A LITTLE afterwards, Laurette came out into the hall with some notes, saw this letter, and regarded it as the answer to all her conjectures. She took it up and looked at it with a strange expression on her face. It was bulky, with double postage on it, and that Eastern fragrance clung to it of a thousand rose-leaves crushed into a pin-point of liquid, which had been dear to Stella from childhood. Laurette remembered as a girl seeing some of the hermetically-sealed little vials full of this essence, which some connection of the Courtlands sent to the girls from Persia, where he was

  ― 287 ―
in the diplomatic service of his country. Laurette could hardly have explained why the reminiscence heightened that half-vindictive spite never very distant from the feeling with which she regarded Stella. It was merely one of the insignificant little events that is part of the life of a family whose cadets have for generations pushed their way into every quarter of the globe in the civil and military service of Britain. But such circumstances had, to Laurette's sharp envious mind, marked the gulf which, in the old country, had separated her own people from those to whom the Courtlands belonged, though in Australia the position was in some degree reversed. She held the letter a moment in her hand, then put it back with the rest.

If any object could be gained by destroying or opening it, she would not have hesitated to take either course. There would have been no balancing of sentiments—no struggle between good and evil—but simply a swift calculation as to the chances of detection, and if that could be evaded, prompt action, as it would serve her interests. When men or women have passed many years in an atmosphere of small habitual duplicities, shifty meannesses, and unscrupulous self-seeking, all the time tempered by a cunning caution, the nature becomes ingrained with a moral imbecility that seems absolutely proof against any stirring of conscience.

Laurette returned to the drawing-room, and shortly afterwards her husband came home. His appearance at that early hour was a little shock to her. Nor was it misplaced. He at once broached the subject which led to his phenomenal movements.

‘That Riverina fellow has seen me to-night again. He is willing to give an advance of two hundred pounds for this place, on the rent we pay. I have told him he may most likely have it at the end of this month.’

‘Well, that was kind of you,’ said Laurette, trying to laugh; but it was an unsuccessful attempt, and her face had blanched. To this Tareling made no reply.

‘I am going to sleep at the club to-night, and make an early start to Beechfield to-morrow about some land there. I thought I'd better tell you as early as possible about giving up this place.’

‘And going to Cannawijera with the children and the maids?’

  ― 288 ―

‘Precisely; unless your father wishes to have you at Godolphin House. What the devil made them give the place such a name as that? It seems like a bad joke.’

‘Most things do in the Colonies, don't they?’

‘Ah! I don't know that we need go into these details. You understand about the house? I have not given an absolute promise.’

‘No; and you must not!’ said Laurette, suddenly rising with quivering lips. ‘If you suppose that I am going to bury myself in the heart of the Mallee Scrub—’

Tareling shrugged his shoulders with such an imperturbable air that Laurette at once checked herself.

‘You have a good deal of temperament at times,’ he said smoothly, after a little pause; ‘but if you think over it you will see that here it is really worse than useless. I must have six or seven hundred pounds early in October, and two hundred pounds clear is more than I can afford to lose. Besides, you are only getting into debt every week.’

‘And you? what will you do?’

‘Oh, I shall manage, thanks,’ answered Tareling, examining his watch-chain critically.

‘Yes; you will manage to get into debt.’

‘Probably; but there will be compensations.’

‘And then my father will have to pay another thou—’

‘You are developing a remarkable turn for figures, and I notice you do not mix up amounts like some women. I wish you had been as accurate when we first met, and you dropped those artless hints about being heiress to the tune of five or six thousand a year.’

‘Oh, good heavens! if I had only known; if I could have foreseen!’

‘Ah, exactly. If we could both have foreseen; but as that was a gift denied to us, we married. But if you will excuse me—’ Tareling stood up, taking his watch out.

‘Well, Talbot, I'll excuse you if you excuse me,’ said Laurette, with a sudden change of tone and manner. ‘I should have told you before that Ted is going to give me another fifteen hundred pounds at the end of this month— only I must not leave Melbourne at the latest till the season is quite over.’

‘Why didn't you tell me this before—when I first spoke of re-letting the house?’

  ― 289 ―

‘Well, you see, I thought I would keep all this second cheque for current expenses and the most pressing bills— as you had nearly half of the first lot; but you can have what you need early in October.’

