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Chapter XXXIX

‘THEN you did not care very much for the play last night, Miss Stella?’ said Mr. Tareling at breakfast on the following morning. ‘Tell me what you objected to most.’

‘I had no choice of dislike,’ answered Stella. ‘I thought the whole of it was overgrown with the scurf of commonness —the sort of thing that gets acted because of the permanent stupidity of our kind.’

‘Goodness! I feel quite annoyed that I enjoyed it so much,’ said Laurette, with mock humility.

‘I wouldn't if I were you,’ answered her husband with a laugh. ‘In a democratic country you are always right if you are on the side of the majority. But come now, Miss Stella, weren't you a little touched by the despair of the lovers? There was a big woman in a purple satin dress near me who mopped her eyes till her handkerchief dripped. You must have found their despair pathetic.’

‘Despair!’ echoed Stella. ‘Why, a marionette wouldn't be imposed upon by such a paltry device! They were engaged in the first act. It would never do to let them be married in the second—in fact, the play would not come into being—and what would then become of the worthy fathers of families who are supported by the drama? So of course there must be a misunderstanding through six or seven scenes. Oh yes, it might melt a heart of stone, to see a middle-aged female, rouged up to the eyes, weeping bitterly without shedding any tears! Did you see how she held her handkerchief so as not to brush the powder off her nose?’

‘I am sorry I didn't show you my big woman in the purple satin. She wept for herself and both the lovers,’ said Tareling, looking very much amused.

‘But I suppose you will admit that misunderstandings do come between people—and—why, even your Shakespeare makes a man smother his wife because of groundless jealousy,’ said Laurette, who had taken up a morning paper and glanced over it.

‘Yes, and with such a fiend incarnate as Iago to poison his mind he could not have been Othello without being driven into madness.’

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Laurette was glancing over the paper, but there was something restless and nervous in her manner.

‘Then what would you consider a sufficient reason for an estrangement in a modern play?’

‘Oh, I cannot say! I imagine if people really love each other, nothing that another could say or do would estrange them, unless there is an Iago in the case, and such a man is much rarer than—’

‘Than a grand passion?’ put in Tareling. ‘Ah, Miss Stella, it seems to me you have a very charming colour this morning.’

She turned on him, and parried the insinuation, with a laughing, radiant face.

‘I don't think I can quite forgive you for not showing me the woman who wept so copiously when the despairing lovers could not even move a muscle. How the sight would have consoled me!’

Letters were brought in; several for Stella. Among them she discerned one addressed in a handwriting the sight of which made her heart throb stormily.

Laurette was trembling with excitement. She had opened a letter, but instead of reading it she looked over it furtively at Stella, whose face at that moment was irradiated as if a rosy flame shone through it—her lips slightly parted in a happy smile, her eyes lustrous as stars. The Honourable Talbot Tareling's home correspondence was chiefly of the kind that takes the disgustingly prosaic form of requesting payment—applications which, as a rule, rouse neither enthusiasm nor curiosity in the recipient's breast. Tareling turned over his with an air of profound indifference; then he glanced from his wife's face to Stella's with an expression of curious inquiry. Laurette caught the look, and coloured violently, instantly taking refuge in her open letter.

‘It is evident that I shall have to spend part of the morning at my desk,’ said Stella, rising and gathering up her letters.

‘Please remember we are due at Mrs. Joran's in the afternoon,’ said Laurette.

‘Who is he?’ asked her husband, as the door closed after Stella.

Laurette pretended not to understand.

‘Oh, aren't you behind the scenes, then? A young lady

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does not colour like Aurora because a handful of letters come from the family circle. And such a dewy smile! Ye gods, what it must be to be a girl and in love! The girl has a lovely face!’

‘Oh, probably there was a letter from Ted,’ returned Laurette, trying to speak carelessly.

Tareling looked at her narrowly, and then gave a short laugh.

‘Fancy a girl like Stella colouring up to the whites of her eyes, and smiling timidly, because she got one of Ritchie's croppy, jockey-like epistles! You are sometimes too funny, Laurette. What is your little game now?’

