herself from this momentary
reverie, and glancing down at the recumbent gentleman at her feet,
touched his shoulder lightly with the edge of her fan.

"Why do you not dance, you very lazy Mr. Lorimer?" she asked, with a
smile.

He turned up his fair, half-boyish face to hers and laughed.

"Dance! I! Good gracious! Such an exertion would kill me, Lady
Errington--don't you know that? I am of a Sultan-like disposition--I
shouldn't mind having slaves to dance for me if they did it well--but I
should look on from the throne whereon I sat cross-legged,--and smoke my
pipe in peace."

"Always the same!" she said lightly. "Are you never serious?"

His eyes darkened suddenly. "Sometimes. Awfully so! And in that
condition I become a burden to myself and my friends."

"Never be serious!" interposed Beau Lovelace, "it really isn't worth
while! Cultivate the humor of a Socrates, and reduce everything by means
of close argument to its smallest standpoint, and the world, life, and
time are no more than a pinch of snuff for some great Titantic god to
please his giant nose withal!"

"Your fame isn't worth much then, Beau, if we're to go by that line of
argument," remarked Errington, with a laugh.

"Fame! By Jove! You don't suppose I'm such an arrant donkey as to set
any store by fame!" cried Lovelace, a broad smile lighting up his face
and eyes. "Why, because a few people read my books and are amused
thereby,--and because the Press pats me graciously on the back, and says
metaphorically, 'Well done, little 'un!' or words to that effect, am I
to go crowing about the world as if I were the only literary
chanticleer? My dear friend, have you read 'Esdras'? You will find there
that a certain king of Persia wrote to one 'Rathumus, a story-writer.'
No doubt he was famous in his day, but,--to travesty _hamlet_, 'where be
his stories now?' Learn, from the deep oblivion into which poor
Rathumus's literary efforts have fallen, the utter mockery and
uselessness of so-called _fame_!"

"But there must be a certain pleasure in it while you're alive to enjoy
it," said Lord Winsleigh. "Surely you derive some little satisfaction
from your celebrity, Mr. Lovelace?"

Beau broke into a laugh, mellow, musical, and hearty.

"A satisfaction shared with murderers, thieves, divorced women,
dynamiters, and other notorious people in general," he said. "They're
all talked about--so am I. They all get written about--so do I. My
biography is always being carefully compiled by newspaper authorities,
to the delight of the reading public. Only the other day I learned for
the first time that my father was a greengrocer, who went in for selling
coals by the half-hundred and thereby made his fortune--my mother was an
unsuccessful oyster-woman who failed ignominiously at Margate--moreover,
I've a great many brothers and sisters of tender age whom I absolutely
refuse to assist. I've got a wife somewhere, whom my literary success
causes me to despise--and I have deserted children. I'm charmed with,
the accuracy of the newspapers--and I wouldn't contradict them for the
world,--I find my biographies so original! They are the result of that
celebrity which Winsleigh thinks enjoyable."

"But assertions of that kind are libels," said Errington, "You could
prosecute."

"Too much trouble!" declared Beau. "Besides, five journals have
disclosed the name of the town where I was born, and as they all
contradict each other, and none of them are right, any contradiction on
_my_ part would be superfluous!"

They laughed,--and at that moment Lady Winsleigh joined them.

"Are you not catching cold, Thelma?" she inquired sweetly. "Sir Philip,
you ought to make her put on something warm,--I find the air growing
chilly."

At that moment the ever-ready Sir Francis Lennox approached with a light
woolen wrap he had found in the hall.

"Permit me!" he said gently, at the same time adroitly throwing it over
Thelma's shoulders.

She colored a little,--she did not care for his attention, but she could
not very well ignore it without seeming to be discourteous. So she
murmured, "Thank you!" and, rising from her chair, addressed Lady
Winsleigh.

"If you feel cold, Clara, you will like some tea," she said. "Shall we
go indoors, where it is ready?"

Lady Winsleigh assented with some eagerness,--and the two, beautiful
women--the one dark, the other fair--walked side by side across the lawn
into the house, their arms round each other's waists as they went.

"Two queens--and yet not rivals?" half queried Lovelace, as he watched
them disappearing.

"Their thrones are secure!" returned Sir Philip gaily.

The others were silent. Lord Winsleigh's thoughts, whatever they were,
deepened the lines of gravity on his face; and George Lorimer, as he got
up from his couch on the grass, caught a fleeting expression in the
brown eyes of Sir Francis Lennox that struck him with a sense of
unpleasantness. But he quickly dismissed the impression from his mind,
and went to have a quiet smoke in the shrubbery.




CHAPTER XXIII.

"La rose du jardin, comme tu sais, dure peu, et la saison des roses est
bien vite ecoulee!"--SAADI.


Thelma took her friend Lady Winsleigh to her own boudoir, a room which
had been the particular pride of Sir Philip's mother. The walls were
decorated with panels of blue silk in which were woven flowers of gold
and silver thread,--and the furniture, bought from an old palace in
Milan, was of elaborately carved wood inlaid with ivory and silver. Here
a _tete-a-tete_ tea was served for the two ladies, both of whom were
somewhat fatigued by the pleasures of the day. Lady Winsleigh declared
she must have some rest, or she would be quite unequal to the gaieties
of the approaching evening, and Thelma herself was not sorry to escape
for a little from her duties as hostess,--so the two remained together
for some time in earnest conversations and Lady Winsleigh then and there
confided to Thelma what she had heard reported concerning Sir Philip's
intimate acquaintance with the burlesque actress, Violet Vere. And they
were both so long absent that, after a while, Errington began to miss
his wife, and, growing impatient, went in search of her. He entered the
boudoir, and, to his surprise, found Lady Winsleigh there quite alone.

"Where is Thelma?" he demanded.

"She seems not very well--a slight headache or something of that
sort--and has gone to lie down," replied Lady Winsleigh, with a faint
trace of embarrassment in her manner. "I think the heat has been too
much for her."

"I'll go and see after her,"--and he turned promptly to leave the room.

"Sir Philip!" called Lady Winsleigh. He paused and looked back.

"Stay one moment," continued her ladyship softly. "I have been for a
long time so very anxious to say something to you in private. Please let
me speak now. You--you know"--here she cast down her lustrous
eyes--"before you went to Norway I--I was very foolish--"

"Pray do not recall it," he said with kindly gravity "_I_ have forgotten
it."

"That is so good of you!" and a flush of color warmed her delicate
cheeks. "For if you have forgotten, you have also forgiven?"

"Entirely!" answered Errington,--and touched by her plaintive,
self-reproachful manner and trembling voice, he went up to her and took
her hands in his own. "Don't think of the past, Clara! Perhaps I also
was to blame a little--I'm quite willing to think I was. Flirtation's a
dangerous amusement at best." He paused as he saw two bright tears on
her long, silky lashes, and in his heart felt a sort of remorse that he
had ever permitted himself to think badly of her. "We are the best of
friends now, Clara," he continued cheerfully, "and I hope we may always
remain so. You can't imagine how glad I am that you love my Thelma!"

"Who would not love her!" sighed Lady Winsleigh gently, as Sir Philip
released her hands from his warm clasp,--then raising her tearful eyes
to his she added wistfully, "You must take great care of her,
Philip--she is so sensitive,--I always fancy an unkind word would kill
her."

"She'll never hear one from me!" he returned, with so tender and earnest
a look on his face, that Lady Winsleigh's heart ached for jealousy. "I
must really go and see how she is. She's been exerting herself too much
to-day. Excuse me!" and with a courteous smile and bow he left the room
with a hurried and eager step.

Alone, Lady Winsleigh smiled bitterly. "Men are all alike!" she said
half aloud. "Who would think he was such a hypocrite? Fancy his dividing
his affection between two such contrasts as Thelma and Violet Vere!
However, there's no accounting for tastes. As for man's fidelity, I
wouldn't give a straw for it--and for his morality--!" She finished the
sentence with a scornful laugh, and left the boudoir to return to the
rest of the company.

Errington, meanwhile, knocked softly at the door of his wife's
bedroom--and receiving no answer, turned the handle noiselessly and went
in. Thelma lay on the bed, dressed as she was, her cheek resting on her
hand, and her face partially hidden. Her husband approached on tiptoe,
and lightly kissed her forehead. She did not stir,--she appeared to
sleep profoundly.

"Poor girl!" he thought, "she's tired out, and no wonder, with all the
bustle and racket of these people! A good thing if she can rest a little
before the evening closes in."

And he stole quietly out of the room, and meeting Britta on the stairs
told her on no account to let her mistress be disturbed till it was time
for the illumination of the grounds. Britta promised,--Britta's eyes
were red--one would almost have fancied she had been crying. But Thelma
was not asleep--she had felt her husband's kiss,--her heart had beat as
quickly as the wing of a caged wild bird at his warm touch,--and now he
had gone she turned and pressed her lips passionately on the pillow
where his hand had leaned. Then she rose languidly from the bed, and,
walking slowly to the door, locked it against all comers. Presently she
began to pace the room up and down,--up and down,--her face was very
white and weary, and every now and then a shuddering sigh broke from her
lips.

"Can I believe it? Oh no!--I cannot--I will not!" she murmured. "There
must be some mistake--Clara has heard wrongly." She sighed again.
"Yet--if it is so,--he is not to blame--it is I--I who have failed to
please him. Where--how have I failed?"

A pained, puzzled look filled her grave blue eyes, and she stopped in
her walk to and fro.

"It cannot be true!" she said half aloud,--"it is altogether unlike him.
Though Clara says--and she has known him so long!--Clara says he loved
_her_ once--long before he saw me--my poor Philip!--he must have
suffered by that love!--perhaps that is why he thought life so wearisome
when he first came to the Altenfjord--ah! the Altenfjord!"

A choking sob rose in her throat--but she repressed it. "I must try not
to weary him," she continued softly--"I must have done so in some way,
or he would not be tired. But as for what I have heard,--it is not for
me to ask him questions. I would not have him think that I mistrust him.
No--there is some fault in me--something he does not like, or he would
never go to--" She broke off and stretched out her hands with a sort of
wild appeal. "Oh, Philip! my darling!" she exclaimed in a sobbing
whisper. "I always knew I was not worthy of you--but I thought,--I hoped
my love would make amends for all my shortcomings!"

Tears rushed into her eyes, and she turned to a little arched recess,
shaded by velvet curtains--her oratory--where stood an exquisite white
marble statuette of the Virgin and Child. There she knelt for some
minutes, her face hidden in her hands, and when she rose she was quite
calm, though very pale. She freshened her face with cold water,
rearranged her disordered hair,--and then went downstairs, thereby
running into the arms of her husband who was coming up again to look, as
he said, at his "Sleeping Beauty."

"And here she is!" he exclaimed joyously. "Have you rested enough, my
pet?"

"Indeed, yes!" she answered gently. "I am ashamed so be so lazy. Have
you wanted me, Philip?"

"I always want you," he declared. "I am never happy without you."

She smiled and sighed. "You say that to please me," she said half
wistfully.

"I say it because it is true!" he asserted proudly, putting his arm
round her waist and escorting her in this manner down the great
staircase. "And you know it, you sweet witch! You're just in time to see
the lighting up of the grounds. There'll be a good view from the
picture-gallery--lots of the people have gone in there--you'd better
come too, for it's chilly outside."

She followed him obediently, and her reappearance among her guests was
hailed with enthusiasm,--Lady Winsleigh being particular effusive,
almost too much so.

"Your headache has quite gone, dearest, hasn't it?" she inquired
sweetly.

Thelma eyed her gravely. "I did not suffer from the headache, Clara,"
she said. "I was a little tired, but I am quite rested now."

Lady Winsleigh bit her lips rather vexedly, but said no more, and at
that moment exclamations of delight broke from all assembled at the
brilliant scene that suddenly flashed upon their eyes. Electricity, that
radiant sprite whose magic wand has lately been bent to the service of
man, had in less than a minute played such dazzling pranks in the
gardens that they resembled the fabled treasure-houses discovered by
Aladdin. Every tree glittered with sparkling clusters of red, blue, and
green light--every flower-bed was bordered with lines and circles of
harmless flame, and the fountains tossed up tall columns of amber rose,
and amethyst spray against the soft blue darkness of the sky, in which a
lustrous golden moon had just risen. The brilliancy of the illuminations
showed up several dark figures strolling in couples about the
grounds--romantic persons evidently, who were not to be persuaded to
come indoors, even for the music of the band, which just then burst
forth invitingly through the open windows of the picture-gallery.

Two of these pensive wanderers were Marcia Van Clupp and Lord Algernon
Masherville,--and Lord Algy was in a curiously sentimental frame of
mind, and weak withal, "_comme une petite queue d'agneau afflige_" He had
taken a good deal of soda and brandy for his bilious headache, and,
physically, he was much better,--but mentally he was not quite his
ordinary self. By this it must not be understood that he was at all
unsteadied by the potency of his medicinal tipple--he was simply in a
bland humor--that peculiar sort of humor which finds strange and mystic
beauty in everything, and contemplates the meanest trifles with emotions
of large benevolence. He was conversational too, and inclined to quote
poetry--this sort of susceptibleness often affects gentlemen after they
have had an excellent dinner flavored with the finest Burgundy. Lord
Algy was as mild, as tame, and as flabby as a sleeping jelly-fish,--and
in this inoffensive, almost tender mood of his, Marcia pounced upon him.
She looked ravishingly pretty in the moonlight, with a white wrap thrown
carelessly round her head and shoulders, and her bold, bird-like eyes
sparkling with excitement (for who that knows the pleasure of sports, is
not excited when the fox is nearly run to earth?), and she stood with
him beside one of the smaller illuminated fountains, raising her small
white hand every now and then to catch some of the rainbow drops, and
then with a laugh she would shake them off her little pearly nails into
the air again. Poor Masherville could not help gazing at her with a
lack-lustre admiration in his pale eyes,--and Marcia, calculating every
move in her own shrewd mind, saw it. She turned her head away with a
petulant yet coquettish movement.

"My patience!" she exclaimed; "yew _kin_ stare! Yew'll know me again
when yew see me,--say?"

"I should know you anywhere," declared Masherville, nervously fumbling
with the string of his eye-glass. "It's impossible to forget _your_
face, Miss Marcia!"

She was silent,--and kept that face turned from him so long that the
gentle little lord was surprised. He approached her more closely and
took her hand--the hand that had played with the drops in the fountain.
It was such an astonishingly small hand.--so very fragile-looking and
tiny, that he was almost for putting up his eye-glass to survey it, as
if it were a separate object in a museum. But the faintest pressure of
the delicate fingers he held startled him, and sent the most curious
thrill through his body--and when he spoke he was in such a flutter that
he scarcely knew what he was saying.

"Miss--Miss Marcia!" he stammered, "have--have I said--anything to--to
offend you?"

Very slowly, and with seeming reluctance, she turned her head towards
him, and--oh, thou mischievous Puck, that sometimes takest upon thee the
semblance of Eros, what skill is thine! . . . there were tears in her
eyes--real tears--bright, large tears that welled up and fell through
her long lashes in the most beautiful, touching, and becoming manner!
"And," thought Marcia to herself, "if I don't fetch him now, I never
will!" Lord Algy was quite frightened--his poor brain grew more and more
bewildered.

"Why--Miss Marcia! I say! Look here!" he mumbled in his extremity,
squeezing her little hand tighter and tighter. "What--what _have_ I
done! Good gracious! You--you really mustn't cry, you know--I say--look
here! Marcia! I wouldn't vex you for the world!"

"Yew bet yew wouldn't!" said Marcia, with slow and nasal plaintiveness.
"I like that! That's the way yew English talk. But yew kin hang round a
girl a whole season and make all her folks think badly of
her--and--and--break her heart--yes--that's so!" Here she dried her eyes
with a filmy lace handkerchief. "But don't _yew_ mind me! I kin bear it.
I kin worry through!" And she drew herself up with dignified
resignation--while Lord Algy stared wildly at her, his feeble mind in a
whirl. Presently she smiled most seductively, and looked up with her
dark, tear-wet eyes to the moon.

"I guess it's a good night for lovers!" she said, sinking her ordinary
tone to an almost sweet cadence. "But we're not of that sort, are we?"

The die was cast! She looked so charming--so irresistible, that
Masherville lost all hold over his wits. Scarcely knowing what he did,
he put his arm round her waist. Oh, what a warm, yielding waist! He drew
her close to his breast, at the risk of breaking his most valuable
eyeglass,--and felt his poor weak soul in a quiver of excitement at this
novel and delicious sensation.

"We are--we are of that sort!" he declared courageously. "Why should you
doubt it, Marcia?"

"I believe _yew_ if _yew_ say so," responded Marcia. "But I guess yew're
only fooling me!"

"Fooling you!" Lord Algy was so surprised that he released her quite
suddenly from his embrace--so suddenly that she was a little frightened.
Was she to lose him, after all?

"Marcia," he continued mildly, yet with a certain manliness that did not
ill become him. "I--I hope I am too much of--of a gentleman to--to
'_fool_' any woman, least of all you, after I have, as you say,
compromised you in society by my--my attentions. I--I have very little
to offer you--but such as it is, is yours. In--in short, Marcia, I--I
will try to make you happy if you can--can care for me enough
to--to--marry me!"

Eureka! The game was won! A vision of Masherville Park, Yorkshire, that
"well-timbered and highly desirable residence," as the auctioneers would
describe it, flitted before Marcia's eyes,--and, filled with triumph,
she went straight into her lordly wooer's arms, and kissed him with
thorough transatlantic frankness. She was really grateful to him. Ever
since she had come to England, she had plotted and schemed to become "my
lady" with all the vigor of a purely republican soul,--and now at last,
after hard fighting, she had won the prize for which her soul had
yearned. She would in future belong to the English aristocracy--that
aristocracy which her relatives in New York pretended to despise, yet
openly flattered,--and with her arms round the trapped Masherville's
neck, she foresaw the delight she would have in being toadied by them as
far as toadyism could be made to go.

She is by no means presented to the reader as a favorable type of her
nation--for, of course, every one knows there are plenty of sweet,
unselfish, guileless American girls, who are absolutely incapable of
such unblushing marriage-scheming as hers,--but what else could be
expected from Marcia? Her grandfather, the navvy, had but recently
become endowed with Pilgrim-Father Ancestry,--and her maternal uncle was
a boastful pork-dealer in Cincinnati. It was her bounden duty to ennoble
the family somehow,--surely, if any one had a right to be ambitious, she
was that one! And wild proud dreams of her future passed through her
brain, little Lord Algy quivered meekly under her kiss, and returned it
with all the enthusiasm of which he was capable. One or two faint
misgivings troubled him as to whether he had not been just a little too
hasty in making a serious _bona fide_ offer of marriage to the young
lady by whose Pilgrim progenitors he was not deceived. He knew well
enough what her antecedents were, and a faint shudder crossed him as he
thought of the pork-dealing uncle, who would, by marriage, become _his_
uncle also. He had long been proud of the fact that the house of
Masherville had never, through the course of centuries, been associated,
even in the remotest manner with trade--and now!--

"Yet, after all," he mused, "the Marquis of Londonderry openly
advertises himself as a coal-merchant, and the brothers-in-law of the
Princess Louise are in the wine trade and stock-broking business,--and
all the old knightly blood of England is mingling itself by choice with
that of the lowest commoners--what's the use of my remaining aloof, and
refusing to go with the spirit of the age? Besides, Marcia loves me, and
it's pleasant to be loved!"

Poor Lord Algy. He certainly thought there could be no question about
Marcia's affection for him. He little dreamed that it was to his title
and position she had become so deeply attached,--he could not guess that
after he had married her there would be no more Lord Masherville worth
mentioning--that that individual, once independent, would be entirely
swallowed up and lost in the dashing personality of Lady Masherville,
who would rule her husband as with a rod of iron.

He was happily ignorant of his future, and he walked in the gardens for
some time with his arm round Marcia's waist, in a very placid and
romantic frame of mind. By-and-by he escorted her into the house, where
the dancing was in full swing--and she, with a sweet smile, bidding him
wait for her in the refreshment-room, sought for and found her mother,
who as usual, was seated in a quiet corner with Mrs. Rush-Marvelle,
talking scandal.

"Well?" exclaimed these two ladies, simultaneously and breathlessly.

Marcia's eyes twinkled. "Guess he came in as gently as a lamb!" she
said.

They understood her. Mrs. Rush-Marvelle rose from her chair in her usual
stately and expensive manner.

"I congratulate you, my dear!" kissing Marcia affectionately on both
cheeks. "Bruce Errington would have been a better match,--but, under the
circumstances, Masherville is really about the best thing you could do.
You'll find him quite easy to manage!" This with an air as though she
were recommending a quiet pony.

"That's so!" said Marcia carelessly, "I guess we'll pull together
somehow. Mar-ma," to her mother--"yew kin turn on the news to all the
folks yew meet--the more talk the better! I'm not partial to secrets!"
And with a laugh, she turned away.

Then Mrs. Van Clupp laid her plump, diamond-ringed hand on that of her
dear friend, Mrs. Marvelle.

"You have managed the whole thing beautifully," she said, with a
grateful heave of her ample bosom. "Such a clever creature as you are!"
She dropped her voice to a mysterious whisper. "You shall have that
cheque to-morrow, my love!"

Mrs. Rush-Marvelle pressed her fingers cordially.

"Don't hurry yourself about it!"--she returned in the same confidential
tone. "I dare say you'll want me to arrange the wedding and the 'crush'
afterwards. I can wait till then."

"No, no! that's a separate affair," declared Mrs. Van Clupp. "I must
insist on your taking the promised two hundred. You've been really so
_very_ energetic!"

"Well, I _have_ worked rather hard," said Mrs. Marvelle, with modest
self-consciousness. "You see nowadays it's so difficult to secure
suitable husbands for the girls who ought to have them. Men _are_ such
slippery creatures!"

She sighed--and Mrs. Van Clupp echoed the sigh,--and then these two
ladies,--the nature of whose intimacy may now be understood by the
discriminating reader,--went together to search out those of their
friends and acquaintances who were among the guests that night, and to
announce to them (in the strictest confidence, of course!) the
delightful news of "dear Marcia's engagement." Thelma heard of it, and
went at once to proffer her congratulations to Marcia in person.

"I hope you will be very, very happy!" she said simply, yet with such
grave earnestness in her look and voice that the "Yankee gel" was
touched to a certain softness and seriousness not at all usual with her,
and became so winning and gentle to Lord Algy that he felt in the
seventh heaven of delight with his new position as affianced lover to so
charming a creature.

Meanwhile George Lorimer and Pierre Duprez were chatting together in the
library. It was very quiet there,--the goodly rows of books, the busts
of poets and philosophers,--the large, placid features of the Pallas
Athene crowning an antique pedestal,--the golden pipes of the organ
gleaming through the shadows,--all these gave a solemn, almost sacred
aspect to the room. The noise of the dancing and festivity in the
distant picture-gallery did not penetrate here, and Lorimer sat at the
organ, drawing out a few plaintive strains from its keys as he talked.

"It's your fancy, Pierre," he said slowly. "Thelma may be a little tired
to-day, perhaps--but I know she's perfectly happy."

"I think not so," returned Duprez. "She has not the brightness--the
angel look--_les yeux d'enfant_,--that we beheld in her at that far
Norwegian Fjord. Britta is anxious for her."

Lorimer looked up, and smiled a little.

"Britta? It's always Britta with you, _mon cher_! One would think--" he
paused and laughed.

"Think what you please!" exclaimed Duprez, with a defiant snap of his
fingers. "I would not give that little person for all the _grandes
dames_ here to-day! She is charming--and she is _true_!--_Ma foi!_ to be
true to any one is a virtue in this age! I tell you, my good boy, there
is something sorrowful--heavy--on _la belle_ Thelma's mind--and Britta,
who sees her always, feels it--but she cannot speak. One thing I will
tell you--it is a pity she is so fond of Miladi Winsleigh."

"Why?" asked Lorimer, with some eagerness.

"Because--" he stopped abruptly as a white figure suddenly appeared at
the doorway, and a musical voice addressed them--

"Why, what are you both doing here, away from everybody?" and Thelma
smiled as she approached. "You are hermits, or you are lazy! People are
going in to supper. Will you not come also?"

"_Ma foi!_" exclaimed Duprez; "I had forgotten! I have promised your
most charming mother, _cher_ Lorimer, to take her in to this same
supper. I must fly upon the wings of chivalry!"

And with a laugh, he hurried off, leaving Thelma and Lorimer alone
together. She sank rather wearily into a chair near the organ, and
looked at him.

"Play me something!" she said softly.

A strange thrill quivered through him as he met her eyes--the sweet,
deep, earnest eyes of the woman he loved. For it was no use attempting
to disguise it from himself--he loved her passionately, wildly,
hopelessly; as he had loved her from the first.

Obedient to her wish, his fingers wandered over the organ-keys in a
strain of solemn, weird, yet tender melancholy--the grand, rich notes
pealed forth sobbingly--and she listened, her hands clasped idly in her
lap. Presently he changed the theme to one of more heart-appealing
passion--and a strange wild minor air, like the rushing of the wind
across the mountains, began to make itself heard through the subdued
rippling murmur of his improvised accompaniment. To his surprise and
fear, she started up, pressing her hands against her ears.

"Not that--not that song, my friend!" she cried, almost imploringly.
"Oh, it will break my heart! Oh, the Altenfjord!" And she gave way to a
passion of weeping.

"Thelma! Thelma!" and poor Lorimer, rising from the organ, stood gazing
at her in piteous dismay,--every nerve in his body wrung to anguish by
the sound of her sobbing. A mad longing seized him to catch her in his
arms,--to gather her and her sorrows, whatever they were, to his
heart!--and he had much ado to restrain himself.

"Thelma," he presently said, in a gentle voice that trembled just a
little, "Thelma, what is troubling you? You call me your brother--give
me a brother's right to your confidence." He bent over her and took her
hand. "I--I can't bear to see you cry like this! Tell me--what's the
matter? Let me fetch Philip."

She looked up with wild wet eyes and quivering lips.

"Oh no--no!" she murmured, in a tone of entreaty and alarm. "Do
not,--Philip must not know--I do wish him always to see me bright and
cheerful--and--it is nothing! It is that I heard something which grieved
me--"

"What was it?" asked Lorimer, remembering Duprez's recent remarks.

"Oh, I would not tell you!" she said eagerly, drying her eyes and
endeavoring to smile, "because I am sure it was a mistake, and all
wrong--and I was foolish to fancy that such a thing could be, even for a
moment. But when one does not know the world, it seems cruel--"

"Thelma, what do you mean?" and George surveyed her in some perplexity.
"If any one's been bothering or vexing you, just you tell Phil all about
it. Don't have any secrets from him,--he'll soon put everything
straight, whatever it is."

She shook her head slightly. "Ah, you do not understand!" she said
pathetically, "how should you? Because you have not given your life away
to any one, and it is all different with you. But when you do love--if
you are at all like me,--you will be so anxious to always seem worthy of
love--and you will hide all your griefs away from your beloved,--so that
your constant presence shall not seem tiresome. And I would not for all
the world trouble Philip with my silly fancies--because then he might
grow more weary still--"

"_Weary_!" interrupted Lorimer, in an accent of emphatic surprise. "Why,
you don't suppose Phil's tired of you, Thelma? That _is_ nonsense
indeed! He worships you! Who's been putting such notions into your
head?"

She rose from her chair quite calm and very pale, and laid her two
trembling hands in his.

"Ah, you also will mistake me," she said, with touching sweetness, "like
so many others who think me strange in my speech and manner. I am sorry
I am not like other women,--but I cannot help it. What I do wish you to
understand is that I never suppose anything against my Philip--he is the
noblest and best of men! And you must promise not to tell him that I was
so foolish as to cry just now because you played that old song I sang to
you both so often in Norway--it was because I felt a little sad--but it
was only a fancy,--and I would not have him troubled with such things.
Will you promise?"

"But what has made you sad?" persisted Lorimer, still puzzled.

"Nothing--nothing indeed," she answered, with almost feverish
earnestness. "You yourself are sometimes sad, and can you tell why?"

Lorimer certainly could have told why,--but he remained silent, and
gently kissed the little hands he held.

"Then I mustn't tell Philip of your sadness?" he asked softly, at last.
"But will you tell him yourself, Thelma? Depend upon it, it's much
better to have no secrets from him. The least grief of yours would
affect him more than the downfall of a kingdom. You know how dearly he
loves you!"

"Yes--I know!" she answered, and her eyes brightened slowly. "And that
is why I wish him always to see me happy!" She paused, and then added in
a lower tone, "I would rather die, my friend, than vex him for one
hour!"

George still held her hands and looked wistfully in her face. He was
about to speak again, when a cold, courteous voice interrupted them.

"Lady Errington, may I have the honor of taking you in to supper?"

It was Sir Francis Lennox. He had entered quite noiselessly--his
footsteps making no sound on the thick velvet-pile carpet, and he stood
quite close to Lorimer, who dropped Thelma's hands hastily and darted a
suspicious glance at the intruder. But Sir Francis was the very picture
of unconcerned and bland politeness, and offered Thelma his arm with the
graceful ease of an accomplished courtier. She was, perforce, compelled
to accept it--and she was slightly confused, though she could not have
told why.

"Sir Philip has been looking everywhere for you," continued Sir Francis
amicably. "And for you also," he added, turning slightly to Lorimer. "I
trust I've not abruptly broken off a pleasant _tete-a-tete_?"

Lorimer colored hotly. "Not at all," he said rather brusquely. "I've
been strumming on the organ, and Lady Errington has been good enough to
listen to me."

"You do not _strum_" said Thelma, with gentle reproach. "You play very
beautifully."

"Ah! a charming accomplishment!" observed Sir Francis, with his
under-glance and covert smile, as they all three wended their way out of
the library. "I regret I have never had time to devote myself to
acquiring some knowledge of the arts. In music I am a positive
ignoramus! I can hold my own best in the field."

"Yes, you're a great adept at hunting, Lennox," remarked Lorimer
suddenly, with something sarcastic in his tone. "I suppose the quarry
never escapes you?"

"Seldom!" returned Sir Francis coolly. "Indeed, I think I may say,
never!"

And with that, he passed into the supper-room, elbowing a way for
Thelma, till he succeeded in placing her near the head of the table,
where she was soon busily occupied in entertaining her guests and
listening to their chatter; and Lorimer, looking at her once or twice,
saw, to his great relief, that all traces of her former agitation had
disappeared, leaving her face fair and radiant as a spring morning.




CHAPTER XXIV.

    "A generous fierceness dwells with innocence,
     And conscious virtue is allowed some pride."
                                                          DRYDEN.


The melancholy days of autumn came on apace, and by-and-by the Manor was
deserted. The Bruce-Errington establishment removed again to town, where
business, connected with his intending membership for Parliament,
occupied Sir Philip from morning till night. The old insidious feeling
of depression returned and hovered over Thelma's mind like a black bird
of ill omen, and though she did her best to shake it off she could not
succeed. People began to notice her deepening seriousness and the
wistful melancholy of her blue eyes, and made their remarks thereon when
they saw her at Marcia Van Clupp's wedding, an event which came off
brilliantly at the commencement of November, and which was almost
entirely presided over by Mrs. Rush-Marvelle. That far-seeing matron had
indeed urged on the wedding by every delicate expedient possible.

"Long engagements are a great mistake," she told Marcia,--then, in a
warning undertone she added, "Men are capricious nowadays,--they're all
so much in demand,--better take Masherville while he's in the humor."

Marcia accepted this hint and took him,--and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle heaved a
sigh of relief when she saw the twain safely married, and off to the
Continent on their honeymoon-trip,--Marcia all sparkling and
triumphant,--Lord Algy tremulous and feebly ecstatic.

"Thank Heaven _that's_ over!" she said to her polite and servile
husband. "I never had such a troublesome business in my life! That
girl's been nearly two seasons on my hands, and I think five hundred
guineas not a bit too much for all I've done."

"Not a bit--not a bit!" agreed Mr. Marvelle warmly. "Have they--have
they--" here he put on a most benevolent side-look--"quite settled with
you, my dear?"