‘Oh, well, I suppose I had better tell this fellow circumstances have turned up that prevent our letting the Lodge.’

And with a nod the Honourable Talbot Tareling left the domestic hearth.

For some time after he was gone Laurette sat sunk in reflections. Early in October. Yes, that was about the time that the company to which Mademoiselle de Melier belonged was to leave for San Francisco. Laurette had known for some time that her husband contemplated a change of scene. People who had known him intimately before his marriage were amazed that he had remained in the Colonies so long. Countries in which work is the paramount social factor are always more or less crude in their resources of amusement. And then the Ritchie family was cutting up so confoundedly rough about money matters. Laurette had long recognised that there was nothing in her husband's nature to which any appeal could successfully be made that clashed with his own ideas of enjoyment. His intrigue with this wretched little singing actress affected Mrs. Tareling little, if at all, from an ethical point of view. As she had once said in a burst of confidence to an old school friend: ‘When a girl marries into the British nobility she must give up bourgeoise notions of morality.’ Neither could she be deeply wounded through the affections. But there is always a vulnerable spot—and that with Laurette was her social success. If Talbot worked out his present plans, Laurette's prospects centred not only in social extinction in the Mallee Scrub, but something also of social disgrace. Laurette rose up almost gasping at the prospect.

She did not in the least expect the second munificent cheque from Ted, knowing too well the tissue of deceit by which she had secured the first. But then, this Riverina family was choked off, and every week made it less likely that anyone else would make as good an offer for Monico Lodge—and she gained time. To leave Melbourne at this juncture would be to give up all. She regretted not having opened Stella's letter. Was it not possible she was dallying with a new admirer—yet unable to commit the extravagant

  ― 290 ―
folly of resigning a man with fifteen thousand a year for love of one who had not half as many hundreds? She had written to Julia urging her to find out by all means in her power what this sudden departure of Langdale's portended. She must somehow find out the truth of affairs before telegraphing for Ted, as she had promised to do on Stella's arrival. In fact, it might be necessary to prevent their meeting at all under her roof. She reflected that if one is called to account for conflicting statements it is always easier to explain by letter. ‘My anxiety for your success, dear Ted, may have led me to exaggerate in your favour,’ etc. As for Stella, she would be too happy and self-absorbed to care about such trifles. ‘But “there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip,” ’ thought Laurette vindictively.

Next morning's first post brought letters to Stella from Lullaboolagana, and one in a hand strange to Laurette, bearing the Minjah-Millowie post-mark. But there was not much room left to her for speculation as to the writer. The moment Stella saw this letter her face was suffused with happy blushes, and she presently made some excuse to escape with it to her own room—actually leaving the rest behind. Laurette herself had a note from Julia. ‘I have fished it out of Nell,’ she wrote, ‘that Louise knows Dr. L. has not yet been accepted, but hopes to be on his return. He is to be back in three or four months. What can be taking him away? Perhaps you will see him in a day or two. Mrs. Morrison told me yesterday that a Dr. Grey, a friend of her husband's, has come out by the last P. and O. steamer, and is most likely coming to practise here in partnership with Morrison.’

On Monday Stella went to stay for a day and a half with the Carters. An hour after she had driven away with her brother a servant brought a card to Laurette. It was Dr. Langdale's, and he was waiting to see her. Was he going by the French steamer which sailed in the afternoon? Could she prevent him from seeing Stella, or would this do any good? He would have had her letter on Friday night, while his must have been written on Thursday. A hundred thoughts flew through Laurette's mind, but she felt the impossibility of seeing her way far ahead before she knew what Langdale's plans were. Only she decided if he were

  ― 291 ―
really leaving by the Salagie she would say Stella had gone —where? Some place not to be reached in a few hours. But lovers were such awful fools—they would attempt the most imbecile feats. Well, to avoid all rash venturing she would state Stella was on her way to Mount Macedon by an uncertain route.

Who that saw this pretty, fair woman in her fresh blue morning dress greeting her visitor with an amiable smile could have dreamt what her resolves had been a moment before? Langdale apologized for his early call. He had arrived by the morning train, and was to sail by the Salagie that afternoon, and being anxious to see Miss Courtland before leaving—

‘Oh, had she any idea you were coming?’ broke in Laurette.

