The Project Gutenberg Etext of Thelma, by Marie Corelli (2024)

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Thelma, by Marie CorelliThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and withalmost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away orre-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.orgTitle: ThelmaAuthor: Marie CorelliRelease Date: October 13, 2006 [EBook #3823]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: ISO-8859-1*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THELMA ***Produced by Charles Franks and the Online DistributedProofreading Team. Revised edition and HTML version producedby Victoria Woosley.

By

Marie Corelli

Contents

BOOK I.
CHAPTER I.CHAPTER X.
CHAPTER II.CHAPTER XI.
CHAPTER III.CHAPTER XII.
CHAPTER IV.CHAPTER XIII.
CHAPTER V.CHAPTER XIV.
CHAPTER VI.CHAPTER XV.
CHAPTER VII.CHAPTER XVI.
CHAPTER VIII.CHAPTER XVII.
CHAPTER IX.
BOOK II.
CHAPTER XVIII.CHAPTER XXV.
CHAPTER XIX.CHAPTER XXVI.
CHAPTER XX.CHAPTER XXVII.
CHAPTER XXI.CHAPTER XXVIII.
CHAPTER XXII.CHAPTER XXIX.
CHAPTER XXIII.CHAPTER XXX.
CHAPTER XXIV.
BOOK III.
CHAPTER XXXI.CHAPTER XXXIII.
CHAPTER XXXII.CHAPTER XXXIV.

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 unweariedsun stood, yet visible in the heavens, like a victorious king throned ona dais of royal purple bordered with gold. The sky above him,—hiscanopy,—gleamed with a cold yet lustrous blue, while across it slowlyflitted a few wandering clouds of palest amber, deepening, as theysailed along, to a tawny orange. A broad stream of light falling, as itwere, from the centre of the magnificent orb, shot lengthwise across theAltenfjord, turning its waters to a mass of quivering and shifting colorthat alternated from bronze to copper,—from copper to silver and azure.The surrounding hills glowed with a warm, deep violet tint, flecked hereand there with touches of bright red, as though fairies were lightingtiny bonfires on their summits. Away in the distance a huge mass of rockstood out to view, its rugged lines transfigured into etherealloveliness by a misty veil of tender rose pink,—a hue curiouslysuggestive of some other and smaller sun that might have just set.Absolute silence prevailed. Not even the cry of a sea-mew or kittiwakebroke the almost deathlike stillness,—no breath of wind stirred aripple on the glassy water. The whole scene might well have been thefantastic dream of some imaginative painter, whose ambition soaredbeyond the limits of human skill. Yet it was only one of those millionwonderful effects of sky and sea which are common in Norway, especiallyon the Altenfjord, where, though beyond the Arctic circle, the climatein summer is that of another Italy, and the landscape a living poemfairer than the visions of Endymion.

There was one solitary watcher of the splendid spectacle. This was a manof refined features and aristocratic appearance, who, reclining on alarge rug of skins which he had thrown down on the shore for thatpurpose, was gazing at the pageant of the midnight sun and all itsstately surroundings, with an earnest and rapt expression in his clearhazel eyes.

"Glorious! beyond all expectation, glorious!" he murmured half aloud, ashe consulted his watch and saw that the hands marked exactly twelve onthe dial. "I believe I'm having the best of it, after all. Even if thosefellows get the Eulalie into good position they will see nothing finerthan this."

As he spoke he raised his field-glass and swept the horizon in search ofa 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 boastingas its chief glory the great peak of Jedkè, the most northern glacier inall the wild Norwegian land. There was no sign of a returning sail, andhe resumed his study of the sumptuous sky, the colors of which were nowdeepening and burning with increasing lustre, while an array of cloudsof the deepest purple hue, swept gorgeously together beneath the sun asthough to form his footstool.

"One might imagine that the trump of the Resurrection had sounded, andthat all this aerial pomp,—this strange silence,—was just the pause,the supreme moment before the angels descended," he mused, with ahalf-smile at his own fancy, for though something of a poet at heart, hewas much more of a cynic. He was too deeply imbued with modernfashionable atheism to think seriously about angels or Resurrectiontrumps, but there was a certain love of mysticism and romance in hisnature, which not even his Oxford experiences and the chilly dullness ofEnglish materialism had been able to eradicate. And there was somethingimpressive in the sight of the majestic orb holding such imperial revelat midnight,—something almost unearthly in the light and life of theheavens, as compared with the referential and seemingly worshippingsilence of the earth,—that, for a few moments, awed him into a sense ofthe spiritual and unseen. Mythical passages from the poets he loved cameinto his memory, and stray fragments of old songs and ballads he hadknown in his childhood returned to him with haunting persistence. Itwas, for him, one of those sudden halts in life which we allexperience,—an instant,—when time and the world seem to stand still,as though to permit us easy breathing; a brief space,—in which we areallowed to stop and wonder awhile at the strange unaccountable forcewithin us, that enables us to stand with such calm, smiling audacity, onour small pin's point of the present, between the wide dark gaps of pastand future; a small hush,—in which the gigantic engines of the universeappear to revolve no more, and the immortal Soul of man itself issubjected and over-ruled by supreme and eternal Thought. Drifting awayon those delicate imperceptible lines that lie between reality anddreamland, the watcher of the midnight sun gave himself up to the halfpainful, half delicious sense of being drawn in, absorbed, and lost ininfinite imaginings, when the intense stillness around him was broken bythe sound of a voice singing, a full, rich contralto, that rang throughthe air with the clearness of a golden bell. The sweet liquid notes werethose of an old Norwegian mountain melody, one of those wildly patheticfolk-songs that seem to hold all the sorrow, wonder, wistfulness, andindescribable yearning of a heart too full for other speech than music.He started to his feet and looked around him for the singer. There wasno one visible. The amber streaks in the sky were leaping into crimsonflame; the Fjord glowed like the burning lake of Dante's vision; onesolitary sea-gull winged its graceful, noiseless flight far above, itswhite pinions shimmering like jewels as it crossed the radiance of theheavens. Other sign of animal life there was none. Still the hiddenvoice rippled on in a stream of melody, and the listener stood amazedand enchanted at the roundness and distinctness of every note that fellfrom 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 asshe rowed, but there was no sign of any living creature. While hewaited, the voice suddenly ceased, and the song was replaced by thesharp grating of a keel on the beach. Turning in the direction of thissound, he perceived a boat being pushed out by invisible hands towardsthe water's edge from a rocky cave, that jutted upon the Fjord, and,full of curiosity, he stepped towards the arched entrance, when,—allsuddenly and unexpectedly,—a girl sprang out from the dark interior,and standing erect in her boat, faced the intruder. A girl of aboutnineteen, she seemed, taller than most women,—with a magnificentuncovered mass of hair, the color of the midnight sunshine, tumbled overher shoulders, and flashing against her flushed cheeks and dazzlinglyfair skin. Her deep blue eyes had an astonished and certainly indignantexpression in them, while he, utterly unprepared for such a vision ofloveliness at such a time and in such a place, was for a moment takenaback and at a loss for words. Recovering his habitual self-possessionquickly, however, he raised his hat, and, pointing to the boat, whichwas 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 itof disfavor and suspicion.

"I suppose she doesn't understand English," he thought, "and I can'tspeak 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 hismeaning. The girl broke into a laugh—a laugh of sweet amusem*nt whichbrought a thousand new sparkles of light into her lovely eyes.

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

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

"I know your language," she resumed quietly, after a brief pause, inwhich she had apparently considered the stranger's appearance andgeneral 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, butwe can easily move it between us." And, jumping lightly out of her boat,she grasped its edge firmly with her strong white hands, exclaiminggaily, as she did so, "Push!"

Thus adjured, he lost no time in complying with her request, and, usinghis great strength and muscular force to good purpose, the light littlecraft was soon well in the water, swaying to and fro as though withimpatience to be gone. The girl sprang to her seat, discarding hiseagerly proffered assistance, and, taking both oars, laid them in theirrespective rowlocks, and seemed about to start, when she paused andasked 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 tothe work. Also you look as if you had been at sea."

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

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

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

"Nothing, indeed!" and he shrugged his shoulders with a mingled air ofweariness 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 onher oars, and still surveyed him with a straight, candid gaze, that,though earnest and penetrating, had nothing of boldness in it. It wasthe look of one in whose past there were no secrets—the look of a childwho 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 thefeminine nature—all these things soon do away with the pellucidclearness and steadfastness of the eye—the beautiful, true, untamedexpression, which, though so rare, is, when seen infinitely morebewitching than all the bright arrows of coquetry and sparklinginvitation that flash from the glances of well-bred society dames, whohave taken care to educate their eyes if not their hearts. This girl wasevidently not trained properly; had she been so, she would have droppeda curtain over those wide, bright windows of her soul; she would haveremembered that she was alone with a strange man at midnight—atmidnight, though the sun shone; she would have simpered and feignedembarrassment, even if she could not feel it. As it happened, she didnothing of the kind, only her expression softened and became morewistful and earnest, and when she spoke again her voice was mellow witha suave gentleness, that had something in it of compassion.

"If you do not love life itself," she said, "you love the beautifulthings of life, do you not? See yonder! There is what we call themeeting 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, anduttered an exclamation,—almost a shout,—of wonder and admiration.Within the space of the past few minutes the aspect of the heavens hadcompletely changed. The burning scarlet and violet hues had all meltedinto a transparent yet brilliant shade of pale mauve,—as delicate asthe inner tint of a lilac blossom,—and across this stretched twowing-shaped gossamer clouds of watery green, fringed with soft primrose.Between these cloud-wings, as opaline in lustre as those of adragon-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 themoon were, in some strange way, battling with the sun for mastery overthe visible universe though, looking southward, she could dimly beperceived, the ghost of herself—a poor, fainting, pallid goddess,—aperishing Diana.

Bringing his glance down from the skies, the young man turned it to theface of the maiden near him, and was startled at her marvellousbeauty—beauty now heightened by the effect of the changeful colors thatplayed around her. The very boat in which she sat glittered with abronze-like, metallic brightness as it heaved gently to and fro on thesilvery green water; the midnight sunshine bathed the falling glory ofher long hair, till each thick tress, each clustering curl, appeared toemit an amber spark of light. The strange, weird effect of the skyseemed to have stolen into her eyes, making them shine with witch-likebrilliancy,—the varied radiance flashing about her brought into strongrelief the pureness of her profile, drawing as with a fine pencil theoutlines of her noble forehead, sweet mouth, and rounded chin. Ittouched the scarlet of her bodice, and brightened the quaint old silverclasps she wore at her waist and throat, till she seemed no longer anearthly being, but more like some fair wondering sprite from thelegendary Norse kingdom of Alfheim, the "abode of the Luminous Genii."

She was gazing upwards,—heavenwards,—and her expression was one ofrapt and almost devotional intensity. Thus she remained for somemoments, motionless as the picture of an expectant angel painted byRaffaele or Correggio; then reluctantly and with a deep sigh she turnedher eyes towards earth again. In so doing she met the fixed and toovisibly admiring gaze of her companion. She started, and a wave of vividcolor flushed her cheeks. Quickly recovering her serenity, however, shesaluted him slightly, and, moving her oars in unison, was on the pointof departure.

Stirred by an impulse he could not resist, he laid one hand detaininglyon 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 itis."

"Stop a moment," he said eagerly, feeling that he could not let thisbeautiful creature leave him as utterly as a midsummer night's dreamwithout some clue as to her origin and destination. "Will you not tellme 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 namesto strangers."

"Pardon me," he replied, somewhat abashed. "I mean no offense. We havewatched 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 Altenfjordwatching the midnight sun at the same time as yourself," she said, andthere was a suspicion of laughter in her voice. "It is not unusual. Itis not even necessary that you should remember so little a thing."

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

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

And without further word or look, she leaned gracefully to the oars, andpulling with a long, steady, resolute stroke, the little boat dartedaway as lightly and swiftly as a skimming swallow out on the shimmeringwater, he stood gazing after it till it became a distant speck sparklinglike a diamond in the light of sky and wave, and when he could no morewatch it with unassisted eyes, he took up his field glass and followedits course attentively. He saw it cutting along as straightly as anarrow, then suddenly it dipped round to the westward, apparently makingstraight for some shelving rocks, that projected far into the Fjord. Itreached them; it grew less and less—it disappeared. At the same timethe lustre of the heavens gave way to a pale pearl-like uniform greytint, that stretched far and wide, folding up as in a mantle all theregal luxury of the Sun-king's palace. The subtle odor and delicatechill of the coming dawn stole freshly across the water. A light hazerose and obscured the opposite islands. Something of the tendermelancholy of autumn, though it was late June, toned down the aspect ofthe before brilliant landscape. A lark rose swiftly from its nest in anadjacent meadow, and, soaring higher and higher, poured from its tinythroat a cascade of delicious melody. The midnight sun no longer shoneat midnight; his face smiled with a sobered serenity through the faintearly 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 vanishedfrom 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 hadstood knee-deep in the chilly though sparkling waters of society,ardently plying rod and line with patient persistence, vainly hoping tosecure him as a husband for one of their highly proper and passionlessdaughters,—he, the admired, long-sought-after "eligible," was suddenlyrebuffed, flouted—by whom? A stray princess, or a peasant. He vaguelywondered, as he lit a cigar and strolled up and down on the shore,meditating, with a puzzled, almost annoyed expression on his handsomefeatures. He was not accustomed to slights of any kind, howevertrifling; his position being commanding and enviable enough to attractflattery and friendship from most people. He was the only son of abaronet as renowned for eccentricity as for wealth. He had been thespoilt darling of his mother; and now, both his parents being dead, hewas alone in the world, heir to his father's revenues, and entire masterof his own actions. And as part of the penalty he had to pay for beingrich and good-looking to boot, he was so much run after by women that hefound it hard to understand the haughty indifference with which he hadjust been treated by one of the most fair, if not the fairest of hersex. He was piqued, and his amour propre was wounded.

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

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

"What a time those fellows are!" he said to himself. "If the pilot werenot on board, I should begin to think they had run the Eulalieaground."

He finished his cigar and threw the end of it into the water; then hestood moodily watching the ripples as they rolled softly up and caressedthe shining brown shore at his feet, thinking all the while of thatstrange girl, so wonderfully lovely in face and form, so graceful andproud of bearing, with her great blue eyes and masses of dusky goldhair.

His meeting with her was a sort of adventure in its way—the first ofthe kind he had had for some time. He was subject to fits of wearinessor caprice, and it was in one of these that he had suddenly left Londonin the height of the season, and had started for Norway on a yachtingcruise with three chosen companions, one of whom, George Lorimer, oncean Oxford fellow-student, was now his "chum"—the Pythias to his Damon,the fidus Achates of his closest confidence. Through the unexpectedwakening up of energy in the latter young gentleman, who was usually ofa most sleepy and indolent disposition, he happened to be quite alone onthis particular occasion, though, as a general rule, he was accompaniedin his rambles by one if not all three of his friends. Utter solitudewas with him a rare occurrence, and his present experience of it hadchanced in this wise. Lorimer the languid, Lorimer the lazy, Lorimer whohad remained blandly unmoved and drowsy through all the magnificentpanorama of the Norwegian coast, including the Sogne Fjord and thetoppling peaks of the Justedal glaciers; Lorimer who had sleptpeacefully in a hammock on deck, even while the yacht was passing underthe looming splendors of Melsnipa; Lorimer, now that he had arrived atthe Alton Fjord, then at its loveliest in the full glory of thecontinuous sunshine, developed a new turn of mind, and began to showsudden and abnormal interest in the scenery. In this humor he expressedhis desire to "take a sight" of the midnight sun from the island ofSeiland, and also declared his resolve to try the nearly impossibleascent of the great Jedkè glacier.

Errington laughed at the idea. "Don't tell me," he said, "that you aregoing in for climbing. And do you suppose I believe that you areinterested—you of all people—in the heavenly bodies?"

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

His mind was so evidently set upon the excursion, that Sir Philip madeno attempt to dissuade him from it, but excused himself fromaccompanying the party on the plea that he wanted to finish a sketch hehad recently begun. So that when the Eulalie got up her steam, weighedanchor, and swept gracefully away towards the coast of the adjacentislands, her owner was left, at his desire, to the seclusion of a quietnook on the shore of the Altenfjord, where he succeeded in making a boldand vivid picture of the scene before him. The colors of the sky had,however, defied his palette, and after one or two futile attempts totransfer to his canvas a few of the gorgeous tints that illumed thelandscape, he gave up the task in despair, and resigned himself to thedolce far niente of absolute enjoyment. From his half pleasing, halfmelancholy reverie the voice of the unknown maiden had startled him, andnow,—now she had left him to resume it if he chose,—left him, in chilldispleasure, with a cold yet brilliant flash of something like scorn inher wonderful eyes.

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

"I suppose I was rude," he considered after a while. "She seemed tothink so, at any rate. By Jove! what a crushing look she gave me! Apeasant? Not she! If she had said she was an empress I shouldn't havebeen much surprised. But a mere common peasant, with that regal figureand 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. Itwas close at hand—a natural grotto, arched and apparently lofty. Heresolved to explore it. Glancing at his watch he saw it was not yet oneo'clock in the morning, yet the voice of the cuckoo called shrilly fromthe neighboring hills, and a circling group of swallows flitted aroundhim, their lovely wings glistening like jewels in the warm light of theever-wakeful sun. Going to the entrance of the cave, he looked in. Itwas formed of rough rock, hewn out by the silent work of the water, andits floor was strewn thick with loose pebbles and polished stones.Entering it, he was able to walk upright for some few paces, thensuddenly it seemed to shrink in size and to become darker. The lightfrom the opening gradually narrowed into a slender stream too small forhim to see clearly where he was going, thereupon he struck a fusee. Atfirst he could observe no sign of human habitation, not even a rope, orchain, or hook, to intimate that it was a customary shelter for a boat.The fusee went out quickly, and he lit another. Looking more carefullyand closely about him, he perceived on a projecting shelf of rock, asmall antique lamp, Etruscan in shape, made of iron and wrought withcurious letters. There was oil in it, and a half-burnt wick; it hadevidently been recently used. He availed himself at once of this usefuladjunct to his explorations, and lighting it, was able by the clear andsteady flame it emitted, to see everything very distinctly. Right beforehim was an uneven flight of steps leading down to a closed door.

He paused and listened attentively. There was no sound but the slowlapping of the water near the entrance; within, the thickness of thecavern walls shut out the gay carolling of the birds, and all thecheerful noises of awakening nature. Silence, chillness, and partialobscurity are depressing influences, and the warm blood flowing throughhis veins, ran a trifle more slowly and coldly as he felt the sort ofuncomfortable eerie sensation which is experienced by the jolliest andmost careless traveller, when he first goes down to the catacombs inRome. A sort of damp, earthy shudder creeps through the system, and adreary feeling of general hopelessness benumbs the faculties; a morbidstate of body and mind which is only to be remedied by a speedy returnto the warm sunlight, and a draught of generous wine.

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

THELMA

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

And he laughed aloud, thinking of the dainty gold-satin hangings of acertain room in a certain great mansion in Park Lane, where anaristocratic and handsome lady-leader of fashion had as nearly made loveto him as it was possible for her to do without losing her socialdignity. His laugh was echoed back with a weird and hollow sound, asthough a hidden demon of the cave were mocking him, a demon whosemerriment was intense but also horrible. He heard the unpleasant jeeringrepetition with a kind of careless admiration.

"That echo would make a fortune in Faust, if it could be persuaded toback up Mephistopheles with that truly fiendish, 'Ha Ha!'" he said,resuming his examination of the name on the door. Then an odd fancyseized 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 wildlyin 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'sno rhyme to it in the English language. Thelma!" And he lingered onthe pronunciation of the strange word with a curious sensation ofpleasure. "There is something mysteriously suggestive about the sound ofit; like a chord of music played softly in the distance. Now, can I getthrough this door, I wonder?"

He pushed it gently. It yielded very slightly, and he tried again andyet again. Finally, he put down the lamp and set his shoulder againstthe wooden barrier with all his force. A dull creaking sound rewardedhis efforts, and inch by inch the huge door opened into what at firstappeared immeasurable darkness. Holding up the light he looked in, anduttered a smothered exclamation. A sudden gust of wind rushed from thesea through the passage and extinguished the lamp, leaving him inprofound gloom. Nothing daunted he sought his fusee case; there was justone left in it. This he hastily struck, and shielding the glow carefullywith one hand, relit his lamp, and stepped boldly into the mysteriousgrotto.

The murmur of the wind and waves, like spirit-voices in unison, followedhim as he entered. He found himself in a spacious winding corridor, thathad evidently been hollowed out in the rocks and fashioned by humanhands. Its construction was after the ancient Gothic method; but thewonder of the place consisted in the walls, which were entirely coveredwith shells,—shells of every shape and hue,—some delicate asrose-leaves, some rough and prickly, others polished as ivory, somegleaming with a thousand irridescent colors, others pure white as thefoam on high billows. Many of them were turned artistically in such aposition as to show their inner sides glistening with soft tints likethe shades of fine silk or satin,—others glittered with the opalinesheen 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 andimplements of war, all faithfully depicted with extraordinary neatnessand care, as though each particular emblem had served some specialpurpose.

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

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

He was right. There were no crosses; but there were many designs of thesun—the sun rising, the sun setting, the sun in full glory, with allhis rays embroidered round him in tiny shells, some of them no biggerthan a pin's head. "What a waste of time and labor," he mused. "Whowould undertake such a thing nowadays? Fancy the patience and delicacyof finger required to fit all these shells in their places! and they areembedded in strong mortar too, as if the work were meant to beindestructible."

Pull of pleased interest, he pursued his way, winding in and out throughdifferent arches, all more or less richly ornamented, till he came to atall, round column, which seemingly supported the whole gallery, for allthe arches converged towards it. It was garlanded from top to bottomwith 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 ofjewel-work, and, absorbed in his close examination of this uniquespecimen of ancient art, Sir Philip did not at once perceive thatanother light beside his own glimmered from out the furthest archway alittle beyond him,—an opening that led into some recess he had not asyet explored. A peculiar lustre sparkling on one side of the shell-workhowever, at last attracted his attention, and, glancing up quickly, hesaw, to his surprise, the reflection of a strange radiance, rosilytinted and brilliant.

Turning in its direction, he paused, irresolute. Could there be some oneliving in that furthest chamber to which the long passage he hadfollowed evidently led? some one who would perhaps resent his intrusionas an impertinence? some eccentric artist or hermit who had made thecave his home? Or was it perhaps a refuge for smugglers? He listenedanxiously. There was no sound. He waited a minute or two, then boldlyadvanced, determined to solve the mystery.

This last archway was lower than any of those he had passed through, andhe was forced to take off his hat and stoop as he went under it. When heraised his head he remained uncovered, for he saw at a glance that theplace was sacred. He was in the presence, not of Life, but Death. Thechamber in which he stood was square in form, and more richly ornamentedwith shell-designs than any other portion of the grotto he had seen, andfacing the east was an altar hewn out of the solid rock and studdedthickly with amber, malachite and mother-o'-pearl. It was covered Withthe incomprehensible emblems of a bygone creed worked in most exquisiteshell-patterns, but on it,—as though in solemn protest against thepast,—stood a crucifix of ebony and carved ivory, before which burnedsteadily a red lamp.

The meaning of the mysterious light was thus explained, but what chieflyinterested Errington was the central object of the place,—a coffin,—ofrather a plain granite sarcophagus which was placed on the floor lyingfrom north to south. Upon it,—in strange contrast to the sombrecoldness of the stone,—reposed a large wreath of poppies freshlygathered. The vivid scarlet of the flowers, the gleam of the shiningshells on the walls, the mournful figure of the ivory Christ stretchedon the cross among all those pagan emblems,—the intense silence brokenonly by the slow drip, drip of water trickling somewhere behind thecavern,—and more than these outward things,—his own impressiveconviction that he was with the imperial Dead—imperial because past thesway of empire—all made a powerful impression on his mind. Overcomingby degrees his first sensations of awe, he approached the sarcophagusand examined it. It was solidly closed and mortared all round, so thatit might have been one compact coffin-shaped block of stone so far asits outward appearance testified. Stooping more closely, however, tolook at the brilliant poppy-wreath, he started back with a slightexclamation. Cut deeply in the hard granite he read for the second timethat odd name—

THELMA

It belonged to some one dead, then—not to the lovely living woman whohad so lately confronted him in the burning glow of the midnight sun? Hefelt dismayed at his unthinking precipitation,—he had, in his fancy,actually associated her, so full of radiant health and beauty, withwhat was probably a mouldering corpse in that hermetically sealedtenement of stone! This idea was unpleasant, and jarred upon hisfeelings. Surely she, that golden-haired nymph of the Fjord, had nothingto 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 orprincess of Norway, yet, if so, how came the crucifix there,—the redlamp, the flowers?

He lingered, looking curiously about him, as if he fancied theshell-embroidered walls might whisper some answer to his thoughts. Thesilence offered no suggestions. The plaintive figure of the torturedChrist suspended on the cross maintained an immovable watch over allthings, and there was a subtle, faint odor floating about as of crushedspices or herbs. While he still stood there absorbed in perplexedconjectures, he became oppressed by want of air. The red hue of thepoppy-wreath mingled with the softer glow of the lamp on the altar,—themoist glitter of the shells and polished pebbles, seemed to dazzle andconfuse his eyes. He felt dizzy and faint—and hastily made his way outof that close death-chamber into the passage, where he leaned for a fewminutes against the great central column to recover himself. A briskbreath of wind from the Fjord came careering through the gallery, andblew coldly upon his forehead. Refreshed by it, he rapidly overcame thesensation of giddiness, and began to retrace his steps through thewinding arches, thinking with some satisfaction as he went, what aromantic incident he would have to relate to Lorimer and his otherfriends, when a sudden glare of light illumined the passage, and he wasbrought to an abrupt standstill by the sound of a wild "Halloo!" Thelight 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 thesubterranean temple, and he remained motionless, waiting for anexplanation of this unlooked-for turn to the events of the morning.

He had plenty of physical courage, and the idea of any addition to hisadventure rather pleased him than otherwise. Still, with all hisbravery, he recoiled a little when he first caught sight of theextraordinary being that emerged from the darkness—a wild, distortedfigure that ran towards him with its head downwards, bearing aloft inone skinny hand a smoking pine-torch, from which the sparks flew like somany fireflies. This uncanny personage, wearing the semblance of man,came within two paces of Errington before perceiving him; then, stoppingshort in his headlong career, the creature flourished his torch anduttered a defiant yell.

Philip surveyed him coolly and without alarm, though so weird an objectmight well have aroused a pardonable distrust, and even timidity. He sawa misshapen dwarf, not quite four feet high, with large, ungainly limbsout of all proportion to his head, which was small and compact. Hisfeatures were of almost feminine fineness, and from under his shaggybrows gleamed a restless pair of large, full, wild blue eyes. His thick,rough flaxen hair was long and curly, and hung in disordered profusionover his deformed shoulders. His dress was of reindeer skin, veryfancifully cut, and ornamented with beads of different colors,—andtwisted about him as though in an effort to be artistic, was a longstrip of bright scarlet woollen material, which showed up the extremepallor and ill-health of the meagre countenance, and the brilliancy ofthe eyes that now sparkled with rage as they met those of Errington. He,from his superior height, glanced down with pity on the unfortunatecreature, whom he at once took to be the actual owner of the cave he hadexplored. Uncertain what to do, whether to speak or remain silent, hemoved slightly as though to pass on; but the shock-headed dwarf leapedlightly in his way, and, planting himself firmly before him, shriekedsome unintelligible threat, of which Errington could only make out thelast words, "Nifleheim" and "Nastrond."

"I believe he is commending me to the old Norwegian inferno," thoughtthe young baronet with a smile, amused at the little man's evidentexcitement. "Very polite of him, I'm sure! But, after all, I had nobusiness here. I'd better apologize." And forthwith he began to speak inthe simplest English words he could choose, taking care to pronouncethem very slowly and distinctly.

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

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

"At last—at last?" he cried in fluent English. "Going now? Going, yousay? Never! never! You will never go away any more. No, not withoutsomething stolen! The dead have summoned you here! Their white bonyfingers 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 thebeautiful rose of the northern forest'? Yes, Yes! You have obeyed thedead—the dead who feign sleep, but are ever wakeful;—you have come asa thief in the golden midnight, and the thing you seek is the life ofSigurd! Yes—yes! it is true. The spirit cannot lie. You must kill, youmust steal! See how the blood drips, drop by drop, from the heart ofSigurd! And the jewel you steal—ah, what a jewel!—you shall not findsuch 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, helooked at it burning, with an air of mournful and utter desolation.Profoundly touched, as he immediately understood the condition of hiscompanion's wandering wits, Errington spoke to him soothingly.

"You mistake me," he said in gentle accents; "I would not steal anythingfrom 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 toyou. 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 thedead,—good-bye; but they never go—never, never! You cannot bedifferent to the rest. And you do not wish to hurt poor Sigurd?"

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

"You are sure?" he persisted, with a sort of obstinate eagerness. "Youhave eyes which tell truths; but there are other things which are truerthan eyes—things in the air, in the grass, in the waves, and they talkvery strangely of you. I know you, of course! I knew you ages ago—longbefore I saw you dead on the field of battle, and the black-hairedValkyrie galloped with you to Valhalla! Yes; I knew you long beforethat, and you knew me; for I was your King, and you were my vassal, wildand rebellious—not the proud, rich Englishman you are to-day."

Errington startled. How could this Sigurd, as he called himself, beaware 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 youwell; he will always know you. The old gods teach Sigurd all hiswisdom—the gods of the sea and the wind—the sleepy gods that lie inthe hearts of the flowers—the small spirits that sit in shells and singall day and all night." He paused, and his eyes filled with a wistfullook of attention. He drew closer.

"Come," he said earnestly, "come, you must listen to my music; perhapsyou 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, cutdeeply into the wall of the cavern. Here there were no shell patterns.Little green ferns grew thickly out of the stone crevices, and a minuterunlet of water trickled slowly down from above, freshening the delicatefrondage as it fell. With quick, agile fingers he removed a loose stonefrom this aperture, and as he did so, a low shuddering wail resoundedthrough the arches—a melancholy moan that rose and sank, and rose againin weird, sorrowful minor echoes.

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

His companion looked at him compassionately. The sound that so affectedhis disordered imagination was nothing but the wind blowing through thenarrow hole formed by the removal of the stone; but it was useless toexplain 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. "Myhome is everywhere—on the mountains, in the forests, on the black rocksand barren shores! My soul lives between the sun and the sea; my heartis 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 willtell you?" he cried loudly. "You,—one of that strong, cruel racewho 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 Iwill unlock the door of my treasure to you? No, no; besides," and hisvoice sank lower, "what should you do with Thelma? She is dead!"

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

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

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

Errington generally dismissed all tales of adventure as mereexaggerations of heated fancy; and, had he read in some book, of arespectable nineteenth-century yachtsman having such an interview with amadman in a sea-cavern, he would have laughed at the affair as an utterimprobability, though he could not have explained why he considered itimprobable. But now it had occurred to himself, he was both surprisedand amused at the whole circ*mstance; moreover, he was sufficientlyinterested and carious to be desirous of sifting the matter to itsfoundation.

It was, however, somewhat of a relief to him when he again readied theouter 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 deliciouslybalmy wind, the blue sky was musical with a chorus of larks, and everybreath of air that waved aside the long grass sent forth a thousandodors from hidden beds of wild thyme and bog-myrtle.

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

"How about Jedkè?" 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 downin 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'srecent 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 goashore for anything till I see him. I want to speak to him afterbreakfast."

"Ay, ay, sir."

Whereupon Sir Philip descended to his private cabin. He drew the blindat the port-hole to shut out the dazzling sunlight, for it was nearlythree o'clock in the morning, and quickly undressing, he flung himselfinto his berth with a slight, not altogether unpleasant, feeling ofexhaustion. To the last, as his eyes closed drowsily, he seemed to hearthe slow drip, drip of the water behind the rocky cavern, and thedesolate cry of the incomprehensible Sigurd, while through these soundsthat mingled with the gurgle of little waves lapping against the sidesof the Eulalie, the name of "Thelma" murmured itself in his ears tillslumber 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, surveyingErrington, who, fully dressed, and in the highest spirits, had burst into upbraid him for his laziness while he was yet but scantily attired."I tell you, my good fellow, there are some things which the utmoststretch of friendship will not stand. Here am I in shirt and trouserswith 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 manis shaved before mentioning it."

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

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

"This is not a woman!" declared Philip with heat and eagerness, "atleast not the sort of woman I have ever known! This is aforest-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 reallycan't! Incipient verse-mania is too much for me. Forest-empress,sea-goddess, sun-angel—by Jove! what next? You are evidently in a verybad way. If I remember rightly, you had a flask of that old greenChartreuse with you. Ah! that accounts for it! Nice stuff, but a littletoo strong."

Errington laughed, and, unabashed by his friend's raillery, proceeded torelate with much vivacity and graphic fervor the occurrences of themorning. Lorimer listened patiently with a forbearing smile on his open,ruddy countenance. When he had heard everything he looked up andinquired 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 ofit. It's a very creditable crammer, due to Chartreuse. Might have beendesigned by Victor Hugo; it's in his style. Scene, Norway—midnight.Mysterious maiden steals out of a cave and glides away in a boat overthe 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 agood deal—mad people always do,—then yells and runs away. Man comesout of cave and—and—goes home to astonish his friends; one of themwon't be astonished,—that's me!"

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

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

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

Lorimer still looked incredulous. "What's the good of it?" he inquiredlanguidly. "Even if it's all true you had much better leave thisgoddess, or whatever you call her, alone, especially if she has any madconnections. What do you want with her?"

"Nothing!" declared Errington, though hiss color heightened. "Nothing, Iassure you! It's just a matter of curiosity with me. I should like toknow 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 witha sort of vicious vigor. "How can you tell? I'm not a spiritualist, norany sort of a humbug at all, I hope, but I sometimes indulge inpresentiments. Before we started on this cruise, I was haunted by thatdismal 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, Iwonder?"

"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, wherehe greeted his two other companions, Alec, or, as he was oftener called,Sandy Macfarlane, and Pierre Duprèz; the former an Oxford student,—thelatter a young fellow whose acquaintance he had made in Paris, and withwhom he had kept up a constant and friendly intercourse. A greatercontrast than these two presented could scarcely be imagined. Macfarlanewas tall and ungainly, with large loose joints that seemed to protrudeangularly out of him in every direction,—Duprèz was short, slight andwiry, with a dapper and by no means ungraceful figure. The one hadformal gauche manners, a never-to-be-eradicated Glasgow accent, and aslow, infinitely tedious method of expressing himself,—the other wasfull of restless movement and pantomimic gesture, and being proud of hisEnglish, plunged into that language recklessly, making it curiouslylight and flippant, though picturesque, as he went. Macfarlane wasdestined to become a shining light of the established Church ofScotland, and therefore took life very seriously,—Duprèz was the spoiltonly child of an eminent French banker, and had very little to do butenjoy himself, and that he did most thoroughly, without any calculationor care for the future. On all points of taste and opinion they differedwidely; but there was no doubt about their both being good-heartedfellows, without any affectation of abnormal vice or virtue.

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

"My friend, what would you!" cried Duprèz. "I have not said that I willclimb it; no! I never say that I will do anything, because I'm not sureof myself. How can I be? It is that cher enfant, Lorimer, that saidsuch brave words! See!... we arrive; we behold the shore—all black,great, vast!... rocks like needles, and, higher than all, this mostfierce Jedkè—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 verymuch thank you!' And then, we watch the sun. Ah! that was grand,glorious, beautiful!" And Duprèz kissed the tips of his fingers inecstacy.

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

"I didna think much," responded Macfarlane, shortly. "It's no sae granda sight as a sunset in Skye. And it's an uncanny business to see the sunlosin' a' his poonctooality, and remainin' stock still, as it were, whenit's his plain duty to set below the horizon. Mysel', I think it's beenfair over-rated. It's unnatural an' oot o' the common, say what yelike."

"Of course it is," agreed Lorimer, who just then sauntered in from hiscabin. "Nature is most unnatural. I always thought so. Tea for me,Phil, please; coffee wakes me up too suddenly. I say, what's theprogramme 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 baitit. Then,—while it trails harmlessly in the water, I doze; thus boththe fish and I are happy."

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

"Spare us, good Lord!" groaned Lorimer.

"What a delightfully fat man is that good religious!" cried Duprèz. "Aliving proof of the healthiness of Norway!"

"He's not a native," put in Macfarlane; "he's frae Yorkshire. He's onlybeen a matter of three months here, filling the place o' the settledmeenister 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 himpreach. At that suggestion I'll fight him. He's soft enough to bruiseeasily."

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

Lorimer smiled sweetly. "Thanks, awfully! I dare say you're right. I'venever found it worth while as yet to exert myself in any particulardirection. No one has asked me to exert myself; no one wants me to exertmyself; therefore, why should I?"

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

"Dear me, no! What an exhausting idea! Get on in the world—what for? Ihave 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), Ishall have five thousand—more than enough to satisfy any sane man whodoesn't want to speculate on the Stock Exchange. Your case, my goodMac, is different. You will be a celebrated Scotch divine. You willpreach 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 thenumskulls will call you a 'rare powerful rousin' preacher'—isn't thatthe way they go on? and when you die—for die you must, mostunfortunately—they will give you a three-cornered block of granite (ifthey can make up their minds to part with the necessary bawbees) withyour name prettily engraved thereon. That's all very nice; it suits somepeople. It wouldn't suit me."

"What would suit you?" queried Errington. "You find everything more orless of a bore."

"Ah, my good little boy!" broke in Duprèz. "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 neverhoped to dine off a coffin."

"Ah! you mean the Taverne de l'Enfer?" exclaimed Duprèz. "Yes; thedivine waitresses wore winding sheets, and the wine was served inimitation skulls. Excellent! I remember; the tables were shaped likecoffins."

"Gude Lord Almighty!" piously murmured Macfarlane. "What a fearsomesicht!"

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

"What does our Macfarlane say?"

"He says it must have been a 'fearsome sicht,'" repeated Lorimer, witheven 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 Duprèz energetically. "It was charming!It made us laugh at death—so much better than to cry! And there was adelicious child in a winding-sheet; brown curls, laughing eyes andlittle 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 thinkon."

"But, see, my friend," persisted Duprèz, "you would not be permitted tofollow your own funeral, not possible,—voilà! You are permitted tokiss the pretty one in the winding-sheet. It is possible. Behold thedifference!"

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

And away he went, followed more slowly by Lorimer, who, though hepretended 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 hisface turned towards the eastern sky. He was a stalwart specimen of Norsemanhood, tall and strongly built, with thoughtful, dignified features,and keen, clear hazel eyes. His chestnut hair, plentifully sprinkledwith gray, clustered thickly over a broad brow, that was deeply furrowedwith many a line of anxious and speculative thought, and the forciblebrown hand that rested lightly on the spokes of the wheel, told its owntale of hard and honest labor. Neither wife nor child, nor livingrelative had Valdemar; the one passion of his heart was the sea. SirPhilip Errington had engaged him at Christiansund, hearing of him thereas a man to whom the intricacies of the Fjords, and the dangers ofrock-bound coasts, were more familiar than a straight road on dry lake,and since then the management of the Eulalie had been entirelyentrusted to him. Though an eminently practical sailor, he was half amystic, and believed in the wildest legends of his land with moreimplicit faith than many so-called Christians believe in their sacreddoctrines. He doffed his red cap respectfully now as Errington andLorimer approached, smilingly wishing them "a fair day." Sir Philipoffered 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 roughhand across his forehead in a sort of grave perplexity.

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

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

"I know it was that Chartreuse," he thought to himself. "That and themidnight 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, orplaces 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, thereare plenty, but only the natural formations of the sea, and none ofthese 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 acrammer!"

Errington shook him off good-humoredly.

"Can you tell me," he said, addressing Valdemar again in distinctaccents, "whether there is any place, person, or thing near here calledThelma?"

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 tothe name.

"The Fröken Thelma!" he exclaimed, in low tones. "Is it possible thatyou have seen her?"

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

Valdemar looked troubled and vexed.

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

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

Svensen sighed, and smiled somewhat dubiously.

"Great? Oh, no; not what you would call great. Her father, Olaf Güldmar,is a bonde,—that is, a farmer in his own right. He has a goodlyhouse, and a few fair acres well planted and tilled,—also he pays hismen freely,—but those that work for him are all he sees,—neither henor his daughter ever visit the town. They dwell apart, and have nothingin common with their neighbors."

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

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

"You see that great rock shaped like a giant's helmet, and behind it ahigh 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 walkfrom the outskirts of Bosekop. Should you ever seek to rest there,gentlemen," and Svensen spoke with quiet resolution, "I doubt whetheryou will receive a pleasant welcome."

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

"Is that so?" drawled Lorimer lazily, giving his friend an expressivenudge. "Ah! We shan't trouble them! Thanks for your information,Valdemar! We don't intend to hunt up the—what d'ye call him?—thebonde, if he's at all surly. Hospitality that gives you greeting and adinner for nothing,—that's what suits me."

"Our people are not without hospitality," said the pilot, with a touchof wistful and appealing dignity. "All along your journey, gentlemen,you have been welcomed gladly, as you know. But Olaf Güldmar is not likethe rest of us; he has the pride and fierceness of olden days; hismanners 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 asthe sun and the sea. But it is not my place to speak of them—." Hebroke off, and after a slightly embarrassed pause, asked, "Will theHerren 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 conversewith his employer respecting the mysterious Thelma and her equallymysterious father, turned to examine the wheel and compass as thoughsomething there needed his earnest attention. Errington and Lorimerstrolled up and down the polished white deck arm-in-arm, talking in lowtones.

"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 newsto him which I'm not bound to give. If I can manage to see the girlagain 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 withthe others. But, I tell you what, if you're up to it, we'll leave Duprèzand Macfarlane at the minister's house this evening and tell them towait for us there,—once they all begin to chatter they never know howtime goes. Meanwhile you and I will take the boat and row over in searchof this farmer's abode. I believe there's a short cut to it by water; atany 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 havethought it! Clara Winsleigh needn't poison her husband after allin-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 hotcolor mounted to his face in spite of himself. "It is all idlecuriosity, nothing else. After what Svensen told us, I'm quite asanxious to see this gruff old bonde as his daughter."

Lorimer held up a reproachful finger. "Now, Phil, don't stoop toduplicity—not with me, at any rate. Why disguise your feelings? Why, asthe tragedians say, endeavor to crush the noblest and best emotions thatever warm the boo-zum of man? Chivalrous sentiment and admiration forbeauty,—chivalrous desire to pursue it and catch it and call it yourown,—I understand it all, my dear boy! But my prophetic soul tells meyou will have to strangle the excellent Olaf Güldmar—heavens! what aname!—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 mostunexpected fashion and give you no end of trouble. But, by Jove, it isa 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 companionsascended from the cabin at that moment, in full attire for the fishingexpedition, followed by the steward bearing a large basket of provisionsfor luncheon,—and all private conversation came to an end. Hasteningthe rest of their preparations, within twenty minutes they were skimmingacross the Fjord in a long boat manned by four sailors, who rowed with awill and sent the light craft scudding through the water with theswiftness of an arrow. Landing, they climbed the dewy hills spangledthick with forget-me-nots and late violets, till they reached a shadyand secluded part of the river, where, surrounded by the songs ofhundreds of sweet-throated birds, they commenced their sport, which keptthem, 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 ofhis house at Bosekop, finishing a late tea, and disposing of round afterround of hot buttered toast with that suave alacrity he always displayedin the consumption of succulent eatables. He was a largely made man,very much on the wrong side of fifty, with accumulations of unwholesomefat on every available portion of his body. His round face was cleanlyshaven and shiny, as though its flabby surface were frequently polishedwith some sort of luminous grease instead of the customary soap. Hismouth was absurdly small and pursy for so broad a countenance,—his noseseemed endeavoring to retreat behind his puffy cheeks as thoughpainfully aware of its own insignificance,—and he had little, sharp,ferret-like eyes of a dull mahogany brown, which were utterly destituteof even the faintest attempt at any actual expression. They were morelike glass beads than eyes, and glittered under their scanty fringe ofpale-colored lashes with a sort of shallow cunning which might meanmalice or good-humor,—no one looking at them could precisely determinewhich. His hair was of an indefinite shade, neither light nor dark,somewhat of the tinge of a dusty potato before it is washed clean. Itwas neatly brushed and parted in the middle with mathematical precision,while from the back of his head it was brought forward in twoprojections, one on each side, like budding wings behind his ears. Itwas impossible for the most fastidious critic to find fault with theReverend Mr. Dyceworthy's hands. He had beautiful hands, white, soft,plump and well-shaped,—his delicate filbert nails were trimmed withpunctilious care, and shone with a pink lustre that was positivelycharming. He was evidently an amiable man, for he smiled to himself overhis tea,—he had a trick of smiling,—ill-natured people said he did iton purpose, in order to widen his mouth and make it more in pro-portionto the size of his face. Such remarks, however, emanated only from thespiteful and envious who could not succeed in winning the socialpopularity that everywhere attended Mr. Dyceworthy's movements. For hewas undoubtedly popular,—no one could deny that. In the small Yorkshiretown where he usually had his abode, he came little short of beingadored by the women of his own particular sect, who crowded to listen tohis fervent discourses, and came away from them on the verge ofhysteria, so profoundly moved were their sensitive souls by hisdamnatory doctrines. The men were more reluctant in their admiration,yet even they were always ready to admit "that he was an excellentfellow, with his heart in the right place."

He had a convenient way of getting ill at the proper seasons, and ofrequiring immediate change of air, whereupon his grateful flock wereready and willing to subscribe the money necessary for their belovedpreacher to take repose and relaxation in any part of the world hechose. This year, however, they had not been asked to furnish the usualfunds for travelling expenses, for the resident minister of Bosekop, afrail, gentle old man, had been seriously prostrated during the pastwinter with an affection of the lungs, which necessitated his going to adifferent climate for change and rest. Knowing Dyceworthy as a zealousmember of the Lutheran persuasion, and, moreover, as one who had in hisyouth lived for some years in Christiania,—thereby gaining a knowledgeof the Norwegian tongue,—he invited him to take his place for hisenforced time of absence, offering him his house, his servants, hispony-carriage and an agreeable pecuniary douceur in exchange for hisservices,—proposals which the Reverend Charles eagerly accepted. ThoughNorway 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 bethe very thing to benefit his delicate constitution. Besides, it lookedwell for at least one occasion, to go away for the summer withoutasking his congregation to pay for his trip. It was generous on hispart, almost noble.

The ladies of his flock wept at his departure and made him socks,comforters, slippers, and other consoling gear of the like descriptionto recall their sweet memories to his saintly mind during his absencefrom their society. But, truth to tell, Mr. Dyceworthy gave littlethought to these fond and regretful fair ones; he was much toocomfortable at Bosekop to look back with any emotional yearning to theugly, precise little provincial town he had left behind him. Theminister's quaint, pretty house suited him perfectly; the minister'sservants were most punctual in their services: the minister's phaetonconveniently held his cumbrous person, and the minister's pony was aquiet beast, that trotted good-temperedly wherever it was guided, andshied at nothing. Yes, he was thoroughly comfortable,—as comfortable asa truly pious fat man deserves to be, and all the work he had to do wasto preach twice on Sundays, to a quiet, primitive, decently orderedcongregation, who listened to his words respectfully though withoutdisplaying any emotional rapture. Their stolidity, however, did notaffect him,—he preached to please himself,—loving above all things tohear the sound of his own voice, and never so happy as when thunderingfierce denunciations against the Church of Rome. His thoughts seemedtending in that direction now, as he poured himself out his third cup oftea and smilingly shook his head over it, while he stirred the cream andsugar in,—for he took from his waistcoat pocket a small glitteringobject and laid it before him on the table, still shaking his head andsmiling with a patient, yet reproachful air of superior wisdom. It was acrucifix of mother-o'-pearl and silver, the symbol of the Christianfaith. 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 meekridicule,—ridicule that bordered on contempt.

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

And he smiled again,—more sweetly than before, as though the idea ofhopeless damnation suggested some peculiarly agreeable reflections.Unfolding his fine cologne-scented cambric handkerchief, he carefullywiped his fat white fingers free from the greasy marks of the toast,and, taking up the objectionable cross gingerly, as though it werered-hot, he examined it closely on all sides. There were some wordsengraved on the back of it, and after some trouble Mr. Dyceworthy speltthem 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 preciselyapparent, for his thoughts suddenly turned in a more frivolousdirection. Rising from the now exhausted tea-table, he drew out a smallpocket-mirror and surveyed himself therein with a mild approval. Withthe extreme end of his handkerchief he tenderly removed two sacrilegiouscrumbs that presumed to linger in the corners of his piously pursedmouth. In the same way he detached a morsel of congealed butter thatclung pertinaciously to the end of his bashfully retreating nose. Thisdone, he again looked at himself with increased satisfaction, and,putting by his pocket-mirror, rang the bell. It was answered at once bya tall, strongly built woman, with a colorless, stolid countenance,—thatmight 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 amethodical 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 crucifixto 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 facegrew yet paler. "Burn it, sir!—burn it, and the power will leave her."

Mr. Dyceworthy laughed indulgently. "My good woman, you mistake," hesaid suavely. "Your zeal for the true gospel leads you into error. Thereare thousands of misguided persons who worship such a thing as this. Itis 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 toperdition,—they are not precisely what are termed witches, Ulrika."

"She is," replied the woman with a sort of ferocity; "and, if I had myway, I would tell her so to her face, and see what would happen to herthen!"

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

"Maybe, maybe," and Ulrika turned to go; but she muttered sullenly asshe went, "There be them that know and could tell, and them that willhave 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 thenwalked to the window and looked out. It was past seven o'clock, an hourthat elsewhere would have been considered evening, but in Bosekop atthat season it still seemed afternoon.

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

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

He meditated long,—with fast-closed eyes and open mouth, while theearnestness of his inward thoughts was clearly demonstrated now and thenby an irrepressible,—almost triumphant,—cornet-blast from thattrifling elevation of his countenance called by courtesy a nose, whenhis blissful reverie was suddenly broken in upon by the sound of severalfootsteps crunching slowly along the garden path, and, starting up fromhis chair, he perceived four individuals clad in white flannel costumesand wearing light straw hats trimmed with fluttering blue ribbons, whowere leisurely sauntering up to his door, and stopping occasionally toadmire the flowers on their way. Mr. Dyceworthy's face reddened visiblywith excitement.

"The gentlemen from the yacht," he murmured to himself, hastily settlinghis collar and cravat, and pushing up his cherubic wings of hair moreprominently 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 tothem himself, and stood smiling urbanely on the threshold, welcomingthem with enthusiasm,—and assuring Sir Philip especially how muchhonored he felt, by his thus visiting, familiarly and unannounced, hishumble dwelling. Errington waved his many compliments good-humoredlyaside, and allowed himself and his friends to be marshalled into thebest parlor, the drawing-room of the house, a pretty little apartmentwhose window looked out upon a tangled yet graceful wilderness offlowers.

"Nice, cosy place this," remarked Lorimer, as he seated himselfnegligently on the arm of the sofa. "You must be pretty comfortablehere?"

Their perspiring and affable host rubbed his soft white hands togethergently.

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

"Ah, then you are different to many others who profess to serve the sameMaster," said Duprèz with a sourire fin that had the devil's ownmockery in it. "Monsieur le bon Dieu is very impartial! Some serve Himby constant over-feeding, others by constant over-starving; it is allone to Him apparently! How do you know which among His servants He likesbest, 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 Duprèz's levity,but Mr. Dyceworthy's flabby face betokened the utmost horror.

"Sir," he said gravely, "there are subjects concerning which it is notseemly to speak without due reverence. He knoweth His own elect. He hathchosen them out from the beginning. He summoned forth from the million,the glorious apostle of reform, Martin Luther—"

"Le bon gaillard!" laughed Duprèz. "Tempted by a pretty nun! What mancould resist! Myself, I would try to upset all the creeds of this worldif I saw a pretty nun worth my trouble. Yes, truly! A pity though, thatthe poor Luther died of over-eating; his exit from life so undignified!"

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

"Oh, pray do not mention it, Sir Philip," murmured the reverendgentleman with a mild patience. "We must accustom ourselves to hear withforbearance the opinions of all men, howsoever contradictory, otherwiseour vocation is of no avail. Yet is it sorely grievous to me to considerthat there should be any person or persons existent who lack thenecessary 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 doesnabelieve in onything except himsel'—and even as to whether he himsel' isa mon or a myth, he has his doots—vera grave doots."

Duprèz nodded delightedly. "That is so!" he exclaimed. "Our dear Sandyputs 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 scientificprofessor who would prove me to be a myth—the moving shadow of adream—imagine!—how perfectly poetical!"

"You talk too much to be a dream, my boy," laughed Errington, andturning to Mr. Dyceworthy, he added, "I'm afraid you must think us ashocking 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, weshould have come to church last Sunday. Mr. Lorimer was, unfortunately,rather indisposed."

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

"Dear me!" and Mr. Dyceworthy was about to make further inquiriesconcerning Mr. Lorimer's present state of health, when the door opened,and Ulrika entered, bearing a large tray laden with wine and otherrefreshments. As she set it down, she gave a keen, covert glance roundthe room, as though rapidly taking note of the appearance and faces ofall the young men, then, with a sort of stiff curtsey, she departed asnoiselessly as she had come,—not, however, without leaving adisagreeable 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 thebottles of wine.

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

"Lacrima Christi!" exclaimed Duprèz. "You do not surely get that inNorway?"

"It seems strange, certainly," replied Mr. Dyceworthy, "but it is a factthat the Italian or Papist wines are often used here. The minister whoseplace I humbly endeavor to fill has his cellar stocked with them. Thematter is easy of comprehension when once explained. The benightedinhabitants of Italy, a land, lost in the darkness of error, stillpersist in their fasts, notwithstanding the evident folly of theirways—and the Norwegian sailors provide them with large quantities offish for their idolatrous customs, bringing back their wines inexchange."

"A very good idea," said Lorimer, sipping the Lacrima with evidentapproval—"Phil, I doubt if your brands on board the Eulalie arebetter than this."

"Hardly so good," replied Errington with some surprise, as he tasted thewine and noted its delicious flavor. "The minister must be a fineconnoisseur. 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 isalmost profanely particular," he said. "But they are people who areejected with good reason from respectable society, and,—it behooves menot to speak of their names."

"Oh, indeed!" said Errington, while a sudden and inexplicable thrill ofindignation fired his blood and sent it in a wave of color up to hisforehead—"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 talkingabout the Güldmar folk! Be quiet—you don't want every one to know yourlittle game."

Thus adjured, Philip swallowed a large gulp of wine, to keep down hisfeelings, and strove to appear interested in the habits and caprices ofbees, a subject into which Mr. Dyceworthy had just inveigled Duprèz andMacfarlane.

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

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

Mr. Dyceworthy positively shone all over with beneficence.

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

And he shook his head piously several times, while the pores of his fatvisage exuded holy oil. Duprèz snigg*red secretly. Macfarlane lookedpreternaturally solemn.

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

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

"If you will excuse us for twenty minutes or so, Mr. Dyceworthy," hesaid, "Lorimer and I want to consult a fellow here in Bosekop about somenew fishing tackle. We shan't be gone long. Mac, you and Duprèz wait forus here. Don't commit too many depredations on Mr. Dyceworthy'sstrawberries."

The reason for their departure was so simply and naturally given, thatit was accepted without any opposing remarks. Duprèz was delighted tohave the chance of amusing himself by harassing the Reverend Charleswith open professions of utter atheism, and Macfarlane, who loved anargument more than he loved whiskey, looked forward to a sharpdiscussion presently concerning the superiority of John Knox, morallyand physically, over Martin Luther. So that when the others went theirway, their departure excited no suspicion in the minds of their friends,and most unsuspecting of all was the placid Mr. Dyceworthy, who, had heimagined for an instant the direction which they were going, wouldcertainly not have discoursed on the pleasures of bee-keeping with thecalmness and placid conviction, that always distinguished him whenholding forth on any subject that was attractive to his mind. Leadingthe way through his dewy, rose-grown garden, and conversing amicably ashe went, he escorted Macfarlane and Duprèz to what he called with agentle humor his "Bee-Metropolis," while Errington and Lorimer returnedto the shore of the Fjord, where they had left their boat moored to asmall, clumsily constructed pier,—and entering it, they set themselvesto the oars and pulled away together with the long, steady, sweepingstroke rendered famous by the exploits of the Oxford and Cambridge men.After some twenty minutes' rowing, Lorimer looked up and spoke as hedrew 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 hadmuch 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 awoman. 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," hesaid, lifting his hat, and pushing back the clustering dark-brown curlsfrom his brow. "I bet you that sleek Dyceworthy fellow meant the oldbonde and his daughter, when he spoke of persons who were 'ejected'from the social circles of Bosekop. Fancy Bosekop society presuming tobe particular—what an absurd idea!"

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

Errington stopped pulling, and, standing up in the boat, began toexamine the surroundings with keen interest. They were close to thegreat 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-coloredcluster on one projection, and the running ripple of the small wavesbroke on its jagged corners with a musical splash, and sparkle of whitefoam. Below them, in the emerald mirror of the Fjord, it was so clearthat they could see the fine white sand lying at the bottom, sprinkledthick with shells and lithe moving creatures of all shapes, while everynow and then, there streamed past them, brilliantly tinted specimens ofthe Medusae, with their long feelers or tendrils, looking like tornskins of crimson and azure floss silk.

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

"Row quietly, George," he said in a subdued tone "Quietly—round to theleft."

The oars dipped noiselessly, and the boat shot forward,—then swervedsharply round in the direction,—and there before them lay a small sandycreek, white and shining as though sprinkled with powdered silver. Fromthis, a small but strongly-built wooden pier ran out into the sea. Itwas carved all over with fantastic figures, and in it at equaldistances, were fastened iron rings, such as are used for the safemooring of boats. One boat was there already, and Errington recognizedit with delight. It was that in which he had seen the mysterious maidendisappear. High and dry on the sand, out of reach of the tides, was aneat sailing-vessel; its name was painted round the stern—TheValkyrie.

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

"You've done it this time, old boy," said Lorimer, speaking in awhisper, though he knew not why. "This is the old bonde's own privatelanding-place evidently, and here's a footpath leading somewhere. Shallwe follow it?"

Philip emphatically assented, and, treading softly, like the trespassersthey felt themselves to be, they climbed the ascending narrow way thatguided them up from the seashore, round through a close thicket ofpines, where their footsteps fell noiselessly on a thick carpet ofvelvety green moss, dotted prettily here and there with the red gleam ofripening wild strawberries. Everything was intensely still, and as yetthere seemed no sign of human habitation. Suddenly a low whirring soundbroke upon their ears, and Errington, who was a little in advance of hiscompanion, paused abruptly with a smothered exclamation, and drew backon tip-toe, catching Lorimer by the arm.

"By Jove!" he whispered excitedly, "we've come right up to the verywindows 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 touchedit, was what appeared to be a framed picture, exquisitely painted,—apicture perfect in outline matchless in color, faultless in detail,—butwhich was in reality nothing but a large latticed window thrown wideopen to admit the air. They could now see distinctly through the shadowscast by the stately pines, a long, low, rambling house, built roughly,but strongly, of wooden rafters, all overgrown with green and blossomingcreepers; but they scarcely glanced at the actual building, so stronglywas their attention riveted on the one window before them. It wassurrounded by an unusually broad framework, curiously and elaboratelycarved, and black as polished ebony. Flowers grew all about it,—sweetpeas, mignonette, and large purple pansies—while red and white climbingroses rioted in untrained profusion over its wide sill. Above it was aquaintly built dovecote, where some of the strutting fan-tailedinhabitants were perched, swelling out their snowy breasts, anddiscoursing of their domestic trials in notes of dulcet melancholy;while lower down, three or four ring-doves nestled on the roof in apatch of sunlight, spreading up their pinions like miniature sails, tocatch 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 theshell cavern. She was attired in a plain, straight gown, of some softwhite woolen stuff, cut squarely at her throat; her round, graceful armswere partially bare, and as the wheel turned swiftly, and her slenderhands busied themselves with the flax, she smiled, as though somepleasing thought had touched her mind. Her smile had the effect ofsudden sunshine in the dark room where she sat and span,—it was radiantand mirthful as the smile of a happy child. Yet her dark blue eyesremained pensive and earnest, and the smile soon faded, leaving her fairface absorbed and almost dreamy. The whirr-whirring of the wheel grewless and less rapid,—it slackened,—it stopped altogether,—and, asthough startled by some unexpected sound, the girl paused and listened,pushing away the clustering masses of her rich hair from her brow. Thenrising slowly from her seat, she advanced to the window, put aside theroses with one hand, and looked out,—thus forming another picture asbeautiful, if not more beautiful, than the first.

Lorimer drew his breath hard. "I say, old fellow," he whispered; butErrington pressed his arm with vice-like firmness, as a warning to himto be silent, while they both stepped farther back into the dusky gloomof 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 andstrutted on the ground before her, coo-cooing proudly, as thoughdesirous of attracting her attention. One of them boldly perched on thewindow-sill; she glanced at the bird musingly, and softly stroked itsopaline wings and shining head without terrifying it. It seemeddelighted to be noticed, and almost lay down under her hand in order tobe more conveniently caressed. Still gently smoothing its feathers, sheleaned further out among the clambering wealth of blossoms, and calledin a low, penetrating tone, "Father! father! is that you?"

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

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

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

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

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

"For Heaven's sake, let us hear the song through!" he said in subduedtones. "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 inthe dark old rose-wreathed window—the figure that swayed softly withthe motion of the wheel and the rhythm of the song,—while flickeringsunbeams sparkled now and then on the maiden's dusky gold hair, ortouched 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 fromthe throat of a nightingale. The words she sang were Norwegian, and herlisteners understood nothing of them; but the melody,—the patheticappealing melody,—soul-moving as all true melody must be, touched thevery core of their hearts, and entangled them in a web of deliciousreveries.

"Talk of Ary Scheffer's Gretchen!" murmured Lorimer with a sigh. "What amiserable, pasty, milk-and-watery young person she is beside thatmagnificent, 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 hasconvinced me of that."

At that instant the song ceased. Errington turned and regarded himsteadfastly.

"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; "Ithink you know that. If that girl's mind is as lovely as her face, Isay, go in and win!"

Sir Philip smiled. His brow cleared and an expression of relief settledthere. The look of gladness was unconscious; but Lorimer saw it at onceand 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 toher,—she might take me for a thief."

"You look like a thief," replied Lorimer, surveying his friend'sathletic figure, clad in its loose but well-cut yachting suit of whiteflannel, ornamented with silver anchor buttons, and taking acomprehensive glance from the easy pose of the fine head and handsomeface, down to the trim foot with the high and well-arched instep, "verymuch like a thief? I wonder I haven't noticed it before. Any Londonpoliceman would arrest you on the mere fact of your suspiciousappearance."

Errington laughed. "Well, my boy, whatever my looks may testify, I am atthis moment an undoubted trespasser on private property,—and so are youfor that matter. What shall we do?"

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

"George, you are incorrigible! Suppose we go back and try the other sideof 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," saidLorimer. "If any observation is made by the fair 'Marguerite' yonder, wecan boldly say we have come to see the bonde."

Unconsciously they had both raised their voices a little during thelatter part of their hasty dialogue, and at the instant when Lorimeruttered the last words, a heavy hand was laid on each of theirshoulders,—a hand that turned them round forcibly away from the windowthey had been gazing at, and a deep, resonant voice addressed them.

"The bonde? Truly, young men, you need seek no further,—I am OlafGüldmar!"

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

Errington and his friend were for a moment speechless,—partly fromdispleasure at the summary manner in which they had been seized andtwisted round like young uprooted saplings, and partly from surprise andinvoluntary admiration for the personage who had treated them with suchscant courtesy. They saw before them a man somewhat above the middleheight, who might have served an aspiring sculptor as a perfect modelfor a chieftain of old Gaul, or a dauntless Viking. His frame was firmlyand powerfully built, and seemed to be exceptionally strong andmuscular; yet an air of almost courtly grace pervaded his movements,making each attitude he assumed more or less picturesque. He wasbroad-shouldered and deep-chested; his face was full and healthilycolored, while his head was truly magnificent. Well-poised and shapely,it indicated power, will, and wisdom; and was furthermore adorned by arough, thick mass of snow-white hair that shone in the sunlight likespun silver. His beard was short and curly, trimmed after the fashion ofthe warriors of old Rome; and, from under his fierce, fuzzy, greyeyebrows, a pair of sentinel eyes, that were keen, clear, and bold as aneagle's, looked out with a watchful steadiness—steadiness that like thesharp edge of a diamond, seemed warranted to cut through the brittleglass of a lie. Judging by his outward appearance, his age might havebeen guessed at as between fifty-eight and sixty, but he was, in truth,seventy-two, and more strong, active, and daring than many another manwhose years are not counted past the thirties. He was curiously attired,after something of the fashion of the Highlander, and something yet moreof the ancient Greek, in a tunic, vest, and loose jacket all made ofreindeer skin, thickly embroidered with curious designs worked in coarsethread and colored beads; while thrown carelessly over his shoulders andknotted at his waist, was a broad scarf of white woollen stuff, orwadmel, very soft-looking and warm. In his belt he carried aformidable hunting-knife, and as he faced the two intruders on hisground, he rested one hand lightly yet suggestively on a weighty staffof pine, which was notched all over with quaint letters and figures, andterminated in a curved handle at the top. He waited for the young man tospeak, and finding they remained silent, he glanced at them half angrilyand again repeated his words—

"I am the bonde,—Olaf Güldmar. Speak your business and take yourdeparture; my time is brief!"

Lorimer looked up with his usual nonchalance,—a faint smile playingabout his lips. He saw at once that the old farmer was not a man to betrifled 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 theleast 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. Güldmar!"

The bonde glanced him over with a quick lightening of the eyes, andthe suspicion of a smile in the depths of his curly beard. He turned toErrington.

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

Errington, in his turn, lifted his cap from his clustering brown curlswith that serene and stately court manner which was to him secondnature.

"We did," he confessed, quietly following Lorimer's cue, and seeing alsothat it was best to be straightforward. "We heard you spoken of inBosekop, and we came to see if you would permit us the honor of youracquaintance."

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

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

He spoke with extraordinary heat and passion,—it was evidentlynecessary to soothe him. Lorimer took a covert glance backward over hisshoulder towards the lattice window, and saw that the white figure atthe spinning-wheel had disappeared.

"My dear Mr. Güldmar," he then said with polite fervor, "I assure you Ithink the Bosekop folk by no means deserve to sharpen your sword on thegrindstone, or to enjoy the remains of your dinner! Myself, I despisethem! 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. "Wedesire the honor of your acquaintance,—it will charm and delight usabove all things!"

And his face beamed with a candid, winning, boyish smile, which was verycaptivating in its own way, and which certainly had its effect on theold 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 seemednothing for it, but to obey this unpleasing command. Errington made onemore venture.

"May I hope, Mr. Güldmar," he said with persuasive courtesy, "that youwill break through your apparent rule of seclusion for once and visit meon board my yacht? You have no doubt seen her—the Eulalie—she liesat anchor in the Fjord."

The bonde looked him straight in the eyes. "I have seen her. A fairtoy vessel to amuse an idle young man's leisure! You are he that in thatfool's hole of a Bosekop, is known as the 'rich Englishman,'—an idletrifler with time,—an aimless wanderer from those dull shores wherethey eat gold till they die of surfeit! I have heard of you,—a mushroomknight, a fungus of nobility,—an ephemeral growth on a grand decayingold 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 shadowof melancholy flitted across his brow. Errington listened with unruffledpatience. He heard himself, his pleasures, his wealth, his rank, thusmade light of, without the least offense. He met the steady gaze of thebonde quietly, and slightly bent his head as though in deference tohis remarks.

"You are quite right," he said simply. "We modern men are but pigmiescompared with the giants of old time. Royal blood itself is taintednowadays. But, for myself, I attach no importance to the mereappurtenances of life,—the baggage that accompanies one on that briefjourney. Life itself is quite enough for me."

"And for me too," averred Lorimer, delighted that his friend had takenthe old farmer's scornful observations so good-naturedly. "But, do youknow, Mr. Güldmar, you are making life unpleasant for us just now, byturning us out? The conversation is becoming interesting! Why notprolong it? We have no friends in Bosekop, and we are to anchor here forsome days. Surely you will allow us to come and see you again?"

Olaf Güldmar was silent. He advanced a step nearer, and studied themboth with such earnest and searching scrutiny, that as they rememberedthe real attraction that had drawn them thither, the conscious bloodmounted to their faces, flushing Errington's forehead to the very rootsof his curly brown hair. Still the old man gazed as though he sought toread their very souls. He muttered something to himself in Norwegian,and, finally, to their utter astonishment, he drew his hunting-knifefrom its sheath, and with a rapid, wild gesture, threw it on the groundand placed his foot upon it.

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

And he held out his hand with a sort of royal dignity, still resting onefoot on the fallen weapon. The young men, struck by his action andgratified by his change of manner and the genial expression that nowsoftened his rugged features, were quick to respond to his friendlygreeting, and the bonde, picking up and re-sheathing his hunting-knifeas if he had done nothing at all out of the common, motioned themtowards the very window on which their eyes had been so long and soardently 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 boatmoored to my pier, and wondered who had been venturesome enough totrample through my woodland. I might have guessed that only a couple ofidle boys like yourselves, knowing no better, would have pushed theirway to a spot that all worthy dwellers in Bosekop, and all truefollowers of the Lutheran devilry, avoid as though the plague weresettled in it."

And the old man laughed, a splendid, mellow laugh, with the ring of truejollity in it,—a laugh that was infectious, for Errington and Lorimerjoined 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 carryupon my shoulders the sorrowful burden of twenty-six years,—Philip,there, is painfully conscious of being thirty,—may we not thereforedispute the word 'boys' as being derogatory to our dignity? You calledus 'men' a while ago,—remember that!"

Olaf Güldmar laughed again. His suspicious gravity had entirelydisappeared, leaving his face a beaming mirror of beneficence andgood-humor.

"So you are men," he said cheerily, "men in the bud, like leaves on atree. 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 womangrown, is always a babe to me. 'Tis one of the many privileges of theold, 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 dimlyperceive the spinning-wheel standing alone, as though thinking deeply ofthe fair hands that had lately left it idle, and so round to the actualfront of the house, which was exceedingly picturesque, and literallyovergrown with roses from ground to roof. The entrance door stoodopen;—it was surrounded by a wide, deep porch richly carved andgrotesquely ornamented, having two comfortable seats within it, one oneach side. Through this they went, involuntarily brushing down as theypassed, a shower of pink and white rose-leaves, and stepped into a widepassage, where upon walls of dark, polished pine, hung a largecollection of curiously shaped weapons, all of primitive manufacture,such as stone darts and rough axes, together with bows and arrows andtwo-handled swords, huge as the fabled weapon of William Wallace.

Opening a door to the right the bonde stood courteously aside and badethem enter, and they found themselves in the very apartment where theyhad seen the maiden spinning.

"Sit down, sit down!" said their host hospitably. "We will have winedirectly, and Thelma shall come hither. Thelma! Thelma! Where is thechild? 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 thesuccess of their plans, yet somewhat abashed too. There was a peace andgentle simplicity about the little room in which they were, that touchedthe chivalrous sentiment in their natures and kept them silent. On oneside of it, half a dozen broad shelves supported a goodly row ofwell-bound volumes, among which the time-honored golden names ofShakespeare and Scott glittered invitingly, together with such works asChapman's Homer, Byron's "Childe Harold," the Poems of John Keats,Gibbon's Rome, and Plutarch; while mingled with these were thedevotional works in French of Alphonse de Liguori, the "Imitation," alsoin French,—and a number of books with titles in Norwegian,—altogetheran heterogenous collection of literature, yet not without interest asdisplaying taste and culture on the part of those to whom it belonged.Errington, himself learned in books, was surprised to see so manystandard works in the library of one who professed to be nothing but aNorwegian farmer, and his respect for the sturdy old bonde increased.There were no pictures in the room,—the wide lattice window on onehand, 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 furniturewas roughly made of pine, and seemed to have been carved by hand,—someof the chairs were very quaint and pretty and would have sold in abric-a-brac shop for more than a sovereign apiece. On the widemantle-shelf was a quantity of curious old china that seemed to havebeen picked up from all parts of the world,—most of it was undoubtedlyvaluable. In one dark corner stood an ancient harp; then there was thespinning-wheel,—itself a curiosity fit for a museum,—testifying dumblyof the mistress of all these surroundings, and on the floor there wassomething else,—something that both the young men were stronglyinclined to take possession of. It was only a bunch of tiny meadowdaisies, fastened together with a bit of blue silk. It had fallen,—theyguessed by whom it had been worn,—but neither made any remark, andboth, by some strange instinct, avoided looking at it, as though theinnocent little blossoms carried within them some terrible temptation.They were conscious of a certain embarrassment, and making an effort tobreak through it, Lorimer remarked softly—

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

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

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

"Rather!" assented Lorimer, with emphasis. "I wish there were any hopeof my becoming such a fine old buffer in my decadence,—it would beworth living for if only to look at myself in the glass now and then. Herather startled me when he threw down that knife, though. I suppose itis some old Norwegian custom?"

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

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

Britta hurried away at once, but Errington's heart sank. Thelma hadgone!—gone, most probably, for one of those erratic journeys across theFjord 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 washis! Absorbed in disappointed reflections, he scarcely heard theenthusiastic praises Lorimer was diplomatically bestowing on thebonde'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.Güldmar noticed the young baronet's abstraction, and addressed him withgenial kindness.

"Are you thinking, Sir Philip, of my rough speeches to you yonder? Nooffense was meant, no offense!..." the old fellow paused, and laughedover his wine-glass. "Yet I may as well be honest about it! Offensewas 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 everyword you uttered. You took my measure very correctly, and allow me toadd that no one can be more conscious of my own insignificance that I ammyself. The days we live in are insignificant; the chronicle of ourpaltry doings will be skipped by future readers of the country'shistory. Among a society of particularly useless men, I feel myself tobe one of the most useless. If you could show me any way to make my lifevaluable—"

He paused abruptly, and his heart beat with inexplicable rapidity. Alight 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 shoneforth from the dark background of the outer passage; a figure thathesitated on the threshold, and then advanced noiselessly and with areluctant shyness. The old bonde turned round in his chair with asmile.

"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 youngmen had risen at her entrance, and in one fleeting glance she recognizedErrington, though she gave no sign to that effect.

"See, my darling," continued her father, "here are English visitors toNorway. This is Sir Philip Errington, who travels through our wildwaters in the great steam yacht now at anchor in the Fjord; and this ishis friend, Mr.—Mr.—Lorimer,—have I caught your name rightly, mylad?" 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 younglady, who, encircled by her father's arm, raised her deep, dazzling blueeyes, and serenely bent her stately head to him as his name wasmentioned.

The old farmer went on, "Welcome them, Thelma mine!—friends are scarcein 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!—andthen we will warm their hearts with another cup of wine."

As he spoke, the maiden advanced with a graceful, even noble air, andextending 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 inmany parts of Norway—a mere ordinary expression of politeness; but,uttered in the tender, penetrating tones, of the most musical voice theyhad ever heard, and accompanied by the warm, frank, double handclasp ofthose soft, small, daintily shaped hands, the effect on the minds of thegenerally self-possessed, fashionably bred young men of the world, wasto confuse and bewilder them to the last degree. What could they answerto this poetical, quaint formula of welcome? The usual latitudes, suchas "Delighted, I'm sure;" or, "Most happy—am charmed to meet you?" No;these remarks, deemed intelligent by the lady rulers of Londondrawing-rooms, would, they felt, never do here. As well put a gentlemanin modern evening dress en face with a half-nude scornfully beautifulstatue of Apollo, as trot out threadbare, insincere commonplaces in thehearing of this clear-eyed child of nature, whose pure, perfect faceseemed 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, thoughhe had sense enough left to appreciate the pressure of those lovelyhands as long as it lasted.

Thelma, however, appeared not to notice their deep embarrassment—shehad not yet done with them. Taking the largest goblet on the table, shefilled it to the brim with wine, and touched it with her lips,—thenwith a smile in which a thousand radiating sunbeams seemed to quiver andsparkle, she lifted it towards Errington. The grace of her attitude andaction wakened him out of his state of dreamy bewilderment—in his soulhe devoutly blessed these ancient family customs, and arose to theoccasion like a man. Clasping with a tender reverence the hands thatupheld the goblet, he bent his handsome head and drank a deep draught,while his dark curls almost touched her fair ones,—and then an insanejealousy possessed him for a moment, as he watched her go through thesame ceremony with Lorimer.

She next carried the now more than half-emptied cup to the bonde, andsaid as she held it, laughing softly—

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

"That is true!" said Olaf Güldmar with great gravity; "but it will notbe my fault, child, nor the fault of wasted wine."

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

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

Her entire lack of stiffness and reserve set the young men at theirease, and they fell into conversation freely, though Errington allowedLorimer to tell the story of their trespass in his own fashion withoutinterference. He instinctively felt that the young lady who listenedwith so demure a smile to that plausible narrative, knew well enough thereal motive that had brought them thither though she apparently had herown reasons for keeping silence on the point, as whatever she may havethought, she said nothing.

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

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

"The truth is," interposed Errington, resting his eyes with a sense ofdeep delight on the beautiful rounded figure and lovely features thatwere turned towards him, "I heard of you first through my pilot—oneValdemar Svensen."

"Ha, ha!" cried old Güldmar with some excitement, "there is a fellow whocannot hold his tongue! What have I said to thee, child? A bachelor isno 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 besthow excellent it is to keep silence!"

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

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

Güldmar surveyed her humorously. "Hear her!" he said. "She talks as ifshe knew all about such things; and if ever a child was ignorant ofsorrow, surely it is my Thelma! Every flower and bird in the place lovesher. Yes; I have thought sometimes the very sea loves her. It must; sheis 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'tlove her at all. Ask her! She knows it."

Thelma rose quickly and kissed him. How deliciously those sweet lipspouted, thought Errington, and what an unreasonable and extraordinarygrudge he seemed to bear towards the venerable bonde for acceptingthat kiss with so little apparent emotion!

"Hush, father!" she said. "These friends can see too plainly how muchyou spoil me. Tell me,"—and she turned with a sudden prettyimperiousness to Lorimer, who started at her voice as a racehorse startsat 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 hadactually spoken of them, and Mr. Dyceworthy's remarks concerning thosewho were "ejected with good reason from respectable society," might not,after all, have applied to the Güldmar family. Indeed, it now seemed anabsurd and improbable supposition. Therefore he replied cautiously—

"The Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy, I think, has some knowledge of you. Is henot a friend of yours?"

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

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

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

One excellent thing in the dispositions of both Errington and Lorimerwas that they never lost temper. Either they were too lazy or toowell-bred. Undoubtedly they both considered it "bad form." Thisindifference stood them in good stead now. They showed no sign whateverof offense, though the old farmer's outbreak of wrath was so sudden andunlooked for, that they remained for a moment silent out of sheersurprise. Then rising with unruffled serenity, they took up their capspreparatory to departure. Errington's gentle, refined voice broke thesilence.

"You are in error, Mr. Güldmar," he said in chilly but perfectly politetones. "I regret you should be so hasty in your judgment of us. If youaccepted us as 'men' when you first met us, I cannot imagine why youshould 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 thatI, as in duty bound, returned his call. I am ignorant of his characterand disposition. I may add that I have no desire to be enlightenedrespecting them. I do not often take a dislike to anybody, but it sohappens that I have done so in the case of Mr. Dyceworthy. I knowLorimer doesn't care for him, and I don't think my other two friends areparticularly attached to him. I have nothing more to say, except that Ifear we have outstayed our welcome. Permit us now to wish you goodevening. And you,"—he hesitated, and turned with a low bow to Thelma,who had listened to his words with a gradually dawning brightness on herface—"you will, I trust, exonerate us from any intentional offensetowards your father or yourself? Our visit has proved unlucky, but—"

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

"Ah, then, you also will be foolish!" she said, with a naïve protectingair of superior dignity. "Do you not see my father is sorry? Have we allkissed the cup for nothing, or was the wine wasted? Not a drop wasspilt; 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 theAltenfjord, and know nothing of Mr. Dyceworthy, or an other persondwelling here. And when their vessel sails away again over the wide seasto their own shores, how will you have them think of you? As one whoseheart was all kindness, and who helped to make their days passpleasantly? or as one who, in unreasonable anger, forgot the duties ofsworn hospitality?"

The bonde listened to her full, sweet, reproachful voice as a toughold lion might listen to the voice of its tamer, uncertain whether toyield or spring. He wiped his heated brow and stared around himshamefacedly. Finally, as though swallowing his pride with a gulp, hedrew a long breath, took a couple of determined strides forward, andheld out his hands, one to Errington and the other to Lorimer, by whomthey were warmly grasped.

"There, my lads," he said rapidly. "I'm sorry I spoke! Forgive andforget! That is the worst of me—my blood is up in a minute, and oldthough I am, I'm not old enough yet to be patient. And when I hear thename of that sneak Dyceworthy—by the gates of Valhalla, I feel as if myown house would not hold me! No, no; don't go yet! Nearly ten? Well, nomatter, the night is like the day here, you see—it doesn't matter whenone goes to bed. Come and sit in the porch awhile; I shall get cool outthere. Ah, Thelma, child! I see thee laughing at thy old father'stemper! 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 oldporch, Lorimer following with rather a flushed face, for he, as hepassed out of the room, had managed to pick up and secrete the neglectedlittle bunch of daisies, before noticed as having fallen on the floor.He put them quickly in his breast pocket with a curious sense ofsatisfaction, though he had no intention of keeping them, and leanedidly against the clambering roses, watching Thelma, as she drew a lowstool to her father's feet and sat there. A balmy wind blew in from theFjord, and rustled mysteriously among the pines; the sky was fleckedhere and there with fleecy clouds, and a number of birds were singing infull chorus. Old Güldmar heaved a sigh of relief, as though his recentoutburst of passion had done him good.

"I will tell you, Sir Philip," he said, ruffling his daughter's curls ashe spoke,—"I will tell you why I detest the villain Dyceworthy. It isbut fair you should know it. Now, Thelma!—why that push to my knee? Youfear 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 cannotbe 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 donot think I have any religion. If I had, I suppose I should call myselfa 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 nochurch, and I have never read a tract in my life. I have a profoundreverence and admiration for the character and doctrine of Christ, and Ibelieve if I had had the privilege of knowing and conversing with Him, Ishould 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. Mymother was an Austrian and a Catholic, and I have a notion that, as asmall child, I was brought up in that creed; but I'm afraid I don't knowmuch about it now."

The bonde nodded gravely. "Thelma, here," he said, "is a Catholic, asher mother was—" he stopped abruptly, and a deep shadow of paindarkened his features. Thelma looked up,—her large blue eyes filledwith sudden tears, and she pressed her father's hand between her own, asthough in sympathy with some undeclared grief; then she looked atErrington with a sort of wistful appeal. Philip's heart leaped as he metthat soft beseeching glance, which seemed to entreat his patience withthe old man for her sake—he felt himself drawn into a bond of unionwith her thoughts, and in his innermost soul he swore as knightly a vowof chivalry and reverence for the fair maiden, who thus took him intoher silent confidence, as though he were some gallant Crusader of oldtime, pledged to defend his lady's honor unto death. Olaf Güldmar, aftera long and apparently sorrowful pause, resumed his conversation.

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

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

Güldmar smiled dubiously; but Thelma looked at the speaker withastonished, regretful eyes.

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

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

"Oh no," he said in answer to her, "I am not a miserable sort of fellowby any means. For instance, I'm not afraid of death,—lots of veryreligious people are horribly afraid of it, though they all the timedeclare it's the only path to heaven. They're not consistent at all. Yousee I believe in nothing,—I came from nothing,—I am nothing,—I shallbe nothing. That being plain, I am all right."

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

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

Errington here interposed. "You mustn't take him seriously. Mr.Güldmar," he said; "he's never serious himself, I'll give you hischaracter in a few words. He belongs to no religious party, it'strue,—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 bewitchingsmile.

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

"Well, yes," admitted George, "I think I would! But it's a herculeantask sometimes. If you had ever been to London, Miss Güldmar, you wouldunderstand how difficult it is to make people even smile,—and when theydo, 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 fashionthere to find fault with everything and everybody."