"Every penny," replied Mrs. Marvelle calmly. "Old Van Clupp paid me the
last hundred this morning. And poor Mrs. Van Clupp is so _very_
grateful!" She sighed placidly, and appeared to meditate. Then she
smiled sweetly and, approaching Mr. Marvelle, patted his shoulder
caressingly. "I think we'll do the Italian lakes, dear--what do you
say?"

"Charming--charming!" declared, not her lord and master, but her slave
and vassal. "Nothing could be more delightful!"

And to the Italian lakes accordingly they went. A great many people were
out of town,--all who had leisure and money enough to liberate
themselves from the approaching evils of an English winter, had departed
or were departing,--Beau Lovelace had gone to Como,--George Lorimer had
returned with Duprez to Paris, and Thelma had very few visitors except
Lady Winsleigh, who was more often with her now than ever. In fact, her
ladyship was more like one of the Errington household than anything
else,--she came so frequently and stayed so long. She seemed sincerely
attached to Thelma,--and Thelma herself, too single-hearted and simple
to imagine that such affection could be feigned, gave her in return,
what Lady Winsleigh had never succeeded in winning from any woman,--a
pure, trusting, and utterly unsuspecting love, such as she would have
lavished on a twin-born sister. But there was one person who was not
deceived by Lady Winsleigh's charm of manner, and grace of speech. This
was Britta. Her keen eyes flashed a sort of unuttered defiance into her
ladyship's beautiful, dark languishing ones--she distrusted her, and
viewed the intimacy between her and the "Froeken" with entire disfavor.
Once she ventured to express something of her feeling on the matter to
Thelma--but Thelma had looked so gently wondering and reproachful that
Britta had not courage to go on.

"I am so sorry, Britta," said her mistress, "that you do not like Lady
Winsleigh--because I am very fond of her. You must try to like her for
my sake."

But Britta pursed her lips and shook her head obstinately. However, she
said no more at the time, and decided within herself to wait and watch
the course of events. And in the meantime she became very intimate with
Lady Winsleigh's maid, Louise Renaud, and Briggs, and learned from these
two domestic authorities many things which greatly tormented and puzzled
her little brain,--things over which she pondered deeply without
arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.

On her return to town, Thelma had been inexpressibly shocked at the
changed appearance of her husband's secretary, Edward Neville. At first
she scarcely knew him, he had altered so greatly. Always inclined to
stoop, his shoulders were now bent as by the added weight of twenty
years--his hair, once only grizzled, was now quite grey--his face was
deeply sunken and pale, and his eyes by contrast looked large and wild,
as though some haunting thought were driving him to madness. He shrank
so nervously from her gaze, that she began to fancy he must have taken
some dislike to her,--and though she delicately refrained from pressing
questions upon him personally, she spoke to her husband about him, with
real solicitude. "Is Mr. Neville working too hard?" she asked one day.
"He looks very ill."

Her remark seemed to embarrass Philip,--he colored and seemed confused.

"Does he? Oh, I suppose he sleeps badly. Yes, I remember, he told me so.
You see, the loss of his wife has always preyed on his mind--he never
loses hope of--of--that is--he is always trying to--you know!--to get
her back again."

"But do you think he will ever find her?" asked Thelma. "I thought you
said it was a hopeless case?"

"Well--I think so, certainly--but, you see, it's no good dashing his
hopes--one never knows--she might turn up any day--it's a sort of
chance!"

"I wish I could help him to search for her," she said compassionately.
"His eyes do look so full of sorrow," she paused and added musingly,
"almost like Sigurd's eyes sometimes."

"Oh, he's not losing his wits," said Philip hastily, "he's quite
patient, and--and all that sort of thing. Don't bother about him,
Thelma, he's all right!"

And he fumbled hastily with some papers, and began to talk of something
else. His embarrassed manner caused her to wonder a little at the time
as to the reason of it,--but she had many other things to think about,
and she soon forgot a conversation that might have proved a small
guiding-link in the chain of events that were soon about to follow
quickly one upon another, shaking her life to its very foundation. Lady
Winsleigh found it almost impossible to get her on the subject of the
burlesque actress, Violet Vere, and Sir Philip's supposed admiration for
that notorious stage-siren.

"I do not believe it," she said firmly, "and you--you must not believe
it either, Clara. For wherever you heard it, it is wrong. We should
dishonor Philip by such a thought--you are his friend, and I am his
wife--we are not the ones to believe anything against him, even if it
could be proved--and there are no proofs."

"My dear," responded her ladyship easily. "You can get proofs for
yourself if you like. For instance, ask Sir Philip how often he has seen
Miss Vere lately,--and hear what he says."

Thelma colored deeply. "I would not question my husband on such a
subject," she said proudly.

"Oh well! if you are so fastidious!" And Lady Winsleigh shrugged her
shoulders.

"I am not fastidious," returned Thelma, "only I do wish to be worthy of
his love,--and I should not be so if I doubted him. No, Clara, I will
trust him to the end."

Clara Winsleigh drew nearer to her, and took her hand.

"Even if he were unfaithful to you?" she asked in a low, impressive
tone.

"Unfaithful!" Thelma uttered the word with a little cry. "Clara, dear
Clara, you must not say such a word! Unfaithful! That means that my
husband would love some one more than me!--ah! that is impossible!"

"Suppose it were possible?" persisted Lady Winsleigh, with a cruel light
in her dark eyes. "Such things have been!"

Thelma stood motionless, a deeply mournful expression on her fair, pale
face. She seemed to think for a moment, then she spoke.

"I would never believe it!" she said solemnly. "Never, unless I heard it
from his own lips, or saw it in his own writing, that he was weary of
me, and wanted me no more."

"And then?"

"Then"--she drew a quick breath--"I should know what to do. But, Clara,
you must understand me well, even if this were so, I should never blame
him--no--not once!"

"Not blame him?" cried Lady Winsleigh impatiently. "Not blame him for
infidelity?"

A deep blush swept over her face at the hated word "infidelity," but she
answered steadily--

"No. Because, you see, it would be my fault, not his. When you hold a
flower in your hand for a long time, till all its fragrance has gone,
and you drop it because it no longer smells sweetly--you are not to
blame--it is natural you should wish to have something fresh and
fragrant,--it is the flower's fault because it could not keep its scent
long enough to please you. Now, if Philip were to love me no longer, I
should be like that flower, and how would HE be to blame? He would be
good as ever, but I--I should have ceased to seem pleasant to him--that
is all!"

She put this strange view of the case quite calmly, as if it were the
only solution to the question. Lady Winsleigh heard her, half in
contemptuous amusement, half in dismay. "What can I do with such a woman
as this," she thought. "And fancy Lennie imagining for a moment that HE
could have any power over her!" Aloud, she said--

"Thelma, you're the oddest creature going--a regular heathen child from
Norway! You've set up your husband as an idol, and you're always on your
knees before him. It's awfully sweet of you, but it's quite absurd, all
the same. Angelic wives always get the worst of it, and so you'll see!
Haven't you heard that?"

"Yes, I have heard it," she answered, smiling a little. "But only since
I came to London. In Norway, it is taught to women that to be patient
and obedient is best for every one. It is not so here. But I am not an
angelic wife, Clara, and so the 'worst of it' will not apply to me.
Indeed, I do not know of any 'worst' that I would not bear for Philip's
sake."

Lady Winsleigh studied the lovely face, eloquent with love and truth,
for some moments in silence;--a kind of compunction pricked her
conscience. Why destroy all that beautiful faith? Why wound that grandly
trusting nature? The feeling was but momentary.

"Philip _does_ run after the Vere," she said to herself--"it's true,
there's no mistake about it, and she ought to know of it. But she won't
believe without proofs--what proofs can I get, I wonder?" And her
scheming brain set to work to solve this problem.

In justice to her, it must be admitted, she had a good deal of seeming
truth on her side. Sir Philip's name _had_ somehow got connected with
that of the leading actress at the Brilliant, and more people than Lady
Winsleigh began to make jocose whispering comments on his stage
"amour"--comments behind his back, which he was totally unaware of.
Nobody knew quite how the rumor had first been started. Sir Francis
Lennox seemed to know a good deal about it, and he was an "intimate" of
the "Vere" magic circle of attraction. And though they talked, no one
ventured to say anything to Sir Philip himself;--the only two among his
friends who would have spoken out honestly were Beau Lovelace and
Lorimer, and these were absent.

One evening, contrary to his usual custom, Sir Philip went out after the
late dinner. Before leaving, he kissed his wife tenderly, and told her
on no account to sit up for him--he and Neville were going to attend to
a little matter of business which might detain them longer than they
could calculate. After they had gone, Thelma resigned herself to a
lonely evening, and, stirring the fire in the drawing-room to a cheerful
blaze, she sat down beside it. First, she amused herself by reading over
some letters recently received from her father,--and then, yielding to a
sudden fancy, she drew her spinning-wheel from the corner where it
always stood, and set it in motion. She had little time for spinning
now, but she never quite gave it up, and as the low, familiar whirring
sound hummed pleasantly on her ears, she smiled, thinking how quaint and
almost incongruous her simple implement of industry looked among all the
luxurious furniture, and costly nick-nacks by which she was surrounded.

"I ought to have one of my old gowns on," she half murmured, glancing
down at the pale-blue silk robe she wore, "I am too fine to spin!"

And she almost laughed as the wheel flew round swiftly under her
graceful manipulations. Listening to its whirr, whirr, whirr, she
scarcely heard a sudden knock at the street-door, and was quite startled
when the servant, Morris, announced--"Sir Francis Lennox!"

Surprised, she rose from her seat at the spinning-wheel with a slight
air of hauteur. Sir Francis, who had never in his life seen a lady of
title and fashion in London engaged in the primitive occupation of
spinning, was entirely delighted with the picture before him,--the tall,
lovely woman with her gold hair and shimmering blue draperies, standing
with such stateliness beside the simple wooden wheel, the antique emblem
of household industry. Instinctively he thought of Marguerite;--but
Marguerite as a crowned queen, superior to all temptations of either man
or fiend.

"Sir Philip is out," she said, as she suffered him to take her hand.

"So I was aware!" returned Lennox easily. "I saw him a little while ago
at the door of the Brilliant Theatre."

She turned very pale,--then controlling the rapid beating of her heart
by a strong effort, she forced a careless smile, and said bravely--

"Did you? I am very glad--for he will have some amusement there,
perhaps, and that will do him good. He has been working so hard!"

She paused. He said nothing, and she went on more cheerfully still--

"Is it not a very dismal, wet evening! Yes!--and you must be cold. Will
you have some tea?"

"Tha-anks!" drawled Sir Francis, staring at her admiringly. "If it's not
too much trouble--"

"Oh no!" said Thelma. "Why should it be?" And she rang the bell and gave
the order. Sir Francis sank lazily back in an easy chair, and stroked
his moustache slowly. He knew that his random hit about the theatre had
struck home,--but she allowed the arrow to pierce and possibly wound her
heart without showing any outward sign of discomposure. "A plucky
woman!" he considered, and wondered how he should make his next move.
She, meanwhile, smiled at him frankly, and gave a light twirl to her
spinning-wheel.

"You see!" she said, "I was amusing myself this evening by imagining
that I was once more at home in Norway."

"Pray don't let me interrupt the amusement," he responded, with a sleepy
look of satisfaction shooting from beneath his eyelids. "Go on spinning,
Lady Errington! . . . I've never seen any one spin before."

At that moment Morris appeared with the tea, and handed it to Sir
Francis,--Thelma took none, and as the servant retired, she quietly
resumed her occupation. There was a short silence, only broken by the
hum of the wheel. Sir Francis sipped his tea with a meditative air, and
studied the fair woman before him as critically as he would have studied
a picture.

"I hope I'm not in your way?" he asked suddenly. She looked up
surprised.

"Oh no--only I am sorry Philip is not here to talk to you. It would be
so much pleasanter."

"Would it?" he murmured rather dubiously and smiling. "Well--I shall be
quite contented if you will talk to me, Lady Errington!"

"Ah, but I am not at all clever in conversation," responded Thelma quite
seriously. "I am sure you, as well as many others, must have noticed
that. I never do seem to say exactly the right thing to please
everybody. Is it not very unfortunate?"

He laughed a little. "I have yet to learn in what way you do not please
everybody," he said, dropping his voice to a low, caressing cadence.
"Who, that sees you, does not admire--and--and love you?"

She met his languorous gaze without embarrassment,--while the childlike
openness of her regard confused and slightly shamed him.

"Admire me? Oh yes!" she said somewhat plaintively. "It is that of which
I am so weary! Because God has made one pleasant in form and face,--to
be stared at and whispered about, and have all one's dresses
copied!--all that is so small and common and mean, and does vex me so
much!"

"It is the penalty you pay for being beautiful," said Sir Francis
slowly, wondering within himself at the extraordinary incongruity of a
feminine creature who was actually tired of admiration.

She made no reply--the wheel went round faster than before. Presently
Lennox set aside his emptied cup, and drawing his chair a little closer
to hers, asked--

"When does Errington return?"

"I cannot tell you," she answered. "He said that he might be late. Mr.
Neville is with him."

There was another silence. "Lady Errington," said Sir Francis
abruptly--"pray excuse me--I speak as a friend, and in your
interests,--how long is this to last?"

The wheel stopped. She raised her eyes,--they were grave and steady.

"I do not understand you," she returned quietly. "What is it that you
mean?"

He hesitated--then went on, with lowered eyelids and a half-smile.

"I mean--what all our set's talking about--Errington's queer fancy for
that actress at the Brilliant."

Thelma still gazed at him fixedly. "It is a mistake," she said
resolutely, "altogether a mistake. And as you are his friend, Sir
Francis, you will please contradict this report--which is wrong, and may
do Philip harm. It has no truth in it at all--"

"No truth!" exclaimed Lennox. "It's true as Gospel! Lady Errington, I'm
sorry for it--but your husband is deceiving you most shamefully!"

"How dare you say such a thing!" she cried, springing upright and facing
him,--then she stopped and grew very pale--but she kept her eyes upon
him. How bright they were! What a chilling pride glittered in their
sea-blue depths!

"You are in error," she said coldly. "If it is wrong to visit this
theatre you speak of, why are you so often seen there--and why is not
some harm said of _you_? It is not your place to speak against my
husband. It is shameful and treacherous! You do forget yourself most
wickedly!"

And she moved to leave the room. But Sir Francis interposed.

"Lady Errington," he said very gently, "don't be hard upon me--pray
forgive me! Of course I've no business to speak--but how can I help it?
When I hear every one at the clubs discussing you, and pitying you, it's
impossible to listen quite unmoved! I'm the least among your friends, I
know,--but I can't bear this sort of thing to go on,--the whole affair
will be dished up in the society papers next!"

And he paced the room half impatiently,--a very well-feigned expression
of friendly concern and sympathy on his features. Thelma stood
motionless, a little bewildered--her head throbbed achingly, and there
was a sick sensation of numbness creeping about her.

"I tell you it is all wrong!" she repeated with an effort. "I do not
understand why these people at the clubs should talk of me, or pity me.
I do not need any pity! My husband is all goodness and truth,"--she
stopped and gathered courage as she went on. "Yes! he is better, braver,
nobler than all other men in the world, it seems to me! He gives me all
the joy of my life--each day and night I thank God for the blessing of
his love!"

She paused again. Sir Francis turned and looked at her steadily. A
sudden thought seemed to strike her, for she advanced eagerly, a sweet
color flushing the pallor of her skin.

"You can do so much for me if you will!" she said, laying her hand on
his arm. "You can tell all these people who talk so foolishly that they
are wrong,--tell them how happy I am! And that my Philip has never
deceived me in any matter, great or small!"

"Never?" he asked with a slight sneer. "You are sure?"

"Sure!" she answered bravely. "He would keep nothing from me that it was
necessary or good for me to know. And I--oh! I might pass all my life in
striving to please him, and yet I should never, never be worthy of all
his tenderness and goodness! And that he goes many times to a theatre
without me--what is it? A mere nothing--a trifle to laugh at! It is not
needful to tell me of such a small circumstance!"

As she spoke she smiled--her form seemed to dilate with a sort of inner
confidence and rapture.

Sir Francis stared at her half shamed,--half savage. The beautiful,
appealing face, bright with simple trust, roused him to no sort of manly
respect or forbearance,--the very touch of the blossom-white hand she
had laid so innocently on his arm, stung his passion as with a lash--as
he had said, he was fond of hunting--he had chased the unconscious deer
all through the summer, and now that it had turned to bay with such
pitiful mildness and sweet pleading, why not draw the knife across its
slim throat without mercy?

"Really, Lady Errington!" he said at last sarcastically, "your wifely
enthusiasm and confidence are indeed charming! But, unfortunately, the
proofs are all against you. Truth is truth, however much you may wish to
blind your eyes to its manifestations. I sincerely wish Sir Philip were
present to hear your eloquent praises of him, instead of being where he
most undoubtedly is,--in the arms of Violet Vere!"

As he said these words she started away from him and put her hands to
her ears as though to shut out some discordant sound--her eyes glowed
feverishly. A cold shiver shook her from head to foot.

"That is false--false!" she muttered in a low, choked voice. "How can
you--how dare you?"

She ceased, and with a swaying, bewildered movement, as though she were
blind, she fell senseless at his feet.

In one second he was kneeling beside her. He raised her head on his
arm,--he gazed eagerly on her fair, still features. A dark contraction
of his brows showed that his thoughts were not altogether righteous
ones. Suddenly he laid her down again gently, and, springing to the
door, locked it. Returning, he once more lifted her in a half-reclining
position, and encircling her with his arms, drew her close to his breast
and kissed her. He was in no hurry for her to recover--she looked very
beautiful--she was helpless--she was in his power. The silvery ting-ling
of the clock on the mantel-piece striking eleven startled him a
little--he listened painfully--he thought he heard some one trying the
handle of the door he had locked. Again--again he kissed those pale,
unconscious lips! Presently, a slight shiver ran through her frame--she
sighed, and a little moan escaped her. Gradually, as warmth and
sensation returned to her, she felt the pressure of his embrace, and
murmured--

"Philip! Darling,--you have come back earlier,--I thought--"

Here she opened her eyes and met those of Sir Francis, who was eagerly
bending over her. She uttered an exclamation of alarm, and strove to
rise. He held her still more closely.

"Thelma--dear, dearest Thelma! Let me comfort you,--let me tell you how
much I love you!"

And before she could divine his intent, he pressed his lips passionately
on her pale cheek. With a cry she tore herself violently from his arms
and sprang to her feet, trembling in every limb.

"What--what is this?" she exclaimed wrathfully. "Are you mad?"

And still weak and confused from her recent attack of faintness, she
pushed back her hair from her brows and regarded him with a sort of
puzzled horror.

He flushed deeply, and set his lips hard.

"I dare say I am," he answered, with a bitter laugh; "in fact, I know I
am! You see, I've betrayed my miserable secret. Will you forgive me,
Lady Errington--Thelma?" He drew nearer to her, and his eyes darkened
with restrained passion. "Matchless beauty!--adorable woman, as you
are!--will you not pardon my crime, if crime it be--the crime of loving
you? For I do love you!--Heaven only knows how utterly and desperately!"

She stood mute, white, almost rigid, with that strange look of horror
frozen, as it were, upon her features. Emboldened by her silence, he
approached and caught her hand,--she wrenched it from his grasp and
motioned him from her with a gesture of such royal contempt that he
quailed before her. All suddenly the flood-gates of her speech were
loosened,--the rising tide of burning indignation that in its very force
had held her dumb and motionless, now broke forth unrestrainedly.

"O God!" she cried impetuously, a magnificent glory of disdain flashing
in her jewel-like eyes, "what _thing_ is this that calls itself a
man?--this thief of honor,--this pretended friend? What have I done,
sir, that you should put such deep disgrace as your so-called _love_
upon me?--what have I _seemed_, that you thus dare to outrage me by the
pollution of your touch? I,--the wife of the noblest gentleman in the
land! Ah!" and she drew a long breath--"and it is you who speak against
my husband--_you_!" She smiled scornfully,--then with more calmness
continued--"You will leave my house, sir, at once! . . . and never
presume to enter it again!"

And she stepped towards the bell. He looked at her with an evil leer.

"Stop a moment!" he said coolly. "Just one moment before you ring. Pray
consider! The servant cannot possibly enter, as the door is locked."

"You _dared_ to lock the door!" she exclaimed, a sudden fear chilling
her heart as she remembered similar manoeuvres on the part of the
Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy--then another thought crossed her mind, and she
began to retreat towards a large painted panel of "Venus" disporting
among cupids and dolphins in the sea. Sir Francis sprang to her side,
and caught her arm in an iron grip--his face was aflame with baffled
spite and vindictiveness.

"Yes, I _dared_!" he muttered with triumphant malice. "And I dared do
more than that! You lay unconscious in my arms,--you beautiful,
bewitching Thelma, and I kissed you--ay! fifty times! You can never undo
those kisses! You can never forget that _my_ lips, as well as your
husband's, have rested on yours--I have had that much joy that shall
never be taken away from me! And if I choose, even now,"--and he gripped
her more closely--"yes, even now I will kiss you, in spite of you!--who
is to prevent me? I will force you to love me, Thelma--"

Driven to bay, she struck him with all her force in the face, across the
eyes.

"Traitor!--liar!--coward!" she gasped breathlessly. "Let me go!"

Smarting with the pain of the blow, he unconsciously loosened his
grasp--she rushed to the "Venus" panel, and to his utter discomfiture
and amazement he saw it open and close behind her. She disappeared
suddenly and noiselessly as if by magic. With a fierce exclamation, he
threw his whole weight against that secret sliding door--it resisted all
his efforts. He searched for the spring by which it must have
opened,--the whole panel was perfectly smooth and apparently solid, and
the painted "Venus" reclining on her dolphin's back seemed as though she
smiled mockingly at his rage and disappointment.

While he was examining it, he heard the sudden, sharp, and continuous
ringing of an electric bell somewhere in the house, and with a guilty
flush on his face he sprang to the drawing-room door and unlocked it. He
was just in time, for scarcely had he turned the key, when Morris made
his appearance. That venerable servitor looked round the room in evident
surprise.

"Did her ladyship ring?" he inquired, his eyes roving everywhere in
search of his mistress. Sir Francis collected his wits, and forced
himself to seem composed.

"No," he said coolly. "_I_ rang." He adopted this falsehood as a means
of exit. "Call a hansom, will you?"

And he sauntered easily into the hall, and got on his hat and
great-coat. Morris was rather bewildered,--but, obedient to the command,
blew the summoning cab-whistle, which was promptly answered. Sir Francis
tossed him half a crown, and entered the vehicle, which clattered away
with him in the direction of Cromwell Road. Stopping at a particular
house in a side street leading from thence, he bade the cabman
wait,--and, ascending the steps, busied himself for some moments in
scribbling something rapidly in pencil on a leaf of his note-book by the
light of the hanging-lamp in the doorway. He then gave a loud knock, and
inquired of the servant who answered it--

"Is Mr. Snawley-Grubbs in?"

"Yes, sir,"--the reply came rather hesitatingly--"but he's having a
party to-night."

And, in fact, the scraping of violins and the shuffle of dancing feet
were distinctly audible overhead.

"Oh, well, just mention my name--Sir Francis Lennox. Say I will not
detain him more than five minutes."

He entered, and was ushered into a small ante-room while the maid went
to deliver her message. He caught sight of his own reflection in a round
mirror over the mantel-piece, and his face darkened as he saw a dull red
ridge across his forehead--the mark of Thelma's well-directed blow,--the
sign-manual of her scorn. A few minutes passed, and then there came in
to him a large man in an expensive dress-suit,--a man with a puffy, red,
Silenus-like countenance--no other than Mr. Snawley-Grubbs, who hailed
him with effusive cordiality.

"My dear, Sir Francis!" he said in a rich, thick, uncomfortable voice.
"This is an unexpected pleasure! Won't you come upstairs? My girls are
having a little informal dance--just among themselves and their own
young friends--quite simple,--in fact an unpretentious little affair!"
And he rubbed his fat hands, on which twinkled two or three large
diamond rings. "But we shall be charmed if you will join us!"

"Thanks, not this evening," returned Sir Francis. "It's rather too late.
I should not have intruded upon you at this hour--but I thought you
might possibly like this paragraph for the _Snake_."

And he held out with a careless air the paper on which he had scribbled
but a few minutes previously. Mr. Snawley-Grubbs smiled,--and fixed a
pair of elegant gold-rimmed eye-glasses on his inflamed crimson nose.

"I must tell you, though," he observed, before reading, "that it is too
late for this week, at any rate. We've gone to press already."

"Never mind!" returned Sir Francis indifferently. "Next week will do as
well."

And he furtively watched Mr. Snawley-Grubbs while he perused the
pencilled scrawl. That gentleman, however, as Editor and Proprietor of
the _Snake_--a new, but highly successful weekly "society" journal, was
far too dignified and self-important to allow his countenance to betray
his feelings. He merely remarked, as he folded up the little slip very
carefully.

"Very smart! very smart, indeed! Authentic, of course?"

Sir Francis drew himself up haughtily. "You doubt my word?"

"Oh dear, no!" declared Mr. Snawley-Grubbs hastily, venturing to lay a
soothing hand on Sir Francis's shoulder. "Your position, and all that
sort of thing--Naturally you _must_ be able to secure correct
information. You can't help it! I assure you the _Snake_ is infinitely
obliged to you for a great many well-written and socially exciting
paragraphs. Only, you see, I myself should never have thought that so
extreme a follower of the exploded old doctrine of noblesse oblige, as
Sir Philip Bruce-Errington, would have started on such a new line of
action at all. But, of course, we are all mortal!" And he shook his
round thick head with leering sagacity. "Well!" he continued after a
pause. "This shall go in without fail next week, I promise you."

"You can send me a hundred copies of the issue," said Sir Francis,
taking up his hat to go. "I suppose you're not afraid of an action for
libel?"

Mr. Snawley-Grubbs laughed--nay, he roared,--the idea seemed so
exquisitely suited to his sense of humor.

"Afraid? My dear fellow, there's nothing I should like better! It would
establish the _Snake_, and make my fortune! I would even go to prison
with pleasure. Prison, for a first-class misdemeanant, as I should most
probably be termed, is perfectly endurable." He laughed again, and
escorted Sir Francis to the street-door, where he shook hands heartily.
"You are sure you won't come upstairs and join us? No? Ah, I see you
have a cab waiting. Good-night, good-night!"

And the Snawley-Grubbs door being closed upon him, Sir Francis
re-entered his cab, and was driven straight to his bachelor lodgings in
Piccadilly. He was in a better humor with himself now,--though he was
still angrily conscious of a smart throbbing across the eyes, where
Thelma's ringed hand had struck him. He found a brief note from Lady
Winsleigh awaiting him. It ran as follows:--

"You're playing a losing game this time,--she will believe nothing
without proofs--and even then it will be difficult. You had better drop
the pursuit, I fancy. For once a woman's reputation will escape you!"

He smiled bitterly as he read these last words.

"Not while a society paper exists!" he said to himself. "As long as
there are editors willing to accept the word of a responsible man of
position, for any report, the chastest Diana that ever lived shall not
escape calumny! She wants proofs, does she? She shall have them--by
Jove! she shall!"

And instead of going to bed, he went off to a bijou villa in St. John's
Wood,--an elegantly appointed little place, which he rented and
maintained,--and where the popular personage known as Violet Vere,
basked in the very lap of luxury.

Meanwhile, Thelma paced up and down her own boudoir, into which she had
escaped through the sliding panel which had baffled her admirer. Her
whole frame trembled as she thought of the indignity to which she had
been subjected during her brief unconsciousness,--her face burned with
bitter shame,--she felt as if she were somehow poisonously infected by
those hateful kisses of Lennox,--all her womanly and wifely instincts
were outraged. Her first impulse was to tell her husband everything the
instant he returned. It was she who had rung the bell which had startled
Sir Francis, and she was surprised that her summons was not answered.
She rang again, and Britta appeared.

"I wanted Morris," said Thelma quickly.

"He thought it was the drawing-room bell," responded Britta meekly, for
her "Froeken" looked very angry. "I saw him in the hall just now, letting
out Sir Francis Lennox."

"Has he gone?" demanded Thelma eagerly.

Britta's wonder increased. "Yes, Froeken!"

Thelma caught her arm. "Tell Morris never, never to let him inside the
house again--_never_!" and her blue eyes flashed wrathfully. "He is a
wicked man, Britta! You do not know how wicked he is!"

"Oh yes, I do!" and Britta regarded her mistress very steadfastly. "I
know quite well! But, then, I must not speak! If I dared, I could tell
you some strange things, dear Froeken--but you will not hear me. You know
you do not wish me to talk about your grand new friends, Froeken, but--"
she paused timidly.

"Oh, Britta, dear!" said Thelma affectionately taking her hand. "You
know they are not so much my friends as the friends of Sir Philip,--and
for this reason I must never listen to anything against them. Do you not
see? Of course their ways seem strange to us--but, then, life in London
is so different to life in Norway,--and we cannot all at once
understand--" she broke off, sighing a little. Then she resumed--"Now
you will give Morris my message, Britta--and then come to me in my
bedroom--I am tired, and Philip said I was not to wait up for him."

Britta departed, and Thelma went rather slowly up-stairs. It was now
nearly midnight, and she felt languid and weary. Her reflections began
to take a new turn. Suppose she told her husband all that had occurred,
he would most certainly go to Sir Francis and punish him in some
way--there might then be a quarrel in which Philip might suffer--and all
sorts of evil consequences would perhaps result from her want of
reticence. If, on the other hand, she said nothing, and simply refused
to receive Lennox, would not her husband think such conduct on her part
strange? She puzzled over these questions till her head ached--and
finally resolved to keep her own counsel for the present,--after what
had happened. Sir Francis would most probably not intrude himself again
into her presence. "I will ask Mrs. Lorimer what is best to do," she
thought. "She is old and wise, and she will know."

That night, as she laid her head on her pillow, and Britta threw the
warm _eidredon_ over her, she shivered a little and asked--

"Is it not very cold, Britta?"

"Very!" responded her little maid. "And it is beginning to snow."

Thelma looked wistful. "It is all snow and darkness now at the
Altenfjord," she said.

Britta smiled. "Yes, indeed, Froeken! We are better off here than there."

"Perhaps!" replied Thelma a little musingly, and then she settled
herself as though to sleep.

Britta kissed her hand, and retired noiselessly. When she had gone,
Thelma opened her eyes and lay broad awake looking at the flicker of
rosy light flung on the ceiling from the little suspended lamp in her
oratory. All snow and darkness at the Altenfjord! How strange the
picture seemed! She thought of her mother's sepulchre,--how cold and
dreary it must be,--she could see in fancy the long pendent icicles
fringing the entrance to the sea-king's tomb,--the spot where she and
Philip had first met,--she could almost hear the slow, sullen plash of
the black Fjord against the shore. Her maiden life in Norway--her school
days at Arles,--these were now like dreams,--dreams that had passed away
long, long ago. The whole tenor of her existence had changed,--she was a
wife,--she was soon to be a mother,--and with this near future of new
and sacred joy before her, why did she to-night so persistently look
backward to the past?

As she lay quiet, watching the glimmering light upon the wall, it seemed
as though her room were suddenly filled with shadowy forms,--she saw her
mother's sweet, sad, suffering face,--then her father's sturdy figure
and fine, frank features,--then came the flitting shape of the hapless
Sigurd, whose plaintive voice she almost imagined she could hear,--and
feeling that she was growing foolishly nervous, she closed her eyes, and
tried to sleep. In vain,--her mind began to work on a far more
unpleasing train of thought. Why did not Philip return? Where was he? As
though some mocking devil had answered her, the words, "In the arms of
Violet Vere!" as uttered by Sir Francis Lennox, recurred to her.
Overcome by her restlessness, she started up,--she determined to get out
of bed, and put on her dressing-gown and read,--when her quick ears
caught the sound of steps coming up the stair-case. She recognized her
husband's firm tread, and understood that he was followed by Neville,
whose sleeping-apartment was on the floor above. She listened
attentively--they were talking together in low tones on the landing
outside her door.