‘No,’ Dr. Langdale answered, smiling; ‘he himself had not known till six hours before he left Minjah-Millowie.’

‘Oh, a thousand pities,’ said Laurette, in a sympathetic voice. ‘Miss Courtland is now on her way to Mount Macedon. I cannot even say by what route, or whether she will reach her destination this evening. She may stay with friends on the way. Your woods seem to have spoiled Stella for town life.’

This was said with an arch smile, and Laurette was quick to note the awakened look, the swift flash, with which Langdale heard this.

‘Miss Courtland is well, I hope,’ he said a little anxiously.

‘Oh yes, radiantly well; but more addicted to silence than formerly,’ returned Laurette meaningly. She thought if she were sufficiently cordial and encouraging, if she comported herself as if she were quite behind the scenes, she might glean a little more intelligence. At any rate, such a manner would be likely to inspire confidence. And nothing was more valuable than confidence when you were bent on thwarting the confidee's little plans. ‘But, after all, perhaps you need not go to-day?’ added Laurette.

‘I must,’ he answered—and he went on to say that his passage had been booked in the Salagie by telegram, that she sailed at seven in the evening. And then he asked leave to call later with a letter for Miss Courtland.

‘Well,’ thought Laurette, as the door closed behind him, ‘this looks like the finger of Providence.’ She seemed to

  ― 292 ―
hold possibilities in her grasp that would be valuable, and yet Stella was so unmalleable in some respects, and Laurette divined, even from her brief interview with Langdale, that one who knew him, much less one who loved him, would not be easily duped into doubting the man. But Laurette was content to take short views. He was going to the other end of the world, and to entrust a letter to her care. Yes, people often wrote on the way, but on a French boat one could not write earlier than from Mauritius —five or six weeks ahead at the least; while what Laurette was scheming for was to get that other fifteen hundred pounds at the end of September on the plea of serving Ted's cause so well.

She did not stir out of the house till Langdale came and left the letter. She took it at once to her own room and locked the door. She opened the letter carefully, and it yielded under her supple fingers without a tear. Of course, if nothing could be gained by destroying it, she would close it up again and deliver it. But a glance served to show her that it placed undreamt-of opportunities in her hand, if only she could devise means of putting them to use. There was a long letter with a separate enclosure. It was this that first caught her eye, and brought the blood into her face, while her heart beat tumultuously. Then she read the letter:


‘Your first letter reached me an hour ago. Will you ever know the extreme joy it gave me? And the great lovely look of hair it contained! I drew it to its full length, and laid it against my cheek. But Blättchen knows the fatuity of pens in speaking of things so far beyond their reach. How shabby my letter was compared to yours! But, if I do not take care, I shall not remember to answer one of your questions.

‘As I rode away, in the dawn, from Peeloo, I looked back and thought I saw a face I knew at one of the windows. It came with me all the way, and showed me the profound loveliness of the early morning light falling upon the still woods. The splitter is better. I stayed with him two hours, and he told me a little story that would have delighted St. Charity's heart. I may, perhaps, tell it to her when I see her in Melbourne; and there is something

  ― 293 ―
else I must tell her also—the full reason for my visit to England. Yes, darling, it may pain you, but your letter makes me feel that it is unworthy of us both to hold it back. But this is my first reply to a letter of Liebe's, and therefore there must be nothing in it to pain her. And I may be with her for a little in a day or two. How I long to set out, so that I may hasten back! My first reply to you, dearest. What have I to say? Oh, I have a great and solemn secret to whisper in your ear. Don't let Dustiefoot hear it; and be sure you do not tell it to the pert Fairacre birds, who do nothing but chatter from morning to night. The secret is this. Oh, little-leaf-of-my-heart, I love you—I love you—I love you! Did I ever tell you before what a darling you are, and how entirely I worship you? But that I could not tell you adequately—no one could! Oh, my own, do you know what your love means to me—how it has gladdened my life as I never expected it to be gladdened? I told you once that I had suffered; but some sorrows have power to make strong and build up, while others seem to eat up what should go to the woof of calm daily happiness. That was the sort of sorrow I have had; yet I felt and acknowledged that I myself was to blame, as most of us are in the misfortunes that fall on us apart from bereavement. But the darkness is over. Already I see the gold of dawn which is to broaden into the perfect day of our happiness.