"That is so," said Güldmar thoughtfully. "I visited London once andthought I was in hell. Nothing but rows of hard, hideously built houses,long streets, and dirty alleys, and the people had weary faces all, asthough Nature had refused to bless them. A pitiful city,—doubly pitifulto the eyes of a man like myself, whose life has been passed amongfjords and mountains such as these. Well, now, as neither of you areLutherans,—in fact, as neither of you seem to know what you are," andhe laughed, "I can be frank, and speak out as to my own belief. I amproud to say I have never deserted the faith of my fathers, the faiththat makes a man's soul strong and fearless, and defiant of evil,—thefaith that is supposed to be crushed out among us, but that is stillalive and rooted in the hearts of many who can trace back their lineageto the ancient Vikings as I can,—yes!—rooted firm and fast,—andhowever much some of the more timorous feign to conceal it, in the tacitacceptance 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 mustfall 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'sdeclaration of his creed seemed eminently fitted to his character.Lorimer's face brightened,—here was a novelty—a man, who in all theconflicting storms of modern opinion, sturdily clung to the traditionsof his forefathers.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed eagerly, "I think the worship of Odin would suitme perfectly! It's a rousing, fighting sort of religion,—I'm positiveit would make a man of me. Will you initiate me into the mysteries, Mr.Güldmar? There's a fellow in London who writes poetry on Indiansubjects, and who, it is said, thinks Buddhism might satisfy his piousyearnings,—but I think Odin would be a personage to command morerespect than Buddha,—at any rate, I should like to try him. Will yougive me a chance?"

Olaf Güldmar smiled gravely, and rising from his seat, pointed to thewestern sky.

"See yonder threads of filmy white," he said, "that stretch across thewide expanse of blue! They are the lingering, fading marks of lightclouds,—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 idlejest or pastime, presume to search into the mysteries of Odin! For youthey are not,—your spirit is not of the stern mould that waits fordeath as gladly as the bridegroom waits for the bride! The Christianheaven 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 existedon the earth! The Rainbow Bridge is a fairer pathway from death to lifethan the doleful Cross,—and better far the dark summoning eyes of abeauteous Valkyrie, than the grinning skull and cross-bones, theChristian emblem of mortality. Thelma thinks,—and her mother before herthought also,—that different as my way of belief is to the accepted newcreeds of to-day, it will be all right with me in the next world—that Ishall have as good a place in heaven as any Christian. It may be so,—Icare not! But see you,—the key-note of all the civilization of to-dayis discontent, while I,—thanks to the gods of my fathers, am happy, anddesire nothing that I have not."

He paused and seemed absorbed. The young men watched his fine inspiredfeatures with lively interest. Thelma's head was turned away from themso 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 opinionof the Lutheran community. My child belongs to the so-called idolatrousChurch of Rome. I am one of the very last of the 'heathenbarbarians,'"—and the old fellow smiled sarcastically, "though, truthto tell, for a barbarian, I am not such a fool as some folks would haveyou think. If the snuffling Dyceworthy and I competed at a spellingexamination, I'm pretty sure 'tis I would have the prize! But, as Isaid,—you know us,—and if our ways are likely to offend you, then letus 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 youwill believe me when I say I shall esteem it an honor and a privilege toknow 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 toyou. I warn you, Mr. Güldmar, I shall visit you pretty frequently! Suchmen as you are not often met with."

Olaf Güldmar looked surprised. "You really mean it?" he said. "Nothingthat I have told you affects you? You still seek our friendship?"

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

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

Güldmar nodded a grave assent.

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

And she broke into a peal of laughter, ringing and sweet as a chime ofbells. The young men joined her in it; and, still with an amusedexpression on her lovely face, leaning her head back against a clusterof 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,—tomake 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 untruthabout us in Bosekop, he will add another thing equally untrue, and so itgrows and grows, and—why! what is the matter with you?" she exclaimedin surprise as Errington scowled and clenched his fist in a peculiarlythreatening manner.

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

Old Güldmar laughed and looked at the young baronet approvingly.

"Who knows, who knows!" he said cheerfully. "You may do it some day! Itwill 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 andsee, us again?"

"You must visit me first," said Sir Philip quickly. "If you and yourdaughter will honor me with your company to-morrow, I shall be proud andpleased. 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 towardsboth her and her father.

Güldmar accepted the invitation at once, and, the hour for their visitnext day being fixed and agreed upon, the young men began to take theirleave. As Errington clasped Thelma's hand in farewell, he made a boldventure. He touched a rose that hung just above her head almost droppingon her hair.

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

Their eyes met. The girl flushed deeply, and then grew pale. She brokeoff the flower and gave it to him,—then turned to Lorimer to saygood-bye. They left her then, standing under the porch, shading her browwith one hand from the glittering sunlight, as she watched themdescending the winding path to the shore, accompanied by her lather, whohospitably insisted on seeing them into their boat. They looked backonce or twice, always to see the slender, tall white figure standingthere like an angel resting in a bower of roses, with the sunshineflashing on a golden crown of hair. At the last in the pathway Philipraised his hat and waved it, but whether she condescended to wave herhand in answer he could not see.

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

"You are not going in the boat, Fröken?" she asked in a tone of mingleddeference 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 theywandered from the wheel to the wide-open window, and rested on themajestic 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 thatlasted for many minutes. Old Güldmar stood on the edge of his littlepier to watch them out of sight. So, till their boat turned the sharpcorner of the protecting rock, that hid the landing-place from view,they saw his picturesque figure and gleaming silvery hair outlinedclearly against the background of the sky—a sky now tenderly flushedwith pink like the inside of a delicate shell. When they could no longerperceive him they still rowed on speaking no word,—the measured,musical plash of the oars through the smooth, dark olive-green wateralone breaking the stillness around them. There was a curious sort ofhushed breathlessness in the air; fantastic, dream-like lights andshadows played on the little wrinkling waves; sudden flushes of crimsoncame and went in the western horizon, and over the high summits of thesurrounding mountains mysterious shapes, formed of purple and grey mist,rose up and crept softly downwards, winding in and out deep valleys anddark ravines, like wandering spirits sent on some secret and sorrowfulerrand. 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 Iwas also going to remark that we hadn't seen your mad friend up at theGüldmar residence."

"No. Yet I can't help thinking he has something to do with them, all thesame," returned Errington meditatively. "I tell you, he swore at me bysome old Norwegian infernal place or other. I dare say he's an Odinworshipper, 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 mostbeautiful woman I ever saw, or, for that matter, ever heard of. And I aman impartial critic—perfectly impartial."

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

"You've met the king's daughter of Norroway after all, Phil;" and hislight accents had a touch of sadness in them; "and you'll have to bringher home, as the old song says. I believe the 'eligible' is caught atlast. The 'woman' of the piece has turned up, and your chum must playsecond fiddle—eh, old boy?"

Errington flushed hotly, but caught Lorimer's hand and pressed it withtremendous 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, andyou know it. I tell you," and he pulled his moustache doubtfully, "Idon't know quite what's the matter with me. That girl fascinates me! Ifeel 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 herpresence, and I'm not in love."

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

"How do I know? Come, I like that! Have I studied myself all these yearsfor nothing? Look here,"—and he carefully drew out the little witheringbunch of daisies he had purloined—"these are for you. I knew you wantedthem, though you hadn't the impudence to pick them up, and I had. Ithought you might like to put them under your pillow, and all that sortof thing, because if one is resolved to become love-lunatic, one may aswell 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, Ihope, that wild horses would not have torn this adorable posy from mypossession! I should have kept it, and you would never have known ofit," and he laughed softly. "Take it, old fellow! You're rich now, withthe rose she gave you besides. What is all your wealth compared with thesacred preciousness of such blossoms! There, don't look so awfullyestactic, or I shall be called upon to ridicule you in the interests ofcommon sense. So you're in love with the girl at once, and have donewith 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 loveat first sight!"

"I do," returned Lorimer decidedly. "Love is electricity. Two telegramsare enough to settle the business,—one from the eyes of the man, theother from those of the woman. You and Miss Güldmar must have exchangeda dozen such messages at least."

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

George shrugged his shoulders. "My dear boy, there are no wires ofcommunication between the Sun-angel and myself; nothing but a blank,innocent landscape, over which perhaps some day, the mild lustre offriendship may beam. The girl is beautiful—extraordinarily so; but I'mnot a 'man o' wax,' as Juliet's gabbling old nurse says—not in theleast 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 prettyforcibly for leaving them so long with Dyceworthy. We've been away twohours!"

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

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

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

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

"My good Phil-eep!" cried Duprèz, in his cheery sing song accent, "whyapologize? We have amused ourselves! Our dear Sandy has a vein of humorthat 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 iswhat we please,—he is for all gods or for no god,—just as we pull thestring! In plain words, mon cher, that amiable religious is drunk!"

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

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

"Ye see," he said seriously, "the Lacrima, or Papist wine as he callsit, was strong—we got him to take a good dose o't—a vera feir doseindeed. Then, doun he sat, an' fell to convairsing vera pheelosophicallyo' mony things,—it wad hae done ye gude to hear him,—he was fair lostin the mazes o' his metapheesics, for twa flies took a bit saunterthrough the pleasant dewy lanes o' his forehead, an' he never raised afinger to send them awa' aboot their beeziness. Then I thoet I wad tryhim wi' the whusky—I had ma pocket flask wi' me—an' O mon! he wassairly glad and gratefu' for the first snack o't! He said it wasdeevilish fine stuff, an' so he took ane drappikie, an' anitherdrappikie, and yet anither drappikie,"—Sandy's accent got more and morepronounced as he went on—"an' after a bit, his heed dropt doun, an' hetook a wee snoozle of a minute or twa,—then he woke up in a' hisstrength an' just grappit the flask in his twa hands an' took the haleo't off at a grand, rousin' gulp! Ma certes! after it ye shuld ha' seenhim laughin' like a f*ckless 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 atthis extraordinary picture, as did the others.

"But that is not all," said Duprèz, with delighted mischief sparkling inhis 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. Hewas quite clear on that point. Why did he preach what he did notbelieve, we asked? He almost wept! He replied that the children of thisworld liked fairy-stories and he was paid to tell them. It was his breadand butter,—would we wish him to have no bread and butter? We assuredhim so cruel a thought had no place in our hearts! Then he isamorous—yes! the good fat man is amorous! He would have become apriest, but on close examination of the confessionals he saw there wasno possibility of seeing, much less kissing a lady penitent through thegrating. So he gave up that idea! In his form of faith he can kiss, hesays,—he does kiss!—always a holy kiss, of course! He is soingenuous,—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—aholy kick, of course, and therefore more intense and forcible than otherkicks."

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

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

At that moment they ran alongside of the Eulalie and threw up theiroars.

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

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

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

"Not a bit of it," replied Sandy, with immense gravity. "The auldSilenus has better taste. He says there's a young lass running afterhim, fit to break her heart aboot him,—puir thing, she must have veralittle choice o' men! He hasna quite made up his mind, though he admeetsshe's as fine a lass as ony man need require. He's sorely afraid she hasset herself to catch him, as he says she's an eye like a warlock for areally strong good-looking fellow like himself," and Macfarlane chuckledaudibly. "Maybe he'll take pity on her, maybe he wont; the misguidedlassie will be sairly teazed by him from a' he tauld us in his cups. Hegave us her name,—the oddest in a' the warld for sure,—I canna justremember it."

"I can," said Duprèz glibly. "It struck me as quaint and pretty—ThelmaGüldmar."

Errington started so violently, and flushed so deeply, that Lorimer wasafraid of some rash outbreak of wrath on his part. But he restrainedhimself by a strong effort. He merely took his cigar from his mouth andpuffed a light cloud of smoke into the air before replying, then he saidcoldly—

"I should say Mr. Dyceworthy, besides being a drunkard, is a mostconsummate liar. It so happens that the Güldmars are the very people Ihave just visited,—highly superior in every way to anybody we have yetmet in Norway. In fact, Mr. and Miss Güldmar will come on boardto-morrow. I have invited them to dine with us; you will then be able tojudge for yourselves whether the young lady is at all of the descriptionMr. Dyceworthy gives of her."

Duprèz and Macfarlane exchanged astonished looks.

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

Errington smoked on peacefully and made no answer. Duprèz hummed a verseof a French chansonnette under his breath and smiled. Lorimer glancedat him with a lazy amusem*nt.

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

Duprèz 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 shouldhear what we ha' heard; it's fair an' just to a mon that he shouldunderstand what sort o' folk are gaun to pairtake wi' him at his table.Ye see, Errington, ye should ha' thought a wee, before inviting pairsonso' unsettled an' dootful chairacter—"

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

"He was no sae drunk at the time he tauld us." persisted Macfarlane inhis most obstinate, most dictatorial manner. "Ye see, it's just thisway—"

"Ah, pardon!" interrupted Duprèz briskly. "Our dear Sandy is anexcellent talker, but he is a little slow. Thus it is, mon cherErrington. This gentleman named Güldmar had a most lovely wife—amysterious lady, with an evident secret. The beautiful one was neverseen in the church or in any town or village; she was met sometimes onhills, by rivers, in valleys, carrying her child in her arms. The peoplegrew afraid of her; but, now, see what happens! Suddenly, she appears nomore; some one ventures to ask this Monsieur Güldmar, 'What has becomeof Madame?' His answer is brief. 'She is dead!' Satisfactory so far, yetnot quite; for, Madame being dead, then what has become of the corpse ofMadame? It was never seen,—no coffin was ever ordered,—and apparentlyit was never buried! Bien! What follows? The good people of Bosekopdraw the only conclusion possible—Monsieur Güldmar, who is said to havea terrific temper, killed Madame and made away with her body. Voilà!"

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

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

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

"Stop!" said Philip fiercely, with so much authority that the sparklingPierre was startled. "Call no man by such a name till you know hedeserves it. If Güldmar was suspected, as you say, why didn't somebodyarrest him on the charge?"

"Because, ye see," replied Macfarlane, "there was not sufficient proofto warrant such a proceeding. Moreover, the actual meenister of theparish declared it was a' richt, an' said this Güldmar was a mon o' veraqueer notions, an' maybe, had buried his wife wi' certain ceremoniespeculiar to himself—What's wrong wi' ye now?"

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

"That's very likely," he said; "Mr. Güldmar is a character. He followsthe faith of Odin, and not even Dyceworthy can convert him toChristianity."

Macfarlane stared with a sort of stupefied solemnity.

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

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

Sandy still remained lost in astonishment. "Then ye don't believe thathe 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 literaturethan you are, my boy, I'd swear, judging from the books he has. And whenhe mentioned his wife, as he did once, you could see in his face he hadnever done her any harm. Besides, his daughter—"

"Ah! but I forgot," interposed Duprèz again. "The daughter, Thelma, wasthe child the mysteriously vanished lady carried in her arms, wanderingwith it all about the woods and hills. After her disappearance, anotherthing extraordinary happens. The child also disappears, and MonsieurGüldmar 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, orvillage—nowhere, in fact, where persons are in any numbers. Three yearsago, it appears, she vanished again, but came back at the end of tenmonths, lovelier than ever. Since then she has remainedquiet—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 ofa woman is nothing nowadays. Fair game—go on!"

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

"Mon Dieu!" cried Duprèz in amazement. "But look not at me like that! Itseems to displease you, to put you en fureur, what I say! It is not mystory,—it is not I,—I know not Mademoiselle Güldmar. But as her beautyis considered superhuman, they say it is the devil who is herparfumeur, her coiffeur, and who sees after her complexion; inbrief, she is thought to be a witch in full practice, dangerous to lifeand limb."

Errington laughed loudly, he was so much relieved.

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

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

Something in these latter words struck Lorimer, for, raising himself inhis 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 Duprèz; "he believes in it à lalettre! He has Bible authority for his belief. He is very firm—firmestwhen drunk!" And he laughed gaily.

Errington muttered something not very flattering to Mr. Dyceworthy'sintelligence, 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 Güldmars alone; I'm not a bit sorry I've asked them to cometo-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 answeringinstead of Errington. "Miss Güldmar is a magnificent woman. You neversaw 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, Duprèz,"and he regarded the little Frenchman critically, "let me see,—you maypossibly reach up to her shoulder,—certainly not beyond it."

"Pas possible!" cried Duprèz. "Mademoiselle is a giantess."

"She needn't be a giantess to overtop you, mon ami," laughed Lorimerwith a lazy shrug. "By Jove, I am sleepy, Errington, old boy; are wenever 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 saloontable, where his steward had laid out a tasty cold collation. "We've hada good deal of climbing about and rowing; it's taken it out of us alittle."

Thus hospitably adjured, they took their places, and managed to disposeof an excellent supper. The meal concluded, Duprèz helped himself to atiny liqueur glass of Chartreuse, as a wind-up to the exertions of theday, a mild luxury in which the others joined him, with the exception ofMacfarlane, who was wont to declare that a "mon without his whusky wasnae mon at a'," and who, therefore, persisted in burning up his interiormechanism with alcohol in spite of the doctrines of hygiene, and was nowabsorbed in the work of mixing his lemon, sugar, hot water, andpoison—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 thesaloon, and began to play with that delicate, subtle touch, which,though it does not always mark the brilliant pianist, distinguishes thetrue lover of music, to whose ears a rough thump on the instrument, or afalse note would be most exquisite agony. Lorimer had no pretense tomusical talent; asked, he confessed he could "strum a little," and heseemed to see the evident wonder and admiration he awakened in the mindsof many to whom such "strumming" as his was infinitely more delightfulthan more practiced, finished playing. Just now he seemed undecided,—hecommenced a dainty little prelude of Chopin's, then broke suddenly off,and wandered into another strain, wild, pleading, pitiful, andpassionate,—a melody so weird and dreamy that even the stolidMacfarlane paused in his toddy-sipping, and Duprèz looked round in somewonderment.

"Comme c'est beau, ça!" he murmured.

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

"By-bye, boys! I'm off to bed! Phil, don't wake me so abominably earlyas you did this morning. If you do, friendship can hold out nolonger—we must part!"

"All right!" laughed Errington good-humoredly, watching his friend as hesauntered out of the saloon; then seeing Duprèz and Macfarlane rise fromthe 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 anyhour."

"It is droll to go to bed in broad daylight," said Duprèz. "But it mustbe done. Cher Philippe, your eyes are heavy. 'To bed, to bed,' as theexcellent Madame Macbeth says. Ah! quelle femme! What an exciting wifeshe was for a man? Come, let us follow our dear Lorimer,—his music wasdelicious. Good night or good morning?... I know not which it is inthis strange land where the sun shines always! It is confusing!"

They shook hands and separated. Errington, however, unable to composehis mind to rest, went into his cabin merely to come out of it again andbetake himself to the deck, where he decided to walk up and down till hefelt sleepy. He wished to be alone with his own thoughts for awhile—totry and resolve the meaning of this strange new emotion that possessedhim,—a feeling that was half pleasing, half painful, and that certainlymoved him to a sort of shame. A man, if he be strong and healthy, isalways more or less ashamed when Love, with a single effort, proves himto be weaker than a blade of grass swaying in the wind. What! all hisdignity, all his resoluteness, all his authority swept down by the lighttouch of a mere willow wand? for the very sake of his own manhood andself-respect, he cannot help but be ashamed! It is as though a littlenude, laughing child mocked at a lion's strength, and made him ahelpless prisoner with a fragile daisy chain. So the god Eros begins hisbattles, which end in perpetual victory,—first fear and shame,—thendesire and passion,—then conquest and possession. And afterwards? ah!... afterwards the pagan deity is powerless,—a higher God, a granderforce, a nobler creed must carry Love to its supreme and bestfulfillment.

CHAPTER VIII.

"Le vent qui vient à travers la montagne
M'a rendu fou!"

VICTOR HUGO.

It was half an hour past midnight. Sir Philip was left in absolutesolitude to enjoy his meditative stroll on deck, for the full radianceof light that streamed over the sea and land was too clear and brilliantto necessitate the attendance of any of the sailors for the purpose ofguarding the Eulalie. She was safely anchored and distinctly visibleto all boats or fishing craft crossing the Fjord, so that unless asudden gale should blow, which did not seem probable in the presentstate of the weather, there was nothing for the men to do that needdeprive them of their lawful repose. Errington paced up and down slowly,his yachting shoes making no noise, even as they left no scratch on thespotless white deck, that shone in the night sunshine like polishedsilver. The Fjord was very calm,—on one side it gleamed like a pool ofgolden oil in which the outline of the Eulalie was precisely traced,her delicate masts and spars and drooping flag being drawn in blacklines on the yellow water as though with a finely pointed pencil. Therewas a curious light in the western sky; a thick bank of clouds, duskybrown in color, were swept together and piled one above the other inmountainous ridges, that rose up perpendicularly from the very edge ofthe sea-line, while over their dark summits a glimpse of the sun, like agiant's eye, looked forth, darting dazzling descending rays through thesullen smoke-like masses, tinging them with metallic green and copperhues as brilliant and shifting as the bristling points of lifted spears.Away to the south, a solitary wreath of purple vapor floated slowly asthough lost from some great mountain height; and through its faint, halfdisguising veil the pale moon peered sorrowfully, like a dying prisonerlamenting joy long past, but unforgotten.

A solemn silence reigned; and Errington, watching sea and sky, grew moreand more absorbed and serious. The scornful words of the proud old OlafGüldmar rankled in his mind and stung him. "An idle trifler withtime—an aimless wanderer!" Bitter, but, after all, true! He looked backon his life with a feeling kin to contempt. What had he done that was atall worth doing? He had seen to the proper management of hisestates,—well! any one with a grain of self-respect and love ofindependence would do the same. He had travelled and amused himself,—hehad studied languages and literature,—he had made many friends; butafter all said and done, the bonde's cutting observations haddescribed him correctly enough. The do-nothing, care-nothing tendency,common to the very wealthy in this age, had crept upon himunconsciously; the easy, cool, indifferent nonchalance common to men ofhis class and breeding was habitual with him, and he had never thoughtit worth while to exert his dormant abilities. Why then, should he nowbegin to think it was time to reform all this,—to rouse himself to aneffort,—to gain for himself some honor, some distinction, some renownthat should mark him out as different to other men? why was he suddenlyseized with an insatiate desire to be something more than a mere"mushroom knight, a fungus of nobility"—why? if not to make himselfworthy of—ah! There he had struck a suggestive key-note! Worthy ofwhat? of whom? There was no one in all the world, excepting perhapsLorimer, who cared what became of Sir Philip Errington, Baronet, in thefuture, so long as he would, for the present, entertain and feast hisnumerous acquaintances and give them all the advantages, social andpolitical, his wealth could so easily obtain. Then why, in the name ofwell-bred indolence, should he muse with such persistent gloom, on hisgeneral unworthiness at this particular moment? Was it because thisNorwegian maiden's grand blue eyes had met his with such beautiful trustand candor?

He had known many women, queens of society, titled beauties, brilliantactresses, sirens of the world with all their witcheries in full play,and he had never lost his self-possession or his heart; with theloveliest 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 becameaware of his utter insignificance,—this tall, fair goddess knew none ofthe social slang—and her fair, pure face, the mirror of a fair, puresoul, showed that the "eligibility" of a man from a pecuniary point ofview 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 bymodern marrying women,—Philip felt himself unworthy. It was a goodsign; there are great hopes of any man who is honestly dissatisfied withhimself. Folding his arms, he leaned idly on the deck-rails, and lookedgravely and musingly down into the motionless water where the variedlines of the sky were clearly mirrored,—when a slight creaking,cracking sound was heard, as of some obstacle grazing against or bumpingthe side of the yacht. He looked, and saw, to his surprise, a smallrowing boat close under the gunwale, so close indeed that the slowmotion of the tide heaved it every now and then into a jerky collisionwith the lower framework of the Eulalie—a circ*mstance whichexplained the sound which had attracted his attention. The boat was notunoccupied—there was some one in it lying straight across the seats,with face turned upwards to the sky—and, walking noiselessly to abetter post of observation, Errington's heart beat with some excitementas he recognized the long, fair, unkempt locks, and eccentric attire ofthe strange personage who had confronted him in the cave—the crazylittle man who had called himself "Sigurd." There he was, beyond adoubt, lying flat on his back with his eyes closed. Asleep or dead? Hemight have been the latter,—his thin face was so pale and drawn,—hislips were so set and colorless. Errington, astonished to see him there,called softly—

"Sigurd! Sigurd!" There was no answer; Sigurd's form seemedinanimate—his eyes remained fast shut.

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

He called again, but again received no reply. He now observed in thestem of the boat a large bunch of pansies, dark as velvet, and evidentlyfreshly gathered,—proving that Sigurd had been wandering in the deepvalleys and on the sloping sides of the hills, where these flowers maybe frequently found in Norway during the summer. He began to feel ratheruncomfortable, as he watched that straight stiff figure in the boat, andwas just about to swing down the companion-ladder for the purpose ofcloser inspection, when a glorious burst of light streamed radiantlyover the Fjord,—the sun conquered the masses of dark cloud that hadstriven to conceal his beauty, and now,—like a warrior clad in goldenarmor, surmounted and trod down his enemies, shining forth in all hissplendor. With that rush of brilliant effulgence, the apparentlylifeless Sigurd stirred,—he opened his eyes, and as they were turnedupwards, he naturally, from his close vicinity to the side of theEulalie, met Errington's gaze fixed inquiringly and somewhat anxiouslyupon him. He sprang up with such sudden and fierce haste that his frailboat 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 tofear—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 theshame for you!"

Errington listened to these ravings with an air of patience and pityinggentleness, then he said with perfect coolness—

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

The friendly tone and gentle manner appeared to soothe the unhappydwarf, for he stared doubtfully, then smiled,—and finally, as thoughacting under a spell, he took up an oar and propelled himself skillfullyenough to the gangway, where Errington let down the ladder and with hisown hand assisted his visitor to mount, not forgetting to fasten theboat safely to the steps as he did so. Once on deck, Sigurd gazed abouthim perplexedly. He had brought his bunch of pansies with him, and hefingered 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 inan awe-struck, solemn voice.

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

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

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

Sigurd laughed. "Ha ha! You call me 'friend.' You think that word asafeguard! I tell you, no! There are no friends now; the world is agreat field of battle,—each man fights the other. There is nopeace,—none anywhere! The wind fights with the forests; you can hearthem 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, andlife with death. It is all a bitter quarrel; none are satisfied, noneshall know friendship any more; it is too late! We cannot be friends!"

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

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

And he seated himself forlornly on one of the deck chairs and seemedpainfully endeavoring to put his scattered ideas in order. Erringtonstudied him with a gentle forbearance; inwardly he was very curious toknow whether this Sigurd had any connection with the Güldmars, but herefrained from asking too many questions. He simply said in a cheerytone—

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

To his surprise, Sigurd looked up with a more settled and resolvedexpression of face, and answered almost as connectedly as any sane mancould have done.

"I know your name very well," he said in a low composed manner. "You areSir Philip Errington, a rich English nobleman. Fate led you to hergrave—a grave that no strange feet have ever passed, save yours—and soI know you are the man for whom her spirit has waited,—she has broughtyou hither. How foolish to think she sleeps under the stone, when she isalways awake and busy,—always at work opposing me! Yes, though I prayher 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 confusedmind of the half-witted creature, who answered readily and at once—

"Of whom should I speak but Thelma? Thelma, the beautiful rose of thenorthern forest—Thelma—"

He broke off abruptly with a long shuddering sigh, and rocking himselfdrearily to and fro, gazed wistfully out to the sea. Errington hazardeda 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,—youcannot part them. Mother and child,—rose and rosebud! One walks theearth with the step of a queen, the other floats in the air like asilvery cloud; but I see them join and embrace and melt into eachother's arms till they unite in one form, fairer than the beauty ofangels! 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 withme—not with me!"

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

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

Errington looked down upon him compassionately. He had learned enoughfrom his incoherent talk to clear up what had seemed a mystery. Thescandalous reports concerning Olaf Güldmar were incorrect,—he hadevidently laid the remains of his wife in the shell-cavern, for somereason connected with his religious belief, and Thelma's visits to thesacred spot were now easy of comprehension. No doubt it was she whoplaced fresh flowers there every day, and kept the little lamp burningbefore the crucifix as a sign of the faith her departed mother hadprofessed, and which she herself followed. But who was Sigurd, and whatwas he to the Güldmars? Thinking this, he replied to the dwarf'squestion 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, andthe Altenfjord need know you no more! Spread your white sails!" and hepointed excitedly up to the tall tapering masts of the Eulalie. "Youare king here. Command and you are obeyed! Go from us, go! What is therehere to delay you? Our mountains are dark and gloomy,—the fields arewild and desolate,—there are rocks, glaciers and shrieking torrentsthat hiss like serpents gliding into the sea! Oh, there must be fairerlands than this one,—lands where oceans and sky are like twin jewelsset in one ring,—where there are sweet flowers and fruits and brighteyes to smile on you all day—yes! for you are as a god in your strengthand 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 hemade his appeal. "That is what I came to seek you for,—to ask you toset sail quickly and go, for why should you wish to destroy me? I havedone you no harm as yet. Go!—and Odin himself shall follow your pathwith blessings!"

He paused, almost breathless with his own earnest pleading. Erringtonwas silent. He considered the request a mere proof of the poorcreature's disorder. The very idea that Sigurd seemed to entertain ofhis doing him any harm, showed a reasonless terror and foreboding thatwas simply to be set down as caused by his unfortunate mental condition.To such an appeal there could be no satisfactory reply. To sail awayfrom the Altenfjord and its now most fascinating attractions, because amadman 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 whosebrains, like musical instruments, are jarred, yet not quite unstrung, hegrasped the meaning of that expression instantly.

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

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

"Listen to me, Sigurd," he said, with a certain imperativeness; "Icannot promise you to go away, but I can promise that I will do no harmto you or to—to—Thelma. Will that content you?"

Sigurd smiled vacantly and shook his head. He looked at the pansieswistfully 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 hearher! There are the roses to water, and the doves to feed, and many otherthings." He looked steadily at Sir Philip, who, seeing he was bent ondeparture, assisted him to descend the companion ladder into his littleboat. "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 rightthere?"

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

"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,—wedo 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 Erringtongood-temperedly, still poising himself on the ladder, and holding on tothe side of his yacht, as he watched his late visitor take the oars andmove off. "Good-bye, Sigurd! Take care of yourself! Hope I shall see youagain soon."

But Sigurd replied not. Bending to the oars, he rowed swiftly andstrongly, and Sir Philip, pulling up the ladder and closing the gangway,saw the little skiff flying over the water like a bird in the directionof the Güldmar's landing-place. He wondered again and again whatrelationship, if any, this half-crazed being bore to the bonde and hisdaughter. That he knew all about them was pretty evident; but how?Catching sight of the pansies left on the deck bench, Errington tookthem, and, descending to the saloon, set them on the table in a tumblerof water.

"Thelma's thoughts, the poor little fellow called them," he mused, witha smile. "A pretty fancy of his, and linked with the crazy imaginings ofOphelia too. 'There's pansies, that's for thoughts,' she said, butSigurd's idea is different; he believes they are Thelma's own thoughtsin 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 Icrush the tender petals? or shall I simply transform them, from pansiesinto roses,—from the dream of love,—into love itself?"

His eyes softened as he glanced at the drooping rose he wore, whichThelma herself had given him, and as he went to his sleeping cabin, hecarefully detached it from his button-hole, and taking down a book,—onewhich he greatly prized, because it had belonged to his mother,—heprepared to press the flower within its leaves. It was the "Imitation ofChrist," bound quaintly and fastened with silver clasps, and as he wasabout to lay his fragrant trophy on the first page that opened naturallyof itself, he glanced at the words that there presented themselves tohis eyes.

"Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothingwider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or inearth!" And with a smile and a warmer flush of color than usual on hishandsome face, he touched the rose lightly yet tenderly with his lipsand 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 ownsurplus flesh material as he wearily rowed himself across the Fjordtowards Olaf Güldmar's private pier. As the perspiration bedewed hisbrow, he felt that Heaven had dealt with him somewhat too liberally inthe way of fat—he was provided too amply with it ever to excel as anoarsman. The sun was burning hot, the water was smooth as oil, and veryweighty—it seemed to resist every stroke of his clumsily wieldedblades. Altogether it was hard, uncongenial work,—and, being renderedsomewhat flabby and nerveless by his previous evening's carouse withMacfarlane's whisky, Mr. Dyceworthy was in a plaintive and injured frameof mind, he was bound on a mission—a holy and edifying errand, whichwould have elevated any minister of his particular sect. He had found acrucifix with the name of Thelma engraved thereon,—he was now about toreturn it to the evident rightful owner, and in returning it, hepurposed denouncing it as an emblem of the "Scarlet Woman, that sittethon the Seven Hills," and threatening all those who dared to hold itsacred, as doomed to eternal torture, "where the worm dieth not." He hadthought over all he meant to say; he had planned several eloquent androunded sentences, some of which he murmured placidly to himself as hepropelled his slow boat along.

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

"Dear me!" said Mr. Dyceworthy, half aloud, "what a very suddendeparture! I wonder, now, if those young men have gone for good, orwhether 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 noidea 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 hisstrong tipple; least of all did he dream that he had betrayed any of hisintentions towards Thelma Güldmar, or given his religious opinions withsuch free and undisguised candor. Blissfully ignorant on these points,he resumed his refractory oars, and after nearly an hour of laboriouseffort, succeeded at last in reaching his destination. Arrived at thelittle pier, he fastened up his boat, and with the lofty air of athoroughly moral man, he walked deliberately up to the door of thebonde's house. Contrary to custom, it was closed, and the place seemedstrangely silent and deserted. The afternoon heat was so great that thesong-birds were hushed, and in hiding under the cool green leaves,—theclambering roses round the porch hung down their bright heads for sheerfaintness,—and the only sounds to be heard were the subdued coo-cooingof the doves on the roof and the soft trickling rush of a littlemountain 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 waitedsometime before he was answered, repeating his summons violently atfrequent intervals, and swearing irreligiously under his breath as hedid so. But at last the door was flung sharply open, and thetangle-haired, rosy-cheeked Britta confronted him with an aspect whichwas by no means encouraging or polite. Her round blue eyes sparkledsaucily, and she placed her bare, plump, red arms, wet with recentsoapsuds, akimbo on her sturdy little hips, with an air that wasdecidedly 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 herarms more defiantly than ever, and her voice had a sharper ring as shesaid—

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

"Young woman," returned Mr. Dyceworthy with polite severity, "I regretto see that your manners stand in sore need of improvement. Yourmaster's absence is of no importance to me. It is with the Fröken ThelmaI desire to speak."

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

"The Fröken is out too," she said demurely. "It's time she had a littleamusem*nt; 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 othergentlemen are there?" This with a contemptuous up-and-down sort oflook at the Lutheran minister's portly form. "Sir Philip Errington washere with his friend yesterday evening and stayed a long time—and todaya fine boat with four oars came to fetch the master and Fröken Thelma,and they are all gone for a sail to the Kaa Fjord or some other placenear here—I cannot remember the name. And I am SO glad!" went onBritta, clasping her plump hands in ecstasy. "They are the grandest,handsomest Herren I have ever seen, and one can tell they thinkwonders of the Fröken—nothing is too good for her!"

Mr. Dyceworthy's face was the picture of dismay. This was a new turn tothe course of events, and one, more over, that he had never oncecontemplated. 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 theFröken that I have found something which belongs to her, and that whenshe 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 ownpeople,—who hath dealings with the dwellers in darkness,—who evenbringeth herself to forget much of her own native tongue, and whodevoteth herself to—"

What he would have said was uncertain, as at that moment he was nearlythrown down by a something that slipped agilely between his legs,pinching each fat calf as it passed—a something that looked like aball, 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 upsetyou now, you would have said your prayers backward! What are you herefor? This is no place for you! They are all gone out of it. She hasgone—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 onthe sparkling, singing water!" and he swung his arms round violently,and snapped his fingers in the minister's face. "What an ugly man yourare!" he exclaimed with refreshing candor. "I think you are uglier thanI am! You are straight,—but you are like a load of peat—heavy andbarren and fit to burn. Now, I—I am the crooked bough of a tree, but Ihave bright leaves where a bird hides and sings all day! You—you haveno song, no foliage; only ugly and barren and fit to burn!" He laughedheartily, and, catching sight of Britta, where she stood in the doorwayentirely unconcerned at his eccentric behavior, he went up to her andtook hold of the corner of her apron. "Take me in, Britta dear—prettyBritta!" he said coaxingly. "Sigurd is hungry! Britta, sweet littleBritta,—come and talk to me and sing! Good-bye, fat man!" he addedsuddenly, turning round once more on Dyceworthy. "You will neverovertake 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 comeback." He dropped his voice to a mysterious whisper. "Last night I saw alittle spirit come out of a rose,—he carried a tiny golden hammer andnail, and a ball of cord like a rolled-up sunbeam. He flew away soquickly I could not follow him; but I know where he went! He fastenedthe nail in the heart of Thelma, deeply, so that the little drops ofblood flowed,—but she felt no pain; and then he tied the golden cord tothe nail and left her, carrying the other end of the string with him—towhom? Some other heart must be pierced! Whose heart?" Sigurd lookedinfinitely 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 thishapless creature, accursèd of God and man, is not placed in some properabode suitable to the treatment of his affliction. You, Britta, as thefavored servant of a—a—well, let us say, of a peculiar mistress,should persuade her to send this—this—person away, lest his vagariesbecome harmful."

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

"He's no more harmful than you are," she said promptly, in answer to theminister's remark. "He's a good fellow and if he talks strangely he canmake 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 strongoar, and sweep and keep the garden,—can't you, Sigurd?" She laid herhand on Sigurd's shoulder, and he nodded his head emphatically, as sheenumerated his different talents. "And as for climbing,—he can guideyou anywhere over the hills, or up the streams to the big waterfalls—noone better. And if you mean by peculiar,—that my mistress is differentto 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 housefor madmen! He'd die if he couldn't have the fresh air." She paused, outof breath with her rapid utterance, and Mr. Dyceworthy held up his handsin dignified astonishment.

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

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

Other thoughts, too, tortured and harrassed his brain, and as he againtook the oars and plied them wearily through the water, he was in anexceedingly unchristian humor. Though a specious hypocrite, he was nofool. He knew the ways of men and women, and he thoroughly realized thepresent position of affairs. He was quite aware of Thelma Güldmar'sexceptional beauty,—and he felt pretty certain that no man could lookupon her without admiration. But up to this time, she had been, as itwere, secluded from all eyes,—a few haymakers and fishermen were theonly persons of the male sex who had ever been within the precincts ofOlaf Güldmar's dwelling, with the exception of himself,Dyceworthy,—who, being armed with a letter of introduction from theactual minister of Bosekop, whose place, he, for the present, filled,had intruded his company frequently and persistently on the bonde andhis daughter, though he knew himself to be entirely unwelcome. He hadgathered together as much as he could, all the scraps of informationconcerning them; how Olaf Güldmar was credited with having made awaywith his wife by foul means; how nobody even knew where his wife hadcome from; how Thelma had been mysteriously educated, and had learnedstrange things concerning foreign lands, which no one else in the placeunderstood anything about; how she was reputed to be a witch, and wasbelieved to have cast her spells on the unhappy Sigurd, to thedestruction of his reason,—and how nobody could tell where Sigurdhimself had come from.

All this Mr. Dyceworthy had heard with much interest, and as the sensualpart of his nature was always more or less predominant, he had resolvedin his own mind that here was a field of action suitable to hisabilities. To tame and break the evil spirit in the reputed witch; toconvert her to the holy and edifying Lutheran faith; to save her soulfor the Lord, and take her beautiful body for himself; these were Mr.Dyceworthy's laudable ambitions. There was no rival to oppose him, andhe had plenty of time to mature his plans. So he had thought. He had notbargained for the appearance of Sir Philip Bruce Errington on thescene,—a man, young, handsome, and well-bred, with vast wealth to backup his pretensions, should he make any.

"How did he find her out?" thought the Reverend Charles, as he dolefullypulled his craft along. "And that brutal pagan Güldmar, too, whopretends he cannot endure strangers!"

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

"Let her take care," he half muttered, with a smile that was notpleasant; "let her take care! There are more ways than one to bring downher pride! Sir Philip Errington must be too rich and popular in his owncountry to think of wishing to marry a girl who is only a farmer'sdaughter after all. He may trifle with her; yes!... and he will helpme by so doing. The more mud on her name, the better for me; the moredisgrace, the more need of rescue, and the more grateful she will haveto be. Just a word to Ulrika,—and the scandal will spread. Patience,patience!"

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

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

"How long?" she said, "how long must I wait? How long must I watch thework of Satan in the land? The fields are barren and will not bringforth; the curse of bitter poverty is upon us all: and only he, thepagan Güldmar, prospers and gathers in harvest, while all around himstarve! Do I not know the devil's work when I see it,—I, the chosenservant of the Lord?" And she struck a tall staff she held violentlyinto the ground to emphasize her words. "Am I not left deserted in myage? The child Britta,—sole daughter of my sole daughter,—is she notstolen, and kept from me? Has not her heart been utterly turned awayfrom mine? All through that vile witch,—accursèd of God and man! She itis who casts the blight on our land; she it is who makes the hands andhearts of our men heavy and careless, so that even luck has left thefishing; and yet you hesitate,—you delay, you will not fulfill yourpromise! 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 swimaccording to her nature!"

"I know," murmured Ulrika humbly, raising herself slightly from herkneeling 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 dofor ourselves; he is wise and cautious—"

Lovisa interrupted her with a fierce gesture. "Fool!" she cried. "Whatneed of caution? A witch is a witch, burn her, drown her! There is noother remedy! But two days since, the child of my neighbor Engla passedher 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 HildmarBjorn were herded home when she passed by. Now they are seized by themurrain plague! Tell your good saint Dyceworthy these things; if he canfind 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 herstrong staff in a cruel and threatening manner.

"Hate her!" she muttered, "I have hated her ever since she was born! Ihated her mother before her! A nest of devils, every one of them; andthe 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 ofyours that is worth the keeping! I give you two weeks more; within thattime you must act! Destroy the witch,—bring back to me my grandchildBritta, or else—it will be my turn!"

And she laughed silently. Ulrika's face grew paler, and the hand thatgrasped 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 ThelmaGüldmar is indeed a witch?"

"How do I know?" almost yelled Lovisa. "Have I lived all these years fornothing? Look at her! Am I like her? Are you like her? Are any ofthe honest women of the neighborhood like her? Meet her on the hillswith knives and pins,—prick her, and see if the blood will flow! Iswear it will not—not one drop! Her skin is too white; there is noblood in those veins—only fire! Look at the pink in her cheeks,—thetransparency of her flesh,—the glittering light in her eyes, the goldof 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 everytime I saw her—ay! curse her till I was breathless with cursing—"

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

"One would think you had never known what love is!" she said, with asort of grim satire in her tone. "Yet even your dull soul was on fireonce! But I—when I was young, I had beauty such as you never had, and Iloved—Olaf Güldmar."

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

Lovisa raised her hand with an imperious gesture.

"I have grown hate like a flower in my breast," she said, with a sort ofstern impressiveness. "I have fostered it year after year, and now,—ithas grown too strong for me! When Olaf Güldmar was young he told me Iwas fair; once he kissed my cheek at parting! For those words,—for thatkiss,—I loved him then—for the same things I hate him now! When I knowhe had married, I cursed him; on the day of my own marriage with a man Idespised, I cursed him! I have followed him and all his surroundingswith more curses than there are hours in the day! I have had some littlerevenge—yes!"—and she laughed grimly—"but I want more! For Britta hasbeen caught by his daughter's evil spell. Britta is mine, and I musthave her back. Understand me well!—do what you have to do withoutdelay! Surely it is an easy thing to ruin a woman!"

Ulrika stood as though absorbed in meditation, and said nothing for somemoments. 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 infear of her. Tell him that if he will do nothing we will. And if allfails, come to me again; and remember!... I shall not only act,—Ishall speak!"

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

Ulrika followed more slowly, taking a different direction to that inwhich her late companion was seen rapidly disappearing. On returning tothe minister's dwelling, she found that Mr. Dyceworthy had not yet comeback from his boating excursion. She gave no explanation of her absenceto her two fellow-servants, but went straight up to her own room—a bareattic in the roof—where she deliberately took off her dress and baredher shoulders and breast. Then she knelt down on the rough boards, andclasping her hands, began to writhe and wrestle as though she wereseized with a sudden convulsion. She groaned and tortured the tears fromher eyes; she pinched her own flesh till it was black and blue, andscratched it with her nails till it bled,—and she prayed inaudibly, butwith evident desperation. Sometimes her gestures were frantic, sometimesappealing; but she made no noise that was loud enough to attractattention from any of the dwellers in the house. Her stolid featureswere contorted with anguish,—and had she been an erring nun of thecreed she held in such bitter abhorrence, who, for some untold crime,endured a self-imposed penance, she could not have punished her ownflesh much more severely.

She remained some quarter of an hour or twenty minutes thus; then risingfrom her knees, she wiped the tears from her eyes and re-clothedherself,—and with her usual calm, immovable aspect—though smartingfrom the injuries she had inflicted on herself—she descended to thekitchen, there to prepare Mr. Dyceworthy's tea with all the punctiliouscare and nicety befitting the meal of so good a man and so perfect asaint.

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 shieldtowards that part of the horizon where he rested a brief while withoutsetting, the Eulalie,—her white sails spread to the cool, refreshingbreeze,—swept gracefully and swiftly back to her old place on theFjord, and her anchor dropped with musical clank and splash, just as Mr.Dyceworthy entered his house, fatigued, perspiring, and ill-tempered atthe non-success of his day. All on board the yacht were at dinner—adinner of the most tasteful and elegant description, such as Sir PhilipErrington well knew how to order and superintend, and Thelma, leaningagainst the violet velvet cushions that were piled behind her for hergreater ease, looked,—as she indeed was,—the veritable queen of thefeast. Macfarlane and Duprèz had been rendered astonished and bashful byher 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 herfair hair, and tied under her rounded chin, she had taken them allcaptive—they were her abject slaves in heart, though they put on verycreditable airs of manly independence and nonchalance. Each man in hisdifferent way strove to amuse or interest her, except, strange to say,Errington himself, who, though deeply courteous to her, kept somewhat inthe background and appeared more anxious to render himself agreeable toold Olaf Güldmar, than to win the good graces of his lovely daughter.The girl was delighted with everything on board the yacht,—she admiredits elegance and luxury with child-like enthusiasm; she gloried in thespeed with which its glittering prow cleaved the waters; she clapped herhands at the hiss of the white foam as it split into a creaming pathwayfor the rushing vessel; and she was so unaffected and graceful in allher actions and attitudes, that the slow blood of the cautiousMacfarlane began to warm up by degrees to a most unwonted heat ofadmiration. When she had first arrived, Errington, in receiving her, hadseriously apologized for not having some lady to meet her, but sheseemed not to understand his meaning. Her naïve smile and franklyuplifted eyes put all his suddenly conceived notions of social stiffnessto 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 surewe shall be able to amuse you, Miss Güldmar."

"Oh,—for that!" she replied, with a little shrug that had somethingFrench about it, "I amuse myself always! I am amused now,—you must nottrouble yourselves!"

As she was introduced to Duprèz and Macfarlane, she gave them each aquaint, sweeping curtsy, which had the effect of making them feel themost ungainly lumbersome fellows on the face of the earth. Macfarlanegrew secretly enraged at the length of his legs,—while Pierre Duprèz,though his bow was entirely Parisian, decided in his own mind that itwas jerky, and not good style. She was perfectly unembarrassed with allthe young men; she laughed at their jokes, and turned her glorious eyesfull on them with the unabashed sweetness of innocence; she listened tothe accounts they gave her of their fishing and climbing excursions withthe most eager interest,—and in her turn, she told them of fresh nooksand streams and waterfalls, of which they had never even heard thenames. Not only were they enchanted with her, but they were thoroughlydelighted with her father, Olaf Güldmar. The sturdy old pagan was in thebest of humors,—and seemed determined to be pleased witheverything,—he told good stories,—and laughed that rollicking, joviallaugh of his with such unforced heartiness that it was impossible to bedull in his company,—and not one of Errington's companions gave athought to the reports concerning him and his daughter, which had beenso gratuitously related by Mr. Dyceworthy.

They had had a glorious day's sail, piloted by Valdemar Svensen, whoseastonishment at seeing the Güldmars on board the Eulalie was depictedin his face, but who prudently forebore from making any remarks thereon.The bonde hailed him good-humoredly as an old acquaintance,—much inthe tone of a master addressing a servant,—and Thelma smiled kindly athim,—but the boundary line between superior and inferior was in thiscase very strongly marked, and neither side showed any intention ofoverstepping it. In the course of the day, Duprèz had accidentallylapsed into French, whereupon to his surprise Thelma had answered him inthe same tongue,—though with a different and much softer pronunciation.Her "bien zoli!" had the mellifluous sweetness of the Provencaldialect, and on his eagerly questioning her, he learned that she hadreceived her education in a large convent at Arles, where she hadlearned French from the nuns. Her father overheard her talking of herschool-days, and he added—

"Yes, I sent my girl away for her education, though I know the teachingis good in Christiania. Yet it did not seem good enough for her.Besides, your modern 'higher education' is not the thing for awoman,—it is too heavy and commonplace. Thelma knows nothing aboutmathematics or algebra. She can sing and read and write,—and, what ismore, she can spin and sew; but even these things were not the firstconsideration with me. I wanted her disposition trained, and her bodilyhealth attended to. I said to those good women at Arles—'Lookhere,—here's a child for you! I don't care how much or how little sheknows about accomplishments. I want her to be sound and sweet from headto heel—a clean mind in a wholesome body. Teach her self-respect, andmake 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, nowI come to think of it, those nuns thought me an odd customer; but, atany rate, they seemed to understand me. Thelma was very happy with them,and considering all things"—the old man's eyes twinkled fondly—"shehasn't turned out so badly!"

They laughed,—and Thelma blushed as Errington's dreamy eyes rested onher with a look, which, though he was unconscious of it, spokepassionate admiration. The day passed too quickly with them all,—andnow, as they sat at dinner in the richly ornamented saloon, there wasnot one among them who could contemplate without reluctance theapproaching break-up of so pleasant a party. Dessert was served, and asThelma toyed with the fruit on her plate and sipped her glass ofchampagne, her face grew serious and absorbed,—even sad,—and shescarcely seemed to hear the merry chatter of tongues around her, tillErrington's voice asking a question of her father roused her into swiftattention.

"Do you know any one of the name of Sigurd?" he was saying, "a poorfellow whose wits are in heaven let us hope,—for they certainly are noton earth."

Olaf Güldmar's fine face softened with pity, and he replied—

"Sigurd? Have you met him then? Ah, poor boy, his is a sad fate! He haswit 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 abetter. Ay, ay! we snatched him from death—perhaps unwisely,—yet hehas a good heart, and finds pleasure in his life."

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

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

"Ah, my dear!" sighed her father. "Has he any motive at all?... anddoes he ever understand himself? His fancies change with every shiftingbreeze! 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 Thelmawas born, I was walking with my wife one day on the shore, when we bothcaught sight of something bumping against our little pier, like a largebox or basket. I managed to get hold of it with a boat-hook and drag itin; it was a sort of creel such as is used to pack fish in, and in itwas the naked body of a half-drowned child. It was an ugly littlecreature—a newly born infant deformity—and on its chest there was ahorrible scar in the shape of a cross, as though it had been gasheddeeply with a pen-knife. I thought it was dead, and was for throwing itback into the Fjord, but my wife,—a tender-hearted angel—took the poorwretched little wet body in her arms, and found that it breathed. Shewarmed it, dried it, and wrapped it in her shawl,—and after awhile thetiny 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 wetook the foundling and did the best we could for him. We gave him thename of Sigurd,—and when Thelma was born, the two babies used to playtogether 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 withhis wits. However, we humored him tenderly, and he was alwaysmanageable. Poor Sigurd! He adored my wife; I have known him listen forhours to catch the sound of her footstep; he would actually deck thethreshold with flowers in the morning that she might tread on them asshe passed by." The old bonds sighed and rubbed his hand across his eyeswith a gesture half of pain, half of impatience—"And now he is Thelma'sslave,—a regular servant to her. She can manage him best of us all,—heis as docile as a lamb, and will do anything she tells him."

"I am not surprised at that," said the gallant Duprèz; "there is reasonin 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 willone day be well in mind,—and every little sign of reason in him ispleasant to me."

Duprèz was silent. It was evidently no use making even an attempt atflattering this strange girl; surely she must be dense not to understandcompliments that most other women compel from the lips of men as theirright? He was confused—his Paris breeding was no use to him—in fact hehad been at a loss all day, and his conversation had, even to himself,seemed particularly shallow and frothy. This Mademoiselle Güldmar, as hecalled her, was by no means stupid—she was not a mere moving statue oflovely flesh and perfect color whose outward beauty was her onlyrecommendation,—she was, on the contrary, of a most superiorintelligence,—she had read much and thought more,—and the dignifiedelegance of her manner, and bearing would have done honor to a queen.After all, thought Duprèz musingly, the social creeds of Paris mightbe wrong—it was just possible! There might be women who werewomanly,—there might be beautiful girls who were neither vain norfrivolous,—there might even be creatures of the feminine sex, besideswhom a trained Parisian coquette would seem nothing more than a paintedfiend of the neuter gender. These were new and startling considerationsto the feather-light mind of the Frenchman,—and unconsciously his fancybegan to busy itself with the old romantic histories of the ancientFrench chivalry, when faith, and love, and loyalty, kept white thelilies of France, and the stately courtesy and unflinching pride of theancien régime made its name honored throughout the world. An odddirection indeed for Pierre Duprèz's reflection to wander in—he, whonever reflected on either past or future, but was content to fritteraway the present as pleasantly as might be—and the only reason to whichhis unusually serious reverie could be attributed was the presence ofThelma. She certainly had a strange influence on them all, though sheherself was not aware of it,—and not only Errington, but each one ofhis companions had been deeply considering during the day, thatnotwithstanding the unheroic tendency of modern living, life itselfmight be turned to good and even noble account, if only an effort weremade in the right direction.

Such was the compelling effect of Thelma's stainless mind reflected inher pure face, on the different dispositions of all the young men; andshe, perfectly unconscious of it, smiled at them, and conversedgaily,—little knowing as she talked, in her own sweet and unaffectedway, that the most profound resolutions were being formed, and the mostnoble and unselfish deeds, were being planned in the souls of herlisteners,—all forsooth! because one fair, innocent woman had, in theclear, grave glances of her wondrous sea-blue eyes, suddenly made themaware of their own utter unworthiness. Macfarlane, meditatively watchingthe girl from under his pale eyelashes, thought of Mr. Dyceworthy'smatrimonial pretensions, with a humorous smile hovering on his thinlips.

"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'saboot it,—he wad hae just as muckle chance o' acceptance."

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

"So you don't think we're making any progress nowadays?" inquired thelatter with an appearance of interest, and a lazy amusem*nt in his blueeyes as he put the question.

"Progress!" exclaimed Güldmar. "Not a bit of it! It is all a goingbackward; 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,—andthese things always happen to all nations when money becomes moreprecious to the souls of the people than honesty and honor. I take theuniversal wide-spread greed of gain to be one of the worst signs of thetimes,—the forewarning of some great upheaval and disaster, the effectsof which no human mind can calculate. I am told that America is destinedto be the dominating power of the future,—but I doubt it! Its politicsare too corrupt,—its people live too fast, and burn their candle atboth ends, which is unnatural and most unwholesome; moreover, it isalmost destitute of Art in its highest forms,—and is not its confessedwatchward 'the almighty Dollar?' And such a country as that expects toarrogate to itself the absolute sway of the world? I tell you, no—tenthousand times no! It is destitute of nearly everything that has madenations great and all-powerful in historic annals,—and my belief isthat what, has been, will be again,—and that what has never been, willnever be."

"You mean by that, I suppose, that there is no possibility of doinganything new,—no way of branching out in some, better and untrieddirection?" asked Errington.

Olaf Güldmar shook his head emphatically. "You can't do it," he saiddecisively. "Everything in every way has been begun and completed andthen forgotten over and over in this world,—to be begun and completedand forgotten again, and so on to the end of the chapter. No one nationis better than another in this respect,—there is,—there can be nothingnew. Norway, for example, has had its day; whether it will ever haveanother 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. Güldmar, hadyou lived in the old days," he said with a smile.

"I should, indeed!" returned the old man, with an unconsciously haughtygesture of his head; "and no better fate could have befallen me! To sailthe seas in hot pursuit of one's enemies, or in search of furtherconquest,—to feel the very wind and sun beating up the blood in one'sveins,—to live the life of a man—a true man!... in all the prideand worth of strength, and invincible vigor!—how much better than thepuling, feeble, sickly existence, led by the majority of men to-day! Idwell apart from them as much as I can,—I steep my mind and body in thejoys of Nature, and the free fresh air,—but often I feel that the olddays of the heroes must have been best,—when Gorm the Bold and thefierce Siegfried seized Paris, and stabled their horses in the chapelwhere Charlemagne lay buried!"

Pierre Duprèz looked up with a faint smile. "Ah, pardon! But that wassurely a very long time ago!"

"True!" said Güldmar quietly. "And no doubt you will not believe thestory at this distance of years. But the day is coming when people willlook back on the little chronicle of your Empire,—your commune,—yourrepublic, all your little affairs, and will say, 'Surely these thingsare myths; they occurred—if they occurred at all,—a very long timeago!"

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

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

"There's more dignity in the name, at any rate," said Lorimer. "But Isay, Mr. Güldmar, you are 'up' in history much better than I am. Theannals 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 ridof his wives expeditiously and conveniently,—and I distinctly rememberthat Queen Elizabeth wore the first pair of silk stockings, and danced akind of jig in them with the Earl of Leicester; these things interestedme at the time,—and they now seen firmly impressed on my memory to theexclusion of everything else that might possibly be more important."

Old Güldmar smiled, but Thelma laughed outright and her eyes dancedmirthfully.

"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 understandyou,—that is, you are a very great scholar,—but that it pleases you topretend you are a dunce!"

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

"I assure you, Miss Güldmar, I am not pretending in the least. I'm noscholar. Errington is, if you like! If it hadn't been for him, I shouldnever have learned anything at Oxford at all. He used to leap over adifficulty while I was looking at it. Phil, don't interrupt me,—youknow you did! I tell you he's up to everything: Greek, Latin, and allthe rest of it,—and, what's more, he writes well,—I believe,—thoughhe'll never forgive me for mentioning it,—that he has even publishedsome poems."

"Be quiet, George!" exclaimed Errington, with a vexed laugh. "You areboring Miss Güldmar to death!"

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

Errington colored hotly. "They are all nonsense, Miss Güldmar," he saidquickly. "There's nothing 'sweet' about them, I tell you frankly! Allrubbish, every line of them!"

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

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

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

"Skald?" queried Lorimer dubiously. "Oh, you mean bard. I suppose youallude to Shakespeare?"

"I do," said the old bonde enthusiastically, "he is the only glory ofyour country I envy! I would give anything to prove him a Norwegian. ByValhalla! had he but been one of the Bards of Odin, the world might havefollowed the grand old creed still! If anything could ever persuade meto be a Christian, it would be the fact that Shakespeare was one. IfEngland's name is rendered imperishable, it will be through the fame ofShakespeare alone,—just as we have a kind of tenderness for degradedmodern Greece, because of Homer. Ay, ay! countries and nations areworthless enough; it is only the great names of heroes that endure, toteach the lesson that is never learned sufficiently,—namely, that manand man alone is fitted to grasp the prize of immortality."

"Ye believe in immortality?" inquired Macfarlane seriously.

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

"Believe in it? I possess it! How can it be taken from me? As well makea bird without wings, a tree without sap, an ocean without depths, asexpect 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'sfervor,—for had not he, though himself intending to become a devoutminister of the Word,—had not he now and then felt a creeping doubt asto whether, after all, there was any truth in the doctrine of anotherlife than this one. "I only thocht ye might have perhaps questioned theprobabeelity o't, in your own mind?"

"I never question Divine authority," replied Olaf Güldmar, "I pity thosethat do!"

"And this Divine authority?" said Duprèz suddenly with a delicatesarcastic smile, "how and where do you perceive it?"

"In the very Law that compels me to exist, young sir," saidGüldmar,—"in the mysteries of the universe about me,—the glory of theheavens,—the wonders of the sea! You have perhaps lived in cities allyour life, and your mind is cramped a bit. No wonder,... you canhardly see the stars above the roofs of a wilderness of houses. Citiesare men's work,—the gods have never had a finger in the building ofthem. Dwelling in them, I suppose you cannot help forgetting Divineauthority altogether; but here,—here among the mountains, you wouldsoon remember it! You should live here,—it would make a man of you!"

"And you do not consider me a man?" inquired Duprèz with imperturbablegood-humor.

Güldmar laughed. "Well, not quite!" he admitted candidly, "there's notenough muscle about you. I confess I like to see strong fellows—fellowsfit to rule the planet on which they are placed. That's my whim!—butyou'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 glassof his host's fine Burgundy, and drank it off, while Duprèz, with ahalf-plaintive, half-comical shrug of resignation to Güldmar's verdicton his personal appearance, asked Thelma if she would favor them with asong. She rose from her seat instantly, without any affected hesitation,and went to the piano. She had a delicate touch, and accompanied herselfwith great taste,—but her voice, full, penetrating, rich and true,—wasone of the purest and most sympathetic ever possessed by woman, and itsfreshness was unspoilt by any of the varied "systems" of tortureinvented by singing-masters for the ingenious destruction of thedelicate vocal organ. She sang a Norwegian love-song in the originaltongue, 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 wereignorant of the meaning of the words still old Güldmar translated themfor their benefit, they could feel the intensity of the passionvibrating through her ringing tones,—and Errington sighedinvoluntarily. She heard the sigh, and turned round on the music-stoollaughing.

"Are you so tired, or sad, or what is it?" she asked merrily. "It is toomelancholy a tune? And I was foolish to sing it,—because you cannotunderstand the meaning of it. It is all about love,—and of course loveis always sorrowful."

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

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

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

"Men shouldn't sing," observed Lorimer; "if they only knew how awfullyridiculous they look, standing up in dress-coats and white ties, pouringforth 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 amagreeable to you when I sing?"

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

"You must not say so many things in praise of me," she said, with aswift upward glance at Errington, where he leaned on the piano regardingher. "It is nothing to be able to sing. It is only like the birds, butwe cannot understand the words they say, just as you cannot understandNorwegian. Listen,—here is a little ballad you will all know," and sheplayed 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 préludait à peine;
Une colombe descend
En passant,
Blanche sur le luth d'ébène"

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

She sang this seriously and sweetly till she came to the last threelines, when, catching Errington's earnest gaze, her voice quivered andher 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 andgratified looks—

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

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

Güldmar acquiesced in this arrangement, before his daughter had time toraise any objection, and they all went on deck, where a comfortablelounging chair was placed for Thelma, facing the most gorgeous portionof the glowing sky, which on this evening was like a moving mass ofmolten gold, split asunder here and there by angry ragged-looking riftsof crimson. The young men grouped themselves together at the prow of thevessel in order to smoke their cigars without annoyance to Thelma. OldGüldmar did not smoke, but he talked,—and Errington after seeing themall fairly absorbed in an argument on the best methods of spearingsalmon, moved quietly away to where the girl was sitting, her greatpensive eyes fixed on the burning splendors of the heavens.

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

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

Philip looked at the hood as she drew it more closely over her head, andthought that surely no more becoming article of apparel ever wasdesigned for woman's wear. He had never seen anything like it either incolor or texture,—it was of a peculiarly warm, rich crimson, like theheart 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 lowertone, "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. Ithought—"

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

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

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

"Glad to know your name? glad to know you! Of course! Can you ask sucha question?"

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

What a foolish rush of passion filled his heart as she spoke in thosemellow, almost plaintive accents,—what wild words leaped to his lipsand what an effort it cost him to keep them hack. The heat andimpetuosity of Romeo,—whom up to the present he had been inclined toconsider a particularly stupid youth,—was now quite comprehensible tohis mind, and he, the cool, self-possessed Englishman, was ready at thatmoment to outrival Juliet's lover, in his utmost excesses of amorousfolly. In spite of his self-restraint, his voice quivered a little as heanswered her—

"I shall never forget the Altenfjord or you, Miss Güldmar. Don't youknow there are some things that cannot be forgotten? such as a suddenglimpse of fine scenery,—a beautiful song, or a pathetic poem?" Shebent her head in assent. "And here there is so much to remember—thelight of the midnight sun,—the glorious mountains, the loveliness ofthe whole land!"

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

"Much better!" returned Sir Philip fervently. "In fact, there is noplace like it in my opinion." He paused at the sound of her prettylaughter.

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

"Of course I have," he replied. "I have been all over theContinent,—travelled about it till I'm tired of it. Do you like thesouth 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 arestern and sullen. My father loves to sail the seas, and when I firstwent to school at Arles, he took me a long and beautiful voyage. We wentfrom Christiansund to Holland, and saw all those pretty Dutch citieswith their canals and quaint bridges. Then we went through the EnglishChannel to Brest,—then by the Bay of Biscay to Bayonne. Bayonne seemedto me very lovely, but we left it soon, and travelled a long way byland, seeing all sorts of wonderful things, till we came to Arles. Andthough it is such a long route, and not one for many persons to take, Ihave travelled to Arles and back twice that way, so all there isfamiliar 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?" askedPhilip rather curiously.

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

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

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

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

"It is possible I will tell you her history some day," she said, "whenwe shall know each other better. I do like to talk to you very much! Isuppose 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 saidslowly, "and they are stupid. They shoot, shoot,—fish, fish, all day,and eat a great deal...."

"My dear Miss Güldmar, I also do all these things!" declared Erringtonamusedly. "These are only our surface faults. Englishmen are the bestfellows to be found anywhere. You mustn't judge them by their athleticsports, or their vulgar appetites. You must appeal to their hearts whenyou want to know them."

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

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

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

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

"By Jove!" and Lorimer looked profoundly astonished. "Why, Miss Güldmar,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 ofmodern feminine accomplishments."

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

Errington laughed, and Lorimer appeared stupefied with surprise.

"The men—would—not—allow them?" he repeated slowly. "Oh, MissGüldmar, 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 thepower 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 havingher own way."

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

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

"It is everybody's opinion, of course!" averred Thelma. "How foolish itwould 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 persuasiveair, "Father dear, is it not time to say good-bye?"

"Truly I think it is!" returned Güldmar, giving himself a shake like anold lion, as he broke off a rather tedious conversation he had beenhaving with Macfarlane. "We shall have Sigurd coming to look for us, andpoor Britta will think we have left her too long alone. Thank you, mylad!" this to Sir Philip, who instantly gave orders for the boat to belowered. "You have given us a day of thorough, wholesome enjoyment. Ihope I shall be able to return it in some way. You must let me see asmuch of you as possible."

They shook hands cordially, and Errington proposed to escort them backas far as their own pier, but this offer Güldmar 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 athing! And now, regarding the great fall of Njedegorze; Mr. Macfarlanehere says you have not visited it yet. Well the best guide you can havethere is Sigurd. We'll make up a party and go when it is agreeable toyou; it is a grand sight,—well worth seeing. To-morrow we shall meetagain for the salmon-spearing,—I warrant I shall be able to make thetime pass quickly for you! How long do you think of staying here?"

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

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

"Ah, yes!" added Thelma gently, coming up at that moment and laying hersoft hand in his. "I have been so happy all day, and it is all yourkindness! 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. Itrust 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, wavingtheir hats and watching them disappear over the gleaming water, till thevery last glimpse of Thelma's crimson hood had vanished, and then theyturned to rejoin their companions, who were strolling up and downsmoking.

"Belle comme un ange!" said Duprèz briefly. "In short, I doubt if theangels are so good-looking!"

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

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

Sandy made no reply, and as Errington persisted in turning theconversation away from the merits or demerits of their recent guests,they soon entered on other topics. But that night, before retiring torest, 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 LadyBruce-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!" Thenafter a pause he said, somewhat abruptly, "Time to turn in—good night!"

"Good night, old fellow!" And Errington wrung his hand warmly, and lefthim 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 hemuttered in his sleep,—"No doubt about it—not the least in theworld—and if there were—"

But the conclusion of this sentence was inaudible.

CHAPTER XI.

"Tu vas faire un beau rève,
Et t'enivrer d'un plaisir dangereux.
Sur ton chemin l'étoile qui se leve
Longtemps encore éblouira les yeux!"

DE MUSSET.

A fortnight passed. The first excursion in the Eulalie had beenfollowed by others of a similar kind, and Errington's acquaintance withthe Güldmars was fast ripening into a pleasant intimacy. It had growncustomary for the young men to spend that part of the day which, inspite of persistent sunshine, they still called evening, in thecomfortable, quaint parlor of the old farmhouse,—looking at the viewthrough the rose-wreathed windows,—listening to the fantastic legendsof Norway as told by Olaf Güldmar,—or watching Thelma's picturesquefigure, as she sat pensively apart in her shadowed corner spinning. Theyhad fraternized with Sigurd too—that is, as far as he would permitthem—for the unhappy dwarf was uncertain of temper, and if at one hourhe were docile and yielding as a child, the next he would be foundexcited and furious at some imaginary slight that he fancied had beeninflicted upon him. Sometimes, if good-humored, he would talk almostrationally,—only allowing his fancy to play with poetical ideasconcerning the sea, the flowers, or the sunlight,—but he was far moreoften sullen and silent. He would draw a low chair to Thelma's side, andsit there with half-closed eyes and compressed lips, and none could tellwhether he listened to the conversation around him, or was utterlyindifferent to it. He had taken a notable fancy to Lorimer, but heavoided Errington in the most marked and persistent manner. The latterdid his best to overcome this unreasonable dislike, but his efforts wereuseless,—and deciding in his own mind that it was best to humorSigurd's vagaries, he soon let him alone, and devoted his attention moreentirely to Thelma.

One evening, after supper at the farmhouse, Lorimer, who for some timehad been watching Philip and Thelma conversing together in low tonesnear the open window, rose from his seat quietly, without disturbing thehilarity of the bonde, who was in the middle of a rollickingsea-story, told for Macfarlane's entertainment,—and slipped out intothe garden, where he strolled along rather absently till he foundhimself in the little close thicket of pines,—the very same spot wherehe and Philip had stood on the first day of their visit thither. Hethrew himself down on the soft emerald moss and lit a cigar, sighingrather drearily as he did so.

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

The inner self he thus addressed was most probably abashed by thisadjuration, for his countenance cleared a little, as though he hadreceived an apology from his own conscience. He puffed lazily at hiscigar, and felt somewhat soothed. Light steps below him attracted hisattention, and, looking down from the little knoll on which he lay, hesaw Thelma and Philip pass. They were walking slowly along a littlewinding path that led to the orchard, which was situated at some littledistance from the house. The girl's head was bent, and Philip wastalking to her with evident eagerness. Lorimer looked after themearnestly, and his honest eyes were full of trouble.

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

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

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

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

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

Lorimer laughed languidly. "By Jove, Sigurd, you're too clever for yourage! Think I came away to grieve, eh? Not so, my boy—came away tosmoke! There's a come-down for you! I never grieve—don't know how to doit. What is grief?"

"To love!" answered Sigurd promptly. "To see a beautiful elf with goldenwings come fluttering, fluttering gently down from the sky,—you openyour arms to catch her—so!... and just as you think you have her, sheleans only a little bit on one side, and falls, not into yourheart—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, atany rate,—good things may come for others,—but for you the heavensare empty!"

Lorimer was silent, looking at the speaker curiously.

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

"I do not know," replied Sigurd with a sigh. "It comes! But, tellme,"—and he smiled wistfully—"it is true, dear friend—good friend—itis 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, hesaid in his usual indolent way—

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

The dwarf studied his face attentively, and a smile of almost fiendishcunning suddenly illumined his thin features. He laid his weak-lookingwhite 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 thatLorimer positively recoiled from the accents, and the terrible lookwhich accompanied them.

"I say, Sigurd, this won't do," he remonstrated gravely. "You mustn'ttalk about killing, you know! It's not good for you. People don't killeach 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 bedone, and either you or I will do it! He shall not rob us,—he shall notsteal the treasure of the golden midnight. He shall not gather the roseof 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, cruelErrington...."

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

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

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

"Well, mind you remember it! The spirits tell lies, my boy, if they saythat 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 hiswords, and his face had an expression that was both noble and resolute.

Sigurd still gazed upon him. "And you,—you do not love Thelma?" hemurmured.

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

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

But Sigurd would not accompany him. He sprang away like a frightenedanimal, in haste, and abruptly plunging into the depths of a wood thatbordered on Olaf Güldmar's grounds, was soon lost to sight. Lorimerlooked after him in a little perplexity.

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

And once or twice during that same evening, he felt inclined to speak toErrington on the subject, but no suitable opportunity presenteditself—and after a while, with his habitual indolence, he partly forgotthe circ*mstance.

On the following Sunday afternoon Thelma sat alone under the wideblossom-covered porch, reading. Her father and Sigurd,—accompanied byErrington and his friends,—had all gone for a mountain ramble,promising to return for supper, a substantial meal which Britta wasalready busy preparing. The afternoon was very warm,—one of those long,lazy stretches of heat and brilliancy in which Nature seems to have laindown to rest like a child tired of play, sleeping in the sunshine withdrooping flowers in her hands. The very ripple of the stream seemedhushed, and Thelma, though her eyes were bent seriously on the book sheheld, sighed once or twice heavily as though she were tired. There was achange in the girl,—an undefinable something seemed to have passed overher and toned down the redundant brightness of her beauty. She waspaler,—and there were darker shadows than usual under the splendor ofher eyes. Her very attitude, as she leaned her head against the dark,fantastic carving of the porch, had a touch of listlessness andindifference in it; her sweetly arched lips drooped with a plaintivelittle 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-filledgarden, to the little silvery glimmer of the Fjord from whence arose,like delicate black streaks against the sky, the slender masts of theEulalie,—and then she would resume her reading with a slight movementof impatience.

The volume she held was Victor Hugo's "Orientales," and though hersensitive imagination delighted in poetry as much as in sunshine, shefound it for once hard to rivet her attention as closely as she wishedto do, on the exquisite wealth of language, and glow of color, thatdistinguishes the writings of the Shakespeare of France. Within thehouse Britta was singing cheerily at her work, and the sound of her songalone disturbed the silence. Two or three pale-blue butterflies danceddrowsily in and out a cluster of honeysuckle that trailed downwards,nearly touching Thelma's shoulder, and a diminutive black kitten, with apink ribbon round its neck, sat gravely on the garden path, washing itsface with its tiny velvety paws, in that deliberate and precise fashion,common to the spoiled and petted members of its class. Everything wasstill and peaceful as became a Sunday afternoon,—so that when the soundof a heavy advancing footstep disturbed the intense calm, the girl wasalmost nervously startled, and rose from her seat with so muchprecipitation, that the butterflies, who had possibly been consideringwhether her hair might not be some new sort of sunflower, took frightand flew far upwards, and the demure kitten scared out of its absurdself-consciousness, scrambled hastily up the nearest little tree. Theintruder on the quietude of Güldmar's domain was the Rev. Mr.Dyceworthy,—and as Thelma, standing erect in the porch, beheld himcoming, her face grew stern and resolute, and her eyes flasheddisdainfully.

Ignoring the repellant, almost defiant dignity of the girl's attitude,Mr. Dyceworthy advanced, rather out of breath and somewhat heated,—andsmiling benevolently, nodded his head by way of greeting, withoutremoving his hat.

"Ah, Fröken Thelma!" he observed condescendingly. "And how are youto-day? You look remarkably well—remarkably so, indeed!" And he eyedher 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, entertainourselves excellently without him! It is with you alone, Fröken, that Iam desirous to hold converse."

And, without waiting for her permission, he entered the porch, andsettled himself comfortably on the bench opposite to her, heaving a sighof relief as he did so. Thelma remained standing—and the Lutheranminister's covetous eye glanced greedily over the sweeping curves of herqueenly figure, the dazzling whiteness of her slim arched throat, andthe glitter of her rich hair. She was silent—and there was something inher manner as she confronted him that made it difficult for Mr.Dyceworthy to speak. He hummed and hawed several times, and settled hisstiff collar once or twice as though it hurt him; finally he said withan 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 hiswaistcoat pocket, a small parcel wrapped up in tissue paper, which heundid with his fat fingers, thus displaying the little crucifix he hadkept so long in his possession. "Concerning this," he went on, holdingit up before her, "I am grievously troubled,—and would fain say a fewnecessary 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 tenderaccents, with a mist as of unshed tears in her sweet blue eyes. "It wasround her neck when she died. I knew I had lost it, and was very unhappyabout 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 sweetsmile of hers,—shone forth like a gleam of sunshine athwart a cloud.

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

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

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

"I do not see that at all!" she replied frigidly. "Friendship is veryrare. To be friends, one must have similar tastes and sympathies,—manythings which we have not,—and which we shall never have. I am slow tocall 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' happensto be a rich Englishman with a handsome face and easy manners!... thenyou are not slow to make friends, Fröken,—on the contrary, you areremarkably quick!"

The cold haughty stare with which the girl favored him might have frozena 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. Heanswered her in the mildest of mild voices.

"You are unlike yourself, my dear Fröken!" he said, with a soothinggesture of one of his well-trimmed white hands. "You are generally frankand open, but to-day I find you just a little,—well!—what shall Isay—secretive! Yes, we will call it secretive! Oh, fie!" and Mr.Dyceworthy laughed a gentle little laugh; "you must not pretendignorance of what I mean! All the neighborhood is talking of you and thegentleman you are so often seen with. Notably concerning Sir PhilipErrington,—the vile tongue of rumor is busy,—for, according to hisfirst plans when his yacht arrived here, he was bound for the NorthCape,—and should have gone there days ago. Truly, I think,—and thereare others who think also in the same spirit of interest for you,—thatthe sooner this young man leaves our peaceful Fjord the better,—and theless he has to do with the maidens of the district, the safer we shallbe 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 ofothers? No others are interested in what I do? Why should they be? Whyshould you be? There is no need!"

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

"Oh, you wrong yourself, my dear Fröken," he murmured softly, with asickly attempt at tenderness in his tone. "You really wrong yourself! Itis impossible,—for me at least, not to be interested in you,—even forour dear Lord's sake. It troubles me to the inmost depths of my soul tobehold in you one of the foolish virgins whose light hath beenextinguished for lack of the saving oil,—to see you wandering as a lostsheep in the paths of darkness and error, without a hand to rescue yoursteps from the near and dreadful precipice! Ay, truly!... my spirityearneth for you as a mother for an own babe—fain would I save you fromthe devices of the evil one,—fain would I—" here the minister drew outhis handkerchief and pressed it lightly to his eyes,—then, as if withan effort overcoming his emotion, he added, with the gravity of abutcher presenting an extortionate bill, "but first,—before my ownhumble 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, shewaited somewhat impatiently.

"The image I have just restored to you," went on Mr. Dyceworthy in hismost 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 youimagine, so you think,—you must have been too young to judge of thesethings. She died—"

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

Mr. Dyceworthy coughed,—a little cough of quiet incredulity. He was notfond of sentiment in any form, and the girl's dreamily pensive mannerannoyed him. Death "beautiful?" Faugh! it was the one thing of allothers that he dreaded; it was an unpleasant necessity, concerning whichhe thought as little as possible. Though he preached frequently on thepeace of the grave and the joys of heaven,—he was far from believing ineither,—he was nervously terrified of illness, and fled like afrightened hare from the very rumor of any infectious disorder, and hehad never been known to attend a death-bed. And now, in answer toThelma, 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 mostimperative that you should be brought to recognize it as a purely carnalobject, unfitting a maiden's eyes to rest upon. The true followers ofthe Gospel are those who strive to forget the sufferings of our dearLord as much as possible,—or to think of them only in spirit. The mindsof sinners, alas! are easily influenced,—and it is both unseemly anddangerous to gaze freely upon the carven semblance of the Lord's limbs!Yea, truly, it hath oft been considered as damnatory to the soul,—moreespecially in the cases of women immured as nuns, who encouragethemselves in an undue familiarity with our Lord, by gazing long andearnestly upon his body nailed to the accursèd tree."

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

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

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

"Oh, say not so!" exclaimed the minister, now thoroughly roused to apitch of unctuous enthusiasm. "Say not so. Poor child! who knowest notthe meaning of the word used. Catholic signifies universal. God forbid auniversal Papacy! You are not a Catholic—no! You are a Roman—by whichname 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 myspiritual sinews to the task,—I will obtain the victory,—I willexorcise the fiend! Alas, alas! you are on the brink of hell—think ofit!" and Mr. Dyceworthy stretched out his hand with his favorite pulpitgesture. "Think of the roasting and burning,—the scorching andwithering of souls! Imagine, if you can, the hopeless, bitter, eternaldamnation," and here he smacked his lips as though he were tastingsomething excellent,—"from which there is no escape!... for whichthere 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 ofpurgatory—there is always a little hope!"

"There is none! there is none!" exclaimed the minister rising inexcitement from his seat, and swaying ponderously to and fro as hegesticulated with hands and head. "You are doomed,—doomed! There is nomiddle course between hell and heaven. It must be one thing or theother; God deals not in half-measures! Pause, oh pause, ere you decideto fall! Even at the latest hour the Lord desires to save yoursoul,—the Lord yearns for your redemption, and maketh me to yearn also.Fröken Thelma!" and Mr. Dyceworthy's voice deepened in solemnity, "thereis a way which the Lord hath whispered in mine ears,—a way thatpointeth to the white robe and the crown of glory,—a way by which youshall possess the inner peace of the heart with bliss on earth as theforerunner 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 girlwas not so thoroughly self-possessed. Any sign of timidity in her wouldhave given him an increase of hardihood. But her eyes were coldlybrilliant, and glanced him over without the smallest embarrassment. Hetook refuge in his never-failing remedy, his benevolent smile—a smilethat covered a multitude of hypocrisies.

"You ask a plain question, Fröken," he said sweetly, "and I should beloth not to give you a plain answer. That way-that glorious way ofsalvation for you is—through me!"

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

She moved with a slight gesture of impatience. "It is a pity to talk anymore," she said rather wearily. "It is all no use! Why do you wish tochange me in my religion? I do not wish to change you. I do not seewhy 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 apity to talk any more? Why should we say it is all no use? It is ofuse,—it is noble, it is edifying to converse of the Lord's goodpleasure! And what is His good pleasure at this moment? To unite twosouls in His service! Yea, He hath turned my desire towards you, FrökenThelma,—even as Jacob's desire was towards Rachel! Let me see thishand." He made a furtive grab at the white taper fingers that playedlistlessly with the jessamine leaves on the porch, but the girldexterously withdrew them from his clutch and moved a little furtherback, her face flushing proudly. "Oh, will it not come to me? Cruelhand!" and he rolled his little eyes with an absurdly sentimental air ofreproach. "It is shy—it will not clasp the hand of its protector! Donot be afraid, Fröken!... I, Charles Dyceworthy, am not the man totrifle with your young affections! Let them rest where they have flown!I accept them! Yea!... in spite of wrath and error and moraldestitution,—my spirit inclineth towards you,—in the language ofcarnal men, I love you! More than this, I am willing to take you as mylawful wife—"

He broke off abruptly, somewhat startled at the bitter scorn of theflashing eyes that, like two quivering stars, were blazing upon him. Hervoice, clear as a bell ringing in frosty air, cut through the silencelike a sweep of a sword-blade.

"How dare you!" she said, with a wrathful thrill in her low, intensetones. "How dare you come here to insult me!"

Insult her! He,—the Reverend Charles Dyceworthy,—considered guilty ofinsult in offering honorable marriage to a mere farmer's daughter! Hecould not believe his own ears,—and in his astonishment he looked up ather. Looking, he recoiled and shrank into himself, like a convictedknave before some queenly accuser. The whole form of the girl seemed todilate with indignation. From her proud mouth, arched like a bow, sprangbarbed 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 Inever thought you would—" She paused, and a little disdainful laughbroke from her lips. "You would make me your wife—me? You thinkme likely to accept such an offer?" And she drew herself up with asuperb gesture, and regarded him fixedly.