"I think it would be much better to make a clean breast of it," said Sir
Philip. "She will have to know some day."

"Your wife? For God's sake, don't tell her!" Neville's voice replied.
"Such a disgraceful--" Here his words sank to a whisper, and Thelma
could not distinguish them. Another minute, and her husband entered with
soft precaution, fearing to awake her--she stretched out her arms to
welcome him, and he hastened to her with an exclamation of tenderness
and pleasure.

"My darling! Not asleep yet?"

She smiled,--but there was something very piteous in her smile, had the
dim light enabled him to perceive it.

"No, not yet, Philip! And yet I think I have been dreaming of--the
Altenfjord."

"Ah! it must be cold there now," he answered lightly. "It's cold enough
here, in all conscience. To-night there is a bitter east wind, and snow
is falling."

She heard this account of the weather with almost morbid interest. Her
thoughts instantly betook themselves again to Norway, and dwelt there.
To the last,--before her aching eyes closed in the slumber she so sorely
needed,--she seemed to be carried away in fancy to a weird stretch of
gloom-enveloped landscape where she stood entirely alone, vaguely
wondering at the dreary scene. "How strange it seems!" she murmured
almost aloud. "All snow and darkness at the Altenfjord!"




CHAPTER XXV.

   "Le temps ou nous nous sommes aimes n'a guere dure, jeune fille;
   il a passe comme un coup de vent!"
                                             _Old Breton Ballad._


The next morning dawned, cold and dismal. A dense yellow fog hung over
the metropolis like a pall--the street lamps were lighted, but their
flare scarcely illumined the thoroughfares, and the chill of the
snow-burdened air penetrated into the warmest rooms, and made itself
felt even by the side of the brightest fires. Sir Philip woke with an
uncomfortable sense of headache and depression, and grumbled,--as surely
every Englishman has a right to grumble, at the uncompromising
wretchedness of his country's winter climate. His humor was not improved
when a telegram arrived before breakfast, summoning him in haste to a
dull town in one of the Midland counties, on pressing business connected
with his candidature for Parliament.

"What a bore!" he exclaimed, showing the missive to his wife. "I _must_
go,--and I shan't be able to get back tonight. You'll be all alone,
Thelma. I wish you'd go to the Winsleighs!"

"Why?" said Thelma quietly. "I shall much prefer to be here. I do not
mind, Philip. I am accustomed to be alone."

Something in her tone struck him as particularly sad, and he looked at
her intently.

"Now, my darling," he said suddenly, "if this Parliamentary bother is
making you feel worried or vexed in any way, I'll throw it all up--by
Jove, I will!" And he drew her into his warm embrace. "After all" he
added, with a laugh, "what does it matter! The country can get on
without me!"

Thelma smiled a little.

"You must not talk so foolishly, Philip," she said tenderly. "It is
wrong to begin a thing of importance, and not go through with it. And I
am not worried or vexed at all. What would people say of me if I, your
wife, were, for my own selfish comfort and pleasure of having you always
with me, to prevent you from taking a good place among the men of your
nation? Indeed, I should deserve much blame! And so, though it is a
gloomy day for you, poor boy,--you must go to this place where you are
wanted, and I shall think of you all the time you are gone, and shall be
so happy to welcome you home to-morrow!"

And she kissed and clung to him for a moment in silence. All that day
Philip was haunted by the remembrance of the lingering tenderness of her
farewell embrace. By ten o'clock he was gone, taking Neville with him;
and after her household duties were over, Thelma prepared herself to go
and lunch with old Mrs. Lorimer, and see what she would advise
concerning the affair of Sir Francis Lennox. But, at the same time, she
resolved that nothing should make her speak of the reports that were
afloat about her husband and Violet Vere.

"I know it is all false," she said to herself over and over again. "And
the people here are as silly as the peasants in Bosekop, ready to
believe any untruth so long as it gives them something to talk about.
But they may chatter as they please--I shall not say one word, not even
to Philip--for it would seem as if I mistrusted him."

Thus she put away all the morbid fancies that threatened to oppress her,
and became almost cheerful.

And while she made her simple plans for pleasantly passing the long,
dull day of her husband's enforced absence, her friend, Lady Winsleigh,
was making arrangements of a very different nature. Her ladyship had
received a telegram from Sir Francis Lennox that morning. The pink
missive had apparently put her in an excellent humor, though, after
reading it, she crumpled it up and threw it in the waste-paper basket,
from which receptacle, Louise Renaud, her astute attendant, half an hour
later extracted it, secreting it in her own pocket for private perusal
at leisure. She ordered her brougham, saying she was going out on
business,--and before departing, she took from her dressing-case certain
bank-notes and crammed them hastily into her purse--a purse which, in
all good faith, she handed to her maid to put in her sealskin muff-bag.
Of course, Louise managed to make herself aware of its contents,--but
when her ladyship at last entered her carriage her unexpected order, "To
the Brilliant Theatre, Strand," was sufficient to startle Briggs, and
cause him to exchange surprise signals with "Mamzelle," who merely
smiled a prim, incomprehensible smile.

"_Where_ did your la'ship say?" asked Briggs dubiously.

"Are you getting deaf, Briggs?" responded his mistress pleasantly. "To
the Brilliant Theatre!" She raised her voice, and spoke with distinct
emphasis. There was no mistaking her. Briggs touched his hat,--in the
same instant he winked at Louise, and then the carriage rolled away.

At night, the Brilliant Theatre is a pretty little place,--comfortable,
cosy, bright, and deserving of its name;--in broad day, it is none of
these things. A squalid dreariness seems to have settled upon it--it has
a peculiar atmosphere of its own--an atmosphere dark, heavy, and
strangely flavored with odors of escaping gas and crushed orange-peel.
Behind the scenes, these odors mingle with a chronic, all-pervading
smell of beer--beer, which the stranger's sensitive nose detects
directly, in spite of the choking clouds of dust which arise from the
boards at the smallest movement of any part of the painted scenery. The
Brilliant had gone through much ill-fortune--its proprietors never
realized any financial profit till they secured Violet Vere. With her
came prosperity. Her utter absence of all reserve--the frankness with
which she threw modesty to the winds,--the vigor with which she danced a
regular "break-down,"--roaring a comic song of the lowest type, by way
of accompaniment,--the energetic manner in which, metaphorically
speaking, she kicked at the public with her shapely legs,--all this
overflow of genius on her part drew crowds to the Brilliant nightly, and
the grateful and happy managers paid her a handsome salary, humored all
her caprices, and stinted and snubbed for her sake, all the rest of the
company. She was immensely popular--the "golden youth" of London raved
about her dyed hair, painted eyes, and carmined lips--even her voice, as
coarse as that of a dustman, was applauded to the echo, and her dancing
excited the wildest enthusiasm. Dukes sent her presents of diamond
ornaments--gifts of value which they would have possibly refused to
their own wives and daughters,--Royal Highnesses thought it no shame to
be seen lounging near her stage dressing-room door,--in short, she was
in the zenith of her career, and, being thoroughly unprincipled,
audaciously insolent, and wholly without a conscience,--she enjoyed
herself immensely.

At the very time when Lady Winsleigh's carriage was nearing the Strand,
the grand morning rehearsal of a new burlesque was "on" at the
Brilliant--and Violet's harsh tones, raised to a sort of rough masculine
roar, were heard all over the theatre, as she issued commands or made
complaints according to her changeful humors. She sat in an elevated
position above the stage on a jutting beam of wood painted to resemble
the gnarled branch of a tree,--swinging her legs to and fro and clinking
the heels of her shoes together in time to the mild scraping of a
violin, the player whereof was "trying over" the first few bars of the
new "jig" in which she was ere long to distinguish herself. She was a
handsome woman, with a fine, fair skin, and large, full, dark eyes--she
had a wide mouth, which, nearly always on the grin, displayed to the
full her strong white teeth,--her figure was inclined to excessive
_embonpoint_, but this rather endeared her to her admirers than
otherwise,--many of these gentlemen being prone to describe her fleshly
charms by the epithet "Prime!" as though she were a fatting pig or other
animal getting ready for killing.

"Tommy! Tommy!" she screeched presently. "Are you going to sleep? Do you
expect me to dance to a dirge, you lazy devil!"

Tommy, the player of the violin, paused in his efforts, and looked up
drearily. He was an old man, with a lean, long body and pinched
features--his lips had a curious way, too, of trembling when he spoke,
as if he were ready to cry.

"I can't help it," he said slowly. "I don't know it yet. I must practice
it a bit at home. My sight's not so good as it used to be--"

    "Such a pair of optics, love, you've never, never seen--
     One my mother blacked last night, the other it is green!"

sang Violet, to the infinite delight of all the unwashed-looking
supernumeraries and ballet-girls, who were scattered about the stage,
talking and laughing.

"Shut up, Tommy!" she continued. "You're always talking about your
eyesight. I warn you, if you say too much about it you'll lose your
place. We don't want blind fiddlers in the Brilliant. Put down you
catgut screamer, and fetch me a pint. Ask for the Vere's own
tipple--they'll twig!"

Tommy obeyed, and shuffled off on his errand. As he departed,--a little
man with a very red face, wearing a stove-pipe hat very much on one
side, bounced on the stage as if some one had thrown him there like a
ball.

"Now, ladies, ladies!" he shouted warningly. "Attention! Once again,
please! The last figure once again!" The straggling groups scrambled
hastily into something like order, and the little man continued--"One,
two, three! Advance--retreat--left, right! Very well, indeed! Arms up a
little more, Miss Jenkins--so! toes well pointed--curtsy--retire! One,
two, three! swift slide to the left wing--forward! Round--take
hands--all smile, please!" This general smile was apparently not quite
satisfactory, for he repeated persuasively--"All smile, please! So!
Round again--more quickly--now break the circle in a centre--enter Miss
Vere--" he paused, growing still redder in the face, and demanded, "Where
is Miss Vere?"

He was standing just beneath the painted bough of the sham tree, and in
one second his hat was dexterously kicked off, and two heels met with a
click round his neck.

"Here I am, pickaninny!" retorted Miss Vere holding him fast in this
novel embrace, amid the laughter of the supers. "You're getting as blind
as Tommy! Steady, steady now, donkey!--steady--woa!" And in a thrice she
stood upright, one foot planted firmly on each of his shoulders.

"No weight, am I, darling?" she went on jeeringly, and with an
inimitably derisive air she put up an eye-glass and surveyed the top of
his head. "You want a wig, my dear--you do, indeed! Come with me
to-morrow, and I'll buy you one to suit your complexion. Your wife won't
know you!"

And with a vigorous jump she sprang down from her position, managing to
give him a smart hit on the nose as she did so--and leaping to the
centre of the stage, she posed herself to commence her dance--when Tommy
came creeping back in his slow and dismal fashion, bearing something in
a pewter pot.

"That's the ticket!" she cried as she perceived him. "I'm as dry as a
whole desert! Give it here!" And she snatched the mug from the feeble
hand of her messenger and began drinking eagerly.

The little red-faced man interposed. "Now, Miss Vi," he said, "is that
brandy?"

"Rather so!" returned the Vere, with a knowing wink, "and a good many
things besides. It's a mixture. The 'Vere's Own!' Ha, ha! Might be the
name of a regiment!"

And she buried her mouth and nose again in the tankard.

"Look here," said the little man again. "Why not wait till after the
dance? It's bad for you before."

"Oh, is it, indeed!" screamed Violet, raising her face, which became
suddenly and violently flushed. "O good Lord! Are you a temperance
preacher? Teach your granny! Bad for me? Say another word, and I'll box
your ears for you! You braying jackass!--you snivelling idiot! Who makes
the Brilliant draw? You or I? Tell me that, you staring old--"

Here Tommy, who had for some minutes been vainly endeavoring to attract
her attention, raised his weak voice to a feeble shout.

"I say, Miss Vere! I've been trying to tell you, but you won't listen!
There's a lady waiting to see you!"

"A what?" she asked.

"A lady!" continued Tommy, in loud tones. "A lady of title! Wants to see
you in private! Won't detain you long!"

Violet Vere raised her pewter mug once more, and drained off its
contents.

"Lord, ain't I honored!" she said, smacking her lips with a grin. "A
lady of title to see me! Let her wait! Now then!" and snapping her
fingers, she began her dance, and went through it to the end, with her
usual vigor and frankness. When she had finished, she turned to the
red-faced man who had watched her evolutions with much delight in spite
of the abuse she had heaped upon him, and said with an affected,
smirking drawl--

"Show the lady of title into my dressing-room! I shall be ready for her
in ten minutes. Be sure to mention that I am very shy,--and unaccustomed
to company!"

And, giggling gently like an awkward school-girl, she held down her head
with feigned bashfulness, and stepped mincingly across the stage with
such a ludicrous air of prim propriety, that all her associates burst
out laughing, and applauded her vociferously. She turned and curtsied to
them demurely--then suddenly raising one leg in a horizontal position,
she twirled it rapidly in their faces,--then she gave a little shocked
cough behind her hand, grinned, and vanished.

When, in the stipulated ten minutes, she was ready to receive her
unknown visitor, she was quite transformed. She had arrayed herself in a
trailing gown of rich black velvet, fastened at the side with jet
clasps--a cluster of natural, innocent, white violets nestled in the
fall of Spanish lace at her throat--her face was pale with
pearl-powder,--and she had eaten a couple of scented bon-bons to drown
the smell of her recent brandy-tipple. She reclined gracefully in an
easy chair, pretending to read, and she rose with an admirably acted air
of startled surprise, as one of the errand boys belonging to the
Brilliant tapped at her door, and in answer to her "Come in!" announced,
"Lady Winsleigh!"

A faint, sweet, questioning smile played on the Vere's wide mouth.

"I am not aware that I have the honor of--" she began, modulating her
voice to the requirements of fashionable society, and wondering within
herself "what the d----l" this woman in the silk and sable-fur costume
wanted.

Lady Winsleigh in the meantime stared at her with cold, critical eyes.

"She is positively rather handsome," she thought. "I can quite imagine a
certain class of men losing their heads about her." Aloud she said--

"I must apologize for this intrusion, Miss Vere! I dare say you have
never heard my name--I am not fortunate enough to be famous,--as _you_
are." This with a killing satire in her smile. "May I sit down? Thanks!
I have called upon you in the hope that you may perhaps be able to give
me a little information in a private matter--a matter concerning the
happiness of a very dear friend of mine." She paused--Violet Vere sat
silent. After a minute or two, her ladyship continued in a somewhat
embarrassed manner--

"I believe you know a gentleman with whom I am also acquainted--Sir
Philip Bruce-Errington."

Miss Vere raised her eyes with charming languor and a slow smile.

"Oh yes!"

"He visits you, doesn't he?"

"Frequently!".

"I'm afraid you'll think me rude and inquisitive," continued Lady
Winsleigh, with a coaxing air, "but--but may I ask--"

"Anything in the world," interrupted Violet coolly. "Ask away! But I'm
not bound to answer."

Lady Winsleigh reddened with indignation. "What an insulting creature!"
she thought. But, after all, she had put herself in her present
position, and she could not very well complain if she met with a rebuff.
She made another effort.

"Sir Francis Lennox told me--" she began.

The Vere interrupted her with a cheerful laugh.

"Oh, you come from him, do you? Now, why didn't you tell me that at
first? It's all right! You're a great friend of Lennie's, aren't you?"

Lady Winsleigh sat erect and haughty, a deadly chill of disgust and fear
at her heart. This creature called her quondam lover, "Lennie"--even as
she herself had done,--and she, the proud, vain woman of society and
fashion shuddered at the idea that there should be even this similarity
between herself and the "thing" called Violet Vere. She replied
stiffly--

"I have known him a long time."

"He's a nice fellow," went on Miss Vere easily--"a _leetle_ stingy
sometimes, but never mind that! You want to know about Sir Philip
Errington, and I'll tell you. He's chosen to mix himself up with some
affairs of mine--"

"What affairs?" asked Lady Winsleigh rather eagerly.

"They don't concern you," returned Miss Vere calmly, "and we needn't
talk about them! But they concern Sir Philip,--or he thinks they do, and
insists on seeing me about them, and holding long conversations, which
bore me excessively!"

She yawned slightly, smothering her yawn in a dainty lace handkerchief,
and then went on--

"He's a moral young man, don't you know--and I never could endure moral
men! I can't get on with them at all!"

"Then you don't like him?" questioned Lady Winsleigh in rather a
disappointed tone.

"No, I don't!" said the Vere candidly. "He's not my sort. But, Lord
bless you! I know how he's getting talked about because he comes
here--and serve him right too! He shouldn't meddle with my business."
She paused suddenly and drew a letter from her pocket,--laughed and
tossed it across the table.

"You can read that, if you like," she said indifferently. "He wrote it,
and sent it round to me last night."

Lady Winsleigh's eyes glistened eagerly,--she recognized Errington's
bold, clear hand at once,--and as she read, an expression of triumph
played on her features. She looked up presently and said--

"Have you any further use for this letter, Miss Vere? Or--will you allow
me to keep it?"

The Vere seemed slightly suspicious of this proposal, but looked amused
too.

"Why, what do you want it for?" she inquired bluntly. "To tease him
about me?"

Lady Winsleigh forced a smile. "Well--perhaps!" she admitted, then with
an air of gentleness and simplicity she continued, "I think, Miss Vere,
with you, that it is very wrong of Sir Philip,--very absurd of him, in
fact--to interfere with your affairs, whatever they may be,--and as it
is very likely annoying to you--"

"It _is_," interrupted Violet decidedly.

"Then, with the help of this letter--which, really--really--excuse me
for saying it!--quite compromises him," and her ladyship looked amiably
concerned about it, "I might perhaps persuade him not to--to--intrude
upon you--you understand? But if you object to part with the letter,
never mind! If I did not fear to offend you, I should ask you to
exchange it for--for something more--well! let us say, something more
substantial--"

"Don't beat about the bush!" said Violet, with a sudden oblivion of her
company manners. "You mean money?"

Lady Winsleigh smiled. "As you put it so frankly, Miss Vere--" she
began.

"Of course! I'm always frank," returned the Vere, with a loud laugh.
"Besides, what's the good of pretending? Money's the only thing worth
having--it pays your butcher, baker, and dressmaker--and how are you to
get along if you _can't_ pay them, I'd like to know! Lord! if all the
letters I've got from fools were paying stock instead of waste-paper,
I'd shut up shop, and leave the Brilliant to look out for itself!"

Lady Winsleigh felt she had gained her object, and she could now afford
to be gracious.

"That would be a great loss to the world," she remarked sweetly. "An
immense loss! London could scarcely get on without Violet Vere!" Here
she opened her purse and took out some bank-notes, which she folded and
slipped inside an envelope. "Then I may have the letter?" she continued.

"You may and welcome!" returned Violet.

Lady Winsleigh instantly held out the envelope, which she as instantly
clutched. "Especially if you'll tell Sir Philip Errington to mind his
own business!" She paused, and a dark flush mounted to her brow--one of
those sudden flushes that purpled rather than crimsoned her face. "Yes,"
she repeated, "as he's a friend of yours, just tell him I said he was to
mind his own business! Lord! what does he want to come here and preach
at me for! I don't want his sermons! Moral!" here she laughed rather
hoarsely, "I'm as moral as any one on the stage! Who says I'm not! Take
'em all round--there's not a soul behind the footlights more open and
above-board than I am!"

And her eyes flashed defiantly.

"She's been drinking?" thought Lady Winsleigh disgustedly. In fact, the
"Vere's Own" tipple had begun to take its usual effect, which was to
make the Vere herself both blatant and boisterous.

"I'm sure," said her ladyship with frigid politeness, "that you are
everything that is quite charming, Miss Vere! I have a great respect for
the--the ornaments of the English stage. Society has quite thrown down
its former barriers, you know!--the members of your profession are
received in the very best circles--"

"I ain't!" said Violet, with ungrammatical candor. "Your Irvings and
your Terrys, your Mary Andersons and your Langtrys,--they're good enough
for your fine drawing-rooms, and get more invitations out than they can
accept. And none of them have got half my talent, I tell you! Lord bless
my soul! if they're respectable enough for you,--so am I!"

And she struck her hand emphatically on the table, Lady Winsleigh looked
at her with a slight smile.

"I must really say good-bye!" she said, rising and gathering her furs
about her. "I could talk with you all the morning, Miss Vere, but I have
so many engagements! Besides I mustn't detain _you_! I'm so much obliged
to you for your kind reception of me!"

"Don't mention, it!" and Violet glanced her over with a kind of sullen
sarcasm. "I'm bound to please Lennie when I can, you know!"

Again Lady Winsleigh shivered a little, but forced herself to shake
hands with the notorious stage-Jezebel.

"I shall come and see you in the new piece," she said graciously. "I
always take a box on first nights? And your dancing is so exquisite! The
very poetry of motion! So pleased to have met you! Good-bye!"

And with a few more vague compliments and remarks about the weather,
Lady Winsleigh took her departure. Left alone, the actress threw herself
back in her chair and laughed.

"That woman's up to some mischief," she exclaimed sotto voce, "and so is
Lennie! I wonder what's their little game? _I_ don't care, as long as
they'll keep the high-and-mighty Errington in his place. I'm tired of
him! Why does he meddle with _my_ affairs?" Her brows knitted into a
frown. "As if he or anybody else could persuade me to go back to--," she
paused, and bit her lips angrily. Then she opened the envelope Lady
Winsleigh had left with her, and pulled out the bank-notes inside. "Let
me see--five, ten, fifteen, twenty! Not bad pay, on the whole! It'll
just cover the bill for my plush mantle. Hullo! Who's there?"

Some one knocked at her door.

"Come in!" she cried.

The feeble Tommy presented himself. His weak mouth trembled more than
ever, and he was apparently conscious of this, for he passed his hand
nervously across it two or three times.

"Well, what's up?" inquired the "star" of the Brilliant, fingering her
bank-notes as she spoke.

"Miss Vere," stammered Tommy, "I venture to ask you a favor,--could you
kindly, very kindly lend me ten shillings till to-morrow night? I am so
pressed just now--and my wife is ill in bed--and--" he stopped, and his
eyes sought her face hopefully, yet timidly.

"You shouldn't have a wife, Tommy!" averred Violet with blunt frankness.
"Wives are expensive articles. Besides, I never lend. I never
give--except to public charities where one's name gets mentioned in the
papers. I'm obliged to do that, you know, by way of advertisement. Ten
shillings! Why, I can't afford ten pence! My bills would frighten you,
Tommy! There go along, and don't cry, for goodness sake! Let your fiddle
cry for you!"

"Oh, Miss Vere," once more pleaded Tommy, "if you knew how my wife
suffers--"

The actress rose and stamped her foot impatiently.

"Bother your wife!" she cried angrily, "and you too! Look out! or I tell
the manager we've got a beggar at the Brilliant. Don't stare at me like
that! Go to the d----l with you!"

Tommy slunk off abashed and trembling, and the Vere began to sing, or
rather croak, a low comic song, while she threw over her shoulders a
rich mantle glittering with embroidered trimmings, and poised a
coquettish Paris model hat on her thick untwisted coils of hair. Thus
attired, she passed out of her dressing-room, locking the door behind
her, and after a brief conversation with the jocose acting manager, whom
she met on her way out, she left the theatre, and took a cab to the
Criterion, where the young Duke of Moorlands, her latest conquest, had
invited her to a sumptuous luncheon with himself and friends, all men of
fashion, who were running through what money they had as fast as they
could go.

Lady Winsleigh, on her way home, was tormented by sundry uncomfortable
thoughts and sharp pricks of conscience. Her interview with Violet Vere
had instinctively convinced her that Sir Philip was innocent of the
intrigue imputed to him, and yet,--the letter she had now in her
possession seemed to prove him guilty. And though she felt herself to be
playing a vile part, she could not resist the temptation of trying what
the effect would be of this compromising document on Thelma's trusting
mind. It was undoubtedly a very incriminating epistle--any lawyer would
have said as much, while blandly pocketing his fee for saying it. It was
written off in evident haste, and ran as follows:--


  "Let me see you once more on the subject you know of. Why will you
  not accept the honorable position offered to you? There shall be
  no stint of money--all the promises I have made I am quite ready
  to fulfill--you shall lose nothing by being gentle. Surely you
  cannot continue to seem so destitute of all womanly feeling and
  pity? I will not believe that you would so deliberately condemn to
  death a man who has loved, and who loves you still so faithfully,
  and who, without you, is utterly weary of life and broken-hearted!
  Think once more--and let my words carry more weight with you!"

                                                  "BRUCE-ERRINGTON."


This was all, but more than enough!

"I wonder what he means," thought Lady Winsleigh. "It looks as if he
were in love with the Vere and she refused to reciprocate. It _must_ be
that. And yet that doesn't accord with what the creature herself said
about his 'preaching at her.' He wouldn't do that if he were in love."

She studied every word of the letter again and again, and finally folded
it up carefully and placed it in her pocket-book.

"Innocent or guilty, Thelma must see it," she decided. "I wonder how
she'll take it! If she wants a proof--it's one she'll scarcely deny.
Some women would fret themselves to death over it--but I shouldn't
wonder if she sat down under it quite calmly without a word of
complaint." She frowned a little. "Why must _she_ always be superior to
others of her sex! How I detest that still solemn smile of hers and
those big baby-blue eyes! I think if Philip had married any other woman
than she--a woman more like the rest of us who'd have gone with her
time,--I could have forgiven him more easily. But to pick up a Norwegian
peasant and set her up as a sort of moral finger-post to society--and
then to go and compromise himself with Violet Vere--that's a kind of
thing I _can't_ stand! I'd rather be anything in the world than a
humbug!"

Many people desire to be something they are not, and her ladyship quite
unconsciously echoed this rather general sentiment. She was, without
knowing it, such an adept in society humbug, that she even humbugged
herself. She betrayed herself as she betrayed others, and told little
soothing lies to her own conscience as she told them to her friends.
There are plenty of women like her,--women of pleasant courtesy and
fashion, to whom truth is mere coarseness,--and with whom polite lying
passes for perfect breeding. She was not aware, as she was driven along
Park Lane to her own residence, that she carried with her on the box of
her brougham a private detective in the person of Briggs. Perched
stiffly on his seat, with arms tightly folded, this respectable retainer
was quite absorbed in meditation, so much so that he exchanged not a
word with his friend, the coachman, beside him. He had his own notions
of propriety,--he considered that his mistress had no business whatever
to call on an actress of Violet Vere's repute,--and he resolved that
whether he were reproved for over-officiousness or not, nothing should
prevent him from casually mentioning to Lord Winsleigh the object of her
ladyship's drive that morning.

"For," mused Briggs gravely, "a lady 'as responsibilities, and 'owever
she forgets 'erself, appearances 'as to be kep' up."

With the afternoon, the fog which had hung over the city all day,
deepened and darkened. Thelma had lunched with Mrs. Lorimer, and had
enjoyed much pleasant chat with that kindly, cheerful old lady. She had
confided to her, part of the story of Sir Francis Lennox's conduct,
carefully avoiding every mention of the circumstance which had given
rise to it,--namely, the discussion about Violet Vere. She merely
explained that she had suddenly fainted, in which condition Sir Francis
had taken advantage of her helplessness to insult her.

Mrs. Lorimer was highly indignant. "Tell your husband all about it, my
dear!" she advised. "He's big enough, and strong enough, to give that
little snob a good trouncing! My patience! I wish George were in
London--he'd lend a hand and welcome!"

And the old lady nodded her head violently over the sock she was
knitting,--the making of socks for her beloved son was her principal
occupation and amusement.

"But I hear," said Thelma, "that it is against the law to strike any
one, no matter how you have been insulted. If so,--then Philip would be
punished for attacking Sir Francis, and that would not be fair."

"You didn't think of that, child, when you struck Lennox yourself,"
returned Mrs. Lorimer, laughing. "And I guarantee you gave him a good
hard blow,--and serve him right! Never mind what comes of it, my
dearie--just tell your husband as soon as ever he comes home, and let
him take the matter into his own hands. He's a fine man--he'll know how
to defend the pretty wife he loves so well!" And she smiled, while her
shining knitting-needles clicked faster than ever.

Thelma's face saddened a little. "I think I am not worthy of his love,"
she said sorrowfully.

Mrs. Lorimer looked at her with some inquisitiveness.

"What makes you say that, my dear?"

"Because I feel it so much," she replied. "Dear Mrs. Lorimer, you
cannot, perhaps, understand--but when he married me, it seemed as if the
old story of the king and the beggar-maid were being repeated over
again. I sought nothing but his love--his love was, and is my life!
These riches--these jewels and beautiful things he surrounds me with--I
do not care for them at all, except for the reason that he wishes me to
have them. I scarcely understand their value, for I have been poor all
my life, and yet I have wanted nothing. I do not think wealth is needful
to make one happy. But love--ah! I could not live without it--and
now--now--" She paused, and her eyes filled with sudden tears.

"Now what?" asked Mrs. Lorimer gently.

"Now," continued the girl in a low voice, "my heart is always afraid!
Yes! I am afraid of losing my husband's love. Ah, do not laugh at me,
dear Mrs. Lorimer! You know people who are much together sometimes get
tired,--tired of seeing the same face always,--the same form--"

"Are _you_ tired, dearie?" asked the old lady meaningly.

"I? Tired of Philip? I am only happy when he is with me!" And her eyes
deepened with passionate tenderness. "I would wish to live and die
beside him, and I should not care if I never saw another human face than
his!"

"Well, and don't you think he has the same feelings for you?"

"Men are different, I think," returned Thelma musingly. "Now, love is
everything to me--but it may not be everything to Philip. I do believe
that love is only part of a man's life, while it is _all_ a woman's.
Clara told me once that most husbands wearied of their wives, though
they would not always confess it--"

"Clara Winsleigh's modern social doctrines are false, my dear!"
interrupted Mrs. Lorimer quickly. "She isn't satisfied with her own
marriage, and she thinks everybody must be as discontented as herself.
Now, my husband and I lived always together for five and twenty
years,--and we were lovers to the last day, when my darling died with
his hand in mine--and--and--if it hadn't been for my boy,--I should have
died too!"

And two bright tears fell glittering on the old lady's knitting.

Thelma took her hand and kissed it fondly. "I can understand that," she
said softly; "but still,--still I do believe it is difficult to keep
love when you have won it! It is, perhaps, easy to win--but I am sure it
is hard to keep!"

Mrs. Lorimer looked at her earnestly.

"My dear child, don't let that frivolous Winsleigh woman put nonsense
into your pretty head. You are too sensible to take such a morbid view
of things,--and you mustn't allow your wholesome fresh nature to be
contaminated by the petulant, wrong-headed notions that cloud the brains
of idle, fashionable, useless women. Believe me, good men don't tire of
their wives--and Sir Philip is a good man. Good wives never weary their
husbands--and you are a good wife--and you will be a good, sweet mother.
Think of that new delight so soon coming for you,--and leave all the
modern, crazy, one-sided notions of human life to the French and Russian
novelists. Tut-tut!" continued the old lady tenderly. "A nice little
ladyship you are,--worrying yourself about nothing! Send Philip to me
when he comes home--I'll scold him for leaving his bird to mope in her
London cage!"

"I do not mope," declared Thelma. "And you must not scold him, please!
Poor boy! he is working so very hard, and has so much to attend to. He
wants to distinguish himself for--for my sake!"

"That looks very much as if he were tired of you!" laughed Mrs. Lorimer.
"Though I dare say you'd like him to stay at home and make love to you
all day! Silly girl! You want the world to be a sort of Arcadia, with
you as Phyllis, and Sir Philip as Corydon! My dear, we're living in the
nineteenth century, and the days of fond shepherds and languishing
shepherdesses are past!"

Thelma laughed too, and felt soon ashamed of her depression. The figure
of Violet Vere now and then danced before her like a mocking
will-o'-the-wisp--but her pride forbade her to mention this,--the actual
source of all her vague troubles.