A sickening fear shot across Laurette's mind. She knew that, in the decorums of life in which she herself was founded as on a rock, her husband scarcely knew the draping of virtue's garment. But it was also equally clear to her that, if he knew a third part of her ‘little game,’ in this instance, he would overwhelm her with anger and scorn and unsparing exposure. It seemed to her as if Stella might appear at any moment, denouncing the palpable treachery that had been practised on her. But there was no tremor of fear in her voice as she answered:

‘Ted is a dreadful cub, isn't he, expect when he signs cheques that may be treated as blank ones?’

‘It appears to me you are acquiring a habit of repeating yourself. Of course a man doesn't expect to be amused in a tête-à-tête with his wife. But—ah—don't you think you might hit on a variation?’

Laurette did not permit herself to attempt a reply. Indeed, to do her justice, it was only at periods of unusual strain or irritation that she so far tested how bitter and unalloyed are the dregs of a contract entered upon for life, without love or mutual respect, when the advantages which were the governing motive seem to be gradually becoming less.

When Stella entered her own room, she stood for a moment by the open window, that soft rapture still kindling her face with which a woman receives the first love-letters that are precious to her. She opened it, and after the first strange, unreal moments, sank in a chair, covering her eyes as if to shut out a sight too terrible to be looked upon. Again and again she forced herself to read over the words mechanically:

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‘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.’ Here there were several lines completely effaced, and then: ‘On these conditions I settled an income on her, which she named as being adequate, and was to be paid through my lawyer half-yearly. The letter I opened in the Home Field that day was from my lawyer. He wrote to say that’—here three more lines were effaced—‘the lady to whom the money was payable had died.’ After this, two half-sheets had been bodily left out by Laurette; and the half-sheet which concluded bore only the signature, all the writing that preceded it having been obliterated, and yet not wholly. Looking closely, three lines at the close could be made out: ‘Your timorous confession that you felt you could have moved or spoken after your accident when I reached you, only you wished to know how it would really “affect me”?’ Then the concluding terms were obliterated also, but the name ‘ANSELM LANGDALE’ was clear and distinct.

Then there was a sheet of paper, which was evidently part of a letter.

‘You are entirely in error in every particular regarding your wife. Return as quickly as possible, and all these miserable misunderstandings will be explained and set right. You need not hesitate nor imagine that you will be asked to believe this merely on bare assertion. Proofs are forthcoming. As to the rumour of death, it is as ill-founded as the first mistakes. But your long-continued absence has reduced my poor friend to such a state of despair that she is too indifferent to take even the slightest trouble. Pray— pray do not lose any time after getting this. Return to her, and all will yet be well.’

When a great blow suddenly falls on one, it can hardly be said that at first coherent thought is possible. The throbbing temples, the parched throat and flickering vision, the slow, dull, cold beating of the heart, make the physical

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anguish as pressing as the mental suffering. Then the creeping stupor that succeeds the swift exhaustion of all the faculties paralyzes coherent thought. It is as though all the powers of the mind and body were concentrated in sullenly keeping hold on life—dreary and hopeless as it has been made in a few wild incredible moments. Cold and trembling in every limb, Stella cowered by the window over these fragmentary sentences. Every feature that under other circumstances would have thrown discredit on these strange communications was even, at the first glance, a strong link in a chain of crushing evidence. Here there was no hearsay—no perhaps. It was a bald, commonplace little story. An unhappy early marriage—a separation years ago. Then the news of his wife's death. That was the letter he read out in the Home Field that happy spring day—O God! how long, how long ago! She seemed to see herself through the lapse of gray years out in the sunshine with the birds singing all round, and her heart leaping with a sudden passion of joy as Anselm asked leave in a broken voice to write to her from the other side of the world. She went over all that followed—moaning faintly now and again as her breath failed her. Already all the rapture and bounding hope and insane gladness were part of an unreal fable. She turned to his letter written the day after they parted. She knew it by heart. She had read it the last thing at night, and had wakened up with the first faint approach of day to read it again. Then this letter had come to him. No wonder he wrote in a disjointed, halting fashion, blotting out almost as much as remained legible— beginning and closing abruptly. Where was he now? Oh, she must see him. She opened a letter from Louise, and near the beginning of the letter she read: ‘You will, of course, have seen Dr. Langdale before he sailed on the 22nd’—that was two days back. Why had not the letter reached her before? Ah, he had taken precautions. Would it not have been kinder to see her when this torturing revelation was to be made—or did he understand her too well? Did he know that she would have thrown herself at his feet and implored him not to leave her—not to believe this woman who urged his return? Merciful Heaven! what frantic thoughts were these? Would she indeed have been so lost to pride and maidenly reticence? She went and