‘Darling, does it not seem in some ways as if we could not be really separated any more? Now and henceforth you are part of my inmost life. Each sight and sound of Nature is more vivid—more beautiful since I knew you. Here are some lines that I keep crooning very often when I am alone:

“She gave me eyes, she gave me ears,
And humble cares and delicate fears,
A heart the fountain of sweet tears,
And love and thought and joy.”

‘Yes, love and thought and joy. How grateful I am that the unspeakable gift of your love was given to me before time and bitter memories robbed me of the capacity of joy! It does happen in life that people are sometimes so crushed and made desolate that, when the possibility of happiness is restored to them, it comes too late. It is not

  ― 294 ―
only that Joy is so prone to put his hand to his lips bidding adieu, but that often, when he approaches, his sovereignty is over. If necessary, we can endure our lives and do our work in the world without the possession of vivid personal joy. But, ah! when it comes, and our hearts are still fresh and young enough to bound at its approach, what is there that we would barter for its possession?

‘Belovedest, did I not see tears glisten in your sweet eyes when we parted? Do not allow too many sad thoughts to nestle in your heart when I am not near to chase them afar. There is but a step between being dejected for individual reasons and harbouring melancholy forebodings relative to wider issues. It is good to remember that the problems of life do not crowd pell-mell into our daily path in the way that they do into our minds, and that in the end we have not to solve inextricable riddles in order to do our best in the world. There is one maxim you quoted out of “Wilhelm Meister” I would have you, Liebe, keep in mind all the time I am away—“Remember to live.” Do not let spectres come between you and the sunshine you love so well. By this I do not mean try to drive solemn thoughts from you. Ever-belovedest, I love to think of you too well as you are—to recall how in the most mirth-provoking mood a sudden seriousness would often fall upon your face. No, I would not have Liebe different from her dear self by the twentieth part of the petal of a milk-white fairy rose. Her quick moods and rippling fancies are all too precious to me. All I plead for is that she should drive sombre dreams to the far ends of the earth; that she should let no reflection of the shadow that has burdened part of my life throw any darkness on hers. Keep all your buoyant fancies, darling, and your tender sparkling gaiety, for my sake.

‘I have often felt that the exacting routine of labour to which men must school themselves, brings in its train something wooden and inflexible, even when their work makes constant demands on their sympathies. I suppose it is because of this that a woman's more inward and leisured habit of thought exercises so deep a fascination. She has time to keep all these things and ponder them in her heart, so that she comes to have a kind of second sight, a sensitive delicacy of perception, which, with most men, is either

  ― 295 ―
undeveloped or swallowed in the grind of daily life. A woman sees a thousand things that from their duller, or, let us say, more preoccupied eyes, are almost wholly obscured. To achieve anything in the world, a man has to learn to be hard on himself, and that often produces a certain hardness in other respects. It would seem that to work long and constantly, even though the work is what interests us most, begets a certain strain of insensibility. Thus I often smile when I think that though I could draw separately, and in skeleton form, all the bones of a swallow's wing, I learned the full poetry of its flight through your bright eyes. But what is the use of my talking, or rather writing, in this way, when Liebe persists in making the most adorably comic little faces at me, and making up a wicked little story about what happened to someone who had an evil habit of writing in a didactic, reasonable strain? After all, your chrysanthemums will not be out before I return. But there will be roses, and mind you wear great clusters of them on the day the Pâquerette steams into Glenelg. Dear day, filled with soft-footed hours! Is that one of Liebe's phrases, and will she inflict penalties on me for using it without leave? So she may; only I must draw up a list of the penalties.’

Here followed a page or two of the ardent nothings that come so readily to a lover's pen. Then there was a break, and the rest was dated that day, ‘Scott's Hotel, Melbourne,’ deeply regretting Stella's absence from town, explaining how the prompt acceptance by a friend of Morrison's of a medical partnership at Minjah-Millowie had occurred in time to permit Langdale taking his passage by the out-going French boat, which enabled him to set out at once, and he was incredibly anxious to get away, so that he might be back in February.