"Oh, pride, pride!" murmured the unabashed Dyceworthy, recovering fromthe momentary abasem*nt into which he had been thrown by her look andmanner. "How it overcometh our natures and mastereth our spirits! Mydear, my dearest Fröken,—I fear you do not understand me! Yet it isnatural that you should not; you were not prepared for the offer ofmy—my affections,"—and he beamed all over with benevolence,—"and Ican appreciate a maidenly and becoming coyness, even though it assumethe form of a repellant and unreasonable anger. But take courage, my—mydear girl!—our Lord forbid that I should wantonly play with thedelicate emotions of your heart! Poor little heart! does it flutter?"and Mr. Dyceworthy leered sweetly. "I will give it time to recoveritself! Yes, yes! a little time! and then you will put that pretty handin mine"—here he drew nearer to her, "and with one kiss we will sealthe compact!"

And he attempted to steal his arm round her waist, but the girl sprangback indignantly, and pulling down a thick branch of the clamberingprickly roses from the porch, held it in front of her by way ofprotection. Mr. Dyceworthy laughed indulgently.

"Very pretty—very pretty indeed!" he mildly observed, eyeing her as shestood at bay barricaded by the roses. "Quite a picture! There, there! donot be frightened,—such shyness is very natural! We will embrace in theLord another day! In the meantime one little word—the word—willsuffice me,—yea, even one little smile,—to show me that you understandmy words,—that you love me"—here he clasped his plump hands togetherin flabby ecstasy—"even as you are loved!"

His absurd attitude,—the weak, knock-kneed manner in which his clumsylegs seemed, from the force of sheer sentiment, to bend under hisweighty body, and the inanely amatory expression of his puffycountenance, would have excited most women to laughter,—and Thelma wasperfectly conscious of his utterly ridiculous appearance, but she wastoo 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 sparkledvindictively,—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 aspirit of charity and patience, reason out this matter without undueexcitement. My ears have most painfully heard your last words, which,taken literally, might mean that you reject my honorable offer. Thequestion is, do they mean this? I cannot,—I will not believe that youwould foolishly stand in the way of your own salvation,"—and he shookhis head with doleful gentleness. "Moreover, Fröken Thelma, though itsorely distresses me to speak of it,—it is my duty, as a minister ofthe Lord, to remind you that an honest marriage,—a marriage of virtueand respectability such as I propose, is the only way to restore yourreputation,—which, alas! is sorely damaged, and—"

Mr. Dyceworthy stopped abruptly, a little alarmed, as she suddenly castaside the barrier of roses and advanced toward him, her blue eyesblazing.

"My reputation!" she said haughtily. "Who speaks of it?"

"Oh dear, dear me!" moaned the minister pathetically. "Sad!... verysad to see so ungovernable a temper, so wild and untrained adisposition! Alas, alas! how frail we are without the Lord'ssupport,—without the strong staff of the Lord's mercy to lean upon! NotI, my poor child, not I, but the whole village speaks of you; to you theignorant people attribute all the sundry evils that of late have fallensorely upon them,—bad harvests, ill-luck with the fishing, poverty,sickness,"—here Mr. Dyceworthy pressed the tips of his fingersdelicately together, and looked at her with a benevolentcompassion,—"and they call it witchcraft,—yes! strange, very strange!But so it is,—ignorant as they are, such ignorance is not easilyenlightened,—and though I," he sighed, "have done my poor best todisabuse their minds of the suspicions against you, I find it is amatter in which I, though a humble mouthpiece of the Gospel, ampowerless—quite powerless!"

She relaxed her defiant attitude, and moved away from him; the shadow ofa smile was on her lips.

"It is not my fault if the people are foolish," she said coldly; "I havenever done harm to any one that I know of." And turning abruptly, sheseemed about to enter the house, but the minister dexterously placedhimself in her way, and barred her passage.

"Stay, oh, stay!" he exclaimed with unctuous fervor. "Pause, unfortunategirl, ere you reject the strong shield and buckler that the Lord has, inHis great mercy, offered you, in my person! For I must warn you,—FrökenThelma, I must warn you seriously of the danger you run! I will not painyou by referring to the grave charges brought against your father, whois, 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 ofmysterious and weighty reproach,—"what shall I say of your mostunseemly and indiscreet companionship with these worldly young men whoare visiting the Fjord for their idle pastime? Ah dear, dear! This isindeed a heavy scandal and a sore burden to my soul,—for up to thistime I have, in spite of many faults in your disposition, considered youwere 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 tobe the plaything of this idle stroller from the wicked haunts offashion,—the hour's toy of this Sir Philip Errington! Fröken Thelma, Iwould never have believed it of you!" And he drew himself up withponderous and sorrowful dignity.

A burning blush had covered Thelma's face at the mention of Errington'sname, but it soon faded, leaving her very pale. She changed her positionso that she confronted Mr. Dyceworthy,—her clear blue eyes regarded himsteadfastly.

"Is this what is said of me?" she asked calmly.

"It is,—it is, most unfortunately!" returned the minister, shaking hisbullet-like head a great many times; then, with a sort of elephantinecheerfulness, he added, "but what matter? There is time to remedy thesethings. I am willing to set myself as a strong barrier against the evilnoises of rumor! Am I selfish or ungenerous? The Lord forbid it! Nomatter how I am compromised, no matter how I am misjudged,—I amstill willing to take you as my lawful wife Fröken Thelma,—but," andhere he shook his forefinger at her with a pretended playfulness, "Iwill permit no more converse with Sir Philip Errington; no, no! I cannotallow it!... I cannot, indeed!"

She still looked straight at him,—her bosom rose and fell rapidly withher passionate breath, and there was such an eloquent breath of scorn inher 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 atremor in her rich voice. "One must have something to be angry with, andyou—you are nothing! Neither man nor beast,—for men are brave, andbeasts tell no lies! Your wife! I!" and she laughed aloud,—then with agesture of command, "Go!" she exclaimed, "and never let me see your faceagain!"

The clear scornful laughter,—the air of absolute authority with whichshe spoke,—would have stung the most self-opinionated of men, eventhough his conscience were enveloped in a moral leather casing ofhypocrisy and arrogance. And, notwithstanding his invariable air ofmildness, Mr. Dyceworthy had a temper. That temper rose to a white heatjust now,—every drop of blood receded from his countenance,—and hissoft hands clenched themselves in a particularly ugly and threateningmanner. Yet he managed to preserve his suave composure.

"Alas, alas!" he murmured. "How sorely my soul is afflicted to see youthus, Fröken! I am amazed—I am distressed! Such language from yourlips! oh fie, fie! And has it come to this! And must I resign the hope Ihad of saving your poor soul? and must I withdraw my spiritualprotection from you?" This he asked with a suggestive sneer of his primmouth,—and then continued, "I must—alas, I must! My conscience willnot 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 Philipconcerning—"

But Thelma did not permit him to finish his sentence. She sprang forwardlike a young leopardess, and with a magnificent outward sweep of her armmotioned him down the garden path.

"Out of my sight,—coward!" she cried, and then stood waiting for himto obey her, her whole frame vibrating with indignation like a harpstruck too roughly. She looked so terribly beautiful, and there was sucha suggestive power in that extended bare white arm of hers, that theminister, though quaking from head to heel with disappointment andresentment, judged it prudent to leave her.

"Certainly, I will take my departure, Fröken!" he said meekly, while histeeth glimmered wolfishly through his pale lips, in a snarl more than asmile. "It is best you should be alone to recover yourself—fromthis—this undue excitement! I shall not repeat my—my—offer; but I amsure your good sense will—in time—show you how very unjust and hastyyou have been in this matter—and—and you will be sorry! Yes, indeed! Iam quite sure you will be sorry! I wish you good day, Fröken 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 ofall possible moods with himself and the universe. But, in truth, hemuttered a heavy oath under his breath—an oath that was by no means inkeeping with his godly and peaceful disposition. Once, as he walked, helooked back,—and saw the woman he coveted now more than ever, standingerect in the porch, tall, fair and loyal in her attitude, looking likesome proud empress who had just dismissed an unworthy vassal. A farmer'sdaughter! and she had refused Mr. Dyceworthy with disdain! He had muchado to prevent himself shaking his fist at her!

"The lofty shall be laid low, and the stiff-necked shall be humbled," hethought, as with a vicious switch of his stick he struck off a fragranthead 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,—amalignant joy sparkled in his eyes, and he flourished his sticktriumphantly in the air. "I'll have her yet!" he exclaimed half-aloud."I'll set Lovisa on her!" And his countenance cleared; he quickened hispace like a man having some pressing business to fulfill, and was soonin his boat, rowing towards Bosekop with unaccustomed speed and energy.

Meanwhile Thelma stood motionless where he had left her,—she watchedthe retreating form of her portly suitor till he had altogetherdisappeared,—then she pressed one hand on her bosom, sighed, andlaughed 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 shewore, and then a shadow swept over her fair face that made it strangelysad and weary. Her lips quivered pathetically; she shaded her eyes withher curved fingers as though the sunlight hurt her,—then with falteringsteps she turned away from the warm stretch of garden, brilliant withblossom, and entered the house. There was a sense of outrage and insultupon her, and though in her soul she treated Mr. Dyceworthy'sobservations with the contempt they deserved, his coarse allusion to SirPhilip Errington had wounded her more than she cared to admit toherself. Once in the quiet sitting-room, she threw herself on her kneesby her father's arm-chair, and laying her proud little golden head downon her folded arms, she broke into a passion of silent tears.

Who shall unravel the mystery of a woman's weeping? Who shall declarewhether it is a pain or a relief to the overcharged heart? The dignityof a crowned queen is capable of utterly dissolving and disappearing ina shower of tears, when Love's burning finger touches the pulse andmarks its slow or rapid beatings. And Thelma wept as many of her sexweep, without knowing why, save that all suddenly she felt herself mostlonely and forlorn like Sainte Beuve's—

"Colombe gemissante,
Qui demande par pitié
Sa moitié,
Sa moitié 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 outof sheer dismay. He stood hesitating and looking in at the door of theGüldmar's sitting-room, and the alarming spectacle he saw was thequeenly Thelma down on the floor in an attitude of grief,—Thelma givingway to little smothered sobs of distress,—Thelma actually crying! Hedrew a long breath and stared, utterly bewildered. It was a sight forwhich he was unprepared,—he was not accustomed to women's tears. Whatshould he do? Should he cough gently to attract her attention, or shouldhe retire on tip-toe and leave her to indulge her grief as long as shewould, without making any attempt to console her? The latter courseseemed almost brutal, yet he was nearly deciding upon it, when a slightcreak of the door against which he leaned, caused her to look upsuddenly. Seeing him, she rose quickly from her desponding position andfaced him, her cheeks somewhat deeply flushed and her eyes glitteringfeverishly.

"Mr. Lorimer!" she exclaimed, forcing a faint smile to her quiveringlips. "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 thatstill threatened to have their way. "But I was sent in advance to tellyou not to be frightened. There has been a slight accident—"

She grew very pale. "Is it my father?" she asked tremblingly. "SirPhilip—"

"No, no!" answered Lorimer reassuringly. "It is nothing serious, really,upon my honor! Your father's all right,—so is Phil,—our lively friendPierre is the victim. The fact is, we've had some trouble with Sigurd. Ican't think what has come to the boy! He was as amiable as possible whenwe started, but after we had climbed about half-way up the mountain, hetook it into his head to throw stones about rather recklessly. It wasonly fun, he said. Your father tried to make him leave off, but he wasobstinate. At last, in a particularly bright access of playfulness, hegot hold of a large flint, and nearly put Phil's eye out with it,—Phildodged it, and it flew straight at Duprèz, splitting open his cheek inrather an unbecoming fashion—Don't look so horrified, Miss Güldmar,—itis really nothing!"

"Oh, but indeed it is something!" she said, with true womanly anxiety inher voice. "Poor fellow! I am so sorry! Is he much hurt? Does hesuffer?"

"Pierre? Oh, no, not a bit of it! He's as jolly as possible! We bandagedhim up in a very artistic fashion; he looks quite interesting, I assureyou. His beauty's spoilt for a time, that's all. Phil thought you mightbe alarmed when you saw us bringing home the wounded,—that is why Icame on to tell you all about it."

"But what can be the matter with Sigurd?" asked the girl, raising herhand furtively to dash off a few tear-drops that still hung on her longlashes. "And where is he?"

"Ah, that I can't tell you!" answered Lorimer. "He is perfectlyincomprehensible to-day. As soon as he saw the blood flowing fromDuprèz's cheek, he tittered a howl as if some one had shot him, and awayhe rushed into the woods as fast as he could go. We called him, andshouted his name till we were hoarse,—all no use! He wouldn't comeback. I suppose he'll find his way home by himself?"

"Oh, yes," said Thelma gravely. "But when he comes I will scold him verymuch! It is not like him to be so wild and cruel. He will understand mewhen 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 gothis wits about him you know,—he can't help being queer sometimes. Butwhat have you been doing with yourself during our absence?" And heregarded 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 plaintivethrill in her voice. "I could not help it! My heart ached and the tearscame. Somehow I felt that everything was wrong,—and that it was all myfault—"

"Your fault!" murmured Lorimer, astonished. "My dear Miss Güldmar, whatdo 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 hasbeen here and—" she stopped abruptly, and a wave of color flushed herface.

Lorimer laughed lightly. "Dyceworthy!" he exclaimed. "The mystery isexplained! You have been bored by 'the good religious,' as Pierre callshim. You know what boring means now, Miss Güldmar, don't you?" Shesmiled slightly, and nodded. "The first time you visited the Eulalie,you didn't understand the word, I remember,—ah!" and he shook hishead—"if you were in London society, you'd find that expression veryconvenient,—it would come to your lips pretty frequently, I can tellyou!"

"I shall never see London," she said, with a sort of resigned air. "Youwill all go away very soon, and I—I shall be lonely—"

She bit her lips in quick vexation, as her blue eyes filled again withtears 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 seethe others coming down the hill. Nothing like fresh air for blowing awaythe blues." Then, as she obeyed him, he added, "What has Dyceworthy beensaying to you?"

"He told me I was wicked," she murmured; "and that all the people herethink very badly of me. But that was not the worst"—and a littleshudder passed over her—"there was something else—something that mademe very angry—so angry!"—and here she raised her eyes with a gravelypenitent air—"Mr. Lorimer, I do not think I have ever had so bad andfierce a temper before!"

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Lorimer, with a broad smile. "You alarm me,Miss Güldmar! I had no idea you were a 'bad, fierce' person,—I shallget afraid of you—I shall, really!"

"Ah, you laugh!" and she spoke half-reproachfully. "You will not beserious for one little moment!"

"Yes I will! Now look at me," and he assumed a solemn expression, anddrew himself up with an air of dignity. "I am all attention! Consider meyour father-confessor. Miss Güldmar, 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 ajest,—and he clenched his fist as he exclaimed—

"Impudent donkey! What a jolly good thrashing he deserves!... and Ishouldn't be surprised if he got it one of these days! And so, MissGüldmar,"—and he studied her face with some solicitude—"you were veryangry with him?"

"Oh yes!" she replied, "but when I told him he was a coward, and that hemust go away, he said some very cruel things—" she stopped, and blusheddeeply; then, as if seized by some sudden impulse, she laid her smallhand on Lorimer's and said in the tone of an appealing child, "you arevery good and kind to me, and you are clever,—you know so much morethan I do! You must help me,—you will tell me, will you not?... if itis wrong of me to like you all,—it is as if we had known each other along time and I have been very happy with you and your friends. But youmust teach me to behave like the girls you have seen in London,—for Icould not bear that Sir Philip should think me wicked!"

"Wicked!" and Lorimer drew a long breath. "Good heavens! If you knewwhat Phil's ideas about you are, Miss Güldmar—"

"I do not wish to know," interrupted Thelma steadily. "You must quiteunderstand me,—I am not clever to hide my thoughts, and—and—, youare glad when you talk sometimes to Sir Philip, are you not?" He nodded,gravely studying every light and shadow on the fair, upturned, innocentface.

"Yes!" she continued with some eagerness, "I see you are! Well, it isthe same with me,—I do love to hear him speak! You know how his voiceis like music, and how his kind ways warm the heart,—it is pleasant tobe in his company—I am sure you also find it so! But for me,—it seemsit is wrong,—it is not wise for me to show when I am happy. I do notcare what other people say,—but I would not have him think ill of mefor all the world!"

Lorimer took her hand and held it in his with a most tender loyalty andrespect. Her naïve, simple words had, all unconsciously to herself, laidbare the secret of her soul to his eyes,—and though his heart beat witha strange sickening sense of unrest that flavored of despair, a gentlereverence filled him, such as a man might feel if some little snow-whiteshrine, sacred to purity and peace, should be suddenly unveiled beforehim.

"My dear Miss Güldmar," he said earnestly, "I assure you, you have nocause to be uneasy! You must not believe a word Dyceworthy says—everyone with a grain of common sense can see what a liar and hypocrite heis! And as for you, you never do anything wrong,—don't imagine suchnonsense! I wish there were more women like you!"

"Ah, that is very kind of you!" half laughed the girl, still allowingher hand to rest in his. "But I do not think everybody would have such agood opinion." They both started, and their hands fell asunder as ashadow darkened the room, and Sir Philip stood before them.

"Excuse me!" he said stiffly, lifting his hat with ceremoniouspoliteness. "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 lookedpositively petulant—"I am afraid I interrupted a pleasantconversation!" And he gave a little forced laugh of feigned amusem*nt,but evident vexation.

"And if it was pleasant, shall you not make it still more so?" askedThelma, with timid and bewitching sweetness, though her heart beat veryfast,—she was anxious. Why was Sir Philip so cold and distant? Helooked at her, and his pent-up passion leaped to his eyes and filledthem with a glowing and fiery tenderness,—her head drooped suddenly,and she turned quickly, to avoid that searching, longing gaze. Lorimerglanced from one to the other with, a slight feeling of amusem*nt.

"Well Phil," he inquired lazily, "how did you get here so soon? You musthave glided into the garden like a ghost, for I never heard you coming."

"So I imagine!" retorted Errington, with, an effort to be sarcastic, inwhich he utterly failed as he met his friend's eyes,—then after aslight and somewhat embarrassed pause he added more mildly! "Duprèzcannot get on very fast,—his wound still bleeds, and he feels ratherfaint now and then. I don't think we bandaged him up properly, and Icame on to see if Britta could prepare something for him."

"But you will not need to ask Britta," said Thelma quietly, with apretty air of authority, "for I shall myself do all for Mr. Duprèz. Iunderstand well how to cure his wound, and I do think he will like me aswell as Britta." And, hearing footsteps approaching, she looked out atthe 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 Güldmar's great arm-chair, with aslight sigh.

"Well?" said Lorimer inquiringly.

"Well!" he returned somewhat gruffly.

Lorimer laughed, and crossing the room, approached him and clapped ahand 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 tothe 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 asudden unaccountable and unwished-for lump in his throat, and a moisturein his eyes which he had not bargained for. Philip looked up,—andsilently held out his hand, which Lorimer as silently clasped. There wasa 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 camein and saw you two standing there,—you've no idea what a picture youmade!... by Jove!... I was furious!" And he smiled. "I suppose I wasjealous!"

"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 Icannot, for the life of me, understand!"

"Well," murmured Errington, rather abashed, "you see, her hands were inyours—"

"As they will be again, and yet again, I trust!" said Lorimer withcheery fervor. "Surely you'll allow me to shake hands with your wife?"

"I say, George, be quiet!" exclaimed Philip warningly, as at that momentThelma passed the window with Pierre Duprèz leaning on her arm, and herfather 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 thenarrow-shouldered little Frenchman, upon whom she smiled down with anair of almost maternal protection.

"You will sit here, Monsieur Duprèz," she said, leading him to thebonde's arm-chair which Errington instantly vacated, "and father willbring you a good glass of wine. And the pain will be nothing when I haveattended to that cruel wound. But I am so sorry,—so very sorry, to seeyou suffer!"

Pierre did indeed present rather a dismal spectacle. There was a severecut on his forehead as well as his cheek; his face was pale and streakedwith blood, while the hastily-improvised bandages which were tied underhis chin, by no means improved his personal appearance. His head achedwith the pain, and his eyes smarted with the strong sunlight to which hehad been exposed all the day, but his natural gaiety was undiminished,and he laughed as he answered—

"Chère Mademoiselle, you are too good to me! It is a piece of goodfortune 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 allI need."

But Thelma was already practicing her own simple surgery for hisbenefit. With deft, soft fingers she laid bare the throbbingwound,—washed and dressed it carefully and skillfully,—and used withall such exceeding gentleness, that Duprèz closed his eyes in a sort ofrapture during the operation, and wished it could last longer. Thentaking 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 stilltill it is time to go back to the yacht; and to-morrow you will not feelany pain, I am sure. And I do think it will not be an ugly scar forlong."

"If it is," answered Pierre, "I shall say I received it in a duel! ThenI 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 deceiveany one,—even in a small matter."

Duprèz gazed up at her wonderingly, feeling very much like a chiddenchild.

"Never say what is not true!" he thought. "Mon Dieu! what would becomeof my life?"

It was a new suggestion, and he reflected upon it with astonishment. Itopened such a wide vista of impossibilities to his mind.

Meanwhile old Güldmar was engaged in pouring out wine for the otheryoung men, talking all the time.

"I tell thee, Thelma mine," he said seriously, "something must be verywrong with our Sigurd. The poor lad has always been gentle andtractable, but to-day he was like some wild animal for mischief andhardihood. I grieve to see it! I fear the time may come when he may nolonger be a safe servant for thee, child!"

"Oh, father!"—and the girl's voice was full of tender anxiety—"surelynot! He is too fond of us to do us any harm—he is so docile andaffectionate!"

"Maybe, maybe!" and the old farmer shook his head doubtfully. "But whenthe wits are away the brain is like a ship without ballast—there is nosafe sailing possible. He would not mean any harm, perhaps,—and yet inhis 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 donot like his present humor."

"By-the-by," observed Lorimer, "that reminds me! Sigurd has taken anuncommonly 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, forI've done him no harm that I can remember. He certainly asked me to goaway from the Altenfjord, and I refused,—I'd no idea he had any seriousmeaning in his request. But it's evident he can't endure my company."

"Ah, then!" said Thelma simply and sorrowfully, "he must be veryill,—because it is natural for every one to like you."

She spoke in perfect good faith and innocence of heart; but Errington'seyes flashed and he smiled—one of those rare, tender smiles of hiswhich brightened his whole visage.

"You are very kind to say so, Miss Güldmar!"

"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 thedoor.

"Yes, Britta!" Thelma smiled; "we are quite ready!"

Whereupon the face disappeared, and Olaf Güldmar led the way into thekitchen, which was at the same time the dining-room, and where asubstantial supper was spread on the polished pine table.

The farmer's great arm-chair was brought in for Duprèz, who, though hedeclared he was being spoilt by too much attention, seemed to enjoy itimmensely,—and they were all, including Britta, soon clustered roundthe hospitable board whereon antique silver and quaint glasses offoreign make sparkled bravely, their effect enhanced by the snowywhiteness of the homespun table-linen.

A few minutes set them all talking gaily. Macfarlane vied with theever-gallant Duprèz in making a few compliments to Britta, who waspretty and engaging enough to merit attention, and who, after all, wassomething more than a mere servant, possessing, as she did, a great dealof her young mistress's affection and confidence, and being alwaystreated by Güldmar himself as one of the family. There was no reserve orcoldness in the party, and the hum of their merry voices echoed up tothe cross-rafters of the stout wooden ceiling and through the open doorand window, from whence a patch of the gorgeous afternoon sky could beseen, glimmering redly, like a distant lake of fire. They were in thefull enjoyment of their repast, and the old farmer's rollicking "Ha, ha,ha!" in response to a joke of Lorimer's, had just echoed joviallythrough the room, when a strong, harsh voice called aloud—"OlafGüldmar!"

There was a sudden silence. Each one looked at the other in surprise.Again the voice called—"Olaf Güldmar!"

"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 onthe threshold, without actually entering the room. She dropped the blackshawl that enveloped her, and, in so doing, disordered her hair, whichfell in white, straggling locks about her withered features, and herdark eyes gleamed maliciously as she fixed them on the assembled party.Britta, on perceiving her, uttered a faint shriek, and withoutconsidering the propriety of her action, buried her nut-brown curls andsparkling eyes in Duprèz's coat-sleeve, which, to do the Frenchmanjustice, 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 Talvigto pay a visit that must needs be unwelcome?"

"Unwelcome I know I am," replied Lovisa, disdainfully noting the terrorof Britta and the astonished glances if Errington and hisfriends—"unwelcome at all times,—but most unwelcome at the hour offeasting ad folly,—for who can endure to receive a message from theLord when the mouth is full of savory morsels, and the brain reels withthe wicked wine? Yet I have come in spite of your iniquities. OlafGüldmar,—strong in the strength of the Lord, I dare to set foot uponyour accursèd threshold, and once more make my just demand. Give me backthe child of my dead daughter!... restore to me the erring creaturewho should be the prop of my defenceless age, had not your pagan spellsalienated her from me,—release her,—and bid her return with me to mydesolate hearth and home. This done,—I will stay the tempest thatthreatens your habitation—I will hold back the dark cloud ofdestruction—I will avert the wrath of the Lord,—yes! for the sake ofthe past—for the sake of the past!"

These last words she muttered in a low tone, more to herself than toGüldmar; and, having spoken, she averted her eyes from the company, drewher shawl closely about her, and waited for an answer.

"By all the gods of my fathers!" shouted the bonde in a toweringpassion. "This passes my utmost endurance! Have I not told thee againand again, thou silly soul!... that thy grandchild is no slave? Sheis 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! Speakfor thyself! Thou hast a spirit of thine own. Here is thy one earthlyrelation. Wilt go with her? Neither thy mistress nor I will stand in theway of thy pleasure."

Thus adjured Britta looked up so suddenly that Duprèz,—who had ratherenjoyed the feel of her little nestling head hidden upon his arm,—wasquite startled, and he was still more so at the utter defiance thatflashed into the small maiden's round, rosy face.

"Go with you!" she cried shrilly, addressing the old woman, whor*mained standing in the same attitude, with an air of perfectcomposure. "Do you think I have forgotten how you treated my mother, orhow you used to beat me and starve me? You wicked old woman! How dareyou come here? I'm ashamed of you! You frightened my mother todeath—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'drather die than live with you!"

Then, overcome by excitement and temper, she burst out crying, heedlessof Pierre Duprèz's smiling nods of approval, and the admiring remarks hewas making under his breath, such as—"Brava, ma petite! C'est bienfait! c'est joliment bien dit! Mais je crois bien!"

Lovisa seemed unmoved; she raised her head and looked, at Güldmar.

"Is this your answer?" she demanded.

"By the sword of Odin!" cried the bonde, "the woman must be mad! myanswer? The girl has spoken for herself,—and plainly enough too! Artthou deaf, Lovisa Elsland? or are thy wits astray?"

"My hearing is very good," replied Lovisa calmly, "and my mind, OlafGüldmar, is as clear as yours. And, thanks to your teaching in mineearly days,"—she paused and looked keenly at him, but he appeared tosee no meaning in her allusion,—"I know the English tongue, of which wehear far too much,—too often! There is nothing Britta has said that Ido not understand. But I know well it is not the girl herself thatspeaks—it is a demon in her,—and that demon shall be cast forth beforeI die! Yea, with the help of the Lord I shall—" She stopped abruptlyand fixed her eyes, glowing with fierce wrath, on Thelma. The girl mether 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 forme?"

"Do not answer her, child!" interrupted Güldmar angrily. "She is mad asthe winds of a wild winter, and will but vex thee."

But Thelma laid her hand soothingly on her father's, and smiledpeacefully as she turned her fair face again towards Lovisa.

"Why?" she said. "Because you seem so very lonely and sad—and that mustmake 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 whenyou meet. And would you not like her to think kindly of you when you aredead?"

Lovisa seemed choking with anger,—her face worked into such hideousgrimaces, that all present, save Thelma, were dismayed at her repulsiveaspect.

"When I am dead!" she muttered hoarsely. "So you count upon thatalready, 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 Güldmar! Let me see you closely—face to face!"

Errington said something in a low tone, and the bonde would have againinterfered, but Thelma shook her head, smiled and rose from her seat attable.

"Anything to soothe her, poor soul!" she whispered, as she leftErrington's side and advanced towards Lovisa till she was within reachof the old woman's hand. She looked like some grand white angel, who hadstepped down from a cathedral altar, as she stood erect and stately witha gravely pitying expression in her lovely eyes, confronting thesable-draped, withered, leering hag, who fixed upon her a steady look ofthe most cruel and pitiless hatred.

"Daughter of Satan!" said Lovisa then, in intense piercing tones thatsomehow carried with them a sense of awe and horror. "Creature, in whoseveins the fire of hell burns without ceasing,—my curse upon you! Mycurse upon the beauty of your body—may it grow loathsome in the sightof all men! May those who embrace you, embrace misfortune and ruin!—maylove betray you and forsake you! May your heart be broken even as minehas been!—may your bridal bed be left deserted!—may your childrenwither and pine from their hour of birth! Sorrow track you to thegrave!—may your death be lingering and horrible! God be my witness andfulfill 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. OldGüldmar prepared to rush after her and force her to retract her evilspeech,—Errington was furious, and Britta cried bitterly. The lazyLorimer 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 andstretched out her hands with a little appealing gesture.

"My friend," she said softly, "do you think I deserve so many curses? Isthere something about me that is evil?"

What Errington would have answered is doubtful,—his heart beatwildly—he longed to draw those little hands in his own, and cover themwith passionate kisses,—but he was intercepted by old Güldmar, whocaught his daughter in his arms and hugged her closely, his silverybeard mingling with the gold of her rippling hair.

"Never fear a wicked tongue, my bird!" said the old man fondly. "Thereis naught of harm that would touch thee either on earth or inheaven,—and a foul-mouthed curse must roll off thy soul like water froma dove's wing! Cheer thee, my darling—cheer thee! What! Thine own creedteaches thee that the gentle Mother of Christ, with her little whiteangels round her, watches over all innocent maids,—and thinkest thoushe 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 tearsthat moistened his keen eyes. "Thou art the sweetest blessing of myheart, even as thy mother was before thee! Come, come! Raise thy prettyhead—here are these merry lads growing long-faced,—and Britta isweeping enough salt water to fill a bucket! One of thy smiles will setus all right again,—ay, there now!"—as she looked up and, meetingPhilip's eloquent eyes, blushed, and withdrew herself gently from herfather's arms,—"Let us finish our supper and think no more of yondervillainous old hag—she is crazy, I believe, and knows not what she sayshalf her time. Now, Britta, cease thy grunting and sighing—'twill spoilthy 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 andkissed it affectionately. "Oh, my dear, my dear! To think she shouldhave cursed you, what dreadful, dreadful wickedness! Oh!" and Brittalooked volumes of wrath. "I could have beaten her black and blue!"

Her vicious eagerness was almost comic—every one laughed, includingThelma, though she pressed the hand of her little servant very warmly.

"Oh fie!" said Lorimer seriously. "Little girls mustn't whip theirgrandmothers; 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 issomething to the effect that a man may not marry his grandmother—perhapsthat is what you mean?"

"Ah, no doubt!" murmured Lorimer languidly, as, with the others, heresumed his seat at the supper-table. "I knew there was a specialmandate respecting one's particularly venerable relations, with a viewto self-guidance in case they should prove troublesome, like Britta'sgood grand-mamma. What a frightfully picturesque mouthing old lady sheis!"

"She is la petroleuse of Norway!" exclaimed Duprèz. "She would make anadmirable dancer in the Carmagnole!"

Macfarlane, who had preserved a discreet silence throughout the wholescene, 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 herchair a' day wi' ae finger on the Bible. She says she's gaun straight toheaven by special invitation o' the Lord, leavin' a' her blood relationshowlin' vainly after her from their roastin' fires down below. Macertes! she'll give ye a good rousin' curse if ye like! She's cursed meever since I can remember her,—cursed me in and out from sunrise tosunset,—but I'm no the worse for't as yet,—an' it's dootful whethershe's any the better."

"And yet Lovisa Elsland used to be as merry and lissom a lass as everstepped," said Güldmar musingly. "I remember her well when both she andI were young. I was always on the sea at that time,—never happy unlessthe waves tossed me and my vessel from one shore to another. I supposethe restless spirit of my fathers was in me. I was never contentedunless I saw some new coast every six months or so. Well!... Lovisawas always foremost among the girls of the village who watched me leavethe Fjord,—and however long or short a time I might be absent, she wascertain to be on the shore when my ship came sailing home again. Many ajoke I have cracked with her and her companions—and she was a bonnieenough creature to look at then, I tell you,—though now she is like abattered figure-head on a wreck. Her marriage, spoiled her temper,—herhusband 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 LofodenIslands, I doubt if she shed many tears for his loss. Her onlydaughter's husband went down in the same storm,—and he but three monthswedded,—and the girl,—Britta's mother,—pined and pined, and even whenher child was born took no sort of comfort in it. She died four yearsafter Britta's birth—her death was hastened, so I have heard, throughold Lovisa's harsh treatment,—anyhow the little lass she left behindher had no very easy time of it all alone with her grandmother,—ehBritta?"

Britta looked up and shook her head emphatically.

"Then," went on Güldmar, "when my girl came back the last time fromFrance, Britta chanced to see her, and, strangely enough,"—here hewinked shrewdly—"took a fancy to her face,—odd, wasn't it? However,nothing would suit her but that she must be Thelma's handmaiden, andhere she is. Now you know her history,—she would be happy enough if hergrandmother would let her alone; but the silly old woman thinks the girlis under a spell, and that Thelma is the witch that works it;"—and theold farmer laughed. "There's a grain of truth in the notion too, but notin the way she has of looking at it."

"All women are witches!" said Duprèz. "Britta is a little witchherself!"

Britta's rosy cheeks grew rosier at this, and she tossed her chestnutcurls with an air of saucy defiance that delighted the Frenchman. Heforgot his wounded cheek and his disfiguring bandages in thecontemplation of the little plump figure, cased in its close-fittingscarlet bodice, and the tempting rosy lips that were in such closeproximity to his touch.

"If it were not for those red hands!" he thought. "Dieu! what a charmingchild she would be! One would instantly kill the grandmother and kissthe granddaughter!"

And he watched her with admiration as she busied herself about thesupper-table, attending to every one with diligence and care, butreserving her special services for Thelma, whom she waited on with amingled tenderness, and reverence, that were both touching and pretty tosee.

The conversation now became general, and nothing further occurred todisturb the harmony and hilarity of the party—only Errington seemedsomewhat abstracted, and answered many questions that were put to him athaphazard, without knowing, or possibly caring, whether his replies wereintelligible or incoherent. His thoughts were dreamlike and brilliantwith fairy sunshine. He understood at last what poets meant by theirmelodious musings, woven into golden threads of song—he seemed to havegrasped some hitherto unguessed secret of his being—a secret thatfilled him with as much strange pain as pleasure. He felt as though hewere endowed with a thousand senses,—each one keenly alive andsensitive to the smallest touch,—and there was a pulsation in his bloodthat was new and beyond his control,—a something that beat wildly inhis heart at the sound of Thelma's voice, or the passing flutter of herwhite garments near him. Of what use to disguise it from himself anylonger? He loved her! The terrible, beautiful tempest of love had brokenover his life at last; there was no escape from its thunderous passionand dazzling lightning glory.

He drew a sharp quick breath—the hum of the gay voices around him wasmore meaningless to his ears than the sound of the sea breaking on thebeach below. He glanced at the girl—the fair and innocent creature whohad, in his imagination, risen to a throne of imperial height, fromwhence she could bestow on him death or salvation. How calm she seemed!She was listening with courteous patience to a long story ofMacfarlane's whose Scotch accent rendered it difficult for her tounderstand. She was pale, Philip thought, and her eyes were heavy; butshe smiled now and then,—such a smile! Even so sweetly might the"kiss-worthy" lips of the Greek Aphrodite part, could that eloquent andmatchless marble for once breathe into life. He looked at her with asort 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 brainwhirled, and he suddenly pushed away his untasted glass of wine, androse abruptly from the table, heedless of the surprise his actionexcited.

"Hullo, Phil, where are you off to?" cried Lorimer. "Wait for me!"

"Tired of our company, my lad?" said Güldmar kindly, "You've had a longday of it,—and what with the climbing and the strong air, no doubtyou'll be glad to turn in."

"Upon my life, sir," answered Errington, with some confusion, "I don'tknow why I got up just now! I was thinking,—I'm rather a dreamy sort offellow sometimes, and—"

"He was asleep, and doesn't want to own it!" interrupted Lorimersententiously. "You will excuse him; he means well! He looks ratherseedy. I think, Mr. Güldmar, 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 isweird and dark and grand; but I think it is beautiful. And there aremany stories of the elves and berg-folk, who are said to dwell thereamong the deep ravines. Have you heard about the berg-folk?" shecontinued, addressing herself to Errington, unaware of the effort he wasmaking to appear cool and composed in her presence. "No? Then I musttell you to-morrow."

They all walked out of the house into the porch, and while her fatherwas interchanging farewells with the others, she looked at Sir Philip'sgrave face with some solicitude.

"I am afraid you are very tired, my friend?" she asked softly, "or yourhead 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?" hemurmured in a low tone.

Then before she could speak or move, he let go her hands again, andturned with his usual easy courtesy to Güldmar. "Then we may expect youwithout 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 theshore. She remained standing near her father,—and, when the sound oftheir footsteps had died away, she drew closer still and laid her headagainst 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 asstars. "Tell me,—do you think often of my mother now!"

"Often!" And Güldmar's fine resolute face grew sad and tender. "She isnever absent from my mind! I see her night and day, ay! I can feel hersoft arms clinging round my neck,—why dost thou ask so strange aquestion, little one? Is it possible to forget what has been onceloved?"

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 ofvague anxiety.

"Art thou well, my child?" he asked. "This little hand burns likefire,—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. "Iam quite well,—and happy!"

And she turned to enter the house.

"Stay!" called the father. "Promise me thou wilt think no more ofLovisa!"

"I had nearly forgotten her," she responded. "Poor thing! She cursed mebecause she is so miserable, I suppose—all alone and unloved; it mustbe hard! Curses sometimes turn to blessings, father! Good night!"

And she ascended the one flight of wooden stairs in the house to her ownbedroom—a little three-cornered place as clean and white as theinterior of a shell. Never once glancing at the small mirror that seemedto invite her charms to reflect themselves therein, she went to thequaint latticed window and knelt down by it, folding her arms on thesill while she looked far out to the Fjord. She could see the Englishflag fluttering from the masts of the Eulalie; she could almost hearthe steady plash of the oars wielded by Errington and his friends asthey 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!... mylove!"

Then, as if afraid lest the very winds should have heard herhalf-breathed exclamation, she shut her window in haste, and a hot blushcrimsoned her cheeks.

Undressing quickly, she slipped into her little white bed and, closingher eyes, fancied she slept, though her sleep was but a waking dream oflove in which all bright hopes reached their utmost fulfillment, and yetwere in some strange way crossed with shadows which she had no power todisperse. And later on, when old Güldmar slumbered soundly, and thegolden mid-night sunshine lit up every nook and gable of the farmhousewith its lustrous glory, making Thelma's closed lattice sparkle like acarven jewel,—a desolate figure lay prone on the grass beneath herwindow, with meagre pale face, and wide-open wild blue eyes upturned tothe fiery brilliancy of the heavens. Sigurd had come home;—Sigurd wasrepentant, 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 windstirred a ripple on the Fjord, and there was a heaviness in theatmosphere which made the very brightness of the sky oppressive. Suchhot weather was unusual for that part of Norway, and according toValdemar Svensen, betokened some change. On board the Eulalieeverything was ready for the trip to Soroe,—steam was getting up priorto departure,—and a group of red-capped sailors stood prepared to weighthe anchor as soon as the signal was given. Breakfast wasover,—Macfarlane was in the saloon writing his journal, which he keptwith great exactitude, and Duprèz, who, on account of his wound, wasconsidered something of an invalid, was seated in a lounge chair ondeck, delightedly turning over a bundle of inflammatory French politicaljournals received that morning. Errington and Lorimer were pacing thedeck arm in arm, keeping a sharp look-out for the first glimpse of thereturning 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 atme. It was like Dyceworthy's impudence, of course,—but there's no doubthe proposed to her,—and it's equally certain that she rejected him. Ithought I'd tell you you had a rival,—not in me, as you seemed to thinkyesterday,—but in our holy fat friend."

"Rival! pshaw!" returned Errington, with an angry laugh. "He is notworth kicking!"

"Possibly not! Still I have a presentiment that he's the sort of fellowthat won't take 'no' for an answer. He'll dodge that poor girl and makeher 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 loveher,—tell her so!"

Errington laid one hand earnestly on his shoulder.

"Ah, George, you don't understand!" he said in a low tone, while hisface 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—isnot like other women. You may think me a fool,—I dare say you do,—butI swear to you I am afraid to speak, because—because, old boy,—if shewere to refuse me,—if I knew there was no hope—well, I don't want tobe sentimental,—but my life would be utterly empty and worthless,—souseless, that I doubt if I should care to live it out to the bitterend!"

Lorimer heard him in silence,—a silence maintained partly out ofsympathy, and partly that he might keep his own feelings well undercontrol.

"But why persist in looking at the gloomy side of the picture?" he saidat last. "Suppose she loves you?"

"Suppose an angel flew down from Heaven!" replied Philip, with rather asad smile. "My dear fellow, who am I that I should flatter myself sofar? If she were one of those ordinary women to whom marriage is thebe-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 troublethem by the selfishness of my passion? for all passion is selfish,even at its best. Why should I venture to break the calm friendship shemay have for me, by telling her of a love which might prove unwelcome!"

Lorimer looked at him with gentle amusem*nt depicted in his face.

"Phil, you are less conceited than I thought you were," he said, with alight laugh, "or else you are blind—blind as a bat, old man! Take myadvice,—don't lose any more time about it. Make the 'king's daughter ofNorroway' happy,..." and a brief sigh escaped him. "You are the man todo it. I am surprised at your density; Sigurd, the lunatic, has moreperception. He sees which way the wind blows,—and that's why he's sodesperately unhappy. He thinks—and thinks rightly too—that he willlose his 'beautiful rose of the northern forest,' as he calls her,—andthat you are to be the robber. Hence his dislike to you. Dear me!" andLorimer lit a cigarette and puffed at it complacently. "It seems to methat my wits are becoming sharper as I grow older, and that yours, mydear boy,—pardon me!... are getting somewhat blunted, otherwise youwould certainly have perceived—" he broke off abruptly.

"Well, go on!" exclaimed Philip eagerly, with flashing eyes. "Perceivedwhat?"

Lorimer laughed. "That the boat containing your Sun-empress is comingalong very rapidly, old fellow, and that you'd better make haste toreceive her!"

This was the fact, and Duprèz had risen from his chair and was wavinghis French newspaper energetically to the approaching visitors.Errington hastened to the gangway with a brighter flush than usual onhis handsome face, and his heart beating with a new sense ofexhilaration and excitement. If Lorimer's hints had any foundation oftruth—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 dayif opportunity favored him,—and, having thus decided, felt quitemasterful and heroic about it.

This feeling of proud and tender elation increased when Thelma steppedon deck that morning and laid her hands in his. For, as he greeted herand her father, he saw at a glance that she was slightly changed. Somerestless dream must have haunted her—or his hurried words beneath theporch, when he parted from her the previous evening, had startled herand troubled her mind. Her blue eyes were no longer raised to his inabsolute candor,—her voice was timid, and she had lost something of herusual buoyant and graceful self-possession. But she looked lovelier thanever with that air of shy hesitation and appealing sweetness. Love hadthrown 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 Güldmars were on board, the anchor was weighed with manya cheery and musical cry from the sailors; the wheel revolved rapidlyunder Valdemar Svensen's firm hand,—and with a grand outward sweepingcurtsy to the majestic Fjord she left behind her, the Eulalie steamedaway, cutting a glittering line of white foam through the smooth wateras she went, and threading her way swiftly among the clusteringpicturesque islands,—while the inhabitants of every little farm andhamlet on the shores, stopped for a while in their occupations to stareat the superb vessel, and to dreamily envy the wealth of the EnglishHerren who could afford to pass the summer months in such luxury andidleness. Thelma seated herself at once by Duprèz, and seemed glad todivert attention from herself to him.

"You are better, Monsieur Duprèz, are you not?" she asked gently. "Wesaw Sigurd this morning; he came home last night. He is very, very sorryto have hurt you!"

"He need not apologize," said Duprèz cheerfully. "I am delighted he gaveme this scar, otherwise I am confident he would have put out the eye ofPhil-eep. And that would have been a misfortune! For what would theladies in London say if le beau Errington returned to them with oneeye! Mon Dieu! they would all be en desespoir!"

Thelma looked up. Philip was standing at some little distance with OlafGüldmar and Lorimer, talking and laughing gaily. His cap was slightlypushed off his forehead, and the sun shone on his thick dark-chestnutcurls; his features, warmly colored by the wind and sea, were lit upwith mirth, and his even white teeth sparkled in an irresistible smileof fascinating good-humor. He was the beau-ideal of the best type ofEnglishman, in the full tide of youth, health and good spirits.

"I suppose he is a great favorite with all those beautiful ladies?" sheasked very quietly.

Something of gentle resignation in her tone struck the Frenchman's senseof chivalry; had she been like any ordinary woman, bent on conquest, hewould have taken a mischievous delight in inventing a long list of fairones supposed to be deeply enamored of Errington's good looks,—but thisgirl's innocent inquiring face inspired him with quite a differentsentiment.

"Mais certainement!" he said frankly and emphatically. "Phil-eep is afavorite everywhere! Yet not more so with women than with men. I lovehim extremely—he is a charming boy! Then you see, chère Mademoiselle,he is rich,—very rich,—and there are so many pretty girls who are verypoor,—naturally they are enchanted with our Errington—voyez-vous?"

"I do not understand," she said, with a puzzled brow. "It is notpossible that they should like him better because he is rich. He wouldbe the same man without money as with it—it makes no difference!"

"Perhaps not to you," returned Duprèz, with a smile; "but to many itwould make an immense difference! Chère Mademoiselle, it is a grandthing 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 Arlesused to tell me that poverty was a virtue, and that to be very rich wasto be very miserable. They were poor,—all those good women,—and theywere always cheerful."

"The nuns! ah, mon Dieu!" cried Duprèz. "The darlings know not thetaste of joy—they speak of what they cannot understand! How should theyknow what it is to be happy or unhappy, when they bar their greatconvent 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 itwere so common a thing! You know it is sacred—why will you speak as ifit were all a jest?"

A strange emotion of admiring tenderness stirred Pierre's heart—he wasvery impulsive and impressionable.

"Forgive me!" he murmured penitently. Then he added suddenly, "Youshould have lived ages ago, ma belle,—the world of to-day will notsuit you! You will be made very sorrowful in it, I assure you,—it isnot a place for good women!"

She laughed. "You are morose," she said. "That is not like you! No oneis 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 Duprèz a lecture, MissGüldmar? 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 befoolish!" she said. "One can never know you because I am sure you nevershow your real self to anybody. No,—I will not scold you, but I shouldlike 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 likewhen my father has tears in his eyes; he pretends to laugh, but thetears are there all the time. Now I see in you—" she paused, and herquestioning eyes rested on his, seriously.

"This is interesting!" said Lorimer, lazily drawing a camp-stoolopposite to her, and seating himself thereon. "I had no idea I was ahuman riddle. Can you read me, Miss Güldmar?"

"Yes," she answered slowly and meditatively. "Just a little. But I willnot say anything; no—except this—that you are not altogether what youseem."

"Here, Phil!" called Lorimer, as he saw Errington approaching, arm inarm with Olaf Güldmar, "come and admire this young lady's power ofperception. She declares I am not such a fool as I look!"

"Now," said Thelma, shaking her forefinger at him, "you know very wellthat I did not put it in that way. But is it not true, Sir Philip—" andshe looked up for a moment, though her eyes drooped again swiftly underhis ardent gaze, "is it not true that many people do hide theirfeelings, and pretend to be quite different to what they are?"

"I should say it was a very common fault," replied Errington. "It is ameans of self-defense against the impertinent curiosity of outsiders.But Lorimer is free from it,—he has nothing to hide. At any rate, hehas no secrets from me,—I'm sure of that!" And he clapped his handheartily on his friend's shoulder.

Lorimer flushed slightly, but made no remark, and at that momentMacfarlane emerged from the saloon, where the writing of his journal hadtill now detained him. In the general handshaking and salutations whichfollowed, the conversation took a different turn, for which Lorimer wasdevoutly thankful. His face was a tell-tale one,—and he was ratherafraid of Philip's keen eyes. "I hope to Heaven he'll speak to herto-day," he thought, vexedly. "I hate being in suspense! My mind will beeasier when I once know that he has gained his point,—and that there'snot the ghost of a chance for any other fellow!"

Meanwhile the yacht skimmed along by the barren and rocky coast ofSeiland; the sun was dazzling; yet there was a mist in the air as thoughthe heavens were full of unshed tears. A bank of nearly motionlessclouds hung behind the dark, sharp peaks of the Altenguard mountains,which now lay to the southward, as the vessel pursued her course. Therewas no wind; the flag on the mast flapped idly now and then with themotion of the yacht; and Thelma found herself too warm with her prettycrimson hood,—she therefore unfastened it and let the sunshine play onthe uncovered gold of her hair. They had a superb view of the jaggedglacier of Jedkè,—black in some parts, and in others white withunmelted snow,—and seeming, as it rose straight up against the sky, tobe the majestic monument of some giant Viking. Presently, at her earnestrequest, Errington brought his portfolio of Norwegian sketches forThelma to look at; most of them were excellently well done, and elicitedmuch admiration from the bonde.

"It is what I have wondered at all my life," said he, "that skill of thebrush dipped in color. Pictures surprise me as much as poems. Ah, menare marvellous creatures, when they are once brought to understand thatthey are men,—not beasts! One will take a few words and harmonizethem into a song or a verse that clings to the world for ever; anotherwill mix a few paints and dab a brush in them, and give you a picturethat generation after generation shall flock to see. It is what iscalled genius,—and genius is a sort of miracle. Yet I think it isfostered by climate a good deal,—the further north, the lessinspiration. Warmth, color, and the lightness of heart that a generallybright sky brings, enlarges the brain and makes it capable of creativepower."

"My dear sir," said Lorimer, "England does not possess these climaticadvantages, and yet Shakespeare was an Englishman."

"He must have travelled," returned Güldmar positively. "No one will makeme believe that the man never visited Italy. His Italian scenes proveit,—they are full of the place and the people. The whole of his works,full of such wonderful learning, and containing so many types ofdifferent nations, show,—to my mind, at least,—that countries werehis books of study. Why I, who am only a farmer and proprietor of a bitof Norwegian land,—I have learned many a thing from simply taking aglance at a new shore each year. That's the way I used to amuse myselfwhen I was young,—now I am old, the sea tempts me less, and I am fonderof my arm-chair; yet I've seen a good deal in my time—enough to provideme with memories for my declining days. And it's a droll thing, too," headded, with a laugh, "the further south you go, the more immoral andmerry are the people; the further north, the more virtuous andmiserable. There's a wrong balance somewhere,—but where, 'tis not easyto find out."

"Weel," said Macfarlane, "I can give ye a direct contradeection to yourtheory. Scotland lies to the north, and ye'll not find a grander harvesto' sinfu' souls anywhere between this an' the day o' judgment. I'm aScotchman, 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. Iwad 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 theysort, and nae safety."

"I will go to Scotland!" said Duprèz enthusiastically. "I feel thatthose—what do you call them, lassies?—will charm, me!"

"Scotland I never saw," said Güldmar. "From all I have heard, it seemsto me 'twould be too much like Norway. After one's eyes have rested longon these dark mountains and glaciers, one likes now and then to see afertile sunshiny stretch of country such as France, or the plains ofLombardy. Of course there may be exceptions, but I tell you climaticinfluences 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 thevictim of religious mania—and religious mania, together withsuperstition of the most foolish kind, is common in Norway. It happensoften during the long winters; the people have not sufficient to occupytheir minds; no clergyman—not even Dyceworthy—can satisfy the heightof their fanaticism. They preach and pray and shriek and groan in theirhuts; some swear that they have the spirit of prophecy,—others thatthey are possessed of devils,—others imagine witchcraft, likeLovisa—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 laughterand 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 onebe pagan if one believes that there is good in everything,—and thatnothing happens except for the best?"

"It sounds to me more Christian than pagan," averred Lorimer, with asmile. "But it's no use appealing to me on such matters, Miss Güldmar.I am an advocate of the Law of Nothing. I remember a worthy philosopherwho,—when he was in his cups,—earnestly assured me it was allright—'everything was nothing, and nothing was everything.' 'You aresure that is so?' I would say to him. 'My dear young friend—hic—I ampositive! I have—hic—worked out the problem with—hic—care!' Andhe would shake me by the hand warmly, with a mild and moist smile, andwould retire to bed walking sideways in the most amiable manner. I'mcertain his ideas were correct as well as luminous."

They laughed, and then looking up saw that they were passing a portionof the coast of Seiland which was more than usually picturesque. Facingthem was a great cavernous cleft in the rocks, tinted with a curiousviolet hue intermingled with bronze,—and in the strong sunlight thesecolors flashed with the brilliancy of jewels, reflecting themselves inthe pale slate-colored sea. By Errington's orders the yacht slackenedspeed, and glided along with an almost noiseless motion,—and they weresilent, listening to the dash and drip of water that fell invisibly fromthe toppling crags that frowned above, while the breathless heat andstillness of the air added to the weird solemnity of the scene. They allrose from their chairs and leaned on the deck-rails, looking, bututtering no word.

"In one of these islands," said Thelma at last, very softly—"it waseither Seiland or Soroe—they once found the tomb of a great chief.There was an inscription outside that warned all men to respect it, butthey laughed at the warning and opened the tomb. And they saw, seated ina stone chair, a skeleton with a gold crown on its head and a greatcarved seal in its hand, and at its feet there was a stone casket. Thecasket was broken open, and it was full of gold and jewels. Well, theytook all the gold and jewels, and buried the skeleton—and now,—do youknow what happens? At midnight a number of strange persons are seensearching on the shore and among the rocks for the lost treasure, and itis said they often utter cries of anger and despair. And those whorobbed the tomb all died suddenly."

"Served them right!" said Lorimer. "And now they are dead, I suppose thewronged ghosts don't appear any more?"

"Oh yes, they do," said Güldmar very seriously. "If any sailor passes atmidnight, 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 Güldmar, with a grave shake of his head."I'm not superstitious myself, but I should be sorry to say anythingagainst the berg-folk. You see they may exist, and it's no useoffending them."

"And what do ye mean by the berg-folk?" inquired Macfarlane.

"They are supposed to be the souls of persons who died impenitent," saidThelma, "and they are doomed to wander, on the hills till the day ofjudgment. It is a sort of purgatory."

Duprèz 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 foolishlegends, Mademoiselle? For example,—do you think you will sufferpurgatory?"

"Indeed yes!" she replied. "No one can be good enough to go straight toheaven. There must be some little stop on the way in which to be sorryfor all the bad things one has done."

"'Tis the same idea as ours," said Güldmar. "We have two places ofpunishment in the Norse faith; one, Nifleheim, which is a temporarything like the Catholic purgatory; the other Nastrond, which is thecounterpart of the Christian hell. Know you not the description ofNifleheim in the Edda?—'tis terrible enough to satisfy all tastes.'Hela, or Death rules over the Nine Worlds of Nifleheim. Her hall iscalled Grief. Famine is her table, and her only servant is Delay. Hergate is a precipice, her porch Faintness, her bed Leanness,—Cursing andHowling are her tent. Her glance is dreadful and terrifying,—and herlips are blue with the venom of Hatred.' These words," he added, "soundfiner in Norwegian, but I have given the meaning fairly."

"Ma certes!" said Macfarlane chuckling. "I'll tell my aunt in Glasgieaboot it. This Nifleheim wad suit her pairfectly,—she wad send a' herrelations there wi' tourist tickets, not available for the returnjourney!"

"It seems to me," observed Errington, "that the Nine Worlds of Nifleheimhave a resemblance to the different circles of Dante's Purgatory."

"Exactly so," said Lorimer. "All religions seem to me to be more or lessthe 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 apraying 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 withoutsong,—a flower without scent, or a woman without religion—she seemsto 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 aboutthem, Miss Güldmar—be thankful! Now, Phil, how long is this vessel ofyours going to linger here?"

Thus reminded, Errington called to the pilot, and in a few minutes theEulalie resumed her usual speed, and bore swiftly on towards Soroe.This island, dreary and dark in the distance, grew somewhat moreinviting in aspect on a nearer approach. Now and then a shaft ofsunlight fell on some glittering point of felspar or green patch ofverdure.—and Valdemar Svensen stated that he knew of a sandy creekwhere, if the party chose, they could land and see a small cave ofexquisite beauty, literally hung all over with stalactites.

"I never heard of this cave," said Güldmar, fixing a keen eye on thepilot. "Art thou a traveller's guide to all such places in Norway?"

Somewhat to Errington's surprise, Svensen changed color and appearedconfused; moreover, he removed his red cap altogether when he answeredthe bonde, to whom he spoke deferentially in rapid Norwegian. The oldman laughed as he listened, and seemed satisfied; then, turning away, helinked his arm through Philip's, and said,

"You must pardon him, my lad, that he spoke in your presence a tongueunfamiliar to you. No offense was meant. He is of my creed, but fears tomake it known, lest he should lose all employment—which is likelyenough, seeing that so many of the people are fanatics. Moreover, he isbound to me by an oath,—which in olden days would have made him myserf,—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 darenot refuse it. Odd, isn't it? or so it seems to you," and Güldmarpressed the young man's arm lightly and kindly; "but our Norse oaths,are taken with great solemnity, and are as binding as the obligation ofdeath 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 ondeck, of which Thelma was the centre,—and Güldmar 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? justso clear and joyous?"

"Her voice is music itself!" declared Philip quickly and warmly. "Thereis nothing she says, or does, or looks,—that is not absolutelybeautiful!"

Then, suddenly aware of his precipitation, he stopped abruptly. His faceflushed as Güldmar regarded him fixedly, with a musing and doubtful air.But whatever the old man thought, he said nothing. He merely held theyoung baronet's arm a little closer, and together they joined theothers,—though it was noticeable that during the rest of the day thebonde was rather abstracted and serious,—and that every now and thenhis eyes rested on his daughter's face with an expression of tenderyearning and melancholy.

It was about two hours after luncheon that the Eulalie approached thecreek spoken of by the pilot, and they were all fascinated by theloveliness as well as by the fierce grandeur of the scene. The rocks onthat portion of Soroe appeared to have split violently asunder to admitsome great in-rushing passage of the sea, and were piled up in topplingterraces to the height of more than two thousand feet above the level ofthe water. Beneath these wild and craggy fortresses of nature a shiningstretch of beach had formed itself, on which the fine white sand, mixedwith crushed felspar, sparkled like powdered silver. On the left-handside of this beach could be distinctly seen the round opening of thecavern to which Valdemar Svensen directed their attention. They decidedto visit it—the yacht was brought to a standstill, and the long-boatlowered. They took no sailors with them, Errington and his companionsrowing four oars, while Thelma and her father occupied the stern. Alanding was easily effected, and they walked toward the cavern, treadingon thousands of beautiful little shells which strewed the sand beneaththeir feet. There was a deep stillness everywhere—the island was sodesolate that it seemed as though the very seabirds refused to maketheir homes in the black clefts of such steep and barren rocks.

At the entrance of the little cave Güldmar looked back to the sea.

"There's a storm coming!" he announced. "Those clouds we saw thismorning have sailed thither almost as quickly as ourselves!"

The sky had indeed grown darker, and little wrinkling waves disturbedthe 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 friendshad provided themselves each with a pine torch, in order to light up thecavern as soon as they found themselves within it. The smoky crimsonflare illuminated what seemed at a first glance to be a miniature fairypalace studded thickly with clusters of diamonds. Long pointedstalactites hung from the roof at almost mathematically even distancesfrom one another,—the walls glistened with varying shades of pink andgreen and violet,—and in the very midst of the cave was a still pool ofwater in which all the fantastic forms and hues of the place mirroredthemselves in miniature. In one corner the stalactites had clusteredinto the shape of a large chair overhung by a canopy, and Duprèzperceiving it, exclaimed—he listened, and seemed satisfied; then,turning away, he linked his arm through Philip's, and said,

"Voilà! A queen's throne! Come Mademoiselle Güldmar, you must sit init!"

"But I am not a queen," laughed Thelma. "A throne is for a king—willnot Sir Phillip sit there?"

"There's a compliment for you, Phil!" cried Lorrimer, waving his torchenthusiastically. "Let us awaken the echoes with the shout of 'Long livethe King!'"

But Errington approached Thelma, and taking her hand in his, saidgently—

"Come! let us see you throned in state, Queen Thelma! To pleaseme,—come!"

She looked up—the flame of the bright torch he carried illumined hisface, on which love had written what she could not fail to read,—butshe trembled as with cold, and there was a kind of appalling winder inher troubled eyes. He whispered, "come, Queen Thelma!" As in a dream,she allowed him to lead her to the stalactite chair, and when she wasseated therein, she endeavored to control the rapid beating of herheart, and to smile unconcernedly on the little group that surroundedher with shouts of mingled mirth and admiration.

"Ye look just fine!" said Macfarlane with undisguised delight. "Ye'dmak' a grand picture, wouldn't she, Errington?"

Phillip gazed at her, but said nothing—his head was too full. Sittingthere among the glittering, intertwisted, and suspended rocks,—with theblaze from the torches flashing on her winsome face and luxurianthair,—with that half-troubled, half-happy look in her eyes, and anuncertain shadowy smile quivering on her sweet lips, the girl lookedalmost dangerously lovely,—Helen of Troy could scarce have fired morepassionate emotion among the old-world heroes than she unconsciouslyexcited at that moment in the minds of all who beheld her. Duprèz foronce understood what it was to reverence a woman's beauty, and decidedthat the flippant language of compliment was out of place—he thereforesaid nothing, and Lorrimer, too, was silent battling bravely against thewild desires that were now, in his opinion, nothing but disloyalty tohis friend. Old Güldmar's hearty voice roused and startled them all.

"Now Thelma, child! If thou art a queen, give orders to these lads to bemoving! 'Tis a damp place to hold a court in, and thy throne must needsbe a cold one. Let us out to the blessed sunshine again—maybe we canclimb one of yon wild rocks and get a view worth seeing."

"All right, sir!" said Lorimer, chivalrously resolving that nowErrington should have a chance. "Come on, Mac! Allons,marchons,—Pierre! Mr. Güldmar exacts our obedience! Phil, you takecare of the queen!"

And skillfully pushing on Duprèz and Macfarlane before him, he followedGüldmar, who preceded them all,—thus leaving his friend in a momentarycomparative solitude with Thelma. The girl was a little startled as shesaw them thus taking their departure, and sprang up from her stalactitethrone in haste. Sir Philip had laid aside his torch in order to assisther with both hands to descend the sloping rocks; but her embarrassmentat being left almost alone with him made her nervous and uncertain offoot,—she was hurried and agitated and anxious to overtake the others,and in trying to walk quickly she slipped and nearly fell. In one secondshe 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, buthe pressed her more closely to him, scarcely knowing that he did so, butfeeling that he held the world, life, time, happiness, and salvation inthis one fair creature. His brain was in a wild whirl—the glitter ofthe stalactite cave turned to a gyrating wheel of jewel-work, there wasnothing any more—no universe, no existence—nothing but love, love,love, beating strong hammer-strokes through every fibre of his frame. Heglanced up, and saw that the slowly retreating forms of his friends hadnearly reached the outer opening of the cavern. Once there, they wouldlook back and—

"Quick, Thelma!" and his warm breath touched her cheek. "My darling! mylove! if you are not angry,—kiss me! I shall understand."

She hesitated. To Philip that instant of hesitation seemed a cycle ofslow revolving years. Timidly she lifted her head. She was very pale,and her breath came and went quickly. He gazed at her in speechlesssuspense,—and saw as in a vision the pure radiance of her face andstar-like eyes shining more and more closely upon him. Then came atouch,—soft and sweet as a roseleaf pressed against his lips,—and forone mad moment he remembered nothing,—he was caught up like Homer'sParis 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. "Icannot believe it, sweet! Tell me—you love me?"

She looked up. A new, unspeakable glory flushed her face, and her eyesglowed with the mute eloquence of awakening passion.

"Love you?" she said in a voice so low and sweet that it might have beenthe 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 Güldmar vociferously, peering back into the shadowsof the cavern from whence the figures of his daughter and Errington wereseen presently emerging. "Why, what kept you so long, my lad? We thoughtyou were close behind us. Where's your torch?"

"It went out," replied Philip promptly, as he assisted Thelma with graveand ceremonious politeness to cross over some rough stones at theentrance, "and we had some trouble to find our way."

"Ye might hae called to us i' the way o' friendship," observedMacfarlane somewhat suspiciously, "and we wad hae lighted ye through."

"Oh, it was no matter!" said Thelma, with a charming smile. "Sir Philipseemed well to know the way, and it was not so very dark!"

Lorimer glanced at her and read plainly all that was written in herhappy face. His heart sank a little; but, noticing that the old bondewas studying his daughter with a slight air of vexation and surprise, heloyally determined to divert the general attention from her brightblushes and too brilliantly sparkling eyes.

"Well!... here you both are, at any rate," he said lightly, "and Ishould strongly advise that we attempt no more exploration of the islandof Soroe to-day. Look at the sky; and just now there was a clap ofthunder."

"Thunder?" exclaimed Errington. "I never heard it!"

"I dare say not!" said Lorimer, with a quiet smile. "Still we heard itpretty distinctly, and I think we'd better make for the yacht."

"All right!" and Sir Philip sprang gaily into the long-boat to arrangethe cushions in the stern for Thelma. Never had he looked handsomer ormore high-spirited, and his elation was noticed by all his companions.

"Something joyous has happened to our Phil-eep," said Duprèz in ahalf-whisper. "He is in the air!"

"And something in the ither way has happened vera suddenly to Mr.Güldmar," returned Macfarlane. "Th' auld man is in the dumps."

The bonde's face in truth looked sad and somewhat stern. He scarcelyspoke at all as he took his place in the boat beside his daughter,—oncehe 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 thathad grown rough and white-crested during their visit to the stalactitecave. Clouds had gathered thickly over the sky, and though a few shaftsof sunlight still forced a passage through them, the threateningdarkness spread with steady persistency, especially to the northern sideof the horizon, where Storm hovered in the shape of a black wing edgedwith coppery crimson. As they reached the yacht a silver glare oflightning sprang forth from beneath this sable pinion, and a few largedrops of rain began to fall. Errington hurried Thelma on deck and downinto the saloon. His friends, with Güldmar, followed,—and the vesselwas soon plunging through waves of no small height on her way back tothe Altenfjord. A loud peal of thunder like a salvo of artilleryaccompanied their departure from Soroe, and Thelma shivered a little asshe heard it.

"You are nervous, Mademoiselle Güldmar?" asked Duprèz, noticing hertremor.

"Oh no," she answered brightly. "Nervous? That is to be afraid,—I amnot afraid of a storm, but I do not like it. It is a cruel, fiercething; and I should have wished to-day to be all sunshine—allgladness!" She paused, and her eyes grew soft and humid.

"Then you have been happy to-day?" said Lorimer in a low and very gentlevoice.

She smiled up at him from the depths of the velvet lounge in whichErrington 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 sherose from her seat,—a tall, supple, lithe figure,—and moved towardsthe instrument. "And your voice. Miss Güldmar, would soothe the mostweary 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 aNorse cradle-song to make you go to sleep. You will not understand thewords though—will that matter?"

"Not in the least!" answered Lorimer, with a smile. "The London girlssing in German, Italian, Spanish, and English. Nobody knows what theyare saying: they scarcely know themselves—but it's all right, and quitefashionable."

Thelma laughed gaily. "How funny!" she exclaimed. "It is to amusepeople, I suppose! Well,—now listen." And, playing a soft prelude, herrich contralto rippled forth in a tender, passionate, melancholymelody,—so sweet and heart-penetrating that the practical Macfarlanesat as one in a dream,—Duprèz forgot to finish making the cigarette hewas daintily manipulating between his fingers, and Lorimer had much adoto keep tears from his eyes. From one song she glided to another and yetanother; her soul seemed possessed by the very spirit of music.Meanwhile Errington, in obedience to an imperative sign from oldGüldmar, left the saloon, with him,—once outside the doors the bondesaid in a somewhat agitated voice—

"I desire to speak to you, Sir Philip, alone and undisturbed, if such athing be possible."

"By all means!" answered Philip. "Come to my 'den' on deck. We shall bequite solitary there."

He led the way, and Olaf Güldmar followed him in silence.

It was raining fiercely, and the waves, green towers of strength, brokeevery now and then over the sides of the yacht with a hissing shower ofsalt white spray. The thunder rolled along the sky in angryreverberating echoes,—frequent flashes of lightning leaped out likeswords drawn from dark scabbards,—yet towards the south the sky wasclearing, and arrowy beams of pale gold fell from the hidden sun, with asoothing and soft lustre on the breast of the troubled water.

Güldmar looked about him, and heaved a deep sigh of refreshment. Hiseyes rested lovingly on the tumbling billows,—he bared his white headto the wind and rain.

"This is the life, the blood, the heart of a man!" he said, while a sortof fierce delight shone in his keen eyes. "To battle with thetempest,—to laugh at the wrath of waters,—to set one's face againstthe wild wind,—to sport with the elements as though they were childrenor serfs,—this is the joy of manhood! A joy," he added slowly, "thatfew so-called men of to-day can ever feel."

Errington smiled gravely. "Perhaps you are right, sir," he said; "butperhaps, at the same time, you forget that life has grown very bitter toall of us during the last hundred years or so. Maybe the world isgetting old and used up, maybe the fault is in ourselves,—but it iscertain that none of us nowadays are particularly happy, except at rareintervals when—"

At that moment, in a lull of the storm, Thelma's voice pealed upwardsfrom the saloon. She was singing a French song, and the refrain rang outclearly—

"Ah! le doux son d'un baiser tendre!"

Errington paused abruptly in his speech, and turning towards a littleclosed and covered place on deck which was half cabin, halfsmoking-room, and which he kept as his own private sanctum, he unlockedit, saying—

"Will you come in here, sir? It's not very spacious, but I think it'sjust the place for a chat,—especially a private one."

Güldmar entered, but did not sit down,—Errington shut the door againstthe rain and beating spray and also remained standing. After a pause,during which the bonde seemed struggling with some inward emotion, hesaid resolutely—

"Sir Philip, you are a young man, and I am an old one. I would notwillingly offend you—for I like you—yes!" And the old man looked upfrankly: "I like you enough to respect you—which is more than I can sayto many men I have known! But I have a weight on my heart that must belifted. You and my child have been much together for many days,—and Iwas an old fool not to have foreseen the influence your companionshipmight have upon her. I may be mistaken in the idea that has taken holdof me—some wild words let fall by the poor boy Sigurd this morning,when he entreated my pardon for his misconduct of yesterday, haveperhaps misled my judgment,—but—by the gods! I cannot put it intosuitable words! I—"

"You think I love your daughter?" said Sir Philip quietly. "You are notmistaken, Sir! I love her with my whole heart and soul! I want you togive her to me as my wife."

A change passed over the old farmer's face. He grew deathly pale, andput out one hand feebly as though to seek some support. Errington caughtit in his own and pressed it hard.

"Surely you are not surprised, Sir?" he added with eagerness. "How can Ihelp 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 Güldmar slowly, "that youwould make me desolate?—or, thinking it, have you cared?"

There was an infinite pathos in his voice, and Errington was touched andsilent. He found no answer to this reproach. Güldmar sat down, leaninghis head on his hand.

"Let me think a little," he said. "My mind is confused a bit. I was notprepared for—"

He paused and seemed lost in sorrowful meditation. By-and-by he lookedup, 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 hadnot thought so far as this. I'll tell you the plain truth, and you mustforgive me for wronging you. I know what young blood is, all the worldover. 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 everthe worse for my harmless lovemaking. But Thelma is different from mostwomen,—she has a strange nature,—moreover, she has a heart and amemory,—if she once learns the meaning of love, she will never unlearnthe lesson. Now, I thought, that like most young men of your type, youmight, without meaning any actual evil, trifle with her—play with herfeelings—"

"I understand, Sir," said Philip coolly, without displaying any offense."To put it plainly, in spite of your liking for me, you thought me asnob."

This time the old man laughed heartily and unforcedly.

"Dear, dear!" he exclaimed. "You are what is termed in your own land, apeppery customer! Never mind—I like it. Why, my lad, the men of to-daythink it fair sport to trifle with a pretty woman now and then—"

"Pardon!" interrupted Philip curtly. "I must defend my sex. We mayoccasionally trifle with those women who show us that they wish to betrifled with—but never with those who, like your daughter, win everyman's respect and reverence."

Güldmar rose and grasped his hand fervently.

"By all the gods, I believe you are a true gentleman!" he said. "I askyour pardon if I have offended you by so much as a thought. Butnow"—and his face grew very serious—"we must talk this matter over. Iwill not speak of the suddenness of your love for my child, because Iknow, from my own past experience, that love is a rapid impulse—a flameignited in a moment. Yes, I know that well!" He paused, and his voicetrembled a little, but he soon steadied it and went on—"I think,however, my lad, that you have been a little hasty,—for instance, haveyou thought what your English friends and relatives will say to yourmarrying a farmer's daughter who,—though she has the blood of kings inher veins,—is, nevertheless, as this present world would judge, beneathyou in social standing? I say, have you thought of this?"

Philip smiled proudly. "Certainly, sir, I have not thought of any suchtrifle as the opinion of society,—if that is what you mean. I have norelatives to please or displease—no friends in the truest sense of theworld except Lorimer. I have a long list of acquaintancesundoubtedly,—infinite bores, most of them,—and whether they approve ordisapprove of my actions is to me a matter of profound indifference."

"See you!" said the bonde firmly and earnestly. "It would be an illday for me if I gave my little one to a husband who might—mind! I onlysay 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 Thelmawere 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 youso frankly. I have led a useless life, and a more or less selfish one. Ihave principally sought to amuse and interest myself all through it.I've had my vices to, and have them still. Beside Thelma's innocentwhite soul, mine looks villainous! But I can honestly say I never knewwhat love was till I saw her,—and now—well! I would give my life awaygladly to save her from even a small sorrow."

"I believe you—I thoroughly believe you!" said Güldmar. "I see you lovethe child. The gods forbid that I should stand in the way of herhappiness! I am getting old, and 'twas often a sore point with me toknow what would become of my darling when I was gone,—for she is fairto look upon, and there are many human wolves ready to devour suchlambs. Still, my lad, you must learn all. Do you know what is said of mein Bosekop?"

Errington smiled and nodded in the affirmative.

"You do?" exclaimed the old man, somewhat surprised. "You know they sayI killed my wife—my wife! the creature before whom my soul knelt inworship night and day—whose bright head was the sunlight of life! Letme tell you of her, Sir Philip—'tis a simple story. She was the childof my dearest friend, and many years younger than myself. This friend ofmine, Erik Erlandsen, was the captain of a stout Norwegian barque,running constantly between these wild waters and the coast of France. Hefell 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 tothe 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 shoresof Norway. She grew to love France,—and Erik often left her there insome safe shelter when he was bound on some extra long and stormypassage. She took to the Catholic creed, too, in France, and learned tospeak the French tongue, so Erik said, as though it were her own. At thetime of the expected birth of her child, her husband had taken her farinland to Arles, and there business compelled him to leave her for somedays. When he returned she was dead!—laid out for burial, with flowersand tapers round her. He fell prone on her body insensible,—and not formany hours did the people of the place dare to tell him that he was thefather of a living child—a girl, with the great blue eyes and whiteskin of her mother. He would scarce look at it—but at last, when rouseda bit, he carried the little thing in his arms to the great Convent atArles, and, giving the nuns money, he bade them take it and bring it upas they would, only giving it the name of Thelma. Then poor Erlandsencame home—he sought me out:—he said, 'Olaf, I feel that I am going onmy 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 tocheer him—but he spoke truly—his ship went down in a storm on the Bayof Biscay, and all on board were lost. Then it was that I commenced myjourneyings to and fro, to see the little maiden that was growing up inthe Convent at Arles. I watched her for sixteen years—and when shereached her seventeenth birthday, I married her and brought her toNorway."

"And she was Thelma's mother?" said Errington with interest.

"She was Thelma's mother," returned the bonde, "and she was morebeautiful than even Thelma is now. Her education had been almostentirely French, but, as a child, she had learnt that I generally spokeEnglish, and as there happened to be an English nun in the Convent, shestudied that language and mastered it for the love of me—yes!" herepeated with musing tenderness, "all for the love of me,—for she lovedme, Sir Philip—ay! as passionately as I loved her, and that is saying agreat deal! We lived a solitary happy life,—but we did not mix with ourneighbors—our creeds were different,—our ways apart from theirs. Wehad some time of perfect happiness together. Three years passed beforeour child was born, and then"—the bonde paused awhile, and againcontinued,—"then my wife's health grew frail and uncertain. She likedto be in the fresh air, and was fond of wandering about the hills withher little one in her arms. One day—shall I ever forget it! when Thelmawas about two and a half years old, I missed them both, and went out tosearch for them, fearing my wife had lost her way, and knowing that ourchild could not toddle far without fatigue. I found them"—the bondeshuddered-"but how? My wife had slipped and fallen through a chasm inthe rocks,—high enough, indeed, to have killed her,—she was alive, butinjured for life. She lay there white and motionless—little Thelmameanwhile sat smilingly on the edge of the rock, assuring me that hermother had gone to sleep 'down there.' Well!" and Güldmar brushed theback of his hand across his eyes, "to make a long story short, I carriedmy darling home in my arms a wreck—she lingered for ten years ofpatient suffering, ten long years! She could only move about oncrutches,—the beauty of her figure was gone—but the beauty of her facegrew more perfect every day! Never again was she seen on the hills,—andso to the silly folks of Bosekop she seemed to have disappeared. Indeed,I kept her very existence a secret,—I could not endure that othersshould hear of the destruction of all that marvellous grace and queenlyloveliness! She lived long enough to see her daughter blossom intogirlhood,—then,—she died. I could not bear to have her laid in thedamp, wormy earth—you know in our creed earth-burial is notpracticed,—so I laid her tenderly away in a king's tomb ofantiquity,—a tomb known only to myself and one who assisted me to layher in her last resting-place. There she sleeps right royally,—and nowis your mind relieved, my lad? For the reports of the Bosekop folk mustcertainly have awakened some suspicions in your mind?"

"Your story has interested me deeply, sir," said Errington; "but Iassure you I never had any suspicions of you at all. I always disregardgossip—it is generally scandalous, and seldom true. Besides, I tookyour face on trust, as you took mine."

"Then," declared Güldmar, with a smile, "I have nothing more tosay,—except"—and he stretched out both hands—"may the great godsprosper your wooing! You offer a fairer fate to Thelma than I haddreamed 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. Güldmar looked at him, laughed a little,and sighed.

"She loves thee?" he said, relapsing into the thee and thou he waswont to use with his daughter. "Thou hast lost no time, my lad? Whendidst thou find that out?"

"To-day!" returned Philip, with that same triumphant smile playing abouthis lips. "She told me so—yet even now I cannot believe it!"

"Ah, well, thou mayest believe it truly," said Güldmar, "for Thelma saysnothing that she does not mean! The child has never stooped to even thesmallest falsehood."

Errington seemed lost in a happy dream. Suddenly he roused himself andtook Güldmar by the arm.

"Come," he said, "let us go to her! She will wonder why we are so longabsent. See! the storm has cleared—the sun is shining. It isunderstood? You will give her to me?"

"Foolish lad!" said Güldmar gently. "What have I to do with it? She hasgiven herself to thee! Love has overwhelmed both of your hearts, andbefore the strong sweep of such an ocean what can an old man's lifeavail? Nothing—less than nothing! Besides, I should be happy—if Ihave regrets,—if I feel the tooth of sorrow biting at my heart—'tisnaught but selfishness. 'Tis my own dread of parting with her"—hisvoice trembled, and his fine face quivered with suppressed emotion.

Errington pressed his arm. "Our house shall be yours, sir!" he saideagerly. "Why not leave this place and come with us?"

Güldmar shook his head. "Leave Norway!" he said—"leave the land of myfathers—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 Ithank you from my heart. But 'twould be impossible! I should be like acaged eagle, breaking my wings against the bars of Englishconventionalities. Besides, young birds must make their nest withoutinterference from the old ones."

He stepped out on deck as Errington opened the little cabin door, andhis features kindled with enthusiasm as he looked on the stretch of darkmountain scenery around him, illumined by the brilliant beams of the sunthat shone out now in full splendor, as though in glorious defiance ofthe retreating storm, which had gradually rolled away in clouds thatwere tumbling one over the other at the extreme edge of the northernhorizon, 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 mewith my face turned to the mountains, and nothing but their kinglycrests between me and the blessed sky! Come, my lad!" and he relapsedinto his ordinary tone. "If thou art like me when I was thy age, everyminute passed away from thy love seems an eternity! Let us go to her—wehad best wait till the decks are dry before we assemble up here again."

They descended at once into the saloon, where they found Thelma beinginitiated into the mysteries of chess by Duprèz, while Macfarlane andLorimer looked idly on. She glanced up from the board as her father andErrington entered, and smiled at them both with a slightly heightenedcolor.

"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 rememberthe moves."

"Nothing is easier!" declared Duprèz. "I was showing you how the bishopgoes, so—cross-ways," and he illustrated his lesson. "He is a dignitaryof the Church, you perceive. Bien! it follows that he cannot go in astraight line,—if you observe them well, you will see that all thereligious gentlemen play at cross purposes. You are very quick,Mademoiselle Güldmar,—you have perfectly comprehended the move of theCastle, and the pretty plunge of the knight. Now, as I told you, thequeen can do anything—all the pieces shiver in their shoes before her!"

"Why?" she asked, feeling a little embarrassed, as Sir Philip came andsat beside her, looking at her with an undoubtedly composed air ofabsolute proprietorship.

"Why? Enfin, the reason is simple!" answered Pierre. "The queen is awoman,—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 onlymove one step at a time, and that with much labor and hesitation—he isthe wooden image of Louis XVI!"

"Then," said the girl quickly, "the object of the game is to protect aking who is not worth protecting!"

Duprèz laughed. "Exactly! And thus, in this charming game, you have thehistory of many nations! Mademoiselle Güldmar has put the matterexcellently! Chess is for those who intend to form republics. All theworry and calculation—all the moves of pawns, bishops, knights,castles, and queens,—all to shelter the throne which is not worthprotecting! Excellent! Mademoiselle, you are not in favor ofmonarchies!"

"I do not know," said Thelma; "I have never thought of such things. Butkings should be great men,—wise and powerful, better and braver thanall their subjects, should they not?"

"Undoubtedly!" remarked Lorimer; "but, it's a curious thing, they seldomare. Now, our queen, God bless her—"

"Hear, hear!" interrupted Errington, laughing good-humoredly. "I won'thave a word said against the dear old lady, Lorimer! Granted thatshe hates London, and sees no fun in being stared at by vulgar crowds, Ithink she's quite right,—and I sympathize heartily with her liking fora cup of tea in peace and quiet with some old Scotch body who doesn'tcare 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 pairsonalattention."

"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 hislife,—what with laying foundation stones, opening museums, inspectingthis and visiting that, he is like a costermonger's donkey, that mustgee-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 sayshe considers her pretty, there's no end to the scandal. Poor royalwretch! I pity him from my heart! The unwashed, beer-drinking,gin-swilling classes, who clamor for shortened hours of labor, and wantwork to be expressly invented for their benefit, don't suffer a bit morethan Albert Edward, who is supposed to be rolling idly in the very lapof luxury, and who can hardly call his soul his own. Why, the man can'teat 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!"