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confronted herself in the looking-glass. But the face she met there—the eyes like those of a creature trapped and wounded to death—made her turn away shuddering. He was gone. He had found it possible to leave without one more look or word, though they were never to meet again. There was something in this that wounded her beyond endurance. And he had not made one allusion to her long letter. Perhaps it was wiser. Wiser? Yes, wiser—she repeated the word as if trying to understand it. She felt dimly that to her wisdom, prudence or caution were but empty word-echoes in face of this overwhelming calamity. How could she have looked at him and borne the thought—‘It is for the last time’? Yes, he had been wise and reasonable. As for her, she could not have left him thus if ten thousand obstacles had stood between them. Ah, yes, he understood the wild passion of which her nature was capable. Sometimes she walked up and down the room; at other times she stood staring out of the window, trying to recall what she had been thinking of. And so the hours wore on to noon. …. Then there was a tap at her door, and Maisie came in asking something about a dress.

‘Oh, Miss Stella!’ she suddenly cried out in dismay, as she looked full in her mistress's face, waiting for an answer which did not come. ‘There's ill news—there's ill news! Is it from Fairacre, dear Miss Stella?’ cried the maid overcome with terror at the white impassive face.

‘No—no—it is only—a little faintness,’ murmured Stella. It was all over, and the world swept on as usual, and she had somehow to face the lie that life still went on with her. Maisie bathed her face and hands, and stood fanning her by the open window. She was still half fearful that the news of some catastrophe had wrought this sudden change—but when she saw that her mistress shed no tears she was reassured. Maisie, fortunately, had no knowledge of those stabs which are so deadly that they bleed but little outwardly.

‘You were to go out in the afternoon, Miss Stella—but I doubt you suldna,’ said Maisie, who in moments of agitation returned on her mother's accent and phrases with curious fidelity.

‘Oh yes—yes; don't speak so loud, Maisie,’ and then Stella forced herself to open the Fairacre letters, and read bits of them to Maisie, who at once became certain as she

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listened that all was well. There were honeybirds in swarms in the Park-lands, especially the Botanic Park, all during the spring. The Torrens was determined, so Alice wrote, not to give up running and singing as it went till Stella returned. The roses were extraordinarily fine this season, especially Stella's favourite white fairy and Macartney roses—

The girl dropped the letter with a little miserable moan. Then she compelled herself to read on. Weighty changes were imminent in the old home. Felix Harrison had won so many distinctions of late, and his income showed so liberal a margin over former years, that he and Allie were to be married at Christmas. Then Tom was also an accepted lover, and there was not a single reason forthcoming why their wedding should be delayed. ‘Can you fancy only you and mother in the old home?’ wrote Allie. ‘You would have to see all the visitors that came, instead of retreating to the library, you spoilt child! But no; Esther and the children will share the old home with you. It is time Clem went to college—and, after all, no one expects you to linger long in the paternal nest. Oh, you monkey, what secrets have you not kept from me!’ She crushed the letter into the envelope—and there was the maid still waiting an answer.

‘Thank you, Maisie. I must write some letters. The dress—the navy-blue velvet? Oh, any way you like.’