She left Mrs. Lorimer's house, which was near Holland Park, about four
o'clock, and as she was passing Church Street, Kensington, she bade her
coachman drive up to the Carmelite Church there, familiarly known as the
"Carms." She entered the sacred edifice, where the service of
Benediction was in progress; and, kneeling down, she listened to the
exquisite strains of the solemn music that pealed through those dim and
shadowy aisles, and a sense of the most perfect peace settled soothingly
on her soul. Clasping her gentle hands, she prayed with innocent and
heart-felt earnestness--not for herself,--never for herself,--but
always, always for that dear, most dear one, for whom every beat of her
true heart was a fresh vow of undying and devoted affection.

"Dear God!" she whispered, "if I love him too much, forgive me! Thou who
art all Love, wilt pardon me this excess of love! Bless my darling
always, and teach me how to be more worthy of Thy goodness and his
tenderness!"

And when she left the church, she was happier and more light-hearted
than she had been for many a long day. She drove home, heedless of the
fog and cold, dismal aspect of the weather, and resolved to go and visit
Lady Winsleigh in the evening, so that when Philip came back on the
morrow, she might be able to tell him that she had amused herself, and
had not been lonely.

But when she arrived at her own door, Morris, who opened it, informed
her that Lady Winsleigh was waiting in the drawing-room to see her, and
had been waiting some time. Thelma hastened thither immediately, and
held out her hands joyously to her friend.

"I am so sorry you have had to wait, Clara!" she began. "Why did you not
send word and say you were coming? Philip is away and will not be back
to-night, and I have been lunching with Mrs. Lorimer, and--why, what
makes you look so grave?"

Lady Winsleigh regarded her fixedly. How radiantly lovely the young wife
looked!--her cheeks had never been more delicately rosy, or her eyes
more brilliant. The dark fur cloak she wore with its rich sable
trimmings, and the little black velvet _toque_ that rested on her fair
curls, set off the beauty of her clear skin to perfection, and her
rival, who stood gazing at her with such close scrutiny, envied her more
than ever as she was once again reluctantly forced to admit to herself
the matchless loveliness of the innocent creature whose happiness she
now sought to destroy.

"Do I look grave, Thelma?" she said with a slight smile. "Well, perhaps
I've a reason for my gravity. And so your husband is away?"

"Yes. He went quite early this morning,--a telegram summoned him and he
was obliged to go." Here she drew up a chair to the fire, and began to
loosen her wraps. "Sit down, Clara! I will ring for tea."

"No, don't ring," said Lady Winsleigh. "Not yet! I want to talk to you
privately." She sank languidly on a velvet lounge and looked Thelma
straight in the eyes.

"Dear Thelma," she continued in a sweetly tremulous, compassionate
voice. "Can you bear to hear something very painful and shocking,
something that I'm afraid will grieve you very much?"

The color fled from the girl's fair face--her eyes grew startled.

"What do you mean, Clara? Is it anything about--about Philip?"

Lady Winsleigh bent her head in assent, but remained silent.

"If," continued Thelma, with a little return of the rosy hue to her
cheeks. "If it is something else about that--that person at the theatre,
Clara, I would rather not hear it! I think I have been wrong in
listening to any such stories--it is so seldom that gossip of any kind
is true. It is not a wife's duty to receive scandals about her husband.
And suppose he does see Miss Vere, how do I know that it may not be on
business for some friend of his?--because I do know that on that night
when he went behind the scenes at the Brilliant, he said it was on
business. Mr. Lovelace used often to go and see Miss Mary Anderson, all
to persuade her to take a play written by a friend of his--and Philip,
who is always kind-hearted, may perhaps be doing something of the same
sort. I feel I have been wicked to have even a small doubt of my
husband's love,--so, Clara, do not let us talk any more on a subject
which only displeases me."

"You must choose your own way of life, of course," said Lady Winsleigh
coldly. "But you draw rather foolish comparisons, Thelma. There is a
wide difference between Mary Anderson and Violet Vere. Besides, Mr.
Lovelace is a bachelor,--he can do as he likes and go where he likes
without exciting comment. However, whether you are angry with me or not,
I feel I should not be your true friend if I did not show you--_this_.
You know your husband's writing!"

And she drew out the fatal letter, and continued, watching her victim as
she spoke, "This was sent by Sir Philip to Violet Vere last night,--she
gave it to me herself this morning."

Thelma's hand trembled as she took the paper.

"Why should I read it?" she faltered mechanically.

Lady Winsleigh raised her eyebrows and frowned impatiently.

"Why--why? Because it is your duty to do so! Have you no pride? Will you
allow your husband to write such a letter as that to another woman,--and
_such_ a woman too! without one word of remonstrance? You owe it to
yourself--to your own sense of honor--to resent and resist such
treatment on his part! Surely the deepest love cannot pardon deliberate
injury and insult."

"My love can pardon anything," answered the girl in a low voice, and
then slowly, very slowly, she opened the folded sheet--slowly she read
every word it contained,--words that stamped themselves one by one on
her bewildered brain and sent it reeling into darkness and vacancy. She
felt sick and cold--she stared fixedly at her husband's familiar
handwriting. "A man who has loved and who loves you still, and who
without you is utterly weary and broken-hearted!"

Thus he wrote of himself to--to Violet Vere! It seemed incredible--yet
it was true! She heard a rushing sound in her ears--the room swung round
dizzily before her eyes--yet she sat, still, calm and cold, holding the
letter and speaking no word.

Lady Winsleigh watched her, irritated at her passionless demeanor.

"Well!" she exclaimed at last. "Have you nothing to say?"

Thelma looked up, her eyes burning with an intense feverish light.

"Nothing!" she replied.

"_Nothing_?" repeated her ladyship with emphatic astonishment.

"Nothing against Philip," continued the girl steadily. "For the blame is
not his, but mine! That he is weary and broken-hearted must be my
fault--though I cannot yet understand what I have done. But it must be
something, because if I were all that he wished he would not have grown
so tired." She paused and her pale lips quivered. "I am sorry," she went
on with dreamy pathos, "sorrier for him than for myself, because now I
see I am in the way of his happiness." A quiver of agony passed over her
face,--she fixed her large bright eyes on Lady Winsleigh, who
instinctively shrank from the solemn speechless despair of that
penetrating gaze.

"Who gave you this letter, Clara?" she asked calmly.

"I told you before,--Miss Vere herself."

"Why did she give it to you?" continued Thelma in a dull, sad voice.

Lady Winsleigh hesitated and stammered a little. "Well, because--because
I asked her if the stories about Sir Philip were true. And she begged me
to ask him not to visit her so often." Then, with an additional thought
of malice, she said softly. "She doesn't wish to wrong you, Thelma,--of
course, she's not a very good woman, but I think she feels sorry for
you!"

The girl uttered a smothered cry of anguish, as though she had been
stabbed to the heart. She!--to be actually _pitied_ by Violet Vere,
because she had been unable to keep her husband's love! This idea
tortured her very soul,--but she was silent.

"I thought you were my friend, Clara?" she said suddenly, with a strange
wistfulness.

"So I am, Thelma," murmured Lady Winsleigh, a guilty flush coloring her
cheeks.

"You have made me very miserable," went on Thelma gravely, and with
pathetic simplicity, "and I am sorry indeed that we ever met. I was so
happy till I knew you!--and yet I was very fond of you! I am sure you
mean everything for the best, but I cannot think it is so. And it is all
so dark and desolate now--why have you taken such pains to make me sad?
Why have you so often tried to make me doubt my husband's love?--why
have you come to-day so quickly to tell me I have lost it? But for you,
I might never have known this sorrow,--I might have died soon, in happy
ignorance, believing in my darling's truth as I believe in God!"

Her voice broke, and a hard sob choked her utterance. For once Lady
Winsleigh's conscience smote her--for once she felt ashamed, and dared
not offer consolation to the innocent soul she had so wantonly stricken.
For a minute or two there was silence--broken only by the monotonous
ticking of the clock and the crackling of the fire.

Presently Thelma spoke again. "I will ask you to go away now and leave
me, Clara," she said simply. "When the heart is sorrowful, it is best to
be alone. Good-bye!" And she gently held out her hand.

"Poor Thelma!" said Lady Winsleigh, taking it with an affectation of
tenderness. "What will you do?"

Thelma did not answer; she sat mute and rigid.

"You are thinking unkindly of me just now," continued Clara softly; "but
I felt it was my duty to tell you the worst at once. It's no good living
in a delusion! I'm very, very sorry for you, Thelma!"

Thelma remained perfectly silent. Lady Winsleigh moved towards the door,
and as she opened it looked back at her. The girl might have been a
lifeless figure for any movement that could be perceived about her. Her
face was white as marble--her eyes were fixed on the sparkling fire--her
very hands looked stiff and pallid as wax, as they lay clasped in her
lap--the letter--the cruel letter,--had fallen at her feet. She seemed
as one in a trance of misery--and so Lady Winsleigh left her.




CHAPTER XXVI.

    "O my lord, O Love,
     I have laid my life at thy feet;
     Have thy will thereof
     For what shall please thee is sweet!"
                                                       SWINBURNE.


She roused herself at last. Unclasping her hands, she pushed back her
hair from her brows and sighed heavily. Shivering as with intense cold,
she rose from the chair she had so long occupied, and stood upright,
mechanically gathering around her the long fur mantle that she had not
as yet taken off. Catching sight of the letter where it lay, a gleaming
speck of white on the rich dark hues of the carpet, she picked it up and
read it through again calmly and comprehensively,--then folded it up
carefully as though it were something of inestimable value. Her thoughts
were a little confused,--she could only realize clearly two distinct
things,--first, that Philip was unhappy,--secondly, that she was in the
way of his happiness. She did not pause to consider how this change in
him had been effected,--moreover, she never imagined that the letter he
had written could refer to any one but himself. Hers was a nature that
accepted facts as they appeared--she never sought for ulterior motives
or disguised meanings. True, she could not understand her husband's
admiration for Violet Vere, "But then"--she thought--"many other men
admire her too. And so it is certain there must be something about her
that wins love,--something I cannot see!"

And presently she put aside all other considerations, and only pondered
on one thing,--how should she remove herself from the path of her
husband's pleasure? For she had no doubt but that she was an obstacle to
his enjoyment. He had made promises to Violet Vere which he was "ready
to fulfill,"--he offered her "an honorable position,"--he desired her
"not to condemn him to death,"--he besought her to let his words "carry
more weight with her."

"It is because I am here," thought Thelma wearily. "She would listen to
him if I were gone!" She had the strangest notions of wifely duty--odd
minglings of the stern Norse customs with the gentler teachings of
Christianity,--yet in both cases the lines of woman's life were clearly
defined in one word--obedience. Most women, receiving an apparent proof
of a husband's infidelity, would have made what is termed a
"scene,"--would have confronted him with rage and tears, and personal
abuse,--but Thelma was too gentle for this,--too gentle to resist what
seemed to be Philip's wish and will, and far too proud to stay where it
appeared evident she was not wanted. Moreover she could not bear the
idea of speaking to him on, such a subject as his connection with Violet
Vere,--the hot color flushed her cheeks with a sort of shame as she
thought of it.

Of course, she was weak--of course, she was foolish,--we will grant that
she was anything the reader chooses to call her. It is much better for a
woman nowadays to be defiant rather than yielding,--aggressive, not
submissive,--violent, not meek. We all know that! To abuse a husband
well all round, is the modern method of managing him! But poor, foolish,
loving, sensitive Thelma had nothing of the magnificent strength of mind
possessed by most wives of to-day,--she could only realize that
Philip--her Philip--was "utterly weary and broken-hearted"--for the sake
of another woman--and that other woman actually pitied _her_! She pitied
herself too, a little vaguely--her brows ached and throbbed
violently--there was a choking sensation in her throat, but she could
not weep. Tears would have relieved her tired brain, but no tears fell.
She strove to decide on some immediate plan of action,--Philip would be
home to-morrow,--she recoiled at the thought of meeting him, knowing
what she knew. Glancing dreamily at her own figure, reflected by the
lamplight in the long mirror opposite, she recognized that she was fully
attired in outdoor costume--all save her hat, which she had taken off
after her first greeting of Lady Winsleigh, and which was still on the
table at her side. She looked at the clock,--it was five minutes to
seven. Eight o'clock was her dinner-hour, and thinking of this, she
suddenly rang the bell. Morris immediately answered it.

"I shall not dine at home," she said in her usual gentle voice; "I am
going to see some friend this evening. I may not be back till--till
late."

"Very well, my lady," and Morris retired without seeing anything
remarkable in his mistress's announcement. Thelma drew a long breath of
relief as he disappeared, and, steadying her nerves by a strong effort,
passed into her own boudoir,--the little sanctum specially endeared to
her by Philip's frequent presence there. How cosy and comfortable a
home-nest it looked!--a small fire glowed warmly in the grate, and
Britta, whose duty it was to keep this particular room in order, had lit
the lamp,--a rosy globe supported by a laughing cupid,--and had drawn
the velvet curtains close at the window to keep out the fog and chilly
air--there were fragrant flowers on the table,--Thelma's own favorite
lounge was drawn up to the fender in readiness for her,--opposite to it
stood the deep, old-fashioned easy chair in which Philip always sat. She
looked round upon all these familiar things with a dreary sense of
strangeness and desolation, and the curves of her sweet mouth trembled a
little and drooped piteously. But her resolve was taken, and she did not
hesitate or weep. She sat down to her desk and wrote a few brief lines
to her father--this letter she addressed and stamped ready for posting.

Then for a while she remained apparently lost in painful musings,
playing with the pen she held, and uncertain what to do. Presently she
drew a sheet of note-paper toward her, and began, "My darling boy." As
these words appeared under her hand on the white page, her forced calm
nearly gave way,--a low cry of intense agony escaped from her lips, and,
dropping the pen, she rose and paced the room restlessly, one hand
pressed against her heart as though that action could still its rapid
beatings. Once more she essayed the hard task she had set herself to
fulfill--the task of bidding farewell to the husband in whom her life
was centred. Piteous, passionate words came quickly from her overcharged
and almost breaking heart--words, tender, touching,--full of love, and
absolutely free from all reproach. Little did she guess as she wrote
that parting letter, what desperate misery it would cause to the
receiver!--

When she had finished it, she felt quieted--even more composed than
before. She folded and sealed it--then put it out of sight and rang for
Britta. That little maiden soon appeared, and seemed surprised to see
her mistress still in walking costume.

"Have you only just come in, Froeken?" she ventured to inquire.

"No, I came home some time ago," returned Thelma gently. "But I was
talking to Lady Winsleigh in the drawing-room,--and as I am going out
again this evening I shall not require to change my dress. I want you to
post this letter for me, Britta."

And she held out the one addressed to her father, Olaf Gueldmar. Britta
took it, but her mind still revolved the question of her mistress's
attire.

"If you are going to spend the evening with friends," she suggested,
"would it not be better to change?"

"I have on a velvet gown," said Thelma, with a rather wearied patience.
"It is quite dressy enough for where I am going." She paused abruptly,
and Britta looked at her inquiringly.

"Are you tired, Froeken Thelma?" she asked. "You are so pale!"

"I have a slight headache," Thelma answered. "It is nothing,--it will
soon pass. I wish you to post that letter at once, Britta."

"Very well, Froeken." Britta still hesitated. "Will you be out all the
evening?" was her next query.

"Yes."

"Then perhaps you will not mind if I go and see Louise, and take supper
with her? She has asked me, and Mr. Briggs"--here Britta laughed--"is
coming to see if I can go. He will escort me, he says!" And she laughed
again.

Thelma forced herself to smile. "You can go, by all means, Britta! But I
thought you did not like Lady Winsleigh's French maid?"

"I don't like her much," Britta admitted--"still, she means to be kind
and agreeable, I think. And"--here she eyed Thelma with a mysterious and
important air--"I want to ask her a question about something very
particular."

"Then, go and stay as long as you like, dear," said Thelma, a sudden
impulse of affection causing her to caress softly her little maid's
ruffled brown curls, "I shall not be back till--till quite late. And
when you return from the post, I shall be gone--so--good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" exclaimed Britta wonderingly. "Why, where are you going? One
would think you were starting on a long journey. You speak so strangely,
Froeken!"

"Do I?" and Thelma smiled kindly. "It is because my head aches, I
suppose. But it is not strange to say good-bye, Britta!"

Britta caught her hand. "Where are you going?" she persisted.

"To see some friends," responded Thelma quietly. "Now do not ask any
more questions, Britta, but go and post my letter. I want father to get
it as soon as possible, and you will lose the post if you are not very
quick."

Thus reminded, Britta hastened off, determining to run all the way, in
order to get back before her mistress left the house. Thelma, however,
was too quick for her. As soon as Britta had gone, she took the letter
she had written to Philip, and slipped it within the pages of a small
volume of poems he had lately been reading. It was a new book entitled
"Gladys the Singer," and its leading _motif_ was the old,
never-exhausted subject of a woman's too faithful love, betrayal, and
despair. As she opened it, her eyes fell by chance on a few lines of
hopeless yet musical melancholy, which, like a sad song heard suddenly,
made her throat swell with rising yet restrained tears. They ran thus:--

    "Oh! I can drown, or, like a broken lyre,
     Be thrown to earth, or cast upon a fire,--
     I can be made to feel the pangs of death,
     And yet be constant to the quest of breath,--
     Our poor pale trick of living through the lies
     We name Existence when that 'something' dies
     Which we call Honor. Many and many a way
     Can I be struck or fretted night or day
     In some new fashion,--or condemn'd the while
     To take for food the semblance of a smile,--
     The left-off rapture of a slain caress,--"

Ah!--she caught her breath sobbingly, "The left-off rapture of a slain
caress!" Yes,--that would be her portion now if--if she stayed to
receive it. But she would not stay! She turned over the volume
abstractedly, scarcely conscious of the action,--and suddenly, as if the
poet-writer of it had been present to probe her soul and make her inmost
thoughts public, she read:--

    "Because I am unlov'd of thee to-day,
     And undesired as sea-weeds in the sea!"

Yes!--that was the "because" of everything that swayed her sorrowful
spirit,--"because" she was "unlov'd and undesired."

She hesitated no longer, but shut the book with her farewell letter
inside it, and put it back in its former place on the little table
beside Philip's arm-chair. Then she considered how she should
distinguish it by some mark that should attract her husband's attention
toward it,--and loosening from her neck a thin gold chain on which was
suspended a small diamond cross with the names "Philip" and "Thelma"
engraved at the back, she twisted it round the little book, and left it
so that the sparkle of the jewels should be seen distinctly on the
cover. Now was there anything more to be done? She divested herself of
all her valuable ornaments, keeping only her wedding-ring and its
companion circlet of brilliants,--she emptied her purse of all money
save that which was absolutely necessary for her journey--then she put
on her hat, and began to fasten her long cloak slowly, for her fingers
were icy cold and trembled very strangely. Stay,--there was her
husband's portrait,--she might take that, she thought, with a sort of
touching timidity. It was a miniature on ivory--and had been painted
expressly for her,--she placed it inside her dress, against her bosom.

"He has been too good to me," she murmured; "and I have been too
happy,--happier than I deserved to be. Excess of happiness must always
end in sorrow."

She looked dreamily at Philip's empty chair--in fancy she could see his
familiar figure seated there, and she sighed as she thought of the face
she loved so well,--the passion of his eyes,--the tenderness of his
smile. Softly she kissed the place where his head had rested,--then
turned resolutely away.

She was giving up everything, she thought, to another woman,--but
then--that other woman, however incredible it seemed, was the one Philip
loved best,--his own written words were a proof of this. There was no
choice therefore,--his pleasure was her first consideration,--everything
must yield to that, so she imagined,--her own life was nothing, in her
estimation, compared to his desire. Such devotion as hers was of course
absurd--it amounted to weak self-immolation, and would certainly be
accounted as supremely foolish by most women who have husbands, and who,
when they swear to "obey," mean to break the vow at every convenient
opportunity--but Thelma could not alter her strange nature, and, with
her, obedience meant the extreme letter of the law of utter submission.
Leaving the room she had so lately called her own, she passed into the
entrance-hall. Morris was not there, and she did not summon him,--she
opened the street-door for herself, and shutting it quietly behind her,
she stood alone in the cold street, where the fog had now grown so dense
that the lamp-posts were scarcely visible. She walked on for a few paces
rather bewildered and chilled by the piercing bitterness of the
air,--then, rallying her forces, she hailed a passing cab, and told the
man to take her to Charing Cross Station. She was not familiar with
London--and Charing Cross was the only great railway terminus she could
just then think of.

Arrived there, the glare of the electric light, the jostling passengers
rushing to and from the trains, the shouts and wrangling of porters and
cabmen, confused her not a little,--and the bold looks of admiration
bestowed on her freely by the male loungers sauntering near the doors of
the restaurant and hotel, made her shrink and tremble for shame. She had
never travelled entirely alone before--and she began to be frightened at
the pandemonium of sights and noises that surged around her. Yet she
never once thought of returning,--she never dreamed of going to any of
her London friends, lest on hearing of her trouble they might reproach
Philip--and this Thelma would not have endured. For the same reason, she
had said nothing to Britta.

In her then condition, it seemed to her that only one course lay open
for her to follow,--and that was to go quietly home,--home to the
Altenfjord. No one would be to blame for her departure but herself, she
thought,--and Philip would be free. Thus she reasoned,--if, indeed, she
reasoned at all. But there was such a frozen stillness in her soul--her
senses were so numbed with pain, that as yet she scarcely realized
either what had happened or what she herself was doing. She was as one
walking in sleep--the awakening, bitter as death, was still to come.

Presently a great rush of people began to stream towards her from one of
the platforms, and trucks of luggage, heralded by shouts of, "Out of the
way, there!" and "By'r leave!" came trundling rapidly along--the tidal
train from the Continent had just arrived.

Dismayed at the increasing confusion and uproar, Thelma addressed
herself to an official with a gold band round his hat.

"Can you tell me," she asked timidly, "where I shall take a ticket for
Hull?"

The man glanced at the fair, anxious face, and smiled good-humoredly.

"You've come to the wrong station, miss," he said. "You want the Midland
line."

"The Midland?" Thelma felt more bewildered than ever.

"Yes,--the _Midland_," he repeated rather testily. "It's a good way from
here--you'd better take a cab."

She moved away,--but started and drew herself back into a shadowed
corner, coloring deeply as the sound of a rich, mellifluous voice, which
she instantly recognized, smote suddenly on her ears.

"And as I before remarked, my good fellow," the voice was saying, "I am
not a disciple of the semi-obscure. If a man has a thought which is
worth declaring, let him declare it with a free and noble
utterance--don't let him wrap it up in multifarious parcels of dreary
verbosity! There's too much of that kind of thing going on nowadays--in
England, at least. There's a kind of imitation of art which isn't art at
all,--a morbid, bilious, bad imitation. You only get close to the real
goddess in Italy. I wish I could persuade you to come and pass the
winter with me there?"

It was Beau Lovelace who spoke, and he was talking to George Lorimer.
The two had met in Paris,--Lovelace was on his way to London, where a
matter of business summoned him for a few days, and Lorimer, somewhat
tired of the French capital, decided to return with him. And here they
were,--just arrived at Charing Cross,--and they walked across the
station arm in arm, little imagining who watched them from behind the
shelter of one of the waiting-room doors, with a yearning sorrow in her
grave blue eyes. They stopped almost opposite to her to light their
cigars,--she saw Lorimer's face quite distinctly, and heard his answer
to Lovelace.

"Well, I'll see what I can do about it, Beau! You know my mother always
likes to get away from London in winter--but whether we ought to inflict
ourselves upon you,--you being a literary man too--"

"Nonsense, you won't interfere in the least with the flow of inky
inspiration," laughed Beau. "And as for your mother, I'm in love with
her, as you are aware! I admire her almost as much as I do Lady
Bruce-Errington--and that's saying a great deal! By-the-by, if Phil can
get through his share of this country's business, he might do worse than
bring his beautiful Thelma to the Lake of Como for a while. I'll ask
him!"

And having lit their Havannas successfully, they walked on and soon
disappeared. For one instant Thelma felt strongly inclined to run after
them, like a little forlorn child that had lost its way,--and,
unburdening herself of all her miseries to the sympathetic George,
entreat, with tears, to be taken back to that husband who did not want
her any more. But she soon overcame this emotion,--and calling to mind
the instructions of the official personage whose advice she had sought,
she hurried out of the huge, brilliantly lit station, and taking a
hansom, was driven, as she requested, to the Midland. Here the rather
gloomy aspect of the place oppressed her as much as the garish bustle of
Charing Cross had bewildered her,--but she was somewhat relieved when
she learned that a train for Hull would start in ten minutes. Hurrying
to the ticket-office she found there before her a kindly faced woman
with a baby in her arms, who was just taking a third-class ticket to
Hull, and as she felt lonely and timid, Thelma at once decided to travel
third-class also, and if possible in the same compartment with this
cheerful matron, who, as soon as she had secured her ticket, walked away
to the train, hushing her infant in her arms as she went. Thelma
followed her at a little distance--and as soon as she saw her enter a
third-class carriage, she hastened her steps and entered also, quite
thankful to have secured some companionship for the long cold journey.
The woman glanced at her a little curiously--it was strange to see so
lovely and young a creature travelling all alone at night,--and she
asked kindly--

"Be you goin' fur, miss?"

Thelma smiled--it was pleasant to be spoken to, she thought.

"Yes," she answered. "All the way to Hull."

"'Tis a cold night for a journey," continued her companion.

"Yes, indeed," answered Thelma. "It must be cold for your little baby."

And unconsciously her voice softened and her eyes grew sad as she looked
across at the sleeping infant.

"Oh, he's as warm as toast!" laughed the mother cheerily. "He gets the
best of everything, he do. It's yourself that's looking cold, my dear in
spite of your warm cloak. Will ye have this shawl?"

And she offered Thelma a homely gray woollen wrap with much kindly
earnestness of manner.

"I am quite warm, thank you," said Thelma gently, accepting the shawl,
however, to please her fellow-traveller. "It is a headache I have which
makes me look pale. And, I am very, very tired!"

Her voice trembled a little,--she sighed and closed her eyes. She felt
strangely weak and giddy,--she seemed to be slipping away from herself
and from all the comprehension of life,--she wondered vaguely who and
what she was. Had her marriage with Philip been all a dream?--perhaps
she had never left the Altenfjord after all! Perhaps she would wake up
presently and see the old farm-house quite unchanged, with the doves
flying about the roof, and Sigurd wandering under the pines as was his
custom. Ah, dear Sigurd! Poor Sigurd! he had loved her, she
thought--nay, he loved her still,--he could not be dead! Oh, yes,--she
must have been dreaming,--she felt certain she was lying on her own
little white bed at home, asleep;--she would by-and-by open her eyes and
get up and look through her little latticed window, and see the sun
sparkling on the water, and the _Eulalie_ at the anchor in the
Fjord--and her father would ask Sir Philip and his friends to spend the
afternoon at the farm-house--and Philip would come and stroll with her
through the garden and down to the shore, and would talk to her in that
low, caressing voice of his,--and though she loved him dearly, she must
never, never let him know of it, because she was not worthy! . . . She
woke from these musings with a violent start and a sick shiver running
through all her frame,--and looking wildly about her, saw that she was
reclining on some one's shoulder,--some one was dabbing a wet
handkerchief on her forehead--her hat was off and her cloak was
loosened.

"There, my dear, you're better now!" said a kindly voice in her ear.
"Lor! I thought you was dead--that I did! 'Twas a bad faint indeed. And
with the train jolting along like this too! It was lucky I had a flask
of cold water with me. Raise your head a little--that's it! Poor
thing,--you're as white as a sheet! You're not fit to travel, my
dear--you're not indeed."

Thelma raised herself slowly, and with a sudden impulse kissed the good
woman's honest, rosy face, to her intense astonishment and pleasure.

"You are very kind to me!" she said tremulously. "I am so sorry to have
troubled you. I do feel ill--but it will soon pass."

And she smoothed her ruffled hair, and sitting up erect, endeavored to
smile. Her companion eyed her pale face compassionately, and taking up
her sleeping baby from the shawl on which she had laid it while
ministering to Thelma's needs, began to rock it slowly to and fro.
Thelma, meanwhile, became sensible of the rapid movement of the train.

"We have left London?" she asked with an air of surprise.

"Nearly half an hour ago, my dear." Then, after a pause, during which
she had watched Thelma very closely, she said--

"I think you're married, aren't you, dearie?"

"Yes." Thelma answered, a slight tinge of color warming her fair pale
cheeks.

"Your husband, maybe, will meet you at Hull?"

"No,--he is in London," said Thelma simply. "I am going to see my
father."

This answer satisfied her humble friend, who, noticing her extreme
fatigue and the effort it cost her to speak, forbore to ask any more
questions, but good-naturedly recommended her to try and sleep. She
slept soundly herself for the greater part of the journey; but Thelma
was now feverishly wide awake, and her eyeballs ached and burned as
though there were fire behind them.

Gradually her nerves began to be wound up to an extreme tension of
excitement--she forgot all her troubles in listening with painful
intentness to the rush and roar of the train through the darkness. The
lights of passing stations and signal-posts gleamed like scattered and
flying stars--there was the frequent shriek of the engine-whistle,--the
serpent-hiss of escaping steam. She peered through the window--all was
blackness; there seemed to be no earth, no sky,--only a sable chaos,
through which the train flew like a flame-mouthed demon. Always that
rush and roar! She began to feel as if she could stand it no longer. She
must escape from that continuous, confusing sound--it maddened her
brain. Nothing was easier; she would open the carriage-door and get out!
Surely she could manage to jump off the step, even though the train was
in motion!

Danger! She smiled at that idea,--there was no danger; and, if there
was, it did not much matter. Nothing mattered now,--now that she had
lost her husband's love. She glanced at the woman opposite, who slept
profoundly--the baby had slipped a little from its mother's arms, and
lay with its tiny face turned towards Thelma. It was a pretty creature,
with soft cheeks and a sweet little mouth,--she looked at it with a
vague, wild smile. Again, again that rush and roar surged like a storm
in her ears and distracted her mind! She rose suddenly and seized the
handle of the carriage door. Another instant, and she would have sprang
to certain death,--when suddenly the sleeping baby woke, and, opening
its mild blue eyes, gazed at her.

She met its glance as one fascinated,--almost unconsciously her fingers
dropped from the door-handle,--the little baby still looked at her in
dreamlike, meditative fashion,--its mother slept profoundly. She bent
lower and lower over the child. With a beating heart she ventured to
touch the small, pink hand that lay outside its wrappings like a softly
curved rose-leaf. With a sort of elf-like confidence and contentment the
feeble, wee fingers closed and curled round hers,--and held her fast!
Weak as a silken thread, yet stronger in its persuasive force than a
grasp of iron, that soft, light pressure controlled and restrained her,
. . . very gradually the mists of her mind cleared,--the rattling,
thunderous dash of the train grew less dreadful, less monotonous, less
painful to her sense of hearing,--her bosom heaved convulsively, and all
suddenly her eyes filled with tears--merciful tears, which at first
welled up slowly, and were hot as fire, but which soon began to fall
faster and faster in large, bright drops down her pale cheeks. Seeing
that its mother still slept, she took the baby gently into her own fair
arms,--and rocked it to and fro with many a sobbing murmur of
tenderness;--the little thing smiled drowsily and soon fell asleep
again, all unconscious that its timely look and innocent touch had saved
poor Thelma's life and reason.

She, meanwhile, wept on softly, till her tired brain and heart were
somewhat relieved of their heavy burden,--the entanglement of her
thoughts became unravelled,--and, though keenly aware of the blank
desolation of her life, she was able to raise herself in spirit to the
Giver of all Love and Consolation, and to pray humbly for that patience
and resignation which now alone could serve her needs. And she communed
with herself and God in silence, as the train rushed on northwards. Her
fellow-traveller woke up as they were nearing their destination, and,
seeing her holding the baby, was profuse in her thanks for this
kindness. And when they at last reached Hull, about half an hour after
midnight, the good woman was exceedingly anxious to know if she could be
of any service,--but Thelma gently, yet firmly, refused all her offers
of assistance.