Güldmar looked thoughtful. "I know little about kings or princes," hesaid, "but it seems to me, from what I do know, that they have butsmall power. They are mere puppets. In olden times they possessedsupremacy, but now—"

"I will tell you," interrupted Duprèz excitedly, "who it is that rulesthe people in these times,—it is the PenMadame La Plume. A littleblack, sharp, scratching devil she is,—empress of all nations! No crownbut a point,—no royal robe save ink! It is certain that as long asMadame la Plume gambols freely over her realms of paper, so long mustkings and autocrats shake in their shoes and be uncertain of theirthrones. Mon Dieu! if I had but the gift of writing, I would conquer theworld!"

"There are an immense number of people writing just now, Pierre,"remarked Lorimer, with a smile, "yet they don't do much in theconquering line."

"Because they are afraid!" said Duprèz. "Because they have not thecourage of their opinions! Because they dare not tell the truth!"

"Upon my life, I believe you are right!" said Errington. "If there werea man bold enough to declare truths and denounce lies, I should imagineit 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 Güldmar! I think it hasa tolerable harvest of them every year,—a harvest, too, that neverfails! But I say, Phil! Look at the sun shining! Let us go up ondeck,—we shall soon be getting back to the Altenfjord."

They all rose, threw on their caps, and left the saloon with theexception 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 hermovement, smiled at her, and nodded kindly, as he passed through thesaloon doors and disappeared. With a beating heart, she sprang quicklyto 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! tellme 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 intohis eyes.

"I cannot say it properly!" she said. "There is no language for myheart! If I could tell you all I feel, you would think it foolish, I amsure, because it is all so wild and strange,"—she stopped, and her facegrew pale,—"oh!" she murmured with a slight tremor; "it is terrible!"

"What is terrible, my sweet one?" asked Errington drawing her moreclosely, and folding her more tightly in his arms.

She sighed deeply. "To have no more life of my own!" she answered, whileher 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 yourheart 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 handcaressed his cheek. "Philip," she said very softly, "what are youthinking about? Your eyes shine so brightly—do you know you havebeautiful eyes?"

"Have I?" he murmured abstractedly, looking down on that exquisite,innocent, glowing face, and trembling with the force of the restrainedpassion that kindled through him. "I don't know about that!—yours seemto me like two stars fallen from heaven! Oh, Thelma, my darling!—Godmake me worthy of you."

He spoke with intense fervor,—kissing her with a tenderness, in whichthere was something of reverence as well as fear. The whole soul of theman was startled and roused to inexpressible devotion, by the absolutesimplicity and purity of her nature—the direct frankness with which shehad said her life was his—his!—and in what way was HE fitted to be theguardian and possessor of this white lily from the garden of God? Shewas so utterly different to all women as he had known them—as differentas a bird of paradise to a common house-sparrow. Meanwhile, as thesethoughts flitted through his brain, she moved gently from his embraceand smiled proudly, yet sweetly.

"Worthy of me?" she said softly and wonderingly. "It is I that will prayto 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, majesticas 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. Butit is not anything to be beautiful,—unless one is loved,—and then itis different! I feel much more beautiful now, since you think mepleasant 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 hiswatch-chain a half-hoop ring of brilliants. "This belonged to mymother, Thelma," he continued gently, "and since her death I have alwayscarried 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 itsparkled bravely.

She gazed at it in surprise. "You part with it now?" she asked, withwonder in her accents. "I do not understand!"

He kissed her. "No? I will explain again, Thelma!—and you shall notlaugh at me as you did the very first time I saw you! I resolved neverto part with this ring, I say, except to—my promised wife. Now do youunderstand?"

She blushed deeply, and her eyes dropped before his ardent gaze.

"I do thank you very much, Philip,"—she faltered timidly,—she wasabout to say something further when suddenly Lorimer entered the saloon.He glanced from Errington to Thelma, and from Thelma back again toErrington,—and smiled. So have certain brave soldiers been known tosmile in face of a death-shot. He advanced with his usual languid stepand nonchalant air, and removing his cap, bowed gravely and courteously.

"Let me be the first to offer my congratulations to the future LadyErrington! 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 Güldmar and his daughter left the yacht that evening,Errington accompanied them, in order to have the satisfaction ofescorting his beautiful betrothed as far as her own door. They were allthree very silent—the bonde was pensive, Thelma shy, and Erringtonhimself was too happy for speech. Arriving at the farmhouse, they sawSigurd curled up under the porch, playing idly with the trailingrose-branches, but, on hearing their footsteps, he looked up, uttered awild exclamation, and fled. Güldmar tapped his own foreheadsignificantly.

"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 wildfancies. Wouldst thou believe it, Thelma, child," and here he turned tohis daughter and encircled her waist with his arm—"he seemed to knowhow matters were with thee and Philip, when I was yet in the darkconcerning them!"

This was the first allusion her father had made to her engagement, andher head drooped with a sort of sweet shame.

"Nay, now, why hide thy face?" went on the old man cheerily. "Didst thouthink I would grudge my bird her summer-time? Not I! And little did Ihope for thee, my darling, that thou wouldst find a shelter worthy ofthee in this wild world!" He paused a moment, looking tenderly down uponher, as she nestled in mute affection against his breast,—thenaddressing himself to Errington, he went on—

"We have a story in our Norse religion, my lad, of two lovers whodeclared their passion to each other, on one stormy night in the depthof winter. They were together in a desolate hut on the mountains, andaround them lay unbroken tracts of frozen snow. They were descended fromthe gods, and therefore the gods protected them—and it happened thatafter they had sworn their troth, the doors of the snow-bound hut flewsuddenly open, and lo! the landscape had changed—the hills were gaywith grass and flowers,—the sky was blue and brilliant, the birds sang,and everywhere was heard the ripple of waters let loose from their icyfetters, and gamboling down the rocks in the joyous sun. This was thework of the goddess Friga,—the first kiss exchanged by the lovers shewatched over, banished Winter from the land, and Spring came instead.'Tis a pretty story, and true all the world over—true for all men andwomen of all creeds! It must be an ice-bound heart indeed that will notwarm to the touch of love—and mine, though aged, grows young again inthe joy of my children." He put his daughter gently from him to-wardsPhilip, saying with more gravity, "Go to him, child!—go—with thy oldfather's blessing! And take with thee the three best virtues of awife,—truth, humility, and obedience. Good night, my son!" and he wrungErrington's hand with fervor. "You'll take longer to say good night toThelma," 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 hewent, that they might not think he imagined himself lonely orneglected,—and the two lovers paced slowly up and down the garden-pathtogether, exchanging those first confidences which to outsiders seem soeminently foolish, but which to those immediately concerned are mostwonderful, delightful, strange, and enchanting beyond all description.Where, from a practical point of view, is the sense of such questions asthese—"When did you love me first?" "What did you feel when I saidso-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,—andthe selfishly matter-of-fact, but privately fidgety and lonely oldbachelor. Ah! but there are those who could tell you that at one time oranother of their lives this "ridiculous rubbish" seemed far moreimportant than the decline and fall of empires,—more necessary toexistence than light and air,—more fraught with hope, fear, suspense,comfort, despair, and anxiety than anything that could be invented orimagined! Philip and Thelma,—man and woman in the full flush of youth,health, beauty, and happiness,—had just entered their Paradise,—theirfairy-garden,—and every little flower and leaf on the way had special,sweet interest for them. Love's indefinable glories,—Love's proudpossibilities,—Love's long ecstasies,—these, like so manyspirit-figures, seemed to smile and beckon them on, on, on, throughgolden seas of sunlight,—through flower-filled fields of drowsyentrancement,—through winding ways of rose-strewn and lily-scentedleafa*ge,—on, on, with eyes and hearts absorbed in one another,—unseeingany end to the dreamlike wonders that, like some heavenly picture-scroll,unrolled slowly and radiantly before them. And so they murmured thoseunwise, tender things which no wisdom in the world has ever surpassed,and when Philip at last said "Good night!" with more reluctance thanRomeo, and pressed his parting kiss on his love's sweet, freshmouth,—the riddle with which he had puzzled himself so often wasresolved at last,—life was worth living, worth cherishing, worthennobling. The reason of all things seemed clear to him,—Love, and Loveonly, supported, controlled, and grandly completed the universe! Heaccepted this answer to all perplexities,—his heart expanded with asense of large content—his soul was satisfied.

Meanwhile, during his friend's absence from the yacht, Lorimer took itupon himself to break the news to Duprèz and Macfarlane. These latteryoung gentlemen had had their suspicions already, but they were notquite prepared to hear them so soon confirmed. Lorimer told the matterin his own way.

"I say, you fellows!" he remarked carelessly, as he sat smoking in theircompany on deck, "you'd better look out! If you stare at Miss Güldmartoo much, you'll have Phil down upon you!"

"Ha, ha!" exclaimed Duprèz slyly, "the dear Phil-eep is in love?"

"Something more than that," said Lorimer, looking absently at thecigarette he held between his fingers,—"he's an engaged man."

"Engaged!" cried Macfarlane excitedly. "Ma certes! He has the deevil'sown luck! He's just secured for himself the grandest woman in thewarld!"

"Je le crois bien!" said Duprèz gravely, nodding his head severaltimes. "Phil-eep is a wise boy! He is the fortunate one! I am not formarriage at all—no! not for myself,—it is to tie one's hands, tobecome a prisoner,—and that would not suit me; but if I were inclinedto captivity, I should like Mademoiselle Güldmar for my beautifulgaoler. And beautiful she is, mon Dieu!... beyond all comparison!"

Lorimer was silent, so was Macfarlane. After a pause Duprèz 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 sparklingwith mischief. "'Twould be grand fun to see auld Dyceworthy's face whenhe hears o't. By the Lord! He'll fall to cursin' an' swearin' like mapious aunt in Glasgie, or that auld witch that cursed Miss Thelmayestreen!"

"An eminently unpleasant old woman she was!" said Lorimer musingly. "Iwonder what she meant by it!"

"She meant, mon cher," said Duprèz airily, "that she knew herself tobe ugly and venerable, while Mademoiselle was youthful andravishing,—it is a sufficient reason to excite profanity in the mind ofa lady!"

"Here comes Errington!" said Macfarlane, pointing to the approachingboat that was coming swiftly back from the Güldmars' pier. "Lorimer, arewe 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 werecordially grasped, and his friends out-vied each other in good wishesfor his happiness. He thanked them simply and with a manlystraightforwardness, entirely free from the usual affected embarrassmentthat some modern young men think it seemly to adopt under similarcirc*mstances.

"The fact is," he said frankly, "I congratulate myself,—I'm more luckythan 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 forsheer spite and vexation!"

Philip laughed. "I hope not," he said. "I should think it would needimmense force to draw a tear from her ladyship's cold bright eyes."

"She used to like you awfully, Phil!" said Lorimer. "You were a greatfavorite of hers."

"All men are her favorites with the exception of one—her husband!"observed Errington gaily. "Come along, let's have some champagne tocelebrate the day! We'll propose toasts and drink healths—we've got afair excuse for jollity this evening."

They all descended into the saloon, and had a merry time of it, singingsongs and telling good stories, Lorimer being the gayest of the party,and it was long past midnight when they retired to their cabins, withouteven looking at the wonders of, perhaps, the most gorgeous sky that hadyet shone on their travels—a sky of complete rose-color, varying fromthe deepest shade up to the palest, in which the sun glowed with asubdued radiance like an enormous burning ruby.

Thelma saw it, standing under her house-porch, where her father hadjoined her,—Sigurd saw it,—he had come out from some thicket where hehad been hiding, and he now sat, in a humble, crouching posture atThelma's feet. All three were silent, reverently watching the spreadingsplendor of the heavens. Once Güldmar addressed his daughter in a softtone.

"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 eyeswere full of tears, he took her hand and held it in his meagre andwasted one.

"Mistress!" he said suddenly, "do you think I shall soon die?"

She turned her pitying eyes down upon him, startled by the vibratingmelancholy of his tone.

"Thou wilt die, Sigurd," answered Güldmar gently, "when the godsplease,—not one second sooner or later. Art thou eager to seeValhalla?"

Sigurd nodded dreamily. "They will understand me there!" he murmured."And I shall grow straight and strong and brave! Mistress, if you meetme in Valhalla, you will love me!"

She stroked his wild fair locks. "I love you now, Sigurd," she saidtenderly. "But perhaps we shall all love each other better in heaven."

"Yes, yes!" exclaimed Sigurd, patting her hand caressingly. "When we areall dead, dead! When our bodies crumble away and turn to flowers andbirds and butterflies,—and our souls come out like white and redflames,—yes!... then we shall love each other and talk of suchstrange, strange things!" He paused and laughed wildly. Then his voicesank again into melancholy monotony—and he added: "Mistress, you arekilling 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 hishead.

"I cannot tell you!" he muttered. "All my thoughts have gone to drownthemselves 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 meleft,—something that dances before me like a flame,—but it will notrest, it does not obey me. I call it, but it will not come! And I amgetting tired, mistress—very, very tired!" His voice broke, and a lowsob escaped him,—he hid his face in the folds of her dress. Güldmarlooked at the poor fellow compassionately.

"The wits wander further and further away!" he said to his daughter in alow tone. "'Tis a mind like a broken rainbow, split through bystorm—'twill soon vanish. Be patient with him, child,—it cannot be forlong!"

"No, not for long!" cried Sigurd, raising his head brightly. "That istrue—not for long! Mistress, will you come to-morrow with me and gatherflowers? You used to love to wander with your poor boy in thefields,—but you have forgotten,—and I cannot find any blossoms withoutyou! 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 andgather all the flowers we can find. Will that make you happy?"

"Yes!" he said, softly kissing the hem of her dress. "It will make mehappy—for the last time."

Then he rose in an attitude of attention, as though he had been calledby some one at a distance,—and with a grave, preoccupied air he movedaway, walking on tip-toe as though he feared to interrupt the sound ofsome soft invisible music. Güldmar sighed as he watched him disappear.

"May the gods make us thankful for a clear brain when we have it!" hesaid 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, neverforget how thy old father loves thee!"

Then, not trusting himself to say more, he strode into the house andbetook himself to slumber. Thelma followed his example, and the oldfarmhouse was soon wrapped in the peace and stillness of the strangenight—a night of glittering sunshine. Sigurd alone was wakeful,—he layat the foot of one of the tallest pine-trees, and stared persistently atthe radiant sky through the network of dark branches. Now and then hesmiled as though he saw some beatific vision—sometimes he pluckedfitfully at the soft long moss on which he had made his couch, andsometimes he broke into a low, crooning song. God alone knew the brokenideas, the dim fancies, the half born desires, that glimmered like paleghosts 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'sdarkness.

It was past six in the morning when he arose, and smoothing back histangled locks, went to Thelma's window and sat down beneath it, in muteexpectancy. He had not long to wait,—at the expiration of ten orfifteen minutes, the little lattice was thrown wide open, and the girl'sface, fresh as a rose, framed in a shower of amber locks, smiled downupon him.

"I am coming, Sigurd!" she cried softly and joyously. "How lovely themorning is! Stay for me there! I shall not be long."

And she disappeared, leaving her window open. Sigurd heard her singinglittle scraps of song to herself, as she moved about in the interior ofher room. He listened, as though his soul were drawn out of him by hervoice,—but presently the rich notes ceased, and there was a suddensilence. Sigurd knew or guessed the reason of that hush,—Thelma was ather prayers. Instinctively the poor forlorn lad folded his wastedhands—most piteously and most imploringly he raised his bewildered eyesto the blue and golden glory of the sky. His conception of God wasindefinable; his dreams of heaven, chaotic minglings of fairy-land withValhalla,—but he somehow felt that wherever Thelma's holy aspirationsturned, there the angels must be listening.

Presently she came out of the house, looking radiant as the morningitself,—her luxuriant hair was thrown back over her shoulders, and fellloosely about her in thick curls, simply confined by a knot of blueribbon. She carried a large osier basket, capacious, and gracefullyshaped.

"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—youknow it, mistress? And the poppies are in the field as you go—and bythe banks there are the heart's-ease flowers—we cannot have too many ofthem! Shall we go?"

"Wherever you like, dear," answered Thelma tenderly, looking down fromher stately height on the poor stunted creature at her side, who heldher dress as though he were a child clinging to her as his sole means ofguidance. "All the land is pleasant to-day."

They left the farm and its boundaries. A few men were at work on one ofGüldmar's fields, and these looked up,—half in awe, half in fear,—asThelma and her fantastic servitor passed along.

"'Tis a fine wench!" said one man, resting on his spade, and followingwith his eyes the erect, graceful figure of his employer's daughter.

"Maybe, maybe!" said another gruffly; "but a fine wench is a snare ofthe devil! Do ye mind what Lovisa Elsland told us?"

"Ay, ay," answered the first speaker, "Lovisa knows,—Lovisa is thewisest 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 wouldhave willingly labored on Olaf Güldmar's land, had not the wages heoffered been above the usual rate of hire,—and times were bad inNorway. But otherwise, the superstitious fear of him was so great thathis 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 ofmeadow-land,—the one naturally fertile spot in that somewhat barrendistrict. Plenty of flowers blossomed at their feet, but they did notpause to gather these, for Sigurd was anxious to get to the stream wherethe purple pansies grew. They soon reached it—it was a silvery clearribbon of water that unrolled itself in bright folds, through green,transparent tunnels of fern and waving grass—leaping now and then witha swift dash over a smooth block of stone or jagged rock—but for themost part gliding softly, with a happy, self-satisfied murmur, as thoughit were some drowsy spirit dreaming joyous dreams. Here nodded thegrave, purple-leaved pansies,—legendary consolers of the heart,—theirlittle, quaint, expressive physiognomies turned in every direction; upto the sky, as though absorbing the sunlight,—down to the ground, withan almost severe air of meditation, or curled sideways on their stems ina 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 ashe did so, "Yes, you must all die; but death does not hurt; no! lifehurts, but not death! See! as I pluck you, you all grow wings and flyaway—away to other meadows, and bloom again." He paused, and a puzzledlook came into his eyes. He turned toward Thelma, who had seated herselfon 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 almostsure 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 againand fetch them—" A crackling among the branches of some trees startledhim,—he looked round, and uttered a peculiar cry like the cry of a wildanimal, and exclaimed, "Spies, spies! ha! ha! secret, wicked faces thatare afraid to show themselves! Come out! Mistress, mistress! make themcome out!"

Thelma rose, surprised as his gesticulations, and came towards him; toher utter astonishment she found herself confronted by old LovisaElsland, and the Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy's servant, Ulrika. On bothwomen'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 Güldmar, 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 fearlesslyon the old hag's withered, evil visage. "You must be tired, wanderingabout 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 withpassion. "If I had my fingers at your throat, you should then see if Iam feeble! I—" Ulrika pulled her by the arm, and whispered somethingwhich had the effect of calming her a little. "Well," she said, "youspeak then! I can wait!"

Ulrika cleared her husky voice, and fixed her dull eyes on the girl'sradiant countenance.

"You must go away," she said coldly and briefly; "You and your father,and this creature," and she pointed contemptuously to the staringSigurd. "Do you understand? You must leave the Alten Fjord. The peopleare tired of you—tired of bad harvests, ill-luck, sickness, andcontinued poverty. You are the cause of all our miseries,—and we haveresolved you shall not stay among us. Go quickly,—take the blight andpestilence 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 OlafGüldmar's dwelling shall be kindled into flame to light the hills withcrimson, far and near! Not a plank shall be spared!—not a vestige ofhis pride be left—"

"Stop!" said Thelma quietly. "What do you mean? You must both be verymad or very wicked! You want us to go away—you threaten to set fire toour home—why? We have done you no harm. Tell me, poor soul!" and sheturned with queenly forbearance to Lovisa, "is it for Britta's sake thatyou would burn the house she lives in? That is not wise! You cursed methe 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! Youare a witch!—the village knows it—Mr. Dyceworthy knows it! Mr.Dyceworthy says we shall be justified in the Lord's sight for wreakingevil upon you! Evil, evil be on those of evil deeds!"

"Then shall the evil fall on Mr. Dyceworthy," said the girl calmly. "Heis wicked in himself,—and doubly wicked to encourage you inwickedness. 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 daughterof Satan withstand his power?" And she clapped her hands in a sort offierce ecstasy.

Thelma glanced at her pityingly and smiled. "A saint! Poor thing, howlittle 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 knewhow,—tell me can I comfort you, or make your life more cheerful? Itmust be hard to be so old and all alone!"

"Your death would comfort me!" returned Lovisa grimly. "Why do you keepBritta from me?"

"I do not keep her," Thelma answered. "She stays with me because she ishappy. Why do you grudge her, her happiness? And as for burning myfather's house, surely you would not do so wicked and foolish athing!—but still, you must do as you choose, for it is not possiblethat we shall leave the Altenfjord to please you."

Here Ulrika started forward angrily. "You defy us!" she cried. "You willnot go?" And in her excitement she seized Thelma's arm roughly.

This action was too much for Sigurd; he considered it an attack on theperson of his beloved mistress and he resented it at once in his ownfashion. Throwing himself on Ulrika with sudden ferocity, he pushed andbeat her back as though he were a wolf-hound struggling with refractoryprey; and though the ancient Lovisa rushed to the rescue, and Thelmaimploringly called upon her zealous champion to desist,—allremonstrances were unavailing, till Sigurd had reduced his enemy to themost abject and whimpering terror.

"A demon—a demon!" she sobbed and moaned, as the valiant dwarf at lastreleased her from his clutches; and, tossing his long, fair locks overhis misshapen shoulders, laughed loudly and triumphantly with delight athis victory. "Lovisa! Lovisa Elsland! this is your doing; you broughtthis upon me! I may die now, and you will not care! O Lord, Lord, havemercy—"

Suddenly she stopped; her eyes dilated,—her face grew grey with thesickening pallor of fear. Slowly she raised her hand and pointed toSigurd—his fantastic dress had become disordered in the affray, and hisjacket was torn open,—and on his bare chest a long red scar in theshape of a cross was distinctly visible. "That scar!" she muttered. "Howdid he get that scar?"

Lovisa stared at her in impatient derision. Thelma was too surprised toanswer immediately, and Sigurd took it upon himself to furnish what heconsidered a crushing reply.

"Odin's mark!" he said, patting the scar with much elation. "No wonderyou are afraid of it! Everybody knows it—birds, flowers, trees, andstars! Even you—you are afraid!"

And he laughed again, and snapped his fingers in her face. The womanshuddered violently. Step by step she drew near to the wondering Thelma,and spoke in low and trembling accents, without a trace of her formeranger.

"They say you are wicked," she said slowly, "and that the devil has yoursoul ready, before you are dead! But I am not afraid of you. No; I willforgive 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 thisSigurd?"

"Sigurd is a foundling," answered Thelma simply. "He was floating aboutin 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 ingratitude or despair it was difficult to say.

"Lovisa Elsland," she said monotonously, "I am going home. I cannot helpyou 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! OGod!" and burst into a stormy passion of sobs and tears.

Thelma, touched by her utter misery, would have offered consolation, butLovisa repelled her with a fierce gesture.

"Go!" said the old woman harshly. "You have cast your spells upon her—Iam witness of your work! And shall you escape just punishment? No; notwhile there is a God in heaven, and I, Lovisa Elsland, live to performHis bidding! Go,—white devil that you are!—go and carry misfortuneupon misfortune to your fine gentleman-lover! Ah!" and she chuckledmaliciously as the girl recoiled from her, her proud face growingsuddenly paler, "have I touched you there? Lie in his breast, and itshall be as though a serpent stung him,—kiss his lips, and your touchshall be poison,—live in doubt, and die in misery! Go! and may all evilfollow you!"

She raised her staff and waved it majestically, as though she drew acircle in the air,—Thelma smiled pityingly, but deigned no answer toher wild ravings.

"Come, Sigurd!" she said simply, "let us return home. It is growinglate—father will wonder where we are."

"Yes, yes," agreed Sigurd, seizing the basket full of the pansies he hadplucked. "The sunshine is slipping away, and we cannot live withshadows! These are not real women, mistress; they are dreams—blackdreams,—I have often fought with dreams, and I know how to make themafraid! See how the one weeps because she knows me,—and the other isjust going to fall into a grave. I can hear the clods thrown on herhead—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, lookingback once, however, to call out loudly—

"Good-bye, bad dreams!"

As they disappeared behind the trees, Lovisa turned angrily to thestill-sobbing Ulrika.

"What is this folly?" she exclaimed, striking her staff fiercely intothe 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 notknow it—how could I know?"

Lovisa grew so impatient that she seized her by the shoulder and shookher violently.

"Know what?" she cried; "know what?"

"Sigurd is my son!" said Ulrika, with a sort of solemnresignation,—then, with a sudden gesture, she threw her hands above herhead, crying, "My son, my son! The child I thought I had killed! TheLord be praised I did not murder him!"

Lovisa Elsland seemed stupefied with surprise. "Is this the truth?" sheasked at last, slowly and incredulously.

"The truth, the truth!" cried Ulrika passionately. "It is always thetruth that comes to light! He is my child, I tell you!... I gave himthat scar!" She paused, shuddering, and continued in a lower tone, "Itried to kill him with a knife, but when the blood flowed, it sickenedme, and I could not! He was an infant abortion—the evil fruit of anevil 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 mein 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. "Yourlover 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 ofdefiance.

"I care nothing for your taunts, Lovisa Elsland!" she said. "You can dome no harm! All is over between us! I will help in no mischief againstthe Güldmars. 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 memurderess again!"

"Coward and fool!" shrieked Lovisa. "Was it your intent that the childshould live? Were you not glad to think it dead? And cannot I spread thestory of your infamy through all the villages where you are known? Isnot the wretched boy himself a living witness of the attempt you made tokill him? Does not that scar speak against you? Would not Olaf Güldmarrelate the story of the child's rescue to any one that asked him? Wouldyou like all Bosekop to know of your intrigue with an escaped criminal,who was afterwards caught and hung! The virtuous Ulrika—the zealousservant of the Gospel—the pious, praying Ulrika!" and the old womantrembled with rage and excitement. "Out of my power? Never, never! Aslong as there is breath in my body I will hold you down! Not amurderess, you say—?"

"No," said Ulrika very calmly, with a keen look, "I am not—but youare!"

CHAPTER XVI.

"Il n'y a personne qui ait eu autant à souffrir à votre sujet que moi depuis ma naissance! aussi je vous supplie à deux genoux et au nom de Dien, d'avoir pitié de moi!"—Old Breton Ballad.

In a few more days Thelma's engagement to Sir Philip Bruce-Errington wasthe talk of the neighborhood. The news spread gradually, having been, inthe first place, started by Britta, whose triumph in her mistress'shappiness was charming to witness. It reached the astonished andreluctant ears of the Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy, whose rage was so greatthat it destroyed his appetite for twenty-four hours. But the generalimpression in the neighborhood, where superstition maintained so stronga hold on the primitive and prejudiced minds of the people, was that thereckless young Englishman would rue the day on which he wedded "thewhite witch of the Altenfjord."

Güldmar was regarded with more suspicion than ever, as having used somesecret and diabolical influence to promote the match; and the wholeparty were, as it seemed, tabooed, and looked upon as given up to themost unholy practices.

Needless to say, the opinions of the villagers had no effect whatever onthe good spirits of those who were thus unfavorably criticised, and itwould have been difficult to find a merrier group than that assembledone fine morning in front of Güldmar's house, all equipped from top totoe for some evidently unusually lengthy and arduous mountain excursion.Each man carried a long, stout stick, portable flask, knapsack, andrug—the latter two articles strapped together and slung across theshoulder—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 peculiarpensiveness and abstraction.

She was at that moment busied in adjusting Errington's knapsack morecomfortably, her fair, laughing face turned up to his, and her brighteyes alight with love and tender solicitude.

"I've a good mind not to go at all," he whispered in her ear. "I'll comeback and stay with you all day."

"You foolish boy!" she answered merrily. "You would miss seeing thegrand fall—all for what? To sit with me and watch me spinning, and youwould 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 littlehand that had just buckled his shoulder-strap. "Though I wish you weregoing with us. But I say, Thelma, darling, won't you be lonely?"

She laughed gaily. "Lonely? I? Why, Britta is with me—besides, I amnever lonely now." She uttered the last word softly, with a shy,upward glance. "I have so much to think about—" She paused and drew herhand away from her lover's close clasp. "Ah," she resumed, with amischievous smile, "you are a conceited boy! You want to be missed! Youwish me to say that I shall feel most miserable all the time you areaway! If I do, I shall not tell you!"

"Thelma, child?" called Olaf Güldmar, at this juncture "keep the gatesbolted and doors barred while we are absent. Remember, thou and Brittamust pass the night alone here,—we cannot be at home till late in theevening of to-morrow. Let no one inside the garden, and deny thyself toall comers. Dost thou hear?"

"Yes, father," she responded meekly.

"And let Britta keep good guard that her crazy hag of a grandam come nothither to disturb or fright thee with her croaking,—for thou hast noteven 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 athis 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 wenot, father?"

"Safe enough!" said the old man, with a laugh. "I know of no one saveLovisa Elsland who has the courage to face thee, child! Still, prettywitch as thou art, 'twill not harm thee to put the iron bar across thehouse door, and to lock fast the outer gate when we have gone. Thisdone, I have no fear of thy safety. Now," and he kissed his daughterheartily, "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, heleft 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 atthe head of the little group that waited for him, saying exultingly—

"Now follow me! Sigurd knows the way! Sigurd is the friend of all thewild waterfall! Up the hills,—across the leaping stream,—through thesparkling foam!" And he began chanting to himself a sort of wildmountain song.

Macfarlane looked at him dubiously. "Are ye sure?" he said to Güldmar."Are ye sure that wee chap kens whaur he's gaun? He'll no lead us into aditch an' leave us there, mistakin' it for the Fall?"

Güldmar laughed heartily. "Never fear! Sigurd's the best guide you canhave, 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 Duprèz eagerly.

"Njedegorze."

The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders. "I give it up!" he said smilingly."Mademoiselle Güldmar, if anything happens to me at this cascade withthe name unpronounceable, you will again be my doctor, will you not?"

Thelma laughed as she shook hands with him. "Nothing will happen," sherejoined; "unless, indeed, you catch cold by sleeping in a hut allnight. Father, you must see that they do not catch cold!"

The bonde nodded, and motioned the party forward, Sigurd leading theway,—Errington, however, lingered behind on pretense of havingforgotten something, and, drawing his betrothed in his arms, kissed herfondly.

"Take care of yourself, darling!" he murmured,—and then hurrying awayhe 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 freshimpetus to his movements, for he sprang up the adjacent hill with somuch velocity that those who followed had some difficulty to keep upwith him,—and it was not till they were out of sight of the farmhousethat he resumed anything like a reasonable pace.

As soon as they had disappeared, Thelma turned into the house and seatedherself at her spinning-wheel. Britta soon entered the room, carryingthe same graceful implement of industry, and the two maidens sattogether for some time in a silence unbroken, save by the low melodiouswhirring of the two wheels, and the mellow complaints of the struttingdoves on the window-sill.

"Fröken 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 stoppedaltogether.

"Do they not?" she said half inquiringly and musingly. "I think you mustbe wrong, Britta. It is impossible that there should be people who arealways idle. I do not know what great ladies are like."

"I do!" And Britta nodded her curly head sagaciously. "There was a girlfrom Hammerfest who went to Christiania to seek service—she was handyat her needle, and a fine spinner, and a great lady took her right awayfrom Norway to London. And the lady bought her spinning-wheel for acuriosity she said,—and put it in the corner of a large parlor, andused to show it to her friends, and they would all laugh and say, 'Howpretty!' And Jansena,—that was the girl—never span again—she worelinen that she got from the shops,—and it was always falling intoholes, and Jansena was always mending, mending, and it was no good!"

Thelma laughed. "Then it is better to spin, after all, Britta—is itnot?"

Britta looked dubious. "I do not know," she answered; "but I am suregreat ladies do not spin. Because, as I said to you, Fröken, thisJansena'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,Fröken!"

"Oh no, Britta," said Thelma decisively. "I could not be so idle. Is itnot fortunate I have so much linen ready? I have quite enough formarriage."

The little maid looked wistful. "Yes, dear Fröken," she murmuredhesitatingly; "but I was thinking if it is right for you to wear whatyou have spun. Because, you see, Jansena's mistress had wonderful thingsall trimmed with lace,—and they would all come back from the washingtorn and hanging in threads, and Jansena had to mend those as well asher own clothes. You see, they do not last at all—and they cost a largesum of money; but it is proper for great ladies to wear them."

"I am not sure of that, Britta," said Thelma, still musingly. "Butstill, it may be—my bridal things may not please Philip. If you knowanything about it, you must tell me what is right."

Britta was in a little perplexity. She had gathered some idea from herfriend Jansena concerning life in London,—she had even a misty notionof what was meant by a "trousseau" with all its dainty, expensive, andoften useless fripperies; but she did not know how to explain her-selfto her young mistress, whose simple, almost severe tastes would, sheinstinctively felt, recoil from anything like ostentation in dress, soshe 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 quiteunderstand. I have always dressed in the same way,—and he has neversaid that he thought me wrongly clothed."

And she looked down with quite a touching pathos at her straight, whitewoolen gown, and smoothed its folds doubtfully. The impulsive Brittasprang to her side and kissed her with girlish and unaffectedenthusiasm.

"My dear, my dear! You are more lovely and sweet than anybody in theworld!" 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 notmatter what one wears."

Britta was meditating,—she looked lovingly at her mistress's ripplingwealth of hair.

"Diamonds!" she murmured to herself in a sort of satisfied soliloquy."Diamonds, like those you have on your finger, Fröken,—diamonds allscattered 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 Fröken—we shall see!"

"We?" queried Thelma with surprised emphasis.

Her little maid blushed vividly, and looked down demurely, twisting anduntwisting the string of her apron.

"Yes, Fröken," she said in a low tone. "I have asked Sir Philip to letme go with you when you leave Norway."

"Britta!" Thelma's astonishment was too great for more than thisexclamation.

"Oh, my dear! don't be angry with me!" implored Britta, with sparklingeyes, rosy cheeks, and excited tongue all pleading eloquently together,"I should die here without you! I told the bonde so; I did, indeed IAnd then I went to Sir Philip—he is such a grand gentleman,—so proudand yet so kind,—and I asked him to let me still be your servant. Isaid I knew all great ladies had a maid, and if I was not clever enoughI could learn, and—and—" here Britta began to sob, "I said I did notwant any wages—only to live in a little corner of the same house whereyou 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 inher apron crying bitterly.

The tears were in Thelma's eyes too, and she hastened to put her armround Britta's waist, and tried to soothe her by every loving word shecould think of.

"Hush, Britta dear! you must not cry," she said tenderly. "What didPhilip say?"

"He said," jerked out Britta convulsively, "that I was a g-good littleg-girl, and that he was g-glad I wanted to g-go!" Here her two sparklingwet eyes peeped out of the apron inquiringly, and seeing nothing but thesweetest affection on Thelma's attentive face, she went on moresteadily. "He p-pinched my cheek, and he laughed—and he said he wouldrather have me for your maid than anybody—there!"

And this last exclamation was uttered with so much defiance that shedashed away the apron altogether, and stood erect in self-congratulatoryglory, 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 havepleased me more! I must thank Philip. But it is of father I amthinking—what will father and Sigurd do?"

"Oh, that is all settled, Fröken," said Britta, recovering herselfrapidly from her outburst. "The bonde means to go for one of his longvoyages in the Valkyrie—it is time she was used again, I'm sure,—andSigurd will go with him. It will do them both good—and the tongues ofBosekop can waggle as much as they please, none of us will be here tomind them!"

"And you will escape your grandmother!" said Thelma amusedly, as sheonce more set her spinning-wheel in motion.

Britta laughed delightedly. "Yes! she will not find her way to Englandwithout some trouble!" she exclaimed. "Oh, how happy I shall be! Andyou"—she looked pleadingly at her mistress—"you do not dislike me foryour servant?"

"Dislike!" and Thelma gave her a glance of mingled reproach andtenderness. "You know how fond I am of you, Britta! It will be likehaving a little bit of my old home always with me."

Silently Britta kissed her hand, and then resumed her work. Themonotonous murmur of the two wheels recommenced,—this time pleasantlyaccompanied by the rippling chatter of the two girls, who, after thefashion of girls all the world over, indulged in many speculations as tothe new and strange life that lay before them.

Their ideas were of the most primitive character,—Britta had never beenout of Norway, and Thelma's experiences, apart from her home life,extended merely to the narrow and restricted bounds of simple and severeconvent discipline, where she had been taught that the pomps andvanities of the world were foolish and transient shows, and that nothingcould please God more than purity and rectitude of soul. Her characterwas formed, and set upon a firm basis—firmer than she herself wasconscious of. The nuns who had been entrusted with her education hadfulfilled their task with more than their customary zeal—they wereinterested in the beautiful Norwegian child for the sake of her mother,who had also been their charge. One venerable nun in particular hadbestowed a deep and lasting benefit on her, for, seeing herextraordinary beauty, and forestalling the dangers and temptations intowhich the possession of such exceptional charms might lead her, sheadopted a wise preventive course, that cased her as it were in armor,proof against all the assailments of flattery. She told the girl quiteplainly that she was beautiful,—but at the same time made her awarethat beauty was common,—that she shared it alike with birds, flowers,trees, and all the wonderful objects of nature—moreover, that it wasnothing to boast of, being so perishable.

"Suppose a rose foolish enough to boast of its pretty leaves," said thegentle religieuse on one occasion. "They all fall to the ground in ashort time, and become decayed and yellow—it is only the fragrance, orthe soul of the rose that lasts." Such precepts, that might have beenwasted on a less sensitive and thoughtful nature, sank deeply intoThelma's mind—she accepted them not only in theory but in practice, andthe result was that she accepted her beauty as she accepted herhealth,—as a mere natural occurrence—no more. She was taught that thethree principal virtues of a woman were chastity, humility, andobedience,—these were the laws of God, fixed and immutable, which noone dared break without committing grievous and unpardonable sin. So shethought, and according to her thoughts she lived. What a strange world,then, lay before her in the contemplated change that was about to takeplace in the even tenor of her existence! A world of intrigue andfolly—a world of infidelity and falsehood!—how would she meet it? Itwas a question she never asked herself—she thought London a sort ofmagnified Christiania, or at best, the Provencal town of Arles on alarger scale. She had heard her father speak of it, but only in a vagueway, and she had been able to form no just idea even to herself of theenormous metropolis crowded to excess with its glad and sorrowful, busyand idle, rich and poor millions. England itself floated before herfancy as a green, fertile, embowered island where Shakespeare hadlived—and it delighted her to know that her future home, ErringtonManor, was situated in Warwickshire, Shakespeare's county. Of thesociety that awaited her she had no notion,—she was prepared to "keephouse" for her husband in a very simple way—to spin his householdlinen, to spare him all trouble and expense, and to devote herself bodyand soul to his service. As may be well imagined, the pictures she drewof her future married life, as she sat and span with Britta on thatpeaceful afternoon, were widely different to the destined reality thatevery day approached her more nearly.

Meantime, while the two girls were at home and undisturbed in the quietfarm house, the mountaineering party, headed by Sigurd, were well ontheir way towards the great Fall of Njedegorze. They had made a toilsomeascent of the hills by the side of the Alten river—they had climbedover craggy boulders and slippery rocks, sometimes wading knee-deep inthe stream, or pausing to rest and watch the salmon leap and turnglittering somersaults in the air close above the diamond-clearwater,—and they had beguiled their fatigue with songs and laughter, andthe telling of fantastic legends and stories in which Sigurd had shoneat his best—indeed, this unhappy being was in a singularly clear andrational frame of mind, disposed, too, to be agreeable even towardsErrington. Lorimer, who for reasons of his own, had kept a close watchon Sigurd ever since his friend's engagement to Thelma, was surprisedand gratified at this change in his former behavior, and encouraged himin it, while Errington himself responded to the dwarf's profferedfriendship, and walked beside him, chatting cheerfully, during the mostpart of the excursion to the Fall. It was a long and exceedinglydifficult journey—and in some parts dangerous—but Sigurd provedhimself worthy of the commendations bestowed on him by the bonde, andguided them by the easiest and most secure paths, till at last, aboutseven o'clock in the evening, they heard the rush and roar of the rapidsbelow the Fall, and with half an hour's more exertion, came in sight ofthem, though not as yet of the Fall itself. Yet the rapids were grandenough to merit attention—and the whole party stopped to gaze on thewhirling wonders of water that, hissing furiously, circled round andround giddily in wheels of white foam, and then, as though enraged,leaped high over obstructing stones and branches, and rushed onward anddownward to the smoother length of the river.

The noise was deafening,—they could not hear each other speak unless byshouting at the top of their voices, and even then the sounds wererendered almost indistinct by the riotous uproar. Sigurd, however, whoknew all the ins and outs of the place, sprang lightly on a juttingcrag, 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 rocksand 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 darenot disobey!" And his blue eyes flashed with that sudden wild fire thatgenerally foretold some access of his particular mania.

Errington saw this and said soothingly, "Of course not, Sigurd! No onewould dream of disobeying you! See how we follow you to-day—we all doexactly what you tell us."

"We are sheep, Sigurd," added Lorimer lazily; "and you are theshepherd!"

Sigurd looked from one to the other half doubtingly, half cunningly. Hesmiled.

"Yes!" he said. "You will follow me, will you not? Up to the very top ofthe Fall?"

"By all means!" answered Sir Philip gaily. "Anywhere you choose to go!"

Sigurd seemed satisfied, and lapsing into the calm, composed mannerwhich had distinguished him all day, he led the way as before, and theyresumed their march, this time in silence, for conversation waswell-nigh impossible. The nearer they came to the yet invisible Fall,the more thunderous grew the din—it was as though they approached somevast battle-field, where opposing armies were in full action, with allthe tumult of cannonade and musketry. The ascent grew steeper and moredifficult—at times the high barriers of rocks seemed almostimpassable,—often they were compelled to climb over confused heaps ofhuge stones, through which the eddying water pushed its way with speedand fury,—but Sigurd's precision was never at fault,—he leaped cragafter 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 oneof these rocky eminences, they perceived an enormous cloud of whitevapor rising up like smoke from the earth, and twisting itself as itrose, in swaying, serpentine folds, as though some giant spirit-handwere shaking it to and fro like a long flowing veil in the air. Sigurdpaused and pointed forward.

"Njedegorze!" he cried.

They all pressed on with some excitement. The ground vibrated beneaththeir feet with the shock of the falling torrent, and the clash anduproar of the disputing waters rolled in their ears like the grand,sustained bass of some huge cathedral organ. Almost blinded by the spraythat dashed its disdainful drops in their faces, deafened by themajestic, loud, and ceaseless eloquence that poured its persuasive forceinto the splitting hearts of the rocks around them,—breathless withclimbing, and well-nigh tread out, they struggled on, and broke into oneunanimous shout of delight and triumph when they at last reached thesmall hut that had been erected for the convenience of travellers whomight choose that way to journey to the Altenfjord,—and stood face toface with the magnificent cascade, one of the grandest in Norway. What asublime spectacle it was!—that tempest of water sweeping sheer down thetowering rocks in one straight, broad, unbroken sheet of foam! A myriadrainbows flashed in the torrent and vanished, to reappear againinstantly with redoubled lustre,—while the glory of the eveningsunlight glittering on one side of the fall made it gleam like asparkling shower of molten gold.

"Njedegorze!" cried Sigurd again, giving a singularly musicalpronunciation to the apparently uncouth name. "Come! still a littlefurther,—to the top of the Fall!"

Olaf Güldmar, however, paid no attention to this invitation. He wasalready beginning to busy himself with preparations for passing thenight comfortably in the hut before mentioned. Stout old Norseman as hewas, there were limits to his endurance, and the arduous exertions ofthe long day had brought fatigue to him as well as to the rest of theparty.

Macfarlane was particularly exhausted. His frequent pulls at the whiskeyflask 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 onthe turf in front of the hut and groaned most dismally.

Lorimer surveyed him amusedly, and stood beside him, the very picture ofa 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 jumpingFrenchy?" This with a look of positive indignation at the lively Duprèz,who, if tired, was probably too vain to admit it, for he was struttingabout, giving vent to his genuine admiration of the scene before himwith 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 Goatfellin Arran, an' Ben Lomond an' Ben Nevis—there's a mountain for ye, if yelike! 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 thespeed o' a leapin' goat—I tell ye, I havena been used to't." Here hedrew out his flask and took another extensive pull at it. Then he addedsuddenly, "Just look at Errington! He'll be in a fair way to break hisneck if he follows yon wee crazy loon any further."

At these words Lorimer turned sharply round, and perceived his friendfollowing Sigurd step by step up a narrow footing in the steep ascent ofsome rough, irregular crags that ran out and formed a narrow ledge,ending in a sharp point, jutting directly over the full fury of thewaterfall. He watched the two climbing figures for an instant withoutany anxiety,—then he suddenly remembered that Philip had promised to gowith Sigurd "to the top of the Fall." Acting on a rapid impulse which hedid not stop to explain to himself, Lorimer at once started off afterthem,—but the ascent was difficult; they were some distance ahead, andthough he shouted vociferously, the roar of the cascade rendered hisvoice inaudible. Gaining on them, however, by slow degrees, he wasstartled when all at once they disappeared at the summit—and,breathless with his rapid climb, he paused, bewildered. By-and-by he sawSigurd creeping cautiously out along the rocky shelf that overhung thetumbling torrent—his gaze grew riveted with a sort of deadlyfascination on the spot.

"Good God!" he muttered under his breath. "Surely Phil will not followhim there!"

He watched with strained eyes,—and a smothered cry escaped him asErrington's tall figure, erect and bold, appeared on that narrow anddangerous platform! He never knew how he clambered up the rest of theslippery ascent. A double energy seemed given to his active limbs. Henever paused again for one second till he also stood on the platform,without being heard or perceived by either Sigurd or Philip. Their backswere turned to him, and he feared to move or speak, lest a suddensurprised movement on their parts should have the fatal result ofprecipitating one or both into the fall. He remained, therefore, behindthem, silent and motionless,—looking, as they looked, at the terrificscene 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, thesemists took all manner of fantastic forms,—ghostly arms seemed to waveand beckon, ghostly hands to unite in prayer,—and fluttering creaturesin gossamer draperies of green and crimson, appeared to rise and float,and retire and shrink, to nothingness again in the rainbow drift andsweep of whirling foam. Errington gazed unconcernedly down on theseething abyss. He pushed back his cap from his brow, and let the freshwind play among his dark, clustering curls. His nerves were steady, andhe surveyed the giddily twisting wheels of shining water, without anycorresponding giddiness in his own brain. He had that sincere delight ina sublime natural spectacle, which is the heritage of all who possess apoetic and artistic temperament; and though he stood on a frail ledge ofrock, from which one false or unwary step might send him to certaindestruction, he had not the slightest sense of possible danger in hisposition. Withdrawing his eyes from the Fall, he looked kindly down atSigurd, 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 hadenough of it? Shall we go back?"

Sigurd drew imperceptibly nearer. Lorimer, from his point of vantagebehind a huge bowlder, drew nearer also.

"Go back?" echoed Sigurd. "Why should we go back?"

"Why, indeed!" laughed Errington, lightly balancing himself on thetrembling rocks beneath him. "Except that I should scarcely think thisis the best place on which to pass the night! Not enough room, and toomuch noise! What say you?"

"Oh, brave, brave, fool!" cried the dwarf in sudden excitement. "Are younot afraid?"

The young baronet's keen eyes glanced him over with amused wonder.

"What of?" he demanded coolly. Still nearer came Sigurd—nearer alsocame the watchful, though almost invisible Lorimer.

"Look down there!" continued Sigurd in shrill tones, pointing to thefoaming gulf. "Look at the Elf-danz—see the beautiful spirits withthe long pale green hair and glittering wings! See how they beckon,beckon, beckon! They want some one to join them—look how their whitearms wave,—they throw back their golden veils and smile at us! Theycall to you—you with the strong figure and the proud eyes—why do younot go to them? They will kiss and caress you—they have sweet lips andsnow-white bosoms,—they will love you and take care of you—they are asfair as Thelma!"

"Are they? I doubt it!" and Errington smiled dreamily as he turned hishead again towards the fleecy whirl of white water, and saw at once withan artist's quick eye what his sick-brained companion meant by theElf-danz, in the fantastic twisting, gliding shapes tossed up in thevaporous mist of the Fall. "But I'll take your word, Sigurd, withoutmaking the elves' personal acquaintance! Come along—this place is badfor 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 surprisedby a sudden, strange convulsion of Sigurd's countenance—his blue eyesflashed with an almost phosphorescent lustre,—his pale skin flusheddeeply red, and the veins in his forehead started into swelled andknotted prominence.

"Another time!" he screamed loudly; "no, no! Now—now! Die, robber ofThelma's love! Die—die—die!"

Repeating these words like quick gasps of fury, he twisted his meagerarms tightly round Errington, and thrust him fiercely with all his mighttowards the edge of the Fall. For one second Philip strove againsthim—the next, he closed his eyes—Thelma's face smiled on his mind inthat darkness as though in white farewell—the surging blood roared inhis ears with more thunder than the terrific tumble of thetorrent—"God!" he muttered, and then—then he stood safe on the upperpart of the rocky platform with Lorimer's strong hand holding him in avice-like grasp, and Lorimer's face, pale, but looking cheerfully intohis. For a moment he was too bewildered to speak. His friend loosenedhim and laughed rather forcedly—a slight tremble of his lips wasobservable under his fair moustache.

"By Jove, Phil," he remarked in his usual nonchalant manner, "that wasrather 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 Ishould have been compelled to let him have his own way, as my hands werefull. 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 Iconsidered that Miss Thelma's wishes had a prior claim on my regard."

"Look here, old man," said Errington suddenly, "don't jest about it! Yousaved my life!"

"Well!" and Lorimer laughed. "Quite by accident, I assure you."

"Not by accident!" and Philip flushed up, looking very handsome andearnest. "I believe you followed us up here thinking something mighthappen. 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, affectionatefervor. Their eyes met—and Lorimer blushed as though he had performedsome action meriting blame rather than gratitude. "That'll do, oldfellow," he said almost nervously. "As we say in polite society whensome one crushes our favorite corn under his heel—don't mention it! Yousee Sigurd is cracked,—there's not the slightest doubt aboutthat,—and he's hardly accountable for his vagaries. Then I knowsomething about him that perhaps you don't. He loves your Thelma!"

They were making the descent of the rocks together, and Erringtonstopped 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 otherpeople's sisters—his affection is by no means fraternal—if it wereonly that—"

"I see!" and Philip's eyes filled with a look of grave compassion. "Poorfellow! I understand his hatred of me now. Good Heavens! how he mustsuffer! I forgive him with all my heart. But—I say, Thelma has no ideaof this!"

"Of course not. And you'd better not tell her. What's the good of makingher unhappy?"

"But how did you learn it?" inquired Philip, with a look of somecuriosity at his friend.

"Oh, I!" and Lorimer laughed carelessly; "I was always an observing sortof 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 theprocess. Sigurd's rather attached to me—indulges me with some speciallyprivate ravings now and then—I soon found out his secret, though Ibelieve the poor little chap doesn't understand his own feelingshimself."

"Well," said Errington thoughtfully, "under the circ*mstances you'dbetter not mention this affair of the Fall to Güldmar. It will only vexhim. Sigurd won't try such a prank again."

"I'm not so sure of that," replied Lorimer; "but you know enough now tobe on your guard with him." He paused and looked up with a mistysoftness in his frank blue eyes—then went on in a subdued tone—"When Isaw you on the edge of that frightful chasm, Phil—" He broke off as ifthe recollection were too painful, and exclaimed suddenly—"Good God! ifI had lost you!"

Errington clapped one hand on his shoulder.

"Well! What if you had?" he asked almost mirthfully, though there was asuspicious tremble in his ringing voice.

"I should have said with Horatio, 'I am more an antique Roman than aDane,'—and gone after you," laughed Lorimer. "And who knows what ajolly banquet we might not have been enjoying in the next world by thistime? If I believe in anything at all, I believe in a really agreeableheaven—nectar and ambrosia, and all that sort of thing, and Hebes towait upon you."

As he spoke they reached the sheltering hut, where Güldmar, Duprèz, andMacfarlane were waiting rather impatiently for them.

"Where's Sigurd?" cried the bonde.

"Gone for a ramble on his own account," answered Errington readily. "Youknow his fancies!"

"I wish his fancies would leave him," grumbled Güldmar. "He promised tolight a fire and spread the meal—and now, who knows whither he haswandered?"

"Never mind, sir," said Lorimer. "Engage me as a kitchen-boy. I canlight 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 assistthe cook,—it would be beneath me."

"Cook!" cried Duprèz, catching at this word. "I can cook! Give meanything 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 anewspaper which he stuck jauntily on his head. "Behold me, messieurs,à votre service!"

His liveliness was infectious; they all set to work with a will, and ina few moments a crackling wood-fire blazed cheerily on the ground, andthe gipsy preparations for the al fresco supper went on apace amidpeals of laughter. Soon the fragrance of steaming coffee arose andmingled itself with the resinous odors of the surroundingpine-trees,—while Macfarlane distinguished himself by catching a finesalmon trout in a quiet nook of the rushing river, and this Duprèzcooked in a style that would have done honor to a cordon bleu. Theymade an excellent meal, and sang songs in turn and told stories,—OlafGüldmar, in particular, related eerie legends of the Dovre-fjelde, andmany a striking history of ancient origin, full of terror andsuperstition,—concerning witches, devils, and spirits both good andevil, who are still believed to have their abode on the Norwegianhills,—for, as the bonde remarked with a smile, "when civilizationhas 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 restfor the night, and the errant Sigurd had not returned. The sun shonebrilliantly, but there was no window to the small shed, and light andair came only through the door, which was left wide open. The tiredtravellers lay down on their spread-out rugs and blankets, and wishingeach other a cheerful "good night," were soon fast asleep. Errington wasrather restless, and lay awake for some little time, listening to thestormy discourse of the Fall; but at last his eyelids yielded to theheaviness that oppressed them, and he sank into a light slumber.

Meanwhile the imperial sun rode majestically downwards to the edge ofthe horizon,—and the sky blushed into the pale tint of a wild rose,that deepened softly and steadily with an ever-increasing fierybrilliance as the minutes glided noiselessly on to the enchanted midnighthour. A wind began to rustle mysteriously among the pines—thengradually growing wrathful, strove to whistle a loud defiance to theroar of the tumbling waters. Through the little nooks and crannies ofthe roughly constructed cabin, where the travellers slept, it utteredsmall wild shrieks of warning or dismay—and, suddenly, as thoughtouched by an invisible hand, Sir Philip awoke. A crimson glarestreaming through the open door dazzled his drowsy eyes—was it a foreston fire? He started up in dreamy alarm,—then remembered where he was.Realizing that there must be an exceptionally fine sky to cast so ruddya reflection on the ground, he threw on his cloak and went outside.

What a wondrous, almost unearthly scene greeted him! His first impulsewas to shout aloud in sheer ecstasy—his next to stand silent inreverential awe. The great Fall was no longer a sweeping flow of whitefoam—it had changed to a sparkling shower of rubies, as though somegreat genie, tired of his treasures, were flinging them away by gianthandfuls, in the most reckless haste and lavish abundance. From thebottom of the cascade a crimson vapor arose, like smoke from flame, andthe whirling rapids, deeply red for the most part, darkened here andthere into an olive-green flecked with gold, while the spray, tossedhigh over interrupting rocks and boulders, glittered as it fell like,small fragments of broken opal. The sky was of one dense uniformrose-color from west to east,—soft and shimmering as a broad satinpavilion freshly unrolled,—the sun was invisible, hidden behind theadjacent mountains, but his rays touched some peaks in the distance, onwhich white wreaths of snow lay, bringing them into near and sparklingprominence.

The whole landscape was transformed—the tall trees, rustling andswaying in the now boisterous wind, took all flickering tints of coloron their trunks and leaves,—the grey stones and pebbles turned to lumpsof gold and heaps of diamonds, and on the other side of the rapids, alarge tuft of heather in a cleft of the rocks glowed with extraordinaryvividness and warmth, like a suddenly kindled fire. A troop of witchesdancing wildly on the sward,—a ring of fairies,—kelpies tripping fromcrag to crag,—a sudden chorus of sweet-voiced water-nymphs—nothingunreal or fantastical would have surprised Errington at that moment.Indeed, he almost expected something of the kind—the scene was soeminently fitted for it.

"Positively, I must wake Lorimer," he thought to himself. "He oughtn'tto miss such a gorgeous spectacle as this."

He moved a little more in position to view the Fall. What was that smalldark object running swiftly yet steadily along on the highest summit ofthose jutting crags? He rubbed his eyes amazedly—was it—could it beSigurd? He watched it for a moment,—then uttered a loud cry as he sawit pause on the very ledge of rock from which but a short while since,he himself had been so nearly precipitated. The figure was nowdistinctly visible, outlined in black against the flaming crimson of thesky,—it stood upright and waved its arms with a frantic gesture. Therewas no mistaking it—it was Sigurd!

Without another second's hesitation Errington rushed back to the hut andawoke, with clamorous alarm, the rest of the party. His briefexplanation sufficed—they all hurried forth in startled excitement.Sigurd still occupied his hazardous position, and as they looked at himhe seemed to dance wildly nearer the extreme edge of the rocky platform.Old Güldmar turned pale. "The gods preserve him!" he muttered in hisbeard—then turning he began resolutely to make the ascent of the rockswith long, rapid strides—the young men followed him eager and almostbreathless, each and all bent upon saving Sigurd from the danger inwhich he stood, and trying by different ways to get more quickly nearthe unfortunate lad and call, or draw him back by force from his pointof imminent deadly peril. They were more than half-way up, when apiercing cry rang clearly above the thunderous din of the fall—a crythat made them pause for a moment.

Sigurd had caught sight of the figures advancing to his rescue, and waswaving them back with eloquent gesture of anger and defiance. His smallmisshapen body was alive with wrath,—it seemed as though he were somedwarf king ruling over the glittering crimson torrent, and grimlyforbidding strangers to enter on the boundaries of his magic territory.They, however, pressed on with renewed haste,—and they had nearlyreached the summit when another shrill cry echoed over thesunset-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 hairwith his old favorite gesture and laughing in apparent glee. Then hesuddenly raised his arms, and, clasping his hands together, poisedhimself as though he were some winged thing about to fly.

"Sigurd! Sigurd!" shouted Güldmar, his strong voice tremulous withanguish. "Come back! come back to Thelma!"

At the sound of that beloved name, the unhappy creature seemed tohesitate, and, profiting by that instant of irresolution, Errington andLorimer rushed forward—Too late! Sigurd saw them coming, and glidedwith stealthy caution to the very brink of the torrent, where there wasscarcely any foothold—there he looked back at his would-be rescuerswith an air of mystery and cunning, and broke into a loud derisivelaugh.

Then—still with clasped hands and smiling face—unheeding the shout ofhorror that broke from those who beheld him—he leaped, and fell! Down,down into the roaring abyss! For one half-second—one lightningflash—his twisted figure, like a slight black speck was seen againstthe wide roseate glory of the tumbling cascade—then it disappeared,engulfed and lost for ever! Gone,—with all his wild poet fancies andwandering dreams—gone, with his unspoken love and unguessedsorrows—gone where dark things shall be made light,—and where thebroken or tangled chain of the soul's intelligence shall be mended andmade 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 hisheart'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 minuteinert and speechless,—stupefied by its suddenness and awful rapidity.Then with one accord they hurried down to the level shore of thetorrent, moved by the unanimous idea that they might possibly succeed inrescuing Sigurd's frail corpse from the sharp teeth of the jagged rocks,that, piercing upwards through the foam of the roaring rapids, werecertain to bruise, tear, and disfigure it beyond all recognition. Buteven this small satisfaction was denied them. There was no sign of afloating or struggling body anywhere visible. And while they kept aneager look-out, the light in the heavens slowly changed. From burningcrimson it softened to a tender amethyst hue, as smooth and delicate asthe glossy pale tint of the purple clematis,—and with it the rosy foamof the Fall graduated to varying tints of pink, from pink to tendergreen, and lastly, it became as a shower of amber wine. Güldmar spokefirst in a voice broken by deep emotion.

"'Tis all over with him, poor lad!" he said, and tears glittered thicklyin his keen old eyes. "And—though the gods, of a surety, knowbest—this is an end I looked not for! A mournful home-returning shallwe 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 andsympathizing pressure of Errington's hand.

"You see," he went on, with a wistful look at the grave andcompassionate face of his accepted son-in-law—"the boy was no boy ofmine, 'tis true—and the winds had more than their share of hiswits—yet—we knew him from a baby—and my wife loved him for his sadestate, which he was not to blame for. Thelma, too—he was her firstplaymate—"

The bonde could trust himself to say no more, but turned abruptlyaway, brushing one hand across his eyes, and was silent for manyminutes. The young men, too, were silent,—Sigurd's determined suicidehad chilled and sickened them. Slowly they returned to the hut to passthe remaining hours of the night—though sleep was, of course, afterwhat they had witnessed, impossible. They remained awake, therefore,talking in low tones of the fatal event, and listening to the solemnsough of the wind through the pines, that sounded to Errington's earslike a monotonous forest dirge. He thought of the first time he had everseen the unhappy creature whose wandering days had just ended,—of thatscene in the mysterious shell cavern,—of the wild words he had thenuttered—how strangely they came back to Philip's memory now!

"You have come as a thief in the golden midnight, and the thing you seekis the life of Sigurd! Yes—yes! it is true—the spirit cannot lie! Youmust kill, you must steal—see how the blood drips, drop by drop, fromthe heart of Sigurd! and the jewel you steal,—ah! what a jewel! Youshall not find such another in Norway!" Was not the hidden meaning ofthese incoherent phrases rendered somewhat clear now? though how thepoor lad's disordered imagination had been able thus promptly to conjureup with such correctness, an idea of Errington's future relations withThelma, was a riddle impossible of explanation. He thought, too, with asort of generous remorse, of that occasion when Sigurd had visited himon board the yacht to implore him to leave the Altenfjord. He realizedeverything,—the inchoate desires of the desolate being, who, thoughintensely capable of loving, felt himself in a dim, sad way, unworthy oflove,—the struggling passions in him that clamored for utterance—theinstinctive dread and jealousy of a rival, while knowing that he wasboth physically and mentally unfitted to compete with one,—all thesethings passed through Philip's mind, and filled him with a most profoundpity for the hidden sufferings, the tortures and inexplicable emotionswhich had racked Sigurd's darkened soul. And, still busy with thesereflections, he turned on his arm as he lay, and whispered softly to hisfriend who was close by him—"I say, Lorimer,—I feel as if I had beento 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 samelow tone.

"Poor little fellow! Do you know, I can't imagine anything more utterlydistracting than having to see such a woman as Thelma day afterday,—loving her all the time, and knowing such love to be absolutelyhopeless! Why, it was enough to make him crazier than ever!"

Lorimer moved restlessly. "Yes, it must have been hard on him!" heanswered at last, in a gentle, somewhat sad tone. "Perhaps it's as wellhe's out of it all. Life is infinitely perplexing to many of us. By thistime he's no doubt wiser than you or I, Phil,—he could tell us thereason why love is such a blessing to some men, and such a curse toothers!"

Errington made no answer, and they relapsed into silence—silence whichwas almost unbroken save by an occasional deep sigh from Olaf Güldmarand a smothered exclamation such as, "Poor lad, poor lad! Who would havethought it?"

With the early dawn they were all up and ready for the homewardjourney,—though with very different feelings to those with which theyhad started on their expedition. The morning was dazzlingly bright andclear,—and the cataract of Njedegorze rolled down in glittering foldsof creamy white and green, uttering its ceaseless psalm of praise to theCreator in a jubilant roar of musical thunder. They paused and looked atit for the last time before leaving,—it had assumed for them a new andsolemn aspect—it was Sigurd's grave. The bonde raised his cap fromhis rough white hair,—instinctively the others followed his example.

"May the gods grant him good rest!" said the old man reverently. "In thewildest waters they say there is a calm underflow,—maybe the lad hasfound it and is glad to sleep." He paused and stretched his hands forthwith an eloquent and touching gesture. "Peace be with him!"

Then, without more words, and as though disdaining his own emotion, heturned abruptly away, and began to descend the stony and precipitoushill, up which Sigurd had so skillfully guided them the day before.Macfarlane and Duprèz followed him close,—Macfarlane casting more thanonce a keen look over the rapids.

"'Tis a pity we couldna find his body," he said in a low tone.

Duprèz shrugged his shoulders. Sigurd's death had shocked himconsiderably by its suddenness, but he was too much of a volatileFrenchman to be morbidly anxious about securing the corpse.

"I think not so at all," he said. "Of what use would it be? To grievemademoiselle? to make her cry? That would be cruel,—I would notassist in it! A dead body is not a sight for ladies,—believe me, thingsare 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 lasttime the sweeping flow of the glittering torrent. "Better than all themonuments ever erected! Upon my life, I would not mind having such agrave myself! Say what you like, Phil, there was something grand inSigurd's choice of a death. We all of us have to get out of life somehowone day—that's certain—but few of us have the chance of making such atriumphant exit!"

Errington looked at him with a grave smile. "How you talk, George!" hesaid half-reproachfully. "One would think you envied the end of thatunfortunate, half-witted fellow! You've no reason to be tired of yourlife, I'm sure,—all your bright days are before you."

"Are they?" And Lorimer's blue eyes looked slightly melancholy. "Well, Idare say they are! Let's hope so at all events. There need be somethingbefore me,—there isn't much behind except wasted opportunities. Comeon, Phil!"

They resumed their walk, and soon rejoined the others. The journey backto the Altenfjord was continued all day with but one or twointerruptions for rest and refreshment. It was decided that on reachinghome, old Güldmar should proceed a little in advance, in order to seehis daughter alone first, and break to her the news of the tragic eventthat had occurred,—so that when, after a long and toilsome journey,they caught sight, at about eight in the evening, of the familiarfarmhouse through the branches of the trees that surrounded andsheltered it, they all came to a halt.

The young men seated themselves on a pleasant knoll under some tallpines, there to wait a quarter of an hour or so, while the bonde wentforward to prepare Thelma. On second thoughts, the old man askedErrington to accompany him,—a request to which he very readily acceded,and these two, leaving the others to follow at their leisure, went ontheir way rapidly. They arrived at, and entered the garden,—theirfootsteps made a crunching noise on the pebbly path,—but no welcomingface looked forth from any of the windows of the house. The entrancedoor stood wide open,—there was not a living soul to be seen but thekitten asleep in a corner of the porch, and the doves drowsing on theroof in the sunshine. The deserted air of the place was unmistakable,and Güldmar and Errington exchanged looks of wonder not unmixed withalarm.

"Thelma! Thelma!" called the bonde anxiously. There was no response.He entered the house and threw open the kitchen door. There was nofire,—and not the slightest sign of any of the usual preparations forsupper.

"Britta!" shouted Güldmar. Still no answer. "By the gods!" he exclaimed,turning to the astonished Philip, "this is a strange thing! Where canthe girls be? I have never known both of them to be absent from thehouse at the same time. Go down to the shore, my lad, and see ifThelma's boat is missing, while I search the garden."

Errington obeyed—hurrying off on his errand with a heart beating fastfrom sudden fear and anxiety. For he knew Thelma was not likely tohave gone out of her own accord, at the very time she would havenaturally expected her father and his friends back, and the absence ofBritta too, was, to say the least of it, extraordinary. He reached thepier very speedily, and saw at a glance that the boat was gone. Hehastened back to report this to Güldmar, who was making the whole placeresound with his shouts of "Thelma!" and "Britta!" though he shoutedaltogether in vain.

"Maybe," he said dubiously, on hearing of the missing boat—"Maybe thechild has gone on the Fjord—'tis often her custom,—but, then, where isBritta? Besides, they must have expected us—they would have preparedsupper—they would have been watching for our return. No, no! there issomething wrong about this—'tis altogether unusual."

And he looked about him in a bewildered way, while Sir Philip, notinghis uneasiness, grew more and more uneasy himself.

"Let me go and search for them, sir," he said, eagerly. "They may be inthe woods, or up towards the orchard."

Güldmar shook his head and drew his fuzzy white brows together inpuzzled meditation—suddenly he started and struck his staff forcibly onthe ground.

"I have it!" he exclaimed. "That old hag Lovisa is at the bottom ofthis!"

"By Jove!" cried Errington. "I believe you're right! What shall we do?"

At that moment, Lorimer, Duprèz, and Macfarlane came on the scene,thinking they had kept aloft long enough,—and the strange disappearanceof the two girls was rapidly explained to them. They listened astonishedand almost incredulous, but agreed with the bonde as to Lovisa'sprobable share in the matter.

"Look here!" said Lorimer excitedly. "I'm not in the least tired,—showme the way to Talvig, where that old screech-owl lives, and I'll gothere straight as a gun! Shouldn't wonder if she has not forced away hergrandchild, 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 Güldmar shook his head. "'Tis a long way, my lads,—and you do notknow the road. No—'twill be better we should take the boat and pullover to Bosekop; there we can get a carriole to take two of us at leastto Talvig—"

He stopped, interrupted by Macfarlane, who looked particularly shrewd.

"I should certainly advise ye to try Bosekop first," he remarkedcautiously. "Mr. Dyceworthy might be able to provide ye with valuableinformation."

"Dyceworthy!" roared the bonde, becoming inflammable at once. "Heknows little of me or mine, thank the gods! and I would not by choicestep 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. Güldmar, don't get excited! Mac is right. I dare sayDyceworthy 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 hesitatedand turned to Errington. "You tell him, Phil! you know all about it."

"The fact is," said Errington, while Güldmar gazed from one to the otherin speechless amazement, "Thelma hasn't told you because she knew howangry you'd be—but Dyceworthy asked her to marry him. Of course sherefused 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 ruggedfeatures.

"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 heclenched his hand. "Throttled him, lads! I would! Give me the chance andI'll do it now! I tell you, the mere look of such a man as that is adesecration to my child,—liar and hypocrite as he is! may the godsconfound him!" He paused—then suddenly bracing himself up, added. "I'llaway to Bosekop at once—they've been afraid of me there for noreason—I'll teach them to be afraid of me in earnest! Who'll come withme?"

All eagerly expressed their desire to accompany him with the exceptionof one,—Pierre Duprèz,—he had disappeared.

"Why, where has he gone?" demanded Lorimer in some surprise.

"I canna tell," replied Macfarlane. "He just slipped awa' while ye werehaverin' about Dyceworthy—he'll maybe join us at the shore."

To the shore they at once betook themselves, and were soon busied inunmooring Güldmar's own rowing-boat, which, as it had not been used forsome time, was rather a tedious business,—moreover they noted withconcern that the tide was dead against them.

Duprèz did not appear,—the truth is, that he had taken into his head tostart off for Talvig on foot without waiting for the others. He was fondof an adventure and here was one that suited him precisely—to rescuedistressed damsels from the grasp of persecutors. He was tired, but hemanaged to find the road,—and he trudged on determinedly, humming asong of Beranger's as he walked to keep him cheerful. But he had notgone much more than a mile when he discerned in the distance a carrioleapproaching him,—and approaching so swiftly that it appeared to swingfrom 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 lashedthe stout little pony and urged it on to fresh exertions withgesticulations and cries. That plump buxom figure—that tumbled brownhair streaming wildly on, the breeze,—that round rosy face—why! it wasBritta! Britta, driving all alone, with the reckless daring of aNorwegian peasant girl accustomed to the swaying, jolting movement ofthe carriole as well as the rough roads and sharp turnings. Nearer shecame and nearer—and Duprèz hailed her with a shout of welcome. She sawhim, answered his call, and drove still faster,—soon she came up besidehim, and without answering his amazed questions, she criedbreathlessly—

"Jump in—jump in! We must go on as quickly as possible to Bosekop!Quick—quick! Oh my poor Fröken! The old villain! Wait till I get athim!"

"But, my leet-le child!" expostulated Pierre, climbing up into thequeer vehicle—"What is all this? I am in astonishment—I understand notat all! How comes it that you are run away from home, and Mademoisellealso?"

Britta only waited till he was safely seated, and then lashed the ponywith redoubled force. Away they clattered at a break-neck pace, theFrenchman having much ado to prevent himself from being jolted out againon the road.

"It is a wicked plot!" she then exclaimed, panting with excitement—"awicked, wicked plot! This afternoon Mr. Dyceworthy's servant came andbrought Sir Philip's card. It said that he had met with an accident andhad been brought back to Bosekop, and that he wished the Fröken to cometo him at once. Of course, the darling believed it all—and she grew sopale, so pale! And she went straight away in her boat all by herself! Ohmy dear—my dear!"

Britta gasped for breath, and Duprèz soothingly placed an arm round herwaist, an action which the little maiden seemed not to be aware of. Sheresumed her story—"Then the Fröken had not been gone so very long, andI was watching for her in the garden, when a woman passed by—a friendof my grandmother's. She called out—'Hey, Britta! Do you know they havegot your mistress down at Talvig, and they'll burn her for a witchbefore they sleep!' 'She has gone to Bosekop,' I answered, 'so I knowyou tell a lie.' 'It is no lie,' said the old woman, 'old Lovisa has herthis time for sure.' And she laughed and went away. Well, I did not stopto think twice about it—I started off for Talvig at once—I ran nearlyall the way. I found my grandmother alone—I asked her if she had seenthe Fröken? She screamed and clapped her hands like a mad woman! shesaid that the Fröken was with Mr. Dyceworthy—Mr. Dyceworthy would knowwhat to do with her!"

"Sapristi!" ejacul*ted Duprèz. "This is serious!"

Britta glanced anxiously at him, and went on. "Then she tried to shutthe doors upon me and beat me—but I escaped. Outside I saw a man I knewwith his carriole, and I borrowed it of him and came back as fast as Icould—but oh! I am so afraid—my grandmother said such dreadfulthings!"

"The others have taken a boat to Bosekop," said Duprèz, to reassure her."They may be there by now."

Britta shook her head. "The tide is against them—no! we shall be therefirst. But," and she looked wistfully at Pierre, "my grandmother saidMr. Dyceworthy had sworn to ruin the Fröken. What did she mean, do youthink?"

Duprèz did not answer,—he made a strange grimace and shrugged hisshoulders. Then he seized the whip and lashed the pony.

"Faster, faster, mon chère!" he cried to that much-astonished,well-intentioned animal. "It is not a time to sleep, ma foi!" Then toBritta—"My little one, you shall see! We shall disturb the goodclergyman at his peaceful supper—yes indeed! Be not afraid!"

And with such reassuring remarks he beguiled the rest of the way, whichto both of them seemed unusually long, though it was not much past ninewhen they rattled into the little village called by courtesy a town, andcame to a halt within a few paces of the minister's residence.Everything was very quiet—the inhabitants of the place retired to restearly—and the one principal street was absolutely deserted. Duprèzalighted.

"Stay you here, Britta," he said, lightly kissing the hand that held thepony'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 youknow everything!"

And with a sense of pleasurable excitement in his mind, he stole softlyalong on tip-toe—entered the minister's garden, fragrant with roses andmignonette, and then, attracted by the sound of voices, went straight upto the parlor window. The blind was down and he could see nothing, buthe heard Mr. Dyceworthy's bland persuasive tones, echoing out with asoft sonorousness, as though he were preaching to some refractoryparishioner. He listened attentively.

"Oh strange, strange!" said Mr. Dyceworthy. "Strange that you will notsee how graciously the Lord hath delivered you into my hands! Yea,—andno escape is possible! For lo, you yourself, Fröken Thelma," Dyceworthystarted, "you yourself came hither unto my dwelling, a woman allunprotected, to a man equally unprotected,—and who, though a humbleminister of saving grace, is not proof against the offered surrender ofyour 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 toalmost leap forward from the place where he stood concealed."You,—you made me come here—you sent me that card—you dared touse the name of my betrothed husband, to gain your vile purpose! Youhave kept me locked in this room all these hours—and do you think youwill not be punished? I will let the whole village know of yourtreachery 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, mydear girl—Sir Philip Bruce-Errington will have nothing to do with youafter 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' youtalk about, I never sent a card—not I!" Mr. Dyceworthy made thisassertion in a tone of injured honesty. "Why should I! No—no! You camehere of your own accord,—that is certain and—" here he spoke moreslowly and with a certain malicious glee, "I shall have no difficulty inproving it to be so, should the young man Errington ask me for anexplanation! 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 sayagainst me; you, a reputed witch, and I, a minister of the Gospel. Foryour father I care nothing, a poor sinful pagan can never injure aservant of the Lord. Come now, let me have that kiss! I have been verypatient—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 helpme!"

Again Mr. Dyceworthy laughed sneeringly. "God will help you!" heexclaimed as though in wonder. "As if God ever helped a Roman! FrökenThelma, be sensible. By your strange visit to me to-night you haveruined your already damaged character—I say you have ruined it,—and ifanything remains to be said against you, I can say it—moreover, Iwill!"

A crash of breaking window-glass followed these words, and before Mr.Dyceworthy could realize what had happened, he was pinioned against hisown wall by an active, wiry, excited individual, whose black eyessparkled with gratified rage, whose clenched fist was dealing him severethumps all over his fat body.

"Ha, ha! You will, will you!" cried Duprèz, literally dancing up againsthim and squeezing him as though he were a jelly. "You will tell lies inthe service of le Bon Dieu? No—not quite, not yet!" And stillpinioning him with one hand, he dragged at his collar with the othertill he succeeded, in spite of the minister's unwieldly efforts todefend himself, in rolling him down upon the floor, where he knelt uponhim in triumph. "Voilà! Je sais faire la boxe, moi!" Then turning toThelma, who stood an amazed spectator of the scene, her flushed cheeksand tear-swollen eyes testifying to the misery of the hours she hadpassed, he said, "Run, Mademoiselle, run! The little Britta is outside,she has a pony-car—she will drive you home. I will stay here tillPhil-eep comes. I shall enjoy myself! I will begin—Phil-eep withfinish! Then we will return to you."

Thelma needed no more words, she rushed to the door, threw it open, andvanished like a bird in air. Britta's joy at seeing her was too greatfor more than an exclamation of welcome,—and the carriole, with the twogirls safely in it, was soon on its rapid way back to the farm.Meanwhile, Olaf Güldmar, with Errington and the others, had just landedat Bosekop after a heavy pull across the Fjord, and they made straightfor Mr. Dyceworthy's house, the bonde working himself up as he walkedinto a positive volcano of wrath. Finding the street-door open as it hadjust been left by the escaped Thelma, they entered, and on the thresholdof the parlor, stopped abruptly, in amazement at the sight thatpresented itself. Two figures were rolling about on the floor,apparently in a close embrace,—one large and cumbrous, the other smalland slight. Sometimes they shook each other,—sometimes they laystill,—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 brokeinto an irrepressible laugh.

"It's Duprèz," he cried, for the benefit of the others that stood at thedoor. "By Jove! How did he get here, I wonder?"

Hearing his name, Duprèz looked up from that portion of Mr. Dyceworthy'sform in which he had been burrowing, and smiled radiantly.

"Ah, cher Lorimer! Put your knee here, will you? So! that is well—Iwill rest myself!" And he rose, smoothing his roughened hair with bothhands, while Lorimer in obedience to his request, kept one kneeartistically pressed on the recumbent figure of the minister. "Ah! andthere is our Phil-eep, and Sandy, and Monsieur Güldmar! But I do notthink," here he beamed all over, "there is much more to be done! He isone bruise, I assure you! He will not preach for many Sundays;—it isbad to be so fat—he will be so exceedingly suffering!"

Errington could not forbear smiling at Pierre's equanimity. "But whathas happened?" he asked. "Is Thelma here?"

"She was here," answered Duprèz. "The religious had decoyed her hereby means of some false writing,—supposed to be from you. He kept herlocked up here the whole afternoon. When I came he was making love andfrightening her,—I am pleased I was in time. But"—and he smiledagain—"he is well beaten!"

Sir Philip strode up to the fallen Dyceworthy, his face darkening withwrath.

"Let him go, Lorimer," he said sternly. Then, as the reverend gentlemanslowly struggled to his feet, moaning with pain, he demanded, "What haveyou to say for yourself, sir? Be thankful if I do not give you thehorse-whipping you deserve, you scoundrel!"

"Let me get at him!" vociferated Güldmar at this juncture, struggling tofree himself from the close grasp of the prudent Macfarlane. "I havelonged for such a chance! Let me get at him!"

But Lorimer assisted to restrain him from springing forward,—and theold man chafed and swore by his gods in vain.

Mr. Dyceworthy meanwhile meekly raised his eyes, and folded his handswith a sort of pious resignation.

"I have been set upon and cruelly abused," he said mournfully, "andthere is no part of me without ache and soreness!" He sighed deeply."But I am punished rightly for yielding unto carnal temptation, putbefore me in the form of the maiden who came hither unto me withdelusive entrancements—"

He stopped, shrinking back in alarm from the suddenly raised fist of theyoung baronet.

"You'd better be careful!" remarked Philip coolly, with dangerouslyflashing 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 allthat the number of the ungodly outweigheth that of the righteous! Alas!'why do the heathen rage so furiously together?' Why, indeed! Exceptthat 'in their hearts they imagine a vain thing!' I pardon you, SirPhilip, I freely pardon you! And you also, sir," turning gravely toDuprèz, who received his forgiveness with a cheerful and delighted bow."You can indeed injure—and you have injured this poor body ofmine—but you cannot touch the soul! No, nor can you hinder thatfreedom of speech"—here his malignant smile was truly diabolical—"whichis my glory, and which shall forever be uplifted against all manner ofevil-doers, whether they be fair women and witches, or misguidedpagans—"

Again he paused, rather astonished at Errington's scornful laugh.

"You low fellow!" said the baronet. "From Yorkshire, are you? Well, Ihappen to know a good many people in that part of the world—and I havesome influence there, too. Now, understand me—I'll have you hounded outof 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 ofMiss Güldmar disrespectfully, I'll thrash you within an inch of yourlife!"

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 myministrations are welcome, as appealing to that portion of the peoplewho follow the godly Luther. Oh yes,"—and he smiled cheerfully—"youwill reconsider your words. In the meantime—I—I"—he stammeredslightly—"I apologize! I meant naught but good to the maiden—but Ihave been misunderstood, as is ever the case with the servants of theLord. Let us say no more about it! I forgive!—let us all forgive! Iwill even extend my pardon to the pagan yonder—"

But the "pagan" at that moment broke loose from the friendly grasp inwhich he had been hitherto held, and strode up to the minister, whor*coiled like a beaten cur from the look of that fine old face flushedwith just indignation, and those clear blue eyes fiery as the flash ofsteel.

"Pagan, you call me!" he cried. "I thank the gods for it—I am proud ofthe title! I would rather be the veriest savage that ever knelt inuntutored worship to the great forces of Nature, than such a thing asyou—a slinking, unclean animal, crawling coward-like between earth andsky, 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, managedto 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 wastingtime here."

"Ah!" exclaimed Duprèz radiantly—"and Monsieur Dyceworthy will be gladto be in bed! He will be very stiff to-morrow, I am sure! Here is a ladywho will attend him."

This with a courteous salute to the wooden-faced Ulrika, who suddenlyconfronted them in the little passage. She seemed surprised to see them,and spoke in a monotonous dreamy tone, as though she walked in hersleep.

"The girl has gone?" she added slowly.

Duprèz nodded briskly. "She has gone! And let me tell you, madame, thatif it had not been for you, she would not have come here at all. Youtook that card to her?"

Ulrika frowned. "I was compelled," she said. "She made me take it. Ipromised." She turned her dull eyes slowly on Güldmar. "It was Lovisa'sfault. Ask Lovisa about it." She paused, and moistened her dry lips withher tongue. "Where is your crazy lad?" she asked, almost anxiously. "Didhe come with you?"

"He is dead!" answered Güldmar, with grave coldness.

"Dead!" And to their utter amazement, she threw up her arms and burstinto a fit of wild laughter. "Dead! Thank God! Thank God! Dead! Andthrough no fault of mine! The Lord be praised! He was only fit fordeath—never mind how he died—it is enough that he is dead—dead! Ishall see him no more—he cannot curse me again!—the Lord be thankfulfor all His mercies!"

And her laughter ceased—she threw her apron over her head and brokeinto a passion of weeping.

"The woman must be crazy!" exclaimed the bonde, thoroughlymystified,—then placing his arm through Errington's, he saidimpatiently, "You're right, my lad! We've had enough of this. Let usshake the dust of this accursed place off our feet and get home. I'mtired out!"