She was left alone—but she tried to read no more of her letters just then. She was stunned, insensible, though not unconscious. There is a kind of moral syncope which falls on the heart and brain after the first shock of a great calamity. A sort of lethargy crept over Stella, in which no thought, no feeling, was acutely present. She read the words over repeatedly, till she could have said them by heart. She could so well understand those erasures—that stern avoidance of all empty words of regret. And then the lines at the close, which had been so hurriedly blotted that the forms of the letters were still traceable, caught her attention: ‘Your timorous confession that you felt you could have moved or spoken after your accident when I reached you, only you wished to know how it would “affect me”?’ Her heart gave a strange leap, and the blood came back to her face in an overflowing wave.

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As if the anguish and despair that held her did not fill the cup of her supreme agony to the brim, she saw in the words, coupled with the cold, bald statement that preceded them, a record of Langdale's consciousness that her love for him had caused the avowal of his when he had meant to keep silent. It had been his intention to sail for England without making a sign—merely asking leave to write to her from there. She had been quite happy in her confidence that he loved her, even before his avowal. Oh, what madness, when the mere thought that he cared at all for her, and kept silence, should have at once suggested some insuperable obstacle! She, who had ever been so ready to question, to doubt things that were beyond the scope of human knowledge, while here, in a simple every-day matter, in which silence was in itself suspicion ready forged, she had found no cause for inquiry, for a moment's uneasiness! He loved her; he did not wish to say so for a time—that had been quite enough. Oh, fool and blind that she had been!—ready to give her love before it was asked—ready to see no peril in anything so long as she knew that he held her dear.

He had loved this woman once, then, that he had made his wife? His wife!—she shuddered and cowered down on her bed as if seeking to hide herself; and then she rose up and read over again and again the words written in a woman's hand—in fair, even, well-formed characters, on the face of them the writing of a lady: ‘All will yet be well!’ Was this possible? Would he, perhaps, learn that he had been in error—that the wretchedness of the marriage had been caused by misunderstandings on which light would be now thrown? Would he be thankful that the rumour of her death was untrue? Would he, perhaps, learn to love her? Oh, God in heaven forbid!

The next moment she was thrilled with horror at the prayer—the imprecation, rather. But no quick involuntary horror, no reasoning, could hide the truth which forced itself on her—that the thought that he should love this woman was even more torturing than the knowledge that she was his wife. Should not this in itself serve to loosen the dominion of this love—this passion that had insidiously rooted itself in every fibre of her nature?

She satisfied herself that he had really sailed. Every

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hour that passed widened the distance between them—brought him nearer to her who might win his love. The thought worked like poison in her veins. She threw her unread letters aside, she put away out of sight these miserable fragmentary ones that had brought her the tidings which seemed more to wreck her soul than her life—even the envelope, with its firm, clear writing, her name written in full, as if he had lingered over it in the old lover-like way, hurt her intolerably. And his ring which she wore next her heart like a charm, with its noble motto, now the bitterest irony. All that was best and highest to her seemed touched with this mildew of mockery. Yet she would keep this to the day of her death. When the world was mercifully shrouded in oblivion, this golden amulet would lie against her heart, while all its stormy throbbings were overpast. But oh, merciful Heaven, what a long and weary eternity lay between! She had come to one of those epochs that arise in the lives of women who have souls, when nothing is left but death and the love of God—both seemed equally remote.

Dustiefoot, who had patiently waited for his mistress, finding that she did not come as usual to caress and talk to him, jumped lightly through the open window. When she spoke to him he instantly noticed the change in her voice, and looked at her with that keen, almost human intelligence in his eyes which Langdale had once compared to those of a dog painted by Piero di Cosimo in his picture of the death of Procris. Ah! those endless memories! Each thought, and emotion, and association, all were steeped in the dye of those days which seemed to hem her in on every side.

Laurette waited in almost trembling impatience for Stella's appearance. She did not leave her room at luncheon-time; she had letters to write, and could not eat. Maisie brought her some tea, and biscuits for Dustiefoot, who lay at his mistress's feet, looking up in her face from time to time with watchful solicitude.

Laurette longed to go into her room—to know in what way the letter that had been so subtly changed had wrought. ‘If she takes it fighting,’ thought Laurette, ‘I shall send for Ted this very afternoon.’