They parted in the most friendly manner,--Thelma kissing the child,
through whose unconscious means, as she now owned to herself, she had
escaped a terrible death,--and then she went directly to a quiet hotel
she knew of, which was kept by a native of Christiania, a man who had
formerly been acquainted with her father. At first, when this worthy
individual saw a lady arrive, alone, young, richly dressed, and without
luggage, he was inclined to be suspicious,--but as soon as she addressed
him in Norwegian, and told him who she was, he greeted her with the
utmost deference and humility.

"The daughter of Jarl Gueldmar," he said, continuing to speak in his own
tongue, "honors my house by entering it!"

Thelma smiled a little. "The days of the great Jarls are past,
Friedhof," she replied somewhat sadly, "and my father is content to be
what he is,--a simple _bonde_."

Friedhof shook his head quite obstinately. "A Jarl is always a Jarl," he
declared. "Nothing can alter a man's birth and nature. And the last time
I saw Valdemar Svensen,--he who lives with your father now,--he was
careful always to speak of the _Jarl_, and seldom or never did he
mention him in any other fashion. And now, noble Froeken, in what manner
can I serve you?"

Thelma told him briefly that she was going to see her father on
business, and that she was desirous of starting for Norway the next day
as early as possible.

Friedhof held up his hands in amazement. "Ah! most surely you forget,"
he exclaimed, using the picturesque expressions of his native speech,
"that this is the sleeping time of the sun! Even at the Hardanger Fjord
it is dark and silent,--the falling streams freeze with cold on their
way; and if it is so at the Hardanger, what will it be at the Alten? And
there is no passenger ship going to Christiania or Bergen for a
fortnight!"

Thelma clasped her hands in dismay. "But I _must_ go!" she cried
impatiently; "I must, indeed, good Friedhof! I cannot stay here! Surely,
surely there is some vessel that would take me,--some fishing
boat,--what does it matter how I travel, so long as I get away?"

The landlord looked at her rather wonderingly. "Nay, if it is indeed so
urgent, noble Froeken," he replied, "do not trouble, for there is a means
of making the journey. But for _you_, and in such bitter weather, it
seems a cruelty to speak of it. A steam cargo-boat leaves here for
Hammerfest and the North Cape to-morrow--it will pass the Altenfjord. No
doubt you could go with that, if you so choose,--but there will be no
warmth or comfort, and there are heavy storms on the North Sea. I know
the captain; and 'tis true he takes his wife with him, so there would be
a woman on board,--yet--"

Thelma interrupted him. She pressed two sovereigns into his hand.

"Say no more, Friedhof," she said eagerly. "You will take me to see this
captain--you will tell him I must go with him. My father will thank you
for this kindness to me, even better than I can."

"It does not seem to me a kindness at all," returned Friedhof with frank
bluntness. "I would be loth to sail the seas myself in such weather. And
I thought you were so grandly married, Froeken Gueldmar,--though I forget
your wedded name,--how comes it that your husband is not with you?"

"He is very busy in London," answered Thelma. "He knows where I am
going. Do not be at all anxious, Friedhof,--I shall make the journey
very well and I am not afraid of storm or wild seas."

Friedhof still looked dubious, but finally yielded to her entreaties and
agreed to arrange her passage for her in the morning.

She stayed at his hotel that night, and with the very early dawn
accompanied him on board the ship he had mentioned. It was a small,
awkwardly built craft, with an ugly crooked black funnel out of which
the steam was hissing and spitting with quite an unnecessary degree of
violence--the decks were wet and dirty, and the whole vessel was
pervaded with a sickening smell of whale-oil. The captain, a gruff
red-faced fellow, looked rather surlily at his unexpected passenger--but
was soon mollified by her gentle manner, and the readiness with which
she paid the money he demanded for taking her.

"You won't be very warm," he said, eyeing her from head to foot--"but I
can lend you a rug to sleep in."

Thelma smiled and thanked him. He called to his wife, a thin,
overworked-looking creature, who put up her head from a window in the
cabin, at his summons.

"Here's a lady going with us," he announced. "Look after her, will you?"
The woman nodded. Then, once more addressing himself to Thelma, he said,
"We shall have nasty weather and a wicked sea!"

"I do not mind!" she answered quietly, and turning to Friedhof who had
come to see her off, she shook hands with him warmly and thanked him for
the trouble he had taken in her behalf. The good landlord bade her
farewell somewhat reluctantly,--he had a presentiment that there was
something wrong with the beautiful, golden-haired daughter of the
_Jarl_--and that perhaps he ought to have prevented her making this
uncomfortable and possibly perilous voyage. But it was too late
now,--and at a little before seven o'clock, the vessel,--which rejoiced
in the name of the _Black Polly_,--left the harbor, and steamed fussily
down the Humber in the teeth of a sudden storm of sleet and snow.

Her departure had no interest for any one save Friedhof, who stood
watching her till she was no more than a speck on the turbid water. He
kept his post, regardless of the piercing cold of the gusty, early
morning air, till she had entirely disappeared, and then returned to his
own house and his daily business in a rather depressed frame of mind. He
was haunted by the pale face and serious eyes of Thelma--she looked very
ill, he thought. He began to reproach himself,--why had he been such a
fool as to let her go?--why had he not detained her?--or at any rate,
persuaded her to rest a few days in Hull? He looked at the threatening
sky and the falling flakes of snow with a shiver.

"What weather!" he muttered, "and there must be a darkness as of death
at the Altenfjord!"

Meanwhile the _Black Polly_--unhandsome as she was in appearance,
struggled gallantly with and overcame an army of furious waves that rose
to greet her as she rounded Spurn Head, and long ere Thelma closed her
weary eyes in an effort to sleep, was plunging, shivering, and fighting
her slow way through shattering mountainous billows and a tempest of
sleet, snow, and tossing foam across the wild North Sea.




CHAPTER XXVII.

     "What of her glass without her? The blank grey
      There, where the pool is blind of the moon's face--
      Her dress without her? The tossed empty space
      Of cloud-rack whence the moon has passed away!"
                                               DANTE G. ROSSETTI.


"Good God!" cried Errington impatiently "What's the matter? Speak out!"

He had just arrived home. He had barely set foot within his own door,
and full of lover-like ardor and eagerness was about to hasten to his
wife's room,--when his old servant Morris stood in his way trembling and
pale-faced,--looking helplessly from him to Neville,--who was as much
astonished as Sir Philip, at the man's woe-begone appearance.

"Something has happened," he stammered faintly at last. "Her ladyship--"

Philip started--his heart beat quickly and then seemed to grow still
with a horrible sensation of fear.

"What of her?" he demanded in low hoarse tones. "Is she ill?"

Morris threw up his hands with a gesture of despair.

"Sir Philip, my dear master!" cried the poor old man. "I do not know
whether she is ill or well--I cannot guess! My lady went out last night
at a little before eight o'clock,--and--and she has never come home at
all! We cannot tell what has become of her! She has gone!"

And tears of distress and anxiety filled his eyes. Philip stood mute. He
could not understand it. All color fled from his face--he seemed as
though he had received a sudden blow on the head which had stunned him.

"Gone!" he said mechanically. "Thelma--my wife gone! Why should she go?"

And he stared fixedly at Neville, who laid one hand soothingly on his
arm.

"Perhaps she is with friends," he suggested. "She may be at Lady
Winsleigh's or Mrs. Lorimer's."

"No, no!" interrupted Morris. "Britta, who stayed up all night for her,
has since been to every house that my lady visits and no one has seen or
heard of her!"

"Where is Britta?" demanded Philip suddenly.

"She has gone again to Lady Winsleigh's," answered Morris, "she says it
is there that mischief has been done,--I don't know what she means!"

Philip shook off his secretary's sympathetic touch, and strode through
the rooms to Thelma's boudoir. He put aside the velvet curtains of the
portiere with a noiseless hand--somehow he felt as if, in spite of all
he had just heard, she _must_ be there as usual to welcome him with that
serene sweet smile which was the sunshine of his life. The empty
desolate air of the room smote him with a sense of bitter pain,--only
the plaintive warble of her pet thrush, who was singing to himself most
mournfully in his gilded cage, broke the heavy silence. He looked about
him vacantly. All sorts of dark forebodings crowded on his mind,--she
must have met with some accident, he thought with a shudder,--for that
she would depart from him in this sudden way of her own accord for no
reason whatsoever seemed to him incredible--impossible.

"What have I done that she should leave me?" he asked half aloud and
wonderingly. Everything that had seemed to him of worth a few hours ago
became valueless in this moment of time. What cared he now for the
business of Parliament--for distinction or honors among men?
Nothing--less than nothing! Without her, the world was empty--its
ambitions, its pride, its good, its evil, seemed but the dreariest and
most foolish trifles!

"Not even a message?" he thought. "No hint of where she meant to go--no
word of explanation for me? Surely I must be dreaming--my Thelma would
never have deserted me!"

A sort of sob rose in his throat, and he pressed his hand strongly over
his eyes to keep down the womanish drops that threatened to overflow
them. After a minute or two, he went to her desk and opened it, thinking
that there perhaps she might have left a note of farewell. There was
nothing--nothing save a little heap of money and jewels. These Thelma
had herself placed, before her sorrowful, silent departure, in the
corner where he now found them.

More puzzled than ever, he glanced searchingly round the room--and his
eyes were at once attracted by the sparkle of the diamond cross that lay
uppermost on the cover of "Gladys the Singer," the book of poems which
was in its usual place on his own reading table. In another second he
seized it--he unwound the slight gold chain--he opened the little volume
tremblingly. Yes!--there was a letter within its pages addressed to
himself,--now, now he should know all! He tore it open with feverish
haste--two folded sheets of paper fell out,--one was his own epistle to
Violet Vere, and this, to his consternation, he perceived first. Full of
a sudden misgiving he laid it aside, and began to read Thelma's parting
words.


"My darling boy," she wrote--

"A friend of yours and mine brought me the enclosed letter and
though, perhaps, it was wrong of me to read it, I hope you will
forgive me for having done so. I do not quite understand it, and I
cannot bear to think about it--but it seems that you are tired of
your poor Thelma! I do not blame you, dearest, for I am sure that in
some way or other the fault is mine, and it does grieve me so much
to think you are unhappy! I know that I am very ignorant of many
things, and that I am not suited to this London life--and I fear I
shall never understand its ways. But one thing I can do, and that is
to let you be free, my Philip--quite free! And so I am going back to
the Altenfjord, where I will stay till you want me again, if you
ever do. My heart is yours and I shall always love you till I die,--
and though it seems to me just now better that we should part, to
give you greater ease and pleasure, still you must always remember
that I have no reproaches to make to you. I am only sorry to think
my love has wearied you,--for you have been all goodness and
tenderness to me. And so that people shall not talk about me or you,
you will simply say to them that I have gone to see my father, and
they will think nothing strange in that. Be kind to Britta,--I have
told her nothing, as it would only make her miserable. Do not be
angry that I go away--I cannot bear to stay here, knowing all. And
so, good-bye, my love, my dearest one!--if you were to love many
women more than me, I still should love you best--I still would
gladly die to serve you. Remember this always,--that, however long
we may be parted, and though all the world should come between us, I
am, and ever shall be your faithful wife,"
                                                          "THELMA."


The ejaculation that broke from Errington's lips as he finished reading
this letter was more powerful than reverent. Stinging tears darted to
his eyes--he pressed his lips passionately on the fair writing.

"My darling--my darling!" he murmured. "What a miserable
misunderstanding!"

Then without another moment's delay he rushed into Neville's study and
cried abruptly--

"Look here! It's all your fault."

"_My_ fault!" gasped the amazed secretary.

"Yes--your fault!" shouted Errington almost beside himself with grief
and rage. "Your fault, and that of your accursed _wife_, Violet Vere!"

And he dashed the letter, the cause of all the mischief, furiously down
on the table. Neville shrank and shivered,--his grey head drooped, he
stretched out his hands appealingly.

"For God's sake, Sir Philip, tell me what I've done?" he exclaimed
piteously.

Errington strode up and down the room in a perfect fever of impatience.

"By Heaven, it's enough to drive me mad!" he burst forth.

"Your wife!--your wife!--confound her! When you first discovered her in
that shameless actress, didn't I want to tell Thelma all about it--that
very night?--and didn't you beg me not to do so? Your silly scruples
stood in the way of everything! I was a fool to listen to you--a fool to
meddle in your affairs--and--and I wish to God I'd never seen or heard
of you!"

Neville turned very white, but remained speechless.

"Read that letter!" went on Philip impetuously. "You've seen it before!
It's the last one I wrote to your wife imploring her to see you and
speak with you. Here it comes, the devil knows how, into Thelma's hands.
She's quite in the dark about _your secret_, and fancies I wrote it on
my own behalf! It looks like it too--looks exactly as if I were pleading
for myself and breaking my heart over that detestible stage-fiend--by
Jove! it's too horrible!" And he gave a gesture of loathing and
contempt.

Neville heard him in utter bewilderment. "Not possible!" he muttered.
"Not possible--it can't be!"

"Can't be? It _is_!" shouted Philip. "And if you'd let me tell Thelma
everything from the first, all this wouldn't have happened. And you ask
me what you've done! _Done!_ You've parted me from the sweetest, dearest
girl in the world!"

And throwing himself into a chair, he covered his face with his hand and
a great uncontrollable sob broke from his lips.

Neville was in despair. Of course, it was his fault--he saw it all
clearly. He painfully recalled all that had happened since that night at
the Brilliant Theatre when with a sickening horror he had discovered
Violet Vere to be no other than Violet Neville,--his own little violet!
. . . as he had once called her--his wife that he had lost and mourned as
though she were some pure dead woman lying sweetly at rest in a quiet
grave. He remembered Thelma's shuddering repugnance at the sight of
her,--a repugnance which he himself had shared--and which made him
shrink with fastidious aversion, from the idea of confiding to any one
but Sir Philip, the miserable secret of his connection with her. Sir
Philip had humored him in this fancy, little imagining that any mischief
would come of it--and the reward of his kindly sympathy was this,--his
name was compromised, his home desolate, and his wife estranged from
him!

In the first pangs of the remorse and sorrow that filled his heart,
Neville could gladly have gone out and drowned himself. Presently he
began to think,--was there not some one else beside himself who might
possibly be to blame for all this misery? For instance, who could have
brought or sent that letter to Lady Errington? In her high station, she,
so lofty, so pure, so far above the rest of her sex, would have been the
last person to make any inquiries about such a woman as Violet Vere. How
had it all happened? He looked imploringly for some minutes at the
dejected figure in the chair without daring to offer a word of
consolation. Presently he ventured a remark--

"Sir Philip!" he stammered. "It will soon be all right,--her ladyship
will come back immediately. I myself will explain--it's--it's only a
misunderstanding . . ."

Errington moved in his chair impatiently, but said nothing. Only a
misunderstanding! How many there are who can trace back broken
friendships and severed loves to that one thing--"only a
misunderstanding!" The tenderest relations are often the most delicate
and subtle, and "trifles light as air" may scatter and utterly destroy
the sensitive gossamer threads extending between one heart and another,
as easily as a child's passing foot destroys the spider's web woven on
the dewy grass in the early mornings of spring.

Presently Sir Philip started up--his lashes were wet and his face was
flushed.

"It's no good sitting here," he said, rapidly buttoning on his overcoat.
"I must go after her. Let all the business go to the devil! Write and
say I won't stand for Middleborough--I resign in favor of the Liberal
candidate. I'm off to Norway to-night."

"To Norway!" cried Neville. "Has she gone _there_? At this season--"

He broke off, for at that moment Britta entered, looking the picture of
misery. Her face was pale and drawn--her eyelids red and swollen, and
when she saw Sir Philip, she gave him a glance of the most despairing
reproach and indignation. He sprang up to her.

"Any news?" he demanded.

Britta shook her head mournfully, the tears beginning to roll again down
her cheeks.

"Oh, if I'd only thought!" she sobbed, "if I'd only known what the dear
Froeken meant to do when she said good-bye to me last night, I could have
prevented her going--I could--I would have told her all I know--and she
would have stayed to see you! Oh, Sir Philip, if you had only been here,
that wicked, wicked Lady Winsleigh _couldn't_ have driven her away!"

At this name such a fury filled Philip's heart that he could barely
control himself. He breathed quickly and heavily.

"What of her?" he demanded in a low, suffocated voice. "What has Lady
Winsleigh to do with it, Britta?"

"Everything!" cried Britta, though, as she glanced at his set, stern
face and paling lips, she began to feel a little frightened. "She has
always hated the Froeken, and been jealous of her--always! Her own maid,
Louise, will tell you so--Lord Winsleigh's man, Briggs, will tell you
so! They've listened at the doors, and they know all about it!" Britta
made this statement with the most childlike candor. "And they've heard
all sorts of wicked things--Lady Winsleigh was always talking to Sir
Francis Lennox about the Froeken,--and now they've made her believe you
do not care for her any more--they've been trying to make her believe
everything bad of you for ever so many months--" she paused, terrified
at Sir Philip's increasing pallor.

"Go on, Britta," he said quietly, though his voice sounded strange to
himself. Britta gathered up all her remaining stock of courage.

"Oh dear, oh dear!" she continued desperately, "I _don't_ understand
London people at all, and I never shall understand them. Everybody seems
to want to be wicked! Briggs says that Lady Winsleigh was fond of _you_,
Sir Philip,--then, that she was fond of Sir Francis Lennox,--and yet she
has a husband of her own all the time! It is so very strange!" And the
little maiden's perplexity appeared to border on distraction. "They
would think such a woman quite mad in Norway! But what is worse than
anything is that you--you, Sir Philip,--oh! I _won't_ believe it," and
she stamped her foot passionately, "I _can't_ believe it! . . . and yet
everybody says that you go to see a dreadful, painted dancing woman at
the theatre, and that you like her better than the Froeken,--it _isn't_
true, is it?" Here she peered anxiously at her master--but he was
absolutely silent. Neville made as though he would speak, but a gesture
from Sir Philip's hand restrained him. Britta went on rather
dispiritedly, "Anyhow, Briggs has just told me that only yesterday Lady
Winsleigh went all by herself to see this actress, and that she got some
letter there which she brought to the Froeken--" she recoiled suddenly
with a little scream. "Oh, Sir Philip!--where are you going?"

Errington's hand came down on her shoulder, as he twisted her lightly
out of his path and strode to the door.

"Sir Philip--Sir Philip!" cried Neville anxiously, hastening after him.
"Think for a moment; don't do anything rash!" Philip wrung his hand
convulsively. "Rash! My good fellow, it's a _woman_ who has slandered
me--what _can_ I do? Her sex protects her!" He gave a short, furious
laugh. "But--by God!--were she a man I'd shoot her dead!"

And with these words, and his eyes blazing with wrath, he left the room.
Neville and Britta confronted each other in vague alarm.

"Where will he go?" half whispered Britta.

"To Winsleigh House, I suppose," answered Neville in the same low tone.

Just then the hall door shut with a loud bang, that echoed through the
silent house.

"He's gone!" and as Neville said this he sighed and looked dubiously at
his companion. "How do you know all this about Lady Winsleigh, Britta?
It may not be true--it's only servants' gossip."

"Only servants' gossip!" exclaimed Britta. "And is that nothing? Why, in
these grand houses like Lord Winsleigh's, the servants know everything!
Briggs makes it his business to listen at the doors--he says it's a part
of his duty. And Louise opens all her mistress's letters--she says she
owes it to her own respectability to know what sort of a lady it is she
serves. And she's going to leave, because she says her ladyship _isn't_
respectable! There! what do you think of that! And Sir Philip will find
out a great deal more than even _I_ have told him--but oh! I _can't_
understand about that actress!" And she shook her head despairingly.

"Britta," said Neville suddenly, "That actress is my wife!"

Britta started,--and her round eyes opened wide.

"Your wife, Mr. Neville?" she exclaimed.

Neville took off his spectacles and polished them nervously.

"Yes, Britta--my wife!"

She looked at him in amazed silence. Neville went on rubbing his
glasses, and continued in rather dreamy, tremulous accents--

"Yes--I lost her years ago--I thought she was dead. But I found her--on
the stage of the Brilliant Theatre. I--I never expected--_that_! I would
rather she had died!" He paused and went on softly, "When I married her,
Britta, she was such a dear little girl,--so bright and pretty!--and
I--I fancied she was fond of me! Yes, I did,--of course, I was
foolish--I've always been foolish, I think. And when--when I saw her on
that stage I felt as if some one had struck me a hard blow--it seems as
if I'd been stunned ever since. And though she knows I'm in London, she
won't see me, Britta,--she won't let me speak to her even for a moment!
It's very hard! Sir Philip has tried his best to persuade her to see
me--he has talked to her and written to her about me; and that's not
all,--he has even tried to make her come back to me--but it's all no
use--and--and that's how all the mischief has arisen--do you see?"

Britta gazed at him still, with sympathy written on every line of her
face,--but a great load had been lifted from her mind by his words--she
began to understand everything.

"I'm so sorry for you, Mr. Neville!" she said. "But why didn't you tell
all this to the Froeken?"

"I _couldn't_!" murmured Neville desperately. "She was there that night
at the Brilliant,--and if you had seen how she looked when she saw--my
wife--appeared on the stage! So pained, so sorry, so ashamed! and she
wanted to leave the theatre at once. Of course, I ought to have told
her,--I wish I had--but--somehow, I never could." He paused again. "It's
all my stupidity, of course, Sir Philip is quite blameless--he has been
the kindest, the best of friends to me--" his voice trembled more and
more, and he could not go on. There was a silence of some minutes,
during which Britta appeared absorbed in meditation, and Neville
furtively wiped his eyes.

Presently he spoke again more cheerfully. "It'll soon be all right
again, Britta!" and he nodded encouragingly. "Sir Philip says her
ladyship has gone home to Norway, and he means to follow her to-night."

Britta nodded gravely, but heaved a deep sigh.

"And I posted her letter to her father!" she half murmured. "Oh, if I
had only thought or guessed why it was written!"

"Isn't it rather a bad time of the year for Norway?" pursued Neville.
"Why, there must be snow and darkness--"

"Snow and darkness at the Altenfjord!" suddenly cried Britta, catching
at his words. "That's exactly what she said to me the other evening! Oh
dear! I never thought of it--I never remembered it was the dark season!"
She clasped her hands in dismay. "There is no sun at the Altenfjord
now--it is like night--and the cold is bitter. And she is not
strong--not strong enough to travel--and there's the North Sea to
cross--oh, Mr. Neville," and she broke out sobbing afresh. "The journey
will kill her,--I know it will! my poor, poor darling! I must go after
her--I'll go with Sir Philip--I _won't_ be left behind!"

"Hush, hush, Britta!" said Neville kindly, patting her shoulder. "Don't
cry--don't cry!"

But he was very near crying himself, poor man, so shaken was he by the
events of the morning. And he could not help admitting to himself the
possibility that so long and trying a journey for Thelma in her present
condition of health meant little else than serious illness--perhaps
death. The only comfort he could suggest to the disconsolate Britta was,
that at that time of year it was very probable there would be no steamer
running to Christiansund or Bergen, and in that case Thelma would be
unable to leave England, and would, therefore, be overtaken by Sir
Philip at Hull.

Meanwhile, Sir Philip himself, in a white heat of restrained anger,
arrived at Winsleigh House, and asked to see Lord Winsleigh immediately.
Briggs, who opened the door to him, was a little startled at his haggard
face and blazing eyes, even though he knew, through Britta, all about
the sorrow that had befallen him. Briggs was not surprised at Lady
Errington's departure,--that portion of his "duty" which consisted in
listening at doors, had greatly enlightened him on many points,--all,
save one--the reported connection between Sir Philip and Violet Vere.
This seemed to be really true according to all appearances.

"Which it puzzles me," soliloquized the owner of the shapely calves. "It
do, indeed. Yet I feels very much for Sir Philip,--I said to Flopsie
this morning--'Flopsie, I feels for 'im!' Yes,--I used them very words.
Only, of course, he shouldn't 'ave gone with Vi. She's a fine woman
certainly--but skittish--d--d skittish! I've allus made it a rule myself
to avoid 'er on principle. Lor! if I'd kep' company with 'er and the
likes of 'er I shouldn't be the man I am!" And he smiled complacently.

Lord Winsleigh, who was in his library as usual, occupied with his
duties as tutor to his son Ernest, rose to receive Sir Philip with an
air of more than his usual gravity.

"I was about to write to you, Errington," he began, and then stopped
short, touched by the utter misery expressed in Philip's face. He
addressed Ernest with a sort of nervous haste.

"Run away, my boy, to your own room. I'll send for you again presently."

Ernest obeyed. "Now," said Lord Winsleigh, as soon as the lad
disappeared, "tell me everything, Errington. Is it true that your wife
has left you?"

"Left me!" and Philip's eyes flashed with passionate anger. "No
Winsleigh!--she's been driven away from me by the vilest and most
heartless cruelty. She's been made to believe a scandalous and
abominable lie against me--and she's gone! I--I--by Jove! I hardly like
to say it to your face--but--"

"I understand!" a curious flicker of a smile shadowed rather than
brightened Lord Winsleigh's stern features. "Pray speak quite plainly!
Lady Winsleigh is to blame? I am not at all surprised!"

Errington gave him a rapid glance of wonder. He had always fancied
Winsleigh to be a studious, rather dull sort of man, absorbed in books
and the education of his son,--a man, more than half blind to everything
that went on around him--and, moreover, one who deliberately shut his
eyes to the frivolous coquetry of his wife,--and though he liked him
fairly well, there had been a sort of vague contempt mingled with his
liking. Now a new light was suddenly thrown on his character--there was
something in his look, his manner, his very tone of voice,--which proved
to Errington that there was a deep and forcible side to his nature of
which his closest friends had never dreamed--and he was somewhat taken
aback by the discovery. Seeing that he still hesitated, Winsleigh laid a
hand encouragingly on his shoulder and said--

"I repeat--I'm not at all surprised! Nothing that Lady Winsleigh might
do would cause me the slightest astonishment. She has long ceased to be
my wife, except in name,--that she still bears that name and holds the
position she has in the world is simply--for my son's sake! I do not
wish,"--his voice quivered slightly--"I do not wish the boy to despise
his mother. It's always a bad beginning for a young man's life. I want
to avoid it for Ernest, if possible,--regardless of any personal
sacrifice." He paused a moment--then resumed. "Now, speak out,
Errington, and plainly,--for if mischief has been done and I can repair
it in any way, you may be sure I will."

Thus persuaded, Sir Philip briefly related the whole story of the
misunderstanding that had arisen concerning Neville's wife, Violet
Vere--and concluded by saying--

"It is, of course, only through Britta that I've just heard about Lady
Winsleigh's having anything to do with it. Her information may not be
correct--I hope it isn't,--but--"

Lord Winsleigh interrupted him. "Come with me," he said composedly.
"We'll resolve this difficulty AT once."

He led the way out of the library across the hall. Errington followed
him in silence. He knocked at the door of his wife's room,--in response
to her "Come in!" they both entered. She was alone, reclining on a sofa,
reading,--she started up with a pettish exclamation at sight of her
husband, but observing who it was that came with him, she stood mute,
the color rushing to her cheeks with surprise and something of fear. Yet
she endeavored to smile, and returned with her usual grace their
somewhat formal salutations.

"Clara," then said Lord Winsleigh gravely, "I have to ask you a question
on behalf of Sir Philip Errington here,--a question to which it is
necessary for you to give the plain answer. Did you or did you not
procure this letter from Violet Vere, of the Brilliant Theatre--and did
you or did you not, give it yourself yesterday into the hands of Lady
Bruce-Errington?" And he laid the letter in question, which Philip had
handed to him, down upon the table before her.

She looked at it--then at him--then from him to Sir Philip, who uttered
no word--and lightly shrugged her shoulders.

"I don't know what you are talking about," she said, carelessly.

Sir Philip turned upon her indignantly.

"Lady Winsleigh, you _do_ know--"

She interrupted him with a stately gesture.

"Excuse me, Sir Philip! I am not accustomed to be spoken to in this
extraordinary manner. You forget yourself--my husband, I think, also
forgets himself! I know nothing whatever about Violet Vere--I am not
fond of the society of actresses. Of course, I've heard about your
admiration for her--that is common town-talk,--though my informant on
this point was Sir Francis Lennox."

"Sir Francis Lennox!" cried Philip furiously. "Thank God! there's a man
to deal with! By Heaven, I'll choke him with his own lie!"

Lady Winsleigh raised her eyebrows in well-bred surprise.

"Dear me! It is a lie, then? Now, I should have thought from all
accounts that it was so very likely to be true!"

Philip turned white with passion. Her sarcastic smile,--her mocking
glance,--irritated him almost beyond endurance.

"Permit me to ask you, Clara," continued Lord Winsleigh calmly, "if
you,--as you say, know nothing about Violet Vere, why did you go to the
Brilliant Theatre yesterday morning?"

She flashed an angry glance at him.

"Why? To secure a box for the new performance. Is there anything
wonderful in that?"

Her husband remained unmoved. "May I see the voucher for this box?" he
inquired.

"I've sent it to some friends," replied her ladyship haughtily. "Since
when have you decided to become an inquisitor, my lord?"

"Lady Winsleigh," said Philip suddenly and eagerly, "will you swear to
me that you have said or done nothing to make my Thelma leave me?"

"Oh, she _has_ left you, has she?" and Lady Clara smiled maliciously. "I
thought she would! Why don't you ask your dear friend, George Lorimer,
about her? He is madly in love with her, as everybody knows,--she is
probably the same with him!"

"Clara, Clara!" exclaimed Lord Winsleigh in accents of deep reproach.
"Shame on you! Shame!"

Her ladyship laughed amusedly. "Please don't be tragic!" she said; "it's
too ridiculous! Sir Philip has only himself to blame. Of course, Thelma
knows about his frequent visits to the Brilliant Theatre. I told her all
that Sir Francis said. Why should she be kept in the dark? I dare say
she doesn't mind--she's very fond of Mr. Lorimer!"

Errington felt as though he must choke with fury. He forgot the presence
of Lord Winsleigh--he forgot everything but his just indignation.

"My God!" he cried passionately. "You _dare_ to speak so!--_you_!"

"Yes I!" she returned coolly, measuring him with a glance. "I dare! What
have you to say against _me_?" She drew herself up imperiously.

Then turning to her husband, she said, "Have the goodness to take your
excited friend away, my lord! I am going out--I have a great many
engagements this morning--and I really cannot stop to discuss this
absurd affair any longer! It isn't my fault that Sir Philip's excessive
admiration for Miss Vere has become the subject of gossip--_I_ don't
blame him for it! He seems extremely ill-tempered about it; after all,
_'ce n'est que la verite qui blesse!'_"

And she smiled maliciously.




CHAPTER XXVIII.

    "For my mother's sake,
     For thine and hers, O Love! I pity take
     On all poor women. Jesu's will be done,
     Honor for all, and infamy for none,
     This side the borders of the burning lake."
                     ERIC MACKAY'S _Love-Letters of a Violinist_.


Lord Winsleigh did not move. Sir Philip fixed his eyes upon her in
silence. Some occult fascination forced her to meet his glance, and the
utter scorn of it stung her proud heart to its centre. Not that she felt
much compunction--her whole soul was up in arms against him, and had
been so from the very day she was first told of his unexpected marriage.
His evident contempt now irritated her--she was angrier with him than
ever, and yet--she had a sort of strange triumph in the petty vengeance
she had designed--she had destroyed his happiness for a time, at least.
If she could but shake his belief in his wife! she thought,
vindictively. To that end she had thrown out her evil hint respecting
Thelma's affection for George Lorimer, but the shaft had been aimed
uselessly. Errington knew too well the stainless purity of Thelma to
wrong her by the smallest doubt, and he would have staked his life on
the loyalty of his friend. Presently he controlled his anger
sufficiently to be able to speak, and still eyeing her with that
straight, keen look of immeasurable disdain, he said in cold, deliberate
accents--

"Your ladyship is in error,--the actress in question is the wife of my
secretary, Mr. Neville. For years they have been estranged--my visits to
her were entirely on Neville's behalf--my letters to her were all on the
same subject. Sir Francis Lennox must have known the truth all
along,--Violet Vere has been his mistress for the past five years!"