They left the minister's dwelling and made straight for the shore, andwere soon well on their journey back to the farm across the Fjord. Thistime the tide was with them—the evening was magnificent, and thecoolness of the breeze, the fresh lapping of the water against the boat,and the brilliant tranquility of the landscape, soon calmed theirover-excited feelings. Thelma was waiting for them under the porch asusual, looking a trifle paler than her wont, after all the worry andfright and suspense she had undergone,—but the caresses of her fatherand lover soon brought back the rosy warmth on her fair face, andrestored the lustre to her eyes. Nothing was said about Sigurd's fatejust then,—when she asked for her faithful servitor, she was told hehad "gone wandering as usual," and it was not till Errington and hisfriends returned to their yacht that old Güldmar, left alone with hisdaughter, broke the sad news to her very gently. But the shock, sounexpected and terrible, was almost too much for her already overwroughtnerves,—and such tears were shed for Sigurd as Sigurd himself mighthave noted with gratitude. Sigurd—the loving, devoted Sigurd—gone forever! Sigurd,—her playmate,—her servant,—her worshiper,—dead! Ah,how tenderly she mourned him!—how regretfully she thought of his wildwords! "Mistress, you are killing poor Sigurd!" Wistfully she wonderedif, in her absorbing love for Philip, she had neglected the poor crazedlad,—his face, in all its pale, piteous appeal, haunted her, and hergrief for his loss was the greatest she had ever known since the day onwhich 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 herown impetuous little way,—and it was some time before either she or hermistress, could calm themselves sufficiently to retire to rest. And longafter Thelma was sleeping, with tears still wet on her cheeks, herfather sat alone under his porch, lost in melancholy meditation. Now andthen he ruffled his white hair impatiently with his hand,—hisdaughter's adventure in Mr. Dyceworthy's house had vexed his proudspirit. He knew well enough that the minister's apology meantnothing—that the whole village would be set talking against Thelmamore, even than before,—that there was no possibility of preventingscandal so long as Dyceworthy was there to start it. He thought andthought and puzzled himself with probabilities—till at last, when hefinally rose to enter his dwelling for the night, he mutteredhalf-aloud. "If it must be, it must! And the sooner the better now, Ithink, for the child's sake."

The next morning Sir Philip arrived unusually early,—and remained shutup with the bonde, in private conversation for more than an hour. Atthe expiration of that time, Thelma was called, and taken into theirconfidence. The result of their mysterious discussion was notimmediately evident,—though for the next few days, the farm-house lostit* former tranquility and became a scene of bustle and excitement.Moreover, to the astonishment of the Bosekop folk, the sailing-brigknown as the Valkyrie, belonging to Olaf Güldmar, which had beenhauled up high and dry on the shore for many months, was suddenly seenafloat on the Fjord, and Valdemar Svensen, Errington's pilot, appearedto be busily engaged upon her decks, putting everything in ship-shapeorder. It was no use asking him any questions—he was not the man togratify impertinent curiosity. By-and-by a rumor got about in thevillage—Lovisa had gained her point in one particular,—the Güldmarswere 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 inboats from the farm-house to both the Eulalie and the Valkyrie.These preparations excited a great deal of interest andinquisitiveness,—but no one dared ask for information as to what wasabout to happen. The Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy was confined to his bed"from a severe cold"—as he said, and therefore was unable to performhis favorite mission of spy;—so that when, one brilliant morning,Bosekop was startled by the steam-whistle of the Eulalie blowingfuriously, and echoing far and wide across the surrounding rockyislands, several of the lounging inhabitants paused on the shore, orsauntered down to the rickety pier, to see what was the cause of theclamor. Even the long-suffering minister crawled out of bed and appliedhis fat, meek visage to his window, from whence he could command analmost uninterrupted view of the glittering water. Great was hisamazement, and discomfiture to see the magnificent yacht movingmajestically out of the Fjord, with Güldmar's brig in tow behind her,and the English flag fluttering gaily from her middle-mast, as shecurtsied her farewell to the dark mountains, and glided swiftly over thelittle hissing waves. Had Mr. Dyceworthy been possessed of afield-glass, he might have been able to discern on her deck, the figureof a tall, fair girl, who, drawing her crimson hood over her rich hair,stood gazing with wistful, dreamy blue eyes, at the last receding shoresof the Altenfjord—eyes that smiled and yet were tearful.

"Are you sorry, Thelma?" asked Errington gently, as he passed one armtenderly 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 sayinggood-bye to one's old life, is it not? The dear old home!—and poorSigurd!"

Her voice trembled, and bright tears fell.

"Sigurd is happy,"—said Errington gravely, taking the hand thatcaressed him, and reverently kissing it. "Believe me, love,—if he hadlived some cruel misery might have befallen him—it is better as it is!"

Thelma did not answer for a minute or two—then she saidsuddenly—"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 hisfirst interview with Sigurd. She listened attentively—then shewhispered softly—

"My mother sleeps there, you know,—yesterday I went to take her someflowers 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 andhow happy I am."

He stroked her silky hair tenderly and was silent. The Eulalie hadreached the outward bend of the Altenfjord, and the station of Bosekopwas rapidly disappearing. Olaf Güldmar and the others came on deck totake 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, fondglance, the stretch of the vanishing scenery. "Though when once you aresafe married at Christiania, Valdemar Svensen and I will have a finetoss on the seas in the Valkyrie,—and I shall grow young again in thestorm and drift of the foam and the dark wild waves! Yes—a wanderinglife 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 sweepingwind!"

And he lifted his cap and drew himself erect, inhaling the air like anold warrior scenting battle. The others listened, amused at hisenthusiasm,—and, meanwhile, the Altenfjord altogether disappeared, andthe Eulalie was soon plunging in a rougher sea. They were bound forChristiania, where it was decided Thelma's marriage should at once takeplace—after which Sir Philip would leave his yacht at the disposal ofhis friends, for them to return in it to England. He himself intended tostart directly for Germany with his bride, a trip in which Britta was toaccompany them as Thelma's maid. Olaf Güldmar, as he had just stated,purposed making a voyage in the Valkyrie, as soon as he should get herproperly manned and fitted, which he meant to do at Christiania.

Such were their plans,—and, meanwhile, they were all together on theEulalie,—a happy and sociable party,—Errington having resigned hiscabin to the use of his fair betrothed, and her little maid, whosedelight at the novel change in her life, and her escape from thepersecution of her grandmother, was extreme. Onward they sailed,—pastthe grand Lofoden Islands and all the magnificent scenery extendingthence to Christiansund, while the inhabitants of Bosekop looked in vainfor their return to the Altenfjord.

The short summer there was beginning to draw to a close,—some of thebirds took their departure from the coast,—the dull routine of theplace went on as usual, rendered even duller by the absence of the"witch" element of discord,—a circ*mstance that had kept thesuperstitious villagers, more or less on a lively tension of religiousand resentful excitement—and by-and-by, the rightful minister ofBosekop came back to his duties and released the Reverend CharlesDyceworthy, who straightway returned to his loving flock in Yorkshire.It was difficult to ascertain whether the aged Lovisa was satisfied orwrathful, at the departure of the Güldmars with her granddaughter Brittain their company—she kept herself almost buried in her hut at Talvig,and saw no one but Ulrika, who seemed to grow more respectably staidthan ever, and who, as a prominent member of the Lutheran congregation,distinguished herself greatly by her godly bearing and uncompromisinggloom.

Little by little, the gossips ceased to talk about the disappearance ofthe "white witch" and her father—little by little they ceased tospeculate as to whether the rich Englishman, Sir Philip Errington,really meant to marry her—a consummation of things which none of themseemed to think likely—the absence of their hated neighbors, was feltby them as a relief, while the rumored fate of the crazy Sigurd was ofcourse looked upon as evidence of fresh crime on the part of the"pagan," who was accused of having, in some way or other, caused theunfortunate lad's death. And the old farm-house on the pine-coveredknoll was shut up and silent,—its doors and windows safely barredagainst wind and rain,—and only the doves, left to forage forthemselves, crooned upon its roof, all day, or strutting on the desertedpaths, ruffled their plumage in melancholy meditation, as thoughwondering at the absence of the fair ruling spirit of the place, whosesmile had been brighter than the sunshine. The villagers avoided it asthough it were haunted—the roses drooped and died untended,—and bydegrees the old homestead grew to look like a quaint little picture offorgotten joys, with its deserted porch and fading flowers.

Meanwhile, a thrill of amazement, incredulity, disappointment,indignation, and horror, rushed like a violent electric shock throughthe upper circles of London society, arousing the deepest disgust in thebreasts of match-making matrons, and seriously ruffling the prettyfeathers of certain bird-like beauties who had just began to try theirwings, and who "had expectations." The cause of the sensation was verysimple. 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 Güldmar, bonde, of theAltenfjord, Norway. No cards."

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 theMorning Post beside her breakfast-cup, "I think his conduct isperfectly disgraceful!"

Mr. Rush-Marvelle, a lean gentleman with a sallow, clean-shaven face andan 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 ashamedof himself!"

And Mrs. Marvelle fixed her glasses more firmly on her small nose, andregarded her husband almost reproachfully. "Don't tell me, Montague,that you've forgotten that scandal about him! He went off last year, inthe middle of the season, to Norway, in his yacht, with three of thevery fastest fellows he could pick out from his acquaintance—regularreprobates, so I'm told—and after leading the most awful life outthere, making love to all the peasant girls in the place, he married oneof them,—a common farmer's daughter. Don't you remember? We saw theannouncement 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 sadmésalliance. 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 hadoffended her sense of social dignity. Mr. Marvelle read it with almostlaborious care—though it was remarkably short and easy ofcomprehension.

"Sir Philip and Lady Bruce-Errington have arrived at their house inPrince's Gate from Errington Manor."

"Well, my dear?" he inquired, with a furtive and anxious glance at hiswife. "I suppose—er—it—er—it was to be expected?"

"No, it was not to be expected," said Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, rearing herhead, and heaving her ample bosom to and fro in rather a tumultuousmanner. "Of course it was to be expected that Bruce-Errington wouldbehave like a fool—his father was a fool before him. But I say it wasnot to be expected that he would outrage society by bringing that commonwife of his to London, and expecting us to receive her! The thing isperfectly scandalous! He has had the decency to keep away from town eversince his marriage—part of the time he has staid abroad, and sinceJanuary he has been at his place in Warwickshire,—and thistime—observe this!" and Mrs. Marvelle looked most impressive—"not asoul has been invited to the Manor—not a living soul! The house used tobe full of people during the winter season—of course, now, he dare notask anybody lest they should be shocked at his wife's ignorance. That'sas clear as daylight! And now he has the impudence to actually bring herhere,—into society! Good Heavens! He must be mad! He will be laughedat 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, andshook out the voluminous train of her silken breakfast-gown, anelaborate combination of crimson with grey chinchilla fur. "I shall haveto call on the creature—just imagine it! It is most unfortunate for methat I happen to be one of Bruce-Errington's oldest friends—otherwise Imight have passed him over in some way—as it is I can't. But fancyhaving to meet a great coarse peasant woman, who, I'm certain, will onlybe able to talk about fish and whale-oil! It is really quitedreadful!"

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 veryuneducated 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 yourown business, Montague, such as it is. The law suits your particularform of brain—society does not. You would never be in society at all ifit were not for me—now you know you wouldn't!"

"My love," said Mr. Marvelle, with a look of meek admiration at hiswife'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 thencondescended to explain—"the whole thing is so extremely disappointingto me. I wanted Marcia Van Clupp to go in for the Errington stakes,—itwould have been such an excellent match,—money on both sides. AndMarcia would have been just the girl to look after that place down inWarwickshire—the house is going to rack and ruin, in my opinion."

"Ah, yes!" agreed her husband mildly. "Van Clupp is a fine girl—avery fine girl! No end of 'go' in her. And so Errington Manor needs agood deal of repairing, perhaps?" This query was put by Mr. Marvelle,with his head very much on one side, and his bilious eyes blinkingdrowsily.

"I don't know about repairs," replied Mrs. Marvelle. "It is amagnificent place, and certainly the grounds are ravishing. But one ofthe best rooms in the house, is the former Lady Errington's boudoir—itis full of old-fashioned dirty furniture, and Bruce-Errington won't haveit touched,—he will insist on keeping it as his mother left it. Nowthat is ridiculous—perfectly morbid! It's just the same thing with hisfather's library—he won't have that touched either—and the ceilingwants fresh paint, and the windows want new curtains—and all sorts ofthings ought to be done. Marcia would have managed all thatsplendidly—she'd have had everything new throughout—Americans are soquick, 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 darteda keen look at him, but smiled a little too. She was not without a senseof humor.

"Nonsense, Montague! She knows the value of works of art better thanmany a so-called connoisseur. I won't have you make fun of her. Poorgirl! She did speculate on Bruce-Errington,—you know he was veryattentive to her, at that ball I gave just before he went off toNorway."

"He certainly seemed rather amused by her," said Mr. Marvelle. "Did shetake it to heart when she heard he was married?"

"I should think not," replied Mrs. Marvelle loftily. "She has too muchsense. She merely said, 'All right! I must stick to Masherville!'"

Mr. Marvelle nodded blandly. "Admirable,—admirable!" he murmured, witha soft little laugh, "A very clever girl—a very bright creature! Andreally there are worse fellows than Masherville! The title is old."

"Yes, the title is all very well," retorted his wife—"but there's nomoney—or at least very little."

"Marcia has sufficient to cover any deficit?" suggested Mr. Marvelle, ina tone of meek inquiry.

"An American woman never has sufficient," declared Mrs. Marvelle. "Youknow that as well as I do. And poor dear Mrs. Van Clupp has so set herheart on a really brilliant match for her girl—and I had positivelypromised she should have Bruce-Errington. It is really too bad!" AndMrs. Marvelle paced the room with a stately, sweeping movement, pausingevery now and then to glance at herself approvingly in the mirror abovethe 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 todo in the matter. Poor Clara! She must be disgusted at the wholeaffair!"

"She had rather a liking for Errington, hadn't she?" inquired Mr.Marvelle, folding up the Times in a neat parcel, preparatory to takingit 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 theglass, carefully arranged the ruffle of Honiton lace about her massivethroat,—"It was a little more than liking—though, of course, herfeelings were perfectly proper, and all that sort of thing,—at least, Isuppose they were! She had a great friendship for him,—one of thoseemotional, perfectly spiritual and innocent attachments, I believe,which are so rare in this wicked world." Mrs. Marvelle sighed, thensuddenly becoming practical again, she continued. "Yes, I shall go thereand stop to luncheon, and talk this thing over. Then I'll drive on tothe Van Clupps, and bring Marcia home to dinner. I suppose you don'tobject?"

"Object!" Mr. Marvelle made a deprecatory gesture, and raised his eyesin wonder. As if he dared object to anything whatsoever that his wifedesired!

She smiled graciously as he approached, and respectfully kissed hersmooth cool cheek, before taking his departure for his daily work as alawyer in the city, and when he was gone, she betook herself to her ownsmall boudoir, where she busied herself for more than an hour in writingletters, and answering invitations.

She was, in her own line, a person of importance. She made it herbusiness to know everything and everybody—she was fond of meddling withother people's domestic concerns, and she had a finger in every familypie. She was, moreover, a regular match-maker,—fond of taking youngladies under her maternal wing, and "introducing" them to the properquarters, and when, as was often the case, a distinguished American ofmany dollars but no influence offered her three or four hundred guineasfor chaperoning his daughter into English society and marrying her well,Mrs. Rush-Marvelle pocketed the douceur quite gracefully, and did herbest for the girl. She was a good-looking woman, tall, portly, and withan air of distinction about her, though her features were by no meansstriking, and the smallness of her nose was out of all proportion to themajesty 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, fullof the most dulcet flatteries—married ladies on the verge of a scandalcame to her to help them out of their difficulties—old dowagers,troubled with rheumatism or refractory daughters, poured their troublesinto her sympathizing ears—in short, her hands were full of otherpeople's business to such an extent that she had scarcely any leisure toattend to her own. Mr. Rush-Marvelle,—but why describe this gentlemanat 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 asimilar position, he was satisfied with his lot. He admired his wifeintensely, and never failed to flatter her vanity to the utmost excess,so that, on the whole, they were excellent friends, and agreed muchbetter than most married people.

It was about twelve o'clock in the day, when Mrs. Rush-Marvelle's neatlittle brougham and pair stopped at Lord Winsleigh's great house in ParkLane. A gorgeous flunkey threw open the door with a virtuously severeexpression on his breakfast-flushed countenance,—an expression whichrelaxed 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 ladyshipis in the boo-dwar."

"I'll go there," said Mrs. Marvelle, stepping into the hall, andbeginning to walk across it, in her own important and self-assertivemanner. "You needn't announce me."

Briggs closed the street-door, settled his powdered wig, and lookedafter her meditatively. Then he shut up one eye in a sufficientlylaborious manner and grinned. After this he retired slowly to a smallante-room, where he found the World with its leaves uncut. Taking uphis master's ivory paper-knife, he proceeded to remedy this slightinconvenience,—and, yawning heavily, he seated himself in a velvetarm-chair, and was soon absorbed in perusing the pages of the journal inquestion.

Meanwhile Mrs. Marvelle, in her way across the great hall to the"boo-dwar," had been interrupted and nearly knocked down by the playfulembrace of a handsome boy, who sprang out upon her suddenly with a shoutof laughter,—a boy of about twelve years old, with frank, bright blueeyes and clustering dark curls.

"Hullo, Mimsey!" cried this young gentleman-"here you are again! Do youwant to see papa? Papa's in there!"—pointing to the door from which hehad 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 anindulgent smile,—"I wish you would not be so boisterous! You've nearlyknocked my bonnet off."

"No, I haven't," laughed Ernest; "it's as straight as—wait a bit!" Andwaving 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 yournose—it couldn't be better!"

"There, go along, you silly boy!" said Mrs. Marvelle, amused in spite ofherself. "Get back to your lessons. There'll be no circus for you if youdon't behave properly! I'm going to see your mother."

"Mamma's reading," announced Ernest. "Mudie's cart has just been andbrought a lot of new novels. Mamma wants to finish them all beforenight. 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. Youhaven't finished your work yet. Ah, Mrs. Marvelle! How do you do?"

And Lord Winsleigh came forward and shook hands. "You will find herladyship in, I believe. She will be delighted to see you. This youngscapegrace," here he caressed his son's clustering curls tenderly—"hasnot yet done with his lessons—the idea of the circus to-day seems tohave 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. "Youwill find him too much for you, Winsleigh, in a little while."

"I think not," replied Lord Winsleigh, though an anxious look troubledfor an instant the calm of his deep-set grey eyes. "We get on very welltogether, don't we, Ernest?" The boy glanced up fondly at his father'sface and nodded emphatically. "At a public-school, you see, the boys areeducated on hard and fast lines—all ground down to onepattern,—there's no chance of any originality possible. But don't letme detain you, Mrs. Marvelle—you have no doubt much to say to LadyWinsleigh. Come, Ernest! If I let you off Virgil, you must do the restof your work thoroughly."

And with a courteous salute, the grave, kindly-faced nobleman re-enteredhis library, his young son clinging to his arm and pouring forth boyishconfidences, which seemingly received instant attention andsympathy,—while Mrs. Rush-Marvelle looked after their retreatingfigures with something of doubt and wonder on her placid features. Butwhatever her thoughts, they were not made manifest just then. Arrivingat a door draped richly with old-gold plush and satin, she knocked.

"Come in!" cried a voice that, though sweet in tone, was also somewhatpetulant.

Mrs. Marvelle at once entered, and the occupant of the room sprang up inhaste from her luxurious reading-chair, where she was having her longtresses brushed out by a prim-looking maid, and uttered an exclamationof delight.

"My dearest Mimsey!" she cried, "this is quite too sweet of you! You'rejust the very person I wanted to see!" And she drew an easy fauteuil tothe sparkling fire,—for the weather was cold, with that particularlycruel coldness common to an English May,—and dismissed her attendant."Now sit down, you dear old darling," she continued, "and let me haveall the news!"

Throwing herself back on her lounge, she laughed, and tossed her wavinghair loose over her shoulders, as the maid had left it,—then shearranged, with a coquettish touch here and there, the folds of her palepink dressing-gown, showered with delicate Valenciennes. She wasundeniably a lovely woman. Tall and elegantly formed, with an almostregal grace of manner, Clara, Lady Winsleigh, deserved to be considered,as she was, one of the reigning beauties of the day. Her full dark eyeswere of a bewitching and dangerous softness,—her complexion was pale,but of such a creamy, transparent pallor as to be almost brilliant,—hermouth was small and exquisitely shaped. True,—her long eyelashes werenot altogether innocent of "kohl,"—true, there was a faint odor abouther as of rare perfumes and cosmetics,—true, there was something notaltogether sincere or natural even in her ravishing smile andfascinating ways—but few, save cynics, could reasonably dispute herphysical perfections, or question the right she had to tempt and arousethe passions of men, or to trample underfoot? with an air of insolentsuperiority, the feelings of women less fair and fortunate. Most of hersex envied her,—but Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, who was past the prime of life,and, who, moreover, gained her social successes through intelligence andtact alone, was far too sensible to grudge any woman her beauty. On thecontrary, she was a frank admirer of handsome persons, and she surveyedLady Winsleigh now through her glasses with a smile of bland approval.

"You are looking very well, Clara," she said. "Let me see—you went toKissingen in the summer, didn't you?"

"Of course I did," laughed her ladyship. "It was delicious! I supposeyou know Lennie came after me there! Wasn't it ridiculous!"

Mrs. Marvelle coughed dubiously. "Didn't Winsleigh put in an appearanceat all?" she asked.

Lady Clara's brow clouded. "Oh yes! For a couple of weeks or so. Ernestcame 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 yousince you came back, Clara, except once in the park and once at thetheatre. You've been all the time at Winsleigh Court—by-the-by, was SirFrancis Lennox there too?"

"Why, naturally!" replied the beauty, with a cool smile. "He follows meeverywhere like a dog! Poor Lennie!"

Again the elder lady coughed significantly.

Clara Winsleigh broke into a ringing peal of laughter, and rising fromher lounge, knelt beside her visitor in a very pretty coaxing attitude.

"Come, Mimsey!" she said, "you are not going to be proper at this timeof day! That would be a joke! Darling, indulgent, good old Mimsey!—youdon't mean to turn into a prim, prosy, cross Mrs. Grundy! I won'tbelieve it! And you mustn't be severe on poor Lennie—he's such adocile, good boy, and really not bad-looking!"

Mrs. Marvelle fidgeted a little on her chair. "I don't want to talkabout Lennie, as you call him," she said, rather testily—"Only Ithink you'd better be careful how far you go with him. I came to consultyou on something quite different. What are you going to do about theBruce-Errington business? You know it was in the Post to-day thatthey've arrived in town. The idea of Sir Philip bringing his common wifeinto 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 punishmentBruce-Errington can have! I'll get all the best people here that Iknow—and he shall bring his peasant woman among them, and blush forher! It will be the greatest fun out! Fancy a Norwegian farmer's girllumbering along with her great feet and red hands!... and, perhaps,not knowing whether to eat an ice with a spoon or with her fingers! Itell you Bruce-Errington will be ready to die for shame—and serve himright too!"

Mrs. Marvelle was rather startled at the harsh, derisive laughter withwhich her ladyship concluded her excited observations, but she merelyobserved mildly—

"Well, then, you will leave cards?"

"Certainly?"

"Very good—so shall I," and Mrs. Marvelle sighed resignedly. "What mustbe, must be! But it's really dreadful to think of it all—I would neverhave believed Philip Errington could have so disgraced himself!"

"He is no gentleman!" said Lady Winsleigh freezingly. "He has low tastesand low desires. He and his friend Lorimer are two cads, in myopinion!"

"Clara!" exclaimed Mrs. Marvelle warningly. "You were fond of himonce!—now, don't deny it!"

"Why should I deny it?" and her ladyship's dark eyes blazed withconcentrated fury. "I loved him! There! I would have done anything forhim! He might have trodden me down under his feet! He knew it wellenough—cold, cruel, heartless cynic as he was and is! Yes, I lovedhim!—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 yougoing 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'sproud mouth. She paused and laughed a little. Then she resumed in herold careless way—"You must be getting very goody-goody, Mimsey, to talkto me about my husband! Why don't you read me a lecture on the duties ofwives and the education of children? I am sure you know how profoundlyit would interest me!"

She paced up and down the room slowly while Mrs. Marvelle remaineddiscreetly silent. Presently there came a tap at the door, and thegorgeous Briggs entered. He held himself like an automaton, and spoke asthough repeating a lesson.

"His lordship's compliments, and will her la'ship lunch in thedining-room to-day?"

"No," said Lady Winsleigh curtly. "Luncheon for myself and Mrs. Marvellecan be sent up here."

Briggs still remained immovable. "His lordship wished to know if MasterHernest 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 morerestless. She was a good-hearted woman, and there was something in thenature 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 iscompany, and I am compelled to be present. A domestic meal would be tooennuyant! I wonder you can think of such a thing! And we generallydine out."

Mrs. Marvelle was silent again, and, when she did speak, it was on aless 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. Ishall call on Lady Bruce-Errington"—here she smiled scornfully—"thisafternoon—and to-morrow I shall send them their invitations. My onlyfear is whether they mayn't refuse to come. I would not miss the chancefor the world! I want my house to be the first in which herpeasant-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, handsomeyoung man!"

At that moment Briggs appeared again with an elegantly setluncheon-tray, which he placed on the table with a flourish.

"Order the carriage at half-past three," commanded Lady Winsleigh. "Andtell Mrs. Marvelle's coachman that he needn't wait,—I'll drive her homemyself."

"But, my dear Clara," remonstrated Mrs. Marvelle, "I must call at theVan Clupps'—"

"I'll call there with you. I owe them a visit. Has Marcia caught youngMasherville yet?"

"Well," hesitated Mrs. Marvelle, "he is rather slippery, you know—soundecided 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 edgewhenever I hear her speak."

"It's a pity she can't conquer that defect," agreed Mrs. Marvelle. "Iknow she has tried. But, after all, they're not the best sort ofAmericans—"

"The best sort! I should think not! But they're of the richest sort,and that's something, Mimsey! Besides, though everybody knows what VanClupp's father was, they make a good pretense at being well-born,—theydon't cram their low connections down your throat, as Bruce-Erringtonwants to do with his common wife. They ignore all their vulgarbelongings delightfully! They've been cruelly 'cut' by Mrs.Rippington—she's American—but, then, she's perfect style. Do youremember that big 'at home' at the Van Clupp's when they had a band toplay in the back-yard, and everybody was deafened by the noise? Wasn'tit quite too ridiculous!"

Lady Winsleigh laughed over this reminiscence, and then betook herselfto the consideration of lunch,—a tasty meal which both she and Mrs.Marvelle evidently enjoyed, flavored as it was with the high spice ofscandal 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 Winsleighsummoned her maid, and was arrayed cap-à-pie in "carriage-toilette,"while Mrs. Marvelle amused herself by searching the columns of Truthfor some new tit-bit of immorality connected with the royalty ornobility of England. And at half-past three precisely, the two ladiesdrove off together in an elegant victoria drawn by a dashing pair ofgreys, with a respectably apoplectic coachman on the box, supported bythe stately Briggs, in all the glory of the olive-green and goldliveries which distinguished the Winsleigh equipage. By her ladyship'sdesire, they were driven straight to Prince's Gate.

"We may as well leave our cards together," said Clara, with a maliciouslittle smile, "though I hope to goodness the creature won't be at home."

Bruce-Errington's town-house was a very noble-looking mansion—refinedand simple in outer adornment, with a broad entrance, deep portico, andlofty windows—windows which fortunately were not spoilt by gaudyhangings of silk or satin in "æsthetic" colors. The blinds werewhite—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 byquaint awnings of Oriental pattern, thus giving the place an air ofpleasant 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 ifnot, leave these cards."

Briggs received the scented glossy bits of pasteboard in hisyellow-gloved hand with due gravity, and rang the bell marked "Visitors"in his usual ponderous manner, with a force that sent it clanging loudlythrough the corridors of the stately mansion. The door was instantlyopened by a respectable man with grey hair and a gentle, kindly face,who was dressed plainly in black, and who eyed the gorgeous Briggs withthe faintest suspicion of a smile. He was Errington's butler, and hadserved the family for twenty-five years.

"Her ladyship is driving in the Park," he said in response to thecondescending inquiries of Briggs. "She left the house about half anhour ago."

Briggs thereupon handed in the cards, and forthwith reported the resultof 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 rapidlybowled in the required direction, while Lady Winsleigh remarkedlaughingly to Mrs. Marvelle—

"Philip is sure to be with his treasure! If we can catch a glimpse ofher, sitting, staring open-mouthed at everything, it will be amusing! Weshall then know what to expect."

Mrs. Marvelle said nothing, though she too was more or less curious tosee the "peasant" addition to the circle of fashionable society,—andwhen they entered the Park, both she and Lady Winsleigh kept a sharplook-out for the first glimpse of the quiet grey and silver of theBruce-Errington liveries. They watched, however, in vain—it was not yetthe hour for the crowding of the Row—and there was not a sign of theparticular equipage they were so desirous to meet. Presently LadyWinsleigh's face flushed—she laughed, and bade her coachman come to ahalt.

"It is only Lennie," she said in answer to Mrs. Marvelle's look ofinquiry. "I must speak to him a moment!"

And she beckoned coquettishly to a slight, slim young man with a darkmoustache and rather handsome features, who was idling along on thefootpath, apparently absorbed in a reverie, though it was not of so deepa character that he failed to be aware of her ladyship's presence—infact he had seen her as soon as she appeared in the Park. He saweverything apparently without looking—he had lazily drooping eyes, buta swift under-glance which missed no detail of whatever was going on. Heapproached 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 tothe elder lady, who responded somewhat curtly,—then leaning his arms onthe carriage door, he fixed Lady Winsleigh with a sleepy stare ofadmiration. "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 yourlife! 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 FrancisLennox yawned and examined the handle of his cane attentively. "Isuppose if Helen of Troy came driving full pelt down the Row all of asudden, 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—"Imean what I say—a new Helen appeared here to-day, and instead of 'tallTroy' being on fire, as Dante Rossetti puts it, the Row was in a burningcondition of excitement—fellows on horseback galloped the whole lengthof the Park to take a last glimpse of her—her carriage dashed off toRichmond after taking only four turns. She is simply magnificent!"

"Who is she?" and in spite of herself, Lady Winsleigh's smile vanishedand her lips quivered.

"Lady Bruce-Errington," answered Sir Francis readily. "The loveliestwoman in the world, I should say! Phil was beside her—he looks insplendid condition—and that meek old secretary fellow satopposite—Neville—isn't that his name? Anyhow they seemed as jolly aspipers,—as for that woman, she'll drive everybody out of their witsabout her before half the season's over."

"But she's a mere peasant!" said Mrs. Marvelle loftily. "Entirelyuneducated—a low, common creature!"

"Ah, indeed!" and Sir Francis again yawned extensively. "Well, I don'tknow anything about that! She was exquisitely dressed, and she heldherself like a queen. As for her hair—I never saw such wonderfulhair,—there's every shade of gold in it."

"Dyed!" said Lady Winsleigh, with a sarcastic little laugh. "She's beenin Paris,—I dare say a good coiffeur has done it for her thereartistically!"

This time Sir Francis's smile was a thoroughly amused one.

"Commend me to a woman for spite!" he said carelessly. "But I'll notpresume to contradict you, Clara! You know best, I dare say! Ta-ta! I'llcome 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 toresume their journey through the Park. Lady Winsleigh looked vexed—Mrs.Marvelle bewildered.

"Do you think," inquired this latter, "she can really be so wonderfullylovely?"

"No, I don't!" answered Clara snappishly. "I dare say she's a plumpcreature with a high color—men like fat women with brick-tintedcomplexions—they think it's healthy. Helen of Troy indeed! Pooh! Lenniemust be crazy."

The rest of their drive was very silent,-they were both absorbed intheir own reflections. On arriving at the Van Clupps', they found no oneat home—not even Marcia—so Lady Winsleigh drove her "dearest Mimsey"back to her own house in Kensington, and there left her with manyexpressions of tender endearment—then, returning home, proceeded tomake an elaborate and brilliant toilette for the enchantment andedification of Sir Francis Lennox that evening. She dined alone, and wasready for her admirer when he called for her in his private hansom, anddrove away with him to the theatre, where she was the cynosure of manyeyes; meanwhile her husband, Lord Winsleigh, was pressing a good-nightkiss on the heated forehead of an excited boy, who, plunging about inhis little bed and laughing heartily, was evidently desirous ofemulating the gambols of the clown who had delighted him that afternoonat 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 andflushed cheeks.

Lord Winsleigh laughed. "Really, Ernest, I don't think I could!" heanswered good-naturedly. "Haven't you talked enough about the circus bythis time? I thought you were ready for sleep, otherwise I should nothave 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 restlessyoung 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'scountenance as he bent once more over the little bed, and pressed hisbearded lips lightly on the boy's fresh cheek, as cool and soft as arose-leaf.

"God bless you, little man!" he answered softly, and there was a slightquiver in his calm voice. Then he put out the light and left the room,closing the door after him with careful noiselessness. Descending thebroad stairs slowly, his face changed from its late look of tendernessto one of stern and patient coldness, which was evidently its habitualexpression. He addressed himself to Briggs, who was lounging aimlesslyin 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 toanswer my questions simply, without adding useless and unnecessarydetails."

Briggs's mouth opened a little in amazement at his master's peremptorytone, 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 willmost probably return rather late. Should she inquire for me, say I am atthe Carlton."

Again Briggs responded, "Very good, my lord!" And, like an exemplaryservant as he was, he lingered about the passage while Lord Winsleighentered his library, and, after remaining there some ten minutes or so,came out again in hat and great coat. The officious Briggs handed himhis cane, and inquired—

"'Ansom, my lord?"

"Thanks, no. I will walk."

It was a fine moonlight night, and Briggs stood for some minutes on thesteps, airing his shapely calves and watching the tall, dignified figureof his master walking, with the upright, stately bearing which alwaysdistinguished him, in the direction of Pall Mall. Park Lane was full ofcrowding carriages with twinkling lights, all bound to the differentsources of so-called "pleasure" by which the opening of the season isdistinguished. Briggs surveyed the scene with lofty indifference,sniffed the cool breeze, and, finding it somewhat chilly, re-entered thehouse and descended to the servant's hall. Here all the domestics of theWinsleigh household were seated at a large table loaded with hot andsavory 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 heapproached, "'ow late you are! Wot 'ave you been a-doin' on? 'Ere I'vebeen a-keepin' your lamb-chops and truffles 'ot all this time, and ifthey's dried up 'taint my fault, nor that of the hoven, which is as gooda 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—asusual! It's bad for your 'elth—very bad! Hif the chops is dried, yourcourse is plain—cook some more! Not that I am enny ways particular—butchippy meat is bad for a delicate digestion. And you would not make mehill, 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 creaturesas housemaids, scullery-girls, and menials of that class,—he was onlyon intimate terms with the cook, Mrs. Flopper, or, as he called her,"Flopsie,"—the coachman, and Lady Winsleigh's own maid, Louise Rénaud,a prim, sallow-faced Frenchwoman, who, by reason of her nationality, wascalled by all the inhabitants of the kitchen, "mamzelle," as being aname both short, appropriate, and convenient.

On careful examination, the lamb-chops turned outsatisfactorily—"chippiness" was an epithet that could not justly beapplied to them,—and Mr. Briggs began to eat them leisurely, flavoringthem with a glass or two of fine port out of a decanter which he hadtaken the precaution to bring down from the dining-room sideboard.

"I ham, late," he then graciously explained—"not that I was detainedin enny way by the people upstairs. The gay Clara went out early, but Iwas 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-poorfellah!"

"I suppose she's with the same party?" grinned the fat Flopsie, as sheheld a large piece of bacon dipped in vinegar on her fork, preparatoryto swallowing it with a gulp.

Briggs nodded gravely, "The same! Not a fine man at all, you know—noleg 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 canhold her own,—but I wouldn't bet on little Francis."

Flopsie shrieked with laughter till she had a "stitch in her side," andwas compelled to restrain her mirth.

"Lor', Mr. Briggs!" she gasped, wiping the moisture from her eyes, "youare a regular one, aren't you! Mussy on us, you ought to put all wot yousay in the papers—you'd make your fortin!"

"Maybe, maybe, Flopsie," returned Briggs with due dignity. "I will notdeny 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, theWorld and Truth,—all sparkle, every line! It is the secret ofsuccess, Flopsie—be a sparkler and you've got everything before you."

Louise Rénaud looked across at him half-defiantly. Her prim, cruel mouthhardened into a tight line.

"To spark-el?" she said—"that is what we call étinceleréclater.Yes, I comprehend! Miladi is one spark-el! But one must be a very goodjewel to spark-el always—yes—yes—not a sham!"

And she nodded a great many times, and ate her salad very fast. Briggssurveyed her with much complacency.

"You are a talented woman, Mamzelle," he said, "very talented! I admireyour ways—I really do!"

Mamzelle smiled with a gratified air, and Briggs settled his wig, eyeingher anew with fresh interest.

"Wot a witness you would be in a divorce case!" he continuedenthusiastically. "You'd be in your helement!"

"I should—I should indeed!" exclaimed Mamzelle, with suddenexcitement,—then as suddenly growing calm, she made a rapid gesturewith her hands—"But there will be no divorce. Milord Winsleigh is afool!"

Briggs appeared doubtful about this, and meditated for a long time overhis third glass of port with the profound gravity of a philosopher.

"No, Mamzelle," he said at last, when he rose from the table to returnto his duties upstairs—"No! there I must differ from you. I am a closeobserver. Wotever Winsleigh's faults,—and I do not deny that they aremany,—he is a gentleman-that I must admit—and with hevery respectfor you, Mamzelle—I can assure you he's no fool!"

And with these words Briggs betook himself to the library to arrange thereading-lamp and put the room in order for his master's return, and ashe did so, he paused to look at a fine photograph of Lady Winsleigh thatstood on the oak escritoire, opposite her husband's arm-chair.

"No," he muttered to himself. "Wotever he thinks of some goings-on, heain't blind nor deaf—that's certain. And I'd stake my character andpurfessional reputation on it—wotever he is, he's no fool!"

For once in his life, Briggs was right. He was generally wrong in hisestimate of both persons and things—but it so happened on thisparticular 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 thrushin a wild gilded cage, who had the sweet habit of warbling his strophesto himself very softly now and then, before venturing to give themfull-voiced utterance. A bright-eyed, feathered poet he was, and anexceeding favorite with his fair mistress, who occasionally leaned backin her low chair to look at him and murmur an encouraging "Sweet,sweet!" which caused the speckled plumage on his plump breast to ruffleup with suppressed emotion and gratitude.

Philip was pretending to read the Times, but the huge, self-importantprinted sheet had not the faintest interest for him,—his eyes wanderedover the top of its columns to the golden gleam of his wife's hair,brightened just then by the sunlight streaming through the window,—andfinally 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 tore-fill it with coffee, she added, "but I think you do not give yourselftime to find the news, Philip. You will never read the papers more thanfive minutes."

"My dear girl," said Philip gaily, "I am more conscientious than youare, at any rate, for you never read them at all!"

"Ah, but you must remember," she returned gravely, "that is because I donot understand them! I am not clever. They seem to me to be all aboutsuch dull things—unless there is some horrible murder or cruelty oraccident—and I would rather not hear of these. I do prefer booksalways—because the books last, and news is never certain—it may noteven be true."

Her husband looked at her fondly; his thoughts were evidently very faraway from newspapers and their contents.

As she met his gaze, the rich color flushed her soft cheeks and her eyesdrooped shyly under their long lashes. Love, with her, had not yetproved an illusion,—a bright toy to be snatched hastily and played withfor a brief while, and then thrown aside as broken and worthless. Itseemed to her a most marvellous and splendid gift of God, increasingeach day in worth and beauty,—widening upon her soul and dazzling herlife in ever new and expanding circles of glory. She felt as if shecould never sufficiently understand it,—the passionate adoration Philiplavished upon her, filled her with a sort of innocent wonder andgratitude, while her own overpowering love and worship of him, sometimesstartled her by its force into a sweet shame and hesitating fear. To hermind he was all that was great, strong, noble, and beautiful—he was hermaster, her king,—and she loved to pay him homage by her exquisitehumility, clinging tenderness, and complete, contented submission. Shewas neither weak nor timid,—her character, moulded on grand and simplelines of duty, saw the laws of Nature in their true light, and acceptedthem without question. It seemed to her quite clear that man was thesuperior,—woman the inferior, creature—and she could not understandthe possibility of any wife not rendering instant and implicit obedienceto 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 thewealth and dainty luxury with which Sir Philip had delighted to surroundher. She had been married quietly at Christiania, arrayed in one of herown simple white gowns, with no ornament save a cluster of paleblush-roses, the gift of Lorimer. The ceremony was witnessed by herfather and Errington's friends,—and when it was concluded they had allgone on their several ways,—old Güldmar for a "toss" on the Bay ofBiscay,—the yacht Eulalie, with Lorimer, Macfarlane, and Duprèz onboard, back to England, where these gentlemen had separated to theirrespective homes,—while Errington, with his beautiful bride, and Brittain demure and delighted attendance on her, went straight to Copenhagen.From there they travelled to Hamburg, and through Germany to theSchwarzwald, where they spent their honeymoon at a quiet little hotel inthe very heart of the deep-green Forest.

Days of delicious dreaming were these,—days of roaming on the emeraldgreen turf under the stately and odorous pines, listening to the dash ofthe waterfalls, or watching the crimson sunset burning redly through thedarkness of the branches,—and in the moonlit evenings sitting under thetrees to hear the entrancing music of a Hungarian string-band, whichplayed divine and voluptuous melodies of the land,—"lieder" and"walzer" that swung the heart away on a golden thread of sound to aparadise too sweet to name! Days of high ecstacy, and painfullypassionate joy!—when "love, love!" palpitated in the air, and struggledfor utterance in the jubilant throats of birds, and whispered wildsuggestions in the rustling of the leaves! There were times whenThelma,—lost and amazed and overcome by the strength and sweetness ofthe nectar held to her innocent lips by a smiling and flame-wingedEros,—would wonder vaguely whether she lived indeed, or whether shewere not dreaming some gorgeous dream, too brilliant to last? And evenwhen her husband's arms most surely embraced her, and her husband's kissmet hers in all the rapture of victorious tenderness, she would oftenquestion herself as to whether she were worthy of such perfecthappiness, and she would pray in the depths of her pure heart to be mademore deserving of this great and wonderful gift of love—this supremejoy, almost too vast for her comprehension.

On the other hand, Errington's passion for his wife was equallyabsorbing—she had become the very moving-spring of his existence. Hiseyes delighted in her beauty,—but more than this, he revelled in andreverenced the crystal-clear parity and exquisite refinement of hersoul. Life assumed for him a new form,—studied by the light of Thelma'sstraightforward simplicity and intelligence, it was no longer, as he hadonce been inclined to think, a mere empty routine,—it was a treasure ofinestimable value fraught with divine meanings. Gradually, the touch ofmodern cynicism that had at one time threatened to spoil his nature,dropped away from him like the husk from an ear of corn,—the worldarrayed itself in bright and varying colors—there was good—nay, therewas glory—in everything.

With these ideas, and the healthy satisfaction they engendered, hisheart grew light and joyous,—his eyes more lustrous,—his step gay andelastic,—and his whole appearance was that of man at his best,—man, asGod most surely meant him to be—not a rebellious, feebly-repining,sneering wretch, ready to scoff at the very sunlight,—but a being bothbrave and intelligent, strong and equally balanced in temperament, andnot only contented, but absolutely glad to be alive,—glad to feel theblood flowing through the veins,—glad and grateful for the gifts ofbreathing and sight.

As each day passed, the more close and perfect grew the sympathies ofhusband and wife,—they were like two notes of a perfect chord, soundingtogether in sweetest harmony. Naturally, much of this easy and mutualblending of character and disposition arose from Thelma's own graciousand graceful submissiveness,—submissiveness which, far from humiliatingher, actually placed her (though she knew it not) on a throne of almostroyal power, before which Sir Philip was content to kneel—an ardentworshipper 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 ofhis wealth, and did not quite know what to do with all the luxuries andgifts he heaped upon her. Britta's worldly prognostications had cometrue,—the simple gowns her mistress had worn at the Altenfjord weresoon discarded for more costly apparel,—though Sir Philip had anaffection for his wife's Norwegian costumes, and in his heart thoughtthey were as pretty, if not prettier, than the most perfect triumphs ofa Parisian modiste.

But in the social world, Fashion, the capricious deity, must befollowed, if not wholly, yet in part; and so Thelma's straight, plaingarments were laid carefully by as souvenirs of the old days, and werereplaced by toilettes of the most exquisite description,—somesimple,—some costly,—and it was difficult to say in which of them thelovely wearer looked her best. She herself was indifferent in thematter—she dressed to please Philip,—if he was satisfied, she washappy—she sought nothing further. It was Britta whose merry eyessparkled with pride and admiration when she saw her "Fröken" arrayed ingleaming silk or sweeping velvets, with the shine of rare jewels in herrippling hair,—it was Britta who took care of all the dainty triflesthat gradually accumulated on Thelma's dressing table,—in fact, Brittahad become a very important personage in her own opinion. Dressed neatlyin black, with a coquettish muslin apron and cap becomingly frilled, shewas a very taking little maid, with her demure rosy face and rebelliouscurls, though very different to the usual trained spy whose officiousministrations are deemed so necessary by ladies of position, whose loftystation in life precludes them from the luxury of brushing their ownhair. Britta's duties were slight—she invented most of them—yet shewas always busy sewing, dusting, packing, or polishing. She was a verywide-awake little person, too,—no hint was lost upon her,—and she heldher own wherever she went with her bright eyes and sharp tongue. Thoughsecretly in an unbounded state of astonishment at everything new shesaw, she was too wise to allow this to be noticed, and feigned theutmost coolness and indifference, even when they went from Germany toParis, where the brilliancy and luxury of the shops almost took away herbreath for sheer wonderment.

In Paris, Thelma's wardrobe was completed—a certain Madame Rosine,famous for "artistic arrangements," was called into requisition, andviewing with a professional eye the superb figure and majestic carriageof her new customer, rose to the occasion in all her glory, and resolvedthat Miladi Bruce-Errington's dresses should be the wonder and envy ofall who beheld them.

"For," said Madame, with a grand air, "it is to do me justice. That formso magnificent is worth draping,—it will support my work to the bestadvantage. And persons without figures will hasten to me and entreat mefor costumes, and will think that if I dress them I can make them lookas well as Miladi. And they will pay!"—Madame shook her head with muchshrewdness—"Mon Dieu! they will pay!—and that they still lookfrightful will not be my fault."

And undoubtedly Madame surpassed her usual skill in all she did forThelma,—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 ordinaryinterest in her toilette, found it impossible not to admire the artistictaste, harmonious coloring, and exquisite fit of the few choice gownssupplied to her from the "Maison Rosine"—and only on one occasion hadshe any discussion with the celebrated modiste. This was when Madameherself, with much pride, brought home an evening dress of the verypalest and tenderest sea-green silk, showered with pearls andembroidered in silver, a perfect chef-d'oeuvre of the dressmaker'sart. The skirt, with its billowy train and peeping folds of delicatelace, pleased Thelma,—but she could not understand the bodice, and sheheld that very small portion of the costume in her hand with an air ofdoubt and wonderment. At last she turned her grave blue eyes inquiringlyon Madame.

"It is not finished?" she asked. "Where is the upper part of it and thesleeves?"

Madame Rosine gesticulated with her hands and smiled.

"Miladi, there is no more!" she declared. "Miladi will perceive it isfor the evening wear—it is décolletée—it is to show to everybodyMiladi's most beautiful white neck and arms. The effect will beravishing!"

Thelma's face grew suddenly grave—almost stern.

"You must be very wicked!" she said severely, to the infinite amazementof the vivacious Rosine. "You think I would show myself to people halfclothed? How is it possible! I would not so disgrace myself! It wouldbring shame to my husband!"

Madame was almost speechless with surprise. What strange lady was thiswho was so dazzlingly beautiful and graceful, and yet so ignorant of theworld's ways? She stared,—but was soon on the defensive.

"Miladi is in a little error!" she said rapidly and with softpersuasiveness. "It is la mode. Miladi has perhaps lived in a countrywhere the fashions are different. But if she will ask the most amiableSieur Bruce-Errington, she will find that her dress is quite in keepingwith les convenances."

A pained blush crimsoned Thelma's fair cheek. "I do not like to ask myhusband such a thing," she said slowly, "but I must. For I could notwear this dress without shame. I cannot think he would wish me to appearin it as you have made it—but—" She paused, and taking up theobjectionable 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 suchdivinely fair skin,—a woman with the bosom of a Venus, and arms of ashape to make sculptors rave,—and yet she actually wished to hide thesebeauties from the public gaze! It was ridiculous—utterlyridiculous,—and Madame sat fuming impatiently, and sniffing the air inwonder and scorn. Meanwhile Thelma, with flushing cheeks and loweredeyes, confided her difficulty to Philip, who surveyed the shockinglittle bodice she brought for his inspection with a gravely amused, butvery 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 init. 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 thereisn't a woman in society who wouldn't be perfectly charmed with it. Butyour ideas are better than Rosine's and all society's put together. Obeyyour own womanly instinct, Thelma!"

"But what do you wish?" she asked earnestly. "You must tell me. It isto please you that I live."

He kissed her. "You want me to issue a command about the affair?" hesaid 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 withsudden gravity into her sweet face—"Thelma, my wife, thus sayeth yourlord and master,—despise the vulgar indecencies of fashion, and youwill gratify me more than words can say;—keep your pure and beautifulself sacred from the profaning gaze of the multitude,—sacred to me andmy love for you, and I shall be the proudest man living! Finally,"—andhe smiled again—"give Rosine back this effort at a bodice, and tell herto 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 iratedressmaker who waited for her.

"I am sorry," she said very sweetly, "to have called you wicked! Yousee, I did not understand! But though this style of dress isfashionable, I do not wish to wear it—so you will please make meanother bodice, with a small open square at the throat, andelbow-sleeves,—and you will lose nothing at all—for I shall pay youfor this one just the same. And you must quite pardon me for my mistakeand hasty words!"

Maladi's manner was so gracious and winning, that Madame Rosine found itimpossible not to smile in a soothed and mollified way,—and though shedeeply regretted that so beautiful a neck and arms were not to beexposed to public criticism, she resigned herself to the inevitable, andtook away the offending bodice, replacing it in a couple of days by onemuch prettier and more becoming by reason of its perfect modesty.

On leaving Paris, Sir Philip had taken his wife straight home to hisfine old Manor in Warwickshire. Thelma's delight in her new abode wasunbounded—the stately oaks that surrounded it,—the rose-gardens, theconservatories,—the grand rooms, with their fine tapestries, oakfurniture, and rare pictures,—the splendid library, the long, loftydrawing-rooms, furnished and decorated after the style of LouisQuinze,—all filled her with a tender pride and wistful admiration. Thiswas Philip's home! and she was here to make it bright and glad forhim!—she could imagine no fairer fate. The old servants of the placewelcomed their new mistress with marked respect and evident astonishmentat her beauty, though, when they knew her better, they marvelled stillmore at her exceeding gentleness and courtesy. The housekeeper, astately white-haired dame, who had served the former Lady Errington,declared she was "an angel"—while the butler swore profoundly that "heknew what a queen was like at last!"

The whole household was pervaded with an affectionate eagerness toplease her, though, perhaps, the one most dazzled by her entrancingsmile and sweet consideration for his comfort was Edward Neville, SirPhilip's private secretary and librarian,—a meek, mild-featured man ofsome five and forty years old, whose stooping shoulders, grizzled hair,and weak eyes gave him an appearance of much greater age. Thelma wasparticularly kind to Neville, having heard his history from her husband.It was brief and sad. He had married a pretty young girl whom he hadfound earning a bare subsistence as a singer in provincialmusic-halls,—loving her, he had pitied her unprotected state, and hadrescued her from the life she led—but after six months of comparativehappiness, she had suddenly deserted him, leaving no clue as to where orwhy she had gone. His grief for her loss, weighed heavily upon hismind—he brooded incessantly upon it—and though his profession was thatof a music master and organist, he grew so abstracted and inattentive tothe claims of the few pupils he had, that they fell away from him one byone—and, after a bit, he lost his post as organist to the villagechurch as well. This smote him deeply, for he was passionately fond ofmusic, and was, moreover, a fine player,—and it was at this stage ofhis misfortunes that he met by chance Bruce-Errington. Philip, justthen, was almost broken-hearted—his father and mother had died suddenlywithin a week of one another,—and he, finding the blank desolation ofhis home unbearable, was anxious to travel abroad for a time, so soon ashe could find some responsible person in whose hands to leave the chargeof the Manor, with its invaluable books and pictures, during hisabsence.

Hearing Neville's history through a mutual friend, he decided, with hisusual characteristic impulse, that here was the very man for him—agentleman by birth, rumored to be an excellent scholar,—and he at onceoffered him the post he had in view,—that of private secretary at asalary of 200 pounds per annum. The astonished Neville could not atfirst believe in his good fortune, and began to stammer forth hisgratitude with trembling lips and moistening eyes,—but Errington cuthim short by declaring the whole thing settled, and desiring him toenter on his duties at once. He was forthwith installed in hisposition,—a highly enviable one for a man of his dreamy and meditativeturn of mind. To him, literature and music were precious as air andlight, he handled the rare volumes on the Errington book-shelves withlingering tenderness, and often pored over some difficult manuscript, ordusty folio till long past midnight, almost forgetful of his griefs inthe enchantment thus engendered. Nor did he lack his supreme comforter,music,—there was a fine organ at the lower end of the long library, andseated at his beloved instrument, he wiled away many an hour,—steepinghis soul in the divine and solemn melodies of Palestrina and Pergolesi,till the cruel sorrow that had darkened his life seemed nothing but abad dream, and the face of his wife as he had first known it, fair,trustful, and plaintive, floated before his eyes unchanged, and arousingin him the old foolish throbbing emotions of rapture and passion thathad gladdened the bygone days.

He never lost the hope of meeting her again, and from time to time herenewed his search for her, though all uselessly—he studied the dailypapers with an almost morbid anxiety lest he should see the notice ofher death—and he would even await each post with a heart beating morerapidly than usual, in case there should be some letter from her,imploring forgiveness, explaining everything, and summoning him oncemore to her side. He found a true and keenly sympathizing friend in SirPhilip, to whom he became profoundly attached,—to satisfy his wishes,to forward his interests, to attend to his affairs with punctiliousexactitude—all this gave Neville the supremest happiness. He felt someslight doubt and anxiety, when he first received the sudden announcementof his patron's marriage,—but all forebodings as to the character anddisposition of the new Lady Bruce-Errington fled like mist beforesunshine, when he saw Thelma's fair face and felt her friendlyhand-clasp.

Every morning on her way to the breakfast-room, she would look in at thedoor of his little study, which adjoined the library, and he learned towatch 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 whenshe asked him to give her lessons on the organ,—and never did he forgetthe first time he heard her sing. He was playing an exquisite "AveMaria," by Stradella, and she, standing by her husband's side waslistening, when she suddenly exclaimed—

"Why, we used to sing that at Arles!"—and her rich, round voice pealedforth clear, solemn, and sweet, following with pure steadiness thesustained notes of the organ. Neville's heart thrilled,—he heard herwith a sort of breathless wonder and rapture, and when she ceased, itseemed as though heaven had closed upon him.

"One cannot praise such a voice as that!" he said. "It would be a kindof sacrilege. It is divine!"

After this, many were the pleasant musical evenings they all passedtogether in the grand old library, and,—as Mrs. Rush-Marvelle had soindignantly told her husband,—no visitors were invited to the Manorduring that winter. Errington was perfectly happy—he wanted no one buthis wife, and the idea of entertaining a party of guests who would mostcertainly interfere with his domestic enjoyment, seemed almost abhorrentto him. The county-people called,—but missed seeing Thelma, for duringthe daytime she was always out with her husband taking long walks andrambling excursions to the different places hallowed by Shakespeare'spresence,—and when she, instructed by Sir Philip, called on thecounty-people, they also seemed to be never at home.

And so, as yet, she had made no acquaintances, and now that she had beenmarried eight months and had come to London, the same old story repeateditself. People called on her in the afternoon just at the time when shewent 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 drinkunlimited tea, talk platitudes, and utterly bored and exhausted at theend thereof—in fact, she did not see the necessity of knowing manypeople,—her husband was all-sufficient for her,—to be in his societywas all she cared for. She left her card at different houses because hetold her to do so, but this social duty amused her immensely.

"It is like a game!" she declared, laughing, "some one comes and leavesthese little cards which explain who they are, on me,—then I go andleave my little cards and yours, explaining who we are on that someone—and we keep on doing this, yet we never see each other by anychance! It is so droll!"

Errington did not feel called upon to explain what was really thefact,—namely, that none of the ladies who had left cards on his wifehad given her the option of their "at home" day on which to call,—hedid 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 everypetty fashion they could devise,—that he had already received severalinvitations which, as they did not include her, he had leftunanswered,—and that the only house to which she had as yet been reallyasked in proper form was that of Lady Winsleigh. He was more amused thanvexed at the resolute stand made by the so-called "leaders" of societyagainst her, knowing as he did, most thoroughly, how she must conquerthem 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 herpresence had created there,—but he was a little astonished at LadyWinsleigh's being the first to extend a formal welcome to his unknownbride. Her behavior seemed to him a little suspicious,—for he certainlycould not disguise from himself that she had at one time been mostviolently and recklessly in love with him. He recollected one or twomost painful scenes he had had with her, in which he had endeavored torecall her to a sense of the duty she owed to her husband,—and his faceoften flushed with vexation when he thought of her wild and wickedabandonment of despair, her tears, her passion, and distracted,dishonoring words. Yet she was the very woman who now came forward inthe very front of society to receive his wife!—he could not quiteunderstand it. After all, he was a man,—and the sundry artful tricksand wiles of fashionable ladies were, naturally, beyond him. Thelma hadnever met Lady Winsleigh—not even for a passing glance in thePark,—and when she received the invitation for the grand reception atWinsleigh House, she accepted it, because her husband wished her so todo, not that she herself anticipated any particular pleasure from it.When the day came round at last she scarcely thought of it, till at theclose of their pleasant breakfast tête-à-tête described at thecommencement of this chapter, Philip suddenly said,—"By-the-by, Thelma,I have sent to the bank for the Errington diamonds. They'll be herepresently. I want you to wear them to-night."

Thelma looked puzzled and inquiring. "To-night? What is it that we do? Iforget! Oh! now I know—it is to go to Lady Winsleigh. What will it belike, Philip?"

"Well, there'll be heaps of people all cramming and crowding up thestairs and down them again,—you'll see all those women who have calledon you, and you'll be introduced to them,—I dare say there'll be somebad music and an indigestible supper—and—and—that's all!"

She laughed and shook her head reproachfully. "I cannot believe you, mynaughty boy!" she said, rising from her seat, and kneeling beside himwith arms round his neck, and soft eyes gazing lovingly into his. "Youare nearly as bad as that very bad Mr. Lorimer, who will always seestrange vexations in everything! I am quite sure Lady Winsleigh will nothave crowds up and down her stairs,—that would be bad taste. And if shehas music, it will be good—and she would not give her friends a supperto make them ill."

Philip did not answer. He was studying every delicate tint in his wife'sdazzling complexion and seemed absorbed.

"Wear that one gown you got from Worth," he said abruptly. "I likeit—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 splendidin dress to-night?"

Philip drew a deep breath. "I want you to eclipse every woman in theroom!" he said with remarkable emphasis.

She grew rather pensive. "I do not think that would be pleasant," shesaid gravely. "Besides, it is impossible. And it would be wrong to wishme to make every one else dissatisfied with themselves. That is not likeyou, my Philip!"

He touched with tender fingers the great glistening coil of hair thatwas twisted up at the top of her graceful head.

"Ah, darling! You don't know what a world it is, and what very queerpeople there are in it! Never mind!... don't bother yourself aboutit. You'll have a good bird's-eye view of society tonight, and you shalltell me afterwards how you like it. I shall be curious to know what youthink of Lady Winsleigh."

"She is beautiful, is she not?"

"Well, she is considered so by most of her acquaintances, and byherself," he returned with a smile.

"I do like to see very pretty faces," said Thelma warmly; "it is as ifone looked at pictures. Since I have been in London I have seen so manyof them—it is quite pleasant. Yet none of these lovely ladies seem tome as if they were really happy or strong in health."

"Half of them have got nervous diseases and all sorts of things wrongwith them from over-much tea and tight lacing," replied Errington, "andthe few who are tolerably healthy are too bouncing by half, going infor hunting and such-like amusem*nts till they grow blowsy and fat, andcoarse 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 Nevilleand attend to business. We'll drive out this afternoon for some freshair, 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 inthe Errington Establishment,—in fact, she went every morning to thelittle room where Mistress Parton, the housekeeper, received her withmuch respect and affection, and duly instructed her on every point ofthe domestic management and daily expenditure, so that she wasthoroughly acquainted with everything that went on.

She had very orderly quiet ways of her own, and though thoughtful forthe comfort and well-being of the lowest servant in her household shevery firmly checked all extravagance and waste, yet in such a gentle,unobtrusive manner that her control was scarcely felt—though herhusband at once recognized it in the gradually decreasing weeklyexpenses, while to all appearance, things were the same as ever. She hadplenty of clear, good common sense,—she saw no reason why she shouldwaste her husband's wealth simply because it was abundant,—so thatunder her mild sway, Sir Philip found himself getting richer without anytrouble on his own part. His house assumed an air of lighter and moretasteful elegance,—flowers, always arranged by Thelma herself, adornedthe rooms,—birds filled the great conservatory with their deliciouswarblings, and gradually that strange fairy sweet fabric known as "Home"rose smilingly around him. Formerly he had much disliked his statelytown mansion—he had thought it dull and cold—almost gloomy,—but nowhe considered it charming, and wondered he had missed so many of itsgood points before.

And when the evening for Lady Winsleigh's "crush" came,—he lookedregretfully round the lovely luxurious drawing-room with its brightfire, deep easy chairs, books, and grand piano, and wished he and hiswife could remain at home in peace. He glanced at his watch—it was teno'clock. There was no hurry—he had not the least intention of arrivingat Winsleigh House too early. He knew what the effect of Thelma'sentrance would be—and he smiled as he thought of it. He was waiting forher now,—he himself was ready in full evening dress—and remarkablyhandsome he looked. He walked up and down restlessly for a minute orso,—then taking up a volume of Keats, he threw himself into an easychair and soon became absorbed. His eyes were still on the printed page,when a light touch on his shoulder startled him,—a soft, half-laughingvoice inquired—"Philip! Do I please you?"

He sprang up and faced her,—but for a moment could not speak. Theperfection of her beauty had never ceased to arouse his wonder andpassionate admiration,—but on this night, as she stood before him,arrayed in a simple, trailing robe of ivory-tinted velvet, with hisfamily diamonds flashing in a tiara of light on her hair, glisteningagainst the whiteness of her throat and rounded arms, she lookedangelically lovely—so radiant, so royal, and withal so innocentlyhappy, that, wistfully gazing at her, and thinking of the social cliqueinto which she was about to make her entry, he wondered vaguely whetherhe was not wrong to take so pure and fair a creature among the falseglitter and reckless hypocrisy of modern fashion and folly. And so hestood silent, till Thelma grew anxious.

"Ah, you are not satisfied!" she said plaintively. "I am not as youwish! There is something wrong."

He drew her closely into his arms, kissing her with an almost pathetictenderness.

"Thelma, my love, my sweet one!" and his strong voice trembled. "You donot know—how should you? what I think of you! Satisfied? Pleased? GoodHeavens—what little words those are to express my feelings! I can tellyou how you look, for nothing can ever make you vain. You arebeautiful!... you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, andyou look your very best tonight. But you are more than beautiful—youare good and pure and true, while society is—But why should I destroyyour illusions? Only, my wife,—we have been all in all to eachother,—and now I have a foolish feeling as if things were going to bedifferent—as if we should not be so much together—and I wish—I wishto 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 youdid wish me to be particular in dress,—and to wear your jewels, forthis Lady Winsleigh. Now your eyes are sad, and you seem as if you wouldrather not go at all. Well, is it not easy to remain at home? I willtake off these fine things, and we will sit together and read. Shall itbe 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 forthis 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 mehave my own way to such an extent, who knows what an awful domestictyrant I may become! No, dear—we must go tonight—there's no help forit. You see we've accepted the invitation, and it's no use beingchurlish. Besides, after all"—he gazed at her admiringly—"I want themto see my Norwegian rose! Come along! The carriage is waiting."

They passed out into the hall, where Britta was in attendance with along cloak of pale-blue plush lined with white fur, in which shetenderly enveloped her beloved "Fröken," her rosy face beaming withaffectionate adoration as she glanced from the fair diamond-crowned headdown to the point of a small pearl-embroidered shoe that peeped beneaththe edge of the rich, sheeny white robe, and saw that nothing waslacking 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, ifnecessary, rather than allow her mistress to be unattended on herreturn. But she said nothing—she waited at the door while Philipassisted his wife into the carriage—and still stood musingly under thewide portico, after they had driven away.

"Hadn't you better come in, Miss Britta?" said the butlerrespectfully,—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 noone like her ladyship—no one!" And he shook his grey head emphatically.

"Of course not!" said Britta, with a sort of triumphant defiance. "Weknow that very well, Morris! There's no one like her ladyship anywherein the wide world! But I tell you what—I think a great many people willbe jealous of her."

Morris smiled. "You may take your oath of that, Miss Britta," he saidwith 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'smother, the Lady Eulalie—he named his yacht after her. Ah! she was asweet creature—she came from Austria, and she was as dark as herpresent ladyship is fair. Wherever she went, I tell you, the women wereready to cry for spite and envy of her good looks—and they would sayanything against her they could invent. That's the way they go onsometimes 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 wonderat all! There's a deal of hate about one way or another,—and if a ladyis 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 inhuman nature—at least not in feminine human nature. Men don't care muchabout their looks, one way or the other, unless they're youngchaps—then one has a little patience with them and they come allright."

But Britta had become meditative again. She went slowly up into hermistress's room and began arranging the few trifles that had been leftin disorder.

"Just fancy!"—she said to herself—"some one may hate the Fröken evenin London just as they hated her in Bosekop, because she is so unlikeeverybody else. I shall keep my eyes open,—and I shall soon findout any wickedness against her! My beautiful, dear darling! I believethe world is a cruel place after all,—but she shan't be made unhappyin it, if I can help it!"

And with this emphatic declaration, she kissed a little shoe of Thelma'sthat she was just putting by—and, smoothing her curls, went down to hersupper.

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 anaristocratic "crush,"—an extensive, sweeping-off-of-old-cores "athome,"—that scene of bewildering confusion which might be appropriatelyset forth to the minds of the vulgar in the once-popular ditty, "Such agetting-up-stairs I never did see!" Who can paint in sufficientlybrilliant colors the mere outside of a house thus distinguished bythis strange festivity, in which there is no actual pleasure,—thiscrowding of carriages—this shouting of small boys and policemen?—whocan, in words, delineate the various phases of lofty indignation andoffense on the countenances of pompous coachmen, forced into contentionwith vulgar but good-natured "cabbys"—for right of way?... who cansufficiently set forth the splendors of a striped awning avenue, linedon both sides with a collection of tropical verdure, hired for theoccasion at so much per dozen pots, and illuminated with Chineselanterns! Talk of orange groves in Italy and the languid light of asouthern moon! What are they compared to the marvels of striped awning?Mere trees—mere moonlight—(poor products of Nature!) do not exciteeither wonder or envy—but, strange to say, an awning avenue invariablydoes! As soon as it is erected in all its bland suggestiveness, nomatter at what house, a small crowd of street-arabs and nursemaidscollect to stare at it,—and when tired of staring, pass and repassunder it with peculiar satisfaction; the beggar, starving for a crust,lingers doubtfully near it, and ventures to inquire of theinfluenza-smitten crossing-sweeper whether it is a wedding or a party?And if Awning Avenue means matrimony, the beggar waits to see the guestscome out; if, on the contrary, it stands for some evening festivity, hegoes, resolving to return at the appointed hour, and try if he cannotpersuade one "swell" at least to throw him a penny for his night'ssupper. Yes—a great many people endure sharp twinges of discontent atthe 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 intheir lives, and long with all their innocent hearts for aglimpse,—just one glimpse!—of what seems to them inexhaustible,fairy-like delight,—lonely folks, who imagine in their simplicity thatall who are privileged to pass between the lines of hired tropicalfoliage aforementioned, must perforce be the best and most united offriends—hungry men and women who picture, with watering mouths, thesupper-table that lies beyond the awning, laden with good things, ofthe very names of which they are hopelessly ignorant,—while now andthen a stern, dark-browed Thinker or two may stalk by and metaphoricallyshake his fist at all the waste, extravagance, useless luxury, humbug,and hypocrisy Awning Avenue usually symbolizes, and may mutter in hisbeard, like an old-fashioned tragedian, "A time will come!" Yes, SirThinker!—it will most undoubtedly—it must—but not through you—notthrough any mere human agency. Modern society contains within itself theseed of its own destruction,—the most utter Nihilist that ever sworedeadly oath need but contain his soul in patience and allow the seed toripen. For God's justice is as a circle that slowly surrounds an eviland as slowly closes on it with crushing and resistless force,—andfeverish, fretting humanity, however nobly inspired, can do nothingeither 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 withstories of earthquakes; they are miserable enough as it is, believeit!—their toys are so brittle, and snap in their feeble hands soeasily, that one is inclined to pity them! And Awning Avenue, with itsborrowed verdure and artificial light, is frequently erected for the useof some of the most wretched among the children of the earth,—childrenwho have trifled with and lost everything,—love, honor, hope, andfaith, and who are travelling rapidly to the grave with no consolationsave a few handfuls, of base coin, which they must, perforce, leavebehind them at the last.

So it may be that the crippled crossing-sweeper outside Winsleigh Houseis a very great deal happier than the master of that stately mansion. Hehas a new broom,—and Master Ernest Winsleigh has given him two oranges,and a rather bulky stick of sugar candy. He is a protégé ofErnest's—that bright handsome boy considers it a "jolly shame"—to haveonly one leg,—and has said so with much emphasis,—and though thelittle sweeper himself has never regarded his affliction quite in thatlight, he is exceedingly grateful for the young gentleman's patronageand sympathy thus frankly expressed. And on this particular night of thegrand reception he stands, leaning on his broom and munching his candy,a delighted spectator of the scene in Park Lane,—the splendidequipages, the prancing horses, the glittering liveries, the excitedcabmen, the magnificent toilettes of the ladies, the solemn and resigneddeportment of the gentlemen,—and he envies none of them—not he! Whyshould he? His oranges are in his pocket—untouched as yet—and it isdoubtful whether the crowding guests at the Winsleigh supper-table shallfind anything there to yield them such entire enjoyment as he willpresently take in his humble yet refreshing desert. And he is pleased asa child at a pantomime—the Winsleigh "at home" is a show that amuseshim,—and he makes sundry remarks on "'im" and "'er" in a meditativesotto voce. He peeps up Awning Avenue heedless of the severe eye ofthe policeman on guard,—he sweeps the edge of the crimson feltfoot-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 mayjudge by the aspect of the gentlemen in the hall and on thestairs,—gentlemen of serious demeanor, who are leaning, as thoughexhausted, against the banisters, with a universal air of profoundweariness and dissatisfaction. Some of these are young fledglings ofmanhood,—callow birds who, though by no means innocent,—are more orless inexperienced,—and who have fluttered hither to the snare of LadyWinsleigh's "at home," half expecting to be allowed to make love totheir hostess, and so have something to boast of afterwards,—others areof the middle-aged complacent type, who, though infinitely bored, havecondescended to "look in" for ten minutes or so, to see if there are anypretty women worth the honor of their criticism—others again (and theseare the most unfortunate) are the "nobodies"—or husbands, fathers, andbrothers of "beauties," whom they have dutifully escorted to the sceneof triumph, in which they, unlucky wights! are certainly not expected toshare. A little desultory conversation goes on among thesestair-loungers,—conversation mingled with much dreary yawning,—atrained opera-singer is shaking forth chromatic roulades and trills inthe great drawing-room above,—there is an incessant stream of peoplecoming and going,—there is the rustle of silk and satin,—perfume,shaken out of lace kerchiefs, and bouquets oppresses the warm air,—theheat is excessive,—and there is a never-ending monotonous hum ofvoices, only broken at rare intervals by the "society laugh"—thatunmeaning 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 thefarewell voice of true mirth.

Presently, out of the ladies' cloak-room come two fascinatingfigures—the one plump and matronly, with grey hair and a capacious neckglittering with diamonds,—the other a slim girl in pale pink, with darkeyes and a ravishing complexion, for whom the lazy gentlemen on thestairs 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 asurprised smile. She is very pretty, is Marcia,—bewitchinglypretty,—and she has an air of demure grace and modesty about her thatis perfectly charming. Why? oh, why does she not remain in thatsylph-like, attitude of questioning silence? But she speaks—and thecharm 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 toolovely! If I'd known yew were coming I'd have stopped at home—yes, Iwould—that's so!"

And she nods her little head, crowned with its glossy braids of chestnuthair, in a very coquettish manner, while her mother, persistentlybeaming a stereotyped company smile on all around her, begins to ascendthe stairs, beckoning her daughter to follow. Marcia does so, and LordAlgernon Masherville escorts her.

"You—you didn't mean that!" he stammers rather feebly—"You—you don'tmind 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 tobelieve yew! Waal! Did yew have a good time in Pa-ar—is?"

"Fairly so," answers Lord Masherville indifferently. "I only came backtwo days ago. Lady Winsleigh met me by chance at the theatre, and askedme to look in to-night for 'some fun' she said. Have you any idea whatshe meant?"

"Of course!" says the fair New Yorker, with a little nasallaugh,—"don't yew know? We're all here to see the fisherwoman fromthe wilds of Norway,—the creature Sir Philip Errington married lastyear. I conclude she'll give us fits all round, don't yew?"

Lord Masherville, at this, appears to hesitate. His eye-glass troubleshim, and he fidgets with its black string. He is not intellectual—he isthe most vacillating, most meek and timid of mortals—but he is agentleman in his own poor fashion, and has a sort of fluttering chivalryabout him, which, though feeble, is better than none.

"I really cannot tell you, Miss Marcia," he replies almost nervously. "Ihear—at the Club,—that—that Lady Bruce-Errington is a great beauty."

"Dew tell!" shrieks Marcia, with a burst of laughter. "Is she reallythough! But I guess her looks won't mend her grammar any way!"

He makes no reply, as by this time they have reached the crowdeddrawing-room, where Lady Winsleigh, radiant in ruby velvet androse-brilliants, stands receiving her guests, with a cool smile and nodfor mere acquaintances,—and a meaning flash of her dark eyes for herintimates, and a general air of haughty insolence and perfectself-satisfaction pervading her from head to foot. Close to her is herhusband, grave, courtly, and kind to all comers, and fulfilling his dutyas host to perfection,—still closer is Sir Francis Lennox, who in thepauses of the incoming tide of guests finds occasion to whisper triflingnothings in her tiny white ear, and even once ventures to arrange moretastefully a falling cluster of pale roses that rests lightly on thebrief shoulder-strap (called by courtesy a sleeve) which, keeps herladyship's bodice in place.

Mrs. Rush-Marvelle is here too, in all her glory,—her good-humoredcountenance and small nose together beam with satisfaction,—hervoluminous train of black satin showered with jet gets in everybody'sway,—her ample bosom heaves like the billowy sea, somewhat above theboundary line of transparent lace that would fain restrain it—but inthis particular she is prudence itself compared with her hostess, whosecharms are exhibited with the unblushing frankness of aballet-girl,—and whose example is followed, it must be confessed, bymost of the women in the room. Is Mr. Rush-Marvelle here? Oh yes—aftersome little trouble we discover him,—squeezed against the wall andbarricaded by the grand piano,—in company with a large album, overwhich he pores, feigning an almost morbid interest in the portraits ofpersons he has never seen, and never will see. Beside him is amelancholy short man with long hair and pimples, who surveys theincreasing crowd in the room with an aspect that is almost tragic. Onceor twice he eyes Mr. Marvelle dubiously as though he would speak—and,finally, he does speak, tapping that album-entranced gentleman on thearm with an energy that is somewhat startling.

"It is to blay I am here!" he announces. "To blay ze biano! I am greatartist!" He rolls his eyes wildly and with a sort of forced calmnessproceeds to enumerate on his fingers—"Baris, Vienna, Rome, Berlin, St.Betersburg—all know me! All resbect me! See!" And he holds out hisbutton-hole in which there is a miniature red ribbon. "From ze Emberor!Kaiser Wilhelm!" He exhibits a ring on his little finger. "From zeTsar!" Another rapid movement and a pompous gold watch is thrust beforethe bewildered gaze of his listener. "From my bubils in Baris! I ambianist—I am here to blay!"

And raking his fingers through his long locks, he stares defiantlyaround him. Mr. Rush-Marvelle is a little frightened. This is aneccentric personage—he must be soothed. Evidently he must be soothed!

"Yes, yes, I quite understand!" he says, nodding persuasively at theexcited genius. "You are here to play. Exactly! Yes, yes! We shall allhave the pleasure of hearing you presently. Delightful, I'm sure! Youare the celebrated Herr—?"

"Machtenklinken," adds the pianist haughtily. "Ze celebratedMachtenklinken!"

"Yes—oh—er,—yes!" And Mr. Marvelle grapples desperately with thisterrible name. "Oh—er—yes! I—er know you by reputationHerr—er—Machten—. Oh, er—yes! Pray excuse me for a moment!"

And thankfully catching the commanding eye of his wife, he scrambleshastily away from the piano and joins her. She is talking to the VanClupps, and she wants him to take away Mr. Van Clupp, a white-headed,cunning-looking old man, for a little conversation, in order that shemay be free to talk over certain naughty bits of scandal with Mrs. VanClupp and Marcia.

To-night there is no place to sit down in all the grand extent of theWinsleigh drawing-rooms,—puffy old dowagers occupy the sofas, ottomans,and chairs, and the largest and most brilliant portion of the assemblageare standing, grinning into each other's faces with praiseworthy andpolite pertinacity, and talking as rapidly as though their livesdepended on how many words they could utter within the space of twominutes. Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, Mrs. Van Clupp and Marcia make their wayslowly through the gabbling, pushing, smirking crowd till they form apart 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 ofher 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 knowingtwinkle 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 determinedmanner in which George Lorimer coolly elbows a passage among the heavingbare shoulders, backs, fat arms, and long trains that seriously obstructhis passage, but after some trouble he succeeds in his efforts to reachhis fair hostess, who receives him with rather a supercilious upliftingof her delicate eyebrows.

"Dear me, Mr. Lorimer, you are quite a stranger!" she observes somewhatsatirically. "We thought you had made up your mind to settle in Norway!"

"Did you really, though!" and Lorimer smiles languidly. "I wonder atthat,—for you knew I came back from that region in the August of lastyear."

"And since then I suppose you have played the hermit?" inquires herladyship indifferently, unfurling her fan of ostrich feathers and wavingit slowly to and fro.

"By no means! I went off to Scotland with a friend, Alec Macfarlane, andhad some excellent shooting. Then, as I never permit my venerable mammato pass the winter in London, I took her to Nice, from which delightfulspot we returned three weeks ago."

Lady Winsleigh laughs. "I did not ask you for a categorical explanationof your movements, Mr. Lorimer," she says lightly—"I'm sure I hope youenjoyed yourself?"

He bows gravely. "Thanks! Yes,—strange to say, I did manage toextract a little pleasure here and there out of the universal dryness ofthings."

"Have you seen your friend, Sir Philip, since he came to town?" asksMrs. Rush-Marvelle in her stately way.

"Several times. I have dined with him and Lady Errington frequently. Iunderstand they are to be here to-night?"

Lady Winsleigh fans herself a little more rapidly, and her full crimsonlips tighten into a thin, malicious line.

"Well, I asked them, of course,—as a matter of form," she sayscarelessly,—"but I shall, on the whole, be rather relieved if theydon'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"—andher ladyship's eyes flash angrily. "Sir Philip is all very well—he isby birth a gentleman,—but the person he has married is not a lady, andit is an exceedingly unpleasant duty for me to have to receive her."

A feint tinge of color flushes Lorimer's brow. "I think," he saysslowly, "I think you will find yourself mistaken, Lady Winsleigh. Ibelieve—" Here he pauses, and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle fixes him with a stonystare.

"Are we to understand that she is educated?" she inquires freezingly."Positively well-educated?"

Lorimer laughs. "Not according to the standard of modern fashionablerequirements!" he replies.

Mrs. Marvelle sniffs the air portentously,—Lady Clara curls her lip. Atthat moment everybody makes respectful way for one of the most importantguests of the evening—a broad-shouldered man of careless attire, roughhair, fine features, and keen, mischievous eyes—a man of whom manystand 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 palmof his hand for his own private amusem*nt. Once a scribbler in an attic,subsisting bravely on bread and cheese and hope, he now lords it morethan half the year in a palace of fairy-like beauty on the Lago diComo,—and he is precisely the same person who was formerly disdainedand flouted by fair ladies because his clothes were poor and shabby, yetfor whom they now practise all the arts known to their sex, in fruitlessendeavors to charm and conciliate him. For he laughs at them and theirpretty ways,—and his laughter is merciless. His arrowy glance discoversthe "poudre de riz" on their blooming cheeks,—the carmine on theirlips, and the "kohl" on their eyelashes. He knows purchased hair fromthe natural growth—and he has a cruel eye for discerning the artificialcontour of a "made-up" figure. And like a merry satyr dancing in alegendary forest, he capers and gambols in the vast fields ofHumbug—all forms of it are attacked and ridiculed by his powerful andpungent pen,—he is a sort of English Heine, gathering in rich and dailyharvests from the never-perishing incessantly-growing crop of fools. Andas he,—in all the wickedness of daring and superior intellect,—approaches, Lady Winsleigh draws herself up with the conscious air of abeauty who knows she is nearly perfect,—Mrs. Rush-Marvelle makes afaint endeavor to settle the lace more modestly over her rebelliousbosom,—Marcia smiles coquettishly, and Mrs. Van Clupp brings herdiamond pendant (value, a thousand guineas) more prominentlyforward,—for as she thinks, poor ignorant soul! "wealth alwaysimpresses these literary men more than anything!" In one swift glanceBeau Lovelace observes all these different movements,—and the innerfountain 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! Horribletaste! 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 sightsthe women do make of themselves!"

But his face betrays none of these reflections,—its expression is oneof polite gravity, though a sudden sweetness smooths it as he shakeshands with Lord Winsleigh and Lorimer,—a sweetness that shows howremarkably handsome Beau can look if he chooses. He rests one hand onLorimer's shoulder.

"Why, George, old boy, I thought you were playing the dutiful son atNice? Don't tell me you've deserted the dear old lady! Where is she? Youknow 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. "Mymother's all right. She's at home. You know she's always charmed to seeyou. 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 oncefrom the library, and read every line of it!"

"I am exceedingly flattered!" says Lovelace, with a grave bow, thoughthere is a little twinkling mockery in his glance. "When a lady sobewitching condescends to read what I have written, how can I express myemotion!"

"The press is unanimous in its praise of you," remarks Lord Winsleighcordially. "You are quite the lion of the day!"

"Oh quite!" agrees Beau laughing. "And do I not roar 'as sweet as anynightingale'? But I say, where's the new beauty?"

"I really do not know to whom you allude, Mr. Lovelace," replies LadyWinsleigh coldly. Lorimer smiles and is silent. Beau looks from one tothe other amusedly.

"Perhaps I've made a mistake," he says, "but the Duke of Roxwell isresponsible. He told me that if I came here to-night I should see one ofthe loveliest women living,—Lady Bruce-Errington. He saw her in thepark. I think this gentleman"—indicating Sir Francis Lennox, whobites his moustache vexedly—"said quite openly at the Club last nightthat she was the new beauty,—and that she would be here thisevening."

Lady Winsleigh darts a side glance at her "Lennie" that is far frompleasant.