‘And now,’ he wrote, ‘I am going to tell you, Stella, what that business is, because ever since I got your precious letter I felt it was impossible I should conceal it from you; my only reason for doing so was that your keenly sensitive, apprehensive nature might dwell on the bare possibility that there may still be a barrier to our marriage; but with the exquisite trust and love you have shown, no consideration has force enough to make me keep this back from you, only

  ― 296 ―
it must not be included in this, my reply to Liebe's first letter. Are you satisfied that I am not so calmly reasonable after all, and that I may even be infected with a little superstition? No, not superstition, but “delicate fears.” I shall not say farewell, but merely what we said that night after our most memorable ride—“Aufbaldige Wiedersehen.” ’

After reading this, with beating temples, Laurette turned once more to the enclosure. There were four thin sheets of foreign paper, the last being but half written. As Langdale wrote a firm, rather heavy hand, he had written on one side only. It was a trifling circumstance, and yet it was of material service to Laurette in carrying out the plan that eventually took shape in her unscrupulous little brain.

‘At the age of twenty-two, while still a medical student in London, just a year after my father's death, I met a lady a good many years older than myself, who fascinated me greatly. She was an Italian, and very beautiful. Still, infatuated as I was, I shrank from the idea of marrying her. But, under circumstances which I need not now detail, I married her four months after we first met. The marriage turned out a disastrous failure. After three years we agreed to live apart. A year later I knew that she had proved unfaithful to me. I had sufficient evidence to secure a divorce, but partly because I shrank from the exposure—only a few of my most intimate friends knew of the union—partly because she had fallen into very bad health, and besought me to spare her, as she had not long to live, I desisted. She gave my lawyer a written acknowledgement of her guilt, duly attested, resigned my name, and left England for Brussels, where some of her friends lived. On these conditions I settled an income on her, which she named as being adequate, and was to be paid by my lawyer half-yearly.

‘The letter I opened in the Home Field that day was from my lawyer. He wrote to say that the last receipt he had received for this half-yearly payment was evidently a forgery, that he had caused inquiries to be made through a trusted agent, and found that the lady to whom the money was payable had died, but that the fact was concealed by a relative who endeavoured to make capital out of the imposition.

  ― 297 ―
He found that the lady who died was buried under the name of the one with whom she lived, and an application was for a second time made for the annuity, with a statement that the difference of writing was caused by illness. But a request that an interview should be granted to one who knew both ladies was denied. No doubt could exist in my lawyer's mind, nor in my own, as to the facts of the matter. But you will understand, Stella, that it is one of the points on which one is satisfied with nothing less than legal indisputable proof. It was my intention to possess this before doing more than asking leave to write to you. I cannot but be glad that the course of events led to my departing from this resolution. The assurance of your love is too precious. But you have been so loyally trustful, you have shown such entire confidence in me, it seems to me now I should have frankly told you the position. But I shrank horribly from marring the first glow of our happiness with this sordid story. And then there are some misfortunes in life that men are more sensitive about than many forms of evil-doing. And yet, my own, now that I have won the treasure of your love, I feel more than ever thankful that in this early, ill-judged, ill-fated bond I was the betrayed, and not the betrayer. It hurts me horribly that the bloom of your gladness must be touched with the thought of a life which closed so darkly stained. And yet, Stella, it is best you should know all now—that our happy reunion on my return should not be spoilt by going back to this. It will then be the past for both of us. From the moment I resolved to tell you I felt a relief, for the conviction haunted me that I should not have yielded to your generous wish in the matter, saying that I had been surprised out of my secret. Do not be too sorry, Herzblättchen. Think chiefly of what carries so much joy for both. Think of the day on which the Pâquerette will gaily sail into port.’

After this came some lines that had been blotted out, but so quickly dried that the words were readable;

‘Will you forgive me if I say that one of the memories which gives me the most unalloyed happiness is your timorous confession that you felt you could have moved or

  ― 298 ―
spoken after your accident when I reached you, only you wished to know how it would really “affect me”?

‘Yours, Stella, with the profoundest respect and love,


Laurette's head throbbed with swiftly succeeding and conflicting thoughts as she reached the close. It was apparent at once that the first letter must be kept back, if only on account of its allusion to Stella's imagined absence from Melbourne. And the other, the enclosure, which, taken by itself, would begin with such strange abruptness?