He uttered the concluding words with intense bitterness. A strange,
bewildered horror passed over Lady Winsleigh's face.

"I don't believe it," she said rather faintly.

"Believe it or not, it is true!" he replied curtly. "Ask the manager of
the Brilliant, if you doubt me. Winsleigh, it's no use my stopping here
any longer. As her ladyship refuses to give any explanation--"

"Wait a moment, Errington," interposed Lord Winsleigh in his coldest and
most methodical manner. "Her ladyship refuses--but _I_ do not refuse!
Her ladyship will not speak--she allows her husband to speak for her.
Therefore," and he smiled at his astonished wife somewhat sardonically,
"I may tell you at once, that her ladyship admits to having purchased
from Violet Vere for the sum of 20 pounds, the letter which she
afterwards took with her own hands to your wife." Lady Winsleigh uttered
an angry exclamation.

"Don't interrupt me, Clara, if you please," he said, with an icy smile.
"We have so many sympathies in common that I'm sure I shall be able to
explain your unspoken meanings quite clearly." He went on, addressing
himself to Errington, who stood utterly amazed.

"Her ladyship desires me to assure you that her only excuse for her
action in this matter is, that she fully believed the reports her
friend, Sir Francis Lennox, gave her concerning your supposed intimacy
with the actress in question,--and that, believing it, she made use of
it as much as possible for the purpose of destroying your wife's peace
of mind and confidence in you. Her object was most purely feminine--love
of mischief, and the gratification of private spite! There's nothing
like frankness!" and Lord Winsleigh's face was a positive study as he
spoke. "You see,"--he made a slight gesture towards his wife, who stood
speechless, and so pale that her very lips were colorless--"her ladyship
is not in a position to deny what I have said. Excuse her silence!"

And again he smiled--that smile as glitteringly chilled as a gleam of
light on the edge of a sword. Lady Winsleigh raised her head, and her
eyes met his with a dark expression of the uttermost anger. "Spy!" she
hissed between her teeth,--then without further word or gesture, she
swept haughtily away into her dressing-room, which adjoined the boudoir,
and closed the door of communication, thus leaving the two men alone
together.

Errington felt himself to be in a most painful and awkward position. If
there was anything he more than disliked, it was a _scene_--particularly
of a domestic nature. And he had just had a glimpse into Lord and Lady
Winsleigh's married life, which, to him, was decidedly unpleasant. He
could not understand how Lord Winsleigh had become cognizant of all he
had so frankly stated--and then, why had he not told him everything at
first, without waiting to declare it in his wife's presence? Unless,
indeed, he wished to shame her? There was evidently something in the
man's disposition and character that he, Philip, could not as yet
comprehend,--something that certainly puzzled him, and filled him with
vague uneasiness.

"Winsleigh, I'm awfully sorry this has happened," he began hurriedly,
holding out his hand.

Lord Winsleigh grasped it cordially. "My dear fellow, so am I! Heartily
sorry! I have to be sorry for a good many things rather often. But I'm
specially grieved to think that your beautiful and innocent young wife
is the victim in this case. Unfortunately I was told nothing till this
morning, otherwise I might possibly have prevented all your unhappiness.
But I trust it won't be of long duration. Here's this letter," he
returned it as he spoke, "which in more than one way has cost so large a
price. Possibly her ladyship may now regret her ill-gotten purchase."

"Pardon me," said Errington curiously, "but how did you know--"

"The information was pressed upon me very much," replied Lord Winsleigh
evasively, "and from such a source that up to the last moment I almost
refused to believe it." He paused, and then went on with a forced smile,
"Suppose we don't talk any more about it, Errington? The subject's
rather painful to me. Only allow me to ask your pardon for my wife's
share in the mischief!"

Something in his manner of speaking affected Sir Philip.

"Upon my soul, Winsleigh," he exclaimed with sudden fervor, "I fancy
you're a man greatly wronged!"

Lord Winsleigh smiled slightly. "You only _fancy_?" he said quietly.
"Well,--my good friend, we all have our troubles--I dare say mine are no
greater than those of many better men." He stopped short, then asked
abruptly, "I suppose you'll see Lennox?"

Errington set his teeth hard. "I shall,--at once!" he replied. "And I
shall probably thrash him within an inch of his life!"

"That's right! I shan't be sorry!" and Lord Winsleigh's hand clenched
almost unconsciously. "I hope you understand, Errington, that if it
hadn't been for my son, I should have shot that fellow long ago. I dare
say you wonder,--and some others too,--why I haven't done it. But
Ernest--poor little chap! . . . he would have heard of it,--and the
reason of it,--his young life is involved in mine--why should I bequeath
him a dishonored mother's name? There--for heaven's sake, don't let me
make a fool of myself!" and he fiercely dashed his hand across his eyes.
"A duel or a divorce--or a horsewhipping--they all come to pretty much
the same thing--all involve public scandal for the name of the woman who
may be unhappily concerned--and scandal clings, like the stain on Lady
Macbeth's hand. In your case you can act--_your_ wife is above a shadow
of suspicion--but I--oh, my God! how much women have to answer for in
the miseries of this world!"

Errington said nothing. Pity and respect for the man before him held him
silent. Here was one of the martyrs of modern social life--a man who
evidently knew himself to be dishonored by his wife,--and who yet, for
the sake of his son, submitted to be daily broken on the wheel of
private torture rather than let the boy grow up to despise and slight
his mother. Whether he were judged as wise or weak in his behavior there
was surely something noble about him--something unselfish and heroic
that deserved recognition. Presently Lord Winsleigh continued in calmer
tones--

"I've been talking too much about myself, Errington, I fear--forgive it!
Sometimes I've thought you misunderstood me--"

"I never shall again!" declared Philip earnestly.

Lord Winsleigh met his look of sympathy with one of gratitude.

"Thanks!" he said briefly,--and with this they shook hands again
heartily, and parted. Lord Winsleigh saw his visitor to the door--and
then at once returned to his wife's apartments. She was still absent
from the boudoir--he therefore entered her dressing-room without
ceremony.

There he found her,--alone, kneeling on the floor, her head buried in an
arm-chair,--and her whole frame shaken with convulsive sobs. He looked
down upon her with a strange wistful pain in his eyes,--pain mingled
with compassion.

"Clara!" he said gently. She started and sprang up--confronting him with
flushed cheeks and wet eyes.

"_You_ here?" she exclaimed angrily. "I wonder you dare to--" she broke
off, confused by his keen, direct glance.

"It _is_ a matter for wonder," he said quietly. "It's the strangest
thing in the world that I--your husband--should venture to intrude
myself into your presence! Nothing could be more out of the common. But
I have something to say to you--something which must be said sooner or
later--and I may as well speak now."

He paused,--she was silent, looking at him in a sort of sudden fear.

"Sit down," he continued in the same even tones. "You must have a little
patience with me--I'll endeavor to be as brief as possible."

Mechanically she obeyed him and sank into a low fauteuil. She began
playing with the trinkets on her silver chatelaine, and endeavored to
feign the most absolute unconcern, but her heart beat quickly--she could
not imagine what was coming next--her husband's manner and tone were
quite new to her.

"You accused me just now," he went on, "of being a spy. I have never
condescended to act such a part toward you, Clara. When I first married
you I trusted you with my life, my honor, and my name, and though you
have betrayed all three"--she moved restlessly as his calm gaze remained
fixed on her--"I repeat,--though you have betrayed all three,--I have
deliberately shut my eyes to the ruin of my hopes, in a loyal endeavor
to shield you from the world's calumny. Regarding the unhappiness you
have caused the Erringtons,--your own maid Louise Renaud (who has given
you notice of her intention to leave you) told me all she knew of your
share in what I may call positive cruelty, towards a happy and innocent
woman who has never injured you, and whose friend you declared yourself
to be--"

"You believe the lies of a servant?" suddenly cried Lady Winsleigh
wrathfully.

"Have not _you_ believed the lies of Sir Francis Lennox, who is less
honest than a servant?" asked her husband, his grave voice deepening
with a thrill of passion. "And haven't you reported them everywhere as
truths? But as regards your maid--I doubted her story altogether. She
assured me she knew what money you took out with you yesterday, and what
you returned with--and as the only place you visited in the morning was
the Brilliant Theatre,--after having received a telegram from Lennox,
which she saw,--it was easy for her to put two and two together,
especially as she noticed you reading the letter you had
purchased--moreover"--he paused--"she has heard certain conversations
between you and Sir Francis, notably one that took place at the
garden-party in the summer at Errington Manor. Spy? you say? your
detective has been paid by you,--fed and kept about your own person,--to
minister to your vanity and to flatter your pride--that she has turned
informer against you is not surprising. Be thankful that her information
has fallen into no more malignant hands than mine!"

Again he paused--she was still silent--but her lips trembled nervously.

"And yet I was loth to believe everything"--he resumed half sadly--"till
Errington came and showed me that letter and told me the whole story of
his misery. Even then I thought I would give you one more chance--that's
why I brought him to you and asked you the question before him. One look
at your face told me you were guilty, though you denied it. I should
have been better pleased had you confessed it! But why talk about it any
longer?--the mischief is done--I trust it is not irreparable. I
certainly consider that before troubling that poor girl's
happiness,--you should have taken the precaution to inquire a little
further into the truth of the reports you heard from Sir Francis
Lennox,--he is not a reliable authority on any question whatsoever. You
may have thought him so--" he stopped short and regarded her with
sorrowful sternness--"I say, Clara, you may have thought him so,
once--but _now_? Are you proud to have shared his affections
with--Violet Vere?"

She uttered a sharp cry and covered her face with her hands,--an action
which appeared to smite her husband to the heart,--for his voice
trembled with deep feeling when he next spoke.

"Ah, best hide it, Clara!" he said passionately. "Hide that fair face I
loved so well--hide those eyes in which I dreamed of finding my life's
sunshine! Clara, Clara! What can I say to you, fallen rose of womanhood?
How can I--" he suddenly bent over her as though to caress her, then drew
back with a quick agonized sigh. "You thought me blind, Clara! . . ."
he went on in low tones, "blind to my own dishonor--blind to your
faithlessness,--I tell you if you had taken my heart between your hands
and wrung the blood out of it drop by drop, I could not have suffered
more than I have done! Why have I been silent so long?--no matter
why,--but _now_, now Clara,--this life of ours must end!"

She shuddered away from him.

"End it then!" she muttered in a choked voice. "You can do as you
like,--you can divorce me."

"Yes," said Lord Winsleigh musingly. "I can divorce you! There will be
no defense possible,--as you know. If witnesses are needed, they are to
be had in the persons of our own domestics. The co-respondent in the
case will not refute the charge against him,--and I, the plaintiff,
_must_ win my just cause. Do you realize it all, Clara? You, the
well-known leader of a large social circle--you, the proud beauty and
envied lady of rank and fashion,--you will be made a subject for the
coarse jests of lawyers,--the very judge on the bench will probably play
off his stale witticism at your expense,--your dearest friends will tear
your name to shreds,--the newspapers will reek of your doings,--and
honest housemaids reading of your fall from your high estate, will thank
God that their souls and bodies are more chaste than yours! And
last,--not least,--think when old age creeps on, and your beauty
withers,--think of your son grown to manhood,--the sole heir to my
name,--think of him as having but one thing to blush for--the memory of
his dishonored mother!"

"Cruel--cruel!" she cried, endeavoring to check her sobs, and
withdrawing her hands from her face. "Why do you say such things to me?
Why did you marry me?"

He caught her hands and held them in a fast grip.

"Why? Because I loved you, Clara--loved you with all the tenderness of a
strong man's heart! When I first saw you, you seemed to me the very
incarnation of maiden purity and loveliness! The days of our
courtship--the first few months of our marriage--what they were to you,
I know not,--to me they were supreme happiness. When our boy was born,
my adoration, my reverence for you increased--you were so sacred in my
eyes, that I could have knelt and asked a benediction from these little
hands"--here he gently loosened them from his clasp. "Then came the
change--_what_ changed you, I cannot imagine--it has always seemed to me
unnatural, monstrous, incredible! There was no falling away in _my_
affection, that I can swear! My curse upon the man who turned your heart
from mine! So rightful and deep a curse is it that I feel it must some
day strike home."

He paused and seemed to reflect. "Who is there more vile, more
traitorous than he?" he went on. "Has he not tried to influence
Errington's wife against her husband? For what base purpose? But
Clara,--he is powerless against _her_ purity and innocence;--what, in
the name of God, gave him power over _you_?"

She drooped her head, and the hot blood rushed to her face.

"You've said enough!" she murmured sullenly. "If you have decided on a
divorce, pray carry out your intention with the least possible delay. I
cannot talk any more! I--I am tired!"

"Clara," said her husband solemnly, with a strange light in his eyes, "I
would rather kill you than divorce you!"

There was something so terribly earnest in his tone that her heart beat
fast with fear.

"Kill me?--kill me?" she gasped, with white lips.

"Yes!" he repeated, "kill you,--as a Frenchman or an Italian would,--and
take the consequences. Yes--though an Englishman, I would rather do this
than drag your frail poor womanhood through the mire of public scandal!
I have, perhaps, a strange nature, but such as I am, I am. There are too
many of our high-born families already, flaunting their immorality and
low licentiousness in the face of the mocking, grinning populace,--I for
one could never make up my mind to fling the honor of my son's mother to
them, as though it were a bone for dogs to fight over. No--I have
another proposition to make to you--"

He stopped short. She stared at him wonderingly. He resumed in
methodical, unmoved, business-like tones.

"I propose, Clara, simply,--to leave you! I'll take the boy and absent
myself from this country, so as to give you perfect freedom and save you
all trouble. There'll be no possibility of scandal, for I will keep you
cognizant of my movements,--and should you require my presence at any
time for the sake of appearances,--or--to shield you from calumny,--you
may rely on my returning to you at once,--without delay. Ernest will
gain many advantages by travel,--his education is quite a sufficient
motive for my departure, my interest in his young life being well known
to all our circle. Moreover, with me--under my surveillance--he need
never know anything against--against you. I have always taught him to
honor and obey you in his heart."

Lord Winsleigh paused a moment--then went on, somewhat musingly;--"When
he was quite little, he used to wonder why you didn't love him,--it was
hard for me to hear him say that, sometimes. But I always told him that
you did love him--but that you had so many visits to makes and so many
friends to entertain, that you had no time to play with him. I don't
think he quite understood,--but still--I did my best!"

He was silent. She had hidden her face again in her hands, and he heard
a sound of smothered sobbing.

"I think," he continued calmly, "that he has a great reverence for you
in his young heart--a feeling which partakes, perhaps, more of fear than
love--still it is better than--disdain--or--or disrespect. I shall
always teach him to esteem you highly,--but I think, as matters
stand--if I relieve you of all your responsibilities to husband and
son--you--Clara!--pray don't distress yourself--there's no occasion for
this--Clara--"

For on a sudden impulse she had flung herself at his feet in an
irrepressible storm of passionate weeping.

"Kill me, Harry!" she sobbed wildly, clinging to him. "Kill me! don't
speak to me like this!--don't leave me! Oh, my God! don't, don't despise
me so utterly! Hate me--curse me--strike me--do anything, but don't
leave me as if I were some low thing, unfit for your touch,--I know I
am, but oh, Harry! . . ." She clung to him more closely. "If you leave
me I will not live,--I cannot! Have you no pity? Why would you throw me
back alone--all, all alone, to die of your contempt and my shame!"

And she bowed her head in an agony of tears.

He looked down upon her a moment in silence.

"Your shame!" he murmured. "My wife--"

Then he raised her in his arms and drew her with a strange hesitation of
touch, to his breast, as though she were some sick or wounded child, and
watched her as she lay there weeping, her face hidden, her whole frame
trembling in his embrace.

"Poor soul!" he whispered, more to himself than to her. "Poor frail
woman! Hush, hush, Clara! The past is past! I'll make you no more
reproaches. I--I _can't_ hurt you, because I once so loved you--but
now--now,--what _is_ there left for me to do, but to leave you? You'll
be happier so--you'll have perfect liberty--you needn't even think of
me--unless, perhaps, as one dead and buried long ago--"

She raised herself in his arms and looked at him piteously.

"Won't you give me a chance?" she sobbed. "Not one? If I had but known
you better--if I had understood oh, I've been vile, wicked,
deceitful--but I'm not happy, Harry--I've never been happy since I
wronged you! Won't you give me one little hope that I may win your love
again,--no, not your love, but your pity? Oh, Harry, have I lost
all--all--"

Her voice broke--she could say no more.

He stroked her hair gently. "You speak on impulse just now, Clara," he
said gravely yet tenderly. "You can't know your own strength or
weakness. God forbid that _I_ should judge you harshly! As you wish it,
I will not leave you yet. I'll wait. Whether we part or remain together,
shall be decided by your own actions, your own looks, your own words.
You understand, Clara? You know my feelings. I'm content for the present
to place my fate in your hands." He smiled rather sadly. "But for love,
Clara--I fear nothing can be done to warm to life this poor perished
love of ours. We can, perhaps, take hands and watch its corpse patiently
together and say how sorry we are it is dead--such penitence comes
always too late!"

He sighed, and put her gently away from him.

She turned up her flushed, tear-stained face to his.

"Will you kiss me, Harry?" she asked tremblingly. He met her eyes, and
an exclamation that was almost a groan broke from his lips. A shudder
passed through his frame.

"I can't, Clara! I can't--God forgive me!--Not yet!" And with that he
bowed his head and left her.

She listened to the echo of his firm footsteps dying away, and creeping
guiltily to a side-door she opened it, and watched yearningly his
retreating figure till it had disappeared.

"Why did I never love him till now?" she murmured sobbingly. "Now, when
he despises me--when he will not even kiss me?--" She leaned against the
half-open door in an attitude of utter dejection, not caring to move,
listening intently with a vague hope of hearing her husband's returning
tread. A lighter step than his, however, came suddenly along from the
other side of the passage and startled her a little--it was Ernest,
looking the picture of boyish health and beauty. He was just going out
for his usual ride--he lifted his cap with a pretty courtesy as he saw
her, and said--

"Good-morning, mother!"

She looked at him with new interest,--how handsome the lad was!--how
fresh his face!--how joyously clear those bright blue eyes of his! He,
on his part, was moved by a novel sensation too--his mother,--his proud,
beautiful, careless mother had been crying--he saw that at a glance, and
his young heart beat faster when she laid her white hand, sparkling all
over with rings, on his arm and drew him closer to her.

"Are you going to the Park?" she asked gently.

"Yes." Then recollecting his training in politeness and obedience he
added instantly--"Unless you want me."

She smiled faintly. "I never do want you--do I, Ernest?" she asked half
sadly. "I never want my boy at all." Her voice quivered,--and Ernest
grew more and more astonished.

"If you do, I'll stay," he said stoutly, filled with a chivalrous desire
to console his so suddenly tender mother of his, whatever her griefs
might be. Her eyes filled again, but she tried to laugh.

"No dear--not now,--run along and enjoy yourself. Come to me when you
return. I shall be at home all day. And,--stop Ernest--won't you kiss
me?"

The boy opened his eyes wide in respectful wonderment, and his cheeks
flushed with surprise and pleasure.

"Why, mother--of course!" And his fresh, sweet lips closed on hers with
frank and unaffected heartiness. She held him fast for a moment and
looked at him earnestly.

"Tell your father you kissed me--will you?" she said. "Don't forget!"

And with that she waved her hand to him, and retreated again into her
own apartment. The boy went on his way somewhat puzzled and
bewildered--did his mother love him, after all? If so, he thought--how
glad he was!--how very glad! and what a pity he had not known it before!




CHAPTER XXIX.

    "I heed not custom, creed, nor law;
     I care for nothing that ever I saw--
     I terribly laugh with an oath and sneer,
     When I think that the hour of Death draws near!"

                                                       W. WINTER.


Errington's first idea, on leaving Winsleigh House, was to seek an
interview with Sir Francis Lennox, and demand an explanation. He could
not understand the man's motive for such detestable treachery and
falsehood. His anger rose to a white heat as he thought of it, and he
determined to "have it out" with him whatever the consequences might be.
"No apology will serve his turn," he muttered. "The scoundrel! He has
lied deliberately--and, by Jove, he shall pay for it!"

And he started off rapidly in the direction of Piccadilly, but on the
way he suddenly remembered that he had no weapon with him, not even a
cane wherewith to carry out his intention of thrashing Sir Francis, and
calling to mind a certain heavy horsewhip, that hung over the
mantel-piece in his own room, he hailed a hansom, and was driven back to
his house in order to provide himself with that implement of castigation
before proceeding further. On arriving at the door, to his surprise he
found Lorimer who was just about to ring the bell.

"Why, I thought you were in Paris?" he exclaimed.

"I came back last night," George began, when Morris opened the door, and
Errington, taking his friend by the arm hurried him into the house. In
five minutes he had unburdened himself of all his troubles--and had
explained the misunderstanding about Violet Vere and Thelma's consequent
flight. Lorimer listened with a look of genuine pain and distress on his
honest face.

"Phil, you _have_ been a fool!" he said candidly. "A positive fool, if
you'll pardon me for saying so. You ought to have told Thelma everything
at first,--she's the very last woman in the world who ought to be kept
in the dark about anything. Neville's feelings? Bother Neville's
feelings! Depend upon it the poor girl has heard all manner of stories.
She's been miserable for some time--Duprez noticed it." And he related
in a few words the little scene that had taken place at Errington Manor
on the night of the garden-party, when his playing on the organ had
moved her to such unwonted emotion.

Philip heard him in moody silence,--how had it happened, he wondered,
that others,--comparative strangers,--had observed that Thelma looked
unhappy, while he, her husband, had been blind to it? He could not make
this out,--and yet it is a thing that very commonly happens. Our nearest
and dearest are often those who are most in the dark respecting our
private and personal sufferings,--we do not wish to trouble them,--and
they prefer to think that everything is right with us, even though the
rest of the world can plainly perceive that everything is wrong. To the
last moment they will refuse to see death in our faces, though the
veriest stranger meeting us casually, clearly beholds the shadow of the
dark Angel's hand.

"_Apropos_ of Lennox," went on Lorimer, sympathetically watching his
friend, "I came on purpose to speak to you about him. I've got some news
for you. He's a regular sneak and scoundrel. You can thrash him to your
heart's content for he has grossly insulted your wife."

"_Insulted_ her?" cried Errington furiously. "How,--What--"

"Give me time to speak!" And George laid a restraining hand on his arm.
"Thelma visited my mother yesterday and told her that on the night
before, when you had gone out, Lennox took advantage of your absence to
come here and make love to her,--and she actually had to struggle with
him, and even to strike him, in order to release herself from his
advances. My mother advised her to tell you about it--and she evidently
then had no intention of flight, for she said she would inform you of
everything as soon as you returned from the country. And if Lady
Winsleigh hadn't interfered, it's very probable that--I say, where are
you going?" This as Philip made a bound for the door.

"To get my horsewhip!" he answered.

"All right--I approve!" cried Lorimer. "But wait one instant, and see
how clear the plot becomes. Thelma's beauty had maddened Lennox,--to
gain her good opinion, as he thinks, he throws his mistress, Violet
Vere, on _your_ shoulders--(your ingenuous visits to the Brilliant
Theatre gave him a capital pretext for this) and as for Lady Winsleigh's
share in the mischief, it's nothing but mere feminine spite against you
for marrying at all, and hatred of the woman whose life is such a
contrast to her own, and who absorbs all your affection. Lennox has used
her as his tool and the Vere also, I've no doubt. The thing's as clear
as crystal. It's a sort of general misunderstanding all round--one of
those eminently unpleasant trifles that very frequently upset the peace
and comfort of the most quiet and inoffensive persons. But the fault
lies with _you_, dear old boy!"

"With _me_!" exclaimed Philip.

"Certainly! Thelma's soul is as open as daylight--you shouldn't have had
any secret from her, however trifling. She's not a woman 'on
guard,'--she can't take life as the most of us do, in military fashion,
with ears pricked for the approach of a spy, and prepared to expect
betrayal from her most familiar friends. She accepts things as they
appear, without any suspicion of mean ulterior designs. It's a pity, of
course!--it's a pity she can't be worldly-wise, and scheme and plot and
plan and lie like the rest of us! However, _your_ course is plain--first
interview Lennox and then follow Thelma. She can't have left Hull
yet,--there are scarcely any boats running to Norway at this season.
You'll overtake her I'm certain."

"By Jove, Lorimer!" said Errington suddenly. "Clara Winsleigh sticks at
nothing--do you know she actually had the impudence to suggest that
_you_,--you, of all people,--were in love with Thelma!"

Lorimer flushed up, but laughed lightly. "How awfully sweet of her! Much
obliged to her, I'm sure! And how did you take it Phil?"

"Take it? I didn't take it at all," responded Philip warmly. "Of course,
I knew it was only her spite--she'd say anything in one of her tempers."

Lorimer looked at him with a sudden tenderness in his blue eyes. Then he
laughed again, a little forcedly, and said--

"Be off, old man, and get that whip of yours! We'll run Lennox to earth.
Hullo! here's Britta!"

The little maid entered hurriedly at that moment,--she came to ask with
quivering lips, whether she might accompany Sir Philip in his intended
journey to Norway.

"For if you do not find the Froeken at Hull, you will want to reach the
Altenfjord," said Britta, folding hands resolutely in front of her
apron, "and you will not get on without me. You do not know what the
country is like in the depth of winter when the sun is asleep. You must
have the reindeer to help you--and no Englishman knows how to drive
reindeer. And--and--" here Britta's eyes filled--"you have not thought,
perhaps, that the journey may make the Froeken very ill--and that when we
find her--she may be dying--" and Britta's strength gave way in a big
sob that broke from the depths of her honest, affectionate heart.

"Don't--_don't_ talk like that, Britta!" cried Philip passionately. "I
can't bear it! Of course, you shall go with me! I wouldn't leave you
behind for the world! Get everything ready--" and in a fever of heat and
impatience he began rummaging among some books on a side-shelf, till he
found the time-tables he sought. "Yes,--here we are,--there's a train
leaving for Hull at five--we'll take that. Tell Morris to pack my
portmanteau, and you bring it along with you to the Midland
railway-station this afternoon. Do you understand?"

Britta nodded emphatically, and hurried off at once to busy herself with
these preparations, while Philip, all excitement, dashed off to give a
few parting injunctions to Neville, and to get his horsewhip.

Lorimer, left alone for a few minutes, seated himself in an easy chair
and began absently turning over the newspapers on the table. But his
thoughts were far away, and presently he covered his eyes with one hand
as though the light hurt them. When he removed it, his lashes were wet.

"What a fool I am!" he muttered impatiently. "Oh Thelma, Thelma! my
darling!--how I wish I could follow and find you and console you!--you
poor, tender, resigned soul, going away like this because you thought
you were not wanted--not wanted!--my God!--if you only knew how one man
at least has wanted and yearned for you ever since he saw your sweet
face!--Why can't I tear you out of my heart--why can't I love some one
else? Ah Phil!--good, generous, kind old Phil!--he little guesses," he
rose and paced the room up and down restlessly. "The fact is I oughtn't
to be here at all--I ought to leave England altogether for a long
time--till--till I get over it. The question is, _shall_ I ever get over
it? Sigurd was a wise boy--he found a short way out of all his
troubles,--suppose I imitate his example? No,--for a man in his senses
that would be rather cowardly--though it might be pleasant!" He stopped
in his walk with a pondering expression on his face. "At any rate, I
won't stop here to see her come back--I couldn't trust myself,--I should
say something foolish--I know I should! I'll take my mother to
Italy--she wants to go; and we'll stay with Lovelace. It'll be a
change--and I'll have a good stand-up fight with myself, and see if I
can't come off the conqueror somehow! It's all very well to kill an
opponent in battle but the question is, can a man kill his inner,
grumbling, discontented, selfish Self? If he can't, what's the good of
him?"

As he was about to consider this point reflectively, Errington entered,
equipped for travelling, and whip in hand. His imagination had been at
work during the past few minutes, exaggerating all the horrors and
difficulties of Thelma's journey to the Altenfjord, till he was in a
perfect fever of irritable excitement.

"Come on Lorimer!" he cried. "There's no time to lose! Britta knows what
to do--she'll meet me at the station. I can't breathe in this wretched
house a moment longer--let's be off!"

Plunging out into the hall, he bade Morris summon a hansom,--and with a
few last instructions to that faithful servitor, and an encouraging kind
word and shake of the hand to Neville, who with a face of remorseful
misery, stood at the door to watch his departure,--he was gone. The
hansom containing him and Lorimer rattled rapidly towards the abode of
Sir Francis Lennox, but on entering Piccadilly, the vehicle was
compelled to go so slowly on account of the traffic, that Errington, who
every moment grew more and more impatient, could not stand it.

"By Jove! this is like a walking funeral!" he muttered. "I say Lorimer,
let's get out! We can do the rest on foot."

They stopped the cabman and paid him his fare--then hurried along
rapidly, Errington every now and then giving a fiercer clench to the
formidable horsewhip which was twisted together with his ordinary
walking-stick in such a manner as not to attract special attention.

"Coward and liar!" he muttered, as he thought of the man he was about to
punish. "He shall pay for his dastardly falsehood--by Jove he shall!
It'll be a precious long time before he shows himself in society any
more!"

Then he addressed Lorimer. "You may depend upon it he'll shout 'police!
police!' and make for the door," he observed. "You keep your back
against it, Lorimer! I don't care how many fines I've got to pay as long
as I can thrash him soundly!"

"All right!" Lorimer answered, and they quickened their pace. As they
neared the chambers which Sir Francis Lennox rented over a fashionable
jeweller's shop, they became aware of a small procession coming straight
towards them from the opposite direction. _Something_ was being carried
between four men who appeared to move with extreme care and
gentleness,--this something was surrounded by a crowd of boys and men
whose faces were full of morbid and frightened interest--the whole
_cortege_ was headed by a couple of solemn policemen. "You spoke of a
walking funeral just now," said Lorimer suddenly. "This looks uncommonly
like one."

Errington made no reply--he had only one idea in his mind,--the
determination to chastise and thoroughly disgrace Sir Francis. "I'll
hound him out of the clubs!" he thought indignantly. "His own set shall
know what a liar he is--and if I can help it he shall never hold up his
head again!"

Entirely occupied as he was with these reflections, he paid no heed to
anything that was going on in the street, and he scarcely heard
Lorimer's last observation. So that he was utterly surprised and taken
aback, when he, with Lorimer, was compelled to come to a halt before the
very door of the jeweller, Lennox's landlord, while the two policemen
cleared a passage through the crowd, saying in low tones, "Stand aside,
gentlemen, please!--stand aside," thus making gradual way for four
bearers, who, as was now plainly to be seen, carried a common wooden
stretcher covered with a cloth, under which lay what seemed, from its
outline, to be a human figure.

"What's the matter here?" asked Lorimer, with a curious cold thrill
running through him as he put the simple question.

One of the policemen answered readily enough.

"An accident, sir. Gentleman badly hurt. Down at Charing Cross
Station--tried to jump into a train when it had started,--foot
caught,--was thrown under the wheels and dragged along some
distance--doctor says he can't live, sir."

"Who is he,--what's his name?"

"Lennox, sir--leastways, that's the name on his card--and this is the
address. Sir Francis Lennox, I believe it is."

Errington uttered a sharp exclamation of horror,--at that moment the
jeweller came out of the recesses of his shop with uplifted hands and
bewildered countenance.

"An accident? Good Heavens!--Sir Francis! Up-stairs!--take him
up-stairs!" Here he addressed the bearers. "You should have gone round
to the private entrance--he mustn't be seen in the shop--frightening
away all my customers--here, pass through!--pass through, as quick as
you can!"

And they did pass through,--carrying their crushed burden tenderly along
by the shining glass cases and polished counters, where glimmered and
flashed jewels of every size and lustre for the adorning of the children
of this world,--slowly and carefully, step by step, they reached the
upper floor,--and there, in a luxurious apartment furnished with almost
feminine elegance, they lifted the inanimate form from the stretcher and
laid it down, still shrouded, on a velvet sofa, removing the last number
of _Truth_, and two of Zola's novels, to make room for the heavy,
unconscious head.