Four o'clock was the hour at which they were to leave

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for Mrs. Joran's. A few minutes before that time Stella joined her hostess in the drawing-room, faultlessly dressed, a damask flush on her cheeks. Her eyes glistened like those of a creature that has been dangerously wounded, and there was a livid aureole round them; but beyond this, and a curiously toneless timbre of voice, there was no outward sign of the fierce storm which had swept over her.

If she could have been thankful for anything at that time, it would have been that no one knew, as she believed, of the disaster which had overtaken her. A weight seemed to press on her head, and voices that were near sounded at times as if they came from a great distance. Her lips were hot and parched; occasionally a shuddering sigh, that threatened to become a low moan, roused her to greater vigilance. She had not shed a tear, but at times a film came over her eyes as if a mist fell on all around. The strain of bearing such torture, without the relief of solitude or rest, or any touch of gentle resignation as to an inevitable grief, was cruel in the extreme. But it seemed to induce an apathy and a deadly fatigue, so that sleep came to her almost at once when, late that night, she went to bed. She slept for two or three hours, and then she woke up sobbing uncontrollably, with tearless eyes. She rose up and lit her lamp, trembling in every limb. There was an unbearable burning weight on her head. She opened her desk, hardly knowing why. She searched for those fragmentary letters, and sat down, going over every word afresh. The thought had suddenly lodged in her mind that she was the victim of some strange delusion. But as she read, all the thoughts and events of the past day came crowding back. The contrast between the overflowing happiness of the woman who had opened this miserable letter, and the stony misery which had fallen on her, fortunately touched the source of tears. ‘Oh, my lost love! my lost love!’ she moaned, and the tears rained down and blistered the paper through and through. The light of day surprised her still crouching over that strangely-pathetic record of the days that had been illuminated with a light now quenched in the darkness of despair. She knew that the new-born loveliness of the day flooded the sky with its accustomed tenderness and splendour, but she shrank from the sight as though it had the poison of asps in it for eyes outworn with weeping.

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Turn where she would, she saw no gleam of consolation. And in these first hours of intolerable suffering, pain and anguish were more hateful to her than they had ever been before. She was scorched under the agony that had fallen on her, as a flower exposed in its opening freshness is shrivelled by a furious hot wind. All those tendrils of hope, of dawning love to God—those moments of exalted consciousness in which she seemed to draw closer to the vivid faith that had once kindled her heart—were put to flight, withered, and entirely slain. It was as though the air around her, which had before been fanned by the dove-wings of ethereal hours, was suddenly darkened by the sweep of vulture wings. Even that last resource of an unhappy love—the remembrance of happier days—was impossible to her. She knew that for her these days had been the flowering point of her life; but as for him, was it more than a brief episode—one soon to be forgotten, perhaps, in a happy and unlooked-for reconciliation with his wife? The words had in them something that crushed all the finer tissues of thought and sensation. She lay hiding her face from the light, quivering at times from head to foot. She was thankful to feel that apathy creeping over her that comes to the overstrained mind like the insensibility of muscles which have been severely bruised or scalded.

She rose at the usual hour, and Maisie was again startled at the sight of her mistress's face. It was one in which expression played so large a part that the absence of vivacity and light, of a quickly mantling colour, as well as the dark rings round the heavily-lashed eyes, made a startling change.

‘Indeed, Miss Stella, I doubt but we should get away home sooner than you spoke of. This place doesna agree with you. The room is too small, and ye miss the woods, and the birds, and your rides. Wouldn't you be glad, ma'am, to leave for Fairacre soon?’