‘Chance—chance,’ says Ste. Beuve in one of his critical essays, ‘if we wish to be truthful, we shall never allow enough room for you, nor shall we ever make deep enough incisions in any philosophy of history.’ Probably Laurette herself could hardly say how far the form of this statement, the way in which it was written on one side only of the paper, and the suggestive air of the effaced lines, helped her to work the scheme which she put into execution with unshrinking completeness.

She sat for an hour or two reading and re-reading the words, regarding the statement from all sides with concentrated intentness. Her eyes glittered strangely, and a brilliant flush reinforced the soupçon of rouge which lent point to her complexion. It was characteristic that though, on first reading Langdale's little narrative, no doubt entered her mind as to the death of the unfortunate woman whose life had made his run with so dark a current for some years, yet the moment she decided on her plan of campaign, she convinced herself that the news was illusory.

‘People never die when it adds to their friends’ happiness,’ she said to herself, with the decision of one who argues from the knowledge of experience. ‘Well, Stella won't run such a fearful risk if I can help it.’

She destroyed the letter there and then, setting fire to it in the grate, and watching it till the last scrap was reduced to a thin black cinder. Her next step was to ring for Sarah, the parlour-maid who had admitted Dr. Langdale and brought her his card.

‘Sarah, I want you to get ready to go to Wandalong, Mrs. Morton's place, you know, by the early train tomorrow. She needs a little extra help, and I must spare

  ― 299 ―
you for a few weeks at any cost. Your wages will be fifteen shillings a week as long as you are there.’ Then she sent a telegram to her sister:

‘Feel sure you need more help. Sarah goes to you to-morrow for a month.’

‘I must run no risk of servants’ tattle,’ she thought, with forced calm. Then she sat down and wrote two notes— both brief. The first was addressed to a Mrs. Anson, and ran:


‘What an age it is since we met! Can you imagine that your grief and undeserved misfortune have changed your friends? As it seems useless to expect you to come to me, unless some pressure is brought to bear, I shall send the carriage for you at ten to-morrow morning, and you must spend the day with me. I shall take care we have no visitors and no interruptions. You see I am determined to take no excuse.’

The next note ran:


‘As I know the Carters are dying to have you a little longer, I write to say that I shall not grudge your remaining till we call for you to-morrow evening on our way to the theatre. Just demi-toilette and a few flowers. They say the comedy company is in splendid form.’

After that Laurette set about her task of manipulating the enclosure.

Sarah left by the early train, and at half-past ten Mrs. Anson came. She was the wife of a man who had been high up in the Civil Service, but who had, six months previously, been convicted of defalcating the public funds, and sentenced to six years' imprisonment. Mrs. Anson was a gentle, sensitive woman, who since her misfortune shrank into retirement as much as possible, yet felt a melancholy pleasure in being so warmly remembered by an old friend. Laurette, on her part, was all chastened sympathy and delicate attention, kissing her sweet Rose on each cheek, and holding her hands in a gentle, detaining clasp.

‘You have hurt your hand, dear?’ said Mrs. Anson in a

  ― 300 ―
tone of concern, noticing that the forefinger of Laurette's right hand was tied up.

‘Oh, a mere bagatelle—a little cut with the bread-knife. I gave my nursery governess a holiday yesterday, and saw to the little one's dinner myself.’

‘You are always doing someone a kindness,’ murmured Mrs. Anson, suddenly struck with the thought that hitherto she had hardly given Laurette credit for all her good qualities.

‘Well, my dear, it would be a poor world if we did not help each other with little deeds of kindness,’ replied Laurette, not only without a blush, but with a little glow of virtuous self-complacency. Then she sat and chatted about all the people her friend had known intimately in days not long gone by. Some who had married, and some who expected to marry, but did not, and all equally repentant. No little tale of social disaster lost its piquancy on Laurette's lips. Indeed, at her best, she had a gift for heightening effects, and shading, which many an artist in journalism might envy. The hours passed very agreeably. There were callers, but Laurette was denied to them. She had promised herself a treat for the day, and she was not going to be cheated out of it. There was so much insincerity and hollowness in the world. ‘As I grow older, I sometimes long to turn my back on it all,’ she said, with a gentle little sigh. Poor Mrs. Anson, though far from being a bitter or envious woman, yet could not wholly escape a slight tinge of the gratification sometimes experienced by the unfortunate when the reflection is forced on them that the disparities of life are, after all, not so great as they appear on the surface.