Errington and Lorimer stood at the doorway, completely overcome by the
suddenness of the event--they had followed the bearers up-stairs almost
mechanically,--exchanging no word or glance by the way,--and now they
watched in almost breathless suspense while a surgeon who was present,
gently turned back the cover that hid the injured man's features and
exposed them to full view. Was _that_ Sir Francis? that blood-smeared,
mangled creature?--_that_ the lascivious dandy,--the disciple of
no-creed and self-worship? Errington shuddered and averted his gaze from
that hideous face,--so horribly contorted,--yet otherwise deathlike in
its rigid stillness. There was a grave hush. The surgeon still bent over
him--touching here, probing there, with tenderness and skill,--but
finally he drew back with a hopeless shake of his head.

"Nothing can be done," he whispered. "Absolutely nothing!"

At that moment Sir Francis stirred,--he groaned and opened his
eyes;--what terrible eyes they were, filled with that look of intense
anguish, and something worse than anguish,--fear--frantic fear--coward
fear--fear that was almost more overpowering than his bodily suffering.

He stared wildly at the little group assembled--strange faces, so far as
he could make them out, that regarded him with evident compassion,--what
--what was all this--what did it mean? Death? No, no! he thought madly,
while his brain reeled with the idea--death? What _was_ death?--darkness,
annihilation, blackness--all that was horrible--unimaginable! God! he
would _not_ die! God!--who _was_ God? No matter--he would live;--he
would struggle against this heaviness,--this coldness--this pillar of
ice in which he was being slowly frozen--frozen--frozen!--inch by--inch!
He made a furious effort to move, and uttered a scream of agony, stabbed
through and through by torturing pain.

"Keep still!" said the surgeon pityingly.

Sir Francis heard him not. He wrestled with his bodily anguish till the
perspiration stood in large drops on his forehead. He raised himself,
gasping for breath, and glared about him like a trapped beast of prey.

"Give me brandy!" he muttered chokingly. "Quick--quick! Are you going to
let me die like a dog?--damn you all!"

The effort to move,--to speak,--exhausted his sinking strength--his
throat rattled,--he clenched his fists and made as though he would
spring off his couch--when a fearful contortion convulsed his whole
body,--his eyes rolled up and became fixed--he fell heavily
back,--_dead_!

Quietly the surgeon covered again what was now nothing,--nothing but a
mutilated corpse.

"It's all over!" he announce briefly.

Errington heard these words in sickened silence. All over! Was it
possible? So soon? All over!--and he had come too late to punish the
would-be ravisher of his wife's honor,--too late! He still held the whip
in his hand with which he had meant to chastise that--that distorted,
mangled lump of clay yonder, . . . pah! he could not bear to think of
it, and he turned away, faint and dizzy. He felt,--rather than saw the
staircase,--down which he dreamily went, followed by Lorimer.

The two policemen were in the hall scribbling the cut-and-dry
particulars of the accident in their note-books, which having done, they
marched off, attended by a wandering, bilious-looking penny-a-liner who
was anxious to write a successful account of the "Shocking Fatality," as
it was called in the next day's newspapers. Then the bearers departed
cheerfully, carrying with them the empty stretcher. Then the jeweller,
who seemed quite unmoved respecting the sudden death of his lodger,
chatted amicably with the surgeon about the reputation and various
demerits of the deceased,--and Errington and Lorimer, as they passed
through the shop, heard him speaking of a person hitherto unheard of,
namely, Lady Francis Lennox, who had been deserted by her husband for
the past six years, and who was living uncomplainingly the life of an
art-student in Germany with her married sister, maintaining, by the work
of her own hands, her one little child, a boy of five.

"He never allowed her a farthing," said the conversational jeweller.
"And she never asked him for one. Mr. Wiggins, his lawyer--firm of
Wiggins & Whizzer, Furnival's Inn,--told me all about his affairs. Oh
yes--he was a regular "masher"--tip-top! Not worth much, I should say.
He must have spent over a thousand a year in keeping up that little
place at St. John's Wood for Violet Vere. He owes me five hundred.
However, Mr. Wiggins will see everything fair, I've no doubt. I've just
wired to him, announcing the death. I don't suppose any one will regret
him--except, perhaps, the woman at St. John's Wood. But I believe she's
playing for a bigger stake just now." And, stimulated by this thought,
he drew out from a handsome morocco case a superb pendant of emeralds
and diamonds--a work of art, that glittered as he displayed it, like a
star on a frosty night.

"Pretty thing, isn't it?" he said proudly. "Eight hundred pounds, and
cheap, too! It was ordered for Miss Vere, two months ago, by the Duke of
Moorlands. I see he sold his collection of pictures the other day.
Luckily they fetched a tidy sum, so I'm pretty sure of the money for
this. He'll sell everything he's got to please her. Queer? Oh, not at
all! She's the rage just now,--I can't see anything in her myself,--but
I'm not a duke, you see--I'm obliged to be respectable!"

He laughed as he returned the pendant to its nest of padded amber satin,
and Errington,--sick at heart to hear such frivolous converse going on
while that crushed and lifeless form lay in the very room
above,--unwatched, uncared-for,--put his arm through Lorimer's and left
the shop.

Once in the open street, with the keen, cold air blowing against their
faces, they looked at each other blankly. Piccadilly was crowded; the
hurrying people passed and re-passed,--there were the shouts of omnibus
conductors and newsboys--the laughter of young men coming out of the St.
James's Hall Restaurant; all was as usual,--as, indeed, why should it
not? What matters the death of one man in a million? unless, indeed, it
be a man whose life, like a torch, uplifted in darkness, has enlightened
and cheered the world,--but the death of a mere fashionable "swell"
whose chief talent has been a trick of lying gracefully--who cares for
such a one? Society is instinctively relieved to hear that his place is
empty, and shall know him more. But Errington could not immediately
forget the scene he had witnessed. He was overcome by sensations of
horror,--even of pity,--and he walked by his friend's side for some time
in silence.

"I wish I could get rid of this thing!" he said suddenly, looking down
at the horsewhip in his hand.

Lorimer made no answer. He understood his feeling, and realized the
situation as sufficiently grim. To be armed with a weapon meant for the
chastisement of a man whom Death had so suddenly claimed was, to say the
least of it, unpleasant. Yet the horsewhip could scarcely be thrown away
in Piccadilly--such an action might attract notice and comment.
Presently Philip spoke again.

"He was actually married all the time!"

"So it seems;" and Lorimer's face expressed something very like
contempt. "By Jove, Phil! he must have been an awful scoundrel!"

"Don't let's say any more about him--he's dead!" and Philip quickened
his steps. "And what a horrible death!"

"Horrible enough, indeed!"

Again they were both silent. Mechanically they turned down towards Pall
Mall.

"George," said Errington, with a strange awe in his tones, "it seems to
me to-day as if there were death in the air. I don't believe in
presentiments, but yet--yet I can-not help thinking--what if I should
find my Thelma--_dead_?"

Lorimer turned very pale--a cold shiver ran through him, but he
endeavored to smile.

"For God's sake, old fellow, don't think of anything so terrible! Look
here, you're hipped--no wonder! and you've got a long journey before
you. Come and have lunch. It's just two o'clock. Afterwards we'll go to
the Garrick and have a chat with Beau Lovelace--he's a first-rate fellow
for looking on the bright side of everything. Then I'll see you off this
afternoon at the Midland--what do you say?"

Errington assented to this arrangement, and tried to shake off the
depression that had settled upon him, though dark forebodings passed one
after the other like clouds across his mind. He seemed to see the
Altenguard hills stretching drearily, white with frozen snow, around the
black Fjord; he pictured Thelma, broken-hearted, fancying herself
deserted, returning through the cold and darkness to the lonely
farm-house behind the now withered pines. Then he began to think of the
shell-cave where that other Thelma lay hidden in her last deep
sleep,--the wailing words of Sigurd came freshly back to his ears, when
the poor crazed lad had likened Thelma's thoughts to his favorite
flowers, the pansies--"One by one you will gather and play with her
thoughts as though they were these blossoms; your burning hand will mar
their color--they will wither and furl up and die,--and you--what will
you care? Nothing! No man ever cares for a flower that is withered,--not
even though his own hand slew it!"

Had he been to blame? he mused, with a sorrowful weight at his heart.
Unintentionally, had he,--yes, he would put it plainly,--had he
neglected her, just a little? Had he not, with all his true and
passionate love for her, taken her beauty, her devotion, her obedience
too much for granted--too much as his right? And in these latter months,
when her health had made her weaker and more in need of his tenderness,
had he not, in a sudden desire for political fame and worldly honor,
left her too much alone, a prey to solitude and the often morbid musings
which solitude engenders?

He began to blame himself heartily for the misunderstanding that had
arisen out of his share in Neville's unhappy secret. Neville had been
weak and timid,--he had shrunk nervously from avowing that the notorious
Violet Vere was actually the woman he had so faithfully loved and
mourned,--but he, Philip, ought not to have humored him in these
fastidious scruples--he ought to have confided everything to Thelma. He
remembered now that he had once or twice been uneasy lest rumors of his
frequent visits to Miss Vere might possibly reach his wife's ears,--but,
then, as his purpose was absolutely disinterested and harmless, he did
not dwell on this idea, but dismissed it, and held his peace for
Neville's sake, contenting himself with the thought that, "If Thelma
_did_ hear anything, she would never believe a word against me."

He could not quite see where his fault had been,--though a fault there
was somewhere, as he uneasily felt--and he would no doubt have started
indignantly had a small elf whispered in his ear the word "_Conceit._"
Yet that was the name of his failing--that and no other. How many men,
otherwise noble-hearted, are seriously, though often unconsciously,
burdened with this large parcel of blown-out Nothing! Sir Philip did not
appear to be conceited--he would have repelled the accusation with
astonishment,--not knowing that in his very denial of the fault, the
fault existed. He had never been truly humbled but twice in his
life,--once as he knelt to receive his mother's dying benediction,--and
again when he first loved Thelma, and was uncertain whether his love
could be returned by so fair and pure a creature. With these two
exceptions, all his experience had tended to give him an excellent
opinion of himself,--and that he should possess one of the best and
loveliest wives in the world, seemed to him quite in keeping with the
usual course of things. The feeling that it was a sheer impossibility
for her to ever believe a word against him, rose out of this inward
self-satisfaction--this one flaw in his otherwise bright, honest, and
lovable character--a flaw of which he himself was not aware. Now, when
for the third time his fairy castle of perfect peace and pleasure seemed
shaken to its foundations,--when he again realized the uncertainty of
life or death, he felt bewildered and wretched. His chiefest pride was
centred in Thelma, and she--was gone! Again he reverted to the miserable
idea that, like a melancholy refrain, haunted him--"What if I should
find her _dead_!"

Absorbed in painful reflections, he was a very silent companion for
Lorimer during the luncheon which they took at a quiet little restaurant
well known to the _habitues_ of Pall Mall and Regent Street. Lorimer
himself had his own reasons for being equally depressed and
anxious,--for did he not love Thelma as much as even her husband
could?--nay, perhaps more, knowing his love was hopeless. Not always
does possession of the adored object strengthen the adoration,--the
rapturous dreams of an ideal passion have often been known to surpass
reality a thousandfold. So the two friends exchanged but few
words,--though they tried to converse cheerfully on indifferent
subjects, and failed in the attempt. They had nearly finished their
light repast, when a familiar voice saluted them.

"It _is_ Errington,--I thocht I couldna be mistaken! How are ye both?"

Sandy Macfarlane stood before them, unaltered, save that his scanty
beard had grown somewhat longer. They had seen nothing of him since
their trip to Norway, and they greeted him now with unaffected
heartiness, glad of the distraction his appearance afforded them.

"Where do you hail from, Mac?" asked Lorimer, as he made the new-comer
sit down at their table. "We haven't heard of you for an age."

"It _is_ a goodish bit of time," assented Macfarlane, "but better late
than never. I came up to London a week ago from Glasgie,--and my heed
has been in a whirl ever since. Eh, mon! but it's an awful place!--maybe
I'll get used to't after a wee whilie."

"Are you going to settle here, then?" inquired Errington, "I thought you
intended to be a minister somewhere in Scotland?"

Macfarlane smiled, and his eyes twinkled.

"I hae altered ma opee-nions a bit," he said. "Ye see, ma aunt in
Glasgie's deed--"

"I understand," laughed Lorimer. "You've come in for the old lady's
money?"

"Puir body!" and Sandy shook his head gravely. "A few hours before she
died she tore up her will in a screamin' fury o' Christian charity and
forethought,--meanin' to mak anither in favor o' leavin' a' her warld's
trash to the Fund for Distributin' Bible Knowledge among the
Heathen--but she never had time to fulfill her intention. She went off
like a lamb,--and there being no will, her money fell to me, as the
nearest survivin' relative--eh! the puir thing!--if her dees-imbodied
spirit is anywhere aboot, she must be in a sair plight to think I've got
it, after a' her curses!"

"How much?" asked Lorimer amused.

"Oh, just a fair seventy thousand or so," answered Macfarlane
carelessly.

"Well done, Mac!" said Errington, with a smile, endeavoring to appear
interested. "You're quite rich, then? I congratulate you!"

"Riches are a snare," observed Macfarlane, sententiously, "a snare and a
decoy to both soul and body!" He laughed and rubbed his hands,--then
added with some eagerness, "I say, how is Lady Errington?"

"She's very well," answered Sir Philip hurriedly, exchanging a quick
look with Lorimer, which the latter at once understood. "She's away on a
visit just now. I'm going to join her this afternoon."

"I'm sorry she's away," said Sandy, and he looked very disappointed;
"but I'll see her when she comes back. Will she be long absent?"

"No, not long--a few days only"--and as Errington said this an
involuntary sigh escaped him.

A few days only!--God grant it! But what--what if he should find her
_dead_?

Macfarlane noticed the sadness of his expression, but prudently forbore
to make any remark upon it. He contented himself with saying--

"Weel, ye've got a wife worth having--as I dare say ye know. I shall be
glad to pay my respects to her as soon as she returns. I've got your
address, Errington--will ye take mine?"

And he handed him a small card on which was written in pencil the number
of a house in one of the lowest streets in the East-end of London.
Philip glanced at it with some surprise.

"Is _this_ where you live?" he asked with emphatic amazement.

"Yes. It's just the cleanest tenement I could find in that neighborhood.
And the woman that keeps it is fairly respectable."

"But with your money," remonstrated Lorimer, who also looked at the
card, "I rather wonder at your choice of abode. Why, my dear fellow, do
you _know_ what sort of a place it is?"

A steadfast, earnest, _thinking_ look came into Macfarlane's deep-set,
grey eyes.

"Yes, I do know, pairfectly," he said in answer to the question. "It's a
place where there's misery, starvation, and crime of all sorts,--and
there I am in the very midst of it--just where I want to be. Ye see, I
was meant to be a meenister--one of those douce, cannie, comfortable
bodies that drone in the pulpit about predestination and original sin,
and so forth a--sort, of palaver that does no good to ony resonable
creature--an' if I had followed out this profession, I make nae doot
that, with my aunt's seventy thousand, I should be a vera comfortable,
respectable, selfish type of a man, who was decently embarked in an
apparently important but really useless career--"

"Useless?" interrupted Lorimer archly. "I say, Mac, take care! A
minister of the Lord, _useless_!"

"I'm thinkin' there are unco few meen-isters o' the Lord in this warld,"
said Macfarlane musingly. "Maist o' them meen-ister to themselves, an'
care na a wheen mair for Christ than Buddha. I tell ye, I was an altered
man after we'd been to Norway--the auld pagan set me thinkin' mony an'
mony a time--for, ma certes! he's better worthy respect than mony a
so-called Christian. And as for his daughter--the twa great blue eyes
o' that lassie made me fair ashamed o' mysel'. Why? Because I felt that
as a meen-ister o' the Established Kirk, I was bound to be a sort o'
heep-ocrite,--ony thinkin', reasonable man wi' a conscience canna be
otherwise wi' they folk,--and ye ken, Errington, there's something in
your wife's look that maks a body hesitate before tellin' a lee.
Weel--what wi' her face an' the auld _bonde's_ talk, I reflectit that I
couldna be a meen-ister as meen-isters go,--an' that I must e'en follow
oot the Testament's teachings according to ma own way of thinkin'.
First, I fancied I'd rough it abroad as a meesionary--then I remembered
the savages at hame, an' decided to attend to them before onything else.
Then my aunt's siller came in handy--in short, I'm just gaun to live on
as wee a handfu' o' the filthy lucre as I can, an' lay oot the rest on
the heathens o' London. An' it's as well to do't while I'm alive to see
to't mysel'--for I've often observed that if ye leave your warld's gear
to the poor when ye're deed, just for the gude reason that ye canna tak
it to the grave wi' ye,--it'll melt in a wonderfu' way through the hands
o' the 'secretaries' an' 'distributors' o' the fund, till there's
naething left for those ye meant to benefit. Ye maunna think I'm gaun to
do ony preachin' business down at East-end,--there's too much o' that
an' tract-givin' already. The puir soul whose wee hoosie I've rented
hadna tasted bit nor sup for three days--till I came an' startled her
into a greetin' fit by takin' her rooms an' payin' her in advance--eh!
mon, ye'd have thought I was a saint frae heaven if ye'd heard her
blessin' me,--an' a gude curate had called on her just before and had
given her a tract to dine on. Ye see, I maun mak mysel' a _friend_ to
the folk first, before I can do them gude--I maun get to the heart o'
their troubles--an' troubles are plentiful in that quarter,--I maun live
among them, an' be ane o' them. I wad mind ye that Christ Himsel' gave
sympathy to begin with,--he did the preachin' afterwards."

"What a good fellow you are, Mac!" said Errington, suddenly seeing his
raw Scotch friend with the perverse accent, in quite a new and heroic
light.

Macfarlane actually blushed. "Nonsense, not a bit o't!" he declared
quite nervously. "It's just pure selfishness, after a'--for I'm simply
enjoyin' mysel' the hale day long. Last nicht, I found a wee cripple o'
a laddie sittin' by himsel' in the gutter, munchin' a potato skin. I just
took him,--he starin' an' blinkin' like an owl at me,--and carried him
into my room. There I gave him a plate o' barley broth, an' finished him
up wi' a hunk o' gingerbread. Ma certes! Ye should ha' seen the rascal
laugh. 'Twas better than lookin' at a play from a ten-guinea box on the
grand tier!"

"By Jove, Sandy, you're a brick!" cried Lorimer, laughing to hide a very
different emotion--"I had no idea you were that sort of chap."

"Nor had I," said Macfarlane quite simply--"I never fashed mysel' wi'
thinkin' o' ither folks troubles at a'--I never even took into
conseederation the meanin' o' the Testament teachings till--I saw your
leddy wife, Errington." He paused a moment, then added gravely--"Yes--and
I've aften fancied she maun be a real live angel,--an' I've sought
always to turn my hand to something useful and worth the doin',--ever
since I met her."

"I'll tell her so," said poor Philip, his heart aching for his lost love
as he spoke, though he smiled. "It will give her pleasure to hear it."

Macfarlane blushed again like any awkward schoolboy.

"Oh, I dinna ken aboot that!" he said hurriedly. "She's just a grand
woman anyway." Then, bethinking himself of another subject, he asked,
"Have you heard o' the Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy lately?"

Errington and Lorimer replied in the negative.

Macfarlane laughed--his eyes twinkled. "It's evident ye never read
police reports," he said--"Talk o' misters,--he's a pretty specimen!
He's been hunted out o' his place in Yorkshire for carryin' on
love-affairs wi' the women o' his congregation. One day he locked
himsel' in the vestry wi' the new-married wife o' one o' his preencipal
supporters--an' he had a grand time of it--till the husband came an'
dragged him oot an' thrashed him soundly. Then he left the
neighborhood--an' just th' ither day--he turned up in Glasgie."

Macfarlane paused and laughed again.

"Well?" said Lorimer, with some interest--"Did you meet him there?"

"That did I--but no to speak to him--he was for too weel lookit after to
need my services," and Macfarlane rubbed his great hands together with
an irrepressible chuckle. "There was a crowd o' hootin' laddies round
him, an' he was callin' on the heavens to bear witness to his purity.
His hat was off--an' he had a black eye--an' a' his coat was covered wi'
mud, an' a policeman was embracin' him vera affectionately by th' arm.
He was in charge for drunken, disorderly, an' indecent conduct--an' the
magistrate cam' down pretty hard on him. The case proved to be
exceptionally outrageous--so he's sentenced to a month's imprisonment
an' hard labor. Hard labor! Eh, mon! but that's fine! Fancy him at
work--at real work for the first time in a' his days! Gude Lord! I can
see him at it!"

"So he's come to that!" and Errington shrugged his shoulders with weary
contempt. "I thought he would. His career as a minister is ended, that's
one comfort!"

"Don't be too sure o' that!" said Sandy cautiously. "There's always
America, ye ken. He can mak' a holy martyr o' himsel' there! He may gain
as muckle a reputation as Henry Ward Beecher--ye canna ever tell what may
happen--'tis a queer warld!"

"Queer, indeed!" assented Lorimer as they all rose and left the
restaurant together. "If our present existence is the result of a
fortuitous conglomeration of atoms,--I think the atoms ought to have
been more careful what they were about, that's all I can say!"

They reached the open street, where Macfarlane shook hands and went his
way, promising to call on Errington as soon as Thelma should be again at
home.

"He's turned out quite a fine fellow," said Lorimer, when he had gone.
"I should never have thought he had so much in him. He has become a
philanthropist."

"I fancy he's better than an ordinary philanthropist," replied Philip.
"Philanthropists often talk a great deal and do nothing."

"Like members of Parliament," suggested Lorimer, with a smile.

"Exactly so. By-the-by--I've resigned my candidateship."

"Resigned? Why?"

"Oh, I'm sick of the thing! One has to be such a humbug to secure one's
votes. I had a wretched time yesterday,--speechifying and trying to
rouse up clodhoppers to the interests of their country,--and all the
time my darling at home was alone, and breaking her heart about me! By
Jove! if I'd only known! When I came back this morning to all this
misery--I told Neville to send in my resignation. I repeated the same
thing to him the last thing before I left the house."

"But you might have waited a day or two," said Lorimer wonderingly.
"You're such a fellow of impulse, Phil--"

"Well, I can't help it. I'm tired of politics. I began with a will,
fancying that every member of the house had his country's interests at
heart,--not a bit of it! They're all for themselves--most of them, at
any rate--they're not even sincere in their efforts to do good to the
population. And it's all very well to stick up for the aristocracy; but
why, in Heaven's name, can't some of the wealthiest among them do as
much as our old Mac is doing, for the outcast and miserable poor? I see
some real usefulness and good in _his_ work, and I'll help him in it
with a will--when--when Thelma comes back."

Thus talking, the two friends reached the Garrick Club, where they found
Beau Lovelace in the reading-room, turning over some new books with the
curious smiling air of one who believes there can be nothing original
under the sun, and that all literature is mere repetition. He greeted
them cheerfully.

"Come out of here," he said. "Come into a place where we can talk.
There's an old fellow over there who's ready to murder any member who
even whispers. We won't excite his angry passions. You know we're all
literature-mongers here,--we've each got our own little particular stall
where we sort our goods--our mouldy oranges, sour apples, and
indigestible nuts,--and we polish them up to look tempting to the
public. It's a great business, and we can't bear to be looked at while
we're turning our apples with the best side outwards, and boiling our
oranges to make them swell and seem big! We like to do our humbug in
silence and alone."

He led the way into the smoking-room--and there heard with much surprise
and a great deal of concern the story of Thelma's flight.

"Ingenuous boy!" he said kindly, clapping Philip on the shoulder. "How
could you be such a fool as to think that repeated visits to Violet
Vere, no matter on what business, would not bring the dogs of scandal
yelping about your heels! I wonder you didn't see how you were
compromising yourself!"

"He never told _me_ a word about it," interposed Lorimer, "or else I
should have given him a bit of my mind on the subject."

"Of course!" agreed Lovelace. "And--excuse me--why the devil didn't you
let your secretary manage his domestic squabbles by himself?"

"He's very much broken down," said Errington. "A hopeless, frail,
disappointed man. I thought I could serve him--"

"I see!" and Beau's eyes were bent on him with a very friendly look.
"You're a first-rate fellow, Errington,--but you shouldn't fly off so
readily on the rapid wings of impulse. Now I suppose you want to shoot
Lennox--that can't be done--not in England at any rate."

"It can't be done at all, anywhere," said Lorimer gravely. "He's dead."

Beau Lovelace started back in amazement. "Dead! You don't say so! Why,
he was dining last night at the Criterion--I saw him there."

Briefly they related the sudden accident that had occurred, and
described its fatal result.

"He died horribly!" said Philip in a low voice. "I haven't got over it
yet. That evil, tortured face of his haunts me."

Lovelace was only slightly shocked. He had known Lennox's life too well,
and had despised it too thoroughly, to feel much regret now it was thus
abruptly ended.

"Rather an unpleasant exit for such a fellow," he remarked. "Not
aesthetic at all. And so you were going to castigate him?"

"Look!" and Philip showed him the horsewhip; "I've been carrying this
thing about all day,--I wish I could drop it in the streets; but if I
did, some one would be sure to pick it up and return it to me."

"If it were a purse containing bank-notes you could drop it with the
positive certainty of never seeing it again," laughed Beau. "Here, hand
it over!" and he possessed himself of it. "I'll keep it till you come
back. You leave for Norway to-night, then?"

"Yes. If I can. But it's the winter season--and there'll be all manner
of difficulties. I'm afraid it's no easy matter to reach the Altenfjord
at this time of year."

"Why not use your yacht, and be independent of obstacles?" suggested
Lovelace.

"She's under repairs, worse luck!" sighed Philip despondingly. "She
won't be in sailing condition for another month. No--I must take my
chance--that's all. It's possible I may overtake Thelma at Hull--that's
my great hope."

"Well, don't be down in the mouth about it, my boy!" said Beau
sympathetically. "It'll all come right, depend upon it! Your wife's a
sweet, gentle, noble creature,--and when once she knows all about the
miserable mistake that has arisen, I don't know which will be greatest,
her happiness or her penitence, for having misunderstood the position.
Now let's have some coffee."

He ordered this refreshment from a passing waiter, and as he did so, a
gentleman, with hands clasped behind his back, and a suave smile on his
countenance, bowed to him with marked and peculiar courtesy as he
sauntered on his way through the room. Beau returned the salute with
equal politeness.

"That's Whipper," he explained with a smile, when the gentleman was out
of earshot. "The best and most generous of men! He's a critic--all
critics are large-minded and generous, we know,--but he happens to be
remarkably so. He did me the kindest turn I ever had in my life. When my
first book came out, he fell upon it tooth and claw, mangled it, tore it
to ribbons, metaphorically speaking,--and waved the fragments mockingly
in the eyes of the public. From that day my name was made--my writings
sold off with delightful rapidity, and words can never tell how I
blessed, and how I still bless, Whipper! He always pitches into
me--that's what's so good of him! We're awfully polite to each other, as
you observe--and what is so perfectly charming is that he's quite
unconscious how much he's helped me along! He's really a first-rate
fellow. But I haven't yet attained the summit of my ambition,"--and here
Lovelace broke off with a sparkle of fun in his clear steel-grey eyes.

"Why, what else do you want?" asked Lorimer laughing.

"I want," returned Beau solemnly, "I want to be jeered at by _Punch_! I
want _Punch_ to make mouths at me, and give me the benefit of his
inimitable squeak and gibber. No author's fame is quite secure till dear
old _Punch_ has abused him. Abuse is the thing nowadays, you know.
Heaven forbid that I should be praised by _Punch_. That would be
frightfully unfortunate!"

Here the coffee arrived, and Lovelace dispensed it to his friends,
talking gaily the while in an effort to distract Errington from his
gloomy thoughts.

"I've just been informed on respectable authority, that Walt Whitman is
the new Socrates," he said laughingly. "I felt rather stunned at the
moment but I've got over it now. Oh, this deliciously mad London! what a
gigantic Colney Hatch it is for the crazed folk of the world to air
their follies in! That any reasonable Englishmen with such names as
Shakespeare, Byron, Keats, and Shelley, to keep the glory of their
country warm, should for one moment consider Walt Whitman a _poet_! Ye
gods! Where are your thunderbolts!"

"He's an American, isn't he?" asked Errington.

"He is, my dear boy! An American whom the sensible portion of America
rejects. We, therefore,--out of opposition,--take him up. His
chief recommendation is that he writes blatantly concerning
commonplaces,--regardless of music or rhythm. Here's a bit of him
concerning the taming of oxen. He says the tamer lives in a

                                        "'Placid pastoral region.
   There they bring him the three-year-olds and the four-year-olds
       to break them,--
   Some are such beautiful animals, so lofty looking,--some are
       buff-colored, some mottled, one has a white line running
       along his back, some are brindled,
   Some have wide flaring horns (a good sign!) look you! the bright
       hides
   See the two with stars on their foreheads--see the round bodies
       and broad backs
   How straight and square they stand on their legs--'"

"Stop, stop!" cried Lorimer, putting his hands to his ears. "This is a
practical joke, Beau! No one would call that jargon poetry!"

"Oh! wouldn't they though!" exclaimed Lovelace. "Let some critic of
reputation once start the idea, and you'll have the good London folk who
won't bother to read him for themselves, declaring him as fine as
Shakespeare. The dear English muttons! fine Southdowns! fleecy
baa-lambs! once let the Press-bell tinkle loudly enough across the
fields of literature, and they'll follow, bleating sweetly in any
direction! The sharpest heads in our big metropolis are those who know
this, and who act accordingly."

"Then why don't _you_ act accordingly?" asked Errington, with a faint
smile.

"Oh, I? I can't! I never asked a favor from the Press in my life--but
its little bell has tinkled for me all the same, and a few of the
muttons follow, but not all. Are you off?" this, as they rose to take
their leave. "Well, Errington, old fellow," and he shook hands warmly,
"a pleasant journey to you, and a happy return home! My best regards to
your wife. Lorimer, have you settled whether you'll go with me to Italy?
I start the day after to-morrow."

Lorimer hesitated--then said, "All right! My mother's delighted at the
idea,--yes, Beau! we'll come. Only I hope we shan't bore you."

"Bore me! you know me better than that," and he accompanied them out of
the smoking-room into the hall, while Errington, a little surprised at
this sudden arrangement, observed--

"Why, George--I thought you'd be here when we came back from
Norway--to--to welcome Thelma, you know!"

George laughed. "My dear boy, I shan't be wanted! Just let me know how
everything goes on. You--you see, I'm in duty bound to take my mother
out of London in winter."

"Just so!" agreed Lovelace, who had watched him narrowly while he spoke.
"Don't grudge the old lady her southern sunshine. Errington! Lorimer
wants brushing up a bit too--he looks seedy. Then I shall consider it
settled--the day after to-morrow, we meet at Charing Cross--morning
tidal express, of course,--never go by night service across the Channel
if you can help it."

Again they shook hands and parted.

"Best thing that young fellow can do!" thought Lovelace as he returned
to the Club reading-room. "The sooner he gets out of this, into new
scenes the better,--he's breaking his heart over the beautiful Thelma.
By Jove! the boy's eyes looked like those of a shot animal whenever her
name was mentioned. He's rather badly hit!"

He sat down and began to meditate. "What can I do for him, I wonder?" he
thought. "Nothing, I suppose. A love of that sort can't be remedied.
It's a pity--a great pity! And I don't know any woman likely to make a
counter-impression on him. He'd never put up with an Italian beauty"--he
paused in his reflections, and the color flushed his broad, handsome
brow, as the dazzling vision of a sweet, piquant face with liquid dark
eyes and rippling masses of rich brown hair came flitting before
him--"unless he saw Angela," he murmured to himself softly,--"and he
will not see her,--besides, Angela loves _me_!"