Stella, at the words, swiftly realized what a terror the thought of returning to her peaceful home had for her. Those calm existences—her mother and sister, who had lived their lives, who had passed their keenest joys and sorrows; the children whose lives were to come, whose life was made up of sunshine, and flowers, and gentle schooling, and all the healthful, untroubled influences that for the more

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fortunate bridge the isthmus from infancy to maturity—how could she take up the ravelled threads amongst them? Nature and books, and the sweet serenity of home, all had become equally impossible. All the force of her strong, complex organization rose in revolt against the perspective of a faded, insipid existence which the prospect called up. How could she endure that faint replica of life with those agonizing memories in the background? Birds, and flowers, and trees, and running water, the dawn of day, and the music of childish voices—they had not only lost their enchantment: their very memories were barbed with fiery darts—part of a past which had worn a faint simulacrum of happiness before the keen flame of love had breathed on her and transformed her being. What were they all now to her —the persons and scenes and events that had made up existence? Links in an inexorable chain that bound her, like a galley-slave, to her ineffectual, inept post in the world, when life itself had really passed from her grasp! Oh no; she had not lost all affection for those dear, but they could do without her, and she could do without them for a time. She must throw the past from her like a stained chalice emptied of all the wine of life. She must be somewhere in the stir and tumult of the world, where things would hold her and draw her away from herself—where she could live without happiness, and those foolish dreams that had been the dearest possession of her soul.

‘But maybe ye would like to stay for the ball?’

‘Oh, of course, Maisie. Use the hard brushes for my hair this morning.’ She spoke in an impatient, imperative tone, which surprised the maid so much that she offered no further suggestions.

At sight of her pallid face in the glass, Stella sponged her cheeks with pungent aromatic vinegar. The delicate skin responded at once to the touch, and her determination to keep at bay the rising sorrow that at times threatened like a great flood to sweep all embankments into its whirling eddies, kept the colour in her cheeks and the fire in her eyes.

‘Only four more days till our ball,’ said Laurette, who in her heart had ejaculated a fervent little thanksgiving to Providence at sight of Stella entering the breakfast-room. She had looked so deadly weary and done on the previous

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night, fear, like a chilly snake, had lodged in Laurette's bosom that the girl would certainly fall ill.

‘I think, Miss Stella, you had better come with me for a riding expedition till the evening of the ball,’ said the master of the house, who, with the wisdom of the serpent, generally cleared out on the days immediately preceding such festivities.

‘But I thought you were to be the villain in Mrs. Joran's comedietta to-morrow night,’ answered Stella, with a faint smile.

‘Ah, true—the man who drugs people and steals letters.’

‘Surely that is not the rôle of a real villain—to drug and steal letters merely. You are going to be a philanthropist in disguise.’

‘Thank Heaven! she believes it all,’ thought Laurette.

‘Do you know, Miss Stella, that sounds a little misanthropical for one who gets letters in handfuls.’

‘But how should I know it would be a boon from the gods to have them stolen if I did not get a few?’

‘Still, you would not like them all stolen?’ He could not help watching her a little curiously. There was some inexplicable change in her whole face and bearing since she had sat in the same place twenty-four hours ago. He saw that, notwithstanding her effort to keep an indifferent, smiling look, her face hardened, and he hastened to change the conversation. ‘Are you going to fall into Mrs. Anstey-Hobbs’ plan of getting you for the heroine of her little adaptation from the French?’

‘No, I think not. One's own little part in life gives me so many jours insipides, without dabbling in other people's.’

‘Thank God! she is in a fighting mood,’ thought Laurette.

‘I am sorry. Mrs. Anstey-Hobbs consulted me, and I told her I thought her idea was an inspiration, as you constantly remind me of a cousin of my own, of whom a French diplomat once said that she had a Parisian edge to her mind. She had, too, as he said, that vivacity dans ses moindres mouvements which Englishwomen so rarely possessed. She had, in fact, an infusion of Irish blood, as you have of Highland.’

‘Wasn't Mrs. Anstey-Hobbs shocked at the mention of anything Parisian in connection with Stella? You never

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told me the funny story Ted was laughing about once. I shouldn't wonder if he turned up to-morrow.’

This remark seemed to be addressed to the teapot more than to anyone in particular.