"Really it's perfectly absurd!" she says, with a scornful toss of herhead. "We shall have housemaids and bar-girls accepted as 'quite therage' next. I do not know Sir Philip's wife in the least,—I hear shewas a common farmer's daughter. I certainly invited her to-night out ofcharity and kindness in order that she might get a little accustomed tosociety—for, of course, poor creature! entirely ignorant and uneducatedas she is, everything will seem strange to her. But she has not come—"

"Sir Philip and Lady Bruce-Errington!" announces Briggs at thisjuncture.

There is a sudden hush—a movement of excitement,—and the groups nearthe door fall apart staring, and struck momentarily dumb with surprise,as a tall, radiant figure in dazzling white, with diamonds flashing on aglittering coil of gold hair, and wondrous sea-blue earnest eyes, passesthrough their midst with that royal free step and composed grace ofbearing that might distinguish an Empress of many nations.

"Good heavens! What a magnificent woman!" mutters Beau Lovelace—"Venusrealized!"

Lady Winsleigh turns very pale,—she trembles and can scarcely regainher usual composure as Sir Philip, with a proud tenderness lighting upthe depths of his hazel eyes, leads this vision of youth and perfectloveliness up to her, saying simply—

"Lady Winsleigh, allow me to introduce to you—my wife! Thelma, this isLady Winsleigh."

There is a strange sensation in Lady Winsleigh's throat as though a verytight string were suddenly drawn round it to almost stranglingpoint—and it is certain that she feels as though she must scream, hitsomebody with her fan, and rush from the room in an undignified rage.But she chokes back these purely feminine emotions—she smiles andextends her jewelled hand.

"So good of you to come to-night!" she says sweetly. "I have beenlonging to see you, Lady Errington! I dare say you know your husband isquite an old acquaintance of mine!"

And a langourous glance, like fire seen through smoke, leaps frombeneath her silky eyelashes at Sir Philip—but he sees it not—he ischatting and laughing gaily with Lorimer and Beau Lovelace.

"Indeed, yes!" answers Thelma, in that soft low voice of hers, which hadsuch a thrilling richness within it—"and it is for that reason I amvery glad to meet you. It is always pleasant for me to know my husband'sfriends."

Here she raises those marvellous, innocent eyes of hers and smiles;—whydoes Lady Winsleigh shrink from that frank and childlike openness ofregard? Why does she, for one brief moment, hate herself?—why does sheso suddenly feel herself to be vile and beneath contempt? God onlyknows!—but the first genuine blush that has tinged her ladyship's cheekfor many a long day, suddenly spreads a hot and embarrassing tide ofcrimson over the polished pallor of her satiny skin, and she sayshurriedly—

"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 salutationwith easy grace.

"Sir Francis Lennox"—continues Lady Winsleigh, and there is somethinglike a sneer in her smile, as that gentleman makes a deep and courtlyreverence, with an unmistakable look of admiration in his sleepytiger-brown eyes,—then she turns to Lord Winsleigh and adds in a casualway, "My husband!" Lord Winsleigh advances rather eagerly—there is acharm in the exquisite nobility of Thelma's face that touches his heartand 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 meto see you to-night, Lady Errington—I realize how very much my frienddeserves to be congratulated on his marriage!"

Thelma smiles. This little speech pleases her, but she does not acceptthe compliment implied to herself.

"You are very kind, Lord Winsleigh"—she answers; "I am glad indeed thatyou like Philip. I do think with you that he deserves every one's goodwishes. It is my great desire to make him always happy."

A brief shadow crosses Lord Winsleigh's thoughtful brow, and he studiesher 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? Aslight sigh escapes him,—absolute truth, innocent love, and stainlesspurity are written in such fair, clear lines on that perfect countenancethat the mere idea of questioning her sincerity seems a sacrilege.

"Your desire is gratified, I am sure," he returns, and his voice issomewhat sad. "I never saw him looking so well. He seems in excellentspirits."

"Oh, for that!" and she laughs. "He is a very light-hearted boy! Butonce he would tell me very dreadful things about the world—how it wasnot at all worth living in—but I do think he must have been lonely. Forhe is very pleased with everything now, and finds no fault at all!"

"I can quite understand that!" and Lord Winsleigh smiles, though thatshadow of pain still rests on his brow.

Mrs. Rush-Marvelle and the Van Clupps are listening to the conversationwith straining ears. What strange person is this? She does not talk badgrammar, though her manner of expressing herself is somewhat quaint andforeign. But she is babyish—perfectly babyish! The idea of anywell-bred woman condescending to sing the praises of her own husband inpublic! Absurd! "Deserves every-one's good wishes!"—pooh! her "greatdesire is to make him always happy!"—what utter rubbish!—and he is a"light-hearted boy!" Good gracious!—what next? Marcia Van Clupp isstrongly inclined to giggle, and Mrs. Van Clupp is indignantly consciousthat the Errington diamonds far surpass her own, both for size andlustre.

At that moment Sir Philip approaches his wife, with George Lorimer andBeau Lovelace. Thelma's smile at Lorimer is the greeting of an oldfriend—a sun-bright glance that makes his heart beat a little quickerthan usual. He watches her as she turns to be introduced toLovelace,—while Miss Van Clupp, thinking of the relentless gift ofsatire with which that brilliant writer is endowed, looks out for "somefun"—for, as she confides in a low tone to Mrs. Marvelle—"she'll neverknow how to talk to that man!"

"Thelma," says Sir Philip, "this is the celebrated author, BeaufortLovelace,—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!" shesays, with direct frankness,—and the cynical Beau, who has never yetreceived so sincere a compliment, feels himself coloring like aschool-girl. "I am so very proud to meet you! I have read your wonderfulbook, 'Azaziel,' and it made me glad and sorry together. For why do youdraw a noble example and yet say at the same time that it is impossibleto follow it? Because in one breath you inspire us to be good, and yetyou 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, LadyErrington," he said. "Some day we will talk over the matter. You shallshow me the error of my ways. Perhaps you will put life, and thetroublesome business of living, in quite a new light for me! You see, wenovelists have an unfortunate trick of looking at the worst or mostludicrous side of everything—we can't help it! So many apparently loftyand pathetic tragedies turn out, on close examination, to be the meanestand most miserable of farces,—it's no good making them out to be grandGreek poems when they are only base doggerel rhymes. Besides, it's thefashion nowadays to be chiffonniers in literature—to pick up the ragsof life and sort them in all their uncomeliness before the morbid eyesof the public. What's the use of spending thought and care on themanufacture of a jewelled diadem, and offering it to the people on avelvet cushion, when they prefer an olla-podrida of cast-off clothing,dried bones and candle-ends? In brief, what would it avail to write asgrandly as Shakespeare or Scott, when society clamors for Zola andothers of his school?"

There was a little group round them by this time,—men generallycollected wherever Beau Lovelace aired his opinions,—and a doubleattraction drew them together now in the person of the lovely woman towhom he was holding forth.

Marcia Van Clupp stared mightily—surely the Norwegian peasant would notunderstand Beau's similes,—for they were certainly incomprehensible toMarcia. As for his last remark—why! she had read all Zola's novels inthe secrecy of her own room, and had gloated over them;—no words coulddescribe her intense admiration of books that were so indelicatelyrealistic! "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 Iknow,—he is the glory of the world, of course; I think him as noble asHomer. Then for Walter Scott—I love all his beautiful stories—I haveread them many, many times, nearly as often as I have read Homer and theNorse Sagas. And the world must surely love such writings—or how shouldthey last so long?" She laughed and shook her bright head archly."Chiffonnier! Point du tout! Monsieur, les divines pensets que vousavez 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 theswaying crowd, with her little gloved hand resting lightly on hiscoat-sleeve,—while Marcia Van Clupp and her mother exchanged looks ofwonder and dismay. The "fisherwoman" could speak French,—moreover, shecould speak it with a wonderfully soft and perfect accent,—the "person"had studied Homer and Shakespeare, and was conversant with the bestliterature,—and, bitterest sting of all, the "peasant" could give everywoman in the room a lesson in deportment, grace, and perfect taste indress. Every costume looked tawdry beside her richly flowing velvetdraperies—every low bodice became indecent compared with the modesty ofthat small square opening at Thelma's white throat—an opening justsufficient to display her collar of diamonds—and every figure seemedeither dumpy and awkward, too big or too fat, or too lean and toolanky—when brought into contrast with her statuesque outlines.

The die was cast,—the authority of Beau Lovelace was nearly supreme infashionable and artistic circles, and from the moment he was seendevoting his attention to the "new beauty," excited whispers began toflit from mouth to mouth,—"She will be the rage this season!"—"We mustask her to come to us!"—"Do ask Lady Winsleigh to introduceus!"—"She must come to our house!" and so on. And Lady Winsleighwas neither blind nor deaf—she saw and heard plainly enough that herreign was over, and in her secret soul she was furious. The "commonfarmer's daughter" was neither vulgar nor uneducated—and she wassurpassingly lovely—even Lady Winsleigh could not deny so plain andabsolute a fact. But her ladyship was a woman of the world, and sheperceived at once that Thelma was not. Philip had married a creaturewith the bodily loveliness of a goddess and the innocent soul of achild—and it was just that child-like, pure soul looking serenely outof Thelma's eyes that had brought the long-forgotten blush of shame toClara Winsleigh's cheek. But that feeling of self-contempt soonpassed—she was no better and no worse than other women of her set, shethought—after all, what had she to be ashamed of? Nothing,except—except—perhaps, her "little affair" with "Lennie." A newemotion now stirred her blood—one of malice and hatred, mingled with asense of outraged love and ungratified passion—for she still admiredPhilip to a foolish excess. Her dark eyes flashed scornfully as shenoted the attitude of Sir Francis Lennox,—he was leaning against themarble mantel-piece, stroking his moustache with one hand, absorbed inwatching Thelma, who, seated in an easy chair which Beau Lovelace hadfound for her, was talking and laughing gaily with those immediatelyaround her, a group which increased in size every moment, and in whichthe men were most predominant.

"Fool!" muttered Lady Winsleigh to herself, apostrophizing "Lennie" inthis uncomplimentary manner. "Fool! I wonder if he thinks I care! He mayplay hired lacquey to all the women in London if he likes! He looks aprig compared to Philip!"

And her gaze wandered,—Philip was standing by his wife, engaged in ananimated conversation with Lord Winsleigh. They were all near the grandpiano—and Lady Clara, smoothing her vexed brow, swept her ruby velvetsgracefully up to that quarter of the room. Before she could speak, thecelebrated 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 notmake itself to be heard in zis fery moch noise. It is bossible yourladyshib shall require not ze music zis efening? In zat case I shalltake my fery goot leave."

Lady Winsleigh raised her eyes with much superciliousness.

"As you please," she said coolly. "If you are so indifferent to youradvantages—then all I can say is, so am I! You are, perhaps, known onthe Continent, Herr Machtenklinken,—but not here—and I think you oughtto be more grateful for my influence."

So saying, she passed on, leaving the luckless pianist in a state of thegreatest indignation.

"Gott in Himmel!" he gasped, in a sort of infuriated sotto voce. "ZeEmberor himself would not have speak to me so! I come here as afavor—her ladyshib do not offer me one pfenning,—ach! ze music isnot for such beoble! I shall brefer to blay to bigs! Zere is no art inzis country!—"

And he began to make his way out of the room, when he was overtaken byBeau Lovelace, who had followed him in haste.

"Where are you off to, Hermann?" he asked good-naturedly. "We want youto play. There is a lady here who heard you in Paris quite recently—sheadmires you immensely. Won't you come and be introduced to her?"

Herr Machtenklinken paused, and a smile softened his hitherto angrycountenance.

"You are fery goot, Mr. Lofelace," he remarked—"and I would do moch foryou—but her ladyshib understands me not—she has offend me—it isbetter I should take my leave."

"Oh, bother her ladyship!" said Beau lightly. "Come along, and give ussomething in your best style."

So saying, he led the half-reluctant artist back to the piano, where hewas introduced to Thelma, who gave him so sweet a smile that he wasfairly dazzled.

"It is you who play Schumann so beautifully," she said. "My husband andI heard you at one of Lamoureux's concerts in Paris. I fear," and shelooked wistfully at him, "that you would think it very rude and selfishof 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 seemsunkind to take you away from them!"

A strange moisture dimmed the poor German's eyes. This was the firsttime in England that the "celebrate" had been treated as a friend and agentleman. Up to this moment, at all the "at homes" and "assemblies," hehad not been considered as a guest at all,—he was an "artist," "a goodpianist,"—"a man who had played before the Emperor of Germany"—and hewas expected to perform for nothing, and be grateful for the "influence"exercised on his behalf—influence which as yet had not put one singleextra guinea in his pocket. Now, here was a great lady almostapologizing for asking him to play, lest it should take him away fromhis "friends"! His heart swelled with emotion and gratitude—the poorfellow had no "friends" in London, except Beau Lovelace, who was kind tohim, but who had no power in the musical world,—and, as Thelma's gentlevoice addressed him, he could have knelt and kissed her little shoe forher sweet courtesy and kindness.

"Miladi," he said, with a profound reverence, "I will blay for you withbleasure,—it will be a joy for ze music to make itself beautiful foryou!"

And with this fantastic attempt at a compliment, he seated himself atthe instrument and struck a crashing chord to command silence.

The hum of conversation grew louder than ever—and to Thelma's surpriseLady Winsleigh seated herself by her and began to converse. HerrMachtenklinken struck another chord,—in vain! The deafening clamor oftongues continued, and Lady Winsleigh asked Thelma with much seeminginterest 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 isimpossible for a great musician to think his thoughts out properlyunless there is silence. Would it not be better to ask every one toleave off talking while this gentleman plays?"

Clara Winsleigh looked amused. "My dear, you don't know them," she saidcarelessly. "They would think me mad to propose such a thing! There arealways a few who listen."

Once more the pianist poised his hands over the keys of theinstrument,—Thelma looked a little troubled and grieved. Beau Lovelacesaw it, and acting on a sudden impulse, turned towards the chatteringcrowds, and, holding up his hand, called, "Silence, please!"

There was an astonished hush. Beau laughed. "We want to hear somemusic," he said, with the utmost coolness. "Conversation can becontinued afterwards." He then nodded cheerfully towards HerrMachtenklinken, who, inspired by this open encouragement, started offlike 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 ofThelma, he smiled. His touch grew more and more delicate andtender—from the prelude he wandered into a nocturne of plaintive andexceeding melancholy, which he played with thrilling and exquisitepathos—anon, he glided into one of those dreamily joyous yet sorrowfulmazurkas, that remind one of bright flowers growing in wild luxurianceover lonely and forsaken graves. The "celebrate" had reason to boast ofhimself—he was a perfect master of the instrument,—and as his fingersclosed on the final chord, a hearty burst of applause rewarded hisefforts, led by Lovelace and Lorimer. He responded by the usualbow,—but his real gratitude was all for Thelma. For her he had playedhis best—and he had seen tears in her lovely eyes. He felt as proud ofher appreciation as of the ring he had received from the Tsar,—and bentlow over the fair hand she extended to him.

"You must be very happy," she said, "to feel all those lovely sounds inyour heart! I hope I shall see and hear you again some day,—I thank youso very much for the pleasure you have given me!"

Lady Winsleigh said nothing—and she listened to Thelma's words with asort of contempt.

"Is the girl half-witted?" she thought. "She must be, or she would notbe so absurdly enthusiastic! The man plays well,—but it is hisprofession to play well—it's no good praising these sort ofpeople,—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 SirFrancis Lennox, sauntering up, fixed his languorous gaze on Thelma'sface, murmuring, "You will not be so cruel as to refuse us suchdelight?"

"But, of course not!" answered the girl, greatly surprised at all theseunnecessary entreaties. "I am always pleased to sing." And she drew offher long loose gloves and seated herself at the piano without the leastaffectation of reluctance. Then, glancing at her husband with a brightsmile, 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 roomnow—everybody pressed towards the piano, staring with a curiousfascination at her beautiful face and diamond-crowned hair. Onemoment—and her voice, in all its passionate, glorious fullness, rangout with a fresh vibrating tone that thrilled to the very heart—and thefoolish crowd that gaped and listened was speechless, motionless,astonished, and bewildered.

A Norse mountain-song was it? How strange, and grand, and wild! GeorgeLorimer stood apart—his eyes ached with restrained tears. He knew themelody well—and up before him rose the dear solemnity of the Altenguardhills, the glittering expanse of the Fjord, the dear old farmhousebehind its cluster of pines. Again he saw Thelma as he had seen herfirst—clad in her plain white gown, spinning in the dark embrasure ofthe rose-wreathed window—again the words of the self-destroyed Sigurdcame back to his recollection, "Good things may come for others—but foryou the heavens are empty!" He looked at her now,—Philip's wife—in allthe splendor of her rich attire;—she was lovelier than ever, and hersweet nature was as yet unspoilt by all the wealth and luxury aroundher.

"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 VanClupps, the Rush-Marvelles, and others like them,—and as for ClaraWinsleigh—" He turned to study her ladyship attentively. She wassitting quite close to the piano—her eyes were cast down, but therubies on her bosom heaved quickly and restlessly, and she furled andunfurled her fan impatiently. "I shouldn't wonder," he went onmeditating 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 toingratiate herself with the titled and wealthy, "I hope you will comeand see me, Lady Errington? I am at home every Friday evening to myfriends."

"Oh yes," said Thelma, simply. "But I am not your friend yet! When we doknow each other better I will come. We shall meet each other many timesfirst,—and then you will see if you like me to be your friend. Is itnot so?"

A scarcely concealed smile reflected itself on the faces of all whoheard this naïve, but indefinite acceptance of Mrs. Van Clupp'sinvitation, while Mrs. Van Clupp herself was somewhat mortified, andknew not what to answer. This Norwegian girl was evidently quiteignorant of the usages of polite society, or she would at once haverecognized the fact that an "at home" had nothing whatsoever to do withthe obligations of friendship—besides, as far as friendship wasconcerned, had not Mrs. Van Clupp tabooed several of her ownblood-relations and former intimate acquaintances?... for the verysensible reason that while she had grown richer, they had grown poorer.But now Mrs. Rush-Marvelle sailed up in all her glory, with hergood-natured smile and matronly air. She was a privileged person, andshe put her arm round Thelma's waist.

"You must come to me, my dear," she said with real kindness—hermotherly heart had warmed to the girl's beauty and innocence,—"I knewPhilip when he was quite a boy. He will tell you what a dreadfully oldwoman I am! You must try to like me for his sake."

Thelma smiled radiantly. "I always wish to like Philip's friends," shesaid frankly. "I do hope I shall please you!"

A pang of remorse smote Mrs. Rush-Marvelle's heart as she remembered howloth she had been to meet Philip's "peasant" wife,—shehesitated,—then, yielding to her warm impulse, drew the girl closer andkissed her fair rose-tinted cheek.

"You please everybody, my child," she said honestly. "Philip is a luckyman! Now I'll say good night, for it is getting late,—I'll write to youto-morrow and fix a day for you to come and lunch with me."

"But you must also come and see Philip," returned Thelma, pressing herhand.

"So I will—so I will!" and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle nodded beamingly, andmade her way up to Lady Winsleigh, saying, "Bye-bye, Clara! Thanks for amost charming evening!"

Clara pouted. "Going already, Mimsey?" she queried,—then, in a lowertone, she said, "Well! what do you think of her?"

"A beautiful child—no more!" answered Mrs. Marvelle,—then, studyingwith some gravity the brilliant brunette face before her, she added in awhisper, "Leave her alone, Clara,—don't make her miserable! You knowwhat 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 anogress ready to eat her up? On the contrary, I mean to be a friend toher."

Mrs. Marvelle still looked grave.

"I'm glad to hear it," she said; "only some friends are worse thandeclared enemies."

Lady Winsleigh shrugged her shoulders.

"Go along, Mimsey,—go home to bed!" she exclaimed impatiently. "You areinsensé! I hate sentimental philosophy and copy-book platitudes!" Shelaughed 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 fromsome far corner, where he had remained in hiding, took her departurewith much stateliness.

A great many people were going down to supper by this time, but SirPhilip was tired of the heat and glare and noise, and whispered as muchto 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 thanhe 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'shands 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 onceoffering her his arm.

"And allow me to follow," added Beau Lovelace, slipping his arm throughErrington's, to whom he whispered, "How dare you, sir! How dare you besuch a provokingly happy man in this miserable old world?" Erringtonlaughed—and the little group had just reached the door of thedrawing-room when Thelma suddenly turned with a look of inquiry in hereyes.

"Where is Mr. Lorimer?" she said. "I have forgotten to say good-night tohim, Philip."

"Here I am, Lady Errington," and Lorimer sauntered forward with rather aforced smile,—a smile which altogether vanished, leaving his facestrangely pale, as she stretched out her hand to him, and saidlaughingly—

"You bad Mr. Lorimer! Where were you? You know it would make me quiteunhappy 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 agood fellow!"

"I can't, Phil!" answered Lorimer, almost pathetically. "I can'tto-night—indeed, I can't! Don't ask me!" And he wrung his friend's handhard,—and then bravely met Thelma's bright glance.

"Forgive me!" he said to her. "I know I ought to have presented myselfbefore—I'm a dreadfully lazy fellow, you know! Good-night!"

Thelma regarded him steadfastly.

"You look,—what is it you call yourself sometimes—seedy?" sheobserved. "Not well at all. Mind you come to us to-morrow!"

He promised—and then accompanied them down to their carriage—he andBeau Lovelace assisting to cover Thelma with her fur cloak, and beingthe 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 thehorses, for they started at a brisk trot, and within a couple of minutesthe carriage was out of sight. It was a warm star-lit evening,—and asLorimer and Lovelace re-entered Winsleigh House, Beau stole aside-glance at his silent companion.

"A plucky fellow!" he mused; "I should say he'd die game. Tortures won'twring his secret out of him." Aloud he said, "I say, haven't we hadenough of this? Don't let us sup here—nothing but unsubstantial pastryand claretcup—the latter abominable mixture would kill me. Come on tothe Club, will you?"

Lorimer gladly assented—they got their over-coats from the officiousBriggs, tipped him handsomely, and departed arm in arm. The last glimpsethey caught of the Winsleigh festivities was Marcia Van Clupp sitting onthe stairs, polishing off with much gusto the wing and half-breast of acapon,—while the mild Lord Masherville stood on the step just aboveher, consoling his appetite with a spoonful of tepid yellow jelly. Hehad not been able to secure any capon for himself—he had beenfrightened away by the warning cry of "Ladies first!" shouted forth by afat gentleman, who was on guard at the head of the supper-table, and whohad already secreted five plates of different edibles for his ownconsumption, in a neat corner behind the window-curtains. Meanwhile, SirPhilip Bruce-Errington, proud, happy, and triumphant, drew his wife intoa close embrace as they drove home together, and said, "You were thequeen of the evening, my Thelma! Have you enjoyed yourself?"

"Oh, I do not call that enjoyment!" she declared. "How is it possible toenjoy 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 havenever been to anything like it before. It did seem to me as if all thepeople were on show for some reason or other. And the gentlemen did lookvery tired—there was nothing for them to do. Even you, my boy! You madeseveral 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 'athome.' Do you like Beau Lovelace?"

"Very much," she answered readily. "But, Philip, I should not like tohave 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 mereacquaintances."

"Whom does she care for then?" asked Thelma suddenly. "Of course I meanafter her husband. Naturally she loves him best."

"Naturally," and Philip paused, adding, "she has her son—Ernest—he's afine 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 andkissed me."

"Did she really!" and Philip smiled. "I think she was more to becongratulated on taking the kiss than you in receiving it! But she's nota bad old soul,—only a little too fond of money. But, Thelma, whom doyou care for most? You did tell me once, but I forget!"

She turned her lovely face and star-like eyes upon him, and, meeting hislaughing look, she smiled.

"How often must I tell you!" she murmured softly. "I do think you willnever tire of hearing! You know that it is you for whom I care most, andthat all the world would be empty to me without you! Oh, my husband—mydarling! do not make me try to tell you how much I love you! Icannot—my heart is too full!"

The rest of their drive homeward was very quiet—there are times whensilence 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 peacefullife. She had conquered her enemies, or so it seemed,—society threwdown all its barricades and rushed to meet her with open arms.Invitations crowded upon her,—often she grew tired and bewildered inthe multiplicity of them all. London life wearied her,—she preferredthe embowered seclusion of Errington Manor, the dear old house ingreen-wooded Warwickshire. But the "season" claimed her,—its frothygaieties were deemed incomplete without her—no "at home" was consideredquite "the" thing unless she was present. She became the centre of alarge and ever-widening social circle,—painters, poets, novelists, witssavants, and celebrities of high distinction crowded her rooms, strivingto entertain her as well as themselves with that inane small talk andgossip too often practiced by the wisest among us,—and thus surrounded,she began to learn many puzzling and painful things of which in her oldNorwegian life, she had been happily ignorant.

For instance, she had once imagined that all the men and women ofculture 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 ofthe so-called "great" people who had distinguished themselves inliterature or the fine arts. She had fancied that they must of necessitybe all refined, sympathetic, large-hearted, and noble-minded—alas! howgrievously was she disappointed! She found, to her sorrow, that the treeof modern Art bore but few wholesome roses and many cankered buds—thatthe "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 ofthis earth,—were most of them painfully conceited, selfish in aim andlimited in thought,—moreover, that they were often so empty of all trueinspiration, that they were actually able to hate and envy one anotherwith a sort of womanish spite and temper,—that novelists, professing tobe in sympathy with the heart of humanity, were no sooner brought intocontact one with another, than they plainly showed by look, voice, andmanner, the contempt they entertained for each other's work,—that menof science were never so happy as when trying to upset each other'stheories;—that men of religious combativeness were always on the alertto destroy each other's creeds,—and that, in short, there was a verygeneral tendency to mean jealousies, miserable heart-burnings and utterweariness all round.

On one occasion, she, in the sweetest simplicity, invited two ladyauthoresses of note to meet at one of her "at homes,". . . she welcomedboth the masculine-looking ladies with a radiant smile, and introducedthem, saying gently,—"You will be so pleased to know each other!" Butthe stony stare, stiff nod, portentous sniff, and scornful smile withwhich these two eminent females exchanged cold greetings, were enough todaunt the most sympathetic hostess that ever lived—and when they atonce retired to different corners of the room and sat apart with theirbacks turned to one another for the remainder of the evening, theirattitude was so uncompromising that it was no wonder the gentle Thelmafelt quite dismayed and wretched at the utter failure of therencontre.

"They would not be sociable!" she afterwards complained to LadyWinsleigh. "They tried to be as rude to each other as they could!"

Lady Winsleigh laughed. "Of course!" she said. "What else did youexpect! But if you want some fun, ask a young, pretty, and brilliantauthoress (there are a few such) to meet an old, ugly and dowdy one (andthere are many such), and watch the dowdy one's face! It will be adelicious study of expression, I assure you!"

But Thelma would not try this delicate experiment,—in fact, she beganrather to avoid literary people, with the exception of Beau Lovelace.His was a genial, sympathetic nature, and, moreover, he had a winningcharm of manner which few could resist. He was not a bookworm,—he wasnot, strictly speaking, a literary man,—and he was entirely indifferentto public praise or blame. He was, as he himself expressed it, "aservant and worshipper of literature," and there is a wide gulf ofdifference between one who serves literature for its own sake and onewho uses it basely as a tool to serve himself.

But in all her new and varied experiences, perhaps Thelma was mostcompletely bewildered by the women she met. Her simple Norse beliefs inthe purity and gentleness of womanhood were startled and outraged,—shecould not understand London ladies at all. Some of them seemed to haveno idea beyond dress and show,—others looked upon their husbands, thelawful protectors of their name and fame, with easy indifference, asthough they were mere bits of household furniture,—others, havingnothing better to do, "went in" for spiritualism,—the low spiritualismthat manifests itself in the turning of tables and moving ofside-boards—not the higher spiritualism of an improved, perfected, andsaint-like way of life—and these argued wildly on the theory of matterpassing through matter, to the extent of declaring themselves able tosend a letter or box through the wall without making a hole in it,—andthis with such obstinate gravity as made Thelma fear for their reason.Then there were the women-atheists,—creatures who had voluntarilycrushed all the sweetness of the sex within them—foolish human flowerswithout fragrance, that persistently turned away their faces from thesunlight and denied its existence, preferring to wither, profitless, onthe dry stalk of their own theory;—there were the "platform-women,"unnatural products of an unnatural age,—there were the great ladies ofthe aristocracy who turned with scorn from a case of real necessity, andyet spent hundreds of pounds on private theatricals wherein they mighthave the chance of displaying themselves in extravagant costumes,—andthere were the "professional" beauties, who, if suddenly deprived ofelegant 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'?" Thelmahad asked Beau Lovelace on one occasion. "I suppose it is some very poorbeautiful woman, who takes money for showing herself to the public, andhaving her portraits sold in the shops? And who is it that pays her?"

Lovelace broke into a laugh. "Upon my word, Lady Errington,—you haveput the matter in a most original but indubitably correct light! Whopays 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 paysher 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 thestage and swell the list of bad amateurs. She'll get on somehow, as longas she can find a fool ready to settle her dressmaker's bill."

"I do not understand!" said Thelma,—and her fair brows drew together inthat pained grave look that was becoming rather frequent with her now.

And she began to ask fewer questions concerning the various strangephases of social life that puzzled her,—why, for instance, religioustheorists made so little practical use of their theories,—why therewere cloudy-eyed eccentrics who admired the faulty drawing of Watts, andthe common-place sentence-writing of Walt Whitman,—why members ofParliament talked so much and did so little,—why new poets, howevernobly inspired, were never accepted unless they had influential friendson the press,—why painters always married their models or their cooks,and got heartily ashamed of them afterwards,—and why people all roundsaid so many things they did not mean. And confused by the generalinsincerity, she clung,—poor child!—to Lady Winsleigh, who had thetact to seem what she was not,—and the cleverness to probe intoThelma's nature and find out how translucently clear and pure it was—aperfect well of sweet water, into which one drop of poison, or betterstill, several drops, gradually and insidiously instilled, might in timetaint its flavor and darken its brightness. For if a woman have aninnocent, unsuspecting soul as delicate as the curled cup of a Nilelily, the more easily will it droop and wither in the heated grasp of acareless, cruel hand. And to this flower-crushing task Lady Winsleighset herself,—partly for malice pretense against Errington, whosecoldness to herself in past days had wounded her vanity, and partly forprivate jealousy of Thelma's beauty and attractiveness.

Within a short time she had completely won the girl's confidence andaffection,—Sir Philip, forgetting his former suspicions of her, wastouched and disarmed by the attachment and admiration she openlydisplayed towards his young wife,—she and Thelma were constantly seentogether, and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle, far-sighted as she generally was,often sighed doubtfully and rubbed her nose in perplexity as sheconfessed she "couldn't quite understand Clara." But Mrs. Rush-Marvellehad her hands full of other matters,—she was aiding and abetting MarciaVan Clupp to set traps for that mild mouse Lord Masherville,—and shewas too much absorbed in this difficult and delicate business to attendto anything else just then. Otherwise, it is possible she might havescented danger for Thelma's peace of mind, and being good-natured, mighthave warded it off before it approached too closely,—but, likepoliceman who are never within call when wanted, so friends are seldomat hand when their influence might be of real benefit.

The Van Clupps were people Thelma could not get on with at all—shetried to do so because Mrs. Rush-Marvelle had assured her they were"charming"-and she liked Mrs. Marvelle sufficiently well to be willingto please her. But, in truth, these rich and vulgar Yankees seemed toher mind less to be esteemed than the peasants of the Altenfjord, who inmany instances possessed finer tact and breeding than old Van Clupp, theman of many dollars, whose father had been nothing but a low navvy, butof whom he spoke now with smirking pride as a real descendant of thePilgrim Fathers. An odd thing it is, by the way, how fond some Americansare of tracing back their ancestry to these virtuous old gentlemen! TheVan Clupps were of course not the best types of their country—they wereof that class who, because they have money, measure everything by themoney-standard, and hold even a noble poverty in utter contempt. PoorVan Clupp! It was sometimes pitiable to see him trying to be agentleman—"going in" for "style"—to an excess that wasludicrous,—cramming his house with expensive furniture like anupholsterer's show-room,—drinking his tea out of pure Sevres, with alofty ignorance of its beauty and value,—dressing his wife and daughterlike shilling fashion-plates, and having his portrait taken in preciselythe same attitude as that assumed by the Duke of Wrigglesbury when hisGrace sat to the same photographer! It was delicious to hear himbragging of his pilgrim ancestor,—while in the same breath he wouldblandly sneer at certain "poor gentry" who could trace back theirlineage to Coeur de Lion! But because the Erringtons were rich as wellas titled persons, Van Clupp and his belongings bent the servile kneebefore them, flattering Thelma with that ill-judged eagerness andzealous persistency which distinguish inborn vulgarity, and which, farfrom pleasing her, annoyed and embarrassed her because she could notrespond sincerely to such attentions.

There were many others too, not dollar-crusted Americans, whoseexcessive adulation and ceaseless compliment vexed the sincere, frankspirit of the girl,—a spirit fresh and pure as the wind blowing overher own Norse mountains. One of these was Sir Francis Lennox, thatfashionable young man of leisure,—and she had for him an instinctive,though quite unreasonable aversion. He was courtesy itself—he spared nopains to please her. Yet she felt as if his basilisk brown eyes werealways upon her,—he seemed to be ever at hand, ready to watch over herin trifles, such as the passing of a cup of tea, the offering of herwrap,—the finding of a chair,—the holding of a fan,-he was always onthe alert, like a remarkably well-trained upper servant. She could not,without rudeness, reject such unobtrusive, humble services,—andyet—they rendered her uncomfortable, though she did not quite know why.She ventured to mention her feeling concerning him to her friend LadyWinsleigh, who heard her timid remarks with a look on her face that wasnot 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! Hewon't bite, I assure you,—he means no harm. It's only his little way ofmaking himself agreeable!"

George Lorimer, during this particular "London season," fled the fieldof action, and went to Paris to stay with Pierre Duprèz. He felt that itwas dangerous to confront the fair enemy too often, for he knew in hisown honest heart that his passion for Thelma increased each time he sawher—so, he avoided her. She missed him very much from her circle ofintimates, and often went to see his mother, Mrs. Lorimer, one of thesweetest old ladies in the world,—who had at once guessed her son'ssecret, but, like a prudent dame, kept it to herself. There were fewyoung women as pretty and charming as old Mrs. Lorimer, with hersnow-white parted hair and mild blue eyes, and voice as cheery as thenote of a thrush in spring-time. After Lady Winsleigh, Thelma liked herbest of all her new friends, and was fond of visiting her quiet littlehouse in Kensington,—for it was very quiet, and seemed like a shelteredhaven of rest from the great rush of frivolity and folly in which thefashionable world delighted.

And Thelma was often now in need of rest. As the season drew towards itsclose, she found herself strangely tired and dispirited. The life shewas compelled to lead was all unsuited to her nature—it was artificialand constrained,—and she was often unhappy. Why? Why, indeed! She didher best,—but she made enemies everywhere. Again, why? Because she hada most pernicious,—most unpleasant habit of telling the truth. LikeSocrates, she seemed to say—"If any man should appear to me not topossess virtue, but to pretend that he does, I shall reproach him." Thisshe expressed silently in face, voice, and manner,—and, like Socrates,she might have added that she went about "perceiving, indeed, andgrieving and alarmed that she was making herself odious." For shediscovered, by degrees, that many people looked strangely upon her—thatothers seemed afraid of her—and she continually heard that she wasconsidered "eccentric." So she became more reserved—even cold,—she wascontent to let others argue about trifles, and air their whims andfollies without offering an opinion on any side.

And by-and-by the first shadow began to sweep over the fairness of hermarried life. It happened at a time when she and her husband were notquite so much together,—society and its various claims had naturallyseparated them a little, but now a question of political ambitionseparated them still more. Some well-intentioned friends had persuadedSir Philip to stand for Parliament—and this idea no sooner entered hishead, than he decided with impulsive ardor that he had been too longwithout a "career,"—and a "career" he must have in order to windistinction for his wife's sake. Therefore, summoning his secretary,Neville to his aid, he plunged headlong into the seething, turgid watersof English politics, and shut himself up in his library day after day,studying blue-books, writing and answering letters, and drawing upaddresses,—and with the general proneness of the masculine mind toattend to one thing only at a time, he grew so absorbed in his work thathis love for Thelma, though all unchanged and deep as ever, fellslightly into the background of his thoughts. Not that he neglectedher,—he simply concerned himself more with other things. So it happenedthat a certain indefinable sense of loss weighed upon her,—a vague,uncomprehended solitude began to encompass her,—a solitude even morekeenly felt when she was surrounded by friends than when she was quitealone,—and as the sweet English June drew to its end, she grew languidand listless, and her blue eyes often filled with sudden tears. Herlittle watch-dog, Britta, began to notice this, and to wonder concerningthe reason of her mistress's altered looks.

"It is this dreadful London," thought Britta. "So hot andstifling—there's no fresh air for her. And all this going about toballs and parties and shows—no wonder she is tired out!"

But it was something more than mere fatigue that made Thelma's eyes looksometimes so anxious, so gravely meditative and earnest. One day sheseemed so much abstracted and lost in painful musings that Britta'sloving heart ached, and she watched her for some moments withoutventuring to say a word. At last she spoke out bravely—

"Fröken!"—she paused,—Thelma seemed not to hear her. "Fröken!—hasanything 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 Fröken," continued Britta gently. "You arenot as bright as you were when we first came to London."

Thelma's lips quivered. "I—I am not well, Britta," she murmured, andsuddenly her self-control gave way, and she broke into tears. In aninstant Britta was kneeling by her, coaxing and caressing her, andcalling her by every endearing name she could think of, while she wiselyforbore from asking any more questions. Presently her sobs grewcalmer,—she rested her fair head against Britta's shoulder and smiledfaintly. At that moment a light tap was heard outside, and a voicecalled—

"Thelma! Are you there?"

Britta opened the door, and Sir Philip entered hurriedly andsmiling—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 isnothing! But tell me—you do love me? You will never tire of me? Youhave 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 beatof my heart for you? Are you not my life, my joy—my everything in thisworld?" And he pressed her passionately in his arms and kissed her.

"You have never loved any one else so much?" she whispered, halfabashed.

"Never!" he answered readily. "What makes you ask such a thing?"

She was silent. He looked down at her flushing cheeks and tear-wetlashes attentively.

"You are fanciful to-day, my pet," he said at last. "You've been tiringyourself too much. You must rest. You'd better not go to the BrilliantTheatre to-night—it's only a burlesque, and is sure to be vulgar andnoisy. 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 togo with her to-night. And as we are so soon to leave London and returnto 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—muchmore clever than I can ever be—and she knows many things about theworld which I do not. And she admires you so much, Philip!"

"Does she indeed?" Philip laughed and colored a little. "Very good ofher, 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 veryamusing. And you must remember how much I enjoyed 'Faust' and 'Hamlet.'"

Errington smiled. "You'll find the Brilliant performance very differentto either," he said amusedly. "You don't know what a burlesque is like!"

"Then I must be instructed," replied Thelma, smiling also, "I need tolearn many things. I am very ignorant!"

"Ignorant!" and he swept aside with a caressing touch the clusteringhair from her broad, noble brow. "My darling, you possess the greatestwisdom—the wisdom of innocence. I would not change it for all thelearning of the sagest philosophers!"

"You really mean that?" she asked half timidly.

"I really mean that!" he answered fondly. "Little sceptic! As if I wouldever say anything to you that I did not mean! I shall be glad whenwe're out of London and back at the Manor—then I shall have you all tomyself again—for a time, at least."

She raised her eyes full of sudden joy,—all traces of her formerdepression had disappeared.

"And I shall have you!" she said gladly. "And we shall notdisappoint Lady Winsleigh to-night, Philip—I am not tired—and I shallbe pleased to go to the theatre."

"All right!" responded Philip cheerfully. "So let it be! Only I don'tbelieve 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 newexperience for you."

And a new experience it decidedly was,—an experience, too, whichbrought some strange and perplexing results to Thelma of which she neverdreamed.

She went to the Brilliant, accompanied by Lady Winsleigh and herhusband,—Neville, the secretary, making the fourth in their box; andduring the first and second scene of the performance the stage effectswere so pretty and the dancing so graceful that she nearly forgot thebewildered astonishment she had at first felt at the extreme scantinessof apparel worn by the ladies of the ballet. They represented birds,bees, butterflies, and the other winged denizens of theforest-world,—and the tout-ensemble was so fairy-like and brilliantwith swift movement, light, and color that the eye was too dazzled andconfused to note objectionable details. But in the third scene, when aplump, athletic young woman leaped on the stage in the guise of ahumming-bird, with a feather tunic so short that it was a merewaist-belt of extra width,—a flesh-colored bodice about three incheshigh, and a pair of blue wings attached to her fat shoulders, Thelmastarted and half rose from her seat in dismay, while a hot tide of colorcrimsoned her cheeks. She looked nervously at her husband.

"I do not think this is pleasant to see," she said in a low tone. "Wouldit 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 nowyou'll have every one staring at you. That woman's an immensefavorite—she is the success of the piece. She's got more diamonds thaneither you or I."

Thelma regarded her friend with a sort of grave wonder,—but saidnothing in reply. If Lady Winsleigh liked the performance and wished toremain, why—then politeness demanded that Thelma should not interferewith her pleasure by taking an abrupt leave. So she resumed her seat,but withdrew herself far behind the curtain of the box, in a cornerwhere the stage was almost invisible to her eyes. Her husband bent overher 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 suddenlyNeville touched him on the arm.

"Can I speak to you alone for a moment, Sir Philip?" he said in astrange, hoarse whisper. "Outside the box—away from the ladies—amatter of importance!"

He looked as if he were about to faint. He gasped rather than spokethese words; his face was white as death, and his eyes had a confusedand bewildered stare.

"Certainly!" answered Philip promptly, though not without an accent ofsurprise,—and, excusing their absence briefly to his wife and LadyWinsleigh, 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 ina 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 hailedwith enthusiastic applause. The "Humming-Bird" was triumphant, and whenher song was concluded she executed a startling pas-seul full ofquaint and astonishing surprises, reaching her superbest climax, whenshe backed off the stage on one portly leg,—kicking the other inregular time to the orchestra. Lady Winsleigh laughed, and leaningtowards Thelma, who still sat in her retired corner, said with a show ofkindness—

"You dear little goose! You must get accustomed to this kind ofthing—it takes with the men immensely. Why, even your wonderful Philiphas gone down behind the scenes with Neville—you may be sure of that!"

The startled, pitiful astonishment in the girl's face might have toucheda less callous heart than Lady Winsleigh's,—but her ladyship wasprepared for it and only smiled.

"Gone behind the scenes! To see that dreadful woman!" exclaimed Thelmain 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 Veredraws everybody—of the male sex after her! At the end of all her'scenes' she has a regular reception—for men only—of course! Ladiesnot admitted!" And Clara Winsleigh laughed. "Don't look so shocked forheaven's sake, Thelma,—you don't want your husband to be a regularnincompoop! He must have his amusem*nts as well as other people. Ibelieve 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 thefan 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 donot think you know Philip—he is not like any other person I have evermet. And why should he go behind the scenes to such a person as VioletVere—"

At that moment the box-door opened with a sharp click, and Erringtonentered alone. He looked disturbed and anxious.

"Neville is not well," he said abruptly, addressing his wife. "I've senthim home. He wouldn't have been able to sit this thing out." And heglanced half angrily towards the stage—the curtain had just gone upagain and displayed the wondrous Violet Vere still in her "humming-bird"character, swinging on the branch of a tree and (after the example ofall humming-birds) smoking a cigar with brazen-faced tranquillity.

"I am sorry he is ill," said Thelma gently. "That is why you were solong away?"

"Was I long?" returned Philip somewhat absently. "I didn't know it. Iwent to ask a question behind the scenes."

Lady Winsleigh coughed and glanced at Thelma, whose eyes droppedinstantly.

"I suppose you saw Violet Vere?" asked Clara.

"Yes, I saw her," he replied briefly. He seemed irritable andvexed—moreover, decidedly impatient. Presently he said—

"Lady Winsleigh, would you mind very much if we left this place and wenthome? I'm rather anxious about Neville—he's had a shock. Thelma doesn'tcare a bit about this piece, I know, and if you are not very muchabsorbed—"

Lady Winsleigh rose instantly, with her usual ready grace.

"My dear Sir Philip!" she said sweetly. "As if I would not, do anythingto oblige you! Let us go by all means! These burlesques are extremelyfatiguing!"

He seemed relieved by her acquiescence—and smiled that rare sweet smileof his, which had once played such havoc with her ladyship's sensitivefeelings. They left the theatre, and were soon on their way home, thoughThelma was rather silent during the drive. They dropped Lady Winsleighat her own door, and after they had bidden her a cordial good night, andwere going on again towards home, Philip, turning towards his wife, andcatching sight of her face by the light of a street-lamp, was struck byher extreme paleness and weary look.

"You are very tired, my darling, I fear?" he inquired, tenderlyencircling 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 hisown warm, strong clasp.

"We shall soon be home!" he added cheerily. "And I think we must have nomore theatre-going this season. The heat and noise and glare are toomuch for you."

"Philip," said Thelma suddenly. "Did you really go behind the scenesto-night?"

"Yes, I did," he answered readily. "I was obliged to go on a matter ofbusiness—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 notto betray—a secret which involves the name of another person who'd bewretched if I were to mention it to you. There,—don't let us talk aboutit any more!"

"Very well, Philip," said Thelma resignedly,—but though she smiled, asudden presentiment of evil depressed her. The figure of the vulgar,half-clothed, painted creature known as Violet Vere rose up mockinglybefore her eyes,—and the half-scornful, half-jesting words of LadyWinsleigh rang persistently in her ears.

On reaching home, Philip went straight to Neville's little study andremained with him in earnest conversation for a long time—while Thelmawent to bed, and lay restless among her pillows, puzzling her brain withstrange forebodings and new and perplexing ideas, till fatigueoverpowered her, and she fell asleep with a few tear-drops wet on herlashes. And that night Philip wondered why his sweet wife talked soplaintively in her sleep,—though he smiled as he listened to the driftof those dove-like murmurings.

"No one knows how my boy loves me," sighed the dreaming voice. "No onein all the world! How should he tire? Love can never tire!"

Meanwhile, Lady Winsleigh, in the seclusion of her own boudoir, penned abrief 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 Rénaud, to post,—thatfaithful attendant took it first to her own apartment where she ungummedthe 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 receivedand sent by her mistress were subjected to the same process,—even thosethat were sealed with wax she had a means of opening in such a mannerthat it was impossible to detect that they had been tampered with.

She was a very clever French maid was Louise,—one of the cleverest ofher class. Fond of mischief, ever suspicious, always on the alert forevil, utterly unscrupulous and malicious, she was an altogetheradmirable attendant for a lady of rank and fashion, her skill as acoiffeur and needle-woman always obtaining for her the wages she sojustly deserved. When will wealthy women reared in idleness and luxurylearn the folly of keeping a trained spy attached to their persons?—aspy whose pretended calling is merely to arrange dresses and fripperies(half of which she invariably steals), but whose real delight is to takenote of all her mistress's incomings and outgoings, tempers andtears—to watch her looks, her smiles and frowns,—and to startscandalous gossip concerning her in the servants' hall, from whence itgradually spreads to the society newspapers—for do you think theseestimable 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 twoconcerning the "Upper Ten," and with the aid of a dictionary, hadsucceeded in expressing himself quite smartly, though in ordinaryconversation his h's were often lacking or superfluous, and his grammardoubtful. Whether he persuaded any editor to accept his literary effortsis quite another matter—a question to which the answer must remain forever enveloped in mystery,—but if he did appear in print (it is onlyan if!) he must have been immensely gratified to consider that hisstatements were received with gusto by at least half aristocraticLondon, and implicitly believed as having emanated from the "bestauthorities." And Louise Rénaud having posted her mistress's letter atlast, went down to visit Briggs in his private pantry, and to ask him aquestion.

"Tell me," she said rapidly, with her tight, prim smile. "You read thepapers—you will know. What lady is that of the theatres—Violet Vere?"

Briggs laid down the paper he was perusing and surveyed her with asuperior 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 worthcalling 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 andarms! I won't deny but wot I 'ave an admiration for 'er myself—I boughta 'arf-crown portrait of 'er quite recently." And Briggs rose slowly andsearched 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 foryou! There's form! Vi, my dear, I saloot you!" and he pressed a soundingkiss on the picture—"you're one in a million! Smokes and drinks like atrooper, Mamzelle!" he added admiringly, as Louise Rénaud studied theportrait 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 wemen would call an enchantin' female!" And Briggs kissed the tips of hisfingers and waved them in the air as he had seen certain foreigngentlemen do when enthusiastic.

"I comprehend," said the French maid, nodding emphatically. "Then, ifshe 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 togo 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 agood deal of tin on Vi and others of 'er purfession. You cannot makeenny-think of that young feller but a cad. I would not accept 'im for mypussonal 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 offwith the determined wagging of her head.

"Well," resumed Briggs, "Sir Philip may, like hothers, consider it 'thething' you know, to 'ang on as it were to Vi. But I 'ad thought 'imsuperior to it. Ah! poor 'uman natur, as 'Uxley says!" and Briggssighed. "Lady Errington is a sweet creetur, Mamzelle—a very sweetcreetur! Has a rule I find the merest nod of my 'ed a sufficientsaloot to a woman of the aristocracy—but for 'er, Mamzelle, I neverfail to show 'er up with a court bow!" And involuntarily Briggs bowedthen and there in his most elegant manner. Mamzelle tightened her thinlips a little and waved her hand expressively.

"She is an angel of beauty!" she said, "and Miladi Winsleigh isjealous—ah, Dieu! jealous to death of her! She is innocent too—likea baby—and she worships her husband. That is an error! To worship a manis a great mistake—she will find it so. Men are not to be too muchloved—no, no!"

Briggs smiled in superb self-consciousness. "Well, well! I will notdeny, Mamzelle, that it spoils us," he said complacently. "It certainlyspoils us! 'When lovely woman stoops to folly,'—the hold, hold story!"

"You will r-r-r-emember," said Mamzelle, suddenly stepping up very closeto 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 thereis,—I—I, Louise Rénaud—I know who ees at the bottom of eet!"

So saying, with a whirl of her black silk dress and a flash of her whitemuslin apron, she disappeared. Briggs, left alone, sauntered to alooking-glass hanging on the wall and studied with some solicitude apimple that had recently appeared on his clean-shaven face.

"Mischief!" he soliloquized. "I des-say! Whenever a lot of women getstogether, there's sure to be mischief. Dear creeturs! They love it likethe best Clicquot. Sprightly young pusson is Mamzelle. Knows who's atthe bottom of 'eet,' does she! Well—she's not the only one as knows thesame thing. As long as doors 'as cracks and key'oles, it ain't in theleast difficult to find out wot goes on inside boo-dwars anddrorin'-rooms. And 'ighly interestin' things one 'ears now andthen—'ighly interestin'!"

And Briggs leered suavely at his own reflection, and then resumed theperusal of his paper. He was absorbed in the piquant, highly flavoreddetails of a particularly disgraceful divorce case, and he was by nomeans likely to disturb himself from his refined enjoyment for any lessimportant reason than the summons of Lord Winsleigh's bell, which rangso seldom that, when it did, he made it a point of honor to answer itimmediately, 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 inwooded 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 isto hear the wild chorus of nightingales that sing beside Como in the hotlanguorous nights of an Italian July—wonderful to hear them maddeningthemselves with love and music, and almost splitting their slenderthroats with the bursting bubbles of burning song,—but there issomething, perhaps, more dreamily enchanting still,—to hear themwarbling less passionately but more plaintively, beneath the droopingleafa*ge of those grand old trees, some of which may have stretched theirbranches in shadowy benediction over the sacred head of the grandestpoet in the world. Why travel to Athens,—why wander among the IonianIsles for love of the classic ground? Surely, though the clear-brainedold Greeks were the founders of all noble literature, they have reachedtheir fulminating point in the English Shakespeare,—and theWarwickshire lanes, decked simply with hawthorn and sweet-briar roses,through which Mary Arden walked leading her boy-angel by the hand, aresacred as any portion of that earth once trodden by the feet of Homerand Plato.

So, at least, Thelma thought, when, released from the bondage of Londonsocial life, she found herself once more at Errington Manor, thenlooking its loveliest, surrounded with a green girdle of oak and beech,and set off by the beauty of velvety lawns and terraces, androse-gardens in full bloom. The depression from which she had sufferedfell away from her completely—she grew light-hearted as a child, andflitted from room to room, singing to herself for pure gladness. Philipwas with her all day now, save for a couple of hours in the forenoonwhich he devoted to letter-writing in connection with his Parliamentaryaspirations,—and Philip was tender, adoring and passionate as loversmay be, but as husbands seldom are. They took long walks togetherthrough the woods,—they often rambled across the fragrant fields toAnne Hathaway's cottage, which was not very far away, and sitting downin some sequestered nook, Philip would pull from his pocket a volume ofthe 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 outCicero's Orations, and after pondering over them for a while would talkvery grandly about the way in which he meant to speak in Parliament.

"They want dash and fire there," he said, "and these qualities must beunited with good common sense. In addressing the House, you see, Thelma,one must rouse and interest the men—not bore them. You can't expectfellows to pass a Bill if you've made them long for their beds all thetime 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 Cicerospoke it was in a different, age and to very different people—peoplewho were glad to learn how to be wise and brave. But if you were Cicerohimself, do you think you would be able to impress the EnglishParliament?"

"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 tothe same impressions. Why should not modern Englishmen be capable ofreceiving the same lofty ideas as the antique Romans, and acting uponthem?"

"Ah, do not ask me why," said Thelma, with a plaintive little shake ofher head—"for I cannot tell you! But remember how many members ofParliament 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 fatgentleman who is a brewer,—well, to hear him talk, would you not thinkall England was for the making of beer? And he does not care for thecountry unless it continues to consume his beer! It was to that very manI said something about Hamlet, and he told me he had no interest forsuch nonsense as Shakespeare and play-going—his time was taken up atthe ''Ouse.' You see, he is a member of Parliament—yet it is evidenthe neither knows the language nor the literature of his country! Andthere must be many like him, otherwise so ignorant a person would nothold such a position—and for such men, what would be the use of aCicero?"

Philip leaned back against the trunk of the tree under which they weresitting, and laughed.

"You may be right, Thelma,—I dare say you are. There's certainly toomuch beer represented in the House—I admit that. But, after all, tradeis the great moving-spring of national prosperity,—and it would hardlybe fair to refuse seats to the very men who help to keep the countrygoing."

"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? Theymay know all about beer, and wool, and iron,—but perhaps they can onlyjudge what is good for themselves, not what is best for the wholecountry, with all its rich and poor. I do think that only the wisestscholars and most intelligent persons should be allowed to help in theruling of a great nation."

"But the people choose their own rulers," remarked Erringtonreflectively.

"Ah, the poor people!" sighed Thelma. "They know so very little,—andthey are taught so badly! I think they never do quite understand whatthey do want,—they are the same in all histories,—like littlechildren, they get bewildered and frightened in any trouble, and thewisest heads are needed to think for them. It is, indeed, most cruel tomake them puzzle out all difficulty for themselves!"

"What a little sage you are, my pet!" laughed Philip, taking her hand onwhich the marriage-ring and its accompanying diamond circlet, glistenedbrilliantly 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. Theonly way in which I think about such things, is that I feel the peoplecannot all be wise,—and that it seems a pity the wisest and greatest inthe land should not be chosen to lead them rightly."

"And so under the circ*mstances, you think it's no use my trying topose as a Cicero?" asked her husband amusedly. She laughed—with avery tender cadence in her laughter.

"It would not be worth your while, my boy," she said "You know I haveoften told you that I do not see any great distinction in being a memberof Parliament at all. What will you do? You will talk to the fat brewerperhaps, and he will contradict you—then other people will get up andtalk and contradict each other,—and so it will go on for days anddays—meanwhile the country remains exactly as it was, neither betternor worse,—and all the talking does no good! It is better to be out ofit,—here together, as we are to-day."

And she raised her dreamy blue eyes to the sheltering canopy of greenleaves that overhung them—leaves thick-clustered and dewy, throughwhich the dazzling sky peeped in radiant patches. Philip looked ather,—the rapt expression of her upward gaze,—the calm, untroubledsweetness of her fair face,—were such as might well have suited one ofRaffaelle's divinest angels. His heart beat quickly—he drew closer toher, and put his arm round her.

"Your eyes are looking at the sky, Thelma," he whispered. "Do you knowwhat that is? Heaven looking into heaven! And do you know which of thetwo heavens I prefer?" She smiled, and turning, met his ardent gaze withone of equal passion and tenderness.

"Ah, you do know!" he went on, softly kissing the side of her slimwhite throat. "I thought you couldn't possibly make a mistake!" Herested his head against her shoulder, and after a minute or two of lazycomfort, he resumed. "You are not ambitious, my Thelma! You don't seemto care whether your husband distinguishes himself in the 'Ouse,' as ourfriend the brewer calls it, or not. In fact, I don't believe you carefor anything save—love! Am I not right, my wife?"

A wave of rosy color flushed her transparent skin, and her eyes filledwith an earnest, almost pathetic languor.

"Surely of all things in the world," she said in a low tone,—"Love isbest?"

To this he made prompt answer, though not in words—his lips conversedwith hers, in that strange, sweet language which, though unwritten, iseverywhere comprehensible,—and then they left their shady resting-placeand sauntered homeward hand in hand through the warm fields fragrantwith wild thyme and clover.

Many happy days passed thus with these lovers—for lovers they stillwere. Marriage had for once fulfilled its real and sacred meaning—ithad set Love free from restraint, and had opened all the gateways of theonly earthly paradise human hearts shall ever know,—the paradise ofperfect union and absolute sympathy with the one thing beloved on thisside eternity.

The golden hours fled by all too rapidly,—and towards the close ofAugust there came an interruption to their felicity. Courtesy hadcompelled Bruce-Errington and his wife to invite a few friends down tovisit them at the Manor before the glory of the summer-time waspast,—and first among the guests came Lord and Lady Winsleigh and theirbright boy, Ernest. Her ladyship's maid, Louise Rénaud, of course,accompanied her ladyship,—and Briggs was also to the fore in thecapacity of Lord Winsleigh's personal attendant. After these, GeorgeLorimer arrived—he had avoided the Erringtons all the season,—but hecould not very well refuse the pressing invitation now given him withoutseeming churlish,—then came Beau Lovelace, for a few days only, as withthe commencement of September he would be off as usual to his villa onthe Lago di Como. Sir Francis Lennox, too, made his appearancefrequently in a casual sort of way—he "ran down," to use his ownexpression, now and then, and made himself very agreeable, especially tomen, by whom he was well liked for his invariable good-humor andextraordinary proficiency in all sports and games of skill. Anotherwelcome visitor was Pierre Duprèz, lively and sparkling as ever,—hecame from Paris to pass a fortnight with his "cher Phil-eep," and makemerriment for the whole party. His old admiration for Britta had by nomeans decreased,—he was fond of waylaying that demure little maiden onher various household errands, and giving her small posies of jessamineand other sweet-scented blossoms to wear just above the left-hand cornerof her apron-bib, close to the place where the heart is supposed to be.Olaf Güldmar had been invited to the Manor at this period,—Erringtonwrote many urgent letters, and so did Thelma, entreating him tocome,—for nothing would have pleased Sir Philip more than to haveintroduced 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 Güldmar had only just returned tothe Altenfjord after nearly a year's absence, and his hands were toofull 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 letthem to a man who should verily have known how to till the soil troddenby his fathers—and as for the farmhouse, 'twas like a hollow shell thathas lain long on the shore and become brown and brittle—for thouknowest no human creature has entered there since we departed. However,Valdemar Svensen and I, for sake of company, have resolved to dwelltogether in it, and truly we have nearly settled down to the peacefulcontemplation of our past days,—so Philip, and thou, my child Thelma,trouble not concerning me. I am hale and hearty, the gods bethanked,—and may live on in hope to see you both next spring orsummer-tide. Your happiness keeps this old man young—so grudge me notthe news of your delights wherein I am myself delighted."

One familiar figure was missing from the Manor household,—that ofEdward Neville. Since the night at the Brilliant, when he had left thetheatre so suddenly, and gone home on the plea of illness, he had neverbeen quite the same man. He looked years older—he was strangely nervousand timid—and he shrank away from Thelma as though he were some guiltyor tainted creature. Surprised at this, she spoke to her husband aboutit,—but he, hurriedly, and with some embarrassment, advised her to "lethim alone"—his "nerves were shaken"—his "health was feeble"—and thatit would be kind on her part to refrain from noticing him or asking himquestions. So she refrained—but Neville's behavior puzzled her all thesame. When they left town, he implored, almost piteously, to be allowedto remain behind,—he could attend to Sir Philip's business so muchbetter in London, he declared, and he had his way. Errington, usuallyfond of Neville's society, made no attempt whatever to persuade himagainst his will,—so he stayed in the half-shut-up house in Prince'sGate through all the summer heat, poring over parliamentary documentsand pamphlets,—and Philip came up from the country once a fortnight tovisit him, and transact any business that might require his personalattention.

On one of the last and hottest days in August, a grand garden-party wasgiven at the Manor. All the county people were invited, and they cameeagerly, though, before Thelma's social successes in London, they hadbeen reluctant to meet her. Now, they put on their best clothes, andprecipitated themselves into the Manor grounds like a flock of sheepseeking land on which to graze,—all wearing their sweetest propitiatorysmirk—all gushing forth their admiration of "that darling LadyErrington"—all behaving themselves in the exceptionally funny mannerthat county people affect,—people who are considered somebodies in thesmall villages their big houses dominate,—but who, when brought toreside in London, become less than the minnows in a vast ocean. Thesegood folks were not only anxious to see Lady Errington—they wanted tosay they had seen her,—and that she had spoken to them, so thatthey 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, andLady 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! LadyErrington showed me some that were just ripening—magnificent!" And soon. For in truth this is "a mad world, my masters,"—and there is noaccounting for the inexpressibly small follies and mean toadyisms of thepeople in it.

Moreover, all the London guests who were visiting Thelma came in for ashare of the county magnates' servile admiration. They found theWinsleighs "so distingue"—Master Ernest instantly became "that dearboy!"—Beau Lovelace was "so dreadfully clever, you know!"—and PierreDuprèz "quite too delightful!"

The grounds looked very brilliant—pink-and-white marquees were dottedhere and there on the smooth velvet lawns—bright flags waved fromdifferent quarters of the gardens, signals of tennis, archery, anddancing,—and the voluptuous waltz-music of a fine Hungarian band roseup and swayed in the air with the downward floating songs of the birdsand the dash of fountains in full play. Girls in pretty light summercostumes made picturesque groups under the stately oaks andbeeches,—gay laughter echoed from the leafy shrubberies, and straycouples were seen sauntering meditatively through the rose-gardens,treading on the fallen scented petals, and apparently too much absorbedin each other to notice anything that was going on around them. Most ofthese were lovers, of course—intending lovers, if not declaredones,—in fact, Eros was very busy that day among the roses, and shotforth a great many arrows, aptly aimed, out of his exhaustless quiver.

Two persons there were, however,—man and woman,—who, walking in thatsame rose-avenue, did not seem, from their manner, to have much to dowith the fair Greek god,—they were Lady Winsleigh and Sir FrancisLennox. Her ladyship looked exceedingly beautiful in her clinging dressof Madras lace, with a bunch of scarlet poppies at her breast, and awreath of the same vivid flowers in her picturesque Leghorn hat. Sheheld a scarlet-lined parasol over her head, and from under theprotecting shadow of this silken pavilion, her dark, lustrous eyesflashed disdainfully as she regarded her companion. He was biting an endof his brown moustache, and looked annoyed, yet lazily amused too.

"Upon my life, Clara," he observed, "you are really awfully down on afellow, 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 ejacul*ted. "Then what did you mean allthe time?"

"What did you mean?" she asked defiantly.

He was silent. After a slight, uncomfortable pause, he shrugged hisshoulders and smiled.

"Don't let us have a scene!" he observed in a bantering tone. "Anythingbut that!"

"Scene!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Pray when have you had to complainof 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, crimsonlips curled contemptuously.

"What a brute you are!" she muttered suddenly between her set pearlyteeth.

"Thanks, awfully!" he answered, taking out a cigarette and lighting itleisurely. "You are really charmingly candid, Clara! Almost as frank asLady Errington, only less polite!"

"I shall not learn politeness from you, at any rate," she said,—thenaltering 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. Ibelieve you wish to become gentleman-lacquey to Bruce-Errington's wife,and that you find it difficult to obtain the situation. Shall I give youa character?"

He flushed darkly, and his eyes glittered with an evil lustre.

"Gently, Clara! Draw it mild!" he said languidly. "Don't irritate me, orI may turn crusty! You know, if I chose, I could openBruce-Errington's eyes rather more widely than you'd like with respectto the devoted affection you entertain for his beautiful wife." Shewinced a little at this observation—he saw it and laughed,—thenresumed: "At present I'm really in the best of humors. The reason Iwanted to speak to you alone for a minute or two was, that I'd somethingto say which might possibly please you. But perhaps you'd rather nothear it?"

She was silent. So was he. He watched her closely for a little—notingwith complacency the indignant heaving of her breast and the flush onher cheeks,—signs of the strong repression she was putting upon herrising temper.

"Come, Clara, you may as well be amiable," he said. "I'm sure you'll beglad to know that the virtuous Philip is not immaculate after all. Won'tit comfort you to think that he's nothing but a mortal man like the restof us?... and that with a little patience your charms will mostprobably prevail with him as easily as they once did with me? Isn't thatworth hearing?"

"I don't understand you," she replied curtly.

"Then you are very dense, my dear girl," he remarked smilingly. "Pardonme for saying so! But I'll put it plainly and in as few words aspossible. The moral Bruce-Errington, like a great many other 'moral' menI know, has gone in for Violet Vere,—and I dare say you understand whatthat means. In the simplest language, it means that he's tired of hisdomestic bliss and wants a change."

Lady Winsleigh stopped in her slow pacing along the gravel-walk, andraised her eyes steadily to her companion's face.

"Are you sure of this?" she asked.

"Positive!" replied Sir Francis, flicking the light ash off hiscigarette delicately with his little finger. "When you wrote me thatnote about the Vere, I confess I had my suspicions. Since then they'vebeen confirmed. I know for a fact that Errington has had several privateinterviews with Vi, and has also written her a good many letters. Someof the fellows in the green-room tease her about her new conquest, andshe grins and admits it. Oh, the whole thing's plain enough! Only lastweek, when he went up to town to see his man Neville on business hecalled on Vi at her own apartments in Arundel Street, Strand. She toldme so herself—we're rather intimate, you know,—though of course sherefused to mention the object of his visit. Honor among thieves!" and hesmiled half mockingly.

Lady Winsleigh seemed absorbed, and walked on like one in a dream. Justthen, a bend in the avenue brought them in full view of the broadterrace in front of the Manor, where Thelma's graceful figure, in aclose-fitting robe of white silk crepe, was outlined clearly against thedazzling blue of the sky. Several people were grouped near her,—sheseemed to be in animated conversation with some of them, and her facewas radiant with smiles. Lady Winsleigh looked at her,—then saidsuddenly 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 tome to be made of exceptionally tough material. However, if the fairThelma's heart cracks ever so widely, I think I can undertake to mendit!"

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 toleave 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 abargain all the world over. If I undertake to keep you cognizant ofBruce-Errington's little goings-on in London,—information which, I daresay, you can turn to good account,—you must do something for me. I askvery little. Speak of me to Lady Errington—make her think well ofme,—flatter me as much as you used to do when we fancied ourselvesterrifically 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 herinnocence," observed Lady Winsleigh. "Very well! I'll do my best. As Isaid before, you want a character. I'm sure I hope you'll obtain thesituation you so much desire! I can state that you made yourself fairlyuseful in your last place, and that you left because your wages were nothigh enough!"

And with another sarcastic laugh, she moved forward towards the terracewhere Thelma stood. Sir Francis followed at some little distance with novery pleasant expression on his features. A stealthy step approachinghim front behind made him start nervously—it was Louise Rénaud, who,carrying a silver tray on which soda-water bottles and glasses made anagreeable clinking, tripped demurely past him without raising her eyes.She came directly out of the rose-garden,—and, as she overtook hermistress 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, andother gentlemen in the summer-house at the end of the rose-garden."

And with one furtive glance of her black, bead-like eyes at LadyWinsleigh's face, she made a respectful sort of half-curtsy and went herway.

Later on in the afternoon, when it was nearing sunset, and all otheramusem*nts had given way to the delight of dancing on the springy greenturf to the swinging music of the band,—Briggs, released for a timefrom the duties of assisting the waiters at the splendidrefreshment-table (duties which were pleasantly lightened by thedrinking of a bottle of champagne which he was careful to reserve forhis own consumption), sauntered leisurely through the winding alleys andfragrant shrubberies which led to the most unromantic portion of theManor grounds,—namely, the vegetable-garden. Here none of thebutterflies of fashion found their way,—the suggestions offered bygrowing cabbages, turnips, beans, and plump, yellow-skinned marrows weretoo prosaic for society bantams who require refined surroundings inwhich to crow their assertive platitudes. Yet it was a peacefulnook—and there were household odors of mint and thyme and sweetmarjoram, which were pleasant to the soul of Briggs, and reminded him ofroast goose on Christmas Day, with all its attendant succulentdelicacies. He paced the path slowly,—the light of the sinking sunblazing gloriously on his plush breeches, silver cordons andtassels,—for he was in full-dress livery in honor of the fête, andlooked exceedingly imposing. Now and then he glanced down at his calveswith mild approval,—his silk stockings fitted them well, and they had avery neat and shapely appearance.

"I've developed," he murmured to himself. "There ain't a doubt aboutit! One week of Country air, and I'm a different man;—the eff*cks ofoverwork 'ave disappeared. Flopsie won't know these legs of mine when Iget back,—they've improved surprisingly." He stopped to survey a bed ofcarrots. "Plenty of Cressy there," he mused. "Cressy's a noble soup, andFlopsie makes it well,—a man might do wuss than marry Flopsie. She's awidder, and a leetle old—just a leetle old for me—but—" Here hesniffed delicately at a sprig of thyme he had gathered, and smiledconsciously. Presently he perceived a small, plump, pretty figureapproaching him, no other than Britta, looking particularly charming ina very smart cap, adorned with pink-ribbon bows, and a very elaboratelyfrilled muslin apron. Briggs at once assumed his most elegant andconquering air, straightened himself to his full height and kissed hishand 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 respondedgraciously. "I find the hair refreshing. And you, Miss Britta?"

"Oh, I'm very comfortable, thank you!" responded Britta demurely, edginga little away from his arm, which showed an unmistakable tendency toencircle her waist,—then glancing at a basket she held full of grapes,just cut from the hot house, she continued, "These are for thesupper-table. I must be quick, and take them to Mrs. Parton."

"Must you?" and Briggs asked this question with quite an unnecessaryamount of tenderness, then resuming his dignity, he observed, "Mrs.Parton is a very worthy woman—an excellent 'ousekeeper. But she'll nodoubt excuse you for lingering a little, Miss Britta—especially in mycompany."

Britta laughed again, showing her pretty little white teeth to the bestadvantage. "Do you think she will?" she said merrily. "Then I'll stop aminute, and if she scolds me I'll put the blame on you!"

Briggs played with his silver tassels and, leaning gracefully against aplum-tree, surveyed her with a critical eye.

"I was not able," he observed, "to see much of you in town. Our peoplewere always a' visitin' each other, and yet our meetings were, as thepoet says, 'few and far between.'"

Britta nodded indifferently, and perceiving a particularly ripegooseberry on one of the bushes close to her, gathered it quickly andpopped it between her rosy lips. Seeing another equally ripe, sheoffered it to Briggs, who accepted it and ate it slowly, though he had amisgiving that by so doing he was seriously compromising his dignity. Heresumed 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 hishand with the elegance of a Sir Charles Grandison. "Very 'ighly indeed!Your youth is most becoming to you! If you only 'ad a little morechick, there'd be nothing left to desire!"

"A little more—what?" asked Britta, opening her blue eyes very widein puzzled amusem*nt.

"Chick!" replied Briggs, with persistent persuasiveness. "Chick,Miss Britta, is a French word much used by the aristocracy. Coming fromNorway, an 'avin' perhaps a very limited experience, you mayn't 'ave'erd it—but eddicated people 'ere find it very convenient andexpressive. 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! Itdoesn't sound like French, at all, Mr. Briggs,—it's more like English."

"Perhaps the Paris accent isn't familiar to you yet," remarked Briggsmajestically. "Your stay in the gay metropolis was probably short. Now,I 'ave been there many times—ah, Paris, Paris!" he paused in a sort ofecstacy, then, with a side leer, continued—"You'd 'ardly believe 'owwicked I am in Paris, Miss Britta! I am, indeed! It is something in thehair of the Bollyvards, I suppose! And the caffy life excites mynerves."

"Then you shouldn't go there," said Britta gravely, though her eyestwinkled with repressed fun. "It can't be good for you. And, oh! I'm sosorry, Mr. Briggs, to think that you are ever wicked!" And shelaughed.

"It's not for long," explained Briggs, with a comically satisfied, yetpenitent, look. "It is only a sort of breaking out,—a fit of 'ighspirits. Hall men are so at times! It's chick to run a little wild inParis. 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 sheskillfully, and with some show of anger, avoided it.

"Ah, you're very 'ard upon me," he then observed, "Very, very, 'ard! ButI won't complain, my—my dear gal—one day you'll know me better!" Hestopped and looked at her very intently. "Miss Britta," he saidabruptly, "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," hesaid. "To run down my own employers wouldn't be in my line. But I've anidea that Clara—by which name I allude to my Lord Winsleigh's lady,—isup to mischief. She 'ates your lady, Miss Britta—'ates 'er likepoison!"

"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 toher!"

"Clara's a fine actress," murmured Briggs, more to himself than to hiscompanion. "She'd beat Violet Vere on 'er own ground." Raising his voicea little, he turned gallantly to Britta and relieved her of the basketshe held.

"Hallow me!" he said. "We'll walk to the 'ouse together. On the way I'llexplain—and you'll judge for yourself. The words of the immortal bard,whose county we are in, occur to me as aprerpo,—'There are morethings in 'evin and 'erth, 'Oratio,—than even the most devoted domesticcan sometimes be aweer of.'"

And gently sauntering by Britta's side, Briggs began to converse in lowand confidential tones,—she listened with strained and eagerattention,—and she was soon receiving information that startled her andset her on the alert.

Talk of private detectives and secret service! Do private detectivesever discover so much as the servants of a man's own household?—servantswho are aware of the smallest trifles,—who know the name and positionof every visitor that comes and goes,—who easily learn to recognize thehandwriting on every letter that arrives—who laugh and talk in theirkitchens over things that their credulous masters and mistresses imagineare unknown to all the world save themselves,—who will judge the moralsof a Duke, and tear the reputation of a duch*ess to shreds, for theleast, the most trifling error of conduct! If you can stand well withyour servants, you can stand well with the whole world—if not—carryyourself as haughtily as you may—your pride will not last long, dependupon it!

Meanwhile, as Briggs and Britta strolled in the side paths of theshrubbery, the gay guests of the Manor were dancing on the lawn. Thelmadid not dance,—she reclined in a low basket-chair, fanning herself.George Lorimer lay stretched in lazy length at her feet, and near herstood her husband, together with Beau Lovelace and Lord Winsleigh. At alittle 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 downto Errington Manor,—for Thelma herself was not partial to them. But shedid not like to refuse Mrs. Marvelle's earnest entreaty that they shouldbe 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 atthe Carringten fête, you'll lose him! You mark my words!"

Marcia had dutifully promised to do her best, and she was not havingwhat she herself called "a good hard time of it." Lord Algy was in oneof his most provokingly vacillating moods—moreover, he had a headache,and felt bilious. Therefore he would not dance—he would not playtennis—he did not understand archery—he was disinclined to sit inromantic shrubberies or summer-houses, as he had a nervous dread ofspiders—so he rambled aimlessly about the grounds with his hands in hispockets, and perforce Marcia was compelled to ramble too. Once she triedwhat effect an opposite flirtation would have on his mind, so shecoquetted desperately with a young country squire, whose breed of pigswas considered the finest in England—but Masherville did not seem tomind it in the least. Nay, he looked rather relieved than otherwise, andMarcia, seeing this, grew more resolute than ever.

"I guess I'll pay him out for this!" she thought as she watched himfeebly drinking soda-water for his headache. "He's a man that wantsruling, and ruled he shall be!"

And Mrs. Rush-Marvelle and Mrs. Van Clupp observed her manoeuvres withmaternal interest, while the cunning-faced, white-headed Van Cluppconversed condescendingly with Mr. Rush-Marvelle, as being a nonentityof a man whom he could safely patronize.

As the glory of the sunset paled, and the delicate, warm hues of thesummer twilight softened the landscape, the merriment of the brilliantassembly seemed to increase. As soon as it was dark, the grounds were tobe illuminated by electricity, and dancing was to be continuedindoors—the fine old picture-gallery being the place chosen for thepurpose. Nothing that could add to the utmost entertainment of theguests had been forgotten, and Thelma, the fair mistress of thesepleasant revels, noting with quiet eyes the evident enjoyment of allpresent, felt very happy and tranquil. She had exerted herself a gooddeal, 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 theAltenfjord—she almost fancied she could hear the sigh of the pines andthe dash of the waves mingling in unison as they used to do when she satat the old farm-house window and span, little dreaming then how her lifewould change—how all those familiar things would be swept away asthough they had never been. She roused herself from this momentaryreverie, 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 asmile.

He turned up his fair, half-boyish face to hers and laughed.

"Dance! I! Good gracious! Such an exertion would kill me, LadyErrington—don't you know that? I am of a Sultan-like disposition—Ishouldn't mind having slaves to dance for me if they did it well—but Ishould look on from the throne whereon I sat cross-legged,—and smoke mypipe in peace."

"Always the same!" she said lightly. "Are you never serious?"

His eyes darkened suddenly. "Sometimes. Awfully so! And in thatcondition I become a burden to myself and my friends."

"Never be serious!" interposed Beau Lovelace, "it really isn't worthwhile! Cultivate the humor of a Socrates, and reduce everything by meansof close argument to its smallest standpoint, and the world, life, andtime are no more than a pinch of snuff for some great Titantic god toplease his giant nose withal!"

"Your fame isn't worth much then, Beau, if we're to go by that line ofargument," remarked Errington, with a laugh.

"Fame! By Jove! You don't suppose I'm such an arrant donkey as to setany store by fame!" cried Lovelace, a broad smile lighting up his faceand eyes. "Why, because a few people read my books and are amusedthereby,—and because the Press pats me graciously on the back, and saysmetaphorically, 'Well done, little 'un!' or words to that effect, am Ito go crowing about the world as if I were the only literarychanticleer? My dear friend, have you read 'Esdras'? You will find therethat 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 behis stories now?' Learn, from the deep oblivion into which poorRathumus's literary efforts have fallen, the utter mockery anduselessness of so-called fame!"

"But there must be a certain pleasure in it while you're alive to enjoyit," said Lord Winsleigh. "Surely you derive some little satisfactionfrom 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'reall talked about—so am I. They all get written about—so do I. Mybiography is always being carefully compiled by newspaper authorities,to the delight of the reading public. Only the other day I learned forthe first time that my father was a greengrocer, who went in for sellingcoals by the half-hundred and thereby made his fortune—my mother was anunsuccessful oyster-woman who failed ignominiously at Margate—moreover,I've a great many brothers and sisters of tender age whom I absolutelyrefuse to assist. I've got a wife somewhere, whom my literary successcauses me to despise—and I have deserted children. I'm charmed with,the accuracy of the newspapers—and I wouldn't contradict them for theworld,—I find my biographies so original! They are the result of thatcelebrity which Winsleigh thinks enjoyable."

"But assertions of that kind are libels," said Errington, "You couldprosecute."

"Too much trouble!" declared Beau. "Besides, five journals havedisclosed the name of the town where I was born, and as they allcontradict each other, and none of them are right, any contradiction onmy 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 growingchilly."

At that moment the ever-ready Sir Francis Lennox approached with a lightwoolen wrap he had found in the hall.

"Permit me!" he said gently, at the same time adroitly throwing it overThelma's shoulders.

She colored a little,—she did not care for his attention, but she couldnot very well ignore it without seeming to be discourteous. So shemurmured, "Thank you!" and, rising from her chair, addressed LadyWinsleigh.

"If you feel cold, Clara, you will like some tea," she said. "Shall wego indoors, where it is ready?"

Lady Winsleigh assented with some eagerness,—and the two, beautifulwomen—the one dark, the other fair—walked side by side across the lawninto the house, their arms round each other's waists as they went.

"Two queens—and yet not rivals?" half queried Lovelace, as he watchedthem 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 gotup from his couch on the grass, caught a fleeting expression in thebrown eyes of Sir Francis Lennox that struck him with a sense ofunpleasantness. 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 estbien vite écoulée!"—SAADI.

Thelma took her friend Lady Winsleigh to her own boudoir, a room whichhad been the particular pride of Sir Philip's mother. The walls weredecorated with panels of blue silk in which were woven flowers of goldand silver thread,—and the furniture, bought from an old palace inMilan, was of elaborately carved wood inlaid with ivory and silver. Herea tête-à-tête tea was served for the two ladies, both of whom weresomewhat fatigued by the pleasures of the day. Lady Winsleigh declaredshe must have some rest, or she would be quite unequal to the gaietiesof the approaching evening, and Thelma herself was not sorry to escapefor a little from her duties as hostess,—so the two remained togetherfor some time in earnest conversations and Lady Winsleigh then and thereconfided to Thelma what she had heard reported concerning Sir Philip'sintimate acquaintance with the burlesque actress, Violet Vere. And theywere both so long absent that, after a while, Errington began to misshis wife, and, growing impatient, went in search of her. He entered theboudoir, 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 thatsort—and has gone to lie down," replied Lady Winsleigh, with a fainttrace of embarrassment in her manner. "I think the heat has been toomuch 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 along time so very anxious to say something to you in private. Please letme speak now. You—you know"—here she cast down her lustrouseyes—"before you went to Norway I—I was very foolish—"

"Pray do not recall it," he said with kindly gravity "I have forgottenit."

"That is so good of you!" and a flush of color warmed her delicatecheeks. "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 tookher hands in his own. "Don't think of the past, Clara! Perhaps I alsowas to blame a little—I'm quite willing to think I was. Flirtation's adangerous amusem*nt at best." He paused as he saw two bright tears onher long, silky lashes, and in his heart felt a sort of remorse that hehad ever permitted himself to think badly of her. "We are the best offriends now, Clara," he continued cheerfully, "and I hope we may alwaysremain 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 Philipreleased her hands from his warm clasp,—then raising her tearful eyesto his she added wistfully, "You must take great care of her,Philip—she is so sensitive,—I always fancy an unkind word would killher."

"She'll never hear one from me!" he returned, with so tender and earnesta look on his face, that Lady Winsleigh's heart ached for jealousy. "Imust really go and see how she is. She's been exerting herself too muchto-day. Excuse me!" and with a courteous smile and bow he left the roomwith a hurried and eager step.

Alone, Lady Winsleigh smiled bitterly. "Men are all alike!" she saidhalf aloud. "Who would think he was such a hypocrite? Fancy his dividinghis affection between two such contrasts as Thelma and Violet Vere!However, there's no accounting for tastes. As for man's fidelity, Iwouldn't give a straw for it—and for his morality—!" She finished thesentence with a scornful laugh, and left the boudoir to return to therest of the company.

Errington, meanwhile, knocked softly at the door of his wife'sbedroom—and receiving no answer, turned the handle noiselessly and wentin. Thelma lay on the bed, dressed as she was, her cheek resting on herhand, and her face partially hidden. Her husband approached on tiptoe,and lightly kissed her forehead. She did not stir,—she appeared tosleep profoundly.

"Poor girl!" he thought, "she's tired out, and no wonder, with all thebustle and racket of these people! A good thing if she can rest a littlebefore the evening closes in."