And after this, his meditations seemed to be particularly pleasant, to
judge from the expression of his features. Beau was by no means ignorant
of the tender passion--he had his own little romance, as beautiful and
bright as a summer day--but he had resolved that London, with its love
of gossip, its scandal, and society papers,--London, that on account of
his popularity as a writer, watched his movements and chronicled his
doings in the most authoritative and incorrect manner,--London should
have no chance of penetrating into the secret of his private life. And
so far he had succeeded--and was likely still to succeed.

Meanwhile, as he still sat in blissful reverie, pretending to read a
newspaper, though his thoughts were far away from it, Errington and
Lorimer arrived at the Midland Station. Britta was already there with
the luggage,--she was excited and pleased--her spirits had risen at the
prospect of seeing her mistress soon again,--possibly, she thought
gladly, they might find her at Hull,--they might not have to go to
Norway at all. The train came up to the platform--the tickets were
taken,--and Sir Philip, with Britta, entered--a first-class compartment,
while Lorimer stood outside leaning with folded arms on the
carriage-window, talking cheerfully.

"You'll find her all right, Phil, I'm positive!" he said. "I think it's
very probable she has been compelled to remain at Hull,--and even at the
worst, Britta can guide you all over Norway, if necessary. Nothing will
daunt _her_!"

And he nodded kindly to the little maid who had regained her rosy color
and the sparkle of her eyes in the eagerness she felt to rejoin her
beloved "Froeken." The engine-whistle gave a warning shriek--Philip
leaned out and pressed his friend's hand warmly.

"Good-bye, old fellow! I'll write to you in Italy."

"All right--mind you do! And I say--give my love to Thelma!"

Philip smiled and promised. The train began to move,--slowly at first,
then more quickly, till with clattering uproar and puffing clouds of
white steam, it rushed forth from the station, winding through the
arches like a black snake, till it had twisted itself rapidly out of
sight. Lorimer, left alone, looked after it wistfully, with a heavy
weight of unuttered love and sorrow at his heart, and as he at last
turned away, those haunting words that he had heard under the pines at
the Altenfjord recurred again and again to his memory--the words uttered
by the distraught Sigurd--and how true they were, he thought! how
desperately, cruelly true!

"Good things may come for others--but for _you_, the heavens are empty!"




CHAPTER XXX.

   "Honor is an old-world thing, but it smells sweet to those in
    whose hand it is strong."--OUIDA.


Disappointment upon disappointment awaited Errington at Hull.
Unfortunately, neither he nor Britta knew of the existence of the good
Norwegian innkeeper, Friedhof, who had assisted Thelma in her
flight--and all their persistent and anxious inquiries elicited no news
of her. Moreover, there was no boat of any kind leaving immediately for
Norway--not even a whaler or fishing-smack. In a week's time,--possibly
later,--there would be a steamer starting for Christiansund, and for
this, Errington, though almost mad with impatience, was forced to wait.
And in the meantime, he roamed about the streets of Hull, looking
eagerly at every fair-haired woman who passed him, and always hoping
that Thelma herself would suddenly meet him face to face, and put her
hands in his. He wrote to Neville and told him to send on any letters
that might arrive for him, and by every post he waited anxiously for one
from Thelma but none came. To relieve his mind a little, he scribbled a
long letter to her, explaining everything, telling her how ardently he
loved and worshipped her--how he was on his way to join her at the
Altenfjord,--and ending by the most passionate vows of unchanging love
and fidelity. He was somewhat soothed when he had done this--though he
did not realize the fact that in all probability he himself might arrive
before the letter. The slow, miserable days went on--the week was
completed--the steamer for Christiansund started at last,--and, after a
terribly stormy passage, he and the faithful Britta were landed there.

On arrival, he learned that a vessel bound for the North Cape had left
on the previous day--there would not be another for a fortnight. Cursing
his ill-luck, he resolved to reach the Altenfjord by land, and began to
make arrangements accordingly. Those who knew the country well
endeavored to dissuade him from this desperate project--the further
north, the greater danger, they told him,--moreover, the weather was,
even for Norway, exceptionally trying. Snow lay heavily over all the
country he would have to traverse--the only means of conveyance was by
carriole or _pulkha_--the latter a sort of sledge used by the
Laplanders, made in the form of a boat, and generally drawn by reindeer.
The capabilities of the carriole would be exhausted as soon as the
snow-covered regions were reached--and to manage a _pulkha_
successfully, required special skill of no ordinary kind. But the
courageous little Britta made short work of all these difficulties--she
could drive a _pulkha_,--she knew how to manage reindeer,--she
entertained not the slightest doubt of being able to overcome all the
obstacles on the way. At the same time, she frankly told Sir Philip that
the journey would be a long one, perhaps occupying several days--that
they would have to rest at different farms or stations on the road, and
put up with hard fare--that the cold would be intense,--that often they
would find it difficult to get relays of the required reindeer,--and
that it might perhaps be wiser to wait for the next boat going to the
North Cape.

But Errington would hear of no more delays--each hour that passed filled
him with fresh anxieties--and once in Norway he could not rest. The idea
that Thelma might be ill--dying--or dead--gained on him with redoubled
force,--and his fears easily communicating themselves to Britta, who was
to the full as impatient as he, the two made up their minds, and
providing every necessary for the journey they could think of, they
started for the far sunless North, through a white, frozen land, which
grew whiter and more silent the further they went,--even as the brooding
sky above them grew darker and darker. The aurora borealis flashed its
brilliant shafts of color against the sable breast of heaven,--the tall
pines, stripped bare, every branch thick with snow and dropping icicles,
stood,--pale ghosts of the forest,--shedding frozen tears--the moon,
more like steel than silver, shone frostily cold, her light seeming to
deepen rather than soften the dreariness of the land--and
on--on--on--they went, Britta enveloped to the chin in furs, steadily
driving the strange elfin-looking steeds with their horned heads casting
long distorted shadows on the white ground,--and Philip beside her,
urging her on with feverish impatience, while he listened to the smooth
trot of the reindeer,--the tinkle of the bells on their harness, and the
hiss of the sledge across the sparkling snow.

Meanwhile, as he thus pursued his long and difficult journey, rumor was
very busy with his name in London. Everybody--that is, everybody worth
consideration in the circle of the "Upper Ten"--was talking about
him,--shrugging their shoulders, lifting their eyebrows and smiling
knowingly, whenever he was mentioned. He became more known in one day
than if he had served his country's interests in Parliament for years.

On the very morning after he had left the metropolis en route for
Norway, that admirably conducted society journal, the _Snake_,
appeared,--and of course, had its usual amount of eager purchasers,
anxious to see the latest bit of aristocratic scandal. Often these good
folks were severely disappointed--the _Snake_ was sometimes so
frightfully dull, that it had actually nothing to say against
anybody--then, naturally, it was not worth buying. But this time it was
really interesting--it knocked down--or tried to knock down--at one
blow, a formerly spotless reputation--and "really--really!" said the
Upper Ten, "it was dreadful, but of course it was to be expected! Those
quiet, seemingly virtuous persons are always the worst when you come to
know them, yet who would have thought it!" And society read the
assailing paragraph, and rolled it in its rank mouth, like a bon-bon,
enjoying its flavor. It ran as follows:--

"We hear on excellent authority that the Norwegian 'beauty,' Lady
Bruce-Errington, wife of Sir Philip Bruce-Errington, is about to sue for
a divorce on the ground of infidelity. The offending dama in the
question is an admired actress, well-known to the frequenters of the
Brilliant Theatre. But there are always two sides to these affairs, and
it is rumored that the fair Norwegian (who before her marriage, we
understand, was a great adept in the art of milking reindeer on the
shores of her native Fjord) has private reasons of her own for desiring
the divorce, not altogether in keeping with her stated reasons or her
apparent reserve. We are, however, always on the side of the fair sex,
and, as the faithless husband has made no secret of his new liaison, we
do not hesitate to at once pronounce in the lady's favor. The case is
likely to prove interesting to believers in wedded happiness, combined
with the strictest moral and religious sentiments."

Quite by accident this piece of would-be "smartness" was seen by Beau
Lovelace. He had a wholesome contempt for the _Snake_--and all its
class,--he would never have looked at it, or known of the paragraph, had
not a friend of his at the Garrick pointed it out to him with half a
smile and half a sneer.

"It's a damned lie!" said Beau briefly.

"That remains to be proved!" answered his friend, and went away
laughing.

Beau read it over and over again, his blood firing with honest
indignation. Thelma! Thelma--that pure white lily of womanhood,--was she
to have her stainless life blurred by the trail of such a thing as the
_Snake_?--and was Errington's honor to be attainted in his absence, and
he condemned without a word uttered in his defence?

"Detestable blackguard!" muttered Lovelace, reverting in his mind to the
editor of the journal in question. "What's his name I wonder?" He
searched and found it at the top of a column-"Sole Editor and
Proprietor, C. Snawley-Grubbs, to whom all checks and post-office orders
should be made payable. The Editor cannot be responsible for the return
of rejected MSS."

Beau noted the name, and wrote the address of the office in his
pocket-book, smiling curiously to himself the while.

"I'm almost glad Errington's out of the way," he said half aloud. "He
shan't see this thing if I can help it, though I dare say some
particularly affectionate friend will send it to him, carefully marked.
At any rate, he needn't know it just yet--and as for Lorimer--shall I
tell him! No, I won't. I'll have the game all to myself--and--by Jove!
how I _shall_ enjoy it!"

An hour later he stood in the office of the _Snake_, courteously
inquiring for Mr. Snawley-Grubbs. Apparently he had come on horseback,
for he held a riding-whip in his hand,--the very whip Errington had left
with him the previous day. The inky, dirty, towzle-headed boy who
presided in solitary grandeur over the _Snake's_ dingy premises, stared
at him inquiringly,--visitors of his distinguished appearance and manner
being rather uncommon. Those who usually had business with the great
Grubbs were of a different type altogether,--some of them discarded
valets or footmen, who came to gain half a crown or five shillings by
offering information as to the doings of their late masters and
mistresses,--shabby "supers" from the theatres, who had secured the last
bit of scandal concerning some celebrated stage or professional
"beauty"--sporting men and turf gamblers of the lowest class,--
unsuccessful dramatists and small verse writers--these, with now and
then a few "ladies"--ladies of the bar-room, ballet, and demi-monde,
were the sort, of persons who daily sought private converse with
Grubbs--and Beau Lovelace, with his massive head, fine muscular figure,
keen eyes, and self-assertive mien, was quite a novel specimen of
manhood for the wondering observation of the office-boy, who scrambled
off his high chair with haste and something of respect as he said--

"What name, sir, please?"

"Beaufort Lovelace," said the gentleman, with a bland smile. "Here is my
card. Ask Mr. Grubbs whether he can see me for a few minutes. If he is
engaged--editors generally are engaged--tell him I'll wait."

The boy went off in a greater hurry than ever. The name of Lovelace was
quite familiar to him--he knew him, not as a distinguished novelist, but
as "'im who makes such a precious lot of money." And he was breathless
with excitement; when he reached the small editorial chamber at the top
of a dark, narrow flight of stairs, wherein sat the autocratic Snawley,
smiling suavely over a heap of letters and disordered MSS. He glanced at
the card which his ink-smeared attendant presented him.

"Ah, indeed!" he said condescendingly. "Lovelace--Lovelace? Oh yes--I
suppose it must be the novelist of that name--yes!--show him up."

Shown up he was accordingly. He entered the room with a firm tread, and
closed the door behind him!

"How do you do, my dear sir!" exclaimed Grubbs warmly. "You are well
known to me by reputation! I am charmed--delighted to make the personal
acquaintance of one who is--yes--let me say, who is a brother in
literature! Sit down, I beg of you!"

And he waved his hand towards a chair, thereby displaying the great
rings that glittered on his podgy fingers.

Beau, however, did not seat himself--he only smiled very coldly and
contemptuously.

"We can discuss the fraternal nature of our relationship afterwards," he
said satirically, "Business first. Pray, sir,"--here he drew from his
pocket the last number of the _Snake_--"are you the writer of this
paragraph?"

He pointed to it, as he flattened the journal and laid it in front of
the editor on the desk. Mr. Snawley-Grubbs glanced at it and smiled
unconcernedly.

"No I am not. But I happen to know it is perfectly correct. I received
the information on the highest--the very highest and most credible
authority."

"Indeed!" and Beau's lip curled haughtily, while his hand clenched the
riding-whip more firmly. "Then allow me to tell you, sir, that it is
utterly false in every particular--moreover--that it is a gross
libel,--published with deliberate intent to injure those whom it
presumes to mention,--and that, whoever wrote it,--you, sir, you alone
are responsible for a most mischievous, scandalous, and damnable lie!"

Mr. Grubbs was in no wise disconcerted. Honest indignation honestly
expressed, always amused him--he was amused now.

"You're unduly excited, Mr. Lovelace," he said with a little laugh.
"Permit me to remark that your language is rather extraordinary--quite
too strong under the circumstances! However, you're a privileged
person--genius is always a little mad, or shall we say,--eccentric?--I
suppose you are a friend of Sir Philip Errington, and you naturally feel
hurt--yes--yes, I quite understand! But the scourge of the press--the
wholesome, purifying scourge, cannot be withheld out of consideration
for private or personal feelings. No--no! There's a higher duty--the
duty we owe to the public!"

"I tell you again," repeated Lovelace firmly--"the whole thing is a lie.
Will you apologize?"

Mr. Grubbs threw himself back in his chair and laughed aloud.

"Apologize? My dear sir, you must be dreaming! Apologize? Certainly not!
I cannot retract the statements I have made--and I firmly believe them
to be true. And though there is a saying, 'the greater the truth the
greater the libel,' I'm ready, sir, and, always have been ready, to
sacrifice myself to the cause of truth. Truth, truth for ever! Tell the
truth and shame the devil! You are at liberty to inform Sir Philip
Errington from me, that as it is my object--a laudable and praiseworthy
one, too, I think--to show up the awful immorality now reigning in our
upper classes, I do not regret in the least the insertion of the
paragraph in question. If it only makes him ashamed of his vices, I
shall have done a good deed, and served the interests of society at
large. At the same time, if he wishes to bring an action for libel--"

"You dog!" exclaimed Lovelace fiercely, approaching him with such a
sudden rapid stride that the astonished editor sprang up and barricaded
himself behind his own chair. "You hope for that, do you? An action for
libel! nothing would please you better! To bring your scandalous printed
trash into notoriety,--to hear your name shouted by dirty hawkers and
newsboys--to be sentenced as a first-class misdemenent; ah, no such luck
for you! I know the tricks of your vile trade! There are other ways of
dealing with a vulgar bully and coward!"

And before the startled Grubbs could realize his position, Lovelace
closed with him, beat him under, and struck the horsewhip smartly cross
his back and shoulders. He uttered a yell of pain and fury, and strove
vigorously to defend himself, but, owing to his obesity, his muscles
were weak and flabby, and he was powerless against the activity and
strength of his opponent. Lash after lash descended regularly and
mercilessly--his cries, which gradually became like the roarings of a
bull of Basban, were unheard, as the office-boy below, profiting by a
few idle moments, had run across the street to buy some chestnuts at a
stall he particularly patronized. Beau thrashed on with increasing
enjoyment--Grubbs resisted him less and less, till finally he slipped
feebly down on the floor and grovelled there, gasping and groaning. Beau
gave him one or two more artistic cuts, and stood above him, with the
serene, triumphant smile of a successful athlete. Suddenly a loud peal
of laughter echoed from the doorway,--a woman stood there, richly
dressed in silk and fur, with diamonds sparkling in her ears and
diamonds clasping the long boa at her throat. It was Violet Vere.

"Why, Snawley!" she cried with cheerful familiarity. "How are you? All
broken, and no one to pick up the pieces! Serve you right! Got it at
last, eh? Don't get up! You look so comfortable!"

"Bodily assault," gasped Grubbs. "I'll summons--call the police--call,"
his voice died away in inarticulate gurglings, and raising himself, he
sat up on the floor in a sufficiently abject and ludicrous posture,
wiping the tears of pain from his eyes. Beau looked at the female
intruder and recognized her at once. He saluted her with cold courtesy,
and turned again to Grubbs.

"_Will_ you apologize?"

"No--I--I _won't_!"

Beau made another threatening movement--Miss Vere interposed.

"Stop a bit," she said, regarding him with her insolent eyes, in which
lurked, however, an approving smile. "I don't know who you are, but you
seem a fighting man! Don't go at him again till I've had a word. I say,
Grubbs! you've been hitting at me in your trashy paper."

Grubbs still sat on the floor groaning.

"You must eat those words," went on the Vere calmly. "Eat 'em up with
sauce for dinner. The 'admired actress well known at the Brilliant,' has
nothing to do with the Bruce-Errington man,--not she! He's a duffer, a
regular stiff one--no go about him anyhow. And what the deuce do you
mean by calling me an offending dama. Keep your oaths to yourself, will
you?"

Beau Lovelace was amused. Grubbs turned his watering eye from one to the
other in wretched perplexity. He made an effort to stand up and
succeeded.

"I'll have you arrested, sir!" he exclaimed shaking his fists at Beau,
and quivering with passion, "on a charge of bodily assault--shameful
bodily assault, sir!"

"All right!" returned Beau coolly. "If I were fined a hundred pounds for
it, I should think it cheap for the luxury of thrashing such a hound!"

Grubbs quaked at the determined attitude and threatening eye of his
assailant, and turned for relief to Miss Vere whose smile, however, was
not sympathetic.

"You'd better cave in!" she remarked airily. "You've got the worst of
it, you know!"

She had long been on confidential terms with the _Snake_ proprietor, and
she spoke to him now with the candor of an old friend.

"Dear me, what do you expect of me!" he almost whimpered. "I'm not to
blame! The paragraph was inserted without my knowledge by my
sub-editor--he's away just now, and--there! why?" he cried with sudden
defiance, "why don't you ask Sir Francis Lennox about it? He wrote the
whole thing."

"Well, he's dead," said Miss Vere with the utmost coolness. "So it
wouldn't be much use asking _him_. HE can't answer,--you'll have to
answer for him."

"I don't believe it!" exclaimed Mr. Grubbs. "He can't be dead!"

"Oh, yes, he can, and he _is_," retorted Violet. "And a good job too! He
was knocked over by a train at Charing Cross. You'll see it in to-day's
paper, if you take the trouble to look. And mind you contradict all that
stuff about me in your next number--do you hear? I'm going to America
with a Duke next month, and I can't afford to have my reputation
injured. And I won't be called a 'dama' for any penny-a-liner living."
She paused, and again broke out laughing, "Poor old Snawley! You do look
so sore! Ta-ta!" And she moved towards the door. Lovelace, always
courteous, opened it for her. She raised her hard, bright eyes, and
smiled.

"Thanks! Hope I shall see you again some day!"

"You are very good!" responded Beau gravely.

Either his tone, which was one chill indifference, or some thing in his
look, irritated her suddenly--for a rash of hot color crimsoned her
face, and she bit her lips vexedly as she descended the office-stairs.

"He's one of your high-and-mighty sort," she thought disdainfully, as
she entered her cosy brougham and was driven away. "Quite too awfully
moral!" She pulled a large, elaborately cut glass scent-bottle out of
the pocket of her cloak, and, unscrewing the gold top, applied it, not
to her nose but her mouth. It contained neat Cognac--and she drank a
goodly gulp of it with evident relish, swallowing a scented bon-bon
immediately afterwards to take away the suspicious odor. "Yes--quite too
awfully moral!" she repeated with a grin. "Not in my line at all! Lord!
It's lucky there are not many such fellows about, or what would become
of _me_? A precious poor business I should make of it!"

Meanwhile, Lovelace, left alone again with Mr. Grubbs, reiterated his
demand for an apology. Grubbs made a rush for the door, as soon as Miss
Vere had gone, with the full intention of summoning the police, but Beau
coolly placed his back against it with resolute firmness, and flourished
his whip defiantly.

"Come, sir, none of this nonsense!" he said sternly. "I don't mean to
leave this spot till I have satisfaction. If Sir Francis Lennox wrote
that scandalous paragraph the greater rascal he,--and the more shame to
you for inserting it.--You, who make it your business to know all the
dirty alleys and dark corners of life, must have known _his_ character
pretty thoroughly. There's not the slightest excuse for you. Will you
apologize?--and retract every word of that paragraph, in your next
issue?"

Grubbs, breathless with rage and fear, glared at him, but made no
answer.

"If you refuse to comply," went on Beau deliberately, balancing the
horsewhip lightly on his hand, "I'll just tell you what the consequences
will be. I've thrashed you once--and I'll thrash you again. I have only
to give the cue to several worthy fellows of my acquaintance, who don't
care how much they pay for their fun, and each of them in turn will
thrash you. As for an action for libel, don't expect it--but I swear
there shan't be a safe corner in London for you. If, however, you
publish next week a full retraction of your printed lie--why, then
I--shall be only too happy to forget that such an individual as yourself
burdens this planet. There are the two alternatives--choose!"

Grubbs hesitated, but coward fear made him quail the prospect of
unlimited thrashings.

"Very well," he said sullenly. "Write what you want put in--I'll attend
to it--I don't mind obliging Miss Vere. But all the same, I'll have
_you_ arrested!"

Beau laughed. "Do so by all means!" he said gaily. "I'll leave my
address with you!" He wrote rapidly a few lines on a piece of paper to
the following effect--

"We have to entirely contradict a statement we made last week respecting
a supposed forthcoming divorce case in which Sir Philip Bruce-Errington
was seriously implicated. There was no truth whatever in the statement,
and we herewith apologize most humbly and heartily for having
inadvertently given credence to a rumor which is now proved to be
utterly false and without the slightest shadow of a foundation."

He handed this to Grubbs.

"Insert that word for word, at the head of your paragraphs," he said,
"and you'll hear no more of me, unless you give me fresh provocation.
And I advise you to think twice before you have me arrested--for I'll
defend my own case, and--ruin you! I'm rather a dangerous customer to
have much to do with! However, you've got my card--you know where to
find me if you want me. Only you'd better send after me to-night if you
do--to-morrow I may be absent."

He smiled, and drew on his gloves leisurely, eyeing meanwhile the
discomfited editor, who was furtively rubbing his shoulder where the
lash had stung it somewhat severely.

"I'm exceedingly glad I've hurt you, Mr. Grubbs," he said blandly. "And
the next time you want to call me your brother in literature, pray
reflect on the manner in which my fraternal affection displayed itself!
_good_ morning!"

And he took his departure with a quiet step and serene manner, leaving
Snawley-Grubbs to his own meditations, which were far from agreeable. He
was not ignorant of the influence Beau Lovelace possessed, both on the
press and in society--he was a general favorite,--a man whose opinions
were quoted, and whose authority was accepted everywhere. If he appeared
to answer a charge of assault against Grubbs, and defended his own case,
he certainly would have the best of it. He might--he would have to pay a
fine, but what did he care for that? He would hold up the _Snake_ and
its proprietor to the utmost ridicule and opprobrium--his brilliant
satire and humor would carry all before it--and he, Snawley-Grubbs,
would be still more utterly routed and humiliated. Weighing all these
considerations carefully in his mind, the shrinking editor decided to
sit down under his horsewhipping in silence and resignation.

It was not a very lofty mode of action--still, it was the safest. Of
course Violet Vere would spread the story all through _her_ particular
"set"--it made him furious to think of this yet there was no help for
it. He would play the martyr, he thought--the martyr to the cause of
truth,--the injured innocent entrapped by false information--he might
possibly gain new supporters and sympathizers in this way if he played
his cards carefully. He turned to the daily paper, and saw there
chronicled the death of Sir Francis Lennox. It was true, then. Well! he
was not at all affected by it--he merely committed the dead man in the
briefest and strongest language to the very lowest of those low and
sulphurous regions over which Satan is supposed to have full sway. Not a
soul regretted Sir Francis--not even the Vere, whom he had kept and
surrounded with every luxury for five years. Only one person, a fair,
weary faced woman away in Germany shed a few tears over the lawyer's
black-bordered letter that announced his death to her--and this was the
deserted wife,--who had once loved him. Lady Winsleigh had heard the
news,--she shuddered and turned very pale when her husband gently and
almost pityingly told her of the sudden and unprepared end that had
overtaken her quondam admirer--but she said nothing. She was presiding
at the breakfast-table for the first time in many years--she looked
somewhat sad and listless, yet lovelier so than in all the usual pride
and assertive arrogance of her beauty. Lord Winsleigh read aloud the
brief account of the accident in the paper--she listened dreamily, still
mute. He watched her with yearning eyes.

"An awful death for such a man, Clara!" he said at last in a low tone.

She dared not look up--she was trembling nervously. How dreadful it was,
she thought, to be thankful that a man was dead!--to feel a relief at
his being no longer in this world! Presently her husband spoke again
more reservedly. "No doubt you are greatly shocked and grieved," he
said. "I should not have told you so suddenly--pardon me!"

"I am not grieved," she murmured unsteadily. "It sounds horrible to say
so--but I--I am afraid I am _glad_!"

"Clara!"

She rose and came tremblingly towards him. She knelt at his feet, though
he strove to prevent her,--she raised her large, dark eyes, full of dull
agony, to his.

"I've been a wicked woman, Harry," she said, with a strange, imploring
thrill of passion in her voice, "I am down--down in the dust before you!
Look at me--don't forgive me--I won't ask that--you _can't_ forgive
me,--but _pity_ me!"

He took her hands and laid them round his neck,--he drew her gently,
soothingly,--closer, closer, till he pressed her to his heart.

"Down in the dust are you?" he whispered brokenly. "My poor wife! God
forbid that I should keep you there!"




BOOK III.

THE LAND OF THE LONG SHADOW




CHAPTER XXXI.

     "They have the night, who had, like us, the day--
      We, whom day binds, shall have the night as they--
      We, from the fetters of the light unbound,
      Healed of our wound of living, shall sleep sound!"
                                                       SWINBURNE.


Night on the Altenfjord,--the long, long, changeless night of winter.
The sharp snow-covered crests of the mountains rose in white appeal
against the darkness of the sky,--the wild north wind tore through the
leafless branches of the pine-forests, bringing with it driving pellets
of stinging hail. Joyless and songless, the whole landscape lay as
though frozen into sculptured stone. The Sun slept,--and the Fjord,
black with brooding shadows, seemed silently to ask--where? Where was
the great king of Light?--the glorious god of the golden hair and ruddy
countenance?--the glittering warrior with the flaming shield and spear
invincible? Where had he found his rest? By what strange enchantment had
he fallen into so deep and long a drowsiness. The wind that had rioted
across the mountains, rooting up great trees in its shrieking career
northwards, grew hushed as it approached the Altenfjord--there a weird
stillness reigned, broken only by the sullen and monotonous plash of the
invisible waves upon the scarcely visible shore.

A few tiny, twinkling lights showed the irregular outline of Bosekop,
and now and then one or two fishing-boats with sable sails and small
colored lamps at mast and prow would flit across the inky water like
dark messengers from another world bound on some mournful errand. Human
figures, more shadowy than real, were to be seen occasionally moving on
the pier, and to the left of the little town, as the eye grew accustomed
to the moveless gloom, a group of persons, like ghosts in a dream, could
be dimly perceived, working busily at the mending of nets.

Suddenly a strange, unearthly glow flashed over the sombre scene,--a
rosy radiance deepening to brilliant streaks of fire. The dark heavens
were torn asunder, and through them streamed flaring pennons of
light,--waving, trembling, dancing, luminous ribbons of red, blue,
green, and a delicious amber, like the flowing of golden wine,--wider,
higher, more dazzlingly lustrous, the wondrous glory shone aloft, rising
upward from the horizon--thrusting long spears of lambent flame among
the murky retreating clouds, till in one magnificent coruscation of
resplendent beams a blazing arch of gold leaped from east to west,
spanning the visible breath of the Fjord, and casting towards the white
peaks above, vivid sparkles and reflections of jewel-like brightness and
color. Here was surely the Rainbow Bridge of Odin--the glittering
pathway leading to Valhalla! Long filmy threads of emerald and azure
trailed downwards from it, like ropes of fairy flowers, binding it to
the earth--above it hung a fleece-like nebulous whiteness,--a canopy
through which palpitated sudden flashes of amethyst. Then, as though the
arch were a bent bow for the hand of some heavenly hunter, crimson beams
darted across it in swift succession, like arrows shot at the dark
target of the world. Round and round swept the varying circles of
color--now advancing--now retreating--now turning the sullen waters
beneath into a quivering mass of steely green--now beating against the
snow-covered hills till they seemed pinnacles of heaped-up pearls and
diamonds. The whole landscape was transformed,--and the shadowy cluster
of men and women on the shore paused in their toil, and turned their
pale faces towards the rippling splendor,--the heavy fishing-nets
drooping from their hands like dark webs woven by giant spiders.

"'Tis the first time we have seen the Arch of Death this year," said one
in awed accents.

"Ay, ay!" returned another, with a sigh. "And some one is bound to cross
it, whether he will or no. 'Tis a sure sign!"

"Sure!" they all agreed, in hushed voices as faint and far-off as the
breaking of the tide against the rocks on the opposite coast.

As they spoke, the fairy-like bridge in the sky parted asunder and
vanished! The brilliant aurora borealis faded by swift degrees--a few
moments, and the land was again enveloped in gloom.

It might have been midnight--yet by the clock it was but four in the
afternoon. Dreary indeed was the Altenfjord,--yet the neighboring
village of Talvag was even drearier. There, desolation reigned
supreme--it was a frozen region of bitter, shelterless cold, where the
poverty-stricken inhabitants, smitten by the physical torpor and mental
stupefaction engendered by the long, dark season, scarcely stirred out
of their miserable homes, save to gather extra fuel. This is a time in
Norway, when beyond the Arctic Circle, the old gods yet have sway--when
in spite of their persistent, sometimes fanatical, adherence to the
strictest forms of Christianity, the people almost unconsciously revert
to the superstitions of their ancestors. Gathering round the blazing
pine-logs, they recount to one another in low voices the ancient legends
of dead and gone heroes,--and listening to the yell of the storm-wind
round their huts, they still fancy they hear the wild war-cries of the
Valkyries rushing past air full gallop on their coal-black steeds, with
their long hair floating behind them.

On this particular afternoon the appearance of the "Death-Arch," as they
called that special form of the aurora, had impressed the Talvig folk
greatly. Some of them were at the doors, and, regardless of the piercing
cold, occupied themselves in staring languidly at a reindeer sledge
which stood outside one of the more distant huts, evidently waiting for
some person within. The hoofs of the animals made no impression on the
hardened snow--now and again they gently shook the tinkling bells on
their harness, but otherwise were very patient. The sledge was in charge
of a youthful Laplander--a hideous, stunted specimen of humanity, who
appeared to be literally sewed up from head to foot in skins.

This cortege was evidently an object of curiosity,--the on-lookers eyed
it askance, and with a sort of fear. For did it not belong to the
terrible _bonde_, Olaf Gueldmar?--and would not the Laplander,--a useful
boy, well known in Talvig,--come to some fatal harm by watching, even
for a few minutes, the property of an acknowledged pagan? Who could
tell? The very reindeer might be possessed by evil spirits,--they were
certainly much sleeker and finer than the ordinary run of such animals.
There was something uncanny in the very look of them! Thus the
stupefied, unreasoning Talvig folk muttered, one to another, leaning
drowsily out of their half-open doors.

"'Tis a strange thing," said one man, "that woman as strong in the fear
of the Lord as Lovisa Elsland should call for one of the wicked to visit
her on her death-bed."

"Strange enough!" answered his neighbor, blinking over his pipe, and
knocking down some of the icicles pendent from his roof. "But maybe it
is to curse him with the undying curse of the godly."

"She's done that all her life," said the first speaker.

"That's true! She's been a faithful servant of the Gospel. All's right
with her in the next world--she'll die easily."

"Was it for her the Death-Arch shone?" asked an old woman, suddenly
thrusting her head, wrapped in a red woollen hood, out of a low doorway,
through which the light of a fire sparkled from the background, sending
vivid flashes across the snow.

The man