‘But shearing is in full swing at Strathhaye,’ said Tareling, who instantly connected this announcement with Stella's presence, and began vaguely to speculate whether, after all, there was anything in it. Women were such queer conundrums—one could never tell. How many impossible marriages he, Tareling, had seen in his day! But Australian girls were not as a rule so keenly alive to the fascinations of wealth as those inoculated with the aims and standard of London society, where to lack money was to be out of the swim of everything that held life together. That same Lady Mary, his cousin, who in Tareling's memory held the shadowy place of what might have been; who had at times scolded him, and somehow got him out of his first serious scrape at Eton, and written him letters, and promised to marry him if a Chinese mandarin left him a mine in Golconda; whose radiant gray eyes and brilliant sallies had often been recalled by Stella Courtland—what a strange hash she had made of her life, first marrying the wrong man, then running away with the wrong one, and finally taking the wrong dose of chloral!

Would she have fared so very much worse if she had married him, though they were both as poor as church mice, with something less than nine hundred a year between them, and no one likely to leave them a mine in Golconda? She in her dishonoured grave—and he in his dishonoured life, gambling, and drinking deep at times, and playing the roué generally in third-rate society at the far ends of the earth, ‘sponging on his wife's relations,’ as old Ritchie had once said in a fury, after he had been called on to shell out a thousand pounds or so to keep a very shady story from the light of day? Probably they would have quarrelled; and to quarrel in one of those tiny establishments in which people lived on nine hundred a year was the very deuce— one had to get down so completely to hard pan—or be a plumb idiot the next moment, and kiss and be friends. He rather thought they would have done the latter. But at any rate would they quite have come to this; she in a nameless grave at Monte Carlo—he married to a colonial heiress,

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intriguing to keep a firm hold among the mixed lot that formed the créme demi-double in a pushing, vulgar colonial city? Yet even Lady Mary's marriage lacked some of the utter incongruity that would attend one between Ritchie and this young woman. A mammoth scratched on a bone by a prehistoric man, and a statuette by one of the old Grecian sculptors, that was what would represent the comparative quality of their minds.

Tareling was not a man who had retained much of the faculty of being even touched by the higher possibilities of human life. He would have had to purge and live cleanly before he could be the moral equal of many among those he contemptuously classed as a ‘mixed lot.’ Whatever semblance of the hero had once lived in his heart had long since atrophied. His aims and ideals were to the full as ignoble as those of that lower division of the common herd who value money chiefly for the physical excesses and mental excitements that it commands. Yet it may be taken for granted that one has not generations of well-born and cultured people behind him, without retaining some keenness of perception that belongs to a well-descended creature, whether he be man, horse, or dog. Stella interested him not only because of the resemblance he fancied in her to the unhappy girl who, in her brilliant youth, had been so much his friend, but also because of that element of personal fascination which is inseparable from some women. Why had the glow and the sparkle of her face been suddenly quenched? Why those livid circles round the eyes that did not in the least respond to the smile she called up?

‘You will be glad to have some riding, Stella. No doubt Ted will bring a hack or two a lady can ride,’ said Laurette, emboldened by the inferences she drew from observing the girl to handle her subject ‘like a lad of mettle.’ She began to think that Stella, after all, was not such a very bad sort of nettle to manage.

‘Would you like to ride to-day?’ said Tareling suddenly. But it seemed there were too many engagements of one sort or another. Indeed, if there had not been such, Laurette would have invented them. No one allowed himself to be more easily hoodwinked than Talbot when it suited him; but, on the other hand, no one had a more unerring vision in piecing broken hints into a whole, once his suspicion or

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interest was thoroughly roused. He had, too, curious tact with people whom Laurette herself might deceive or mislead, but whose confidence she could never win. She could see by the way he glanced under his heavy, deeply-lined eyelids from herself to Stella, that something had presented itself to him as a problem.

‘Oh, it will be delightful to ride!’ Stella said, looking up, with a faint flush rising on her face.

The word ‘delightful’ had a sardonic ring in her ears. But language cannot serve its purpose, as legal tender between beings whose first care often is that nothing of what surges most vividly in the mind should pass into speech, without at times sounding in the ears like a mocking echo.