And he stole quietly out of the room, and meeting Britta on the stairstold her on no account to let her mistress be disturbed till it was timefor the illumination of the grounds. Britta promised,—Britta's eyeswere red—one would almost have fancied she had been crying. But Thelmawas not asleep—she had felt her husband's kiss,—her heart had beat asquickly as the wing of a caged wild bird at his warm touch,—and now hehad gone she turned and pressed her lips passionately on the pillowwhere his hand had leaned. Then she rose languidly from the bed, and,walking slowly to the door, locked it against all comers. Presently shebegan to pace the room up and down,—up and down,—her face was verywhite and weary, and every now and then a shuddering sigh broke from herlips.

"Can I believe it? Oh no!—I cannot—I will not!" she murmured. "Theremust 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 toplease him. Where—how have I failed?"

A pained, puzzled look filled her grave blue eyes, and she stopped inher 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 lovedher once—long before he saw me—my poor Philip!—he must havesuffered by that love!—perhaps that is why he thought life so wearisomewhen he first came to the Altenfjord—ah! the Altenfjord!"

A choking sob rose in her throat—but she repressed it. "I must try notto 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 forme 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 wouldnever go to—" She broke off and stretched out her hands with a sort ofwild appeal. "Oh, Philip! my darling!" she exclaimed in a sobbingwhisper. "I always knew I was not worthy of you—but I thought,—I hopedmy 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 whitemarble statuette of the Virgin and Child. There she knelt for someminutes, her face hidden in her hands, and when she rose she was quitecalm, though very pale. She freshened her face with cold water,rearranged her disordered hair,—and then went downstairs, therebyrunning into the arms of her husband who was coming up again to look, ashe said, at his "Sleeping Beauty."

"And here she is!" he exclaimed joyously. "Have you rested enough, mypet?"

"Indeed, yes!" she answered gently. "I am ashamed so be so lazy. Haveyou 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 halfwistfully.

"I say it because it is true!" he asserted proudly, putting his armround her waist and escorting her in this manner down the greatstaircase. "And you know it, you sweet witch! You're just in time to seethe lighting up of the grounds. There'll be a good view from thepicture-gallery—lots of the people have gone in there—you'd bettercome too, for it's chilly outside."

She followed him obediently, and her reappearance among her guests washailed with enthusiasm,—Lady Winsleigh being particular effusive,almost too much so.

"Your headache has quite gone, dearest, hasn't it?" she inquiredsweetly.

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 atthat moment exclamations of delight broke from all assembled at thebrilliant scene that suddenly flashed upon their eyes. Electricity, thatradiant sprite whose magic wand has lately been bent to the service ofman, had in less than a minute played such dazzling pranks in thegardens that they resembled the fabled treasure-houses discovered byAladdin. Every tree glittered with sparkling clusters of red, blue, andgreen light—every flower-bed was bordered with lines and circles ofharmless flame, and the fountains tossed up tall columns of amber rose,and amethyst spray against the soft blue darkness of the sky, in which alustrous golden moon had just risen. The brilliancy of the illuminationsshowed up several dark figures strolling in couples about thegrounds—romantic persons evidently, who were not to be persuaded tocome indoors, even for the music of the band, which just then burstforth invitingly through the open windows of the picture-gallery.

Two of these pensive wanderers were Marcia Van Clupp and Lord AlgernonMasherville,—and Lord Algy was in a curiously sentimental frame ofmind, and weak withal, "ocmme une petite queue d'agneau affligé" He hadtaken a good deal of soda and brandy for his bilious headache, and,physically, he was much better,—but mentally he was not quite hisordinary self. By this it must not be understood that he was at allunsteadied by the potency of his medicinal tipple—he was simply in abland humor—that peculiar sort of humor which finds strange and mysticbeauty in everything, and contemplates the meanest trifles with emotionsof large benevolence. He was conversational too, and inclined to quotepoetry—this sort of susceptibleness often affects gentlemen after theyhave had an excellent dinner flavored with the finest Burgundy. LordAlgy was as mild, as tame, and as flabby as a sleeping jelly-fish,—andin this inoffensive, almost tender mood of his, Marcia pounced upon him.She looked ravishingly pretty in the moonlight, with a white wrap throwncarelessly round her head and shoulders, and her bold, bird-like eyessparkling with excitement (for who that knows the pleasure of sports, isnot excited when the fox is nearly run to earth?), and she stood withhim beside one of the smaller illuminated fountains, raising her smallwhite hand every now and then to catch some of the rainbow drops, andthen with a laugh she would shake them off her little pearly nails intothe air again. Poor Masherville could not help gazing at her with alack-lustre admiration in his pale eyes,—and Marcia, calculating everymove in her own shrewd mind, saw it. She turned her head away with apetulant yet coquettish movement.

"My patience!" she exclaimed; "yew kin stare! Yew'll know me againwhen yew see me,—say?"

"I should know you anywhere," declared Masherville, nervously fumblingwith the string of his eye-glass. "It's impossible to forget yourface, Miss Marcia!"

She was silent,—and kept that face turned from him so long that thegentle little lord was surprised. He approached her more closely andtook her hand—the hand that had played with the drops in the fountain.It was such an astonishingly small hand.—so very fragile-looking andtiny, that he was almost for putting up his eye-glass to survey it, asif it were a separate object in a museum. But the faintest pressure ofthe delicate fingers he held startled him, and sent the most curiousthrill through his body—and when he spoke he was in such a flutter thathe scarcely knew what he was saying.

"Miss—Miss Marcia!" he stammered, "have—have I said—anything to—tooffend you?"

Very slowly, and with seeming reluctance, she turned her head towardshim, and—oh, thou mischievous Puck, that sometimes takest upon thee thesemblance of Eros, what skill is thine!... there were tears in hereyes—real tears—bright, large tears that welled up and fell throughher long lashes in the most beautiful, touching, and becoming manner!"And," thought Marcia to herself, "if I don't fetch him now, I neverwill!" Lord Algy was quite frightened—his poor brain grew more and morebewildered.

"Why—Miss Marcia! I say! Look here!" he mumbled in his extremity,squeezing her little hand tighter and tighter. "What—what have Idone! Good gracious! You—you really mustn't cry, you know—I say—lookhere! 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 agirl a whole season and make all her folks think badly ofher—and—and—break her heart—yes—that's so!" Here she dried her eyeswith a filmy lace handkerchief. "But don't yew mind me! I kin bear it.I kin worry through!" And she drew herself up with dignifiedresignation—while Lord Algy stared wildly at her, his feeble mind in awhirl. Presently she smiled most seductively, and looked up with herdark, tear-wet eyes to the moon.

"I guess it's a good night for lovers!" she said, sinking her ordinarytone to an almost sweet cadence. "But we're not of that sort, are we?"

The die was cast! She looked so charming—so irresistible, thatMasherville 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 drewher close to his breast, at the risk of breaking his most valuableeyeglass,—and felt his poor weak soul in a quiver of excitement at thisnovel and delicious sensation.

"We are—we are of that sort!" he declared courageously. "Why should youdoubt it, Marcia?"

"I believe yew if yew say so," responded Marcia. "But I guess yew'reonly fooling me!"

"Fooling you!" Lord Algy was so surprised that he released her quitesuddenly 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 notill 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 littleto offer you—but such as it is, is yours. In—in short, Marcia, I—Iwill try to make you happy if you can—can care for me enoughto—to—marry me!"

Eureka! The game was won! A vision of Masherville Park, Yorkshire, that"well-timbered and highly desirable residence," as the auctioneers woulddescribe it, flitted before Marcia's eyes,—and, filled with triumph,she went straight into her lordly wooer's arms, and kissed him withthorough transatlantic frankness. She was really grateful to him. Eversince she had come to England, she had plotted and schemed to become "mylady" 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 hadyearned. She would in future belong to the English aristocracy—thataristocracy which her relatives in New York pretended to despise, yetopenly flattered,—and with her arms round the trapped Masherville'sneck, she foresaw the delight she would have in being toadied by them asfar as toadyism could be made to go.

She is by no means presented to the reader as a favorable type of hernation—for, of course, every one knows there are plenty of sweet,unselfish, guileless American girls, who are absolutely incapable ofsuch unblushing marriage-scheming as hers,—but what else could beexpected from Marcia? Her grandfather, the navvy, had but recentlybecome endowed with Pilgrim-Father Ancestry,—and her maternal uncle wasa boastful pork-dealer in Cincinnati. It was her bounden duty to ennoblethe family somehow,—surely, if any one had a right to be ambitious, shewas that one! And wild proud dreams of her future passed through herbrain, little Lord Algy quivered meekly under her kiss, and returned itwith all the enthusiasm of which he was capable. One or two faintmisgivings troubled him as to whether he had not been just a little toohasty in making a serious bona fide offer of marriage to the younglady by whose Pilgrim progenitors he was not deceived. He knew wellenough what her antecedents were, and a faint shudder crossed him as hethought of the pork-dealing uncle, who would, by marriage, become hisuncle also. He had long been proud of the fact that the house ofMasherville 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 openlyadvertises himself as a coal-merchant, and the brothers-in-law of thePrincess Louise are in the wine trade and stock-broking business,—andall the old knightly blood of England is mingling itself by choice withthat of the lowest commoners—what's the use of my remaining aloof, andrefusing to go with the spirit of the age? Besides, Marcia loves me, andit's pleasant to be loved!"

Poor Lord Algy. He certainly thought there could be no question aboutMarcia's affection for him. He little dreamed that it was to his titleand position she had become so deeply attached,—he could not guess thatafter he had married her there would be no more Lord Masherville worthmentioning—that that individual, once independent, would be entirelyswallowed 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 forsome time with his arm round Marcia's waist, in a very placid andromantic frame of mind. By-and-by he escorted her into the house, wherethe dancing was in full swing—and she, with a sweet smile, bidding himwait 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!" shesaid.

They understood her. Mrs. Rush-Marvelle rose from her chair in her usualstately and expensive manner.

"I congratulate you, my dear!" kissing Marcia affectionately on bothcheeks. "Bruce Errington would have been a better match,—but, under thecirc*mstances, Masherville is really about the best thing you could do.You'll find him quite easy to manage!" This with an air as though shewere recommending a quiet pony.

"That's so!" said Marcia carelessly, "I guess we'll pull togethersomehow. Mar-ma," to her mother—"yew kin turn on the news to all thefolks 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 herdear friend, Mrs. Marvelle.

"You have managed the whole thing beautifully," she said, with agrateful heave of her ample bosom. "Such a clever creature as you are!"She dropped her voice to a mysterious whisper. "You shall have thatcheque to-morrow, my love!"

Mrs. Rush-Marvelle pressed her fingers cordially.

"Don't hurry yourself about it!"—she returned in the same confidentialtone. "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 mustinsist on your taking the promised two hundred. You've been really sovery energetic!"

"Well, I have worked rather hard," said Mrs. Marvelle, with modestself-consciousness. "You see nowadays it's so difficult to securesuitable husbands for the girls who ought to have them. Men are suchslippery creatures!"

She sighed—and Mrs. Van Clupp echoed the sigh,—and then these twoladies,—the nature of whose intimacy may now be understood by thediscriminating reader,—went together to search out those of theirfriends and acquaintances who were among the guests that night, and toannounce to them (in the strictest confidence, of course!) thedelightful news of "dear Marcia's engagement." Thelma heard of it, andwent at once to proffer her congratulations to Marcia in person.

"I hope you will be very, very happy!" she said simply, yet with suchgrave earnestness in her look and voice that the "Yankee gel" wastouched 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 theseventh heaven of delight with his new position as affianced lover to socharming a creature.

Meanwhile George Lorimer and Pierre Duprèz were chatting together in thelibrary. It was very quiet there,—the goodly rows of books, the bustsof poets and philosophers,—the large, placid features of the PallasAthene crowning an antique pedestal,—the golden pipes of the organgleaming through the shadows,—all these gave a solemn, almost sacredaspect to the room. The noise of the dancing and festivity in thedistant picture-gallery did not penetrate here, and Lorimer sat at theorgan, 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 tiredto-day, perhaps—but I know she's perfectly happy."

"I think not so," returned Duprèz. "She has not the brightness—theangel look—les yeux d'enfant,—that we beheld in her at that farNorwegian 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—" hepaused and laughed.

"Think what you please!" exclaimed Duprèz, with a defiant snap of hisfingers. "I would not give that little person for all the grandesdames here to-day! She is charming—and she is true!—Ma foi! to betrue to any one is a virtue in this age! I tell you, my good boy, thereis something sorrowful—heavy—on la belle Thelma's mind—and Britta,who sees her always, feels it—but she cannot speak. One thing I willtell 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 atthe doorway, and a musical voice addressed them—

"Why, what are you both doing here, away from everybody?" and Thelmasmiled as she approached. "You are hermits, or you are lazy! People aregoing in to supper. Will you not come also?"

"Ma foi!" exclaimed Duprèz; "I had forgotten! I have promised yourmost charming mother, cher Lorimer, to take her in to this samesupper. I must fly upon the wings of chivalry!"

And with a laugh, he hurried off, leaving Thelma and Lorimer alonetogether. She sank rather wearily into a chair near the organ, andlooked 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 attemptingto 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 astrain of solemn, weird, yet tender melancholy—the grand, rich notespealed forth sobbingly—and she listened, her hands clasped idly in herlap. Presently he changed the theme to one of more heart-appealingpassion—and a strange wild minor air, like the rushing of the windacross the mountains, began to make itself heard through the subduedrippling murmur of his improvised accompaniment. To his surprise andfear, 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 apassion of weeping.

"Thelma! Thelma!" and poor Lorimer, rising from the organ, stood gazingat her in piteous dismay,—every nerve in his body wrung to anguish bythe sound of her sobbing. A mad longing seized him to catch her in hisarms,—to gather her and her sorrows, whatever they were, to hisheart!—and he had much ado to restrain himself.

"Thelma," he presently said, in a gentle voice that trembled just alittle, "Thelma, what is troubling you? You call me your brother—giveme a brother's right to your confidence." He bent over her and took herhand. "I—I can't bear to see you cry like this! Tell me—what's thematter? 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. "Donot,—Philip must not know—I do wish him always to see me bright andcheerful—and—it is nothing! It is that I heard something which grievedme—"

"What was it?" asked Lorimer, remembering Duprèz's recent remarks.

"Oh, I would not tell you!" she said eagerly, drying her eyes andendeavoring to smile, "because I am sure it was a mistake, and allwrong—and I was foolish to fancy that such a thing could be, even for amoment. 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 aboutit. Don't have any secrets from him,—he'll soon put everythingstraight, whatever it is."

She shook her head slightly. "Ah, you do not understand!" she saidpathetically, "how should you? Because you have not given your life awayto any one, and it is all different with you. But when you do love—ifyou are at all like me,—you will be so anxious to always seem worthy oflove—and you will hide all your griefs away from your beloved,—so thatyour constant presence shall not seem tiresome. And I would not for allthe world trouble Philip with my silly fancies—because then he mightgrow 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 nonsenseindeed! He worships you! Who's been putting such notions into yourhead?"

She rose from her chair quite calm and very pale, and laid her twotrembling hands in his.

"Ah, you also will mistake me," she said, with touching sweetness, "likeso many others who think me strange in my speech and manner. I am sorryI am not like other women,—but I cannot help it. What I do wish you tounderstand is that I never suppose anything against my Philip—he is thenoblest and best of men! And you must promise not to tell him that I wasso foolish as to cry just now because you played that old song I sang toyou both so often in Norway—it was because I felt a little sad—but itwas 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 feverishearnestness. "You yourself are sometimes sad, and can you tell why?"

Lorimer certainly could have told why,—but he remained silent, andgently 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 muchbetter to have no secrets from him. The least grief of yours wouldaffect him more than the downfall of a kingdom. You know how dearly heloves you!"

"Yes—I know!" she answered, and her eyes brightened slowly. "And thatis why I wish him always to see me happy!" She paused, and then added ina lower tone, "I would rather die, my friend, than vex him for onehour!"

George still held her hands and looked wistfully in her face. He wasabout 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—hisfootsteps making no sound on the thick velvet-pile carpet, and he stoodquite close to Lorimer, who dropped Thelma's hands hastily and darted asuspicious glance at the intruder. But Sir Francis was the very pictureof unconcerned and bland politeness, and offered Thelma his arm with thegraceful ease of an accomplished courtier. She was, perforce, compelledto accept it—and she was slightly confused, though she could not havetold why.

"Sir Philip has been looking everywhere for you," continued Sir Francisamicably. "And for you also," he added, turning slightly to Lorimer. "Itrust I've not abruptly broken off a pleasant tête-à-tête?"

Lorimer colored hotly. "Not at all," he said rather brusquely. "I'vebeen strumming on the organ, and Lady Errington has been good enough tolisten to me."

"You do not strum" said Thelma, with gentle reproach. "You play verybeautifully."

"Ah! a charming accomplishment!" observed Sir Francis, with hisunder-glance and covert smile, as they all three wended their way out ofthe library. "I regret I have never had time to devote myself toacquiring some knowledge of the arts. In music I am a positiveignoramus! I can hold my own best in the field."

"Yes, you're a great adept at hunting, Lennox," remarked Lorimersuddenly, with something sarcastic in his tone. "I suppose the quarrynever 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 forThelma, till he succeeded in placing her near the head of the table,where she was soon busily occupied in entertaining her guests andlistening to their chatter; and Lorimer, looking at her once or twice,saw, to his great relief, that all traces of her former agitation haddisappeared, 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 wasdeserted. The Bruce-Errington establishment removed again to town, wherebusiness, connected with his intending membership for Parliament,occupied Sir Philip from morning till night. The old insidious feelingof depression returned and hovered over Thelma's mind like a black birdof ill omen, and though she did her best to shake it off she could notsucceed. People began to notice her deepening seriousness and thewistful melancholy of her blue eyes, and made their remarks thereon whenthey saw her at Marcia Van Clupp's wedding, an event which came offbrilliantly at the commencement of November, and which was almostentirely presided over by Mrs. Rush-Marvelle. That far-seeing matron hadindeed urged on the wedding by every delicate expedient possible.

"Long engagements are a great mistake," she told Marcia,—then, in awarning undertone she added, "Men are capricious nowadays,—they're allso much in demand,—better take Masherville while he's in the humor."

Marcia accepted this hint and took him,—and Mrs. Rush-Marvelle heaved asigh of relief when she saw the twain safely married, and off to theContinent on their honeymoon-trip,—Marcia all sparkling andtriumphant,—Lord Algy tremulous and feebly ecstatic.

"Thank Heaven that's over!" she said to her polite and servilehusband. "I never had such a troublesome business in my life! Thatgirl's been nearly two seasons on my hands, and I think five hundredguineas not a bit too much for all I've done."

"Not a bit—not a bit!" agreed Mr. Marvelle warmly. "Have they—havethey—" here he put on a most benevolent side-look—"quite settled withyou, my dear?"

"Every penny," replied Mrs. Marvelle calmly. "Old Van Clupp paid me thelast hundred this morning. And poor Mrs. Van Clupp is so verygrateful!" She sighed placidly, and appeared to meditate. Then shesmiled sweetly and, approaching Mr. Marvelle, patted his shouldercaressingly. "I think we'll do the Italian lakes, dear—what do yousay?"

"Charming—charming!" declared, not her lord and master, but her slaveand vassal. "Nothing could be more delightful!"

And to the Italian lakes accordingly they went. A great many people wereout of town,—all who had leisure and money enough to liberatethemselves from the approaching evils of an English winter, had departedor were departing,—Beau Lovelace had gone to Como,—George Lorimer hadreturned with Duprèz to Paris, and Thelma had very few visitors exceptLady Winsleigh, who was more often with her now than ever. In fact, herladyship was more like one of the Errington household than anythingelse,—she came so frequently and stayed so long. She seemed sincerelyattached to Thelma,—and Thelma herself, too single-hearted and simpleto imagine that such affection could be feigned, gave her in return,what Lady Winsleigh had never succeeded in winning from any woman,—apure, trusting, and utterly unsuspecting love, such as she would havelavished on a twin-born sister. But there was one person who was notdeceived by Lady Winsleigh's charm of manner, and grace of speech. Thiswas Britta. Her keen eyes flashed a sort of unuttered defiance into herladyship's beautiful, dark languishing ones—she distrusted her, andviewed the intimacy between her and the "Fröken" with entire disfavor.Once she ventured to express something of her feeling on the matter toThelma—but Thelma had looked so gently wondering and reproachful thatBritta had not courage to go on.

"I am so sorry, Britta," said her mistress, "that you do not like LadyWinsleigh—because I am very fond of her. You must try to like her formy sake."

But Britta pursed her lips and shook her head obstinately. However, shesaid no more at the time, and decided within herself to wait and watchthe course of events. And in the meantime she became very intimate withLady Winsleigh's maid, Louise Rénaud, and Briggs, and learned from thesetwo domestic authorities many things which greatly tormented and puzzledher little brain,—things over which she pondered deeply withoutarriving at any satisfactory conclusion.

On her return to town, Thelma had been inexpressibly shocked at thechanged appearance of her husband's secretary, Edward Neville. At firstshe scarcely knew him, he had altered so greatly. Always inclined tostoop, his shoulders were now bent as by the added weight of twentyyears—his hair, once only grizzled, was now quite grey—his face wasdeeply sunken and pale, and his eyes by contrast looked large and wild,as though some haunting thought were driving him to madness. He shrankso nervously from her gaze, that she began to fancy he must have takensome dislike to her,—and though she delicately refrained from pressingquestions upon him personally, she spoke to her husband about him, withreal 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 neverloses hope of—of—that is—he is always trying to—you know!—to gether back again."

"But do you think he will ever find her?" asked Thelma. "I thought yousaid it was a hopeless case?"

"Well—I think so, certainly—but, you see, it's no good dashing hishopes—one never knows—she might turn up any day—it's a sort ofchance!"

"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 quitepatient, 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 somethingelse. His embarrassed manner caused her to wonder a little at the timeas 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 smallguiding-link in the chain of events that were soon about to followquickly one upon another, shaking her life to its very foundation. LadyWinsleigh found it almost impossible to get her on the subject of theburlesque actress, Violet Vere, and Sir Philip's supposed admiration forthat notorious stage-siren.

"I do not believe it," she said firmly, "and you—you must not believeit either, Clara. For wherever you heard it, it is wrong. We shoulddishonor Philip by such a thought—you are his friend, and I am hiswife—we are not the ones to believe anything against him, even if itcould be proved—and there are no proofs."

"My dear," responded her ladyship easily. "You can get proofs foryourself if you like. For instance, ask Sir Philip how often he has seenMiss Vere lately,—and hear what he says."

Thelma colored deeply. "I would not question my husband on such asubject," she said proudly.

"Oh well! if you are so fastidious!" And Lady Winsleigh shrugged hershoulders.

"I am not fastidious," returned Thelma, "only I do wish to be worthy ofhis love,—and I should not be so if I doubted him. No, Clara, I willtrust 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, impressivetone.

"Unfaithful!" Thelma uttered the word with a little cry. "Clara, dearClara, you must not say such a word! Unfaithful! That means that myhusband would love some one more than me!—ah! that is impossible!"

"Suppose it were possible?" persisted Lady Winsleigh, with a cruel lightin her dark eyes. "Such things have been!"

Thelma stood motionless, a deeply mournful expression on her fair, paleface. She seemed to think for a moment, then she spoke.

"I would never believe it!" she said solemnly. "Never, unless I heard itfrom his own lips, or saw it in his own writing, that he was weary ofme, 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 blamehim—no—not once!"

"Not blame him?" cried Lady Winsleigh impatiently. "Not blame him forinfidelity?"

A deep blush swept over her face at the hated word "infidelity," but sheanswered steadily—

"No. Because, you see, it would be my fault, not his. When you hold aflower 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 toblame—it is natural you should wish to have something fresh andfragrant,—it is the flower's fault because it could not keep its scentlong enough to please you. Now, if Philip were to love me no longer, Ishould be like that flower, and how would HE be to blame? He would begood as ever, but I—I should have ceased to seem pleasant to him—thatis all!"

She put this strange view of the case quite calmly, as if it were theonly solution to the question. Lady Winsleigh heard her, half incontemptuous amusem*nt, half in dismay. "What can I do with such a womanas this," she thought. "And fancy Lennie imagining for a moment that HEcould have any power over her!" Aloud, she said—

"Thelma, you're the oddest creature going—a regular heathen child fromNorway! You've set up your husband as an idol, and you're always on yourknees before him. It's awfully sweet of you, but it's quite absurd, allthe 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 sinceI came to London. In Norway, it is taught to women that to be patientand obedient is best for every one. It is not so here. But I am not anangelic 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'ssake."

Lady Winsleigh studied the lovely face, eloquent with love and truth,for some moments in silence;—a kind of compunction pricked herconscience. Why destroy all that beautiful faith? Why wound that grandlytrusting 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'tbelieve without proofs—what proofs can I get, I wonder?" And herscheming brain set to work to solve this problem.

In justice to her, it must be admitted, she had a good deal of seemingtruth on her side. Sir Philip's name had somehow got connected withthat of the leading actress at the Brilliant, and more people than LadyWinsleigh 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 FrancisLennox seemed to know a good deal about it, and he was an "intimate" ofthe "Vere" magic circle of attraction. And though they talked, no oneventured to say anything to Sir Philip himself;—the only two among hisfriends who would have spoken out honestly were Beau Lovelace andLorimer, and these were absent.

One evening, contrary to his usual custom, Sir Philip went out after thelate dinner. Before leaving, he kissed his wife tenderly, and told heron no account to sit up for him—he and Neville were going to attend toa little matter of business which might detain them longer than theycould calculate. After they had gone, Thelma resigned herself to alonely evening, and, stirring the fire in the drawing-room to a cheerfulblaze, she sat down beside it. First, she amused herself by reading oversome letters recently received from her father,—and then, yielding to asudden fancy, she drew her spinning-wheel from the corner where italways stood, and set it in motion. She had little time for spinningnow, but she never quite gave it up, and as the low, familiar whirringsound hummed pleasantly on her ears, she smiled, thinking how quaint andalmost incongruous her simple implement of industry looked among all theluxurious furniture, and costly nick-nacks by which she was surrounded.

"I ought to have one of my old gowns on," she half murmured, glancingdown 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 hergraceful manipulations. Listening to its whirr, whirr, whirr, shescarcely heard a sudden knock at the street-door, and was quite startledwhen the servant, Morris, announced—"Sir Francis Lennox!"

Surprised, she rose from her seat at the spinning-wheel with a slightair of hauteur. Sir Francis, who had never in his life seen a lady oftitle and fashion in London engaged in the primitive occupation ofspinning, was entirely delighted with the picture before him,—the tall,lovely woman with her gold hair and shimmering blue draperies, standingwith such stateliness beside the simple wooden wheel, the antique emblemof household industry. Instinctively he thought of Marguerite;—butMarguerite as a crowned queen, superior to all temptations of either manor 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 agoat the door of the Brilliant Theatre."

She turned very pale,—then controlling the rapid beating of her heartby a strong effort, she forced a careless smile, and said bravely—

"Did you? I am very glad—for he will have some amusem*nt 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. Willyou have some tea?"

"Tha-anks!" drawled Sir Francis, staring at her admiringly. "If it's nottoo much trouble—"

"Oh no!" said Thelma. "Why should it be?" And she rang the bell and gavethe order. Sir Francis sank lazily back in an easy chair, and strokedhis moustache slowly. He knew that his random hit about the theatre hadstruck home,—but she allowed the arrow to pierce and possibly wound herheart without showing any outward sign of discomposure. "A pluckywoman!" he considered, and wondered how he should make his next move.She, meanwhile, smiled at him frankly, and gave a light twirl to herspinning-wheel.

"You see!" she said, "I was amusing myself this evening by imaginingthat I was once more at home in Norway."

"Pray don't let me interrupt the amusem*nt," he responded, with a sleepylook 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 SirFrancis,—Thelma took none, and as the servant retired, she quietlyresumed her occupation. There was a short silence, only broken by thehum of the wheel. Sir Francis sipped his tea with a meditative air, andstudied the fair woman before him as critically as he would have studieda picture.

"I hope I'm not in your way?" he asked suddenly. She looked upsurprised.

"Oh no—only I am sorry Philip is not here to talk to you. It would beso much pleasanter."

"Would it?" he murmured rather dubiously and smiling. "Well—I shall bequite contented if you will talk to me, Lady Errington!"

"Ah, but I am not at all clever in conversation," responded Thelma quiteseriously. "I am sure you, as well as many others, must have noticedthat. I never do seem to say exactly the right thing to pleaseeverybody. Is it not very unfortunate?"

He laughed a little. "I have yet to learn in what way you do not pleaseeverybody," 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 childlikeopenness of her regard confused and slightly shamed him.

"Admire me? Oh yes!" she said somewhat plaintively. "It is that of whichI am so weary! Because God has made one pleasant in form and face,—tobe stared at and whispered about, and have all one's dressescopied!—all that is so small and common and mean, and does vex me somuch!"

"It is the penalty you pay for being beautiful," said Sir Francisslowly, wondering within himself at the extraordinary incongruity of afeminine creature who was actually tired of admiration.

She made no reply—the wheel went round faster than before. PresentlyLennox set aside his emptied cup, and drawing his chair a little closerto 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 Francisabruptly—"pray excuse me—I speak as a friend, and in yourinterests,—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 youmean?"

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 forthat actress at the Brilliant."

Thelma still gazed at him fixedly. "It is a mistake," she saidresolutely, "altogether a mistake. And as you are his friend, SirFrancis, you will please contradict this report—which is wrong, and maydo Philip harm. It has no truth in it at all—"

"No truth!" exclaimed Lennox. "It's true as Gospel! Lady Errington, I'msorry for it—but your husband is deceiving you most shamefully!"

"How dare you say such a thing!" she cried, springing upright and facinghim,—then she stopped and grew very pale—but she kept her eyes uponhim. How bright they were! What a chilling pride glittered in theirsea-blue depths!

"You are in error," she said coldly. "If it is wrong to visit thistheatre you speak of, why are you so often seen there—and why is notsome harm said of you? It is not your place to speak against myhusband. It is shameful and treacherous! You do forget yourself mostwickedly!"

And she moved to leave the room. But Sir Francis interposed.

"Lady Errington," he said very gently, "don't be hard upon me—prayforgive 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'simpossible to listen quite unmoved! I'm the least among your friends, Iknow,—but I can't bear this sort of thing to go on,—the whole affairwill be dished up in the society papers next!"

And he paced the room half impatiently,—a very well-feigned expressionof friendly concern and sympathy on his features. Thelma stoodmotionless, a little bewildered—her head throbbed achingly, and therewas a sick sensation of numbness creeping about her.

"I tell you it is all wrong!" she repeated with an effort. "I do notunderstand 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,"—shestopped 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 allthe joy of my life—each day and night I thank God for the blessing ofhis love!"

She paused again. Sir Francis turned and looked at her steadily. Asudden thought seemed to strike her, for she advanced eagerly, a sweetcolor flushing the pallor of her skin.

"You can do so much for me if you will!" she said, laying her hand onhis arm. "You can tell all these people who talk so foolishly that theyare wrong,—tell them how happy I am! And that my Philip has neverdeceived 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 wasnecessary or good for me to know. And I—oh! I might pass all my life instriving to please him, and yet I should never, never be worthy of allhis tenderness and goodness! And that he goes many times to a theatrewithout me—what is it? A mere nothing—a trifle to laugh at! It is notneedful to tell me of such a small circ*mstance!"

As she spoke she smiled—her form seemed to dilate with a sort of innerconfidence 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 manlyrespect or forbearance,—the very touch of the blossom-white hand shehad laid so innocently on his arm, stung his passion as with a lash—ashe had said, he was fond of hunting—he had chased the unconscious deerall through the summer, and now that it had turned to bay with suchpitiful mildness and sweet pleading, why not draw the knife across itsslim throat without mercy?

"Really, Lady Errington!" he said at last sarcastically, "your wifelyenthusiasm and confidence are indeed charming! But, unfortunately, theproofs are all against you. Truth is truth, however much you may wish toblind your eyes to its manifestations. I sincerely wish Sir Philip werepresent to hear your eloquent praises of him, instead of being where hemost undoubtedly is,—in the arms of Violet Vere!"

As he said these words she started away from him and put her hands toher ears as though to shut out some discordant sound—her eyes glowedfeverishly. A cold shiver shook her from head to foot.

"That is false—false!" she muttered in a low, choked voice. "How canyou—how dare you?"

She ceased, and with a swaying, bewildered movement, as though she wereblind, she fell senseless at his feet.

In one second he was kneeling beside her. He raised her head on hisarm,—he gazed eagerly on her fair, still features. A dark contractionof his brows showed that his thoughts were not altogether righteousones. Suddenly he laid her down again gently, and, springing to thedoor, locked it. Returning, he once more lifted her in a half-recliningposition, and encircling her with his arms, drew her close to his breastand kissed her. He was in no hurry for her to recover—she looked verybeautiful—she was helpless—she was in his power. The silvery ting-lingof the clock on the mantel-piece striking eleven startled him alittle—he listened painfully—he thought he heard some one trying thehandle of the door he had locked. Again—again he kissed those pale,unconscious lips! Presently, a slight shiver ran through her frame—shesighed, and a little moan escaped her. Gradually, as warmth andsensation returned to her, she felt the pressure of his embrace, andmurmured—

"Philip! Darling,—you have come back earlier,—I thought—"

Here she opened her eyes and met those of Sir Francis, who was eagerlybending over her. She uttered an exclamation of alarm, and strove torise. He held her still more closely.

"Thelma—dear, dearest Thelma! Let me comfort you,—let me tell you howmuch I love you!"

And before she could divine his intent, he pressed his lips passionatelyon her pale cheek. With a cry she tore herself violently from his armsand 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, shepushed back her hair from her brows and regarded him with a sort ofpuzzled horror.

He flushed deeply, and set his lips hard.

"I dare say I am," he answered, with a bitter laugh; "in fact, I know Iam! You see, I've betrayed my miserable secret. Will you forgive me,Lady Errington—Thelma?" He drew nearer to her, and his eyes darkenedwith restrained passion. "Matchless beauty!—adorable woman, as youare!—will you not pardon my crime, if crime it be—the crime of lovingyou? For I do love you!—Heaven only knows how utterly and desperately!"

She stood mute, white, almost rigid, with that strange look of horrorfrozen, as it were, upon her features. Emboldened by her silence, heapproached and caught her hand,—she wrenched it from his grasp andmotioned him from her with a gesture of such royal contempt that hequailed before her. All suddenly the flood-gates of her speech wereloosened,—the rising tide of burning indignation that in its very forcehad held her dumb and motionless, now broke forth unrestrainedly.

"O God!" she cried impetuously, a magnificent glory of disdain flashingin her jewel-like eyes, "what thing is this that calls itself aman?—this thief of honor,—this pretended friend? What have I done,sir, that you should put such deep disgrace as your so-called loveupon me?—what have I seemed, that you thus dare to outrage me by thepollution of your touch? I,—the wife of the noblest gentleman in theland! Ah!" and she drew a long breath—"and it is you who speak againstmy husband—you!" She smiled scornfully,—then with more calmnesscontinued—"You will leave my house, sir, at once!... and neverpresume 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. Prayconsider! The servant cannot possibly enter, as the door is locked."

"You dared to lock the door!" she exclaimed, a sudden fear chillingher heart as she remembered similar manoeuvres on the part of theReverend Mr. Dyceworthy—then another thought crossed her mind, and shebegan to retreat towards a large painted panel of "Venus" disportingamong 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 baffledspite and vindictiveness.

"Yes, I dared!" he muttered with triumphant malice. "And I dared domore than that! You lay unconscious in my arms,—you beautiful,bewitching Thelma, and I kissed you—ay! fifty times! You can never undothose kisses! You can never forget that my lips, as well as yourhusband's, have rested on yours—I have had that much joy that shallnever be taken away from me! And if I choose, even now,"—and he grippedher more closely—"yes, even now I will kiss you, in spite of you!—whois 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 theeyes.

"Traitor!—liar!—coward!" she gasped breathlessly. "Let me go!"

Smarting with the pain of the blow, he unconsciously loosened hisgrasp—she rushed to the "Venus" panel, and to his utter discomfitureand amazement he saw it open and close behind her. She disappearedsuddenly and noiselessly as if by magic. With a fierce exclamation, hethrew his whole weight against that secret sliding door—it resisted allhis efforts. He searched for the spring by which it must haveopened,—the whole panel was perfectly smooth and apparently solid, andthe painted "Venus" reclining on her dolphin's back seemed as though shesmiled mockingly at his rage and disappointment.

While he was examining it, he heard the sudden, sharp, and continuousringing of an electric bell somewhere in the house, and with a guiltyflush on his face he sprang to the drawing-room door and unlocked it. Hewas just in time, for scarcely had he turned the key, when Morris madehis appearance. That venerable servitor looked round the room in evidentsurprise.

"Did her ladyship ring?" he inquired, his eyes roving everywhere insearch of his mistress. Sir Francis collected his wits, and forcedhimself to seem composed.

"No," he said coolly. "I rang." He adopted this falsehood as a meansof exit. "Call a hansom, will you?"

And he sauntered easily into the hall, and got on his hat andgreat-coat. Morris was rather bewildered,—but, obedient to the command,blew the summoning cab-whistle, which was promptly answered. Sir Francistossed him half a crown, and entered the vehicle, which clattered awaywith him in the direction of Cromwell Road. Stopping at a particularhouse in a side street leading from thence, he bade the cabmanwait,—and, ascending the steps, busied himself for some moments inscribbling something rapidly in pencil on a leaf of his note-book by thelight of the hanging-lamp in the doorway. He then gave a loud knock, andinquired of the servant who answered it—

"Is Mr. Snawley-Grubbs in?"

"Yes, sir,"—the reply came rather hesitatingly—"but he's having aparty to-night."

And, in fact, the scraping of violins and the shuffle of dancing feetwere distinctly audible overhead.

"Oh, well, just mention my name—Sir Francis Lennox. Say I will notdetain him more than five minutes."

He entered, and was ushered into a small ante-room while the maid wentto deliver her message. He caught sight of his own reflection in a roundmirror over the mantel-piece, and his face darkened as he saw a dull redridge across his forehead—the mark of Thelma's well-directed blow,—thesign-manual of her scorn. A few minutes passed, and then there came into 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 hailedhim 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 arehaving a little informal dance—just among themselves and their ownyoung friends—quite simple,—in fact an unpretentious little affair!"And he rubbed his fat hands, on which twinkled two or three largediamond 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 youmight possibly like this paragraph for the Snake."

And he held out with a careless air the paper on which he had scribbledbut a few minutes previously. Mr. Snawley-Grubbs smiled,—and fixed apair of elegant gold-rimmed eye-glasses on his inflamed crimson nose.

"I must tell you, though," he observed, before reading, "that it is toolate for this week, at any rate. We've gone to press already."

"Never mind!" returned Sir Francis indifferently. "Next week will do aswell."

And he furtively watched Mr. Snawley-Grubbs while he perused thepencilled scrawl. That gentleman, however, as Editor and Proprietor ofthe Snake—a new, but highly successful weekly "society" journal, wasfar too dignified and self-important to allow his countenance to betrayhis feelings. He merely remarked, as he folded up the little slip verycarefully.

"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 asoothing hand on Sir Francis's shoulder. "Your position, and all thatsort of thing—Naturally you must be able to secure correctinformation. You can't help it! I assure you the Snake is infinitelyobliged to you for a great many well-written and socially excitingparagraphs. Only, you see, I myself should never have thought that soextreme a follower of the exploded old doctrine of noblesse oblige, asSir Philip Bruce-Errington, would have started on such a new line ofaction at all. But, of course, we are all mortal!" And he shook hisround thick head with leering sagacity. "Well!" he continued after apause. "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 forlibel?"

Mr. Snawley-Grubbs laughed—nay, he roared,—the idea seemed soexquisitely suited to his sense of humor.

"Afraid? My dear fellow, there's nothing I should like better! It wouldestablish the Snake, and make my fortune! I would even go to prisonwith pleasure. Prison, for a first-class misdemeanant, as I should mostprobably be termed, is perfectly endurable." He laughed again, andescorted 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 youhave a cab waiting. Good-night, good-night!"

And the Snawley-Grubbs door being closed upon him, Sir Francisre-entered his cab, and was driven straight to his bachelor lodgings inPiccadilly. He was in a better humor with himself now,—though he wasstill angrily conscious of a smart throbbing across the eyes, whereThelma's ringed hand had struck him. He found a brief note from LadyWinsleigh awaiting him. It ran as follows:—

"You're playing a losing game this time,—she will believe nothingwithout proofs—and even then it will be difficult. You had better dropthe 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 asthere are editors willing to accept the word of a responsible man ofposition, for any report, the chastest Diana that ever lived shall notescape calumny! She wants proofs, does she? She shall have them—byJove! she shall!"

And instead of going to bed, he went off to a bijou villa in St. John'sWood,—an elegantly appointed little place, which he rented andmaintained,—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 hadescaped through the sliding panel which had baffled her admirer. Herwhole frame trembled as she thought of the indignity to which she hadbeen subjected during her brief unconsciousness,—her face burned withbitter shame,—she felt as if she were somehow poisonously infected bythose hateful kisses of Lennox,—all her womanly and wifely instinctswere outraged. Her first impulse was to tell her husband everything theinstant he returned. It was she who had rung the bell which had startledSir 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, forher "Fröken" looked very angry. "I saw him in the hall just now, lettingout Sir Francis Lennox."

"Has he gone?" demanded Thelma eagerly.

Britta's wonder increased. "Yes, Fröken!"

Thelma caught her arm. "Tell Morris never, never to let him inside thehouse again—never!" and her blue eyes flashed wrathfully. "He is awicked man, Britta! You do not know how wicked he is!"

"Oh yes, I do!" and Britta regarded her mistress very steadfastly. "Iknow quite well! But, then, I must not speak! If I dared, I could tellyou some strange things, dear Fröken—but you will not hear me. You knowyou do not wish me to talk about your grand new friends, Fröken, but—"she paused timidly.

"Oh, Britta, dear!" said Thelma affectionately taking her hand. "Youknow they are not so much my friends as the friends of Sir Philip,—andfor this reason I must never listen to anything against them. Do you notsee? Of course their ways seem strange to us—but, then, life in Londonis so different to life in Norway,—and we cannot all at onceunderstand—" she broke off, sighing a little. Then she resumed—"Nowyou will give Morris my message, Britta—and then come to me in mybedroom—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 nownearly midnight, and she felt languid and weary. Her reflections beganto 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 someway—there might then be a quarrel in which Philip might suffer—and allsorts of evil consequences would perhaps result from her want ofreticence. If, on the other hand, she said nothing, and simply refusedto receive Lennox, would not her husband think such conduct on her partstrange? She puzzled over these questions till her head ached—andfinally resolved to keep her own counsel for the present,—after whathad happened. Sir Francis would most probably not intrude himself againinto her presence. "I will ask Mrs. Lorimer what is best to do," shethought. "She is old and wise, and she will know."

That night, as she laid her head on her pillow, and Britta threw thewarm 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 theAltenfjord," she said.

Britta smiled. "Yes, indeed, Fröken! We are better off here than there."

"Perhaps!" replied Thelma a little musingly, and then she settledherself 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 ofrosy light flung on the ceiling from the little suspended lamp in heroratory. All snow and darkness at the Altenfjord! How strange thepicture seemed! She thought of her mother's sepulchre,—how cold anddreary it must be,—she could see in fancy the long pendent iciclesfringing the entrance to the sea-king's tomb,—the spot where she andPhilip had first met,—she could almost hear the slow, sullen plash ofthe black Fjord against the shore. Her maiden life in Norway—her schooldays at Arles,—these were now like dreams,—dreams that had passed awaylong, long ago. The whole tenor of her existence had changed,—she was awife,—she was soon to be a mother,—and with this near future of newand sacred joy before her, why did she to-night so persistently lookbackward to the past?

As she lay quiet, watching the glimmering light upon the wall, it seemedas though her room were suddenly filled with shadowy forms,—she saw hermother's sweet, sad, suffering face,—then her father's sturdy figureand fine, frank features,—then came the flitting shape of the haplessSigurd, whose plaintive voice she almost imagined she could hear,—andfeeling that she was growing foolishly nervous, she closed her eyes, andtried to sleep. In vain,—her mind began to work on a far moreunpleasing train of thought. Why did not Philip return? Where was he? Asthough some mocking devil had answered her, the words, "In the arms ofViolet Vere!" as uttered by Sir Francis Lennox, recurred to her.Overcome by her restlessness, she started up,—she determined to get outof bed, and put on her dressing-gown and read,—when her quick earscaught the sound of steps coming up the stair-case. She recognized herhusband's firm tread, and understood that he was followed by Neville,whose sleeping-apartment was on the floor above. She listenedattentively—they were talking together in low tones on the landingoutside her door.

"I think it would be much better to make a clean breast of it," said SirPhilip. "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 Thelmacould not distinguish them. Another minute, and her husband entered withsoft precaution, fearing to awake her—she stretched out her arms towelcome him, and he hastened to her with an exclamation of tendernessand pleasure.

"My darling! Not asleep yet?"

She smiled,—but there was something very piteous in her smile, had thedim light enabled him to perceive it.

"No, not yet, Philip! And yet I think I have been dreaming of—theAltenfjord."

"Ah! it must be cold there now," he answered lightly. "It's cold enoughhere, in all conscience. To-night there is a bitter east wind, and snowis falling."

She heard this account of the weather with almost morbid interest. Herthoughts instantly betook themselves again to Norway, and dwelt there.To the last,—before her aching eyes closed in the slumber she so sorelyneeded,—she seemed to be carried away in fancy to a weird stretch ofgloom-enveloped landscape where she stood entirely alone, vaguelywondering at the dreary scene. "How strange it seems!" she murmuredalmost aloud. "All snow and darkness at the Altenfjord!"

CHAPTER XXV.

"Le temps où nous nous sommes aimés n'a guère duré, jeune fille; il a passé comme un coup de vent!"

Old Breton Ballad.

The next morning dawned, cold and dismal. A dense yellow fog hung overthe metropolis like a pall—the street lamps were lighted, but theirflare scarcely illumined the thoroughfares, and the chill of thesnow-burdened air penetrated into the warmest rooms, and made itselffelt even by the side of the brightest fires. Sir Philip woke with anuncomfortable sense of headache and depression, and grumbled,—as surelyevery Englishman has a right to grumble, at the uncompromisingwretchedness of his country's winter climate. His humor was not improvedwhen a telegram arrived before breakfast, summoning him in haste to adull town in one of the Midland counties, on pressing business connectedwith his candidature for Parliament.

"What a bore!" he exclaimed, showing the missive to his wife. "I mustgo,—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 notmind, Philip. I am accustomed to be alone."

Something in her tone struck him as particularly sad, and he looked ather intently.

"Now, my darling," he said suddenly, "if this Parliamentary bother ismaking you feel worried or vexed in any way, I'll throw it all up—byJove, I will!" And he drew her into his warm embrace. "After all" headded, with a laugh, "what does it matter! The country can get onwithout me!"

Thelma smiled a little.

"You must not talk so foolishly, Philip," she said tenderly. "It iswrong to begin a thing of importance, and not go through with it. And Iam not worried or vexed at all. What would people say of me if I, yourwife, were, for my own selfish comfort and pleasure of having you alwayswith me, to prevent you from taking a good place among the men of yournation? Indeed, I should deserve much blame! And so, though it is agloomy day for you, poor boy,—you must go to this place where you arewanted, and I shall think of you all the time you are gone, and shall beso happy to welcome you home to-morrow!"

And she kissed and clung to him for a moment in silence. All that dayPhilip was haunted by the remembrance of the lingering tenderness of herfarewell embrace. By ten o'clock he was gone, taking Neville with him;and after her household duties were over, Thelma prepared herself to goand lunch with old Mrs. Lorimer, and see what she would adviseconcerning the affair of Sir Francis Lennox. But, at the same time, sheresolved that nothing should make her speak of the reports that wereafloat about her husband and Violet Vere.

"I know it is all false," she said to herself over and over again. "Andthe people here are as silly as the peasants in Bosekop, ready tobelieve 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 evento 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 hadreceived a telegram from Sir Francis Lennox that morning. The pinkmissive had apparently put her in an excellent humor, though, afterreading it, she crumpled it up and threw it in the waste-paper basket,from which receptacle, Louise Rénaud, her astute attendant, half an hourlater extracted it, secreting it in her own pocket for private perusalat leisure. She ordered her brougham, saying she was going out onbusiness,—and before departing, she took from her dressing-case certainbank-notes and crammed them hastily into her purse—a purse which, inall 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,—butwhen her ladyship at last entered her carriage her unexpected order, "Tothe Brilliant Theatre, Strand," was sufficient to startle Briggs, andcause him to exchange surprise signals with "Mamzelle," who merelysmiled a prim, incomprehensible smile.

"Where did your la'ship say?" asked Briggs dubiously.

"Are you getting deaf, Briggs?" responded his mistress pleasantly. "Tothe Brilliant Theatre!" She raised her voice, and spoke with distinctemphasis. There was no mistaking her. Briggs touched his hat,—in thesame 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 ofthese things. A squalid dreariness seems to have settled upon it—it hasa peculiar atmosphere of its own—an atmosphere dark, heavy, andstrangely flavored with odors of escaping gas and crushed orange-peel.Behind the scenes, these odors mingle with a chronic, all-pervadingsmell of beer—beer, which the stranger's sensitive nose detectsdirectly, in spite of the choking clouds of dust which arise from theboards at the smallest movement of any part of the painted scenery. TheBrilliant had gone through much ill-fortune—its proprietors neverrealized any financial profit till they secured Violet Vere. With hercame prosperity. Her utter absence of all reserve—the frankness withwhich she threw modesty to the winds,—the vigor with which she danced aregular "break-down,"—roaring a comic song of the lowest type, by wayof accompaniment,—the energetic manner in which, metaphoricallyspeaking, she kicked at the public with her shapely legs,—all thisoverflow of genius on her part drew crowds to the Brilliant nightly, andthe grateful and happy managers paid her a handsome salary, humored allher caprices, and stinted and snubbed for her sake, all the rest of thecompany. She was immensely popular—the "golden youth" of London ravedabout her dyed hair, painted eyes, and carmined lips—even her voice, ascoarse as that of a dustman, was applauded to the echo, and her dancingexcited the wildest enthusiasm. Dukes sent her presents of diamondornaments—gifts of value which they would have possibly refused totheir own wives and daughters,—Royal Highnesses thought it no shame tobe seen lounging near her stage dressing-room door,—in short, she wasin the zenith of her career, and, being thoroughly unprincipled,audaciously insolent, and wholly without a conscience,—she enjoyedherself 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 theBrilliant—and Violet's harsh tones, raised to a sort of rough masculineroar, were heard all over the theatre, as she issued commands or madecomplaints according to her changeful humors. She sat in an elevatedposition above the stage on a jutting beam of wood painted to resemblethe gnarled branch of a tree,—swinging her legs to and fro and clinkingthe heels of her shoes together in time to the mild scraping of aviolin, the player whereof was "trying over" the first few bars of thenew "jig" in which she was ere long to distinguish herself. She was ahandsome woman, with a fine, fair skin, and large, full, dark eyes—shehad a wide mouth, which, nearly always on the grin, displayed to thefull her strong white teeth,—her figure was inclined to excessiveembonpoint, but this rather endeared her to her admirers thanotherwise,—many of these gentlemen being prone to describe her fleshlycharms by the epithet "Prime!" as though she were a fatting pig or otheranimal getting ready for killing.

"Tommy! Tommy!" she screeched presently. "Are you going to sleep? Do youexpect me to dance to a dirge, you lazy devil!"

Tommy, the player of the violin, paused in his efforts, and looked updrearily. He was an old man, with a lean, long body and pinchedfeatures—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 practiceit 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-lookingsupernumeraries and ballet-girls, who were scattered about the stage,talking and laughing.

"Shut up, Tommy!" she continued. "You're always talking about youreyesight. I warn you, if you say too much about it you'll lose yourplace. We don't want blind fiddlers in the Brilliant. Put down youcatgut screamer, and fetch me a pint. Ask for the Vere's owntipple—they'll twig!"

Tommy obeyed, and shuffled off on his errand. As he departed,—a littleman with a very red face, wearing a stove-pipe hat very much on oneside, bounced on the stage as if some one had thrown him there like aball.

"Now, ladies, ladies!" he shouted warningly. "Attention! Once again,please! The last figure once again!" The straggling groups scrambledhastily into something like order, and the little man continued—"One,two, three! Advance—retreat—left, right! Very well, indeed! Arms up alittle more, Miss Jenkins—so! toes well pointed—curtsy—retire! One,two, three! swift slide to the left wing—forward! Round—takehands—all smile, please!" This general smile was apparently not quitesatisfactory, for he repeated persuasively—"All smile, please! So!Round again—more quickly—now break the circle in a centre—enter MissVere—" he paused, growing still redder in the face, and demanded, "Whereis Miss Vere?"

He was standing just beneath the painted bough of the sham tree, and inone second his hat was dexterously kicked off, and two heels met with aclick round his neck.

"Here I am, pickaninny!" retorted Miss Vere holding him fast in thisnovel embrace, amid the laughter of the supers. "You're getting as blindas Tommy! Steady, steady now, donkey!—steady—woa!" And in a thrice shestood upright, one foot planted firmly on each of his shoulders.

"No weight, am I, darling?" she went on jeeringly, and with aninimitably derisive air she put up an eye-glass and surveyed the top ofhis head. "You want a wig, my dear—you do, indeed! Come with meto-morrow, and I'll buy you one to suit your complexion. Your wife won'tknow you!"

And with a vigorous jump she sprang down from her position, managing togive him a smart hit on the nose as she did so—and leaping to thecentre of the stage, she posed herself to commence her dance—when Tommycame creeping back in his slow and dismal fashion, bearing something ina pewter pot.

"That's the ticket!" she cried as she perceived him. "I'm as dry as awhole desert! Give it here!" And she snatched the mug from the feeblehand of her messenger and began drinking eagerly.

The little red-faced man interposed. "Now, Miss Vi," he said, "is thatbrandy?"

"Rather so!" returned the Vere, with a knowing wink, "and a good manythings besides. It's a mixture. The 'Vere's Own!' Ha, ha! Might be thename 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 thedance? It's bad for you before."

"Oh, is it, indeed!" screamed Violet, raising her face, which becamesuddenly and violently flushed. "O good Lord! Are you a temperancepreacher? Teach your granny! Bad for me? Say another word, and I'll boxyour ears for you! You braying jackass!—you snivelling idiot! Who makesthe Brilliant draw? You or I? Tell me that, you staring old—"

Here Tommy, who had for some minutes been vainly endeavoring to attracther 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 seeyou in private! Won't detain you long!"

Violet Vere raised her pewter mug once more, and drained off itscontents.

"Lord, ain't I honored!" she said, smacking her lips with a grin. "Alady of title to see me! Let her wait! Now then!" and snapping herfingers, she began her dance, and went through it to the end, with herusual vigor and frankness. When she had finished, she turned to thered-faced man who had watched her evolutions with much delight in spiteof 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 herin ten minutes. Be sure to mention that I am very shy,—and unaccustomedto company!"

And, giggling gently like an awkward school-girl, she held down her headwith feigned bashfulness, and stepped mincingly across the stage withsuch a ludicrous air of prim propriety, that all her associates burstout laughing, and applauded her vociferously. She turned and curtsied tothem demurely—then suddenly raising one leg in a horizontal position,she twirled it rapidly in their faces,—then she gave a little shockedcough behind her hand, grinned, and vanished.

When, in the stipulated ten minutes, she was ready to receive herunknown visitor, she was quite transformed. She had arrayed herself in atrailing gown of rich black velvet, fastened at the side with jetclasps—a cluster of natural, innocent, white violets nestled in thefall of Spanish lace at her throat—her face was pale withpearl-powder,—and she had eaten a couple of scented bon-bons to drownthe smell of her recent brandy-tipple. She reclined gracefully in aneasy chair, pretending to read, and she rose with an admirably acted airof startled surprise, as one of the errand boys belonging to theBrilliant 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 hervoice to the requirements of fashionable society, and wondering withinherself "what the d——l" this woman in the silk and sable-fur costumewanted.

Lady Winsleigh in the meantime stared at her with cold, critical eyes.

"She is positively rather handsome," she thought. "I can quite imagine acertain class of men losing their heads about her." Aloud she said—

"I must apologize for this intrusion, Miss Vere! I dare say you havenever heard my name—I am not fortunate enough to be famous,—as youare." 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 giveme a little information in a private matter—a matter concerning thehappiness of a very dear friend of mine." She paused—Violet Vere satsilent. After a minute or two, her ladyship continued in a somewhatembarrassed manner—

"I believe you know a gentleman with whom I am also acquainted—SirPhilip 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 LadyWinsleigh, with a coaxing air, "but—but may I ask—"

"Anything in the world," interrupted Violet coolly. "Ask away! But I'mnot bound to answer."

Lady Winsleigh reddened with indignation. "What an insulting creature!"she thought. But, after all, she had put herself in her presentposition, 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 atfirst? 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 fearat her heart. This creature called her quondam lover, "Lennie"—even asshe herself had done,—and she, the proud, vain woman of society andfashion shuddered at the idea that there should be even this similaritybetween herself and the "thing" called Violet Vere. She repliedstiffly—

"I have known him a long time."

"He's a nice fellow," went on Miss Vere easily—"a leetle stingysometimes, but never mind that! You want to know about Sir PhilipErrington, and I'll tell you. He's chosen to mix himself up with someaffairs of mine—"

"What affairs?" asked Lady Winsleigh rather eagerly.

"They don't concern you," returned Miss Vere calmly, "and we needn'ttalk about them! But they concern Sir Philip,—or he thinks they do, andinsists on seeing me about them, and holding long conversations, whichbore 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 moralmen! I can't get on with them at all!"

"Then you don't like him?" questioned Lady Winsleigh in rather adisappointed tone.

"No, I don't!" said the Vere candidly. "He's not my sort. But, Lordbless you! I know how he's getting talked about because he comeshere—and serve him right too! He shouldn't meddle with my business."She paused suddenly and drew a letter from her pocket,—laughed andtossed 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'sbold, clear hand at once,—and as she read, an expression of triumphplayed on her features. She looked up presently and said—

"Have you any further use for this letter, Miss Vere? Or—will you allowme to keep it?"

The Vere seemed slightly suspicious of this proposal, but looked amusedtoo.

"Why, what do you want it for?" she inquired bluntly. "To tease himabout me?"

Lady Winsleigh forced a smile. "Well—perhaps!" she admitted, then withan 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, infact—to interfere with your affairs, whatever they may be,—and as itis very likely annoying to you—"

"It is," interrupted Violet decidedly.

"Then, with the help of this letter—which, really—really—excuse mefor saying it!—quite compromises him," and her ladyship looked amiablyconcerned about it, "I might perhaps persuade him not to—to—intrudeupon 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 toexchange it for—for something more—well! let us say, something moresubstantial—"

"Don't beat about the bush!" said Violet, with a sudden oblivion of hercompany manners. "You mean money?"

Lady Winsleigh smiled. "As you put it so frankly, Miss Vere—" shebegan.

"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 worthhaving—it pays your butcher, baker, and dressmaker—and how are you toget along if you can't pay them, I'd like to know! Lord! if all theletters 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 affordto be gracious.

"That would be a great loss to the world," she remarked sweetly. "Animmense loss! London could scarcely get on without Violet Vere!" Hereshe opened her purse and took out some bank-notes, which she folded andslipped 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 instantlyclutched. "Especially if you'll tell Sir Philip Errington to mind hisown business!" She paused, and a dark flush mounted to her brow—one ofthose 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 tomind his own business! Lord! what does he want to come here and preachat me for! I don't want his sermons! Moral!" here she laughed ratherhoarsely, "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 andabove-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 tomake the Vere herself both blatant and boisterous.

"I'm sure," said her ladyship with frigid politeness, "that you areeverything that is quite charming, Miss Vere! I have a great respect forthe—the ornaments of the English stage. Society has quite thrown downits former barriers, you know!—the members of your profession arereceived in the very best circles—"

"I ain't!" said Violet, with ungrammatical candor. "Your Irvings andyour Terrys, your Mary Andersons and your Langtrys,—they're good enoughfor your fine drawing-rooms, and get more invitations out than they canaccept. And none of them have got half my talent, I tell you! Lord blessmy soul! if they're respectable enough for you,—so am I!"

And she struck her hand emphatically on the table, Lady Winsleigh lookedat her with a slight smile.

"I must really say good-bye!" she said, rising and gathering her fursabout her. "I could talk with you all the morning, Miss Vere, but I haveso many engagements! Besides I mustn't detain you! I'm so much obligedto you for your kind reception of me!"

"Don't mention, it!" and Violet glanced her over with a kind of sullensarcasm. "I'm bound to please Lennie when I can, you know!"

Again Lady Winsleigh shivered a little, but forced herself to shakehands with the notorious stage-Jezebel.

"I shall come and see you in the new piece," she said graciously. "Ialways take a box on first nights? And your dancing is so exquisite! Thevery 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 herselfback in her chair and laughed.

"That woman's up to some mischief," she exclaimed sotto voce, "and so isLennie! I wonder what's their little game? I don't care, as long asthey'll keep the high-and-mighty Errington in his place. I'm tired ofhim! Why does he meddle with my affairs?" Her brows knitted into afrown. "As if he or anybody else could persuade me to go back to—," shepaused, and bit her lips angrily. Then she opened the envelope LadyWinsleigh had left with her, and pulled out the bank-notes inside. "Letme see—five, ten, fifteen, twenty! Not bad pay, on the whole! It'lljust 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 thanever, and he was apparently conscious of this, for he passed his handnervously across it two or three times.

"Well, what's up?" inquired the "star" of the Brilliant, fingering herbank-notes as she spoke.

"Miss Vere," stammered Tommy, "I venture to ask you a favor,—could youkindly, very kindly lend me ten shillings till to-morrow night? I am sopressed just now—and my wife is ill in bed—and—" he stopped, and hiseyes 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 nevergive—except to public charities where one's name gets mentioned in thepapers. I'm obliged to do that, you know, by way of advertisem*nt. Tenshillings! 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 fiddlecry for you!"

"Oh, Miss Vere," once more pleaded Tommy, "if you knew how my wifesuffers—"

The actress rose and stamped her foot impatiently.

"Bother your wife!" she cried angrily, "and you too! Look out! or I tellthe manager we've got a beggar at the Brilliant. Don't stare at me likethat! Go to the d——l with you!"

Tommy slunk off abashed and trembling, and the Vere began to sing, orrather croak, a low comic song, while she threw over her shoulders arich mantle glittering with embroidered trimmings, and poised acoquettish Paris model hat on her thick untwisted coils of hair. Thusattired, she passed out of her dressing-room, locking the door behindher, and after a brief conversation with the jocose acting manager, whomshe met on her way out, she left the theatre, and took a cab to theCriterion, where the young Duke of Moorlands, her latest conquest, hadinvited her to a sumptuous luncheon with himself and friends, all men offashion, who were running through what money they had as fast as theycould go.

Lady Winsleigh, on her way home, was tormented by sundry uncomfortablethoughts and sharp pricks of conscience. Her interview with Violet Verehad instinctively convinced her that Sir Philip was innocent of theintrigue imputed to him, and yet,—the letter she had now in herpossession seemed to prove him guilty. And though she felt herself to beplaying a vile part, she could not resist the temptation of trying whatthe effect would be of this compromising document on Thelma's trustingmind. It was undoubtedly a very incriminating epistle—any lawyer wouldhave said as much, while blandly pocketing his fee for saying it. It waswritten 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 hewere in love with the Vere and she refused to reciprocate. It must bethat. And yet that doesn't accord with what the creature herself saidabout 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 foldedit up carefully and placed it in her pocket-book.

"Innocent or guilty, Thelma must see it," she decided. "I wonder howshe'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'twonder if she sat down under it quite calmly without a word ofcomplaint." She frowned a little. "Why must she always be superior toothers of her sex! How I detest that still solemn smile of hers andthose big baby-blue eyes! I think if Philip had married any other womanthan she—a woman more like the rest of us who'd have gone with hertime,—I could have forgiven him more easily. But to pick up a Norwegianpeasant and set her up as a sort of moral finger-post to society—andthen to go and compromise himself with Violet Vere—that's a kind ofthing I can't stand! I'd rather be anything in the world than ahumbug!"

Many people desire to be something they are not, and her ladyship quiteunconsciously echoed this rather general sentiment. She was, withoutknowing it, such an adept in society humbug, that she even humbuggedherself. She betrayed herself as she betrayed others, and told littlesoothing lies to her own conscience as she told them to her friends.There are plenty of women like her,—women of pleasant courtesy andfashion, to whom truth is mere coarseness,—and with whom polite lyingpasses for perfect breeding. She was not aware, as she was driven alongPark Lane to her own residence, that she carried with her on the box ofher brougham a private detective in the person of Briggs. Perchedstiffly on his seat, with arms tightly folded, this respectable retainerwas quite absorbed in meditation, so much so that he exchanged not aword with his friend, the coachman, beside him. He had his own notionsof propriety,—he considered that his mistress had no business whateverto call on an actress of Violet Vere's repute,—and he resolved thatwhether he were reproved for over-officiousness or not, nothing shouldprevent him from casually mentioning to Lord Winsleigh the object of herladyship's drive that morning.

"For," mused Briggs gravely, "a lady 'as responsibilities, and 'owevershe 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 hadenjoyed much pleasant chat with that kindly, cheerful old lady. She hadconfided to her, part of the story of Sir Francis Lennox's conduct,carefully avoiding every mention of the circ*mstance which had givenrise to it,—namely, the discussion about Violet Vere. She merelyexplained that she had suddenly fainted, in which condition Sir Francishad taken advantage of her helplessness to insult her.

Mrs. Lorimer was highly indignant. "Tell your husband all about it, mydear!" she advised. "He's big enough, and strong enough, to give thatlittle snob a good trouncing! My patience! I wish George were inLondon—he'd lend a hand and welcome!"

And the old lady nodded her head violently over the sock she wasknitting,—the making of socks for her beloved son was her principaloccupation and amusem*nt.

"But I hear," said Thelma, "that it is against the law to strike anyone, no matter how you have been insulted. If so,—then Philip would bepunished 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 goodhard blow,—and serve him right! Never mind what comes of it, mydearie—just tell your husband as soon as ever he comes home, and lethim take the matter into his own hands. He's a fine man—he'll know howto defend the pretty wife he loves so well!" And she smiled, while hershining 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, youcannot, perhaps, understand—but when he married me, it seemed as if theold story of the king and the beggar-maid were being repeated overagain. I sought nothing but his love—his love was, and is my life!These riches—these jewels and beautiful things he surrounds me with—Ido not care for them at all, except for the reason that he wishes me tohave them. I scarcely understand their value, for I have been poor allmy life, and yet I have wanted nothing. I do not think wealth is needfulto make one happy. But love—ah! I could not live without it—andnow—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 gettired,—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 eyesdeepened with passionate tenderness. "I would wish to live and diebeside him, and I should not care if I never saw another human face thanhis!"

"Well, and don't you think he has the same feelings for you?"

"Men are different, I think," returned Thelma musingly. "Now, love iseverything to me—but it may not be everything to Philip. I do believethat 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, thoughthey 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 ownmarriage, and she thinks everybody must be as discontented as herself.Now, my husband and I lived always together for five and twentyyears,—and we were lovers to the last day, when my darling died withhis hand in mine—and—and—if it hadn't been for my boy,—I should havedied 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," shesaid softly; "but still,—still I do believe it is difficult to keeplove when you have won it! It is, perhaps, easy to win—but I am sure itis hard to keep!"

Mrs. Lorimer looked at her earnestly.

"My dear child, don't let that frivolous Winsleigh woman put nonsenseinto your pretty head. You are too sensible to take such a morbid viewof things,—and you mustn't allow your wholesome fresh nature to becontaminated by the petulant, wrong-headed notions that cloud the brainsof idle, fashionable, useless women. Believe me, good men don't tire oftheir wives—and Sir Philip is a good man. Good wives never weary theirhusbands—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 themodern, crazy, one-sided notions of human life to the French and Russiannovelists. Tut-tut!" continued the old lady tenderly. "A nice littleladyship you are,—worrying yourself about nothing! Send Philip to mewhen he comes home—I'll scold him for leaving his bird to mope in herLondon 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. Hewants 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 youall day! Silly girl! You want the world to be a sort of Arcadia, withyou as Phyllis, and Sir Philip as Corydon! My dear, we're living in thenineteenth century, and the days of fond shepherds and languishingshepherdesses are past!"

Thelma laughed too, and felt soon ashamed of her depression. The figureof Violet Vere now and then danced before her like a mockingwill-o'-the-wisp—but her pride forbade her to mention this,—the actualsource of all her vague troubles.

She left Mrs. Lorimer's house, which was near Holland Park, about fouro'clock, and as she was passing Church Street, Kensington, she bade hercoachman drive up to the Carmelite Church there, familiarly known as the"Carms." She entered the sacred edifice, where the service ofBenediction was in progress; and, kneeling down, she listened to theexquisite strains of the solemn music that pealed through those dim andshadowy aisles, and a sense of the most perfect peace settled soothinglyon her soul. Clasping her gentle hands, she prayed with innocent andheart-felt earnestness—not for herself,—never for herself,—butalways, always for that dear, most dear one, for whom every beat of hertrue heart was a fresh vow of undying and devoted affection.

"Dear God!" she whispered, "if I love him too much, forgive me! Thou whoart all Love, wilt pardon me this excess of love! Bless my darlingalways, and teach me how to be more worthy of Thy goodness and histenderness!"

And when she left the church, she was happier and more light-heartedthan she had been for many a long day. She drove home, heedless of thefog and cold, dismal aspect of the weather, and resolved to go and visitLady Winsleigh in the evening, so that when Philip came back on themorrow, she might be able to tell him that she had amused herself, andhad not been lonely.

But when she arrived at her own door, Morris, who opened it, informedher that Lady Winsleigh was waiting in the drawing-room to see her, andhad been waiting some time. Thelma hastened thither immediately, andheld out her hands joyously to her friend.

"I am so sorry you have had to wait, Clara!" she began. "Why did you notsend word and say you were coming? Philip is away and will not be backto-night, and I have been lunching with Mrs. Lorimer, and—why, whatmakes you look so grave?"

Lady Winsleigh regarded her fixedly. How radiantly lovely the young wifelooked!—her cheeks had never been more delicately rosy, or her eyesmore brilliant. The dark fur cloak she wore with its rich sabletrimmings, and the little black velvet toque that rested on her faircurls, set off the beauty of her clear skin to perfection, and herrival, who stood gazing at her with such close scrutiny, envied her morethan ever as she was once again reluctantly forced to admit to herselfthe matchless loveliness of the innocent creature whose happiness shenow sought to destroy.

"Do I look grave, Thelma?" she said with a slight smile. "Well, perhapsI've a reason for my gravity. And so your husband is away?"

"Yes. He went quite early this morning,—a telegram summoned him and hewas obliged to go." Here she drew up a chair to the fire, and began toloosen her wraps. "Sit down, Clara! I will ring for tea."

"No, don't ring," said Lady Winsleigh. "Not yet! I want to talk to youprivately." She sank languidly on a velvet lounge and looked Thelmastraight in the eyes.

"Dear Thelma," she continued in a sweetly tremulous, compassionatevoice. "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 hercheeks. "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 inlistening to any such stories—it is so seldom that gossip of any kindis 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 onbusiness for some friend of his?—because I do know that on that nightwhen he went behind the scenes at the Brilliant, he said it was onbusiness. Mr. Lovelace used often to go and see Miss Mary Anderson, allto 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 samesort. I feel I have been wicked to have even a small doubt of myhusband's love,—so, Clara, do not let us talk any more on a subjectwhich only displeases me."

"You must choose your own way of life, of course," said Lady Winsleighcoldly. "But you draw rather foolish comparisons, Thelma. There is awide difference between Mary Anderson and Violet Vere. Besides, Mr.Lovelace is a bachelor,—he can do as he likes and go where he likeswithout 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 asshe spoke, "This was sent by Sir Philip to Violet Vere last night,—shegave 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 youallow your husband to write such a letter as that to another woman,—andsuch a woman too! without one word of remonstrance? You owe it toyourself—to your own sense of honor—to resent and resist suchtreatment on his part! Surely the deepest love cannot pardon deliberateinjury and insult."

"My love can pardon anything," answered the girl in a low voice, andthen slowly, very slowly, she opened the folded sheet—slowly she readevery word it contained,—words that stamped themselves one by one onher bewildered brain and sent it reeling into darkness and vacancy. Shefelt sick and cold—she stared fixedly at her husband's familiarhandwriting. "A man who has loved and who loves you still, and whowithout you is utterly weary and broken-hearted!"

Thus he wrote of himself to—to Violet Vere! It seemed incredible—yetit was true! She heard a rushing sound in her ears—the room swung rounddizzily before her eyes—yet she sat, still, calm and cold, holding theletter 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 isnot his, but mine! That he is weary and broken-hearted must be myfault—though I cannot yet understand what I have done. But it must besomething, because if I were all that he wished he would not have grownso tired." She paused and her pale lips quivered. "I am sorry," she wenton with dreamy pathos, "sorrier for him than for myself, because now Isee I am in the way of his happiness." A quiver of agony passed over herface,—she fixed her large bright eyes on Lady Winsleigh, whoinstinctively shrank from the solemn speechless despair of thatpenetrating 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—becauseI asked her if the stories about Sir Philip were true. And she begged meto ask him not to visit her so often." Then, with an additional thoughtof malice, she said softly. "She doesn't wish to wrong you, Thelma,—ofcourse, she's not a very good woman, but I think she feels sorry foryou!"

The girl uttered a smothered cry of anguish, as though she had beenstabbed to the heart. She!—to be actually pitied by Violet Vere,because she had been unable to keep her husband's love! This ideatortured her very soul,—but she was silent.

"I thought you were my friend, Clara?" she said suddenly, with a strangewistfulness.

"So I am, Thelma," murmured Lady Winsleigh, a guilty flush coloring hercheeks.

"You have made me very miserable," went on Thelma gravely, and withpathetic simplicity, "and I am sorry indeed that we ever met. I was sohappy till I knew you!—and yet I was very fond of you! I am sure youmean everything for the best, but I cannot think it is so. And it is allso 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?—whyhave 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 happyignorance, believing in my darling's truth as I believe in God!"

Her voice broke, and a hard sob choked her utterance. For once LadyWinsleigh's conscience smote her—for once she felt ashamed, and darednot offer consolation to the innocent soul she had so wantonly stricken.For a minute or two there was silence—broken only by the monotonousticking of the clock and the crackling of the fire.

Presently Thelma spoke again. "I will ask you to go away now and leaveme, Clara," she said simply. "When the heart is sorrowful, it is best tobe alone. Good-bye!" And she gently held out her hand.

"Poor Thelma!" said Lady Winsleigh, taking it with an affectation oftenderness. "What will you do?"

Thelma did not answer; she sat mute and rigid.

"You are thinking unkindly of me just now," continued Clara softly; "butI felt it was my duty to tell you the worst at once. It's no good livingin 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 alifeless figure for any movement that could be perceived about her. Herface was white as marble—her eyes were fixed on the sparkling fire—hervery hands looked stiff and pallid as wax, as they lay clasped in herlap—the letter—the cruel letter,—had fallen at her feet. She seemedas 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 herhair 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 notas yet taken off. Catching sight of the letter where it lay, a gleamingspeck of white on the rich dark hues of the carpet, she picked it up andread it through again calmly and comprehensively,—then folded it upcarefully as though it were something of inestimable value. Her thoughtswere a little confused,—she could only realize clearly two distinctthings,—first, that Philip was unhappy,—secondly, that she was in theway of his happiness. She did not pause to consider how this change inhim had been effected,—moreover, she never imagined that the letter hehad written could refer to any one but himself. Hers was a nature thataccepted facts as they appeared—she never sought for ulterior motivesor disguised meanings. True, she could not understand her husband'sadmiration for Violet Vere, "But then"—she thought—"many other menadmire her too. And so it is certain there must be something about herthat wins love,—something I cannot see!"

And presently she put aside all other considerations, and only ponderedon one thing,—how should she remove herself from the path of herhusband's pleasure? For she had no doubt but that she was an obstacle tohis enjoyment. He had made promises to Violet Vere which he was "readyto fulfill,"—he offered her "an honorable position,"—he desired her"not to condemn him to death,"—he besought her to let his words "carrymore weight with her."

"It is because I am here," thought Thelma wearily. "She would listen tohim if I were gone!" She had the strangest notions of wifely duty—oddminglings of the stern Norse customs with the gentler teachings ofChristianity,—yet in both cases the lines of woman's life were clearlydefined in one word—obedience. Most women, receiving an apparent proofof a husband's infidelity, would have made what is termed a"scene,"—would have confronted him with rage and tears, and personalabuse,—but Thelma was too gentle for this,—too gentle to resist whatseemed to be Philip's wish and will, and far too proud to stay where itappeared evident she was not wanted. Moreover she could not bear theidea of speaking to him on, such a subject as his connection with VioletVere,—the hot color flushed her cheeks with a sort of shame as shethought of it.

Of course, she was weak—of course, she was foolish,—we will grant thatshe was anything the reader chooses to call her. It is much better for awoman nowadays to be defiant rather than yielding,—aggressive, notsubmissive,—violent, not meek. We all know that! To abuse a husbandwell all round, is the modern method of managing him! But poor, foolish,loving, sensitive Thelma had nothing of the magnificent strength of mindpossessed by most wives of to-day,—she could only realize thatPhilip—her Philip—was "utterly weary and broken-hearted"—for the sakeof another woman—and that other woman actually pitied her! She pitiedherself too, a little vaguely—her brows ached and throbbedviolently—there was a choking sensation in her throat, but she couldnot weep. Tears would have relieved her tired brain, but no tears fell.She strove to decide on some immediate plan of action,—Philip would behome to-morrow,—she recoiled at the thought of meeting him, knowingwhat she knew. Glancing dreamily at her own figure, reflected by thelamplight in the long mirror opposite, she recognized that she was fullyattired in outdoor costume—all save her hat, which she had taken offafter her first greeting of Lady Winsleigh, and which was still on thetable at her side. She looked at the clock,—it was five minutes toseven. Eight o'clock was her dinner-hour, and thinking of this, shesuddenly rang the bell. Morris immediately answered it.

"I shall not dine at home," she said in her usual gentle voice; "I amgoing to see some friend this evening. I may not be back till—tilllate."

"Very well, my lady," and Morris retired without seeing anythingremarkable in his mistress's announcement. Thelma drew a long breath ofrelief as he disappeared, and, steadying her nerves by a strong effort,passed into her own boudoir,—the little sanctum specially endeared toher by Philip's frequent presence there. How cosy and comfortable ahome-nest it looked!—a small fire glowed warmly in the grate, andBritta, whose duty it was to keep this particular room in order, had litthe lamp,—a rosy globe supported by a laughing cupid,—and had drawnthe velvet curtains close at the window to keep out the fog and chillyair—there were fragrant flowers on the table,—Thelma's own favoritelounge was drawn up to the fender in readiness for her,—opposite to itstood the deep, old-fashioned easy chair in which Philip always sat. Shelooked round upon all these familiar things with a dreary sense ofstrangeness and desolation, and the curves of her sweet mouth trembled alittle and drooped piteously. But her resolve was taken, and she did nothesitate or weep. She sat down to her desk and wrote a few brief linesto 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 shedrew a sheet of note-paper toward her, and began, "My darling boy." Asthese words appeared under her hand on the white page, her forced calmnearly gave way,—a low cry of intense agony escaped from her lips, and,dropping the pen, she rose and paced the room restlessly, one handpressed against her heart as though that action could still its rapidbeatings. Once more she essayed the hard task she had set herself tofulfill—the task of bidding farewell to the husband in whom her lifewas centred. Piteous, passionate words came quickly from her overchargedand almost breaking heart—words, tender, touching,—full of love, andabsolutely free from all reproach. Little did she guess as she wrotethat parting letter, what desperate misery it would cause to thereceiver!—

When she had finished it, she felt quieted—even more composed thanbefore. She folded and sealed it—then put it out of sight and rang forBritta. That little maiden soon appeared, and seemed surprised to seeher mistress still in walking costume.

"Have you only just come in, Fröken?" she ventured to inquire.

"No, I came home some time ago," returned Thelma gently. "But I wastalking to Lady Winsleigh in the drawing-room,—and as I am going outagain this evening I shall not require to change my dress. I want you topost this letter for me, Britta."

And she held out the one addressed to her father, Olaf Güldmar. Brittatook it, but her mind still revolved the question of her mistress'sattire.

"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, Fröken Thelma?" she asked. "You are so pale!"

"I have a slight headache," Thelma answered. "It is nothing,—it willsoon pass. I wish you to post that letter at once, Britta."

"Very well, Fröken." Britta still hesitated. "Will you be out all theevening?" was her next query.

"Yes."

"Then perhaps you will not mind if I go and see Louise, and take supperwith her? She has asked me, and Mr. Briggs"—here Britta laughed—"iscoming to see if I can go. He will escort me, he says!" And she laughedagain.

Thelma forced herself to smile. "You can go, by all means, Britta! But Ithought you did not like Lady Winsleigh's French maid?"

"I don't like her much," Britta admitted—"still, she means to be kindand agreeable, I think. And"—here she eyed Thelma with a mysterious andimportant air—"I want to ask her a question about something veryparticular."

"Then, go and stay as long as you like, dear," said Thelma, a suddenimpulse of affection causing her to caress softly her little maid'sruffled brown curls, "I shall not be back till—till quite late. Andwhen you return from the post, I shall be gone—so—good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" exclaimed Britta wonderingly. "Why, where are you going? Onewould think you were starting on a long journey. You speak so strangely,Fröken!"

"Do I?" and Thelma smiled kindly. "It is because my head aches, Isuppose. 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 anymore questions, Britta, but go and post my letter. I want father to getit as soon as possible, and you will lose the post if you are not veryquick."

Thus reminded, Britta hastened off, determining to run all the way, inorder 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 lettershe had written to Philip, and slipped it within the pages of a smallvolume 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, anddespair. As she opened it, her eyes fell by chance on a few lines ofhopeless 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 slaincaress!" Yes,—that would be her portion now if—if she stayed toreceive it. But she would not stay! She turned over the volumeabstractedly, scarcely conscious of the action,—and suddenly, as if thepoet-writer of it had been present to probe her soul and make her inmostthoughts 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 sorrowfulspirit,—"because" she was "unlov'd and undesired."

She hesitated no longer, but shut the book with her farewell letterinside it, and put it back in its former place on the little tablebeside Philip's arm-chair. Then she considered how she shoulddistinguish it by some mark that should attract her husband's attentiontoward it,—and loosening from her neck a thin gold chain on which wassuspended a small diamond cross with the names "Philip" and "Thelma"engraved at the back, she twisted it round the little book, and left itso that the sparkle of the jewels should be seen distinctly on thecover. Now was there anything more to be done? She divested herself ofall her valuable ornaments, keeping only her wedding-ring and itscompanion circlet of brilliants,—she emptied her purse of all moneysave that which was absolutely necessary for her journey—then she puton her hat, and began to fasten her long cloak slowly, for her fingerswere icy cold and trembled very strangely. Stay,—there was herhusband's portrait,—she might take that, she thought, with a sort oftouching timidity. It was a miniature on ivory—and had been paintedexpressly for her,—she placed it inside her dress, against her bosom.

"He has been too good to me," she murmured; "and I have been toohappy,—happier than I deserved to be. Excess of happiness must alwaysend in sorrow."

She looked dreamily at Philip's empty chair—in fancy she could see hisfamiliar figure seated there, and she sighed as she thought of the faceshe loved so well,—the passion of his eyes,—the tenderness of hissmile. Softly she kissed the place where his head had rested,—thenturned resolutely away.

She was giving up everything, she thought, to another woman,—butthen—that other woman, however incredible it seemed, was the one Philiploved best,—his own written words were a proof of this. There was nochoice therefore,—his pleasure was her first consideration,—everythingmust yield to that, so she imagined,—her own life was nothing, in herestimation, compared to his desire. Such devotion as hers was of courseabsurd—it amounted to weak self-immolation, and would certainly beaccounted as supremely foolish by most women who have husbands, and who,when they swear to "obey," mean to break the vow at every convenientopportunity—but Thelma could not alter her strange nature, and, withher, obedience meant the extreme letter of the law of utter submission.Leaving the room she had so lately called her own, she passed into theentrance-hall. Morris was not there, and she did not summon him,—sheopened 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 densethat the lamp-posts were scarcely visible. She walked on for a few pacesrather bewildered and chilled by the piercing bitterness of theair,—then, rallying her forces, she hailed a passing cab, and told theman to take her to Charing Cross Station. She was not familiar withLondon—and Charing Cross was the only great railway terminus she couldjust then think of.