As they sat over afternoon tea, several letters were brought in to Laurette. One of them seemed to distress her.

‘Oh, how very thoughtless of me not to have written that note as I promised!’ she cried, with a little gesture of despair. ‘Rose, dear, will you excuse me while I pen a note that I should have sent away last night? Thanks, so much.’

She opened a little morocco writing-case that was on a small table near her. Presently she uttered a sharp ejaculation of pain.

  ― 301 ―

‘Who would have thought that such a slight cut would be so painful?’ she cried.

‘But the cut appears to be on the front of the finger,’ said Mrs. Anson. ‘You see the moment you attempt to write the pen presses against the wound.’

‘Oh, how very provoking!’ cried Laurette, knitting her brows prettily.

‘Is it anything I can do for you, Laurette? Pray let me, if it is!’

‘Oh, thank you, dear,’ said Laurette, her face brightening. ‘It is only an old friend like you I could have as an amanuensis in the matter. It is something to be enclosed in a friend's letter in corroboration. A matrimonial quarrel —only more serious than the average run. A wretched affair—jealousy, estrangement, broken hearts. I must not burden you with a knowledge of names; secrets are so often a nuisance. One is so afraid of betraying them, and of course, if it comes to being questioned downright, one tries to tell a fib and fails. I shall be able to put the beginning and sign my name.’

Mrs. Anson was more and more convinced that Laurette was one of those people who must be well known before they get credit for all the minor deeds of charity, and little merciful acts of an unstrained quality, they scatter on their way through life. She sat down and wrote, to Laurette's dictation, in her elegant, careful handwriting, with a sincere wish that what she wrote would effect its kindly purpose.

After her visitor was gone, Laurette looked over the shipping news in the Age, and found that the Salagie had not left Williamstown till eleven o'clock on the previous night. Dr. Langdale's name was safe in the passenger list; but what if the delay had led to a chance encounter between himself and Stella? If she and Dora had gone shopping in Collins Street, as not infrequently happens with young ladies, late in the afternoon! Laurette put the conjecture from her. She was somehow upheld by the thought that her efforts at putting crooked things straight would not be so ruthlessly crushed by an overruling Providence. Laurette thoroughly believed that this power was always on the side of the strongest battalions, and as matched against Stella, Laurette felt that at this juncture she was as one armed and lying in ambush to trap an unsuspecting foe. As some

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of the lowest organisms in which nerves cannot exist are yet somehow sensitive to light, so even the least noble natures, when contriving a great baseness against a fellow-creature, are often dimly conscious of remorse. But few have ever practised treacherous artifices with less compunction than visited Laurette at this crisis.

She had never known anything of those delicate instincts of morality which are motive powers in many minds that have received far less moral culture. She had many impulses of generosity and kindness, but they were rudimentary florets that never blossomed into habit. Of principles she knew nothing beyond a determination to make the best of her opportunities—to get all she could out of life. She would never transgress the rules of outward decorum, nor know anything of the better aspirations of human nature. She was now threatened with social extinction, and her insatiable thirst for pleasure and ease, and the footing she had gained in society, urged her to make a desperate struggle, using such means as lay within her grasp, as little checked by any feeble glimmering of conscience as a street urchin when he sucks an orange and throws the rind away.

And yet, with all this, she had an inimitable trick of assigning, even to herself, virtuous motives to the shadiest of her shady little intrigues. ‘It is not only Stella who must be protected from an entanglement with a married man,’ she reflected, ‘but then there is Ted, and there is Talbot, whose movements I must watch. A husband and father must not be left to the wiles of a wretched little actress at a crisis. I shall have that fifteen hundred pounds after all, for, if I know anything of Stella Courtland, the letter she is to get to-morrow morning will set fire to her pride in a way that will put things in a new light. And her jealousy —I had no idea she had so much of it till her brother got engaged—to find he hurried away without even seeing her— and to a living wife! It must succeed!’ she said half aloud, as she went over the main features of the affair.