Arrived there, the glare of the electric light, the jostling passengersrushing to and from the trains, the shouts and wrangling of porters andcabmen, confused her not a little,—and the bold looks of admirationbestowed on her freely by the male loungers sauntering near the doors ofthe restaurant and hotel, made her shrink and tremble for shame. She hadnever travelled entirely alone before—and she began to be frightened atthe pandemonium of sights and noises that surged around her. Yet shenever once thought of returning,—she never dreamed of going to any ofher London friends, lest on hearing of her trouble they might reproachPhilip—and this Thelma would not have endured. For the same reason, shehad said nothing to Britta.

In her then condition, it seemed to her that only one course lay openfor her to follow,—and that was to go quietly home,—home to theAltenfjord. No one would be to blame for her departure but herself, shethought,—and Philip would be free. Thus she reasoned,—if, indeed, shereasoned at all. But there was such a frozen stillness in her soul—hersenses were so numbed with pain, that as yet she scarcely realizedeither what had happened or what she herself was doing. She was as onewalking in sleep—the awakening, bitter as death, was still to come.

Presently a great rush of people began to stream towards her from one ofthe platforms, and trucks of luggage, heralded by shouts of, "Out of theway, there!" and "By'r leave!" came trundling rapidly along—the tidaltrain from the Continent had just arrived.

Dismayed at the increasing confusion and uproar, Thelma addressedherself to an official with a gold band round his hat.

"Can you tell me," she asked timidly, "where I shall take a ticket forHull?"

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 Midlandline."

"The Midland?" Thelma felt more bewildered than ever.

"Yes,—the Midland," he repeated rather testily. "It's a good way fromhere—you'd better take a cab."

She moved away,—but started and drew herself back into a shadowedcorner, coloring deeply as the sound of a rich, mellifluous voice, whichshe instantly recognized, smote suddenly on her ears.

"And as I before remarked, my good fellow," the voice was saying, "I amnot a disciple of the semi-obscure. If a man has a thought which isworth declaring, let him declare it with a free and nobleutterance—don't let him wrap it up in multifarious parcels of drearyverbosity! There's too much of that kind of thing going on nowadays—inEngland, at least. There's a kind of imitation of art which isn't art atall,—a morbid, bilious, bad imitation. You only get close to the realgoddess in Italy. I wish I could persuade you to come and pass thewinter 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 amatter of business summoned him for a few days, and Lorimer, somewhattired of the French capital, decided to return with him. And here theywere,—just arrived at Charing Cross,—and they walked across thestation arm in arm, little imagining who watched them from behind theshelter of one of the waiting-room doors, with a yearning sorrow in hergrave blue eyes. They stopped almost opposite to her to light theircigars,—she saw Lorimer's face quite distinctly, and heard his answerto Lovelace.

"Well, I'll see what I can do about it, Beau! You know my mother alwayslikes to get away from London in winter—but whether we ought to inflictourselves upon you,—you being a literary man too—"

"Nonsense, you won't interfere in the least with the flow of inkyinspiration," laughed Beau. "And as for your mother, I'm in love withher, as you are aware! I admire her almost as much as I do LadyBruce-Errington—and that's saying a great deal! By-the-by, if Phil canget through his share of this country's business, he might do worse thanbring his beautiful Thelma to the Lake of Como for a while. I'll askhim!"

And having lit their Havannas successfully, they walked on and soondisappeared. For one instant Thelma felt strongly inclined to run afterthem, 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 wanther any more. But she soon overcame this emotion,—and calling to mindthe instructions of the official personage whose advice she had sought,she hurried out of the huge, brilliantly lit station, and taking ahansom, was driven, as she requested, to the Midland. Here the rathergloomy aspect of the place oppressed her as much as the garish bustle ofCharing Cross had bewildered her,—but she was somewhat relieved whenshe learned that a train for Hull would start in ten minutes. Hurryingto the ticket-office she found there before her a kindly faced womanwith a baby in her arms, who was just taking a third-class ticket toHull, and as she felt lonely and timid, Thelma at once decided to travelthird-class also, and if possible in the same compartment with thischeerful matron, who, as soon as she had secured her ticket, walked awayto the train, hushing her infant in her arms as she went. Thelmafollowed her at a little distance—and as soon as she saw her enter athird-class carriage, she hastened her steps and entered also, quitethankful to have secured some companionship for the long cold journey.The woman glanced at her a little curiously—it was strange to see solovely and young a creature travelling all alone at night,—and sheasked 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 lookedacross at the sleeping infant.

"Oh, he's as warm as toast!" laughed the mother cheerily. "He gets thebest of everything, he do. It's yourself that's looking cold, my dear inspite of your warm cloak. Will ye have this shawl?"

And she offered Thelma a homely gray woollen wrap with much kindlyearnestness 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 whichmakes me look pale. And, I am very, very tired!"

Her voice trembled a little,—she sighed and closed her eyes. She feltstrangely weak and giddy,—she seemed to be slipping away from herselfand from all the comprehension of life,—she wondered vaguely who andwhat she was. Had her marriage with Philip been all a dream?—perhapsshe had never left the Altenfjord after all! Perhaps she would wake uppresently and see the old farm-house quite unchanged, with the dovesflying about the roof, and Sigurd wandering under the pines as was hiscustom. Ah, dear Sigurd! Poor Sigurd! he had loved her, shethought—nay, he loved her still,—he could not be dead! Oh, yes,—shemust have been dreaming,—she felt certain she was lying on her ownlittle white bed at home, asleep;—she would by-and-by open her eyes andget up and look through her little latticed window, and see the sunsparkling on the water, and the Eulalie at the anchor in theFjord—and her father would ask Sir Philip and his friends to spend theafternoon at the farm-house—and Philip would come and stroll with herthrough the garden and down to the shore, and would talk to her in thatlow, caressing voice of his,—and though she loved him dearly, she mustnever, never let him know of it, because she was not worthy!... Shewoke from these musings with a violent start and a sick shiver runningthrough all her frame,—and looking wildly about her, saw that she wasreclining on some one's shoulder,—some one was dabbing a wethandkerchief on her forehead—her hat was off and her cloak wasloosened.

"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. Andwith the train jolting along like this too! It was lucky I had a flaskof cold water with me. Raise your head a little—that's it! Poorthing,—you're as white as a sheet! You're not fit to travel, mydear—you're not indeed."

Thelma raised herself slowly, and with a sudden impulse kissed the goodwoman's honest, rosy face, to her intense astonishment and pleasure.

"You are very kind to me!" she said tremulously. "I am so sorry to havetroubled you. I do feel ill—but it will soon pass."

And she smoothed her ruffled hair, and sitting up erect, endeavored tosmile. Her companion eyed her pale face compassionately, and taking upher sleeping baby from the shawl on which she had laid it whileministering 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 whichshe 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 palecheeks.

"Your husband, maybe, will meet you at Hull?"

"No,—he is in London," said Thelma simply. "I am going to see myfather."

This answer satisfied her humble friend, who, noticing her extremefatigue and the effort it cost her to speak, forbore to ask any morequestions, but good-naturedly recommended her to try and sleep. Sheslept soundly herself for the greater part of the journey; but Thelmawas now feverishly wide awake, and her eyeballs ached and burned asthough there were fire behind them.

Gradually her nerves began to be wound up to an extreme tension ofexcitement—she forgot all her troubles in listening with painfulintentness to the rush and roar of the train through the darkness. Thelights of passing stations and signal-posts gleamed like scattered andflying stars—there was the frequent shriek of the engine-whistle,—theserpent-hiss of escaping steam. She peered through the window—all wasblackness; there seemed to be no earth, no sky,—only a sable chaos,through which the train flew like a flame-mouthed demon. Always thatrush and roar! She began to feel as if she could stand it no longer. Shemust escape from that continuous, confusing sound—it maddened herbrain. 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 wasin motion!

Danger! She smiled at that idea,—there was no danger; and, if therewas, it did not much matter. Nothing mattered now,—now that she hadlost her husband's love. She glanced at the woman opposite, who sleptprofoundly—the baby had slipped a little from its mother's arms, andlay 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 avague, wild smile. Again, again that rush and roar surged like a stormin her ears and distracted her mind! She rose suddenly and seized thehandle of the carriage door. Another instant, and she would have sprangto certain death,—when suddenly the sleeping baby woke, and, openingits mild blue eyes, gazed at her.

She met its glance as one fascinated,—almost unconsciously her fingersdropped from the door-handle,—the little baby still looked at her indreamlike, meditative fashion,—its mother slept profoundly. She bentlower and lower over the child. With a beating heart she ventured totouch the small, pink hand that lay outside its wrappings like a softlycurved rose-leaf. With a sort of elf-like confidence and contentment thefeeble, wee fingers closed and curled round hers,—and held her fast!Weak as a silken thread, yet stronger in its persuasive force than agrasp 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, lesspainful to her sense of hearing,—her bosom heaved convulsively, and allsuddenly her eyes filled with tears—merciful tears, which at firstwelled up slowly, and were hot as fire, but which soon began to fallfaster and faster in large, bright drops down her pale cheeks. Seeingthat its mother still slept, she took the baby gently into her own fairarms,—and rocked it to and fro with many a sobbing murmur oftenderness;—the little thing smiled drowsily and soon fell asleepagain, all unconscious that its timely look and innocent touch had savedpoor Thelma's life and reason.

She, meanwhile, wept on softly, till her tired brain and heart weresomewhat relieved of their heavy burden,—the entanglement of herthoughts became unravelled,—and, though keenly aware of the blankdesolation of her life, she was able to raise herself in spirit to theGiver of all Love and Consolation, and to pray humbly for that patienceand resignation which now alone could serve her needs. And she communedwith herself and God in silence, as the train rushed on northwards. Herfellow-traveller woke up as they were nearing their destination, and,seeing her holding the baby, was profuse in her thanks for thiskindness. And when they at last reached Hull, about half an hour aftermidnight, the good woman was exceedingly anxious to know if she could beof any service,—but Thelma gently, yet firmly, refused all her offersof assistance.

They parted in the most friendly manner,—Thelma kissing the child,through whose unconscious means, as she now owned to herself, she hadescaped a terrible death,—and then she went directly to a quiet hotelshe knew of, which was kept by a native of Christiania, a man who hadformerly been acquainted with her father. At first, when this worthyindividual saw a lady arrive, alone, young, richly dressed, and withoutluggage, he was inclined to be suspicious,—but as soon as she addressedhim in Norwegian, and told him who she was, he greeted her with theutmost deference and humility.

"The daughter of Jarl Güldmar," he said, continuing to speak in his owntongue, "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 bewhat he is,—a simple bonde."

Friedhof shook his head quite obstinately. "A Jarl is always a Jarl," hedeclared. "Nothing can alter a man's birth and nature. And the last timeI saw Valdemar Svensen,—he who lives with your father now,—he wascareful always to speak of the Jarl, and seldom or never did hemention him in any other fashion. And now, noble Fröken, in what mannercan I serve you?"

Thelma told him briefly that she was going to see her father onbusiness, and that she was desirous of starting for Norway the next dayas 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 Fjordit is dark and silent,—the falling streams freeze with cold on theirway; and if it is so at the Hardanger, what will it be at the Alten? Andthere is no passenger ship going to Christiania or Bergen for afortnight!"

Thelma clasped her hands in dismay. "But I must go!" she criedimpatiently; "I must, indeed, good Friedhof! I cannot stay here! Surely,surely there is some vessel that would take me,—some fishingboat,—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 sourgent, noble Fröken," he replied, "do not trouble, for there is a meansof making the journey. But for you, and in such bitter weather, itseems a cruelty to speak of it. A steam cargo-boat leaves here forHammerfest and the North Cape to-morrow—it will pass the Altenfjord. Nodoubt you could go with that, if you so choose,—but there will be nowarmth or comfort, and there are heavy storms on the North Sea. I knowthe captain; and 'tis true he takes his wife with him, so there would bea 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 thiscaptain—you will tell him I must go with him. My father will thank youfor this kindness to me, even better than I can."

"It does not seem to me a kindness at all," returned Friedhof with frankbluntness. "I would be loth to sail the seas myself in such weather. AndI thought you were so grandly married, Fröken Güldmar,—though I forgetyour wedded name,—how comes it that your husband is not with you?"

"He is very busy in London," answered Thelma. "He knows where I amgoing. Do not be at all anxious, Friedhof,—I shall make the journeyvery well and I am not afraid of storm or wild seas."

Friedhof still looked dubious, but finally yielded to her entreaties andagreed to arrange her passage for her in the morning.

She stayed at his hotel that night, and with the very early dawnaccompanied him on board the ship he had mentioned. It was a small,awkwardly built craft, with an ugly crooked black funnel out of whichthe steam was hissing and spitting with quite an unnecessary degree ofviolence—the decks were wet and dirty, and the whole vessel waspervaded with a sickening smell of whale-oil. The captain, a gruffred-faced fellow, looked rather surlily at his unexpected passenger—butwas soon mollified by her gentle manner, and the readiness with whichshe paid the money he demanded for taking her.

"You won't be very warm," he said, eyeing her from head to foot—"but Ican 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 thecabin, 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 hadcome to see her off, she shook hands with him warmly and thanked him forthe trouble he had taken in her behalf. The good landlord bade herfarewell somewhat reluctantly,—he had a presentiment that there wassomething wrong with the beautiful, golden-haired daughter of theJarl—and that perhaps he ought to have prevented her making thisuncomfortable and possibly perilous voyage. But it was too latenow,—and at a little before seven o'clock, the vessel,—which rejoicedin the name of the Black Polly,—left the harbor, and steamed fussilydown the Humber in the teeth of a sudden storm of sleet and snow.

Her departure had no interest for any one save Friedhof, who stoodwatching her till she was no more than a speck on the turbid water. Hekept his post, regardless of the piercing cold of the gusty, earlymorning air, till she had entirely disappeared, and then returned to hisown house and his daily business in a rather depressed frame of mind. Hewas haunted by the pale face and serious eyes of Thelma—she looked veryill, he thought. He began to reproach himself,—why had he been such afool 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 threateningsky and the falling flakes of snow with a shiver.

"What weather!" he muttered, "and there must be a darkness as of deathat the Altenfjord!"

Meanwhile the Black Polly—unhandsome as she was in appearance,struggled gallantly with and overcame an army of furious waves that roseto greet her as she rounded Spurn Head, and long ere Thelma closed herweary eyes in an effort to sleep, was plunging, shivering, and fightingher slow way through shattering mountainous billows and a tempest ofsleet, 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 hiswife's room,—when his old servant Morris stood in his way trembling andpale-faced,—looking helplessly from him to Neville,—who was as muchastonished 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 stillwith 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 knowwhether she is ill or well—I cannot guess! My lady went out last nightat a little before eight o'clock,—and—and she has never come home atall! We cannot tell what has become of her! She has gone!"

And tears of distress and anxiety filled his eyes. Philip stood mute. Hecould not understand it. All color fled from his face—he seemed asthough 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 hisarm.

"Perhaps she is with friends," he suggested. "She may be at LadyWinsleigh'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 orheard of her!"

"Where is Britta?" demanded Philip suddenly.

"She has gone again to Lady Winsleigh's," answered Morris, "she says itis there that mischief has been done,—I don't know what she means!"

Philip shook off his secretary's sympathetic touch, and strode throughthe rooms to Thelma's boudoir. He put aside the velvet curtains of theportiere with a noiseless hand—somehow he felt as if, in spite of allhe had just heard, she must be there as usual to welcome him with thatserene sweet smile which was the sunshine of his life. The emptydesolate air of the room smote him with a sense of bitter pain,—onlythe plaintive warble of her pet thrush, who was singing to himself mostmournfully in his gilded cage, broke the heavy silence. He looked abouthim vacantly. All sorts of dark forebodings crowded on his mind,—shemust have met with some accident, he thought with a shudder,—for thatshe would depart from him in this sudden way of her own accord for noreason whatsoever seemed to him incredible—impossible.

"What have I done that she should leave me?" he asked half aloud andwonderingly. Everything that had seemed to him of worth a few hours agobecame valueless in this moment of time. What cared he now for thebusiness of Parliament—for distinction or honors among men?Nothing—less than nothing! Without her, the world was empty—itsambitions, its pride, its good, its evil, seemed but the dreariest andmost foolish trifles!

"Not even a message?" he thought. "No hint of where she meant to go—noword of explanation for me? Surely I must be dreaming—my Thelma wouldnever have deserted me!"

A sort of sob rose in his throat, and he pressed his hand strongly overhis eyes to keep down the womanish drops that threatened to overflowthem. After a minute or two, he went to her desk and opened it, thinkingthat there perhaps she might have left a note of farewell. There wasnothing—nothing save a little heap of money and jewels. These Thelmahad herself placed, before her sorrowful, silent departure, in thecorner where he now found them.

More puzzled than ever, he glanced searchingly round the room—and hiseyes were at once attracted by the sparkle of the diamond cross that layuppermost on the cover of "Gladys the Singer," the book of poems whichwas in its usual place on his own reading table. In another second heseized it—he unwound the slight gold chain—he opened the little volumetremblingly. Yes!—there was a letter within its pages addressed tohimself,—now, now he should know all! He tore it open with feverishhaste—two folded sheets of paper fell out,—one was his own epistle toViolet Vere, and this, to his consternation, he perceived first. Full ofa sudden misgiving he laid it aside, and began to read Thelma's partingwords.

"My darling boy," she wrote—

"A friend of yours and mine brought me the enclosed letter andthough, perhaps, it was wrong of me to read it, I hope you willforgive me for having done so. I do not quite understand it, and Icannot bear to think about it—but it seems that you are tired ofyour poor Thelma! I do not blame you, dearest, for I am sure that insome way or other the fault is mine, and it does grieve me so muchto think you are unhappy! I know that I am very ignorant of manythings, and that I am not suited to this London life—and I fear Ishall never understand its ways. But one thing I can do, and that isto let you be free, my Philip—quite free! And so I am going back tothe Altenfjord, where I will stay till you want me again, if youever 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, togive you greater ease and pleasure, still you must always rememberthat I have no reproaches to make to you. I am only sorry to thinkmy love has wearied you,—for you have been all goodness andtenderness 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, andthey will think nothing strange in that. Be kind to Britta,—I havetold her nothing, as it would only make her miserable. Do not beangry that I go away—I cannot bear to stay here, knowing all. Andso, good-bye, my love, my dearest one!—if you were to love manywomen more than me, I still should love you best—I still wouldgladly die to serve you. Remember this always,—that, however longwe may be parted, and though all the world should come between us, Iam, and ever shall be your faithful wife,"

"THELMA."

The ejacul*tion that broke from Errington's lips as he finished readingthis letter was more powerful than reverent. Stinging tears darted tohis eyes—he pressed his lips passionately on the fair writing.

"My darling—my darling!" he murmured. "What a miserablemisunderstanding!"

Then without another moment's delay he rushed into Neville's study andcried abruptly—

"Look here! It's all your fault."

"My fault!" gasped the amazed secretary.

"Yes—your fault!" shouted Errington almost beside himself with griefand rage. "Your fault, and that of your accursed wife, Violet Vere!"

And he dashed the letter, the cause of all the mischief, furiously downon the table. Neville shrank and shivered,—his grey head drooped, hestretched out his hands appealingly.

"For God's sake, Sir Philip, tell me what I've done?" he exclaimedpiteously.

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 inthat shameless actress, didn't I want to tell Thelma all about it—thatvery night?—and didn't you beg me not to do so? Your silly scruplesstood in the way of everything! I was a fool to listen to you—a fool tomeddle in your affairs—and—and I wish to God I'd never seen or heardof 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 andspeak 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 onmy own behalf! It looks like it too—looks exactly as if I were pleadingfor myself and breaking my heart over that detestible stage-fiend—byJove! it's too horrible!" And he gave a gesture of loathing andcontempt.

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 Thelmaeverything from the first, all this wouldn't have happened. And you askme what you've done! Done! You've parted me from the sweetest, dearestgirl in the world!"

And throwing himself into a chair, he covered his face with his hand anda great uncontrollable sob broke from his lips.

Neville was in despair. Of course, it was his fault—he saw it allclearly. He painfully recalled all that had happened since that night atthe Brilliant Theatre when with a sickening horror he had discoveredViolet 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 asthough she were some pure dead woman lying sweetly at rest in a quietgrave. He remembered Thelma's shuddering repugnance at the sight ofher,—a repugnance which he himself had shared—and which made himshrink with fastidious aversion, from the idea of confiding to any onebut Sir Philip, the miserable secret of his connection with her. SirPhilip had humored him in this fancy, little imagining that any mischiefwould come of it—and the reward of his kindly sympathy was this,—hisname was compromised, his home desolate, and his wife estranged fromhim!

In the first pangs of the remorse and sorrow that filled his heart,Neville could gladly have gone out and drowned himself. Presently hebegan to think,—was there not some one else beside himself who mightpossibly be to blame for all this misery? For instance, who could havebrought 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 thelast person to make any inquiries about such a woman as Violet Vere. Howhad it all happened? He looked imploringly for some minutes at thedejected figure in the chair without daring to offer a word ofconsolation. Presently he ventured a remark—

"Sir Philip!" he stammered. "It will soon be all right,—her ladyshipwill come back immediately. I myself will explain—it's—it's only amisunderstanding..."

Errington moved in his chair impatiently, but said nothing. Only amisunderstanding! How many there are who can trace back brokenfriendships and severed loves to that one thing—"only amisunderstanding!" The tenderest relations are often the most delicateand subtle, and "trifles light as air" may scatter and utterly destroythe sensitive gossamer threads extending between one heart and another,as easily as a child's passing foot destroys the spider's web woven onthe dewy grass in the early mornings of spring.

Presently Sir Philip started up—his lashes were wet and his face wasflushed.

"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 andsay I won't stand for Middleborough—I resign in favor of the Liberalcandidate. 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 ofmisery. Her face was pale and drawn—her eyelids red and swollen, andwhen she saw Sir Philip, she gave him a glance of the most despairingreproach and indignation. He sprang up to her.

"Any news?" he demanded.

Britta shook her head mournfully, the tears beginning to roll again downher cheeks.

"Oh, if I'd only thought!" she sobbed, "if I'd only known what the dearFröken meant to do when she said good-bye to me last night, I could haveprevented her going—I could—I would have told her all I know—and shewould 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 barelycontrol himself. He breathed quickly and heavily.

"What of her?" he demanded in a low, suffocated voice. "What has LadyWinsleigh to do with it, Britta?"

"Everything!" cried Britta, though, as she glanced at his set, sternface and paling lips, she began to feel a little frightened. "She hasalways hated the Fröken, and been jealous of her—always! Her own maid,Louise, will tell you so—Lord Winsleigh's man, Briggs, will tell youso! They've listened at the doors, and they know all about it!" Brittamade this statement with the most childlike candor. "And they've heardall sorts of wicked things—Lady Winsleigh was always talking to SirFrancis Lennox about the Fröken,—and now they've made her believe youdo not care for her any more—they've been trying to make her believeeverything bad of you for ever so many months—" she paused, terrifiedat Sir Philip's increasing pallor.

"Go on, Britta," he said quietly, though his voice sounded strange tohimself. Britta gathered up all her remaining stock of courage.

"Oh dear, oh dear!" she continued desperately, "I don't understandLondon people at all, and I never shall understand them. Everybody seemsto 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 shehas a husband of her own all the time! It is so very strange!" And thelittle maiden's perplexity appeared to border on distraction. "Theywould think such a woman quite mad in Norway! But what is worse thananything is that you—you, Sir Philip,—oh! I won't believe it," andshe stamped her foot passionately, "I can't believe it!... and yeteverybody says that you go to see a dreadful, painted dancing woman atthe theatre, and that you like her better than the Fröken,—it isn'ttrue, is it?" Here she peered anxiously at her master—but he wasabsolutely silent. Neville made as though he would speak, but a gesturefrom Sir Philip's hand restrained him. Britta went on ratherdispiritedly, "Anyhow, Briggs has just told me that only yesterday LadyWinsleigh went all by herself to see this actress, and that she got someletter there which she brought to the Fröken—" she recoiled suddenlywith a little scream. "Oh, Sir Philip!—where are you going?"

Errington's hand came down on her shoulder, as he twisted her lightlyout 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 handconvulsively. "Rash! My good fellow, it's a woman who has slanderedme—what can I do? Her sex protects her!" He gave a short, furiouslaugh. "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 thesilent house.

"He's gone!" and as Neville said this he sighed and looked dubiously athis 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, inthese 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 partof his duty. And Louise opens all her mistress's letters—she says sheowes it to her own respectability to know what sort of a lady it is sheserves. And she's going to leave, because she says her ladyship isn'trespectable! There! what do you think of that! And Sir Philip will findout a great deal more than even I have told him—but oh! I can'tunderstand 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 hisglasses, and continued in rather dreamy, tremulous accents—

"Yes—I lost her years ago—I thought she was dead. But I found her—onthe stage of the Brilliant Theatre. I—I never expected—that! I wouldrather 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!—andI—I fancied she was fond of me! Yes, I did,—of course, I wasfoolish—I've always been foolish, I think. And when—when I saw her onthat stage I felt as if some one had struck me a hard blow—it seems asif I'd been stunned ever since. And though she knows I'm in London, shewon'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 seeme—he has talked to her and written to her about me; and that's notall,—he has even tried to make her come back to me—but it's all nouse—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 herface,—but a great load had been lifted from her mind by his words—shebegan to understand everything.

"I'm so sorry for you, Mr. Neville!" she said. "But why didn't you tellall this to the Fröken?"

"I couldn't!" murmured Neville desperately. "She was there that nightat the Brilliant,—and if you had seen how she looked when she saw—mywife—appeared on the stage! So pained, so sorry, so ashamed! and shewanted to leave the theatre at once. Of course, I ought to have toldher,—I wish I had—but—somehow, I never could." He paused again. "It'sall my stupidity, of course, Sir Philip is quite blameless—he has beenthe kindest, the best of friends to me—" his voice trembled more andmore, and he could not go on. There was a silence of some minutes,during which Britta appeared absorbed in meditation, and Nevillefurtively wiped his eyes.

Presently he spoke again more cheerfully. "It'll soon be all rightagain, Britta!" and he nodded encouragingly. "Sir Philip says herladyship 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 Ihad 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, catchingat his words. "That's exactly what she said to me the other evening! Ohdear! 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 Altenfjordnow—it is like night—and the cold is bitter. And she is notstrong—not strong enough to travel—and there's the North Sea tocross—oh, Mr. Neville," and she broke out sobbing afresh. "The journeywill kill her,—I know it will! my poor, poor darling! I must go afterher—I'll go with Sir Philip—I won't be left behind!"

"Hush, hush, Britta!" said Neville kindly, patting her shoulder. "Don'tcry—don't cry!"

But he was very near crying himself, poor man, so shaken was he by theevents of the morning. And he could not help admitting to himself thepossibility that so long and trying a journey for Thelma in her presentcondition of health meant little else than serious illness—perhapsdeath. 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 steamerrunning to Christiansund or Bergen, and in that case Thelma would beunable to leave England, and would, therefore, be overtaken by SirPhilip 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 haggardface and blazing eyes, even though he knew, through Britta, all aboutthe sorrow that had befallen him. Briggs was not surprised at LadyErrington's departure,—that portion of his "duty" which consisted inlistening 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. "Itdo, indeed. Yet I feels very much for Sir Philip,—I said to Flopsiethis 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 womancertainly—but skittish—d—d skittish! I've allus made it a rule myselfto avoid 'er on principle. Lor! if I'd kep' company with 'er and thelikes 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 hisduties as tutor to his son Ernest, rose to receive Sir Philip with anair of more than his usual gravity.

"I was about to write to you, Errington," he began, and then stoppedshort, touched by the utter misery expressed in Philip's face. Headdressed 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 laddisappeared, "tell me everything, Errington. Is it true that your wifehas left you?"

"Left me!" and Philip's eyes flashed with passionate anger. "NoWinsleigh!—she's been driven away from me by the vilest and mostheartless cruelty. She's been made to believe a scandalous andabominable lie against me—and she's gone! I—I—by Jove! I hardly liketo say it to your face—but—"

"I understand!" a curious flicker of a smile shadowed rather thanbrightened 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 fanciedWinsleigh to be a studious, rather dull sort of man, absorbed in booksand the education of his son,—a man, more than half blind to everythingthat went on around him—and, moreover, one who deliberately shut hiseyes to the frivolous coquetry of his wife,—and though he liked himfairly well, there had been a sort of vague contempt mingled with hisliking. Now a new light was suddenly thrown on his character—there wassomething in his look, his manner, his very tone of voice,—which provedto Errington that there was a deep and forcible side to his nature ofwhich his closest friends had never dreamed—and he was somewhat takenaback by the discovery. Seeing that he still hesitated, Winsleigh laid ahand encouragingly on his shoulder and said—

"I repeat—I'm not at all surprised! Nothing that Lady Winsleigh mightdo would cause me the slightest astonishment. She has long ceased to bemy wife, except in name,—that she still bears that name and holds theposition she has in the world is simply—for my son's sake! I do notwish,"—his voice quivered slightly—"I do not wish the boy to despisehis mother. It's always a bad beginning for a young man's life. I wantto avoid it for Ernest, if possible,—regardless of any personalsacrifice." He paused a moment—then resumed. "Now, speak out,Errington, and plainly,—for if mischief has been done and I can repairit in any way, you may be sure I will."

Thus persuaded, Sir Philip briefly related the whole story of themisunderstanding that had arisen concerning Neville's wife, VioletVere—and concluded by saying—

"It is, of course, only through Britta that I've just heard about LadyWinsleigh's having anything to do with it. Her information may not becorrect—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 followedhim in silence. He knocked at the door of his wife's room,—in responseto her "Come in!" they both entered. She was alone, reclining on a sofa,reading,—she started up with a pettish exclamation at sight of herhusband, but observing who it was that came with him, she stood mute,the color rushing to her cheeks with surprise and something of fear. Yetshe endeavored to smile, and returned with her usual grace theirsomewhat formal salutations.

"Clara," then said Lord Winsleigh gravely, "I have to ask you a questionon behalf of Sir Philip Errington here,—a question to which it isnecessary for you to give the plain answer. Did you or did you notprocure this letter from Violet Vere, of the Brilliant Theatre—and didyou or did you not, give it yourself yesterday into the hands of LadyBruce-Errington?" And he laid the letter in question, which Philip hadhanded to him, down upon the table before her.

She looked at it—then at him—then from him to Sir Philip, who utteredno 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 thisextraordinary manner. You forget yourself—my husband, I think, alsoforgets himself! I know nothing whatever about Violet Vere—I am notfond of the society of actresses. Of course, I've heard about youradmiration for her—that is common town-talk,—though my informant onthis point was Sir Francis Lennox."

"Sir Francis Lennox!" cried Philip furiously. "Thank God! there's a manto 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 allaccounts that it was so very likely to be true!"

Philip turned white with passion. Her sarcastic smile,—her mockingglance,—irritated him almost beyond endurance.

"Permit me to ask you, Clara," continued Lord Winsleigh calmly, "ifyou,—as you say, know nothing about Violet Vere, why did you go to theBrilliant Theatre yesterday morning?"

She flashed an angry glance at him.

"Why? To secure a box for the new performance. Is there anythingwonderful in that?"

Her husband remained unmoved. "May I see the voucher for this box?" heinquired.

"I've sent it to some friends," replied her ladyship haughtily. "Sincewhen have you decided to become an inquisitor, my lord?"

"Lady Winsleigh," said Philip suddenly and eagerly, "will you swear tome 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. "Ithought 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 isprobably 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'stoo ridiculous! Sir Philip has only himself to blame. Of course, Thelmaknows about his frequent visits to the Brilliant Theatre. I told her allthat Sir Francis said. Why should she be kept in the dark? I dare sayshe doesn't mind—she's very fond of Mr. Lorimer!"

Errington felt as though he must choke with fury. He forgot the presenceof 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! Whathave you to say against me?" She drew herself up imperiously.

Then turning to her husband, she said, "Have the goodness to take yourexcited friend away, my lord! I am going out—I have a great manyengagements this morning—and I really cannot stop to discuss thisabsurd affair any longer! It isn't my fault that Sir Philip's excessiveadmiration for Miss Vere has become the subject of gossip—I don'tblame him for it! He seems extremely ill-tempered about it; after all,'ce n'est que la vérité 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 insilence. Some occult fascination forced her to meet his glance, and theutter scorn of it stung her proud heart to its centre. Not that she feltmuch compunction—her whole soul was up in arms against him, and hadbeen so from the very day she was first told of his unexpected marriage.His evident contempt now irritated her—she was angrier with him thanever, and yet—she had a sort of strange triumph in the petty vengeanceshe 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 respectingThelma's affection for George Lorimer, but the shaft had been aimeduselessly. Errington knew too well the stainless purity of Thelma towrong her by the smallest doubt, and he would have staked his life onthe loyalty of his friend. Presently he controlled his angersufficiently to be able to speak, and still eyeing her with thatstraight, keen look of immeasurable disdain, he said in cold, deliberateaccents—

"Your ladyship is in error,—the actress in question is the wife of mysecretary, Mr. Neville. For years they have been estranged—my visits toher were entirely on Neville's behalf—my letters to her were all on thesame subject. Sir Francis Lennox must have known the truth allalong,—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 ofthe Brilliant, if you doubt me. Winsleigh, it's no use my stopping hereany longer. As her ladyship refuses to give any explanation—"

"Wait a moment, Errington," interposed Lord Winsleigh in his coldest andmost 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 purchasedfrom Violet Vere for the sum of 20 pounds, the letter which sheafterwards took with her own hands to your wife." Lady Winsleigh utteredan 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 toexplain your unspoken meanings quite clearly." He went on, addressinghimself to Errington, who stood utterly amazed.

"Her ladyship desires me to assure you that her only excuse for heraction in this matter is, that she fully believed the reports herfriend, Sir Francis Lennox, gave her concerning your supposed intimacywith the actress in question,—and that, believing it, she made use ofit as much as possible for the purpose of destroying your wife's peaceof mind and confidence in you. Her object was most purely feminine—loveof mischief, and the gratification of private spite! There's nothinglike frankness!" and Lord Winsleigh's face was a positive study as hespoke. "You see,"—he made a slight gesture towards his wife, who stoodspeechless, and so pale that her very lips were colorless—"her ladyshipis 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 oflight on the edge of a sword. Lady Winsleigh raised her head, and hereyes met his with a dark expression of the uttermost anger. "Spy!" shehissed between her teeth,—then without further word or gesture, sheswept haughtily away into her dressing-room, which adjoined the boudoir,and closed the door of communication, thus leaving the two men alonetogether.

Errington felt himself to be in a most painful and awkward position. Ifthere was anything he more than disliked, it was a scene—particularlyof a domestic nature. And he had just had a glimpse into Lord and LadyWinsleigh's married life, which, to him, was decidedly unpleasant. Hecould not understand how Lord Winsleigh had become cognizant of all hehad so frankly stated—and then, why had he not told him everything atfirst, without waiting to declare it in his wife's presence? Unless,indeed, he wished to shame her? There was evidently something in theman's disposition and character that he, Philip, could not as yetcomprehend,—something that certainly puzzled him, and filled him withvague 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! Heartilysorry! I have to be sorry for a good many things rather often. But I'mspecially grieved to think that your beautiful and innocent young wifeis the victim in this case. Unfortunately I was told nothing till thismorning, otherwise I might possibly have prevented all your unhappiness.But I trust it won't be of long duration. Here's this letter," hereturned it as he spoke, "which in more than one way has cost so large aprice. 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 Winsleighevasively, "and from such a source that up to the last moment I almostrefused 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'srather painful to me. Only allow me to ask your pardon for my wife'sshare in the mischief!"

Something in his manner of speaking affected Sir Philip.

"Upon my soul, Winsleigh," he exclaimed with sudden fervor, "I fancyyou'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 nogreater than those of many better men." He stopped short, then askedabruptly, "I suppose you'll see Lennox?"

Errington set his teeth hard. "I shall,—at once!" he replied. "And Ishall probably thrash him within an inch of his life!"

"That's right! I shan't be sorry!" and Lord Winsleigh's hand clenchedalmost unconsciously. "I hope you understand, Errington, that if ithadn't been for my son, I should have shot that fellow long ago. I daresay you wonder,—and some others too,—why I haven't done it. ButErnest—poor little chap!... he would have heard of it,—and thereason of it,—his young life is involved in mine—why should I bequeathhim a dishonored mother's name? There—for heaven's sake, don't let memake 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 muchthe same thing—all involve public scandal for the name of the woman whomay be unhappily concerned—and scandal clings, like the stain on LadyMacbeth's hand. In your case you can act—your wife is above a shadowof suspicion—but I—oh, my God! how much women have to answer for inthe miseries of this world!"

Errington said nothing. Pity and respect for the man before him held himsilent. Here was one of the martyrs of modern social life—a man whoevidently knew himself to be dishonored by his wife,—and who yet, forthe sake of his son, submitted to be daily broken on the wheel ofprivate torture rather than let the boy grow up to despise and slighthis mother. Whether he were judged as wise or weak in his behavior therewas surely something noble about him—something unselfish and heroicthat deserved recognition. Presently Lord Winsleigh continued in calmertones—

"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 againheartily, and parted. Lord Winsleigh saw his visitor to the door—andthen at once returned to his wife's apartments. She was still absentfrom the boudoir—he therefore entered her dressing-room withoutceremony.

There he found her,—alone, kneeling on the floor, her head buried in anarm-chair,—and her whole frame shaken with convulsive sobs. He lookeddown upon her with a strange wistful pain in his eyes,—pain mingledwith compassion.

"Clara!" he said gently. She started and sprang up—confronting him withflushed cheeks and wet eyes.

"You here?" she exclaimed angrily. "I wonder you dare to—" she brokeoff, confused by his keen, direct glance.

"It is a matter for wonder," he said quietly. "It's the strangestthing in the world that I—your husband—should venture to intrudemyself into your presence! Nothing could be more out of the common. ButI have something to say to you—something which must be said sooner orlater—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 littlepatience with me—I'll endeavor to be as brief as possible."

Mechanically she obeyed him and sank into a low fauteuil. She beganplaying with the trinkets on her silver chatelaine, and endeavored tofeign the most absolute unconcern, but her heart beat quickly—she couldnot imagine what was coming next—her husband's manner and tone werequite new to her.

"You accused me just now," he went on, "of being a spy. I have nevercondescended to act such a part toward you, Clara. When I first marriedyou I trusted you with my life, my honor, and my name, and though youhave betrayed all three"—she moved restlessly as his calm gaze remainedfixed on her—"I repeat,—though you have betrayed all three,—I havedeliberately shut my eyes to the ruin of my hopes, in a loyal endeavorto shield you from the world's calumny. Regarding the unhappiness youhave caused the Erringtons,—your own maid Louise Rénaud (who has givenyou notice of her intention to leave you) told me all she knew of yourshare in what I may call positive cruelty, towards a happy and innocentwoman who has never injured you, and whose friend you declared yourselfto be—"

"You believe the lies of a servant?" suddenly cried Lady Winsleighwrathfully.

"Have not you believed the lies of Sir Francis Lennox, who is lesshonest than a servant?" asked her husband, his grave voice deepeningwith a thrill of passion. "And haven't you reported them everywhere astruths? But as regards your maid—I doubted her story altogether. Sheassured me she knew what money you took out with you yesterday, and whatyou returned with—and as the only place you visited in the morning wasthe 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 hadpurchased—moreover"—he paused—"she has heard certain conversationsbetween you and Sir Francis, notably one that took place at thegarden-party in the summer at Errington Manor. Spy? you say? yourdetective has been paid by you,—fed and kept about your own person,—tominister to your vanity and to flatter your pride—that she has turnedinformer against you is not surprising. Be thankful that her informationhas 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—"tillErrington came and showed me that letter and told me the whole story ofhis misery. Even then I thought I would give you one more chance—that'swhy I brought him to you and asked you the question before him. One lookat your face told me you were guilty, though you denied it. I shouldhave been better pleased had you confessed it! But why talk about it anylonger?—the mischief is done—I trust it is not irreparable. Icertainly consider that before troubling that poor girl'shappiness,—you should have taken the precaution to inquire a littlefurther into the truth of the reports you heard from Sir FrancisLennox,—he is not a reliable authority on any question whatsoever. Youmay have thought him so—" he stopped short and regarded her withsorrowful sternness—"I say, Clara, you may have thought him so,once—but now? Are you proud to have shared his affectionswith—Violet Vere?"

She uttered a sharp cry and covered her face with her hands,—an actionwhich appeared to smite her husband to the heart,—for his voicetrembled with deep feeling when he next spoke.

"Ah, best hide it, Clara!" he said passionately. "Hide that fair face Iloved so well—hide those eyes in which I dreamed of finding my life'ssunshine! 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 drewback with a quick agonized sigh. "You thought me blind, Clara!..."he went on in low tones, "blind to my own dishonor—blind to yourfaithlessness,—I tell you if you had taken my heart between your handsand wrung the blood out of it drop by drop, I could not have sufferedmore than I have done! Why have I been silent so long?—no matterwhy,—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 youlike,—you can divorce me."

"Yes," said Lord Winsleigh musingly. "I can divorce you! There will beno defense possible,—as you know. If witnesses are needed, they are tobe had in the persons of our own domestics. The co-respondent in thecase will not refute the charge against him,—and I, the plaintiff,must win my just cause. Do you realize it all, Clara? You, thewell-known leader of a large social circle—you, the proud beauty andenvied lady of rank and fashion,—you will be made a subject for thecoarse jests of lawyers,—the very judge on the bench will probably playoff his stale witticism at your expense,—your dearest friends will tearyour name to shreds,—the newspapers will reek of your doings,—andhonest housemaids reading of your fall from your high estate, will thankGod that their souls and bodies are more chaste than yours! Andlast,—not least,—think when old age creeps on, and your beautywithers,—think of your son grown to manhood,—the sole heir to myname,—think of him as having but one thing to blush for—the memory ofhis dishonored mother!"

"Cruel—cruel!" she cried, endeavoring to check her sobs, andwithdrawing 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 astrong man's heart! When I first saw you, you seemed to me the veryincarnation of maiden purity and loveliness! The days of ourcourtship—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 myeyes, that I could have knelt and asked a benediction from these littlehands"—here he gently loosened them from his clasp. "Then came thechange—what changed you, I cannot imagine—it has always seemed to meunnatural, monstrous, incredible! There was no falling away in myaffection, that I can swear! My curse upon the man who turned your heartfrom mine! So rightful and deep a curse is it that I feel it must someday strike home."

He paused and seemed to reflect. "Who is there more vile, moretraitorous than he?" he went on. "Has he not tried to influenceErrington's wife against her husband? For what base purpose? ButClara,—he is powerless against her purity and innocence;—what, inthe 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 adivorce, pray carry out your intention with the least possible delay. Icannot talk any more! I—I am tired!"

"Clara," said her husband solemnly, with a strange light in his eyes, "Iwould rather kill you than divorce you!"

There was something so terribly earnest in his tone that her heart beatfast with fear.

"Kill me?—kill me?" she gasped, with white lips.

"Yes!" he repeated, "kill you,—as a Frenchman or an Italian would,—andtake the consequences. Yes—though an Englishman, I would rather do thisthan 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 toomany of our high-born families already, flaunting their immorality andlow licentiousness in the face of the mocking, grinning populace,—I forone could never make up my mind to fling the honor of my son's mother tothem, as though it were a bone for dogs to fight over. No—I haveanother proposition to make to you—"

He stopped short. She stared at him wonderingly. He resumed inmethodical, unmoved, business-like tones.

"I propose, Clara, simply,—to leave you! I'll take the boy and absentmyself from this country, so as to give you perfect freedom and save youall trouble. There'll be no possibility of scandal, for I will keep youcognizant of my movements,—and should you require my presence at anytime for the sake of appearances,—or—to shield you from calumny,—youmay rely on my returning to you at once,—without delay. Ernest willgain many advantages by travel,—his education is quite a sufficientmotive for my departure, my interest in his young life being well knownto all our circle. Moreover, with me—under my surveillance—he neednever know anything against—against you. I have always taught him tohonor and obey you in his heart."

Lord Winsleigh paused a moment—then went on, somewhat musingly;—"Whenhe was quite little, he used to wonder why you didn't love him,—it washard for me to hear him say that, sometimes. But I always told him thatyou did love him—but that you had so many visits to makes and so manyfriends to entertain, that you had no time to play with him. I don'tthink he quite understood,—but still—I did my best!"

He was silent. She had hidden her face again in her hands, and he hearda sound of smothered sobbing.

"I think," he continued calmly, "that he has a great reverence for youin his young heart—a feeling which partakes, perhaps, more of fear thanlove—still it is better than—disdain—or—or disrespect. I shallalways teach him to esteem you highly,—but I think, as mattersstand—if I relieve you of all your responsibilities to husband andson—you—Clara!—pray don't distress yourself—there's no occasion forthis—Clara—"

For on a sudden impulse she had flung herself at his feet in anirrepressible storm of passionate weeping.

"Kill me, Harry!" she sobbed wildly, clinging to him. "Kill me! don'tspeak to me like this!—don't leave me! Oh, my God! don't, don't despiseme so utterly! Hate me—curse me—strike me—do anything, but don'tleave me as if I were some low thing, unfit for your touch,—I know Iam, but oh, Harry!..." She clung to him more closely. "If you leaveme I will not live,—I cannot! Have you no pity? Why would you throw meback 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 oftouch, to his breast, as though she were some sick or wounded child, andwatched her as she lay there weeping, her face hidden, her whole frametrembling in his embrace.

"Poor soul!" he whispered, more to himself than to her. "Poor frailwoman! Hush, hush, Clara! The past is past! I'll make you no morereproaches. I—I can't hurt you, because I once so loved you—butnow—now,—what is there left for me to do, but to leave you? You'llbe happier so—you'll have perfect liberty—you needn't even think ofme—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 knownyou better—if I had understood oh, I've been vile, wicked,deceitful—but I'm not happy, Harry—I've never been happy since Iwronged you! Won't you give me one little hope that I may win your loveagain,—no, not your love, but your pity? Oh, Harry, have I lostall—all—"

Her voice broke—she could say no more.

He stroked her hair gently. "You speak on impulse just now, Clara," hesaid gravely yet tenderly. "You can't know your own strength orweakness. 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 presentto 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 perishedlove of ours. We can, perhaps, take hands and watch its corpse patientlytogether and say how sorry we are it is dead—such penitence comesalways 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, andan exclamation that was almost a groan broke from his lips. A shudderpassed through his frame.

"I can't, Clara! I can't—God forgive me!—Not yet!" And with that hebowed his head and left her.

She listened to the echo of his firm footsteps dying away, and creepingguiltily to a side-door she opened it, and watched yearningly hisretreating figure till it had disappeared.

"Why did I never love him till now?" she murmured sobbingly. "Now, whenhe despises me—when he will not even kiss me?—" She leaned against thehalf-open door in an attitude of utter dejection, not caring to move,listening intently with a vague hope of hearing her husband's returningtread. A lighter step than his, however, came suddenly along from theother side of the passage and startled her a little—it was Ernest,looking the picture of boyish health and beauty. He was just going outfor his usual ride—he lifted his cap with a pretty courtesy as he sawher, and said—

"Good-morning, mother!"

She looked at him with new interest,—how handsome the lad was!—howfresh 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, andhis young heart beat faster when she laid her white hand, sparkling allover 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 headded instantly—"Unless you want me."

She smiled faintly. "I never do want you—do I, Ernest?" she asked halfsadly. "I never want my boy at all." Her voice quivered,—and Ernestgrew more and more astonished.

"If you do, I'll stay," he said stoutly, filled with a chivalrous desireto console his so suddenly tender mother of his, whatever her griefsmight be. Her eyes filled again, but she tried to laugh.

"No dear—not now,—run along and enjoy yourself. Come to me when youreturn. I shall be at home all day. And,—stop Ernest—won't you kissme?"

The boy opened his eyes wide in respectful wonderment, and his cheeksflushed with surprise and pleasure.

"Why, mother—of course!" And his fresh, sweet lips closed on hers withfrank and unaffected heartiness. She held him fast for a moment andlooked 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 herown apartment. The boy went on his way somewhat puzzled andbewildered—did his mother love him, after all? If so, he thought—howglad 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 aninterview with Sir Francis Lennox, and demand an explanation. He couldnot understand the man's motive for such detestable treachery andfalsehood. His anger rose to a white heat as he thought of it, and hedetermined to "have it out" with him whatever the consequences might be."No apology will serve his turn," he muttered. "The scoundrel! He haslied deliberately—and, by Jove, he shall pay for it!"

And he started off rapidly in the direction of Piccadilly, but on theway he suddenly remembered that he had no weapon with him, not even acane wherewith to carry out his intention of thrashing Sir Francis, andcalling to mind a certain heavy horsewhip, that hung over themantel-piece in his own room, he hailed a hansom, and was driven back tohis house in order to provide himself with that implement of castigationbefore proceeding further. On arriving at the door, to his surprise hefound 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, andErrington, taking his friend by the arm hurried him into the house. Infive minutes he had unburdened himself of all his troubles—and hadexplained the misunderstanding about Violet Vere and Thelma's consequentflight. Lorimer listened with a look of genuine pain and distress on hishonest face.

"Phil, you have been a fool!" he said candidly. "A positive fool, ifyou'll pardon me for saying so. You ought to have told Thelma everythingat first,—she's the very last woman in the world who ought to be keptin the dark about anything. Neville's feelings? Bother Neville'sfeelings! Depend upon it the poor girl has heard all manner of stories.She's been miserable for some time—Duprèz noticed it." And he relatedin a few words the little scene that had taken place at Errington Manoron the night of the garden-party, when his playing on the organ hadmoved 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 lookedunhappy, while he, her husband, had been blind to it? He could not makethis out,—and yet it is a thing that very commonly happens. Our nearestand dearest are often those who are most in the dark respecting ourprivate and personal sufferings,—we do not wish to trouble them,—andthey prefer to think that everything is right with us, even though therest of the world can plainly perceive that everything is wrong. To thelast moment they will refuse to see death in our faces, though theveriest stranger meeting us casually, clearly beholds the shadow of thedark Angel's hand.

"Apropos of Lennox," went on Lorimer, sympathetically watching hisfriend, "I came on purpose to speak to you about him. I've got some newsfor you. He's a regular sneak and scoundrel. You can thrash him to yourheart'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 nightbefore, when you had gone out, Lennox took advantage of your absence tocome here and make love to her,—and she actually had to struggle withhim, and even to strike him, in order to release herself from hisadvances. My mother advised her to tell you about it—and she evidentlythen had no intention of flight, for she said she would inform you ofeverything as soon as you returned from the country. And if LadyWinsleigh hadn't interfered, it's very probable that—I say, where areyou 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 seehow clear the plot becomes. Thelma's beauty had maddened Lennox,—togain her good opinion, as he thinks, he throws his mistress, VioletVere, on your shoulders—(your ingenuous visits to the BrilliantTheatre gave him a capital pretext for this) and as for Lady Winsleigh'sshare in the mischief, it's nothing but mere feminine spite against youfor marrying at all, and hatred of the woman whose life is such acontrast to her own, and who absorbs all your affection. Lennox has usedher as his tool and the Vere also, I've no doubt. The thing's as clearas crystal. It's a sort of general misunderstanding all round—one ofthose eminently unpleasant trifles that very frequently upset the peaceand comfort of the most quiet and inoffensive persons. But the faultlies with you, dear old boy!"

"With me!" exclaimed Philip.

"Certainly! Thelma's soul is as open as daylight—you shouldn't have hadany secret from her, however trifling. She's not a woman 'onguard,'—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 expectbetrayal from her most familiar friends. She accepts things as theyappear, without any suspicion of mean ulterior designs. It's a pity, ofcourse!—it's a pity she can't be worldly-wise, and scheme and plot andplan and lie like the rest of us! However, your course is plain—firstinterview Lennox and then follow Thelma. She can't have left Hullyet,—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 atnothing—do you know she actually had the impudence to suggest thatyou,—you, of all people,—were in love with Thelma!"

Lorimer flushed up, but laughed lightly. "How awfully sweet of her! Muchobliged 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 helaughed 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 withquivering lips, whether she might accompany Sir Philip in his intendedjourney to Norway.

"For if you do not find the Fröken at Hull, you will want to reach theAltenfjord," said Britta, folding hands resolutely in front of herapron, "and you will not get on without me. You do not know what thecountry is like in the depth of winter when the sun is asleep. You musthave the reindeer to help you—and no Englishman knows how to drivereindeer. And—and—" here Britta's eyes filled—"you have not thought,perhaps, that the journey may make the Fröken very ill—and that when wefind her—she may be dying—" and Britta's strength gave way in a bigsob that broke from the depths of her honest, affectionate heart.

"Don't—don't talk like that, Britta!" cried Philip passionately. "Ican't bear it! Of course, you shall go with me! I wouldn't leave youbehind for the world! Get everything ready—" and in a fever of heat andimpatience he began rummaging among some books on a side-shelf, till hefound the time-tables he sought. "Yes,—here we are,—there's a trainleaving for Hull at five—we'll take that. Tell Morris to pack myportmanteau, and you bring it along with you to the Midlandrailway-station this afternoon. Do you understand?"

Britta nodded emphatically, and hurried off at once to busy herself withthese preparations, while Philip, all excitement, dashed off to give afew parting injunctions to Neville, and to get his horsewhip.

Lorimer, left alone for a few minutes, seated himself in an easy chairand began absently turning over the newspapers on the table. But histhoughts were far away, and presently he covered his eyes with one handas though the light hurt them. When he removed it, his lashes were wet.

"What a fool I am!" he muttered impatiently. "Oh Thelma, Thelma! mydarling!—how I wish I could follow and find you and console you!—youpoor, tender, resigned soul, going away like this because you thoughtyou were not wanted—not wanted!—my God!—if you only knew how one manat least has wanted and yearned for you ever since he saw your sweetface!—Why can't I tear you out of my heart—why can't I love some oneelse? Ah Phil!—good, generous, kind old Phil!—he little guesses," herose and paced the room up and down restlessly. "The fact is I oughtn'tto be here at all—I ought to leave England altogether for a longtime—till—till I get over it. The question is, shall I ever get overit? Sigurd was a wise boy—he found a short way out of all histroubles,—suppose I imitate his example? No,—for a man in his sensesthat would be rather cowardly—though it might be pleasant!" He stoppedin his walk with a pondering expression on his face. "At any rate, Iwon't stop here to see her come back—I couldn't trust myself,—I shouldsay something foolish—I know I should! I'll take my mother toItaly—she wants to go; and we'll stay with Lovelace. It'll be achange—and I'll have a good stand-up fight with myself, and see if Ican't come off the conqueror somehow! It's all very well to kill anopponent in battle but the question is, can a man kill his inner,grumbling, discontented, selfish Self? If he can't, what's the good ofhim?"

As he was about to consider this point reflectively, Errington entered,equipped for travelling, and whip in hand. His imagination had been atwork during the past few minutes, exaggerating all the horrors anddifficulties of Thelma's journey to the Altenfjord, till he was in aperfect fever of irritable excitement.

"Come on Lorimer!" he cried. "There's no time to lose! Britta knows whatto do—she'll meet me at the station. I can't breathe in this wretchedhouse a moment longer—let's be off!"

Plunging out into the hall, he bade Morris summon a hansom,—and with afew last instructions to that faithful servitor, and an encouraging kindword and shake of the hand to Neville, who with a face of remorsefulmisery, stood at the door to watch his departure,—he was gone. Thehansom containing him and Lorimer rattled rapidly towards the abode ofSir Francis Lennox, but on entering Piccadilly, the vehicle wascompelled to go so slowly on account of the traffic, that Errington, whoevery 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 alongrapidly, Errington every now and then giving a fiercer clench to theformidable horsewhip which was twisted together with his ordinarywalking-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 topunish. "He shall pay for his dastardly falsehood—by Jove he shall!It'll be a precious long time before he shows himself in society anymore!"

Then he addressed Lorimer. "You may depend upon it he'll shout 'police!police!' and make for the door," he observed. "You keep your backagainst it, Lorimer! I don't care how many fines I've got to pay as longas I can thrash him soundly!"

"All right!" Lorimer answered, and they quickened their pace. As theyneared the chambers which Sir Francis Lennox rented over a fashionablejeweller's shop, they became aware of a small procession coming straighttowards them from the opposite direction. Something was being carriedbetween four men who appeared to move with extreme care andgentleness,—this something was surrounded by a crowd of boys and menwhose faces were full of morbid and frightened interest—the wholecortége was headed by a couple of solemn policemen. "You spoke of awalking funeral just now," said Lorimer suddenly. "This looks uncommonlylike one."

Errington made no reply—he had only one idea in his mind,—thedetermination to chastise and thoroughly disgrace Sir Francis. "I'llhound him out of the clubs!" he thought indignantly. "His own set shallknow what a liar he is—and if I can help it he shall never hold up hishead again!"

Entirely occupied as he was with these reflections, he paid no heed toanything that was going on in the street, and he scarcely heardLorimer's last observation. So that he was utterly surprised and takenaback, when he, with Lorimer, was compelled to come to a halt before thevery door of the jeweller, Lennox's landlord, while the two policemencleared a passage through the crowd, saying in low tones, "Stand aside,gentlemen, please!—stand aside," thus making gradual way for fourbearers, who, as was now plainly to be seen, carried a common woodenstretcher covered with a cloth, under which lay what seemed, from itsoutline, to be a human figure.

"What's the matter here?" asked Lorimer, with a curious cold thrillrunning through him as he put the simple question.

One of the policemen answered readily enough.

"An accident, sir. Gentleman badly hurt. Down at Charing CrossStation—tried to jump into a train when it had started,—footcaught,—was thrown under the wheels and dragged along somedistance—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 theaddress. Sir Francis Lennox, I believe it is."

Errington uttered a sharp exclamation of horror,—at that moment thejeweller came out of the recesses of his shop with uplifted hands andbewildered countenance.

"An accident? Good Heavens!—Sir Francis! Up-stairs!—take himup-stairs!" Here he addressed the bearers. "You should have gone roundto the private entrance—he mustn't be seen in the shop—frighteningaway all my customers—here, pass through!—pass through, as quick asyou can!"

And they did pass through,—carrying their crushed burden tenderly alongby the shining glass cases and polished counters, where glimmered andflashed jewels of every size and lustre for the adorning of the childrenof this world,—slowly and carefully, step by step, they reached theupper floor,—and there, in a luxurious apartment furnished with almostfeminine elegance, they lifted the inanimate form from the stretcher andlaid it down, still shrouded, on a velvet sofa, removing the last numberof 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 thesuddenness of the event—they had followed the bearers up-stairs almostmechanically,—exchanging no word or glance by the way,—and now theywatched in almost breathless suspense while a surgeon who was present,gently turned back the cover that hid the injured man's features andexposed them to full view. Was that Sir Francis? that blood-smeared,mangled creature?—that the lascivious dandy,—the disciple ofno-creed and self-worship? Errington shuddered and averted his gaze fromthat hideous face,—so horribly contorted,—yet otherwise deathlike inits rigid stillness. There was a grave hush. The surgeon still bent overhim—touching here, probing there, with tenderness and skill,—butfinally 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 hiseyes;—what terrible eyes they were, filled with that look of intenseanguish, and something worse than anguish,—fear—frantic fear—cowardfear—fear that was almost more overpowering than his bodily suffering.

He stared wildly at the little group assembled—strange faces, so far ashe 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! hewould not die! God!—who was God? No matter—he would live;—hewould struggle against this heaviness,—this coldness—this pillar ofice 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, stabbedthrough and through by torturing pain.

"Keep still!" said the surgeon pityingly.

Sir Francis heard him not. He wrestled with his bodily anguish till theperspiration 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 tolet me die like a dog?—damn you all!"

The effort to move,—to speak,—exhausted his sinking strength—histhroat rattled,—he clenched his fists and made as though he wouldspring off his couch—when a fearful contortion convulsed his wholebody,—his eyes rolled up and became fixed—he fell heavilyback,—dead!

Quietly the surgeon covered again what was now nothing,—nothing but amutilated corpse.

"It's all over!" he announce briefly.

Errington heard these words in sickened silence. All over! Was itpossible? So soon? All over!—and he had come too late to punish thewould-be ravisher of his wife's honor,—too late! He still held the whipin his hand with which he had meant to chastise that—that distorted,mangled lump of clay yonder,... pah! he could not bear to think ofit, and he turned away, faint and dizzy. He felt,—rather than saw thestaircase,—down which he dreamily went, followed by Lorimer.

The two policemen were in the hall scribbling the cut-and-dryparticulars of the accident in their note-books, which having done, theymarched off, attended by a wandering, bilious-looking penny-a-liner whowas anxious to write a successful account of the "Shocking Fatality," asit was called in the next day's newspapers. Then the bearers departedcheerfully, 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 variousdemerits of the deceased,—and Errington and Lorimer, as they passedthrough the shop, heard him speaking of a person hitherto unheard of,namely, Lady Francis Lennox, who had been deserted by her husband forthe past six years, and who was living uncomplainingly the life of anart-student in Germany with her married sister, maintaining, by the workof 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 ofWiggins & Whizzer, Furnival's Inn,—told me all about his affairs. Ohyes—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 littleplace 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 justwired to him, announcing the death. I don't suppose any one will regrethim—except, perhaps, the woman at St. John's Wood. But I believe she'splaying for a bigger stake just now." And, stimulated by this thought,he drew out from a handsome morocco case a superb pendant of emeraldsand diamonds—a work of art, that glittered as he displayed it, like astar on a frosty night.

"Pretty thing, isn't it?" he said proudly. "Eight hundred pounds, andcheap, too! It was ordered for Miss Vere, two months ago, by the Duke ofMoorlands. 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 forthis. He'll sell everything he's got to please her. Queer? Oh, not atall! She's the rage just now,—I can't see anything in her myself,—butI'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 onwhile that crushed and lifeless form lay in the very roomabove,—unwatched, uncared-for,—put his arm through Lorimer's and leftthe shop.

Once in the open street, with the keen, cold air blowing against theirfaces, they looked at each other blankly. Piccadilly was crowded; thehurrying people passed and re-passed,—there were the shouts of omnibusconductors and newsboys—the laughter of young men coming out of the St.James's Hall Restaurant; all was as usual,—as, indeed, why should itnot? What matters the death of one man in a million? unless, indeed, itbe a man whose life, like a torch, uplifted in darkness, has enlightenedand cheered the world,—but the death of a mere fashionable "swell"whose chief talent has been a trick of lying gracefully—who cares forsuch a one? Society is instinctively relieved to hear that his place isempty, and shall know him more. But Errington could not immediatelyforget the scene he had witnessed. He was overcome by sensations ofhorror,—even of pity,—and he walked by his friend's side for some timein silence.

"I wish I could get rid of this thing!" he said suddenly, looking downat the horsewhip in his hand.

Lorimer made no answer. He understood his feeling, and realized thesituation as sufficiently grim. To be armed with a weapon meant for thechastisem*nt of a man whom Death had so suddenly claimed was, to say theleast of it, unpleasant. Yet the horsewhip could scarcely be thrown awayin 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 likecontempt. "By Jove, Phil! he must have been an awful scoundrel!"

"Don't let's say any more about him—he's dead!" and Philip quickenedhis steps. "And what a horrible death!"

"Horrible enough, indeed!"

Again they were both silent. Mechanically they turned down towards PallMall.

"George," said Errington, with a strange awe in his tones, "it seems tome to-day as if there were death in the air. I don't believe inpresentiments, but yet—yet I can-not help thinking—what if I shouldfind my Thelma—dead?"

Lorimer turned very pale—a cold shiver ran through him, but heendeavored to smile.

"For God's sake, old fellow, don't think of anything so terrible! Lookhere, you're hipped—no wonder! and you've got a long journey beforeyou. Come and have lunch. It's just two o'clock. Afterwards we'll go tothe Garrick and have a chat with Beau Lovelace—he's a first-rate fellowfor looking on the bright side of everything. Then I'll see you off thisafternoon at the Midland—what do you say?"

Errington assented to this arrangement, and tried to shake off thedepression that had settled upon him, though dark forebodings passed oneafter the other like clouds across his mind. He seemed to see theAltenguard hills stretching drearily, white with frozen snow, around theblack Fjord; he pictured Thelma, broken-hearted, fancying herselfdeserted, returning through the cold and darkness to the lonelyfarm-house behind the now withered pines. Then he began to think of theshell-cave where that other Thelma lay hidden in her last deepsleep,—the wailing words of Sigurd came freshly back to his ears, whenthe poor crazed lad had likened Thelma's thoughts to his favoriteflowers, the pansies—"One by one you will gather and play with herthoughts as though they were these blossoms; your burning hand will martheir color—they will wither and furl up and die,—and you—what willyou care? Nothing! No man ever cares for a flower that is withered,—noteven 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 heneglected her, just a little? Had he not, with all his true andpassionate love for her, taken her beauty, her devotion, her obediencetoo 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 musingswhich solitude engenders?

He began to blame himself heartily for the misunderstanding that hadarisen out of his share in Neville's unhappy secret. Neville had beenweak and timid,—he had shrunk nervously from avowing that the notoriousViolet Vere was actually the woman he had so faithfully loved andmourned,—but he, Philip, ought not to have humored him in thesefastidious scruples—he ought to have confided everything to Thelma. Heremembered now that he had once or twice been uneasy lest rumors of hisfrequent visits to Miss Vere might possibly reach his wife's ears,—but,then, as his purpose was absolutely disinterested and harmless, he didnot dwell on this idea, but dismissed it, and held his peace forNeville's sake, contenting himself with the thought that, "If Thelmadid hear anything, she would never believe a word against me."

He could not quite see where his fault had been,—though a fault therewas somewhere, as he uneasily felt—and he would no doubt have startedindignantly 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 notappear to be conceited—he would have repelled the accusation withastonishment,—not knowing that in his very denial of the fault, thefault existed. He had never been truly humbled but twice in hislife,—once as he knelt to receive his mother's dying benediction,—andagain when he first loved Thelma, and was uncertain whether his lovecould be returned by so fair and pure a creature. With these twoexceptions, all his experience had tended to give him an excellentopinion of himself,—and that he should possess one of the best andloveliest wives in the world, seemed to him quite in keeping with theusual course of things. The feeling that it was a sheer impossibilityfor her to ever believe a word against him, rose out of this inwardself-satisfaction—this one flaw in his otherwise bright, honest, andlovable character—a flaw of which he himself was not aware. Now, whenfor the third time his fairy castle of perfect peace and pleasure seemedshaken to its foundations,—when he again realized the uncertainty oflife or death, he felt bewildered and wretched. His chiefest pride wascentred in Thelma, and she—was gone! Again he reverted to the miserableidea that, like a melancholy refrain, haunted him—"What if I shouldfind her dead!"

Absorbed in painful reflections, he was a very silent companion forLorimer during the luncheon which they took at a quiet little restaurantwell known to the habitués of Pall Mall and Regent Street. Lorimerhimself had his own reasons for being equally depressed andanxious,—for did he not love Thelma as much as even her husbandcould?—nay, perhaps more, knowing his love was hopeless. Not alwaysdoes possession of the adored object strengthen the adoration,—therapturous dreams of an ideal passion have often been known to surpassreality a thousandfold. So the two friends exchanged but fewwords,—though they tried to converse cheerfully on indifferentsubjects, and failed in the attempt. They had nearly finished theirlight 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 scantybeard had grown somewhat longer. They had seen nothing of him sincetheir trip to Norway, and they greeted him now with unaffectedheartiness, glad of the distraction his appearance afforded them.

"Where do you hail from, Mac?" asked Lorimer, as he made the new-comersit down at their table. "We haven't heard of you for an age."

"It is a goodish bit of time," assented Macfarlane, "but better latethan never. I came up to London a week ago from Glasgie,—and my heedhas been in a whirl ever since. Eh, mon! but it's an awful place!—maybeI'll get used to't after a wee whilie."

"Are you going to settle here, then?" inquired Errington, "I thought youintended 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 inGlasgie's deed—"

"I understand," laughed Lorimer. "You've come in for the old lady'smoney?"

"Puir body!" and Sandy shook his head gravely. "A few hours before shedied she tore up her will in a screamin' fury o' Christian charity andforethought,—meanin' to mak anither in favor o' leavin' a' her warld'strash to the Fund for Distributin' Bible Knowledge among theHeathen—but she never had time to fulfill her intention. She went offlike a lamb,—and there being no will, her money fell to me, as thenearest survivin' relative—eh! the puir thing!—if her dees-imbodiedspirit is anywhere aboot, she must be in a sair plight to think I've gotit, after a' her curses!"

"How much?" asked Lorimer amused.

"Oh, just a fair seventy thousand or so," answered Macfarlanecarelessly.

"Well done, Mac!" said Errington, with a smile, endeavoring to appearinterested. "You're quite rich, then? I congratulate you!"

"Riches are a snare," observed Macfarlane, sententiously, "a snare and adecoy to both soul and body!" He laughed and rubbed his hands,—thenadded with some eagerness, "I say, how is Lady Errington?"

"She's very well," answered Sir Philip hurriedly, exchanging a quicklook with Lorimer, which the latter at once understood. "She's away on avisit 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 aninvoluntary sigh escaped him.

A few days only!—God grant it! But what—what if he should find herdead?

Macfarlane noticed the sadness of his expression, but prudently forboreto 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 beglad to pay my respects to her as soon as she returns. I've got youraddress, Errington—will ye take mine?"

And he handed him a small card on which was written in pencil the numberof 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 thecard, "I rather wonder at your choice of abode. Why, my dear fellow, doyou 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 aplace where there's misery, starvation, and crime of all sorts,—andthere I am in the very midst of it—just where I want to be. Ye see, Iwas meant to be a meenister—one of those douce, cannie, comfortablebodies that drone in the pulpit about predestination and original sin,and so forth a—sort, of palaver that does no good to ony resonablecreature—an' if I had followed out this profession, I make nae dootthat, with my aunt's seventy thousand, I should be a vera comfortable,respectable, selfish type of a man, who was decently embarked in anapparently important but really useless career—"

"Useless?" interrupted Lorimer archly. "I say, Mac, take care! Aminister 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 alteredman 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 aso-called Christian. And as for his daughter—the twa great blue eyeso' that lassie made me fair ashamed o' mysel'. Why? Because I felt thatas 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 beotherwise wi' they folk,—and ye ken, Errington, there's something inyour 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 Icouldna be a meen-ister as meen-isters go,—an' that I must e'en followoot the Testament's teachings according to ma own way of thinkin'.First, I fancied I'd rough it abroad as a meesionary—then I rememberedthe 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 onas wee a handfu' o' the filthy lucre as I can, an' lay oot the rest onthe heathens o' London. An' it's as well to do't while I'm alive to seeto't mysel'—for I've often observed that if ye leave your warld's gearto the poor when ye're deed, just for the gude reason that ye canna takit to the grave wi' ye,—it'll melt in a wonderfu' way through the handso' the 'secretaries' an' 'distributors' o' the fund, till there'snaething left for those ye meant to benefit. Ye maunna think I'm gaun todo ony preachin' business down at East-end,—there's too much o' thatan' tract-givin' already. The puir soul whose wee hoosie I've rentedhadna tasted bit nor sup for three days—till I came an' startled herinto 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 herblessin' me,—an' a gude curate had called on her just before and hadgiven her a tract to dine on. Ye see, I maun mak mysel' a friend tothe 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 liveamong them, an' be ane o' them. I wad mind ye that Christ Himsel' gavesympathy to begin with,—he did the preachin' afterwards."

"What a good fellow you are, Mac!" said Errington, suddenly seeing hisraw Scotch friend with the perverse accent, in quite a new and heroiclight.

Macfarlane actually blushed. "Nonsense, not a bit o't!" he declaredquite nervously. "It's just pure selfishness, after a'—for I'm simplyenjoyin' 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 justtook him,—he starin' an' blinkin' like an owl at me,—and carried himinto my room. There I gave him a plate o' barley broth, an' finished himup wi' a hunk o' gingerbread. Ma certes! Ye should ha' seen the rascallaugh. 'Twas better than lookin' at a play from a ten-guinea box on thegrand tier!"

"By Jove, Sandy, you're a brick!" cried Lorimer, laughing to hide a verydifferent 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 intoconseederation the meanin' o' the Testament teachings till—I saw yourleddy wife, Errington." He paused a moment, then added gravely—"Yes—andI've aften fancied she maun be a real live angel,—an' I've soughtalways to turn my hand to something useful and worth the doin',—eversince I met her."

"I'll tell her so," said poor Philip, his heart aching for his lost loveas 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 grandwoman 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 readpolice reports," he said—"Talk o' misters,—he's a pretty specimen!He's been hunted out o' his place in Yorkshire for carryin' onlove-affairs wi' the women o' his congregation. One day he lockedhimsel' in the vestry wi' the new-married wife o' one o' his preencipalsupporters—an' he had a grand time of it—till the husband came an'dragged him oot an' thrashed him soundly. Then he left theneighborhood—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 toneed my services," and Macfarlane rubbed his great hands together withan irrepressible chuckle. "There was a crowd o' hootin' laddies roundhim, 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' themagistrate cam' down pretty hard on him. The case proved to beexceptionally outrageous—so he's sentenced to a month's imprisonmentan' hard labor. Hard labor! Eh, mon! but that's fine! Fancy him atwork—at real work for the first time in a' his days! Gude Lord! I cansee him at it!"

"So he's come to that!" and Errington shrugged his shoulders with wearycontempt. "I thought he would. His career as a minister is ended, that'sone comfort!"

"Don't be too sure o' that!" said Sandy cautiously. "There's alwaysAmerica, ye ken. He can mak' a holy martyr o' himsel' there! He may gainas muckle a reputation as Henry Ward Beecher—ye canna ever tell what mayhappen—'tis a queer warld!"

"Queer, indeed!" assented Lorimer as they all rose and left therestaurant together. "If our present existence is the result of afortuitous conglomeration of atoms,—I think the atoms ought to havebeen more careful what they were about, that's all I can say!"

They reached the open street, where Macfarlane shook hands and went hisway, promising to call on Errington as soon as Thelma should be again athome.

"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 aphilanthropist."

"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'svotes. I had a wretched time yesterday,—speechifying and trying torouse up clodhoppers to the interests of their country,—and all thetime my darling at home was alone, and breaking her heart about me! ByJove! if I'd only known! When I came back this morning to all thismisery—I told Neville to send in my resignation. I repeated the samething 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 atheart,—not a bit of it! They're all for themselves—most of them, atany rate—they're not even sincere in their efforts to do good to thepopulation. And it's all very well to stick up for the aristocracy; butwhy, in Heaven's name, can't some of the wealthiest among them do asmuch as our old Mac is doing, for the outcast and miserable poor? I seesome real usefulness and good in his work, and I'll help him in itwith a will—when—when Thelma comes back."

Thus talking, the two friends reached the Garrick Club, where they foundBeau Lovelace in the reading-room, turning over some new books with thecurious smiling air of one who believes there can be nothing originalunder the sun, and that all literature is mere repetition. He greetedthem 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 whoeven whispers. We won't excite his angry passions. You know we're allliterature-mongers here,—we've each got our own little particular stallwhere we sort our goods—our mouldy oranges, sour apples, andindigestible nuts,—and we polish them up to look tempting to thepublic. It's a great business, and we can't bear to be looked at whilewe're turning our apples with the best side outwards, and boiling ouroranges to make them swell and seem big! We like to do our humbug insilence and alone."

He led the way into the smoking-room—and there heard with much surpriseand a great deal of concern the story of Thelma's flight.

"Ingenuous boy!" he said kindly, clapping Philip on the shoulder. "Howcould you be such a fool as to think that repeated visits to VioletVere, no matter on what business, would not bring the dogs of scandalyelping about your heels! I wonder you didn't see how you werecompromising yourself!"

"He never told me a word about it," interposed Lorimer, "or else Ishould have given him a bit of my mind on the subject."

"Of course!" agreed Lovelace. "And—excuse me—why the devil didn't youlet 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 soreadily on the rapid wings of impulse. Now I suppose you want to shootLennox—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, anddescribed its fatal result.

"He died horribly!" said Philip in a low voice. "I haven't got over ityet. 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 thusabruptly ended.

"Rather an unpleasant exit for such a fellow," he remarked. "Notaesthetic at all. And so you were going to castigate him?"

"Look!" and Philip showed him the horsewhip; "I've been carrying thisthing about all day,—I wish I could drop it in the streets; but if Idid, 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 thepositive certainty of never seeing it again," laughed Beau. "Here, handit over!" and he possessed himself of it. "I'll keep it till you comeback. You leave for Norway to-night, then?"

"Yes. If I can. But it's the winter season—and there'll be all mannerof difficulties. I'm afraid it's no easy matter to reach the Altenfjordat this time of year."

"Why not use your yacht, and be independent of obstacles?" suggestedLovelace.

"She's under repairs, worse luck!" sighed Philip despondingly. "Shewon't be in sailing condition for another month. No—I must take mychance—that's all. It's possible I may overtake Thelma at Hull—that'smy great hope."

"Well, don't be down in the mouth about it, my boy!" said Beausympathetically. "It'll all come right, depend upon it! Your wife's asweet, gentle, noble creature,—and when once she knows all about themiserable 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, agentleman, with hands clasped behind his back, and a suave smile on hiscountenance, bowed to him with marked and peculiar courtesy as hesauntered on his way through the room. Beau returned the salute withequal politeness.

"That's Whipper," he explained with a smile, when the gentleman was outof earshot. "The best and most generous of men! He's a critic—allcritics are large-minded and generous, we know,—but he happens to beremarkably so. He did me the kindest turn I ever had in my life. When myfirst book came out, he fell upon it tooth and claw, mangled it, tore itto ribbons, metaphorically speaking,—and waved the fragments mockinglyin the eyes of the public. From that day my name was made—my writingssold off with delightful rapidity, and words can never tell how Iblessed, and how I still bless, Whipper! He always pitches intome—that's what's so good of him! We're awfully polite to each other, asyou observe—and what is so perfectly charming is that he's quiteunconscious how much he's helped me along! He's really a first-ratefellow. But I haven't yet attained the summit of my ambition,"—and hereLovelace 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! Iwant Punch to make mouths at me, and give me the benefit of hisinimitable squeak and gibber. No author's fame is quite secure till dearold Punch has abused him. Abuse is the thing nowadays, you know.Heaven forbid that I should be praised by Punch. That would befrightfully unfortunate!"

Here the coffee arrived, and Lovelace dispensed it to his friends,talking gaily the while in an effort to distract Errington from hisgloomy thoughts.

"I've just been informed on respectable authority, that Walt Whitman isthe new Socrates," he said laughingly. "I felt rather stunned at themoment but I've got over it now. Oh, this deliciously mad London! what agigantic Colney Hatch it is for the crazed folk of the world to airtheir follies in! That any reasonable Englishmen with such names asShakespeare, Byron, Keats, and Shelley, to keep the glory of theircountry warm, should for one moment consider Walt Whitman a poet! Yegods! 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 Americarejects. We, therefore,—out of opposition,—take him up. His chiefrecommendation is that he writes blatantly concerningcommonplaces,—regardless of music or rhythm. Here's a bit of himconcerning 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 apractical joke, Beau! No one would call that jargon poetry!"

"Oh! wouldn't they though!" exclaimed Lovelace. "Let some critic ofreputation once start the idea, and you'll have the good London folk whowon't bother to read him for themselves, declaring him as fine asShakespeare. The dear English muttons! fine Southdowns! fleecybaa-lambs! once let the Press-bell tinkle loudly enough across thefields of literature, and they'll follow, bleating sweetly in anydirection! The sharpest heads in our big metropolis are those who knowthis, and who act accordingly."

"Then why don't you act accordingly?" asked Errington, with a faintsmile.

"Oh, I? I can't! I never asked a favor from the Press in my life—butit* little bell has tinkled for me all the same, and a few of themuttons follow, but not all. Are you off?" this, as they rose to taketheir leave. "Well, Errington, old fellow," and he shook hands warmly,"a pleasant journey to you, and a happy return home! My best regards toyour 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 theidea,—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 ofthe smoking-room into the hall, while Errington, a little surprised atthis sudden arrangement, observed—

"Why, George—I thought you'd be here when we came back fromNorway—to—to welcome Thelma, you know!"

George laughed. "My dear boy, I shan't be wanted! Just let me know howeverything goes on. You—you see, I'm in duty bound to take my motherout 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! Lorimerwants brushing up a bit too—he looks seedy. Then I shall consider itsettled—the day after to-morrow, we meet at Charing Cross—morningtidal express, of course,—never go by night service across the Channelif you can help it."

Again they shook hands and parted.

"Best thing that young fellow can do!" thought Lovelace as he returnedto the Club reading-room. "The sooner he gets out of this, into newscenes 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 hername was mentioned. He's rather badly hit!"

He sat down and began to meditate. "What can I do for him, I wonder?" hethought. "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 acounter-impression on him. He'd never put up with an Italian beauty"—hepaused in his reflections, and the color flushed his broad, handsomebrow, as the dazzling vision of a sweet, piquant face with liquid darkeyes and rippling masses of rich brown hair came flitting beforehim—"unless he saw Angela," he murmured to himself softly,—"and hewill not see her,—besides, Angela loves me!"

And after this, his meditations seemed to be particularly pleasant, tojudge from the expression of his features. Beau was by no means ignorantof the tender passion—he had his own little romance, as beautiful andbright as a summer day—but he had resolved that London, with its loveof gossip, its scandal, and society papers,—London, that on account ofhis popularity as a writer, watched his movements and chronicled hisdoings in the most authoritative and incorrect manner,—London shouldhave no chance of penetrating into the secret of his private life. Andso far he had succeeded—and was likely still to succeed.

Meanwhile, as he still sat in blissful reverie, pretending to read anewspaper, though his thoughts were far away from it, Errington andLorimer arrived at the Midland Station. Britta was already there withthe luggage,—she was excited and pleased—her spirits had risen at theprospect of seeing her mistress soon again,—possibly, she thoughtgladly, they might find her at Hull,—they might not have to go toNorway at all. The train came up to the platform—the tickets weretaken,—and Sir Philip, with Britta, entered—a first-class compartment,while Lorimer stood outside leaning with folded arms on thecarriage-window, talking cheerfully.

"You'll find her all right, Phil, I'm positive!" he said. "I think it'svery probable she has been compelled to remain at Hull,—and even at theworst, Britta can guide you all over Norway, if necessary. Nothing willdaunt her!"

And he nodded kindly to the little maid who had regained her rosy colorand the sparkle of her eyes in the eagerness she felt to rejoin herbeloved "Fröken." The engine-whistle gave a warning shriek—Philipleaned 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 ofwhite steam, it rushed forth from the station, winding through thearches like a black snake, till it had twisted itself rapidly out ofsight. Lorimer, left alone, looked after it wistfully, with a heavyweight of unuttered love and sorrow at his heart, and as he at lastturned away, those haunting words that he had heard under the pines atthe Altenfjord recurred again and again to his memory—the words utteredby the distraught Sigurd—and how true they were, he thought! howdesperately, 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 goodNorwegian innkeeper, Friedhof, who had assisted Thelma in herflight—and all their persistent and anxious inquiries elicited no newsof her. Moreover, there was no boat of any kind leaving immediately forNorway—not even a whaler or fishing-smack. In a week's time,—possiblylater,—there would be a steamer starting for Christiansund, and forthis, Errington, though almost mad with impatience, was forced to wait.And in the meantime, he roamed about the streets of Hull, lookingeagerly at every fair-haired woman who passed him, and always hopingthat Thelma herself would suddenly meet him face to face, and put herhands in his. He wrote to Neville and told him to send on any lettersthat might arrive for him, and by every post he waited anxiously for onefrom Thelma but none came. To relieve his mind a little, he scribbled along letter to her, explaining everything, telling her how ardently heloved and worshipped her—how he was on his way t